Above the Law

Karl Marx famously intoned that history tends to repeat itself, “First as tragedy, then as farce.”  Upon last week’s death-by-suicide of noted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who hanged himself in his Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial—itself both a tragedy and a farce—I couldn’t help but wonder if the whole thing weren’t an ominous prelude to the ultimate fate of Donald Trump.

Not that Trump would ever kill himself, of course.  After all, suicide requires a level of nerve, resolve and concentration that our president plainly doesn’t possess.

What I mean is that, no matter how much comes to light about the crimes our 45th president has perpetrated against the republic—financial, political, sexual, moral—he will somehow find a way to skirt ultimate accountability for them, if only by not living long enough for the justice system to work its magic.

In the case of Epstein, you’ll recall, charges of gross sexual improprieties with underage girls were first leveled in 2005, resulting three years later in a jaw-droppingly lenient 13-month jail sentence whereby Epstein spent six days of each week in his own home.  It was only earlier this summer, following exhaustive sleuthing by Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown, that Epstein was treated as the pathological monster that he was, arrested and hauled off to the Metropolitan Correctional Center as details of his child sex-trafficking ring piled up like delinquency notices at the Massachusetts RMV (but that’s another story).

Finally, it appeared, this wretched specimen of a man—friend of presidents and princes, who successfully bought his way into high society, even after registering as a level-three sex offender—would face the full force of the American justice system, providing his countless victims at least a small measure of rectitude.

But that all ended last Saturday when Epstein wrapped a bedsheet around his neck and shuffled off to the great beyond.  He may well be burning in hell and his estate may soon be torn apart limb from limb, but Epstein himself will never be found guilty by a jury of his peers, will never be confronted by his accusers in open court, will never be able to confess or repent for his sins, nor to formally repay his debt to society by rotting away in prison, where he so richly belonged.

Death may or may not be a fate worse than life behind bars, but as far as we here on Earth are concerned, Jeffrey Epstein spent decades getting away with committing the most heinous crimes imaginable, and when the going finally got tough, he channeled his inner Groucho and said to the world, “Hello, I must be going.”

The arc of the moral universe is long, and sometimes it bends toward scumbags.

Such, I fear, is how it will go for Donald Trump:  He will continue to flout every law and convention he finds inconvenient; he will continue not to be held to account for them by the American legal system, Congress or the general public; and when his moment of reckoning finally arrives, he will slink off, ever-so-adroitly, to the great Taco Bell in the sky.

Following the Mueller report—and subsequent testimony of Robert Mueller himself—it has been firmly established that Trump cannot be indicted for any criminal offense while he is in office, thanks to a Justice Department policy asserting, in effect, that the leader of the free world is simply too preoccupied to adhere to such trivialities as the Constitution and rule of law. 

What’s more, should Trump manage to be re-elected next November, the statute of limitations for several of the crimes of which he stands accused will lapse before he returns to private life in January 2025.  And make no mistake:  Barring some major national catastrophe, he will be re-elected next November.

The fact is, historically-speaking, American presidents are like casinos:  In the end, the (White) House always wins.  Lest we forget, even Richard Nixon—the one commander-in-chief who was actually hounded from office ahead of schedule—was granted lifetime immunity from prosecution via a blanket pardon from his hand-picked successor, Gerald Ford.  If need be, does anyone in America believe Mike Pence would hesitate for a moment to take that precedent and run with it?

True:  Presidential pardons can only be granted for federal crimes, not state ones, which means investigations undertaken by, say, the New York attorney general would remain fair game should Trump be defeated next November and return to his Trump Tower penthouse, alive and in one piece, on January 20, 2021.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a rather flimsy reed on which to hang all of one’s hopes for justice ever catching up to America’s worst president.  While we can bank all we want on the assumption that Trump will become the first incumbent in a quarter-century to be unceremoniously dumped by the electorate after four measly years, I find considerably more stock in the old I.F. Stone adage, “History is a tragedy, not a morality tale.” 

Trump does tragedy better than almost any living human being.  And that, among other things, is what makes his presidency such a farce.

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From the Inside Out

Last September, the New York Times published an op-ed, titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”  Its author, described by the Times as “a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us,” opted to withhold his or her name and job title from readers, for what could only be described as obvious reasons.

This mysterious official, describing him or herself as a conservative who “want[s] the administration to succeed and think[s] that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous,” went on to describe a White House in which “the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic,” while insisting that “many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”

Naturally, the column caused a sensation in the days following its publication, sending the White House into a white-hot panic and inducing every pundit in Washington, D.C., and on Twitter to breathlessly speculate on who the unnamed official could possibly be.

Eleven months after the fact, we still do not know the answer to that question.  Nor, so far as we can tell, does anyone in the Trump White House—a place, we might add, where the person in question may well still be working today.

Considering that we live with a media-political-industrial complex that generally leaks like a sieve and cannot keep a secret to save its life, it’s worth noting just how remarkable it is that this particular secret has been faithfully maintained for all this time.  As we sit here, the identity of the author of this explosive missive remains a mystery to all but a small handful of people, none of whom has spilled the beans—not even to the Times’ own reporters.  (The paper’s news and editorial pages are functionally separate entities.)

While I hadn’t paid much thought to this ongoing whodunit for quite some time, it all returned to me last week upon the resignation of Jon Huntsman, Jr., as U.S. ambassador to Russia—a position he has held since October 2017.

Huntsman, 59, is an interesting character in the American political milieu, having previously served as America’s chief diplomat in Singapore in the early 1990s under George H.W. Bush, and later as our man in Beijing under Barack Obama.  (Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin.)  In between, he was elected governor of Utah twice—with approval ratings north of 80 percent at times—and in 2012 he even found time to run for president, albeit with extremely limited success.

As the most moderate of Republicans, Huntsman has long presented as something of an odd man out, having committed such party heresies as acknowledging the existence of global warming and the dignity of same-sex marriage.  Huntsman has always made a point of marching to the beat of his own drum, speaking freely—often curtly—about issues that every other member of his party would rather avoid.  (A tweet from 2011:  “To be clear.  I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy.”)

It’s a tribute to Huntsman’s intelligence and guile that he has accomplished as much as he has, considering how inhospitable the GOP must be to someone of his particular ilk.

Could he be the guy who wrote the Times op-ed?  It certainly wouldn’t be out of character.  Indeed, the more one thinks about it, the more sense it makes.

That was the feeling of William Saletan in Slate two days after the op-ed ran last fall.  In a piece titled, “The Obvious Suspect,” Saletan argued that when you combine the column’s overall style, tone and content, its (over)emphasis on U.S.-Russia relations, and Huntsman’s literal and ideological remove from the Trump White House and Trump himself, the case for Huntsman’s authorship more or less writes itself.  It persuaded me then, and it persuades me now.

Of course, all of this “evidence” is circumstantial and speculative at best, and in a way, it doesn’t really matter who wrote the damn thing in the first place.  The fact that somebody did—somebody who managed to slip into the Trump orbit only to announce to the entire world how dysfunctional and duplicitous the whole operation is—continues to be the primary, unalterable fact of the matter.

It begs the question:  How many of these democracy-loving, Trump-thwarting people are left inside the noxious tent?  Have they all since been purged and spit out, or are a fair number of them still lurking, protecting us from the president’s worst instincts on foreign and domestic issues alike?  Is it possible we’ve been living with a tethered, Diet Coke Trump all this time, with the unadulterated, full-flavored version still to come?

When it comes to the most amoral chief executive since Richard Nixon suggested bombing the Brookings Institution for sport, it’s worth noting that things can always get worse—which, in this case, they most assuredly will.  To the extent that not every individual currently working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an unqualified partisan stooge, the ratio has only grown more alarming with each passing week, as the administration hemorrhages competent, apolitical bureaucrats at a record clip with no signs of slowing down.

If the person who penned the Times op-ed is, indeed, still “a senior official in the Trump administration” (whatever that means), I think it is well past time for a sequel.  In the meantime, there is an election on November 3, 2020.  As a wise man once said, if you want something done, you just may need to do it yourself.

Inglorious Bastard

I spent the better part of last Friday evening with the new Quentin Tarantino picture, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, a film that anyone with even a mild appreciation of cinematic history really owes to himself or herself to see.  Like every other Tarantino project to date (only more so), this one is about nothing so much as the joy and richness of the movies themselves.  For those, like me, with a soft spot for American culture in the late 1960s, there may not be a more blissful 160 minutes spent in a movie theater this year.

That is, except for the violence against women, of which (one might say) there is slightly more than is strictly necessary.

For all his unheralded success—creative and financial—over the past quarter-century, Quentin Tarantino has always presented as a problematic figure in the Hollywood-industrial complex.  Early on, in films like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, Tarantino was taken to task for his screenplays’ rather liberal use of the word “nigger” by white and black characters alike—a pattern that led admirers like me to half-jokingly surmise that perhaps he, like Rachel Dolezal years later, is under a mistaken impression of his own racial identity and privilege.  (In fact, he identifies as a mixture of Irish, Italian and Cherokee.)

When he hasn’t been batting away accusations of racial insensitivity and/or appropriation, Tarantino has had to answer for his oeuvre’s general use of extreme, gratuitous violence as an integral part of each

film’s narrative arc—typically in the form of Mexican standoff-like confrontations involving guns, knives and the occasional samurai sword.  (Not to mention the one-off deaths caused by such things as poisoned coffee, a black mamba snake and a Pop-Tart.)

That Tarantino has gotten away with this—earning critical adulation and impressive box office returns, to boot—is due, in great part, to the knowing, witty, near-cartoonish nature of that violence.  Like country music, abstract expressionism or Boris Johnson, it almost dares you to take it seriously, ultimately earning your admiration and approval through sheer force of style.

More to the point, the dynamic of these bloodbaths is either to pit good guys versus bad guys—with the former always triumphing in the end—or to contain no good guys at all, and therefore no one to feel especially sorry for.

As such, despite the excessiveness of it all, the morality of Tarantino’s cinematic smackdowns has historically been fairly straightforward:  A band of Jewish renegades massacres an auditorium full of Nazis, say, and we cheer them on because, hey, what’s more pleasurable and cathartic than sticking it to the Third Reich?  Sure, maybe the job could’ve been done with 10 bullets instead of 10,000—plus or minus the flammable nitrate film that burns the joint to the ground, for good measure—but then who ever went to a Tarantino flick for sensibility or restraint?

Indeed, Tarantino’s sinister genius in these set pieces is to make them so perversely and deliriously enjoyable that we become implicated in them—accessories rather than bystanders, tacitly condoning the use of over-the-top carnage, against our supposedly better judgment.

Where this becomes uncomfortable—as it now has in two Tarantino films in a row—is when the carnage is visited by a strong man upon a weak woman.  In 2015’s The Hateful Eight—spoiler alert!—there was Jennifer Jason Leigh being lynched by a gleeful, chuckling Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins.  And now in Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood—spoiler alert number two!—we have a set of Manson Family acolytes—barely old enough to drive—being mauled, burned and body-slammed by two of America’s most beloved movie stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

To be clear:  In context, all of those women had it coming.  By this point in their respective films, they’d already wrecked unholy havoc unto others and were hell-bent on wrecking even more, given the chance.  They are not passive, innocent victims.  They have agency and, like many of their male counterparts, are unambiguously wretched people.

It is for that very reason that the audience feels licensed to revel in their messy, sadistic demise at the hands of men who are all-too-happy to bring it about.  The net result is an auditorium full of people hooting and hollering at women being brutalized, and there’s just no way around the awkwardness of it springing from the mind of a 56-year-old man-child with #MeToo issues.

Lest we forget—as most of the culture apparently has—Tarantino owes the balance of his career to one Harvey Weinstein, the producer and sexual super-predator about whom Tarantino famously said in October 2017, “I knew enough to do more than I did.”  While the director himself has not been accused of sexual criminality—and reportedly confronted Weinstein about his criminal behavior on at least two occasions in the past—he was, by his own accounting, ultimately an enabler of a serial rapist for the sake of preserving and advancing his own career.

The question—as it has been during the 22 months of the #MeToo era—is:  What do we do this information?  Outside of the legal system, how do we assign blame and allocate punishment for the systematic, grisly, institutionalized raping and pillaging of vulnerable women by some of the most powerful men in show business—and, in this case, for those who allowed it to happen and only apologized when they were cornered and had no other choice?

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is Tarantino’s first new movie since #MeToo began.  I must confess that, although I was aware of his negligence vis-à-vis Harvey Weinstein—not to mention his recklessly pressuring Uma Thurman into doing her own stunt driving in Kill Bill, resulting in serious injury—I had somehow put them entirely out of my mind until the moment Brad Pitt slammed the Manson girls’ heads against the wall in the film’s climactic scene.  And even then, I grew only faintly cognizant of how grotesque it was for a filmmaker with such a checkered relationship with the gentler sex—and supposedly chastened by the belated exposure of his longtime benefactor—to choose to conclude his movie by beating the living daylights out of a pair of women known primarily for falling under the influence of a powerful, dangerous sociopath.

It’s not a terribly great look—not for Tarantino, and not for the men in the audience (like me) who can so easily check their feminist wokeness at the door for the sake of entertainment—and the fact that nobody seems to give a damn suggests either that few hold Tarantino liable for the abominations committed by the producer with whom he worked for 25 years, or that #MeToo itself is on the wane in the public consciousness, as we return to the status quo ante in which men can do whatever they want and, because they’re famous, we let them do it.

 

To Love a Country

In a 2007 Republican presidential primary debate, Mitt Romney was asked, “What do you dislike most about America?”

To the shock of nobody, Romney dodged the question completely, responding, “Gosh, I love America,” adding, “What makes America the greatest nation in the world is the heart of the American people—hard-working, innovative, risk-taking, God-loving, family-oriented American people.”

It was a lovely thought, perfectly in keeping with the public persona of the ex-governor, now-senator we have come to know and, um, not completely hate.

Really, with a dozen years of hindsight, the most remarkable thing about that moment was that the question was even asked—that someone angling to be America’s commander-in-chief was challenged in a public forum to critique the very country he hoped to lead.

Indeed, when Romney took another whack at the presidency in 2012, he released a memoir of sorts, No Apology, whose title more or less summed up the attitude of his campaign.  As far as he was concerned, America is an idyllic land of milk and honey that has only ever been a force for good in the world, for which it should feel nothing but unadulterated, chest-thumping pride. 

As you’ll recall, President Obama’s greatest sin in office, according to Romney and others, was to have had the temerity to apologize for America’s various historical blunders—particularly on matters of race and foreign policy—thereby implying the nation is somehow less than perfect.  The nerve!

While Romney himself has since slunk off into complete obscurity—i.e., the Senate—his view of the United States as a moral dynamo on the world stage whose superiority must never be questioned has only hardened as Republican Party orthodoxy in the years since.

Or so we were informed last week by the current president, Donald Trump, who in a Twitter broadside against four congresswomen that managed to blend howling racism with wholesale incoherence, argued that anyone who is skeptical about how the United States is run—including those who have been elected to run it—has no business residing within the country’s borders and ought to “go back” to the far-flung lands “from which they came.”

“IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE,” the president tweeted, “YOU CAN LEAVE!”

Beyond the irony that three-fourths of the congresswomen in question were, in fact, born in the United States, it has been duly noted that few people in public life have been more openly scornful of U.S. foreign and domestic policy over the years than Trump himself.  Indeed, for all the money and privilege—untaxed and unchecked, respectively—that has spilled into his lap practically since birth, the president never seems to run out of grievances about the place that has handed him everything on a silver platter, up to and including its highest public office.

And yet.

Setting aside the singular, noxious bigotry that informs much of our Dear Leader’s enmity toward a republic founded on the principles of liberty, pluralism and equal justice under the law, Trump is absolutely correct in expressing his misgivings about his homeland without fear of persecution or prejudice.  He is right to assert—as he so memorably did in a 2017 interview on Fox News—that America is not “so innocent” in its behavior toward its geopolitical adversaries and, by implication, shouldn’t be held up as the moral paragon that the Mitt Romneys of the world would have you believe it is.

In other words, if you want an ironclad rebuke to the tweets of Donald Trump, look no further than the actions of Donald Trump.

That said, the president’s personal hypocrisy on this matter needn’t obscure the deeper truth, which is that the greatness of America resides precisely in the right of every one of its citizens to criticize it, because criticism, in the right hands, is among the sincerest expressions of patriotism and love.

Surely, Frederick Douglass had a few choice words for his mother country throughout his life—words that, we can safely say, have redounded to America’s benefit in the long run.  Ditto for the likes of Martin Luther King and Susan B. Anthony and Rachel Carson and Ralph Nader and innumerable other restless rabble-rousers who found a glaring blemish in the national complexion and took it upon themselves to fix it.

Criticizing your country is the first step to perfecting it.  It’s how you keep your country honest, challenging it to live up to its loftiest ideals.

Why settle for anything less?

The Ultimate Aphrodisiac

American liberals have caught a lot of flak this season—some of it deserved—for the rigid purity tests they’ve imposed on the men and women auditioning to be the next president of the United States.

As irritating as this moral posturing tends to be, please indulge me one small litmus test of my own:  In November 2020, I will not vote for any candidate who has been credibly accused of rape.

Admittedly, this doesn’t seem like a terribly lot to ask of the would-be most powerful person on Earth—the man or woman who is supposed to be a role model for America’s children and grownups alike.

However, recent history would suggest otherwise.

If polls are to be believed, there is a certain chunk of the American electorate—somewhere north of 40 percent, at minimum—that does not consider accusations of sexual assault to be a deal-breaker for a future (or sitting) commander-in-chief.  This was first demonstrated two decades ago by the continued sky-high approval ratings for Bill Clinton following the rape allegation leveled by Juanita Broaddrick in 1999, and later confirmed by the election of the current chief executive, Donald Trump, whose penchant for grabbing women’s nether regions uninvited was exposed by the candidate himself (via “Access Hollywood”) in October 2016 and by more than a dozen women at regular intervals ever since.

It’s worth noting—in case it wasn’t obvious—that this implicit condoning of felonious, predatory sexual behavior by America’s head of state is not a one-party problem.  Liberals and conservatives have both been complicit, and both are guilty of gross hypocrisy on the matter.  For most Americans, it would seem, the morality of sexual violence by politicians is largely a function of time:  When the opposing party is in power, rape is bad.  When one’s own party is in power, rape is negotiable.

At the moment, of course, it’s Republicans who have disgraced themselves on the question of whether sexual assault is a good idea, thanks—most recently—to the disturbing revelations by E. Jean Carroll in New York Magazine.

In case you missed it, Carroll has claimed that Trump forced himself on her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-1990s, which she tried—unsuccessfully—to resist.  While Carroll herself insists the encounter did not amount to rape and does not want to be viewed as a helpless victim, it is extremely difficult to read the details of her account and reach any other conclusion.

This bombshell initially landed on June 21 and, following a weekend of radio silence, was picked up by a handful of news organizations, which gave it enough oxygen to force the president to deny the incident ever occurred, adding—as only he can—“[Carroll] is not my type.”

In the weeks since, the whole nasty business has all but evaporated from the public consciousness, replaced by newer, flashier headlines on other subjects.  As with so much else, the prospect that the president once committed a violent sexual assault ended up being a three-day story, at most.  Ultimately, the public shrugged and moved on to other things.

It begs the question:  Why?

Are our attention spans so short that serious allegations of rape simply don’t register like they used to?  Are we so fatigued and fatalistic about this president’s long history of indiscretions that we have given up differentiating one from another?  Nearly two years into #MeToo, do we not believe E. Jean Carroll is telling the truth, or that her memory is faulty?

Or is it possible that we actually like the idea of a president who is effectively above the law?  Who can do whatever he wants and get off scot-free?  Who is exempt from all the usual rules of ethics and common decency?  Who can rape somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes?

We don’t admit this out loud, of course.  We use euphemisms like “He’s politically incorrect,” or “He tells it like it is,” or my personal favorite, “He’s not a politician.”

Whichever option is closest to the truth, the underlying rationalization is that any level of unscrupulousness and corruption by the Dear Leader is tolerable so long as he ultimately gives his constituents what they want. 

Trump, for his part, has long been described as a purely transactional figure—someone for whom the ends always justify the means and the notion of right and wrong is a foreign concept.  Less remarked upon—but no less important—is that the general public is transactional as well, and is prepared to forgive any number of shortcomings in service of a greater good.

Hence Trump’s consistently stratospheric approval ratings among Republicans.  After all, if you voted for him on the grounds that he would cut your taxes, appoint conservative judges and make refugees’ lives a living hell, why wouldn’t you be happy with the way this presidency has panned out thus far?

The left can crow all it wants about what a sordid ethical compromise Trump’s base has made, but Democrats’ moral superiority is only as good as the next president of their own party.  Liberals were perfectly happy to excuse every one of Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadillos while he was in power and carrying out their agenda (such as it was).  While they have had a radical change of heart in recent years, I cannot help but wonder if they would feel differently if The Man From Hope were still in the Oval Office today.

Henry Kissinger famously said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” and it turns out that applies not only to those exercising power, but also to the many millions of beneficiaries of it.  It’s a pretty ugly sight when roughly half the nation consciously accepts a credibly accused rapist as the instrument of their political ends, but then one reason we have elections is to correct course, as America stands to do on November 3, 2020.  While there’s more to the presidency than not being a sexual criminal, it’s a perfectly decent place to start.

Perhaps electing a woman would do the trick.

The Prettiest Sight

In The Philadelphia Story, a lowly reporter played by James Stewart scornfully intones, “The prettiest sight in this fine, pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.”  For one week on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this summer, that’s exactly what I was doing.  And oh, what a pretty sight it was.

Certainly, the Vineyard—regularly ranked among the priciest vacation spots in America—screams “privilege” in any season, from its private beaches and golf courses to its posh restaurants and hotels to its A-list clientele.

In my case, however, the fact that I was among New England’s most well-heeled (albeit in a budget-friendly rental unit with no room service) was ancillary to the real privilege I enjoyed for eight days and seven nights on this triangular island seven miles off Cape Cod:  The privilege to not care what was happening in the universe beyond the shore.  The privilege to disconnect from current events and suffer no consequences whatsoever.

See, in my normal, landlubber life, I’m plugged into the global newsfeed about as deeply as any good American should be, monitoring Twitter and the New York Times with freakish regularity to ensure I am always in the loop about whatever unholy nonsense the president has gotten himself into today (among other things).

But while on vacation, I made a deliberate effort to disengage from the minute-by-minute deluge of copy that otherwise scrolls across my transom, and just try to relax for a change.  By and large, I succeeded.

To be clear, this did not entail a total 24/7 news blackout.  Rather, it meant checking Facebook two or three times per day instead of the usual thirty.  It meant scanning Boston Globe headlines without necessarily reading the articles underneath them.  It meant not watching a single segment of cable or network television.

Most significantly, it meant absolute abstention from Twitter, and all the nauseating, petty political catfighting contained therein.

It meant, in effect, that I still had a vague, general sense of what was happening across the seven continents, but without the fuss of getting bogged down in the details.

What I took away from this experiment—this voluntary, temporary withdrawal from the media-industrial complex—was how precious little I was missing.  How trivial such seemingly earth-shaking stories really are when viewed in proper perspective.  How oddly pleasant it was not to be waist-deep in the muck of political tomfoolery at every hour of every day.  And how much I dreaded returning to my usual routine in the real world—which, of course, I did with all deliberate speed.

It begged the question:  What’s so great about the real world, anyway?  Why do I burden myself with the minutiae of global happenings when I could just as well spend my free time going for long walks and plowing through the collected works of Agatha Christie?

Keeping on top of the news may make me conscientious and informed, but does it really make me happy?  Would I be any worse off, as a person, were I to harness the laid-back habits I picked up on the Vineyard and maintain them until the end of my natural life?

In all likelihood I would not be, and that, in so many words, is the true meaning of privilege in 2019 America.  It’s not a question of wealth or fame (of which I have none).  Rather, it’s about the ability to tune out.  To be mentally on vacation for as long as one’s heart desires.  To ignore such unpleasantries as war, famine, global warming and the Trump administration and be affected by them not one whit.

Deep down, of course, this is just white privilege by another name, since to be white in America is to know that, however bad things may get, there will always be a spot for you on the lifeboat.  And to be a white man, all the better.

Naturally, as a bleeding heart liberal (or social justice warrior, or whatever we’re supposed to call ourselves now), I can hear the angel on my shoulder gently reminding me that the role of the Woke White Person in Trump’s America is to support and agitate on behalf of the downtrodden—immigrants, Muslims, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t Caucasian and/or male and doesn’t have the luxury to take a mental health break from reality—which requires paying close attention to what is being inflicted upon one’s fellow countrymen—and aspiring countrymen—on our watch, in our name.

On refection, it seems like a fair price to pay for someone whose life is sufficiently charmed as to be able to spend a week of every June on a place like Martha’s Vineyard, watching the sun rise over Edgartown Harbor and guzzling beer and clam chowder without a care in the world.

After all, there is some happiness to be found in simply being involved—however meekly—in the national discourse, particularly when Election Day rolls around, as it is wont to do every now and again.  That’s to say nothing for the lowly blogger, who will sooner or later need to write about something other than lobster rolls and how to avoid being eaten by a shark.

A Queer Notion

On this final day of Pride Month 2019, allow me to note, for the record, that although I am technically a member of the LGBTQIA community (increasingly the most unwieldy acronym in the English language), you’ll never see me marching in any pride parade.

Why not?  In short:  Because I’m not much into parades and I’m not much into pride.

As I’ve possibly written before, I do not think one’s sexual orientation or gender identity should be a point of personal pride.  Rather, I tend to agree with George Carlin, who posited in his final HBO special in 2008, “Pride should be reserved for something you achieve or attain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth.”

If we are to accept—as we should—that homosexuality and gender dysphoria are naturally-occurring phenomena that are totally beyond our control, what exactly is there to be proud of in acknowledging their existence?  Morally-speaking, being attracted to the same sex is no different from having green eyes or brown hair, so why should one be celebrated while the others are taken for granted without comment?  What, pray tell, are we celebrating?

The question is worth asking during any Pride Month, but it has acquired extra resonance this year in my home state of Massachusetts in light of the so-called “Straight Pride Parade” scheduled to take place in Boston later this summer.

Conceived and organized by a rogues’ gallery of right-wingers calling themselves Super Happy Fun America, this prospective pro-hetero march is an unabashedly snarky, unserious and meanspirited enterprise, intended primarily to protest and ridicule the means by which the queer community has seized cultural power in recent years, as one barrier to LGBT equality after another has fallen by the wayside.  (The odious—and highly non-straight—Milo Yiannopoulos will reportedly be the parade’s grand marshal.)

The gist of SHFA’s argument—which should hardly be dismissed out of hand—is that the LGBT contingent and its allies have become far too militant in enforcing the new rules on what can and cannot be said in public about the nature of various sexual identities, and far too unforgiving toward those who stray—either by accident or on purpose—from the official party orthodoxy on the matter.

Case in point:  When the idea of a “straight pride parade” was decried by the entire cast of The View, the group released an ever-so-tongue-in-cheek statement, calling the ABC program’s condemnation “an act of literal violence that has endangered the lives of heterosexuals everywhere,” adding, “Heterosexuals have languished in the shadows for decades, but we’re not taking it lying down.  Until an ‘S’ is added, LGBTQ pride will continue to be a system of oppression designed to systematically erase straight people from existence.”

The joke, in other words, is that the LGBT rights movement has been so wildly successful as of late—and has, indeed, so fully entered into mainstream culture as to be borderline uninteresting—that it has apparently left many heterosexuals feeling left out and marginalized.  As with men and women in the age of #MeToo, the victims have supposedly become the victimizers, and vice versa.  And so long as straight people see themselves as a disfavored minority—albeit one that comprises well over 90 percent of the population—why not release some of that pent-up anxiety with a good old-fashioned parade?

Yes, it’s manifestly ridiculous—but why is it any more ridiculous than a parade celebrating its opposite? 

Either we’re all equal or we’re not.  Having spent decades successfully convincing most of America that it’s wrong to judge people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, don’t America’s queer folk have a special responsibility to allow heterosexuality to be given its proper due?  Since when did sexual identity become a zero-sum game?

In a Newsweek cover story in 2012 that half-jokingly referred to Barack Obama as “the first gay president,” Andrew Sullivan wrote, “The point of the gay rights movement […] is not about helping people be gay.  It is about creating the space for people to be themselves.”  This, in a way, was a re-stating of Sullivan’s 2010 proclamation, “The goal of the gay rights movement should be to cease to exist.”

So far as I’m concerned, that is the attitude the LGBT community should strike about itself in 2019:  We’re here.  We’re queer.  Let’s move on.