On Donald Trump

What price a few more self-indulgent, windy words? What can be said about the inauguration of America’s first post-truth president that hasn’t already been said?

I’m just going to write. These are half-formed thoughts at best, but they’re better than silence. Better than acquiescence. Writing, attempting to make sense of the chaos and contradictions of the world, and to arrive at truth through words, is fast becoming a revolutionary act in itself in the age of emojis and cat videos. Those of us who believe in the power of words, in the search for facts, for truth, are in the minority now.

But then again, we always were. Sallust once wrote that only a few people truly desire liberty. The rest seek nothing more than fair masters.

Democracy itself has been brought into disrepute by Trump’s election. The Chinese government has incorporated him into its own propaganda, to mock the very idea of free elections and multiparty democracy. What’s the point of elections if they hand the levers of state power over to a racist, misogynistic buffoon? Vox Populi, Vox Dei indeed. It’s hard to swallow that particular trope with a straight face right now.

On the one hand, obviously, this is all terrifying. A fascist who meets all the criteria that Umberto Eco laid out in his seminal essay on ur-fascism, or ‘eternal fascism,’ is now President of the United States. Trumpism is as ludicrous and full of contradictions as its ideological predecessors in Germany and Italy, but it was powerful enough to sway a sizeable rump of the American population into believing that only the strongman could save a declining republic. And at a time when the stock market is shattering records, and unemployment is at a historic low. This seeming contradiction should give us pause for thought.

On the other hand, this is all very exciting. The battle lines are clear. The cause is just. I never thought my generation would get the chance to fight fascists in the streets for the soul of civilization. I thought our grandparents would be the last to have the privilege of fighting for truth, beauty, freedom, and love against the forces of evil. The liberal, capitalist order seemed unassailable, unquestionable.

Now, of course, it has never looked weaker, more desperate, more pathetic. I wonder if we’ll miss it when it’s well and truly gone. In fact, I’m almost certain we will. Moderation, compromise, consensus, stable jobs and financial security have always been an underwhelming sell. Liberalism has always been unheroic, ungrandiose. It makes no pledges of eternal struggle, no promises of the ultimate sacrifice. It merely encourages peace, trade, good governance, an avoidance of extremes. This is always going to strike some people as being insufferably dull. There are always going to be angry young men wanting to die for some sacred cause, unwilling to accept the adult compromises of jobs, children, taxes. It’s much more exciting to throw your lot in with something heroic. Witness the appeal of Zionism, or the Islamic State. Witness my own excitement at the prospect of glorious battle.

But of course, the other side now controls the most sophisticated machinery of political surveillance, intimidation, and oppression that there has ever been. They’re better armed, better situated, and better prepared. I don’t think any of us on the left really understood that this could actually happen until it was too late. And now that it’s here, there’s not a lot of time to catch up. The other side has been stocking up on canned goods and buying high-powered assault weapons, ultimately served well by their anti-state paranoia. We may lose this fight.

I’m reminded of an interview I heard last year with Cornell West. The interviewer asked him, if he was so pessimistic about the chances for the victory of the causes he championed, why he continued to fight? West responded that if at the end of all the struggle, of all the causes, all the shouting, the end result is that we of the left lose, well then we lose. It doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth fighting.

This is a fight worth fighting. Nativism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, unfettered greed, the destruction of the planet itself as a habitable place in this universe; these are all worth fighting tooth and nail, to the bitter end. Who cares if we win or lose?

An open letter to Vladimir Putin.

Mr. President.

Your Duma is about to present you with a bill to ban homosexual propaganda. Or, as it’s rather more euphemistically termed in the bill, ‘non-traditional sexual relations.’

88 percent of your public supports this bill. An unheard of number. Even in the west, I wouldn’t bet the farm on a politician to stand up to those kinds of odds. It would require a bravery I suspect you probably lack.

Of course, you know that number already. You’ve massaged it into being. You own the television stations, you own the radio, you own the social networks. People increasingly think what you want them to think.

Indeed, you probably had a hand in the drafting of this legislation, didn’t you? I can’t help but suspect that you at least know what it contains.

You don’t know me, and will probably never read this. But on the off-chance you ever do, from the bottom of my heart, I want you to know something.

You will never be rid of us.

The people whose very existence you are on the edge of criminalizing with this legislation? The people you’ve denied the right even to be spoken of? The right to be acknowledged in conversation?

We”ll always be there.

You can kill us all, sure. You can take every single one of the wonderful, courageous people who disrupted today’s proceedings outside your pathetic excuse for a parliament and kill them yourself, if you like. You can trawl through the internet for us and find us, one by one, and kill us all. You can kill everyone we’ve ever loved, and millions more who we’ll never meet. Camps, shootings, whatever you like.

We will still be there. We’ll be all around you.

We’ll be your friends, your neighbors, your staff, your ministers, your flunkeys, your supporters, even your tame priests. We’ll be smiling seraphically at you from the front row of every throng of adoring fans. We’ll be glaring at you with hatred from the protests outside your walls.

You will never escape us. Not you, nor any of your supporters who genuinely think this is an excellent law, and want you to pass it, will ever escape us.

We’ll haunt you from behind the eyes of your children.

But we’ll do it in silence. We’ll retreat into ourselves. You’ll never know what we’re thinking, or how we feel. We’ll live in a realm of unspoken longings and secrets. We’ll have our dreams, our hopes, our friends. Some of us may even get to love.

But we’ll know our dreams can never come true. We’ll see all our hopes crumble to ashes. We’ll never truly know if we’ve ever had a real friend. And most of us will never know love as anything other than a bitter charade. And those lucky few who learn differently will live in fear and persecution until the end of their days. We’ll never get to hold someone’s hand and walk down a street. We’ll never get to introduce anyone to our parents. We’ll never get married. Not for real, anyway.

And we’ll be your children. And there’ll be nothing you can do to help us, no way to ease the hell of our lives. Because we’ll live in such fear of you that you’ll never once even know who we really were.

This is all by way of warning. You could still not sign the law.

But by the time you read this, I suspect it will be too late.

Yours,

Nicholas Pullen

France’s Mistake

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It is one of history’s more amusing ironies that a substantial amount of French men and women are in the streets today declaring a bigotry and an ignorance that would make an increasingly fringe branch of the Republican party proud.

France, doubtlessly, has gone up in the estimation of the Westboro Baptist Church this week. Which alone you think would give them pause.

But one often forgets, given the glamour and fascination of the historically very successful French left, that it wasn’t actually a decadent socialist government that declared the Iraq war an imperialist misadventure. It was Jaques Chirac. A consummate rightist. To say nothing of NIcolas Sarkozy or the Le Pen’s, father and daughter. France’s right wing is active, dedicated, and powerful.

An anecdote; I once went to a private member’s club in Paris, which shall remain nameless, but which was in a rather swanky area of town. We had a few drinks, and laughed at the incongruity of our being there, when as I was leaving I spotted a portrait of Marshall Petain.

The quisling French leader under Nazi occupation.

I asked someone who looked like they worked there whether it was, in fact, him.

He smiled, winked at me, and said yes it was. And it hung there all year.

We left after that. Haven’t been back since.

Strange, isn’t it? But this goes back to the revolution. France still feels starkly, utterly divided about that event. There’s a rich tradition of revolution, of struggle, of restless drive for improvement and progress. But there’s also a substantial amount of people who didn’t vote for the death of the king, so to speak. Who look back to a Catholic, medieval, chivalrous France, and despise France’s disorderly modern heritage. Petain had a lot of support.

At least some of it came from the same people who stoned collaborators in the streets and shaved the heads of women they knew as they beat them in the street when the Nazis finally withdrew.

And we’re seeing that side of France today. The one that hates change. The one that gladly handed over the Jews. The one that despises the erosion of traditional gender norms and values, and sees gays as a threat.

Above all, it’s the violence that surprises me. The disgust. The anger. One wonders what we did.

But one also doesn’t really care, because ultimately these people tend to lose. Their endless quest to hold back the tides of history, to freeze things, to preserve a golden moment, are doomed to inevitable failure. Progress is inevitable. Change cannot be stopped. And it’s impossible to sustain this level of hatred and anger. It eventually comes back to burn you.

Bigots, whether they be French, American, Ugandan, Saudi, Russian, or indeed Canadian, lead bitter, unhappy lives. Because ultimately they’re spending far too much of their day worrying about the habits of other people. Which is an unproductive waste of everyone’s time.

I’ll think twice about showing affection to someone I love in the streets of Paris now. I wish I didn’t have to. But apparently the city of love is for straight people.

The Surreal Case of North Korea

North Korean Missiles

A friend of mine recently suggested to me that I write a post detailing what I think about North Korea.

In fairness, I have no idea what to say.

This is a country like no other on earth. One that lives through unimaginable brutalities every day, and which we in the west are content to let linger in a long, horrible nightmare that has, for the people of this hermit kingdom, lasted over 50 years. See the movie Kimjongilia if you want to know what life is like in this benighted country. It will horrify you. My brother in law, who’s a film director, once interviewed a survivor, which seems the only appropriate word to use, of North Korea. He asked the man’s South Korean handler if his story was particularly terrifying.

He said no. They’re all like that.

We turn a blind eye because…I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest. I imagine it has a lot to do with not wanting to antagonize China, given what happened last time the west tried to extirpate this vicious bunch of thugs. Read Kissinger’s Nixon in China for an account of how Mao’s China went to war to defend this stupid little republic.

And because they have nuclear weapons.

It seems pretty clear now that this is the case. North Korea now has a small nuclear bomb that it is capable of putting in a missile. A missile that could potentially eradicate part of Japan, South Korea, US Bases in the Pacific Ocean, or even, and this is the ultimate nightmare scenario, if unlikely, the continental United States itself.

We all woke up a little less safe this morning. But my first thought goes to the people of Japan. How unfair that one country should have such a sordid nuclear history to begin with, and now have to live with the almost daily threat of annihilation.

And needless to say, the people of North Korea have a lot less reason to be hopeful now. No one will be coming to liberate them from this hyper-repressive regime anytime soon. The risk is now too great.

The ultimate outcome depends a lot on what China decides to do. China remains the DPRK’s biggest supporter. Indeed, without Chinese aid, it’s doubtful the people of the country could survive at all, let alone that the regime could possibly survive.

But of course, China likes this. China enjoys having a client state under it’s control. It feels that this is natural. And as such, is unlikely to do more than slap the young Kim-Jong Un on the wrist.

But in the end, today’s developments signal the likely freezing of the status quo on the Korean peninsula. I’m not really listening to the threats. I tune them out. This is such a ludicrous regime that it actively benefits from racheting up the international tension like this. I imagine they’re bluffing. I don’t think they’d do it. Bomb a nearby country, I mean. I don’t believe that even they are that twisted.

And if they are? If I’m wrong? Well, to quote probably the greatest president the United States never had, they should prepare to be ‘blown off the face of the earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.’