P.S.: I was gonna do some sort of gag about dude’s total floundering for his first 100 days, but it quickly got tedious. Here’s his “Contract with the American Voter” (SPOILER ALERT: he’s in breach). Go ahead and play “broken promise/laughable goal” bingo on your own; I’m done playing pigeon chess with the PotUS (who, I’m sure, is just about to release another deluge of tweets about how great he’s doing, or would be doing if the world was fair—but a poor ole richer-than-God, weasel-wording, sexual-molesting, pee-faced pathological steak-ruining tin-whistle shukster-turned-U.S. President just can’t catch a break in America).
I wrote about this via Twitter back in January. I’ll more-or-less re-iterate what I shared then here. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this (again), apart from the fact that, as the years go on, I realize that this anecdote is, more so than the Torah or Midrash or anything else, the primary text by which I attempt to understand the nature of God. And Judaism is a religion that has, despite poor odds, survived, and it has done so on the basis of repetition: I say the words that my dad said that my grandfather said that his parents said; I teach them to my children to repeat, maybe out in front of a crowd, maybe in candlelight away from windows. But the words are repeated, and we persist, a thin red thread stretching through human history. And when I cannot believe in anything else—as is frequently the case—I can believe in the worthiness of that task, and my fitness toward taking it up: I can persist in the repetition of the words, I can take them a little farther down the road.
I’ve got a lot to say about this but I bet you can guess most of it. And the parts you can’t guess… there’s no room for them here.
Like, for example, here’s a thing: When I was in college I used to participate in this thing in the Diag, where for 24hr we’d read names of…
…Holocaust victims. The names were on these ledger sheets in a big, thick binder. I’d always take an overnight shift, 3 or 4am, reading out…
…into the dark, telling cold air and trees and sleeping crows the names of the dead. The ledger sheets, there were columns for name, number…
…birth place and date, death place and date. Maybe some other stuff. The first time I did this, I hit a patch where there were no names…
…just numbers. The birth and death dates were close together—not much more than a year, as I recall, some much less—and the birth and death…
…places were both camps. These were infants born in camp, numbered, and then taken elsewhere to die or be executed. No names, so I read …
… their numbers, told them to the cold air and the trees and the sleeping crows and the dark and the handful of Jews standing around w/ me…
…I know a lot about the Holocaust. I know numbers, I know places, I know people. I’ve seen pictures and films, I know stories that are…
…published and well known, and others that are between me and the person who no longer remembers them (z”l). I think about all of them…
… often. But I think of those pages of numbers, the empty column for names, those infants, that dark, the crows most often. B/c I feel…
… more than any other, that fact, that moment, has something important to tell me about the Nature of God and the Nature of Humans. And…
… 20 years on, I still have no idea what precisely that is.
Except for maybe that, nowadays, I think of it and, for no particular reason, I think of Malachi 3:18—which you can look up on your own.
I lumped this into my “Take Action” category, not because there is any particular action you should take today, but so that you maybe might meditate on this story further, as you go about your days. Because someday you will need to take action, and all I can do for you is prime you for that not-at-all-good moment.
Actually, on reflection, there is an action to take today: Tell this to your sons and daughters. This is thing, it was a grand—almost inconceivably grand—project humans undertook. Not monsters. Not one Very Bad Man—worse even than Pharaoh or Bashar al-Assad—but just normal human beings—tons of them, whole nations of them, doing their jobs. No more, no less.
Here’s what I just wrote—just in case you’d like to call your reps about something similar (and don’t worry if you didn’t call about this today; the issue is sadly evergreen):
SUBJECT: White House corruption and conflicts of interest
I continue to be deeply disturbed by very clear conflicts of interest in the Trump White House. For example, Forbes reported (and Slate reiterated) that Eric Trump will be reporting to President Donald Trump about Trump Organization business on a quarterly basis.
This is nothing remotely like “separation,” let alone a “blind trust”—heck, given this standard, there is more separation between me and my Roth IRA (which I check bi-annually, at best), and President Trump and Trump Org business.
This is so plainly inappropriate that I feel sort of silly harping on it.And yet here we are.
I continue to have a great deal of faith in our system of government and in your office—but only because I’ve seen your unflagging dedication to using the latter to assure the continuing basic function of the former.
Here’s what I wrote—just in case you’d like to call your reps about something similar:
SUBJECT: Plz don’t get distracted by the White House’s “Muslim device travel ban”
Like many of the folks calling and emailing you today, I’m distressed by the White House’s newest arbitrary travel limitation: No laptops or tablets can travel carry-on from 10 airports in Muslim-majority countries.Why?Has there been a specific threat?No.Because recent attacks have had something to do with using laptops and tablets (but not phones or phone-sized game systems) as weapons or to conceal weapons?No.Heck, according to this morning’s New York Times, this new ban was rolled out without sufficiently informing the TSA in advance.
But I’m not writing about that, because I think this “Muslim device ban” is a dumb, arbitrary move that’s perfectly within the Administration’s powers—and I also firmly believe that it is being tossed into the news cycle as a distraction, diverting our attention away from FBI Director James B. Comey’s public acknowledgment that the FBI is indeed investigating Trump/Kremlin ties, and that there is enough substance there for months of investigation, and may include the White House.
Please continue to focus on Trump/White House ties to Russia (both during the election and now), as well as Trump family conflicts of interest (ranging from Trump’s sudden receipt of valuable Chinese trademarks after years of delays to the sudden popularity of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line—which coincidentally followed immediately after the President of the United States publicly scolded a department store for not carrying it, and the Counselor to the President appeared on national television and told citizens to “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”)
And, as ever, please keep up the good work.We shall defeat them one by one.
…because it is a Jewish daycare in a Jewish Community Center and we are Jews. This is the second bomb threat we’ve received there in under 10 months. For context, in the preceding 11 years, our JCC received zero bomb threats. (I’ve written more about this at various times—here are a few posts—but the tl;dr is that hate crimes targeting Jews are absolutely off the charts right now.)
This probably makes you sick to your stomach. If so, please call your reps and tell them so. I have no clue what they can do about any of this. I just know that it’s better to light a candle than to sit and curse the dark.
The President’s use of revocable trust under his own SSN “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump” and legally controlled by his son does nothing to insulate him from his international businesses—including hotels, which are currently a conduit for funds from foreign governments to directly benefit him personally.
(this one is sort of a sub-point of the above) The facile suggestion that “money from foreign governments will go to the U.S. Treasury, not the PotUS” is meaningless in the absence of a coherent and detailed question of how that would be done and a neutral, third-party auditing and verifying the same. Such a plan does not exist.
No one has a clue what the PotUS’s business dealings include, because he refuses to release his tax returns.
What you can do:
Call your reps and ask them to support Rep. Bill Pascrell’s request that the House Ways and Means Committee subpoena Trump’s tax returns for private congressional review.
Support Rep Jerry Nadler’s Resolution of Inquiry “directing the Department of Justice to provide the House of Representatives with any and all information relevant to an inquiry into President Trump and his associates’ conflicts of interest, ethical violations—including the Emoluments Clause—and Russia ties.”
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!
I know it feels sorta like our democracy is crumbling right now, so I want to reiterate that a lot of this craziness is actually a sign of the our system working, not failing. Yes, we’re a month in and have yet to go a single business day without a new affront to decency and orderly government—but our institutions are still rooting out the weeds and shoveling the bullshit off the paths. Yes, there is always a risk of those instutitons being debilitatingly buried, but your actions—your daily calls, your protests, your agitation—are keeping this front and center in the news, and keeping feet held to the fire.
If the last–what, two weeks(!?!)–are any indication, it’s going to be a long four years.There are going to be plenty of set-backs and, more disheartening, plenty of near misses (the DeVos squeaker just now not the least of them). Progress is slow, because by design these wheels grind exceedingly fine.
It is easy to lose faith, so remember these five things:
Resistance works. As I write this, carefully vetted refugees are finding sanctuary here, the rights of LGBTQ federal workers have been preserved, the repeal of Obamacare has stalled, the great Federal Lands Rummage Sale is on hold—all things you accomplished with nothing but phone calls and poster-board signs.We don’t need to shed blood or set fires or take up arms; we are doing this with cellphones and markers.That is amazing and beautiful and the true cornerstone of this nation’s foundation.
You can switch it up.Calling your members of congress is important.Showing up at the big protests is important.So is hitting those town halls.But they aren’t everything.There’s a quieter undercurrent to social action, the part where you simply chat with folks in your community, letting them know you have each other’s backs.I especially like the notion of “truth advocacy”—take time off from putting out energy (hitting the phones, hitting the streets, etc.) to read and research on your own, and to disseminate what you learn.
You can take a break.Take a day off.Take a weekend off.You’ll be shocked how much you’ll feel like diving back in after giving yourself a 24-hour break from talking politics, calling reps, reading the paper, or looking at social media.
You can join at any time.If you’ve never called your rep, you can do so for the first time right now.If you can’t call daily, you can call weekly.You are picking up the slack for someone who has reached that burnout point and needs a day off.We need subs like you just as much as we need those every-single-day every-single-protest power players!
We shall defeat them, one by one.☝️Remember: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—provided that we keep putting our weight towards bending that mutherfucker. It ain’t gonna bend on its own.
“On the campaign trail, Trump endorsed killing relatives of terrorist suspects, which is a war crime. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he told Fox News in December 2015.” (source)
If your position is “Trump said we should kill the families of ‘terrorists’—an abominable, authoritarian war crime—and now he’s doing just that!” well, way back in 2016, when we had a President with a Noble Peace Prize on his mantle, we dropped thousands of bombs on Yemen (google it), and it isn’t like those somehow magically only killed sworn soldiers of AQAP. A bomb dropped from a drone isn’t somehow more accurate than a highly trained SEAL with an excellent rifle standing in the same room as someone. But, man oh man, do we suddenly give a fuck about Yemen, and military operations in Yemen, and civilian casualties in Yemen! Better late than never, amiright?
Penn and Teller were scheduled to appear on Letterman, and so they prepared a new twist on a classic “broken and restored watch” routine. In their improved version, they’d borrow Letterman’s watch, smash it, then wheel out a big aquarium and sprinkle the parts in the water, where they’d dissolve and the fish would eat them. Letterman would then freely select one of the fish, Teller would scoop it out with a net, they’d gut and and ta-da!, there would be the whole, ticking watch in the fish’s guts!
But the network standards and practices lawyers wouldn’t let them do that trick; it’d be too brutal to have an animal killed on screen. So Penn and Teller re-jiggered the routine: Instead of an aquarium full of live fish, they’d wheel out a fishmonger’s ice table with six dead fish on it. They’d take the host’s watch, smash it, sprinkle the bits in the ice, the bits would dissolve, the host would freely select a dead fish, and Teller’d fillet it to reveal the watch. Standards loved it, the host loved it, and that’s what went on live TV.
The point of the story—which is the sort of thing that belongs in an atheist’s Bible—is that everyone was more comfortable with six fish dying instead of one, provided they didn’t have to watch.
Same here: Dozens, hundreds, thousands of Yemeni kids are killed by bombs Made-in-the-USA, and we’re fine with it—as long as we don’t have to see her fucking picture, as long as it’s done from 36,000 feet by a drone piloted by some dude drinking a Sprite in a cubicle at Creech AFB and there’s no chance of one of “our boys” having to come home in a box in order to git ‘er done! God forbid we should look at what our tax dollars are buying.
It’s harsh, but it’s an apt summation of American foreign policy: Killing people’s families is our business model.
It was our business model in 2016, it will continue to be in 2017, the party, skin color, generation, and gender of the president notwithstanding. If you don’t like that—well, you’re in decent company, because I don’t like it either. But let’s be honest with ourselves, and just take a damned second to sort out of we really don’t like being in the Murder Business, or if we simply dislike it when a mouthy, pudgy, tactless New Yorker is the one murdering on our behalf.
Finally, if you’re suddenly worried about Trump triggering “World War III,” then I invite you to consider something: Maybe—just maybe—WWIII has been going on for the last 15 years.We just outsourced all the suffering to developing nations—the same way we do with all the rest of our dirty work.
Maybe this is something else to talk about tomorrow, when you call your reps. I dunno; that’s between you and them.
First things first, I want to applaud my senator, Debbie Stabenow, for being hella legit. I just called her office for my daily check-in, and got a little insight on her process when it comes to the Second-Place President’s cabinet nominations: Sen. Stabenow has been meeting with each nominee one-on-one, preferably face-to-face, to feel them out and attempt to get answers to the specific concerns being raised by her constituents. None of the grand-standing or histrionics congressfolk are notorious for, just a straight-up, respectful Q&A. This also means that when Stabenow announced that she would not support Jeff Sessions or Betsy DeVos, she had already told them this to their faces. I respect the hell out of that, and knowing this bit about her process helps me feel less terrible. Thank you, Sen. Stabenow!
Second, I want to clarify two things about calling your reps (which you should be doing daily. Please!):
Call your reps even if you know they already agree with you and are doing what you want done! Tell them “thank you!” If you feel even an iota safer knowing that they are going to bat for you, then say so. This serves two purposes:
It’s a numbers game. They count calls, and those numbers mean something, not just in their office, but on the floor of the House and Senate. The Honorable Gentleman from BFE cares a helluva lot about 100 calls from folks in his district—at the very least, those people can fire him in a couple short years!—but he sure as hell doesn’t just ignore 10,000 calls in The Honorable Lady’s district over in Big City Metro Area, because he sure as hell doesn’t plan on representing BFE his whole damn life. He wants to go places. (This isn’t just my opinion; this is what Rep. Dingell’s office told me this morning: The number one thing you can do as an individual citizen is keep calling.)
Your reps have the worst job, and they need moral support. They are going to get screamed at and threatened for sticking up for the things we want—that’s ludicrous, because you’d think all Americans should want well-funded schools, neighbors from all over the world, and safe drinking water, but here we are. Your reps have to get up every morning, put on uncomfortable shoes, and go get screamed at by weirdos. It is a lot easier for them to hang tough if they can keep in mind how many hundreds of folks back home have their back.
Making these calls is as much about your mental health as our nation’s stability. Even when you’re on the losing end of an issue—and you will be, often—you are going to start feeling better if you take 10 minutes each day to talk to these staffers, to hear their confidence and enthusiasm and bravery and support of you, as a citizen and a fellow human.