Saturday, January 21, 2017
Last night AA surprised me with dinner and tickets to see On Your Feet!: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway. The show was great fun. The music and dancing has you clapping, dancing, and singing along with the show. At a pivotal moment in the storyline, when Emilio’s character faces a form of discrimination as a Latino, he astutely points out that he is an American because he was an immigrant. The brief speech resounded in a round of applause. That level of happiness and satisfaction with that particular moment and with the overall show was exactly what I needed last night. I thanked AA on Facebook for the pleasant surprise, and also noted that I was taking the title of the show as a sign of upcoming positive protest and resistance, considering how it had been such a sobering, gray day in history.
I refused to watch the inauguration, joining hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who boycotted it as well. I did read his inauguration speech afterward, and I like how The New York Times annotated it, pointing out a few historical allusions and doing some fact-checking as well. This is, I believe, the first inauguration I have not watched since I was first able to vote in 1988. For the record, I think it’s only fair that I detail my own voting history because, as I’ve noted to friends and family over the years, although I lean Left, I’m not as ultra-left as most of these people close to me are. Case in point: in 1988, I voted for George Bush. In 1992, I did a handwritten ballot, voting for Barbara Bush as President and Hillary Clinton as Vice-President. I remember thinking at that time we needed more women in office, and that even though these two disagreed in policies, one was the severe but supportive grandmother who could take care of us, while the other was the energetic powerhouse who would get things done for us. In 1996, I voted for Bill Clinton, and in 2000 I voted for Al Gore. I voted for John Kerry in 2004, but I admit I wasn’t completely thrilled by his candidacy. Naturally I was enamored of Barack Obama and voted for him in 2008 and 2012, and this past November I voted for Populist President-Elect Hillary Clinton, which is how I shall always think of her, as if we are just waiting for her inauguration. Thinking back on those inaugurations, I remember listening enraptured to Maya Angelou reading her poem at Clinton’s inauguration (“A Rock, A River, A Tree…”), and during Obama’s first inauguration I cried with people around me as we collectively felt that storm clouds had finally started to dissipate over her heads. Not everyone I voted for over those years won the election. That is part of what happens in politics; we accept and we move on. But not this time. This time it is different.
Ever since early November 2016, my own personal form of protest has been an outright refusal to say his name, to give it any more power. His name is a ubiquitous brand that symbolizes an abuse of capitalism and power, which has infiltrated many aspects of our lives, from real estate and fashion to the entertainment industry and mass media. Since the election I refer to him only as the Tyrant, and for however long he will be in his new position, I will refer to him as President Tyrant. The word “tyrant” is appropriate in this sense. One of its definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a king or ruler who exercises his power in an oppressive, unjust, or cruel manner; a despot.” Since he is in power for only about 24 hours at the time I’m writing this, it is too soon to say he already has exercised his political power despotically. However, his business practices, his history of degrading women, Muslims, and other social groups, and the despicable, vitriolic language that pours out of his mouth and on his Twitter account all demonstrate his oppressive, unjust, and cruel demonstration of authority as a human being, forget as a President. His position on women and rights for their body is particularly repulsive, and by “position” I do intentionally mean that in the most sexually aggressive way imaginable. (Jane Fonda reportedly will only refer to him now as Predator-in-Chief.) The Tyrant’s stance on these individuals and issues is about dominance against the underling, a hyperbolic, caveman-like aggression that, shockingly, reverberates with rather than repulses many people. Who are these people? The media calls them the disenfranchised white population of middle America. I see it as people who are experiencing “male panic” because the white man has been losing his identity and self-importance in our slowly-shrinking, globalized world. But are they really disenfranchised? I don’t think so. I believe these people are just terrified of change. They want to revert back to the trickle-down effect of white male wealth and power, because it makes them feel better about themselves.
It seems clear to me, from a socio-political perspective, that as GLBTQ and civil rights have increased and come to the fore as an accepted part of society at large, that as major cities have transformed into global populations of mixed races and religions, and that as women have risen in the professional work force and seek out education and rights such as equal pay, that there also has developed a “male panic” in this country and around the world in reaction to these changes. The fact is, masculinity as it has been entrenched in the human psyche for millennia has to change. White men alone can no longer and should no longer retain all the power to reinforce a trickle-down effect that leaves them exclusively in charge of the world. This is exactly what the Tyrant is doing; just look at the majority of his Cabinet nominees of older white men. I’ve been noting this issue of "male panic" verbally for years, and now I am putting in down in writing. I should note that I am not unaware of the irony of my stating this, meaning that I too am a white middle-class man. Not too long ago, my curatorial colleague and friend MA and I had lunch, and as we bantered on about the pluses and minuses of our jobs and projects she pointed out to me that at least I had a tacit choice about what it was I could or could not do because I was a white man. As a woman of Middle Eastern descent, she automatically was restricted to other opportunities in life. I was taken aback by this because, as a gay man, I have considered myself to be a minority as well. But of course look at what has happened. As I too have moved up the socio-economic strata of society and as I have aged, I am now part of this hierarchy reinforced for millennia by older white powerful men who have always held the power. This nightmare has to stop.
I’m currently reading Grayson Perry’s thought-provoking new book The Descent of Man (Allen Lane, 2016), in which he argues that society has to abandon masculinity as we have known it, because the warrior mentality is based on a structure where the top man’s successes trickle down to the least common denominator that is other people. He calls this figure/structure "Default Man." Perry proposes that this construct is anathema to the development of democracy, which is based on lateral equality for all, not a hierarchical, downward-looking, point-based reward system. What’s worse is that because this Default Man tyranny has dominated the human species for so long, society still judges itself based on this unquestioned system. Perry writes: “Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity has tended to remain unexamined. He ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for his rights. . . . What millennia of male power has done is to make a society where we all grow up accepting that a system grossly biased in favour of Default Man is natural, normal and common sense, when it is anything but. The problem is that a lot of men think they are being perfectly reasonable when in fact they are acting unconsciously on their own highly biased agenda. . . . The Department of Masculinity has an office staffed by Default Man in all our heads, constantly sending out unconscious memos. If Default Man approve of something it must be good, and if they disapprove it must be bad, so people end up hating themselves because their internalized Default Man is berating them for being female, gay, black, silly or wild.” (p.17)
President Tyrant is Default Man, and his followers—including the reported 53% of white women who voted for him—are blindly part of this masculinizing hierarchy that needs to end. Ultimately, I believe it comes down to higher education, where one learns not just book knowledge but the necessity and power of questioning one’s own existence so as to become a better global citizen. The Tyrant and all of his Cabinet nominees lack this education to a large extent; hence, they are so far removed from the ability to question themselves, that they can only rely on reinforcing an outdated, outmoded masculinizing system that essentially emasculates the rest of the human race. Why do it? To maintain the status quo: their power.
Another reason why I name him Tyrant is because of the lack of ethics behind his election. The OED also defines “tyrant” as: “One who seizes upon the sovereign power in a state without legal right; an absolute ruler; a usurper.” Millions of Americans—from Rep. John Lewis to the hundreds of thousands of women who marched today for their rights in Washington, D.C. and across this nation—all see the Tyrant’s election as invalid, illegitimate, immoral, and illegal. This is primarily because of email hacking and behind-the-scenes politicking by Russia to put the Tyrant in power as Putin’s puppet. But the Tyrant’s presidency is also unlawful because he has mastered the art of lying. He has used a reality-television persona to his advantage, somehow blindly convincing people across this nation that he understands the plight of the common man and woman. Yes, Working-Class and Middle-Class America: the billionaire capitalist who has done everything in his power to avoid paying federal taxes for decades and has ignored the basic human rights of his employees apparently understands your needs. This is the same man who called out Hillary Clinton for her associations with Wall Street, and then appoints as Secretary of State the CEO of Exxon/Mobil Corp., who has never held a political office before and who has business allies in Russia. The self-interest evident here is not only shocking but just repulsive. I call Bullshit on the Tyrant!
This is such a sharp contrast to the legacy of Barack and Michelle Obama that it literally hurts. The Obamas were a strong, solid family unit who brought to the White House and this country a feeling of love and respect for one another that has not happened in decades, certainly in my lifetime. Every time I would hear either of them speak, I was drawn to them anew for their intelligence and compassion, and for their consciousness of our global responsibility to the planet and to each other, no matter our race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual/gender identity. Conversely, it consistently shocked me how their critics—particularly so-called “Christians”—could judge this couple as not being American. They are one of the best examples of family values one could ever find in the United States! They are the family anyone would want to have living next door to you, that you couldn’t wait to have come over to your barbecue bringing their homemade potato salad. I remain convinced, and will always believe, that anyone who despised them did so because of racism. No one will ever convince me of anything different. Now, I’m not so blind as to think that Obama was perfect as a politician. I have said from the beginning that he is an ideologue and an academic, and perhaps in some ways he was too willing to allow his beliefs or stances on issues to be compromised in order to work with those who opposed him. He wasn’t able to resolve issues of gun violence, and perhaps the Affordable Care Act was not perfect financially or organizationally. But he did accomplish incredible things for this country, notably figuring out for the first time how all Americans could be entitled to healthcare, and rebuilding and stabilizing an economy that had fallen apart unlike any other time in history since the Great Depression. What stands out for me as the legacy of his presidency will be his humanity and his humanism. When asked what his last public statement as President to the people was, he replied, “Thank you.” He understood his role was that he worked for America. The Tyrant instead has convinced America that it's working for him. I take great comfort knowing that history will see Obama as one of the most admired and respected Presidents in our history, specifically as an individual if not politically. (Some links here here and here to my past posts about the Obamas and their two inaugurations)
My own particular grandstanding about the Obamas, then, perhaps also explains what happened to poor Hillary and why she didn’t win the election. It’s sad to write “poor Hillary.” Critics who detested her of course would be reviled by any form of sympathy toward her, considering her a criminal for her email-related treasonous actions, let alone whatever else she may have done in her deep dark past (because the Tyrant’s record is spotless, apparently). Hillary’s supporters likely would react against this phrase as well, pointing out that she won the popular vote by over 3 million, something no other presidential candidate has ever done in our history. All that may be true for both sides. However, I say “poor Hillary” because the Obama legacy was something Hillary simply could not live up to. We Democrats were blinded by our admiration for the Obamas, for their charisma and charm and humanist spirit. Poor Hillary was certainly qualified to be President, and she had an active demonstrated professional record of understanding what it would take to be President. But We Democrats just didn’t “feel” the same way about her as we did about Obama. And for that we should be ashamed of ourselves.
I voted for Populist President-Elect Hillary Clinton because I believed she was without a doubt a better candidate for President than the Tyrant. And after the coup of this election, I am even more in awe of her ability to maintain grace under pressure, to still come out to greet the people with a smile and let go of all the "nasty" energy he propagated about her. She was not kidding when she said we take the high road and not to succumb to the name-calling and rabble-rousing. I admire her more now than I ever did before. And, with all due respect to We Democrats, I think this is part of our mistake as to why she lost. We Democrats just got a little too lazy and comfortable for own good. With all the great reforms and civil liberties—gay marriage, women’s health rights, labor rights in the work force, and so on—the neo-liberal, bourgeois Left (myself included) got a little too comfortable with our universalizing sense of good will. We relaxed with our chai lattes and kale salads, our iPhones and tablets, and our easy-going, democratized, gender-neutral lives. The disenfranchised in rural America and elsewhere yanked the carpet out from beneath us, and we landed hard on our asses. We took for granted that all these things that we had struggled to attain were a done...wipe your hands clean...and we forgot that the ongoing battle for social reform and humanism never stops. How did we miss this?! The fight for women’s equality dates from over a century ago, when they were first given the right to vote, and it took until 2016 for a woman to become the first female candidate for President from a major political party. She didn’t win, which we can understand rationally, but now in 2017 under the Tyrant there is a backlash and genuine threat that the rights of these same women, and everyone else, can be overturned any day now. I have never been an actively political person, but I am mobilizing myself psychologically to begin to protest and fight for our human rights the minute the Tyrant and his Cabinet begin to remove these rights we have attained.
I may seem like a hypocrite in that I’ve made this statement but I did not join the women’s march. I am proud to know so many who trekked to DC and marched in the City today. But as I’ve told them all I’ve chosen not to do this myself because I feel as if I need to wait and see something start to happen before I protest. Perhaps that seems like an excuse, or I’m fooling myself. But I think one of the reasons why I am waiting is because I feel right now that I have had to learn to accept something over which I am not happy and over which I ultimately had no control. In addiction recovery and other forms of therapy, one learns that sometimes you have to accept things you cannot change. The results of the election have been a grieving process. I have been mourning for months, from the tears that streamed down my face at 2am after the election, through stages of anger and disbelief, and now heading toward acceptance. Regardless of how I feel about the results of this election, I do have to accept that the Tyrant is now President because this is how our democratic process works. And even though I refused to watch his inauguration and am personally miserable about this, I have to respect the peaceful transfer of power as established by our forefathers as a form of patriotism. I even have some tiny glimmer of hope that his actions may not be as detrimental or horrific as We Democrats fear. This doesn’t mean I’ve given up. It means I’m waiting and strategizing.
I want to end this tirade of a post by noting one final particular point. I’m not saying that poor Hillary should have won because we would have been better off. I’m not even saying that the Tyrant unconditionally will be the worst President we have ever had. What I am saying is that I am afraid of this Default Man, his mentality and his actions that have to change with an emphasis globalism and world peace, not insular America first. I am terrified by the Twitter wars, his agonizing defensiveness, the walls (concrete and imaginary), and the blind-fear these men are propagating as neo-McCarthyites, decrying the America as “carnage” and claiming they will make America great again. But by whose standards? By standards based on fear and isolationism and hatred and bigotry? That is not a great America; that is an America I want to change, immediately. Get On Your Feet indeed. Right now.