Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah

Let Nothing You Dismay


In previous posts I have tried to pull some of the threads out of the fabric of the recent cluster-fuck that was the 2016 election, thinking that organizing the horror in neat little pieces would make it better somehow. As I sit today, staring out into space, wondering why I feel so sad and bewildered, I am as paralyzed as I am angry. It is the best month of the year, arguably. Christmas is a time for children, and the joy is usually contagious. It is fast approaching, and yet I feel as though I barely woke from the stupor I’ve been in since November. There is too much apocalyptic talk in the media. The republic is over. Democracy is dead. We are entering an era of neo-fascism akin to the science fiction movies that tell of a distant future when we live in a world we’ve destroyed by our own hubris.  And yet it is Christmas, and my son is still looking forward to Santa Claus coming, and I still sometimes forget to move that goddamn elf in the middle of the night, and the world around me doesn’t look much different than it did before this nightmare of an election raped us all of our sense of place and perspective. Except on the inside. On the inside my world is very different now. I have nightmares of being attacked by a bald human eagle. I wake from nightmares like that to the unimaginable reality of brazen kleptocrats showing up uninvited to the family dinner, moving in to the White House like hill people, gold-plating the toilets and shitting on the good linen. I can’t get into the Christmas spirit. Maybe it’s because I’m told that this pig we’ve elected has saved the season for us all, as he travels around on his thank you tour, positioned on the dais behind fake Christmas trees, with signs that look like Hallmark cards. Bah. Herod is coming to the manger, bearing gifts. ‘What child is this?’ he says, licking his tiny porcine fingers.

There is not the spirit of love in Christmas town this year.

Under the tree this year are presents wrapped with fake-news paper and ribbons of deceit. Every stocking is hung by the chimney with sanctimonious self-satisfaction by the ignorant, filled with hatred and gloating and contemptible bravado. The ghost of Christmas future gestures at a wasteland. Barren and grey, the tree branches naked of leaves, the sky heaves to the heaven in the cold setting sun, dark with the promise of industrial revival and jobs for a dying and forgotten class. This is our gift this year. The illusory gift that to some might look like prosperity or hope, but is really just an empty box, perhaps cruelly nested in other empty boxes, wrapped in indecency after indecency.

In tales of wisdom, in the fables of our mythology, in popular culture, the people with small hearts are often saved from hate. Every Who down in Who-ville knows this. Perhaps this is the story we are seeing unfold before us. One can hope. But waiting for a Christmas miracle, or old St. Nick to show, won’t suffice. On the other hand, I worry that hatred against the hatred is in some way unproductive, however that hate may feel rational. I wonder if my heart is two sizes too small. I suppose that integrity and virtue and decency are not set up as a quid pro quo, and taking the moral high ground never demands that the other guy will in return. There is a line to walk in having to accept an unacceptable reality. Anger and disdain and outrage and fear and a constant feeling of injustice is my new baseline. This is not a healthy way to live. It’s not good for the soul, and it’s not good for the household. It’s easy to hate. I hate Donald Trump. I hate his family, all of those insufferable whores. I hate Mike Pence, that passive silver honky preacher of pure white rural hate. I hate Kellyanne Conway, the soulless skank of Christmastown. I hate Steve Bannon, that smug alcoholic anarchist groper. I hate Reince Priebus, that spineless coward of a man. I hate Michael Flynn and Rex Tillerson and Betsy Vos and Mitch McConnell and Dana Rohrbacher and Paul Ryan and the entire cuckolded republican party. I suppose I could go on and on, spewing hate as bilious and vile as the characters that inspire it. And truly, lately, that is all I have been trying to suppress, politely and in keeping with social convention. That’s really it. I have been trying to avoid the hate that I feel. It feels good to let it out. But hate comes at a cost, too dear to pay. My heart is shrinking. I can feel it.

My heart is shrinking when it should be growing. It needs to open up wide like a lotus flower, to receive the love that emanates from the Brotherhood of Man, to channel it and amplify it and magnify it and send it back out into the world so that its power might touch those that feel lonely, to embrace those that feel afraid, to comfort the sick and perhaps by some divine and magical power, to touch those that have no hearts. As we lay ourselves down for that long winter’s nap, it is useful to be free of the outrage, of the anger, of the hate. It is perhaps the key to success when challenged by such adversity. It will help gain perspective, and to build the healthy resolve that will be required to stand against hate and injustice with passion and acumen. The next few weeks should be quieter—less volume in the markets, less volume on the news, less shenanigans from the kleptocracy. Replenish the well, for we have work to do, and it will require our whole hearts.

Here, my dear friends, I wish you great tidings of comfort and joy.

Trump is Green and the Press is Ink

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One of the more disturbing aspects of a potential Trump administration for me personally is the concern over climate change and the fact that Trump initially claimed that the phenomenon is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I wonder if he thought that the Chinese had actually caused the climate to change as a part of the conspiracy to perpetrate such a hoax, or if he meant that the Chinese simply made up the data somehow and are in that way creating a fictitious tale about climate change. Regardless of the fact that we now have to guess at what outlandish and remarkably thoughtless tripe this guy is going on about in his 140 character trumpery, the fact remains that we have no godly idea what his statements mean in relation to policy. This is what I am finding to be a major problem with the man, but moreover in the way the media handles it. Climate change, or global warming is tragically a wedge issue, and for me it speaks to the larger problem of the fundamental divergence in how we look at the world, how politicians fail to act, how we leave ourselves vulnerable to threats and dangers that warrant consensus and demand action, and how we essentially fail to press the ignorant into obscurity where they belong.

One idea that is fully articulated in my physical body is the outrage I feel for the wholesale decay of GOP politics in this country, but I have trouble putting into words the idea that in the face of the fundamental denial of reality that now characterizes the right, the backlash against such dangerous ideology has been so largely ineffective. I have to ask how we have arrived in a place where basic truth is even open to ideological debate, and the politicization of these realities only makes that truth more fuzzy, where it becomes somehow negotiable and malleable. Climate change is a term that I would assert is the linguistic political mutation of a concept that should be so much more dire in its connotation and impact, but one can see where the “we’re all going to die” issue is better replaced by more friendly nomenclature. Global “warming” might, to the less astute, imply a nice fuzzy feeling, not striking the sort of imperative to pay much heed. The use of language to influence the consciousness of American voters is deceptive and terrifying. Since the consensus at present, and until we can reprise with a more useful term, is to use ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming,’ we are stuck with it. Most unfortunately, climate change as a social issue is mistaken for something to believe in or not believe in. This is a fatal error, and one that must be quickly reckoned with and dispensed with. Objective reality is not something that is open to belief. I might not believe you when you tell me the sun is 5,777 degrees kelvin, because that seems really hot, despite the fact that I have no concept of a kelvin. I won’t believe that the sun is also about 2.7 million miles around, either. I mean, that little ball is so small in the sky. But people with more inclination to investigate the sun itself have used things like science and instruments and tools and basic physics to measure it, so when presented with these facts, I in my utter amazement, must re-evaluate my world view. The sun is hot, and really big.

Admittedly it is very difficult to keep up with the outrageous shit being pulled by the Trump administration, for every day some new maneuver adds to the list of things that require measured response. One wild and tragic decision after another seems to pile on to the litany of potentially fatal and confusing actions, it is seemingly impossible to keep up. Each deed seems to load the cargo heavier and heavier, such that we appear to be chasing the momentum of this insanity rather than putting on the brakes. And until some force stands in the way effectively, this is how the operation will proceed. It is critical that the web is untangled, and that the steps toward madness are halted and retraced to the point where the train itself became unhinged. I have observed the reactions, from surprise to outrage, but I have yet to see someone or something put a stop to the madness. The first place I would look is to the government itself, but they are handicapped. The opposition to Trump, in terms of physical votes in the House and Senate by party alliance, is nearly powerless. The next place might be his own party, where I always wonder where the voice of decency and reason must lie, but I never see that. The next hope for a switch on this crazy train is with the press, whose duty to uncover truth is under tremendous threat, both from a public that is weary and mistrusting of mainstream media, and from the Trump administration itself.

If you study history or government in school, you learn about certain concepts in the abstract. The significance of ideas can often be lost as abstractions because they lack connection to empirical reality. The idea of the First Amendment to the Constitution when taught as an abstraction might seem quite a different notion until one can see actual threats against free speech, or free assembly, or a free press. The idea of free expression seems like a good notion, a friend to creative types and Instagram users, but to fathom its necessity as an operating tenet of a democracy is perhaps lost in a cloud of academics, a mere abstraction without anything grounding it to the Terra-firma of practical application. When you see the First Amendment come under threat, unless our citizenry has a working knowledge of why a free press is so critical to our democracy, it is too easy to undermine, too easy to miss the denigration as it happens, too easy to dismiss or ignore the threat as the structure of our rights sinks away gradually and in a most sinister fashion, like coastal erosion but with our freedom. Trump has made his typically thoughtless and perhaps calculated attacks on the press, and it has been met with derision from his detractors, but unfortunately there is a complex narrative in the country that is willing to go along with the idea that the press is simply a propaganda machine, lacking any credibility, and therefore lacking any utility. The press exists to expose truth where it lies obstructed, to bring sunlight to corruption, to prevent government from acting against the interest of the people it exists to serve. The danger of Trump tweeting that the press and media is crooked and dishonest, and his casting doubt on their veracity and honor only promotes the notion that he is the arbiter and only reliable source for truth. It also makes it very easy for Trump to basically lie about anything that serves his purposes, and this should scare the holy hell out of us. Were he demonstrably honest, this would still pose constitutional threats, but he has demonstrated a propensity for immense mendacity, which is just a bunch of big words to say the same thing as he lies his ass off with such frequency that his trustworthiness among people that know actual facts can’t be polling very high at all. The press must be able to both gain access to, and have the ability to question the actions of those in power for the good of the people. Trump has already started to create an environment where access is controlled and limited, while the press is not showing its teeth enough. Consider the bizarre spectacle on Thanksgiving week when Trump made a great show of going to the New York Times to negotiate in his art-of-the-deal manner a more cooperative relationship with a news outlet that was hurting his feelings by reporting on him. I use the excerpts from the interview to expose Trump as the clueless and dangerous politician that he is, but also to show that the press too often fails to press the man enough to force him to reveal policy and his intentions, as well as to challenge him on those same points:

ARTHUR SULZBERGER Jr., publisher of The New York Times: Thank you very much for joining us. And I want to reaffirm this is on the record.

DONALD J. TRUMP, President-elect of the United States: O.K.

SULZBERGER: All right, so we’re clear. We had a very nice meeting in the Churchill Room. You’re a Churchill fan, I hear?

TRUMP: I am, I am.

SULZBERGER: There’s a photo of the great man behind you.

TRUMP: There was a big thing about the bust that was removed out of the Oval Office.

SULZBERGER: I heard you’re thinking of putting it back.

TRUMP: I am, indeed. I am.

Ok. Not a good start, but perhaps the pleasantry is formality, and perhaps the NYT is placating. The problem I have with treating him like he’s a normal guy ignores the fact that he isn’t. He said outlandish shit all through his campaign and people want to know how crazy he is going to be in the White House. Asking him if he plans to decorate the Oval Office with a portrait of Churchill is going in the wrong direction. We cannot forget that he ran a campaign for office that revealed him to be a threat to women, people of color, Muslims, decency and the constitution. Chit-chatting, I believe, is a waste of time. Cut to the chase. Ask the questions. Get him on record saying something. The NYT staff sort of continues to dance around lightly, and the subject of climate change comes up:

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, opinion columnist: Mr. President-elect, can I ask a question? One of the issues that you actually were very careful not to speak about during the campaign, and haven’t spoken about yet, is one very near and dear to my heart, the whole issue of climate change, the Paris agreement, how you’ll approach it. You own some of the most beautiful links golf courses in the world …

[laughter, cross talk]

TRUMP: [laughing] I read your article. Some will be even better because actually like Doral is a little bit off … so it’ll be perfect. [inaudible] He doesn’t say that. He just says that the ones that are near the water will be gone, but Doral will be in great shape.


FRIEDMAN: But it’s really important to me, and I think to a lot of our readers, to know where you’re going to go with this. I don’t think anyone objects to, you know, doing all forms of energy. But are you going to take America out of the world’s lead of confronting climate change?

TRUMP: I’m looking at it very closely, Tom. I’ll tell you what. I have an open mind to it. We’re going to look very carefully. It’s one issue that’s interesting because there are few things where there’s more division than climate change. You don’t tend to hear this, but there are people on the other side of that issue who are, think, don’t even …

SULZBERGER: We do hear it.

FRIEDMAN: I was on ‘Squawk Box’ with Joe Kernen this morning, so I got an earful of it.


TRUMP: Joe is one of them. But a lot of smart people disagree with you. I have a very open mind. And I’m going to study a lot of the things that happened on it and we’re going to look at it very carefully. But I have an open mind.

SULZBERGER: Well, since we’re living on an island, sir, I want to thank you for having an open mind. We saw what these storms are now doing, right? We’ve seen it personally. Straight up.

FRIEDMAN: But you have an open mind on this?

TRUMP: I do have an open mind. And we’ve had storms always, Arthur.

SULZBERGER: Not like this.

TRUMP: You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind.

My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was … a long time ago, he had feelings — this was a long time ago — he had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind. I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.

And you know, you mentioned a lot of the courses. I have some great, great, very successful golf courses. I’ve received so many environmental awards for the way I’ve done, you know. I’ve done a tremendous amount of work where I’ve received tremendous numbers. Sometimes I’ll say I’m actually an environmentalist and people will smile in some cases and other people that know me understand that’s true. Open mind.

JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?

TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.

They’re really largely noncompetitive. About four weeks ago, I started adding a certain little sentence into a lot of my speeches, that we’ve lost 70,000 factories since W. Bush. 70,000. When I first looked at the number, I said: ‘That must be a typo. It can’t be 70, you can’t have 70,000, you wouldn’t think you have 70,000 factories here.’ And it wasn’t a typo, it’s right. We’ve lost 70,000 factories.

We’re not a competitive nation with other nations anymore. We have to make ourselves competitive. We’re not competitive for a lot of reasons.

That’s becoming more and more of the reason. Because a lot of these countries that we do business with, they make deals with our president, or whoever, and then they don’t adhere to the deals, you know that. And it’s much less expensive for their companies to produce products. So I’m going to be studying that very hard, and I think I have a very big voice in it. And I think my voice is listened to, especially by people that don’t believe in it. And we’ll let you know.

FRIEDMAN: I’d hate to see Royal Aberdeen underwater.

TRUMP: The North Sea, that could be, that’s a good one, right?

While I don’t want to give analysis of the whole interview, or even what I’ve excerpted, but the gist here is that Trump has an “open mind” on the subject of whether climate change is an actual phenomenon, all while he seems to illustrate his bias that it doesn’t exist. His understanding of the science is so lacking, and his claims of being open minded on the issue seemed to be simply throwing a bone. Most of his statements align with climate change denial, but mostly plain ignorance and stupidity. The hottest day was in “1890-something” when temperatures were 98 degrees, and those “horrible emails” between the scientists. That’s his data on climate change. That informs his expertise on the matter. He jokes about how Doral will be in great shape when the sea level rises, putting Florida coastline into the Atlantic Ocean. Why is there laughter in the room? Why is nobody saying, “that is not funny?” He continues to reiterate his open-mindedness about the issue, all while arguing against it. But the key statement here, that clearly denotes what his policy direction looks like it will be is the cost to businesses. He says in response when asked about the connection between human activity and climate change, “There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.” That is the driver of his policy on climate change. The cost to business. We can assume that the cost to business would be significant, and we can assume that such costs would make climate denial (another phrase meaning “we would like to deny the existence of massive threats to human life”) and inaction on the matter convenient. But nobody asks, nobody presses. I think he just made clear his position, and policy would flow forth from that single criteria—what is good for certain businesses is good for America. Saving the environment is not good for business.

Now, we can certainly not be too surprised by Trump’s ignorance on the issue, nor is his policy direction much of a surprise either, but what surprised me was that after the NYT meeting on the 23rd of November, the media widely reported that perhaps Trump was changing his tune about the climate, referencing his “open mind” comments. I think that was an odd takeaway, considering he really did define his outlook solely based on the cost to business. And it’s not a far cry to assume that the businesses he is really talking about are the oil and gas companies with the most to lose from wide acceptance of the climate change data. The point is that the press has to do a better job. Aggressive reporting, getting Trump and his operatives on the record, pressing for follow-up, not allowing subterfuge or deflection—this is what is required. The train cannot be allowed to roll on, for we will become casualties of acceptance. Since the NYT interview, Trump has put up Dave Pruitt, a fossil-fuel whore and climate change denier to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. The train rolls on. It’s already three stops down the line as of this week.

I do not accept, nor will I ignore. This man must be manipulated in the same manner he attempts to manipulate. This man must face the consequences of his inexperience, and his morality. A new age must be born from the ash heap of his administration. I plan to exhort the press to do their job better. I plan to use my pen to shatter the heinousness of this kleptocracy. I plan to act with the organized. And I will celebrate the fall of this vile coup against decency when it finally and inevitably comes to pass.

Want to do something? I am a fan of Wall of Us. They offer weekly actions to stand against Trump. Subscribe to their weekly actions, and do them. If you’re as energized as I am, you will feel better by doing. They put together a Google Doc listing all the US Senators and their stance on global warming, as well as links to their major funding. Call your senators. Call them out if they are climate deniers. Call their major donors. Use the tool provided by Barack Obama to call out climate change deniers at Organizing for Action. And I will see you down the tracks.

Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail

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It is with a bit of embarrassment that I confess to being a fan of the West Wing. I watch it like some people watch reruns of I Love Lucy, or the growing trend in Texas where people long for the days of Mayberry. It is with even more reluctance that I confess to crying sometimes when I watch it. It is a deep, bodily weep that can sometimes well up from within my abdomen, and the natural urge to suppress tears is foiled by the strength of the wailing. I believe this happens to me for several reasons. One is simply the reaction to the idealism of the characters and their actions. I am moved by the nobility of those in public service (or as they are depicted in Sorkin’s teleplays), and I am reacting to their deep passion for the issues for which they fight. A small legislative triumph, or a poignant maneuver of one of the characters to risk breaking with the politics-as-usual expectations of their party allies will bring the well of tears forth for me. Another reason is that I am just sitting there watching it being depicted as fiction on television, so I feel completely lame, and thus I think I am crying for my own sense of sloth or failure or having missed an opportunity to have followed a more meaningful calling; the pain of the road not taken in life, the yearning for an identity in a cooperative environment where we are all bound together in the cause of equality and decency and advocacy and justice. I will cycle through the episodes repeatedly, and when the seventh season sees the new President entering the Capitol rotund on inauguration day, and the weary Jed Bartlet hands off this idealism to the next guy, I start over with the wide-eyed, mostly youthful cast as they enter the White House for the first term again. It is a safe place for me, to appreciate the skill of a writer like Aaron Sorkin, to admire the actors who portray the ethos of political idealism with a realism that clearly touches me. So I accept the occasional outburst of crying, actually welcoming the experience of these emotions, welcoming an opportunity to genuinely feel. I’ve done this for years now.

After Election Day, I was already somewhere in the fifth season, having pushed pause in favor of being sucked so deeply into the actual election cycle. Feeling disheartened, feeling shock and dismay, feeling confused and unsure, feeling like many people, I sought solace in the Bartlet administration, hoping it would deliver. At first it comforted me. But along with that comfort came the odd realization that perhaps the new administration, the one that will replace these actors in the actual White House, will lack the savvy and the knowledge and the skill and the decency that the players on this television show portray. The fact that the GOP will occupy the executive is a jarring reality to accept, but that alone would simply be the shifting balance of power, and de rigeur in the course of American politics. The agenda shifts, the opposition party adjusts to its new role, and governing continues more or less within the constraints of the conventional bi-partisan playing field. That isn’t to ignore the conventional agenda of the GOP, or to brand it as harmless. Ideally we would have bi-partisan cooperation and compromise in governing to achieve small measures of progress. But we seem to be entering an entirely different and unfamiliar landscape, and the conventional wisdom of cooperative governing is a distant memory. We face new trends and different challenges that have re-written the rules of the game. Instead of reversing course in terms of obstructionism in government and clashing ideology, the chasm widened, and it did so with a tectonic shift.

The election revealed a darkness in the soul of our country. The postmortem began to acknowledge some disheartening realities that have been apparent for a long time. The threads in the fabric of American politics and the election process, when unwound, reveal the issues that plague us. To parse these threads is to see what is perhaps driving the collective, and the issues that branch off from these roots show what is happening, and where our work lies. For a decade now, America has nursed at the teat of fear, and the national dialog is poisoned with it. Terrorism is a political weapon and a classic method of fear mongering in the political fray. People seeking office prey upon this fear as a means of getting elected, which appears to me so obvious a manipulation, but is one that has been effective in herding voters into polling places for the candidate that can garner enough of the people’s unease about national security. How often, in Trump’s off-the-cuff rallies did he simply start saying, “ISIS. ISIS. ISIS” without any context other than to exacerbate the fear already planted in the minds of his audience. I do not doubt that the fear invoked at the hands of terrorists is the root and branch and fruit of all the rest that has followed in the devolution of American politics, and is part of the reason a man like Trump could gain a stronghold. To say that in black and white terms, however, is to ignore the complexity of the phenomenon, but it is a catalyst for certain. It is the background under which fear mongering, and all that goes with it—the trampling of the Constitution, racism, economic insecurity, the monomaniacal fixation—is allowed to be nourished and perpetuated as it gives those in power a terrifying mandate to act with impunity.

But it isn’t solely the insecurity of the people under the potential dangers of terrorism that resulted in the Trump win. A more complicated manipulation occurred. The Trump campaign was a chaotic onslaught of button pushing and psychological predation intended to mobilize the worst instincts of people. It is with utter shock that I find myself unable to articulate the horror that has awakened. I marvel at the immensity of the shift that seems to have occurred. Remember, it was the GOP that was imploding as their candidate displayed the most vile traits and offered the most pathetically puerile policy proposals on the American political stage. There was a sense among rational people that we were watching the destruction of an entire political party, because by all appearances that was what was happening. The moral center of the America we thought we lived in was galvanizing against every ugly sentiment, so heinous that we assumed it was too much on the fringe to gain any momentum, let alone votes. Yet on election night the whole power structure flipped, leaving the reality that it was the Democratic Party that had imploded, leaving so many simply devastated and having to face the terrifying notion that decency took a knockout punch.

We woke up on November 9th to a new reality, and we looked for answers, plagued by the questions facing us. How could this happen? How could we have so massively miscalculated the basic rhythm and tone of the American anthem? The country seemed perilously divided among coastal elites book-ending the rest of the country, whose frustration and anger was overlooked, and they had found their man in the illusory gleam of his populism. Disturbingly, however, the shadow of that populist revolt reveals a darkness that scares people. The resistance to this new reality, and the administration to follow, I hope, will be massive and unyielding. The lessons liberals must take from this, and the actions required to move forward, must be tended to. The new regime will do some of the work for us, but we have to do more, and offer more. This election revealed much about where that work lies, and it is multi-faceted. I personally emerged from the experience with a sense of duty as much as I did with a nightmarish sense of dread and horror. I will cry less over my passive observance of others who are performing that duty, and I will look to perform mine. I am a West Wing fan.

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