Everyone agrees that President Trump seems to have been exposed as unfit for office in the week of his rash assassination of a top Iranian general. But who is going to act? The public is scared because they know that protest doesn’t work and that it often turns protesters into targets of surveillance. Congress won’t act because they are cowards and are owned by major corporations. And the media won’t do anything for the same reason.
What happens now?
I suppose it’s my own fault that everyone’s asking me how America will change after January 20th. Such is the price one pays for being America’s political Cassandra: predicted Donald Trump would win the election, told the Democrats snubbing Bernie was a mistake, said we would invade Iraq two years before we did (and that we’d lose), may have been the only person besides Barbara Lee who knew that the “good war” in Afghanistan wasn’t good and wasn’t winnable. I wish I were this good at picking stocks; it pays better.
Anyway: what does happen now?
These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan. These days, a guy named Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is in charge of this former Soviet backwater. Berdimuhamedow recently made news by unveiling a massive statue of himself, in gold, riding a golden horse, on top of a cliff. (I assume he’s unfamiliar with “The Man From Snowy River.”)
Berdimuhamedow comes off as a relatively modest fellow compared to his predecessor, Sapamurat Niyazov. Niyazov, who gave himself the title “Turkmenbashi” (Leader of All Turkmen), plastered his face on even huger statues, posters, postage stamps, and the nation’s currency. He named everything after himself and his family, including a major city, months of the year, and a meteorite. But while it isn’t hard to draw a comparison between Niyazov’s ego and that of a certain New York real estate developer, what’s particularly relevant is the outsized impact Turkmenbashi had on Turkmens’ everyday lives.
Not unlike the pigeon- and kite-banning Taliban regime in nearby Afghanistan, Niyazov was constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind. He banned lip-syncing, dogs (only from the capital, because of their “unappealing odor”), smoking (only among government employees, and only after he had heart surgery), opera, ballet and circuses (“decidedly unturkmenlike”) and beards.
Imagine what he could have done on Twitter at 3 am.
New Yorkers facing four to eight years of midtown Manhattan gridlock due to the security cordon around Trump Tower can already sympathize with motorists in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat who know to stay put whenever their dictator is on the move because every major artery is closed. Neither Trump nor the Turkmen tyrant gives a fig for creating commuting havoc.
Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi, the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi. What wacky new rule might the quirky monster impose next? What psychotic new infrastructure project? A ski resort in the blazing hot desert nation? A giant lake?
There was no getting away from this guy. If your kid wanted to go to college, Turkmenbashi was the country’s one-man university admissions committee, personally considering every applicant.
Turkmenistan’s totalitarian regime controls where people work, what news they see, even their facial hair. In such a nation obsessing over the leader’s latest moods isn’t just a symptom of a sick society – it’s a tactic essential for human survival.
Trump probably won’t impose totalitarianism. He’s too lazy for that. But you can already see his manic mind at work, for example at his first post-election news conference. He’s all over the place, free-associating to the point of babbling: “Our veterans have been treated horribly. They’re waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days. Cases where they go on in and they have a minor early-stage form of cancer and they can’t see a doctor; by the time they get to the doctor, they’re terminal. It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. So David is going to do a fantastic job.”
Trump wants to control aspects of our lives that used to belong to us. He’s unpredictable and weird and on some sort of spectrum and now, he’s incredibly powerful. No wonder we are watching and waiting so attentively: we’re scared!
We ought to be.
Many of us will feel like inmates in a prison. People who have done time will tell you that it’s important to study the guards, particularly the sadistic ones. You don’t want to wind up dead just because some correction officer came to work in a foul mood following a fight with his girlfriend, and you weren’t smart enough to avoid or suck up to him.
If you have or had an alcoholic parent, you are probably well prepared for what we as a nation are about to endure. How much you get abused tonight will be directly related to how many Daddy Donald tied on after work. So it’s always wise to watch how fast he takes the turn into the driveway. Read the signs right, and you might just make it out the back door in time.
Of course, there’s also the big question: will America survive Trump?
The country will survive no matter what. The system? Maybe not. At this point, probably the only thing that would save the system would be for the Republican-controlled Congress to impeach Trump. (This would also have the effect of saving the Republican Party.) This would have to happen in relatively short order, no longer than in a year or two.
Sorry. I wish I had better news.
It’s never fun to be a Cassandra.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please consider supporting Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
I’m white, male, able-bodied, educated, tall. Got a solid resume. I’m relatively adaptable. I started out as one of hundreds of professional political cartoonists. Now there are fewer than 20. Yet I’m freaked out.
I’ve survived poverty, getting mugged and being shot at and managed to remain pretty calm. But I’m more worried now.
Given how relatively good I have it, I can’t imagine how freaked out everyone else must be. Like, for example, black people when they get stopped by cops. Or Tamir Rice’s parents.
There are countless anxiety-inducing news stories tailor-made for this news junkie with a special interest in economics and the Middle East. This week alone, the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen widened into a full-fledged Sunni-Shia diplomatic rift over the execution of a Shia cleric. Scary. Then there’s the falling stock market, which controls me, over which I have no influence, and against whose effects I am unequipped to protect myself. The boom-bust cycle of capitalism is giving us bigger, more frequent troughs punctuated by shorter boomlets whose benefits all go to the top 1%.
I can’t believe anyone likes capitalism. Most people are a paycheck away from homelessness. Jobs are scarce. Jobs keep paying less. Bosses keep getting meaner. Everything gets more expensive.
Capitalism is so depressing it makes one nostalgic for Soviet-era queues for toilet paper.
In what is in danger of becoming a pattern for me, I have to apologize to the Baby Boom generation, specifically for rolling my eyes when Boomers whined about turning 50. That’s when you lose your job, can’t find a new one, struggle to care for aging parents while feeling your own body start to fall apart. They were right. The fifties are a bitch. (Though fiftysomething Gen Xers have less cash than they did.)
To mangle Hunter S. Thompson, last year got weird. I’m trying to go pro, but I’m not sure what that means.
2015 was the year when what used to be my boring safe job, drawing political cartoons, became more dangerous than my other job, part-time war correspondent.
Psycho gunmen slaughtered my colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, making France the nation where a journalist was most likely to get murdered in 2015. More psycho gunmen tried to shoot up a right-wing anti-Muslim cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, only to get themselves killed by the local SWAT team. There were always death threats; now they’re scarier and more specific.
After Charlie and Garland, you’d think newspapers and magazines would have rallied around what’s left of American editorial cartooning. There is zero, zip, nada support for American cartoonists by editors or publishers. Post-Charlie, they all wrote passionate editorials defending free speech. They said nice things about cartooning. While they fired more cartoonists. Refused to hire any. Stopped printing them.
The cowards didn’t even reprint the Charlie cartoons so their readers could see what the fuss was about.
The annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Columbus inaugurated the new normal: police police police, police dogs, police snipers on the roof. When I went on tour to publicize my book Snowden, security became a routine part of the equation — for the first time in nearly 20 books.
No wonder no one under 30 wants to become a political cartoonist. Not only is there no work and no respect, your impoverished ass might get shot with an AR-15.
So then a few weeks ago I looked at my chest. I probably do this more than you do, because a wart on my chest once nearly killed me. I noticed a new bump. A growing new bump. I found myself in the somewhat ridiculous role of the first male in three weeks to pass through the automatic doors of the rhodamine-pink special Breast building at my hospital. I’m anti-sexist. Still, it does something to a man to be quizzed about his menstrual and lactation histories. Not to mention worrying about the possibility of becoming one of the couple of thousand American men who get breast cancer each year — you just know the system isn’t set up for that.
Fortunately, I dodged that bullet. Just a lipoma.
A bullet that hit me square in the chest last year, albeit metaphorically, was fired by Nick Goldberg, an editor at The Los Angeles Times. He accused me of lying in his newspaper, a grave offense in journalism unless your name is Bill O’Reilly, and fired me. I hadn’t lied. He was wrong. After I presented proof that I’d told the truth, the Times — under pressure, since the Internet was going crazy due to their disgusting refusal to reconsider — didn’t issue a retraction or hire me back. Presumably fearing a lawsuit, they doubled down. Goldberg still draws a salary. Not me.
I used to be a sound sleeper. Head hit the pillow, I was gone until morning.
No more. Insomnia is my new normal. I’m jittery, nervous, distrusting. Lots of nightmares. If you can be so totally wronged, libeled by a corporation that’s literally trying to destroy your career because of its opaque conflict of interest with outside parties (the Los Angeles Police Department), and it doesn’t make any difference when you prove you’re innocent, where common sense and human decency no longer hold sway, well, that’s a weird, unsettling world where you can never relax. If I get four hours a night, that’s better than most.
The thing that surprises me most about workplace shootings is that there are so few of them.
Under the doctrine that 2015 sucked so hard, 2016 has got to be better, I’m cautiously optimistic about the coming year. Yet anxiety remains.
My new graphic biography Bernie is about Bernie Sanders. Sales figures will be directly proportionate to the senator’s performance in the primaries. There’s cause for optimism in New Hampshire but the South is a challenge and now you’ve got The New York Times skewing expectations by suddenly claiming that the Iowa caucuses are do or die for Bernie, even though no one thought he was going to win there before. It’s Hillary’s campaign to lose. I knew that. But it was hers to lose in 2008, and she did.
What if Bernie crashes and burns? Then my book dies. Or what if Bernie becomes the nominee, and the book gets huge — will there be enough security? If not, I die. Anxiety turns everything into a lose-lose.
Behind all that anxiety, of course, is money. Not enough of it.
Every month that I manage to pay all the bills is a miracle. I move money around, scare up just enough extra work, hustle hustle hustle. My colleagues marvel at my energy. What’s my secret? Being tired all the time, and depressed, and not knowing how I’ll be able to eat in 10 years, much less retire. Probably like you.
Like most Americans, I don’t have substantial retirement savings. If I don’t work, I live maybe a year or two before moving to the great outdoors.
I fantasize about a soft landing. Maybe some magazine or website or newspaper will take me on full-time. Maybe with benefits? It’s OK, I don’t need benefits.
Or an academic gig — teaching journalism or cartooning or history somewhere. It would be fun. I’d be good at it. But where? How? You can’t apply to a college or university; the academic job application process is insanely time-consuming and the reply is always a rejection. An offer has to come to you.
One must trust in the universe. The philosopher Eckhart Tolle says the universe will provide what you need.
Unless it doesn’t.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is now available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2016 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Here is my cartoon this week for The Los Angeles Times:
The statewide legalization of marijuana in Colorado, for recreational as well as medicinal use, has prompted serious consideration of the drug’s health effects and socio-political ramifications. Well, that sure took awhile.
On the pro side, it’s been pretty much established that driving stoned isn’t nearly as dangerous as driving drunk. Since 7% of California motorists are cruising the state’s freeways with cannabis in their systems, that provides some comfort. (Sorry, no word on what percentage of the stoners are drunk as well.) Pot also has proven medical benefits; for example, parents of epileptic children are flocking to Colorado.
But the legalize hemp crowd’s timeless rant that pot is harmless is taking some hits.
A recent study claims to have documented the first two known cases of pot-related fatalities. Other studies find that beginning to smoke weed as a teenager — the most common age to start — can affect brain development, causing memory loss, permanently impaired judgment and even reduced IQ.
In musings that might surprise those who remember his “Moonbeam” period (but not those who have noticed there’s no squarer square than an old hippie), Gov. Jerry Brown took to Sunday morning TV to worry aloud that emulating Colorado could leave the state defenseless against (a) foreign business competition and (b) terrorism.
“How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?” Brown mused. “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
The governor didn’t say whether his garbled grammar was attributable to pot or the shortcomings of his secondary education.
I’m always interested in policy appeals motivated by fear. Politicians have unleashed an awful lot of threats — a few real but mostly imagined — during the last decade and a half. And they haven’t exactly made us a better, stronger or more economically successful nation. Brown’s thoughts are nowhere close to the depraved paranoia of Dick Cheney; the idea that California will be morally and economically weakened, its security undermined, because a tiny minority of the state’s residents regularly indulge in the evil weed seems about as serious and substantial as a puff of smoke.
Stay alert? What’s going to happen if we don’t, governor? Are Chinese sweatshop workers going to take a fiscal victory dance on the bones of our stoner-sapped competitiveness? Will our collected stonedness open up the one big chance radical Islamists have been waiting for?
Californians won’t have the chance to vote for legalized pot until November 2016 — if they’re not too wasted to remember.
Romney-Ryan Extremism Could Revive Liberal Support for Obama
Soviet citizens had to be Kremlinologists, studying subtle linguistic and tonal shifts in state propaganda, noting the seating order of party leaders at official functions, in order to predict the future direction of their lives. So too are we Americans, for without any way to really get to know our politicians—their press conferences and interviews are too infrequent and carefully stagemanaged, unchallenged by compliant journalistic toadies—we are reduced to reading signals.
Even to an alienated electorate, the tealeaves are easy to read on the Republican side.
Between Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, his team of Dubya-rehash economic advisors (because that worked out so well) and Tea Party favorite Chris Christie as keynote speaker at this year’s Republican National Convention, the Republican Party is in danger of doing something that seemed impossible just a few months ago: strengthening support among the liberal base of the Democratic Party for President Obama.
Granted, disappointed lefties will not soon forget Obama’s betrayals. Guantánamo, the concentration camp that supposedly holds “the worst of the worst” terrorists, remains open—although, now that the White House is reportedly negotiating with the Taliban to exchange captured Afghan ministers for an American POW, one assumes they’re not all that bad. The drone wars against Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are an affront to basic morality, logic and decency. On the economy, this tone-deaf president has yet to propose a jobs program, much less try to push one through Congress.
But many progressives, until recently threatening to sit on their hands or cast votes for a third party, are reconsidering, weighing disgust against gathering terror as they read the signals from the gathering storm in Tampa. Where Obama fails to inspire enthusiasm, the Romney team seems determined to generate as much fear as possible that he plans to shove the needle even further to the radical right than Reagan or Bush.
Romney, who abandoned his history as a centrist Massachusetts Republican and is running as a right-winger, chose to balance his newfound extremism with Paul Ryan, an even-more-right-winger. Ryan is a vicious, overrated ideologue whose greatest achievement, his theoretical budget proposal, paints a picture of America as a dystopian hell where an infinitely funded Pentagon wages perpetual war and the top 1% of the top 1% party on tax cuts while the elderly and poor starve or succumb to treatable diseases, whichever kills them first. (In the media today, this gets you lionized as “smart,” “wonky,” and “an intellectual heavyweight.” Ryan = Sartre.) Lest you wonder whether the Ryan selection is an anomaly, wonder not—from Christie to the stump speeches to the men first in line to join a Romney cabinet, everything about Team Romney screams Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand minus the cool atheism and elitism.
This is a Republican Party that Barry Goldwater wouldn’t recognize, batso nutso, stripped of the last veneer of libertarianism, completely owned by and in thrall to figures whom the media would characterize as “extreme nationalist” or “neo-Nazi” if they spouted the same nonsense in other countries.
If I were advising Romney, I would tell him that cozying up to the lunatic fringe of American pseudoconservatism is not a prescription for victory in November, when the outcome hinges upon seducing that 5% or 10% of voters who swing both ways. Ryan isn’t as crazy (or bold) of a choice as Sarah Palin, but what Republicans don’t understand is that conservatives will vote Republican regardless of who is the vice presidential running mate or, for that matter, who is the Republican nominee for president. Lack of enthusiasm among the base wasn’t Romney’s big problem, it was Obama’s.
Romney’s biggest albatross is that he’s a terrible candidate, a guy who obviously doesn’t like people. And his campaign sucks. The deficit may or may not represent an looming existential threat—unemployment and the environment are more urgent—but “take your medicine” austerity isn’t much of a sales pitch, especially when two-thirds of the people are already feeling squeezed. Voters reward candidates who present an optimistic vision, a future in which they see themselves richer, happier and with fuller, more lustrous hair.
The fact that Romney can’t manage to put forward a credible economic program doesn’t help either. Since his entire campaign is predicated on the argument that he’s the economy guy and knows how to fix it, he needs to cough up a plan.
However, my real concern is that Romney’s gangbusters right-wing extremism lets Obama and the Democrats off the hook.
If all Democratic strategists have to do to attract progressive voters is to frighten them with greater-evil Republicans, when will people who care about the working class, who oppose wars of choice, and whose critique of government is that it isn’t in our lives enough ever see their dreams become party platform planks with some chance of being incorporated into legislation? In recent elections (c.f. Sarah Palin and some old guy versus Barry), liberals are only voting for Democrats out of terror that things will get even worse. That’s no way to run a party, or a country.
(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL