Dec 31, 2016

December 31, 2016: Life is Made of Patterns, A National Obscenity, No Worse than the Rest

And the pattern still remains
On the wall where darkness fell,
And it's fitting that it should,
For in darkness I must dwell.
Like the color of my skin,
Or the day that I grow old,
My life is made of patterns
That can scarcely be controlled
. “   --Paul Simon

As the election approached, the nation was presented with two grotesque spectacles: the first being the Chicago Cubs in the World Series; the second another, and hopefully the last, presidential contest featuring two bona fide “Boomers” in what became a national embarrassment, a national obscenity, a borderline pornographic contest for the presidency of the United States. 

Much has been written in these columns about the Chicago Cubs (2), a franchise that has, over the decades, made a complete mockery of excellence, indeed an ethic of mediocrity.  That baseball should affront us with the spectacle of the Cubs in the World Series was bad enough, but coinciding as it did with the national obscenity that was, hopefully, the last such contest featuring two legendary members of the “Generation of Swine”, one could clearly sense that the universe had come unhinged; that the natural order has been stood upon it’s head; that, indeed, the last had finished first. 

I began to suspect that something was amiss when the Cubs got off to a great start and held their position atop the National League Central Division.  This anomaly coinciding with the rise of a common carnival barker to the Republican nomination for president of the United States had, by midsummer, cast an ominous pall over the cultural and political landscape.  One began to fear for the worst.  One found oneself beating back the demons by reasoning that the Cubs had, after all, made it as far as the division playoffs, indeed the National League Championship Series, and the Republic survived; and, of course, the nation survived Nixon.  Still fear and loathing swept across the land as we went to the polls in trepidation.

After a series of bruising “debates” during which issues were substituted with what became a series of mud-slinging contests and in which the Republican nominee serially stalked the Democrat on stage, and paraded out a line of women her husband had allegedly abused in effect telling the nation “look, they're no better than I am”.  In the hands of the “Boomers”, the election had degenerated to the point that “Why Not the Best”(3) became replaced with “I am no worse than the rest”.  Both candidates, appealing to identity politics and serial accusations, had lowered the bar to such a level that, in the end, nearly half the voters stayed home.

Not all was quite lost, however.  Trump was demonstrating himself much more adept at alienating voters, doing his level best to lose this election.  As the election approached the polling numbers began to narrow but it was thought that Hillary would, in the end, tough it out.

So as Major League Baseball presented us with the obscenity of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series for the first time since the entire world waged war (and the best players were in the service), and the poll numbers began to narrow, the nation went to the polls and held its collective breath.  As Cleveland took a commanding 3 to 1 lead in the series it had seemed that the country was going to narrowly miss a national catastrophe.

Indeed Nate Silver, the legendary political prognosticator, declared in a headline a week before the election  with Cleveland leading three games to one that Trump had as great a chance of winning the presidency as the Cubs had of winning the world series, roughly one in four.  We all took a deep breath and then exhaled. It was a short-lived relief.

The Cubs then went on a winning streak.  I told my family that this was a serious omen, and that coming with the observable shifts in the planetary magnetic poles and the fact that this economic recovery has reached its historic limits, a Cubs’ victory would certainly mean Donald J. Trump would enter the White House.  I was, of course, dismissed as an alarmist; my audiences failing to see the connections, although historiographer Ken Burns would, I believe, immediately see the obvious.  And, indeed just as the Cubs ‘ran the table’ and won the series, Trump on election night took that very narrow path still afforded him, after he had twitted his way into near oblivion, and ‘ran the table’ by taking enough states to win the election, while decisively losing the popular vote. 

I had seen it coming.  The broader outlines were certainly there for anyone to see.  All Trump had to do, I would, on Facebook, incessantly remind my Democratic friends, was go to the old ‘rustbelt’, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and promise to tear up those trade agreements.  Actually following through is another matter, but by simply promising to do so any candidate could communicate to the afflicted at least a recognition of their plight. This area of the country had been longing for someone in the political elite to at least see and recognize what is before their very eyes. Whatever the ‘solution’, both Bernie Sanders and Trump in separate ways addressed the savaging of the Middle West by this headlong ideological neoliberal movement to globalize the economy.  The Democrats, in acts of inspired stupidity, worked to defeat Sanders and in so doing closed off any viable Democratic alternative by nominating a candidate who, being ‘present at creation’ so to speak, and, in effect, promising more of the same. 

So, as we gathered before our televisions on election night the commentators, fully convinced of the inevitability of the Clinton Restoration, began the night by demonstrating what a long shot this was for Trump and prognosticating how or even if the Republican Party would survive in the aftermath.  Then, one by one, in a near repeat of 2000, the nation watched as Trump and his Republicans ran the table. 

And so with the Cubs now champions of the world, the magnetic polls in uneasy flux, the economy slowing, the global agreements on climate change now in limbo, and Trump and his crypto-fascist, knuckle-dragging minions about to enter the White House, the foundations of the republic can be heard to crack. I suspected as much when the Cubs rose above their natural station.  I could see the reaction in those about me, as if it was some kind of tin-hat conspiracy theory.  However, I earnestly retorted, “go ask Ken Burns what is the relationship between baseball and America, he did a series on it”.  In any case it isn’t any crazier than most of the ‘documentaries’ one encounters these days on Hulu or Netflix.

Some things are bigger than any of us; some things are bigger than all of us.  There are patterns we must follow. 

(2) See  for discussions on the influence of baseball, and the Cubs.

(3). “Why Not the Best” was the title of the campaign biography of Jimmy Carter published in 1976.