Our “World Leader Pretend”

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If one was to choose a song that played through unseen speakers when a self-important individual like Donald Trump walked into the room, “World Leader Pretend” would be hard to overlook.

And it isn’t just because of the obvious parallels to the lyrics, but the fact that the first person point of view so brilliantly frames and profiles the inner workings of a narcissist who happens to be the “Leader of the Free World.”

Using this song to express dismay with the current POTUS is certainly not an original idea. The title alone places it on an unofficial soundtrack for Trump. But it’s the constant proof presented in Trump’s everyday words and actions that reinforce that the lyrics of this song serve as a strong warning of the kind of leader this country does not need to have sitting in the Oval Office.

This week Sen. John McCain delivered one of the more powerful criticisms of Trump when he said that “an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.” Apparently, against the advice of those who told him to not congratulate Vladimir Putin in winning another sham of an election to remain in totalitarian power, Trump openly “celebrated” Putin’s victory. This is on the heels of making a positive comment (maybe jokingly) about China’s own leader winning the constitutional “right” to stay in office for life.

Throw in some tariffs, some non-disclosures, some staff turnover, and some scandals involving elicit affairs, and you have just last week’s events. So “World Leader Pretend” becomes the song that is on constant “repeat.”

“I sit at my table” might just be an ample euphemism for “Executive Time,” those hours spent in seclusion before public business where Trump supposedly “lets his machine talk to him” through daily doses of the Fox network.

No doubt Trump has shown that he is a “master” of his own defenses. His constant use of the “I know you are, but what am I?” tactic has been used countless times so that many have become desensitized to it. And it is rather ironic that the wall he places around him like “barricades” resembles the same isolationist wall that he wants raised on our country’s southern border. Stoking the fire of an electorate helped provide the mortar to that wall.

Trump knows Trump best. He has a “rich understanding of his finest defenses,” and he has his own clear vision of his pretend “world” and the fact that he is its “World Leader Pretend.” But there are many cracks in the “mortar” of his wall, the one that he has designed. Those “tax cuts,” those “improvements” to healthcare, and those promises to stand firm against Russia are weakening his fort.

When the only person who seems to be important in the world of Trump is “I,” then the collective “we” that “I” is supposed to work for suffers. But with the midterm elections approaching and more possible indictments looming, that wall might be compromised soon.

In fact, we “will be the ones to knock it down.”

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“World Leader Pretend”

I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing
I know the barricades
And I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I’ve used them well

This is my mistake
Let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

I’ve a rich understanding of my finest defenses
I proclaim that claims are left unstated
I demand a rematch

I decree a stalemate
I divine my deeper motives
I recognize the weapons
I’ve practiced them well
I fitted them myself

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
Empathize
This is my mistake, let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

Reach out for me
Hold me tight
Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me
Let my machine talk to me

This is my world, and I am the World Leader Pretend
This is my life, and this is my time
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit
It’s high time I razed the walls that I’ve constructed

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
Empathize
This is my mistake, let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

You fill in the mortar
You fill in the harmony
You fill in the mortar
I raised the wall
And I’m the only one
I will be the one to knock it down

 

“This Land is the Land of Ours” – R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga” and Donald’s Xenophobia

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”  – Donald Trump, January 11, 2018.

The current president’s words about immigrants from other countries comes two days after stripping protections for over 200,000 Salvadorians here in the states. His statement specifically alluded to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, most of whom are experiencing humanitarian crises of devastating proportions.

Yes, it’s apparent that Trump purposefully forgets we are a country of immigrants built on a land first inhabited by people who still fight for acknowledgment.

Trump himself searches for “lands” to conquer and brand as his own with a fake holy façade and a win-at-all-costs arrogance. Screw the truth. Screw the history. Trump will reinvent the story with short sentences and simple words.

Sounds very much like the bridge of R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga” which states,

“Rewrite the book and rule the pages
Saving face, secured in faith
Bury, burn the waste behind you”

The Cuyahoga River and the surrounding area are both the source of a great early R.E.M. tune and part of the Trump imperialistic showcase. “Cuyahoga” is on the Life’s Rich Pageant album and has an environmental bent with some of Bill Berry’s best recorded drumming. Cleveland is where Trump accepted the republican nomination for president.

But the river itself has more than a physical attachment to Trump; it has a strong metaphorical tie. Trump’s environmental policies and the irony that Trump received the nomination in a town that heavily supports democrats seem as baffling as his use of the word “shitholes.”

The Cuyahoga River is synonymous with Cleveland, Ohio, once a hub of American manufacturing. In 1969, the river actually caught on fire. That incident helped to fuel the very environmental movements that Trump’s current administration is trying to reverse.

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When most of the people who came to the US from oppressed countries that Trump calls “shitholes,” it was to seek a place to maybe call their own – a place to “swim” and “walk” safely and possibly take “pictures” of hope even if it meant working jobs that “skinned” their knees and physically wore them out. They did not mind bleeding on soil that was not originally theirs but for that matter was not ours either.

Certainly not Trump’s.

Yet, he wants to send them back with “souvenirs” that are branded with the Trump name.

“Take a picture here
Take a souvenir”

It really shows his true disconnect with reality: the present and the past.

At one brief time, the Cuyahoga was actually the western boundary for the United States in 1795. Being on one side of the river meant that you were not in America. Trump likes boundaries. But instead of sending someone across a river, he wants to send people who have been here for years across the seas and keep others from coming to our country.

It should not be lost on Trump that his own grandparents were immigrants wanting nothing more than to “bank a quarry” and “swim a river.” It also should not be lost on us that Trump probably has never “knee-skinned” anything in his life.

It is the hope of many that the courts will strike down Trump’s immigration mandates, that the press will continue to report what he says and does, and that others in power will hold him accountable.

But if we really want to preserve this land we need “to put our heads together and start a new” chapter of our “country up.”

The midterm elections of 2018 would be a great place to start. This “land is the land of ours” and it is the land of immigrants as well.

“Cuyahoga”

Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up
Our father’s father’s father tried, erased the parts he didn’t like
Let’s try to fill it in, bank the quarry river, swim
We knee-skinned it you and me, we knee-skinned that river red

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

This land is the land of ours, this river runs red over it
We knee-skinned it you and me, we knee-skinned that river red
And we gathered up our friends, bank the quarry river, swim
We knee-skinned it you and me, underneath the river bed

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone

Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up
Up underneath the river bed we’ll burn the river down

This is where they walked, swam
Hunted, danced and sang
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone

Rewrite the book and rule the pages
Saving face, secured in faith
Bury, burn the waste behind you

This land is the land of ours, this river runs red over it
We are not your allies, we cannot defend

This is where they walked
This is where they swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone
Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone

“Calling Out In Transit” – Radio Free CDC

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When R.E.M. first recorded “Radio Free Europe” it was hard to even comprehend what Michael Stipe was actually singing. Just listen to the “Hib-Tone” recording that opens the Eponymous album.

According to Cary O’Dell’s essay that accompanies the song’s entrance into the Library of Congress,

“Lead singer Michael Stipe later admitted that, for the Hib-Tone recording, he purposefully mumbled most of his singing since he had not yet finalized the song’s words. In either form, “Radio Free Europe” is as opaque in meaning as most other alternative rock lyrics of the era. Even Stipe has called the words to the song “complete babbling” (https://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/RadioFreeEurope.pdf).

Actually as time passes, there seems to be a method and genius to this “babbling.” It certainly wasn’t as “complete” as originally thought.

However, if one wants “complete babbling,” then simply listen to President Trump speak without a script. That’s complete babbling. In fact, it seems that straightforward and concise ways of using language to describe truth and reality are so threatening to the Trump administration that this past week it issued some rather Orwellian dictates to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based ” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?utm_term=.3c060e17c7de).

When Trump first took office, many government workers started their own “rogue” Twitter accounts as a way of communicating the truth of what was happening in their departments despite the propaganda veneer applied by Trump and his appointees. It simply is using the very medium that Trump loves so much, Twitter, to combat the very messages that Trump and his cronies “tweet” out.

It should be no surprise that when Trump was elected, George Orwell’s book 1984 (along with other novels about dystopia) became a best-seller. With the obsessive need to control the conversation in America and the need to discredit any news outlet that reported something beyond the limited illusion of the White House, Trump has spent a majority of his time in office crying about “fake news” and distorting facts.

From Orwell’s 1984:

“And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.” (Book 1).

It is almost as if he is trying to create his own version of the controlled language of Newspeak.

Whether someone interprets R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” as what Rolling Stone called “a vague riff on U.S. cultural imperialism” (again referencing O’Dell) or homage to keeping airways clean of political pollution, it cannot be overstated that there must be free press in a democracy, especially now when there is an administration that so wants to keep certain words that express truth and fact from being heard.

Looking at the lyrics of “Radio Free Europe” in today’s context makes what seemed like “babbling” rather germane to today’s America.

There’s that line “Straight off the boat, where to go” and the first thing that comes to mind is the xenophobic policies of the immigration bans Trump has been pushing.

“Put that, put that, put that up your wall” uses one of Trump’s favorite images.

And that shrinking disapproval rating is showing that “this isn’t fortunate at all.”

Sure, a little fandom mixed with some self-fulfilled prophecy and coincidence can bend an explanation of a great, somewhat vague, song into almost anything, but why does this R.E.M. song come to mind when reading about how Trump’s administration is trying to control the language of a free society?

Because the need to have a free press matters more now than ever.

Donald Trump, Jimmy Carter, and R.E.M. – Only Two of These Know the True Meaning of “Reckoning”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
-R.E.M. “So. Central Rain”

In the 2016 election, Donald Trump carried the state of Georgia.

Comfortably.

And from the Peach State, he plucked two men for his cabinet: Sonny “Pray for Rain” Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture and Tom Price as Health and Human Services Director.

Price was at one time the representative of GA’s 6th district which is now in a special election runoff that was almost won outright by a 30-year-old democrat in a district that was strongly red. STRONGLY.

Today Tom Price was on the news circuit talking about the new AHCA.

The ramrodded American Health Care Bill that narrowly won House approval last week may be the most soulless victory known in national politics since Citizens’ United, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from trumpeting his victory. His surrogates will have to start to come to grips with having to explain a bill that no one knows all the particulars of…yet.

But little by little it is becoming apparent that this repeal and replace hack job is nothing more than a smokescreen for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Tom Price is an MD. Surely he knows that the actions a body takes now can have health repercussions later.

Because there is always a reckoning.

“Reckoning” is a rather strong word. Almost gothic in a way. Kind of like saying that “what goes around, comes around.” Or the “devil will get his due.”

Watching Tom Price defend an almost trillion dollar cut to Medicaid within this bill was painful. His interview with Jake Tapper on State of the Union is worth the watching and the reading of the transcript.

http://time.com/4769973/tom-price-defends-medicaid-cuts/

This is from the actual transcript at http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1705/07/sotu.01.html.


TAPPER: But the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, looked at the plan that passed the House, although there were some changes to it, and said 14 million people who are on Medicaid will no longer be able to be on Medicaid.   Governors from around the country, including these seven Republicans I’m about to put on the screen, they are on the record saying they are concerned about these cuts to Medicaid in this health care bill.  If you believe in sending this back to the states, shouldn’t you and President Trump be listening to these Republican governors who are on the front lines?

PRICE: Oh, in fact, we have listened, and we have listened very intently and had wonderful meetings with Republican governors. Remember that there are no cuts to the Medicaid program. There are increases in spending. But what we’re doing is apportioning it in a way that allows the states greater flexibility to cover their Medicaid and care for their Medicaid population.  This is incredibly important. And I know that the media loves to talk about the cuts that the CBO talks about. But, again, what the Congressional Budget Office measures is spending as if nothing changes at all, as if the program is doing just fine, thank you very much. The fact of the matter is, is that the program isn’t doing just fine. And so what the president’s commitment is, what our commitment is in Health and Human Services is to make certain that those individuals in the Medicaid population get not just the coverage that they need, but the care that they need. And that is what is important.

TAPPER: Are you actually saying that $880 billion in cuts, according to the CBO, however you want to talk about that not being a cut, that that is actually not going to result in millions of Americans not getting Medicaid?

PRICE: Absolutely not. And we believe strongly that the Medicaid population that will be cared for in a better way under our program, because it will be more responsive to them. These decisions will be made closer to them. 

And that word comes up again in this post writer’s mind– “reckoning”. Why? Because those comments made by Price will haunt him and Trump, and Paul Ryan.

While a man from Georgia may have tried to defend this excrement of lawmaking dysentery there are other Georgians who have explained to us that there is always a reckoning: President Jimmy Carter and the iconic band R.E.M.

Historians may forever debate Carter’s effectiveness as a sitting president, but it might be hard to find a former President of the United States who has had a greater humanitarian footprint on the world than Jimmy Carter. His Nobel Peace Prize is unarguably richly deserved and his role as negotiator and diplomat and sober voice in politics in the last thirty years is undeniable. In fact, he is really the antithesis of someone like Donald Trump.

Carter is a former navy man, farmer, former governor, and married over sixty years to the same wife. He at one time actually lived in subsidized housing. His work with Habitat for Humanity probably means that he has had a hand in building more houses than many people who are contractors for people who have no mean of paying for them. He still teaches Sunday School in his hometown church and probably says “second” instead of “two” when referring to II Corinthians.

And then there is Trump.

Carter also has written books. Actually written them. And poetry. Some of it well received.

And then there is Trump. He has ghostwriters and people like Price who speak for him.

Jimmy Carter once wrote a poem called “Always a Reckoning” from a book that bore the same name published in 1995. That poem starts,

“There always seemed to be a need
for reckoning in early days.
What came in equaled what went out
like oscillating ocean waves.”

Sounds like a karmic version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

And there will be a reaction to Price’s explanation as well as to the ACHA debacle just passed in the House. Except that reaction might be stronger because of added momentum from this thing called “reckoning.”

Serendipitously, in 1983 David Letterman hosted an upcoming band on his new late night show in New York City to sing its new untitled song. That song was “So. Central Rain” from an album that would be called Reckoning.

R.E.M._-_Reckoning

Here is a link to the video. It’s worth watching just to see how young R.E.M. looked – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ykp0Vq77IBw.

Ironically, in the same city Donald Trump was starting to become a defendant in several lawsuits that accused him of driving out tenants forcibly in a 14-story building in near south Central Park (http://money.cnn.com/2016/03/28/news/trump-apartment-tenants/).

“So. Central Rain” and South Central Park. Habitat for Humanity and Eviction. Tom Price and Sir Isaac Newton. Actions and Consequences. 1983 and 2017.

If one really spent enough time at it, then one would see that it is easy for some diehard fan to mold the lyrics into an explanation of events that happen decades later like a self-fulfilled prophecy which only one person can seeand barely explain to himself.

But…

If one looked at the lyrics of R.E.M.’s “So. Central Rain,” then a couple of things come to mind.

Did you never call? I waited for your call
These rivers of suggestion are driving me away
The trees will bend, the cities wash away
The city on the river there is a girl without a dream
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry

Eastern to Mountain, third party call, the lines are down
The wise man built his words upon the rocks
But I’m not bound to follow suit
The trees will bend, the conversation’s dimmed
Go build yourself another home, this choice isn’t mine
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry

Did you never call? I waited for your call
These rivers of suggestion are driving me away
The ocean sang, the conversation’s dimmed
Go build yourself another dream, this choice isn’t mine
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry

While Trump was too busy forcing people to “build yourself another home” and constructing policy on shifting sands unlike a “wise man” who “built his words upon the rocks,” it is worth noting that Carter actually built homes to safely house people for free and that in 1983, the band R.E.M. said “I’m sorry” exactly 12 times more than I have ever heard those words come from Trump’s lips.

Always a reckoning.

We Need Saturday Night Live More Than Ever

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Saturday Night Live is more important now than ever, if only to show our leaders that they may be allowed to have a big ego, but may not be allowed to have a fragile one. It also gives leaders a glimpse into the mindset of a generation of voters who will be voting for many years to come. That’s a lot of elections.

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The following is an actual prompt from the 2010 AP English Language and Composition Exam.

“In his 2004 book, Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton argues that the chief aim of humorists is not merely to entertain but “to convey with impunity messages that might be dangerous or impossible to state directly.” Because society allows humorists to say things that other people cannot or will not say, de Botton sees humorists as serving a vital function in society.

Think about the implications of de Botton’s view of the role of humorists (cartoonists, stand-up comics, satirical writers, hosts of television programs, etc.). Then write an essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies de Botton’s claim about the vital role of humorists. Use specific, appropriate evidence to develop your position.”

Students have a suggested time of forty minutes to complete this prompt. However, since this is the third question in the writing portion, they may not have forty minutes. They will have already gone through a reading comprehension section and two other essay prompts. But that is for another time.

If I was taking this test, I would totally defend this claim because it is simply true.

You can see de Botton on TED Talks. He’s a bright philosophical guy, but he does not speak over people’s heads. In fact, he is rather assessable. Listening to him makes you realize that you are smarter than you actually are, that is unless you think so much of yourself that you were already that smart.

This morning, an Associated Press article entitled “Trump on the attack against ‘SNL’ again” was syndicated throughout the country’s newspapers and while it really reported nothing new to the world, it did put into perspective that De Botton’s assertion about the role of humorists in society as being incredibly vital.

You can read it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-on-the-attack-against-snl-again/2016/12/07/904f5b84-bcc8-11e6-ae79-bec72d34f8c9_story.html?utm_term=.84f9249ae3f4.

Aside from Trump’s incessant tweeting in response to the parodies on SNL, his phone interview with Matt Lauer shows that Trump not only pays close attention to what the satirically inclined show says and stages, but that he takes it personally and gives it an incredible amount of time and energy.

And when Trump dos not like something, he does not simply ignore it; he attacks it.

“Can we agree, President-elect Trump, that it would be better for you to simply stop watching ‘SNL’ as opposed to watching and then complaining about it?” Lauer said.

His question was no ad-lib, since NBC quickly aired clips of the Baldwin-McKinnon sketch as Trump replied.

“I hosted ‘SNL’ when it was a good show but it’s not a good show anymore,” said Trump, who also took a turn as guest host in 2004. “First of all, nothing to do with me, there’s nothing funny about it. The skits are terrible. I like Alec, but his imitation of me is really mean-spirited and not very good … It’s very biased and I don’t like it.”

And yet, Lauer noted, he still watches.

“You look at the way the show is going now and the kind of work they’re doing, who knows how long the show is going to be on? It’s a terrible show,” Trump said.

It’s a terrible show to him. As the report went on to say, “Saturday Night Live is in its 42nd season and enjoying its best ratings since 1992, the Nielsen company said. Viewership is up 33 percent over 2015.”

  • I guess that it is so terrible that more people are watching it.
  • I guess it is so terrible that more people find it relevant.
  • I guess more people are watching.
  • I guess more people are finding not only humor in the satire, but many grains of truth.

What really becomes apparent is that Trump seems more intent on spending time bashing and attacking those who are really giving him insight into how he is perceived and that his very reaction validates the very importance of not only what SNL does, but de Botton’s assertion.

Besides, come January, Trump will have so many other important things to do.

I think because he sure as hell won’t have time hosting the show another time.

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