Saturday, December 31, 2016

Poem: 2016 is over, and what have we learned?

I wrote this poem after I got to the Be Daring Open Mic at Adezzo in Scranton on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. The first two verses were already in my head, as well as the fourth and fifth. The third was put together while listening to Fresh Air on the way up to Scranton. The sixth needed to be there. The ending was totally stolen from Tiffany Ryan Bates, formerly of the blogs SuperTiff and If I Were Queen of the World.

Update, 1/1/17: This isn't the poem I originally intended to write. That one would have been much angrier. But I've done angry poems before, as recently as last month, and I didn't want to dwell in the anger. The theme would have been "Screw You, 2016," which was too similar to stuff I've done before. It would have featured this bit, which is about as far as I got with it:

You took David Bowie
Leonard Cohen
three of my cats
two of my friends...

Then I thought about it a bit. The losses of Scooter, Nikki, and Baby Boy were devastating, as were the losses of a woman I had known who finally succumbed to the traumatic brain injury she had sustained in a car crash months before, or the death of another friend, a hilarious and brilliant and infuriating and generous and materialistic pork-loving Jew whose big heart finally gave out. All these losses and more, much more. Losses sustained by me, unknown losses by listeners and readers, losses opening up realms of grief and pain...I decided that wasn't what I wanted to say about the year. I didn't want to dwell in grief and pain and so much sorrow, either.

So I asked myself: Is there anything positive I could say about this year? Any particular that could be related as a universal, any universal that could be related as a particular, that would be in some way encouraging and uplifting?

This is  what I came up with.

2016 is over, and what have we learned?

David Bowie taught us that it's OK to be ourselves
whoever or whatever we are
and when we get tired of being ourselves
it's OK to become someone else
and be that person, too

Leonard Cohen taught us that it's never too late

he didn't get started in music for his first third of a century
and spent the next five decades becoming
the most loved and respected musician of his time

Carrie Fisher let us know

that we don't have to hide our illness
or our battles
We can be open and honest and damned funny about it
That princesses can kick ass and shoot straight
strangle the bad guy
and sometimes kiss their brothers

Bernie-or-Bust folks taught us

that if you work real hard you can achieve your goals
even if you have no plan for what to do when you get there

Donald Trump taught us a lot of things

that it's not enough just to be right
you have to be able to convince others that you're right, too
(I expect he'll keep teaching us lessons
for the next four years or so.)

The Ghost Ship taught us to always know where the exits are

know how to get out of whatever you've gotten into
that if the place where you've come to party looks like a deathtrap
maybe it is

2016 taught us many things

time is fleeting
tomorrow is not guaranteed
love the ones you love while you have them here
and keep on loving them after they're gone
use your breath to tell them you love them
tell them now
not one bad thing can come from that

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Poem: Some thoughts on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. General Election

Some thoughts on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. General Election

America, you fucked up.

Two-hundred and forty years since you declared your independence,
seventy-five years since you joined a war against fascism,
you turn around and hand your country to Fascists.
Not just the presidency, no, that wan't enough.
You gave them the congress, both damn houses
and threw in the Supreme Court to boot.

Trump voters, I ain't even mad at you.
Not much, anyway.
(Well, that's a lie.)
Fish gonna swim, birds gonna fly,
folks like you gonna do what folks like you gonna do.
You won. You own this.
For the next four years, whatever happens is on your head.

Busters? Hey, I liked Bernie, a lot.
I was gonna vote for him in the primary.
Then I got a look at some of the crap y'all were posting.
You swore up and down that Hillary would never win.
And guess what? You did it! All those "dank memes" paid off!
Now what?

Stein and Johnson voters?
Yeah, you tried real hard.
Too bad your candidates didn't win.
Did you really think they had a chance?
Or were you just making some sort of noble gesture?
Well, you did your part for the cause.
You helped get Trump in office.

Boy, you had it tough.
Sit on your ass instead of stand on your feet.
You could have made a difference.
Instead, you just stepped aside and let Trump win.
You get the most blame of all.
You did nothing, and let evil triumph.

The rest of us?
You're probably as tired and pissed-off as I am.
We can't just crawl in a hole and hide.
Two years til we can take back congress.
Two more after that til we're done with this jackhole.
We've gotta fight, and keep fighting
and remind everybody else
that even if they fucked up this time
they get a chance to atone for what they've done.

I started writing a post about the 2016 presidential election a while ago. What the turnout was like at my polling place (unusually heavy), what it was like to cast my ballot, the vibe I got from the other people in line...the creeping horror of watching the results come in from North Carolina, and Ohio, and ultimately Pennsylvania, and realizing that the worst-case scenario was coming to pass...

I tried, but I couldn't.

Trump won. Trump won the Electoral College, the result that counts. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote - at the time of this writing, by a margin of over 2.5 million votes - but that doesn't count for anything but bragging rights. Trump doesn't have that. Trump will always have to live with the fact that the majority of voters wanted Hillary Clinton. He does not have a mandate. I don't think he'll give a damn.

There's plenty of blame to go around. I voted for Hillary. I argued for her online. I confronted people who posted anti-Hillary memes yet still somehow considered themselves anti-Trump. That wasn't enough.

I have friends who went out and knocked on doors and made phone calls and busted their asses trying to convince potential voters to vote for Hillary Clinton. I didn't do that. If I had, would that have made a difference? Probably not. If a thousand other people and I did that throughout Pennsylvania, would it have made a difference? Possibly. But just Pennsylvania would not have made a difference. Other states would have needed to have gone blue as well.

What happened?

It will take a while to analyze all the data. My first thought was that the people who voted for the first time ever for Barack Obama in 2008 (for the FIRST! BLACK! PRESIDENT!) and for the second and last time for Barack Obama in 2012 (in lower numbers) didn't bother to turn out for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (just like they hadn't bothered to turn out in 2010 or 2014 to give Barack Obama a Congress that would work with him rather than against him at every turn.) But it may not have been as simple as that. Many longtime Democratic voters flipped for Trump this time, including many in Luzerne County, where I live. This simultaneously lowered Clinton's vote totals while raising Trump's. In effect, these "turncoat" Democrats did double damage compared to Democrats who stayed home or Republicans who voted for Trump.

Stay-at-homes had a big impact. Despite the unusually heavy turnout I encountered (which, it turns out, was 2-to-1 in favor of Trump in a city that has consistently voted Democrat), overall turnout is alleged to have been the lowest in twenty years. Why did people stay home? Some, apparently, because they hated both candidates so much that they wanted no part of either of them getting elected, and decided that they were fine with whoever won - but would deny any culpability for either candidate's victory.

Others, I hear, decided to stay home because they figured Hillary had it in the bag. I find that hard to believe. While at times it seemed unbelievably preposterous that anyone would be stupid enough to vote for Trump, it was pretty clear that he had plenty of support. Even if you assumed (as I did) that many of them were just loud-mouthed idiots who were making the noise of a dozen or more actual voters, anyone who took the election seriously knew that there was a possibility, however remote, that Trump might win.

I don't think most people took that possibility seriously. I think the people pumping out Hillary Hate until the last moment thought that, come the morning after, they would be sneering at the stupidity of all the sheeple who voted for Crooked Lying Hillary Clinton. The Bernie-or-Bust types and Stein and Johnson voters figured that they would sit back, curse the Hillary supporters, and spend the next four years reaping the benefits of her Presidency while throwing rocks. I don't think even Donald Trump himself thought he would win; in his final speech the night before Election Day - actually, the morning of Election Day - he sounded sheepish and tired, a man who had put in a lot of effort but who was finally accepting that he wouldn't win. I think he and his supporters had plans for the next four years, and they didn't involve embracing Hillary Clinton as President or adopting the position of a loyal opposition working with her cooperatively to further best interests of the United States.

He won. She lost. Democrats didn't take the Senate, or the House, either. And despite the fact that he clearly lacks a mandate from the voters, Donald Trump will be appointing Supreme Court justices with little-to-no opposition from Congress.


For three weeks I've ranted and raved about this outcome. None of that will help. I expect that Julian Assange has another Wikileaks release coming soon, one which will cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of Trump's victory. Whether this release comes before or after his inauguration probably depends on which one Vladimir Putin decides will create the maximum chaos.  But I managed to distill my anger into a single poem. Anyone who has followed me on Facebook since the election will recognize elements of my posts and comments in this piece. It was first presented at the Be Daring Open Mic Thanksgiving Edition at the Cafe Adezzo in Scranton, PA on November 30, 2016.

(Edited May 12, 2017 to place the commentary after the poem.)