Tweedledum or Tweedledee for President

The title of this post is meant to seem topical but I’m actually sneaking in a history lesson I learned from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. In the close election of 2000 that came down to Florida, Ralph Nader ran as a third-party candidate. His platform was that voting Democrat or Republican was a choice between Tweedledum or Tweedledee. He had a fairly successful showing as a third party candidate. Analysis after the voting showed had he not run, Gore would have had the votes to win Florida. However they figure these things out, whatever the margin of error, they don’t guess. Nader’s position that both candidates from the two major political parties are working for the system, just to varying degrees, is a common feeling among the population and why Nader got so many votes and probably why so many Americans don’t vote at all.

I immediately recalled a passage from earlier in the book that I copied out on a note card:

To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a point of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control. Like so much in the American system, it was not devilishly contrived by some master plotters; it developed naturally out of the needs of the situation.

This election year it looks like we’ll have two choices again. After strong runs from candidates with “anti-establishment” platforms, we’re left with the “anti-establishment” Republican and the Democrat who beat her “anti-establishment” opponent. We’re also left with Never Trump’s on the Republican side and Never Hilary’s on the Democrat side.

There is a saying in baseball: “You’re going to win sixty and lose sixty, it’s what you do with the other games that makes you a good team or a bad one.”

That’s kind of true without saying anything. What if you play really well for those other games but, oops, lose forty of your sixty you were going to win? They say every election year that the undecided voters will swing the election based on what they decide. That’s also kind of true without saying anything. This year the election will be decided by how many of the Never Trump’s vote for Trump and how many of the Never Hilary’s vote for Hilary. Again, kind of true without saying anything.

If it’s accurate that the two party system is used as a mode of control, and Howard Zinn certainly made a great case for it being true all throughout American history, then I guess it’s cool Trump made it as the Republican nominee and I do think it’s cool how far Bernie made it. My question for the Tweedledee or Tweedledum contingent is, do we want this to be the election year we break out of that mode of control? By writing in Bernie or refusing to vote if Hilary or Trump is the only choice. Is that mode of control something we can realistically break out of through a single election?

If the two-party system developed naturally as a mode of control then it developed as a result of pressures and it’s those pressures that need addressed before the two-party system can be abandoned. Gary Johnson might have some great qualities that would make him a great president but most of us don’t know about them. He feels picked out of a hat. Clinton or Trump will be the next president. Voting for a third-party candidate is one path to fighting out of our two-party system but it’s not the only path and it, alone, won’t be effective. I would rather see people accept the two-party system for this election and then begin the next day campaigning for a way out of that system. This election is too important.

This election might be closer than anyone expects and what I’m hearing is people working really hard to hate Clinton enough to rationalize voting in Trump. I liken it to hiring someone for a job. You have their resumes and an interview process. Clinton’s resume includes being a senator and the Secretary of State, which is fourth in line for the presidency. Trump inherited a fortune and invested it in questionable business ventures, many of which failed, and starred on NBC’s The Apprentice. Their respective campaigns have been the interview process. Does anyone think Trump has been nailing his interview portion or Clinton failing hers enough to make up for that giant, very real gap in employment history?

Of course no one does. Trump’s supporters are people who will vote for him because of that resume which proves, to them, he won’t be “more of the same.” What will he be instead? How many of them are looking that far?

“Politics as usual” is another vague criticism we use. A criticism of a system clogged up by too many pressures to be fixed by plugging in one “anti-establishment” participant, even if placed at the highest position in the country. Clinton’s resume might make her seem like “more of the same,” but it also shows a track record of experience with diplomacy. Trump’s approach, his only play, which he’s consistently demonstrated through this interview process, to other people who don’t think exactly like him—basically everyone he’ll deal with as our primary representative to other countries—is to lash out. That might sound like toughness to unsophisticated voters who actually consider “closing our borders” an option in an age when borders are more and more an illusion, but it could bring us to the brink of war.

And unsophisticated isn’t an insult, I guess it’s an opinion, but voters who are hearing “Benghazi” and “emails” and deciding from those buzz words without any independent research that those words prove Clinton can’t be trusted and that Trump would be a better choice as our next president fit the description pretty well. We’re all relatively unsophisticated voters because we have hundreds of concerns beyond politics, which makes us easy to manipulate, but this election will be decided by the people still working hard to think Trump is okay enough to elect because of a hatred of Hilary Clinton that feels largely manufactured.

I haven’t even touched, yet, on the effect misogyny will have on this election but I will. For me, “I wouldn’t mind a woman president but not this woman,” is the new “I’m not racist but…” almost always followed by something racist. I’m not accusing anyone of blatant misogyny but anyone not admitting our history of misogyny is gumming up their decision making in this election would probably benefit from a little reflection on how a woman is being perceived by all of us for daring to want to be president. Ambition would never be quite the mark against her that it is if she weren’t a her.

In this book I’m reading about John Adams, John Adams, a political life was considered service to the country. Adams didn’t want to go to France as a diplomat but when he was sent he went. I admit that was a different time. After his presidency Adams returned to his farm and struggled to make a living. These days politicians acquire significant wealth. Yet we have to count what she has given as service. In this age, to be travelling the globe as Secretary of State, she assumed a great deal of risk. From my admittedly little research on Benghazi, she was one of many responsible people who failed to address security opportunities there before a terrorist attack. Probably everywhere could benefit from increased security in this age of terrorism, but beefing up security everywhere isn’t possible. We offer soldiers slack in incidents of fratricide because we recognize they’ve put themselves in tough situations at great risk to themselves and we honor that commitment to their country. I think it’s reasonable to put Hilary Clinton in that category. Certainly it’s unfair to put all our country’s foreign policy errors on her and use them to prop up a candidate whose personal history demonstrates he’s cared about little else than his own wealth and fame, for all his life.

I want to cover everything in one post so I can have my views expressed. Whatever I say or don’t say, the outcome will be the same. This is for my peace of mind, and I love everyone who’s read this far. Trump has said terrible things. He makes sometimes the oddest, almost surreal, attempts to backpedal on them without apologizing for them but they’re all real, they’re all his words. Maybe the oddest part about his debate performance was when he genuinely seemed hurt that Clinton attacked him in her ads. “I don’t deserve that,” he said at one point, but the “attack” ads I’ve seen are all just Clinton airing Trump’s words.

Running for president is viewed as a farce, to many. We think of politicians as people who just try to say, over the course of their lives, things that will make them electable. I get that. It’s glad-handing obnoxiousness, it feels insincere, but the opposite of that as the next leader of our country isn’t some guy who’s been on Howard Stern and talked, on air, about how disgusting overweight women are. We can imagine the glad-handing obnoxious woman who’s dared to want to be president, maybe most of her life, isn’t who she’s portraying herself to be, but it’s a much better bet that the obnoxious man who has spent his life trying to use his inherited wealth to accrue more wealth (and largely failed) at the expense of anyone and everyone under him, who is willing to insult anyone and everyone if it will win him a moment’s air time on TV, who is playing to the unsophisticated faction of the country who imagine walls and xenophobia are easy answers, is exactly who he’s been all along.

It would feel pessimistic to end this post with Trump being the reason I’m voting for Clinton, though he’s more than reason enough, in my mind. I’m not a huge Hilary Clinton proponent. I expect the only president I will ever admire and want to have a beer with is about to step down after his two terms. But I think Hilary Clinton will make a good president. I think she will emulate her successor more than her husband. I think she wants to be a good president more than she’s arrogant and simply expects to be a good one. She cares what everyone thinks of her, which is a quality we want our president to have. She doesn’t just support The Affordable Care Act but plans to improve it. I could write a whole blog about how the idea we can keep getting by without a single-payer health care system is a lie perpetrated by the people who reap huge profits by our lack of one, while the sick can’t receive proper healthcare and so, sometimes, die. (I actually already did write that blog.)

She has experience and she’s learned from her experience. She has reasonable potential to be a good president. She’s not a bad choice just like the other, no matter how hard anyone works to view her that way.

Pre-Grief

Is pre-grief a thing? My sisters and I wondered this many times over the last year plus. We weren’t always sleeping well. We were stressed out; at times, unhappy. I would tell them we were pre-grieving, we were beginning the work that would lead to our acceptance of our mother’s death and her return to us in memory. Then I would realize I was guessing. Maybe the actual event of her death would bring that same acute pain of grief we remembered from our father’s death.

Probably too soon to tell but dreams are a great insight into how you’re feeling. My one sister and I both had recurring dreams of our father, corpse-like, wandering around and seeming not to know he had died. In one of mine, someone down the road was shooting off fireworks. My dad and I got into his truck to drive down to watch. I turned to him in the passenger seat and had to break it to him. “Dad, you can’t go. You’re dead.”

I wasn’t telling him, I was telling me.

I only cried once over my mom in pre-grief, after watching Inside Out, but I cried a lot after she died. I cried but I slept pretty well. I ate fine. I had my normal appetite, which I didn’t have after my dad died. Three nights in a row I’ve dreamed of my mom. She is her usual, cheerful, helpful self in my dreams. She had an opportunity my dad didn’t have to prepare to die, to prepare her loved ones for her death, and to say and hug us goodbye. She had that opportunity but she chose to use it and she gets the lion’s share of the credit (i.e., all of the credit) for any early peace we’re experiencing at her loss.

Love You Mom!

Mother died today. Or it might have been yesterday. I only don’t know because right now I’m enjoying morning coffee with her while she receives therapy from one of her Hospice nurses. I’m preparing this blog ahead of time linking some of the blog posts I’ve made over the many months since her diagnosis of terminal liver cancer. Months we’ve managed, following her lead, to make the most of. Sharing her through my writing is likely to be my path through grief.

I’ll link them short to long. If you feel like reading any, please do. I’m grateful for your thoughts, your comments, and your time.

1. Compiling A Reading List I Hope not to get to soon

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/compiling-a-rereading-list-i-hope-not-to-get-to-soon/

2. Awakenings

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/awakenings/

3. Dreaming of A Living Funeral

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/dreaming-of-a-living-funeral/

4. Bulk Popcorn

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/bulk-popcorn/

5. Hearts Connected by String

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/hearts-connected-by-string/

7. Integrating Sadness and Joy:

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/integrating-sadness-and-joy/

8. Scan Day:

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/scan-day/

9. Keeping An Eye on Her Grandchildren

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/keeping-an-eye-on-grandchildren/

10. This post I wrote about my father four years after he died:

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/four-years-today-thank-you-for-reading/

11. My Mother’s Simons:

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/my-mothers-simons/

12. Yahtzee:

https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/yahtzee/

Approaching the End

One of the nurses dropped off a pamphlet describing end of life. A succinct and informative, quick read, first published in the eighties, apparently widely circulated by hospice workers. “One’s” was used repeatedly as possessive, as in “one’s body.” I told my mom who has a knack for finding errors like that and enjoys pointing them out. She always says, “I don’t mind the mistake, I mind when the mistake isn’t corrected.”

“Shouldn’t it be ‘ones’ for the possessive?” I said. “‘One’s body’ would never be correct.”

She has that faraway look about her, that looking past you look the pamphlet describes and tells you not to take personally when someone you love looks at you like that. She made an oh sound that didn’t seem attached to anything I was saying, but I kept going. “Hard to believe as widely as this pamphlet must get distributed that no one’s caught that mistake.”

“There,” she said.

“What?”

“There, you just said it. That’s when ‘one’s’ would have an apostrophe.”

The one’s in ‘No one’s caught that mistake,’ she meant. That’s my mom.

Between a lifetime of love and guidance from a loved one and that person’s death there is a space of time where that person seems to be slipping. That sage guide is halfway out of your life, already. This can trigger pre-grief. Mom asked why my older sister took her sandwich and ate it. There was no sandwich. We just took it as her way of telling us she wanted to eat and got her ice cream.

We can choose to look sadly at each other about losing our smart, thoughtful, insightful, wonderful, kind mother, a little, already, or we can enjoy these last moments with her still here. What is pre-grief? It’s like the pre-release of a book. It makes no sense. We’ll grieve for her after she’s gone. These slips leading up we can focus on as signs of her inevitable departure or we can cherish as a part of our experience with her.

This morning I said good morning to her.
Good morning.
Anything you need, Mom?
I need a hug.
You got it, Mom.
Anything else?
Water.
You got it, Mom.
Anything else?
I still need that hug.
You got it, Mom.
Anything else?
I could do this all day long.

Story of the Story: Baby’s Breaths

Will this interest anyone? I don’t know. Writers get asked where the ideas for stories come from and seem not to like it, but we mostly hear from the writers who probably get asked that ten times a day. Hard for me to imagine getting annoyed fielding that question.

I was sorry not to hear what the story made other people think of but I realize people can like something and not know what to say or not like something and not want to say. I’m not that green. Also people see the link and intend to go back to it but don’t. Facebook makes returning to find anything rather difficult.

The story is here, if you’d prefer to read it before I give anything away: http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/2016/16-2/babys-breaths-by-greg-metcalf/

“Baby’s Breaths” was a case of found money. I came across it in an old notebook under an entry dated June 2010. I wrote it after work when I wasn’t in the middle of anything, which means I sat to write with no plan. Usually when I do this I meander for a page and end up with nothing but a writing lesson and the enjoyment of the time, because after you learn to stop fearing filling a blank page it really does become enjoyable.

I was preparing to start the “parents raising children novel” I recently finished. I had my dad character but not my mom, so that half explains why I spent that page exploring the mother infant bond. But only half because I’d written a few random lines and had probably been people watching as I went, and I saw a baby tug on her mom’s shirt and expose her bra strap.

So I wrote the opening line of the story and, except for minor changes, only added the story’s last line when I prepared it last spring to submit to Toasted Cheese.

What I would ask people who read it is Who is the narrator?

It’s fair to say me, but I slipped into a kind of character as I wrote it and by rereading it years later I was able to come close to experiencing it as a reader. So I guess I can give my answer. I think, or I like to think, of the narrator as some manifestation of the transcendent. An angel of death. This entity is curious about what this mother might be feeling, doesn’t quite “get” why the mother cares so much about the infant, but finds it sweet.

The title, “Baby’s Breaths,” was meant to land somewhere between the sweetness of a baby’s breath and the panic that would come from thinking about that next breath coming.

Make America Becoming Again

I have a Trump theory that’s weirdly optimistic. Trump’s function is that of the trickster. Joseph Campbell says, “No matter what system of thought you have it cannot possibly include boundless thought, so just when you think you have it all figured out, here comes the trickster to show you it’s not quite that way, and then you get the becoming thing again.”

In the story, a trickster god walks through a town wearing a hat with different colors on each side. He walks through one way and then turns the hat around and walks back. So the townspeople are all talking about the god who walked through town but they argue about what color his hat was. After a big row, the trickster god comes forward and says, “It’s my fault. Spreading strife is my greatest joy.”

“Spreading strife is my greatest joy” would work as Donald Trump’s tagline. Not only is it his greatest joy, it’s his only play. He’s not playing the role of the trickster but as a nation we can allow him to perform that function. “Make America Becoming Again” would fit neatly on posters.

“Baby’s Breaths” at Toasted Cheese

Toasted Cheese is a literary journal and forum for writers. Everything at the site is free and they accept no advertising, which means they get paid in gladness that comes through clicks to their site and activity. Here is their mission statement page: http://www.toasted-cheese.com/snarkers/

If you’re a writer interested in receiving feedback on your work, they have a forum where your work can be downloaded and other writers will offer feedback. This isn’t a public forum, because that might exclude your work from being considered for publication at some places, but it’s all free, you just have to make an account. I plan on getting involved there. They only request that you give as much as you receive in terms of feedback, which is only fair. Plus, in my experience, you learn as much by offering feedback on the work of others as you do receiving feedback on your own work, I would even say probably far more. A link to that forum is here: http://forums.toasted-cheese.com/

The June 2016 issue, which includes “Baby’s Breaths” can be found here: http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/

I’ve submitted a few pieces to Toasted Cheese over the last few years. I like their system. Even though they don’t accept simultaneous submissions, they respond quickly if your work is eliminated from consideration on the first reading, which happened to me at least twice. Then if your work is “short-listed” you receive notice, which can be encouraging even if you end up with a rejection a month or so later, which happened to me twice, but “Baby’s Breaths” was my third time charm.

Toasted Cheese’s Submission Guidelines can be found here: http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/submission-guidelines/

Pieces are accepted either as features or as an editor’s pick. An editor’s pick doesn’t mean your piece was an editor’s favorite; it means that piece didn’t get in by majority vote but got in on the strength of one editor rooting for it, which is pretty cool, too. “Baby’s Breaths” was Theryn “Beaver” Fleming’s pick.

If you feel like jumping ahead to “Baby’s Breaths,” this link should take you straight to it:

Baby’s Breaths

Thank you for reading and feel free to share a comment!

By the Discretion of the Judge

Apparently our judges get a great deal of discretion during sentencing. This went viral when a judge recently reduced the sentence of a convicted rapist to three months in jail. People were justifiably appalled, but according to the research Jon Krakauer did for his book Missoula, judges have this discretion in rapes where there is no accompanying physical injury to not require convicted rapists serve any jail time at all. This obscenely ignores the emotional trauma of being the victim of a rape. And is really just obscene enough to stand without comment.

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, also by Jon Krakauer, included an incident that occurred when Pat Tillman was nineteen. It turned out to be a regrettable moment in his life that he used to motivate himself to be a better person, which he successfully accomplished, so I don’t love describing it with him gone. Long story shortened from the book, he basically put a younger kid in the hospital and knocked teeth out and was still at it when cops dragged him off the kid. He was no bully. He mistakenly thought a friend of his was being bullied by a group, so he picked out the biggest guy from the group he could find and started fighting him. As happens with vigilante justice, he misread the situation completely and had actually picked out a guy who wasn’t even in the group. (Besides not realizing his friend had actually approached and antagonized the group first.) He could have been convicted of felony assault which would have cost him his scholarship to ASU but the judge reduced the charges to a misdemeanor.

A friend of the boy Pat Tillman beat up, Erin Clarke’s comments are worth copying out: “At the time I didn’t agree with the sentence at all. It seemed like the judge was more worried about Pat losing his scholarship than what happened to Darin.”

Later she heard on the radio Pat Tillman had been killed: “I remember the air being sucked out of my lungs. He was the first person I knew who had died in the war, and that morning the war suddenly became very real to me. What I take from Pat Tillman is that you are not who you are at your worst moment. After what Pat did to Darin, it seems like he really turned his life around and became quite an honorable person. That judge held Pat’s future in her hands. She had the power to send him down one path or another, and she decided to make what turned out to be a really good decision. She said ‘I’m going to believe in you—I’m going to believe you’re going to take this opportunity and do the best you possibly can with it.’ And you know what? It sounds like that’s what he did. I don’t think there are many people on this planet who would have done as well with that kind of second chance.”

I couldn’t agree with everything she said more because I know what a heroic and honorable life Pat Tillman lived. But the judge made what turned out to be a really good decision. The last sentence of her statement might be cynical but is probably accurate. How many people take these second chances and do good with them and how many shake off a close call but continue to live with huge entitlement issues? If the Stanford rapist turns out to do something wonderful and selfless with the rest of his life we might all say his judge made what turned out to be a good decision, but none of us think he’s a very likely candidate for living an especially honorable life.

So what are judges going by? Pat Tillman’s judge believed in him, but what’s her track record? Maybe she just believes in the good in everyone that comes before her and gets burned by most people on the planet. What did the judge see in the Stanford rapist? Maybe he felt pity for a young man who enjoyed cooking out and having prime rib, just like the judge does, but doesn’t anymore since what happened. Whereas a young man who cooks out and has hamburgers and hot dogs like most of the population of the country the judge wouldn’t relate to as well and therefore wouldn’t have his empathy invoked.

My two problems are we all like the idea of second chances for people. In fact, we’re rather obsessed with people making it on their second chance. But second chances after minimal or no consequences for the initial mistake probably don’t show improved behavior as often as we like to think. My second problem is I’ve lost a lot of faith in our judicial system. I grew up believing judges were impartial, which meant purely objective, above making decisions based on partisan leanings. I’m rather embarrassed that I held onto that as long as I did since learning it at age eight, probably. In the same book, I learned Bush’s 2000 election was helped along by a 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court on a Florida recount decision. Sandra Day O’Connor, one of the five, had stated on several occasions she was eager to retire and didn’t want a Democrat to nominate her successor. That doesn’t prove she didn’t cast an impartial vote but, like I said, I’ve lost faith in the impartiality of our judicial system.

I suppose this blog would be better if I could end with an answer to it, but I don’t have one. Maybe one problem is the huge swings in sentencing. A person can get from no jail time to twenty years in jail for a conviction of rape. Maybe judges shouldn’t get that much discretion. Maybe we should be more clear that court TV isn’t court at all. Court TV is third-party arbitration. These TV personalities have all the discretion in the world and most kids and probably a lot of adults think that’s court, which it’s not. Maybe we should do close studies on how judge’s discretion correlates with race or gender. I know not everything is about race and gender but a lot still is about race and gender.

There might also be a sense that what happened to the victim of a rape or an assault can’t be undone. What’s about to happen to the person convicted of the crime can be done or undone, right then by the judge. Presumably judges get to be judges because they’re capable of handling that pressure moment fairly but maybe we’re terrible at deciding who gets to be our judges. Maybe there’s too much inconsistency. Maybe we don’t give enough consideration to how these instances of light sentencing leave victims feeling victimized again. And not just the specific victim but anyone who’s been victimized and people who worry about being victimized in a society where people convicted can receive such light sentences. That may explain why the Stanford rapist case went viral. People weren’t reacting to how that didn’t seem fair. They were reacting to how that wasn’t fair based on circumstances in their own lives, either traumas of their pasts or their biggest fears.

Where Men Win Glory: Reviewed

So many tragic missteps led up to the completely avoidable death of this great man. Not even so much the actual fratricide because that tragedy commonly befalls soldiers in wars and I can’t begin to fathom the mixture of confusion and fear and adrenaline that must go on during a fire fight. More upsetting and easily preventable were the decisions before combat took place: splitting the group, forcing them to make a destination for no tangible reason. Then all the misinformation about what happened intentionally spread by lies of omission. This seems to be the practice of this age. They know the truth is eventually going to get out, but they withhold it and let the lies and the misinformation do the work they need done. Then by the time the true story breaks, it’s too late to have the effect they worried about it having. (Which is partly the fault of the media and, let’s face it, us, which includes me, for sure.)

Somehow one of the slights that really bugged me that didn’t get much page time was his very clearly stating his final wishes weren’t to involve a chaplain or a military service. Those were his religious beliefs and they were ignored and not just ignored but openly disparaged by that one guy, whose name I don’t recall now after finishing the book.

But what’s cool is this story, as maddening as it was to read many details, is more than anything about an inspiring person in Pat Tillman. I only knew going in that he gave up his football career to join the Army, but there were so many additional little things you discover about him reading this book that you admire and can then emulate moving forward in your own life.