The Rick Blog Annotated Part One — 3/3/15 to 1/14/18 #writing #TheRickBlog #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #creativeprocess

The Rick Blog Annotated #writing #TheRickBlog #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #creativeprocess

Welcome to The Rick Blog Annotated. The blog is a book — the story of a blog, the story of the evolution of the writing process of the blog, the story of a blogger, and the story of the world the blogger finds himself in.

Life is never just one thing after another, even if it seems that way.

2015

I started writing The Rick Blog on February 3, 2015. My first entries were just blog posts, nothing more — which wasn’t my intention. I was simply expressing my thoughts, feelings and opinions as one does on social media while trying for something more. The first time artistry emerged in my writing process was on March 3, 2015, in the blog segment “Art Has Its Day in L. A.” Previous pieces had some good ideas, and in retrospect I was laying out several themes, but this piece was the first fully realized segment.
An old truism says that “writing is re-writing”. I believe my process is simply writing a lot. Many pieces need very little editing because I am less refining the text of a particular poem/essay, I am refining the process of writing.

I’ve experienced this evolution in every job that I have ever done. I like to dive in, and work uncensored, make wild mistakes and simply get better.
Some of my attention now turns to the blog as a whole. It seems like it might be just one thing after another but I suspect it isn’t. My approach is to just write about what interests me. I make no conscious choice of my topics. I view the blog as an amplified journal. I simply write about what I care about.

What I care about is the stuff of my life. I think there is some type of narrative to The Rick Blog — and some new thing in the pieces that I have written that I believe retain artistic value.

Many blog posts are like a painter’s sketches — studies done en route to the final art work. But I don’t know which are the studies and which are the polished works, until time passes and perspective improves.

3/3/15: Art Has Its Day in L.A.
Paula and I had an art filled day in Los Angeles yesterday. We saw the Turner exhibit at the Getty Museum and we saw Robert Altman’s masterpiece movie from the mid-70’s Nashville at the Aero revival house in Santa Monica.

L.A. is a city of grandiose intentions betrayed. It sprawls in unfinished disrepair. If a hoarder’s house became an urban landscape it would be Los Angeles. One seedy building of past or imagined grandeur after another passed by us as we drove the crowded, impatient and  uncivil streets and boulevards. Every edifice screamed I CAN MAKE A BUCK HERE! I CAN MAKE A BUCK HERE! L.A. is a sprawling drunk who believes he is sober. Its attempts at dignity are pathetic and comical. I really like it. Oh, the humanity!

And then there is the Getty. We park our hulking rent-a-car, a mid-size SUV. The fifteen dollars is all that we will need to spend for our entire time at the museum. This one’s on J. Paul Getty.

The Getty is located on a hill top. Visitors take a monorail from a valley to the pavilions. The hill is meticulously landscaped. The rail cars are spotless. The large crowd in our car is calm with happy and quiet anticipation. Evolved life reigns. Undenied animal natures gratefully subordinate themselves to the gods within. Not one shallow or restless breath is exhaled. The air and all minds present are clear. A community rises above its avarice and fear. The possible happens.  A first moment of sobriety.

Art need not be an escape—the cathedral that you are tossed to from the gritty sand storm battle of what is called living. But it is just that because we make it that way. We are all Angelinos. Philanthropy is civic-minded “charity” that bequeaths us momentary glimpses of our birthrights. Our moments of peace are gifts to us from the men like J. Paul Getty who fouled our air in the first place. We have turned essential life into a beggar. Education, health care, art, culture has a pledge drive. The idea is that market forces will create wealth and men of profit will build all the infrastructure we need to sustain it. Our human needs will be met indirectly once we attain our desire for profit. But many stretches of Los Angeles look as worn-out and deteriorated as the streets of the newly liberated republics of the former Communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s. Turner and Nashville know that the denial of life is motivated by something less obvious and simplistic than political and economic ideology. Ideologies are sideshow distractions from the essential nature of us all—useful tools in our continuing effort to avoid real thought.

We arrive at the top. Turner on loan from the Tate in London shows us how to be more effectively human. We have so much potential. Turner defies classification. Turner makes no accommodation for our acceptance or rejection. His paintings show a world with few boundaries—where one thing…a man, a whale, a mast of a ship…it doesn’t really matter…one thing at a time stands out in defined relief. The voice on the iPod guide quotes Henry David Thoreau. It doesn’t matter what you look at; what matters is what you see. Our world is as wise and clear and kind and good as we want to make it—our only limitation is the depth of our perception.

Nashville, a satire created in the 1970’s is timeless—with a message for any place and moment. Depth perception. The film’s central comment: authoritarianism is chaotic, ironically. The despotic promise of order from political leaders brings disorder. The narcissism of self-involvement is exploited by those who crave power. Almost no character listens. Almost every talks a lot most often when other characters are talking. Almost everyone is either onstage looking to be pleased by the audience’s approval or in the audience looking to be pleased by the performer’s flattery. The mass cruelly hurts itself in the ignorant pursuit of a non-existent power while the cunning manipulates it from a detached vantage point and dictates all its action. The mass is unaware of its lack of freedom until after a trauma near the end of the movie when it chooses the comfort of a life of denial of reality and a surrender of freedom and even self-interest for the delusion of non-existent pleasure and a good time. Nashville is Los Angeles is Chicago is America is us. The Getty shows us what real life could be attached to the lie that it can only come to us as a gift from the cunning detached voice of real power in Nashville. Turner shows us what freedom looks like for ourselves as individuals and by extension our communities. He looks where he pleases and really sees. As does Robert Altman and company in Nashville.

Art is mysticism plus craft. What do you see and what do you make of it? A painting? A movie? A monorail? A city? A world?

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

I see artistic value in this next piece from March 25, 2015. It does not have the grace of Art Has Its Day in L.A., but it’s raw quality attracts me. It lays out often revisited themes of the blog, art, improvisation, teaching and a lesser sub-issue, profanity. Writing, citizenship, politics, ethics, movies and television are other themes which come to mind and emerge later. Interestingly, I no longer consider the teacher described in the piece a friend, and I don’t respect him much, but I bear him no ill will.

From March 25. 2015

I was taking an improv class that was led by a friend of mine that I respect. I was onstage and at one point in an exercise I improvised throwing up in a bucket. My friend said sternly, “I have a rule in my class that there will be no crudeness such as that. People don’t want to see that.”

Let me break down this situation. I accept a “rule” in an improvisation or any other class only as far as the classroom door. In other words, I certainly support my friend’s facilitation of his ideas, but as an adult, and a mature artist, I decide what content that I deem appropriate for my work. I don’t go to a class to learn from a master. I rather go to have a kind of conversation with one. I’ll explain below why I disagree with his taboo on projectile vomiting in serious work below.

Also, I was very influenced years ago by a book by the Latin American educator Paolo Freire entitled Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In that book, Freire derided what he called “the banking system of education.” That is what Freire feels is a misguided pedagogy and I quite agree with him. The banking system teacher lays claim—-legitimate or not— (in this case I believe my friend had primarily taught novices recently and was finding his sea legs working with established pros like myself and my peers in this particular “class”) to superior experience, skill and knowledge and sets out to deposit his ideas (banking—get it) into the student brains so that they can carry it forth. Freire calls that type education oppression and I agree. Most good teachers would observe that the best education occurs when the teacher leads the student to discoveries instead of dictating what they should understand. Also, the best teachers make discoveries about the subject matter with their students because they have created a learning environment together. Rules calcify. Open-ended concepts engage.

I am sure my friend will disagree with this approach because he said in class that he views improvisation as a craft and is annoyed when it is described as an art. Any regular or even not so regular reader of this blog and/or anyone familiar with me and my work know my friend and I are definitely not on the same page here. I am quite taken with the notion of improvisation as an art. But I find common ground with my pal in the craft arena because without craft there is no art. it is a prerequisite. I got a lot out of what my friend had to say about craft—although I felt that some of his points of craft could be developed further…wonder and openness to discovering more is a virtue that comes from an artistic orientation.

My friend objected to some of my content in HIS class (it was definitely his room and not ours) especially the puking. I honored his request to stop at that time, but I believe that the crude and the profane will always be part of my work in general for several reasons:

1) When I was a kid my father laughed at my off-color and irreverent remarks. The disposition to make such remarks has become an authentic part of who I am. Part of my vision for my work is to freely express all parts of myself in it—the intellectual part, the emotional part, the silly part, the spiritual part, the profane part…I am a multitude.

2) I believe crude words and actions can have a moral dimension at times. The Chicago Bears signed Ray MacDonald yesterday. MacDonald is a very talented defensive lineman who played last year for the San Francisco 49ers. He also has been accused of the violent abuse of a woman. George McCaskey is George Halas’ grandson and the Chairman of the Bears. I heard him discussing his decision to give the go ahead to his general manager to sign MacDonald on the radio. McCaskey is quite straight-laced and would probably never improvise throwing up in a bucket. He is very polite and well-spoken in all of his public appearances. His demeanor is almost like that of a Catholic priest which is a vocation he probably considered at one time. (Not to take a cheap shot, but all of the soft words and gentle gestures common to the priesthood didn’t prevent that group from having a problem with pedophilia.) George wants to look pure and positive, but is he—completely? (I have no reason to believe that in many ways he isn’t a pretty nice guy.) No he is not. He said that at first he didn’t want to hire MacDonald because of the suspected abuse. But then he talked to the man. He heard his side of the story regarding the accusations and believed MacDonald was sincere. He didn’t speak to MacDonald’s accuser because women who claim that they are victims have a “bias,” he said, and their words are “unreliable.” That may or may not be true in this particular case, but McCaskey acted unjustly. Didn’t MacDonald have a bias that might make his words “unreliable”—namely that he wanted to play? Didn’t McCaskey have a bias that might make his decision making process unreliable because the Bears’ defensive line sucked last year and MacDonald is a stud who could solve a lot of problems on the field? This woman and society in general deserved a full investigation of her charges. He should have spoken to her and checked everything out if he was going to be a responsible corporate citizen.

Polite, courteous and respectable demeanor can be dishonest. In this case, McCaskey was lying to himself and the public. He signed this guy because he wants to win. He doesn’t want to know if the guy is a woman-beater or not. He doesn’t give a shit if a woman got beaten or not and MacDonald should be in jail. He doesn’t want to conduct a big investigation because that activity isn’t going to tackle any opposing running backs. And he wants everyone to think he is a pillar of the community, a high toned fair and moral man because that is his self-image. He may often be, but he wasn’t this time and he should cut the bullshit. I wonder if he ever won a Father of the Year award and has daughters. He should give it back. Telling a woman who may have been pummeled by a professional football player to shut up is offensive to me. Telling her to shut up in the tone of the village vicar makes it worse. That’s the kind of thing that I don’t like seeing not improvised barf in a bucket. Terry Gilliam has a great scene in his movie Brazil. He shows the “heroes” shoot at the “bad guys” in a car. And then he shows the “enemy” emerge from the car on fire. The effect was to produce moral outrage, not sadistic pleasure. The burning flesh said that high camera angles communicating courage and valor could be propagandistic covers for barbarism. Sometimes artists have to show people things that they don’t want to see in order to help them see.

3) I’m an artist and I want to reflect the whole world not only the polite parts. I actually love the ugly and find a paradoxical beauty in it. My friend said he wanted to see scenes that “weren’t cynical and solved problems.” I believe an artist should be brutally honest, and wildly and generously compassionate. Someone described the words of literary art once (Was it Thomas Mann?) as arrows dipped in love. Art HAS to be honest. It is not a universally polite vomit-free world. And the first step to solving any problem is to truthfully look at it—not avert your eyes from the unpleasant parts.

I thank my friend for doing the hard work of engaging me with his point of view. It has greatly helped me refine my own. I once was called a guru of improvisation. I emphatically rejected the title. Viola Spolin wrote in Improvisation for the Theater that experience is the only teacher and that “no one ever teaches anyone anything.” If she wouldn’t tell people how and what to do, I sure as hell am not going to start. All I can ever do is share my experience through whatever form I am working in—improvisation, writing, “teaching…” and invite the audience to engage with it, thus creating an experience for them as well.

Art is not about being “right.” It’s about being loving and brutally (yes brutally—because we create deeper understanding and therefore we destroy illusions) honest.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

My first piece about film was written on March 28, 2015. It was good, and exemplified my belief that art is always about something else. I like movies and they are a great opportunity to write about the world in general.

March 28, 2015: Review — Abel Ferrara’s (Or Is it?) Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York is a fictionalized account of the scandal that occurred when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now former head of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of raping a maid in a New York five-star hotel. The movie is available On Demand.

The director, Abel Ferrara, has disowned the version of the film that has been released in America. Apparently, the producers made an agreement with its distributor that it would receive no higher than an R rating. The director’s cut received an NC-17. The New York Times reported that the producers claimed that Ferrara refused to re-edit the movie for American or any other audiences. Ferrara has a standard final-cut clause in all of his contracts which ostensibly gives him complete control of the final versions of his films. In spite of that, one of the film’s producers, Vincent Maraval re-edited the film. Maraval’s version is the one being shown in America.

I really liked this movie, and was interested in how it was made for the following reasons.

Ferrara did everything he could to have complete control of his work. Artists should have complete and uncensored control of their content. It is not uncommon for directors to struggle over the final cuts of their films even when they have contractual assurances that they do. Most often such directors wage a quixotic fight against parties asserting business concerns and rating issues, but I feel that art should trump both of those considerations even if it often doesn’t work out that way.

Ferrara said that the censorship of his version was a matter of free speech. He wished to make a direct political and cultural statement about the violent exploitation of women. His scene in which the Strauss-Kahn character viciously rapes the maid character was cut and shown in a flashback in the Maraval version. This changed the film greatly in two ways. First, it lowered the rating from NC-17 to R. I don’t think this is the change that bothered Ferrara the most—although I’m sure it troubled him. The tone of the entire film is to brutally and directly show things as they are—airports, luxury hotels, sex parties, vicious rapes, lifestyles of the women of the French oligarchy… I am a big fan of such unflinching honesty in art. Art must show things as they are, not as we would like them to be. Denial never leads to peace and understanding.

What I believed troubled Ferrara about the edit to a far greater degree was that it substantially changed his narrative. By cutting out the graphic sexual violence and relating the scene in flashback the film made the incident of the rape ambiguous. The story became a he said/she said conflict with some doubt as to the Strauss-Kahn’s character’s guilt. Ferrara intended no such doubt. The ugly rape of the maid was intended to be a metaphor for the ugly rape of women and everyone who is not a member of the 1% by our brutal and patronizing rulers at the highest levels of the banking industry. The movie was intended to show a great and ongoing injustice by dispassionately showing the distasteful facts of the matter. By shifting the focus to uncertainty regarding whether a crime was actually committed, and focusing almost exclusively on the Strauss-Kahn character and not the maid, it became an existential study of a much more sympathetic main character than Ferrara intended, and not the cool, fierce expression of outrage that he set out to say.

Ferrara clearly used improvisation in many of his scenes. It was most noticeable in scenes involving Gerard Depardieu as the powerful man and Jacqueline Bisset as his wife. I think that improvisation is an art form in and of itself and very interesting to watch. I also believe that improvised material has to be adapted to be acted in a film or play, just as a play is adapted to film or a radio play is adapted to stage. Improvisers discover stories. Actors and writers tell them. That’s a major difference. Improvisation is a creative art. Acting, and writing material based on what is discovered in improvisation is an interpretive art. The British director Mike Leigh improvises his films; he seems to get improvisation, writing and acting in the same action. Leigh’s improvised dialogue always has the nuance of good writing. I don’t know he does it and I would like to know more. The improvisation in Welcome to New York was not nearly as successful as in Leigh’s work.

That lack of success did not hinder the effectiveness of Ferrara’s film. I have written about my belief that art requires brutal honesty and compassion—Thomas Mann’s arrows dipped in love. This film (when seen with the knowledge that it has been improperly altered) which shows what at first seems like a pornographically filmed sex orgy, the profanity-laced prison system and a pre-frontally nude Gerard Depardieu being strip-searched among other disturbing images is one of the most moral stories that I’ve seen in a long time.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

And on March 30, 2015, my themes of morality and ethics came into focus for the first time.

From March 30, 2015

I posted this joke on Facebook…

Remember that wonderful moment from the Gene Hackman movie Hoosiers when the whole town came together and realized their love for each other when they banned gay people from attending the high school basketball games?

Pictured above…the team gives a prayer of thanks for their collective heterosexuality “just like Jesus.”

Then I wondered…was I being unfair? Shouldn’t I consider that simple and ignorant people are afraid of change? Aren’t these the fearful folks who never found a way to leave their claustrophobic small towns and the myopic anti-intellectualism of their churches? Doesn’t mocking them make it worse?

But I don’t feel bad about ridiculing the narrow-minded Hoosiers. Their sin isn’t ignorance. It is arrogance. They don’t want to admit their fear. They want to steal a power they don’t deserve. They choose to be mean. They’ve lost their decency. I’ve always believed that only the strong should be satirized—never make fun of the poor, the infirmed, the ignorant…only go after winners. Laugh at kings.

Hoosiers are kings. They feared leaving nowhereville and never admitted the lack of nerve. They built walls so they could live as they pleased. But the world they refused to go to see has come calling on them. Indiana has the internet. Anyone can tour museums and libraries online. Business has connected the entire world. Lots of traveling salesmen pass through and introduce themselves to their daughters. When offered the facts and examples of the good behavior of decent people Hoosiers said no thank you. To accept knowledge and the behavior of enlightened people as examples of good living would be to surrender power.

So I have decided that there is not even rough equivalency between my joke mocking Hoosiers and Hoosiers shaming gay people. I am not writing out of a feeling of superiority. I am superior to the homophobic Hoosiers when it comes to understanding how to respect people’s rights and how people of all different sorts of orientations can live happily and peacefully in a true community. I understand that many people in Indiana don’t agree with that horrible discriminatory law. But even those people should have less state pride this morning and recognize that something has gone seriously wrong. If you love your state, non-homophobic Hoosiers, don’t defend it right now. Don’t blame me that you live in a laughingstock. Indiana today resembles Alabama in 1962 and Nazi Germany in 1936. Charlie Chaplin did the right thing when he laughed at Hitler in The Great Dictator in 1938. I did the right thing on Facebook. A lot of people who weren’t fascists in 1938 saw Chaplin’s satire of Germany as disrespectful and impolite. Chaplin showed street scenes with shops bearing the word JEW painted on their storefronts. Chaplin didn’t make any excuses to mitigate his images of this violent exclusionary impulse in any way. Hitler’s appeal was largely to rural and small town people with chips of inferiority on their shoulders. He gave them murderous master race anti-Semitism and spectacles—huge rallies and buildings …a vision of participation in something of large importance. Indiana is using the same ugly formula…hate masquerading as greatness. Nothing is bigger than God and perverted interpretations of his will which mirror people’s most conscious prejudices and deepest fears. Grandiose delusions of superiority are so much easier than actually doing the hard work of humbly trying to develop intellectual, moral and ethical excellence.

Hah! Indiana! I am not sympathetic to your difficulty in adjusting to change. Your egoistic discomfort is nothing compared to your attempt to interfere with gay people’s right to live a free and normal life in America. If you use political power to control some future U. S. Supreme Court and the justices make some convoluted reasoning to say that you have a right to harm, shame and hate others based on your condemnation of their sexual orientation then that Court will join you as enemies of the progressing values of our nation. It won’t be the first time. Look up decisions that temporarily legitimized segregation or said that money is free speech—in other words that rich people legally have more say than people who aren’t rich in our sadly withering democracy.

I laugh at you, Hoosiers. You are wrong—morally. This conflict has nothing to do with the morality of homosexual lifestyles. It has to do with you trying to bully people that you perceive are weaker than you. I like my joke because the movie Hoosiers tells the story about how ignorant Indianans actually became a loving community because they were confronted by people who know better.

I and people like me know better and we are confronting you. Ha ha ha ha ha…

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

March 2015 was the first month of accomplished writing, exceeding the expectations of usual social media communication on The Rick Blog. It didn’t take very long to show up, which mildly surprises me; but I was ripe — writing in my head for years. The February 2015 basic opining of little lasting value was a clearing of my throat. The most empowering thing that I have done in my life is writing this blog about what I want in the way that I want. No bosses, no teachers, no groups — it may sound hyperbolic, but writing has made me feel fully alive in a way that nothing else ever has. I became conscious and loving of myself — a self-acceptance I had never felt before. If this was the only takeaway from the time and effort of all of my writing, it would be worth it. But I am much more ambitious. I want to make art — something of value to more people than myself. I believe that I am achieving that goal, and gratified to see that I was achieving that goal very early in the life of this blog.

There’s a few things I like about this next piece from March 31, 2015. There is a freedom to it — I’m not burdened by any need to sound smart or sophisticated or maintain any tone. It also is simplistically poetic, and a harbinger of things to come. Finally, it introduces still another Rick Blog theme — human development.

March 31, 2015: I Yam What I Yam

I Yam What I Yam
I do what I do
The fact doesn’t make me better than you

I know what I think
I know what I feel
I don’t need you to tell me its real

I do need you if you feel the same way
We can go out together and play all day

If you want to act with me you are free to sit in
I am not making choices so that I can fit in

But if what I am writing makes you beam
And you suffer no impulse to rant and scream
Then we can write and play and act out
A wonderful dream

The world is filled with those wanting to win
But the victories start when you simply begin
Honor ideals both new and antique
And you will become something truly unique

A flower, a part of a bouquet of all colors
The same and yet different like two loving brothers
And lovers
And mothers

It takes different voices to harmonize
It takes mild acceptance to look into eyes

The trick is that you don’t have to agree
To accept what’s before you for your eyes to see

So if you love me that’s more than enough
Let’s get together and do some great stuff

For my little part I want creative control
And likewise I’ll indulge all of your fol de roll

Let’s not compete and I’ll be your friend
And we will be smiling when our world comes to its end.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

Another piece from March 31, 2015, that is an early example of The Rick Blog’s obsessions regarding the meaning and essence of art — and how to make it …

March 31, 2015: The Relationship Between Art and Craft: Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam was an illustrator. When he joined Monty Python’s Flying Circus he became an animator. He learned the rudiments of animation and his initial work for Python was simple, crude and effective. Gilliam became a film director. His first film was Time Bandits. He imagined elaborate special effects. He had a limited budget. So he learned about puppetry and primitive mask work created by different cultures and devised new and inexpensive ways to create his desired images on film. Now Gilliam was an illustrator, an animator, a sketch comedian, a film director, a puppeteer, a maker of masks and a creator of special effects. His experience, curiosity and necessity led him to the creation of a new craft that merged all of his skills and interests.

Gilliam always starts with what he wants to say. What he wants to say starts with his personal experience— his thoughts and feelings about life. He transforms those responses to the world into fantasy—his genre of choice. Gilliam trusts that what is true for him is true for everyone on some level. In the process, a new way emerges that is different from personal narrative. Then he finds a way to adapt his wild images to a concrete craft. He takes what he knows about craft and learns more. His new craft becomes something even more. It becomes tone and style—an original way of expressing. Now the way the story is told becomes a means of Gilliam relaying his truth to the audience. The line between art and craft is completely obliterated. Craft is developed simply by the urgency with which the artist (Gilliam) wants to talk to the audience. There is no longer “what works.” There is only does it connect—do viewers think and feel?

Einstein said that imagination is far more important than knowledge. The raw material of thought and feeling is far more important to an artist than rules about craft—rules that are periodically destroyed when a passionate artist like Gilliam finds a new way better suited to tell his story. A good artist can always find the situationally proper choice of craft in what he already knows and what he needs to learn.

I met Gilliam once many years ago. He struck me as a naïve amateur and I mean that as high praise. Gilliam was wide-eyed and ready to learn everything his environment had to say to him. He watched us do a set at Second City and he was surprised that we shoehorned scenes we had been working on for months to audience suggestions. He had been watching us quite innocently trying to figure out how improvisation was done. He seemed confused because he was probably calculating how our technique could be applied to his storytelling and our dishonesty meant that he had to discard his conclusions. The greatest craftsmen who make art are always novices, inhabiting what the Zen Buddhists call beginner’s mind.

Art teachers of any kind should never tell students how to do it. They should attempt to facilitate the students’ discovery of their own thoughts and feelings, their own preferred genres and formats and the skills that they are good at and interested in learning so that those students can discover their authentic stories and voices.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

On April 1, 2015, politics, the law, and current events made early entries on the blog. My portfolio kept diversifying in these early days.

From April 1, 2015:

Here’s what the law says re: recent Indiana disgraceful legislation. The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion. So if your church doctrine says that homosexuality is a sin and you have church policies and procedures that address that belief within your church the government cannot interfere. However, the government cannot establish a religion under civil law. For example the Catholic Church did not, and to the best of my knowledge, still in many cases does not recognize divorce. Church Canon Law says once you are married you are married for life. But the Catholic Canon Law cannot be adopted as secular civil law to deprive Catholics or any other persons their right to a civil divorce.

Any fair-minded U.S. Supreme Court would find that Hoosiers’ free exercise of religion is not being violated in any way since they are free to believe what they believe and follow any policies they want within churches they freely choose to be members of; BUT the government cannot establish their religious law as civil law. The U.S. Supreme Court recently disagreed with what I just said in the Hobby Lobby case, but they were wrong. In a 5-4 conservative decision, the Court ruled that a business could deny medical coverage for contraception to employees because the business had a religious conviction that birth control was immoral. The Supreme Court in so doing established Hobby Lobby’s religious belief as law. The women who were denied coverage had their rights violated under the Civil Rights Act and were denied the free exercise of their religious beliefs which allowed contraception. It’s OK. Don’t get upset. The Supreme Court has said in its history that African-Americans were 3/5 of a person, segregation was a kind of separate equality, and that money is speech, in other words that rich people have more say than people who aren’t rich in our supposed democracy. So much for one man or woman one vote. Courts change. Laws change. Historically, courts have glacially responded to societal change rising from the grass roots.

Sexual orientation is not a protected characteristic under current civil rights law. It should be. Indiana’s motive here is partly to test that possible expansion and kill it in its crib. They might have a good chance with the current right wing majority on the court. But that should not matter. The law is a constructive establishment of religion by the government and that is unconstitutional. Eventually, the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Civil Rights Act will be returned to the people.

Also, the argument should be made if the justices moved from the First Amendment to the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment that the Indiana law could harm people with currently protected characteristics such as race, gender etc.

I offer this with a caveat. The real argument here is the moral one that many, including me, have put forward. The U.S. Supreme Court as I have implied here is a political body, as you know, and there is no guarantee that it will act reasonably or fairly.

As a practical matter the pressure being exerted by big business will be most effective and is actually leading this positive social change.

Rights, equality and freedom have been expanded through our country’s history from the white male landowners of the revolution, to men without real property, to freed slaves, to women, to immigrants and now to the LGBT community and undocumented aliens. Unfortunately, we have to fight for every expansion of the founding ideals of this country. But over time we win the battles. The greatest expansion is when Constitutional rights are expanded in the area of economic justice. That will cover everybody.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

On April 2, 2015, the blog introduced still more themes — comedy and profanity. The Rick Blog’s content regards all there is to me, and all that interests me in the world. Perhaps what brings unity to my writing is simply me, my inmost heart and my specific perspective on the world around me.

April 2, 2015: There Is No Limit to Taste in Comedy, But …

There are no limits regarding taste in comedy. Lenny Bruce, the father of profane humor in mainstream clubs, wrote How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. BUT Lenny Bruce was a serious person—an esteemed and remembered moralist and a cultural advocate for free speech—a kind of patriot. He wasn’t a leering emcee in a titty club.

Mark Twain used the n-word freely in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The book is banned by many school districts and libraries BUT Huckleberry Finn is one of the great works of literature in world history with great insight about the issue of race as a fundamental aspect of the American character. He wasn’t a frat boy making bigoted jokes to amuse his dad at a country club.

Richard Pryor used the n-word, all the profanity of Lenny Bruce and graphic and disturbing imagery including a pantomime and monologue depiction of his flesh being on fire as a result of an accident while using drugs. He was brought up in a Peoria whorehouse by his grandmother, a hard woman from the toughest streets. His voice as a comedian reflected that background BUT also included a deep and natural vulnerability. Pryor’s work had great cultural significance. He helped usher in a greater acceptance of uncompromised African-American culture by white America by speaking with defiant pride and no apology. His work was a cry of dignity for an oppressed people beginning to come into their own. Beyond that his work addressed humanity as a whole. He made one beautiful set piece after another about freedom, resilience, injustice and intelligence among other great themes. He was not a bad rapper dropping n-bombs and f-bombs while using ugly imagery to advocate violence.

There are no limits of taste in comedy. Profanity is allowed. Politically incorrect observations are allowed. Disgusting images depicting physical pain and gross bodily functions are allowed. As in all art, the unvarnished truth portrayed with brutal honesty is allowed and required. Art in general, and particularly comedy is not only about creating pleasing aesthetic images. Comedy at its best is about transforming consciousness—an expansion of the comedian’s and his audience’s hearts and minds. Truth is beauty and beauty can be found by thoroughly understanding and transcending ugliness. The comedian’s tough words and imagery must therefore come from a perspective of moral and compassionate intelligence. It must never be used to denigrate the weak. It must, as Mark Twain wrote show the comedian’s “scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture.” Good comedy attacks the people, ideas and institutions that keep us down and suggests what freedom looks like. And that’s pretty.

John Cleese said that satire provokes some people to think and angers the people that it confuses. And so it will always be. There are no limits to taste in comedy BUT it must never be mean or stupid. The mean and stupid and the merely confused sometimes accuse the most highly moral and humanist comedians of being tasteless and lacking all morality. It’s an interesting dynamic to think about the Thursday before Easter. Jesus had many good lines about the Pharisees and the Romans that many thought were in bad taste at the time.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

April 4, 2015 introduced a new theme — the meaning of success. Later these themes would start appearing in pieces in symphonic harmonies.

April 4, 2015: Success in the Alps

I’m having coffee with Paula and I ask her something.

“Honey, you know that guy who flew the plane into the Alps?”

“Yeah.”

“I get that he was depressed and mentally ill and suicidal. But why did you think he killed all of those other people?”

“To be remembered.”

“To be remembered? Why? His girlfriend left him. What does that have to do with being remembered?”

“I also think he was losing his vision and was going to have to give up flying.”

“So he lost the woman he ‘loved’ whatever that meant to him and he is losing his career…”

Paula’s subtle Socratic method takes hold. I continue, “And he sees being married and having a good career as success. So his mental illness is really the mental illness of the Western (and maybe the Eastern) world. Success… looking happy, seeming well-regarded and useful…is the goal of life…instead of being genuinely loving and dedicated to doing genuine good work no matter how it is regarded.”

And if you can’t get the approval you want to insanely feel that you are immortal, you hate the people that you ridiculously granted that power. And you hurt them deeply so that they know you were there.

And they forget you as soon as the next violent whack job comes along. Who talks about Dick Cheney anymore who was once so powerful and unlovable?

It’s a crazy, suicidal, homicidal world. And the sun streams into our living room as I enjoy my coffee and we look at the peaceful lake.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

On April 5, 2015, satire took its first bow on the blog.

April 5, 2015: Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s Easter Message

“Gov. Bruce Rauner has suspended $26 million in social services and public health grants as part of a push to whittle away at a $1.6 billion shortfall in the state budget.”
Chicago Sun-Times Easter 2015 edition.

Rauner, a noted conservative libertarian, said the cuts were necessary in order to avoid raising taxes or state borrowing. He amplified the reasoning to Illinoisians in his first annual Easter message so eagerly awaited by his supporters who were brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Below is a transcript of portions of the Governor’s speech.

Here are just a few specific examples of the tough love required to restore our state to past glory. We’ve been spending $6.9 million to bury people who died while on public assistance. I have been looking into the Soylent Green program which was so successful in Wisconsin and will ask the Legislature to introduce it here in Illinois. This will actually make the corpses of the poor a profit center for the state by converting them into food. Some have worried that this will mean they will not have Christian burials but we have considered that. All of the poor will be excommunicated by their respective churches (retroactively if we don’t find their bodies until after they die) so that they can be processed as pagans. We are looking into ways to legally kill the poor before they are dying as a way to end budget shortfalls and eliminate the need to raise taxes in the future. Stay tuned.

I have also frozen $3.4 million for the state’s immigration integration assistance program. We have found that such programs teach newcomers about their rights—such as the minimum wage and access to public health programs. There is a hidden savings in this move. If immigrants don’t know what is available to them we won’t have to pay for services. We are actively considering adopting a pamphlet published and distributed by the Walker administration in Wisconsin—thanks again for your leadership, Scott—entitled “There is No Such Thing as an Emergency Room.” Besides the public health savings, some of the immigrants will likely die increasing profits in our Soylent Green program.

I have cut assistance for the homeless from the huge amount we already devote to them by $300,000. Fuck the Homeless.

Overall I am cutting $21.8 million from the Department of Human Services and $4.5 million from the Department of Public Health. These are initial steps in eliminating these initiatives entirely from the state’s future budgets. It is time that we worry less about serving humans and tending to people’s health care needs and more put more emphasis on cutting taxes on auto lease arrangements so that more mid-level professionals can have the joy of driving luxury cars.

Jesus said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It is time that the poor pay the piper for the corruption and mismanagement that they have inflicted on this state for decades. These cuts represent justice.

It is easier for the rich man to get into heaven with a line of bullshit than it is for a poor man who is preoccupied with the impossible problem of trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle.

God bless America and the great state of Illinois. Have a great Easter if you have the money.

The Governor’s office said that the Governor and Mrs. Rauner would spend the rest of the holiday weekend in prayer contemplating the awesome responsibility that has fallen on their shoulders.

To who much is given, much is expected.

Copyright Richard Thomas 2015

On April 7, 2015, I wrote my first overtly political blog segment, taking sides in a political campaign. I say in the piece that it is not my intention for the log ever to be overtly political. That didn’t work out.

April 7, 2015: I’m Voting Against This Guy and His Friends

Giving more power to this guy is too much of a risk. In case you weren’t aware: Kenneth Griffin, 46 year-old CEO of the $26 billion investment firm Citadel, is Rahm Emanuel’s biggest donor. He has given $950,000 to Rahm—the bulk of which was donated to be used I for the campaign for today’s runoff election.

I was ambivalent about voting today. Rahm is good for the Arts. I wasn’t sure if Garcia had the administrative chops. I really don’t know much about him. But I was catching up on the news this morning and read an article about old Ken in last Friday’s Business section of the New York Times.

Here are some fun facts about Griffin:

1) He’s what the Times calls a “self-made” billionaire. They bury in the article the fact that he started out investing as a college kid in 1987 with “$265,000 from family and friends.” By 1990 he started Citadel. Some of my family and friends read this blog. I want to perform these pieces in a theater and or radio and television. I also want to be published to a much wider distribution. Could any of you guys give me $265,000 to get started so that I too can be a self-made success story like Ken? Maybe then I’ll buy power to control your lives. I bet you’ll like my decisions better than Kenny’s.

2) Mr. Griffin doesn’t like big government. No kidding. It’s the only thing big enough to compete with him. I think the time for voting for Democrats because they are the party of Franklin Roosevelt are long gone. Independent and progressive counter-attacks are the way to go. If this guy likes Rahm I don’t.

3) In 2012, Griffin called himself a “Reagan Republican.” Today a Reagan Republican is someone who hates poor and/or uneducated people but is not blatantly racist.

4) He is a big supporter ($13 million in contributions!) of Bruce Rauner or as I like to call him, Governor Anti-Christ. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/illinois-governor-bruce-rauners-easter-message/

5) Griffin thinks the rich have insufficient influence in the political process (because they don’t have all of it!) Even if Garcia turns out to be a lousy mayor at least he will be a democratically elected one.

6) Griffin gives a lot to the arts. This is an Achilles heel of the rich. I don’t think they understand how art humanizes and liberates people. Or maybe they do and they ghettoize it in museums so that it doesn’t become an actual aspect of the day-to-day doings of the stuff of life that they buy and sell.

7) Griffin gave $150 million to Harvard for its financial aid program. You may see this as progressive. I don’t. This supports and develops an elite of talented people who have everything but financial means. Everyone doesn’t have the same amount talent and/or intelligence that they can make something out of. We need political, economic and social structures that take care of everyone’s needs—not some libertarian pipe dream about the nature of things. Ayn Rand, the high priestess of Libertarianism saw a new society created to free an aristocracy of talented from being held back by the mediocre. Social policy should develop talented people BUT never ignore the less gifted. People of average abilities get shamed and ignored in the libertarian view. Like all ideologies, Libertarianism is unrealistic. It doesn’t want to serve the world as it is but wants to make the world over in its own image. We are not all equal in our abilities but we all share the same humanity.

8) Griffin disagreed with Rahm when Rahm shut down 50 public schools without asking anyone in the community what they thought about it. Ken thought the numbers said it should have been 125 schools. Griffin didn’t factor in the democratic dignity of Chicago’s neighborhoods into his equation. How about the bottom line being the health, happiness, safety, education and welfare of everybody instead of obscenely large numerical abstractions preceded by dollar signs?

9) Griffin said, “Many of us at Citadel are actively involved in supporting candidates, non-profits and civic groups that make our city and state a better place to live. More jobs. Less crime. Better schools. That’s what we all want for our community and our families.” Sounds great…but here is the rub with corporate social responsibility initiatives when they are not balanced by a government check of regulation and democratic decision making—our city, state and nation turns into an oligarchy where individuals and communities are forced to conform to a corporate view of life. Creativity and individuality are lost. Democracy is lost. Ironically, libertarians steal the power of self-determination from everyone. Votes no longer matter so people can’t express their view for the community as a whole. And everyone is forced to march lock step with what the bosses have to say in the ownership society as these vampires call it. I don’t want Griffin and his ilk to keep having this ever-expanding political power. Right now I can express that with the only power that I have that I am currently aware of. I can write this and vote for Garcia.

10) Obama spoke at Citadel as a candidate in 2007. I think Obama has been really good on everything but issues involving the financial sector and that is a big “but.” Stopping this overreach by the wealthy is my personal number one issue. If we don’t turn this back nothing else will matter.

Griffin shouldn’t be lumped in with the Koch brothers. He has a social agenda that honestly wants to address problems and makes things better. But he doesn’t believe in democracy. He uses his wealth to dominate instead of debate. Not only is that undemocratic and unjust but the policies will also be doomed to failure when the voice of the people is ignored, as it has been with Rahm’s school reforms.

The Times identifies David S. Schaffer, who is a successful corporate attorney that works in the area of finance as Garcia’s largest individual donor. The article cleverly doesn’t disclose how much Schaffer gave. Schaffer is a key advisor to Chuy. There is no equivalency with Griffin here, even if the Times implies that question for the reader to ponder. Schaffer is well off but he has no where near the wealth of an oligarch.

Schaffer said this of Griffin’s point of view. “It’s a Darwinian approach, and its a limited scope of government. It’s return to the days of the robber barons.” I agree with Schaffer. Griffin’s view of the world only has room for the rich and the gifted. It ignores the wisdom of our society of checks and balances which has done quite well in many ways with the creativity of business being set in opposition to the broader social view of government.

I never intended this blog to be political in any partisan sense. I am surprised that I wrote this. I am voting and writing for and about democracy and decency toward everybody.

I am voting against Ken Griffin and his fellow oligarchs and for everybody else.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

April 7, 2015 saw my first consideration of the process of writing The Rick Blog.

April 7, 2015: My Emerging Social Media Strategy

I guess I’m part Luddite when it comes to social media. I was shown a very high tech blog with excellent graphics and high quality original videos. I like mine better. Words and a picture say what I want to say.

I want to write and speak these pieces in publications, onstage and/or on the radio and TV. I thought about doing original videos and posting them on my blog. It was explained to me that if I did so and posted my material on many platforms with hash tags I’d get people surfing my content most often with a quick view (a more accurate word is glance) and then moving on. I don’t write for surfers. I write for people who really want to engage with my material.

Yeah, I expect something from my audience. I am not an entertainer. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-difference-between-art-and-entertainment/ The length of what I write is dictated by its content and the way I want to express it. I’ve turned down opportunities to be published when I’ve been asked to edit for length. I want people to thoughtfully and emotionally consider what I say in the way that I want to say it so they can connect with my thoughtful and emotional expression of my relationship with the world. I want an audience as earnest as I am.

Reading and listening to my work is not meant to be topic driven. Assume that #Richard Thomas #World View are the hash tags for everything that I write. I’m investing myself in my art because I want to—I like the way I do it—and I think it is important. I am trying to make deeper comments than mere opinions about the affairs of the day. I didn’t love the Turner exhibit at the Getty because I am fascinated by fishing boats. I’m fascinated by Turner himself and how we all share something unameable and very real with him. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/art-has-its-day-in-l-a/

All of my words are trying to point to that same thing. Even here—hint—I am not only talking about social media. Chew on that. Art is about getting low and deep, not coasting by.

I’m not building a brand. I’m living and sharing my life.

I want social media to serve my ARTISTIC agenda. If someone can show me how I can set up a YouTube channel and other social media that doesn’t have me compromise a bit of content or make unneeded edits for length; that helps promote real dedicated audience engagement with my art—in other words does more than just get me mere attention and exposure; and that is useful in developing partnerships with audiences, other artists, producers and publishers so that this material can affect as many people as possible who would actually find it edifying please let me know.

In the meantime I am happy with my little blog and the deep belief that more new and old friends and patrons are coming. I love and honor those who are already here. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/be-the-bold-decisive-and-committed-author-of-your-own-life-and-work/

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

On April 10, 2015, I wrote my first blog piece about the rule of law — before Trump made his first blog appearance.

From April 10, 2015

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part II.

Dick the Butcher was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king. Shakespeare meant the line as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said recently that the Illinois Supreme Court cannot be relied upon to arrive at rational decisions regarding issues related to the state’s pension funding crisis. I recently made a similar observation about the United States Supreme Court, saying that it is a political body and cannot be relied upon to be rational or fair in the short term. I am not the executive of a co-equal branch of a constitutional government, however. And I also said that courts appointed by democratically elected executives and approved by democratically elected legislatures will eventually respond to grass roots social change in the long term. The U.S. Supreme Court’s evolution on civil rights matters from pre-Civil War days to the 1960’s shows that dynamic. The U.S. Supreme Court is compromised in its moral legitimacy because of the corruption of our electoral system for the last several years. The influence of big money has raised doubt that our executive and legislative political leaders (and by extension our appointed judges) are democratically chosen and therefore legitimate. Such untoward influence leads to travesties like the Citizens United case which reflects no grass roots democratic sentiment past or present regarding money in politics and by extension is a disgraceful claim of actual superiority of the wealthy in our society over those who are not.

So what is the difference between my and Rauner’s position? He doesn’t care about democracy and the rule of law and I do. He blames the state Supreme Court. I blame the money tainted system that ultimately selects it and all government officials. He wants to eliminate judicial power and legal regulation and direction of our affairs. The kernel of truth in Rauner’s attack on constitutional democracy is that a Supreme Court by its very nature hears the tough cases that could go either way when interpreted through the lens of established law, but he uses that kernel to perpetuate a big lie.

Jack Cade wanted to eliminate the judicial system because he was a criminal and a fraud. Libertarians want truly independent lives unfettered by restraint of law. They argue that those restraints are a tyranny that stifles their creativity and productivity. Like all ideologues, Libertarians live in a world of what-should-be instead of a world of what is. The Founding Fathers instituted a system of checks and balances so that one person or interest group would not attain all power. They did so because they knew that there was a strong impulse in many men to acquire as much power as possible and dominate others. Rauner wants to denigrate the legal system (and eventually the legislature—witness his recent executive orders of questionable constitutionality) so that all the power will reside in him—a rich man with the means to purchase the office and use it for the interests of himself and his economic class. Rauner believes he will use his power to make initiatives for the common good and wants to set himself up as the sole arbiter of the common good. Rauner does not believe in the law or democracy. He embodies the political crisis that we face as a nation. Rauner and his ilk want to radically change our way of life.

Lawyers and judges are the far from perfect officers of the far from perfect legal system which is created, maintained and is an essential component of our far from perfect representative democracy. They are our social line of defense against criminality and unfairness in our civil arrangements. The results of the legal system are often far from just or reasonable. But who should decide these matters? Libertarian so-called “free and creative” people doing as they please even if it occasionally devolves into crime, broken civil agreements and no social responsibility required for non-criminal harms to others with no fair mitigation and redress for those harms?

Two leaders of far more moral and intellectual importance in the sweep of history than Mr. Rauner, John Adams and Winston Churchill, addressed the Governor’s assault on our established values.

Adams responded to the British tyranny against the American colonies prior to our War for Independence when he asserted that Britain had “a government of laws not men.” The American Revolution was a reaction to a despotic government that denied people their established rights by ignoring and superseding its own law.

Rauner’s manipulative and dismissive comments about our state Supreme Court are partly based on legitimate criticisms of the imperfections of our legal system and the human natures of the people that run it. Winston Churchill counters Rauner’s attempt at an illegal power grab under the guise of idealism with his own idealistic and realistic words about our core values: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

In fairness, Churchill also said that “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” It is the distraction and ignorance of the population that makes the election of a bully like Bruce Rauner possible.

But since King Arthur is a myth, and there are no philosopher kings available who are trained to benevolently decide what our world looks like— who should decide? Us or Bruce Rauner? We have to take control of our own lives and set our own priorities. And we have to protect the law—our only leverage in the material world that we have against our own imperfection.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

I am leaving out two pieces from April 2015, one on teaching and the other on mentorship. They are decent pieces of writing, but I am not interested in them any more, at least from those perspectives. This process of reviewing the blog is at times like looking through a family photo album and charting time’s changes.

On April 15, 2015, I experimented with aphorisms. I was working as a teacher and I think it had a mixed influence on my writing. It was a positive situation in that teaching encouraged me to think foundationally, and essentially; and teaching made me want to communicate ideas in simple and pithy ways. The bad influence teaching exerts on writing is that a teacher adapts his words to connect with his students. A writer writes for himself. Teaching, like public performance, which I tried later, limited my work. My best material is not shadowed by the imposition of class rosters or audiences restricted by the size of a room. I have, in the five years of working on the blog, eliminated working in classrooms, public performance and podcasts from my repertoire. I am just interested in the words on the page. I don’t mind reading my work aloud, or public conversation about my work. Ironically, that is how I started as writer in the 19080s. I morphed from comedy to going on stage and reading to the crowd from a legal pad. The best delivery of my words is the written form. The blog has been an excellent medium of expression for me. An individual can consider what I have to say from any spot in the world. A reader can reflect on the density and depth of the writing.

April 15, 2015: Sayings From the Book of Rick

Improvisation is the art of not knowing what you are doing.

Intelligence is not knowledge. It is the manner in which you deal with what you don’t know.

Failure is an invitation to higher consciousness of yourself and the world, and the precursor of real transformation.

Dreams are pursued in a state of uncertainty.

The sincere man wears his uncertainty openly and doesn’t put on airs.

Behind every discovery is another layer of mystery. Humility is less a matter of character than of awareness.

A know-it-all doesn’t.

Reflection upon oneself always results in reflection upon the World, the Universal All.

Experience infuses the past into the present and creates a new experience.

Blog posts are like painters’ sketches. They are the seeds of articles, books, lectures and theatrical performances.

Old friends welcome you as a new friend because they perceive how you have changed. New friends greet you as an old friend because they sense the changes that you have gone through.

There is no greater gift that one can give to the world than his conscious and authentic being.

Like Columbus I set sail
Setting a confident course for an unknown
that I have imagined
And that actually exists in the material world
I sense the essence of people and places
But aspects of who and where they are on the globe will surprise me
My future is in the West Indies
A New World
Of Education and Art
Where I am at home
My inner world and outer
Perfectly congruent
Because I had faith
In a spherical world
And traveled with friends in Old World ships
Also eternally searching for new horizons.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

I didn’t know it, but my departure from the improvisation community, and the profession of teaching, was underway as early as April 2015. I care about things, at times more than they deserve to be cared about. There is a crude and rough energy to this piece, and to many other pieces, to come. I’m not sure if I like it or not. I read pieces in this style as if they were written by someone else. In a sense, they were. I don’t believe that anger is a weakness in writing. This piece conveys how I felt when I wrote it, as well as what I thought. Art doesn’t transcend humanity. Art transforms our experience of humanity.

April 15, 2015: Going Clear, a Cautionary Tale for Improv Teachers and their Students

What’s the difference between a dictatorial improvisation teacher and the leaders of the Church of Scientology? Control of billions of dollars in real estate.

Art leadership plus lust for power and money equals fascism. Hitler was a failed artist. Good artists don’t dictate. (Did you ever notice that most actors who self-identify as right wingers suck? You never see Meryl Streep stumping for the NRA.) The banality of evil is attempting to shape a world in the image of L. Ron Hubbard’s mediocre/crazy science fiction or Hitler’s Mein Kampf. (Did you see the Nazi imagery at those Scientology rallies—the huge podium raised stories high and the big flame? The Church of Insane Success Worship—Blessings from the God Of Power!!! Yeeech!)

And who are the suckers that get exploited? The mass in the arena audience before Scientology’s current Grand Douchebag or the Improv Guru With The Secret of the Moment—who wears an amulet with a chunk of Chris Farley’s heart in it. Timid souls who envy the rich and famous (or want to be more rich and famous) and want to succeed (or succeed more). They will do anything the guru says if they think it will further their careers and get them attention. The guru can then leverage this power to extort money and slavish psychological allegiance from his students.

Real art instruction is a conversation. A practicing artist shares exercises and comments that reflect his approach to the form. A confident student doesn’t hang on every word as a golden key to his success and happiness. The confident student engages and considers what the artist has to say and over time applies the personal experience that he had in the class to his own life and work. Nothing disserves improvisation more than a cult of personality’s exploitation of it.

Teaching improvisation is an art. Art never tries to accomplish its aim through material power. Art is directed to free hearts and minds.

If you come across an improv teacher who uses a lot of rules in his classes run away. Improvising is not like driving a car. A good instructor helps you discover your, and your ensemble’s, own way of doing it.

If the teacher claims an expertise in the art of improvisation run away. The teacher should have a wonder and awe about improv and be learning along side of you. It is a vast mysterious subject that no one will ever fully understand. And the point is ultimately not to understand it but to experience it.

If the teacher promises that if you follow his teachings you will be commercially successful run away. It is not that easy. If he is selling you success of any kind run away. Improvisation will not make you rich, famous or happy. You’re the one who makes those things happen for you if they do. If you achieve those things while improvising it is because that you discovered the nexus between improv and your success. No one else can do that for you. Art is a sharing of feeling and thought—not a manual of mandated life choices.

Good improvisation instruction will sometimes resonate within students. They accept it because they feel in their souls that something was said or occurred that was true. The authority in the proper improv class is the truth and NEVER the instructor.

If the teacher is disrespectful to you and speaks to you in a bullying tone run away. If he shuts down your intelligent questions and initiations run away. If he never has a quizzical look of wonder on his face run away.

If you encounter a teacher who censors what you say in exercises or tells you to change your personality run away. Shut up and you aren’t good enough are not in the lexicon of a good improvisation teacher.

If you run into a teacher who always wants to make you feel dependent on him and asks you to continually take classes from him run away.

If you teach improvisation stay focused on what you are doing. Forget yourself. Forget your money problems and your insecurities about how much respect you have been denied in one circumstance or another. Forget your regrets about your career. Come unprepared. Your job is to watch the exercises and the students and to respond to them kindly and intelligently in the moment. The moment is what teaches. You just help it along by meeting it with generally the most experienced eyes in the room. When a student has more insight than you, defer to him or her.

Good improvisation teachers can sometimes unwittingly go into Scientology mode. I had a teacher call me a novice recently. (I take classes. I always get something from the experience if not from the teacher. I get a lot out of what I choose not to use and what I choose to even oppose and confront in my work.) I have more and broader experience than he does—-something clearly evidenced in my credentials and work. A good guy, he made an intentionally faulty assessment because of personal insecurity. And he misunderstood my openness and vulnerability as a lack of confidence that he could use to try to raise his own standing with the group. Improv teachers, everybody has their moments. But you have to bigger than this to do your jobs.

I have had teachers assume that I can’t listen in an improv because I am verbal and articulate. I always remember what the great teacher Paul Sills told me when I said I was uninterested in object work, a big tenet of improvisational practice. “Who gives a shit? the whole purpose is for you to be free and connected to the collective and you are!’

I have had teachers censor what I have said in workshops for reasons of taste, or social or political content. The effect was always to constipate the entire class and block creativity. A workshop is a gloriously unfinished thing. It should be a place to overstep and fail and decide where boundaries should go. The teacher’s personal fear can bully the ensemble out of determining those boundaries for themselves. An improvisation teacher should never assume that a student has the same objectives for his art and life as the teacher.

Once a teacher told me that improvisation wasn’t an art. I don’t even know where to start with that one. I guess he saw himself as some minister of parlor games disciplining people to play Charades properly. He attacked the word art because that meant he would have to surrender control in the class; that prospect terrified him.

Great improvisational workshops unleash individual authentic voices into collective harmonies. Control of content or personalities is anti-improvisational.

Thanks bad teachers! Reacting to the ways that you suck has made me a better teacher.

And improvisation teachers and students: when in doubt think Paul Sills and not L. Ron Hubbard.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

On April 20, 2015, I was really working through some things personally. I think I successfully elevated a personal journal entry to writing useful to other people here, but just barely.

April 20, 2015: Growing Pains (Everyone Else)

There is no evolution without breaking and tearing. No pain no gain.

You have no choice of family. Your parents, siblings and ancestors are pre-ordained. They all understand what is going on with you on a biochemical and genetic level. Whether or not they get the fine points of your life and work and love doesn’t matter. They know the family music. They may or may not know the words.

If you feel pain when family members don’t like it when you change, that pain is of your own making. You are still a child if the intellectual approval of family matters to you. Any argument they have with you they have within themselves. You don’t inherit their minds. You inherit their guts. They feel what you are feeling. You share the same wiring. Your familial job is to love them and not recoil in defensiveness. Don’t argue back. Be certain. Be confident. Be kind. Your empathy for shouldn’t be hard. It is in your DNA. You can’t lose family. They are with you always…even when they are estranged or dead.

If you are smart and lucky, your spouse is a soul mate with whom you run the discovery river through all of its unexpected material and spiritual developments. You are never again the person that you were on your wedding day, but your darling bought into your inevitable present and future changes with open eyes. And you bought into hers. For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, through emerging and receding desires and ambitions, after life realizations and related adjustments, in widening and contracting social circles, as political, social, religious, ethical and existential attitudes and affiliations dissipate, become more nuanced or calcify, and for every other change of mind, body, spirit and social role til death do you part.

Your friends don’t judge you. They listen to you as you make decisions based on some inner pull often away from what you thought was important in the past. They like you and treat you with hospitality. You do the same for them. Your friends want to see you fulfill your character and live out your destiny. They don’t care in what way or how you change. They breathe alongside you. Friendship is the place where you can be yourself, year after year, incarnation after incarnation.

Your evolutionary pain does not come from your family, spouse and friends. It comes from your relationship with everyone else.

Everyone else has a use for you…different agendas…to be less than you are to make them greater…or to be their hero, a proxy for their unexplored freedom…or to gain a success in a field that interests them so that they can be inspired…or to think like them so that they can be validated…or to approve of their mediocrity—call their lazy, timid work “brilliant”…or to drink fear with them like a couple of alcoholics…to live with them as inhabitants of a immovable world of which you are just another frozen piece…not someone to deal with or think about…a reassuring positive or negative that can always be relied on…to be a warm body when they are in a panic and lonely…to maintain their maximum security prison cell…to affirm a rigid and unassailable view of existence that serves as an irrational false bulwark against death… and to bear their angry mob when your love of life betrays their fear…lunatic! criminal! insurrectionist! cynic! anarchist! They scream…Punish him! Expel him! Don’t let him get away! Teach him to follow our rules!

You leave with your life in tow. Stunned. What happened? You discovered something and they hated you for it. You used to travel together. Now you must go alone.

The pain is simply explained. It feels like lost love, but it is not. There are spouse, friends and family—those who love you—and then there is everyone else. You have grown and lost those who don’t love you. It hurts. Until you realize that you have lost nothing.

You start standing more erect again. You walk with your shoulders back. You let go of old everyone else. You fearlessly stand alone, but just for a moment. New everyone else emerges. They were always there but you didn’t see them…people who are less interested in success and more interested in achievement…less concerned with validation and more concerned with truth…more secure…accepting of you and what you do…more committed to service…aware and accepting of death…infused with vibrant life…dedicated to learning and change…and fellow believers in evolution.

In what we are is the seed of what we’ll be. Consciousness deepens and boundaries disappear. Old everyone else can’t hold you back. Your exile was brief; your new world more glorious than the old. Life finds a way.

You would welcome old everyone else back anytime, if they are up for the trip, but you have moved on. New everyone else is joining your family, friends and spouse. Everyone’s love is welcome.

It’s a big world and a lot of folks walk upright.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

Two pieces which return to more fluid writing …

April 21, 2015: Urkel is Death; That Suicide Thing about Jaleel White was a Hoax, But Urkel is Death Anyway

“Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.”

Joseph Campbell (with Bill Moyers), The Power of Myth

If a performance or writing of any kind isn’t either doing this or aspiring to do this then I don’t give a shit about it.

A long time ago I had this terrible job selling maintenance agreements for Sears’ lawnmowers. It was in this awful pre-fab building in this awful pre-fab office park. I was paid $6 an hour. I was naturally angry and depressed in my circumstance as any Homo Sapien would be. My co-workers and I were herded into this narrow windowless room with vending machines for our required break. The timing of this recreation period always coincided with the showing of Family Matters featuring Jaleel White as Urkel on the huge TV that hung from steel cables in the corner of the room.

I hated and hate Urkel. (I have nothing against Jaleel White who just had a shitty job like mine except his pay was better. And now I have learned while looking for a photo for this post that Jaleel White committed suicide in 2007 at the age of 29. Makes sad and perfect sense to me. He was an avatar of depression. His job turned out to be much worse than my job at Sears. He was given his greatest financial success for doing something worthless—something far from actual life. My job was of so little value and transient that it was almost impossible to get stuck in it. Jaleel’s job taught him that life had no meaning. And it doesn’t. We must bring meaning to it. The character of Urkel is the void…the end of matter…pure negation. Urkel is death without hope of redemption. Urkel is a narcotic…the sleepy Sears break room looked like a crack house as me and my glassy eyed co-workers sullenly looked at the screen. Who knew that the pusher was overdosing on boredom and frustration too…ceding every waking moment to a commercial machine that told him when to jump and how high and would discard him when the show was over.

Now my wife tells me that she has found out that the report of Jaleel White’s suicide was a hoax. He’s an active actor and writer, the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog and worth $10 million. Good for him but my metaphoric point still stands. Don’t stop me now, I am on a roll. It’s not my fault that Jaleel White is not as sensitive as I am.)I hated and hate Urkel’s cartoonish nerd voice. I hated and hate his Godspell reject suspenders and circus colors. I hated and hate the roars of stupid laughter from the laugh track and/or audio-enhanced studio audience. I hated and hate the bullshit—bullshit too lame to even be a lie. I hated and hate all the hours that I spent in my life watching nothing—blankly staring at a screen of rapidly flashing images accompanied by a soundtrack of discordant noise. Always too bright…always too loud… What was intended by its producers to be escapism for me was a depression enhancer.I grew to hate and still hate it when people say, I don’t go to the movies for a message. I go to be entertained. Thanks, asshole. You’re the reason that we get so many stupid, stultifying, soul crushing movies.A little later I was working a job not much better than the one at Sears. I was alone a lot at the time and I went to a Martin Scorsese documentary in which he discussed the work of older directors who influenced him. I remember him talking about a Fellini film entitled I Vitelloni. Scorsese introduced the work with such passion. It was about young Italian men who were layabouts and womanizers and supported by their mothers. The whole show was great. Scorsese’s documentary and Fellini’s movie were the opposite of escapism. You might have thought earlier that a movie about aimlessness might be depressing for a young man with a wage slave job alone in a movie theater. The opposite was true.Scorsese and Fellini gave me a little life. They held up a mirror to my existence. They gave me the opposite of a phony attempt at escape—real engagement. I was unstuck for a moment. The moments grew with time. I saw that I could go deeper. I could think. I could be turned on by something. I wasn’t stuck with Sears and Urkel. Sometimes even now the TV drones on in the background. And the chickenshit of daily life and work drones on. But I can go to the theater within and see Shakespeare, Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell, Martin Scorsese, Federico Fellini and their friends. And in those moments I sometimes think, like I did tonight, Fuck you, Urkel. I’m alive. I’m not bored. I’m not chained to a vending machine forced to look at you and work for Sears. I beat you, you son of a bitch.No one has wasted my fucking time for many years.You got poor Jaleel White ( alright it was a hoax!), but you didn’t get me.Fuck you, Urkel. I won.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

April 22, 2015: Starring Ben Affleck as American Hero, and Henry Louis Gates as the Myth Maker

I make theater. I am a college professor. I am interested in the truth. I am interested in human development.

What follows is a tale of corruption, exploitation of the naïve and a betrayal of art and education.

Full disclosure: I write this because I feel that I have better ethics than Ben Affleck (as a theater and storytelling artist) and Professor Henry Louis Gates (as teacher). I am motivated by an aspiration for real achievement and not seduced by superficial notions of success that make a lot of noise and sometimes leave one discredited by the time of one’s obituary.

That’s my agenda here. Just telling the truth, folks. I write today with a feeling of moral superiority. I feel I am the real thing and Affleck and Gates are usurpers that make things more difficult for people like me who really do the job(s). We always have to un-teach the lies of hacks like the star and the star professor. These guys piss me off. I see Affleck and Gates masquerading as an artist and as a teacher when they are merely engaged in self promotion. They come on TV well lit accompanied by moving music and high production values. They sell the appearance of authenticity and curious investigation and reflection, but don’t actually engage those values. They must know what they are talking about. They are on TV. To call what they do junk food would be unfair to junk food because at least it is really food.

Someone who tells a story or instructs people about storytelling should be honest. Really telling a story and really teaching are hard things to do. It’s not easy to be honest. There is such a thing as absolute truth, but no one can understand it completely. It is too vast and is a mystery at its core. All we can do is do our best. But we sure as hell can’t lie or omit relevant information. We’ll never get near that elusive truth—the quixotic mission of all true teachers and artists—if we deny what we know, think and feel. The artist and teacher have to try to describe the truth to the best of their intelligence, character and ability. It takes intellectual rigor, concerned compassion and courage to tell the truth. It takes a sense of concern for the well being of the class or the audience. The highest ethic of a teacher or an artist is to never mislead. Teachers and artists try to help people (including themselves) understand life better so that they can live it more fully and at its highest potential. It is a humble thing to do, not a showy one.

This whole episode reminds me of Charles Van Doren and his role in the quiz show scandals of the 1950’s. Van Doren played the role of reality show genius on television. It was all phony. First, answering a lot of trivia questions correctly does not make someone a genius. So the uneducated audience was misled on that one—lied to about the nature of real thought and intelligence. Secondly, the producers intentionally gave him the answers and seduced him to go along with the scam to boost ratings (fame and some money for Van Doren; big money for the producers). Van Doren was a narcissist. If people thought he was a genius that was good enough for him. He’d get all the money and superficial status. Van Doren got caught, but he would’ve suffered even if he had gotten away with it. He opted for the nothing life. Van Doren could’ve gone on a path like most of the rest of us and tried to figure out who he was and what he was good at. But he sold his soul for a little money and transient attention. He cheated himself out of the chance to create a life at all.Affleck won’t live the rest of his life in shamed seclusion as Van Doren did. He’s much more powerful. Society is much more cynical now. Affleck will get away with it—or at least with his riches and status as a movie star in tact. But he is still stuck with the nothing life.. He will continue to worry a lot more about how he comes across than about who he actually is. And the Oscar goes to…someone who has exiled himself from his own creativity.As everyone knows, Affleck went on Professor Gates’ PBS genealogy show and learned that one of his ancestors was a slave owner. He didn’t want anyone to know and asked Gates not to mention it. No word if he was disappointed that Professor Gates didn’t discover Affleck’s virgin birth.Typical joke I might deliver onstage: I don’t get all of the pride surrounding the Confederate Flag. I am a proud Italian-American but I don’t have pictures of Mussolini and the Mafia hanging in my house.Italians have brought much culture, art and thought to the world from the time of the Roman Empire to Michelangelo to Leonardo Da Vinci to Fellini to current fashion and industrial design and much before, in between and sure to be after (plus the food…duh!) Italian culture has ALSO incubated organized crime and fascism. All of that—good and bad– and more is part of who I am. I am a human being. I am not perfect. I deny none of it. I am an Italian-American. I am not perfect. I am an American. I am not perfect.Mother Teresa did business with that guy from the Savings and Loan Scandal of the 1980’s, for Christ’s sake! (And I am not being profane here. She sinned to serve her ambition as being the world champion Christian lover of the poor.) Charlie Chaplin’s mother went insane. He never denied it. He put compassion in his truthful work for her. The director Peter Brook wrote that theater was dreams mixed with shit. We carry all that is holy and all that is ugly within us. Affleck’s problem is that he wants the dreams and not the shit.Art is about looking at the world truthfully and describing it with love. Ben Affleck is no artist. He looks at the world and wants to portray himself as its savior. He isn’t supposed to be descended from slave holders! He is supposed to free the slaves for all of us who aren’t as smart and good looking. We’re supposed to identify with his perfection and in that way be kind of perfect too. We’re the good guys! Ta da! Ben is in marketing—doesn’t have a product—not even himself—just a brand and that’s all, ma’am. What a great example of the meaning of the word “shallow” and the deep unacknowledged suffering that the shallow endure. Occasionally life blurts a wake up call to get real (the Sony emails revealing Affleck’s conspiracy and lie) But Affleck will ignore it. What and give up show business?


Typical comment I might make in one of my classes: Learn from experience. Keep what you think is good (intellectually, morally or ethically) and get rid of the rest. Don’t get stuck in your shame. Own it and change. Look at all in thorough detail so that you can make discerning life decisions.Dr. Gates said that he honored Affleck’s wish to not include Affleck’s slave owning ancestor on the show because other persons on his family tree were “more interesting.” Do I really have to unpack why this is obviously nonsense? Dr. Gates may well have chosen to focus on other ancestors for a large number of reasons but he couldn’t fail to mention the slave owner. Why? Because he is there and obviously has some level of interest for everybody. Beyond audience interest, revealing the existence of the slaveholding forebear is a clear social and moral imperative. Showing the connection with Affleck demonstrates how the mass atrocity of slavery is not an act done by another people in a distant time but a sin committed by us that still touches our lives and that influenced the evolution of our family and who we are. Gates knows this. He also knew that his series would be less profitable if he lost Ben Affleck as a guest. Gates compromised the ethic of his life’s work for his own commercial popularity and stardom. Shame on you Professor Gates. When did you stop teaching?Parson Weems wrote a hagiography about George Washington which included the famous fable about no lying related to a cherry tree. Affleck wants the same type of baloney about himself. Gates was happy to oblige. Lot of money and power in all that for heroes and hagiographers.Childish America still believes in myths, baloney and fables. Many still want to view a fairy tale world with heroes and princesses and villains. Childish America goes no deeper than a Disney feature length cartoon or Affleck’s Argo, a story about Hollywood saving the world.Art and education, people. They are more engaging than show business. They are not toxic and have no empty calories. And everybody gets out with their souls.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

The writing is getting shaggier, looking more like rough drafts, more emotional, freer, more corrupted by my roles as teacher and performer … it’s not what I am doing now. I tend to think the more recent stuff is more developed and in certain ways that is true. But if pieces like this are read as monologues by a human and conflicted character, I think they may be worthy. I take them for what they are. I am not going to edit out my progression.

April 23, 2015, emerging poetry in embryo …

April 23, 2015: Big

Here ‘s how it goes. You do something. You do it with a group of people. You grow. You quite naturally and unconsciously start to push the boundaries of that thing you do. This scares some people in the group who feel safe and comfortable with the old boundaries. They push back at your innocent progressive initiations. They laugh at you, punish you and insult you. This hurts initially. Then you realize its the fear talking. You forgive them and let it go. Then you have to make a decision. Do you “reform” yourself in order to remain a member of the group because you enjoy being with your friends that you love? Or. do remain committed to your growth and cut loose from the old with the faith that people who have also grown to your current size are out there and will welcome you? You do the latter… maybe you’ll even meet some of your old friends who have also grown when you get there.

There is a world out there that is free of competition and fear…I’ve seen it…a world that succeeds with the energy of collaboration and support and intelligence, kindness, guts and talent. Community is not just the people in your immediate proximity or even the worldwide connections of social media.

The community of expanding hearts and voracious minds is where you have always maintained your home base and your fearless brothers and sisters are always waiting to greet you there when you return from your exploratory wanderings.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

Now as I review the blog, I decide to leave out several pieces written at a time when my primary creative focus was developing my craft as a teacher. Necessity can be a distraction.

May 2, 2015 elicited a good gripe. My soul was struggling for some air time.

May 2, 2015: Short Attention Span Theater

WGN-TV ran a news story with the caption: Obama Long-Winded With School Children. I might run a news story: WGN Shallow and Superficial with Topics of Crucial Importance to its Viewers.The clip showed President Obama very intelligently—what else—describing his experiences with writer’s block with junior high school kids. A boy said after a time, “That’s enough. We got it.” They didn’t. Kids say the darnedest things.Unfortunately, many adults never transcend the immature attention span of twelve year olds. Great, everybody. Keep it coming—short, hot, and meaningless. Stay hopped up…don’t focus…don’t dig in…barrage yourself with varied activities, images and sensations…all the action…and die without ever having done a damn thing.I have been told recently that my blog posts are long. I know. I don’t care. As a matter of fact I am working this writing toward longer forms…you know, books. I am sorry I don’t conform to the formal limitations of the Butterball Turkey Hotline Blog.I choose Obama over WGN. I choose adulthood over pre-adolescence.I hope this post was short enough for you so you can get to that video of a dachshund cuddling with a lion.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

On May 4, 2015, a first hint of a pattern in the making of the blog appeared. In a relatively uninspired time some good writing can occasionally bleed through. My old pal movies came to the rescue, and a new theme said hello — the pathetic, misguided and at times consciously evil rich.

May 4, 2015: The Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria is a new art film. The clouds of the title refers to a natural phenomena in a part of the Swiss Alps. When conditions are favorable a river of dense mist snakes its way down a significant stretch of mountain valley. The clouds are symbolic in the movie of the reality of aging and the nearly intangible river of life. This picture has all the depth of The Lion King.

Paula and I saw this pretentious piece of garbage about bored and boring rich and famous people who create problems for themselves because they can’t think of anything else to do at the Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park. The filmmakers hoped we would be fascinated by this tale of witless narcissism supported by seemingly endless means. The owners of the movie theater catered to our comfort. We sat in very wide thickly cushioned leatherish recliners. I’ve been doing this binge/purge diet to maintain my weight and yesterday was an eating day. Armed with a bag (so large it was previously used at feeding time at the Kentucky Derby) of popcorn and an industrial-sized drum full of Coke Zero, I quickly learned the controls of my chair and reclined to a horizontal position as if I were in a hospital bed. To make another Disney cartoon allusion, I was very comfortable in an unhealthy way, like the fat, inert space refugees in Wall-e (remember that boring, politically correct 90 minute public service announcement about eco-responsibility, healthy eating, exercise and the humanizing potential of technology. And now back to today’s mind numb-er…)

The movie can be summed up as follows (INTENTIONAL RUN-ON SENTENCE FRAGMENT WARNING—MY METAPHOR FOR THE EXPERIENCE OF WATCHING THIS CRAP): a beautiful young girl who is a personal assistant, lesbian lover and a Jungian archetypal anima figure of past youth to a beautiful middle-aged actress and movie star who is doing a play about a beautiful young actress who is a Jungian archetypal anima figure to a beautiful middle-aged actress (the beautiful middle aged actress played the role of the beautiful young actress over 20 years ago)… You got that. We are old and young at the same time and we have to accept the transformation and honor our wisdom and self-understanding while remaining in touch with our energy and spirit while never being able to retrieve our innocence, but replacing it with a solidity, but death is coming and there is that… and oh my, I’m tired.

This movie should’ve been called Long Walk for a Short Drink of Water.

All of this psychological and spiritual obviousness was accompanied by a travelogue about the Swiss Alps and lots of supporting actors wearing really expensive sweaters.

I feel badly for rich people. They suffer like everyone else, but they have to make up reasons for the pain. And it is really hard for them because it is hard to be rich and not be a little stupid. Michelle Obama said in 2008 that she wanted to make a big difference early in the Obama Presidency when she and her husband were just a few years away from struggling with family budgets and student loans. She predicted that as the fame, money and power grew she would become isolated from empathy and compassion. She has worked to stay grounded. FDR was a rich man who had heavy braces on his legs that kept him tethered to real problems on the earth.

The Clouds of Sils Maria are supposed to be metaphors for aging and the passing of time. They are actually metaphors for the tragedy of wealth. The filmmakers float like water vapor through the highest elevations fantasizing meaningless pain while oblivious to the real agony below.

I imagined Studs Terkel interviewing a bus boy about his life in one of the 300 scenes in the movie set in incredibly expensive restaurants. That made me feel better along with my feed bag of popcorn, my adjustable bed and my gallon of diet Coke.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

After a fallow couple of weeks of blogging and not writing, I made a small comeback. This next piece is pretty good, not close to my best, but good enough to make the cut (at least for now).

June 1, 2015: Be the Authority of Your Own Life

Robert McNamara was an aide to General Curtis LeMay during World War II. He was one of the architects of bombing raids upon many Japanese cities near the end of the war. The cities were largely populated by wooden buildings. The campaign’s main strategic idea was to have bombers fly beneath Japanese radar. The gambit was stunningly effective. The wooden cities burned to near oblivion. The strategy resulted in genocide on a large scale. The bombing was rationalized at the time as being a necessary action to end the war. The proud Japanese, the convenient “moral” reasoning of decision makers at the time surmised, would only surrender if they were brought to the brink of annihilation.

Much later, an elderly McNamara told the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in The Fog of War that he thought his work with LeMay was immoral and unnecessary. This was not McNamara’s only regret near the end of his life.

McNamara became CEO of the Ford Motor Company in the 1950’s. He was a star executive that greatly pleased the Ford family and the company’s shareholders. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him Secretary of Defense. He continued in that role in the administration of Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson.

Now McNamara was not one of the architects of a single campaign. He was directing the escalation of the Viet Nam War. He again expressed deep regret with a sense of personal responsibility to Morris, this time for a tragic war that sacrificed or destroyed the lives of a large portion of a generation of U.S. servicemen and killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.

Why did McNamara, a man with a strong moral sense and independent intellect in his old age devote so much of his career to such wrong and wrong-headed action? He wasn’t a Nazi possessed by banal evil as Hannah Arendt put it. What follows is my answer, not his: to get ahead; to please his bosses—the men Eisenhower warned us against, the military-industrial complex; to make money for the shareholders. McNamara was unmoved by the howls of protest against his war because the protesters were not the people who counted to him. He worked for the irresponsible rich (as opposed to the creative rich) who rewarded him with the trappings of power. They gave him operational control of a billion dollar enterprise as long as he used his talents in service of THEIR objectives and values. McNamara only made tactical decisions to keep the bosses happy. The bosses laid out the grand strategy. Bosses determine what to do. Careerists merely determine how to do it.

So much for tragedy—the banality of the ladder of success (as opposed to succeeding on one’s own terms). Now for the pathos of the American failure, the person who the bosses determine is of little worth and who lives out the assessment.

I know a man who worked for an organization for thirty years. He isn’t very intelligent or talented. The business gave him very limited responsibility and never promoted him. The owners and their chief executives wanted to get rid of him several times, but he hung on because of his popularity with people they found more useful and a certain low cunning he exhibited when he engaged in office politics.

Finally, after relegating him for years to part-time work, those that mattered in the company unceremoniously forced him into retirement. There was no official retirement party so the man threw one for himself. He moved from the city to a rural community and posted Facebook photos with a lawn mower. He wanted to give his friends the impression that he was enjoying a well-deserved retirement in the country.

The reality is that he is facing a looming and insecure old age with few personal resources to right his situation. He has never assessed for himself who he is, and what he wants and needs to do. He has always depended on the kindness of enemies and accepted their consignment of him to failure. He has also depended on his friends to make his delusions about himself their illusions about him. He needs the heat of those illusions to provide false light for his self-image. His relation to his friends is important because it prevents him from making the necessary changes to take control of his own life.

So ends our parable in two brief chapters of what faces much of America today. The not-on-their-own-terms successful are slaves to the irresponsible rich (as opposed to the creative rich) and know deep down that they are hired to commit other people’s sins. They sell their souls for the corner office. The ordered-to-be unsuccessful are told by the rich that they don’t matter and they accept it. Failures tranquilize themselves with illusions of fantasized meaning.

Tragic and pathetic. There is a positive alternative to this situation for which there are countless examples. Many people take responsibility for their own lives and create something of real value for themselves, their souls and their communities.

Be the authority of your own life and with that power make it a work of art.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

A few decent paragraphs came out of my process of converting my experiences as an improviser to the betterment of my creative ambitions as a writer. The piece meets the requirement of utility for others.

June 3, 2015: The Point of Concentration

The Point of Concentration is a base concept of improvisational acting that is widely misunderstood by many “improv” (a horrible term that denotes a surface and abbreviated understanding of the art) instructors. The instructors much like fundamentalist religious leaders in relation to Biblical text consider the concept in an overly material and concrete manner. Students are taught to respect the integrity of an imaginary object, an orange, a softball, a piece of wood for example and discouraged from allowing contemplation of the object to inspire exploration of broader, deeper and more important feelings and ideas inspired by the object. The resulting scenes, both in the immediate workshop and in the players’ subsequent careers are superficial and lack meaningful content. Audiences are inflicted with scenes considering the stitching on a baseball instead of, say, a meditation on the role of sports in American culture.

Take that improvisational acting staple, the relationship scene in which the point of concentration is the connection between (or lack thereof) two players in a scene. An excellent early example of this type of scene, from the 1960’s and directed by Paul Sills, explored the relationship between two women played by Barbara Harris and Zohra Lampert. The scene used the tension and warmth between the players as a starting point that evolved into an emotionally harrowing and intellectually provocative consideration of date rape at a time when such a topic was rarely even broached on a popular comedic stage. Compare this meaningful engagement with the audience with the current deluge of dating relationship scenes which either come to sentimental conclusions of love found or cynical comments about the acceptance of loneliness and the futility of even trying to establish intimacy with anyone. Audiences walk away with no insights that they didn’t enter the theater with, and at best a few forgettable laughs.

This sorry state of affairs could be traced to the lack of general education of the instructors themselves. Their intellectual laziness leads contemporary improvisational practice into the shallows described above. (This piece is not a blanket criticism of all teaching in the improvisational theater. Some excellent work is being done, usually in obscure and out of the way places.) Paul Sills and Viola Spolin, the artistic and theoretical forces behind all that was and remains good about improvisational theater, had a general knowledge of sociology, educational theory and practice, history, economics, theology, philosophy, world theater, journalism, literature, political science and “all the actions and passions of life about” as Mark Twain would say. So do I and some others. Much of current improvisational instruction is overly incestuous (a cabal of teachers “know” the form, share that limited “knowledge” as a means of undeserved self-affirmation, and marginalize anything that challenges their illusion of expertise) and commercialized. Students leave “improv” classes filled with excitement related to the freeing aspects of play (that benefit of Sills and Spolin’s work seems indestructible no matter how badly it is mishandled) and with an in-group sense of superiority that shrouds the mediocrity of their efforts—to them anyway.

Improvisational instructors should particularly be interested in all of the arts. What is true about creative process is true in every artistic form and genre. I am very interested in the form of the personal essay. The essayist typically uses a singular focus, a point of concentration if you will, as a jumping off point for a discussion of wider matters. One random example of such an essay is Gore Vidal’s piece on Tennessee Williams’ memoirs, Some Memories of the Glorious Bird and an Earlier Self. The writer Phillip Lopate said that Vidal uses Williams’ work “as a point of departure for a wider meditation on the subject.” Lopate continues, “Often (Vidal) will bring in personal experiences that bare on the public figure or the topic…he (Vidal) reveals a good deal about his life and character.” Advanced improvisational practice can reach the same heights in personal, existential, cultural, political and communal exploration as writing does when it is executed with a deep understanding of craft and its theoretical basis by the best writers. It’s been done before by Paul Sills, Viola Spolin and many of the players that they taught and directed.

It pains me to see so much of a revolutionary theatrical art that has achieved so much and is still in its infancy, be reduced to parlor games that serious people do not view as anything of importance. Much of current improvisational instruction exploits a valid aspiration in the uninitiated. Good work can be done. Sills and Spolin have shown us how. Improvisational artists have a responsibility to revere the concepts and foundations that they gave us, and bring the form forward as painters, writers and other artists have done for their forms for centuries. What we have mostly now are fading Xerox copies of work done in middling sketch comedy revues with shallow new pop culture references filling in the blanks.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

The next piece is no longer true. I am living a much different past. present and future than when I wrote this. I include it because I added a new color to my palette here— autobiographical narrative. I have been a character in the writing on the blog all along but in this instance I attempt a chronological story. I don’t use this approach that much. I naturally developed ways to tell stories more economically. This personal essay is more classically structured. It’s incomplete, and would need work if I cared to perfect it, but it works as a snapshot in time, and as a necessary step in the evolution of my process.

June 5, 2015: Frank McCourt Slept Here

Someone has always gone down your road before you do. Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes, his memoir about his childhood in Ireland, tells this brief anecdote in his essay Learning to Chill Out:

After I retired (from his job as a teacher in the New York City Public Schools) I did a theater act in New York with my brother Malachy about growing up in Limerick and our adventures in America. (I met Frank and Malachy McCourt when I was an actor in the Second City resident company and they were touring with that show, A Couple of Blackguards, in Chicago. They would come to the Second City bar after the curtain of our respective performances and enjoy the free beer and liquor actors were treated to by the generous producer Joyce Sloane. I didn’t hang out after-hours much unless there was food being offered.( This was a pretty common occurrence— the pizza was outstanding. I blame Joyce and my parents for my lifelong love of overeating and Second City’s owner-director-producer at the time, Bernie Sahlins for my addiction to cigars—but that’s another story. Well… I blame them and thank them.) or when someone that I thought was interesting dropped by. (I talked with Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy at that bar, for example, and an old school 1930’s socialist named Hank.) I found Malachy and Frank interesting. They were charming and literate, sophisticated and down to earth at the same time. Malachy was more gregarious than Frank. He drank more and longer. Frank was quiet, but had a warm and empathetic smile. He seemed to notice more than everyone else. He conversed with everybody, but he most impressed me with his kind silence when he was listening.) That might have been one way of putting my boyhood into literary form. But as it turned out, it wasn’t honest. It was an entertainment. I don’t even like it, though we made some money out of it. I was in conflict with my brother and the producer. I had an idea and they had other ideas. They wanted a show that got laughs. But essentially it was as false as the novel; (a fictional effort by McCourt of the inspiration that ultimately was realized as Angela’s Ashes.) there was no attempt at exploration. I gave up fighting about it because I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write my book.

Frank McCourt and I come from very different places (I’m a first generation Italian-American from upstate New York whose parents paid for my Jesuit Prep School, Notre Dame and Loyola Law School education.), but we each have discovered ourselves through a painful desire to leave people, places and ideas that stymied the expression of our essential natures and by working toward the fulfillment of that desire and the realization of that expression. The steps have been: to be in conflict with that and those that restricted us; through that conflict determining what we really wanted to do; doing that thing; and finally achieving peace with who and what seemed to oppress us through a recognition of our difference. No pain, no gain.

I went to law school to please an unspoken wish of my parents. I’ve never liked lawyers. They preen, demean and argue too much. (This is an unfair generalization. Many lawyers have fine qualities and are serious human beings and many deserve my uncharitable description, but the archetype of “lawyer” has been a negative in my psyche since I was very young. There is nothing in my essential being that says “lawyer.”) I did not attend my law school graduation. I performed that night with the Second City Touring Company at a low rent pre-fab resort called The Chateau Louise. If that place was a chateau, I look like George Clooney in his prime. (I can only blame my foray into show business on myself. I lived much of my life in the perceived shadow of a successful older brother who was a professional football player and is a state Supreme Court justice today. He pleased my father with his capacity to win. I made my father laugh. If I could win by making people laugh, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. And for a while I did win, or at least modestly succeed, in comedy. I made a living as a comic actor and teacher of improvisational comedy for about ten years. But something happened. I started doing a one-man show that wasn’t always funny. I wanted to say things. I didn’t know it consciously, but I began to resent the audience. I wanted to please myself, and God, maybe, not them. It took me decades to sort out my conflicts with the Law and Show Business and the people in both fields. I was in my mid-fifties when I realized that teaching was the only job that I could live with as a means of supporting myself. It was in my late fifties when I realized that all of my aborted writing attempts over thirty years were struggling expressions of my essential nature. I am a writer.)

Progress in my process of self-discovery has been painfully slow. I sat for the bar exam only once twenty-five years after I graduated from law school, when I was fifty—and passed the test amazingly on that first try. (I report this with pride. My success with the bar exam was more of a spiritual than career accomplishment. It was the first step in resolving one of the two great issues of my life. My peace with Show Business would come later. I had mistakenly pitted Law and Show Business against each other. My mind saw each as the escape from the other. All the while, Writing was whispering. Writing may have spoken so softly because it knew that my confusion and all the blind alleys it dispatched me to would give me something to write about when I was ready.) My brother got me my first job as a lawyer. I worked for a successful fundamentalist Christian attorney who represented insurance companies. Two things that I have always disliked are fundamentalist Christianity and insurance companies. I was fired after I loudly told some unsurprisingly mean-spirited attorneys in the firm about their lack of decency and the dangers inherent in their rejection of their core humanity. This apparently was in violation of the corporate culture.

Eventually I landed another job working the state Supreme Court commission that regulated and disciplined lawyers. One of the bosses there was a friend of mine in law school, but my brother’s position on the Court didn’t harm my chances for the job. I reckoned this job might put me productively on the side of the angels. I learned a lot about writing on this job, particularly from one supervisor who made me rewrite a complaint for over a year before she accepted it. However, she also denied me a deserved raise. I used that as a pretext to quit the job. The place was overly punitive. Prosecutors too often favor punishments, large and small, instead of education and encouragement, as a means of solving problems. I had a become a pretty good litigator, but I didn’t like many of the people around me (they were often judgmental and vindictive which isn’t a shocker) and only liked the actual hearings when it was impossible for anyone to censor me and I could speak in my own voice.

My understandably, and initially skeptical wife Paula supported my decision to strike out on my own. I had an idea that I thought would reconcile the Law and Show Business. I was going to teach improvisational theater to lawyers. I had a lot of teaching experience—mainly in improvisation but also from a succession of day jobs that I had in the latter part of my acting career. (I taught English as a Second Language and American History in for-profit technical schools and Associates Degree programs.) I did the programs I put together for a couple of bar associations, my old law school and one law firm. Many lawyers needed the interpersonal, teamwork and communication skills training that I was offering. I had a marketing problem however. Most of them didn’t see that need. On many occasions one senior lawyer would commit to hiring me only to be overruled by more conservative colleagues who would scoff at what I had to offer.

I doggedly kept trying to have my round peg fit the lawyers’ square hole with a variety of marketing and outreach strategies. I supplemented my income with adjunct teaching jobs and Paula’s support. This placed a temporary strain on our young marriage (I discovered personal love late in life as well.) One of those jobs led to a happy full-time fit at the University of Illinois at Chicago Business School. The school is led by a progressive dean and I have many kind and intelligent colleagues, some of whom I now count as friends. I have learned that the closer one gets to knowledge of oneself the more angels appear to guide and support you like Paula and UIC. All that sustains you arrives without effort or plan.

Buoyed by my happy marriage and my happy job, my inner lawyer vanquished once and for all, I turned my attention to Show Business. A very successful friend of mine in that field, from the old days in Second City, and his wife invited me to activities where I could work as an improvisational actor. The work was in glamorous places—an estate on Cape Cod and an actors’ collective in Los Angeles. I had the exact same experience with these people as Frank McCourt had with Malachy and the producer of A Couple of Blackguards: initial commitment, conflict, self-discovery, new (and old and unconscious) direction, peace. That process led me to this page and the books that will follow. I also learned a good lesson from my old friend and his wife about writing. They had written for a successful sitcom. They told me a writer shouldn’t be precious about his words. Let them out and if they don’t work change them. I haven’t stopped writing since they reminded me of that. Good advice.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

The rest of the month of June 2015 was dedicated to blogging, not writing.

July 2015 started with a serviceable rant against the rich.

July 2, 2015: Air B and B Won’t Save Our Economic System; Decency Will

Austan Goolsbee had an estimated net worth of $5 million in 2012. He is considered the youngest cabinet member to date in Barack Obama‘s administration, having previously served as the Chairman of President’s Council of Economic Advisers. The University of Chicago professor is a brilliant, successful, and cutting edge policy analyst and scholar. I voted for him and his cohort twice in 2008 and 2012. Many thought he and his colleagues might change the world. They have—for the worst.

Goolsbee was on MSNBC last night. He said that Air B and B, a pioneering new business model in tune with current advances in creative applications of information technology and socioeconomic realities was “proof that capitalism works. People are finding ways to make money in small ways.”

July 2, 2015

Dear Austan:

I caught you on Lawrence O’Donnell last night. Air B and B style self-employment is not the solution to income inequality and its accompanying plagues that you claim it is.

Frank Capra’s last movie, Pocketful of Miracles, focused on a depression era street beggar named Apple Annie. Bette Davis played the role. The character was based on a real phenomenon in the 1930’s, as I am sure you are, or were once, aware of, Austan… people selling apples in the streets as an attempt at survival… “making money in small ways”…a penny an apple… You may be familiar with a similar activity today…disheveled men and women offering to clean your windshield for whatever you deem to give them. They’re pulling on bootstraps. Unfortunately, they don’t have boots. Where you see a brave new world of entrepreneurship, Austan, I see tragic desperation and injustice, but of course you are only looking where you want to look. You’ve got yours.

Paula and I aren’t worth 5 million dollars so we actually stayed in an Air B and B. I’m pretty sure you just read about them in an abstract or the like. Millionaires don’t usually stay at an Air B and B. Maybe a rich friend or benefactor of yours told you glowing stories about the CONCEPT at a party. PROFIT-MAKING SAVES THE WORLD! We were down in Knoxville, Tennessee visiting Paula’s daughter and her husband and new baby. As you clearly know, Austan, (but other readers may not—this is an open letter and a literary conceit, after all…), Air B and B allows people to offer their homes as lodging to strangers at usually lower prices than those of hotels. The would-be lodgers pay what I imagine is a small fee to a service that offers a website that displays photos of the lodgers’ homes and a brief description of the hosts’ themselves. We looked at the website and narrowed our choices to a townhouse in a well-manicured sub-division inhabited by a retired stewardess and a log cabin on the outskirts of town (with a big wooden sculpture of a bear beside the front door) that was owned by a strapping bearded bachelor pictured online in a red flannel shirt and black knit hat. This limited presentation of useful and meaningful information in the information age determined our choice to be between what looked like civilization and what looked like wilderness, Emily Post or Paul Bunyan, if you will. We went with Emily Post.

I like civilization. If climate change or war transforms the world into the dystopian nightmare that is so popular with young movie-goers these days, I will surely be in the first wave of people to die. I would not be able to defend Paula and me from a crazed loner who wanted to dismember us in a remote forest in the worst case, or be able to help a genial woodsman build a fire or fix a generator in the middle of nowhere in the best case. My idea of roughing it is eating at an outdoor café.

Where is Frank Capra when you need him? Once upon a time, it was reassuring to think that I could live a long and happy life without the skills of Katniss Everdeen. George Bailey is the type of sedentary hero that I like. He engaged in fair and compassionate lending practices. Archery wasn’t involved. Unfortunately, the world now resembles how the town of Bedford Falls would have looked if George never lived. George’s suicidal depression must have come back in the 1970’s. Mr. Potter won once and for all, George killed himself and Clarence was stripped of his wings. It’s a Wonderful Life’s Athens, which had a lot of problems, but also had decency, democracy, idealism and reason as means to overcome them, has been replaced by The Hunger Games’ Sparta .It is not uncommon in America today to watch the weak die publicly like the sickly babies the Spartans left unattended to starve on the side of a hill.

Unfortunately, the world of Emily Post is no more civilized than the world of Paul Bunyan, the Unabomber, militias and benevolent contemporary hunter-and gatherer survivalists living off the grid. Our retired stewardess host is about eighty years old. She lives in her recently divorced son’s small, clean, adequate and heavily mortgaged townhome. The middle-aged son was in Florida during our stay trying to independently sell some educational software that may or may not be helpful to people trying to learn a new language. In other words, he didn’t have a real job and was trying to get by. I’ll define a real job as an activity where you INVEST your time, labor, and the benefit of your skills and experience in someone else’s enterprise (your human capital and their financial benefit) and they INVEST in you by providing money for your basic needs, further developing your skills so that you can be of ever-increasing use to them and yourself, and helping you invest part of that income to safeguard your health and your future financial security (their financial capital and your human benefit). Real jobs might “save capitalism” or at least the human beings that matter more than all of the writings of Adam Smith OR Karl Marx and all of their intellectual heirs, including you Austan, but unfortunately the “capitalists” (read gangsters) that you work for don’t create real jobs anymore. Why should they when they can steal the labor of desperate people like the language learning company who has a middle-aged man go hawk their wares while screwing him out of a decent commission, paying none of his expenses or overhead and offering him no benefits whatsoever? One man’s entrepreneurship is another man’s indentured servitude. Someone like you could surely make such an independent contract arrangement work to your benefit, Austan, probably as a kind of launching pad, but most people aren’t like you.

Austan, our octogenarian host is not running her Air B and B as her first proactive step to her first five million. She isn’t taking a good idea and working hard on it fueled by energetic optimism and creativity. She is trying to get the money to eat. She didn’t go to Yale and graduate summa cum laude. She didn’t get a Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T. She’s old. She forgot the toilet paper. She blocked the driveway. Keeping a two-story townhouse with a narrow staircase clean is hard for her. But it is not nearly as hard as the worry that she endures for the physical welfare of herself and her son.

Paula and I were the guests of Apple Annie not Richard Branson.

Austan, I am going to repeat myself here in a bit more detail for emphasis because you are great at theory but a touch slow on reality. Many people are not lucky. Many people are not smart. Many people have not been exposed to a culture of hard work, a menu of wide-ranging personal and career options or an education preparing them for a life of skillful and intelligent risk. Many people make bad life decisions because of personal weakness even when blessed with many of those advantages. Many people are mentally ill or just confused. Many people are chronically sick and tire easily. Many people are too ill, old or young to make competent decisions let alone do sustained mental and physical labor. Many people are not equipped to remember the metaphoric toilet paper or clean the two-story home. MANY PEOPLE ARE NOT EQUIPPED TO SUCCEED AS ENTREPRENEURS.

What is to become of the many? You say that Air B and B will save capitalism but I prefer to focus on saving the old stewardess and her son of modest earning ability from dying on the side of that Spartan hill. Saying that Air B and B is a harbinger of a positive future really saves YOU from confronting the inhumanity of the rich patrons who gave you the opportunity to earn $5 million by an early age. Everyone is not going to go out and figure out creative ways to survive on their own, Austan. Watch a nature show on PBS instead of talking to some captain of industry or right-wing economist one evening. (And you and your colleagues are right-wingers as much as you would protest that fact. Liberals believe in government regulation, organized labor and social welfare programs not Ayn Rand fantasies.) You’ll notice that the “survival of the fittest” in the animal kingdom could also be called the “smorgasbord of the weak.” You’ll see many antelopes pathetically trying to make elegant and inventive moves and winding up as lunch in the lions’ den. We’re more evolved than the animals, Austan, because we have people like you of great intellect and imagination. Someone with your chops could figure out ways to make things better for everybody instead of coming up with mendacious complex defenses of ego, greed and cruelty in academic journals and government policy discussions and lame slight-of-hand bullshit for mortals like me who watch cable news in order to fall asleep.

How can any economic system be good in which so many people fail and die prematurely? Look on the ground and beyond your abstractions, man!

Until you come up with something that deals with the realities of human weakness, imperfection and vulnerability—in other words, something MORAL, I oppose you and every politician, business person and scholar that agrees with you. Air B and B offered as an example of the kind of activity that is our ultimate economic salvation? You’ve got to be kidding me. It might work for Paul Bunyan, Richard Branson and you; but it’s knocking the crap out of old ladies and their equally struggling and aging boys.

Sincerely,

Rick

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

I concentrated on teaching and infrequently blogged until December 23, 2015. Then a little unexpected writing … and notably, Donald Trump’s first appearance on The Rick Blog.

12/24/15: Donald Trump and the Danish Girl

You need two things to have an active, conscious, authentic voice: courage, and the unconditional love of someone who sees your reality. The special someone doesn’t have to fully understand you, they might — they might not — but they have to view you compassionately through all your struggles and triumphs.  And it is in those painful and joyful days that you risk leaping into the unknown of who you are — you explore inner space.

The Danish Girl is an arty piece of schmaltz with highbrow pretensions and unassailable social values. It is pretty, a Danish travelogue. The costumes are so nice even I noticed them. I guess that you can tell that I thought the movie was a little bit awful. But it got what I talked about in the first paragraph right. The transgender protagonist of the film doesn’t “invent” herself. She is drawn to her identity by a spiritual force. She has the guts to resist internal repression and avoid external oppression. She risks all, offering herself to an experimental first-time-ever gender re-assignment surgery. (Spoiler alert) It is fatal. She dies happy. She achieved a congruence of her spiritual and temporal identity if only for a moment. She was completely aware of who she was and her life finally said so unequivocally to the outside, concrete here and now. She remains in death a great heroine for herself and for all like her. You don’t have to be a transgender person to be like her.

She never could have been so brave without her wife. The Danish Girl’s wife’s love for her was her tether to every person, place and thing that exists beyond our minds which are limited by past experience and the vastness beyond the mysteries of our most sincere and heartfelt desires. We are guided to who we are not only by the stirrings of our souls but also by people and situations who initiate us to our roles in the sweep of all that is. This is a frightening proposition and we tentatively make our first steps to completeness and freedom on a bridge of kindness provided by other people. (Anyone who undertakes this harrowing journey starts out tentative and shy. If one has no fear, he has no idea of what he is up against and hasn’t begun the journey at all.)

Mothers, fathers, spouses, friends and to a much lesser extent teachers can be our lifeline(s) to the world when we aren’t sure of ourselves or our place in it. Millions of people who are never loved, or never recognize love when it meets them, fly off into the void like lonesome George Clooney in Gravity or all the furiously energetic spermatozoa that never get close to fertilizing an egg.

Which brings us to Donald Trump, loveless sperm on a Kleenex for President, narcissistic-ally crowing that he must be authentic because the polls say so, not meeting the world but performing for it, then despising the rubes applauding for him, and screwing them, a distraction, A Face in the Crowd, Charles Foster Kane’s “rosebud” (I can’t stay away from this allusion, Lenny — I like it so —  the word of the Gilded Millennium)…

Trump entertains me…he’s funny…he exposes the corrupt, phony political system for what it is, Triumph the Insult Comic President, he says many things that I think when I don’t think too hard…Mel Brooks was on to something…lyrics from Springtime for Hitler indeed (although Trump reminds me more of Mussolini with all those faces that he makes)…”the thing you gotta know is, everything is show biz” …

Politically incorrect, uncensored, unedited, unplugged, unapologetic Trump seems so free. He isn’t as I am sure that you agree. A real  voice is about courage and love. It has nothing to do with distraction and manipulation. Fascism is a comic premise. A big pompous puffed-up buffoon gets power, gets everybody to believe a farcical delusion, makes a mess of everything, a lot of people get hurt…and then the head fascist or whoever has succeeded him says he (they) is (are) sorry. We all finally learn something — which we retain for about a minute. Father forgive them and us they and we know not what they and we do. The brave try to know now not later.

It’s hard for you and your loved ones when you pursue your authentic voice. But it sure beats the alternative. Try!

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

2016

From Christmas 2015 until October 16, 2016, The Rick Blog yielded no “real writing”. This is not to say the blog was devoid of content, or that that period was not fertile creatively. To the contrary, 2016 was an important time. The blog consisted primarily as marketing for my teaching and performance efforts, and some segments acted as notes for later writing.

Teaching is writing for a very specific group of people confined in the same room with you. Your work is limited by the intelligence and commitment of your charges. You spend a lot of time attempting to motivate your students to engage the top of their intelligence and character.

A writer can only teach him or herself to be a writer. Everyone does it their own way. For many, including me, teaching is an excellent phase in the development of a writer’s art. You use all of the muscles of writing in a restrictive way.

Initially, teaching is exciting. Teaching strengthens your voice and clarifies your conscious understanding of it.

But then teaching becomes a restrictive burden. The best writing is done for oneself. The best audiences overhear what the writer has to say.

Which leads to the period of performance. I’m very glad that I did. I learned a lot about writing years ago when I was a professional actor. I had to eliminate the aspects of that experience that wasn’t relevant any more.

Trying to be interesting on stage for an audience necessarily compromises one’s content and authentic expression. A performer owes an audience a certain hospitality. They do not come to the theater to simply listen to you. They have desires that they wish to fill in the experience.

A reader is a different creature entirely. They can pick up your writing and put it down at their will and at their leisure. They don’t have to fulfill any of the social obligations of being in public, or be concerned (or not) about the performer’s feelings. They can choose who or what they listen to for their own reasons, and come and go as they please.

I have for many years romanticized the life of the visual artist. I like the solitude and the encouragement in the form to deeply explore one’s peculiarity. The idea of simply sharing with the world all of the complexity of what one sees, and who one is when one sees it resonated with me deeply. That is what and how I have always wanted to spend my time.

Students and theater audiences allowed me to create thousands of rough drafts, but as my work matured they became impediments to my progress.

I can see the interference of students and theater audiences in the incomplete notes to myself in 2016 that never rose to the level of fulsome writing.

Until I was 24 years old, I was being socialized.

From 24 – 34, I was awkward, yet in synch, a successful performer pleasing many crowds.

From 34 – 50, I was downtrodden and in the wilderness.

At 50, I rose again — struggling but also making creative progress.

In 2014, I realized that I wished to write. I retraced my steps through the worlds of entertainment and higher ed.

In 2015, real writing, my true voice unexpectedly began to sing.

In 2016, I began the process of separating my real voice from the social and economic roles that necessity and innocence assigned to me.

The Rick Blog is an epic extravaganza, 65 years in the making.

Oh, another surprise. I found a piece from January 7, 2016, that actually is a bit of writing. It reads to me now as if someone else wrote. The content is familiar but the tone is very young. I was still looking to others, wanting to belong … There is a sweetness to this segment. I like the kid who wrote it.

January 7, 2017: My Mother Taught Me the Limited Value of a Dollar

That’s my Mom. She’s 93 years old. I think when she and my Dad were first married they worried a lot about money. They probably argued about it too. None of that makes them different than a lot of us, probably most of us.

Somewhere along the way, fairly early in their marriage, my mother took on a mantra from my paternal grandmother. My paternal grandmother was a saint. That’s not my Italian-American sentimentality showing. Grandma was hospitality and generosity and forgiveness and kindness and love. She was one of millions of beatific souls that have exemplified a purity and goodness to those around them in lives that are as important as they are obscure. Grandma was a mini-Mother Teresa in all of the poor neighborhoods that she ever lived in, in Italy, France and the United States. Grandma never lived in a neighborhood that wasn’t poor. She wasn’t egoistically “giving back” because she never got much of material value herself. But she knew how to live with decency and love. She didn’t pick up  the goodness habit late in life. (As opposed to me, who becomes a slightly better person as I age because I have lost a small portion of my energy to enjoy sins that I once enjoyed heartily. I have to marshal that energy to apply to the good and decent things that I also enjoy, and value more highly.  I have mixed emotions about my spiritual progress. Cigars and self-righteous anger wherefore art thou?)

My grandmother didn’t call her adage a “mantra,” of course. (I come from a long line of Catholic Buddhists.) The mantra wasn’t clever — I know you’ve heard this one (wink, wink): God will provide.

My family’s life changed when Mom really heard and understood what Grandma was saying. We focused on creating rich lives and didn’t worry about money. Dad was self-employed. He had a small body and fender shop. Mom worked in a bank. A big wreck  seemed to always come in Dad’s shop whenever we wanted to take a family vacation. Mom got our health care benefits at her job. We always ate well — which I am sure doesn’t surprise any of you that have witnessed the fluctuations of my weight which resemble the phases of the moon. Christmas was always abundant. It was important to have nice clothes, see plays and movies. My parents were honest people who were generous, worked hard and had fun. They never made or fell into a lot of money.

For many years I couldn’t figure out how my parents did it. My father always said he “would rob Peter to pay Paul.” He was talking about skillfully managing his financial obligations, but the spiritual connotation of his words is the key to me understanding how they pulled it off.

God provided — with some help from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. Dad died in February 2009. He was 88. The toxic materials he inhaled in that little collision shop took him out. Ironically he got cancer just as my parents’ life savings were running out. My brother hooked my folks up with some good lawyers who handled wrongful death cases. They secured Dad and Mom good — but by no means exorbitant — settlements from the manufacturers of the poisons Dad breathed in while he was doing his job.

Dad died before the settlement checks started to roll in, but they have paid for Mom’s late old age.

Now Mom is failing a bit. She has transitioned from an independent living facility and is moving into skilled nursing. When Mom dies all the settlement money will be gone. Things make sense late in every story.

My parents’ secret regarding money was to play not to win but to break even. They always focused on creating a life not a fortune. Money was only a practical detail in achieving their objective. My father died a satisfied man. He enjoyed his family and friends and soccer and going out to eat and well, everything ordinary and immediate. My Mom will die satisfied too. She’s had a good run. They are my beacons of joy and goodness.

The new movie, The Big Short, performs a public service by educating the general public about how Wall Street works through popular entertainment. But even Margot Robbie in a bubble bath can’t explain mortgage backed securities to me. I’m a fairly smart guy. A layman’s knowledge of such material is usually not beyond me. I just can’t get interested in all that money. It bores me. I thank Grandma and Dad and especially Mom for that reaction. I visit her and even when she drifts a little away from reality she talks about what the Thomas family thinks is important: working to create goodness and joy for ourselves and other people.

My parents were (and my Mom still is) very young people — always engaged — always going after the next dream. They never had it made, and that made all the difference.

Here’s something from the joy of Andrea Martin and Stephen Schwartz — No Time at All from Pippin.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

As I rummage through the blog, I find passages where I am trying to figure out who I am, and passages where epiphanies where I solve the riddle result from all of that work, and then I freely and spontaneously write and live.

In 2016, I haphazardly wrote notes for a self-help book to myself. Just as teaching and performing helped me develop as a writer, and then were outgrown and for a time held me back before I shed those outmoded roles, identifying myself as a “recovering creative” was necessary and then a vestigial remainder of a time when I was blocked, abused and persecuted as an artist in my mind and in the greater world.

From August 12, 2016: How to Get Professional Recognition

Step One: Recognize yourself. Every resume, C.V., or LinkedIn Profile revision or professional bio is an opportunity to “own” all you have done and all that qualifies you for opportunities to do new things. Here’s an example of what I mean: www.richardthomasjd.com (This was updated. originally it was a link to my University of Illinois at Chicago website biography which was deleted after I left that job in 2018. This is the link to my personal professional website.)

I recognize all that is on my bio in any professional relationship that I enter. If anyone is skeptical of what I know or can do, I refer them to this information in some form. If they remain skeptical, we simply disagree. If they remain skeptical after further discussion,  I ignore them and  withdraw from them at the earliest opportunity.

I think we allow people who doubt us into our lives in order to voice our own unconscious self-doubts.  As you can see on the bio, I make no unsubstantiated claims. Everything is documented. I write my biography objectively. I don’t hold myself out for any job or position that I haven’t proven to myself that I can do.

If you follow this process you enter all of your interactions with an integrity. You stand up for yourself and your work. You don’t sell yourself short and you don’t mislead potential colleagues. You don’t give any other persons or entities the power to define who you are, what you can do, what you deserve or decide limits for you as to what you can achieve.

Step Two: Recognize that some people will never recognize who you are and what you can do. Some people live in a myth that there is some sort of objective success that everyone acknowledges. There isn’t. Money, educational attainment, fame make superficial impressions of success but what really endures is the positive and negative talents, work, values and experiences that are the foundations of those impressions. For example, I don’t like Donald Trump. So I am not impressed by his talents, work, values and experiences. I do not recognize him as a good businessman, entertainer or political leader. The point is that there is no objective universal acceptance. So forget about it and partner with the people who recognize you.

Step Three: In order to be recognized you have to recognize others. Discernment is a high virtue. Watch and listen to the words of colleagues and potential colleagues and make value judgments about them. Don’t crave their acceptance. Be clear-eyed and practical. Again, don’t give others, even sympathetic others, the power to define who you are. That is your job. Recognition is a mutual thing, not a one-way street.

Step Four: One requirement of an enduring mutual recognition is an acknowledgment that who we are and what we do is not a static thing. Real recognition appreciates the transformations of the other. For example, we’ve all heard the talk  show complaints of actors who lament being typecast. If audiences won’t accept an actor’s attempt to try on a different type role within his range, those audiences never fully recognized the actor at all. Organizations lose really talented people when they don’t acknowledge their development and facilitate their next soulful challenges.

Step Five: It’s not about the money. It’s about the money. Recognition isn’t just kind words. If someone recognizes you they will pay you fairly and make sure that you have what you need to do your job. For example, when public school teachers have to purchase with their own money school supplies for their students the entire educational system suffers. Teachers must be people of high confidence and self-esteem to serve their students, and the lack of funds belittles what they do.

Step Six: Be patient and keep an inventory of  career aspirations. My inventory includes: teaching, writing, public speaking and artistic performance, and open — what does my bio add up to that I am not aware of yet. I am constantly on the lookout for people, organizations and ideas that will recognize who I am more fully and allow me to develop myself to attain ever higher levels of recognition. Attaining recognition is a moment-by-moment process, not a goal to be achieved.

Step Seven: Hear people, but don’t necessarily listen to them. For example, a friend of mine told me that lawyers over 60 don’t get the same type work that they used to get when they were younger. If the older lawyers have the chops and the desire to do that work, I think they may have to be patient and strategic, but they can get it. I see old men running in the park who could’ve beaten me in a foot race when I was twenty.

Step Eight: Be grateful to everyone — those who say yes and those who say no. They form the banks of the river of your life.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

More self-help from August 2016 — still trying to separate myself from the determinations and opinions of other people —- not quite strong enough yet to just observe them objectively and make my own determinations without taking it personally. Apparently I was sensitive about my age. I feel empathy for my past self here. It wasn’t vanity or nostalgia. I was embarking on my grand career as a writer. It had been simmering within me for over forty years. It was, and is, new — a young thing. I didn’t want to hear that I was too late to the dance or be told that I couldn’t start out in the evening.

Part of writing is moving one obstruction after the other out of your way. Some moments of your life require heavier lifting than others.

From August 13, 2016: Ageism — the Late Bigoted No

I have been in a nice cocoon since May 1. I took the summer off. Ate too much.Went to New York and saw some great acting in some decent plays. Bought a mechanized easy chair and an adjustable bed. Downsized my car largely because I was sick of parking the old one.

The new semester approaches and I slowly start to hum like a cicada. I meet with a friend, a lawyer, who has approached me with some side work — a very nice guy. I describe my role in classes as leading a creative process not imparting “the way to do it.” He describes me as a “mentor.” I hate the word. Another friend, a faculty colleague, told me about the success that comes out of helping other people succeed. I am not motivated to pursue that type of success.

We really serve when we pursue our highest enthusiasms. The free expression of our essential natures is what teaches others — our selves in action — not uttering avuncular wisdom and experience to the young and naive. No one teaches anyone anything. Experience, observation and reflection do that.

The lawyer mentioned that lawyers in their sixties don’t get the same cases that they got when they were younger. I reject this as being true. He lives in a really conservative — read “mean and stupid” area. These lawyers just have to find smarter and more decent prospective clients. Cervantes invented the novel when he was 58. Colonel Sanders got the idea for Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 61.

My father was an amateur soccer coach in his fifties through seventies. He didn’t do it to positively influence young men. He did because he loved coaching soccer. He did the same thing coaching placekicking. He had tremendous influence over many people — naturally — but he never set out to do so.

I am not an old reference book that exists for younger people’s periodic reference. Like my father, life moves through me and creates. I am not here to share the benefits of my experience — which wouldn’t be useful to others anyway since it doesn’t match the particulars of their lives. I engage with others in the fullness of my creativity. And in the full knowledge that death is waiting too — but so what. I’m not spending the rest of my life laying in a sitting room at a funeral parlor with a rosary in my hands. No one is throwing dirt on me yet.

Around 12 years ago, I was flat on my ass after decent success in my younger years. No job, no money — pretty much written off. I became a lawyer. Then I was told I became a lawyer too late because I was 50. I never lost a case. I never lost a major point in a case. Then I became a college professor. I excel. I’m a Master Teaching Scholar. All of this took longer than it should have because of the ignorant ageist no. I was frozen out from work in the improv community because I would go away from it for awhile and come back. I was an “amateur.” Yet every time I improvised, I excelled. The fact that I had struggled and learned so much doing other things made me an even more formidable improviser than I ever was and threatened to change everyone else’s game. So the old conservatives forced me out. I wasn’t supposed to be new in a good way at my age. They “knew how to do it” and I threatened messing up their phony mentorship business. (Don’t read between the lines that I am talking about Second City here. I am not. There are some very positive people in the leadership of Second City.) There always was some discriminatory reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to participate. (Discrimination is always so that the stale can hold power. They are too insecure to share or let anything exist on its own and not as a justification of their lives.) Undeterred, I keep at it and meet other people who are in stark contrast open and free.

Here’s what I doing and am going to do in the next 2 decades — partly out of spite. Back of the bus my ass:

  1. Deepen and expand my teaching.
  2. Deepen and expand my writing.
  3. Do theater that is meaningful to me.
  4. Be open to other creative opportunities that the flow of life brings to me.

I will not dye my hair. My weight will likely continue to fluctuate. I will not have my creativity limited to one career lane or another. I won’t have patience for anyone who says that I have to act my age, and I am not your damned Dutch uncle.

Shove your no’s up your ass. I am going to continue do what I want. And I am going to continue to associate with the good souls who don’t have a problem with that and tell the naysayers to go to hell.

Donald Trump once said, before he was a presidential candidate, “If a man hasn’t made something by the time he is 50. He never will.” Ignorant asshole. I am in very good health. I am 11 years past 50 and I have a lot more years left. I will continue to make the new things that life moves me to make.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light, mother f—ker.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

In 2016, I wrote a lot about the election and the threat that Trump posed to the nation. I had a lot of readers in this period as I recall. This wasn’t writing at all, or even adjunct pieces that would ultimately serve the writing process. These words were acts of civic participation. I was trying to encourage like-minded people and be encouraged myself. I wouldn’t even mention any of this here except that I thought these “posts” — this conversation was actual writing at the time. When I was a writer but didn’t know it, I talked a lot. I still do — although maybe not quite as much. The talk was, and is, like a baby’s babbling — rolling words and sounds off of one’s tongue to get facility working with words and sounds. The talk relieves anxiety over the uncertainty of not what do, an uncertainty that is the existential state of the creative process, and a source of shame when you do not fully realize that you are an artist.

The talk soothes the terrors of loneliness. It provides a kind of artificial connection.

The talk exists in the nether regions of refusal to work in furtherance of society’s oppressions and lack of clarity of the nature of one’s own true and soulful purpose.

Social media is a great venue for expressing this anxiety. Political turmoil is the perfect screen to project the anxiety upon …

Readers used me as a reflection, I used them as a reflection and then we left each other alone. I was disappointed that they were interested in my confirmatory opinions and not my writing per se. They were disappointed or at least uninterested when I showed no inclination to participate in their idle banter about other things trivially considered.

I hold out hope that some of my looks at Trump rose to the level of writing … and I hope some of the anxious expectorating verbiage rose to the level of friendship.

Some of the blog of 2016 was just unvarnished journal writing. It is amusing to see references to people who I thought were friends who were actually indifferent to me, and to public figures who I thought had purer intentions who have proven to be motivated by self-interest almost all of the time.

Development of one’s writing is a transformational process. Evolutionary phases morph into others over time. The progression isn’t linear.Some real writing emerged in the vernacular of a journal entry written in the chummy style of a blog post ostensibly about political issues. But this piece was not mere venting, and anxious chatter. I wasn’t writing as a search for resonance with others, and success and acceptance. My inclination to entertain or educate or encourage was still present, but it was now in more obvious competition with a need and desire to understand. I am more pleased with my current writing style now than what is exhibited in the next piece, which still is too much like talk.

I debated whether to include this piece here. My goal is to include only the good writing that my blog has yielded in this collection.

But if you don’t think of what immediately follows as an essay, and instead consider it as a character monologue based on a man I knew in late 2016, I think it’s pretty good.

From November 3, 2016: I’m Sorry Women, I Didn’t Know

A very positive aspect of political campaigns is that they give attention to groups of people who aren’t normally heard. The African-American vote. The Latino vote. The Woman vote. Etc.

I think for the most part I’ve been a fairly decent person most of my life. I was wired to be more interested in excellence than power so I don’t think I have been a mean person most of the time. I like to see people do well, so I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to keep people down. When I was very young I believe I did some hurtful things while I was learning what decency is — and maybe I still do. Check that … I am sure that I still do. But the most important thing for me is to try as hard as I can to be a good person. And now I am old enough to know that is the best that anyone can do.

I was always a big fan of the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s example taught me how to stand up for my own rights and self-worth. In 2008, I was moved, like so many others, by the joy of elderly African-Americans who had been cruelly denied the right to vote prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act as they celebrated the election of President Barack Obama.

The memory of observing that joy led me to watch the film Twelve Years a Slave alone in my apartment On Demand during the holiday season of 2014. I was wondering about the family stories passed down by a people who had lived for generations under the horrible institution of slavery. So I turned the show on. Of course that experience is not something that I can ever wholly identify with because I have never gone through anything remotely like it. But Twelve Years a Slave like all great art is a hopeful creation because it has confidence in its power to awaken empathy in the unaware through a provocation of our common humanity.

I always understood — spiritually and emotionally as well as intellectually — the unfairness of slavery. I understood the cheating people out of wages and their right to self-determination, the suppression of opportunity economic and otherwise and the soul -destroying condescension of the plantation. But I didn’t fully understand in a total and existential way the horrifying extent of slavery’s cruelty. Oh I knew it happened but I never felt about. Injustice I got. Devastation not so much.

Twelve Years a Slave was a very hard movie to watch. I wouldn’t want to to do it again. The filmmakers made me feel the torture, the murder, the destructiveness to the destinies of individuals and communities … for the first time I knew in my heart what I used to only recite by liberal rote … that slavery in the United States was a great crime against humanity on the scale and depravity of the Holocaust. Oh forget, that statement. No grand pronouncements. My response to Twelve Years a Slave had nothing to do with history. It was very personal. I simply felt so sorry for all of the suffering black people had endured in America. I wept for them in a way that had nothing to do with me.

I also even more greatly admired African-Americans’  perseverance and capacity for forgiveness and appreciated all that they have given to me, culturally and existentially … from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Richard Pryor to Muhammad Ali to Ms. Johnson who was one of the best bosses that I ever had when I was young. How can people so viciously abused be subsequently so damn creative? (Maybe that says something about the positive nature  and existential purpose of suffering — but that’s for another day.)

Now it is 2016, and a woman is running for President. I’ve been a feminist in my thinking (an activity with limits) most of my life. When I was sexually inexperienced I objectified women for a time. I saw them in two ways. They were neighbors, peers and colleagues that I felt were my equal at work or in the community. (I can’t really say that I had any woman friends.) I also frankly saw them as a means to get laid. A great sign of immaturity in a man — or more precisely a boy — is when he looks at a woman in a manner similar to how he eyes a steak dinner — and not as a human being (who in some cases might also be a steak dinner). I am very fortunate that I lacked confidence and was off-the-charts socially awkward or I could have been more of an asshole than I was and gotten into a lot of trouble.

Thankfully, I outgrew complete identification with my animal nature and became a human being. That awkwardness that I referred to above saved me. I was always uncomfortable with the notch-on-the bedpost mentality and that discomfort liberated me. Of course sexual appetites remain in me but they energize other higher aspects of my being like love and creativity and connection.

Because I have had so much personal work to do on my own soul, I haven’t noticed women enough. Finally  — and for the last several years — well over 10 years now —I have turned outward. In the 1980s I read some writing by Gloria Steinem about prophetic feminism and got a lot out of it. But it didn’t make me think about women. It made me think about being a human being. I applied Steinem’s wisdom borne of her own liberation from oppression to my own circumstances. Steinem’s writing is just one small example. I benefitted from women’s courage and insight, but never empathized completely with their suffering.

My cluelessness about the extent of how women have been oppressed and are still oppressed has been even worse than my lack of awareness of the pain of African-Americans. Donald Trump has personified a clear image of the oppression of women in society writ large. He is a walking Twelve Years a Slave. His very being is an unintentional satiric set piece on misogyny. Nathaniel West couldn’t have created a more surreal and symbolic villain.

In Trump’s world (which is much of the world):

  • Women are primarily of value for their sexual desirability. If they aren’t deemed sexually desirable (by the subjective assessment of a male viewer) they can be used as objects of derision to remind the world of the superiority of men and particularly the specific man who is speaking. (He and many other men — existential boys actually — have never outgrown the animal phase that I was living in when I was very young and preoccupied with getting laid. It is lucky that I was at Notre Dame at the time which was more or less an interment camp for hormonally-challenged young males, and couldn’t do much harm.)
  • Women are objects of personal gratification which a man can “earn” by being rich, powerful and/or famous enough. (This attitude is obviously oppressive towards men as well. A man once told me when I was much younger  — but no kid — that I didn’t have enough money to have a serious relationship with a woman and for a time I believed him.)
  • If women have the temerity to want to make decisions regarding their own bodies — and by extension the rest of their lives — they should be punished. (Punishment for women who have abortions is just the tip of this iceberg. Women have to shape their bodies to please men and have to bear all responsibility  for the work that goes into satisfying men’s pleasure from child-rearing to keeping weight off for a beauty pageant.)
  • Women do not have the “stamina” — aren’t strong enough — to hold positions of power and responsibility. (Ginger Rogers famously did everything Fred Astaire did backwards and in heels. Less famously she never got the equal pay or recognition for doing so. The myth of the weaker sex is a terrible one.)
  • Women can be interrupted at will. They only speak and act by the gracious allowance of men. They are not equal and should only assume supporting roles and never hold the center of attention. (Hopefully the sight of the vastly superior Hillary Clinton on the debate stage with the rude and obnoxious Donald Trump will put this myth well into bed — as Jackie Robinson shut up so many racists by the sheer power of his excellence as a ballplayer.)
  • Women are “nasty” bitches who are overly emotional who must be controlled by the strong man who will make all of the decisions. (Hillary isn’t the candidate who goes on late-night Twitter binges because she doesn’t like how she is lampooned on Saturday Night Live.)
  • Women’s inferiority to men is not socially and culturally conditioned. It’s biological. (File this with the notion that black people have smaller brains than white people and other intellectually dishonest propositions.)

I never realized, until I saw Trump do his all-too-real  burlesque of these ugly attitudes, how much all of this has to hurt. I never realized how unconscious and in the shadows this specific abuse and oppression is; and how even relatively happy and/or very successful and/or very powerful women have to deal with these hardships every day.

I write this post with real humility and a healthy lack of confidence in what I am saying. I still have no idea of what women go through. But at age 61, I am finally starting to realize that it is a lot — and it is very difficult. It is much more than I have ever imagined. Things that I used to think were just gender differences were in reality adaptations that women made in the face of injustice.  I now have a glimmer of realization of how these attitudes and related actions are things that really hurt women.

I want to thank all of the women in my life … starting with my wife, Paula of course … but extending to my mom and the other women in my family, the many women I view as friends, the women I work and have worked with, the women I have learned with in the theater and schools and elsewhere … because…

As I am with African – Americans, I am so moved by your resiliency and generosity. You suffer and have suffered greatly and you respond with love, kindness and creativity. When I an at my best, I think that I do that too, but now I am beginning to realize that I learned it from you.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

After the election, on November 10, 2016, a few nice paragraphs of writing peeped through in response to Trump. Writing will show up if you tell yourself and the world that you are a writer every day, and if you keep writing everything down — good, bad and indifferent.

From November 10, 2016 …

Michael Duffy of Time Magazine, he of the permanently bored bearing has begun the normalization of Trump. He recounted the “history” (read mythology) of tough transitions between outgoing and incoming Presidents who were mortal political enemies and grew to respect and even love one another. Poppy Bush and Bill Clinton for example.

This, Duffy said sagely and with the clear intention of giving comfort will be the story between Trump and Obama. Animosity will dissolve and we will all love each other again.

No. Trump won and our Constitutional traditions that ensure a peaceful transition have to be honored. What is legally legitimate and necessary in this instance is morally illegitimate, however. To act as if Trump is just another politician with just another political orientation as Duffy suggests would be an act of national self-betrayal. Trump will legally be the President but his Presidency will be grossly un-American.

There are other forms of nationalism besides white nationalism.

I don’t use birther false reasoning. I acknowledge Trump is the President (a courtesy that he didn’t extend to President Obama). He won. But I will never accept him as an American. His perspective is antithetical to American values. Being an American is not determined by race, religion, ethnicity or any other external characteristic. Americans share ideals found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and in our transforming history of equality and freedom. Americanism is participation in an experiment in freedom, equality and opportunity for ever expanding and diverse individuals and populations from all over the world. Trump’s beliefs are an offense to all of this.

America is currently similar to the old Eastern bloc countries before the fall of the Soviet Union. The leaders of those old Communist satellites were legally in charge of the government as Trump soon will be (This was written on 11/10/16.), but culturally illegitimate and a moral offense to their nations.

Pope John Paul II used this distinction between government and nation as the moral justification for his opposition to the Communist regime in Poland. He said that the regime had constitutional authority but offended Polish nationalism. The government of Poland was opposed to the Catholic Church. The people of Poland — the nation — saw the Church as its cultural foundation — the embodiment of its highest ideals and values.

John Paul’s reasoning and MORAL authority was the guiding light of a peaceful revolution that observed the legal authority of the government but applied so much cultural pressure that it forced the government to change to conform itself to the service of national values.

The government of Poland stopped being Communist because Communism was not an expression of the character of the Polish people — the nation. The incoming Fascist US government will stop being Fascist if we don’t accept, and we clearly oppose, all manifestations of its immoral un-American values inconsistent with, and offensive to, our national character.

Hang in there.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The writing about Trump got better after the campaign ended with its tragic result, and I started to grapple with what happened.

From November 11, 2016

No decent and informed person would have voted for Trump.

No mature and informed person would have not voted at all or not voted for Clinton.

This is not a political post. This is a post about humanity. Millions failed as human beings when they voted. TV talkers are saying that we have to listen and unite. I teach sometimes. When my students act like so many Americans acted in the election with apathy, meanness and stupidity I read them the riot act. I get in their faces. I tell that they are letting themselves, each other, me and the overall society down. America should be grabbed by the ear and told to straighten up.

The American people — rich and poor alike — are too used to having their asses kissed. We have this horrible election outcome because of the narcissism of the stupid and the ugly bullying tendencies of so many Americans.

At first I didn’t understand what President Obama meant when he said that all elections are not about inspiration. “Sometimes you have to do what you need to do.” But I reflected on his words, because I think about things. That reflection makes me more responsible in the things I do. It makes my life better and helps the people around me. Obama was saying that it didn’t matter if voters weren’t excited about Hillary Clinton. They had to get out to vote for her to preserve our way of life. He was saying that Americans had responsibility as citizens. It wasn’t a time for Americans to be pleased. It was a time when they had to do their civic duty — their jobs — in order to preserve the privilege of living in an imperfect but wonderful country.

America is not a place. It is a collection of beautiful ideas. Unfortunately ideas are no longer part of the lives of most Americans. Their lives are too filled with sensations from the multiplex to the cell phone to the meth lab. I feel therefore I am. Watch a video of elephants rearing their children. Then observe an American family shopping at Target. The elephants are more thoughtful.

The only right thing to do in this election was to vote for Hillary Clinton. It didn’t matter if the voter liked her or agreed with her. The only other viable option was a man whose words and deeds were shockingly immoral and who was clearly not qualified in his character and experience to do the enormous job of being President. Here was the choice — a main stream politician or a feckless Nazi. Over half of the country doesn’t know the difference.

Most people in this country don’t really know what the Presidency is or why it is so important to determining the nature and quality of our lives. Trump was a deer in the headlights when he visited the President and Congressional leaders yesterday (11/10/16). His transition efforts are way behind. He spent the evening tweeting incendiary comments. Over half the country doesn’t know what is now so painfully obvious. The Presidency is a big job. It’s not a one-man show. It’s a lot of work for the President (President-Elect at the moment) and his staff. No one even released Trump’s schedule for yesterday to the media. Trump is completely disorganized and doesn’t know what to do.

There are many post-mortems as to what went wrong in the election. There is a clear answer. The American people failed. Strategic mistakes by the Democrats shouldn’t have mattered. Polling errors shouldn’t have mattered. This election outcome was literally and tragically a no-brainer. Our democracy has stopped working because over half of the American people have stopped working — read thinking — at the responsibility of being citizens in a democracy.

John Adams said, “We have no constitution which functions in the absence of a moral people.”

John Adams is a great role model in this moment because he was a scold and a pain in the ass. Stupidity and bad behavior has to be opposed not coddled. That is what this historical moment is demanding of us.

Michael Moore asked  on Morning Joe this morning (11/11/16) that we really listen to our Trump voters this Thanksgiving. He said we have to understand them in order to know where they are coming from. I like Michael Moore, but I strongly disagree here.

I know where they are coming from. They have some very legitimate complaints. But when Trump started encouraging violence at his rallies why didn’t they jump off the train? A decent person doesn’t support thugs beating up weaker people. A person didn’t have to look very deeply to see what he was up to.

The Trump voters know how to read — although you would never know it based on their words and actions. Why didn’t they look into Trump’s ideas and come to the obvious understanding that those ideas do nothing to address their concerns? (They could have ended their research when they found his views on the minimum wage. He’s against it.)

I’ll tell you why they don’t read and they are unmoved by the suffering of others (ignorance and callousness are connected):

Because they don’t give a shit that a Mexican is threatened or a young woman is physically abused. Because they are lazy and just want to pop off some easy monosyllabic word or brief phrase that makes them feel good. It’s all about the sensation. They aren’t moved by the suffering of other people because they don’t give a damn. They don’t know anything because they don’t give a damn. Trump got elected because a huge portion of the American population is absurdly selfish — absurd because there selfishness doesn’t even serve their own narrow self-interest.

I personally am fed with the uncaring stupid among us and I am all out of patience and tolerance toward them. But I haven’t given up on them or America. So …

They have to be called out and opposed all the time. I am not only talking about our ignorant Fascist government officials. I am talking about every day people in every day situations and circumstances. Apathy, stupidity and bullying in the smallest of daily transactions has to be confronted now. A culture of decency and intelligence has to reclaimed one interaction at a time. Make America America again.

Sorry, Michael Moore. This is not a time for compassionate understanding. It’s time for some tough love. If these people don’t change and do so relatively quickly the great satiric film Idiocracy will become a spot-on documentary (if it hasn’t already).

It is clear that well-educated people of means who voted for Trump should be taken to task with great assertiveness. Few would pull their punches with elites. But poor uneducated people should not escape chastisement either. The times require a stern response.

Being uneducated or poor is not an excuse for voting for Trump. Kid gloves are not needed now. I am descended from Italian people from a rural part of Italy who had very little formal education. I am in the first generation of my family that went to college. My grandparents were very poor. They would have been appalled at Donald Trump. You don’t need a Ph.D. to see how bad and unprepared this man is. I am descended from people who were very smart because they were decent.

This is not a post about Trump. It is not, as I said above, a post about politics. It is a post about who we are. It really isn’t written for the immoral and the stupid. It is for the rest of us. What are we going to do in the face of what has been revealed. Trump’s election really just exposed an America that we hadn’t fully noticed.

What is it going to be? Are we going to be scared of the mean idiots? Are we going to cater to them and tell them how great they are so we can make money or avoid conflict? Or are we going to stand up for ourselves and stand up to them? Are we going to demand that they have to be better for our own lives, their lives and our beautiful endangered country?

Are we going to lead?

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

Wealth continues and grows as a theme.

From November 12, 2016

There are many people of high intelligence and character who have money. I am lucky to be friends with a few. That said, I will now make a broader point.

Wealth, in and of itself, is not an indication of high intelligence. If it is earned wealth (as opposed to money inherited or granted to a person in some way other than the person’s own effort) riches are evidence that the person was very smart about how to amass cash in a particular field. Wealth is no evidence at all that the person knows about anything besides his chosen field.

Wealth is no indication at all of the quality of a person’s character. Some Christians believe that — the Protestant Work Ethic is an example of this belief. These Christians must read redacted versions of the Bible.

“It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.”

I know some wonderful rich people for whom I’d be thrilled to write recommendation letters to St. Peter c/o Heaven’s Gate. Jesus wasn’t saying wealth is bad. Not at all. He was saying that you have to work hard to keep your money from screwing you up as a person. There have been scientific studies that have found that rich people make less eye contact with other people than their less wealthy peers. It isn’t shyness that prevents the wealthy from encountering others. It is lack of interest. Money can insulate you from life — and therefore from reality and compassion.

Now Citizen Kane, um, President Pervert, er, President-Elect Trump sits in his armed fortress in the sky over New York — unhinged, without intellectual clarity or a compassionate sense of reality. He is a cartoon of a rich man — like the man on the Monopoly game’s cover.

Serious rich people have been laughing at him for years. But the immoral idiots of Fascist Red (read White) America (see my last post with the Idiocracy photo) revere him. Their shallowness tells them that Trump must be smart because he made a lot of money. Their confused version of Protestantism tells them that he is a morally developed human being.

Ignorance about life and faith was instrumental in the Trump voters’ irrational and suicidal decision to support a man who is not smart or good (and probably not even that rich in the grand scheme of things.)

Much has been made of many Trump supporters’ justifiable anger at being unfairly left out of the New Economy. Much has been made of their feeling of being ridiculed by Blue America. This is also a valid complaint.

It’s too bad that the alienated Trump voters didn’t learn from a group that they hate —- African-Americans. Many African-Americans are also treated unfairly in the New Economy. African-Americans are worse than derided By the hate speech and crimes of Red America. But African-Americans have been able to make great strides in the last 60 years. The influences of the Civil Rights movement included Gandhi —- in stark contrast to Red America’s Hitler. Their leaders have been valued for their character and intelligence —- M. L. King, Jr. and Obama for example in contrast to Red America’s Palin and Trump (’nuff said.)

African-Americans met oppression and ascended intellectually, materially and morally in response. Red America has descended into ignorance, increasing squalor and Fascist depravity.

Of course, African-Americans had an advantage. They avoided wrong turns because they never had any admiration for rich white people.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I then used personal experience as a text for ethical decision making. My writing lacked a certain refinement in this period, but that is a question of mere taste. I like what this piece says. It isn’t my or anyone else’s final word.

But it’s a good word.

Why did so many Americans embrace evil in 2016, and continue to do so today?

I still think it is a question of their personal character. Four years of contemplation revealed reasons for their poor character that I didn’t understand in 2016, but that added insight does not change my judgment regarding their guilt and complicity.

They resent elites that they feel have cheated and humiliated them. Some of them are simply envious, and some of them have actually been mistreated.

Resentment is not a justification for mass murder.

From November 13, 2016: Ignorance is a Matter of Poor Character, Not Low IQ or Educational Attainment

I originally wrote this post on October 12, 2016 in the heat of the Presidential campaign. It still holds true and explains why I blame the ascendancy of Trump, a depraved Fascist pervert and a sexual predator squarely on the shoulders of those who voted for him, voted for someone other than Clinton or didn’t vote at all.

Ignorance is a Matter of Poor Character, Not Low IQ or Educational Attainment

When I get mad I roar about “stupidity.” I feel my anger is sometimes understandably misinterpreted. I’m a writer and a professor and a lawyer and I think people with less schooling and raw intelligence think I am lording my educational attainment over them. I can see why they think that. Nothing could be further from my true feelings. I am proud of my achievements in my work, largely because I went through a long period where I was frustrated in understanding what I was put on earth to do, and in a related way, oppressed unfairly from getting opportunities to do what I deserved to do on the basis of my talent, intelligence and hard work. Some of the great wounds of my life in this regard were inflicted on me by really dumb actions by other people — oh hell, they were just dumb people. So when I feel anger “stupid” is one of the first words that comes to my mind.

I know that whatever natural intelligence I have —it is greatly defined and limited — very high in some areas and quite low or ordinary in others — is simply the winnings that I pulled with a genetic lottery ticket. I had nothing to do with obtaining the smarts that i have to work with — for better or worse. The credit for my Notre Dame and Law School education goes to my parents who pushed me to do it and paid for most of it. I get some credit for waking up every day in my life facing the question: what do I do with what I have been given? How do I apply it? How do I make it work for me and other people and for what people call God? But even much of the credit for my lifetime of hard work belongs to my wonderful teachers — particularly the Jesuits at my high school and the great artists of the founding generation of Second City — most importantly Paul Sills, David Shepherd and Fred Kaz. I don’t know what gave me the grace to have such outstanding people in my life. I do know that I did nothing to earn their presence.

Everyone obviously doesn’t have the same level of intelligence or schooling, but I have known a lot of brilliant fools (emphatically including me in many instances): great comedians who recklessly committed suicide, outstanding lawyers who executed great injustices against the poor and vulnerable with exquisite legal skill, brilliant academics with nationally recognized expertise in their fields of study who couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag.

One of the smartest people that I ever met was my great-aunt Sofia. She had very little education. She was basically a peasant from the mountains of Central Italy. Sofia was smart because she cared. Love and empathy made her intelligent. She cared when a little boy was crying and actually studied the situation to try to determine the causes of the upset in order to do what she could to help.

People are touchy about politics because citizenry is the status from which we publicly display our ignorance — or not. I can’t call someone that I don’t live with or know intimately in some other way stupid regarding the choices of their personal lives or how they treat people. But the body politic is a different matter. For better or worse, democracy is something that we do together.

Sofia, the uneducated Italian immigrant, would have been appalled by Donald Trump’s candidacy. She would have felt deeply hurt for the Mexicans ostracized and bullied because he called them “rapists and murderers.” She would have found the gross characterization of Muslims as terrorists to be very hurtful to many good people. It would upset her that someone thought gay people shouldn’t be allowed to buy a cake at a bakery because the owner didn’t approve of who they were. (Pence bears responsibility for that one.) She’d be horrified to see women not treated as people and simply as objects of egoistic sexual gratification. Sofia had a daughter and nieces and friends that she loved quite dearly. Her heart would break to see them treated in that ugly way. Disrespectful treatment of parents mourning the loss of a young adult son lost in battle — or anywhere else — would have made her physically ill.  She would be confused at all the talk of greed and winning. She thought life was about loving your family and working hard to have what you need and being grateful for everything.

She would have cried at the indifference to suffering of those who could care less as to what happened to others as long as they had theirs.

She would have pleaded with angry people who wanted to lash out or have revenge. She would see that uneducated Trump supporters have been treated unfairly by the system, but would beg them not to become the ugly thugs that Trump wants them to be.

When I say “stupid” I guess I really mean “indifferent.” But don’t those words mean the same thing? Don’t the people who support Trump or are indifferent to his rise see the suffering that he brings? Don’t they see that we are all the same thing — for good and ill? Sofia would have. You don’t need a Ph.D to be a decent human being. You don’t need an I.Q. of 160 to be a fair person who tries to be worth a damn to other people.

Even if you have very legitimate reservations about Mrs. Clinton — and I do — can’t you see that Trump is a horrible threat to the health and happiness of millions of people? Can’t you see the harm that he has already done?

If you don’t stand against Trump and every thing and body like him you share in his sins. It is a deeply stupid shirking of human responsibility. And your ignorance has nothing to do with where you did or didn’t go to college, or how you did on the SATs.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

My next blog segment had many good observations, but its premise asserted that Trump was legitimately elected President in 2016. I stated that we should work to block and ultimately remove him by Constitutional means.

A lot of water ran under that dam, and I now believe that Trump was never legitimately elected President of the United States.

So I will not include this segment here.

On the plus side, the piece was well-written. My writing was asserting its primacy over teaching, performing and exorcising the demons of my years as a blocked artist.

Good.

It didn’t take me long to get to the heart of the matter of the vicious backlash fueled by Trump voters’ resentment. I had their number early.

From November 13, 2016

I’m watching Meet the Press ( 11/13/16) and the media forces who want to normalize the Fascist Trump champion the supposed wisdom of the rural and ex-urban voters who supported him.

Those voters were forgotten and left behind by the Establishment. They have suffered mightily in an unjust economy for over 40 years. True.

Those voters have a legitimate chip on their shoulders because they feel they are ridiculed by liberals. Too often true.

Oppressed and humiliated people in India followed Gandhi.

Oppressed and humiliated people in South Africa followed Nelson Mandela.

Oppressed and humiliated people in Poland formed Solidarity.

Oppressed and humiliated people in Germany followed Hitler. Contemporary Germans are saved by their shame and sorrow for the choice.

The exurban and rural Trump voters, downtrodden as they are committed an act of evil in their support for a Trump. They suffer but they could care less for the suffering of people they want to feel superior to — immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, women and many more.

I am so sick of this bullshit of the wisdom of the small town Trump voters. They are Nazis. Their plain and often friendly faces are what rank and file Nazis look like. The Allies had to fix the economic injustices and indignities of post World War I Europe (that greatly harmed Germans) after World War II. That still doesn’t justify the horrors of Nazi Germany that Germans very similar to current Trump voters brought upon the world.

All crime begins with a legitimate complaint. I am not going to praise criminals.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

Unexpected connections make my writing interesting. I begin exploring the purpose of my poetic nature in the turmoil of the world. When I wrote the following piece, I saw myself as a hybrid — a poet who also participated in the world as a man of action; but the action in my life ultimately has left me with a sense of inner dissatisfaction. Poetry has fulfilled me.

From November 14, 2016: Campaign Poetry, Governing Prose

Note: For purposes of this post read the word “poetry” as a term of poetic metaphor. It roughly (therefore prosaically) means any creative activity with a poetic aspect — that which merges the seen and unseen.

I live on the poetry side of life. I am a writer and a performer and a teacher. I’ve been a trial lawyer and worked in marketing — both on the prose side — but they are not really who I am in my deepest soul — just a couple of raw material sources for what I really do.

Poets need experience in the prose side of life in order to give form for what they have to say. If poets didn’t get involved in the world at all, they could only survive in monastic cells with their meals provided by other people. Poets see eternity in the who, what, where and why of a specific moment. God plus time plus place plus people plus point of view …

A poet without concrete knowledge of everyday life is a mystic — beings of pure spirit. Mystics lose their earthly lives early. Jesus’ story is a mystics’ story. The moment he met full maturity he was killed by others. He was too much heaven on earth for the worldly powers that be. He threatened Roman officials and the leaders of the Jewish faith and nation because he made apparent to the people a power infinitely more powerful than theirs.

Many artists have lost their worldly connection and committed a conscious or unconscious suicide when overwhelmed with a truth that is larger than life: John Belushi, Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, Jim Morrison, Lenny Bruce, Vincent van Gogh — to name just a few.

People who have power on the prose side of life generally look down on the poetry side with an unacknowledged fear. Many of them mock the poet’s pen as weak and childish. The prose people raise their monkey wrenches, business ledgers and law books up to the sun. They smugly assert that they, the prose people, actually take care of the world and more fully enjoy its rewards and pleasures. Prose people usually make more money and are viewed by the overall society as being more valuable. (Except when society is in trouble, like right now.)

Poetry is much more important than prose at all times, but mankind is easily distracted by the trivia of petty concerns and other unimportant daily events. There is nothing wrong with this human tendency, but … How many Cubs’ fans would trade their World Series win for the inauguration of President Hillary Clinton?  (But if the World Series helped a woman connect with and bring joy to her elderly father in a nursing home who is to say it was unimportant? See … the baseball game was prose, but the poetry in the nursing home gave it meaning.)

The world means nothing. We bring meaning to it. We are the stuff that dreams are made of … Life is dreams mixed with shit. If we don’t have poetry — or worse have false poetry  —  we are in reality not human. In a spiritual sense we are dead. We are simply biological creatures when we don’t have poetry fulfilling an ecological purpose in the food chain and ignoring the highest aspects of our being.

The poet sees the dreams. Bad poets invent perverse dreams.

For example, Donald Trump poetically said in his campaign of hatred and lies that he favored mass deportations. Paul Ryan will oppose that view. Immigration “reform” might emerge that is an illogical compromise between the two positions.

But the bell of hatred that Trump rang in the campaign will not be un-rung. His characterization of Mexicans being rapists and murderers that was rewarded with election to the Presidency has already empowered violent criminal and disgraceful non-criminal acts against Mexicans and Mexican Americans across the country. A bad campaign poetry will harm real people possibly as much or more as any legislation would.

Another quick example (There really are so many to discuss related to Trump’s horrible campaign —  and I’ve covered many before.), Trump’s tacit acceptance of KKK support and his close campaign and governance connection to Breitbart white nationalist Steve Bannon ratified by Trump voters and the Electoral College has many African-Americans understandably and logically observing that America is and always will be a racist country. The uncertainty principle says that you change something by observing it. Trump observed race relations in America in an ugly way and now race relations are uglier as a result of his observation.

Campaigns present poetic visions of America. The dreams — or nightmares become reality. To paint with a very broad brush — in the 1940s the United States was the rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt and the images of the movies of filmmakers like John Ford and Frank Capra. Policies and circumstances (the purview of governance) came and went but the decency and values of Roosevelt (in poetic mode) and poets like Ford and Capra colored every decision and expectation of the American people. Today America is seemingly the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the images of The Apprentice. But not really. Poetic leadership has been democratized by technological and cultural changes over the past 4o years. Trump’s vision of America need not be our own.

Governance changes. Policies change. Wealth distributions change. Concrete structures go up and are torn down. The concrete is temporary. It is the abstract that endures.

The best poetic images are timeless. We always need new art to say the same eternal truths. New art speaks to new people in new moments. It infuses spiritual truth into all that is earthy. It indirectly but quite actually makes things materially better for people.

As for me …

I obviously reject the images of Trump’s America. I make my own America and love the images of other well-intentioned artists of the past and present. I have never had a stronger sense of purposeful vocation, commitment and gratitude regarding my participation on the poetic side of life.

I had no choice in the matter. I am moved by a larger source within me and beyond me to bring its impulses into the 3-D world. I am going to end this post now. If I continue I might disappear in a puff of smoke.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The rant is a lower form of writing, but also a valid one.

From November 14, 2016

3 warnings:

ABC 7 described Steve Bannon as a “Conservative.” He is of course referred to as a “Fucking Nazi” at the best political science departments. Don’t let news readers move this scum into normality.

Trump supporters high and low have red assed sensitivities. A guy on Facebook referred to my reference to thugs at Trump rallies as “bullies” as name calling. You’re goddam right it’s name calling. How am I to describe people who punch out disabled women and physically intimidate the press, protesters, people of color and anyone else who gets their rocks off when hurting whoever they don’t like? Shall I call them campaign enthusiasts? I’ll call people what I please, Red Ass.

Kellyanne “the Vicious Skank” Conway was deeply offended that anyone would ask her about Nazi Bannon’s appointment as high level Trump counsel. “I’m insulted,” she said in that rapid fire perpetually hard-done-by tone she affects, “Do you think I would be part of a Fascist Government?” Yes, asshole I do.

Many wonderful friends have a virtuous impulse to be understanding of where Trump supporters are coming from — especially the poor rural ones screwed by the system for years. This is a huge mistake!

There are 2 ways to deal with bullies. Ignore them and do your thing or when you are stuck in a situation with them — and we are as citizens — you have to stand up to them and see through their shit.

Nazi Germans were very thin-skinned. People who were as bad as any who ever lived thought they were a pure morally superior race.

There are some people I wish to offend.

Fuck you, Nazi garbage. Clean up your act if you want niceness from me.

I’ll listen to the 1st Amendment not your call for a respect you don’t deserve.

We don’t like what you say, think and do. Live with it. It’s the law (read the Constitution!)

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I’m not sure what this next piece is, but I think it’s good. It’s not reporting and not exactly commentary. It is just a citizen trying to figure out what is going on.

The performer in me unfortunately marred this piece a wee bit. I was developing a small audience who liked me because I reassured them. Perhaps I was also trying to reassure myself. I was too interested in saying that everything would be all right with an optimistic tag line at the end.

Much more is known about the Mercers today. Don’t read this for its information value. Observe the attitude and the process. My mind has diversity and range, and the act of writing began to reveal the breadth of my modes of thinking the more that I wrote.

From November 15, 2016: Who are Robert and Rebekah Mercer? Trump’s Silent Partners? The Wizard of Oz?

A lot of talk about the controversial Trump appointment of Steve Bannon today (11/15/16). Should we be talking about these people pictured above? I’m no reporter. I’m a citizen. I don’t have huge resources. This is an “art “blog. It is simply focused on my response to the world. I didn’t do all of these Trump posts by design. I just respond to what tweaks me. I have an emotional response to something and then I think and write about it. Like millions of other people I’ve had quite a few emotional responses to Trump.

Are curiosity and suspicion emotions? Because those feelings are tweaking me at 12:32 am on November 15, 2016. Robert Mercer is the guy in the photo. He is flanked by his daughter Rebekah on the left and his wife Diana on the right.

Who are Robert and Rebekah Mercer? Rebekah just got named to Trump’s transition team. Here is what an article by Zachary Mider of Bloomberg Politics said about Robert and Rebekah on November 11, 2016.

Robert Mercer made his fortune as co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, one of the most profitable hedge funds in history. Armed with her father’s money, Rebekah Mercer oversaw a pro-Trump political action committee that poured millions of dollars into advertising during the run-up to Tuesday’s election. 

And two of the family’s closest political advisers, Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, guided the Trump campaign to victory over its final months and are now positioned for senior roles in the Trump administration. Through spokesmen, both Mercers declined to comment.

Rebekah Mercer is a mother of four and a political rookie whose previous experience includes working as a Wall Street trader and operating a gourmet cookie company. Beginning in 2010, her father started pouring millions of dollars into conservative causes, and Rebekah handled the details of his political and charitable projects.

Before this week, many of their biggest political efforts ended in failure, including support for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, and for Ted Cruz in this election cycle’s Republican primary.

Trump was a victory for the family on several fronts. They helped fund a 2015 book, “Clinton Cash,” by Peter Schweizer, that highlighted conflicts of interest involving Hillary Clinton and her family’s foundation — conflicts that Trump drew on to shape his message. This year, Rebekah Mercer was a co-executive producer of a “Clinton Cash” movie.

And the Mercers are key investors in Cambridge Analytica, a data and analytics company that uses “psychographic” models to target individual voters based on their personality types.

Some previous clients have questioned the effectiveness of the company’s work, but Rebekah Mercer encourages politicians and campaigns that benefit from her family’s money to give Cambridge a try. Originally skeptical of the company’s pitch, the Trump campaign hired it around the same time that the Mercers shifted their financial support into Trump’s column earlier this year.

Cambridge is already bragging about its role in a historic electoral upset. The timing is especially good because the company is gearing up for a long-planned push into commercial advertising following the election. “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part” in Trump’s victory, Alexander Nix, the Cambridge CEO, said in a statement this week.

The Mercer family also has a financial stake in Breitbart News, the populist media outlet that was run by Bannon before he joined the Trump campaign. An ardent advocate for Trump, the site shattered traffic records during the campaign, and reached 37 million unique visitors in October.

The Mercers keep a low profile and have never spoken publicly about their political views outside of a series of written statements they made during the course of this year. The statements mention their opposition to gun control and “open borders and open trade.”

“America is finally fed up and disgusted with its political elite,” the Mercers said in an Oct. 8 statement. “Trump is channeling this disgust and those among the political elite who quake before the boom-box of media blather do not appreciate the apocalyptic choice that America faces.”

Robert Mercer is intrigued by monetary policy and, in years past, has funded efforts to try to resurrect the gold standard. One sign that his views may get some traction in the administration: in August, Trump added economist Judy Shelton to his advisory team. Shelton is a well-known advocate for the gold standard, and spoke at a Mercer-funded conference on the topic in Wyoming last year.

One thing to keep an eye on during the Trump administration: the resolution of a long-running tax dispute between Renaissance Technologies and the Internal Revenue Service. The tax agency is challenging a series of financial maneuvers that reduced Renaissance managers’ tax bills. Although the amount in dispute isn’t public, a Senate report in 2014 estimated that the moves may have saved $6 billion or more.

The dispute has languished in internal IRS litigation for years, and a person with knowledge of the matter said it’s still unresolved. Were Renaissance to prevail, however, Mercer wouldn’t be the only one to celebrate. Renaissance’s founder and chairman, James Simons, is a leading Democratic donor who spent at least $7 million supporting Hillary Clinton.

OK, so Robert Mercer is super-rich and the biggest contributor to Trump’s campaign. Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway were political advisors to the Mercer family. (They have political advisers because they invest in many right-wing political action committees. I very consciously use the word “invest” and not donate. Do the Mercers spend money to gain control of, or at least aspects of, the government  in the same way investments give them control of businesses?) Did the Mercers require that Trump give Bannon and Conway their jobs with the Trump campaign? Did Trump agree in order to save his campaign?

Were strings on the Mercers’ money to Trump requiring Trump to give Bannon a powerful position in the Administration? I read in the New York Times that Mercer funded a SuperPac for John Bolton. Bolton is being discussed for Secretary of State. If he doesn’t get that he will probably get another big job in the new administration. Are the Mercers getting Bolton in power for their money? What do the Mercers want — besides tending their personal business interests? What do they believe in? Are they going to run the country?

Why doesn’t the corporate media discuss the Mercers more? I’ve found information about the Mercers on credible mainstream journalism web pages Bloomberg and the New York Times. A humble Google. I have never heard the Mercers’ names uttered on TV.  When the controversy over Bannon’s appointment today came up why weren’t they discussed on CNN or MSNBC? TV pundits wondered for many hours tonight about why Trump picked the controversial Bannon. Wasn’t it logical for them to ask how much influence the Mercers have on the coming administration including the Bannon appointment? Why don’t the Democrats ever talk about these people? The Mercers seem to have a lot of unchallenged influence. Political and media elites have to know who they are, right?

Before Trump ran for office he reminded me of old Chicago Bears’ coach Mike Ditka. They were both media icons who represented the ideal of winning and were prominent in glamorous industries (glamorous to a certain type of person) in the 1980s. They both didn’t sustain their success into the 90s and then successfully re-invented themselves as product pitchmen. They exploited their old media images and worked as endorsers and as front men for other people’s businesses. They didn’t have any real executive control of the businesses. Maybe they had a small non-controlling capital interest.

Are the Mercers Trump’s silent partners? Is Trump a puppet of the Mercers? Is he the phony independent billionaire front man for a family of real ones? Is the country going down a rabbit hole dug by a crazy delusional alt-right family? Who’s in charge?

I can’t come to any firm conclusions because as a citizen I don’t get the information that I need. Did I read too many political potboilers when I was a kid? I don’t think so. Bannon produced propagandistic Hollywood movies for a time. His production company was called Citizen’s United Productions. Citizens United is of course the Supreme Court decision that said that money was speech in politics. Antonin Scalia the late lamentable Supreme Court Justice said rich people should be unregulated in their political spending because their wealth shows that they know more than the rest of us.

Citizens United greatly empowered small families that have amassed great wealth not dependent on publicly traded corporations. The Koch brothers are the most famous Citizens United beneficiaries. Sheldon Adelstein. Koch Industries — privately held. Adelstein’s casinos — I think privately held. The Ricketts family — not sure. What is the nature of Mercers’ financial interests? Is this a more important question than what’s on Trump’s tax returns? What do these people want?

Could the publicity shy Mercers have trumped Koch and Adelstein and the rest of the people and families with huge private fortunes in 2016? Do these families and individuals compete for control of the government in a way they might compete for domination of an industry? Do they all have differing and strange personal ideologies that have nothing to do with democracy? Could Robert and Rebekah Merritt be wealthy white nationalists with dangerous ideas that saw an opening with the floundering pitchman Trump? Did they buy — takeover — Trump’s campaign this summer? Does the campaign takeover extend to the government?  Did Trump easily slide into the role of front man because that is what he naturally does and does for a living? Did Trump fall silent for a long period when he learned that he won the election because he realized he was fronting something very evil with extraordinary implications? Did he just think the campaign would end with himself as the face of a Fascist news network? Was he stunned that he is now instead the face of a Fascist government?

Did Citizens United make America vulnerable to legal coups where a group of people as small as a wealthy family could take over the United States government?

Are we in an age of boutique fascism? Are  quirky alt-right theories of Citizens United billionaires now our national policies? Is insanity masquerading as political theory more threatening to us even than the takeover of the government to further individuals’ financial interests? Why did Bannon work for Goldman Sachs? Why are these weird fascist ideas coming out of Wall Street?

Why don’t the television news divisions and cable news networks ever talk about the Mercers? They have to know about them. We’ve been looking at Trump  — and Bannon. Have we been paying no attention to the man behind the curtain — Mercer? And his daughter?

Did Citizens United kill American democracy? How do we get it back?

Something doesn’t smell right here.

The poet Rilke counseled, “Live the questions.”

We’ll figure this out. And democracy will be re-established in America. I have no doubts or questions about that. My optimism is born from history. These type takeovers of governments without informed popular support never work. They aren’t sustainable. We can’t let what’s going on freak us out. We have to be big boys and girls now. Ordinary people will overcome perversely rich freaks.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The next piece I wrote was pure reassurance, and I won’t bore you, or mislead you with it here. I comforted a friend who worried that our daily lives would resemble living in Germany at the time of Third Reich. A better piece would have been much shorter:

It’s a possibility.

The End.

It turns out nascent autocrats are dull.

November 17, 2017: Trump is Now Boring

You’ve got to hand it to him. He started his new show as a publicity stunt. Everyone thought he was a joke. He made a comic entrance floating down on an escalator in Trump Tower like an actor portraying a Greek god descending from the heavens on a chariot in a broad satire of classical mythology.

And then he opened his mouth. His first lines were hate speech. All Mexicans are rapists and murderers. What did he just say? You’ve got to be kidding me? Was it a gaffe? Was he actually a Fascist? Word got out that he paid out-of-work New York actors to cheer his announcement that he was running for President. Everyone was laughing about that obvious bit of slapstick mendacity and self-promotion — the unrepentant narcissism of it all! And everyone was intrigued by that weird dash of bigotry which would be ominous if he were a serious candidate. The man knew how to get attention.

Shock Jock for President!

Trump was hilarious in the Republican debates. Donald the Insult Comic Candidate. He was like a breakout supporting character on an old sitcom — the reason why everyone watched but not the nominal lead. Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Louie on Taxi. He stood center stage and the other candidates orbited around him. He would destroy each one individually with a cutting one-liner whenever they passed into his peripheral vision.

Trump was mesmerizing. The breakout hit on every channel. He took his show on the road. His act quickly changed from comedy to professional wrestling. A showman keeps them guessing. His schtick became a less universal taste now but a much more intense one. A Trump rally was the equivalent of driving 100 miles per hour in a school zone or getting into a bar fight with a total stranger. It was unprotected sex. Those who craved excitement loved the interactive performance. Those who had more settled and comfortable lives recoiled in disgust. Everyone watched.

All great show business stories require a fall from the public’s favor and a big comeback. How about Sinatra! When Trump learned that the Republican nomination was his, he initially didn’t know what to do. The Republican National Convention was an ambivalent and gloomy affair. The lightness temporarily left Trump’s delivery. His acceptance speech was a heavy diagnosis of national doom delivered by a sweaty old man. It was in stark contrast to the let’s-go-out-and-get-laid tone of his rallies.

Sinatra escaped his corny and unpopular Mitch Miller period, won an Oscar and hooked up with the great arranger Nelson Riddle. Sinatra’s resurrection and reinvention is show biz legend. Robert and Rebekah Mercer hooked Trump up with Steve Bannon, a great script doctor and white nationalist. Bannon had a new vision for Trump. He didn’t see Trump as light comedian anymore or as a refugee from Vince McMahon’s line up of wrestling stars. No. Bannon recognized greater depth and complexity in his client. Folks, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Bannon saw Trump as a dramatic actor. The miserable convention acceptance speech shouted amazing potential to Bannon, not the end of the road. Trump had all of the makings of a Fascist demagogue and Shakespearean villain — the bullying tendencies, the air of feeling victimized, the simplistic perception of reality which defined a brutal, hate-filled world. Trump was Richard III. A lot of people secretly want the nihilism of Richard III and Bannon knew it. They want a world on fire. Trump would return to his rallies with an even greater commitment to a rage aching for violent response.

Trump’s desires were fulfilled, Bannon’s vision justified. The new gambit was a winner and Trump became President-Elect of the United States.

How do you top that?

Trump sat down with the outgoing President and looked overwhelmed and confused. A great act is a delicate thing. Venue and timing is everything. A star has to be protected. He can’t let his co-stars upstage him. Yet Trump looked small when he met with Obama. Trump wasn’t properly lit. Obama had all the good lines because Obama knew his lines. Trump couldn’t ad lib about policy. It was like asking him to improvise in a foreign language. Only Trump’s status as future President kept people from saying what they truly thought. People weren’t paying attention to Trump because they were interested. They listened because he was the boss and they had to. Boring.

What theatrical gambits come after sexy daredevil excitement? Fear and terror? How is this show going to sustain itself for four years? The longer a show is on the harder it is to write.

Trump receded from center stage and his subordinates dominated the action as the transition got underway. Trump no longer had the powerful manly independence of the outrageous comic or the taunting wrestler or the hypnotic demagogue. He now seemed a little old man controlled by formerly smaller men. The Great Populist Revolution, Trump’s breakout series has transformed again. Now it was a rerun of an old series, a perpetual spinoff with the latest new lead— Business as Usual.

Trump’s opposition became more boring too. The Democrats had proven to be better foils for Trump in The Great Election Show than anyone would have predicted. The formerly dull wonks weren’t afraid to call Trump a Fascist, attack his lack of substance and express grave fears of his tempermental unsuitability to handle the responsibilities of President. They sounded the alarm — he is dangerous! and unintentionally (wow! Politicians guided by unconscious impulses — that’s box office!) made themselves into heroes — the last decent persons sounding an alarm of impending doom for society at great personal risk — potential martyrs for democracy — Jack Lemmon in one of his serious roles as an ordinary man of conventional beliefs who gradually awakens to darkness in society and and tries to save everybody. A stirring of decent impulses. This type stuff is recognized during awards season!

Obama necessarily changed his tune after Trump won. The outgoing President had to act his part in the new show. Obama had to make markets and foreign governments see that Trump was accepted as President by his opposition and that the transfer of power to a new administration demonstrated the continuity of the essential American character related to its actions on the world stage. Boring.

There were calls throughout the campaign to never normalize Trump — a Fascist could never be as representative of American values. But the American people and the American electoral system normalized Trump. He won. No mass movement rose up to contest his victory. It was legally legitimate. There would be no great war for the soul of America. Only in the realm of art would the truth be voiced that the Trump Show was pornographically un-American.

Suddenly and shockingly Trump had become the mythical Leader of the Free World. Trump was the new normal. Like mass shootings in elementary schools.

The bold moral opposition of the Democrats that was voiced in the campaign morphed quickly into usual politics.

Democrats: We’ll support Trump on what we agree on and oppose him when we think he is wrong.We want the new President to succeed. We will bring new industrial jobs to laborers who you used to be Democrats and voted Trump in even if there is no real promise of those jobs due to economic changes and those working-class Trump voters should be challenged themselves for their own culpability in their dissatisfactions and we democrats also have our corporate special interests too. A boring and unclear  and impossible to follow Democratic run-on sentence. The exciting and scary good guy-bad guy narrative of the Presidential campaign descended back to their-all-the-same-and- don’t-stand-for-anything-but-just say-what-they-have-to-get-and-keep-their-jobs-as-politicians. Really boring.

The exciting Trump Public Dream Movie is over. We stayed until the last of the final credits. Then we walked out of the theater and the sun hurt our eyes. When we acclimated to the light we saw the same run-down city street, a little dingier than it was yesterday and sure to be more seedy tomorrow with no promise of civic improvements.

We’ve got to find something else to do. They don’t make good movies anymore.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I unnecessarily hung this next one on the pegs of teaching and improvisation. I was still in the process of transcending both of those prior conditions. What I was really doing here was listing many influences.

In my early forties, I worked as an inside sales rep for The New York Law Journal, spent my days alone walking around Manhattan read a lot, and saw a lot of movies, art films and plays — but mainly read a lot. This is a list of many of my influences from that period.

I have always naturally done and said what I wanted. For most of my life, I was oblivious to the reality that most people did not. So I had to perform a lot of self-administered self-help triage. And I was always trying, or at least longing, to fit in. I still wanted to have a place in the world of improvisation, and wanted to teach.

Those prospects now fill me with alternating feelings of boredom, revulsion or the pointless review of old wounds and unimportant and toxic people.

In a pile of shit, the light of the soul can still shine through.

From November 17, 2016: Required Reading for Improvisers

Performance improvisers like to honor the reading  of a wide variety written material as an essential chore for the increasing  of one’s “reference level” — a term of improv art meaning a glib and spontaneous access to trends, famous names and ideas when on stage. Reading has a much deeper purpose for the serious improvisational artist, however. Reading deepens life experience and brings more resonant intellectual, moral and emotional presence to an improviser’s performances and everyday life. Readings long forgotten by the player resonate in improvisational choices in the present moment.

I will keep adding to this list as new titles come to mind. These works speak to aspects of life experience that great improvisers should reflect deeply about when they are not on stage. Most good improvisers come to their insights about these aspects of living without familiarity with these texts. Their insights would come more easily, and would be more deeply penetrating, if they read the entries on this list and other works of similar focus and quality.

I and Thou by Martin Buber

Tales of the B’aal Shem Tov  by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber

Collections of New England Transcendentalist Art

Good histories and biographies of the Founding Fathers, the Civil War and the Age of Lincoln, the Depression, World War II and the Age of F.D.R.

The Constitution of the United States

Declaration of Independence of the United States

The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

The Bible

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Black Elk Speaks

The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Passionate Life by Sam Keen

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Any essay by Gore Vidal

Anything by Mark Twain

The plays of Bertolt Brecht

The Empty Space by Peter Brook

The Shifting Point by Peter Brook

America’s Master Playwrights by Stella Adler

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim

Look I Made a Hat by Stephen Sondheim

My Life in Art by Constantin Stanislavski

Creating a Character: A Physical Approach to Acting by Moni Yakim

The plays of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare the Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom

The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing by Norman Mailer

Propaganda and the Public Mind by Noam Chomsky

Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Theater of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal

Living in Truth by Vaclav Havel

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

The I Ching edited by Richard Wilhelm

Memories, Dreams and Reflections by C. G. Jung

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I’m proud of how early I saw what was happening. We went into a new social construct.

From November 19, 2016:

Emotional intelligence or any other kind of intelligence demands that we fight Trump. We are not merely dealing with a contrary political opinion as we deal with the incoming Trump administration. This disagreement goes far deeper than that.

This is not a moment to sing kumbaya or apply business theory that encourages cooperation and smoothly running organizational structures.

In a word, it isn’t a time to act as responsible members of a healthy corporate culture. We need lawyers, generals, intellectuals and decent ordinary people to fight Trump. Business people are operationally oriented. This is a great strength. But now is a time when we need more philosophic reflection about what we are doing. We must act now with character.

Everyone isn’t always going to like it. It isn’t always going to be pleasant.

Now is a moment when conflict is the emotionally intelligent thing to be involved in.

Our argument with Trump is not just about how to go about things. This is where business creative tensions and arguments exist within an organization. Our argument with Trump involves who we are as a nation. The American Character is non-negotiable.

The cast of Hamilton got into Mike Pence’s face last night. Bravo. Now is a time to be confrontational, not nice. Emotional intelligence involves understanding where the other person is coming from. I understand where Trump and his minions are coming from. It stinks.

Trump said the theater should always be a safe and special place and what the Hamilton actors did should not be allowed to happen. I am not willing to engage in a conversation with a Fascist demagogue and crap culture reality TV star about the nature of theater. I love theater. I’ve made real theater. No. I want to talk about the nature of decent leadership in a democracy and how Trump’s attempt to censor the Hamilton people is disgraceful. I don’t care to entertain Trump’s ugly point of view.

Trump is trying to radically change our national values. We can’t let him ruin what we hold most dear.

When I was a kid in Rochester, N.Y. there was an area of town where prostitutes and drug dealers walked the streets. That’s where the stores that sold the filthy pornography were. Nazi biker gangs had illegal after-hour bars there. There were lots of street fights and murders on those blocks. Today we call the type people who hung out in Rochester’s scummiest neighborhood the incoming Cabinet of the President-Elect of the United States. Disgusting.

The values and ideas of Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence and Donald Trump, of course, have to be strongly opposed.

Racism, religious authoritarianism, sexism, economic and social injustice, and warmongering MUST NOT STAND. It’s wrong. PERIOD. I don’t want to reach out to Trump World. I want it to dramatically and completely change or go away.

Compromise isn’t always a virtue. Getting along with others is not always a quality of leadership. We should never compromise with evil. We must resist the mainstreaming of shameful indecency.

The worst of us have taken over. We must not let it stand.

We’re a little over a week in and already ENOUGH.

Don’t follow the Democrats. They’re still playing angles for their own power. Make them follow us. Make them know they’ll get their precious jobs by doing what we want.

Now it’s our turn to say — this time with legitimacy — WE WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

Nothing has changed much — from an existential point of view — since November 2016.

From November 20, 2016:

Election night didn’t depress me. A change of regime isn’t a change of a nation — if we say so. (I thought we’d say so.) A government isn’t a nation — if we say so. (I thought we’d say so.) The people that I have always disliked — the ignorant, white, small-brained, small-town, small-businessmen, and the ignorant, white, no-imagination, no- pride, no-education, no-initiative, no-brained workers and the white under- and un-employed non-working no-brainers who depended on the white smalls — in sum, the white smalls and the white nos — who together always (in my experience — without exception) dealt with the world harshly and with a completely illogical confidence in their own undeserved sense of moral superiority — won a Presidency for an iceberg.

The white smalls and the white nos — have spent their lives being lionized in movies like Titanic.  Poor Leonardo DiCaprio took rich Kate Winslet down into steerage and she saw the good poor earthy people eat and drink and sing and dance and love. The white European-American workers determined to make a life out of nothing had a joy that richy-rich Billy Zane, a loveless moneyed control freak could never compete with. Leo’s character was an artist who saw the contrast of rich and poor and that true romance and real love existed below deck in last class with a buxom refugee from wealth, a sketch pad and some stolen pastel-colored chalk. Unfortunately Leo’s character was an artist of the caliber of James Cameron, the megalomaniac engineer who directed Titanic, that hugely successful monstrosity. (They gave the Oscar to the technical feat of sinking a gigantic toy boat in a gigantic bathtub that year.)

The fact is that everyone on that movie Titanic boat  — the arrogant rich, the stupid poor and the lousy artist — was an asshole . Everybody — the rich, the poor and the artist was resentful for reasons unbeknownst to them. Everybody was better than everybody else for un- and under-developed reasons. The best part of the movie was when they hit the iceberg and everybody died.

Big deal — a coalition of awful white people  — beige really — long on bitterness, short on creativity — elected an iceberg to be President and the ship of state is taking on water at an increasingly alarming rate. They’re going down. So what? I had beaten the smalls and the nos and even the richy-riches  in my personal life years ago. It took me years before that to put together my victorious strategy. Then I hit upon it. Eureka! I walked away. Ignored them. Didn’t have anything to do with them. Decided that they were bad idiot people and was done with the whole mess. Their meanness, sense of entitlement, ridicule and commitment to injustice was in the rear view mirror. My tormentors became pathetic fools trapped in their world of bitterness and stupidity. I wasn’t going to get pulled down by the currents of the North Atlantic with them.

I still feel that way. Who needs them? Half the country actually was living life and not screaming as they got sucked down in a vortex of their own negation. I’d go with them. (Will the land of the living reject the negation or be pulled down by the proverbial drowning man? Stay tuned …)

Hey! angry white voters who were left behind in the New Economy — I have a question for you — do you ever feel a tiny bit responsible for your own situation? You could’ve not watched Fox News. You could’ve realized that Fox News was kissing your ass to get money and power and laughing at you behind your back. But it felt good to have your ass kissed even if you got zilch that was tangible out of it, didn’t it? So you lost your sense of reality didn’t you? You could have laid off the meth and heroin? Kept fighting for yourself? You coulda done that, right? You could have worked harder in school and not have bullied and persecuted the people in your towns who did study and stayed clean and escaped to the East and West Coasts (and a few blocks in Chicago). If you had studied in school a little you might not be so fucking gullible. You also might have developed good habits, like … I don’t know — putting in some effort to try and create a decent life for yourselves?

But I guess you couldn’t because you were just born scared, bored and lazy. Is it genetic? You seem to believe that a person’s character is determined by a person’s race or ethnicity. Does your white skin determine yours? The rich mean people ruined our life OR we admire the rich mean people and want to be just like them. You could’ve just figured out what you wanted and start working for it.

Nah … you’re right. It’s the Mexicans and the Muslims. Who says you’re dumb? Brilliant. That gets you — the smalls and the nos — and the richy-riches that you love and hate so much — off the hook. A completely irrational attack on other people will make you feel great just before you all die because you elected an iceberg as President.

I enjoyed the political emergence of Donald Trump. I was so sure of who he was. I met a thousand versions of him on Main Street. Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis’s satiric character — a vacuous self-righteous  white middle class buffoon) and Hitler (the go-to historical figure who personifies evil — and a perfect retro-image in 2016!)  walked into a bar — and they were the same guy — Trump!

Trump, the candidate was a lot of fun to criticize. His racism! His misogyny! His bad taste in furniture! Even Louis XIV would tell him to tone it down.

There’s a gold toilet at the Guggenheim Museum in New York that is completely functional. After every use specialists come in and clean it with special tiny brushes so that every patron can relieve himself in an environment as pristine as it is opulent. I doubt that Trump would see the irony in the artist’s presentation of the perpetually sanitized gold toilet. For one thing, he has no intention of cleaning the gold toilet that he has just acquired.

Angry White America is Trump’s golden toilet now. His acquisition. (Get the metaphors — White America is a sinking ship for all the smalls and the nos except for the richy-rich winner. For him its a golden toilet. Get it  — brilliant analogy! And he has no intention of taking care of it.)

Angry White America is a hunk of gold junk all stained with shit and piss sinking to the bottom of the ocean while it gets its rocks off persecuting and killing a bunch of innocent people who have nothing to do with Angry White America’s problems.

And it looks like  (at least in the early returns) the rest of the population is accepting the new state of affairs (The Toilet and the Titanic) like the women being raped in a Texas oil man’s vile joke. They (not we — I’m not part of this) might as well lie back and enjoy it.

The end of the Founders’ American vision at the hands of the stupid angry white mob? Ho hum seemingly says everyone else after a short week of complaining and getting scared.

(By the way — I am no longer white. I check Other-American because to Whitey I am other. I talk too much for one thing. I should be quiet and do what they tell me.)

Yesterday I noticed a few things that made me vaguely uneasy:

I’ve had some nice conversations with a Mexican-American nurse’s aide at my mother’s nursing home. He said, “Well, they won. I guess we just have to do what they say.” His boss then called him and he had to leave the room.

A CNN anchor said he agreed with Donald Trump’s tweet that Pence shouldn’t have been lectured by the cast of Hamilton. The guy’s a lawyer — Michael Smerconish. He never mentioned the First Amendment in his comments.

Saturday Night Live did a film piece lampooning young, progressive New Yorkers who are close-mindedly (in the view of the writers) blocking out interaction with people who have differing views than they do. The piece showed no awareness that those “differing views” are Nazis. The Pilgrims, the Native-Americans and the Nazis all sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. The new melting-pot where everyone literally (I’m using the word correctly here.) melts! Let’s all be open to Nazi opinion, everybody!

My work colleagues at a very diverse urban university talk about “leading” with an “emotional intelligence” in an environment “where there are so many strong political divisions.” That’s a very pretty way of explaining a decision to sell out formerly cherished values related to living in a democracy and the nature of education. Of course, it is easier to cherish something when its not under duress.

Seems to me angry white America is committing suicide and killing us and much of the rest of America is already going along with it because it’s just easier that way.

Maybe America deserves to die. The Founding Fathers had a great run. Now it’s over? If the  Other-Americans of this time care about other considerations more than freedom, democracy, equality and justice maybe its just not worth it.

Part of me could care less. I was going to take a job in the World Trade Center in the late 90s but decided instead to move back to the Mid-West and then the planes hit. I survive. Angry White America isn’t going to kill me. I’ll figure something out. My intuition will protect me.

Those of you who want to cooperate when you are told that gas chambers are showers — less power to you.

Don’t rock the boat. It’s sinking anyway.

Cheers!

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

Shaping my own existential response to Trump supporters, and partially clarifying my attitudes regarding fame and obscurity.

From November 21, 2016:

For the first time in my life I felt a twinge of envy for famous people. Not for their money or adulation — but for the size of their microphone. (I’m an artist and, truth be told, we artists are always thinking about how nice it would be to have fame and money; but we never make a practical step to get much of either. The pursuit of truth is the engine. Sometimes fame and money comes with it; but that’s pure luck, or is it? Some artists are strong business people and great at self-promotion. More power to them. This little digression is to say, in this context, that my envy of the famous relates to one perk that they receive. Their voices get really LOUD.)

The Broadway cast of Hamilton, Alec Baldwin and Green Day confronted Trump this past weekend. (This post was written on 11/21/16.) I wish I had the material power to shout as loud as they can. (Maybe some day. This writing is pretty good. And my show that starts next year will be. I’d really love to be center stage at this moment in history. I think I’m ready. I think I’d make a difference. I’ll just keep at it. Van Gogh said that greatness happens not in one dramatic action, but rather in a series of persistent purposeful deeds. I have been doing those deeds for years and I think my time is fast approaching. These sentiments may surprise some of my devoted readers — who I appreciate and love. I am not only motivated by a sense of citizenship — an impulse to purity. I am never motivated to “inspire” you — as some of you believe. I don’t believe in that kind of inspiration. Inspire yourself. I am personally ambitious. You might notice that I rarely post other people’s opinion pieces. I want to be a player. I think I am as good as the major players in this national drama, and better than most of them. I have a big ego. I write out of self-interest. Many of you can see all of that in my writing. But for those of you who can’t I have told you so directly now. )

Green Day, Alec Baldwin and the cast of Hamilton have national notoriety. When they speak Trump actually hears them. I have addressed Trump directly in my writing. He doesn’t hear it.

So who am I actually speaking to — at the moment? (Perhaps one day my dream of actually confronting Trump will be achieved. I’ll do all I can to make it happen and I am confident that God and other people will help me along — because it will be a good thing if I am loudly heard right now. God and other people have already helped me this far. Even in activities that seem as solitary and independent as writing, there is always a community responsible for what is created. It takes a village to do anything.) Other non-famous people like me. (Actually I have some recognition and acclaim. I am trying to make a point here and writing in bold colors. But obviously I don’t have the platform of the artists that I mentioned above.) Mostly other people as appalled by a Trump presidency as I am, but also some people who actually voted for Trump.

So today I’ll speak to the Trump voters who can hear me. (If everyone — famous and obscure — does this all the time with great persistence it will be overwhelming and severely limit Trump’s ability to change minds and get things done.) Everyone else can listen in because my tone here is my belief about how we should deal with this people.

Dear Trump voters,

You did a horrible thing.

A man called Mexicans rapists and murderers and you voted for him.

A man ridiculed the disabled and you voted for him.

A man advocated the religious persecution of Muslims and you voted for him.

A man chose a Vice-President who advocated the persecution of gay people by denying them their constitutional rights and you voted for him.

A man admitted that he committed serial acts of sexual assault and you voted for him.

A man cheated vendors who worked on his properties of their rightful pay and you voted for him.

The man you voted for appointed a Ne0-Nazi propagandist as his chief advisor.

The man you voted for appointed a war-monger as his his National Security advisor.

The man you voted for has no respect for the First Amendment or the rest of the Constitution.

The man you voted for’s: father was arrested years ago at a KKK rally; mentor was Roy Cohn, the principal advisor to Fascist demagogue Senator Joseph McCarthy; rhetoric included the phrase “America First” the name of a pro-Nazi movement in the US in the 1930s; rhetoric included quotes from Mussolini.

Your hero is a fascist. And so are you. There are many, many more facts that I could point out as to why Trump is a fascist demagogue and your vote did much harm to our country and millions of people all over the world.

But what I listed here is enough.

No decent person would have voted for Trump.

Don’t answer me with rejoinders about Clinton or the Democrats. This post isn’t about Clinton or the Democrats. No decent person would have voted for Trump.

Don’t tell me about your unemployment and other economic frustrations. They are irrelevant. Trump’s election will do nothing to solve your economic problems and you know it. You wanted to hurt somebody because you are frustrated and bored. Everyone gets those feelings from time to time or even through significant stretches of their lives. Good people don’t act on those impulses. What you did was wrong. Period.

No one with half a brain is going to sit down and respect your differing opinion or acquiesce to what you claim to be your authority.

You did an awful thing. You have to own up to it and change.

During the Viet Nam War there were many protests. The protests made life miserable for Johnson and Nixon and their supporters. There was plenty of name-calling. And suffering. Eventually, both Presidents resigned in failure and disgrace and the country changed its attitude towards war for the next 20 years. It is my sincerest hope that you encounter this unpleasant name calling and confrontation every day until the racism, homophobia, religious persecution, meanness toward the weak, the poor and unhappy and all the manifestations of the fascism that you have imposed on our country get reversed.

You won the election fair and square. You are part of a powerful percentage of the American public which has succumbed to evil. Evil must be opposed. Get used to it.

I saw a small business owner from Michigan say that he voted for Trump because Trump seemed just like a small business owner like him. He’s right, they are the same. And a small business owner from Michigan is not morally or intellectually qualified to be President of the United States. The amplification of the shopkeeper’s narrow-mindedness, mean spirit, bigotry and tendency to violence in the most powerful office in the world is the biggest threat to the world today.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I take down a wrong-headed column by a Chicago theater critic who was apparently oblivious to the seriousness of what happened in the 2016 election.

From November 21, 2016:

American Theater needs to get more serious, deeper and more knowledgable about things beyond theatrical aesthetics in a hurry. Lin-Manuel Miranda made real theater last Saturday night when he wrote a speech for the actor who plays Vice-President Aaron Burr to deliver to Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence. Any theater critic who understands the real reasons why the theater is important would applaud and defend what Manuel and his Hamilton cast did. Instead, readers of the Chicago Sun-Times received the drivel below from Hedy Weiss. My response to her appalling column is provided in bold italics.

Hedy Weiss: ‘Hamilton’ might have moved Pence more sans lecture

By now the news has spread far and wide about how both the Broadway and Chicago productions of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” became the site of “protests” from both sides of the political spectrum in recent days, with the audience, as well as the actors (in New York), tinkering with “the fourth wall.” So here are a few of my thoughts about the whole thing. They are bound to irritate some and, I hope, make others think about the best way to move forward — not only to curtail “copycat” incidents in the theater, but also to affect developments far beyond the theater in the coming months.

The beauty, the magic and the brilliance of “Hamilton” is that it has been able to inspire so many people to think about things they might have slept through in school, or failed to consider as the recent presidential election was unfolding. The show homes in on this country’s founding mythology by looking at the deeply flawed, complicated, furiously embattled men (yes, the gender bias was there from the start) who crafted this country in its infancy. And of course by extension it makes us look at this moment in our history in a fresh way.

The moment in history has changed since the election of Trump. Hamilton is more than an engaging history lesson. It is about what it means to be a citizen in changing times. It touches the foundation of our country and the contemporary reality of our country. It actively gives the ideals of the American Revolution to a new diverse population. It transcends the old white male-oppressed people dialectic and says no. New wine for old bottles. Hedy Weiss doesn’t understand the play. 

The moment of history in the dawn of Trump threatens the reasons why Hamilton was written. Miranda is not only interested at showing off his enormous theatrical craft for an audience’s aesthetic contemplation. He means what he says. The confrontation with Pence was inherently theatrical. It is a real live conflict in the present moment. It makes the show itself a present thing. A play without such immediacy is a deadly waste of time. Theater is not the detached thing that Hedy Weiss experiences. It is life itself — real people in a room together. It is a transformational moment in time — not something to be merely considered. Real theater confronts and makes demands on its audience and the greater world. Weiss doesn’t understand this because although she is called a critic, she is only a consumer reporter. Real theater is not made to be merely consumed.

But the theater is a sacred and transformational space, and during the course of those few precious hours between the moment the lights dim to the time they come up again, nothing else should interfere with the spell a show casts. As William Congreve reminded us, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” And who knows how an uninterrupted performance of “Hamilton” might have triggered some new thought, some slight shift in empathy, some fresh understanding in even the most ideological member of the audience?

Theater doesn’t exist to “soothe the savage beast.” Theater is the first thing closed down by totalitarian dictatorships. A playwright, Vaclav Havel, led the Czech Revolution. The spark that set off the non-violent resistance was a performance by a rock and roll band that Havel defended in print. He wrote letters “lecturing” the head of the Communist government. Hedy Weiss doesn’t understand one of theater’s major roles — to oppose immoral power. Real transformation isn’t a moment of ecstatic reverie as she says. Real transformation makes people different in their words, thoughts and deeds. We are a moment of real transformation in America and theater has a duty to clarify the moment’s meaning and lead.

So, while I oppose almost everything this new administration stands for (aside from infrastructure repair) and admittedly cast my vote for the electoral loser in the race, I think both the New York audience protests and the emotional, carefully worded speech from the stage aimed at Vice President-elect Mike Pence were mistakes. How or why he went to see “Hamilton” in the first place remains a mystery. But perhaps, had he been allowed to just absorb the message of the musical, he might have been changed, if only in the most minute and imperceptible ways. Now, like a bull reacting to a red cape, any possibility of the show itself for serving as an agent of positive change or a subtle awakening in Pence has been lost forever. A missed opportunity, and a pity.

Theater critics should know more about the greater world. The purpose of Miranda was not to move Pence in “minute and imperceptible”ways. It was to confront him. It was a demand for moral action. And to get to that action in a hurry. What Weiss says here is actually dumb. She sees theater as some sort of self-help seminar for individual personal growth. How many undocumented aliens are going to be violently deported while Pence changes imperceptibly? Pence was lectured and he should be. Speaking out to Pence wasn’t about him — it was about the rest of us. We have an immoral government. Doesn’t she get it? She normalizes it. She discusses the Trump administration as if it were simply an opposing political point of view that fairly won power. It isn’t! Yes, it legitimately won power. So did Hitler. Trump must be opposed — particularly from the stage. The view Weiss is espousing is dangerous. Weak liberal-minded people had the same response as Weiss as the Third Reich rose to power.

The Chicago incident, which appears to have involved a man who was at the theater with his wife and two kids — and no doubt had a few too many drinks before curtain — is more trivial. You can speculate that he may have voted for Donald Trump, and perhaps had engaged in one too many conversations with friends or relatives who berated him for his choice. Either way, he is not a major policy maker, so his transformation is of less importance. But again, a missed opportunity.

I am sick of drunkedness being an excuse for bad behavior. Drunks just sloppily do and say what they really think and feel. Alcohol is no defense for ugliness. This type threatening behavior in public — which bears no equivalency with Miranda’s thoughtful comments no matter how hard Weiss tries to lump them together — is another way that Fascism takes power. Everyday ordinary Nazis at the dawn of Hitler were abusive violent thugs. How can Hedy Weiss say this type behavior is trivial? This guy was not berated by friends and relatives in “one too many conversations.” Hopefully the berating is just beginning. This fascist man should be shamed for his immoral vote at every opportunity. The man shouted that his side won and everybody else should now shut up. He has to be disabused of his ignorant notion. If we shut up to please him and those like him we lose everything. Winning an election does not supersede our Constitution or our national character. I hope Trump and his supporters feel insulted, frustrated and stymied for the next four years. Trivial? It is people like this man that Weiss deems so inconsequential who are taking our country into very dark days.

I oppose Trump and I oppose all who support him. It is my right as an American. It is my duty as a decent human being.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I was on to Trump’s paradoxical combination of damnable ignorance and evil genius early.

From November 22, 2016:

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If talk is worthless, why does it bother people so much when they don’t like what you have to say? Trump doesn’t impulsively react on Twitter because he has a thin skin. He knows that if he can get you to keep quiet he can control you completely. Yes, you. The cast of Hamilton is just your stand-in. And if he controls you, he can do whatever he damn well pleases.

Trump likes to make examples out of people. Watch your step.

Trump is Der Tweeter, a cunning Fascist for the information age.

Every tweet he sends is designed to rile up his sizable Fascist base and to intimidate and repress his opposition.

The tweet is a politician’s dream. That’s Trump’s insight and  innovation. It gives an image or feeling like a haiku poem, and disappears just before substance can be discussed or follow up questions can be queried.

Trump destroyed his opponents in the Republican primaries with tweets. “Low energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” and “Lyin’ Ted” contorted themselves in attempts to tolerate, ignore or confront his insults. Trump’s “fans,” as they are called, responded with mocking laughter and the muscle. Trump riles his supporters up like a gang leader handing out ammunition. He creates and controls a monosyllabic conversation. He confuses  and frightens the other side. Then he takes their lunch money.

Trump tweeted against the cast of Hamilton last weekend (see above). I’ll summarize what he said. Shut up and apologize for insulting the virtuous and victorious Mike Pence with your post-show “lecture.” You owe Pence an apology. The millions of thuggish volunteer enforcers (read Trump voters) who love Trump cheered and threateningly yelled “shut up! ” at Trump opposition in their own neighborhoods. (One Trump gang member aggressvely disrupted a performance of Hamilton in Chicago. He was offended when the actors sang nice things about immigrants.) When the soon-to-be President of the United States tells citizens to shut up by subversively encouraging other citizens to threaten them physically when they criticize the government, it is a threat to all of our First Amendment rights. Trump message is  — This will be a leader that can’t be criticized. Hitler had the same line.

Shut up, my ass.

The last thing we should do is be quiet — or even worse internalize Trump’s abuse and be more courteous and restrained in our criticism of Trump. We can’t be apologetic for directly and strongly speaking against an immoral government. The Law — the Constitution is on our side. The election of Trump did not repeal the First Amendment.

Trump wants us quiet because words matter. He knows what he is doing.  He wants to control all words. If enough people clearly and directly exercise their rights and tell the truth about what Trump is and what he is doing, he will have a much more difficult time being it and doing it. And we shouldn’t let our natural impulses for civility water down what we have to say. This is not a time to be polite. Silence — and undeserved respect — is cooperation with this horrible government-in-waiting.

Trump also tweeted against Saturday Night Live. Actor Alec Baldwin tweeted back a smart and strong response. Trump didn’t return fire. He was being strategic. He doesn’t care about Alec Baldwin for any purposes beyond being his foil and example. With the Hamilton tweets Trump was suppressing individual expression. With SNL his purpose was to suppress the corporate media — an assault on Freedom of the Press.

Trump was shooting higher up the corporate food chain than Baldwin. He wants to cow management. Trump hosted media leaders today (11/21/16). He reportedly yelled at them. We shouldn’t rely on the media to be as strong against Trump’s assault on free speech as many of us will be. Media corporations have billions of dollars of profits which are heavily dependent on specific government action. Trump wants to shape the Trump reality show in a way that enhances his power and doesn’t detract from it. The media companies will probably give some meaningful oppostion on the margins but will likely buckle where most of the viewers (and money is). I wouldn’t expect any profiles in courage from these people.

We only have the now-endangered First Amendment as a firewall to protect our speech as individuals and the freedom of the press. The President has a Constitutional obligation to enforce the First Amendment and every other law, but Trump has no respect for law — only winning. It is up to little old us to man the barricades to protect the first right of  all of the Bill of Rights with our big mouths.

Our big mouths — mocking, dissecting, cursing, defying, exposing, protesting, analyzing, confronting the immoral fascist Donald Trump.

No American politician that I can personally remember has ever been as skilled at manipulating what other people say by riling up prejudices and frightening people of conscience.

The First Amendment is not going to defend itself. We have to live it.

And respect the skills of our would-be oppressor. He’s nobody’s fool. He’s not a learned man, but he’s a cunning one.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog is about my interaction with the world. This piece cross-pollinates the danger of then-newly emboldened white nationalism, memories of my childhood and experiences from my teaching career.

From November 23, 2016

If you were born in the late 1940s or in the 1950s, I’d like to ask you to do a patriotic act this Thanksgiving and beyond. Tell young people what Nazis are.

I was speaking to a student of mine, a very bright and nice young guy about 25 years old or so. Well I wasn’t really speaking to him. I was caught up in one of my standard rants where I explain why I believe that voting for Trump was an immoral act independent of political beliefs, or social, economic or educational attainment.

When I got to the part about the unforgivable moral outrage of the despicable Trump campaign, and how I will never forget that ugly campaign season and the permanent harm it inflicted upon this country, I mentioned in passing “the Nazi, Steve Bannon.” The young man earnestly attempted to correct me. “Oh no. Bannon’s no Nazi.”

“Yes, he is. He used to head up Breitbart that site that publishes that Alt-Right crap.”

Breitbart isn’t so bad. The Alt-Right is just a source of a certain kind of conservative opinion. It’s good to get all these political points of view out.”

I then told my young friend that my repulsion to the Alt-Right was generational. He looked at me with a very sincere curiosity. One thing I’ve learned on this teaching gig is that young people really want to listen to us. We had something that they didn’t have. The wisdom of our parents. And the wisdom of our parents’ generation.

I was born in 1955. One of the first things that I remember looking at was a photo of my father in his World War II United States Army dress uniform. Like all little boys, I looked up to my Dad and one thing that I knew about him very early on was that he was honorably discharged from the United States war effort against Hitler. He used to tell funny stories depicting himself as a coward figuring out ways to avoid combat. But they were just funny stories. He showed up for his country — and he was an immigrant that came to the U.S. when he was seventeen and was drafted two years later. He gave four years of his young life to participate in the huge collective fight against Hitler. He was in the Ordinance Corps and spent the war far behind enemy lines. My father wasn’t called upon to be particularly heroic. He had those funny war stories. No tales of tragedy or glory. But he was decent. That was the impression that I got of my Dad fighting Hitler with those millions of other guys. He was a good man. He stood on the right side of things. It felt good to know that my Dad was good.

So its kind of in my DNA to see that Nazism is not in the equation of human goodness. My father introduced me to movies and TV. He loved sports and “the shows.” When you are born in 1955 and you watch a lot of movies and TV, you see a lot of images of Nazis as bad guys. Early on it was action flicks like The Great Escape but a little later it was serious message pictures like Judgement at Nuremberg. That particular movie is probably the first place that I heard about the Holocaust. It shocked me.

As I got a little older, Mel Brooks taught me a lot about Nazis. I fell in love with his movies. Hilarious! I got the defiance in Mel Brooks’ lampooning of Nazis (and show business!) in The Producers. Jewish people suffered a particular brutality at the hands of Nazis and Brooks’ movies hilariously showed that they weren’t going to let it ruin the rest of their lives. I admired Mel Brooks’ bravery and refusal to accept bitterness. His work made a huge impression on me.

When I was growing up Nazis were deserved social outcasts. I told my student an anecdote I’ve written here before. I was raised in Rochester, N.Y. There was a rundown area of town where prostitutes walked streets and pushers pushed drugs and Nazi motorcycle gangs hung out in illegal after-hours clubs. Nobody from my middle class suburb wanted anything to do with any of those people. There was a guy who lived across the street  who was a big shot in the local Mafia. Everyone looked down on that guy. He didn’t want anything to do with Nazis. The word pariah could’ve been coined for these losers. You had to have a screw loose to want to have anything to do with trash like them.

There was a TV show that came on very late at night in the early 1970s, The Joe Pyne Show. Joe Pyne was kind of a forerunner of the kind of agitated confrontational talk that we get a lot of in the media today. He was for the Viet Nam War, and generally conservative on most issues, but was a big booster of labor unions. He was seriously wounded while serving with the Marines in World War II. After the War, he lost part of a leg to a rare form of cancer.

Pyne had something on his show called “The Dock.” Extremists of all kinds would appear in this kind of witness stand in the middle of the studio audience where they literally stood as if they were waiting for a verdict to be rendered upon them. They would offer crackpot views and Pyne would verbally attack them from an elevated desk on a stage ten yards away. Pyne often had Nazis on the show. The Nazis were booed like World Wrestling Federation villains.

I had the opportunity to hear Nazis expound upon their ridiculous, crazy, ugly and disgusting viewpoints on The Joe Pyne Show. And to heara World War II veteran eviscerate those viewpoints and the persons that put them forward. Joe Pyne, who was a sensationalist and far from admirable in may ways — he was kind of a disc jockey who got out of control — taught me that Nazism was evil and that its proponents have something wrong with them. Nazis are weird people with sick psychological compulsions — perverts really.

Joe Pyne’s sideshow undesirables had the same views of white nationalism and racial superiority as the Alt-Right movement does today. The individuals of the Alt-Right movement have the same twisted sicko tendencies as American Nazis in the 1970s.  Today however, this trash philosophy and the deviant Nazi personality are just part of the world of interesting ideas and minor celebrities for young people to try out online.

I wrote a post just yesterday making fun of Alt-Right/Nazi ideology and its adherents. I provide a link for the post here. Usually people don’t read the links embedded in essays but I really think it makes sense to do so with this piece. The description of the contemporary Alt-Righters fits the 70s American Nazis and vice-versa. The detail that I point out could help you jog your own memories and impressions of Nazism and the grave and paradoxically silly threat it presents — and then of course help you pass what you know on.

Happy Nazis! Trump’s Base Parties Like It’s 1942!

We have to let these kids know what we think of Nazism and Nazis. We have to tell them our stories of Post-War Nazi sightings.

We have to tell them more stories in general.

Kids really like us. They like us much more than they like Breitbart. They only read Breitbart and other stuff like it because they are searching for us. We have to teach them how to be Americans — and just how to be men and women — the way our parents and their generation taught us.

Wisdom is passed down and we need to pass it down right now. It’s an emergency. The young are hungry to connect with us. We have something they never had. The Greatest Generation raised us.

My young friend listened to some of my stories and asked a question. “Is Steve Bannon really a racist or is he just selling the Nazi ideology to make money?”

“What difference does it make?” I answered. “Either way, he is justifying the horror of deporting 2 million Mexican undocumented aliens — and that’s just one violent crime of mass proportions for starters. Do you realize what a horror show that deportation program would be in its execution? If you don’t watch Schindler’s List.” 

Schindler’s List is a movie made by a baby boomer who wanted to pass on what his fathers taught him, Steven Spielberg. Schindler’s List was made in 1993. Spielberg has done more than his part. We have to pitch in with our stories too — everyday. A great film every once in a while won’t cut it.

Our national and personal histories are so important right now.

The World War II generation is almost all gone. We have to teach what they taught us. Or we will have to live the lessons of World War II all over again. Or our kids will. Only this next time, America will star in the role of Nazi Germany. And Breitbart and Bannon and Trump will steal young people and manipulate them to be in service of all sorts of perversions, largely because we didn’t sit down and talk with our young adult children. Our descendants are begging to spend time with us.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The themes of the new Trump administration were there for all to see in the transition period before his inauguration. I saw them.

From Thanksgiving Day 2016:

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From the desk of Citizen Rick:

Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

Here’s Trump and Bannon’s reasoning on their recent Cabinet and staff appointments.

Dr. Ben Carson as likely appointee as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development:

Who gives a shit about poor people in cities having decent housing? Let’s put in a completely unqualified token black guy to run H.U.D. This is great. We can let H.U.D. fall apart, plunder its budget for other things (including our own development projects) and here’s the best part —we get to do something racist by the very action of appointing a black person! We can brazenly make our major black appointment a complete farce and the media idiots will praise us for diversity — we’re making a Cabinet that looks like America! Yes sir, an America where the colored know their place — as tokens in a photo op when it suits us. What a tidy little slush pot for our private shady real estate deals we can make out of H.U.D. Ben won’t notice.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the United Nations:

Who gives a shit about working with other countries? Like we’re going to even listen to a group of poor African countries when it comes to making U.S. policy towards Africa. Or any other part of the world. We kill a lot of birds with this stone. We bring in this bitch who had problems with our K.K.K. affiliations during the primaries. Nothing like a meaningless job with a ton of phony prestige to erase all of those words from the public record. She is a woman so we can check off that box. She is Indian-American so the media assholes will say the appointment is sending a signal to the third world. Yeah, right. Like anyone who makes real decisions in the world pays attention to that bullshit. This is for the media and the weak-minded liberals who want to “give us a chance.” They can say, well at least he appointed an Indian-American woman while they drink their coffee in the morning and listen to N.P.R. Haley will have nothing to say about anything. We’ll just send her scripts to read whenever she has to speak at the U.N. Happy talk about our intentions around the world. And then we’ll do whatever we fucking please. Who needs the U.N? We did just fine without it during the lead-up to World War II. Those were the days. Make America Great Again, Schotzie!

Billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:

Who gives a shit about American kids being educated? We don’t even have an angle for this one. This one’s for Pence. This should shut up the Bible Thumpers for awhile. Charter schools, prayer in schools, public schools? Who gives a shit? Fuck the public schools. Hell! Fuck the public! Our kids go to expensive private schools. This mass education shit has nothing to do with us. Let Betsy have this play box and then she and her husband will give us a lot of coin in future campaigns.

Mitt Romney as a possibility as Secretary of State:

Who gives a shit about diplomacy? It’s all really about dictating. Here’s the real art of the deal — I’m gonna give you an offer he can’t refuse. Do what we say or we’ll bomb the shit out of you. Okay, we don’t get the fine points. Who cares? This Romney asshole can’t stand us. Good — we fulfill his careerist dreams and he has to shut up. Once he is in with us, we will emasculate him. We’ll make this a ceremonial job and he won’t have anything to say about anything. The appointment will manipulate the media clowns to say that we are governing in a moderate fashion. And Mitt looks great, doesn’t he? Just like a Secretary of State in the movies. This pick was like hiring a male model for a photo shoot for a retail store’s catalogue. He’s got nothing to say about the product line.

Rudy Giuliani as a possible Director of National Intelligence:

Who gives a shit about good intelligence? He who will not be the hammer will be the anvil. One of our Fascist forebears said that. We don’t have to worry about what our enemies are planning to do to us. They have to worry about what we will do to them. Rudy’s seen better days. He acts erratically in public. Intelligence spooks are usually very calm and detached dudes. Rudy runs hot all of the time.  If he reacts impulsively in some situations a lot of people could get hurt. Who gives a shit? He’s really loyal. Throw him a bone.

To be fair, Bannon and Trump have made some purposeful appointments.

Lieutenant General Michael Kelly as National Security Advisor:

Kelly hates Muslims. Just what we need.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General:

Sessions has a really good anti-immigrant track record. He is also a racist. He will be very helpful in executing (in every sense of the word) our agenda.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus as White House Chief of Staff:

Great name! Sounds like he’s a Field Marshall in the Luftwaffe. He can be the liaison to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. We’ll sign whatever these guys in Congress want us to sign. Who gives a shit whether it’s good or bad for the American people? If we sign what they want, they’ll leave us alone. No impeachment inquiries for accepting unconstitutional foreign gifts, for example. Everybody gets what they want. Ryan and McConnell don’t give a shit about the welfare of the American people either. As long as we keep them happy they won’t come after us to put in their pal Pence.

Vice-President Elect Mike Pence:

The Ayatollah! This guy’s perfect. He wants to do the actual work. We’ll play the angles and he’ll take care of the bureaucratic shit. He’ll have a lot of power, but its not the type power we give a shit about.

Trump’s Son-in-Law Jared Kushner and Children Ivanka, Eric and Donald, Jr. as Unofficial Advisors and Staff while running Trump’s private business interests:

This is going to be huge. This is going to be the biggest commingling of public and private funds since  the dawn of time. The biggest conflict of interest in the history of the world! We’re going to use the U.S. Treasury as our own slush fund. Don’t worry if we take out money for our own projects. We’ll always put it back. (Wink. Wink.)

Bannon and Trump are expertly executing their vision. Their appointments so far tell us a lot. We are in for four years of unprecedented graft, American wars of aggression against weaker countries, the implementation of a Libertarian social agenda that will destroy much of our social safety net, a systematic attack on the rights of women, immigrants, Muslims and people of color, a dangerous loss of trust and respect for the United States abroad and a myriad of unforeseen problems arising from incompetence and neglect in the day-to-day management of the Federal government.

Bannon and Trump are soon to be the two most powerful people in the world. (Maybe — see the stuff about Robert Mercer below.)They have never evidenced that they have given a shit about anybody else in their entire lives. (That’s not an overstatement. I’m prepared to defend it. They use everybody — including their wives and children.) They aren’t going to start giving a shit about anyone else now.

Bannon and Trump are laughing at us. They aren’t even trying that hard to cover up their true intentions. They are enjoying the joke of these appointments. They know they can rely on the careerist ambitions of their former opponents to make a show of some kind of rapprochement and unity. In fact, they have accomplished a complete capitulation by former opponents like Romney and Haley, whose personal integrity could be bought off with a powerless job with an impressive title. They know the media will peddle pablum about everyone now coming together after a divisive election by pushing the simplistic notion that Bannon and Trump named a couple of women and a black guy to some seemingly big jobs — never mind any details about the specific individuals appointed. Diversity as a fashion statement!

I don’t feel like making nice with my conservative relatives at Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Oh! And how did Bannon get his job? It smells like a  shadowy (crazy? fascist? motivated by self-interest?) billionaire named Mercer wanted him in. He bankrolled Trump’s campaign when it was in trouble this summer. Mercer stays in the shadows. 

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

A lovely piece about the bittersweet experience of encountering art at the threshold moment of a new era of national tragedy.

From November 25, 2016

Rules Don’t Apply, which opened on Wednesday is projected by the Hollywood Reporter to earn only $2-2.5 million at the box office for the 5 day Thanksgiving 2016 holiday weekend. The movie is an unqualified financial disaster.

Rules Don’t Apply is also a masterpiece. In a year when half the American people elected Donald Trump, and most of the other half dithered as to whether they should complain to the Trump voters who made a stupid and immoral mess of our country for at least the next four years, the unpopularity of Rules Don’t Apply is not surprising.

Rules Don’t Apply is about people who love each other and have dreams of creating beautiful things. It is set in a 1950s Hollywood that is exquisitely lit by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel — a world of sincere romantic yearning. Rules Don’t Apply is an ambitious film about ambitious people, but the desires of the movie and its characters are all excellent and fine and good. Rules Don’t Apply is an art film released in an America oppressed by commercialism. Everything is a business. Everything is about money. At the rate we are going, the Art Institute in Chicago may close down it exhibits and warehouse its collections in order to expand its gift shop.

Yes, Rules Don’t Apply is an art film. Art sees the unseen. Art is often created by people that all of my prejudices would tell me to overlook as being incapable of making art. I am fortunate in that I don’t pay attention to my prejudices. Warren Beatty is one of those people.

Warren Beatty is impossibly good-looking. Is he of our species? Is he a carbon-based life form? How can he be masculine and pretty at the same time? Yet there he is. I guess a person like this has to be a movie star. But a filmmaker? A writer and director of intelligence, insight and innovative talent? He’s supernaturally handsome and smart?

Yes. Yes. Yes. What is even more improbable about Warren Beatty — I wish Darwin were alive to take a look at this guy; he may be the pinnacle of the evolutionary process —is that he is fabulously wealthy, powerful and successful by just about any measure, and he is  also sensitive and pure.

Beatty is 79 now and his true character is revealed. This famous womanizer has been deeply and sweetly in love with every woman, man and child he has ever known since the day he came to Hollywood. Rules Don’t Apply is a very personal film — a poetic memoir about Beatty’s life in pictures. The Hollywood of Rules Don’t Apply isn’t a glamorous place, a ruthless locale of cultural power, or a fatuous and superficial satirical hick town as it is often portrayed in other movies and elsewhere. The Hollywood of Rules Don’t Apply is a place where hearts yearn for each other, struggle to connect, successfully embrace or poignantly fail to find fulfillment. Rules Don’t Apply  would be a great movie if Beatty had spent his adult life in Omaha, Nebraska and set the film there.

Some might jump to compare Rules Don’t Apply to Leonardo diCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator because both films are seemingly about Howard Hughes. But Rules Don’t Apply isn’t about Howard Hughes. Beatty plays a fictional character named Howard Hughes who is actually a metaphor referencing a  part of Beatty’s own soul — not the historic figure. Beatty clearly and compassionately (Beatty loves himself in a way that is the opposite of narcissism) sees how his wealth and power make him eccentric and distant from other people. He sees how the pain of the failure of his last movie Town and Country made him withdraw from the spotlight for the 15 years since he made it.Beatty reveals that all of his glamour and glory, his moments of revelatory success — and he has had so many — are islands in a life sea of anxiety and uncertainty. Beatty, like his Howard Hughes fiction, clearly cherishes his fleeting moments of deep human connection above his fleeting moments of career justification and acclaim.

The American public wasn’t ready to embrace a movie from a rich man like Beatty this year after they were inundated with the pronouncements of another rich man who brags about the size of his penis and his ability to grab women’s crotches at will. Beatty would’ve made a much better President than Donald Trump, but he was preoccupied living out his own destiny — making a great and unappreciated film and being a human being. Trump is incapable of making anything great or being human. Neither is America — not right now. The Democrats answered Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan by saying, “America is Great.” But it isn’t. If America was great it wouldn’t have elected Trump. America has to get to work to get back to the point where it can appreciate a movie like Rules Don’t Apply again — a movie about love, human connection and creativity, not petty resentment, crass consumerism and the ugly ethos of winning. America has a lot of work to do just to get decent again before it is up to being a people ready to celebrate Warren Beatty.

America elected a salesman because it wants its ass kissed — anything but the truth. But as it is written on that Grecian urn: truth is beauty and beauty is truth,  and the choice of the mass sycophantic craft of marketing over the wonders and challenges of the artful rendering of reality has made our country mentally ill and very ugly right now. America should be committed to a psychiatric outpatient facility at this historic moment. It needs to get its bearings back and give up many things that are very bad for it. Then after a period of recovery, it can return to loving and doing again.

The other characters in Rules Don’t Apply are also aspects of Warren Beatty’s soul. Each member of the cast gives a wonderful performance. Alden Ehrenreich plays an heroic young man who learns the differences between love, lust and obligation. Lily Collins plays a young woman with the courage to figure life out on her own terms. Matthew Broderick plays a frustrated man struggling against his own mediocrity. Great actors are in all of the smaller roles. Each part and player illuminate meaningful thought and feeling related to the the consideration of what it is to be a human being.

Everything is lovely about this movie — its unhurried pacing, unobtrusive but wise editing, perfectly selected soundtrack, spare and meaningful dialogue and of course Warren Beatty’s invisible direction that leads the audience to his paradisal inner world. The whole film plays like real moments in a well-appreciated life. Beatty infuses the film with an older man’s gratitude for the possibilities inherent in the gift of living for several decades on this planet and among other human beings. The gratitude is possible because Beatty took advantage of those opportunities. Trump hates the world because he has never lived in it. Trump has spent his life trying to simultaneously please and rebel against a demanding literally Fascist father. (Fascist is not a hyperbolic word choice. Fred Trump admired the Klan.) Beatty is not unsympathetic to this psychological impediment in Trump. Beatty’s Hughes archetype is obsessed with pleasing his long dead father. Beatty says in Rules Don’t Apply what few admit about the relations between dictatorial fathers and their sons — the tensions never go away, even when the fathers are long gone and the sons have little time left. But Beatty transcended his conflict with his strict Virginia Protestant roots — they were always a part of him, but he added so much more that he found within himself and other people. Like another great poet, Beatty is a multitude. Trump is a cypher. Trump never had the courage to leave his father’s smothering embrace. Trump has lived his life in bondage and has never matured into a full human being.

America ignores Beatty and is mesmerized by Trump. What does that say about America?

Paula said after the movie ended — our entire little audience stayed until the last of the credits — “I didn’t want it to end.” Yes, honey. Sigh. We have to return now to America the infomercial. A plague of attention-deficit disorder ravages the population and very few have the patience to sit through Rules Don’t Apply. Love is found in quiet corners and lust, greed, ego and violence dominate everything else.

How does the quiet moment when hearts meet stand a chance against the crush of the idolatry of the dollar, the narcissistic exhibition of material possessions and the loud violent predatory screams of the crowd? I am glad we saw Rules Don’t Apply before it left the theaters, and America before it turned into something else unworthy of its name.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I saw early that the opposite of journalism, science and law is marketing.

From November 27, 2016:

When everything is a business there are by definition no sources of objective information. Every source of information is furthering an agenda of its own interests.

Every show on TV, news or otherwise, has always been compromised by the desires of its sponsors. All shows on TV sell a vision of a desired life that serves the ambition of its sponsors — or in the case of public television its patrons. Premium cable, like all entertainment vendors, makes its content decisions on the basis of its understanding of what its audience wants to hear — including in its news, satiric and documentary programming.

Have you ever wondered why so many reporters move on to be public relations executives for the industries and other entities that they cover? Why is news gathering so closely aligned with publicity? My brother was in professional sports. I was in entertainment. In each area I noticed how important it was to build relationships with media people in order to get favorable coverage to promote one’s career. Why is that necessary? Don’t journalists just report things of interest that are going on? No.

David Axelrod, Obama’s consigliere was in the media before he ran Presidential campaigns and returned to the media when he was through. Why is the transition so seamless? Many other pols/media types have similar stories — George Stephanopoulous and Mussolini are just two examples. (I’m making no equivalencies regarding their agendas.)

We live in a society in which the primary form of communication is marketing. Political candidates, viewpoints and whole ideologies are sold like products. Some marketers sell their wares with a certain amount of corporate social responsibility. They have some sense of other people’s rights and interests. Some marketers have no ethics. They will lie and sell metaphoric snake oil in order to get people to do what they want them to do. Sound like an incoming Presidential administration? America just made a corrupt marketer President. No marketer is interested in dispassionately presenting facts. A marketer always speaks for its client’s or its own interests.

There is no such thing as objective fact, even when communication agendas are not made in the pursuit of money and power. I have an agenda as I write here. I create art here which involves my serious and sincere response to the world and the initiations of my own soulful imagination. I want to make money and gain influential power through my writing and performing, but unlike an entertainer or marketer I would never change a word in order to do so. But everything I say is unapologetically subjective and never pretends to be anything else. Some people read me or listen to me and impute authority to what I say. No. All art exists to arouse questions and participation by its audience. It is up to you to formulate your own ideas about whatever I am talking about and to devise your own responses to it. Some people criticize my writing as being too didactic. I’m telling you what I think and feel. It is my job to get to understand my own thought and feeling and communicate it in a clear way to my audience. I don’t have to hedge what I say.

Which brings us back to you and how you deal with what you encounter — be it marketing, entertainment or art. The first thing that you have to do is break your habit of being a consumer of ideas as you consume food or electronic devices. You have to consider words and images not eat them.

You have to educate yourself by reading (and listening to, viewing etc.) works by people who consider aspects of being alive from perspectives beyond the immediate. You need the historic context that can be derived from reading history, and the eternal and spiritual context which can be derived by reading and viewing poetry, fiction, drama and other arts. You cannot rely only on the days’ news, and only on voices that are prominent as the focus of, or purveyors of, that news to define your world and your options for you.

Start by reading the list of influential things that I have read (click on the link below). Once you do that you can continue reading things that interest you that have the same type scope and ambition. After you read several books like these you can recognize others of the same purity and intellectual ambition in pursuit of truth and reality.

Note that I did not include Viola Spolin’s Improvisation for the Theater on this list linked below. The list was written for improvisational artists and Improvisation for the Theater  is the seminal work in the field — a must to not only read, but also to actually train with by engaging in its exercises. I left Improvisation for the Theater off of the list because every serious improviser should know Spolin’s work on the art and craft of improvisation. My list involves developing within oneself the content that one brings to improvising. Artists, like serious improvisers for example, struggle to understand reality. Citizens must do so too, particularly in this age of marketing propaganda.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

This is the first time that I connected my insight into Trump, and my strong and personal antipathy towards him, to my own personal experience. Trump was the public embodiment of just about every toxic person that I had ever encountered in my life. I began to recognize that Trump was an opportunity to write about the dark side of America, the shadow nation that I have seen clearly, and been wounded by, since I was a little boy.

From November 29, 2016

If I worked with Donald Trump, I’d quit my job. If I went to a party and Trump was there, I’d leave. I’d unfriend Trump on Facebook. If he lived near me, I’d move. I’m so sick of this Trump asshole. I just want to get away from him now. I can’t take it.

I’ve known a lot of people like Trump in one way or the other. Stupid, mean-spirited assholes who like to cheat other people and push them around because they couldn’t come up with a good idea or create something positive if their lives depended upon it. They want to frustrate you and have you fight them. They have nothing better to do.

I learned a long time ago that the best thing to do with an asshole is walk away from him. Every time I’ve retreated from assholes I’ve found someone and something better around the next bend.

Trump really isn’t that much different from what we’ve been living with in politics and business for decades now. Everything is run by the people with the real big 1% money, and people with really big 1% money are mentally ill. We haven’t been a democracy for a long time. Obama was a compromise with the rich crazies. Those of us who weren’t rich corporate oligarchs got a little bit — not much, mostly in the culture department. Not any cash — just a fairy tale that we had a little say in the direction of the country. What a crock of shit that is. We also got to believe that we weren’t all racists — we actually thought we lived in a community and wished other people well — and that we had of Bill of Rights. Yeah, well Frank Capra died a long time ago. All of the platitudes about inclusion, decency and good citizenship have been exposed as shams now.

What I called “America” was an illusion. It’s dead. It is nothing that resembles the visions of John Adams or Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. We are not “a nation of laws not men.” We aren’t even a nation of men really. We are a nation of money.

Money over reason.

Money over taste.

Money over truth.

Money over decency.

Money over justice.

The cunning, insane and uneducated rich manipulate the lazy, stupid and self-centered poor. The shining city on the hill is now just the alley where the whores smoke crack behind the dumpster.

America’s dead. I’m not. I can value free speech when Trump’s Supreme Court nullifies the First Amendment, for example. I can still like and admire immigrants. I can still be the American I want to be while I live in dead America.

I have no more responses for this Trump asshole except — Go away! (I’m sure I’ll write about him again. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.)

I didn’t set out to write so much about Trump. I just write about what tweaks me. The impetus of my writing is usually emotional — anger, affection, enthusiasm. Today I am moved by disgust.

I just want to publish and perform my stuff. I’m an artist. I am no activist. I don’t write with altruistic motives. I don’t feel like walking to wherever I want to go. I’m not disposed to march for you.

The election really tweaked me all through my chakras. I saw it was as a great opportunity. For one thing I could use Trump to settle scores (just in the world of my writing unfortunately — not in the supposedly more “real” world — Steven Segal I am not) with all the people that I knew that were like him — the unjust manipulators who had all sorts of power that they didn’t deserve — the ones who are just in the way of anything good getting done. They walk around with all this pomp and require all this respect — Mister Trump — and spend their time obstructing and humiliating anyone of real value because they secretly envy persons of quality.  These people are just good at gaining power and attention. They are completely incompetent at employing their status for any real good. I enjoy examining and exposing these assholes in great detail.

Like all art created by anyone, my writing is ultimately about me, the artist. I was fueled by a tremendous sense of validation that others were moved by my asshole portraits and saw in my descriptions many of the assholes that had made their lives miserable over the years. We were all born with more than one asshole.

Hail Trump, the Most Prominent Asshole of Them All.

Trump, the Asshole Archetype.

Assholes have been running America since some time in the 1980s — around the time when everything — government, schools, churches, arts organizations … — everything — became a business. Nothing — zilch — is un-monetized in America anymore. We no longer have a culture. Everything is a market — the bullies who control the stuff we eat in one way or another and the suckers that they rip off. The suckers would like to be bullies when they grow up — but they don’t have the brains or will to make it happen. Sucker adults decide to be childish with the exception of the shrewd bullying few who realize that they can make a lot of money by being abusive parents. Life becomes so simple when it is all transactional — buyers and sellers. Life is only served on the crudest level of survival. Thought and feeling — also known as intelligence and humanity — are mocked by the lowest but nonetheless most powerful rungs on the hierarchy of needs — eating, fucking, shitting. Atticus Finch is no longer an American hero. Now he is some schmuck loser lawyer with no money wasting his time defending a nobody.

It’s all about the Benjamins, baby! And the strut when you have them. Ooooh — Donald Trump must be the best of us! Look at the gold furniture and the handfuls of pussy! Is it really a surprise that Kanye West said he would’ve voted for Trump if he had bothered to vote? Black people can be assholes too.

The United States of Assholes.

My illusion of America does exist in reality. You know who my illusion of America is — me. Has been all along. America is who I am and want to be. I don’t have to run the meaning of my life by an asshole unemployed auto worker meth addict from Warren, Michigan. L’etat c’est moi. I don’t need an election result to validate what I think and feel. I am living my desires and values, assholes from Dead America be damned.

Life is good. I sit in my wonderful recliner in our living room and type on my MacBook Air. Our condo has a view of a slender park, Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan. My wife Paula is a wonderful person. I generally associate with nice people. I work with pleasant people. I have nice friends. I get along with my family and Paula’s family. My immediate personal life is asshole-free.

My mother is 94 and has advanced dementia. She’s too thin and obviously disconnected — but she is still here. I have to lose weight and I don’t feel like it, but I am in good health. So is Paula. I make a decent livelihood. I have all sorts of artistic and career ambitions for my writing and performing. Those desires make me anxious some times. But I just persist — keep writing and keep putting it out there — trying to make or let something happen.

Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero With a Thousand Faces about several myths describing initiations of heroism involving struggles with ogres. Heroes go to all sorts of ingenious measures to outsmart or physically best the powerful monsters. One of the myths stuck with me. The hero simply ignored the ogre and walked away.

The Dead American assholes that voted for Trump gave him power. I didn’t.

Bye, bye assholes. I can do a lot better than you. I’m making the life and the world that I want. And you’re not in it.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The 2016 election was question of morality, not politics. About fifty days from the 2020 election the same rules apply. With Trump as an incumbent, political arguments might help get a better result, but the ultimate question is still “what kind of people are we?”

From December 2, 2016:

Every four years the top strategists of the two major presidential campaigns meet at Harvard to discuss the election. It is usually a cordial affair. They did so last night. (12/1/16) It wasn’t.

CBS News reports (excerpted in italics below) that for the first half of the discussion the Trump people gloated and the Clinton people were subdued. Then the following exchange occurred:

The breaking point for Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri appeared to come as David Bossie, who was Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, praised the Republican president-elect’s controversial campaign chairman, Steve Bannon.

“The guy is an unbelievably brilliant strategist who is brilliant, a terrific guy who…  has a Harvard pedigree and is getting attacked by people who have no idea who he is,” Bossie enthused.

“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant strategist, a brilliant tactician, I am glad to have lost,” Palmieri burst out, adding that she “would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

“No, you wouldn’t, that’s very clear today,” Conway retorted. “No you wouldn’t, respectfully.”

But Conway was just getting started.

“How exactly did [Mr. Trump] win? No, go for it, Jen — how exactly did we win? I’d like to know, because I sacrificed the last four months of my life to do it,” she said, arguing they had achieved victory “by looking at the schedule and looking at, yes, the electoral map of 270 because that’s how you win the presidency. And we went places, and we were either ignored or mocked — roundly by most of the people in this room — but I have a smile on my face at all times — and we did it by focusing with Steve Bannon and Dave Bossie and everybody you see here.”

“We connected with voters,” Conway told Palmieri. “We connected with voters.”

Palmieri said what I have been writing on The Rick Blog before and after the campaign. The Clinton campaign is being incorrectly criticized for strategic errors in messaging and outreach. The Clinton campaign had a courageous message — the only true message a political campaign could have had in 2016. They said that Donald Trump’s embrace of fascism was an existential threat to our way of life. Their outreach was not to “white working class voters” (as much as they are derided for playing “identity politics”) but rather to the decency of the totality of the American people. The American people failed (in either their support of fascism or in their failure to understand the magnitude of Trumpism’s threat to our nation) not the Clinton campaign.

Hillary Clinton’s “alt-right” speech that defined what Trump, Bannon, Breitbart and their rank-and-file audience and supporters are in their own words is one of the great speeches made by an American political figure. Like all great political speeches it transcended politics. (Abraham Lincoln was a master strategist but he is elevated to greatness in our eyes today because of his decency, moral honesty and intellectual clarity as expressed in his actions and his many noble speeches.) Hillary Clinton did not try to cater to the millions of fascists among us and leverage their votes in some way. She called them what they were. Her “basket of deplorables” comment, which is now usually cited out of context ,was based on her hope that the deplorable fascists lived only on the margins of our society. The election has proven that they don’t. She tried to rally the decent. The decent yawned, and in so doing became something else.https://www.youtube.com/embed/_soeyHVrawY?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

I have written many posts about the fascists who ran a fascist for President and the fascists who voted for fascism. But Jen Palmieri’s comment is a reminder to keep the outrage alive. And Kellyanne Conway’s lame response to Palmieri demonstrates that Trump and his supporters have no real answers to the obvious truth — just phony umbrage at being personally insulted and stupid talk reductio ad absurdum about “winning.” Our justified shaming of these people should be relentless.

The stench of what these people did in the campaign, and the ugly Trump campaign itself will not go away — even as their lousy new government does its worst.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was powerless. He was in the minority. He took down American apartheid with a moral argument. Kellyanne Conway’s wounded responses to Jen Palmieri are an indication that down deep these people know that they are doing something that is evil. We must do the same now. Everyone who was sick of the campaign should get over it. The real battle for the American Soul takes place on the field of morality. We can’t grow weary of pointing out the ugliness of Trumpism. We will win. Good always ultimately wins after evil does its murderous destruction but our victory will not be accomplished in voting booths. Our campaign must now journey through the collective American heart.

I say this without animosity — fascists and apathetic ones — you can and must do better. Your political stances are emblematic of the wretched lives that you are living in toto at the moment. You can do better for all that matters in your lives — including your country. You can’t keep being so stupid, selfish and mean. It’s a murder/suicide.

THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL POST. I AM NOT A POLITICAL WRITER. I WRITE ABOUT BEING A HUMAN BEING. I AM NOT A CLINTON PARTISAN. YOU SHOULD HEAR THINGS FOR WHAT THEY ARE AND NOT SHOVE THEM INTO SOME EASY CLASSIFICATION SO THAT YOU CAN JUST RETORT WITH YOUR CANNED POLITICAL VIEWS WITHOUT LISTENING TO MORE SUBTLE POINTS.

IF YOU SUPPORTED SANDERS OR STEIN AND YOU RESPOND TO THIS WITH CRITICISMS OF CLINTON’S POLICIES YOU COMPLETELY MISS MY POINT. THIS ELECTION WAS ABOUT STOPPING A FASCIST ASSAULT ON OUR NATION. HOWEVER VALID OR DEBATABLE YOUR CRITICISMS OF HILLARY CLINTON, HER POSITIONS WERE STILL THE POSITIONS OF A POLITICIAN IN A DEMOCRACY. AND NOW OUR DEMOCRACY IS DEAD — AT LEAST FOR THE TIME BEING.

ALSO, IT IS FASHIONABLE TO SAY THAT SOCIAL MEDIA IS WEAK DEMOCRATIC (SMALL “D”) ACTION. I COMPLETELY DISAGREE. MY BLOG IS NOW A THEATRICAL SHOW THAT I AM DEVELOPING AND I USE IT IN MY CLASSES. IT IS A METHOD OF DEVELOPING WORK FOR GREATER PLATFORMS OF PUBLICATION. AND IN AND OF ITSELF IT IS A GREAT TOOL OF DISCUSSION AMONG FELLOW LIKE-MINDED CITIZENS. SUCH DISCUSSION IS THE LIFE BLOOD OF DEMOCRACY.

TRUMP, THE ENEMY, HAS ACCOMPLISHED MANY OF HIS UGLY AIMS THROUGH TWEETS. OUR WORLD IS WHAT WE THINK IT IS. WHAT WE THINK, READ, WRITE AND TALK ABOUT MATTERS. WE LIVE IN AN AGE WHERE ALWAYS NECESSARY ART HAS BECOME CRUCIAL ART FOR OUR SURVIVAL. SOCIAL MEDIA IS AN EXCELLENT TECHNOLOGY FOR THE TRANSMISSION OF ART AND IDEAS. IT IS FOOLISH TO MINIMIZE IT. USE IT TO SERVE CONCRETE ENDS.

Jen Palmieri has introduced another perspective to look at Trumpian Fascism (yet another angle!) We who called it by its name and confronted it should be proud. We lost but we did not fail. The real failure lies with American fascists and their apologists. Communism, just like American Apartheid, fell because it was immoral. In many ways Trump is the grotesque apotheosis of the unjust corporate state that we have been living in for at least 36 years. That boil had to burst sometime.

Mainstream politicians — the unsung and derided Clinton campaign — were moral leaders in 2016. Now they exit the stage. The Clinton campaign’s opposition to the euphemistically named  “alt-right” was the first utterance of truth to power against brazenly open unapologetic American fascism. What will be the next stands that (consciously or unconsciously) will be taken with loyalty to the truth beyond our most intense and immediate desires of winning?

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

A call for revolution?

From December 3, 2016:

The Second Coming (Slouching towards Bethlehem)

W.B Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m a writer. I don’t want any trouble. I am not an activist by nature. I just want greater publication for my writing and success for my show. I’m a little man working for happiness in his little world. But I keep looking at what’s going on in America right now and I wonder if our nation is at some sort of inflection point that is taking us beyond the usual left-right arguments of our politics. I am wondering if we aren’t shifting to some big macro-confrontation that is beyond our usual wrangling about specific issues. I am wondering if we aren’t unconsciously moving toward a radical change in our political and economic system that is more congruent with who we are collectively and who we want to be in our deepest hearts. I am wondering if we are wandering half-blind into an era of challenge, sacrifice, courage and hope. I am wondering if we are waking up to a painfully disappointing reality from a dream of America that we thought was real, and if we have the wherewithal to turn that dream into the reality that we sorely long for.

Is Donald Trump’s election the apotheosis of a tyranny over the American people by the uber-wealthy that has functionally destroyed our democracy and replaced it wth a corporate state? Is a corporate state in essence much different than a communist state relative to effect it has on the everyday lives of ordinary people? Are the actions of selfish commissars much different than the actions of greedy oligarchs on a day-to-day basis in the everyday lives  of ordinary people?

Obama hasn’t intervened to protect the protesters of the Dakota pipeline project from corporate and state violence. Why? Forget the overriding environmental issue for a moment — why is Obama allowing those people to be physically injured? Isn’t the Dakota situation the similar to what Southern state authorities did to Civil Rights protesters in the 1960s? Didn’t the federal government ultimately respond to that injustice and abuse? Why doesn’t it have a similar response now? What does that fact indicate in relation to the overall evolution of the relationship between our government and our people over the last 50 years? Obama told the people of Flint to drink their still impure water. He said categorically that none of the state officials responsible for that disaster should even be investigated for misconduct. What does it mean when even a leader such as Obama, who is viewed by many people as being very sympathetic to people’s concerns, is irresponsive to such basic needs of the people such as our health and safety?

Is the incoming Trump Administration representative of the same old conflict of interest of the same old cabal of of militarists, financiers and industrialists that Eisenhower warned about as far back as 1960, just packaged in a more crude and brazen way?

Is that same incoming Trump Administration an opportunity, for those of us who want to live in a democracy that collectively works for the well-being of its citizens, to really transform our nation into a democracy by virtue of the fact that it is so unapologetically fascistic, corporatist, pro-oligarch and militarist? Does the informed dissatisfaction of so many Americans provide an opportunity for organized resistance against actions of our governmental, and other moneyed, interests of our national establishment in the nature of the actions of Solidarity in Poland, the Velvet Revolution in (then-named) Czechoslovakia and the activists resisting the Dakota pipeline in America today?

Could our resistance to the current oppression be asserted on more than an issue-by-issue basis? Could we get money out of our politics, achieve social and economic justice for all, protect all Americans’ rights to decent health care, housing and a good education through the actions of one unified movement that speaks to the essential nature of our system?

Are enough Americans aware of the severity of our crisis? Are they willing to make the sacrifices necessary? What will those sacrifices be exactly?

Now-Trumpian Corporate State Oligarch America may be crowing right now with moves like considering Exxon/Mobil CEOs for Secretary of State, but I sense that it is teetering like Communist Soviet Union was at the moment right before Gorbachev started dismantling the Warsaw Pact oppression of Eastern Europe and that whole rotten system fell. There is too much dissatisfaction in America now. The American system isn’t working and it is not sustainable. No system can survive long term without the cooperation of its people.

Some might point to the votes Trump received and say that there is sufficient support to maintain the status quo. But there were hard-liners who supported the most rigid form of Communism before it fell. They held positions of power or supported the people in those positions. But those fragments of popular support could not withstand the tide of history. Once the desire for freedom of masses of people becomes voiced and organized it is impossible to stop.

Who will the leaders be of the coming American revolution? Will they be political figures like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? If our revolution follows the example of the fall of Communism, our leaders will probably come from outside of the arenas of politics and business. Decent men and women in the government and in business will facilitate many changes but the leadership most probably will come from ordinary people and cultural leaders. Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel were prominent leaders of the movement that ended Communism — a cleric, a worker in a shipyard, and a playwright. I think we have to start looking in different directions now for the future of our nation — not to who has been running things in the soon-to-be-past present.

In adversity lies opportunity?

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I have always favored confronting Trump supporters as opposed to dialogue with them. They separated from democratic discourse and have usurped our decision of self-determination. This is a contest for power, not a debate. It’s a kind of invasion.

From December 4, 2016:

Michael Moore wants you to sit down and reason with the Trump voters you know. They have been misinformed with fake news, he says. They have suffered economic injustices.

Bullshit. What misled them about Trump — the boasts of enjoying handfuls of pussy at will, or the beatings that he encouraged at his rallies? Was it his threat to lock up his opponent? His insults of the disabled? Or any of many, many examples of cruelty and ignorance perpetrated by Trump and his campaign that were reported in great detail in a ubiquitous media and cataloged and presented by the Clinton campaign?

A dog could see that Trump is a bad guy. A dog would whimper, growl or bark at him depending on its natural status in the pack. They would not run up to him to be petted or obey his commands.

If you want to have a gentle discussion with Trump voters, then I am sure that your ex-spouse took you to the cleaners in your marital dissolution agreement. I know that your car has never broken down in a rural town and been serviced by some usurer named Carl. I know you said thank you after the last time that you were mugged.

Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said this weekend that Trump voters chose Trump to further their own self-interest in spite of being insulted by what he said and did. Translate that as saying that Conway worked for Trump out of her own careerist self-interest despite the fact that she knew that he was a racist, Nazi and a thief. All Trump supporters voted for him selfishly in spite of what they know that he is.

A Trump supporter stood up in a plane this week and told his fellow passengers — HE’S ALL OF YOUR’UNS PRESIDENT NOW AND YOU HAVE TO LIVE WITH HIM FOR  FOUR YEARS! What he meant was, of course — We all had to live with your n—-r President now you can live with a Nazi! This Trump voter had revenge on those of us who made a political choice in 2008 and 2012 that didn’t consider our candidates’s skin color. This guy hates us for doing that. He thinks that we think that we are better than him because we don’t make every decision in our lives from a starting point of resentment and hatred.

Let’s reason with the racist? Maybe Schindler should have had a heart-to-heart with the Nazis loading Jews on trains to death camps instead of figuring out ways to oppose and thwart their ambitions?

There is such a thing as evil in the world. Ordinary people succumb to it. It is not always Hitler, the Republican Party or Fox News. Those big people and things manipulate the evil in small men’s hearts. Evil has to be named and opposed.

Trump resisters — trust your own physical revulsion at the site of Trump. It is not a function of your political bias. It is a disgust more primitive and true than reason. Have you ever felt sick to your stomach and imagined what it would be like to barf on someone that you don’t like? OK, you’re a much nicer person than I am. If you ever had that feeling of projectile vomiting upon an enemy, you understand the motivation of the Trump voter. We all are capable of the lousiness of the Trump voter. That’s the most that I can give to them. Evil is something human. It may infest you today and me tomorrow. It has infested many Americans in a big way right now. You can’t reason with Trump voters. You can’t win them over with hugs and soft voices.

You need to be tough and stand up to them.

They did not vote to accomplish a vision of the country that you disagree with. They weren’t trying to get better lives. They voted to burn the place down — to fuck you over. They don’t care if their actions hurt them too. They’ve given up anyway.

Don’t sing Kumbaya with Trump voters. Don’t engage in “democratic” argument and conversation. They did a bad thing. They hurt you. On purpose. For stupid reasons. Out of jealousy. Again — they don’t want to better their lives. They want to damage yours.

Trump voters did a bad thing. And they know it. They are to be resisted, shamed and opposed. They believe in fake news because it flatters them. It plays to all of their worst impulses. They welcome the rush of abusing someone else — the sensation. They get off on it. It is thrilling to violently debase other people. That’s why criminals do it.

If you think this a too rough a view of human nature, I can only say — stop being a child. We have ethics and moral codes and laws precisely because there is something inside of everyone of us that can draw us to Trump. It’s the reason we found him funny in the beginning when we thought he was just an insult comic running for President who would never win. We watch movies with all sorts of violence so that we don’t participate in the violence in our real lives. (This is the pornographic appeal of “reality” television.) We choose to be good out of love for others and because we know that ultimately being good is in our own enlightened self-interest.

But many people live on an animal level and don’t evolve to a point of moral self-restraint. Those people with the hearts of beasts still know that what they are doing is wrong. I have said before that a decent person would not have voted for Trump. Let me say now that neither would a decent dog.

Many Trump voters have gotten a raw deal in an unfair economy, but many people from the same places that they are from took initiative, worked hard and did well even with the unjust economic impediments. And the Trump voters hate those people and want them to fail as they have.

Many Trump voters have money. They are simply racists and sexists and other forms of Fascist bullies. Period. They get off on feeling superior. They can’t succeed unless you fail. Those people voted for your failure. You want to go over and kiss them on the lips?

I know it is really disheartening to realize that millions of Americans are bad people, and it is really disheartening to realize that the bully that beats you up every Tuesday after gym class is not your friend.

Get over it. Don’t be a simp and stand up to these people. If you love them as much as you say that you do, that’s what you will do. Evil is negation. They are committing a suicide that excites them and they want to take you down too.

Stand up to Trump voters every time that you encounter them.

Or lose everything.

Copyright Richard Thomas 2016

At this point the blog is sometimes used to market my stage show. I had to get that out of my system. The writing is all that matters.

Trump is an American type —- actually several American types.

From December 6, 2016:

Donald Trump is a many-splendored authoritarian. He has a multitude of ways of being. He’s a one-man basket of deplorables. Our road ahead with Trump will be full of mostly negative surprises, but will also be consistent with the varied and contradictory archetypes that comprise Trump’s dark and confused essence. Consistent inconsistency is the impure nature of all of our gray souls — you can imagine what we are dealing with here, with this guy. The strange born-to-be-atypical Trump personifies a lot of uncomfortable American realities that we live with every day and sometimes love (to our detriment?). We better take a look.

Get to know your Trumps:

DITKA TRUMP

mike-ditka_4ri4hgeekn9t1fvx08wfltfg1

Mike Ditka was a pop culture icon in the 1980s who had major success in the Super Bowl and then went on a long losing streak. Ditka re-invented himself as a product pitch man lending his famous name to many businesses purely as a marketing trademark and with no involvement in the management of the companies. Sound familiar? Enjoy a Trump Steak.

One of the most consequential moments of 2016 occurred when Chris Christie was removed as head of Trump’s transition team and was replaced by Mike Pence. The majority shareholder of President Trump, Inc., real-life billionaire Robert Mercer, Trump’s silent partner and putative boss, told his chief operating officer Steve Bannon to tell Trump to remove the relatively moderate Christie and replace him with right wing Libertarian Pence in order to serve Paul Ryan’s  (and Robert Mercer’s) Ayn Rand agenda in Congress. Naturally, Trump complied without question or argument. He was just doing his job. Trump works in marketing, not management. He knows his place. It is more important to look powerful than be powerful, darling.

TRIUMPH THE INSULT COMIC DOG TRUMP

hulu-triumph-election-special-2016

Trump can be very funny. Low energy Jeb…Little Marco…Lyin’ Ted: He holds the Bible high and then he lies! I have to give the devil his due. He has made me laugh. Good comedians are often angry assholes that channel their twisted natures usually into the service of good. They transform resentment and anger into humor — a very healing and positive thing. (I know this from personal experience. I also know the experience of doing bad comedy — but that’s a story for another time.) If only Trump had stayed exclusively in this funny lane. Sigh. We’d all be a lot better off.

BRODERICK CRAWFORD AS GOVERNOR WILLIE STARK IN 1949 BEST PICTURE ALL THE KING’S MEN TRUMP

all-the-kings-men-1949

Broderick Crawford won the Oscar for the lead role in All the King’s Men, which was based on Robert Penn Warren’s famous novel about the life of the demagogue governor of Louisiana in the 1930s, Huey Long. Long gained power by stirring up populist anger against corrupt and unjust economic interests. Long used strong armed tactics to gain and keep power. But I think Trump resembles the actor who portrayed the character inspired by Long even more than he resembles Long.

Trump and 1949 Broderick Crawford are both tall and heavy. They each have a seemingly immovable rootedness when speaking from a stage. They speak with the authority of an older man who is in charge. 1949 Crawford is one of the most limited actors ever to win an Oscar. He is very well cast in All the King’s Men. He doesn’t use a lot of facial expressions in his performances. He rarely smiles. Crawford’s emotional specialties are gruffness, anger and impatience. 1949 Crawford knows how to capitalize one moment of great notoriety into a sustainable career. Finally, 1949 Crawford play acts the role of dictator. In all of these ways Trump resembles Broderick Crawford circa 1949.

BENNY HILL (WITH A BIG ADDED SPLASH OF MALICIOUS INTENT) TRUMP

benny-hill

Anyone care to share a handful of pussy with a ridiculous fat, old goat hungry for sexual pleasure — AND in Trump’s case: dominance, power and perverted narcissistic prestige?

EVIL QUEEN FROM SNOW WHITE TRUMPhttps://www.youtube.com/embed/mqmIMvWnIV8?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

Envy made the Evil Queen from Snow White evil. The Evil Queen found out that Snow White was prettier and then the trouble started. Trump is popular in rural areas because he is a fellow resentful hick from the unlikely backwater of Queens. He wanted to make it big with the glitterati of Manhattan and instead wound up selling bottled water, steaks, and TV shows that no one who has read a book in the last twenty years would bother watching. He always wanted acceptance from high society but they have always seen him as a rube and a crude boor. He is a poor uneducated person’s idea of a rich person. High class wealthy people laugh at him. Large donors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art have no respect for self-aggrandizing commissioned oil-on-velvet portraits of large men with ridiculously combed and dyed hair who sell dubious vitamin supplements for a living, that are displayed in gold-plated frames even more ostentatious than the paintings. Trump’s envy of, and simultaneous craving for the affection and recognition of, the highly cultured, educated and sophisticated business leaders and philanthropists of old money was preparation for his destructive envy of President Obama  — who is an aristocrat by virtue of his intelligence, talent and bearing. Trump knows it is too late in his day for him to ever cultivate Obama’s first-class mind and temperament — which are greatly admired by the same people who will never think much of Trump.

Envy is the dark side of inspiration. When someone is inspired by someone else they try to emulate the admired person in all that they do. When someone envies another person they try to destroy that person and frustrate all of that person’s actions. Envious people aren’t concerned about collateral damage. Trump’s destruction of Obama’s legacy won’t be good for the rest of us either. It’s not advisable to take any red apples from Donald Trump.

AMERICA FIRST LEADER CHARLES LINDBERGH TRUMP

charles-lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh has always baffled me. He was born into relative privilege (but not as much as Trump, the son of  billionaire, Fred Trump). Lindbergh’s father was a lawyer and served as a congressman from Minnesota.Charles Lindbergh had, of course, brilliant success in the field of aviation — success much greater than Trump’s or just about anybody’s. Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in 1927 was historic — a transformative moment in human history. Only a very few people have experienced anything like the worldwide fame of Charles Lindbergh.

Okay, Lindbergh and Trump both have had varying degrees of privilege and success. But you may ask just what is so similar about them? Not a lot on the face of things. I just wonder — why are they both American Nazis? Why did Trump choose to use Lindbergh’s nationalist slogan America First?

Trump’s father Fred was arrested at a Klan rally when he was a kid. That’s a Nazi-leaning influence. Was Lindbergh’s father some World War I era version of a closet authoritarian fascist?  Lindbergh’s father opposed American involvement in World War I. That stance ended his political career. Many Americans from the Mid-West with Northern European backgrounds sympathized with Germany during both world wars in the 20th Century. Is that Lindbergh’s influence? Is it an influence of Trump’s, who came from a Northeastern German-American family?

When Lindbergh visited Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s he was very impressed at the Nazi commitment to the preservation of the natural environment. Nazi Germany was the first government to employ a large scale environmental sustainability policy. Was that it? As late as 1970, Lindbergh was saying — quietly — that American involvement in World War II was a mistake. He believed that the U.S. would have been better off with the lesser threats of a dominant Germany and Japan than with our post-war adversaries, the Soviet Union and Red China. Lindbergh formed views early and stuck with them. I suspect the same is true of Trump. Geopolitical thinking seemed to easily to Lindbergh. He may have been nearsighted when envisioning the effects of his grand blueprints on the people who would be impacted by them. This seems to apply to Trump as well when you look at the chaos surrounding the shells of his failed golf courses and hotels in Scotland and Atlantic City. Nazism has a potential pull on big-picture guys.

Whatever moved Lindbergh to support Nazism, he was clearly sincere in doing so. I think that is also true for Trump. Some try to dismiss Trump as simply a con man with no personal ideology. Trump is a con man but he also is a perverted Nazi idealist. I think he honestly believes that a strong man — Trump himself — who personifies the power of an entire nation is the only person who can Make America Great Again. I know this point contradicts what I said about Ditka Trump. But Trump is a mass of contradictions like any other human being. Trump’s mind can illogically maintain paradoxical ideas about himself and the world. Trump can comfortably be a corporate pitch man who outsources all of his decision-making power to people who are nominally subordinate to him AND be the Messiah who is the Heart and Soul that leads the nation. How does he do it? Is he crazy?

Both Trump and America First Era Lindbergh are high flyers, if you’ll pardon the pun. They both are rich. They both are big celebrities. Is their Nazism symptomatic of their great wealth and acclaim morphing into diagnosable mental illnesses?

Usually people who are creative and productive don’t negate other people and other people’s creativity. They aren’t mean. They’re too busy to be mean. Or so I thought. Now I reconsider. Walt Disney had fascist sympathies. So did Henry Ford. Would all rich, famous and powerful people be like Hitler if they had the chance? Are the limits of peoples wealth the limits of their disconnection from reality? Is that the logical conclusion after amassing great, power, fame — and wealth? Is there something about the sky-high perspective that captivated and eventually plagued Trump and Lindbergh— from the Spirit of St. Louis to Trump’s ominous personal airliner with his named painted along its sides — TRUMP — to Air Force One — coming soon! Yikes! — that makes individual people seem too small to see and only the largest of objects seem important? If Trump and Lindbergh flew over Auschwitz would they admire the architecture and engineering as smoke wafted skyward from the complex’s chimneys?

Is Nazism as American as it is German?

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

From December 7, 2016:

Donald Trump joins the illustrious list of Time Persons of the Year including:

1927: Charles Lindbergh, Nazi sympathizer

1936: Wallis Simpson, Nazi sympathizer

1938: Adolf Hitler, the Babe Ruth of evil

1939: Joseph Stalin, joined Hitler in a real Murderer’s Row

1969: The Middle Americans: also known as The Silent Majority, morally challenged white people who gave us unethical, criminal leaders Trump and Nixon

1971: Richard Nixon, un-indicted felon forced out of U.S. Presidency

1972: Richard Nixon, double jeopardy?

1973: Henry Kissinger, war criminal

1979: the Ayatollah Khomeni, theocratic religious fanatic, the Mike Pence of his day

1995: Newt Gingrich, noted gasbag and serial adulterer

1998: Ken Starr, revolutionized abuse of prosecutorial discretion

2001: Rudolph Giuliani, demented spokesperson

2007: Vladimir Putin: Trump role model

Congratulations, Mr. Trump. No one ever deserved to be in this company more than you do.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

Trump peculiar form of Presidential power is as the propaganda minister for corrupt, wealthy and corporate patrons.

This piece has a chatty tone that I don’t care for, which I think results from the adverse influence of my mistaken idea that I was writing for the stage. My good writing will have to periodically fight through that error for a stretch.

From December 8, 2017:

Trump is not in charge of Trump, Inc. the cabal of militarists and corporatists who seized control of our government through a cunning manipulation of the immorality and ignorance of too many of the American people. Trump functions as Trump Inc.’s brand name and brand ambassador. The media should spend less time reporting on Trump’s manufactured Twitter storm controversies which are intended to manipulate and distract and more time reporting on what Trump, Inc. is doing behind the reality show smoke screen and who the decision makers in Trump, Inc. actually are.

That being said, Trump’s position as propaganda minister is an incredibly powerful one. My wife Paula — who is an executive leader in the field of education and has a tremendous amount of practical experience in how organizations, communities and societies work — and how individuals manage power relationships within those groups — identified one of Trump’s most used tactics.

Paula observed that Trump likes to single out one individual and go after him or her. He creates a seemingly petty gossip column drama which makes his critic ineffective and represses other people’s voiced opposition. He creates isolation for his critic and fear for anyone who sympathizes with that critic. Paula said that the way to effectively oppose Trump is to not allow a singular opponent of Trump to stand alone. She said that the lonely voice against Trump shouldn’t be in the position of being cut off from the support of others for long.

Paula suggested that Trump’s Twitter attack of Chuck Jones the President of United Steelworkers Local 1999 (USW 1999) which serves the workers of the famous Carrier plant in Indianapolis had to be answered not by Jones alone, but by the entirety of the union. That is exactly what the national USW is doing. I would add that we all have an obligation as citizens to stand up and defend USW 1999, the national USW and any person or group that we know is being singled out and bullied because of their resistance to Trump, Inc.

The struggle in Indianapolis is not about one union local in one factory. It is not only about labor issues and working people. We should not react in a liberal do-gooder way of helping others who need us. In another time that attitude would be nice, but things are more urgent than that in this moment. The Carrier controversy impacts every one of us. It is an attack on our freedom and dignity.

Allow me to re-cap the narrative of this early non-violent (on our side) battle of the People of the United States v. Trump, Inc.

Trump swept into Indianapolis and claimed to a gathering of grateful workers at the Carrier plant that he negotiated a deal that prevented Carrier from sending 1100 jobs to Mexico.

Jones didn’t like the whole of Trump’s deal with Carrier. He said it fell short of Trump’s campaign promise to save 1400 jobs. Jones said Trump saved only 800 jobs. He said Carrier and Trump inflated the saved jobs number to 1100 by including 300 engineering and administrative jobs that were in no danger of going to Mexico. Jones said that Trump should also help 350 workers at Rexnord, another Indianapolis company which is sending its jobs to Mexico that USW 1999 represents.

Trump might have publicly ignored Jones’ criticism if Jones had stopped there. Propagandists don’t worry about the details of concrete reality. The passive masses don’t like to get into the weeds. But then Jones got to the existential point that makes the Carrier case part and emblematic of our emerging struggle as a nation to abate the real human suffering that will result from the now and pending onslaught of persistent and systematic fascist dissemination of misinformation related to matters touching most every aspect of daily lives. And our necessary struggle to stop that misinformation. Dictatorships create false realities. The lies function as phony but effective defenses to the tyrants’ crimes.

“He’s lying his ass off,” Jones said about Trump’s claim of saving 1,100 jobs. “That’s not just my feeling. The numbers prove he’s lying his ass off. It’s a damn shame when you come in and make a false statements like that.”

“We have a lot of our members, when word was coming out… they thought they would have a job. Then they found out Friday, that most likely they weren’t,” he said.

“I think he (Trump) ought to make sure he gets all the facts straight before he starts talking about what he’s done.”

“I’m extremely grateful for what he did. There’s 800 people who have jobs… It’s not all one sided. I just wished it had been handled in more of a professional matter.”

Jones criticized Trump on behalf of 300 people — not even half of his local union membership (he gave Trump some credit too)— in a country of over 300 million. But he was really speaking for us all. And we have to have his back.

Of course, the pain of the workers who were cruelly promised the retention of jobs that they will never see again is tremendously important. But those hundreds of people are only the first of tens or even hundreds of millions who will suffer from a wide variety of Trump Inc. baits and switches, just in the United States alone.

Trump thinks no one is allowed to call Trump a liar. The First Amendment thinks differently.

Jones actually gave a mixed review of Trump’s deal with Carrier. But that’s not good enough for Trump. I don’t know if I would be as generous as Jones is towards Trump’s negotiation. What assurances do the workers have that the deal is not just a temporary postponement? Will their wages be affected in the name of competing with Mexican wages? What incentives did the state of Indiana give Carrier? What are the taxpayers getting for their money? Will companies be able to threaten sending jobs to foreign countries to extort concessions out of workers, unions and state governments?

What stinks to me about the Carrier deal is that the union didn’t have a say in approving the final deal, and when Chuck Jones even ventured to offer a nuanced opinion that agreed with Trump, Inc. and Carrier in part, Trump resorted to violence. Is this how we are going to have to live in America? With our life decisions being handled by our “betters” — better being defined as the people with the most money and the biggest guns. We have to resist these strong arm tactics every time any one of us — like Chuck Jones — gets targeted by Trump.

How was Trump violent? He attacked ordinary person Chuck Jones and Jones has endured death threats and other other abuse from rabid Trump followers. This is the same dynamic that has led to so many hate crimes in the country and bullying in our schools. All the aggression is incited by Trump’s ugly rallies and vile tweets.

“I’m getting threats and everything else from some of his supporters,” Jones said. “I’m getting them all day long — now they’re kicked up a notch.”

Trump assaulted Jones with this tweet:

Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!

Translation for us all: Big brother will handle everything and you better like it! When left to your own devices you screw everything up. Fuck democracy.

Trump later assaulted Jones with this tweet:

If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues

Translation for us all: Trump, Inc. is in charge. We know best. Shut up and get to work doing what we tell you to do. We control your lives

That’s the fascist experience in a nutshell. You do what the boss tells you to do and praise him and you don’t have any problems — or any soul. You assert your equality and your desire to have a say in your own destiny and you get humiliated, beaten or worse. A lot of people have lived the fascist experience as boss and/or peon in America long before the rise of Trump, Inc. Trump, Inc. wants that miserable existence to supplant our Constitution. They are pulling our whole American experience down to the level of what you experienced working the worst job that you ever had. I just heard on TV that Trump Inc. is leaning toward naming a fast food executive, Andrew Puzder — the CEO of the company that owns Hardee’s and Carl, Jr.’s — as Secretary of Labor. You don’t need a crystal ball to see that Trump, Inc. is planning an assault on everyone’s wages. It is time for people with six-figure incomes to care about the meager and unfair pay that the person at the counter at McDonald’s takes home.

The national United Steelworkers’ Union stood by Chuck Jones as we should stand by the United Steelworkers’ Union.

Here is the national USW’s replies to Trump’s tweets:

Chuck is a hero not a scapegoat: you, others know about Carrier because of his, members’ tireless work since day 1 to save ALL jobs there.

Dues have helped us file 45+ cases against bad trade; saving jobs in tire, paper, steel, etc. We walk the walk. #imwithchuck #wearewithchuckhttps://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/806678853305384960 …

Now it’s our turn. We must stand against Trump, Inc., and with Chuck Jones and  the United Steelworkers and any of our brothers and sisters for their right to have their own view of what is desirable and just in their lives, their own say and their own seat at the table. Their rights, desires, fair treatment and participation in the direction of their own lives is our own.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog was prescient in this period. This piece preached resistance shortly before that word gained new meaning.

From December 11, 2016:

The incoming Trump administration, Trump supporters and the past Trump campaign is a culmination of the decline of American culture and government over the last 35-40 years. Normally a black-or-white reading of any situation is wrong-headed. Real understanding usually requires an eye for nuance and honorable agendas in conflict with one another. You usually can choose sides and maintain respect for those you disagree with.

Not at the moment. All things Trump and related to Trump are evil.

  • Trump is not truly in charge of his administration. He is a face-man marketing rep who lied to his followers in order to hand over our government to the people who own him. Trump’s presidency is the absurd low point of pay-to-play politics — a cynical abrogation of democracy and a complete elevation of the corporate state. Evil. His election victory is legal but it is not legitimate. CRITICIZE TRUMP EVERYWHERE. WITH YOUR FAMILY. AT WORK. ON LINE. ON STAGES. IN COFFEE SHOPS. YOU HAVE NEVER HAD A CHANCE LIKE THIS TO FEEL MORAL OUTRAGE AND EXPRESS IT EVERYWHERE. DO SO.
  • The people who voted for Trump knew that they were voting for evil. I will repeat what I have written before. A dog would know Trump was a bad person. Trump encouraged beatings at his rallies. This would be enough for any decent person to not vote for him. Trump is a bigot. Anyone who voted for him is a bigot too. His words about women, Mexicans, Muslims and others were disgusting. The people who voted for Trump wanted to hurt other people. DON’T REASON WITH TRUMP VOTERS. DON’T SPEND TIME CRITICIZING CLINTON. DON’T SPEND TIME UNDERSTANDING TRUMP VOTERS’ PROBLEMS OR FRUSTRATIONS. TELL THEM THEY DID SOMETHING VERY WRONG. TELL THEM THEY DID SOMETHING TO HURT YOU AND PEOPLE THAT YOU CARE ABOUT. DON’T HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH THEM. TELL THEM OFF. REFUSE TO PUT UP WITH THEIR ATTITUDE. THEY’RE WRONG. PERIOD.
  • Refuse to cooperate with anything that the Trump administration does. Don’t follow the lead of Democratic legislators who have a different job than you do. They will compromise to accomplish some crumbs of tangible benefit to ordinary people. Bernie Sanders said that the real opposition to Trump will happen at the grassroots. That’s us.
  • WHEN THEY COME AFTER OUR MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY, THE MINIMUM WAGE, AND OTHER RIGHTS OF WORKERS, WE SHOULD HAVE A GENERAL STRIKE. SHUT DOWN THE WHOLE ECONOMY.
  •  WHEN THEY START ILLEGITIMATE WARS OF AGGRESSION FOR CORPORATE PROFITS, ENLISTED SERVICE PERSONS SHOULD REFUSE TO DEPLOY. CITIZENS SHOULD REFUSE TO PAY THEIR TAXES.
  • When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who married into Amway money, attempts to destroy public schools we should withdraw all of our children from schools and refuse to send them back until our schools are properly funded.
  • When President Trump continues to make unconstitutional pronouncements and receive gifts from foreign governments and individuals in clear defiance of the Constitution we should refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of his Presidency.

Every Cabinet appointment points to another assault on our rights, freedoms and well-being. Trump and the people behind and around him are filth. We should not cooperate with these evil people who hate us and delight in our suffering.

Bold free speech is key. In so speaking we refuse to participate in the murderous lies against us.

What is most important is saying no. Rosa Parks was told to sit in the back of the bus and she said no. It was an immoral request. And so began the liberation of a people.

We must say no collectively. They can’t send all of us to jail. Or kill us, which they surely dream of accomplishing. Millions of people are fed up. All together now — NO!

NO — to persuasion.

NO — to cooperation.

What these punks are doing is not right. If we cooperate with them we are their accomplices. In this case, collective moral action is in our collective and individual self-interest.

NO! WE DIDN’T PLAN TO LIVE WITH THIS TRASH VALUE SYSTEM!

NO! THESE PEOPLE AREN’T GOING TO RUIN OUR LIVES!

NO! IT’S THE ONLY ANSWER.

The Congressional Republicans said no in order to block President Obama for their own selfish political and economic interests. Rosa Parks said no because it was the right and dignified thing to do. This is the time for a Rosa Parks NO.

NO!

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The writing here is pretty good, but suffers because I was a college professor when I wrote it. I hadn’t yet figured out that the best writing should not be inflected by any social role. The best writing is personal. There is a hint of marketing in this tone. I wrote with a vague hope that my writing would find its place in academia. At other times I wrote as if the writing would find its place in show business. The fact is that the writing belongs simply in its own place.

All of that being said, the content here is good.

From 12/12/16:

Donald Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace this weekend that he was a smart guy, and that he didn’t need to listen to boring intelligence briefings. I am an improviser and lawyer who is currently a clinical professor in a business school. I have been shocked at how many alumni that I have met there that don’t believe that it is necessary to fully investigate facts and research high-level thought when making decisions. What follows is a gross generalization — there are many intellectually honest business people around, especially those that work in businesses where intellectual honesty is part of the service they provide (like health care or journalism or law) — but in my experience, most business people want to act on the world in order to bring their personal visions to life. They are about executing their abstract ideas and creating concrete reality. They are not about being stewards of that reality so that it serves all stakeholders to it.

Creativity and innovation are also high values in government — but they are not the only values. Governing is not only about pushing to get one’s way. A President, or any governmental leader has to also listen to the multi-faceted world and respond to it. Governing is not ultimately about “winning” as business is. Governing is about making things work for the good of all, if not always in the personal interests of all.

Governing has a broader perspective than business. It is not about advancing self-interest. It is about caring for whole communities, a society, even a world. It is a matter of balancing out competing interests in a fair and equitable way that serves the whole.

Lawyers (for example: John and John Quincy Adams, Lincoln, FDR), intellectuals (Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson), writers (Jefferson, Grant, Carter, Obama) and generals (Washington, Eisenhower) have traditionally been the professionals most suited for the demands of high political office.

The Businessmen

Truman owned a failed haberdashery and failed at farming, but his main preparation for the Presidency was service in public office. Grant had many failed businesses — but his main preparation was in the military and as a writer. Carter had a peanut farm — several Presidents have been farmers or plantation owners at one point of their lives or another, but business related to agriculture was not the primary focus of their life’s work. Carter was also, and more significantly, a nuclear engineer and a writer. Many Presidents have had some business experience, but as far as I can tell only four prior to Trump had their primary professional experience in the field of business — the two Bushes, Warren G. Harding  and Herbert Hoover.

George H. W. Bush was an oil executive. He also had extensive public service experience before he became President, including being Vice-President, of course, but his personality and essence always seemed to be more that of a businessman than a politician. He knew the hourly fluctuations of the price of a barrel of oil, but he didn’t know the cost of a gallon of milk. He was out of touch with the concerns of the American people, and lost his bid for re-election.

George W. Bush was an oil executive and part-owner of the Texas Rangers. He had very clear “action plans” for privatizing Social Security and Medicare (they failed thank God) and re-shaping the Middle East to be more compatible with the interests of Western energy companies. He focused exclusively on his own imagined goals and didn’t pay necessary attention to the big picture. Bush ignored warnings of a hurricane that destroyed a major American city. He ignored a meltdown in the housing market that caused a depression. He made several blunders in his attempts to mold the Middle East into his unrealistic pro-Big Oil democratic Utopia. Those blunders cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives.

Ironically, businessman Presidents have presided over two depressions. It is debatable whether or not Herbert Hoover was responsible for the Great Depression, but he sure as hell didn’t know how to respond to it once it got rolling. Hoover believed in voluntary giving — charity — to address the suffering of the displaced and unemployed masses. That suffering was a problem too big to be solved with voluntary action. He ran a philanthropic operation that did a lot to curb hunger in Europe after World War I. He thought he was facing a similar crisis. But the Stock Market Crash of 1929 represented a systemic failure that couldn’t be reversed by mere charitable giving. Hoover initiated needed large scale government action late in his presidency. Far too late to save his legacy.

Warren G. Harding was a newspaper publisher. Business people often get into business for the money in order to enjoy their own personal, enjoyable and comfortable quality of life. Business people don’t grow up with a desire to lead a life of service.  They want to be rich. A vocational call to service inspires many lawyers, intellectuals, writers, scientists and generals to choose their respective fields. Not so with business. Harding liked a good time. He was in his fifties when he got elected and felt that he had earned a few laughs. He saw the Presidency as a reward and as an opportunity to party. He gave a lot of his attention to playing poker with his cronies and getting laid. His rudderless administration was rife with scandal and a failure for the American people.

Lawyers, writers, intellectuals, scientists and generals are trained to study and understand reality. Business people are trained to make their dreams become real. Business people who achieve their dreams come up with most of the money that pays everything else. It is understandable that business people don’t want to pay taxes, and do want political power in order to control everything.

But lawyers, writers, intellectuals, scientists and generals are more skilled at running things that are bigger than self-interested business. Their vocations are higher callings and more intellectually demanding than business. They are more suited to the highest positions of power serving the broadest scope of clients and responsibilities — like the U.S. Presidency. The business people should just pay their taxes and leave leadership in the hands of people who know what they are doing.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The original impetus of The Rick Blog was my desire to honor and integrate all the different, and seemingly contradictory or at least incongruous, aspects of my personality, character and most specifically my professional experience.

The poet, the comedian, the professor and so on … and the lawyer.

The lawyer appears most infrequently. The law in my life feels like a product of nurture more than nature, a circumstance of outer influence unrelated to any yearning of my soul. I may not naturally be a lawyer, but I am a lawyer nonetheless.

The next piece is a memoir of my legal practice applied to my role as a citizen and my vocation as a writer.

My writing provides many benefits to me and others. All of those benefits begin with the process of conscious self-integration.

Atoms form molecular compounds, and something new is created on the foundation of what is elemental, yet more than the sum of its parts.

From December 14, 2016:

Rule 1.7 of  the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys states that a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if (among other reasons) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by a personal interest of the lawyer.

Rule 1.8 of the Rules elaborates on the nature of such personal material interests. A lawyer may not knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client unless the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client.

The most powerful people in America are not constrained by such rules.

Secretary of State-Designate Rex Tillerson, current CEO of ExxonMobil was endorsed by Condoleeza Rice, Stephen Hadley and Robert Gates — former Secretaries of State and Defense, and a former National Security Adviser. Oh yeah, the three also run a geopolitical consulting company, Rice Hadley Gates LLC, which works for big corporations and advises their very top execs. ExxonMobil is a big client of Rice Hadley Gates LLC. Rice, Hadley and Gates consult with Tillerson  personally. Yet when Rice, Hadley and Gates made their endorsements of Tillerson they made no attempt to inform the American people in a way that they could reasonably understand that they personally profited from a relationship with Tillerson; and that their work for ExxonMobil necessarily put the interest of that corporation before the interests of all Americans. They simply represented themselves as former public servants knowledgable in the work of the State Department and the American foreign policy establishment. That representation was dishonest. The lawyer for your speeding ticket is expected to do better.

Rice, Hadley and Gates were not legally required to, and didn’t, follow the same ethical standard that an Illinois traffic (or any other type of) attorney would have to follow by force of law. By not letting Americans know that they offered their endorsement with a distinct personal bias related to their own material interests (big bucks from ExxonMobil), and speaking with the phony implied purity of former high level public servants, Rice, Hadley and Gates lied to the American people in order to cover up extreme unethical conflicts of interest.

Similarly, former Secretary of State James Baker’s endorsement of Tillerson can be placed in the same unethical, immoral and dishonest category. ExxonMobil is a major client of Baker’s law firm Baker Botts LLP. Baker has made no attempt to clearly disclose the possibility of his personal material bias — legal fees! — influencing his endorsement.

This really stinks and it is nothing new. Liars masquerade under the veneer of a manipulated image of supposedly distinguished public service and dupe the American people to feather their own nests. No law stops them. Certainly, their own consciences don’t deter them either.

Is anything related to our government not a conflict of interest? The whole government is a scam and the scam didn’t start with Trump. Don’t tell me about legitimacy. The whole deal is a fraud.

Our most respected leaders are, in the reality beyond public relations imagery, con artists. They obfuscate and lie to seize control of our government and then use it to accomplish aims that may or may not serve us, but assuredly will always serve them.

Had enough?

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The work of integration continues …

From December 16, 2016

I’m an improvisational actor, a college professor, a lawyer and a writer. All of these jobs require to a certain degree the primary talent associated with each of the other jobs. All of the jobs are small “d” democratic jobs. The primary attribute of each is humanity. There are no special skills granted to a small number of gifted people involved — as is the case with NBA basketball stars or professional opera singers, for example — in the performance of any of these jobs. These jobs are all broadly in a field called The Humanities for a reason.

I will now mention another job that I have and one that I share with you — citizen. This currently is the most demanding job of all. It requires that we all be actors, teachers, lawyers and writers. We have a big fight ahead of us.

A friend of mine recently wrote apologetically a Facebook post encouraging people to sign a petition. He said that it would only take ten seconds to do — a strong act of citizenship for anyone “who was too busy or too lazy to do more”. You don’t become an accomplished actor, teacher, lawyer, writer or citizen by being too busy or lazy to do the required work. A little help is no help at all.

Paula and I saw Hamilton in Chicago last Wednesday (12/14/16). I can’t remember seeing anything that lived up to and even exceeded its hype like that show did. The creators of Hamilton researched and analyzed history like college professors, related their findings through the crucible of their personal experience like writers, understood the various and contrary motivations and arguments of every character in the piece like good lawyers and of course delivered their ideas with a freshness, charisma and spontaneity like good actors (and singers and dancers), and infused all that they did with a passionate and immediate love of our country as it is today and was at the time of its founding as good citizens.

The makers of Hamilton aren’t too busy or lazy to be great.

Now I am going to ask you to do something. I am providing links to blog posts that I have written recently. I want you to read them. In order to get my point here it is necessary. Our antagonist is the Lord of Tweets. We should be the opposition of substance. It’s a funny thing about reading and writing — the more that you engage in it the better you get at it. And we are being called to excellence right now.

So the first link I am offering here is a bit of a digression, but it gives more insight into my view of Hamilton as a masterpiece of citizenship. Read the post and keep focused — then come back to the through line of what I am writing here. READ IT!

My Response to Hedy Weiss’ Dangerously Wrong-Headed Column in the 11/21/16 Sun-Times

Okay, I hope that was helpful. Now, let’s break down why the video above, A Message for Electors to Unite for America, failed.

As acting and lawyering

The video is too mannered. It reaches for unearned emotion. It doesn’t understand its audience. Emotional pleas have to be earned by a demonstration of an understanding of the facts of a situation (in this case Trump’s lack of fitness for office) and the highest level thought through which those facts should be analyzed (in this case the Constitution.) A trial lawyer would never resort to emotion of the type used in the video until his closing argument AFTER he had presented all of his facts in evidence and analyzed those facts through the lens of all of the relevant law. The video resembled a feckless call-in to a radio talk show more than a persuasive plea.

In acting as well, a good actor never reaches for the climactic emotion used in the video until she has built up to a crescendo through a narrative’s arc. All of the acting on the video is forced. The actors are undoubtedly sincere but they don’t communicate their points of view because they do nothing to earn the urgency of their message.

As teaching and lawyering

The video gives a sound bite explanation of the purposes and constitutional meaning of, and reasoning for the Electoral College. No one is going to be persuaded by an impressionistic public service announcement when considering a momentous act of courage like the one the actors are asking the electors to do. This video doesn’t understand its audience. It is speaking to people who resemble jurors more than audience members. Electors don’t want to be moved. They want help in their deliberations.

The actors pretend that they are teaching electors about the Electoral College, but they say nothing about it really.

Superficialities that work in the field of entertainment don’t work for the tasks ahead of us.

As writing

The video isn’t well-written. All good writing is autobiographical. There is nothing in Hamilton that shows the creators to be self-referential and the work is not narcissistic in the least. But it is no accident that Alexander Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda are both immigrants from the Caribbean driven by strong personal ambition and the need to serve the greater good of us all. The words of the video are too thin for any real non-self-reverential autobiographical expression to come through the actors interpretation of those words.

It is very important for everyone to read the link I am providing next. I can say without any braggadocio that I haven’t seen anything else like it in the public discussion. Even Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard Law Professor who has offered to represent “faithless electors” (click on the link and read the post to find out that term’s meaning) hasn’t placed anything like this in the public sphere. The post explains the issues related to electors possible abandonment of Trump in some detail.

I believe that the fact of the post of the type to be found on the link immediately below is only on my relatively obscure little blog is because a general lack of faith in the intelligence and particularly the attention span of the American people. I have learned as a teacher that if you demand much of students they will rise to the occasion. Teaching is just another form of leadership. The electors — and all concerned Americans — should read my post. It is an honest assessment of what the electors are up against. It is what every American needs to know in the present moment— not a lame and superficial public service announcement.

READ THIS POST AND PASS IT ON! IF YOU CAN GET THIS POST TO ELECTORS DO SO!

Can Electors Stop Trump? Alexander Hamilton on the Electoral College; Improper Influence of Foreign Government(s); the Emoluments Clause.

Citizens’ attention spans are going to have to expand to last four years and beyond. All the sighs of I can’t wait til the election is over were anticipatory renunciations of civic responsibility. Hamilton teaches (among many other important things) that America is an ephemeral ideal that must be fought for continuously if it is going to exist in concrete reality. America is a perpetual revolution. We have many more battles to fight after our plea to the electors. The link below sends you to a post telling in simple, concise and complete way how we must assert our cause as we go forward.

Skills Needed For the Resistance Brought to You by the Anti-Donald: The Great and Glorious Rick!

Finally, I add the next link for extra credit.

My Ideas (so far) on How to Respond as an Ordinary Person to the Trumpian Existential Threat to America: a First Month’s Compendium

A citizen has to be an actor, a teacher, a lawyer and a writer. Think deeply about what all of those jobs are — they are just aspects of being a complete human being.

WordPress has this function where I can see how many people have viewed my various posts. If you read this post with the diligence it requires your visit to my blog should generate several individual page views that I can monitor.

We can beat Trump, Inc. and make the American ideal real ONLY IF WE MAKE AN INTENSE EFFORT.

Citizenship is a full-time job.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The next blog segments are somewhat sad and revealing of my personality. I was clinging to the possibility that Trump might not be elected in the electoral college while acknowledging that was highly unlikely. J act with hope but not optimism. I commit to what I think is right, strongly desiring success, but believing that what is right is more important than success. I am hurt by the nature of the world, but will not bow to it. I know that strength is not dependent on victory. I consider myself the equal of the world, and I am not inclined to conform or compromise.

From December 16, 2016:

The razor-thin margin which gave Trump a purported victory in the Electoral College was so small that the Russian cyber-influence on our national debate was very probably determinative of the final election result. The combination of Russian fueled Wikileaks and Fake News posts authored by Russian and other sources are surely enough to probably have influenced the low-information voters who cast the decisive ballots in 2016.

The Electoral College should not vote for Trump. The election should be sent to the House of Representatives. The Electoral College’s decision to abandon Trump will be argued before the Supreme Court. I believe it can win. READ MY POSTS LINKED BELOW!

The most important thing that we can do is make our voices heard in challenge to the results of our compromised election. America must raise its voice wherever its voice might be heard.

Read these previous posts that explain specifically the saving possibilities in the Electoral College and more generally how we argue for the return of the control of our government to the American people:

Can Electors Stop Trump? Alexander Hamilton on the Electoral College; Improper Influence of Foreign Government(s); the Emoluments Clause.

This Lame P.S.A. is Ineffective; Read This Post in Full For Effective Ways to Defeat Trump, Inc. Be Citizen Actors/Teachers/Lawyers/Writers

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

From December 18, 2016:

December 18, 2016. The day before Armageddon.

We need 37 electors pledged to Trump to flip. They could vote for anyone and throw the election to the House of Representatives. Having them switch to Clinton is a bridge too far.

We have a viable Constitutional argument with a chance of prevailing in court if things get that far. (If the Electoral College rejected Trump there would be a legal challenge by Trump and that challenge would ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.) I explain the argument in the post linked immediately below.

Can Electors Stop Trump? Alexander Hamilton on the Electoral College; Improper Influence of Foreign Government(s); the Emoluments Clause.

The Clinton campaign, the Trump campaign and outside groups are fiercely lobbying the electors. The Anti-Trumps see possibility; the Pro-Trumps see a need to defend.

So we have an argument and we have political activity. The Anti-Trump position is not merely academic and theoretical.

But who are these people — the electors?  Are they open to, or even capable of, considering appeals to their morality and reason? Time obviously doesn’t permit me to do in-depth research on all of them so this process is necessarily superficial. With the little information that I can glean from small biographical information that I can find about these people through simple Google searches, I’d like to handicap if they could possibly — not even probably … let’s face it this is a terrible long shot — but possibly — dump Trump. Yeses indicate the electors who could flip. Nos means the electors who won’t flip. If I can’t find any information about an elector I will count that elector as a no.

Attorney Lawrence Lessig has said he knows of 20 electors who will abandon Trump. He says he is representing those people so he can’t reveal their names. Salon reported that 17 to 29 unnamed Trump electors were considering defecting. I am not including these figures in my calculations here. I am looking at the most mainstream sources. My aim is to offer the least inflated number possible. Better to be pleasantly surprised.

Yeses do not mean Clinton votes, just faithless votes for someone other than Trump.

If the Electoral College stopped Trump, the next stop would be the courts which would decide whether the faithless votes would be allowed. This litigation assuredly would end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court allowed the faithless votes the Presidential election would be finally decided in the House of Representatives.

The scenario I describe in the paragraph immediately above is unlikely to occur. Most probably Trump will get well over the needed 270 electoral votes.

My Tally:

Yeses 8  Nos 298

Yet I believe that it is very important to pursue this quixotic challenge in the Electoral College for a few reasons:

  • You never know if an event will occur that will give momentum to things moving in an unexpected direction.
  • Anything more than one or two faithless electors will be historic and erode Trump’s claims of mandates and frustrate his desire for recognition of his legitimacy.
  • We should be pit bulls speaking and acting against Trump and his government at every opportunity. We should take every opportunity to speak out and act against his immoral possession and exercise of power.

Here are the results of my Google investigation and research of the Republican electors.

(Here’s what you do: Skills Needed For the Resistance Brought to You by the Anti-Donald: The Great and Glorious Rick!)

  1. From Politico: Tim Dreste is an  anti-abortion radical from Missouri who was convicted in 1999 for inciting violence against abortion providers. I’ll mark Tim as a “no.”
  2. From Politico: Cherilyn Eagar, a host of “The Liberty Lineup” on Utah’s K-Talk Radio, said this original system, in which the Electoral College essentially set the presidential field, would eliminate the corrupting influence of money in politics.“There are many of us that believe that many of the problems we’re facing, and the enormously high cost of running for president and the persuasion of big money came about because the original Electoral College was eliminated,” she said. “The framers wanted the power to be separated and not consolidated into one big power structure.”Under the original system, she added, “You don’t have people deciding, ‘oh, I think I should run for president.’ The electors’ responsibility is to meet together as a college and to review people they believe are the best qualified,” she said. “I guarantee you, we would come up with much better candidates than we tend to end up with the way it’s done today.”Eagar said empowering electors would remove “an oligarchy” in which candidates run “just because they have friends and influence and PAC or lobbyist money.” “It keeps the election of the president separate from the big lobbyist groups,” she said.  I’ll mark Cherilyn as a “yes. 
  3. Jim Rhoades of Michigan is an advocate of higher speed limits and less restrictive motorcycle helmet laws. He has a painted dayglow Trump yard sign in his front yard. No.
  4. Four Republican big shots are emphatic nos. Pam Biondi the corrupt Florida Attorney General, Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sharon DayRobert Graham, Arizona’s Republican State Party Chairman, and South Carolina’s Republican State Party Chairman Matt Moore.
  5. Foster Morgan of Arizona is the youngest elector at age 19. He has a red ass about accusations that claim Republicans are racists. No.
  6. These three electors didn’t vote for Trump, but said that they would dutifully vote for him in the Electoral College if they were charged to do so. They might be moved. Jane Lynch of Arizona, Jim Skaggs of Kentucky, Peter Greathouse of Utah. 3 yeses.
  7. Chris Suprun of Texas has said publicly that he will not vote for Trump. Yes.
  8. South Dakota Governor Dennis Dauggard wanted Trump to resign the Republican ticket after the pussy-grabbing tape was released, but a spokesman said that he will vote for Trump in the Electoral College to represent his state. This one is a long shot but there is a slim possibility the governor could flip depending on immediate political pressures. A tentative yes.
  9. Marty Rhymes of Texas is a conspiracy theorist who believes the Clintons are serial killers. No.
  10. Leonard Hubert of Ohiois an African-American who believes Trump connects well with his community. No.
  11. I suspect the 9 Alabama electors will not flip. 9 nos.
  12. Alaska’s electors include the sitting governor who succeeded Sarah Palin (no), a Mormon Jacqueline Toupou (a tentative yes — we have a shot with all of the Mormons) and the wife of the Lieutenant-Governor — no.
  13. Jerry Hayden of Arizona is a big bucks donor to radical conservative causes. No.
  14. Bruce Ash of Arizona is an RNC national committeeman. No. Sharon Giese of Arizona works for the state party. No. I couldn’t find anything on Walter Begay of Arizona. No. Jim O’Connor of Arizona is a Christian Conservative who has opposed Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Yes. Edward Robson of Arizona said he received a stack of letters from “idiots” trying to change his vote. No. Carole Joyce of Arizona said that she is honored to represent her party and would never change her vote. No. Alberto Gutier of Arizona recently said that he is committed to voting for the winner from his party, Trump. No.
  15. All 6 Arkansas electors have said not voting for Trump is unthinkable. 6 nos.
  16. Polly Baca, a Democratic elector from Colorado has said she will vote for an alternative Republican candidate instead of Trump. This might help faithless electors coalesce behind an individual and give the block momentum. This fact does not in and of itself effect the yes/no numbers so it will not affect the tally.
  17. The Associated Press interviewed 22 of 29 Florida electors and predicts that it is highly unlikely that any of the 29 will switch their votes from Trump. 29 nos.
  18. The Associated Press interviewed the 16 Georgia electors and predict that they will all remain loyal to Trump. 16 nos.
  19. Idaho electors are not bound by state or party to vote for the popular vote winner Trump, but failure to do so would hurt them dearly in their careers in the Idaho Republican Party. 4 nos.
  20. There is no report of any defections among Indiana electors according to the Chicago Tribune. 11 nos.
  21. Iowa’s 6 electors have pledged to stand by Trump says the Cedar Rapids Gazette. 6 nos.
  22. The 6 Kansas electors feel “honor-bound” to vote for Trump according to the AP. 6 nos.
  23. The Louisville Courier-Journal says the 8 Kentucky  electors are holding fast for Trump. 8 nos.
  24. Louisiana elector Charles Buckels said on Lafayette , Louisiana TV station KATC that all Louisiana electors will remain loyal to Trump. 8 nos. 
  25. Republican elector Richard Bennett, the state party chairman and state senator of Maine told the Bangor Daily News that he will remain loyal to Trump. No.
  26. MLive.com reports that there is no indication that any Michigan electors will switch from Trump. 16 nos.
  27. The Washington Times reports that the 6 Mississippi electors are firm for Trump. 6 nos.
  28. The AP reports that the 10 Missouri electors will stick with Trump. 10 nos.
  29. Montana’s 3 electors include a man who reportedly wants LGBT people beaten and killed, a woman who says she is bound by law to vote for Trump and another woman who offers high praise for Trump. 3 nos.
  30. McClatchy DC reports that 4 Nebraska electors said they are bound by state law to vote for Trump and 1 didn’t respond to calls and email. 5 nos.
  31. Ann Sullivan and Linda Harper of North Carolina told the Goldsboro News-Argus that they are with Trump. 2 nos. WECT-TV of Wilmington, N.C. says quite assumptively that all 15 North Carolina electors will vote for Trump. 13 more nos.
  32. The 3 North Dakota electors are loyal to Trump according to the Bismarck Tribune. 3 nos.
  33. The A.P. reports that all 18 Ohio electors are voting for Trump. 18 nos.
  34. SoonerPolitics.org reports that all 7 Oklahoma electors are Trump-faithful. 7 nos.
  35. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that all 20 Pennsylvania electors are voting for Trump. 20 nos.
  36. The Augusta Chronicle says the 9 South Carolina Trump electors are firm. 9 nos.
  37. The Pierre South Dakota Capital Journal reports that all 3 South Dakota electors stand by Trump. 3 nos.
  38. The Nashville Tennessean sees no cracks in Trump’s support in that state. 11 nos.
  39. Texas has 38 electors. One has declared he won’t vote for Trump. One has resigned rather than vote for Trump. One is a conspiracy theorist and pro-Trump. State law does not compel electors to conform the results of the popular vote. The RNC has kept a close eye on Texas. I haven’t found any articles saying how 36 of the 38 electors will vote. There seems to be room for more Anti-Trump votes in Texas. Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston Political Science Professor predicts that the Texas electors  minus one will vote for Trump.  Texas smells like a place where we might peel off a couple of votes. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram spoke with several Texas electors who said they won’t change. With sketchy information and keeping with the conservative nature of this overall analysis — 37 nos.
  40. The Washington Times says Utah electors will be faithful. 6 nos.
  41. Charleston Gazette-Mail says West Virginia electors are firm. 5 nos. 
  42. Wisconsin will stand with Trump. All 10 electors have careers in the state Republican Party. Faithlessness would be a career ender. 10 nos.
  43. Elector Bonnie Foster was Trump’s Wyoming 2016 Campaign Director. I found nothing on elector Teresa RichardsKarl Allred is a county Republican Party chairman. 3 nos. 

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I still felt that I was part of the Second City, a regarded alumnus when I wrote this. I now feel no kinship with the cast that did the show in question or any other cast, past present or future.

My relation to the theater critics at the Chicago Tribune and Sun -Times was more settled. They alternate from getting it all wrong to being irrelevant to the basic sharing of information for consumers —- like what time the show starts and what is the address of the theater. They don’t believe theater should be meaningful, so what are they about? Having the power to further productions and careers? Just that petty power? What a jerk – off.

From December 19, 2016:

I just read Chris Jones’ review of the new Second City main stage show in the Chicago Tribune and Hedy Weiss’ review of the show in the Sun-Times. I think the reviews say more about the critics themselves than about the show. Both writers implied that the revue was too angry and confrontational. Weiss wanted more lightness. Jones wanted hearts to be warmed before problems were discussed.

I believe Jones and Weiss are too disconnected from life as it is being lived by millions of people today to appreciate the show. They are white. They are older and established. They aren’t a last paycheck away from oblivion. They aren’t members of groups that have been targeted for persecution by Trump. Please don’t say the press.

The critics have exactly the media message that Trump wants: he is not an ominous threat to any one who he doesn’t deem to deserve it; disagree without being disagreeable. (in other words capitulate); don’t be so self-important — who are you to speak about how things are run; extend yourself to see the opposing point of view of the people you think hate you (they do hate you).

The cast of Second City on the other hand is shouting for resistance and revolution in the face of an existential threat to our culture and freedom. Jones and Weiss don’t understand the nature of that threat. Trump’s ascension isn’t going to change their lives. They also don’t understand that good theater always has that urgency. Jones and Weiss like things bland. People call theater dangerous when it forces them to see the world in a new way. The Second City cast merely did their job and pointed to a new world that has dawned and the Chicago theater critics didn’t want to look at the unpleasantness.

The Second City cast has created a show of this world, not a show to escape away from this world. Escape is an easier option when you are living a safe if slightly boring life. Like Jones and Weiss? Daydreaming can be fatal when you are at risk. Therein lies the disconnect between the Chicago critics and the Second City cast. The cast weren’t the ones who cut off the communication.

The comfort that the local critics are looking for has been in my book the weakest part of Second City’s catalogue. Second City has always been best when it had an angry edge — about matters great and small. It has always been a fellowship of oddballs who rail with frustration against the absurd stupidity and injustice of modern life.

I saw the new main stage revue in previews. That cast is really talented, very funny and unapologetically Anti-Trump. I saw several very funny scenes from that crew. And a clear and passionate and moral point of view.

The establishment always tries to bully anyone who does personal work, innovative work or timely work that speaks to the present moment. This bullying isn’t of the type or degree as the bullying employed by the Fascists who are taking over our government. But it shares a similar authoritarian streak. “Can’t you just be funny instead of having all of the ideas? You are supposed to bring me an escape —not make me feel uncomfortable. You didn’t flatter me before you started talking. Don’t you know that you are supposed to please me so I can further your career? I’m not interested in what you have to say — just in how you can divert me.”

All creative work starts with oneself. The young Second City company didn’t cover up their fear and anger and revulsion. They did their job and created laughter from those difficult responses to what is actually happening in our world. They didn’t see reassuring people to be part of their job description because they aren’t liars.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

This was just the beginning of my reflection upon my improvisation alma mater. I came to subsequently find out that the venal critic represented a point of view that exists in-house, and has ultimately destroyed Second City as a place of any artistic relevance.

From December 20, 2016:

Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones wrote a feature last Friday (12/16/16) comparing Second City to Dolly Parton. His thesis was that each popular entertainment source served both red state and blue state culture. He said both Parton and Second City listened to their audiences and created a space of “shared conversation” between the two sides of our alienated nation. Jones’ article in some ways was an application of Obama’s “Not a Red or Blue America” Democratic National Convention Speech of 2004.

I believe Jones has completely misread the situation in 2016 America. Our nation is not merely divided because we have stopped listening to, and therefore respecting one another. A sizable number of Americans are Fascists and have a green light to practice their beliefs since they voted in a Fascist President.

A decent person or institution must speak out against and refuse to cooperate with evil. I have written a lot about this responsibility from many perspectives. Please just go to my blog’s home page and scroll down. You will find many posts where I speak of opposing individual Fascists and a Fascist government. www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com.

Jones suggests that the current Second City mainstage revue is too hostile to conservatives. He brings up many founders: Bernie Sahlins, Del Close, Joyce Sloane, and Sheldon Patinkin as being responsible for creating a space where the audience helped create the shows through suggestions. (He contradicts himself later in the article and says that the actors create the shows.)

I acted on the mainstage in the 1980s. I know the tension Jones tries to describe in the Second City creative process as well as anybody. The longer that I was in the company the more my true progressive voice came out regarding political, social and cultural issues. I was given a talking to about it on a few occasions. Bernie Sahlins once called me into his office and told me that we had a “floor” that we wouldn’t descend in our treatment of ideas and issues, but that we shouldn’t “preach to the choir” or “out kick our coverage.” He was telling me to stop being so progressive all the time and that I was taking the improvisation maxim “play at the top of your intelligence” a little too literally.

Bernie was very pro-Israel however and always had a disgusted look on his face whenever Nazis were brought up. I once did a scene in an improvisation set where Hitler was participating in a video dating service (“I’m a Leo…”) and he couldn’t stop laughing.

Bernie would not want to coddle American Fascists. He may have wanted to avoid the subject for business purposes. (He would have then. Who really knows how he would react now?) If he felt that way now he’d be wrong.

Jones implies that it is bad business for Second City to be hostile to a sizable portion of its audience. I obviously disagree. I think if Second City doesn’t actively confront and oppose Fascism it will be the end of Second City — at least on the theatrical side.

Trump is often described as an existential threat to America. He is very much an existential threat to Second City. The core ideas of Second City were first developed by people that Jones didn’t mention in his article — Viola Spolin, David Shepherd and Paul Sills. The three are people of the left who had visions of a theater, communities and a society that are in direct opposition to Trump’s Fascist state and culture. Everyone who has ever worked at Second City has been working through the concepts and values that originated with Spolin, Shepherd and Sills whether they know it or not. Yes, at times these values have been watered down in order to please a wider audience (as Bernie wanted me to do. I never did personally. No brag there — just who I am. I couldn’t do it.). But the values have never been betrayed. They are in the DNA of the place.

I also think Jones is wrong in his implication that the hostility to Fascists and Fascism will be bad for business. Look at the marketplace. Jimmy Fallon was skewered for a soft-ball interview with Trump. Alec Baldwin has a huge success with a vicious impersonation of Trump. Seth Meyers gained stature going after Trump — and that’s just looking at NBC Late Night.

Second City audiences do not only have a higher conservative demographic than other Chicago theaters. They also have a younger demographic. Second City is many audience members first theatrical experience. Young people everywhere want to be cool. They are not as hardened as the angry old white men who ignorantly support Trump. They can be influenced.

One of the things I do is teach. I’ve seen many young students change points of view when I presented ideas to them in a very strong non-kumbaya way. As a matter of fact, that directness is the most effective way to influence them.

Second City’s shows have an obligation to teach. Improvisation is a teaching pedagogy as well as a theatrical art. All theater teaches. Second City can’t get anti-Fascism wrong.

The young people will come in even greater numbers if Second City remains authentic. They will stop coming if Second City betrays itself and listens to Chris Jones’ misreading of the current social moment and his misguided and cynical business advice.

Be true to yourself, my beautiful Second City! In this case what is most moral will also be most profitable.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I am decidedly not a quitter. The struggle never ends.

From December 22, 2016:

My comments are in bold italics. I have admired and enjoyed Neal Gabler’s writing for many years.

Farewell, America

Neal, you’re title is overly pessimistic. The only thing that died with Trump’s election was an illusory dream of America that was held by progressive white people. The history  of the United States is rife with slavery, the genocide of Native-Americans, the persecution of immigrants, unjust imperialist wars, an un-democratic electoral system and economic injustice.

“America ” is a collection of beautiful ideals which are still held in the minds, hearts, words and actions of millions of people all over the world.  “America” hasn’t gone anywhere. The ideals have always existed in paradox with evil. Many of the Founding Fathers were slaveholders. All men are created equal? The election of Donald Trump is the absurd culmination of all that is bad and evil in the national character. Your sad essay is an expression of all that is good. So is “Hamilton” the play and my blog and the quixotic effort to change the Electoral College results and many, many other responses to Trump’s disturbing ascension. 

Our nation is not defined by the bitter, ignorant, hateful white people who provided crucial support for Trump, or by puppet Trump himself and the Fascist and oligarchical administration that he is assembling. 

A better title and direction for your piece would have been “Wake up, America!” Our elected leaders can’t save us now. Our media can’t frame our story or develop our philosophical and pragmatic initiations and responses. We, the people have to improve the beautiful idea that Jefferson and the other slaveholder Founders started. We have to expand our democracy to every one of us — all of the power, rights and responsibilities of living up to the greatest national concept ever conceived. 

Trump is an opportunity to start over. Many were under the illusion that a great country was something that we were given. It wasn’t. We have to earn it. We have to step up our game. Selfishness and mediocrity are unacceptable now. We have to live what we believe in our families, our jobs, in our communities. We have to be great as the American ideal that we love. I think it’s an exciting time when viewed from that perspective.

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

I didn’t commit suicide on Election Day. Trump hasn’t shredded my values.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country.

America has never been a monolith as you describe, Neal. The world will recognize that Trump doesn’t represent the entirety of the American people. It already does. Neal, you  confuse worldly power which is very temporary, — and in the end the same old stupid argument on a constant loop — with spiritual power which is eternal. “America” is a collection of ideals based on timeless truths. Giving up on America now is like giving up on love after witnessing an act of cruelty.

And we are lost for it.

I don’t feel lost. Have faith, Neal!

As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”

Listen to Auden, Neal! I read somewhere that you had money problems or some other kind of severe personal difficulties. I hear your sadness, brother. It is in those times of darkness when we really have to suck it up. Suffering truly has a purpose. It is easy to be joyful and confident when everything is going well. This moment calls for something more of us than intellectual understanding. That is its gift to us. When you understand something beyond your rational and intuitive faculties, when your understanding becomes who you are, your lessons are done.

I hunt for that affirming flame.

That’s why I love you, Neal.

This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

Agreed. A vote for Trump was an evil act. All attempts to reach out to understand where Trump voters are coming from are doomed to failure. It is evil to compromise with evil. That has been the American problem all along. Maybe this time we can settle things once and for all. 

Is it really that surprising that there are lousy people living in our country? Especially sanctimonious small town folk who claim moral superiority and behave terribly. I’ve lived with these people. I’ve been treated with unfairness and cruelty  by them. I just didn’t know there were so many of them. Yeah, there are bad people in the world. Reality. Onward!

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

We don’t need civility now. We need resistance and revolution —  hot and direct. Civility shows a respect for the other’s point of view. I have no respect for the mentality of the Trump voter or administration and you don’t either. Why should we act that way? Now is a time for blunt honesty.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

I wasn’t in that fool’s paradise, kemosabe. You should get out more.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

Many Americans are exceptional, good, progressive and united. Let’s not confuse material losses with spiritual ones. Democracy isn’t done yet. It is an unending process. A problem was revealed in this election. We have to work hard to fix it. Neal, you wrote this in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s win. Your emotions are understandable. Enough time has passed now. Time to face the music and get to work.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades. They have regarded any Democratic president as illegitimate. They have proudly boasted of preventing popularly elected Democrats from effecting policy and have asserted that only Republicans have the right to determine the nation’s course. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that the government cannot govern and to redefine the purpose of government as prevention rather than effectuation. In short, they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Democracy isn’t dead. It’s a process. Live and learn, Neal. The economic injustice that has existed in America prompted the immoral stupidity of this lurch to Fascism. We have to correct our course in the direction of decency. Don’t be so defeatist or passive, Neal. You’re a great writer. We need you. Thanks for this heartfelt piece. Now forget yourself and start working on solutions. The American Revolution never ended, Neal. It’s our turn now to move things forward.

Democracy can’t cope with extremism. Only violence and time can defeat it. The first is unacceptable, the second takes too long. Though Trump is an extremist, I have a feeling that he will be a very popular president and one likely to be re-elected by a substantial margin, no matter what he does or fails to do. That’s because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing.

Nothing copes with extremism like democracy! Non-violence is much more effective than violence as a means to defeat it: Thoreau, Gandhi, King, Mandela, Havel, Pope John Paul II … all leaders that toppled tyranny without firing a shot. Passive resistance. Trump won’t have the easy time that you predict if we don’t let him. Trump didn’t win by “speechifying.” Trump is an evil improv performance artist. He said what he meant emotionally even if his facts were wrong. Our leaders look down on that authentic immediacy too much. They could learn a little from Trump on how to connect with people while completely rejecting his evil content. There’s nothing wrong with engaging and connecting with ordinary people. Lincoln and FDR were masters of it.

Trump was absolutely correct when he bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care. It was a dictator’s ugly vaunt, but one that recognized this election never was about policy or economics or the “right path/wrong path,” or even values. It was about venting. So long as Trump vented their grievances, his all-white supporters didn’t care about anything else. He is smart enough to know that won’t change in the presidency. In fact, it is only likely to intensify. White America, Trump’s America, just wants to hear its anger bellowed. This is one time when the Bully Pulpit will be literal.

Trump’s a con man who exploited people’s pain. He won because he recognized it. He was an immoral choice by the voters but his opportunity was made possible by the emotional indifference shown by every other candidate and leader. When I heard President Obama say that the economy was great and that there were just ” a few pockets of unemployment” I began fearing that we might be in trouble. We have to fix this whole thing, not just fixate on Trump.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

Yeah, the media was just making money without any sense of responsibility. They’d ask Trump policy questions as if he knew something as far back as the 80s. Democracy has been corporatized for decades now. Something else we have to work on.

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the media. In this, as in his politics, he is only the latest avatar of a process that began long before his candidacy. Just as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so they could fill the vacuum.

Trump didn’t destroy anything. He played a dishonest game to his own benefit. He knew what the media wanted — attention-getting conflict and razzamatazz —- and he gave it to them. Then he manipulated their greed to his own ends. The media (with a dwindling number of exceptions) is just a marketing and sales medium that masquerades as journalism, education, entertainment and art. We have to create real journalism, education, entertainment and art and teach people to know the true from the fake. More for the to-do list.

Retiring conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes complained that after years of bashing from the right wing, the mainstream media no longer could perform their function as reporters, observers, fact dispensers, and even truth tellers, and he said we needed them. Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

This sounds like excuse making for the white bigots to me. People believe this hateful tripe because they want to — it makes them feel superior. They get a sensual thrill out of bullying. Again, the right wing is just exploiting what is already there, not creating it. This is why we must be intolerant of Trump voters — they are lousy people.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived. Like Nixon and Sarah Palin before him, Trump ran against the media, boomeranging off the public’s contempt for the press. He ran against what he regarded as media elitism and bias, and he ran on the idea that the press disdained working-class white America. Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information — a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

The ideal of an objective, truthful journalism isn’t dead if your practice it. The press brought a lot of the public’s contempt upon themselves. The press simply played to much of the public’s intellectual laziness. The press and much of the public have not done their jobs in our democracy, diverted by greed and a lust for constant sensory stimulation devoid of serious content. Our country got lazy and stupid. The solution is simple. Work and study. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized — a delegitimization for which they bear a good deal of blame, not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as president. Cable news may even welcome him as a continuous entertainment and ratings booster. And in any case, like Reagan, he is bulletproof. The media cannot touch him, even if they wanted to. Presumably, there will be some courageous guerillas in the mainstream press, a kind of Resistance, who will try to fact-check him. But there will be few of them, and they will be whistling in the wind. Trump, like all dictators, is his own truth.

Lighten up, Neal! A lot of dictators fall. You don’t believe that ordinary people can pull this off. Ordinary people have pulled off everything that has been worth a damn in the fields of democracy and freedom. Stop whining! Screw the system. The system c’est moi — and vous.

What’s more, Trump already has promised to take his war on the press into courtrooms and the halls of Congress. He wants to loosen libel protections, and he has threatened Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon with an antitrust suit. Individual journalists have reason to fear him as well. He has already singled out NBC’s Katy Tur, perhaps the best of the television reporters, so that she needed the Secret Service to escort her from one of his rallies. Jewish journalists who have criticized Trump have been subjected to vicious anti-Semitism and intimidation from the white nationalist “alt-right.” For the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season.

There will be persecutions and those will be no laughing matter. These thugs have just started doing damage. But tyrants’ undoing lay in the very acts of their tyranny. People fight back. Fear dissipates because moral questions become questions of survival.  Trump’s ascendancy might seem like a surprise attack. Time to get our bearings and engage the ogre in battle.

This converts the media from reporters to targets, and they have little recourse. Still, if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

Hope is not optimism. Hope says I will do the right thing because only in so doing is there a chance for a decent and just result. We can’t be deterred by unhelpful optimism. Everything we do will not succeed. But if we keep doing the right thing — even as losses pile up — eventually we will win. My heart is filled with hope.

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting, which, as I said, is likely to be irrelevant in the Trump age, might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it.

I like the way you are thinking now, Neal — and the way you honestly went through dark emotions to get to this point.

But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.

We all have to do this now — not just the media. 

We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Amen, Neal. I totally agree. Saving “America” is our destiny. We must not refuse its call.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

From December 23, 2016:

abraham-lincoln-quote

Happy Holidays, friends!

Positive signs in the resistance — no one wants to perform at the Inauguration. The Rockettes are being forced to by their contract. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir just goes where they are told. A guy made a stink because he didn’t want to fly on the same plane with Ivanka and Jared.

These “nos” show a way.

Hope is not optimism. Hope persistently acts to achieve an objective. Hope knows that every action won’t succeed, but that it is necessary to keep trying if you want a chance to succeed.

Optimism is actually a negative emotion because it encourages a person to quit the first time that they fail.

You can commit to hope. You can’t commit to optimism.

I am committed to living in democracy when I write, perform, teach — do anything.

I don’t look up to leaders or down on anyone else. I am the leader, the writer now. I think you should do the same in your own way.

No one is going to do this for us.

The holidays are a time of new beginnings.

Let us work and fight for the world we want, beginning in the humble stables of our ordinary lives.

Stand in the place where you live.

God bless us everyone; God bless America.

Same thing.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I start to write about writing, one of the major themes of the blog — in this initial case, not my own writing.

From December 24, 2016:

My friend, Patrick McCartney posted a great question on Facebook. I share my response here. My comments are in bold italics. Thanks, Patrick!

Trump is the executive producer of the Celebrity Apprentice on NBC. But the Rockettes are wrong for doing his inauguration? Aren’t we all complicit until we boycott NBC , walk away from those dream comedy jobs on their sketch comedy shows that helped normalize him and get him the job as president of the United States and truly take a stand. Where is the line and what is our responsibility as actors, improvisers and comics when it comes to NBC? Do we have the real courage of our convictions or our we going to continue to delude ourselves into thinking this is all ok? Asking for a friend.

I think this is a great question. Our resistance has to be in our everyday lives in my view. If you march etc. but then turn around and work to further Trump’s values and agendas, what good is it? I think it’s complicated. The SNL writers writing for Baldwin and McKinnon and company should NOT quit. They are doing a very positive thing. I think the whole idea of dream jobs should be revisited. Jobs that were prestigious aren’t anymore and probably shouldn’t have been before Trump’s rise. Anyone who writes or does comedy should always be mindful of the values fostered by their work. Comedy is ultimately about morality in my view — comments about capricious absurdities. If someone does comedy against good values ( the work doesn’t have to be political — it can be about other things) then that person is a hack. I know that sounds harsh and self-righteous but really who cares about someone’s career at this point? There are more important things to consider. The good news for pros is that there are plenty of jobs out there that don’t involve soul-selling. If your only shot is the next Scott Baio project maybe it’s time to do something else anyway.

I think you have to be more surgical than boycotting everything on NBC. SNL is positive. Our local news in Chicago has done some good stuff. I think individuals have to make decisions based on what they personally and specifically are doing, and based upon broad pronouncements of a big entity that are not true across the board. Certainly much of what NBC produces is bad — from a democratic or more general human point of view. Don’t work on that crap. I don’t think this should be a big conflict. Aspire to do good work and don’t take just any lousy assignment that is out there. I would hope that was your attitude pre-Trump’s emergence in politics.

If you go too big in response you’ll fail. Rosa Parks didn’t take on the US transportation system. She took on a bus seat. That brought a lot of injustice down — after years of persistent (and still unfinished) work. If you want a boycott of NBC go to your unions and try to get them to team with other unions in order to boycott together. I personally wouldn’t go that route — I’d give individual producers at NBC a chance to do the right thing. They have a lot of incentive — over half of their potential audience is against Trump. But if you do boycott do it in a huge group — or else your protest is pointless. Start with yourself and make sure that YOU do the right thing. That’s what helps immediately.

The entertainment shows “normalized” Trump as a celebrity. I don’t see that in and of itself to be wrong. The news divisions talked to him as if he knew anything about politics  or public policy— that was wrong. The educational system didn’t teach critical thinking so that people could tell an entertainer from a political leader. That was wrong. People’s brains have been destroyed by entertainment but it’s not entertainment’s fault. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment if you know what it is and don’t engage in it 24/7. As a matter of fact, some diversion is necessary. But entertainment is not a source of truth — it is merely relaxation.  Politics and news coopted popular entertainment into their presentations to gain power and make money. They gave people cotton candy and said it was nutritious. Education didn’t do enough to show people how to tell the difference. That is what is evil about it.

Entertain responsibly.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

In the next segment, I write about art (one of the big themes), and prefigure the death of my participation in higher ed and business.

I had a dream last night (September 13, 2020) that I was teaching at my old business school. I was doing exactly what I wanted and it was popular with many students. I forgot my cell phone and didn’t take calls from the directors of the program. I didn’t listen to anyone. Finally I saw my message light flashing on the land line in my office. I called my boss back. He said he was leaving me out of a major project. I got angry. He told me that I would be getting less money than everyone else. I was humiliated. I said, “You are trying to force me out.” He responded with smug silence. I felt hurt, but I knew that I was ignoring the power structure. He told me the big bosses were dissatisfied with my reports. I said “why can’t they tell me their dissatisfactions instead of treating me this way.” I knew the job was over.

I went places — theaters, law firms, schools and developed something that didn’t belong in any of those venues. I dream about the past condition as I wait in suspended animation for what is surely next.

I won’t make the mistake that I made so often any more. I wanted to be a member of a like-minded community so much I looked at lesser places with rose-colored glasses. This time, and in the future, I will wait patiently.

From Christmas Day 2016:

vonnegut-3

Trump’s election was a denial of humanity. Life is not about money or winning. Creative assertion of our individual and shared humanity will not defeat Trumpism. It will transcend it.

I teach art in a business school. It’s a scam really. Supposedly I am teaching improvisational professional presence and ethical decision making skills in order to help students succeed in their careers. I could give a fuck about their careers. And neither could they. Young people want life. They want to be fulfilled. I give the students opportunities to write and speak and solve problems. I don’t tell them how to do things. I let them figure it out.

They find me to be a very challenging teacher, and most of them like me very much. Everyone likes the space where they are free to be themselves. Everyone likes to be pointed in the direction of the exploration of the fathomless mystery of their souls — even, or maybe especially students who would have preferred to study something else but chose the seemingly safer economic bet of a degree in business. (Another scam.)

The biggest hurdle that I have to coax —or lambast — my students into jumping over — is that when they enter my classroom they are leaving the dull business values of quantities and dollar signs and they are entering the world of art.

I hate business. It gets in the way of everything. Art is what connects us, even more effectively than religion. Religion is too group-oriented. Everyone says amen in unison. In art real community happens in a glorious diversity. We are really together when we can appreciate each other and not conform.

Of course, teaching is as much bullshit as business. This little blog post is more useful than a semester of classes. Art is the real teacher, not any individual. There is a good reason that art is not a way to make a living but rather a way to make a life. It defies the business expectation of succeeding by providing what someone else thinks they need. Art is about providing what the artist needs. Ironically, that is what is most helpful to others.

We are all unique and we are all the same in the core of our being. The act of living life with intensity, reflecting upon our experience and then forming it into symbolic communication is art. How could that not be beneficial to everyone? What else is there to do that means anything than live and learn? Climb up an organizational leadership chart? Get into a position to tell lost people what to do?

Once you have experienced art, why would you possibly give a shit about your presence at a business networking event, or public speaking, or corporate decision making or any of the other bullshit that’s supposed to be in my syllabus? These are all minor activities that are nothing compared to the challenge and value of making art. If you can do art, all the chickenshit business activities can be accomplished with ease — but who would want to?

Everything that was ever worth a damn in human history was accomplished by artists, scientists and those who have worked for social justice. Business people just processed the account receivables.

Bean counting is as stultifying an activity as art is an expansive one.

My presence in a business school is a compromise that I am obviously growing increasingly uncomfortable with — my life is in my writing and stage show. How can I encourage my students to reject business and choose humanity while I remain in business — even by a slender thread? It has been working so far, but I am changing. It was only sincere as long as I was unaware of the compromise.

If you are living the transformational life of an artist, you can’t climb a ladder of success. The idea of art doesn’t allow progress in anything except the depth of the consciousness of your own soul.

An artist has to be independent — no one can tell anyone else how to authentically live and talk about their life and perspective of the rest of life — it obviously doesn’t work that way.

How do I free myself from being dependent on a system that I feel has no value and that pales in quality when compared to my own creations?

To be continued … like everything else …

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

I’m almost writing here.

From December 29, 2016:

Why do we mourn famous people that we don’t know personally? My knee jerk reaction to most questions involving our relationship with fame is to look for a betrayal of our own humanity. We live in a fog of continual informational distraction. We don’t have our own thoughts or feelings — that’s too much work. Thought, feeling, memory has been supplanted by media — social and otherwise. We are told who and what is important to us and we voice the lines written for us — including mass mourning.That all sounds very smart, but the answer doesn’t do it for me.I’ve seen all the anguished cries about what a terrible year 2016 has been — so many stars have died (!) and I think it’s all a crock of self-indulgence— a fantasy of intimacy with the celebrated — a way to elevate oneself to a phony importance by portraying an empathetic connection with the famous. Phony sorrow as escape from bored lack of purpose … a narcissistic need to be recognized by others — even if  the “seeing” is not real at all — a crazy false image of little me or you standing next to a great personage in an imagined group photo as a peer — life lived in the darkness of a movie theater, dreaming a collective dream and insanely claiming it as our own experience.No. This sorrow has more meaning than that.I was unmoved by George Michael’s death. I wasn’t interested enough in him or his music to do some reflective research and investigate the validity of my skepticism about his supposed greatness. Why do some celebrity deaths affect me and others leave me indifferent and cold?I admired Debbie Reynolds toughness as a person and dogged work ethic as a performer. She never was about Hollywood movie-star exceptionalism to me. She was about survival. She incredibly got the part in Singin’ in the Rain when she was 19 with little experience as a dancer and successfully went toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly. Her great achievement in that movie had as much to do with her personal character as it did her talent. Debbie Reynolds dealt with every opportunity and adversity that the world threw at her — until the death of her daughter, Carrie. She didn’t have enough life left at 84 to handle that one.The adjacent deaths of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher tell a bleak story about the nature of death, aging and dying. Those two women were tough realists whose witness to the nature of finite being was even more powerful because they ostensibly worked in an industry that sold escapism. They gave the audience a few laughs served with a dose of truth. They said that the laughs should bring courage when navigating the challenges of living life in the shadow of mortality, and not be used as a means to embrace a denial of the death that awaits us all — the death that colors every moment of the temporarily waxing and waning life that we have a fleeting chance to make something of.I think I share a few character traits with Carrie Fisher. Why not? She was a writer. (I write here about essences of character — not of whether or not the fruits of those traits are always successfully realized. Perhaps our truest selves are the aspects of our soul that frustrate us in our attempts to express them. Even the most prolific among us could’ve done much more. We are all — at one moment or another — Oskar Schindler hearing the never-ending refrain of death in the song of mankind with shame and resolution to finally get on with the business of doing what we can.) Carrie Fisher was unapologetically human. Generous and honest. She needed addiction to give her a chance to be tough like her mother. Circumstances gave Debbie Reynolds all the battles that she could handle. Carrie Fisher needed to create personal struggle so that she could create more deeply. That is not an uncommon story for many of the best members of my Me Generation who became addicts and cultivated mental illness; and then subsequently got sober in order to approximate the character building struggles that our parents benefitted from during the depression and World War II.

schindler

I felt empathy for the deceased mother and daughter and the surviving son Todd Fisher — but not as if I ever knew any of them.When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died I felt a personal sense of loss. He was from my hometown, Rochester, New York, but that didn’t matter to me. I really didn’t identify with his art as having many parallels to my own. I simply loved his performances. I rarely missed one of his movies. I had assumed that I would be watching a lot more of them. Now I miss the movies he never made.I didn’t feel such a loss related to Debbie Reynold’s and Carrie Fisher’s passing. I liked their work well enough I guess, but they were both pretty much done as far as I was concerned and never on my list of favorites. They may have had more to say, but I didn’t anticipate that to be the case.

Stars Promote 'Mission Impossible III' In Rome

So why am I sad — and sitting shiva for two-dimensional mother/daughter images? Am I mourning my own life and death in retrospect and advance? If I am not responding to personal loss, am I responding to the art work shaped out of the medium of these two women’s lives? Sadness with objectified distance? Or am I the artist shaping the experience of viewing their public lives into something of personal meaning for myself?

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

The “old friend” was just a friendly acquaintance, so there’s that. And he grew up to be a self-justifying narcissist, so there is that too. He was a blast at my growing writing ambitions from the past. So the blog works on at least two frequencies — actual writing, and defending myself from all undeserved influences that wished to discourage me from writing.

What really bothered this guy was that he knew me as a nightclub comic and it disturbed him that anyone would want to leave his tribe. It minimized the importance of his life choices.

The blog consists writing, teaching myself about art and writing, and self-administered self-help, nurturing my psyche so I can access who I really am and act upon it.

From December 31, 2016:

An old friend that I haven’t seen in ages said, “Pontificating is easy. Comedy is hard.” My response:

Personally, when I write I don’t worry about what genre the writing is . Funny, rant, reasoned argument, confessional — it is all good. Mark Twain called himself the Weekday Preacher. He did some pretty good pontificating near the end of his life. People change. Circumstances call for different responses. Why should anyone limit themselves?  Prepare and show up. Don’t worry about the results. It’s all good. If it doesn’t work change it. Nothing is ever settled anyway. It’s all process. Express and don’t worry about it. Just be sincere and do your best. What’s hard is trying to be a good person and tell the truth. The form works itself out.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

Movies bring out the writer in me.

From December 31, 2016:

fences

Best Picture

Nominees:

Rules Don’t Apply

La La Land

Manchester by the Sea

Jackie

Fences

Winner:

Fences.  Rules Don’t Apply is a masterpiece of personal filmmaking on a Hollywood scale. Most other years it would have won. But Fences is a towering achievement — a film based on one of the great plays of the 20th Century. August Wilson wrote the ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle which audaciously set out to capture the African-American experience in that century — by writing one play set in each decade. He greatly achieved that grand ambition in Fences. Fences is a family drama worthy of Eugene O’Neill, and an allegory for much of the American experience. The story is very astute politically but works on a far deeper level than bifurcated commentary. Wilson chronicles African-American life to the depths of human universality. One for the ages.

august-wilson

Best Screenplay

Nominees:

Rules Don’t Apply — Warren Beatty

Manchester by the Sea — Kenneth Lonergan

Fences — August Wilson

Winner:

Fences — August Wilson, of course. Kenneth Lonergan did a great job with Manchester by the Sea, but it was just that — a job. Lonergan displayed masterful craft in telling his tale of a man living in the aftermath of tragedy. Manchester is very honest and well-observed. It makes no grand statement. It simply shows a difficult situation with exceptional clarity and in so doing arouses empathy. If you want to love someone, notice them. Movies like Manchester by the Sea shouldn’t be that extraordinary. Professional writing and acting, worthwhile subject matter — there should be something like Manchester in theaters all the time. There isn’t.

Wilson’s writing is a great example of that which transcends professionalism and becomes art. Wilson makes very personal choices — nothing was assigned to him. His voice is distinctive — no one else could have written Fences. Fences comes from Wilson’s own life with an intensity that connects it to the lives of everyone who ever lived. Years of writing scripts for informational presentations at museums and uncompromising work in obscure storefront theaters created Fences.  The piece is so much more than the excellent execution of a story idea owned by Matt Damon.

director-warren-beatty-and-cast-talk-039

Best Director

Nominees:

Rules Don’t Apply — Warren Beatty

Manchester by the Sea — Kenneth Lonergan

Fences — Denzel Washington

Winner:

Rules Don’t Apply — Warren BeattyRules Don’t Apply is simply the most cinematic of the three nominees. Beatty orchestrates all of the elements of filmmaking to great effect. A very personal vision of Hollywood in the 1950s sweeps the Rules audience to that mythical place. Acting, cinematography, soundtrack, editing, dialogue, production design coherently and seamlessly work together to indirectly tell the story of Beatty’s life through a fiction about people like him in various ways. Virtuoso filmmaking.

Fences is a filmed play. Denzel Washington did a fine job directing but the primary power is in the writing. The acting was great.

Manchester by the Sea is a filmed novel or short story in essence. Lonergan translates the precise phrasing of a fine fiction writer into clean, direct shots that fully tell his story with concision. This can’t be easy to do. Fences is a play. Manchester is literary prose. I gave the award to the movie, Rules.

I didn’t nominate La La Land. Damien Chazelle made a fine movie. I thought the first third was terrible and then I saw what he was doing and realized that it was courageous and good. La La Land is about the contradictions between our many desires and the sadness associated with every choice that we make — no matter what it is. Chazelle creates a dream world. He dares to use mediocre music and acting early to show the contradictions between what we think we can do and what we are capable of. He then shows the main characters grow and transform into excellence. I just thought this was a young man’s film in the sense that it was a little too showy, however. Chazelle seems to scream that he is a great director. He uses camera moves that draw attention to himself  and detract from his storytelling. Of course this style fits the story of young people trying to get attention and make it in Hollywood. But I was more greatly moved by the film’s theme of sadness and acceptance in the face of life’s unavoidable limitations. Chazelle is a greatly talented director, however and this talent overcomes his self-consciousness in the end. Chazelle is no Warren Beatty — yet.

denzel-fences

Best Actor

Nominees:

Jackie — Natalie Portman

Fences — Denzel Washington

Manchester by the Sea — Casey Affleck

La La Land — Ryan Gosling

Winner:

Fences — Denzel Washington. All of the actors were great, but Denzel Washington had the best part. Best Actor is almost a writer’s award. There is no shortage of tremendous actors at this time or any other. Acting is an interpretive art and actors are dependent on their scripts. August Wilson gave Denzel Washington a character to portray that had more layers than Willy Loman. Troy Maxson is one of the great roles of all time.

Natalie Portman was the driving creative force behind Jackie. She captured all of the nuance of the First Lady as artist — existential struggle in the planning of a funeral.

Ryan Gosling made a man’s conflicting dreams concrete realities in La La Land. He gave a charismatic performance that made the film interesting and ultimately meaningful.

Casey Affleck would’ve won most any other year. He gave an honest, moving and very real performance while dealing with emotions of the most difficult kind.

Other Decembers have offered more films that interested me, but no December that I can remember has ever been as free of viewing disappointment as December 2016.

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

2017

I begin the New Year standing up to oppression in the nation, the workplace and my psyche.

From January 2, 2017:

vietnam-war-protesters

In the 1960s resistance to the Vietnam War started with young people who were adversely affected by the draft; other well-meaning people stood with them. In the 1960s resistance to racial injustice started with African-Americans adversely affected by American Apartheid; other well-meaning people stood with them.

The puppet Fascist Trump and his oligarch masters in collusion with the Fascist Congress are assaulting people’s rights to: health care, a decent public education, a just and living wage, free speech against the actions of their government, human dignity regardless of race, religion and/or gender, a clean environment, fear of wars of annihilation (and more.)

We are called to stand up for ourselves whenever we are personally demeaned by this oppression and to stand with those demeaned in other instances. The resistance of the 60s is a model — but our moment is an even broader assault on more people’s rights and varied interests.

We are entering — I pray to God — non-violent conflict with a government controlled by authoritarians. It is a kind of war because reasoning with them will not work now. They and their followers don’t give a damn about you. They want to demean you and see you suffer.

The only response is lack of cooperation and a demand for rights and dignity.

This is going to be very hard. It is going to require courage and sacrifice. We need moral clarity, a strong understanding of reality and great skill in our personal and collective dealings with power.

I’ve written all of this before but now it is very real. This is going to start like the abstract debates we have been blessed with in a democratic system. But within a year or two or less in some cases, the policy results of all the governing arguments we will lose (they hold all the governing power) will affect our lives directly.

And starting now we have to believe in ourselves more than them. Racial discrimination and the immoral foreign policies of Vietnam were brought down — for a time anyway, this fight never stops — by ordinary people not by politicians. Some good politicians will represent us but everything starts with us.

It is up to us. We have to decide to be free. And be willing to pay the price of freedom. If we are passive, cowardly or stupid we will get what we deserve.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I spent the first four days of 2017 writing blog posts — brainstorming, offering opinions — nothing of great interest — too distracted to attempt writing.

Then I turned to improvisation and teaching, and wrote a little. A writer unconsciously seeks dissatisfaction. It gives him something to say.

I loved improvisation and teaching, but they weren’t for me. I suffered because of that love. I felt hurt and personally rejected. I wanted to be critical of something, and part of it at the same time. That wasn’t logical, neither is love. The wound of my experiences will never go away. The only thing that relieves the pain is writing.

I’ll also feel more at ease when I connect with more appropriate communities, until my soul outgrows those situations too. (I’m writing here on September 14, 2020.)

I was watching the news on TV. The story involved a protest in a suburban high school parking lot. The students and their parents wanted a football season in the midst of the pandemic. They know people will die for their pleasure. They don’t care.

I love America. But it too is toxic. What mean and selfish people. What misdirected lives — less than mediocre.

I love America, but I am no longer part of it.

Art relieves me because I stand alone in relation to the world. Art frees me from the pain of participation. Art takes me beyond criticism — it is where I go to understand. Art detaches me from the loves that would otherwise destroy me.

The pain of failed love forges my soul and takes the consciousness of my soul to a higher level.

My words may at times sound like criticism, but they are actually steps in a long process of decision.

By separating from those things that are not good enough, I become better.

An artist engages in the folly of trying to perfect himself.

Then he turns to the world and communicates what he has learned.

… And in so doing, over time, he helps the world.

The rejected artist must bear his insight in silence … and cultivate it … for those with ears to hear.

Improvisation and teaching still live within me, in forms and with people not yet known to me.

The delight of the new will replace the misery of the old. Misery is the prerequisite of love, the second, third, fourth, fifth … etc. … time around.

From January 5, 2017:

today-s-public-education-system-is-a-failed-monopoly-bureaucratic-rigid-and-in-unsteady-david-t-kearns-117-47-45

Note: I am not in agreement with the late Mr. Kearns’ solution to the education crisis which called for privatization — not the focus of this post at all — but I do agree with his diagnosis of the problem. The change that we need has nothing to do with ownership however. The change that we need is cultural. Decisions related to education and art should be made in the service of artistic integrity rather than financial and political expediency.

The attached post below has gone viral. It has been shared multiple times and has garnered 725 views in the less than 24 hours since I originally posted. It has driven traffic to my other blog posts about improvisation — approximately 171 views.

I have noticed many other people have posted on social media about the topic of grading improvisation students. The sentiment has been overwhelming against the practice.

For me, this is evidence — anecdotal but still strong — that institutions and teachers that deliver improvisational training should take heed of.

People do not want improvisational training to resemble “school.” “School” doesn’t work. People who want to improvise are disposed to art. They don’t want to be ushered through commercial systems that just take their money and declare winners and losers — like school. They don’t want authorities to tell them how to think and feel. They want to be helped in teaching themselves to foster their own liberation. They don’t want to matriculate to success in a power structure. They want joy — a success on their own terms. They want experience and not indoctrination.

The educational system has failed. It is not getting results. It is disappointing its students. I led a multi-week improvisational workshop at UIC “Finding and Exploring Your Teacher’s Voice” for two distinct groups of instructors. It was based on the improvisational concepts that I advocate on my blog. It was almost universally praised by the participants. I don’t make personal popularity a goal when I teach and I am proud to say that most of the positive comments that I received were about the experience and not about me as teacher (although they expressed affection for me as well.)

The two campus entities that sponsored the workshops decided not to continue them. I wear those rejections as badges of honor. I am an improviser. I am not a product of bureaucratic teacher certifications. I know how to teach. I know teaching is more than the cold dissemination of information and hunger games competitions for grades. I know “teachers” who are proud of the number of people that they fail, and don’t see the state of affairs as their failure at all. In reality, they are anti-teachers.

If improvisational training institutions are aping conventional education practices they have to go back to their roots and re-discover the nature of improvisation once again.

I was blessed to be taught by Paul Sills, the greatest of the improvisational leaders. I loved Paul and was fairly close to him for a time in New York City in the 1980s. Paul had contempt for the mainstream educational system. “Look at high school principals,” he once told me. “They’re all football coaches or ex-military.” Our social circumstances may have changed — we thankfully have more diversity now — but the sentiment against authoritarianism remains the same.

Improvisers take sides. True improvisors aren’t conventional. We aren’t mainstream. We don’t follow orders. We don’t conform. We don’t do things like the law school or the football team.

We see each other. We hear each other. We touch each other. We go through the world and the world goes through us. We build communities not bureaucratic systems. We celebrate our diversity and the universal ground of our being.

Our power doesn’t come from mastery over others in victorious competition. Our power comes from the mastery of our creativity.

Let improvisation remain a space where we can learn together not by slavishly obeying superficial expertise but by sharing the deepest experience of our best selves.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The viral post:

What is this bullshit about grades for improvisation classes? I hope this isn’t a trend. I don’t even think they should be called classes. I always liked “workshop.” Spolin wrote ” no one teaches anyone anything.” The space does. Leading an improvisation workshop is an art form. It is about creating an atmosphere where people can find their individual and collective creative voices.

Spolin also wrote that players should play unaffected by others’ approval or disapproval. How do grades serve that exactly?

Is this type shit even improvisation at all? Bad arts teachers have always squelched and bullied freedom and creativity. Improvisation has been so successful because it has been accessible to everyone and encouraging to all voices and points of view.

An improvisation instructor shouldn’t be worried about the competitive comparison of grading with their students. They should be trying to help all of their students find their freest and best selves released through improvisational art. What are these teachers grading? Talent? Intelligence? Skill? Who gives a shit what the teacher thinks about any of these things?

It is a lot harder — and requires a lot more personal risk and humility — to work with the students to help them create art. You don’t know what you are going to learn when you improvise. How do you evaluate what you don’t know?

These teachers need a lot more education themselves. They should read the philosophical, theological, historical etc. influences that shaped our art in the renaissance started by Spolin.

I have a list of some of that material that I’ve shared and will share again. (See link immediately below.) If these “teachers” read any of this stuff or other stuff like it they would never give themselves over to the simplistic, superficial, boneheaded and damaging scheme of grading improvisers. It’s like giving grades to people as to their value as human beings.

Required Reading for Improvisers

It is also a careerist competition. Ironically free creativity will give those students who become professional performers the skills that they need — not throwing them into immediate professional competition which will repress whatever is uniquely interesting about them — the quality that gives them a shot at professional success.

What exactly are these “teachers” teaching with their evaluations? How they do it — or their group or theater does it? Let’s face it, a lot of improvisational performance is mediocre or worse — but that has always been a positive because in those lousy performances improvisers find themselves and get good.

My guess is that these teachers who are so eager to evaluate are pretty shitty improvisers themselves. They don’t know that they suck and they play petty power games to make students conform to their piss poor standards.

A good improviser — including a leader of a workshop — goes into the space to discover — not to evaluate.

If the idea of a class is to get people to conform to some cookie cutter idea of performance or comedy it should be called something other than “improvisation.”

“Teachers” have a chance to be influenced by the many great artists who have taught, directed and performed in our form and instead they adopt the mentality of their Junior High principal.

Fucking ridiculous.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Someone said that one doesn’t usually remember what another person says or does. You remember the way that they make you feel. Meryl Streep made me feel good.

Perhaps it wasn’t the rejection of people that I loved that hurt so much. Maybe it was simply that they didn’t make me feel good, and it left a mark. I am sure some people are born with a gift for discernment. They probably don’t have to write.

These notes are a hint for the future.

From January 9, 2017:

Trump is exceedingly clever in his manipulations to suppress criticism of his looming Fascist government dedicated to the abasement of what remains of American culture and the degradation of the American people as a means to enrich his cabal of gangsters. Meryl Streep, the extraordinary artist who has graced our popular culture with shimmering film acting performances of mind-boggling variety and consistently high intelligence and decency, knows how a powerful person can influence the atmosphere of the world around him.

Streep used the time allotted for her acceptance of a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes Awards to express her concern about the effects of Trump’s persistent meanness on the rest of us. She specifically spoke of one example among many of his vicious disrespect for others, Trump’s ridicule of a disabled reporter during the violent and manipulative government takeover that was called the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign. She pointed to Trump’s unfair advantage in his bullying of a man who didn’t have the power, influence or resources to defend himself. She pointed out that it is even worse that such behavior from a person of power gives a green light to all of the people around him predisposed to such bullying.

Streep knows how a President affects the tone of a country because she knows how a star affects the tone of a movie set. I worked with Meryl Streep for one week. I had a small role in the movie Heartburn which was shot in New York. Streep was under a great deal of pressure when she was working on this film. It was her first comedy. It seems ridiculous to consider now, but many in the media were questioning whether she could pull it off. She had not had one career misstep in her ten years of filmmaking and many were eager to cut her down to size. Plus, she had creative differences with her first leading man. He was eventually replaced by Jack Nicholson, and Streep was characterized by some in the press as an egoistic diva.

I was a year out of Second City and doing Lewis Black’s Free Show and my own Rick Show at the West Bank Cafe basement theater bar on 43rd Street and Ninth Avenue. The only time I felt any personal confidence in those days was when I was performing or writing. I made friends only through my performances. I couldn’t engage someone in an initial conversation just by meeting them one-on-one. After I got to know them I couldn’t stop talking. I haven’t changed that much in that second regard.

Mike Nichols cast me in the movie. My entire time on that set was an experience of terror, punctuated by commas of relief when I had to perform. One morning I was sent to make-up. Meryl Streep came in to be made up herself. She sat in the chair next to me. We were together for about forty-five minutes. I was paralyzed. She spent the entire time praising me — a bit as an actor and more as importantly as a person. I was “so intelligent” and “healthy looking.” She smiled at me and said I was funny. She did all that she could to boost my confidence and did it in such a lovely and indirect way.

It wasn’t only me that Streep treated with respect and affection. Streep was kind to the make up people, all of the actors, everyone in the crew. She was a kind of royalty, but she was a royal who knew that we are all equal in our humanity. She was not the temperamental diva of the malicious press characterizations at that vulnerable moment in her career. She was the opposite.

At the Golden Globes last night she revealed that her kindness to all as a kindness of a very thoughtful type. She is very aware of her responsibility to society as a whole.

Streep sees through Trump because she is everything as a person that he is not and should be as a person who holds the office of President of the United States. She is sad and prophetically disturbed that Trump gave a highly effective performance that had “nothing good about it” but achieved its desired result by making its targeted audience “laugh and bare its teeth.” Streep clearly pointed out the cultural moment of meanness before us in simple and down to earth terms unadorned by any affectation.

Trump responded by calling Streep a “Hillary Lover,” a cunning insult with its racist echo. Translation of “Hillary Lover”: Get it white nationalists — nudge nudge — and newly unashamed racists that are such a big part of my base … treat Hillary Lovers like the N—-r lovers that they are. Mock them, shout them down — or worse. Ol’ Dog Whistle Trump is telling his followers to break out the crosses and the lighter fluid and go downtown where the Liberal Arts majors live and stir things up.

A lot of people read my blog looking for answers as to how to respond to Trump. I think most of us will be dealing his Fascist foot soldiers. I think we can take a lesson from Meryl Streep. We shouldn’t be afraid of Trump and his minions. We should speak out about what we see. We should collectively stand up against Trump’s words and deeds and minimize his influence. We’ll probably have to take risks as we speak our minds as Trump’s power grows as he uses it, but silence is the greater risk. They want to hurt you anyway. Better to speak out against it.

The Republicans are going to execute devastating public policy, but they can’t trash our entire culture unless we let them do it. We can deny Trump much of his influence over people’s hearts and minds. And eventually fix the Republican wreckage in the aftermath.

Eventually this is going to become a kind of war. Trump tried to intimidate us n—-r lovers to be quiet last night. That is when we have to speak out more.

I was waiting to make a left turn at the corner of Ashland and Webster in Chicago one afternoon a few years ago. This guy driving a huge semi ran a light and swung his truck from the opposite direction and cursed at me and demanded that I move my car so that he could get through. No other cars were around. He berated me and threatened to “flatten” my little car. I just nodded “no.” An arrogant look stayed on the guy’s face for about three minutes and then he began to look scared. He stopped blaring his intimidating horn. He started to beg me to move. I did. As he pulled around me I looked at him. He didn’t make eye contact. He couldn’t make eye contact. This how I think we should deal with Trump and the ugliness he has released in our general population. Speak up and don’t back down.

Trump also said that Meryl Streep is an “overrated” actress. This should give us confidence. Does he really think that will hurt her feelings? Or do anything but invite ridicule upon the mouth breathers who listen to him? This stupid comment is a reminder that Trump isn’t smart — he’s just ruthless. The fascists’ stupidity is their Achilles Heel. They can’t manipulate us now that we are not innocent as to who and what they are. The only way that they can defeat us in the long run is if they scare us.

I include above a YouTube clip of the scene I worked on with Meryl Streep in Heartburn. Making that movie was more influential on my life than on my life as an actor. I post the video as an expression of solidarity with a person of excellence who is a leader showing us how to deal with Trump for the duration of this cancerous cultural phenomenon. I also include it as a thank you to Meryl Streep, the kind movie star who changed the way that I viewed myself and the world many years ago.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Next came a couple of misfires as I attempted to track the news and some promotions for my misbegotten stage show, and the sharing of a video of the first performance of the show.

The next piece shows the corrupting influence of performance on my writing. I began to hear every line in my head being delivered to an audience. At best, I have the tone of a radio talk show host, and it usually isn’t that good. In retrospect, I was trying to regain past glory from my one man shows of the 1980s which were creative high water marks. But I didn’t realize that in the years that ensued, that felt to me like a long extended exile, I actually had deepened. I had something better, and more mature struggling to get out of me.

This segment is repetitious in a bad way, and trying too hard to connect with he audience. When you perform, you become an audience. When you teach, you become a student.

From January 15, 2017:

Rick Santorum (a racist — his motto should be IF THEY’RE BLACK I ATTACK) says that John Lewis’ assertion that Trump will be an illegitimate President is “a stain on Lewis’ otherwise impeccable record.” (Right — when police dogs were terrorizing Civil Rights activists in Alabama Santorum would have rooted for the dogs.) Which is the tougher stain to remove — Lewis’ or the stain of a golden shower?

For me, it ultimately doesn’t matter if Trump colluded with Russia and stole the election or not. I will never recognize him as legitimate. I will never show his supporters an ounce of respect for their decision to vote for him. I will not follow President Obama’s leadership in accepting Trump’s ascension as the result of a fair and free election.

I don’t care about the merits of those considerations. I understand President Obama’s point of view regarding Trump’s legitimacy. Obama wants peace and stability. He has a long view desiring that our values and institutions survive and endure beyond Trump.

But I am not President. I want a revolution. I hate everything about Trump: his shallowness, his meanness, his bag of dirty tricks that makes Nixon look like a choirboy, his delight in hurting the weak (firing an 89 year old parade announcer and stealing that joy for example.) I hate his greedy, murderous Republican colleagues in Congress (the repeal of the ACA is mass murder.) I hate the plutocrats who have been running things indirectly for decades and now want the spotlight of the Cabinet. (An Amway rep is deemed to be the best person to lead the education efforts of our country.)

I hate the American culture’s worship of money and fame. It’s resistance to character and intelligence. I’ve hated these things since Reagan beat Carter handily. That was a stupid and immoral choice and it was not only a vote for President. America chose to be the lousy mess it has evolved into today.

I see Obama as a kind of Gorbachev. He was a good and decent leader loyal to, and wanting to improve, a system that has died. The spirit of our revolution has been distorted so many times that we need a complete re-boot.

It is an open question as to whether Trump colluded with Russia and others to steal the election through a misinformation campaign. It doesn’t matter. Trump is morally illegitimate.

The greed, dishonesty and meanness of our politics, huge numbers of our population and the circumstances that we face in our day-to-day lives are all morally illegitimate.

Trump and the mindset of America are illegitimate because they offend God — who manifests himself in our present and potential highest selves.

The Rick Blog is not a political blog. I’m not looking at political and cultural events from the point of view of any ideology. I’m a moralist at heart.

I view the world like the seven-year Catholic schoolboy that I once was. The Beatitudes. Catholic Social Justice Doctrine. Humility. Kindness. An interest in justice not only for oneself but others. Compassion for the sick, the old, the lonely. Reverence for the dead. Selflessness. This is what I was taught.

And that America was an imperfect but wonderful place where everyone was free — to do and say what they pleased. And everyone had an excellent opportunity to be free from want — a basic material security that allowed us to pursue our dreams.

We don’t live in that country I just described. We don’t live out the values that I learned in Catholic school — and that everyone else learned elsewhere or have heard from the depths of their consciences and souls. We are born knowing what is right. It is in our starter set.

And now we are at the moment of Trump. We accept him as President and admit our illegitimacy as Americans and human beings.

I say “we” because I include myself in our collective resolve. I resolve to work for the rest of my life for the restoration of a culture of decency, justice and freedom and in my personal dealings with others to be everything Trump is not.

Trump is useful in that regard. If you want to be a good person, observe him closely and do the opposite.

My crisis with Trump is not a political one. It is an existential one. What kind of people are we? What kind of world are we making?

My God — what have we done? Grant me strength and wisdom and goodness to do right by this beautiful gift of your people and world that we have ruined with meanness, selfishness and stupidity —elevating all the wrong things!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Next came some bad jokes — looking for material. Ugh!

Then some decent glimmers of writing but so poorly executed, there is no purpose in sharing what I wrote. I wasn’t trying to make it in show business, or advance in higher ed, but I was self-consciously trying to connect.

One thing kept me alive as walked in the infections of theater and higher ed without a mask. I defended myself. I didn’t used to do that. I was listening to some misguided person who said that you shouldn’t lower yourself to “their level”. Consequently, I internalized a lot of stupid, mean, competitive and malicious criticism. I don’t carry around wounds for people that I got to thoroughly tell off. The unanswered insults hurt, and strangely baffle. That confusion leads to real writing. The real villains are stealthy and harder to get a hold of to tell off. They disguise themselves and make claims of superiority. You can’t really confront them directly. These two jerks at least engaged in a relatively equal setting. It is learning to be equal to the unclothed emperors is the trick. And the grit that creates the pearl of much good writing.

From January 17, 2017:

Every once in a while I get attacked or incorrectly challenged by people I don’t know on Facebook. I enjoyed telling two people off this morning.Me: 3 teams emerging— the Trump Republicans — Republicans and Democrats that oppose him but think they can work with him and soften him on some points — and the people who see him as an illegitimate moral outrage and believes full resistance is the moral response. Count me in group 3. Citizens are more important than Congress or press right now. We have to have Spartacus moments ourselves.Like · Reply · 16 hrsCynic: OK, so what’s your plan for your Spartacus moment? What are you actually going to *do*? Besides complain on FB, I mean.Like · Reply · 1 · 16 hrsPseudo-Religious Fool:Richard Thomas do you know how many seats secular progressives have lost in the last few election cycles? Going against this new President will not help you or your cause…just pray on it and ask God to guild [sic] him…it’s good for everyone if he does a great jobLike · Reply · 4 hrs

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas What convinced you he was doing God’s work? The pussy grabbing? How about when he encouraged people to beat up protesters at his rallies? Remember when he encouraged thugs to punch out a 60 year old woman on an oxygen machine? Oh holy night. Or is it his racism that makes him the embodiment of God’s will? His contempt for the press? His daily mean-spirited bullying of anyone he disagrees with? How about his sickening greed and materialism? Oh — I could go on about what an instrument of God he is. I’m using irony here — so you probably don’t understand me. I am against Trump because I believe in God. My opposition has nothing to do with politics. Trump and his supporters are a moral disgrace. You aren’t serving God by talking about prayer as a substitute for thought. And I’ll end by referencing our first amendment — it is my right to be opposed to a President and to speak about it. It is also my right to exercise any faith I damn well please. None of this is intended to encourage further conversation with you. Buzz off. I’m telling you off. Start educating yourself about many things so you can properly function as a citizen.Like · Reply · 3 hrs · Edited

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas  Here’s what I do, Cynic. I teach in a business school. Professional Presence using improvisation and ethics. I’m a lawyer, improviser working as a college professor. I tell my students that I don’t want to help them do “Trump” business. I teach critical thinking and ethics. And confidence to a diverse student population to stand up for themselves against the bigotry that Trump exploits but is a huge sickness in American culture. I teach them about fascism. They are ignorant about the alt-right. They think it is just another political opinion. I also write a blog. And do a stage show. These are actually the biggest things that I do. I disagree that communicating on FB is a waste of time. Vaclav Havel said that the revolution in Czechoslovakia began with people speaking over kitchen tables. You’ve got to open up, Peter — give people some credit and drop your cynicism. Everyone can only start where they are standing and work in whatever sphere of influence they live in. Let us dare to speak, think, read and write — John Adams. Like · Reply · 17 mins

Richard Thomas

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Citizenship inspires good writing sometimes.

From January 19, 2017:

From President Obama’s last press conference where the President describes when he will depart from the normal reticence of former Presidents and speak out during the Trump administration. President Obama, the old constitutional law professor, in his calm and measured way, lays out how our democracy could be at risk in the next four years. Obama has been extraordinary during this transition. He did his best to help a negligent and incompetent Trump transition team prepare for their term.

There will still be early disasters attributable to their ignorance, corruption and negligence, but Obama mitigated a bit of the suffering by doing all that he could to care for the nation until the last minute. President Obama also did all he could to ensure a peaceful transition for the good of the country.

Trump did all he could, of course, to exploit divisions. There will be much protest, dissent and resistance to Trump. Hopefully our push back will be both peaceful and persistent, but we can expect violent responses from Trump. He promised them during the campaign. 

President Obama is not a creature of the system who mindlessly wants to preserve it. He is a cautious steward who wants to do all he can to protect the welfare of our citizenry. His preservation instincts also serve the ideals of our democracy more than the clubby oligarchy of the political power structure. We have a challenge beyond our usual struggle with inhumane plutocrats who propagate economic injustice, the privatization of our rights to health care, housing and education etc. We have a challenge beyond the vigilance we must employ in the face of the existential threat of Trump’s reckless, ignorant and corrupt foreign policy. 

We have a challenge that addresses the very nature of our country which is ultimately not a land mass or even a population. America is a collection of abstract ideals created by the Founding Fathers and expanded and transformed through the crucible of our history. We make those abstractions concrete realities or betray them and live lives of fear and injustice. We decide every day whether we want to live as Americans or as a smaller, less  free and confident people. 

Tomorrow afternoon, January 20, 2017, President Obama will be a private citizen. I take him as a role model as I perform my duties as a private citizen. I ask you to do so too. 

Here is the excerpt from President Obama’s remarks yesterday. His discussion of what he felt were essential tenets of our democracy that he will speak out about in his post-Presidency are the marching orders of my ordinary-man’s conscience. As the President said, we’ll be all right. We just have to fight and work to remain free. 

President Obama: “But there’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake. I put in that category if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion. I put in that category explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise. I’d put in that category institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press. And for me at least, I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids, and send them someplace else, when they love this country. They are our kids’ friends and their classmates, and are now entering into community colleges or in some cases serving in our military, that the notion that we would just arbitrarily or because of politics, punish those kids, when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves, I think would be something that would merit me speaking out.” 

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

2017 was often devoted to creating and promoting my stage show and podcast. Both were unnecessary. The writing is quite enough. Fortunately, the writer is the strongest archetype in the multiplicity of my personality and character so occasionally some good writing would emerge. 2017 was the year when I had to eliminate my awareness of any audience. I think my writing made a big leap forward when I stopped performing. But the writer was constantly pushing the performer out of the way. I was happiest onstage when I just sat there and read the stuff with a natural voice without interpretation.

I wrote a prose poem for the inaugural. At one time, and for a longish time, I thought this piece was one of my best. My later writing is better, and the best writing is to come.

From January 20, 2020.

1/20/17

Donald Trump doesn’t have a natural smile. He only has the phony smile that some people use when they pose for photographs. He doesn’t use that smile much either. He never smiles the smile that people have when they don’t know that they are smiling — the smile people have when they are amused — or feel friendly — or are touched by something.

Donald Trump is scared shitless — and not only at the awesome responsibility of the Presidency for which he is totally unprepared. He’s scared of everything. He’s so scared that he has never had a waking moment of his life that other people were anything more than an audience to him. He’s never been intimate with anyone. Even his wives and children have only existed to adore him. He says he is a germaphobe. He has never touched or been touched by another person since he was very small. His father was a Klansman and his mother was the bride of Frankenstein. He inherited her hairstyle which would have been bizarre in any generation. His hair is a gesture of emotional honesty in an illusory magician’s act of a public persona. His hair says — I am a freak. Don’t touch me. Donald Trump may well be a ghost.

All Presidents before Trump, no matter how superficially awkward they have been, have lusted for the job. They all wanted the power to do good or ill. Anthony Hopkins has this great moment in the movie Nixon. The character Nixon has arrived at the podium to accept the 1968 Presidential nomination. Hopkins smiled a subtle but fierce smile and narrowed his eyes with satisfaction and anticipation as he openly accepted the cheers of the convention delegates. Hopkins’ Nixon was receiving something that he had wanted his whole life. The character had a dimension beyond the paranoid cerebral and disconnected Nixon that we are accustomed to thinking about. It took a great Shakespearean actor to find that kind of insight into the nature of a person and the people who seek the Presidency. For them, power is a source of joy.

Our worst public officials have been ambivalent about doing their jobs. Dan Quayle wanted to be a professional golfer. George W. Bush was still trying to find himself when he was in his fifties, so he had his daddy’s friends buy him the White House so he could see if that would work. It didn’t. Warren Buffet has said he isn’t going to leave his kids any money. I see the wisdom. It’s a curse. Money isolates. Life is about living life — the struggle to survive — the struggle to create — is what we humans are wired to do.  Money allows some of us to avoid that suffering and joy — flying around alone in their personal airliners — or living alone in the penthouses of gaudy skyscrapers with their names in letters five stories high shouting from the side of the building.

The Trump Inauguration Concert yesterday looked like a scene from the movie Nashville. The actor Jon Voight hosted. Jon Voight is crazy. Who knows what made him that way? Maybe it is his acting process. He has given some great performances. Maybe he is like a boxing champion who is ultimately mentally destroyed by his drive that accomplished excellence in the ring. Jon Voight has fearlessly tested his mind and emotions and spirit in many films through the years. The self-abuse in the service of art has finally caught up with him. Voight said in his opening remarks that Trump had been relentlessly attacked when all he wanted to do was make America great again, and that he sure didn’t need the job of President. It was such an odd statement on the occasion of an Inauguration. Voight was delivering lines written by the worst writer he ever worked with — Trump. For a person supposedly consumed with making America great again, Trump spends a great deal of time focused on himself.

Trump self-consciously walked across a vast expanse in an attempt at a dramatic entrance conceived by the worst director of all time. He didn’t look at the crowd whose cheers did nothing to cheer him. His wife walked with him, but he didn’t seem to know she was there. They looked like two extremely stiff strangers walking next to each other on a very wide and empty promenade with no particular inclination to be introduced. The scene truly deserved to be described as surreal. We are entering the surreal Presidency of Donald Trump.

Presidents are always a reflection of the American people, whose character changes and is demonstrated every four years. We are a very sad people in 2016. Afraid of life and disconnected from reality. We want undeserved recognition for excelling at things we don’t know how to do. We talk a lot about hard work but we don’t do any. We are so pre-occupied with ourselves that we don’t see the world burning around us. We don’t know how to smile. We are terrified facing challenges that we are ill-equipped to deal with and now it is too late. We selfishly want to get what we have coming as individuals, but even when we do we can’t enjoy it because it is impossible to escape the dystopian nightmare of society-as-a-whole. We careen from disaster to disaster unconcerned about the real damage being done and obsessed by what the other dystopians think of us in the meantime. We are cyphers completely disconnected from the light of our true natures in the depths of our souls and too lazy, ignorant and disinterested to even go look for that light. Reason, compassion and real imagination are too much trouble for us. Why bother? We sit in squalor in an opioid haze addicted to sensation and concerned with nothing else but the sensation. We’re not a tragedy, because we were never much to begin with. We didn’t fall from grace. We wallow in the slop we were born to sleep in.

Or maybe I am just describing the pathetic cypher our wealthy masters have forced upon us because they hold us in utter contempt. And maybe we are complicit in this state of affairs because we let them do it. Perhaps we have been innocent for too long and it has now come to this.

There is nothing to fear with Trump because there is nothing inside Trump. But there is plenty to fix outside of Trump. We can’t accept his leadership simply because we are told to by people who hate us and profit from our suffering. A big part of life — with the force of natural law — is people telling you that you don’t deserve what you want — your defiance — and the education and satisfaction that comes from that struggle for independence.

Smile.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

My father was a coach. I grew up in a motivational environment. That was a little bit of bad luck. Besides students and theater audiences, I was also adversely affected by my need to perform for my friends on Facebook. They were mostly scared and depressed by Trump’s rise to power. I tried to cheer them up, and encourage them. I regret the error.

From January 21, 2017:

It’s the day after the ugly Fascist rant also known as the Trump Inaugural Address. There is a lot to process, but my day belongs to my wife and my mother both of whom I love even more than this blog — and that’s a lot. So more ambitious writing will come later — but I respond to the mother fucker with a rant of my own.

Don’t argue with these assholes. Shame them and resist them.

The Republican Party has found its true voice. It’s dropped the phony right wing “Christianity.” There is a new Bible passage related to that “theology.”

“Jesus puked.”

To its credit, the GOP dropped blaspheming God with lies about the meaning of his Word and has begun to speak from its honest and authentic soul.

Republicans have gone the full Nazi.

Thank God we don’t have to listen to convoluted interpretations of the Bible claiming, for example, that poor people should never get assistance or that homosexuals live in sin. Now they are going to actually persecute poor people and gays to the max. No muss. No fuss.

They also are going after the disabled and that would be a hard one to justify Biblically. But Mein Kampf and Ayn Rand work great.

Their figurehead leader represents them well — a selfish, violent piece of trash that can’t speak in a compound sentence.

Finally — nothing to do with God.

Just the filthy trash for all to clearly see.

Paul Ryan brought out his compromised priest but that’s the only God lie I’ve heard lately.

Don’t argue with these mother fuckers. Shame them and resist them. I just shouted down an asshole who was loudly talking about Trump in a coffee shop.

“Shut up! Pipe down!” I said. “You can say whatever you want but I don’t want to listen to this filth from a Nazi sympathizer.”

The manager came and asked him to quiet down. No one minded what I said. I’m in Park Ridge, Illinois. It’s old school Democrat, but a lot of conservatives live here too. We’re going to win. Ordinary people know what disgusting people are in charge at the moment.

Too many people are on to what’s happening.

This filth!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This is talk, but it is good talk.

From January 22, 2017:

1/22/17

Who was the audience cheering Trump’s inane and inappropriate comments at the CIA yesterday? He said in his sloppily improvised remarks that most of the people who worked at the CIA voted for him. Did they? Is there any reliable information available that could show us the voting preference of CIA personnel in the 2016 election? Why was the meeting held on a Saturday when agents had to make a special trip into work if they wanted to hear Trump? Did only agents who supported Trump come in to listen to him? We’re they agents at all?

I don’t have the answers. It seemed odd to me that the agents were so warm to a man who has insinuated that they were Nazis in the past and showed no decorum whatsoever in front of a wall honoring their fallen comrades. The rank and file of the CIA might like Trump. How the hell do I know? I don’t have enough context to understand what happened at the CIA yesterday. I don’t have the time to investigate and research every fairly obvious question and issue as if I worked for Reuters. Who does? It’s an impossible burden to put upon an individual. Mainstream media should provide that context — it has the workforce to do it and the resources to aid those workers in their jobs — but its too busy providing panels of opinionated partisans bloviating all sorts of opinions before there has been a decent presentation provided of relevant facts. The providing of those facts is the primary service the media should be charged to do.

The media doesn’t normally provide fake facts as Trump alleges — they normally don’t provide enough facts. It’s either the superficial headline service one gets in a news broadcast or a daily newspaper, or its the pundit wrestling conflict shows of the cable networks which are designed to drive ratings while they generate more heat than light.

My criticism of the press is a lot different than Trump’s criticism. He wants them to praise him or be quiet while his administration does all of the talking. I just want them to give me information that is useful for my own process of thinking for myself —- in order to make my own decisions as a citizen.

I am certain that the Trump Administration wants to control its own narrative. Every administration tries to do that. Conventional ones try to put a compelling story out there. Conventional ones that are honorable try to promote a positive narrative based upon an honest recitation of facts and explanations of intelligent and well-intentioned policies that are executed to serve the needs and desires of their citizenries. Dictators control the media landscape in their nations so that only the regime’s narrative is disseminated. People who live in totalitarian countries live in a crazy disconnect between the narrative they are told they must accept and the reality of their daily lives which contradict the lies of their leaders.

Trump aspires to dictate. He has told as much in his words and actions. A big part of his propaganda campaign is the lie that he is an enormously popular leader who represents a vast population of disenfranchised Americans who are constantly lied to by a corporate media that wants to defeat him because he is a huge threat to their interests who is working on behalf of the common man that they oppress. What bullshit.

Trump’s lies cannot be treated as a distraction. It is the media’s job to give a narrative based on reality. That narrative cannot be maintained without debunking Trump’s constant stream of lies.

It is an exhausting proposition. We are stuck with these bastards and while we are with them we have to constantly decipher their lies and their motivations for telling them so that we can keep a handle on reality.

Trump and his Press Secretary Sean Spicer — who was only following orders — spent much of their first weekend in power disputing crowd attendance estimates for the Inaugural activities on Friday. In the meantime, Trump, who bills himself as the great “counter-puncher” of Twitter who takes on anyone that criticizes him was caught relatively flatfooted regarding the Women’s March where multiple millions of people in America and the rest of the world protested his Presidency.

Trump tweeted: Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.  Why is it relevant whether the people voted in relation to the proposition of Trump’s lack of popular support? It isn’t. Many elected leaders have experienced great unpopularity. I can think of none that experienced it this soon after taking power. Does he have any evidence of the percentages of voters and non-voters among the Women’s March participants? He doesn’t of course. With whom do the celebrities who marched hurt the March’s  cause? His base? Does the support of his base give him a legitimate basis for maintaining power? He lost the popular vote. That’s some hard evidence that we do have. Trump’s tweet re: the Women’s March aids him in an objective to generate conflict and get attention but it does nothing to further him in his mendacious argument that he is not only a legitimate but highly popular elected democratic leader with a strong moral claim to power. The Women’s March was a big win against Trump’s influence. He ineffectively criticized the March but he couldn’t deny its reality.

Why? To accept photographic evidence of a comparison between Obama’s first Inaugural and Trump’s on Friday would contradict Trump’s self-serving fairy tale that he is a popular champion of the common man. So Trump did that emphatically. To challenge the reality of the Women’s March could not possibly succeed. How do you deny video of millions of people criticizing you from 650 or so locations all over the world? To do so would be obviously ridiculous even to the most delusional Trump supporter and would actually call attention to the truth that he is enormously unpopular and faces a broad based opposition comprised of so many different types of people that the opposition might be of historic proportions. So Trump was reduced to pathetic sniping — even sounding like the loser his brand won’t allow him to be. Yay Women!

One very good thing that the media does is simply show events. For example, I decided with absolutely certainty that Trump was a fascist when I saw his words and behavior at his campaign rallies. I knew some about Fascism and I read a little more. I looked for a little more biographical information on Trump himself and I came to a rock solid conclusion.

We shouldn’t take Trump’s propaganda as mere distraction. He wants our view of reality to be confused. He wants us to feel hopeless and helpless in the face of events. Then he and his friends can rob us blind.

We cannot just shrug in the face of Trump’s opaque lies. We have to ask — what is really going on? And what is Trump’s motivation for the lie?

We have to be comfortable in not immediately knowing the facts of a matter. I published a post related to questions and potential investigations related to Trump’s relationships with Russia and then had to publish what I called a “possible retraction” because some of the reporting on the story was shown to be misleading and incorrect. But that story isn’t over yet and I am waiting to see what develops.

A citizen in the time of Trump has to be comfortable with ambiguity.

We also have to be asking questions constantly and trying to get a handle on realities even when they don’t seem to go in our favor. We have to be honest with everyone — including ourselves.

We should also be patient with ourselves. We don’t have limitless time or resources. In order to maintain our freedom we should jealously assert and enjoy our rights to live our personal lives. We should have an ease in uncertainty and a persistence in the discovery of what is actually happening.

The Women’s March demonstrated that we have a real role to play in current events. Trump has actually given us an opportunity to exercise direct action to change our nation in a good and authentic way instead of accepting the indecent con we are getting from our dubiously chosen and false “leader.”

Citizenship is a great and exciting job at the moment. It is also very difficult. We have to figure out how to do a lot of complicated things.

Boy! But by the time we get rid of Trump we are all going to be a lot smarter. We’ll be better citizens, thinkers and people. This asshole is giving us a great education in high level critical thinking and high level morality.

Some one said that experiences dealing with bullies are the best education that a person can have.

That makes a lot of sense to me this morning.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The movies were my church and refuge, my artist’s space. It was all as soulful as it was physically unhealthy. I understood this Trump phenomenon from Day One. My voice speaking to an unspecific friend, playing catch with a tennis ball against a wall was the sweet spot.

From January 22, 2017:

We saw The Founder last night. It’s a very good movie. It’s very timely too. I’ve seen the story in Trump. I’ve seen the story in Trump’s followers. I’ve seen it too many times in my personal experience. Mediocre people dedicated to “winning” above all else. It matters more to them than their spouses, their business partners, their friends. They lie to win. They steal to win. They lift other people’s ideas. They cheat people close to them out of money that rightfully belongs to them and what they truly need. They keep other people down and stifle their advancement while they imitate everything good in those people that might help them get ahead. They suck the blood out of the people that care about them and leave the dead carcasses on the side of their roads to glory.

They call what they are doing capitalism and it may well be. They justify every lousy thing that they do to others as competition or “just business.” They claim that their utter lack of character is something called “work.”

I call them by their real name — failures as human beings. They are the source of all man-made suffering in the world.

They are wrong about everything even as they pose as winners in the game of life.

Everything worthwhile that man has ever produced was produced by the force of love — including successful businesses and careers.

They claim to be the elite among us when actually they are a huge drag on our existence. I daydream that when we defeat Trump we defeat this ugly mentality once and for all…

And that Dale Carnegie courses and business and sales seminars are replaced by true religious experience and the great art — past — present — and future — of the world.

Love — not winning!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

More insight.

From January 23, 2017:

1/23/17

I think Trump uses his insanity strategically. All the bizarre attention on the Inaugural crowd count this past weekend seemed tactically employed for several fascist objectives. It pushed the false narrative that Trump is popular and legitimate. It distracted from substantive issues — his conflict with the CIA, Betsy DeVos’ ethics problems, the several Russian collusion investigations involving Trump, Flynn and Manafort — to name a few.

The manufactured crowd count controversy also gave Trump an opportunity to try to de-legitimize the media. This is Trump’s lugenpresse — lying press — gambit, borrowed from the Nazis. Totalitarian regimes have to eliminate any free press so that they can control every discussion. Dictatorships have just one official voice — no contrary views — no dissent. Expect many more of these challenges to the press’ honesty — probably done more artfully and with more cunning as the administration gains more experience.

Trump and his administration, like all authoritarians,  establish an alternate reality — or try to — and therefore a confusion as to what’s true. if Trump solely controls the narrative, they can make whatever policy they want without fear of contradiction. They could take away everyone’s health care for example and say that everyone has health care. (All children under 16 years old, are now 16 years old!) If a sparsely occupied field can be said to be densely occupied  without challenge then anything can be said to be anything.

Finally — at least for this post — if a cult of personality is established —- then what the great man wants, says, feels, needs etc. is much more important than the needs of the people. He — they — are trying to get us out of a democratic dynamic and into a Fascist one. I think they were foiled this weekend. The Women’s March and the press kept things real. He’s not popular or legitimate implied millions of mobilized women. The fact that he is a liar was accurately reported by the press. Our side pushed back mightily. I think that’s what we have to keep doing. Of course Trump is a narcissist and sociopath. Trump is crazy. But he and they use that madness to achieve objectives of power. Fascism or any dictatorship is crazy. Trump may be crazy but he and his gang want to drive us crazy too. Then in the fog they can steal everything.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Hits and misses while trying to get my arms around what was happening …

From January 23, 2017:

Don’t underestimate Trump and/or the people around him. They had a horrible weekend because of several boneheaded communication strategy decisions. They overreached with the Inaugural Address, and the lying crowd estimates. These are tactical mistakes to move their Fascist agenda forward, but they have come back before. These are the people who dug a deep hole for themselves in the campaign, and then sprung the FBI Director Comey sliming of Clinton. After the fatal (to Hillary’s campaign) Comey announcement, Trump stopped tweeting and went under the radar for the last ten days of the campaign. He did rallies but didn’t say anything new. Hillary was left in the spotlight and in the crosshairs for those final ten days and Trump, of course, won. The Trump brain trust (such as it is) made the appearance of a false equivalency between Trump’s ethics problems and Hillary’s ethics problems seem real, and in so doing moved enough undecided voters to his column to secure the victory. It was a very cunning maneuver (that hopefully will become a large ethical and legal problem for the Trump Administration in the days and weeks to come. We’ll see.) The Trump team apparently is not discouraged by mistakes for long, and keeps going until they turn things around. 

Here’s what I think happened in the inner sanctum of the Trump Administration on 1/20/17 and 1/21/17:

Bannon gave the communications advice that delivered to Trump his horrible weekend. But by early Sunday afternoon he was making a conciliatory tweet about the free speech rights of the Women’s Marchers after he said they should have voted on Election Day if they wanted a different result (an insulting lie) and that the celebrities who marched hurt the March’s cause (a typical Trumpian ad hominem attack with no evidence offered to support it’s claims.).

I think there is a communications strategy rivalry between Breitbart’s Bannon and the Republican National Committee’s Priebus and maybe Paul Ryan’s Pence (but I don’t think Pence is too vocal given his position as Vice-President. He’s interested in his power through influencing Congressional legislation and influencing administrative policy through direction of the Cabinet’s various departments. He doesn’t want to jeopardize that enormous power.)

Bannon wanted Trump to deliver the horrible “America First” Inaugural Address, and wanted Trump to deliver his  inappropriate CIA improvised “speech,” and wanted the Sean Spicer Inaugural-crowd-lie press briefing meltdown. Bannon had Trump answer the bell as a brawler taking wide swings at many opponents. Trump (and the entire administration) took a public relations beating after the exhibition of lousy boxing skill. They dropped their guard and exposed themselves to be the Fascists that they actually are — even to some people who  were marginally sympathetic to them.

On Sunday, in the aftermath of his extraordinarily tone-deaf Saturday, Trump listened to Priebus instead of Bannon, and softened his tweeted comments about the Women’s March — a baby step in the direction of establishing false appearances of decency and sanity in the White House.

I believe the Trump team is going to work out these internal turf problems. They are going to pull in a few more experienced Republican professionals to counsel them in ways that will prevent such big P.R. errors. They are going to learn when to use the bold Bannon radical hammer of unvarnished Fascist rhetoric, and when to use Priebus’ Republican establishment’s conventional misdirection through traditional communication strategies and decorum which cover up their dark intent — all in the service of achieving the indecent desires of that intent.

We had big wins this weekend. Trump and company were embarrassed mightily. But they will strike back. I see that as a high probability.

We have to stay vigilant and persistent. Nothing to fear at all. We’ve got this.

But we can’t rest on our laurels. A long way to go.

We saw the seeds of their destruction this weekend, but its going to be a longer journey, and they will be more surefooted. It would be hard for them to be less.

It would be a great break if Trump’s senior staff remains as incompetent and divided as it was this weekend. That is somehing to hope for, but nothing to rely on.

Unless there is a huge meltdown…? — No, they can’t be as stupid and torn by rivalries as they were this weekend as a rule –can they?

My fingers are crossed, but I am proceeding as if they will get off the mat like they have done before.

I hope you do the same so there are no letdowns after the euphoria of winning the first of many battles in the early hours of our struggle.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The first Rick Blog podcast appears on January 23, 2017. A necessary exploration of unnecessary motion. I had to learn not to be so concerned about getting my work “out there”. That takes too much energy. I now focus solely on writing it. I have been uninterested in keeping my eyes open for the right people and opportunities. I’ve been happy to write in obscurity the last couple of years. That may be changing, but I am exhausted by even the idea of personal ambition. I would like my writing to be available to anyone who might find it useful for its pleasurable and transformative properties.

This next piece was painful to re-read. I really didn’t know who I was that day — didn’t have a clue. Working on stage contaminated me. I now could care less about this performer or her problems. I saw myself as some gray eminence of improv comedy. I was being a fool. I’m a writer. Again — teaching and performing take me off the track.

From January 24, 2016:

Katie Rich apologized for an inappropriate joke about 10 year old Barron Trump (and the horror of school shootings actually when you really think about it). It’s hard. She is on a show that has been doing great with really edgy political satire about Der Trump and it is a necessary part of the process for all true comedians to test social boundaries. It is her job to expose the powerful to vicious ridicule. The trick is to identify the powerful.

I debated with myself as to whether I should I make jokes about Melania Trump on my blog. The orange douchebag treats her so terribly in public that I felt sorry for her. He shows her no warmth or respect. But I decided that she was a collaborator, a plagiarist and really disgusting in her lack of response or dignity in light of the pussy grabbing comments. I don’t know if Melania Trump is a bad person or not, but I’m sure she isn’t a good one. I saw her unsuccessfully try to masquerade as a peer of Michelle Obama when she has never done any of the work and dedicated action a person needs to do to be a person of the intelligence and character of Michelle Obama. I personally hate when people try to get recognition for work they never did. There’s enough people that get no recognition for the work they do. I hate when they grab — that word again — the money and applause with no concern of delivering value to the world that merits those rewards. Plus — and this may well be sexist — knocking her is a way to knock Trump himself. I like portraying her as the stripper/sometimes whore wife of the dictator of a banana republic. I’m sorry — that isn’t a portrayal. That’s non-fiction.

My point here is that I consider what I truly believe and honor it whenever I write or improvise — joke or otherwise. I am not just reaching for an effect. And I’ll defend it. And I’ll take the consequences. I will also apologize when I realize I have been what I consider to be unfair.

If Katie Rich was just reaching for the shock of a joke I think she made a mistake. I don’t think she really wants to mock ten year olds or make light of school shootings. I don’t know her but I am confident that she isn’t that kind of awful person.

The greatest comedians are moralists. Twain, Pryor, Carlin … they could get laughs at will, but they were street corner philosophers with a very deep world view. Great comedians are very serious people.

The world at large, like NBC, should understand that what Katie Rich is doing — satire — is very hard to do — and it plays a very important role in our democracy. Let’s hope Katie Rich’s suspension is just that and she returns to have a long career in comedy. And let’s hope she returns with a paradoxical reverence for the words we say that can be highly moral when they are at their most disrespectful and profane, but must be well considered.

Political speech is fraught as well. Now that Katie Rich has apologized can Barron’s father apologize for:

Calling Mexicans rapists and murderers
Mocking women for having menstrual cycles
Saying Muslims weren’t fit to live in the United States
Ridiculing the tremors of people with Parkinson’s Disease
Saying President Obama was a Kenyan not fit to lead our country
Calling women fat pigs
Saying women are OK with him grabbing their pussies because he is so rich and famous
And the many other vicious verbal assaults that he makes on people weaker than he is every day?

As I have said before in this space, Donald Trump is a great example if you are trying to be a good or better person. Just do the opposite of what he does. If you go after the unjust and powerful you are doing a highly moral thing — speaking out against evil. If you go after the weak and vulnerable in the very same way you are a bully. A genuinely funny person like Katie Rich is pretty reliably funny. Sometimes the hardest part of the job is distinguishing the strong from weak.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Smart pieces.

From January 24, 2017:

Progressives are happy about Trump dumping TPP. I’m a progressive too. But I want to remind my friends that Hitler greatly improved employment — it’s availability, wages, working conditions — even creating more leisure time in the mid-30s before he started the Final Solution and invaded the Sudetenland. For awhile in the 1930s Hitler was the most popular politician in the world. He was compared to FDR. Progressives are happy Trump wants to fix our country’s infrastructure. Hitler’s Germany built the autobahn. A great feat of engineering. Was it worth it? I think we should put up with our unfair economy and our lousy roads until we get rid of Trump.

Fair trade, a fair shake for workers and a new and better infrastructure are things we’ve wanted badly for a long time. But remember getting those things were the first steps before Hitler built his war and genocide machines.

We don’t only need to do the right thing. We need to do it for the right reason.

I felt uneasy when I heard Bernie Sanders and Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO leader, sent some cautious love to Trump after he got rid of TPP.

When is what looks like justice actually just a bribe?

We need to assert complete opposition to Trump even when he proposes something that seems good. If he buys labor and builds a coalition we’re on our way to some sort of Fourth Reich. We should just be focused on getting rid of these people and fixing things later.

National Socialism wants fair trade and full employment. So does Social Democracy.

I don’t think we should accept anything — no matter how good it is in and of itself — gained through National Socialism. If we go that route we and others will pay for it big time later.

Trump and Bannon are telling us what they want to do. They want to get rid of people that they determine are “other.” The logical conclusion of their rhetoric is genocide.They want quick war to destroy anyone that they say are our enemies or that they want to dominate to “take the oil” or anything else of value. They are trying to lead us to war and, it bears repeating, genocide. Anything they “give” to us will be blood money. Full Employment and Improved Infrastructure are Hitler’s and Trump and Bannon’s step one before the mass murder and war start. This is the basic meaning of America First.

We should only accept infrastructure improvement and economic justice acquired through Social Democracy. Social Democrats want economic justice for its own sake, not for the assertion of national might. Morality not power! Morality is tremendously important right now — more than ever. Anything we get from these people will be the result of a bargain with the Devil.

Trump will give us nothing that won’t be followed by taking back much more later. And rightfully damn us to hell — on earth and in eternity.

Our full focus should be on getting rid of Trump, not making deals with him.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I just read that in Thomas Mann’s novel, The Magic Mountain, there is a character that strongly resembles Trump. The other characters argue about whether he is a genius or an idiot. There have been similar discussions about Trump on social media lately. Mann apparently concluded that the baffling character was a “personality.” Sometimes I think we have to redefine what genius is. Trump is obviously stupid and crazy in some ways. But he knows something that gives him great power. We have to watch him and figure him out in order to have answers.

To be satisfied with just calling him a moron or a sociopath is a big mistake. I think he personifies an evil force that has been a cancer in our country since Reagan. That’s when mainstream culture stopped honoring FDR and Lincoln and became about something else — something sinister.

We don’t fully know this guy yet. We assume that we do at our own peril.

If I had to describe Donald Trump in one word, I wouldn’t go with “stupid.” I wouldn’t go with “crazy.” I think I’d pick “criminal.”

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Some people might think the next sentiment is radical, but Trump and the Republicans are the radicals. I still believe what I wrote in this segment. We are not involved in a democratic debate with these people. This is a power struggle. We can never accept them as our masters. (note written September 14, 2017).

From January 25, 2017:

Trump’s lies about massive voter fraud don’t undermine my faith in the integrity of our democracy. The fact that he is illegitimately sitting in the Oval Office does.

DUMP TRUMP NOW … before its too late.

This past weekend my Facebook feed was a parade of wonderful spirit and enthusiasm reporting on and inspired by the Women’s March. I have seen another trend now that Trump is in the middle of his first evil work week. People used to share links to articles of national publications that provided information. That’s useful. That’s great. But now there has been a big uptick in folks’ offering their own thoughts and insights into what is going on.

The national emergency has engendered a spiritual and intellectual confidence in people that I haven’t seen before — maybe not ever in my entire life.

Dealing-with-Trump posts have replaced entries that used to deal with more trivial matters. People are more adult. People are actively being citizens. Real thinking citizens.

I was watching MSNBC last night and I had a strong wish come over me that Trump, and his staff and the Congressional Republicans and the collaborating Corporate Democrats would all go away. America is like an abused spouse that has to get out of this situation — immediately.

Trump should be getting NO DEMOCRATIC PARTY support on ANYTHING. Even if the initiative or nomination is in itself positive. Their position should be that he is illegitimate and must be removed. Trump and Bannon are following Hitler’s playbook almost in chronological order. Don’t be fooled by the pro-union stuff and infrastructure improvement talk. Hitler did similar progressive-seeming things in order to consolidate power. Every time the Democrats cooperate with him on anything they consolidate his power in the long term.

Trump is not crazy or stupid. National Socialism is ultimately crazy and stupid the same as all other evil, but it’s primary aspect we have to be concerned with right now is it’s cunning. And that is what we are dealing with — not a general Fascism but full blown Nazism. Nazis aren’t personally crazy. They want to drive you crazy. The tactic is to take you away from reality so they can define it and do whatever they want.

Don’t you feel insulted when Trump pushes a petty lie like Inaugural attendance or massive voter fraud? He’s saying he has the power to set reality and you have to keep your mouth shut. He is saying that you have nothing to say about how things are going to be and he has everything to say about it. He is intimidating and bullying you with his lies. The small lies add up to a big lie that all power is his.

The Nazis relied on creating fear and confusion and manipulating people through their short – sighted self-interest.

I think what has happened this week is very ominous because Democrats are voting yes on some Trump proposals such as Cabinet picks, Bernie Sanders and the labor leader Trumka praised him on TPP — a big mistake of jeopardizing everything for one victory — we should never work with Trump even if we like what he is doing in micro-terms  — and many citizens are still greatly underestimating Trump — and others are relying on writing their Congresspersons, and working through the system as if we still lived in a democracy.

Even something as big as TPP is relatively unimportant right now. We should be focused on nothing but removing Trump before it is too late.

Citizens have to keep thinking and talking and collectively figuring out what is going on because Trump and Bannon are outsmarting everyone right now. Trump and Bannon are executing the Nazi ascension to power play book and we the American people are responding as the German people did. To a “T.”

We shouldn’t petition anyone. We should speak truth to this illegitimate power. We can’t compromise out of this. We have to revolt. The whole country should become a Dakota pipeline protest. We need a non-violent resistance movement. Like they had in South Africa and Eastern Europe. We have to fight and stop deluding ourselves that we are going to get anything from the Democrats or Congress or that Trump is just a crazy buffoon.

We have a little time to think and talk about it, but then we have to move. If we don’t demand that these people leave power soon, it’s too late.

Winston Churchill railed against the Nazis as a back bencher in the House of Commons. He cried out for immediate action. No one listened until the Nazis were very strong and it took WW II to get rid of them.

We can’t wait. We have to get rid of Trump as soon as possible. All the discussion about issues that would be large at any other moment is petty trivia.

Our whole focus should be on removing Trump and restoring democracy. And we the citizens have to do it. Our leaders will be like MLK, Havel, Mandela, Gandhi — not Chuck Schumer or even Elizabeth Warren.

Revolutions by definition come from outside of the system.

Dump Trump Now!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The pessimism here makes me hopeful for my writing.

From January 25, 2017:

This is the first morning since this Trump nightmare started that I feel pessimistic. I believe history has all the answers to guide us through what is happening and history says we are fucked.

The Women’s March was an unconscious cry. We the people don’t want this bullshit. Trump. The Congress and the corporate state.

In the meantime 1/3 of the Democrats are voting for Trump Cabinet nominees — legitimizing him because they are personally invested in a failed system.

Naive citizens write their Congress people as if that is going to do any good. That legitimizes Trump too.

People are clinging to the delusion that we still live in a democracy.

Progressives cheer infrastructure initiatives from Trump and killing trade deals. These are good in and of themselves. These type deals are also how Hitler bought off labor and consolidated his coalition and power.

Very smart people are fooled to think that Trump is crazy or dumb. In the meantime Trump and Bannon are outsmarting everybody.

They are manipulating self-interested greed, fear and naïveté to accomplish their Nazi takeover.

History says that people won’t wise up to what’s going on until it’s too late.

We should be focused on nothing right now but Trump’s removal from office. Every day he is in he gets more power.

We should act now but a lot of people are going to disagree with what I say here. It’s not a pissing contest to be right. I wish I was wrong. But I am certain of what I am saying.

Because we won’t collectively understand what they are doing, I don’t think we will stop them in time.

Eventually we will win, but only after we suffer a police state, genocide and hopefully limited nuclear war. People have to see it to believe it.

They never listen in time — historically. Maybe it will be different this time. We were the first modern democracy. Maybe we’re the ones who have to show how to regain democracy.

Personally I am not interested in any thoughts, words or deeds that are about anything but the removal of undemocratic usurper in the White House. Everything else is trivia right now.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This piece has unintended pathos. I was sixty-two years old and I still felt that I had to make it. I was making bad jokes and trying to ingratiate myself to people. I was indulging a naive and ridiculous trust in the kindness of strangers. I still had a need to succeed. Sometimes the blog seems a contest between trying to make it, and trying to achieve something truthful and real. The latter is my nature. The former was all external conditioning. The need for success died hard. First I felt ashamed that I hadn’t “made it”. Then I took a healthy pleasure in my accomplishments, only to be told by others that what I did wasn’t much and not good enough. Next, I did just as I pleased and claimed it all as success. I would get insulted when others didn’t see it that way. Finally, I became happy to be engaged in the process of pursuing a decent life, and making artistic achievement that life’s purpose. I began to forget how I was doing, and became more exclusively absorbed in what I was doing.

From January 25, 2016:

I feel a little vulnerable tonight — please indulge me.

I’m a writer, a performer of my writing and an improviser. I have great personal ambitions for my work. It is not all altruism. It’s not a hobby. I think it is really good. I use social media platforms as delivery systems, but I want to be published and produced on bigger platforms. I do writing and now stage shows, and videos and podcasts with professional intent. I am not merely amusing myself and its not a hobby. I am of course very sincere in what I write — but if I write about citizenship it is not just because I want to talk about citizenship — which I do — it is also because I want success for my writing projects. I’m not Paul Revere or St. Francis of Assisi. I really appreciate those of you who read my writing and those of you who tolerate its ubiquity on your feed. I know that I sometimes inundate you with all kinds of stuff.

My approach is to simply say what I feel and think about what interests me. I try to be smart. I try to write well. I try to be honest — emotionally and every other way. I try to be accurate but my writing isn’t reportage or academic. I go on the belief that what is deeply true for me is true for everyone else no matter how we are different in more superficial ways. I let my subject matter find me. I didn’t think I’d write so much about Trump but a Nazi takeover was hard to ignore. Writing and performing my writing and improvising is all I want to do for the rest of my life. The only thing I love more is my family — which really consists of my wife and my mother. And I love all of you too. I mean it. I hope that you get something out of what I do. I know that I get an immense amount out of your interaction with it.

You know the Trump situation has brought out my fierce voice, but there is much more there. The idea of The Rick Blog is that a human being has the openness and assertiveness to show his humanity and encourage other people to do the same.

I know this post can sound like a plea for oh we love you, and I may not be beyond such cloying manipulation. But truly if you do love me please share this post and send me $1000. If you do so I can accomplish my transition from teaching college to writing, performing my work and improvising full time that much faster.

So many of you are sweet and decent people.

OK, enough of the touchy feely shit, back to tearing Trump a new asshole!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Matthew McConaughey said on a commercial for Lincoln motor cars, “Don’t look for what you want to do. Find out all of the things that you don’t want to do, and you’ll find your way.” I’ll take my philosophy where I can find it. When I quote someone, I don’t do it before the fact. I do it after I have seen what they have said is true, or at least resonant with me personally, through experience.

Success is the great enemy of a writer. If a writer finds something that works, and makes him popular, he will be blocked from doing anything great. Writing is provoked by an irritant. You have to be in pain to want to bother with all of the otherwise uncompensated work of writing. Your pain is your ignorance. Your joy comes when your understanding ends that ignorance forever. Writing frees you, and then you can negotiate life in a sure-footed manner, actually looking forward to the next irritating obstruction that will provoke you to write.

Writing is not a discipline. You just do it. At first, I saw it as an aid to me, adjunct to my life. Now it is my life itself. Norman Mailer said that the professional writer is impure — constantly inducing labor and forcing the words out. He saw the artistic writer as more natural, writing only when properly inspired. This isn’t my experience. I think Mailer wrote those words when he was tired, and motivated by something other than being a writer. He had a brand to maintain, a reputation to preserve and try to expand, and probably substantial financial responsibilities. I find all of those considerations just too complicated. I simply write. Every day. All the time. I write when I am not at the keyboard. I write when I am awake and when I sleep. I am not spending my time thinking about whether something is said in an interesting way, or is beautifully expressed. Or profound or unique. I just try to understand everything. I examine my life as per Socrates. I dispose of things a la McConaughey. I write therefore I am.

I knew a fool who was an unsuccessful professional writer. He got up every morning and wrote for a specific amount of time — four hours — at his meticulously organized desk. He kept his inane and mediocre observations in big white binders. Unsurprisingly, he often didn’t do his writing. He neglected it in the same way he ignored the stationary bike that he always planned to exercise on after his (not so) daily writing.

He was a misguided hack. Writing was a means to an end for him, he didn’t love it all. If you love writing, it will reward you in all kinds of ways, but it is unwise to demand what bounty it will deliver to you.

Sincerity towards disintegrating influences are dangerous. My life got better, years ago, when I got angry. I became less tolerant. I got insulted more often. I thought a lot about boundaries. I wouldn’t let anyone tell me what to think, say or do. Sometimes I took the whole stance too far, and became too belligerent. But that was relatively unimportant and minor consideration. My chip on my shoulder kept me alive, and at times still does.

From January 27, 2017:

never-argue-with-stupid-people-mark-twain

I had this Trump Nazi thing pegged from the beginning because I studied and worked and took being a responsible human being seriously. My biggest error in life has been being kind and patient with fucking idiots — because those people are every bit as bad as I portrayed them in silent unexpressed moments of internal rage.

Dither in the face of this impending threat morons. Keep talking in that competitive tone because you don’t want to give intelligence and morality it’s due. Puff yourself up and deal with your egos and feelings. Weasels and pussies! Laugh that fucking mocking stupid laugh of condescension and lead your less than mediocre lives under the fucking delusion that you ever did anything that was worth anything.

Stand down now and let the grown-ups try to figure out this fucking mess. You’ve been indulged until it was too late.

A poem by Rick Thomas FUCK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

More poem:

I woke up to Trump on TV unfavorably comparing current terrorists to Nazis. The current crop are “sneaky rats” but the Nazis had class and character. The Nazis didn’t sneak around, said Trump, they had “uniforms and flags and insignia on their planes.”

I also was following up on something else and I came across an answer he had late in the campaign about his being compared to Hitler. I didn’t see this at the time — he said he didn’t mind. He said FDR ran a Final Solution on Germany and Japan that was much worse than anything Hitler ever done.

That was never reported by mainstream media. Yeah, he’s a big liar but his lies have a very honest context. Every word says “I’m a Nazi and I am going to fuck up your world.”

And that is Trump’s mental illness if you want to call it that— oh fuck he isn’t crazy! Give that shit up! Give a massive war criminal (he hasn’t done it yet but it’s coming shortly) an insanity defense. Not smart! We have to fight the piece of shit not send him to rehab.

Unless you consider all criminals crazy. Then rehabilitate the little darling. Ridiculous. This is a time for leading with morality not psychology. We need soldiers and prosecutors now — not social workers. He’s a sadistic killer. He’s the kid who used to like to torture the family cat who wants to torture the world.

The stupid motherfuckers who voted for him, the juvenile assholes who couldn’t get excited enough to vote, the progressives who made an equivalency between a mainstream pol who did rig the nomination process and the reincarnation of Hitler and the fucking idiots who never vote because they are too stupid to know what is happening in their lives, the babies whose lives are all trivia and just want to have “fun” — thank you for fucking up MY life. Thanks for flushing America down a shithole. You ruined our lives.

We will have wars. He will use nukes. He’s not dragging his feet and he’s not fucking around. I’m looking forward to a wave of repression of dissent — I like to talk and write. Well a Gulag might not be so bad. Better than sharing the same streets with you, you self-involved sacks of shit.

You selfish, stupid motherfuckers. Decent people who were awake saw this coming. And you clung to fucking trivia.

Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!

You have done something horrible. Horrible! The suffering will be immense. Fuck you!

Pick up some fucking books you fucking selfish stupid idiots. We had an imperfect but great thing going and you ruined it!

I’ve been a progressive my whole life. I always had sympathy for all wage slave or unemployed workers Urban/rural any color. But you assholes that voted him in the Rust Belt — I hope you scrub toilets at Walmart for the rest of your lives and for an eternity in hell. It’s what you deserve you stupid sons of bitches.

Don’t listen to smart people. Compete with them. Take care of your egos. You fucking idiots!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This next piece is pretty good because I wrote it to an audience that was more worthy than what my audience actually was at the time. I was wrong, of course, about the creative utility of my teaching, and how it served my writing. Not so. I just needed the money.

From January 28, 2017:

Some mourn this fact, but I celebrate it. Over time my Facebook feed has transformed from something light and trivial to required reading. Patriots are struggling to understand and find positive actions to recover their country. For a while people shared only the words of prominent writers and politicians. But now they have developed a healthy skepticism about an establishment that has largely failed them and they have begun to look to themselves and each other.

This has always been our responsibility, even in better times. Now that we have found it when there is no alternative I hope we never lose it.

Sometimes, I sense an agitation and impatience for answers — or maybe that’s just me. I got comfort today from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” … “Live the questions.”

Love trumps hate and creativity trumps murderous nihilism.

For me, I am going to stop trying to be smart and find the answer — a challenge beyond my abilities — and instead try to be a better human being and be the answer.

Some purely intuitive impulse in me, something not irrational but merely not rational, tells me that we will transcend Trump not by what we consciously do, but rather by who we unconsciously are. If we can get as close as we can to pure love, we will naturally all do the right actions at the right times.

Trump is ultimately a moral and spiritual problem, not a political one. I have no answers but I sense they lie with art and God.

We’ve changed a lot since all of this started, quite ironically for the better.

I used to love doing transformation exercises in Paul Sills’ workshops. We didn’t think through anything. We went through. Not that there was any disrespect for intelligence in Paul’s classes. To the contrary, we were instructed to play at the top of our intelligence. But it was intelligence in motion. In improvisation, when it is played at the highest of levels that Paul gave us, our minds are used in the ways that God intended.

A key to playing the transformation game skillfully is to make very strong and assertive choices. You emphatically explore and heighten those choices and you change.

The Rick Blog (and its companion stage show, video and podcast forms) is transformational improvisational writing. My own personal style is charged and emotional. I will continue making emphatic statements with a high level of personal authority and continue to watch them change.

I recently got into an extended heated debate with very good friends who are also tearing their hair out trying to come up with effective solutions as to how ordinary people can defeat the monsters who control our government. They asserted that Trump was crazy and out-of-control. I asserted that Trump — with the help of Bannon and others — was pursuing a disinformation propaganda strategy from the German Nazi playbook. Everyone in the discussion held their positions stubbornly.

This morning I believe that there is no real disagreement in our points of view. I think he is crazy and they are effectively executing a Nazi strategy. Or are they ultimately? The media has fallen into confusion and disarray but is an army of clarity moving through the chaos to take out Trump headquarters? We have to go through this.

A great improviser is an idiot savant. Improvisation is the art of not knowing what you are doing. Mind, body, heart and soul proceeds on full alert —- aware of the world — in touch with oneself — with supreme self-respect and confidence —- unafraid of error — and open to inevitable change.

I am not thinking through the challenge of how to respond to Trump. I am living through it. The Rick Blog has had moments of genius — insights far ahead of the collective curve. I’m not the genius when that happens. Improvisation is. The Rick Blog has had moments of tone deaf stupidity and foolishness, reactionary thinking, self-pity, paranoia, and defensive behaviors when no threats were there. I can take credit for all of those. It takes guts to be so openly thin-skinned and stupid. And all of the wrongheaded moves and initiations serve the improvisational process. Where would improvisation be without mistakes? They are the raw material of genius.

Trump will not be defeated by what is brilliant in us, because nothing is. Our moments of brilliance come from our improvisations and exist outside of us and between us. Transformation occurs in the space between ourselves and other people and the world at-large.

Trump will be defeated by what is good in us, and what is good is far from perfect.

We live in a moment when we are confronted with gross inhumanity, and we will defeat that gross inhumanity with our gross humanity.

I had gotten quite heavy a few years back and I subsequently lost 100 pounds. I kept it off for a couple of years. Since August 2016 when The Rick Blog started focusing on Trump I put it all back on. It was a big mistake and now I have to go through the long pain in the ass of losing it again, but I see the artistic (and unconscious) motivation of my folly. I didn’t want to have everything together when I wrote this past several months. I didn’t want to have that slight swagger I get when I am thin. After I lose this weight — once again — for health, energy, longevity, endurance — I will never have that ignorant vain swagger again. I have transformed through all of the vanity I have ever had in my life — for being smart or good looking or funny or compelling — I’ve been all of these things at one time or another. But who cares now when murderers want to destroy all that I love? Each vain moment was just a passing beat in the Paul Sills’ transformation exercise called my life, and never was important even as I was ignoring what was.

Yesterday (1/27/17) something happened to me and I posted a little paragraph on Facebook. I didn’t process what happened and I guess I wanted to see if any of my friends could give me some insight about it. They came through in spades.

Here’s what I wrote:

I had a new experience today. I was teaching a class of mostly sophomores — managerial communications and I was showing them how to write a story and make a case to assert their vision of their career. And I’m looking at them — we have a lot of diversity at UIC — blacks, Muslims, Latinos, Asians, documented and undocumented aliens —every demographic category you can think of… and I started to cry. No warning. Boom.

What is going to happen to these kids? I’m teaching them this stuff to help them get their careers started and will they get any sort of chance at all.

I got through it and they came around me — comforting me — these beautiful kids — my God….

***********************************************************************

Many friends reacted to my post with great warmth and kindness. Two reacted with particular insight.

Jill Talley: You taught them more in that moment than you could have in an entire school year. You taught them that not all white males are racist, xenophobic, fascists. You are a good person, and clearly, a good teacher.

Jeanette Schwaba Vigne: Very powerful and profound what happened there. Very few will allow and be open to that. Really beautiful.

Those comments are very kind to me personally but when carefully considered they are really about improvisational process, not me. I allowed a moment to occur. I didn’t block it with my planned ideas of of how the class was to proceed. I made an important point as Jill says that had nothing to do with the course syllabus. I made the most important point that could be made in that room with those people at approximately 10:30 am on 1/27/17.

And when it was immediately over I didn’t have a clue as to what I did or what just happened.

A great improviser is an idiot savant. And no one is a great improviser all of the time.

I am like Eddie Murphy’s dual character in his remake of The Nutty Professor — the fat vulnerable sweet guy who wants to save the world but isn’t quite sure as to how to do it, and the thin swaggering Buddy Love who always knows what he is doing and wants to seduce and dominate the world and win its pleasures or worse. Maybe you are too.

Evil always sneaks up on good, and catches it flat-footed. Good improvises and stumbles to its bearings. Creativity always begins as a response to what is wrong. Mankind’s immediate future is bleak and its long term prospects are quite good. I have no idea as to what will happen to any of us, but I have hope.

I made a practical decision based on yesterday’s improvisations. I wanted to leave teaching to have more time to focus on my writing. I have plenty of time to focus on my writing — I currently write full-time. I need my teaching to serve my writing. It’s part of it. I need that connection to those kids. They have informed my writing in ways I don’t even know. Maybe Jill and Jeanette will explain it to me someday.

I also have to keep teaching because I have been struggling with how to effectively respond to Trump with my quite limited, and quite ordinary, influence. A big part of the answer was sitting right in front of me yesterday. I happen to be right in the middle of people he hates. I need to do what I can, given who I am, to help them and stand with them.

I became more conscious of what The Rick Blog is yesterday. It is not or ever ultimately social commentary or political analysis. It has always been an improvisation — an unfolding transformation consisting of errors and follies occasionally punctuated by moments of goodness and humanity.

Don’t do as I say. Do as I do.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I started writing because I wasn’t getting an opportunity to do something important in the world. I wrote to prepare for that chance which I was sure would come. It never did. Gradually it dawned on me that my destiny was the writing itself.

A writer has to wander through the wrong places. It’s his way of seeing the world. I have no regrets — zero — for my time as a performer, a lawyer, a professor … all the sturm and drang about lovers who didn’t love me, or me them, or both … all of the false friends, the misplaced shame and guilt, the time wasting, the incessant talking I did when I didn’t know that I was a lawyer, the unpleasant day jobs and neighborhoods … every disappointment, failure and dissatisfaction of my life … all the times that I’ve been wrong … it is experience ….the material from which I fashion my art.

From January 29, 2017:

I have had many students at UIC and a faculty member tell me that once they pass the city limits of Chicago it is a regular occurrence for them to be sworn at, jeered at and told something to the effect of “go back to where you came from.” None have told me that they have been assaulted or experienced any violence (yet) but after the incidents they walk around looking over their shoulders thereafter.

They rarely volunteer the information. I teach courses where they are asked to speak about themselves and they say it late in the semester when they feel comfortable with me and their classmates. These comments have become a regular occurrence since August 2016 when Trump took center stage. The faculty member, who has since left UIC for another job, said them in a similar human dynamic of a recurring teachers’ meeting.

I had a student tell me about the heartbreak of the deportation of his father who had lived in the US for years, worked a job and got a kid to college. This deportation was under Obama.

I had this brilliant student last semester, who had planned a career in accounting and had top level interest from top firms, who told the class in her semester ending speech that she wasn’t sure if she was going to work at the Chicago firms she dreamed about, or if she had to try to find non-accounting work in Mexico City. She worried about her father being deported. He is disabled and needs her help to get by.

I had an undocumented student who was hazed relentlessly during his job search. Excellent student with outstanding personal characteristics. He got documented and got a very good job of the level he deserves.

My parents were Italian immigrants. My father in particular saw great prejudice when he first came to this country. I feel that I see my parents when I look at my students.

These students are almost uniformly wonderful to work with. They are rough around the edges but display positive attitudes and great respect for their teachers and others.

Like practically all students they try to get away with minimum effort until you set them straight, but they are amazing workers once they get rolling. Almost all of them have jobs, often more than one, besides doing their school work.

You know about all that I wrote here, of course. I just write to offer a glimpse of the wonderful people who are affected by these lousy immigration policies and this atmosphere of hatred that the worst of us have promoted lately.

Could I ask a favor? I love it of course when you recognize me as a good teacher or guy or artist. It moves me deeply and it is so important for creative people to receive such encouragement and support. It means the world and is an essential aspect of the creative process. And there is something in the nature of teaching, like the other arts that I do like writing and performing that needs it. What we do is so ephemeral that we need people to tell us about the concrete effects of our work.

But for this post, please don’t focus on me when you read it. The real wonder is in the people of color and immigrants that grace UIC.

UIC is the most American place that I have ever been. Being there is like walking around a Frank Capra movie.

These people deserve to stay and Trump and his band of malignant anti- social gangsters have to go — as do American policies and attitudes towards immigrants that existed before Trump.

Every day we allow them to remain in office, immigrants and other innocent and wonderful people suffer greatly.

And it will only get much, much worse.

DUMP TRUMP NOW. Before it’s too late.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Admirable outrage continues …

From January 30, 2017:

Every protest small and large speaks to a moral outrage. The system has failed us. Only a non-violent revolution demanding that an immoral government step down and be replaced by a restoration of our constitutional democracy will save us before it is too late. Things couldn’t be more urgent. Our system could theoretically handle it but it has been so corrupted that it is inert. We don’t have a functioning democracy. We have a plutocracy and have had it for decades. The plutocracy has now delivered to us a Nazi regime. This is the nadir for our nation and an interruption in our democratic republic. We must take it back and no one else can do it for us. We are being called to save ourselves and the world. Time is short.

We have to stay focused and see the forest for the trees. We are living in a shit storm of outrages that will only accelerate. While we have to address all issues, stop the Nazi usurpers when we can and work to mitigate the suffering of all their horrendous actions, we have to get them the fuck out of power. That is agenda point one. Every protest against the Trump gang should use the current abomination as more evidence of their illegitimacy. I think this is crucial.

Watergate, which looks like a parking ticket compared to Nazigate, was a focal point that fell Nixon. When Nixon said, “I am not a crook,” he was responding to the foundational issue — is the President a criminal? That focus on criminality framed a national drama about whether Nixon would resign or be impeached.

The current cabal poses another problem. Trump, like Hitler before him, has the law on his side. Unless more information emerges, Trump was legally elected. His immigration ban this weekend seems legally within the boundaries of executive power.

The strongest — and only — argument against Trump and his band of social deviants is moral. (There is no political argument at the moment. They politically control all of the levers of ultimate governmental power.)

The moral challenge to the Nazis must come from the people. Martin Luther King, Jr. transformed politics and law by asserting universal principles of morality.

We need a movement to restore — or give birth to — American decency.

Artists and religious leaders are especially important right now.

George W. Bush famously asked Condoleeza Rice to “give me the moral argument,” for the Iraq War. The people at high levels of power understand the force of morality. They know that power cannot be sustained if their followers don’t believe what they are doing is right.

The Trump people are trying to redefine people’s sense of right and wrong. For example, Trump has spoken favorably about Hitler on two occasions that I know of. This propaganda is folly in that it offends the deepest conscience of all human beings and even as it succeeds with some in the short run, it is their greatest weakness.

Morality is not only something we think about, like politics and law often are. It is something we feel. We had a sense of right and wrong very early in our lives.

We knew what would get us punished, get us rewarded, make people think good or ill of us, was necessary for the greater good and order of a larger group and not in exclusion to our own interests, was the right thing to do even if it broke established rules, and finally what we felt in our deepest souls — our consciences — which superseded any rules or the approval or disapproval of any person or persons that we know.

It is that last moral sense that our current government offends. Even Trump knows he is doing wrong — at the very least on an unconscious level. I can see it in his dour, unhappy demeanor. I can see it in the mocking bullying tone of his rallies and supporters. Evil takes a soul hostage. Our government is possessed by demons — a great metaphor for what happens and metastasizes until we have the adult Trump, Bannon, Pence, Ryan and their cackling legions of winged-monkeys on loan from Oz.

America needs an exorcist — us. The star of the Trump bio-pic should be Linda Blair.

We can’t just imply our moral outrage while we make political and legal opposition to the new Reich. We have to lead with it.

We must always say that we are repulsed by what these people are doing and we want them to surrender power immediately.

We can be preoccupied with political and legal questions and we should be, but the moral argument is the ultimately controlling one always and particularly now.

Fortunately, it is also our strongest argument and the means we will use to eventually escape this darkness and make changes to assure it won’t happen again or at least not for a long time.

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not only take action to change a nation’s laws. He even more importantly changed a nation’s character.

I will define character as the resolve to act in ways that conform to your natural sense of what is good and right.

Trump and the moral degenerates around him have to be removed from office immediately. Each day that they remain is our failure as citizens. To accept their governance is to accept evil and makes us complicit in their horrible actions. We should demand they step down.

Impeachment, that hybrid of politics and the law only achieves conviction when the moral sense of the people has been decided.

To truly resist the government is to act in civil disobedience against its authority.

You may disagree on the practicalities of how such resistance be achieved, but you have no moral basis to believe that the current government has a legitimacy to hold office for even another second. It is your obligation to demonstrate your belief in every word and deed of your daily life in ways that most certainly will bring to you sacrifice and pain.

You can’t say that you are just one person. You can decide in this moment that you will not accept or acquiesce to this immoral government. You can live the meme “not my President.”

In your heart you know I’m right.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog is written from the perspective of an ordinary, powerless man, who is not a spectator. Our lives are our own, no matter our individual fate or station.

From January 30, 2017:

I’m enjoying watching Morning Joe and seeing all of the people that got the jobs do all the thinking and talking and deciding for me. And then I get a little jealous and I think I should be doing the thinking and talking and deciding. And then I remember that I do do my own thinking and talking and deciding. And then I think that the Trump Administration and much of Congress and the Supreme Court are Fascists and I say it and I decide to tell other people what I think in my writing, teaching and performing and that I will say that I DO NOT RECOGNIZE TRUMP, BANNON, PENCE, RYAN AND THEIR WINGED-MONKEYS ON LOAN FROM OZ EMPLOYEES AND SUPPORTERS AS MORALLY LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND STAFF AND POLITICAL OPERATIVES. Incrementalism belongs to the system. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln shows how heroic that kind of political skill can potentially be. But I am not a President. I’m a citizen. My job now — at this moment — is to be a kind of abolitionist applying vocal pressure against evil.

The pundits and officials on Morning Joe speak from the perspective of power. I have to worry about my own perspective. I am going to experience this rolling crisis on my terms and not be relegated to spectator status while my supposed betters seem to interpret and fuck up the world.

The leader, writer, thinker and decider that most represents my point of view is me.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

More of the nexus between outrage and integrity. Worthy repetition. Eventually my enemies disappeared in my external life and my psychology. But that took a lot of time, and a lot of painful work.

From January 30, 2017:

If you are a supporter of Donald Trump I will show your views no tolerance and your person no respect. I will not consider your Nazi (accurate word — no metaphor or hyperbole) a “contrary opinion that you are entitled to.” There is no moral argument that supports your point of view. I consider your viewpoint filth and I will not argue with it. I will only respond to your words with outrage and disgust.

Similarly, if you are a Trump supporter I will treat you with no civility or respect. You have left civilization so those standards don’t apply. I hold you as morally responsible as Trump or any of his low-life lieutenants. By supporting Trump you are directly responsible for the pain that is currently being suffered by people I love and the future pain which will be immense. You, Trump supporter deserve the same tone that you would get from me if I caught you in the act of personally assaulting one of my family or friends.

I also will show no patience with stupidity and ego in the sharing of ill-formed opinions and sticking to them in the face of contrary evidence, analysis, research, critical thinking and logic whether you support Trump or not. You are required to have the skill to determine and apply all of those concepts in order to be a responsible citizen. If you don’t — work and study to acquire those skills. The situation is too dire for morons to waste our time.

Finally, if someone disrespects my work I will defend it as if it were my natural child. Disagreement is fine, often helpful to the work and the world. But my work is quite good. It is serious. It is the result of a lifetime of work and experience and hours of work everyday. If you are dismissive of me or my work I will respond with the high level of insult that your words deserve.

The effort and quality of my work speaks for itself. The work of my lifetime speaks for itself. If you don’t recognize those facts you are a a liar.

If you go low I’ll hit you back. You aren’t going to denigrate me and leave an impression that me and my work are something much less than I and it are.

Allowing that kind of interference is a reason why the horrible people and ideas that are controlling our country are prominent now while virtue sits on the sidelines.

Copyright Richard Thomas 2017

Figuring out what is going on is a civic duty.

From January 30, 2017:

This is unfinished writing but the notes may be useful to you when shaming foes and helping friends unaware of the degree of our current threat.

Hannah Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism after WW II. A great work. She breaks down Nazi strategies and tactics. Trump and at least Bannon are following it to a T.

Disinformation strategies — all the stuff about crowd size at inauguration. Nazis assert inane fact — empty space is filled with people! — everyone protests —- then they follow up with arbitrary violence — Chicago murder “politically incorrect policing proposal.” Once they execute some arbitrary violence and produce a few dead bodies then people are afraid to dissent from lies and inane statements. And then they have control. Straight from Nazi Playbook.

Mass deportation is a logical step away from genocide (Mexicans). Blocking immigration is a step away from war (Muslims) Add that Trump has said he is open to nuclear war and Bannon has said he wants chaos. Hitler did all of this (except nuclear angle before technology introduced).

Jobs for workers — Hitler did very progressive things for labor to consolidate power — Trump so far has had TPP and Carrier — Nazi playbook again. (A distinction may be that Hitler actually delivered jobs and progressive programs — leisure time etc. He was building a healthy army. Trump is offering smoke and mirrors and trying to con workers that he is doing something for them.) Nazi playbook — get working man on your side.

Look up America First — Trump’s name for his administration delivered in the Inaugural Address — it was an organization in the late 30s and early 40s. America First members began as isolationists and nationalists who morphed into Hitler sympathizers who hated Jews. Charles Lindbergh was their most famous leader and he made horribly anti-Semitic speeches before WW II.

Trump (and Bannon and staff) ignored Jews in the White House Holocaust remembrance proclamation —- a typical Holocaust denier gambit — “oh many people were killed in Holocaust —Jews weren’t singled out.” This is post WW II Nazi behavior.

Trump has praised Hitler as being better than FDR —during the campaign — in Politico not in mainstream media much if at all — I didn’t see it there but read Politico— he said FDR had 2 “final solutions” (name for Holocaust) against Germany and Japan and did far more harm to the world than Hitler. Trump also praised Nazis in relation to terrorists on CBS recently —-terrorists are “sneaks.” Nazis wore uniforms and flew flags and insignia on planes. They were men who didn’t hide. OK criticize terrorists but why all this admiration for Nazis? Trump often has couched messages in what he says showing his skill as a marketer.

Trump’s father was arrested at a KKK rally in the 1920s. The Klan is an organization of American fascists. His mentor was Joe McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn — more American fascists. Bannon is a white nationalist who said he wants chaos. His publication was a mouthpiece for white nationalists — American Nazis.

I don’t know — it’s enough evidence for me but there is more every day. If I follow his words and actions to their logical conclusions I think we are looking at a police state, genocide and nuclear war in short order. They’ve kind of told us that is what they are doing. I don’t see this as politics. I see it as morality and I take the tone that I do because I believe that we face a dire threat.

If you have more evidence please add in comments.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

History and my story commingle.

From January 31, 2020:

REVISION

New Title: DONALD TRUMP IS AFRAID OF WORK

I wrote this post before breakfast (1/31/17). I read Yates’ letter to Trump again (it’s included in the post). I don’t think she is actually how the press and the Democrats are portraying her. I believe her main concern was that she felt that as Attorney General, she should consult with the President to discuss the legal validity of the substance of the Executive Order and how she could foresee how the policy would play out from a legal perspective.

Yates realizes that the Executive Order is legal on its face — meaning that it is properly drafted and would work as authority before it was challenged. But she wasn’t sure if the Order was good policy or if it would withstand all challenges. She was also uncomfortable with approving it as a personal moral and ethical matter until she had a greater understanding of what the President had in mind.

Even Democrats and at least superficially sympathetic members of the media don’t seem to understand where Yates is coming from. I didn’t either until it occurred to me now.

Yates wasn’t taking a necessarily taking a stand for free speech and morality. She was prepared to do so, but in her mind she wasn’t there yet. Trump pushed here there. Yates was simply doing her job with the high level thoroughness of an excellent attorney and legal manager. She said that as Attorney General she had to consider more than the law and look at the policy from a moral, ethical and practical perspective.

Yates was saying that she should have been consulted with by the President NOT because she is the President’s lawyer and needed to advise him and create a plan to help him with his  objectives (that’s the White House counsel’s job ) but rather because she is the chief legal officer of the United States — the lawyer of the American people — and she had to confer on the development of the E.O. in order to serve their interests as she had taken an oath to do.

A competent President would have wanted to meet with her — in order to his job well. Trump talked to Rudy Giuliani who put together a committee to make sure that the E.O. was properly drafted (making sure there were no unconstitutional religious tests in the language of the order for example ) but he spoke to no one who could give the macro-level perspective that a President gets from an Attorney General. An Attorney General doesn’t necessarily give a President advice. She gives information and a picture of legal reality.

Apparently Sally Yates took her job seriously and didn’t see herself as a mere placeholder.

I, and everybody else that I heard or read, made Yates out to be a martyr in the cause of morality in public policy and dissent. But actually, she is a martyr to the cause of professionalism who was prepared to be a martyr for the other values mentioned if necessary. Trump never let her get that far because he fired her for committing the sin of doing a good job.

Donald Trump doesn’t know how to work and has spent his life avoiding it. Work scares Trump. Trump can’t even fathom the depth, breadth, organization, detail, focus and endurance of Sally Yates’ mind. So he fired her.

Yes, Trump doesn’t know what he is doing and the way that he treated Sally Yates indicates that he is not likely to learn. He treated a diligent and dedicated public servant who only wanted to serve the American people — and by extension, Trump — as an enemy, someone guilty of “betrayal.” If Trump had bothered to meet with Yates his policy would’ve met with less resistance from the public.

The biggest terror attack associated with Trump’s Executive Order was in his own encounter with someone with great knowledge and skill and the ability to apply it for practical good. He found that chilling.

Competence is knowing what you are doing, or having the humility and work ethic to learn how to do it in the time frame required by the people that you are working for.

Trump is too defensively thin-skinned and not disposed to thought and reflection to listen to others and learn in other ways in order to become competent at his job. Even a dictator has to have certain skills in order to dictate effectively.

(As I write this Congressional Republicans are complaining that Trump didn’t consult with them about the E.O. either. He might want to talk to them to figure out how to expand upon the nascent idea that he introduced in the order — vile as it may be to me — into full-blown legislation.  No, Trump wouldn’t want to do that — he finds the work too frightening.)

Of course if you can create an alternate reality I guess it doesn’t matter…

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YATES 1/30/17 LETTER TO TRUMP WITH MY ANNOTATIONS

Please read the full text of Yates’ letter (in italics) that prompted Trump to fire her (my annotations in bold):

On January 27, 2017, the President signed an Executive Order regarding immigrants and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries. The order has now been challenged in a number of jurisdictions. As the Acting Attorney General, it is my ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in these actions.

Sally Yates asserts the independence of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice. An Attorney General is not like other Cabinet officers who execute the President’s policies exclusively. It is her ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in the matters before it. An Attorney General’s ultimate responsibility is to the law in the making of the positions of matters before the Department of Justice. When Trump said that Yates’ decision not to defend his executive order was a “betrayal” he showed that he either doesn’t know or doesn’t respect (or both) the independence and integrity an Attorney General must have in order to fulfill her responsibilities to the rule of law and the nation. One aspect of Sally Yates’ heroism is that she innocently opposed Trump’s claim to authority that he does not legally have because she knows our law and she knows our history.

My role is different from that of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which, through administrations of both parties, has reviewed Executive Orders for form and legality before they are issued. OLC’s review is limited to the narrow question of whether, in OLC’s view, a proposed Executive Order is lawful on its face and properly drafted. Its review does not take account of statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just.

Yates is saying here that the Department of Justice has a far greater role than merely to determine whether an Executive Order is properly drafted and lawful on its face before being exposed to greater legal scrutiny.

Then she makes a statement of morality. She says the Attorney General has to determine whether the policy laid out in the Executive Order is wise or just. An Attorney General is not the President’s lawyer. She is the lawyer of the people of the United States. She has an important client. Any attorney has a responsibility to serve her client’s interests. If she can’t, she can demur on any action she might see as harmful and withdraw from the representation if she is not able to serve the client in a way that she sees fit.

Similarly, in litigation, DOJ Civil Division lawyers are charged with advancing reasonable legal arguments that can be made supporting an Executive Order. But my role as leader of this institution is different and broader. My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts. In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.

Sally Yates ultimately did not resist Trump on a matter of law. She innocently confronted Trump on the field of morality — the field where our battle to defeat Trump and restore our constitutional  democracy is taking place. She said that her job transcends creating an argument to assert the legal validity of the order. She said that her ultimate responsibility was to do what was right. She didn’t say that she absolutely was opposed to having the Department of Justice defend the order. She only said that she needed to be convinced that it was wise to do so. This angered Trump. 

Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.

How dare Sally Yates ask Trump to give her an explanation so that she could make a decision within the boundaries of her independence and responsibility! He fired her for needing to consider a situation to be sure that her actions in relation to it conformed to her sense of morality instead of giving silent and subordinate obedience to his orders.

Trump called Yates’ action a “betrayal.” This was an ignorant and dangerous statement. Not only did he misunderstand and disrespect Sally Yates’ role as Attorney General, he also attacked all of our First Amendment rights. Trump is demanding absolute loyalty to him personally and silent obedience to his directives. This is un-democratic and un-American.

Trump is going to keep assaulting our First Amendment rights. We must never be acquiesce to his demands. If we sacrifice our right to speak and to make our own decisions based upon the dictates of our own consciences we will not be free. Never shut up!

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Sally Yates shows us what resistance is. It happens in our daily lives and work when we simply live our daily lives and do our daily work. We have to follow the authority of our consciences. The America we must be loyal to is the America of the beautiful values of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the continuing and persistent progressive march to ever greater democracy and recognized equality that is the very soul of our history.

Sally Yates acted with courage, integrity and stated her position with intellectual clarity. She also just did her job. She didn’t go looking for trouble. It happens. She was simply dealing with someone who didn’t have her intelligence and character — Trump.

We all have to do that now. We must not compromise our values. Stand in the place where you live. Some of us will sacrifice more than Sally Yates, particularly when we have to resist Trumpism in the workplace. I am sure Sally Yates won’t have a problem finding another job.

We also have to keep speaking up and explaining our decisions. We are at a moment when talk is definitely not cheap. We have to explain what is right. We can lay our marker for the coming reality when American ideals are not only aspirations, but become concrete reality only with our words and apparent deeds.

Our talk and representative action are the only things that we have right now. It is the means by which we stay Americans.

I faced a situation similar to Sally Yates’ once. It was 2001. I was working for the Gang Crime Prevention Center of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. I disliked the Assistant Attorney General who ran the office, a right wing conservative from the far Western suburbs of Chicago who favored extremely harsh sentences and the death penalty. He named me Legislative Liaison for the Center to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield. The first thing that he wanted me to do was lobby for a proposal that he had created. He wanted to fine parents $500 any time their child was truant from school more than 3 times in a school year.

I thought it was a horrible idea.  I told the boss why. It seemed to be a persecution of poor people. Parents of children at risk for joining gangs most often lived on the edge of poverty or smack in the middle of it. A $500 fine was a real hardship for them. Also I felt there was some victim blaming going on. Shouldn’t there be discussions about why the students skipped school? Were the schools sub-par? Did the obvious economic stress force the students to either work or sell drugs to get money to get by? Don’t we have to work with many stakeholders to see why the truancy problem exists and come up with creative solutions instead of knee-jerk punishments that accomplish nothing?

The Assistant A.G. told me to shut up and go to Springfield to flack for his proposal. I told him I couldn’t do it. He got mad. He basically reacted as Trump did with Sally Yates. I explained. “Look this is like asking a Catholic doctor to perform an abortion. The proposal offends my moral sense. I just can’t go after poor people in this way. This fine will accomplish nothing and may even hurt any progress at keeping kids in school and out of gangs.”

He fired me. I didn’t have a big reputation like Sally Yates. I suffered a bit. It was hard to find new work. But I have no regret for my decision. I kept my soul. I stood up for what I believed in and eventually my life was much better than if I remained at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

Dissent. (Dissent means being the authority of your own life in the face of forces that wish to define who you are and what you must do.)

Decide. (Choose what you feel is right, not necessarily what someone else tells you is right.)

Persevere. (You have to hang in with who you are. Don’t try to run away from yourself. It’s impossible.)

Hopefully prevail — or at least sleep at night. (Dignity and goodness are more important than victory or success. But you may well win too.)

Simply by living your actual life you will redeem the world.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The blog is a workbook. I love its rough energy. It breaks all the rules of writing — creative writing, legal writing, academic writing — any writing I have done professionally, any writing that I can think of … the blog owes much to my experience in all of those forms, but it is definitely its own thing. It is animated by one simple power source — the desire, no, the necessity to understand. This piece as preface that was added in May 2017.

From January 31, 2017:

5/8/17

Impotent Democracy

Sally Yates was magnificent on 5/8/17. I thought I would have to write a long update to my rolling blog post on her saga. Not much to say. Not only is the Trump Administration treasonous, but so is the Republican controlled Congress. Congress has appropriated no money for a serious investigation. Flynn was committing treason. Yates told Trump the facts. Trump knew Flynn committed treason and didn’t fire him for weeks. We had a Russian spy as National Security Advisor for weeks and the President was aware and did nothing. This in and of itself is as serious as it gets, and common sense says it is a cover for much more.

And Congress does nothing? We have an illegitimate government — Presidency and Congress — a coup. They already have given us a right-wing Supreme Court Justice the majority of Americans don’t want, they are tormenting non-citizen aliens, they are going to shove a great restriction of our health care rights down our throats and they are just getting started.

Sally Yates was perfect in her testimony in substance and demeanor — a total patriot, a complete professional. She also was the impotent voice of democracy.

The Republican Party is a criminal enterprise that is propping up an illegitimate President in order to steal everything we have for their mob bosses — the Plutocrats, the 1% and their Russian cousins the oligarchs. The Republican Party doesn’t give a damn about us or our democracy.

We need a non-violent revolution. Not against our form of government, but against the tyranny of the rich that are ruining our lives. But the American people aren’t aware of how serious things are. We put our faith in our wonderful system — and I have written as much for months myself — without being aware that our system has been hijacked.

We are being governed by a treasonous conspiracy. There are loyal members of Congress, loyal judges, loyal members of the press and public of course — but traitors control the Presidency and the leadership of both houses of Congress.

And they are destroying our country. We can’t afford having these usurpers sitting in power another day. Yet they sit there.

And we resist and slowly die.

Well, writing is the first step …

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

5/3/17: From friend and reader, Dan Hite — an excellent preface which lays out the role of the AG and the Justice Department, and the hypocrisy of the Trump Administration’s attacks on Sally Yates in its increasingly desperate defense of itself. Take it away, Dan:

Thank you for your ongoing coverage of Sally Yates v. Trump et al. Since people have short memories, you might footnote the exchange with now Attorney General, then Senator Jeff Sessions (R) Alabama, and Ms. Yates during her confirmation hearing March 24, 2015. If Time.com reporting of a transcript can be trusted, here’s the salient bit…

Sessions: Well, you have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things, you just need to say no about. Do you think the Attorney General has a responsibility to say no to the President if he asks for something that’s improper? A lot of people have defended the Lynch nomination, for example, by saying, ‘Well, he appoints somebody who’s going to execute his views. What’s wrong with that?’ But if the views a President wants to execute are unlawful, should the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General say no? Yates: Senator, I believe that the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the President. [I omit one exchange…] Sessions: Well, that’s true. That’s true. And like any CEO, where the law firm —sometimes the lawyers have to tell the CEO, ‘Mr. CEO, you can’t do that, don’t do that. You’ll get us sued. It’s going to be in violation of the law. You’ll regret it. Please.’ No matter how headstrong they might be, do you feel like that’s the duty of the Attorney General’s office? Yates: I do believe that that’s the duty of the attorney general’s office — to fairly and impartially evaluate the law and to provide the president and the administration with impartial legal advice.

Treason: Spoken Word

https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F320378114&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&visual=true&show_comments=false&color=false&show_user=false&show_reposts=false5/2/17https://soundcloud.com/richard-thomas-450751772/treasonTreason investigations — OK no one with governmental authority would refer to the investigations in those terms, but evidence of treason could be revealed by these investigations — return to the center ring. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates will testify in a public hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. FBI Director Jim Comey meets with the Senate committee and the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another several weeks before we hear of more developments related to these investigations — the most important matters being considered in our nation at the moment.Sources: Former Acting AG Yates to contradict administration about Flynn at hearing

By Jim SciuttoManu Raju and Pamela Brown, CNN

Updated 5:18 PM ET, Tue May 2, 2017

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Washington (CNN) Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is prepared to testify before a Senate panel next week that she gave a forceful warning to the White House regarding then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn nearly three weeks before he was fired, contradicting the administration’s version of events, sources familiar with her account tell CNN.In a private meeting January 26, Yates told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was lying when he denied in public and private that he had discussed US sanctions on Russia in conversations with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak. Flynn’s misleading comments, Yates said, made him potentially vulnerable to being compromised by Russia, according to sources familiar with her version of events. She expressed “serious concerns” to McGahn, making it clear — without making a recommendation — that Flynn could be fired.Yates’ testimony May 8 will be the first time the former acting attorney general will publicly speak about the White House meeting. A source familiar with the situation says that Yates will be limited on what she can tell the Senate judiciary subcommittee because many of the details involving Flynn are classified, meaning there may only be a few new revelations.Yates would not comment ahead of the testimony.

Pentagon warned Flynn in 2014 against taking foreign payments; IG launches investigation

Pentagon warned Flynn in 2014 against taking foreign payments; IG launches investigationHer previously scheduled appearance in front of the House intelligence committee was canceled by its chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, who said he wanted to hear first in a classified setting from FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. Nunes’ move to cancel the hearing sparked outcry from Democrats, who believed he was trying to shield the White House from damaging new revelations.Flynn was fired 18 days after Yates met McGahn, following news reports that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.On February 14, the day after Flynn’s firing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Yates had simply “wanted to give a ‘heads up’ to us on some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what he (Flynn) had sent the Vice President.”Yates is highly motivated to set the record straight about her warning regarding Flynn, one source said.

Michael Flynn's worst week in Washington

Michael Flynn’s worst week in WashingtonBut because of the classified nature of the information, she is unlikely to explain in detail what specific information prompted her to raise concerns with the White House about his alleged ties to the Russians. She is, though, expected to give her version of events when she informed the White House about her concerns that Flynn may have been “compromised” by the Russians, contradicting Spicer’s comment that Yates was simply giving officials a “heads up” about the then-national security advisor, the source said.Her appearance will bookend a week’s worth of testimony and inquiry about the investigation, starting with Wednesday’s Senate judiciary committee hearing with Comey, where Russia will be a big topic of discussion. Comey is also expected to meet behind closed doors Thursday with members of the House intelligence committee.The Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing Yates’ testimony is also seeking to have former national security advisor Susan Rice testify before the committee next week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, the chairman of the panel, told CNN.

100 days of Russia drama for the Trump White House, with no end in sight

100 days of Russia drama for the Trump White House, with no end in sightComey will likely resist revealing much about the ongoing investigation into Russia’s efforts around the 2016 election. But committee members are seeking to press him. Republicans will likely seek answers on how the FBI worked with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who created the reports on Trump that make up the controversial dossier. CNN was first to report in January that both then-President Barack Obama and then-President-elect Trump were briefed on the contents of the dossier by senior intelligence officials.Democrats will push Comey on what has been learned about campaign contact, according to Democrats on the committee. Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut say they will also seek answers on why Comey spoke publicly about an investigation into Hillary Clinton but not about the Russia investigation that kicked off in the summer of the campaign. Comey, according to sources familiar with his testimony, is looking to set the record straight on this matter.The hearing is not solely focused on the probe, a contrast to his previous appearance on the Hill. But the Yates appearance next week, at the same hearing as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, is perhaps the most dramatic.Yates is prepared to answer as much as she can in an unclassified setting, the source added. But, another source said, Yates is not expected to say much about the wider Russia probe.

CNN’s Gloria Borger contributed to this report.RUNNING SCAREDTrump & Associates don’t want public to hear what former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates has to say related to Michael Flynn/Russia and who knows what else. This is why Nunes put on the bizarre show at the White House last week. The House Intelligence Committee is dark this week. All hearings, public and closed door, and all meetings, including routine meetings, cancelled. Nunes himself is being asked to recuse or quit.You can run but you can’t hide. Nunes bizarre interpretive dance of a press conference related to his improper briefing of Trump related to found evidence (which hasn’t been revealed and may be of dubious existence) in front of the White House last week and its aftermath distracts and is a minor delay, but Yates will say her piece.Trump’s White House counsel put his toe in the water toward a ridiculous executive privilege claim to silence Yates, but quickly withdrew it because the water is too hot. Executive privilege doesn’t apply to matters related to criminal investigations and he knows it.All of these questions and all this dissembling, distraction and delay!It would seem an innocent and clean administration would welcome an independent commission to clear all of this up so that they could govern in an unfettered manner.But we aren’t dealing with an innocent and clean administration are we?Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

3/28/17

Trump fired then Acting Attorney General Yates in the very early days of his administration because she was doing her job. She wanted to meet with him to discuss the constitutional and enforcement difficulties related to his ill-fated “Travel Ban” Executive Order. That order has since been found to be unconstitutional by three Federal District courts from two circuits.  I wrote the original post below on 1/31/17 at the time of her firing. I updated the post on 2/14/17 when Yates warning to Trump that then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was compromised by his conversations with Russian officials and was vulnerable to blackmail.

Yates keeps turning up like a good penny.  The Washington Post has a report today which I copy and paste here in its entirety. I don’t want to provide a link because I want to encourage you to read it. This is really important. We are at a point of constitutional crisis AND facing a grave threat to our national security. It appears that the Trump Administration prevailed upon House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who served as an intelligence advisor on Trump’s transition team (and worked with Michael Flynn!) to take steps to compromise the committee’s investigation into Trump and Associates dealings with Russia. Now the Post reports today that the Trump Administration has tried to block Yates’ testimony before the committee. Nunes has also cancelled public hearings where Yates would’ve informed the American people of what she knows about Flynn’s relationship with Russia and perhaps more.

The Trump  Administration has denied the Post story you are about to read. I write this at 10:29 CDT. It remains to be seen if the Administration will provide a fact-based defense of itself or the usual  non-substantive incendiary rhetoric.  Since this is a legal matter, the White House counsel might answer with a coherent argument.

And as former Vice-President Dick Cheney said, the interference of Russia in our 2016 election could be considered “in some quarters” an act of war. Collusion with Russia by Trump and Associates might be even more serious than a criminal conspiracy — an extremely serious matter — but may also be TREASON. (I can’t believe I am agreeing with Dick Cheney!) Pause for a moment. I also think you should read all I wrote in this post about Trump and Yates as a parable of competent and ethical stewardship (Yates) versus incompetent, unethical and (yet to be proven) criminal abuse of power (Trump and Associates).

Washington Post 3/28/17

National Security: Trump administration sought to block Sally Yates from testifying to Congress on Russia

By Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous

The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege.

[Read the letters from Sally Yates’s lawyer ]

Yates and other former intelligence officials had been asked to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week, a hearing that was abruptly canceled by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Yates was the deputy attorney general in the final years of the Obama administration, and served as the acting attorney general in the first days of the Trump administration.

President Trump fired Yates in January after she ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend his first immigration order temporarily banning entry to United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world.

As acting attorney general, Yates played a key part in the investigation surrounding Michael T. Flynn, a Trump campaign aide who became national security adviser before revelations that he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States in late December led to his ouster.

Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The following day, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.

The White House and the Justice Department had no immediate comment.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said the panel was aware that Yates “sought permission to testify from the White House. Whether the White House’s desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today’s hearing, we do not know. But we would urge that the open hearing be rescheduled without delay and that Ms. Yates be permitted to testify freely and openly.’’

[Chairman and partisan: The dual roles of Devin Nunes raise questions about House investigation]

In January, Yates warned White House counsel Donald McGahn that statements White House officials made about Flynn’s contact with the ambassador were incorrect, and could therefore expose the national security adviser to future blackmail by the Russians.

In a March 23 letter to Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel Ramer, Yates’s attorney David O’Neil described the government’s position. O’Neil, who declined to comment, noted in the letter that Yates is willing to testify, and that she will avoid discussing classified information and details that could compromise investigations. The correspondence was later shared with the Intelligence Committee.

“The Department of Justice has advised that it believes there are further constraints on the testimony Ms. Yates may provide at the [Intelligence Committee] hearing. Generally, we understand that the department takes the position that all information Ms. Yates received or actions she took in her capacity as Deputy Attorney General and acting Attorney General are client confidences that she may not disclose absent written consent of the department,’’ the lawyer wrote.

“We believe that the department’s position in this regard is overbroad, incorrect, and inconsistent with the department’s historical approach to the congressional testimony of current and former officials,’’ the letter continues. “In particular, we believe that Ms. Yates should not be obligated to refuse to provide non-classified facts about the department’s notification to the White House of concerns about the conduct of a senior official. Requiring Ms. Yates to refuse to provide such information is particularly untenable given that multiple senior administration officials have publicly described the same events.’’

Scott Schools, another Justice Department official, replied in a letter the following day, saying the conversations with the White House “are likely covered by the presidential communications privilege and possibly the deliberative process privilege. The president owns those privileges. Therefore, to the extent Ms. Yates needs consent to disclose the details of those communications to [the intelligence panel], she needs to consult with the White House. She need not obtain separate consent from the department.’’

Yates’s attorney then sent a letter Friday to McGahn, the White House lawyer, saying that any claim of privilege “has been waived as a result of the multiple public comments of current senior White House officials describing the January 2017 communications. Nevertheless, I am advising the White House of Ms. Yates’ intention to provide information.’’

That same day, Nunes, the panel’s chairman, said he would not go forward with the public hearing that was to feature Yates’s testimony.

Read more:

The web of relationships between Team Trump and Russia

Who is Sally Yates? Meet the acting attorney general Trump fired for ‘betraying’ the Justice Department.

Russia is the slow burn of the Trump administration, and it’s not going awayMe again:Note the privileges that may have been asserted by the Trump administration were not full blown executive privilege — but certainly the scope of those privileges would not exceed that of executive privilege. In the case involving the release of the Nixon tapes the Supreme Court recognized the President’s right to executive privilege (when it denied Nixon’s claim of executive  privilege and required him to release the tapes) saying in its 8-0 majority decision, “the valid need for protection of communications between high government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.” The rationale involves separation of powers. The President has to be able to engage in the intra-branch communication and work process necessary to execute his executive powers without  constant interference from Congress. Claims of executive privilege have been successful when the matters in question have been found to be related to the processes of governance. The claims have not succeeded when the matters in question were found to related to criminal and ethical investigations. Nixon and President Clinton were thwarted in claims of executive privileges related to their respective scandals, for example.The Trump Administration now says that they did not try to silence Yates by assertion of privileges. This is a victory for the investigations of Trump and Associates/Russia going forward. At 11:05 CDT, the White House has said that they did not assert the privilege and their non-response to Yates’ attorney’s letter of 3/24/17 proves that.

2/14/17

I originally posted this article two weeks ago after Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. After that short period of time, Yates should be completely vindicated even by the most partisan Trump supporter. She was right to want to meet with Trump to discuss the dubious constitutionality of the travel ban executive order and the problems that she saw would arise in its enforcement. Now we also know that Yates warned Trump that the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned under a cloud last night , was compromised by his conversations with Russian officials and vulnerable to blackmail.

Yates and Trump are a study in contrasts: a competent, ethical, professional and moral public servant versus an ignorant, incompetent, criminal and conscienceless bum.

1/31/17

I read former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ letter to Trump again (it’s included in the post). I don’t think she is actually how the press and the Democrats are portraying her. I believe her main concern was that she felt that as Attorney General, she should consult with the President to discuss the legal validity of the substance of the Executive Order and how she could foresee how the policy would play out from a legal perspective.

Yates realizes that the Executive Order is legal on its face — meaning that it is properly drafted and would work as authority before it was challenged. But she wasn’t sure if the Order was good policy or if it would withstand all challenges. She was also uncomfortable with approving it as a personal moral and ethical matter until she had a greater understanding of what the President had in mind.

Even Democrats and at least superficially sympathetic members of the media don’t seem to understand where Yates is coming from. I didn’t either until it occurred to me now.

Yates wasn’t taking a necessarily taking a stand for free speech and morality. She was prepared to do so, but in her mind she wasn’t there yet. Trump pushed here there. Yates was simply doing her job with the high level thoroughness of an excellent attorney and legal manager. She said that as Attorney General she had to consider more than the law and look at the policy from a moral, ethical and practical perspective.

Yates was saying that she should have been consulted with by the President NOT because she is the President’s lawyer and needed to advise him and create a plan to help him with his  objectives (that’s the White House counsel’s job ) but rather because she is the chief legal officer of the United States — the lawyer of the American people — and she had to confer on the development of the E.O. in order to serve their interests as she had taken an oath to do.

A competent President would have wanted to meet with her — in order to his job well. Trump talked to Rudy Giuliani who put together a committee to make sure that the E.O. was properly drafted (making sure there were no unconstitutional religious tests in the language of the order for example ) but he spoke to no one who could give the macro-level perspective that a President gets from an Attorney General. An Attorney General doesn’t necessarily give a President advice. She gives information and a picture of legal reality.

Apparently Sally Yates took her job seriously and didn’t see herself as a mere placeholder.

I, and everybody else that I heard or read, made Yates out to be a martyr in the cause of morality in public policy and dissent. But actually, she is a martyr to the cause of professionalism who was prepared to be a martyr for the other values mentioned if necessary. Trump never let her get that far because he fired her for committing the sin of doing a good job.

Donald Trump doesn’t know how to work and has spent his life avoiding it. Work scares Trump. Trump can’t even fathom the depth, breadth, organization, detail, focus and endurance of Sally Yates’ mind. So he fired her.

Yes, Trump doesn’t know what he is doing and the way that he treated Sally Yates indicates that he is not likely to learn. He treated a diligent and dedicated public servant who only wanted to serve the American people — and by extension, Trump — as an enemy, someone guilty of “betrayal.” If Trump had bothered to meet with Yates his policy would’ve met with less resistance from the public.

The biggest terror attack associated with Trump’s Executive Order was in his own encounter with someone with great knowledge and skill and the ability to apply it for practical good. He found that chilling.

Competence is knowing what you are doing, or having the humility and work ethic to learn how to do it in the time frame required by the people that you are working for.

Trump is too defensively thin-skinned and not disposed to thought and reflection to listen to others and learn in other ways in order to become competent at his job. Even a dictator has to have certain skills in order to dictate effectively.

(As I write this Congressional Republicans are complaining that Trump didn’t consult with them about the E.O. either. He might want to talk to them to figure out how to expand upon the nascent idea that he introduced in the order — vile as it may be to me — into full-blown legislation.  No, Trump wouldn’t want to do that — he finds the work too frightening.)

Of course if you can create an alternate reality I guess it doesn’t matter…

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YATES 1/30/17 LETTER TO TRUMP WITH MY ANNOTATIONS

Please read the full text of Yates’ letter (in italics) that prompted Trump to fire her (my annotations in bold):

On January 27, 2017, the President signed an Executive Order regarding immigrants and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries. The order has now been challenged in a number of jurisdictions. As the Acting Attorney General, it is my ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in these actions.

Sally Yates asserts the independence of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice. An Attorney General is not like other Cabinet officers who execute the President’s policies exclusively. It is her ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in the matters before it. An Attorney General’s ultimate responsibility is to the law in the making of the positions of matters before the Department of Justice. When Trump said that Yates’ decision not to defend his executive order was a “betrayal” he showed that he either doesn’t know or doesn’t respect (or both) the independence and integrity an Attorney General must have in order to fulfill her responsibilities to the rule of law and the nation. One aspect of Sally Yates’ heroism is that she innocently opposed Trump’s claim to authority that he does not legally have because she knows our law and she knows our history.

My role is different from that of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which, through administrations of both parties, has reviewed Executive Orders for form and legality before they are issued. OLC’s review is limited to the narrow question of whether, in OLC’s view, a proposed Executive Order is lawful on its face and properly drafted. Its review does not take account of statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just.

Yates is saying here that the Department of Justice has a far greater role than merely to determine whether an Executive Order is properly drafted and lawful on its face before being exposed to greater legal scrutiny.

Then she makes a statement of morality. She says the Attorney General has to determine whether the policy laid out in the Executive Order is wise or just. An Attorney General is not the President’s lawyer. She is the lawyer of the people of the United States. She has an important client. Any attorney has a responsibility to serve her client’s interests. If she can’t, she can demur on any action she might see as harmful and withdraw from the representation if she is not able to serve the client in a way that she sees fit.

Similarly, in litigation, DOJ Civil Division lawyers are charged with advancing reasonable legal arguments that can be made supporting an Executive Order. But my role as leader of this institution is different and broader. My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts. In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.

Sally Yates ultimately did not resist Trump on a matter of law. She innocently confronted Trump on the field of morality — the field where our battle to defeat Trump and restore our constitutional  democracy is taking place. She said that her job transcends creating an argument to assert the legal validity of the order. She said that her ultimate responsibility was to do what was right. She didn’t say that she absolutely was opposed to having the Department of Justice defend the order. She only said that she needed to be convinced that it was wise to do so. This angered Trump. 

Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.

How dare Sally Yates ask Trump to give her an explanation so that she could make a decision within the boundaries of her independence and responsibility! He fired her for needing to consider a situation to be sure that her actions in relation to it conformed to her sense of morality instead of giving silent and subordinate obedience to his orders.

Trump called Yates’ action a “betrayal.” This was an ignorant and dangerous statement. Not only did he misunderstand and disrespect Sally Yates’ role as Attorney General, he also attacked all of our First Amendment rights. Trump is demanding absolute loyalty to him personally and silent obedience to his directives. This is un-democratic and un-American.

Trump is going to keep assaulting our First Amendment rights. We must never be acquiesce to his demands. If we sacrifice our right to speak and to make our own decisions based upon the dictates of our own consciences we will not be free. Never shut up!

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Sally Yates shows us what resistance is. It happens in our daily lives and work when we simply live our daily lives and do our daily work. We have to follow the authority of our consciences. The America we must be loyal to is the America of the beautiful values of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the continuing and persistent progressive march to ever greater democracy and recognized equality that is the very soul of our history.

Sally Yates acted with courage, integrity and stated her position with intellectual clarity. She also just did her job. She didn’t go looking for trouble. It happens. She was simply dealing with someone who didn’t have her intelligence and character — Trump.

We all have to do that now. We must not compromise our values. Stand in the place where you live. Some of us will sacrifice more than Sally Yates, particularly when we have to resist Trumpism in the workplace. I am sure Sally Yates won’t have a problem finding another job.

We also have to keep speaking up and explaining our decisions. We are at a moment when talk is definitely not cheap. We have to explain what is right. We can lay our marker for the coming reality when American ideals are not only aspirations, but become concrete reality only with our words and apparent deeds.

Our talk and representative action are the only things that we have right now. It is the means by which we stay Americans.

I faced a situation similar to Sally Yates’ once. It was 2001. I was working for the Gang Crime Prevention Center of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. I disliked the Assistant Attorney General who ran the office, a right wing conservative from the far Western suburbs of Chicago who favored extremely harsh sentences and the death penalty. He named me Legislative Liaison for the Center to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield. The first thing that he wanted me to do was lobby for a proposal that he had created. He wanted to fine parents $500 any time their child was truant from school more than 3 times in a school year.

I thought it was a horrible idea.  I told the boss why. It seemed to be a persecution of poor people. Parents of children at risk for joining gangs most often lived on the edge of poverty or smack in the middle of it. A $500 fine was a real hardship for them. Also I felt there was some victim blaming going on. Shouldn’t there be discussions about why the students skipped school? Were the schools sub-par? Did the obvious economic stress force the students to either work or sell drugs to get money to get by? Don’t we have to work with many stakeholders to see why the truancy problem exists and come up with creative solutions instead of knee-jerk punishments that accomplish nothing?

The Assistant A.G. told me to shut up and go to Springfield to flack for his proposal. I told him I couldn’t do it. He got mad. He basically reacted as Trump did with Sally Yates. I explained. “Look this is like asking a Catholic doctor to perform an abortion. The proposal offends my moral sense. I just can’t go after poor people in this way. This fine will accomplish nothing and may even hurt any progress at keeping kids in school and out of gangs.”

He fired me. I didn’t have a big reputation like Sally Yates. I suffered a bit. It was hard to find new work. But I have no regret for my decision. I kept my soul. I stood up for what I believed in and eventually my life was much better than if I remained at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

Dissent. (Dissent means being the authority of your own life in the face of forces that wish to define who you are and what you must do.)

Decide. (Choose what you feel is right, not necessarily what someone else tells you is right.)

Persevere. (You have to hang in with who you are. Don’t try to run away from yourself. It’s impossible.)

Hopefully prevail — or at least sleep at night. (Dignity and goodness are more important than victory or success. But you may well win too.)

Simply by living your actual life you will redeem the world.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This is a nice piece on some levels, and a misfire on another. Improvisation is ideally an art form based on democracy, the collective and revolution. I do a good job of showing that here. I’m just not an improviser any more. I was playing a role in a community that I have now outgrown. My ideal improvisational art is practiced nowhere. I am not the person to lead a renaissance. Improvisation at its best now is an entry level course, Intro to Creativity. Most improvisation isn’t art at all. It is more suitable for the sitcom or the recreation center than the theater or the gallery. I have no peers in the improvisation community. My peers are mature artists in writing, visual arts, music and other forms.

From February 1, 2017:

It’s getting amazing. It’s like tens of millions of people are doing an improvisation. It’s a new Viola Spolin exercise named What Do You Do About Trump? A focus emerges. The players decide to use the First Amendment. They assemble and protest. They talk. They criticize, complain and share information on social media. They refuse to cooperate and let their opposition color their work and their daily lives.

They identify wants: the removal of Trump from office and the end to the conditions that made his Presidency possible.

A new improvisation term is coined: “shock event.” A shock event is an assault on the players’ lives and values from Trump and his fellow gangsters. The challenge for the biggest improvisational company ever assembled is to maintain its focus while being distracted by the barrage of created problems: the plutocrat Cabinet, the insanity-inducing lies and disinformation, the mean assault on decency of “the Muslim ban,” the promise to decimate regulations for pharmaceutical companies, the gazillion dollar border wall boondoggle, the threats of mass deportations, the determination to kill Obamacare, the assault on public education — and many more — many more introduced than one a day.

The players decide to take all of the obstructions as one. All of the shock events add up to one thing — a move for the total oppression of all of the players: a complete subjugation stealing wealth and forcing people into complete inactivity or spiritually meaningless labor or premature death or an existence as fodder for a war machine — an attempt to murder self-determination — a slavery — an existence minus humanity — living as a profit center for shrewd and soul-less monsters who are possessed by demons of greed and meanness.

And the game transforms into a revolution. The forces of condescension and greed have over-reached. The players have full consciousness of the scene. A status reversal occurs. The people of the shock events are starting to be put in their place.

All real change in America has always come from the bottom. Even the weak Democrats in Congress get a spine because they know that the players demand that they do so.

The various shock events don’t have to be distractions. They can be reminders of all of the oppressions of the plutocracy including the Nazi Trump. Whether we are protesting a “Muslim ban” or blocking an evil Supreme Court nominee or fighting any other of the countless battles we never lose sight of our one overarching focus — the end of plutocratic oppression and fascism and the restoration of our freedom and constitutional democracy.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The most deeply embedded toxic criticism that I have received is that I am a failure who never accomplished anything. It started with my father. I was beaten with this nonsense as a boy. I internalized the condemnation. I never accepted it, but I wasn’t certain if it was true. So I unconsciously sought people and situations with whom I could argue my choices, abilities and values. This wound has caused me more pain and frustration than any other factor in my life. One big task of The Rick Blog has been working this unjust and useless poison out of my system. I pounded this theme on the heavy bag of the blog and the process finally removed this shadow from my soul. Writing and the aging process have redeemed me. My misdirected shame paralyzed me at certain times of my life, but the full arc of my life shows that it never stopped me. I was hobbled by this negativity. I believe most people have a similar experience. And most people never transcend it. I was saved by my intense sensitivity. This burden really hurt — even in physical ways. I had to get rid of it. Mission finally accomplished. In this next piece, I was making progress — arguing with myself and achieving some measure of calm. There are no quick fixes for this type of thing —in my case anyway. A happy byproduct of my infirmity is that I learned that all of the successes that my father and the tormentors that replace him afflicted me with are nothing that I would hold in high regard or ascribe any value to … Our oppression is the inspiration of our greatest gifts. When false accusation is dispelled even the past is made new.

From February 1, 2017:

Often when I see people get attention because they are well recognized professors or journalists or even movie stars I get jealous. I feel vulnerable. I have plenty of credentials I sniff. I used to spend a lot of time promoting them. You’ve heard the litany. I’m a college professor, a lawyer, a highly regarded improvisational actor.

Then I feel selfish and shallow. I hate being envious. It is so small and so weak. Usually something a little finer hides beneath the petty concerns.

And then I am reminded of what I really believe. What matters is the truth and quality of what is said and done, not who said and did it.

And I celebrate my only three credentials that have real meaning: writer, citizen and human being.

Those are the authorities that qualify the validity of my words and actions. And yours too.

Thomas Jefferson said that our democracy was dependent on the education of its citizens.

Are we entering an age when millions of people can mediate reality, communicate, collaborate and make decisions individually and collectively?

Are we entering an age where equals share to facilitate communal and personal self-determination?

Yes. Let’s have a meritocracy of minds and spirit and not diplomas and resumes.

Give me a healthy helping of David Shepherd and Howard Zinn and hold the Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Friedman. (Gorsuch is morally bankrupt and Friedman is wrong more often than I am.)

What’s good is good. It takes work to determine good. Branding is a distraction.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Trump is a puppet working for puppeteers foreign and domestic.

From February 1, 2017:

None of the barrage of outrages are distractions. They all are all specific manifestations of ways that the plutocrats want to subjugate us more than they already have and steal every material present and future asset that we have. Trump is the pitchman. He runs the Presidency as much as Mike Ditka runs a winery. We don’t need impeachment. We need a revolution. We don’t only have to take our constitutional democracy back. We have to take our lives back.

Every protest must be made in a broader context. Muslim bans, pipelines, morally bankrupt judicial nominees all point to the same evil. I don’t take this inundation of separate gross injustices as distractions — each and every one is a reminder.

We will not be free until we replace the greed establishment with something human.

Our system has failed and betrayed our ideals. This is Trump and all the varied oppressions and it is something much bigger.

We have to decide to call for change, but there is also a force of history. The oligarchs are in a period of bizarre overreach which is the prelude to their downfall.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Art not ideology.

From February 2, 2017:

Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch’ s originalist view of the Constitution is analogous to a fundamentalist view of the Bible. It’s not an intelligent way to read a text. The Constitution, like the Bible, or something like Shakespeare for example, must be interpreted and applied. The Constitution was written in the 18th Century. In order to understand it you have to read it with an eye to its deepest meaning so that you can apply it to contemporary situations. To limit your understanding only to what the Constitution concretely means on its face not only does not understand the vision of the writers, but it provides only 18th Century solutions to 21st Century situations. For example, the originalist view does not interpret the 2d Amendment in a way that preserves citizens’ right to forcefully oppose their government while also protecting school children from being mass murdered by mentally ill young men.

Gorsuch is supposedly brilliant. He went to the one of best law schools and clerked with 2 Supreme Court justices. He has 10 years on the Appellate Court.

Of course, if you are an authoritarian who wants to stunt progress and restrict people’s rights it is very convenient to espouse a philosophy that limits your options and opinions to 18th Century solutions.

He’s not so fucking smart to me.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The next piece demonstrates how insightful and naive I am by nature. That sounds contradictory perhaps, but it isn’t. I saw very clearly and very early what was happening with the Trump Administration. I have usually foolishly believed that the people immediately around me were just as smart. That has almost always not been true. It was equally foolish, maybe even more foolish, to believe that other people were as interested as I was in doing the right thing. I operated under the illusion that the world thought intelligence and good character were the most important of all social and personal attributes and values. Finally I figured out everyone wasn’t so high-minded. But my problems in this area weren’t over. I was also burdened with an unreasonable optimism. So I went searching for good people. I was so anxious to meet them that I dove into relation with people before they were thoroughly vetted. I needed to learn discernment. I still need to work on discernment.

I did realize that no one was going to be moved to action by a blog post. I was playing the role of provocateur. If I were a leader instead of a writer, I would know that you can’t lead people further than they are capable of going. People have been fighting an incremental struggle against Trump. I was ready for revolution, which was intellectually valid, but practically impossible given our collective nature.

The piece would have been much better if I just discussed possibilities and didn’t attempt to encourage, exhort or inspire. I was still talking to audiences instead of simply trying to understand.

By the very next blog segment shared here, a couple days later, I was questioning the moral and intellectual capabilities of the American people, and my own naivete’ by implication. Writing changes people and worlds.

From February 2, 2017

Many people who oppose Trump are tired. They are confused. They want either simple or easy responses to what is happening. They want to believe that the world is still OK. It’s just crazy Trump. The way things were before Trump were OK — if we could only have that again.

Allow me to be the necessary pain in the ass this time. There is nothing to be confused about. We have a Nazi government. There is no nuance. Everything they do is evil. Nothing they do is a mere distraction. The root cause of all of the specific outrages that we are inundated with each day is that Nazis have the government now because Plutocrats that bribed and owned both of our political parties have debased our democracy to such an extent that it no longer exists. And Nazis have come into the void and the Plutocrats see an opportunity to take all of the American people’s collective assets — privatize everything.

There is only one fight now. Remove this evil government and restore our constitutional democracy. No need to be exhausted or feel that you have to “pick your fights.” There is only one fight and all “issues” are merely subsets of that fight. You have to get up every morning and fight.

There is nothing that the illegitimate Trump Administration does that is not evil. To allow any of it is to legitimize all of it.We have to say that we refuse to accept his leadership. Period.

The Democrats won’t help us. They are complicit in what has happened. They have a vested interest in our system because they have been rewarded by it mightily but that system has to go. It must be completely removed. We are at the same point that Eastern Europeans were at in the 1980s when they overthrew Communism. We live in post-democratic America. We have had rich rulers for at least 40 years. And now they are over-reaching. They have now stolen everything and manipulated affairs to saddle us with Nazi leadership.

Impeachment is not a viable option. Even if we get rid of Trump we will not be rid of the Plutocrats and the Nazism. Others will carry that mantle. All impeachment would mean is that Trump would have lost his usefulness to his masters. New talent would be brought in to finish the job. Impeachment changes nothing related to our interests and situation.

Revolution is inevitable. It will happen. Revolutions always happen when the rulers overreach as they have done in America.

We will never go back to what we had before which, it turns out, was only a bundle of illusions.

Gorsuch is not a reasonable conservative judge. He is an originalist oppressor like Scalia before him who will support the rich oppressors campaign to take everything away from us and condemn us to meaningless work or enforced inactivity. His vision is to have us exist only for our wealthy masters as profit centers, or as resources to be ignored until a time comes when they need us. If they never do we can go off and die somewhere without comfort and support.

Gorsuch’s nomination  must be opposed. All Trump initiatives must be opposed. Gorsuch will support all that Trump does. He consistently sides with wealth and power.

The current talk of revolution is not a left-wing tea party. That assertion makes a false equivalency. The tea party was an extreme right-wing response against a superficially more liberal government than what they wanted to see — at least as a matter of theatrics. It actually was a right wing power grab to accelerate the agenda of the wealthy oppressors and it worked.

To say that the revolution is a left-wing tea party is to say it is a reaction only against the Republican Party. It is oddly reassuring. It assumes that we still live in the old polarized world which most would take in a heartbeat over the dictatorship. But we don’t — and that polarization was just a shell game that distracted us from who was running the country and who they were running it for — themselves.

The revolution is a response to an entirely corrupt system — owned by the super-rich and facilitated by both political parties. The revolution calls for a restoration of our constitutional democracy. The revolution is not aimed at the Democratic Party regaining power. The need is to create a new system that serves democracy and justice.

It is equally reassuring to think that Trump is merely crazy. The world can be set right easily if a lunatic is removed from office and we can go back to our previously stable system and lives. But Trump is not merely crazy. His insanity is expressed in an ugly but coherent ideology. He has a plan and there are more like him. We can’t be saved by a mere mental health intervention. We have much more to do.

We have identified with great clarity the evil that we face. We have no time to be fatigued or comforted with reassuring illusions. We have to fight. Now. Time is short. They are consolidating a police state dedicated to economic oppression, genocide and an extension of our perpetual wars all over the earth this time with a sure to be used nuclear option. They have told us that this is what they are going to do and they are taking long steps to achieve their objectives everyday.

I repeat we must fight. Every day and on every front. There can be no compromise with evil. I just heard that the Democrats have capitulated in the effort to block Gorsuch. There is no hope within the Establishment.

We can’t worry about seeming strident or hysterical or being compared with unreasonable radicals like the tea party. Who cares what people think? We have to live in truth and stand up for our own lives.

I am thinking this morning of unreasonable sounding people who were right and saved our lives before. John Adams was called  “obnoxious and disliked” when he called for revolution. Winston Churchill was considered a reactionary crank when he said Hitler must be stopped before he became too strong. Vaclav Havel was considered a ridiculous and grandiose  airy idealist when he said the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was unjust and must be changed.

We must free ourselves of comforting illusions and dedicate ourselves now to our own survival  and more importantly, to what’s right.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I wrote a piece on February 4, 2017, that didn’t give the Democratic Party enough credit — it made a comeback, and called Supreme Court justices “criminals” which went too far. It was just social media venting — not even worthy enough to be included here as a negative example.

The next piece is an improvement on my revolutionary pep talk of two days before. I knew early that relying on the Republicans to stop Trump was ridiculous.

Writing about the existential crisis America faced gave me an excuse to escape my horrible and unnatural careerist ambitions — my desire to prove my adequacy to my detractors. That higher purpose liberated my writing. Now I don’t need the excuse.

From February 6, 2017:

New Preface 2/6/17There are many positive voices making themselves heard. Some courts are challenging the Muslim Ban. Many companies are doing the same. Trump’s approval ratings are in the toilet. Mitch McConnell is criticizing some of Trump’s statements out of self-interest. The Dems are a tiny bit more emboldened to confront Trump. Bernie Sanders has called him a fraud. We must see the dark forest for the trees. The Plutocrat Cabinet is assuming power. Paul Ryan and Mike Pence’s Destroy American Decency legislative agenda moves forward. Steve Bannon and Trump continue to pollute our national culture by mainstreaming Fascism. I re-post this blog with a new preface. We can’t be mere audience who hope that other societal forces will save us. We can’t content ourselves with merely petitioning other people to fight our battles for us. We must assert our own power — the power of the powerless (read Vaclav Havel). We have a moral obligation to act ourselves. What seems quixotic is actually our only real option if we want to save our souls. No government can sustain itself without the consent of the governed. And we have an opportunity to defeat not only Trump but also that the corrupt undemocratic culture and system that made a Nazi President possible.

We shouldn’t have a non-violent revolution to force this fascist government to stand down and to restore our constitutional democracy because it is sure to succeed or practical. We should do it because it is the only decent thing to do. Our greatest failure will not be in not achieving our objectives. It will be in not trying at all.

Have you noticed how trivial many of your past concerns have seemed since the election? I have. Purpose has trumped recognition. My country is on my mind more than my career. The transformation of Oskar Schindler in the Spielberg movie has become very meaningful to me.

havel-hope
frederick-douglass-quotes-5

I don’t see how any American human being can tolerate what has been going on since Reagan — the ascendancy of the corporate state and its mutation into a fascist state — for another moment. We want to be rid of the criminals of our government. We want a restoration of our constitutional democracy. We want decency. We must demand it starting today. If we wait for the rich, famous and powerful to save us we will wait a very long time. Vaclav Havel wrote The Power of the Powerless. What prevents us from rising up and demanding what we deserve? Self-esteem issues?

Oh my lovely friends who are looking to be saved by (I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or throw up) “Republicans” with integrity” or “responsible Republicans in “power.”

Who is there to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment saying Trump lacks capacity because he is mentally ill? Well, this process would inevitably begin with Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner — Trump’s highest level staff. What motivation would any of the three have to get rid of crazy old Trump? None. Each man has power that would have been unimaginable before his association with Trump. Each gets more power when Trump is erratic.

If by some bizarre chance the triumvirate decided to challenge Trump’s mental competency — for example if they were suddenly possessed by space aliens dedicated to the good of the US and became pod people — who in the Cabinet would step forward to support their conclusions? And it would require a very big majority of Cabinet members to relieve Trump from power. Who among them would be profiles in intellect and courage? DeVos? Puzder? Carson? Mnoochin? You’d have a better chance finding the ethical sense, intellectual competence, capacity for self-sacrifice and love of country needed to make such a momentous decision from a random sampling of inmates at the Cook County Jail.

Impeachment occurs in the House of Representatives. Would Speaker Ryan lead the charge. Currently the Speaker, who for my money is even worse for the welfare of the American people than Trump, is poised to accomplish his legislative agenda — an ambitious program to dismantle what is left of the New Deal and Great Society and hand our collective wealth over to a few thieving one per centers. Ryan has desired to do this ever since Satan impregnated his mother. Why would he want Trump out? To alienate Trump’s crazy supporters and distract from the larceny at hand. Ryan is a focused man. He lifts weights. The only way he would move to impeach Trump is if would gain power to pass his Homicide for America program or to save his own ass for some reason. There are no current scenarios to give him any motivation. And in the event there are at some point, we would be in no better position than we are now, and most likely things would be worse — as unimaginable as that seems.

For those who think a non-violent movement of resistance by the American people to remove the whole compromised or worse lot of them and re-establish our constitutional democracy is a pipe dream, I answer that is far more realistic than believing that you are going to be saved by the Republicans in Congress. Relying on them to do this job would be as wise as asking Jerry Sandusky to watch your kids for the weekend.

We will get some victories in the courts, but not enough and only on an issue-by-issue basis. The Republicans have held up lower court judicial appointments as well as the Scalia seat. They will fill them with people of the quality of former Hitler youth Neil Gorsuch. Trump called the judge who stayed the Muslim ban, a “so-called judge.” Whenever he makes these statements that you say are crazy and ignorant he is consolidating a new kind of fascist country. Stay tuned for the show trials of the police state.

The only ways that totalitarian governments have ever been taken down have been by wars with foreign powers or by revolutions from populations who refuse their governance. There are no foreign powers strong enough to take Amerika down. Those who might try are being turned into useful allies.

The only people who can save us is us. I go back and forth on whether the American people have the intelligence, courage and will to stop this. Are we as strong as the Eastern Europeans, Indians, South Africans and patriots of the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights Movement before us? Or are we children wishing upon a star and refusing to put away our toys as our home burns to the ground?

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Kaepernick before Kaepernick. The issues haven’t changed in three years. I’ve changed in three years. I wouldn’t compare myself to Martellus Bennett today. I don’t need the aggression now. I’m off the field of battle. My internal conflicts are resolved. My present is not a time of struggle.

From February 7, 2017:

Back page of the Sun-Times: Martellus Bennett should put aside politics and honor team and go to White House when Trump welcomes Super Bowl Champs.

No! It’s not politics, its morality. It’s his choice not to be part of a photo op for Trump.

Also being part of a team or any group doesn’t require conformity. Bennett has a quirky personality who is determined not to live his whole life in the ethos of a high school gym class. He’s creative. He’s a dedicated citizen. He’s warm to children.

He was punished by the Bears for having a different and spirited personality. They never used him right on the field and they were fools to get rid of him.

When will all the conformists shut up? When will mediocrities who aspire to nothing more than fitting in get out of the way of people who are really trying to do something and BE something?

I identify with Martellus Bennett. If I was an elite athlete I’d play like him. And I’d act the same way in the locker room.

Time to let the talented people with character take the lead for awhile. We’ve seen what the mediocrities have given us. (Hint: TRUMP!)

This is how you resist. You stand in the place where you live.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

A good piece that could have been written in September 2020.

From February 7, 2017:

Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic made a great point this morning. We aren’t only a nation of laws, we are also a nation of norms. We use institutions like the Presidency and Supreme Court to give us a sense of stability. Those institutions are inherently conservative. At the time when Bill Clinton watered down his stance on full acceptance of gays in the military in the early 1990s to “don’t ask don’t tell” he said that change comes from the bottom up. His point was that Presidential leadership couldn’t take the country further than where enough of the people wanted to go.

History is filled with such examples. Surely Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery as early as the 1840s. He never said so until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The job of activism and advocacy was left to the abolitionists.

When Trump made a moral equivalency between the US and Russia he went further than the American people currently want to go. Obama used to say in third world nations that America had been “far from perfect” in its relations with those poor countries. Obama was doing his job beautifully moving America’s public statements — we feel when the President speaks we are speaking — towards an admission to the crimes of our Cold War imperialism and towards a stance of being more leader than bully in the family of nations.

Trump spoke for us when he said that we were killers like Russia — and we didn’t like it. He appalled just about all of us. Conservatives hated the admission of America’s historic acts of immorality in much more blunt and less incremental terms than Obama. Liberals hated what he said because it promised much more of the same.

We have an anti-social personality, Trump,  acting in the role of representing our society. The President’s job is to represent our image of ourselves and execute concrete policies that reflect that image. Trump only knows how to project his own image and has the hubris to say he wants it to be the image of all of America. This won’t work. In America, even in this current age of major sympathy for authoritarianism, l’etat is definitely not c’est moi.

It is the job of artists, writers, activists and other cultural leaders to lead changes in the way we think. Not Presidents. Successful Presidents figure out what we feel and find a way to make it real. LBJ followed MLK as the latter changed American views on civil rights and equality. LBJ turned the new morality into legislation. That’s what we want from our Presidents. We want them to use brick and mortar to make the visions of our hearts real. We don’t want them to tell us what to feel.

Trump and Bannon don’t know or care what the Presidential role is. They want to force a world view down everyone’s throats that no one asked for. Ultimately this is what is going to bring them down because this cultural level is what the general public understands.

The most apolitical people in the country gasped when Trump said that we came from a long line of killers — funny on one level because he got in trouble in a rare instance when he was truthful and right!

The 1968 ridiculously camp movie “Wild in the Streets” was a dystopian nightmare aimed at an older audience. It was about the terrors caused in a fictional USA when the youth counter-culture takes over the White House. I don’t include a reference to this movie here to re-litigate the 60s Generation Gap. I offer it as an absurd example of what happens when a President is culturally tone deaf and imposes his unvarnished world view on everyone else. The movie is less absurd than what we are living.

What is compelling and provocative in tabloid and reality TV stardom and even in a political campaign is alienating and off putting in the Presidency.

One who governs needs the consent of the governed. This is how Trump is going to lose control.

The Trump/Hitler comparison stops when we consider that we are a nation of norms. Hitler enthusiastically represented the soul of the German people at that time of the Third Reich. Trump is an exotic even to his supporters in the present day.

Trump will fall because he doesn’t follow our norms. We have to stay focused on demanding that he stand down. He and the Republicans in Congress DON’T SPEAK FOR US!

We want our American norms back. They have to go. Before 2018.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I knew Trump’s ascendency would bring mass murder to our future. The piece is talking, not writing.

From February 7, 2020:

Trump is a big liar, but he is truthful about what he’s going to do, if nothing else. Why does he keep defending Putin? OK, Exxon/Mobil- Gazprom “deal” ( I’ve grown to hate that fucking word). Check. Some payment or forgiving of debt or something for Trump personally . Check, but that’s just his pay — The Godfather wets his beak.

Trump thinks big. An alliance with Russia planned “to take the oil in the Middle East?” Russia, Muslim Ban, Tillerson, “take the oil” — seems to add up.

It’s ironic that the Republicans would openly criticize Trump the big liar when he told the truth making a moral equivalency between Putin and our American leaders — “a lot of people are killers.” The statement is chilling because that is how Trump plans to operate.

American leaders haven’t poisoned their political opponents like Russia’s. Our leaders have been more inclined to kill poor and weak people — like our soldiers who die in battle or don’t get a decent VA or pensions or jobs and often perish homeless and insane in the streets. Or the mass incarceration of poor people driven to crime because no money is made available for decent schools and job opportunities in depressed areas.

Trump has said we have to be “sophisticated” about the deluge of blood. He has no intention to stop it. He wants to escalate it. The Republicans in Congress want to continue to hide behind a feeling of undeserved moral superiority and have no taste for a partnership with Putin.

The Congressional Republicans may also be incensed that Trump told the truth for a minute. If that became a habit God knows what would happen.

A pox on both your branches!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

PS I left out mention of violence of both countries against their economic colonies and satellite states over the years of the Cold War. They used their competition as an excuse to pillage poorer and weaker nations.

Rich and Powerful v Poor and Weak — older story than US or even Russia.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I wrote of outer revolution as I was accomplishing an inner one.

From February 7, 2017:

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

Thomas Jefferson

I continue to think it is a big mistake to focus on Trump’s madness. It is comforting and oversimplifies our challenge. I think he is behaving quite rationally for a gangster who wants to steal the assets of the world. Everything he says and does has a manipulative purpose. I don’t think he is crazy. I think he is a liar and a thief.

I think it is a big mistake to hold out hope that relief from Trump will come from the system — impeachment, 2018 elections, calls to congresspersons etc. All of that is good, but ultimately we the people will have to take THEM out. Positive developments can happen in the courts and even Congress at times — but none go to the root cause. We want to remove Trump and the Congress and the Plutocracy that made them possible. We have an opportunity to get rid of the corrupt oppression that we have suffered at the hands of the ultra-rich for the past forty years.

We also have a moral obligation to rebel — not against our constitutional democracy, we want to restore that — but against the fascist corporate state which has devolved into actual Nazis leading our Executive Branch. Whether we succeed or fail, we have to do this. We can’t accept this trash speaking and acting for us. It is that simple. We must demand that the Trump administration, Congress and the Supreme Court stand down and that we have a new order based on our old values that represents decency, equality and freedom.

I think people are playing into Bannon’s shock and awe playbook when they get distracted by sub-issues without always touching back to the core problem — the Plutocrats are bullying us and stealing everything we own — material and intangible. We want our stuff back.

How do we rebel? Stand in the place where you live. Millions feel the way you do. We will all find each other. The Czech revolution began in conversations over kitchen tables. Ours is beginning on social media.

Technology changes. Morality stays the same.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Obama’s decency wasn’t the only quality that made him a good leader, but without that quality no other attribute would matter. It takes courage to do art. You put yourself out there on your own authority. No school or boss or group gives you permission to do it.

From February 7, 2017:

lincoln-quote

Credentials are bullshit. It is the substance of what is said that matters, not the credentials of the speaker. And I have a few credentials — and I know that if I ever say anything worthwhile it is because of whatever humanity and virtues of citizenship are working in me and has nothing to do with whatever laurels society confers on me. Signed, Richard S. Thomas, JD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Alumnus of Second City Resident Company, Certified by National Institute of Trial Advocacy, Master Teaching Scholar —- Chancellor of the Exchequer and Regent to the Queen. www.richardthomasjd.com

What were George Orwell’s credentials … Henry David Thoreau’s … Mark Twain’s … August Wilson’s … (?) These were people of deep moral conscience and not invested in success in the power structure to the point where they couldn’t see it clearly and speak clearly and insightfully about it.

My modest credentials were accumulated as a way to make a living. If a society chooses Trump to be a President how important could be it’s recognition about anything?

I’m Rick Thomas. I’m a human being, a writer and a citizen. I aspire to write as well as the exemplars I mentioned above. Why not? Who should I want to emulate? The famous Joe Scarborough?

if that’s not good enough for you — or if you defer to me because you think “oh he’s a lawyer” or some other self-hating bullshit — go fuck yourself (in either case).

I am most proud of what I have said and done in my life that wasn’t rewarded with a certificate or a good review because it is my truth and not calculated to bring me anything except the satisfaction of my own soul. If what I say and do helps other people all the better — and I am sure it will because what feeds the soul feeds the world.

Let us all judge each other not on the basis of the information on our resumes, but rather by the content of our characters.

I’ve written a lot about the oppression of Plutocrats, but we also suffer at the hands of the soulless smart. I have to write more about them. People like Steve Bannon and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder as just two obvious examples of a tyranny of conscienceless well-read men of high intellect and no morality.

Obama was a good democratic leader because he is a decent man. Knowing the constitution alone does you no good if you’re an asshole.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

As I watched the news, my own life passed before my eyes. America was experiencing a lesson that I spent my life learning.

From February 8, 2017:

The Democrats should have walked out as soon as McConnell silenced Warren (supposedly for impugning fellow senator Jeff Sessions character during the debate regarding Session’s confirmation as Trump’s Attorney General on the evening of 2/7/17). If the Republicans aren’t going to allow a free debate why participate in it? Arguing just made what McConnell did legitimate. Resistance means refusing to cooperate with an unjustified claim of power. This was the first step to a show-legislature with no vocal opposition. Trump recently said, “Who cares what the Democrats say anyway?” Their not so long-term aim is a de facto one party system.

We need a non-violent revolution that demands a return to our constitutional democracy but most people think that’s a pipe dream. The real pipe dream is to think that we won’t have a police state long before 2018. Everybody is trying to work in a system that has a few working parts left — some judges — but largely has ceased to exist. Warren initially looked surprised when McConnell bullied her. I wasn’t. If you have ever been stuck in a lousy job in an exurb you know the Fascist mentality and how Fascists operate. You have to refuse to participate in their bullying, disengage and continue your criticism in a safe venue at a distance. It really frustrates them when you don’t acknowledge their power.

Unfortunately, I came to these insights in the only way that you can — through life experience. Not that many people have been exiled from comfortable progressive success, broken in spirit, abused by Fascists in wage slave jobs, reborn, found their way back to their soul, regained their friends, found the love of their lives, re-discovered their purpose and found their voice, personality, character and freedom again. The people that have are called artists — those who endure exile and great trials and return with a vision of reality that can save the world — so to speak.

But people don’t listen initially, and that is part of the story too. I like the example of the fine writer and painter Churchill warning of dire circumstances related to Hitler from the back benches of the House of Commons in the 1930s.

Artists feel like I did as a young boy when I sat on the porch of a house on a busy street and watched a frail woman obliviously walk into traffic. I called out but she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear me. She was hit by a car and was seriously injured.

The vision of a non-violent revolution is a pipe dream only because people aren’t ready to believe how bad things are.

I’ve grown to accept that and I am no longer frustrated by that sad fact. It is the natural order of things.

Get ready for a lot of suffering. I’ll be here writing, teaching, speaking out — doing what I can.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I won’t include a blog post about the travel ban which was teaching and social media opining and not writing.

A step back followed by a step forward. Writing returns.

From February 11, 2017 with update added on February 14, 2017:

2/14/17

This article was originally posted three days ago on 2/11/17. Matters moved quickly. Flynn resigned the National Security Adviser position last night. The next question is the old Watergate query — what did the President (and other high ranking officials in his administration) know and when did he know it? Watch and see what the press, Congress, the intelligence community, career professionals in the Justice Department and the FBI uncover next.

Trump runs his businesses like a chaotic criminal enterprise — focused on cash flow and unconcerned about other people’s damages or who is left holding the bag. He uses the competitive leverage of his wealth to bully others and outlast them while litigating countless disputes. He doesn’t have the same advantages as President. As much as he and his propaganda ministers say otherwise, the power of the President does not outweigh the collective power of the aforementioned press, Congress, the intelligence community, career professionals in the Justice Department and the FBI.

Trump lied this past weekend saying that he was unaware of the allegations against Flynn and that he “would look into it.” Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned Trump weeks ago that Flynn was compromised and vulnerable to blackmail because of his conversations with Russian officials.  Trump’s lie in this instance had a different quality than most of his other and ubiquitous lies. He didn’t make his usual grandiose claims accompanied by an attack on some of his real or perceived adversaries and the questioner. He instead dissembled, covering up what he knew and most likely what he did.

It is also interesting to note that Sally Yates was fired not only because she was right about the constitutionality (or more precisely lack thereof) of the travel ban executive order, but also in order to attempt to silence Yates’ investigation into the Administration’s collusion with Russia.

Trump has tried to bully a lot of people who can confidently hit back. Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress won’t stop several investigations from proceeding. 

2/11/17

The stink around Michael Flynn’s discussion with Russian officials about removing the Obama Administration’s sanctions on Trumpistan’s great Eastern ally is a promising odor. It is equally promising that the man who currently claims to be our Vice-President, the Reverend Mike, has been revealed to have either have lied to deflect and defend for the potentially treasonous weasel, Flynn, or was duped into doing so by the Trumpian thugs that His Holiness was all too ready to sign his pact with the Devil with…

Slick Donald came out when asked about the imbroglio late Friday (2/10/17) abandoning his dark, menacing “I am your President during a time of (imagined and manufactured) war” countenance and said he wasn’t aware of what happened between Flynn and Russia and he’d look into it. Melania stood next to him pretending they knew each other. It was such a stark contrast with Fearful Leader’s usual red-assed angry denial followed by a bullying attack upon someone smaller than his usurped office but bigger than his hands.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D -Cal.) a potential Constitutional hero with the demeanor of a tax audit and ranking minority member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence is pulling on a thread of the Emperor’s new clothes that may unravel the whole lying outfit.

If the Trump gang colluded with the Putin posse to rig the election, and then assured Vlad the Bad that he didn’t have to take Obama’s sanctions too seriously because Donald would kiss boo boo and make it better as payment for all the Ruskie electoral support, then Schiff will have some allies in bringing Trumpty Dumpty down from his famous wall that Mexico will never pay for.

No one in the Establishment would ever bring down the Fourth Reich for stealing all the education, health care, and housing money from the American suckers, um, people but screwing around with our national security is another matter. Proof of Trumpistan collusion with Russia would make Schiff’s crusade bi-partisan. And the FBI and intelligence lifers will be happy to help out to serve their country and their personal ambition.

This is the type scandal that could take the Goodfellas out. We will still need the non-violent revolution against the Plutocrats that I’ve been writing about, but now it could take place in the voting booth and not the streets.

President Paul Ryan would lead a disgraced and accidental administration and the Republicans would be swamped in 2018 for giving the term “Red State” a new connotation.

Here’s an interesting footnote — did you catch who else is at Putin’s table in the Treason Prom photo above? Is that Jill Stein? Did Putin use the alt-right AND the radical left to rig the election? It seems Jill happened to be in Russia the week of that photo sitting on panels saying how lousy America is. Anyone but Hillary, right Jill? Putin for President? Requiem for a Show Pony, Jill?

Will Michael Flynn be hearing that old familiar chant (with a change of gender) “Lock HIM up!”? Will be the first to go along with Bolshevik Steve Bannon, the Rev. Mike and Der Trumpster himself?

This lousy administration has been a great reality series but it may get cancelled anyway.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

All the material on the blog could be placed on a continuum, from talk to writing. The next piece is somewhere in the middle trending toward writing exclusively. The influence of performance and teaching, my self-conception as a spoken word artist affects the tone of this piece. But pure writing is there too — the part of me that forgets my audience in mid-sentence and starts making something. I like that I don’t censor myself, that I un-self-consciously let it out and just get it all down. The writing evolves as I do.

From February 12, 2017:

Ultimately Trump s just what is most lousy about all of us Americans broadcast through a bullhorn. We, as a people, and myself in particular, have lacked the gratitude to, and empathy, compassion and sensitive awareness for, immigrants and their contributions, triumphs and struggles. I for one have no excuse for this — I should have known better. And my only explanation for my behavior is self-involvement — the self-involvement which has allowed me to tolerate and ignore every other rotten element of our often evil society — a society that has enslaved people and committed genocide, oppressed weaker nations through wars of aggression, and allowed the weak to go uneducated and literally die without medical attention on an altar of greed — and those are just for starters on our list of transgressions. Our greatest pride is our ideals — of democracy and freedom and community and equality — and our greatest failure is how far we fall from living those ideals in concrete reality. WE SHOULD KNOW BETTER AND WE DO KNOW BETTER. We just don’t bother. We are to easily occupied with the trivial and unimportant — that which entertains us or flatters us in some way.

I confidently extend my guilt and shame to you as well since we are, as the slogan says, a nation of immigrants — and I know that you, as immigrants, or the children or descendants of immigrants — should know better too. I don’t know the answers, but I know we need entirely new policies towards how immigrants are treated  as to matters of law and status in our country. We must act with more kindness, appreciation for what new Americans bring to our individual and collective lives, and with a much greater sense of fair play and justice. While policies take time to create and implement, attitudes can change in a heartbeat and our resuscitated hearts should lead us on this one.

While we were celebrating court rulings and cheering on the aggressive satire of Saturday Night Live, the federal government has been conducting intense immigration enforcement raids across the country. The stated purpose of the raids is to facilitate the deportation of criminals who are also immigrants but immigrants without criminal records are being detained as well.

We have White House leadership that believes in perverted theories regarding racial and ethnic purity, but they aren’ t the only people who should feel shame at the violence and terror behind the rationale of behind these raids and their execution. We are morally culpable. I am morally culpable. Obama deported more people than any other U.S. President — what Trump is doing really isn’t new.

We have always imported immigrants — either legally or illegally — (any questions of  conformity with the law should be asked of us not them) — to do our dirty work OR to do the work of genius that we were ill-equipped to do — like design rockets or conduct symphonies. But we always made sure that they were the new kids. We never consistently made them feel welcome or comfortable. We always laughed at their cuisines until we asked them to turn them into gourmet fare. We always made them feel like strangers — toying with them for generations until we made them feel at home — in their own home!

We made sure that they knew that we were better than them and that they had to please us. Recently, in the last twenty years or so this overtly superior changed. Immigrants were no longer required to display obsequious attitudes towards our seniority in time served on the North American continent. And we resented them for the enforced dignity, sniping that our outward decency was mere political correctness.

Now Trump shows us our ugliness in extremis. And we now want to conform who we are to who we say we are. And that’s good. I repent before all the rest of you sinners for my self-righteousness. Some of my outrage at our evil king should have been reserved for myself. His sins are active ones. Mine are of omission.

I was raised by immigrants. Most of the adults that I was around when I was a child were born in Italy or other foreign, mostly — but not exclusively — European, countries. My father was involved in amateur soccer. He was a major leader in that community.  Every immigrant nationality in Rochester, New York had a soccer team. Most had a social club as well. Italians, Germans, Portuguese, Greeks, Turks, Africans (they were fewer in number so they had a team that represented their entire continent), Irish, Scottish, Ukrainian, Polish, and other groups that I am sure that I am forgetting to mention. (Rochester remains a welcoming hub for immigrants — the countries of origin are different but the energy remains the same. The 2010 census says the big immigrant groups in my hometown are now Jamaican, Southeast Asian, Chinese, Korean, Cuban and — still coming in big numbers after decades and generations rise and fall — the Ukrainians.

My father spoke with a thick accent. My mother was a proud Italian cook. The first time I ever saw how adults had fun was at a Portuguese wedding. The first person outside of my family that encouraged me to develop my intelligence through education was a German lady who was a friend of my aunt. The first guys who ever laughed at my jokes outside of my family were  Irish and Scottish guys who used to play soccer with my father.

I grew up surrounded by warmth and energy.

And then I kind of forgot about how I grew up and who loved me as a child. I went to school and law school and then lived a pretty white life. Things came full circle when I started to teach at UIC and remembered my forgotten childhood again. I am in a position to do try to do a little something positive for the people who brought me up who now sit before me as my students. It’s an honor and only right.

The day after Trump signed the executive order commonly called the Muslim ban, that has been temporarily restrained by the courts and awaits Trump’s policy response to those decisions, I posted this true anecdote on Facebook:

January 27, 2017 — I had a new experience today. I was teaching a class of mostly sophomores — managerial communications — and I was showing them how to write a story and make a case to assert their vision of their career. And I’m looking at them — we have a lot of diversity at UIC — blacks, Muslims, Latinos, Asians, documented and undocumented aliens —every demographic category you can think of… and I started to cry. No warning. Boom.

What is going to happen to these kids? I’m teaching them this stuff to help them get their careers started and will they get any sort of chance at all.

I got through it and they came around me — comforting me — these beautiful kids — my God….

I now realize that this was my moment of awakening regarding the importance of immigrants in my life and my realization of how much I loved them.

America has always had a schizophrenic view of immigrants. On the one hand we have romanticized them — give me your tired and poor — the Statue of Liberty — Ellis Island — the melting pot — nation of immigrants …

On the other hand, we have mocked and excluded immigrants and treated them horribly or with the indifference that I have described above.

I’ve wasted so much time concerned about nothing.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I was right. The Trump White House is a criminal enterprise that is among other crimes, furthering a White Nationalist agenda. I wasn’t owning my artistic ambition on this day — or even totally aware of it. A mere blog post, which is all that this segment is, was not equal to my insight. It takes time to realize what you are capable of, and you have to separate out all the unworthy ambitions that other people tell you important. If you listen to too many voices, you sometimes can’t hear your own. The external negative voices belong to your psyche as well as your workplace and neighborhood. You choose toxic companions who embody your toxic thoughts … a chicken and egg situation. Writing is re-writing. You eliminate what doesn’t work, and emphasize and expand what does. You make progress rationally, and intuitively too, simply by persistently engaging with the creative process. I re-write pieces in the pieces that succeed it; graceful creative leaps and clumsy backsliding move toward real achievement.

From February 13, 2017:

2/13/17

Stephen Miller, the reptilian Executive Branch official who is a high ranking advisor to Trump, and a principal spokesperson for Trump, said yesterday that the courts have no power over national security and the President’s “authority in that area shall not be questioned.” I wrote recently that one option that Trump had in the aftermath of the Appellate Court travel ban ruling would be defying the court and provoking a constitutional crisis. Miller’s statement revealed yesterday that Trump is more ambitious than that. Trump intends to attempt to disempower all courts as they relate to acting as a check on his power. Miller let us know that the courts aren’t the only ones who won’t challenge the President’s authority and power ever again. Miller promised  a new awareness of Trump’s supremacy in short order. The regime’s hegemony will be recognized by all in the immediate future. “Soon our opponents, the press and the whole world will soon see” how Trump will defend our borders.

Trump tweeted congratulations for Miller’s performance. Miller is not a rogue agent espousing views not blessed by his President. Does anyone doubt at this point that we are dealing with a Nazi White House?

Miller was formerly a top aide to Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions when he was Senator from Alabama. Miller worked closely with Richard Spencer, the White Nationalist leader in a “conservative” organization when they were both students at Duke University. Finally the Confederacy and Nazi Germany, soul mates, are united.

The Media and the Democrats make oblique references to what is going on without directly saying that Nazis are running the White House, funded by Plutocrats, who realize that democracy is a system of government that would never allow them to lie, murder and steal to the extent that they need to in order to control all the power and wealth — at least theoretically — in the world. The courts speak, as they must, about the constitution and the Law and see all through that prism. The reticence by the Establishment to directly say that we have a White House with autocratic designs — very openly expressed — exists because they fear what we, the people, would do if we knew how bad it was. The Establishment has to handle this because if they ceded control to us at this critical moment they will never have it again.

It is very clear now, if it wasn’t before, that the Administration’s immigration policy, “anti-crime” policy and bigoted comments about Muslims, Mexicans etc. are the first steps toward a multi-front ethnic cleansing program. White nationalists with great power want to “purify” our population. Expect a large scale act of violence initiated by the Administration very soon to show their opponents, the Media and the World who is in charge, as Miller promised.

The talking heads are lambasting Miller’s performance on the cable news shows yesterday — it was dumb about basic civics, it looked crazy —the usual criticisms. They don’t say the truth and reality of the matter. He was threatening us.

I don’t have any grand answers — but this can’t stand. This administration can’t just be checked. It must go.

There are so many worthy issues but we should have a great focus at this time of national emergency. The people’s one present demand should be that Trump and all of his associates leave office. They are about to do something horribly violent on a mass scale accompanied by ridiculous lies blaming other people and entities. And after that occurs we might very well be living in the brutal totalitarian state they have promised us.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Considering the world, integrating my past — in this instance the practice of law.

From February 15, 2017:

When I was actively practicing as a trial lawyer, I always looked at the beginning of an investigation as an act of imagination. I would use my Spidey sense and try to ferret out a scenario of what was going on based on what I knew, my impressions of what I knew and even my biases. I imagine this is similar to a scientist starting off his experimentation with a hypothesis. Then I’d go looking for facts to prove OR DISPROVE my assertions. Absolute honesty with oneself is key within this process. I found using my imagination was a good starting and organizational point to find the facts that would prove my case, perhaps alter my perception of the case, and even define the nature of the case.

Here’s what my Spidey sense is telling me related to Russia-gate.

Russian oligarchs and American plutocrats forged a complex business partnership before and during the 2016 Presidential campaign. When a business partnership is unlawful it is a criminal conspiracy.

The Russians and Americans determined that it was in their mutual interest to gain absolute shared control of the world’s energy market. Their two major joint initiatives were charted as: combining Russian oil and gas reserves with American multi-national petro-technology to maximize production and profits from the Russian Gazprom and Rosneft oil and gas resources; and becoming allies in an ostensible “war on terrorism” which would actually be a war of aggression with the purpose of becoming co-imperial masters of the Middle East, and as Trump has promised “take all the oil.”

That’s the big picture strategy. All else is tactics regarding smaller matters in order to reach the huge macro-objectives.

The New York Times reported today that there was continual communication between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence operatives. The two groups colluded on stealing the election for Trump (in order to execute their grand vision) through elaborate cybercrime maneuvers and fake news disinformation campaigns. This collusion was highly illegal. There are more ways to steal an election than tampering with a voting machine.

The discussions also involved collateral considerations — the activities were as diverse as those of any large corporation. Those topics included: Trump and his son’s business interests in Russia as well as Paul Manafort’s for example.

The Russians and Americans also discussed American policy towards Russia —- not only the Obama sanctions that Flynn said would be lifted — but American action or lack thereof related to Russia’s immediate involvement in the Ukraine and Syria for example and probably on many other less reported-upon matters.

The major crime that I see committed by Trump and his associates is criminal conspiracy against the US. There are many other counts that would be argued as well — for example many criminal violations of election law I’m sure.

The Trump gang’s public relations strategy was one of conscious arrogance. They did not wish to cover up anything long term. Their plan was to discredit any check on them and assume absolute power.

(If I were doing this investigation and prosecution professionally this memo would be a lot longer and have more detail.)

The next steps would be collecting the facts. The communications between the Russians and the Trumps would be a treasure trove since the Trumps strategy was to be brazen and not even try to cover up anything.

All communications related to the ancillary issues — Trump and Manafort’s business deals with Russia, the cybercrime and disinformation related to stealing the election would also have to be collected.

Much more to this obviously — this is just a pencil on the back of an envelope treatment.

Then I would research all pertinent law —- and match all relevant facts up as working evidence to match all elements of the applicable statutes and case law.

Finally I would construct my argument. An opening statement that laid out what I intended to prove, a presentation of the facts in an organized, clear and systematic fashion, an analysis of the facts in light of the relevant law — the legal argument and finally a closing statement where I would review my argument and ask the court of law or public opinion to decide clearly the reality of the matter and act according to the sanctions, punishments and/or rehabilitative measures that I would recommend.

Don’t be intimidated as our resistance moves into a legal arena. The law is not that hard to understand. It is just a lot. Lawyers tend to surround their work with a shroud of mystery. They make money that way. But our laws belong to all of us — and a part of our patriotic AWARENESS right now is to understand the processes by which they work.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Some satire.

From February 16, 2017:

President Trump’s Daily Schedule

My sources in the White House have shared with me President Trump’s daily schedule. I share with you this rare glimpse at the inner workings of the Presidency.

5:00 am: President wakes up. Skypes the first lady to say hello. Leaves voice mail.

5:05: Watches Morning Joe as research to determine foreign and domestic policy of his administration.

6:00: Gets out of bed. Meets with White House tailor to have pants let out.

6:15: Gets back into bed for an impromptu three way sex session with Steven Miller and Steve Bannon.

6:17 to 6:30: Studies penis in an enlarging mirror.

7:00: Hosts Chris Christie for breakfast. White House mess hires three new chefs.

7:30 to 9:00: Normally reserved for meeting with National Security Advisor — President’s free time.

9:00 – 9;30: Looks at new carpet samples for the Oval Office.

9:30 -10:00: Meets with his daughter Ivanka for “holding time” when she gently caresses him to her breasts as she says “there, there, there, there”

10:00 – 11:00: Daily Executive Order signing ceremony. Today’s order changes the national language to German.

11:00 -12:00: Goes to a conference room and sits at a table with a collection of sycophantic people who speak vaguely about “deals.”

12:00 -2:00: Reverses pardons of all Thanksgiving turkeys pardoned by Obama. Lunch with Chris Christie.

2:00 -4:00: Awkward meeting with an uncomfortable and confused foreign leader to be announced.

4:00 -6:00: Watches cable channels to catch up on what he did that day.

6:00 – whenever he falls asleep: Puts on bathrobe and wanders around Executive residence. Phones Putin to see if he needs anything. Re-watches the second half and overtime of the Super Bowl. Has a moment of reality and realizes that he is going to go jail for colluding with Russia. Takes a handful of downers and goes to sleep refusing to take any phone calls or meet with any aides who come to see him.

2 am tomorrow: Major attacks on the United States by several terrorist organizations, North Korea and a duplicitous Russia.

5 am tomorrow: World ends.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I am in a stretch of these blog segments that I am reviewing that are just not that interesting from the perspective of my writing. I was just teaching, doing my stage show and blogging in this period. I’ll include segments of note that illuminate my development as a writer as I encounter them.

After a couple of weeks, a few paragraphs of halfway decent satire.

From March 7, 2017:

We have our match up for the Tostitos Fate of American Democracy National Championship Game to be played in various venues in Washington, D.C. The finalists are Trump University vs. Deep State.

Trump University is the only collegiate team to have owners — Robert Mercer and Vladimir Putin. Mercer and Putin have spared no expense to buy victories for this insurgent underdog. As a matter of fact, Trump U. has never won a game fair and square. Coach Steve Bannon has been described as an innovative lunatic who rewrites the rules of the game while the game is in progress. Trump U. is led on the court by the highly erratic shooter Donald Trump who lacks focus and often exhibits poor mental and physical conditioning.

Deep State is the quintessential dynasty. It has never lost a game in 60 years of tournament play. No one exactly knows who the coaches or players are for Deep State, but be assured that they are highly competent and motivated.

This reporter predicts that Deep State will win a decisive victory. Trump U. will play a stout defensive game but they can only delay the inevitable. Deep State will investigate Trump U.’s coverage and find its weaknesses. Deep State will then be merciless in its punishment of the insurgent underdog.

Citizens of our American democracy will have a lot of work to do in the aftermath of the game. We will have to clean up after our brief detour into being a banana republic, and we will have to reassert democratic control of our own lives. We’ll need a new president to helm Deep State and lead it to fundamental changes.

And now let me shed the last vestige of objectivity that you may have foolishly thought that I had:

GO DEEP STATE! BEAT TRUMP U!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Some decent writing still being influenced by talk.

From March 12, 2017:

The zeitgeist is changing. We know what we need to know about the Trump nightmare. An illegitimate coup has taken over the country. The government is led by criminals that colluded with Russia. Every action of the Republican Executive Branch and Congress is inhumane and designed to demean the rest of us with the ultimate purpose of enriching Russian oligarchs and American billionaires. Legal and journalistic investigations will lead to responses in the courts of law and public opinion that will eventually remove these gangsters from power.

The leaders of the coup want to be authoritarian fascists but they are not very bright so they execute their plans more in the manner of dumb hoods. Remember in the movie Goodfellas when the gang pulled off the biggest heist in American history? Robert De Niro warned them to lay low and not spend any money? And they all showed up at the Christmas party with new cars and furs for their wives? And the police got involved? And they turned on each other and the big dogs started killing the others — because it is hard to prove a criminal conspiracy when most of the conspirators are dead? And besides it was more money for the big dogs if their dead gang members couldn’t get their shares? And Ray Liotta noticed that everybody was out for themselves? And he had been loyal to the group and got nothing  for his sacrifices? So when he got in trouble with the law himself, he hesitated turning over evidence against the Mafia gang that he was in out of fear of the gang, but eventually did so because he feared the Law more? And his testimony helped bring down the whole gang? This is what is going to happen and how the Trump nightmare will end.

In the meantime, many innocent people will suffer — like the persecuted immigrants, school children and defiled Jewish people already getting hit hard.

So The Rick Blog has told its story. Now what?

How about why? An artistic investigation about why the Trump gangsters, and we, are the way we, and they, are.

How will I go about this? I don’t know. Through my process of improvisational writing — which does use rewrites and about which I will also have to write about in detail.

I met a billionaire once. He showed me his big elaborate train set in a 1000 square foot room in his house. He said one model train car — not even an engine — cost him $10,000. I read that Robert Mercer, the primary domestic owner of Donald Trump has a big train set too. I think train sets are the hobby of choice in the Plutocratic class.

Billionaires love train sets because they can’t write. They are collectors not makers. When they want to go on a winding path … and imagine how things can be … and notice how they are — they have to buy stuff and exploit it.

Billionaires are described as visionaries but they have no imagination. They steal other people’s visions and then distort them in order to make money — or something else they desire — for themselves.

Nothing really belongs to billionaires.

Sad, empty lives. Billionaires are ciphers. Billionaires are vampires. They suck our blood to feed their monstrous insecurity. They need to be viewed as vastly superior by virtue of their immense bank accounts, when actually they feel  inferior as any persons who can’t create — and must steal — do. Plagiarists are just like billionaires except they aren’t as good at it. Unhappy people ruin our world in order to feed the pathology of their unhappiness. And it pretty much has always been that way. That is the best I can do on the empathy and compassion front with billionaires this morning.

One chapter of the story not told in Goodfellas: the billionaires will get off scot free. The root cause of evil is never wholly eradicated. That’s natural law. The billionaires will return to their lairs and construct more nefarious schemes to ruin the world.

And we will be caught flat-footed by their infamy again. And then rise to the occasion of resistance. And we will win again after the innocent suffer greatly.

And The Rick Blog will stay in business.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Re-reading the blog with an eye to the development of writing is like watching the Wright Brothers experiment until man could consistently fly. I had discovered that I was a writer and now I was exploring what my writing is. And I was conscious of this process while I was doing it.

From March 13, 2017:

The Eleven Stages of the Trump Conspiracy against America

First it was funny,

then it was shocking,

then it was disgusting,

then it was alarming,

then it was sad,

then it was fear-inducing,

then it was frustrating,

then it was outrageous,

then it was enraging,

then there were signs of ultimate victory and the end of despair.

And emotion had much less to do with it.

My rants seem suddenly dated (only in one sense). Fear had left a long time ago. Now my old friend anger is disappearing — or at least showing up far less frequently — as well. The Trump Conspiracy often seems just a solvable problem to investigate, analyze and solve.

The Rick Blog is the story of my response to the world, based on the reality that much of it overlaps with your response to the world.

So my main job in the resistance seems to be to understand. (And sometimes oppose.) I’m often moving away from emotional responses to the crisis — with the exception of compassion for people who are suffering because of Trump’s ascension.

A good prosecutor and/or a good writer doesn’t investigate in order to condemn. They investigate to search for the truth. (Both tell stories and make cases — different genres of the same arts. My years as a prosecutor was a great experience to inform the process of my writing. it is good for writers to have experience because it gives him a broad base for material to write about. But my years trying cases were very influential for the PROCESS of my writing.) The truth may ultimately condemn, no human has to help it along.

Detachment. Compassion. Brutal honesty. These are the components of great writing — my aspiration. (I reject all concerns about aesthetics and craft. They are irrelevant to me because I am an improviser. Improvisation is brilliantly simple — it accesses the pure voice of the player. One’s personal substance is one’s style, presence and content. Improvisational acting and writing is all about who you are, not how you do it.)

On Sunday (March 12, 2017) I posted two pieces. “Why Billionaires Have Train Sets” I believe moves toward detachment/compassion/brutal honesty, the qualities of good writing. “Maybe We Should Deport Republicans” is an old-fashioned Rick Blog rant, that won’t surprise, in content or tone, any regular Rick Blog readers.

Not everything I do is great writing (even in the aspirational sense), however. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Some things are there just to firmly take sides. Detachment works in art and on the highest plane of life, but we also have to take sides in order to participate in life.

Rants draw “likes” from the like-minded on social media — and that is good. We need solidarity. Aspirational writing draws considered views and thoughtful expressed or unexpressed responses from committed readers. That is needed to. What is living if not a constant inquiry into the nature of existence? Life has to be discovered — not merely played out. That truth is the source of improvisation’s thrill.

(There is an ad for Raymond James Investments that shows a man’s life in thirty seconds —- from birth to graduation to marriage to retirement. They skip the coffin. A LIFE WELL PLANNED. I’d rather improvise. What a depressing bore. Follow the blueprint and make sure you have the money to negotiate the required steps. Prison. A LIFE NEVER LIVED. I’d rather improvise.)

So I’ll keep attempting art — oh hell, no false humility — doing art AND taking my stand.

And I’ll keep doing comedy, and legal analysis and literary essays and storytelling and didactic professorial lecturing and confessional monologues and whatever else is part of me — usually in the same piece. And I won’t bother to define when I am doing what.

Every time somebody speaks authoritatively about craft — and I have heard it from some minor improvisation teachers, creative writing instructors and would-be mentoring trial lawyers — they miss a very important point. You have to find your own way to do it. No external system works. The external systems give a false sense of safety, but you have to take a risk. You have to throw yourself into unknown situations and figure out what to do.

You have to make friends with anxiety if you want to improvise — and actually look forward to its arrival and lean into it. A life well lived is not a life well planned.

The Trump Phenomenon has never been about them. It has been about us. And my writing about it has in the final analysis has been about me. And you.

I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

From March 14, 2017:

On your suggestion of yesterday’s (3/13/17) Executive Order re: reorganizing the Executive Branch we take you to this blog post…Oooooh, look at the scary Executive Order below (annotated in italics by me)…my general comments first (in italics…)

I’m out of outrage. We used to put memos like this together when I was in high school student government. This type sweeping change isn’t going to be done by fiat or a marketing come on like this E.O. They will neglect their duties — in that way they will cheat people out of government services and protections. But they won’t restructure the government for posterity. It’s a grandiose undertaking that they don’t have the competence or popular support to pull off.

Bannon is a joke. The great intellectual has made his relatively small fortune by coming up with a con of philosophical pseudo-justification that flatters billionaires into thinking that their inhumanity is for the common good.

Bannon pleases the billionaires and bamboozles the rubes, but everyone else is against him. They are trying to lie and intimidate to get power instead of persuade, and it’s not working. They aren’t a terrifying threat as much as they are a big pain in the ass. If you want to dismantle the government you have to know how to govern. Constantly huffing and puffing about all the scary stuff you are going to do won’t get it done.

I am bored by Steve Bannon. His “ideas” belong in a late night discussion in the dorm, Sophomore year.

Bannon’s three point program of ersatz genius:

  1. National defense and sovereignty (translation — we can steal a lot of money with military contracts … really not new)
  2. Economic nationalism and cultural identity (white nationalism — the bigots in the locker room at the country club are in charge. Real suffering happening with immigrants here — horrible. Not permanent. They only harm in how they administer the government — they don’t know how to fundamentally change it.)
  3. Finally, the destruction of the administrative state. That’s what this E.O. speaks to. (Destroy regulations and eliminate so that Plutocrats can do what they please and take all of the money.) They don’t have a clue as to how to do this.

Radical authoritarian revolutionary change needs propaganda, but that’s not all it needs. Especially when over half of the people don’t buy a word of it.

Major institutional change requires support of the population in its initial phases AND operational skills to actually execute concrete changes. Bannon couldn’t administer a death camp if he wanted to (of course he does).

Our system isn’t going to fall because of some scary sounding proclamations by a lazy drunken bullshit artist.

Emperor Bannon has no clothes — now that’s a scary image.

Copyright 2017 Richard ThomasThe White HouseOffice of the Press SecretaryFor Immediate ReleaseMarch 13, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch With My Annotations in Italics

EXECUTIVE ORDER

– – – – – – –

COMPREHENSIVE PLAN FOR REORGANIZING THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Purpose.  This order is intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch by directing the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Director) to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies (as defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code), components of agencies, and agency programs.

This is an order for someone to make a proposal.

Sec. 2.  Proposed Plan to Improve the Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Accountability of Federal Agencies, Including, as Appropriate, to Eliminate or Reorganize Unnecessary or Redundant Federal Agencies.  (a)  Within 180 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall submit to the Director a proposed plan to reorganize the agency, if appropriate, in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency.

More people have to make proposed plans — if appropriate.

(b)  The Director shall publish a notice in the Federal Register inviting the public to suggest improvements in the organization and functioning of the executive branch and shall consider the suggestions when formulating the proposed plan described in subsection (c) of this section.

Every American gets to weigh in with suggestions — this might take a while. 

(c)  Within 180 days after the closing date for the submission of suggestions pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, the Director shall submit to the President a proposed plan to reorganize the executive branch in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of agencies.  The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions.  The proposed plan shall include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.

Once the overall proposed plan is submitted, proposed plans of recommended legislative and administrative measures will be considered. Slam dunk. Congress and the non-partisan standing Federal Bureaucracy will be very cooperative. Uh huh. They’ve loved all of Bannon and Trump’s ideas so far. The Bureaucrats all want to lose their jobs and the Senators and Congressmen love to tell their constituents that they are taking government services away from them. Natch. If anything actually happens the courts will make sure that they conform with existing law — which I am sure Bannon will be on top of — he can rely on his experience running Breitbart whenever he has to meet a legal challenge. This should go as well as the health care “reform” is going, or the Muslim ban.

(d)  In developing the proposed plan described in subsection (c) of this section, the Director shall consider, in addition to any other relevant factors:

(i)    whether some or all of the functions of an agency, a component, or a program are appropriate for the Federal Government or would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise;

No instruction as to the standards by which these determinations will be made. A legitimate consideration of this type would take investigation, research and analysis would take a lot longer than the 180 day time frames that Bannon likes so much. 

Everything is fast and easy, right, Steve and Donald? Who knew health care was so complicated?

Who knew you two were as dumb as the people at your rallies?

(ii)   whether some or all of the functions of an agency, a component, or a program are redundant, including with those of another agency, component, or program;

How are you going to do this, Steve? How are you going to identify redundancies? That is what makes governing hard — you have to say how you are going to do something and communicate it to a lot of disparate people so that they cooperate and do what needs to be done to execute your vision. We call that “leadership.” And it doesn’t happen by proclamation and fiat. Even Hitler got people to understand what he wanted done and got people to do it. Things don’t happen just because you say something. You have to motivate people — and your Star Wars villain schtick isn’t getting it done.

(iii)  whether certain administrative capabilities necessary for operating an agency, a component, or a program are redundant with those of another agency, component, or program;

Ditto annotation above.

(iv)   whether the costs of continuing to operate an agency, a component, or a program are justified by the public benefits it provides; and

Ditto annotations above.

(v)    the costs of shutting down or merging agencies, components, or programs, including the costs of addressing the equities of affected agency staff.

Ditto annotations above.

(e) In developing the proposed plan described in subsection (c) of this section, the Director shall consult with the head of each agency and, consistent with applicable law, with persons or entities outside the Federal Government with relevant expertise in organizational structure and management.

That shouldn’t take much time — assembling all the agency heads of the federal government, along with your named experts, receiving all of their input and fashioning a new organizational plan for the entirety of the Federal Government, the largest organizational entity in human history. How long were you thinking for this Steve… 180 days?

Sec. 3.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Some standard and insufficient hastily put-together legal boilerplate in a half-hearted attempt to avoid litigation but not fully executed because it is complicated work and just too hard.

DONALD J. TRUMP

THE WHITE HOUSE,
March 13, 2017.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

In March 2017, I started occasionally cheerleading for the resistance, trying to encourage discouraged readers. No writing whenever I took this tack.

I also at times had more confidence in our system of checks and balances than it deserved, and at times despaired its demise.

A little bit of writing in a month mostly consumed by other things.

From March 29, 2017:

3/29/17

Dick Cheney said recently that there is no argument “at this stage” that Trump is not a legitimate President. Cheney is connected to the intelligence establishment and he understands the power of investigation. He sees that Trump has usurped the Presidency and that the case is being carefully constructed for Trump’s removal.

Cheney said that Russia’s meddling in our election would be considered “in some quarters” an act of war. Put me in those quarters, as long as the war is a Cold War — which it would be — they still have nuclear weapons.

Cheney was a primary architect of the Iraq War, the greatest corporate scandal in world history until now. He was illegitimately elected in the 2000 election. For much of the Bush Administration he had much more power than he democratically deserved because of a vacuum at the very top. Cheney is a war criminal.

I still prefer him to Trump and Associates. Trump is a significant escalation in what Cheney was in American action overseas. Cheney was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East, but even he never had the cavalier attitude that Trump had when he murdered hundreds of civilians in the Mosul bombings of the past week.

That may seem a distinction without a difference, but Trump is potentially more violent than Cheney. Cheney killed out of a lust for tangible money, power and control. Trump is all of that, and a sadistic narcissist. Trump already has shown a sociopath’s talents for destroying other people’s lives in service of his image. Trump is more dangerous than the dangerous Cheney.

Cheney was a callous conservative who was no friend to the health, education and welfare of the average American citizen and especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Trump wants to dismantle our social contract in its entirety.

Cheney used the government to serve energy industry Plutocrats. Trump is serving Plutocrats from all sectors, and serving Russian oligarchs. Cheney was a bad king. Trump is a traitor. When Trump told Bill O’Reilly that he wouldn’t criticize Putin because “America isn’t so innocent” he may have accurately been thinking of Cheney.

I don’t care. Churchill said of Stalin that he, Churchill, would fight with “the devil himself” to defeat Hitler. I see that logic. So at the moment, I stand with Cheney. Churchill had much in common with Cheney. Churchill was instrumental in the creation of modern Iraq and Iraq’s relationship with the West which has bedeviled the world up to and including the present day. Churchill was as ruthless in the use of military power in the British Empire as he was against the Nazis in World War II.

Some idealistic people get ahead of themselves when they want to fight the military-industrial complex, wrongly called the “Deep State” at this time. Deep State is a crazy conspiracy theory. The Military- Industrial Complex more accurately speaks of political and economic forces that shape vectors of power designed to make money and garner power for a privileged class through military aggression. Deep State is a children’s book over-simplified characterization of a complex socio-political phenomenon, reducing it to a matter of specific elite personalities conspiring to rule the world.

We cannot afford that idealism at the moment. Fascists in power are outsiders that take control of a society by pointing out the injustices of that society and agitating the population. Once they establish themselves in power, Fascists are more brutal than the evil power structure that they replaced.

Dick Cheney’s crimes and indifference, and the crimes and indifference of others like him, created an alienated populace that Donald Trump exploited in his disgusting and farcical rise to power.

For now we must ally with Cheney to remove Trump and Associates, as distasteful as that alliance may be.

Then we must reform our fundamentally evil society in opposition to what Cheney represents.

Society has been defended by bastards like Winston Churchill and improved by saints like Martin Luther King, Jr. Now is a time for Cheney. We face an immediate threat. We have to preserve our democratic institutions so that we can make them better.

Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst form of government except all of the others. The worst can be as evil as the Bush era Iraq War. Horrible. But one of the others is in the White House right now.

I’m with Cheney until I don’t have to be with him anymore. At that time my opposition to him will resume.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

A little comedy.

From March 29, 2017:

3/29/17

Trump just read about Harriet Tubman for the first time in his life off of a teleprompter. Someone told him to smile more. He looks like a molesting uncle.

Maybe he can fix Harriet Tubman up with the great Frederick Douglass.

Now he is saying he wants to grab every child’s left behind.

All women on the dais — wrapped in four layers of Depends each.

He is talking about how he once met a homeless person. It was after he evicted them.

He is sweating like a pig. It is part of his charm.

It’s a Women’s Empowerment Event — where women with Cabinet and top staff positions are used as props seated behind Trump while he ejaculates his monosyllabic tribute to the fairer sex.

OK, Andy Kaufman didn’t die and this is a gag, right?

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The promise of writing tugging at my sleeve …

From March 30, 2017:

3/30/17

The Trump catastrophe is a consequence of the perverse and dominating influence of money in our politics. Vladimir Putin, reportedly the world’s richest man worth an estimated $200 billion, wants to destroy democracy all over the world. He envisions himself as the leader of a collective of right wing heads of government in Europe, Asia and North America. He wants to destroy democratic institutions, destroy the dominant media and replace it with his own, and sew division the world over — divide and conquer. He was a heavy influence in our 2016 elections — providing tactical subversion operations and big cash to the seditionists also known as Trump and Associates. Putin had heavy influence on the British Brexit vote, and the leader of the Brexit movement Nigel Farage. Putin is influencing elections in Western Europe. He met with Marine Le Pen, the racist far-right French presidential candidate yesterday. He is behind the California separatist movement — and Nigel Farage is his front man here again. He wants division everywhere, so he and his ever-expanding international gang of oligarchs can exploit the resulting weakness and steal the economies of the world.

Putin is currently one of Donald Trump’s two main clients.

The other client is Robert Mercer, the American Plutocrat, a computing billionaire worth $25 billion. Mercer set up a genius hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies relatively late in life. He is a principal owner of Breitbart News, and a patron of Steve Bannon. Mercer thinks that there is no white racism in America. He sees black racism here however. He thinks the radiation from the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in World War II was good for the overall health of the people of that nation. He is a right-wing nut job who funded Trump’s run from the post-convention period to Election Day.

Trump’s policies seem so outrageous and out of step with the needs, desires and values of the American people because they are not designed to serve the needs, desires and values of the American people. The policies are designed to satisfy a Russian gangster and an American whack job.

History will require us to first depose Trump and his illegitimate government, then fight a war with Putin’s Russia to preserve democracy in the United States and around the world, and finally to get the corrosive power of money out of our politics and restore our democracy. All voices must be heard as we decide our course — not the fever dreams of greedy delusional self-interested billionaires with no sense of reality and devoid of empathy, and foreign dictators who want to rob us blind while murdering our system and traditions by establishing a puppet regime.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

From March 31, 2017:

One of the reasons that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon was to avoid the criminalization of the highest levels of our democracy. The reasoning went that even if Nixon deserved prosecution and incarceration, our system would be damaged in a major way if we set a precedent of sending a President to jail.

Trump rallies’ cries of “Lock her up” directed at Hillary Clinton sent chills down our spines because locking up a leader is a small step away from locking up her followers. We don’t punish political affiliation in America.

But what if a President never was actually President? What if he usurped the Presidency as part of a criminal conspiracy with other Americans, and with officials from an antagonistic foreign power? What if that pseudo-President committed crimes tantamount to treason?

Does the phony President go to jail?

And investigations into executive-level corruption normally take a year or two. But what if the very existence of the false-President in the White House is a grave national security risk? Can the investigations be sped to their conclusions to protect the American people from attacks resulting from our vulnerability due to the corruption and incompetence of the man and administration that have a solemn responsibility to protect us?

Can a false President be prosecuted and jailed with all deliberate speed?

After Watergate and the Nixon pardon, Americans grew cynical about the integrity of our institutions. If our culture was deeply wounded when a President obstructed justice, how will we react when a false-President is found to have committed something closely resembling treason?

I hope we say that a Russian gangster-oligarch isn’t much different than an American Plutocrat, and that we won’t tolerate our democracy being hijacked by the ultra-rich any longer. I hope we all become a lot less impressed by money, and a lot more concerned with human value.

I hope we find a way to bring criminals to justice no matter how high their station while being generous to each other and never criminalizing a political point of view.

Lock him up? And perfect our democracy?

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Good insight ruined by inartful nightclub profanity — the potential for a good piece of writing — just notes.

From April 3, 2017:

thoreau fact

There are two types of people in America right now. There are people who think that in order to make a decision you have to investigate the facts of the matter, frame your issues and questions with clarity BASED UPON THOSE FACTS, analyze the issues and questions with foundational logic and in an educated manner by viewing the facts through the prism of the highest level available and relevant thought, and finally deciding upon solutions and initiatives with rationality and creativity.

Reasonable people can disagree in their conclusions in a fact-centered process.

The second type of person says fuck facts, we don’t care, the richest asshole involved in our circumstances is right because we want to be rich too. We’ll emulate the rich asshole, kiss his ass, suck his dick, say up is down, or black is white — we don’t care.

Some of these insane fact-less fuckers are rich themselves, some are dirt poor. The divide is not rich versus poor. It’s fact-based versus greed-based.

Ignorance is not a matter of intellect. It’s a matter of character.

Fact free stupidity is a child of greed.

You can’t reason with the willfully insane. You can only defeat them. This isn’t a debate with these assholes. It’s a war.

They care about money more than me or you or anything we care about.

No tolerance. Not an inch to the people who want to steal our lives, and who know in their hearts that they are lying sacks of shit. They think it’s a game. A competition. They mock us for caring about something beyond money — for having a reverence for life itself.

A war against Russia. A civil war against the one third of America possessed by the demon greed.

Non-violent? Sure. Not smart to be violent. But fierce.

Not a fucking inch!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

A well-written blog post, not more than that, but at least I was putting words together with some polish. I had earlier pieces that were quite good, and then I had to go through a period to understand that — I was selling myself short with the stage shows and the teaching. I am entering an era of higher standards in what I do, and in who I associate with … (note written September 16, 2017).

April 5, 2017:

Could it be that Susan Rice might have unmasked the names of Americans that turned up in intelligence surveillance because she was a National Security Advisor concerned with the safety of this country? And Trump and Associates were those Americans and also likely threats to that safety? Trump keeps screaming about being surveilled or “wiretapped” as he not-so-quaintly puts it.

We know for a hard fact that the FBI has been investigating Trump and Associates. I am certain as a matter of common sense that the intelligence establishment has been investigating them as well.

Trump and Associates were engaged in a yet-to-be-proven criminal conspiracy that betrayed the United States. They are trying to make a ridiculous equivalency between their crimes and the activities of law enforcement and security agencies who are investigating them for good reason and want to protect us and bring them to justice.

Congress should and will investigate what Susan Rice did related to the “unmasking.” The investigation will reveal that whatever she did was done in the context of an atmosphere of justified suspicion about Trump and Associates’ activity. The focus should be on the circumstances, not whether Susan Rica did something wrong. Ultimately this can’t distract or hurt. The more we know about what was going on as Trump rose to illegitimate power the better.

I am confident that Trump and Associates will be brought to justice.

I am more concerned about our immediate safety. Every day these people are in power is a day that we live in danger. The media has to get away from all of the spin of the Trump red herrings and keep their eye on the ball of the Trumpian threat.

My mind is focused on how to speed things up. The desire to get rid of them sooner rather than later is born of something more important than impatience.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This is writing.

From April 5, 2017:

Trump is against “pointless moralizing” in American foreign policy.

“Foreign policy is an explicitly amoral enterprise. Only presidential leadership or domestic political mobilization can override the system’s innate orientation toward short-term self-interest. ”

Samantha Power

An amoral electorate allowed an amoral man to assume the Presidency. Yes, he did not legitimately win. But a person of this low character should never have won the votes that he legitimately gained. 35 -40 % of the American people support this man. What kind of people are these people?

Why did people want to be conned by Fox News for all these years?

Why don’t coal miners demand new industries in their states instead of wanting to foul the air, accelerate climate change and get black lung disease?

Two of a thousand whys.

Why this evil?

Another one.

We don’t have a President. An evil nihilist population voted NO in the last election.

The cipher Trump blames Obama for the mass murders in Syria while he stays out of the way of his client, Vladimir Putin.

Presidents, members of Congress, and Supreme Court Justices are supposed to make the tough calls. Ethics are harder than morality. Ethics apply moral principles to a messy world.

Lincoln is considered a great President because he steered the ship of state toward the good. He had to administer some horrible strategies along the way. Roughly 2% of the U.S. population died in the Civil War.

Obama struggled when deciding whether or not to send troops to Syria. Was he right or wrong? I don’t know enough about it. But at least he cared. Is a country much different than a person? You just give a damn about being a person, don’t you? And work hard and do your damnedest to do the right thing, right?

“Of all the sins, indifference is by far the worst.”

G. K. Chesterton

Trump doesn’t give a shit. He simply doesn’t care.

He looks at those children suffocating and foaming at the mouth in Syria and he calculates a political advantage in dissing Obama.

We can choose to renounce our humanity. Many in America have relinquished their conscience, empathy, compassion and warmth.

Thankfully, we have checks and balances. We humans must fight the zombies.

Look at the famous photo of Obama watching the killing of Osama bin-Laden in real time. That’s what a President looks like.

We can’t get tired. We have to keep looking like citizens.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I next did some performing and used the blog as a notepad, and a place to vent my feelings related to events in the news.

At least this next segment was written with some care and was thought out, No distracting profanity, no scribbling in a notebook, no conversations with people who aren’t there, no rapport building with an audience. Just me trying to understand and clearly put my findings into words. There is still something missing from this piece. I can’t put my finger on it. This was the period when I was getting the most attention for the blog, and I don’t care for the writing. I really still like some of the earlier writing. I have already said why I think this stretch of work isn’t as good.

I am not re-writing any of these pieces. The Rick Blog is an exercise in re-writing my consciousness of the content of my soul. A piece is improved and even perfected in a future piece as a result of my work on that consciousness. Sometimes this is the product of reflection, but more often it is the product of simply writing persistently. The writing excels when I am nearly touching God, and is lacking in proportion to how far I am from paradise. Maybe what this piece immediately below is missing is poetry. Smart, moral (ethical too — rationally applied morality to concrete circumstances) and spiritual (connecting the passing moment to the eternal — that’s why every segment is specifically dated — William Blake “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.)

My frustration with localized students and audiences at performances is that they never want to go as deeply into the material as it is my nature to do. I find that connection with some readers. Theoretically a school and theater could be the equal of my artistic and intellectual drive, but I have never been associated with, or even known of one. I am open to individuals and groups to join in work and community, but if I don’t meet any, I will continue to work alone, and serve whoever reads my work with interest. Real community is not restricted by locale or chronological moment. The connections of my community transcend space and time.

From April 17, 2017:

4/17/17

Steve Bannon says that he believes that America and the world were more prosperous and secure after World War II when Plutocrats still believed in values associated with the Judeo-Christian tradition, and treated the 95% of the population that was not wealthy with empathy and respect.

What actually happened after World War II is that democratically elected leaders placed regulatory and tax burdens upon the wealthy, and developed socio-economic safety nets,  as safeguards against the excesses of capitalism which they rightly determined helped cause the Depression and the War, and that benefitted the greater good of all classes for decades thereafter. Leaders like FDR, LBJ and Clement Atlee in Great Britain, created, fostered and executed public policies grounded in reality, not self-serving myths.

Bannon says today’s wealthy classes are not moored with the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition, and therefore hurt those who are not rich, and society as a whole. He ignores the fact that throughout history the rich have lacked a moral compass — see slavery and the exploitation of labor in the Industrial Revolution as two examples. What is happening now is nothing new. What is new — or at least new in the last 40 years, is the rollback and erosion of our post-war protections.

Bannon’s argument is very attractive to Plutocrats such as his patron the billionaire Robert Mercer, and his sometimes protege, Donald Trump, because it requires them to relinquish no money, power or control at all. Vague moral prescriptions and self-regulation are concepts which suit the rich fine. They can do whatever they please and go to sleep at night believing that they are good people — sanguine in self-deception and sweet hypocrisy.

Bannon’s father, Marty, famously (because Bannon portrays Marty’s financial misfortunes as a mythic event) lost all of his money in the Stock Market Crash of 2008. Marty, a second generation employee of AT&T who was 88 years old and far into his retirement in 2008, heard Jim Cramer say on CNBC that he should sell all of his AT&T stock as a result of the crash. He did so in a panic. It was a big mistake.

Steve Bannon’s response to his Dad’s misfortune was not to advocate the regulation and/or punishment of Wall Street. It was to formulate his views on economic nationalism. His applied beliefs in a nutshell: have the wealthy use their capital to make the biggest profits possible as good capitalists should, but also to favor American workers because it was the right Judeo-Christian thing to do.

Steve Bannon’s response was also to embrace White Nationalism even as he tepidly tries to obfuscate his position while promoting it for political advantage. Capitalism — (in other words rich people) — knows best when it is informed by white Judeo-Christian European values. Rich white Christians and Jews should run the world. (Although, I need to learn more about Bannon and Jews — why the Executive Order on Holocaust Remembrance Day that didn’t mention Jews?)

Bannon has “thought outside the box” (He really makes things up. He doesn’t look at facts from new perspectives as a true intellectual would.) in a way that justifies the Trump Administration’s policies against Latin Americans and Latino-Americans (radical right-wing immigration policies), Muslims (travel bans, foreign policy doctrines committed to wars against “Islamo-Fascism,” and the rhetoric of fighting “radical Islamic terrorism” which makes the fight against terrorism a holy war or crusade against all followers of Islam), and African-Americans (rolling back voting rights’ laws and federal investigations of allegations of discrimination against African-Americans by local police departments).

Steve Bannon is a pseudo-intellectual and a phony moralist. He is a propagandist. He knows how to kiss the asses of the amoral rich, and con some of the unthinking and misguided poor.

One side of Bannon’s mouth implores the rich to accept God — a Western Judeo-Christian God (none other are recognized in his fictional world) while another side of his mouth gives them carte blanche to do as they please. Still another side of his mouth offers God’s mercy and justice to whites of European ancestry while oppressing and persecuting everyone else.

What does an investment banker and propagandist know about history, religion, real writing, justice or morality? Nothing much. But he knows a lot about manipulation. Bannon’s lies masquerade as ideas. He occupies a prominent place in our current marketplace of ideas because he is sponsored by rich people and he has done well himself.

Being rich has nothing to do with knowing about anything except the way that the rich person made his money. Rich people may know about other things, but when they do it’s it’s because of other factors, not their wealth.

Bannon is a great con artist. The most effective con is when the trickster fools himself. No lie detector can detect the lie the liar has accepted from himself. Bannon likely took his rationalizations for his own selfishness — he was a Catholic schoolboy once —- and turned it into a career. Trump listens to Bannon— and in so doing thinks he, Trump, is a good person. So does Mercer. Consciences clear, let the looting continue and accelerate!

Great wealth is a gateway to mental illness. Only the strongest can achieve great wealth and maintain their humanity. Camels and eyes of needles, to allude to a line from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

What to do? Tax and regulate the rich. Take much of their illegitimate wealth away from them and re-purpose it for the common good. Embrace diversity and globalism. Achieve world stability and security through the rule of international law, and a just and equitable international economic system.

Provide secular and religious moral education to teach people to see through Steve Bannon — including Steve Bannon.

Note: Bannon may or may not be being marginalized as tactician in the Trump White House recently, but his perspective remains the prevailing world view of Trump, Mercer and the Republican Party writ large. In practice it is not much different than what Republicans have largely believed for years — and anything new in Bannon’s views are compromises they willing make for electoral success. (Yes, the Bush II Administration was consciously not anti-Muslim, but it isn’t a point of strong conviction if there is contemporary money and power to be made and grabbed).

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I adapted my art for business students. It fit a moment in my development, but I don’t want to adapt my work. I read where an artist places his work in terms and proportions for people to understand. That was written by a teacher. It’s just a feeling, but I think what really serves the world is one’s unmitigated and compromised song. It should be available to all who find it good or helpful. Fitting into a school org structure, and wasting time with the students who resist your voice is serving as a host for vampires. I posted my “business” text on the blog in April 2017. I include here a link to the revised text that I used the last time I taught in the Spring Quarter of 2020.

https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2020/01/29/1-29-20-ethical-presence-manuscript-for-mgmt-441-loyola-quinlan-school-of-business/

My understanding of the Trump phenomenon evolves …

From April 19, 2017:

4/19/17

Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders are on a joint 9 state tour. Chris Hayes interviews. Sanders identifies greed of super-rich as destructive to our country. He points at villains to be defeated.

Perez refuses to condemn the super-rich as destructive.

Sanders refuses to condemn the Democratic Party as complicit with the villainous super-rich.

Sanders compromises because he thinks he can achieve concrete achievements for people by cooperating with the Democrats. He looks pained as he listens to Perez evasively prattle on.

He supported Clinton for the same reason. Sanders calculates that he has more power with the Democrats than without them.

So have I and many of you — especially Progressives who manufactured enthusiasm within themselves for Hillary Clinton in order to stop Trump.

After Trump was elected I advocated non-violent revolution. I argued that our system was broken beyond repair and we had to revolt in order to regain its values. Thomas Jefferson suggested this kind of thing long before me.

Then I moderated. I saw checks and balances working. The system seemed strong. Congressional, FBI and other investigations proceeded, journalism was actually happening in the mainstream media, citizens were widely and vocally resisting, courts were saying no to Trump.

Then missiles were fired into Syria. A big bomb was dropped on Afghanistan. A nuclear crisis intensified in North Korea. Sally Yates’ testimony was ostensibly cancelled by the then-functioning Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Mark Warner the leading Democrat investigators talked about bi-partisanship and thoroughness, and then dropped out of the news for 3 weeks.

The bi-partisan commitment of Schiff and Warner would normally seem a necessary compromise. It’s how things work. Or used to. On certain matters we have to forget competitions and divisions and work with unity and objectivity. Or used to.

But is there any reason to believe that the Republicans have any inclination to act in a bi-partisan fashion? Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham seemed to be leaning in that direction but when Trump showed he was disposed to war that profited their clients, they ceased and desisted.

Are there enough strong Democrats and decent Republicans for our checks and balances to work? Can any system, no matter how beautifully conceived, work when the best lack conviction, the mediocre advocate incremental change when radical and emergency care is needed, and the worst are ignorant authoritarian kleptocrats who desire reckless war abroad and unjust oppression at home?

Is the time of compromise over and is the time of (non-violent) revolution nigh? Not yet. At least for me. We have to give our checks and balances a chance. This is a dangerous strategy — America is a tinder box that could descend into horrible war, domestic chaos, a police state or all three in a quick succession of events. But not enough people understand or desire revolution yet. Resistance is not revolution. Revolution is not mere opposition to a regime. It is a demand for a new one. We would not have a revolution against the government of the United States, but rather a demand for its return as it was conceived by our Founding Fathers and matured through our history before it was stolen by the forces of greed.

Behind the crazy flamboyant dissembling of our national conversation that is most dramatically exemplified by the likes of Donald Trump, Roger Stone and Carter Page — but is much more pervasive throughout our politics, business and media — who knows what to believe — lies a murderous, nation-destroying evil. We are all being manipulated by tactics formally only used by spies in more limited situations.

Can our system of checks and balances counter such manipulative evil? Can it do it in time?

If not will enough people understand that rebellion is the only option? Will they see that they can only survive with the great sacrifice of revolution? Will they see that acceptance of our current power structure is suicide?

Is this the beginning of the end of the world?

Will the collective become irredeemable?

Will the only remaining salvation be personal?

Will I die as one of the few old people left who can remember what it was to be free?

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I‘m still trying to reconcile writing with performing and teaching here — while I know somewhere below the surface that writing achieves all the aims that I could ever have for performing or teaching more effectively. I was rationalizing and compromising. I needed the livelihood and I didn’t want to lose the friends. My art was not always held back by any personal blindness or failing on my part. Sometimes, an artist can’t fly because he lacks opportunity. If he sticks with it, even with his limited and partly restrictive means he will be ready to work in the fullness of his potential when he gets the chance. An abundant universe will eventually provide him the means, and he won’t fight to keep the friends. His art will be his first and only loyalty. It’s always painful to break with persons and groups that you no longer have a connection with, and go where your soul directs you. But it is always better when you are in, or on your way, to the proper places.

From April 19, 2017:

I’m a teacher and an artist (writer, improvisor, performer) too. I went through this thing a couple of years ago where I noticed my art was a better teacher than I was. No forced learning objectives — just teaching through the experience of the moment. Then I just started teaching art class, no matter what the subject matter was. I just gave them things TO DO and then responded like an improv teacher. Or sometimes as a writing teacher. That worked. Every once in a while — maybe once a semester they ask me get in front of them and do something. I just make them some sort of art. Improvisation, with some adaptation, is a pedagogy that can teach anything. I have no idea if this matches the experience that you readers have. I just offer it here. I think teaching is art, but I do think writing, improvising and performing (for me) are more effective. There is something artificial in the set up of teaching. I try to get them to come as equals and eventually they do, but it’s hard — requires a lot of deprogramming. On page or stage they are there right away.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This is more like it. Clarity and poetry.

From April 24, 2017:

This clip is wonderful and funny and sad. Orson Welles, brought low by the world, acknowledging his weight with irony and not apology — his audience remembered him as a handsome leading man in the 1940s — and making ironic reference to his wine commercials — one of the great artists of the 20th Century experiencing an unjust shaming —  don’t we all? — the mediocre hated or reviled him — Welles, performing a brief snippet of Shakespeare’s great character John Falstaff on The Dean Martin Show sometime in the 1960s.

Falstaff, the lover of life, the innocent — a person too good for the mendacity and meanness of modernity — as Welles calls him, a “refugee” from the harsh world — a joyful exile touching people with something better, living by his wits, playing the fool to survive.

The mawkish, yet well meaning accompaniment music stops finally and it’s just Welles and Shakespeare. Even the Gold Diggers knew what they were saying.

Welles had just finished his masterful Chimes at Midnight, an under-seen and under-appreciated film recognized only by some of the cognoscenti of the heart that keep humanity alive in obscure places like film revival houses that struggle to keep their doors open.

I tire of the good work of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and even obscure little homemade operations like The Rick Blog (which of course doesn’t report but reflects). I want something more lasting than the response to the latest outrage and lie. I want something beyond politics. I think The Rick Blog does that, but I feel something changing, going further.

Look at how great Welles’ acting is here, and how personal and unique the direction. From Chimes at Midnight.

Art is the greatest teacher, and Welles is one of the great masters of the pedagogy. The masks of comedy and tragedy are the same, and the greatest art is a complete reflection of life, and therefore bittersweet.

Welles discusses Falstaff, himself and the world, and demonstrates the joyful difficulty of being fully alive.

This evening’s answer to Trump.

4/24/17

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

A little poetry breaks out unexpectedly.

From April 25, 2017:

Here’s to the innocents
The fools who drink and eat and carry on
Who cry easily and always have time
The hospitable and the kind
Who love music and dogs
And see little kids as people with distinct personalities
Who throw parties when they have some extra cash

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream
And our dreams of peace and justice are dreams within the dream
The dreams of beautiful children who never grew up
Camelot is one brief shining moment
Brigadoon appears one day in one hundred years
And both are old musicals (by Lerner and Loewe)

The world of war and greed laughs at the dreams and the dreamers

Yet the unreal trumps the real
And one day will be the real
And the world will atone for its orgy of blood.

The cold and hard will succumb to an army of the sweet…

One day, and for one brief shining moment…

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

After about a month of podcasts, stage shows, comedy sets and opinionated blogging, I came up with a paragraph of decent writing.

From May 8, 2017:

Openness is the key to improvisation and all creativity. It is the key to personal progress. It is the key to social progress. Openness is the best response to all dissatisfaction and yearning. As Rilke said to the young poet, “Live the questions.” Intelligence is not about what we know. It is about how we handle what we don’t know. Experts don’t have answers. Artists and scientists find them. There is no final question. The present moment is a time of mystery. Ideologies turn life into a museum — memory murdering the now.

These reminders bring me serenity and hope. Give me tough truth rather than desperate optimism and denial.

Surf time.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

A writing exercise expressing my yearning to be writing …

From May 9, 2017:

He drifts into talking about his wife of less than five years pulling the little hairs that grow in the ears of men in their late fifties. I, the omniscient first person narrator, think — ah, here is a type — two types — no! three types — the mother-bound man who has finally received a maternal blessing from a guilty matriarch aware of her mortality humming “Someone to Watch Over Me” — and the wife, never brittle, never shrewish deeply wounded by a competitive man or men, afraid of aging and obsessed with the notion of “the last chance,” who wants warmth and compassion and will baby as a price of admission. The I, the omniscient first person narrator, think this guy is a lot like me, if not exactly; and his situation is a lot like mine, if not exactly. But I’m not his type! The dental hygienist told me to wiggle my toes as she dug her sharp metal implement into my gums and I got slightly aroused. She leaned over me like sweet death. Mommies, babies, husbands, wives, strangers engaged in transactional life, ordinary, unimportant, not much really needing closeness as we move towards oblivion. One type, no type, what types … all the same … everyone is an ultimate loser, no one finally wins, and we all need a little love and encouragement along the way as we drive our used cars to the auto graveyard ever so slowly but surprised when we arrive.

The persons and events described in this novel have no resemblance to any person living or dead with the exception of every person living or dead.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Just a blog post, not really writing, not fully thought out, but included here for the independence of its expression … I was just saying what I felt, hot and clean with no adjustment to any audience at all. An authentic moment.

From May 10, 2017:

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, supposedly a moderate Republican says nothing to see here, the Russia investigations will continue no matter who is FBI Director. Bullshit. FBI agents investigate what they are assigned to investigate. All focus of their work comes from leadership.

Our Constitution, one of the most beautiful creations in the history of the world has not been operable since the Citizens United decision.

Congress doesn’t represent American people or states. It represents a few people with money. The only real debates in Congress occur when rich people disagree.

These rich people don’t give a damn about the Constitution. They have control of all the levers of federal power and they are grabbing all of the assets of the United States.

We are not a free country. The rich don’t care if a criminal gang is in the White House. They have grown to like it. You and I have no say about it.

Recipe for gaining Fascist control.

Do outrageous things.
Give ridiculous arguments for your actions.
Get away with them.
Punish anyone who challenges your actions.
Get away with that.
Murder reason and ethics.
Now you have POWER. The reality is what you say goes and nothing else matters.
Now you have an autocracy.
The only people Trump and Associates have to answer to are the rich because they control Congress and they are the only ones who can take them down — within the sham system.

Politicians are useless to us right now. Politicians compromise and sometimes the scheming is useful in a true democracy. We don’t have that now. So even the most progressive politicians are impotent.

When Vaclav Havel led the Czech Revolution he wrote a book called “Living in Truth.” Revolution is not governance. Revolution involves refusal to compromise with a lie. Havel later wrote in a book called “Summer Meditations” about the difference between revolution and governance. He said that in governance you never lie, but sometimes you stay silent. That is a good definition of compromise in a democracy.

People have been too focused on governance since Trump got in. Writing your Congressman is a waste of time.

We have to demand the resignations of the Executive Branch, and the Congressional Leadership and the dismantling of the Republican and Democratic Parties. We need the resignation of the Supreme Court. We have to demand very high tax rates on the most wealthy to fund our government to care for most people’s needs. We must refuse ideological labels.

Communism fell with leadership from an existential humanist, Havel and a believer in Catholic traditions of social justice, Pope John Paul II. We can’t be concerned with political philosophies right now. We have to get our decency back.

And we ourselves are the only ones who can do it.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Free speech! Nice piece.

From May 10, 2017:

Orwell_Free_Speech

I was inexplicably blocked from sharing the attached blog post in certain places on Facebook by some person or algorithm. The post celebrates the Constitution and the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. This apparently offends some person, place or thing.

Please read this and share it even if you aren’t terribly interested —just in the name of free speech. I’m not telling you what to do, just asking.

Occasionally, given the nature of my work I get complaints — don’t place it in my comment section, only post it on my page — one person recently reported me to Facebook for a video of a comedy set that I did at Skull Mountain.

I think all of this is very stupid. If you don’t like something in a comment section delete it. I do that all the time. You control your own posts. If it annoys you that people comment on your posts, get off Facebook. You have a problem with the whole concept. If you find something offensive about me or anyone else or are disgusted by my or anyone else’s point of view — unfriend me or those people.

Reports and blocks should be reserved for terrorist or criminal activity. Not art, commentary and opinion. If you don’t have a legitimate reason to block something, you are just being self-righteous or envious or some other petty thing.

If you are freaked out by the word “revolution” go back to school. I write a lot and the biggest tell that I see of a stupid reader is a person who lumps me into an off-the-rack point of view and sees an agenda that I don’t have.

Facebook and other social media can be trivial, self-promoting or criminal, terroristic and dangerous. It can also be a democratization of art, thought and commentary. I use it for those democratic functions — and you may or may not think my writing is good. But it doesn’t deserve to be censored.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Here’s the post that was silenced:

Revolution is not Governance; Now is a Time of Revolution

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, supposedly a moderate Republican says nothing to see here, the Russia investigations will continue no matter who is FBI Director. Bullshit. FBI agents investigate what they are assigned to investigate. All focus of their work comes from leadership.

Our Constitution, one of the most beautiful creations in the history of the world has not been operable since the Citizens United decision.

Congress doesn’t represent American people or states. It represents a few people with money. The only real debates in Congress occur when rich people disagree.

These rich people don’t give a damn about the Constitution. They have control of all the levers of federal power and they are grabbing all of the assets of the United States.

We are not a free country. The rich don’t care if a criminal gang is in the White House. They have grown to like it. You and I have no say about it.

Recipe for gaining Fascist control.

Do outrageous things.
Give ridiculous arguments for your actions.
Get away with them.
Punish anyone who challenges your actions.
Get away with that.
Murder reason and ethics.
Now you have POWER. The reality is what you say goes and nothing else matters.
Now you have an autocracy.
The only people Trump and Associates have to answer to are the rich because they control Congress and they are the only ones who can take them down — within the sham system.

Politicians are useless to us right now. Politicians compromise and sometimes the scheming is useful in a true democracy. We don’t have that now. So even the most progressive politicians are impotent.

When Vaclav Havel led the Czech Revolution he wrote a book called “Living in Truth.” Revolution is not governance. Revolution involves refusal to compromise with a lie. Havel later wrote in a book called “Summer Meditations” about the difference between revolution and governance. He said that in governance you never lie, but sometimes you stay silent. That is a good definition of compromise in a democracy.

People have been too focused on governance since Trump got in. Writing your Congressman is a waste of time.

We have to demand the resignations of the Executive Branch, and the Congressional Leadership and the dismantling of the Republican and Democratic Parties. We need the resignation of the Supreme Court. We have to demand very high tax rates on the most wealthy to fund our government to care for most people’s needs. We must refuse ideological labels.

Communism fell with leadership from an existential humanist, Havel and a believer in Catholic traditions of social justice, Pope John Paul II. We can’t be concerned with political philosophies right now. We have to get our decency back.

And we ourselves are the only ones who can do it.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Some good thinking and writing about writing. I like the interplay between writing and reflection, and how I was unconsciously pushing against the patronizing tone of the nightclub and the pleading tone of the classroom. A productive day in my process.

From May 10, 2017, with additional notes added on May 21, 2017:

5/21/17

In writing, clarity matters far more than concision. “Being concise” often masquerades as a virtue, while actually serving as a mask for superficiality and obfuscation.

The main question a writer should answer is, does the writing allow a reader to understand what the writer means? The question should never be will the writing be uninteresting simply by virtue of its length. A writer has an obligation to be interesting. He does not have an obligation to be brief.

A writer is not responsible for the attention span of any particular reader.

A piece determines its own length, not fashion.

Time restrictions, word counts etc. are matters of commerce and not art.

A writer first responsibility is to tell the truth as he sees it after diligent examination of facts and reflection upon them. It is not to fit into anyone’s schedule.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

To be a decent writer is to be a revolutionary. A writer’s first, and ultimately only concern is the truth — uncompromising, clear-eyed brutal truth. All decent writing is about the failure of the world to reach its potential, and is infused with love of that failing world.

A writer is human and therefore most often fails himself. The greatest writers are consistent in their reverence for truth, and generous in their empathy and love for existence and all who live and die in its limitless field.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Some decent discussion:Ted Donner See now I disagree with some of this sentiment. “Decent,” for me implies decency. That requires truth but it should not require brutality and it should not require seeing the glass half empty. Entropy is only part of what drives the future. You and I are also driving things as are many others who see potential and embrace it. There is nothing indecent in my observing that truth, here or in any other writing, despite the fact that involves a love for both the failings and the successes of this marvelous universe into which I feel lucky to have been born. So there.Like

· Reply · 16 mins

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas I am more with Thomas Mann who said that writing involves firing murderous arrows dipped in love. All creation requires destruction. Writing — real writing can’t be polite or compromising. It can’t be political. It can’t flatter. Writing has no agenda except truth AND love. It is art and science, not politics and marketing. Love involves affectionate acceptance of reality — not idealizing it. Life hurts and the truth is the beauty that burns out the pain. Truth — harsh truth plus love equals writing. Great — and decent — writers tell it like it is.Like

· Reply · 10 mins · Edited

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas Also I don’t see the glass empty. All great writing is hopeful. All great writing champions truth and love. It is not hopeful to celebrate illusion. We can’t really love with mere illusion. Decent writing is always a call to a better world. It can celebrate what is good in the present but always with a warning — because goodness is something to maintain and impossible to possess with permanence.Like

· Reply · 7 mins

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas I agree with your awe of the universe. It is perfect — including its components which involve our imperfections and sufferings. Any failings in the universe are humanity’s failings, but we are part of the darn thing. We — even the best of us — blaspheme creation’s beauty. But that ironically is part of what makes creation beautiful — because it makes us free. If there was no imperfection, there would be no love.Like

· Reply · 2 mins

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas You are a romantic, Ted, which is a fine thing to be.Like

· Reply · 1 min

Ted Donner

Ted Donner And I’m glad I wrote, it goaded you into share a great many more words, never a bad thing!Like

· Reply · 1 min

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas I appreciate your “lucky” feelings, Ted after your recent health difficulties. The rest of us are lucky to have you. And your goading is wonderful discussion which I appreciate. You know how I feel about you, my friend.Like

· Reply · Just now

A little more in this vein …

From May 10, 2017:

To censor is to say “I am ill-equipped to counter this person’s argument, but I want to block it because it isn’t good for me in some way, and I want to frustrate this person’s influence”

OR

To censor is to say “What this person is irrefutable, but I am better off with the lie”

OR

To say “This person’s words are criminal or acts of terrorism or illegal in some other way (slander, for example) and must be silenced to keep people from harm.”

Unless the censorship exists for the third reason, it is illegitimate. Those who wish to censor for the first two reasons have complete rights to ignore, counter or not support the speaker’s words. They have no right to attempt to limit or frustrate the words’ influence. When censors attempt to impose those limitations, it is they and not the speaker who are acting inappropriately.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Real writing. Poetry. A good poem, an early effort in my poetic voice …

From May 12, 2017:

Breakdown

inner revolution

Trump says something incredibly stupid, and he defeats rationality.

Trump tells outrageous lies, and he defeats the truth.

Trump engages in criminality, and he defeats the law.

Trump steals an election, and he defeats democracy.

Trump acts like a fool, and he defeats satire.

Reason, truth, the law, democracy, satire — all of our tools are frustratingly useless.

What works?

Damned if I know. I usually get as far away as I can from people like this. But this isn’t just a matter of getting a new job — which isn’t always that easy, but it is easier than this. There is no escaping America. It’s family — it’s who I am.

So what does someone who doesn’t know what to do say to do?

Practice outspoken outrage. And revolt not resist. Solidarity. The system won’t save us. The system has already failed. Look at how every other country that overthrew an autocracy did it. They didn’t do it with reason, truth, the law, democracy or satire. That came later. The first thing they did was refuse to accept the authority of the autocrats.

There is an energy in America that is moving towards revolution. But it is diffuse and disorganized and a lot of good people aren’t there yet.

My vision of revolution does not involve violence — immoral and stupid — the autocrats have far more material power. My vision is not to overthrow the government. It is to demand the resignations of the autocrats in the White House and Congress and the Supreme Court who have usurped power within our great system.

Even Constitutional law scholars are foaming at the mouth and using phrases like “grow a pair.” We AGREED — hundreds of millions of us — to follow the law. Some people even show up to check into prison without police accompaniment when they are ordered to do so by a judge. Trump has disrupted all of that.

The law has been replaced by the boss.

Trump hasn’t completely consolidated his power, but he is well on his way. All that we have and are is being rapidly stolen from us by the cunning rich.

Our own lives grow more difficult and less free by the day.

My vision of revolution is a pipe dream because I am not millions of people or a leader of millions of people.

I used to be criticized as a martyr. I don’t want to be a martyr. I want to have fun. I’m not viewed important enough to be a martyr and I don’t desire to be that kind of important.

Near the end of his life, my father said, “if I can’t drive what’s the use of living?” I feel the same way about being free.

If I live in a world without reason, truth, law, democracy and satire, what will I do? I’m not remotely good at anything else.

I’m sure not a good revolutionary. I’m really sensitive and old and fat. I’m not tough. The only revolutionary quality that I have is that when I’m angry I can be really stubborn. I have no physical courage but I can endure deprivation. I can dig into a personal wound with an ice cream scooper in order to dredge some knowledge out of it.

Some powerful people, leaders in the system, are struggling against Trump. Politicians and media go as far as the opinion polls tell them to go because that is how they make their money.

Is there power in just thinking about revolution?

Revolutions start at kitchen tables — and on Facebook.

I feel overwhelmed right now. America is having a nervous breakdown. It can’t go on this way. It has to change or die. We have to overthrow everything that made Trump possible.

The people have to do this. Marching and calling Congress people won’t cut it. We have to become a new people. Because right now, we suck — even the best of us.

Some sort of amorphous change is roiling within me — my God I don’t know what is happening to me.

We don’t need a President. We need a shaman.

Revolution doesn’t only involve eliminating the old and bad. It also involves introducing the new and good. And as soon as I see the new thing, I’ll know how to handle the old.

And if you haven’t caught on, I’m talking about my little life too, not just America. And it is your life too.

That’s why Trump bothers you so much.

What are you going to do?

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Sometimes talk can become raw poetry in spite of itself.

From May 12, 2017:

Trump personifies everything that is wrong about America — our stupidity, violence, greed, craziness, mendacity and egotism. He exists because we let him exist. He is the result of years of OUR, the anti-Trump majority’s, indifference, self-involvement and fear.

Everything that Trump is we have tolerated, ignored or run away from every day for years.

We’ve allowed all sorts of bosses to dominate and exploit us because it was easy or profitable. Freedom is hard. WE SOLD OUR SOULS FOLLOWING ORDERS. IT WAS ONLY BUSINESS. PETTY, JEALOUS AND MEAN, OBSTRUCTING EVERYTHING THAT WAS DECENT, PURE, EXCELLENT AND GOOD. WE REQUIRED POLITICS AND AGENDAS AND COMPROMISES BECAUSE WE COULD ONLY THINK FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF OUR OWN INTERESTS. WE WORSHIPPED SUCCESSES THAT AMOUNT TO NOTHING MORE THAN WORDS IN AN OBITUARY. WE EXALTED POWER AND INFLUENCE OVER QUALITY. WE HONORED EXCITEMENT UNTIL WE FORGOT WHAT DEEP SATISFACTION WAS.

CAPS LOCK WAS ON AND I THOUGHT I’D GO WITH IT.

We can have a different country in a second.

Be America, not some sentimental or self-righteous bullshit.

I’m going to try.

MY FREEDOM IS A TORRENT OF WORDS!

Some people blocked and reported a couple of my posts on Facebook recently. What horrible, petty little people. They probably have some grand hypocritical ideas about art or writing too. For years I let that shit slide. And now we have Trump.

We have to stand up in the moment indecency happens, not years later.

The young man was obstructed by the ogre in the road every day. The young man fought the ogre every day and lost every day. Then one day the man simply ignored the ogre and walked around him. And he was free.

I am watching Trump too closely. He is driving me crazy. The last time I got this buggy by the news it was the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings.

I’m going to live in a free country starting right now. We don’t have to wait.

TRUMP IS OUR FEAR OF SELF-DETERMINATION.

EQUALITY!

I DECIDE MY WORTH, MY LIFE AND MY DESTINY.

FUCK TRUMP AND EVERYONE LIKE HIM IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.

I’ve been happy for years and yesterday was a trip back to old misery. Fuck it. I live in a free country because I say so.

I’ll do it “My Way.”

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The debunking of success — a Rick Blog theme. Some good writing. Careerism and good writing don’t go together.

From May 16, 2017:

12 People Late Life Success

5/17/17

I became a lawyer at 50 and a college professor at 57. I was in the Second City resident company back in the 80s and I have a blog, podcast and stage show now and have been doing my return to the arts for 6 years. I also had periods of unemployment and illness and confusion. I am not special — I am not rich or famous. But I am satisfied — or rather I am content with my perpetual dissatisfaction. I do what I want to do — not on the surface, but what deeply moves me. We can always do what we want, if not get what we want. Everything that stops us is oppression externally applied or internally adopted. Everything gets bittersweet as I get older — I am freer and also conscious that my time is limited. This brings urgency and poignancy to my work and life. My process has a beauty if the results are more varied. I get no credit — all glory goes to life itself, which must not be cheated by narrow — or in the alternative — fantastical ideas. To life!.

Here’s some inspiration, you old bastards. I think that if you are over 50 and you are still concerned about “success” you have some kind of mental health problem. Success is bullshit — it has to do with the approval of other people — something that young people are concerned with — the vestigial tail of needing your parents’ love as protection when you are very young and vulnerable. “Success” is for toddlers. People who achieve success use what they gained in recognition as a platform to please themselves when they are older; those that don’t achieve success get past its false requirement and just start living.

Authenticity — reality — is so much more satisfying than success. And more sustainable. There is ultimately no success and failure. Both are powerful illusions. When one dissolves the fantasies of success and failure, there is only the work of trying to create an external presence that mirrors the identity of your heart and soul. Your identity is discovered, not invented. You, and your would-be audience who might grant you phony success, have nothing to do with it. Your authentic presence interacts with the world; the resulting chemical compound is a moment of your life and work. You and the world keep changing, so you surf a wave of transformation.

To attempt to stop that wave for a round of applause or some other recognition is folly. Life and work is a process — why limit them with something artificial like goals.

Let’s look at the roster of late life success that business guru James Altucher vomited at me on LinkedIn this morning — not so cut and dried:

Martha Stewart: did time in federal prison for insider trading
Susan Boyle: mental health problems
Rodney Dangerfield: I witnessed him react to a hand job he was getting under a table in his club late one night in the 80s.
Ray Kroc: Conniving son of a bitch according to the movie “The Founder”; basically stole the whole concept for McDonald’s and, to his credit, added missing elements himself
Vera Wang: an athlete — naturally competitive, genetically geared for success — not the only personality type in the world
Stan Lee: Seems like a guy who had the gift of always knowing he is, and who he is happens to be someone that a lot of people like. An authentic illusory success — a rewarded innocent. Sometimes reality and illusion co-exist. He did have the advantage of being a mediocre writer — comic books? — always easier to get over with the public.
Julia Child: Seems like a woman who knew who she was in her fifties — see Stan Lee
Colonel Sanders: Worked a lot of different jobs, a mark of many highly creative people; his authenticity led to success for Sanders later in life — such authenticity is just as valuable for the millions who live the same way and never receive that high level of recognition
Chandler, Wilder, Joosten and Roget: Three writers and an actor. The arts aren’t about success; they are about achievement — these are artists who did work recognized late in life. Happens all the time. Not a big deal — and their work would be as good or as bad as it is if it never became popular

An artist wants recognition, money, applause, I suppose. It feeds his inner childishness. But he would never change a word or brushstroke to achieve it. He sees success, on deeper reflection, to be nothing more than a false sense of security. He sees failure as nothing more than experimentation in earlier stages of a creative process. The real security in life lies authenticity and the ability to truthfully look at, and relate to, the world without compromise.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Next came a few unimportant blog posts (no writing, just venting opinionating and brainstorming — undeveloped ideas) and a podcast (valuable writing compromised by unnecessary performance. Note to self: Just write the stuff and if you share in public just read it — don’t bother with any studied “interpretations” and attempts to be interesting.)

I include next some brainstorming that indicates my struggle (no real writing here) — shedding the false skin of the performer. I didn’t see the obvious yet — simply don’t perform. So I tried to figure out ways to make performance writing. I don’t regret the process of stage shows, podcasts and blog posts that offered nothing but opinions or notes for future writing. It was a big part of my developmental process as a writer — separating and uniting. As a footnote, I find my tendency in this period to talk to myself, but make it sound like I am giving instructions to the reader. That is part of shedding the false skin of bad teaching — a more accomplished teacher wouldn’t speak in these imperative sentences either. (Accomplished teaching was a skin to lose later.)

May 17, 2017:

You are food.

Audience members have varying degrees of confidence and intelligence. Each individual is in a different psychological and spiritual state. Every person has a different experience and history. In the theater audiences come to a communal consciousness collectively, and they are guided by the silent leaders’ in their midst strong and insistent presences.

For all of the above reasons it is best to fashion your creative work by your own lights, and allow each audience member and the audience as a whole to come to you in their and its own way.

Leave manipulative attempts of specific influence to politicians. An artist should just do what comes naturally. Sometimes the influence that we think we have isn’t the one we have at all.

Purity and clarity matter. Intent does not. Intention reveals itself after the fact, and one piece can have a multiplicity of reasons.

The mind’s purpose is be the heart’s sympathetic editor. The mind should never be the heart’s leader, only it’s most loyal and diligent advisor.

Nature decides who we are, what we authentically do and where we belong.

We have nothing to do with it.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Good writing to understand … basic …

From May 18, 2017:

5/18/17

We don’t have an independent counsel law which created a mechanism that allowed a President to be investigated without a possibility of any interference in the investigation by the President, particularly firing the Independent Counsel, because Kenneth Starr was unprofessional (read inappropriately partisan for the position).

History:

Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Cox (and Attorney General Richardson and Deputy AG Ruckelshaus resigned when they refused to carry out the order). Outrage ensued.

Carter signed Independent Counsel law which set up system where a panel of  3 federal judges chose a lead investigator/prosecutor of President and other officials.

Ken Starr showed ridiculously poor judgement in his persecution of Bill Clinton for misconduct unrelated to his duties as President. Clinton suborned perjury and obstructed justice as he battled his fanatical chief shamer and accuser, Starr.

In 1999, Congress repealed the Independent Counsel statute to avoid another abuse of power like Starr’s.

So now we are basically back to how it was under Nixon. Nixon told AG Richardson to fire Special Prosecutor Cox. Richardson refused. Nixon fired Richardson. Nixon ordered Deputy AG Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus refused. Nixon fired him. Finally Solicitor General Robert Bork did the dirty deed and Cox was out.

The political outrage was so strong after the Watergate Saturday Night Massacre that polls showed, for the first time, one week later, that a majority of Americans believed that Nixon should be impeached.

The story of the independent Counsel/Special Prosecutor laws is the story of our ambivalence about whether or not Presidents are above the law. It is the tradition of the Justice Department not to pursue criminal prosecutions against Presidents, but rather to send the findings of their investigations to Congress for consideration under the political impeachment process. Nixon and Clinton’s impeachment considerations revolved basically around obstruction of justice activities. What will the Special Prosecutor do if he finds evidence that the President is a full blown gangster involved in a wide range of felonious criminal activities?

The truism says it’s not the crime, but the cover up — a truism which worked for a third-rate burglary and fellatio in the Oval Office. Will that truism work for treason? Giving aid and comfort to foreign adversaries for fun and profit?

We are not merely a “nation of laws not men.” We are a nation of laws, politics and men. A President, by virtue of his election, represents the will of the people supposedly, so he has never been held to the law like you and me. To hold him to the law would be to subvert the people’s electoral will —that’s the rationale. What if a President is illegitimate and not actually elected?

Who is Mueller’s boss? Will Trump face criminal prosecution beyond impeachment? Did Ford’s pardon of Nixon set a precedent to apply to more serious Presidential crimes? How independent is the Justice Department from the Presidency? It is culturally seen to be different than other Cabinet departments especially since Watergate, and not completely under the President’s control. What is the Justice Department’s future?

The current Trump investigations are a reminder of how much our system is executed by a general cultural agreement and not law; and how the very role of the law itself is a subject of historic debate in America.

Reagan rewarded Bork for his willingness to fire Cox with a Supreme Court nomination. The Democrats defeated that nomination in the Senate. The Republicans stacked the court toward authoritarianism — nominating severe right wingers, manipulating Democrats to nominate centrists, then boldly blocking consideration of the Democrats’ last centrist nominee, Merrick Garland — in the aftermath. The Supreme Court itself has moved away from the protection of the rule of law and toward an honoring of the rich strong man, see the particularly stark example of the Citizens’ United decision.

The current battle of autocracy versus democracy in our system is nothing new. Are we “a nation of laws not men”? Sometimes.

Our system is being severely tested. What do you do when the President is a criminal potentially, or even probably, guilty of a crime that rises to the level of a capital offense — treason?

We live in the stream of history. 250 plus years in, and we still are deciding who we are.

Note: Historically, the terms Special Counsel and Special Prosecutor are used interchangeably.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Movies keep bringing out my good writing …

From May 20, 2017:

“A Quiet Passion” is a masterpiece of a film about a great artist, Emily Dickinson, written and directed by a fine artist, Terrence Davies, who is seventy years old and working with an urgency to share with the world all that he has seen. Ho hum. Of course he is. The benign clueless often see art as the province of the young, alternately fierce and beautiful energy released into the world as an outlet for sexually sublimated desire. But for the older artist, creative work has the driving pulse of defiant life shouting and singing a few steps ahead of death’s shadow.

Cynthia Nixon transcends acting. I’ve seen transcendent acting performances before, naturally. She is a perfect actress in this role, deep, insightful, precise and free — as is the film. Davies led her to a place that she was quite ready to go. OK, so what really, I’ve seen people reach their creative peak and be extraordinary before.

The supporting roles are perfectly cast. A sequence looks at photo portraits of many of the major players — Emily Dickinson’s immediate family — morph from youth to middle age. I may never have seen the transformations natural to the aging of characters be portrayed with such wisdom, clarity and economy. But at my age, I am beyond awe. I know there is greatness in the world.

Emily Dickinson was a soul destined for a life of self-determination. Sure, of course. Character is destiny and inescapable.

Ironically, this free spirit lived in the same home, lovingly and fearfully protected from the adventure of life by her family and primarily her father. Nothing new to me. I’ve seen the tyranny of the good family that murders what might have been not with possessive envy, but with real concern.

Emily Dickinson never married, and had very few friends and acquaintances. She was an extraordinarily sensitive person, of course, and may well have died very young and in extreme violence if she had ventured away from her father’s protection. In one scene the father, an abolitionist, forbids his middle-aged son from fighting in the Civil War. He prohibited Emily in a less explicit way from risking bloody death on the battlefield of life.

Emily Dickinson was in exile from the world. She wrote in the middle of the night when everyone who ever lived or would live was sleeping and couldn’t hear her. This heroine with so much to say never had the fulfillment of understanding or acknowledgment from another human being or audience. So? Many artists aren’t recognized in their lifetime. Emily Dickinson’s lovers were born after she was gone.

Yet, Emily Dickinson was not a poet of self-pity or a painter of loneliness. She experienced each moment of her life to its depths, and communicated what she went through in an exquisite way. Big deal! haven’t you ever seen a hero before or love before? Don’t you know that life is paradoxical and ironic? Can’t you see that a spinster in repressive time and place can be as bold and world redeeming as Joan of Arc?

Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson dying at age 56. It is a clear-eyed death, one of struggle, suffering and final acceptance. Can’t you see that sometimes actors actually take on the virtues of their characters?

Emily Dickinson’s siblings wept in the moment after she exhaled her last breath. And to them, those who had witnessed her extraordinary life, her greatness was apparent. A sister, a brother and a sister-in-law. Yeah. I didn’t know who my father was — not the whole picture — until he died.

We are all unrecognized by the world and by those closest to us. Obituary writers — and family eulogists for the less celebrated — get the final word.

It is the life, not the name, that you make. Duh.

“A Quiet Passion” is a great movie. I’ve seen great movies before.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

My legal background is one of the influences on my writing style. The structure and natural organization, the detail, the use of foundational logic. the mere discipline of doing it over and over again until you get it better and get it right. The combination of being a lawyer and an improviser gave me great training in the skills needed in my writing for diametrically opposed, but not contradictory reasons. Reason and spontaneity. Intellect and feeling. Every once in awhile, the substantive knowledge that I gained working in the law comes in handy to — not only the way that lawyers do things, but what lawyers actually do.

From May 21, 2017:

It isn’t necessary for Robert Mueller to get anything more than an ethics waiver in response to a mere technicality to act as Special Counsel. The waiver has nothing to do with Mueller’s personal integrity.

I practiced as an ethics attorney. The situation Mueller has in relation to his former firm, WilmerHale is a common one. Often a lawyer who works in a large firm (or has recently worked, as is the case with Mueller) takes on a representation that conflicts with the interests of other clients of the firm. As long as the attorney did not work on the representations of those clients, and has no knowledge of the matters for which they are represented, there is no problem.

Mueller didn’t work on any of the conflicting files. The firm says so. Rosenstein wouldn’t have appointed Mueller if there was a conflict.

The Justice Department is being disingenuous by even raising this issue. This is a phony media “ethics” story. It has no substantive legal basis. They know this is going nowhere — the waiver will be granted, and the question raised had no purpose — they are just raising dishonest talking points for Trump surrogates and media shills — doing all that they can to make America stupid.

Nancy Pelosi asked for an ethics waiver for Mueller. Fine, but she should also be saying what a red herring this conflicts “issue” is. The waiver that Pelosi is asking for is of a specifically federal ethics rule that bars government lawyers from investigating clients of their former law firms in private practice — if those representations took place less than two years before the time of the investigation. THIS IS A TECHNICALITY THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MUELLER’S INTEGRITY OR ABILITY TO DO HIS JOB.

Politicians should stay close to lawyers right now and listen to them.

The battle is democracy AND the rule of law versus autocracy and criminality. It is not only important that we beat Trump. It is also important how we beat them.

They, Trump and Associates, will try anything to get their way. We have to beat them with the law. And it’s on our side — our ultimate and most effective tool.

It is no mistake that our early heroes in this fight are Yates, Comey and (in anticipation) Mueller.

They will lie, bully, try to use the law to manipulate and not achieve justice, and may resort to violence. We will investigate and prosecute.

If they illegally shut down our investigations and prosecutions — they’ve already tried and got walloped but are still standing — then we still have to keep investigating and prosecuting.

Mueller is ethically pure in this matter. Mueller stays and any attacks on his character and fitness for the job related to conflicts of interest should be met by outrage backed by facts — like free people do it in a nation that follows the rule of law.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The process of writing, as I proceed in my development of my art has led to painful separations from institutions, activities, attitudes and some people that I had previously been connected to, and identified with … This piece is about my alma mater, Notre Dame, that I no longer feel a part of … In May 2017, the President of the University invited Mike Pence to speak as the commencement speaker. I felt moral outrage. My moral outrage has become even stronger because of Notre Dame’s unethical and exploitative decision to re-open the campus for the Fall 2020 semester …

Other institutions, activities, and attitudes that I have broken away from include:

Second City

The Improvisational Community

Careerism

White America

Business

Business Education

Success/Failure determinations

Materialism

Marketing

Higher Ed

Teaching

Performing

Social media posting which only represents opinion without attempting genuine writing

The culture of the legal profession — not the law itself

All of these separations have caused breaks with some former friends. Some friendships endure all sorts of changes. These personal splits are the most painful aspect of the growth of a writer. The pain is always followed by a happy sense of release.

A writer re-writes himself. He edits out the words that are not part of his natural voice and emphasizes and expands the expressions of his true nature.

I write in the blog about all of my separations. This piece was the first one that I wrote about breaking away from Notre Dame.

The artist dies to the world and comes to birth from within. First it a piecemeal affair, and finally one realizes that he is an extra-societal figure. He separates from all collective corruption. The artist doesn’t sit back and criticize, he works to understand. The artist’s participation is not that of a reformer. His criticism points out how far our activity falls short of our human potential.

This piece could’ve used some more polish. The profanity was superfluous, but this writing is important.

From May 21, 2017:

Dear Father Jenkins, the President of the University of Notre Dame,

I read that you were petitioned by many not to invite the illegitimate, immoral, and soon to be proven criminal and even treasonous President Donald Trump to speak at ND’s May 2017 Commencement Ceremonies. You agreed not to invite Trump and invited his complicit, dissembling, and immoral in his own right, Vice-President Mike Pence instead. That’s too clever by half, Father Jenkins. You disgraced yourself today.

Free speech doesn’t mean the University has to give stupidity and immorality societal authority. Let Pence pass out leaflets on the quad. That’s constitutionally protected. A university — especially a university like Notre Dame that claims to be so superior in the art of developing students’ personal characters AND minds —  should have intellectual and moral standards. Have you been thinking TOO MUCH about money, Father Jenkins? Is all the high-minded rhetoric just marketing? Stop worrying about buildings and endowments and return to your spiritual vocation.

You invited a commencement speaker who supports and facilitates cover-ups for treason, the unconstitutional persecution of immigrants, attempts to steal people’s right to health care and rob their lives of decency, and an ugly debasement of our democracy and civic culture. We’re not going to have a democratic discussion with autocrats who hate democracy no matter how much you try to shove it down our throats. I’ve known other priests like you who get to live like the rich by sucking up to them and giving them phony moral cover. Your thoughtless act of giving a platform to the authoritarian and criminal cabal that is threatening our way of life as if they were just politicians who some would agree with and some would oppose is stupid and immoral in and of itself.

And if you are actually a supporter of Trump and Pence, as I suspect that you are, fuck you. Your collar is a joke. Did Pence do you favors while he was Governor of Indiana? Did you trade sanctimonious pleasantries with him at cocktail parties while you ignored the devastating effects of his policies and beliefs?

This is such an unsurprising embarrassment at my disappointing alma mater. I am now just adding it to my other embarrassments related to ND: its conservatism, commercialism, careerism and greed. There are people who take the social justice teachings of the church seriously at ND. My old hall Keenan is a bastion of such thought, for example, and it makes me proud. But the administration of ND uses the same moral compass as the administration of Liberty University. Father Hesburgh (a great liberal President of ND who made the school into a major university) would have handled this much differently. He wouldn’t alienate the conservatives, but he wouldn’t blaspheme Jesus with Pence. The commencement speaker at ND is a big deal and this year the choice was an immoral act. You gave an endorsement of this the legitimacy of this administration for all of American Catholicism. That’s what a Notre Dame commencement speaker invitation does. How could you have such an imprimatur on a man like Pence ?!?

All the well-regarded universities that would never invite Pence to speak — and you make Notre Dame the exception!

I am proud of the students that walked out of the ceremonies today, but you should have never put them in the position to have to do so.

And on behalf of all the non-wealthy alumni of which I am one, thank you for not considering our feelings on this matter, or the circumstances of our lives that are being greatly affected by the depravity that you pass off as mere political opinion.

But then you know where your bread is buttered, don’t you, Father John?

Shame on you,

Richard Thomas, Class of 1977

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

The most interesting thing about this next piece is the reflection on the backward nature of reading a blog. The last writing comes first. So I flipped that order for this annotated version. One drawback is that I generally think the most recent pieces are the best ones, because my writing is generally improving with experience. The art of the blog is better read backward. The story of the blog is better read in chronological order. The art of this chronological annotated version is in that story of my process — how the writing and I got to be this way.

From May 23, 2017:

Some blog posts stand alone and some nag at you. I always update blog posts at the top of the post. I never thought about it much until this morning. The practice gives the writing a Benjamin Button feel, a backward chronology. This can be annoying — I certainly found the Benjamin Button movie to annoying (and cloying too — what was that picture about anyway?) and the short story left me unmoved (Gatsby it ain’t.)

But as an improvisational writer (and remember that doesn’t mean that I don’t rewrite and edit. It just means that I dispense with all that precious literary shit, which seems a waste of time. Just cut to the chase and say what you have to say — make it fucking useful!), I engage in the thinnest art form (which is a true irony). “Wear your character as you wear a hat or coat,” is a grand improv truism. In other words, dispense with the bullshit. Say what has to be said now and forever. (Not saying that there aren’t great literary writers — I’m not stupid — but the ones I like have this quality. (A poet once told me that my writing was accessible but challenging. It made his head hurt. Thank you, sir. He was too comfortable anyway, secure in the rules of his poetry program. He really wanted to be playing basketball, but he was 67 and had bad knees.)

The thinnest art form is very well suited to the blog, which I can humbly say that I am elevating to an art form. I’m not sharing fucking recipes, here. A reader reads a blog backwards if they paddle beyond the immediate post. Or they helicopter over the winding river of words and check in with writing done at a specific earlier date. I would never archive my posts for just that reason. I wouldn’t archive memory, or a trace of past feeling. Those things live in me, forgotten and recalled by the changing moment. Our lives are one moment — that’s it.

So Fitzgerald was getting at just that with his Benjamin Button story, wasn’t he? I don’t care. I am less interested in anyone’s writing but my own. I had a long apprenticeship, reading other people’s words and conforming or rebelling to society’s idea of itself. It’s my turn to do the talking.

The backward nature of blog reading fits the nature of life. We don’t watch our story from beginning to end. We view it from the present moment to the past moment that resurrects in the present time. The present nature of blog writing fits life too. When else can I write but now? (Rhetorical question — the answer is no other time.)

Some friends of mine wrote notes to me in response to my recent condemnation of Notre Dame’s President Father John Jenkin’s invitation to the vile criminal Mike Pence to be the school’s commencement speaker. The atrocity of the speech occurred last Sunday, 5/21/17.

They sympathized with my point of view but pointed out that the valedictorian gave a nice speech and that a priest/hero of social justice also spoke. Each suggested or implied that I should listen to each speech online. They felt the viewing would comfort me, I reckon.

That is all very nice, but I don’t need to be comforted. The truth is I don’t give a shit about Notre Dame’s commencement. I only found out that Pence was speaking while reading another friend’s post on Facebook.

I don’t need to view the YouTube clips of the valedictorian and the saint. The clips won’t make me think that Jenkins redeemed himself by including angels on the same agenda as Satan (Pence). And I don’t need to be encouraged on this front. I know there is love in the world.

I wrote this comment on Facebook to the friend who brought up the saint:

My friend: This is great! However, Father Greg Boyle also spoke, and he’s a hero!
LikeShow more reactions · Reply · 1 · 12 hrs
Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas Oh, great. I didn’t watch commencement or read about it. I just responded to Pence invitation. I don’t think other worthwhile parts of program make up for Pence. It’s kind of a conservative ploy to bring out a hero from a wonderful charity. They would leave all such projects to churches and non- profits. But such charities are needed because criminals like Pence do not provide justice. I worked in a gang crime center of the IL Attorney General’s Office. People like Father Boyle do great work — but they care for people who suffer because of the great injustices of our economy, and education and justice systems. And Pence is and wants to make it much worse. Right wingers use charity in a sick way.
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Now here is my piece that goes after Jenkins. I have believed what I wrote here my whole life. What’s past again? Now I say it because I’ve found my voice as an artist, because I am 61 and don’t give a damn and because the pricks have gone too far and everyone knows it. Living in the moment means living your whole life at once AND living in all time.

ASSBACKWARDS!!!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I was a poet and I didn’t know it. I tossed off poetry as a kind of gimmick in this blog post, but something real was emerging in my writing.

From May 25, 2017:

5/25/17

Obama & Merkel @ the Brandenburg Gate
German & American @ the Brandenburg Gate
Scientist & Writer @ the Brandenburg Gate
Little girl separated from her grandmother by the Cold War @ the Brandenburg Gate
Little girl born 10 years after the fall of the Third Reich
@ the Brandenburg Gate
Mixed race boy whose life span just about parallels the modern American Civil Rights movement
@ the Brandenburg Gate
Girl & boy who triumphed over & far beyond oppression
Blessed with high intelligence
& possessed of high character
Natural endowments & free will
Talking
Reflecting
Sharing
Thinking
Democracy vs. Autocracy
“The better angels of our nature”
Love vs. Fear
Kindness vs. Cruelty
Discussed by speakers who know Hitler & Jim Crow
The Cold War & Apartheid
Red & Blue America
&
Unification
Our brief past & our long future
Our long past & our brief future
@ the place where the Berlin Wall rose & fell
The Brandenburg Gate

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This is just a blog post, but it tends toward writing. The process of writing takes on a life of its own.

From May 30, 2017:

We are not in a debate. We are in a war. The struggle is autocracy versus democracy, not left versus right. The autocrats are not well-meaning people who share our values but assert that different methods than ours are the best way of achieving them. They are criminals who want to steal all that we have and leave us for dead.

A citizen’s largest responsibility is to search for the truth. As an individual. People who accept definitions of reality from authorities instead of thinking for themselves are dangerous at this moment. Honesty and intelligence are especially important now.

And integrity. Standing up not for one’s beliefs, but for what one knows to be true is essential. Standing up when nothing is on the line. Standing up when sacrifice is required.

Thinking is hard. Observation takes focus and attentiveness to detail. Reflection takes patience and calm. Analysis takes reason. Application takes creativity and innovation.

Even the greatest mind and most selfless and generous heart will be subjective in its description of what is true, and often wrong. But democracy is preserved by the sincere and thinking individual. The pursuit of truth is, in practice, essentially the same thing as the right of self-determination.

I have never had a job where the boss, even the best boss, didn’t lie a little bit. That’s what bosses do, they lie.

The pursuit of truth in word and deed defeats the autocrats. Fear, conformity or competing to be a boss oneself plays into their hands.

They can’t dominate us with the Lie, no matter how confusing they make it seem, if we never despair of the Truth.

We must live committed to our democratic values when the bosses and would-be bosses near and far demand that we abandon them.

The Autocracy is nothing new and now it has gotten out of control.

Our answers lie not in argument, but in certainty in our rights and confidence in the power of our souls.

Our challenge is not a political one. It is even beyond morality, although we can’t meet it without being moral. Our challenge is existential. The Autocrats are disputing WHO WE ARE.

We must answer them with the truth.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Good paragraphs.

From June 3, 2017:

Our nation of laws not men, and our system of constitutional checks and balances will not work if powerful men and women do not have the good will to honor those directions and values. Ultimately, what we face is not a matter of law or politics. It is a matter of civic culture. Our fate lies in the consciences of powerful people. So what can we, the powerless do? Our only chance is to appeal to the moral sense of those few with money and position who decide what our collective future will be. Our words and deeds have to be the actions of free individuals and of a free people. Some of us will be called to decisive moments of courage and sacrifice. This is what revolution is. It doesn’t require armies. We can’t give up on the idea of America. There is no ethnic requirement to be an American. We don’t have to agree. But Americans accept a shared value system. We cannot abandon those values no matter what pressures are put upon us by those who hold material power.

We live in a time when patriotism must be expressed in dissent. Our only authorities are our Constitution, our rule of law, and our history of ever expanding inclusiveness and democracy. Our authorities are not government and business officials of dubious legitimacy who have betrayed our common fealty to one of the most beautiful abstractions occasionally made real in the history of the world — America.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

More blog posts, podcasts and marketing for my stage show for awhile …

Writing returns on June 15, 2017:

From June 15, 2017:

6/15/17

Yesterday’s shooting at the Congressional Republican baseball practice was immoral, crazy, stupid and counter-productive. But I am not going to soften my writing and sing kumbaya in its aftermath. I reject the sanctimonious pontifications of the corporate media talking heads who attempt to control our national conversation as they advocate a group hug with the right wing. “We are all Americans after all.” Are we? America is an idea, and I don’t share the ideas of the radical right. I am not interested in compromise with the fascists. There is no room for negotiation. Placing a gangster and his mob family in the White House is wrong. Treason is wrong. The persecution of immigrants is wrong. The denial of justice to African-Americans is wrong. The disrespect of women is wrong. Withholding health care from the sick is wrong. Stealing the assets of the American people and handing them to a handful of rich people is wrong. Polluting the minds of America with propaganda like Breitbart and Fox News is wrong. Destroying the sustainability of the environment is wrong. Wrong is wrong.

In October 1859, John Brown, an abolitionist, raided an arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and fomented an armed slave rebellion. It was a futile attempt. Frederick Douglass refused to take part in the revolt. He admired its impetus, but knew it wouldn’t work. Brown was hung for treason two months later.

Brown’s plan was mad and impractical, but it also was a national nervous breakdown followed by a decision by half of a nation to full-heartedly deem slavery unacceptable. America was out of compromises. Within two years of the prophetic event of Brown’s raid, the nation was engaged in Civil War.

When the TV talking heads speak about conciliation between the fascists and the rest of us, they are skipping the Civil War of our time, and jumping right to Lincoln’s vision of a forgiving and compassionate Reconstruction (a vision that was murdered with Lincoln and by the radical Republicans’ lust for revenge.)

WE AREN’T UNITED. The Republican Health Care Plan is a Holocaust rendered by financial instruments instead of the industrialization of the death camps of the 1940s. That is not hyperbole. 24 million people will die or greatly suffer because of that plan, if it is ever enacted. It is a wholly indecent policy and morally unacceptable. Period. This is just one example of the fascist celebration of money over humanity and its desire to enslave the many for the criminal profit of the few.

My analogy with the Civil War period breaks down in one respect. Violence is passé as a means to settle these great issues. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and the revolutionaries of Eastern Europe that defeated Communism in the 1980s have shown us a superior way. Only the most ignorant people in the world think they can achieve their goals through violence.

But otherwise … we are currently at our parallel moment to John Brown’s raid. Fascism in America must be abolished, not just moderated in some way.

We are on the brink of our bloodless Civil War. The fascists must be defeated. Their values must be rendered socially unacceptable. The tyranny that they are attempting to impose upon us must be repelled.

Once our fascist adversaries are brought to heel and regain their human decency, then we should reconstruct our nation in the vision of Lincoln. If we don’t act with compassion at that point, we will prepare the ground for a fascist return. That’s what happened after the Civil War.

Every weapon that we need to fight our Civil War is given to us in our Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. We can speak out against our government, petition it with our grievances, publicly assemble … the Rule of Law, our tradition of freedom and equality, our common decency.

Ultimately, John Brown’s act was one of frustration from a desperation born of a sense of powerlessness. It told us that we couldn’t stand slavery any longer, but we doubted our ability to do anything about it. The election of Abraham Lincoln one year later was an act of empowerment.

Many people have told me that the Rick Blog has given them hope and encouragement in the current awful times. I have doubted that optimism at times, as I am sure that you have as well. But in my own small life, I have had the disorienting fury of the John Brown moment, the successful Civil War and the humane Reconstruction ( all metaphoric and non-violent of course.)

Nations are like individuals. They have to gain confidence, assert boundaries (beyond physical ones), stand up for themselves in integrity, fiercely determine their own futures by their own lights without external impositions, and finally make peace with the world around them, including their enemies.

I am very confident this morning. We will prevail IF we mature in our understanding of the nature of life itself.

I fought these battles to liberate my own life. Now I fight for others. That is how it works too. If you are mature and have matriculated through life’s development, you have an obligation to teach, comfort, inspire and lead. And if you are spiritually young, you must struggle through the transformations and learn, comfort, inspire and lead.

We can do this, but we have to work very hard, and let go as we move from one phase to another.

We MAY overcome. It’s up to us.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

From June 15, 2017:

JQ Adams Patience

6/15/17

Our ultimate objective shouldn’t be merely ridding ourselves of Trump and his cronies, or taking Congress and the Presidency away from the Republicans. Our long-term job is to change the consciousness of America. Fascist values, culture, practices and policies are unacceptable and everyone in our society has to know that. You can’t be a fascist and an American.

We won’t change America’s mind with bullets, and it won’t happen over night. It took around 15 years from the beginning of the fall of Communism until the fall of the Iron Curtain. It took 13 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence until the ratification of the Constitution. The usurpation of our democracy by moneyed interests began around 1980. The usurpation of our democracy by militaristic interests began around 1946. Iraq War II marked the fascistic overreach of the militarist imperialists. The election of Trump marked the overreach of the Plutocrats. Overreach meaning the moment when a majority of Americans became fed up with the ideas and actions engendered by an un-American fascistic attitude — the moment when too much blood and treasure was taken from the people for the profit of tyrants.

Revolutions are existential and spiritual matters. They take time. That’s the reason why writers always lead them. An accumulation of words and deeds slowly erodes tyranny.

It isn’t advisable to get caught up and discouraged or elated by the events of a political day. Be consistent and patient.

When a person is stressed like our country is currently stressed he or she either dies or greatly improves his or her situation. Let’s choose the latter course.

What we are doing right now can’t happen too quickly. Real change doesn’t happen that way.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Good writing — I’d lose the all caps.

From June 16, 2017:

The ultimate disposition of the Trump and Associates fight with the Special Counsel will go a long way to making clear if America is a nation of laws not men, or a nation of money not equality. I’m betting on the law. People like Mueller and Comey have built their lives on being good at something and behaving with integrity. People like Trump and Kushner are just well-connected bullying bullshit artists.

Trump and Associates are like cockroaches who purposely turned on a bright light and ran into its glow. This seems arrogant and stupid. If it isn’t and they get away with it, we’re even worse off as a nation than I thought. Trump, and the bums around him like the boy prince Kushner (whose father was a felon, father-in-law is a likely felon, and who is a likely felon himself) aren’t paying off building inspectors in Manhattan anymore, or shaking down tenants for rent that they don’t owe. They are up against the Constitution and the laws of the United States prosecuted by the best lawyers in the country.

A lawyer has to be a person of high intelligence and character. A lawyer has to demonstrate these qualities to be admitted to the bar. Many lawyers disappoint in walking the walk of those high standards, especially the character part, as they go through their careers. Mueller has never disappointed, and I am sure the elite team he has put together won’t disappoint either.

Obstruction of justice, collusion with Russia and financial misconduct — full careers of criminality for Trump and his fellow roaches. Years of illegal activity. Since the late 70s! In a fair fight, Trump’s only friends would be statutes of limitations (and only on some potential counts — his actions get worse as we near the present day. Treason anyone?) Hopefully we have enough decency and intelligence in the tank of the body politic to reach the off ramp for the Shining City on the Hill.

WE MUST SUPPORT MUELLER AND MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT HE AND HIS TEAM ARE DOING BECAUSE THEY ARE GOING TO TRY TO SLIME HIM THE WAY THEY SLIMED COMEY. TRUMP MAY FIRE HIM AND WE, THE PEOPLE WILL HAVE TO REACT WITH OUTRAGE IF THAT HAPPENS TO CREATE A POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT WHERE THAT DECISION IS POLITICALLY UNTENABLE. THIS INVESTIGATION AND THE SUBSEQUENT PROSECUTIONS THAT WILL SURELY COME FROM IT, IF IT IS ALLOWED TO CONTINUE, IS A SHOWDOWN FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE RULE OF LAW IN AMERICA AND NOTHING LESS THAN THAT.

(Also, we must have a nuanced view of lawyers who are very unpopular for many good reasons. We have to understand that the very best lawyers — and there are too few of them — many lack intellectual excellence, and many lack the requisite high character — but the best lawyers — are essential defenders of our freedoms. Mueller is among the best.)

This is going to take a while, and it is going to go a long way to determining what kind of country that we are.

THERE IS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF EVIDENCE ALREADY AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLIC MEDIA THAT WOULD BE VERY USEFUL IN PROSECUTING TRUMP, KUSHNER, FLYNN, MANAFORT AND PENCE(!) AND LIKELY MORE TO COME …

(Pence — 2 big lies. He said he didn’t know Flynn was being investigated by the FBI during the transition. He did. He also said that Comey got fired because he mishandled Clinton email investigation. Pence actually knew that Trump wanted to fire Comey because of Russia investigation. Pants on fire? Obstruction of justice for Pence too? The perils of obsequiousness? Pence hired a lawyer yesterday.)

Facts, reason, the law and professionalism vs. bullshit and bullying.

People standing up for all the people versus people who want to rob us blind — people who would decide to send us to our deaths over a nice meal at Mar-a-Lago.

People versus Money.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Prose poetry — a few discordant notes, but good overall.

From June 19, 2017:

modern narcissus

6/19/17: The World Dies Slowly

The world is being murdered slowly. The apocalypse will not be executed in a sudden rain of nuclear bombs. The world is a terminal cancer case in hospice. Some well-meaning people attempt to keep it comfortable, mostly with sense-numbing drugs, but each day mankind grows weaker. We grow accustomed to the waning of life until we forget that it’s happening. We go about our daily lives, enjoy a movie and a nice meal at an inexpensive restaurant — everyday stuff. We check in on the world regularly — bring it warmth and affection — protect it from every day indignities as much as we can — and then we go home. We even begin to believe that things will always proceed in this sad and pleasant way. Then one day, with no fanfare or warning, the world will slip away and there will be only darkness. Nothing will matter. No one will be left to remember. We chose to die.

I was reading an article in the New York Times on Friday (6/16/17) about a guy who worked with Paul Manafort who is now under investigation by Mueller as the Trump campaign and administration continues to be revealed as an ever-widening criminal conspiracy. None of this seems particularly new. Tucked in the article as an undeveloped aside is a brief paragraph about Tad Devine, who was Bernie Sanders campaign manager. The Times reports that Devine worked with Manafort advising the future President of the Ukraine, an ally of Vladimir Putin before that autocrat was elected. Devine eventually quit when the dictator jailed his election opponent after assuming power in 2012.

I guess Devine’s resignation at that last date passes as evidence of a moral compass as the world takes shallow breaths while drowsy on a morphine drip.

Tad Devine isn’t exceptionally evil. He’s making a living, trying to get rich. He has made a name for himself. He is famous in his field. He is an accomplished professional. He probably sits on the boards of theaters or hospitals. He speaks at conferences and appears on TV. That is what is killing us.

Everyone is carving out a niche. Bernie Sanders took years to build a brand as a successful American socialist. It’s a very good business. And as everyone carves, the world bleeds to death.

This piece is not about Tad Devine or Bernie Sanders. It isn’t about Paul Manafort or Donald Trump. The diagnosis is bigger than any individual.

The only reasons that I ever worked in any job was either to make a living and survive or because I loved what I was doing. I sometimes felt conflicted or ashamed about not pursuing success more aggressively but I couldn’t do it. Something inside me stopped me from doing so.

Now I know why. I sensed something. The pursuit of success is killing the world. A good writer is suspicious of both skepticism and praise for his words. So is a good person. The words, and the life, just are.

The world is pure in it’s essence and self-regulating. If every person was satisfied with who they were, and acted out of their particular being, mankind would be in harmony. But we choose to perform before each other and use the applause as a means of self-indulgence and domination.

Mankind is dying of narcissism. We can’t place our attention and resources in the service of the necessities of maintaining life because we are addicted to self-aggrandizement.

There is plenty of everything that we need, but we hoard and withhold it from the rest of ourselves to attempt to prove that we are special and better than the rest of ourselves.

Purity is mocked as being unrealistic, but reality is pure. The so-called real world is an insane hallucination.

The acceptance of the success of the few, is the murder/suicide of the many. The world’s salvation lies in a mass spiritual transformation that seems impossible, but who knows? Sometimes people do the right thing when they are facing extinction. But will that happen when armageddon is occurring so slowly that it is perceptible to only a few?

The Holocaust of the 1940s was carried out in death factories in Germany. Today’s Holocaust is being carried out in banks in New York. Industrialization has been replaced by financial instruments. The horrors of our time aren’t as crude as gas chambers. They are more subtle like poor schools, and the denial of good food, clean water and accessible health care. But they are just as lethal. Modern Holocaust deniers refuse to acknowledge how bad things are.

Our petty concerns with our own successes and failures is our way of denying the current Holocaust.

Hope? Get over yourself and be yourself. And hope others follow your example.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

From June 19, 2017:

an eye for eye blind gandhi

Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator, talk show host and lawyer on Morning Joe: “Words are not violence unless they expressly advocate violence.” (I am not familiar with Shapiro’s work and this piece is not an endorsement of anything else that he has said or written. I am simply in emphatic agreement with his brief words that I heard as I laid out the breakfast dishes.) These are some of the most worthwhile words that I have ever heard on cable television. Dissent and honest expression must not be suppressed because they are sometimes distorted in insane or criminal minds that conflate social and political conditions with their personal sadness and frustration. The dissent the mad criminal hears is not the cause of the violence. The dissent in itself is non-violent, and not the real inspiration of the harm . The words are a commitment to solve problems and resolve differences without physical force.

Dissent — even dissent expressed in the harshest terms — is a peaceful act.

Violence in the name of any political or social point of view is wrong. Period.

Dissent that is intolerant of opposing points of view, and does not advocate violence, is NOT violent.

An abolitionist could not possibly find common ground with a slave owner at the time of the Civil War. Slavery had to be defeated.

I can find no common ground with the inhumanity of the values and policies of what is currently called conservatism, but is really no such thing. The denial of clean water, good food, housing, education, health care — the necessities of life — from billions of people — to serve the greed and calm the insecurity of a few wealthy people and their conscienceless minions in the professional classes is indecent. It must end as surely as slavery was ended. And the obvious immorality of that denial must be seen by all people as wrong now and forever.

Speaking out with conscience is NOT violent.

We are fighting a new civil war. It need not be bloody like the first one. All wars occur in the collective mind. Ignorance expresses the war in acts of murder.

We must decide to live in justice. We must live in justice, without violence. We cannot reach our choice of justice without dissent.

Our task is not to perform, pretend, persuade, or certainly not to do physical harm to others. Our task is to speak our truth, and to stand immovably upon our words with integrity.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

From June 23, 2017:

Trump doesn’t have lawyers, he has propagandists. He knows he can’t win within the law, and his end game is to win in the streets.

Trump’s soap opera is a cover for a violent attack upon our lives by the Republican Congress.

Dick the Butcher said, “Kill the lawyers,” in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part II. Dick the Butcher was a follower of Jack Cade, a rebel who thought that if he disturbed law and order he could become king. The line is often taken out of context and used as a criticism of lawyers. Shakespeare was actually pointing out how dictators attempt to destroy lawyers and the law itself as a strategy to gain power.

Trump’s strategy is to kill the lawyers by slandering them with the aid of his propagandists with law degrees and the ersatz journalism of the right wing “press” like Breitbart and the New York Post, Fox News etc.

Eliminate faith in the law, eliminate the influence of the legitimate press, do large rallies and manipulate the most weak-minded among us with mass hypnosis … this is Trump’s strategy — not attempts to have winning legal arguments.

Trump believes that democracy is a fraud. He, despite his wealth, has always felt that he was an outsider — the gauche boor with money from Queens who was laughed at by the Manhattan social and financial establishment. He hates the people who laughed at him, and obsesses about their hypocrisies and crimes — some real, some imagined.

Trump is the fraud, of course. Democracy is imperfect, but it’s genius is that it doesn’t rely on one personality. Democracy stumbles and fusses and struggles. It frustrates. But somehow it reaches the collective will — and protects the rights of individuals without granting any one person or institution too much power. Trump understands none of this. He thinks that “democracy” is a system that is manipulated and that strong men exist within it, but no one calls them that. Trump thinks that dictatorship is the way of the world and talk of democracy is a scam. He actually feels that he is being honest about it. (We do have to improve our democracy after we get rid of Trump.) Trump wants to burn everything down and then take over. Ironically, he has no idea of what to do once he wins. So he rents the decision making out to Robert Mercer, Vladimir Putin, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

We must defend the law, defend the true press, prosecute Trump, defeat the Republicans in Congress, end the sway of the right-wing propaganda machines — Breitbart, Murdoch etc. and eventually meet the army of right-wing zombies that Trump mesmerizes at his rallies and the agit-prop fascists indoctrinate online, on the radio, in newspapers and on TV.

Don’t get distracted? No. Walk and chew gum at the same time. This is a war on several fronts. (Non-violent war — my constant caveat since that crazy son of a bitch shot Scalise. Ah, another thing we have to deal with — their accusations of being violent or crazy simply because we oppose them and won’t bow to them with respect that we don’t have. That’s another thing that we have to do — protect ourselves in the clinches.)

We can do it.

Copyright Richard Thomas 2017

Next came a rare movie piece that was poorly written a couple of blog posts and an overwrought takedown of columnist David Brooks. Not a good stretch. I was too distracted by the stage show that summer.

On June 26, 2017, I wrote about some of my experiences when I performed the show. I now see all that happened as a waste of time. I had to wade through all of the incoming impressions both positive and negative, and just write. A writer can’t listen to others. He of course must hear others to write about them, but he can’t bring them in to discuss his life and art. It’s just static. My work and life is directed by the inner dictates of my heart, not social structures and suggestions. An artist has to contain his work and process in a sacred space. I was violating that space and learning of its importance when I performed my show. I am glad that I learned the lesson, and have no regrets for this disruption of my necessary solitude. The little marketing pitches for people to see my show are demeaning. The mistakes hurt at the time, but time has healed those self-inflicted wounds. I had to work through all of this as a writer.

From June 26, 2017:

6/26/17

The Rick Blog (in all of its forms — writing, podcast, stage shows) is not a political blog. It is an art blog. The arts talk about life in a way that political discussion could never reach. The arts are more powerful than politics, even if they don’t seem to be in a material way.

The world is a reflection of our perception of it. I wrote The Rick Blog for two years before Trump announced his candidacy. Since then my writing output and the attention of others have both increased considerably. Trump’s horrible rise has focused all of us on what it is to be human. That’s art. The Paris Review, the New York literary magazine, received more subscription requests than at any time in their history on the day Jeff Sessions testified before Congress recently. Artists and art audiences want some sort of honesty and depth of feeling in the face of forces that they recognize intuitively and emotionally as wrong. We aren’t really interested in Trump. We are interested in ourselves. Ironically, villains who betray our collective humanity and pursue negation and death inspire us to be more alive — and to know how to do it. Making and perceiving art is where we learn how to be human beings. The artist isn’t the teacher. The art is. All an artist does is take his experience and communicate its lessons to others. The skill of the artist is the skill of communication. His ability to experience life is no better than anyone else’s ability to do so. An artist has an openness to the inspiration of what a living moment reveals, because he has a strong desire to show what he discovered to others.

An audience member started talking to me in a political way after my show last Saturday night (6/24/17). He gave political reasons for the use of violence against oppression. He explained to me why Trump voters reasonably chose Trump. He gave many reasons for his positions that you would hear on cable TV.

I listened — I had heard everything that he had said before. But let me communicate my experience. The choice to use violence against another human being transforms who a person is. It distorts their soul. It isn’t an accident that the shooter at the Congressional baseball practice was a domestic abuser. Or that veterans of all wars who saw combat action return home with all sorts of psychological disorders. Or how many terrorists have non-terrorist criminal records. Or how all the “just wars” never ultimately solve anything. Did World War I prevent World War II? Has fascism and genocide been removed from the world? Did the Civil War unite us as a nation? Has the Korean War ended? Etc.

The audience member mentioned self-defense, but misunderstood its meaning. Self-defense is asserted in crimes like assault or homicide when a defendant asserts the need to use force because of immediate physical aggression from an attacker. It doesn’t apply to non-physical aggression like the genocidal Senate “health care” bill.

I gave an alternative to violence — a more powerful way that will not distort our humanity in the show. Art always pushes for answers. It doesn’t just express overwhelming frustrations like the unfinished film that has many admirable elements Beatriz at Dinner. (See my recent blog post on that.)

As to the motivations of Trump voters, they did not support him for any “reasons.” Trump didn’t persuade them with arguments. Trump didn’t put any ideas into their heads. He exploited what was already there. There are many people — rich, poor and in the middle — in America, that have despaired of their humanity. Trump appealed to what was worst in these people because it was very close to the surface. No rational person would choose Trump as an answer to legitimate answer to their problems. But a nihilist would. Trump supporters want “to see the whole thing burn.” I’ve written some on this, but there is a lot more work to do.

The audience member who spoke with me said he was a progressive and I believe him. But he came from the culture that Trump conned in order to get power and he hasn’t separated himself from that culture’s ignorance. He too wants to burn everything down. He rejects the Declaration of Independence because of the genocide of Native Americans. He doesn’t accept the Constitution because of the long history of injustice in America. He seems incapable of distinguishing an ideal from reality, and working in reality to approach the ideal. For him, everything is bullshit.

Burn down the world. Then what? My audience member has no idea.

America isn’t a history. It’s an idea. It has no borders. It belongs to the world. America is freedom, democracy, justice, care for the well-being of all people — their health, safety and education, and the opportunity of self-determination, to pursue happiness as we each see fit. America is the collective hope of mankind.

My audience member asked me why I didn’t run for office. I don’t run because I work in a venue of far greater power than an administrative office or legislature. I work in the heart, mind and soul. I work not for one issue but for all times. I work where my nature tells me to work. When the internal reality of a person or society changes, the external reality follows. What we do is an extension of who we are. Art is the first and most important thing.

Art, for me, has nothing to do with aesthetics. Art is where we converse about life, and stand in awe. We arrive at an answer, and look at a mysterious horizon with wonder.

Watch the video of my 6/24/17 show at the McKaw which engendered this discussion and consideration.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Some good writing came out of the performance experience — good writing can come out of any experience …

From June 27, 2017:

dad

My Father Got Sick and Died

An audience member who was at my show last Saturday night (6/24/17) offered me some reasons why people should be denied health care: they didn’t take care of themselves; they were lazy; we shouldn’t pay for people who don’t contribute to the system. He had a very hard nosed moral tone in his voice as he offered his opinions. He felt certain sick people should feel shame for what they brought upon themselves.

You know who I think should feel ashamed? A fucking animal who would deny medical attention to any human being who needs it. ANY HUMAN! Whether someone thinks they deserve it or not. The biggest fucking bum in the world should be taken care of when he is sick, no matter how evil or undisciplined he may have been. And certainly any poor people who have had their lives destroyed by the thieving rich should receive care. ANY FUCKING BODY.

When my father was dying he was in hospice. (In 2008 – 2009.) His care plan said he would have no invasive treatment such as radiation, but he would have all he needed for his comfort. He contracted a urinary tract infection which could be cured easily with an antibiotic. His nurse didn’t give it to him. She said with an authority that she had no right to assume, “We decided not to.” We got my father the fucking antibiotic. But he had to live a few of his last days in discomfort because that bitch couldn’t wait for him die.

My father had done nothing wrong by anybody’s standards. He would even pass muster with my stern audience member who thinks human beings should be sentenced to death for gross imperfections like smoking or an improper diet. (People like the audience member believe in two things — markets and punishment. Fuck education, friendship, forgiveness, love or fucking health care! Build another prison and make another judgmental remark, asshole!) Yet, the nurse wanted to shame him for dying slowly. She had to save some money that could be handed to some rich people who didn’t need it. Nothing in her life was more important than pleasing rich people. The shame is on her.

I have struggled to understand what makes people so heartless and cruel. (They so want to be understood. They want praise for being so good and decent — true Americans. They are among the worst people in the world.) The standard liberal explanation is that they have suffered and they carry on the abuse. But I no longer buy that. Their personal lousiness is a choice. Everyone that has had “a tough time putting food on the table” don’t become as ugly and cruel as these people.

My father for example had a very tough life. He was physically abused in fascist schools in Italy. He encountered great discrimination in America as a poor Italian immigrant. He did hard labor in an auto body shop for decades, breathing in the toxic materials that ultimately killed him. But he never gave in to the harsh violence and lack of generosity that the audience member and the nurse embrace. He was confused at times, but never took sadistic joy at the suffering of others. He wasn’t ever a rich man by any means, but he never placed even a needed dollar above another person.

How these assholes lie to themselves and believe that their fear and jealousy are virtues! They resent the world because of their own material and spiritual failures. They hate the immigrants who come to their towns with nothing and subsequently thrive with hard work and initiative, while they themselves mock the educated on their way to the meth dealer’s house.

Trump and Mitch McConnell aren’t the problems. The audience member and the nurse are the problems. Trump and McConnell just manipulate what already exists in these walking suicides. We have this awful, immoral government because we share this nation with these awful, immoral people.

Another audience member told me later that she was struggling with maintaining a long-held friendship with someone who voted for Trump. Well, yes, because they revealed what kind of person that they were. She later apologized for speaking out angrily about Trump. I said that I wasn’t sorry. I’m sorry for all the times that I was silent before this evil, or, maybe even worse, for when I spoke out without confidence in an argumentative tone. I know what is true in this case. It ain’t them! And it’s not up for discussion. Listen if you want, but I don’t want to hear your opposing point of view on this. If you don’t like it shove it up your ass.

I have no tolerance for what these people are. I was originally going to say here “for what these people believe,” but this post has nothing to do with ideas or opinions. I can’t stand what these people are. There is no excuse for it. They have chosen death. I want nothing to do with them until they change.

And I do believe in redemption.

But not compromise. Not with these people. Not now.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This piece is a good rant.

From June 29, 2017:

Passions:

a shirt that looks good untucked; a medieval device for contemporary times that allows people to stretch their backs hanging from the ceiling of their own homes; a pillow that won’t go flat, stays cool and offers great neck support. These are just some passions of Main Street citizens who rise above the rest of us with their innovative industriousness.

The American Entrepreneur, the Small Businessman is the greatest person who ever lived. He is eternally wise and should make all of our decisions as a nation. What breadth of imagination, what moral courage! They have met a payroll, and know how to sell.

I thank God that the values of these giants are so influential in the decisions and political discourse of our country.

If only Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Susan B. Anthony knew how to look good in a fucking untucked shirt.

The epitome of human development is knowing how to come up with a trivial idea, sell the shit out of it and leverage the endeavor into significant wealth.

To expose these shallow, destructive, arrogant mediocrities who have turned our public debate into an infomercial, our interactions with our government into a hellish customer service call, our democracy into a marketing strategy and our public finances into a Ponzi scheme — while looking great in an untucked shirt is my passion.

There’s nothing wrong with mediocrity as long as it stays in its lane. I like a good pillow as much as the next guy. But if business people want to lead in more important areas of life, they have to learn a lot more, and develop their character to a greater degree, or they should stay home.

This post is not brought to you by Untuckit.com.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Some good work.

From July 3, 2017:

nebraska post card

The world changes when you drive over the Iowa-Nebraska border. Iowa is like Illinois. Reason and insanity live side-by-side — checks and imbalances. In Nebraska you get the impression that there are very few buildings and lots of people — or I should say, former people. The zombies roam through the farmland searching for human brains to eat. They must be hungry.

Nebraska talk radio has a peculiar charm. The hosts broadcast from places like San Diego following their “How to Lie to Suckers Broadcasting Manual.”

The suckers aren’t that stupid. They want the lie. They call the shows and praise Trump saying that his attack on Mika Brzezinski is “probably true.” Their defense of the demagogue evidences that some small speck of living brain tissue that still receives blood in their skulls recognizes that Trump’s ugly claim, against the millionaire cable news star raised in an elite family of artists and diplomats and member of a sophisticated social circle in New York City, is not only cruel, gross and disgusting, but is also preposterous — an accusation so ridiculous that it is an insult to the intelligences of the exurban marks being lied to.

A woman of Brzezinski’s background would show up at a major social event, hosted by the President-Elect no less, visibly bleeding from surgery — you’d have to be an idiot to believe that. The people of Nebraska aren’t idiots — just dead inside.

I stopped at a restaurant where real live farmers eat. I received smiles without mirth, except for a couple of crazy leers that looked like preludes to my demise — rape/murder — lustful hearts on sleeves. I wasn’t flattered. I knew tonight I would be an object of conquest and tomorrow the aim would be a full-grown sheep.

The farmers ate knowingly, as if they were acquainted with the food when it was alive. These are people that know what work is, but not ambition. They know kindness but not warmth. Are these humans, or is this an ant farm? They have never had conscious lives. Their destinies have been sacrificed on an altar of obedience. Personal vision for one’s future isn’t allowed here. They live out their days with a Calvinist austerity. They get nothing now — but will rape a thousand virgins in heaven. Oh sorry —- that’s the Taliban.

I reach my hotel room in Kearney to find that the Rick Blog has been trolled by Johnny D. who informs me that Mark Levin said on the Sean Hannity show that Robert Mueller shouldn’t investigate Trump because Presidents can’t go to jail.

Oh Johnny, you had me at hello. When a President is investigated for crimes, and the Special Counsel finds what he considers to be a strong case, the Counsel refers the matter to the House of Representatives. The House, if they so choose, impeaches the President. Once the President, if politically (not legally) convicted by the Senate, is removed from office, he becomes eligible for legal criminal prosecution. This is why Ford pardoned Nixon, Johnny. I’m sure the pardon was a deal. Nixon agreed to spare the country a long process of looking at how lousy we were and removing him from office, and Ford could declare that our long national nightmare was over — and get Nixon off of a sharp criminal law hook.

Oh yeah — and of course the Special Counsel is investigating many others besides the President.

I shared none of my responses with Johnny. I simply blocked him. I knew he didn’t want discussion or debate. He wanted to torture me with his willful ignorance.

Johnny, like the people of Nebraska, would destroy the country for just a little attention. Trump tells them what they want to hear, and that’s all they need. They could ask for attention. They could trust their dreams instead of simply do as they are told. Some of them do, and they move away.

So many half-people wandering in this land of nothing. Evil masterminds won’t destroy the world. The world will die from a lack of confidence.

The Music Man changed his heart and loved Marian the Librarian in Iowa. If the story took place in Nebraska, she would know he was full of shit, let him fuck her just so she could feel something, and then commit suicide.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Nice atmospherics, ignore the brief marketing plug.

From July 3, 2017:

utah desert

Trump attacked Arnold Schwarzenegger about low ratings of a TV show Trump himself produced. It was a pro wrestling move to create phony controversy to raise ratings. He did the same thing with “Morning Joe” and literally did it with CNN. The media made Trump, as Les Moonves of CBS famously admitted, “bad for America, good for business.” (Yes, there are other aims of Trump’s attacks — distraction from real issues like Russia and health care, agitating his base — but this post is looking at one aspect…)

Bad for America, good for business. We, the people, are the pawns of business. We have an insane popular culture that values nothing except making profits for its owners.

The entire scam would fall apart in a second if we stopped being willfully naive because it made us feel safe; stopped being vulnerable to distraction by bright shiny objects; and most importantly, stopped being so fucking impressed by fame and money.

Entertainers and other propagandists don’t make up ways to manipulate. They simply exploit what is already in our minds.

I blame us for this one. We chase after all of this unimportant bullshit. We’ve spent too much of our lives with Pat Sajak instead of George Orwell.

We get titilated by professional wrestling and P.T. Barnum becomes President. And we wind up with the circuses instead of the bread. We let salesmen occupy our brains for hours at a time. We let P.R. people seduce us and rob us blind. The charming, fast talker is an American archetype — from Sergeant Bilko to the Music Man. And the archetype IS fun.

But a company that has a strong sales team and lousy concrete services or inventory eventually goes under. And so will a country.

We need more Mark Twain and less Andrew Dice Clay.

Let’s make quality popular instead of flashy bullshit.

Come see The Rick Blog Live on Stage this coming Friday, 7:7/17 at Jane Morris and Jeff Michalski’s fanatic Salon at 8 pm in Culver City, CA. (Where’s the irony?)

I’ve just driven over the Rockies and halfway through the Utah desert. Hundreds of miles of reminders of how beautiful pure honest creation is. I especially like the desert in eastern Utah. For long stretches I didn’t see another car. There wasn’t a billboard in sight. There weren’t even any AM radio stations. No litter. Just stunningly clean desert punctuated by gorgeous giant rock formations. That is America.

Why do we let ourselves be so dirty and small? It doesn’t suit our nature.

Copyright Richard Thomas 2017

High spirits on a cross-country road trip.

From July 3, 2017:

trump lord of the pigs

6/30/17 THE question for any Trump supporter: what kind of person are you? What Trump did yesterday (the Morning Joe Mika attack tweet) was not surprising and nothing new. It has been obvious or should have been to anyone watching from any distance and any perspective. Supporting Trump is an immoral act. And I am proud to say that the Rick Blog has said that from the beginning. I wrote yesterday that the ugly tweets are crazy and a fascist tactic. Trump supporters are bad people and fascists. There is no way that you can call someone who supports Trump a “good person” or misinformed. Trump’s ugliness is too obvious. If someone is deluded and sees virtue in what he does, it has to be a willing delusion. Support of Trump is an act of hate. It indicates that a person has no respect for others, and likes to see them suffer. And even if someone supports him for what they think are rational political aims, they have defined themselves as fascist pigs.

Their ends do not justify their means (their ends suck too, but those might be born of confusion — a little kid can see the awfulness of their means.)

And forget talk of binary choices, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Democrats. You can oppose all of the above morally if you please. It still doesn’t justify support of Trump.

A person may have very legitimate complaints about unjust treatment in our politics and economics. That doesn’t justify supporting Trump either.

There are no reasonable excuses for supporting Trump whether you are Ryan or McConnell or a human prop at a rally or a silent voter who pulled the lever for Trump and never talks about it.

Trump supporters, shame on you.

Repent!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

This next one is written in my stage voice as I anticipated my L.A. show. My writing voice is far superior.

From July 3, 2017:

Falstaff_and Page

7/3/17 Dateline St. George, UtahI’m sure you’ve seen those Facebook quizzes — such as “Which 1940s Movie Star are You?” You answer a few questions and an algorithm tells you who you are. (By the way, I am Olivia de Havilland.)I figured I’d skip the middle-meme, and ask myself the question — who am I in this difficult moment?Hamlet? Maybe, but I am holding out for another character. Too much dithering. Oh no, what do we do with the mean President and rich bastards? To be or not to be? BE, motherfucker! I don’t have all the answers, but I know who I am and what’s up. LIVE AND ENJOY IT. DON’T LET ANYONE ELSE RUIN IT.  Nelson Mandela BE’D in prison for 27 years. Just because Trump is President or your mother marries your uncle two months after your uncle killed your father and you may have some Oedipal thing for your mother shouldn’t throw you into an existential tizzy. Or should you? Yes, when you are young. It is recommended to be still breathing after you make your decision.  Age teaches that suffering and disappointment — even horrible suffering — are parts of BEING — very instructive parts that help form subsequent decisions. I admire Hamlet — I love how he listens to himself speak to figure out the meaning of his individual life — he is anything but a weak crybaby — but I favor a guy lionized by Orson Welles and Harold Bloom — and I love those two great artists too. But is that character me?Macbeth as goaded by Lady MacBeth? No fucking way. I am completely non-violent — I have moral courage but in the physical realm I am a great pussy — just like the character that I hope that I am — he is a real coward in the face of corporeal danger. Plus, I would never put anybody up to violence, or succumb to someone pressuring me to show how much of a man that I am by fighting my way to the top. I wouldn’t believe in using physical force to get one’s way even if I was good at it. Even when violence works the victory is temporary. And although, I never realized it when I was younger, I now know that I care much more about joy and authenticity than I do success. Life was a Lady MacBeth to me for awhile, but I never did a thing that she told me to do.  Trump is Macbeth. He is the prick that his father wanted him to be, and he hates himself because of it. Trump is so far away from his true nature that he doesn’t have a true nature anymore. I need no stain remover to get out a damn spot. I am very thankful that I was blessed with a righteous attitude — like Hamlet, and my favorite.Hamlet spoke to his father’s ghost before the ghost returned to Purgatory. That indicates that Hamlet had a mixed assessment of his father’s character as a man. The ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his, the father’s, death by killing Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, the father’s murderer and the usurper of the throne. The adult perception of the father as a total and imperfect man and not an archetypal figure, the strong influence of the father AND most importantly, Hamlet’s insistence to make up his own mind and be the author of his own decisions, all add up to many reasons to claim hamlet as the character that I most resemble. Hamlet is a writer — he has the character attributes of a writer.Richard III? No. This character is like Trump, but Trump isn’t as interesting. Richard III achieves his nihilistic ends. Trump’s evil work will do damage, but will be aborted. Trump will come to a pathetic end. Shakespeare wouldn’t write a tragedy around Trump. A farce maybe. Shakespeare made an in-depth analysis of the nature of evil with Richard III, and I am just not that evil. I have done bad things, like anybody else has, but I am just not crafty enough to be evil. There is a certain pointless intelligence that evil people have and I don’t have it. Trump, for example, is very cunning, but to what ultimate end? Power for power’s own sake? Too shallow. Hamlet searched for purpose. The character that I love the most, HAS his purpose. In this way I believe that I have become like my favored character — I am a Hamlet who survived. The character I love the most decided TO emphatically BE.I don’t want to be a politician — not an evil one like Richard III certainly, or one who is mixed in his motivations, but positive in some respects, like Hamlet’s father or Henry V. Henry V was a son of a king, like Hamlet, and of the world. He tended toward the good, but was not above the compromises to achieve and maintain power — in order to serve his commitment to the responsibilities of kingship. Barack Obama is like Henry V. He was a writer who sacrificed purity in order to lead. Writers (good ones)  serve truth relentlessly. Politicians (good ones)  try to make the concrete acts of the body politic arc towards the good and true. For example, Henry V cruelly disowned his great friend, Sir John Falstaff in order to establish his authority as king — Henry V does so on the day of his coronation. Barack Obama more gently but just as emphatically disowned his mentor and father figure, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in order to secure the Presidency. Obama had to show he didn’t have the “radical” (they were actually fairly reasonable) views on race that Wright did. It was Obama’s last hurdle to power, and he jumped over it surely and coldly.Falstaff was rejected by Henry V as a buffoonish figure from what he regarded as his childish time as Prince Hal. Falstaff was not concerned with success. Falstaff’s major concerns were goodness and joy. Falstaff was a traitor to his class and potential social standing. I am going to let Orson Welles describe Falstaff with a few annotations from me (see below) — his view is quite similar to that of the great literary critic, Harold Bloom.Oh yeah —- I am Hamlet if he had survived the play intellectually, and I believe that I am Falstaff psychologically, morally and by nature of my disposition. For example, I am eating my way across three time zones on my trip to L.A. to do my show at Jane Morris and Jeff Michalski’s fanatic Salon on Friday, 7/7/17 with Jonathan Menchin and his artistry at the piano.So at 62, I have the joy and goodness of Falstaff and I think my brain works like Hamlet’s brain. Per usual … a hybrid. Presto — a determination made magically without the assistance of algorithms.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

A good post for July 4th.

From July 4, 2017:

7/4/17: Dateline St. George, Utah

I am getting that question quite a bit lately. The question often implies a skepticism — Trump isn’t as bad as you say he is, is he? Our system isn’t in the danger that you say it is, is it? And … I feel something is different, but what is it?

I saw early on a similarity between Trump and his supporters and previous fascists  in history including the fascists of the 1930s and 1940s. So let’s break down those elements.

Nationalism: Make America Great AgainAmerica First (this slogan was actually used by American fascists in the 1930s). If you want to find out about Charles Lindbergh, who was an American fascist leader who parlayed fame and celebrity into fascist prominence in a way similar to Trump’s as the most prominent leader of the America First movement, and about the America First movement itself, read Philip Roth’s historical novel The Plot Against America. Nationalism, in the fascist context isn’t mere pride or concern about one’s country. It is a wish for dominance over other countries. Remember when Trump shoved his way in front of the prime minister of Montenegro at the NATO summit. That was a symbolic fascist move. The rudeness toward Angela Merkel is a fascist move. Trump’s elaborate competitive handshakes are fascist moves. We are mostly in a phase of symbolism on this date, but darkness encroaches upon our democracy.

Enthusiasm for Fascists in Foreign Countries: Hitler had Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, the militarists of Japan. Trump has Russia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia — so far.

Fascism succeeds democratic governments that are widely viewed by the people as being inattentive and irresponsive to their needs. Trump shouts “THE SYSTEM IS RIGGED!” and most people generally feel that way.  Democracies tend to fail when their institutions are dominated by a wealthy few who dominate their institutions. Citizens United, corporatized media, and other ways that the rich dominate the system make people despair of democracy and open to something new, even if it is worse. Trump cajoled voters, “What have you got to lose?” The grounds for Hitler’s rise lay in the Allies’ humiliation of Germany after World War I and the Great Depression. When systems fail something new fills the vacuum.

Totalitarianism. The totalitarian state has all authority in all sectors of life, not merely the government or the leader’s branch of government. Trump is attempting to achieve this aim with his meetings with people from the private economic sector or Congress, and tells them what to do. He told a labor leader in Indiana to “shut up and get back to work”. He tries to assume an authority we have never given to our elected leaders.

Anti-democratic thought. Trump says, “I am the only one who can fix it.” Contrast this to Obama’s “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Trump places no trust in the people’s ability to make their own decisions — he knows best. Of course, even this is a ruse — his concern isn’t the people’s welfare at all.

Management of the state by and for billionaires and generals. Fascism is a state run by and for the rich and the military. When Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex he was sending an alarm about American fascists. Trump brags about “my generals” and says he picked a Cabinet of billionaires because they are the “smartest” people. Trump’s legislative and regulatory agendas favor the rich and the military to the exclusion of everyone else.

Creation of an “other” and persecuting those in that category. Hitler had the Jews. Trump has immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and women — am I leaving anyone out? Take the “Muslim Ban” for example. Trump creates a category of people out of whole cloth — with no serious evidence to base his claims against them — and persecutes them.

Attacks on the press. Hitler used the concept of lugenpresse — the lying press —to discredit any media accounts against him. Trump does the same thing. He talks directly to his followers — through Twitter and rallies and other means — unmediated by the check of press coverage holding him to the facts, because he has convinced those followers that the press are lying and he is the only source of evidence, truth and reality. That’s fascist.

One party state. Trump said early in his administration, “Who cares what the Democrats think.” He later has contradicted that on occasions as a tactical maneuver as he moves towards his goal, but the statement is an escalation of Mitch McConnell’s statement at the beginning of the Obama administration that he wanted Obama to fail. Trump wasn’t just saying that he wanted to beat the Democrats badly in a political contest. He was saying that they were powerless and not to be listened to at all.

Personality cult. The fascist leader must be flattered and praised, and be treated as superior to all human beings. This establishes his supreme authority. The video of Cabinet officers going around the table and fawning on the President shows that there is more than one Fascist in the White House.

Dictatorship. Trump said during the campaign that “the Constitution is a good thing, up to a point.” He was saying that our system could get us killed and we needed a strongman to protect us. Trump routinely disparages judges. He makes a big display of the signing of Executive Orders as decrees from on high. He has re-invented the Executive Order to be a proclamation from the dictator.

Class inequality. Mussolini believed in the “beneficent inequality of men.” So does Trump. The idea that the great businessman creates jobs, and the lower classes should obey him for their own welfare and the welfare of society as a whole is a fascist idea.

Criminality. Robert Mueller’s team of outstanding attorneys currently investigating Trump and Associates include lawyers highly experienced in Watergate, Enron, and Mafia matters, and a lawyer who is also a Russian scholar. Political crime, corporate crime, organized crime and treason. Fascism is government by criminals.

Using the government for self-enrichment. Trump and his family have used their government power to enrich themselves personally on many occasions and we are only six months into his Presidency.

Agitation of supporters to violence in order to intimidate opposition. The situation is bad (but Trump will not likely ultimately succeed — there is a lot more to America than fascism. Those discussions are for other posts.) His fascist rise is a serious threat to our democracy. He will not respond to the current challenge to his power with democratic legal or political means. He is laying the predicate for a violent response from his followers to help him stay in power. I was listening to a Breitbart propaganda show ostensibly about the Second Amendment as I was driving through Utah on Sunday (7/2/17). It was not sponsored by any businesses — but rather by some “foundation” for the Second Amendment — which indicates that some rich fascists are bankrolling getting the show’s message to the “base”. Curt Schilling, the former major league pitching star and current fascist was the guest. He said that the press were all liars and that Trump was brilliant in using Twitter to communicate directly to the people. He said that the disrespect to the President was outrageous and that the left was violent and that at “one of these protests somebody is going to get killed.” Schilling went on to say that Trump was special, and that he was bringing something new to what we have had before and “we must fight for it.” There is an organized funded effort to mobilize violent mobs to defend Trump. Hitler did this sort of thing. And a little of this happened during the 2000 Florida recount at the door outside of the Dade County Board of Elections. In fascism, thuggish behavior replaces political discourse in order to ensure that the same side always wins.

How do we respond?

We are going to have to prosecute, impeach and convict Trump and his cronies. We are going to have to deal with the great social unrest that Trump is fomenting in an attempt to maintain, consolidate and expand his power. Then we are going to have to get our country back on the right track. If we have the government by the mega-rich that we had before Trump this is just going to happen again.

Trump isn’t the first American fascist by a long shot. Lindbergh, Joe McCarthy, Nixon (who ran a criminal enterprise that went far beyond Watergate from the White House) are a few famous ones, but they are always around. We have to be able to name them and do more than oppose them politically. We must cry foul and defend our way of life from these attitudes.

During the Cold War, we were vigilant against communists — another horrible and anti-democratic ideology which ironically shares much with fascism, even as they are seen to be opposite extremes. But the real danger in America is fascism, and has been for a long while because so many Americans are pre-disposed to being fascists. For many, fascism just isn’t that hard of a sell.

Right now, we can protest. I can write this blog. We should keep doing it so the situation doesn’t develop further and greater sacrifices will have to be made. John Adams said that the Constitution would only work if it was supported by “the good intentions of men.”

We need to think, speak, act and write from those good intentions presently. The individual citizen has rarely been as important as he or she is today.

There are more of us than them. And we know what is going on. We have to stand up to fascism every day.

A young woman came to one of my shows and said that she felt guilty because she felt differently in a very negative way about an old friend who voted for Trump. I told her it was because she was no longer friends with that person. They had revealed an ugly aspect of who they were. The woman’s estrangement from a fascist was a personal sacrifice in service of her values. It isn’t a time to be tolerant or nice with these people. Each small act like that young lady’s simple feelings are what we can do to stop the fascists. We must say and do everything that shows that fascism is intolerable and unacceptable.

We must stand up for our country and our souls.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Previews of the coming long term conflict.

From July, 9, 2017:

orwell1

I encountered a Trump supporter last night. “You have a lot of strong opinions,” he said. Seems like an innocuous comment, but he was really denigrating what I had said —saying it held no truth, but was merely a point of view. I had mentioned that I wasn’t a Democrat or a socialist or really even political. I am outraged about an old song of indecency which is now being sung at an intolerable volume in the time of Trump.

“Right, you’re no Democrat,” he said sarcastically. He was calling me a liar in a subversive way like a movie Nazi ferreting out disloyalty to the Fuhrer.

The fact is that he is a liar. All Trump supporters are liars — the dumber ones just lie to themselves. I am now being followed on Twitter by someone or group of people with the handle “America First.” Their last tweet was about Trump being seated near a portrait of a Polish king famous for “driving Islam out of Europe.” Bigotry against Islam is a lie. Terrorist acts are criminal acts — done by individuals. Every Christian shouldn’t be persecuted because fanatics who call themselves Christians murder at abortion clinics. Lies — based on biases with no basis in reality.

As is the lie of dismissing what I have to say as mere opinion. The Trump supported lied about me to steal the power of my words — and this isn’t about me, it’s about the words.

Trump supporters aggressively want to do violence to others, and their lies exist as an attempt to put lipstick on the pig of their malice.

I would never characterize an entire group as being immoral on the basis of their race, gender or religion or other complex belief system — like Islam or Christianity or true American ideals based upon an understanding of our Constitution and our history (not what we’ve always done, but what we believe.)

But I will generalize about a group of people that share simplistic ideas of “winning,” “being great,” and “self-defense” (which is really an excuse to be violent against people that they despise, fear or envy).

War has been declared against us by weak, insecure people who have succumbed to the temptation to be mean-spirited with distorted and perverted minds.

We must defend ourselves from them. And far too many people aren’t ready. Some like Trump. Some are foolishly selfish and think it won’t touch them. Some are confused because they don’t have a basic educational context and don’t know what to believe. Some think we should reach out with Trump nation and try to reason with them in a spirit of gentle compromise.

In the meantime, Trump nation arms — with guns, escalating forms of social intimidation, and propaganda so they can remain focused on dominating us to accept their world view created from obvious lies.

We have to fight a third of our population. (Non-violently! I can’t keep writing about that in detail in every post. Read the home page of the blog if you want to know what I think about violence — violence NOT moral and STUPID strategy.)

Trumpism is a reaction against all the progress that has happened concretely and/or in the national psyche in the past several years. This is our last initiation before changing over to a just society. It is natural that we must fight this non-violent war. We have to pass this test to get the world that we want.

Don’t surrender an inch in word, deed or attitude to what is not right. Live in truth. Be confident and EQUAL to anyone. Don’t betray children, the sick, the poor, Muslims, immigrants, women, gays, ALL races and religions, ideals of economic justice and personal security, and the earth itself — all the things that Trump liars want to maim and destroy.

We are right. They are wrong. We can give them a break after WE DESTROY — their LIES.

Are we perfect? No. When Churchill was arguing against the appeasement of Nazi Germany, he also argued against independence for India. George Orwell, probably the mightiest anti-Fascist pen in history, wrote many anti-Semitic remarks. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, perhaps the greatest document about equality and freedom ever written, and owned slaves. We won’t live in a Utopia after we defeat Trumpism, and we will be far from pure.

But there are a very few times in a nation’s history or in a person’s life when a situation is so starkly black and white.

A cyst of pure evil has been building in America since 1980 when the bankers and the phony Christians took over. It’s holding all the puss it can handle in 2017. We have to lance the boil and become a free and decent country again.

FIGHT!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

Predictive of the Trump pandemic Holocaust.

From July 10, 2017:

i am not your negro

Saw I Am Not Your Negro on a DVD in a bohemian bookstore in L.A.

Big takeaways:

MLK: It’s not just a right, but it’s moral duty not to sit in the back of the bus.

James Baldwin — White means power — beyond race.

Baldwin: Story of oppression of blacks in America is the story of America.

Baldwin demonstrates the role of the writer, as opposed to the activist. The writer tries to understand whole — essential.

The film has an eternal quality — history as a present thing.

MLK’s non-violence led to racial progress, not Black Panther’s violence.

MLK spoke out against Vietnam War — his vision was beyond “identity politics.” This sickness is bigger than race.

I, Rick Thomas, am not your Negro either. Blacks have suffered in the extreme — severely in the extreme — but what has happened to African-Americans has happened to us all. We have all been abused by a violent, greedy and unjust white power structure. Friends die without health care —murdered so that criminals can insanely amass undeserved wealth, we are cheated out of just wages for our work, we are often forced to bow, scrape and defer to simply survive. We aren’t lynched, but many die of opioid addiction caused by pharmaceutical companies collusion with greedy, lazy quacks. Con artists cunningly rip us off in get rich schemes. We keep our mouths shut because we are afraid someone is going to beat us or worse. And those are just a few of power’s greatest hits.

I Am Not Your Negro is a movie for all time and for all people.

The bookstore had a discussion after the film. It was worthless — a geriatric dormitory’s late night bull session. Like a fucking community book club — discussing the movie instead of the life and the world that the movie reflects. The listeners, who were older and at a free event to distract themselves from their boredom, considered everything in the movie in the abstract. Worthless — and irresponsible at this time of national emergency.

One old woman said she grew up in New England and there was no racism there. Bullshit.

She said she was a Republican. An immoral statement.

She said she believed in personal responsibility. I asked when are the rich going to take responsibility?

She said she wasn’t rich. I said no, you just spout their bullshit for them.

I continued that her Republicanism was an immoral act — and that atrocities as bad as the Holocaust are being contemplated by Trump and the Republicans. How can you stand with that health care bill? I interrogated.

I’m Jewish and I am insulted by the comparison.

I don’t give a damn if you are insulted. Friends are dying — being murdered by this insanely unjust health care system — suffering and dying as surely as they did in the Holocaust — and you are concerned with “personal responsibility”?

Another old lady chimed in — this gentleman doesn’t keep an open mind.

Right! I have open eyes. I have no tolerance for what is being said here. While you people are chatting about abstractions the actual world is starting to burn. You dither about what to do. Try just living your lives with honesty.

Then I was thrown out of the bookstore. They were all so imprisoned by their egos they couldn’t see the world around them.

I have nothing against that old woman personally. Friends tell me, “She’s a narcissist, you are just giving her attention — which is all she wants.”

I know. I understand the petty group dynamic of the movie club.

I don’t care if she is aging (we all are) or a narcissist or wasn’t breast fed or that the Rust Belt is resentful because their manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back or the entrepreneur’s self-image is tied to his “good business” on Main Street or that the suburban housewife has an irrational fear of black people and immigrants. I am sick of the armchair psychoanalysis and all of the excuses. I am sick of politeness and civility and discomfort with confrontation. I am sick of prohibitions against expressed anger. ( I wouldn’t have gotten into her face if she could not take it.)

STOP FUCKING LYING! Stop creating a world view to justify yourself. You just saw a movie about a black man who used his suffering from oppression as a starting point to attempt to understand the entire world. STOP WITH YOUR BULLSHIT!

What is worse than the liar, or the lying is THE LIE.

Countering THE LIE is a big part of what I do now. I’m not an activist or a politician, or an organizer. I do my small part. I write and talk. Big deal, I disrupted a meeting of the Dilettantes Club.

I wasn’t silent before THE LIE. They can’t say they weren’t told. They can go back to the same useless bullshit — but they’ve been told. The challenge won’t go back in the bottle.

I wasn’t silent before the lie. They were told.

And you have now been told too.

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I leave L.A. and head East writing forgettable blog post opinions and brainstorming as I go.

One day I addressed a common error (not mine).

From July 14, 2017:

A very good friend and very good person wrote me a note that I vehemently disagree with: Richard you are free to express yourself in our country. Yes, the president and current situation in DC is a nightmare. Agreed. However, Liu Xiabo, father & husband, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, tragically died yesterday; Imprisoned by China’s government.
Liu was not with his family.: his wife & children when he was dieing, of cancer. That’s injustice. Just for speaking his mind in print. Today I honor Liu Xiabo, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. The USA is still the greatest, baby. Sending love to you and Paula…

My response:

I have said that America is one of the most beautiful ideas ever created. But often it doesn’t live up to that ideal. We currently have a President illegitimately elected who has encouraged beatings of reporters at rallies. We have seen a health care bill that would cause huge suffering and would murder, conservatively estimated, thousands of people. John Adams said that the Constitution would not work without the good will of men. There are many people of bad will at the moment. I’ve often heard that I should be thankful that I have the right to speak my mind. First, why should I? No one is better than me. If Trump can talk, I can talk. Secondly, there have been many times in our history when Free Speech has been suppressed. Thirdly, people in power now — Trump and his gang — have encouraged beatings of protesters at his rallies. McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren in the Senate for expressing ideas that I agree with in a manner that I prefer. My work has consistently honored American ideals. My love for what America means fuels my anger against American fascism that disrespects all of it. Free speech is my right constitutionally and self-evidently as a human being. The argument that critics of those in power in the U.S. don’t appreciate how great this country is an old one, and sorry, an illogical one. What China does has nothing to do with what Trump does. And at the moment is the U.S. better than anyone? It is an oligarchy struggling against the last vestiges of a democracy, and the outcome of the struggle is very much at doubt. My question to those who have a “love it or leave it” attitude — do you give a damn about America, or are you just trying to make a few more dollars with the boss? If you love America so much why are you silent at this awful time? If you believe the American system is working, what kind of person are you? Are you an American? We are not living in a time when a political party that I don’t agree with won an election. We are in the middle of a fascist takeover. I am going to keep talking without apology. I feel guilty for the times that I didn’t speak in the past, not for speaking out now. I’ll speak — without apology — and without having to kiss the ass of the current immoral power structure — obliquely by saying “oh we’re better than China.” We have a President who admires autocrats who murder dissidents. If we don’t speak out now, our ideals will die completely. I’ll speak with clarity and outrage and anger — honestly, intellectually, morally, spiritually, emotionally and without a hint of a bow to anyone because no one is going to murder what I love without me fighting back. Fuck Trump, the other fascists and their rich masters in the U.S. and Russia. They have nothing to do with America. I’m America — the Rick Blog is America, not them. And so is anyone else who is trying to do the decent thing right now. My patience with the conservative tsk tsk at freely speaking your mind — about anything really is non-existent. NEVER SHUT UP IN THE FACE OF THIS EVIL!

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I was just blogging in the aftermath of my trip out West.

Then podcasts and videos of performances …

A fun list … I’d now move Grant much higher.

From August 2, 2017:

The Rick Blog Presidential Rankings Worst to First

William Henry Harrison — Incomplete, dead in a month

44(worst): Donald Trump — I’ve seen enough. Can’t beat a fascist coup
43: James Buchanan — watched onset of Civil War with his finger up his ass
42: Franklin Pierce — drunk, useless ancestor of George W. Bush, pro-slavery from New England!
41: Millard Fillmore — early in the lineup of appeasers of the Confederacy
40. George W. Bush — stole his election, lied us into war, stole Treasury for corporate cronies, lost an American city when irresponsive to a natural disaster, let unregulated bankers ruin economy and ordinary people’s lives
39. Herbert Hoover — a Republican responds to the economic and humanitarian disaster of the Great Depression in a typical Republican way; watch the money while the people die
38. Warren G. Harding — lazy, allowed corruption, no foresight
37. Calvin Coolidge — clueless Republican who let things go to hell — all business with no sense of needs of whole society
36. Richard Nixon — criminal, attacked our democracy, executed immoral war, fairly progressive in domestic policy
35. Rutherford B. Hayes — got White House in a deal, stopped all racial progress in the South after the Civil War
34. George H. W. Bush — led avoidable Iraq War I, introduced vicious politics of personal destruction in his campaigns
33. Ronald Reagan — ignited the far-right transformation in our politics and culture that has been so destructive to America for the past 37 years
32. John Tyler — 1840s Southerner, pig
31. William McKinley — the first major imperialist, led Vietnam-type wars
30. James K. Polk — led immoral Mexican War, stole half the country for us, he makes discrimination against Mexicans ironic on top of everything else — it actually is their country!
29. Zachary Taylor: inconsequential hero of immoral Mexican war
28. Martin Van Buren: limited pol, too small for the job
27. Andrew Johnson: didn’t matter, radical Republicans in Congress ran things after Civil War, way over his head responding to chaos after Lincoln assassination, only a Lincoln could meet that moment, certainly not a drunk with Southern sympathies, avoided conviction in improper impeachment
26. Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison(tie): forgettable Presidents from a time of lowest Presidential influence
24 and 23. (Served two separate terms) Grover Cleveland: competent administrator, didn’t further justice
22. Andrew Jackson — democratized institutions, improved national sense, violent racist
21. Gerald R. Ford — pardon me
20. Ulysses S. Grant — underrated, not fully competent, corrupt administration, but an advocate for equality and justice
19. William Howard Taft — professional, lousy leader
18. Bill Clinton — conservative Democrat, meh
17. James Garfield — assassinated, unfulfilled potential
16. John F. Kennedy — ditto
15. Woodrow Wilson — progressive, internationalist, bad on bill of rights, racist
14. Harry Truman — built Cold War foreign policy for better and worse, progressive
13. Jimmy Carter — very underrated, ineffective politically, highest personal character of any President with the possible exception of John Quincy Adams, right on most issues. His failures may have been more the failures of the American people who weren’t good enough for his leadership at the time.
12. Barack Obama — progressive for his time, first African-American President
11. Dwight Eisenhower — hero of WW II, peace and prosperity, warned of military industrial complex
10. Lyndon B. Johnson — would be one of our greatest Presidents but for the Vietnam War — a big but
9. Theodore Roosevelt — imperialist, but also defined early the progressive state — expanded the Presidency mostly for the public good
8. John Quincy Adams — high character, a lonely voice against slavery in his post-Presidency in the 1830s
7. James Monroe — brought permanency and stability to the nation
6. James Madison — um, the Constitution!
5. John Adams — started everything
4. Thomas Jefferson — owned slaves — a horror, everything else was greatness
3. George Washington — great leader
1. (Tie) Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt — what these two men fought for exemplify what the best of America is

Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas

I spent most of the rest of the Summer of 2017 spinning my wheels, responding to news stories, just adding to the social media chatter. I was taking a break without knowing that I was doing so.

I spent the Fall of 2017 focused on a show that I did in December 2017. I wasn’t writing anything but blog posts and fashioning the script for my show. I also did some podcasts.

Writing returned after the holidays. The director that I refer to in the piece wasn’t that good of a guy. He actually didn’t get what I was doing at all, and was a passive-aggressive toxic personality. I resolved to direct myself here, but in fact I never performed again. Stand-up comedy, and all performance died for me. I am a writer.

From January 4, 2018:

Stand-Up Comedy is Dead

Death of a Nation Photo 12:1:17

1/4/18, Stand-up Comedy is Dead

Dave Chappelle is being criticized for a recent comedy performance. People feel that they are disrespected by what he said. For purposes of this piece, the nature of their grievances hardly matter.

The problem is not only in the alleged grievances against the performer. It lies in the form itself.

I know of two changes in the nature of post-WW II stand-up comedy in the US, and now we are on the cusp of a third. (I am sure there are more changes, and I could write about them, I suppose, but I will just discuss what is relevant to the piece that I am writing here.)

Starting point — seltzer bottles and mugging:

Immediately after World War II, comedians were just silly — broad slapstick antics, shrill voices, lots of making faces. Milton Berle was the most prominent. Jerry Lewis was the last of this breed. (In all of this discussion, I will use big stars as a means of illustration. The scores of other performers in each “era” worked primarily in the same way. Also I won’t discuss people who work in a manner before their own time — so no digressions about Lord Buckley and the like. My purpose is to make a cultural observation here — not to critique individual comedians.)

Inflection point one — the emergence of sophistication:

A new kind of comedian emerged in the mid-1950s. The Compass Players and early Second City (SC) were a large part of this development. Compass and SC were not stand-up operations, but they spawned some revolutionary stand-ups. Comedy became intelligent and satiric. Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Nichols and May, Woody Allen, Jonathan Winters, Robert Klein, David Steinberg were comedians who were very smart about cultural and political matters, and human psychology. They made sharp observations, but were not agents of social change. They made ironic comments about what most in their audiences agreed was an imperfect, but pretty good world — all in all. Of course, prophets also worked in this time like Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory. But those comics were also before their time.

Inflection point two — the time of paradox — comedians as rock stars AND as leaders of social change

The incredible success of Saturday Night Live was an earthquake in comedy. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd filmed the Blues Brothers in Chicago when I was on the mainstage at SC. They came and hung out around the theater for a brief time during the shooting of that show, and soon opened a private club of their own across the street. They were as popular as the Beatles.

Something was lost in this transition. Comedians in any era were always about lovable losers who struggled. Comedy — Charlie Chaplin and 1940s Bob Hope —- was a representation of humanity as a giant collective fool who by dint of love, or resourcefulness, or some other positive human characteristic prevailed, in spite of all its, well, human, faults and frailties.

That changed with SNL. Comedians now were people of POWER. They were rich and had a voice. SNL stars largely used that power to be rich, famous, popular. SNL was all about success. (Yes, SNL stars weren’t stand-ups, but they had a great influence on how the audience perceived stand-ups. Steve Martin’s mega-popularity in the mid-70s was the stand-up equivalent to SNL — a stand-up who filled basketball arenas.)

The more interesting development at this cultural moment came out of what two stand-ups (for example) did with their fame and power. Richard Pryor and George Carlin used stand-up as a means to be artists, and to assert cultural, political and moral leadership through their comedy, which was unfailingly hilarious. This tone in comedy marked the high water mark of stand-up as an art form.

The age of repetition:

And then, comedy stayed the same for years. This isn’t unusual in any way. Stand-up trends were like trends in popular music. A great revolutionary sound emerges — Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles etc. and then we listen to it from many artists for a few generations until something new happens. Some superficial formal changes happen, but nothing essentially transforms.

There has been no transformation in improvisation either as a performance form. (The biggest changes in improv has come in its applications — mainly in the field of education, and in its popularity, particularly as a participatory activity. People seem more interested in improvising themselves than in watching it.) New formal changes occur in improv, as in music — Harold, long-form, blah, blah, blah. Each generation thinks they’ve done something different, and chauvinistically think that they do it better, when really no one has ever fundamentally changed or improved upon what Paul Sills and David Shepherd were up to at the Compass in the 1950s. (I can’t help but digress here. Improvisers should pick up their game in this regard. Viola Spolin said that the soul of improvisation is revolution and transformation. She said improvisation should turn into something new. It certainly has for individuals who have become writers, actors, directors, CEOs etc. after a good training in improvisation. But the form itself can be much more. Improvisers either revere the past in an unhealthy way (of course the founders should be honored) or compete with the past and claim superiority to it, when their actual work demonstrates very little that supports the claim.)

So in the age of repetition, we have big stand-up stars today, like Stephen Colbert, for example (he does monologues if you are balking at the classification), that have a social consciousness. But, like Xerox copies, all repetitions are a bit faded. Colbert is famous, but not like the Beatles or the Blues Brothers were. Colbert has power, but not like Pryor or Carlin. He has a corporate job, not a totally unfettered voice. Colbert doesn’t exert the leadership of Pryor or Carlin either. He is limited to having some of his sharply pointed jokes — real social comments — presented as a sideshow on the news. He is not dangerous like Pryor or Carlin. People actually CHANGED after listening to those guys. None of this is Colbert’s fault. He is doing what he can with this cultural moment. Or at least this commercial moment.

Which brings us back to Dave Chappelle. Stand-up comedy is dead. Chappelle missed with his recent comments because he is fiercely holding on to a form which is no longer viable. He wants to communicate only through the joke. It is what he identifies with.

The joke is a literary form born of oppression. Good jokes make fun of the powerful. Bad jokes mock the weak. The joke has always been an instrument of near-justice. The joke has always been a way of dealing with injustice, not the answer to it.

Pryor and Carlin awakened outrage and that was a huge change. Outrage is necessary for personal and social change as a first step.

But we are now past the time of prophecy. The collective soul is screaming for justice. People don’t want to just mitigate their suffering. They want to end it. And the times are complex. We all have some oppressed and some oppressor within us at the moment. We allowed our politics and culture to get to this promising moment of crisis.

The joke can be part of a presentation to an audience, but it doesn’t work as the whole thing.

The consciousness of the world has made a big leap in the past two years, and stand-up comedy is a casualty of that leap.

Things have to be destroyed in order to create the new.

I had a nineteen-year-old kid work as my stage manager on the last iteration of my show which was titled “The Death of a Nation.” Even he would admit he has a lot to learn about stage managing (and maybe won’t pursue it. He’s a good young composer and musician.) But he brought a wonderful spirit to the show.

He gave me one of the most instructive comments that I have heard about my work:

“I love how the show can be very funny and then become very serious and intense. I love how the show can be very political and then get very personal, You tell jokes, make poetry, analyze things, teach and tell a lot of stories. There are all sorts of characters. It’s moving and thought provoking. It works on so many levels.”

That nineteen-year-old is the voice of the future.

I had a director for that show. A very nice guy. We mutually decided not to continue to work together. I am immune to direction. I can only do what feels true to me. So I listen to people, but I ultimately do what I want. I am sure this was very frustrating by my director friend.

The writer is primary in my world.

From now on, I will direct myself. There’s is power in that. I had power in my last show too, but too much unnecessary arguing. Story of my life — being told to do something which goes against my deepest beliefs leads to legitimate rebellion. When I am dead and put in the ground, no director will go in the hole with me. The director, to his credit, said as much when we started.

But we tried, and I got a lot out of it. So, I thank him for that.

We had a major creative difference. The director thinks stand-up is still alive. He mentioned a stand-up that he admired, Paul F. Tompkins as someone who was very aware of everything happening in the room when he works. I wasn’t sure as to why he brought Tompkins up. I think that is strength of mine as well.

I had seen a little of Tompkins on TV, but really didn’t know his work. I looked him up on YouTube.

I only lasted for about three minutes as I watched Tompkins. I thought his act was excrement. And I’m not criticizing Tompkins. I hated the show because stand-up is dead.

Tompkins wasn’t “present” in the room. He had some arch, affected calculated persona that was inauthentic. His tone was defined by what he thought people would find funny.

Tompkins started talking about a funeral that he attended in a very superficial way. He was trying to shock and trying to be glib.

The only thing the writer/performer standing on stage in front of people should be going for is the exploration of the truth. Period.

I wasn’t offended by Tompkins. I just felt it was a waste of time.

I had moments in my show as recently as July 2017 that resembled Tompkins’ inauthentic manner. I had this idea that I would organize my show in three acts: stand-up, analysis, story and poetry.

But that didn’t work either. A piece has its own creative logic. I started the Rick Blog with the idea that at last I could unleash all of the disparate parts of my personality on the world. I keep getting better at doing that.

Genre is a trap.

My friend, the director, who was very generous with his time through most of the experience, understandably lost interest at the end of our common project.

That’s more than OK.

It was good to oppose his ideas. Art needs openings and obstructions to form itself.

One thing I tried to do was go to storytelling and stand-up venues in order to polish segments of the show. The director encouraged me to continue to do so. That direction received an emphatic no. (He accused me of repeating myself in the negative, but in my defense, HE kept bringing it up.)

I really dislike those stand-up/storytelling type shows. I would never go listen to them as audience.

And in playing them, I feel like a jazz musician appearing with the Archies.

I went to one show and people balked at the fact that there were moments of anger in my set. I was told to be more like a woman who told a story about fucking a rock star at a concert when she was young.

I went to one show that demanded strict time limits. Time limits are a good exercise, but I am beyond that. A piece should be concise, I guess, but its length should really be determined by its content.

I always felt uncomfortable and pissed off at these shows because of their superficiality. Most of the acts were pretty dumb.

You might think that I didn’t get laughs at these venues given the bitterness of my observations.

I killed actually. B