Tag Archives: politics

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Real-World Influences On Our Fiction

It’s also possible, particularly with our world as fraught as it is right now, that the sheer gravity of real-world events and conflicts will pull your story in directions you don’t want it to go. These influences are powerful, but they’re not immutable. You have a choice.

I wrote the LonTobyn Chronicle, my first series, in the mid-1990s. The first book, Children of Amarid, had been percolating in my head literally for more than a decade. It changed a bit as I wrote it, but it was a book I first imagined the summer before I started college.

The Outlanders, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)The second book, in contrast, was very much a product of its time, and I mean that in a couple of ways. In that book, The Outlanders, my heroes, Jaryd and Alayna are building a life together and starting a family, just as Nancy and I were starting our own family. When writing in book III, Eagle-Sage, about their young daughter, I drew extensively on our experience raising our first child. And in book II, when Niall lost his wife to cancer, I drew upon the experience of watching my father deal with my mother’s death.

So far, I’m sure none of this is very surprising. When we write, our life experiences shape our fiction — this is hardly the stuff of epiphany.

But looking at books II and III in the LonTobyn series, you can also see the influence of outside events, specifically national politics, on my narrative. I won’t bore you with a deep summary of the plot, but suffice it to say that the partisan rancor between Bill Clinton’s White House and Newt Gingrich’s Congress plays out in a split among the community of mages in Tobyn-Ser. I hadn’t intended this, of course, but I did realize at the time that real-world events were informing my fiction and I made a conscious decision to roll with it.

The next time something similar happened, I didn’t realize what had happened to my books until I was well into the series. I wrote Rules of Ascension, the first Winds of the Forelands book in 2000. In that series, a conspiracy among the magical Qirsi seeks to overthrow the non-magical Eandi courts. Not all Qirsi are involved in this movement, but prejudice against the magical race among the Eandi is already widespread, and, as the series progresses, fear of the conspiracy breeds deep fear, even paranoia among the ruling people.

Jacket art for Bonds of Vengeance, book III in Winds of the Forelands, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Romas Kukalis)I was still working on the second book, Seeds of Betrayal, when the 9/11 attacks took place, and I wrote books three, four, and five against the backdrop of the Patriot Act, the torture of terrorism suspects, the illegal imprisonment of suspects at Guantanamo, and the deep anti-Islam sentiments of the early and mid-2000s. The Qirsi conspiracy was part of my plan for the series all along, but by the time the books were done, I realized that, without intending to, I had written a post-9/11 allegory. Again, I didn’t go back and change anything. I chose to keep the books as they developed. But I will admit to having been caught off guard by the degree to which our world had intruded upon my concept for the books.

And this still happens to me. My agent and I are currently shopping a supernatural thriller that involves, in part, a government agency trying to separate children from their parent. I wonder where that idea came from…

This is, of course, a writing-tips post, and so I am supposed to offer advice. For a number of reasons, I will not tell you to avoid allowing the real-world to impinge upon your fiction. First of all, it’s almost impossible to do. Even if we’re writing in a medieval setting, as I was with the Forelands books, we can’t help but allow some of our world to seep in. Sometimes it manifests in subtle ways; sometimes, as with Winds of the Forelands, it profoundly shapes the finished product. Chances are, though, it’s going to be there in some form. Second, that real-world influence might wind up being a good thing. It may give your already compelling and exciting novel a resonance and relevance that it otherwise would have lacked. And finally, speaking as a historian, this is the reason students of history view contemporary fiction as primary source material. The influence of our world on our books will be edifying not only for current readers, but also for readers fifty or one hundred or five hundred years from now. That’s all to the good.

The advice I would offer, however, is to watch for these outside influences. Understand that you’re not writing in a vacuum. It may be that history’s impact on your work will do wonderful things for your story. Great. But including those elements ought to be a choice rather than an accident. Because it’s also possible, particularly with our world as fraught as it is right now, that the sheer gravity of real-world events and conflicts will pull your story in directions you don’t want it to go. These influences are powerful, but they’re not immutable. You have a choice. If you see your book going places that you didn’t intend and that you don’t like, you can do something about it. Again, the key is to be aware so you can make an informed choice.

We are subject to history’s arc, but we’re not helpless before it. We can allow our art to be shaped by the world around us, or we can make our art a refuge from that world. There is no single right way to do this (a good rule of thumb for assessing any writing advice). Watch for the influence of the outside world on your story, and make an informed decision as to how much of it you want reflected in the final product.

Best of luck, and keep writing.

Monday Musings: How I’m Coping

I’ve written about politics and social issues a lot in recent weeks, and I want desperately to avoid doing so again this week. It’s not that I don’t have more to say. I do. But I feel as though I’d be going over familiar ground, raising the same objections to this Administration, calling attention to new outrages and failings that are simply echoes of the older ones I’ve already criticized. I am weary of outrage, sick to death of this campaign, ready to reclaim the emotional energy and brain space I’ve ceded to it for so many months.

There is more to life than this. I know there is, and recently, as I have pulled back from political websites and social media, I have been taking pleasure in the small things that I enjoy most. Here’s how I’m coping:

Music: Making music and listening to it. The former has been particularly rewarding because for a time earlier this year, a shoulder issue — terribly painful, basically untreatable except for physical therapy, but not truly serious — kept me from being able to play my guitars. I am happy to report that my shoulder, while not 100%, is much better. I’m playing again, learning new songs, building up strength in my arm and hand. Again, I’m not all the way there, but I’m playing again, and that gives me such pleasure.

I’m also listening a lot, mostly to old rock, even when I’m working. In the past, some of you know, I have strictly limited my work-time listening to instrumental music — jazz and bluegrass mostly. But somehow, right now, with all that’s going on in my head, I am able to work and listen to rock at the same time. I honestly don’t know why, but I’m not complaining.

Work: I’m getting work done on several projects, which is gratifying. I have been working on a pair of trunk novels, one that needed editing, and its sequel, which needed editing and an ending. I’m making good progress on those, but I am not pushing myself too hard, and that seems to be a good thing. I’m the first to admit that I am not at my best right now. So rather than beat myself up for not being efficient, I am accepting the limitations imposed by my current emotional state. I work when I can, and when the work doesn’t flow, I take care of other things, be they work-related or house-related or whatever.

I also have a novel that my agent and I are trying to sell and a set of Thieftaker novellas that are in production. And I have other projects at various stages of completion and readiness. On the one hand, I’m impatient for forward motion on all of them. At the same time, I understand that I can only do so much, and that the publishing world is moving even more slowly than usual. I am doing my best to be patient, something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

Getting outside: Fall has been brilliant this year here on the Cumberland Plateau. Shimmering, clear days, cool nights, stunning mornings. I have been birdwatching, savoring my morning walks, taking extra hikes later in the day, taking photos, and generally forcing myself to get away from my computer. Idle moments at my desk lead me to bad habits — social media, political sites, etc. In short, all the stuff I’m trying to avoid. To the extent possible, when the siren call of the web grows too strong, I escape it by going outside and doing something else.

Comfort food for the brain: Throughout the pandemic, I have found it hard to read. Except for political journalism, which, of course, I want no part of right now. The exception is old favorite novels by authors I love. So I’ve been re-reading the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, and have it in mind to read some other old works after that. They are comforting and comfortable, which I really need right now.

Along the same lines, I have been enjoying the television shows of Aaron Sorkin. Most of you probably know about The West Wing and The Newsroom, and I’ve been watching plenty of West Wing, happily retreating to a world in which Jed Bartlet is President. I have also been watching Sports Night, a short-lived half-hour comedy/drama that aired for two years before being cancelled. It was a terrific show about a sports show along the lines of ESPN’s Sportscenter. It was funny and poignant and smart, like all of Sorkin’s work. The network never knew what to do with the show. They tried a laugh track with it for a while, but that didn’t work. And by the time they figured out that they just needed to leave it alone, the show had been mired in a ratings slump for too long to be saved. If you can find the disks, I recommend it highly, particularly season 1.

Nancy: The one constant for me during this pandemic is that Nancy and I have enjoyed our time together. We have been cooking a lot, taking walks together, sipping whisky on the front porch as the sun goes down, and generally counting ourselves so very fortunate to have each other. There’s really not much more to say about this, but as I struggle to maintain my emotional health, I have to acknowledged that I would have broken a long time ago if not for her.

I know how lucky I am — lucky to play guitar, to have music at my disposal, to have a job I love, to have books to read and old DVDs to watch, to live in a place that is beautiful and that offers easy access to wilderness, to have a happy marriage. Please believe that I take none of this for granted. That wasn’t always the case, but this year has shown me the folly of doing so. I won’t fall prey to that particular mistake again.

I wish you health — emotional and physical — and I hope you have a wonderful week. See you Wednesday.

Monday Musings: Covid, Grief, and Lies

And yet, his first act upon returning to the White House was to make a Mussolini-esque appearance on his veranda and ostentatiously remove his face mask.

Last week’s Photo Friday post was about my brother’s memorial service, which took place three years ago this past weekend. As I said in the message that accompanied my image, it was an extraordinary event for those of us who knew and loved him. The phrase “celebration of life” is overused in this context, but that really is how my family and I felt about our time together. It was moving, comforting. We grieved, we laughed, we told stories, and we left on Sunday with the sense that we had said a proper goodbye.

At the time, as much as I drew peace and satisfaction from the celebration, I also took it for granted.

Latest estimates put the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States at just over 215,000. Most of the families who are losing loved ones to this menace, don’t have the opportunity to honor the victims of the disease as my family and I honored my brother. They are not granted the catharsis of a proper farewell.

Many of those who have been afflicted with Covid — the number in the United States currently stands at about 7.7 million — were and are denied the comfort of having friends and family with them to help them cope with the fear, the uncertainty, not to mention the symptoms themselves. Recently, one of our daughters was sickened with Covid. She is well now, thank goodness. Hers was a mild case, and, thus far, her recovery has been smooth and uncomplicated. But even so, I can tell you that those days when she was sick were excruciating for her mother and me. We’re hundreds of miles away from her and we couldn’t get to her. True, we couldn’t have done much for her even if we’d been nearby. But that’s almost beside the point. The isolation imposed upon us by the very nature of the virus, made it that much harder for all of us. We wanted to care for her, to offer what support we could. And though she dealt with it bravely — more than I would have — I’m sure she would have drawn comfort from our presence.

This disease is insidious. It’s not only highly contagious, it’s not only serious, damaging to a host of organs, and potentially deadly, it also has isolated us, exacting an emotional cost that is not easily measured, but is real nevertheless.

And that’s why the President’s cavalier attitude toward his own illness and the spread of Covid through the White House and the Administration’s allies is so infuriating. Just a week and half ago, he was airlifted to Walter Reed Hospital. While under treatment there, he was twice (as far as we know) given supplemental oxygen. He received experimental drug treatments, was given an extensive regimen of steroids, and was, no doubt, under the constant care of an army of doctors and nurses. I believe it’s safe to say that had every other Covid patient in the States been given similar attention, all 7.7 million of them, our death toll would be much, much lower than 215,000.

And yet, his first act upon returning to the White House was to make a Mussolini-esque appearance on his veranda and ostentatiously remove his face mask. In his first public statement during his convalescence, he told us not to fear Covid, not to let it “dominate us.” Days earlier, during a moment of honesty captured in a Tweet he posted while still at Walter Reed, he had referred to Covid as a “plague.” Once back at the White House, however, he seemed to forget his discomfort and his own apprehension. Once again, he peddled the fiction that Covid was little more than a glorified flu.

His motivations here, as in so much else, are completely transparent. If the disease is bad, then his failed response to it is inexcusable. If, on the other hand, Covid is not worthy of our alarm, the inadequacy of his actions over the past nine months is nothing serious. It is the most cynical sort of zero-sum political calculus.

Of course, he is as poor at math as he is at everything else. Which may be why he doesn’t understand what his foolish actions and pronouncements are doing to his poll numbers. The problem for him is that the American people know better. We have been living with fear of Covid for much of the year. We have seen neighbors and colleagues, friends and family taken ill. We have worried about them, cursed our inability to help them or offer the sort of solace and aid we wish we could. We have, many of us, been vigilant about social distancing, about washing our hands and sanitizing surfaces, and, yes, about wearing face masks when appropriate. In short, we have sacrificed too much and worked too hard to be taken in by his denials and lies.

Last week, during the Vice Presidential debate, Mike Pence, the President’s favorite cheerleader — or, if the image of him in sweater and skirt, his pallid hands gripping pompoms, is too much for you, his beloved lap-dog — tried to twist Kamala Harris’ criticism of the Administration’s Covid response into some sort of attack on the courage and fortitude of the American people. His attempt fell flat, as well it should. Harris understands, as does a solid majority of the country, that the Trump Administration and the public are not allies in this fight. The White House, led by Patient-Zero-in-Chief, is interested only in saving itself. It cut the rest of us loose long ago.

Monday Musings: Through the Looking Glass

[Let me begin by saying this: I know the President is ill. I hope he recovers; I understand it’s possible that he’ll take a turn for the worse. I hope the First Lady and the growing number of public officials who have tested positive for coronavirus recover as well. None of what follows is meant to be insensitive to the President’s condition. But neither will I give him more consideration than he has given to the millions of Americans who have fallen ill, or to the more than two hundred thousand who have died from Covid-19.]

We are, at this point, through the looking glass.

2020 has become so ridiculous, so laden with crisis, so fraught with fear and anger and confusion, that it risks turning into a caricature of itself. The Presidential campaign alone has morphed into a farce — a farce with far-reaching implications for economic stability; for racial, social, and sexual justice; for the health and safety of all Americans; and for the very survival of the planet. But a farce, nevertheless.

In my recent posts and my minimal appearances on other platforms, I have hinted at the emotional struggles in my life. My family has been touched by Covid, which has been scary, but, so far, not nearly as bad as it might have been. I have struggled to write and grappled with industry-wide issues. Again, I’ve been luckier than some, and less fortunate than others. And I have been obsessed to the point of panic and despair with the campaign and with the constant bloviation of our infant-in-chief.

It is this last that has had me in retreat from social media and news over the past couple of weeks. Yet, this is also what I am musing on this morning. Because in stepping back from the febrile headlines that assault us day after day, I find myself lamenting a much deeper issue.

Donald Trump is a menace. We know this. He is a White supremacist. He represents an existential threat to the norms and customs of our republic. He is boorish and crude, unintelligent and incurious, corrupt and dishonest and utterly unconcerned for the well-being of the public he is supposed to serve. But perhaps most damaging is the simple fact that he is a spectacle. Each day we are subjected to some new outrage. This campaign, for better or worse, is about him, about his failures and his failings. The good news is that a hard focus on Trump may well be enough to end this shit-storm of a Presidency.

Unfortunately, such a campaign does a disservice to our country. We face serious problems. We should be searching for solutions to climate change, engaging in a meaningful discussion of systemic racism, cementing gains in the fight for LGBTQ rights, working toward pay equity and an end to systemic sexism, building a fairer, stronger economy, and tackling a host of other issues that will shape not only our lives, but those of our children and generations to follow.

Do I want the world to see Trump’s tax returns and the dark secrets contained within them? Sure. Do I see some Karmic justice in his positive test for Covid-19? Yes, I do, even as I hope that he and his wife recover. Am I disgusted by his nod and wink toward the White nationalist Proud Boys? Damn right.

Mostly, though, I’m pissed that these things are “issues.”

Politics is always messy, and Presidential campaigns always entertain their share of nonsense controversies and titillating distractions. The problem is, with this President those things are all we have. Because that’s what he wants. Sure, he complains of being mistreated by the press and demonized by his political opponents, but really all he cares about is attention. Positive attention, negative attention — he doesn’t differentiate. As long as he is the center of the conversation, he’s happy. He doesn’t want to discuss real issues. That would demand work, preparation, concentration. And then the conversation wouldn’t be about him. It would be about us, about our lives, our families, our futures — things that don’t interest him.

Maybe it was inevitable that we would elect a man like this. In an age of reality television and ubiquitous social media, it’s not surprising that we should have a reality-star President who is utterly self-involved. More, Americans often look for qualities in a new President that were absent in his (and someday, please, her) predecessor. Policy-wonk Bill Clinton was followed by George W. Bush, who was not a detail guy, and who was, in turn, followed by the wonkish, erudite Barack Obama. Trump is the anti-Obama: a white racist, devoid of charm, integrity, compassion, and erudition.

That might be too easy an explanation. Honestly, I am too exhausted to care anymore. This President has worn me down. I would love to be passionate about the prospect of a Joe Biden Administration. I wish I had been more excited about all the candidates who sought the Democratic nomination, but Trump ruined even that for so many of us. Yes, we had our preferences, and Bernie Sanders’ supporters were nearly as fervent this time around as they were in 2016. In the end, though, we cared only about finding someone who could beat Trump. Overcoming this blight on our nation was more important than the aspirations and enthusiasm that ought to animate an election season. Sad.

So, here we are, having been confronted with this clown-show, day after day, month after month, for four long years. And, if we’re smart and lucky, no longer than that.

Monday Musings: The Peaceful Transfer of Power

For students of American history, the late eighteenth century is filled with consequential dates and events. The signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781, the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and the ratification of the Constitution in 1788.

The date that marked the true establishment of our American republic, however, did not come until 1800-1801. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, narrowly defeated Federalist President John Adams in a national election. The following March, as spelled out in the fledgling Constitution, Adams and his fellow Federalists voluntarily relinquished power so that their partisan rivals could assume control of the government. This acquiescence to the people’s will, this statement of belief in the greater good, turned the ideal of a democratic republic into reality.

Over the past 220 years, our nation has repeated this ritual literally dozens of times. Democratic-Republicans have given way to Whigs, who have given way to Democrats, who have given way to Republicans, who, in turn, have given way once more to Democrats. And so on. The peaceful transfer of power lies at the very heart of our system of government. Declaring and winning independence was important. Creating a foundational document, flawed though it was, that spelled out how our government would work was crucial.

None of it would have meant a thing, however, if in actual practice America’s election losers refused to accept defeat, to acknowledge the legitimate claim to power of America’s election winners. Only twice in our history, has the peaceful transfer of power not gone as the Founders intended. The first time, in 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln defeated three other candidates, and the nation went to war with itself. The second time, in 1876, America’s leaders barely avoided a second armed conflict by installing Rutherford B. Hayes over the election’s actual winner, Samuel Tilden. The deal struck by party leaders condemned the American South to more than a century of racial tyranny.

Now, nearly a century and a half later, we face the prospect of a third attempt to undermine the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump, knowing that he is deep trouble politically, has refused to say that he will honor the results of this year’s election. He is doing all he can to sow doubt about the integrity of our voting system, particularly mail-in ballots. More ominous, he and his campaign are making overtures to Republican-controlled state legislatures in battleground states, hoping they will appoint electors who support him, regardless of the election’s outcome in those states.

This is unheard of. It is anti-democratic. It is utterly corrupt. It is immoral. Most of all, it poses an existential threat to the continued existence of our nation as we know it. Our Constitutional system, for all its strengths, is completely dependent upon the good faith of all actors involved. The moment one party threatens to ignore the will of the people, to seek power regardless of vote count, the entire structure is revealed as brittle, even fragile. So grave is this threat, that the U.S. Senate, whose 100 members cannot agree on the time of day, much less any sort of policy, on Thursday passed by unanimous consent a resolution reaffirming the importance of the peaceful transfer of power to the integrity and viability of our system of government.

Let’s be clear about a few of things.

First, voting by mail has been going on for decades. It is a reliable, safe practice. Instances of voter fraud in this country are incredibly rare, and that holds for vote-by-mail as well as in-person voting.

Second, there is no difference between the mechanisms used for absentee ballot voting and vote-by-mail. It’s all the same.

Third, as residents of Florida, Donald and Melania Trump will both be voting by mail in that state.

Fourth, Donald Trump expects to lose. A candidate who thinks he’s going to win does not cast doubt on the process. He does not refuse to say that he will accept the results of the election. He does not attempt to enlist partisan allies in a conspiracy to steal power.

Fifth, the greater Joe Biden’s vote total, nationally and in each state, the harder it will be for Trump and his allies to steal the election. This is not the year to vote for a third-party candidate. This is not the year to skip voting altogether. The stakes could not be higher.

I am no fan of Mitt Romney, and this past week he didn’t exactly endear himself to me. But he did say something that is worth paraphrasing. In affirming his own commitment to the peaceful transfer of power, he said that the idea, and ideal, of respecting the people’s voice, of surrendering power to a victorious rival, is what separates us from Belarus, from quasi-democracies and nations that use the rhetoric of liberty to mask dictatorship and authoritarianism.

The United States has honored its commitment to this principle for most of its existence. We cannot allow one man’s ego and insatiable appetite for power and profit to undo more than two centuries of history.

Monday Musings: Court Wars

Sometimes I write my Monday posts on Saturday morning. It’s just a convenient time. And so right now I am at my desk, trying to marshal my thoughts, and rein in my emotions.

I am devastated by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It pains me that her last hours were spent thinking as much about the political chaos that would follow her death as about her family and a momentous life well-lived. Within an hour of her passing, tributes to her stunning career were already being drowned out by the fight over how and when she ought to be replaced. She deserved better.

And so do we, as a nation. I am enraged by the staggering hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues in the Senate. In 2016, after the death of Antonin Scalia, they refused to allow hearings or a vote on Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. It’s too close to the election, they said. The new President, whoever that may be, ought to have the opportunity to fill the vacancy. No, it’s not ideal to leave a seat on the Court open for so long, but this principle is worth the risk. Scalia died in March. His seat remained open for more than a year.

We are now forty-five days from another Presidential election. If the Senate were to follow McConnell’s “rule” on allowing new Presidents to choose a Court nominee, we might have to wait a total of five months. But now Republicans say, There is plenty of time for the current occupant of the White House to select a successor. It would be dangerous to leave the seat open for so long. Fucking unbelievable.

And yet, utterly predictable. Because the real problem is that we have allowed the Court to become completely politicized. The judiciary was designed and intended to be the least political branch of our government. It was supposed to be above politics, the institutional referee between the two elected branches. How far we have fallen from that ideal. Just today, a friend asked me if I could think of any other nation on the planet whose selection of judges was more riven by politics than ours. I couldn’t.

Like everything else in our system of government, in our whole society, all matters pertaining to the courts have become hyper-partisan. It is almost impossible to believe this now, but when Scalia’s nomination came to a Senate vote, he was confirmed 98-0. Ginsberg, as liberal as Scalia was conservative, won confirmation 96-3. I doubt we’ll see another vote like that on a Supreme Court Justice in this century.

Conservatives point to Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful nomination of Robert Bork as the start of the Court’s politicization. They claim that liberal Democrats, opposed to Bork’s ideology, misrepresented his record and vilified him. I remember that fight, which took place during my first semester in graduate school, quite differently. Bork’s very nomination was a provocation. Before becoming a candidate for the Court, Bork was best known as Richard Nixon’s Solicitor General, who, on what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. He did this after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned in protest rather than carry out Nixon’s order. By the time of his Supreme Court hearings, Bork had long since revealed himself as a man who placed party before country, and as an advocate for unbridled executive power. He had been a villain to the Left for more than a decade. He never should have been nominated.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter who started the trend. It’s here now. And with McConnell’s brazen disregard for Constitutional norms in the case of the Garland nomination, it has been escalated to full-scale political war. If McConnell pushes through a Trump nominee before the election, or during a lame-duck session after it, and if, as polls currently predict, the election brings a Biden victory and a Democratic takeover of the Senate, I expect Democrats to attempt to change the structure of the Court in next year’s Congressional session. The Constitution says nothing about the number of justices who can serve on the Court, and it grants to Congress wide discretion in creating and maintaining all levels of the Federal Judiciary.

The problem with this is, as soon as the Democrats lose control of the Senate, the Republicans can change the composition again. And so on, until the Court becomes a caricature of itself, and one of the bedrock institutions of our republic is destroyed for all time.

One solution would be for Senate Republicans to recognize their own hypocrisy and refuse to vote on a Trump nominee. It would only take four of them, and I wish I believed that among the fifty-three members of the GOP Senate caucus there are four people of integrity. But I don’t.

That leaves few options and little hope for a near-term de-escalation of the Court battles. I am as pessimistic right now about the future of our system of government as I have ever been. Another legacy of this dark era in our history.

And I end this piece as I began it: with regret that the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a gender pioneer, a brilliant jurist, a champion for the dispossessed, the disadvantaged, and the downtrodden, should be obscured by ridiculous and unreasonable political machinations.

We should be better than this. I grieve that we are not.

Monday Musings: A Planet In Its Death Throes

Pray for the forest, pray to the tree,
Pray for the fish in the deep blue sea.
Pray for yourself and for God’s sake,
Say one for me,
Poor wretched unbeliever.

— James Taylor, “Gaia,” from Hourglass

This is what it looks like when a planet dies

milkovi SF Bay Bridge
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge under skies turned orange by wildfire smoke. Photo credit: Milkovi, Unsplash

Cataclysmic fires along the American West Coast and the Australian East Coast, in the Amazon and on the Steppe. Once-in-a-millenium events occurring annually. Orange skies over California and the Pacific Northwest.

Storms of unprecedented destructive power striking with unnerving frequency, rendering the term “storm of the century” essentially meaningless.

Deepening cycles of drought and flood. Cities across the world literally being inundated by oceans and seas. Glaciers vanishing faster than even the most aggressive projections told us they would. Coral reefs dying. Species going extinct.

My older brothers turned me on to birdwatching when I was seven years old — a gift that has enriched my life for half a century. And over those same fifty years, North America’s population of birds has declined by nearly 30%. Habitat loss, pesticide use, careless architecture, and, yes, climate change — all have played a role. The result? Three billion fewer birds.

In the spring of 1985, my senior year in college, I took an ecology course for non-majors. It offered a survey of critical environmental issues facing the world, and discussed them in terms history and literature majors could understand. At the time, a scientific consensus had long-since formed around what was called at the time “the Greenhouse Effect,” what we later called global warming, and now global climate change. That was thirty-five years ago.

In 1896, a Swedish scientist named Svante Arrhenius theorized that the unfettered burning of fossil fuels, and the resulting release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, would lead to a warming of the planet. Four years later, in 1901, his colleague, Nils Gustaf Ekholm, coined the term “Greenhouse Effect” to describe the phenomenon. In fairness, Ekholm thought it might be a good thing, as it would stave off future ice ages. But the concept is not a new one.

For decades, global temperatures have been rising to record setting levels, only to be topped the following year. Global temperature records were first kept in a systematic way around 1850. Of the 170 or so years for which figures exist, nineteen of the twenty hottest have occurred since 2000. 2020 is on pace to join the top five.

I am willing to engage on most political and social issues. I enjoy a good discussion, a vigorous debate. There are, though, a few topics on which I will no longer engage. First among them is bigotry of any sort — racism, sexism, homophobia, trans bias, religious bias, etc. Climate denial is a close second. (And this year, Covid denial has joined the list.)

This is no longer theory. It hasn’t been for a long, long time. Climate change is real. Our planet is dying. If we do nothing — if we as a global community continue on the path we’re on now, we will bequeath to our children and grandchildren a burnt husk of what was once earth. Future generations will live in a world that staggers from ecological crisis to ecological crisis, from catastrophe to catastrophe, from flood to drought to famine to pandemic and back again.

We have had ample opportunity to address the issue, and we have squandered one after another. We have absented ourselves from vital global treaties and doubled down on the sort of short-sighted consumerism that got us into this mess in the first place. Like James Taylor in the song quoted at the beginning of this post, I have no faith in our ability to save ourselves. We are a society that cannot bring ourselves to wear cloth masks for the common good. How are we supposed to make the economic transitions necessary to change economic course?

And the tragic thing is, addressing climate change could be a tremendous boon to our standing in the world, to our economic fortunes, to our commitment to education. This is the challenge of our time. It demands bold thinking, new industries, innovation and invention. Implementing the necessary changes would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, replacing and more the jobs lost in the coal and oil industries. Fitting ecological imperatives to our national love affair with cars and trucks could revitalize the American automotive industry. Does anyone really believe that the internal combustion engine, invented more than a century ago, is the be-all and end-all of technological ingenuity? Of course not.

But we have to have the will to change, the courage to say “Saving our planet for our children is worth whatever sacrifices we might have to make.” And, from what I can see, we don’t.

I wish I could end on a more hopeful note.

November’s election is about more than ending corruption, about more than beating back hate and prejudice, about more than the Supreme Court, about more than taxes and health care and social justice. It is about saving our planet. It is about keeping ourselves from a slow and painful march toward extinction.

Please vote.

Monday Musings: Race — Again, and Still, and As Long As It Takes

This past week, I listened to an NPR interview with some Trump voters in Florida. One woman, who swore she couldn’t be a racist because she was of a non-Caucasian ethnicity herself, spoke of the George Floyd killing and the need “to get all the information. Like if he was doing drugs or something like that.” And I wanted to ask her, in all seriousness, what drugs could Mister Floyd have done that would justify a police officer kneeling on his neck for eight minutes until he died?

The Department of Justice this week released additional information about the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So, too, did the police union to which the officers involved belong. It seems that Mister Blake admitted to officers that he had a knife, and that a knife was later found in the car. And I would like to ask the police union and the DOJ, how big would the knife have to be to justify a police officer shooting Mister Blake in the back seven times at close range?

Yesterday, video surfaced on Twitter of Brandon Marshall, a former NFL All-Pro and current ESPN television commentator, having the police called on him by security officers in the subdivision in Florida where he had just purchased a new home. Mister Marshall’s name, apparently, was not yet on a list of people authorized to access the gated community. So the security guys, rather than checking with him, calling the real estate agent, or taking any number of remedial steps that could have cleared up the confusion, called the police. Mister Marshall’s children were in the car and witnessed the entire incident. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But I would like to ask the security guys – and I would hope they would answer honestly – would they have done the same thing if he was White?

I would rather be writing about puppies, or making a top ten list of my favorite Star Trek: TNG episodes, or finding new ways to call Donald Trump obnoxious and incompetent – because that never gets old. I don’t want to be writing about systemic racism yet again. And if I, as an ally, am tired of writing about it and drawing people’s attention to the problem, I can hardly imagine how exhausted my Black friends must be, not only by the conversation, but by living with yet another tragedy, with new aggressions small and large, with the constant emotional abuse that comes with being Black in America.

None of us who are White, no matter how empathetic or sympathetic, can begin to imagine what it is like. It is unrelenting. Try to think back on your worst moments of humiliation, of fear, of righteous anger at injustice directed your way, of frustration with slights that you cannot control and cannot escape. And then imagine putting up with those things all the time. Every. Single. Day. Maybe that comes close.

I’ve had online conversations with several friends the past few days. We’re all progressives, all terrified by the prospect of four more years of Donald Trump in the White House. And we were discussing a point made by a political commentator to the effect that some of the optics surrounding protests in D.C. and in Kenosha, and elsewhere – property damage, confrontations with police, inconveniencing city residents, etc.– might wind up hurting the Biden campaign. None of us want that, of course. But I have to ask of myself, if I were Black, would I care?

Yes, Donald Trump is a White supremacist; I believe that with all my heart. And no, Joe Biden is not. I think a Biden Presidency would be better for all Americans, and for non-White Americans in particular. But systemic racism has been around for a long, long time. Police have been persecuting Black Americans for a long, long time. Black Americans have felt the effects of these things under Republican Presidents and Democratic, under the first Black President, and under all the others.

Is “No justice, no peace” the most political convenient slogan for Democrats right now? Probably not.

You go tell that to the protesters. Because I can’t bring myself to do so.

I don’t have any answers. I didn’t earlier in the year, either.

I can say the words and mean them: Black Lives Matter.

I can and do try to explain to my White friends who don’t get it why it’s so important that we support BLM, that we set our privilege aside and recognize all the ways in which our society and politics and economy favor Whites over non-Whites, that we stop taking personally discussions of rampant racism in our culture. But that only gets us so far, and at a pace that feels glacial.

I can say to my Black friends, I hear you, I see you, I support you.

And I can say to all, please vote.

Photo Friday: Late-Afternoon Vista, and a Message

Last Friday, at the end of another week of work and screaming headlines, I spent my late afternoon, exploring our little college town, enjoying the golden light and ever-changing cloudscapes. As I’ve mentioned before, our town is perched atop the Cumberland Plateau, and we are fortunate to have several viewpoints that offer dramatic vistas of the valley and extensions of the plateau. This particular one, which faces north, is called Green’s View. Nancy and I lived a short walk from it many, many years ago, when our first daughter was just a baby. Despite the passage of more than twenty years, the view has remained stunningly beautiful.

This has been sad, painful week — another police shooting, more protests, another senseless act of gun violence, a national convention that offered little more than falsely apocalyptic warnings, blindly revisionist history, and a cult of worship for a man who deserves anything but.

And so I offer this simple image as a reminder — to you and for myself — that beauty remains in our world, that even as things seem to be getting darker and harder, there remain places of peace and solace untouched by the passage of years. We will get through this. Better days lie ahead.

I wish you a peaceful weekend filled with laughter and love. Stay safe, be kind to one another.Green's View, Late Afternoon, by David B. Coe

Monday Musings: Political Rant, No Punches Pulled

Okay, serious question: When did the world get so insane?

When did people start believing wackadoodle conspiracy theories while refusing to believe that wearing a mask over their nose and mouth would keep them from spreading germs that come from their nose and mouth? When did they start believing a President who says that Democrats at the DNC refused to say “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance, despite the fact that we have video showing them saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance each night of the convention?

When did people who believe in strength and faith and patriotism start to worship a President who blames everyone else for his failings, uses churches and the Bible as props, and seeks help from foreign powers in order to win domestic election campaigns?

When did the richest country in the world, the self-proclaimed greatest nation on earth, become so clusterfucked, so dysfunctional, that it would find itself leading the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths?

How did this happen? I really want to know.

I hated Ronald Reagan – I know many consider him a great President and even liberal historians cite him as a hugely consequential one. But I was in college and grad school during his Administration, and I despised him. And yet, I cannot imagine Ronald Reagan letting Russia get away with placing bounties on the lives of American soldiers.

I hated George H.W. Bush, too. I cannot imagine him allowing efforts to protect people from a lethal virus to be hamstrung by liberty junkies and science deniers who put their own hang-ups before the public good.

I couldn’t stand George W. Bush and I believe he was a terrible President. I cannot imagine him coddling white supremacists, praising anti-Semitic marchers, demonizing immigrants and peaceful protesters.

I grew up in a Democratic household – we ALWAYS supported Democratic candidates for all offices. But we understood that having two vibrant parties made our nation stronger. Just like the Yankees need a strong Red Sox team to make their successes meaningful, so the two parties need each other to engender of productive debate over how to govern a sprawling republic. I cannot imagine the Republicans I recall from my youth – Howard Baker, Alan Simpson, even Barry Goldwater – tolerating, much less enabling, the malfeasance, racism, and disregard for Constitutional norms that we see from this Administration.

We have faced crises before. We have had Presidents of both parties who lied to us, who held beliefs that to this day make my skin crawl, who were overly partisan and too obsessed with their own electoral prospects.

We have never had a President who lied as frequently or as blatantly as this one. We have never had a President who was so willfully ignorant and lazy. We have never had a President who was so corrupt and who surrounded himself with so many crooks and liars and incompetents.

But beyond all of that, we have never had a President who demonstrated such utter disdain for the norms of republican government, for the Constitutional principles that have guided our elected leaders for more than two centuries.

America, it turns out, is far more fragile than we thought. Yes, we survived a Civil War, and a Constitutional crisis in the 1970s. But we are in danger of seeing our democracy collapse because this President recognizes no limits on his power and refuses to acknowledge that Congress and the Courts are co-equal branches of the government. Without respect for our institutions and governing laws, he will soon make us nothing more than another failed state, another moral backwater ruled by a kleptocratic despot.

That day, I fear, is far closer than any of us imagined it would ever be. This President is willing to use the Department of Justice as his own personal consigliere. He believes the armed forces exist to impose his will on the people he is supposed to serve. He sees in every act of governance an opportunity to enhance his family’s wealth. He has far more in common with the tin-pot dictators of what we used to refer to, in our arrogance, as “the Third World,” than he does with any of his predecessors. And his reelection would be a death blow to all that we Americans have held as sacred and good in our system of government.

These are the thoughts – the terrors – that consume me on this, the first day of the Republican National Convention. No, I will not be watching, thanks very much.

But I did watch the DNC last week. I have given to the Biden-Harris campaign. I have volunteered to write letters to voters in swing states on behalf of the Sierra Club.

What have you done?

Have a good week.