The Republican Party – Art of the Bad Deal

GOP - Art of the Bad Deal
Contemporary Republicans often like to grab some semblance of righteousness by claiming (correctly) that it was the Grand Ole Party that became the political vessel to end the immoral practice of slavery in this country, and brought forth the 13th through 15th amendments. However, the Party of Lincoln has been dead for decades now and has more in common with George Wallace. In fact, the obscure political party (American Independent Party) who nominated Wallace in ’68 finally did win the presidency because their nominee in 2016 won. That nominee was Donald J. Trump — 45th President of the United States.

A Dispatch from Trumpistan —

I didn’t know where to start with this one. I’ve been putting this one off for awhile now. The events of the last week regarding President Trump’s (yes folks, he’s our president, just not a particularly good one) saber-rattling with North Korea, a country of 25 billion in GDP, which is less than most U.S. states, his bizarre tweets and statements inflaming the situation, and his continued disrespect for the office of the Presidency, made this one hard to focus on without addressing the elephant in the room.

Last night and today #Charlottesville has been trending and the videos we’ve witnessed have been terrifying, saddening, maddening, and any other adjective you could use to describe what is more or less a moral rock bottom. President Trump described the collection of “Unite the Right” activists from Alt-Right, Neo-Nazi, and other White Supremacists organizations and addressed the violence, and hatred spewing from this Virginia community as such:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.

In this tweet there was not a mention of calling the rally for what it was: white supremacy. As of this writing, there has been one death and 19 injuries. The victims were counter-protesters, ran over by a truck–which quickly sped away (he has since been apprehended by the Charlottesville PD).

If Donald Trump and many on the Alt-Right, Alt-Reich, Corporate Media-Right, and their moderate to conservative enablers within the Republican Party are going to dish out eight years of lambasting President Obama for not using the phrase “radical, Islamic terrorism” then surely Trump and the GOP can be rightfully called out for refusing to call this what it is–white supremacy. A doctrine that has lived on and on in this country despite many grassroots movements throughout our history to alleviate the worst effects of it. One of such effort culminated in the creation of the last third party in this country to replace a major party, the Republican Party. The Republican Party grew out of the abolitionist movement, it grew out of the collective failure of the two parties of the time: the Whigs and the Democrats, to properly address the issue at hand that was fracturing the union and eventually led to a civil war.

Many members of the early Republican Party were profoundly radical, profoundly righteous, profoundly patriotic, and ultimately–they were the progressives of their day. Had I been alive in 1855, I would have fled my former party the Whigs (as future President Lincoln did) and joined this new party in Illinois.

History demanded a new party and drastic solutions to brings us closer to a more perfect union. But that Republican Party is no more and they have not existed for over a 100 years. They are not the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, or even George W. Bush either. They are now the American Independent Party, which nominated George Wallace for president in 1968. In 2016 this obscure but still active political party nominated Donald Trump as their candidate in the state of California. Trump was the first GOP nominee that the American Independent Party ever nominated, Wallace included (who was southern Democrat).

And now the GOP and the movement conservative project started in ’55, combined with the Powell memo of ’71 has achieved their dream–completely one party control of the US Government at all levels. Although if Buckley were alive today I think he’d be likely to call it a failure already, and a nightmare. Who still wants to associate with this madness? Was it worth the change to enact the long-term policy dreams of Ayn Rand worshippers of the invisible hands and the God of money like Speaker Paul Ryan (who has condemned the events of today in much stronger tones than the President has).

The GOP tried to stop Trump, it failed. The Democrats tried to stop Trump, they also failed. Perhaps primarily because they had underestimated how many mainstream Republicans would hold their nose and say: “the Supreme Court.” Agreeing Loudly never had such fantasies (see below).

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 7.42.25 PM
Agreeing Loudly humorist, historian, and noted public intellectual Allan Branstiter understands the dynamics of U.S. elections more than (permanent) Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (“for every working class vote we lose, we’ll pick up 2 or 3 professional class voters.”)

The Grand Old Party of Lincoln and TR is dead. Long dead. The GOP of today made a deal for power, which corrupts, and corrupts absolutely, especially when absolutely given. That deal is now a nightmare for the majority of the American people, and is being felt every day within the corridors of power by longtime D.C. observers. This is the Art of the Bad Deal.

Nothing is sacred with this administration, and the effects of that are clearly influencing the populace, especially the newly embolden and previously hidden dark corners of this country, who were out in full force in Virginia this weekend.

During the 2016 campaign Trump, who is a full-on draft-dodger and once compared not contracting STDs in the 1970’s as his “personal Vietnam”, mocked John McCain (“he got caught, I like my war heroes to not get caught”), criticized the U.S. military and its service-members, lied about his financial charitable support for veterans’ charities, and ridiculed for political purpose, the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier. But none of that matters because the “tyranny of political correctness” or something….

Well please allow me to switch to my political incorrect mode then.

The modern-day Republican Party has become a moral abomination. Notice I’m talking about the political party itself and the issue-stances it carries publicly, as well as privately. I’m not talking about Republican voters. I know many of them are good and decent people who simply cannot bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. I understand that most modern-day voter turnout is motivated first and foremost, by hatred of the “other side.” But think about that for a minute… is this sustainable for even another election cycle or two? 

Trump isn’t some isolated incident and bizarre series of unfortunate events. Rather, he is the natural conclusion and culmination of four decades of political, economic, social, and cultural trends in American life.

But while many of the voters that supply the Republican Party with its electoral power may be motivated by fear of immigrants and terrorism (see: 2016 election, Trump won on voters who cited immigration and terrorism as their top issues, Clinton won on the economy and foreign policy). Not only did Trump win in the manner that this website, on its podcast feared back in 2015/early ’16, through running a campaign on overt themes of white nationalism, and fear-based rhetoric around immigration and terrorism (all irrational fears, because nearly everything else is what is actually more likely to harm or kill you), but its perhaps more important to note why this is the strategy of the GOP now, rather than how.

I would argue it is to provide distractions from the policies that otherwise, the vast majority of the American people would never sign onto. It is the same agenda they have been trying for and striving toward for decades.

1. Elimination of social insurance programs (the incredibly popular Medicare, Social Security) and other cuts to social service programs;

2. Privatization of as many public services as possible (up next: education); and,

3. Continuing to rig electoral laws to their forever advantage.

Anti Republican Cartoon in 1860.jpg
1860 political cartoon lampooning the then-new and righteous Republican Party, which started as a third party that grew out of the abolitionist movement to become the legal and political vessel for power when the major parties of the day (Whig and Democratic) proved incapable of reform, and incapable of rising to the historical moment. We are at a similar crossroads today….

Republican policy aims (long-term) are what encouraged them to go along with this…  it is what encouraged them to sign this bargain–the Art of the Bad Deal, and while it is (and could in the future now that the path is clear and while the Democrats remain incompetent) electorally successful, it will ultimately be long-remembered and the beginning of the end for the once-proud GOP, a party formed out of the abolitionist movement, formed with righteousness on their side, only to be reduced to an intellectual and moral embarrassment.

Joe Scarborough has left the party. Evan McMullin did in 2016. While others have joined it, like West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.

That being said, this version of the Republican Party, at least for me, has actually validated some of the better rhetorical pieces of authentic American conservatism (which I hold does not exist as a relevant political force anymore: hence my often-told joke “conservatives don’t exist, Democrats don’t exist”) that sound nice to some if not many, but that we now know the Republican Party is completely unserious about.

Liberals and progressives and moderates (because centrists don’t exist, except in think-tanks and Democratic candidate creation labs) alike should be thinking locally, should re-engage with federalism and constitutionalism, and whether you value or consider yourself religious or a Christian, it is of vital national security and civilizational importance that we re-engage with our faith lives, because there truly are a lot of good lessons to be learned there, and what is currently characterizing Christianity in this country cannot continue.

There is no monopoly on civic virtue, belief, patriotism, etc. But there is the law and theory of dominance politics. Therefore, we cannot let what happened today and last night in Virginia become a national normal otherwise we are doomed to permanent civic and societal decline.

In addition to those silver linings, the GOP and this current administration have accidentally given us a couple of gifts–if we utilize and recognize them as such, and if we snap out of the “history is already written” syndrome that has washed over so many good-hearted Americans, who feel increasingly hopeless in 2017. In years past we had to do some research and infer certain coded themes. Those days are no more. Things are open and notorious now, clear and obvious.

Tucker Carlson replacing Bill O’Reilly symbolizes the distinction between the old “hidden or more disguised” GOP demagoguery, and the new obvious kind by going after not just illegal immigration, but the immigration population generally.

This obviousness is similarly true within government itself. The GOP has long been a partner with the Corporate State. They were the first ones to sign onto the Corporate States of America (founded in 1971, their constitution: the Powell Memo) and their corruption and cronyism, and evidence of big business buying out and colluding with big government to enact the agenda of corporate American, rather than the preferences and beliefs of the vast majority of the American people, manifests itself quite clearly in someone like Secretary of State Tillerson, who is literally the CEO of Exxon Mobil.

This isn’t hard to do anymore. In Trumpistan–no one is even bothering with the dog and pony show, no one is even trying cover up the grift, graft, and rift-raft. And the American people, especially the young generation, the largest one in our history, will long-remember this. Generational solidarity and class solidarity is more likely to happen in our time than ever before.

The major political parties, while legally entrenched with power for now, and economically and financially secure, with propaganda networks at their disposal, despite all these advantages–they are eroding before our eyes. Armed with the traditional sources of power, their societal credibility and integrity has hit rock bottom. A bottom from which it may never emerge from.

So what now? What am I proposing? How do we unravel the Art of the Bad Deal and save the New Deal? How do we save democracy in this country, constitutional governance, and keep this country from unraveling in our time?

It’s quite simple to me now. We have to be for and positively contribute to whatever political movement and counter-force (and the energy and evidence exist everywhere you look right now for the possibilities) that drives the Art of the Bad Deal and this Republican Party into electoral irrelevancy and into the dustbin of history.


A Nation of Strangers

An update on my call to “pierce bubbles” from just after the election. Here is my report of where things stand and my take on what the mood of the electorate is.

Earlier this spring while speaking with educators and mentors of mine who were visiting New York City from my hometown in the midwest, a voice called out to me “you live here?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do”, I replied. A politeness that does not leave me just because I’m in Urbania now, which is filled with politeness by the way, it’s just a different sort of politeness. And it’s politeness that demands awareness of impoliteness.

“I’m sorry” she quipped, meaning it as a joke and an insult. I did not take offense, other than to say that I liked living here and that I chose to live here. I was not aware that I am a person to be pitied for living where my family chose to settle.

In the same month, the long and destructive journalistic, or as he would prefer it to be called, “political analyst” career (i.e. his opinion) of Bill O’Reilly has gone up in flames, ending with a 25 million dollar pay check, because of course it did. Trevor Noah cleverly covered this occasion with a takedown of O’Reilly that has been done time and time again by Jon Stewart before him, but he brought something to the forefront that I think is revealing of my entire efforts to “pierce bubbles.”

Bill O’Reilly is and always was a caricature of what the American mind and spirit has become. Spewing rhetoric that divides us, spending more time on fighting against something than fighting for something. His world of make-believe American history, faux virtue-signaling, attempts to monopolize patriotism, and assassination porn became our own for many Americans as Fox News and other corporate media outlets became consumed by the “sensationalism and conflict bias.” And that’s what the real bias in the media has always been. O’Reilly pushed his fears of the “other” onto the American people on a nightly basis. His comically absurd story of visiting the famous Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s in my view, is the most striking example of his worldview, and what has increasingly become–a defining reason why we’ve become a nation of strangers.

I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patron-ship. … There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea. — Bill O’Reilly

O’Reilly had built his entire view of black culture and the capital of black America–Harlem, from stereotypes, hearsay, and never sought out sources that would disagree with his viewpoint because most of our mainstream political discourse has just been reduced to a Google search (i.e. google something to confirm what I already think and want confirmed). The rare times he sought out opposing viewpoints — O’Reilly would yell at them at the top of his lungs on his cable news or talk radio program.

Folks, we’re a nation of strangers in 2017 and we have been for some time. The United States of America is not just many different states but many different states of mind. And this is actually part of the reason why we’ve been so dynamic and vibrant historically. But this has always come with a steep price.

What this election has revealed to me and what subsequent events have revealed since is that our American political factions hold no respect for one another, and that this disrespect has reached the personal level.

If we make it through the next four years, I can only hope that both parties do something to remedy this, because until we have removed all of this type of rhetoric and basic lack of civility, decency, and respect from our systems, this nation will continue to be hopelessly divided.

If our two major parties are incapable of doing this, which is especially saddening and maddening when you factor in just how similar they are about the big ticket economic and foreign policy issues, then a viable new third party movement will be needed, not only to address the growing divide between the political and economic leaders and the people, but to also serve as mediator and bubble piercer between irrational appeal to D vs. R, American against American.

Until next time, take care of yourself out there.



The Hero’s Journey: Meta, Myth, and The Force Awakens

by Troy M. OlsonThe Hero's Journey

First of all,

“Calm down, nerds!” – Wife of the Year runner-up (because my wife won this year)

An amazing response from opening night when a new-to-Star Wars audience member was asking her husband a question related to the expansive and unfolding Star Wars universe and three twenty to thirty-something year-old males in the row behind hyperventiliated and attempted to hush her.

Second of all,

Thank you, Devin Faraci.

And finally, my review:

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, especially upon further viewings.

While it is great to see so many general audience fans excited again for the future of the Star Wars film mythology, canon, and universe; it is mildly annoying to see so many so-called “fans” make non sequitor attacks against the creator of this mythology and film series, George Lucas. There are very few public figures in recent years who have endured more unfair, unrelated, and hyperbolic criticism than the man who created the Star Wars franchise, among other things he has accomplished. At least when political figures are criticized, there are often big things (rights, liberties, livelihoods) at stake.

But I did enjoy The Force Awakens, and the following will focus on what I thought was “good” about it, as well as a passing mention to a few areas that I thought were “bad.” The “ugly” portion has little to do with the film and more to do with certain aspects of the fan base (whether diehard or casual, it’s hard to know exactly).

This film did exactly what the first Disney-era Star Wars film needed to do. First things first,

The Plot:

(Spoiler Alert!! But I feel like there should be a limit to how long someone should be able to play that card).

Act One: the Set-up of the Political Situation in the Galaxy

Poe Dameron puts (Princess Leia) plans into a droid, BB-8 (R2-D2), who goes on a special mission to find Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Ben Kenobi), who has vanished/been in exile for many years. Along the way, the droid stumbles upon our new hero, Rey (Luke Skywalker), on the desert planet Jakku (Tatooine), who then runs into Finn (Han Solo), and they go on an adventure together, eventually leaving Jakku (Tatooine) behind.

Act Two: the Mentor and the Passing on of Knowledge

Our hero Rey (Luke Skywalker), receives mentorship from an older character, Han Solo (Ben Kenobi) who is our connection to the past few decades of events which have occurred off-screen (building of a New Republic and the rise of the First Order or in the case of the original film, the events of what became the prequels).

Before we enter the lead-up to the climax of our story, Han Solo offers our hero, Rey (Luke), a job working with him on the small crew of the Millennium Falcon.

Act Three: Destroying a Super-weapon

The good team, the Resistance (Rebel Alliance), which is more diverse and in touch with nature, and follows the Light Side of the Force, fights against the “machine” Government — the First Order (Galactic Empire), who secretly follow the Dark Side of the Force.

To protect their central base from certain doom after a frightening demonstration of the super-weapon destroys the Hosnian System (Alderaan), Starkiller Base (the Death Star) is attacked and a narrative time-lock is placed on the climatic battle of good vs. evil. Once the plasma of a nearby star is gathered into Starkiller Base, it is ready to fire (once the Death Star clears the planet, it is ready to fire) on our heroes.

The Good:

This is probably the funniest Star Wars film yet. The new characters were great, especially the series’ new protagonist, Rey, portrayed by Daisy Ridley in her first feature-length film. The other new main characters, Finn and Poe, were also wonderfully portrayed by John Boyega and Oscar Isaacs. Everything that was new worked very well in terms of character. Even BB-8, like R2 and Chewbacca before him, worked well in its ability to convey emotion to the audience without any dialogue that the viewer can readily understand. It speaks to the solid, universal, mythical foundations that are at the core of this unfolding saga. While it did not immediately jump out to me on the first viewing, I also am now digging the new Darth Vader, Kylo Ren.

So while the new characters, especially Rey, worked well for me, arguably, a more scrutinized portion of the film was always going to be how the beloved “legacy” characters were handled.

For myself, the most important character isn’t even a character, rather it is the score of John Williams, who is the Mozart of film scores.

The score to The Force Awakens did not immediately jump out at me, although it works really well within the story. After further viewings, I’m happy to report that at 87-years young, Johnny “Baby” (note: John Williams calls everybody “baby” and because he is a jazz musician, that is awesome) still has it. The score was wonderful and operated as its usual companion piece to what has always been a cinematic and visual treat (2D version that is, the 3D version, like all 3D films is just too distracting for me, but I digress).

The characters in the story were handled with the outmost care and respect. Most important, the story decisions made sense. Han Solo was great. The film is elevated to another level the minute Harrison Ford as Han Solo again enters it. Like many of the new characters, Solo was charming and funny. In a way, this is the most Han Solo we have ever seen him. While previous films alluded to his exploits and overall scoundrel-ness a great deal, this is the first time we see him in the middle of an adventure like that on-screen.

Not far from Han Solo is the always-loyal Chewbacca, who shines in this film and serves as an almost R2-D2-esque role in being the sidekick that helps our main characters get out of trouble time and time again.

Princess Leia, although a little light on screen time (I will get into this more later), was very much the character I imagined her to be at this age. She is a fighter and a scrapper, not a Princess or a completely political-figure. It also alluded nicely to the fact that she is very much, still a Force-sensitive and is in tune with the Force, even though she may have never trained as a Jedi officially (does anyone really anymore?). Leia still has it, and her banter with Han, her estranged partner, is both short and snappy (a la Empire). Carrie Fisher does a solid job, especially considering she has not acted in awhile. Beyond the film though, pretty much every statement she made during the press tour was priceless. If you haven’t seen her one-woman show or do not know too much about her when she isn’t playing a space Princess, do yourself a favor and embark on a tour of her witticism.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the continuation of Star Wars without Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The first draft of the 1973 screenplay was titled “From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” for a reason. Luke’s story or hero’s journey may be over, or passed on to the next generation, but that does not mean his character arc is over. Probably one of the most controversial choices in the story was going to be the way they handled Luke one way or another. At least for this film, I have to say that they knocked this one out of the park. As much as I would have liked to see more of Luke, I completely understand this design decision. When a friend   and co-writer of mine and I were talking about what the story of Episode VII should be, we had trouble coming up with a serviceable story with Luke in it. He overwhelmed the narrative because of the heights we left him at in the previous chronological installment (1983’s “Return of the Jedi”). It makes sense to take him out of the narrative in the present sense and turn him into the over-arcing “MacGuffin” of the plot. Because of his importance via absence, this story decision works really well for this film, and also sets up the next two films in the “sequel trilogy” really well.

Speaking of plot devices, in 2015, “meta” was all the rage. From “Jurassic World” having a character reference how the first park (movie) was the “real deal” to The Force Awakens having C-3P0 referencing people wondering about “his red arm” and how he got it (hint: that was directed at the audience). There were so many fourth wall-breaking references that I lost count. So lets just go macro with it. Each of the major returning characters was in large part, written from a real-world perspective of how the audience sees each actor.

This movie isn’t just the first Star Wars film with the original cast since 1983, for many hardcore fans it was the first time seeing these actors again. It doesn’t matter how many times you remind everyone that Carrie Fisher has been one of the most successful script doctors in Hollywood, and is a very successful memoirist. Or that Mark Hamill has been a very dynamic and prolific voice actor, etc. To so many fans that operate at the pop culture surface level, the tag line of “where is Luke Skywalker?” could very well be “where is Mark Hamill?” Princess Leia being a discredited noble within the New Republic (not the once-solid, now professionally mediocre policy journal but the current intergalactic government situation in the galaxy far, far away) could be seen as a commentary on her being Hollywood royalty (Fisher is the daughter of two movie stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”), which she shunned to be a writer and fighter. After all, being the offspring of Darth Vader would have its political obstacles, so it would make more story-sense that Leia is not a viable political figure in this galaxy anymore.

My favorite meta commentary is that of Harrison Ford, the only original star that never seemed to love his or her association with these movies. “You’re Han Solo” asks our heroine Rey, “I used to be”, replies Ford, I mean Solo. It’s super corny, but it is in-season and it works very well in this film. Because like the original film, we need a Star Wars in our lives. It is fun. It can be deep if you want it to be, but it can also just be a fun and thrilling adventure. The world is depressing enough at times. We all deserve to go into the theater and go on a journey into our imaginations.

Star Wars is successful because it taps into a very deep and psychological human need, not just to be entertained and delighted, but it speaks to our need for mythology. Our need to explain and understand the world.

The most important question I had going into this as a film fan, and a Star Wars fan, the question that needed to be answered in the affirmative for me to enjoy it was: Does The Force Awakens feel like a genuine continuation of the enthralling and endlessly compelling mythology told via the medium of film, as created all those years ago by George Lucas?

For me at least, it did feel like the genuine continuation.

The Bad: 

LA Times has one of the more negative reviews of the film I have seen and they bring up some interesting points. I don’t want to stress the bad too much, it has been repeated elsewhere by people who get paid to make these observations or opinions. I’m a film and Star Wars fan at the end of the day, so I’ll keep it brief (note: my version of brief).

No surprise given my deliberate description of the plot, The Force Awakens is highly derivative. It is so derivative that Lucas should have probably been given a “Story by” credit in addition or instead of the “Based on characters created by” credit. Speaking of Lucas, now that he has settled into a Gene Roddenberry post-season 2 of Next Generation-role, I could not help but notice the lack of the distinctive visual styling with shot composition and inventiveness, as well as the world-building of the narrative (mostly in terms of the stakes at hand: what are the politics? factions?)

Part of the weaknesses could be a course-correction gone too far. The more likely scenario though, the film was trying to replicate the original Star Wars as much as possible, and years of subsequent releases of further information and detail of this beloved galaxy have blinded us to the fact that if you just sit down and watch the original Star Wars without any other knowledge of anything, it is very similar to how little information you get in The Force Awakens. Chalk it up to perception and the “mystery box” at work.

The Ugly:

Nothing to do with the actual film itself was ugly, however:

The marketing campaign was cynical in certain aspects (constantly reminding fans of all the practical effects used, etc.), certain segments of the fandom’s treatment of Lucas continues to be embarrassing to watch, and some in the media picking up on the most negative aspects of Star Wars fandom is unfortunate (example: a few lone trolls and hateful people saying outlandish comments knowing the gullible and clickbait-based internet news media will pick it up).

The Bottom Line: 

Ultimately, who cares what I say, because the results and bottom line speaks for itself. This new Star Wars film is the most successful since the original Star Wars. That’s right, it may be blasphemous to say it, but The Force Awakens is already more of a phenomenon than The Empire Strikes Back, objectively speaking. Although, the original will no-doubt still hold the top spot (and probably always will).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Box Office Mojo: The Force Awakens broke the all-time domestic record and is on track for top-2 or 3 worldwide all-time record. It recently surpassed the adjusted for inflation box office of The Phantom Menace to become the 2nd most successful Star Wars film at the box office but has some work to do to top the original Star Wars, which itself has benefitted from re-releases to be fair.

Academy Awards: will likely become the most nominated Star Wars film since the original film.