Struggling with Dystopian Fiction in the Trump Era

Lately I’ve been finding that reality has been impacting my reading. I’ve been reading a decently written book, Trackers: A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller by Nicholas Sansbury Smith, that takes place in the US after a North Korean EMP attack that wipes out the entire US electrical grid. The nukes which trigger the EMP bursts are delivered by aircraft, which are flown in at about 50,000 feet where the nukes are detonated for maximum EMP effect. A container ship that was formerly outside the EMP zone sails up the Potomac and detonates a nuke that wipes out much of DC. The end result is a nation brought to its knees from the total power outage and North Korea being reduced to a crater from the retaliation strike. The book is a reasonably well-crafted piece of fiction that was obviously decently researched. After I was part way into the book I did some research and discovered that it would take at least three years to partially restore power to limited areas in the US if this actually occurred.

A few years ago I would have had no difficulty dealing with the material in the book. We’re technically still at war with North Korea; an uneasy cease-fire from 1952 or so is what stopped overt action but a peace treaty was never negotiated. The current regime is less than stable and a substantial threat, but diplomatic solutions have still been actionable. With our current administration, however, diplomacy is not really an option, neither is anything remotely in the range of a reasonable response to anything. In the book the aircraft transponders are rigged to give an IL 28 bomber the signature of a Chinese airliner, which is how they penetrated into our airspace. I’m not certain whether or not this is indeed possible, however, the end result, however, I’m finding to be entirely too plausible particularly when taking into account the current occupier of the White House.

The EMP situation, resulting radioactive fallout, and corresponding challenges on the local and national level are a large part of the story, but there is a secondary plot, which brings a murder/mystery/thriller aspect in as well. I would like to see where it is all leading, as well as how it is resolved, but I have found the over-arcing premise to be entirely too plausible. Something that I thought only a year ago would be a sufficiently far stretch from the possible has become entirely too much of a plausibility for me to enjoy the book. Given our current administration I can’t help but find myself running through the scenario and taking it seriously both as a former infantry officer and as a middle-aged father with a 12 year old daughter. I find myself looking at how badly out of shape I am, how ill-equipped my household is to deal with this potentiality, the reality that we live in one of the largest cities in the country (Chicago, a potential target), and the poor potential for food foraging, and hunting opportunities afforded to such a place, not to mention the masses of potentially dangerous clumps of humanity competing for the same limited resources. The end result is not one that bodes well in this type of scenario.

I’ve never been the paranoid doomsday prepper type. I do love dystopian science fiction novels but most of the ones I’ve read were improbable to say the least. When the potential for the fiction to become reality starts to encounter a blurry line my enjoyment level drops significantly. I’ve stopped reading the book because I’m finding myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the premise. This is the first time I’ve encountered this type of a reaction to a work of fiction. I have quit reading things before that were disturbing either from the levels of graphic violence present or predation upon children, which I simply can’t stomach. But the reality being presented in this book is a nightmare that seems entirely too plausible in today’s environment.

I must say that I do want to finish the book, because the writer was definitely doing his job. The book is interesting, holds the reader’s attention and the characters are definitely believable. The issue I’m having has nothing to do with the writer, indeed the writer has provided a premise where the willing suspension of disbelief is all too easily acquired given our current political scenario. My issue is that it is all too possible that this type of an event could happen in the near future, and it almost seems like the current administration is openly courting bringing it to fruition. This administration has created international turmoil through its actions and statements, both with our allies and regimes we’ve historically stood against, not to mention cozying up to the current ruler of Russia who is using the opportunity to be more openly aggressive in the European regions, and fielding missiles that were developed despite treaties established with us to prevent further escalation.

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They’re Marching Everywhere!

The sun is shining today, of all days, and has been since I hauled myself out of bed. It is well past dawn and on into the mid-afternoon now, and I’ve seen hope today take form in massive protests taking place all over the country. Here in Chicago almost 250,000 people joined the Women’s March today, while numbers came in around 500,000 in Washington, DC. And those were the two largest of many across our nation, and elsewhere as well. Today’s march in DC dwarfed yesterday’s inauguration attendance, and sends a clear message that the people of this nation are not content. They are sending the orange man a clear message that they are uniting to stand up for their rights, and their way of life. They will not cower under his glares and misogynistic behavior.

I’ve been watching the images scroll in from across the country on my computer, and as they have my feelings of pride in my country have been being restored. More precisely, my feelings of pride in my fellow Americans have been as I have watched this movement gain momentum, and the numbers continued to grow. Here in Chicago the organizers had to adapt and then readapt as the people continued to arrive. They were expecting around 22,000 initially, from what I’ve seen, which quickly morphed to 50,000 and some changes in rallying points. By 10:30 this morning the numbers hit 150,000 strong, then, two hours later close to 250,000 people were marching, chanting and showing their solidarity against an incoming administration that seems hell bent on destroying years of social progress, denying people of their civil rights and turning our planet into an ecological disaster zone.

This in and of itself is such a ray of sunshine at this point. Seeing that there are so many folks out there that aren’t blind to what is at stake in our country gives me a sense of hope that somehow we just might make it through this somehow. I’m not naïve; I know that it is going to be a long haul, but these are truly significant numbers of people openly aligning themselves in pushing back against the darkness that is threatening us. It gives me hope that our country isn’t up for sale to the highest bidder, and that we’re not going to go quietly into a lockstep goose-stepping future.

I’ve seen so many photos shared by my friends of the marches in their areas across the country. Smiling faces as they held their signs with their friends at the staging areas and along the march routes, hand made signs that some had obviously spent some time creating. These were people DOING something about the situation we are faces, people who care about the direction of our nation, and its policies both at home and abroad. Women from all walks of life, many there with their families, came together and made a massive statement for everyone in the world to see. Smiling faces filled with determination to do the right thing and stand for justice and all that is good here.

I’m thankful to all of them. And I’m thankful for the folks who, while they might not march, contribute to the cause in their own ways, whether it is writing letters to their representatives, volunteering in their communities or whatever they can do to help move this forward and keep hope alive in this country, particularly hope that we can continue to move forward as a diverse country, filled with a rich cultural heritage that welcomes difference while guaranteeing equality for all. I don’t want to see that wealth squandered by despots, nor do I want the principles that this country was founded upon to be lost. There is too much at stake for us to let that happen.

I’m hoping that this is a sign of things to come and that the American people will continue to stand up against corruption. We should be that shining light of freedom, equality and justice that we have dreamed to be and so many have come here to find. We are capable of so much good, so much more than the incoming administration represents. We have the ability, the strength, and the knowledge. Now, with the advent of these marches, I’m also seeing that we have the motivation to take the steps to make ourselves heard and to keep driving forward, not set the clocks back fifty or sixty years to the halcyon days of the straight white male. We are ALL Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious creed, gender or orientation, and every single one of us will be heard. After all, in this country the government is SUPPOSED TO WORK FOR US.

20 January 2017

I’ve been under the weather pretty much all week, between the onset of a cold over last weekend followed immediately by a stomach virus that is a bit on the painful side.  This was my first week back in the saddle in an academic setting, so I taught through it, but fortunately only had to push through two days at work.  It has also been pretty much a solid gray week, with one morning where the sun poked out for about an hour, and rain off and on for at least the last three days.  It’s starting to blur.  Today was a sad day all around what with the orange man taking office and immediately removing the climate change, LGBTQ and civil rights pages from the White House web site.  I’ve been trying to stay away from the book of face, but that has been difficult.  All and all, it has been a pretty dark week and the stomach virus has pretty much eliminated seeking succor in food.  Tomorrow there’s a women’s protest march in Chicago that my wife wants us to take part in as a family.  My daughter wants to make signs, but doesn’t want to be in a crowd of 50,000 people, which I understand.  I’m not a crowd person in the slightest and I have some safety concerns, but the cause is just.  I’m also concerned about whether I’m going to feel well enough to do it.

I am having difficulties with mood management this week due to all of this.  First, it has been so dark around here for the past seven to ten days that it is taking its toll despite the morning use of the “happy light.”   It is our breakfast companion.  It has been positively dreary outside between the constant overcast skies and the constant damp wetness of everything.  Even turning the lights on inside only helps a bit.  I could pull the drapes and drop the blinds on it, but then I’d really feel like I was living in a cave, something I don’t think would help.  Then there’s the whole being sick thing, and while I am thankful that the cold aspect is over, this stomach ailment is a major drag that is also affecting my intestinal tract, which probably isn’t helping my serotonin levels either.  I’ve been able to eat very little over the past three days, haven’t been able to stomach coffee, but have managed to keep up with my meds.  I’ve stopped taking the fish oil though until this passes.  It’s too unpleasant.  So the lack of sunlight combined with physical malaise has been making things rocky on the emotional front.

The advent of the orange man’s reign is also a major emotional drain that I haven’t come to grips with as of yet.  I’m not saying that I’m going to be okay with it, because that is not something I can foresee by any stretch of the imagination.  I simply cannot come to grips with how this travesty occurred, and it is plaguing me to no end.  This is a waking nightmare for me largely because I can find no evidence of a shred of decency in the man.  We’ve gone from supreme class, intelligence, and a dedicated civil servant to this narcissistic sociopath.  I’m grieving heavily for my country, and for all those people who will be harmed by this administration that has been dubbed the least qualified cabinet in our history (one of the nicer things that has been said about it).  I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up any moment and it’ll have simply been a really preposterously horrific nightmare.  Unfortunately I’m not sleeping.

One of the benchmarks of character is how we handle adversity.  Do we cave in, assume the fetal position and wait for things to pass?  Sometimes it feels like the thing to do, and I’m sure that all of us have wanted to at some point.  Right now I’m tired, and I don’t feel well both physically and emotionally.  What I really want to do is crawl off to bed, pull up the covers and go to sleep for a really long time, at least until the sun decides to shine again.  But I can’t.  I have to do, not check out until things get better.  I’ve got performances to give, lectures to teach, a family to care for, and an innate desire to resist tyranny, injustice and bigotry.  Even if I’m depressed, sick, or tired, it’s my duty as a decent human being.  So I’m resisting.

 

Goodnight America: “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Today had brief moments of sunlight, which ended up being overwhelmed by an endless sea of gray. It is the last day of the Barack Obama presidency and as the light fades from the sky turning gray into darkness I can’t help but feel like night is befalling our country. Tomorrow someone I have no respect for, who I do not look upon as legitimately winning the race takes control of our country and starts dismantling it. I just saw that he intends to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR, all of which have enriched so many lives in our nation and in the case of the latter has been one of the last bastions of truly responsible news reporting. Some folks have decried me in my hometown for saying this before, but there is a parallel in history for this, a small man with an odd mustache who led his country into some of the darkest acts and times of the last century.

I have great respect for President Obama, and while he was not perfect he truly is one of the finest examples of an American that I’ve encountered during my lifetime. He spent eight hard years piloting our country, bringing us out of an economic crisis the likes of which this country hasn’t seen since the stock market crashed in 1929. He fought for everyone, and truly cared about the people of this nation. While the Affordable Care Act did have room for improvement, he honestly tried to bring health insurance to the masses and in doing so tried to make peoples’ lives better. Despite facing racism and obstructionism from an opposing party, he fought on to make changes happen, and all the while exuded class, eloquence and dignity. There were no Obama scandals. The only scandals were the actions taken against him by many members of the Republican Party, including colluding with a foreign head of state against him. Still, he out-classed them throughout his eight years at the helm.

Now we’re left with this. Tomorrow our country is swearing in a person who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has no sense of self control, who lied his way through his campaign and was assisted by Russia in winning the election despite being beaten by 2.9 million votes in the popular vote. Before taking office he has already done huge damage to our standing with NATO and our other allies, as well as threatened China and infuriated our southern neighbor, Mexico. He doesn’t understand how government works, is in massive debt to foreign nationals, and is a crude caricature of the type of America we should not be. He has spent more time tweeting about being insulted by people than he has preparing for the job he’s taking tomorrow. Seriously, someone who actually asked why we don’t use our nuclear arsenal should not have the nuclear codes.

I want a leader who brings out the best in people, not the worst. I want a leader that I would put up as an example of being a moral and just person. I’m not naïve; I know that the position involves making very tough decisions where the morality is questionable, but I want someone there who I trust has the intelligence, fortitude and best interests of our country making those decisions. I want someone who respects the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, understands what they mean, and recognizes they apply to everyone in our country, not just the powerful. I want someone who respects women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and the true cultural wealth this nation possesses and that equality is for everyone, as is respect. We had that with President Obama.

Tomorrow we enter into a dark time for our country. A man who has no respect for the office he is taking is swearing an oath. A man who is known to be a massive prevaricator is swearing an oath. Think about that. The founding fathers of our nation attempted to set up a government that had a series of checks and balances in place. Currently the ultra right wing controls those checks and balances, essentially fast tracking whatever changes they want to make. They’re not concerned about the impending ecological disasters, nor are they concerned about their constituents. They have their own agenda, as well as their favorite lobbyists.’ The changing of the guard is very different this time. The incoming regime has no concern for individuals’ rights, nor any empathy for anyone other than themselves. Goodnight, America, “a change is gonna come,” and it’s going to be a hard one for us all.

Welcome to our Dystopian Future

Today the Electoral College casts its votes and seals the fate of my nation. Given that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes and somehow is not the next President of the United States, I can’t help but believe that the entire concept of democracy in this country is a farce. I am not optimistic that the Electoral College will instate Clinton, in fact I sincerely doubt it, and that leaves me feeling a sense of loss not only for the future of my nation and the many people who need help here, but also for the fate of the planet as Trump has no intention of doing anything to halt global warming or the other ominous and now dooming ecological disasters. I have been watching as Trump has appointed people who know nothing about the positions they’re being appointed to, their only qualifications being that they were somewhat loyal to him, are already extremely wealthy, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the people of the United States, The Constitution of the United States, and the United States’ relationship with any other country aside from Russia which helped seal this man’s election to the highest office in the country.

The ethos of the country I served in the military during the 80s is doomed and our Constitution is no longer being defended by our leadership who has sworn to defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The election was a farce, and the results have been overtly influenced by a foreign power leaving us with a friend of Russia in power who has no concept of diplomacy and is already bringing us toward possible war with China despite not even being in office yet. I, along with millions of other Americans actively served to stand in defense of the United States and Europe itself against the threat of Russian aggression, and now we have an individual entering office who has benefitted from those very same people we stood against. Yes, the CCCP is gone, however Putin was a ranking officer in the KGB and along with many of his former officers is now running Russia and attempting to expand its borders. His people interfered with our election and what has been done about it?

I have been trying to find hope in this dark tunnel that we are passing through, but every day something happens that simply makes the situation worse. Once again I am left wondering how the people who voted for the man heard something different in his speeches that led them to believe that he had their interests at heart. I listened to hate filled vitriol spill from his mouth, and lie after lie after lie, each one more blatant than the next. I read of his statement that he could shoot a man in Times Square and still win people’s votes and have concluded that this was the one truth he spoke during the entire election. I tried to watch some of his speeches but they all seemed like some bizarre amalgamation of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and the people just fell in line. It seemed like he’d read Hitler’s playbook, applied it here, and the people screamed for their messiah. The one hope that I held, tenuous as it was, was that the Electoral College would somehow stop this nightmare that no one else was stopping.

Our cabinet is being filled with crooks, liars, and people who have no understanding of the positions they are filling. Our intelligence community is being openly disparaged by the man taking office, as he does to anyone who dares to disagree with him or can bring solid facts to the table that he doesn’t want to accept. He has created a hostile environment through his twitter account alone, and refuses to separate from his business interests despite abundant conflicts of interest. He wants his daughter to have the first lady’s office in the White House. Why? She’s not part of the government; she’s a businesswoman. Why does she have access? What about his business debts to other countries? Do you really think he’s not going to try to reap in financial benefits from his position? If you think he should, you’re kissing this country goodbye. His only loyalty is to his wallet.

I am living in a waking nightmare, struggling to find hope for the future and am being confounded at every turn. I thought that we were better than this, but perhaps that was just hubris on my part. I thought that the United States stood for freedom and equality for all, and that democracy was good. I wanted to believe that my country had a collective conscience that valued people for who they are, that helped those who were in need and wanted to make the world a better place for everyone and everything that relies on it for sustenance. Now, instead, I find myself fearing the utter dissolution of the fabric that binds us together and the impending destruction of our eco system. I am wondering what our children will inherit from this period, and I am mourning already for those who will suffer. Welcome to the new dystopian world that we have made.

On Facing Adversity: A Reflection on Our Future

Every morning I wake up and check my social media feed. I used to do so to catch up on my friends and find out what was going on, but for the past year my feed has been inundated by political postings, both fact and fiction and it’s sometimes difficult for me to find the difference despite my advanced degree. For the most part the news is inevitably bad, especially post election. Every day I see that the atrocious one has appointed some other incredible lowlife to work in his administration whose only qualifications are being rich, ethically bankrupt, and a fan of the man. I see a man who’d rather run an obscene victory lap than take the security briefings the job requires, and who quite frankly doesn’t give a red hot damn about the laws of this country, the people of this country, nor the Constitution of this country. He cares about his money, his power, and himself, always has, always will.

I have valued my social media feed for its ability to put me in contact with a ton of people I have known over the years, most of whom I’d lost contact with. Through it I can find out what these folks are up to, where they have moved, and all of the various things that go with maintaining long distance friendships as well as professional contacts. While I still am able to do so most of what I see is the disaster looming on the horizon, the crimes my country is still permitting (and now endorsing under the incoming administration) against the indigenous people who are currently attempting to protect the integrity of their water, and the gross ecological threat to the planet the new administration represents. This is heavily seeded amongst the photos of grandchildren, gig announcements, cat and dog photos, and the very occasional non-political cartoon.

Everyday I see further threats to the safety of my African American brothers and sisters, Muslim brothers and sisters, and LGBTQ brothers and sisters who all simply want to live in peace with each other, and have the opportunity to an equal share in what happiness life has to offer. I see the rise of the “alt. right,” simply a euphemism for Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, misogynists and bigoted self-aggrandizing greedy folk who despise difference, in a place that is supposed to be a haven of safety for the people, not those who prey upon them. It brings me to the brink of despair that plagues every breath I take of what clean air we have left. I feel an intense sense of loss for what this country could and should be, and sorrow for what it is becoming.

I posted my intent to step back from social media several weeks ago, but didn’t because there were folks who valued what I had to say, and my voice in the argument that much of this space has become. I respected their wishes and have hung in there, however at this point what we all need to do is find a source of hope. We need to find some kernel that tells us that we can rise above the polluted waters, defoliated forests, and flattened mountains that the users and abusers want to leave us with. We need to find hope that we will not be sunk into massive wars due to an individual’s inability to control his base urges, and inability to think before speaking. We need to find hope that we, as citizens, are heard and heeded, that our interests are protected, and that our rights to freedom of speech and assembly are not stripped from us. We need to have hope in the application of the laws of this country to all people within its borders, and that no one is above the law regardless of their position of power, and that they will be held fully accountable for their actions, or lack thereof.

Above all, we must maintain the hope that we can make a difference, that we can still make our country a better place that embraces difference as well as unity. We need to know that the world our children and grandchildren are left with has not been destroyed by power hungry narcissists who care for nothing other than themselves. While I am facing despair, there must be that small light in the distance, that north star that provides even the smallest chance that we can indeed overcome and make our ways to a better future despite the incredible uphill battle we are facing. I know I need it, and I’m sure that the rest of us do as well. So let’s find that light that is in the distance and bring our internal mirrors to focus it into something larger that we can share in the journey we are now facing.