52 Albums: Week 3 - Waving Not Drowning
A Note on the 52 Albums Project

Sunday Night Journal, January 22, 2017

So now Trump really is the president. I was astonished and appalled when he got the nomination, and thought it only guaranteed that Hillary would win. I was more astonished when he won the election, and was only pleased by the result because it meant that Hillary would not be president. Since then, I've heard or read a number of people saying things like "I no longer recognize my country." I don't think they really mean it. It's the striking of a pose, a way of saying "I'm very upset." But to one who did really mean it I could only say "You never knew your country." 

Donald Trump is thoroughly American, as American as...well, apple pie doesn't really do anymore, does it? I believe the phrase at one time was "Mom's apple pie." The average American mother has no time and probably little inclination to bake an apple pie, and very likely doesn't know how. So let's say Donald Trump is as American as...as P.T. Barnum. As Hollywood. As reality TV. As Disneyland. As SUVs. As professional sports. Mega-churches. Yellow journalism. Buzzfeed and the Drudge Report. Talk radio and the New York Times. Al Sharpton. Al Gore. Starbucks. Google and Netflix. Rock-and-roll. A 10-million-word tax code

Any useful discussion of this country has to take into account the fact that we're crazy.

But admittedly, it is extraordinary that someone like Trump is president. I don't expect him to be a good president; in fact I expect him to make a mess. But I hope he surprises me again.

Something that struck me in his inaugural address was the extent to which much of it reminded me of Obama. Not in its specifics, of course, and not in its tone, but in its assertion that this is an unprecedented and almost mystical moment, and that from this point on all our problems will begin to be resolved by the sheer personal power of the speaker. Take this sentence, for instance:

That all changes -- starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.

Very Obama-like. And he goes on to promise changes which are not in the power of the president to make. From that broad perspective, both presidencies appear to be symptoms of a general movement toward a belief that government, and specifically the presidency, is the most important reality in society, the one that has the power both to cause and to solve our biggest problems, to save us from ourselves (or rather, in the minds of all too many people, the enemies in the other party). There's a longing for a king-messiah that exists on both sides of the political divide. It is far from what our founders intended, in fact is something they feared, and apart from that it is unwise, and apart from that it is unworkable. It will lead to more disappointment, anger, and polarization--the same things that helped make Trump's victory possible. We are flung out into the extremes: unbalanced nationalism on the one hand, unbalanced anti-nationalism on the other. And so on.


Show me a citizen of the world and I'll show you someone who probably doesn't like his own people very much.


As American as Star Wars. I saw Rogue One last week. It's enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, and especially if you like the original Star Wars--I mean not just the original trilogy but the first of the three in particular (which is still my favorite)--because it tells the story of how the plans for the Death Star got into the hands of Princess Leia. Thus it brings the action up very close to the point where the original film begins. It's also somewhat in the spirit of the original, and for that matter even resembles it in plot, beginning with evil descending on an isolated farm on an out-of-the-way planet. 

A few things that struck me:

Seems like most of the episodes at some point have a scene that takes place within a wretched hive of scum and villainy which has a pronounced middle-eastern feel, or perhaps I should say a Hollywood notion of a middle-eastern feel. This seems a bit odd. Why would planets in a civilization that can travel among the stars always have dusty marketplaces thronged with people in robes jostling and haggling? Is this not culturally insensitive? 

And why are those fully-armored storm troopers so very easy to kill? Or to disable with one blow from the fist or foot of a slender young woman who probably weighs 110 pounds at most?

This episode has a battle scene which is apparently meant to recall the final scenes of the original, when the Death Star is attacked. I was struck in 1977 and still am by how much the spaceship combat scenes resemble WWII air combat scenes in old movies. And in fact the whole structure of the Empire and the rebellion against it is very much a reprise of the fight against the Nazis as rendered in post-war movies, only with space-opera trappings. This is not the only movie (or movies) for which that holds. And it occurs to me that that struggle has become fixed in our minds as a sort of archetype of noble war. But the totalitarianism which is the enemy in that archetype did not exist until a few decades into the 20th century. Sure, there were always tyrants, and noble struggles against them. But this idea of the enemy as one giant inhuman machine, with its anonymous and absolutely obedient hordes of troops, and the cold, haughty, and ruthless commanders who are also absolutely obedient (and in fear of) some equally cold and haughty and ruthless superior--I think that's something new, at least in degree. More realistic films don't do it so thoroughly as Star Wars, but the flavor is there in almost any drama that pits some hero or heroine against a government (or big corporation).

Princess Leia appears briefly at the end, and the filmmakers somehow gave her the face of the young Carrie Fisher. I was oddly and surprisingly touched by that, as I had been by her recent death. In trying to figure out why, I concluded that it was partly because the original movie had seemed such a breath of fresh air to me. I remember very well the night my wife and I had gone to see some other movie--I have no idea what it was now--and saw the Star Wars preview. We looked at each other and said "We have to see that." And we did, and it was delightful.

The '70s had been a fairly dark time in some ways, a come-down from the crisis of the '60s and at the same time a sort of consolidation and solidification of some of the more negative things, and movies especially had grown considerably darker: the Dirty Harry movies, for instance, and more artsy works like Taxi Driver. And for me personally it had been a difficult period. Star Wars was a complete departure from all that, with its young and brave heroes and heroine and its simple (or simplistic) war of good and evil. It was also witty and imaginative, which may be hard to remember now that it's become such a part of our culture. It was simple fun, but it also celebrated virtue with no irony at all. 


This picture was taken in our local independent bookstore. It's not very clear, because I was trying not to be noticed and took it hastily.  In case you can't read the names, the ones in the top row are Darwin, Einstein, and Austen. I think I see John Lennon and Poe in the second row. 


These struck me initially as slightly annoying, and then as rather pathetic, like those Darwin-fish stickers that put Darwin in the place of Jesus. I always want to ask what sort of salvation Darwin is supposed to offer us. Deliverance from superstition, I suppose? But then what? 


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Lennon, Poe and Frida Kahlo in the second row.

While you would expect the big government Democrats to want to swoop in and save all of us it doesn't make sense that the small government Republicans wish to do so. I guess that goes to show that Trump is really of no party.

I smiled that you were not wanting people to see you photograph the secular saint candles. You and Karen did not buy a John Lennon one, go home and light it, and sing "Imagine" together?

The last Commentary podcast is on the similarities between Obama and Trump in terms of their policies. I think it's free - I'm not sure because I'm a subscriber, but I think I was listening to it before I became a subscriber. Plus Podhoretz is constantly urging listeners to subscribe, which he wouldn't do if you had to pay to hear the podcasts. The Commentary ones are very good to listen to while you do stuff around the house.

As American as Andrew Jackson.


Very good. I guess we could go on for a long time like this.:-)

I've been thinking about subscribing to Commentary. I keep seeing links to interesting stuff and clicking on them only to be told that I need to subscribe to read more than a paragraph or so. A friend used to recommend it to me frequently and sometimes send me xerox copies (long ago) of good articles. But as with First Things I always felt like there wasn't really enough of great interest to me to justify subscribing. I finally did subscribe to FT six months or so ago.

Whenever I'm doing something that might be a good opportunity to listen to a podcast I always end up going for music instead.

Stu, I'm really not sure why I didn't want to be noticed taking that photo. I felt like I was doing something sneaky that the store owners wouldn't like. I guess that was because I knew I was doing it in order to poke fun at the display and felt a bit guilty. But from their point of view I could just as well have been doing it because I thought it was so great.

Thanks, K.

I have thought a lot about Jackson and his letting all kinds of riff-raff tramp through the Whitehouse. Many people must have regarded him in the same way people look at Trump. I do, however, think that Jackson was a better president than Trump will be.


Possibly in some ways worse, too. Jackson was a genuinely violent man and I think was responsible for some atrocities against the Indians (not certain about that but have heard it alleged).

Stu, it's true that Trump isn't really a conservative. But there are small-government conservatives and social conservatives who have the same messianic expectation of the presidency, even though it's somewhat paradoxical: they see it as the president performing a kind of overthrow of a false doctrine forced on the country by liberals.

Who is that who looks like he has tree branches growing out of his head.

I like to think of materialists burning those candles and then wondering like we do, "What the heck do I do with this now?"


Trump has just reinstated the Mexico City Policy on abortion. This on-again/off-again by Republican versus Democratic presidents on the policy has been going on since the Reagan years. Does give some credibility to the idea that a president can personally overthrow a "false doctrine forced on the country by liberals".

Funny about Austen, as she was by all reports a quite devout fairly traditional Anglican.

Reminds of those non-Christian Tolkien fans who get the willies when they find out he was a believing practicing Catholic.

Yes, I thought that was odd about Austen, too. Made me wonder what the criteria for sainthood are. Our sort of people like them?

Marianne, I guess it would for people who aren't aware of important distinctions in the way the government works. I.e. that details about the distribution of foreign aid are within the purview of executive policy while changing U.S. law is not.

That is a funny thought, Janet. Actually I'd be surprised if they sell many of those. I need to go order a book so I'll see how many are in the display now (I'm trying to patronize them, in spite of stuff like this, because they're local and independent).

I think the candles are a bit more interesting when you see where they come from.

The treehead guy is Oliver Sacks.


I like the Kierkegaard quote on their website, Janet.

Im less bothered by Trumpian Messianism. I can remember when Blair came to power, conservatives said he behaved in a Messianic way. I got quite worked up about the comparisons of the Blairite Third Way to Mussolini's Statism. I smouldered over comparisons between the Nurenberg rallies and the various Blairite spectacles. What came of it? For a few years, being a Blairite was synonymous with being a moral person. That was quite annoying, I'll confess. Then Blair launched into an unpopular ('illegal', people said, though I do not know who or what could pronounce on the legality of a war) war, and today Blairism is almost equally synonymous with evil government, amongst both the left and the right. Blair reluctantly handed over power to Brown, Brown was not widely liked, and his government was succeeded by a Liberal/Conservative coalition government. Human ambition (Blair had promised an early handover of power to Brown), and our Democratic procedures trumped Blairism and its Messianic pretensions. In four years or eight years we, too, will probably have a Democratic government.

People today expect more more emotive exhibition from their politicians than they did sixty or seventy years back. There's good and bad about it. It is not a great thing but its not simply a bad thing either. People just expect that emotive connection from leaders, more of a display of affect and empathy. I know that as a teacher I display far more of these things today than when I started in 1988. One result of this is that a leader is more likely to set his opponent's followers' teeth on edge than hitherto. Someone saying things I disagree with can be annoying, but someone emoting about things I couldn't care less about and expecting me to share those emotions can be infuriating.

And this kind of emoting gives the impression of Messianic ambitions. Maybe politicicans try to act out a kind of emotionally attractive 'leader' role. This has negative religious connotations, perhaps. But politically, its meaningless. Democracy and the human element trumps the empty show of messianics.

In those countries which literally became Dictatorships in the early 1930s - Austria, and German, for example - full democracy was a new thing, and those who implemented it had invariably created an article (call it 'article 41 or 92 or 81 - I dont remember the number) which allowed the Prime Minister to declare a state of emergency and rule by emergency decree. This article was invoked by Dollfuss (for good reasons) and by Hitler (for bad ones).
There are no such disastrous mechanisms in the American constitution, that I know of.

Obviously, I used 'Democratic' in two different senses in the first paragraph! I meant eventually Trump's Republicans will be followed by some one chosen by the DNC

I may have been unclear. I'm not bothered by Trumpian Messianism in the sense of being worried about him being elevated, or elevating himself, to Dear Leader status, crushing all opposition beneath his iron heel, and so on. I suppose it's theoretically possible that a thing like that could happen in this country, but it seems extremely unlikely to me.

What bothers me about the Messianism is what it says about the character of the people. I'm really and seriously attached to that Anglo-American ideal, maybe somewhat sentimental and definitely unrealistic, of the free and proud citizen in a more-or-less self-governing polity. And it seems like that ideal is very much in decay now. Sure, it never really existed, but it was the way people thought things should be. I don't think that's true anymore. The famous Obama administration character who went through life alone but with her hand held at every step by the federal government--what was her name?--is a kind of ideal for many people now, especially some women for whom it seems to be a kind of solution to the decline of the family.

So I don't see American fascism in any usual sense of that term as the big threat (nor did I think Obama was Hitler), but rather a soft totalitarianism of a Brave New World sort--as opposed to 1984.

Interesting about the candles, Janet. Very odd enterprise but it looks like they're somewhat successful. I guess the fact that I saw the candles in a local store is indicative of that.

What Grumpy says about our having a Democratic president next is extremely likely since only once in my longish lifetime (Reagan to Bush) has a Republican been elected after another Republican, and only once has a Democrat been elected after a Democrat, and that was an anomaly since Johnson had already been president before he was elected.


Julia, I think it was.

I saw a meme on Facebook that said "There's nothing that says "strong, independent woman like demanding someone else pay for your birth control." Something like that anyway.


I like the candles

Well, at least they're not ugly, although the likenesses of the people are not very.

Re the Dem-Repub switch: not only is that the historical tendency, but it's starting to oscillate more widely now, with both Obama and Trump producing ever wilder disparities of devotion and detestation between their partisans. Though we tend to forget just how wide it was with Reagan, Clinton, and Bush.

Apparently even some liberals cringed a bit at Julia:


Whilst looking for those candles, I found others that were more irritating--celebrities with the Sacred Heart on their chests and a woman dressed like St. Therese. Rather mocking and called Harass something.


No Thats horrible but I think secular candles are a sweet idea

They are sort of sweet but more than that they just seem sort of sad to me. When I showed that picture to my wife she just said "Pitiful". I'm not sure whether that word carries exactly the same connotations elsewhere as it does in the South. It suggests something maybe genuinely pitiable but also foolish, something a little disdained. You might say it if someone responded to your witty putdown with "nyah nyah nyah."

I still want a Kurt Vonnegut one!

agree with Stu. I can think of many secular folk I'd like a candle of.

The pitiful part is the incommensurate aspect: the association with praying to the person along with the defiant assertion that such activities are meaningless. Like the Darwin fish. To me it's like those atheist Unitarians who atavistically persist in having Sunday morning meetings.

Now if you take it as lighting a candle *for* the person, that's different.

I always assumed the Darwin fish was kind of a stick to Christians thing.

In a way, I think the candles and the Unitarians are just indicators of a deep need we have to worship something. It's like those people who are always talking about the universe, or the "verse." "I guess the verse didn't want me to go there today."


Yes, I think it's an indicator of a need for worship and respect. I cannot see how that's a bad thing (no offence). They indicate how rare true nihilism is.

Not bad, pitiful. :-)

But yes, I think all these things are indicative of the need to worship.

I heard an atheist friend use "universe" in that way about a really serious situation--asking the universe for help. It was touching.

Hey Grumpy, I sent you an email but it came back saying you're unavailable. Would you mind emailing me D.B. Hart's email address? I ran across an interesting poem I'd like to tell him about.

[email protected]

Yes I saw yr email. I need to get his address for my GPS

Similarities between Trump and Sanders


That should be good. Those two are pretty entertaining. Maybe I can listen to it tomorrow. I saw earlier where Sanders was praising Trump's action on the Trans-Pacific thing.

Not quite on topic: there's a picture of Sanders that news media and Facebook posters use a lot, which must mean they think it's a good image, but to me it makes him look like an obnoxious old crank, possibly crazy. Everybody's probably seen it--he's got his mouth open, apparently yelling, and wagging his finger. I don't know why they think that's going to attract people.

"Yes I saw yr email. I need to get his address for my GPS"

Ok, thanks. Didn't know if the email had made it through.

Apparent the George Orwell novel 1984 is number one on Amazon as people try to figure out what America will be like under Trump. At least this is what Yahoo! reports.

Yes, I've seen similar reports. They're a bit late in waking up to that. I can't think of anything Trump has done that comes close in scope and implications to the demand that everyone say Bruce Jenner is a woman.

Ha! I'd rather call Jenner a woman and allow him to marry a billy goat than see the EPA trashed and NEA funding taken away. And it hasn't even been a week!

I'm not defending Trump, just saying that the 2+2=5 movement has been gaining ground for a long time. Partisans naturally tend not to notice it when their side is doing it.

Did he take NEA funding away?


"the 2+2=5 movement has been gaining ground for a long time."

Forcing people to say that 2+2=5 is infinitely worse than budget cuts to government departments, even ones that do good work.

That's what the internet is claiming will come next, Janet.

Well, we'll see what happens. I really am a wait and see person, and try not to be an alarmist. I realize that most of what is on the internet is irrational craziness from all sides of the political spectrum.

I assume we are talking about the National Endowment for the Arts, and not the National Education Association.


yes, the first

"Forcing people to say that 2+2=5 is infinitely worse than budget cuts to government departments, even ones that do good work."

Yep. Sick of it.

"Not bad, pitiful."


I thought this was rather fun, because it's a bit of a reminder of what things were like 18 years ago. Here is a video of Christopher Hitchens talking about his book on Bill Clinton called "No One Left To Lie To." I'm kind of tempted to read it. Anyway at about the 19:30 mark, a lady from Texas gives CH a serve about his dislike of Clinton. I think it's rather good fun, especially his reactions to it. Then his response is kind of interesting too and worth listening to, not least the bit about Hillary. Listen, up to about 23:45, if you're interested.


I forgot to warn you that she says "crap" twice, in case that bothers anyone.

That doesn't even bother ME.


The National Endowment for the Arts didn't exist until 1965. Funny, isn't it, that in the 1950s I was able to watch full opera productions on Sunday afternoons on TV put on by the NBC Opera Company, all paid for by Texaco. Just went to Wikipedia and learned that the opera company shut down in 1964.

I may say crap twice to the next student who walks in my office!

I think we can all handle "crap" now, but not necessarily crap.

Toscanini's famous recording of the Beethoven symphonies was with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Or one of them at least, not sure if he did others. It would be interesting to hear the way the decisions to support that kind of thing were made.

Toscanini conducted the NBC orchestra for decades. We have a box set of CDs of their performances under him. It is all kind of murky 1940s recording, but it is very neat.

It began in 1937. Interesting story:


Looks like the opera came a good bit later:


I listened to that Mad Dogs & Englishmen podcast. Very good. One of them used a good word about some/many of the "women's" marchers: "self-infantalizing."

Listen to Charlie Cooke always amuses me a little, apart from what he says, because his accent and general tone of voice are very similar to those of someone I know, but his views are almost 180 degrees away.

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