Musings and Mirth
I wrote this on Medium back when people though there was no chance he ever would.
I dreamed Donald Trump was president
I dreamed Donald Trump was president. It felt like any other day in America, if all you knew of America was what you saw on Reality TV. Trump was the indestructible villain who week after week remained in the race, or the house, or the relationship, or the job — no matter how many nauseating traits of a sociopath he revealed. For some, he was clearly a monster. But for those who grew up watching monsters for fun, he had just what they wanted. They wanted a spectacle and he gave them one.
They knew him because he spoke a crude form of Twitter that any child could grasp. His sloppy hashtags and off-key memes were absurdly compelling. He threw bizarre baby tantrums online then reeled them back in just as weirdly. Then came the allure of money. Rumored vaults full of money. With it, he bought tons things. Pretty things and gaudy things. Expensive things that nevertheless looked horribly cheap. No building was too high, no faucets too gold, no wife too perfectly plastic. None of this remotely resembled a normal American Dream but it was the dream of many millennials because reality TV had raised them to think that way.
Just land a spot on a show, prove you can survive some silly make-believe hardships, and voila! — become a celebrity and an overnight millionaire. Who cares if you got rich from sleaze, got fame from scandal, and built your empire on corruption. Chasing that spotlight, it doesn’t matter if they hate you as long as they’re talking about you. Some people will do whatever it takes. No selfie is ever too racy, no gaffe is ever too coarse. As long as it all goes viral, your following will surge. Whatever the backlash, simply feign regret and move on. From one mess and clean-up to the next, your empire just keeps growing. In a world where maximum notoriety reigns supreme, being notorious to the max is its own self-sustaining reward.
Hillary doesn’t come from that world. In her world fashion is trivial, pretension is pointless, and her well-earned status is no big deal. If esteem serves a higher purpose, that’s fine, but ostentation for its own sake is pathetic. She only does selfies because she has to. Hillary shows no sign of vanity and that’s turned out to be terribly disconcerting to some in America 2016 where vanity is all. “How can you go out with bags under your eyes? What do you mean you don’t have a trainer and no unattainable goal weight to stress about? Why not indulge in lip plumpers and fillers and Botox and hair dye?”
I dreamed Donald Trump was president and far too few Americans did anything to stop it. Those who wanted to, couldn’t stop it if they tried — the forces of media manipulation were too persuasive, too pervasive. It was a reality show with great ratings, frightfully fascinating stars, and a parade of wacky guest stars. There they are, The Trumps — The Kardashians of Manhattan — gleaming Aryan children flanking The Donald, the whole family jutting as much arrogant chin implants as cosmetic surgery can fabricate. He’s famous so they’re famous, so yay! we’re all famous! because he’s going to be our President! Ivanka, Melania, the creepy Trump boys whose personalities seem disturbingly interchangeable, with their vacant mannequin expressions (“lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes…”).
They will provide most of America with the satisfaction they so hungrily crave from all of our TV reality stars — an opportunity for us to feel we’re better than they are. Since very few of us are frauds to such a surreal extent, deep down we know we are better than the Trumps. So, yes, a good solid half of America can afford to love them. And do love them. Far too many of us get a kick out of this freak show and we don’t want it to end.
Imagine, an ongoing Trump storyline as he faces a flustered Congress because, oops! — the president decided it was a good idea to threaten North Korea with a nuke. “Who’s gonna stop me. Lyin’ Congress? Crooked Congress? They can’t stop me. There’s scrawny Paul Ryan, what’s he gonna do? Flex his pecs at me?” Then the Trump show confronts protesters who gather around the site of whatever reckless pipeline he’s just approved. “They think they can stop me from making America great again? Oil is thicker than drinking water, and a helluva lot more profitable, believe me!” The Trump show in season two goes to an international emergency summit to stop a giant blob of trash from suffocating the entire Pacific Ocean. “Who cares about fish. They’re fishy, those failed fish! Nobody wants fish when they can have a Trump steak.” The loyal Trump audience tunes in to watch as Melania Trump goes to an elementary school to read a Dr. Seuss story:
I have been wanting to put down my thoughts about raising my beautiful daughter somewhere. I guess this is as good a place as any. I laid down my head last night, once again putting another day to bed. That meant one whole day was now gone as time sets its paces through our lives. I feel time now. I feel every second of it. I feel it passing because its finite nature has struck me. I will die soon. Of course, not immediately I hope. But I’ve lived 51 years and that means my time is limited from now on. I can feel things slowing down a little. I can feel just a little more tired one day and a little less ambitious. The most important thing of my life has been raising my daughter. I still can’t believe I actually gave birth to this person whom I’ve watched grow up for the last 18 years. I can’t believe it’s been that long and I can’t believe she is about to start her life as an adult in New York City, attending NYU’s Gaming Design Center. It’s all I can do not to pack my bags and move out there, too. I know that we can’t hover as parents. We have to be able to let them go. But it’s harder than I thought it would be. The day has arrived and all I want to do is slow down time. If I stay up until midnight will that slow down the days?
I remember the moment clearly. I remember when it hit me what a long road ahead I had. My daughter was a bundle. A small bundle I’d not let go of for the first two weeks after her birth. I couldn’t let her go because even then I was worried about what might happen to her. Close to me was the safest place for her. And I believe that still today. As a single parent, I was the protector of this kid. I knew one thing: I did not want to fuck it up. Of course, she ended up getting bitten by a dog and could have died. She fell in the swimming pool twice and could have died. Accidents happen. Even the most watchful parent can be caught unaware. Life is unpredictable. Its nature requires that it be. We just know two things. We are born and we die.
I remember it because I was staring at her car seat as I affixed it to the backseat. I thought what a hassle just that one act was and I remember thinking, this is your life for the next 18 years. It seemed like such a daunting, exhausting thing just staring at that car seat. And but for a few times when she woke up from her nap and interrupted yoga or a movie this kid has been a pure joy to raise. There has never been anything I wanted to do more than hanging out with her. She was kind and sweet and honest. She worked hard as a student and an artist. She’s not perfect – she inherited my slob gene. What I want you to know is this: it has never been harder than it was wonderful.
We are spending our summer so far like we always have. Two peas in a pod who would rather stay in and read or do computer or art projects than go out to parties or events. I have until August 28th where she will move into her dorm room in New York City. It is causing me some panic because I will be a whole continent away. I have to trust that she will be okay. And if she isn’t, that there are people there who will look out for her. I have to hope these things because I have no other choice.
In the end, people might ask me if I have any regrets because I never became a filmmaker or I never had that happy marriage or published a novel (not yet anyway). But I would say that nothing has ever mattered to me more than raising this kid and making sure she had a happy life. Just that, only that. I could die tomorrow and I would happy having done just that alone. I have thought about the meaning of life a lot, both as a young person and throughout my life. I know that there is no meaning to it, that humans aren’t particularly special despite our big brains, and that there is no fate and there is no God. There is only life and death and all of the things that happen in the seconds in between.
Well, after spending much time toiling away on the bad things about humanity — and there are many — I’ve come around to wondering what’s the point of it all. What I’ve discovered is this: there isn’t any particular point to it. Probably humans aren’t going to last more than 300 years at the most. Well, there are things they could do to survive – maybe – but chances are our own greed and indulgences will take us down. The best thing we can do – I mean, really – is help reverse some of the damage we’ve caused. There is something about us humans that makes us just not care about others. Maybe we spend some time worrying about gun crime. Maybe we think about abused women or children. Maybe we think about starvation. Maybe we think about animal cruelty. But ultimately, we are not that great at really coming together for a common cause unless it serves us personally. Nothing has been more frustrating than to watch the so-called Bernie Sanders revolution, which was really just the far left’s version of the right wing movement: angry white males rising up from being oppressed. They use many different themes to cover up their general feeling of being losers – like income inequality, like the 1% and the oligarchy but if you scratch off the surface you’ll see the same thing on both sides: they feel like losers and they want to feel like winners.
Our country is going through a major shift that was probably awakened by the election of President Obama. That win told everyone that white men no longer rule, necessarily, and that now it’s time to level the playing field for the first time in American history. That a woman might lead is threatening on the heels of such a major shift. We’re also seeing the rise of LGBT and transgender rights. We’re seeing a population boom of hispanics. We’re seeing protests by Black Lives Matter. This election pitted the rise of women and minority groups vs. the white male power dynamic. So far, it looks like we’re winning but the refusal to accept this reality by the Sanders camp is just plain sad.
None of it matters in the grand scheme of things except what we can do today to help reverse the effects of climate change. That’s the main reason we can’t afford a Donald Trump – he thinks it’s a hoax. We are at the point where sea levels in 2100 will swallow up coastal cities. I don’t care so much that we’re wiping ourselves out. I worry about our kids surviving in this new changing climate but the real damage will be done to other living things as we march on wiping out species after species through hunting, population growth and climate change. We are destroying the world for everything else. Even if we somehow survive, we will have concluded our stay on this planet basically destroying it every living animal. Extinctions are not that rare, even mass extinctions. And sooner or later, even if we didn’t do it, probably something else eventually would, like another asteroid or super volcano. That we ourselves are the cause knowing how smart and capable we are is the part I can’t abide. Thus, electing the only democrat who could win this year was of utmost importance. So far, so good. We’ll see.
Here are the goals moving forward:
Fix the slaughterhouse problem here and throughout the world – that means stop torturing pigs, stop torturing calves for dairy (we do not need dairy at the amount that we consume it). The pigs must be treated better. Full stop. We must give them rights. We’re getting there.
Empty the tanks. There will be a point in our near future where we will be seen as barbarians for keeping orcas and dolphins in captivity for human entertainment.
Stop eating so much, stop wasting so much, stop generating so much trash.
Use the fields to grow food, not to feed livestock. It’s so simple, isn’t it?
Save the rain forests.
Cease reliance on fossil fuels (they’re going to run out in 50 years anyway).
Build cities for walking and bike riding. How hard can that be? It can’t be that hard.
These things are jus a start and they seem doable. Top of the list, though, is that humans have to stop eating so much meat. Period. Even if we don’t go vegan or even vegetarian, cutting out two meals of meat a day would help enormously. If we don’t, well, we know what will happen as a result.
Are things getting better? Maybe. We have a hive mind building on the internet and maybe it can be put to better use than shaming Justin Bieber on a daily basis.
I’ve read several books on the subject of human evolution in an attempt to solve the problem of where we’re going from here. Almost all of the books say the same basic things about our past, with some variation here or there. They all say the same thing about our future, with varying degrees of hope from “we’re totally fucked” to “we might be able to salvage ourselves by getting off the planet” to “we’ll have to invent some adaptations to survive.” Seems pretty dire, right? Apparently, we’ve evolved a trait that makes us all not freak out about what we know is coming. This inability to confront the reality of our alarming situation means we won’t do anything about those things. We’ll just keep on keeping on because that’s what humans do. We take and use as we please, with little regard to the consequences.
Our past can be summed up this way, give or take:
We shared a common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis between 800 thousand to 1 million years ago. At some point, that ancestor migrated out of Africa and split off in two different directions. One branch became the Neanderthals roughly 200,000 years ago or so, and the other became the Denisovans.
Homo sapiens (our delightful species) also evolved from the common ancestor and roughly 40,000 years ago or so we migrated out of Africa and came upon both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. We carry in us DNA from both of these human species yet both are considered extinct. There is some debate as to how their extinction came about. Did we obliterate them because we’re so horrible and that’s what we do? Or did we merge with them? Or did we out compete them for food? I’m guessing we destroyed them. I think we probably imprisoned or enslaved them (because that’s what we do, what we’ve done) and used some as sex slaves. That is an extreme hypothesis and one that could never be proven but where humans are concerned, always imagine the worst and work from there.
The combination of homo sapiens with neanderthal or denisovan genes eventually led to our great leap forward – around 30,000 years ago when we domesticated dogs and eventually horses and eventually domestic animals rather than kill. Up until we learned how to domesticate animals we hunted almost all creatures to near extinction. It’s horrifying the way each of these books lays that part of our history out. We just had no clue what we were destroying. And we still don’t.
Cut to – now. Here we are. There are a few factors that will lead to our destruction that we are simply not dealing with. We’re brewing a perfect storm that includes the following three factors:
- antibiotics in meat products, in rivers and streams (among other chemicals), oceans and even cosmetics. They have been used freely and often, lowering our resistance to the point where we will likely be taken out by some pandemic in the next two generations (see this Fresh Air interview). This is the thing that will weaken millions of us.
- population growth all over the world. The target is 11 billion that supposedly the planet cannot sustain. This could lead to mass starvation, world wars — who knows what else.
- climate change, or warming. Another potentially weakening factor that will harm farming all over the world. We won’t stop meat and dairy production so we can’t possibly turn around greenhouse gases. Even if we stopped right now we would only be able to stop the clock about 30%. We’ve been doing this since the 1900s and we’re on a path to total warming so that either the planet will warm to an unlivable temperature (we’d have to go underground or into space) and remain that way for thousands of years, or else it will flip and we’ll head into an ice age. The only thing people agree on is that this shit is going down and we have to act now.
Put all three of them together and you can imagine that things don’t look too good for people. What can we do? We can try to act to make our politicians turn to wind and solar (all republicans think climate change is a hoax), stop eating meat and dairy as much as possible, even if it’s once a week – the market will determine how much meat is produced. Drive a hybrid or don’t drive at all.
Anyway, if you want to know, and you probably don’t, here are some books to read:
Since we moved I’ve had to drive Emma to school every morning and every afternoon, which takes about an hour. At first I was annoyed. Interstate five is overcrowded with cargo trucks rattling down the congested highway, beater cars cutting in front of you every quarter mile. This part of the valley is an armpit in many ways. It took me a while to figure out that my daughter was about to graduate high school and this might be the last time I have to spend any kind of quality time with her. We could have ridden silently the way we used to through most of her growing up. Me lost in NPR and she with her headphones on chatting on some godforsaken millennial social network. But we just started talking about things. Whatever was the subject for the day, whether it was the upcoming election, or global warming, or the upcoming mass extinction or even mundane things like what it’s like to drive a car, what’s like to live as an adult and what it’s like to fall in love.
My daughter, I’ve come to find, is a bright, compassionate young woman who is actually fun to talk to – she has a lot to say, as it turns out, and not the kind of stuff you listen to politely because you’re talking to someone who is way too young to get it. No, she’s really fun to talk to. She’s learned so much in high school – what we both agree is the ‘9th circle of hell.’ She’s just taken human evolution in one of her AP classes and now we have that to talk about too. She has my skeptical mind, as it turns out, and is not a magical thinker. This makes it much easier for me to chat with her since I don’t have to keep my skepticism – which is a real downer for most people – in check.
Since I’ve been writing a book (a novel, actually) that takes place 100 years in the future, I decided to do some research into what things might look like then. I guess what I thought I’d find out was that the sea level might rise, a few species would be wiped out – but would we still be here? Would we reach 11 billion on earth, that number that isn’t sustainable? Would our overpopulation then turn into some mass catastrophe that would wipe us out. Those things I kind of expected to find from scientists. I didn’t expect to learn so much about human beings – or rather, homosapiens, our past and our bleak looking future. See, we’re developing science faster than anyone could have predicted but we’re killing every other living thing. Those things we aren’t killing we’re torturing in factory farms. So what good will it be to live longer if we’re not going to be living better? What was even more surprising to find out is that we’ve always been this way. Even when we were supposedly peaceful natives we were wiping out land animals on our endless quest for more meat to eat. This has always been the homosapien way.
With each new book I read about evolution and the potential future of mankind the more alarmed I became. I could not understand why this isn’t a bigger deal among people. So many are living in their cloistered realm of happiness seeking because that is what we’re taught to do. But we’re not playing the long game. We’re not even close. We can’t even convince many people that our impact on the environment is accelerating the greenhouse gas effect that has played a part in mass extinctions in the past. Humans didn’t invent the greenhouse gas effect. We’re just making it go faster than it would otherwise and in so doing we have become the sixth extinction. All of the scientists say humans are adaptable and we’ll likely survive this mass extinction. But some say we won’t survive unless we (eventually) get off the planet we’ve rendered uninhabitable.
I guess finding all of this out from the scientific community – not from hokey Facebook memes – freaked me out more than a little. Worse, I started wondering what the point of any of it is. Why build anything, why make anything, why write anything, why endure? Well, because that is what we do. As terrible as savage as we are, as stupid and selfish and indulgent we are, there is always the chance that our highly developed brains will stop us before nature stops us. There is always that chance. While that chance is there we have to pretend that life really is worth living.
Our endless quest for meat that has wiped out 2/3 of the land mammals and is the cause of much abuse, pollution and harm is the very thing that will be our demise. If we all stopped eating meat or dropped our consumption considerably we could at least start to slow the warming. I don’t see any signs so far that people will. No, the answer is to assume we’re headed in the worst case scenario and to plan accordingly.
Don’t worry, I don’t tell my daughter my worst fears about life. We do talk about the good things she has coming. And those will be many. In 100 years I hope that someone, somewhere has helped turn it all around. Until then, it’s time to party like it’s 1999.