I had great hair in high school.
That's my first impression when I look at my senior picture. I mean, damn! Those waves! They looked like they popped right off of John Taylor's head and on to my scalp. It would be interesting to hear today what my classmates thought of me then, if they can recall any impression of me at all. I really didn't embrace everything high school had to offer. I mean, I dabbled. I wrestled (poorly) for two and a half seasons, went to a few parties. I devoured every art class I could take. But I wasn't in any clubs. I rarely went to any dances -- not even prom -- and I didn't date a girl who went to my school, not seriously at least, until after I graduated.
So when people posted their senior pictures on social media in support of this year's seniors, I only kinda got it. I think those people looked back at their time in high school, saw the things they did and the stages they crossed, and they got sad because today's seniors have had their last year mutated by the coronavirus. But not every kid consumes school the same way. This was true for these guys, it was true for me, and I'm sure it's true for today's students, too.
I think I was more wallpaper than wallflower as far as Eldorado High School was concerned, an amalgam of each of the stereotypes represented by The Breakfast Club. When it came to doing school, I was mediocre, at best, so I retreated to church. Being a shy, lonely kid at church was easier than being a shy, lonely kid at school. I immersed myself in a world where, at least two times a week, I was told how much God loved me. I understand now how that was problematic; but, at the time it meant something. I can't really understand what teenagers are going through right now because by the time I graduated, I had, regretfully, quarantined myself by choice. I can try to relate, though.
Somewhere in the bible it says that each person has to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. I don't know about salvation any more, but I think that fear and trembling does apply to our attempts at making sense of quarantine. As I try to come to grips with how this situation is going to impact the teens in my life, I'll share this song along with my senior picture, knowing full well that it can't change what they're going through, or how what staying at home looks like for them:
"I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY (WHO LOVES ME)" - ILLUMINATI HOTTIES
"So when the night falls, my lonely heart calls..."
The seminal version of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" was released in 1987, becoming Whitney Houston's fourth straight number one single. She won a Grammy for the song the next year, when I was a junior in high school -- the same age my daughter is now. I wasn't a fan, but it was hard not to hear Whitney everywhere. The track's upbeat music didn't seem to mesh with its lyrical content, but I identified with the loneliness the words conveyed, even if I thought bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark did it better. I'm sure I would have heard this song at prom that year, had I gone.
My daughter won't be going to prom this year, and when I think about that, I hear this version of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" by illuminati hotties. Mirren accurately identifies as a younger, better looking version of me. She is much more adept at every aspect of school than I was, and she's doing her best to get more out of it than I did (coronavirus be damned). But I know that this doesn't mean school is any easier for her. Embracing life may come with a different set of risks than retreating from it, but they are still risks. Mirren is a metaphorical juggler with many balls to keep aloft, and I know she worries about dropping even one. If anything, life in quarantine has made things worse. Now she's juggling in an earthquake.
I think her time in quarantine is lonely, but not in the way it would have been for the teenaged me. Teenaged Tom definitely wanted someone to dance with. My daughter has that someone, only she can't see, let alone dance with him. When we talk about it, it's the indeterminate nature of the situation that frustrates her the most. Where she lives in the northern reaches of New York state, restrictions are being eased, but uncertainty remains, and it continues to shift timelines and alter plans. I know my kid won't be marching on downtown Plattsburgh, carrying a sign demanding that her boyfriend be liberated, but practicality can't cancel the ache that comes with someone's absence.
It's easy for people to try dismiss such feelings from a teenager, but I think that's hypocritical. Even Teenaged Tom felt the searing power of young love; and, more often knew the sadness of its absence. Those memories make this version of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" mine, in the same way "We Could Send Letters" by Aztec Camera -- which came out 20 years before she was born -- is my daughter's today. Loneliness is not linear. It's a raw, violent thing; a virus of a different sort that -- like love -- has been infecting the star-crossed for all time.
At the risk of losing friends and making enemies, let me just unequivocally state my position on one of life's most enduringly essential questions: the Beatles are better than the Rolling Stones. Take a moment, if you like, to scroll down and leave an angry comment or two.
Now let me make another thing equally clear: the Rolling Stones are one of the greatest bands of all time. The fact that we are so consistently called to choose between these two groups says something about the rarity of the air they occupy. Our choice never multiplies to include the Kinks or the Who. Keith Richards has argued that the Beatles and the Stones traded steps when it was clear that where the Beatles walked the Rolling Stones followed. The first original song the Stones charted with in the UK was "I Wanna Be Your Man," a Lennon/McCartney cast-off. The Beatles' first trip to America is remembered as a triumphant fairytale filled with screaming crowds and a legendary television performance. The Stones' first US tour saw half-filled arenas. Sergeant Pepper taught the Stones to play "Their Satanic Majesties Request."
When the Beatles split to find themselves as individuals, the Rolling Stones finally found their identity as a band. They didn't fill a void so much as they created, defined, and occupied a completely new space. The era that birthed the Beatles' decline saw the seed of what Rich Cohen calls "the four greatest records in history" -- the Stones' "golden run" of Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. These albums gave us songs like "Street Fighting Man," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Brown Sugar," and "Wild Horses" among many others. The fact that these songs were written and recorded during times just as turbulent for the band as anything the Beatles faced says something about how great an accomplishment they actually are.
What was golden for the Rolling Stones in the studio was rusty and jagged outside of it. There were arrests and infighting. There was the decline, departure, and death of founding member Brian Jones. Keith Richards began his own spectacular struggle with heroin addiction. There was Allen Klein, the "manager" who helped speed the dissolution of the Beatles and who left the Rolling Stones nearly broke. They headlined what they hoped would be the "West Coast Woodstock," only to see the Altamont Speedway Free Festival descend into violence and murder; the Sixties ethos of peace and love beaten with pool cues by the Hells Angels as "Sympathy for the Devil" blasted from the stage. Through all of this, the band did what their name implies: they rolled with and through it, which is why a track from Exile on Main Street is up next on my soundtrack.
"TUMBLING DICE" - THE ROLLING STONES
"There's fever in the funk house now" - Keith Richards & Mick Jagger
The band was far from destitute when they decamped to Nellcôte, a mansion Richards rented in the south coast of France to set about recording Exile on Main Street. But that summer, the band was a troubled, tax exiled group of lost boys looking for Wonderland. Lester Bangs said the album was about casualties and partying in the face of them, but critic Ben Ratliff called it "an audio diary of rock stars finally facing the rigors of marriage, children and addiction." Aside from that, he argues, it is difficult to pin down Exile's singular essence. It's a concept album in search of a concept.
It may have found one nearly 50 years after its release.
Lines like "the sunshine bores the daylights out of me" from "Rocks Off" describe the growing ennui I'm feeling after forty-some-odd days of staying at home, while "Rip This Joint" could easily be co-opted by the covidiots protesting their stay at home orders. The lyrics to "Casino Boogie" were put together like a puzzle (a favorite quarantine pastime), with Richards and Jagger tearing up newspapers and magazines and then fitting phrases together to make the song. "Ventilator Blues" was inspired by the stifling Nellcôte basement where much of the recording took place, but the song's literal and figural relevance to today is evident in "everybody's gonna need some kind of ventilator." Who isn't feeling a bit "Torn and Frayed" right now? Still, it's "Tumbling Dice" that does it for me, and it's not just because "women think I'm tasty."
Jagger cribbed the lyrics together after talking to a housekeeper about gambling, only the song's not a tutorial. It could stand as a warning to anyone looking for something more from a one night stand than just that one night, with the singer cautioning, "you got to roll me, and call me the tumbling dice." Sure, you might get lucky, but... you very well might not. That's how gambling works.
I can't make a case for the song being wholly appropriate for this situation, or for me at all, even in the best of times, and I think that's why it appeals to me right now. I'm a pretty level-headed person settled comfortably in a loving and monogamous relationship. I (still) have a job and the people I love are healthy. I'm not one who is ever looking to gamble with that sort of security, but I can understand why leaving things to chance might be appealing, especially since the certainty and control we are never really guaranteed has been challenged even further by the coronavirus.
We've had to give up a lot of certainty in the face of a virus that may or may not effect us. It is a threat that has reshaped everything we do. Taking my sick pup to the vet gave new meaning to being a "rank outsider." It meant staying in the car while a tech took her inside, then waiting for the vet to call so we could discuss her symptoms, and then waiting again for her to call back with a diagnosis and plan for treatment. I can't imagine having to do something similar with my wife should she fall ill, yet that sort of distance worrying is real for far too many right now. Too much waiting and empty waiting rooms, so we send our goodbyes through the air and hope they travel farther and faster than the virus.
COVID-19 has us all at "sixes, sevens, and nines." Like it or not, what used to be normal is not a safe bet, and there is no new normal for us to lay odds on just yet. Still, through all of this, the Stones seem to be having yet another revival. Their performance of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" for Global Citizen's One World: Together at Home "concert" stood out. A year ago, they just happened to record an eerily prescient single, "Ghost Town" -- their first new original music in eight years -- which they rolled out a few weeks ago.
The Beatles will always be shiny and new. They are standing, forever captured in amber in day-go band uniforms, around a psychedelic drumhead. One of their many gifts is to be discovered again and again by generation after generation, their story a perfect pyramid of exposition, then climax, then denouement we listen to on repeat. The Rolling Stones have always moved too quickly for such consumption, and yet for many they are just as eternal.
People joke that if the coronavirus ever came in contact with Keith, it would have to go into isolation. They wonder why scientists aren't trying to derive a vaccine from his blood. What they don't understand is that it wouldn't work without Mick. It never has. Andrew Loog Oldham knew this when he locked them in the kitchen of their dingy London flat and told them not to come out until they wrote a song (they did -- "As Tears Go By" -- which became a hit for Marianne Faithfull). They've had trouble staying in the same room together without fighting ever since. Even now, they have to be kept far apart backstage, as Keith can't stand to hear Mick go through his vocal exercises before a show. And yet, when they take the stage, it all works. Keef brings the riffs, Mick brings the words, and we all keep tumbling.
Many, many writers and journalists have documented what a shit show our president has made of managing the coronavirus in America. President Trump recommended that all Americans wear masks, then he refused to do so himself. He said that no one could have seen how bad the pandemic would be for our country, even though one of his trusted economic advisors wrote about it in a January 29 memo. The president either ignored or didn't bother to read what Peter Navarro laid out. I guess Trump isn't much of a reader.
Next, he said that governors will make decisions about when it's safe for their states to reopen (despite falsely asserting that he had "total authority" on the matter), only to undercut state-level decisions with reckless tweets that produced scenes like this, captured by Alyson McLaran:
This unnamed tank-man of the #pandemic silently obstructed the path of "patriots" protesting Colorado's stay-at-home order. It is fitting that a healthcare worker would be a metaphorical mask, blocking the spread of fear and anger unleashed by our president's petulance. The only thing that's obvious about the way Trump "leads" in this time of crisis is how he can't seem keep his thumbs from contradicting what his mouth says just days earlier ("follow the guidelines." "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"). We need clarity from our president. We get confusion instead. Hence...
"BALL OF CONFUSION" - LOVE & ROCKETS
"Vote for me and I'll set you free..." - Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong
"Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)" was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. They were part of the Motown Records hit factory that made sure the Model-T Ford wasn't the last thing made in Detroit that profoundly shaped American culture. Their song was recorded and released by the Temptations in 1970, reaching number three on the Billboard charts that June. Since then, the song has been covered, to varying degrees of success, by Tina Turner, Leon Bridges, and Duran Duran. As truly great as the original version is (how can you not like the backing track laid down by the Funk Brothers) it's the steely, slightly faster version recorded by Love & Rockets in 1985 that resonates with me these days.
Even though it's part of my COVID-19 Soundtrack, "Ball of Confusion" was, like me, born during the Nixon years. Until January 20, 2017 Richard Nixon was arguably the worst American President of the modern era, but Tricky Dick has nothing on the very stable genius running our nation off the rails right now. If you need an example of leadership during a time of crisis, look no further than this exchange President Trump had with Peter Alexander, the White House correspondent for NBC News back on March 20th:
Alexander: What do you say to Americans, who are watching you right now, who are scared?
President Trump: Peter, I say (looks directly into the camera), my fellow Americans, it's okay to be scared. These are scary times, and we're facing a tremendous threat, a tremendous threat unlike we've ever seen. The coronavirus doesn't hide behind a flag. It doesn't attack using weapons. Guns. It doesn't use planes. Instead, it takes the hands we use to hold our loved ones, and the mouths we use to say "I love you" and it makes them dangerous. Deadly. So you can be afraid, but you need to be strong, too. America has the best people. The best people. People who know how to stand up to fear. We did it in World War II. We did it on 9/11. I was there at Ground Zero, as you know, and I saw it. And we're going to do it in the days, weeks, and months, I can tell you. I can promise you, my fellow Americans, that my administration is going to throw everything we have at the coronavirus, and with your help, we're going to win. So stay home, stay safe, and stay strong.
Here's how that exchange really went down:
Alexander: What do you say to Americans, who are watching you right now, who are scared?
President Trump: I say you're a terrible reporter. That's what I say.
It says a lot about Trump's leadership that a high school special education teacher could come up with a better answer to Alexander's question, especially since it was tailor-made for making one seem presidential. The man who once claimed to have the best words couldn't muster anything worth saying to the country. Instead he attacked a reporter.
In fairness, President Trump then added that the American people needed answers and they needed hope, but these are two things he has been unable to adequately supply despite his daily attempts to do so. The president's answers are usually lies ("Anybody that wants a test can get a test"), and his idea of hope is pushing an unproven drug he has a small financial stake in. His briefings often raise more fear than hope, particularly when the Drs. Fauci or Birx aren't present. In fact, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that only 35% of Americans surveyed trust the president on the coronavirus. Conversely, the same poll found that 66% of the respondents trusted their own governor, despite decisions like this coming out of Florida.
I'm with those 66%. I avoid the president's briefings, and instead I rely on my state and local officials for answers, for hope. I schedule my daily routine around Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's coronavirus updates. Baker has been steady to the point of stoic, yet when he does show emotion, it's in a way that reaches to the heart of what many of us are feeling in world where people have to say goodbye to dying loved ones over FaceTime. I also welcome the recorded messages from Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill, whose sensible response to the virus has made international news. Mayor Cahill always starts this messages with "Hi friends," and before he gets to reminding us about social distancing and wearing masks, he asks us to think of our neighbors who are sick, and to say prayers for the families of those who have passed. These leaders aren't perfect, but their leadership is more reliable, even in its imperfection, than the flailing indignation in the face of failure we get from President Trump.
I get that people are scared, even those (maybe especially those) who are protesting stay at home orders. I'm scared, too. But we can't be willing to put lives at risk today simply because death is inevitable some time in the future. Whitfield and Strong acknowledged in their "Ball of Confusion" that there were people interested in learning and "talkin' 'bout love thy brother" and we have people like that in our confusing world, too. Instead of demanding the right to play golf and get haircuts, the people protesting stay at home orders should unfollow Trump and start listening to those Colorado healthcare workers, and the thousands of others like them, who have asked us to stay home so that some people infected with the virus don't have to die today. There is nothing confusing about their daily heroism, and the quiet leadership that drives it.
You can download "Thank You" by Thomas Wimberly, along with other artwork donated by artists dedicated to the fight against COVID-19 at Amplifier.org.
The coronavirus is not the first pandemic of the Twitter age, but it will be the most remembered. Even though almost 12,500 Americans lost their lives to H1N1 during the Spring of 2009, March was still mad. Kobe was still alive and winning championships. Baba-Booey was still throwing out horrible first pitches. America, for the most part, stayed open. Today H1N1 is mostly a stick pundits use to measure both our government's reaction to the coronavirus and the media's coverage of that reaction. H1N1 and Twitter shared time together on the planet (still do), but COVID-19 is the first #pandemic. It will take years for us to come to terms with the swiftness with which it blew through our houses and slammed our doors shut.
Even though we've been forced to retreat behind closed doors and makeshift masks we are, in some ways, more connected in the face of COVID-19 than we've ever been. Because of Zoom, my wife currently spends more time with some of her co-workers than she did when they shared the same building. Even though venues are closed, concerts are common because social distancing doesn't apply to social media. Until an equally potent virus infects our devices, the way we cope with and relate to this new kind of isolation is something we can share and others can consume, which brings me to the next song on my COVID-19 soundtrack:
"ISOLATION" - JOHN LENNON
"People say we got it made. Don't they know we're so afraid?"
John Lennon made and released "Isolation" during a time of great personal and professional upheaval. It's the fifth track on his first official solo record, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, a starkly raw record that was a sharp left-turn away from the gloss and polish of The Beatles (despite their attempt to get back to basics with Let it Be). With each song, Lennon gives the audience a glimpse into what it's like to simultaneously quit drugs and The Beatles cold turkey. He sonically and lyrically lays his grief bare on "Mother" and wonders, now that he's stepped away from being a Beatle, "who am I supposed to be?" on "Look at Me."
This album is a good example of the dichotomy of celebrity. For Lennon, and probably for most famous people, fame and popularity can make you feel alone in a way that seems inconsistent and out of place when there's a version of you plastered here, there, and everywhere (thanks, Paul). At the height of Beatlemania, John, Paul, George, and Ringo found solace in one another's company by hanging out in their hotel room bathroom because that was the only place where they could be themselves on their own terms. Celebrities become wealthy by producing a version of themselves for our consumption. In that trade-off, they get trapped by the expectations that come from being who we think they are. For fans, it's easy to forget that there is an actual, feeling human being behind the pictures in the TMZ stories. With "Isolation" Lennon presents that humanity like an open wound.
Since the world cocooned, many of us have been contending with who we are. We go through familiar routines that, despite their sameness, are different from what we're used to. Shopping remains a necessary pastime. We have to eat and have toilet paper. Lots, and lots of toilet paper. Other constants aren't required, but not surprising in their constancy, like our obsession with celebrity. Almost 40 years after Lennon died, the world is still enamored with the concept that he helped create, came to hate, and was ultimately murdered by. We still consume the famous, even under quarantine. Want proof? For a lot of us, the threat of the coronavirus didn't become real until Tom Hanks -- America's Dad -- got it (you can check out his wife's quarantine playlist here). But we still want celebrity on our terms, which was never fair, perhaps even less so now. For example, BuzzFeed wants you to know that celebrities are pandemic shopping just like the rest of us. There's even pictures of Miley in a mask! Yet, that same media outlet laments that celebrity nonsense is at an all-time high, while The Nation explains how the coronavirus reveals that the stars are not like us (perhaps not even Forest Gump).
I disagree with The Nation's headline. Stars are like us, they just don't live like us. Yet it's as if there's a certain degree of worry, fear, suffering, and foolishness that isn't allowed celebrities, even though their world -- which admittedly is drastically different from ours -- has changed just as much. Vanessa Hudgens saying, “Yeah, people are gonna die. which is terrible. But like, inevitable” on Instagram is similar to Glen Menard Nordal saying "None if us are getting out of this world alive...virus or no virus....it's fear mongering at its best" on Facebook. The only difference is Hudgens has 38.8 million followers on Instagram and Nordal has 32 followers on Facebook. Not 32 thousand. Just 32. Insensitivity is another constant... virus or no virus.
Our continued consumption of celebrity quarantine culture is hypocritical and unfair. Even as we deny the rich and famous the right to fear and frustration, we still expect them to assuage ours. Hudgens was forgiven for her coronavirus faux pas as soon as it was announced that she would be participating in a High School Musical cast reunion singalong (add "We're All in this Together" to your quarantine playlist). Our how could they! during quarantine incredulousness moved onto Justin Timberlake and his public frustration with the demands of 24-hour parenting, even though social media was filled with things like this from "normal" people, once quarantine closed schools and remote learning ensued:
Neither of these pictures look like they were taken on a Montana ranch. I don't know Cara Biddings but her Twitter profile says she lives in Maine, and she seems nice. Yet, I see the same thread running through her and Timberlake's comments. They're both just humans. Victims of the insane situation we all are in.
Two years before "Isolation" was released, Lennon shouted "I'm lonely! Want to die!" on "Yer Blues." I'm definitely not there, but I am adapting to a new sort of loneliness. I'm thankful for my wife and my pups. I appreciate the virtual connectedness I have with others, but it is a pale substitute for the physical, human interactions I didn't know I'd miss until they were gone, like Thursday night trivia at my local dive bar. I want to stand outside my classroom between bells again, share the Jeopardy Clue of the Day with my colleagues, and joke with my students. The free and easy exchanges of "please" and "thank you" that occurred in restaurants and shops are either gone or given a new and tangible weight in today's circumstances, where buying groceries can be deadly.
When this is all over, I'd love to spend time in the Grenadines on David Geffen's 400 million dollar superyacht. But I wouldn't want to be stuck on it while the rest of my life was put on hold. For now, all of us still shop, celebrities in nicer stores, with a new distance that can't be measured in arm-lengths. The situation, not the setting, is what makes "Isolation" so heavy.
Music has always been a source of joy and strength. I even dedicated an issue of PC to the topic, and I have written a lot of things rooted in or inspired by music or musicians. So when it became clear about a month ago that I would be working from home as a result of the coronavirus I made a playlist. It reflected my thinking at the time -- this will pass, and probably quickly. I didn't choose the songs because I was looking for any deep or sustaining meaning in the face of an indefinable threat because I didn't know how serious the threat was then. I chose songs because choosing gave me an excuse to group together an hour or so's worth of music I liked that was tangentially related to a topic I didn't.
I had "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police, which is about social distancing, but not the kind we're tasked with now. "Fever" by Peggy Lee made the cut, as did "You Sound Like You're Sick" by the Ramones. There was "Cough Syrup" by Young the Giant, and "Can't Feel My Face" by the Weeknd. "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by the Georgia Satellites was suggested by my wife, and I started things off with "Time to Get Ill" by the Beastie Boys. When it was all done, my playlist looked a lot like others I would see on social media as people sought not to minimize the virus, but to make it manageable; approachable even, until it blew over.
As much as I like to use music and humor as masks to diffuse and deflect, it became clear to me after a week in lock down that many of the songs I had chosen weren't appropriate given the gravity of the situation. I still believe we need music and humor, most especially in times like these. But as it became more and more evident that a lot of people were going to get sick, maybe even ones I cared about, having a song from the same album as "Fight for Your Right" -- especially when spring breakers were ignoring social distancing recommendations in the name of partying while people in New Rochelle were virtually walled in -- didn't seem appropriate at all.
That doesn't mean the virus killed music for me. It's just that other songs that seemed like a better fit for what was happening began playing in my head. These songs don't have anything to do with the coronavirus, or illness of any kind as far as I know, and only one is from the list I made BCE (before corona exploded). They are not the end of a playlist, but the beginning of a soundtrack.
In movies, songs can be allusions designed to tune the viewer into a specific frequency. How else do you explain why Quentin Tarantino used "Cat People," a song David Bowie recorded in 1982, during a pivotal scene in Inglourious Basterds, a movie set during World War II? They can reinforce the importance of an action or event the way "Bellbottoms" by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion does at the beginning of Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. On film, songs often accent or expand on a scene's emotional heft, be it joy, sadness, fear, or excitement. We seem to be living in a movie, though what kind remains to be seen.
My COVID-19 soundtrack is made up of songs that, when I hear them after all of this is over, will be linked to this moment when the world cocooned. I'll be presenting them in a series of posts, in no particular order, starting with...
"DOLPHINS" - AZTEC CAMERA
"I've been a'searching for the dolphins in the sea..." - Fred Neil
I could have included "The Waiting" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in this soundtrack because for me these days have been a long, slow exercise in standing by and biding time. My fight-or-flight button has not been pushed. My adrenal glands have kept my catecholamines in check. Instead I wait for information and news and I hope it's not bad. Are the numbers going down, or at the very least, holding steady? What stupidly confusing thing did the president say at today's briefing? Can I go back to work soon? Is everyone safe? These days I burn for hope.
So when news reports from sources like The Guardian and the London Evening Standard began reporting that dolphins were returning to Venetian canals two things happened: I shared the story, and I listened to this song. Originally released by folk singer Fred Neil in 1967, "Dolphins" has been recorded by Tim Buckley, Linda Rondstadt, and even the Black Crowes. I first came to know it via this live version released by Roddy Frame in 1991, and it's my favorite of all the versions I've heard. It's a song about the potential of having your faith in the world restored by nature, by the sight of dolphins gliding through the sea. It's about the possibility that maybe on the other side of that lonely ocean there's someone on a shore thinking about you.
The idea that dolphins would be knifing through clear waters that were just weeks ago choked by commerce and cruise ships made something in me breach. It was a silver shimmer of movement across the dark seas we've been drifting on. But it wasn't true.
Andrew O'Hehir, writing for Salon, explained how "one of the most widely repeated silver-lining stories of the global coronavirus pandemic turns out to be -- not fake exactly, but partly mythical, the result of a single tweet, drawn from fragments of disconnected evidence, that went around the world at lightning speed and launched dozens of thinly-sourced articles." It was an old fashioned game of telephone in the midst of a very modern #pandemic. Short of just debunking the story, O'Hehir went on to identify why it resonated and spread so quickly prior to being properly fact checked: because we needed it to.
Right now waiting isn't enough, especially since that's essentially what we've been asked to do. So we use the power of story to create fact from fiction and we call it hope. We celebrate and share reports of dolphins and drunken elephants that, in the end, turn out to be less than accurate. Why? Because our need to search can carry us when our legs can't (or when they shouldn't, as is the case for those of us being told to stay home). Anyone who has ever looked for Santa as a kid knows just how tangible the things we hope for but never see can be.
Roddy Frame said that "Dolphins" was a song about human nature, and that at least is true. Everyday during this pandemic people are going on fruitless searches and facing down false hopes ("It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine." That doesn't mean we should give up on what's possible, and that's why "Dolphins" resonates with me. Searching is sustainable. It's one thing we can do when we can't do anything else. Even if there are no dolphins currently swimming in the Canale Grande, the waters are clearer than they've been in a long time. That makes looking easier.
Words can't capture the absurdity of these times, so I'm giving you this picture of Napoleon Dynamite on a horse.
Prodigal's Chair has been in hibernation, but it's spring, and I'm not teaching (not really, though I'm trying) and COVID-19 is wrecking everything so I'm coming out of my digital cave. Not everyone will appreciate what I have to write. I may be accused of the pulling a Wonder Woman. "Why," people will ask, "do you think anyone should be interested in what you have to say right now?! People are dying!" And it's true. On the whole, I'm in great shape. I'm healthy, as are the people I care about. I am still receiving a paycheck. I have toilet paper.
Blogging right now sorta smacks of hubris. Imagine...
But I miss people. I miss my students. I miss the colleagues I work and laugh with every day. So this is an effort to reach out. To stretch my legs. In the interest of social-distancing, I'll not be writing a targeted arrow of an essay that reaches some sort of profoundly sharp and cutting point, and in deference to the times, I'll not be taking submissions for a "Virus Issue." This will be more like the ambling walks I've been taking lately, dictated by what's around, with a few tentative steps in the street to preserve an invisible moat the virus (hopefully) can't cross. This will be casual, yet pleasant, depending on the weather.
The etiquette of walks is changing. I read a post on social media by someone who was upset with a jogger who passed them from behind. He ran too close too suddenly. He should have worn a bell, the post said, or maybe carried a bike horn. In this viral age, walkers are birds, and joggers are dangerous cats. I get annoyed with couples who think it's okay to walk side by side, even when someone else is approaching from the opposite direction. Why should I have to push out an extra three feet into traffic because you bitches can't stroll front to back for a few heartbeats? It's not like I'm asking you to get divorced. Mostly, though, people are friendlier. They wave heartily and wear big smiles, whereas you'd only get a slight nod before. It's as if they're wanting to let you know that their move across the street when they see you coming isn't personal. I'll be a little deflated when things get back to normal.
There's fear on my walks, now. There's fear everywhere, though, punctuated by the absurd. In fact, for me this pandemic is mostly about absurdity. We get a daily dose of it every time the President opens his mouth, as this ad Mr. Trump is trying to silence points out:
That's absurdity on a national scale, but the absurd, like politics, is ultimately local. It's absurd that schools are closed until May 4th in Massachusetts, where I live and work. It's absurd that people are hoarding toilet paper, as if two-ply will protect you from the virus (I said I have toilet paper, I didn't say I hoarded it). It's absurd that my mayor is asking people to stagger shopping days based on which ward they live in (my day is Friday, if you're curious). It's absurd that chilly beaches north of Boston have to be closed while sun-soaked beaches in South Florida weren't.
Then again, maybe "absurd" isn't really the right word -- for Trump's response, yes -- but not for the other things I've described. These things would definitely be absurd under normal circumstances, but things are not normal. The absurd has become both reasonable and required, in many cases, in order to protect and preserve people's health and the common good. It's a duality Shakespeare would love because "fair is foul, and foul is fair."
In case I've confused you, here's another benchmark for absurdity: Little Darlings, a strip club in my home town of Las Vegas, is staying open. How does one social distance at a strip club? Does the giver or the receiver of the lap dance wear the hazmat suit? Only in Vegas could one get a drive-up peep show featuring hand-sanitizer wrestling.
So here's a quiz: Which of the following is not an example of the "absurd"?
Let's turn the corner. Does everyone else spend most of their time thinking about what other people are doing to fill theirs? It seems like it, based on social media. On Facebook people want to know how many places their friends have visited (I've been to more than some, less than others). They want to know if you've seen a band live for every letter of the alphabet (Nope! I'm short E, of all letters, and Q, X, and Z). They want to know if you're good at math (the answer is 30). These are exchanges that require give and take; and, like Zoom meetings, they have become more common place that speaking face-to-face. I'm also curious about which song was number one on your 12th birthday, but I think about other things, too.
I think about my former students who were freshmen when I started my current job and have seen their senior year disrupted and potentially cut short. I hope they know that, regardless of how the rest of their year goes, COVID-19 cannot diminish what they've accomplished.
I hope the restaurants and the other small businesses in my community that have been figuratively infected by the coronavirus can survive. I want them to know that I'll be there when they reopen.
I miss sports. Liverpool was just two wins away from lifting the Premier League trophy, and March was still mad, but for reasons most of us never saw coming. There will be no Olympics this summer, and maybe no baseball.
It sucks that bands I've been looking forward to seeing have had to reschedule their shows or have canceled them outright. I hope these small, indie artists like Caroline Rose, the Michigan Rattlers, and Hinds can survive until they can tour again.
I hope Nashville rises, knowing that the town was reeling from deadly tornadoes before the pandemic hit.
I think about my daughter.
I want everyone to stay safe and alive.
Those are my words; my thoughts. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. But there they are.
What are you thinking about?
If you're interested in sharing, email me. Let's get through this together.
I started Prodigal's Chair with a few goals in mind. I wanted to write, and to find an outlet for my output, but more importantly, I wanted to create a space. As many of the pieces I've placed in these pages indicate, my life was shaped by my participation in and eventual break from a fundamentalist Christian church during my teenage years. With PC, I wanted to take the best of what that experience offered me -- acceptance, a chance to grow and feel loved for who you are -- without the strings that are attached to that kind of "freedom." I wanted to let people of all points of view and experience have their voices heard on a broad range of abstract and concrete topics.
And for a while, I fucking killed it. I won't bullet point the ways; anyone who's interested can look at the "PAST ISSUES" section to see who's been represented and what's been accomplished. PC has managed to bring together a fairly disparate group of peoples -- some writers, many not.
I am very proud of that.
But it's been a one man show, I do all of the artwork, editing, layout, etc., and to do PC right means giving it more time and attention than I currently can. For those who don't know me up close and personal-like, I'm a public school teacher who has headed back to grad school for more punishment. And I want my wife to see me from time to time, too.
So I'll be pushing in my chair for a bit. Prodigal's Chair is not ending outright, nor is it going completely dark. But you won't see any new issues for a while. There will be a few dispatches from time to time as the spirit moves, and when that happens I'll let you know through all of the usual channels.
For this Valentine’s Day my wife and I got my fourteen-year old daughter a pair of hot pink patent leather Doc Marten boots I found at a local thrift store, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack in 180 gram pink vinyl, a black David Bowie “Starman” t-shirt with pink and blue accents, and some pink-foil wrapped dark chocolate hearts. In Parkland, Florida, the students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their families got something else.
I’m sure Valentine’s Day will mean something drastically different for the MSD community from now on in ways that I can’t fully imagine. But as these students and their families work their way towards some new normalcy, they are simultaneously leading their childish elected officials kicking and screaming towards a more reasonable, responsible relationship with guns in America. Teenagers who huddled behind desks and hid in closets are standing up in the name of the seventeen students and staff who won’t be around next Valentine’s Day, and they’re challenging perceptions about what their Tide Pod eating generation is capable of.
That these kids are more resolute and reliable than the people their parents elected to lead them was painfully clear to anyone who saw the Florida legislature refuse to open a gun measure up for a floor debate shortly after the shooting. Yet on that same day - with many MSD students in the gallery - they defined pornography as a public health risk. Regardless of your opinion on pornography, as a teacher, I can tell you that I’ve never worked at, nor have I heard of, any school being locked down because someone brought a Hustler into the building.
The brilliance of the MSD students and the movement they’ve started is that they’re doing something the adults in this country - on both the left and the right - have never really been able to do. In the wake of unspeakable tragedy, they are turning thoughts and prayers into action. They are finally, and effectively bringing change to bear in an area people from other countries have long looked askance at: America’s willingness to tolerate a culture where citizens are cut down by gunfire. And it’s working.
Three weeks after the shooting, those Florida lawmakers finally did take up the issue, passing a 400 million dollar gun control and school safety bill in the face of NRA opposition. The measure does little to reduce the number of guns available in the state (It does not ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, nor does it strengthen background checks - which even a vast majority of gun owners want), at least those legislators were willing to try, unlike many of their peers in other states and at the federal level. And how could they not, after facing the passionate advocacy of a group of Floridians who, for the most part, are too young to vote them out?
Valentine told me who's to go
When I look at my quirky daughter, who loves David Bowie and vintage clothes, I see a lot of the promise currently being fulfilled by her peers in Florida. As she and I exchanged texts about the shooting, which was close to where her step-cousins go to school, we wondered if the shooter was somehow inspired by the David Bowie song quoted above. Bowie, who had quietly made America his home during the last few decades of his life, used songs like “Valentine’s Day” to take a critical look at his adopted country. While a dubious website called Illuminati Watcher claims that “Valentine’s Day” is an example of the predictive programming the mythical secret society uses to subliminally control people (because the only thing more American than guns are conspiracy theories, right?), I don’t see how a song critical of American gun culture could have that effect. Furthermore, if Nikolas Cruz was inspired by Bowie’s song, investigators have yet to reveal it.
So while many people have pointed out the eerie similarities between “Valentine’s Day” and the Parkland shooting, a more welcome connection has been made to the MSD students and the second verse of one of Bowie’s better known songs, 1972’s “Changes”:
And these children that you spit on
These children are painfully aware of what they went - and are still going through. That’s why they are so resolute even as the adults they challenge remain married to the status quo, or display the kind of waffling exhibited by President Pancake, who slaps the NRA across the face with one hand while giving them a friendly pat on the ass with the other. If Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum make guns more expensive, and therefore harder to get, then I say, by all means, proceed, sir.
That’s because the problem really is guns, (along with the fact that many people have come to view the Second Amendment with such idolatry that they are blind to reason and data), despite our desire to blame other objects and issues. True, the United States routinely ranks last in mental health care when compared to other developed nations; but, if all things were equal, we would still have to worry about keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill because there are so many guns available for them to get their hands on. Yet, we’d rather make sure that future Dylan Roofs can’t amass a cache of Penthouse magazines while still ensuring the availability of high-capacity magazines. Better to demonize the mentally ill as evil monsters for legally acquiring and using weapons like AR-15 rifles in the manner in which they were designed (for creating mass-casualties cleanly and with ease) than to call their weapon of choice what it is: a killing machine that should have no place in homes or on store shelves.
Then there are those who say the answer can be found in “hardening” our schools. This means doing a better job of controlling ingress and egress points, installing metal detectors, and - unbelievably to me - arming teachers and other school employees. An acquaintance on Facebook touted this last measure, writing something to the effect that since teachers are already thoroughly vetted, highly trained individuals with a vested interest in the welfare of their students. preparing them to go all Bruce Willis on a shooter is the way to go. The Florida Legislature partially endorsed this view by including 67 million dollars to arm certain school employees - but not teachers - willing to carry firearms in school (so be nice to the lunch lady, kids). But, getting back to Bowie, that’s like putting out a fire with gasoline. It makes no sense to tackle the gun problem by adding more guns to the equation. Nor is it wise to make schools structurally equivalent to prisons.
Much of this comes down to the fact that many of our politicians do a better job of respecting the whims of special interest groups than they do at enacting the will of their constituents. Nowhere was the power of the National Rifle Association more evident than in Georgia, where legislators killed a 40-million dollar tax break on jet fuel for Delta Airlines after the company responded to MSD students by ending its discount program for the NRA. Delta is the largest private employer in the state, yet Republican Lt. Gov. / gubernatorial candidate Casey Cagle promised that, if elected, he would kill any tax break for Delta unless the company fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA. USA Today has since revealed that only thirteen NRA members have ever used this discount (JUST THIRTEEN!). Yet Cagle and other Georgia politicians are willing to leverage it against the economic well-being of the 33,000 Georgians Delta employs. It’s pretty clear who politicians in Georgia really represent.
So here we are, at a crossroads yet again (see Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Aurora, Las Vegas). But this time it’s different. The children in Parkland have turned to face what makes America seem so strange to the rest of the world, and they’re doing it with the kind of grit and resolve that some adults find infuriating and that I - and many others - find marvelously inspiring. Next year, I’ll gather more gifts for the people I love while many of the people in Parkland will struggle to reconcile what happened on February 14, 2018 with what Valentine’s Day looks like for everyone else. But today, MSD students aren’t thinking about carnations and candy. They are continuing to challenge officials (both elected and appointed), and they’re mobilizing. On March 24th, I plan on standing with them in my community, at the March for Our Lives in Boston, so that in the future, the phrases “gun control” and “school safety” never have to share the same space again.
To find a March for Our Lives event near you, click HERE.
Two-thousand, two hundred and forty-six dollars.
That’s how much the man sitting next to me at the Immigration Forum had in his Citibank account. I know this, not because I’m a stalker (I’m nowhere near that stealthy) but because this guy was a careless, close-phone-holder.
And he was short.
Plus, he slouched.
All these factors, meant that it only took a slight left turn of my head – which happened often as I sought to give the forum’s speakers my attention – to see what drew close-phone-holder’s attention to his phablet and away from the forum.
In addition to his bank balance (which he checked at least a dozen times over the course of the two hour meeting), there was the text to an associate about how enjoyable drinks were at B-Dubs, queries about what older men should wear to clubs in Vegas, and a search for Miracle Ear hearing aids – which made sense given all of the “Huh?”s and “What?”s he loudly sent his son’s way during the forum.
Or maybe this man, who had the appearance of a just stopping off for a gallon of milk after a long day at the office – tailored shirt unbuttoned at the collar, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up – had no intention of listening in the first place? This became clear to me as the meeting went on. No, he was here to support his boy, who was the more disrespectfully engaged of the two, and to check his phone.
Junior, who appeared to be in his early twenties, beat-boxed his way through the meeting, scoffing and grunting at any mention of immigration’s historic role in weaving together the fabric of his community. His disapproving whispers scratch-scratch-scratched against the backbeat of the panelist’s comments, dismissing each person’s claims before they were finished making them.
Remember, I could see everything that danced across the screen of close-phone-holder’s phablet, including the texts his son was so feverishly sending him between gasps and guffaws. If these missives were to be believed, then junior knew more about the law than the chief of police AND the city’s solicitor. He knew more about immigration’s impact on the community than a professor who made the subject his specialty at the local university. The minister whose congregation dealt with immigrants on a daily basis? Useless, as was the vastly unqualified school district official. And – surely – this young man’s perspective as a lifelong city resident and ‘Murican citizen was more cogent to the conversation than a fellow resident’s who – while also a U.S. citizen – was not BORN here. When dad validated this claim with the assertion that junior had the wrong skin color, I snapped.
I turned towards father and son and, in my angriest, most condescending whisper, told them that I could see everything on dad’s screen. Why, I demanded, was he looking at his bank account so often?! No, showing off a little chest hair was NOT a good look for ANYONE, let alone someone his age; and – most importantly – can you hear me okay, because I’m trying to tell you how rude and disrespectful you are?
I had my say and I left my seat to take a walk.
Out in the hall, away from my wife, the crowd, one of my bosses who shared the stage, and those two trolls whose behavior so incensed me, I did what most people would do: I took out my phone, opened my search engine, and I started to Hyde. I knew junior’s name – it was on the screen right in front of me for more than half the meeting – and my joints popped and swelled as my now knobby fingers ran across my phone.
I trolled them. Blatantly.
I learned that junior survived a childhood illness that required two organ transplants. I discovered that as a teenager he had been arrested for driving around town and shooting kids with a pellet gun. Dad, on the other hand, was a local business owner. You could find his commercials, touting his years of dedication and service to the community he called home, online, his outsized personality filling the screen. How, I wondered, would he treat the woman he and his son mocked from behind their phones if she were to ever walk into his office looking for car insurance?
I learned that they had relatively open social media profiles, and I was tempted to call them out in a Facebook post – to challenge any of my friends who may have business with dad’s company to rethink who they paid their premiums to.
I looked around some more.
Despite their behavior at the forum, both father and son seemed relatively apolitical online. Junior's posts were typical for a college student who was looking to define himself by who he wanted to become as opposed to who he had been in high school. Look! I'm witty and ironic. I read things. I'm not the village idiot. I imagine my profile would've looked the same had Facebook been (ahem) around when I started college.
Dad's page reflected an older man's desire to embrace technology in a way that told the rest of the world, "No, I'm not too old for this!” He had many pictures, a few memes, and some general, emoji free status updates, with the occasional awkward accidental "message" that was really meant for one person and not his public wall. I saw no evidence online of the people they were sitting next to me. They had a lot friends. Tons of family. They seemed decent. They were loved.
I put my phone to sleep and went back to my seat. I was still mad, but not just at them. There was a bit of a stink on me. How do you reconcile and confront the shit that people do without becoming shitty yourself? This question followed me back to my seat.
The rest of the meeting was quiet, but I still had trouble staying focused on the speakers. When things drew to a close, a woman sitting in front of us – who wore the trappings of a Buddhist and had obviously heard the earlier commotion – turned to junior with a warm, radiant smile and asked, “Did you get your questions answered?” Dad was already moving to leave, but junior paused, stopped cold, really. He wasn’t expecting this. As my wife and I got up to leave, he and the Buddhist were talking politely.
In the years to follow, history books will be very kind to President Barack Obama. The 44th President brought to the Oval Office an intellectualism seldom demonstrated in modern national politics. He will be remembered as one of a handful of United States Presidents considered among the very best
Obama’s skilled oration, talent for consensus building among colleagues in and out of the Beltway, ability to foster relationships and collaboration with world leaders, and his steady-handed temperament coupled with an unwavering message of hope, all demonstrate the statesman like stature of this great legal scholar of constitutional law.
President Barak Obama has also always carried himself publicly as nothing short of a true gentleman--a hugely important attribute of any man by any measure. The integrity and gentlemanly demeanor displayed by President Obama throughout the course of his two terms in the White House is something to which any kid, or any adult, would be wise to aspire, and in that, the President served as a role model to the world, as it should be.
This of course all contrasts miserably with the president elect who ran a campaign devoid of integrity and lack of gentlemanly behavior; full of lies, attacks, bullying, racist and sexist remarks, and a candid admission of how he sexually assaults women--by popping a couple of Tic Tacs before forcing kisses on them, and by grabbing them by their genitals. The lack of basic decency, of second grade ethics, had the nation’s head spinning.
As the second term of President Obama draws to a close, we should be celebrating our national gains and preparing to further build upon the grand foundation which the President has laid down over the course of the last eight extraordinary years. Instead, as a result of the unprecedented events on November 8, the majority of Americans are now bracing hard against the raging winds of intolerance and hard line fear-mongering blowing in from the Alt Right.
Make no mistake, it will be a hard and long fought upcoming four years for those of us seeking to secure social justice and civil rights for all Americans. The president elect has done an excellent job selecting advisors and filling cabinet positions to assure the trappings of justice for ourselves and our posterity are in clear and present danger. There has been and will continue to be plenty of time to look forward, to take on dangerous radical right policies head on and push an agenda of tolerance and sensibility. Indeed, it will be necessary and urgent.
As one remarkable year ends, and another begins, let us take a moment away from the struggle to come, and take a look back. President Obama, our absolute best president in recent history, left us with more than his legacy. He left us with a blueprint, some of the highlights of which will be illustrated below. It is horrifyingly certain the president elect has every intention to shred almost every aspect of said blueprint, and that, dear reader, is why it is so very important we remain familiar with the achievements of President Obama, so we can advocate on behalf of these progressive solutions to our problems at a time when our lawmakers are pushing back against common sense, common decency, moderation, and tolerance.
In no particular order, let us take a look at a smattering of President Obama’s crowing achievements.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER
In 2009 the Norwegian Nobel Committee conferred upon President Obama the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work leading to the decrease of nuclear weapons worldwide, while simultaneously improving human rights across the globe leading to a safer, more socially responsible and environmentally friendly world.
An excerpt from the Norwegian Nobel Committee praises the President for his global peace initiatives: “ The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened. Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
CAPTAINED THE US OUT OF THE GREAT RECESSION
President Obama inherited the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and responded with a stimulus plan which was swift and effective. In the last six years of the President’s tenure in the Oval Office, over 14 million private sector jobs were created by the stimulus. In fact, when Mitt Romney ran against and lost to then first-term President Obama in 2012, he promised America the Romney economic plan would reduce unemployment down to 6% by the end of his term. Romney lost, and now, closing out the second of Obama’s terms, unemployment sits at 5%, significantly better than the promise of the republican Romney, founder of Bain Capital. If there is one negative note to be found in our economy currently, its the sluggish nature of wages themselves. Unemployment is way down, but wages have not risen sharply. The movement was in the right direction, and strong, and a Clinton Administration could have furthered the work priming the conditions for wages to rise. Its important to note the republican dominated senate blocked Obama countless times on important legislation designed to stimulate wages via investments in green technologies which are high tech and high pay jobs. The GOP also blocked initiatives to raise the national minimum wage, while at the same time favoring tax breaks targeting the upper ten percent of wage earners in the United States.
The President made good on his promise from the campaign trail in 2008 to bring legislation allowing universal health care for any citizen in need of coverage. Millions of Americans are now fully insured, and are so despite pre existing conditions, which, due to out of reach prices of privatized insurance, would have excluded millions from medical care coverage, and the fallout of that would have been overall greater for the nation. The Affordable Care Act has been especially helpful providing coverage for millions of women, babies and young children. Not without some flaws, the Affordable Care Act is in need of some fine tuning. That it was landmark legislation, however, is unchallenged, and the care it has afforded millions who would have gone (maybe broke) without insurance the opportunity for good coverage at reasonable cost. The President Elect and every other republican candidate for president promised to “repeal and replace Obamacare”. Doing so would be foolhardy and shortsighted, not to mention heartless. The President Elect and his henchmen would be better served by tweaking the system mildly and shoring up any weak areas... but to throw the baby out with the bathwater is just bad policy.
MADE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY
Barack Obama’s work securing newly implemented automobile efficiency regulations has led the industry to vehicles which burn less fuel and lowers harmful emissions. Similarly, Obama stimulated new regulations regarding power plant emissions. Output from stacks are now typically scrubbed internally or reduced by volume, the result being an overall decrease in carbon and other atmosphere destroying gasses. Despite initial republican push back, both of these changes are generally lauded as progressive and proactive.
The United States’ participation in the Paris Agreement, signed by President Obama, links our nation to most of the world in effort to reduce bulk emissions across the globe. Signed by more than two hundred nations, the Paris Agreement is a landmark accord, entered into agreement by almost every nation on the face of the earth. Many environmentalists and climatologists believe the Paris Agreement is not strong enough, but certainly agree it is an aggressive start to addressing a problem which is out of control already, and threatens the next generation and all to follow in an immediate and profound way.
It is worthy of note the republicans fought Obama tooth and nail on the U.S. entering into the Paris Agreement. The president elect has threatened to pull out of the Agreement. He has also gone on record as stating climate change, otherwise known as global warming, is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. President Obama embraced the science surrounding climate change, and agreed upon by the sweeping majority within the scientific community, and moved boldly in a collaborative effort with almost every nation on earth to take a smart step towards slowing the human caused heating of the globe.
ENDED THE WAR IN IRAQ
Campaigning in 2008, President Obama promised to bring an end to Bush’s catastrophic war in Iraq, and bring Americans home. He was quite successful on that point, and most now view initiating the war in Iraq to have been a grave mistake. The president elect famously supported the Iraq War. Equally as famously, during the 2016 campaign in effort to distance himself from previously failed policy, the president elect lied stating he had been against the war. Regardless, it was President Obama who inherited the republican’s war, and who was able to turn it around and bring it to a close within a reasonable time period.
Anytime a ruling power is removed from a foreign government a power vacuum ensues, and it creates a dilemma for the leadership responsible for overthrowing the ruling party. The dilemma is whether it best to leave the nation at the end of the military action, or to stay and nation-build. Republicans would have fought the president had he selected to stay behind. Nation building means commitment of personnel and money for years and often decades. As a result of leaving Iraq, critics claim, obama was responsible for the vacuum allowing fringe terrorist groups, such as ISIS, to emerge. On this point it is important to remember it was George W. Bush and the republican power elite who went to war in Iraq, and did so without an exit strategy. When the war raged on the ground for a lot longer than what some thought would be a quick and surgically precise air war, it was fair to say the doo doo had hit the fan. If any one person is responsible for the emergence of ISIS it is George W. Bush for entangling the U.S. in a desperate attempt to improve his personal stature, while lacking the vision for the exit of American soldiers, and failing to consider what may have risen from the ashes he left in his wake.
President Obama made the absolute best of an awful situation he was handed on day one, brought an end to the Iraq War, and brought the troops home as he had campaigned to do, and as the voters in 2008 implored him to do at the ballot box.
RESCUED THE AUTO INDUSTRY
The American automobile industry, a staple source of American pride and employment for millions, had bottomed out and was about done. Obama turned the industry around with a bailout republicans lobbied hard to block. The bailout worked wonders for the industry, however, and more than 100,000 jobs have grown out of the once again thriving U.S. auto industry.
TOOK ON WALL STREET
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act provides protections for everyday consumers and investors by shielding the general public from predatory practices. President Obama signed Dodd-Frank into law and in doing so continued to allow Wall Street the flexibility it needs to grow and thrive while providing protections for consumers, homeowners, investors, borrowers, and those managing their retirement accounts. The most widely lauded aspect of Dodd-Frank is the clampdown it places on unfair, high interest, predatory lending practices designed to inflate the pockets of capitalist fat cats, while cheating the general public and pushing all to many to the point of destitution. Dodd-Frank could be improved upon, as discussed by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, but to strike it down as the president elect has strongly suggested is to economically cripple our most vulnerable people while providing breaks to the upper 10%.
ELIMINATED BIN LADEN AND GADAFFI
Under the President, the United States took down America’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Ladin. No small feat, Bin Ladin, the mastermind behind the September 11th terrorist attacks, had stayed well hidden and protected in what was purportedly the mountains of Afghanistan. When his position moved to one which, although highly buffered, allowed a susceptibility, the President along with Secretary Hillary Clinton and others in the Situation Room of the White House gave the directive, and the Navy Seals were able to take him out. A crowning achievement by any measure, and one George W. Bush had not been able to attain, removing Osama Bin Ladin was the first step in breaking the backbone of the Al Queda terror organization. No U.S. lives were lost.
Also successful was an attempt to eliminate Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi who had a stranglehold on the nation and his corner of the Middle East. Gaddaffi, who exterminated his own people, posed a constant threat for 42 years and was a chief figure in promoting the instability of the region. President Obama’s logistical plan assured the removal of Moammar Gaddafi, also without loss of American life. In both of these instances, the President did what his republican predecessor desperately wanted to do but was unable to achieve despite a war hawkish mindset. Obama played it cool, used intelligence to his benefit, and played his hand when the time was right. Removing Osama Bin Ladin and Moammar Gaddafi were highly applauded achievements and necessary components to building a safer, and more stable world.
EXPANDED CIVIL PROTECTIONS FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE AMERICANS
In America we pride ourselves for supporting the underdog. President Obama signed into law the Hate Crimes Protection Act, despite blustery opposition from republicans in the Senate. The Act provides protections against acts of hate perpetuated against anyone on the basis of their sex, gender, faith, ethnicity, and orientation. The vice president elect, Mike Pence, had been a strong voice against the Act. Instead he has supported legislation which would allow people to discriminate against the LGBT community, and against transgender people, who are among the most at risk people in America. In America, full protections under the law for everyone is the American Way, not discriminatory, predatory laws allowing discrimination against groups in the minority of the U.S. demographic. Shame on those, who like vice president elect Mike Pence, would champion the cause of discrimination against anyone simply looking to live his or her life on his or her own terms. Great praise is due President Obama who spent his life before the Presidency, and his two terms in office, fighting the good fight on behalf of all Americans, not just those in the majority of the demographic. Signing the Hate Crimes Protection Act was a bold move in the right direction for all Americans who value freedom, justice, personal liberty, and of course, basic decency for all.
EXPANDED WILDERNESS PROTECTIONS
By signing into law the Public Lands Management Act of 2009, President Obama ensured over two million new acres of wilderness protection in the United States. The Act has also allowed for the construction for thousands of miles of trails, both nature trails and historic trails. In addition, the Public Lands Management Act ensures protections in place for over one thousand miles of river ways. In addition to securing wilderness protections, the newly protected forest, desert, and river provide buffers to watersheds, improving the quality of drinking water and increasing the overall health of the ecosystems of the nation.
POINTED A WAY OUT OF THE STUDENT DEBT CRISIS
Going to college is supposed to help you to make a living, not cost you a living. the student debt crisis is completely out of hand, a fact not lost on Bernie Sanders, who campaigned on the promise of a cost free college education for any student. By stimulating spending on Pell Grants, the President has assisted countless students make their financial way through college. Equally importantly, Obama is cognizant of the forces at play when students are priced out of an education, and the ramifications for students who are carrying loads of debt at high percentage rates which cannot be refinanced. President Barack Obama has been unable to achieve the visionary goal of Bernie Sanders, and cost free education to all, but has kicked down the door paving the way to better managing the student debt crisis.
MAINTAINED EIGHT YEARS OF INTEGRITY
President Barack Obama served longer than any president in decades without a scandal of any type, as measured by the word (or more precisely, lack of the word) “scandal” being attached to his name in any predominant newspaper. As stated before, the President is a gentleman and his honest, clean, and gentlemanly nature has kept his administration free from scandal in a way many of his predecessors cannot claim to be true of themselves.
IMPROVED OUR NATION'S STANDING ABROAD
According to the Pew Foundation’s Global Attitudes Project, there was a 26% rise in favorable opinion from across the globe during the period of 2009-2012, which was the period surveyed. This is a remarkable gain in world standing from President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. The alliances Obama has forged with many in the international community has generated a respect for him on a global scale. That hard won stature is on the wane for America, however, as the president elect readies himself to take office. As an example, more Britons are scared for the ramifications of this president elect than they are of Brexit, a shake up on enormous proportions which rocked Great Britain and the rest of the European Union, and the world.
We will look back on President Obama as a source of American pride. He led our nation as he carried himself, with dignity and respect for all. President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House will be remembered in the history books as a time when hope, progressivism, and pragmatism led the way to a brighter future for all Americans, and our global friends and neighbors.