Former Trump Supporter Shocked That Trump is Trump



Stephanie Cegielski, former Communications Director of the Make America Great Again Super PAC, penned a missive in xoJane about why she can’t support Trump anymore. It basically boils down to no one thought Trump could win, and that he would be a great candidate to shake up the system. She was tired of the direction the country was taking, and thought this would be a great start.

The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy.

You’ll excuse me, but that’s nonsense. I’m sure there were some pros who thought that, but at no point did Donald Trump think he wasn’t going to win. There is a convenient narrative among former supporters that this was a lark, and that Trump is as surprised as anyone. He might not have thought it would be this easy, but Donald Trump doesn’t think he is going to lose. Even when he does- which is often- he immediately spins it in his head as a win of such towering genius that it’s like a billion times better than anyone has ever won.

Donald Trump was never a protest candidate, like Bernie Sanders was originally intended to be before his message found deep purchase. That wasn’t Trump. He assumed he would win. Cegielski’s other reasons for her initial support are equally unconvincing.

My support for Trump began probably like yours did. Similar to so many other Americans, I was tired of the rhetoric in Washington. Negativity and stubbornness were at an all-time high, and the presidential prospects didn’t look promising.

So, you don’t like negative people without a solution, and you stuck around past the rapist speech? This is nonsense. Trump was always a bitter, mean, vulgar, spiteful megalomaniac who never once expressed a positive thought that didn’t revolve around his own world-historic conquerings. Hell, half his introduction speech was spent talking about how much richer he was than Mitt Romney.

To say that Trump now is different than the Trump of June 2015, or that it wasn’t clear that he was always going to be this way, is self-serving in the extreme. It was always clear that he was an ignorant blowhard: he has been his entire life.

Cegielski’s note is to Trump supporters, so it has some value. It isn’t a mea culpa but a note of warning to them that their hero is a false one. But assuming that a woman (!) who has scorned Trump (!!) will be listened to shows that she has just as little awareness of what Trump is, and what is fueling him, as she did all those starry months ago, at the innocent beginning, when calling for a wall around Mexico was a springish lark. How could it have gotten so bad?

Forrest Claypool Drops The Wallace Bomb on Rauner


Kind of a jerk, right? Image from Wikimedia Commons

In a Chicago Tonight interview with Carol Marin a few minutes ago, mostly about the CPS teacher’s planned wildcat strike this Friday, CPS CEO Forrest “Les” Claypool had a bit about the budget negotiations with Governor Bruce Rauner, who must be livid he can’t get the same state-wrecking applause that Governors Walker, Snyder, Scott, et al get. I wasn’t taking notes, so this isn’t exact, but Claypool said more than once that Rauner was “standing in the schoolhouse door” blocking student’s education. Considering that African-American students make up 40% of the CPS student body, and Hispanics another 45%, the direct George Wallace reference is an atomic bomb.

(Marin asked if Messers. Cullerton and Madigan were also standing in that door, but Claypool skillfully demurred.)

I don’t know if a wildcat strike with the intention of forcing Governor Rauner’s hand is the best tactic. Claypool argued with some success that despite contract issues, teachers and the board should present a unified front against Rauner, but that’s a line that is always used, especially against teachers. A strike is never right, because of the children. Activism hurts the children. Never mind that CPS teachers are striking to help the children (and yes, themselves, but better-paid teachers and better-funded schools do just that): the bosses can always use the same cudgel.

So yes, while I think Friday’s movement will be ineffective at best, and make the teachers look like the agents of chaos, the truth is they will be blamed no matter what. They’ll be blamed if they sit like docile daffodils, and they’ll be blamed if they stand up and speak. Scott Walker helped break the dam in terms making teachers the vicious and greedy outsiders, but the pressure had been building behind that dam for decades. Once urban areas became schools largely for minorities, the idea of teachers agitating on behalf of their students was lumped into the rest of the culture wars. In this sense, Claypool’s allusion to George Wallace was closer than it initially appeared.

The Tribune Has Lost Its Damn Mind, Cont.

In life, you meet thousands of people. With some you have a deep connection which spans the decades. Some people you are extremely close to for a short but intense while, and it burns out. Others you are friendly with, maybe even close to, but lost contact with, and realize sadly that there have been dusty years in between the last time you’ve talked, and they are out of your life.

Other people you know briefly 50 years ago, talk once on a bus, have a mildly unpleasant interaction with, and then write about decades later when they are nominated to the Supreme Court.

The Chicago Tribune has decided, in its wisdom, to run a piece from a guy who went to Jr. High with Merrick Garland. The connection, in full, consists of two anecdotes. In the first the author hopes to brag to a new seatmate about his grades, but it turns out young Merrick had straight As. In the other, a few years later, Garland may or may not have cut off our author in a race.

This searing anecdote is what the Trib has given us. Zero insight, an unsubstantiated story, that, even were it true, is meaningless (breaking: kids in competition can be hotheaded), and an odd grudge. Of the thousands of people with whom Merrick Garland has interacted in his life, it’s hard to imagine a less interesting or meaningful connection. I look forward to him not being asked about this non-event in his non-existent confirmation hearings.

Palmyra in the Past and Present




The “Arab Castle” looms over Palmyra, recently recaptured from ISIS by Asad’s army. Image from

I reached Palmyra, those many years ago, after a long trip of minibuses and thumbed rides from belching diesel trucks, conversing minorly in my barely-there Arabic and the unlimited patience of the people who picked me up. The ruins loomed up in the desert, a sun-baked mix of different eras and styles, from distant pagan antiquity to near history, seemingly disconnected from the world, a testament to both the length and the relative insignificance of our history.

Hitchhiking through Syria was neither dangerous nor was it romantic, though I certainly tried to romanticize it. It was a safe time, in the spring of 2000. Hafez al-Asad was still ruling, and while his undertaker pallor still loomed oppressively in thousands of hagiographic portraits, there was a sense of an ending. The oldest son, Basil, who seemed like he was born with a chest full of unearned medals and a dictator’s toothy grin, had been killed in a car wreck a few years before, and the other son, Bashar, was being groomed. He had been living in England- an ophthalmologist, right? – and there was optimism that he would be different. He couldn’t be worse than his brutal old man. Right?

So long ago. The destruction he has levied on his country is enough to make him one of the great criminals of our time. His brutality is compounded by the vacuum it created, the chaos in which (combined with the destruction of Iraq) ISIS found its strength, galloping on blood-stained horses from a medieval nightmare.

Their bloodlust doesn’t need to be recounted here. This is about Palmyra, which was the scene of horror when ISIS took it over. Public mass executions in ancient amphitheaters, the destruction of ancient, pre-Roman temples, the desecration of a shared human heritage. People reacted in horror at the thought of these illiterate goons wantonly destroying ancient ruins. When the Syrian army retook it over the weekend, there was relief that the destruction wasn’t as bad as was feared– though it was still plenty bad, and the murdered would never come back. For many reasons, Palmyra resonated more than the story of 1000 dead.

For many reasons, Palmyra resonated more than the story of 1000 dead. The formulation that I saw was that the theater was the scene of executions, not that executions took place, and it happened to be in an ancient theater. The inflection was on the smearing of a tourist place, a place of antique wonder. This is understandable, if a little grotesque. After all, people die all the time, right?

Yes, of course they do. People die horribly, in mute and screaming terror, in Pakistan or Belgium or Syria or Chicago or Yemen, every day. We’re ripped from this earth by the gory animalism of ideology, whether that is radical fundamentalism or the nihilism of post-capital gang life or rampant jingoism or other ancient horrors. It was always this way- I don’t know the whole history of the Palmyra amphitheater, but through the years, the city, which was taken and retaken, in which different beliefs smashed into each other, was the scene of horror and agony, over and over.

It’s horror that has been dulled by the years, baked into the stones and sanctified by admission. It belonged to people in the past, who didn’t feel pain the same way we do, much how people in other countries don’t weep and moan and bleed and die unless we force ourselves to truly imagine it.

That’s one of the reasons why Palmyra was important. That a goof like 21-yr-old me, with stupid hair and the fake profundity of an adolescent poet, was allowed to go there, in a country that was “supposed” to hate Americans, is why places like that matter. I sat in the old Arab Castle, in solitude, overlooking the ruins, the vast expanse of lives that went into building them, and living in them. It was a castle built for war, that now existed for tourists to connect with the past.

It’s optimistic. ISIS will not last forever. Even Bashar al-Asad will one day fall. This is a generational catastrophe, one that will reverberate for decades, remaking the Middle East. But as the reaction to Palmyra shows- as the existence of Palmyra proves- there is more a sense of shared humanity now than ever. It’s just a matter of overcoming our superstitions and ideologies and small-mindedness, and truly using the empathy of imagination. It’s a matter of recognizing that while we live in the flicker, we don’t have to put out the light just yet.




Newly Translated Gombrowicz Story Makes Certain People Happy

h/t Gregory D. Johnsen, Itinerant. 

Witold Gombrowicz by Bohdan Paczowski - detail.jpg

The Paris Review  has in its current edition a very short story by Witold Gombrowicz, the greatest modernist, translated for the first time to English, by Tul’si Bhambry. They were also kind enough to put it online for us cheapos.

It’s more of a ridiculous and minor tragedy than a great introduction to his works, but it does manage to touch upon some of his big themes: the way outside perception shapes and molds how we perceive ourselves, and the way we perceive that outside perception, and how our personalities are molded by a million competing pressures. Like in much of Gombrowicz, the physical appearance of the perceived changes, although in this case it is more a direct action rather than some kind of metaphysical mutation.

His work hits on a lot more themes, of course, and the tragedy of Polish history is always just around the corner, even though, as has been said of him, he might be the only major Polish writer of the 20th century whose themes weren’t explicitly Poland.  If you want a very basic summation, he is a comic writer whose ideas revolve around the crushing weight of being alive and aware in an absurd century. His books are uproariously funny and bizarre, terrifying and grotesque, with wild loops of language and phrases that take on a heightened tone of terror through repetition, as if they were in front of a mirror that bends at stretches in impossible contortions. The power of language is a driving obsession as well- the actual transformative power, as it ties in with the awareness that all we are is a collection of ideas about ourselves in the shape of words. But what happens if other people can control those words? If they start saying that you are a child, and everyone believes it, do you transform?

If you want a starting novel, his masterpiece is probably Ferdydurkewhich as I understand is just as much a nonsense word in Polish as it is in English. I would probably actually start, though, with the stories collected in BacacayIt is a great introduction to his ideas, and some of the scenes in the collection are adapted in other novels. Really, you can’t go wrong with anything.

However, his three-volume Diary is, in my mind, one of the great achievements of writing in the last century. Self-obsessed, at times impossibly narcissistic, with wild flights of fantasy, a keen look into the artistic experience, an exploration of the themes that obsessed him, a view of ex-pat life in South America, grudges, loves, creations, mythologies, allusions and illusions. It’s not just a view of a great writer: it is like immersing yourself in writing itself.

What Trump’s Particular Brand Of Lying Reveals

All politicians lie. That’s not a statement of cynicism; it’s part of the job. At some point, you have to hedge what you are really thinking, or what you really believe, because winning an election means appealing to the most citizens you possibly can. We’ve had spectacularly successful Presidents who have had an uneasy relationship with the truth. Lyndon Johnson and Nixon were both world-class liars. That’s not a positive thing, of course, but it is to say that Donald Trump being clinically dishonest does not, in and of itself, disqualify him from the Presidency. But it is his method of dishonesty, the kinds of lies he tells, and what that reveals not just about him, but how he’d run the country, that is something we’ve never seen. It is as dangerous as his rampant xenophobia, his bitter misogyny, and his huckster’s ability to appeal to the darkest heart of America.

Trump’s lies are possibly unlike anything we’ve ever seen, not just because of what they say, but because of what it says about him, and the reaction that his campaign has to it. His lies automatically become not just truth, but axiomatic and inevitable. What’s stranger, they become policy. This is the result of a man who has been surrounded by a fawning payroll for his entire life, cosseted by servants and sycophants. His whims become reality, and if reality disagrees, it can go pound sand. This is who he surrounds himself with, and it would continue into the White House. A few examples here will suffice.

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Donald Trump Performs The Impossible…

He makes Ted Cruz look like an honorable and decent person.

Let’s point out, again, everything horrible here.

  1. The Republican frontrunner is attacking his rival’s wife
  2. The Republican frontrunner is attacking his rival’s wife, based on her personal appearance
  3. The Republican frontrunner is attacking his rival’s wife, based on her personal appearance, on Twitter, his desired forum for discourse.
  4. The attack comes in the form of a reweet from someone who has named himself “Don Vito 08”, which is perfect image of a Trump supporter- sad and lost but with delusions of greatness underscored by violence.
  5. Again, he makes Ted Cruz- who is Richard Nixon without the charm, personal magnetism, or higher sense of ethics- look like the big man here, with the moral high ground.

None of this matters, of course. Trump is beloved because of his vulgarity. Because he sleeps with women who look like Melania despite being the human incarnation of lung cancer. Because he swaggers like a caricature, like someone playing Vito Corleone in a low-rent Godfather knockoff in the worst community theater in Secaucus. Just remember that he is the frontrunner. The plane has crashed into the mountain.