Election Diary, Part Three

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It Makes Him Sick, Andrew Garfield on the cover of the August 18, 1880 issue of Puck Magazine. (Puck/University of Michigan).

By Rick Moody

Some further excerpts of my observations toward the end of the primary season, and into the general election. See Part One, Part Two.

April 26, 2016

The story that I am avidly following today is the story in which Ted Cruz’s father, as a young man, seems to be in a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald. The conspiracy theory suggests that Cruz senior (who also apparently volunteered his services to Castro when he was up on the mountains fighting against Batista) was somehow so deeply involved in the fate of his native Cuba that he somehow encouraged Oswald, or was otherwise part of a conspiracy to assassinate JFK. This is so many levels of crazy that there’s nothing to say about it but that it is truly admirable as conspiracies go. The story suggests the relationship between hard right politics and the publication of gossip (the Enquirer has been very evidently pro-Trump throughout most of the election season so far, and accordingly, has published a number of hatchet pieces about Cruz). But at the same time, if you had to come up with a conspiracy, the conspiracy in which Ted Cruz’s father is part of the conspiracy to assassinate JFK is so pyrotechnical it’s like listening to an Yngwie Malmsteen. You have to love the chutzpah, and you have to laugh.

What else might have Ted Cruz’s dad done? I think Ted Cruz’s dad buried Jimmy Hoffa in the Everglades. I think Ted Cruz’s dad invented Wite-Out I think Ted Cruz’s dad played in Desi Arnaz’s band, and had a brief flirtation with Lucy. I think maybe Ted Cruz’s dad is the father of Desi Arnaz, Jr. I think Ted Cruz’s dad is actually one of the percussionists in Santana, and that young Ted became a conservative, because he didn’t like all the drug use in his dad’s band. I think Ted’s dad had sex with Tammy Faye Baker, and that was after he had sex with Jim Baker. I think Ted Cruz’s dad was on Laugh In, wearing a pith helmet. I think that Ted Cruz’s dad was a stooge of Ronald Reagan on the Berkeley Campus in the late sixties, undercover, and that he was particularly concerned about consciousness-raising in the Latino community. I think that Ted Cruz’s dad was the first guy ever to do a Jell-O shot, and that he did them in front of young Ted. I think Ted Cruz’s dad really really really liked Lynyrd Skynyrd, despite the fact that it was embarrassing to the rest of the family. He made Ted go with him to see them whenever they were playing in the Southwest. But at a certain show, where Ronnie Van Zant, as usual, was promenading around in bare feet, Ted Cruz’s dad hit on a young woman in a confederate flag t-shirt, and tried to get high with her, and young Ted was deeply humiliated, and his dad had a conversion experience when the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane went down, and that was how Ted’s dad became evangelical. Ted’s dad spoke only in Esperanto at home. Ted’s dad was an early adopter of Hair Club for Men, and actually worked at selling their product, using urologists as key promotional intermediaries. Ted Cruz’s dad wrote magical realist novels under a pseudonym, and once went fishing with Gabriel García Márquez but later decided he was soft on Communism. He then tried to get the attention of Vargas Llosa instead. Ted Cruz’s dad founded a schismatic church in Texas, in which erotic massage was part of the service each week. It didn’t help with his dyspepsia. Ted Cruz’s dad was in the cast of Breaking Bad. Ted Cruz has a writing credit on certain songs by the English pop group known as Wham!

April 28, 2016

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter for president.

May 4, 2016

I dreamed that I was playing table tennis with Bernie Sanders. I watched Bernie Sanders play someone else, someone younger, better looking. Like David Geffen, maybe, or Warren Beatty during his Shampoo period. Anyway, watching Bernie play this other guy, I got a sense of his game, which was steady but not terribly sophisticated. He didn’t have very good court coverage. The table, by the way, was outdoors, under a flowering magnolia. When you ran off a certain corner of the table, you were crowned in blossoms. After Bernie defeated Warren Beatty, or a similar personage, I challenged him. My game, as in real life, is notable for spin. I think of this as a left-handed skill. I can make the ball look like it’s going to sail off the table and then curve until it hits just the edge. In my case, some of my mad table tennis skills are owing to my having been in the psychiatric hospital in 1986. Ping Pong was one of our main time-wasters there. I played a lot with heroin addicts, because they were agitated and had always had a lot of time on their hands.

Bernie was no match for my game. Because it was a dream, I had some extraordinary additional talents. For example, I served, at one point and it bounced on his side and then bounced back to my side. He was ill equipped for this and other Meadowlark Lemon-style displays. He was not ill-humored about any of this, he simply lost. Maybe the magnolia was distracting to him.

In some measure, this dream seems to be dependent on a real-life occurrence, the time that Steven Millhauser asked me to play table tennis with him and a faculty friend from Skidmore College. I assumed, because I am not bad, that I would fare reasonably well against Millhauser, who, after all, is quite a bit older than I am. But it turned out that Millhauser and his faculty pal watched professional table tennis on TV, and had videos, and spent a lot of their free time perfecting their stand-six-feet-behind-the-table-and-slam style of table tennis. I was lucky to get any points at all. At one point, Millhauser, I believe, threw about half a game, so that I wouldn’t feel too miserable. It was sporting of him, and deeply humiliating. I had to pretend that I didn’t know he was doing it on purpose. As you would imagine, I did not seek out Steve and his pal for an immediate rematch. Bernie, and Millhauser, perhaps in some distant way, resemble one another, although Millhauser is tall and lanky. Maybe they don’t resemble one another at all, actually, except that they both have white hair.

I will leave to the psychoanalysts in the crowd the interpretation of my dream. Excepting that it’s obvious I have spin, in the dream. If I were an MC, I would definitely use the line “I have more spin than Bernie Sanders.” But it’s worth noting that Sanders pulled out an upset in Indiana last night, perhaps the most backward state in the nation. Whereas the Republican convention was to be contested, now it seems that it is only the Democratic convention that is liable to be contested.

And Ted Cruz, who I apparently correctly predicted (in March 2015) would never be elected, will not be elected. I would rejoice in this, excepting that he leaves the guy who looks like a Pomeranian standing tall.

June 8, 2016-June 11, 2016

Oh, and: my wife went into labor. We were upstate, shooting some video for a project she’s doing, and she said, There’s something running down my leg, and the next thing we knew we were in the car and on the way to the hospital. My experience of labor, as a person who watches labor, or who has watched it twice now, is that it’s a thing that moves very slowly. It’s very nearly outside of time. It has an event horizon, like a black hole, in which time moves so slowly, it’s like it’s running backward somehow. We drove slowly and unperturbably down to the hospital, without getting too concerned, and Laurel was even able to walk from the parking lot to the hospital, because her contractions were mild at that point.

They admitted us in part because while Laurel was talking to the billing guy, a second gush of amniotic fluid came out of her, in his office, and that was when the clock officially started. The baby, as I understand it, needs to be born within twenty-four hours of the water breaking. After that, things proceeded exceedingly slowly. Laurel sort of camped out on an examining table, and I wrote a little, and they looked at the amniotic fluid under a slide to make sure it was the real thing, and then, after a while, they put us in a fancy suite with a gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline from the north. We were even able to watch some of The Bachelorette before Laurel got to the stage where she was in a lot of pain.

What I didn’t think about, at all, was politics. So many times in this season of the presidential election I have found myself wanting to be free of it all. Whereas, before I would have said that, e.g., all literature is political, or there is no outside of politics, because any cultural gesture is also a political gesture, now I feel like I want to understand what the human is before it becomes capitalist, because I believe there is a before.

In the hospital, I didn’t have to think of Trump and his pelt at all. The baby was born in the afternoon on the 8th, and then we got two days on the postpartum ward, which was slightly less glamorous than labor and delivery, but in which we came to learn a few things about this new person, this additional family member, who had tumbled out into the arms of our OB-GYN upstairs. Here he was, our son, and he was frail, but with a sturdy voice, and he had to go through many travails in those two days after his birth, little medical interventions of various kinds, and though he seemed vulnerable in the extreme, he proved himself to be tough, too, and adorable and charming, even though he had (and has) a sort of Buster Keaton straight man routine.

Trump was nowhere in the room. Hillary and Bernie were nowhere in the room. And while the future of the nation is at stake, sure, there are also human moments, moments that are about what is really important, and I for one do think childbirth is in the category of special human activities. Politics orbits around such things (there’s a whole kickback scheme for the hospitals in NY state, I think, if they maximize the number of new moms who breast feed, for example), but there is a way that the human touch—the kindnesses of various nurses, the heroism of delivery MDs, the wonderful people from pediatrics who came up to look at my son—can and will triumph over the rank stupidity, the reductiveness of politics. Hillary was securing her victory, yes, while we were in the hospital, and more importantly a long struggle to have a child was concluded.

July 9, 2016

The summer of death.

The culture of death.

The nation of death.

The state of death.

The attitude of death.

The place of death.

The intention of death.

The tolerance of death.

The belittling of death.

The routine of death.

The celebration of death.

The enjoyment of death.

The acceptance of death.

The politics of death.

The philosophy of death.

The aria of death.

The constitution of death.

Nationalism and death.

Populism and death.

The articulation of death.

The rhetoric of death.

The semantics of death.

The ontology of death.

The affirmation of death.

The symbolism of death.

The certainty of death.

The ownership of death.

The vehemence of death.

The platform of death.

The legislation of death.

The execution of death.

The legitimation of death.

The election of death.

July 14, 2016

So the rumor, after a great many rumors, most of them ridiculously embarrassing, and each of them matched by some rumor on the Democratic side, is that Mike Pence is going to be the vice-presidential candidate for the pelted one, the Republican nominee-to-be.

I assume the Chris Christie’s last chance was laid to rest when Bridgegate started to heat up again (David Samson, a close Christie associate, and former chairman of the Port Authority, copped a plea today), and I assume Newt Gingrich could never have been a serious contender, even if, as the pelted one says, the ticket needed someone familiar with legislation. Gingrich has too much post-legislative baggage! Too many videos for sale. Too many conspiracies-for-hire.

Mike Pence, as others have pointed out, does not deliver Trump a state (he was going to win Indiana anyhow), and does not give him a nationally recognized figure. The vast majority of Trump voters do not know who Mike Pence is.

Presumably, the pelted one believes he has rapport with Pence and that Pence can help make congress manageable. Pence does not, in any way, give a general election veneer to Trump’s campaign, and it is clear, as the pelted one has indicated, that no general election veneer is forthcoming.

Trump has closed the gap with Hillary Clinton in some of the battleground states this week, and that is the traditional movement that takes place in the weeks heading into the conventions. These conventions, in this summer of death, promise to be wild, unpredictable affairs. I have a friend whose teenage daughter was wanting to attend the Republican National Convention for the purpose of protest, and as admirable as I think that wish is, I told my friend to ask her daughter to help out the progressive cause in some other way.

I am a little bit worried, again, that Donald Trump could win the presidency.

July 23, 2016

The lingering aftertaste from the Republican National Convention is not, for me, Melania Trump’s plagiarisms or Ted Cruz’s treachery for refusing to endorse the nominee of his party, which was fascinating and awful all at once. No, the lingering aftertaste of the RNC costume drama has to do with the bellowing of Rudolph Giuliani, “America’s Mayor.” Bellowing at the convention in a style that frankly recalls the Nuremberg Rally. The whole fear-combined-with-demonization-of-the-enemy tactical approach is redolent of WWII authoritarianism. It reminded me of some proto-hominid tribal gathering in which a primitive clan was whipping itself up for the annihilation of some hunter-gatherers nearby. There’s a certain sound to the human voice—you don’t even need to know the language being spoken—that always means someone is getting dehumanized by the speaker and the very essence of some other party’s humanity is being called into question.

Giuliani reminds me of those photos of coaches of professional sports with their mouths open. There’s a vogue among sports photographers to capture that moment, and for a while I collected them, these gaping coaches, because they taught me something about what kind of masculinity I did not want to convey myself. The gaping masculinity. Giuliani’s speech gaped in that way, and it conveyed the inhumanity of others, particularly anyone Muslim, and it mandated this inhumanity by, of course, indicating the extreme likelihood of imminent attack, in New York City, or elsewhere, by some other crew of bloodthirsty types, which further required just the kind of gaping masculinity that bellowing Giuliani, “America’s Mayor,” had to offer. Trump is the logical conclusion to this line of reasoning. The imminent threat requires Trump, which requires bellowing, and gaping, and like the clever opening of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus appears to pre-date his own birth, the imminent threat implies a Trump who needed to be there before 9/11, and who would have (as we now know) prevented 9/11 had his kind of racial profiling already been in place. All of this is to be understood as the natural course of this particular candidate and the party that would celebrate this particular candidate at its convention (which mainly featured speeches by his wife and children), except the sound of Giuliani’s bellowing. My mistake, I suppose, was to have heard it on the radio first, as though it were meant to be heard in that way, where his baldness, and his irritating grimacing, were absent from my view, the better to hear his simian warlordisms, his plea for some kind of intellectual equivalent to cannibalism, for which the words lock her up, which occurred as some kind of nightly refrain, were reply in kind.

I lived in New York City on 9/11, and I remember the role that leadership played that day and in the days after, and I will say, giving credit where credit is due, that Giuliani did, in fact, do a great job on 9/11, at least as regards tone. It’s the same great job that Bill Clinton used to do at funerals. No president since Clinton has been as effective at funerals as Clinton was, and no political leader in my lifetime has said we’ll get through this, the way Giuliani did. I sort of think he did a shitty job after the first few days, and I’ll never forgive him a great many of his other big-government-is-good-government tendencies, like the campaign against the Brooklyn Museum, and the interventions against jay-walking. Prosecutors, I think, make poor executives, because they are unwilling to compromise, and it must be Trump’s inability to compromise that leads him to look for the simian proto-hominids like Giuliani and Chris Christie. He needs the reassurance of their all-or-nothing approaches to the world. This was the sound of Rudolph Giuliani, the pre-modern blood-soaked call to avenge. In a way, I never believed I’d hear such a thing, and Giuliani, on September 11th, didn’t exhibit it himself, this hideous tone. Then it was all measured words and reassurances. But something happened to him. It’s unclear to me what it was. Out in the wilderness, when he could no longer be elected to higher office. He kindled a desire for revenge, and now it’s never far from how he conducts himself.

September 7, 2016

Labor Day has come and gone, which means we are in the last lap of the 2016 presidential election.

I hate this election. I hate everyone involved. I hate the volunteers, I hate the paid staffers, I hate the advertising executives working on the ads, I hate the reporters, I hate the click bait stories. In some ways, I hate my own candidate, which does not mean I would have hated Bernie Sanders less. On the contrary, I was really getting tired of his humorless mug. Anyone who runs for this office has something wrong with him or herself. Even Barack Obama must have something wrong with him.

But there has never been a candidate that I have found as repugnant, as preening, sociopathic, dim-witted, and acutely embarrassing as Donald J. Trump. I thought it would be very difficult to find a Republican as embarrassing as George W. Bush, but Trump is more embarrassing. George W. Bush, I am ashamed to say, appears, in the reflected glow of Donald J. Trump, to have stood for something.

With each new day, now that Donald J. Trump is in the last lap, there is some new attempt to garner all the news coverage available with warmed over policy points that were produced by putting a bunch of Republican ideas from the last twenty years in a blender and pressing go. When this doesn’t fly, Trump reverts to saying he’ll work it out, and let the professionals decide. More would only box him in. Never before has a presidential candidate tried to create an argument in which having no ideas was somehow a positive.

When he’s not coming up with his content-free policy speeches, he is encoding his coded messages to racists, homophobes, misogynists, and xenophobes.

Yesterday’s example was this. In an interview with ABC news, he said about Hillary Clinton: “Well, I just don’t think she has a presidential look, and you need a presidential look.” As the Times points out, he’d said a similar thing the day before to a crowd of (mostly) men in Cleveland.

Leaving aside, the bracing sexism of the comment, what exactly does it mean to look the part? To look presidential? It’s not a quality that has been easy to define over the years. Obama has had to take to the khaki pants on weekends and vacations to insure that as a young, vigorous African-American man he still somehow can inhabit the presidential appearance. And how difficult it was for Clinton and George W. Bush when jogging, as they both occasionally did, to wear the jogging clothes, and yet seem presidential too. That fucking flag pin, that little medallion of nationalistic dementia praecox, would seem to be required to look presidential.

Could it ever be the case that Donald J. Trump possessed this presidential quality?

For me, it is undeniable that his facial expression, when not suggesting something in the rabid animal family of expressions, a rabid Pomeranian, is decidedly sphincteral. That is, Trump, has a sort of Resting Sphincter quality. It’s a particular variety of anal look, too, not the relatively innocent anal look of the newborn or toddler, but the kind of careworn, fissured up, externally hemorrhoidal asshole that you associate with a middle-aged guy with a mediocre diet on the verge of a bad-news colonoscopy. That is what Donald Trump looks like to me. He looks like an asshole on its way to a very bad late-life state of affairs. The kind of asshole, were it in a William S. Burroughs novel, that somehow learns to talk.

That’s the anal interpretation of Donald Trump’s expression.

The hair has been widely discussed, but let us say, in short, that in the historical annals of Republican hair (which I have described elsewhere at some length: Cap Weinberger, e.g.) Trump’s is some of the most garish hair I have ever seen. He does remind me, in fact, of the hairdresser-turned-singer from Flock of Seagulls, Mike Score (who used to look like this), but who is now little more than an older bald guy from Liverpool. Trump’s hair reminds me of Flock of Seagulls. Is that presidential? Is Mike Score from Flock of Seagulls presidential?

So Trump looks a middle-aged person’s rectal opening, and also like a small woodland mammal, like a chipmunk or a baby fox perhaps. And a member of Flock of Seagulls. Let us not stop there. He also resembles a Long Island undertaker. In fact, perhaps nothing that Trump says or does can entirely distract from the similitude of his person to a Long Island undertaker. He’s the kind of undertaker, in fact, who not only gets a decent buzz off the formaldehyde, but the kind who will wrestle with his desire to consort with the mortal remains. He’s only felt badly tempted on occasions when he drank too much, which is why he confines himself to beer and wine now. Trump is the kind of undertaker who really takes it as a blot on his record if you cremate. He will also be irritated if you get the plane pine box, in lieu of one of the more pillowy and tufted coffins that he has available, artisanally crafted in Sardinia. He is willing to arrange a payment plan that allows for maximum flexibility and leverage, for you the bereaved party, but you should not or cannot nor will he allow you to allow your loved one to leave in the plain pine box of the FAA-approved plastic containment vessel for the ashes. On certain occasions, Trump, the undertaker, has spent a solid 45 minutes with a bereaved party such as yourself, trying everything, appeals to patriotism, a promise to bake a pie, some golf lessons, anything to get to the special add-on feature. He will read a rousing, life-affirming poem at the memorial, if only you will take one of the Sardinian coffins. Trust him!

The skin tone of Trump is suggestive of transvestism to me. Indeed, there is a lot about Trump to suggest transvestism, and I would like to stress here that I have no ill feeling about transvestism, nor about the whole family of sexual adventures that people get up to one degree or another. Straight white heterosexual transvestism is really interesting, psychologically speaking, and suggestive of the kind of complexity of character that I admire in people. Nothing tells the truth like paradox and contradiction. The only problem with heterosexual transvestism is when people hypermasculinize in an attempt to dissemble, by exaggerating the length of one’s manhood and/or by alleging to be able to remove defense spending from the sequester without having to negotiate with congress. Obviously, I’m making a distinction here between gender dysphoria and transvestism, right? TV activity is fetish-oriented activity. Unlike gender dysphoria it’s to get turned on, or that is my argument today, and I think Trump’s leaving on the spray-on tan and the makeup and trying to make it standard masculine behavior only indicates how the pursuit of his sexual inclinations is beginning to take over his allegedly normative “masculine” activity.

Trump also looks a lot like the mother in season one of The Sopranos. I believe she was played by Nancy Marchand. Livia Soprano. I am willing to concede that the physical resemblance is not exact, but there are great tonal similarities. When Livia Soprano would pucker up in order to say something awful to her son Tony, she very much had the same sphincteral quality as Donald Trump, or so it seems to me. To recap: Donald Trump resembles the human anal aperture; and he resembles a woodland mammal; or a Pomeranian; and he resembles a Long Island undertaker; and he resembles a part-time heterosexual transvestite; and he resembles a member of Flock of Seagulls, and he resembles Livia Soprano.

Do any of these things make him more presidential than his rival? Does his red tie somehow do it?

September 20, 2016

The Summer of Death.

Rick Moody is the author, most recently, of the novel Hotels of North America. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he also recently released The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise Recordings).