A Few Things

So I’m trying something new on my blog. I often go long stretches between posts. Sometimes this is because I’m otherwise occupied, or unstruck by inspiration, or just plain lazy. Often, however, it is because an idea I have for a post doesn’t pan out … I’ll sit and write and write, but whatever observation I’d intended to make doesn’t quite warrant my standard verbiage.

Partially for my own mental health—and for the fact that I do enjoy writing blog posts—I’m trying to correct my tendency to think that, if something isn’t worth writing 2000+ words on, it isn’t worth pursuing. To that end, I’m trying “A Few Things”: a recurring post in which I will write short and (hopefully) sweet blurbs on the random thoughts that excite my brain.

Wish me luck.

The Stupid Coup. I’m still digesting the events of this past Wednesday. I might have something more thoughtful to say about it at greater length later, but for now all I have is this: people are clowns and buffoons until they’re not. Even as we watched, aghast, as a mob of neo-confederates, white supremacists, neo-nazis, QAnon devotees, wannabe droogs and paramilitary cosplayers, and Trump cultists (that Venn diagram has a LOT of fucking overlap), our social media newsfeeds were also filled with images that would be risible if they weren’t so unthinkable. The bare-chested MAGA Viking. The grinning dude in the Trump toque high-stepping out of the Capitol with the Speaker’s podium. The gypsy in the palace on the Senate dais with a raised fist. The people who, having stormed into the seat of American government, milled around aimlessly, no longer sure what they were about. The people who, having overrun the barricades and broken windows, kept within the velvet ropes in the statuary room.

In many ways, it was the Trumpiest way to end Trump’s term—ignorant clowns and buffoons storming a symbolic building whose symbolism is irrelevant to them, in the name of the clown-in-chief whose entire tenure has been marked by profound ignorance of and indifference to the history of his nation and his office.

But as we know, clowns can be terrifying. Trump went from being a punchline to the guy with the nuclear football. It was fortunate that he proved to be more like Krusty (“I’m a lazy, lazy man”) than Pennywise.

Designated Survivors. I first learned about the U.S. practice of keeping a cabinet secretary in a safe location during the State of the Union address from the West Wing first season episode “He Shall, from Time to Time …” The reason this is done is so someone in the presidential line of succession can assume the presidency in the event of a catastrophic attack in the Capitol that would wipe out the entire government. As noted by Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) in the episode, they usually select someone without much of a public profile, as they want the rock stars of the Cabinet visible in people’s TV screens—in this case, the Secretary of Agriculture (whom Buffy fans will recognized as actor Harry Groening, who played the cheerfully villainous Mayor Wilkins).

Several years ago, this practice became the premise for the TV series Designated Survivor, starring Kiefer Sutherland, whose similarly low-profile role as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was tapped to sit out the SOTU, which—you guessed it—was bombed, and hence the erstwhile Jack Bauer became President.

Before Designated Survivor, however, there was the remake of Battlestar Galactica—in which the multi-planet human civilization apparently operated similarly to the U.S. republic. When the Cylons nuke most of humanity, reducing us to a handful of spaceships fleeing their androidial malice, the presidency falls to the Secretary of Education (Mary McDonnell), the only member of government in the line of succession to survive the attack. More recently—by which I mean, this past Wednesday—The Expanse replicated this logic. Former U.N. Secretary General Chrisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo), exiled to the moon by her successor, is approached by the Secretary of Transportation after an attack on Earth wipes out most of the government. The Secretary is now the Secretary General, and asks Avasarala to join his cabinet.

Granted, it’s only two SF television series, but isn’t it a bit weird that the U.S. system is what becomes the default in the speculative future? (It gets weirder when you think about Battlestar Galactica’s ending revelation, but I’d rather not be spoilery on that front).

The Crown, season four. Stephanie and I had not watched the three preceding seasons. Born in South Africa, she has a rather bitter antipathy to the British monarchy (she’s still rotted that, when she became a Canadian citizen, she had to swear allegiance to the Queen). But we’re both massive fans of Olivia Coleman, and even massiver fans of Gillian Anderson. In both cases, this led to some rather conflicted feelings, as neither of us wanted to feel sympathy for the Queen, and were even less inclined to be sympathetic to Margaret Thatcher … but both actors were brilliant, and in my opinion Coleman did a better job as QEII than Helen Mirren in The Queen, and Anderson outshone Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.

I found the final episode oddly apposite to the current moment: it depicts Thatcher’s downfall at the hands of her caucus, and her resentment and bitterness as their betrayal. “These pathetic … men,” she grouses to the Queen about the mealy-mouthed ministers taking advantage of her unpopularity to oust her. It was, I thought, a particularly shrewd moment of television: whatever sympathy we might otherwise be inclined to have with a woman meeting her Waterloo at the hands of a group of mediocre men is entirely obviated by Thatcher’s own internalized sexism—having opined at length about women’s general weakness, and frequently shown determinedly playing the role of the housewife not just to her husband, but insisting on cooking dinner for cabinet ministers meeting at Downing Street.

I’ve been thinking of the opportunism of Thatcher’s ministers in her last days as PM as I watch Donald Trump’s erstwhile enablers head for the lifeboats. For eleven years, British Tories were happy to let Thatcher lay waste to British civil society, hating her behind her back while she won elections, never offering objections to her most egregious and cruel policies, finally only declaring a mutiny when they were safe from her barbs. If Twitter enacts a lifetime ban on Trump, and if Trump is suddenly embroiled in numerous criminal court cases, expect Republicans to pretend they’d always wanted him gone.

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