What we don’t know

I have spent the last 10 days writing a column about the recent electoral unpleasantness. I made really good points. I excoriated the Democratic Party, which certainly deserved excoriating. I discussed the failures of the Clinton campaign, its weird impersonality, its pointless evasiveness. And I discussed the press, its reliance on people with whom it shared a set of common assumptions. (Assumptions are more important than opinions).  Oh, I was really sailing in that section.

The post was over 3000 words, and I felt I could easily have written twice that. I had Salient Points! At least, they were Points! Perhaps one Point. Something told me that I was not being useful, that I was writing out of a conviction that I needed to say something. Because, that’s the job. I Say Things. I have experienced trepidation before.  I have trained myself to walk toward the fear.  Sometimes the truth lies in the middle of the fear.

But sometimes fear is just nature’s way of saying “get the hell out.” The nagging feeling I was having eventually took shape: The column was irrelevant. It might be right (or “right”), but it didn’t really apply. It was a disservice to the readers to plunge them back into the election, and the massive failures of analysis and tactics on the part of almost everybody. So not the point.

Besides. I said what I had to say back in March: “Why we are dopes”. I was prescient. I love when that happens.

(In my former life, I didn’t have that much time to think about relevance and utility. Getting the idea five times a week was hard enough. It wasn’t that I had bad facts — one can always find facts — but there were implications, subtleties, a third way of looking at something, or a fourth. I was supposed to be a thought leader, but too often I was a thought follower. Everyone is — there aren’t that many new thoughts in the universe — but not everyone has the blessed opportunity to think twice, to rip it all up and start again.)

So I thought: It’s my blog, no one’s paying me, the least I can do is erase  my own bullshit before it harms others. I know it’s been a long time since my last post (I had a pretty good excuse: I was in Patagonia!), and I’m sorry, and I pledge to do better. But really, I have no interest in getting you riled up about stuff that happened yesterday. It’s the stuff that’s going to happen tomorrow that’s relevant.

So that’s my first bit of advice, boiled down from its initial 1450 words: Get over it.



We proceed to the dilemma. During the recent unpleasantness, people in the media biz did what they were trained to do. They dug. They looked into stuff. They found all sorts of awful things about Donald Trump. Lies, fraud, an insane amount of self-dealing. He was in fact the corrupt oligarch he was campaigning against.

They laid out the facts. They revealed the primary sources. They published reproductions of damning documents. They interviewed the aggrieved; they interviewed the people who said aggrieved had nothing to be grieved about. They took to social media. They retweeted each other. They had that sucker nailed.

But the paradigm had shifted. We were supposed to be hip to the shift. Our ears were to the ground, or at least to a spokesperson for the ground. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were all there, but they went together in a counter-intuitive way, suggesting that our intuition might need a tune-up, or transmission work, or an entirely new way of thinking about everything. And the question arose: What now?

Yeah, what now? Cue spooky music.

We are in a new reality. A new game is being played. We don’t know the rules. We don’t know how to reintroduce the idea of rational discourse. We don’t know how to operate in a world of rumor and belief. But there has to be a way. Things look grim, but there will be openings. It is in the nature of honeymoons to be over. Candidates are trapped by their own promises, and the anger that got them in could easily get them out.

But this is a new deal. This is fascism as a commercial enterprise. The left has been hurling out comparisons to Hitler every day, but Hitler was not interested in making money. His “Art of the Deal” was “Let’s pretend we don’t mean to kill anybody, and then kill them.” Hitler did not have business interests in 54 countries. He did not devote a considerable portion of his time to evading taxes. He did not grab anyone by the pussy. Probably.

Trump has no ideology. Those surrounding him, those poised to do the real damage, are unashamed racists in the grip of economic theories that have been proven not to work. Who cares? The temptation is going to be to ignore the dope and retreat to Fortress California. We love our Muslims, and we love our Planned Parenthood centers. And a whole lot of us are immigrants!

There are people in Texas who need us. There are people in Wisconsin who need us. People are going to die, unless we help. Not from terrorist attacks; from indifference, or hatred, or just finding bad luck in a corrupt kleptocracy.

So it’s time to, you should excuse the expression, man up. It’s time to do what we used to do before we got comfortable: We need to make it up as we go along. And we need to cherish facts. We need to blow on the glowing embers of facts. If we guard the facts, we guard the nation.

It seems hopeless, but it always seems hopeless. “Hopeless” is not an excuse. Hope is an obligation, as a friend says. It’s the deal we make with ourselves to keep on fighting. It’s going to require humility. Humility ain’t easy. Here, swallow this. It only tastes bad for, well, I wouldn’t want to put a timetable on it.

But, you know, play the game or go away. If you’re not part of puzzling over conflicting data sets, you’re part of the problem. And also, need I say, love your neighbors, cherish kindness, and practice resurrection.

So that’s my second and final bit of advice: Get on with it.


Photography by Tracy Johnston, who really wanted to use this one:

It’s very windy in Patagonia

Tech help and cheerleading by Michelle Mizera

88 thoughts on “What we don’t know

  1. I had sort of forgotten that one; thanks for resurrecting it. Nice job with the sign-off — I see what you did there.

    On Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 10:46 AM Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “I have spent the last 10 days writing a column > about the recent electoral unpleasantness. I made really good points. I > excoriated the Democratic Party, which certainly deserved excoriating. I > discussed the failures of the Clinton campaign, its weird imper” >


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