America Me

Yes, we wander and we work, in your crops and in your fruit, like the whirlwinds on the desert, That’s the dust bowl refugees. – “Dust Bowl Refugee” ~ Woody Guthrie

A young man in Mexico,
poor enough to live in a hut
with a dirt floor,
fiercely religious,
speaks no English,
crawls across an imaginary line
in the Desert
in the dead of night
to OZ .

He labors bent over
in a strawberry field
picking my food
for sub-standard wages,
no health care,
no other kind of care,
no safety codes,
no rules that favor him.
He pays taxes to an invisible hand every payday
for which he receives nothing.
He is reviled.

One day men with American flags
festooned on their drab military style uniforms
approach.
They call out “Criminal”.
He looks around to see
who they speak of
as their well fed
white knuckles
grip his arm.
He is going home.

Migrants in Mexico
who risk the road to Xanadu
are folk heroes.
They are urban mythologies.
Those that hire them,
the Patrons,
rich and powerful,
when weighed against their brown Mexican sweat,
are the beneficiaries.

Closed borders did not make America.
Borders open to young men and women
everywhere did.
Is it a crime to cross that line?
To feed hungry children
or wives or mothers
or only to hope
to improve one’s life?
Shame on the heretics of the American dream
and legacy.
An American is not defined
by which side of that line he is on.

In Martin Scorsese’s historical epic film
“Gangs of New York”,
the war in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen
for cultural dominance
was fought between
the Nativists,
“born right” (in America)
and the foreign hoards (immigrants).

The present day debate on the “illegal”,
an unfortunate term,
smells like the stench in the 5 corners of New York City
at the dawn of America.

Take to the streets.
Strike!
Tear down the fences.
Build bridges instead.

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Hatred Trumps Hope By Tom Shachtman

The American Prophet Who Predicted Trump

The uncanny insights (and incredible life) of the American longshoreman and political prophet. By Tom Shachtman

Whether or not Donald Trump knows it, he’s running his presidential campaign out of Eric Hoffer’s playbook. That would be The True Believer, published 65 years ago this spring, a book about mass movements. Hoffer’s big insight was that the followers of Nazism and Communism were essentially the same sort of true believers, the most zealous acolytes of religious, nationalist, and other mass movements throughout history.

In 1951, it was stunning to Americans to be told that ultra-right-wing Nazis and ultra-left-wing Communists—their recent enemies of World War II and current enemies in the Cold War—were, according to Hoffer, cut from the same cloth. “All mass movements,” he explained, “irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred, and intolerance.”

Hatred and hope were the most important lures, Hoffer contended, hatred much more than hope: “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”

Trump’s followers have responded most enthusiastically to the candidate’s diatribes against such devils as Mexicans and other “illegal immigrants,” Muslims of any stripe, unattractive or pushy women, clueless policy-makers, “loser” opposing candidates, and reporters who ask him other than softball questions.

The pollsters tell us that Trump’s followers share a decided affinity for authoritarianism, as well as beliefs that government causes more problems than it solves and that immigrants (and people with darker skins, and women) have stolen their jobs and their futures.

More: Trumpsters have little regard for facts that contradict their stances. Hoffer could have predicted this. “It is the true believer’s ability to ‘shut his eyes and stop his ears’ to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.”

Hoffer described in detail who the true believers were: the frustrated, the disaffected, the dissatisfied with the status quo, those who put their faith in a leader promising simple yet radical solutions to their and society’s problems. “We join a mass movement,” Hoffer wrote, “to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the young Nazi, ‘to be free from freedom.’

“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the loss of faith in ourselves.

“All mass movements deprecate the present,” wrote Hoffer, “and there is no more potent dwarfing of the present than by viewing it as a mere link between a glorious past and a glorious future.” That’s what Trump is doing when he vows to “make America great again”—celebrating what was and will be, while denigrating what is.

Trumpsters are predominantly white, native-born American males who do not have college degrees, and are economically in the lower middle class rather than among the very poorest. Actually, in these ways they are more like Eric Hoffer than many other Americans. In a 1964 article, Hoffer identified himself and his fellow longshoremen as white men from poor backgrounds, with little education and no skills except for their willingness to do backbreaking manual labor, who “do not feel that the world owes us anything, or that we owe anybody—white, black, or yellow—a damn thing.”

Hoffer was the only child of Alsatian immigrants, born in the Bronx around the turn of the 20th century—sometimes he said 1898, at others, 1902—who grew up poor. When he was 5 he and his mother fell down a flight of stairs; she died and he went blind. His blindness prevented him from going to school, and upon regaining his sight at 15 he continued studying on his own until he was 18, when his father died. Using a small death award from his father’s union, Hoffer traveled to Los Angeles and in the 1920s became a day-worker and Skid Row denizen—reading voraciously in libraries between gigs—in the 1930s an itinerant agricultural field hand, and in 1943 a unionized San Francisco dockworker, a position he retained even after becoming a best-selling author, and until he reached mandatory retirement age in 1967.

He initially took that job on the docks to have more stability to write, but retained the wariness of the itinerant, knowing, as he told his first editor, that he must “guard against fear, self-righteousness, and wishful thinking, for these blunt the mind and the senses.” In the same vein, Hoffer chose not to read Freud, Marx, or other influential intellectuals—he hated intellectuals—so that he would not be swayed by their explanations and jargon. During his itinerant years he began jotting down his thoughts in 3-by-5 inch notebooks carried in his pockets and backpacks, which I was able to consult at the Hoover Institution for my 2011 biography, American Iconoclast: The Life and Times of Eric Hoffer.

Unlike Trump’s followers, Hoffer early on understood that “undesirables” were not the enemy. That revelation occurred in 1934, when as a transient fruit-and-vegetable picker he was swept up and placed in the El Centro camp at the edge of the southern California desert near the Mexican border, and for the first time had to co-exist with 200 other men. Prior to that, he considered himself “just a human being, neither good nor bad, and on the whole, harmless,” but after a month at El Centro he realized he belonged to “a certain type of humanity, the undesirables.”

Some were lame, some were foreign-born, some were tramps, some were much darker-skinned than the rest but, he concluded, all were the same as the “undesirables” who for generations had fled from Europe and Asia and became American pioneers, the people who for 300 years had built our farms and roads and cities and institutions.
Throughout the rest of his life, Eric Hoffer continued to venerate and celebrate the “undesirables” as America’s real founding fathers.

Crossing the Rubicon

Crossing the Rubicon

Whatever moral ascendancy

the Presidency once held was lost today.

The 2/3 of white men

and 54% of white women

who voted this charlatan in;

must now allow reason to overrule passion

and admit that this is cancer –

and vow to neither cringe or retreat

until we the people excise its poison.

Trumps Xenophobes

“And they don’t quite seem to understand; the way the hammer shapes the hand” – Casino Nation – Jackson Browne

Immigration Nation

Barbecues crackle from grease bubbles that drop and crystallize; looking like broken glass. The wafting above makes waves in the air like heat over a radiator. The aroma of fricasseed flesh wafts sour weenie smoke up and down the lacing of the shore.

Suddenly the world outside my writer’s window erupts into electric splinters as the patriotic bombs explode in the cloudless sky, showering the trees with a million tiny neon bulbs; the preparatory whistling sounds imitate a mortar attack. Swooping strands of light rising, rising, rising until they merge with the stars and make a bridge right up to the heavens; Boom! Boom! Boom! The fourth of July has come early to my middle American alcove.

Anything with a spine has fled; hunkered down and shivering in the forest while the fireworks light the sky in psychedelic color movie joy. While my typer and me seek only the transcendental; the tourist’s scurry madcap in howls of manic laughter across the sacred lake. They seek a red, white and blue somatic experience; weekend warriors begging sensual unfolding after the tightly wound city work a day weeks fall away. They are here for hurry up fun and love-making that intensifies the sensations.

Four years in and I guess I’ll have to cop to being a local. I suppose I’m in good company. Hunter Thompson and Ken Kesey moved to the woods; Papa Hemingway pulled over to the shoulder as well; he quit the whole damn program for the island of Cuba; you can’t get more removed from the noise than an island. I’m ensconced in my own Walden Pond like a modern-day Henry David Thoreau, the transcendentalist who begged a cabin from Emerson a couple of miles from town for his reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. He said he wanted to sort out the wheat from the chaff and suck the marrow out of life; to escape the wages of fame, that industrial disease to creativity; that all-encompassing external experience that often excludes intimacy.

Meanwhile an ill wind blows foul in the Motherland and Gods’ flesh is crawling. If he could see and hear the antics of this cast of odious characters in Trumps’ America, flag-waving protesters as manic as lathered horses in the home stretch forcing immigrants, Americas life blood, to leave before a fear gripped gang of xenophobic’s descending on our scared, hungry, tired children of the America’s; he’d never stop throwing up.

These so-called Christians, sans the compassion and empathy, which is at the core of their cult teachings, wave brightly colored over-sized American flags; symbols that ring like cymbals; “all foreigners go home”; accompanied by a hate filled chorus of U.S.A., U.S.A; a happy fourth welcome to North America for children of the Americas tougher than the violence and poverty they have escaped; asking only to be part of the American dream; dumbstruck with fear at the vicious reception at the barricades of heaven.

We have seen this film before; the placard carrier’s hands forced into clenched fists to pummel the weak. They pledge allegiance to what the flag use to mean. Now, its “English only” as the legislated official language rail the Nativist; telling us all how we “must” speak, how we “must” dress, then, next surely, how they “must” think. The thought police aren’t far behind. Hell, they’re here now, making everyone the same like some insidious virus. Where have we seen this kind of group think before? Sieg Heil. Shut up and sing. I pledge allegiance. My country right or wrong; I pledge allegiance; love it or leave it. I pledge allegiance; or the terrorists win.

A young man in Mexico, poor enough to live in a dirt floor hut, fiercely religious, speaks no English, crawls across an imaginary line in the desert in the dead of night; to OZ; to labor bent over in a strawberry field picking my food for sub-standard wages, no health care, no other kind of care, no safety codes, no rules that favor him. He pays taxes to an invisible hand every payday for which he receives nothing. He is reviled.

One day men with American flags festooned on their drab military style uniforms approach; they call out “Criminal”. He looks around to see who they speak of as their well fed white knuckles grip his arm. He is going home. Migrants in Mexico who risk the road to Xanadu are folk heroes to those they leave behind. They are urban mythologies. Those that hire them, the Patrons, rich and powerful when weighed against their brown Mexican sweat, are the beneficiaries.

Closed borders did not make America. Borders open to young men and women everywhere did. Is it a crime to cross that line; to feed hungry children or wives or mothers or only to hope to improve one’s life? Shame on the heretics of the American dream and legacy; an American is not defined by which side of a line he is on.

In Martin Scorsese’s historical epic film “Gangs of New York”, the war in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen for cultural dominance was fought between the Nativist, “born right” (in America) and the foreign hoards (immigrants). The present day debate on the “illegal”, an unfortunate term, smells like the stench that reeked in the five corners section of New York City at the dawn of America.

Take to the streets. Strike! Tear down the fences. Build bridges instead.

“Inscription on the Statue of Liberty”
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

 

Noise

“For the most sensitive among us, sometimes the noise can just be too much.” – Jim Carrey – upon hearing of the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The cross city bus clamors out a murderous seasick solo backed by an orchestral scrum of whizzing internal combustion engines in uproarious brawl spewing invisible air and ear pollution death while begging for second gear; both instruments of audio-olfactory destruction, an offense to the ear and nose from landlocked personal space-ships bumper to bumper on the narrow streets of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood; all, along with the antique streetcars sing out a cacophony of noise so disturbing I had to hold the phone, physically 1,500 miles away from the action, six inches from my ear.

Our story’s hero Jeff is laboring, careening up and down intensely inclined ski sloop streets chasing said bus while he screams into his cell phone at me “Man, the first thing you’d notice if you came back is the noise”. I tell him he’s preaching to the choir. The air in my environs of northern Wisconsin is so calm I can hear the sound of autumn leaves rustling along the well-kept lawns and iridescent blue birds singing their daily arias.

Writers flood into big cities, whether they know it or not, to be uncomfortable; since like the late, great Charles Bukowski opined “no one comfortable ever wrote anything worth a damn”. The city is life on steroids; it’s intensity keeping us all tense. The boulevard is a raging river of humanity and sometimes inhumanity. There is rarely a shortage of stimuli upon which to opine. Here the writers cup runneth over.

Our hero confides he’s been reaching back into his past to make that connection that sooner or later, sooner I think for some of us given recent societal developments, we all eventually make; that DNA linked memory to our roots. Jeff is currently covered by a warm blanket; surrounded by like-minded west coast social justice warriors – yet when looking back over his shoulder in contemplation of revisiting comrades from his mid-western past; he is floored, repulsed and catatonic over the addiction he sees in his childhood pals adherence to the new ersatz fascism; the redneck noise that is Trumpism.

In the same way it’s nearly impossible to escape the noise coming at us all like a Chinese parade, from eight different directions all at once; it’s the same for our natural inclination to decipher the content and arrange it in some assemblage of bite-size order. Is it as it seems? Is the new avalanche of information overwhelming our capacity to upload, sort-out and categorize it’s meaning and importance so we might get a handle on our collective future?

It can’t only be me and our hero who, overwhelmed by the noise, wish solace in heeding the wise voices from our past. Timothy Leary’s advise was “tune-in, turn-on and drop out.” Or the angelic voices of groovy guru of the day who suggest wandering in an open field for mindfulness training. Or the Birkenstocks environmentalist who insist we head back to nature and hug a tree; or the mental spiritualist that whisper meditation is the key. Maybe the best of them are the Tantra yogi’s who claim sexual pleasure is the way in and out; that the answer is a bit more of the old in and out. Being a hedonist myself I tend to flow in this direction.

Yet, with escape valves in place in case of overload and prayers to the universe for guidance, I can’t help myself wanting to sort through the noise and discover, like a pathfinder, which direction to point; for myself and others. The Stoics posited that the philosopher left the cave, examined the outside world and returned to tell the others of the joys and dangers outside the cave.

Now they’re be a noble and heroic cause; to be a fearless scout in the face of unknown dangers; to be a trailblazer for the greater good in a quest to report, interpret and transmit the findings. The conundrum seems to be we can’t translate through the noise to know what’s coming if we disengage from it.

In the end I’m left perplexed. Shall we try to make a path through the noise though we fear not knowing the answers and fear worse not even understanding the questions? Are we all just like our hero; wishing to be heroes; but succumbing to the dictates of surviving the day and reach for the safety and sanity of just catching that bus? #rednecknoise #Stoics #Trumpism #CharlesBukowski