‘Fear’ By Bob Woodward


I almost never read this kind of book, the sort generally classified as ‘current events.’ I read the newspaper and follow the news pretty carefully, so I have never felt reading six month old news to be very interesting.

But these feel like… different times, don’t they.

Fear reads very weirdly. Woodward is necessarily very diligent in his use of quoted and language, which means you have a conversation where half of someone’s sentence is in quotes (meaning that he feels 100% confident of the exactitude) and the other half is not.

The book roughly covers Bannon taking over the campaign through Down quitting the president’s legal team. Trump is not actually portrayed very much at all, but the portrait emerges through the chaos around him.

But it feels weird. Rob Porter of wife beating accusation fame comes across as the almost hero of the book. When he quits over (multiple) accusation of physical abuse, it gets short shrift, possibly because Woodward wasn’t covering that story. And the people who he goes gently on – was it because he decided that Porter, Lindsey Graham, and Rex Tillerson truly were comparative heroes or because they were his best sources and he doesn’t want to burn them?

I don’t know and it taints the reading.

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Gore Vidal’s State Of The Nation


To read Gore Vidal’s essays published in The Nation is, for the most part, to read those of his writings least likely to have stood the test of time. His politically minded writings of the last twenty years of his life do not, to my mind, read as particularly prescient; instead, they feel as naive without necessarily being idealistic. Some are not even very enjoyable to read for his inimitable style.

But, there are always nuggets on insight and joy.

I had forgotten that Jerry Brown – who should have a monument erected in his honor for his last two terms as governor of California –  ran for president in 1992. Rather than spend his time writing about the then almost certain nominations of George Bush, père, and Bill Clinton, he sees something vital in Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan.

I wrote that most of the essays do not feel prescient, but this one felt positively eerie in its foreknowledge.

His interpretation of how Brown and Buchanan represented the true and beating hearts of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, seem to almost exactly match the current transformations of them today. He couldn’t have known it, but Vidal’s Pat Buchanan is a proto-Trump: racist, isolationist and intent on dismantling what Gore called the ‘American Empire’ on those terms.

Brown is similarly depicted as ‘post-imperial,’ but on the grounds that we must focus on humanity and the people writ large.

‘Inventing A Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson’ By Gore Vidal


I was forewarned regarding Vidal’s dislike of Hamilton, but was surprised by his frequent dismissal of Jefferson (though I loved his depiction of the third president in Burr) and his seeming affection for and interest in John Adams (though the McCullough biography was still within a couple of years of peak popularity, so maybe he felt compelled).

No one in their right mind reads a history by Vidal in order to know history. Understand more, perhaps, but not to know it, if that distinction makes any sense to you. And I know enough, I feel, to know what to distrust and what might offer some new understanding.

But I have always found Vidal’s obsession with American politics vaguely surprising. It makes perfect sense and he was, really, a frustrated politician, in many ways, in addition to the family history. But his public intellectual style and Brahminic accent, not to mention his long time home in Italy, he always felt like someone who should have spent the life of his mind with Cicero rather than Washington.

Difficult Topics


Our little girl is adopted. More than that, she was adopted recently and was not a baby, so she comes to America with little understanding of her new home’s culture and history.

Living in Washington, DC, there are so many reminders of how problematic that history can be.

We visited Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington. Having been on a bit of a Jefferson kick lately, my recent reading has focused on the Revolutionary  War and early days of the United States – all of which has served to reinforce how vital he was to our founding. No, he was not a particularly good general, but his gravitas and dedication to some of the best ideals of our founding made this country possible. And then we talked by the slave quarters. How do you talk about these aspects of the man to a young child who knows little English and even less about our national origins? If she were younger, we might ignore it or gloss over it, but she is old enough, that you cannot.

More recently, her mother showed her the 14,000 shoes made into a temporary monument to the child shot since Sandy Hook.

There are so many things like this, that need talking about, but which are hard to talk about. I want her to know this a great country, founded on groundbreaking ideas emerging from the fermentations of the Enlightenment. But I can’t ignore slavery, Jim Crow, school shootings, nor the genocidal treatment and effect of Europeans on Native Americans.

And Lord knows, I have fallen down on these conversations, because they are so hard. They are hard in practical terms, because of the language barrier, but also in finding ways to talk about them with a young, but not so young, child.

So I end with no solutions, but feeling overwhelmed by all that we have to teach her about and the need to be honest, but not despairing.

Gun, Candle, School


Leaving aside, if you will, the incongruity of my little girl posing before this starkly disturbing site piece, the work by Krzysztof Wodiczko was created for the Hirshhorn Museum thirty years (after another school shooting, I believe). The Parkland massacre resulted in its (re)projection being delayed, but there’s no doubt it remains incredibly offputting.

The little details, like the wedding ring on the left hand and the four different styles of microphone and the ‘Dirty Harry’ style of the silvery revolver, are powerful and disconcerting.

My girl, of course, understood none of that, but I want her to see contemporary art as part of her life and environment and something worth making into a special trip. But not as much as I want Congress to do something so we don’t have to worry about an enraged white man with a gun marching into her school with something capable of firing fifteen or more rounds without reloading.

I Am Not Interested In Impeaching Trump Right Now


I am interested in letting the Mueller investigation continue unimpeded. I am interested in impeaching Trump if the results of the investigations warrant it. I am interested in seeing Trump defeated in two years and seeing all his elected enablers defeated over the next several election cycles.

I am not interested overturning democratic elections via other means. And no, you don’t need to lecture me about the corruption of the last election. Undoing democracy by a new means does not repair earlier corruption of democracy. Hopefully, your mother told you that two wrongs don’t make a right.

I have friends who are from countries where attempts to undemocratically rein in Trumpian figures merely resulted in a lack of democracy, which, if you’re me, you don’t think it a cool outcome.

So, I want Trump to be impeached down the road, once the investigations have found what, I can only assume, is a pretty disturbing pattern of obstruction and collusion. But just because I believe that it what will be found, does not mean I want to circumvent our processes nor abet the abolishment of important democratic norms.