Being Trump Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Pundits are convinced Donald Trump is set to fail, now that he has to cash the cheques his mouth has been writing for the last year. This underestimates and misunderstands the power of narrative: the Donald will talk his way out of his failures indefinitely.

President Trump (Yes, you have to use those words now) has a long, rich history of making things up. Most recently it was at his inauguration, where a crowd of 250,000 (the lowest in recent history) magically transformed into “a million, million and a half people.” Such shenanigans are nothing new for The Donald, whose penchant for pulling numbers and facts out his derriere has been rigorously documented.

Pundits far and wide are convinced that now that The Great Pumpkin has to walk the talk, he’s in trouble, given that most of what he says is impossible to achieve, including increasing prosperity by killing trade, making another country pay for a wall the U.S. builds, and more.

This assumption that Trump’s about to hoist himself on his own petard ignores both how Trump got into office and how people like him get away with murder: the power of narrative.

Trump swept to power not on the strength of any truth in his cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs policies, but on the narrative he sold people:

  • I’m going to make life better for you.
  • I’m going to make our country great again.
  • I’m going to get your jobs back.

These narratives got someone with four bankruptcies and serial business flops elected on a campaign of somehow being an ace businessman, which tells you all you need to know: narrative trumps facts every time. Because of that, Donald Trump will be able to wiggle his way indefinitely out of failures to deliver on his promises.

He’s already wiggled his way out of his claim that Mexico will pay for the wall he wants to build: they’ll just pay for it later. Remember how he was going to lock up Hillary Clinton? Turns out the country “owes her a debt of gratitude” and she can roam free for now.

This is how Trump can avoid paying the piper indefinitely: change the narrative.

  • Factory jobs not flowing back to America? Expect to hear that it’s thanks to foreigners cheating on trade, not because homegrown automation is eliminating the need for people on production lines.
  • ISIS still around in 2021? Certainly not because you can’t bomb an ideology into submission; instead, wait for a narrative about how local governments are aiding and abetting the terrorists. Expect bombs to start falling on said governments shortly thereafter.
  • Gays still marrying gays? Not through any failure of Donald’s stated policy, but because the homo-loving Supreme Court opposes the will of the American people, or a narrative to that effect.

The belief that truth will ride in on its big white horse and kick Trump’s ass once he takes office is comforting, but naive: narrative rarely fails to trump facts, and this will continue for the foreseeable future.

Subway Meditations

From the vaults: I no longer suffer from a 90-minute commute, but I look fondly back on my TTC Zen. Relive it with me.

People stare. I’m sure of it. How can they not? I’m just sitting there, eyes closed, clearly not asleep but clearly not part of the hermetical little world hurtling down the subway tracks. My head isn’t drooping incrementally the way it does with those suffering from insufficient sleep, jerking spasmodically up when their chins hit their chests. No, I’m sitting there as quiet and motionless as a dresser’s mannequin. My eyes are shut for what must seem like no good reason to the casual observer. Little do they know I’m secretly meditating.

I have no choice. Most mornings for the last 17 years it’s been my practice to meditate for 20 minutes before heading out the door. It started after a particularly long, dark night of the soul in ‘99 as a kind of new year’s resolution. I was introduced to the fundamentals in karate class as a seven-year-old, and picked up the rest of what I needed to know from books. In the intervening years it’s become an essential start to my day, a check-in and a chance to focus, to inventory how I’m feeling, to balance my mind before the day starts, and to bring my awareness wherever it feels it needs to go.

Unfortunately, my 90-minute commute means I get up far earlier than any night owl should have to. That means economizing time, which means an extra 20 minutes to meditate at home each morning is a luxury I can rarely squeeze in. What does that leave me? A focused 15 minutes on the shaky, rattling, noisy tin can rocketing northward through The Big Smoke each morning.

How it’s possible to meditate with all those distractions is a paradox: the distractions actually help maintain focus. Without the swaying and clickety-clacking, snatches of conversation, acceleration, deceleration and station announcements, it’s easy to get distracted by “monkey mind,” as people far more zen than I refer to it: that propensity for your brain to become aware that you’re trying to focus and chill out, and thus start thinking about what you’re doing, making associations, leaps, observations and worse. Before you know it you’re remembering to pick up Drano on the way home, worrying about your 9:15 presentation, reliving how good the strawberries were at breakfast and hey – how did I end up mental miles away all of a sudden?

The stimuli provided by the Toronto Transit Commission mean the gears in my brain suffering from a deficit of attention have something to chew on besides themselves. That makes it possible to focus, to remember what I’m doing and then to let it go. Simply being able to manage those distractions is a useful practice in and of itself.

So there I sit, eyes shut, looking sightlessly across the car, bag on my lap, hands crossed over top just in case anyone decides to try lifting something (it hasn’t happened yet). I’ve only got so many minutes before St. Clair station, when the train will likely make a short turn back downtown, forcing everyone off. So I have to make the most of the time I have, which provides an extra incentive to focus. And so I begin.

10 – 9 – 8 (“The next station is St. Andrew – St. Andrew station.”) 7 – 6 – 5 (Someone sits down next to me) 4 – 3 – 2 (Is that garlic? Who has garlic for breakfast?). 1. Repeat.

On a bad day I’m too frazzled to really calm that monkey mind and prepare for the day. Maybe a kid sits down next to me with some exceptionally bad death metal bleeding out of his earbuds. Maybe this is the one train in ten where the P.A. is exceedingly loud (“THE NEXT STATIONS IS ST. ANDREW – ST. ANDREW STATION!”). Maybe the guy who just sat down next to me really should have taken that shower he skipped this morning.

Or maybe the distractions are just right, and I can tune out the monkey mind and wipe the slate clean for another day.

Relax. Focus. Reset. Commute.

Have Yourself a Very Sensitive Christmas

In observance of an inclusive Christmas, the leadership of Witty And Vibrant Industries Inc. urges all staff to consider changing their rituals this holiday season to embrace the following modified Christmas songs and carols, which have been updated to reflect inclusive language and the diversity of political sensitivities in today’s modern workforce:

  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Neo-Pagan Holiday Wrapped in a Patriarchal Veneer.
  • I Saw Mommy Engaging in Ritualistic Hetero-Normative Behaviour with Santa Claus.
  • Oh Come, All Ye Faithful: We’re Going to the Legislature to Protest Against Systemic Inequality.
  • Feliz Navidad: Donald Trump Deported Us. Happy Now?
  • White Christmas, Oppressive Christmas.
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Unless You’d Like to More Equitably Distribute Household Labour, in Which Case Get off your Asses.
  • Do You Hear What I Hear? It’s the Revolution Coming for Your Oppressive, Eurocentric Worldview.
  • We Three Kings of Orient Are Patriarchs, and for that we are So, So Very Sorry.
  • Mary’s Boy Child, Apparently Already Assigned a Binary Gender Role and Only Three Hours Old.

Thank you
– The Management

Learning from Trump

The hand-wringing on the left post-Trump has produced a great whining sound, like an eight-year-old learning violin, bow grating across the strings, not unlike a cat getting a prostate exam. Amidst the soul-searching, blaming and latte-gazing, a great lamentation has kicked off across the land:

  • “They’re racist.”
  • “They’re sexist.”
  • “They’re stupid.”
  • “They’re fascist.”
  • “They’re <<insert epithet here>>.”

From The Daily Show to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s detractors have called his supporters everything from “racist” to “deplorable.” The allegations against the roughly 50% of the U.S. electorate that voted for Trump are not only legion, but dangerous.

Reducing the biggest electoral upset since 1948, to the equivalent of the Beverley Hillbillies stuffing the ballot box is blinkered, and ignores a fundamental truth: voting isn’t a personal endorsement of a candidate. A vote for Trump was a vote against Clinton as much as an endorsement of the Great Pumpkin himself or any of his heinous policies and prejudices. If a vote for Trump is an endorsement of racism, sexism and Islamophobia, does that make a vote for Clinton an endorsement of murdering civilians and the Iraq war? In a two-party system (please don’t argue that someone who can’t name a world leader and another who thinks vaccines are health threats are viable alternatives) despising one candidate doesn’t equal a personal endorsement of the other, no matter how stupid their rhetoric.

A large chunk of the American electorate voted for Trump, and it wasn’t because each one of them assessed and agreed with his misogyny, racism, prejudice and stupidity. Trump sold desperate people a story they’d believe, a better story than the other candidate did: vote for me and you get your jobs back. Falling for that doesn’t make someone hateful; it makes them dupes. Can you fault Trump’s supporters for voting in someone racist, sexist and everything else? Yes. Does that automatically make them racist, sexist and everything else? No.

Tarring Trumpians might salve liberal America’s burns because
A) it means the left didn’t lose the election because of any action or inaction on their part, but because the electorate are idiots, and
B) “You’re all a bunch of racists” is a simpler, more satisfying narrative than “Our candidate was less palatable than a hate-filled reality show star with a four-word platform.”
Neither Trump’s narrative nor the ensuing liberal whitewashing of theirs has much objective reality. As we’ll see in our next post, narrative is everything.

Image: Michael Vadon, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump#/media/File:Donald_Trump_August_19,2015(cropped).jpg

One of the Luckiest Men in the World

There’s a certain cliche you hear every time a guy gets married: “I’m the luckiest man in the world!” I hate cliches; journalism school rung them out of me. The only time I’ll use a cliche is when it’s true. That’s why – and I’ll qualify it slightly so you don’t think I’m exaggerating – I’m one of the luckiest men in the world.

Finding the right woman in your 40s is not easy. In fact, most of the time it feels damn near impossible. By the time you reach your 40s, you’ve gone through years of dating hits and misses: countless hours spent scouring online dating sites, going to parties and social events when you’d really rather just be at home chilling with Netflix, using every means at your disposal to meet people so that maybe – just maybe – you find that one girl.

The struggle is real. It’s not like being back in college where you’re swimming in a sea of potential. Every year you get older, that sea seems to get shallower and shallower. But you keep going out to those parties, professional events, social events, an occasional date with someone who looks and acts nothing like their “OkCupid” profile, and after a while, maybe you start to lose hope. After a while, maybe you start to accept the idea that you’re just meant to be alone. That might be the way it was meant to be, and maybe that’s not so bad after all: the new season of House of Cards is coming up, and home alone with the dog and a bag of Doritos seems not so bad after all. Or so you tell yourself.

But then maybe – just maybe – you get invited to another party, an ordinary birthday party for a friend. “I don’t want to go!” you tell yourself. And then you think about it a little more. “Ah, I’ll go. But I’m not dressing up; I’ve had enough of trying. I’m just going to throw on a hoodie, some jeans and sneakers.” And you go. You chat for a few hours with friends, and just as you’re getting up to leave, maybe you see someone… someone pretty. Someone who, as it turns out, has a real personality. “Oh, hey. How you doing?” (Opening lines are not everyone’s forte). After another couple of hours of unplanned interaction, you say “Hey, let’s connect on Facebook because – you know – professional networking and such. No pressure. No big deal. We’re cool. Yeah. See you later.” You don’t want to seem too eager.

You go on a few dates and get to know her. She’s smart, whip smart. She has a serious job. And she likes Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Check, check and check! You go on some more dates, things start to get a little serious, and one day you say, “I love you,” and she says “I loke you.” “Loke?” What does that mean, “I loke you?” She explains that it’s halfway between “I like you” you and “I love you.” At that point you realize that perhaps things are going more slowly than you had at first anticipated. But that’s ok; you can wait. You think, potentially, this is worth waiting for.

And then one day, many weeks later, she says “I love you” back, and we are no longer in Lokeland. But things aren’t all rose petals and unicorns. Your combined age is over 80, and thus you’re both very set in your ways. Like the way she wants you to rotate where you sit on her sofa so the wear pattern evens out over time. Or the way the spice jars in your place need to be kept in a certain order that reflects which ones are used more, because that actually makes sense and results in maximum spice efficiency. All these little things that couples have to get used to about each other are the same, but by the time you’re in your 40s they’ve had 20 years to set like concrete. Sometimes it is murder letting go of all those things you’re used to, all those things you think you need to be a certain way for you.

But here’s the important part: you make it work, because in the end being with her is more important than just about anything else you can think of, and you know she’s the best thing to happen to you in a very long time. One day, many months later, you pop the question and she says yes, and then proceeds to tell everyone how nervous and dorky you were popping the question. And eventually you find yourself in a room full of people explaining how lucky you are, because in spite of all the years of being alone and all the looking and striking out and dating blind alleys, and people looking and acting nothing like their “OkCupid” profiles, you stumbled across someone whip smart and beautiful and successful and stubborn and driven and frustrating and challenging and rewarding and the whole nine yards. Somehow, against all odds, you found her.

Which is why I’m one of the luckiest men in the world.

My small, manageable Italo-Mangiacake wedding.

As you read this, I am scant days away from walking down the aisle. At the ripe old age of 45, I have found my honey-bunny, and will be tying the knot. Honey-bunny is Italian. I am a Mangiacake, the Italian word for WASP. “Mangiacake” and the corresponding short form “caker” have a surprisingly benign connotation; they entered the lexicon when Italian immigrants observed the highly-refined, nutritionless white bread their WASP neighbours favoured, and remarked that they might as well mangia (eat) cake.

Honey-bunny and I have our differences, but our cultures don’t collide: they sort of enter the intersection at the same time, lean on their horns and try haltingly to find a way around each other. In fact, it’s the little cultural differences that I find interesting:

  • Italy is a centre of world-class wine production; Woodbridge is not. The stuff you find at the dinner table in the recycled Gallo bottle is not to be taken lightly, and you may be surprised at the novel and adventurous spirit contained therein. If you want to play it safe, beverages to be consumed at an Italian dinner, in order of preference, are: commercial wine, fruit beverages, table water, nothing, homemade wine. Be alert when someone seems a little too eager that you “try this wine.”
  • The national sport of Italy is not soccer: it is shouting at people you love. In WASP culture, shouting is seen as a breakdown in communication; in Italian culture, it is communication.
  • Dinner at 7:30 is normal. 6:30 is early. 6:00 is strange. 5:30 is highly suspect. 5:00 is for geriatrics and housepets.
  • A significant focus of Italian weddings is organized eating. There is often a shot of grappa, limoncello or brandy at the entrance, and possibly a small treat. Then there is usually an antipasto table. After that is a bread plate and possibly an appetizer (not to be confused with the thing at the door or the antipasto bar). After that is the pasta dish, then the main. At some point there will be a salad and dessert. Then there is a break from eating when speeches and dancing occur, followed by slices of wedding cake and more eating closer to midnight when a sandwich bar / cookie table / whole roast pig appears. This is the Olympics of eating, and requires strategy, pacing and discipline. The cost of all this food is also the reason Italians give “bustas” at weddings, envelopes with cash inside, instead of gifts: the price tag of an eight-course meal and side snacks for 300 people is enough to bankrupt a small town.
  • Dinner at someone’s house is a less baroque affair than at a wedding, although no less packed with food. The difference between WASP and Italian culture is that although there may be some conversation after dinner in WASP households, in Italian culture the end of the meal marks the beginning of several hours of conversation involving your health, politics, a roundup of what each cousin, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, nonna and nonno are doing, and why don’t you want to have kids anyways isn’t that the whole point of getting married?
  • Intimacy in Italian culture means hugging strangers and kissing people on both cheeks. Intimacy in my culture means eye contact.
  • Immigration stories are much richer when you can tell the tale of a weeks-long transatlantic crossing and voyage down the St. Lawrence vs. “Somebody came over from Scotland. On a boat. Probably. A long time ago. I think there was sheep rustling involved.”
  • “I’m Italian” is a convenient excuse for a variety of behaviours, including “I’m in a bad mood right now,” “I’d like to drink a third glass of wine,” “I want to yell at you” and “There’s no way we’re having dinner at 5:30.”
  • Italian mothers are the best cooks. It’s not an exaggeration or a cliche: it’s just the truth.
  • There are never enough crosses in an Italian household, to the best of my knowledge.

Then there are the big differences, and family has to be the biggest. Arthur Miller wrote “There is nothing more important than family,” and family has to be the defining aspect of Italian culture. Miller’s anti-hero Joe Keller places family above everything else for all the wrong reasons, but that’s fiction. Observing how family is the centre of gravity for my fiancee is entirely benign and novel; it exerts a subtle pull that seems to reinforce ties instead of tightening them. I always felt like I had a pretty normal upbringing, but without the family centre I see with my fiancee: for all the minor drama that kicks off now and then, it has a stabilizing influence.

My family drifted apart somewhat and then came back together later in life after illness and divorce, and to help my aging parents out; I get the sense that my fiancee’s family never really ever began to drift.

I’m interested and slightly apprehensive to see what happens when both sides come together for the rehearsal dinner. There will be differences in culture and opinion. There will also be pizza, and we will be eating at 7:30, so I think everyone’s a winner