“tentative description of a dinner to promote the impeachment of president eisenhower” – lawrence ferlinghetti (1958)

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Yesterday, acclaimed social activist, cultural critic, and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti officially became a centenarian.  Long before turning 100, Ferlinghetti became world-renowned for his poetry collections and political activism. Urging poets and artists to become more socially and politically engaged, Ferlinghetti was a pioneer in utilizing art to challenge the political establishment and the threats of nationalism on our democracy.  On the occasion of his 100th birthday, his chosen home of San Francisco declared the date as “Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day,” honoring the artist’s commitment to social justice within his own community.

The same day as Ferlinghetti’s birthday, acting Attorney General for the Trump administration, William Barr, issued a summary of the findings from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into the president’s alleged involvement with Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election.  While Mueller’s full report has not been released at this time, Barr issued a statement that said that while the report did not find enough evidence to prove Trump colluded with the Russians, the president could not be fully exonerated.

While politicians, pundits, and the public continue to debate the details over the report, and the aftermath of it, one thing remains quite clear to me. This summary, if accurate and entirely reflective of Mueller’s findings, emboldens Trump and his supporters.  This summary serves to validate their cries that the special counsel investigation was a witch hunt and that Donald Trump is the only person who can save America from the brink of tyranny from the political establishment.

Among Trump’s supporters, there is a subgroup of nationalists and white supremacists that have become the most emboldened and energized of the group.  These are individuals who are committing violence against liberals, people of color, and anyone else who is different from them in terms of ethnicity and ideology.  And this is nothing new in 2019.  Even before the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, Trump has validated white supremacists going as far back as the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that erupted in violence during August 2017, with Trump blaming “both sides” for the violence.

Recent reports and polling have indicated that nationalism and white supremacy are not only on the rise within Trump’s America, they are on the rise around the world.  Even non-Americans, people who could never vote for Trump in any election, espouse his rhetoric and champion their toxic beliefs that undermine the rights of people they view as an other. And while opponents of Trump’s vitriol were putting their faith in the Mueller report, Trump’s supporters were becoming active, engaging social media on a grassroots level to sow discord and misinformation for mass public consumption.

It is important to stay grounded.  The report has not been officially released, and efforts will continue within the Southern District of New York.  So, work isn’t over.  Regardless of the report’s outcome, it is widely known that Trump is a vile criminal with campaign staff currently indicted or serving prison terms.  While his supporters are celebrating “so much winning,” it is important to realize that there is a long game here and not to give up hope.  If anything, we must step up more to counter this bump in nationalistic fervor.

The fact that Ferlinghetti turned 100 on the same day Barr issued his summary was an interesting coincidence to me, especially considering Ferlinghetti’s advocacy against nationalism and the Trump administration’s sponsorship of it.  I spent some time last night reviewing some of Ferlinghetti’s most political charged writings, to find something that reflected our current political climate with a kind of wisdom only the past can provide.

In 1958, Ferlinghetti released a spoken-word poetry album called Tentative Description Of A Dinner To Promote The Impeachment Of President Eisenhower And Other Poems By Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  The album’s opening track is the poem “Tentative Description Of A Dinner To Promote The Impeachment Of President Eisenhower.”  Backed with a drum beating ominously in the background with varying rhythm and tempo, Ferlinghetti recites his poem.  “Tentative Description…” is a condemnation of American presidents, present and future, for not recognizing the devastating potential of nuclear oblivion, a subject Ferlinghetti came to understand after seeing the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki while serving in the Navy.

While Ferlinghetti’s poem specifically addresses Washington’s complicit view of nuclear apocalypse, a few lines jumped out to me as poignant and relevant on a different level.

And after it became obvious that the President was doing everything

in his power to make the world safe for nationalism

his brilliant military mind never having realized

that nationalism itself was the idiotic superstition

which would blow up the world

Even though Ferlinghetti is addressing the carelessness of nuclear war, he identifies the true heart of why someone can commit such carelessness: nationalism.  Nationalism, now just as much as it was back then, is a philosophy based on hatred for others that don’t share the same characteristics as you or ones that you value.  Whether it is skin color, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or even political party, it is nationalism that gives violent and hateful people an excuse to exercise violence as an act of self-preservation, resulting from fear that their maligned and false sense of reality will be infringed upon by others practicing their own way of life.

There is no debate that nationalism is the cause of violence coming from a sect within Trump’s base.  Patriotism, not nationalism, is an expression of love for country.  However, through misinformation, nationalism has become a sacred right to these people, and they feel compelled to cause violence to uphold it. Nevermind that someone of a different belief system doesn’t infringe on your rights, nationalism has become a motivator to exert power and authority to uphold racist and classist hierarchies.  Nuclear annihilation, while still possible, can be argued as not being as much of a threat now as it was in 1958.  However, the vile acts of destructive nationalists spells doom for this country.  Though the body count is lower, the country and its democratic system will die a death by a thousand cuts.

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“two tribes” – frankie goes to hollywood (1984)

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Donald Trump is positioning himself to become a wartime president.  In his ongoing mission to delegitimize American democracy and establish an authoritarian regime, the ultimate endgame Trump is achieving to secure his position is create global instability so severe that it results in multi-national armed conflict.  His recent actions have made this abundantly clear and an eventuality we all should consider should things continue.

Consider his recent summit in Singapore where Trump met with Kim Jong Un.  His administration is positioning this as a historic summit that signifies peace between two adversarial nations.  Part of that messaging includes blaming the previous presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, for failing to create a peaceful relationship.  Trump has had his photos taken with Kim and they are both smiling so, as the official position of the administration, this means Trump was able to “make a deal” and “win big” at something he claims that the previous presidents were to weak or inexperienced to accomplish.

Seeing images of the summit made me so angry.  When I saw the North Korean flag displayed in a way to suggest it was equal to the American flag, it was such a slap to the face to everyone who desires freedom for all and condemns regimes that starves and murder millions of their own people.  Trump didn’t make it a secret how much he loved Kim.  Trump viewed him as an effective leader and praised him repeatedly.

This summit served as a mean to legitimize Kim on a global scale.  Trump can claim all he wants about how he made a great deal with the North Korean leader, but he was played.  Kim doesn’t have to get ride of his nuclear programs, Trump has ceased military exercises in South Korea, and Kim is seeking to strike a deal to build a Trump Tower in his country.  If this wasn’t enough to convince even Trump’s most ardent supporters that he values his own fortune over national interests, I don’t know what would.

If only this summit was the only thing Trump was actively doing to disgrace this nation.  Trump, whether by his own will or the will of others, is playing this game on multiple levels.  At the same time he is manipulated by and kissing Kim’s ring, Trump does this at the same time he is destabilizing our relationships with this country’s most loyal allies.

Trump recently issues high tariffs against Canada.  Under the guise of “national security,” Trump declares that his next move to keep America first is to renegotiate or eliminate deals he believes are unfair to the United States.  There is no reason for such a move to take place against Canada.  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not taking this lightly.  He is retaliating with his own tariff that go into effect in July.

These tariffs mean more than just higher prices for dairy or beer.  A major economic shift is coming and these tariffs only exacerbate the situation.  According to the latest quarterly outlook from the National Association for Business Economists, two-thirds of economists believe that a recession is coming 2020 with an economic decline that could begin as early as 2019.  The increased tariffs and trade wars Trump is initiating, in addition to his corporate tax cuts, make it likely that this recession will come even sooner than that.  This recession is believed to be as bad or worse than the last one in 2008.

A few weeks ago, the G7 summit was held in Canada.  These summits are designed so the seven leading (formerly eight before Russia was removed) economic nations to discuss various issues covering topics such as the economy, global security, and other related matters.  Prior to the summit, Trump made public statements in the media that Russia should be allowed to participate in the summit.  Our allies and neighbors already had a fractured image of the United States, but these statements by Trump only continued to deteriorate our relationships with the other six nations.  One image released by Angela Merkel’s staff signified the mood of the summit.  In the photo, Merkel is leaning on her hands over a desk surrounded by allies as she stares down at Trump who is sitting like a petulant child with his arms crossed and a smug smile on his face.  You could feel Merkel’s ire radiating from the image and served as the perfect symbol of this nation’s place in the world right now.

Thins are scary on an international level, but they are even worse at home.  For several decades, the GOP has been quite successful at branding themselves as the party of the common man.  As part of their anti-rational and anti-intellectual mission, anyone who doesn’t fit in their box is deemed as an elitist who is out of touch with the American people.

Since the 1980s, the Republicans and the extremists wing within it have been consistently on point with their message.  I have always seen politicians or the media denounced as being tools of the liberal agenda, but things are getting scary.  This messaging has now influenced public perception of federal institutions and basic tenets of democracy.  Whole political institutions such as the FBI and Department of Justice have now been labeled as tools of a rigged system that only Trump and his supporters have the power to save the American people from.

Trump ran during the 2016 presidential election because wouldn’t have been able to win before.  However, a rift in America has been growing since the 1980s and 2016 was the prime time to exploit it.  Trump and his administration’s message isn’t random or chaotic.  It is well-thought out and intricately planned.  Their mission is to create a civil discourse so irreversible that we could be on the verge of another Civil War.

So, how does this all relate to my belief that Trump is seeking to become a wartime president?  By creating mass instability at home and abroad, it becomes a platform by which he can rally his base and execute executive powers that are available, or even made up, during times of crisis.  Recent polls show that over half of Republicans support Trump postponing the 2020 election.  Now, these Republicans hold that position as a means to combat the non-existent problem of voter fraud, but we have seen examples where elections favor leaders currently sitting in office during times of war.  Franklin Roosevelt was a third term in 1940 and a fourth term 1944.  To be fair, presidential term limits weren’t in place yet and those elections weren’t postponed due to World War II.  However, FDR won with over 400 electoral votes each time.  Even if the 2020 election wasn’t postponed, who is to say that Trump wouldn’t experience similar results if a conflict were to arise that kept people from the polls or even seeking a change at a time when it becomes so important to maintain the status quo?

Yesterday, I read that Russia may have modernized a nuclear weapons storage bunker in Kaliningrad.  Allegedly, these major renovations have been ongoing since 2016 and likely to resume operational status soon.  Positioned between Poland and the Baltic, the site in Kaliningrad “could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces.  But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and coastal defense forces in the region, according to Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists.

Such a renovation project could signify Russia preparing for an escalation in tension with Eastern Europe; a tension that has been steadily increasing since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Given Russia’s role in undermining the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its removal from the G8 (thus becoming the G7), and the decline of America’s relationship with its allies, it is likely that Russia is looking to secure itself as the world’s dominant superpower.  Thus possibly leading to further land expansion, armed conflicts, and infiltration in foreign governments to disrupt national security and stability.  Welcome to the Cold War repackaged and rebranded for the Millennial generation and Donald Trump is at the helm and ready to get rich off of everyone at the expense of this country’s most valued traditions and institutions.

One of my favorite anti-war songs from the Cold War era is “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.  Released in 1984 on their album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, it is a nihilistic but enthusiastic statement about nuclear war.  Comparing the conflict of a nuclear war to something as trivial, but emotionally significant to some, as a soccer match, Frankie Goes to Hollywood believes that there is nothing more to gain from war than just a score.

Trump wants to be a wartime president because he is scared.  As each day passes in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, Trump can feel the noose tightening.  Staff members are leaving and some people close to the campaign are facing serious jail time.  I don’t know if this goes all the way to Donald Trump or what his fate will be (he has openly discussed his ability to pardon himself), but he is a man who is being cornered.  And like a scared animal, he will lash out any way he can.  And if he could look like a powerful leader in the process, then all the better.  That is why I believe Trump wants a war and he doesn’t care how he gets it.

“2 minutes to midnight” – iron maiden (1984)

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Last week, the Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight.  Since 1947, developed by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, the Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the probability of a man-made global catastrophe.  Over the years, the distance between the minute hand and midnight has fluctuated greatly.  In 1991, the clock was set at 17 minutes to midnight, the furthest from midnight since 1947, because the United States and Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Since then, things have only gotten worse.

Over the 27 years since our allegedly most peaceful time of the 20th century, the minute hand has crept steadily closer to midnight.  While the threat of nuclear war has been the most prominent criteria for the Doomsday Clock since its inception, the effects of global climate change has contributed to the minute hand’s position since 2007.

The Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight has week.  This is the closest we’ve come to midnight since 1953 when the United states tested its first thermonuclear device in 1952 in an effort known as Operation Ivy to accomplish such a task before the Soviet Union had a chance.  That designation in 1953 represented an active endeavor to advance nuclear capability.  In 2018, the significance of these two minutes stems from the failure of the United States and other world leaders to address looming threats of nuclear war with some leaders even making comments or taking actions that seem to suggest the desire such an outcome.

Speaking strictly about the United States, the use of nuclear weapons has been a desire expressed by Donald Trump.  During election, he asked several times why we even have nuclear arms if we don’t intend to use them.  Since taking officer, he has made threatening remarks against North Korea and even made disrespectful comments against their leader Kim Jong-un, a murderous despot who is starving his own people to advance his country’s nuclear capabilities.

Over the last few years and prior to the Trump administration, the North Korean government has actively worked towards developing their nuclear arms.  With every failed test, they have shown considerable improvement.  In September, North Korea claimed a successful hydrogen bomb test.  On November 29th, the Hwasong-15, the country’s furthest-reaching intercontinental ballistic missile, flew for 53 minutes before crashing into the ocean.  That ICBM has a theoretical range that puts the whole world at risk apart from Latin America and Antarctica.  While a lot of the Kim Jong-un says could be just empty threats and saber-rattling, there is truth to the improvement of his nuclear capabilities.  It was reported today that Mike Pompeo, Central Intelligence Agency chief, believes that North Korea could be able to nuke the United States within a “handful of months.”

What makes the shadow of nuclear war longer is Donald Trump’s mishandling of the issue.  Beyond the name calling and threats of “fire and fury,” there exists something deeper in Trump that adds credibility to our worries of nuclear war.

I recently read The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.  Compiled by Dr. Brandy X. Lee, the organizer of Yale University’s “Duty to Warn” Conference, this is a collection of essays and reports from over two dozen psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals who are executing their professional duty to warn people that their assessments of Donald Trump’s poor mental stability and how he puts the world at risk.

While each professional goes into their own narrative or theory on Trump’s mental health, there is a common thread that suggests they all believe that Trump is unfit to be president and can react in a volatile and unpredictable way.  Trump’s narcissism and need for pure adulation and control could lead to the president making an ill-informed, or even dangerous, decision.  Whether its pure impulse to destroy an enemy or distract the public from the Russian collusion investigation, Trump’s access to the United States’ nuclear arsenal is cause for concern.

The United States is feeling this nuclear threat on a level that hasn’t been seen since the Cold War.  The United States Centers for Disease Control originally planned a session on discussing nuclear disaster preparedness for January 16th.  That session has been postponed for a currently unknown date.  Though the CDC cancelled the session with the promise of a future session scheduled, the fact a federal agency is recognizing an imposing threat validates the general public’s concerns which should motivate our leaders to take action to curb such threats.

On January 13th, an emergency alert was mistakenly sent out to people in Hawaii warning that a missile was incoming, that they should seek shelter, and that the alert wasn’t a drill.  This error was made and the Hawaii government is taking steps to prevent the error being made again.  However, the alert represented a sign of the times; misinformation about a possible threat.  And that is problematic because it reduces the public’s ability to take the government seriously.  Considering the man currently in the Oval Office cannot be trusted and has a questionable mental health status that makes him dangerous, trust is dwindling.

Since the middle of the 20th century, nuclear annihilation has been a reoccurring theme in our popular culture.  Whether such an apocalypse is depicted in films, television, or video games, people ae fascinated by a world impacted by nuclear fallout and the question of man’s ability to survive it.  It is a narrative setting that never fails to create such dynamic stories from a reality that none of us want at all.

The theme of nuclear war is also present in our popular music.  While there are hundreds of songs that cover the subject, none feel more relevant now than “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden.  The heavy metal legends release this protest song about nuclear war on their 1984 album Powerslave.  “2 Minutes to Midnight” is a hard-hitting critical track that condemns the hands of doom that wreak nuclear havoc on people for glamour and greed.  It is the madman’s love of death that threatens our lives.

The song title is a reference to the Doomsday Clock.  The track was released 31 years after the first time the clock was two minutes to midnight and we were closer to nuclear annihilation than ever before.  Now, 65 years after the clock hit two minutes for the first time and 34 years since Iron Maiden released this single, we are now closing in on the brink of nuclear annihilation again.  While that threat was curbed by some of our country’s greatest leaders, we have no one currently in the White House who can fill those shoes.  It is a frightening time being this close to midnight and the only thing we can do is wait it out.