A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 141

Posters urging the wearing of face masks are all over New York City.

Thursday, September 3

Back to my reflections on the Nazis and Trump.

Victor Klemperer, the diarist/author of the Third Reich history I Will Bear Witness, pays particular attention to the Nazis’ characteristically hyperbolic language. He’s quite struck by the carnival-barker-like aspect of the rhetoric, often referring to it as P.T. Barnum-like. (At one point he calls Hitler the Barnum of Hell.)

The Nazi rhetoric, which Klemperer calls Lingua Tertii Inperii or LTI, is often very exaggerated, focusing on vast advances in prosperity or alleged military triumphs. Economic developments are “greater than ever.” The victories over the Soviet Union are said to be “without parallel in history.”

Does the hyperbole seem familiar?

One “bulletin from the East” reports that “nine million are facing one another in a battle whose scale surpasses all historical imagination.” Bialystok was recently “the greatest battle of attrition and annihilation in world history.” Armies of millions have been annihilated, reports allege, “our wildest expectations exceeded.”

Our own Führer, Donald Trump, has a similar linguistic urge. “Huge,” of course, has been one of his most commonly used words. (Then there’s “bigly,” which many commentators mocked.) This year, he has said the economy is “soaring to incredible new heights. Perhaps the greatest economy we’ve had in the history of our country.”

People he likes or wishes to flatter are “incredible,” “amazing,” or “tremendous.” He himself is the greatest President ever—greater than Lincoln or Washington.

“Not that many people know this,” he’ll say—emphasizing his unique understanding of something. “Believe me, believe me,” he may add—perhaps anticipating listeners’ skepticism.

Then come the insults. “Stupid.” “Loser.” Nancy Pelosi is a “moron.” The drug-dependent Joe Biden is “somebody who has lost a step.” Women are “fat pigs,” “slobs,” “dogs,” and “disgusting animals.” Perhaps worst of all, is to be “little,” like “little Marco Rubio.”

Increasingly, Trump seems to be courting the conspiracy-minded QAnon crowd. Joe Biden is controlled by “people that you haven’t heard of.” Well, that lets out George Soros, since plenty of people, including the far-right fringe, have certainly heard of that Open Society advocate and philanthropist. 

“You have anarchists and you have the looters and you have the rioters and you have all types, you have agitators,” Trump recently announced in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He told a Fox News correspondent about a planeload of black clad Antifa militants headed for Washington, D.C.—a mob nobody else seems to know about.

Democrats are all far-left wing socialists. “Even a Kennedy isn’t safe in the new radical left Democrat party,” observed the MAGA man after Senator Ed Markey defeated his primary challenger Joe Kennedy.

I guess Trump got this Red Scare stuff from his former lawyer, Roy Cohn, a onetime crony of right-wing bamboozler Senator Joe McCarthy. But with the U.S.S.R. out of business and the A-bomb widely held, does Red-baiting still scare anybody? Does it command any votes?

Dinner: Capriccio salad and corn on the cob.

Entertainment: The Danish political drama Borgen on Netflix.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 55

Will drive-in movies make a comeback?

Saturday, May 2

A little while ago, I set up the bread machine to make a loaf of light whole wheat bread. The machine, a “Breadman,” is about the size of a large toaster oven. You just put in the ingredients, push a few buttons, and the machine takes care of everything. You can even set a timer to make bread overnight so it will be ready for breakfast when you wake up. 

The loaf I like requires a mix of flours—regular white flour, whole wheat flour, and whole wheat pastry flour. It takes a little over four hours to produce a loaf, what with kneading, pausing to allow for rising, more kneading, more rising, then baking. It’s hardly perfect: The loaves produced don’t have the crusty, chewy texture that one might prefer. But in a quarantined world, they’re hard to beat.

There is, I must admit, some trick with the yeast. Sometimes a loaf will come out sort of flat, and other times, perfectly risen. Just what makes the difference, I cannot tell.

It’s Saturday, and today we may remember to listen to the NPR panel show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” But generally, we forget unless we are in the car. As everybody under lock-down knows, each day seems the same and routines are easily overlooked.

At 10:35 a.m. I have already consumed the thin Saturday Times and am ready for other stimulus. Reporters are weary of Trump’s unhinged rants—anyone for a swig of bleach?—and so they are on to examining whether or not Joe Biden really groped that woman. Some pundits say the Democrats are under no obligation to nominate Biden, their nominee-presumptive. They can just ditch him like that damaged face mask you returned to Amazon, and opt for either Klobuchar or Warren.

Of course, no responsible pundit would suggest Bernie. He’s like the restaurant in the Yogi Berra story: No one goes there, it’s too crowded. Or to paraphrase a recent Hillary Clinton comment, no one likes him—he’s too popular.

The loaf of bread did come out less than perfectly risen. They never have problems on YouTube!

This summer could see the return of drive-in movies, I read yesterday. There’s a certain logic: You’d have the feeling of being on an outing, yet you’d be ensconced in your private chamber, socially distanced from all but your intimate relations and chums. But, like in the old days, the setup would probably appeal most to a younger crowd. Adults might go once—then right back home to the Netflix.

I remember going to a drive-in screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. With its spellbinding, interplanetary visuals, lush soundtrack, and trippy, mystifying ending, it was really wrong for the drive-in. In order for the wild visuals and the spooky plot to work, you needed to be in a very dark, cavernous theater.

I also recall a Memphis drive-in with one of the most memorable and bizarre double-billings ever: The artsy Women In Love, based on the D.H. Lawrence novel, and Women In Chains, a sleazy B-movie about a female prison.

Tonight’s dinner: leftover lentil salad, saffron rice, and a green salad with cucumber and artichoke hearts.

Entertainment: More episodes of the Norwegian thriller Occupied and the third episode of Collateral. The latter is quite effective: You know just whodunit—but the motive for the killing of an immigrant pizza-delivery guy could be any number of things. The most recent episode involved local police, shady criminals, MI-5, and the military.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 48

The bill for your family’s share is in the mail.

Saturday, April 25

I’ve been wondering about the National Debt Clock. Is it keeping up?

You may have seen the clock. It’s a billboard-size dingus, with spinning, electric-lit numbers. It sits along Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets in Manhattan. Wikipedia says that it first appeared in 1989, and that the idea came from real estate developer Seymour Durst, who worried that future generations would be crippled by the U.S. debt burden. (Yes, you may have heard the name, thanks to a recent, sensational HBO program.)

But I suspect that the true inspiration for the clock came from the professional worriers over the debt.  

One of the all-time great worrywarts in this line was President Herbert Hoover, who warned during the Great Depression that “prosperity cannot be restored by raids on the national treasury.” Hoover—and Franklin D. Roosevelt, for that matter—campaigned in 1932 on a platform of balancing the federal budget.  (Nearly 24% of the population, or over 12 million people, were unemployed at the time.) As the New Deal, with its deficit financing and many government programs, progressed, Hoover’s warnings became ever more frenzied.

But of course, neither Hoover nor FDR are around today. 

As recently as 2008, rich guy and onetime Presidential candidate Ross Perot raised alarms about the debt, saying “not since the Great Depression have we seen an economic crisis of the magnitude that we are facing today.”

And in 2010, a “bipartisan” commission headed by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Democratic Senator Erskine Bowles looked to reduce the federal debt by implementing tax hikes and a number of cuts in federal spending. These included lowering federal spending on health care—hah!—and trimming social security benefits for some recipients. Congress regarded the Simpson-Bowles report with the same enthusiasm it might have shown for mandatory junkets to Chernobyl. Only 11 of the commission’s own 18 members endorsed the recommendations. One who did endorse the commission report: then-Vice-President Joe Biden.

Now, with the federal government throwing money hand-over-fist at pandemic-hammered businesses, health care facilities, and taxpayers, you might think some of these debt-obsessed types would have been agitating to reign in spending. (One organ that is: conservative magazine National Review, which warns that Congress’ massive spending packages “put us farther down the road to fiscal ruin.”) At the moment, though, no one is really paying attention to such voices so far as I can tell.

In any case, you can go to an online version of the National Debt Clock at https://usdebtclock.org

There, you will see the numbers spinning wildly. As of right now, the moment when I am writing this, the clock says the national debt stands at $24,715,691,000,000. Check back in 30 seconds for a much-inflated update. Most ominously of all, the clock has a second figure: Your family’s share of this debt!!!

Expect a bill in the mail any day now!!!

The national debt, it should be said, is just an estimate of how much the federal government is owing to government bondholders and to itself, including to such accounts as the Social Security Trust Fund. And it has seldom been cheaper for the government to borrow money. The wisdom of spending our way back to economic health has seldom been more evident. Yes—throw money at all of our problems! Please!

Today’s dinner: Yay, more leftovers—chicken paprikash and noodles, green salad, and potatoes maybe.

Entertainment: Two episodes of murky Finnish thriller Bordertown and one episode of The Hunters.