A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 275

The Democrats’ best hope for 2024?

September 22

Here is the true meaning of Trump: The citizenry is done with politicians.

Between our dysfunctional schools and a distraction-oriented entertainment industry, the average person understands very little. They do not know the source of the few safety-net benefits that they may receive: social security, Medicare/Medicaid, the earned-income tax credit, and so forth. All of these seem to have come from a merciful god and not via the political process. 

The Democrats’ much-trumpeted accomplishments—a 1.2 trillion infrastructure package, a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief deal, climate-change measures, a revived economy that has shrunken unemployment, and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan—are all taken for granted.

Many Americans feel that Washington has done nothing for them. And they are waiting to be entertained.

Neither the pundits nor the pols understand this—not even Fox News, a source and a beneficiary of the phenomenon. So when Ron DeSantis or Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris or Nikki Haley, panders to a perceived public prejudice, it has little effect. The public has tuned out. They are ready for something else.

This is a global phenomenon. Did you think Celebrity Apprentice host Trump was a singular phenomenon? Check out Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine and former star of the hit TV series Servant of the People. In Italy, there’s Giuseppe Piero “Beppe” Grillo, a comedian and the founder of the right-wing Five Star Movement. 

Al Franken, former Saturday Night Live comedian and former U.S. Senator, became a victim of politician envy when he was purged from the Senate over an alleged sexual-harassment episode. His true crime: He was more popular, more commanding of the public spotlight than New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Now, Franken is reduced to hosting a podcast—and awaiting a political comeback.

A sign in the window of a Lower East Side bar in Manhattan.

Perhaps Franken should run for President. (Neither Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah nor Last Week Tonight star John Oliver qualifies, since neither is a “natural-born” American, as the Constitution requires.) At least Franken would have a chance against the GOP team—which I hereby predict to be DeSantis paired with Fox News shock jock Tucker Carlson (that is provided Carlson doesn’t shove DeSantis aside and take the top spot himself).

Franken has kept his hand in the political game. On his podcast, he has discussed a range of political issues and interviewed a variety of political figures, from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin. And he remains a very entertaining fellow: In his book Giant of the Senate, Franken called Ted Cruz the Dwight Schrute of the Senate. “He’s the guy in your office who snitches to corporate about your March Madness pool and microwaves fish in the office kitchen…He’s a toxic co-worker.”

But he wouldn’t be running against Cruz, who nationally is about as popular as a cockroach. Anyway, Franken can hold his own in a debate against any of the likely GOP insects.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 274

Greenery at Astor Place in lower Manhattan.

September 14

What is it about the British royal family that seems to provoke festivals of public grief? When Lady Diana Spencer died back in 1997, the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments could be heard all across the globe. One critical wag took note of the vast public turnout and termed it “recreational grieving”—but it was all the same a mass phenomenon. Now, Queen Elizabeth has passed, and one cannot pick up a newspaper or switch on the television without being absolutely drenched in the lamentations of commentators and public figures.

Meanwhile, as the day-after-day, drawn out parade of the royal corpse proceeds, others have passed from the scene, including Clinton persecutor Ken Starr and pathbreaking French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard.

So if Godard is dead, who will write our epigrams?

Godard was a filmmaker, of course. He was also a critic of everyday life—the quotidian, in the mode of heavyweight French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, author of the multi-volume Critique de la vie quotidienne. Godard, though, was much pithier.

“Adultery is the last adventure remaining to the middle class,” he once declared.

Godard’s love-hate relationships were innumerable: the prosperous middle class, city life, America, television, film itself.

“Europe has memories,” he once announced. “America has t-shirts.”

Then there was: “My aesthetic is that of the sniper on the roof.”

Not that many snipers have come equipped with hand-held film cameras, ever-present sunglasses, and an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history. Having already made multiple masterpieces, in the late 1960s Godard abandoned commercial movies and joined a collective of filmmakers dubbed the Dziga Vertov Group, named for the largely forgotten, pioneering Soviet documentarian who made the dazzling The Man With the Movie Camera (filmed, incidentally, in Ukraine). Vertov was an advocate of filming “life caught unawares.” He wished to follow a path “towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world, [to] decipher a world that you do not know.”

Godard’s works certainly fulfilled that function too. 

The ceaseless, eye-glazing pomp surrounding the Queen’s funeral, and the accompanying vacuous commentary, would have been all too familiar to Godard, who once denounced the older tradition of French cinema as unimaginative and oversimplified. It is somehow fitting that these two—representatives of opposite worlds—should die within days of each other.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 273

An 1893 version of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

September 3

Here’s how my thoughts have often been going lately:

I think of something that needs doing. I feel that I must go do that thing immediately, but I don’t want to. If it’s food preparation, that means I will have to wash the dishes afterwards—and I really, really don’t want to have to do that. Or maybe it’s something related to the house or the yard. Oh, but that’s so much trouble, maybe even physically taxing. I better just lie down and take a nap.

Yesterday I forced myself to move various clutter—a small spade, a large bag of potting soil, some plant food, and such like—into a living room cabinet or down to the basement. I vacuumed and dusted a bit here and there. All the while I felt headachy and slightly dizzy. Then, afterwards, I lay down for a bit.

Is this depression? There’s also anxiety—if I don’t do such and such a thing, there will be HIGHLY negative consequences.

I DO take lots of naps. Having just written a blog post about my father’s nap-taking, I wonder: perhaps HE was depressed. Or was he just following the habits of the older, more rural society in which he grew up? He was, after all, born in 1908…

The Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen, whose novel A World of Love I have just completed, was born in 1899. I turn to the past to get away from the present, so unpleasant largely thanks to Trump and his deluded, fascist followers. I have come to loathe, despise, and fear a lot of the American citizenry. But the past contained the seeds of all that is wrong today. We simply may not have seen those seeds.

One of Trump’s gifts to us: a tendency to exaggerate or inflate things. For him, his “accomplishments” were always “huge” and fantastic. His followers were “very special.” And those who criticized or opposed him were ugly, horrible, evil, etc.

So now everything around us seems so intense, so severe, so huge. Trump, clearly mentally ill, has left many of the rest of us emotionally rattled.

I made a very simple dinner yesterday—pasta e ceci, consisting of ditalini, tomatoes, chickpeas, and chard. It was very simple and took at most an hour to make. But beforehand I worried about how difficult, time-consuming, and stressful this bit of cooking was going to be. 

Will these frequent, pandemic-related episodes of anxiety pass? Who can say?

Dinner: a cheese omelette, baked potato, and green salad.

Entertainment: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan–a quartet of ghost stories.