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Movie Review: Jackie

Dissecting the wife of the first modern celebrity president to become martyred through assassination—President Kennedy—is the aim of leading actress Natalie Portman’s tragic horror movie, Jackie. A pretentious, arduous fictionalization it is, too. Jackie is as grisly as a horror movie and as maudlin as a Tennessee Williams play.

No one can accuse writer Noah Oppenheim and director Pablo Larrain of romanticizing the Kennedys, though the president’s widow as the film’s subject garners some degree of sympathy. This, too, may depend on one’s take on the grief-stricken housewife with no apparent passion for anything except perhaps vanity, proximity to the opposite sex and prestige by the estimates of others. This may have been part of the intended point of Jackie, which is meant to be unnerving and is often merely uninteresting.

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Beginning with a black screen, droning sounds and scattered shots of glimpses of the film’s three main focal points—the November 22, 1963 assassination in Dallas, a 1961 First Lady’s televised tour of the White House and a post-assassination meeting at the Kennedys’ property in Massachusetts—Jackie delves into dark moments. Given that it’s one of the most iconic, photographed presidencies, it’s hard not to want to watch what’s happening on screen, if for no other reason to match it up with famous pictures.

“I will be editing this conversation in case I don’t say exactly what I mean,” the First Lady tells an interviewer after the assassination in the movie’s framing device. In flashbacks to the deadly motorcade, hospital, Air Force One and the White House, the grieving widow’s lament comes in three arcs; before, during and after Dallas. It plays as a psychodrama, as Portman’s version of Jacqueline Kennedy sucks cigarettes, pops pills, melts down and confides, breathlessly wandering halls and rooms in her tidy little outfits like a battery-operated doll gone glitchy.

Jackie Kennedy was real and the movie that bears her name, enamored with her grief, hints at and shows nothing of what came before or after her White House Kennedy years, so there’s nothing about her Republican politics, interest in publishing or even much about what attracted her to her Catholic husband (whose presence in the movie is relegated to a few glimpses and a halting speech). The whole movie is overstyled, like a reality cable show’s recreation, focusing on the victim’s personality more than on pivot points in depicted events that define or recur over a lifetime (like The Queen, Lincoln or The Iron Lady). Jackie is moody, twitchy and awfully derivative. I do not think depicting a woman at her worst for nearly 90 consecutive minutes is inherently brilliant, however.

Jackie amounts to a re-enactment based on morbid curiosity. From scene to scene, certain tidbits emerge, from Mrs. Kennedy’s defense of guiding the White House tour, in which she finds “history, identity and beauty” in material possessions and points out that she funded restoration of the White House entirely through private donations to President Lincoln’s funeral as the impetus for her husband’s. The impressions soon fade amid more pill-popping than Valley of the Dolls, a distracting score, chain-smoking and a brutal portrayal of a shallow, unstable woman. “I used to make them smile,” she says to a priest (John Hurt, V for Vendetta) after asking what men will think of her now.

Add scenes with the kids and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Mr. and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant) as the closest Jackie has to villains other than the grieving widow herself and her late husband, whose flaws are suggested, never named. As Mrs. John Kennedy, Portman is affected, overly mannered and sincere. As a journalist, Billy Crudup (Spotlight) is flat, though this may be the way the role is written and it’s hard to tell because the journalist behaves less as a journalist and more as a sycophant.

For all the pageantry and re-enactment, the majesty Jackie apparently believes it exhibits only holds if you think celebrity has majesty (it doesn’t), if only for one brief shining moment. Jackie feels, however, like one, long gauzy eternity, at once both fawning and cruel to the woman who later made a career for herself independent of men. When the priest to whom Jackie Kennedy confides finally tells her that one can’t ever really know anything, anyway, and that, upon realizing this truth, most people accept it as true, kill themselves or stop seeking answers, I knew in that instant that this is what Jackie is really made to say. Sadly, it’s all that Jackie‘s made to say.

Transitional Trump

The deed is done and whim-worshipping Nationalist Donald Trump has been elected America’s president. So, Election Day 2016 bestows the inheritance of “hope and change” that Barack H. Obama spoke about eight years ago upon Donald J. Trump; he represents real, immediate and alarming change from bad to worse in terms of republican government based on individual rights—and leaves his followers and supporters to hope for better days. Transformational Obama, who did fundamental damage to the republic, met with transitional Trump on Thursday at the White House for 90 minutes and came away impressed. So says Obama.

1-g-v_nmlqohhxir2l2q_eyqGrasping the chance for mutual aggrandizement, Trump returned the compliment and added that he’s willing to back off his promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare after listening to President Obama. Trump promptly told 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl that he will keep at least two major dictates in ObamaCare including the provision forcing insurers to insure anyone who’s already sick. Trump’s vulgar “art” of dealmaking has begun.

This week of his historic upset victory provides a telling, leading indicator that Trump’s dealmaking is the path to crazymaking. Soon, the seething, volatile, malicious intents of this insecure president-elect shall erupt in a daily American meltdown that exacerbates the nation’s perilous problems.

I think it’s important to contemplate how Trump came to power. Sniveling, cynical media dilettantes (pseudo-intellectuals such as Bill Maher, Greg Gutfeld, Dennis Miller, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and their brethren) made any type of vulgar, unprincipled sneering for or against the Obama administration acceptable. Despite the laughter and ratings, annoyance at the smugness accumulated and eventually, it rightly revolted decent Americans, whose anger was compounded by the day-to-day pain and suffering experienced in hidden inflation, unemployment, loss of free choice in medicine, loss of privacy and freedom to travel unmolested by the state and chronic attack by Islamic terrorists whose state sponsors and motivation the government refuses to name, identify and bring to an end.

Being subjected to today’s incessant snideness contrasts with the spreading poverty, despair and suffering of these post-crash years since Barack Obama was elected. Ostentatious, cavalier Obama was a constant and chronic reminder of this contrast, which Americans experience as a widening gap between the favored and the disfavored with persons of state and ivory tower determining the difference. Cavorting Obamas, Bushes and Clintons heightened the divide. The Hunger Games dramatized it. Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements crested around it. Americans need only examine the changes and loss of hopes in their own households to take stock of the undeniable failure of the Obama presidency. Despondent adults and deflated youths—not everyone, but many Americans—could no longer deny the sense that America as a surveillance-welfare state is going dark, as Leonard Peikoff has observed and thoroughly, thoughtfully examined.

e20d0725-51e4-4fb4-b966-df4b23235a19In short, Obama made Trump possible, as his predecessor made Obama possible, too. This—with the horrifying prospect of a President Pence ominously awaiting the nation—is why I regard the native New Yorker as a transitional figure. To paraphrase trader and Fox Business analyst Jonathan Hoenig, whose courageous crusade against Trump was foremost among capitalists, worry above all about what comes after President Trump. Strive to understand what got Trump elected.

Brace in the meantime for an onslaught of favor-trading (Ayn Rand, whose philosophy, Objectivism, is the salve for Trump’s politics, called it pull peddling in Atlas Shrugged), corruption, fear-mongering and cronyism, especially familialism. Now, Americans get to live under the uncertainty that comes from not thinking about what comes next—the momentary thrill of going by whim—the true meaning of taking matters on faith, having hope and being charitable without discrimination—as America comes apart. The left had their own brand of a hateful, hostile candidate of the past, Bernie Sanders, the socialist to Trump’s nationalist but essentially for total government control of the individual, with shrewd Hillary Clinton posing as the candidate of the future while representing the status quo. The right offered more of the same religionists, traditionalists and pragmatists and wound up with a shrewd strongman as the last candidate standing (Libertarian Gary Johnson abandoned all pretense to taking a presidential candidacy seriously early in the campaign). The media, led by Fox News celebrity Megyn Kelly despite appearances to the contrary, catered to Trump’s every whim and fed his rise to power.

Not knowing the extent of the damage to come while knowing that there will be damage and, likely deeper division and possible bloodshed, makes it impossible to prepare. Bracing for President Trump’s worst case scenario is like dealing with an overstimulated addict: you have to be on vigilant, guarded, nonstop defense and never let up on defending your rights and your life. The coming presidential term is likely to be disturbing, exhausting and shocking, like time spent with a jacked up addict who’s out of control. But it is an opportunity to learn, to resolve and make peace with the fact that you’re fighting for your life.

And to unite with others to save, not consent to destroy, what remains of the free republic.

Free Speech, Advocacy and Alain Mabanckou

The freedom of speech urgently needs defending, as a college campus club recently learned in LA’s Eagle Rock neighborhood, and intellectuals across America are rising to defend the First Amendment. From outspoken writers, journalists and bloggers across the political spectrum to filmmakers, academics and wealthy businessmen, such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, the nation’s most influential thinkers and creators are exercising the right to free speech by denouncing government control, coercion and censorship—and, in the case of an African novelist I met earlier this year, by praising persecuted voices.

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Read the interview with Alain Mabanckou

His name is Alain Mabanckou. I had read about his choice to present an award for courage and freedom of expression by a writers’ group to the French satire publication Charlie Hebdo after its office was assaulted by radical Moslems in Paris after printing a caricature of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. Mr. Mabanckou is a member of the group, PEN American Center, which is dedicated to protecting the freedom of speech.

Under pressure to withdraw the award, PEN and Mabanckou refused to compromise.

That he did so after an Islamic terrorist attack on a similar type of event—a cartoon contest in Texas—hours before his New York City event, caused me to ask for an interview, which Alain Mabanckou granted. We met at a lounge and talked about Charlie Hebdo, his thoughts on free speech and his writing. In posting this interview, I wanted to demonstrate that not everyone who stands up to irrationalism, including radical Islam, is a conservative, a libertarian or an Objectivist.

As with the Brandeis University professor I interviewed about his lonely defense of a writer targeted by radical Islamic types and their apologists for expressing her ideas, I wanted to show the reader that it is possible to “think different” and be different from usual voices defending absolute free speech and act on principle. I think that, more than ever, it is important for rational Americans seeking to defeat barbarians and tyrants to know that the one who acts for good might be an intellectual who isn’t hiding in an ivory tower, removed from ordinary life here on earth. He might be an immigrant or refugee. He might express himself as kind, colorful and eager to know—as against harsh, bitter and filled with rage—yet be strong and capable of advocating free speech on principle.

Though it’s clear that in a matter of weeks this historic presidential election is likely to result in an American president wholly opposed to absolute freedom of speech, and despite more Islamic terrorist attacks happening here, I remain optimistic about the future for freedom. There are left-wing and right-wing intellectuals—moviemakers are intellectuals—making thought-provoking motion pictures about lone heroes defying the status quo, as I wrote about in a Medium post here. There are great American heroes realizing the spirit of “Let’s Roll” everywhere, as I wrote about here. And there are brave and benevolent gentlemen taking stands based on reason and these facts demonstrate that, while these are desperate times for civilized man, victory is possible.

On the eve of this year’s PEN American Center gala in Beverly Hills, I’m proud to post my interview with one such individual, the writer who names, recognizes and rewards Charlie Hebdo‘s courage in exhibiting the freedom of expression. Read my exclusive interview with Alain Mabanckou here.

Clinton Con

The New Left-run Democratic Party staged an unsuccessful convention in my estimation, underscoring a contention that Democrats, if elected again to the presidency, may be less effective in persuading the public than you might think. With a politically correct culture and its byproduct, rampant self-suppression and self-censorship, polls may conceal or underestimate the number of Trump voters. I suspect that Trump, a buffoon who represents an American backlash against dominant ideas and intellectuals, has the edge in 2016’s presidential race.

This is partly thanks to Democrats, whose vacancy and empty value proposition is contained in their secondhand convention slogan: “Stronger Together”.

HRChissyHillary Clinton, the former Goldwater girl gone to college, may have intended to stress togetherness over strength but I think the convention theme is a part of her campaign’s problem. By emphasizing unity without providing a coherent cause around which to unite or evidence of unity—the nation, in fact, is divided—Democrats incurred the voter’s anger (Clinton admits that people are “furious” at the state of the union) and affirmed that the nation is more divided than before Obama was elected and re-elected. There is no togetherness in America. Given two terms of hope and change and constant conflict brought by Barack Obama, there is chronic domestic violence and foreign attack—often the blurring of both—amid daily strife, confusion and division.

Obama is why Donald Trump is the only apparent alternative.

Similarly, by emphasizing strength—”Stronger Together”—as the goal, Democrats all but cede Trump’s reason to exist in the race, daring the American voter to choose the strongman whose basic proposition is that he can fix what’s wrong with America, because he’s a more conniving crony than Mrs. Clinton, and that he can do it—somehow, never mind details. If togetherness is what voters seek, they were reminded this week during the Philadelphia propaganda that it is lacking in the U.S. If pure strength is what voters want, they were given a contrast between Trump, whose bluster is mistaken for strength, and Clinton, who obviously does not bring Americans “together” let alone make the incessantly attacked U.S. “stronger”. The evidence is everywhere in the news, social media and the streets. The U.S. is neither stronger nor together by the most elementary accounting of facts. Only entrenched New Left intellectuals and stakeholders really believe Democrats’ slogan if they do (and if they told the truth, they probably don’t). Leftists hurl invective at the Tea Party movement, Ted Cruz and Fox News and at anyone, even CNN and Starbucks, who questions the Obama administration or leftist dogma.

In other words, the Democratic National Convention’s “Stronger Together” is based on a fraud, a lie, a contradiction.

This suits President Barack Obama, a dishonest president who lapsed this week into his performance persona again, cadence and all, to deliver what most pundits deemed an optimistic speech on America. That Obama’s speech was not optimistic, unless by optimism one means confidence in a future nation divided by race, sex and every other factor beyond one’s immediate control, was lost on most pundits, who compared Obama to Ronald Reagan. Obama’s hip, rhythmic rant chided Trump’s narcissism while displaying Obama’s own, invoking himself over and over, from self-centered focus on a past speech to a veiled pitch for a book he wrote. No, Obama’s speech is not an example of optimism in America’s future. It is an example of gloating about America’s demise by his doing. Flag-waving displays of what’s been interpreted as patriotism were a hacking at Americanism—a kind of gravedancing before the casket’s been lowered. The Obama presidency stands for dismantling American law, rights and founding ideals. Obama and the Democrats seek an end to the United States for its moral basis: individual rights. The screaming, yelling, raging and sermonizing was not an expression of optimism, it was pure triumphalism for multiculturalism and feminism and their premise, egalitarianism, over individualism, thinly disguised as Philadelphia patriotism.

But Democrats’ celebration of victory over individualism is premature. America is not yet completely done as the nation based on individual rights. Not yet, not yet. Democrats laid out every old idea to dominate the world’s bloodiest century—altruism, collectivism, statism—with plans for total government control of the individual’s life in terms of faith and the use of force. A preacher sermonized the multicult while a general bellowed about a PC war. Mrs. Clinton would rehash her book about the U.S. as a village, a book in which she proposed prohibition of divorce for couples with children. Vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, a Virginian who expressed admiration for Harry Truman, the Democrat who brought peace in a world at war by dropping the atomic bomb twice, not just once, on the enemy, stood out for sounding reasonable. Bill Clinton was reduced to a prop to make his hard, embittered wife seem softer. Michelle Obama chastised and judged. Michael Bloomberg, who as mayor used demagoguery to ban drinks in New York City, denounced the danger of demagoguery. Socialist Bernie Sanders, who is not a Democrat, made an impact with his socialist uprising. Elizabeth Warren noticeably withheld a rant. Democrats succumbed to the New Left.

Then came Chelsea Clinton, the only child of multimillionaire influence peddlers Bill and Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton eerily emerged to mimic the Stepford-like appearance last week of her friend, Ivanka Trump. This familialism or familism—the alarming rise of a Blood Collective/Family as an American political power—began as modern-era mythology with the morally depraved Kennedys, continued with the terrible presidencies of the Bushes, echoed with repulsive objectification of wives, children and grandchildren with Gores, Palins and others and comes to a sickening, un-American climax with this parade of Trumps, Clintons and still more new breeds. Twins were a Democrat theme. America’s first pair of husband-wife presidential nominees is coupled with a nepotistic GOP nominee. If either major candidate wins, a tyranny of Family looms large over America.

Enter Hillary Clinton, an activist-Methodist from Park Ridge, Illinois, who in her less guarded moments is almost amicable compared to her vulgar, nationalist opponent. Yet the former first lady, senator and secretary of state resembles Meryl Streep’s matriarch ruler in The Giver, pointing, hugging and faking her way through this week’s propaganda show, complete with big screen breaking glass effects to evoke a female Big Brother in 1984. Whether that’s what persuades voters that she is less pathological than the deranged, dangerous Donald Trump remains to be seen. Hillary Clinton had an opportunity to show her composure and speak to Americans as a fractured but decent people, rising above the hatred and divisiveness of the Obama years, pledging to do what her gauzy graphics promise she’s equipped to do: listen to and contemplate Americans as individuals. Hillary Clinton, accepting her earliest New Left ideals, badgered by Sanders the socialist and tied to a track record of distorting the truth while peddling influence, did not rise to the occasion.

Trump Con

The long Republican presidential campaign ended last night in Cleveland, Ohio, as the Grand Old Party (GOP) essentially ended itself as a political party for individual rights by nominating non-Republican nationalist Donald Trump for president of the United States.

The wreckage Trump leaves in his wake is real. The Republican Party is gone. I am inclined to agree with scholar Thomas Sowell, who writes that the best outcome is an unresolved election between Hillary Clinton and Trump that goes to the House of Representatives.

Trump is the result of decades of Big Government status quo; his reckless, anti-intellectual plan for whim-based authoritarianism is a solution to every major unsolved problem America faces, from our multi-trillion dollar debt and lousy economy to the West’s war with radical Islam. While Americans were scoffing at solving these urgent problems, insisting that they didn’t want to think about them, talk politics or do anything but snivel and sneer at satire by Simpsons, South Park and Jon Stewart, Trump was deluding himself into believing that he’s the one to fill the void.

Variations on the prototypical angry white male—Colbert, Matthews, Gutfeld, Stewart, Miller, O’Reilly, Olbermann—all superficial and deeply anti-intellectual, converged into a single TV personality: the bumbling, foaming, splaying, monstrous Donald Trump. Trump mixes most of the popular cultural points since the turn of the century—the attention deficit, instant gratification and roaming, raging thuggishness of a vicariously violent video game, the boorish, slobbering sloth of The Sopranos and blood-lust of Game of Thrones, the petty, vulgar and vacant humor of Seinfeld and everything it bred—Trump is the triumph of the anti-romantic; he provides the gushing, momentary thrill of going by the gut. He is an embodiment of the anti-ideal.

DonaldTrumpThe presidential nominee says he “admires” states with socialized medicine, “loves” violating property rights via eminent domain and opposes free trade, free press and freedom of speech. Trump vows to build a wall along the American border. All of this comes under his banner to “make America great again”, a theme of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

Those were not the only words lifted without credit from someone else during the past four days. The speech Trump and his wife claimed she wrote, an assertion which was later revoked without serious media scrutiny, plagiarized an Obama convention speech. But Trump’s candidacy, which began on June 16, 2015, thrives on controversy. From his spat with Megyn Kelly, which put them both in the center of attention, to his accusations, smears and insinuations, everything he does is designed to make you look.

But not too closely, not for too long, and certainly not at his ideas. During the convention, Trump swore, for instance, that he will “make America work again”. Never mind what this phrase, which if taken literally could mean mandatory labor, actually means.

Vague on specific plans, though unmistakably clear in his anti-capitalist, authoritarian intent and purpose, Donald Trump’s convention was marked by screaming, ranting and a single voice of dissent in a speech by Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse the New York crony real estate developer (postscript: Cruz endorsed Trump). Trump was nominated after a motion over rules by Never Trump delegates was denied a roll call vote. Trump’s party platform adopted government controls such as a law targeting gays for prohibition from marriage and a restoration of the Franklin Roosevelt administration’s defunct Glass-Steagall Act controlling banks.

Trump Con is a swing to the left—toward a centralized government controlling economics, marital law and communication—erasing a party created by those seeking to abolish slavery. The leftist push came, too, from the candidate’s wife, Melania, who by her admission admiringly copied Michelle Obama, and his daughter, Ivanka, a non-Republican who introduced her father by emphasizing non-essential facts, such as the Trump corporation’s—Trumps call the entity an “organization”—hiring of “more women”, not men, as executives. Ivanka Trump, appearing as callous as Mrs. Obama and as blank as a mannequin or a model in a Robert Palmer music video, became momentarily expressive once during an otherwise Stepford-like address—when she praised laws granting favors to women based upon marriage and motherhood. Sounding like both a radical socialist such as Bernie Sanders and a staunch conservative such as Phyllis Schlafly, Trump’s child spoke of “wage discrepancy”, “wage equality” and “equal pay”, pledging to hold her father accountable as president to reclaiming “our heritage”, though, like her father, Ivanka Trump refused to explain the pronoun or the heritage.

Trump’s daughter, who is married to New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, dared Americans to “judge [Donald Trump’s] competency by the companies he’s built” and added that he “will call upon the best and brightest”. She did not say for what purpose the best and brightest would be called upon nor exactly what being “called upon” means, whether a voluntary draft or some form of servitude. Ivanka Trump, proponent of mandates for rewarding marriage and motherhood, told the audience that her father will seek and carry out “brave new solutions.”

Donald Trump’s speech was a spewing, shouting rant which CNN reports is the longest convention speech in 44 years. Trump railed against immigrants and the state of the union, citing statistics and promising “no lies…[only] the truth and nothing else”, a pledge he’s already broken and often. Trump ended his acceptance speech by blurting three indiscriminate words: “I love you!”

At the end of a convention dedicated to destroying the Republican Party and constructing a powerful family government bureaucracy, the audience was left mindlessly demanding imprisonment of Trump’s presumptive opponent, Hillary Clinton, and chanting a variation of Barack Obama’s 2008 theme, which Trump’s dishonest campaign extends. “YES YOU WILL!”  is 2016’s corollary of 2008’s “YES WE CAN!” I contemplated the latter phrase in my post on Obama’s legacy and Trump’s motto, given his nationalist philosophy and threats to bring U.S. businesses such as Apple under the jackboot of the U.S. government, can only end in “…do as Trump commands!” Or worse.

“You can’t always get what you want,” the Rolling Stones sing on the record used without permission by Donald Trump. Short-sighted media pundits who powered his ominous rise mistake his featuring the song for a humbled check on Trump’s power-lusting intentions. But, as a voice of dissent to the supposed charisma of Melania, Ivanka and Donald Trump and this alarming mixture of familialism with fascism, I think media pundits got it wrong. Trump plays the tune as a taunt to Americans. Here comes my new autocratic administration, he’s transmitting to the nation and the world, and no one—especially not you, the individual—should expect to get what you deserve, because Trump’s time is coming and Trump will be in control. The anti-republican Trump Convention, the biggest con on the American people since Barack Obama, all but guarantees that, whether Clinton the statist or Trump the statist wins this election, unhappy days will soon be here.