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Fantasy TV
I have a confession to make. I never watched The Apprentice. It’s a shame, really, because someday the show will be taught in history courses. And to think I had a chance to witness first hand a new style of governing as it was being created.

As I understand the nature of the show, it shared many of the same elements that are common to other so-called reality TV programs: backbiting, plotting, rampant personal animus, and the slavish currying of favor with some all-powerful, capricious person who can decide the contestants’ fate at will.

These shows, I am told, are wildly popular, though no one has told me why. There seems to be an unquenchable appetite these days for unpleasantness. I don’t have to actually watch shows with names like Survivor, Big Brother, Fear Factor, or Hell’s Kitchen to know that the participants will be treating each other badly. The entertainment, apparently, is found in the ugliness of the human soul laid bare.

Though we might be tempted to see the internal strife in the current White House as an extension of The Apprentice, I think the show title that best captures its essence is Naked and Afraid. No one seems to be enjoying himself at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, including the all-powerful, capricious person in charge. He, like everyone there, is being stripped naked before our eyes, and they all have good reason to be afraid as the multiple investigations continue to swirl around them. Worse yet for Drump, the promise of absolute power has proven to be illusory. Fear and loathing might make for good ratings, but they don’t seem to be much use in governance. This sort of reality TV, it is clear, is not getting the job done in the world of actual reality.

Which leads me to a question. Does this failure mean that we have to abandon the governing model of reality TV game shows? What if there is another, similar form that might succeed in real reality where fear and loathing do not? Instead of the win-at-all-costs style of American bloodsport TV, how about a show in which the contestants are all nice? And even though they are competing against one another, what if the players wished each other well and were genuinely concerned with each others’ welfare? And so, here is my proposal: why not follow the lead of the English producers who have given us The Great British Baking Show?

Everyone on that show is sweet as can be. Even though it is a reality show, the brand of entertainment it provides has more of an adorably goofy flavor — not the bitter taste of human misery. The tone of this gentile “competition” is set by its host, the ever-chipper Mary Berry. Ms. Berry clearly relishes her role as the “doyenne of baking” — as well as the opportunity to consume large quantities of high-end baked goods (even though, miraculously, she has managed to to remain rail thin into her late 70s). Unlike her merciless American counterparts, she has nothing but kind words and camaraderie to offer her contestants.

The whole enterprise takes place, not in a soulless skyscraper or an impersonal sound studio, but under a large, graceful tent somewhere in the English countryside. I could live happily in a country that existed in a meadow inside a big tent. It would be no more real than Celebrity Apprentice or Naked and Afraid, but at least I would remain fully clothed (which I prefer) and have free access to all the scones, fougasse, and dampfnudel I could eat.

Our Constitution, of course, prohibits Mary Berry from being elected President. Sadly, we will never know what life could be like under her gentle hosting. We can assume, though, that we wouldn’t all be engulfed by dread upon waking each morning. It would more likely be light, fluffy nougat or perhaps a puff pastry. Though that might prove to be inconvenient, at least it would be a predicament we could cope with — as long as we limited ourselves to a small salad for dinner that night.
Our Hats, Ourselves
There is no clothing choice more challenging than a hat. If you are at all concerned about the opinions of others, the chance of attracting ridicule with your decision is enormous.

Complicating your choice is the expectation that your hat be an expression of your persona. A hat isn’t just for covering your head, then, it’s a messaging system for that special spark that you offer to the universe. If you choose the wrong message, the repercussions can be dire across a broad range of social categories. No choice of pants, shirts, or even shoes can ever be so consequential. Not only might you end up looking like an idiot, but you could project a brand of idiocy that is inconsistent with your true self.

Of course, these kinds of concerns are yours alone to contend with. I can only guess at what kind of person you really are (though the fact that you are reading this suggests that you are a truly fine human being indeed). I do, however, have some guidelines that can help you avoid the most egregious of chapeau-related faux pas.

First, some hats to avoid:

The green beret. I don’t wish to offend anyone who’s risking his life to save mine, but I am troubled by the way this hat is sometimes worn. Though it’s a critical part of the uniform (if only for its name), not every soldier wears it quite the same. It always tilts to the right side of the head, but in some cases the tilt seems to partly cover the right eye of the wearer. I have no direct experience with mortal combat, but I can’t help wondering whether unrestricted vision might be undesirable in this line of work. It’s okay as long as that drooping right side doesn’t blind you to incoming.

The Charlie Daniels cowboy hat. I know that Mr. Daniels is a respected member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, but he’ll never get into the Hat Hall with that topper. I’m sure the man has a neck, but it’s hard to be sure with that giant umbrella thing appearing to shove his head into his upper thorax.

The backward baseball cap. This one’s okay for young men, because young men are expected to make all kinds of mistakes. If you’re over 35, however (and old enough to be elected President), please don’t wear your cap any way but straight ahead. If you must declare your independence from The Man, use a non-adjustable model. At least you will avoid the humiliation of a sunburn rectangle on your forehead.

The hood. This hybrid of hat and sweater should be used with caution. When it’s down and loose around your neck, it’s really more of a scarf. When drawn over the skull, though, it sends out some pretty dark signals. “I am a moody loner,” it says, “a miscreant who doesn’t care about you or anyone else. Yes, I am capable of violence,” it goes on. “And maybe it would be better if the whole world would just end right now.” On the plus side, this hat will never blow off.

There are many bad hats beyond this list, including the raggedy, rolled-brim, feather-adorned cowboy hat, the goofy, New Age Mad Hatter, the bowler, and almost any period-specifc headgear. Most of them, I am glad to report, can be saved by the simple act of tilting. Setting your hat at an angle can provide a personality — even where none exists. To the left, to the right, it doesn’t matter. All of sudden, you have added flair, whimsy, insouciance, even daring in your persona’s resume — even though you are a total dud.

That is a tribute to the power of hats, and that kind of power should not be taken lightly. It is the most practical of garments, but it is also a fashion statement that speaks louder than any other. Go ahead, keep your head warm, protect it from the sun, cover up a bad haircut. But never forget that a hat is an avatar for your entire personality. And maybe your only personality — so choose carefully.
Us vs. Me
I saw a pair of opinion pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle a while back that talked about the national response to the right-wing marchers in Charlottesville. Some of those marchers have been singled out for firing by their corporate employers and many have been banned from social media sites. The issue: were these responses just?

Ted Rall, my political cartooning colleague and a well-known pissant when it comes to the inviolability of the First Amendment, took the side of unfettered free speech. “I wish I had a dollar,” he wrote, “for every time I’ve read some variation of ‘You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/ communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.’”

I can’t promise Ted a dollar here, but let me suggest that there could be a time when even an otherwise fascistic corporate power structure would be a welcome ally to free expression.

Here is my proposition: while we might think of free speech and the constellation of other freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights as fundamental to our free society, there is a level of rights even more basic than those. Our Constitution and all the laws and court decisions layered on top of it rest on a broad, unwritten social compact. That agreement features one simple component: equality. Under this principle we are all in the same boat, and in a truly free society we must all have free access to every part of the boat. Unless we fail to perform our side of the the compact in some way, we are entitled to stay on the boat and enjoy the full benefits of that access in equal measure to all the other passengers. The Bill of Rights and all our freedoms rest on this unspoken agreement.

But what if some of our fellow passengers seek to undermine the social compact? What if they campaign against a subset of other passengers because of their skin color or ethnicity or religious convictions and seek to limit their access or even evict us from the boat? What if their efforts violate no written laws and there is no codified remedy for this threat to our rights?

Kathy Lipscomb, a San Francisco social activist, wrote the counterpoint to Rall’s piece, emphasizing the need to control hate speech. I see the issue as broader than that. Organized hatred is a potent force, one we should not shrug off so easily — even if the expressions of that hatred are protected speech. Doesn’t the essence of the social compact give a free society the right to use whatever legal means it can find to fight off a threat to its own existence?

The Bill of Rights is a protection of individual rights. We have the use of our system of laws and courts to enforce those rights. Our social compact guarantees something different. It promises our joint right as a people to the benefits of freedom — including all the precious, fragile individual rights that flow from that original, tacit agreement. It is as if our society is a single organism, and as such it is entitled to fight off any affliction that jeopardizes its existence.

Normally, equality and individual rights are not in conflict, but when we see torch-bearing white supremacists, fully armed and duly permitted by the state, marching in the street and chanting hatred, we should be alarmed. History tells us that such demonstrations of strength can presage a menace to free societies. And when our President gives cover and even encouragement to such organized hatred, why shouldn’t society as a whole rise up take action to cancel the threat?

I’ll admit that such judgments can be tricky. Unlike written agreements, the social compact does not provide any clear guidance as to exactly when a violation occurs, no black-and-white test of when a threat is real. Nor does it give us the kinds of remedies for such wrongs that the written law does. We are left to decide these things for ourselves as a society. Corporate firings either will or will not receive public approval. I don’t see Ted’s communists, jerks, and garden variety sexists, racists and fascists as challenging the promise of equality in the same way these emboldened supremacists do. As a people, we have a right to defend ourselves against such movements.

I suppose it’s possible that the organism of our culture might make a mistake. We might succumb to societal paranoia and deprive individuals of their rights without good reason. Still, if it comes to a clear choice between the health of our free society and my own personal freedoms — a conflict between Us and Me — I’d like to think that I would choose the common good. A society truly founded on equality will restore what I may have lost.
GOP or Die
It pains me to say this, but only the Republicans can save us now. If we are to free ourselves from the escalating abomination of Drump and the tyranny of his reality-averse followers, we must rely on the patriotism, courage, and simple human decency of the Grand Old Party.

This is not a happy prospect. It’s as if we are depending on the arsonist to put out the fire. In this case, though, the arsonist actually lives in the building he torched. Worse, his apartment has probably suffered severe damage already. He might just shrug his shoulders and walk away.

Or maybe the Republicans are not so much arsonists as sloppy tenants who let a lot of garbage accumulate. Once the pile got big and compacted enough, it spontaneously combusted and now threatens to consume everything. The Republican pile contains such compost as the “belief” that the answer to gun violence is more guns, or that the way to provide better health care is to take it away, that we can raise more tax revenue through tax cuts, and that the agreement of 97% of the world’s climate scientists is not enough proof to take action on global warming.

It was not always this way. The GOP was once a repository of such virtues saw thrift, honor, and common sense. Their approach to governing may not have appealed to lefties, but at least they could be relied upon to do the right thing in a pinch. Those politicians are all gone — swept out by a tide of stupid both encouraged and co-opted by the Republicans themselves.

These new Republican positions are not actual beliefs, in most cases, but rather convenient positions crafted to maintain power. Not principles, but craven calculations. There may be some members of Congress, I suppose, who sincerely believe in these theories, but that only makes our situation worse. In either case, these are the people we must hope can put principle above politics and save the country.

Complicating the hopes for a GOP rescue is the fact that Drump is happy to sign on to to all these positions. Whatever they want, he’s pretty much down for it as long as they do the work. To put any distance between themselves and their president would mean walking away from all those solemn pledges to do stupid things.

That would be difficult, but it might have to happen. Again, this is their fault…but they’re also the only ones who can fix it because they have all the power now. The rest of us can only hope they find the will to do it. There are actual good people in the Republican Party, but they seem trapped by their own foolishness.

Meanwhile, the building is burning. It might already be too late for the Republican Party. Even if they are lost, though, we still need them summon the guts to face up to Drump. If not, we might all be toast.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee