If we were to ask what Jesus would do (a question you hear more often in Republican precincts), it would not be this.
But hey. As we know, Republicans promise to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. So far they have only enthused about the repeal part, as they have no ideas or strategy for replacing it. Indeed, keeping all the popular parts -- no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, children's coverage on parental plans until the age of 26, and no lifetime caps on coverage -- requires the subsidies and mandates that have proven so unpopular.
Or: You can't have your cake and eat it too. What we will end up seeing, after all the political theatrics, is a "new" health care plan that looks a lot like what President Obama already figured out seven years ago. Republicans will proclaim triumph even after doing nothing at all. Even Orwell would be stunned.
This week we took in La La Land, Damian Chazelle's glittering tribute to Hollywood as well as a love story of what might have been. (Spoilers below).
The tribute to Hollywood shines through in the many allusions to classic films -- the photo montage above, part of this article by Aisha Harris in Slate, captures those well. I would add that the film, unsurprisingly given its title, is also a love letter to Los Angeles. There are numerous shots of the Rialto Theater, the Griffith Observatory, and the glittering hills.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are two dreamers. Sebastian is a talented musician who wants to open an old-time jazz club, Mia is a talented actress seeking her big break who endures many humiliating auditions along the way. As the film starts Sebastian is reduced to playing Jingle Bells for tips, while Mia pours coffee for superstars on the Warner Brothers lot.
They meet, they argue, they stroll, they sing, they fall in love.
About that singing -- at first I was worried, because musicals can be cheesy. But La La Land strikes the right balance between spoken dialogue and song, with some nice dashes of magical realism (at one point Gosling and Stone are flying through the air) along the way.
As you might expect with two talented and striving artists, life becomes more challenging once they achieve success. Sebastian joins a jazz band (which to his mind proffers a bastardized but lucrative form of the art) that requires lots of touring. He sees it as a means to an end, which remains opening his own jazz club. Mia writes and performs in a one woman show, which she views as a disaster but actually leads to her big break.
Mia becomes extremely famous, Sebastian opens a club that rocks the night away. For their own individual dreams to flourish, their collective union must wither.
A timeless story, sure. But there is nothing new under the sun. In lesser hands these strains would become cliche, in Chazelle's hands they become art.
For millions of people, myself included, 2016 has been a brutal political year. The election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States reinforced all the worst impulses of human nature, and taught young white men that merciless bullying is the way to get what you want. The next four years will be painful.
As is my habit in times of grief, I return to favorite novels. Which is why I find myself re-reading Wallace Stegner's masterpiece Angle of Repose after many years. One of my treasured memories from Northwestern is of a fellow student reading Angle of Repose in the dining hall and laughing uproariously as she turned the pages. I can now confirm that the novel is hilarious.
And wise. And shrewd. And timeless.
All that granted, and appreciated, Stegner is not the writer to choose if you are looking for escapism. Indeed, he touches upon themes that are very relevant to the looming disgrace that will be Donald Trump's presidency.
1.) Take this passage, from Chapter 5 of the "Leadville" section (pgs. 243-253 in the Penguin paperback edition): "Here sit you geologists charged with surveying the resources of the Public Domain, and here sit your friends whose whole business it is to get hold of such information, preferably before it's published. It seems to me to offer a nice ethical problem." Given that a woman named Helen Hunt Jackson poses this dilemma to a group of men, in the 1870s, we can surmise that Stegner had feminist leanings. (The novel is mostly a recollection of the US West being built, in the 1870s and 1880s.)
It is also clear that Stegner knows all about perverse incentives, double dealing, and conflicts of interest likely to be resolved dishonorably. These will be the hallmarks of the Trump years, on a scale never seen before in US history. While not exactly comforting to find allusions to such things in a work of great literature, at the very least we can take heart that Trump's venality is nothing new. Stegner had Trump's type pegged long ago. He is nothing special.
2. Trump will eventually, and mercifully, be in the rearview mirror. There is no sense in always dwelling on him. For Stegner also understands the timeless, mysterious dynamics of marriage. These dynamics will remain ever with us. From the same chapter, which describes a gathering of distinguished men inside a rustic home: "She" [Oliver Ward's wife Susan Burling Ward] wished he had not taken off his coat, hot as the cabin was. With his brown corded forearms and his sunburned forehead he seemed one fitted for merely physical actions, like a man one might hire to get work done, not one who could devise policy and direct the actions of others. With a sad, defensive certainty she saw that he lacked some quality of elegance and ease, some fineness of perception, that these others had. It seemed to her that he sat like a boy among men, earnest and honest, but lacking in nimbleness of mind."
Harsh but honest. By the end of this chapter Susan feels guilty about these thoughts, which describes the cycle perfectly.
Stegner knew whereof he spoke, and had the grace and poise to describe it. We can ask no more of our writers than this.
All world leaders propagandize and evade the complete truth. They shade facts to fit their causes. This is nothing new.
But Donald Trump's blatant and callous and constant disdain for the truth -- such as claiming millions of people voted for Hillary Clinton illegally -- is of another order entirely. He will be our first President for whom we should not believe a single utterance from his mouth. James Fallows is correct: call him a liar. I'll add: call Trump a fool, laugh in his face, and make it clear at every possible turn that he lost the popular vote. He is unfit to lead and unworthy of respect.
In 1984 (Orwell's masterwork) the rulers eventually control everything because the people do not take them seriously soon enough. This must not be our fate.