The New Face of America?

Who is the man in the photo below? Is he us? And by “us,” I mean the half of the country that, with the assistance of a foreign power, ruthless gerrymandering and big, dark money—not to mention a last-minute assist from the FBI director—put the present administration in office.

His name is Adam W. Purinton and judging by his photo (and why not? Don’t we always make snap judgments about whole classes of people based on their looks?) he is a poster boy for what we used to term “poor white trash”: ugly, mean-looking and radiating ignorance and hostility.

Adam Purinton
Who is this? Is he us? Photo: Henry County Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press.

Last Wednesday evening, at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, Purington verbally assaulted two immigrants from India who had been working here legally for many years, using racial slurs and telling the men to “get out of my country.” Both worked as engineers for Garmin, a GPS navigation and communications device company and a maker of highly regarded professional running watches. When customers complained about Purington’s obnoxious behavior, he was kicked out of the bar. He returned later and shot both Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok R. Madasani, as well as an American who came to their defense, Ian P. Grillot. Kuchibhotla was killed and the other two men were wounded. Purington fled to neighboring Missouri where he was soon captured.

Purinton has been charged with murder and the federal government has launched an investigation to determine if the shooting was a hate crime. Well, d’uh.

People in India don’t seem to be in any doubt, where the attack dominated news media and the top American diplomat in the country was compelled to issue a statement condemning what she described as a “tragic and senseless act.”

Is Purinton the new face America is showing to the world? This is still ostensibly one country, and the government response here in the U.S. has been both dishonest and inadequate. White House spokesman Sean Spicer claimed it was absurd to suggest President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric could be linked to the Kansas violence.

There is one belated bright spot: a GoFundMe campaign set up to help the family of the murdered man has raised more than $625,000 to date.

Is this the way it’s going to be in Trump’s hate-mongering America? Decent people left trying to atone for the mindless violence the administration has unleashed?

Darkness Visible

Amnesty International released its 2016/2017 “State of the World’s Human Rights” report yesterday and it paints a dark picture. The global human rights organization noted that toxic fear-mongering by anti-establishment politicians, including President Trump, is contributing to a worldwide drive to roll back human rights.

Amnesty described 2016 as “the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs. them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s.”

The watchdog group named Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte among leaders it said are “wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people.”

Trump’s “poisonous” rhetoric exemplified “the global trend of angrier and more divisive politics,” Amnesty said.

Donald Trump
Trump photo © Huffington Post.

The day before Amnesty’s report was released, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a pair of memos intended to expedite the removal of millions of U. S. immigrants far more quickly, with far fewer checks and far less balance. Kelly wants to hire 10,000 more ICE officers and 5,000 more Border Patrol agents, in addition to enlisting police departments around the U. S. to assist in immigrant roundups.

Yesterday, the Amnesty report noted that “The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia. The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the crosshairs.”

The White House had no comment on the report.

Can Facebook Save the World?

I won’t try to cover the absurd press conference conducted by our so-called President yesterday, as it’s already been done quite effectively (Steven Colbert stands out here). Laughter is a natural response, and many progressives take heart from the fact that every such fiasco undermines Trump further.

But I don’t share this optimism. Even if Trump fails to last a full term, as many pundits are predicting, we’re still left with Pence and an amoral Republican Congress intent on undermining every bit of social progress the country has made in decades.

Well, the pendulum will swing back, others say. And to that I respond, so what? Let’s say we manage to elect a Democratic President and control the Senate again in 2020. We will still be left with the ignorant, misguided and/or malevolent citizens who voted Trump into office last year. So how much lasting progress can really be made? The pendulum is swinging more slowly now, and the clock is winding down.

The country’s two-party system, with its electoral college and other quaint artifacts, is broken beyond repair. Universal suffrage is no cure when half the electorate is uninformed and unqualified by temperament, education and upbringing to make rational decisions. (The Republicans have done their best to increase this pool of unqualified voters through effective gerrymandering.)

All of which brings me to a surprising statement made by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, yesterday: “progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.”

Facebook
Can Facebook help create global harmony? Logo © Facebook.

This is absolutely true. Both climate change and nuclear weapons, to cite just two examples, are terrifying threats that only a global response can meet effectively. But how do we get there? Somehow I think Facebook alone is not the answer. But maybe it can help, if it does more to curtail the ignorance promulgated on its network and more to help people break out of their tight little groups and constant posting as an end in itself to take part in organizing change in the real world.

Zuckerberg has raised a very important issue and I admire him for speaking out in today’s nationalistic, close-minded environment. How do people of intelligence and good will come together to make genuine progress? That is the question more of us need to address today, regardless of national boundaries or Trump’s latest tweet.

Music for Our Times

With the Grammys coming up tomorrow, I thought I’d cast my vote in the Dance/Electronic category for Underworld’s phenomenal Barbara, Barbara we face a shining future. While I follow classical music and jazz more than popular music these days, there are some noteworthy exceptions and Underworld is one of them.

Underworld: Barbara Barbara we face a shining future
Music for today.

Back in the 90s, the group had some of the best and most popular dance/electronic albums of the day. Two of their songs featured in Danny Boyle’s controversial but widely acclaimed film Trainspotting, and the albums Dubnobasswithmyheadman and Second Toughest in the Infants were blasting people into a kind of dancing nirvana in clubs everywhere.

Barbara, Barbara is different—it’s very much of this time. From the opening track on, the album seems concerned with finding solace and inspiration where one can in the midst of confusion and darkness. The opening track, “I Exhale,” tells an abstract story of forward motion that opens out into “the lights aglow over the horizon.” It makes you feel those lights, and believe they are cause for hope.

Likewise with the other tracks on the album. “If rah,” the second track, has a line proclaiming “Life isn’t shit.” “Low Burn” urges listeners to “Be bold, Be beautiful, Free, Totally Unlimited.”“Motorhome” counsels us to “Keep away from the dark side.” And “Nylon Strung” closes the album with:

“Sliding between the dust of a scorched earth
Open me up
I wanna hold you, laugh for you
(Carry me).”

This is music for today. Barbara, Barbara deserves a Grammy.

The Writers Studio

I mentioned recently that I was taking a workshop at The Writers Studio. I’d like to expand on that a bit and tell you why I find it worthwhile.

In general, I’m in the camp that finds creative writing courses of any type to be of limited value. I’ve taken courses at august institutions, such as Columbia, which only reinforced this belief. The Writers Studio is different, and it is different because it focuses specifically on craft and the narrative voice. The method is to offer a fiction or poetry example each week (usually alternating between the two) and analyze it according to the voice of its Persona/Narrator (“PN” in Writers Studio parlance). Tone (“the surface,  the sound of language on the page, like sunlight glinting on the ocean”) and mood (“the undercurrent that draws you in”) are also examined.

The Studio’s goal is not to network or score an agent, and not to focus on publishing one’s work per se. Instead, the intent is to help students by experimenting with and trying to emulate the craft involved in a wide range of other voices, with the ultimate goal of discovering one’s own voice(s). I find it it quite helpful and thought-provoking, and the weekly deadlines are also important in producing “kernels” of work (short poems and two-page story beginnings) throughout the workshop.

The Writers Studio was founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz (the prize was for his collection Failure, published in 2007). You can read more about the history and philosophy behind the Studio here, and elsewhere on their site.

To give you an idea of what the workshop is actually like, consider the narrative voice, tone and mood of T. C. Boyle’s widely anthologized short story “Greasy Lake,” available here. Then read my two-page work derived from it following the break. (NB: the goal is not literal imitation but rather inspiration derived from materials in the original.)

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