THE BIG LIE
Sitting at a bar on Bourbon Street. Shrimp and Grits for dinner. I’m on my tenth beer. The crowds come in and walk through the bar in clusters. Bartenders yell out, “Drinks drinks drinks. How many? What you want? Seven? Ten? Twelve?” The bartenders are fast. I know one of them – an old friend, like family. Drinks are on the house tonight.
The patrons pause as they pass the bar, get their drinks, pay, and move on. The regular affair of service except that a majority of people here take their drinks to go, in plastic cups –– no glass on the Bourbon Street. So the bar here, in a way, breathes. It swells with people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, the men tending bar crank out thirty or forty drinks in the span of five minutes, and then it miraculously empties as the partiers make their way back outside to wander the streets. They have the potion, and the honesty of the French Quarter calls them.
Favorite overhead snippet of a conversation that evening:
“You’re like my dad’s age.”
“He’s going to be so mad at me.”
“Me and my friend got our nipples pierced.”
“I’ll show you later.”
Two women stand next to me at the bar. Young. Youngish. 23 and 28, so they say. Both wearing sheer black. One is dressed to the nines. Loud shiny red lipstick and eyes on fleek, as the saying goes. They ask me where I’m from. What I’m doing in town. “Passing through,” I tell them, “Y’all live here?” “No, we’re from Atlanta, just in town for the weekend.” She tells me that she has a drinking problem, “Rumpleminz,” she says, “It’s just hard to act right after you have like six or seven or eight of them motherfuckers. ‘Cause, you know, they’re like double shots.” I tell her that Bourbon Street seems like a reasonable place to booze a weekend away – or a lifetime – when you have a drinking problem.
We start talking politics. The election. Candidates. They get the story of the journey. The older one says she’s supporting Mrs. Clinton, “Ain’t no question. Like for real. If Trump comes through my neighborhood, I’m grabbing my gun and clapping at his bitch ass.” The younger one reaches over and taps the tip of her Black & Mild into the ashtray. “I don’t really know,” She says, “I mean I kinda like him, like he definitely says some dumb shit and all that racist stuff is some bullshit, but he is a good businessman, and I can respect that.” “He ain’t a good businessman,” the older one says, “He’s always suing people and fucking people out of their money. I’m telling you, I see his ass on the street, I’m shooting at him.” The young woman thinks about her friend’s words and smiles. Her braces shine out like glowing neon dots. “I don’t really know,” she adds, “All that stuff about his taxes bothers me too. I’m probably going to end up voting for Hillary.”
We settle in and keep the conversation going for another thirty minutes. She mentions the wealthy suburb of Atlanta from which she hails. Her three brothers. Just three brothers. Wait, there’s a sister. She forgot about her sister. She says that she wants to get lip injections on her upper lip. “This one here,” she says, sticking out her lower lip, “can put in work. But this one up top, just ain’t really pulling its weight, like, at all.” “Maybe you can call a meeting between the two of them and figure it out without fucking up your face.” “You’re funny,” she says, as she reaches over and touches my hand.
Up until Mr. Trump became the nominee for the Republican Party, the media focused only on the bright and shiny aspect of his candidacy. From the time he sealed the deal on the nomination of the party, up until, just about, the first presidential debate between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, he had reached the pinnacle of his popularity. The night of the first debate, Mr. Trump had essentially pulled even in the polls. This period of time could be called, “Against all odds.”
Mr. Trump was bombastic. Spoke in any manner on any matter. Put down people, races, and countries with a large stroke of the brush. He accepted praise from fringe groups who were, in accord with their own agenda, seeking legitimization from the establishment. He ignored facts and peppered networks across the country with call-ins, and created and then galvanized a base, his base, so much so that this large percentage of Americans may be rejecting the Republican establishment for their dismissal or lack of support for the Orange One.
All the while, throughout the building of this house of tinder, the storyline of “Against all odds” prevailed.
This story made Democrats, liberals, and progressives, and a majority of mainstream media incredulous. “How can he possibly get away with what he said? And he’s beating Chris Christie and Jeb! How is that even possible?” How has the establishment legitimized his candidacy? He had risen among the depleted ranks of smarmy neocons and “family values” candidates by doing whatever he wanted to do, so long as he dominated the news. Mr. Trump was built up, on one hand, by himself, and on the other, by the media’s incessant urge to show off its shiny new object. A house built, against all odds.
For Republicans, right wing media outlets, Independents who hate Mrs. Clinton, party-line Evangelical voters, and those on the fringes of the right, Mr. Trump had stood in front of the establishment and won the nomination, against all odds. Here was a businessman, never before in politics, private sector, savvy, rich, and best of all, unpolished. “He’s telling it like it is. I mean, no, I don’t exactly think like that, but, yes, immigration is a problem.” “He’s great, because he’s a big fuck you to the establishment. They’re all crooks –– crooked, terrible, liars. We need somebody to go in there and shake things up.” The government isn’t working. The economy is worse. The policies are terrible. Washington, as usual, has failed. Since the establishment is untrustworthy, we should support Mr. Trump.
With each of his successes up until the first presidential debate, Mr. Trump was doing it, against all odds. In this story, Mr. Trump was legitimized and validated by the noise machine, which, in turn, galvanized his base, which outraged supporters of the opposition, which further fortified the base, which then made rank and file Republicans and conservative media get in line. Everybody got in line. Mr. Trump had gathered enough support that the establishment had a tough choice to make, go against the party or go against the powers of your own mind. The mind went with a whimper. Even Ted Cruz, like a good little Munster, got in line with what the family wanted.
And going into that first presidential debate, the house had been built. The walls were up, quite high, actually, ten, twelve, twenty stories. The roof was shingled. There were doors and windows, and a few kids from a few different marriages, and a third wife, and bunch of horrific, bigoted, and misogynistic things coming out of the speaker system inside that house, but none of that what was said or implied mattered. The voters, and the politicians, and the media had built the house.
The foundation of the house, however, was weak.
THE SECOND NARRATIVE
All that hard work. All those hours spent. News cycles. Hedging bets. Distancing and then embracing. Opining. Ignoring. And, ultimately, accepting.
If the first narrative was, “ This house was built against all odds,” then the second narrative, since the first debate, has been, “Lets watch it burn.”
Erratic debate performances, horrible news cycles, the now infamous, “Grab ‘em by the pussy” tape, tax returns, etc. etc., have all led to the point where now, collectively, the more entertaining narrative for the media to present is still not one of policy or substance, but, rather, the call of the looming disaster. The house is burning. This is going to be worth watching. The house is burning, and no one has any water. Look over here, see it –– the house is burning.
Keeping in line with the great American tradition of building people up, the new narrative is right in line with the even greater American tradition of tearing them down (re: any individual who has attained celebrity status).
As Mrs. Clinton comes off of the third presidential debate with an 87% chance of winning the presidency, according to Nate Silver, the prevalent theme may be one of exasperation. How did it get this far? How “we” took it or allowed it to go this far, or, “Why only now, after the tape where Mr. Trump essentially admitted to sexually assaulting women was released, why was that the last straw?” But it wasn’t the last straw, exactly. It was the more entertaining narrative.
Look at how vile he is. Look at how deplorable his actions are. Look at how unrepentant he acts. How unapologetic. How disgusting. How un-presidential. And Mr. Trump may be all of these things now, and, to some, he may have always been. But, to the media that propagated his candidacy in the first place, Mr. Trump may have never been more than what he already was, entertaining.
Because the substance of Mr. Trump’s anti-establishment countenance is a farce. He is as much a product and member of the establishment as anybody else who has spent a lifetime involved in banking or politics, or, simply put, as a part of the oligarchy.
Mr. Trump is currently standing in a burning building, and that’s the only story that matters. It was entertaining to watch going up, and, baby, it’s going to be a wild one to watch when it comes down.
There are large numbers of American voters who have put their faith in Mr. Trump and believe that he is the best candidate. Furthermore, that he still has a shot. But Nate Silver (of, “I’m predicting statistical odds like a mu’fuckah” notoriety) has Trump’s chances of winning at around 13%, and with two-and-a-half weeks to go that seems like an awfully low fucking number.
THE STATUS QUO
The disillusioned swath of voters who believe the system is broken are either not participating in the 2016 election or have put their faith in Mr. Trump. On the one hand, some 90 million eligible voters did not vote in 2012, and therefore have expressed their dissatisfaction or lack of faith in the system by simply refusing to participate. On the other hand, there are the voters who have no faith in the system, no faith in the current president, for any multitude of reasons, and, in general, and no faith in politicians in general. The consequence being, a hero or pseudo-savior has been found in Mr. Trump.
The system is broken, and therefore we must elect someone powerful who has existed outside of the system. Only they will be able to change the way things are, the status quo.
Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy rests in her qualifications as a candidate, no doubt, as her resume in the name of public service, with a few bruises and blemishes to boot. Considering the length of her career as a politician however, these bruises are not so serious when compared to other lifelong pols – she has also been the victim of a 25-year smear campaign from the conservative noise machine. The Democratic voters, in putting their support behind Mrs. Clinton seem to agree that the system is working, the current system that operates both domestically and geopolitically. It just needs to be tweaked. Improved upon. The pathway to a stronger union has been laid out by Democratic and progressive forbearers, and with small improvements to the system along the way, inch by inch and step by step, we can rise above what has been, soar, and eventually land on what Can Be.
The disillusioned side of the Democratic base was represented by an enormous number of voters who planted their support behind Mr. Sanders in the primaries. Although, different in tone and a few other pieces of demographic data, supporters of Mr. Sanders resembled, in part, the idea that the system needed a large overhaul, not a mere tinkering – an overhaul in the opposite direction from Mr. Trump’s, sure, but an overhaul nonetheless.
When Mr. Sanders lost the democratic nomination to Mrs. Clinton, however, his supporters were faced with a decision much like that of the Republican Party as a whole –– time to get in line. This is now our candidate, and, as much as you don’t like it, you have to deal with it. Sorry folks. Better luck next time. It’s worth noting that many of these voters will not be supporting Mrs. Clinton in the general election, because the difference between the two candidates, on the Democratic side of things is perceived to be as extreme as the difference between Mr. Trump and any of the primary candidates from the Republican establishment. On the one hand, the status quo. And on the other, a drastic departure from the current system.
For these voters, much like their counterparts on the Republican side of things, the ones that believe that current trajectory of the system is good, and that the system as a whole works, they will likely place their support behind their party’s candidate. Those that supported Mr. Sanders in the primaries, but do not have faith that the current system is working neither domestically nor geopolitically, will likely vote third party and/or sit this one out.
They too will find comfort in simply refusing to engage in what they view as a corrupt, disingenuous shell game of Who’s “Running” The Country Now?
And with the large financial institutions remaining largely unaccountable for their actions, the hidden agendas of mega-corporations that purchase the souls of candidates, tax loopholes for the One Percent, manufacturing jobs that disappear overseas in the name of higher profit margins, a failed-yet-continuing war on drugs, and that we, as a united group of nations, are waging an intricate, unwinnable effort against global terrorism, who can blame anybody for opting out of voting?
If you perceive that there is merely an illusion of choice, the only viable option is to opt out, which is still a choice but one that, in the end, must feel quite satisfying in a way. “They’re still fucking everything up, but I didn’t vote for either of them. Not my fault. You put them in power.”
THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR
Let’s focus on one aspect of that list and one aspect only: the global war on terror. The war is unwinnable. There is no winning, because we are not fighting an enemy, but an idea. The idea is simple: kill as many innocent civilians as possible by sacrificing one’s life – strange amalgamation of religion and political maneuvering, with the ultimate goal of producing fear. There are an unlimited number of potential players, and you can operate completely autonomously. The only requirement is that you kill as many people as possible. It takes a scant number of resources to become a lone wolf, and in the end someone will claim credit for your actions, or maybe that’s not even necessary anymore, and the act alone is enough regardless of what specific group or ideal you may have intended on representing.
How you can engage and defeat an idea such as this with the strength of the military, I do not know. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that those at the upper echelons of the military or the government have any idea how to defeat this idea either. The issue is too complex.
In all of our involvement and meddling in the Middle East over the decades, have we actually accomplished anything positive? Have we liberated? Have any of the predicted outcomes translated into results? Have all the lives that have been lost and all the money that has been wasted done anything meaningful?
The answer seems to be a resounding, “No.” Whether this is due to a faulty barometer on the foresight machine is up for debate, but it seems that there are certain issues where maintaining the status quo (e.g., the war on terror or the war on drugs), is the only possible option, because the idea of doing nothing is impossible, and the idea of doing something different is unimaginable.
And so, with the election of either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump, the likelihood that the war on terror and the war on drugs will continue to be “fought,” despite their inherent unwinnable-ness, is one of the few predictable things these days.
THE SAME WAY THAT
The large financial institutions will continue to game the system, act irresponsibly, and not be held unaccountable. The same way that billionaires and millionaires and corporate interests will continue to find ways to support, donate to, and influence candidates and elections.
The same way that, fundamentally, regardless of what tweaks are made or what slightly new course or heading our country’s ship takes as a result of the election, the system itself will uphold the status quo, because we are still operating within the system that we currently have, and there are confines within this system.
The people are presented with all sorts of half-truths, disinformation, outright lies, news organizations sell advertising space to companies with corporate shareholders, congressmen and women sell out as quickly as they get to Washington, then, when they get out, they take a job as lobbyists. Ex-white house press secretaries get cushy jobs as news anchors, and, meanwhile, the geopolitics of the day have gotten so intensely complex that nobody really has a fucking clue what anybody is doing anymore on the global scale, except that they’re all protecting their country’s interests, and we’re attempting to protect American interests too, but our politicians have been bought and sold a hundred times over, and their inability to understand the far-reaching consequences of their actions in the global era may have created a scenario where our interests might not actually be interests as much as the blood-stained robes of bad decisions passed down from one President’s administration to another, to be worn, without knowledge anymore as to why, exactly.
THE BIG LIE
What’s stopping us from reaching a more perfect union? Within the scope of this election, from the republican side of things, the answer is the Democratic administration and Democratic voters. The politicians, policies, and voters have created an environment where everyone within the immoral, dangerous major urban areas are taken care of by the government, and meanwhile those in rural areas have been left behind and forgotten. On the Democratic side of things, the narrative put forth is that “we would already be where we want to be if it wasn’t for the obstructionists, the gun nuts, the religious freaks, and the trickle-down policies of the past.” The system is working and only needs to be tweaked, but THEY are standing in the way.
A byproduct of the two party system, and one of its major failures, is the propagation of the myth: things would be better if the people on the other team could just see the light.
But if politicians lie with impunity, and if the noise-machine of the media enforces these false realities, and the policies put into place are based off of those lies, then at what point can people be blamed?
Were the people to blame when the CIA stood idly by as the streets of Los Angeles were flooded with Crack Cocaine in the 1980s to fund a proxy war in Nicaragua?
Were we to blame when George W. Bush’s administration stood in front of congress and the American people and manufactured a lie about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s connection to Al Qaeda? A ubiquitous false narrative reinforced heavily by the media. Were we to blame when those lies took us to war?
Or when the economy tanked in 2008, and the bank bailout followed, and Wall St. blamed the people for borrowing more than they could afford, all the while profiting and avoiding prosecution, did the people have a say in handing over taxpayer money?
The big lie, it seems, rests in our talent to buy into the idea, time after time, that we, the people, are a house divided, against each other, while the status quo and the entrenched institutions and interest groups shift perceptions, change narratives, and get away with whatever they please, all the while singing the tune of, “Well, if you had all three branches of government, you might be able to change the way things are, but those guys on that side are keeping everything the same.”
In a game of smoke and mirrors, it’s always business as usual, change is only earned in the toughest battles, and the truth is always obscured.
BACK TO MY BAR SEAT
The older of the two ladies saddles up to the bar and asks me if I want to do a shot of something. “Hennessey?” She says. “I could do a shot too,” the younger one says. As smoke rises from my cigarette, I consider my options. On the one hand, I’ve had a dozen beers, and adding whiskey to the mix this late in the game seems aggressive. On the other hand, I’m in New Orleans, so, really, who gives a fuck? On the other-other hand, two lovely women just sat down at the bar and shot the shit for an hour, and I’m burning a hole in my pocket already so what’s the difference?
I buy a round of shots. Two shots of Hennessy for the ladies. I’m drinking Jameson.
My buddy, pops his head out of the back of the bar, and tells me that he just got cut. “Meet me out front, like two minutes.” The ladies perk up. “You know him?” The older of the two asks my friend. “Yeah. That’s my family,” he says, “for real.” Then he retreats back out of sight.
I say goodbye to the women – nice meeting y’all, take care – and make my way back out to Bourbon Street. My head’s buzzing, and the crowd is alive, and when I hit the curb, I hear my name.
“Pops, yo pops.”
I turn around. My buddy is leaned up against the building, smiling widely.
“Those hookers were after you, dog.”
“What?” I say, laughing.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “Those two are up in the bar every night, ya heard. Three fifty. Three fifty an hour. Three hundred and fifty an hour, US. That’s money.”
“Shit,” I say, as we make our way down Bourbon, heading out of the quarter, “I talked politics with them for like thirty minutes.”
“Ha-Ha, who they voting for?”
“One was for Hillary, the other kind of liked Trump,” I say.
“Word,” he says.
“I seriously had no idea they were hookers. Like, it never crossed my mind.”
“You just haven’t spent enough time in the dirty,” he says. “See the thing is, down here, there aren’t any basements or enough back alleys for all the dirt to go down, so everything that usually hides in the background in big cities is just out in the streets. Front and center. And everybody knows that’s just a part of life down here.”
We keep walking. Away from the noise. Further from the crowds. The streets empty out.
The ladies made me for a mark. Agendas were hidden. Was I an active participant? They should have known I was broke when I told them I was traveling the country in The Beast. But were they to blame for trying? Is anyone to blame? They still took me for a round of shots. Am I upset at getting taxed for being unaware? No, I am not. I tell myself that maybe the proposal never came up because they genuinely enjoyed the conversation.
Just have to keep in mind that sometimes, regardless of whether or not you want to participate, the game is always being played, and nothing is ever as it seems. And in the end, you believe the narrative of your choosing.
See the full journey, photos, and interviews at thefringe2016.com