Why We Really Love To Hate President Trump

Last week after President Trump called the media “the enemy of the people” he was compared to Joseph Stalin, who first used that term. That’s a horrific comparison that’s thankfully never been leveled at a commander-in-chief, as historians tell us Stalin killed more innocent people than Adolph Hitler. But pundits are making another comparison that really deserves our attention; comparing POTUS with Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President. Most claim that Trump has the same acerbic relationship with the press as Nixon did.

This is true, but there are some important differences that can help us understand why we love to hate this president.

Nixon hated the media, but he needed it desperately the way most men who have a victim-mentality need an opponent. We all need someone to blame for our mistakes some of the time. Unfortunately for Nixon, TV came of age during his career, and the press morphed into the an undeniable powerhouse called “the media.”

Nixon made hating the new behemoth a full-time job. You can still watch the first televised Presidential debates, where Nixon looks lost and haggard alongside the young, handsome JFK. You can still watch the televised new conference where Nixon stated, “I don’t hate the press, because you can only hate what you have respect for and I have no respect for you….”

Nixon became the president everyone loved to hate.  Cold, untrustworthy, was how the media dubbed “Tricky Dicky.” President Washington couldn’t tell a lie. President Nixon couldn’t’ tell the truth. And the media hated him the same way it hates the Donald. Right?

No. not really.

There are some important differences between these deeply conflicted men. Nixon was a total disaster as a TV personality. He blamed the media for his inability to come across as trustworthy. Trump’s a genius at manipulating the electorate through social media. He doesn’t see himself as a whipping boy, but as a savior who bans all negative reportage about his administration as “fake news.”

And that’s our problem. The media is biased. And Trump’s genius is at exploiting that bias to his advantage. His supporters credit him with pulling back the veil on a once sacrosanct establishment and showing us  the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Let’s face it. Fake news has been around for a lot longer than most people want to believe. It existed back in the early sixties when TV came of age,–and over the years we’ve witnessed the news change from a dedication to the facts, to a dumbed-down hybrid of what many are calling “factual entertainment.”

So, was Nixon right? No. After all, didn’t his downfall came with the daring and honest reportage of two journalists named Woodward and Bernstein. But the truth is all reporters are human, and therefore flawed. Times have changed. Do you really want to compare Matt Lauer with Walter Cronkite? Or Brian Williams with Edward R. Murrow? Do you remember Jason Blair? He cut a few corners when it came to reporting the truth. How about that reporter for the Washington Post who made up an entire story and won a Pulitzer prize? Her name was Janet Cooke. 

Times have changed…teenage YouTube stars have more followers than U.S. Senators. Young people have difficulty telling the difference between reality and reality TV; the check-and-balance system that protects our democracy works because we can just vote people off the reality show this administration has become. Right? The system works. But few understand how before the internet “facts” had to be checked; sources confirmed.

We’re all afraid of the truth, sometimes. And we can’t look away from the train-wreck this administration has become (Is it possible, that some of us are thinking those vile things the President is saying?) We need to step back and see what we’re dealing with isn’t a madman in the oval office, but a brilliant tyrant who, like Nixon, will make anyone who disagrees with him an enemy of the people.






“Whitelash” on MLk Jr. Day

MLK jr.

Of all the new words that entered the lexicon last year, “whitelash” was the hardest one for me to share with my students. I felt relief when a local media source in San Francisco chose “Xenophobia” as the word of the year, because that word’s easy to accept. Phobia is a powerful suffix we review in my class because it gives us a lot of leverage to help decipher hundreds of words–it stands for fear, and hatred.

It’s opposite is philia.

“Xeno” stands for foreigners, and it’s easy to admit that many people have a fear of foreigners. We’ve been this way for a long time. (Did you know “Xeno” actually  comes from the name of a Greek general. A guy who lived a long time ago, and you guessed it, didn’t like foreigners.)

Whitelash, however is much worse. According to one news source it means,  “backlash by white racists against black civil rights advances.” It doesn’t hide from it’s racist intent the way a word like “xenophobia” and “superpredator” does. We blame the politics of Donald Trump for this word, but anyone who studies fiction and language can tell you that the fear and resentment of black civil rights advances has been hardwired into our language; into the stories we write, the words we create.

The secret life of racism can be found in words.Words are created to help explain, but the truth is they’re just empty boxcars used to hide our darkest fears. As Toni Morrison eloquently elaborates in her Nobel Prize speech. “The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence…it must be rejected, altered and exposed.”

If you’ve been following this blog you know that I think young people have it a lot tougher than most people think. They’re confused; no–they’re downright stupefied–because we give them dangerously conflicting messages on what it takes to be a man or a woman in our world. They come to teachers and need help. We show them facts, have them recite history, and then with all those stupefying words explain the past cannot repeat itself, because we know who all the bad people are.

Instead, we should quote Toni who gave this dire prediction ten years ago:

“There will be more diplomatic language to countenance rape, torture, assassination. There is and will be more seductive, mutant language designed to throttle women, to pack their throats like paté-producing geese with their own unsayable, transgressive words; there will be more of the language of surveillance disguised as research; of politics and history calculated to render the suffering of millions mute; language glamorized to thrill the dissatisfied and bereft into assaulting their neighbors; arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness.”

Pretty heady stuff, but let me boil it down for my students and their parents: Donald Trump may be a racist. Donald Trump may be the antichrist. But Donald Trump isn’t responsible for whitelash. We are. And if you really want to find a way out of the hell we may have to endure; only fiction can save us. because fiction sees all the fears that we’re too ashamed to admit, and Toni Morrison, is a much better prognosticator than those clueless Washington pundits, because only Toni can see that language is little more than a racist straightjacket we hide a lot of our fear in.

Today as we celebrate the life of a great man, some of us will point fingers and wring hands at who is responsible for all these new words that just stand for a timeless hate we should’ve seen coming. Evil politicians didn’t create whitelash. We did. And maybe the only way to see the real truth is to read the fiction of a great writer like Ms. Morrison.






The Celluloid Glass Ceiling: How Patty Jenkins Became Our New Super Heroine

Last weekend, Warner’s Wonder Woman broke a box office record. It’s the first film directed by a woman to crack $100 million at the box office. It also revealed a long suppressed, dirty secret of Hollywood; the celluloid boardroom is just as sexist a the rest of corporate America. And it took a film about a strong woman directed by a strong woman to show us that.

Last year, only 7% of the 250 highest-grossing films were directed by women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. That number has fallen 2% over the past two decades. Even though women consistently take home directing prizes in prestigious festivals like Sundance for art-house films, they’re largely boxed out of the most lucrative genres.

I don’t think Patty was raised by Amazons or wears body armor (except maybe in the boardroom) but she had to overcome a lot of obstacles to make this film happen, including replacing another director (Michelle Maclaren) to make the first major superheroine movie in over a decade. The last attempts were Catwoman and Elektra: both films were directed by men, got poor reviews, flopped at the box office and convinced studios for several years that female superhero movies just “don’t work.”

Ironically, Patty nailed it by not shying away from Wonder Woman’s (played by Gal Gadot) fragile, “more feminine” side. The film opens with our young heroine, Diana, true to the legend as a girl being raised by women on a remote Greek island. The notion of a young, fearless girl being trained by strong-willed mother figures is a powerful, irresistible trope that has long languished in Hollywood’s overtly sexist “princess mentality.” The notion that a superhero can only recognize her superpower from a male dominated myth, is refreshingly obliterated by the first ten minutes of the film.

When the young Diana finds herself in the middle of World War I, confused and fragile, I marveled at how far we’ve come from the TV cartoon icon of the 1970’s. Diana doesn’t look tough and voluptuous the way Lynda Carter did; she looks tough, and lost. By avoiding all the distracting modern gadgets that fuel modern superhero movies, and placing it in a backdrop of history’s most bloody and pointless war, we see a real woman, who must use more wits than magic to overcome a fear many women have: that their power and drive will undermine a real, romantic relationship.

The casting of Godot was brilliant and is true to form for Jenkins as she’s adept at turning incredibly beautiful women into real human beings (She directed Monster, starring Charlize Theron). Godot isn’t really beautiful until she gets knocked down and punched in the face. Then she becomes the kind of woman who baffles and enthralls her love interest.

For her achievement, Sally Jenkins stands alone, but I don’t think this film could’ve gotten a green light were it not for our begrudging acceptance that gender roles are complex, too complex for your typical “Blockbuster.”

Hollywood, despite all it’s liberal progress needs to realize that sex and gender are still worlds apart and exploring this divide will make future “superhero movies” into films about real women who realize their extraordinary power comes from within.

Understanding the Hollywood Sexual Assault Meltdown.

Well, it’s official–The “Casting Couch” is on fire and Hollywood’s in an unprecedented meltdown over sexual assaults by movie moguls, actors, writers, and directors. Why now? is the question most astute observers are asking; Babylon has been Babylon from the beginning–the alluring lights of Tinseltown have attracted starry-eyed wannabes before actors could speak on camera much less complain about being sexually abused by those in power.

While there have always been a few strong enough to complain, never have some many come forward and said ENOUGH. What caused the dam to break? Historians often point to a few seminal events that trigger a catastrophe–World War I was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand; The riots in Los Angles in 1992, were triggered with the vicious beating of Rodney King. But, while pivotal movements are often attributed to a single catalyst, it’s rarely that easy to explain. And make no mistake, throughout Hollywood’s long list of excess and indiscretion there is only one event that comes close to the destruction we are now witnessing; that is, the blacklisting of actors, writers, and producers that happened during the search for members of the Communist Party in the 1950’s.

Joe McCarthy, a Senator from Wisconsin was the catalyst to those events we refer to as a Witch Hunt. He was a demagogue; a liar who fanned the flames of foreign aggression with such recklessness that all the historians agreed we’d never see the likes of him again.

That was until Donald Trump. Like it or not we don’t just look to a President for sound economic polices and assurance that we will be protected from threats foreign and domestic. The President casts a long, moral shadow over what we truly believe this country stands for. And like it or not, the POTUS is now being referred to as the PGIC (Pussy-grabber-in-chief). His degrading comments about women are the final straw in a long history of sexual dominance most men struggle with. But please remind yourself as we navigate through the most troubling times since ordinary people turned on each other and were forced to name friends and co-workers as members of the Communist party–Joe McCarthy didn’t create the “Red Scare” that allowed us to blacklist honest citizens. We did.

Donald Trump didn’t create the culture of misogyny and abuse that has been rampant at production studios for years. We did. The only way we can survive the aftermath of sexual abuse against women isn’t just stopping the Donald. The only way we will be free of sexual oppression is by taking a good, hard look in the mirror and facing our own depravity.

Joe McCarthy, U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin.