“This isn’t the state of California, it’s a state of insanity.” – General Joseph W. Stilwell
Feb. 25, 1942. Just before 3am, the Japanese launched an air raid on the city of Los Angeles; by the end of the encounter, five men were dead and numerous injured, 1500 rounds of antiaircraft artillery had been fired and several enemy saboteurs had been arrested and turned over to the F.B.I.
This was it. The ‘unassailable mainland’ was finally the target of Japanese bombs and all the drilling done by the raw American volunteers would be put to the test.
Only it never happened.
Oh, people were injured and some died; guns fired into the sky chasing the beams of spotlights, and men were arrested. But there were no Japanese planes, no bombs. The deaths were attributed to panic, speeding cars with blackout lamps, heart attacks — that kind of thing. Injuries were the kind of assorted mishaps you’d expect in a panic situation involving a major urban area and strict orders not to turn on lights. Add in some over-exuberant army gun crews firing hundreds of rounds of fragmentary artillery shells into the sky, mix in Newton’s law of motion, and agitate gently; you get a mildly hazardous form of precipitation, though it was the heavy duds and those shells with faulty fuses that did the actual damage more than the annoying jagged bits of metal. Those got slowed down to a relatively harmless terminal velocity by the time they got to the ground.
Now why am I talking about this if it didn’t happen, you might ask. I am because it did happen; it happened in the minds of those there. Those gun crews weren’t shooting randomly into the sky over a crowed urban center; they were heroes that night, fighting a common foe of their nation. The people were running about in real panic, it was as real as those that lived through it. History records events, but it doesn’t record the experiences and memories.
The city of Los Angeles was, for that night, in their own private reality. For anyone who wasn’t there, it’s a truth that can be difficult to express to others, and that my friends is our tie-in to now. Welcome to America, 2017.
A man has risen to power in a surprise victory of populist insurgency and discontentment. His domestic policy style smacks of 1930s isolationism mixed with 1950s nationalism, and customs and border patrol agents have been given free rein to root out illegal immigrants regardless of their crimes, medical condition, mitigating circumstances, or family connections. Cancer patients, university students, the families of deployed military personnel — all are now fair game in this open season of zero tolerance law and order. They are not alone; the press, the Fourth Estate, that unofficial branch of our governmental system, has become the next target of Trump’s federal government crackdown. Trump and journalism have a sordid history, and much like a certain queen and her magic mirror, it was a relationship that worked best when the mirror gave the answers the queen wanted.
Donald Trump has maintained a brand name based entirely upon reputation and a carefully crafted public persona. That persona revolves around him being the boss, his catch phrase of “you’re fired” showing his power over the careers of everyone around him and exemplifies his pyramid style of leadership: There is only one seat on the top, one throne of power. The cream rises to the top, after all. (Sam Vimes would say fat, scum, and oil also rise, but that’s beside the point.)
Now I’ve wandered a bit, and I will some more here, but before we’re done we’ll tie it back in to 1942, Los Angeles Wartime. Reality is subjective and like fate, it is what you make it. There is some metadata that’s shared in the mass communal consciousness, the platonic ideals as it were, that allow our separate realities to coexist and communicate with one another.
(This isn’t a philosophy article, though it might start to seem like one. Locke, Plato, and Descartes, are all fine thinkers, and I’m borrowing shamelessly from their writings. If you haven’t read “A Theory of Forms”, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, and “Meditations on First Philosophy”, I highly recommend you sit down one day, read through them and spend a bit of time considering how your thoughts and mental images and imaginings happen — basically, how you yourself shape, share, and perceive what’s generally considered reality.)
For honesty’s sake I’ll make it plain that I don’t think much of Trump personally, professionally, politically or any other “-lly” — though I’ve never talked with him, worked with or for him, heard him speak in person, or had any dealings whatsoever with him (other than that one time I walked past his black and gold monolith on the corner of Central Park.) My reality’s version of him is based solely on what he’s chosen to tweet, say in speeches, and what’s been reported about him by other people with their own perspectives. That said, let’s move on.
It’s been a little over a month so far of Trump’s Presidency and what’s been made clear is Trump doesn’t personally have a filter; he hires them in the form of his administration, staff, and advisors. We can see this in the way policy has been handled so far. Trump will say, tweet, or write down extreme, impossible, and inexcusable things. Then, those around him then go out and smooth things assure everyone involved he didn’t mean what they heard and get on with the business of government.
SecDef Mattis has been doing a stellar job of this so far. He’s straightforward, curt, and as non-political as possible when asked by journalists about the bizarre and disconcerting things coming from Trump. Mattis has toured Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, talking to NATO leaders, Japan, South Korea, China, Israel, the UAE, and many others. He has seemed professional, committed, knowledgeable — someone looking to do his job to the best of his ability. He’s like Harvey Keitel’s Wolfe in Pulp Fiction; The Cleaner. He comes in, assesses the problem, and fixes it.
There’s a few more like him in the government but he’s been leading the action. And the way you know he’s doing well is because he’s not making the news. All we hear from Mattis is the very normal innocuous statements, which are very subfusc when juxtaposed with Trump’s tweets. As a result, U.S. foreign policy has actually been going surprisingly well so far. There’s professional people smoothing and cleaning Trump’s statements and assuring the rest of the world that he has effective handlers around him to keep his damage down to the occasional tweet when he sneaks the phone into the john in the middle of the night. It’s the domestic side, as I mentioned earlier, that’s becoming the issue.
Here in America there is a deep divide between those who support Trump and those that don’t, and it boils down to perception. Unfortunately, we don’t have much of a filter between Trump and us; there is no Mad Dog of domestic policy stepping in to say “He didn’t really mean that”. Instead we have Priebus, Spicer, Miller, Conway, and Bannon. If Mattis is a fireman, then the domestic staff are firemen like Guy Montag.
There exists a state of fear in America. It’s sparked by Trump, and then it’s fanned rather than damped by the staff — and then the media, who blows it into an inferno. And it’s true that there may actually be something real to fear here; they are after all dismantling the state right before our eyes, and that’s a surefire way to be sure we will be living in interesting times. That’s proverbially more often a curse than a blessing.
So where does that leave us? It’s a fair question and one I don’t have an answer to: Are the Japanese planes really overhead? Are they going to start bombing? The actual truth of it almost doesn’t matter for the time being; the air raid sirens are blaring and it’s time to act. Trump’s America, the result of his executive orders, domestic staffing choices, and the laws being crafted based on the perception of his views are changing our country bit by bit. We don’t know exactly what he intends the end product to be, because he’s never made clear what it means to “Make America Great Again”, not even in last night’s speech. All we can do is piece together the information that’s coming to us one piece at a time, and for me it’s been forming a very bleak picture.
Your own perceptions will vary, of course, as will your mileage. But we need take the time to look around you, gather data, improve your intelligence gathering. Above all be sure that before you order your gun crews to fire, you know what you’re shooting at. It’s darkest night out. The smoke is billowing in plumes and there’s the light of reflected fires — or are those just exhaust fumes and street lights? It’s so hard to tell, and especially in time of crisis, everyone will see it differently. My reality will almost always be different than your own perspective, and in the clear light of day neither yours nor mine will ever turn out to have been exactly right.
(NOTE: Niall DiGriz is only the second guest writer to have ever been invited to grace our pages here at the Not Fake News. He does not work at the Sports Desk.)