Martha Mitchell Calls Back

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Last night I saw a wonderful, terribly timely play, Martha Mitchell Calling, written by Jodi Rothe and produced by Shakespeare & Co., about the role that Martha Mitchell played in exposing the Watergate Scandal and in Richard Nixon’s resignation. After the show the actors and playwright mused aloud with our webinar audience about whether there was a Martha Mitchell of our time. A few minutes after the webinar ended, I heard a familiar southern drawl which was joined by a chorus of doctors and Generals, former White House officials, the President’s niece, and the former Board of Directors’ of Radio Free Europe. “Martha Mitchell and Friends, calling back one more time. We have something to tell you, but you don’t have very much time. So, listen carefully….

President Trump knows he lies. He is careful not to go under oath. He has a back-up plan or lie or protestation for every misstatement. He knows better than to release his tax returns, or the readout of his conversations with Putin. He can swear, but he will not testify before Congress. Trump knows he lies.

Gen. Mattis

And because he knows he lies, he knows that he is not what he pretends to be– a successful  businessman who earns more than he loses, a commander-in-chief who understands foreign policy and cares about the country’s future, someone who is concerned enough about laws to follow them, a leader who values order enough to protect the country against national disasters. He also knows that all this pretense, and his inability to do otherwise, can bring him down. And the more he knows this, the more he needs to lie, to cover up, to distract attention from his most recent unlawful act or misleading claim.

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And because his reputation and governance are built on lies, distracting antics, and misleading statements, he will never have enough supporters or enough money or enough of anything.  Are you listening?  No amount of money or power or acclaim will ever satisfy Trump’s insecurity, ego, or his need for more at the expense of the country, and at the expense of anyone and everyone who is not shoring up the artifice of his power and reputation every minute. Even if he wins the election, this will not change.  The lies and misleading claims and wild distracting behavior will go on which means things will get worse, until the country breaks. Nothing will ever be enough for Trump to be sure that people will not eventually come to believe that the truth is more important than him.

Senate Republicans have also cast themselves in a dangerous role.  Many, if not most, realize what Trump is about. Individually they support him because they are afraid that will be picked off, if they don’t. They hope things don’t get too bad, knowing they will do nothing when they do. As a group Senate Republicans want to drastically reduce or end many policies and programs that the majority of the population support. Social Security.  Medicaid.  Occupational Health and Safety Standards. Affordable Health Care. The Right to Choose.  A fair, graduated income tax. Republicans want to increase the power and wealth of those who have power and wealth rather than to level the playing field or reduce income disparities. This is not what the majority of Americans want, so Republicans know that their power, too, is precarious.

Journey of Integrity montage

To press forward with an agenda that is contrary to what most Americans want and to hold onto that agenda, they must rely on misleading narratives, silence, and secrecy. This, too, will not end with the election if Republicans retain control of the Senate. For they will never have enough power or be secure enough to believe that Americans will not wake up, stay woke, and eventually demand what the majority of Americans want. 

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Even if Trump were to win, and the Senate were to retain a majority in the Senate, at the first sign of resistance both the President and Republicans will blame their own countrymen and countrywomen, demonize those who resist, and move to crush. Us.  And the rationale for crushing resistance would again be based on lies, misleading statements, and the need to suppress opposition. If Democrats cannot win the Presidency and the Senate, efforts to suppress the vote will proceed. For Republicans fear that resistance will grow stronger as Trump’s administration and Republicans press harder on American necks, until there is only repression or violence. We don’t have much time. Let us vote for a better future while we can.

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Nancer Ballard is a practicing lawyer, writer, and Resident Scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center where she studies and writes about narrative arcs and social movements. She volunteers for the Florida’s Voter Protection team and is friends with Annette Miller, the lead actor in Shakespeare & Co.’s production of Martha Mitchell Calling. To find out how you can view the play, first cast your vote in the 2020 Election, and if you voted by mail, check to make sure that your vote has been counted. (Links to check your ballot status in every state state can be found at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/check-if-vote-counted_l_5f930301c5b6db8bd16a8a28). Then contact https://www.shakespeare.org.

Martha MItchell Calling

Winter’s Beholding

 

ice dam on deck floorThis morning I took pictures of the hundred pound hunks of ice that slid off my roof and splintered our wood deck, to add to the pictures of the water-swollen ceiling that we punctured with a turkey baster to prevent it from collapsing in the night and killing our dog. As I drove to work, the sun glittered through a canopy of ice-spangled trees. Last year this morning landscape would have taken my breath away, but today the snow feels like a predatory beast that crushes roofs, creates car accidents, and leaves potholes that make my street look like a mine field. Fifteen foot icicles that I would have found enchanting last December evoke a piercing sorrow in my chest for everyone who has lost barns, ceilings, savings, gas lines, cars, even lives to the snow.

When I’m not projecting myself into the hearts of homeowners with ice dams, I’ve been working on a talk for this year’s Associated Writing Program Conference on speculation in literary nonfiction. So I’ve been thinking a lot about truth and speculation, and how slippery and elusive truth is, which has led me to wonder about the parallels between truth and the once-beautiful ice.

Truth is relative, philosophers advise, and the Greeks realized that beauty is in the eye of the beholder in the 3rd century B.C. My experience with this winter’s snow tells me that beauty is not only dependent upon the beholder, but that the beholder’s perception varies. Not only does the beholder count, context counts. And yet, despite the variability of subjectivity, truth and beauty are not a free for all. There’s something that feels hardwired when we recognize truth and gape at beauty.Snow in winter 2015

Some things are not true. We recoil at obvious lies because humans need to live in community, and thus, to trust one another. But the impulse to seek an advantage in the evolutionary game of survival-of-the-fittest makes for a constant unsettling dynamic between trust and guile. Some things are ugly. We naturally recoil at excrement, infection, and blood and guts. No doubt this is protective: excrement and infection can make us sick, and blood and guts is usually sign of danger or death. But there are exceptions, a surgeon seeing through a different lens admires a beautiful a line of sutures as a work of art. Where I might see pain and destruction, she sees a stitching toward life.

To return to the snow— I used to see snow as a gentling of light and shadow, a time when things slowed down and nature’s rhythms became more pronounced, stirring and quieting me. Snow reminded me of the continuity of seasons and life. It turned, and beauty drained from the snow banks, when I started seeing them as pernicious and dangerous.

“Beauty is truth, [and] truth, beauty,” wrote John Keats. But when I ask several of my artist friends what they think, none of us are ready to declare them equivalents. The palpability, magic, mystery, and elation we feel in the presence of truth and beauty seems to involve a weaving of disparate elements into a coherent whole, but there still seems to be a difference. Beauty starts with perception; the harmonious relationship of elements seems to be outside of the self, and then is confirmed by every nerve in my body. To perceive beauty I must open myself to the world, or a piece of art, or a passage of text. In that moment of perceiving beauty I am married to the work. In contrast, my recognition of truth starts within—I feel sensations piqued by various facts, impressions, and emotional fragments align to confirm that this (whatever “this” is) is true; this is reality. And the “this” refers (at least in part) to something in the external world. Beauty feels like it comes from outside the self; truth feels like it comes from within. We cannot consciously capture all that we perceive, or all that we are, but in an experience of truth or beauty for a moment we are at one, the world is at one, we are at one with the world and simultaneously aware of the whole and the parts.

Of course what is true, coherent, synchronous and harmonious in one moment and context will not be in the next. Today the snow is dirty and I am not happy with my writing. To find beauty in winter or in words, I will have to look, perceive, reframe, and open myself up again. As frustrating as this is, it assures me that neither the search for truth, nor art, will ever end or die which is as good a place as any to begin a blog so intimately committed to both. Snow in winter 2015