Trumpism: The Cult of Donald Trump

Editor’s note: This was originally posted in February 2017. Almost none of the revelations that consume the news today regarding Russia had come out yet.

So I’ve been reading this book in my spare time called “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. It was first brought to my attention by an Uber driver in L.A. so you know it’s high quality…

So I’ve been reading this book in my spare time called “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. It was first brought to my attention by an Uber driver in L.A. so you know it’s high quality…

Anyway, basically it’s a collection of stories from history and teachings from books like The Art of War and The Prince broken down into lessons about gaining the ephemeral quality known as “power”.

I wanted to read it because even if I couldn’t be as ruthless as required by some of these tactics it is good to be aware of them in case they are used against you. However, when I reached Law 27 things became a little scary.

“Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult-like Following”

There are 5 steps to this law. Rather than just list them and let readers come to their own conclusions I feel like I need to be more explicit as to how the man currently in the office of the President has seemingly followed this path to power in particular.

Step 1: Keep it Vague; Keep it Simple

“To create a cult you must first attract attention. This you should do not through actions, which are too clear and readable, but through words, which are hazy and descriptive.”

Trumpisim: “Make America Great Again”, “Repeal and Replace, Build the Wall”

These phrases sound great and project a real sense of power. When it comes to achieving them things become far murkier. Trump’s much vaunted deal with Carrier was fraught with unfortunate realities in terms of making America great again. Republicans have been calling for repeal of the ACA for years but are only now rolling out ideas for replacement. Ideas which do little to fix what problems there are with the program and threaten to take away the parts that are actually working.

The wall will be a boondoggle. Mark my words.

Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual

“Once people have begun to gather around you, two dangers will present themselves: boredom and skepticism.”

Trumpisim: Constant rallies

Trump never seems comfortable unless he’s in front of a large crowd of sympathetic supporters. That might be part of the reason he brings staffers to speeches to applaud and cheer for him. Less than a month into his Presidency while being assaulted from all directions over allegations of misconduct and incompetence, Trump holds a literal campaign rally. In 2017, not 2020. Clearly he’s falling back on the spectacle that served him so well in 2016. The sight of large cheering crowds emphasize his popularity which is why he is so adamant in his attacks on stories to the contrary.

Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group

“Your cult-like following is growing; it’s time to organize it. Find a way both elevating and comforting.”

Trumpism: Mike Pence

I don’t think anyone can argue that Trump has ever been an ardent representative of the Christian faith. This step is actually the one that applies the least to Trumpism as it is intended to be more about structural organization specifically. However, the 45th President is not afraid to claim divine intervention in the weather. The choice of Mike Pence as VP gives him all the cover he needs in terms of Christian conservatism without demanding any real sacrifice on his part.

Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income

“…you must never be seen as hungry for money and the power it brings. It is at this moment that you must disguise the source of your income.”

Trumpism: Tax returns

Do I really need to go over this part?

Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic

“To keep your followers united, you must now do what all religions and belief systems have done: create an us-versus-them dynamic.”

Obviously this is not a unique aspect of Trump or many other political candidates. It is a central idea behind why spectator sports are so popular. People like being part of a “team”. What is dangerous and scary about Trumpism is the official target known as “them”.

The media. The term “fourth estate” refers to a medieval concept of society where the people were broken up into three broad groups. (The clergy, the nobility, and the commoners, in case you were wondering.)

The idea is the press is a separate entity who’s role is to check the power of the others. An independent press is so important that the founders of America made sure journalistic protections were enshrined in the Constitution itself.

Trump’s attacks on the press started almost immediately. His administration has constantly given false or misleading information to the public and when news reporters point that out he calls them “fake news”. Anyone the least bit critical is denied legitimacy. The message is clear “we [us] are right and anyone who disagrees [them] does so just because they want us to fail.”

We need to have the ability to question power. If they do something wrong they should be held responsible. The chilling effect Trumpism could have on legitimate criticism is frightening. I’m personally somewhat worried about posting a long description comparing the President of the United States to a cult leader as the family is notoriously litigious.

Despite the click bait nature of the title of this post I am not saying with any certainty that President Trump is a cult leader. I have no way of knowing if he’s read this book or even if he consciously follows the steps listed above.

But the similarities frighten me.

The Value of Writing Advice

You’ve probably read a metric ton of articles, books, blogs, stone tablets, semi-fore flailing’s, about how to write. Or maybe this is the first article on the subject you’ve come across.

Which would be weird.

Anyway, I have a degree in English, Creative Writing focus from one of the top Engineering schools in the country. I don’t say that to disparage my school or its writing program.

But it doesn’t often elicit assured nods and mutters of approval when I talk about it. This is why I almost never bring it up. Another, more important reason, is I don’t get out much.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading up on how to write. Consistent study of my craft is something I’ve put off for a long time. Here and there I would indulge in an attempt to “be a writer” and typically I’d stop. Maybe it was because photography had cooler toys. Or a podcast was more collaborative. Or improv comedy was more fun.

Time and time again I would do something else, anything really, rather than write. These past two months I’ve tried once again to write. My biggest fear is I’m only able to do that because I’m unemployed. Yes, that’s right, two months of regular writing is not enough to break into a world of riches and rocket ships. Is that what wealthy people buy nowadays?

Rocket ships?

I’ve also done a lot of studying about how to write. Mostly about how to write quality marketing copy and such. You know, riveting stuff. Important to be sure if you’ve got a six rocket ship a month habit. But these are just a bunch of new rules to learn. In school, I learned the rules of fiction, now I’m learning non-fiction, web based writing.

Plus, books on these subjects are more numerous. For some reason.

I wouldn’t call it advice though. Telling you to keep paragraphs to four sentences or less is more a guideline than advice. I think the issue with writing is that since it’s all subjective, telling you how to do something can easily be framed as advice. Take it or leave it. A lot of writing advice out there seems more like adding tools to a toolbox rather than teaching you how to use them.

Well, they tell you how to use them. However, showing you how to change the oil is different than learning how to become a mechanic.

With photography, for example, it’s easy to get hung up on the gear and figuring out how each number changes the result. Raise your ISO to make it brighter. Slow down the shutter to make it blurry. Spend several thousand dollars on a lens you’ll use once.

And so on.

One of my favorite purveyors of writing advice is Chuck Wendig, who talks about being a writer as someone who digs a tunnel. Once you break through to the other side of success you blow it up with dynamite behind you. So, no one can follow you, of course. Because fuck those people.

The point is you make your own path. It’s hard work and it’s not like you want to blow up the tunnel. You have to because there are dark things chasing you. There’s no choice. Everyone has their own reasons and their own methods.

The key is not giving up and letting the monsters catch you.

Which is good advice. Real advice, not just how many words should be in your title.

My personal advice is rather simple. Just write more. Doesn’t matter what or how much. People will ignore you until you give them a reason to stop what they’re doing and pay attention. You can’t really predict how that will happen.

Or if it even will.

The only thing you can control is the output. Maybe nothing will come of it. That’s how I feel about the whole thing now. But I’ll keep writing.

Write more. That’s my advice. Let me know how it works out.

Are you glad you came back?

Imagine you just made one of the biggest decisions of your life. You have no idea if it’s going to work out. You decided to go for it anyway. Once you’ve taken the leap, how do you know if it was a good choice? When I went bungee jumping for the first time the measure of success was pretty simple. I didn’t end up plunging head first into a raging river.

Not all decisions are going to come with such instant feedback, unfortunately.

When I left Japan, I imagined a life that would fall into place with relative ease. Perhaps that was naïve of me. I figured I would be able to find some sort of job that would let me live a modest lifestyle in or around Raleigh, where I went to college. That’s where the friends I have from before my time in Japan still live. I would then pursue a computer science certificate and perhaps after that a Masters. Not asking too much I think.

A job did not materialize immediately. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend my first summer focusing on my studies without any financial strain. Which was a good thing. If you’ve ever taken a college level course in Java or Discrete Math you already have some idea. Now, take all that academic pain and suffering, mix it together, and squeeze it out into half the time. I don’t think I’ll ever take two summer courses again if I can help it.

I did well though! Better than I ever did in school to be honest. It turns out if you actually study and do the work good grades aren’t as mythological as I once believed.

Then came the campaign. I tried for…like a week to do both the job as a field organizer and the next course in my program. Every one of my coworkers I mentioned my class to were shocked to hear I was attempting such a feat. The general consensus after I withdrew sometime later was “Yeah, that’s definitely a smart move.”

And it was. After a twelve-hour day, the last thing I wanted to do was bang my head against a wall of code salad. I lost about half the cost of the class when I withdrew so NCSU got a few hours of their new basketball coach’s salary on me. I’ll consider it money well spent if the team doesn’t completely suck next year. (I’d settle for beating UNC once.)

After finishing the campaign, I didn’t want to jump back into class without knowing what my working life would be like. I got started with the job search and have continued at a steady pace right up until now. Still no job. Hopefully it’s not because when you Google me the first thing that pops up is someone with my name who stole $50,000 to go to Hooters.

I haven’t answered the question yet. Can you blame me? There can be some heavy stuff wrapped up in such a question. When people hear that you made a major life change they want to know if you’re doing well. Decent people at least. If that’s not the case for you, what are you doing talking to jerks in the first place?

As for me, it’s hard to give a solid answer. I’m 34 years old and I live with my mother. Couple that with a strong interest in Japanese culture and that’s a dangerous combination on paper. I should just buy a Trilby and a body pillow. Lean into the skid so to speak.

But, I’m technically still a Millennial so the mainstream tells me I have some lee-way about my living situation. So that’s lucky.

Am I happy though? Well that’s honestly something I can’t answer. I’m certainly happy at certain moments of the day. Other parts not so much. Is that any different than anyone else? Have I achieved what I wanted when I left Japan? Not really. Are those things indefinitely out of reach? Probably not. Hopefully not. Am I better off today than I was a year ago? Again, hard to say. I’m pretty much in the same place I was a year ago. Except now Drumpf is President.

Not looking too good on the old “better off” scale. Sorry. I didn’t vote for him.

Anyway, if you came by for unending positivity, I’m not sure you really “get” the vibe I’m trying to cultivate here.

5 Phrases are All You’ll Need to Make Friends in Japan

I spent about three years in college taking Japanese language classes. I was also fortunate enough to study abroad in northern Japan for a summer. It was specifically for language study so we covered about a year’s worth of lessons in 8 weeks. After all of that I was still terrible but could pretend with the best of them. When I had 30 minutes or more to craft a text I could even be eloquent.

Little did I know, that I would only need about six phrases for 80% of my conversations with Japanese speakers.

Ehhhhhhhh?

It’s hard to classify this one as a phrase. It’s more of a sound effect. Translated, it’s similar to saying “What?” when you hear some shocking news. Just like in English, you can extend the sound for as long as you want. Clearly, longer durations indicate greater surprise. It takes some finesse to know how to use this one but it can be quite versatile.

Example of appropriate use cases: Someone tells you some news or information. Can be anything from “I bought an ice cream” to “The President is a Russian spy.”

Sugoi!

Unlike the previous phrase, this one can’t be used to give yourself time to think of a real answer. Sugoi translates roughly to “great.” So, you have to be at least certain what the person just said to you is positive. If someone tells you they were just diagnosed with cancer, answering sugoi might be in bad taste whereas a long “ehhhh?” would be more appropriate.

Example of appropriate use cases: Someone tells you something positive or otherwise good news. Can be anything from “I bought you an ice cream” to “The President was impeached for being a Russian spy.”

Honto ni?

This one is a bit more flexible. It translates to “Really?” and has many uses similar to its English counterpart. It can be used in both positive and negative circumstances depending on your inflection. This is also highly useful for when you’re either not paying attention or your friend has said something that needs elaboration. It’s a good way to encourage further discussion.

Example of appropriate use cases: Someone tells you something that piques your interest. Can be anything from “I heard they’re making a new flavor of ice cream” to “The President said something stupid on Twitter today.”

Majide/Uso

I group these two together because they mean roughly the same thing and you’ll hear them used interchangeably. Uso is probably the more popular variation. Roughly translated to “lying” these phrases are used much how an interjection of “bullshit!” is used in English. The best use is to show a friendly incredulity when someone might be telling you a tall tale.

Example of appropriate use cases: Someone tells you something that seems quite unbelievable. Can be anything from “I ate ten ice creams just now” to “The President signed a bill helping the poor today.”

So desu ne.

Finally, the most important phrase of all. The rough translation is something akin to “so it seems.” English unfortunately doesn’t have the full elegant capacity needed to describe how useful this phrase is. It can be said after literally any statement and seem profound. If for any reason, you don’t understand what was just said to you, drop a “So desu ne” and it will work.

Example of appropriate use cases: Someone says literally anything; however, it is perhaps most appropriate to impart a sense of finality on the discussion. Can be anything from “I enjoy ice cream” to “The President is a terrible person and I’m chronically depressed because of it.”

P.S: If you don’t know how to pronounce these phrases, maybe look up Japanese phonetics? It’s not that complicated. I mean, it only took me a few years. Simple.

Why did you come back?

No one has said this to me in an accusatory tone…yet. It sounds similar to the other question, “Why did you leave Japan”. However, someone pointed out to me that it’s not the same at all. I could have gone anywhere in the world after Japan. I chose to go back to North Carolina. Why?

Before I came back I took a long trip across the country on the train. Partly because it was a little cheaper than a direct flight back and mostly because it seemed romantic. The truth is it was a little like riding in business class of an airplane for about 60 hours. It gave me time to decompress. I felt this would be a good idea since I had no idea what I would be doing with my life once I got back. Still don’t by the way.

I’m going to save a true description of my trip for another article, but it was a positive experience for sure. I got to experience four of my county’s most famous cities. L.A, New York, Washington DC, and Boston. I had only ever been to NYC before and that was back when I was a child. Well, Long Island doesn’t count, does it?

L.A was my favorite but that might be a little unfair since I spent the most time in that city. I don’t know if I would have the patience to settle down there. I wouldn’t get the hang of the “make a U-turn just where ever” driving culture. The weather was tops though. Chicago was nice if cold but the current President tells me it’s a war zone so I probably shouldn’t stay there. NYC is just the American Tokyo which was nice for nostalgic reasons. Boston has a nice small town feeling but I don’t like seafood enough to make the best of it.

Jokes aside, any one of those places I could have been comfortable, job permitting. That turns out to be easier said than done. A lot of people make this jump with an employment plan already lined up. That’s the sensible thing. Not me though. I was sure I’d find something so why worry?

It turned out to be harder than I expected.

Maybe I could have gone to Europe, blend in better. I might want to keep that option open depending on how things go over here.

But nope, North Carolina for me. Why though?

There’s something to the call of the familiar. I talked about feeling disconnected from the culture, in Japan. For all its faults, I like being from North Carolina. It makes up a big part of who I am. People who knew me over in Japan know well my fierce opinion that there is only one true kind of BBQ. Pulled pork with a vinegar based sauce. We can respectfully disagree over the style of meat, brisket and the like. If we’re talking pork though, there can be no compromise.

It’s those kind of baked in ideas, even if they’re over something as silly as a meat sandwich, that I missed. I preferred tonkotsu ramen as any right-thinking individual would. However, I could never feel for it on the level of someone from Fukuoka where it is a specialty.

The feeling goes beyond food of course. What it boils down to is a sense of place and reputation. We humans are quite good at wrapping up our self-worth in what other people might identify us by. I want people to like vinegar sauced pork BBQ because it is delicious. It also represents where I’m from and my own identity. I searched long and hard for a quality pork sandwich in Tokyo not only because I wanted to eat one. I wanted to show my friends something that speaks to who I am.

I’m sticking with the food metaphor because it is a clever way to frame the real reason I came home. I have been troubled with the way my state has been acting politically. Being part of the South means you could hardly call us “progressive” but we were once doing well compared to our neighbors. That changed in only the last few years. Now, however, one party is taking out their frustrations at having been in the minority for so long on the other.

I’ll let you guess who.

What gets me upset is that these folks are doing massive damage to our reputation without any real gain. They do it to spite people they hate for reasons that often seem to hinge on “you did it to us too.” The worst part the bending of the rules and rigging the system to stay in power. When these folks fall out of power they try to strip away what they can. It’s depressing that people can act this way in a place that’s supposed to be known for “hospitality”.

We’ve made some gains. It’s going to be a long hard fight from here on out. When I moved back I hadn’t planned on it being like this. But I’m glad I’m here if only to add my own weak voice to the swell of resistance. Finding a reason for being somewhere is never easy. At least here in my home I have roots to trace.

Imagine If: Dispatches from an Alternate Political Universe

January 22nd, 2017.1 –

President Clinton spent her first full day in office responding to controversy surrounding statements she made about the crowd at her inauguration. Several outlets have questioned an assertion she made during a visit to the CIA regarding the attendance of the ceremony.

During her speech, which was intended to show her support of the intelligence community after the firestorm surrounding both the alleged Russian hacking attempts and her own troubles regarding the handling of classified information, Mrs. Clinton stated that her inauguration was “one of the largest crowds in history.”

Several news organizations quickly released photos from President Obama’s first inauguration in 2008 side by side with those from yesterday. While after a cursory glance both crowds appear similar in size there do seem to be several large gaps towards the back of the viewing area during yesterday’s event. Ridership numbers provided by D.C Metro indicate Mrs. Clinton’s inauguration was indeed heavily attended but the numbers are less than those reported 8 years earlier.

President Clinton’s newly appointed Press Secretary, Samantha Spencer, was out earlier in the day to answer questions from an at times hostile press core. She repeated claims that Mrs. Clinton never said her inauguration was “the largest ever, period,” but in fact had used a more moderate framing as “one of the largest.”

This defense hasn’t won over many Republicans on the Hill, however. Jason Chaffetz, Chair of the House Oversight Committee, held a press conference moments after President Clinton had left the CIA. “I was there,” Congressman Chaffetz said of the inauguration, “It was certainly not one of the biggest inaugurations in history. The fact that the President would mislead the American people on day one of her administration is despicable.”

Chaffetz, who was one of the lead drivers of the Benghazi hearings that plagued President Clinton when she was Secretary of State, went on to announce his intention to continue a pattern of rigorous congressional oversight. “I find it troubling that we never got a satisfactory answer to the question about the President’s missing emails. Now that we have clear evidence of her desire to mislead the American public about something as simple as the size of a crowd, I believe it’s time to re-examine what happened with the infamous private server.”

Donald Drumpf, who following his narrow electoral college defeat has hounded the Clinton transition about supposed voter fraud, took to Twitter once again to rail against the new President. In a series of early morning tweets, he referred to Mrs. Clinton as both, “sad” and “a liar.” He went on to rail against the apparent “slack” that the mainstream media is giving President Clinton. His final tweet ended with “If I were President people would be going crazy over this. Unfair.”

Drumpf has been meeting with various leaders in conservative media, including former campaign advisors Roger Ailes of Fox News and Steve Bannon of Breitbart News. When he isn’t tweeting about the Democrats he has been dropping hints about his plans for a new media company, the scope of which remains to be seen.

Lost in the flurry of news surrounding the crowd size statement was President Clinton’s assertion that the intelligence community is a key component of the fight against terrorism. “This is a fight we can win without sacrificing any of our basic freedoms or personal safety,” Mrs. Clinton said to finish her rousing speech, “And that’s exactly what I plan to do.”

The White House has announced that one of President Clinton’s first executive orders will deal with strengthening the country’s borders and adding resources to the fight against terrorism. The President is expected to sign the order later this week.

  • This article is a complete work of fiction. If you needed to be told that then you haven’t been paying attention.

Republicans would be better off if they had lost

I’m standing on the porch at a friend’s house. It’s late November, maybe early December. I had spent Thanksgiving making a concerted effort to not bring up politics. It wasn’t easy since my mother is the only person I know for sure didn’t vote for Trump. Some of my cousins might have been on Team Democrat but I wouldn’t know it. We all kept our mouths shut.

Except to eat of course.

It’s taken me some time to recover from the shock of losing. Understandable given how much time I had put into the election. I don’t know how my co-workers who were at it for years managed. I suspect booze played a large role. Despite all of that, here I am on a cool Raleigh night, arguing about politics.

My opponent is a smart guy. I have to give him credit. He thinks NPR is a left wing ivory tower but he listens to it and comes with logical counter arguments. This might have something to do with being the only conservative in our mutual friend group. He’s used to being on the defensive so he keeps the walls manned and the pikes sharp.

As most discussions of this nature do, we get close to a shouting match. Tempers are easily enflamed when it comes to matters of Trump. At this point however, all we could really do was rehash the election. 45 hadn’t yet begun to pick from his Cabinet list entitled “The Absolute Worst Options Possible.”

So of course, we’re talking about emails.

My other friend who, until this point, has kept out of the argument suddenly pipes up.

“Well the one thing we can all agree on is that we hope Trump succeeds and is one of the best Presidents ever.” A bit overly optimistic perhaps. One of the best ever? At even this early point I was willing to settle for doesn’t destroy the economy.

Now before you throw my buddy under the bus, think about it. That’s not a bad sentiment to have. Yes, Trump is a horrible human being in most ways. But prior to the inauguration we didn’t know how he would govern. I mean, we all knew but we didn’t know. At that point, it was all hypothetical. It couldn’t possibly be as bad as we imagined, right?

Unquestionably, we should hope for success rather than root for failure.

Well things are different now. They’re real. Far, far, far too real. On the day I write this, they’ve just appointed a special prosecutor to look into Trump’s ties with Russia. By the time that I post it anything could have happened. The consequences of the President’s actions will be sweeping and devastating for the Republican party.

What have they gained in the bargain?

A Supreme Court pick that forced them to throw away decades of tradition, a universally hated health care bill, and one of the worst political scandals in modern memory. Plus, the embarrassment of having to vouch for an unhinged amateur autocrat. This is Comcast internet levels of bad deal.

What would they have if Trump lost?

Chances are they’d still have the margin they have in the House and Senate. They lost seats with Trump at the helm but still managed to hold on. They would be able to rail and complain about the ACA for another few years without having to actually do anything about it. Complaining without doing anything is their favorite pastime.

They would have gotten Merrick Garland and wouldn’t have had to cheat on the rules. The Republicans certainly would have wanted that 60-vote threshold around for Clinton’s presidency. They would have a newly ascendant Fox News style media powerhouse in after Trump played Voltron with his MAGA brand and Breitbart.

Does anyone still think he wanted to be President at this point?

Trump is never going to be popular. He could cure cancer tomorrow and people would still be like fuck that guy. I’ll be one of them. Even if the investigation turns up nothing the Democrats are riled up. Apathy is the liberal’s greatest enemy and I think it’s safe to say that the coming midterms are going to be a barnstormer.

There’s also the bigger issue that the Republicans have quite likely lost an entire generation of voters. The Snapchat armada is not buying what they’re selling. The ones that do are more likely in it for the shits and giggles. Memes and centipedes or whatever. It’s not something you can build a governing coalition on.

I could be wrong of course. If this year has taught me anything it’s to never make assumptions.

But I feel good about this one.

Do you miss Japan?

My first instinct is to hate you.

Again, this is one of those questions that seems like a good idea. It is easy to come up with and most folks think it’s simple to answer. Do you miss your dead cat? Or whatever might be the proper emotional equivalent, say playing football in high school or attending college in a trendy city. Why do we ask people all the time this sort of thing?

Oh, you really enjoyed something? Do you regret not having it anymore? Come on.

That’s my first instinct because I enjoy lashing out at strawmen of my own creation. The reality is this is a hard question to answer. People want to hear it I think, because it represents something all humans must experience.

Loss. Even if we’re not consciously thinking about it we want to know how other people handle this painful fact of life. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, I have had to cope with relatively little loss on the grand scale. Won’t stop me from trying.

Of course, I miss things about Japan. For example, not having to drive anywhere. At least once a month I’m caught behind a massive accident on the idiotically planned road that gets me from town to my home. People drive like idiots. I’m frankly shocked at just how blasé people can be about these multi-ton death machines they’ve been given control over.

Shocking little oversite as well. All I had to do to renew my license after years of being away was a road sign identification test. Google cars can’t come fast enough for me to be honest.

I could go on forever about how much I hate driving. It would be easier to just point out when I enjoy it. During a sunny day on an empty straight road with good music playing. That’s it. Trains are their own type of drag but at least you can take a quick nap on your way somewhere. Try that while driving and see how well it works out for you.

The other day I watched a video of a train leaving the station just for the memories. Nothing interesting or special about it. Only the most basic arrival and departure imaginable.

I miss it. I miss the friends I made. The friendships I had and the ones I missed out on because they entered my life too near to my departure. I made friends in literal classes on how to be funny. Some of my best I met while seated in parks underneath a rain of flower petals. I also made friends in bars who invited me to their weddings after a few (hundred) drinks. Then I got to know their kids as they grew from a thought experiment into actual tiny humans.

Those people are 5000 miles away from me now.

I suppose this is a part of growing older. Life is fluid especially when it comes to human relationships. Even if you stay in one place for all of your life chances are a number of folks you grow close to will leave. Maybe they’ll be gone only a few years, maybe you’ll never see them again. Chances are good you’ll miss them.

Or maybe not. Maybe they were objectively terrible.

Plenty of people have written and will undoubtedly continue to write about all the things they miss about Japan. The food, how everything is designed to be cute, the earthquakes, trains. Just kidding, nobody likes that constant cuteness design aesthetic.

It’s easy to miss the things you can experience on a vacation. Like beer vending machines. The harder things are the ones that took years to build. Things you can’t see on a JR Rail Pass or experience thanks to a guidebook. And this isn’t just limited to Japan. However, the answer to your question is quite different depending on who you ask.

The vacationer can use it as an excuse to describe the wonders of their trip. For the lapsed expat, it just reminds them of everything they gave up for hope of a better life. The only consolation is it gets easier with time. You focus on your life and goals. Days, weeks, and years pass. You hold tight to the good memories. New people enter your orbit and the friendships can be just as strong.

Or maybe not. Such is life. Don’t worry about it.

Apathy Lost the 2016 Election

“Hello?” Her voice is suspicious already. Might be because I have a weird area code.

“Hi! Is this Sharon?” I’m trained to sound super upbeat. My co-workers tell me I’m pretty good.

“Who’s calling?” She’s gone from suspicious to angry. My guess is she just got off work and doesn’t want to be bothered. I get it. Yet, I press on.

“My name’s John and I’m calling from the North Carolina Democratic Party. How are you tonight?” The introduction flows smooth as silk. I’ve long since lost count how many times I’ve said it. It’s a lot though.

Beep boop.

Cell phones don’t click, did you notice that? There’s no dial tone anymore either. I’m well aware about what just happened. She hung up on me. I mark her “Not Home” because she didn’t tell me her name. I can’t say for certain that she was Sharon. Her number will come up again in a day or two. Chances are she won’t pick up next time.

Ninety percent of the time people don’t answer the phone. Or the number is disconnected. Lots of times it’ll just ring and then drop. You get to know some of the names that pop up. Those are the ones that ring once and go straight to voicemail. I think this is what it’s like to get blocked.

Still mark them “Not Home” though.

“I’m doing well, how about you?” Finally, someone wants to talk.

“I’m doing great. I’m calling tonight because we need your help to make sure Trump stays out of the White House.” I say this because it usually gets a laugh. Those were innocent times.

“I already donated to the campaign.” That’s how I got your number, by the way. I don’t tell them this. Unless they go “HOW’D YOU GET THIS NUMBER?”

That’s always a fun conversation.

“I’m not after your money, just your time. We need volunteers to help us register voters.”

“I don’t have time for that.”

Beep boop.

Mark that one “Maybe later.”

Fifteen or twenty more no answers go by. I step outside for some fresh air. It’s hot for October.

“I work two jobs so I don’t got time. But you got my vote!” Put her down as “Maybe later.”

“If you don’t stop calling me I swear to God I’ll vote for Trump!” He counts as a “Declined.” I’ll try him a few more times though just in case he’s kidding.

“Sure thing, what do you need?” It’s been so long since I’ve gotten this far I’m caught a little off guard. I snap out of it and give her the dates and times of the events I have set up. Once we find a time that works I put her into the system and thank her for her time. I’m super charming.

There’s at least a 50% chance she won’t show up but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For right now I’m smiling because I don’t feel like a total failure. I got a shift.

“Good evening, my name’s John and I’m calling from the North Carolina Democratic Party…”

Beep boop.

“Not Home.”

Don’t lose sight of Healthcare

It’s important not to forget some of the bullshit going on despite the palace intrigue currently engulfing the White House. Millions of people will lose their health care if the AHCA continues on in its current form. But we knew that. Most of these people will lose Medicaid after the bill cuts over $800 billion from the program. In the ACA, that money came from high income people through special taxes. Those taxes will be removed.

This is nothing new. Republicans in congress do not believe rich people should be forced to pay for poor people. Its un-American apparently. All right, let’s assume however, they still want poor people to have health insurance. Which is something they continue to claim in public.

It costs a lot of money to provide health insurance to people. One way to make it “cheaper” is to not require companies to provide certain “brands” of medical service. The idea being you can buy a basic plan for basic care and pay more for advanced care.

Sounds good on paper except it doesn’t. Because healthcare isn’t cable TV. Actually, it’s a lot like cable now that I think about it. But people don’t die if they don’t get HBO no matter how much they claim to love Game of Thrones.

What in the AHCA prevents these advanced care plans from becoming outrageously expensive? Are there any limitations on how much extra an insurance company can charge for maternity care? Unless costs come down they will have to provide the same amount of care with fewer people paying for it. Basic economics says the costs will go much higher to compensate.

How about pre-existing conditions? The same problem exists, people who cost more will have to pay more because the price of care won’t decrease. The Republican answer to this is almost always “high risk pools.”

Let’s set aside that this idea has never worked in America before and the AHCA doesn’t provide nearly enough money for this to cover everyone it will need to cover.

What I don’t get is why Republicans in Congress are fine with a state waiver system. If they truly believe the ACA is a disaster and will ruin the country, why wouldn’t they fight harder for a nationwide repeal?

Red states are going to get waivers. We have no idea what they will need to do other than “set up a system” to provide for pre-existing conditions. The Republicans have to know that this will break down on party lines. Blue states will keep the rules and most Red states won’t.

Is it because they think once the system goes into effect then the Blue states will collapse? Which will force them to come around? If so that’s a rather callous way to look at things. That doesn’t explain why Republicans from heavily blue states (14 of California’s Representatives are Republican for example) also voted for this bill.

Do they honestly think high risk pools are a good idea? California tried one and it failed miserably. So why would California Republicans think this is a good idea?

If it’s about personal responsibility and choice then why provide any money at all? Let the free market decide. The problem with that is if I fall and break my arm I don’t want to spend a few hours on the web choosing an emergency room. Prices are kept secret by most hospitals so I can’t bargain shop. An MRI in Wilmington will likely have a different cost than one in Raleigh. Not like I could drive the two hours to get from one to the other with a broken arm.

Healthcare is not a product that is affected by standard market forces. Even if you throw out the moral argument, you cannot expect healthcare to work in a for profit manner without damaging people’s health. The system only works if everyone is paying into it. The Republicans want to argue that states know how to do things better. Republicans in my state just took school money from Democratic districts purely out of spite. I get the feeling they won’t suddenly turn friendly because of healthcare.

This is why old people are so protective of Medicare. Everyone pays into it so it works pretty well. Perfectly? No because nothing is ever perfect. Ever.

By Republican’s logic though, why should I pay Medicare taxes?

I’m not using it. Probably never will at this rate.

If Republicans in Congress truly believe this is a better way then why does it have so many flaws? If they truly want people covered, then why do they want to kick so many off Medicaid. People who by the very fact they are on the program are too poor to afford normal health insurance?

It seems to me that they don’t care about providing health insurance to people at prices they can afford. I know a lot of them honestly believe that giving poor people stuff is “coddling” them. I also highly doubt many of them have ever had to choose between health insurance and rent. I’m also confident that none of them, certainly none in Congress, have ever had that decision come back to bite them in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. Bankruptcy doesn’t lend itself well to political campaigns. Unless you’re Trump.

This whole bill reeks of being crafted by someone that’s always had quality, employer provided insurance and who’s never had a serious medical issue in their lives.

I’ve heard actual Republicans saying that this will never pass the Senate as if it somehow excuses this kind of behavior. I wouldn’t be so sure. What the Republicans in Congress want most are the tax cuts. I know this because they never bring the cuts up in their defense of the bill. They don’t want people to focus on that aspect at all.

This could pass the Senate and Trump will sign it the second the paper hits his desk. Red states will fall all over themselves to make it so insurance companies can charge whatever they want to the people who need care the most. The wealthy will get back in taxes more than most of the folks on Medicaid make in a year.

But it’s O.K, right? Because they deserve it. All of them.