Trump’s World of Illusion

Signing a blank piece of paper in staged photo while at Walter Reed Hospital

Donald Trump has lived his entire life wrapped in illusion. And because of his extreme narcissism, he has expended a great deal of energy over the years to convince others of his illusions, usually to their detriment.

As the New York Times series on his taxes has made clear, Trump is not a billionaire. In fact, he owes many a great deal of money, most notably the US Treasury. Similarly, he is not a successful business man. His casinos went bankrupt and his hotels and golf courses are floundering. He often spends more than he has, living the life of the pampered playboy with yachts, jets, and resorts all gilded in tacky gold trim. He was the perfect subject for a reality TV show, a setting where illusion is the name of the game. 

During those forays, he hurt thousands of people. He burned contractors by not paying them. He burned thousands more by running fake businesses such as Trump University.

By becoming president, though, the stakes went through the roof. Now he could threaten the livelihood of millions all for the sake of wealth and self-aggrandizement, for the sake of maintaining his narcissistic illusions. From his xenophobic immigration policies, to his drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to his revised tax code that funnels money to the wealthy, to stacking the courts with right-wing ideologues, he has caused tremendous damage, including to those who support him. And through it all, he has projected the image of a tough guy who gets things done. Illusion, illusion, illusion.

With COVID-19, illusion became acutely lethal. All for the sake of maintaining his tough guy image, he downplayed the disease’s deadliness. He pitted states against each other for necessary supplies. He hobbled his own COVID-19 task force. And, of course, he refused to set a good example by just wearing a damn mask. His policies, or lack thereof, have killed over 210,000 people in the US and wrecked the economic livelihood of millions.

Each day the US lacks specific, detailed, science-based planning to deal with COVID-19, we risk increasing the number of fatalities. And without an effective plan to revive the economy, prolonged economic ruin could condemn millions to homelessness and starvation.

Regardless of what Trump and his supporters believe, science doesn’t care about fantasy or illusion. It simply exists. If I drop a stone while standing on the surface of the Earth, it will fall. No amount of wishing or fantasy will change that fact. Similarly, the current novel coronavirus follows a set of unalterable rules. One rule says that the virus can travel in droplets of saliva and infect others who might inhale those droplets or get them in the eyes. The best way to prevent one’s saliva from infecting others is to wear a mask.

A simple truth, but those invested in maintaining a fantasy disregard it. And now Trump himself has contracted the very thing that he said will one day “just disappear.” Worse, he hosted a huge event at the White House to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. It turned into a super-spreader event. No one social distanced or wore a mask. Now many more are infected. 

Prior to becoming president, Donald Trump’s world of illusion impacted the lives of many. Now as president, he has adversely impacted millions across the country and billions around the world. That he should fall victim to his own illusionary world seems quite inevitable. That he has foisted tragedy on others is criminal.

Voting by Mail

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key.

John Lewis, NY Times Opinion, July 30, 2020

We face the most consequential election not just in one generation but several generations. Simply put, we have to remove Donald Trump and all those who support him from office. The vote is our most powerful weapon, which is why Trump has moved heaven and earth to dissuade and hamper people’s ability to vote. We can’t let him do that.

With COVID-19 still casting a pall over the country and the world, traditional voting becomes challenging. All the more so where jurisdictions have limited the number of voting locations in recent primary elections. For those who wish to vote by mail this November, start planning now.

Vote.org has state-by-state information on how to vote by mail. Some jurisdictions have easier rules than others. California, home of the gar spot, has very accommodating rules regarding voting by mail. Furthermore, per Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order, all registered California voters will receive a mail-in ballot automatically. These ballots can be returned by mail or taken to a polling station or dropped off in a vote-by-mail receptacle. I’ve used the drop off method for years. (Don’t I look fabulous in my Mardi Gras beads?)

I’ve thought a lot about my hero John Lewis since his passing. His whole life is an example of how to fight for a better world for everyone. And his final words, some quoted above, are our marching orders. May his words inspire us all to go to the polls and to cause good trouble in the name of righteousness.

The Comet Chasers

Comet Kohoutek

During 1973-74, Comet Kohoutek became all the rage. Discovered by Czech astronomy Luboš Kohoutek, scientists believed the comet would become a major event, big, bright, spectacular. I was only 8 at the time, but remember the hype quite well, because no one was more excited about Comet Kohoutek than my mother.

Mom loved outer space. The moon landing beamed onto our TV set, back when we lived with my grandmother, my mom’s mother. Whenever Skylab passed over LA, it became a major event in my family. And by the time the Vikings landed on Mars in 1976, I was old enough to get excited by it, too. Mom had never seen a comet, and Kohoutek promised to be a Big Deal. Dr. George Fischbeck, the Channel 7 news meteorologist, went on and on about it. Dad loved space, too, and loved his wife, so he would take her out here and there to find the perfect viewing spot to see Kohoutek.

But like millions around the world, she never saw it. Comet Kohoutek turned into a major disappointment. Scientists had theorized that Kohoutek had never traveled to the inner solar system previously. Thus, it would contain lots of ice and volatiles that would outgas spectacularly when it heated up during its loop close around the sun. Nope. Turned out it had more rock than expected and it did not spark up nearly as brightly as anticipated.

Kohoutek remained a running gag in my family. Any time another astronomical phenomenon excited Mom, and she dashed outside all hours of the night, we reminded her of Kohoutek. She laughed, but went out anyway. I often joined her. Eclipses, meteor showers, we searched for them all, with varying degrees of success.

In 1996, Comet Hyakutake came round the inner solar system, and the hype machine tuned up again. It appeared in late March of that year. Sadly, by that point Mom had lost much of her mobility, her body ravaged by arthritis and lupus. But that didn’t stop her. She went outside anyway into the front yard in search of Hyakutake. Much to my delight, she phoned me to say that she saw it and we excitedly traded stories. I also saw it from my place in Oakland. A few months later, in June, Mom passed away.

Comet Hale-Bopp put on a much more spectacular show a year later. My husband and I saw it in clear skies from the hills west of Ukiah. The comet’s tail went on and on. It was an awesome sight. Of course I wished for Mom. Dad and I talked wistfully about her and Kohoutek and her finally seeing a comet before passing on.

Last weekend, I trudged uphill on the block where I live in search of Comet Neowise. I needed a clearer view of the horizon the elevation offered. Look in the direction of the Big Dipper just after sunset, the article I read suggested. But in the twilight just after sunset, the Big Dipper remained invisible, so that wasn’t of much help. Just as I was about to text my sister and say “I’m on another Kohoutek run,” I saw it, very small just above Mt. Tamalpias. And in the binoculars, I could see its head and a short tail. Nothing as spectacular as Hale-Bopp had been, but still a thrilling sight.

I may not have become a professional astronomer, but I’ll forever remain fascinating by “out there,” a love I came by honestly thanks to my parents, in particular Mom, our family’s first Comet Chaser.

A Noah’s Arc 15th Anniversary Reunion

Black queerdom collectively gasped when word got out that Patrik-Ian Polk created a Noah’s Arc reunion. No, not in production, not in the planning stages, not in the cards, but in the flesh. (LOTS of flesh.) The magic dropped on Sunday, July 5, a perfect way to end the Independence Day Weekend. 

Entitled “The ‘Rona Chronicles,” we catch up with our favorite black gay divas—Noah (Darryl Stephens), Alex (Rodney Chester), Ricky (Christian Vincent), and Chance (Doug Spearman)—as they shelter-in-place, their catty banter and tea pouring continuing via Zoom…

And let’s pause for a second. Since March, I’ve largely worn t-shirts, sweatpants, and shorts while working from home. Not our divas, honey. About 10 minutes into the story, and I tweeted “Oh dear. I’m gonna have to up my Zoom dress game. Big time.”

During a Zoom with Alex, Noah tries on one fab outfit after another. Indecisive as ever, he wants to look his best for a Zoom party with the fam, where he and Wade (Jensen Atwood) have huge announcement. But Wade is in the doghouse because he just had to go out and play ball with the boys, and two of them end up testing positive for the ‘Rona. He has to stay in isolation in their large house (mansion?) and wear a hazmat suit whenever he steps out of it.

Despite Wade’s personae-non-grata status, the party happens and the happy couple announce that they are expecting a baby. But before the toasting begins, Noah gets a call from Brandy (Jennia Fredrique) with a dream job offer: show-runner on a new Netflix production. He had planned to become a stay-at-home dad once the baby comes, but now, will he?

Lots of classic Noah subplots take place, bringing in Wilson Cruz as Junito Vargas, Gregory Kieth as Trey, Jonathan Julian as Eddie, and a fabulous cameo by Wanda Sykes. At times witty, at times moving, its constantly entertaining and endearing, just as this classic series has always been since its debut 15(!) years ago.

While sheltering-in-place, I’ve largely avoided new TV stuck with comfort food TV (Bewitched, mostly). But this new installment of Noah felt like a homecoming, as comfortable as buttermilk pancakes. Creator Patrik-Ian Polk brought it all together. He clearly loves these characters. As do we all.

I came out just a year before Marlon Riggs’ seminal documentary Tongues Untied (1989) dropped, spilling the tea on black gay life to the world for the first time. Noah’s Arc is a valued part of this legacy. The hunger for the show has hardly diminished and it remains a lasting mystery to me why it only lasted for two seasons. With its huge fan base constantly screaming for more, let’s hope that the television powers that be will listen and green light more episodes, so long as Polk and crew are willing and able to do it.

Check out the magic of this 15-year reunion on Patrik-Ian Polk’s YouTube page. And bring your boa. (But hurry! It will only stream for another day or two.)

On the radio

Mark the date!

Next Saturday, July 11 at 1pm CDT (11am PDT), I’ll be a guest on the Sandra Moran Radio Book Club from radio station KKFI in Kansas City. Host Elizabeth Andersen, panelist/poet Mercedes Lewis, and I will discuss my novel Sin Against the Race.

Society has entered an extraordinary period of activism around issues of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and police violence. So I really look forward to having the opportunity to discuss my book, which touches on all of these subjects.

If you live outside the Kansas City area, you can click the link above to hear KKFI streaming online. Join us!

I’m very tired

Breonna Taylor.

Ahmaud Arbery.

George Floyd.

How many times do we have to live the same nightmare, travel the same dark path, scream the same anguish until our voices go raw?

I’m very tired.

100,000+ dead from COVID-19, with African Americans disproportionately bearing the brunt of the pandemic in the US. And then these killings happen.

I’m very tired.

Donald Trump has fanned the flames of racism rather than quelled them during his misguided, disastrous tenure in office. His self-centered bungling also aided and abetted the spread of COVID-19.

I’m very tired.

When Amy Cooper called 911 on Christian Cooper (no relation) and claimed that Mr. Cooper was threatening her life, she went full-on Carolyn Bryant. Bryant is the white woman who lied and said that Emmett Till molested her. Fortunately, Mr. Cooper did not suffer Mr. Till’s fate.

I’m very tired.

And now the world erupts again, disgusted, angry, scared, while those in power sit silent. We have no national voice to bring calm or hope or change.

I’ve written about racism, racists policing, racist hate crimes, and Black Lives Matters for years. At the moment, I have few new words to add.

My voice is tired. My fingers are tired. My heart is tired and my soul is not rested. My weariness runs deep in my core and dates back generations.

Saints & Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival 2020

Look what came in the mail today! I’m very honored and excited to be included in this fine anthology of New Fiction with so many amazing writers. I’m also very sad that we did not get to meet and read together at the festival. Such is the case in the age of COVID-19. But I have no doubt that we’ll meet again soon and continue to raise our voices in support of each other, queer art, and Saints & Sinners.

You can purchase a copy of New Fiction from the Festival from the publisher, Bold Stroke Books, here.

Freedom Is Not Their Goal

On the front page of my Saturday newspaper, I saw a photo of someone carrying this protest sign: “We are fighting for our freedom.”

No you’re not. Not when you’re carrying signs like “Wealth is Health” and “The cure is worse than the disease.”

As of this writing, 68,088 US residents have died from COVID-19 in just two months. To carry such signs and tout those slogans means that you either do not believe that over 68,000 people have died in this country from this disease, or that you do not care. But in either case, no, you are not fighting for freedom.

To say that the shelter-in-place orders have been devastating is an understatement. The livelihood of millions, including friends, including family members, hangs in the balance. Those who cannot work from home, who received furloughs and layoffs, who rely on unemployment payments, bear the brunt of the economic chaos caused by the pandemic and efforts to curb it. But the answer isn’t to blindly “reopen America” and risk putting people’s lives in danger.

We need money to flow like water from a faucet to everyone adversely affected by the shutdowns, furloughs, and layoffs. We should quite literally pay people to stay home. While a few relief packages have passed through Congress and Trump has signed off on them, it’s far from enough.

Furthermore, too much of the relief money approved so far has gone to those who do not need it. Multi-billion dollar corporations applied for and received money from the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program. The Los Angeles Lakers came to their senses and returned the $4.6 million they received. By contrast, United Airlines eyes making layoffs in October, after they have received $3.5 billion in grants, $1.5 billion in loans, with an additional $4.5 billion in loans waiting on the table. Despite all this money coming in to offset the loss of ticket sales on flights, they still want to make layoffs. How much do you want to bet that their top executives will receive bonuses at the end of the year?

But no, the freedom people aren’t protesting that. They are going after governors who dare to put people over profits. While these protests have mostly targeted Democrats—Gavin Newsom of California, Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan—a few Republican governors have also faced their wrath: Gary Herbert in Utah, Mike DeWine in Ohio. 

As CNN has reported, many of these protests have the backing of conservative groups, like FreedomWorks, who helped manufacture the Tea Party protests against the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Like those protests, these “open up American” protests feature American flags, vapid patriotism, and heaps of bigotry, from anti-Semitic symbolism and Nazi slogans (Arbeit Macht Frei) to Confederate flags.

So a decade ago, these groups used an effort by the Obama Administration to increase access to healthcare as a political football to push their bigoted agendas. Now they are using a pandemic killing thousands. In 2010 conservative protesters decried that the ACA would bring about Death Panels that would kill off grandma if caring for her costs too much. Today, conservative protesters are the death panels, openly calling for the sacrificing of the old and infirm in order to reopen businesses and make money.

Make no mistake, folks are suffering economically and it’s horrifying to watch. With testing levels for COVID-19 still woefully insufficient, at this point, I have a hard time imagining when all this will end. But these conservative groups have a different agenda. It’s the same agenda they’ve always had: Make American White Again. And that they would use a pandemic killing thousands as a vehicle to forward their bigotry turns them into ghouls.

The Festival That Wasn’t: Saints & Sinners 2020

Me at S&S 2018.

I previously wrote about my excitement about attending the Saints & Sinners LGBTQ Literary Festival in New Orleans again. It was set to take place March 27-29. 

And then COVID-19 happened. Wisely, though sadly, the Festival cancelled this year’s edition. New Orleans has been hit hard by the pandemic and I wish all of my friends in NOLA and everywhere safety and health. This disease has taken a terrible toll.

Michele Karlsberg had invited me to write about S&S for her Words column for the SF Bay Times. And although the Festival didn’t happen, I wrote about what would have happened and about the importance of the arts even especially during times of crisis. Check it out here.

COVID-19: History Repeating

Grand Princess in the distance at the Port of Oakland

We’re not testing enough for the coronavirus, COVID-19. We’ve made this mistake before and it led to dire consequences. It gives me eerie flashbacks.

AIDS had already taken over 10,000 lives before a test for HIV became available in 1985. Prejudice and bigotry slowed the development of tests, treatments, or even a clear explanation of how HIV transmitted from person to person. All of this dithering cost lives. One cannot get a handle on a disease if you don’t know the extent it has spread. You can’t protect people without that simple knowledge.

The US falls well behind other nations in terms of testing for COVID-19. This chart from Business Insider tells a grim story:

Bigotry has also played a role in attitudes about COVID-19. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy referred to the disease as the “Chinese coronavirus” in a tweet. Sadly anti Asian bigotry is on the rise. But other foolishness has contributed to the lack of testing. That foolishness being the current resident of the White House.

Trump has called the coronavirus a “hoax” promulgated by the usual enemies, Democrats and the free press (aka Fake News). Repeatedly, he has demonstrated a lack of knowledge of even the basic facts. In a recent tweet, while trying to make a point that not many Americans have contracted COVID-19, he made the opposite point. The data he cited gave a 4% mortality rate.

But in truth, we don’t know what the mortality rate is in this country, because don’t know how far it has spread. We can’t. The test is not sufficiently available. Until that happens, we can’t know anything about COVID-19 or hope to contain it in any meaningful way.

This all comes from having incompetence in power. Neither Trump nor Pence have any credibility with managing a disaster. Trump horribly botched the response to the devastation of Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria. And speaking of HIV, Pence helped to advance the spread of the disease as governor of Indiana. Instead of acting to an increase of infections by the use of dirty needles, he dithered, and more folks became infected as a result.

In an ideal world, both Trump and Pence would resign or get removed from office, opening the door for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to become president. Then, she could lead a proper response to COVID-19. I doubt she would run for reelection, so whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be could win in November and then take over in January, 2021. Sadly, this scenario will not likely play out. Neither Trump nor Pence are going anywhere any time soon.

In the meanwhile, citizens and the media need to continue to hold Trump and Pence accountable. Lives are at stake. At the very least, they need to lose the election. With their leadership, disasters will become commonplace.