A Fortnight of Trump

It’s been two weeks since I’ve written about Trump here! And what a two weeks it’s been! Herewith, not-especially-well-organized thoughts on a fortnight of a not-especially-well-organized administration:

1. I mean, these are remarkable times, aren’t they? There are moments in life when you are very truly aware that you are living in history — things that will prominently be in history books fifty or a hundred years down the line — and there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind we’re right smack dab in a middle of some bona fide history, people. It’s kind of exhilarating! Mind you, I’m hoping it’s the exhilaration of a nation reawakening to a commitment of democratic principles, rather than the exhilaration of a consumptive’s moment of clarity before they finally hork out the useful portion of their lungs. But either way, it certainly is a time.

2. I’m feeling many things about the Trump administration, but I have to admit one of the primary emotions I am feeling is a deep and abiding embarrassment. I’m embarrassed that my president and his administration are clearly malign, but I’m also embarrassed that they are so clearly incompetent. These people are both ignorant and stupid, and while on one hand that’s a silver lining — it blunts the effectiveness of the previously-mentioned malignancy — on the other hand the fact that a great nation installed these bumptious yahoos in the first place says very little good about us.

3. This is also why I am mildly exasperated at the idea floating about, that the fumbling bullshit nonsense these numpties are up to represents 11-dimensional super-chess political moves. Folks, no. Really, just, no. If they were 11-dimensional super-chess masters, they wouldn’t have had a negative polling rating eight days into their administration; they’d instead have made us delighted to waltz down the path to a comfortable and complacent fascism. But they didn’t, because they can’t, because they’re not that smart. A White House that spends four days litigating the size of an inauguration crowd is not a clutch of masterminds. Masterminds wouldn’t have given a shit about how many people showed up on the goddamn National Mall.

But don’t you see, Scalzi? All of this is distraction from their true mastermind evil plans! Folks, you realize that needing these jackasses to be masterminds is a form of vanity, yes? We couldn’t have possibly chosen to be ruled by custard-headed bigots who can’t find their asses with GPS and an Eagle Scout! They must be smarter than that! Well, no, they’re really not, and yes, we really did. There are lots of ways to explain that — I favor the whole “the GOP’s decades-long plan to undermine its voters’ dedication to truth and public institutions really paid off” angle of things personally — without having to haul out the 11-dimensional chess board.

4. But don’t worry, folks! Blundering numpties are dangerous enough! And to be clear our blundering numpties have a plan — white authoritarianism is a thing, y’all — and fundamentally what they have on their side is that they don’t really respect law, or tradition, or you. You’re either useful, or fuck you. Incompetent or not, they’ll keep going until they can’t, and they expect you to follow the rules they have no intention of following. The thing is, the rules can stop them — from the Constitution on down — but only to the extent that people hold them to those rules, and plant their feet.

Our problem as I see it is that the House and Senate are currently controlled by the GOP, i.e., the folks who spent the last few decades undermining inconvenient truths and political comity, and whose current leaders, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, apparently are working on the motto of “Whatever, man, so long we get to kill Social Security and Medicare, too.” So, yeah. It does help that Trump is busily antagonizing Republican senators who offer even the mildest of complaint regarding his policies and incompetence, but let’s face the fact that spines are in short supply on the right side of the aisle at the moment. Will that change? We’ll find out!

And the Democrats? They spent the first week apparently under the impression things were normal, and it took two solid weeks of protests and phone calls to suggest to them that maybe just going along might not be the thing for them to do. As I’m typing this they’re putting sticks into the spokes of several cabinet confirmation processes of especially problematic candidates, so that’s good! But then Rick Perry just passed his Senate panel vote with Democratic votes, so maybe not every Democrat got the memo (I actually personally think Perry is likely to be one of the least problematic of the cabinet picks — he’s ignorant as hell about his position, but I think he’s more likely to listen to people who aren’t ignorant with regards to his duties, and isn’t that just a perfect encapsulation of the Trump years, when “ignorant but maybe trainable” is a positive). I’m mildly optimistic that the Democrats will generally get the memo that giving a pass to the incompetent and malign will not age well, especially when the incompetent and malign have no intention of ever returning any political favor. Again: We’ll find out!

5. What about Bannon? He’s smart, right? Well, he appears to be the smartest person in the White House right now, which is not the same as actually smart. But inasmuch as his personal philosophy appears to be “I’m a bigot and I have a box of matches” and he’s found a useful idiot in Trump, he’s definitely a problem. Is he the actual president, a la Cheney? He’s certainly got his hand up Trump’s ass, and he and Putin seem to be having a thumb war around the vicinity of Trump’s epiglottis in order to see whose turn it is to work the puppet. I think it’s self-evident that Bannon’s a racist piece of shit who shouldn’t be anywhere near the White House, but I also thought it was a self-evident Donald Trump was a racist piece of shit who shouldn’t be anywhere near the White House, too, and look where that got us.

Bannon’s reflexive racism and anti-semitism makes the Trump administration do stupid things, a fine example being it offering up a release on Holocaust Remembrance Day that somehow didn’t manage to mention the Jews, i.e., the principal targets of the Holocaust and the reason the Nazis built out the entire apparatus of the Holocaust. When called on it, the White House offered the same rhetorical line — “well, others suffered in the Holocaust, too” — that Holocaust deniers use to minimize the extent of the atrocity done to the Jews. Bannon’s fingerprints are all over this, and it’s appalling both that the White House put out a release like this, and that it either didn’t realize that everyone would see the dog whistle to America’s home-grown Nazis… or it didn’t care whether everyone saw it or not. Either, to me, is all Bannon; neither is especially smart.

6. What’s really remarkable about the Trump administration is that we are literally in week two, and its managed to have enough scandal and constitutional crisis for an entire year of a normal administration. Hell, even Dubya, the former modern low benchmark for incompetence, stretched out his nonsense. Now, you might recall that I predicted this the last time I wrote about Trump — I said we’d see a hundred-day “Gish Gallop” of nonsense from them (to the extent the Trump folks had any plan at all) — but it’s one thing to say “yup, this is going to happen” and another to see it in full effect in just two dizzying weeks.

I don’t think this is sustainable, and I don’t mean in terms of people’s ability to protest, which I think is capacious. I mean that, while it is prudent to plan for four years of Trump, I’m going to be surprised if he lasts that long. I mean, this is the goddamn honeymoon for his administration. It is protests and chaos and possibly even Democrats in Congress locating (or at least borrowing) spines, and a subterranean approval rating. Even worse, Trump just isn’t enjoying himself. He’s been fucking miserable for two straight weeks and it’s not getting better from here. I suspect that not too long in the future he’ll find a way to declare victory and bug out.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking (scratch that, it is wishful thinking). But here’s the thing: The Trump administration has already set the tone: It’s racist, it’s nationalistic in the worst way, it’s authoritarian, it is petulant and thin-skinned, and it’s not actually competent. It’s been jammed up from day one and the resistance to it is just going to get stronger from here. Whatever Trump thought he was going to achieve, in his fever dream of the office of the President being some combination of a king and his “Apprentice” shtick, he’s now unlikely to get it. He’s not used to being told “no” and he hates being unpopular, and by all indications he doesn’t actually like working much. I think he’s gonna say “fuck this” after a while and leave the whole mess to Pence (I almost said “poor Pence,” but that fellow signed up for this, so). I also think it’s more likely for him to leave of his own accord then to be impeached or removed via the 25th Amendment.

Is there any way for Trump to save his presidency? Sure, there are lots of ways! But most of them would require Trump getting a personality transplant and/or ditching the core of his brain trust, and I don’t see that happening. Bear in mind “save” is a loaded term; the man is president and he’s entirely capable of weathering four years of this out of sheer cussedness. It’s entirely possible I’m wrong, Trump doesn’t care to “save” his tenure, and he’ll just do what he’s going to do because screw you, that’s why. I’ve been wrong before! Sadly, in this particular case.

7. Leaving aside the ethical dimensions of Trump’s actions to date, from a purely economic and political point of view he’s pretty much been a nightmare. Businesses have to be watching his incipient trade war with Mexico, his immigration ban and the domestic protests and thinking to themselves “well, this is no good.” Trump’s nationalism is going to end up being bad for business, and in particular it’s likely to be bad for businesses in the very states where Trump had his strongest support. This more than anything else may be what turns a sufficient segment of the GOP against Trump — in the end, you don’t screw with the GOP’s money. There’s a racist, nationalist core of Trump supporters who value that more than business, mind you — they’d rather be pure than rich — so now I guess we get to see whether the GOP would rather be racist or rich. Should be interesting!

8. I’ve noted before that Trump is the end result of decades of the GOP working to undermine its voters’ faith in the system and in truth — but that Trump arrived about a cycle too early for the GOP’s plan to really pay off like it wanted. It was hoping for a bland, unobjectionable tool (think: Rubio) to be the front man while it dug itself in like a tick into the processes of government, and instead got a loud, racist incompetent with a pack of racist reactionary pals, who see the GOP as just another tool to use or to thump on when it doesn’t do what it’s told.

This is no good for the GOP, because now that Trump has alienated women and immigrants and the Latinx/Hispanics and LGBTetc and Jews and everyone who knows and cares for anyone in those groups, and the GOP is likewise putting the fear of god into people who want health insurance, who is left for them? Old white people (especially the ones who haven’t twigged to the fact that Ryan wants to take away their Medicare and Social Security), evangelicals who want cover for their racism, homophobia and worldly greed, and the sort of white dude who still thinks Pepe the Frog is the height of wit. Annnd that’s pretty much it! Not a lot to grow on, unfortunately for the GOP, and the longer Trump’s in office, the worse it’s going to get.

I’m not saying that everyone who is appalled by Trump is going to go to the Democrats, who have their own stew of issues, which I will leave to others to essay. But unless Trump actually does manage to destroy American democracy and replace it with a white authoritarian government in the next six months, I think all he’s really going to do is destroy the GOP. Which, you know. Sow the wind, etc. This is what the GOP has been working toward. That they didn’t expect that Trump was the form they’d get is neither here nor there to that.

9. What have I been encouraged about? I’ve been encouraged to see slightly more spine in some elected officials. I’ve been encouraged that blue states, particularly Massachusetts and California, seem to be ready to take the fight to Trump. I’ve been encouraged that news organizations have decided to call lies lies and decide there is more to news than filling up a 24-hour cycle with crap (they still have the 24-hour news cycle, and it is, alas, still largely filled with crap. But the ratio of useful-to-crap seems to be getting better). I’m encouraged that organizations like the ACLU have gotten right into the fight from day one. I’m encouraged that people like Sally Yates put their careers on the line to point out the injustice of Trump’s orders. I’m encouraged that nearly every creative person I know, liberal or conservative or otherwise, has decided that Trump’s nonsense is not for them. I’m encouraged that a large number of the conservative people I know and/or respect have decided to stand for the rule of law rather than a rule of Trump.

And most of all, I’m encouraged by the millions of people from everywhere and all walks of life who went out into the streets in the last couple of weeks, and who called their elected representatives, and who donated money and time and expertise to protest against Trump and his people, and their plans, and their morality, or lack thereof. As many people have noted, the alt-right have called them “snowflakes” but you get enough snowflakes in one place and you get an avalanche. It’s heartening to see millions standing for a diverse and vibrant America, and not for a mean and racist one. I noted before that Trump is president and as such he and his crew got to make all the first moves, nor are they done making those moves. There’s more to come from them. But it’s clear they weren’t prepared for the pushback. Good.

10. I hate that we are where we are now, but it’s also not wrong to say that I feel weirdly optimistic. Trump is terrible, his administration incompetent, and we’re confronted with the fact that our nation’s bigotry and awfulness has its head right now. But what’s happening because of it is the exact opposite of a shrug and quiet acceptance. I didn’t want us to have to have this political moment — I would have been happy with a Clinton administration, honest! — but if we have to have this political moment, and we do, I am heartened by the response to it. Our country is going to suffer damage because of Trump. We won’t be the same nation we were before. But we get to find out whether at the end of it we become a better nation. I think we might! If we keep at it.

And that’s an encouraging thought. I plan to keep at it. I hope you will, too.

The Big Idea: Mur Lafferty

Rules for clones? According to Mur Lafferty, you need to have them. But why do you need to have them? And what are the rules, as far as they apply to her new novel Six Wakes? She’s here to give you the details.

MUR LAFFERTY:

Cloning stories are hard to tell because they’re such a staple in SF history that it’s challenging to come up with a new twist. But I tried to do it with Six Wakes by combining a few different Big Ideas.

You know, there are some weird sex things in a lot of cloning stories.

It seems in classic SF, any man who clones himself will inevitably end up having sex with himself. (I am including stories where a character travels to the past and meets an earlier or later version of himself in this category.)

Having a bunch of clones running around willy-nilly, sexing the place up, messing with their children’s inheritance, and giving each other alibis when they commit crimes, seemed… irresponsible. Most religions also wouldn’t like it. Authorities would come down pretty hard on cloning once these things became possible to the populace at large.

Thus, I first thought about what kind of international rules involving cloning would have to be developed. They might include no multiplying yourself, sterilization, and no changing of the DNA matrix stored on the computer…. among other things. These are some of the basic rules governing cloning in Six Wakes.

Another key element of the story came to me when I was playing the game FTL, a space battle game where you manage the lives of your crew and the state of your ship. One of the technologies available to your ship in the game is a cloning bay to extend your life if you die. It’s not foolproof, though; if your cloning bay goes down during battle, and someone dies, they have to wait for someone to fix the system so they can be cloned again. But, I wondered, what would happen if the whole crew died at once?

Six Wakes is set on a generation ship. When I read books with similar settings, I thought it was sad that generations (hence the name) of people are born and live and die on a ship for the benefit of the future, knowing they will never set foot on the planet upon which their whole existence is built around. What if the ship had the same crew the whole time, cloned whenever they die, while the rest of the population slept?

My opening scene was the first one I thought of, with the crew all waking up in vats. Usually, in this world, when you wake up in a new cloned body, doctors and lab techs are there to help you out, help you acclimate, and get you clothes – and there certainly weren’t any dead bodies all around you. But our crew all wake up on their own, have to handle their own way out of their vats, and figure out what the hell is up with the gore floating around their heads. Someone has killed them, turned off the gravity drive, and damaged their AI. Time has passed and memories are missing, so each person doesn’t know which of the six was the murderer; they have to suspect even their former self.

So those were the building blocks. Murder clones in space. Or “Murder Clone Space Bastard,” as a friend calls it. I made it my working title.

I worked out the laws governing clones, and then of course looked to see how many of them my characters could break. You see, the crew are all criminals, promised a clean slate and a bit of land at the end of the road if they can get the ship to its destination. Rot as a clone in prison on Earth, or help humanity get to a new planet with a new life at the other end? Pretty clear decision. Worried about the implications of the nature of their crimes being known, the powers that be declared an absolute gag order regarding the clones’ past. Only the AI, the ultimate overseer in case the clones got out of hand, knows what everyone had done.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about the title. When beloved writer Jay Lake was in his last days, he threw himself a wake so that people could come and say good-bye. I loved the idea as a poignant way to celebrate someone’s life when they were still around to appreciate the party. The idea of the living wake stayed with me, and I thought if the clones woke up with their cloning technology smashed, they would fear death for the first time in their lives. It would still be forty to sixty years in the future, but they would have a clear death sentence after living for hundreds of years. The title of Six Wakes is a tribute to Jay’s memory.

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Six Wakes: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s page. Follow her on Twitter.