No Right to Be Here

Desiderata – “desired things” in Latin – is the notion behind Les Crane’s 1971 spoken-word recording Desiderata – “You are a child of the universe… You have a right to be here.” That was the chorus, matched with soothing smug slowly-spoken advice on how to live. The recording was quite popular – it won a Grammy – and it was cloying and really irritating. The best response was Deteriorata – the 1972 parody was written by Tony Hendra for National Lampoon. Melissa Manchester sang the chorus. Les Crane himself admitted he preferred the parody version. Tony Hendra had nailed it:

You are a fluke
Of the universe.
You have no right to be here.
And whether you can hear it or not
The universe is laughing behind your back…

Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls
Would scarcely get your feet wet…

And reflect that whatever misfortune may be your lot
It could only be worse in Milwaukee.

That’s how most people were feeling. The world had been spinning out of control for years. Individual action was going to change nothing. Collective action was going to change nothing. No one had the power to change anything. You didn’t matter. The universe was laughing at you behind your back, and the world was a mess. Nixon visited China and then flew off to California and Gerald Ford became president. His job was to clean up the mess, which was impossible. The top hit of the year was “American Pie” – say goodbye to all that was cool. “All in the Family” was the top television show – the lovable ignorant bigot shouts at his smug liberal son-in-law and nothing changes. What else? Palestinian terrorists – members of the Black September Organization – attacked the Israeli team at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Two Israelis were murdered. Nine were taken hostage. The hostages were killed when German troops tried to capture the terrorists at the Munich Airport. That was a preview of things to come. Things were bad, but at least it was comforting that you weren’t in Milwaukee – unless you were.

Nothing much has changed. This time around, those who had felt that the universe was laughing at them behind their backs, telling them they had no right to be here – because machines or Asians could do their jobs better and faster and cheaper, or because they weren’t black or brown or gay or cool, or because they liked NASCAR and hated cities and fancy-pants experts – lined up behind Donald Trump. They told everyone else THEY had no right to be here. That was Trump’s message too – sit down and shut up or get out – and stand for the National Anthem too. Those who were appalled by Trump now feel that the universe is laughing at them behind THEIR backs. Donald Trump is the president. They cannot do anything about that at the moment. They’re the flukes of the universe now.

An item in the New York Times reports on how that has played out in popular culture:

On the morning after the 2016 election, a group of nearly a dozen ABC executives gathered at their Burbank, Calif., headquarters to determine what Donald J. Trump’s victory meant for the network’s future.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s a lot about this country we need to learn a lot more about, here on the coasts,'” Ben Sherwood, the president of Disney and ABC’s television group, said in an interview.

They began asking themselves which audiences they were not serving well and what they could do to better live up to the company name – the American Broadcasting Company. By the meeting’s end, they had in place the beginnings of a revised strategy that led the network to reboot a past hit centered on a struggling Midwestern family, a show that had a chance to appeal to the voters who had helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.

On Tuesday night, the strategy proved more successful than the executives had hoped: “Roseanne” premiered to the highest ratings for any network sitcom in almost four years.

That worked:

The show’s approach to sociopolitical issues – its star and co-creator, Roseanne Barr, plays an unabashed Trump supporter who spars with her liberal sister, played by Laurie Metcalf – especially reverberated among heartland viewers. The top markets for the debut read like a political pollster’s red-state checklist: Cincinnati; Kansas City, Mo.; Tulsa, Okla. Liberal enclaves like New York and Los Angeles did not crack the top 20…

By Thursday, this dusted-off sitcom centered on a highly opinionated matriarch had become a flash point in the nation’s culture wars. It had also spurred a cathartic response from many conservatives, who counted its opening-night success as their own.

Among those celebrating was President Trump, who called Ms. Barr to congratulate her on the “huge” ratings. On Thursday, he gave a shout-out to the Emmy-winning star during a rally in Ohio.

“Look at Roseanne! Look at her ratings!” President Trump told the crowd of union workers, adding: “They were unbelievable! Over 18 million people! And it was about us!”

Perhaps so, or perhaps not:

As a topical, working-class sitcom led by a Trump supporter, “Roseanne” is unique – for now. Its early ratings success is likely to spur copycats in Hollywood, which is not known for its high percentage of conservatives.

“Money is the ideology of Hollywood,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center for media and society at the University of Southern California. “I can’t imagine an executive who would turn down something for ideological reasons that they think has a chance to do a good number.”

It’s all about the numbers, unless there is more:

President Trump made a phone call Wednesday to “Roseanne” star Roseanne Barr to congratulate her on the high ratings for the return sitcom’s reboot on ABC, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed to The New York Times…

Trump was reportedly “enthralled” with “Roseanne’s” TV ratings and was likely also impressed with the content. “Roseanne” depicts a working class family in the Midwest, and speaks to the kind of people who support Trump.

Fox News was also impressed. Sean Hannity tweeted “the ‘Proud Deplorable’ smashes expectations” Wednesday.

In the first episode that aired, Roseanne is a Trump supporter and hasn’t been on speaking terms with her Hillary-supporting sister Jackie (Oscar nominee Laurie Metcalf of “Lady Bird”) since the election. Things have gotten so bad that Roseanne pretends Jackie has died.

That’s depicted as a reasonable response to America’s new divide – her sister really should be dead to her, given her sister’s politics – her sister has no right to be here – and that’s that:

Barr has publicly defended Trump in real life, just as she has on screen. In an interview with the Times on Tuesday, Barr said she decided to make her character on “Roseanne” a Trump supporter because she thought it would be an “accurate portrayal” of working-class Americans.

On “Good Morning America” Thursday morning, Barr referenced her conversations with Trump: “We just kind of had a private conversation but we talked about a lot of things and he’s just happy for me.”

Barr also acknowledged their mutual interest in ratings. “He really understands ratings and how they measure things, and that’s kind of been an interest of mine too,” she said.

Things have been measured. The results are in. Some have no right to be here, and this seems, now, a bit worse than it has ever been, but that may not be so.

This has been building up for fifty years, at least that’s what Brian Rosenwald contends, and he makes that exactly fifty years:

On Sunday, March 31, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson stunned Americans by announcing that he would not run for another term. Johnson had accumulated landmark achievements, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts. But his political fate was sealed by a surge in crime, multiple summers of urban riots and a deeply divisive quagmire of a war. Vietnam not only starved his beloved Great Society of federal money – it also fueled a credibility gap that eroded Americans’ faith in government, souring voters on liberal activist policies for more than a generation. Without trust in government, Americans weren’t interested in big new social programs.

So trust in government was over, and then there was this:

Four days later, an assassin’s bullet felled Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. In Indianapolis that night, a stirring speech from presidential candidate Robert Kennedy may have prevented the city from exploding in riots. Two months later, though, Kennedy too would be dead, assassinated like his brother and King. The murders dashed the hopefulness that figures like King and the Kennedys had stirred earlier in the decade.

So hope was gone:

In more than 100 other cities, riots did erupt after King’s assassination, an expression of the frustration and fury felt by many Americans who lived in squalid ghettos with minimal opportunities, thanks to institutional racism and government policies that discriminated against African Americans. For others, however, the riots reinforced the sense that the country was spinning out of control and that only a heavy hand toward rioters, demonstrators and criminals – no more attempts to address their grievances – would restore peace and prosperity.

So no one would agree ever again:

To many inner-city African Americans and their allies, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Acts and the Fair Housing Act, which would become law a week after King’s assassination, didn’t go far enough to fight the effects of centuries of pervasive racism. Yet many white Americans – conservatives and liberals alike – felt that the wrongs of segregation had been corrected, and they had little desire to sacrifice to enact further remedies.

Rosenwald traces this back to one year – 1968 – the tipping point – but this is here and now. No leaders are being shot these days. This year’s divides are less dramatic and more specific:

A former Fox News contributor is accusing the network of deliberately keeping him away from segments on Russia because he wouldn’t unconditionally support President Trump.

Retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, who left Fox News as a contributor with a fiery resignation letter earlier this month, made the new claims in an op-ed for The Washington Post on Friday.

He asserted that the network “preaches paranoia, attacking processes and institutions vital to our republic and challenging the rule of law.”

Peters said that he remained with the network despite his concerns over its coverage because he “rationalized that I could make a difference by remaining at Fox and speaking honestly.”

“I was wrong,” he added.

And he is ticked off:

Peters wrote that he was not invited on segments about Russia despite being “the one person on the Fox payroll who, trained in Russian studies and the Russian language, had been face to face with Russian intelligence officers in the Kremlin and in far-flung provinces.”

“Listening to political hacks with no knowledge of things Russian tell the vast Fox audience that the special counsel’s investigation was a ‘witch hunt,’ while I could not respond, became too much to bear. There is indeed a witch hunt, and it’s led by Fox against [special counsel] Robert Mueller,” he wrote.

And there’s this:

Peters in the op-ed also ripped Fox for its “assault on our intelligence community,” targeting network host Lou Dobbs specifically.

“With my Soviet-studies background, the cult of Trump unnerves me. For our society’s health, no one, not even a president, can be above criticism – or the law,” Peters said.

This may come up in a future episode of Roseanne, as may this:

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham announced Friday she would be taking a vacation the next week to celebrate Easter with her family as advertisers have dropped her show after she criticized a Parkland school shooting survivor. Her supporters have launched the hashtag #IStandWithLaura.

In April 2017, embroiled in an advertiser boycott, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly announced he would be taking vacation for Easter. He was later fired by the network.

Someone may have no right to be here:

Eleven companies so far have withdrawn their ads from Ingraham’s Fox News program after she feuded with a survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting over Twitter. The Atlantis, Paradise Island resort; Office Depot, Jenny Craig, Hulu, Nutrish, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Wayfair, StitchFix, Nestlé and Johnson & Johnson said they would pull ads from the show.

Ingraham on Wednesday posted a mocking tweet of high school senior David Hogg, taunting him for not getting into some colleges he had applied to. In response, Hogg tweeted a list of advertisers on Ingraham’s show and called on followers to contact them.

There was no way to resolve this:

Ingraham apologized in a tweet the following day, citing “the spirit of Holy Week,” and invited Hogg to appear on her show.

Hogg dismissed her statement. “She only apologized after we went after her advertisers,” he told the New York Times. Ingraham has stayed silent since her tweet on Thursday.

Ingraham fans took to social media to call for boycotts of the companies that moved to pull their ads…

Imagine the talk at ABC in Burbank – book Laura Ingraham – write her into an episode as a hero. The studio audience will cheer – unless they film without an audience. Then add a cheering track. David Hogg is a fluke of the universe. He has no right to be here.

The management at ABC in Burbank might want to hold off on that. There are those key demographics, the next coming wave of consumers:

A majority of young people believe President Donald Trump is racist, dishonest and “mentally unfit” for office, according to a new survey that finds the nation’s youngest potential voters are more concerned about the Republican’s performance in the White House than older Americans.

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV found that just 33 percent of Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 approve of Trump’s job performance.

That’s 9 points lower than all adults, who were asked the same question on a separate AP-NORC survey taken this month.

It seems that some see Trump as the fluke here:

“Trump doesn’t care about us,” said 27-year-old Nicole Martin, an African-American graduate student in Missoula, Montana. “I’m not going to say he’s unfit like he has schizophrenia. I do kind of think he’s twisted in the head. He just comes off as disgusting to me.”

That’s a problem:

The survey is the first in a series of polls designed to highlight the voices of the youngest generation of voters. The respondents, all of whom will be old enough to vote when Trump seeks re-election in 2020, represent the most diverse generation in American history. They would occupy the largest share of the electorate – if they vote at the same rate as older Americans.

They usually don’t vote at the same rate as older Americans, but they might, if Trump gets any more disgusting, which they seem to see as likely:

There is widespread agreement among young people about Trump, with more than 7 in 10 saying he “doesn’t reflect my personal values.”

“He doesn’t seem to be really for women. He doesn’t seem to be for Black Lives Matter. He doesn’t seem to be for DACA,” said Meghan Carnes, 23, of New York City, referring to a program to allow young immigrants to stay in this country. “He doesn’t seem to be for the kids worried about guns. It’s extremely disappointing to have a president who doesn’t seem to care.”

And there’s this:

The new poll finds that 60 percent describe Trump as “mentally unfit,” 62 percent call him “generally dishonest,” and 63 percent say he “is a racist.” In a mid-February AP-NORC poll, 57 percent of all adults in the U.S. said they believe Trump is racist.

Okay, the majority of Americans think he’s a racist. The kids aren’t alone there. It’s just that those who love the new Roseanne show are glad he’s a racist. At least he’s honest. Everyone is a racist, right?

Perhaps so, but some young people aren’t glad:

Spencer Buettgenbach, 23, of Topeka, Kansas, said the Republican president has emboldened attitudes about racism, sexism and homophobia by “normalizing abusive talk.”

“Especially living in Kansas – for me as a gay man – it’s kind of scary,” he said. “He’s like the world’s worst boogeyman.”

Buettgenbach is fighting for his right to be here. Everyone is, as everyone has always been. It just that, now, Americans are even more explicit in how they say that. They’re cruel, they’re nasty, but then a walk through the ocean of most souls would scarcely get your feet wet. Let it go, and remember, whatever misfortune may be your lot, it could only be worse in Milwaukee. But that’s probably not true. It’s bad enough everywhere.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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