The Willful Woe

Years ago, there was a movie called The Players Club written and directed by Ice Cube. It followed a woman’s account of her time as a stripper, and while it wasn’t a memorable film on the whole, there was one scene that stuck with me. If you’ve seen the movie, you likely know which scene it is.

First, I want to touch on an earlier scene for context.

Reggie – played by Ice Cube – and his buddy Clyde are at the club with a stripper named Ebony, who they think they can have sex with – either for money or for free. She’s too drunk to stand let alone consent to sex, but they take her out of the club and pull her down the street.

Clyde jokes about “running a train” on her and Reggie tries to quiet him as he doesn’t want to draw attention.

They reach the car and throw Ebony in. Thankfully, Ebony’s cousin, Diamond, shows up and tells Ebony to get out of the car because “Reggie and Clyde will rape her”. Reggie and Clyde protest, remarking that no one is going to get raped, Diamond is stuck-up, etc.

Ebony says it’ll be okay but Diamond won’t relent, so Ebony finally agrees to leave, which upsets Reggie and Clyde. Diamond tells the guys to let Ebony out of the car before she calls the cops. They comply, calling Diamond and Ebony names before driving off.

Ebony mistakingly believed Reggie and Clyde only wanted her to dance for them. Diamond, familiar with their circle – even having been sexually assaulted by their acquaintance, a fellow stripper named Ronnie – knew better.

Here’s that scene if you want a look:

The main scene in question takes place later at a bachelor party being thrown by Ronnie for her brother Junior. Not wanting her friends to strip for the questionable assortment of men, Ronnie tricks Ebony into going, giving her the impression that there will be other strippers too.

When Ebony realizes she’s the only one, she gets worried and calls Diamond to pick her up. Diamond, however, takes her sweet time since they aren’t on great terms by that point.

Meanwhile, Reggie, who is at the party, is still upset that Diamond got in the way of he and Clyde’s “fun” and that Ebony went along with rejecting them, maybe even insulting them at some point we didn’t see, so he decides to get back at them.

While Ebony is alone in the bedroom reluctantly getting ready to strip, Reggie tells Clyde to take Ronnie outside. He then tells Junior to have sex with Ebony, lying about how she’s easy and willing, that he and Clyde ran a train on her, and giving Junior a condom to use.

Convinced, Junior enters the bedroom to find Ebony half naked and scared, clutching her chest. She tells him she’ll be ready to strip outside in a minute, but he remarks that the real party is in there.

Realizing his intentions, Ebony makes it clear that she’s not there to have sex, she’s only there to dance, to which Junior locks the door and replies, “Then let’s dance.”

What follows is a shot of Reggie and the other “men” standing outside the door listening as Junior brutally beats and rapes Ebony. Sickened by what they hear – though not enough to intervene, apparently – the men slowly start to exit.

Unaffected, Reggie eyes the men funneling out of the room as if he doesn’t understand why they’re put off. Ronnie and Clyde return just as they’re exiting and Ronnie asks where Ebony is.

Reggie says, “Ask Junior”, following it with a quote that perfectly punctuates the brutality of the scene. “Oh yeah. Tell Ebony we understand. No do mean no.”

You can watch this scene as well and keep in mind that while it doesn’t show the sexual assault, hearing it may still be upsetting:

By the way, for anyone wondering why I bothered to describe the scenes if I was going to post links to them, it’s because users sometimes take videos down and not everyone will watch them anyway.

Now on to the meat and potatoes of this post.
Why did this scene bother me so much?

Two reasons.

The first is obviously the violent rape, but the second and most important is the fact that Reggie sent Junior in there knowing what would happen all because he was pissed he didn’t get a little ass and his ego was hurt.

Of course, he didn’t know exactly how things would end up. He wasn’t clairvoyant. But he did know Junior was unstable with a history of violence, so it was likely that sicking him on an unwilling female participant in that context would have predictably violent consequences.

You would assume that’s a no-brainer, but there are people out there who somehow think Reggie wasn’t setting Ebony up to get attacked and that he was as unnerved by it as the other men in the room despite being the last to leave and his heartless callback to being cock blocked by referencing that no does mean no.

Regardless, this post isn’t about The Players Club.
It’s about the Trump administration.

I know, I know. You’re like, “Whuuuuut?”

But this is what I do. I tell stories. I draw parallels. And I do that because more often than not, people have difficulty accepting certain information or understanding a certain perspective due to bias specific to that subject.

Changing the subject removes that bias from the equation, allowing people to think more freely and critically – and when you ultimately bring it back to the real matter at hand, they will have hopefully retained a bit of what they learned from the parallel you drew.

So what’s on my mind?

Well – when questionable policies proposed by the Trump administration are announced or when members of the administration say sketchy things that relate back to the direction they’d like the country to go in, it’s become common for people who aren’t keen on Trump to claim that this administration is trying to dismantle America from the inside out.

It’s a pretty bold accusation – that the folks in power are willfully trying to destroy our country. But when you consider the kind of shit that’s happened throughout history on both a domestic and global scale, it isn’t exactly implausible. Moreover, I can see how some concerned Americans would get that impression.

Look at people like Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, and Scott Pruitt – the Secretary of Education, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency respectively.

Not one of them appears to be qualified to hold their position. It could even be argued that they’re the exact opposite of qualified – like appointing a pedophile as the Director of Children’s Safety or making someone who believes there’s nothing in your closet the President of whatever’s in your closet.

And it’s so obvious how mismatched they are – not only in respect to their (lack of) relevant qualifications but also when comparing the intended functions of their departments to their personal opinions and political history – that you can’t help but think their misaligned appointments were intentional.

Because no one in their right mind would think they’re great candidates unless the whole point is for them to be bad ones.

Just like no one in their right mind would send a violent sex offender into a bedroom to sleep with a girl who doesn’t consent unless the whole point is for her to get beaten and raped.

In case that parallel went over your head, one could say that America is Ebony, naked and bare, fearful of its future, desperately clutching its dignity, only to have Trump usher a shitload of Juniors into the room. The only question is why?

We know why Reggie did it.
Why did Trump?

I ask because let’s assume for a moment that those who believe this administration wants to tear our country down are right. That the government is trying to get America to cannibalize itself socially while methodically dismantling the foundations of a thriving nation – healthcare, education, infrastructure, economy, civil rights, environmental safety, et cetera – under the guise of improving those things.

What’s the endgame?

Growing up, I’d look at the villains in movies and comic books whose goal was to destroy the world and I’d think, who the hell wants to rule over a decimated wasteland full of suffering citizens? I’d rather rule over a world that’s powerful and prosperous because I’d be powerful and prosperous by extension. I’d reap all the benefits it sowed.

Then I realized it’s a matter of necessity. Few if any villains enjoy the idea of presiding over a crumbling society. They just recognize that a crumbling society is easier to rule.

People busy fighting for food, fighting for medicine, fighting for shelter, fighting for work, fighting for rights, fighting each other, won’t be fighting their oppressors any time soon. Even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t have the means to do it. Not the resources, not the knowledge, not the strength.

And it’s not like those villains are forced to endure the misery themselves. They don’t live in that wasteland. They don’t even have to look at it if they don’t want to. They always have some fancy fortress or mansion on a hill or walled-in city or some other place cut off from the despair around them. They have their education, their infrastructure, their wealth, their food, their health, their freedom.

Taking those things from everyone else is a small price to pay for control because it isn’t a price they’re paying anyway. It’s the victims footing the bill.

When’s the last time you came across a villain who was fine sacrificing themselves and all of their creature comforts to see their evil done? Someone willing to suffer for their power in the way that some suffer for their art? It’s a red flag, you know. Policies that don’t negatively affect the ones making them.

Maybe the endgame is unchecked authority.
Maybe the endgame is unfettered wealth.
Maybe the endgame is unending war.

Who knows.

Regardless, I understand there are Americans who think the Trump administration is doing a bang up job and I’m not here to argue with them. This post isn’t about them.

It’s about the worry many Americans have that the decisions being made aren’t being made in ignorance. That those in power know exactly what will happen to those who aren’t because they’ve designed it that way.

That the increasing struggles of the middle class and the ever present crushing of the lower aren’t unintended side effects. That the in-fighting and the fear mongering and the division and distractions are strategic.

That making people responsible for government agencies they can only, by nature, ruin, is simply another way to destabilize the power of those agencies while simultaneously abusing it.

And that they’ll continue down this path of cutting off America’s nose to spite its face despite protest from millions of Americans who don’t want to be screwed by the upper crust because our leaders understand no means no.

They just don’t care.

 

 

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Hourglass

I hate politics. Always have.

I’m opinionated to the gills, but there are some things I don’t discuss because I find the discussion fruitless. Not that a subject is only worth visiting if something will come of it. It’s just that I don’t bother with topics I find dull unless it’s going to affect some kind of change I deem significant or of personal value.

Politics never fall under that umbrella.

A lot is happening in the world. A lot is happening in my country. And it seems I’m expected to say something about it. I could argue that I said all I needed to say with my vote, though I suppose that’s too abstract.

I’m sure it can appear out of character that I haven’t gone into great detail about Trump being our president – especially in the wake of the travel ban. Truth is, I had nothing to say. For all the judgments I make, there are infinitely more I don’t. Some things, I let speak for themselves.

It’s like watching a friend who doesn’t know the first thing about skateboarding climb onto a high ramp with a steep angle, insisting that they’re going to skate down in a fiery blaze, launch themselves majestically from the ramp with the wind at their back, flip the board, and land safely on an overturned trash can twenty feet away.

It’s an accident waiting to happen.
So was the election.

The difference is that in the case of an election, we’re given the appearance of power over the outcome. We’re given the chance, by vote, to express not only our values, but our concerns in a way that supposedly has a tangible effect on the governance of our nation.

But I’ve always understood that you aren’t voting for an outcome. You’re voting for potential. People stand before you and tout what they’ll do, but what they say has no bearing on what’s actually going to happen and the choices they’re actually going to make.

So it’s a gamble. When we vote, we’re essentially placing a bet that the person we want to see in office will get there and do great things or, at the very least, be better for us than the alternatives. Hope is what we vote for. Nothing more.

On July 19th, 2016, I tweeted the following:

Why cringe at this election? Our culture is getting exactly what it’s allowed. Folks are just mad our general foolishness made it upstairs.

To be shocked by the fact that Trump was running for president, and gaining support in spite of the opinions he voiced or the way he conducted himself, was to be shocked that America is America. The election, for me, was a reflection of ourselves and our shortcomings.

Nothing shocks me about what our society has become or what it’s arguably always been in one form or another. Every country has its flaws and historical baggage. We’re no better or worse than anyone except in our potential to be better than we are.

We have so much knowledge. We’re privileged and prosper in ways that are out of reach for much of the globe. We have the benefit of worldly exposure and unmatched diversity, and the lessons that our freedoms teach us, as much by being given as by being taken away.

As a nation, we can and should know better – whatever better there is to know – yet we fail each other and ourselves again and again.

We divide ourselves over things that amount to dust in the vastness of the universe and the shortness of our lives in spite of that division yielding nothing productive or good. We’re weak when we need to be strong, giving in to prejudice, giving in to ego, giving in to stupor, hatred or spite.

We’re petty because we can be and we’re entertained by drama. We instigate shit out of boredom and are distasteful out of trendy habit.

We chase everything harder than we chase bettering ourselves on the inside – including looking better on the outside – because being a better person requires too much effort and doesn’t sow enough external rewards.

We talk about how shameful it is that XYZ is still a problem in [current year] without taking it to heart that our progressive ideas were hashed and rehashed by brilliant, divergent minds throughout history.

We ignore the fact that people were saying this shouldn’t be a problem today when “today” was a thousand years ago, and we’ve still yet to achieve peace.

I don’t care to attribute it to some divine plan. I’d rather say it’s for the simplest of reasons: Some people are just too shitty for peace to prevail.

There will always be a percentage of the population that’s happiest when others are miserable, there will always be those who put their wants above other people’s needs, and there will always be those who prefer the suffering of others over what they perceive to be the compromising of themselves or their values. It’s human nature.

(It just comes more naturally to some than others.)

The best we can ask for is that the good ones outnumber the shitty ones from time to time – and many Americans were devastated when Trump won because it felt like undeniable proof that the good ones are in the minority.

I don’t believe that.

In spite of being painfully aware of our shortfalls and guessing that Trump was going to win because of them, I still believe most Americans would let go of the crap that drives us apart if it meant a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

Things just haven’t gotten bad enough for them to concede. People are still comfortable enough to be dicks about race, religion, and the like. We’re lucky that way. And the rest don’t know how to make things better, so they’re grasping at straws.

Back to the accident waiting to happen, I said nothing because I considered the outcome inevitable. Whether I said my piece or not, people were going to vote for Trump – lots of them – and nothing I had to say about it would have been any different from the things already being said.

In short, I was over it before it started, but people still wanted to hear my thoughts, so I figured I’d give them now for the new year and be done with it…

A lot of Trump supporters felt that the people vilifying him were just melodramatic liberals too blinded by some politically correct agenda to recognize him as the most rational choice. And a lot of anti-Trumps felt his supporters were a bunch of dumb backwater bigots who praised his unethical ideology.

I didn’t fall on either side of that fence and it goes back to what I said about elections being a gamble. There’s no sure thing. No candidate is guaranteed to be a good president or bad.

And as much as people think that being well-versed in the positions put forth by each candidate makes them more suitable to vote than someone who knows very little about their stance or the acts they’ve committed in the past, an educated guess is still a guess.

So I could muddy the water with a bunch of political mumbo jumbo, but none of that is necessary or even relevant. When asked to place my faith in one person or another, I’m always going to bet on the one who puts humanity first – or, in this case, not pick the one who unapologetically sets it aside.

Regardless of their position on things like healthcare, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, business, and foreign policy, the president is going to be put in situations every day where difficult choices have to be made, and I care about how they’ll make them.

Even if I disagree with their decisions, I want to know that the human part of that equation wasn’t taken lightly or steeped in a fundamentally negative bias.

Someone of the character to care about human beings as a single unit will take that perspective into consideration with each choice and conflict they face. That’s far more important to me than trying to weigh promises candidates aren’t even obligated to keep.

Once we the people were on the table and the question of how laws and efforts would affect us required its due, I felt that Trump would lead with a self-serving prejudice and frame his decisions within the confines of that prejudice, creating a very narrow path for this country to walk. I felt he would lack the care and finesse of a thoughtful leader in favor of being impetuous.

Moreover, I felt he would act in accordance with the worst parts of his nature – the parts that many Americans shared quietly, yet emboldened in him – though without the characteristics of leadership required to temper it.

Long story short, I didn’t trust Trump as a person, so I damn sure didn’t vote for him as a president.

It’s that simple.

I know many boiled the election down to voting for an asshole who was at least honest about it versus voting for a liar, but I’m of the mindset that all leaders lie, whether to protect the people or themselves. So I can vote for a liar if need be because I suffer no delusion that an honest person has ever taken office or left it.

But I can’t vote for someone I want to slap every time he opens his mouth on principle because he acts against the good of the people in favor of the good of himself and his class.

At any rate, the fact remains that some people did vote for Trump, and I don’t hate them for it. Yes, some of them are dicks and used Trump’s campaign as a platform for their ignorance, but I think most of them were regular people who felt they were voting for change.

Just like those who voted for Obama.

I don’t care what anyone says. People didn’t vote for Obama because he was (half) black. Not directly. They voted for him because he was something other than what they had, and in that, they saw the potential for things to be different.

Change is a powerful temptress – one that many Americans felt compelled to court. Unfortunately, I think the change Trump supporters were hoping for may come at a price they hadn’t considered. Everything happening now is merely a glimpse at the fox they put in the hen house. There will be more.

But maybe that’s exactly what we needed. Seeing so many of his supporters recant, this may be their wake-up call, just as Trump’s win was a wake-up call for the naive who thought it could never have happened.

Maybe as things decline further and Trump voters become increasingly disillusioned, their regret for having played a part in putting him in office will prompt them to revisit their priorities.

Maybe they’ll reexamine themselves to figure out why on Earth they thought voting for someone generally presumed to be a greedy, racist, sexist, homophobic narcissist who cares only about the rich and powerful would make our country better.

And maybe their desire to make up for the vote they cast will encourage them to come together with fellow Americans in a way they haven’t before, working harder to undo what was done as a nation. To that end, looking back, on November 9th, I tweeted this:

Don’t let the outcome of this election be your defining moment. Accomplish as human beings what we may have failed to accomplish as voters.

And that’s where my opinion rests.

Trump may be our president, but he doesn’t have to be our voice. We still choose who we want to be as individuals and that’s what shapes who we are as a country. We can show each other and the world the America that we want to live in and be known for by pushing for something greater than numbers on a page.

Not to sound like the oracle on the hill, but be wary of things to come, because this climate has the potential to tear us apart from the inside out. This is how empires fall. Don’t sit back and watch it happen. Be better people. You, me, everyone.

Be better.
Not eventually.
Now.