GELFAND’S WORLD--When presidential candidate John Kerry famously said, "First I voted for it, then I voted against it," the Republicans grabbed the quote and ran with it. The term flip-flop became embedded in our language to imply a particularly unacceptable form of political action. With the current president, the verbal flip-flop is a way of life.
One evening this week, the Trump administration announced that General Michael Flynn had resigned as National Security Advisor because of a problem of trust. (By that point, the whole world had been told that Flynn had openly lied to the Vice President.) In an amount of time approximating the interval required to cool your soup, the president turned around and blamed Flynn's political demise on the press. They treated him unfairly, etc. etc. said Trump.
Trump makes Richard Nixon look like a professor of logic.
Did Michael Flynn freelance, going out on his own to create a back channel with the Russian government, or was he doing Trump's bidding all along? Is it just happenstance that so many of Trump's inner circle have had close ties -- paid work, in other words -- with Putin's government? Anyone remember Paul Manafort?
So which is it? Was Trump in the loop or not? I don't think this is a really difficult question.
There is a growing movement within the center and the moderate left to push for continuing investigations of the ties between Trump and the Russians, although some of it is couched as calls for investigations of Flynn while some is more direct. What's interesting is that some solid conservatives are curious enough to be speaking out, John McCain among others. Perhaps this is one way for McCain to do a little getting even with the man who insulted him so profoundly. Or perhaps McCain is just doing what he sees as his patriotic duty.
Whichever way it is for McCain and the other few (as yet) Republicans in congress who will push the question, it is inevitable that the subject will be kept alive by opinion leaders including the news media. We can expect the same from presumptive candidates for office and pretty much from every living Democrat. If you see a Democrat who is not already complaining, check to see if there is a pulse.
The Trump administration will continue doing its best to cover things up, but the first month shows how difficult that is going to be. The fact that Flynn's phone conversation with the Russian ambassador has become public knowledge was, not to put it too dramatically, just the beginning. Did Trump know about Flynn's conduct or not? It's pretty much that simple. A prediction: It will eventually come out that Trump knew about Flynn's activities, and things will accumulate from there.
If you'd like a fairly comprehensive view of the links between Trump and the Russians, take a look at Steven Harper's chronicle posted on Bill Moyers' site.
Thinking about things other than politics
I like to write about local theater companies in the harbor area. One of the best was known as the Theatrum Elysium. They moved out of their 7th Street quarters last year and more or less fell off the radar. Except that they didn't, at least to local movers and shakers. The original company is now resurrected as the Elysium Conservatory Theatre, and it is enjoying glorious new digs in the space that used to be Ante's Restaurant, once a legendary San Pedro center for conversation, drinks, and mostaccioli. Now the old restaurant space holds a newly enlarged company of actors, both youngsters and seasoned veterans.
Company director Aaron Ganz likes to lead with Shakespearean heavyweights. The previous 7th Street location opened with Hamlet. This year's season leads off with Romeo and Juliet on March 31.
I'm treating this as a story about the creation of art by an organization through its newly enabled recreation of itself as an artistic fount.
So what's new with the ECT? In other words, what's in store for Romeo and Juliet that hasn't been done a thousand times before? And we might even ask, why is it necessary to do anything different when the original is a pillar of western culture?
I can't argue that there should be anything new or novel -- or that there shouldn't be. Shakespeare has been performed by companies that transform the era, the venue, the surroundings, or all of the above, and it generally has not been a hindrance as long as the language is preserved. Shakespeare is also performed in its original trappings to wondrous effect.
So what is the deal with a new Romeo and Juliet that may be worth a trip down the Harbor Freeway? Aaron has some ideas of his own that are worth pondering. His theatrical style has been expanding to the exploration of the use of choral voices along with dance to interpret and communicate the undertones of the great works. The idea isn't all that new actually, going back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. But it's rewarding to watch the development of a new score to accompany something like Romeo and Juliet.
This is, in fact, operatic, as Aaron himself comments. In opera (and for the last century, in film) the musical score accentuates what is happening inside of the characters' heads, sometimes communicating an inner emotion when the character's outward expression is more controlled. You might say that the actor's voice and the musical score harmonize with each other in the emotional sense. Wagner even used musical phrases (leitmotif's) to carry on a musical dialog that could be entirely apart from the thoughts and words of the singers.
So far in early rehearsals, we are seeing the development of a choral piece that accompanies the scene in which Romeo kills Tybalt. It's been interesting watching and listening to the music director as he brings the actors to express grief, pleading, and vengeance using only four or five notes, but coached to bring varying intonations and volume, sometimes at an enormous level. It was also fascinating to watch the dance director bringing together a group of young Shakespeareans to communicate the moods of the play using moves varying from classical to hip-hop.
I'll be continuing to follow the creation of this production over the next month as a study on the process of creativity.
My previous piece here in CityWatch, in which I predicted that the American Republic would survive the Trump administration, provoked a couple of serious comments.
One pointed out that the judiciary in 1930s Germany was not ultimately able to resist Hitler, even though it tried mightily for as long as it could. I was aware of this history in a general sense, but thank the commenter for stating it more clearly. The substance of my argument was (and remains) my judgment that acceptance of the role of the judiciary is strongly embedded in American culture.
In brief, the decision of a single federal judge in the state of Washington prevented the execution of a presidential order, at least for the time being and the American people in general understood that this is our way. I did not pursue the argument further to point out that Anglo-American law -- and therefore the culture of our two realms -- includes a strong element of common law. That is to say, we frame many of our social and economic arguments in terms of legal questions, and from those questions our system creates precedents.
It's hard for us as Americans to imagine the system being different, but it is significantly different in other parts of the world including Europe. The American people accepted that the Supreme Court had the authority to judge the Constitutional validity of the Affordable Care Act. Many of us worried about the outcome, but we didn't directly challenge the balance of power. Even when 1960s era segregationists disagreed hotly with Supreme Court decisions, their demand was that the Chief Justice be impeached, a legally defined remedy under the written Constitution.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])