Good Trouble & Bad

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Capt. Ahab confronted by naked white Athena in Portland retreats


“I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.” —Rep. John Robert Lewis (February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020)


I’m often stopped on the street by people wanting to know what’s going on in town and I invariably hand them a copy of this newspaper and tell them to get off of social media and read something.  Almost as frequently they end with a salutation of, “Stay out of trouble.” To which I reply, “What fun would that be?” Meaning the same kind of “good trouble” our hero John Lewis was talking about.

Lewis was arrested more than 40 times during the 1960s for his civil rights work. His heroism is reminiscent of a former resident of San Pedro, union organizer Pat Chambers, who held the distinction of getting arrested 80 times in one month during the 1933 cotton strikes in the San Joaquin Valley. Noted historian Kenneth Starr documented this struggle in histories of California, called Americans and the California Dream.

So there’s good trouble and bad. But what we are seeing across America today is a new generation of activists engaging in good trouble! And I admire their tenacity in the fight against injustice and mostly non-violent protests in the interest of causing good trouble.

Sure, there’re a few extremists in every crowd but not like there was during the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War days, but then much of that was caused by instigators who were paid to infiltrate leftist groups and start the bad trouble to discredit the movement. This shouldn’t be dismissed as a possibility in today’s troubles. Caution is advised in the reporting on all of this as it becomes clear that the man who is running to remain president has been known to lie, cheat and otherwise abuse his power of his office to keep everything confused. Truth is a rare commodity these days.

So for these past months, like many of you, I’ve been trying to find a precedent for the times we are living in. And I first thought that Donald Trump is most like Caligula Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; the third emperor of Rome. In the first six months of his rule he was described by historians as a noble and moderate ruler. Today he is only remembered for his cruelty, sadism, extravagance and sexual perversions — an insane tyrant. Historians have described Caligula as working to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor, as opposed to countervailing powers within the state –– sounds like a close match but I’m not sure.

Sometimes I even think that what we are witnessing is some perverted version of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Though it seems apparent that Trump is starting to lose his grip on “his kingdom” and his own mind, it is doubtful he would ever step down and bequeath his reign to his daughter.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Trump’s rule is an American saga that mirrors Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  The protagonist Captain Ahab, not unlike Trump, is obsessed with a monster that has injured him and he sets off to get even with the great white leviathan, Moby Dick. Now most of this tale is about hunting whales and yet the truth is it’s about a deeply flawed man doing battle with nature or God and himself.  He is willing to sacrifice his crew, his ship and ultimately himself to kill the very beast that has done him wrong. In the end he accomplishes it all.  And he leaves just one lone survivor floating on a wooden coffin to be rescued. It’s a powerful metaphor.

Is Trump’s great white whale American racism or is it the very republic that he so erratically criticizes even while commanding it chaotically? And is he willing to wreck the ship of state to attain these very same ends out of some invisible vengeance? Perhaps his niece’s book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man will reveal more of his psychosis. All I can tell you is that he — with all his cruelty, lies, extravagance and sexual perversions — was confronted this week. Trump’s assembled hodgepodge of federal law enforcement officers in Portland, Ore., were confronted not by a great white whale on July 17 as they defended the federal courthouse against Black Lives Matter protests, but by the singular image of a completely naked (except for a mask) white female.

And as reported in the Willamette Week she danced, posed and then sat down with legs spread as the federal agents continued firing rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets — missing her.  And then they simply stopped and retreated. These well-armed officers just weren’t up to shooting, nor arresting, a naked white woman. No one knows her name for sure but she has been dubbed “Athena” by social media. In Greek mythology Athena’s strengths are rational, intelligent, a powerful defender in war but also a potent peacemaker.

To some this conjures up the iconic picture of a lone Chinese man standing down a tank at the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. A singular act of courage against the odds.

The following day, dozens of mothers wearing white and helmets attended. They stood arm-in-arm with each other, forming a barrier between federal agents and demonstrators. The gathering came after a report that unidentified federal officers from unknown agencies have been driving around and renditioning suspects off the streets like we’ve seen in the past in Pinchot’s dictatorship in Chile. The groups of mothers are called the “Wall of Moms.”

They along with the naked Athena and others have gotten into some good trouble as Captain Ahab DJT steers the Pequod ship of state ever closer to the brink of disaster and into bad trouble for the nation. 

On second thought perhaps Trump is also his own manifestation of Moby Dick himself and what we are witnessing is his delusional battle with his own demons –– on this point I defer to his psychologist niece Mary Trump.

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