FIFTY

 

 

FIFTY – a poem

by: Dustin Joy


I hurt my back today, brushing my teeth.

 To tell the truth, it’s not a thing,

I thought a person could do.

The mechanics are obscure.

It certainly never happened when I was

 forty.

Praise be to ibuprofen.

The only lasting injury was to my pride.

 

 

In the cockpit, my handsome

 twenty-three 

year-old co-pilot and my pretty

 twenty-one 

year-old flight attendant share an exuberant laugh. 

I say hello and smile. The laugh dissipates into the ether.

I do the math. Twenty-three plus Twenty-one equals

Forty-four.

They are properly solicitous 

of their old Captain.

They inquire about my day, and my wife, 

and the weather in Santa Fe.

 But they don’t tell me what was

 so funny.

 

 

I stop to to talk to my daughter’s roommate, 

to compliment her editorial 

in the college paper, 

the one about cultural appropriation. 

I sense a kindred spirit, her fight so like

the liberal causes I championed, when I was

twenty 

My brilliant, fierce, and caustic essays beat down apartheid (at least in Galesburg, IL).

But she is late, and on her way to class, 

and distracted by a major crisis, 

involving her Instagram feed.

Respectful and deferential, she holds the door for me as we go out,

as if I was an old man, and not a fellow warrior 

in the battle against injustice. 

 

 

I think I spent too much of my youth being

fifty. 

I followed the rules, I aimed to please, 

I got good grades, and mostly abstained from

fun.

I kept my powder dry, I lay in wait, 

I built a nest egg, and I collected data. 

I awaited the hour when I could use my competence,

my acumen, my knowledge, to awe, to amaze, to impress. 

I would grab the world by the lapels and shake it. 

 

 

And now I am really

fifty, 

with a larder fully stocked 

with wisdom and pertinent experience. 

And now that I am ready it seems that 

the treasure I assiduously cached, a penny at a time,

in the mattress of life, has been the victim of inflation. 

It is a Cabbage Patch Doll after 1985. 

It is a buggy whip in 1930. 

And if you’re not also

fifty 

you don’t even know what that means,

just like I don’t know what LMFAO means. 

I should probably look that up

or stop using it.

 

 

There is little call for what I have accumulated

and it’s value seems to diminish day by day.

I wish I had read Shakespeare again when I was 

thirty 

and heeded Rosalind’s words to Phoebe;

“Sell when you can, you are not for all markets.”

Now I’m 

fifty

and even the god-damned toothbrush

has turned against me.

A Sad Step Backward

  Today the United States Senate, a deliberative body consisting of 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, approved the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme court. Kavanaugh was approved despite the fact that only 39% of Americans in a Gallup poll supported his confirmation. He was approved despite strong evidence that his temperament and political biases make him unsuitable for such an important lifetime appointment. He was approved despite several credible accusations of sexual assault against him. 

The bare majority of senate votes (50/48) which put him over the top obscures the injustice of this process and the undemocratic nature of our government today. 

Americans frequently claim to value democracy. They overwhelmingly support the idea that our government should reflect the beliefs and values of it’s citizens. We are far from that ideal today.

Brett Kavanaugh, when he is sworn in, will become the fourth justice on the U.S. Supreme Court to be nominated by a president who lost the popular vote. These four justices, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and now, Brett Kavanaugh, are all extremely conservative and do not, by any means, represent the beliefs of an American electorate who gave Al Gore 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush in 2000 nor the electorate who gave Hillary Clinton 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016. Indeed, Gorsuch’s seat was effectively stolen from a president who did win a majority of the popular vote (9.6 million vote margin in 2008 and 5 million vote margin in 2012). This unseemly and undemocratic action by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a disgrace. He prevented consideration of President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, for an entire year. 

It is high time that we Americans examined our “democracy” to see if it is, in fact, democratic. Kavanaugh was appointed by a minority president and confirmed by a “minority Senate.” What do I mean by that? Consider the following:

The current U.S. Senate has 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (or independents who caucus with the Democrats). That must mean that Republicans won more votes in the election, right? Sadly, no. In the 2016 Senate elections across the country, Republicans won 40.4 million votes. Democrats won 51.5 million! So, if the U.S. Senate reflected, at all, the will of the American people, there would be 56 Democrats in the Senate and Obama’s Supreme Court Justice, Merrick Garland would be completing his second year on the court. If democracy mattered, President Hillary Clinton’s first nominee would be winning confirmation today by a comfortable margin.

The Senate itself, which confirmed Kavanaugh today, is ridiculously undemocratic. Let me explain. The state of Wyoming has 574,000 residents and 2 U.S. Senators. The state of California has 37,253,956 and, you guessed it, 2 U.S. Senators. That means that each California Senator represents 18.6 million people while each Wyoming Senator represents 287 thousand people. Is a Wyoming resident 64 times more important than a California resident? Is this fair? Is it right that a state with a population smaller than Milwaukee, Wisconsin can provide the votes necessary to put a firebrand conservative on the court against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans? 

Unsatisfied with their unfair advantage in Senate seats and, thus electoral votes, the Republicans have pursued every avenue available to them at the state level to disenfranchise minority voters and thus skew the results further. Their voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting are all thinly veiled attempts to repress Democratic turnout in elections by targeting traditional Democratic constituencies.

All these things have consequences. They make our society less fair. They delegitimize our democracy and the critical institutions of our government. They empower demagogues like Donald Trump. Our archaic electoral college system has now elevated a man to power who has little respect for our democracy or its institutions. He is, as concisely as I can put it, a bad man. He is a profane narcissist. He does not respect women. He does not believe in freedom of the press. He is a bully who empowers bullies. He beats up on the weak instead of protecting them. He enriches himself and his family at the expense of our nation.

He is a tax-cheating, draft-dodging, faux patriot who uses patriotism as a cudgel to beat down his political opponents yet is, somehow, idolized by flag-waving morons who couldn’t name one of their U.S. Senators, let alone a Supreme Court Justice.

He is a three-time philandering, porn star shtupping, prostitute paying, pussy grabbing ridiculer of sex-crime victims. He has somehow hoodwinked the fundamentalist, evangelical Christians in this country. These are the Christians who devoutly study the Bible yet recognize no contradiction between the cruel, violent, hateful, arbitrary God of Leviticus and the loving, kind, protector of the poor and downtrodden upon whose name their religion is built. These so-called “Christians” wouldn’t invite this immoral man over to their house for dinner yet voted for him to be the leader of the free world. They chose him to be America’s example of propriety because they hoped he would punish unwed teenage mothers and homosexuals. 

And… he is a spoiled and coddled New York billionaire who rode in a limousine to school, poops in gold toilets, and built his largely inherited “empire” on strategic bankruptcies which screwed his creditors, contractors, and low-wage employees. Still he somehow manages to get the vote of poor, downtrodden West Virginia coal miners who, if they showed up at Trump Tower, would be quickly and unceremoniously escorted off the property. 

This is where we stand today in our democracy, in our America. And now the “minority” Republicans, who lack any kind of shame or decorum or sense of fairness have elevated Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court for the rest of his life – and he is 53. 

Does it matter, any of this, to the average American? It does! It really does! It matters in real and concrete ways to real people. 

I am reminded today of the Supreme court case Obergefell vs. Hodges. You may not know the case by name. It is better known as the Same-Sex Marriage ruling. It is the ruling which finally offered dignity and respect and the promise of America to gay and lesbian Americans. It was a wonderful and essential bend in what Martin Luther King Jr. called “The arc of the moral universe.”

And Obergfell was decided 5-4 with the conservatives on the wrong side of history and the deciding vote cast by Anthony Kennedy whose humane and logical ruling changed life in this country for a persecuted minority. Today, the “minority” Republicans in the Senate replaced the moderate and sensible Kennedy with another firebrand conservative appointed by a minority president. Obergefell would never have happened today. Homosexuals would still be denied their fundamental civil rights if that case came before the court tomorrow morning. 

It matters! 

In honor of this sad, infamous day I will here re-run the blogpost I made on the day Obergefell was decided, June 26, 2015. The title of this piece was A Step Forward. I hope it will give you pause when you go into the voting booth in a few weeks. I hope it makes you think about our democracy and our America and what Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys have done to it.

 

 

A STEP FORWARD

     Four years ago, when it became legal in Illinois, I had the honor of participating in the ceremony of civil union between my great friend and his long-time partner. My wife, our kids, and a small group of their friends and family assembled at the courthouse on a nice day in July.  It was a lovely day, and it was a lovely and dignified event. As they offered their vows, their little boy stood with them. They exchanged rings and said the words that we all know by heart and we signed papers signifying our witness to the event. 

     And then we went home and they went home and began the commonplace work and extraordinary joy of married life together. They have built a wonderful life in the intervening years, making a home, raising two bright and outgoing boys, advancing their careers, struggling through some serious medical issues, and doing all of those things which my wife and I have done and which all married couples who stay together must do. 

     And I remember thinking as we drove home from the courthouse that day that I could not understand how anyone could object to the thing we had all just been a part of.  I, who want to think the best of people and their motivations, decided that anyone who objected to this ceremony simply did not understand it. Any kind and thoughtful and, yes, Christian, person could not oppose this wonderful thing except through ignorance. 

     We all fear the unknown. We all are apprehensive about things which seem foreign to us. But I am here to tell you, as someone who has seen and participated in this joyful event, that gay marriage is not scary. It is not weird or foreign or disrespectful. It is the most normal thing in the world to want to build a life with the person you love. 

     This is a fundamentally good thing. It is good for families and it is good for children and it is good for our society. It is fair and right to afford the same opportunity for joy (or misery, as a divorced friend reminds me) to gay couples that the rest of us take for granted. And it is, I think, another step in the long march of civilization. It demonstrates that we continue to create a kind and humane society in the United States where dignity is respected and diversity is honored. 

     To all who are afraid of gay marriage I tell you that the earth will not fall out of its orbit because of this. The economy will not crash and our republic will not be brought to its knees. What will happen is that there will be more happiness in the world and more dignity and more understanding.  And, wonderfully, there will be one more group of our friends and neighbors who can happily move from the category “them” into the category “us.” To me, that is what the United States is supposed to be. 

by: Dustin Joy