You Can Be a Republican or You Can Be a Patriot, But You Can’t Be Both

This is not going to be a well written post.  It’s a moment in history and I wanted to catch it, like lightning in a bottle.

All weekend, the media told us to expect the first charges to be filed in the Trump Collusion with Russia case, so we speculated.  On Saturday, I volunteered some time for the Boys & Girls Club, and nobody mentioned Bob Mueller, but I kept thinking about him.  These days, I think of him as our savior, the one who can bring back honesty in government.  He’s the guy who can make public officials afraid of getting caught.

My mother left a voicemail message for me.

Trump 1d

“Who do you think it will be?”

I called her back.

“It could be Paul Manafort, but this woman on television said probably no, so I don’t know.  This article in the Daily Beast said it might be Trump, but it was a longshot.  They usually start at the lowest levels and work their way up.  Anybody who doesn’t cooperate, they charge.”

I’ve been calling my congressman Ed Royce’s office nearly every day for months now.  The crooked interns who answer the phone (they have to be crooked to continue working for a Republican at this point) know my voice.  They don’t even ask for my address anymore.  Sometimes, my phone calls are more biting than at other times, but they’re always civil and never use cursing.

Trump 1b

“You can be a Republican or you can be a patriot,” I once said, “but you can’t be both.”

Most of the time, though, I mention a specific issue.  Dana Rohrabacher must not head up a subcommittee because he’s being investigated.  Firing James Comey is an impeachable offense.  Don’t you dare take away my Obamacare.  If I mention a specific issue, it gets tallied and counted.  If I just rant, it doesn’t count for as much.

When I think about Trump, I also think about my few friends who remain with the president.  Like Tom, who’s a smart guy, but for some reason, buys all that right-wing crap.  I try to talk to him about it, but he always brings up something he heard on Fox News that I can’t immediately refute.  Then I go off and look it up and what he’s been told is bullshit.  It’s amazing that the Republicans can fool so many smart people, but it owes something to other issues, too.  They support Trump because they hate abortion, or because they hate homosexuality, or because they want to keep their guns.

Finally, the weekend ended.  At midnight on Sunday, I went to sleep thinking, “We’ll get an answer tomorrow.”  And this morning when I awoke, there was a barrage of news stories from the East Coast, 440,000 results on Google News for the term Manafort.  Turns out that Paul Manafort had been charged with laundering $18 million.  He had earned the money in the Ukraine (from Russian fronts), funneled it down to Cyprus (a common money-laundering center), and then not reported it to his tax preparers.  Just like Al Capone, they’re getting this guy on his tax omissions.

They had also charged another campaign official, George Papadopoulous, somebody we’d never heard of, for making false statements to the FBI about receiving information from Russia about Hillary Clinton’s emails.  He’s part of a cast of previously unknown characters that will now become household names, like John Dean, Chuck Colson, and Jeb Magruder back in the 1970s.  Their lives were ruined, and rightly so.  This new crop deserves ruined lives, as well.

I called my mother.  A disdain of the Trump swamp is what Mom and I have in common these days.  It helps our relationship.  She mentions Hitler a lot.  I mention Stalin and Mao.  We chatted for a while about the details, and then I said something that I will remember forever.

“It’s finally starting,” I said.

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The Sigh That Killed Him

I have drawn liberally from history to construct my novels.  History is the blessing and the curse that has been handed down through the ages to novelists such as myself.

It is a blessing because it informs us of all the multitudinous permutations that the human experience can take: wars, love affairs, marriages, deaths, whatever.

It is a curse because there is so much of it to read.

In writing about my 100-year-old Russian emigree Anja, for example, I read five history books on Russia.  My novel is mainly a spiritual journey of one young American woman, but along the way, she meets Anja, and I wanted it to ring true, so I started absorbing the literature.  In choosing books, I focused mostly on Stalin’s Great Terror of the 1930s, which Anja lived through, although just barely.

It was a time when Stalin was consolidating his power by killing his enemies.  Millions were imprisoned and sent to Siberia for slight or nonexistent crimes.  Others were tortured and forced to confess to crimes they never even remotely committed.  It is estimated that Stalin killed over 20 million of his own people, mostly for nonexistent conspiracies.

One anecdote in particular stopped me cold (The Sword and the Shield, p. 77).  It concerned a diplomat in Paris named Albam.  In the Russian Embassy where he worked, his officemates discussed the trial of 16 Russians then going on in Moscow.  All they had done was support Trotsky when he was in power, but now, he was out of power.  During the conversation, Albam retreated into a deep silence.  Later, when Albam read in the newspaper about their execution, he sighed.

That subversive sigh helped to convict Albam and 13 of his colleagues of capital crimes.  His wife ended up denouncing him to the authorities, trying desperately to save her own skin.

I could not let that historical footnote be lost to history, so I expropriated it for my own novel:

“How do I explain?  It was like when I was young and married with child.  Husband living in Oslo under an assumed name.  In the homeland, we were all waiting for a knock at the door.  One day in October, they knocked on thirty doors and took away all the men in the village.  Every one tried and shot.  You could hear the gunshots from outside the prison walls.  They lined them up two deep to save on bullets.  Dropped them in a hole in the ground and covered them with lime.  Prison was on a bluff above a river.  Sixty years later in a big rain, that bluff washed away.  Preserved bodies washed into the river by the hundreds.  Everybody’s father and grandfather.  That’s what a knock on the door is like.”

Cat’s grin had disappeared and her eyes had widened visibly.

“When you get to my age, everything connects to everything else.  Our neighbor was the constable.  He heard about the executions at work.  He didn’t say anything, he just listened quietly.  And then he sighed.”

Cat had tilted her head down, her eyes on Anja’s expensive black leather flats.

“You know they shot him for that sigh?  And 38 of his friends and family, too.”

Anja looked solemnly at Cat, daring her to comprehend it.  After nearly 70 years, she still remembered every detail.

“Was that your husband Aleksi?” Cat asked.

It seemed to Anja as if she were trying to turn the subject back to valentines.

“No, that was the man who sighed.”

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