Life in a Postfactual World

diada-de-cataluna_001This is an old piece that I wrote half a year ago and then never published. But since today is the Diada de Catalunya, the Catalan national holiday, I thought, you know, why not. And while the piece was triggered by the Catalan situation (honestly, back then what wasn’t?), it applies to all instances where news are presented.

It’s a funny thing, really. One of the posts that came my way on Facebook after the referendum last year was one about how „fake news“ – out of Russia, as per usual – had instigated the people of Catalonia to push for independence. This, of course, to destabilise Europe. Now, when I say funny, I really mean „what the fuck is wrong with people?“, but for the sake of argument, I’ll play.

Have fake news pushed the Catalans towards independence?

I would argue that yes, they have. Mostly the fake news of the mainstream press in the 90s, who quoted then-president José María Aznar and his eternal, mantra-like „España va bien“, Spain is doing fine, when Spain was not, in fact, doing fine. Spanish mainstream press, and the government-owned television station have to be some of the least objective sources of „news“ I’ve ever encountered.

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Dear Americans: This Is What Fascism Looks Like

If Fascism is a ten-step program, you’re at number seven now. I used to think you’d progressed no farther than five, but that was before the internment camps.

Personally, I am always equal parts amused and terrified when I hear people wondering out loud, in conversation or in writing, how the horror that Nazi Germany is universally understood to be could ever have happened. Amused, because people apparently cannot see the truth when it stares them in the face, and terrified for the very same reason. You want to know how it happened? Look around. It is happening right here, right now, and nowhere as obviously as in the United States of America.

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Between Spain and Me: Crónica del desamor

El frío norte

Let me tell you about a little anecdote that happened on one of my last flights to Madrid, about two years ago, I guess. I was on the plane from Zurich to Madrid, way in the back, and behind me was a Spanish gentleman, in his early sixties, I’d say. He had apparently flown into Zurich from somewhere else, and he had left something on his earlier plane. He pleaded with the flight attendant – who spoke Spanish, because in Switzerland, we speak languages – to allow him off this plane and back on the other to retrieve his item. Now, anyone who’s ever had to deal with airport security in any way knows that neither thing is gonna happen. Our flying still happens in a headspace of absolute paranoia, and regulations are tighter than Barack Obama is with Joe Biden. The man was told he could file a missing items report, and staff at the airport would do the rest.

The gentleman was not pleased. He lamented the lack of understanding in his interlocutor and lambasted the condition of both our country and our hearts. He felt that in Spain, people would have gone out of their way to accommodate him, but here, „en el frío norte“, in the cold north, we were too stuck on rules and regulations to help out a soul in need. I laughed a little, when I heard him speak about the cold north. He inversed the order of words – in Spanish, the adjective goes after the noun – to make his plight more poetic and dramatic. But my laughter also held no small amount of bitterness, because not only was the flight attendant already indulging this guy above and beyond the call of duty, Spain was and is the country where I have found the most abysmal customer service to date. I have never had the misfortune to speak to less helpful people than the employees of a particular mobile phone operator there; certainly NO ONE has ever gone out of their way to be accomodating, not even with shit that was entirely of their own making. There. In the warm south.

That bitterness, it tells me everything about my relationship to Spain, 25 years later. It is the bitterness of a broken heart. Because, you see, I once loved Spain, with the vigor and temperament of youth. But yeah, as they say, love is blind. Because, clearly, I loved the idea of Spain before I knew the reality of it.

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Dear Americans, I lost the bet.

When he took office, I bet he wouldn’t last a year. I wasn’t thinking of impeachment, really, I thought he simply wouldn’t have the staying power to see it through.

Political dramas are some of my favourite TV series. The West Wing was probably my initiation into American politics. I had never before seen a show about the actual day to day administration in the White House. It was mesmerising. Also, considering that Bartlet was supposed to be a Democrat, and we were meant to see the best possible administration, it was soon evident what kind of clusterfuck American politics are. (Seriously, you guys, riders? That shit needs to go. Who does that?)

A collage of five fictional presidents: Snow, Palmer, Allen, Bartlet, and Dalton.

People who are better Presidents than No. 45.

I’m currently watching season 3 of „Madam Secretary“, a show focused on the Secretary of State, or, as the rest of the world calls it, the Foreign Minister of the United States. The person in question is a former CIA operative, and as questionable as the institution is (ask anyone in Latin America or the Middle East), the job has prepared her well for the tribulations of this office. See, foreign policy is a difficult and delicate subject. You need to know the lay of the strange land you’re dealing with. You need tact. You have to know who the players are, who they’re connected with, what their agendas are. I’m sure the show simplifies stuff a great deal, but nowhere near as much as your current President does.

Let’s talk about President Dalton, „Madam Secretary“’s Commander in Chief. Himself a former CIA person, he has a good grasp on international politics. He is also seen to rely a great deal on the intelligence his agencies bring to him, as well as the counsel of his advisers. Nowhere is he heard saying that he’s „a very smart guy“ or „a stable genius“. He knows that he cannot know everything, so he turns to the people who do. As any sane person would, really. President Dalton is calm, aware, conscientious, and cautious. While one might disagree with some of his policies (the show takes great pains to avoid a clear statement on whether he’s a Republican or a Democrat, but there are tiny indicators that he might be a Republican), the process of how he comes to a decision is always careful and measured.

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2017

The new year is upon us, and as is customary, I want to examine my feelings regarding the year gone by.

I Literally Cannot Even

When the Electoral College of the US chose Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States of America, I dare say, a large part of the world was in shock. There has, in the history of humanity, never been a person less qualified for the job. This statement takes into account and includes Emperor Nero, Josef Stalin, and Adolf Hitler. What differentiates them from Trump is that they knew what they were doing. They were evil, of course, but they knew the system, the people, the tools, and the limits of their power (to an extent…). They knew exactly what they were doing. Granted, they all happened before Twitter, but odds are – being the micromanaging psychos they were – they would have demonstrated better impulse-control than The Orange One. My cats are more qualified to hold that office. Hell, every single object in this room would make a better President than Donald J. Trump. Also, did he just brag about the size of his… button?

White text on black background: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good ment to do nothing. - Edmund BurkeOne unpleasant truth we must face, though, is that a shift to the political right is happening everywhere right now. The forces of Capitalism continue to pit the working class against the poor, and we keep falling for it. The result is Fascism. I am always perturbed when people wonder out loud how Nazi Germany could have possibly happened, all the while missing the signs right in front of their eyes. We are on the same track, some of us more than others. Switzerland is facing a direct attack on one of its most fundamental public services, and the fear of the outcome chills me to the bottom of my soul; meanwhile, I even have friends who don’t get it. If there are people in my own inner circle who are willing to trade a central tenet of democracy for money, then what can I hope for from the rest of the population? It is hard not to despair.

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On Catalonia

This is my third fucking draft regarding this topic, and I’m really, really done with this shit. It’s my third draft because, while I haven’t been looking, the Spanish government managed  – yet again – to go out of its way to do the most destructive thing it could possibly do under the circumstances. Because losing face would be so much more tragic than losing lives. Or something.

I feel compelled to write after all, because I have a friend from Madrid who urges me to see the other side. Not just any friend, of course, but a dear friend. A friend I would not want to lose. A friend whose attitude towards this situation I fail to understand completely, because I know her to be a good person, and I cannot reconcile how somebody who is supposed to be a good person could stand on the other side of this issue. Because there is one universal truth that cannot be ignored, best expressed in a German saying:

Reisende soll man nicht aufhalten.

It roughly translates as „travellers should not be stopped“. It means that if someone is going to leave, you will not convince them otherwise, not matter how hard you try. The traveller can be detained and incarcerated, but as soon as you let your guard down, they will try to break free. If they really want to go, no one and nothing can prevent it. It can go smoothly, like in Czechoslovakia, or not so smoothly, like in Yugoslavia. It can be a sound decision, or the simple result of centuries of resentment. And even if it is the latter, it might seem unfortunate, but that is irrelevant. In the last 25 years, nine new countries have come into existence. Some peacefully, most not. Some with sound reasoning and the economic power to stand alone, and some really not.

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Dear Americans: Enough is Enough

It’s been roughly a year since I last addressed you as a collective. Like most people here, I’ve watched on in disbelief, but I have given you the benefit of the doubt. Not that I, personally, had a lot of doubt to begin with. Because there was very, very little question of what kind of president Donald Trump was going to be. Now, it turns out, he is the kind of president that closely resembles the type of person he is (surprise!), commonly described as „human excrement“.

We – Western Europe, pretty much – have been having a good laugh at your expense (not you, United Kingdom). I’ve never, ever, in my 40+ years of existence, seen news anchors on boring German public TV stations use words like „ridiculous“ for any elected official, let alone the President of the United States of America. There is no shortage of candidates (Duterte, Kim Jong Un, Erdogan), but no one else has ever made them lose their cool. Sometimes you can tell they’re trying not to giggle. As a collective, we are caught somewhere between dumbfounded incredulity and morbid fascination, looking at the train wreck that is the current US administration. We gave you the benefit of the doubt, and it’s actually worse than we thought it was going to be.

Yes, it has been as shit-show from the start. He can’t hire people for shit, and when he does, he unerringly chooses the most ludicrously inappropriate person alive to fill a position. It’s the Little Cabinet of Horrors. I don’t have to talk about Betsy deVos here, as her complete lack of qualification precedes her. Kellyanne Conway single-handedly invoked every dystopian vision ever by giving us „alternative facts“. Sean Spicer, in retrospect, sounded almost competent (given what he had to work with) when compared to Anthony „The Mooch“ Scaramucci, who, I’ll give you that, was at least hella entertaining. And let’s not even go into his hiring his friggin‘ family as „advisors“ and whatnot. I’m still waiting for #45 to appoint Bill Cosby as Secretary for Women’s Rights.

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