The Stickiness of Donald Trump’s Base

With the past week’s continued devolution of Donald Trump and everything he represents, one would think at least some portion of his Republican base that had been clinging to him so desperately from one moral and political travesty to the next would finally begin to have their grips loosened. After all, a political party that has built its reputation partly on a fierce anti-communism (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”) and loud patriotism (“Love it or leave it!”) couldn’t possibly abide a president who chums it up with an ex-KGB dictator who is reveling in the U.S. president believing every lying word out of his mouth, all while the president casts aspersions and doubt on the exhaustively rendered findings of his own intelligence agencies and congressional investigators, could it?

Well, if that president had a “Dem” after his name, the Republican base would most certainly be expressing ...

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Transplanting the Catalpa (and Other Notes on Life, Love and Death)

The great illusion is stasis. That what and who we have today will be the same tomorrow. This is ridiculous, of course, when we permit ourselves to think about it for two seconds, but it hangs on with utter tenacity in our psyches, allowing us to face the short-term tasks of our day with relative equanimity while the specter of every last thing’s impermanence is shunted to the background.

Whatever it is—our people, our pets, our homes, our jobs, our health, our wealth—there they are, ready and available and alive in perpetuity. Until they’re not.

That illusion of permanence goes double, it seems to me, for our trees.

Sturdy, rooted, unmovable, voracious, trees upend our sidewalks, shade our homes, drop their leaves then grow them back—season upon season, decade after decade, through heat, cold, and various degrees of neglect from the humans who make use of them.

And there they stand, towering an...

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The Ship That Never Comes In: Philip Larkin’s “Next, Please”

A friend was telling me recently that she had hosted a childhood friend for a weekend visit, and in the runup to it she had greatly looked forward to the time they were to spend together. As it turned out, she beamed, it was wonderful and all she had hoped for. Which, she noted, was a great relief, because “It doesn’t always turn out that way.”

Inded it doesn’t.

In his much-anthologized poem, “Next, Please,” English poet Philip Larkin, a brooding sort as perhaps a majority of poets this side of Mary Oliver are, suggested that it almost never does, and that this human penchant for almost giddy anticipation and “expectancy” is doomed to suffer when it collides with reality.

It’s as if our imaginations sabotage us, outpacing our ability to create or at least appreciate the emotional experiences we had been so eagerly anticipating.

Or, as Paul McCartney’s mama told him in three short wo...

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The Holy Ground of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“I saw people throwing pies in each others’ faces, and I thought: ‘This could be a wonderful tool. Why is it being used this way?’” So says a lanky, exceedingly soft-spoken Presbyterian minister with the classic middle America name of Fred Rogers, a man who turned children’s television in the latter part of the 20th century into a kind of ode to basic human decency rather than the casually cruel and empty-headed drivel it often was and still too often remains.

By the end of his 31-year tenure ministering to children’s souls via a daily half-hour public television show, Rogers had earned such a revered place in American culture that a documentary about his life’s work, entitled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is currently packing theaters around the country with adults who, if the viewing I took in yesterday and again this morning is any indication, mostly sob their way through the film’s 9...

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Sixth Annual “Songs of Summer”

Three songs, summer-themed, on or very near the solstice. A respite, a celebration, a salute to whatever shreds of sanity, shoots of hope and shards of joy  we may be able to cultivate in a world that often seems hellbent, for rather baffling reasons, on denying them all.

Welcome to the Sixth Annual Songs of Summer! If you’re new to this space and wondering why so-and-such song isn’t in the lineup, it may well have already had its moment in the sun, sun, sun, either here or here or here or here or here. (Those will take you to years one through five if you feel in the mood for an orgy of summer sounds, minus the cicadas.)

So, to cite a beloved phrase from another summer pastime of some renown: “Batter up!”

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The big choice in “Summer Rain” was whether to present Johnny Rivers in his so-called prime in 1973, or to put a 2013 version in front of you. In the latter,  Johnny (“Secret Agent Man,” “Poor S...

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