An Old White Man Speaks (Reluctantly)

October 9th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

I don’t like falling into the Old White Man category, but the facts (remember them?) seem to make my membership in that sad club mandatory.

And I really don’t want to talk politics, and I don’t intend to talk directly about it, exactly…but my brain just won’t give me anything else to talk about right now.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to accept all “friend” requests on Facebook, because I viewed anyone interested in me as either a current or potential reader, aka customer. But because of the vile political rants that often came to me through that door, I now only accept people whose names I recognize. Apologies.

On Facebook, I look at posts in groups I’ve joined having to do with illustration, comics, movies and other quirky interests of mine. I look at my “feed” (or whatever it is) maybe every couple of weeks. So I no longer regularly follow the fun things that friends post about themselves and their families – it’s the price of avoiding the horror of what people think.

So lately I have mostly posted stuff about my band, including links to performances, and links to reviews and interviews with me (and often A. Brad Schwartz, since Scarface and the Untouchable is still out there doing well). Yet my brain urges me to talk politics and current events. I want to swat my head with a rolled-up newspaper – Bad brain! Bad!

Here’s the thing. I have friends and business associates (and sometimes those categories overlap) who are firm Trump supporters. I also have readers who fall into that category, and (as noted above) they are customers, who I would not care to anger and irritate. Call me a coward if you like, but I relish being able to make a living.

But I want to wade in, just a little. I consider myself a centrist, if somewhat left of center. Back in the days of the Ms. Tree letter column, pre-Facebook by decades, I would express my views on a subject – abortion comes to mind – and receive hate mail from both the left and right, from those who could not process the notion that I did not approve of abortion, thought it was probably a sin (if you believe in that kind of thing), but still felt it should be legal, because who am I to foist my opinion on what a woman wants to do with her body?

When you stand in the middle of the road, that gives traffic coming from both ways an equal opportunity to run you down.

Where we are now is that we essentially have three political groups – two parties and an unruly center – who define themselves as republican, democrat or independent. There are major divides within those groups, of course, but more and more people are calling themselves independent because of frustration with both Coke and Pepsi. The problem with declaring yourself independent politically is that in most states you can’t vote in primaries. That means the hardcore republicans and democrats get to pick their candidates, which means one extreme meets another extreme at the ballot box, and many independents feel very frustrated by the choices presented them.

A good friend of mine from high school – the very definition of an independent thinker – told me he had not voted for president last time. He thought Trump was an idiot, but he despised Hillary Clinton. So nobody got his vote.

What I said to him was, “John!” (Let’s call him John.) (After all, it’s his name). “John! The lesser of two evils is still less evil.”

So let me boil down, as someone in the middle, what I think is the biggest problem we face.

Everybody who leans left, whether considering themselves democrats or progressives or independent, needs to consider how good the republicans are at branding. At labeling. What the republican base loves about President Trump is that he “tells it like it is.” But any objective look at the man would tell you he is a liar, possibly a pathological liar. The genius is in the labeling. The other day Trump made up a bill about immigration – made it up, my friends, it doesn’t exist – and gave it a name and blamed it on the democrats. This is in a long line of genius manipulation of branding from the republicans. They are not Anti-Abortion, they are Pro-Life. Genius. When protestors swarm their offices, they call it “mob mentality.” They know that if you want to cut down trees, you call yourself the Tree Conservation Group.

Meanwhile, many democrats are starting to add “socialist” to their name. Bernie Sanders is a mover and shaker in the demo world, but he isn’t even a democrat. I would take him more seriously as a democratic candidate for the presidency if he were a damn democrat. Old White Males like me (on either side, or in my case in the middle of the divide) know that for many older people (say, forty up), “socialist” is a loaded word, like “fascist” or “Communism.” There are plenty of fascists out there on the right who are smart enough not to call themselves fascists. It takes a democrat to do something that dumb.

The right has to own up to the cruelty and falsehoods their leader espouses; they need to examine his pro-Russia stance and look at a lifetime of sketchy business success built on tax fraud and inherited wealth. The left needs to stop requiring purity of their candidates and focus on the shameful way women have been minimized, ignored and even ridiculed in this latest debacle, and then go with the best available choice.

I understand that people are tired of gritting their teeth when they vote for somebody. And I hate being practical. It’s more fun being right, and there is comfort in indignation. But being practical is often necessary.

The lesser of two evils is less evil.

* * *

This past Saturday, Oct. 6, I was a speaker at the Iowa City Book Festival. I appeared on a fun panel about what authors read (and I revealed how little fiction I read these days) but also gave an hour talk to a nice crowd in a room at the Iowa City Public Library.

I was supposed to do a reading, but I wasn’t in the mood and instead gave an extemporaneous talk about my career, with an emphasis on my years at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Barb says I was out of control, but in a good way. I did get a lot of laughs, including from Barb.

It was recorded and I’ll share a link, if possible, on a future update.

Here’s another podcast about Scarface and the Untouchable with Brad and me.

And another.

Here’s info about the upcoming, revised Red Sky in Morning, now correctly titled USS Powderkeg.

Finally, here’s a nicely compact Scarface and the Untouchable review.


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5 Responses to “An Old White Man Speaks (Reluctantly)”

  1. Peter says:

    Thanks, Max. I too am a centrist. The good is that it keeps me open to hearing all sides. The bad is I get email from all sides to join in their causes. Still, the best is that my informed voice actually swings (and counts) in elections. Glad to be with you in that number.

  2. Vicki Lehman says:

    I have been avoiding media the last few days since the Kavanaugh debacle, and now the Nikki Haley event is taking center stage. After the HUGE revelation of Trump tax fraud, I thought we were again MAYBE turning a corner, but now that is clearly being rapidly forgotten in the maelstrom of what is the Trump administration. Al, I like what you do with the historical writing, as YOUR revision/fictionalization at least approaches my own way of thinking. I often think about things you could write about, as if I could direct you to any ideas of mine that could possibly be as astute and valuable as your own (a true compliment, not empty flattery). An area that came to mind with the visit of Cory Booker to North Liberty last night is the town of Buxton here in Iowa’s history, as he disclosed last night that his mother came from Buxton, his Iowa connection. NOT your usual kind of topic, but very relevant to today’s issues. Again, KEEP UP what you do. This post of yours opens my eyes more, which I think is the hallmark of Democratic thinking, as Peter says in earlier comment, “The good is that it keeps me open to hearing all sides.” We CAN learn and we CAN continue to push for what we think is right.

  3. Vicki Lehman says:

    Cory Booker’s GRANDMOTHER, not his mother.

  4. Mike Doran says:

    This past September 30 was my 68th birthday.
    One week later, I attended my 50th anniversary High School reunion (I plead morbid curiosity).
    So I am Old, and White, and politically – call me Mike In The Middle.
    The word I always use is disillusioned.
    I mean that literally: I try not to have illusions about what politicians can and cannot do (being brought up as a South Side Irish Democrat in Chicagoland made this surprisingly easy).

    My feelings about America’s first-ever non-English-speaking President were formed long ago, when Mr. Trump was still an aspiring real estate swindler; his long and demeritorious public life (is ‘demeritorious’ a word?) has only solidified that view.
    As to the “joys” of the Internet, I have no use for Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other mutations thereof; I think (I hope) I’m better off for that choice.
    Every so often, I put my acid reflux at risk by looking at political sites of both Left and Right; after a few (a very few) minutes, I find myself wondering whatever happened to spelling and grammar (and I’m not referring to Tori and Kelsey).
    … and I could do with a reduction in the frequent usage of the collegiate term for carnal intimacy (If You Know What I Mean).

    I seem to have lost my thread here (this is happening a lot lately); with your indulgence, I could come back later –
    – if you’d be interested in why I hate the word base when used politically.
    – or if you’d care to hear my ever-expanding lecture on why the Electoral College cannot be reformed … and should be abolished ASAP.
    – or why it’s always wrong to adopt The Other Side’s tactics purely out of revenge (‘Court-packing’ is just the latest).
    – or why the only reason that “You can’t subpoena/arrest/indict/whatever a sitting President is that nobody’s tried it yet – and nobody wants to be First (but lots of people can’t wait to be Second).

    – or why the hell I don’t just give up and go to my DVD Wall and watch Bad Old Stuff from days gone by?
    If you have any suggestions, I’m wide open …

  5. I really appreciate these responses, and I particularly like Mike Doran’s line about “America’s first-ever non-English-speaking President.” Usually I get complaints when I delve, even gingerly, into politics, and this time — so far — it’s been support. Nate tried to talk me out of posting this one, and tolerated it only when I softened a few things. He tries to protect me from my more out of control instincts….