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Here’s the marketing message that’s saving wine

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My generation, the Baby Boomers, gets blamed for a lot of stuff, but one thing we got right was wine. We “made” the U.S. wine industry back in the 1970s and 1980s, when we were developing our esthetic and culinary tastes, and wine fit the bill quite nicely.

I speak of “esthetic” tastes, although I could have referred to “cultural” or “lifestyle” tastes. As a demographic—the largest in U.S. history–we Boomers understood by the late 1970s that we had changed the way America does things, and that anything we embraced en masse was likely to be a trend. Baby Boomers had been trendsetters since we were born, and embracing wine was simply another wave in the demographic tide we launched upon the country.

Wine suited our slightly outlaw sensibilities. It was alcohol, after all—a mind-altering drug, and Boomers knew a thing or two about mind-altering drugs. Alcohol, during the heyday of the Sixties, had a negative aura around it: Bowery bums, cheap bottles of Ripple, throwing up, that sort of impedimenta. No pot smoker or acid head with any self-respect would have been a drinker! But a new generation of vintner-entrepreneurs in California—not Baby Boomers, but older—was completely shifting wine’s rather tarnished image. Wine was no longer booze, but an upscale foodstuff, something you could talk about, study, appreciate intellectually as well as hedonistically, and it fitted in perfectly with our newfound appreciation of food. There was something authentic about wine—and Boomers prided ourselves especially for our authenticity.

It was always a question of whether we could bequeath that appreciation of wine on to the generations who came after us. The industry-wide conversation of the last twenty years, in fact, can in retrospect be viewed as trying to answer that question.

A new report by Silicon Valley Bank on the wine industry contains a mixed message. There’s good news: Yes, Baby Boomers continue to display “spending resilience,” which is a good thing for the industry, and “retiring baby boomers seem to have a long tail and fortunately aren’t quick to run to pasture,” which is also a good thing, especially if you’re a Boomer: it means we’re not all dying off!

But there’s also some bad news. Boomers’ “buying seems to be moderating, both on price and volume, as they age.” This makes sense to me: once we retire, most of us find ourselves on fixed incomes, meaning that we don’t drop $25 on a bottle as easily as we used to. (There’s also the reality that, for many of us, our doctors are telling us to moderate our alcohol consumption, if not eliminate it entirely.)

That means that the industry has “no choice except to market to them [i.e. a younger generation].” Unfortunately, “Millennials aren’t engaging with wine as hoped.” In fact, “millennials have made no move in taking share from boomers in several years.” This is really disappointing for producers. With crops continuing at record levels (meaning there’s plenty of wine in the supply chain), the industry is “at a position of oversupply…that extends through retail [outlets] and every growing region in California at every price point. For California,” the Bank’s forecasters warn, “this is the worst combination of market conditions for growers since at least 2001, and perhaps of all time.”

Scary words! But one of the benefits of advanced age is, perhaps, a more seasoned perspective on things, including disaster predictions. We’ve been here before! In the late 1980s and early 1990s, everyone was predicting the imminent demise of the California wine industry due to phylloxera. Didn’t happen. Similar dire prognostications were heard when lead wine capsules were implicated in human disease, when the dot-com collapse led to a recession, and certainly, when the Great Recession struck in 2008-2009. Then, too, the corporatization of wine signaled, to many analysts, the demise of the family winery. And even as recently as the 1990s, neo-prohibitionism still haunted the industry, as anti-alcohol forces, mainly in the Republican Party, threatened to bring back a [somewhat milder] form of Prohibition.

Happily, the wine industry survived all those threats. And here we are once again, facing another one: Baby Boomers eventually will die, Millennials will not take their place as wine drinkers in sufficient numbers to save the industry, and—the coup de grace?—these same Millennials are turning to craft beer and spirits, not wine, to satisfy their alcohol dreams.

What’s a vintner to do?

The Silicon Valley Bank forecast answers this question in an interesting way, by pointing out the truism that Baby Boomers consumed food “if it wasn’t bad for you,” while “the current generation wants to consume things that ‘are good for you.’” As a Boomer, I can confirm the accuracy of that statement concerning people born between 1946 and 1964. As for “the current generation,” I don’t know how much “what’s good for you” drives their food-and-beverage consumption. But when I see the droves of people in their 20s and 30s in the many wine bars in my neighborhood (many of which tout themselves as “natural”), I am struck by the fact that they’re leaner and apparently healthier than many of their generational counterparts, who so often are sadly obese. This suggests to me that younger wine drinkers are concerned about their physical health. They perceive wine, perhaps a bit inchoately, as somehow “healthier” than beer or spirits (or teetotalism). I’ve been critical of the hyperbole that attaches to the promotion of “natural” wine (which there’s no actual definition of), but I will give the naturalistas credit for this: they came up with a damned good marketing message that may, in fact, get wine through this current uncomfortable phase!


Napa Valley Cabernet: an endangered species?

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For many years I’ve watched as the price of Napa Valley wine has gone up—and up—and up—until it reached the stratosphere. And then it continued to go up.

Even twenty years ago, I wondered who was buying all that expensive Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t remember when prices first hit triple digits—I think it was in the 1980s. But once they did, no respectable Napa winery wanted to be the last to retail for at least $100.

At the height of my working career as a critic, when I was paid to keep track of such things, I’d note every new, expensive brand that came on the market. I soon concluded that most were vanity projects: their owners were very rich, and they wanted “in” on the Napa Valley lifestyle that was so highly touted by aspirational magazines. You, too, could have the big mansion, set in a picturesque vineyard, surrounded by blooming gardens, with an azure-blue swimming pool, a grand deck complete with gigantic outdoor grilling station, and Napa’s beautiful mountains soaring in the distance. And all you needed was maybe $10 million to get started.

At one point (I think it was in the early 2000s) I did a count of all the $100-plus wines in Napa Valley, and the total was well into the hundreds. I began to wonder, “Who’s buying all that Cab?” It was easy to understand that the critically-acclaimed cult Cabs (Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Bryant, Colgin, Dalla Valle, and so on) were desired by many wealthy collectors, but what about the hundreds of lesser-known brands? Every week seemed to bring a new family winery with a fill-in-the-blank back story:

Pete, together with his lovely wife Maggie, made a fortune in (computers, engineering, construction, oil, stocks) but there was something missing in their comfortable life. In (date), they bought a small property in (Rutherford, Pritchard Hill, Oakville, Spring Mountain, Atlas Peak) and planted some Cabernet. Now, they produce some of Napa Valley’s most coveted wines, assisted by their consulting winemaker (Michel Rolland, Heidi Barrett, Andy Erickson, Mark Aubert, Phillippe Melka)…

The stories all ran together; so did the wines. They were functionally interchangeable, 95-pointers that all tasted the same. It was impossible to answer the question, “Who’s buying all that wine?” just as it was impossible to answer the question, “Is the winery actually making money?” I suspected, even by 2000, that many, if not most, of these vanity wineries were not profitable, but were kept alive by their owners’ personal fortunes.

The other day, a friend emailed asking my opinion about reports that sales of California wines are weak, with a troubling future. Was it tariffs? Younger consumers wanting something “natural” and eccentric? The greater popularity of craft beer and spirits? I replied, “All the above—plus the fact that California wine, driven by Napa prices, is just too damned expensive!”

And now comes this report, via Wine-Searcher, that “California’s top producers might be pricing themselves out of the market,” with the top culprit being Napa Valley wine.

The article was based on a new report whose startling conclusion was this: “The demand for Napa Valley wines is flat and heading toward a decline. Last year, this report speculated that price increases at Napa wineries may have finally priced out enough buyers to curtail growth. It now seems this is likely the case.”

Will 2020 be the year that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon experiences a price crash? It’s in the self-interest of the producers to prevent this, so I expect they’ll do everything in their power to hold on. But if this represents a permanent trend, how long can they keep on? Will their heirs be content to underwrite a losing proposition, just so they can sit around the pool watching the sun set over the Mayacamas?

One interesting development was the purchase earlier this week of Flora Springs by the Bordeaux winery, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Flora Springs was, back in the day, a highly respected winery. (One of the first articles I ever wrote for Wine Spectator was a profile of them.) They had exquisite vineyards on the Rutherford Bench, and produced various Cabernets and Bordeaux blends that were very good. But Flora Springs, like so many other wineries, gradually saw competition arising all around them: no longer a darling boutique winery, but one of hundreds to choose from. The ownership was quite wealthy (of course), but Flora Springs was precisely the kind of winery I wondered about. “How are they doing? How long can they hold on?”

Well, now they’ve sold. The question isn’t whether the ownership was or wasn’t making money, it’s “Why does Smith Haut Lafitte think Flora Springs is a good investment?” (Their purchase doesn’t include the brand or “Napa Valley vineyard sources,” according to the article.) One thinks of the Bordelais as very astute businessmen—after all, they’ve managed to stay at the top of the heap for multiple centuries. So there must be something Smith Haut Lafitte sees in Napa Valley.

At the same time, I remember when the Woltner family, heirs of Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, started a winery back in the late 1980s. Chateau Woltner was in the Vacas, on the east side of the Silverado Trail, on lower Howell Mountain. They put out a Chardonnay that was then the most expensive ever in California. It was pretty impressive: Bordeaux Second Growth invests in Napa Valley! What could go wrong?

Well, everything. The brand didn’t last for very long. It was sold for $20 million in 2000.

I don’t know what eventually happened to the Chardonnay vineyards, nor do I care. The point is, just because a French Bordeaux family buys a Napa Valley winery doesn’t guarantee its success. The eventual outcome of Flora Springs will depend on the continuing popularity of Napa Valley Cabernet and Bordeaux blends; and if this category is pricing itself out of existence, there’s little anyone can do to save it. Of course, as we know from Eddie Penning-Rowsell’s classic The Wines of Bordeaux, prices of Bordeaux have been a roller-coaster ride for centuries: sometimes way up, sometimes way down. But Bordeaux persists. Maybe Napa’s future will be as tumultuous.


Is the clock ticking down on cult wines?

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When I was California editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, I had the hardest time getting to sample the wines of Bryant Family Vineyard.

I managed to, two or three times. My last tasting, in 2012, was only because Tim Mondavi obtained a bottle for me to include in my tasting of the wines of Pritchard Hill, the region of Napa Valley that is not (yet) an official American Viticultural Area, but that is (as I wrote back then) “the best grape-growing region in Napa Valley you’ve probably never heard of.” (Tim has his own winery, Continuum, up there.)

Bryant’s Cabernets are routinely included among the “cult wines” of Napa Valley. Now, let me say that my nearly thirty-year career as a wine writer taught me a thing or two about cult wines. Today, six years after I retired, when I think of them, I think of exclusivity, of extreme difficulty gaining access (even for me), of super-high prices, and of a certain manipulation of the winery’s image as rare and difficult to obtain—precisely the kind of attributes that appeal to wine aficienados who have more money than common sense.

My most enduring memory of tasting these cult wines is of my visit to Colgin Cellars, a neighbor of Bryant Family’s on Pritchard Hill. After much difficulty obtaining an appointment, I was met, in the foyer of the winery (which reminded me of Le Petit Trianon, at Versailles), by the proprietress, Ann Colgin. It felt like a State Visit; never was I more uncomfortable tasting wine than under her hawk-like gaze, as I tried to shield my written notes from her wandering eye. It was not a welcoming vibe.

Other cult wineries were far more amenable to my visits. I remain indebted to Bill Harlan (who wrote the Forward to my second book) for always welcoming me, and for setting up the most extraordinary tastings. But even there, Bill continued to propagate an aura of mystique by insisting that we taste the Harlan wines in one structure of the estate, and the BOND wines in another, further up the hill.

Bryant has found itself with publicity lately that I’m sure is unwelcome by the owners. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Esther Mobley has been reporting on a lawsuit hagainst the winery by a former employee.

I’m not particularly interested in the details of the lawsuit, nor do I care about the winery’s monetary value (a subject of dispute). What I find interesting is Mobley’s question: “Is that business model [of cult wines] foundering in a changing wine market?”

Cult wines, whether they be in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany or Napa Valley, always have depended on the desire of wealthy people to own them. They’re not “better” than other wines; this is a notion I’m firmly convinced of, after having reviewed perhaps 150,000 wines over a thirty-year period. The word “better” is, of course, impossible to define; quality is subjective. I’ve done many blind tastings in which a $30 Cabernet beat out a $300 Cabernet. Anyone who thinks that a $300 wine must be ten times better than a $30 wine is fooling herself. So there must be reasons other than objective hedonism to explain why cult wines cost so much. (Mobley writes that the current vintage of Bryant Family, the 2016, is $550. The 2009, by contrast, was a measly $335.)

These other reasons, aside from the market force of supply and demand, are psychological; they include the prestige of being able to afford such wines, the ego-gratification associated with big spending, and a desire to show off to whomever the buyer wishes to impress. These are not completely inauthentic reasons to buy a wine, but they have less to do with the wines themselves than the buyer’s internal needs.

For many years the cult winery owners were riding high. Sure, there were always rumors of financial troubles behind the curtain, but since the owners never revealed their books to anyone, the rumors remained exactly that. Was Bill Harlan raking in a fortune? Screaming Eagle, Araujo, Dalla Valle? Nobody outside the inner circle knew.

Now, Mobley opens the question in a way only a big-circulation newspaper like the Chronicle can. She doesn’t answer it, because there isn’t an easy answer. The question behind the question of whether the cult wine business model remains viable is, Is a new generation of Millennials as covetous of these wines as were their parents and grandparents?

I would be loath to state that consumer tastes in luxury goods, including wine, change dramatically in a short period of time. They don’t. The Western world has had cult wines at least since Roman times (when the Caesars had their favorites). The crowned heads of medieval and Renaissance Europe, including the Popes, similarly desired certain “cult” wines. It was only natural that California—settled as it was mainly by white people of European descent—would adopt a model that resembled that of Old Europe.

Are today’s wine consumers under the age of, say, 40 different in kind? Probably not. They too are likely to want their share of rarity and exclusivity (if they achieve the financial means of acquiring it). But does this automatically mean that Bryant, Colgin, Harlan, Screaming Eagle, et al. will be as desired by Millennials as they have been up to now?

Millennials, many of whom are laden with debt, don’t seem to have as much disposable income as their forebears. And they’re craftier shoppers: if they’re going to spend bigtime on something, they want some flesh on those bones—not just something to show off, but something of inherent worthwhileness. And I have to say in all honesty that cult wines overall are lacking in this inherent quality. Yes, they can be glorious. But so too can their non-cult wine neighbors, at a fraction of the cost. I think Millennials, in this era of Trump, are exquisitely sensitive to false claims and misleading image-making (as well they should be). They don’t want to feel like suckers, and this is why I suspect that cult wines—at least most of those in Napa Valley—may indeed have reached a tipping point. In fact, it may be that their uber-wealthy owners are keeping them alive, not through profits on sales, but by dipping into their personal fortunes.

I don’t foresee a wave of closures. But we have seen cult wineries sold (Araujo, Colgin, Screaming Eagle), and we’ve also seen wineries break into cult status that never used to be there: Chateau Potelle, for instance. (Good for my old friend Jean-Noel!) What I think will eventually prove to be the case is that a handful of today’s cult wines will still be treasured decades from now, while others will have enjoyed their fifteen years of fame and retreated into the background. And there’s this: it was easy for a wine to be defined as “cult” when the critical world was dominated by a few reviewers. It’s far more difficult nowadays. If the wine critics of the future are honest—if they taste blind, that is, and don’t have preconceived notions that cult wines are automatically the best—then Napa’s cult Cabs may already be past the tipping point.


It’s fire season in California (does Trump even care?)

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Sunday was warm, dry and very windy in the Bay Area, the kind of day you had to hold onto your hat (if you wore one) lest it blow away. I was down in San Leandro, 6 BART stops away from my home, doing some shopping at the mall. Then I had some lunch at the food court. When I went outside—in fact, before I even got to the main doors—I smelled it. The all-too familiar, acrid smell of burning tinder.

It’s a smell we’ve come to know well here. I can’t remember ever smelling it, in either San Francisco or Oakland, in the forty years I’ve lived here, until last year. That was when northerly winds pushed the smoke south from the Wine Country fires. It was even worse this year, especially with the Carr Fire, in Redding. Even though that’s more than 200 miles away, it could have been next door, so foul was the air. People were wearing face masks. Everything smelled like an ashtray, the sun was a dim orange smear through gray haze, and it went on for days at a time.

This summer, of course, we had the vast Mendocino Complex fire (which for some reason didn’t pollute our air very much), as well as others, such as the one that closed Yosemite. Then, in the middle of August, the weather suddenly cooled down, and continued cool for the next six weeks. No Labor Day heat wave! Moderate temperatures, from the coast to the Central Valley. I told a friend, two weeks ago, how great the weather was for ripening wine grapes. Growers love nothing more than constant, steady, dry weather, with none of those pesky heat spikes that so often strike Northern California this time of year. Yesterday, when I was reading the winebusiness.com online news publication, they featured this story about how the “ripening period has been void of extreme heat which will allow for some extended hang time and great phenolic maturity in the fruit,” leading to what some already are calling a vintage “for the record books.”

Now, just to put this into context, in my thirty-plus years as a wine reporter, I got used to growers and winemakers predicting the Best.Vintage.Ever every single year. It’s part and parcel of the hype that surrounds everything in the wine industry to assure consumers that the vintage was fabulous, perfect, heavenly. On the other hand, I—as a conscientious reporter—always tracked the weather, so I knew about the heat waves, the rain storms, the smoke taint, the mold, the crush rushes. Winemakers are not above spreading around a little “fake news” if they think it will help them sell their products.

But 2018 really does seem different. Ripening grapes hate weather extremes; so sensitive is the grape to the slightest perturbations in the weather that the resulting wine—an exquisitely complex liquid of thousands of compounds—will tell-tale every adverse condition it experienced. This year, however, as I said, things do appear to be just about perfect. (There are some issues with smoke taint in Lake County, though.)

But there was that troubling smell when I exited the mall. And it wasn’t slight, but lung-choking. I scanned the skies: Where was the fire? I saw no columns of smoke, although, to the south and east, the sky looked like a low fog had drifted in. I knew that wasn’t the case: there was no fog between Canada and Mexico along the coast, our weather being dominated by a big, fat ridge of high pressure sitting right on top of us, influenced by a massive low pressure system over the Four Corners that brought the wind whipping in, at gale force, from the north. Hence holding onto my cap.

I tried using my i-Phone to find out where the fire was. Nothing was yet trending on Twitter. I went to Cal Fire’s website and found it: 4,000 acres on fire in Suisun City, a suburban community halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento, in the Central Valley. I knew, then, that it was a brushfire, not a forest fire: good news. And good news, too, that there are no wine grapes out that way, or not very many anyway. Smoke taint would not be a problem.

As of yesterday (Monday) morning, the fire had been extinguished by our brave firefighters. We still have a few weeks of fire season left in Northern California (in Southern California, fire season now seems to last all year) before the rains come (although last week, wine country did have some pretty good downpours in their first storm of the season, a storm that did not extend south of the Golden Gate into the Bay Area). So we may get off relatively lightly this year.

But wildfires, whether of heavily-forested slopes or rolling grasslands, do appear to be the new normal in California (and Oregon). Sadly, the Trump regime doesn’t seem unduly bothered. They’re cutting funding for firefighting efforts in a way that’s never before been done. The International Fire Chiefs Association reports that “many fire service programs would be cut under the President’s proposed budget,” while the Center for Investigative Reporting, highly respected in California, issued a scathing indictment of Trump’s cuts to wildfire-fighting. It charged that “the Trump administration has offered no reason for targeting the Joint Fire Science Program,” and added that the cuts to fire agencies were merely among “dozens of areas [which] the White House has proposed slashing…Defunding those efforts will endanger lives,” the Center concluded.

 Is this because California and Oregon are Blue States? Would Trump really allow his political thirst for revenge to kill people and destroy property? I’m sure Sarah Huckabee Sanders would call that an outrageous charge, but the facts strongly suggest otherwise.


(1) New Pinot Noirs, old friends in San Francisco (2) On Fighting Drumpf

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Part 1

A Pinot Noir tasting in San Francisco

You can take the boy out of the wine business but you can’t take the love of the business out of the boy.

Or something like that. Anyway, although I formally retired from my career on Sept. 2, I still have “wine in my blood,” so when the invitation came to go to PinotFest, the big annual Pinot Noir tasting held at Farallon, near San Francisco’s Union Square, I doffed my cap and BARTed in on an absolutely splendid Autumn day, and had some excellent Pinots. But I wasn’t there to review, only to sip, see what’s up, and connect with old friends.

Honestly, when you’ve been in the biz as long as I have, you somehow manage to accumulate a lot of friends. Here are a few. John Winthrop Haeger is of course the famous author of North American Pinot Noir, published by my publisher, University of California Press.

haegerJohn Haeger

It’s always a pleasure to run into John, whose opening lecture at the World of Pinot Noir I always used to look eagerly forward to.

The first thing Diana Novy said to me when I saw her was, “I bet you’re surprised to see me here,” by which she meant that her husband, Adam Lee, who usually does the Siduri pouring at events, had been delayed, so Diana was substituting.

novyDiana Novy

I missed seeing Adam, but Diana more than made up for him not being there. I profiled them in my second book, New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff, and Siduri is owned by my former employer, Jackson Family Wines, so I got to work closely with Adam.

bonaccorsiJenne Bonaccorsi

Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi took over Bonaccorsi winery after the unexpected, tragic death of her husband, Michael, in 2007. Jenne makes ardent wines of great delicacy and inner power, just like her. She is one of the gentlewomen of California winemaking.

Jon Priest is at the helm of Etude, the great Pinot Noir house in the Carneros.

 

priestJon Priest

I can’t even remember how long ago I met him—I think Tony Soter was still running the winery. I told Jon I’d recently opened his 2005 and 2006 “Heirloom” Pinot Noirs, and both were showing well.

Then there’s Josh Jensen.

joshJosh Jensen

My profile of him and his winery, Calera, was among the first I ever wrote as a professional. I well remember when Wine Spectator sent me down to Mount Harlan, around 1993; what a thrill that was for an up-and-coming wine writer! Josh remains a gentleman and a scholar, and can always be counted on to be wearing something colorful. He’s very tall and, as you know, I’m not, so I asked him to crouch down a little bit, so the picture wouldn’t look like an avocado next to a broom.

Jonathan Nagy was another colleague of mine at Jackson Family Wines.

nagyJonathan Nagy

He presides over Byron Winery, down in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. When I left J.F.W. I knew Jonathan had embarked on an exciting new project: making single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from purchased grapes grown at some of Santa Barbara’s top vineyards. The wines are now in bottle. We tasted through some of them, and man, Jonathan is at the top of his game. But you know what my favorite was? None other than the Julia’s Vineyard, whose grapes Jonathan shares with sister winery Cambria.

It’s still fun for me to go to these events and taste the wines–if, that is, I’m lucky enough to be invited. If you see me at one, come on up, and say Howdy!

Part 2

Why I Fight Drumpf

Do not hesitate. Fight in this battle and you will conquer your enemies. Fight you will, your nature will make you fight. Your karma will make you fight. You will fight in spite of yourself.”

— Krishna to Arjuna, The Mahabharata

Maybe it was because I was brought up on the mean, hardscrabble streets of the South Bronx, where a skinny little kid had to learn how to fight to survive.

Maybe it was because of my many years of karatedo training, in which we were taught never to initiate a fight, but to resist violently if someone else started.

Maybe it’s the latent Jew in me. We weren’t raised with “Turn the other cheek.” For us, it was “an eye for an eye.”

Whatever the reasons, my inclination is to fight, fight, fight against this monster, this dybbuk, this aberration of a normal man, this drumpf.

In my twenties came a period during which I was a hippie, steeped in that Sixties thing of “love and peace.” I believed it. I studied it and tried to practice it. Loving your enemy seemed the right thing to do. Hadn’t Jesus? Hadn’t Buddha? Isn’t that what the Beatles preached?

But the Sixties was fifty years ago. A lot of water under the bridge.

Among people I know—good liberal-humanists—there is currently a debate going on, in the aftermath of the Nov. 8 results. Option #1: accept this unacceptable President, accept his hateful minions and the awful legislation they will craft, and give him a chance. Option #2: oppose him and his dreadful movement every step of the way. This debate is tearing people apart. They really are not sure which way to go. After all, we criticized Mitch McConnell’s statement of utter opposition to Obama—before the latter was even sworn in—as deplorable. It angered us. “How could you be so against him when you don’t even know what he’s going to propose?” And we were right to take that attitude.

Now, the republicans are turning that argument around and asking us, “How can you oppose trump before he’s even taken the oath of office?”

Well, let me explain the difference. The promises Obama made—to unite the country bipartisanly, to end wars, to get along with foreign countries, to rescue the financial system which was dying due to the Bush Great Recession, to respect the environment and be kinder to gay people, to understand the needs of the poor and of immigrants, to respect science, to be a gentleman, to have a clean administration based on high principles—these spoke to the heart and soul of liberal-humanists. When McConnell issued his belligerent threat, we thought, “How could he be against all that?”

Drumpf on the other hand made other promises. Every one of them was based on hatred of “the other,” except for his promise to “Make America Great,” as banal a platitude as ever issued in any soap commercial. Now that we’ve had a sniff of his appointments, there’s every reason to assume the worst: this awful person will divide the country and is a threat to the things we hold dear. He is a last gasp of male, heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon, lower-middle-class, under-educated, bigoted, resentful white supremacy, the latest incarnation of the Know-Nothings, the McCarthyites, the America Firsters and Father Coughlins and Dixiecrats, all of whose sociopathic unreason did such harm to America (and all of whom have been roundly condemned by History). Therefore, to oppose this drumpf is to stand for the best American values of inclusion, fairness, equality, progress and love.

Yes, love. Not some kind of hippie love. This is not the time to move to the woods and meditate and pray to the Spirit Guide, or Mother Earth, or whatever you wish to call it. Sure, if you want to sit zazen and go Ommm, feel free. It can’t hurt.

But the spirits will not protect you when the shit hits the fan and the government comes under the control of the radical theocrats and paranoid militias that form drumpf’s shock troops. When he reverses Obama’s great work, it will take more than a groovy feeling to keep this nation from sliding into darkness. It will take active resistance.

I was never a protester in the Sixties. I went to one anti-Vietnam march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in New York, but it wasn’t so much because I was anti-war (although I was, in an inarticulate kind of way), but because my friends wanted to go, and I thought it would be fun. So I’m not really a born street demonstrator.

But the times have changed. This catastrophe, drumpf, is looming over America like a toxic cloud. I’m afraid of him, and I’m more afraid of the evil forces he has unleashed: the anti-semites, the KKK, the Muslim haters, the Mexican haters, the anti-government open-carry crazies, the homophobes, the anti-science types like Pence and Huckabee and Franklin Graham, the crypto-nazis like Steve Bannon, the bullies like Giuliani and Christie. These are the termites that have been allowed to burrow into America’s foundation, and, left unchecked, they will cause dry rot leading to collapse.

So when I suggest that this old guy—me—is a fighter, it’s because that’s what I believe in: fighting for what is good, and against what is bad. I always looked forward to a peaceful retirement, but this is no time for complacency. The future of our country, and the world, is at stake. Look, drumpf ran the dirtiest, sleaziest, most mendacious and vulgar campaign in modern American history; it was an insult to my parents and grandparents, who believed that voting was a sacred duty…an insult to all people of intelligence, to our nation, its history and political legacy. This creature of television and greed does not deserve the title deeds to our proud, progressive country. I urge you not to accept a drumpf presidency. They—the tea party, the white nationalists, the right wing theocrats—do not want to get along with us; they have repeatedly proved that with their deeds. They want their own exclusionary society. If you think you can go along to get along, you are in the same boat as the “good Germans” who allowed Hitler to triumph. And look what happened.

 

 

 


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