Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Trump, Resistance & the Relentless Mat Johnson



Just to clear things up, if we're talking Donald Trump, the Resistance, and black writers, then we're ultimately having a conversation about Mat Johnson. Yes, he's written novels and graphic novels. But for a view of his most up-to-date political activism, you gotta check him on Twitter.

Roughly 4 to 5 times per day for the last several months, Johnson has been publishing searing and humorous critiques of the president. "Tomorrow," Johnson tweeted on January 19, the day before Trump's inauguration, "the guy under investigation for colluding with the Russians to rig an election he lost by 3 million popular votes becomes President." On January 20, not long after Trump was sworn in, Johnson tweeted a question: "Is he impeached yet?"

Long before Trump somehow managed to become president, I've been following Johnson's work. I read his novels and graphic novels, and I knew he had a sense of humor. It was on Twitter, though, that I really saw him offering up all kinds of jokes. His self-deprecating humor were particularly funny. "My depression isn't clinical," he tweeted in 2013, "because it didn't get its shit together for certification because it was too depressed.”

He's originally from Philadelphia, so you could depend on him to deploy amusing blues tweets about his hometown, perpetually struggling basketball team, the 76ers. In one of many tweets about the team, he wrote "Guys the wake for the 76ers will be held in the section of parking lot that used to be The Spectrum. In lieu of flowers bring rotten eggs." He was constantly provoking laughs, but he still hadn't found what would become a powerful bad man muse.

Then, a troubling reality star turned political figure emerged.

As early as 2015, Johnson predicted what might occur: "I actually think Trump is going to be the RNC candidate. I also think his candidacy is the prequel to the Walking Dead." In another tweet, Johnson remarked, "Trump is the last toxic belch of a dying worldview on the life support of gerrymandering, electoral college inanity, and voter suppression."

Back in the day, our undisputed champion of political insults was unquestionably the late poet Amiri Baraka. He hurled searing and biting critiques at Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, as well as other politicians. In a "memo" to George W. Bush, Baraka declared that "The main thing wrong with you is you ain't in Jail." In a poem about Rudy Giuliani, Baraka presents nicknames for the then mayor: "Ugly wound saber tooth," "shaitan's underwear," "the bad breath of Iblis," "The Devil's Gas," "Criminal G," "white death black death," and "Rudy the Ripper," among many others.

I assumed no one would ever match Baraka in terms of creativity, humor, and incisiveness. I had no idea that the black writing and Twitter gods would bless us with Johnson on Trump. On November 9, the day after the election, Johnson tweeted, "Time to join the Resistance." The phrase "the Resistance" refers to the many efforts to oppose Trump's presidency.

Some contribute to the Resistance by participating in protest marches. Others coordinate policy efforts. Others send monetary donations to political groups. Others call lawmakers to express discontent. And Johnson? Well, nearly every day since before the election, he has relentlessly and creatively reminded us about the trouble with Trump. Johnson's tweets are part of the Resistance.

"Trump's evil scares me," wrote Johnson, "but his incompetence makes me feel a little better, until I remember it could get us all killed." In another tweet, he wrote "Grossly Incompetent Man is the worst superhero."

Similar to Amiri Baraka, Johnson excels at name-calling and insults. He's referred to the commander in chief as ignoramus, pathological liar, conman, malignant narcissist, the best season of Punk’D, the President Without Shame, white supremacist, and Shittiest Fuckin' President Ever. Unlike many poets and other literary artists who time and energy to the beauty of language, Baraka and Johnson committed themselves to the art of using ugly words to describe the hideousness of disturbing politicians.

Maybe there's no literary award or literature class (beyond mine) that will make time to acknowledge a black writer contributing to political activism through tweets. If there were venues for such recognition, then certainly, we'd discuss the relentless Mat Johnson.

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