The Chronicle’s 2017 Holiday Political Survival Guide
Borscht in a Bag, a male chastity belt, and more gifts to get you through the rut
Last November, a few days after the election, I sent my family a note requesting that on Christmas we exchange no gifts. It wouldn't be right, I said, and instead proposed we pool our money together for various charities and noble causes. So Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center got our money instead of Jeff Bezos. We sent another batch to the tutoring program our mom has been involved with.
But this year? Hoo boy, it is time you really treat someone. Pamper those you love, because the last 12 months have been rough – and the future's fixing to get a whole lot rougher. And while we can't exactly recommend you gift someone an unconditional offer to pull their hair out of their head, we can point you to a few other accoutrements well-suited to steer folks through these dark days of American democracy. – Chase Hoffberger
1) A Pocket ConstitutionWe the people can keep track of the many ways Trump has potentially violated federal laws and various sections of the Constitution, you know, before the bedrock of our democracy is shredded to oblivion by the Cheeto-tinted buffoon. Grab a red pen and tick off the foreign and domestic Emoluments Clause, possibly violated by bolstering his own private business empire by accepting U.S. and foreign government economic benefits; the Establishment Clause for singling out a specific religion with a Muslim ban; the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses for his immigration orders; the Taxing and Spending Clause for threatening to withhold federal funds to cities over immigration policies; and go ahead and in the margins note a possible violation of the Presidential Records Act for all those times he's deleted tweets (and so much more). That's just his first year in office, friends. Surely watchdog groups and constitutional lawyers will lodge myriad additional charges, so remember to read and appreciate the Articles before they're smeared in red ink and rendered meaningless in our creeping dystopia. ($12 through the ACLU.) – Mary Tuma
2) A First Aid Kit (For When Your Health Care Goes)Sure, it might not be the most exciting gift – and two packets of aspirin and hydrocortisone cream won't replace an actual doctor – but better safe than screwed. It's only a matter of time before the asshats in Congress successfully gut the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a lump of coal. Red Cross boasts all sorts of options, ranging from $4 up to $40. Or you can make your own with household goods: We recommend decaf tea and whiskey. – Sarah Marloff
3) Borscht in a Bag
If we're gonna get owned by Russia, we better be able to eat their food. Borscht tastes like cold blood and cow bone, but if you run down to Russian House on Fifth Street everybody slurping it somehow looks like they're having fun. Through Amazon you can take your rations on the run in 1.25-ounce packets, just like how they used to serve it in the motherland. – C.H.
4) Cybersecurity SoftwareAmericans have become so numbed to news these days that it barely registers when a giant retailer gets hacked and thousands (or millions!) of customers' personal data gets stolen and sold to the highest bidder. But in September, when the credit reporting behemoth Equifax announced it had spilled data on 143 million Americans, including names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates, that dynamic began to change. Hopefully your loved ones have secured a credit freeze and changed their passwords; in this day and age, you can never be too secure. That's why a nice anti-virus software, with all the bells and whistles they'd never get for themselves, makes such a great gift this holiday season. Options vary, but most offer some combination of an anti-theft mechanism, malware protection, a webcam lock, and file encryption. The password managers that come with many of these programs can also prove useful if, say, until recently someone was using "12345" as a blanket passcode for their bank accounts. Norton and Bitdefender are some of the big brand names, but there are options out there that can be lighter on both the hard drive and the pocketbook. Once the new setup is installed, think of how peaceful the day after Christmas will be. – Nina Hernandez
5) Kickboxing ClassesLiving in the 24-hour news cycle of Trump has likely caused someone you know and love to seek an outlet for pent-up aggression. Gifting them a kickboxing class not only helps with that, but also prepares them for the pending apocalypse, when everybody's on their own. Whether it's a fight-focused class or intensive cardio burn, these workouts help distract from the never-ending horror of the newsfeed and alleviate unwanted politics stress, while simultaneously preparing your aspiring kickboxer for the impending apocalypse. Because, when the time comes, working out won't just have been about getting those rock-hard abs. – S.M.
6) Chastity Belts for Male CelebritiesOn a search for self-locking bathrobes – a technological breakthrough whose time has apparently not yet come – we discovered tremendous advances in male chastity "belts" since the heavy-metal varieties of the Middle Ages. They come in a range of styles, materials, and prices – and this is one gift category where it's the thoughtlessness that counts. – Michael King
7) "2016 Emotional Baggage" Tote BagCrooked Media swag made especially for the friend who likes to wear their emotions (and politics) on their sleeves. And an ideal companion for those holiday trips to the new Central Library. – N.H.
8) A Crash Course in the American Tax SystemEveryone agrees the nightmarishly convoluted U.S. federal tax code needs fixing. But the consensus of economists is that the proposed reforms only make matters worse. So what is it about the current system that is so dysfunctional?
If you feel like dipping your toes into its complexities, wade through the Thomson Reuters Internal Revenue Code, 2017 ed., at a bargain price of only $831 for the full 3-volume set. You're sure to find some detail or exemption that will make your head spin. And if all those statutes just leave you squinting, Walter F. Picca's short and concise Why the Reagan and Bush Tax-Cuts Are Unfair (IUniverse, 2005) may prove the better fit. His 1980 debunking of trickle-down economics was so spot-on that he did another edition in 2007, when Shrub was repeating the Gipper's errors. With the current bill going back to the empty supply-side well, a third volume could be in order.
And if your tax bill has you so busted that you can't afford either of those gifts, just go to your local public library and download the PDF of Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945. Authored by finance expert Thomas L. Hungerford, and published in 2012 by the Congressional Research Service, it studied every tax rate rise and cut since the end of World War II, and in doing so completely debunked the idea that tax cuts for the rich help economic growth. – Richard Whittaker
9) Al Gore's Movies About the ClimateWe're all exhausted by the naysayers and conservative politicians who like to say that "fossil fuels save lives." Which is why Al Gore's latest installment (An Inconvenient Sequel, out on Paramount in July) is such a breath of fresh (CO2-filled) air. Cameras follow the former veep around the world as he educates and inspires a new and well-versed generation of would-be climate champions. The sequel to Gore's decade-old An Inconvenient Truth is the perfect present for anyone hoping to learn more about climate change, how bad it's gotten, and what we can all do to help make a difference. – S.M.
10) Donald Trump Out of Office Countdown Desk CalendarWhen will this nightmarish Twilight Zone episode of America be over, you ask? Now you can count the days with your very own desk calendar that slowly and painfully answers "Is it 2021 yet?" On Jan. 1, only 1,115 days to go! That is, if those articles of impeachment don't stick .... – M.T.
Defense Against the Dark ArtsIt's difficult to select just a couple from among Rebecca Solnit's 20 or so volumes. In recent years, she's better known for her explicitly political/feminist essays, but she also has a distinguished record of work on history and natural history, the environment, and environmental activism. Wherever you pick her up, you find a perspective that overrides categories and makes tangible connections that were never so clear or so compelling.
So, arbitrarily but enthusiastically, we recommend for holiday illumination two recent collections, The Mother of All Questions (Haymarket, 2017), and the already legendary Men Explain Things to Me (Haymarket, 2014). The foreboding title of the first is partly a comic mask for an essay on the predicament of women writers who are persistently interrogated with variations of "Why don't you have children?" Solnit recalls an exchange on Virginia Woolf that carried the same irrelevant premise until finally she responded, "I think at some point I said, 'Fuck this shit,' which carried the same general message and moved everyone on." That passage captures both Solnit's vernacular style and her unwillingness to suffer fools – invigorating characteristics of all her work.
The essays in these books will arm any reader for Defense Against the Dark Arts of the Trump Era, as does her recent "Protest and Persist: Why Giving Up Hope Is Not an Option." She defines hope as in part "a sense that the future is unpredictable," and in that light: "You do what you can do; you do your best; what what you do does is not up to you." – M.K.
A Heavy Dose of RealityThe Trump era has brought "alternative facts" and "fake news" into our national lexicon, meaning there's no better time to relearn the truth about our country's history and media system. A few classic nonfiction books work as progressive bibles. In the late Eighties, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman (who passed away this year) demonstrated in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon, 1988) how the real bias perpetuated by media is motivated by profit and how those private commercial interests work with state power to produce propaganda. With lies abounding about our nation's history (and also basic facts) from the mouths of Trump and his cronies, refresh yourself on the truth with Howard Zinn's seminal work, A People's History of the United States (Harper, 1980), which meticulously breaks down the myths constructed about our past to keep American exceptionalism alive and well, and James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me (Touchstone, 2007), another myth-busting text that deconstructs high school history books to reveal the real story. Frankly, pick up any book and you'll be ahead of the game – or at least more well-read than our president, who has admitted he doesn't read books. To be fair, ruining our democracy does sound like a full-time job. –M.T.
Two From Ta-NehisiTa-Nehisi Coates is not a comforting writer, just the closest thing to James Baldwin since that prophetic voice was stilled. His strengths include clear-eyed historicism, a powerful sense of injustice, and a refusal to offer empty hope about the American project when that hope cannot be justified by the available evidence. Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015) recounts his personal journey through black life in America, including an attempt to make some sense of the police murder of a young friend for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – in the wrong skin – and also to articulate what wisdom he needs to transmit to his young son.
We Were Eight Years in Power (One World, 2017), a re-collection of essays (including the groundbreaking "The Case for Reparations") threaded with a reporting narrative, recapitulates the Barack Obama presidency as seen through the larger and lengthier history of African-American slavery and its aftermath. It presents the hard-won understanding that "Good Negro Government" (as W.E.B. DuBois recognized) threatens white supremacy far more than any mythical black irresponsibility, a reality that for Coates explains much of the white backlash that helped elect Donald Trump.
These two books are not reassuring in any simple sense, just serious attempts to comprehend fundamental truths about American history and culture. If you wish to deeply understand that history and our current predicament, they're excellent places to begin. – M.K.
Stress relief ball: Talk about anxiety. With the constant threat of literal nuclear war and the chipping away of civil and human rights, every day in the Trump era is a new hellscape. Squish that big ball of goo until you calm the fuck down and manage to get through one more day. – M.T.
Fuck Trump or Impeach Trump bumper stickers: Inspired by Karen Fonseca, the woman who defied the Fort Bend County sheriff – proceeds benefit Texas Democratic Party's Senior Vote by Mail program. – M.K.
Anti-aging cream: Try to tell me you're not also aging at a faster rate than the president. – C.H.
Trump Impeachmints: The Unemployed Philosophers Guild: They're no longer unemployed but they do philosophize, and they've got more (kosher/vegan) mints than you can shake a gavel at. – M.K.
Kombucha: A bottle of fizzy, fermented tea might not cure the entirety of your queasiness, but it surely couldn't hurt. Plus it may lead to a new home brewing hobby, which could be a good skill now that you never want to leave the house. – N.H.
Cap City Comedy Club gift card: Depressing political times call for a desperate amount of laughter. Keep it local and laugh your way to the apocalypse at Cap City. And remember, misery loves company: Send your equally suffering friend a gift card! – M.T.
Plenty o' weed: The days of nickel bags – unless by "nickel" you mean $100 – are long gone. Ten dollars a gram appears to be the current base rate. It's medicinal, officer! – M.K.
A library card: Give the gift of knowledge this holiday season. A membership to the Austin Public Library gets you access to 21 locations and thousands of books, movies, and more. – S.M.