Friday, November 11, 2016

The American Crisis

These are the times that try men’s souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from service of their country…
Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

Welcome to Donald Trump's Amerika.

            A blizzard of lies descended upon us and now sets in a season of stupidity and violence.  The mild summer gave way to hopeful autumn, but now winter is here and we haven’t seen its like since Valley Forge.  Thomas Paine pointed out that tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered and that what we acquire too easily, we esteem too lightly.  The current generation of Americans acquired liberty too easily and esteemed it too lightly.  Those who survive this crisis will not make that mistake again, but their grandchildren and great grandchildren probably will.
            The United States of America was created two hundred and twenty seven years ago, based on older ideas of the sovereignty of the individual and radical ideas of “self-government.”  The moment of conception of the United States occurred when Thomas Jefferson’s pen formed the words, “all men are created equal.”  The infant nation was born thirteen years later in Philadelphia, when the delegates penned their names on the Constitution.  In between came the first “American crisis,” so eloquently captured by Thomas Paine, which formed and shaped that unique document – the only mechanism human beings have ever created that effectively helps people acquire individual freedom.
The only mechanism invented for gaining freedom.
            Fear that we are heading for oligarchic rule has fueled much public debate recently, but the truth is that this nation was founded as an oligarchy in Republican disguise.  The Constitution was an offering from the oligarchic rulers fearful of true “social revolution.”  It was designed to put the brakes on that revolution in order to “ensure the domestic tranquility.”  This masterfully created document has served us well for nearly seven generations, making it possible for every American citizen to pursue happiness without ever capturing it.  That mutual unhappiness and the attendant hope of its opposite allows us to live in uneasy peace with our fellow Americans, but it contains the seeds of crisis – the lessons of American democracy.
            Now with my favorite city torn by riots as our privileged, frustrated youth and some of their irresponsible elders act out their justifiable outrage, I long for domestic tranquility.  Soon our national temper tantrum will pass and we will be confronted with the reality of President Trump.  Then, with frozen feet wrapped in bloody rags, we will know what it means to declare independence in the face of a tyrant.  Our ancestors knew these lessons; they faced them in 1861, and in 1876, and in 1894, and in 1919, and in 1932, and in 1947, and in 1974, and in 2001.  That’s just one of the problems of democracy.
Our ancestors have learned these lessons over and over.
            My pedantic friends will be quick to say that this nation is not a Democracy, and as usual they are correct.  American democracy, on the other hand, is a seven generation experiment that has consistently and steadily increased liberty; first to non-property owning white men, then to black and other “non-white” Americans, then to women.  Each generation has expanded liberty for the individual and those who have tried to impede or roll back this progress have provided the crises from which we learn to govern ourselves.  We face exactly such a crisis today.
            The United States, infected by the founding lie of racism and its perversion “white supremacy,” still suffers from its “original sins:” slavery and Native American genocide.  Our national hands are stained with the blood of oppression and massacre at home and around the world, but those same bloody hands have also given hope and succor to the persecuted people of the world.  At heart America is kind and optimistic; but watch out!  When our blood is up we have a violent mean streak.  This was the dumping ground for Europe’s violent criminals and religious malcontents long before Donald Trump started complaining about immigration.
            It makes no difference what you think of Donald Trump as a man: admire him, hate him.  To me, he is nothing more than a pipsqueak, braggart and conman.  His words are not worth the air he expels making them, but he has unleashed the worst elements of American culture.  No wall will keep “foreigners” out of “our country.”  The wall Donald Trump has already built is a wall against the tide of history.  As our proud self-governed nation surges into its future – where the second word of “all men” is expanded to include every American regardless of personal consideration – it will wash away Trump’s Wall.  But how much blood will it take?
Ridicule is our most effective weapon.
            As a middle aged man in fragile health I fear violence and I love peace and domestic tranquility for personal reasons, but as a life-long committed activist for social justice I oppose violence for political reasons.  As a student of history I have learned that violence has never solved any problem and has never settled any question other than: who’s on top?  The only America I will accept is one where every American can pursue happiness individually; every American has the power to make important decisions about our community, our family and our health; every American is free to express themselves without persecution, hatred or violence; and, corporations are subordinate to individuals and cannot usurp individual rights.  None of those things can be achieved with violence.
            Most important – violence is a chump’s game.  Violent resistance is Donald Trump’s meat.  The more he is resisted the stronger he gets.  The only weapons that the oppressed can effectively use against a tyrant are non-violent resistance based on universal moral principles; and, outrageous, obscene, funny ridicule.  Expose the lies.  Challenge the ignorance.  Be funny and smart.  Use your creativity and your individuality to create the America you want to live in. And watch your toes!  It’s going to be a brutal winter.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Summer of the Body Snatchers


Something is happening this year that I've never seen before.

           The dog days of summer are here. The time of year I dislike the most is on us with its long, sultry days when it takes herculean effort to achieve any task and its short, sweaty nights that bring little rest.  It’s uncomfortable and people are cranky and short tempered, as they always are this time of year.  But there is something going on in 2016 that I haven’t seen before.
            I recently watched Phillip Kaufman’s eerie 1978 remake of the classic science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which invasive weeds from outer space grow pods that replace humans with perfectly emotionless, perfectly obedient replicas, relegating humanity to dry husks and gray dust, which is swept up and discarded with the trash.  In the film the dwindling number of survivors are overcome with paranoia and panic at the realization that loved ones are no longer themselves and the certainty that they are next.
            Something like the invasion of the body snatchers is happening in the United States this summer, but instead of being replaced by emotionless pod-people, we are being replaced by mindless automata ruled by fear and prejudice.  I feel rising paranoia and panic as I am verbally assaulted by strangers with fragile, outlandish opinions that are deathly afraid of disagreement.  People who have never laid eyes on me brand me with simple-minded labels, such as “libtard,” and rejoice in the fact that I will be dead soon.  People I have known and respected for years are suddenly venting their prejudice and showing themselves to be ignorant, violent bigots, impervious to reason.  It makes me wonder if any intelligent relationships will be able to survive this brutal summer.
            I blame it on the nasty Presidential election, our national Rat Race that is being fought out in front of our eyes and between our ears.  The Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, has tapped into the ugliest elements of American culture and appeals to the worst angels of our nature.  Like a spurting artery, he splatters the electorate with his hot, sticky opinions and calls us back to an imaginary era of “American greatness,” built on genocide, white supremacy and male dominance.  The urge to vote for Trump is a kind of national suicidal impulse.
Like a spurting artery the campaign spatters us with hot, sticky opinions.
            His opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic nominee is not much better.  A cranky, warlike old woman who appears to believe that endless warfare is the key to national prosperity, she pays meager lip service to the liberal ideals that made her Party great while she opens her arms wide to the weary, beaten refugees streaming out of the bleeding Republican Party.  The horrifying realization that Hillary Clinton, Hillary fucking Clinton, is our only hope for preserving the American Republic leads us further into despair.
            Sure, there are other candidates. Jill Stein of the Green Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarians and a kaleidoscopic array of flakes and loonies enliven the debate, but they are nothing more than sideshow clowns and present little hope for “voters of conscience.” In the end Americans must reconcile themselves to a choice between impotence and irrelevance on the one hand and Hillary Clinton, just more impotence and irrelevance, on the other.  No wonder we are so fucking angry.
            As a student of history I am fully aware that curmudgeons like me have been lamenting the coming generations in despair for several thousand years and somehow mankind struggles on.  The fate of American-style democracy has always looked bleak, but as Winston Churchill (Winston fucking Churchill) said, it is the worst form of government, except for all the others.  Na├»ve fool that I am, I still believe in the U.S. Constitution – the only effective tool people have ever invented for liberating ourselves – and I have faith in the “genius” of American-style democracy – which holds that anyone, no matter how humble or limited, can rise to great leadership, with the support of the people. 
Where will this year's election leave us?

            We’ll see how long I can hold onto these frail hopes.  In the meantime all we have is our love for ourselves, our family and friends, and our country, along with faith in our gods, if we have them.  Hold onto that. Talk among yourselves. Listen to each other and try to hold your tempers in check.  Maybe we can make it through this summer that tries our souls.  Maybe we can preserve the ideals of self-government, equality and fairness. If we’re lucky. November seems like a long way off.