They strewed white flowers of cowardice, as they passed…
~ Anne Spencer
If a society permits one portion of its citizenry to be menaced or destroyed,
then, very soon, no one in that society is safe. The forces thus released in the people
can never be held in check, but run their devouring course.
~ James Baldwin
We know that Christine Blasey Ford is and shall remain a name of honor. We know that Brett Cavanaugh is and shall remain a name of shame. So shall the name Mitch McConnell, whose refusal to allow a hearing for President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee proved absolutely, if proof was needed, that it did not take Donald Trump to fry the concept of “republic” in the souls of Republicans.
Congress, as a form, as a process, amounts to nothing when power alone matters. And that’s where we are. McConnell and the slavish Republicans of the Senate have twisted and hollowed out the law as it pertains to the Supreme Court, thereby putting every American in danger of arbitrary rule. No recourse. They have an agenda and it shall be enforced. The law will be what they say it will be. This may take some time to sink in, depending on who and where you are, but let’s not kid ourselves about what arbitrary rule means, for it means this: We’re on our own.
Which more than ever magnifies the need for a We: a resistance that resists.
What is necessary, and will become more and more necessary, is our sustained will to fight for liberty and justice for all — knowing, now, that we may win nothing, except our own and each other’s dignity and the grace not to lose our souls in what may be our awful defeat.
Take a breath on that. When I smoked it would be, Light a cigarette and walk around the block.
All of which is to say: Whatever you’re doing for liberty and justice for all — do more. A vote is not enough. Not nearly. Do more! For you do not want to be counted amongst the one-third that watches, as in this post last year from German director Werner Herzog, born in 1942 under the reign of Nazism. “Dear America: You are waking up, as Germany once did, to the awareness that one-third of your people would kill another one-third, while one-third watches.”
Oh, Ventura, why do you fuss like this, you excitable old man?! We’re nowhere near that state of affairs. We’re at least four, five years away (this was actually said to me, by somebody smart!), and probably ten years away, or more, or never. Odds are, you won’t even live to see it!
And I’m, like: That’s my good news?
What I’m calling “the politics of helplessness” is a concerted policy by the GOP — that is, the political arm of corporate oligarchy — the object of which is to make the mass of Americans helpless, anxious, frightened. Not that the party of Nancy Pelosi-Chuck Schumer is significantly less corporate, but they are significantly less cruel, and the Democratic Party may still be capable of self-correction. Upon that teeter-totter possibility we precariously perch, as we improvise our way toward what a Republic might look like in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, we may watch a parade of shamelessness, like the Cavanaugh hearings, and study naked faces. Dr. Ford faced those men with a quietude and dignity that could not be assailed, while, most amazingly, they in turn bared their real faces to her and to the world.
These Republicans took form, in mind and spirit, when the Euro-American moneyed male was Authority itself, an authority that seemed to flow from on high and impart, by association, automatic status to every Euro-American male no matter how lowly.
Now look at them, displayed at their desks as at a zoo in cages:
Whiny, blubbering, pouty Cavanaugh, who would be pathetic were his hatred not so … palpable? smell-able? As though he sweated hatred. Chuck Grassley’s studied air of righteous obtuseness, practiced at admitting no new idea, his grasp of power arthritic and uncaring. And ah, Lindsay Graham, see him unleashed, flat-out mean, reeking of threat, with nothing to offer society but obedience to money and the promise of revenge for Dr. Ford’s crime of saying, “I know who you really are.” John Cornyn, fastidious, patrician — he is what hatred looks like when it doesn’t know it’s hatred. Orrin Hatch, annoyed to the point of rage that something so powerless as a decent woman could cause him to damn himself yet again. Mike Lee, John Kennedy, Mike Crapo, Ben Sasse — lumps, nothings. Think of it: to get so high on the ladder and to still be nothing? — what humiliation. Ted Cruz, quailing lest he utter a word that might play in an ad for Beto O’Rourke. And Jeff Flake, who takes the cake — just enough grit to call for an investigation, but does he mind if it’s rigged? Flake doesn’t mind at all.
And what were they so afraid of? Yes, afraid. We know their boiled-over rage is just the froth upon their fear. They’re afraid of a woman’s truth.
And that, friends and neighbors, is history writ large, if not quite legibly. For the last shall be first, and those men know it. These are the last days of Euro-American male authority — these next weeks, or these next years, however long it takes. They are without ideas and ruled by money; what they enact cannot be sustained because it is based on what they wish and not on what is real.
“Liberty and justice for all” has been the justification for existence of the United States — its ever promise, however un-kept and unkempt. As I said at the beginning, we who stand by that promise may be in for an ugly defeat this next decade or so. People who orphan children and lock them up, isolated, in desert camps? People who’ll do that are capable of anything. Maybe the worst is yet to come. But the worst cannot be sustained. We can’t survive without ideas that match the epoch, and reactionaries have no ideas. Without ideas, upper-case-P Power is more fragile than it looks.
What we are dealing with is the rage of the disinherited. Raging in advance, as it were. They dread what’s coming; what, in fact, is already here, but has not yet quite recognized and unified itself.
In that bloated creature of resentment and blame who inhabits the Oval Office;
... in the all-but-naked panic of those above-named Euro-American rich guys, the crudity of their manner, their imaginations clogged with a moldy odorous thing that used to be their morality (for no one starts off where these people have ended up);
... in the fury of Euro-American males who are their core followers (“You shall not replace us!” was the chant at Charlottesville);
... in the fury of the women married to, and daughters of, and sisters of, and mothers of such men (for if their men are stripped of gender- and color-status and toppled from their place in the hierarchy, what happens to these women?);
... and in the midst of broadcast-static and headline-noise, some Republicans know, and all of them sense, that, in the end, urban-suburban culture rules rural and that their ways will be toppled, are toppling, or they wouldn’t need to engage in such furies to defend themselves.
Cut taxes for the rich, enable corporate oligarchy, disenfranchise any unlike themselves, ignore climate change, gentrify, and make war — that’s all they know how to do, and it’s not enough to sustain them through the demographic changes and climate changes that are only beginning as we speak.
Rainer Maria Rilke:
Each sluggish turn of the world has such disinherited
to whom belongs neither what’s been nor what’s coming next.
So reactionaries shall make as much trouble and inflict as much pain as they can in the present, because, for them more than for most of us, the present really is all they have. They are rooted in every element of the past that has no place in what’s coming next.
And what is that, you may fairly ask? A world as different from now as this world is different from the world of fifty years ago. Better? Maybe. I think so. But at great cost. And very different.
The GOP’s politics of helplessness will eventually backfire, as they find themselves more and more helpless to block the onslaught of change. The problem for you and me in these United States these days — an increasingly alarming problem — is that the last arena to manifest deep-rooted change is the political.
At this point, sure, a “blue wave” would help mightily in the mid-terms, but even so, in the very near term:
Expect things to hurt more and skies to darken.
Michael Ventura © 2018. All rights reserved.
Michael Ventura is a writer who lives in the mountains of Northern California.
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