There’s no hiding place down here —
traditional Gospel song
I look up at a clock: In more or less eighty hours the polls will open on the East Coast. I idly wonder whose bright idea it was to hold our national elections under the sign of Scorpio.
Then I go back to two lines I’m stuck on in Eavan Boland’s poetry.
She’s Irish, born 1944, an acrobat of consonants and vowels. I’m stopped cold by what is almost an aside in her poem “The Women”:
The hour of change, of metamorphosis,
of shape-shifting instabilities.
The hour, as in “this particular hour”? I don’t think so. It is an eternal hour, in that Boland’s lines apply to any hour since 1944 and all the way back to 1844, and why stop there? Any hour can suddenly be the hour of change and metamorphosis. Any and every day is a day of shape-shifting instabilities — although maybe, on most days, we prefer not to face that. Alas, as the number grows of things that we prefer not to face, our ideals become that much more endangered.
We’re living through dangerous times, but I remember that the 20th century’s Dorothy Day used to quote the 16th century’s Teresa of Avila: "All times are dangerous times."
These last two years feel more dangerous than most because we know what sixty million of our neighbors are thinking. They elected a man who looks like their thought and behaves like their thought. A white electorate voted for its dark side.
That dark side can’t be voted out of their psyches. Which means that what is happening in these United States is not ultimately treatable through a political resolution. The resolution must be cultural, and no one knows yet what that might mean or look like. Resolution, if there is to be a resolution, may take a generation — at least.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I very much desire a Democratic Party victory in eighty-some hours. I’m just not sure what we’d be winning. Because the considerable batch of Euro-Americans who constitute the Republican Party no longer believes in America, and what do we do with their disbelief? The president who wants to repeal the 14th Amendment and thinks a free press is the enemy of the people — he’s their president, they love him for that stuff. Sooner or later he’ll be gone and there shall be a chance to patch this republic back together as a republic. But our neighbors aren’t going anywhere and they are our neighbors. As we are theirs.
Why wouldn’t Euro-Americans be frightened of becoming a minority? Because they know very well how they’ve treated minorities. And they know very well how to target color. So they know that white will stand out in a non-white majority nation. Their Bible tells them that the first shall be last; politically that’s a pretty good bet, twenty-thirty-forty years from now. These Euro-Americans who stand with Trump are afraid of being surrounded by some darker version of themselves, to be done unto by others as they have done.
When Mitch McConnell blocked President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee from a hearing and a vote, and his vassal GOP senators accepted that disgrace without a peep, an anarchic pirate flag was raised over the Capitol dome; it wasn’t a flag you could see, but it was a flag you could feel. America didn’t matter anymore. Whiteness mattered. Money mattered. Moneyed whiteness was all.
The masses who enthuse over Trump mostly practice a particularly ungenerous genre of Christianity. (When Jesus said “Suffer the little children to come unto me” he did not mean “Kidnap brown kids from brown parents.”)
So maybe there will be a blue wave, or a blue tsunami, or a blue ripple. If the Dems don’t win the House we’re fucked; if they win big, things shall be better tomorrow than they were yesterday; if they win small, we’ll take what we can get. None of that changes the psyche-balance of this country:
There is a crazed swell of Euro-American fantasists who hate American ideals and can think of nothing more imaginative than building a wall.
How do you contest a mass manifestation of impotent imagination?
They can’t imagine anything except themselves.
To imagine nothing except oneself is to be locked — in what? Severe confinement. Maddening confinement.
That’s what’s going on out there: People are losing it big-time because they cannot bear their maddening conceptual confinement. They elected a president who personifies their dilemma. He seemed such a make-believe figure . . . did they mean to give him real-world power? Maybe they didn’t. Maybe it was all metaphorical to them. The politics of metaphor, God help us. Maybe they only thought, “This’ll show ‘em?!” ‘Em being me, you, anyone likely to read this. And it has shown us: A republic cannot bear the weight of thinking of one’s neighbors as enemies.
James Agee, December 1947: “I believe a democracy which cannot contain all its enemies, of whatever kind or virulence, is finished as a democracy. I believe that a vigorous and genuine enough democracy could do so. But I see no reason to believe that this democracy is vigorous or genuine enough to do so; nor am I thoroughly convinced that such a democracy can ever exist except in the most generous and sanguine imaginations. It seems to me that the mere conception of a vigorous and genuine democracy ... depends on a capacity for faith in human beings so strong that on its basis one can dare to assume that goodness and intelligence will generally prevail over stupidity and evil.”
Several elegantly constructed sentences later (Agee On Film, Vol.1, pp.285-286), Agee writes:
We have harrowing evidence what a peculiarly infernal
mechanism democracy inevitably becomes when it is manipulated by and for people
who no longer understand its meaning and purpose.
So, oh my dear God, “faith in human beings”! And “dare to assume that goodness and intelligence will generally prevail”. . . while the other night, in a TV episode written by Stirling Silliphant in 1962 (“Ever Ride The Waves In Oklahoma?”), I agreed very much with this:
We belong to a species that could protect itself
against anything except each other.
That lands us in F. Scott Fitzgerald territory, 1936: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
All I can come up with, for myself, is: I refuse to see my neighbor as my enemy.
Which is a good way to get yourself killed.
But I don’t know how else to live with myself — politically, or any other way.
As a Sicilian-American Scorpio I am not qualified, by blood or by training, to advocate kindness — I am a street kid in an old man’s body, product of a Brooklyn that Thomas Wolfe claimed only the dead could really know. But . . . when every avenue toward a viable tomorrow seems impossible, why not begin with kindness?
Receptive, calm, stand-your-ground kindness.
I’m not kidding. And I am not going soft.
Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and the impossibly brave souls of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference proved that non-violence and generosity of spirit could turn the tide against virulent, violent hatred — and they did that where white hateful Christian bigotry was backed by a white oppressive Christian system of law and custom. African-American Christian non-violence took down that scaffolding, although it could not change all those people.
Kindness, receptivity, respect. For the humanity of those who would be my enemies. A vow: My neighbor shall not be my enemy in my heart.
Fuckin-A! as we’d say in the Brooklyn-of-old.
November 4 (in the afternoon)
I went to the rock to hide my face but
the rock cried out “No hiding place!”
As a country, that’s very much where we are. This is no time for chickenshits. You’re depressed? That makes this all about you. Depression is all you can bring to the tottering of civilization? Really? That’s no hiding place. And I’ve heard, “I am disappointed in this country.” At which I’m, like: Who am I to be disappointed in 300-plus million people? No kidding. Am I so fucking superior that I can afford to be disappointed in people I don’t even know? The sky is falling, and we’re disappointed in the sky? There’s no hiding place in disappointment. I’m pissed off as hell, but I also know that I kinda enjoy being pissed off, and that there’s no hiding place in rage. There’s no hiding place down here. This isn’t gonna blow over. One way or other, it’s gonna involve you. And if there’s a good part it’s this: We’re in the kind of cultural crisis that proves without doubt that we’re all connected, whether you like it or not; a lot of people you don’t know and shall likely never meet, can wind up ruining your day, your year, your life. How’s that for proof of connection?
November 4 (later and later)
I wish I thought voting is enough, but I don’t.
I tell myself: Stay alert, be game, do something.
Do something non-violent and helpful. Refuse to fuel the chaos.
“Will you lay off me?” I tell me, stumbling as I try to walk my talk.
A common symptom in times when civilization totters: We haven’t a language to speak of the draining
Language creates and reinforces meaning. Language exists to flow, river-like, with meanings. Lenin’s Bolsheviks, Mussolini’s Fascists, Hitler’s Nazis, Trump’s Trumpists — the tactic they share in common is their attack and rage against meaning itself: meaning is bourgeois, subtlety is weakness, verifiable fact is to be disproved by “alternative facts.” When Trumpist Rudy Giuliani says, with a straight face, “Truth is not truth,” he has an entire television network and legions of white evangelical preachers to back him up.
To negate the very concept of verifiable fact subverts, and can destroy, the foundation of public discourse. That’s why they’re doing it. Their nonsense isn’t nonsense at all. It’s a frontal attack on sanity. Because, face it, a Donald Trump cannot rise to power in a sane and fair society. And remember: Trump began his presidency insisting that a photograph of his inauguration’s audience did not show what it, in fact, showed: his crowd was lots smaller than Obama’s but he brazenly told his people, Don’t believe your eyes.
When meaning means nothing and fact means less than nothing, sanity begins to feel powerless, helpless.
Lenins, Mussolinis, Hitlers, Trumps — they like that. As meanings break down under the onslaught of Trumpist attacks, so do the boundaries that protect the unprotected — until, eventually, we are all unprotected, including the Trumpists (as they may one day be surprised to discover).
November 5 (later)
Thoughts to explore at some later date:
Evil is not relative. It may look different in this place or that place, but it is not relative. Evil is a means toward an end that is itself.
Evil cannot bear change that does not enhance itself.
Evil seeks to see itself, and needs to see itself, in every mirror.
Evil’s hunger for self-justification can never be satisfied; that is its engine for action.
To have a voracious ego, yet also a fragile sense of personal identity, is to be an empty vessel easily filled with evil.
Evil cannot believe in the validity of anything but itself.
“Evil things have plans! They have things to do!” (From an episode of Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.) That seems to be true. Witness the often intricate preparation, and the privately operatic emotional build-up, as fantasies become plans that become acts of mass murder. Whenever we discover the private lives of mass murderers, it’s always the same progression. (Another for-instance, as to plans: Trump endlessly repeats that journalists are “the enemy of the people.” He has plans for us, sisters and brothers.)
Evil needs always to up the ante. It can’t bear to do otherwise.
So. The day is here.
November 6 – 11:20pm PST
So. The day is gone. The dream-candidates didn’t win. Beto, Gillum, and probably Abrams. In Georgia and Florida, old news repeated itself: Southern majorities of Euro-American women don’t vote for African-Americans.
Dreaming is good. Essential. After which, win or lose, you’re left with nuts-and-bolts:
Democrats took the House. That’s what had to happen if anything important was to follow, and that’s what happened. That’s a very big deal.
Expect Constitutional crises. That’s what comes next if House Dems do their jobs. And don’t let the portentous phrase “Constitutional crises” scare you. It’s what the Constitution is for.
Michael Ventura © 2018. All rights reserved.
Michael Ventura is a writer who lives in the mountains of Northern California.
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