Heading into the forthcoming midterms, I’m unhappy. True, as an Esquire article by Nate Silver published in 2009 reminds us, presidents’ respective parties tend to suffer defeats at the first off-season biennial realignment. And it doesn’t matter whether the president did a good job in those first two years. Nonetheless, no matter where I turn, I’m bombarded by hysterical calls to action on my cell phone, in my email, on bumper stickers, and in every spare bit of roadside desert. Many could make the cut of Trump’s Twitter barrages:
- Stop Critical Race Theory
- Empower Parents
- Mark Kelly wants Open Borders
- Katie Hobbs is a Racist
- End the Biden crimewave
My personal favorite appears attached to trucks and SUVs: “Freedoms Enforced.” Since “brevity is the soul of wit,” I’ll not dally on that one. But the list above I find particularly interesting. Critical race theory, along with the companion term “woke,” were not things I remember learning in school. Even my rightwing high school history teacher would concede that whites did better at the expense of blacks. I didn’t think of this as a theory or a proposition: it would be evident to anyone with a thinking brain. But even I was ignorant of the genuine cancel culture dominating mainstream telling of history. Yes, cancel culture is a term new to me, and those railing about it these days didn’t seem to have a problem with it when one could not discuss railroad strikes in mainstream history texts (discussed in what I think should be essential reading for anyone living in this country: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States). School boards and teachers whitewashed the history I learned before college, with stern dismissal of plights suffered by modern people of color and tepid confession for the greatest horrors visited upon any people: native extermination black enslavement. They had no taste for blood, but European bloodlust stained every page of every history one could ever read, if you knew where to look. The terms differ now: they say, “that’s just woke blah” rather than “that’s just nigger blah.” But having come from the evangelical South, I promise they mean the latter. The others above are hogwash: I live in a city a few hours from the Mexico border, and I see no signs of a drug cartel invasion. Rather, I see homeless people begging for lunch money on every street corner. Pronouncing gubernatorial aspirant Katie Hobbs a racist reminds me of the tactic key to all things Trump: accuse others of one’s own sins. Goodness knows he needs no imagination from which to pluck his myriad personal and moral shortcomings. USA Facts supply a few useful statistics: small upticks here and there, but a processive decline in all forms of crime. There is no Biden crime wave, and even if there were, the social transformation necessary to shift crime heavily up and down occurs more on the decade than the annual scale. But when have facts arrested a fancy tagline? Prevarication may be a fancy word, but it still means horse shit. While visiting family in Scottsdale, I saw several republican signs sitting among a very genuine, “Free Horse Manure” (many in the neighborhood own and stable horses on-site.) I think that one probably better reflects the world in which we live. In a very literal sense, we each have access to a lifetime supply of manure, so why not believe things unfit for the maggots? The GOP roster resembles that of a lunch group in an insane asylum; those running here in Arizona say they won’t concede a loss, and that they cannot lose. Masters may well be the most insane senate candidate I’ve ever seen, a perverse mixture of Sarah Palin and Elon Musk.
If you’re scared of armed militias sitting outside your ballot boxes, you’re in luck! SCOTUS says the U.S. Constitution, written when firearms were no more dangerous than Mister Spock’s derisive “stone knives and bearskins,” guarantees your right to conceal mass murder machines. As usual, I’d refer these self-appointed guardians of the Founding Fathers’ brains to Christopher Ingraham’s op-ed in the Washington Post: one could fire the best rifle three times per minute, compared to myriad rounds an ordinary pistol can rocket into a crowd. I discussed some of this in an earlier article, but no one reading this will find themselves shifted on the issue. It may speak more to a psychological fetish I’m probably unqualified to diagnose. Noam wrote that the language acquisition device separated us from the rest of the animals, and it probably was a mutation. My own fiction book The Eighth Angel tries to make sense of what I fear is an “inchoate evolution:” we haven’t achieved a refinement needed to assure our survival. Noam also points out that the current GOP is the most dangerous organization in human history, no small feat. It is, in fact, a perfect combination of means, motive, and opportunity racing us to a precipice, a final curtain call for homo sapiens. McConnell and Graham know catastrophic climate change is real; they know nuclear proliferation will destroy us; they know that they’ve emboldened and empowered Trump, paving the way for fascism to cover the earth in wildfire. True, Trump is a craven, filthy criminal, incapable of a coherence needed to embody Hitler’s flavor, but there’s no reason to believe the next version of him will be the genuine article. As I said in my previous post, my people were ripe for the plucking. There were great people in their midst, like a couple of teachers from high school, along with many teachers from the local junior college. I maintain contact with three of them, and I just finished a lengthy phone call with one of them.
Mister Yeatts reads fantasy, and I wondered whether he would enjoy A Song of Fire and Ice. Like me, Mister Yeatts always felt like a bit of an alien, and so fantasy and science fiction supplied a means of supplanting the now with the somewhere not now. I guess that’s why history has always mesmerized me. Stephen King suggested that we enjoy horror and monsters precisely because it lessens the burdens of our own monstrosity. Whatever the truth of it, the monsters in our midst come in the name of God, and we learn now the filth and malevolence of their souls. Palpatine was something of a study in this: in the prequel trilogy, he appears to be a measured but calculating politician, charming of affect and warm of concern. But we the audience eventually see him for what he is: a misshapen, deformed devil of unspeakable power. That wasn’t what usually happened in the real world: the eponymous hypocrite in Moliere’s Tartuffe almost never lies in his dialogue, and he easily wins the hearts and minds of those he would exploit. Evil masquerades as good, and, for the most part, one might never know the difference. But Trump transformed culture here in America, riding the wave of despair and despondency wrought by the neoliberal program enforced upon labor classes here and abroad. Perhaps my vision was inchoate, much as I wonder about the human soul. We learn about evil as children through the nefarious deeds of fictional monsters, but clear-eyed analysts like Gore Vidal, Noam, and Howard Zinn probably could look perceive only slight differences between the loquacious tirades William F. Buckley and the sneering hiss of the monster Palpatine. I rewatched some of the Hellraiser movies for Halloween, noticing for the first time that the Cenobites sit somewhere between the human-obsessed demons taught to me in Bible class and Lovecraft’s devastating “cthonics.” Perhaps the universe shares Cthulhu’s indifference, and I doubt McConnell really wants to destroy the world. Maybe he and his cohorts believe the world is already lost, and they must crush the throats of anyone interfering with their privileged life. Newt told Ripley in Aliens that her mommy told her there were no monsters, but she knew in that moment that there were terrible creatures driven mad with murderous instinct. Mister Yeatts recently turned 85, and we laughed that he might be happier at this age, knowing we might not have to witness our species’ impending demise. I shared the laugh, my own health casting a shadow over a full lifetime.
A recent interview with Noam found him distinguishing motives and intent from actions and consequences. Though the former can’t be equated with the latter, I do wonder how it is that a plurality if not majority can understand the good and the bad of fairy tales, but a madness has gripped us, rotating all the of players until one criminal, marred by utter business and moral failings, can simply say, “Putin isn’t bad,” and old white men (who’d normally throw their weight against more militarism in the service of other white people) suddenly agree with him. Fox celebrated the RNC’s decision in 2020 to present no platform at the convention, probably because they, like everyone else, can’t count on Trump to commit to anything in particular, save excessive gestures on behalf of gun-loving evangelicals, a group he ridiculed and bedazzled. Truly, the children of the world are wiser than the children of so-called light.
I’ve spent these years in this blog trying to reconcile the righteousness of the human animal with the malignant avarice dominating the power class. As I’ve decided in my fiction book, there may be no answer to this conundrum. Democracy supposes a literacy upon those governing themselves, much like market theory requires informed choice and consent. Neither here is respectable among the political class. Corporations don’t want to compete, so they bribe the political class. Those in power refuse to relinquish it, so they illegally block voters and enchant a population with soundbites into surrendering themselves. Perhaps I’ve learned my lesson. McConnell is no better than Palpatine, and the difference in appearance is superficial. Then again, listen to his cackle in a debate with his challenger last election.
Perhaps the more depressing turn of events of late is the conclusion by the scientific community that we ought steel ourselves for extinction: Cambridge University released a study in August arguing that the “four horsemen” of the climate apocalypse, “famine and malnutrition, extreme weather, conflict, and vector-borne diseases,” together with the fat-tailed temperature hikes expected by 2070, must compel us to dialogue seriously about the end of our species. I myself have no children, but I have nieces and cousins to whom I would like to have bequeathed a world better than the one I inherited. But this won’t happen without dramatic changes. And despite Don’t Look Up‘s Benedict Drask hilariously firing his gun at the comet headed for Earth, bullets cannot stop the catastrophic endgame. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists provide similar ill-omens, setting their historic clock one hundred seconds from midnight, with nuclear proliferation remaining a largely undiscussed nightmare. It’s crazy–Trump’s enablers, and pretty much anyone else in the federal government, all know these things. Nuclear weapons reached the public discourse because of speculation that Putin might deploy “tactical” nukes on Ukraine. Daniel Ellsberg suggests that the danger of nuclear weapons long precedes actual deployment; Putin and other actors may threaten their use, poising these actors to conduct aggression somewhat unchecked. Neither political party’s leadership would prefer to confront the nuclear threats, but rather act within this long shadow to extend it. Noam insists we should treat with Putin rather than permit the conflict to escalate, even if this means concessions. But policy planners long have bemoaned the exhaustion of diplomacy, even though they rarely try. Trump’s party would probably deny the existence of a conflict rather than contradict him publicly. Instead, they encourage armed vigilantes circling capitol buildings to fight the tyranny of stolen elections, another splendid example of accusing others of your own failings; Ari Berman warned in January that the gerrymandering, voter registration laws, and just plain criminality positioned the GOP to win bigtime in next week’s election. Several candidates have already trumpeted their wins, adding that a loss is theft.
Yes, these are terrifying developments, and Psychology Today says:
[...o]ur notorious inability as a species to significantly affect the long-term, man-made crises of population growth or climate change, not to mention the wars and crises that devolve from their effects, would seem to argue in the other direction. And the reason we are so poor at long-range planning might well lie in how our brains work.
Does this mean we can’t escape Cambridge’s grisly endgame? It makes me wonder once more whether we make up an inchoate or half-baked species, capable of tremendous accomplishments, but incapable of managing them. The ingredients are there, but the recipe missed something. We can reason about it, we can share our findings with others, but motivating large segments within the population to confront these challenges seems impossible. Franklin Roosevelt found the strength, even from a wheelchair, to leverage the hopefulness depression-era Americans felt. We lack that hopefulness now, despite Joe Biden giving a better performance as president than I ever could have imagined. In fact, I believe he’s the greatest president of my lifetime (Carter forward), and I’m no fan of the executive branch. I agree with Noam that all post-war presidents would hang by the Nuremberg standards, though Biden might escape such a fate.
So what can we do? Humans would prefer salvation to extinction, but the sophistication of dialogue must change. Nuance within the balance sheet of rights and principles must receive better press. For instance, if one were to believe the fantasy that American democracy really is democracy, that one must decide whether the principle of self-governance extends to omnicide. Is it wrong to declare martial law if that’s the only way to stop catastrophic climate change? Should Americans’ right to safety extend to murder? Anarcho-syndicalism holds that those depriving others of rights, real or imagined, bear the heaviest burdens of proof. But effective unanimity of scientific agreement on the endgame described earlier? Is this not enough to coerce a dramatic response? Researchers outlined 35 symptoms of code-red climate change, sixteen of which have transpired. If I am to believe that humans cannot address long-term consequences such as the catastrophic endgame, does this not mean we are required morally to coerce participation in a capable climate strategy? But how does one go about this? It would be easier if both political parties could agree to live in the real world. The GOP decided early to simply deny the signs of the times. Within the evangelical sector, we believed that the world was supposed to end, prophesied in the book of Revelations. Yes, we were told that God intended to destroy the world by fire, just as he’d done by water during the time of Noah. So the more terrible the signs, the more we believed Jesus would return. But I’m afraid no one is coming to save anyone, save ourselves. I think the non-evangelical climate deniers probably decided that the world could not be saved. Why else would they pursue greed in the face of insurmountable evidence?
Kelly and I are worried. The Arizona state constitution bans gay marriage, a provision left on the books if the fascist SCOTUS decides to overturn Obergefell. Though Alito argued otherwise, I believe this is their intention. We’ve gone so far as to investigate moving abroad, though nuclear winter is no respecter of borders. Because of my precarious health struggle, and because of family, we’ll just have to go down with the ship, cacti and all. The cacti stood long before I was born, and they might be laughing at my concern, if they only had the means to do so.
There are some reasons to be optimistic: Lula da Silva, once a political prisoner in Brazil, defeated the archconservative fascist Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro attacked the rainforests, imprisoned his critics, and presided over a COVID debacle in Trump’s league. He should go to prison, but leaders seldom pay that sort of consequence. The young generation soon to enter adulthood also seem to be a cut above the rest of us antiques; an op-ed in the Washington Post explains that young workers demand diversity. I find this comforting, and I’m helping lead such an initiative in my day job. I’d rephrase Orwell to say that if there is to be salvation, it lies with our children, inchoate a species we might be.
Mister Rogers once said that in times of crisis, we must look to the helpers (his expression finds a critic in one Atlantic article, though I don’t think the author really made any point of merit.) He didn’t mean first-responders, but rather, those carrying out the Herculean effort to change our world for the better. I find myself calling these titanic figures “keystones:” without them, the structure collapses. This is work we all must accept. We are all keystones, we are all helpers, and we must all take up this work. If we are to stake a claim in this world, we must support each other. When I’m optimistic, I believe we can do it, if we work together. For me, this means identifying those who are making a difference, and supporting them. It would include the usual suspects for me, but I’d add my cousin Carlos “Chico” Robinson, a tireless Arizona educator and labor agitator. I hope to interview him in the coming months, along with my uncle Charles Slagle, the liberal evangelical minister. This would also include my history professor Pat Ledbetter. They give me hope, something I’ll share in the world of 2023.
Until then, vote, and seek out each other. As The Matrix‘s oracle famously said, “the only way forward is together.”