The American Left Goes Too Far, and Not Far at all

The other night, after an exhausting trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, meeting with world leaders, the president got back on Twitter.  A fair-minded person would assume he was tired after a grueling trip and quite possibly dozed off mid-tweet, his thumbs probably hitting random keys.   The tweet was an unintelligible prelude to a complaint about the liberal media that is busily, gleefully crucifying the president, who is doing his very best to learn a very complicated job on the job. Much merriment was made over the president’s incoherent tweet, kind of confirming the very point about the media that the president was in the process of tweeting when he passed out.  

Here it is, have another laugh:  “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”.   Hilarious, yo.

The president had been greeted warmly on his first stop by the medieval rulers of Saudi Arabia.  He promised them a good deal on over $110,000,000,000 in weapons so that Saudi Arabian royalty can remain in power.   The House of Saud are Islamic fundamentalists, adherents for two centuries of  the most extreme and intolerant form of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism (they prefer to call it Salafism,  apparently), an ideology they’ve spent billions to export.     For a perspective on the consistency of the president’s worldview, google Saudi Arabia.  Third from the  the top, this summary from Wikipedia:  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocratic monarchy in which Sunni Islam is the official state religion based on firm Sharia law and non-Muslims are not allowed to hold Saudi citizenship.  [1]

The president likely intimated to our close Saudi allies that he planned to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, joining Syria (Nicaragua apparently didn’t sign on because the voluntary deal didn’t go far enough to protect the environment), a move that would ensure the ongoing value of  Saudi fossil fuel since there would be no decrease in American demand if the U.S. was no longer a signatory to the pledge to reduce carbon emissions.   Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State from Exxon, no doubt smiled about that part too, even as he publicly speaks about the need to curb rising temperatures.   In Israel, the president’s old friend, right-wing hard-liner Bibi Netanyahu, greeted the president as an old friend.  Only the Pope was bitchy to the president.  

I mean, did you see the Pope’s face, his body language?  What unPopelike behavior!  SAD!

Things went downhill for the president after that bitter cameo by the Pope. NATO countries were also bitchy to him, particularly after he called them a bunch of deadbeats.   The French president practically arm-wrestled him during an extended handshake, afterwards explicitly saying he did it to show that Europe was not prepared to take any shit from the pushy American president.  One can imagine how psychologically taxing the trip was for a germaphobe who does not like to travel, except between the D.C. White House, the southern resort White House and occasional trips to Trump Tower in New York City to see his wife and youngest child.

So the Left makes sport of the man, because of a typo.  Isn’t that just like the petty, gotcha Left?   The so-called fact-based, proof-reading fucking Left.   Very clever, one more reason that patriotic people who do not always think things through to their logical conclusions, and sometimes react out of rage, hate the fucking smug liberal elites.    Yes, you’re hilarious Samantha Bee, Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fucking Kimmel.  Laugh while you still can.

Why am I bothering to tap the keys today instead of getting about my business?  Because it was the only way I could stop myself from watching endless video clips of people opining about what is wrong with the president, how long it will be before he self-destructs, how much damage he will do to us all before he does. Better to chatter here, I figure, than to keep watching people like Dan Rather carefully say that the president is the most “emotionally troubled” president since Nixon.  Liberal smart aleck Keith Olbermann compares the behavior of our divisive, decisive, learning on the job president to notorious first century Roman Emperor Nero.  

I am troubled because, beyond the mockery, I don’t see much evidence of organized, principled opposition coming together.  I can’t picture so far how we organize it on a large enough scale to influence law and policy.   On the left, among nationally known elected officials, meaning those of the rather conservative post-Bill and Barack corporate Democratic party, only Bernie Sanders is consistently articulating a vision of needed change and specifically refuting every one of the right’s talking points.  It makes me wish that once Bernie saw which way the wind was blowing inside the Democratic party during the tilted primaries he’d opted for a third party run against the most hated and second most hated presidential contenders ever.  Even as I am well-aware of the fate of every other American third party.  This may have actually been the moment for it, given the unsavory contenders, and I’d have liked his chances.

Meanwhile, the faux-populist billionaire reality-TV star genius of branding president, although only marginally effective so far,  has managed to advance a short list of extreme right wing wet dreams.  He has gone down the greatest hits of cherished extreme right positions and taken bold steps to advance several big ones as he throws bloody meat to his base.  He is doing a lot of damage before he flames out.  There is the real possibility that, in spite of everything, he will not be held to account for anything:  winning is everything and he is exactly the kind of angry winner enough Americans voted for to make their president.  No matter how much he winds up hurting those who still believe he would stand up for them, get their jobs in the coal mines back, make America great again.

Protect the environment?  Fuck the environment, where’s the money in the environment? Appoint a man who has repeatedly sued the EPA to head the EPA.  That’s how we fucking take care of business, in your face!  Oh, and Global Warming is bullshit too, come negotiate with me, rest of the world (hats off to you on this issue, Bashir al-Assad) if you want to convince me it’s not.  What’s next?  Public education?  Fuck that shit, we’ll have the Christian fundamentalist daughter of a right wing billionaire, a generous campaign donor who has never set foot in a public school, oversee the end of that fucking scam.  The stupider and less critical-thinking people are, the easier it is for all of us.    Science?  Cut the funding, research is stupid.  Support for poor children?  They made the wrong choice in life, being born fucking losers.  Immigrants and Muslims?  Fuck ’em.  Black lives matter?  I beg to differ.  Poor people in government-supported housing, the so-called housing of last resort before homelessness?  We got a sleepy looking right wing black guy, famous as a doctor, who says he’s not qualified for the job of HUD Secretary — and he’s our man to oversee the dismantlement of those ‘entitlements’, he’ll do it because he’s a patriot.  Women want the right to control their own bodies?   Wombs don’t vote, asshole, huge blocks of Christian zealots do.  Privatized prisons open for business as the Attorney General vows to renew Nixon’s federal war on marijuana addicts and those who profit from that evil, unAmerican weed.  Go down the list, a cynical far right freak show at every stop.

I recently had a long email conversation with an old friend about America’s permanent war against “Terror”,  now almost fifteen years in.  The fact that Obama signed off on it, along with mass surveillance, secret kill lists, escalated drone strikes and many of Cheney’s other “unitary executive” policies, while paying lip service to smart wars, negotiation and “transparency”, disturbs me as much as anything President Hope and Change did or didn’t do.  My friend is a skillful devil’s advocate and he argued, convincingly, that Obama was no worse than other presidents, better than most.  

My friend, in his spirited advocacy for devilish policies, even seemed, at one point, to argue in favor of the idiocy of “kill ’em all over there so they won’t kill us over here”.  He pointed out that the president, whoever that person is, is severely constrained in what he can actually do.  The president serves at the pleasure of very powerful forces, and is also dragged along (he reminds me) by the irresistible currents of history, culture, natural disaster, ancient prejudices and constantly updated hatreds.   These larger forces will always have the final say in how much the U.S. winds up spending, and how many innocents and bad hombres alike are killed, maimed and displaced to keep the world safe for Freedom, Liberty, Democracy, the Free Market and things like that.  Hard to argue against all that.

In the end he agreed that the ruthless, endless, escalating war on multiple Islamic nations probably creates as many terrorists as it kills.  I signed on to a long list of horrifying realities that dictate American foreign and domestic policies including the vast war profits for the wealthy (nothing is more lucrative than permanent war), the tragic gullibility of many frightened Americans and how excited most Americans of both parties seem to get any time our president sets off a huge explosion that kills a lot of brown people somewhere.  I sent him this list of acknowledged horrors and he wrote back, with the beautiful brevity of a spot-on tweet:  Now you see my perspective.

That perspective is hard to miss, as is the worst side of human nature, vividly on display when times are tough and citizens are gripped by anger and a deep sense of hopelessness.  Just turn on the news– the media focuses almost exclusively on conflict and violence, the more extreme the better.  If it bleeds it leads, baby, you know the drill.  Then the only question is who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs, and who you blame will depend on whether your baseball hat is red or blue.  

There is a large and influential industry devoted almost entirely to assigning blame and channeling anger, and it’s big money, yooge money. Though reflexively blaming, rather than seriously discussing problems and possible solutions, misses the point of the whole exercise of what democracy is meant to be, of course.   With rooting reflexively for a team there is no informed debate, no need — only die-hard loyalty is required.  Political discourse is conveniently reduced to lustily rooting for your team; it means the team with the savviest marketing, the best on-slogan market saturation and most enthusiastic rah-rah section takes home the trophy.  That the trophy is making policy that will drastically effect the lives of tens or hundreds of millions for a generation or more is easily enough missed in all the excitement.

We have arrived at a moment in our history when the American president appoints, as a top advisor, his young son-in-law, oldest son of another billionaire, whose chief experience and qualification is working for his dad.   This young man is put in charge of virtually everything important in government.  The president expresses great confidence in him.  The Pope poses disgustedly next to this personification of nepotism.  And so it goes.

Acknowledging the enormity of the horror can’t be the end of the story. Powerful people run a corrupt and evil machine that can never be stopped  — The End.  What kind of fucking movie is that?  Who’d pay to see that shit?  I had to send my friend Howard Zinn’s words, spoken while accepting an award late in his life.  Zinn explained why he studied and taught history, why he sat down to write A People’s History of the United States:

“I wanted, in writing this book, to awaken a consciousness in my readers, of class conflict, of racial injustice, of sexual inequality and of national arrogance, and I also wanted to bring into light the hidden resistance of the People against the power of the establishment.   

I thought that to omit these acts of resistance, to omit these victories, however limited, by the people of the United States, was to create the idea that power rests only with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth.  I wanted to point out that people who seem to have no power — working people, people of color, women– once they organize and protest and create national movements, they have a power that no government can suppress.

“I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements, but to think that history writing must simply recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.  And if history is to be creative, if it’s to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I think, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.

“I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in the solid centuries of warfare.”

I love the fact that in America I can sit at the computer and watch smart, funny people deconstruct the destructive idiocy of these unrepentant Birthers, Flat-Earthers, Climate Change Deniers, Free-Market Trickle Down Tricksters, Post-racial, color-blind alt-racists, Creationist Science Skeptics, Homophobes, Xenophobes, gun-crazed believers that the Second Amendment has nothing to do with well-regulated militias, whatever libtards might say about it, whatever the text itself might arguably say [2], and every other sort of insister on their right to be as inconsistent, irrational or unjust as their massive wealth, or their dream of acquiring same, allows them to be.  

We can still make fun of them here in America, no matter how powerful the personifications of these idiotic beliefs become.  It’s great to live in a country where the First Amendment allows satire and comedy to flourish, no matter how challenging it is for satirists to keep pace with the straight-faced, serious-as-cancer, real-life seeming satire that happens many times a day now in the highest reaches of our pay-to-play democracy.   Humor is healthy for democracy, it is good to laugh, good to mock powerful idiocy.  It’s a release valve, it’s a start, and it’s essential, but it changes nothing, wins no hearts, minds or votes.

I hate the fact that satire seems to be the best we can do here and now in the land of the free and the home of the brave spectators.  Sit in an on-line echo chamber and laugh with a like-minded comic, or smirking pundit, while in a parallel echo chamber they deride your derisive laughter.   Rachel Madow?  Smug, rich, out of touch, super liberal bitch.  Anne Coulter?  Smug, rich, out of touch, super right wing bitch.  According to your deeply held worldview Coulter is a psycho, Madow is a psycho.  It is virtually impossible to like both, if you hold any values at all.  Those who hate one or the other agree on only one thing, the other one is a bitch.  

It behooves us other bitches to heed the words of Howard Zinn and reach for that rare but essential spirit that organizes, and fights effectively, especially when the fight seems the most hopeless.  

It’s not enough to watch like-minded pundits, laugh at like-minded comedians and wait for leaders, hoping for marginally better ones than what the big, smart, well-spoken money provides for our vote every four years.  We need open public conversation rather than the far more profitable televised debate which often comes down to “nyah nyah!!!”.   Personally, I can’t watch somebody like Tucker Carlson without wanting to punch him in the face, in spite of my commitment to ahimsa.  Bill Maher, funny as he sometimes is, same deal.  I have no problem understanding why anyone would want to sock him in that smug, adorable face, though we don’t act that way in a democracy.

It’s not enough to bark words on your social media feed, as I am doing right now, although this doesn’t reach nearly as many people as the average anonymous Facebook post.  We need to somehow get to the serious work of organizing a real alternative to solve deep and persistent problems.   “How?” is the question.

To borrow a few felicitous phrases from Howard Zinn, I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that such organizing is already happening, that I just haven’t figured out how to find and join it, and that we are, all of us, poised to participate in a fugitive moment of compassion rather than in the increasing darkness of eternal total warfare against everything that does not turn a handsome profit for the most powerful, and heedless, among us.  

 

NOTES

[1]  Can’t resist piling on to badmouth these murderous billionaire religious fanatic House of Saud fucks: 

The majority of mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims worldwide strongly disagree with the interpretation of Wahhabism, and many Muslims would denounce them as a faction or a “vile sect”.[8] Islamic scholars, including those from the Al-Azhar University, regularly denounce Wahhabism with terms such as “Satanic faith”.[8] Wahhabism has been accused of being “a source of global terrorism”,[34][35] inspiring the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),[36]and for causing disunity in Muslim communities by labelling Muslims who disagreed with the Wahhabi definition of monotheism as apostates[37] (takfir) and justifying their killing.[38][39][40] It has also been criticized for the destruction of historic shrines of saints, mausoleums, and other Muslim and non-Muslim buildings and artifacts.[41][42][43]

[2]    The Second Amendment:  A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

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