Reading Amy Goodman’s wonderful, terrible new book, which is a search for truth, I was struck again by one of the habits of highly successful psychopaths. They have learned what gangsters and abusers have always known: never admit fault for anything. Amy describes situation after situation where atrocious things are done, often in our name, and the punishment is placed squarely on those who reveal the crimes, rather than on the criminals. Ensuring a lack of transparency is one of the key habits of highly successful psychopaths. Deniability is everything. “If you can’t prove I did it, go fuck yourself, ass bite. Maybe YOO fucking did it? Eh, fuckface?”
Poor people, we are often lectured by conservative pundits and politicians, fail to take personal responsibility for their situation. If they would only admit it was themselves, and not somebody else, who was born poor and hopeless, they could begin the process of taking responsibility and pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Indeed. Even the cliche is perfect. Picture how one would actually pull oneself up by her bootstraps. I did not do well in Physics, but it doesn’t take much grasp of the physical laws of our planet to realize the impossibility of that trick.
Old people who find themselves in need, I’m sure it’s the same deal, if you are old, and weak, and don’t have a boatload of money, who is to blame but you? Sick people? Same deal. An elected Republican talking head said a few weeks ago, about the proposed dismantling of the ACA, that people who lead good lives and make good choices don’t need much health care, because they’re healthy. Spontaneous, painful cancer of his brain would fix that particular spokesman for psychopaths, in my humble, if merciless, opinion.
The failure to admit wrongdoing is a society-wide pathology. It’s not limited to CEO-types or restricted to any political ideology. I saw Elizabeth Warren being interviewed by Bill Maher a few weeks back. Maher got in deep shit the other day for an ad lib referring to himself as a “house nigger.” There’s no real dispute as to the accuracy of the characterization, the slave is very privileged, it’s only that he chose a taboo, incendiary word to describe it. Anyway, the “house nigger” (got to love quotation marks) was interviewing Senator Warren not long ago. I admired Warren very much when she first came on the public scene. Her careful party politics and recent votes for some of Trump’s worst cabinet picks irked me, as did her weak ass rationales for her votes.
At one point Maher asked her if the Democratic party bore any responsibility for losing the presidential election to the most widely hated presidential candidate ever. Warren danced away from the question adroitly and Maher let her dance. She would not allow that the Democratic party had anything to do with the loss, or the swing in Congress, or the rash of new Republican governors.
I sat there watching her calmly avoid the question and jump to her talking points and a bit more of my respect for Senator Warren dribbled away. Reminded me of the old “how do you know when a politician is lying?” You know, when their lips are moving. Et tu, Elizabeth? Even as I recall how most elections are decided on gut feelings based on gotcha sound bites, how every national politician has to play the careful public relations game in our advertising culture. I get how the sound bite of Warren criticizing her party would be used endlessly against her, but there was a way to answer the question that would have shown more integrity than her poised pivot.
I’m reading Amy Goodman’s book and I am full of admiration for her life’s project of searching for and revealing the truth. It is painful, to look closely at our recent history, to see terrible things that were done in our name, are being done right now. The worst of it is reading how these terrible things are spun, to profit those without conscience and protect the architects of murderous programs. Much as I am engrossed in the book, I am also wondering if it is not a bit masochistic for me to look at these awful things so closely. Then I realize it is my obligation as a citizen, that looking squarely at the facts of terrible things done in our name is a solemn duty, if we are to live in a meaningful democracy.
My father would never drive a German car, buy a German camera, use any German product. He’d describe to us how Mercedes Benz (maybe it was BMW, maybe it was both) was involved in building machines to help the Nazis kill and dispose of Jews. He would recite similar details, that I have forgotten, about other well-known German corporations. The point is, it’s not hard to trace the complicity of German corporations in Hitler’s mass murder machine. A lot of shrewd businessmen, in Germany and elsewhere, made a killing during the Nazi years. Fuck, if Monsanto could hire slave laborers from the SS for $1 a day, don’t you think they’d do it? Their shareholders would demand it. It would be irresponsible of them not to do it.
I asked my father at one point if the Vietnamese had the same right to hate us because of what our country was doing to them. He said they absolutely did. Even as the vast anti-war marches I participated in were taking place, even as I told myself I’d burn my draft card or go to Canada if it came to it. It was confusing to a teenager that I was responsible for what the war-mongers in my country were doing, doing against my will. I believe my father was basically right on this count of national responsibility. Even if there was nothing we could possibly do about it. Even if the vast majority of us were nothing like the brave Germans who were hunted, tortured and killed by the Nazis for being more loyal to humanity than to their infallible leader, Mr. Hitler.
“It always comes down to Nazis to you,” a friend reminds me with a smile. I remind him that I may be overly sensitive on the subject because twelve of my mother’s aunts and uncles were shot in the head at the request of Nazis visiting their town. Because the hamlet my father’s people come from was plowed into the swamp without a trace, along with everyone but his mother and his uncle. Life is no different for civilians fleeing from Mosul today than it was for my family in 1943. Why are there explosions everywhere, and gunfire, and bombing, doors being kicked in, piles of corpses? Because the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 to free those poor, oppressed people from a monster.
I know, I’m being very unfair. How is it our fault? Saddam Hussein was like Hitler, after all, we did the right thing to invade, execute Saddam’s two sons in a hail of bullets, give Saddam a good old fashioned Texas-style lynching under cover of darkness, as all good lynchings should be done. Was Dick Cheney that much different from Saddam Hussein when it came to brutal coercion and willingness to unleash large-scale violence? I know, I know. I should get over it. Obama owned the war once Cheney left office. Dick Cheney will never be held accountable for his crimes, even if anyone could prove them. Obama will be our first self-made billionaire ex-president. He is already well on his way. Besides, as Diane Feinstein said of David Patraeus after he was allowed to skate for sharing thousands of classified emails with his mistress, haven’t these men already suffered enough?
I am left with my admiration for people like Amy Goodman, and there are far too few of them. Bill Moyers was in many ways like Amy. A broadcast journalist in search of the truth, and bold in reporting it, wherever the search led. It is because of their reporting that we can understand, on an institutional level, how an American man can be cleared of murder after getting out of his car to confront and shoot to death an unarmed black teenager who was minding his own business. It is, we are told, because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
What is “Stand Your Ground”? Thanks to their investigative reporting we understand that it is a law drafted by a far right corporate lobbying outfit called ALEC. They introduced the model bill in many state houses, it became law in more than twenty-eight so far, including, not that surprisingly, the entire former Confederacy. It extends the “Castle Doctrine”, the right to defend yourself with deadly force if confronted with violence in your own home, to everywhere you might feel threatened. In some jurisdictions you have a duty to retreat, if you can do so safely, before you can use deadly force. Not so under “Stand Your Ground”.
If you’re terrified of young black men, for example, it may not be unreasonable, depending on your fear, to shoot them in the face in any public place where you have a right to be. It’s the law in Florida and in a majority of these United States, a matter for a jury of your peers to decide. A troubled vigilante-style killer with a long history of domestic violence walked thanks to a successful “Stand Your Ground” defense. In fairness to him, George Zimmerman, his father was also a local magistrate.
Democracy is not democracy without informed debate. If secret deals are made, and laws are skirted, and lobbyist-written laws promulgated, by little known, very powerful outfits like ALEC, and we are never even informed of the existence and influence of ALEC, the politically active billionaire Koch Brothers and their ilk– how are we to have a democracy?
The choice is made for us behind closed doors about what kind of nation we are. We are a nation that shoots people in the face, in the back, in the spine. Not long ago we shot an eight year-old girl in the spine and let her take her time dying. It was in Yemen, a nation we are not at war with, during the new president’s first SEAL team moment of glory. The girl was Anwar al Awlaki’s daughter Nora. We are a nation that doesn’t get fucked with. You’d better fucking believe it.
I don’t know what gives Amy Goodman the strength to carry on, producing and hosting Democracy Now! as she has been doing daily for the last twenty years. All I know is that I am very thankful for her work. And that we need democracy, now, more than ever.