Can You Hear Me Now?
“In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead; in the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.” — Erich Fromm
Much has been made, both pro and con, of the “incivility” of recent acts of protest toward Donald Trump and the agenda he represents. From Robert de Niros’s cold open at the Tony Awards (in case you’ve forgotten in the subsequent barrage of “incivility, “ it began with “Just two words: Fuck Trump”). Refreshing, no? Apparently not to all, nor was it intended to be, but rather a call to arms.
That call has been answered rather handily by the owner of a Lexington, VA (!) restaurant ejecting Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her party of six for being the mouthpiece for the Trump administration, which followed by a day or two the rather uncivil Mariachi-style greeting of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson (sorry for any misspelling; blame Samantha Bee) while dining at a Mexican restaurant (who put that idea in Nielson’s head?), and Steven Miller, that Trump advisor who eerily resembles Joseph Goebbels both in appearance and ideology, having the word “fascist!” shouted at him in yet another Mexican restaurant and also having a would-be intern shout “Fuck you!” at him.
Some have been thrilled by these very public acts of incivility, while others feel that “When they go low, we go high” is the only right way of dealing with people who are avowed white supremacists, who support the turning away of immigrants at the Southern border as “invaders,” with no legal steps taken, who suggest “rough them up” when annoyed by protestors, and who generally promulgate, aid or abet the overthrow of every decent thing the United States has ever pretended or attempted to be.
Yours truly is a gentleman generally, and a gentle man as well. I loathe violence, hate hate (surely you see the paradox in that last). I love nature and am an avid bird watcher and caretaker.
I have my limits, however. So on this hallowed ground, this virtual public square in which I and countless others speak our piece from time to time, let the record show that I will a) act with incivility toward anyone who promotes incivility, b) will continue to protect nature, c) will encourage others to do the same, and d) will punch a Nazi in the face with little to no direct, personal justification other than that he be a Nazi/white supremacist/Kluxer. Misogynists who act out their misogyny publicly are also at risk. So are people who publicly abuse their children or shove old ladies.
My least-favorite character in Gone With the Wind is Ashley Wilkes.
It has been suggested that this attitude which I have adopted is unbecoming and unproductive, that it lends strength to the Trumpian ideal of cruelty and incivility. To that I will respond by paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, who was martyred for standing up for the weak: Incivility is “the language of the unheard.”
Having come up (from 1960, at age 15) in the Civil Rights and labor movements, I am inclined to look out for the interests of the poor, the meek, the abused, the downtrodden and the decent. A corollary of this appears to be contempt for the rich, the powerful, and the abusive, especially those who demean others based upon skin color, religion, culture, ethnicity, or simply their vulnerability.
Since January 20, 2017, just 18 months ago, the Republic for which some of us stand has seen a sharp dive in the morals and dogma of Constitution-based Americanism, it being replaced by a sour, contemptuous, dare I say it — white — nationalism, led at the nominal top by a buffoon who has been made a messianic figure by certain perverts dwelling on the far right end of the political spectrum, and powered by a morally bankrupt and spineless GOP-dominated Congress.
My fellow Americans, as Hippocrates appears to have said (though in some foul foreign tongue): “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.” Over the ages this has been distilled down to “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” In either case, our beloved republic is infected with a loathsome disease, the times are starting to look desperate (or at least not dissimilar to Germany in the mid-1930s), and said disease is spreading across the Atlantic to the countries from which our forebears came, at least those who weren’t already here to greet and be murdered by them.
The German psycholanalyst Erich Fromm asked, in the opening words of his 1955 book The Sane Society, “Can a society be mentally ill?” The balance of the book supported Fromm’s answer, which may be summed up in this quote from that book: “The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same mental pathology does not make these people sane” Fromm, who along with theologian Paul Tillich had escaped Germany while Dietrich Bonhoeffer remained behind to write his protestations from jail, then a concentration camp, before being executed on April 9, 1945, as his country, destroyed morally from within and physically from without, collapsed.
All three of these great minds shared one conviction: That their fellow countrymen had allowed, through mental illness, weakness of character or lack of imagination, evil to disrupt the entire world and snuff out millions of lives. Fromm saw the same thing forming again, in utero, here in his adopted homeland. He had begun his work in 1939 in Germany with “Escape From Freedom,” and completed it here in the US 16 years later with his warning in “The Sane Society,” which offered solutions to the problems posed in “Escape From Freedom,” in which he outlined how good Germans were seemingly willing to give up their freedom in exchange for a leader who would “tell it like it is” — except that it wasn’t like it was. The world paid the price.
Fromm offered as a large part of the solution to our illness a thing he then called communitarian socialism, and which, if held up next to democratic socialism looks identical in almost every respect.
There recently circulated a “Baby Hitler” trope, in which people were encouraged to ponder what they might have done if they had the opportunity to influence — or kill — Adolph Hitler before he had grown up to become the scourge of the Western world. The “Baby Hitler” exercise coincided with the rise of Donald Trump, who is now poised to at least imagine himself as the new scourge of the Western world — and the Eastern world as well.
“Better he had never been born,” some say of Trump, or simply express an idle wish that he would die — as though that would solve all our problems. But Trump is not the problem, he is merely the logical end result of 2–1/2 centuries of slave capitalism, systemic racism, in fact the invention of the construct of race in order to enable slavery and slave capitalism. He is the result of the thinking that actually culminated with the wild success of his “reality” show The Apprentice, and especially of its theme song, used so cynically and with such a leer of pure evil:
“For the love of money
People will steal from their mother
For the love of money
People will rob their own brother…”
Every single episode. The American Dream. The devil talkin’ to ya.
USA Today, um, today, in fact, ran an article whose headline says: “Is American Headed Toward a Civil War? Sanders, Nielsen incidents show it has already begun” In the article, my one time neighbor and associate, writer Tom Ricks, is quoted as saying “I don’t believe we’re to Kansas of the 1850s yet. But we seem to be lurching … in that direction…”
Ricks was, according to the article, commenting on a remark made by political scientist Thomas Schaller, who had been quoted in a Bloomberg article as having said “I think we’re at the beginning of a soft civil war. …”
I have used almost that same term in recent conversations on social media, when referring to something Dr. Martin Luther King said in a 1966 interview with Mike Wallace, “I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.” I said the recent displays of “incivility” toward representatives of a fascist American regime are, so far, a “soft riot,” the language of the unheard. Now there is talk of a “soft civil war,” and I would suggest that if riots may be seen as manifestations of a “civil war,” as they were in the 1960s, then we are already in the Fort Sumpter stage of a so far “soft” civil war, because we, the sane, the ordinary, the off-balance, the vulnerable, the poor, the colored, the modest, the normally kind and gentle and respectful, are not being heard. And so, in the words of Lincoln:
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
This war is not because of Donald Trump, any more than “the recent unpleasantness” was because of Jefferson Davis. In either case, as with Hitler, had neither been born or had been smothered in their cradles, someone else would have taken the job because there was an opening.
We are in it, people, and if we concentrate too much on the head of the pimple, we will no doubt congratulate ourselves when it bursts and pus oozes out over the land for a while — but the boil beneath the surface will continue to swell and redden and keep us — and the rest of the world — infected with this plague. Unless we excise the root of our problems they will only continue to grow and manifest in other ways. Yes, Trump will be gone, his buffoonish “leadership” is not sustainable, and he will shortly pop and deflate and be the laughing stock he so richly deserves.
Adolph Hitler has been dead 73 years, yet we have our very own American Nazi Party, and have had it for almost all the time between when Adolph and Eva offed themselves, and now. In the desperate screams of Miles out there on the highway at the end of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, “They’re here already!” They always have been, and when they walk smugly among us, they deserve to be shunned, shamed, thrown out of restaurants, called what they are. We do not serve Nazis, fascists, white supremacists, Kluxers, nor their apologists, their Goebbelses, their errand boys.
Similar organizations have surfaced again in Europe, following our lead.
What would Jesus do? The answer, according to the stories, is plain: He would dump the joint.
Can you hear me now?