Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reflections on a country in denial

"Everybody Knows" (A/Z lyrics)
By Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016, whose death has left us grieving and gifted with the inheritance of his mind and spirit.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died 

Leonard Cohen’s lyrics never seemed more fitting than on the day of his passing.                                                      
Some weeks just have a way of staining a year!
Such weeks witness something(s) shocking, often highly depressing and perhaps even tragic.
Ending on Remembrance Day, today, this week has left an indelible mark on the history of the world. Looking about as far as the end of their nose, too many Americans, in all the ‘wrong’ states, wrought a revenge so blatant, so narcissistic, so self-sabotaging and so demoralizing as to rank high on the list of the worst mistakes in American political history. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 is legitimately considered the “worst mistake in American foreign policy” in the history of the country. Similarly, the election of a tongue and ego rivalling the cruise missiles of the Pentagon, killing the people while leaving the buildings still standing, to the highest office in the nation, and the most powerful leadership chair on the planet, outranks even the Iraq tragedy in its potential for long-term danger to the  planet, as well as to the American people.
While Doomsday prophets are having a field-day, and young men and women have taken to the streets in protest (chanting “We re-ject the pre-si-dent-elect!) the sitting president, of course, demonstrates how surreal is his capacity for grace, dignity and generosity, by hosting the “pres-elect” in the Oval Office. Denouncing “lobbying” in favour of “briefing,” Obama so impressed the new guy that he has already announced a mere “amendment” and not a total revoking the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). New Jersey Governor Christie has been shunted out of the chair of the ‘transition’ and replaced by Vice-president elect Pence. (Bridge-gate may finally pillory the rotund Governor.) Nevertheless, the tweets continue from the ‘big bully’….example: those protestors are being paid by the media….how unfair….
Not a word has blurted from his larynx, nor from his cell phone that would demonstrate his potential for being ‘presidential’. Why would anyone be surprised?
Michael Moore, appearing on Morning Joe on MSNBC this morning, took tragic credit for having predicted that DT would win both the Republican nomination and the election. One example he used as evidence for his “ordinary-person, high-school educated, baseball-cap-proud ‘insight’ was his ridicule of the pundits’ guffaws earlier in the summer, after the party conventions, that the Trump campaign spent the highest sum of dollars purchasing baseball caps. The sophisticated talking heads so ridiculed the decision (suggesting more polling or more ‘intelligent’ budget allocations) that Moore knew then and there they did not ‘get it’.
What did they not get?
They did not ‘get’ the disillusion of the people in small towns, villages and rural counties who wanted to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington, and who wanted to get their revenge for having been dubbed a ‘basket of deplorables’. They were willing to overlook the mysogynist’s racism, his gutter-tongue, his preening arrogance and his “I alone can save you” authoritarianism. So disgusted were some 87,000 voters in the state of Michigan, for instance, that although they voted on every other category on the ballot, they pointedly left the presidential section blank. Moore also pointed to Obama’s visit to Flint, where young children have been poisoned permanently by lead-infested drinking water from rusted lead water pipes, where the president drank the water to illustrate the ‘end’ of the problem, thereby short-circuiting all further coverage of an issue far from resolved.
Besting Romney’s vote numbers with Latino’s, Blacks, and especially white voters, both college educated and those without a college education, Trump quite literally romped to victory in the Electoral College, while losing the popular vote.
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. 
It's coming through a crack in the wall; 
on a visionary flood of alcohol; 
from the staggering account 
of the Sermon on the Mount 
which I don't pretend to understand at all. 
It's coming from the silence 
on the dock of the bay, 
from the brave, the bold, the battered 
heart of Chevrolet: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. 

It's coming from the sorrow in the street, 
the holy places where the races meet; 
from the homicidal bitchin' 
that goes down in every kitchen 
to determine who will serve and who will eat. 
From the wells of disappointment 
where the women kneel to pray 
for the grace of God in the desert here 
and the desert far away: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A
(Democracy, by Leonard Cohen, (A/Z Lyrics)
Another of the prophet’s satirical pieces stands today, as the world mourns his passing, leaving us all wondering how democracy can even creep ‘through a hole in a wall’ when as Jeff Greenfield put it on ‘Charlie Rose’ (Bloomberg television, Canada) “Everyone today has their own set of facts” and no one cares what that means.
It is not just that Trump’s campaign painted a picture no one, including the candidate, can testify is ‘reality’ just like all the other Orwellian overthrows of meaning (“war is peace, peace is war”). We can all testify that without a compendium of agreed evidence on which to base an observation, and an opinion about the amelioration of the problem, the problem of those rusty lead pipes will continue to plague the people, those terrorists will continue to use the president-elect as a primary recruiting tool, the rich will grow their Wall Street investments (just look at how the market has rebounded from an initial drop), the air we breathe we grow ever more contaminated, (global warming is a hoax pawned off by China, according to the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania).
And we can read words penned nearly forty years ago:
 the upper-class elites of America have the greatest attachment to constitutional democracy. They are the abiding activists in the use of electoral, legislative, and judicial machinery at all levels of government. It is their baby. Ordinary people-called the masses by Dye and Ziegler-tend to share this perception. The democratic machinery belongs to them, "the powers that be," not to ordinary people. It is not their baby.
What will happen if more ordinary people should try to take over this baby and actually begin to make it their own? How would the elites respond if the masses began to ask the elites to give much more and gain much less-particularly when, under conditions of capitalist stagflation and shrinking world power, the elites have less to give. Some radical commentators claim that the powers that be would use their power to follow the example of the classic fascists and destroy the democratic machinery. I agree with Murray Levin that this would be stupid. I see it also as highly unlikely. No First World Establishment is going to shatter machinery that, with a certain amount of tinkering and a little bit of luck, can be profitably converted into a sophisticated instrument of repression.
Indeed, the tinkering has already started. Some of it is being undertaken by people for whom the Constitution is merely a scrap of paper, a set of judicial decisions, and a repository of rhetoric and precedents to be used by their high-paid lawyers and public relations people. Some of it is being perpetrated by presidents and others who have taken formal oaths to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Sometimes knowingly, often unwittingly, both types of people will spare no pains in preserving those parts of the written or unwritten constitution that protect the rights of "corporate persons" while undermining, attacking, or perverting those parts of the Constitution that promote the welfare and liberties of the great majority of all other persons.
(Friendly Fascism, Bertram Gross, South Press, 1980, p. 230)
Some have argued that the disparity in incomes, and the hopelessness of those left behind by the shift in manufacturing jobs to the lowest available labour costs elsewhere lies at the root of the national pain. Others like Eddie Glaude, a black professor of Culture at Princeton, (appearing on Morning Joe, MSNBC) argue that race relations are the core issue, given that both Trump and Sanders, the faces of the latest insurgencies of populism (some would add ‘nativism) both struggled to include minorities in their vision of the ‘city on the hill’ that so epitomized the Reagan legacy.
Naturally, the economic historians will tilt to the wag and income and joblessness as the core issue given that it encompasses all racial demographics. Others like Gaude, a native of Jamaica, will express a cultural perspective that begins with the identity of the outsiders. (In another page in this space, I tell the story of my thesis advisor, a black Bahamian native, who, after earning a doctorate from Harvard, was refused ordination to the Episcopal priesthood in Massachusetts because he was not “black enough”, stuck his finger in the eye of the presiding bishop and travelled ‘south’ to Atlanta where he was ordained.) To us, the economic/cultural emphasis, while useful for the pursuit of more rigorous academic research, scholarship and the achievement of the revered doctorate, need not be disentangled as a contradiction in “reality”. Many of the same “data points” appear in the research in the ivory towers of academe and in the bureaucracies inhabited by the policy wonks.
What drum beats will echo in all of our ears will continue to be those who believe that they simply do not matter to those in power. And, from here it would appear that they have been the most vulnerable, not only to the recession and the impacts of globalism, but even more importantly to the candy floss hyperbole/lies/seduction/manipulation by Trump.
Governing, in a world filled with anxiety, and with the pounding impacts of shifts in money and power, the alienation and the despair of the “masses” is not even analogous to a reality television show. The excesses of narcissism of the newest billionaires (and their “brilliant” defiance of tax laws) coupled with capsizing boats filled with desperate refugees from wars that refuse negotiation, from disease that defies available treatments, and from a global ecosystem that cannot sustain more carbon emissions from fossil fuels (‘Trump is the best gift for coal ever’, read the headlines) and from political decisions and promises that demonstrate an insouciance beyond imagination create a toxic political cocktail.
Bernie sought to begin a political revolution and many are now asking if he would have bested Trump. Change, that loaded ‘star’ to which both presidential candidates attempted to hitch their wagon, (Trump clearly won on that reductionistic front) in a culture so deeply addicted to the ‘star’ personality cult, is inadequate as a discerning instrument for active citizenship, especially when it is embedded in revenge.
And basing a campaign of change on a footing of lies, bounced around in a twitter universe that gives a veneer of “power and influence” to everyone with a cell phone, coupled with a media drugged by the ratings obsession and their own job-dependence, based also on the ‘star’ quality of their own ratings leaving the truth exposed and dying on the battlefield of the newspapers and the television and computer screens is another canvas fraught with deception and a disturbing level of self-indulgence.
From a clinical, pastoral perspective, the “patient/client/grieving family/victim” (the nation) is suffering from a collision of many self-sabotaging delusions:
·      A history that holds open extreme conflict, including military conflict, as its greatest achievement
·      A belief in the power of money to symbolize superiority and exceptionalism
·      A history of championing “competition” in the earliest years of a child’s life as the pathway to excellence
·      An national neurosis of denial of the blind spots in its perceptions of the good life
·      A progressive obsessive compulsive adherence to the drugs of entertainment, and capitalism, and racial superiority/inferiority that distort even the most basic water-cooler conversations
·      A denial of the significant potential contribution pool of the poor, the outcast, the prisoner, the sick and the “challenged”
·      A demonstrated mask of humility, vulnerability and compassion belied by too many overt and overt decisions in schools, families, corporations and government
·      A belief in the basic evil that motivates most, especially ‘strangers’ (dubbed aliens in the national lexicon) and the need to combat and to compensate for that danger, as a guiding national principle
·      A history of the abuse of excessive power in race relations, sexual relations, diplomatic and foreign relations, and in the culture of corporate competition
·      A history of denial of the relative importance of government to ameliorate social dislocation, and the spreading of opportunity to all
·      A veneer of sophistication that defies and masks the real insecurity and the psychosis of the fear of not knowing all the answers another self-sabotaging impediment to the pursuit of national truth-telling and the achievement of sustainable national collaboration, co-operation and harmony.

The public discourse will, of course, focus on the immediate political upheaval, the need for the democratic party to rebuild and the titillation of the latest now president-elect tweet. And the nation will continue to vacillate between periods of excessive submission to the power of money with periods of submission to the power of the guns/missiles/bombs/ and the attitudes that undergird both of those faces on the common insecurity/fear/obsession/compulsion that lies at the root of the national unconscious, another of the serious national denials.

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