Back in the Fall, I said to a friend of mine that I was afraid we were spiraling out of control in the United States. That we were headed toward violence. That I prayed to God there were still a few grownups left in the house. And that I had never been as depressed by what I had seen going in America. I lived through the Cuban missile crisis, scared to death. I lived through Watergate, angrier than Hell. And I lived through the disgrace of Reagan’s murderous intervention in Central America. I didn’t feel as if I could face my friends in Latin America. Oh, guess where most of my friends live? You’re not surprised, are you. I left Southeastern Pennsylvania 40 years ago. I have notional loyalties there, but my heart is somewhere else. And it ain’t in Texas.
Anyone who had spent much time reading the history of the twentieth century, or who had lived in Latin America–not visited–but lived–would’ve understand why I and more than a few of my remaining USA-friends were growing increasingly apprehensive.
There was–and is, by the way–the Pandemic. It’s not over, but that’s not for today. The sheer incompetence with which the Trump administration handled events–the denial, the lying, the self-deception, the partisan chest pounding, and the callous disregard for human life–was enough to make anyone sick, whether they claimed to be “very political” or not. I often wondered how some people would’ve reacted to the Nazi take-over in Germany. “Oh, sorry, I’m not interested. I’m not very political.” Not a good look is it?
And then there was the famous violation of “norms.” While it was never entirely clear who established the political norms that the Trump Administration was said to be violating (I had the amused suspicion that The Atlantic Magazine may have codified them), it was pretty clear that if, by violation of norms, the President of the United States would say or do anything in pursuit of maintaining his clique of gangsters in power, blood relations or no, then he’d do it. Subvert the Justice Department. Why not? Corrupt the Judiciary? Ok. Destroy the professional bureaucracy needed to manage a complex country in the midst of severe financial and ecological crises? Hell, yes. And most of all, whip its ignorant supporters into a frenzy of misogyny, racism, jingoism, all in the name of “Making America Great Again.” Sure. Go ahead. As JR Ewing once famously said, “Once integrity is gone, the rest is easy.” Welcome to America as Nightmare Theater. Enjoy the ride, if you can. Trump will keep the right people out of the country, and he’ll be sure that the right people get to hold on to their wealth, because, after all, that’s why he was President. It’s not as if he stood for anything palatable.
One of the particularly disgusting features of this little odyssey is its complete predictability. Early on in the sideshow, I can recall having one of those typically feckless FB conversations with a very old friend of mine, Gabriel Haslip Viera, who is a distinguished student of the Caribbean and knows a little history, or at least much as a PhD from Columbia University is likely to get from our mutual dear friend, Herb Klein. Gabe and I go back to the 1970s, and while we don’t agree on everything, our disagreements are of the old-fashioned, “Well, I take your point” kind. Both of us were deeply worried about Trump, and one of us, I don’t know who, brought up Hitler and the Reichstag. The thread went something like, so when do you thing Mr Trump is going to pull his Reichstag act? Who knew, other than there was pretty certain to be one, because Trump was Trump. Well, you would’ve thought we took the name of God in vain, especially in some quarters. I had to laugh the other night when I saw [ that the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apparently said “This is a Reichstag moment,” (Gen.) Milley told aides… “The gospel of the Führer.”
What can you expect from pigs but grunts? It was like watching the assault on the Capitol on January 6. Was I surprised? No. Trump and some of his minions in Congress had done everything but tell these lowlifes to go out and kill someone. Liz Cheyney’s reported reaction to Jim Jordan, “SOB, you fucking did this” is exactly correct. What the Hell did you expect? I used to tell some of my academic colleagues, “You play with rats, you get bit.”
Congressperson Cheyney, of course, has raised the 64,000 dollar question. “You did this.” You did this can, of course, be susceptible of diverse interpretation. I don’t think Jordan was actually out there with the creatures of the night looking to lynch Mike Pentz, was he? But then again, to create an atmosphere in which violence and insurrection is possible, what exactly do you have to do? Stroll down the land with a clench fist raised in sympathy with “the people” as one United States Senator actually did? Isn’t that encouraging rioters by signalling “I’m with you”? Or is simply encouraging not enough? I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not really certain how one becomes a co-conspirator in an insurrection, so perhaps a lawyer could explain this to me? Or if you give a tour to a group who show up as rioters a few days later–after you helpfully point out means of ingress and egress, you know, soft spots in the otherwise impregnable defenses of of the Capitol, well, are you just as culpable as the dude who used as flagpole as a deadly weapon? I don’t know.
I do know one Big Thing. We need to get to the bottom of this. Insurrection is no joke. It’s not a day of fun and games for bored Know Nothings. Or their facilitators, whether they are in the Legislative or the Executive or the Judicial . It is a federal crime, and it has to be rooted out and prosecuted. The people behind what happened–all of them–have to be exposed, tried, and if appropriate, convicted. The people engaged in this rebellion have to know that their civil existence in at stake. They have to know that you make a deliberate choice to exclude yourself from civil society if the rules of the game don’t suit you and you try to change them extra-judicially. Permanently. It’s not going to stop otherwise. Look at Texas. Look at the failure of Reconstruction after the Civil War.
The Republican Party has here–and elsewhere–undertaken a program of deliberate rescission of voting rights. The right that makes democracy ostensibly operative. That’s because they know they can’t win in a fair fight. So they don’t scruple about arranging an unfair one. Reality–the correspondence of existing things to their perceived status–no longer matters to them. It’s about power and wealth and holding on to them by any means possible. In Latin America, they used to call it the death rattle of the ruling class.
Welcome to Latin America.
Act accordingly. And wake the Hell up. Or it will happen again. And next time we may not be so lucky.