The Writing on the Wall, Illus. from Puck, v. 15, no. 380, (1884 June 18), by Joseph Keppler.
By Rick Moody
While my notes about the presidential elections past, in 2008 and 2012, confined themselves in large measure to the Republican fields, where the drama was, this year has proven to feature an exceedingly fractious and divisive Democratic primary. The ensuing situation has been slightly awkward for me, because in the process of getting it all down I have unavoidably needed to speak about my own voting habits. In general I’m more passionate about observation than about politicking. I don’t think I know more than anyone else, I just have been around, paying attention, for some decades. My admissions about my choice in the Democratic primary, therefore, are more about human emotions than about ideological crusading. In fact, my political position is exactly opposed to ideological crusading, as it is about using cautious evaluation and humanism for political discernment. My ultimate goal is to prevent anyone in the Republican field from becoming president of the United States, and any ephemeral outrage about my Democratic brothers and sisters should appear fleeting and subject to change.
February 23, 2016
As I have remarked before, the Antonin Scalia judicial phenomenon is not only about remarkable partisanship, partisanship above all other things, and the perversion of justice until justice is merely an enforcement mechanism for plutocracy. It’s not only about that. It’s also about reading. Scalia is Bill Gates in the following way. Like Bill Gates, who parlayed an incredibly clever argument about code as a copyright issue into a massive empire, Scalia’s particular genius was for an incredibly clever legal argument, which could be abbreviated thus: let’s get back to the original constitution. This idea is clever, because immediately it sets about the task of declaring originalism to inhere in a particular way of reading the document, namely literally. The intent of originalism is borrowed from biblical literalism, it seems, in that it declares that there could be a way of declaring the words on the page to be interpretation-proof. It’s plain as day! Right there on the page!
Literalism is an incredibly popular style of reading, across the globe, because it requires the least effort. For those who are afraid of ambiguities, polyphonies, ironies, and differences in cultural context, literalism gives the veneer of certainty, though down below the certainty a surplus of anxiety threatens to bubble forth. Islam has its literalists, and certainly Christianity has its literalists. It’s the mark of the sophistication of Judaism and Taoism, perhaps, that their interpretations shift over the centuries. For those faiths, multiplicities are welcomed.
Scalia’s idea that we could somehow divine the intent of the framers of the constitution is nearly farcical when you consider the potential for noise in the signal that is legislative or political language broadly construed. All language is subject to interpretation all the time, and no document is fixed. Even the words “men” and “women,” those markers upon the public restrooms of the nation at large, are, at this particular juncture in history, unfixed. There would seem to be as many as five way-stations between “men” and “women,” and the closer we look, the more will be the way-stations. Scalia knew, because his energy was so partisan, that the originalist argument was a rhetorical argument, designed to yield energy for hitherto existing political and ideological arguments, not the truth, because the truth is precisely drifting, shifting, uncertain. But he was an exceedingly clever guy, and he wanted to ride his idea for as long as he was able. His death is important to the politics of the moment because the originalist argument is in danger of losing some of its rhetorical force without its chief marketing consultant.
That the Republican side of the 2016 field is fixed on the baldly political notion that no Supreme Court appointment can take place until after the election is simply an example of how provisional the originalist argument is, as Elizabeth Warren and others have argued. It does not surprise, and ought not, that the Democrats have been notably inconsistent about these appointments in the past as well. Joe Biden is nothing if not a party loyalist. The Republicans are simply willing to delay in the hope that they can win the election. And I assume that oscillation between a total stonewalling and repelling of any Obama nominee to the post will in fact be the way things go between here and November. They may let the president propose a candidate simply for the public relations bounty of appearing tractable, only to tie up the nomination thereafter.
In the meantime, while we were pondering this entirely political clusterfuck that is Scalia’s death, some primaries took place. The loss of Jeb Bush (and John Gilmore!) is a disappointment, in that Bush was the only candidate besides Kasich of Ohio who was willing to engage in some realpolitik. Though he seemed like a big wheel of soft cheese more than anything else, Jeb’s absence means that the hard right ideologues of the race are increasingly running the table. Donald Trump’s convincing victory in South Carolina seems to imply that Ted Cruz has no particular lock on the evangelical vote (meaning that literalists are surprisingly unliteral when it comes to their candidates: Trump is mainline northeastern protestant who knows very little about his church at all). And Rubio, also known as Chance the Gardener, has secured a barely convincing second place finish in South Carolina, by aping rhetorical hideousness available elsewhere.
Cruz, yesterday, advanced the position that all 12,000,000 undocumented persons in the United States should be deported, which is meant to out-Trump Trump. That this is very close to a police state idea of American force (as Cruz himself would have noted a couple of weeks ago) bears reiterating. Cruz, in his desperation, after finishing third in SC, is now not the only brutalist on immigration, he is also the Dirty Tricks champion in the field. He fired a spokesman yesterday, whose cheap shots at Rubio were right smack in the rhetorical center of the campaign as Cruz has practiced it so far. It must have been an unpleasant conversation, the one in which Cruz fired the spokesman in question for doing exactly what he’d been hired to do. Ben Carson seems determined to stick around, now, as long as possible, just to thwart Cruz. This is a credit to his character. I assume the Bush votes will go to Rubio and Kasich.
Which means that Rubio is still potentially the nominee. Though that depends on Trump getting the media scrutiny he has not gotten. When are we going to talk about those bankruptcies? Is there not an infidelity we can get to the bottom of?
I am looking forward to the Democratic primary in South Carolina, because I believe Clinton’s victory will be convincing, and give her a little lift going forward. The Democrats badly need to unite. Bernie will make a great chairman of the SEC.
March 1, 2016
I want to talk briefly about complexity of character. In the literary sense. This is an issue that comes up in my writing classes a lot. What makes a complex character. As Richard Bausch noted in a recent Facebook post, the desire for “likeable” literary characters is a shallow, simple-minded wish. When I feel a book pushing toward the merely heroic—however you might construe such a thing—I am decidedly bored. All those realistic, topically-pitched novels, where a character triumphs over cancer, or mends a fence with a disliked neighbor, these do not seem to me to depict the world I live in. The people I know well all have gradients of character, strata of character, which cannot be summarized in even a three-month sample size. The first three months of any relationship, whether friendly or romantic, with someone new, those months feature a simulacrum of the actual person. A sort of cardboard version. I heard a particularly witty host on a television program say recently: “During the first six months of any relationship I just send in my representative.”
Literature that sticks close to the “representative” characterizations—everything is great! no one is ever baldly selfish!—is tedious literature. I’m reading Giovanni’s Room by Baldwin, for a panel discussion, and its justifiable reputation for excellence seems to me to rest on this very idea. That narrator is a slippery fish. You can’t entirely buy his assessment of the story. Just when you think he’s a nice guy, he’s a real asshole, and vice versa. He never, at all, addresses the manifest content of the book (the high cost, in a community, of bisexuality). Giovanni’s Room, therefore, is a first rate example of characterization. The later Baldwin, who was finely attuned to the Civil Rights struggle, in this book, is a master craftsman of character and of artful dramatic conflict. He seems to do it effortlessly.
What would it mean if our political leaders were subjected to the same criteria? What would it mean for our political leaders to appear to be complex characters? As they most assuredly are. I would feel so much more confident in my national leadership if I knew them to be motivated in the complex way that everyone else is. Barack Obama, near to the end of his administration, seems very complex. He is exasperated, he is ambitious, he is reflective, he is impatient, and he only has a little time left. He also has no more campaigns to run, so his complexity is an inevitable by-product of his freedom from trench warfare of the campaign.
But the primary season selects for oversimplified candidates, because the primary season reflects for ideological purity. The Bernie Sanders who is running so strongly has never once seemed like a person I would know, until the other day when he admitted that he had been “decimated” in South Carolina. (In a way, Larry David’s furious, cursing version of Sanders is more like Sanders than Sanders himself.)
The Republican brand of purity is even more curious, because it really requires a sheering away of any actual human characteristics, until the candidate appears not to be human in any way at all. The Republican model is closer to the superhero comic than it is to the literary model of complexity. Donald Trump’s soft white underbelly is to be found in the fact that he has occasionally promoted logical and reasonable positions (Planned Parenthood is doing important work for women’s health, e.g., or a single-payer option for health-care would be great, or the Iraq War was a debacle), and therefore when he fucks up he resembles an actual person, instead of the cartoon buffoon he seems to be attempting to portray for the primary season. It is reasonable to suppose that the second we turn toward a General Election model that he will backtrack and re-occupy some of these positions, to the consternation of the “poorly educated” voters he loves so well.
The “Ted Cruz Is the Zodiac Killer” meme (I believe you can buy a t-shirt that says this, the proceeds from which go to women’s health in TX), is a variation on this same thought. It’s not that anyone believes that Cruz is the Zodiac Killer (the dates don’t line up). It’s that no one believes the simpering, faux-evangelical, I’m-going-to-deport-them-all guy is an actual person. And given his whining and his dirty tricks and his stop-at-nothing-for-power tendencies the assumption is that a serial killer is just as plausible as any other secret life (I think he would more likely be the B.T.K. serial killer than the Zodiac—B.T.K. came from Cruz country). The Republican Party, in its absolute lack of compassion for the needy, it’s the scarlet letter approach to the needy, does feel like the party of serial killing, it’s true, and it would be easy to assign serial killing identities to each major candidate:
Ted Cruz is the B. T. K. killer (Dennis Lynn Rader).
Marco Rubio is Ted Bundy.
Chris Christie is David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), and I know he has dropped out, but I just had to include this one because of the physical resemblance.
Donald Trump is Jerry Brudos, the Shoe-Fetish Slayer (look it up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Brudos), but it’s also tempting to assign John Wayne Gacy to him.
John Kasich is Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Strangler, of course.
Ben Carson is Heriberto Sedo who was the copycat killer of Zodiac, in the nineties, and this because Carson imitates the Cruz faux-evangelical position so frequently.
And of course Rick Santorum is Jeffrey Dahmer. (Even though he has dropped out as well.)
Assigning serial killers to all the Republicans not only accurately reflects their positions, but it also symbolically indicates the ways in which, somewhere in there, though all but completely concealed, there is complexity of character, and in the general election, as our candidates begin to be fully vetted by the press, the complexities will begin to emerge. We should be thankful for when this comes to pass, because it’s a reflection that human beings are running our country, with the kinds of concerns, and sympathies, that all human beings have, even Ted Cruz, even Chuck Grassley, even Orrin Hatch, even Jeff Sessions, even Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, I asked a friend of mine who’s running for office in Wisconsin if he thought that Chris Christie’s highly opportunistic endorsement of Donald Trump was a way of trying to nab the Antonin Scalia post, should Trump somehow prevail, and my friend believed the post in question was attorney general, not Supreme Court justice. Whichever it is, it sure doesn’t have anything to do with governing the state of New Jersey, which he was elected to do until November 2017.
And: it’s Super Tuesday. I predict a great many routs by Donald Trump, and a great many routs by Hillary Clinton. Sanders might take Minnesota. Rubio will place third everywhere, but might win Minnesota. Rubio, it now appears, will hold on until 3/15, for Florida, after which he will drop out. How long can the marginally reasonable John Kasich hold on?
March 3, 2016
Looks like Carson will drop out Friday. It’s good news for Cruz. If Carson and Kasich both dropped out, though, there would be the potential to shake things up, as they mustered 10% between them in most of the Super Tuesday polling. If Rubio does poorly in Florida on the 15th, it would seem almost certain that he’ll drop out (Cruz alluded to this in remarks the other day), and then there’s a real contest between Trump and Cruz. The problem for the Republicans is that neither of these is a general election candidate at all. Even Rubio is sort of debatable on that score, given how thoroughly he has aped the Trump rhetoric, down to the raw insults, in the last couple of weeks.
The last Republican debate before Super Tuesday, as others have noted, was a true shit show, and it happens that I have looked up the derivation of shit show, recently, because it’s so odd. Shitstorm, it seems, dates in part to Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. But shit show is more mysterious. Because with shitstorm, it’s kind of obvious what storm denotes. The show part of shit show is odd, and ambiguous. There’s a performative aspect to it that seems hard to decipher at first. According to what I have read, the OED has not yet listed shit show in any of their annual updates, but they are watchfully awaiting their moment. The two original usages of shit show seem to be 1) from a conceptual art display in 1964, in which a number of sculptures were fashioned from mammalian waste products, which display was actually called a “shit show,” and 2) from remarks made by a member of the Baader-Meinhof Gang during their trial in Germany, which they interrupted through a variety of performative means. A shit show indeed. James Ellroy also used it in 1990, I believe. The Republican debate could have been called a clusterfuck, and it could have been called craptastic, but in a way shit show, as derived from mammalian waste products and the performative disruptions of the Red Army Faction, is more perfect for describing that shouting match, that middle school recess display, that was that debate. Not one of these guys seems fit to be a chief executive of government. They are all embarrassments.
The desperation of what’s happening seems to be occurring to the Republican establishment now. But it’s clear that the Klanification of the party is not sudden. It has been a steady march of shame since Nixon’s Southern Strategy, and now you have a clear racist/xenophobic/military axis (fully allied with a multi-national infotainment complex) in which the party leader is completely confident about the upside of racist language.
Mitt Romney’s condemnatory speech, later in the day, was remarkable, and, as a speech, certainly among the very best he has ever given. He goes piece by piece through Trump’s business failures, his erratic positions, and concludes, rightfully, that “phony” and “fraud” are the best, most applicable words. This is important, because being this unvarnished is, for an upstanding L.D.S. church member like Romney, somewhat unprecedented. Romney has to go to the limit of what is utterable, for him, to get at the Trump problem. How often does it happen that the guy with the commanding lead in the primaries gets a full-scale takedown from a party leader? Not very often. Does it augur a third-party challenge or a contested convention? I just don’t buy the contested convention, because I think the modern party apparatus defends against the possibility. The parties do not like surprises. But a third party challenge from Romney or Bloomberg is perhaps not impossible. They are both guys who could finance a third-party challenge. Though such a tactic does not in any way guarantee that they will get a better outcome. A third-party candidacy will simply divide the Republican electorate.
Ted Cruz, as noted on Buzzfeed, had some white schmutz on his upper lip during the debate. And it reminds me of Trump’s foamy corner during the announcement of the candidacy. The Republican Party is the party of foaming-at-the-mouth. It’s so true. Is it because of all the carnivorous imagery? The Democratic Party is the party of vegans (Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Al Sharpton). And the Republican Party is the party of beef. It was perhaps elective white foam on Cruz. Perhaps his staffers figured a way to apply some. Perhaps he kept a stash of some white foamy substitute in his pocket during the debate, which, when the camera was on Rubio or Trump arguing about the size of a presidential candidate’s penis, Cruz was smearing some of the foam on his upper lip, and then looking over at Kasich and winking, asking him if he wanted some.
From now on we will vet all Republican candidates for foaming-at-the-mouth and the size of their penises.
March 14, 2016
The primary results last week gave no new insight into how the nominations might shake out, excepting Sanders’s victory over Clinton in Michigan. And therefore a lot of tension hovers around tomorrow’s outcome. Especially Florida and Ohio seem relevant to the Republican side. The polls suggest that Rubio will get trounced in Florida, but that Trump has a real battle ahead of him in Ohio. Having previously forecast Scott Walker as the nominee, and Marco Rubio, neither of whom would seem to be the likely nominee as of today, I feel like John Kasich is the only reasonable choice, though he has said that there will be no Palestinian homeland in the foreseeable future, and that he doesn’t watch television news but rather prefers to watch golf. Kasich is only in the game if Trump can be denied the delegate threshold required for first ballot nomination. We shall see.
I have been wanting, again, to write about ideological purity. I have been troubled about ideological purity in the rhetoric of the election, and I have been troubled by it at both extremes, with Trump’s rhetoric, and the rhetoric of his supporters, and by the supporters of Bernie Sanders in some cases. I have been troubled by ideological purity culturally, in the classroom, among my friends, even among my loved ones.
My supposition, for good or ill, is that there is no ideological purity in the world. The very humanness of the human being is founded on the contamination of ideological purity; everywhere is the wide stand moral dexterity of political animals, that is, against gay rights but trolling for a suck in the men’s room, or supporting the poor and disenfranchised, and then creaming off a few million from a law firm for whom one never does any work, and so on. These are obvious cases, but the contamination principle goes much farther than this. Everywhere, in our daily lives, there is the collision of what we imagine are our principles, and the little narcissisms and selfishnesses that we prefer to keep to ourselves. That’s what the whole Christian idea of the confession is for, to keep an eye on the fact that no one is without impurity. Indeed, in the Christian faith, the whole ministry of Jesus Christ, the consorting with tax collectors, for example, the conversion of the dreaded Gentile hordes, is about the absence of ideological purity, it is, in fact, about the ubiquity of the contaminated.
The irony of Trump’s paroxysms on the subject of “political correctness,” about which I have already written, is that the neo-totalitarianism of his rallies is nothing if not philosophically identical with the lockstep of the left he imagines he sees everywhere. His “making America great” seems to mean, in actual practice, the stifling of dissent and dissenters, until the only people left are those who in practice already agree.
A friend of mine recently wrote a piece about the “safe space” movement on campuses, in which he argued that safety almost always comes at a high price in the marketplace of ideas, that liberal investigation, argument, persuasion, and, not to put to fine a point on it, but human growth are stifled if it is understood that in all cases unpleasant ideas and opinions are not welcome in the classroom. Just the opposite is widely understood, however, culturally, wherein unpleasant opinions are shut down by high-volume trollery on the net, and people are character assassinated simply for occupying an ill-informed position that in no way may correlate with their long-term beliefs.
In my own case, I have had many wrong opinions over my 54 years here, and I expect to have some others before my time is through. For example, I briefly supported Gerald Ford for president, instead of Jimmy Carter. Not long after, I can remember passionately arguing that a lie was not a lie if the person being lied to never discovered it, it was simply a highly subjective truth. In college, I was in a class in existentialism in which I once argued that Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth could not be taken seriously as an existentialist text because it was only about colonialism (and this despite the fact that it had an introduction by Sartre). Boy, did I get my ass handed to me on that one. I used to dislike Chic. (Now I really like Chic.) I can remember at one point in college feeling like Mao was the only political thinker who had really made a difference in his lifetime, and maybe that meant violence and suppression were legitimate if they were the only way of producing genuine change. I think I thought this because I kind of thought the Weather Underground were cool, and that the Bader-Meinhoff gang was cool. I disagree with all of these positions now, and while I still think of myself as a Trotskyite, I think Bernie Sanders’s health care plan is not likely to see the light of day, and that a marginal tax rate of 84% for elite earners, such as might be required to pay for his healthcare plan is impracticable, and never liable to pass muster with any congress, not to mention a Republican one. I may well be wrong about this, and in some ways I hope I am. There was a period when I claimed I didn’t like Grace Paley’s writing simply because I hadn’t seriously engaged with Gracey Paley’s writing. In all of these things I was wrong, and I was wrong because the opinions were temporary, and as time moved through me, I came to inhabit positions that were essentially the opposite of those I had advocated before. What is belief? Like personality, it’s a snapshot that we advance at a particular moment, liable to change at any time, and particularly liable to change because of engagement with other people.
Furthermore, belief is a thing that happens in language. It doesn’t really exist, or it is not fixed, outside of language, though one may believe it is fixed. It’s not until it gets rehearsed in argument, or in avowal, that belief, of whatever stripe, comes to have the intensity of creed. To rule out certain kinds of speech before they even come to have to defend themselves is in a way to encourage their unspeakable malignancy, their overgrowth, their irrationality. Ideological purity, this thing that does not exist in the real world, is worried over in the precincts of self that do not admit to debate, to language, and it is adhered to there out of a kind of intellectual weakness. Like China or Turkey or Russia suppressing freedom of the press, or like Boko Haram impressing the child soldiers and then raping or murdering anyone who disagrees with them, ideological purity is not something that comes from strength, but from anxiety, insecurity, suspicion, and weakness.
Trump’s sideshow, his carnival of Nurembergian low-level violence, is exactly this kind of weakness. Because Trump cannot and does not embody any actual ideas about policy, he resorts to the carnival for his gotcha lines, he resorts to military industrial infotainment. But don’t kid yourself, as Frank Zappa once said when an audience member was castigating another for being in the armed forces, “Everyone in here is wearing a uniform.”
The national electorate consists, three hundred million strong, of frail, uncertain, contradictory humans. Debate helps us come to something greater than our individual weaknesses, and, as Bill Clinton used to say, “Diversity is our strength.” All the kinds of diversity, not just racial or ethnic diversity, not just religious diversity (including religious diversity that is not Judeo-Christian or even Abrahamic), not just diversity of gender, or sexual expression, not just diversity within party, but diversity across party lines, and across the spectrum from the reasonable to the objectionable. All the humans. Let’s let the disinfectant shine down upon our human ideas, both foul and fair.
P.S. Ben Carson just endorsed the guy who during a televised debate compared him to a pedophile.
April 11, 2016
A lot has happened since the last post here. For example, the bombing in Brussels came to pass, and then a lot of inflammatory electioneering thereafter, including a vow to use limited tactical nuclear devices in a war against the Islamic State (Trump), and a vow to “carpet bomb” geography held by the Islamic State (Cruz), etc. Noel Gallagher, a foreign policy expert of longstanding, has said of the jihadists that he would like to “kill them all,” proving that Liam Gallagher wasn’t the only brat in that band. The Brussels carnage should occasion grief, and increased security in Europe, which is still relatively open, despite what seems to be happening with greater frequency there. It is incredibly sad. The perversion of Islam, and of that incredibly beautiful text, the Qu’ran, so that a particular interpretation of it seems to be synonymous with mass murder, this is a turn of events that would seem to require the concerted effort of the rest of the world.
And yet in the United States this bombing is all just another opportunity for election-year bluster. That bluster has now turned toward New York State. It’s amazing to me that the primary in my own state, almost without fail of little consequence, is the epicenter of national politics, going on two weeks now. On the Democratic side, it appears to be incredibly important to the Clinton candidacy, which is floundering. On the Republican side, it seems that Ted Cruz has given up trying to find in New York a constituency that doesn’t hate him deeply. Last I heard, a day or so ago, he was giving a speech in California. Kasich has been barnstorming, with good reason, since he is affecting the guise of the moderate, and this is a state where Republican moderates can thrive. I would expect Trump to hit the 50% benchmark in New York, even though he too seems to be struggling to find any credibility anywhere.
Another narrative of the past week or so that has seemed incredibly important to me: the release of the Panama Papers. There are certain kinds of stories—and they are almost without fail the most relevant stories (campaign finance reform, for example, is one of these)—that never seem to capture a boldfaced headline to the degree that they ought. The release of the Panama Papers indicates the degree to which global power is easily monetized, and sheltered in locations that insure that this global power is inheritable by the heirs of the oligarchs in question. While it might seem that it is only highly despotic regimes, the inner circles of the Chinese communist party, let’s say, or Putin’s Russia, who are given to the kind of laundering and tax avoidance highlighted in the Panama Papers, Americans, Britons, Icelanders, and Spanish filmmakers, also turn up now and again on the ledgers of the Panamanian law firm who somehow came to leak these documents. The nationalisms that are so thoroughly exploited by the likes of Putin, or, e.g., the Saudi royal family, or the Israeli government, are nothing—it appears in light of the Panama Papers—but a density of rhetorical flourishes designed to placate a great mass of the powerless, and to keep them from rolling some heads, as in the French Revolution. The truth is that there are two kinds of people on earth, and only two kinds: the kind who manage to exploit political power for financial gain, and the kind whose labor and power is exploited by the first group.
Democracy, it seems to me this week, is the biggest laugh. Who honestly believes that democracy exists? Where exactly is this vaunted democracy? Certainly not in the United States, not after you give the apportioning of delegates in the two parties a close look, not when you think carefully about Bechtel, let’s say, or Koch Industries, or Halliburton, etc. I had lunch with a writer friend, who is also a lawyer, yesterday, and she insisted that the gay marriage legislation, that so quickly changed the way our country thinks about its LGBTQ citizens, was primarily funded by a few very wealthy gay men. Which means that even when grassroots movements seem to be bubbling up from underneath, it is just the oligarchs who control the top-down structure so effectively. Remember all those faux-town hall protests about the Affordable Care Act? Those were bankrolled by dark money. Access to political power is either according to those who already have that political power, or those who are willing to pay to gain access.
It’s only because power can never totalize, can never gain the complete subjugation that it wants (because such perfection just doesn’t exist in the world): change occasionally trickles down to the likes of you and me, those outside of the circuitry of political power. I honestly believe, for example, that Hillary Clinton does care about women’s issues, and that if elected, she would make that a priority. And I honestly believe that Bernie Sanders believes that he can and should address income inequality.
But to what degree does the machinery simply employ lofty rhetoric to insure that its control of political power remains unchallenged? This florid rhetoric is always the language of power. This is why the venom and hate on the Democratic side of the election is so incredibly depressing to me. I hate this election season as I have hated few election seasons, and not so much because of the preening self-regard of the real estate magnate, but because of the inflexible, counterproductive, scorched-earth revolutionary chic of the left. That it comes dressed up in these divisive and ugly generalizations is really depressing. I feel a rottenness in the system, everywhere in the system, even though I know the system will prevail, because it always does. It’s going to prevail with the rot intact, like that mushy brown center of the pear, as it rots from the inside out.
From my point of view, there is not a candidate who can combat this, and it cannot be combated, because it’s not an American issue, it’s a global issue. As the Panama Papers depict, the tendency of power to want to hide the money away, and to insure that subsequent generations have access to it, and to the indemnifications these resources provide, that happens across the range of political systems and nationalities. As in China, so in the United States of America. Corruption is the rule, even where there is marvelous political rhetoric, the language of democracy. There are gradients and shades of corruption, but there is corruption everywhere.
Complaining about Hillary Clinton being photographed with Kissinger, or for having given speeches at Goldman Sachs is so beside the point to me, I don’t know where to begin. You think Obama hasn’t done such things, or won’t in the future? You think John F. Kennedy didn’t do such things? You think Obama’s drone program is morally defensible? You think the CIA won’t ever waterboard again? You think we don’t torture routinely and assassinate, and that it would be different under Bernie Sanders? You think Bernie Sanders won’t have the FBI try to crack those iPhones open and find the little jewels of dissent hiding there? You think Colin Powell didn’t use a private e-mail server? You think that the titans of industry aren’t going to call the shots on all the legislation in the future presidency in the past? You think Ted Cruz really gives a shit about the bible? You John Kasich is really moderate? You think the government is not reading all your e-mail and won’t continue to read all your e-mail, whoever is next elected?
There are just the two kinds of people, and you and I are not the kind with the power and the money.
April 14, 2016
I really want Dennis Hastert to serve time in jail. The prosecution in Hastert’s case has made it known that he forced himself on at least four boys when he was a wrestling coach, and that one of those boys committed suicide. If there were four there were probably more than four. Today, one of Hastert’s lawyers tried to minimize the extent of the contact between Hastert and his charges, and to make less of his actions than ought be made. His lawyers further tried to control the dialogue by alluding to the tremendous good Hastert did in his life. What good did he do exactly? And did he not rise to power as the morally upright successor to Newt Gingrich, the philanderer who left his post as speaker of the house? The Republicans in office can’t get away from Hastert fast enough, and he would have done the same thing when he was serving. He did, in fact, during the congressional page scandal.
If Jerry Sandusky has to go to prison sixty years for his abject behavior, why shouldn’t Dennis Hastert? The two things are not in scale at all. If Hastert is a Christian thinker at all, he should receive his punishment with gratitude, to have the chance to atone for all the hypocrisy and all the lives he scarred. He should be grateful for his punishment, he should welcome it. The corollary to this is that he will serve in minimum security somewhere and it will be a slap on the wrist, and the worst is he will have to work daily in the laundry, because he still has the vestiges of political power. But at least he will do some time. The dignified thing would be to welcome this. Everyone else who gets caught doing what Hastert did is now either in prison or you can look them up online and see into which category of reoffender they are projected to be. They’re not allowed to be within 500 hundred feet of a school. I don’t think Dennis Hastert should have to suffer unduly, and mercy is good, and sex addiction is just another kind of addictive illness, one that takes a particularly grisly toll on the victims. Hastert should have to live out in the light for what he has done, no matter the statute of limitations. That’s the moral arc of this issue.
April 22, 2016
Prince Rogers Nelson for president!
As I was suffering these last couple of days with the dread about Democratic party unity, I kept thinking that something would happen to distract us all from the machinations of the presidential election, because, when you get down to it, the American infotainment apparatus will not permit granular examination of the political parties, such as we are having right now, with all the superdelegate wooing, and convention-gaming. By its nature it wants to look away from these things. The media of the nation do not permit such a gaze, and eventually something comes along that claims the 24-hour news cycle, so that we set aside, for the moment, Bernie, and his apoplectic fishmongering, or Trump and his fascist march on the states of the northeast.
Prince Rogers Nelson would have made a great political candidate, for the following reasons: black, but looked racially ambiguous, black, but with some kind of latino-friendly vibe, straight, more or less, but very ambiguous in the matter of gender, at least in terms of his appearance, religious, but exceedingly earthy and sexy, could talk to anyone, shy but capable of brute force, forceful, but not in a way that comes off as exceedingly masculine, pro-woman at every turn, hard-working in a miraculous James Brown kind of way, adaptive, and very very American. He was, as has been said in the aftermath of his passing, one of us. Whereas a lot of stars—Michael Jackson, e.g., Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Madonna—pass out of regular life into some exceedingly sheltered space, Prince Rogers Nelson still seemed like the slightly nerdy regular guy from Minneapolis, and still went to the record store on Record Store Day (and bought, it seems, Stevie Wonder, Missing Persons, the Swan Silvertones, Joni Mitchell, Santana, and The Chamber Brothers (!)), and kind of lived life like a guy who understood his success, but didn’t let it overwhelm him exactly.
Somewhere, recently, I read a comment by Robert Zimmerman, poet and songwriter, wherein he said that rock and roll had passed out of cultural relevance because it has forgotten that it is both black and white, culturally speaking. I don’t know if Bob really said this, and I don’t know if this is an entirely accurate rendering of the remark, and it bears mentioning that Bob is a white guy saying this, and it’s easy to recommend crossing over when you are a white guy who has been at the top of the field for sixty years, more or less. But somehow I feel that there’s a grain of truth in the remark, in that what captures the American attention, again and again, is the artwork—the music or novel or film or painting or multi-media extravaganza—that can somehow help us to bridge the tribalisms of American life. I am not trying to argue against cultural distinctness, or diversity, or against multi-cultural or multi-ethnic democracy. I love these things about my country. But when an artist is aware and sensitive enough to speak across the tribal affiliations, when an artist has that kind of wisdom, then it’s easy to see what they do as truly great. I feel that way about Prince Rogers Nelson, and have spent the twenty-four hours playing a lot of those songs I really loved, and I have felt the greatness and the wisdom in that time.
Prince Rogers Nelson has elbowed aside the fate of Bernie Sanders and that Pomeranian Donald J. Trump, because his death, like his life, was of great cultural significance, and because it lofted him above enmities, even as he retained his distinctiveness as a great African-American artist. His death is more important than the election. His work, at least to me, is far more important than American politics. (I mean, this is facetious, in a way, because the arts, to me, are always more important than American politics.) His death proves this. Of course, there’s an obvious analogy here, in that Prince Rogers Nelson is like Obama, in some ways—an African-American who transcended prejudice to become a master in his field, a widely revered persuader-in-chief, who nonetheless had to endure a fair number of slings and arrows to continue on. No surprise that Obama made a lovely and touching public statement about the death of the man. Prince, in a way, does in music what Obama did in politics.
The music is still incredibly great, and there’s so much more to learn about it. If the Pomeranian called Donald J. Trump somehow seizes control of all political establishment, one thing I’ll be doing is trying to find all the gems buried in HitNRun Phase Two, and searching out a copy of The Black Album, which I once had, and now cannot find.
Rick Moody is the author, most recently, of the novel Hotels of North America. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he also recently released The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise Recordings).