By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2021 – Thomas Adcock
NORTH CHATHAM, New York — U.S.A.
Finally, spring has eclipsed the long winter of our discontent. Normally at this time, our mood lightens with the sunshine of a warming season, with bright blue skies and sweet-smelling rain and greening trees. Normally.
But even as the coronavirus plague is a fading fear, even as the Muttering Malodor of Mar-a-Lagois largely gone from center stage—Alas, I understate my contempt horribly—our days here are not wholly uplifting. In fact, we seesaw between hope and dread. Hoping for improvement in the economy and social progress in the near future, perhaps even justice; living with an existential dread of more traitorous insurrection, à la January’s putsch at the Capitol in Washington—
Not to mention the usual deathwatch for yet another mindless massacre in Anytown U.S.A., courtesy of yet another troubled man with easy access to military grade weaponry. Courtesy as well of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, each august body having sanctified the sickness of America’s holy gun culture with legislative and juridical imprimaturs.
On the hopeful side of our divided national mood, most if not all of us are relieved to see in Joe Biden a normal demeanor returned to the presidency. By his simple human decency, he reverses four long years of our collective embarrassment in being American. By his simple presence, Mr. Biden frees us from constant fretting over “the other guy,” as our forty-sixth president calls the execrable lout who preceded him.
Our more healthful consciousness begs metaphorical comparison: We shake off traces of the other guy as if brushing away pigeon poop from our shoulders. And we are coming to a full appreciation of Mr. Biden’s transformative impulse. “I want to change the paradigm,” he declared in his first press conference as president.
And by god, he did. Joe Biden saw to it that his allies in Congress, with slender Democratic Party majorities in each chamber, were able to ram through a post-plague “American Rescue Plan” to the tune of $1.9 trillion (€1.62 trillion). For once, the great bulk of this historically generous fund will go—is already going—to people who need it, especially the children of low-income households. Refreshingly, we have in the White House a man whose own life has known bad luck and hard times, a man who takes the notion that poverty is not the poor man’s own damn fault.
In such attitude lies hope for all merciful souls.
Further in good news for the future: One fine and not too distant day, the world’s principal repository of pigeon poop will die. Likely due to a combination of apoplexy and gluttony, as in the case of his fellow narcissist William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska (1860-1925), the three times failed presidential candidate of yore. I should be pleased to compose an obituary for the Flatulent Führer of Florida in the spirit of the journalist and cultural critic H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), who in writing of Mr. Bryan’s passing foreshadowed the walking, talking malignancy who succeeded in a single quest for the White House:
“There was a vague, unpleasant manginess about his appearance; he somehow seemed dirty, though a close glance showed him as carefully shaven as an actor. [He was] a character in a third-rate farce, witless and in poor taste.
“He descended to demagogy so dreadful that his very associates blushed. His one yearning was to keep his yokels hated up—to lead his forlorn mob of imbeciles against the foe…uttering stuff that a boy of eight would laugh at.
“The simian gabble of the crossroads was not gabble to him, but wisdom of an occult and superior sort. In the presence of city folks he was palpably uneasy…He knew all the while they were laughing at him.
“He seemed only a poor clod…deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the barnyard. …What animated him from end to end of his grotesque career was the ambition of a common man to get his hand upon the collar of his superiors, or, failing that, to get his thumb into their eyes.
“[His voice] had the trick of inflaming half-wits against their betters, that he himself might shine. What moved him, at bottom, was simply hatred of the city men who had laughed at him so long…He lusted for revenge upon them. He yearned to lead the anthropoid rabble against them, to punish them for their execution upon him by attacking the very vitals of their civilization.”
Thus endeth the Other Guy’s reprehensible regime. Not with a whimper, but with the Goebbels-esque Big Lie that he was robbed of reëlection, leading to his “Save America” harangue of January 6 that incited a lethal insurrection not seen in Washington since British troops set fire to the Capitol in 1814.
On the dread side of my country’s divided mood, there are random mass murders to concern us, again and again and again—and fundamentally more. Increasingly, we sense another mortal threat, this one to our very history: Liberal democracy, the self-governing form we have defended in two world wars, could be supplanted by right-wing autocracy—or full-blown fascism. This would only require a leader more intelligent and more competent than the Bloated Boob, neither prerequisite a high bar.
It is a persuasive assumption that the Hot Air Pork Balloon of Mar-a-Lago will not be a presidential candidate in 2024; prison, or at least non-stop criminal prosecutions, may render him indisposed. Alternatively, a trio of imitators wait in the wings—Senator Josh Hawley, subject of last month’s essay in this space, along with Senators Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham.
All three have dispensed with any legitimacy they once held, and any sensibility gained by their impressive educations as they seek the blessings of Mango Mussolini, the support of his benighted cult, and the convenient brand of a Republican Party unburdened of political integrity.
—A party devoted to curbing the ability of the non-white electorate to engage in the linchpin of democracy: the vote. A party that welcomes into its ranks—into its congressional caucus—disciples of QAnon, the extreme right-wing conspiracist movement that claims Cheeto Benito as the avenger of Democrats who supposedly engage in child sex trafficking.
The ambitious trio of Hawley-Cruz-Graham, with possibly more Republicans to come, gamble on the theory that the Age of Trump—dare I say his name?—is not quite over. Nor the essences of despotism and fascism revealed in that darkly recent era, philosophies apparently acceptable to the seventy-four million voters who preferred Donald Trump to Joe Biden in last November’s election.
Chauncey DeVega, a politics writer for Slate magazine, claims that the Republican Party is the “polite face” of American fascism. Further—
“[P]olling has found a larger group of Republicans expressing sympathy for the attack on the Capitol, and a much larger group than that expressing sympathy more generally for the belief that the threats to American society [by the mainstream left] have grown so great that force or violence is justified to respond to them.
“Law enforcement and other experts predict that the United States may experience years, if not decades, of terrorism and other political violence by right-wing insurgents who have been inspired and mobilized by Trump’s presidency and movement.
“The hope peddlers, stenographers of current events, professional centrists and others who have consistently underestimated the Republican threat to democracy have done so largely because they deluded themselves into believing that fascism is something that happens there’…
“The troubling reality is that American fascism has existed for centuries in such forms as…black chattel slavery, genocide against [indigenous] people, concentration camps where Japanese Americans were imprisoned, white supremacist violence against brown people along the U.S.-Mexico border…”
Mr. DeVega is hardly alone in warning of another phase of American fascism. In the aforementioned press conference, President Biden alluded to the same in the larger context of roiling societal change around the globe.
“Look around the world,” said Mr. Biden. “We’re in the fourth industrial revolution of enormous consequence. How will people adjust to significant changes in science and technology and the environment? How will they do that? Will there be a middle class?”
He added, “Look, I predict to you: Your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral [theses] on the issue of who succeeded—autocracy or democracy.”
It should be mentioned, by the way, that among the mob of several thousand insurrectionists of January 6—loudly proclaiming their fealty to Trump and their determination to “Hang Mike Pence,” presumably from a gallows erected near the Capitol—were a disturbing number of current and former police and military personnel. Included in that number, and notable for his everyday appearance in homage to Adolf Hitler, was one Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a U.S. Army reservist and unabashed white supremacist employed at a U.S. Navy base near Colts Neck, New Jersey—where he had “top secret” security clearance. Following his arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his participation in the events of January 6, the wannabe Hitler’s colleagues told authorities of multiple instances when Herr Hale-Cusanelli said things via social media such as “the Jews did 9/11” and “I hate immigrants.”
Meanwhile, mass murder marches on.
It is Tuesday morning the 30th of March as I write. News from Baltimore informs of the late Joshua Green. Yesterday morning, he was 27 years old.
At approximately half-past six, he left the apartment where he lived, although his identification papers listed his address as the home of his parents. Mr. Green drove his car to a nearby convenience store, where he used a gun he purchased last year, and registered in accordance with local law, to dispatch a 63-year-old woman. Afterwards, he walked inside the shop where he shot and killed a male customer and wounded a clerk, who evidently telephoned police with a description of the car and the direction it drove away from the scene of the crime.
When officers eventually caught up with Mr. Green, they found his apartment ablaze with fire and Mr. Green slumped on the ground outside, dead from turning his gun on himself. Some time later, police found the address of Mr. Green’s parents and proceeded to the house to tell them of their son’s death. Once at the house, police found that Mr. Green’s mother and father had been shot dead, probably on Sunday night.
Interviews with persons known to the Green family resulted in the usual “I-have-no-idea-why-he-did-it” plus thoughts and prayers. Police reported no history of encounters with Joshua Green, who had no criminal record.
The only unique aspect of the Green case was the gun—a pistol rather than the go-to weapon for the great majority of American mass murderers, the especially scary-looking AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle, a slightly modified military combat machine gun easily converted to a fully automatic instrument of slaughter capable of firing armor-piercing, internal organ-melting 223-caliber bullets at the rate of one per second—with an accuracy range of up to one mile.
In the fourteen-day run-up to Baltimore, two other maniacal killing sprees—in the states of Georgia and Colorado—were conventional affairs starring the usual homicidal maniacs. Eight persons (including six young Asian-American women) were gunned down in the city of Atlanta at three different massage parlors. The alleged killer was a 21-year-old man with a legal AR-15 who professed “sex addiction” and told police, “I love God and I love guns.” Days later in the city of Boulder, another 21-year-old man allegedly shot and killed ten customers in a grocery store with a short-barrel version of the AR-15.
Meanwhile in Washington, the usual grinning Republican lawmakers posed for photo-ops with their very own AR-15s. They were the aforementioned Senators Cruz of Texas and Graham of South Carolina, joined for the festive shoot (pardon the expression) by Representatives Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia—ironically, the very two states of such recent and blood-soaked slaughter.
This gun-toting quartet, along with virtually every Republican on Capitol Hill and a few Democrats, is deeply invested in protecting the “rights” of young maniacs to have guns. Which is to say, American gun manufacturers, constituting an industry with annual revenues of $28 billion (€23.89 billion), are deeply inve$ted in tho$e member$ of Congress who oblige them. Those members who refuse, year after year and massacre after massacre, to enact regulations on gun ownership—the sort of prosaic rules that apply to automobile owners.
With last year’s toll of gun deaths—twenty thousand from assorted violence and another twenty-four thousand by suicide, according to preliminary counts from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics—I can imagine the funeral industry kicking in with armaments crowd on strategic investments in Congress.
So who are the real maniacs? Speaking of which, consider Senator Ron “I’m No Racist” Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin.
Referencing the January attack on the building where he works, the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Johnson was happy to express his take on the subject during an interview on one of the country’s numerous hair-curling, right-wing talk radio programs. Mr. Johnson claimed to be unbothered by the fuss.
Never mind that thugs devoted to an orange-faced seat moistener paraded through the Capitol with the treasonous banner of the Civil War era Confederacy, a nineteenth century Southern breakaway to defend the criminal immorality of slavery; never mind how some thugs sported “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirts; never mind how the rampaging mob destroyed furnishings, slathered marble walls with their excrement, and pissed on marble floors; never mind that the mob beat a police officer to death with a flag pole; never mind that another officer died days later of a heart attack; never mind that one of the mob’s own was the first to be killed in the half-day melee—
Never mind that on that day many of Mr. Johnson’s colleagues feared for their lives, including wheelchair-bound Representative Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois who lost both her legs in 2004 when the Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. Ms. Duckworth and others under attack in the Capitol sheltered in place behind doors barricaded as best they could, telephoning their loved ones to say good-bye as they heard pounding fists and profane curses from Donald Trump’s lily white barbarians—a fascist vanguard loudly in search of Mr. Trump’s own vice president, with the clearly voiced intent of stringing him up.
Never mind. Mr. Johnson considered this all as just so much tempest in a teapot. Fine folks, those loveable thugs.
“I knew these were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement [and] would never do anything to break the law,” Senator Johnson told his radio listeners. “So I wasn’t concerned.”
Please proceed, Senator—
“Now, had the tables been turned,” Mr. Johnson confessed to his radio interlocutor, a dolt called Joe Pags (né Giuseppe Pagliarulo). “Joe, this could get me in trouble. Had the tables been turned, [and] those were tends of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”
At the risk of seeming to be one of those “hope peddlers” derided by Chauncey DeVega, I would remind my countrymen of our eloquent departure from autocracy during the American Revolution. The language of our foundational documents was that of aristocratic white men of the eighteenth century, with attendant moral faults of the time. Some owned slaves, none countenanced women as equals.
Nevertheless, the language was and is gloriously revolutionist. The words bear respect as touchstones of an American democracy worth defending against forces considerably worse than the imperfect men who created its beginnings.
The U.S. Constitution, drafted in the year 1788, defined and continues to define a proud and rambunctiously democratic population: “We the People.” It defined and continues to define our national purpose—
“To form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
In 1776, when our original thirteen disputatious colonies declared independence from the oppression of the British crown, We the People vowed to forge a society that guaranteed us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
So America must ever be.
So must we hope, and vote, and resist.
“You can’t have unrelenting hopelessness,” warns Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale University and author of “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.”
Further, said the professor in an interview—
“Hungary is a good example of a country without any political hope at all. Democracy is done there. Viktor Orbán is going to be in power until he dies. What happens if a people do not have any success in fighting back and resisting to save their country’s democracy? They acclimate.
“Now the Republicans are systematically targeting American democracy. The other day I was thinking, What was it like to live during Jim Crow as a white person in the North? You knew that the South was robbing black Americans the right to vote. Well, we are looking at such a situation now, with Republicans systematically taking away the right to vote. It is an emergency. The rot is deep. The Republican Party has become an anti-democratic party…
“Democracy is not over, but there is a potentially very grim future ahead.
My advice: Buckle up.
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag firstname.lastname@example.org