As we attack Trump, what marks are we missing?
Using Zinn’s view of our Presidents, what’s peculiar about Trump is how remarkably un-peculiar he is. In this chapter, Clinton is America’s avatar, who, “like other politicians, was more interested in electoral victory than in social change,” and “eager to show he was ‘tough’ on matters of ‘law and order.'” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Which then should make us wonder about Presidential magic. Or rather, about Presidents as magicians in service of American hegemony, not as autonomous individuals with unique political agendas. How has each of our Presidents been used as a misdirect, and away from what truth? While we’re busy wagging our fingers at one person, what’s actually going on? It’s convenient for our system – i.e. for invested business interests – if we the people are engaged in petty personal attacks. Going after Trump has only one end: going after Trump. Unfortunately, our venom becomes a self-inflicted wound. We’re poisoning ourselves with aimless anger, the aimlessness of it advantageous to people who set us up to embody it. We’re lost, and we don’t even know it, or at least, we’re not supposed to know it. Of course, we can know it.
I’m not the first to suggest that our Presidents are puppets; people accept that Trump isn’t actually running the show, he’s just a radioactive part in it. So who is running the show? What show? What’s happening backstage? Without bleeding the metaphor, it’s clear from our history, and from the unsurprising surreality of our present, that there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. So what on earth is going on?
I don’t know how to move past the veil, but it’s a decent start, I hope, to see the veil as what is: a cover. Trump absorbs all our negative energy, and the system metabolizes it as positive nourishment; i.e. the rich get richer. His presence is profitable. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be where he is. So how then do we stop our country’s normal flow of money? Bleeding the system is an economic possibility, but one that would take unprecedented sacrifice. As a people, are we really ready to opt out? The system can never be corrected; there aren’t any errors in it. It’s perfectly designed, and it learns on its own, constantly adapting and evolving. We need a new system. Are we ready for the implications of that calling? Or will we keep toiling away within this one that we think we can save. We’re like the archetypal woman in a romantic comedy, desperately believing that we can “reform” and “save” a decidedly unsalvageable man. The Man is not going to change. We have to.
Let’s ground all that in something more concrete, by looking at passages in this chapter that continue to resonate in our political climate (why can’t that climate change?).
There is no FBI to investigate the FBI. There is no Justice Department to investigate the Justice Department.
A classic case of “Who watches the watchmen?” (classic redefined here as wisdom derived from graphic novels), this statement rings true today when we consider the CIA’s role in the recent election, a role which might suggest that Trump was simply more favorable to keeping our system intact. He offered the greatest promise to corporate interest and military might; his actions so far reflect as much.
…police and prisons have virtually no effect on the sources of criminal behavior…profound poverty, exclusion, marginalization, and despair.
Our system is designed for a “maximum security” police/prison culture, which gives the illusion of “law and order” where really, it creates conditions that favor the rich by demonizing the poor and using the ever-reliable “middle class” as a buffer.
Those holding political power – whether Clinton or his Republican predecessors – had something in common. They sought to keep their power by diverting the anger of citizens to groups without the resources to defend themselves…The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. Criminals were among these hobgoblins. Also immigrants, people on ‘welfare,’ and certain governments – Iraq, North Korea, Cuba. By turning attention to them, by inventing or exaggerating their dangers, the failures of the American system could be concealed.
We still have all our traditional hobgoblins intact. Is Trump the latest and perhaps the most impressive hobgoblin? The President himself used as profitable distraction? Turn American ire at the purported representative of the country itself and let us exhaust ourselves in our efforts against him, so long as the Apparatus is untouched. Or in attacking Trump, or we engaged in possible political revolution? Are we threatening the system when we threaten Trump?
Democrats and Republicans alike played on the economic fears of working Americans.
Thank you, South Park.
Remember when Timothy McVeigh, a white dude, blew up a Federal Building in Oklahoma City? Yeah, that led to a crackdown on immigrants, reminiscent of anti-immigrant policies stretching from 1798 to the 1950s. Little has changed today. We’ve cried out against Trump’s irrational restrictions, but Obama didn’t fail in sustaining this standard Presidential order. There’s no shortage of immigrant groups that can serve our government as convenient scapegoats.
Remember, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.
The other manifestations of big government – huge contracts to military contractors and generous subsidies to corporations – continued at exorbitant levels…the concern about balancing the budget did not extend to military spending.
Trump, a strong man, will do strong things; he’ll put on a strong show. Clinton – in line with Presidential normalcy – was also preoccupied with performative strength. We still have a masculinity problem, manifest in our obsession with weapons and wealth.
Put more daringly, we’re terrorists.
…made Americans seem a people willing to overlook genocide for the sake of commerce.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once criticized Michael Jordan – American ambassador and poster child for the American Dream – for choosing “commerce over conscience” throughout his career. At the start of Black Lives Matter movement, MJ issued a fairly tepid defense of their cause. His story is the American story: follow your dreams, then follow the money, then build your empire; everything else be damned. (And then pretend like you’re sorry about it, but then, of course, keep doing you; you earned it.)
It has become a money game: an absurd spiral in which we export arms only to have to develop more sophisticated ones to counter those spread out all over the world.
Yeah, it’s called the “Joker Calling Card,” aka what-did-you-really-expect escalation.
In its relations to Russia, a concern for ‘stability’ over morality seemed to motivate the Clinton administration.
Clinton-Yeltsin is to Trump-Putin as…
…both major parties were more concerned for corporate interests than for the rights of working people, here or abroad, and saw foreign aid as a political and economic tool more than as a humanitarian act.
Check, check, check.
What the incident showed was that a matter of personal behavior could crowd out of the public’s attention far more serious matters, indeed, matters of life and death.
Context: Clinton and Lewinsky (and so many other women). Amazing the stink we’ll raise over oral sex, but we draw the moral line at bombing innocent foreign civilians. Trump’s “pussy grabbing” remark? Totally inexcusable and gross and a punishing reminder of societal gender relations failures as much as his personal defects…and yet, in the so-called grand scheme of things, the time we devoted to it probably isn’t proportional to the crime. Or rather, the energy we give to all the deaths our government has caused – to all the death Trump is already and will continue to be responsible for (oh, we’re responsible too, by the way) – falls woefully short of our ravenous ad hominem discourse.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.
President Dwight Eisenhower, in a moment of incredible lucidity. I have nothing to add to its truth.
Build more jails, lock up more people, execute more prisoners. And continue with the same policies that produced the desperation.
This, a description of the Clinton administration. This, a description of so much more.
…war in our time is always a war against children.
Yes, but…well, what about…okay, except…did you see the Super Bowl though?
The people owned the streets that day and it was as much a lesson for us as it was for corporate America.
In most of my reflections on this book, I’ve used a bitter tone, framed by love only in a desperate attempt at the end to salvage hope and inspire action. But the book – for all its despairing coverage – is ultimately inspirational, a celebration of a history of Americans trying to make life better for everyone. We do it together, and we come together by looking first into our own hearts and discovering a courage and power that we inherit from our ancestors, who inherited it from their ancestors, who inherited it from our ultimate ancestor, the Great Spirit of the Universe. We are powerful enough to make a difference, but not the one we expect/want, only what we need in that moment. What life needs. We surrender ourselves in service to life, and we make progress. Evolution is a slow process. We can choose to delay it, but we can never stop it. This should give us the will to move with it. We can make that choice, and we will grow as we do.
We say no to “life as we know it” and YES to life, and in that affirmation, we all shall live.