Our Political Whirlwind

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Photo credit: Daphne Zaras.

The whirlwind of today’s politics is exhausting and demoralizing.  I am emotionally drained by the relentless storm of acrimony and dismayed by its destructive force.  What is there left to say in the face of all of this?  Many of us share a sense of anomie.  Political talk is unmoored to democratic values.

The swirl of political communication is frenetic.  We read distractedly in this digital age, observes Joe Moran.  We skim; we don’t read anything that’s too long.  We ingest information rapidly; we write and read urgently; we harvest quick bursts of words and images.  “Perhaps,” Moran suggests, “we should slow down.”  (more…)

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Last of the Cold War Warriors

Senator John McCain, 1936-2018. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Even the tempests of Caliban’s island must pause at the passing of John McCain.

Writing about the three great Liberators of the Americas—Bolívar from Venezuela, San Martín from Río de La Plata, Hidalgo from México—José Martí once taught us:

Men cannot be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns with the same light with which it heats. The sun has spots. Ingrates talk only about its spots; grateful ones talk about the light.[1]

As a resident of Arizona, I have had occasion to witness John McCain’s services to his constituency with punctilious efficiency and graciousness. The tag of “maverick”—an unfortunate banality that often diminished the complexity of the man—has led commentators in the last few days to praise his memory as follows: “I disagreed with him on many issues, but …,” usually followed by a lengthy encomium. I will add my voice to this chorus of praise and condemnation. I will write, reducing “a person’s entire life to two or three scenes,” not only about my disagreements with John McCain, but also about the good that should not be interred with his bones.[2]

(more…)

Trump the Traitor

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Joint press conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the United States of America Donald Trump, 16 July 2018. (Credit: Kremlin.ru)

I count myself among the majority of Americans appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency. Even so, righteous talk of his treason is worrisome from my standpoint as a critic of US war culture. I worry that a desire to defeat Trump and Trumpism by attacking any point of vulnerability works, in the present case, to reinforce militarism, even if inadvertently.

“Trump the Traitor” pretty well sums up the mainstream reaction to Mr. Trump’s resistance to the investigation of Russian meddling in US elections and his affinity for Mr. Putin. That is the title of Michael A. Cohen’s July 16 commentary in the Boston Globe. (more…)

Caliban’s Island: The Return

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Picture of the Castle de San Felipe del Morro in the Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the entrance of the San Juan Bay, 28 April 2011. (Credit: James Willamor)

A Return to the Native Land, as we learn from Aimé Césaire’s great poem, is fraught with perils, fortuitous occurrences, fortunate encounters and profound realizations.[1] The island that I call home is magical, and like Caliban’s island, is full of ghostly sounds and ancient voices: (more…)

Fourth of July Protest

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1902 American cartoon about celebrating the Fourth of July. (Credit: Udo Keppler/Wikimedia Commons)

It was the day after the Fourth of July. Three of us met for breakfast at the local deli.  There had been a sizable Families Belong Together rally the previous Saturday in our downtown square attended by two of us. I had missed the rally but had marched with a group in our city’s July 4th parade. Our group carried signs that called for keeping families together and endorsed more humane alternatives to detention.

The three of us were comparing notes over breakfast and, as is our custom, engaging in spirited debate. We like disagreeing with one another. Sometimes it’s each one of us opposed to each of the others; sometimes it’s two against one in short-lived and shifting alliances. Usually we find points of agreement, or at least partial agreement, in the midst of the give and take. We provoke and listen to each other for the sake of friendship.

This was the dialectical context in which I shared with my friends some reflections on the previous day’s parade experience.  (more…)

Hunt the Devil on July Holiday

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Looking upstream from the mouth of Fourteen Mile Creek in Charlestown State Park. (Credit: Bedford / Wikimedia Commons)

Hunt the Devil is taking a July holiday.

We will return with our next post on August 7.

Thank you for crossing into the realm of political myth with us

in pursuit of democratic alternatives to war culture.

The Exterminating Angel

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The Exterminating Angel, also known as Guardian Angel, is a sculpture by Josep Llimona dated in 1895. Built on the ruins of an ancient cemetery which in turn was built on the remains of an old church of the fifteenth century. The Exterminating Angel is the “Angel of the bottomless pit” who reign over locusts that devastate humanity “not marked on the forehead with the seal of God” (Revelation 9:11). (Credit: Andrés Suárez García)

My mother was a gifted psychic who never believed her talent was a big deal. She scoffed at poseurs and charlatans, was highly suspicious of the use of spirituality for profit, and reserved a deep respect for Catholic nuns and Catholic schooling. Never a churchgoing person, she had a profound faith in the power of her plaster image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a gift from my father to her before their wedding), and an unswerving belief in the principle of Poetic Justice in the world. She never called it karma, but she maintained, to the end of her life, that eventually we all get our just deserts.

I have been thinking a great deal about my mother during this crisis of abduction and hostage taking of immigrant children by the US government. I remember distinctly the day at the Havana airport when we left Cuba in 1961. At the enclosed glass-area that led to the Pan American airplane, my mother and my aunt were taken away by female guards to be body-searched (Castro militias were looking for unauthorized money or jewels leaving the country). To this day, I remember the fear that engulfed me as I was left by myself with my young sister (I was 7, she was 6) in the departure area. (more…)

They Came for the Children

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British Women and Children Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp, Syme Road, Singapore, 1945, by Leslie Cole. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Somewhere in Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, the Irish Sage reminds us that when a stupid man does something he is ashamed of:  he always claims it is his duty to do so. In our miserable times, when a shameless man or woman does something dreadful that they enjoy, they always claim the law commands them to do so, even when no law exists to that effect. And when they engage in acts of perverted humanity, actions that can only arise from the diseased topographies of the soul, they claim—in an inversion of the classic serial killer excuse—that God made them do it! (more…)

Democratic Counterpoint

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Detail from “Government.” Mural by Elihu Vedder. 1896. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Democracy is a tricky word, as noted at the end of Hunt the Devil. Whether we’ve too little of it or too much depends on what we mean by it.

To Walt Whitman, democracy meant not accepting anything except what everyone else can have their “counterpart of on the same terms” (Leaves of Grass). He could never get his fill of this kind of democracy, which resonated with overtones of equality among differences and resistance to privilege.

The standard definition of democracy refers to rule of the people primarily through their representatives, free and fair elections, and decisions by majority vote. Fair enough, so far as it goes, but lifeless.  (more…)

A Cloud of Imperial Hubris

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Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,“ engraving by Gustave Doré, 1866. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Tirelessly, Tom Englehardt works to raise our consciousness and tweak our conscience as citizens of an imperial war state. At TomDispatch.com, he offers a regular antidotal drip of posts by thoughtful and insightful critics of militarism. His newest book, A Nation Unmade by War, was released on May 22, warning that an empire made by war is also unmade by it.

A mere gesture to Englehardt’s observation is enough to underscore the country’s ominous trajectory.

We Americans do not like to think of ourselves as an empire. Nevertheless, Englehardt observes, America’s empire of chaos exists in a “cloud of hubris.” Hubris, you say? Yes, hubris—that condition of extreme pride and self-confidence, of outsized ambition that offends the gods, of overreach that leads to downfall.  (more…)