Barack Obama

The Tautology of War

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Yuliy Graf in Krokodil, 1953 no. 4, p. 8.

War culture is an insidious presence in the ordinary life of the imperial citizenry. The subtle entrapment in its daily rituals is a treacherous seduction of political will that sacrifices democracy on the altar of militarism.  The profane is endemic to politics as usual, the self-indulgence of a public alienated from its founding ideals.  Mundanity is a spiritual death knell just below the threshold of critical awareness.

The war mentality is a self-sustaining redundancy that renders critical reflection tiresome and seemingly futile.  The apparent inevitability of war induces acceptance and rationalization.  The public refuses to see its imperial reflection in the mirror.  The face of war is too ugly to unmask.  Better to suppress it.  Repression and projection are the psychological alternatives to critical reflection.  (more…)

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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…)

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…)

Of Haiti and Shitholes

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“Attack and Taking of the Crête-à-Pierrot,” 1839. Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, engraving by Hébert. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

At Hunt the Devil, we believe that America is not just a country, but rather a continent. We have had occasion in the past to write about Haiti after comments by Pat Robertson in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake (a death toll of 100,000 souls) to the effect that Haiti’s misfortunes throughout history were the result of having sworn a pact with the Devil (see our blog post “Compact with the Devil”).

We have written about Haiti again in a recently published book chapter that looks at Barack Obama’s presidency within the context of the general history of the Americas (see Robert L. Ivie and Oscar Giner, “Barack Obama at the Threshold of a New America,” in Robert E. Terrill, ed. Reconsidering Obama: Reflections on Rhetoric, New York: Peter Lang, 2017).

What follows is a brief excerpt from that publication: (more…)

Touch of Evil (Part 1 of 2)

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a rally for Donald Trump at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona, 18 June 2016. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

There is no more representative picture of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio than the portrait of border sheriff Hank Quinlan created by Orson Welles in his prophetic Touch of Evil (1958). At the end of Welles’ film noir masterpiece, in which “Justice, for once, is represented by a Mexican” (even though the protagonist, Miguel Vargas, is played by Charlton Heston in dark make-up), Quinlan is “defeated by technology, by the truth, by justice…. The powerful end up as victims of their abuse of power.”[1] (more…)

The Wall

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Donald Trump signs Executive Order 13767. (Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

We will build a big, beautiful wall.

A great, great wall on our southern border. Big: thirty feet tall, six feet deep. Long: nearly two thousand miles, spanning mountains, canyons, rivers, lakes, floodplains, and desert lands. Strong: built to deter tunneling, prevent scaling, and withstand tampering. Beautiful: on the north side. Free: paid for by Mexico, or not, in the amount of twelve billion dollars, maybe twenty-one, maybe forty. Border secured. No more undocumented immigrants, criminals, or drugs. (more…)

Primer for the Trump Apocalypse: Napoleon the Pig

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Credit: Joanbanjo / Wikimedia Commons

Why should I be civil to them or to you? In this Palace of Lies a truth or two will not hurt you. Your friends are the dullest dogs I know.

Don Juan speaking to the Devil, in George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell

To face the Apocalypse we must fix squarely in the mind what Donald Trump is and what he’s not. These days I have frequently revisited George Orwell’s dark fable Animal Farm as an emblematic text from which much can be learned. “Animal Farm,” said Orwell, “was the first book in which I tried … to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”[1]

Among the animals of Orwell’s dark fable—the heroic cart-horse Boxer and the “motherly mare” Clover, Muriel the goat, Benjamin the donkey and Moses the Raven—none stands out for me more than Napoleon the Pig. (more…)

Imperial Decline

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“Keying Up” – The Court Jester, oil on canvas, by William Merritt Chase, 1875. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Engelhardt is an uncommonly keen observer of the imperial globe. His blog, TomDispatch.com, points critically at what mainstream media ignore or condone. The blog functions as an “antidote” to how the news typically is reported. He’s been at it since the beginning of the global war on terror. Before that, he wrote insightfully on US war culture in The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (Basic Books, 1995). Now he sees signs of the beginning of the end of US empire.

Engelhardt sees the decline of American imperial power reflected in the words of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign theme: “Make America Great Again!” The word “again” is revealing. Rhetoric makes and reflects political culture.

In the 1950s, US wealth and power were “too self-evident for presidents to cite, hail, or praise.” Their political vocabulary was devoid of superlatives such as “greatest,” “exceptional,” and “indispensible.” After Vietnam, though, things went the way of Rambo. (more…)

Born in the USA

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Panorama of Grand Canyon, Arizona, 2010. (Credit: chensiyuan / Wikimedia Commons)

Political discussions in the United States usually degenerate—sooner or later—into arguments about who is and who is not an American. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has pointed out: “the concept of being “un-American” is unique to the political culture and national identity of the United States.” Our tiresome, repeated claims of American exceptionalism are an outward expression of a deep insecurity—the product of a sense displacement created by the Stranger’s anxiety when confronted by a Strange land.

The Republican presidential primary campaigns have been rife with the politics of identity recently. Our fears and our confusion have been much in play. The US Constitution specifies that “No person except a natural born Citizen … shall be eligible to the Office of President” (Art. 2, Sec. 1). Since his election in 2008, the legitimacy of the presidency of Barack Obama has been questioned in conservative circles by accusations that he was born in Kenya, not in Hawaii. (more…)

Perish by the Sword

Sculpture of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, in the Abbey Saint-Pierre Brantôme, Brantôme (Dordogne, France). (Credit: Père Igor / Wikimedia Commons)

Sculpture of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, in the Abbey Saint-Pierre Brantôme, Brantôme (Dordogne, France). (Credit: Père Igor / Wikimedia Commons)

In the face of yet another massacre of young Americans, this time by a sick individual with guns in Oregon, some of our political leaders (Mencken’s Clown Dynasty) do not know what to do.

Others, like Pontius Pilate, are glad to wash their hands of the messy business. Jeb Bush summed up this attitude admirably the day after the shooting: “Stuff happens.”

If we are paralyzed into inactivity by the Second Amendment, by the NRA and its lobby, or by fellow Americans who worship guns and vote accordingly, perhaps we can find if not a new path, at least a new direction for a solution if we re-examine some of our premises about who we are, and remember what we claim to be.

First, President Obama presented the nation with this befuddlement in his address after the shooting: “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.” The explanation for this puzzling conundrum is simple: despite our riches and our technical proficiency, we are NOT an “advanced country.” We are a nation of savages and barbarians who would rather see our children slaughtered than give up our guns. We believe in human sacrifice, and regularly offer up human victims to the natural law of the Second Amendment and to the bloody cult of the NRA. Any solution to the gun problem in this great country must begin with an acknowledgement of this sad fact. (more…)