June 2017
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

The Flight 93 election

A guy named Michael Anton anonymously published an essay during the campaign which said that American government, with Barack Obama at the wheel, was a hijacked plane and Donald Trump and crew were the passengers storming the cockpit to reclaim it--a necessary and brave enterprise even if the plane crashed as a result. Anton was rewarded with a job in the administration. In the immortal fashion of people aiming a bitter, controversial metaphor at an adversary, the accusation points back at its maker; Republicans howled about "death panels" when Obamacare passed, and now are trying to throw 23 million people off insurance. The Trump team in that metaphor were the hijackers, not the would-be rescuers.


The radical incompetence of the President continues to be stunning after so many examples, as when he jumped on a Saudi bandwagon to accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, immediately followed by anonymous voices in his administration, explaining that the President probably did not know we had an important base there.

I haven't gotten over the fact that a substantial subset of American voters could think that a man who was so visibly a talentless blowhard could have something on the ball, was qualified to be President, and what that implies for democracy.

The wrestling video

Trump presents us with so many embarassing misadventures in the course of a month it is hard to single any out, but the old wrestling video, in which someone substituted the CNN logo for the face of the adversary he is punching, bothers me most not as incitement to violence (because it is more arguably a metaphor than most of his incitements), but as a symbol of his perfect asininity and his refusal, his stark inability, to concentrate on doing his job.

Half awake phrases

I sometimes formulate half conherent phrases when half awake. In the past, they sometimes became the titles of plays. Two this month I am particularly pleased by, are the anvil of narcissism, and the mocking dog of thought. "The anvil of narcissism has fallen on the mocking dog of thought".

Steve Scalise and gun control

Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was shot and critically injured by a left wing mass shooter who aimed at Republican Congressmen and staffers on a ball field. From his web site: "A strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Scalise has sponsored and cosponsored legislation protecting citizens' right to keep and bear arms. In the 112th Congress, Scalise introduced H.R. 58, the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, which improves law-abiding citizens' ability to purchase firearms. The bills Scalise has recently cosponsored include H.R.645, a bill to restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia and the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, H.R.822, which would ensure national reciprocity for concealed carry permit holders". Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, before being shot by a right wing conspiracy theorist in Arizona, had also taken a Second Amendment stance, bragging on her web site that she had signed an amicus brief supporting more guns in the District of Columbia. Judge John Roll,who had written an opinion invalidating a background check provision, was killed at her side. Giffords is now a gun control campaigner. It will be interesting to see how Scalise emerges from this, if he had, as the bullet hit him, what we could call a Giffords intuition, that he he had worked hard to make his own suffering more probable. The ultimate irony is that the underpinnings of the Second Amendment, as endlessly claimed by some of its proponents, embody a Constitutional "reset switch", a right to shoot politicians when they get out of hand, just never the particular politician shot at a particular moment.

The suicide aid conviction

The young woman who encouraged a friend to kill himself and was convicted of manslaughter sets a freedom of speech precedent: unless the case is reversed, we have crossed a rubicon in holding that pure speech, mere words, can kill. The possible applications are endless, including of course a complete revision of the "true threat" principle, which previously criminalized only standing in front of someone's house, shouting to a mob to burn it. Will President Trump be convicted of inciting to violence through his rhetoric? No: such radical revisions in the rules are never actually used against the powerful.

Unarmed black men

The near-impossibility of convicting a cop for shooting an unarmed black man, even when there is video, communicates something fundamentally evil in our society, and I don't use that word lightly. The fact that the white man who believed Alex Jones' weird, incoherent "Pizzagate" crap and fired a highly visible semi-automatic weapon into the ceiling of the pizzeria, was soon after permitted to place it on the ground and surrender, underscores the flaws in our national character..

Grenfell fire

The emerging narrative indicates that the London building which burned with the loss of scores of lives was hastily built not to last, so it could be replaced with luxury housing in a few years' time. First increasing and gross inequality became highly visible in all Western democracies; now it is crossing the next line of becoming actually murderous.

Car loans

One highly visible indication of American inequality was the way in which the 2009 mortgage "crisis" signaled the new mainstream legitimacy of victimizing the poor, by taking away their homes. The carnage was deemed a little too extreme and visible, but no one has served any prison time for the underlying concept. Now, the next wave of victimization is in the form of a growing car loan bubble, where people are loaned money at egregious interest rates to buy used cars which break down a month later--after which they must continue to repay the loans the rest of their lives. We have transitioned from being a nation which ignores the poor to one which actively permits its billionaires to grind them up.


Another symptom of something dire is that municipalities everywhere are becoming unable to pay their pension commitments. The reliance factor here is tremendous, as the people owed the pensions, now being characterized as selfish and greedy, invested their whole lives and careers in a promise they would be taken care of later. Among the victims of the de-funding are a number of surviving spouses of police and firefighters who died on the job. The mean-spiritedness in America, the fact that legislators and pundits are able to target these people without even feeling any remorse, is becoming extreme.


In fact, "reliance" is becoming an incomprehensible word in America. The first day of the Muslim travel ban, people with green cards and other visas who happened to be outside the United States on the day it issued could not get back in--evidently not an accident, but Steve Bannon's cruel intention. The reliance factor, of the people who had invested so much time and treasure and care in a journey towards becoming Americans, was vividly obvious, and their treatment was devastating. But Trump himself is the very symbol of a reliance-free politics; no one can count on him for anything.

An instance of destroying our neighbors

A new level of viciousness in American politics is expressed in a willingness even to harm and destroy people just like ourselves. Everywhere you go in America, in almost every state, there are seasonal agricultural and hospitality businesses which count on foreign workers to do minimum and low-wage gruelingly hard jobs Americans won't do. The government has never issued enough visas, nor issued the ones it did early enough, to guarantee these businesses the workers they need, and a large number of them have always resorted to the undocumented. Trump is issuing even fewer visas, and ICE is raiding the farms, nurseries and inns. White people in effect are now forcing their white neighbors, whio look just like them and worship in the same church, out of business, for no reason except the intense malice of the times.

McCarthyism: the punchline

The Republicans, party of McCarthyism, who once would ensure you lost a job if you had merely written for a left leaning publication or attended a "pink" conference, are now laying down covering fire for people who met and cooperated with, and accepted millions of dollars from, ex-KGB agents. This is the epigraph to the McCarthy era, that it was just all politics, that we didn't really think it was all that important you colluded with anyone, because we are now freely doing it ourselves.


The strange little reports about Steve Bannon citing Thucydides, or the Greek historian's popularity among other self-described intellectuals in the administration, has a weird little sidelight. Yes, Thucydides reveals how the Athenians were arrogant, engaged in power politics, loudly yelled that morality did not pertain in international politics. I have read him cover to cover, and Thucydides also clearly shows us how the Greeks were destroyed by this mania, expending their lives and treasure fighting one another for dominance. In a few decades time, they would sink into the sophistry, internal viciousness, finger-pointing and paralysis we are seeing in our own times, until Philip of Macedon came along and picked up the pieces.

The 1920'a immigration cut off

Three of my Jewish grandparents came to this country as adults in 1918. Less than five years later, America, in a burst of immigration phobia similar to what we are experiencing today, instituted racial quotas that all but cut off the entry into this country of people just like my grandparents. I have uneasily known all my life that my ancestors are the ones who got in immediately before the door closed, that the country made a decision it didn't want more like us. The same thing happened to the Italians, the Greeks, other disfavored minorities. There is a weird echo of that today, in the empowerment by Trump of a fringe element which believes that, all these generations later, we, completely integrated middle class professors, lawyers, businessfolk, who look much like the rest of you and speak just like you, still don't belong here.