Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Requiem for a Eunuch


[A post -- and now post-mortem -- from six years ago. Wouldn't change a word.]

What a degrading and despairing two years it has been.

The presidency of Barack Hussein Obama began as the most shameful time in American history ended, a time flanked by two thefts: the first, a presidential election; the second -- through the transfer of over $20,000,000,000,000 from the public realm to the private -- that of the American State itself. In between: the end of habeas corpus and most other privacy rights; the handing-over of major parts of American "defense" to private armies and death squads; the institution of aggressive war as the vanguard of American foreign policy; the dissolution of what small room remained between corporate/government propaganda and establishment media; the de facto end of public education and general public concern on the part of the national government; radical, across-the-board changes in tax policy in order to keep power in the hands of the mutant elite; the packing of federal courts with extreme corporatists; the basic end of a citizen's right to declare bankruptcy; the further narrowing of labor law and its enforcement, making a worker's right to collectively-bargain essentially meaningless; the creation of a world-wide American archipelago of secret prisons; torture as national policy; the destruction of the United Nations as an independent force; the holding of prisoners without identity, legal representation, the naming of evidence, trial, or declared length of sentence; the largest increase in "defense" spending in world history, without a single military threat on the planet; the evisceration of the Freedom of Information Act, and the withholding of normal documents-release from past administrations; the politicization of science; the ending of all financial regulations and oversight; the takeover of environmental, health care, energy, workplace safety, worker safety, and product safety policies by corporate private tyranny; the denying and demonizing of the effects of global warming.

The beginning of 2009 really did feel like America, Year Zero. We were like punch-drunk fighters, too alone and without anything to grasp. The country had the feel of a devastated peasant society after a plague swept it or an army went through and destroyed everything. We had dissolved into an inability to respond.

I think our real hope was a mere wish to return to "normal," however ruthless and self-righteous that normal often had been during the American 20th Century. Of course, many of us hoped for much more. Why not? The country was repulsed by what it had gone through, the economy had collapsed, the out-of-power party during our dark time now had strong executive and legislative control. The decades-long suffocation caused by Free Marketeering was declared over. There was talk of nationalizing banks and other financial institutions. Talk of new public control over the Fed; even of its elimination.

And one national magazine had this on its cover:


Best of all, our new chief executive was a man of enormous political gifts: handsome, eloquent, elegant, brilliant, funny. His whole election campaign promised one thing above all: change. And a promise -- pronounced or implicit -- to reverse, so help him God, not only the ahistorical evils of his immediate predecessor but the larger anti-communal, anti-public course we had been set upon by the originator of the American nightmare, Ronald Reagan.

None of it has happened. Far from returning the country to its "normal" self, the only normalizing Barack Obama has done has been the normalizing -- intensifying -- of all things Bush/Cheney; and an acceleration of the sociopathic direction launched by Reagan. In January 2011, the country is now further to the right than at any time in its history, with a more debased political culture than ever before. More corporatized, with a completely hijacked State. There is more police power, private and public. Less personal and family privacy. Less freedom of movement -- physically, artistically, politically, and in terms of work. The connection between what people vote for and what they get is now completely delinked. Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" -- a complex he allowed to be created by turning over national security policy to the Dulles brothers and to a complex that would murder his successor -- is now a military-corporate-intelligence state in complete control. Bush's wars have metastasized -- while staying exactly the same in effect in Iraq -- into a massive expansion in Afghanistan, a massive expansion covertly in Iran, Indonesia, and Columbia (with the heroic populist governments of Central and South America now in Robert Gates's drone-sights), and new wars in Pakistan and Yemen. Not one perp from the Bush/Cheney crime gang has been gone after. Obama has claimed the right to murder anyone, at anytime, for any reason, anywhere on the planet. There is less control than ever over the gangster state of Israel. The people of Palestine and Gaza are forgotten. As are the poor, desperate, and homeless here in America. NAFTA and GATT have been expanded and hardened rather than reversed. Cap-and-Trade was allowed to be hijacked by Goldman Sachs et al. - then killed. The BP/Gulf horror was not used to shift the country away from energy over-development toward conservation. Obama's Justice Department has Godfathered the public crucifixion of whistle blowers and true public servants such as Julian Assange (while setting Assange up for eventual extradition and Gitmo-ing), while also rewriting rules for use of Miranda warnings. There have been FBI raids on the homes and offices of anti-war activists. The criminal enterprise known as the Pharmaceutical/Insurance/Healthcare "industry" is now more powerful, corrupt, incompetent, and privatized than ever before. The last great industrial union -- Walter Reuther's UAW -- was destroyed by Obama and his henchmen by means which would've made Ronald Reagan blush. Most state and local governments are bankrupt, and abandoned. All public service unions are now on the run in America's new form of McCarthyism. Obama has set us up for the coup de main: the Neo-Feudal dismantling of all public and egalitarian struggles and accomplishments of the past 150 years. Checkmate.

So many of us were fooled. So many of us were tired of being on the outs with our own society, so tired of hating and withdrawing. So tired of not having faith and optimism and good cheer, of not feeling the very human need to belong. We looked to Obama and thought of him as a child of Kennedy. Even the Kennedy family felt that way. We, and they, were had.

For Barack Hussein Obama is the child of Reagan. His first son. They were both born from the dark flow of Kennedy backlash in the early 1960s, Obama physically, Reagan politically -- both conceived, it would turn out, from the swamp of hatred toward what "the 60s" would come to mean: earnestness, optimism, a sense of community, grace, complexity, self-deprecation, hatred of the rich and big business, a refusal to demonize others and puff ourselves up, and (perhaps most important) the assumption that people are basically good -- the actor by cheerleading for Goldwater, and calling for the privatizing of TVA, nuking North Vietnam, eliminating the corporate income tax, and saying things like "Shouldn't someone tag Mr. Kennedy's 'bold new imaginative' program with its proper age? Under the tousled boyish haircut it's still old Karl Marx, first launched a century ago"; Obama by being tossed aside by absent, otherwise-engaged parents. . .

The assumption of Barack Obama cool, collected and calm has been a universal since this arriviste began to gain presidential timber throughout the campaign of '07. The media persona and Obama's two droning books convinced us that this "child of the 60s" was the very opposite of a hip-shooter: deeply thoughtful about most things; no personal experience with physical violence (has he ever been in a fist fight?); abstract and diffident; a professor from the Ivy League; most important, the child of a mother and father who separately personified the best of that glorious decade -- independent, free-spirited, anti-establishment, each with a virulent hatred of war and violence.

Now it seems altogether to the opposite. Rather than the happy product of such a union, perhaps Barry Soetoro experienced those years and those parents in a different way. An absent father, more concerned with his newer family, newer children, and political/diplomatic career than with the boy, to the extent that Obama never met his dad until the child was 10. And the absent mother: dumping her little boy onto maternal grandparents, also more concerned with lifestyle, lovers, and profession.

The baboons of the American Right have made hatred of the 60s their number one obsession for 40 years now. Nixon got elected on the wind of that hatred. So did Reagan. And George W. Bush made lots of hay in the darkness of that collective loathing. But theirs was political/power/values stuff. Not the result of private, everyday resentments, loneliness, confusion and heartbreak caused by the abandonment by two obviously self-absorbed parents. Barack Obama's 1960s hatred is honest and well-earned.

What if under the too-cool-for-school face burns a rage, a life- and self-hatred forever burning no matter what the ego satisfactions of the man's stunning career accomplishments? What if his whole public life has been little other than vengeance taken on absent parents and all they represented? What if he is just another ego-prick, assassin, liar, user? Now in charge of the greatest criminal enterprise in the history of Man -- Empire USA -- that would explain his spineless slimeball Presidency far more than any Miracle of Hope and Change smothered in its crib. A man whose identity is forever hidden because of his wayward parents grabs the ultimate brass ring by pretending to be an egalitarian Man of Peace, then governs as a Man of Total War, and the most lethal sort of elitist. How long can he contain such outrageous private contradictions on such a public stage?

Yet, two years on, he still claims support. In fact, we are told he is now on a roll. Who are these supporters? They cannot be ideologues of any kind. (Those who see Nowhere Man as on the left or right of any political spectrum are just cheerleaders for their own brand of narcissism.) Aside from the enormous pride taken by black Americans at seeing a man who looks black at such a center of power, the rest must be that brood of iPad Sandinistas who basically adopt the following persona: "I'm smarter than you are. I'm more educated than you are. I dress better and have far better taste in music and movies. I'm cooler. My career is everything, plus I've memorized every episode of Lost. I'm on my second divorce and my kids are everything, except when they're not. I Twit, Kindle, and Kopi Luwak. And you don't." (Commander Kos would be the poster boy for this wad.) Not exactly attitudes one wants in a Sierra Maestra foxhole. No janitors here, nor watchmen, salesmen, grocers, bus drivers, plumbers, mechanics, railroad clerks, pharmacists, cloth cutters, electricians, security guards, pipe fitters or painters. No, all children of Reagan: a generation faced with no draft, no economic hardship if they play the game well enough (and Obama's remaining Pwog supporters do nothing but play the game), no industrialization, no assassinations, no race or gender revolutions, and remote control wars with no body bags allowed to be seen. And the leaders: a Reagan, a Clinton, and two Bushes.

Obama is King of the Nowhere People: born with looks, height, grace, eloquence. And the insides of a Cray CX1. He smells of nothing, sounds like room tone, makes faces like an Ogilvy & Mather ad director. After all the media pronunciamentos of his Great Speeches (most sickening the hysteria over his flatulent depoliticizing of the Loughner murders), try to remember just one line. (Rain puddles not allowed.) He's from Chicago, they say. Really? He's called a Kenyan? Huh? A product of Jeremiah Wright's Trinity Church. What? He is none of these. He is the Achiever severed from anything beyond the Achievement, a gentrified hologram of rootlessness, a product not only of many private demons but of an America without traditions, myth or meaning beyond the last branding cycle, of a coreless society.

It is all of us. Even as recently as one-year ago (in spite of the horror of the appointments, the turgid Inaugural, the already evident backsliding), the feeling was still alive that principle would matter, that the "weak" would have priority again over the "strong." How could we not think that? As Spring follows Winter, surely the fine and honorable part of our spirit would begin again to dominate. But experience does tell. We've been told little but buck up, keep your powder dry, and care only about yourself. "All for ourselves, nothing for others," in the words of Adam Smith. So the honor, the caring for others, the humility, compassion, patience, modesty, self-mocking wit, yes the bleeding heart, the "tender germ of embrace" in Simone Weil's words -- not here.

"The world for which I was made, is not here" - Thoreau.

The post-Bush/Reagan/Cheney/Clinton world this country was ready for, its only salvation from the coming darkness of collapse and terror, could not be made. There was much too much of the other stuff. In fact, it would be difficult to find what was not "the other stuff." Like a child beaten and deprived of all chance to use the sympathetic, empathic part of her heart, when we had to show it, we had nothing to show.

Take the debate over "health care reform." What that sickening and dispiriting process exposed is that there was nothing (on an establishment level) left of "the tender germ of embrace." What we saw was a war between fascist haters and greasy pole climbers. Sarah Palin vs. Rachel Maddow, Cheney vs. Biden, the Tea Party vs. the Salon.com Party, Fox News vs. MSNBC. What was exposed is that both sides are the same: my foot on your throat.

Two years on we now see that the main problem "liberals" were suffering since 2000 was merely being out of power. And now the main priority is keeping it, no matter how much principle is flushed or how many weasel legislative tricks need to be used. (And oh how those precedents will be used to create a Reichstag Fire-type Enabling Act under Palin, Petraeus, or Jeb Bush, when their time has come.)

Barack Obama, it turns out, is not some liberatory or revolutionary spirit. No, just a dime-a-dozen liar and hustler -- an arriviste of smarm -- and so the very appropriate role model for a generation of dick-swinging mediocrities and turncoats. He is our present, and our future: stand for nothing; stand-up for nothing; worship money; discard inconvenient friends and memories; exhaust yourself trying to convince others of your optimism and determination; be civil, compromising, dispassionate and groveling in the face of executioners ("Keep that Hate-o-Rade to yourself!"); make sure everyone thinks you're just swell; slather your face in moisturizer in order to better beam about your wonderful career and how everything is great.

He is Devo, and so are we.