Inasmuch as this is my web log, or blog, I think it appropriate that I engage in some reasonably public navel gazing. For some time now, I have been deeply, ungetoverably troubled, not to say unhappy. I am not referring to elevated, sophisticated distress, the untergang des Abendlandes brooding we intellectuals deploy as our shtick. I am talking about a pit-of-the-stomach lying-awake-at-night unhappiness that is momentarily lessened, but not ever dispelled, by a favorable round of polls or the victory of a Democratic Socialist primary winner in a safely Democratic seat.
Lord knows, I have been unhappy about the way of the world at least since Jack Kennedy invaded Cuba and America embraced its nuclear weapons in a cosmic death hug. I have seen Martin and Malcolm and Jack and Bobby killed, I have survived Nixon and Reagan and Clinton. Trump is surely a uniquely despicable man, but at least he has not yet started a war, which sets him apart from a number of his post-1945 predecessors. Why then, when I am sitting quietly and the facial muscles supporting my reflex smile relax, does my wife look at me and say, with concern, “You look so unhappy”?
To be sure, I am eighty-four, and the end of my life is a great deal closer than my middle years. But my health is good, my children are flourishing, I am embarked on an exciting new venture in New York, and I am, by any reasonable measure, rich. I mean, the only other people I know with apartments in Paris are my friends who live there. So why so blue? It is, as the King of Siam is wont to say in The King and I, a puzzlement.
The source of my distress is not the manifest evidence of the sheer evil of our political rulers. I have known that for many decades. Rather, it is the recognition that half of my fellow Americans are ready to embrace that evil when it is presented to them without the slightest simulacrum of the appearance of humanity and decency. Hypocrisy, La Rochefoucauld observed, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Fascism, we might add, is not having to say you are sorry.
I have been sustained all these years by the belief that if only the people could be brought to see the truth, they would throw off their chains and seize liberation. Why else write all those books unmasking the imperial aims of America’s “moral world leadership,” those manifestos demanding the end to voter suppression? Why march for peace, for social justice, for Gay liberation, for women’s rights?
With luck, we will flip the House. In 2020, we may take back the Senate and the Presidency. But as I slip and slide into my nineties, those scores of millions will still be there, ready to embrace the next fascist poseur.
And after I am gone, as my grandchildren approach middle age, the water level will rise and the world’s billions will be displaced by changes that even then will be denied not only by the rich, who will have relocated to higher ground, but by the swamped cheering, chanting masses who elect and reelect them.
Is it any wonder I cannot sleep?
Now, when is my next canvassing appointment?