The Week In Doom October 13, 2013

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on October 13, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 

e-pluribus-unum-1944

E Pluribus Unum

 

“Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”    ― Thomas Jefferson

 

 “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.” ― attributed to Sinclair Lewis

The Latin phrase “e pluribus unum” is translated as “out of many, one.” This phrase, the first motto of the United States,  is featured on America’s Great Seal, representing the different cultures that make up the American people.  E pluribus unum represented the founders’ intention in forming a new nation. It was replaced by “In God We Trust” in 1956 during the height of the Red Scare by  paranoid nativists afraid of both “the red menace” and their own shadows. Then as now, the nativist right was eager to slurp up any expression that struck a blow against godless communism. But now the right has availed itself of a militant, apocalyptic millennialism, which inverts the nominal Christianity in which the nation takes overweening pride and restates it in terms of service to materialism, hierarchy and retrograde politics, otherwise expressed as “the American way of life.”
This attitude can be summed up by these bon mot:
“All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell [the Bible] teaches us how to run all our public policy and everything in society.”
–Rep. Paul Broun (R)

 

 

“I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!”
— Jerry Falwell

 

 

We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country …  what really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless, crazy act of terror like this takes place.
You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? …We had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off-campus dinner. Where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around.

–Rep. Louis Gohmert

 

And then there are the coded Obama death threats embodied in posts to various message boards urging people to “Pray for Obama–Psalm 109:8,”  which reads,

Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.

Our colleague Golden Oxen has recently observed within the Diner Forum that an evil presence seems to have settled on the land. That we are in the grips of some nameless, unspeakable evil  beyond control and recall.
What does that look like? Esquire’s Charlie Pierce had some observations about the latest exercise in Freeeeeeeeduuuuuum about the death about the death of a former Wheeling cop moved to shoot up the local courthouse:

 

There is a wildness abroad in the land. There is a wildness abroad in our politics. It is infectious, this wildness. It spreads quickly. It spreads through the air, through the unmoored political Id of a thousand talk shows. It spreads through indirect human contact, through the unmoored political Id of hundreds of chain e-mails and direct-mail fundraising pitches. It spreads through direct human contact, one conversation at a time drawn from the unmoored political Id that has been unleashed like an unknown virus into what used to laughingly be called The Body Politic. There is a wildness abroad in our politics. There is a wildness abroad in our very heavily armed land.

 

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said officers arrived and shot the suspect, killing him. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of gunshots, he said. U.S. Marshal Patrick Sedoti said the man was armed with an AK-47 and also was carrying a Glock pistol. Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie said police who briefed him earlier Wednesday told him Piccard was a 20-year-plus veteran of the force who retired 13 years ago. . . 

 

The wildness has its basic etiology in the encouragement at all levels of our politics of the notion of government as the ultimate Other, which coddles and feeds and nurture all the other Others who live off the rest of us. It can be found in the idea that government is an alien entity, a Thing Outside, a rustling in the bushes, a strange shadow on the wall, something to be feared simply for its existence, and not for anything that it may or may not have done. The wildness has its fundamental source in the rejection of the idea of a political commonwealth, and of the idea that self-government is an ongoing creative project of that political commonwealth. Once you reject that idea, and once you accept as axiomatic that government is the ultimate Other, then no rules need really apply. Crash the government when you don’t get your way in the legislature, or the courts, or at the ballot box. Finance those who will do it for you. Cut up the rules regarding fair representation in the national legislature. Rig the national government the way you’ve rigged the national economy.  Cover yourself by ginning up the unmoored Id out in the country until, one day, somebody starts shooting. Starve the beast, Kill the beast. Drown the beast in the bathtub. See tyranny behind every rock and tree. Second Amendment remedies, sold over the counter.To fight the ultimate Other, there can be no rules. We were lucky this time that it was only a building that was shot. We were lucky this time that the gunman’s only victim was a symbol.

 

… We, as a nation, have allowed the wildness to spread unchecked through our politics until we have accepted debilitated self-government as a kind of permanent condition. We have weakened the national immune system. And all we ever do is drink down as much patent medicine as we can. Our politics are sick and we insist on poisoning them further. The contagion is raging. The entire country is a hot zone.

 

Could it possibly be that the perverse version of Christianity now proffered by the  Robertsons, Bachmanns, Gohmerts and Brouns of the United States is the distillation of that evil?   This nation asserts itself as proudly, resolutely, aggressively Christian. Yet, the true message of the Prince of Peace, handed down in the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, has been perverted, co-opted, and swallowed whole by the great majority of self-professed nominal Christians as the excuse for irrational consumption, materialism, and devil-take-the-hindmost social policy. The message of Jesus is understood as one of acceptance, forgiveness, and grace. In the hands of bigots, demagogues, charlatans and paranoids, it becomes a sorting tool to separate the saved from the heathen, the “true Americans” from the “Kenyan socialists,”  the “us” from “the other.” Ah, the Other…

 

We’re really good at demonization of “the other.”  Americans have been doing this for several hundred years. We elevated “manifest destiny” over the Ten Commandments in our desire to extend the commercial Gospel and eradicate the troublesome red native peoples who failed to share our enthusiasms for grift and scam. In the 1850s, the first recognizably named group of American nativists managed to pull its drunken head out of the gutter long enough to make its feelings known about  Irish and German immigrants.

 

The Know Nothing movement was an American political movement that operated on a national basis during the mid 1850s. It promised to purify American politics by limiting or ending the influence of Irish Catholics and other immigrants, thus reflecting nativism andanti-Catholic sentiment. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, whom they saw as hostile to republican values and controlled by the pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, but met with little success. Membership was limited to Protestant males.
Before the Know Kothings, there were the Jacksonians. After the Civil War the Ku Klux Klan, the “Red Scare” of the post World War I era, the original Fascist Front operating prior to World War II,  and then the McCarthy era, today’s Christian identity movement, et al. Certainly the end times eschatology offered for public consumption by Michelle Bachmann and her fellow Christopath travelers takes a curious and perverse glee at the prospect of the end of the world. This apocalyptic millennialism drives the energy of what some call the Tea Party (but what we will here address by its proper name, the Fascist Front) in their haste to destroy the economy and discredit the government of the United States just to see it break.  These demonstrate the same lack of morality and empathy for others that one sees in disturbed children who pull the wings off of flies.

 

What troubles Golden Oxen, Agelbert, and me, as well as others of a certain age, is that we have lived long enough to have seen what appeared to be a different country at work.  I may be deluding myself; these musings may be just the wistful reverie of an old man. But I do recall a time when government was the guarantor of the rights of common people, where there appeared to be meaningful recourse for addressing grievances, and we collectively seemed to believe that a rising tide would lift all boats.
The extreme economic inequalities realized since St. Reagan’s administration, now escalated over the past decade, bring the difference  between then and now into sharp relief.  The prevailing attitudes now seem to run to, “I got mine; fuck you,”  which seems inverted to the sense of common purpose that informed our public institutions in the days of e pluribus unum.

 

Even what used to be called common decency is in decline.  An example. At least once a month, Contrary and I are privileged to attend a salon of sorts in the home of our esteemed collaborator Jaded Prole.  It is a gathering of activists, occupiers and other assorted interested souls who show up to discuss the issues of the day. A man and his wife who we had not previously met were present, offering their opinions. The fellow went on to say how he had in past years been the organizer for a highly regarded local arts festival. He made much of the fact that, having obtained a permit from the city, they were free to exclude anybody who wish to exercise free speech.  He made a point of saying they excluded pamphleteers and people wishing to distribute information. As you might imagine, this did not sit well with some of us, especially Contrary, who made several barbed comments.  Perhaps the most annoying thing was not so much what the man said, as the sense of perfect entitlement with which he said it.

 

But the end result was no surprise: in this country, property rights trump all other rights, including individual rights. At a time when the only rights that people seem to be exercised about are their Second Amendment rights, the point that having secured a permit from the local city gives the permittee unfettered ability to trump free-speech rights seems very small beer indeed, seeing as how it sprung from that most sacred of American rights, that of property.

 

How far we have fallen in 50 years.  Now we have free speech zones, the kettling and pepper spraying of protesters, gratuitous police violence and arrests, militarized law enforcement, and drones in the air. Is there any connection between the fact that Americans are less religious than ever and the fact the rise of the surveillance state? As the social safety net is continuously rent, and the prerogatives of middle-class life now devolved only to those in gate-kept professions or to military families, with the rest of us left to poke in anthills to make a living, is there any connection between the lack of of a commonly accepted sense of moral purpose and the common enterprise espoused in e pluribus unum?

 

And then there is torture, or, as the folks at National Pentagon Radio would have it, “enhanced interrogation,”  which used to be called waterboarding, but now is apparently a fit subject for levity in some circles. (We will leave for another time the entire subject of debasement of language that such euphemisms signal.)

 

Dick Cheney is ready to laugh about waterboarding.

Conservatives gathered at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan Monday night to roast the former vice president at an event where many of the biggest laugh lines touched on the most controversial policies of a key architect of his administration’s war on terror. At the gathering, hosted by Commentary, figures including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey drew a mix of chuckles and winces with jokes that left few lines uncrossed, according to three guests.

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman “said something to the effect that it’s nice that we’re all here at the Plaza instead of in cages after some war crimes trial,” recalled one person who was there. . . 

Scooter Libby, for his part, made light of his conviction — and lack of a presidential pardon. “Libby said George Bush sent a note: ‘Pardon me, I can’t make it,’” one guest recalled.

As you can see, these guys killed.

 More than any other story that I’ve seen in recent years, the story and others like it about this Cheney roast encapsulate the moral rot of American society.

 

 

When I was a boy, e pluribus unum meant that we were all in this together. It informed lessons about the “melting pot,” in which we learned about past waves of immigration, and how immigrants helped make this country strong through their unique qualities and added vigor. Now there is none of that. Among members of the Fascist Front,  Immigrants are virtual 5th column, ready to steal SNAP benefits and Obamacare, not to mention our precious bodily fluids. Public education is derided as “government schools,” where rabid Marxists indoctrinate your children with godless communist propaganda. Captive regulatory agencies fail to regulate, and pliant, paid-for legislators create permissive laws on behalf of their benefactors. The very notion of a common purpose is thus eroded, congressional session by congressional session, year by year, and each successive generation learns that government is more foe than friend, and remains ignorant to the fact that a common purpose ever existed.  Thus is even the very notion of a government held in common vitiated and eroded, and its legitimacy negated.

 

 

 E pluribus unum may always have represented an ideal. We certainly find it easier to be at one another’s throats than sharing a foxhole and a common objective.  But even that unitary ideal would be far preferable to the alienation and mutual loathing that now passes for our public life. I for one am nostalgic for E pluribus unum, and envision the time and place where Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Druid, tree hugger, nature worshiper and atheist can hold their relations to one another at greater value than the calculations at the bottom right-hand corner of the daily spreadsheet.  And recognize that we are all in this together.

 

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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