(Image by Driftglass.)
I keep remembering the early 1980s, when Reagan broke faith with the world by beginning to talk about a "winnable" nuclear war, and everyone who didn't have a bunker to retreat to realized we were at a heightened risk for destroying the planet. Sting responded with
In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria (...)
There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie that we don't believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
String tried to sidestep some of the attacks he'd receive for writing this fuck you to Reagan by naming the song "Russians", but we all knew of course the Russians loved their children, as much as Reagan claimed to love his. That wasn't the point, really. The point was, Reagan is out of control and it's up to someone else to stop the insanity.
I believe "someone else" did stop the insanity then. I absolutely do not believe Reagan's actions or bluster or sleepwalking performance in any way created a safer world for us, any more than Dubya's criminal war has kept America from being attacked again.
I do believe one of the things which made a huge difference in that generation's approach to peace, in particular to the anti-nuke movement, was Deena Metzger. Deena is a writer and activist who first came to my knowledge with the poster she made of her mastectomy scar, her bare chest exposed with one side bearing massive jagged evidence of cancer interrupted, her arms outstretched in sheer joy for life. It was a radical act, that celebration of self-love, and it got all our attention.
During the 1980s, Deena traveled around speaking about the imminent threat of nuclear holocaust represented by the leaders then in our government -- many of whom repeated their roles in Dubya's regime. She gave us grim details of what nuclear winter would actually do, but then, like the rebbe I think of her as being, she offered a way out of despair: She urged us to grieve. Right then, standing or sitting in crowded rooms listening to her, she asked us to let our feelings out, release them with one another and to g*d if we believed in g*d. And we did, weeping, wailing, begging for help, hanging onto one another. She explained that our unexpressed grief and terror stood in the way of intelligent, effective action against the threat we faced. Old ways of doing things would not work. We had to find new ways, and we had to hack through the thickets of old betrayal, fear, and doubt to discover that path.
I believe it worked. Enough people found clarity to make a difference then, to guide action and maintain our direction in progressive circles. It's easy to look on the ascendancy of the Right as a failure of the Left, but it's more complicated than an either-or description. Reagan offered enough people an easy out that his influence is still among us, even on the Left. He wasn't only a bad wizard, he was a very bad man who launched the unraveling of American decency and responsibility.
We're now at another crossroads. In 24 days, Bush will walk out of an Oval Office he has trashed beyond description. I honestly cannot imagine the mindset of someone who wants to take on the job of being primarily in charge of scrubbing away Dubya feces from hallowed walls. I've thought about it a lot. I've been a community organizer and activist my entire adult life, and I do share Obama's frustration with how hard it is, how slow the road, the ethical dilemmas and corruption and lack of stability one encounters in that life. And, in my 30s, I engaged in magical thinking, imagining myself Queen of the Universe and coming up with What I Would Do to change things with a wave of my hand. I even petitioned for the job with friends, offering ready solutions to some of their personal problems if they would only vote for me. They took it as a joke, and it was. Mostly.
A number of events came along to push me in the direction of giving up wanting control, and in my case, it's been an extremely good thing. I'd rather work cooperatively than run the show, most of the time. I don't think I have all the answers, and I know I'm not healed enough to always recognize the truth when it bites me on the ass. I know what works for me, today, and that's enough. Tomorrow I may grow into a different approach, and that's as I want it to be.
So, that's one profound psychological difference between me and Obama. Another is that I never pursued upward mobility and if I had, it might not have worked for me. Contrary to the myth, it doesn't work for most people. Think Hoop Dreams, how many gifted young black basketball players never make it into the NBA. It's not a good ambition to hold out to them, unless you want to keep them locked into despair and self-doubt. Hero worship of the few who "make it" is deliberately promulgated by corporate consumer overlords to keep us from pursuing more rational means of bettering our lives.
Here we are now, having elected a President who talked to us constantly of hope and change, without ever having a definitive discussion about how change will be defined. It obviously doesn't mean the same thing to all of us. For instance, I don't consider the replacement of Joshua Bolten with Rahm Emmanual to be Change of a definitive sort. Indeed, Obama's choices for those who will lead with him are as Clintonesque as if, well, a Clinton had been making them. But I knew he'd do that all along, I knew the difference between him and The Other was hysteria created by an emotional reaction from several factors (CDS, untreated disappointment, dislike of powerful women who don't do the Girl Thang, etc.) and exploited by his campaign because, well, why not exploit it? It's what politicians do.
He wasn't my first or second choice. Neither was a Clinton. I'm a radical, I wanted at least a bona fide liberal in the position. I know he's going to disappoint, too, as much as Bubba did, and I'll take it to therapy if it starts keeping me from thinking clearly as an activist. My job is to think and listen, not to use my colleagues as unpaid counselors.
Even so, even as I expected him to do most of the things he's done, I admit I was thrown by the Rick Warren choice for inaugural prayer. I've said before, it's a clear mistake, a painful mistake. As one friend of mine commented, "It's obvious whoever is helping Obama think about such things, there are no gays or lesbians in that inner circle." Indeed. But it goes beyond that, because I'm hearing distress from all manner of progressives, not just lesbians and gays. It will do no good whatsoever, and it means for many of us (pretty much everyone I've asked) that the inauguration ceremony will have this nasty bit in the middle, a taint we can't ignore.
I believe it actually hinders the efforts of responsible Christians to restore balance to our culture, to separate church from state and pursue ideology not bent on conversion and dominance. I know many Christians who are those kinds of moral people, and Rick Warren is not who they want speaking for their faith. He's a huckster, as all evangelicals are. You don't rise in that field unless you (a) believe you have a g*d-given right to forcibly convert others and (b) lying is all right in the service of bringing souls to Jesus. Warren panders not just to queer-hating but woman-hating, class exploitation, child abuse, apocalyptic nihilism, and white supremacy. Within a few years, he will be brought down by some seamy scandal (probably related to gay sex) and his brief validation on an international stage will be revealed for the sick joke it is.
In the meantime, however, he and his ilk operate from the developmental level of five-year-olds and talking about "tolerance" has no real meaning to them. If your five-year-old throws a screaming fit because she wants more cookies, you can sit her down and have a long talk with her about nutritional balance, but if you then give her one more cookie for participating, she will take away from that the lesson "if I throw a fit, I can get more cookies". Somebody has to be the grown-up with these people. They are not a majority, they are not even that powerful, it's all a house of cards. I want a President who will move in the other direction, away from giving them more room in our public discourse. I'm sick of turning on TV and seeing a preacher talking, aren't you? And, as pedophiles exist with arrested development, evangelicals (whom I'm sure have a vastly higher percentage of pedophiles in their ranks than any group of queers) believe if you don't fight them loudly and assertively, you are secretly liking and wanting what they do to you. They serve Jesus instead of sexual gratification but that difference is irrelevant here.
Thus, I'm confronted with a massive blind spot in the vision of our President-elect. I already knew he had little to no comprehension of how to include lesbian/gay rights into a big picture of human rights, and that this extends to being unable to surround himself with adequate numbers of powerful women. (Uneasiness with queers psychologically goes hand in hand with difficulty seeing women as human beings identical to men.)
As disturbing, I'm seeing some of the enchantment fall away from his former most ardent fans. I know I'll be in the paradoxical position of defending him from his prior rabid supporters, those folks who always shouted me down as a Hillary supporter because I never hated her guts, as the next few years unfold. I'll do it because it is my responsibility to speak out against emotion-based attacks on the leaders of my party. As it becomes clear he's just a right-of-center politician who has lived in academic and beltway insularity as much as anyone else, and as he uses ego to back his pragmatism instead of relying on a larger vision, the Right will whip up froth against him into the same sort of condemnation they've successfully sewn onto Clinton heels like Wendy trying to give Peter back his shadow.
In the meantime, I intend to keep grieving the larger damage done, the death being distributed worldwide in our name, the loss of species and islands and schools and oxygen-making forests. Buddha once said the only rational response to the world's illusion as we live it is grief. I'm a poet, I'm adept with the catharsis of elegy. On the other side is release, and an intellect less burdened with remembering betrayal. You have the remainder of this holiday: Go outside and give up your lamentation to whatever you believe listens to you best, even if it's the other half of your miraculous brain.
(Montreux Pop Festival, 1985 -- Sting performing "Love Is The Seventh Wave")
Friday, December 26, 2008
(Image by Driftglass.)