Monsters

That's plural. I called Clarence Thomas a monster the other day for his recent death penalty opinion -- in which he was to the right of even this right-wing court -- but these two paragraphs from a recent post at Hullabaloo capture the essence of the problem. Digby is responding to an essay by Egil Krogh (convicted Nixon dirty-trickster) in the NT Times today:
I remember after the 2000 election debacle, a rather exasperated acquaintance explained to me that Americans respect winners and it didn't matter how Bush took office, all that mattered was that he did. Even at my advanced age I was a bit shocked by such cynicism. But as I watched the way the media and the political establishment treated Bush, I had to admit that, at least as far as the leadership class of America was concerned, he was right. But it was even worse than what he said. There was a distinct undercurrent of special respect for the fact that Bush had not only won, but that he'd done it in such a way that everybody knew he'd manipulated the system and there was nothing they could do about it. That audaciousness made people bow down. On some level he wanted people to know he cheated and he wanted them to recognize that he got away with it. That's real power. Of course Krogh is right about the administration. (In fairness, there are a few examples of people whose personal integrity forced them to resign, but precious few, and certainly none in the highest positions that could have made a difference at the time.) But this is a bigger problem than just this administration. It is a defining characteristic of our entire political culture. We are in an era of ruthless power politics -- institutions arrayed against institutions, levers of influence and action set against each other in a battle for supremacy. Those who have the superior ability to dominate and manipulate those institutions are able to advance their goals and agenda. The Republicans have been far better at this than Democrats.
That last sentence is true about the relative guile of the two political parties in the American system, but there is something deeper that wants a more profound analysis. I tend to see the issues in moral & existential terms that focus on decency & responsibility, though I think it is impossible to understand what's going on without recourse to the radical sociology of writers like Foucault & Bourdieu, who have mapped the public patterns of power & their effect on the individual soul. I grew up amid the soul-killing deformities of right-wing American Protestantism & was saved from madness by Albert Camus -- The Stranger & The Rebel remain central to the way I see the world & in that view party politics is negligible except as parochial example. What I see & hear when I read the Times or listen to NPR -- both relatively "reliable" sources of information if you know how to read & listen -- is the tidal play of power. And power only works if it is felt & understood even as it conceals itself as the natural order of the world. So I remain marginally willing to participate in party politics despite the fact that such politics are inevitably diseased & debased. We live in a fallen world. (I grew up among Christians.) What seems essential, looking at the state of the world at this moment, is to discriminate among the various psychological responses to the Fall. Later: Just ran across this anecdote via Talking Points Memo. Colin Powell, in a recent speech, is recalling his & GWB's first meeting with Russian president Putin:
As Powell recalled it after the meeting he and Bush were reviewing events and comparing notes and seemingly they disagreed.  At one point Bush looked at his Secretary of State and said (with a suitable Texas twang) “Powell, I looked into Putin’s eyes and I saw his soul” to which Powell replied: “Mr. President, I looked into President Putin’s eyes and I saw the KGB”
I am not a particular admirer of Powell's. His speech asserting the existence of "weapons of mass destruction" at the UN leading up to the elective invasion of Iraq for partisan, narrowly ideological, & psychological purposes pretty much eliminates General Powell as a reliable moral witness. His anecdote as reported is self-serving & reveals a shallow comprehension of power. What I find fascinating is that Powell does not see the implication of his own story: When George Bush looked into Putin's eyes he saw the same thing as the good General. He saw the KGB too. And he admired it. He identified with it. The two men saw eye to eye, one might say. They understood each other. Powell is naive: he understands neither Putin, Bush, nor himself.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

3 thoughts on “Monsters”

  1. TOMORROW

    How can it be we
    excellent bodies
    have done in our lives
    only what is useful

    a machine even
    a machine will not
    get away with that

    still redcoats and
    Iroquois the outward flow
    of world events
    the foulness thereof

    while inside anyone
    another shines
    more valuable than this.

  2. I love the diction of this piece, Peter, but I’m not sure I can assent to the sentiment in the last three lines. I want to assent to it because I believe in redemption, but the last few days I have been seeing monsters everywhere. Monsters, in the way I’m using the term, are beyond redemption. I mean, if Cheney gave his millions to Greenpeace & Bush spent the rest of his years building homes for Habitat for Humanity, would that be enough?

  3. MONSTERS, INDEPENDENCE DAY

    Words love bought back from us
    words not bought by love
    counting all the cruel change

    its willfulness
    for our cause the ignobility
    it brought back

    from where had it been lost
    in that first clinging
    that first drowning
    just here

    at the point of contrition
    at the point of reparation
    seeing past how we are injured
    to how grievously we injure.

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