The Lineaments of Gratified Desire

The thing about people crazy the way Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are crazy is that their own exquisite craziness, as many-faceted as they imagine it to be, is never enough for them. They’re rapists by nature, not onanists.

I learned 56 years ago, sitting in my underwear on a bench in the Armed Forces Induction Center in Los Angeles, how to avoid being cast as a bit player in someone else’s psychodrama. I don’t believe that what I learned there is something that social media can teach you, but bullies certainly can.

Il Miglior Fabbro

Today in the Guardian, a number of Bob Dylan’s fellow musicians contributed to a celebration of his 80th birthday by naming their favorite Dylan songs, and commenting on their choices.

In her comments, Gillian Welch said this:

I bought my first Dylan record – The Times They Are a-Changing [1964] – when I was 17, but to experience those early records in real time as he was releasing them must have been like being around when Shakespeare was creating new plays.

Yes. It was like that. Exactly like that. Unexpected. Miraculous.

Brecht in the 21st Century*

Nur wer im Wolfstand lebt, lebt angenehm.

Years ago, when I first fell in love with a scratchy early recording of die Dreigroschenoper, I misheard the famous punchline from die Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (The Ballad of the Comfortable Life), which actually goes Nur wer im Wohlstand lebt, lebt angenehm.

The original line, which, translated into English means something like “Only he who is wealthy can live a comfortable life,” came, in my misheard version, to mean something like “Only he who adopts the habits of a predator can live a comfortable life.”

When I discovered my mistake, my first take was, “God, how embarrassing,” and my second, which cheered me up a little, was “Hey, I just made my first pun in German.” (A friend of mine, who’d been partially deaf from birth, once confessed to me that he’d learned early on that when he misheard something in a social situation, being credited with a clever pun was much more to his advantage than being considered slow-witted. I now knew exactly what he’d meant.)

Brecht’s original line represented a very understandable attitude for anyone, let alone a Marxist, witnessing the horrors of the German 1920’s, but I have to wonder if he might not also have approved of my corrupted version had he been confronted with the viciousness of 21st century neoliberalism in the United States, or the schwarze Null fetishism of Wolfgang Schäuble and the CDU in the reunified BRD of today. With all due respect to the genius of the original, I’d like to think so….

*Apologies to any native German speakers who might be reading this. der Wolfstand not being a genuine German word, as far as I know, I have no idea what anyone born into the language would make of my accidental corruption of Brecht’s famous line. All I know is that it’s stuck with me all these years as somehow being even more Brechtian than the original. This is blasphemy, or at least lèse majesté, I admit, but I mean well….

Biden’s Victory Speech

Now is the Summer of our discontent
Made glorious Winter by this dearth of Trump

If all goes as well for the Democrats on November 3rd as reality is likely to permit, there may be a few minutes, a few hours, even a few days of self-congratulatory euphoria granted to the Ancien Régime of the DNC and its legions of fellow travelers. At the end of it, though, the butcher‘s bill will be presented to someone else, preferably someone to the left of them, and their descent into irrelevance will pick up again exactly where it left off on November 2nd.

Brown Is the New Blue

The New York Police Benevolent Association’s bid to turn urban police departments into America’s Sturmabteilungen.

Now that Patrick Lynch, President of the New York Police Benevolent Association, has dreamt up a left-wing war on cops, and enthusiastically endorsed Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid, there’s no longer any reason to pretend that metropolitan police forces in the United States aspire to anything beyond remaining the largest and best-funded gangs in their respective cities.

Translated into plain English, the message from Lynch is clear enough:

If we feel like sodomizing Abner Louima with a broken broomstick, or pumping 19 bullets into an unarmed Amadou Diallo, or choking out Eric Garner, we’re just gonna do it, and if you know what’s good for you, you civilians are gonna keep your mouths shut about it. None of this shit about black lives matter, or defunding the police, you got it? Otherwise you can just call a fucking Democrat instead of 911 the next time you need protection. Finally, do we REALLY need to remind you that there’s 50,000 of us, and we’ve got body armor, tanks, helicopters, and automatic weapons? If you think Bill de Blasio runs this fucking city, think again. The Donald understands us, so we’re down with him. We’re gonna make sure he gets four more years, and after that, you can go fuck yourselves, all of you.

This is interest group politics transformed into something far more toxic to civil society, far more likely to qualify as fascism with American characteristics than anything we’ve seen so far in national politics. The question is, what happens now that Lynch and his boys have so openly crossed the Rubicon? Regardless of the outcome of the elections in November, the political class is unlikely to return unchallenged to the kind of neoliberal centrism touted by the DNC or Atlantic magazine. It seems far more likely that an ever-capricious Donald Trump will offer urban cops, white supremacist biker gangs, rural sheriff’s departments, Oath Keeper and Proud Boy militias, Christian Dominionists, and the rest of his proud deplorables whatever cover they need to attack people living happily in circumstances that their peculiar subcultures find unendurable.

Why would he not? There’s surely nothing more perfectly suited to Trump’s ego-driven triumphalism than starting a civil war, especially one that his very stable genius can’t imagine losing. The only thing stopping him, the only thing keeping his malignant meddling from turning a disorganized rabble of volunteer culture warriors into a full-blown fascist movement, is his own lack of character.

Whatever actually motivates him, Trump is clearly a narcissist, not an ideologue, a Perón rather than a Hitler. His followers are good at resenting anything they can’t understand, and threatening people who can’t defend themselves, but they’re not much good at anything else apart from bootlicking and delusional aphorisms. This might not matter if they had a halfway committed leader, but Trump himself is far too lazy and far too incompetent to take personal charge of forging their resentments into a set of principles robust enough to govern a country of 330 million people.

For those of us sane enough to want out of this whole demeaning Todestanz, the absence of anyone in Trumps’s entourage actually competent to seize state power might offer us exactly what we need, namely a little more time to get our affairs in order before the real apocalypse — climate change, famines, mass migrations, collapsing global economic interdependencies and real wars, with real armies — is upon us in earnest. We can only hope.