Angels in America

Once upon a time in California, I was late getting getting home from work on election day, and had just enough time to grab my sample ballot and leg it to my local polling place two blocks away before it closed. As I hustled past a lifted Ram pickup with a chrome bull bar idling menacingly in the mouth of my local gas station driveway, the driver, a young man in a ten gallon Stetson and sunglasses, flashed the lights at me, stuck his arm out of the driver’s side window and slapped the outside of the door.

“¡Andale Viejo!” he belted out. “¡Que te vaya bien!“ I gave him a perfunctory thumbs up and kept on trucking.

¿Viejo? I grumbled to myself. I’m forty-one, for fuck’s sake!

He was right, though. I’ve been old since I was ten, but now I’m eighty, and still hobbling along just fine. Go figure. Maybe that cowboy benediction had something to do with it. I’d certainly like to think so….

The Apostle’s Creed

“Will you tell me the truth?”

“Almost never. The truth is complex, far more complex than my intention. The truth that I will tell you, that I can tell you, is that between human beings intention is everything, and that my intention is to tell you only as much of the truth as I think likely to leave you undamaged.

That’s why you mustn’t trust me. Good intentions are inevitably tainted with both ignorance and condescension. Never mind what Nietzsche said, no one ever gets beyond good and evil. The nature of reality forbids it.”

Responsibility

Another half-awake visitation:

The text is brief. “Leave now. Do not pack. Kids already in transit.” As I pass reception, an upturned face. “Madam Secretary…?”

“Out. Go Now. Everyone. Move.”

Three minutes forty-two seconds later a flash in the rearview mirror, followed by a sharp jolt transmitted through the suspension. A glance upward shows a column of dark smoke already rising where we all used to be.

Once I’m back under, I send a text of my own. “The warning was timely. Your attempt was not. My representatives will be with you shortly. If you’d rather not wait up for them, I’ll understand.”

After that, a drink. Then once more unto the breach, for now, as before, what we do is who we are. No more, no less.

A Brief Reminder

Our grandchildren aren’t stupid. Their mental equipment isn’t inferior to ours. They just live in a different world, one which no longer belongs to us even though we helped create it. It’s theirs now, and whatever we imagine, we’re no longer in any position to judge them. Likely they’ll be fine, but if they turn out not to be fine, it’s going to be very hard to show how listening to us would have made the slightest bit of difference.

The Enlightenment’s Farewell Tour

In the U.S., the Republicans’ sad entourage of the desperate, demented, and enraged are tearing at the Constitution’s exposed achilles tendons. In Russia the gangsters of Prigozhin are battling the siloviki of Putin for control of the spoils of a twice-failed totalitarian state. In India, Hindutva pursues a scorched-earth battle against Islam. In Germany the AfD tidal wave has engulfed the SPD, broken the CDU, and arrived at last in Bavaria, intent on washing away once and for all what little is still left of the CSU’s liberal democratic pretensions.

In Italy a fascist consumerism has sprung full-grown from the brow of Meloni. The trains now run on time, and foreign investors are once again reassured. In Finland and Sweden, the local populists have decided that white people are the only real people after all. In Israel, Syria, Hungary, Belarus, and Turkey, the warlord grifters have outlasted everyone. In Saudi Arabia and the gulf states, the kings, emirs, sultans and satraps of one kind or another are now completely convinced that having more money than Allah the Merciful means not having to apologize to anyone ever.

In Iran, a cabal of wizened religious fanatics calling themselves the Islamic Republic have yet to see any reason to deny themselves the perverse pleasure of beating and imprisoning women at random, and of shooting their own children whenever the kids act like they might be the coming thing. In China, a suspiciously but undeniably prosperous Communist (sic) Party oligarchy has decided that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is nothing more than a confession of the failures and arrogance of so-called Western civilization.

I don’t think Web 3.0 is going to be a lot of help in preserving what’s left of the secular humanism that evolved over four centuries in Europe, and was sealed with the French and American revolutions. Neither will eleven aircraft carrier battle groups or a triad of delivery systems for nuclear weapons, given that both have long been controlled by people who bear no allegiance whatsoever to secular humanism either as a creed or a philosophy of government.

I’m not one to cry O tempora, o mores! every time someone in Washington does something stupid, but I do think that if the last sad road show of the Enlightenment comes to your town, you should go and listen to what was once promised us, and what very shortly we’ll all be missing.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

“I stayed for three nights in a modest one-room unit at the King Salmon Lodge, which was a comfortable but rustic facility. As I recall, the meals were homestyle fare. I cannot recall whether the group at the lodge, about 20 people, was served wine, but if there was wine it was certainly not wine that costs $1,000.”

The Republican Presidential Mud Wrestle

Trump versus DeSantis, the Ron and Don show, is about to begin in earnest. Oy gewalt! Watching the handicappers on Fox News counsel the Republican Party’s animal farmers to trade a pig for a weasel in the upcoming presidential primaries can evoke a litany of gruesome probabilities, but at this point it’s hard to see how following their advice can confer any great advantage on a party that seems more interested in self-immolation than winning elections.

In any event, for the MAGA faithful, escaping the lottery of potential regret is no longer an option. Dumb as they are, it’s hard not to feel at least a poquito bit sorry for them. Trump’s always been the guy, right? Right? So what’s all this stuff about choices all of a sudden?

They have a point. As a would-be herald of the coming cracker apocalypse, Trump has always had a certain way about him—if standup comedy in Hell’s your thing, Don’s your guy. If you’re a sadist pure and simple, though, DeSantis can offer you the purity and simplicity of Conan’s gladness—elect him and he’ll crush your enemies, have them driven before you, and guarantee you a seat close enough to hear the lamentations of their women. This shorthand caudillo doesn’t need to play golf, or crack jokes, he’s got vengeance to sell. That’s it, that’s the whole deal. There’s not the slightest hint in his public performances of the titillating foreplay that good old boys find so endearing about Trump. If Ron’s your guy, there’ll be no laughing ever. Triumphant sneering will still be encouraged, laughing absolutely not.

On the Proposed Rehabilitation of Mike Pence

Mike Pence has one of those faces, frozen in malevolence, that are usually pictured standing stoically behind a Franco, or a Stalin, or a Gotti as they deliver their epiphanies to a cowering public. Pence has no soul; he’s replaced it with a clockwork Christanity devoted only to his own self-righteous ambition. Even the Bible would advise us to shun him.