Loren Bliss as the crowd applauded (above), the legislators (below) responding with imperial disdain. On the dais from left: Rep, Jake Fey, Sen. Jeannie Darneille, Rep. Laurie Jinkins. Photos by KD, OAN © 2016.
VOLUNTARY SELF-CRITICISM is one of the primary techniques of consciousness-raising, and the entire USian Left – both the True Left of revolutionary socialists and the False Left of pro-capitalist reformers, anti-union “progressives,” identity-politics zealots, self-proclaimed “anarchists” and all their ideologically ignorant (or merely thoughtless) kindred – could surely use large and regularly administered doses of it.
I am certainly no exception. Hence I will begin by temporarily sidestepping the contents suggested by the title – the trauma inflicted by 42 years of economic malignancy preceded by 11 years of political murder (its dead including at least 13 victims, the last of whom was Karen Silkwood) – and I'll address instead its results, this in the context of self-criticism. I'll also acknowledge one of my own more humiliating political failures and reflect on the lesson therein – a lesson that exemplifies how the politics of today's United States are in fact precisely what I hereby name them: the politics of trauma, the more purely psychological dimension of Naomi Klein's disclosures about capitalism and its shock-doctrine economic aggression.
My political failure – that is, the one central to these reflections – was caused by how the instinctive politeness and deference to authority I set aside so easily when shielded by a press card so often becomes reflexive when I am not so shielded. It is the admittedly craven legacy of my boyhood and adolescent years in the South, where because of familial notoriety and obvious northern origins I was generally marginalized as “white trash,” and I therefore learned to behave accordingly – that is, in ways always carefully indicative of “knowing my place.”
The resultant submissiveness, of which I foolishly imagined I had purged myself at least 50 years ago, came back unexpectedly last week to nullify the righteous anger I had intended to express in a public confrontation with a trio of Washington state's elected Democrat legislators, Senator Jeannie Darneille, Rep. Jake Fey and Rep. Laurie Jinkins. Each of these officials theoretically represent all the people of the legislative district in which I reside and vote, but in singularly USian truth they represent only their financial contributors. (That's right, like all U.S. major-party politicians, these legislators are vassals of their pro-capitalist donors, and what they favor or oppose is therefore dictated not by us, the voters, but by legalized bribes from business and professional sources.) We the people are thus left out in the proverbial cold, with no representation whatsoever. Such is capitalism – and capitalist governance – in action.
Each of these politicians is also therefore a betrayer of the 99 Percent, the present day synonym, born of the Occupy Movement, for the Working Class or Proletariat as defined by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao. In other words, the 99 Percent is literally every one of us – that is, every one of us who is not part of capitalism's hereditary (One Percent) aristocracy, every one of us who will never be admitted to capitalism's somewhat broader Ruling Class, which includes the executives, bureaucrats, military officers, police commanders, academics, journalists and politicians who are rewarded with significant wealth and power for fulfilling the One Percent's needs – above all else by strict obedience to the One Percenters' orders.
Regardless of their socioeconomic origins or their use of rhetorical camouflage, no member of the USian Ruling Class long retains any real concern for the well-being of the 99 Percent. Each answers only to their One Percent masters. Whether publicly or privately, most members of the Ruling Class soon adopt the sneering contempt that characterizes the One Percent's stance toward all of us – we the people of the 99 Percent. While the Republicans are more open about their disdain, and often more gleefully sadistic in its expression, the Democrats – as proven by their constant surrenders to Republican demands – are obviously no different.
Which brings me to the legislators I sought to confront. One of the three has a long record of support for gentrification and is therefore almost certainly an intentional betrayer of the Working Class. Another is a betrayer – probably not by original intent, but rather due to the inertial legacy of many years in a legislature so brazenly hypocritical, reporters and editors of my generation ridiculed it as a “clown show” – never mind its cost to the people in tax-exemption subsidies granted to the capitalists undoubtedly made it the most expensive clown show on earth. The third legislator, whose Ivy League academic credentials indicate a Ruling Class background, probably felt she had no choice but to ally herself with the Democratic Party and is now strait-jacketed by its incipiently fascist “neo-liberal” ideologies and its rigidly enforced policy of fascism-enabling surrenders to Republican demands.
Thus each of these legislators collaborates, willingly or unwillingly, with the Republicans' efforts to genocidally reduce social-service programs. Again willingly or unwillingly (but in this case unforgivably), each also participated in the Democrats' Big Lie campaign to keep these cuts secret from the non-victimized public.
Such secrecy, it should be noted, is a classic Big Lie tactic, especially for enabling genocide. Indeed it is traceable to Nazi Germany and how its propaganda apparatus ensured the German public was (generally) kept ignorant of the death camps. The operant principle is simplicity itself: if atrocities are concealed and officially denied – and the social-service cuts inflicted on Washington state seniors and disabled people are indeed atrocities – then we the victims are silenced by the (usually impossible) burden of proving the atrocities are real – this before we can even begin to demand redress for the devastation so inflicted.
Obviously the Democrats' intent is to sandbag our efforts to obtain redress – and just as obviously the keep-the-cuts-secret tactic is working. The Democrats including Obama himself are using the same tactic nationally to cover up their savage cuts to the food stamp program. In a realm of lies, it is always the liars who win.
*** *** ***
NORMALLY I AVOID conventional political activism. It is usually a fool's errand, a waste of time that merely perpetuates the Big Lie of USian “democracy.” But on this occasion I was motivated by pure anger – the anger evoked by a state-imposed income-reduction so vicious it is forcing me out of the apartment I have occupied since 2004, the additional anger generated by the Big Lie tactics the Democrats are employing to hide the cuts and their party's (now nearly traditional) role as Republican enablers.
It was the possibility of publicly expressing this anger – and thereby publicly embarrassing the Democrats' for their lies – that energized me to write a statement to make during the so-called “Town Hall Meeting” these three legislators convened on 10 February in the auditorium at the Tacoma campus of Evergreen State College. I knew my statement would change nothing. The cuts had been made, and given the continuing dominance of neo-liberal sociological theory and Ayn Rand economics, the funding will never be restored. But at least I would have the satisfaction of raising my voice in protest.
However, my journalistic instincts kicked in as I wrote, and I soon realized I would be speaking not only for myself but for the untold number of other seniors and disabled people who are being similarly victimized – a number “untold” only because the state is stubbornly refusing to release it. Assuming there would be some post-comment discussion, I carefully edited and rehearsed my remarks to fill three-fourths of the standard two-minute limit on speakers. Here after about three hours work is what I typed on a cheat-sheet and brought to the meeting:
Thank you for this opportunity to speak. I'm Loren Bliss, obviously a senior, obviously physically disabled (gesture with cane), and after the Great Wall Street Ripoff took away nearly 70 percent of my income, a very impoverished senior, which is why I want to ask you this question about social services.
But first let me say I'm also a reasonably well-educated senior, even in retirement sometimes still a working journalist and among other things a former college instructor, which means I know who owns the two-party system and understand why you impose social service cuts like this one (brandish document) – ending forever the Washington Telephone Assistance Program. Or like the 82 percent cut in my Medicare Extra Help, from $22 per month to $4 per month. Or like the policy changes that slashed a neighbor's food stamps from $128 per month to nothing.
And then you say in the “27th District Legislative Update” you mailed us all last fall – and I'll read it word-for-word (brandish publication) – your biennial budget (quote) restores damaging cuts to public assistance programs made during the lean years of the great recession (unquote).
Obviously that's a lie. You didn't restore anything except maybe the cuts themselves. In fact you made the cuts far worse than they were last year.
So I have to ask – and in an election year it's a question a lot of seniors and disabled people are asking – is there any real difference between you and the Republicans? Except maybe the Republicans are more honest about their genocidal intent.
*** *** ***
I BELIEVE IT was von Moltke the Elder who said no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy's main strength, and this was surely true of my experience at the 27th District's alleged “Town Hall Meeting.”
The college auditorium was filled to near capacity with approximately 200 people. But they were nearly all Caucasians despite the fact the meeting was held in Hilltop, which is not only part of the 27th District but is Tacoma's main black-majority neighborhood. The majority of the attendees also appeared to be middle-aged petite-bourgeois types. If typical of similar demographic groups elsewhere in the USian homeland, the majority was thus presumably indifferent (if not actually hostile) to the plight of lower-income people. Whatever, their numerical strength (and therefore their white-bourgeois ideological dominance) was surely enhanced by the notable absence of any substantial number of elderly African-Americans – the very people who would have been, as a group, hit hardest by the social-service cuts. The absence of younger people was also notable.
Though it is a bit of an aside, the absence of each group, older blacks and youth of all races, suggests both groups are increasingly alienated from the Democratic Party– a significant indication particularly given claims the Bernie Sanders presidential candidacy is fostering a youth-renaissance within the party.
Ironically, the crowd's largest faction – a seemingly all-white band of not-in-my-back-yard “environmentalists” – had come to protest a local methane-plant proposal over which the Legislature has no authority at all.
But Darneille, who as a senator outranks the representatives and was thus the event chair, ruled the NIMBYs would be allowed to speak first – to squander more than half the time allotted for public statements – even as those of us with grievances inflicted by legislative action (and therefore the very grievances the three legislators might have been able to help redress), were relegated to the closing 30 minutes of the two-hour session. Darneille also announced our statements would be limited to one minute rather than the customary two minutes.
It was, indeed, a diabolically clever use of the (distant) methanol-plant threat to distract from the (immediate) issues of social-service cuts. In other words, the “Town Hall Meeting” was yet another example of USian (non)democracy in (calculatedly oppressive) action.
My response to the newly imposed one-minute time limit was to again edit my statement, paring it to the bare essentials of protests against the cuts in social-service stipends and against the Democrats' use of the Big Lie to cover up the cuts and thereby suppress any possible protest.
But then I noted how the legislative trio was so carefully avoiding any mention of the true source of the state's financial crisis – the staggering, no-cost-is-too-great extravagance of the legislators, Republican and Democrat alike, in awarding unprecedented subsidies to the One Percent. Washington state politicians have given their capitalist owners the largest tax exemptions not just in U.S. history, but in the entire known governmental history of Planet Earth. Yet not one of the nearly 200 people in attendance had dared utter even a single word protesting this robbery of the poor to further enrich those who are already inconceivably wealthy.
Thus when I was finally granted the alleged democracy of my allotted one minute, I opened my remarks with the traditional “thank you,” then said something like “I'm here to protest the cuts you made in social services, but first I want to ask a rhetorical question: just how much of the budget shortfall you keep complaining about is due to the truly obscene tax exemptions this state grants Big Business? They're the largest ever in the world – not just in the country but in the world – when you factor in that $8.5 billion tax cut you gave Boeing.”
The audience applauded enthusiastically (see the top photograph above), and Jinkins – in sharp contrast to the silence of her two colleagues – emphatically declared herself as an opponent of all such definitively anti-humanitarian transfers of wealth from the citizenry to the aristocracy.
Then I launched into my much-abbreviated condemnation of the social-service cuts and the Democrats' breathtakingly dishonest attempt to conceal them. But as soon as I got to “obviously that's a lie,” Darneille forcefully contradicted me, stating that TANF funding – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – had been restored. She uttered the usual Democrat excuse for the cuts I was protesting (“the Republicans made us do it”), and she concluded her interruption with the meaningless statement that legislation had been introduced to restore funding to remedy these same cuts. (Her statement is meaningless because, given Republican control of the state senate, no such restorative legislation will be approved.) At that point – my one minute of pseudo-democracy mostly consumed by the state senator – the time-keeper flagged me into silence.
Now utterly intimidated by the prospect of being made to look like some stereotypically doddering early-Alzheimer's oldster, I mumbled a short, not very articulate protest that “senior needs are being swept under the rug” and, head down in defeat, hobbled away from the lectern. Never mind the response to my ad-lib comment about corporate tax exemptions; my cutback protests drew only stony-faced silence, thereby confirming my estimate of the crowd's petite-bourgeois majority bias.
Worse – because I allowed myself to be intimidated into self-censorship – I never made my most important point: that under capitalist governance, the only real difference between Republicans and Democrats is that the latter have become habitual liars while the former are increasingly more honest about their genocidal intent.
Only two people, one an elderly black woman who is a neighbor, the other a middle-aged Hispanic male with whom I had no previous acquaintance, thanked me for speaking up on behalf of all the seniors and disabled people who have been hurled under the proverbial bus by Jeannie Darneille, Jake Fey, Laurie Jinkins and all their Republican and Democratic colleagues in the 2015 Washington State Legislature.
And at least I had forced Darneille to tacitly admit the Democrats have now themselves adopted the long-time Republican strategy of pitting one group of victims against another, in this instance seniors and disabled people versus welfare mothers and children. That would have been a significant disclosure were I covering the event for some publication that does not limit “news” to that which attracts only the readership its advertisers seek as customers. But publications that define “news” as it was formerly defined – as anything that impacts humans whether rich or poor – now exist only on the electronic fringe. Hence Darneille's inadvertent disclosure goes forever unexposed.
In other words, my protest failed abysmally.
*** *** ***
I SHOULD NOTE here that in my 23-odd (award-winning) years as what in the craft of journalism is described as a “public affairs reporter” – that is, one who covers the performance and politics of state and local government, as I did in Tennessee (1957-1959; 1963-1965); in New York City (1965-1967); in New Jersey (1965; 1967-1970); again in NYC (1983-1986), and in Washington state (1971; 1974-1981, 2004-2009) – I have witnessed a significant change in the dynamics of public-meeting dialogue between elected officials and the citizens they (allegedly) represent.
The first political meetings I covered were in East Tennessee, where the politicians themselves would sometimes engage in fist-fights, but their dialogues with the voters – at least the many I witnessed – were always respectful. Ditto everywhere else I worked until maybe 1978 or 1979. But – though I had not focused on it until now – this paradigm of mutual respectfulness eroded rapidly following President Carter's neo-liberal betrayal of the New Deal. Next came the Reagan Revolution, the subsequent transformation of the Democratic Party into the Republicans' austerity-enabling apparatus, and finally – to the infinite gain of the One Percent and a bottomless loss inflicted on all the rest of us – the reduction of the United States to de facto single-party plutocracy.
Political-meeting dialogue changed accordingly. Formerly, when I was a young newsman, the purpose of such dialogue was to allow (most of) the people to seek redress – an intent clearly demonstrated by the politeness with which the politicians (actually) listened to their (usually white) constituents.
But since the era of the Carter betrayals, public voter-politician interactions in the U.S. have moved far away from their post-colonial town-meeting origins to become ever more reminiscent of what I suppose political assemblies in pre-revolutionary France or pre-revolutionary Russia were like: public meetings during which exalted officials would pretend to humor the sans culottes (in popular usage, “those so poor they cannot afford pants”), or the народа (naroda: “the people” [as opposed to the aristocracy]), in either case by regally granting us a few moments to speak and then lecturing us on our alleged ignorance – exactly as Darneille lectured me.
Such is the political deterioration inflicted on the United States by capitalism: from the manifest democracy of genuine dialogues between (mostly white) voters and their elected representatives, to the implicit tyranny of assemblies the obvious function of which is to embarrass anyone who dares criticize the (ever more oppressive) regimen of capitalist governance. Now we Caucasians are increasingly subject to the same marginalization that has always been the lot of USian minorities.
How then might I have carried my self-assigned mission through to its conclusion?
The only answer is to have followed the behavioral example of Black Lives Matter and shouted down the state senator when she interrupted what I was trying to say.
Yes, as I implied earlier, I sometimes exhibited this sort of righteously angry relentlessness in my quests for information, particularly at press conferences.
But scheduled meetings of legislative committees or state or local governing bodies, where my official role was never more than that of silent observer, are very different from press conferences, which are by definition often confrontational, and where, shielded by my press card, I was authorized to be forceful or even rude in my demands for answers to questions. It was a ploy with which I was never truly comfortable (for under such stress there was always the fearsome possibility of some dyslexic speech-error that would reduce me to a professional laughingstock), but it was nevertheless a tactic I dutifully employed when necessary – occasionally with scoop-the-world results.
Yet last Saturday I allowed myself to be intimidated into squandering the only opportunity I am ever likely to get in this lifetime to publicly underscore the most vital truth of present-day USian politics – that the Democrat/Republican collaboration fostered by unlimited sums of capitalist money has reduced the United States to a one-party nation. Which means its governance differs from that of its financier and (alleged) enemy China only in that the Chinese are presumably fully aware of their circumstances – that their communism has been co-opted to meaninglessness by capitalism – while we USians are kept in a constant state of delusion and/or ignorance about how we are governed: hence Moron Nation.
Obviously – both because of fears related to dyslexia and because slightly more than one month away from my 76th birthday I am probably too old to un-learn my habits of deference and politeness, my best course of action is to avoid all such encounters like the one that took place at the alleged “Town Hall Meeting.” And if for some reason that is impossible for me to do – as indeed it was on 20 February (with all but one of my comrades engaged in vital political activity elsewhere) – to rehearse my protest so thoroughly, my unshielded responses to oppression become as automatic as they were when I was shielded by membership in the working press.
Meanwhile Black Lives Matter is thus proven to be the tactical master of this new age of resistance. The only way to be heard by Ruling Class politicians is to confront them with maximum rudeness – which for people like myself is a profoundly difficult tactic to learn.
That said, my apology to those who had expected better from me at the “Town Hall Meeting.”
*** *** ***
SUCH ARE THE present-day conditions that exemplify the politics of trauma.
Reflecting on my embarrassing failure at the “Town Hall Meeting,” I realized my core assumption is scarcely different from that of my fellow USians. I recognize I have no influence whatsoever over U.S. politics and even less over its Ruling Class perpetrators, and I take the hardships thus inflicted on my friends and neighbors and on me personally as mounting proof of my own ever-worsening powerlessness. (At least I avoid the error of blaming myself – the automatic reflex of most USians, induced by 35 years of Ayn Rand propaganda and prosperity-gospel conditioning.)
Though I still vote, rationalizing my participation as a meaningless gesture that is nevertheless necessary to preserve the franchise, in every other sense I am at one with those who who are so alienated from our failed experiment in representative democracy, they ask themselves – if indeed they trouble themselves to think politically at all – “why bother when it changes nothing?” Therefore they neither vote nor otherwise participate in politics whether local, state or national. This is the reality so vividly demonstrated by the USian Homeland's ongoing decline in voter turnout, which in Washington state between 2010 and 2014 produced the largest such drop recorded anywhere in the nation.
Beyond the reams and kilobytes of Right Wing academic obfuscation, the real message of these declines is obvious. It goes like this: “There is no longer any real difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. That means we're going to get a Republican even if we elect somebody who's supposedly a Democrat – just like we got with Obama. That also means it doesn't matter – it won't make any difference – if the Republicans win. So why should I bother to vote (even if, with Washington state's 100-percent mail-in ballots, it only costs me a postage stamp).”
Such statements, from young and old alike, I have heard more times than I can count.
Significantly, the de facto election boycott by Washington state's voting-age citizens, from a 53.1 percent turnout in 2010 to a 28.0 percent turnout in 2014 (which some commentators have called the lowest rate ever recorded in the United States), occurred after the Republicans nullified all the 2012 state election results by a genuine coup that – exactly as I said on the comment thread of the linked report – gave them budgetary omnipotence and thus absolute control of the state government. The turnout of Washington's voting-age citizenry in November 2012 had been 60.77 percent – but that was five weeks before the coup.
Afterward, there was a gradual but eventually statewide awakening to the fact we the people are powerless in the face of such skulduggery. The coup itself was traumatic, the source of acute fear amongst lower-income people astute enough to recognize we were now doomed to become its primary victims. And its consequences, which include the savage cutbacks I unsuccessfully tried to protest last week, are more traumatic still. In fact the resultant voter-alienation will almost certainly enable the Republicans to sweep the state's 2016 elections – with an acceleration of deadly consequences for those of us who depend on Medicaid, Medicare Extra Help, food stamps or any other sort of state social-service money.
*** *** ***
PROBABLY FOR POLITICALLY alienated people who are in their 50s and 60s, the politics of trauma began with the carefully engineered war of economic subjugation demanded by the infamous Powell Memo of 1971 and publicly declared by President Richard Nixon when he proclaimed to William Randolph Hearst Jr. in a 1973 post-inaugural interview that “Americans had it too good,” that he would devote his second term to making life miserable for the 99 Percent. Nixon was thus voicing the One Percent's declaration of class-war against the American Dream, against the U.S. experiment in representative democracy and ultimately against the entire 99 Percent – every worker and working family in the nation. (That's probably why the interview, at the time Page One in every Hearst newspaper in the nation, has conveniently vanished down the Orwell hole.)
Those who were born after 1974 were therefore born into relentless economic decline, so if their families were part of the 99 Percent, they have known nothing but steadily increasing wretchedness all their lives. Hence, having no reason to imagine the American Dream as anything but monumental deception, they avoid its political rituals in exactly the same way a recovering Christian shuns even the near occasion of religious rites. Why participate in something bitter experience has taught you is nothing more than an invitation to abuse?
Even so, what too often gets lost in the telling is the fact it is the Ruling Class – and the Ruling Class alone – whose colossal treacheries and betrayals have reduced USian politics to a politics of disappointment and frustration and despair and thus condensed its diverse miseries into the politics of trauma.
The ultimate example of this process – at least the ultimate example to date – is the dismal denouement to our national outpouring of hopefulness evoked by Obama the Orator with his ubiquitous claim of “change we can believe in.” For a few brief months he genuinely uplifted our spirits. But for the past eight years, by his obviously premeditated shape-shift into Barack the Betrayer, he has cruelly hurled us into a hopelessness so deep the only exit is too often death itself. At the very least it is as if the entire U.S. political process has been deliberately turned into an experiment in aversive conditioning. In this context, Obama's biggest Big Lie ever – the premeditated lie so hypnotically repeated by his 2008 slogan – becomes perhaps the most deliberately wounding ploy in the history of USian governance.
Given the unholy combination of the One Percent's efforts at voter-disenfranchisement and the empire's notorious skill at psychological warfare – one of the darker legacies of its embrace of the Nazi war criminals after World War II – it is certainly possible what we are witnessing is not just the happenstantial emergence of a politics of trauma but rather its deliberate imposition. The motive is obvious: the lower the voter turnout, the easier it is for the One Percent and their Republican storm-troopers to ensure the triumph of fascism.
But for me, as for others my age, the politics of trauma began far earlier, spawned by the murder of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on 22 November 1963 and confirmed beyond doubt by the murder of his brother Senator Robert Francis Kennedy nearly five years later on 5 June 1968. Hence the relevance of what I wrote in response to a Reader Supported News exclusive by Paul Schrade, who witnessed the RFK assassination. (The text here is not italicized because it includes details I omitted in compliance with RSN's 1500-character limit):
I was working the day JFK was murdered – was the only one in the newsroom of The Oak Ridger, a small but excellent afternoon daily in East Tennessee. (The editor and all my colleagues were at lunch; I was finishing an unrelated story that would run the following week, this so I could leave early for a weekend with my lover, who was attending Virginia Intermont, an all-women's college in Bristol 100 miles to the north.) For the past week I had felt grave forebodings about the president's trip to Dallas, and when I heard the flash-bell ringing like an unanswered telephone on the A-wire teletype, the line that carried national and international news, I had a terrible premonition of what I would see:
F L A S H
PRESIDENT KENNEDY SHOT IN DALLAS.
It was the only time in my career I gave a “stop the presses” order, though it was not really needed as the press room crew had just heard the news on the radio and were already stopping the machinery on their own initiative. Within an hour we remade our home edition, published that, and then as the story developed we produced one extra (a special edition prompted by breaking news), considered producing a second extra, decided it was unnecessary and finally, just before midnight, closed the newsroom after what had become a 17-hour workday.
Needless to say, I was exhausted. But my lover had successfully navigated the obstacle course of acquiring the false papers and making the clandestine arrangements then required of any young woman who dared seek momentary escape from the chastity belt of dormitory regulations, and both of us were understandably determined to save as much of our weekend plans as possible. So she borrowed a family-heirloom wedding ring from one of her roommates, stuffed a pillow under her clothing to mimic pregnancy, and bummed a ride into town from another roommate who was so overcome by giggles at the deception she had difficulty driving. So disguised, my lover, a diminutive but formidably articulate brunette scarcely more than five feet tall, signed us into the region's swankest hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Loren Bliss – husband and father-to-be temporarily detained elsewhere on pressing business.
There were no Interstate highways in those days, and the 100-mile trip was on mountain roads, mostly two-lane blacktop. But I had a good Volkswagen sedan, which handled the curves with far more alacrity than any Detroit iron, so by 2 a.m. my lover and I were in each other's arms. Both of us were so devastated by the assassination that at first and probably for at least the next two hours all we could do was cling to one another like lost and tearful children.
That Sunday our room-service breakfast was interrupted by the grisly spectacle of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. At that moment my lover's normally warm brown eyes turned bleak as winter behind her tears of shock and despair. “What are we,” she lamented. “A banana republic? God help us.”
It was after the murder of President Kennedy that my late father, a Marxist since the Crash of 1929 schooled him with the unforgiving brutality of capitalism, adopted what became the political mantra of his final eight years: “Eventually things will get so bad in this country, the Red Army will be welcomed as an army of liberation.”
In 1968 when RFK was slain, I was the news editor of The Daily Record, a mid-sized paper serving Morristown, New Jersey and its surrounding Morris County. We normally rolled our home edition at 2 a.m. but on this morning we had held Page One until nearly 3 a.m. so we could include the California primary results. We knew if Kennedy won, he'd be the Democrat nominee and therefore the president. The story arrived as anticipated on the A-wires (two of probably a half-dozen teletype machines in our wire-room). I don't remember now if I chose the United Press International text or the Associated Press version – but I edited it, wrote a head on it (something like “Kennedy Wins It” proclaimed in 96-point type), and sent the copy up to the composing room. A few minutes later I initialed my approval on the Page One proof and then, my choice of careers once more affirmed by the feel-good seismic rumble of high-speed presses, I went home smugly thinking all was well.
When I awoke the next afternoon I walked to my neighborhood's corner store and saw a paper in the window – probably The Newark News – with a headlined reference to a Kennedy shooting. I asked the proprietor why on earth he had a 1963 paper in his window, and he said “oh you didn't know” and handed me the copy of The New York Times he always set aside for me. Exactly as in the cliche, it was as if the ground opened under my feet. Just minutes after I had left the Record's newsroom, assassins bullets – there is now no doubt there were at least two shooters – killed the last politician who might have saved us from ourselves.
As the Crash of 1929 was pivotal to my late father, so was the murder of Senator Robert Francis Kennedy pivotal to me. It was then I recognized our alleged “democracy” is a cunning charade, a Machiavellian fraud, a Big Lie of such breathtaking proportions neither Josef Goebbels nor even his master Adolf Hitler could have imagined it. Indeed were I a Christian – even a modern-minded Christian – I would have no choice but take this Big Lie and its eventually suicidal success as ultimate proof of the Devil's reality. And proof too of all its dire implications: just as in the Tarot deck the Devil card is followed by the card depicting the Tower shattered by divine lightning and collapsing into ruin, so in USian life is our plague of political murders followed by realization that humanitarian change will never again be allowed in this nation – that our wretchedness will therefore worsen until we are liberated by apocalypse or invasion or revolution or perhaps by some combination of all three – or until capitalism reduces our entire species to extinction.
Again I am reminded of what the Celtic partisan Calgacus said of the Imperial Roman invaders and how true it is of the USian Empire as well: “They make a desert and they call it peace.” To which – though I remain firmly committed to the strategy and tactics of non-violence – the only rational response may yet be epitomized by graffito: “Boudicca Lives.” Or as our murdered president once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
LB/21-26 February 2016