I was struck, reading that fascinating 1974 report, how dramatically attitudes have changed, and how little facts on the ground have changed for the permanent underclass of this wealthy nation, particularly for the descendants of those kept as chattels by the supremely entitled one percent of their day.
I need to put more of that shock into the narrative, since it tracks exactly Irv’s exasperation with the whole ongoing betrayal of decent principle that has shaped the world in the last forty years or so. The report lays out everything in a principled way that seems quaint now in our age of Fuck You In Your Fucking Face you Fucking Piece of Fucking Shit! politics. The intelligently written, analytic report is a vivid snapshot of what once was the cherished hope, and, in showing the brief struggle to make things better, how that hope turned to dust in the mouths of those who once worked so hard to make it more than a hope.
“Do you know where that bending the moral arc of history quote often attributed to Martin Luther King comes from?” asked the skeleton wryly, knowing his biographer had just looked it up on the internet.
That would be abolitionist theologian Theodore Parker, father, who defended the right of slaves to kill their masters and died on the eve of the Civil War:
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
King, of course, put it more directly: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In 1974 government agencies and people of good will were actually looking for remedies for deeply entrenched historic problems of injustice, within a few years they were privatizing prisons, unleashing the so-called Free Market, and ruthlessly enforcing punitive drug laws, based on the federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970, that hard-drinking, paranoid Nixon had signed into law to criminalize the hobbies of his enemies.
“Well, I have to be honest, I was Nixon’s enemy, whether I made the list or not. I was always a teetotaler and I never really understood why people took drugs, but even I could see, although I always gave you tremendous shit about it, that marijuana was not nearly as dangerous as the alcohol that Nixon was sucking down every night. It certainly does not belong on Schedule One with the most dangerous and addictive drugs known to man, drugs with no redeeming medical use.”
“You have the transcript of that bit of the secretly recorded tape where Nixon is telling Haldeman how important it is to put crushing sanctions on pot smokers. He says ‘you know, Bob, they are mostly Jews, and most Jews are psychiatrists and deviants, aren’t they? You know, homosexuality, pederasty, Communist tendencies and all the rest, good Christ, we need a law that lets us throw away the key, am I right, Bob?'” the skeleton chuckled after channeling the mad former president.
“That motherfucker really drew a line in the sand, didn’t he? Then Reagan came in, his revolution being to smilingly turn the hands of the social clock back to the good old days when local whites knew best how to handle their niggras, yes suh.”
OK, dad, calm down, man, calm down.
“Nothing for me to worry about now, Elie, I’m not going to bust a blood vessel. Look at me. Do you see any blood vessels? On the other hand, and I know you’re a little hopped up today, but you do realize that there’s hardly a whiff here of the 1974 report on the riots at James Madison HS, don’t know?”
Yes, I do, dad. But as you astutely noted, I am a little bit hopped up today, and I have to start getting ready to get out of here. I’ll pull out some of that heartbreakingly clear language from the report tomorrow or the next day. Dinner plans have been made for me and I must not be late.
“OK. Bone appetit, then,” said the skeleton, inflecting the French to make sure the ‘e’ was at the end of the word “bone”.