One point I didn’t hammer home in the post I wrote the other day is the ease with which false equivalencies are made. I didn’t mean to imply that there is equal validity to both sides of our current political impasse or that everything can be made better by polite compromise. Is there room to compromise over who is right, climate scientists who link the catastrophic climate events now very common to the warming of the oceans due to man-made pollution and the oil industry think tanks who insist we must be skeptical of these claims because unprecedented wild fires, hundred year storms, floods, droughts, earthquakes, deadly heat waves etc. sometimes just happen, by sheer coincidence, many times a year?
There is a lucrative advertising-driven industry based on false equivalencies that makes it virtually impossible for most people to get past their bitter partisan differences for the sake of seriously analyzing a larger problem. Partisanship drives commerce, whether it’s the sports team you root for or the political team. The CEO of the company that owns CBS made some comment mildly critical of the bully, then one of a dozen Republican presidential candidates, who went on to become our current president, then he smiled and said how good this stirrer of shit was for the corporate bottom line: viewer eyeballs and advertising dollars.
Only people of good will and good faith can sit down together and have a larger discussion that doesn’t degenerate into the dogmatic defense of their personal and political biases. People of good will and good faith are out there in significant numbers, but our commercialized political system has made such individuals rare in the public sphere. The public debate we get to see is conducted by hard-nosed partisans who fight each other in a way that makes powerless viewers tune in to fume. It is much easier to put on a blue hat, or a red one, and chant. It is everybody’s right to chant, but not all chants are created equal.
My mother asked me, when I was ten or so, something that struck me as a profound question. “Can you admire a great artist if you find out he’s a Nazi?” In other words, can you separate the art work from the deep personal beliefs of the person who created it? To my ten year-old mind this was a puzzler. Being a great artist was very important to me at ten, I had a grandmother who convinced me it was crucial for me to become a world famous artist. Her first cousin was world famous plaster casting sculptor George Segal. Somewhere I have a letter from Georgik, received shortly after my lone visit to his farm studio, seething, in tiny controlled handwriting, at my monstrous attitude toward the fucking rich, people he called the most generous in the world. They’d certainly been most generous to him.
Anyway, after living in the world long enough I no longer have any doubt about the correct answer to that now obvious question: if a Nazi produces great art work he’s still a Nazi and fuck him and his fucking art work. My friend and mentor Florence, a great artist and a lifelong political activist, told me the same thing the last time I saw her. It’s kind of obvious, really. Art is personal and also political. Picture the curator or gallery owner:
“Look at the unmatched delicacy of these watercolors, the subtle gradations in shade and color, the beautiful control of the brush, the bravura treatment of the sky, the sea. The way the pigment is deployed perfectly for the luminous effect…”
You say: and look at the great artist in his SS uniform, impeccable, looking so self-possessed as he points to the right and the left, sending people to slave labor or the gas chamber. Also done with great style and an almost unmatched delicacy. You can tell the man is an artist. A great Nazi artist. As for these breathtaking watercolors, they should be neatly, respectfully rolled and delicately shoved up his war criminal ass, along with the brushes and his other painting supplies.
Harsh? Perhaps. The point is that, although we routinely deny it here, our life choices are both personal and political. Compromise is not possible on certain matters. At one time most Americans thought it proper to tolerate the institution of slavery. It was unthinkable to imagine dismantling that great money-making machine that had created so much wealth, prosperity, that charmingly genteel way of life. The Abolitionists were often thought of as extremists, maniacs, hysterics. History now takes another view of them, since they now seem to have clearly been on the right moral side of the terrible issue. The issue, racially based human slavery, and chattel slavery at that, was a great controversy at one time.
I dare say even those who cheer and chant for our current overbearer-in-chief would hesitate to scream their approval of a proposal to reintroduce race-based chattel slavery in America, no matter how enthusiastically they love the school-to-prison pipeline, privatized for-profit prisons, free enterprise, freedom, the free market, no matter how passionately they believe in the vague goal of Making America Great Again. Maybe I am giving the crowd at a shallow, adulation-craving celebrity megalomaniac’s rally too much credit, but I feel it would only be a few, at least at first, chanting: Chain them up! Chain them up!!!!!
Which is not to say, of course, that many of them might not feel that choking anger, and fear, and in some shameful place in their angry, frightened hearts they might not wish for the good old days when those contentious matters were simply settled law.
Now we have right-wing partisans, salivating at the prospect of a 6-3 Conservative Supreme Court for the rest of my lifetime, calling the famous Roe v. Wade ruling, making the right to choose abortion a Constitutional right for women, the modern Dred Scott case, a ruling that held that a black person, once a slave, was always a fucking slave anywhere in the U.S.A. for purposes of the Fugitive Slave Act. Within a few years of Dred Scott Americans would be spilling each other’s blood in rivers to settle the question once and for all.
Another Civil War over the question of a twelve year-old rape victim’s right not to be forced to carry the rapist’s baby to term? I don’t imagine so, but I also have no doubt that the merciless application of the abstract principle that “life begins at conception” does not quite cover the entire moral landscape of the argument over a woman’s right to choose an abortion, if she must. Those who believe that abortion is murder, period, will not be convinced that mercy is ever involved in the issue, since it would be condoning murder, something no moral person would ever do.
Ronald Reagan, either quipping or already demented, said “the right to life ends at birth”. Funny, Ronnie. Also true. The proponents of banning abortion seldom provide for the lives of the sacred, unwanted little souls they are insisting have every right to be born. Once born, of course, you’re on your own, motherfucker, this is America, bitch, nobody owes you jack shit.
Oversimplification? Take the question of a medically complicated pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother. If the fetus continues to grow in the womb the mother will die. Still murder to spare the mother’s life by terminating the pregnancy?
Let’s ask God. Isn’t it true, God, that there is no justice without mercy?
God informs me that He was driven to despair by man’s misuse of free will. Broke His heart, He said He’s done with these motherfuckers, particularly the ones who insist they are righteously killing in His name. We’re on our own down here.
I thought this article was a pretty good discussion of the dilemma we citizens face in an increasingly tribal nation, presided over by a blustering, supremely entitled imbecile who has only one trick: attacking people who make him feel stupid or inadequate. Wait, he has two other tricks: shameless self-promotion and doubling down. If you make a bad bet, double it. The alternative, admitting error, is unthinkable. How can your brand be infallible if you admit making a mistake? It is important to be the most important and the very best person in the world. Period. End of story. Make America Great Again, bitches.