Convergence / Politics / Vol. 1 No. 2

Cliff Notes (or Notes for Going Over One)

Thomas Nast The Third Term Panic

Image Credit: Thomas Nast, The Third-Term Panic, Harper’s Magazine, 7 November, 1874.

Though it would be hard to say in a single sentence, let me try to understand this: shortly before the holidays, Politico reported that a rogue band of Republican Congressmen had been convening under cover of darkness for several weeks in the shadow of the duly appointed bipartisan House investigative committee on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S elections (“House Republicans quietly investigate perceived corruption at DOJ, FBI.” 12/20/2017). That is a mouthful, I know, but not hollow or vain in its accents because the congressmen’s gesture signals—among other startling signs of the times—that the U.S style of governance is currently headed over a cliff. I usually try to avoid prophecies of doom, self-whispering against my overworked ear drums, and absolutely hate it when members of the national Commentariat—let’s call it—casually announce that the nation is staggering toward Armageddon. I have even tried to imagine that the unfolding governmental spectacle of blindness and willed stupidity that fatigues the senses is not beyond repair in the very near future. But I would have to admit that the roiling of forces unleashed by the 2016 elections is more ominous, to my mind, than at any other period of my citizen’s life, and I grew up in the South in the Really Bad Old Days. Not at the rodeo for the first time, I’ve seen my share of mess; but if only we had convincing comparisons to call on! I do not know any. No one needs to tell me that U.S democracy is one of the great unfinished projects of this world and that it is imperfect to the bone, but it seems that even the pretense to democratic practice has been jettisoned. If public opinion cannot be counted on to make even Republican lawmakers back away from the precipice, then what would? We’ve seen enough.

The U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence boasts some nineteen departments and agencies within its remit, including oversight of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation; made up of thirteen Republican Congressmen and nine Democratic members, this committee is mirrored on the Senate side, where things appear to be going somewhat better, thanks to the apparent good sense of Senator Richard Burr (R, SC), who chairs the U.S. Senate Select Committee. We can only hope that vigilant Californians are casting a sustained gaze at Rep. Devin Nunes, House chair, who, supposedly having recused himself from his committee’s Russia probe, is the same brave fellow spearheading the cabal running alongside the official work of HPSCI. As near as one can tell, Nunes’s extracurricular gangwork is devoted to the defense of the President in light of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation and, by dramatically participating in the disparagement of certain civil servants in the employ of the DOJ and FBI, purports to ready the subversion of the public trust in whatever conclusions that Mueller and his team of investigators might reach. As Kyle Cheney and John Bresnahan put it in their reportage for Politico: “A group of house Republicans has gathered secretly for weeks in the Capitol in an effort to build a case that senior leaders of the Justice Department and FBI improperly—and perhaps criminally—mishandled the contents of a dossier [the Steele dossier] that alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia. . . .”

Since the new year, we have learned more about the handiwork of these conspiracy-minded figures as they make common cause with Fox News and their overlords and enablers at News Corp in their systematic attempt to discredit any legitimate inquiry into the Russia matter. As of this writing, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has quit his post, and Nunes and other minions have passed on to the White House for approval the release of a memo that supposes to outline ill-doings by intelligence officials. Now, I am making no brief here for the FBI, as if the agency needed such from me, with its long record of questionable and deleterious activity aimed at the left in general and black radicalism and its principals in particular, some of the latter recently rehearsed in William Maxwell’s F.B Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, nor would I wager that this current iteration of Justice, under the sterling leadership of one Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, is putting down exemplary marks of just work, but I am certainly doubtful that the anti-probe impulse draws its inspiration from the desire to discover the truth. What we are watching here instead are the desperate maneuvers of a claque of huckster politicians, hell-bent on protecting venal self-interest over the public good. By sparing the President, they reason, the hucksters not only bolster their own respective careers, but also the advancement of whatever emoluments and prerogatives accompany them. Criticism of the DOJ and FBI is, in this instance, then, nothing short of a brazen, sordid lie. Aristotle accorded to the politician and the work of the political in defining the life of a community his highest encomium. Today, ages later, we are often enough compelled to believe that, in their base amorality as the modern politician practices them, these modes of address are about the lowest thing that a man or woman might choose to engage. How we have fallen.

These events, then, provide the occasion for my profoundest worry, and that is, what they portend about the fate of the political party in the current climate. Anthropologically, it is interesting to contemplate the origins of partisanship that apparently disappear into the vast obscurities of the ancient tribe and the competitive energies and engines of life itself and its mandates of survival; Western literature in its oldest forms registers antagonism and contention as the longest strand of continuity that links the modern world to its ancestral legacies—colloquially speaking, folks fighting one another, in season and out, with sickening consistency and searing oblivion for love, manna, status, the rights to use and the entire spectacle staged and executed under the auspices of envy and mimetic desire. Dante’s Ghibellines and Guelphs, Shakespeare’s Houses of Lancaster and York offer pleasant distraction in a world of Democrats and Republicans where the stakes are too real to ignore; if the contest remains the order of the day, then it goes without saying that it takes “both sides,” but it seems to me that the long arc of decline in which the National Republican Party is now captured, tracking all the way back to “a scoundrel time,” as Lillian Hellman once contended, and the depredations of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, is no longer the business of only those voters who identify with its political interests, but now threatens the whole social and political fabric, according to the conduct of its leadership; this writing is not the last time that this voting, tax-paying observer will have the opportunity to wonder out very loud how it is still possible that these men and women are allowed to go on in their treacherous behavior, why millions of people entrust their lives and the lives of their children, whom they purport to care about, to this slaughter of bloodless hypocrisy, its absolute evacuation of any principle whatsoever. What is ceaselessly amazing to me is that Republicans must know that the script out of which they are currently operating is as transparent in its abandonment of responsibility to the public good as a brand new Baccarat champagne glass, but there’s no beauty in it. Recently crowing over the tax-cut bill, the Speaker of the House of Representatives—I think of him as the quintessential frat boy from Wisconsin—actually called this iteration of the Presidency “exquisite” in its “leadership”! Once upon a short time ago, I loved this word, which I rarely used, but I’m irritated to regret that I will now have to let go of it, or be forever haunted whenever I hear it from now on by this particular contextual abuse. This is what happens when craven ass-lappers and liars get hold of your language—they dirty it and you too.

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