Monday, December 19, 2016

THE NEW REICHSTAG FIRE

   History allows us to make informed predictions. During times of contrived political transition, those in possession of real power exploit their own versions of the Reichstag Fire. I venture that we can expect the next version by early summer of 2017.
   The Reichstag Fire? Oh, that was the mother of all modern day contrived crises. On January 30, 1933, Germany's President, a somewhat weak and ineffectual leader named Paul von Hindenberg, appointed a man of small physical stature as Chancellor of the country of Germany. That man was, of course, Adolf Hitler. Less than one month later, on the evening of February 27, a fire was set at the German Parliament building, which they call their Reichstag. After what became known as World War II, a great deal of evidence came to light suggesting that elements of the Nazi Party were actually the perpetrators of the fire. But at the time a young Dutch communist emigre named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested, tried and executed for the crime. As Chancellor, Hitler used the fact of van der Lubbe's communist affiliation as an opportunity to enact what came to be called the Reichstag Fire Decree. Abolished were habeas corpus, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to use telephone and telegraph without being monitored. Less than one month later, the German Parliament passed the Enabling Act, which established Hitler as absolute dictator. 
   In America, of course, we do things differently. We don't pass Enabling Acts. We pass Patriot Acts. We do not ban free assembly. We establish Free Speech Zones. We would never allow the equivalent of a Chancellor to select our President. We allow the fans of Fox News to do it. Or the Russian oligarchy. Whichever is available.
   We have a history in this country of finding ourselves in crisis. In November 1928, Republican Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover won a majority in all but seven of the forty-eight states. By the end of October of the following year, the Great Depression had swallowed the country whole. Because Hoover did not believe in government intervention in public economics, he did nothing about it. His successor, Franklin Roosevelt, completely and immediately redesigned the American government and established the New Deal, ending the Great Depression and joining the Allied Powers in defeating the formal establishment of fascism.
   Three months prior to the Presidential election of 1964, on August 2, a naval destroyer ship, the USS Maddox, was in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the southeast shore of what was at that time known as North Vietnam. The crew of the Maddox discovered that they were being followed by a North Vietnamese torpedo ship and fired upon that ship. In retaliation, the North Vietnamese apparently fired back, although the ultimate damage to the Maddox was later discovered to have been but a single bullet hole. Two days later the National Security Agency reported that a second attack had occurred, this time on a ship called Turner Joy. Years later the Defense Department admitted that the second attack never actually happened. 
    President Johnson, in response to what he claimed was the communist aggression of the North Vietnamese government, went to the United States Congress and requested absolute power to wage conventional war in Southeast Asia. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress on August 10 and that document gave us the Vietnam War. The first attack had amounted to little more than mussing the hair. The second attack did not happen. Neither event occurred in what the President referred to as "international waters," but rather in a body of water the North Vietnamese considered to be their own. In the war that resulted, more than two million Vietnamese died and 58,000 U.S. servicemen lost their lives as well. 
   On November 4, 1979, exactly one year to the day before the 1980 U.S. Presidential election, Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, holding fifty-two diplomats and other unclassified Americans hostage for 444 days. Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan effectively used the existence of this crisis to portray his opponent, incumbent President Jimmy Carter, as a weakling and himself as the infusion of traditional American strength so sorely needed by a tired but determined nation. Reagan won and four years later he won again.
   On September 11, 2001, less than nine months into the Presidency of George W. Bush, fifteen Saudi Arabians, two citizens of the United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian and one Lebanese hijacked U.S. airliners and flew two of them into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane probably in route to Washington which crashed in Pennsylvania. The consequences of these attacks were the aforementioned Patriot Act, the war in Afghanistan and, erroneously, the war in Iraq. 
   One thing that each of these crises have in common is a substantial, measurable and palatable increase in domestic patriotism. In World War Two, the patriotism manifested in, among other indications, hostility toward Germans and Japanese. During the Iranian hostage crisis, the anger was directed at not only Iranians, but many people of Middle Eastern "appearance." And as memories of the U.S. attacks by Al-Qaeda blur in the mass mind with the contemporary attacks by Isis, we have seen a generalized suspicion of anyone who appears "Muslim." The Vietnamese experience was different in that we not only had a draft (as we had had during World War Two), but the events were happening ten thousand miles away and nothing tragic had occurred on American soil.
   All these crises--real and imaginary--initially led to an amazing tightening of the American spirit. As with Vietnam, however, eventually people began to have their suspicions that not everything their leaders said was necessarily true and eventually the leaders were met with some degree of resistance. Even the extremely popular Roosevelt was prohibited from stacking the Supreme Court with four added appointees. Even the inexplicably popular Reagan had the Iran-Contra Affair. 
   With the ascendancy of the man called Trump, is it likely that another crisis will present itself, one which will serve to legitimize his Presidency? At the time of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Lyndon Johnson had only become President upon the death of his predecessor John Kennedy. Three months later, with America in crisis, he soundly defeated extremist candidate Barry Goldwater. Presidents Roosevelt and Reagan were elected because of their skill at accentuating the presumed impotence of their opponents. George W. Bush narrowly lost the popular vote and only won the electoral college vote because of the interference of the Supreme Court. Johnson and Bush, unlike Roosevelt and Reagan, needed a crisis to give their presidencies legitimacy. LBJ exploited what he later admitted he had known was faulty intelligence. Bush the younger ignored the warnings of his Daily Presidential Briefing. What type of crisis will Trump exploit to solidify his power over the people of the United States?
   We have some clues. As I write this, four different and apparently independent terrorist attacks have happened within the last twenty-four hours. Trump's affinity for Russian president Vladimir Putin and the constant thumping the president-elect keeps giving the Chinese suggests that Trump may use whatever the crisis is as a means to form an alliance with the Russians against China. Whatever the crisis happens to be, it will need to be thwarted by Trump's intuitive brilliance, if you'll pardon the ridiculousness of that expression. Let's speculate for a moment. Suppose an American naval ship is doing some type of reconnaissance work in the Taiwan Strait based on (possibly) fabricated intelligence that the North Koreans are planning another nuclear missile launch. The Chinese spot the ship, warn it off, engage it in an exchange of fire, and appear to be on the brink of sinking it when, out of a clear blue sky, or sea, Russian intelligence learns of the incident--let's call it the Formosa Incident--and comes to the aid of the Americans. While news of all this comes in by steady Twitter updates, we also learn that the Chinese have been aiding pro-Isis Syrian militants, even though the previous U.S. administration had led us to believe that the Sino-Russian relationship in Syria had been collectively anti-terrorist. Had Trump not been so enthusiastic in his admiration for the Russian leader, the former KGB officer might have gone horseback riding in the Ural Mountains instead of blowing the Chinese to hell and back as a favor to America. 
   Maybe I'm just smoking the wrong flavor of banana. 
   Whenever a presidential candidate gains sufficient favor among the populace, the various U.S. intelligence agencies run predictability analyses to help assess what that person, should he or she become President, would do under conditions which might be called critical. Imagine that you are a member of a panel with one of those intelligence agencies and you are trying to anticipate Trump's behavior in the event of an incident on an equivalence with the Gulf of Tonkin or the Reichstag Fire. And how might those actions serve to not only legitimize his unsteady election results, but more to the point, how might they result in his consolidation of enormous power when carried out in conjunction with Army Generals, Confederate Sympathizers, Privatization Enthusiasts, Climate Change Deniers, and that shirtless wonder known as Putin? 
   Hey, I could be completely wrong. Maybe Trump will stop with a few tax breaks for big business, deregulate the oil industry and call it a day. Maybe all those loons who claim that Trump's spoken words and appointments happen only to start a dialogue are the ones who have truth in the eyeball. Maybe Trump actually does respect women, loves Mexicans, treasures democratic institutions, and knows that voter fraud went out with Charles Foster Kane. Maybe he just adopted his Lonesome Rhodes routine as a way of getting elected so he could shake the dandruff off the collars of the stodgy political system. Yeah, maybe.
   But I'm going with the Reichstag Fire Theory. 

    
   
    

Monday, December 5, 2016

NOTHING IS TRUE; EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED

  I first heard the expression from singer Jim Carroll, who first heard it from critic Lester Bangs, who first read it in William Burroughs' novel Cities of the Red Night, who first copped it from Betty Bouthoul's book Les grand maitre des Assassins (The Master of the Assassins). Betty probably picked it up from an Islamic trader in fine woolens who, the story goes, was prone to anarchic ravings against those who would try to encourage him out of his nihilistic snits. 
   "Nothing is true; all is permitted." 
   "There are no facts; only interpretations," warned Nietzsche. "What is. . . simply is. . .and then there are the stories we tell about it."
   Scottie Nell Hughes told an NPR audience, "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts." Hughes is a Trump supporter. Perhaps one day we will be able to say, with equal awkwardness, "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as Scottie Nell Hughes."
   If you thought people such as Lou Reed and Johnny Rotten were nihilists, well, think again, pardner, cuz them boys was mere pikers compared with the obligatory negatory mentality of the incoming regime of greasy-eyed minstrels harmonizing their glory stories of the way this here world ought to be a-workin'. This gaggle of smug kitten-faces strutting along the corners and hallways of glossy power tunnels are proving themselves to be the vilest collection of nihilists we've seen since Warren G. Harding invented the smoke-filled backroom. 
    The Trump people say things which embolden their supporters, things which have no resemblance to objective reality but which feed the quivering goosebumps that rise and fall along those supporters' spines. "Hillary Clinton cooks Israeli children livers in a Chinese restaurant in Soho!" It isn't true but when nothing is, what does it matter? In the world where objective reality gets kicked off the bus by the subjective driver, any nonsense people in power care to propagate gets treated as acceptable. Conversely, when something that actually is empirically accurate, such as the President-elect being guilty of racism, sexism, jingoism and more isms that a linguist at an etymology convention could muster, when that fact manifests itself with multiple sworn testimonies, legal rulings, video and audio feed, well, friends and neighbors alike, that's just "facts," with the quotes. Don't mean nothing about what the man is really apt to do when he gets in the office and 'sides, it is the will of the people.
   We were granted insights into this obfuscation early on when Trump discovered the word "Great." He loves that word and has embraced its use to the extent that it no longer has any meaning whatsoever. Making America "great" again, a "great" economy, "great" people, a "great" transition period, "great" generals, "great" guns: it means nothing and nothing is precisely what only the most optimistic can pray it delivers. More likely, we will discover that such adjectives in the mouths of Trumpeters has parallels in Orwell: War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.
   When facts disappear, or lose their importance, or cease to exist, then what we have is an embracing of Negation. When, during the vice-presidential debate, Tim Kaine observed as how the Trump policies were stacked against the majority of the American people, his adversary, Mike Pence, screwed up his face to convey a look of supreme distaste and sneered, "Now, Senator." He then with some frequency continued to assert that the very things we had all heard Trump say were not the man's words at all, and no, they were not metaphors or hyperbole or exaggerations used to make a cogent point--no, sir, they were simply never said in the first place and only a terribly biased media is the reason so many people incorrectly believe they heard what they in secret double-probation fashion manner did in fact hear. 
   One has to be a sick twisted rat whisker to think up this garbage.      But garbage, of course, is the essence of negation. Garbage is that which holds no value and hence is discarded. It is also a treasure to the ragged old people who dig through our garbage, so I assume that they were the ones who voted for the darkness which in turn means that Trump has become the President-elect of alley-sniffing glueheads who cling to the illusion that within every dumpster reeking from soiled diapers, dog feces, empty beer cans, cold pizza crust and snot there lies a bag of treasure. Perhaps that is why so many people voted against their own self-interests and elected a person who has made it clear that by "great" he means "unimaginably horrendous." We may have internment camps on every corner, an economy based on artificially inflated real estate values, white power politics on Wall Street, and the exploitation of our cities, but if you look close, things are really, deep down, at their very inner core, just great.
    In a world where "everything is permitted," which you might think of as the libertarian dream, we get an extreme type of Social Darwanism where the ones who enter the field with the best equipment and training that money can buy wipe the rest of the people off the field. The first thing negated by Nihilism is history. And history is the mother of truth. So while it is an historical fact that Donald Trump openly and with great cheer ridiculed many of the same people whom he now claims as allies (e.g., Ben Carson), it is also true that now, according to the Trumpeters, there is no truth and so Trump never actually said those things. And even if he were to admit, at some future time, that he did in fact say those things, he will much later prove to our collective satisfaction that his admission indeed did not take place. Likewise, while many people are convinced that they heard Mitt Romney refer to Trump as a con man, in this new world, because it is no longer convenient to Mr Romney to be thought of as someone who distrusted Mr Trump, the thought-tapes are erased and as we are all quite relieved to discover, Romney never actually said any such damn thing and the only reason a few people were under such a false impression is because of that counter-revolutionary corrupt mainstream media. 
   I could go on, but why? If I am correct in what I have written here, or if you are correct in agreeing with me, neither of us will be able to admit it in the near future, so perhaps we should simply shrug, smile and pretend we never had such silly thoughts at all. Maybe the Trumpeters will turn the tables, as they are wont to do, and accuse us of the very conspiracy-mongering in which they themselves trade so well. Or perhaps, one at a time, almost imperceptibly, we will, one at a time, disappear into the netherworld of NonPeople, a discorporated twinkling of vague recollections in the minds of others, soon forgotten beneath the crushing boot heels of the future. 
   Or we could resist.