some thoughts on insurrection

Though the internet is rife with hot takes and first drafts of recent history, I personally find it hard to know exactly what to say in the aftermath of the Little Coup That Couldn’t. This is the kind of thing that I think will take more than two and a half days to form a coherent opinion about, so my hat’s off to all these fucking pundits hitting three point shots from the goal line about What It All Means and How We Got Here. I’m just a washed-up novelist who pays her bills making Long Island iced teas for comedians down by the airport, so if you came here for hard-hitting analysis, well, abandon all hope, amigo.

My first instinct when I woke up yesterday was to put on GZA’s Liquid Swords, which opens with this clip from Shogun Assassin: “It was a bad time for the empire. The shogun just stayed inside his castle and he never came out. People said his brain was infected by devils.” Seems like an accurate description of the feckless gavone who’s spent the last year sowing seeds of violent insanity only to retreat back under his taxpayer-funded rock once the reaping got too real for him. What do you even say about shit like that? If this recent insurrection actually had happened during the time of the shogunate, the only appropriate answer would be a death poem and a dawn disembowelment to atone for the shame. Alas, Ted Cruz hasn’t elected to go that route. 

The most pervasive thing I feel, in this moment, is the awareness that I haven’t been this glued to the news since 9/11, when I sat with my roommates in our college dorm with our faces glued to the glassy surface of our TV, trying to make sense of the devastation unfolding live on CNN. You have to remember, this was twenty years ago, before cable news anchors really got into Method acting. Back in those days they were still just babes in the woods who read the news off the prompter without interrupting themselves to rend their garments or bleed from their eyes in anguish for our fallen republic.

One of my roommates had a unique response to the events of that fateful September morning. She’d been up late writing a paper and when we woke her to tell her what was happening, she pursed her lips for a moment and said, “Oh, okay.” And after some prodding she explained that her parents, who worked fairly high up in the federal government, had called her two days earlier and told her to stay put in the dorm, that they wouldn’t be available for a few days because they were “on call”. 

“They must have known something was going to happen,” she said. “They’ve never told me not to come home from school before. This must be what they were talking about.”

This stayed with me for days. They must have known just bounced around my brain like a pinball as I floated between CSPAN and CNN over the next few weeks, watching the flurry of voting on the Patriot Act, the declarations of war, the hard shift of gears into a cultural dynamic of hyper-militarization, surveillance, and normalized bigotry that our country has never really deviated from since. People had known it was going to happen. They’d been on high alert. And then the Shit Went Down and it was a whole Congress full of Claude Rains impersonators. 

What that means for then, or now, I’m still not totally sure, but I’ve thought about it frequently as more and more ineptitude, conspiracy, and despair has been revealed in the 48 hours since a seditious mix of white supremacists, CEOs, real housewives, cultists, off-duty cops, a few decorated veterans of our military, and several dozen fucking morons gleefully trampled the Capitol. There is a story here about the symbols we are taught to revere as Americans and our subsequent dramatic trashing of those symbols on live television, and I’m sure somebody at The New Yorker will write it before the month is out. 

There’s a lot to unpack here, as they say, but only if we really wanted to: the Republican party’s long running love affair with fascism and white supremacy and all the nightmare scenarios that have stemmed from it; the studies documenting how easy it is to influence and mislead people online with the right blend of SEO, UX, and ad revenue; the stories of how Mussolini skied bare-chested; the list goes on and on. I look forward to the prestige podcasts and docu-series this shameful week in our national history will inspire, because if nothing else, mayhem makes for great content. 

The only thing I know for certain after four decades of life in America is that politics is fundamentally corrosive to the human spirit. It does not matter how good or how guileless your intentions may be, nobody gets out unscathed. There are existential problems facing humanity and I think politics is one of them. I don’t know what the answer is to that observation, I don’t know what any of the answers are, and I think maybe if more people admitted that they’re also stumbling around in the dark, it might help us come together and fix this thing before it’s too late. 

I’m fairly depressed about things, to be honest with you, but I majored in Rhetoric, not Philosophy, so I can’t solve these problems, I can only gripe about them hyperbolically. And my gripe is that I just want to live in a world where the common good is good enough for all of us. Where the goal is maintaining a clean planet, where everyone has enough to eat, where children can grow up well-nurtured and well-educated, where adults are too busy enjoying the freedoms of a safe and compassionate society to bicker with each other on cable TV. I realize that’s an idealistic vision, and I hate that it’s such a reach for our species that it has to be considered idealistic at all. So, how about this? I’d like to live in a country where the first call for invoking the 25th Amendment doesn’t come from the fucking National Manufacturers’ Association, a federation of corporate interests that sounds like it came straight out of a Pynchon novel. I’d settle for not hearing from fucking Chevron when our national leaders are incapable of certifying an election peacefully. Maybe instead of a world without nuclear weapons, I’d settle for one where the guy who can’t be trusted to run his own Facebook account responsibly doesn’t still have unrestricted access to the launch codes. 

These might be the end times, but you can’t make me like them. I want to believe that as a species, we are destined for more than behaving like a bunch of rabid street monkeys on a crime spree, but I don’t know if that’s really true. As I was laying out my beautiful dream of world peace in that last paragraph, a friend of mine alerted me to the story of the Capitol rioter who induced his own fatal heart attack by accidentally tasing himself in the nuts as he attempted to pilfer a portrait of Tip O’Neill. So maybe the reality is that everyone sucks and this planet deserves to burn up in an asteroid collision, but I’m not capable of admitting this to myself because I once had a near-death experience and I’m convinced that humanity is still, in spite of how absolutely fucking embarrassing it is, capable of profound and beautiful things. 

We may yet recover as a country, but it’s just too early to say, and anybody who can tell you they know where it all goes from here is a fucking moron who’s clearly gleaned no spiritual insights from the last twelve months. All I know is that I’ve seen Planet of the Apes several times, and despite its poignant lessons about the worst compulsions of human nature and the poor likelihood of productive inter-species cooperation, no matter what happens next I’m the type of person who will be here, on this beach, insistent that it all could have been prevented, shaking my fist at nothing until the final tide goes out. 

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