Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Poison of Hope

By sheer coincidence, or happy accident, I was listening to a James Taylor album, Walking Man, while everyone at the DNC was waiting to hear Hillary Clinton give what they were touting was going to be the "most important speech of her life", accepting the nomination of her party as the first woman candidate for president in American history. I admit that, even though I am a proud Leftist, I saw and heard about as little of the DNC as I had of the RNC. I find such spectacles to be unbearably effusive. As one of the converted, why do so many if the homilies of the Democrats sound so fulsome and sometimes hollow? So, rather than wait for any of the speakers who preceded Hillary's historic speech to "play the other side" and say something original, something I haven't heard a hundred times, I pushed the "mute" button on my TV remote control and put on some music.

James Taylor's album Walking Man starts off with the title track, which has always been one of my favorite songs: "Well the leaves have come to turnin'/And the goose has gone to fly/And bridges are for burnin'/So don't you let that yearnin' pass you by . . ." But the first track is the only song on the album that became a hit, even making it to Taylor's Greatest Hits album.

But after that, what caught my ear was track #3, the song called "Let It All Fall Down." Taylor wrote it in response to Richard Nixon and Watergate, which was one of the lowest points in U.S. history. Nixon's crimes, his cocksure confidence that he was above the law, and the necessity of forcing him to resign, which saved the country further upheaval, made many Americans (like Taylor) doubtful that politics was fair or that it could bring about positive change.

The song starts, sarcastically, with the opening bars of "Hail to the Chief" and then launches into some of Taylor's most biting lyrics:

Sing a song for the wrong and the wicked and the strong and the sick, as thick as thieves.
For the faceless fear that was never so near, too clear to misbelieve.
Well the sea is jumping salty and the porpoise has the blues,
my recollection's faulty and I cannot find my shoes.
And my wiring is misfiring due to cigarettes and booze,
I'm behind in my dues, I just now got the news.
He seems to tell us lies and still we will believe him,
then together he will lead us into darkness, my friends.

Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.
Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.

The man says stand to one side, son, we got to keep this big ball rolling.
It's just a question of controlling for whom the bell is tolling.
Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.
Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.

There'll be suffering and starvation in the streets, young man.
Just where have you been, old man? Just look out of your window, man.
Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.
Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.

Well, it ain't nobody's fault but our own,
still, at least we might could show the good sense
To know when we've been wrong, and it's already taken too long.
So we bring it to a stop then we take it from the top,
we let it settle on down softly like your gently falling snow
or let it tumble down and topple like the temple long ago.

Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.
Let it fall down, let it fall down, let it all fall down.

Gerald Ford, Nixon's successor, finally brought an end to the Vietnam conflict in 1975 by simply pulling the plug. Our clear defeat in Vietnam, despite the degree of destruction we wrought on the tiny country and neighboring countries, and the cost in both American lives and American dollars, was a double failure because we so swiftly turned our backs on it and neglected to try and learn something from it. Even the rash of Vietnam War movies, good and bad, that ensued failed to teach Americans anything about American power and its catatrophic misuses.

This coming November 8, American voters will be faced with what is easily the worst choice of candidates ever. Donald Trump is far too ridiculous to take seriously. His attitudes toward people - everyone who isn't in his tax bracket (whatever it may be) - are loathsome and detestable. He is clearly in it for the power that the office of president will bestow on him, not being satisfied with ruining other people with his rapacious acquisition of money, by any means necessary. Despite the amount and degree of personal attacks that his candidacy has provoked, he is obviously all-in.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is the other half of the biggest power couple in modern history. They seem to have arrived at a secret pact that keeps them together no matter what scandals, past, present and future, come down the pike. Whatever progressive ideals she may ascribe to, it seems to me that the White House has been her ultimate goal for at least the last fifteen years - since she had to move out of the White House in 2001. She was certainly one of the most active - and strident - First Ladies in history, even if her activities seemed to be a distraction - for her at least - from the incessant scandals that swirled around her husband. The result is that separating herself from him and from the bad smell he left in the room (regardless of what he accomplished as the president) was surprisingly effortless.

I had an image of Hillary in 2008, gliding calmly down a long red carpet toward the Democratic nomination, her eyes fixed ahead of her, when suddenly she was overtaken by Barack Obama and watched, transfixed, as he snatched the prize away from her. Despite her support for Obama throughout his two terms, and even her promises to continue some of his reforms, nobody has been mistaken about her intention to replace him. Her procession down the red carpet this time, despite the surprising noise of Old Bernie Sanders coming up behind her, was uneventful. She is now the first woman to be nominated by a major political party to run for president.

I couldn't bring myself to listen to Hillary's historic acceptance speech on Thursday night (Friday morning where I write this). Whatever she had to say about the great cracks appearing in the "glass ceiling," she seems to be exploiting the history of the moment. And why shouldn't she? I just don't think she would've got this far, or nearly as far as this, if her name wasn't Clinton.

Both sides in this presidential race are telling their supporters to vote for their candidate because victory for the other candidate will be a disaster for our country. The two parties are asking us to overcome whatever misgivings we may have against their candidate because, no matter how grave those misgivings may be, allowing the other candidate to win will bring about the end of America as we know it. And not voting - or voting for a third-party candidate - will certainly precipitate the election of the more loathsome candidate. The Devil or the Deep Blue Sea.

Searching online for material about Saul Bellow's Herzog, I came upon several pages in PDF format of what appear to be Bellow's typewritten notes to the novel. One note stood out:

"p.4 He now sat down, Not that long disease my life, but that long convalescence, my life. The liberal-bourgeois revision, the illusion of improvement, the poison of hope."

To this, all I can say is,

Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavory guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark!*


*Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Scene 3.

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