“Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour
And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge”
— Jackson Browne
— After the Deluge
As of now the single most fascinating aspect of the Trump era has been the alchemy that has turned the extreme right into enemies of the FBI.
Traditionally of course the extreme right as well as what passes for a moderate republican have been cheerleaders for the Hoovers from the first time J. Edgar found a pair of large patent leather Mary Janes to wear all the way through his decades long assault on the Bill of Rights.
The merger of the right and what passes for the not right – i.e. the democrats – began with 9/11 and the unconstitutional and treasonous passing of the “Patriot Act.” The “Patriot Act” was of course an enormous blank check that allowed the intelligence agencies to finally make their wet dream of an all-encompassing Orwellian surveillance state a reality.
As has been said elsewhere the merger of the corporate with the state is the apex of fascism. America is of course no exception because of course American Exceptionalism is a lie. Thus, Facebook and Google and ATT and the rest are essentially wholly owned subsidiaries of Orwell Inc.
There is a certain grim amusement in watching the media get its shorts in a knot as they “discover” and are “shocked” to discover that Facebook has been harvesting data and selling it and that they were almost certainly willing tools of a foreign government’s assault on the election (notwithstanding the even deeper irony and historical blowback that rests on the fact that the implosion of the Soviet Union and the rise of Putin were the result of the US inserting itself into the bloodstream of Russia*) even though this is the same media that splashed Edward Snowden on every screen just a few years ago. Then again since they no longer bother with the pretense that their audience has any ability to remember, why shouldn’t they act as if they don’t have one either.
To put it another way this is a circular firing squad. There never was any integrity among any of these people – the Hoovers, the republicans, the democrats, the media and the corporations but there was a lot of talk that suggested there was. And of course that talk came in the form of advertising because the other product they were all selling was the idea that they had integrity.
And it is worth noting that we don’t mean to conflate integrity with ideology though there are ideologues who maintain a particular worldview that guides their actions and in a sense they display a type of integrity.
For example, Barry (Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice) Goldwater may have been a Dr.Strangelove-esque loon but he acted out of a profound belief in a set of ideals vs, say Nixon who cracked under the weight of his own delusions, and could slither from arch cold warrior and neo-fascist to the guy who backed the creation of the EPA, or Kissinger whose only sense of ethics was based on what was in it for him and so on. Bill Clinton’s ethics, as such, were based on the idea that moving to the center was the way to get elected and getting elected was the one and only issue even if it meant sending a man with diminished mental capacity to his death in order to maintain a tough on crime persona and win the election. And there is a certain logic to that reasoning because you can’t do anything unless and until you get elected. Of course there is a certain logic to the reasoning that demands the trains run on time or that Poland should become part of the Reich but that doesn’t make it right only understandable.
We could go on but why bother? We all know that Obama was as feckless as the rest of them and that W. Bush was a train wreck of twists and turns that render the idea of a moral center meaningless except as a place for target practice.
What matters now is that the system which previously had a set of fairly well defined lanes from which one was encouraged not to stray, is breaking down and no one can say what will rise from the ashes.
Which brings us back to where we started – watching the extreme right turn on the FBI and scream that the Hoovers have been abusing their privileges.
Consider that evil leprechaun and ghost of Confederate’s past, Jeff Sessions has announced that while he won’t appoint a special prosecutor (yet) to look into the FBI/DOJ use and potential misuse of the FISA Court, he did set up the equivalent of a loudspeaker on the National Mall to let everyone know there’s already a Federal Prosecutor looking into the issue.
In other words, Sessions, as wiley a pol as any other, split the difference to buy time. He reserved the right to appoint his own Tourqamada to help protect himself and Trump Inc. from Mueller, and he gave the mob of pitchfork and torch wielding Hannity and Limbaugh goons a target – namely the Federal Prosecutor, John Huber. Here, says Sessions, chew on his ass for a while and if he fucks up come and see me. Thus Sessions maintains his shaky greasy grip on his connection to his old stomping ground in the Senate as well as his shaky greasy grip on Trump’s balls.
But, the clock is ticking and they all know it.
While it is clearly true that the FBI and DOJ abuse the FISA Court and the FISA court has the sense of injured chastity one associates with high priced courtesans and street walkers aiming to refill their crack pipe, the fact is the republicans and even the lunatic fringe of Limbaugh and Hannity are not wrong.
Anyone who dismisses The Deep State as a bad episode of the x-files is either a fool or someone paid to be a fool. Of course there are cadres inside the intelligence agencies and the rest of the bureaucracies that comprise the system.
That they (the right wing of the right wing are right) but for all the wrong reasons, and that they are outraged not as a matter of insulted or wounded honor but out of political necessity and pathological mendacity is also not unimportant but in a sense beside the point.
The fact is that the extreme right has closed the circle and merged with the extreme left (or what passes for the left in contemporary America) and acknowledged the 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the nation’s livingroom – the government is spying on everyone including itself and it’s a catastrophe. Exactly as we were warned it would be by Orwell, and Huxley and Kafka and Zamyatin and everyone else who ever said: Hey, mass surveillance is evil and here’s why…but, and this crucial: mass surveillance is an adjunct to mass consumerism which relies on mass surveillance. Thus, it is a rather precise circle of social life, a beautiful circle in which consumerism feeds surveillance which feeds consumerism which…
Another amusing, aspect of this is watching the democrats ride to the defense of the FBI’s honor, such as it is, and the extreme left (by which we mean the ossified assortment of dried turds that scream from the ramparts at the London Review of Books while waving pictures of Trotsky and Che) claim that the Russians had nothing to do with Trump winning and you can’t possibly trust the intelligence agencies to tell the truth.
Which of course is ironic in that it means the extreme left intelligencia is making the same argument as the extreme right though of course with bigger words and more obscure literary references.
And the thing is that again, they may be right but even if they are it’s for the wrong reasons. While only a made member or a moron would defend the legacy of the intelligence agencies the irony is that since they are the political equivalent of a chronic alcoholic, and there’s no reason to trust them, we end up trusting them because someone is looking to cut off their supply of booze. The left says they can’t be believed because they’re drunks, and that’s true but Trump is their rock bottom and if you want to know what their delirium tremens look like – well, it’s bright orange, had a comb-over designed by a detoxing Oxy-addicted drag queen, and a sense of ethics that would make a Medici Pope get a hard-on.
But then, we’re again back to where we started. The FBI and the DOJ have been abusing their obscene privileges and they may very well be called out for it. By the most obnoxious member of the establishment…Trump.
There is a kind of clockwork precision to all of this that provokes admiration as much as dread. After all, one of the reasons people such as Sophocles are still hanging around is because when you strip away the togas and the columns what you’re left with are themes that never go stale.
Watching the hero search for the source of the crime or the plague or both while it slowly dawns on him that he’s the criminal, fascinates. It fascinates because it speaks to complicity and complicity is what we drag around like a warped shadow that won’t ever leave us alone.
Trump is a vile unhinged monster; a professional demagogue and an amateur fascist who is destroying the fragile structures of the system. But, it’s not as if the system wasn’t a whore house to begin with and it’s not as if America Inc. hadn’t already left a mountain of skulls on every continent long before Trump Inc. set up shop.
Though they may try there is no getting around the Neville Chamberlain-esque mendacity of Obama trading his already gossamer integrity for a stab at stability when he said yeah we tortured some folks but it was a stressful moment and the delicate geniuses of the intelligence agencies were freaked out so back the fuck off yo.
Okay we made up the second part but the first part with its downhome use of folks in place of human beings begets the second – that is Obama was trapped. Like the hero/villain in a Greek tragedy who realizes his greatest sin was hubris. In Obama’s case as we’ve discussed elsewhere it was the arrogance that led him to be seduced by Ted Kennedy and to think that 18 months in the senate was more than enough time to have built a playlist of favors owed and launch a bid for the presidency.
The obvious retort is of course that he won and nothing else matters.
Except, he didn’t win so much as he trapped himself inside a machine that takes no prisoners but holds everyone hostage.
When Obama said we tortured some folks but leave it alone because there were extenuating circumstances he was covering up the crimes of people with whom he shared a political bed.
Go after the previous regime for its crimes and you would unleash a circular firing squad.
So he punted.
And now you have Trump.
And Trump is not a creature of the system in the sense that he plays by its rule though he is a creature of the system in the sense that he is the ambulatory shit monster left behind by the system’s crimes.
Trump is the accumulation of every evil thing the system has tucked under the bed or swept under the national carpet. He is the accumulated detritus of an immoral system that has now returned to eat itself.
Choose your pop culture point of reference.
The creature from the ID in Forbidden Planet. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Smog Monster that attacks Tokyo or Godzilla brought to life by atomic bombs. The creature from the Black Lagoon or any of those beasts come round at last slouching towards Bethlehem waiting to be reborn or words to that effect.
These metaphors exist, and resonate because they speak to a consistent human trait – kicking the can down the road and refusing to take responsibility for one’s sins. And those are sins of omission as much as they are sins of action.
That Trump is a sleazy Queens real estate goon is true. But what matters more is that sleazy real estate goons from Queens have been part of the fabric of the system for a very long time and everyone was okay with it up until one of them seized control of part of the system. Gatsby wasn’t written last week. Dismiss Pynchon and DeLillo and hardboiled detectives as either nonsense of no social merritt or as paranoid conspiracy mongers one step above the x-files as much as you like but the fire has been going for a long time and the system with its calcified decadent Roman-esque senators like Diane Feinstein, and country neo-fascist squires like Jeff Sessions have been complicit since day one. And of course while it’s easy to loathe both of them for their mendacity and corruption and imperial tone, never forget that they are easy targets by design. What is kept safely and discreetly off stage are the loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires who bought and paid for them and the other 98 empty togas to do their bidding.
And now things begin to get interesting. And as with your surgeon and your airline pilot the last thing you want is for things to get interesting.
Trump is a symptom.The disease is the system as a whole with its systemic sins and corruptions and it labyrinth of lies and half truths all in the name of the ever receding thing called national security. A concept so vague that neither a team of Quantum Mechanics nor a gang of strict Viennese Freudians could define it. One week it’s defending our friends in Europe and the next it’s our traditional allies like Saudi Arabia. One minute it’s looking the other way while the Chinese eat themselves and the next it’s yelling at the Chinese for making a mess after they’ve eaten themselves. It is, as the old SNL skit had it, a floor wax! No, it’s a dessert topping!
Of course the professionals will say yes that’s right – the opaque and the endlessly flexible allow us to survive and that is what matters. You must, they say, learn to see the big picture.
And we take them at their word. The big picture – apologies to George Costanzana and the Big Salad – but the big picture is pretty much clear. The environment is collapsing. Experts are predicting the end of the world in a matter of a few decades. The war of the all against the all is unfolding in the system’s center with the republicans losing their minds and trying to set the FBI and the DOJ on fire while the FBI and the DOJ run around with their gasoline soaked underwear on their heads and the democrats try to lead them to the relative safety of their caucus which has all the moral strength of a bowl of jell-o. In other words if your best bet is Nancy (we’re capitalists get used to it) Pelosi, well, you’re pretty much fucked.
And around this ring of hell the corporate sociopaths and psychopaths count their lucre and their lawyers and everywhere the blood dimmed tide is loosed and no The Avengers are not going to save us.
A lonely and essentially bittersweet if not hopeless solo voice repeats at the end of one masterpiece after another. Ishmael at the end of Moby Dick afloat on a coffin is alone and survived to tell thee though rescued by the Rachel searching for orphans (which may be far more purgatorial than salvation). Jake Barnes at the end of The Sun Also Rises who says yes, isn’t pretty to think so, and of course Nick Carraway at the end of Gatsby who alone in the dark after the party speaks the funeral oration for a dream. The Eden of the new world was gone and he alone was there to tell us that the ideal had failed.
Where have you gone Joe Dimagio…
At the other end of the spectrum one finds Springsteen begging us not to give up and even if we were to split the difference and say both stories, both narratives are true, we end where we began.
Trump is a cancer, a suppurated wound on the nation’s soul. But he did not arrive by magic and by magic we don’t mean the Russians did or didn’t connive to install him. Because even Putin is a symptom.
This machine, this contraption, this system is dead. It has not yet stopped kicking or breathing or belching but it is dead.
The task before us is first, to survive the deluge. After that, begins the true work. We must dedicate ourselves to the quest of achieving freedom from lies that are told and sold to us with our cars and our houses and our jobs and the lies we tell ourselves as we consume and sell and consume still more.
But can we?
What will replace this failed system?
Will we survive alone adrift on a coffin to tell thee the story of what happened?
The title of this piece posits Trump as the last president of America.
We don’t mean there won’t be another election nor do we mean that there won’t be someone else to replace him. We mean the story is dead. They will create a narrative that is based on renewal and a restoration of a covenant and like the aftermath of any other liturgy or religious spectacle they will tell us that hope has come again. They will count on the chat show hosts to tell jokes and not bury Trump but embalm him so he can serve as a kind of national piñata always available so the next president can say: remember how bad it was before me, and so on.
They will give us solemn speeches and sarcastic digs and they will have the suits slip into the entertainment empires and suggest scripts that will become films that are favorably reviewed by the trained seals of the media and tell us stories of sin and redemption and the actors in those propagandistic bromides and the directors will go on chat shows which will sell us the story about how we fell and resurrected ourselves because…drum roll…that’s what America does.
But make no mistake, Donald Trump is the last president of America.
The big houses, Nick tells us at the end of Gatsby, were closed. Summer was over and fall was passing into winter. The past consumes everything no matter how hard we try and all of our energy eventually recedes into that inevitable landscape that lives in a perpetual forever behind us.
The system is dead but it doesn’t know it.
Trump is the end but the system won’t admit it because it clings to life and to power.
But it is the system that made Trump. And having disposed of him, having planted a steak in his heart and cut his head off and scattered his ashes to the four corners of the earth, the system remains.
And unless that is changed, nothing else will change and the seas will rise and the air will still turn to rust.
*And of course the insertion of the US into Russia’s political bloodstream is not an anomaly. This is exactly analogous to the Osama Bin Laden narrative. Selected as a conduit by the geniuses at the CIA who were operating in a decontextualized fog to undermine the Soviet suppression of Islamic radicals (a process going back at least the early 19th century and fodder for the likes of Tolstoy) Osama Bin Laden became OBL LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of America Inc. which is itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Money Inc. with the result being that Bin Laden mutated into an extreme form of blowback.