“I hear an army charging upon the land…”
— James Joyce, Poems Pennyeach
Yes he said yes he did he did he said Pete Buttigeig said yes he said yes, his favorite novel is Ulysses.
While this is cause for cautious optimism if not relief, it should be contextualized by other things that are also true.
For example, while it’s true that Obama knows who T.S. Eliot was, and apparently when feeling down about the apparent No Exit reality of existence, he reaches for V.S. Naipaul, is preferable to the current troglodyte whose idea of nuance is detecting authentic breasts from those enhanced by silicone, let’s not forget that the former used what he claimed was secret evidence to justify the execution of an American citizen, expanded the Orwellian panopticon to Borg Cube levels, and gave a trillion dollar hand job to Wall Street.
Bill Clinton used to talk to Garcia Marquez, and can quote Hemingway and Faulkner from memory, and knows that playing the sax doesn’t make you Coltrane but, there are still Americans in prison who shouldn’t be and he helped put them there.
The last time a prominent American political figure offered a thoughtful answer about their favorite philosopher, it was Bobby Kennedy who in the run up to finding Calvary on the dirty floor of a kitchen at a hotel, spoke with admiration for Camus.
That of course doesn’t mean Operation Mongoose wasn’t some sort of byzantine episode of familial psychosis played out on an international stage, it just means the corpses get better and more elegant eulogies.
There’s a scene in an episode of The West Wing where Josh (Bradley Whitford) is explaining to Donna (Janel Maloney) that while he doesn’t believe the president is going to reach for Immanuel Kant in the Situation Room, he’d rather a president who knows such people exist than one who doesn’t, let alone one who not only doesn’t know but is contemptuous of those who do.
It’s no small thing, as we mentioned previously, that during a brief interview at the nominating convention in 1960, JFK knew who Norman Mailer was, and that he had written, The Deer Park. Mailer being Mailer, was irritated that Jack was getting better press and more pussy but one wants to believe that if you’re going to have a pirate ship for a country, you want a Black Beard who knows a Martello Tower from a mole hill.
And so back to Pete.
The thing is that while he’s infinitely better than the sadistic freak currently ensconced in the center of the circus he’s offering what amounts to the same old liberal menu. He doesn’t want to end capitalism he wants to make it nicer.
Which, despite certain policy quirks, and shifting x to y and y to x, is pretty much what every other candidate who isn’t Trump is offering.
They all agree about healthcare, more or less, and they all agree that regulations should be tighter, and that taxes should be evenly collected, and the environment needs protecting, and yada, yada, yada.
But not one of them, not your kindly, if somewhat out of touch grandad Joe, or your kindly if slightly odd uncle Bernie, or your sincere if slightly straight-laced aunt Liz, or your cool university lit prof who’s husband is very nice, and who’s favorite novel is by a kinky jazz freak from Ireland, is going to come out (no pun intended) and say, capitalism has to end.
The closest we’ve come in the current crisis moment is AOC saying that capitalism is irredeemable but, notice that the comment sort of faded into the wall of sound that makes up her cult.
The truth is capitalism is one half of the reason the environment is in free fall and the other is human stupidity. You might be able to do something about the former but the latter is seemingly hardwired into the template of consciousness – and if so makes doing anything about the first one problematic at best and at worst, hopeless.
And even if it’s not, the fact is the only way to save the planet is to start rolling back capitalism and (to consider one obvious example) starting with FDR’s Four Freedoms means forcing people to accept that food, healthcare, housing and education are not commodities but are human rights.
And liking Ulysses is not going to make that happen.
It’s only going to happen when people stop participating in their own destruction and if they stop participating the people who benefit from the current system will do what they always do when they are threatened – they’ll get hysterical, then they’ll make threats, and then they’ll kill people.
When you listen to Pete he sounds bright enough, and logical, and empathetic, and smart enough to do a good job.
But the fact is there’s either going to be a revolution or not.
In fact there’s probably going to be one regardless of who’s in the White House and if you had any doubt as to what the response will be from the official goon squad just recall that a few weeks ago Mouth of Sauron N02, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, when asked about climate change, that such issues should be left up to god.
No, she wasn’t joking.
It says something essentially positive about America that the gay, married, mayor of a Midwestern town can be taken seriously as a candidate for president. But tens of millions of people also voted for a malignant troll who not only has never heard of James Joyce, but probably couldn’t find Dublin on a map if the CIA built him an interactive 3D model and glued it to his oddly small hands.
The environmental crisis is to our time as slavery was to the 19th century. There is no way the ruling class is going to surrender its power without a fight. There is no way to save the planet without ending capitalism. Capitalism can not be ended without a revolution.
There’s a graveyard where Michel Furey is buried. Surveying the kingdom of the past, Joyce looked over Ireland, and creation, and never abandoned hope but he also never forgot, history takes no prisoners even as it holds everyone hostage to fate.