100 Years and a Day

Image result for ottoman wwi

This is probably more racist than sensical, but the important thing is: what the hell is that one dude riding? 

For no real reason, other than it being a recent NYRB offering, I’m started reading Omer Pasha Latas: Marshal to the Sultan by Ivo Andric last night. There wasn’t a particular point to me reading it now, no search for present-day relevance. But of course, it is impossible to read just about anything now without tying it to our uneasy times.

Anyway, the book is about a cruel Turkish figure who comes to Sarajevo to subdue a rebellious and restive population, chafing under Ottoman rule. It’s set in the middle of the 19th-century, where exiled Hungarians still feel the pull of 1848 and hints of modernity seem even into this mostly-forgotten backwater.

While talking to a particularly stubborn local chief, the Marshal reminds him of what a sweepingly big deal his presence in Sarajevo really is. He says that an Ottoman serkasier (his title) comes to Sarajevo “maybe once a century, and sometimes not even that!” It’s meant to show the seriousness of the situation, of course, but also shows the grinding permanence of Ottoman occupation, which at that point had lasted nearly 400 years.

400 years! It’s impossible for us to imagine such a state of things, a sweep of time. Columbus had yet to take sail when the Ottomans swept into Europe, terrifying a weak and fractured continent. And while it had long been the “sick old man” of power politics, it still existed into the modern era.

However, it wasn’t to last much longer. One of the ironies hanging over the book (and I’m only like halfway in, so maybe this becomes more clear) is that Bosnia would only be under Turkish rule for a few more decades. In 1878, it became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sort of, anyway. It became administered by the Hapsburgs, following war between Russia and Turkey. Why did the Hapsburgs get it? Ask Gilded Age great powers, man, not me.

Anyway, in 1908 it was officially annexed following an artificial crisis, underscoring Turkish weakness in the Balkans and setting the stage for the Balkan wars of independence. This rising tide of nationalism also turned against the Hapsburgs, who sent one of their own to Sarajevo in 1914. Franz Ferdinand’s trip didn’t end very well for him.

And of course, yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the war that launched following Ferdinand’s killing by a Bosnian nationalist. It was a war that brought down empires and reshaped the world, that opened up the cruel bloodshed of the 20th-century, and that paved the way for greater horrors to come. The vast waste of the war, waged for the glory of the ruling classes and the wealth of empires, yoked by the ancient pomposity of nonsense treaties and paper-thin alliances, haunts us to this day. WWI seems more brutal, more hideous, more choked with mud and falling autumnal sadness, than any other conflict. We still feel it today.

Part of the reason for that, I think, is because to say “WWI: 1914-1918” is reductive and misleading idea. As we saw above, its roots stretched back into Ottoman times, into Balkan restlessness, born of hundreds of years of occupation. Hundreds! The cliched powderkeg of the Balkans didn’t come about in the wars if the early 1900s; it had been created through generations of powerful meddling, of treating it like a place on a chessboard, of squeezing every local rivalry and individual dream through the grinding fulcrum of a great game.

And WWI lasts until today, or at least its reverberations. It’s been a contention of this blog that the war in Syria, and the chaos of the broader Middle East, is the last act of the Ottoman Empire. The same is true in the Balkans.

The modern Middle East and the Balkans were both born of the same historic moment: when the rise of the nation-state coincided with the death throes of an ancient empire- the Ottomans. They aren’t exactly the same, of course. The Balkans went through a brief Austro-Hungarian phase, but that was due to the long-running collapse of the Ottomans, the Sick Man of Europe.

It’s hard to think about now, but these were places that had a political system in place for hundreds and hundreds of years (the Ottomans began to dominate in the 14th and 15th century). It was a multi-ethnic and ever-shifting empire, with central power waxing and waning, but never disappearing. When it died in the aftermath of WWI, it was suddenly due to be replaced by modern states.

We don’t really recognize that this is a long and uncertain process, but think of it like this: pretend you are reading a history book in the year 3500, or about 1500 years from now. (I know there probably won’t be books at that point, but you’re going to be dead by then anyway, so just go with it, ok?)

You’d read of the 500 years of Ottoman domination, and then the tumult of the 20th century. The Balkans were briefly dominated by the Soviets and Tito’s 3rd-wayism, and the Middle East by colonialism, followed by nationalism and tyranny, followed by religious fanaticism, until it all collapsed, slowly and then suddenly, starting in around 2003. But the thing is, that section wouldn’t be long.

We’re fewer than 100 years since the Ottoman’s collapsed, and while a lot has happened, it always seems like a lot happens when you’re living through it. But we’re still in the last rigor-mortis flicker, the dying tail of that millennial empire. The Soviets mutated the direction of the Balkans, but they were just a blip, a large factor in determining what would happen in the post-Ottoman Balkans, but still a mere factor in that longer story. Everything that has happened in the Middle East is part of that same tale. The mutations of colonialism, nationalism, and religion are just playing a role.

This isn’t, of course, historical determinism. But we also can’t ignore the continuity of history. We can’t pretend to live in rigorously-defined times, marked off by thick black lines. Want more proof that the past was just yesterday: Mohammed bin Salman, if he indeed becomes king, will be the first Saudi king not a son of Ibn Saud. Ibn Saud, of course, fought against the Ottomans. He was the dude who palled around with Lawrence of Arabia. His sons are still kings.

I get that one old man’s singular undying horniness doesn’t shed light on any universal truth about history, but the point is that we’re still living in the post-WWI world, which while epoch-defining and nation-shattering, didn’t come out of nowhere. It came out of short-sightedness. It came out of raw bloody-mindedness. It came out of the inability of the ruling class to see non-rulers as anything but pawns or money symbols. It came from unchecked power harrumphing its way toward greater wealth and glory. It came from a dimwitted adherence to symbols, and to convincing people that true individual brilliance came in getting torn up on barbed wire for the motherland.

As we move toward a new gilded age, more ferocious and entrenched than ever before, more ensconced by technology and a compliant media, and as we move back toward power politics, it is vital to remember the lessons of history. Today is different than 100 years ago. It has to be; we’re all an accumulation of what came before. There are different challenges and different dangers. But as we mourn the waste and hear the sudden stirring silence of the quieted guns, we need to reflect that the past isn’t over. It’s not even the past. It never is.

Advertisements

Protecting Mueller is A Vital Part of International Leftism

Image result for robert mueller

It’s true that a Republican head of the FBI isn’t the natural progressive ally, but strange times

After the victories (and coming victories) of the midterms, two things have happened: 1) Donald Trump is becoming seemingly more unhinged and conspiratorial, accusing Floridians and Georgians of massive voter fraud for the crime of counting all votes, and 2) he has fired Jeff Sessions, appointing in his place an un-confirmed hatchet man, some goonish Crossfit freak who thinks judges should have no power.

These things are not unrelated.

That’s why it was no surprise that tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets demanding that Congress protect the Mueller investigation. They probably won’t, as Mitch has clearly said he sees no need for it to be protected, and anyway, there are ways to thwart it without a complete shutdown. But the activism in the streets has shown that people are generally afraid of Trump’s looming authoritarianism, and hoping to make Congress afraid of their votes.

What I’ve noticed on the Left, though, is some grumbling about this. There is talk about how we shouldn’t rally for Jeff Sessions, or to protect Mueller, who I’ve seen described as “A Republican cop” (which is essentially true). And really, throughout the Russian investigation, there have been many leftists who call it at best a distraction, and at worst xenophobia. (Here I’m not including Glenn Greenwald, who has never been of the left).

The former charge, rallying to protect Sessions, is of course nonsense. No one was upset that Sessions got fired, except for what it meant for the Mueller investigation. The appropriate response is rueful mirth that such a horrible man met such an ignoble end, after taking the scorn and public abuse of a giant wet couch of a President. It’s what Sessions deserved. Unfortunately, he was also a very successful AG, in what he set out to do, succeeding in smashing civil rights, even unto the end. He was a genuine racist and old-school Concerned Citizen, and the country has suffered for his ever having power. It’s a black mark that he was allowed to rise to that position. He can go to hell.

And that might be the point of the anti-Mueller left: there are real horrible things that are happening in this admin. Kids in cages, police departments being given carte blanche to abuse civil rights, the starvation of Yemen, the wholesale packing of the environment to late-stage capitalism, the end of Roe, the death of labor, etc.

To me though, that is all part of the same cloth. Jeff Sessions had power at least in part because of Russian interference in the elections. And Russia helped Donald Trump win because he is a far-right-wing goon and would impose other far-right-wing goons. Yes, Putin also wanted to create chaos in our democracy, to weaken the US, but also because he is opposed to democracy. 

Vladimir Putin’s long-term idea for Russia is not to compete in a democratic world, but to weaken and destroy the democratic world and have a balance of great powers, in which Russia would be a vital part. He resents democracy for its messiness and for its ability to get in the way of strongman politics.

It’s all part of a whole. There are a few things around which Putinism revolves: it’s all about the misogyny, the racism, the virulent homophobia, the anti-Islam demagoguery, the hatred of “political correctness” and common decency, the trolling dishonesty, the reckless disregard for the truth, the ability to manipulate our perception of reality and muddle opposition, and the sneering hatred of anything that doesn’t fit a clownish idea of blood-and-soil masculinity.

It’s also being exported. In Russia, it has a Russian context, but we see it in Orban’s Hungary, in Poland, in France and Germany and Greece. We see it in the Philippines and in Brazil. These aren’t all exports of Putin’s plan, but they are part of a similar movement, an anti-environmental and anti-worker fake populism, an authoritarian revolt against the very real dangers and failures and atomization of capitalism and modernity.

It’s bad! It’s worse than what we have now, and what we have now is really bad. And as you may have noticed, what was described above is also the essence of Trumpism. It’s clear (and obvious) that Trumpism is part of this movement, given a particularly tacky American character and wrung through the grinder of our history and contradictions. It pulls at those contradictions, forcing them open, and making them worse. It’s anti-democratic.

That’s why the Left fights it, and why we should. But part of that is fighting this transnational fascism, or at least this far-right global movement, that is setting the world on fire. If Leftism is to mean anything, if there is to be a global left-wing movement, it has to mean that. It has to mean uniform opposition to a worldwide threat.

This isn’t a different enemy than the one the left has been fighting since the dawn of capitalism. After the ravages of last century’s Gotterdammerung, it is hard to say that we are at the peak of violent, cruel capitalism, but we are at some sort of hideous birth, the parturition of a fully-formed monster, something saggy and callous and with many teeth. It’s the disaster we’ve been fighting against.

That’s why the Mueller investigation isn’t a distraction; it’s a look at how this happened, and a key part of the story as to how we got here. It isn’t the whole story, and it isn’t an excuse. There’s a reason why Russia’s manipulations worked here. That’s the American story. Changing that story is part of the work of the left. But the manipulations are part of a global story. Fighting that is also the work of the left.

It has to be. If there is to be a left-wing foreign policy, fighting a ravaging right that mounts itself in opposition to everything decent is the key plank of that strategy. Fight it here, and fight it abroad. We don’t get to choose the times we live in. We live in these, and they are fighting times.

 

Midterms! Things For Which You Could Watch!

This song doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but it’s super pretty, and we could use that. It’s soothing and hopeful and maybe evokes the best of an America we need and NO I’M NOT DOING THIS JUST ENJOY THE SONG IT’S REALLY GREAT

In case you hadn’t heard, there are some fairly important elections today. At stake are several important local referendum, the control of governorships, and whether or not we enshrine the rule of a racist, xenophobic minority party in thrall to a tacky and cruel tin-pot Pol Pot and dedicated to stripping away democracy so they can permanently institute an earth-swallowing Age of Plutocrats in which workers are ground into dust for capitalism’s orgiastic endgame.

Here in Evanston, we’re also debating whether a big house should stay a big house or be turned into a dune.

There’s a lot to watch for tonight, both in individual races and in big-picture stuff. Let’s go through some of it! (parentheticals for individual races will be RCP polling averages)

Turnout. Early voting turnout has been enormous, with lines around the block for days and weeks before Election Day. In some states, early voting numbers have surpassed total vote turnout for the 2014 midterms. This is especially true among young  (or youngish) voters, who have seen triple-digit increases in key states like Texas and Alabama.

What remains to be seen is if this continues through today. It could be a surge in total voters, or part of an overall trend toward early voting for those who would have voted anyway. My guess is it is more of the former, and early anecdotal evidence (from Hollywood Mark Perrone among others) indicates that there will be lines all over all day.

That’s probably good news for Democrats, who need to outpace the polls. But chances are either way Trump will brag about his “big numbers, like no one has ever seen”.

Voter suppression. It’s going to happen. It’s happening in Georgia, where Brian Kemp is practicing rampant abuse of power in an effort to reinstitute Jim Crow. There have also been reports that Georgia police have been targeting GOTV efforts in African-American communities.

This is part of a broader trend of suppressing voter turnout and in many cases outright denying the right to vote for blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. It can be thuggish and Bull Connoresque, like in Kemp’s Georgia, or it can be thuggish and legislative, like in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states.

Indeed, that’s part of what this election is about: a last chance to overwhelm Republican majorities in statehouses so that this tide can be reversed. And if Democrats win, we have to hold their feet to the fire to create nonpartisan election committees so we can end gerrymandering and enshrine the true right to vote across the country.

Intimidation. 

There will be QAnon supporters calling in the police when they see voters bussed in or using guides, both of which are legal and acceptable. This is designed to make it harder for certain people to vote (I’m guessing not a lot of Q-heads are going to drop a dime on busloads of white retirees). This is not unrelated to the above point, and part of an overall trend toward fascism from the statehouses and from the ground.

Hacking. One of my biggest fears was a very deliberately-clumsy pretend-atempt by Russia (or Russian-related) hackers to help Democrats. That’s all that is needed for Republicans, and especially Trump, to destroy this election and institute harsher voter suppression laws. The cynicism will be outrageous. And the end result will be more chaos in our democracy, which I’m reasonably sure will not be able to survive.

A few months ago I said that what Russia does in this election will say a lot. Are they truly aligned with Trump and will interfere to help him, and idea made more plausible by his maddening refusal to strengthen electorial cyber-security. Or are they just looking to weaken America by creating a state of general higgedly-piggedly? Or do they feel the two are absolutely intertwined; probably the most reasonable assumption? We’ll see what, if anything, they do here.

Honestly, if there is a wave, I don’t think they could interfere enough to overturn it. But if Dems win, and there is even the slightest inkling that Russians helped influence one Democratic vote, even in a landslide, we’re completely unprepared for the cynical anger and countermeasures of the Republican majority between now and January.

The Unknown. Honestly, that’s the great unknown. What will this completely undemocratic force do if they lose? Accept it? Will Trump rail against his enemies and delegitimize the election? Will they blame China, as has been hinted? Will they appoint 7 Supreme Court justices in two months? Will they pull a North Carolina and try to limit the powers of the incoming House and Senate?

Honestly, anything can happen, and I can’t think about it right now. Moving on!

Individual Races. Here are some of the races I care about the most.

  • Stacey Abrams vs. Brian Kemp, Georgia governor. (Kemp +3) Abrams needs to be up a lot more to overcome the vast and massive efforts by Kemp to suppress the vote. Early voting is up a ton though, so who knows. Even if Abrams weren’t awesome this would be a race with enormous moral force lined up against Kemp, whose tactics can’t stand in a democracy. His ravening racism must be defeated. As it is though, she is awesome, and that’s the cherry on top. This race has deep historical meaning in this nation’s staggering attempts at being just and decent.
  • Andrew Gillum vs. Ron DeSantis, Florida governor (Gillum +4) Florida turning back blue is obviously a bellwether for 2020, so on a political level this is one to watch. But it is also great to see Gillum call out the Republican Party for being racist, or at least for being thought by racists to be racists. DeSantis is a stumbling Trump wannabe, and that Gillum pulls no punches and can win in a divided and truly weird state is a good sign that timidity is not the better part of valor in the age of Trump.
  • Tony Evers vs. Scott Walker, Wisconsin Governor (no RCP average, last Marquette poll is a tie). Fuck Scott Walker.
  • JB Pritzker vs. Bruce Rauner, IL Gov (Pritzker + like a billion) This race seems like a done deal. I have no great love for JB, though I did say that it was ok for progressives to support him, which his campaign credits for supplying their narrow margin of victory. But this race is important. Rauner has been trying to do to Illinois what Walker has done to Wisconsin: strip workers of their rights and demolish any and all social services. He’s been stopped so far, thanks to Mike Madigan, but who knows how long that can last. And in a post Roe world, we’re going to need someone who actually defends abortion rights in the midwest. All around us, states are making it harder and harder to have safe abortions, hearkening back to the bad old days of septic abortions and back-alley nightmares. We can’t let that happen in Illinois. We need to stay a safe haven. We need to defeat Bruce Rauner.
  • Laura Kelly vs Kris Kobach, Kansas Governor (Kobach +1). Kris Kobach is one of the worst people in American politics, a vote-suppressing bigot, a staunch xenophobe, a white nationalist, a supply-side fanatic, and a gun-toting trollish prick. After Sam Brownback ruined Kansas, Kobach wants to step in and double-down, while amping even further the culture wars. He embodies the GOP ideology that you need to support plutocracy, advance white nationalism, and mostly just pwn the libs. Laura Kelly seems pretty righteous, a solid and smart non-ideologue Kansas needs to recover.
  • Races that could mean something or another. I can’t tell you what specific races will be great signs around the country, except for here, where if Sean Casten defeats Peter Roskam it could be a Good Sign for Democrats that Suburban Women now hate Trump. But here are people who do know! This article, and this one. I’m sure there are a lot more, but this article is already longer than life, and I have to go vote.

There are obviously a lot of other races. Beto O’Rourke, of course, though I hold out not much hope. And god, if Steve King loses I will be thrilled beyond belief. Randy Hultgren losing in downstate Illinois would be a great harbinger, but don’t count on it.

There is more than the national races, of course. Winning governorships and statehouses is key rolling into 2020. It’s the best way to beat back this undemocratic tide. It could be our last shot.

We don’t know what Trump will do if they lose, except deflect blame. We don’t know what the Republican Party will do if they lose. But we know what they’ll do if they win, and that will be enough to keep us in a state of panic all day.

Enjoy this cold and rainy November Tuesday, everyone. Maybe try to vote!

US Sort-Of Pressure Will Change, Not End, Yemeni War

Over the last week, US Secretaries of Defense and State have called for an end to the war in Yemen, sort-of demanding a ceasefire within 30 days, and a plea for sides to come to the negotiating table.  This seemed to be the government taking action at the highest level, as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi turned a sudden spotlight on this ruinous conflict, and the death by hunger of Amal Hussein solidified a flicker of outrage.

In response, Saudi planes pounded San’a, currently occupied by the Houthis. Perhaps more dramatically, they and the coalition have intensified their push to capture al-Hudaydah, about to become an epicenter of the world’s misery.

By all accounts, the coalition have all but surrounded the city, cutting off roads and possibly already cutting off access to the port. The port right now acts as the thinnest of all lifelines for the country, a way to get aid and food into the country. If this is a true siege, as it is shaping up to be, the famine already reaping its way through Yemen will almost certainly intensify.

In a way, this makes a certain amount of sense. If the sides are actually going to come to the negotiating table in 30 days, they’ll want to consolidate as many potential gains as possible. But on the other hand, it seems impossible that the coalition will actually have control of Hudaydah in 30 days, which will feature gruesome street fighting, massive civilian casualties, and increasing desperation as food and medical supplies dwindle.

An actual ceasefire seems like an impossibility, at least if it is dictated by the US. Absent any true pressure on Saudi Arabia, they have no incentive not to keep fighting, or at least keep strangling Yemen in order to create more leverage in negotiations. And if they are fighting, there is no reason why the Houthis would not also keep fighting. There can be no ceasefire when the parties are disincentivized from acting in good faith.

Will the US put actual pressure on Saudi Arabia? It seems doubtful right now. Even if Mattis and Pompeo are acting in good faith (probably and maybe, respectively), without any support from the top, it won’t matter. It’s just empty words, contradicted by a stumbling sociopath. It doesn’t seem like Trump or Jared Kushner are yet ready to give up bin Salman, and are hoping he can just brush past the Khashoggi killing.

And if his top international supporters let him do so, he might survive internal battles.

So despite the US having the only real leverage against the coalition, they seem unwilling to use it. And your mileage may vary in terms of what leverage the Iranians have over the Houthis, but with renewed and insane sanctions on Iran and an increase in hostility, the suppliers are just as much the problem as the combatants.

But let’s say it can happen. Let’s say that the parties are brought to the table, under perhaps the auspices of the UN, and the international aspect of the war is removed. Under intense and sustained (and again, right now unimaginable) pressure from powerful patrons, the coalition leaves Yemen and Iran cuts off the Houthis. Does that end the war?

It does not. The Houthis aren’t likely to retreat back to their northern fastness, the coalition has no way of consolidating the country, and the south still has no incentive to be part of Yemen. And that’s speaking in the broadest possible terms. There are factions and alliances and dalliances in every group, shifting mini-coalitions that will continue to fracture as the fight for a broken country becomes more personal and less coherent.

An actual peace process would have to be the internationalization of aid based on the recognition that 1990’s borders have been erased by this blood-dimmed tide, and aren’t relevant to the future. It is recognizing that there is no central government through whom to distribute life-saving aid to the country.

The mechanisms of how this could work are also hard to imagine, but understanding that reality, and adjusting from there, is the only way to make sure that words aren’t just hollow hopes of irrelevant bureaucrats.

The Evil in Our Midst: Suspiria in 2018

Warning: this post contains mild spoilers for Suspiria, though nothing too major, since I don’t think I really know what the hell happened. 

In the original Suspiria, Dario Argento’s 1977 gore-filled, striking, visually magnificent, and essentially incoherent horror classic, evil lurked inside a dance academy in Frieburg, Germany. That is was a German city was possibly incidental; while the evil seemed a piece of the deep Germany of woods and witches and bloody soil, it didn’t seem particularly Germanic.

That’s because the evil in the movies was based on the idea of three mothers, three witches, three essential fates, of which Suspiria, or the Mother of Sighs, was one of them. It needed to be set somewhere primeval, but the evil was both inchoate and encompassing.

That isn’t the case in the new Suspiria, released this weekend. Directed by Luca Guadagnino and set in Berlin in the violent winter of 1977, it is strictly a movie placed in a specific time and a specific place. It’s West Berlin, surrounded and swallowed up by the East, hard up against a wall, and rocked by left-wing violence.

The essential plot is the same: young American travels to Germany to join a prestigious dance academy, in which lithesome and secretive young girls exchange glances while being watched over by sometimes strict, sometimes coddling, but always off-putting older women.

This isn’t a review of the movie; chances are, you don’t need me to tell you that things are not what they seem, or rather, they are exactly what they seem: super fucked up. This version is even more grotesque than the first, where magic brings hideous pain, rendered with bone-cracking panic on screen, fluid and grotesque. It’s filled with queasy horrors and gyesering red. It is not for the faint of heart.

Where it differs strongly from the original is the nature of the evil (and here are where there are mild spoilers, but they are of somewhat-clear interpretation, not of plot). The evil in the academy is that of Germany, of Berlin, or the ravaging horrors of Nazism, of the blood spilled in the name of a pipsqueak Moloch, of the violence underneath the German civilization.

It’s clear how deep this violence is, how pervasive the guilt. There are a character mourning a lost wife, who vanished in the chaos of the Russian counter-offensive and occupation of Germany. His guilt, his pain, is deeper than initially appears. Everyone is guilty. Everyone is ashamed.

But as in real life, not everyone is dealing with it. There are characters, clearly, who revel in the evil, or at least work with it and worship it. It was the same in the Germany at large, in the time the movie is set. The Red Army Faction, an arm of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, was taking hostages and assassinating politicians at the time, part of a violent international left that stretched from Northern Ireland to Palestine to Mogadishu to Europe to the United States.

And where did this violence come from? For the RAF and the Baader-Meinhof Gang, at least in part, it was the literal Nazis in German public life. They had been rehabilitated, and in the frim driving rain of the 70s, it seemed that fascism had still won. It was calmer, yes, and less ravenous, perhaps more staid and tweedish, with bigger collars rather than polished jackboots, but still there. It was oppressing the Third World, and oppressing the blacks in America, and eating up everything good and decent in the world.  It ravaged Vietnam and supported apartheid. It was cruelty, part and parcel of the cruelty that ruled Germany barely 30 years before.

One doesn’t need to condone the tactics or the over-arching goals of the RAF to appreciate their point, and saying that things were worse in East Germany (they were!) is missing the point. The point is that the evil underneath can’t stay underneath. It will always be there unless dealt with.

That’s true on both sides of the wall, which runs hard alongside the school. Walls are essentially a story-telling device for nations; they split up history and geography in an attempt to corral the narrative, to delineate the characters, and to place covers of the pages the powerful demand to be read. West Germany in the 70s didn’t want to talk about the Nazis; East Germany blamed the decadent West and capitalism for Hitler. Neither side dealt with the demons.

As Suspiria showed, you might not want to deal with demons, but brother, demons are going to deal with you. One of the movie’s most horrific moments for me (not really spoiler) is when a character who thinks he has found a measure of resolution is suddenly attacked by a witch, screaming about guilt while he moans about innocence, and he is dragged weeping and shame-wrecked to a hideous ceremony.

The question the movie asks is if the Mother of Sighs can present absolution. Is that the role of memory, or is it the role of forgetting?

Nations can’t forget. Nations can’t bury their demons and expect them not to burble up, come grabbling from the ground. As we move toward open white nationalism, as fascism roams our streets, and the streets of Brazil, as Germany fearfully eyes another election, we have to remember that these are not idle reckonings. This is understanding the ground beneath our feet. This is listening to the rumblings and strange cacklings in hidden rooms, the moaning from the graves we thought long-silent. They aren’t silent. The earth has opened up, disgorged them, and shown again that they were always welcome by so many people. We were always going to welcome it. It’s deep in our soil. It’s part of our heritage. It’s who we are.

Do I recommend the movie? Yeah, probably. Not for everyone. It’s truly horrific. But the soundtrack by Thom Yorke is fantastic, the acting is great (Tilda!), and the visuals are compelling. And the lesson? It’s one we all need to learn, as soon as this Tuesday.

The Flicker Starts To Dim

We live in the flicker – may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.”  -Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Even before election results had come in, darkness seemed to come over Brazil, and cover further a dusking globe. The military police determined that to be anti-fascist was being strictly political, which is giving away the game to a terrifying degree.

But really, there wasn’t a game left to be given away. From the beginning of his campaign, Jair Bolsanaro, the next President of Brazil, has been clear about his contempt for democracy and his willingness, even eagerness, to destroy his opponents. He has shown disgust at the way Brazil has been run in the 30 years since it transitioned away from dictatorship and into democracy, and has exploited that chaos to all but promise to bring back that dictatorship.

In this, he has been aided by a wide coalition of Brazilians, many of whom are reeling by the epidemic violence and (mostly-manufactured) political chaos the nation has seen. There are the poor who are most impacted by the violence who are looking for a strong leader. Religious leaders like his cult of manliness and abhorrence of gay rights and “feminism”. The professional middle class has been stung by a relative decrease in purchasing power.

But of course, none of this would matter without the economic elites. As Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Marcelo K. Silva explained in the Boston Review, the rich and powerful wanted someone who would make them even richer and more powerful.

…Bolsonaro has received support from arms manufacturers, large land-owners, and owners of industry and commerce. Included among his few specific policy proposals (beyond rolling back government regulation in general) are proposals to legalize access to fire-arms, abolish progressive education, lower the penal age to sixteen, give immunity to police officers who kill civilians, treat social movements such as the Landless Movement as a terrorist organization, de-fund human rights organizations, roll-back already weakened worker protections, and weaken collective bargaining. Throughout his campaign he has frequently spoken of attacking social rights, such as public health and retirement benefits—something even conservatives in the past have avoided during election years.

This, of course, is the blueprint for fascism, a merger between economic elites and snarling nationalists, cruel epauletted tyrants who destroy enemies while paving away any resistance to further enrichment.  Militarism and police-state wilding are always going to make money for some people, and Bolsonaro promises unlimited amounts of both.

Of course, that’s not all he’s promising. He is also vowing to open up all of the Amazon to development, leaving no tree uncut.

That isn’t an exaggeration.

That’s been a thorn in the side of the Brazilian elite for years (really, ever since occupation). Indigenous rights have always been inconvenient, which is why they were ignored and destroyed for centuries. It’s only in the last few generations that countries have cared, in theory if not always in practice, for the indigenous.

That this has overlapped with protecting the Amazon, a vital part of the global ecosystem and legitimately crucial to human survival, has been a happy moral coincidence. Both need to be protected. And in the way of every iron-and-blood fascist since Saruman, Bolsonaro plans to destroy both.

In this way, he is more extreme than some of his contemporaries, but not by much. The Trump administration has been flagrant in its reversal of environmental regulations and abuse of indigenous people (these often amount to the same thing, which is the heart of environmental justice). Even seemingly minor things like their abuse of Bear Ears is designed to foster white nationalism by reminding Native Americans that they don’t belong.

Across the world we see this. We see the resurgence of homophobia, a toxic maleness, a desire for violence, a sneer at the idea the environment needs to be protected, a hatred of the weak, an oppression of the oppressed. These are the boots that are marching across the world every day, from Orban to Trump to Erdogan to Brexiteers to Duterte to Bolsonaro.

This is a fire that is spreading, and quickly. In America it has a buffoonish quality, but only to those who aren’t having their lives destroyed. It will get much worse after the midterms, win or lose. All over the world, the far-right is on the march, and their success will be emulated. With Angela Merkel announcing she won’t run again in 2021, Europe has been given a window of three years to destroy its right, lest it be consumed again by the madness that was started in its borders last century.

When Francis Fukuyama said that history was over after the Cold War, he was roundly mocked, and rightfully so. But so was Samuel Huntington, whose Clash of Civilizations was too broad and deterministic, but much closer to the mark. As the shape of the 20th-century broke apart, it seemed clear that violence was going to be the order.

The stability of the world, the idea of post-history was an illusion, as the Balkans and Rwanda quickly reminded people. But even those catastrophes were in line with the fighting in the Caucuses that erupted in the Soviet Union’s death throes. Still, though, very few grasped the fire that was slowly catching around the world, as the pre-WWI order suffered its final revolutions.

All of this has been exacerbated by climate change, by new media, and by the fragmenting and coalescing of different human orders. Fascism wasn’t inevitable, but it was always possible, even if we didn’t want to see it.

I don’t think people actually dismissed Fukuyama. I think while we said we did, we all sort of believed that the horrors of the past could never come back, that the light would always be shining, and that yesterday’s darkness would always be flickered away. That was a deep and dumb delusion.

Anyone who thought our time immune from fascism was wrong. It’s here, and it’s growing, and it has to be fought. We didn’t expect that this was the time in which we’d live, but it is. We’re living in the grinder now. We’re living in history. The sooner we fully realize that, the sooner we can fight.

Pipe Bombs, False Flags, Caravans, And the Howling Madness of America’s Deliquescence

Image result for isis pipe bomb

Even this thing is a goddamn meme.

If I can sum up the dominant strain of thought on the celestial Comment Board that is the American right wing, in regards to the series of assassination attempts against former Presidents, ex-CIA chiefs, sitting Congresswomen, George Soros, and now apparently Robert DeNiro, it is this:

The bombs were a false flag operation designed to make Republicans look bad to distract from Democratic mob violence, and to distract from the asylum-seeking caravan, which was funded by George Soros.

Now, right now this kind of thinking is limited to the fringes of the American right, if you define the fringes as “anywhere outside the White House”, which these days you pretty much have to. This kind of thinking was on Fox News and on Rush Limbaugh and pretty much everywhere else, from QAnon on up.

Indeed, the only reason it seems muted is because, for once, the President didn’t amplify the worst conspiratorial ramblings of the lunatic right wing. And the only reason he didn’t is because, for at least one day, it wasn’t in his interest to do so. He knew that it wasn’t, which was why in yesterday’s Nitwit Nuremberg in Wisconsin, he called attention to his astonishing restraint.

“And by the way, do you see how nice I am behaving tonight?” he told the crowd in Wisconsin. “Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well, and hopefully we can keep it that way. We’re going to keep it that way.”

Spoiler: he won’t. Indeed, after boilerplate pablum about “coming together” and whatnot, he blamed the media and left-wing mobs for the problem, talking extensively about harassing senators in restaurants.

What was left out was his indulging in the worst kind of race-baiting and conspiracy talk every day for weeks (and of course throughout his entire public life). This week has been amping up fear over the migrant caravan a thousand miles from the US border, calling it an invasion force and spreading the idiot rumour that it was laced with terrorists. This has been amplified by Mikes Pompeo and Pence, as well as the entire right-wing constellation of loutish halfwits.

Inconceivable!

It’s not just that the fact of the caravan that is agitating the professionally agitated- it’s the idea that this is funded by George Soros and encouraged by Democrats in order to…do something. I guess get more left-wing voters in America, because marching people two thousand miles to apply for asylum status is super efficient.

Indeed, the whole idea that this is good for Dems is ludicrous. This caravan is a gift to Republicans, which is why that is all they can fucking talk about. To believe that George Soros is an evil genius hellbent on America’s destruction and believe also that he is encouraging thousands of refugees to “invade” America two weeks before a racially-charged, and indeed fully racist, mid-term is to escape fully from even the thinnest bonds of reality.

But that’s where we are as a country. The Daily Beast, in investigating QAnon’s (and the right’s) response to the assassination attempts, showed the inherent madness of the movement.

On Wednesday, QAnon posters were also quick to claim that the bomb threats were a false flag operation meant to make Republicans look bad, in part because they had spent the days beforehand fixated on an anonymous internet post that claimed Soros would arrange for a shooting at a liberal political rally that would be set up to look like it was committed by a QAnon supporter. QAnon believers took the bomb scares as proof that the anonymous post had correctly predicted a false flag operation—even though none of the details in the post, including the rally shooting, were actually confirmed.

That’s madness; real cuckoo clock from hell stuff, and the heart of any and all conspiracies. Evidence against is evidence for; all our enemies are playing insanely complicated games that only we can see; the threads are all there, you’re just too blind.

In better times, this would be a curio, a shuttered sideshow, something to which we don’t really have to pay attention. But these aren’t better times, and indeed, that we didn’t pay attention to this burbling madness is partly why we got here.

We’re living in a time where this madness starts at a level of QAnon, and moves up the totem of right-wing thought and noise (the two are virtually indistinguishable). It might start as a joke, or as someone just doing it to stir shit up. Before the election, I described these types as people who were “just as likely to witlessly shout “Harambe!” as they are to shout “lock up that bitch!”, and mean both equally, which is to say both passionately and not at all(.) Just in it for the nihilistic lulz, driven by a deep-seated rage and sociopathic disregard for anyone who isn’t exactly like them?” The truth is there is no real difference.

And they feed Facebook, are amplified by agnostic algorithms, driven by at best greed and at worst libertarian techdick sympathies. They are repeated by legions of web-wrecked Boomers and others who find themselves in a hole and find the thin sands of conspiracy to be their only sturdy rope. And then it makes its way to the President, who has never found a lie too outrageous to amplify or an accusation to slanderous to repeat or an insinuation too dangerous to make so long as it could help him in any way.

Trump’s insane self-serving attitude and the sheer vulgarity of his nihilism has proven to be the perfect megaphone for the howling madness in this country. He is shaped by this madness (he himself is a web-wrecked old man), but also gives it shape, gives it form, solidifies it by the power of his reverberations.

(And yes, there are lots of conspiracy idiots on the Left, and in some ways they are just as annoying, but aren’t anywhere near as dangerous, and certainly aren’t anywhere even close to as powerful, much less even close to power.)

That’s where we are as a nation. The manifestation of the very worst of America has gotten everything he wanted, and he is transforming the nation in his own dull, cruel image. He’s warping every institution, but he himself is continually being warped by the violence, by the dispossession, by the amplified atomization of this vast and sprawling and messy country, in thrall with its myths and unable to reconcile its vast and bloody contradictions. He absorbs it, mixes it up with his own self-interest and toxic nothingness, and spews it back out on the rest of us.

The violence might be just beginning, or it might be subsiding. The impact that this rumbling madness has on the nation will be far more long-lasting, and might make itself unsolvable.

(Optimistic note: texting is the easiest way to get out the vote. You don’t even have to talk to people. It’s literally the least we can all do)