I’ve been thinking about an encounter I had at the gym on Thursday. In the sauna a young man in his mid-20s or so politely asked me as well as the middle-aged man next to me what we did for a living. He said he was thinking about different careers. The guy next to me answered, and in my turn I asked the young man what studies he was doing. When he said sales, that he was good at convincing people of things I asked if he would humor me by convincing me of something. He said sure, and I asked that he convince me the United States is a representative democracy where one person’s vote carries the same weight as another’s. He was enthusiastic about the challenge, and promptly came back with saying we all had the right to vote, this is something people in some other countries don’t have. I asked what proof he could offer that this right meant anything. I pointed out I had the right to be a Mormon, to practice Transcendental Meditation, or spend the day at home masturbating, but my right to do these things didn’t suggest they had any intrinsic value. We agreed that Donald Trump had lost the popular vote yet still become president. We recognized that Clinton had won California’s vote. I mentioned Sheldon Wolin and the extent to which money controls American politics, and the young man immediately agreed that yes, money is what controls votes. He concluded his argument by saying it was important to do something politically, it wasn’t so important what that was, but it was important to be active, and to keep doing something. He said change may be small, but it is incremental. My 15 minutes in the sauna was soon up, and we pleasantly said goodbye.
The conversation came back to me several times in the past couple days, and I realized that part of what seems significant to me is the extent to which Americans concur with the guy’s reasoning. Last year when I asked my friend Paul for his perspective on how to live in truth in the face of a society of lies he answered with some surprise, “Well, I vote.” Even in the face of an evidently broken political system somehow people are convinced that their only responsibility is to continue with some token activity, as if justice is ordained to triumph, the good guys always win in the end, we just need to keep hanging in there, things will turn out. There is, however, no evidence for this. Why is it such a dominant conviction?
Russ Feingold’s Op-ed in the Guardian:
Tuesday’s events stem directly from our own illegitimate electoral system, which produced Trump the president. They are the result of voter suppression, dark money in politics, and the esoteric electoral college – all of which serve to silence the American people.
Chalmers Johnson was very clear in Speaking Freely that when America’s democracy is lost to empire it will be impossible to get it back. In Democracy Inc. Sheldon Wolin was unequivocal is saying the US form of government is managed democracy, in his words “inverted totalitarianism.” Here is Feingold saying the current illegitimate president is the result of our illegitimate electoral system. How does a thinking American citizen act in these circumstances? What is the responsible course to follow?
A consortium of four U.S. construction firms—including Brown & Root, later a part of Halliburton and now KBR—eventually received a contract from the U.S. Navy, paid for through the U.S. Food for Peace Program, to build new cells for Con Son.
—Nick Turse, Kill Anything that Moves, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013), 180.
Lengthy conversations with several Vietnam vets and an ex-drone sensor operator’s mention of the Winter Soldier Investigation last week prompted me to pick up Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves today. It’s been decades since I’ve read much on Vietnam, but those years quickly come back in Turse’s excerpts from trial transcripts and other documents:
a lieutenant “captured two unarmed and unidentified Vietnamese males, estimated 2-3 and 7-8 years … and killed them for no reason”
I try to imagine the investigator or court reporter who recorded this. How do you write about a U.S. Army officer capturing an unarmed two or three-year-old?
I’m reading Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. I’ve known of Katyn for decades, but only now learned it was just one of a number of sites. Snyder lists Kurapaty, near Minsk, Bykivnia, near Kiev, and Kharkiv in addition to Katyn. Kharkiv had also been one of the main killing centers of Poles during Stalin’s Great Terror.
Truth, it is said, is war’s first casualty. Memory is its second.
Tom Hayden, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 17.
This morning I’m thinking about the video of Dr David Dao being dragged off a United plane in Chicago. There’s been worldwide press evaluating and condemning the actions of United Airlines and the Chicago police, but what strikes me is the action, or rather lack of action, of the other passengers on the aircraft. There are cries of anxiety, “oh my god, oh my god,” entreaties of “c’mon, c’mon” and “look at what you’re doing,” but in none of the footage do we see passengers saying “No! You may not bloody my fellow passenger. Stop!” or any version of that. The aisle of an aircraft is quite narrow, and it would only have taken a passenger or two to interfere with the police dragging Dao off but we see no one attempt to intervene. Numerous cellphones are held up; the phones’ owners remain seated. Do Americans see themselves as capable only of passively observing state violence?
Earlier this year I heard Norman Solomon here in San Francisco. In talking about resistance to the Trump administration Solomon commented on the naïvety of “speaking truth to power” with the goal of accomplishing anything. Telling Rex Tillerson that Exxon is polluting is absurd. He knows. When seeing a Chicago policeman dragging a bloodied doctor rather than saying “look at what you’re doing” we need to say “Stop!” and mean it.
Robert Parry’s piece on the mainstream media reminds us: “The evidence he [Powell] presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them,” wrote Post columnist Richard Cohen. “Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.”
I remember those days. How is it that so many Americans seem to have forgotten?