Several years ago, I noticed difficulty hearing; testing showed diminished perception of high frequencies, a common consequence of aging. Hearing aids were prescribed, which helped to amplify sounds but weren't a complete remedy. Background noise in restaurants made it difficult to discern the conversation of dinner partners, and I often missed muttered dialogue in moves. Most vexing was what Oliver Sacks termed ''mishearing'' -- I thought I heard certain words, but they were distortions of what was actually said, and my response corresponded to the distortions. For example, recently a scientific colleague told me he was going to a conference in Milan. I heard ''Iran,'' he replied that he was sure to be hassled at US Customs given Trump's travel ban. He looked confused. ''Since when is Italy on the list?''
Gerald Shea has confronted such difficulties, but in his case they have been more sever ones and present for most of his life. At the age of six, he developed scarlet fever that cause partial hearing loss. In his captivating memoir Song Without Words (2013), he describes how ''most consonants and some vowels.....faded to softness,'' lowering ''an invisible curtain creating a quieter world'' that isolated him within it. His great challenge was to learn how to decipher what he terms his ''lyricals,'' the misheard words. For example, he heard '' what'll happen after Nora leaves'' as ''water happens after coral reefs.'' Such transformations ''stir the imagination with nonexistent places and people, like the Doubtful Asphodels not found on any library shelves of Nabokov's prose.''
Shea devised an inner lexicon to decipher such transformations, and was able to attend Phillips Academy (Andover), Yale College, and Columbia Law School, ultimately carving out a career as an international lawyer in the US and France. It was only when he was in his thirties that his partial deafness was diagnosed. Shea wears hearing aids now, but he still struggles to consistently understand speech. While his lyricals may stir his imagination, he does not romanticize them: ''in the commerce of necessity they can be a hellish experience. They make of our lives a constant unscrambling of language, punctuated by masquerades of understanding.''
His impaired hearing and struggle to comprehend speech prompted Shea in his new book, The Language of Life, to explore how those with no hearing from birth, whom he terms ''Deaf,'' express themselves:
I have no fluent understanding of the languages of the Deaf, but the grace and visual clarity of those who communicate in signed languages, which I call.....the language of light, are to me a wonder, and I feel a close affinity to it and to them. Theirs is not an unplanned but a natural, visual poetry, at once both the speech and the music of the Deaf. Though I live in the realm of the hearing, a part of my life, in the form of my search for communicative grace and clarity, is quartered in my understanding of the world of the Deaf, and I feel as if a part of it.
The Language of Light is an eloquent history of centuries of battle between the ''natural, visual poetry'' of signing and ''oralism,'' by which the dear are coerced to mouth words. As with many sustained conflicts, this one has its roots in economics, religion, and xenophobia. The Justinian Code of the Byzantine era denied rights to those unable to hear and speak. In order to inherit, offspring had to be able to speak, so aristocratic families across Europe with deaf children sought to secure their wealth by finding oralist teachers who could instruct them in lip-reading and articulating words. Shea explains that lip-reading allows the deaf to decipher only the simplest words and makes understanding complex concepts painstaking, if not impossible.
But forcing the deaf to utter words was pursued not only for monetary reasons among the rich, but also out of a perverted interpretation of John 1:1: '' In the beginning was the Word.......and the Word was made of flesh.'' Guillaume Durand de Mende, a thirteenth century bishop, though the deaf were ''refusing'' to hear the word of God, and, as mutes, were ''unwilling'' to speak it. Shea writes:
Christ himself was at the beginning of the creation a Word---who was with God, and was God, and was later made flesh, and dwelt among us...What then was a man or woman who couldn't speak, understand, or eve perceive the Word--the Bible, the gospels, Christ himself? Who was this individual who lacked the critical human characteristic that distinguished other men and women, made wholly in God's image, from animals?
There is an explicit biblical imperative to protect the deaf that Shea overlooks in his history. Leviticus 19:14 instructs the faithful not to ''insult (tekallel) the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind.'' The Hebrew Bible is acutely aware of the cruel impulses in human character that can lead individuals to denigrate and abuse the disable. There is a shared sensitivity found in Islam, drawing on the hadith---''cursed is he who misleads a blind person away from his path''; it is forbidden to ridicule or maltreat the afflicted. Perhaps is was the supersessionist theology, superseding or replacing prior religious doctrine, of the medieval church that led it to ignore Leviticus and overlay a malicious reading of the gospel. Since speech was the expression of the soul and the manifestation of divine thought, a man or a woman who couldn't speak, understand, or perceive the word of God was cast as not fully human. As Shea writes, ''Following Christ's example, depicted in the prayer book of Saint Hildegarde, the priest must as Shea writes, ''open the mouth of the Deaf.''''
Typically, the deaf were subjected to brutal ''treatments'' to force spoken language. These ''amounted to trials by order, yielding considerable suffering, illness, and sometimes death.'' Hot coals were forced into the mouths of the deaf to trigger speech ''by the force of the burning.'' Other tortures, which continued into the eighteenth century, included inserting catheters through the nostrils, twisting them through the nasal cavity and into the Eustachian tubes and injecting burning liquids; drilling holes into the skull so as to allow the deaf to ''hear'' through the openings (trepanation); flooding ether into the auditory canal; applying blistering agents to the neck, scorching it from nape to the chin with a hot cylinder full of supposedly magical burning leaves; applying adhesive cotton and setting it on fire; using vomitories and purgative agents; and injecting hot needles into or removing the mastoid bones. The premise was that drilling, cutting, fracturing, scorching, or poisoning would ''open up'' the ear and the brain to sounds.
Yet not everyone in the church was heartless or delusional when it came to the deaf. It was a priest, Charles Michel de l'Epee, who recognized that spoken and written words had no intrinsic connection to the ideas they represented. To teach the New Testament to twin sisters who were deaf, he had to use their native language of signing. In 1755, l'Epee tested the notion that seeing could be substituted for hearing in learning concepts. His discovery was ''as revolutionary as the work of Copernicus,'' Shea writes , since signed languages would be the central sun for the Deaf, '' illuminating both a path to the written tongue of the hearing and the way of the hearing to the minds of the Deaf.'' The school l'Epee founded became known as Saint Jacques for its location in the narrow Parisian rue Saint-Jacques, behind what would become the Pantheon, and it serves as a sort of shrine to what Shea calls ''the golden age'' of deaf education.
Among the luminaries at Saint Jacques was Roch-Ambroise Auguste Bebian. Born in Guadeloupe in 1789, Bebian possessed excellent hearing but, as a student in Paris, gravitated to Saint Jacques, where his godfather, the Abbe Sicard, was an administrator. During vacations, Bebian attended classes and workshops with the deaf students and became fluent in French sign language. He ultimately was given a certificate by the school as ''an honorary Deaf man.'' Bebian is a hero of Shea's book, the hearing teacher who emancipated the deaf and, according to Bebian's biographer Fabrice Bertin sparked '' the development of their consciousness of themselves as speakers of a complete language'' by changing the paradigm of their learning. In 1826, he wrote:
We know that the deaf have a language one doesn't teach them, although with art and exercise one can offer it the happiest development. It is in a way the reflection of their sensations, the relief of their impressions. We carry the same timeless and limitless principle within all of us: that of the first language of any human being, which gives immediate expression to his thought and his not a translation of any other language, but expresses his intimate connection with ideas. . . .The thought, born in the brain, bursts forth like a flame sparking in crystal.
Bebian elaborated that the education of the deaf should begin with the thought, not the written word. For example, he might point to a picture of a saber in a book and then move his dominant hand across his waist to shoulder height, as if drawing the weapons. His student would mimic the motion.
''The sign follows the thought, step by step,'' Bebian wrote, ''like a shadow assuming all of its shapes.'' Next the student is given the written word, ''saber'' and, Shea affirms, ''before long, would understand that this written word and others were kind of a conventional drawing of the idea first expressed in sign language.''
Bebian's methods spread to the United States in the early nineteenth century. The American School for the Deaf was founded in Hartford in 1817, and by the mid-nineteenth century, twenty-six such schools existed in America, all with signing as the language of instruction. Yet this flourishing of signing proved to be short-lived . Oralists struck back by deliberately suppressing it as a method of teaching. The movements of the hands and body were characterized as ''primitive gestures'' of ''primitive people.'' By the latter part of the nineteenth century, most teachers of the deaf were ignorant of signing and thus had a vested financial interest in forcing speech. As part of the 1878 World's Fair in Paris, the Ministry of Education organized a congress on ''the improvement of the condition of the deaf'' and showcased technological advances that required hearing: Alexander Graham Bell's telephone and Thomas Edison's phonograph. A resolution was adopted that sign language was ''auxiliary,'' and that the first means of communication should be lip-reading and vocalization so as ''to restore the deaf more fully to society.'' Two years after the Pars World's Fair, the Congress of Milan was convened, which ''would prove to be seminal traumatic event in the modern history of the Deaf.'' A scriptural reminder was given '' to the assembled group, many of whom were religious teachers of the Deaf, that brought everyone full circle back to the Middle Ages: the true 'mission' of the congress was to fulfill the gospel of Saint John: in principio erat verbum'' --- in the beginning was the Word.
The Milan gathering entrenched oralism as the sole method of instruction for the idea on the European continent. (In one school in France, students were forced to follow a diet of stale bread as punishment if they communicated in sign language in class.) Those pupils who could not learn to articulate or lip-read were classified as ''idiots'' or semi-idiots.''
As science and technology advanced in the nineteenth century, a new dogma took hold: eugenics, the belief that society should select those most fit intellectually and physically, and weed out inferiors, particularly those with disabilities. Prominent among its advocates was Alexander Graham Bell. Bell's relationship to hearing, beyond his inventions, involved his mother, who used an ear trumpet but was able to play and teach piano, and his wife, Mabel, who had diminished hearing but could still hear a church bell.
He wrote an essay about what he called the ''deaf variety'' of the human race and proposed reducing their numbers by breeding them out of existence. He associated deafness with other ''abnormalities'' like dwarfism, polydactyly, and sexual deformities. Since sign language caused the deaf to associate with one another and promoted relationships that led to marriage and offspring. Bell vigorously opposed education that ''propagat[ed] their physical defect'' and supported oralism with segregation of the students. At the dawn of the modern scientific era, the theology of the church was replaced by the catechism of eugenics.
Bell was more than simply a scientist of sound with rigid pedagogical views; he was also an adept marketer who used Helen Keller as a poster child for oralism. He trotted Keller out at various conventions to speak, asserting that if she could reach such a high level of discourse, any deaf person could. When The Story of My Life was published in 1903, Keller dedicated it to ''Alexander Graham Bell, Who taught the deaf to speak.'' In fact, Keller's speech was largely incomprehensible, except to her tutor, Anne Sullivan, and others who knew her well. Shea convincingly shows that some of Heller's fame was fostered by the self-serving Sullivan, and he questions whether Keller's celebrated work was her own.
The most damning evidence in The Language of Light dates to November 1891, when Sullivan forwarded a story, ''The Frost King,'' to a publisher, claiming it was Keller's. At the time, she was eleven years old and had been blind and deaf since the age of nineteen months. Her acute and vivid descriptions of sound and light defy credulity. Indeed, Shea shows that Sullivan had plagiarized almost 80 percent of the 1,500-word story, virtually verbatim, from a publication that was out of print. The oralists have largely triumphed. Only a minority of deaf students are educated in American Sign Language, at institutions like Gallaudet University, the vast majority are ''mainstreamed,'' educated with the assistance of classroom interpreters who manually coded systems. This oralist approach is now being justified with a technological advance: the cochlear implant. Currently, about 80 percent of the children born deaf in the West are implanted with the devices. Hearing professionals believe that implanted children cannot be taught orally while learning sign language --- that they're mutually exclusive.
As opposed to hearing aids that amplify sound, the implants send electronic signals directly to the auditory nerve. Assessment of the efficacy of the devices is generally done within a laboratory setting, using a set of number and type of test words. Annual sales of cochlear implants exceed $5 billion, and as of 2013, more than 300,000 people worldwide have received them: in the United States, this roughly amounts to 58,000 adults and 38,000 children. it seems the greatest benefit is for those who originally could hear and then lost the ability, rather than people who were born deaf. Proponents of the implant predict that within a generation, they will result in the extinction of an alternative culture of the deaf. Shea writes that the deaf community was caught off guard by the implants, and generally has reacted with skepticism and fear.
Since less than 0.25 percent of the American population can communicate with sign language, Shea acknowledges the understandable desire of parents to give their deaf children sufficient hearing to function in the larger world. But he cautions that the benefits of cochlear implants are measured in a laboratory setting and fall far short outside of it. A study in the United Kingdom found that children with the implants were no more educationally advanced than deaf children with hearing aids. Further research at the University of Toronto supported this observation, as daily spoken language was not better comprehended by children cochlear implants than by comparable children with standard hearing aids, background noise in environments like classrooms greatly impairs understanding.
Thus, the real world of daily communication is still a struggle despite the device. In France, only a minority of children with an implant develop intelligible speech. Tellingly, as children with implants age, they often turn to sign language, because it is exhausting to strain to hear with the device, while they can fluently communicate ideas and feelings with hand gestures. Without a significant leap in technology, the deaf will continue to seek comprehensibility and fluency in signing.
Shea rightly concludes that to deprive an individual of language is to appropriate his or her identity. As an extension, his culture is diminished and his social relations blunted. It seems fitting that after centuries of denigration by clergy and scientists, the deaf flourish with a language of light. Light: a divine act on the first day of creation, which when diffracted, bends around obstacles to reveal its exquisite inner diversity that we know as colors.
Notes to go along with review of
The Language of Light: A History of Silent Voices by Gerald Shea.
Yale University Press,
1* Oliver Sacks, ''Mishearings,'' The New York Times, June 5, 2015.
2* For a scholarly examination of this sensitivity to the vulnerable in the Hebrew Bible, see Shai Held, The Heart of Torah (Jewish Publication Society, 2017), Vol 1, p. xxiv, and Vol. 2, pp. 57-60.
3* The hadiths and Koranic source of concern for the disabled are reviewed at theislamicworkplace.com/disability-and-islam/.
4*For more on the founding of Gallaudet University, see Edna Edith Sayers, The Life and Times of T.H Gallaudet (ForeEdge, 2017)
Ford Madox Ford said that one had to read Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education fourteen times in order to fully grasp it; he had memorized whole sections of it. Franz Kafka said it was one of his favorite novels. Not bad for a book that was widely criticized for its heartlessness and cynicism when it was published.
People speak glibly about Flaubert's style. I've noticed that the best way to get people to talk about your ''style'' is to talk about it yourself. That's what Flaubert did, and Truman Capote as well. Flaubert's correspondence attested to his hours spent on his couch, his ''marinade,'' searching for le mot juste; he would write just a few paragraphs a day.
What are the earmarks of Flaubert's style in Sentimental Education, the subject of Peter Brooke's Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris? Short sentences and mostly short scenes, more actual dialogue than in the earlier Madame Bovary, but most of the dialogue summarized in free indirect discourse, which has none of the intimacy of actual, stuttered, circular, self-serving talk but makes the scenes move along at a clip. The descriptions (unlike Nabokov's, say) never draw attention to themselves but are an exquisite assemblage of closely observed, muted details, as in this one of the novel's main character, Frederic Moreau, dining with Madame Arnoux, the married woman with whom he is in love:
He scarcely uttered a word during these dinners; he gazed at her. On her right temple she had a little beauty-spot; her bandeaux were darker than the rest of her hair, and always seemed a little moist at the edges; she stroked them occasionally, with two fingers. He know the shape of each of her nails; he loved listening to the rustle of her silk dress when she passed a door; he secretly sniffed at the scent of her handkerchief; her comb, her gloves, her rings were things of real significance to him, as important as works of art, endowed with life almost human; they all possessed his heart and fed his passion.
Few of Frederic's thoughts are given, but when they are, they are often of a sudden romantic elan, a shiver of the old romantic agony, almost immediately neutralized by a mundane detail or cynical thought. Thus when his old friend Deslauriers wants to meet his beloved Madame Arnoux, Frederic thinks he would gladly risk his life for his friend, but then he is worried that Deslaurier's shabby ''black coat, his attorney-like behavior, and his extravagant remarks, might annoy Madame Arnoux, compromise him and lower him in her estimation.''
Frederic nurses romantic impulses, but he doesn't have the genius to lend them substance or to pursur them. He feels that Madame Arnoux's husband Jacques is a ''kindly, intelligent man,'' but a moment later, when Jacques insultingly chucks Frederic under the chin, the younger man immediately demotes him in his mind--and his wife as well. The essence of romanticism is that every serious passion is forever; lovers take vows for all ''eternity.'' But the essence of realism is that emotions contract and expand and drift second by second. In Flaubert's world. ambitions and passions are unstable:
He asked himself in all seriousness whether he was to be a great painter or a great poet; and he decided in favor of painting, for the demands of this profession would bring him closer to Madame Arnoux. So he had found his vocation! The object of his existence was now clear, and there could be no doubt about the future.
Flaubert's descriptions are rarely flashy, but they reveal carefully pondered, almost scientific observations. ''Science'' was a fundamental word in his aesthetic vocabulary. He complained to his best friend, the writer George Sand, that his contemporaries were insufficiently devoted to ''science,'' by which he meant economics, history, and politics. Even political sentiments are very unstable in Flaubert's world. At one point in Sentimental Education a professor who has challenged those in power is extremely popular with the mob. Yet when a moment later he takes a position contrary to popular sentiment, he is instantly despised. ''He was hated now, for he represented authority.'' These mercurial sentiments are true both intimately and as social phenomena. Flaubert took years to write Sentimental Education. He was an ardent researcher who applied to his new book the methods he had previously employed in preparing Salammbo, set in Carthage in the third century BC. He retraced the walk Frederic and the courtesan Rosanette take through the forest of Fontainebleau almost minute by minute, researched the manufacture of porcelain (one of Arnoux's businesses), plotted out the various combats in the streets of Paris during the 1848 insurrection, and studied the stock market and female fashions year by year.
Of course there are the more familiar stylistic elements in Flaubert's writing. Words are not to be repeated in close proximity. One scene must grow seamlessly out of the preceding one, the famous progression d'effet. The beginning of Chapter 19 is the single sudden rupture of this rule:
He travelled the world.
He tasted the melancholy of packet ships, the chill of waking under canvas, the boredom of landscapes and monuments, the bitterness of broken friendship. He returned home. He went into society, and he had affairs with other women. They were insipid beside the endless memory of his first love. And then the vehemence of desire, the keen edge of sensation itself, had left him. His intellectual ambitions were fading too. The years went by; and he resigned himself to the stagnation of his mind and the apathy that lived in the his heart.
Although this is a celebrated passage, it's not really characteristic because it groups sustained emotions over long periods. Flaubert is both a romantic and a realist, but realism, with all its subversions of the grandiose, usually prevails.
Another feature of the style of the novel is its many topical references to political events and crises and to artistic and political figures who had been quickly forgotten. It is a strange practice, requiring footnotes even for the French reader. It goes to prove that Flaubert's ideal reader really was a contemporary. He said that he was writing ''the moral history of the men of my generation.''
This is the starting point of Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris. After twenty years of being the richest and most powerful world capital. Paris was in ruins. In 1871 the French had been defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and the emperor Napoleon III had been deposed. The Commune of Paris was furiously battling the forces of the French government headquartered at Versailles. While the fighting continued, Flaubert was in constant touch by post with Sand; seventeen years older than Flaubert, she was a socialist of long standing while he had long been a staunchly conservative. When the fighting stopped (and after the Communards had destroyed the Tuileries Palace, the Hotel de Ville, and many other government structures), Flaubert visited the ruins with Maxime Du Camp, a close friend with whom he had traveled through the Near East between 1849 and 1851. Tourists were already visiting the ruins, which many people admired more than the buildings that had once stood there. Everything was carefully recorded by photographers. De Camp later recalled:
As we were looking at the blackened carcass of the Tuileries, of the Treasury, of the Palace of the Legion of Honor and I was exclaiming on it, he said to me: If they had understood L'Education Sentimentale, none of this would have happened.''
The claim was, in one sense, absurdly arrogant. The far-left Communards were not likely to read difficult fiction by a writer who was anything but engage. After eighteen months, much of the novel's first printing of three thousand copies was still unsold. Whereas a censorship trial had assured the success of Madame Bovary, no such scandal publicized Sentimental Education. Then what could Flaubert have meant? As Edmund Wilson once noted, he ''seems always to see humanity in social terms and historical perspective.'' Ever since the French Revolution, writers and ''intellectuals'' (a word not yet invented) viewed themselves as participants in history. Before the revolution, society had changed at a geological pace; after the Revolution there were constant changes in the French government: Napoleon I, the Restoration of the Bourbons in 1814, the July Revolution of 1830 that overthrew Charles X, and the ascent of the ''bourgeois king'' Louis Philippe, who ruled until 1848. Then a new republic was declared, with Napoleon's nephew Louis-Napoleon elected ''prince-president.'' In a coup d'etat four years later he declared himself Emperor Napolean III and ruled for eighteen years.
What did it mean to be an actor in history? For one thing, it meant that a Parisian such as Frederic (or Flaubert, who had been born in 1821) could trace his emotional development in parallel to the shifts in national history, just as an American of my age (born in 1940) came of age in the bland 1950s, felt that human nature was changing forever in the exciting 1960s, no longer believed in ''human nature'' in the 1970s, became cynically materialistic in the 1980s, and so on. I doubt that even Flaubert would claim that his protagonist's ''sentimental education'' was in lockstep with the zeitgeist, but he could justifiably argue that Frederic could not have remained indifferent to coming of age during the reign of Louis-Philippe or living through the revolution of 1848 and the creation of the Second Republic-- the period of the major events of the novel, which begins in 1840, when Frederic is eighteen. Brooks, who has written extensively about France as well as the mechanics of the novel, here combines the two, as he did in Henry James Goes to Paris (2007). As he points out in his subtle, wonderfully informed book, in Sentimental Education there is ''no morally sensitive protagonist in the manner of Henry Jame's Lambert Strether or Maggie Verver. That role is passed on to the reader, who must ultimately draw the lessons from the colossal failure of a generation unequal to its rendezvous with history.''
Brooks also draws our attention to the fact that the historical novel, as invented by Walter Scott, took place in the distant medieval past. By contrast, in Stendhal' The Charthouse of Parma, Fabrice del Dongo fights at Waterloo. Referring to Stendhal's The Red and the Black, Brooks writes: ''As Stendhal's narrator explicitly tells us, politics has become the context of everyday life in a country excruciatingly aware of an underlying class warfare.'' Sound familiar?
Brooks argues that the factual historical novel set in the recent (as opposed to the mythic) past is
'' to represent, by means of an invented action, the true state of humanity in a past and historical epoch.'' If that epoch is fairly recent, an autopsy might reveal how we got to where we are now. Gravity's Rainbow, by looking at corporations profiting from both sides of World War II, might tell us something about the effect of international business on politics today (Paul Manafort springs to mind). One Hundred Years of Solitude shows us how a people can almost instantly forget a troubling episode (the United Fruit Company's violence in South America or our war in Vietnam). This new historical fiction often illustrates the lives of minor characters in the past, so Brooks claims:
The historical novel is not supposed to be merely costume drama or historical flight of fancy. It is meant to get at a kind of truth of everyday life---customs and ways of being---that political histories tend to scant.'' In other words, is has the same mission as the Annales historians. Whereas Gone With the Wind, say, puts modern characters--- with contemporary feelings and ambitions---into historical drag, a true historical novel, such as Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower, manages a kind of archeology of the sentiments. We discover entirely different ideas about religion (pervasive, Lutheran) and the marriageable age for girls (twelve). The end-of-the-year family confession of sins and the hesitation of a poor aristocrat to marry a rich bourgeois girl---this is all strange to us and true to the period in which it is set, nearly two hundred years before it was written. Fitzgerald's Russian novel, The Beginning of the Spring, takes place in 1913 but was written in the 1980s. Once again with admirable authenticity she rendered class relations, the emotions of a dour Tolstoyan, the hospitality of a rich merchant with his array of liqueurs, and so on.
But Flaubert was trying something more difficult. Brooks argues that he wanted to portray the lives of ordinary people, not the renowned. And he adds:
I have suggested that the ''realist'' novel of the nineteenth century comes about when Balzac shortens the distance between the represented historical moment and the moment of writing---reducing it to some ten or twenty years, looking back from the 1830s and 1840s to the 1820s, so that he is writing about near-contemporary society, attempting to see it in the same totality as the earlier periods represented in the historical novel.
Today many people seem to be disdainful of historical novels, as if they were all costume dramas or invitations to sentimental nostalgia. Perhaps history has sped up so much that there is nothing to learn about where we are now from ever the recent past. What can the Beatles and the King assassination tell us about Trump and Avatar? Maybe we prefer to slip into the distant past, an alternative universe that has the advantage at least of not being ours. Maybe that's why we like the works of Penelope Fitzgerald and Beryl Bainbridge so much.
Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris covers not only the political events of the time but also Flaubert's tender relationship with George Sand. They had a correspondence, which was adapted for the stage by Irene Worth and Peter Eyre twenty years ago. Sand admired Flaubert and wrote one of the few favorable reviews of Sentimental Education, though privately she reproached him for being so unfeeling and ironic with his hero. I've noticed that it's not uncommon for writers to invent characters with ten points fewer of IQ but otherwise based on themselves, characters they proceed to torture for three hundred pages.
Flaubert loved Sand, who combined masculine and feminine qualities; he called her Chere Maitre. She wanted him to get married, but he dismissed her ''fantastic'' suggestion, saying, ''There is an ecclesiastical side of me that people don't know.'' He thought of himself as a monk in the service of art. To please her and to prove that he was a better person than most thought, he wrote for her his story '' A Simple Heart'' (Sand died before he finished it). In it a pious, uneducated servant woman, who can picture the Father and Son but not the Holy Ghost, shifts her affections over the years from the family she works for to a sailor-nephew to the parrot that her employer gives her---and finally, after the parrot dies, to the stuffed parrot itself. When the servant is dying, she sees the gates of heaven opening to reveal the Holy Ghost: her stuffed parrot.
This is the perfect example of progression d'effet, in the way that love, by gradually shifting from one object to another, makes us weep over what sounds like a bad joke: an old lady confuses her parrot with the Holy Ghost. That transformation is, in a sense, the work of the story, just as we could say that the work of Lolita is to turn the story of a scheming pedophile and the girl he exploits into one of the great heartbreaking novels about love, in a direct line of descent from The Princess of Cleves to Adolphe to Anna Karenina. Brooks quite properly observes that far from being the ironic tale of a batty old peasant, ''A Simple Heart'' is a feeling testament to human goodness---the perfect memorial to Sand.
* Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The Story of Friendship,
a Novel, and a Terrible year by Peter Brooks.
Maya Angelou suggests there are four questions that we’re all unconsciously asking each other all the time.
We ask the people we love, we ask the people who matter to us professionally, and on a broader level, we ask the people we encounter as we go about our everyday lives: the cashier who takes your coffee order, the jogging neighbor you wave to from the car on the way to work, the elderly woman sitting across from you on the train.
The four questions rarely get asked with words, just as they're rarely answered with words.
They're almost always silent questions, because they're almost always unconscious.
When the silent answer to each of the four silent questions is a definitive YES, the love (or basic sense of humanity, in the broader examples) in the relationship becomes more palpable and is in turn immediately felt.
In a romantic context, when the questions go unanswered, the person unconsciously asking them typically becomes increasingly distant, grows restless in the relationship, and often starts seeking drama and distraction to get attention and feel more alive.
In the broader context, people who don't get an answer to these questions (or worse, who receive a 'no') feel increasingly disconnected from any sense of community.
Here are the 4 critical questions:
One reason why some people love dogs so much?
Dogs answer the four questions with a big, “Yes!” near constantly. Those furry little spiritual masters are always in the present moment, so their quality of connection is always heightened (subsequently, so is the level of palpable connection they emit).
Unlike our K-9 counterparts, we regularly slip out of the present moment and go somewhere else.
It at least makes more sense when we evade the present moment during ostensibly mundane activities, like an unnecessary meeting, doing laundry, our commute, etc. But invariably, the habit of not being present spills over into the moments we really mean to be present for:
Sometimes we don’t really remember much about our week because we just weren’t fully there.
But how do we answer these questions constantly?
I’m not encouraging intense stare downs with every single human you encounter, but what I do hear so often in my work is this:
She’s looking at me, but it’s like she’s looking past me.
I know he cares and I objectively know he loves me more than anything, but he’s so checked out.
I just want to shake him sometimes like, wake up!
If you see someone, let them know you see them.
Slow down, and though it feels strange to write because it's so simple: take a second to actually look at another person.
Just one extra second. Literally.
And on the topic of literally, certainly if you love someone, show some love! Literally. Let the love you feel show on your face, in your eyes and in your quality of presence.
Slowing down and taking the one extra second is how you connect.
It's this incredibly simple part of the human experience that's getting lost in the modern rush. Taking the one extra second is the kind of quality that shapes your mood for the better after a bad news day (or bad news week, or bad news year), it's the secret to the people we find so charming, it's what the best leaders do -- helping people feel seen and valued will totally shift your life.
We can all get by without connection, at least for a little while, but if we really want to thrive, we have to connect to each other.
Connection is not based on how much time we spend with someone or what we do with them, connection is always based on quality of presence.
This is why we fall in love with people who make us feel alive, because on some level, we're all desperate to be more present.
Being present doesn't require meditation, deep breaths, or anything like that. It’s just a one second decision, “Ok, I’m gonna be present now.”
It’s not a decision you make in the morning and then never have to think about again, it’s a decision you make over and over and over again throughout the day. Ooops, wandered away from the present moment? No probs. The return flight is one second long.
The four questions are impossible for you to answer unless you’re present.
If you’re at all interested in experimenting with the idea that people are always asking the four questions, for one week, use an image of the number “4” as the wallpaper on your phone. Let the number be a cue to help you remember to answer the questions, not out loud, but on your face, in your touch, in your eyes, with the quality of your presence.
Taking the one extra second doesn't have to be constant to be successful (i.e. to have an impact on your quality of connection to yourself and others). Just do it as you remember to, do it as you please, and that will be enough.
Katherine Schafler is an NYC-based psychotherapist, writer and speaker. For more of her work, join her newsletter community, read her blog, or follow her on Instagram.
Most of us who grow up in the United States learn a reassuring narrative of ever-expanding tolerance. Yes, the country's birth was tainted with the original sin of slavery, the Supreme Court desegregated schools, and we finally elected a black president. The Founding Fathers may have all been men, but in their wisdom they created a constitution that would later allow women to gain the vote. And now the legal definition of marriage has broadened to include gays and lesbians. We are, it appears, an increasingly inclusive nation.
But a parallel, much darker river runs through American history. The Know Nothing Party of the 1850s viciously attacked Catholics and immigrants. Eugenics enthusiasts of the early twentieth century warned about the nation's gene pool being polluted by ex-slaves. the feeble-minded, and newcomers of inferior races. In the 1930s 16 million Americans regularly listened to the anti-Semitic radio rants of Father Charles E. Coughlin.
The most notorious of all the currents in this dark river has been the Ku Klux Klan. It flourished first in the South after the Civil War, lynching and terrorizing African-Americans who tried to vote, and then gradually disbanded in the early 1870s under pressure from the federal government. After a long spell of quiescence, it reemerged into national prominence in the 1920s, reaching an all-time peak of membership in 1924 -- a year, incidentally, that saw the dedication of various Confederate memorials, including the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, whose planned removal was the pretext for the ''Unite the Right'' rally there in August. After another eclipse, the Klan roared back to life a third time in protest against the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Among other acts of violence, Klansmen took part in the murder of three voter registration workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964 -- James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman.
All along, of course, even while sticking to rhetoric of tolerance and inclusion, politicians have made winks and nods toward that dark river of which the Klan is a part. Richard Nixon had his Southern Strategy. Running for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan sent an unmistakeable message by giving a speech about states' rights near Philadelphia, Mississippi. George H.W Bush used the notorious Willie Horton campaign commercial. And now suddenly, it's no longer just winks and nods. Only when pressed by reporter did Donald Trump in early 2016 reluctantly disavow the support of Klan leader David Duke. ''David Duke endorsed me? O.K., all right. I disavow, O.K.'' Then as president he outraged people around the world by equating antiracist protesters with the unsavory brew of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klan members who gathered at Charlottesville, declaring that there were ''some very fine people on both sides.'' One of the least fine among the right-wingers rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring many others. Once again, it seems, the Klan is elbowing its way back into American public life.
The first and third incarnations of the Klan--the cross-burning lynch mobs and the vigilantes who beat up and murdered civil rights workers in the 1960s -- seem beyond the pale of today's politics, at least for the moment. But the second Klan, the Klan of the 1920s, less violent but far more widespread, is a different story, and one that offers some chilling comparisons to the present day. It embodied the same racism at its core but served it up beneath a deceptively benign facade, in all-American colors.
In other ways as well, the Klan of the 1920s strongly echoes the world of Donald Trump. This Klan was a movement, but also a profit-making business. On economic issues, it took a few mildly populist stands. It was heavily supported by evangelicals. It was deeply hostile to science and trafficked in false assertions. And it was masterfully guided by a team of public relations advisers as skillful as any political consultants today. Two new books give us a fresh look at this second period of the Klan. Linda Gordon's The Second Coming of the KKK is the wiser and deeper; Felix Harcourt's Ku Klux Kulture offers some useful background information but the, reflecting its origin as a Ph.D. thesis, becomes an exhaustive survey of Klansmen appearances, variously as heroes or villains, in the era's novels, movies, songs, plays, musicals, and more.
The KKK's rebirth was spurred by D.W Griffith's landmark 1915 film, Birth of a Nation. The most expensive and widely seen motion picture that had yet been made, it featured rampaging mobs of newly freed slaves in the post-Civil War South colluding with rapacious carpetbaggers. To the rescue comes the Ku Klux Klan, whose armed and mounted heroes lynch a black villain, save the honor of southern womanhood, and prevent the ominous prospect of blacks at the ballot box. '' It's like teaching history with lightning,'' said an admiring President Woodrow Wilson, an ardent segregationist, who saw the film in the White House. Wilson's comment underlines a point both Gordon and Harcourt make: the Klan of this era was no fringe group, for tens of millions of nonmembers agreed with its politics.
The founder of the reincarnated Klan in 1915 was an Atlanta physician named William Joseph Simmons, who five years later fell into the hands of two skilled public relations professionals, Elizabeth Tyler and Edward Young Clarke. They convinced him that for the Klan to gain members in other parts of the country, it had to add Jews, Catholics, immigrants, and big-city elites to its list of villains. Tyler and Clarke in effect ran the KKK for the next several years, a pair of Bannons to Simmon's Trump.
Simmons signed a contract giving the two an amazing 80 percent of dues and other revenue gleaned from new recruits. They are believed to have reaped $850,000 -- worth more than $11 million today -- in their first fifteen months on the job. The whole enterprise was organized on a commission basis: everyong from the recruiters, or Kleagles, up through higher officers (King Kleagles, Grand Goblins, and more) kept a percentage of the initiation fee ($10, the equvalient of $122 today) and monthly dues. The movement was a highly lucrative brand.
Tyler and Clark polished Simmon's speaking style and set up newspaper interviews for him, gave free Klan memberships to Protestant ministers, and assured prominent placement of their blizzard of press releases by buying tens of thousand of dollars' worth of newspaper advertising. To appear respectable, they made these purchases through two well-known ad agencies, one of which had a Jewish CEO. Simmons, however, spent much of his share on the take on horse races, prizefights and drink. Several rivals who lusted after the KKK's lucrative income stream maneuvered him out of office with the help of Tyler and Clarke.
A plump, diminutive Texas dentist, Hiram Evans, became the new Imperial Wizard in 1922. He, in turn, his eye on Tyler and Clarke's 80 percent of revenues, was able to force them out because of scandal -- the two were sexually involved by each was married to someone else. Linda Gordon gives Tyler major credit for the Klan's success: ''The organization might well have grown without this driven, bold, corrupt, and precociously entrepreneurial woman, but it would likely have been smaller.'' About other Women in the Klan, such as one group called Ladies of the Invisible Empire, Gordon dryly notes, ''Readers ..... must rid themselves of notions that women's politics are always kinder, gentler, and less racist then men's.''
Significantly, the new Wizard moved the Klans's headquarters to Washington, D.C. Membership skyrocketed, reaching an estimated four million by 1924. The revenue remained enormous: beyond dues, there were sales of Klan insurance, knives, trinkets, and garb. Those robes and pointed hoods were made to an exacting pattern, sold at a big market-up, and, until his ouster, could only be purchased from a company owned by Clarke. The temptations of this foundation of money led to further rivalries and embezzlement, compounded by the conviction of several Klan leaders for various sordid offenses, most spectacularly the Indiana Grand Dragon for the rape and murder of a young woman who worked for him -- a crime that left his bite marks all over her body. All of this made the Klan largely collapse by the end of the decade -- but not before it had helped win an enormous legislative victory, and not before there occurred a curious episode involving the Trump family.
Before we get to that, however, there's another odd parallel between the Klan of the 1920s and the present day, which has to do with the sheer value of getting attention in the media. Many newspapers campaigned against the KKK, and no less than five such exposes won Pulitzer Prizes. The first was for an excoriating series of stories in the New York World in 1921 that revealed secret Klan rituals and code words, gave the names of more than two hundred officials, and listed violent crimes committed by Klansmen. The heavily promoted articles ran for three weeks, were reprinted by seventeen newspapers throughout the country, and provoked a congressional investigation.
But instead of crushing the organization, the expose did the opposite; one historian estimates that the series increased Klan membership by more than a million. Some people even tried to join by filling out the blank membership application form the World had used to illustrate one story.
Being denounced by a liberal New York newspaper, it turned out, gave the Klan just the political imprimatur it needed, and spread the news of its rebirth across the nation. Imperial Wizard Evans exulted that the exposes had provided ''fifty million dollars' worth of free advertising.'' People loved the idea of joining a fraternal organization with secret rites and extravagant titles that included judges, congressmen, and other prominent citizens, and that legitimatized combat against the forces that seemed to be undermining traditional American life.
What were those forces? Movements heavy on the ethnic hatred and imagined conspiracies flourish when rapid changes upset the social order and people feel their income or status threatened. In the heyday of European fascism, the threat came from the enormous job losses of the Great Depression which in Germany followed the humiliating Versailles Treaty and ruinous inflation that wiped out savings. Among many of Trump's supporters today, the threat comes from stagnating or declinging wages and the rapid automation and globalization that makes people feel their jobs are ever less secure.
We don't normally think of the heady, expanding American economy of the 1920s as a period of threat, but Gordon offers a broader cultural and feminist analysis. '''' The Klan supplied a way for members to confirm manliness,'' she writes, in an era when many traditional male roles were disappearing. ''As more men became white-collar workers, as more small businesses lost out to chains, as the political supremacy of Anglo-Saxons became contested, as more women reached for economic and political rights, '' the Klan '' organized the performance of masculinity and male bonding through uniforms, parades, rituals, secrecy, and hierarchical military ranks and titles.'' She quotes an admonition from on Oregon chapter: ''Remember when you come to lodge that this is not an old maid's convention.'' A man who by day might be an accountant or stationery salesman or have a wife who earned more than he did could, in his Klan robes, be a Kleagle or Klaliff or Exalted Cuclops by night.
Not all Klan members were men, of course, and the Klan was not the only organization that offered ceremonial dress and fancy titles: it's telling that the first place Klan recruiters usually sought members was among Masons. But Gordon's is a thoughtful explanation of the Klan's appeal in the fast urbanizing America of the 1920s, which was leaving behind an earlier nation based, in imagined memory, on self-sufficient yeoman farmers, proud blue-collar workers, and virtuous small-town businessmen, all of them going to the same white-steepled church on Sunday. It was a world in which men did traditionally many work and women's place was in the kitchen and bedroom. Even city-dwellers--perhaps especially city-dwellers -- could feel this nostalgia. )Although, as with many idealized pasts, the reality was less ideal: many late-nineteenth-century farmers and small businesses went bankrupt or deep into debt, casualties of a string of recessions and declinging world commodity prices.)
All these feelings, of course, came on top of centuries of racism. And that hostility was surely exacerbated during the 1920s when the Great Migration of African - Americans out of the South was well underway, making black faces visible to millions who had seldom or never seen them before.
Demagogic movements prey on such anxieties by identifying scapegoats. One of the revived Klan's targets is familiar to us from today's demagogues: immigrants. By 1890, the shops streaming past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island were bringing people from new places, mainly southern and eastern Europe: Jews fleeing anti-Semitism, especially in the Russian Empire, Polish and Italian Catholics, and a continuing flow of immigrants from Catholic Ireland. The Klan wanted these new arrivals cut off and such immigrants already here to be deported.
This paranoia towards immigrants blended easily with the hostility to Catholics and Jews that many Americans already shared. Henry Ford circulated the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Klan officials, early experts in fake news, concocted similar forgeries about Catholic plots to take bloody vengeance on all Protestants. To WASP Klan members, Catholics seemed threatening because Irish political machines had taken control of many cities in the NorthWest and MidWest. The pope was suspect because his was an international empire, based outside of the United States. To make things even more un-American, mass was conducted in Latin, and many Catholics and Jews spoke foreign languages at home. In an apparently populist gesture, Klan advocated more spending on public schools and libraries, but this was interwoven with demand to ban parochial schools.
Jews, of course, had been convenient scapegoats for centuries, and their prominence in banking, in the eyes of the Klan and many others, meant that they surely had had a sinister hand in causing the financial panics that affected millions of Americans so painfully between 1890 and 1914. Furthermore, Jews were undermining American morals through their control of Hollywood, tempting people out of Protestant church pews and into movie theaters. The Klan was particularly enraged by a 1923 silent film. The Pilgrim, in which Charlie Chaplin appeared as a hypocritical minister. A stream of manufactured stories in Klan publications also accused Jews of masterminding the white slave trade. And if you want proof that Jews could never assimilate in America, it was right there in the Bible: Jonah emerged from his ordeal whole, indigestible even by the whale.
From Jewish bankers and movie moguls it was a short step to another set of Klan villains; big-city ''elites'' who tried to dictate to salt-of-the-earth true Americans how they should live. These elites were, according to one Klansmen quoted by Gordon, ''a cosmopolitan intelligentsia devoted to foreign creeds and ethnic identities...without moral standards.'' Another wrote, ''The Nordic American today is a stranger in...the land his fathers gave him.'' And of course, every condemnation of the Klan by a big-city intellectual merely confirmed this feeling. The Klan also hated professional boxing (in the 1920s dominated by Jews and Catholics), jazz (blacks), and Broadway show tunes (Jews); Klan members attacked dance halls and were suspects in the in the burning down of a Maryland boxing arena. Another point of controversy, inflamed by the 1925 Scopes trials, was evolution, seen as a Jewish and highbrow conspiracy to undermine Christian doctrine; the Klan pushed for state laws against teaching it. On this issue, and on many others, evangelical churches were important KKK allies.
In the South, the revived Klan stuck to its traditional vigilantism: lynchings of black Americans continued, sometimes several dozen a year. And on occasion violence spread to the North: in 1925, for example, Klan members on horseback attacked the Omaha home of Reverend Earl Little, an organizer for Marcus Garvey's ''Back to Africa'' movement. Little wasn't home, but his pregnant wife and three children were. The Klansmen galloped around the house with flaming torches and shattered all the windows. In Michigan, where the family moved after the baby was born, vigilantes burned their house to the ground. Most of the time, however, in the northern states where the 1920s Klan thrived--its highest per capita membership was in Indiana and Oregon--it presented a less violent face. In 1925forty-six chartered trains brought some 30,000 Klansmen to the nations capital, where they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue (robes and hoods, but no masks) and held a rally at the Washington Monument. The next day they laid wreaths on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and on the grave of William Jennings Bryan, who had argued against evolution at the Scopes trial.
You can see the film of the march on YouTube, with the Capital building in the background. Following in the public relations tradition inaugurated by Tyler and Clarke, the Klan mixed its arcane midnight rituals with everything from Klambakes to a Klan summer resort to the Klan Haven orphanage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It sponsored sports tournaments for all ages. Bible study groups, gun clubs, and children's camps, and had its own auto-racing stadium in Denver. Baseball, the ultimate American small-town game, was the most popular Klan sport, and in Wichita in 1925, Klan players even took on, and lost to, a local semipro all-black team. One year later, in Washington D.C., another Klan team played the Hebrew All-Stars. It was masterful PR: who could accuse such an organization of being prejudiced?
All of these activities ensured plentiful newspaper coverage: Klan parades, beauty contests, minstrel shows, picnics, and even midnight Klonklaves (to enhance aura of mystery, photographers were kept at a distance). Like it or hate it, readers were hungry for such news, and the result, writes Harcourt, was that an ''odd kind of legitimacy'' was ''tacitly bestowed on the Klan.'' The newly launched Time put Imperial Wizard Evans on its cover in 1924. The Klan also had an extensive press of its own: the weekly Kourier published sixteen state editions and claimed a readership of 1.5 million -- although such numbers were usually inflated. Sympathizers controlled two radio stations, both, incidentally, in New York City. Klan members were a significant enough demographic that businesses found it worthwhile to come up with names like Kounty Kitch or Kwik Kar Wash or to merely advertise themselves as ''%100 American.''
The Klan of the 1920s went to great lengths to polish its image because its real mission, aside from lining the pockets of its leaders, was in electoral politics. And here it was highly influential. In 1924 the organization mobilized hundreds of Protestant clergymen across the country whose sermons helped deny the Democratic presidential nomination to New York Governor Al Smith, a Catholic and vocal Klan opponent. Twenty thousand people attended an anti-Semitic cross-burning in New Jersey two weeks before the Democratic convention. And in 1928, when Smith did get nominated, Klan opposition doubtless added to the margin by which he lost the general election to Herbert hoover. In alliance with other groups, the Klan won major victories on the state leve. One of its causes, for instance, was eugenics laws, which allowed the forcible sterilization of those of ''defective stock''-- who all too often turned out to be non-white. Some thirty states adopted such legislation. In Oregon, KKK member Kasper K Kubli ( the Klan was so delighted by his initials that it exempted him from dues) was spear of the house. ''For ten years, 1922 to 1932, ''writes Gordon, ''the majority of all Oregon's elected officials were Klansmen, and opposition was so weak that Klansmen ran against one another.'' In the mid-1920s, the majority of representatives elected to Congress from Texas, Colorado, and Indiana were Klan members, as were two justices of the Us Supreme Court. Texas Congressman Hatton Sumners, a member, used his position as chair of House Judiciary Committee to try to block an anti-lynching law. Sixteen senators and eleven governors in all were Klansmen, divided almost equally between Democrats and Repulicans. From Wilson through Hoover, no president disavowed the Klan.
In 1924 came the great triumph of the Klan and its allies: harsh new immigration limits that virtually excluded Asians from moving to the United States, sharply reduced the number of immigrants admitted, and set national quotas ensuring that the great majority of them would come from the British Isles or Germany. (The quotas were cleverly based on what the ethnic origins of the American population had been in 1890--before the height of immigration from southern and eastern Europe.) This law, the Johnson-Reed Act, was sponsored by Congressman Albert Johnson of Washington State, whom Gordon calls a Klansman. Others are less certain of his actual membership, but in any event he was ardently supported by the Klan, and the law bearing his name helped shape the country for forty years to come.)
Sometimes what doesn't happen is revealing. If upheavals that threaten people's jobs and status provide the classic fuel for movements like the KKK, then in the 1930s, when the Depression threw a quarter of the American labor force out of work an left hundreds of thousands living in shacks of scrap wood and tarpaper, why didn't the Klan come back to life stronger than ever? One answer is that Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, despite its shortcomings, was a far-reaching and impassioned attempt to address the nations economic woes and injustices head-on, with a boldness we've not seen since then. It gave people hope. Another answer is that although FDR made many compromises with southern Democrats to get his programs through Congress, he was no racist. The more Eleanor Roosevelt was a fervent proponent of anti-lynching laws and of full rights for black Americans. The tone set by the White House matters; it creates moral sapce for others to speak and act. Perhaps it's no surprise that these were the years when the Klan lay low.
In all three of its historical incarnations, the KKK had many allies, not all of whom wanted to dress up in pointed hoods and hold ceremonies at night. But such public actions always have an echo. ''The Klan did not invent bigotry,'' Linda Gordon writes, ''[but] making its open expression acceptable has significant additional impact.'' Those burning crosses legitimatized the expression of hatred, and exactly the same can be said of presidential tweets today. She ends her book by writing, ''The Klannish spirit--fearful, angry, gullible to sensationalist falsehoods, in thrall to demagogic leaders and abusive language, hostile to science and intellectuals, committed to the dream that everyone can be a success in business if they only try -- lives on.'' One intriguing episode links the Klan of ninety years ago to us now. One Memorial day 1927, a march of some one thousand Klansmen through the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York, turned into a brawl with police. Several people wearing Klan hoods, either marching in the parade or sympathizers cheering from the sidelines, were charged with disorderly conduct, and one with ''refusing to disperse.'' Although the charge against the latter was later dropped, his name was mentioned in several newspaper accounts of the fracas. Beneath the hood was Fred Trump, the father of Donald.*
* the story first surfaced briefly some two years ago, but drew little attention since Donald Trump-- who, characteristically, denied everything--was not yet the Republican presidential nominee. The most thorough account is Mike Pearl's ''All the Evidence We Could Find About Fred Trump's Alleged Involvement with the KKK,'' Vice, March 10, 2016.
Early in Vladimir Putin's first presidency I spoke to a Moscow banker, with reason to care on this point, who said he detected no trace of anti-Semitism in Putin personally, but that Putin would encourage popular anti-Semitism in a second if he thought that doing so would serve his interests. So far, Putin has not felt the need to demonize Russia's Jews. He has instead identified the enemy within as Russia's homosexuals, whose persecution is one of the main themes of The Future Is History. Masha Gessen's remarkable group portrait of seven Soviet-born Russians whose changing lives embody the changing fortunes and character of their country as it passed from the end of Communist dictatorship under Mikhail Gorbachev to improvised liberalism under Boris Yeltsin and then back to what Gessen sees as renewed totalitarianism under Putin.
Two of Gessen's central characters, Masha* and Lyosha, were born into the educated middle class of the 1980s. Two more characters of the same generation have lives touched by great privilege: Seryozha is the grandson of Alexander Yakovlev, who was Gorbachev's close adviser and longtime member of the Central Committee; Zhanna is the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, a minister under Yeltsin and a dissident murdered under Putin. All four are encountered first in childhood and referred to throughout by their childhood names. Three characters appear first as adults, with private and public lives. Alexander Dugin is a philosopher who develops an ideology of Russian exceptionalism that wins him fame and favor under Putin. Lev Gudkov is a sociologist who seeks to model an emerging new Russia. Gessen's deft blending of these stories gives us a fresh view of recent Russian history from within, as it was experienced at the time by its people. Only with hindsight does causality creep in, and with it the illusion of inevitability. The infinite possibilities of the moment are lost. Through the eyes of her characters, Gessen manages to restore those possibilities, to convey how it felt to imagine that life in the new Russia could go in any direction.
The tension between experience and hindsight is there within Gessen's writing. She alternately zooms in on the lives of her characters and zooms out to give more general accounts of the major events of the time - the putsch against Gorbachev in 1991. Yeltsin's shelling of the Russian White House in 1993, the re-election of Yeltsin as president in 1996, the handover of power to Putin in 2000, and so on. How familiar these events appear when Gessen arranges them in their historical order, and how unfamiliar they appear when we see them as fragments of experience. On one side is the historian explaining the rise of Putin as a logical reaction to the failings of Yeltsin. On the other is Masha's mother, wondering how on earth that dull man she met while selling insurance in St. Petersburg a few years back is now the prime minister.
Gessen was born in Moscow, emigrated to America with her family as a teenager in 1981, and returned to Russia ten years later to pursue a distinguished career as a journalist and LGBT activist. She came back to America in 2013, fearing that if she stayed in Russia, official hostility toward homosexuals could result in her children being seized by the state. Russia's persecution of homosexuals is the strand of Gessen's book that shows Putin at his cruelest. She arranges this narrative around Lyosha, who was born near Perm in 1985, and who was fifteen, on holiday in Crimea, when he recognized himself as gay: When he saw other boys, teenagers like himself of or young men, dressed, like he was, in only a pair of small black bathing trunks, he felt heat shoot excruciatingly through his body and a thrilling invisible shiver set in. It happened every day after that first time....I am a pervert, he thought. I am sick. I am the only person in the world who feels this way.
The early post-Soviet period was not the very worst of times to be gay in Russia. Between 1989 and 1994, according to surveys conducted by the Russian sociologist Yuri Levada, support for ''liquidating deviants'' fell from 31 percent to 23 percent. It fell again to 15 percent in 1999, shortly before Lyosha had his realization. Homosexuality was no longer illegal. Teachers and doctors could talk about it if they wanted to. Lyosha did not much want to talk, but after a horrible beating from a local thug who was tipped off by a suspicious classmate, he opened up to a school counselor and discovered the liberating power of a sympathetic ear. He returned energized to his studies, graduated with distinction, and came out.
Lyosha built an academic career as a pioneer of gender and LGBT studies at Perm University, but when government sanctioned hate campaigns made his work impossible and put his life in danger, he left the country. The sadistic murder in 2013 of a young gay man in Volgograd made a deep impression on him, and Gessen's account of it will make a deep impression on you too. Whatever Putin's legacy it includes - among other results of his state-approved homophobia- three bloody beer bottles and one dead boy.
Demonizing homosexuality is, most obviously, a way for Putin to assert Russia's superiority over the West. The West's acceptance of homosexuality is given as proof of it's moral and social collapse. Putin also sees, correctly, that the equality of all sexual orientations is widely proclaimed in the West but not uniformly accepted, allowing Russia to pose as a beacon of hope for Western reactionaries. To make homosexuals seem truly evil even to Russians who had ceased to think of it as such, Putin conflated it with pedophilia. If, in the age-old anti-Semitic narrative, ''they'' were conspiring to steal the nation's money, in Putin's anti-gay narrative ''they'' are conspiring to steal the nations children.
As Gessen recounts, Putin encountered few obstacles in selling this notion to the public. Politicians competed to imagine new crimes with which LGBT people could be charged and new punishments for them. Even to contest the conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia marked the objector as a friend of the pedophile conspiracy. The crudeness and viciousness of views expressed in parliament and the media verged on the medieval. According to Dmitry Kiaselev, a host on state-owned television: ''If [gays] should die in a car accident, we need to bury their hearts underground or burn them; they are unsuitable for the aiding of anyone's life.''
I suppose it is worth pointing out that just as my banker friend did not think Putin to be personally anti-Semitic, so I doubt Putin hungers to murder homosexuals with his own bare hands. He might even enjoy the company of a gay grandson. When Oliver Stone asked him a question about gay rights in a recent series of interviews, Putin responded much as a middle-aged Western male might have responded forty years ago, jocularly and gingerly:
Putin: Sometimes I visit events
where people publicly declare that
they're homosexuals, these events
are attended by such people and
we communicate and have good
Stone: Is that true in the military as well?
Putin: There's no restriction.
Stone: No restriction in the military?
I mean, if you're taking a shower in a submarine and you
know he's gay, do they have a problem with that?
Putin: [laughs] Well, I prefer not to go to the shower with him.
Why provoke him?
At such moments, thinking of a young man on a park bench in Volgograd with three beer bottles up his rectum, you have to wonder about the mixture in Putin's character of the stupid, the brilliant, the evil, and the naive.
While Lyosha very wisely gets out of Russia, Seryozha gets by there, Zhanna gets on, and Masha gets involved with the 2011 protest movement organized by Boris Nemtsov- Zhana's father - and by Alexei Navalny, a younger dissident. It is an uneasy alliance. Navalny is a nationalist, whereas Nemtsov is the last and best survivor of Yeltsin-era liberalism, perhaps the last true to have held any meaningful political power in Russia. When Nemtsov is murdered within sight of the Kremlin in 2015, apparently for his opposition to Russia's war in Ukraine, Zhanna blames the killing squarely on Putin. Others report that Putin is both surprised and angered by Nemtsov's murder, less because a high-profile assassination in the center of Moscow is a direct challenge to his own monopoly on violence.
The outlier among Gessen's seven is Alexander Dugin, the only one to favor repression, to reject freedom, to want more and better Putinism. He is too big and too strange to fit easily into the story, and instead haunts it's margins. Dugin has always seemed to me a bogus thinker, a fantasist, an opportunist. But others take him seriously, and he emerges from Gessen's account as a prodigious consumer and manipulator of philosophy and political science. Dugin was expelled from college and has been deeply influenced byHeidegger and Hitler. He's allegedly capable of learning a new European language in two weeks merely from reading books in that language. He appropriates the arguments of the Russian Eurasianists, including the emigre linguist Nikolai Trubetskoy and the Soviet ethnographer Lev Gumilev, to the effect that Russia's geographical sprawl between Europe and Asia gives the nation a unique, non-Western character. Russia is not a country, but a civilization. The Russian identity belongs not to the Russian Federation but to the ''Russian World,'' and the West is the natural enemy of the Russian World.
Dugin had his wilderness years in the 1990s, but with the arrival of Putin his influence rocketed. His Eurasian Youth Union marched through Moscow. He was given a teaching job at Moscow State University. When, after Russia's annexation of Crimea, Putin referred on television to ''a Russian person, or to speak more broadly, a person of the Russian World,'' Dugin's happiness was complete. He was putting words into Putin's mouth that articulated in a suitably lofty manner their common vision of ethnic, cultural, and religious supremacy. Dugin wants his Russian World to be totalitarian, which is to say, a world in which the state polices everybody's thoughts as well as actions. He opposes universal human rights and the rule of law as alien from the hostile West. Gessen claims in her title that Russia is already totalitarian. I imagine that Dugin would disagree. And from a different perspective, so would I. Take, for example, Gessen's accound of a moment after Masha has been arrested as a political protester in 2012. Under prolonged police investigation, she goes to stay with her monther-in-law's dacha outside in Moscow. The neighboring dacha belongs to a senior police officer called Natalia. The two fall into converstation:
'' Hey, you are part of the Bolotnoye case, aren't you,'' she asked when they were having a cigarette Masha's first night at the dacha. It was cook and quiet and you could see the stars.
''Yeah,'' said Masha.
''Who is your investigator?''
''Ah, Timokha!'' Natalia's voice sang with joy of recognition.
''He is one of mine. I had to send three people. It's a big case.
He doing his job?''
''Oh he is doing is job, all right.''
''Good. Say hi to him there.''
That is not my idea of how life proceeds in a totalitarian society. I sense in this brief exchange humanity and sincerity on both sides. I do not want to generalize too much from this. Many horrible things happen in Russian police stations. But totalitarianism ought surely be total, if only among the police.
The idea of categorizing dictatorships as either authoritarian or totalitarian is a twentieth-century one. Totalitarianism took as it's examples Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The distinction was of practical significance during the cold war, when there was a political need in the West to distinguish between cruel regimes that the US supported (Pinochet's Chile, the Shah's Iran) and cruel regimes that the US opposed (China, The USSR). The former were deemed authoritarian, the latter totalitarian. Totalitarian regimes were beyond hope of improvement; authoritarian were not. If we accept the distinction between an authoritarian desire to control behavior and a totalitarian desire to control thought, then, as Gessen shows, Russia crossed that line some time ago under Putin. But what if you set Russia alongside North Korea? Putin wants all Russians to think like him, whereas Kim Jong-un would rather his subjects not think at all. That is not a very encouraging distinction, but at the darker end of government, it is surely one worth maintaining.
One problem with trying to understand totalitarianism is that, to the extent it succeeds, it is impenetrable to outsiders. Everything that is said and thought is the product of propaganda. Lev Gudkov, the sociologist in Gessen's book, has a lucid account of this problem that merits quoting at some length, in Gessen's paraphrase:
Looking from the outside in, one cannot see, for example, whether people attend a parade becuase they are forced to do so or because they so desire. Researchers generally assumed one of the other: either that people were passive victims or that they were fervent believers. But on the inside, both assumptions were wrong, for all the people at the parade....and for each one of them individually. They did not feel like helpless victims, but they did not feel like fanatics either. They felt normal. They were members of a society. The parades and various other forms of collective life gave them a sense of belonging that humans generally need....They would not be lying if they said that they wanted to be part of the parade, or the collective in general--and that if they exerted pressure on others to be a part of a collective too, they did so willingly.
Another problem with trying to arrive at an account of totalitarianism--at least from a Western point of view-- is that totalitarian societies are by definition the enemy, so we are not terribly interested in what their better points might be. ''After the fall of the Soviet Union made it easier to study the country that had been,'' Gessen writes, referring to the work of Sheila Fitzpatrick and others, ''academics began noting how much richer private life had been in the USSR than they had once thought, how inconsistent and how widely disregarded the ideology, and how comparatively mild police enforcement became after Stalin's death.'' This seems to be born out of the lives of Gessen's older characters. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, long before Gorbachev cracked open the old certainties, Arutyunyan the psychologist and Gudkov the sociologist were finding that Soviet academia allowed them a fair amount of room to maneuver, as long as this was exercised discreetly and deniably. For example, although you could not study the problems of Soviet society (Soviet society had only solutions), you could still study sociology so long as you pretended to be denouncing Western sociological theories, or if you called it something else. Gudkov's mentor, Yuri Levada, was allowed to set up a department within the Academy of Sciences called the Institute for Concrete Social Studies. I also admire Gessen's line that ''the Soviet system offered not a vision of the future but the ability to know one's future, much as a tradesmen did in feudal times, and to make very small-scale, manageable decisions about the future.'' If this was totalitarianism, you start to see why so many Russians wanted Putin to turn the clock back.
Gudkov argues that, in fact, the clock never moved. It was always striking thirteen. Institutions and systems designed for a totalitarian Soviet Union survived with little or no change into the new Russian state, encouraging totalitarian behavior to return through them. Elections became public displays of support for the regime, just like parades. Public protest was more frequent in Putin's Russia than it had been in the Soviet Union, but only because the regime had reached a new understanding that street demonstrations changed nothing--on the contrary, they helped to maintain the existing order. Dissidents revealed themselves and were arrested. The rest of society was reassured by the regime's show of power in shutting the demonstrations down.
Gudkov fears that the Soviet system has reshaped the Russian national character to such an extent that Russians can willingly recreate a totalitarian society among themselves even without compulsion from the state to do so. A corollary of that argument is that Russia can have a totalitarian state -- a useful formulation if one takes the view that the ultimate aim of the Putin regime is the accumulation of wealth even more than the accumulation of power. Thus Gessen, when she discusses the ideas of the Hungarian political scientist Balint Magyar, can speak of Russia as a ''mafia state ruling over a totalitarian society.''
With all due respect to Gessen and to Gudkov, the term ''totalitarian'' is being used loosely here. It may be useful to invoke the prospect of totalitarianism as a rhetorical way of alerting Russians to the fact that their government is a danger to themselves and to others. But to claim that Russia is already totalitarian is to absolve Russians in general from what is done in their name by proposing that they have been indoctrinated into acquiescence. One risks imagining a Russian nation which, freed from thought control, reveals itself to be liberal and freedom-loving. This is exactly the mistake that Westerns made when the Soviet communism was on its las legs thirty years ago-- and when, as Gessen so poignantly shows, what was revealed was the appetite for a newer and better dictator.
My own view of Putin is that he came to power fully intending to be an authoritarian leader but also to allow some small degree of pluralism in politics and some larger degree of liberalism in private life and business, on the purely pragmatic grounds that he knew from Soviet times the weakness of totalitarianism. He would rather be Lee Kuan Yew than Robert Mugabe. Be he found it personally intolerable to be criticized, let alone thwarted, so freedom to oppose him politically soon disappeared. Economics was a closed book to Putin when he took power, but he came to understand that a thriving market economy required a well-functioning rule of law capable of constraining even government -- and that was the death knell for the market economy. Freedom in private life lasted rather longer, but was eventually curtailed, most obviously in the sexual domain, when the stagnating regime needed new ways to mobilize popular support.
The theater and film director Andrei Konchalovsky, quoted by Chirstian Neef in Der Spiegel, sees roughly the same trajectory in Putin's career, but attributes it to pressure from below:
Putin initially thought like a Westerner, but ultimately realized why every Russian ruler struggles to lead this nation: Because its inhabitants, in accordance with an unshakable tradition, freely delegate all their power to a single person, and then wait for that power to take care of them, without doing anything themselves.
We are close here to the dilemma of Bertolt Brecht's poem '''The Solution,'' about the anti-Communist uprising in East Germany in 1953, and a thought that must have struck every observer of Russia at some time or other:
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
I grew up in the 1950s, an era when many believed that our society would inevitably progress toward ever greater economic equality. Desperate poverty would recede, it was assumed, as new federal programs addressed the needs of those at the very bottom of the ladder and as economic growth created new jobs. The average CEO at the time earned only twenty times as much as the average worker, and during the Eisenhower administration the marginal tax rate for the highest earners was 91 percent. Today, the goal of equality appears to be receding. The top marginal tax rate is only 39 percent, far below what it was during the Eisenhower years, and most Republicans would like to lower it even more. Employers now make 271 times as much as the average worker, and half the children in American schools are officially classified by the federal government as low-income and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Union membership peaked in the mid 1950s and has declined ever since; the largest unions today are in the public sector and only about 7 percent of private sector workers belong to a union.
Despite these alarming developments, however, politicians who support the deregulation of business and champion pro-employer legislation - from state legislators to members of Congress - have a firm electoral foothold in most states. During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump promised to support basic government services like Medicare and pledged to bring back jobs that had been outsourced to other nations. However, once he was president, Trump endorsed health care bills that would have left millions of low- and lower-middle-income Americans without health insurance, and his insistence on reducing corporate tax rates suggests his determination to act in the interest of wealthy elites.
Two recent books - Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America and Gordon Lafer's The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time - seek to explain several puzzling aspects of American politics today. Why do people of modest means who depend on government-funded health care and Social Security or other supplements to their income continue to vote for candidates who promise to privatize or get rid of those very programs? Why do people who are poor vote for politicians who promise to cut corporate taxes? Both books follow in the path of Jane Mayer's Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rose of the Radical Right (2016), which documented an astonishing effort by the Koch Brothers, the DeVos family, and other billionaires to purchase politicians in support of such goals as the elimination of welfare programs and the privatization of health care and education. Lafer's describes how in recent years those goals have been achieved in state after state. MacLean's book- which set off a heated dispute among historians and economists when it appeared in June - aims to describe their historical, theoretical, and academic underpinnings.
At the center of Democracy in Chains is the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan, who died in 2013. Buchanan is associated with the doctrine of economic libertarianism: he is widely credited as one of the founding fathers of the ''public choice'' model of economics, which argues that bureaucrats and public officials serve their own interests as much as or more than the public interest, and he was the leading figure in the Virginia School of economic thought. He trained many economists who came to share his libertarian views, and his acolytes have protested MacLeans's view that he had ''a formative role'' in the evolution of an antidemocratic ''strand of the radical right.''
Maclean discovered Buchanan by chance. About a decade ago, she began researching a book about Virginia's decision to issue state vouchers that would allow white students to attend all-white schools, avoiding compliance with the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
While Studying the writings of the voucher advocate Milton Friedman, she came across Buchanan's name. She started reading his work and visited a disorganized archive of his writings and papers at the Fairfax Virginia campus of George Mason University, where she found materials scattered in boxes and file cabinets. In uncatalogued stacks of papers she came across personal correspondence between Buchanan and the billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch. What she pieced together, she writes, was a plan ''to train a new generation of thinkers to push back against Brown and the changes in constitutional thought and federal policy that had enabled it.'' This was indeed a bold project: most mainstream economists in the postwar era had long accepted Keynesian doctrines that affirmed the power of the federal government to regulate the economy and protect the rights of workers to organize unions. Buchanan's rejection of governmental actions that he thought infringed on individual liberty and his defense of states' rights gave intellectual ammunition to those who opposed Keynesian economics and federal interventions in the states to enforce desegregation.
In 1956 Buchanan founded a research-and-design center at the University of Virginia to combat what he called '' the powerful grip that collectivist ideology already had on the minds of intellectuals'' and the ''increasing role of government in economic and social life.'' Three years later, as the state of Virginia sought a way to avoid racial integration in schools, Buchanan and a colleague proposed using tax-funded vouchers to avoid compliance with the Brown decision. This would destroy public education and preserve racial segregation, since white children could use publicly funded vouchers to attend all-white schools. During his years at UVA, Buchanan collaborated with such ''old-fashioned libertarians'' as Frank Knight of the University of Chicago, F.A Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and other partisans of the Austrian School who railed against socialism and championed the virtues of individual self-reliance and economic liberty. In 1969, after a brief and unhappy stint at UCLA, he took his center-now called the Center for Study of Public Choice - with him to Virginia Tech. Thirteen years later he brought it to George Mason University, where it remains today. GMU had been founded in 1957 in a shopping mall in suburban Washington as a two-year college. Buchanan was it's prize catch. When he was hired in 1982, he came with a team of colleagues and graduate assistants and attracted what the school's senior vice-president later called ''literally millions of dollars'' in funding from corporate-friendly political interests, such as Charles Koch and the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts. The economics department and the law school GMU were devoted to advancing his ideas.
By the mid-1980s, MacLean argues, the center had become a channel through which scholars were funneled into ''the far-flung and purportedly separate, yet intricately connected, institutions funded by the Koch Brothers and their now large network of fellow wealthy donors,'' notably the Cato Institute (whose founding seminar Buchanan attended) and the Heritage Foundation (which gave him a welcoming reception when he arrived at GMU). Stephen Moore, the research director for Ronald Reagan's Commission on Privatization who later served on The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, was one of GMU's early master's degree recipients. Three of Buchanan's first doctoral students at the school went on to work in the Reagan administration, which made the reduction of federal authority one of it's primary goals.
In MacLean's account, Buchanan was responding to the threats that democratic institutions posed to the preservation of wealth in America. Early American democracy had limited this threat by confining the franchise to white male property owners. But as voting rights were extended, the nations elites had to reckon with the growing power of formerly disenfranchised voters, who could be expected to support ever more expensive government programs to benefit themselves and ever more extensive ways to redistribute wealth. MacLean asserts that Buchanan supplied his benefactors with arguments to persuade the American public to go along with policies that protect wealth and eschew federal programs reliant on progressive taxation. If everyone is motivated by self-interest, he argued, government can't be trusted to do what it promises. Indeed, it cannot be trusted at all. Bureaucrats can be expected to protect their turf, not the public interest. Every politician, Buchanan wrote, ''can be viewed as proposing and attempting to enact a combination of expenditure programs and financing schemes that will secure him the support of a majority of the electorate.'' For Buchanan, this was reason enough to endorse economic liberty, freedom from taxes, and privatization of public services, such as schools, Social Security, and Medicare. In MacLean's view, those proposals promised a return to
the kind of political economy that prevailed in America at the opening of the twentieth century, when the mass disenfranchisement of voters and the legal treatment of labor unions as illegitimate enabled large corporations and wealthy individuals to dominate Congress and most state governments alike, and to feel secure that the nation's courts would not interfere with their reign.
Charles Koch well understood the power of academic experts, and he directed millions of dollars toward developing what are now called, ''thought leaders'' to defend his self-interested political and economic vision. Buchanan was one of those academics. Koch bypassed Milton Friedman and his ''Chicago boys,'' MacLean writes, because ''they sought 'to make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out of the root.' " Instead, in the early 1970s, he funded the Libertarian Party and the Cato Institute, designed to advocate for what MacLean summarizes as ''the end of public education, Social Security, Medicare, the U.S Postal Service, minimum wage laws, prohibitions against child labor, foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, prosecution for drug use or voluntary prostitution - and , in time, the end of taxes and government regulations of any kind.'' Koch also funded the Libertarian Reason Foundation, which advocated for privatizing all government functions.
Another Koch-backed organization, the Liberty Fund, hired Buchanan to run summer conferences for young social scientists. Buchanan's challenge was to develop a strategy that would enlist the public's support for the ideas he shared with Charles Koch. This challenge was especially daunting in the case of Social Security. Overwhelming majorities of Americans supported Social Security because it ensured that they would not be impoverished in their old age. In an influential 1983 paper, Buchanan marveled that there was ''no widespread support for basic structural reform'' of Social Security ''among any membership group'' in the American political constituency -''among the old or the young, the black, the brown, or the poor, the Frost Belt of the Sun Belt.'' Pinochet's Chile - which Buchanan visited for a week in May 1980 to give what MacLean calls ''in-person guidance'' to the regime's minister of finance, Sergio de Castro- had privatized its social system, and libertarians hoped to do the same in the United States.
We now know that the privatization of social security in Chile was a disaster for many, but the libertarians were unshakable in their enthusiasm for market solutions and ignored the risks. Buchanan laid out the strategy needed to divide the political coalition that supported Social Security. The first step was to insist that Social Security was not viable, that it was a ''Ponzi Scheme.'' If ''people can be led to think that they personally have no legitimate claim against the system on retirement, '' he wrote in a paper for the CATO Institute, it will ''make abandonment of the system look more attractive.'' Then those currently receiving benefits must be reassured that nothing will change for them. ''Their beliefs,'' as MacLean puts it, ''would not be cut.'' Taxpayers in turn, would have to be promised, as Buchanan says, ''that the burden of bailing out would not be allowed to fall disproportionately on the particular generation that would pay taxes immediately after the institutional reform takes place. '' Cultivating these expectations would not only make taxpayers more ready to abandon the system; it would also build resentment among those who expect never to get payments comparable to those receiving the initial bailout.
After they announce the insolvency of Social Security, Buchanan argued, the system's critics should ''propose increases in the retirement age and increases in payroll taxes,'' which would, MacLean writes, ''irritate recipients at all income levels, but particularly those who are just on the wrong side of the cutoff and now would have to pay more and work longer.'' Calls for protecting Social Security with progressive taxation formulas would emphasize the redistributive character of the program and isolate progressives. ''To the extent that participants come to perceive the system as a complex transfer scheme between generations, '' Buchanan predicted, ''the 'insurance contract' image will become tarnished'' and its public support will be compromised. Critics of MacLean claim she overstates her case because Buchanan was merely presenting both sides of the issue. Bit it is indisputable that CATO and other Koch-funded policy centers favor privatization of government programs like Social Security and public education. The genius of their strategy was in describing their efforts to change government programs as 'reforms,'' when in fact they were intended from the outset to result in their destruction.
This rebranding depended on thing tanks amply funded by Charles Koch, his like-minded brother David, and other ideologically friendly sponsors. Charles Koch funded the James Buchanan Center at GMU with a gift of $10 million. The libertarian philosophy funded by Koch and developed by Buchanan has close affiliates with the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus of federal spending on almost anything other than the military and has placed its members at the highest levels of the Trump Administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. MacLean's argument that Buchanan knowingly engineered a strategy for the wealthy to preserve their hold on American democracy has prompted intense resistance. She has been repeatedly attacked on libertarian blogs, historical websites, and even in The Washington Post. The attacks are sometimes personal: Steve Horwitz, a libertarian economist who who called MacLean's book '' a travesty of historical scholarship,'' earned his degrees at GMU, where Buchanan was one of his professors. Most of her prominent critics - Michael Munger, David Bernstein, Steven Hayward, David Boaz-are libertarians; some receive funding from the Koch brothers. They accuse her of unjustly berating a legitimate area of economic inquiry and overstating the evidence against Buchanan in support of her position. Other critics have come from the political center. The political scientists Henry Farrell and Steven Teles, for instance, have argued that MacLean overstates the extent to which Buchanan and his supporters were 'implementing a single master plan with fiendish efficiency.''
MacLean has replied to her critics that her book demonstrates that Buchanan was part of a much larger movement. MacLean's reputation will no doubt survive. She has written a carefully documented book about issues that matter to the future of our democracy and establish the close and sympathetic connections between Buchanan and his far-right financial patrons. However fierce they might be, her critics have been unable to refute the central message of her important book: the the ongoing abandonment of progressive taxation and the social benefits it gives most people undergirded by a libertarian economic movement funded by wealthy corporate benefactors. The dismantling of basic government functions by the Trump Administration, such as Betsy DeVos's efforts to privatize public education, shows the continuing influence of Buchanan's libertarian ideas. Gordon Lafer's The One Percent Solution is a worthy companion to Democracy in Chains.
Lafer does not write about Buchanan and the Virginia School, but he meticulously demonstrates how the Koch brothers and the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision of 2010 have influenced elections and public policy in the states. He opens his book with a revealing antidote about Bill Haslam, the Republican governor of Tennessee. In 2015 Haslam wanted to expand his state's Medicaid program to include some 200,000 low income residents who had no health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He had just been re-elected with 70 percent of the vote. Republicans, who controlled both branches of the state legislature, approved of Haslam's plan. The public liked the idea. But then the Koch brothers advocacy group Americans for Prosperity sent field organizers into the state to fight the expansion, ran television ads against it, and denounced it as ''a vote for Obamacare.'' The Medicaid expansion proposal was defeated by the legislature.
Lafer reviews bills passed in the fifty state legislatures since the Citizens United decision removed limits on corporate spending in political campaigns. He identifies corporate influences on state-level decision-making and finds that those same policies provided a template for corporate lobbying in Congress. His most striking discovery is the ''sheer similarity of the legislation-nearly identical bills introduced in cookie cutter fashion in states across the country.'' What Lafer documents is a coherent strategic agenda on the part of such business lobbies as the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Business to reshape the nations economy, society, and politics - state by state.
The many goals of this agenda can be summed up in a few words: lower taxes, privatization of public services, and deregulation of business. The lobbies Lafer studies oppose public employee unions, which keep public sector wages high and provide a source of funding for the Democratic Party. The tobacco industry opposes anti-smoking legislation. The fossil fuel industry wants to eliminate state laws that restrict fracking, coal mining, and carbon dioxide emissions. The soft-drink industry opposes taxes on sugary beverages. The private prison industry advocates policies that increase the population of for-profit prisons, such as the detention of undocumented immigrants and the restriction of parole eligibility Industry lobbyists oppose paid sick leave, workplace safety regulations, and minimum wage laws. They support ''right to work'' laws that undermine unions. They oppose teachers' unions and support the privatization of education through charter schools and vouchers.
These are not sporadic efforts to affect state policy. There is an organization that coordinates efforts of industry lobbyists and turns their interests into legislation. It is a secretive group formed in 1973 called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is sponsored by scores of major corporations, which each pay a fee of $25,000 (or more) to be members. Lafer lists the group's current and past corporate members, including Alcoa, Amazon, Amoco, Amway, AT&T, Boeing, BP, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Corrections Corporation of America, CVS, Dell, Dupont, Exxon, Mobil, Facebook, General Electric, General Motors, Google, Home Depot, IBM, Koch Industries, McDonald's, Merek, Microsoft, Sony, the US Chamber of Commerce, Verizon, Visa, and Walmart. In addition to these corporations, two thousand state legislators are members of ALEC - collectively one quarter of all state legislators in the nation. They include state senate presidents and house speakers. ALEC writes policy reports and drafts legislation designed to carry out its members' goals* It claims, Lafer writes, ''to introduce eight hundred to one thousand bills each year in the fifty state legislatures, with 20 percent becoming law.''
The ''exchange'' that ALEC promotes is between corporate donors and state legislators. The corporations pay ALEC's expenses and contribute to legislators' campaigns; in return, legislators carry the corporate agenda into their statehouses....In the first decade of this century, ALEC's leading corporate backers contributed more than $370 million to state elections, and over one hundred laws each year based on ALEC's model bills were enacted.
The keynote speaker at ALEC's lavish annual conference in Denver earlier this year was Betsy DeVos, who used the occasion to belittle public schools and unions and to tout the virtues of school choice. She quoted Margaret Thatcher that ''there is no such thing'' as ''society,'' only individual men and women and families. This position supports a vision of America in which the country's citizens express themselves individually as consumers rather than collectively as, for example, voting majorities or empowered unions. When they fall victim to fires, hurricanes, or earthquakes- or, for that matter, when the economy collapses- these individual men and women and families can expect to be on their own.
Lafer contends that ALEC and its compatriots are engineering what he calls ''a revolution of falling expectations.'' They have cynically played on the resentment of many citizens, purposefully deepening antagonism towards government programs that benefit unspecified ''others.'' Many people are losing their economic security while others are getting government handouts. Why should others get pensions? Why should others get health insurance? Why should others have job protections? Why should unions protect their members? ''We are the only generation in American history to be left worse off than the last one, '' reads a post from Kochs' advocacy group Generation Opportunity urging young people in Michigan to vote down a ballot proposal to raise state's sale tax. ''We are paying more for college tuition, for a Social Security system and a Medicare system we won't get to use, $18 trillion in national debt and now an Obamacare system - all that steals from our generation's paychecks.''
It is ironic that this fraudulently populist message, encouraging resentment of government programs, was funded by billionaires who were, Lafer writes, ''willing to spend previously unthinkable sums on politics.'' The Citizens United decision allowed a tiny percentage of the population, the richest, to direct vast amounts of money into political campaigns to promote privatization, discredit unions, and divert attention from the dramatic growth of income inequality. ''For the first time ever,'' Lafer writes, ''in 2012 more than half of all income in America went to the richest 10 percent of the population.''
This concentration of wealth has produced a new generation of mega-donors: ''More than 60 percent of all personal campaign contributions in 2012 came from less than 0.5 percent of the population.'' In 2010, Republicans swept state legislatures and governorships; they used their resulting advantage to gerrymander seats and attack the voting rights of minorities. Even state and local school board elections became the target of big donors, like the anti-union Walton family, the richest family in America, who poured millions into state and local contests to promote charter schools, more than 90 percent of which are non-union.
ALEC and likeminded organizations are particularly interested in discrediting labor unions. Lafer gives much attention to understanding why this is. Corporations want to eliminate unions to cut costs. Republicans resist them because they provide money and volunteers for Democrats. Getting rid of them also reduces employee health care costs and pensions. But, Lafer argues, the greatest threat posed by unions is that their very existence raises the expectations of those who are not in unions. When they function well, unions have the power to raise wages, reduce working hours, and demand better working conditions. Stifling this power and making every worker an at-will employee lowers the expectations of the non-unionized workforce. Quite simply, Lafer argues, labor unions are the only political bodies that can impede the efforts of ALEC's members,
to roll back minimum-wage, prevailing-wage, and living-wage laws; to eliminate entitlements to overtime or sick leave; to scale back regulation of occupational safety; to make it harder for employees to sue over race or sex discrimination or even to recover back wages they are legally owed; and to replace adult employees with teenagers and guest workers.
In education, technology corporations are using their influence to replace teachers computers as a cost-saving device, a move opposed by parents and teachers' unions. Corporations. libertarians, and right-wing politicians pursue these goals even in states where unions are weak or non-existent. The rise of the ''gig economy,'' in which every employee is a self-employed contractor with no collective bargaining rights, advances this trend, empowering big employers who put a monopolistic downward pressure on labor costs. Reading these two books together is not a happy experience. They give reason to fear the future. But they also remind us why it's important to join with others and take action. An informed public is a powerful public. The best counterweight to the influence of big money on politics is the ballot. When you see the strategy that libertarians, billionaire donors, and corporations have devised, you understand why low voter turnout is their ally and why high voter turnout is the only way to save our democracy.
In a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi called for an end to airstrikes on his forces and addressed the American leader as “our son,” apparently referring to Mr. Obama’s African heritage.
Colonel Qaddafi also assured Mr. Obama that he has not taken the American military action personally, and even endorsed his campaign for reelection in 2012.
As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reminded reporters on Wednesday, the letter was “not the first,” from the Libyan leader to the American president.
In a previous letter sent on March 19, just before the first international airstrikes, Colonel Qaddafi assured Mr. Obama that “even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son.”
Colonel Qaddafi also referred to Mr. Obama as “a son” of Africa in a Webcast to an American audience in 2010 (embedded above).
Here, from The Associated Press, is the complete text of the Libyan leader’s latest letter (with unusual English spellings and grammar as in the original):
Our son, Excellency,
We have been hurt more morally that physically because of what had happened against us in both deeds and words by you. Despite all this you will always remain our son whatever happened. We still pray that you continue to be president of the U.S.A.
We Endeavour and hope that you will gain victory in the new election campaigne. You are a man who has enough courage to annul a wrong and mistaken action. I am sure that you are able to shoulder the responsibility for that. Enough evidence is available, Bearing in mind that you are the president of the strongest power in the world nowadays, and since Nato is waging an unjust war against a small people of a developing country.
This country had already been subjected to embargo and sanctions, furthermore it also suffered a direct military armed aggression during Reagan’s time. This country is Libya. Hence, to serving world peace … Friendship between our peoples … and for the sake of economic, and security cooperation against terror, you are in a position to keep Nato off the Libyan affair for good.
As you know too well democracy and building of civil society cannot be achieved by means of missiles and aircraft, or by backing armed member of Al-Quaeda in Benghazi.
You — yourself — said on many occasions, one of them in the UN General Assembly, I was witness to that personally, that America is not responsible for the security of other peoples. That America helps only. This is the right logic.
Our dear son, Excellency, Baraka Hussein Abu oumama, your intervention is the name of the U.S.A. is a must, so that Nato would withdraw finally from the Libyan affair. Libya should be left to Libyans within the African union frame.
The problem now stands as follows:-
1. There is Nato intervention politically as well as military.
2. Terror conducted by AlQaueda gangs that have been armed in some cities, and by force refused to allow people to go back to their normal life, and carry on with exercising their social people’s power as usual.
Leader of the Revolution
6 Years Ago Today, the US Helped Murder Gaddafi to Stop the Creation of Gold-Backed Currency, by Claire Bernish
Six years ago today, the West took it upon itself to use NATO to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi — not for any humanitarian threat to civilians as had been repeatedly claimed — but because his planned roll-out of a new currency to be used across Africa posed a palpable existential threat to central banks at the heart of the Western financial and political system.
Long theorized to be the actual vehicle for Gaddafi’s downfall, the gold dinar-based, pan-African currency motive came to light in nascent 2016 in one of more than 3,000 of Hillary Clinton’s emails released by the State Department — conveniently timed with the New Year’s holiday to abate outrage or repercussions.
And outrage there should still be — plenty of false posturing in the lead-in to the ultimate overthrow of the Gaddafi regime should sour public trust in the West’s geopolitical motives, as a prime example of embroiling itself in unnecessary conflict every time a nation threatens to gain too much independence.
In March 2011, amid heightening rebellion of the Arab Spring, chaos came to Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi — and the West and its allies quickly capitalized on those events to partake in a falsely-premised rebellion of its own.
Citing a decades-old U.N. Security Council resolution to invoke a nefarious no-fly zone over Libya to “protect civilians,” the United States, U.K., France, and others began a bombing campaign on March 19 — in actuality, of course, that protection was of the central bank monopoly and, in particular, France’s financial interests in the historically French-colonial region.
“We are doing it to protect the civilian population from the murderous madness of a regime that in killing its own people has lost all legitimacy,” railed French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who played a key role in Gaddafi’s fated demise.
“Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community… He continues to brutalize his own people,” British Prime Minister David Cameron also asserted. “We cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.”
As head of the U.S. State Department, Hillary Clinton intoned the scripted narrative, heralding the intervention in Libya as the need to “protect civilians and it is to provide access for humanitarian assistance.”
In the years leading up to the decision to topple the Libyan government, Gaddafi had made amends for the nation’s terrorism-pockmarked history, even agreeing to abandon and dismantle its chemical and nuclear weapons programs. In fact, Gaddafi so ameliorated Libya’s reputation, the U.S. removed the nation from its state sponsors of terrorism list in 2006.
But all of that was for naught once Gaddafi sought to pivot from central banks for the good of millions of people in Africa.
In the aforementioned memo released by the State Department, longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal wrote the secretary of state on April 2, 2011, under the heading, “France’s client & Qaddafi’s gold,” about several pertinent concerns in the ongoing siege on Libya.
It seemed to Blumenthal toppling Gaddafi might be a more cumbersome task than originally imagined, in part because the leader had “nearly bottomless financial resources to continue indefinitely”combating NATO and allied forces.
“On April 2, 2011 sources with access to advisors to Saif al-Islam Qaddafi stated in strictest confidence that while the freezing of Libya’s foreign bank accounts presents Muammar Qaddafi with serious challenges, his ability to equip and maintain his armed forces and intelligence services remains intact. According to sensitive information available to this these individuals, Qaddafi’s government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver. During late March, 2011 these stocks were moved to SABHA (south west in the direction of the Libyan border with Niger and Chad); taken from the vaults of the Libyan Central Bank in Tripoli.”
Indeed, the extent of the threat to the West’s central financial monopolies from the gold dinar-backed currency is made astonishingly clear as the now-notorious memorandum continues:
“This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide, the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).
“(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.”
Those unnamed sources cited five major points of concern for Sarkozy over Gaddafi’s innovative plan to escape Western control:
a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
b. Increase French influence in North Africa,
c. Improve his internal political situation in France,
d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,
e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in,Francophone Africa.)
In what could best be described a gut-wrenching letter — considering the events to follow — Gaddafi, oblivious to the plot, penned a letter on April 6 to President Obama begging for an end to NATO-led airstrikes on Libya.
Addressing the president as “Our son,” referring to Obama’s African heritage, the embattled leader wrote [unusual spellings and errors per original]:
“We have been hurt more morally that physically because of what had happened against us in both deeds and words by you. Despite all this you will always remain our son whatever happened. We still pray that you continue to be president of the U.S.A. We Endeavour and hope that you will gain victory in the new election campaigne. You are a man who has enough courage to annul a wrong and mistaken action.”
Gaddafi added that,
“for the sake of economic, and security cooperation against terror, you are in a position to keep Nato off the Libyan affair for good.
“As you know too well democracy and building of civil society cannot be achieved by means of missiles and aircraft, or by backing armed member of AlQuaeda in Benghazi.”
But his plea — as one sent just days before the bombing began, in which Gaddafi insisted, “even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son” — fell on purposely, criminally deaf ears.
On October 20, 2011, Gaddafi attempted in vain to flee the city of Sirte — and Libya fell largely under Western-backed rebel and NATO control by the end of the month.
Hillary Clinton’s deplorably merciless reaction, “We came, we saw, he died,” played out in an interview shortly after Gaddafi’s shameful murder.
As per usual, the U.S. and its Western counterparts left the country to its own devices after slashing the once-thriving nation to the ground.
“Today there is no government of Libya. It’s simply mobs that patrol the streets and kill one another,” Virginia State Senator Richard Black told RT of the mess left behind.
And despite certain issues in Libya before the coup, “Libyans had an incredibly high standard of living, the highest in Africa,” international lawyer Francis Boyle told RT. “When I first went to Libya in 1986, I was amazed by the empowerment of women. What I saw in Libya was that women could do anything they wanted to do.”
Tragically, as has played out repeatedly around the planet, any nation — no matter how functional and successful — will be annihilated by the American empire if it or its allies have sufficient reason.
As Sen. Black noted — as could be of any such nation:
“We were willing to absolutely wipe out and crush their civilization.”
“These approaches fail to recognize that signs also exist well beyond the human (a fact that changes how we should think about human semiosis as well). Life is constitutively semiotic. That is, life is, through and through, the product of sign processes (Bateson 2000c, 2002; Deacon 1997; Hoffmeyer 2008; Kull et al. 2009). What differentiates life from the inanimate physical world is that life-forms represent the world in some way or another, and these representations are intrinsic to their being. What we share with nonhuman living creatures, then, is not our embodiment, as certain strains of phenomenological approaches would hold, but the fact that we all live with and through signs. We all use signs as “canes” that represent parts of the world to us in some way or another. In doing so, signs make us what we are.
Three Blind Men, Hakuin
The only character I can think of in the world literature who resembles Donald Trump is Père Ubu in the play Ubu Roi (“Ubu the King”) by Alfred Jarry that famously opened and closed in Paris on December 10, 1896, after starting a riot. A parody of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and now a classic of the theater of the absurd and the forerunner of the Dada and Surrealism movements, the play is a depiction of the lust for power, full of insolent nonsense and violent horseplay. Père Ubu is a buffoonish pretender to the throne of Poland, a brutal and greedy megalomaniac who, after killing off the royal family, starts murdering his own population in order to rob them of their money. One audience member at the premiere of the play, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, was aghast at what he had witnessed and reputedly said afterward: “What more is possible? After us, the Savage God.”
Recently going over some pieces I’ve written for the Daily since 2015, on the Republican primaries and debates, and the presidential election, I remember thinking of Ubu while watching Trump back then. Even in the company of such awful human beings as Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina, Trump stood out with his boorishness and malevolence—as when he announced to rapturous cheers of the audience that he would bring back waterboarding and make it a “hell of a lot worse,” or called out to his followers to beat up a heckler at one of his rallies where those of our fellow citizens who miss the days of public lynchings came to hear their champion. I hate everyone you hate, was his message over and over again, and these numbskulls who can’t even tell the differences between an honest man and a crook nudged each other, knowing exactly whom he had in mind.
Since Trump became president, every time I told myself this man is bonkers, I remembered Ubu, realizing how the story of his presidency and the cast of characters he has assembled in the White House would easily fit into Jarry’s play without a single word needing to be changed. Everyone, I imagine, is familiar with the spectacle of his entire cabinet taking turns telling him how much they admire him. “The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to the president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” Mike Pence said. After every member of his cabinet was through slobbering, and he himself had stopped nodding in agreement, he took the opportunity to heap additional praise on himself, declaring that he is one of the most productive presidents in American history—with perhaps Franklin D. Roosevelt coming close—and everyone present concurred.
Even more Ubu-esque was that scene of a dozen pastors who came to the Oval Office to lay on hands and pray for the president, supernatural wisdom, guidance, and protection. “Who could ever even imagine,” one shaken participant said afterward, “we are going to see another great spiritual awakening?” Or how about that touching moment when the president signed a bill into law rolling back the regulation for people with mental illness to purchase guns? Or the spectacle of the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and the White House economic adviser, Gary Cohn, pledging to American people that the wealthy are not getting a tax cut under the president’s plan?
Jarry’s silly play that so shocked his contemporaries doesn’t come close to the antics we read about and see every day. At this rate, in the not-too-distant future, we may all be, in effect, lobotomized by our exposure to Trump’s presidency and not even twitch when we come across such breaking news items as these:
President Trump has ordered a naval blockade of Switzerland.
Wayne LaPierre was appointed to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Ginsberg. Asked if he plans to quit as head of the NRA, he glared at the reporters and walked out of the press conference carrying an assault rifle over his shoulder.
Space Aliens’ Bible Found in the Nevada desert. They worship President Trump and First Lady Melania.
Jihad is over in the Middle East. The president has struck a deal with their leaders to have their followers enroll in some of the many Trump Universities that have sprung up all over the region and learn how to sell real estate in the desert.
President Trump announced today that the construction of the Wall with Canada has begun, now that the one with Mexico has been completed.
Electing as president an ignoramus who lies every time he opens his mouth, we are loath to admit, is the product of our broken and corrupt political system, our fragmented and polarized population, whose hatreds and delusions have been carefully fostered over the years by various vested interests and their representatives on Fox News, hate radio, the Internet, and social media. Alfred Jarry described his play as “an exaggerated mirror.” So is the Age of Trump: an ugly reflection of what we have become as a nation.
Everything he has done since becoming president has only confirmed what was already plain to me and many other Americans watching him during the campaign. If he is no longer a mystery, what remains unknown is how crazy those around him will let him become, before they do us a favor and let the Congress get rid of him. The hitch is that the people who have flocked to his administration are as rotten as he is. Every monster in history, as we ought to remember, has needed a lot of help to implement his policies.
One only had to watch the confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet to fully grasp the sort of men and women who are now in charge in all spheres of life in this country. Lacking any feeling of empathy for their fellow Americans and their problems, convinced in their minds of their superiority because of their immense wealth, eager to pillage this country even more, they are bound to do evil because that’s the kind of people they are. In the meantime, the crimes and injustices that are bound to multiply in the months and years ahead is what we have to look forward to. Ubu Roi may not be a great play, but we don’t deserve Shakespeare.