How we come unhinged. – louis d. lo praeste
The Return of Political Violence to American Polity
…*the haughty defiance of 76′, the war and peace and formation of the Constitution, the union always surrounded by blatherers, and always calm and impregnable-the perpetual coming of immigrants…
Walt Whitman from the Introduction to Leaves of Grass, 1855.
We are there in the mud with a broken leg and a slug in our ankle. We understand violence now. We are anxious. We are wondering, where is my gun? We look up, and there’s a man in a wide brimmed hat. He looks like a gardener. He nurses soldiers. We imagine he has come for us. The gardener is standing with the sun behind him. He is thinking about the violent nature of our union, about where the rough edges of our wounds end, how to fix us up, get us on our feet again. We thoroughly block up our ears to deafen the cries — the Republic is in danger! All is lost!
The kind of pithy insight one finds in Walt Whitman’s writing belongs to a long since past era of poetry, patriotism and civility. Whitman captures the tension of war in prose like no one has since. Walt took care of both sides’ wounded. He reminds us — there are as many faces of America as there are Americans — the good, bad and the dead.
We mistrust the corporate face. Plenty say that the very idea of capitalism is an infestation. The debate is good. Both ends of the political spectrum embrace a virulent populism. People in the streets are willing to fight. Fighting is not so good. From President Trump to Senator Bernie Sanders — everyone seems to be in a grand tizzy, and for a good reason.
We are returning to the field. Walt is watching. Walt is waiting.
The nation is not in peril from the reality TV star sitting in the Oval Office, or from feminist-socialists, nor extremist, domestic terrorists dressed in black or confederate flags.
We are distraught. Alarmed by the shootings in El Paso and Dayton — we stay silent. Maybe at the dinner table, your child, seven or eight years old asks — “Did kids get shot too, Dad?”
You look at them as you pass the organic, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO mac-n-cheese. Your partner looks at you, drinks their wine — you notice the crease on their forehead seems deeper. F-ck.
Walt is watching. The sun is setting.
“How about we do the dishes and watch a movie?”
Weare complacent, content, clueless. Some will say that this kind of article should not appear on this platform.
If you think that the markets or your job or family are immune to history you will be proven wrong.
So if this is the modern public square — then let’s use it.
Here we are, standing at the threshold of history. The kids are watching.
What can we say ?
We are sane. We care for others and our nation. We could speak up. We desire peace and solutions, whatever they may be. We can be assured that slightly more is required of us.We can unhinge democracy. We can allow some to abuse power and reap more than they sow.
All of us are equally responsible for weeding the garden. All of us are Walt — nursing wounds, caring for the dead on both sides.
As a writer and independent analyst, I’ve led a funny life. I hang around with intelligence types — here and in Great Britain. I think a lot. Drives my wife crazy. I get spun out on theories. Can’t sleep. Too much coffee. Violence, in particular, scares the shit out of me. I reach out to my colleagues. I ask — “What the f-ck is going on? I am writing an article on the rise of white nationalism. I am baffled.”
We can’t sleep.The nation is headed in the wrong direction. “White nationalism,” is a problem identified as early as 2009 in a classified memo delivered to Congress by Homeland Security. All the common factors — a disgruntled, predominantly white contingency of voters with historically racist views, economic and social grievances, and ready access to assault weapons — are there, declassified. You can read it if you don’t believe me. Good luck finding it — they buried it.
No one paid attention.
We are surprised.
A former intelligence official I speak with tells me that the shootings are just the beginning. I like this guy. He’s in the know. He’s smart. He’s black. He knows racism. He’s a good friend. “These are resentful white folks, people who believed the whole Obama-birther bullshit, stoked by the President’s rhetoric.”
“Buddy,” he says, taking a long time to breathe out the words — “these are not just isolated acts of a violence from a few disillusioned, young angry white men — this is an entire movement coming alive.”
And not surprisingly, another colleague, (not an intelligence official) weirdly channels Vladimir Putin. I like this guy, a lot. He is a good friend. He is evangelical, white, and smart as they come. He insists that there has been no Russian interference in the American elections. He says, plainly — “All this talk, all of this civil unrest, all this white nationalism talk is bunk — there is no white nationalism — it’s a conspiracy theory trying to take down Trump”.
A part of me believes them both.
We hear things. So far in 2019, ten years later — there have been 248 shootings, 246 people killed and 979 people injured. The public is out of touch. People are susceptible to bizarre conspiracy theories, xenophobia and blanket condemnations of one group or another. Bottom line — our pathology is now in plain view. I heard a story that when Europeans want to calm down a colleague whose wound up too tight they’ll say. “Hey, don’t go all American on me now.”
Ha-ha-ha, go the Frenchies.
Election fraud, corrupt financiers corralling young girls, detention centres for children, media censorship, autocratic leadership — and shootings are now the accepted norm. We are fucking insane.
“I’d laugh, were it not true.” I tell my Italian friend.
We are worried.
Psychopathy permeates the national consciousness. Americans are losing track of reason, rationality and sanity. People find themselves engaged in an endless cage-fight just like on TV.
We are analysts. We see a tide of domestic confusion and violence coming ten years ago. The Bush administration kicks over a hornet’s nest filled with conservative religious fanatics in Iraq. They hire anyone with an opinion to study terrorism. American troops are sent to police the frenzy, only to return to a recession. We kicked over a big fucking hornet’s nest. Sunni-Shia violence. Really old shit. Stuff we have no business being involved with. We created an entire class of disgruntled folks who have no understanding of why they went to fight a war that has no justification.
Homeland Security takes note.
We write a ten-page report warning that the reason boys became jihadist is simple. They are denied basic needs: education, social mobility and healthcare. The “recruiters” drive into their village in brand new Toyota pick-ups. They wear eye-liner. They hand out rice, yogurt and flour. And the Koran. The boys like the in-hand-feel of the AK. They like to recite the Al-Fatiha.
Hell, I like it. It’s beautiful.
The 2009 report contained an awful conclusion.
We bring home a disease.We are recreating the atmosphere for radicalization on both ends of the political spectrum. If it were not bad enough to have gone to war on false pretense — the foreign policy of the early 2000s resulted in far more insidious damage to the national consciousness. We have created the identical conditions for radicalization, on the left and the right, in our own communities.
What should we tell our “radicals” ? Our kids?
What can you say to someone with a detached and disassociated personality disorder?
Is this rugged individualism gone bad?
What do you say to a child who tells you she is not responsible for something she does not understand?
Indeed, we want answers.
From our leaders, from those who run the show, from ourselves.
Who are they, by the way?
We have a ruling elite. They are a superclass that controls technology and capital. Like the sheikhs and oil fiefdoms of the Middle East, they ignore vital social issues. They enrich themselves at the expense of social cohesion. These are not the fingers of Adam’s Smith’s invisible hand. These are the loud and pushy few who elbowed their way into the ring and then bashed someone else’s brains in to get to the safety deposit box.
The jack-boots and black flags want their attention.
The thugs want your attention.
This is how it goes.
Like Germany, post the dismantling of the Weimar Republic, some of this generation are going to become sadistic, hateful monsters. History does not only repeat itself; it often has sequels. We have ignored the dearth of humanism and emotional intelligence we give to children and act as if they are somehow immune to war and violence. As we might expect, those chickens have come home to roost.
We feel cheated at the trough — pushed out of the way by the sharp elbows. While seed has been spread all over the ground in San Francisco and New York, places like Selma, El Paso, Ketchikan, and Dayton are barren.
Politics don’t work in Selma.
After the most significant financial windfall in history — is it too much to expect leadership from the elites?
Where are these original thinkers?
In Silicon Valley inventing “apps?”
Where is the investment policy for education, infrastructure, social services, jobs, and healthcare? When will the absurdity of “greed is good” fall away so we can create a just society that honours those who fought and died for it and those who still dream of it?
Where the fuck did Walt go?
Preaching at one another will not slow our descent into chaos.
Thoughts and prayers are not working.
Writing political invectives about one group or another isn’t going to quell senseless violence.
“Young White Male Rage” is NOT the biggest threat to America. Feminist women are not going to destroy America. Jack-booted or body armoured protestors are not going to save America. Americans are not defending liberty by beating the shit out of one another and the occasional journalist.
We will destroy America.
We come unhinged. That’s Frank, a retired U.S. Marshal. Frank told Fox that he was engaged in “ripping signs” out of protestors arms when the President broke from his stump speech and called him a fat ass. Nothing says, “I’m a jack-boot lackey” like taking one on the chin from the maximum leader and infringing on someone else’s free speech at the same time.
We are violent.
Screaming ape-like Frank gets in the face of Jane Antifa. Jane is frustrated with a system that has allowed some to prosper and given nothing to them. Jane has student loans and no job prospects. Jane is f-cking pissed. Frank gets jacked up on the President’s rhetoric and Jane punches Frank in the f-cking mouth.
There’s no way around it. We are pissed.
The root of human evolution is violent.
Frank and Jane enact a passion play so archaic, so grievous, so powerful that it makes them tingle. Don’t think for a minute people in the streets aren’t getting off on the adrenaline. They are. They’ve seen every Fast and Furious and now it’s their turn to war with one another, to destroy civilization, to wreak genocide.
To play video games, “IRL”.
This is not how we will look. This is a pretty picture compared to what is coming.
We might feel uncomfortable with the assertion that avoiding violence is a shared, moral responsibility. We can explore what that feels like. Let us share what it feels like to be embarrassed for ourselves, and one another, in the hot tub. While we are at it, let’s dismiss the idea that we can course through history on steroids.
I’m guilty too. I watch war movies.
In the middle of the film “Fury,” the lead character Collier says to his younger charge, “Ideals are peaceful; history is violent.” It is a memorable line alright.
If these fictional conversations lasted longer, Collier might have also said that World War One was meant to be the war to end all wars, so why are we here?
Walt would tell us. Violence is as American as apple pie.
Our appetite for blood and tears is insidious.
That’s what we are here to prove, isn’t it?
… that we,
‘We, the People,’
shall not perish from the earth?
Read my book, please.
louis d. lo praeste was named a LinkedIn Top Voice in 2015 for Management and Culture, and has since devoted himself to writing about culture, politics, consciousness, and society.
He published a collection of his essays on politics, humanism, and capitalism entitled Vague Apocalyptica in 2017 to critical acclaim. In 2018, he finished a second edition of his novel, Capernaum. He is presently working on his second novel — The Common, Wealth. He works as a freelance writer, political analyst and brand strategist. He lives in rural Vermont on a horse farm.