Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Robert J. Fouser shoots



Umid Ali writes

Only the night can do,
It hears the bobberies of silence.
Only the half hearted soul notices,
Night’s the weakest storms.
The anxious heart realizes,
The half hearted soul’s sleeps.
We need a love only,
To perceive that heart’s feelings

--tr. Asror Allayarov from "The Gate Opened by Angels"
  Image result for night storm paintingsNight Storm -- Nancy Quiaoit

The Child with the Loaded Gun

The Child with a Loaded Gun (Trump) and the Society that Gave it Birth

"DONALD TRUMP MADE IN THE USA: A Study in Consumer Capitalism, Mental Trash and the Privatization of White America" by Jon Huer is only glancingly about the 45th president of the United States. Instead, it is a scorching critique of modern American society in the age of cyber Consumer Capitalism. The book transcends the immediate political situation and offers up an unflinching analysis of the underlying nature of the US itself -- and decides that the situation is not likely to improve. On the contrary, it suggests that Trump himself may come a-cropper not because of public disapproval of his actions but because the all-powerful capitalists who created him may decide he is a threat to their own interests.

The hardcore supporters of the president may take heart from Huer's statement early on that "Donald Trump is us, the quintessential American of our time, the product of all that is the United States of America." However, they will probably resent Huer's further clarification that "he represents what America yearns for:  Success, flamboyance, machismo, swagger, fame, fortune and, perhaps most pronounced, power to be wholly selfish (that we call 'freedom')....  If Trump seemed quite radical and unusually childish, American society itself had undoubtedly become radical and unusually childish." For Huer, the US is a nation divided between WATS (White American Trump Supporters) on the one hand and WANTS (White Americans Not Trump Supporters) and what he calls the "Lesser Americans" on the other. But, ultimately, this classification is a distinction without a difference: as Huer puts it, "all things Trumpian are all things American, and that explains why we, as Americans whether White or non-White, are incredulously closer to Donald Trump, in our outer aspirations and inner character, than we like to imagine ourselves. Donald Trump is what America is, and what America is is what we are, all of us, deep in our selfish and childish Capitalism-corrupted character traits." Nevertheless, it is the WATS whom Huer focuses on: a group that feels aggrieved at its perecived loss of status and privilege, resentful of the Liberal Establishment which has promoted that diminution, and eager to avenge themselves on those who have benefited at their expense (rather than taking on the 1% of the population which controls the wealth, power, votes, and minds of the other 99%). Ironically, these masters of the media preferred the stability of a Clinton presidency over the unprincipled chaos of a Trump government; while they understood Trump, they did not realize how successful their own campaign to destroy the intellectual and human capacity of Americans had been and how this mental stupor they had created could be harnessed by someone who had the ability to project himself as the embodiment of the new America.

Because the Whites are more affluent than the other social groups, and therefore have the most access to the internet, computers, smart phones, and social media that have robbed them of their ability to exercise mature independence and judgment, they have been the ones most victimized by the ones who control the contents of their minds. The illusory power that wired Americans believe they exercise over their environment with the push of a button or the utilization of an app leads inexorably to a level of anxiety (for fear of losing everything, which is of course entirely provided by the controllers of the content) and confusion (from not knowing whom to blame for the anxiety and fear); the more enjoyable life becomes, the deeper their anxiety, and the deeper their anxiety the more urgent the need to find a scapegoat to blame, to hate, and to punish. The result is that the consumers of the alienating content, in Huer's words, "developed a set of character traits almost universally recognized as 'American:'  The distrust of one another, a pursuit of comfort, entertainment and pleasure, a hell-bent worship of money, and with social relations so savage that even Trump’s wife described America as 'too mean and too rough'.... Donald Trump was ushered in to lead a nation that had already been corrupted in its own moral development."

Long before Donald Trump, Americans acted as if they were free citizens in a free society, but in truth, they were economic slaves chained to their employment and entertainment imperative; they acted as if they were equal with each other, with first names for everyone, but beneath such façade was a fierce competition for power to dominate the Lesser among them; they acted as if they were happy, but their happiness was purchased by their hard-earned wage’s ransom, which made them only lonelier and more miserable; they acted as if they were friendly toward all, but in truth this friendliness covered up their distrust, fear and loathing toward each other, only strengthened with guns and lawsuits; they acted pious with God, but outside the church, did everything against the teachings of Jesus in favor of the Devil’s seductions and temptations; and they were critical toward every nation and group on earth but tolerated no criticism directed toward the U.S. or themselves.  Americans, mostly White Americans, had become liars to the world, bullies to the Lesser members, domestic and foreign, and hypocrites to themselves long before Donald Trump threw in his political hat to run for president. 

In Huer's view the US is unique in that its people never needed a society to protect themselves since, being free and equal, and armed, they could protect themselves from each other and therefore should take care of their own interests. In addition, Americans have not been restrained by the "normal" forces of tradition, history, strict class stratification, hereditary ruling class, or absolute religious injunction: Americans are the only people to devise a society governed only by the calculus of self-interest. According to Huer, "In American society where the self is at the center of all decision-making, it is through calculating (for myself) that we arrive at most of what we decide, not thinking, which involves others (the opposite of the self)." The first America was that of Jefferson, in which everyone was both "equal" and "independent." That America gave way, a century later, to Industrial Capitalism, which provided real necessities to the American market and laid the foundation for national affluence. The third America, ours, is dominated by Consumer Capitalism, which thrives not by providing things but rather "ideas" (or, more accurately, non-ideational qualities designed to provide escapist and fleeting entertainment which Huer likens to opiod addiction). In my view, Huer overgrandly and simplistically characterizes the earlier Americas' innocence and morality by disregarding elements such as racism, slavery, land greed, genocide against the continent's original inhabitants, ongoing antipathy towards new immigrant groups, unrestrained corporate selfishness, militarism, anti-intellectualism, conformity, etc. America was never Eden.

Nonetheless, the third America is likely to be the final America, due to the sophistication of psychological brain washing, propaganda techniques, military hardware, and social control. By and large, Americans like their comfortable consumer society and accept their governing structure as legitimate -- their only concerns are that they want more (and "better") escapist fare and a government that works for them rather than for "others."

In the end, Huer starkly states the conundrum: "Of all the things, the Mind is perhaps the most difficult subject to discuss in America, simply because it is in America that we see a complete Destruction of the Human Mind that is unaware of its own destruction. You need a mind to discuss the mind. How can you discuss the mind where there is none with which to discuss it?"  


Donald J. Trump has only just begun his presidency. His closest analogue in American history was Andrew Jackson, who revolutionized American politics by rousing the white masses against the ruling elite, defeating a candidate who was among the most qualified to ever run for the office – one who was not only a former senator and secretary of state but was also intimately related to a former president; one who was the perfect embodiment of the Establishment. Both Trump and Jackson managed to inspire adulation from the masses that resembled unquestioning religious fervor more than it did normal political partisanship. Much of their support came from the South and Upper Midwest, longtime bastions of nativism, nationalism, and isolationism. (In 1825, the “Cincinnati Literary Gazette” proclaimed that “foreign influences … cannot reach the heart of the continent where all that lives and moves is American.”) Long before their actual candidacies, Jackson and Trump were noted for their ruthless ambition, their willfulness, their violation of national social norms, their primitivism, their scornful, violent denunciation of their opponents, their inflexibility, and their indomitable self-regard. Both drew heated response against their bigoted views of non-whites. As president, both were widely feared as potential dictators who would destroy democracy; both were derided for their ignorance of policy and governance and for surrounding themselves with cronies, toadies, and close family members rather than with experienced, mainstream office holders. Of course, there were many differences as well, starkly exemplified by a report on Jackson’s first inauguration in “The Ladies Magazine and Literary Repository,” which proclaimed, “here, the dignity of man stood forth in bold relief, -- man, free and enlightened man – owing nothing to the adventitious circumstances, of birth, or wealth, or extrinsic ornaments – but ennobled by nature – bold in conscious liberty” – hardly the reaction of most observers of Trump’s inaugural.
In 1955, a decade after Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., had revived Andrew Jackson as an important American figure in his monumental biography, “The Age of Jackson,” John William Ward placed the 7th president in his social context in his seminal “Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age.” Ward closed his book with three short sentences: “To describe the early nineteenth century as the age of Jackson misstates the matter. The age was not his. He was the age’s.” Jon Huer’s “Donald Trump Made in the U.S.A.” takes a similar sociocentric position, claiming that the 45th president “is by and large what American Society has created.” But, while Ward took a historical approach, writing that the “symbolic Andrew Jackson is the creation of his time. Through the age’s leading figure were projected the age’s leading ideas. Of Andrew Jackson the people made a mirror for themselves,” Huer makes the same error through a presentist lens, supposing that the Americans who elected Trump are the products of a unique contemporary condition. Neither Ward nor Huer view them as part of a continuous, assertive element of American culture. 

Essentially as a way of writing in the margins of a book, I will allow Ward to make my point for me, from his concluding remarks:

Ward regarded Nature, Providence, and Will as “the ideational skeleton of the ideal Andrew Jackson,” each bolstering the others and oriented in a single direction. “In an age of widening horizons all three ideas sanctioned a violently activistic social philosophy.” “The unchecked development of the individual was the chief implication of the ideas of nature, providence, and will. It is in this respect that Andrew Jackson most completely embodies the spirit of the age.” “As representative of the idea of nature, Andrew Jackson acted out the belief that training was unnecessary, that traditional learning was no more than an adornment to native sense. The theoretical result of such an attitude was the depreciation of acquired learning and the appreciation of intuitive wisdom. The practical result was a release of energy. Thought was made subordinate to action.” “The glorification of the will minimized the value of learning and training.” “For the tender who might recoil from the buccaneering overtones of the theme of self-help, there was always the idea of providence. Man in America could commit himself violently to a course of action because in the final analysis he was not responsible; God was in control. Because it was believed that America had a glorious destiny, a mission, which had been ordained by divine providence, the immensity of the task facing the nation and each citizen was bathed in a glorious optimism.”

It is difficult not to ascribe the same qualities to the most steadfast Trump supporters.

The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy

"The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy" is a relentlessly grim view of the entrapment of insanity through the institutionalization of the bloodless, heartless, soulless White Coats who "cast chemical magic" only to "discard their zeal" and "taunt the despondent." This unflinching, unrelenting horror story is told jointly through the verbal imagery of Nathan Hassall and the visual narrative of Rachel Tester, but it would be wrong to call it a collaboration. It is, rather, a case of separate sensitivities using different tools to depict the same unblinking, unfolding  nightmare. Hassall composed the tome in six weeks of feverish activity, alone in a windowless, white-walled tomb, alone, that is, except for two cacophonous companions, Black Metal and Dark Ambient, who work to provide the book's rhythms and tenor.  As Hassall remarks, "It was a writing ritual I do not wish to revisit."

The book begins, as worthwhile books often do, by introducing the subject, setting the scene, capturing the mind. The opening words ("Above damp grass, / I catch the glimmer / of dim light. / the stars coalesce with me, / the night whispers in tongues / and all around me, / visions shatter") effectively establish the tone.  But it is the fettered mind that tells its own ghastly tale; after all, as its condition relentlessly deteriorates page after page,  the "men are put away, / scarred from life's leash. // unable to control their beasts / they weep on their bellies.... / they whimper like padlocked dogs." And so the opening poem closes:  "I had planned an escape / determined to bring back the light / from disquiet skies. / now above me a frayed rope, / and a burn on my neck."

Despite the inevitable lynching thus foretold from the very beginning, the poems that follow nevertheless struggle to free themselves from their own  existence; after all, "depraved minds trick themselves / that sanity is beyond / the ruin." The human conundrum, though, remains:  How can they -- we -- cheat the delusions that form their -- our -- very composition?

Nonetheless, in the early going at least, the possibility of a possibility exists, leading to the most salvaging  poem in an otherwise dismal chronicle of savage breakage and disinterested sadism. In "Nature's Chains," relief is partially at hand: "the heart bleeds / like sap, / trickles to roots,  / awakens hope. // daffodils burst through, / stained grey with an amber hue, / they crumble - / return as you."  And on this seemingly optimistic note (not entirely optimistic, though, since it is carefully noted that "colours collapse from our sky"), the poem ends "you whisper // I am not here." Unfortunately, it is this very phrase that sets up the volume's title poem and reveals the inviolable enormity of fate: "At this desk, / a neck twists, / reveals sockets, / lifeless and empty.... // she turns to shadows and dust, / pours over my shoulders, / wraps around my heart and legs / and pulls me to this ghastly cell. // inside a familiar man / shivers / as vines twist / around his exhausted body // looks into me, / trembles, // welcome back."

And from this return forward, Purgatory shows it has outrun its pace and Hell takes up the anchor position. All the pain and despair that has come before are trivialized by all that comes after. "Light is sucked back up to the heavens, / Peter's gates shut.... // I rot on these clouds / to never fall as rain." Apocalypse descends "as the First Horn / of slaughtered rams / begins to cry"  and the Three Woes deliver their bleak judgment. "God wrings the Universe like a sponge / and, with the Earth, / bleeds the stars to death."

Until finally, at last, "A solitary chapel falls / into spirits and smoke..., / / the moon extinguishes her torch." The impaired is irreparable; the only cessation is the body's end, for the mental torment abides.