forget it joe, it’s afghanistan

There are things you can fix, and things you can’t. There are things you have a moral obligation to try to fix even if you can’t possibly fix them. There are things you believe need to be fixed, but aren’t actually broken. There are fixable things you believe you understand, but you’re wrong. There are fixable things that are none of your fucking business regardless of what you think about them. And when you’re in the middle of things, it’s hard–probably impossible–to know which things are which.

There’s a movie about that. Chinatown. Released in 1974. (I’m going to ignore the legitimate issues about the director, Roman Polanski, because for once I’m going to try to stay tangent-free.) Here’s the backstory of one of the main characters, and a short precis of the film’s plot (and yes, that means there are spoilers).

The backstory–Jake Gittes has a small private investigator business in Los Angeles. He’s a former police detective who worked in the notoriously corrupt Chinatown neighborhood. He became disillusioned (all movie PIs are disillusioned; it’s the law) partly because he was working in a culture whose norms and rules he didn’t understand, partly because of the endemic corruption, and partly because the actions and motivations of the Powers That Be (in both the Chinese and political communities) were concealed from him and inscrutable to him. When his client, Evelyn Mulwray learns he’d been a detective in Chinatown, she asks:

Evelyn Mulwray: What were you doing there?
Jake Gittes: Working for the District Attorney.
Evelyn: Doing what?
Jake: As little as possible.
Evelyn: The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?
Jake: They do in Chinatown.

As little as possible. Jake’s disillusionment was compounded when he attempted to help a Chinese woman. He says, “I thought I was keeping someone from being hurt and actually I ended up making sure she was hurt.” That same scenario plays out in the main plot, much of which is taken up with a long, brilliant McGuffin. It draws Jake into a situation in which he feels an obligation to rescue his client, Evelyn, and her daughter from an ugly situation involving Evelyn’s father–a multimillionaire developer. Once again, Jake finds himself in a situation in which the rules/laws aren’t clear to him, in which he doesn’t understand the motives or actions of the people involved, and where his attempts to help result in more harm. Had he done ‘as little as possible’ things may have worked out better, even if the situation itself remained awful.

In the final scene, his client is dead, the bad guys win, and Jake is not only helpless, he’s also partly responsible. He sees her body, mutters “…as little as possible” and is ordered away from the scene by his former Chinatown detective partner. As he’s being led away, one of Jake’s current employees tells him, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

This scenario is being played out with President Uncle Joe and the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. It’s a culture–actually, a number of inter-related ancient tribal cultures–we don’t understand, cultures that operate on traditional rules and norms unknown to us, with values and ethics that are often alien to us, with goals that are foreign to us. The US and our Western allies have been attempting to resolve our involvement relying on OUR cultural norms and OUR values to achieve OUR goals. Forget it, Joe. It’s Afghanistan.

We had a valid reason (at least in my opinion) to intrude militarily in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda had used that nation as a training ground and recruitment center for the 9/11 attacks. We had a legit reason to go after al Qaeda. After that, things got…loose.

The fact is, no foreign adventure has ever succeeded in Afghanistan. Alexander the Great, whose Macedonian army basically walked over every army they’d fought, got caught up in a long guerrilla-style war in Afghanistan. He never fully succeeded in pacifying the various Afghan tribes. Before he died, Alexander said, “May God keep you away from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger, and the revenge of the Afghans.” Various Muslim invasions succeeded in converting most Afghan tribes to Islam, but never completely controlled the area. The Mongols, under Genghis Khan, occupied much of the area for quite a long time, but their empire also fell apart. Nobody held the area as long as Timur the Great–but it’s worth noting that Timur was known as Timur the Lame (or ‘Tamerlane’ as he was called by Europeans) because of wounds he received fighting Afghan tribes. After Timur’s empire failed, the Sikhs attempt to invade Afghan territories several times without much success. The British invaded three times in the 19th and early 20th centuries–and got their asses kicked each time. Russia invaded three times–in 1929, 1930, and finally in 1979–and got their asses kicked each time.

And, of course, the US (and NATO) invaded in 2001. We know how that worked out.

But here’s the thing the Afghan tribes have always known and the thing foreign invaders never seem to figure out: the Afghans don’t have to win any wars; they only have to keep fighting at some level, and eventually the invaders–no matter who they are, or where they’re from, and how powerful they are–will leave. The various Afghan tribes are unconcerned about foreign military deadlines or the domestic political necessities of foreign powers or the costs those powers incur; they’re operating on God’s time, and they measure cost on a different scale.

President Uncle Joe’s decision to pull out troops is just an acknowledgment that Afghanistan is Chinatown. Doesn’t matter if we had a legit reason for being there, doesn’t matter if our long low-level war of occupation was a genuine attempt to help the Afghan peoples (and I’m not convinced it was), doesn’t matter what our motives were. Like every other invasion force in Afghan history, we’ve almost certainly done more harm than good.

There’s a scene in Chinatown in which Jake Gittes speaks with Noah Cross, the millionaire developer behind all the misery that’s taking place. Cross inhabits a world where laws and rules of ordinary decency don’t seem to apply–a world that’s as ambiguous and perplexing to Jake as that of Chinatown, a world that’s just as baffling and complex as our involvement in Afghanistan.

Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake: I just wanna know what you’re worth. More than 10 million?
Noah: Oh my, yes!
Jake: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can’t already afford?
Noah: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

That’s why we’re in Afghanistan. The future. Their future, our future–we think we can make it better. We think we have the means and the power and the right to make it better. We think we know what ‘better’ means.

We don’t. We just don’t.

Forget it, Joe. It’s Afghanistan.

potzer

Years ago, when I lived in Manhattan, I was noodling around Washington Square Park and saw a couple of chess hustlers nearly come to blows. Not over a game of chess exactly, but because–wait. Yes, there are actual chess hustlers in NYC. Anything that can be hustled is being hustled in NYC. A good chess hustler can make a couple hundred dollars a day, playing tourists and chess enthusiasts for, say, three to five bucks a match. Mostly you’ll find them hustling in the parks–Washington Square Park, Central Park, Union Park.

Okay, back to the almost-fight. It wasn’t over a chess match. It was almost a fight because one chess hustler had called another a potzer. A small crowd had gathered; I turned to the guy next to me–another chess hustler–and asked him, “What’s a potzer?” He gave me a look that basically said, “If you have to ask….” Another told me a potzer was “a wood-pusher,” which I interpreted as an incompetent chess player. A third guy said, in a growly Eastern European accent, “Is Yiddish. Or German. An insult.”

I love a good insult. Potzer, it turns out, is a great insult. It doesn’t mean somebody who’s merely incompetent. It doesn’t mean somebody who is simply an amateur. It means a bungler, somebody who’s not as good as they think they are, a wanna-be who’s really a never-can-be but doesn’t recognize it. A potzer may have a rudimentary understanding of a particular skill set, but is ill-informed, clumsy at the actual skills necessary, and confused about the point.

It’s an insult usually restricted to chess players, but I think it can be applied to almost anything. Like politics. Matt Gaetz is a potzer. Comrade Trump, a potzer. Gym Jordan, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene–hell, the entire Republican Party in Congress, all potzers.

These people are NOT in Congress to legislate. They’re there to perform. They’re not there to work for the common good; they’re there to draw an audience and keep their attention. While they may have the rudimentary understanding of governance, they lack both the skills necessary to accomplish it and the desire to follow through. Mainly, they’re in Congress to seize the public’s attention by creating wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades. Gaetz actually described his political ‘agenda’ as elevating his profile. He said:

“The way that you’re able to elevate your profile in Washington is to drive conflict, because conflict is interesting. And I think that the really powerful people in this town are the ones that can go on television and make an argument, and that’s power that leadership can never take away from you.”

Matt Gaetz, potzer.

Go on television, get power. That’s why he’s in Congress. Gaetz and his ilk (ooh, a tangent…ilk is derived from the Proto-Germanic ilīkaz, meaning ‘a body’. And ilīkaz is also the root term for lich, which refers to a re-animated corpse, which somehow seems appropriate when speaking about the modern GOP) operate on the belief that somehow power and authority are a product of the number of people who are paying attention to you. That’s why they rarely address actual legislative issues (which tend to be rather dull and unexciting) and focus instead on flashy distractions. Like ‘radical libs attacking Dr. Suess’ or ‘male perverts dressing and identifying as women in order to watch young girls pee in the women’s toilet at Walmart’.

These people are poseurs. They think they’re playing chess because they can identify the pieces and recognize the board. They know the basic moves, but they’re not serious players. They don’t ‘get it’ at a fundamental level.

In one sense, it matters what happens to Matt Gaetz. It matters because he’s corrupt and a colossal asshole–and corrupt assholes should never be allowed to get away with it. But in another sense, it doesn’t matter at all, because Gaetz is, and always will be, a wood-pusher. A potzer. And like all potzers, he doesn’t even know it.

still trash

Back in October of 2019 I wrote that the GOP is a trash party. I wrote that what made the Republican Party trash wasn’t because they “…abandoned an internally consistent conservative ideology (or anything resembling an internally consistent ideology), or that they’ve completely abdicated any interest in governance, or even that they have no respect at all for truth, decency, law, compassion, science, or the U.S. Constitution.” They had done all that, of course. But what made them trash was “the joy they seem to take in pissing all over the traditions and norms they claim to represent” and their perverse reasoning that ‘owning the libs’ is a legit substitute for ethics and morality.

Since then, the Republican Party has solidified their reputation as a trash party. They seem to revel in it, and apparently believe that by openly acting like trash, they’re immune to consequences. Sadly, there’s some basis in reality for that belief. Why would Florida’s weasel-in-a-suit Matt Gaetz be concerned about consequences of sleeping with teen-aged girls, getting them fake IDs, transporting them across state lines, and showing naked photos of them to fellow GOP members of Congress when the head of their party–former President Comrade Trump–could brag about grabbing women by the pussy, ogling naked Miss Teen USA contestants, paying off porn stars to hide his sexual affairs (not to mention protecting murderous foreign tyrants and fomenting a violent insurrection in his own nation) without losing any support from his voters?

What Gaetz is accused of is small beans compared to Trump. Gaetz is essentially Trump in the larval stage. Gaetz is Trump evolved. It took Trump a long time to realize that politics could be a lucrative grift; Gaetz learned that lesson at a much earlier stage. Despite all the recent ugly revelations about Gaetz, not a single Republican has suggested he should resign–or even chastised him. After the January 6th insurrection, Gaetz gave a speech on the floor of Congress claiming the violence was caused by ‘antifa’ and was applauded. Compare that to the GOP response to Biden nominee for OMB Neera Tanden, who was forced to withdraw her nomination because she’d tweeted some ‘mean’ comments about Republicans.

The modern Republican Party has traded in its conservative ideology for a simple hyper-partisan political strategy:

  • Abandon shame
  • Lie and distract
  • Treat accusations of immoral/unethical/illegal conduct as partisan political attacks
  • Lie and distract
  • Treat accusations of immoral/unethical/illegal conduct as proof Democrats are targeting you for being a Christian/conservative
  • Lie and distract
  • Treat accusations of immoral/unethical/illegal conduct as a badge of honor
  • Lie and distract

And hey, it seems to work for them. So far. But surely, eventually it’ll catch up to them. Won’t it? I mean, the Republican Party used to have statesmen. They used to have principled conservatives, thoughtful patriots acting for what they believed to be the common good of the people. I disagreed with them, but for the most part I felt they were acting in what they believed was the best interests of the nation.

Not anymore. Now the GOP is a party of grifters, knuckleheads, yahoos, vindictive fuckwits, self-serving seditionists, vacuous privileged frat boys, judgmental bone-brained pseudo-Christians, hateful sadists, and proud anti-intellectual obstructionists.

Trash, in other words.

Gaetz may eventually be invited to leave Congress, sacrificed by his own party because he’s too inconvenient. He may eventually find himself in legal trouble. If that happens, he’ll be treated as a martyr by Republicans. But the real risk is that Democrats will consider it a victory. In fact, IF that happens, it’ll be like swatting an annoying gnat while ignoring a Congress filled with cabbage maggots, venomous spiders, voracious locusts, and fire ants. The larger problem of the GOP will still exist.

Until the Republican Party is either obliterated or somehow reformed back into a legit political party, it’ll remain trash.

a massive tsunami of cabbage

Democrats: We think we should help people who’ve suffered as a result of the pandemic.
Republicans: Okay. Wait…which people?
Dems: All of them, but mostly the poor and working classes.
Reps: Seriously?
Dems: Seriously.
Reps: Uh, you realize they’re not going to donate to your campaigns, right?
Dems: Well…
Reps: Not in any meaningful way. Maybe a couple of bucks now and then, but we’re not talking about a massive tsunami of cabbage. They’re…you know…poor and all that.
Dems: Yeah. That’s why they need help.
Reps: So it’s not about campaign contributions?
Dems: It’s not about campaign contributions.
Reps: So it’s a political stunt. Not sure how that helps our party.
Dems: We think it’s good politics, but mainly it’s about helping the people.
Reps: Sure. But try to see it from our perspective. If YOU guys help…you know, ‘the people’…they’re going to wonder why WE didn’t help them when we wore the big hat.
Dems: Maybe. But the point is the people need help. So we should…you know…help them.
Reps: I dunno. How much help are we talking about?
Dems: A lot of help. Huge help. Uh…a massive tsunami of cabbage.
Reps: What? No. Are you kidding? Fuck that.
Dems: But…
Reps: Maybe we take some baby steps. A little bit of help. A tiny bit. Mostly symbolic. Enough that ‘the people’ will get the idea, but not so much that it’ll piss off our base.
Dems: If we reduce the amount of the help, will you vote with us?
Reps: Hah! Nofuckingway. Our base would set fire to the goddamn Capitol again. Have you MET those guys? They fucking nuts.
Dems: If you’re not going to support the legislation, then why should we modify it to help you?
Reps: In the interest of bipartisanship. The ‘people’ like bipartisanship. They eat that shit up with a spoon.
Dems: But bipartisanship requires both of us to be willing to cooperate in the interest of good policy.
Reps: See, you guys always get that wrong. Bipartisanship just means using the word ‘bipartisan’ now and then. Or it means accusing you guys of not being bipartisan. It’s just a word we have to insert into our messaging. Kinda like ‘Christian’.
Dems: Yeah, no, I don’t think so.
Reps: So…you’re still going ahead with that ‘helping ‘the people” business?
Dems: Yep.
Reps: Look, that’s really going to hurt us. You don’t want to do that, do you?
Dems: No, but we really DO want to help the people.

Reps: You may want to think about this. We have this whole Dr. Seuss thing we’ve been working on. It’ll fuck you up, big time. And we’ve got a Mr. Potato Head’s dick agenda that will leave you guys bleeding in the goddamn gutter.
Dems: Thanks for the warning, but I think we’ll keep…wait. Mr. Potato Head’s dick?
Reps: It’s a thing. We’re still setting the parameters of the campaign. But if you guys insist on this ‘the people’ bullshit, we will choke you on Mr. Potato Head’s dick.
Dems: It’s a risk we’ll have to take.
Reps: Sorry…wasn’t listening. I was composing a fundraising email. I’m telling you, Mr. Potato Head is going to bring us a massive tsunami of cabbage. What were you saying?
Dems: We were saying we’re still going to help the people.
Reps: Okay. Go ahead. You guys are going to fucking ruin government, but go ahead. You’ll find out. You can’t dodge Mr. Potato Head’s dick. This is big boy politics.

quō vādis, y’all

Okay, Republicans, quō vādis and all that. Whither goest thou? To where are you marching? Where in the holy hell do you go from here? After a couple decades of shifting your focus away from policy and governance and investing almost exclusively in ‘owning the libs,’ what comes next? Where do you go when your party has lost control of both Congress and the presidency, and is now defined almost entirely by unquestioned subservience to a leader who’s been impeached twice? What comes after supporting the only president in U.S. history to foment a violent assault on the nation’s Capitol building? Seriously Republicans, quō fucking vādis?

Lacking leadership, the GOP is content to march angrily off in all directions at once.

Quick tangent. You may be asking, “Greg, old sock, why the Latin? Why quō vādis?” Because it’s appropriate in a couple of ways. First, it’s appropriate because most Republicans call themselves Christians, and the Latin phrase comes from a Biblical story. Well, sort of Biblical. It’s in the Acts of Peter, which is one of the apocryphal gospels. I’m going to resist the temptation to explain the apocryphal gospels, because that would require me to go off on a tangent within this current tangent. If you’re curious, do the research.

Second, the Latin is appropriate because of the lesson of the story. So, here’s the story. Around thirty years after Jesus got crucified, Peter, the apostle, goes to Rome to preach the gospel. While he’s there, he gets in a fuss with a guy named Simon Magus (again, if you’re interested, do the research), after which Peter decides it would be a good idea for him to leave town for a bit. Let the fuss die down. As he’s on his way, Peter meets Jesus toting a cross. Remember, Jesus had been dead for three decades at this point. Also, that cross? It talks. (I am NOT making that up; this talking cross may help explain why the Acts of Peter was shifted into the apocrypha). Anyway, Peter asks Jesus, “Quō vādis?” This is usually translated as “Whither goest thou?” or more simply, “Where are you going?” A more accurate translation, I’m told, would be “To where are you marching?” but the intent is the same. Jesus answers, “Rōmam eō iterum crucifīgī,” which means “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again.”

“No, really. I’m going to get crucified again. It’s my job. You should try it.”

This is the Biblical lesson. Sometimes you need to stop, think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, then turn around and get back to doing the good work you know you’re supposed to be doing. It gives Peter the courage to return to Rome and keep preaching. Unfortunately for Peter, he gets crucified on his return to Rome. Upside down, apparently.

So yeah, it didn’t end pretty for Peter, but the idea is still sound. The question and the answer are still important. Where are you going, Republicans? What’s your intended destination? What’s the purpose of your journey? What’s the nature of your good work? Where does the Republican Party go after they’ve attempted to overturn a fair election…and failed? Where do they go after they’ve shrugged off a violent insurrection?

Think about it. A hundred and twenty-one Republicans in the House objected to the Electoral College vote–and that was after the insurrection threatened their own safety. A hundred and ninety-seven of them voted against the second articles of impeachment. Forty-three of the fifty Republicans in the Senate voted to acquit Trump of inciting the insurrection–an insurrection that was not only intended to disrupt and/or stop the peaceful transfer of power to the legitimately elected president, but also threatened the lives of the next three people in the line of presidential succession.

“Wait…Jesus gets killed? That’s how it ends? Seriously?”

The only good thing about this is that some Republicans are asking themselves about the future of their party. Susan Collins, the tower of Jello representing Maine, said this:

“I think we need to get away from the idea that the Republican Party is just one person and adherence to just one leader.”

She thinks that’s what the GOP needs. But her comment is a sad example of the very problem Republicans are facing. Instead of addressing the actual issue–instead of trying to figure out a viable future direction of the party–Republicans are concentrating their energy on whether or not they should remain faithful to an unfaithful, dishonest, failed former president. That simply reinforces the notion that they ARE a party of just one person, just one leader. Without Trump, the Republican Party is rudderless. Without Trump, there is…well, nothing.

Don’t forget, for the first time since 1854, the GOP didn’t bother to craft a party platform for a presidential 2020 election. They basically said their party platform was whatever Trump wanted at any given moment. There is no longer any traditionally conservative governing philosophy that unites Republicans and shapes their policy positions. There is absolutely nothing that moves the GOP forward except the entertainment value of “owning the libs.”

Do they try to regroup? If so, as what? As a traditional center-right conservative political party? Do they gather together and concoct a political party platform? Do they get caught up in some sort of political mitosis and split into two different political parties? Do they just continue to drift randomly, driven only by opposing whatever Democrats propose and the haphazard, arbitrary, volatile anger and resentment of their base? Do they organize and morph into a violent guerrilla insurrectionist movement?

Live Trump or die.

I don’t have any answers. I know what I’d like. I’d like to see the GOP reform into a functioning organization with moderate, conservative values and policies I can oppose but still understand. I’d like them to be a traditional loyal opposition party. But that seems unlikely. Hell, nothing seems likely. No particular possible future seems more likely than any other; it all seems pretty aimless and accidental.

I haven’t a clue what comes next. But I’m genuinely curious, and a wee bit fearful.

the gutter of rancor and vitriol

Yesterday all one hundred members of the United States Senate were sworn in as jurors in the historic Repeachment trial of Comrade Donald Trump. A short time later, 45 of those senators–all Republicans, of course–voted against holding that trial.

That vote came about because Rand Paul, the weasel-ass Republican from Kentucky, had raised a point of order on the constitutionality of the repeachment trial. Although the Senate doesn’t have any legal authority to decide on the constitutionality of any issue, Paul suggested the trial would be unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president. He said,

“Private citizens don’t get impeached. Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office. Hyperpartisan Democrats are about to drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation’s history.”

Rand Paul, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is a lying sack of rancid horseshit. Private citizens DO get impeached IF they’re former federal officials. There are several examples of this, though not at the presidential level. And if Rand Paul thinks a repeachment trial is dragging the US “into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen” I’d suggest he visit YouTube and watch some of the videos of the January 6th Insurrection. There’s some solid rancorous, vitriolic gutter-work there.

Senator Rand Paul (Weasel-ass, Ky) addresses the United States Senate.

The fact is, it’s not just Trump who’ll be on trial during the repeachment. The entire Republican Party will be on trial. Trump may have lit the fuse that caused the explosion at the Capitol, but the GOP either applauded him or stood quietly by while he did it. A hundred and forty Republican members of the House attempted to block the electoral college from certifying Biden’s election on the day of the insurrection. Yesterday, forty-five Republican senators supported Rand Paul’s objection to the repeachment trial. Republicans are actively working to prevent Trump from being held accountable for any criminal act, mainly because it would implicate them in the crimes as well. In doing so, the GOP is undermining representative democracy.

I’m of the opinion that any senator who believes the election was rigged or who refuses to acknowledge that Uncle Joe is the legit president, should be disqualified to act as a juror. In fact, here are some questions I think all one hundred senators should be asked–and required to answer under oath–during the repeachment trial:

  • Do you believe the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump?
  • Do you believe there is evidence of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election?
  • Do you believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States?
  • Do you believe Donald Trump disseminated a lie when he repeatedly told his followers the election had been stolen from him?
  • Do you believe Trump bears any responsibility for lying about the election?
  • Do you believe the invasion of the Capitol Building would have taken place if Trump hadn’t lied to his supporters about losing the election?
  • Do you believe the invasion of the Capitol was justified?
  • Do you believe the safety of VP Pence and Speaker Pelosi was at risk during the invasion?
  • Do you believe your personal safety–or the safety of your staff–was at risk during the rioting?
  • Do you believe the rioters should be held accountable for their actions?

Let’s face it; the entire GOP is guilty of dragging our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol. Many of them were complicit in Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. The repeachment trial is as much a trial for the Republican Party itself. Will the GOP acknowledge its guilt and try to atone for it, or will they compound their guilt by denying it?

The truly sad thing–and I genuinely mean this makes me sad–is that they’ll almost certainly try to pretend they’re innocent.

yesterday was a peach bellini

Comrade Trump is gone. Uncle Joe Biden is the prez, with Kamala Harris as veep. Democracy has been resurrected. Winter will end. Bluebirds will sing again. Flowers will grow unbidden where Amanda Gorman walks. The breeze will be warm (or cool) and scented like apricots. All small towns will be called Bedford Falls. A cup of coffee will only cost a nickel.

Okay, maybe there’s some wishful thinking in there. But that’s sort of how it felt yesterday. That feeling won’t last, of course. Reality is a merciless sumbitch (as QAnon believers discovered yesterday); the Covid pandemic is still killing thousands of Americans every damned day, the climate is still massively fucked, and it’ll take a generation or so before anything like real racial/gender justice takes firm root.

But we deserve — hell, we need — a few days to just let the feeling that good things can still happen roll over us. Yes, there’s a LOT of work to do, but let’s not allow necessity to cast a shadow over the multitude of ways yesterday was special. Just one example: the undiluted joy of seeing the first woman — a woman who is black AND Asian — sworn in as Vice President of the United States by the first woman of color appointed to the US Supreme Court with her hand on a Bible that belonged to the first black man appointed to the US Supreme Court. That’s some serious history, right there.

So let’s not make a fuss about which particular bit of history yesterday was the most significant. It’s not a contest. And let’s not scold or castigate (now there’s an interesting word; it’s derived from the same root as ‘chaste’ and it originally meant ‘to make someone pure by correction or reproof’) other folks for enjoying a fashion decision, or an internet meme, or the selection of an entertainer that seems trivial compared to the magnitude of yesterday’s events. And for fuck’s sake, let’s not be assholes about ‘winning’. A bit of gloating is understandable and forgivable (did I spell that right? It doesn’t look right), but even though Trump and his followers treated us as the enemy, we shouldn’t prove them right.

I’m NOT saying we need to forgive and forget. Fuck that. But I am saying unity is important. There are people who ought to be investigated; if found responsible for awful behavior, they need to be held accountable. NOT for our pleasure or amusement, but because that’s how society is supposed to work. (On the other hand, if we get some measure of pleasure and amusement out of it, that’s gravy and we needn’t deny ourselves of it.)

I guess what I’m saying is this: yesterday was a good day. A really good day. Let’s not make any more of it than what it was, but let’s also not diminish or minimize any part of it. Yesterday was…let’s say yesterday was a peach Bellini. A cool, stimulating, mildly alcoholic cocktail with a delightful but subdued color palette. Was it a great peach Bellini? No, not really. Ideally a Bellini would be made with Prosecco and white peaches. Maybe this one was made with champagne instead of Prosecco, maybe with yellow peaches instead of white. But it was a very good Bellini, served properly, and at exactly the right moment.

Drink it, don’t diss it for not being perfect, don’t overstate its fine qualities, just enjoy it for what it is. Fizzy, refreshing, sweet, mellow, but stimulating.

heart’s grown brutal

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it. Right now, today, we have about twenty thousand National Guard troops in Washington, DC to protect our government from our president. We have been forced to mobilize a military force larger than the military response we have stationed in Afghanistan or Iraq in order to insure that the insurrectionist followers of Donald Trump won’t disrupt the inauguration of the legitimately elected President of the United States.

That is completely fucking insane–and yet here we are. We’ve arrived at this unnerving moment of history because Trump, supported by sycophantic Republicans in Congress and in coordination with a nexus of unhinged right-wing anti-government cranks and conspiracy theorists (fueled in part by Russian social media disinformation trolls), refuses to acknowledge he lost the 2020 election. Even though Trump has apparently abandoned the demented fantasy that he might somehow, magically, still be declared the winner, he hasn’t yet abandoned his lies about the election being ‘stolen’. That lie hangs in the air, fouling any hope for reconciliation.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare

Billy B. Yeats wrote that in 1922. Ireland, after a couple of years of open warfare against British troops, had signed a treaty with the United Kingdom, granting independence to all but six of Ireland’s counties. The failure to establish full independence sparked the Irish Civil War, between those who insisted on full independence and those who were willing to accept partition in the hope that it would someday lead to a united Ireland. It led to Irish people fighting against “Irish soldiers of an Irish government set up by Irishmen.”

The poem is called The Stare’s Nest by My Window. Apparently in the west of Ireland ‘stare’ was the local term for a starling. I’d read the poem a number of times and loved the language of it, but it wasn’t until I was living in DC and had the chance to hear the poet Seamus Heaney read it aloud, that it actually made sense to me.

William Butler Yeats

When he wrote the poem, Yeats was living in a 16th century tower called Thoor Ballylee. Outside his window, honeybees were building a comb in the crevices of the crumbling masonry near an abandoned starling’s nest. Yeats uses all that as a metaphor for the Irish Civil War. The old tower is falling apart, the nest where mother starlings brought “grubs and flies” to feed the nestlings is empty, but bees are still at work creating a home filled with the sweetness of honey.

My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

Outside his tower, in the real world, Irishmen were killing Irishmen. Yeats acknowledges that violence in the poem — “somewhere / A man is killed, or a house burned.” “Last night they trundled down the road / That dead young soldier in his blood.” He pleads for peace and rebuilding, for restoring the masonry of civil society, in a repeated refrain. “O honey-bees / Come build in the empty house of the stare.”

This is where we find ourselves now, here in the United States. We’re badly divided, but unlike the Irish in 1922, we’re not divided by competing notions of independence; we’re divided by willfully ugly lies, deliberately ugly rhetoric, and ugly conspiratorial fantasies created, spread, and often repeated by prominent Republicans.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love.

The masonry holding our society together has been eroded, often intentionally, by those who want to create uncertainty and fear in order to stay in power. Our hearts have grown brutal; our hate seems stronger than our love. We desperately want/need it to be repaired. I believe–I want to believe–it’s possible to repair the damage. I see all those troops camped out in the ornate halls of our government, and the possibility of Americans fighting Americans fills me with dread and sorrow. Like Yeats, I feel we are “closed in, and the key is turned / On our uncertainty.”

I have no clear idea what will happen over the coming months. I have hopes; I have fears. I take some small comfort in knowing that countless others throughout history have felt similar hopes and fears. The fact that we’re able to read their writing today is proof that folks generally muddle through somehow.

Here’s the entire poem, probably in violation of some copyright somewhere.

The Stare’s Nest by My Window (1922)

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned.
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war:
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.