“I Go for Joe” (Smith, that is)

terrytown4jres

The home of the richest man in town. He said so.

On Facebook yesterday, I posted the following grouse:

I have an old new theme song from junior high summer camp. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. . .” At least this country’s not my home. What happened to the place I used to live where equality and civility were at least seen as goals to work for?

Silly, yes, but several of my friends responded positively, one – who is not quite my age – at some length.

My complaint could have several meanings, of course. The old camp song is about mortality and heaven.   I wonder what a bunch of junior high school kids could possibly have known of mortality. The Baptists were preparing us to believe we will be ushered directly into heaven if or when we die. However, at that age we surely did not think the angels would, in point of fact, beckon us. Ever.

The song raises and, for the faithful, puts to rest the question of mortality whether or not a bunch of 13-year-olds might understand it.

However, these days I take it to mean more, much more. In fact, I find it meaningful even though I have long since given up any belief in heaven.

In 1956, one of the most influential men in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, my home town, was a delegate to the Republican national convention. He was indignant about the inevitability of the nominations. When it came time in the roll call for the Nebraska delegation to pass so Richard Nixon could be nominated for Vice-President by acclamation, the delegate took the floor and nominated Joe Smith, a fictitious person. I wrote about this event awhile back.

Terry Carpenter  was not, at least by the reckoning of the adults I knew, admirable. He was wealthy, egotistical, and politically opportunistic. He famously said he wanted to help the little man because when the revolution came, they’d go for the biggest house in town, “Which is mine.” It was his – a two-story mansion on half a block of property, just down the street from our home. During his career, he was a member of Congress, mayor of Scottsbluff, and a member of the Nebraska legislature, switching back and forth from Democrat to Republican depending on which party was in power.

Something I read recently about the new “populism” reminded me of Carpenter (which incidentally indicated to me how bizarre the use of that term is in our current political milieu). I googled him. He died in 1978 at the age of 78. If we had been septuagenarians in the same place at the same time, I would like to have known him. I know no rich and powerful folks well enough to engage them in conversation about what they think and feel, but I’d like to ask such a person if riches and power preclude a person from thinking

. . . the angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

Terry Carpenter’s life and career remind me of other folks. For example, do Donald Trump and members of Congress, more than half of whom are millionaires, think “This world is not [their] home; [they’re] just a-passin’ through”?

As a kid at Baptist camp, I memorized the entire Sermon on the Mount from the book Matthew. I know the admonition, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2, RSV).terry-carpenter-lincoln-journal-star-file-photo-1968

Senator Terry Carpenter opposing 1971 course in Homophile studies at the
University of Nebraska.

I’m probably judging (my friends would say there is no doubt about it), but I’m trying to understand how one might (apparently) live in such certainty of one’s place in the world, if not in the universe, to seem to have no awareness that “[their] treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” Is it possible to be unaware? Why does Donald Trump need to own towers all around the world? Why does Betsy DeVos need to be head of a government department? Why does Darrel Issa, with his half-billion dollar fortune need to be in Congress? He’s only 63, so perhaps it makes some sense that he’s not thinking about heaven. Yet.

I’m moderately certain that nowhere beyond the blue a treasure is waiting for me when I die. Or for Terry Carpenter, Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and Darrell Issa. I am, however, relatively certain that whatever meager treasure I have this side of the blue is not going to keep me from dying. I am more and more certain with each passing day that this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. And I may be wrong, but I think  those other folks are just passing through, too.

My Facebook post was incorrect. I have never lived in a place “where equality and civility were at least seen as goals to work for.” Terry Carpenter was around when I was a kid, and all those other rich and powerful folks are around now. I was in Scottsbluff then, and I’m in Dallas now, judging and criticizing and being cantankerous (and perhaps jealous) as I apparently always have done.

Oh well. It doesn’t matter in the long run if we are civil or work for equality or do any of those things that seem like nice ideas – because there is no long run.

A CAMPAIGN STATEMENT BY JOE SMITH’S OPPONENT, ADLAI STEVENSON.
I think one of our most important tasks is to convince others that there’s nothing to fear in difference; that difference, in fact, is one of the healthiest and most invigorating human characteristics without which life would become meaningless. Here lies the power of the liberal way. . .  in helping ourselves and others to see some of the possibilities inherent in viewpoints other than one’s own; in encouraging the free interchange of ideas; in welcoming fresh approaches to the problems of life; in urging the fullest, most vigorous use of self-criticism.  (Quoted in John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church. A Chosen Faith. Boston: Beacon Press (1998) 81.)

“. . . a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was. . .” (Walter Benjamin)

samothrace

The pantheon of Samothrace (Photo: Wikipedia)

In 1968 I voted for the first time. Humphrey for President. Naturally. I am not to blame for Nixon. I went so far as to exercise my public duty and work as a tiny cog in the big wheel of the campaign at the county Democratic party headquarters in a ramshackle house on Euclid Avenue in Upland, CA. In that year and in 1972 I still thought politics ―democracy― worked in this country. I headed up the 1972 McGovern campaign in our town. I am not to blame for Watergate. That was the last time I worked in a political campaign.

I was determined to keep this blog free from my amateurish political ramblings, but I find it almost impossible to insulate myself from political machinations these days. Our presidential cabal (a cabal is a group of plotters against the government, but these are governmental plotters against the people) has one facility above all others, i.e., to catch us off-guard with some (ultimately) meaningless but (deliberately) bewitching bit of chicanery every day. Steve Bannon is the master-mind of these dangerous distractions. We are living in the era of the “shock event.”

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal (Heather Richardson, Facebook, January 29, 2017; Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College).

When I was young(er), I accepted many assumptions that were probably naively dangerous. Having come of age in the era of the anti-Vietnam War protests, I thought the American democratic process would eventually right the course of the ship of state. After all, Lyndon Johnson was unceremoniously convinced not to run for reelection. We got Nixon/Kissinger in his place, but they did withdraw from Viet Nam in 1975.

We (I, at any rate) were too naïve to realize that the correction of course would be so drastic it would begin the slide ever more to the right until we are being coerced (not led) by Steve Bannon, Chief White House Strategist and former investment banker at Goldman Sachs, who says he doesn’t

. . . believe there is a functional conservative party in this country and [I] certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that. It’s going to be an insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment, and it’s going to continue to hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party. (Conor Friedersdorf. “The Radical Anti-Conservatism of Stephen Bannon.” The Atlantic. Aug 25, 2016.)

“. . . an insurgent movement . . . that is virulently anti-establishment . . .” except for one central component of the establishment. The

. . . big banks were never the focus of his [Bannon’s] animus. “Goldman Sachs isn’t the firm it once was when I worked for it,” he explained in a gentle 2010 critique, but “it is still one of the building blocks of our capitalist society” (Friedersdorf).

The purpose of “trick[ing us into] accepting their real goal” is to destroy government function and finally to invest private corporations with all power and autonomy, that is, to give the final victory to the capitalistic oligarchy. His (and Trump’s) belief in the capitalist iron fist is religious in its fervor.

One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion. The proof of capitalism’s religious structure―as not only a religiously conditioned construction . . . but as an essentially religious phenomenon―still today misleads one to a boundless, universal polemic . . . .
___Three characteristics of the religious structure of capitalism are, however, recognizable at present. First, capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was. Within it everything only has meaning in direct relation to the cult . . .  This concretization of the cult connects with a second characteristic of capitalism: the permanent duration of the cult . . .  Third, this is a cult that engenders blame. Capitalism is presumably the first case of a blaming, rather than a repenting cult. Herein stands this religious system in the fall of a tremendous movement. An enormous feeling of guilt not itself knowing how to repent, grasps at the cult . . . (Benjamin, Walter. Selected Writings, Volume 1, 1913–1926, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard Belknap, 1996.)

Trump has an overarching reason for neither releasing his tax records nor divesting himself of his properties. It’s quite simple. Everything he (they) have done so far in the official life of the cabal is designed to prepare the way for the final and complete establishment of what they believe is the American religion―capitalism―and the subordination of the democratic order to their religious one.

Besides Bannon, Trump’s nominees for high government positions include:

  • Chairman Council of Economic Advisors― Gary Cohn, President and COO of Goldman Sachs;
  • Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission― Jay Clayton, partner at Manhattan law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, whose clients include Goldman Sachs;
  • Secretary of State―Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil for the last decade;
  • Secretary of the Treasury― Steven Munuchin,  a former senior executive at Goldman Sachs;
  • Secretary of Labor― Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants Holdings;
  • Secretary of Education― Betsy Devos, billionaire Republican donor whose wealth is from Amway;
  • Secretary of Commerce― Wilbur Ross, another billionaire, for 25 years, CEO of Rothschild Inc.

Am I even wackier than I was in the ‘70s when I was traipsing from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Iowa City, and points between participating in the movement to end the Viet Nam War? Does my analysis of Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his capitalist holdings in order to fulfill his oath to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” seem over-the-top, conspiratorial, without evidence? I’m sure it is all of those things.

I am an agnostic. My agnosticism applies to all religions, including capitalism.  I stand with Diagoras the Atheist of Melos, the fifth century Greek poet, who was the original atheist and free thinker.

He mocked the Eleusinian mysteries . . . and was outlawed from Athens for hurling the wooden statue of a god into a fire and sarcastically urging it to perform a miracle to save itself . . .  [He visited] a votive temple on the Aegean island of Samothrace. Those who escaped from shipwrecks or were saved from drowning at sea would display portraits of themselves here in thanks to the great sea god Neptune. “Surely,” Diagoras was challenged by a believer, “these portraits are proof that the gods really do intervene in human affairs?” Diagoras [replied], “Yea, but . . . where are they painted that are drowned?” (Petticrew, Mark. “Diagoras of Melos (500 BC): An Early Analyst of Publication Bias.” Lancet 352.9139. 1998: 1558.)

Where are the paintings of those whom capitalism has not saved?