I’ve spent my entire life bemused (when not enraged) by the extravagances of language, including hyperbole, unfounded generalizations, and a host of other pernicious and misleading rhetorical devices by my more agitated brethren and sisters of the Left. There seems to be another epidemic of the same disease at work, now, as the Occupy movement actively seeks to find a center (in more ways than one) and a way to be politically effective in a directed way, and the attempts of the “chattering masses” on the Left, apparently to agitate and provoke the agitate-able and provoke-able of we less publicly vocal yeomen and women. Now a 24-yr. old, recent journalism graduate of Morehead State, named Carl Gibson has announced that “America Has Become a Fascist Police State” [http://bit.ly/uQNdpR]. The slightly older and decidedly more well-known Naomi Wolf (as she ramps up her contorted public position) regarding the allegedly general police reaction to Occupy, unqualifiedly asserts “US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality…”. Fox News and its predecessors and fellow travelers have long since opened the current door to saying what you please, whether it’s true or not, and now the (finally) angered left that likes to babble to hear itself (and entertain those all too poised to believe what they hear) is marching through the same portal.
I don’t blame Mr. Gibson. He’s way too young to remember anything except possibly stories, told to him on, or at, someone’s knee, about the skewering of President Clinton, the “electronic lynching” of Justice Thomas, and the much more recent “evidence of WMD” that justified a trillion dollar war in Iraq that hasn’t ended yet. Ms. Wolf, a presumptive student of history (she is billed as a political consultant) should know better, even though she was born just a year before President Kennedy was assassinated, and was only six when Reverend King was killed. Had they longer memories, or were more prudent in making their assertions after checking what historical facts there are about police brutality and overreaction—and there is a sufficient body of knowledge that is essentially academic in nature that they might trust at least the fundamental accuracy of those accounts—they might not be so quick as to suggest, or state baldly that there’s anything new to the realization that “there’s a riot going on” (no less an august observer of cultural phenomena and current events than Sly of the Family Stone made this percipient declaration, to music no less—the song “Family Affair” from the album by that riotous name hit number one on the Billboard 200 charts for popular songs, and number three on their R&B charts, for two weeks back in 1971-72, almost exactly 40 years ago: Mr. Gibson was somewhere in the general gene pool at that time, and Ms. Wolf was just about to celebrate her tenth birthday).
Had they better memories, Gibson and Wolf would recall such things as the fire hoses and attack dogs turned routinely by the local constabulary, largely in the South, on non-violent demonstrators for civil rights for African-Americans, demonstrators, it might be added, of all colors by the mid-60s. They might recall the fire bomb dropped by helicopter by the Philadelphia police on the headquarters of the fundamentally African-American movement called “Move” back in 1985 (Wolf, precocious no doubt, and almost the age of Gibson now, and Gibson, still waiting to be born). They might recall through reading and being taught, as I was, as these events occurred even before my appearance on Planet Earth, of the use of Federal troops and state militias, as well as local police and constabulary, to forcefully quell and subdue demonstrators (sometimes, but not always, a polite term for “rioters”) agitating for causes ranging from better working conditions, to the outright need for work, to peace rather than war, or simply anti-war, throughout the history of the 20th century, towards which some people, in their fog and ignorance, sometimes look wistfully, if not in the full bloom of nostalgia. People forget the number of times, commissions (after the fact) and boards of inquiry, reviewing the actions of police in carrying out whatever orders they were given to restore the peace, insofar as it seemed to someone or other to have been threatened or actually disturbed, had in fact rioted themselves, and thus the concept (today we’d call it a “meme” of some sort, something like an animated GIF of memes being flipped through, like a cartoon) of a “police riot,” a combination of words that should otherwise be seen even by a moron as an oxymoron. I mean, I grew up at least to understand that police keep the peace (at least in the abstract; at least that’s the fundamental strategy; remember the phrase “law and order” and I’m not talking the long-running, prize-winning TV series?).
I have the fortune or misfortune to remember the accounts, because I was not there, though I was well into voting age, old enough to drink, and, for sure, to be drafted, of the iconic “police riot” of my day, in late August of 1968, in Chicago, during the maniac suppression and subduing of demonstrations, largely peaceable and civil, that happened to be proceeding, and upstaging, a singular quadrennial event called the National Convention of the Democratic Party, at that time still known, without irony, as the “people’s party.” Some party. Gibson at that time, understandably, still cosmologically absent, and Ms. Wolf, well she was only six, and was probably, at best, still reeling from the assassination, even as much as she could have understood the idea of this, of two leaders of our country’s most outspoken proponents of civil rights and antagonists of oppression or suppression of U.S. citizens. It was hard for me to take in, at 22. Though even then, at that age, without the advantage Mr. Gibson has of an additional two years of prescience, insight, and wisdom, I would not have declared, on harder evidence, that there was an argument to conclude that universally and absolutely the U.S. was a Fascist state. Strong words.
The Fascist states I recall, and they were these without question from any quarter among the ranks of historians, or any other discipline that pretends to seek objectivity, and they had been defeated decisively by the time I was born, were Germany under National Socialism and Italy under, well, the National Fascist Party (when in Rome, use Latin). It can be argued, and go ahead, I have no objection, that the totalitarian regime of Stalin in the guise of some form of communism was, in fact, largely fascist. I don’t have the political philosophical chops to disagree. No matter. These are our more current templates and models. Other lesser models abound, and they persisted until well into the latter part of the 20th century, or persist (but leave us not compare the U.S. to anywhere else; it might give us, heaven forbid, some perspective). North Korea bears some study. There’s Spain under Franco, and that leader, now long, and famously, “still-dead,” happened to meet his demise in 1975, around the time Ms.Wolf was well into puberty (I’m guessing) and Mr. Gibson, still waiting in the wings.
If we wanted models of true, unquestionable, police brutality—”unparalleled” or not is irrelevant; I don’t care to delve even further back in history: Tamburlaine, Genghis Khan, the Borgias, the Caesars… if you don’t know about Bull Connor or an individual named Frank Rizzo, who warrants another reference to Philadelphia and its police, rivals in their day to the notorious and corrupt, and brutal, LAPD of the 1990s, but we (i.e., Gibson & Wolf, et al.) don’t seem to remember even back that recently, then I don’t expect you to remember back so far as the tyrants, the true paradigms of tyranny, from so far back in the history of civilization—we’d have to take a somewhat wider in scope and more mindful look at recent, and then not so recent U.S. history. And as I said, god forbid that we do that. We might have to speak more reasonably, even amongst ourselves, loathe as we are to confront people who expressly disagree with us directly and to their faces. And it’s clear to me we simply don’t want to be reasonable, and our excuse is, “Well ‘they’re’ not reasonable!” Whoever “they” are for you: go ahead, pick your enemy: the 1%, or to fine-tune it (like Krugman suggests), the 0.1%, the right-wing, the Tea Party, the Republicans, or, god help us, now, the police. All police, everywhere, as long as they’re American.
References to the history of our country recently seem to have moved away from the positioning that, in the larger global scheme of things, we are still a young nation. Though the less than astute former Secretary of Defense Mr. Donald Rumsfeld found occasion to use the term “old Europe” in a wholly derisive way. That was in 2003, a year by which Ms. Wolf had long since acquired some credentials as a respectable and valid spokesperson for the Left, and Mr. Gibson must, at least, have been thinking about where he would be studying at an institution of higher learning to begin to acquire his own—he’s precocious it would seem: making pronouncements as off-the-wall as any established member of the old guard, and expecting an audience of some magnitude, having attained the imprimatur of yet another self-styled organization for truth-telling, the Reader Supported News, founded by the founder of the slightly better known “Truthout,” which is no better or worse at rabble-rousing and un-truth-telling, or, to be fair, shall I call it unsubstantiated truth-telling? But, as a young nation, we’re entitled to find our way still, especially with as fungible and elastic a political template to shape our wanderings as the U.S. Constitution is—and my apologies to strict constructionists, but that happens to be my point of view; in a half-assed way, I am a student of history, and that includes reading the Constitution, which I have; have you? We’re entitled to make the mistakes we’ve made in 220 years. The mistakes we continue to make, and will, if we are at all lucky and are not subsumed by the fires of progress: it’s an idea at least as old as the writers of the Old Testament; I’ll only quote “Mene mene tekel upharsin,” and move on (to coin a phrase). Included in those mistakes, of course, are the errors of judgment that are now an everyday occurrence, by those voted into power, those appointed to power, and those of the rest of us, left to comment. I don’t want to shut Gibson or Wolf up. I just want them to use the brains God gave them before they open their mouths or their laptops. And I’d like you, dear reader, to do the same: I have faith you do it once in awhile regularly. Maybe it’s time to make being mindful a 24/7 occupation, to use the common parlance.
Read these contributions, or any, at your peril. They will at best fuel your indignation and sense of righteousness (and then you’ll go off quietly somewhere and think about it; you can even do that while eating a sandwich of Thanksgiving leftovers). At worst they will fuel the ire and illogic of others possibly less prudent and introspective than you (surely you count yourself prudent and introspective, and, if you are older than Mr. Gibson, at least as old as Ms. Wolf, if not a bit younger, but still well into double-digit college reunions, consider yourself wise as well), and the small fires that are burning (some of them merely for warmth and light, as darkness falls, and heat, for the cooking of what sustains us) will become conflagrations. If I were to predict anything, and I am no prophet, nor a betting man, but if I were, that seems more likely. I mean the conflagrations, and they will not be a new thing, nor unparalleled. We have laid waste, we Americans, and our liberal Allies, truth-seekers and defenders of democracy, whole cities. And we have seen our citizens, and our police, lay waste to whole neighborhoods in our pure and unsullied country. Leave us not mention the natives of this continent.
But the first wasting, the one that enrages the lonely likes of me, because no one particularly wants to listen to some crank who spouts off at such obvious “truths” and says, “take a look at what you’re swallowing, before letting it go down whole,” is the wasting of the language. It’s the only vehicle we have for truth, even the truth we tell ourselves in the pure silence of our wakeful consciences, and we should not pollute or corrupt it. Whether our name is Limbaugh or Bachmann or Coulter—and anathema—or Gibson and Wolf, and not to be questioned, because the words they use satisfy our sense of what the truth must be. Otherwise it’s too complicated and troublesome, isn’t it? To grant some iota of truth to “the other side,” to admit not to knowing everything? To see grey, where it’s so much easier to differentiate black from white, and stop.