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Impeachment, illusion, and the Godfather factor

Updated: Feb 3, 2020

Mr. Chief Justice; Mr. Majority Leader; Mr. Minority Leader; Honorable Senators:

You've had a very long opening day. Yesterday’s session has continued into the wee hours of the morning, and “tomorrow” is today. The situation is reminiscent of George Orwell: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” I write today, not to confuse the American people further with the arcane jargon of English Common Law, but to appeal to the artists for inspiration. Without them, the civilized world might already have collapsed into a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Referencing Orwell again, “Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Under English Common Law, King Henry the Eighth ordered that his people be disemboweled, and that they watch their entrails leave their bodies before being drawn and quartered. Arguably, the arc of the universe has bent toward justice since then — torture is conducted in secret these days; executions in private chambers by invitation only. The horrors of the twentieth century taught even the most authoritarian personalities among us that propaganda is far more effective than naked violence. Yet, as Godfather figures throughout history have known, it’s best to keep the violence option in your back pocket if you have an interest in keeping the system going.

I understand that propping up an empire is hard work — and more of it for everyone. I’m sorry that everyone had to stay up so late, and that Mr. Nadler’s post-midnight statements were insulting and projected an angry tone. No one ever insulted anyone into agreement, however urgent the need for it; yet one has to acknowledge that any hungry and exhausted human being is prone to irritability. I’m sorry that the President’s legal team repeatedly claimed that House Democrats refused “due process” to the President during the House investigation, despite the fact that anyone can read Mr. Nadler’s correspondence in the public record — where Mr. Cipollone himself rejected on procedural grounds the Judiciary Committee's offer to participate, testify, and call witnesses. Admittedly, procedural issues cast a wide net of evasion for lawyers. The pressure to maintain the illusion of democracy and fairness must be intense on all sides. Your pain is almost comparable to the experiences of immigrants I’ve met, who worked around the clock without sleep for six months when they first arrived in the Land of the Free.

I’m sorry that the U.S. government is under occupation by global corporations, and that the continued existence of the nation state itself is in jeopardy. Sadly, the Trump Presidency and his affinity for his despotic global counterparts are only a symptom of our march toward a dystopian future. If we survive our delusions of superiority, honor, and freedom long enough to have a human history moving forward, it will surely remember the Constitution of the United States as a noble experiment — and its unraveling over time akin to a frog being brought to a boil slowly. As Shakespeare might say, a document "more honoured in the breach than the observance."

Space doesn't permit me to document all the enmeshments of church and state, the journalist arrests, the free-speech zone permits, the warrantless searches and seizures, the mass surveillance, the excessive bails, the militarization of local police departments, the mass incarcerations, the undeclared wars, or the universally-ignored first half of the sentence in the Second Amendment. Yet surely, an army of well-educated and “high net worth” Constitutional Lawyers is standing at the ready to explain to me the errors in my thinking. (If they have time to turn their heads from the plow.)

Yes, the artists continue to persist in speaking truth to power, and I understand how it irritates the authoritarian tendencies in us all. Lewis Carroll — who had a working familiarity with history, the Common Law, and the Divine Right of Kings — gave us Alice at Court, foolishly blurting out, “Nonsense! The idea of having the sentence first!” The only symbolism that author L. Frank Baum and movie director Victor Fleming required was a little dog pulling back a curtain to reveal the humbug wizard pulling the levers. Upton Sinclair — a master of brevity — summarized it this way: “It is difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends upon their not understanding it.” It takes a young child or a fool to blurt out in public that the Emperor hasn't got any clothes on; and in the Information Age a global empire is an empire of illusion.

Most of us like to think well of ourselves, and it must be disheartening to have to repeat phrases like “Honorable,” “Sanctity,” and “Hallowed Chamber” interminably to maintain the illusion of an intact democratic institution. The need for repetition appears to be inversely proportional to public disapproval ratings of Congress. The angry and insulting words from Mr. Nadler and Mr. Cipollone were indeed a violation of civility. Yet, if character flaws or lapses of politeness were cause for revoking our right to live, wouldn’t most of us be pushing up daisies? Unfortunately, civility can also mask hostility and aggression — so please spare us your pious pronouncements about the Constitution and the Rule Of Law.

As Guantanamo remains open; drone strikes execute the foreign counterparts of Pompeo and Bolton; and domination, violence, and control continue to be lawmakers' first responses to fear; what remains of the nation state will continue to reserve exclusively unto itself the right to engage in violence and terror. That is, until the new Sheriff in town forecloses on the property and evicts even the U.S. Senate. When that day comes, please don’t blame the artists! They didn’t hand over our beautiful country to a one-percent factor of global financiers, executives, directors, and stockholders. And of course, neither did any of you individually — it really does take a village. The global economy has rendered U.S. Senators into middling administrative figures, and the artists weren’t invited into the room where it happens.

The ultimate tragedy of these impeachment proceedings is that, whatever the outcome, Mr. Trump’s successors are unlikely to remedy our collective susceptibility to propaganda. If we continue to seek salvation in demagogic strong men on white horses, four hundred million dollars of Godfather leverage will eventually look like chump change. Implicit threats of violence will become explicit whenever clients ignore the demands and ultimatums of their patrons. Drones will strike; missiles will fall; and those giving the orders will proclaim that their violence will fix things, consequence-free. Of such is the perennial conceit of the Godfather.

We’ve been performing this dance of violence and retaliation since we first created slaves to draw water to crops. After five thousand years, how's that hideous cycle going for us? How many casualties will we leave in our wake before finding a different way to live together? Will it be annihilation? Liberation? A two-class gulag? Localized economies? All empires fall, but this time the collapse will be truly spectacular. Rome took its measure of "The World" in terms of the nations it had conquered; but these days, Caesar's arrogant overkill reach circumnavigates the globe. Technology will offer solutions, of course — extract carbon from the atmosphere like planetary liposuction; export the colonial mentality to Mars; wake up conscious in a computer and enjoy eternal life at untold trillions of transactions per second.

Personally, my best hope is that some Hundredth Monkey moment will bring a shift in human consciousness that leads us to a future worth living in. Maybe it’s time for a new story of ourselves, where we pay closer attention to spiritual teachers, artists, and fools. Many timelines are possible, and every fork in the road a choice. Our destinies are inextricably entangled — and laws written by lobbyists at the behest of billionaires can’t change that stubborn reality.

I close as I began, with George Orwell. We’re thirty-six years beyond 1984, but this dialogue between O’Brien and Winston still exposes the fuzzy math and cognitive dissonance of the Senatorial Star Chamber:

O’Brien: “You are a slow learner, Winston.”

Winston: “How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

O’Brien: “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once.”


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