Archive for May, 2018

Vengeance as Virtue

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

The 17-year-old who slaughtered his schoolmates in Santa Fe, Texas, was on a mission of retribution. According to news reports, he confessed that he selected some kids to survive the massacre so that his “story” could be told. His narrative, if it’s ever made public, is not likely to find many sympathetic listeners, but it should be heeded. It can be expected to differ only in its details from the stories of retribution we welcome in our fiction and in our expressions of national policy.

It was revenge, after all, that motivated us to support our armed attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. As recently as last month, our aircraft launched missiles against targets in Syria to teach the leaders of that nation a lesson. There was no discernible public dissatisfaction with that attack. The Santa Fe killer has never known a time when his leaders were not exacting revenge on some distant enemy or another, always with widespread approval among the citizenry. If he was a cinema buff or video gamer, the lessons learned from our vengeful real-life adventures were reinforced with fictitious stories of retribution as virtue and justice.

If we’re shocked to hear some of the Santa Fe survivors tell us they were not particularly surprised that this happened at their school, we shouldn’t be. We’ve terrorized our children with “active shooter drills” and “lockdown” maneuvers. And just days before the shooting started in Santa Fe, the world’s youth were exposed to graphic depictions of armed force, as any number of teenagers were gunned down by Israeli snipers for hurling stones, in what our leaders tell us was an act of self-defense. The Texas boy’s story will–unsurprisingly–invoke the need for lethal force in defense of self.

What should surprise us is the amount of dissonance Americans are able to tolerate. The news coverage has so far censored out all discussion of the social forces that make this sort of atrocity inevitable. Newsmen aren’t asking how these dead children are different from the ones our ordnance kills every day in places like Afghanistan, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip, but we seem to be OK with that. Most of us seem able to square a deep commitment to bombs and bullets with disapproval of violent crime. Seems as if logic and history should compel us to admit we’re a nation of vengeful, heavily armed cowards who should expect this sort of thing from time to time. Vengeance has become a sacrament of Judeo-Christian culture. Couple that with an abundance of guns and ammo, and you’re going to suffer atrocities every so often.

Full Faith and Credit

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

The dollar, along with all other monetary obligations of our government, is backed by “the full faith and credit of the United States,” as provided by law. What does that mean?

Both “faith” and “credit” are  legal terms with distinct meanings. “Faith” is  not belief in a divinity but the “good faith” exhibited by parties to a transaction. You rely on your employer’s good faith when you work for a future paycheck, just as your employer relies on your good faith when he leaves you to perform your job without close supervision. Duties are performed faithfully. Obligations are executed faithfully. That’s the “faith” that backs the dollar. It’s faithfulness to duty and obligation.

“Credit” is not merely the ability to repay a debt, but honesty to a fault, utter worthiness of belief in every particular. Credit is compromised by carelessness and incompetence and sacrificed altogether by dishonesty and sharp practice. Once lost, credit can be difficult to regain.

From a legal and historical standpoint, “full faith and credit” reflects explicit, implicit and plenary adherence to principles of honesty and duty.

Today,  the full faith and credit of the United States is grievously endangered. Our chief executive, acting on his own, has repudiated an agreement made by his prdecessors in office and adopted unanimously by a resolution of the United Nations. He did it despite demonstrated good faith compliance among the other parties. Seven nations were party to the agreement, which may or may not remain in force among the other signatories. Whatever happens among the other parties, the withdrawal of the USA must be reckoned a breach of good faith and a credit risk of the highest order. The UN made the agreement binding on all parties, and trying to get out of it is simply cheating.

What happens to known cheats and charlatans? How are dishonest traders treated in our markets? Often enough, they are shunned. If the dollar really is backed by nothing more than an empty promise of “full faith and credit,” can it hold its value when its issuer is universally discredited and no longer seen to be acting in good faith? It is possible that world opinion could turn so adverse that dollars might cease to enjoy special status in foreign countries?  What if the general public lost confidence and liquidated its bank accounts or millions of people walked away from their school debt or hospital debt or credit card debt at once?

Some people say the US economy teeters always on the brink of collapse, like a house of cards. Could a breach of full faith and credit be the card that upsets the structure?

Lawn Ordure

Friday, May 4th, 2018

It is a canon of conservatism that republican government requires a measure of order and predictability in the conduct of public affairs, along with adherence to law by those charged with its faithful execution. It’s not clear exactly when this doctrine of law and order was abandoned, but we’ve come so far from it that our mass media now take abitrariness and lawlessness for granted. Actions without precedent, episodes of spectacular malfeasance, and policy reversals of every kind are now as common as dogshit, and, judging from the equanimity of our media, we’ve somehow grown accustomed to the stink.

Trump’s unpredictability should be an unwelcome sign of the failure of ordered government. Instead, we’re invited to enjoy the mystery and applaud whatever surprises he has in store for us. You wouldn’t know from reading the papers, but this is a radical departure from past practice. If you’re in favor of arbitrary rule–or if you’re in the business of peddling drama, conflict and surprise, as  our media seem to be–Trump’s winks and nudges will come as good news. But if you’re comfortable with republican government, you should understand that it’s facing a lethal threat.

There was a time when we citizens, acting through our duly elected and appointed representatives, including our president, could be part of the analysis and debate that used to accompany decisions about public policy. Today, we are isolated from a process so opaque that all discussion and analysis are conducted behind closed doors, so that public policy emerges fully formed, with no history, no rationale, no predictability. And we’re supposed to be OK with that. We understand from news-mongers at NBC and the New York Times that this is the “new normal,” enjoying widespread support among ordinary people. Maybe ordinary people really do want to trash their republican tradition. If so, it’s because they”ve been so thoroughly disinformed by their media that they don’t recognize what’s happening to them.

There was a time when an armed attack by the USA on a foreign country would be front-page news, a shocking development that would provoke public debate over the legality of the action and its potential consequences. Many remember how carefully Richard Nixon covered up the military “incursion” into Cambodia, fearing he might be held accountable for violations of law (as, eventually, he was). Today, despite domestic and international laws that forbid aggressive warfare, the US routinely engages in it. Our media take this for granted, consigning news of such attacks to page three squibs and never questioning the legal basis for war nor examining the potential consequences. To allow such lawlessness to go on without comment is to be complicit in the subversion of our republican traditions

Watchful citizens may have noted the mass media consensus that we the people are to blame for the descent of our government into chaos and ethical anarchy, as exemplified so perfectly by Donald Trump. The media neglect to mention that many more people didn’t vote for him than did. That our congressional representatives are every bit as corrupt as he is, funded almost exclusively by the rich and super-rich, so that they are  disabled from reflecting the will of the people. That the media themselves–mainly gossip-mongers, using celebrity to attract an audience for exposure to an onslaught of advertising for the food, drug and cosmetic sellers that sponsor them–have left us so poorly informed that we can’t peform the obligations of citizenship. They take us for idiots, and they tell us we’re idiots. They will be proved right if we accept, as they do, the “new normal” that so grievously threatens our republic.