Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Diary Entry, 6.30.20/20 On Puppy Duty This Morning

I read Carl Bernstein's Repeat What We Know But With Details story on the CNN news site. Did you? It's a line by line, written in ersatz-numbered sentences on legal documents take down of Trump selling out the country for nothing more than more incompetent narcissism.  Another news cycle?  Until the next tweet.  It's been that bad for awhile, maybe three plus years now?

Nothing surprising. But I do rather enjoy the matter of fact late 70s style newsworthy banality of Bernstein's sentences. If you're going to repeat the obvious, do it in style. (<---can that be a t-shirt?) This article has a direct parallel to what you see in professional journals about religion, anthropology, and psych. The boredom is so pedestrian and benumbing because it _means_ to restate the obvious. If it's not obvious enough please don't stop me from making more so. An old Tantric once wrote that when you get this buzzed by the truth you can't not walk like a drunken sailor, and he was not all wrong. Not all in a good way. Don't yawn just yet because I just did the same thing complaining about them all.

Two further comments. Why can't I stop?

First, Bernstein writes about a source, "One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as 'abominations' so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President." I think this source is dead wrong. Republicans will do nothing but support Trump because they follow Fox Nation's simple directions. That 85% support for Fearless Leader is not going anywhere, as deplorable as that is.

Next, when we hear more details about Trump's vile sexism, the kind passed over as more incompetence and puerile imbecility we also learn nothing new about the German Chancellor: "Merkel remained calm and outwardly unruffled in the face of Trump's attacks —"like water off a duck's back," in the words of one source -- and she regularly countered his bluster with recitations of fact. The German official quoted above said that during Merkel's visit to the White House two years ago, Trump displayed "very questionable behavior" that "was quite aggressive ... [T]he Chancellor indeed stayed calm, and that's what she does on the phone."

Angela Merkel can apparently maintain leadership in the face of...well, that. We're grateful for her decency and decorum, her maturity and for as far as possible saving the western world from...well, that.

But at the heart of all this, as far as I can tell, there is no more incredulity or disbelief, no shock or awe, nothing but more the same strange brew I feel inside almost every day out here at the end of the driveway. There's an alchemy of feelings all too easy to identify but impossible to describe in just one word. Shall we try two?

Ambient dread? Professional anger? I leave that to the gods though I'm willing to cover it like a bar band. Best not to leave things to any gods. They are only another you that you have to deal with.

There are always going to be more possibilities because there are never fewer regrets. That's not only a bad thing. Regrets make for a far better soul cocktail. What's an Old Fashioned without a bit of bitters? Sometimes I can reduce it to: Would that help? And let that be enough to make a choice, if there is one.

Just what _do_ you call this malaise cocktail of frustration, anger, outrage, (not) disbelief, embarrassment, and genuine pain and depression? There is a tincture of hope in something like the diversity of young people and the yellow paint on the streets. But how much does it matter that you know the majority shares your views and you also know that he _still_ has a chance? Just one nano-moment of his "re-election" brings on me a despair like none to which I can compare, as if it would be losing something so precious I would have to grieve every moment.

Something about the possibility of America would be worth that grief. I have never "believed in" that possibility. That is not a confession or much of a belief. I am sure it disqualifies me from public office or speaking on TV. Like Hitch, I countenance no virtue in belief. Shall we call that America we've all gone to search for a dream? That's a speech for a far more important thinker.

I might prefer to call America a myth because myths are neither true nor false. That myths can hold deeper truths in the form of self-conscious lies is something very few people learn to consider, much less learn how to make happen. Even the most useful efforts have their golden ring on a merry-go-round quality. We must be careful too when it comes to magic rings (thank you, Frodo), even when we know that going into the fire is the only best choice. Can we also remember that good folks are often confused and always imperfect? I take consolation from being made of mistakes and trying to learn something from them. It's how we might make a difference.

That we have never been the America we say we are, much less who we aspire to be, that isn't all just bad news---I mean there is a tincture of waking that might be happening even right now from the majority. Maybe. We could fuck it up. But it's not _all_ bleak (if only because all-anything is as unlikely). And you want to say that this being ruled by imbecilic anarchy will end too? Will it? Can it possibly happen soon enough? I have learned to inhabit questions as an alternative to answers that would be nothing more than my most unconstructive lies, more like answers but without mythologies because they would lack any more value than the facts presented.

Only in the clear evidence of his defeat and departure will we breathe as if there is any chance at all. He might not. Either way, bring a mask and do mind the fact too that the world is burning. It's been burning while we have been dealing with deadly disease, social upheaval, economic nightmares, and...umm, that. That indignity we experience by being party to this craven, disheartening depravity. If we can't deal with the truth, there's no future.

In my own versions of America I still think a lot about the future no matter how much or how little there may be left. You have to want a world that you won't live to see to sustain your own humanity. That is reason enough to keep it real and to keep trying. There's no deal to be made but to send those who would burn us down to the margins and hope there is time to recover.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

A House Divided? Say Yes. Now What?

“I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free...I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” ---Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln spoke these lines in acceptance of the nomination for the U.S. Senate some 162 years ago this month. This was no call for unity. This was not about making peace or seeking reconciliation. This was a rare moment of moral clarity when Lincoln understood the matter before him. It is the matter still before us.  At present Lincoln's "Republican Principles" are at best an oxymoron.  At worst, right before our eyes.

We continue living, some 162 years later, with the consequences of our national failure to practice equality and equal justice under the law. Actions and policies must follow but the reckoning is as much a matter of hearts and minds. Lincoln describes more than our sin of national origin and the vile principles of human degradation on which it was based. He tells us that it must be rooted out, brought plainly into the light of day for all to see, admitted, addressed, and acted upon.

Lincoln deserves no apologetics for his own failures but what he understood here was that one does not compromise over matters that can only be deemed human iniquity, barbarity, plain wrong. We are either a nation of equality for all or we are a house divided that must not stand. There are times when we must decide for decency and face the deeply discomforting truths we have likely not realized implicate us too in the injustices.

White America has to accept more than its collective historical responsibilities for complicities. It has to decide with whom we stand and what we really stand for. Or we will carry on investing in ethical bankruptcy and we will at last ruin this great experiment.

Trump provides at the very least, just such an example of what happens when our moral deficits and malignancies of character are so plainly revealed. Those who comply, agree, or race to the elevator to avoid the reporters' questions, those who take his side are on the other side of our argument. I can offer them no more solace than to say, you can change, you can evolve and you can come to realize that as you continue to support his leadership your own actions are morally corrupt and your character is deficient.

If you are a Trump supporting Republican, you are an essential part of the problem now. There is no other room to occupy in this divided house. Our house can divide over the particulars of policies but the actions that will must be taken to survive as a nation demand a reckoning.

I do not mean to suggest that as individuals we are all as feckless in our malignancies as Trump. But America elected Trump and he told us who he was. He is the president for all Americans; our disavowals and denials are trivial. What we now see hopefully are these two Americas.

The one America I dream permits dissent, even vile speech, and it tolerates more than is right. But it does not tolerate inequality and it will act to root it out and create a more just society, despite those who would abuse our freedoms. That is our public responsibility: to tear down the house built on inequality and rebuild with the rubble that we will need as a reminder, so that we never forget or even forgive our past. We progress and include the whole story to become better for it. We tell ourselves the truth because we can only stand together if we can stand the truth. 

The America that remains for Trump is not one that must be allowed to endure. It must be defeated and it must be changed. We are a house divided and while no one can be glad for that, we can be determined that our division does not endure. We are no longer allowed another bypass, another bit of fakery for the sake of profit, stolen labor, and human degradation. I do not seek another reconciliation built on the foundations of hypocrisy. 

Do we mean it now? At last? We are not unified nor will we achieve some meaningful compromise. We will become a nation imperfectly in pursuit of freedom and justice for _all_ or we will continue the failures that Lincoln understood are at the core of our moral corruption. We must have a free and fair election and we must use the corrupt institutions we have to try to survive this decisive moment. I welcome the opportunity to see what America stands for because only then can we begin the process of a more perfect union.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Follow the Need to Feel Powerful, It Not only Explains the Sociopath but his Supporters

It's interesting when the point of the lies is to dare those around him to question them, to disavow or question him. If you do, you will be insulted, dismissed, rejected as inferior. It's not about whether what he says is true or false, it's about power. Now it's a test of loyalty to him personally.

He doesn't even care if people believe the lie because all he wants them to feel is that, like him, they can be feared. Like him, he can say whatever he wants, paint it however he wants, and there is nothing that can stop him or challenge him. Like his followers so desperate to have their "opinions" be their own, there's no need to care if anything that's said is true.

To be feared is a key component of his insatiable need for respect, which can't be had any other way. That is crucial too. He knows he is not respected for any honest reasons and doesn't care because fear will suffice. When he feels others' fear, he gets his pleasure, he feels good about himself. He must repeat this endlessly because there can never be enough personal satisfaction.

So as the lies, often pointless even trivial lies, like the size of the inauguration crowd, have accumulated and experiences of fear have been repeated, those who fear what he will do to them personally or professionally are now merely numb to the truth. The truth doesn't matter to them because everything he says is really a dare, an I told you so, the bully's threat. The lies are no longer a disdain for the truth. They are merely disdain.

General Mattis telling (at last) the truth misses the point that the lies are virtually irrelevant. The lies are expressions of personal power, much like the insults, like everything he says. Their point is to say, you can't touch me and I will get away with anything I want. So far, Trump's right about that.

So thelies say nothing more than I can say anything I want and if you dare to question me then I will hurt you. _This_ is what the base loves most because it is the power that the want. They are longing for an identity that is incontrovertible, "I did it my way." My way. And that means anyway I want. That is power. If it involves an expression of disdain, then the disdain suffices to express the certainty of self.

Americans pride themselves on doing or saying or being anyway they want, no matter the cost because that is apparently an unalienable right, it's what that makes them free, that secures their desire to be "authentic". Every time someone says, "I don't give a fuck" they take up the cause of securing an identity leading with disdain.

As Bret Stephens wrote in The NYTimes, "He doesn’t lead his base, as most politicians do. He personifies it. He speaks to his followers as if he were them. He cultivates their resentments, demonizes their opponents, validates their hatreds. He glorifies himself so they may bask in the reflection." That reflection is white identity terrified of their non-majoritarian status, deeply resentful that America is not a "European" nation or a "Judeo-Christian" nation but rather a multiracial pluralistic nation. They will do anything they can to deny that reality and in the most cowardly ways. It is their nation, that is their sincere belief. It is being "taken" from them. They mean to make that nation "great again" and that means claiming their rightful superiority over all others.

Murkowski this week provided a particularly pathetic example. She just couldn't say what she knows to be true: that there is no choice, that Trump is a virulent sociopath. Her tepid, morally bankrupt declaration was merely to agree with General Mattis. But she couldn't say the words. Trump of course promptly promised to campaign in 2022 for a Republican ready to primary her.

But why does the base like this fear mongering, knowing quite well the lies are lies, that the whole thing is a bully show? Because they identify with the dare, they like the bully because the bully represents their own feelings of "I will say or do anything the fuck I want and don't care what you think or how you feel." It sets them free.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Confronting the Endemic Cultures of Violence: Honest Expectations Ahead

The firing of cops, military leaders like Mattis, Mullen, and Allen speaking out, police chiefs hired for their ability to say the right things, even a serious effort at changing the rules of engagement (with body cams, etc.) and creating mechanisms of accountability, none of these collected points of inflection will be sufficient to change America. In fact, we may be looking at an America where brutality and violence divide along partisan lines that are unlikely to change much at all. Not in the short term. Not for perhaps a generation, if at all.

I am not resigning to cynicism but rather responding to facts. More remarkable than the Admirals and Generals speaking up against Trump and military overreach is the Senator from Arkansas who we have good reason to believe represents more than his constituents but the majority of the military and police. (I present the evidence for that claim below.)

I strongly recommend a look at Senator Tom Cotton's dangerously and despicable call for the use of violence against protestors that was published this week in The New York Times. It is must reading because it reflects cultural and political views that may not be those of majority but are deep and significant. Barry Goldwater lives but without even a shard of decency. In truth, "conservatism" is more dangerous and ideologically Trumpist than it has been since Goldwater. The restraints are off. Their positions are explicit.

Cotton's views are right before our eyes in the continued, self-evident police brutalities we are seeing reported daily (e.g., the reports this morning out of Buffalo and in NYC). However these are mitigated by anecdotes of take a knee kumbaya moments between cops and protestors, what we are seeing is part of an entrenched culture that is driven by worldviews and ethos. Those worldviews are fascist and that ethos is violence. The military guarding Federally controlled sites in D.C. have all the appearances of the secret police. But it is their conscience that troubles me as much as their behaviors.

What we have are problems so deeply rooted, so structural and systemic, we must take a sober breath and serious look at what our American future portends. Yes, we are looking at endemic racism that saturates all of white America. But it is not all the same across American culture or even among whites.

The majority and "liberal" white America surely needs to listen and learn and to be educated. But this strikes me as possible. What I am referring to is a significant segment of America that is unteachable and unreachable because their commitments to violence are ideological and visionary, not merely circumstantial.

America's "conservative" culture, it's Fox Nation is not an exception. It is a worldview shared by millions. It is the dominant voice of police and military culture and we have the unfortunate evidence to prove that. Those with the power to brutalize hold deeply held convictions that are not likely to change.

We know that too and have only begun to come to terms with the relationship between explicit forms of violence and the authority to use it. That discussion faces a cultural wall that may be higher and less climbable than all the brutalizing fakery that supports Trumpism. America's "conservative" and "Christian" white culture

I would hope that bad cops know that they can no longer count on the current culture of policing to condone and support their outrageous behavior. But I am not at all optimistic. The current situation is more likely to reflect another partisan divide that is so deep and so pervasive as to present a nearly-intractable problem.

To wit, a United States Senator's op-ed piece in the NYTimes advocated violence against protestors and not only police but military force. Further, some 42% of voters apparently still strongly support Trump and Trump supporters are far more adamant and committed to their fascist predilections. We can expect Trump's support not to change much in the coming months before the election. Why? It hasn't budged one bit really. Senator Cotton's despicable views were a resume and a job application for the Secretary of Defense job so that Trump can fire Esper. Does anyone think that McConnell would not confirm Cotton in that job?

And given the way "acting" appointments are used, what is to stop Trump? The fascist regime has deep support if not majority support---and those same fascists are racists, homophobes, and willing to do anything to advance their agendas. All in the name of Christianity too. This is not some fringe element of America.

According to a July 2019 Pew poll in a survey of nearly 1,300 veterans conducted in May and June, 57 percent of respondents said they approve of how Trump is leading the armed forces. In contrast, about 41 percent said they disapprove of how he has handled running the military.

The numbers are the mirror image of the overall American public. In a separate, non-veterans poll from Pew Research (a nonpartisan polling and analysis group) conducted over the same time frame, 57 percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of Trump’s work as commander in chief, and 41 percent said they approve. The culture of the military, like the culture of police, is decidedly against the majority of Americans. And the truth is, we know this and are scared for our lives in the streets because we should be.

What happens next is nothing less than a fight for the soul of America. But even if Trumpists are all soundly defeated in November---somehow there is an election that defeats the chaos that Republicans know they need to "win"---these forces and cultures of violence are not going away. They are entrenched it would appear in the rank and file of the police and military---not necessarily their leadership or at least all of it. The majority culture of those within these ranks appears ideologically committed to the deeper racism and bigotry that infects our nation.

Can this powerful minority culture that advocates violence and secures its bigotries be changed? It will take changing their children and their children's children. This is in part already happening with what we are seeing now in the streets. It is a multiracial coalition of predominantly young people risking their lives in a pandemic to fight for democracy without violence and bigotry.

My hope is that this will continue unrelentingly until November at which point we vote the worst to the margins. Senator Cotton will still be in office. Those majority numbers of police and military are likely to still support these views. But if we commit to keeping this accountability our principle objective then we are not powerless and there is a future. I hope to teach their children well for at least another decade.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Good Olde Days are Here Again (Because They Never Left)

Nothing seems to warm white America quite like the idea that things were better back when. Nixon knew it was a lie but could use it for his benefit. How Nixonian. Reagan ran on it. And worse, he believed it. "It's morning in America..."

Trump is the culmination of this dangerous banality, the sick souled nostalgia that thinly veils (or not at all) the "back when" white America had everything under control, particularly people of color and anyone else deemed other. This is Olde Order that never seems to get old to those who can't imagine any other future.

The "good" Olde Days are very much still with us despite the protestations to claim victimhood. "Persecuted Christians" means white people losing power or at least fearing as much. The underlying threats of violence directed at those who would defy the Olde Order manifest every day but go largely unreported, denied, or justified. Keeping things the way they used to be is the way Republicans like it. While those who seek change and advance notions of progress have risen to positions of power and authority in certain cities---like the mayors of Minneapolis, New York, and Atlanta---the disparities between their vision and the forces of the Olde Order could not be clearer than they are right now.

Police Departments too might have progressive leaders and cops, chiefs and some in the rank and file who see the issues with seriousness and sympathy, but what of the Olde Order rank and file? They seem very much in charge. And let's be honest, that rank and file is pretty much white cops. Even I'm scared of them and I'm a white male. I'm just a liberal, how pathetic. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a person of color. That strikes me as simply life-threatening, all the time.

It doesn't take a statistics class to understand the rank and file white male voter and their overwhelming commitment to the Olde Order. You need 538 for that?That steady 42.3% that comes up pure Trumpian never moves much from its marks. What we have seen with our own eyes is that we can expect their signs and symbols to be followed with actions. Threatening and deadly actions. I live in a Trump district where the Olde Order has the perceived threat to itself projected into its living rooms in the bright, reliable florescence of red, white, and blue Fox News. They can also turn to the Fox Blonde who currently plays the role of WH Press Secretary. She looks like that morning host, what's her name?

In the meantime there is the "other" who is stealing, cheating, and taking their way of life, none of whom actually live here or really anywhere near by. You have to go some 40 miles north into "the city." But my neighbors will tell you that they "never go there" and "never want to go there." In this rural neigbhorhood there are plenty of displays of solidarity for the Olde Order, particularly lawn signs and flags. Most common are American flags, which were never apolitical emblems of patriotism but now part of an Olde Order collage. Repeal The Safe Act, once merely a lawn sign, is now boxed in wood and a permanent fixture. (The Safe Act is about guns and "Cuomo is not my governor" in NY State.)

The odd-Democrat out here clearly understands that Old Glory means the Olde Glory because their American flag never stands apart from its meanings. You see, Olde Order collections put Old Glory on top but just underneath the Trump banner or that blue-line in the middle of black and white version of the Stars and Stripes. The lawn signs are more about gun rights and, naturally, about police solidarity. Police solidarity means keeping those people in their place. You don't need to know the meaning of the word "semiotics" to get the message.

The Olde Order wants you to know that they are armed and ready to enforce the present as the past in order to insure its future. And according to a Pew poll, 78 percent of voters who supported Trump in 2016 felt crime had gotten worse since 2008. That is, of course, patently false. The real crime was the black man in the White House. But the truth won't matter.

It's not about crime but about how people, that is, white people feel about crime. And it's not about that either. It's about how white people feel about themselves and their projections, resentments, and inadequacies. They are not without hope but it's the hope for the Olde Order. Make coal great again. So it is about how white people feel not only about themselves but as much about those they see as criminal, unworthy of rights, those "takers" who aren't makers and don't know their place. What makes me so sure?

We are rarely threatened by things we cannot anticipate or for which there are no precedents. Not pandemics. Not racism. Not inequalities in the work place or the absence of resources and opportunities. We have histories and every reason to believe that ignoring the real issues will be the most reliable response.

Who wants to address in advance the problems that appear for the present not to present themselves? When the issues erupt into criticality, we shocked, shocked, deny the negligence, and wait, wait for it pass over, as if it were just another thunderstorm. Trump’s law and order framework is his reliable way of talking about the Olde Order. It both riles up his white base and soothes them by blaming others.

He doesn't need to a strategy or a plan or even an idea of what he is doing because his racism and Olde Order views fit the "tell it like it is" and "speak like I do" Fox Nation memes.
I know we can intellectualize it to feel better understanding how it turns on its own sickening nostalgia for a certain mid century America. Back then you see these white people lived in an America that made things, that had robust domestic manufacturing, and a clearly-defined racist, social order. Just the way they liked it. The reasons their lives have changed for the worse---and they have---is because of "them" and nothing is better in Olde Order worlds than the simplest explanation. 

None of it has to be true, just simple because complex is a liberal thing. Trump has no ability to comprehend much less contemplate these movements and I have no more left to say about Goldwater's John Birch Society worlds, Nixon's southern strategy, Saint Ronnie's States's rights, or Trump's "good people." But what we know Trump and my neighbors and the suburb voters aka white people, will talk about are those "good old days."

Making America Great Again has always been Keeping America Great. "Great" is easy enough to understand and that should trouble us greatly. How they want those good Olde days back is evidenced by the violence they are willing to use to insure the Olde Order. Everything else aka change, including a non-white majoritarian America, is failure and must be stopped at any cost.

Ask Mitch because there are plenty of new Eric Cantors waiting in the wings. One is running and likely to win the seat vacated by Trump's first endorser, my former Congressman, convicted felon Chris Collins. What the Olde Order are invoking is more than their tribal or corporate status quo. Theirs is a deeper call to anger, fear, and violence to stop the those others and their liberal supporters before the Olde Days are finally ended.

Or maybe the dystopia can't happen soon enough? After all, Jesus is coming? Will we make it to November, I ask? We will soon find out if America has a future or if the Olde Days are still all we want.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Subjective and Objective Nihilism: The Difference Between the Illness of the Mad King and Self-Inflicted Violence

One more thought this morning about the anger in the streets and the failure of the government to act with clarity and decency---where are the arrests? Where is the law? And we can be sure that the President will make the worst possible remarks and decisions. This led me to think a bit more about nihilism.

In the Hindu mythos nihilism is the trait of demons. Arguably it is what makes demons demons. Demons narrow their interests well-past any ordinary and expected levels of self-interest and selfishness. In truth, we need self interest and skills in managing selfishness to be healthy, even to flourish. Altruism is not the opposite of selfishness, "selflessness" is another way in which we take the measure of self-interest. In a conditional world everything we deem unconditional presents itself as another kind of condition. There's nothing "wrong" with self-interest but to make it something "right" or better, we must begin with its value and acknowledge its perils. 

If we are not contesting self-interest we are insulting its dangers and that takes us in at least two unhealthy directions. The first direction is towards the nihilism of the demons. This originates in the pathology of self-interest that is narcissism. The narcissist is immune to sympathy and has no capacity, no concept, no connection to empathy. Whatever is said or done is nothing more than immediate gratification, scheming, scamming, and manipulating for gratification. In fact, the evolution to nihilism is not only born of the malignancies of self-interest that can never be wholly gratified, it is the pleasure, the sickness of enjoying others sufferings. No matter is too small not to blame, claim grievance, scapegoat, and whenever possible inflict harm on someone or something that fails to gratify the malignant narcissist.

That such a demon is currently President of the United States means that the platform and the extent of projected nihilism is indeed vast, influential, and catastrophic to the health of the nation. We are for now in the grasp of what I want to call Subjective Nihilism. This originates in personal mental illness and extends its depravity as far as possible into the world for personal gain and gratification. The Subjective Nihilist is a narcissist who will burn down the world because he can, because he wants to, because he doesn't care for anything but himself. And this kind of self-aggrandizement is in truth yet another manifestation of fear, anger, hatred, and delusion---it is a steady diet of demonic poison that nourishes the pathology.

But there is another kind of nihilism that I want to distinguish here. Let's call that Objective Nihilism. I want to maintain that this kind of behavior originates not in malignant narcissism but begins with authentic needs for self-care and self-interest. It cannot be reduced to individuals seeking gain or gratification but rather it extends into communities because there is in fact care for the community. Nonetheless, when Objective Nihilism takes hold people will burn down their own neighborhoods, they will pick up rocks, they will hurt more and hurt each other and hurt themselves too.

Objective Nihilism is born not from craven selfishness but from the recognition that a vulnerable self is now besieged, under constant threat, under threat of annihiliation from those who would use their power to destroy all that is dear---person, community, possibilities. When there is so much frustration born of the terror, the failure of power to acknowledge its injustice, its moral lassitudes and historical shortcomings, when there is simply less chance to _build_ any life, then Objective Nihilism leads you to burn down your life, your community, the world that rejects you.

No one but the Subjective Nihilist can condone or commend violence. But Objective Nihilism applies itself with violence because every other voice of reason, every other emotional plea to be recognized for our shared humanity has been stifled, lost, or rejected. People will indeed burn down a society that refuses the responsibilities of liberty and the imperatives of moral decency. But I don't people with rocks in their hands are anything like the Subjective Nihilist whose "work" is born of grave, likely irreparably damaged personal failures.

I think the Objective Nihilist is at wits end, longing for an alternative, desperate and determined to be seen and heard in world that not only wants silence and compliance but in fact wants their annihilation, personally and collectively. What we are seeing the streets of Minneapolis is nothing like the Subjective Nihilist in the White House, his cronies, stooges, dupes, and supporters. What they all share is an indulgence in his depravity that gives them license and self-permission to conjure their own Subjective Nihilism.

What the protesters---and I mean those given to violence in the streets---are expressing is the well-founded Objective Nihilism that understands that burning down the world isn't just some ill-conceived personal failure or gratification---but that it is born of a world that means to annihilate them, personally, collectively, forever. Where there is no future, there is nihilism, one way or the other. The remedies are complex, difficult, and demanding. We may never reach those who lavish their indulgence on the Subjective Nihilist as their emblem of personal identity and tribe. But we can offer to those for whom Objective Nihilism looks like their best option a far better future if we are willing to make the efforts it would take to change the world for the better.

The Moral Imperative to Grieve

There is a moral imperative to grieve in these difficult times. We must grieve for lives lost to disease and political incompetence, for a society sick with hate, fear, and racism; we must grieve for the exploitation of earth and the violence that everywhere threatens life itself. If we can grieve together we can also become more awake and aware to love with greater energy, care, and focus.

Without the pain we experience in one, we shall not find the empowerment we need from the other. We are fundamentally dependent, connected, and vulnerable, no matter what other claims we make regarding personal liberty or responsibility. If the former is true---or at least admitted to be true---then we also share moral responsibility.

I think what we are seeing as much in America is that we do not as a society in fact share these same values or claims. We have a political party that has used the tropes of individual freedom and personal liberty to argue we should be freed from any great societal responsibilities and free to do as we please, so long as "we" means their own selfish ends. The other political party struggles to make good on any of its ideals because the forces of capitalism, exploitation, and the structural failures destroy the seeds of decency before they can truly take root.

Let us not resort to any false equivalencies. This is not now nor has it been for many years a problem merely of "both sides." Since deeper values contradict stated religious claims---love thy neighbor, blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, blahblahblah---they have had in the past had to fashion an artifice of dissimulated respectability. The party of "individual liberty" no longer even maintains the facades of decency.

But now what is their excuse? The curtains have all been pulled away. They feel no shame, no lament, they seem incapable of grieving even for themselves but instead foment anger, displays and enactments of violence. Not even the ethical indifference of a virus that attacks any and all is apparently enough to conjure a notion of connection or empathy. What nature has done is plain; what culture is failing to do may bring generations of despair.

Not to grieve the victims of pandemic, not to acknowledge the pain and the grief of communities subject to violence and systemic inequity, is more than a failure of politics. It is a failure to love. For those who cannot grieve for more than their own do not love even their own. We expect a President to represent more than policies and the administration of the law. We expect, at the very least, moral competency and the displays of conscience.

Moral grieving is yet another kind of requisite for leadership because it speaks to the love of justice and its losses, inadequacies, and hypocrisy. One must actually come to some kind of identification with the suffering; one must step into the impossible place where empathy invites us into another's experiences and into the histories of human experience. And that first requires recognizing another's humanity even if that recognition must first be filtered through the myopic lens of one's own personal experiences.

"What if that were me" suggests no great ethical achievement; it is but the narrowest path to emotional connection. And yet what happens when leadership is incapable of even this level of association? What happens when someone is apparently bereft of these elemental human qualities? Can that even be? Can someone be so morally bankrupt and emotionally arrested that there is no such feeling or responsibility? We are witnessing this right before our eyes.

There are alternatives and people of character and decency. They are all flawed. No one gets through life, much less a political life, without deep and serious mistakes in judgment and compromises of character. To admit that is to grieve and invites us into the heart where we might yet find ways to love one another enough to rise to the moral imperative of this troubled age.