The Jester's Last Joke (2001)
Had a good laugh lately at the follies of the current political scene? I have -- and I've tried to provide a few here as well.
Trust me. We're at the end of a historical cycle. As Morrissey once said in "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore":
I've seen this happen in other people's lives
And now it's happening in mine...
Here's a bit of what Vidal says:
Meanwhile, the indoctrination of the people merrily continues. "In a 'State of the First Amendment Survey' conducted by the University of Connecticut in 2003, 34 percent of Americans polled said the First Amendment 'goes too far'; 46 percent said there was too much freedom of the press; 28 percent felt that newspapers should not be able to publish articles without prior approval of the government; 31 percent wanted public protest of a war to be outlawed during that war; and 50 percent thought the government should have the right to infringe on the religious freedom of 'certain religious groups' in the name of the war on terror."
Meanwhile, millions of adult Americans, presumably undrugged, have no idea who our enemies were in World War II. Many college graduates don't know the difference between an argument and an assertion (did their teachers also fail to solve this knotty question?). A travel agent in Arizona is often asked whether or not it is cheaper to take the train rather than fly to Hawaii. Only 12% of Americans own a passport. At the time of the 2004 presidential election 42% of voters believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. One high school boy, when asked who won the Civil War, replied wearily, "I don't know and I don't care," echoing a busy neocon who confessed proudly: "The American Civil War is as remote to me as the War of the Roses."
We are assured daily by advertisers and/or politicians that we are the richest, most envied people on Earth and, apparently, that is why so many awful, ill-groomed people want to blow us up. We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health: The World Health Organization rates our healthcare system (sic--or sick?) as 37th-best in the world, far behind even Saudi Arabia, role model for the Texans. Our infant mortality rate is satisfyingly high, precluding a First World educational system.
Mr. Berman [Morris Berman, author of Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire] spares us the happy ending, as, apparently, has history. When the admirable Tiberius (he has had an undeserved bad press), upon becoming emperor, received a message from the Senate in which the conscript fathers assured him that whatever legislation he wanted would be automatically passed by them, he sent back word that this was outrageous. "Suppose the emperor is ill or mad or incompetent?" He returned their message. They sent it again. His response: "How eager you are to be slaves."
I often think of that wise emperor when I hear Republican members of Congress extolling the wisdom of Bush. Now that he has been caught illegally wiretapping fellow citizens he has taken to snarling about his powers as "a wartime president," and so, in his own mind, he is above each and every law of the land. Oddly, no one in Congress has pointed out that he may well be a lunatic dreaming that he is another Lincoln but whatever he is or is not he is no wartime president. There is no war with any other nation...yet. There is no state called terror, an abstract noun like liar.
Certainly his illegal unilateral ravaging of Iraq may well seem like a real war for those on both sides unlucky enough to be killed or wounded, but that does not make it a war any more than the appearance of having been elected twice to the presidency does not mean that in due course the people will demand an investigation of those two irregular processes. Although he has done a number of things that under the old republic might have got him impeached, our current system protects him: incumbency-for-life seats have made it possible for a Republican majority in the House not to do its duty and impeach him for his incompetence in handling, say, the natural disaster that befell Louisiana.
Welcome to Rome, folks.
The jester was free to mock and joke because (presumably) his barbs would not cause offense. He was to be, in Hamlet's phrase, "the conscience of the king."
But our contemporary jesters, like Fox News and CNN, are parrots for administrative talking points. Our king, self-coronated as a "wartime president" with unlimited powers, has no conscience. Why should he -- when he talks with God and answers to a "higher father."
You know what couldn't be higher: the stakes. Our democracy is on the line. Our place in the world is at risk. Look around. Reagan's morning that never was is over and the day grows long. It's "Twilight in America."
And I'm not laughing.