Thursday, July 29

Cassandra’s Lament

According to Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, spurned Apollo’s sexual advances and was cursed by the god with the gift of uttering prophecies (about the fall of Troy, the assassination of Agamemnon, etc.) which were unfailingly accurate ... but which no one ever believed. I can sympathize.

Cassandrfa mourning the burning of Troy

If you read nothing else I write in my “Skeptic’s” columns, for your own sake please read this one. If you don’t have the time, then make the time. It really is that important:

If you have children, especially little children, and if your finances and circumstances permit — which I fully realize they may not — if at all possible, leave, or seriously prepare to leave, the United States. And go where? I would suggest Canada (preferably) or New Zealand or Australia. Or, if you are more affluent than average, the UK (except Ulster / Northern Ireland). Or the Irish Republic (Southern Ireland). Or any of the Scandinavian countries.

The reason should be obvious. On 3 August 1914 British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, First Viscount Grey of Fallodon, famously said “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. We in the US, and probably in most of the West (with the exceptions in the previous paragraph), can say the same thing. In 1914 Sir Edward’s grim warning was prompted by the imminence of the First World War (the “Great War”, as it was quaintly known then); today, almost exactly 100 years later, "the lamps are going out all over [the West]" because of the rise of fascism in Europe and the Presidency of Donald Trump via the “fasc-ization” of the Republican Party. And the timorousness and knife-to-a-gunfight timidity of the Democrats. At this time above all, and despite the understandable human tendency to flinch away, it is critical nevertheless to face one salient fact and to ask yourself one salient question:

o First the fact:  there will be, at most, a blue ripple in November, not a blue wave and least of all a blue tsunami. (In fact, a red wave is not altogether out of the question.) The Congress of 2019 will be substantially the Congress of 2018. And the crowning frisson of terror: Donald Trump will be re-elected in 2020.

The straws were long ago in the wind that enable me to state the above with confidence, e.g., the rise in Trump's popularity from around 30 percent immediately after his inauguration to the low 40s today, the persistence of his popularity among even mainstream Republicans, the continuing strong economy and stock market as traditional harbingers of all Presidents' future political fortunes, etc. As far as I can tell, the "crash" long hoped for by progressives and Democrats, and flatly predicted in economic terms shortly after the election by Paul Krugman, appears nowhere on the horizon. If I extrapolate current trends, I see Republicans continuing to control Congress and Trump back in the White House in 2020. 

Perhaps if American voters took seriously the principles enunciated in their own Constitution, the above predictions might fail. But they don't, so they won't. They apparently subscribe to those principles in a kind of vague, abstract, kids-reciting-catechism way in order to sound good on polls. But I say categorically that, if Americans valued their Constitution as it deserves to be valued, Trump's candidacy would have been toast the moment he publicly advocated trampling the First Amendment by litigating the Washington Post out of existence for carrying stories less than complimentary about him, his policies, and his Administration. What Americans do care about, enough to vote accordingly, are not matters of high constitutional principle, but matters of high finance:  is the stock market still north of 24,000? is unemployment below 4%? is household income increasing, however glacially? Those issues, not bourgeois bagatelles like, e.g., separation of powers, an independent Judiciary, due process, etc., etc., are the questions that will determine votes, and on those issues, to speak plainly, Trump wins.

o Consequently the question: do you want your children to grow up under Trump’s and the Republicans’ Fourth Reich?

What is going on now a Hegelian historian or philosopher would call “world-historical”, not merely a transient spasm. The Enlightenment of the 18th century that gave us the classical-liberal, rights-centric, latitudinarian socio-political culture is drawing to a close. Sir Edward Grey’s “lamps are going out” for Western classical-liberal socio-political orders. What takes its place will probably be some cognate of a nihilistic post-modernism. The best we can hope for is a 21st-century version of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew. I repeat:  the best.

Whatever precise form this new world order assumes, it is virtually guaranteed to not be “healthy for children and other living things”. We are already seeing the beginnings of Trump's and the Republicans' Endloesung -- "Final Solution" -- in the building and implementation of Auschwitzes and Treblinkas and Maidaneks and Sobibors and Theresienstadts for little immigrant children and -- quite literally -- for infants torn  from their mothers' breasts. (If there someday were trials at The Hague for crimes against humanity — as there should be — no doubt ICE agents would argue that they were “just following orders”.) What will it be like in the early 2020s during a Trump second term? Even if you are not an immigrant, your child is not safe. Only reasonably safe, quasi-safe, approximately safe. In the Trump regime, no child is really safe.  This is not "No child left behind". This is "No child left in peace". You assume otherwise only at your child's peril. So as Dirty Harry said: “Feelin’ lucky?”

Moreover, we can take no comfort from recent events, including mass protests against "zero tolerance" and judicial injunctions suspending same, that have forced the Trump junta -- however grudgingly -- to retreat from a pure policy of "zero tolerance". After all, how encouraged should we be that it requires hundreds of people in the streets and multiple court orders to force the Administration to step back from a policy of calculated cruelty, child abuse, and legalized kidnapping -- all without recourse to due process? (If it required hundreds of people picketing outside your house and judicial intervention to force you to stop beating your children, what would that say about your competence and trustworthiness as a parent? Would you be encouraged about your parenting skills?) Moreover, this entire process of revoking or suspending "zero tolerance" family separation is something that Trump himself initially asserted he had no legal warrant to undertake -- yet which he accomplished with a single executive order.

Understand the following at all cost: this is not a normal case of the political pendulum swinging left, then right. A much better analogy would be early 1933, when the late-Weimar German Reichstag (legislature) passed the so-called “Enabling Act”, whereby the Reichstag dissolved itself and gave unlimited dictatorial powers to Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler. (This Act by the Reichstag was even quite legal under Article 48 of the Weimar constitution!) With neither the House nor the Senate willing to fulfill its Article I obligation to act as a check on the Executive, the Congress has done the practical equivalent of dissolving itself. If you respond to this by mumbling bromides about Godwin’s Law, you demonstrate only a lack of imagination exacerbated by historical illiteracy. Or if you are prone to dismiss me as a boy crying “Wolf!”, remember that at the end of that story a real wolf actually showed up.

Nevertheless, there are a few places left where Enlightenment principles still prevail. I mentioned a few such oases above. Hence my advice: if you have children, leave now. Don’t wait to develop “a sense of urgency”. By the time you do so, it will almost certainly be too late. Leave now. By the time you are ready emotionally, it will almost certainly be too late. Leave now.

Ultimately it’s up to you. It’s your funeral. No one believed Cassandra. Most likely, no one will believe me, either. To be brutally honest with you, the primary purpose of the foregoing warnings is not to motivate you — though if you do end up being motivated, so much the better, of course — but to absolve me, to give me peace of mind. Like Cassandra, I did what I could. As with Cassandra, you have been warned. Like Cassandra, my conscience is now clear.

I tried.

James R. Cowles

Image credits

Cassandra ... Evelyn Morgan ... Public domain
Immigrant kids in cages ... #ShaunKing ...
WW2 children in concentration camp ... Belarusian state archives ... Public domain
Picture of Trump ... White House ... Public domain
Jeff Sessions ... US Justice Department ... Public domain
Little immigrant girl standing alone ... File photo by Lucy Nicholson ... Reuters

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