Readers of this site generally accept the proposition that our American experiment in self-government is taking on water. I would argue that, all things considered, the ship is actually beginning to list under the combined weight of a wholly unaccountable administrative state, a surreal burden of debt we will bequeath to our grandchildren, third-world education standards, tribal strife stoked by retail journalism, ecological blindness, a new and prevailing cultural adulation of the victim mentality, meme-think politics, and a Congress that is more or less infested with the parasites of a guild economy.
The Kavanaugh nomination process is just more seawater pouring in through an open porthole. At best it was an honest demonstration of how the House of Lords now views the natural rights of American citizens — foremost among those rights the once-cherished presumption of innocence.
And I don’t think it was a cosmic accident that early this morning, while driving along highway 20, I saw a coyote and a murder of crows fighting over the carcass of a deer in the bar ditch. The deer had apparently been struck by a semi – and the coyote had come out from behind a stand of juniper for some free meat. The crows were giving the coyote hell, even as he sank his teeth into a bright red shoulder and tried to drag it away.
I sped past this marvelous scene at the prevailing speed of 65 mph, and so I don’t know how it ended, but it occurred to me that this brief episode is similar to the relationship I’m presently having with our republic. I see coyotes and crows fighting over a dead deer that froze stupidly in the headlights, and I’m just speeding by on the way to someplace else.
Because its true that, although I’ve stood up twice and sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States, and put my life out there as a blank check, I probably wouldn’t do it again. I’m no longer certain that putting so much faith in such a leaky vessel is the right choice. I don’t like the direction we seem to be headed, which wants very badly to shunt hard won natural rights to a side-rail in favor of raw emotion and the ease of political denunciation.
I don’t like that direction because it is dishonest and extremely dangerous. And I’m really not interested in whether or not the republicans set the table for democrats, or whether some stupid behavior of the democrats set the table for the republicans. It doesn’t interest me who is to blame because I view both of the party platforms as rusting antiques, and I certainly don’t believe a single word coming out of any of their mouths. I don’t think they are on my team.
And because I don’t think they are on my team, the question I must answer now is how much I want to participate in the third act of this tragedy, which plays out daily and comes to me under the relentless banner of BREAKING NEWS.
I can anticipate at least some portion of the answer, which is: not much.
From where I am, I can see the coastline of Not Much materializing, like a kind of misty Island of Kong out on the horizon, but the question of how I finally make a landing there remains mostly unanswered. And that’s likely because debarking for that place doesn’t come without considerable and real mourning.
How does one reconcile having lived in such an honestly passionate embrace of the American dream, only to divorce it while its dying?
The answer is: not easily, and not without some sense that it is more an act of cowardice than one of nobility. But I still want to get there. I want to reach that place not as a seething cynic, but as one improved unit who has chosen to assess the world as he finds it, and to place his passions behind more generative behaviors, in decent people uncoupled from the toxic and binary politics that are sucking the life out of a once-free republic. I want to believe that approach isn’t quitting. I want to believe it’s the behavior of a patriot who sees fundamental aspects of the American dream being hijacked by a modern aristocracy who live so far above the law that they have no fear of it — and worse, who wield its power only in their own interests, or the interests of the State. But that’s what I see when I look at Congress, and it is a sight both terrifying and infuriating.
Jonah Goldberg, writing in “Suicide of the West,” notes that “When confronted with the seeming chaos of capitalism and democracy, the human retreats to its tribal programming.”
That assumes that we still live in a republic, which there are ample reasons to doubt, but for the sake of discussion I’ll buy it. And if it does happen to be true, then I can be thankful at least that the formative programming I received from my tribe leaned heavily against the elevation of victim-think to a way of life, believed that prosecutions must be backed by evidence, treated women as equals in the workplace, and in our homes, believed strongly in the second amendment as the natural defender of the first, and was genetically skeptical of bureaucracies headquartered thousands of miles away.
That skepticism was rooted in something my people, mostly simple folk of the rural west, understood very well, and something Goldberg notes. “The one idea even the most pragmatic bureaucrat will never contemplate,” he writes, “is the suggestion that maybe we would be better off if he did not have a job anymore.”
I think including the word “politician” in that statement would be equally appropriate.
I’m not cynical enough — some would call it politically sophisticated — to believe that I must cast my vote for a bad candidate to prevent a worse candidate from getting into office. My sense of it is that they are all bad candidates, morphing themselves like actors into whatever character is required to meet the moment. I don’t believe, despite the promises, that candidate for Oregon Governor, Knute Buehler, is going to “solve homelessness” as he claims, or that the current governor, Kate Brown, is going to do anything at all that elevates Oregon’s public school system out of the sewer. I think they are equally bankrupt, and I won’t give them a penny of credit.
I’ve always loved it when politicians come out west and don what they think is western garb for a photo op in some marvelous landscape, because there’s nothing quite so ironic as a sold-out beltway pirate in a buckskin jacket and perfect hair pontificating on “American values” from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
But as a consequence of that lack of political sophistication my guy almost never wins, which means that I have virtually no representation in any government entity anywhere. Except maybe down in the barn, where I am Keeper of the Household Cavalry, even as I work to develop relations with a froggy colt — whose brain is the size of a walnut — that are mutually beneficial.
A part of me takes some pride in that strain of contrarianism, because I have just enough of Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer blood running in my veins:
The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantations and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. “Dance,” they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
“Pray,” they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,”
I told them, “He’s dead.” And when they told me,
“God is dead,” I answered, “He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see him often.”
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. “Well, then,” they said
“go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,” and I said, “Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?” So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.
Where I really want to be is where Stefan Pashov is. Pashov makes a kind of impromptu star-turn in Werner Herzog’s tremendous film “Encounters at the End of the World.” An itinerant heavy-equipment operator, Pashov is really a kind of philosophical Han Solo, piloting his own ship through a life far more interesting, and far more independent, than we often remember is available to us.
Pashov has done some very hard work, and he is surviving, but “surviving” underserves the genius of his approach. He is surviving as one who is in love with the world, a man free to check in and out as he pleases while retaining his integrity, his vision, and his soul. He has rediscovered the kind of freedom and optimism that used to belong to even average Americans — before we gave it up to an all-powerful government and its spawn — the administrative state — that reaches into even our most personal places to make decisions for us, and often in spite of us, and is wholly unaccountable to us.
The American spirit once rejected that sort of intrusiveness, once condemned that kind of aristocratic hubris, but now seems resigned to prostrate itself before a virtual army of politicians and bureaucrats whose first and only interest is in self-preservation. Goldberg writes: “…the administrative state is today a vast complex, of bureaucrats and regulators — and the rules they work by — outside the constitutional order. They make ‘rulings,’ often without the slightest feedback from voters or even elected officials…Congress, as an institution, abdicated its sole responsibility to legislate, the courts have abandoned their obligation to safeguard the separation of powers, and presidents of both parties have proved unable or unwilling to curtail the bureaucracy.”
The world of Orwell is closer than we think, and even Victor Davis Hanson, never much one for hyperbole, recently wrote that we are now living in 1984 after observing the Kavanaugh phenomenon.
In a way, Pashov seems otherworldly. And I suppose that, in fact, he is. And by his own design. I wonder, as I ponder the notion of uncoupling from the American State in some preservationist way, if I have the intellectual, moral, and physical courage to finally turn my back on what I fear that we are becoming, to slide into a life underneath the noise, beneath the digital winds and passionate storms, like some seal sliding beneath the ice in the frozen Waddell Sea. I wonder if, like Pashov, I can learn to fall in love with the world again. I wonder if, once jaded, such a thing is even possible.
I get very close to believing in miracles like that when I hear something altogether new, something altogether ancient, that has escaped my attention because I’ve been too long topside, watching an apparently serious inquisition into whether or not a Supreme Court nominee is familiar with the various terms used to describe anal sex in the 1980s.
That new thing, that joyous miracle, for me, was also found in “Encounters at the End of the World,” and it sounds so promising, so remarkably fresh and infused with mystery, I was deeply moved:
I don’t know what happens to apostates from Big America in the end. It’s a new trail for me. Maybe it is just a moment of existential angst that turns otherwise natural scenes playing out in the wild — coyotes and crows fighting over a deer carcass, or seals beneath the ice — into convenient, if somewhat gloomy, metaphors of impending doom and salvation. But wherever it may end up leading, I’m confident I’ll be prepared. Because that’s the work we all have to do each day, and it’s work that no one can do for us.
And on a final, much lighter note, I could not resist mentioning that the 2019 Vladimir Putin calendar has been released, which is at least proof that the Russians are, at the present time, possessed of a much better sense of humor than we are.