Sunday, January 01, 2017


People will be presented with things, and will find things to be happy about in this new year.  But for America, the West, the planet, it is unlikely to be happy.

We will count it as not as bad a year as it might have been if we are not in a shooting war by the end of it, or no nuclear weapon has been used in the next twelve months.  And if the world's nations stay the course on the Paris climate agreement.  But it will almost certainly be a year of catastrophe for which we have no precedent in this country, even if some of those catastrophes aren't evident or don't manifest within the next twelve months.

Our imaginations work by metaphor, analogy, story.  There are lots of people trying to fit what is about to begin on January 20 within recent history, political and otherwise.  Some say 1968 is an apt analogy, for instance.

But 1968 is not. There is nothing of a normal pattern about it, and there is no analogy.  There are no precedents in American history, or history of the past century, except in the sense that photos cut up from various sources are precedent for the collage made from these fragments.

I use the term Hitler Millennium to suggest the direction and extent of what I see coming.  That's as close as I can get, and it is extreme in order to suggest that we are entering a period of extremes (and not simply extreme rhetoric), and it is best to err on the side of anticipating worse consequences than actually occur, rather than try to normalize and excuse events and actions that are by their nature and historical context extreme.  There is precedent for that attempt to deny and normalize, at least, in Germany of the 1930s.

The world may go completely to hell this year, but it may take a little longer.  Still, the UK is in almost as bad a shape as the US, and Germany is teetering.  (All this at a time of great prosperity and wealth, with relatively healthy populations.  None of which is guaranteed to last.)

The US is likely to see regression that goes beyond reversing progress and changes made in the past 8 years, or 50 years, to the past 75 years and beyond.  There is no precedent for that.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to realize that this perfect storm is composed of elements that we've been well aware have existed for some time.  Covert racism has been festering for decades, probably since it became culturally suspect to be overt. And while some see this as the revolt of an undervalued working class, it bears much more the hallmarks of the continuing revolt of the very rich, in unholy alliance with the political scum of the earth.

Some may hark back well into the previous century, to the conspiracies of power expressed, for example, in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (which I have recently actually and finally completed reading.)  I've recently been re-reading Jim Harrison's 1998 novel The Road Home. One of its narrators, a 29 year old man and confessed nomad whose study and solace is the natural world, nevertheless makes these comments:

"...part of the Republican trance that required of the poor only that they behave and keep out of the way of the money-making possibilities.  The whole country had apparently become comfortable with the greed frenzy of its top one percent."

This is 1998, with the "one percent" rhetoric of 2012.  And more to the point:

"The rich and the upper middle class were now seething with resentment over protecting their position and were demanding an enforceable mono-ethic which was gradually turning the country into a fascist Disneyland."

I wouldn't lay that at the feet of Walt Disney, a better and more complex visionary than many credit him, but what the term "Disneyland" suggests is clear enough in this context.  And now there's no more "gradually" about it.  We're about to get a fascist reality show.  Produced chiefly by fossil fuel wealth.

People are frightened--especially people of color, Muslims, women, people whose health depends on Obamacare.   The effect on the planet I'll leave for another time, but the short version is that whatever chance civilization had to survive the climate crisis relatively intact may well be gone as a result of what begins on January 20.

 We'll see if large numbers, or even a few, actually employ the tools of resistance being talked about, and if they have any effect, and what people will do if these efforts don't immediately change things.  It's a long game, with lots of unknowns.   It seems more than possible that 12 months from now--or 24 or 36--people won't recognize what things were like, what they themselves were like, on this New Year's day of 2017.

The apocalypse as a time of revelation is embedded in the word.  We will learn much about ourselves, individually and collectively. The stakes are highest for the young, and there are jobs to be done, jobs of hope enacted in the present.  There are lives to be lived, for however long they last.  As a wise old friend wrote to me recently, "My life has taught me that resistance starts with endurance."

As for this blog, it will be around for the rest of the Obama presidency.  By that time, maybe something else.  But my resolution not to dwell on political commentary doesn't mean I won't have anything to say.    

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