Unpopular wars drag on, gas prices erratically rise and inexplicably fall, as clouds of cynicism, dark as Richard Nixon’s perpetual five o’clock shadow, brood over the length of the U.S. At times, it seems as though Nixon’s 1970s never ended: Only Ronald Reagan’s/Bill Clinton’s/Barack Obama’s Quaalude-laced, faux populist snake oil caused the nation collectively to slip into a soporific sleep — and now, with the effects of the drug wearing off, we begin to awaken…hung over, groggy, queasy…still in the midst of that ugly and odious era.
At least, that’s the encrypted message I’ve deciphered using my Super-Secret, Zeitgeist Decoder Mood (disorder) Ring, special limited, Michele Bachman edition.
Thus far, in this dismal century of the nation’s history, both men who have occupied the office of the U.S. presidency, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, are as much products of the 1970s as were Naugahyde pit group sofas and outbreaks of the Herpes Simplex Retrovirus at Plato’s Retreat. From a historical perspective, future generations will regard the Bush Administration and its Democratic Party doppelganger as the Dacron Polyester of American presidencies: Bush’s legacy will carry all the beauty, style, and enduring appeal of a powder blue Leisure Suit — and Obama will be remembered as the Pet Rock of the U.S. oligarchic class.
Accordingly, if there is a presiding spirit possessing our age, it is the gray ghost of Richard Nixon who sat, stoop shouldered and scheming, in the Oval Office, in the early 1970s, as the U.S. began hitting the limits of its imperial might and economic power, and who set the tone of duplicity and denial that define daily life in the nation to this day.
During the Watergate Era, Karl Rove and other ruthless sleight-of-hand artists of the politics of demagogic distraction and displacement grasped this fact, so troubling in its implications that it was banished from the official narrative: Nixon was not driven in disgrace from office because the people of the U.S. were troubled by having a sick, corrupt bastard as their president; in truth, most simply found the situation embarrassing…to have the curtains of the living quarters of the White House pulled open, thus allowing the world to witness the dismal spectacle of Nixon…pacing the floors, draped in a dingy bathrobe, muttering whisky-fueled expletives at the yellowing wallpaper.
“Now, Watergate does not bother me / Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth.” — excerpt, Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd
Moreover, Rove perceived that Nixon’s paranoia, rage, envy, and resentment merely mirrored those of the white, U.S. middle and laboring classes. Nixon knew from the depths of his black spleen to the tips of his twitching nerve endings the hidden in plain sight, ugly side of the American character and how the pathologies therein could be exploited for political gain.
Nixon’s legacy remains our lode star because most of the U.S. populace accepted the false narrative that Watergate and Vietnam were aberrations, and that, by Nixon’s resignation from office in August of 1974, the country’s psyche had been purged of the demons…conjured and given sustenance by U.S. global-wide imperium and that still abide within the collective psyche of the nation — an unseen, insidious presence to this day.
Ergo, even after Nixon was exiled to San Clemente, and the nation’s citizenry was induced to take up the mantra, “the system worked…time to move on…Our long national nightmare is over” — Americans remained uneasy, clinging to the casuistry that we were mere bystanders when the crimes were committed — and, as a consequence, we transformed ourselves into willfully ignorant marks for political flimflammers (embodied by the likes of Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama et al) whose comfortable lies exalt the inviolable grace of our collective cluelessness.
Otherwise, we would have been forced to face our individual complicity in Nixon’s crimes; otherwise, a million Vietnamese corpses would have risen accusingly in our dreams — as tens of thousands of Iraqi and Central Asian dead would haunt our sleep tonight.
At present, Democratic Party apologist for U.S. military imperium seem to have little inclination to lament the deaths of the children of Central Asia, whose bodies have been ripped asunder by attacks by U.S. predator drones, because (Could they possibly believe?) their lives were violently torn from this world by the policies of a Nobel Peace Prize winner — not Bush nor Cheney nor any (admitted) neocon.
In the compartmentalized confines of their casuistry, how is it possible that Obama’s liberal supporters actually believe that the souls of these children are now at peace only because they had not befallen the misfortune of having been slaughtered, by say, the caprice of a President Perry or Bachmann?
The demonstrable madness of the Republican party’s presidential hopefuls serve as living emblems of the forces of negative entropy riddling the empire. Accordingly, Michele Bachmann embodies its urge towards outright self-destructive mania. In contrast, Barack Obama’s style is axiomatic of the effects of its all-encompassing, reality-denying PR apparatus i.e., reality viewed as a mere marketing problem.
Moreover, as the tattered veracities of U.S. exceptionalism continue to be buffeted by the realities of the wider, indomitable world, political types, such as Obama and Bachmann, both scions of the nation’s dismal and deranged political class — risen from the political landscape since the 1970s — will embody the cognitive dissidence inherent to declining empire.
The larger the specter of decline looms, the more desperate the political and economic elite have become…contriving to consolidate even more outrageous amounts of wealth and power, hence further circumscribing the already severely diminished societal milieu of the less privileged classes of the nation.
Such desperate circumstances can bring peril: The rights and liberties of a nation’s people can be forsaken, like good music and a sense of fashion in a 70’s era disco, when a group of fanatical outsiders (for example, rank and file teabagger types) forge ad hoc alliances, based on political and economic expediency, with a corrupt business and political, ruling elite.
“I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind/ I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes/ don’t look into mine.”
–Bob Dylan, excerpt, Idiot Wind
In my own experience, I first began to take note of the acceptance of authoritarian impulses in the cultural banalities evinced in the 1970s. I noticed my peers (teenagers born during the peak years of the Baby Boom) were not the progeny of The Woodstock Nation, as our beleaguered authoritarian elders had feared. Instead, we were the free floating spirit-incarnate of a pop culture Weimar Republic e.g., unlike our predecessors in the 1960s, we used drugs neither to expand our awareness nor as an act of social or political rebellion; rather, they were appropriated as apolitical agents of anesthetization.
Like the sound and fury of our pinball machine distractions, our Muscle Car imperialism, and the pseudo-edginess of the so-called FM radio revolution (that was, in reality, the advent of corporate rock) — our surface-level rebelliousness was, below the lank-haired, faded denim-clad, reefer-reeking exterior, the metastasizing of an insidious indifference — to a large measure a radical renunciation — of anything more challenging than those things available within the immediate confines of our comfort zones.
Our mode of being, even then, revealed our obsession with comfort, the devices of escapism and an avidity for insularity — our right to the pursuit of numbness. We were fledgling Weimar Republicans, clad in faded, frayed bell-bottom jeans…primed to surrender freedom to the corporate/national security state for the illusion of safety and control.
All along, beneath the pot reek, redolent on polyester fabric…the Muscle Car rumble…Quaalude spittle…the tribally-administered, prototypical serotonin/dopamine/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (perhaps precursors of the Huxleyesque pharmaceutical authoritarianism to come) we baby boomers were scions of the Cold War military/industrial/consumer empire’s death-sustained dynamo.
The empire is as noisy, distracting and meaningless as a vintage, 1970s pinball machine — as self-aware as a baby boomer, suburban pothead teenager who, as the years have passed, transformed into a self-absorbed, Starbuck’s-slurping, SSRI-popping consumer zombie, possessed of mindless appetite, begot by deep, inner desolation who has spent his existence devouring the resources of the entire planet in the manner he devoured food from his mother’s pantry while possessed of a bad case of reefer munchies in the 1970s.
As the decades have passed, an internalize mall and mcmansion — an architecture of instant gratification and compulsive insularity — has supplanted primordial forests of collective imagination; hence, our roots no longer reach deep into the dark, renewing loam of ancestral intelligence; our branches no longer lift towards the sky of possibility. We feel devoid of nourishment and hope, because the internalized empire has clear cut it all, reducing sequoia forests to toothpicks in order to pick the bits of charred flesh of those slaughtered in our wars of imperium from its rotting teeth.
Consequently, If our corrupt political parties did not exist, we would need to invent them, for they are emblems in the flesh of the true face of U.S. empire…What rises from the toxic soil of the inverted totalitarian powers of the corporate/military state.
Yet, more than likely, the readers of this essay are as mortified, heartsick, and enraged by the actions of the U.S. government and the corporate overlords who own and operate it, as is this writer. Nevertheless, we carry U.S. imperium within us as deeply as we hold the imprint of our parents’ faces. The empire is too pervasive and invasive to avoid our being carriers of its proliferate pathologies; this system weaned us and socialized us, and, even when we rebel against it, our actions are generally restricted within limits set by it.
Otherwise, the consequences would be too crushing for most of us to endure: financial ruin, destitution, homelessness.
Accordingly, here’s a plot spoiler regarding the stagecraft of the next presidential election cycle. Republicans — Bachmann, Perry et al will play their roles as scary, scary psychos — escapees from the Right Wing Christian Madhouse For Social Program Ax Murderers — as Obama will play the calm, reasonable, deliberate authority figure who, after the crazies are dispatched, will calmly and deliberately slash to bits Social Security and Medicare — and then feed the remains to the economy-devouring cannibals on Wall Street.
Mojo Nixon (no blood relation, I suspect) sang, “Everybody has a little Elvis in them.” Nowadays, regrettably, we must sing: “Everybody has far too much Nixon in them.” Internally (even those born long after the 1970’s) in larger and smaller degrees, carry Nixon’s dismal legacy.
Apropos, proceed to the closest mirror, look yourself in the eye, and repeat the risible (as well as demonstrably false) phrase, “I am not a crook”– then, at long last, face the Richard Milhouse Nixon within, and thus come face to face with the cause of why, collectively, we in the U.S. seem perpetually in the thrall of the corrupt political forces and degraded social criteria that have gripped and grappled us since Nixon slunk from the scene in the summer of 1974.