FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Dirges for the Living Dead

At any political funeral, especially one as sorrowful and grandiose as Hillary’s ongoing obsequies, there will inevitably be abundant tears and cathartic sighs, long faces and stiff upper lips, doleful homilies and respectful postmortems. As Martin Luther observed five hundred years ago when he abolished Purgatory and with it a crucial fundraising source of the Catholic church, such posthumous rituals are for the living not for the dead.

This past week Hillary’s shade did emerge briefly from the coffin prepared for her by the DNC to haunt a Children’s Defense Fund event in Washington, DC. That ethereal presence in blue, did not cry or gnash teeth, nor show any signs of transfiguration. The terror of political death had not changed her.  She promised to fight on for the kids from the far side of the Styx and the Potomac.

Even if somber disbelief mixed with anger continues to oppress her mourners, there will be some, at virtually every burial, who rejoice. In the past ten days there has been plneyt weeping and wailing, countless bungled autopsies, and, on Fox News and in Trump Tower, abundant gloating.

One thing you don’t get at political funerals, however, is music.  The city protests and college walkouts of recent days have been mostly muted affairs, tuneless and dour. Nowhere to be heard was a fitting funeral march like that from Beethoven’s third or seventh symphony; no one went to the piano to rehearse Chopin’s famed dirge.  The widower Bill Clinton did not unsheath his saxophone, the instrument that had marked the beginning of Clinton Time back in 1992 and by rights should have intoned its expiry.

In search of a musical eulogy for Hillary, I had to hearken back to March of this year. Mrs. Clinton was then in robust fighting form, dirty-tricking her way to victory over Bernie Sanders. She bluffed and bulldozed her way to a Super Tuesday win on March 1st, though, ominously, hers was not as big as that of her ultimate political mortician, Donald Trump. Bernie took Vermont and Minnesota, but Hillary trousered the big prizes. The following Saturday two out of the three caucuses, those in Maine and Kansas, went to Bernie. Hillary won Louisiana, a state that would never go Democratic; in the shrouded retrospect of political mourning that success had more the flavor of a poisoned chalice, or perhaps a bowl of rancid jambalaya.

The next day, Sunday, March 6, 2016, Nancy Reagan died at the age of ninety-four.

I thought of Alexander Cockburn’s unforgettable description of Ronald (and Nancy) at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988:

“The President’s body sat there, not at all like a human frame reposing in the moments before public oratory, but as Reagan-at-rest extruding not a tincture of emotion until impelled by some unseen spasm of synapses into Reagan-amused, the briefest of smiles soon being dismissed in favour of the sombre passivity one associates with the shrouded figure in some newly-opened tomb before oxygen commences its mission of decay…”

Two days later Bernie swept to victory in the Michigan primary while Mississippi went to the eventual Democratic nominee. In those flagging vitals signs were to be seen still more symptoms of Hillary’s accelerating political decay.

Nancy’s funeral took place that Thursday, March 10th, and according to the protocols of recently concocted tradition, Hillary left the campaign trail for the afternoon to join the other surviving first ladies at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. There they were: the regal Rosalynn Carter, the stylish Michelle Obama, and alongside the fetching Laura Bush, the candidate herself—the onetime White House figurehead repurposed as senator and secretary of state, and now journeying to the Reagan tribute not from the post-White House twilight but from the real political fray, poised to become the first female nominee of a major party in American history.

All but one the remaining president’s wives was a Democrat paying homage before the Republican casket. That too must have been a sign of something, at the very least that in death the political differences disappear. The problem with American politics is that they disappear in life, too.

The living first ladies were placed in the front row, almost close enough to touch their dead colleague’s casket. Visible through the plate glass of the Reagan Presidential Library were lush hills spotted with McMansions and maybe even graced by a few beleaguered California poppies not blotted out by the trophy lawns. The green of spring had come to the Golden State in whose endless growing season it is always time both to sow and to reap.

As eight burly servicemen in dress uniforms carried in Nancy’s dark coffin the size of an aircraft carrier and placed it directly in front of the first ladies a mixed choir from Simi Valley’s St. Susanna’s High School broke into a tepid, mincing version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

In a way it was a fitting choice, this onetime anthem of the Party of Lincoln—and of Reagan. During the Civil War and after, it was a hymn more of the Republicans than of the Republic. The text was penned in 1862 by the abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe and, like so many nineteenth-century hits, was then fitted to a popular tune, one previously sung most frequently to the words of “John Brown’s Body.”

The Simi Valley kids were prepared and sang well, but what they sang was bleached out, blinding white and almost unendurable. The piano intro showed the way to what to come: a low G octave tremolo with modal chords above, blunting the evangelical fervor of the song before it had even begun. The choir entered in hushed diction, tiptoeing with Nancy towards the Promised Land: in place of the bloody armies of righteousness we got Sugarfree Plum fairies. Several AM Radio key changes ensued over an excruciating three minutes.  Instead of the “grapes of wrath” there were sweet wine spritzers; rather than “His terrible swift sword” those assembled were offered the sonic equivalent of comforting hot towel to wipe away the tears.  It would have been unendurable stuff had it not simultaneously been the perfect milquetoast fare for the place and the person being memorialized.

The mourners were meant to chime in on the choruses, and Hillary appears gamely ready to sing along, too, but she, like many others in the congregation, can’t find her way through the god-awful arrangement, one so intent on confusing participation rather than welcoming it.

You can also see that Hillary is embracing the event as a State Funeral, and it is touching to see her so ready to bust the precious mold of the First Lady into which her three colleagues had poured themselves. Hillary is ready to command from the Oval Office rather than be forced into behind-the-scenes astrologizing and puppeteering that Nancy had practiced during her White House years.

How could Hillary know the kids were singing about her?—

“He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.”

More articles by:

DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical NotebooksHe can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal.
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail