If you decide to go out in a blaze of infamy be prepared to have your instantaneous obituary stitched together by reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post from the traces you’ve left on social media: Facebook posts, Tweets and crazy Instagram photographs.
This is how the world first learned about the life of James T. Hodgkinson, the dugout shooter who sprayed a baseball diamond at a YMCA in Alexandria, Virginia with gunfire, hitting four people including Steven Scalise, the hard right majority whip in the House of Representatives, who was on the field practicing for the annual congressional baseball game.
So the capsulized life of Hodgkinson that emerged from the press–and the initial impression that will linger for months–is that he was a Bernie Bro who despised Hillary Clinton, considered Trump a tyrant and was consumed by the notion that the Russians had stolen the 2016 presidential election. In other words, a crazed lefty bent on political revenge.
Of course, important details were left out of this character profile. There were things about himself that Hodgkinson didn’t want to post on Facebook. These details took time to flesh out, time that can never be re-gained for our first impression of who Hodgkinson really was. His run-ins with the cops, his explosive nature, his repeated violent assaults on women, including punching a former girlfriend in the face, and his love of guns, guns that he was able to buy legally despite his criminal record, including an assault rifle of “Russian design,” as the New York Times noted, gratuitously.
Three months ago, Hodgkinson told his wife he was going to DC to “work on taxes.” What did this opaque phrase mean? Was he going to complete his taxes on his failed business as a home inspector? He left in March, a full month before the IRS deadline for his 1080 return. Was he under audit? Did he have a gripe with the IRS? Was he going to lobby congress on tax reform? Did he want to increase the marginal rate? Close corporate loopholes? Save the earned income credit? How did he plan on achieving this? We’ll never know.
What we do know, or think we know, is that he packed up his suitcases and drove his white van 815 miles from Belleview, Illinois to DC. He traveled through the heart of Trump country, across southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, through towns very much like his own, filled with white men very much like himself, people living on the economic margins, whose lives are being slowly crushed, day-by-day, by a system without mercy. Did he feel their pain? Did his anger mount, mile-by-mile? Did he get the sense that Trump is burying the entire country alive with his own bullshit? We can’t know. (Unless, of course, there are tapes.)
A few hours after the shooting, Bernie Sanders rushed to the well of the senate to apologize unnecessarily for any association with the shooter, which only served to reinforce their tenuous and irrelevant connection. Hillary hacks howled that the shooter proved their deranged belief that the Bernie Bros are violent misogynists. The Republican terror-monger Peter King denounced the violence of the Left. Even the normally sober-minded Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com lashed out at the rhetorical violence of the “NeverTrump” crowd.
But real violence always trumps verbal violence and America is awash in it, especially at the level of the State. We’ve been in a state of near permanent war for 16 years, many more years than that if you’ve been paying attention. The State kills people and then labels their corpses terrorists. Cops shoot people on the streets of America with impunity, 549 in 2017 alone (See today’s appalling verdict in the Philando Castile case.). We live surrounded by violent death and Washington’s bullets have exacted a psychic toll on all of us.
Was Hodkinson a terrorist? Few asked the question. Even fewer asserted it. He was white. A man from the heartland, who could have been a plumber or tax accountant. In fact, he was a home inspector. A little overweight. Stocky. He had glasses. He looked like he could have been a Trump supporter.
He wasn’t. He loathed Trump. Called him a tyrant. Did he see himself as a Brutus of the heartland come to the capital to take down a dictator? Perhaps. But that’s not what he was called, even if that’s how he saw himself. America is not ready to swallow that reality. Not yet. The terrorist must be others. Black, brown, Muslim. White privilege isn’t about protecting the perpetrators but the survivors. It feeds their notion of cultural exceptionalism.
But Hodkinson knew he was going to die. Surely he did. He shot until he was shot. A suicide shooter. But Hodgkinson didn’t shout “Allahu Akbar” or “Remember Wounded Knee” before he enfiladed that baseball diamond with fire from his AK-47 replica rifle. Reportedly, Hodgkinson merely asked, a little sinisterly, “Do you know if those are Democrats or Republicans?” You can understand why it was difficult for him to tell the difference, but that’s hardly the cri de guerre of a revolutionary.
What was driving the mind that pulled the trigger? We can’t know. We can only speculate, ascribe motives, project our own rage and despair onto him, if we are in an empathetic frame of mind, or our fears, hatreds, prejudices, if we are repulsed. Where does that take us? Pretty much where we have been. Only worse. The pious calls for healing and reconciliation are the most cynical of all. Despite the evidence around them, from the top to the bottom, that things are out of whack, that, in fact, the new normal in America is looking pretty depraved, the press and the politicians want to send a message that things are going to be okay, that America will come together and get beyond bloody moments like this.
It’s more comforting that the man, the white man who might have checked the foundation of our houses for cracks, might have just snapped, perhaps from watching too much of MSDNC’s RussiaGate coverage. Perhaps from going off his meds. Perhaps from the stack of bills piling up on the kitchen table that he just couldn’t find a way to pay. Perhaps from a romance gone sour or some dire medical news. Snapping is normal. Snapping can be dealt with. Turning on the government, attacking the capital itself, that sends a chill through the system.
Writers are quick to make metaphors for moments like this. We are eager to infuse these kinds of seismic events with some greater meaning than just another shooting on a baseball diamond, something that happens pretty regularly in cities across America, from Houston to Oakland, Flagstaff to Albany. But what if America is cracking apart at the seams and people like Hodgkinson are emerging from the crevasses, armed, aggrieved and packing a list of targets. What then?
Today is June 16th. The sky is rainy and clogged with clouds the color of steel-wool. It’s frigid for mid-June, even in Oregon. Still, the dogwood is blooming in the yard, defying the odds and the elements. Someone told me years ago the tree’s broad white petals streaked with red symbolize the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. But that image never really moved me. Jesus has too many contradictory symbols and his followers have defiled most of them.
The blazing return to life of our old dogwood reminds me of a certain Leopold Bloom, of Dublin town, since the blossoms always seem so radiant, even glazed with cold rain, on his day. On Bloomsday.
Here in Oregon City, Bloomsday requires a random dip into that unholiest of testaments, Ulysses, in search of a juicy snatch of text and a pint or two of Murphy’s Irish Stout and a shot of Jameson to wash the bitterness down. In honor of James Joyce you understand and his acolyte, Alexander Cockburn.
Cockburn’s birthday is June 6th and the celebrations often ran for 10 days, ending with a Bloomsday bash of drinking, feasting, dancing and quoting from Joyce, the more obscure and ribald the passage the better.
Those are the days with Alex that I miss the most, the high and low holy-days, up here or down on the Lost Coast, the days when stories and hard cider, laughter and music, the calls of birds and dogs barking, the scent of salmon twirling on a spit and the bracing winds of late spring all swirled together into one joyous stream …So here’s a passage for you Alex, mined from the mind of that rare genius.
Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice of words. Thoth, god of libraries, a birdgod, moonycrowned. And I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest. In painted chambers loaded with tilebooks. They are still. Once quick in the brains of men. Still: but an itch of death is in them, to tell me in my ear a maudlin tale, urge me to wreak their will.
+ If the Washington Post can be believed, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now pursuing Trump for obstruction of justice. It appears that Trump wasn’t personally under criminal investigation until he tried to sabotage the FBI probe into Michael Flynn’s illicit activities, which is how self-deluded megalomaniacs are usually undone: by their own paranoia and hubris.
+ So the odious Jeff Sessions may have perjured himself for the third or fourth time (it’s hard to keep track) by neglecting to mention in his evasive senate testimony his meetings with a Russian lobbyist at two dinners Sessions hosted for the Trump campaign.
Since the beginning of this strange scandal, everyone in Trumpland has lapsed into a kind of Russian amnesia. If they’d only said from the start, “Sure, we met with some Russians. Talked about oil, sanctions, Crimea, Syria, vodka, hookers and the neglected films of Grigori Kozintsev” most people would have shrugged their shoulders and said, “So what?”
But Trump is a liar and he picked a gang of liars for his cabinet. Trump’s business was constructed from lies and so is Sessions’s malign political career. Are they hiding something? Some financial entanglements of the Trump organization, having nothing at all to do with the 2016 elections, snaking back to Russian banks? If they aren’t, they’re stupider than we thought they were, which was a very low bar to begin with.
I hope they all go down. Hard. But not too soon. It’s far too much fun watching political vermin like Sessions squirm.
+ Speaking of perjury, Scott Pruitt, the man who is trying to turn the EPA into the Chamber of Commerce, apparently lied to congress about his secret email accounts, back channels to his buddies in the oil and gas industry, in Oklahoma. Who needs Double-Speak anymore, when you can simply perjure yourself with impunity…?
+ We are hearing a lot now about how “dangerous” “violent” rhetoric motivated the DC shooter. But the actual violence of the State done in our name daily for the last 20 years is a bigger & more dangerous trigger than any kind of inflammatory speech.
+ Liberals, who have been so eager to restrict “hate speech,” now just might get what they want. But I don’t think they’ll like how it’s going to be enforced very much….
+ Trump slammed the door on US travel to and business deals with Cuba today, which just might help save socialism on the island from an economic re-b00ting by the neoliberal shock therapists.
+ The day after denouncing Qatar as a state-sponsor of terrorism, Donald Trump sealed a $12 billion arms deal with the petro-kingdom. The terms of the deal had been struck during the Obama administration. Why should anyone be surprised about this? First Qatar had to prove it was sponsoring terrorism, like the Saudis, before it actually got its hand on the weapons.
+ Drones are the gift Obama gave to Trump, who is taking maximum advantage of new his killing toys. Since Trump took office, the rate of drone strikes per month has swelled to nearly almost four times Obama’s average.
+ When karma comes as a drone: As US troops and surrogate fighters close in on Raqqa in Syria, ISIS fighters are using drones to target US positions and airstrikes.
+ Neoliberalism at Work: Over the last 34 years, incomes for the top 0.001% richest Americans soared by 636% while incomes for the bottom 50% remained stagnate. This wasn’t a by-product, but the plan.
+ National Geographic published an intriguing story documenting how at least seven species of marine mammals are known to mourn the deaths of family members and “friends”. The writers couldn’t resist referring to this as “human-like” behavior, which seems insulting to the whales. The real test of their “humanness”, of course, is whether cetaceans execute members of their own species and then take selfies with the corpses…
+ The UN estimates that US airstrikes have killed more than 300 civilians in Raqqa in the last month alone. And they call it “liberation”…
+ Cindy McCain, the wife of a leading Russophobe was just hired as a Human Rights (i.e., humanitarian bombing) Ambassador for the man her hubby calls Putin’s stooge…
+ Mark Kasowitz, the personal lawyer for Donald Trump, has been bragging to friends that he get US Attorney Preet Preet Bharara fired. If nothing else, you gotta admire the hubris of these people…
+ Trump’s plans to eviscerate labor unions is now coming into menacing focus. I wonder if Trump ran his scheme to hobble labor unions while unshackling his corporate buddies by the Einsatzgruppen Division of Big Labor who photopped with him in the Oval Office during the early days of Trump-time….?
+ As Jonathan Cook pointed out in a searing essay this week, Trump’s “Grand Deal” in the Middle East, cooked up with Netanyahu and his Saudi buddies, will set the stage for the elimination of Palestinian statehood. Of course, the Palestinians will resist and survive, as they always have. The question, moral and existential, is will Israel survive what it’s doing to the Palestinians?
+ Number of days in office to hit 60% job disapproval in a Gallup Poll-
GW Bush 1,758
GHW Bush 1,290
And the Democrats still have nothing to offer disaffected Trump (or Sanders) voters…
+ As Sanders, the Democrats are still sticking knives in his back, at their own peril. No one seems more deranged by Sanders’s appeal to progressives than Joy Reid, who does a double-shift of demagoguery at the Nation and MSDNC. Check out this unhinged Tweet from Reid, which appeared on her twitter feed apropos of nothing, except her visceral loathing of Sanders and the Sandernistas:
Bernie and his followers are like that college friend who stays at your place for weeks, pays $0, eats your food & trashes your aesthetic.
To which I ask: what aesthetic?
+ NPR’s lead story on UK elections didn’t mention the words “Jeremy” or “Corbyn”. Perhaps Congress should defund them….
+ Eclipsed by the madness in DC, the Standing Rock Tribe just won a huge legal victory in a Seattle court ruling that the permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline were granted illegally.
+ It’s a rainy night in Antarctica
Yes, it’s a rainy night in Antarctica
And I believe there’s fire and drought across the rest of the world….
+ As the industry begins to implode, the New York Times has doubled-down on its pro-nuclear propaganda, urging that the nuclear cabal be bailed out in order to fight climate change, a specious argument that has been thoroughly debunked. Will the paper hire George “I Love to Surf at Fukushima” Monbiot as a columnist?
+ Among its many other global casualties, Monsanto is responsible for killing off the oaks of Iowa.
+ Imagine the Royalties! Yoko Ono may finally get songwriting credit for her contributions to “Imagine.” I always thought that meeting Yoko and John Sinclair were two of best things that ever happened to Lennon. Both expanded his mind, when he was trapped in a kind of vacuum of celebrity. Yoko deserves the credit, especially after all the shit she’s endured for 50 years. As Ron Jacobs said, “Yoko didn’t break up the Beatles, the world did.”
+ Bob Dylan has been cribbing stuff for years. “The Ballad of Emmitt Till” is a reworking of a song by the folkie Len Chandler, many of the lyrics from “Love and Theft” where taken from the Japanese oral history Confessions of a Yakuza, and even more egregious (politically) some of the lyrics on “Modern Times” were lifted from the southern poet Henry Timrod, a writer of pro-Confederate doggerel….Poetic license? It’s certainly part of the folk and blues tradition. Now comes word that Dylan may have plagiarized portions of the Nobel Prize speech for literature from the college student cheat-sheet SparkNotes, which as Dylanologist and boogie boogie maestro David Vest said, “is written by people who haven’t even read the works they are writing about.” Stealing from Sparknotes was a delicious prank and the perfect way to trivialize the Nobel Prize…Good job, Bob.
+ Terry Callier was one the greatest singers to come out of Chicago. He grew up in Cabrini-Green and sang in a doo-wop band as a kid with Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler. His unique singing style was deeply influenced by listening to Coltrane. Callier was “discovered” one night in a club by the great blues historian Samuel Charters, who recorded his first album and then absconded to Mexico with the tapes. In the 70s, Callier toured with Gil-Scot Heron. In the 1980s he retired from music to raise his daughter and went to night school to get a degree in sociology from the University of Chicago. He was lured back into performing by Paul Weller (Brother to Brother) and Massive Attack (Live with Me). Callier was a mesmerizing live performer as witnessed here….
What I’m listening to this week…
Witness by Benjamin Booker
Hard Truth by Coco Montoya
A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Vanguard by Ambrose Akinmusire
Samba by Vieux Farka Touré
Black Irish by Shannon McNally
What I’m reading this week…
The Putin Interviews by Oliver Stone
On the Arab-Jew, Palestine and Other Displacements by Ella Shohat
Out of Luck
Jean-Paul Sartre: “There are two types of poor people, those who are poor together and those who are poor alone. The first are the true poor, the others are rich people out of luck.”