A few years back, I published a book called Livin’ the Vida Barroca: American Culture in a Time of Imperial Orthodoxies in which I sought, among other things, to highlight some of the parallels between today’s US and the decadent imperial Spain of the 17th and early 18th centuries.
While most people I talked to after its publication got the nod in the title to the song by Ricky Martin, few, it seems, really understood where I was going with the B-Word in the title, or how it connected to the issue of empire.
When confronted with their quizzical looks, I would usually mutter something about how in an era of strict implied controls on acceptable political thought, both the rulers and the ruled tend to seek refuge in gross hyperbole and ritualized ornamentation; the first group to obscure their true strategic aims and desires, and the second to take their minds of the state of political and social impotence in which they live.
Well, for those that still don’t understand what I mean when I talk about the American Baroque, all they need to do is mentally review what transpired on the national stage last week following the death of John McCain, that is, how—as the media likes to say—“the nation came together” in a vulgar and grossly disproportionate celebration of an intellectual and moral mediocrity whose only truly salient quality was his dedication to an imperial ideology of terror whose name we dare not speak and whose senseless savagery we dare not admit.
And how, as an integral part of this festival of bulbous obfuscation, we were treated to the fetishization, and thus moral whitewashing, of some of the biggest war criminals the world has ever known. As they stood together chit-chatting in their blue suits, we were instructed to swoon, not in horror over the millions of lives they extinguished, or the cultures they have destroyed, but over the fact that a member of one faction of this murderous claque shared a piece of candy with someone from the ostensibly competing clan of bandits.
And bringing it all to you, and giving it a wholly unwarranted aura of moral verisimilitude, was a sycophantic scribe class that has come to believe the lies it regularly issues in the service of the ruthless and powerful, and that as part of its need to constantly deny its self-evident ethical misery, regularly mocks and marginalizes the very few people of conscience left in their ranks. This, while regularly promoting and celebrating empty heads who talk about the lives of non-Americans as if they were pieces on a monopoly board, and worthy of the level of moral consideration we issue to those inanimate game pieces.
And to cap it off there was the near complete silence, even among many of those who found the courage to mildly question the exalted tone of the dithyrambs issuing forth about this complete cypher, of his profound personal corruption. What’s that you say? That would be his is role as one of the Keating Five, the scandal which ushered in the Saving and Loans crisis which resulted in the first truly undisguised fleecing of the taxpayers by our extractive class, and served as the prelude to, model for, Obama’s give-away of your money to the plutocrats after the 2008 crash.
In short, he was the imperial and plutocratic equivalent of baseball’s much sought-after and valued “five-tool player”. He could “do it all” for the team that cares nothing for you and your life. And there we all were cheering him on as he went off into the ether.
This, my friends, is what American Baroque is all about. And to the degree that you stand by and treat it and its rituals as having anything to do with basic democratic dreams and desires, you are part of the problem.