Of all the memories which I carry of A Christmas Carol, amidst all the phantasms and memories and dramatic revelations, it is a strange one that always stands out. In a story whose details are always so ubiquitous in the holiday season, that they long ago were absorbed into my bloodstream, I never think first of Marley, clanking in his chains, or Bob Cratchit bouncing Tiny Tim on his knee, or Old Fezziwig’s merry parties. What I think of first is how cold Scrooge’s gloomy parlor is, as he spoons his Christmas Eve repast of gruel, just before the action begins. Scrooge has dwelt in the cold for so long, it’s chilled him in place, stopped his heart, warped him into an inhuman icicle:
“…Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
My eyes hurt right now from staring at screens all day, but watching the parade of Republican congressmen today, each excited for their turn at the lecturn, their turn in the hit parade of screeching fascist eagles, each of that had that same gnarled, frozen face. Christmas is over; it is a new year, and a frightening one already. Scrooge isn’t real; these monsters are. For how hot their rhetoric runs, they’re cold to life.
Our conservatives hate life, in fact — hate the other party, hate the Republican base to which they’re squealing, hate that there’s oxygen in the air they breathe. They hate themselves, they have no respect for themselves, their incarnations as American patriots mandates that they have zero dignity. If you’ve ever read What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg — the story of a man who exists less as a human than as a kinetic mass of ambition — you know all you need to know about a Republican congressperson. They are so banal, so uniform in their ugliness, that any further dissection of their personal qualities could not fill the rest of this sentence.
And then, suddenly this morning, while one of them sustained the high-pitch whining note to which all of them, in their useless posturing, interminably ascend — in this case a Senator Lankford, some scarecrow-looking geek out of Oklahoma — the Senate was suddenly adjourned. Assailants had battered their way into the Capitol. Everyone knew who they were and why they were there.
Scrooge is sitting there, in front of his weak fire, when the ghost who has been haunting him finally reveals himself. It is Jacob Marley, his old business partner. Marley is dead, but this is no hallucination. As greedy, selfish, and unfeeling in life as Scrooge, Marley is now bound in heavy chains, “doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth.”
There are worse fates than Hell, and one of them is living on in some degraded, half-human form, relegated there for a lifelong failure to act in anything approaching a moral way. Now, the right way to live, of what to give others — “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence,” the desperate Marley exhorts — is not an option. It was in life; no longer. Now, Marley must simply watch each missed opportunity for altruism, unable to be of use, unable to escape his purgatory.
Every enabler of the American fascist movement, which reached a frightening crescendo Wednesday, will hopefully know something of Marley there, someday. I don’t need to reiterate the events of the Nazi attack on the US Capitol for you. What do we call the people who perpetrated the first assault on the American seat of government since the War of 1812 — not redcoats, but true-blue American uberpatriots, a few battalions of Timothy McVeighs rampaging through the halls of Congress?
My last post on here before the holidays discussed how science-fiction author Philip K. Dick’s fictional androids differed from those in Blade Runner, the film adaptation of his work. To quote PKD again, from an interview:
For me, the word ‘android’ is a metaphor for people who are physiologically human but psychologically [behave] in a non-human way. I got interested in this when I was doing research for Man in the High Castle and I was studying the Nazi mentality…I became conscious of the possibility of a very highly intelligent human being who was emotionally so defective that the word ‘human’ could not properly be applied to him. And I used this in my writing in such terms as ‘android’ and ‘robot,’ but I’m really referring to an actually psychologically defective or malfunctioning, pathological human being.”
To look at the smoking freak show marauding away from Trump’s rally yesterday, where he exhorted them to crush his constantly replenished supply of enemies — Congress, Mike Pence, electors, Merv Griffin, the Duracell Rabbit — it was hard not to think of that kind of inhumanity. I feel no treacly sentiment about the US Capitol as a symbol, a piece with the veneration of big buildings and bunting and anthems necessary for any empire to function; this was a building constructed by slaves. What I did feel was that this eruption of rage was stoked, organized, and executed by a vast army of people who lack some essential humanity. The photograph of one armored assailant in the Senate chamber wielding zip ties exposed the terrifying contours of this plot. Over the past weeks and months, Trump’s fascist base openly planned a violent coup, plotting to occupy and sack the most democratic branch of the US government, interrupt the handoff of power, take hostages, and surely kill some people.
United by a gleeful abnegation of conscience, these androids are organized together in one terrible combine — the same type of force which bound Native Americans into reservations, lined the fields of the Antebellum South, and piled barbed wire around Auschwitz. I believe in ghosts as surely as Scrooge believed in Marley. They walk among us and make their presence felt — only, in America, they don’t warn their living heirs that they are bound for Hell. They urge them on. Many people who saw the photograph of one of Trump’s mob strutting through the Capitol with a Confederate flag aloft noticed that among the paintings hanging in the background was the portrait of Vice President John C. Calhoun. It begs the question: what was the likeness of antebellum America’s premier defender of slavery doing there anyway?
That Calhoun’s oil painting could proudly look on, his eyes tracking the flag of his diseased cause like in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, raises some questions. The xenophobes and conspiracy theorists — mostly pro-Democratic — who have refused to shut up the last four years about their overblown fantasies of Russian and Chinese manipulation of America weren’t just repulsive, it turns out; they were complicit. By spinning wild fantasies of Putin and kompromat, by locating the source of our fascist troubles as emanating from a hated foreign enemy, they let a lot of guileless fools ignore the truth: this is an entirely American problem, with a long history here.
Just think of all the ghosts who were looking on yesterday in jubilation. Preston “Bully Boy” Brooks, congressman of South Carolina, savagely bludgeoning abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the US Senate in 1856; the House failed to expel Brooks, who would receive fan mail and gifted canes the rest of his life. Jefferson Davis, whose statue still stands, somehow, in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, an inspiration to any other political opportunists eager to boost themselves off of the destruction of civil order. Father Charles Coughlin, political player and mass media lobbyist, whose stench of Jew hatred and Christian crankery wafted through the halls of Congress only until it was no longer politically useful.
The most foreign the ghosts get is Carl Schmitt, the crown jurist of the Third Reich, whose intellectual influence hopped the Atlantic apparently without much resistance. Schmitt’s demonic Weimar-era justifications, constructed to excuse anything Hitler wanted to do, can be heard in the Capitol. Dispatched from the chambers of the Senate Judicial Committee, a seemingly endless column of fresh far-right soldiers, trained by the Schmitt-inflected Federalist Society, march to occupy lifetime appointments in the federal courts, while “the Carl Schmitt of our time,” Attorney General Bill Barr, stands ready to serve Trump more directly in Nazi street aktions.
So this is what we are dealing with, at a very high level: a power structure, a social order, which for decades has thought nothing of integrating the teachings of Adolf Hitler’s lawyer into the construction of American life. This is not an extreme offshoot of the conservative project; it is American conservatism. It’s the whole point; all Trump did was discard any phony niceties. Here is an elegant summary from one Frank Wilhoit:
“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”
Anyone with eyes saw that Wednesday. As white neo-Nazis rampaged through Capitol Hill, virtually everyone imagined what the police response would have been against any Black Lives Matter protesters launching a similar assault. All of the talk of rule of law, of respect for tradition, boil down to one hideous boast from conservatives: We are better than you, and deserve to have everything.
At this point, any warning of “incipient” fascism is tragically laughable — closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. Per a flash poll, forty-five percent of Republicans admit to supporting the assault on the Capitol, while nearly seventy percent see no threat to democracy in the attacks. The fact is, what binds together the US conservative movement is not merely hatred of any expansion of democracy, but hatred of democracy itself — even the withered, pathetic version extant in America today. It is not an exaggeration to see echoes of Weimar Germany in this hostility.
As such, haunted by these ghosts, there are a few disparate points I find important to state.
- Donald Trump is insane. There has been a norm against questioning a presidential candidate’s mental health, dating back to a cynical backlash stoked by conservatives during Barry Goldwater’s presidential run. This is not a subject which should be off-limits. The prospect of the destruction of the Earth by nuclear weapons because of the ascent of a madman to a position of power is not less important than offending the propriety of Donald Trump, or any well-intentioned concerns about stigma. So let me say that Trump’s actions on Wednesday are not those of a sane person, in any sense we’d recognize sanity. I do not believe he even wants to remain president; that would be too sensible. He exhorted his fascist mob to a terrifying attack for motives of spite and caprice — unprecedented action against his own country without even a strategic goal in mind. Trump is a powerful lunatic on par with Nixon and Caligula. I have no idea what his next moves are.
- There is no daylight between Trump, a violent lunatic, and the Republican Party. None. This entire crisis is the result of a political party so craven, selfish, and fearful of their own political base that they have assisted a madman in attacking their own seat of legislative power, putting themselves at risk of assassination. A far-right warrior like Mike Pence had to flee to safety from mobs of rioters who believe him to be a Deep State enemy of Trump. There is no word to describe how total this level of submission is. The attempts by Trump’s enablers to separate themselves from him and his hideousness are laughable.
- There is overwhelming continuity, and virtually zero disunity, among American conservatives. A recent book by Mexican academic Oswaldo Zavala bore a remarkable title: Los Cárteles No Existen (The Cartels Do Not Exist). The provocative but all too convincing thesis of this book is that drug violence in Mexico does not exist apart from the ruling state, committed by “non-state actors”; the drug trade is thoroughly integrated within the social, military, political, and corporate order. Likewise with “Never Trump” Republicans, or independent conservatives, and any phony declaration of dissidence. The reason dramatic moments of defiance of Trump by GOP nonentities like Mitt Romney are so acclaimed is that it provides suspense where none exists. Despite their Fuhrer’s own insanity and personal weakness, the ideology which Trump embodies is basically just American conservatism. There may be some tweaks — a bit less free trade here, a nod toward isolationism there — but it is basically what all of them signed up for, ideologically if not stylistically. Trump, after all, remains your average Republican’s most beloved party figure.
The cruelty is the point. It doesn’t matter that the current lie floating around the far right — that this was a false flag attack by antifa activists — is ridiculous. That’s half the idea. It’s insult to injury — zero responsibility taken, something to laugh about with the other hyenas.
This is all funny to them — everyone else having to run around, dealing with their mess. And this is every conservative, from the dowdy scuzzball kicking his muddy boots up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, to the whingeing yuppies who run the Wall Street Journal opinion page as a kind of running gag against the poor, their idea of fun being to run articles saying how great Ebenezer Scrooge was. It’s all in service to the same masters — hatred, greed, selfishness — which animate all conservatives. To quote Jean-Paul Sartre on such bigots:
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”
- This was an attempted coup; the absurdity of it doesn’t matter. I’ve been seeing a lot of redefinitions of what a coup is, and a lot of baffling turns into cul de sacs, seeing people pull a muscle trying to explain how this wasn’t a coup attempt. The arguments all seem specious to me. The fact that it failed — that an assault on the Capitol could never, in this form, succeed in retaining Trump as president — is totally irrelevant. The point was to interrupt the transfer of power, to terrorize elected officials and public servants, and to occupy a seat of government. In point of fact, the coup attempt actually succeeded on all three counts; that I suspect the overall goals included occupying Congress overnight, taking hostages, and possibly killing people seem to have already been disregarded. It was no spur of the moment attack; it had been planned for months, and occurred simultaneous to similar assaults on statehouses across the country. Just because some of its chief perpetrators were dressed in Viking horns does not make this any less serious.
It doesn’t matter if any of the people I’ve named entirely believe anything they say. What matters most is what they do. And what we saw before us Wednesday, surreally, as if just out of reach, slowly, underwater, was a potent fascist movement attempting a coup with the backing, vocal or covert, from a good portion of the American establishment. Due to the overwhelming failure (or complicity) of law enforcement in stopping the attacks, and then in arresting the extremists, it will be considered a success that was legitimized in real time. Any subsequent efforts at prosecution will only damper that truth, not eliminate it.
We never see what happens to Scrooge beyond Christmas Day, his soul saved. Faced with the truth of his future — desolation, visited not merely upon himself, but upon all those around him — self-insight pierces his icy shell. He discards his selfishness and makes himself of service to mankind. It is a stirring reminder that such redemption is possible for anyone who seeks it; the problem is, most people who need it never seek it. Scrooge is just one man. We have, at best, a nation of ghosts, clanking in their chains. Better to force them into irrelevance, than hope they’ll change their tune; whether they ever seek forgiveness is not ours to say. After all, for the rest of us, our lives are on the line, at their hands.
I’ll give the final word to the unlikeliest Republican — one I’m inclined to think broke free from the cycle of hideousness I described above. Per Arnold Schwarzenegger:
“I have a message to the Neo-Nazis, the White Nationalists and the neo-Confederates. Let me be just as blunt as possible: Your heroes are losers. You’re supporting a lost cause.
Believe me, I know the original Nazis. I was born in Austria in 1947, shortly after the Second World War, and growing up I was surrounded by broken men…Men who came home from the war filled with shrapnel and guilt, men who were misled into a losing ideology. And I can tell you that these ghosts that you idolize spent the rest of their lives living in shame. And right now, they’re resting in hell.”