Essays, Uncategorized

Sharp Compassion: Scalpels Out

The wounded surgeon plies the steel

That questions the distempered part;

Beneath the bleeding hands we feel

The sharp compassion of the healer’s art…

-T.S. Eliot

If there were ever a time to question the distempered part of our body politic, it is now; now, as in no other time in my living memory. In the wake of four years of the disastrous kleptocracy that has been the Trump administration, the old world reels and rolls like a mast-less ship in a storm-tossed sea. The oceans which preserved continents from each others’ illnesses have been made millponds by trade and air travel. The former certainties of post-war alliances, of diplomatic protocols, of checks and balances within and between nations, have been put severely to the test. If we can return to a sense of a course steered towards an uncertain future, even to the sense that we are afloat in a boat whose captain no longer solves the problem of fuel shortage by tearing the ship apart and feeding the planks to the boilers, that will be a start. A start, but not an end.

I write days before the U.S. election, and it is far from certain that the Trump administration will be defeated at the polls, or if they are defeated, they will not burn the remaining planks of American democracy to keep their little pirate operation afloat. What is certain, is that if the Democrats take control of the Presidency and the Senate, they face a cleanup operation that makes the Exxon Valdez cleanup look like a post-party bottle collecting foray.

The last time the Democrats took control after Republican disaster, the U.S. was embroiled in several wars, and the thieves of Wall Street had, to use the great Lewis Lapham’s brave analogy, backed up trucks to the Federal Reserve and made off with some trillions of dollars. What Obama and company faced was a mountain of debt and chaos. Once again, they will (“the good lord willing and the river don’t rise”) be taking over a nation poisoned by greed and incompetence, a body politic literally sick unto death consequent to the utter failure of leadership of all the president’s men (and not of few of his children).

This is a shitshow. What cannot happen, as Biden, Harris, and company take command, is a repeat of 2008. Obama took over, and immediately began to issue invitations to the very group of people that had run the U.S. economy into the ground to come and help. He danced between the pylons of foreign policy in a country still smarting from the World Trade Center attacks, failed to address climate issues head-on, came up with unsatisfying compromise positions on urgent problems of water supply, domestic torture, health care, immigration, and pipelines. He tried to be everyone’s President. He didn’t get to appoint a single judge to the Supreme Court, and didn’t seize the opportunity to drastically revamp electoral corruption. As admirable a man as he is in many ways, he has now been out-manoeuvred by a man who has half his intelligence and none of his moral character. Whatever good was accomplished in his eight years has been undone, and more than undone, by the Trumpian fun-house ride of the last four years.

If the dems win the Senate and the Presidency, they must not repeat the error. Biden is already selling his aptness for the office by declaring that he will be the President for all Americans. The sad fact is that he cannot be. That nation now seems so divided against itself that nothing but surgery will suffice. The reactionary energy unleashed by the Republicans, and fed by the divisive influence of the false information glut is not going to disappear, and placating it is no more possible than extinguishing a fire with a bag of feathers. A firehose full of water must drown this conflagration of ignorance and bigotry. The economy will not be repaired by unleashing the wolves of Wall Street upon the problem. They’ll just feed on the dead. This wounded patient must be operated on like it was near death, with firm and bold strokes. The economy must be actively engineered, regulations and norms must be enforced, and the victim not allowed to wallow in a drug-induced state of unreality. As there has been no national guidance against the pandemic, so there must now be regulation and firmness. As the gun-toting “militias” have been given encouragement, they must now be curtailed, by force if necessary. As the ship has been dismasted and unruddered, so it must now be re-rigged, jury-rigged as the situation demands, until there is some sense of stability and proportion.

The rhetoric of the Democratic challengers has been conciliatory. But the true kindness for the diseased body politic of the United States of American will demand a compassion sharper and crueller than mere conciliation.

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