An unpopular war drags on, gas prices rise and rise, as a cloud of scandal gathers over Washington D.C. At times, it seems as though the 1970s never ended: it's just Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton's Quaalude-laced, faux populist snake oil caused us to sleep through the 80s and 90s -- and now we're awakening, hungover, groggy, queasy, still in the midst of that ugly and odious era. At least that's the encrypted message I've been able to decipher, using my Super-Secret, Decoder Mood Ring, special limited, Karl Rove edition. George W. Bush and Karl Rove are as much products of the 1970s as were Naugahyde pit group sofas and outbreaks of the Herpes Simplex Retrovirus at Plato's Retreat. Historically, the world will regard The Bush Administration as the Dacron Polyester of American presidencies: its legacy will carry all the beauty, style, and enduring appeal of a powder blue Leisure Suit. George Bush, himself, will be remembered as the Pet Rock of the American plutocratic class.
Accordingly, if there is any presiding spirit possessing the current zeitgeist, it is the gray ghost of Dick Nixon. During the Watergate Era, Karl Rove apprehended a fact the rest of us pushed out of our minds, due to its troubling implications: Nixon wasn't brought down because Americans were troubled by having a sick, corrupt bastard as their president -- we simply found it embarrassing to have the White House curtains pulled open, thus allowing the world to witness Nixon pacing the floors, draped in a dingy bathrobe, muttering expletives at the yellowing, West Wing wallpaper.
Moreover, Rove perceived that Nixon's paranoia, rage, envy, and resentment merely mirrored those of the American middle class. Nixon knew from the depths of his black spleen to the tips of his twitching nerve endings the dark side of the American character and how the pathologies therein could be exploited for political gain. In 1972, Rove watched and learned as Nixon was reelected in a landslide victory. Nixon showed Rove that the American middle and laboring classes feared and hated those spoiled brat, college campus radicals and uppity blacks that they saw every night on the evening news more passionately than they loved their own freedom.
Nixon realized the concept of freedom was (and remains) too vague for many of us. Where exactly can freedom be located? But, in contrast, just go down to any shopping mall and you'll find envy; just visit any suburban subdivision and you'll find fear; and just set yourself down on any stool at any neighborhood bar and you'll find hatred and resentment.
Nixon's legacy looms large before us, because we Americans have refused to face a few sad and creepy facts regarding why we were (and remain) possessed of the need to tell ourselves Watergate and Vietnam were mere aberrations and that Nixon's resignation from office in August of 1974 purged the demons from our nation's soul and cleansed us all. Even after Nixon was exiled to San Clemente and we took up the mantra “That was that ... Let's move on ... Our long national nightmare is over,” we Americans remained uneasy, desperately clinging to the sustaining self-deception of our being mere bystanders when the crimes were committed -- and, as a consequence, we made ourselves willing marks for political flimflammers (as within a few years time Ronald Reagan would exemplify) who peddle the politics of the comfort zone and all its attendant lies exalting the inviolable grace of our collective obliviousness. Otherwise, we would be forced to face our complicity in Nixon's crimes; otherwise, a million Vietnamese corpses would have risen accusingly in our dreams -- as tens of thousands of Iraqi dead would haunt our sleep tonight.
Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney -- these ruthless men are all Nixon's progeny. They all got away scot-free. In fact, they prospered in the cynical post-Watergate era and they continue to perpetrate their crimes right up to the present time. Moreover, it is we, the American public, who bear responsibly: we conjured these psychopaths with our ceaseless incantations of denial.
Fascism comes to a nation when a group of fanatical outsiders forge alliances, based on political and economic expediency, with a corrupt ruling elite -- as all the while, a fearful, distracted, denial-ridden public surrenders their liberty (then, inevitably, their souls) for the illusion of security and a few material goods. I first began to take note of the acceptance of proto-fascistic tendencies, in the cultural banalities evinced in the 1970s, even in those of us who were too young to have cast a vote for Nixon. I noticed my fellow peak-years-of-the-Baby-Boom teenagers were not the progeny of The Woodstock Nation, as the beleaguered authoritarian types of the era had feared. Instead we were the floating spirit-incarnate of a pop culture Weimar Republic. As a rule, we used drugs neither to expand our awareness nor as an act of social or political rebellion -- rather they were utilized as apolitical agents of anesthetization. Like the sound and fury of our pinball machine distractions, and our Muscle Car imperialism, and the pseudo-edginess of the so-called FM radio revolution (that was, in reality, the advent of corporate rock) -- our seeming rebelliousness was, below the lank-haired, faded denim-clad, reefer-reeking surface, a pervasive anomie ... the metastasizing of an insidious indifference -- to a large measure a radical renunciation of anything more challenging than those things available within the immediate confines of our comfort zones. It was a revelry in adolescent, pop culture narcissism, punctuated by incessant self-medication, that was mistaken for the excesses of freedom ... In short, just the sort of numbed-out, muck-headed Sturm und Drang one should expect from young minds -- bereft of life experience, brainwashed by an existence inundated by commercial manipulation, and incompetently educated by the state -- that were larded with Quaaludes and the like, for Christ's sake!
We were primed for proto-fascism by our habitual consumerism and willful ignorance. As the years trundled on, our customized vans would become Mini Vans that would morph into SUVs and Humvees. It was all about comfort, the illusion of control, and insularity, even then. All about our right to the pursuit of numbness. We were fledgling Weimar Republicans, clad in faded, frayed bell-bottom jeans. Beneath the pot reek, clinging to polyester fabric ... the Muscle Car rumble ... Quaalude spittle ... the tribally-administered prototypical serotonin/dopamine/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors that were the precursor of the pharmaceutical fascism to come -- we baby boomers were scions of the Cold War Military/Industrial/Consumer empire's Thanatopic dynamo. Even then, our corporately usurped Eros had transmuted into an indifference to little else but our ceaseless attempts to sate our hollow appetites and our perpetual need for distractions from the tedium and emptiness engendered by our existence within an economically exploitive, class-stratified system, where one's personal worth is measured in mammon and identity defined by consumption.
Our sense of entitlement would not have become so grotesque if our lives had not been so diminished by the internalization of our bloated empire. Up to the present day, our Nixonian self-absorption, pettiness, and spite are collectively magnified into the self-serving economic machinations and genocidal military designs of our elitist overlords. The accouterments of imperial power have grown so large and menacing, in direct proportion to the degree our individual visions have been rendered so small and corrupt.
This is criteria by which the United States was transformed from a republic, conceived to be governed by way of democratic discourse, into a shabby-ass, centerlines archipelago of shopping malls, devoid of a public square, dominated by a defining narrative of marketing platitudes and the collective, sound-bite psychosis of corporatist canticles. It all has gotten away from us, because an internalized McMansion has supplanted the towering glory of our internal Sequoia trees; hence, our roots can no longer reach deep down in the dark loam of our evolutionary legacy; our branches no longer lift towards the sky of possibility. We are devoid of nourishment and hope, because the internalized empire has clear cut it all, reducing sequoia forests to toothpicks in order to pick the bits of charred flesh of those slaughtered in its imperial wars from its teeth.
Furthermore, we shield ourselves from our complicity in the carnage by choosing to remain fixated by our small concerns and mind-numbing distractions, rationalizing the corruption of the corporate and political classes is in no way a reflection of our own self-serving proclivities; we march through our commodified, daily lives -- Storm Troopers of our venal, corporatized agendas (all maintained by bunker buster bomb imperialism and planet-looting ecocide); our thoughts as banal as Eichmann's as he calculated the weight capacity of death camp bound boxcars as, all the while, foreign blood is spilled in our name and the natural world that sustains us dies.
Yet, more than likely, the readers of this essay are as mortified, heartsick, and enraged by the actions of the US Government and the corporate overlords who own and operate it as is this writer -- nevertheless, we carry the empire within us as deeply as we carry the imprints of our parents' faces. It is too immense for us not to; it is too pervasive and invasive for us to avoid; it weaned us and socialized us -- and even when we rebel against it, our actions are generally restricted within limits set by it. Otherwise, the consequences would be too crushing for most of us to endure: financial ruin, destitution, homelessness, prison. There are reasons the neoliberal oligarchs endeavor to widen the class distinctions in the United States and abroad: The harsher the economic consequences are for the laboring classes to risk defiance the more obedient we will grow, particularly when we are incessantly plied with the synergy of corporate salesmanship and state propaganda -- and everyday we must negotiate our way through a collective mindscape as hyper-commercialized, zoning-bereft, and nature-denuded as the endless clip joints of corporate capitalism spanning the length of the land.
Yes, the empire is as noisy, distracting, and meaningless as a vintage 1970s pinball machine ... as smart and self-aware as a baby boomer, suburban pothead teenager, who, as the years have passed, has transformed into a self-absorbed Starbuck's Latte-slurping, SSRI-popping consumer zombie, afflicted by a mindless appetite begot by a inner desolation that threatens to devour the resources of the entire planet in the manner he devoured the food from his mother's pantry when he had a bad case of the reefer munchies in the 1970s.
Though the ensuing decades, we've continued to deceive ourselves into believing the corruption and embarrassments of the 1970's -- from the crimes of Watergate to the inanities of The Gong Show (the reality TV of the times) -- had nothing to do with us. As a consequence, it comes down to this: we didn't learn a damn thing during 70s, therefore, we've condemned ourselves to relive it.
Yes, it is high time to strike the gong for Karl Rove and his pathetic, dancing, feces-flinging pet monkey act that is presently stinking up the stage of The Gong Show of the American political system. But next, we should turn off the TV, walk to the closest mirror, look ourselves in the eye, and repeat the risible (as well as demonstrably false) phrase, “I am not a crook,” -- and then, at long last, face the Richard Milhouse Nixon within, and thereby come to grips with the reason we Americans are, at present, as popular and respected worldwide as Richard Nixon was in the Summer of 1974.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He maybe contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Cognitive Dimwits: The Unbearable Rightness of Being by Leilla Matsui and Stella La Chance
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