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Mourning in America
by Gabriel Ash
November 5, 2004

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I didn’t vote for Kerry; I am not sorry he lost the elections. I don’t know what will happen next and whether it would be better or worse than if Kerry had won.

Nevertheless, Bush’s victory hurts.

Not because of what Bush is.

There is really not much difference between what Bush is and what Kerry is. They are both scions of inherited wealth, Yale graduates and Skull ‘n Bones brothers.  They have both been selected to leadership by the duopoly’s elections machine. Each of them represents a different version of what Wealth believes would advance the interests of Wealth.

It hurts because of what Bush’s support represents. It is as if a large part of America is in the grip of an Alzheimer’s pandemic. The people all around are progressively losing their faculties, their judgment, their memory, sinking into dis-reality, but you have to pretend nothing is wrong with them.

There is no point in rehearsing Bush’s faults. There are known by those who want to know. But the problem is not only George W. Bush. If it wasn’t clear before the elections, it must be clear now. The problem is a twisted country, a country dominated by pathological liars, bloodthirsty churchgoers, moralizing narcissists, and roaming herds of rugged individualists. It is country that wears its ignorance and its meanness on its sleeves. It isn't the whole country, but enough of it to preclude quick fixes. 

Those who have given their heart and sweat to electing Kerry, not necessarily out of admiration for him, but out of genuine belief he would be a significantly lesser evil, must feel even worse than I. They must be searching for the right feeling like for a breath. It would take time to digest, to reflect, to understand. There is no need to rush now.

But there is also the instinct to rush, to decree what is proper, what should be next. Perhaps, however, there is some virtue in a not refusing this state of shock so fast. We must work through the denial.

First, there is the reaction enjoined by the State and its agents. As a man who “reported for duty” so enthusiastically, we can take Kerry’s words as spokesperson of the State:  Bush won, it is time to heal and to unite.

Of course it is time! The State has important unfinished business, mass murder in Fallujah for example. Political divisions are disruptive of State business. 

From the perspective of the State, elections exist to pacify, to make you feel that you had your voice heard and that now you have an obligation to support whatever the state does. Election in Iraq, Afghanistan or the U.S. look very different, but are intended to have very similar effects. They are not supposed to have an impact on policy, at least not on important policy. In Iraq the State seeks to determine in advance who will win the elections. It may not work, but nobody denies that that is the goal. In Afghanistan the State (always the same State) successfully engineered elections that confirmed the pre-determined result.

In the U.S. the State has already determined what its policy in the Middle East would be. That was never a question voters were asked to ponder. But after the elections, and because of them, the will of the State is supposed to become our own. We vented our spleen. Now we go back to being obedient citizens, fully supportive of the State, whatever it does, however vile.

Another call, on the Common Dreams website, enjoins us, “don’t mourn, organize!” It is not a call for resignation, but a call for continued struggle.  It sounds very different from Kerry’s. But perhaps, however unintentionally, it is in fact echoing it.    Don’t mourn? There is in this command a recognition that so many are demoralized, devastated, wounded. Mourning, grieving, is what happens to us while the wounds are open. What is then the call not to mourn, not to grieve, an order to heal, now, immediately, to be healed already? Between this healing, this healing through organizing, or rather the organizing that substitutes healing, and the healing through submitting to the will of the State, might there be more than just a casual similarity?

To mourn is to be open, to have an open wound, that is, to be temporarily stripped of the self’s natural defenses. To mourn is to be brought inwards and outwards at the same time, to absorb one’s own fragility, one’s own openness, one’s own lack of defenses. Admittedly, grief isn’t a pretty state. It is a state of excess, a state than can lead one away from oneself, unpredictably.

What does it mean, then, that we are commanded to organize, but not to mourn? Is it that we ought to disavow the wound, the loss, to deny that we have lost, that we are at a loss? Is it that the crucial stress should be on being exactly the same as before, as if nothing happened? Is it then a preemptive threat, enjoining us not to reflect, not to examine ourselves, even as it is also an exhortation not to stop, not to lose steam, not to give up the struggle?

The questions I am asking are not about struggle, but about continuity. Do we need to continue? Or do we need to begin? Perhaps we should let what happened affect us, bring our efforts to a proper burial. But let us not be too casual with our metaphors. At least some of the results of our choices will need a non-metaphoric burial. And when we say we shouldn’t mourn, there goes another way of understanding what that could mean. 

We organized before the elections. We organized for so many causes, against so many ills. Then the campaigns began, and all our resources went into electing Kerry, although he was not a champion of most of our causes. Have we been betrayed? Or have we betrayed? What does it mean to that we should continue as before?

Then the elections took place. Or did they? For here we are the day after the elections, and we are enjoined to do what we did the day before, organize, but not mourn, as if nothing happened to us. Isn’t it a repetition of sorts of what the State says? Here is Kerry’s concession speech: “But in an American election, there are no losers…” Hence, one could add, nothing to mourn. And nothing to change, nothing to change us.

Do we have to worry about organizing became a fetish, a shield against reflection, against analysis?

If we criticize thought that doesn’t connect to action, shouldn’t we also question action that doesn’t think? And is it not the definition of reflex action, action without thought, to act the same, again and again, as if nothing happened?

Unless, of course, nothing happened.

What does it means that both the voice of the State, and the (admittedly self-styled) voice of “the progressive community,” insist, that the elections, in a certain sense, didn’t happen? That nothing has changed, nothing to justify mourning, a non-event that demands nothing from us but to continue?

How can it be that, as Kerry said, “this is the most important election of my lifetime” and yet that “there are no losers,” because “we all wake up as Americans”? How can it be, on the other hand, that the elections were so extraordinary and crucial that we, the left, the radicals, the anti-war movement, had to give up our ideas and betray our causes and mortgage our principles in order to put more work trying to get a pro-war candidate elected than we ever put in our own causes?

And yet, the moment it was over, it was as if it never was, as if we suffered no loss that ought to jolt us. Are these mere soothing words, platitudes, applied to our wounds like ointment to get us faster on our feet? Or should we suspect that they might be true, that the elections indeed never happened? Perhaps we shouldn’t mourn because mourning would inappropriate and self-indulgent. But isn’t grief always self-indulgent? Do we mourn when we choose to, at pleasure, or when we cannot hold back?

And if we can hold back, doesn’t it tell us that we should mourn, at least, the realization that we feel the need to mourn, and yet that we realize in the same breath that it would be inappropriate, because we didn’t lose in this elections that did not happen? We didn’t lose because we couldn’t win, because we set the stakes so low.

Yet it is mourning every day in America. Not about the “loss” of the presidency, but the loss that overwhelms so many unnecessarily, the loss of life, the loss of livelihood, the loss of liberty, the loss of dignity, the loss of hope. And in other places too, in places like Fallujah, for example, where people will both organize and mourn. For there, not everyone “wakes up as Americans”, and there will be winners and losers, especially losers, and many, many to bury and to mourn.

Gabriel Ash was born in Romania and grew up in Israel. He is an activist and writer. He writes his columns because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword - and sometimes not.  Gabriel encourages your comments:

Other Articles by Gabriel Ash

* Oh!-sama
* Diagnosing Benny Morris
When at a Loss, Escalate

* Dear Ayatollah
* Settlements: A User’s Guide
* A Victory for Israeli Democracy
* Don’t Get Mad, Get Going!
* Pink Delusions