Jeff Flake and Some Animals

 

SPOILER ALERT: this post gives away the end of Black Mirror season 1 episode 1. If you’ve not seen it and want to watch it as a series virgin, stop at the bold spoiler alert indicated below in the body of this post, and do not watch the summary clip below it. You have been warned.

Something important happened in America on Wednesday.

A Republican senator called bullshit on Herr Gropenfuhrer, and on everyone who supports him. Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake delivered the less than 20 minute manifesto to the delight of thinking human beings the nation over.

It was a good speech. You can read it in full here. Or you can watch it here:

It may have hyperbolized in places. And, make no mistake, Flake continues to contribute to things that I consider damning in voting at around 90 percent consistency with Herr Gropenfuhrer’s agenda. I don’t particularly care for Senator Flake, but I do like this speech.

It’s important. Because Flake is one of a handful of Republicans willing to call bullshit out. And Herr Gropenfuhrer is utterly, utterly composed of bullshit. He is bullshit, by his very nature. And I have said from the beginning that the first thing a despot wants to do is undermine anyone who mocks, delegitimizes, or otherwise undercuts or stings his pride, which is important to him above all else.

Which is precisely what makes such a person dangerous as hell.

While I don’t believe that H.G. is a competent enough human being to effectively maipulate an entire nation of people into the sort of subjugation that the world’s most truly malevolent dickbags have done, I do belive that he is more than incompetent enough to achieve disasterous consequences with his thoughtless, inane, and childish behavior.

Donald Trump is a child with an ant farm. And a magnifying glass.

And we are all in big, big trouble if someone doesn’t start parenting this clown.

Trump’s constant undermining of free speech – specifically of the press, which holds public officials to scrutiny and does so publicly – is a clear indication that he does not want open discourse. And you know who doesn’t want you talking openly? Someone with an agenda to hide. H.G. would love nothing more than for the people he now governs to have no access to intelligent, thoughtful commentary or reporting because then, when he says ignorant bullshit like “I’m the best (thing) of all (similar things) you’ve ever seen,” they’ll just believe him.

Make no mistake that hobbling a free press is no less than hobbling society’s ability to think clearly, well, and deeply; to reason based on the empirical evidence of reality.

He embodies the most reprehensible archetypes of humanity. He is boorish and brutish. He is superficial and he lacks not just the basic capacity for, but more importantly, the reverance for, the importance of, human empathy.

Empathy separates serial killers from decent people.

The ability to (and, again, more importantly the inclination to) put oneself in a position to understand the experiences of others and work forward, taking that understanding into account, is what makes a person decent.

As a woman, as a mother, and as a human being who believes, viscerally, in the rights of every other human being to basic life essentials like food, shelter, clean water, healthcare, and personal, bodily, security and sovreignty, I recoil in horror not just at the fact that H.G. has somehow wedged his way into a position of legitimate power in this country. What I shudder to realize more even than that is that we have devolved in this country, socially, to a point at which it’s funny. To a point at which this level of depravity of spirit is not just laughed off, but actually celebrated.

Flipping through Neftlix last night, with no real agenda but a significant compulsion to escape into something for at least a bit, I bit the bullet and hit play on a series that Netflix has been trying to thrust upon me for weeks.

“You’d like this,” Netflix says, inserting the title into all of my suggestions in multiple genres. Because it’s been pushing the show so hard, I’ve been disinclined to watch it. Like any person who produces original (sometimes even artistic) content for public consumption, I have a wicked streak of autonomy in my personality. Even if what you tell me to do is precisely what I was going to do, and how I was going to do it, and when I was going to do it, I’ll change all of my plans on the fly just to rebel against your attempt to control me.

It’s just a part of who I am. I cannot stomach the idea of doing what I’m told simply because it’s what I’m told, and even more repugnant for me is the idea of having my work, my life, or my choices in mindless entertainment dictated to me.

I have a physical reaction to it not unlike the autonomic response to an impending threat. It’s just full-on, pupil-dilating rage sauce.

But finding nothing else that really struck a chord for me I decided I’d give in and give it a shot.

Black Mirror.

British, so kind of starting out for me with one strike against it. It’s more true for me with kid’s shows, but certain strains of a British accent can really grind on my nerve and, when it comes to genre elements – particularly those of comedy and horror – British stories can either check every box hard, or fall entirely flat for me.

Luckily, I was hooked within the first three minutes.

(***SPOILER ALERT***)

Black Mirror, season one episode one (episode summary video below) sees the British Prime Minister called out to fuck a pig, live, on all British television networks in order to save the life of the princess. The villain who’s kidnapped the princess, and who makes this demand in exhcange for her safety, turns out to be an artist. His creation of the conflict, and his contriving the precise conditions in which to make it happen, is motivated by his interest in holding up a mirror to the whole of the nation, reflecting the truth of their grotesque nature back to them. A black mirror indeed. Long story short, the entire nation anticipates the act of aggravated pig fuckery. They tune in for it when it finally goes down, almost disbelieving that it could possibly be happening. And the Prime Minister, bless his heart, fucks that pig for over an hour. And the whole country watches. For over an hour. As he fucks a pig. And the looks on their faces, as the anticipation goes from one of giddy disbelief to revulsion and disappointment is not his fault, you realize as you’re watching. My heart sank right along with every extra who represented a person who watched that transmission in that horrible, fictional reality. That is humanity. We are depraved and sick. At our core, we are. We have an unconscious river of filth running through us, and our ability to contain and subvert and sublimate it into something useful and honorable is what makes us human. And the fact that someone would stand up in favor for a man the likes of Herr Gropenfuhrer gives me that same sick face that every person watching the Prime Minister fucking a pig bore as they turned away in disgust.

What the fact that Donald Trump is president – more importantly, what some people’s delight at that fact – means about humanity as a whole in this country should turn your stomach and punch you hard in the heart.

Our very worst qualities as human beings is on flagrant display, and if you’re one of the people delighting in it?

I can’t.

I can’t respect you. I can’t get behind you. I can’t support you.

Because there is something fundamentally wrong with your ability to recognize human rot. Just like you can smell rotten meat and know that it is unsafe and poisonous, when you see rotten, fetid behavior, when you hear someone say rotten, fetid things, your should be similarly repulsed, in your mind and in your heart.

Disgust is an emotion that operates for the same purpose on an emotional and a physical level. Disgust is what keeps you from ingesting that which will poison you.

If you don’t have the basic capacity to recognize human rot I feel sorry for you, but your handicap is inexcusable. For me, it is entirely inexcusable.

So to see a republican senator – and sure, he did it because he’s not seeking re-election, so it doesn’t count as actual altruism – stand up and say this about H.G.? Regardless of anything else about him, this speech is significant.

Although it alone does not define him, I think it needs to be understood and evaluated independent of his voting record. He’s still part of the problem, politically. But this right here? This is evidence of someone supposedly represented by this bullshit president calling out his bullshit, and calling out bullshit is always, always commendable.

In this speech, Flake cites George Orwell. If you’re not aware, George Orwell wrote a novella – a short political satire – called Animal Farm. In it, a group of farm animals overthrow their human caretakers and set off on a program of equalizing everything. In the final chapter (and the entire book is a grand total of 44 pages single space on 8.5 by 11 inch paper, you guys, making it – especially now – a particularly easy and topically relevant read or re-read) the pigs, who have carefuly manipulated all of the animals to view them as elite, say that

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL,
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

Through a series of almost imperceptible steps, the pigs established a new totalitarian regime in which the only difference between the current and the previous system is that they are at the top of the pile, rather than humans.

Abuse of logic through manipulation of language is how the worst shit in the history of mankind has happened.

WORDS FUCKING MATTER.

A multitude of tiny baby steps is all that stands between decency and damnation.

Milton Mayer, who writes a truly profound story of living through Germany’s descent into moral destruction (They Thought They Were Free) from 1933 to 1945, says this:

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.”

This is important.

This is why Flake’s speech is important.

George Orwell’s alegorical novella I read for the first time in what must have been the early to mid  1990’s. I was a student, then, and a child. A clever student. I’ll give myself that. Clever enough to recgonize, even if whatever wonderful teacher assigned it at the time hadn’t drilled it home, the importance of the story. The meaning. But I have lived the vast majority of my life to believe that shit like the Holocaust can never happen again. That humanity has grown beyond the abject horrors of past behavior.

As I age, as I see these same behaviors in the microcosm – on individual scales, in things like my own marriage, during which I came to see actual significant abuse as normal, and permissible, and even deserved at times – and now on the greater stage of American politics, I cringe to think that the things we’re allowing Donald Trump to get by on, the things that we’re laughing off as silly jokes or excusable faux pas, are the same as the shitty little things that my ex-husband used to do to me that, once he was threatening to have me arrested for kidnapping our children when I tried to take them to my mother’s house after an argument, became clearly the points at which I should have said something, done something, called his ass out.

In so many ways our relationship with this clown resembles more and more the progress of a an abusive relationship.

So.

If you’re making excuses? If you’re writing off bad behavior and inexcusable comments? If you find his irreverence for decorum and good taste “refreshing” or “down to earth,” you are not just a part of the problem. You are the problem itself, to the exact same degree that his behaviors and his comments are the problem.

And please. Please, do not trot that tired-ass line out that acting “presidential” is antiquated and stuffy and unnecessary. You want to see an example of someone relaxing the social expectation of “presidential behavior” with class and charm, but without devolving into a sniveling, throbbing hard on?

Look at literally any time that Barack Obama showed up on a late night talk show or Saturday Night Live.

Zero tolerance. We should have zero tolerance for this clown’s bullshit.

It really is just as simple as that.

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