On Power and Naming

Where to begin?

With the irony of a fool admonishing me to “study the world,” when it is obvious he has never done so himself?

The fact that this same fool might be unintentionally quoting a 1980s video game—Bad Dudes—in which ninjas kidnap the President?

A temper tantrum against the New York Times?

His tired conflation of the media and opposing parties, clearly demonstrating his ignorance that he is but a creature of the same media?

No.  None of those.  They are the distraction.

I want to discuss how we view power.  How we manifest our fears of the Other.  How we choose who gets to create identities, and who has to live with them, for isn’t this the essence of power?  The flexing muscle of naming?  You—Syrian.  Terrorist.  You—Black.  Angry.  Perhaps criminal.  You—Woman.  Emotional.  Bitchy.

We saw the instant recoil when the same tactic was used against the “deplorables” in the election.  Those who name cannot be named themselves.  Since this view of power is automatically zero-sum, the ability to name can only belong to one tribe.  And this flailing pissant is extremely good at negotiating the language of division, of breaking down the complex gray of real life into the black and white of 140 characters:

SAD.  DISHONEST.  FAKE NEWS.  NOW.

Those are the words of power.  No nuance, simply bold, capital letters that capture a mind without critical thought.  The unthinking proclamations of the strong man.  The anti-humanist whose world divides not into us versus them, but ME and the rest.  Those morally bankrupt enough to accept nomination into this administration should pause a moment at how quickly they can be binaried into extinction.

But how do we change this attitude?  How can get past naming the Other, and accept those names the Other chooses for him or herself?  I think we, as Americans, stand at the cross section of history.  We are connecting with all the moments through our long and bloody past, and making a decision as to which road we choose to follow.  Trump’s cruelty and ignorance echoes across time to Bull Conner, Joseph McCarthy, Andrew Jackson.  It’s the original sin of America—slavery—an abuse of power so egregious and horrifying, we are still in atonement today.  The path of righteousness leads us to the confessional, to acknowledge the failures of who we wanted to and could have been, yet this path is difficult.  It means accepting the Other.  It means giving up the power to name.

The argument will be made that choosing the fundamentally flawed path is in the name of security.  This is a foolish form of cowardice.  There are myriad more dangers the average American encounters than terrorism every day.  The world is simply not out to get you.

But the more terrifying argument has already been voiced by our vicious President:

“Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning.”

And the next time?  Do we breathe a sigh of relief when it is only 1,109?  10,109?  100,109?  Under Stalin, human beings became numbers.  The fundamental idea of America is that we are not numbers.  We are individuals, deserving of rights.  Yet we are willing to put aside the words, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” to hide under our blankets and hope they choose our neighbors instead of us?  This attitude disgusts me.  Those 109 are human beings, and not some simple justification for delegitimizing my America because it was only the few and not the many.

I believe that Donald Trump is a legitimate threat to the United States of America—he is undermining faith in her institutions, attacking her ideals, and dividing her against herself.  His venom will poison this nation.  To allow him to continue in office is to give our children and grandchildren some brittle husk of what we once were.

Yet I have hope.  The lawyers and legislators in New York.  The few politicians beginning to evolve from invertebrates into living, breathing members of human society.  But more so, the people.  The millions of women (and men) who marched in solidarity.  The letter writing and phone calling.  The new action.  This is the new Progressivism.  We are working to spread power to the powerless, to give voice to the voiceless.  Maybe we needed a clear threat such as Trump to ignite this passion, but the flame has caught.  The way to fight Trump is to frustrate him into failure, to spend his time on tantrums.  To see him as small, little, inconsequential.  For he is—he is petty, churlish, and demeaning, but so are most bullies.  The beauty of America is found in her people, and those people are in motion.

Poetry speaks truth to power.  Trump’s truth is the deception of the three-card monte, the tout, the conniver, the quiet bystander, the darkness at noon.  So an appropriate answer to ‘alternative facts’ is Carl Sandburg, the poet LBJ once simply called, “America.”  Here, he asks, “Who Am I?”

My head knocks against the stars.

My feet are on the hilltops.

My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of universal life.

Down in the sounding foam of primal things I reach my hands and play with pebbles of destiny.

I have been to hell and back many times.

I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.

I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.

I know the passionate seizure of beauty

And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs reading “Keep Off.”

 

My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive

in the universe.

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