I Can’t Go on Beating Nixon

I grew up in a household of ideas, especially political thought. My father was a US-Soviet Ph.D. from Harvard and through him, even though blind, I read deTocqueville, Thomas Paine, and Trotsky. Some days it’s a wonder I grew up to believe in anything—cant being so serviceable, so slick. By 16 I understood in a familiar way Robert Conquest’s observation: “The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.”

One can get away with a lot in the service of passion. When I was much younger I assumed it was enough (“it” being a political life form) to root against Nixon. Everyone I knew said he was a Fascist, but of course even the Students for a Democratic Society had trouble explaining this view. This kind of self-congratulation was the moral fault of my generation and perhaps it remains so. I think about this as a disabled academic. I’m on the fringe as it were, a blind professor. I’m not necessarily recognized as either competitor or citizen in the struggle for power, and I lament this until again I think of Mr. Conquest’s observation that: “We still find, especially in parts of academe, the damaging notion that everything is a struggle for power, or being empowered, or hegemony, or oppression: and that all competition is a zero-sum game. This is not more than repetition of Lenin’s destructive doctrine. Intellectually, it is reductionism; politically, it is fanaticism.”

Fanaticism is a terrible word. But it derives it’s authenticity as much from cant as from principle.

In a disability context, very few people believe the disabled should be shoveled up and buried (though some surely do) but the words are easy. When I read the so called manifesto of the man who murdered 19 disabled people in Japan last week I thought of how easy his rhetoric was. If everything is a struggle for power than Donald Trump must surely be correct, whoever has the best words wins. The best words are reductionist. In a zero sum game the cripples have to go.

When I was 17 I thought Nixon would disappear and then the world would be clean. Then I read Hiroshima by John Hersey and that was that.

Everything is a struggle for power, perhaps not in the way Conquest came to understand it. But he wasn’t wrong to understand that when human rights are reduced to rhetoric we’re doomed.

“Culture has completed its work when everything is a sign,” wrote William Gass. This is the most terrifying sentence I know.

I’m struggling in this election season, not because Hillary Clinton is a neocon or Trump is a small “f” fascist, but because American politics has no sufficient discourse against the struggle for power—which is to say it’s devoid of ideas. This was not always the case in the United States. Even if you opposed Ronald Reagan (as I surely did) I understood his position on the Soviet Union and the American economy. To have a position, however soppy, is still to believe in democratic opportunity. I give Reagan that. I always have. But now, only Hillary resists reductionism and that to me is a reason to remain awake at night.

I worry about the most vulnerable both at home and abroad. Only Hillary Clinton stands for the dignity of the disabled and the dignity of all those who are not, shall we say, persuaded by resentment of skin pigment.

Late Capitalism. What a headache. Getting rid of Nixon wasn’t remotely enough to manage the cabal of our enemies. Military Industrial Complex indeed.