Blame It On Rio
August 2016 (II)
8, 9, 11 and 12 August
As the Rio Olympics approached, Kathleen enthused about Simone Biles, whom she had read about somewhere, or perhaps seen somehow, and my trepidation was great. Would I remember how to turn on the TV? (It’s complicated!) And when would I turn on the TV? Who would find out when to turn it on? I foresaw tears of frustration, and they seemed very likely indeed when, having managed to bring NBC into our home yesterday, I was confronted by endless volleyball, and no women’s gymnastics. According to the Olympics Web site, the women’s gymnastic qualifications were taking place at that very moment. Kathleen’s attempt to capture the live stream (is that how one puts it?) was not going well. I crept into the bedroom and riffled through the Times. There I learned, after some tabular decipherment, that there would be gymnastics after 7 PM. Sighs of relief were heaved, and the promise was kept. There were other events, too — synchronized diving (?) and swimming — but we got to see Simone Biles and her Team USA mates, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas, and Madison Kocian. We also got to see — and I’m writing to complain about this — Aly Raisman’s parents, sitting in the stands.
“Agonizing” would be more like it. I believe that it was during Aly’s performance on the balance beam. At one moment, Raisman seemed likely to slip off the beam, or at least to grip the beam with her hands, reflexively. She did not grip it or even touch it. She saved her routine and went on to get a score that qualified her to participate in the Games. The usual repetitions followed, in slow motion and so forth, with close-ups of the near mishap (feet and hands). Then we were shown her parents, to whom we already been introduced, watching their daughter with their hearts in their mouths. They angled away from one another, then pulled together; Lynn Faber looked desperate and Rick Raisman looked hostile — a good thing, I suppose, given that his fight-or flight trigger had understandably been pulled. I felt an intense sympathy that no amount of well-wishing for the contestants themselves could possibly have aroused. And in the same moment I was ashamed of NBC for having televised the moment.
This is why we have plays and re-enactments. The real thing, when it happens, is personal and private. Whether the Raismans ever come to be offended by the comments of friends and strangers who saw, thanks to not being there — since all eyes save the cameraman’s were on Aly — their helpless, wretched reactions to their daughter’s peril, I’m offended on their behalf. The decision to air the footage betrays the same kind of error in judgment that, endlessly repeated, has made Donald Trump the Republican candidate. An adult is supposed to know when irresistibly engaging scenes are nonetheless unfit for public consumption.
Over the weekend, I finished reading Herbert Butterfield’s The Origins of Modern Science. To say that I read it as an undergraduate is misleading. I still have the book that I annotated (somewhat less foolishly than usual, but foolishly still); but I also have a sense of the difficulty, or at least the subtlety of the text that I’m quite sure I missed in college. It was perhaps an inappropriate assignment at the time, because Butterfield’s lectures assume a familiarity with events in the intellectual history of the scientific revolution that I don’t think any of us had. The hallmark of such advanced books is that while the contributions of minor figures are sketched in fairly fully, the achievements of the great figures are scanted. In his lecture about Harvey and the circulation of the blood, for example, Butterfield covers the work of Colombo (discoverer of the “small circulation” between the heart and the lungs), Cesalpino (adumbrator of general circulation, but himself still very much in the shade), and Fabricius (discoverer of the venal valves). There is no such summing up of Harvey’s accomplishment. That is taken for granted. So I was still a little in the dark, at times, reading the book now. And Butterfield’s concision sheds a flurry of nuances that sometimes made me doubt that I knew precisely what he was trying to say.
But I had no such doubt about the exordium at the end of the tenth lecture, “The Place of the Scientific Revolution in the History of Western Civilization.” The place of the scientific revolution in the history of Western Civilization, according to Butterfield, is central, as in “the most important place imaginable.” The end of the essay is really very grand, especially considering that there are still two more lectures to go, and also that the final essay, “Images of Progress and Ideas of Evolution,” comes to a dead halt exactly where another rolling peroration might have begun. “Something similar to this is true when we of the year 1957 take our perspective of the scientific revolution,” Butterfield begins his big finish. What Butterfield means by “this,” I think, is the fact that hindsight, while sometimes prejudiced by subsequent events, is often simply informed by them. What follows is too long to copy, so I shall cut to the final sentences, in which “the new factor” refers to what educated people today have in mind when they think of scientific analysis, and the “other” ones are the theories deduced from philosophical, unobserved ideas about the world.
The new factor immediately began to elbow the other ones away, pushing them from the central position. Indeed, it began immediately to seek control of the rest, as the apostles of the new movement had declared their intention of doing from the very start. The result was the emergence of a kind of Western civilization which when transmitted to Japan operates on tradition there as it operates on tradition here — dissolving it and having eyes for nothing save a future of brave new worlds. It was a civilization that could cut itself away from the Graeco-Roman heritage in general, away from Christianity itself — only too confident in its power to exist independent of anything of the kind. We know now that what was emerging towards the end of the seventeenth century was a civilization exhilaratingly new perhaps, but strange as Nineveh and Babylon. That is why, since the rise of Christianity, there is no landmark in history that is worthy to be compared with this.
In 1957, Butterfield could say this without sounding smug. Today, it would be not only smug but foolish, as I think every educated reader will uneasily sense. Why is this?
What came to mind as I read of this triumph of science over religion — it is important, here, to pit science against religion, and not against faith — was something that I read somewhere — in William Doyle’s great history of the French Revolution, I hoped, but can’t find there — about the low expectations, as the Eighteenth Century approached its end, that the Roman Catholic Church would survive far into the Nineteenth. These expectations were of course shared by the kind of men who promoted the scientific revolution. They saw a decadent organization that no longer commanded anyone’s serious respect. The respect, that is, of anybody serious. The opinions of peasants were not consulted. Had they been, the counterrevolutionary revolt in the Vendée might have been foreseen; had they been, the emergence of a robust and even purified institution might have been anticipated. For Roman Catholicism emerged from the collapse of the ancien régime stronger than it had been ever since — one is tempted to exaggerate — the days of Innocent III in the Thirteenth Century. Far from being knocked out by the brilliance of the Enlightenment, the Church became the beloved shelter of swelling numbers of the Enlightenment’s opponents. This new Church, although it preserved almost all of its old structures, embarked on a new project, or perhaps it would be better to say that it reconsidered its original project. It forsook its old dreams of temporal power and embraced its pastoral mission. Orthodoxy was assumed, not tested. The doctrines of the Trinity and of Transubstantiation remained on the books, but were presented in popular, almost Disney-esque caricature that were too limp to provoke controversy.
Much the same occurred in the Protestant North, where the separation of church and state, however stoutly resisted, seemed to redirect energy toward a booming philanthropic evangelism. We associate the Nineteenth Century with the Industrial Revolution, but it was also a time of intense religious revival. It was not unobserved that the appeal of religion was steadily confined to the uneducated classes, that religious gestures were cut to suit uneducated minds, but in the absence of contrary religious activities among the educated (no Church of the Dynamo appeared), the disconnection between the two classes did not result in clashes.
As liberal democracy spread throughout the West in the years after the French Revolution, up to an including our own time, it became less and less reasonable to see economic classes as horizontally arranged, with the rich dominating the poor as the old aristocracy had ruled the peasantry. The division, it seems to me, tipped more toward the vertical. Rich and poor, theoretically equal under the law, stood side by side. The rich continued to arrange things in their favor, and, incidentally, to the disadvantage of the poor, but it became possible, and, during the three decades following World War II not at all uncommon, for people of poor background to educate themselves into the élite. For a long time, this new dispensation, this complex sequel to the chaos that erupted in 1789, functioned without friction attributable to religious differences. Religious observance was painlessly accommodated by ostensibly secular régimes. It was an option that those so inclined were not discouraged to indulge. Children everywhere were taught that the earth revolves around the sun, and that the laws of gravity apply everywhere with equal force. If these doctrines were contradicted by Scripture, disputes were repressed. It was reasonable, in 1957, to speak as Butterfield does at the end of his essay on the historical impact of the scientific revolution. Ironically, it was at that very time that other outcomes of 1789 were culminating in social alterations that would tear apart the old accord, and reveal the educated view of things as a powerful but minority opinion.
Men had learned to live with religious differences that pertained to matters of faith and world-view. But they had not been prepared to reconcile differences that could not be kept private, nor be contained by a consensus regarding public behavior. I am speaking of racial equality and the authority of women.
Throughout the Nineteenth Century, there was a good deal of discussion about the suitability of aligning the campaign for the equality of former slaves with the campaign for the equality of women. That this discussion was never resolved reflects the asymmetry, or perhaps the incomparability, of the issues. On the one hand, men of African descent who had been enslaved sought political equality with men of European descent. This was partly a racial problem and partly a re-enfranchisement problem, for the former slaves had been free men in Africa. On the other hand, women of European descent sought political equality with men of European descent. This was entirely a problem of gender, and its roots were wholly distinct from those of the problems faced by the racial-equality campaign. The only overlap occurred if the equality of women of African descent played a prominent role in both campaigns, which I believe it did not.
The problem of gender is a problem of authority. Although the existence of matriarchies in remote, prehistoric times is postulated, none survived the introduction of writing. Recorded history invariably repeats the inferiority, however slight, of women. And whatever variations might be found concerning the administration of the household, women have never exercised authority outside of it; in other words, men have not been called upon (it may be said that they have refused) to submit to the authority of women outside their immediate families.
This is so universal that it does not appear to be an inherently religious principle, but at the same time it is a feature of every religion, or at least it is contradicted by none. It may be imagined that no religion espousing the equality of women as to authority would advance beyond the confines of a tiny cult. There are glimmers of such a cult in early Christianity; a freedom from what we call sexism is discernible in the teachings of Jesus, and women played important roles in the early Church. But this was arrested. Religions don’t so much preach the inferiority of women; they accept it.
Accidents in the course of events in the West since the Middle Ages have put women in positions of authority, but these have been seen as God-sanctioned buttressed her legitimacy by marrying the king of Spain, who became the King of England), and almost guaranteed by the even more remarkable accident that her potential successor and rival (the mother of her actual successor, in fact) was also a woman. Such a fact-pattern is extremely unlikely, but it happened, and thanks to the glory of the Armada’s defeat while Elizabeth held the throne, it conditioned Englishmen to being ruled by a woman. And yet Elizabeth herself would never have agreed to take the advice of another woman. Three English queens would come and go before the fourth — again, coincidentally — would be called upon to accept a ministry headed by a woman (Margaret Thatcher). With such a history, it hardly seems anything but inevitable that the campaign for women’s equality should be born speaking English.
Whether or not they were triggered by accidents, there are also developments in English history that reflect a deliberate intent to extend equality to women. Unmarried women have always had the right to dispose of their own property. Married women attained this right in the 1860s, long before the grant of the franchise. Before the end of the Nineteenth Century, there were colleges for women, at the English universities and across the United States, and by the middle of the Twentieth Century women had achieved academic equality with men. This means that, within the confines of academia, men recognized the authority of women over themselves whenever it was decided that a certain woman was the right person to exercise authority in the given time and place. I find it significant that this first bloom appeared where it did. For it was the men of the modern university, committed as it was to the secularism that prevailed among the intellectuals of the West, who were among the first to discard, along with what many of them regarded as religious superstitions, an even older prejudice.
And it was within such institutions as universities that the advance of women was sheltered. I’m reminded of the observation that Nancy Mitford made to an out-of-town snob: the great ladies of Paris were never seen in public. They never appeared on the street because they were driven from courtyard to courtyard, and they didn’t have to go shopping because merchants came to them. The advance of women in the Anglophone world occurred somewhat out of public view; it took place in élite precincts. Women had no trouble establishing their abilities, but they flourished only where they dealt with educated men. Educated men, in turn, were the only men likely to marry educated women, and they were also likely to have daughters upon whom higher education would not be wasted. Educated fathers without sons could find themselves eager for their daughters to have access to rewarding careers.
Every now and then, an accident would thrust a woman into public prominence. Most of the women who served as elected officials did so by way of taking places vacated for one reason or another by their husbands. (Lady Astor; Margaret Chase Smith.) And I expect that a study would reveal that women reached high-level office long before they did the same at the small-town level. Almost always, women assumed public authority accidentally.
In my lifetime, there have emerged generations of women not content to wait to be transformed into Joan of Arc by the call of heaven, and they have made the entirely unprecedented demand for the right to exercise authority when otherwise qualified to do so. They were not going to wait to take their fathers’ or their husbands’ places in business or public affairs. They refused to recognize the need for anyone’s permission to allow them to make responsible decisions. And the first momentous issue to arise in this new climate was geared to register the shift. Unlike anything else that a woman might need or want, an abortion is starkly general. Any abortion is, physically speaking, like all other abortions, in that a fetus is removed from a woman’s body. Personal circumstances have no bearing on the medical procedure. What’s more, the right to have an abortion must necessarily be publicly sanctioned. Affluent woman usually had access to abortion even when it was illegal. But the right to abortion is not a matter of access. It is a question of authority, and it asks this question at the very heart of relations between the sexes. No wonder the controversy over abortion in the United States has been such a big deal!
The curious thing to me is why “authority” is not an issue in abortion debates. Nobody objects to women’s demand for the right to abortion by claiming that they lack the authority to decide to have one. The debates have shifted their focus to the right of the fetus to live. This has always struck me as spurious, at least in origin. I am unable to believe that more than a small minority of men would ever be seriously concerned about the lives of fetuses as a matter of principle, without intending to assert the right to tell a woman what to do. As it happens, men who oppose abortion tend to support the death penalty. This inconsistency about the preciousness of life is dealt with by comparing the innocence of the fetus with the guilt of a murderer, but the comparison is a category mistake, because the preciousness of life is either unalterably inherent in every human being or a delusion. The right to life engages the support of women, and it reminds us that in the campaign for the equality — let us call it the campaign for the authority of women, many men support the campaign while many women oppose it. Many women are determined not to submit to the authority of a woman. A woman in authority challenges their right to a protected place in life, a place inferior only with regard to matters that don’t interest them. But nobody argues that authority is the problem.
Has secularism advanced so far in the Anglophone world that it is no longer possible to say why it is inappropriate for women to exercise authority? Not “impossible to say &c without being laughed at,” but simply impossible? This would explain the stubbornness of resistance. All the conceivable arguments have been raised and refuted; there is no point to talking about it further. This hardly means that the bone-deep objection goes away.
I have said that the roots of opposition to racial equality and women’s equality are different, but it seems that objections to the exercise of authority by racially exceptionable people faces the same problem: there is no reasonable ground on which to object. So other grounds are sought. The specious “birther” opposition to President Obama’s legitimacy are similar to the right-to-life argument; it shifts the opposition to more tenable ground. If Obama fails to meet constitutional requirements as to birth in the United States, then the racial issue doesn’t come up. Similarly, the right-to-life argument circumvents the authority issue by making murderers of the aborting mother and her assistants. These phoney arguments can never be settled, but they spare their proponents something worse than ridicule — what?
Last night, I got to hear baritone Thomas Meglioranza sing for the first time in ages. He gave a pre-concert recital of songs by Hugo Wolf at Geffen Hall, accompanied by Reiko Uchida. It is a sign of Tom’s self-confidence that he shares the stage with such a superb pianist. Tom was superb, too, and he still reminds me of Bobby Short, which I mean as a great compliment, because, just as Bobby Short’s did, Tom’s voice declares that he is very happy to be alive and singing. Tom sang a selection of Mörike lieder as if they belonged to the Weimar cabaret repertoire that he explored a few years ago, which could not, I think, be more appropriate. Wolf is considered one of the pillars of the German lied, but I’ve never understood why. He reminds me of that wonderful Anna Russell routine about the difference between the French and the German art song: with the German, you get soggy poetry set to magnificent music; with the French, you get magnificent poetry set to wispy music. With Wolf, the middle term drops out: soggy poetry and wispy music. That’s very unfair, I know, and “Die ihr schwebet” from The Spanish Songbook is quite ecstatically beautiful. But there is always a laughing-academy aspect: this art is disturbed — and not in the way that Die Winterreise is disturbed. If you squint, you can hear Pierrot Lunaire just around the corner. You can hear everything about to come crashing down. The last song on Tom’s bill, “Abschied,” ends with a crazed Viennese waltz, dancing on long after the singer has stopped laughing at the old man he has just kicked downstairs. Wispy poetry. Great performance, though.
As I was in the taxi on my way to the pre-concert, I heard about the eejit who was at that very moment climbing Trump Tower with the aid of suction cups. The reporter on the radio, who sounded every inch a New Yorker, said that the fellow “seems to know what he’s doing,” which is our way of saying, “Let’s see how far he gets.” But the police don’t have that kind of sense of humor. Treating the climber as a madman, they took him to Bellevue and would not disclose his name. He gave my day a lift, anyway.
Since the pre-concert was going to bring me to Lincoln Center anyway, I had the idea of taking Fossil Darling and Ray Soleil to dinner at Shun Lee West. It was only a short walk from Kathleen’s office, so the four of us had a jolly night. We hadn’t seen each other in ages, possibly not since Easter. Ray told some good stories, one of them about new chandeliers at a famous fashion emporium and one about a long-ago funeral. Funerals came up because Fossil is going to yet another one; this time, it’s the father of a very good friend at work. I don’t understand attending funerals of people whom you have never met; it seems wrong to me. Wrong to do and wrong to expect. Hundreds of people attended my mother’s funeral in Houston, but it was out of respect for my father, who was still a pooh-bah. When he died, long after his retirement, there were no crowds. Shabby and mixed-up.
On Tuesday night, Kathleen met me at the midtown storage unit and packed a box of craft books that she does not want to keep. We had dinner at a nearby pub, and didn’t get home until nine o’clock. We turned on the TV, hoping that we hadn’t missed the women’s gymnastics. Of course they wouldn’t tell us, so Kathleen sat through two hours of swimming. She was able to do other things, but even in another room I was distracted by the racket. Finally, at eleven, we got to see the Final Five win their gold medals. We also got to see a few Chinese gymnasts, as well as Ellie Downie, who had had taken a bad tumble a few days earlier. It was good to see the competition. I have to say that the Chinese contestants fanned my admiration for Team USA.
As always, it’s hard for me to pay attention to protracted sporting events, so, between the breathtaking leaps and twists in the “floor” acts, I imagined what a Paul Taylor dance, choreographed with these moves, might look like. Then I realized that Paul Taylor’s choreography might have inspired a few of them already. This was particular true of Laurie Hernandez’s routine.
This morning, a man who was recommended by Housing Works brought his van and an assistant to the midtown unit and carried off the fifteen boxes of books that I have been packing since the middle of May. While he was there, I discussed my next step with him, and we agreed on a plan for dealing with all the stuff on the tippy-top shelf, which runs around three sides of the room. With my immobile neck, I can barely see it. Kathleen’s wedding dress is up there somewhere. She plans to give it away. It took her a while to accept the unlikeliness of knowing a young woman who would want to wear such a dress. Certainly none of the young women whom we actually knew would wear it. Kathleen’s gown covered everything below her neck and above her wrists, much of it voluminously.
Also on the top shelf are yet more boxes full of old papers. My heart sinks at the prospect of going through them. That, however, will be the end of that.
There’s an extremely interesting piece by Tom Crewe, in the current London Review of Books, about Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters, and the Labour Party. Crewe captures the enthusiasm of Corbyn’s fans about as well as I’ve ever seen it done.
There was again a palpable feeling in the air, difficult to convey in print: the closest equivalent I can think of is the experience of attending a gig — a narrowed, concentrated attention, a consciousness of shared knowledge and understanding, that peculiar sense of security you have when surrounded by people who like what you do.
Well, it might have been done better: the final “do” rather threw me for a minute; “like” would have prevented ambiguity. Nevertheless, that peculiar sense of security that you get at a jazz performance is probably the last pleasure to be looked for at a political meeting, for it signifies that nothing political is going to happen. I daresay that Trump’s rallies are almost rank with it. Trump’s supporters draw from their sense of security the boldness to behave like thugs.
Jeremy Corbyn has been acting the saint in Parliament for several decades, and I have no strong objection to that, but for the peculiarity of British arrangements that makes him ipso facto eligible to head the government. At the moment, that’s what would happen if Labour Party candidates won a majority of seats in an election, which is why there is a movement to dethrone him. Corbyn’s unlikely leadership of the Labour Party, a position that he holds despite the scorn and contumely of almost every fellow Labour MP, is symptomatic of the disarray of politics in the liberal democracies. Corbyn himself is a saint because he refuses to do what almost everyone else does as a matter of course these days: he doesn’t permit economic considerations, other than a concern for the underpaid and the unemployed, to affect his judgments. He makes the pragmatic and accommodating Tony Blair — the all too p & a — look like the Whore of Babylon, which is probably why Labour Party civilians saddled him with a leadership role that he seems constitutionally incapable of exercising. Corbyn doesn’t do deals, which means he doesn’t do politics. There is a place for such stubbornness in legislatures, but none whatever in the executive. Corbyn has proved to be unable to manage a shadow government, and is widely blamed for lackluster participation in the Remain campaign. A good man, undoubtedly, but unsuited to govern.
What Jeremy Corbyn has not done is to make a case for putting economic considerations where they belong, subordinate to political goals. The idea that economic well-being will solve political problems is bankrupt, because only politics can prevent well-being from being concentrated in fewer and fewer pockets. What’s curious to me is that people seem willing to consider alternatives to capitalism, when what capitalism needs is an overhaul. An overhaul of capitalism appears to be unimaginable. And when capitalism is discussed as a theory, along with corporate structure, the air gets very musty, because its the capitalism and the corporation of 1850 that is being described. The terms of orthodoxy were set long ago, so damn the torpedoes. You might as well let the Vatican run things.
Watching the women’s gymnastics events last night, I was more irritated than ever by the commentators, because I had already heard all their snippets of “background” and “color” several times by now. It was almost disgusting to hear the contestants described in heroic, courageous, determined — statuesque — generalizations while the very objects of this adulation experienced their ordeals, their disappointments, and their very particular triumphs right in front of us. I blew my stack whenever one of the three sonorous but invisible voices informed me that Simone Biles was feeling proud and confident. Not must be feeling — no speculation required. The commentators knew. Almost as bad was their regurgitation of the well-coached boilderplate with which the young women had been taught to respond to fatuous questions about “what it’s like to be back at the Olympics” (often asked of Aly Raisman) or “how are you feeling now that you’re actually in Rio?” These routine breaches of the protocols of meaningful and truthful reporting constituted almost all of the padding between events.
One might wonder if the producers of the show fear that viewers would wander off to some other outlet if the commentators stopped talking filling the stretches between events with their babble. I should think that anyone bothering to tune in to the women’s gymnastics competitions would be willing to wait for the next jolt of acrobatic excitement. To relieve the slight tedium of doing so, the viewer might welcome brief announcements about what was going to happen next and how long it would be before it happened, but there was precious little of that. Instead, the commentators said things that sounded knowledgeable while carefully skirting the risk of boring viewers with too much detail. I never did understand the reasoning behind the scoring or the multiplicity of competitions from four basic events (vault, balance beam, unequal bars, and floor). The commentators might have told me how many points Aly Raisman needed to win a medal, but they never explained a thing. Undermining one’s belief that the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of sport, the commentators groused about the caprice of the judges, and complained whenever they “took too long” to produce a score. Mind you, I didn’t try very hard to understand what was going on (beyond the thrilling immediacy of the tumbling and so on), partly because I knew that I was an outsider, someone who didn’t follow gymnastics; it is important, in sports commentary, to reward the devotés by excluding the uncommitted. I also knew that I was watching a patchwork of videos stitched together by NBC for the entertainment of American audiences within the space of an hour or two. Making sense was not an objective. The only way to endure the production was to uncouple my mind and pretend that the commentators were sources of useful information.
Am I trying to say that my experience of the Olympic Games this week has reinforced my sense that the depraved standards of television production made Donald Trump the Republican candidate? You betcha. When uncoupling the mind becomes routine, a catastrophe like Trump is inevitable.
Paul Krugman’s column in today’s Times was straightforward: the Republican establishment (Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell) continue to support Trump because he’ll lower taxes and make the rich richer. Set aside the unspectacular record that the Republic Party has racked up at actually realizing such fantasies. Assuming that Krugman is correct, the ability, if that’s what it is, of diehard Republicans to reduce all issues to their effect on taxes is simplistic beyond belief — and at the same time, a sad old story. At a revealing moment in Ocean’s 11, the “bad guy” is asked if he would give up his lady love if it would get him his money back, and he says, “Yes.” Money, money überall. You’d almost think you can eat it.
These Republicans live in a bubble, or at least expect that they’ll be able to move into one if need be. The movie for this vision is Elysium. The 0.1% have offshored themselves to a glistening space station, the ultimate in gated communities. The very air they breathe is better! They share nothing with the groundlings. They extract value from the earth, and then they take it away, so that it doesn’t provide the earthbound with so much as the passive benefit of a lofty building’s exterior. There is nothing new about this dream; you can see it at work in the Quest del Saint Graal (c 1210), depicting a world from which the common people and their stink have been erased. Or, later on: everybody knew that the French government was bankrupt in the late 1780s, but few of the untaxed noblemen who “worried” about this crisis seemed to think that fiscal problems would undermine their way of life and separate many of them from their heads. Elysium‘s paradise, by the way, doesn’t last, either.
Fossil tells me that the phalanx of Republicans with whom he works every day are virtuosos at seeing awful truths as “out of proportion.” This is how they handled Trump’s winks to the “Second Amendment People.” They shrugged off the obscenity as a misunderstanding. Or they appeared to do so. I suspect that it must be exhausting for a smart person (as all of Fossil’s Wall Street colleagues by definition are) to defend stupid propositions — exhausting enough to make a smart person stupid. I suppose we must be grateful. Imagine the horrors that Republicans might concoct were they capable of taking the long view.
I take that back: Republics have taken the long view, on at least one issue. They have always understood that populists and progressives and other Democratic types who want to feel good about their society tend not to understand the role played law courts in making a good society possible, and for the past fifty or sixty years they have waged a tireless campaign to fill state and federal benches with pro-business judges who are reliably anti-anyone else. These judges are not necessarily social conservatives, but their focus, as Paul Krugman’s column might lead you to expect, is to keep money in the right pockets.
Bon week-end à tous!