by KAREN MALPEDE
It will get worse.
Much worse once the Trump Administration is fully in place. The Cabinet from hell, a collection of incompetents, racists, sexists, fossil fuel and other business moguls, Islamophobes and ignoramuses is in a slow, agonising process of confirmation, one by one, against wide-spread civil protest and principled opposition from most Senators in the minority and toothless Democratic Party. Some Cabinet nominees, like Betsy deVos, sister of Eric Prince, founder of the notorious private contracting torture outfit, Blackwater, have direct ties to profiting from torture. DeVos is now Secretary of Education with responsibility for overseeing the education of the young.
It will get worse. Until…somehow… No one knows…
A nation can vote its (flawed) democracy away. Or, rather, a non-representational election system, the Electoral College, favouring states with smaller populations, plus half an eligible citizenry demoralised, ill-educated or disenfranchised and refusing, forgetting or unable to vote, as well as an influx of billions over many years by the Koch Brothers and others to elect the most right-wing ideologues, can combine, did combine, to put a neo-fascist regime into the White House.
I was one among many who thought the nightmare would go away on November 8, Election Day, who were up most of the night struggling with disbelief and awoke to find that the country we knew was gone.
What if we had held the Bush torturers accountable for their crimes? Starting with Jessen and Mitchel, the two psychologists who wrote the torture manual, and the private contractors, L-Cacci, Blackwater and the rest, but then going all the way up to Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush himself. What if we had held Colin Powell accountable for lying at the U.N.? What if we had prosecuted the Administration for leading the U.S. into an illegal invasion of a country which posed no present threat? But despite the efforts of dedicated human rights organisations, lawyers who represented detainees, authors who wrote against the torture programme and against the war, there was neither the public will nor interest to hold the torturers accountable. When President Obama announced we must look forward, not back—that though he would not sanction torture, he would also not investigate the crimes of the past, torture, in journalist Mark Danner’s words, became “a policy choice.”
Now we have an announced Islamophobe in the White House who proclaims, against all evidence, “that torture works”; who says the nation and the world are under threat, not from global warming which he calls “a hoax”, or nuclear weapons, but from “radical Islamic terrorism” which must be stamped out. When he starts a war (against Iran?) and uses “national security” to silence all dissent; if and when he turns the police against his own people in order to shut us up, then the resistance will go underground, but its numbers will be eroded, too, as many people concerned mainly with domestic issues will silence themselves.
Two questions occupy me now: how to resist and how to survive.
When I was young, we had assassinations one-after-the-other of great leaders, principled if flawed young men: Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, many Black Panthers, including Fred Hampton, assassinated by “law officers” as he slept in his bed. We had Civil Rights, Anti-War, Native American, Feminist and Gay Rights movements, morphing one out of the other, each achieving freedoms that had been too-long denied. Today, we see these movements recognising each other and building common cause.
It is in reaction to the freedoms these mass movements won that the Trump regime vowing to “make America great again” has come to power. The fears of white people struggling with falling incomes and the loss of jobs have been conveniently tied to the interests of the corporate class. The urgency of the (predominantly white, male) fossil fuel industry, reacting to a growing Environmental Movement, to extract and sell every last bit of oil and gas under the ground, has led to “a corporate take-over” as Naomi Klein said with her usual acumen. We are caught between two fiery methods of mass annihilation, living under a President who is a pawn for corporate interests and who understands the dangers of neither nuclear war nor climate change.
We are all potential torture victims now. We watch and wait as the instruments of our misery are readied and engaged. We have nothing to confess but that we failed to secure our liberty and protect the earth on which we live, though some of us fought and continue to fight hard and long for just these things.
We make phone calls, sign petitions, we march by the millions, we rely, again, upon our principled lawyers and judges; we struggle to mount an effective opposition and we try to keep our souls alive.
I have been reading Camus’ The Rebel, since just after the election. Camus, we remember, lived through the worst nightmares of the Twentieth Century in which Nazi Fascism and Soviet Totalitarianism (both of which began as revolutionary movements, to make things “great”) caused the murders of many, many millions, and gave eventual rise to the – now fading but no less dangerous for that — hegemony of the United States.
What does Camus propose? A rebellious heart that governs principled action. “The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one…He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of master and slave.” Is this not a concise, persuasive anti-torture statement?
Moreover, despite his ever-present use of the masculine pronoun, Camus’ book proves itself to be a profound environmentalist, earth-centered, therefore, ecofeminist work. In his insistence upon limits, Camus recognises our concern for the present as the key to securing the future and he acknowledges the finite sanctity of earth, earth’s creatures and earth’s biosystem as determinants of our actions. “The rebel thus rejects divinity in order to share in the struggles and destiny of all men. We shall choose Ithaca, the faithful land, frugal and audacious thought, lucid action, and the generosity of the man who understands. In the light, the earth remains our last love.” He reiterates the thought throughout: to earth we owe allegiance, earth’s needs set limits on our actions.
Camus does not promise success. The Rebel is not a hope-filled, revolutionary statement; Camus abhors the very notion of revolution. He offers, instead, description of an evolution of consciousness that is within the realm of human possibility and sentient being. Camus proposes an “insane generosity…which unhesitatingly gives the strength of its love and without a moment’s delay refuses injustice…Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”
Karen Malpede is an American social justice, antiwar and ecofeminist playwright. A collection of her plays, Plays in Time: The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Another Life, Prophecy, Extreme Whether, will be published by Intellect Press in 2017. She is a frequent contributor to Torture Magazine.