Letter from the Editor: Hail, Caesar
Spring is the time for revolutions: 1789, 1848, 1917, 1968, 2010. And the spring of 2016, as many saw coming, has seen the wheel of history rolling in yet another one, but a “political revolution” that only the most cynical would have predicted at the beginning of winter, when the appeal of Bernie Sanders seemed to be moving like wild fire across the country.
To use two over-used contemporary phrases that nevertheless seem fatally apropos: the fury of the people is whipping up a perfect storm – made up of its wrath against the political and economic elites, its fear for the future, and the numbing despair of a crushed middle-class that has transformed into a deep disgust, raging on the right, passive-aggressive on the left – into “unchartered” territory.
In one of Bill Moyers’ final broadcasts on PBS, he lamented the public’s apathy, the baffling lack of outrage and indignation, and wondered out loud when the people would finally descend on their arrogant, abusive and contemptuous overlords with pitchforks. It took some time, but the pitchforks are now dancing in the moonlight, and there’s a heady smell of torches in the air.
Many of us placed our hopes in leftists, earlier in Elizabeth Warren, later in Bernie Sanders, who have been addressing candidly the issues that imperil our times. Sanders supporters in particular (of whom I am one) have hoped his common-sense solutions would appeal not only to the fears and hopes of Americans, but also to their pragmatism and sense of decency.
We hadn’t realized how many have given up reality for magical thinking. Or measured the depth of the ignorance, fear, and self-destructiveness with which the right has poisoned so much of the citizenry. Yes, the citizens were becoming enraged, and at some of the right sources: above all, the leadership of the Republican party, which, since Nixon and Reagan, has been “playing for fools” the country and their own membership. They are furious at Wall Street and the corporations, for lying, cheating and fleecing them for the last generation in the name of a phantom “trickle down” economic theory that has now been exposed as the fraud leftists have always claimed it was. And they are furious with themselves for letting themselves be taken in.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, instead of turning toward a well-informed and experienced political professional from the left – someone who actually proposes practical solutions to our manifold and potentially catastrophic problems – they (and here I have to blame our notorious anti-intellectualism, addiction to fantasy, and infatuation with magical thinking, strong emotions and power – all the essential ingredients of the fascism that, with the help of communism and unfettered capitalism, nearly destroyed the 20th century), they have turned toward a demagogue who mixes a white populist message of resentment against, on the one hand, economic elites and, on the other, groups irrationally and inhumanely seen as threats, including immigrants, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and feminists.
Caesarism, when a member of the economic and social elite leads a rebellion against his own class, has destroyed democracies time after time in the past. It is now raising its arm over us in an ominous salute. We’re being roughly reminded once again that America, for all our “exceptionalist” fantasies, is, alas, still subject to the laws of history. Will we never learn? Like the Bourbons, we never learn and we never forget—our prejudices. And now the Bourbons are ancient history. The decline and fall of America could make the decline and fall of the Roman Empire look like a game of blind man’s bluff, played on the edge of the abyss.
Trump has been compared to Mussolini, another loud-mouthed, charismatic buffoon who began on the left, then took a swing toward the right during divisive times, and appealed to a growing atmosphere of resentment and fear among some of the hardest-hit classes with a promise to restore his country’s “greatness.” Mussolini’s success in the 1920s encouraged a young right-wing radical, just winning a following in Germany, that he too might win power. His name was Adolf Hitler. Given the troubling trajectory of Republican presidents since Nixon, I suspected, during the “W.” era, that the next viable Republican candidate would be a frank, bloody-minded, full-blown fascist. The Republican Party still has time to prove Cassandras like myself wrong. But the arc of history bends toward madness.
Christopher Bernard is co-editor of Caveat Lector. His poems can be found at his poetry blog, "The Bog of St. Philinte." His new novel Voyage to a Phantom City is published by Regent Press.