Figurehead President

For many years, I’ve held the position that the president is mostly a figurehead. I’m not sure where this idea came from, i.e., how it ended up in my head. I suppose it isn’t an unusual thought to have. But I just noticed this quote by Douglas Adams from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the book he is most well known for:

“The President in particular is very much a figurehead — he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage.”

That might explain the origin of my view. I read that book decades ago. Who knows what other ideas Adams may have implanted in my brain matter. This is why every young person should read Douglas Adams and shouldn’t read Ayn Rand. The crap you read when young has a way of getting permanently lodged in place.

The rest of the quote seems more relevant than ever:

“For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. On those criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had — he has already spent two of his ten presidential years in prison for fraud.”

Accordingly, one suspects Trump might become one of the most ‘successful’ Presidents the United States has ever had and maybe the entire Earth. But I don’t want to inflate Trump’s ego too much. Still, it can’t be doubted that he likely will provide the greatest distraction the world has seen in a long time.

Now I’m imagining Donald Trump as Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Quote of the Day: 1/14/10

“…our hyper-emphasis on competition in all aspects of our public life leads immediately and inevitably to insecurity and hatred.  If you believe that the fundamental organizing principle of the world is competition (or if the fundamental organizing principle of your society is competition) you will perceive the world as full of ruthless competitors, all of whom will victimize you if they get the chance.  The world as you perceive it will begin to devolve into consisting entirely or almost entirely of victims and perpetrators; those who do, and those who get done to; the fuckers, and the fucked.  Your society will devolve — not in perception but in all truth — into these roles you have projected onto the world at large.  You will begin to believe that everyone is out to get you.  And why not?  After all, you are certainly out to get them.

In 1790, John Philpot Curran wrote, “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active.  The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.”  We’re probably more familiar with abolitionist Wendell Phillips’s version of this sentiment, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” which has been used to sell everything from increased military spending (already standing at 51.3 percent of the U.S. federal discretionary budget), to increased surveillance capabilities for the CIA and FBI, to a neat little hand-painted porcelain eagle night light I just saw in an ad (“perfect for den or office”) that’s available for only $15.95, plus $4.35 shipping and handling.

Nifty as this porcelain eagle may be, I think Curran and Phillips are wrong.  In fact, eternal vigilance doesn’t sound much like freedom to me, but just another form of slavery.  It would be more accurate to say that the price of slaveholding is eternal vigilance: Not only must you always be on the lookout for more avenues of exploitation, but you must also be on guard against slave rebellions, and must be especially vigilant against all those others you presume to be as devoid of humanity as you are.  Real freedom, it seems to me, as opposed to a nominal freedom that masks its opposite, would surely lead to a sense of peace.”

 ~ The Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen, pp. 323-24

Victims & Silence

“If the first rule of a dysfunctional system is ‘Don’t talk about it,’ then our primary goal should be to tell the truth, to be as honest as we can manage to be.  When I read something truthful, something real, I breathe a deep sigh and say, ‘Fantastic — I wasn’t mad or alone in thinking that, after all!’  So often we are left to our own devices, struggling in the dark with this eternal and internal propaganda system.  At that point, for someone to tell us the truth is a gift.  In a world where people all around us are lying and confusing us, to be honest is a great kindness.”

Derrick Jensen quoting David Edwards, The Culture of Make Believe, pp 141-142

Derrick Jensen is one of my favorite authors.  Even though he is quoting someone else here, this basic message runs through all of his writing.  There are few occupations more worthy than simply telling the truth, giving voice to the silence.  Jensen explains this brilliantly in his earlier book, A Language Older Than Words.  It was that book, more than any other, that helped me understand our culture. 

It’s depressing to consider how few people speak up about the atrocities of our society, but it’s understandable.  It’s easy to feel like a powerless victim when faced with such overwhelming suffering and destruction.  Even most victimizers were once victims and still see themselves that way.  We are a culture of victims.  But to refuse the collective agreement to be silenced, even if only for a moment, is to step outside of the role of victim.

JFK: Assassination of a Nation’s Soul

Here is an awesome JFK quote from Matt Cardin’s In serving his vision of truth, the artist best serves his nation:

These may be my favorite words ever spoken by an American President. They come from a speech delivered by John F. Kennedy on October 26, 1963 — less than a month before his death — at Amherst College, in honor of the late Robert Frost. The speech was published the following February in The Atlantic under the title “Poetry and Power,” while the nation was still in shock and mourning.

John F Kennedy

[A]rt establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet, in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeigh once remarked of poets, “There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.”

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man — the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope.”

 – – –

I was just listening to the actual speech that JFK gave that day at Amherst College (also, here is the poem spoken by Robert Frost along with the poem he was going to speak).  I’m not someone who cries easily or often, but listening to JFK brought tears to my eyes.  I’m a Gen-Xer born more than a decade after JFK’s assassination and more important born after Nixon’s demoralizing presidency.  With the CIA’s illegal activities abroad and the FBI’s attack on civil rights through COINTELPRO, everything that was good about America seemed long gone.  Gen-Xers are cynical for a very good reason.  Between the assassinations of JFK (15 yrs after Ghandi’s assassination) and MLK (and RFK on top of that), it feels like the soul of America (the hope of liberal idealism in the entire world) itself had been assassinated. 

The Wikipedia article on the reaction to the JFK assassination:

Around the world, there was a stunned reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

The first hour after the shooting, before his death was announced, was a time of great confusion. Taking place during the Cold War, it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the U.S., and whether Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.

The news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car.[citation needed] Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early.[1] Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having “killed the President”.[citation needed]

The event left a lasting impression on many Americans. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor before it and the September 11, 2001 attacks after it, asking “Where were you when you heard about Kennedy’s assassination” would become a common topic of discussion.

The reaction

In the United States, the assassination dissolved differences among all people as they were brought together in one common theme: shock and sorrow after the assassination. It was seen in statements by the former presidents and members of Congress, etc. The news was so shocking and hit with such impact, it was later reported that 99% of the U.S. population knew about his murder within three hours afterwards, an amazing speed of a news item before round-the-clock cable television networks.

Around the world

After the assassination, many world leaders expressed shock and sorrow, some going on television and radio to address their countrymen. In countries around the world, state premiers and governors and mayors also issued messages expressing shock over the assassination. Governments ordered flags to half-staff and days of mourning. Many of them wondered if the new president, Lyndon Johnson, would carry on Kennedy’s policies or not.

In many countries radio and television networks, after breaking the news, either went off the air except for funeral music or broke schedules to carry uninterrupted news of the assassination, and if Kennedy had made a visit to that country, recalled that visit in detail. In several nations, monarchs ordered the royal family into days of mourning. The government of Iraq declared three days of national mourning.

At U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, switchboards lit up and were flooded with phone calls. At many of them, shocked personnel often let telephones go unanswered. They also opened up books of condolences for people to sign. In Europe, the assassination tempered Cold War sentiment, as people on both sides expressed shock and sorrow.

News of the assassination reached Asia during the early morning hours of November 23, 1963, because of the time difference, as people there were sleeping. In Japan, the news became the first television broadcast from the United States to Japan via the Relay 1 satellite instead of a prerecorded message from Kennedy to the Japanese people.

Unofficial mourning

Hastily organized memorial services for Kennedy were held throughout the world, allowing many to express their grief. Governments lowered flags to half-staff and declared days of mourning, and church bells tolled. A day of national mourning and sorrow was declared in the U.S. for Monday, November 25, the day of the state funeral. Many other countries did the same. Throughout the United States, many states declared the day of the funeral a legal holiday.

There has hardly been any kind of positive international response to a US president since that time… that is until Barack Obama.  I’m not saying that Obam is the new JFK, but it sure has been a long while since America has genuinely believed in its own idealism… believed it to the extent that the rest of the world was actually convinced.  (The only killed political leader that has touched the world’s heart since JFK is Princess Diana.)

And out of the ashes JFK’s assassination was born the white supremacy evangelical right.  It saddens me to my bones.  Look at what America has become: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  Should I kill myself now or hold onto the hope that America can actually live up to its own idealism?

President Kennedy wasn’t perfect, but it was we Americans who failed him.  That is how I feel.  In listening to JFK shortly before his death, all I can say is, “I’m sorry” (and repeat those words again and again and again).  I feel that somehow I personally failed his dream (and MLK’s dream… not to mention Gandhi’s dream… and John Lennon’s dream… please, let the list end here).  and it feels like America (and the world) has been in a downward descent ever since… with the cynical vision of the Republican party ruling America.  It’s completely understandable that the conspiracy theorists disbelieve the official story (for example, watch these videos and feel the outrage at the deepest level of your heart and soul).  How could a fluke, a random event assassinate the very soul of America (the supposedly greatest nation in the world)?

Let me just say that I take the increase of death threats against Obama very seriously!

In the conclusion of the Wikipedia article about MLK’s assassination:

In 2004, Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted:

The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. …I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.[46][47]
Has anybody here, seen my old friend John –
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good, they die young
But I just looked around and he’s gone.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, commenced an era of political showmanship symbolized by the Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan.
 
The last great speech of the last great politician…
 
 
God save us all!
 

Quote of the Day: 12/11/09

A native of Africa is said to view his surroundings as pulsing with a purpose, a life, that is actually within himself; once these childish projections are withdrawn, he sees that the world is dead and that life resides solely within himself.  When he reaches this sophisticated point he is said to be either mature or sane.  Or scientific.  But one wonders: Has he not also, in this process, reified — that is, made into a thing — other people?  Stones and rocks and trees may now be inanimate for him, but what about his friends?  Has he now made them into stones, too?

 ~ Philip K. Dick, “The Android and the Human”, Shifting Realities, p. 183