"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A Liberal Without A Cause, An Oxymoron–There Is Always Something Wrong With America

Randy Bobbin had never met a liberal cause that he did not embrace. He cut his teeth on the peace movement during the Vietnam War and moved easily to the anti-nuclear movement.  The conflict in Southeast Asia had done little to settle regional differences and geopolitical interests; and if anything it heightened geopolitical tensions. The American defeat in Vietnam had emboldened Russia and China. 

Far worse for America, however, was that Russia had a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons and delivery systems – a resurgent Soviet Union, expanding throughout its growing sphere of influence and maintaining an arsenal of deadly nuclear bombs was indeed a threat not just to America but to the world.

Image result for images last day in vietnam helicopter on roof of embassy

Of course as Randy saw it, the United States was entirely at fault.  It had dropped the first nuclear weapons on the defenseless populations of Hiroshima to show the world what America had in store for any country that defied its sovereignty.  The message was directed to the Soviet Union, and Politburo leaders wasted no time in beginning their own ambitious nuclear program.  As Randy and his progressive friends saw it, the nuclear threat was all the United States’ doing, and they had a moral imperative to insist on disarmament. 

Nothing doing, said the Politburo.  If you want to draw down on your nuclear arsenal, go ahead; but we are not only standing pat but investing billions in new, more advanced weapons and sophisticated logistics.  The Cold War was begun with a vengeance, all because of Harry Truman’s immoral, indefensible, destruction of Japanese cities.

Image result for images politburo at parade moscow

‘Immoral’ is the key word here.  Liberals like Randy Bobbin were never content to see conflict only  in Machiavellian terms. Medieval and Renaissance wars had their own issues of immorality – indiscriminate slaughter, torture, rape, and wanton destruction were common in every war since Genghis Khan – but nuclear war was another thing altogether.  Hydrogen bombs raised conflict out of petty marauding and changed it into Armageddon.  A nuclear war had the potential for destroying the world long before the Second Coming. There was a moral imperative to act for nuclear disarmament, said Randy and his colleagues.  We are not only political activists in a geopolitical conflict but agents of God.  

Of course they never admitted such a thing, touching as it did on blasphemy at worst and presumptuousness at best; but behind closed doors they admitted their moral mission.  As much as they dismissed Ronald Reagan’s characterization of the Soviet Union as The Evil Empire, they understood that such a godless, immoral country would never be the first to do the right thing.  To engage the Soviet Union was to meet them on the field of righteous battle.

When the Wall came down and the Soviet Union was no more, Francis Fukuyama wrote about ‘the end of history’.  The world would no longer be a contentious, dangerous place; democracy and liberal economics would spread throughout the world, and Utopia was within reach.  Of course he was as wrong as anyone could be.  The world may have been spared nuclear Armageddon, but it was beset by pesky little, destabilizing wars that could lead to outright war.  The politics of the Middle East became so complicated, that few analysts could say with confidence what Syria, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Russia would do.

Yet because the moral imperative had been removed from conflict and wars returned to their Medieval roots, Randy was no longer interested in them.  He needed something more consequential from a spiritual point of view.    He had lost the fire that he had had in Cold War days. He had given heart and soul to the Movement for so many years and was just reaching his full potential and influence. 

For months he moped and made excuses for his indifferent performance ; but soon the banked embers of moral outrage flared, and he knew that there were other causes for him to fight.  Global Warming, he saw, was the moral equivalent of nuclear disaster.  The pollution of the nation’s lakes and rivers would soon kill of all animal and plant life.  The befouling of the air would choke America’s cities and accelerate the warming of the climate.  If nothing was done to stop it, the United States would become a new Dust Bowl – a dying, desiccated, miserable place.

Image result for images of dried up global warming country

Although the nuclear issue had not gone away – Iran was certainly close to nuclear capability as was North Korea, rogue states capable of anything – it simply was no longer as compelling as that between the US and the former Soviet Union.  There was little probability that these two insignificant states with crazed autocrats and the helm would actually pull the trigger.  Rounds of endless negotiating, bargaining, and compromise were in the offing – boring to Randy and his co-activists who saw none of the same existential crisis they had in earlier years.,

So Global Warming became Randy’s new thing.  He was a whirlwind of activity on all fronts.  He was on the front lines to defend species in danger of extinction because of the greed of rainforest loggers and developers.  He spoke at colleges and universities about the imminent danger of a progressively warming climate.  Son of Methodist preacher, but long co-opted by the secularism of the Sixties, he had nevertheless never given up on God or salvation.  From lecterns across the country, he became at times incensed, at others inspired, and at still others possessed.  Before large audiences of young people all of whom had come to hear his sermons out of faith and hope, Randy was in his element.  He felt himself ordained and righteous.

As much as Randy believed in the coming Global Apocalypse, it was hard for most Americans to take it as seriously.  Yes, the climate might be warming, but agriculture would simply move north, and American ingenuity and enterprise would adapt to rising waters and temperatures. Cities like New York and Miami were already hosting experts from the Netherlands, Venice, and the Comoros.   Let high tides come, they said, we’ll be ready.  What were a few snail darters or monarch butterflies in the scope of things, especially where jobs and economic security were involved.

Image result for images nyc canals wetlands response to rising tides

This growing indifference only made Randy work harder – more colloquies, more lectures, more books and television appearances.  The world simply had to understand before it was too late.

As things would have it in America, fads pass quickly; and before you knew it, the issue of racial injustice had edged climate aside.  The country was once again in flames because of race.   A child of the Sixties, Randy understood this well.  He had been in Newark when the riots had broken out, and saved his neck only be hightailing it to Princeton, taken in by a former classmate.

The issue of race had never gone away.  It had been permanent, insidious cancer on the body politic for 250 years; and the destructive, damaging riots throughout the country were only normal, completely justified, and expected.  Black Lives Matter was Randy’s new home.  Although the radical leftist leaders of the organization at first wanted nothing to do with this aging white man, they were persuaded that he could be an important conduit to the liberal white establishment.  He would be their liaison, their go-between.

Randy was in Seventh Heaven.  His days of liberal causes were not over.  Although he questioned BLM’s resort to aggressive, violent confrontation (he had been a Martin Luther King peaceful marcher to Selma, Montgomery, and the Pettis Bridge), he quickly subscribed to their methods.  The country had changed in sixty years.

Not surprisingly BLM grew quickly tired of Randy and his philosophical hectoring.  He could never quite leave his PhD behind, and the ghetto chieftains in Baltimore wanted no part of this doddering old man.  Sorry, they said, but it was a Black thing.

Randy’s wife had for years been active in the Women’s Movement, and she had been as committed to the cause as Randy had ever been to his.  Although this new generation of women were more self-assured and rebellious than she and her friends had ever been, they still needed guidance and support from a well-known, respected luminary of the movement.  It was time for men to be more engaged than they ever had been, Randy’s wife said to him, and wouldn’t this be the right thing to do? 

So Randy invited himself to women’s marches, conferences, seminars, and demonstrations.  Just as America had been the insidious force that enabled nuclear weapons and had contributed a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases to the environment, so had it encouraged patriarchy, sexism, and male elitism.   

Randy had found what might be his last hurrah.  In fact, all things came together like never before.  It was capitalism which enabled all these ills, and his screeds in all venues – Global Warming, Peace, Civil Rights, and Gender Equality – became virulent attacks on American greed. 

Image result for images women demonstrating rights

Nearing eighty, the age at when most men are hanging up their spurs and retiring to Florida, Randy felt more full of piss and vinegar than he ever had.  But somehow his dense, overpopulated resume had done him in.  He had become a parody of what he had intended.  A man with such weighty unmatched luggage was of little interest or use. Even his alumni magazine started trimming his class notes.

So he finally gave in – or sort of.  He and his wife moved to Boca Raton, but it wasn’t long before Randy was involved in groups concerned about the manatees and the ebbing of the waters of the Everglades.  The chaise longue was simply not in his future, and he would rather die in his traces than drift off in his back yard.   They had chosen carefully – Florida retirement communities are filled with rednecks, and particularly at this point in his life Randy wanted homogeneity, people who thought alike.  He had long jettisoned staunchly conservative friends from college and his youthful days in Connecticut.   Life was too short to be bothered with anyone who was not wedded to the cause – or in his case, causes. Political philosophy was everything, all inclusive, all defining. Women, marriage, children, grandchildren, friends meant nothing unless they were part of this template.

Unfortunately those retirees in his community, as liberal and progressive as they had been before they came down to Florida, had quickly become indifferent.  A day out on the ocean fishing for bonito was enough, or a round of golf, or sailing in the Bay.  Randy was unmoored.  He had intended his final days to be committed, meaningful, and serious; and all he got was tuna?

He died in his sleep as we all hope to go, so was unable to share with his wife the final words he had prepared long ago, words he hoped she would repeat to the press about meaning and purpose.  He was buried in Florida so only a very few former colleagues made the trip down, particularly since poor Randy had died in August.  It was a simple ceremony.  His wife read from Ephesians and an excerpt from a paper Randy had written about climate change, and the funeral, and his life were over.

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