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

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Brown Shirt Mothers Of Merriweather Park–Political Enforcement In A Nice Neighborhood

Jane Talbot was a good neighbor.  She brought tomatoes and figs from her garden, offered to watch the house when the Chandlers were in Charleston visiting their children, and pottered in her garden every Spring and Fall, keeping it trim but interesting, a tad wild, very English, and as she put it, ‘Revolutionary American’.

This last bit was surprising, for the Chandlers knew that Jane was a radical progressive, a woman who was on the left of nearly every family in the already solidly Democratic neighborhood, and someone on the avant-garde of the movement to recalibrate American history, to expunge it of its racism, homophobia, and profound misogyny.  Shit may have happened, she said in her own particular vernacular, off-putting to many for a mature woman from the Main Line but part of her new persona, developed in the Sixties and honed to a fine edge during the Trump presidency, but we do not have to remember it.  

So much for being condemned to repeating the history one chooses to forget, Jane was unmoved by anything but progressivism these days.  Jefferson, Madison, Washington himself had to go in the interest of truth, justice, and a doctrinal purity necessary for the promotion of universal social harmony.

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The irony of the ‘Revolutionary Garden’ was lost on her for it was part of her own Revolutionary, true American, aristocratic heritage.  The Talbots of Philadelphia, while not exactly the Cabots and Lodges of Boston, were of the highest pedigree with close genealogical links to both the Mayflower and Jamestown; and she was bred with the good taste, manners, and intentions of her class.  It was only in college that she learned to reject her ‘privileged, elitist’ background.  While intelligent enough, she was never Harvard grade, and spent her undergraduate years in a small but midwestern college known for its music department and radical progressivism.  Her parents only remembered the name of the college from their own university years, a name which then did not shout radical, progressive socialism as it now did; so it was with some disappointment but reasonable expectations that they signed the check

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It didn’t take long for Jane to be undressed, stripped naked of her past.  She was called out, shamed, humiliated, and dunned for her parentage, family history, and ties to America’s corrupt, predatory, capitalist past.  She was sent to the gulag to be purged and re-educated.  

It is not surprising that this credulous young woman, brought up to be respectful and generous towards others, demurred and agreed to accommodate her hectors’ wishes.  What is so surprising is that her re-education took hold so deeply and completely.  By the time she had completed her four years in Ohio, she had become the leader of the school’s Socialist Union, Progressive Party, and Feminist Association.

Yet, as much as she denied it, she could never fully free herself from her patrician past.  There was still something appealing – comforting if she were completely honest - about bone china, Crichton Brothers silver, fine linen, and Chippendale furniture.  Her college classmates howled when she married Thomas Langley, son of the Wilmington Langleys, a family whose forbears fought in the Revolution and the Indian wars, and while never as rich as their peers, were respectable, proper, and  correct.   Jane was pleased that she was finally recognizing her roots and settling down in the very orchard where they had first taken hold.

Yet there was something niggling and irritating about her life, something too predictable and staid.  She missed the fire and brimstone political meetings in college, the torchlight parades, the angry demonstrations; and for years she struggled with the conflict.  Who was she, actually? And where was she going?

Her husband was never investment banker material, so became a downtown lawyer instead.  He and his wife moved to Washington after a number of years in Philadelphia and Wilmington, where he took a job with a law firm specializing in the cases of non-profit agencies fighting both government regulation and conservative lobby groups.  He, like Jane, had questioned his past and its legitimacy, had gone to a college much like Jane's but less endowed and committed, and emerged less radical and more moderate in belief and opportunity than his wife. 

It was association with these non-profit clients of his that Jane’s progressive fire was rekindled.  These groups were fighting for the climate, for oppressed black people, women’s rights, and economic justice, and although her husband was doing his part to defend their interests, she wanted to do more, to be activist, frontline, and physical.  She joined large national organizations that fought for social justice, and before long she had earned the respect of many in the Movement.  She was first at the barricades, loud and insistent at rallies for civil rights, economic justice, and social reform. 

As she grew older, had children, and sent them off to college, she toned down her anger and moderated her activism.  She was no less committed to the progressive cause; only less vigorous in furthering its claims.  Before long hers was a desultory participation, a mail-in, annual contribution kind of activism.

Then, along came Donald Trump with his vindictive, arrogant, insanely self-serving presidency.  The man was evil, an incarnation of every racist, misogynist, and homophobe that had ever existed.   Most importantly his brand of populism – an appeal to the ignorant, backwater rubes and country cousins of the South and West – was a threat to the very progressivism she had always espoused and fought for.  The Bushes – and even Nixon and Reagan before them – were sweet, likeable moderates compared to Donald Trump.  No, this man must be stopped in his tracks.

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Jane became the point person for ‘Merriweather Park for Social Justice’ (MPSJ), a group of like-minded former social activists who felt resurgent and in touch once again with their most true and telling sentiments.  Jane and her minions were instrumental in organizing discussion groups, meetings, and rallies.  She invited black leaders from Washington’s most oppressed inner cities, feminists from local universities, and political firebrands from New York.  

The Merriweather Park community, formerly complacently moderate and politically unengaged, was becoming sensitized.  Black Lives Matter and rainbow Hate Has No Home Here signs went up throughout the neighborhood.  Men and women were heard talking about rights and injustice on street corners, and students at the local public  school now heard calls for social action from their teachers.  Jane was happy and finally content.

Yet there was something still niggling and disturbing about her community’s response.  There was a diffidence in certain quarters and even an opposition to her calls for universal social reform.  The problem lay in the inner cities themselves these outliers claimed, in the social dysfunction of the black community, not the ‘systemic racism’ that Jane and her followers claimed.  The glass ceiling had been broken decades ago, gay men married, and the sadomasochistic revels of the Folsom Street Fair, Bay-to-Breakers parades, and Halloween In The Castro were deformations of sexuality not the best expressions of it.  Donald Trump for all his braggadocio and vaudevillian performance was an intelligent leader who understood geopolitics, national culture, economics, and especially political philosophy better than most.

Outrage! shouted Jane and her supporters. Something must be done; and her organization turned hostile.  It was obviously not enough to promote social justice, and the fight required the silencing of those who opposed it.  Anyone flying an American flag – clearly and evidently a symbol of radical conservative Trumpism – would be confronted, shamed, and publicly disgraced.  Any reference to Trump, conservatism, or its retrograde ideas and principles, no matter how casual the remark, would be challenged and dismissed.  

In a well-organized, well-orchestrated campaign, the MPSJ, with the support of the Teachers Union, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Progressive League of Washington, the District of Columbia Feminist Alliance, and the Capital Gay Action Committee were able to institute significant policy changes in the DC public schools.  Not only would race, gender, and ethnicity be taught as part of the ‘Diversity and Inclusivity Now’ curriculum, students who showed any sign of reluctance or even opposition would be censured and disciplined.

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The mainline Protestant churches in the wealthy neighborhoods of Washington had already adjusted their sermons to address social issues, but Jane’s group made sure that all pastors did not simply exhort responsible behavior but called out those who neglected their social duties.  There was to be no dissent in the schools or churches of Merriweather Park.

Town meetings to address the need for political solidarity and uniformity in the neighborhood were organized by Jane.  Participants were told how to suss out radical conservatism in even casual speech and how to blunt it.  They were instructed in ways to innocently turn conversations to politics, to engender trust in order to elicit political views which could then be attacked and espousers shamed, and to insinuate intimidating remarks in all gatherings.

Jane always pointed to Caryn Marshall as a model.  No matter what the conversation was from literature to religion to modern art, Caryn had a way of introducing references to Derrida, Lacan, Deconstructionism and its spawn, liberal American progressivism.  She was brilliant, studied, an academic star, and a talented rhetorician.  Before her listeners knew it, they were nodding in agreement with her seamless arguments for righteous behavior and  became ashamed of their own residual conservative feelings. 

COVID was a progressive activist’s dream.  Despite the existential threat, there were virus deniers, anti-maskers defiant of ‘the government’ and its Stalinist measures to limit free choice; and these must be as irreverently and absolutely stopped in their tracks. Just as there were conservative naysayers in Merriweather Park, so were there those suspicious of or at least indifferent to the public health measures advised by CDC.  

Regardless of their reasonable questioning of the quarantining and spraying of mail, triple-masking in the open air, the closure of parks, outdoor recreation facilities, the budget-breaking retrofitting of industrial strength air purifying equipment for offices and clinics, and other economy-depressing, socially disruptive measures, these political reprobates were to be shut down.

In a program reminiscent of Stasi, Stalin, and the Brown Shirts, Jane recruited parents, teachers, students, and children to accuse those who were not wearing masks or social distancing.  J’accuse! was a cry of honor and justice in Merriweather Park.

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Jane was particularly pleased because she knew that this radical community organization, if instituted properly, would take root as a permanent feature.  The same volunteers for COVID compliance could be called on to accuse and call out racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and capitalist remarks.  Her goal of a completely sensitized, aware, and responsible community was in sight.

Jane ignored Tip O’Neill’s famous reminder that “All politics is local” and tried to market her particular brand of community activism to other cities, and failed.  Her knowledge of local culture, political history, and social parameters was severely limited.  Merriweather Park was unique because it was a Washington neighborhood where K Street lawyers, Congressional aides, think tanks, and university professors lived – all of whom could not possibly avoid the proximity of the contentious and highly partisan dealings of their city.  A slide into aggressive politics, a dismissal of Constitutional rights, and Communist bloc recruitment of informers and enforcers was a natural, but not extended elsewhere.

In any case, COVID is ending, Black Lives Matter banners and posters have all been taken down, and President Biden has lulled the electorate into thinking that everything’s OK now.  It is not of course, and the political Right is itself mobilizing and preparing for significant wins in the 2022 midterm elections and the Presidential election two years later.  Jane’s brand of gulag-style progressivism, now the going thing, will not last, and the electorate will vote out those vociferous, arrogant, and ill-meaning politicians who knee-jerk irresponsible liberal policies at every turn.

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