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Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Sorry Downfall Of A Moderate Man - Devoured At The Hands Of A Political Vixen

Carrie Hammond had been born into a family of modest means, tradespeople, and carpenters and coopers before them, good Midwestern American stock, principled, religious, dutiful, and fair. Carrie knew nothing of politics, other than the lively discussion of Truman’s taxes or the double-dealing of one of the town’s alderman who was accused, then found guilty of having one hand up the skirt of the Town Clerk and the other in the Town till.

Hers was a normal, uncomplicated childhood.  She helped out at the store after school, volunteered at the church rummage sale every year, and had always been considered a girl with promise.  She was not particularly attractive – beauty had escaped all the Hammond women but their assiduousness and downright practicality had assured good, solid, if not happy marriages – but she was by no means ugly.  It was a settled plainness, something drab and featureless in a face that could have been anyone’s that marked her as marginal in a world of beauties.

She loved Anne-Marie Coulter, the most beautiful girl in her high school, blonde, blue-eyed, tall and lithe with a particular sexuality that drew both girls and boys to her like bees around a hive.  Anne-Marie could do no wrong, given a pass on her desultory grades by admiring teachers, chosen without contest as homecoming queen, and always first and foremost on the Navy float on the Fourth of July.

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Anne-Marie dismissed Carrie out of hand.  Why should she pay any attention whatsoever to this wallflower, this breathless suitor, this raggedy, uninitiated, and totally dull girl from the farm?  Yet Carrie’s good instincts left her whenever she was in the presence of the girl.  She was a whiz at picking up the scent of both friends and enemies, a natural politician with a gift for the opportune moment, the right approach, and most importantly the right offer.  As such, she was never without friends, but always those of the second tier, the wannabees, those classmates who never measured up to anything because they had no ideals, no purpose, no promise.

Carrie kept a picture of Anne-Marie by her bedside, dreamt of her, and sat next to her when she could; but the ice never thawed.  Anne-Marie’s interests were quite simply elsewhere.

Only in later years on a psychoanalyst’s couch did Carrie realize that the object of her affection was no less than a symbol – a wealthy airhead who, typical of her class, projected image, and faux joyfulness as an expression of elitism and social arrogance.  Carrie’s adolescent love for her was no different from America’s love for the superficial, the runway-ready, the Hollywood flip of the hair, and a smiling turn to the camera.

It was quite fortuitous that Carrie had landed on the couch of Dr. Esther Rubenstein, for unbeknownst to her, the good doctor was a radical political progressive and whose psychoanalytical approach had been learned at the deconstructionist Leipzig school of political psychiatry. 

There every human problem was thought to have its roots in social oppression.  Depression was a logical sequela of capitalist opportunism, a natural reaction of the victims of financial greed and economic predation.  Anxiety was a complication of this conditioned depression, but far from the debilitating illness it might be, was thought to be useful energy, a way of harnessing understandable hostility.  Righteous anger was to be encouraged and was the anodyne for mental dysfunction.

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Carrie came out of eight months of treatment a new, confident, aware woman.  Not only was she cured of the timidity that kept her perennially in the dark, but of the lustful, perverse desires for the white ubermensch.  More importantly, Dr. Rubenstein had turned her from a complaisant, temperate girl of the Midwest into a political harridan, a woman of virulent hatred against the white, conservative establishment.  She joined the most radically activist feminist groups at Radcliffe, marched on every city, crossed over every bridge, fought at the barricades of injustice everywhere.

It was crossing the Pettis Bridge in a visitation of the decades earlier march for civil rights that she met Bob Mueller, a pudgy, happy boy in his junior year at Yale who, at the hands of the Reverend Paul Higgins Cabot became socially engaged. 

Bob’s engagement with social justice, however, had none of the shrewish hatred of Carrie Hammond.  He had taken the Reverend Cabot at his word – Jesus tamed the lions, converted the sinful, and brought about a new world of redemption and love without antipathy or violence. Martin Luther King had the right idea, not the vicious black firebrands from the Coast.

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Who can explain affairs of the human heart?  The union of Bob Mueller and Carrie Hammond was as unexpected as any.  Love was not in the equation for Carrie who, in her preternaturally insightful way, saw in Bob a useful tool for her social ambitions.  She was like Rebekka West in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, an ambitious young woman who saw the mild-mannered, complaisant, willing aristocratic Rosmer as her social cover.  With his support, her radical dreams and political ambitions would have a greater chance for acceptance.

The Mueller family was by no means aristocratic, but influential in their own right; and Bob, drawing from this righteous noblesse oblige background, became an important social figure at Yale.  He could be useful.

The two of them courted on the streets of Selma and Birmingham, and returned North committed to each other.

Bob’s career went from civil rights to peace, to environmental justice, to transgender affirmation, and to anti-capitalist neo-socialist reform.  He became a progressive’s progressive, one who espoused all liberal causes without hesitation, spoke loudly but intelligently about the issues most dear to him, and made a name for himself as a temperate, inclusive man of principle.

His wife, Carrie, became increasingly frustrated with his across-the-aisle temperament.  Conservatives – all Republicans in fact – were not to be reasoned with, but opposed in the most militant, unforgiving way.  Their philosophy was retrograde, illiterate, uninformed, and blatantly oppressive.  No quarter should be given to these skanky, self-important fools.

Bob, always in awe of his wife’s venomous, intransigent hatred of the opposition, tried to put some more oomph into his speeches, more bile and anger in his writings; and most importantly more concentration camp mentality in his choice of friends.  He still remained in touch with some former Yale classmates, a number of whom had taken a different path and although by no means activists were outspoken conservatives.

“Get rid of them”, his wife announced.  They were defilers, silent insurrectionists, haters of the cause of progressivism and social justice.  “But Carrie”, Bob explained, friends made before politics are friends for life.  Humor, irony, spontaneity, good will and good times are ineradicable.  “Nonsense”, replied his wife.  “They are drags on your intent.  They are supernumerary and irrelevant and should be left on the curb.”

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So Bob sent Dear John letters to each and every one of his Yale classmates, explaining in torturously self-deprecating language how there was no point in conversational coffees which in their deft avoidance of things that really mattered would ‘paper over’ the truth.  Friendship was not the essential thing he had thought.  It was expendable in the name of a higher good.

“You did the right thing”, consoled Carrie, now happy that their group of friends, colleagues, and associates had been purged.   Their social circle was now perfect, not a naysayer among them, all purely progressive, utopian, liberal and unsullied.  Carrie had created an unassailable redoubt.

Bob was quietly disconsolate.  As much as he embraced the same progressive canon as his wife, he did so in a much more benign, forgiving, Christian spirit.  She was Siva the Destroyer of Worlds, Kali the Devourer, a slaughtering Genghis Khan out to rid the world of weaklings.

Bob, after this epiphanic revelation lost his passion and his interest.  He had indeed become disassembled emotionally, and realized that he, approaching the last decades of his life was stuck with an ugly harridan.  But such is life, he reasoned.  Carrie is really not a bad woman, just a woman who had gone bad, lost her way and become a frightening specter. 

Bob muddled his way through the next years, surprisingly taking up fishing on weekends while pursuing his political causes during the week.  They were what defined him after all, and despite his demurral, he had his image to uphold.

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