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

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Fairy Tales, Dreams, And Balmy Skies–The Bubbly Hopes Of Depressed Progressives

Bob Mazel was a progressive’s progressive – committed for life to the idea of a better world.  He wanted America to be a considerate, compassionate, inclusively diverse nation – an ironic reprise of George H.W. Bush’s ‘kinder, gentler nation’ with ‘a thousand points of light’.  However hateful and historically ignorant the President’s policies might be, he had a point.  

So did Ronald Reagan whose ‘Shining city upon a hill’ farewell speech was inspired: “In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity.”

The Shining City on a Hill: Commentary on Reagan - Econlib

“Wow”, said Bob.  “I wish I could have come up with that”; but of course when parsed it was nothing more than the old Republican treacle of godliness, industry, and private sector economic debauchery.  His reference to diversity had nothing to do with the struggle of the black man to regain his anointed place at top of the human pyramid; or the transgender woman who had to fight their way through homophobia, misogyny, and sexual traditionalism to emerge as the new sexual identity for the ages.  He had Grandma Moses in mind – wintery hillsides filled with hundreds of happy white people diverse only in their sleds and skates.  No, Ronald Reagan and todays progressives shared copy-worthy, enticing memes but nothing else.

Of course Bob  was a hopeless Utopian dreamer whose aspirations for a more verdant, peaceful, and accommodating world were just as much reflections in a vanity mirror as Reagan’s.  On the contrary, the world has always been a violent and uncompromisingly brutal place.  From Albee to Toynbee, no one has ever thought different; and if the world’s people are controlled and dominated by an unappeasable human nature, then things will never get better.  Only the character and personality of violence will change.

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Yet Bob banged on about peace, harmony, love, and fraternity.  He couldn’t help himself.  As an undergraduate at Yale he was moved by the Reverend Percy Albright’s sermons about the plight of the Alabama Negro and  the xenophobic incivility of American adventurism and the horrors of Vietnam.  Bob became a peacenik who demanded the end of this war and all wars; a Freedom Rider who stood proud and tall against Bull Connor’s ax handles and the savage attacks by George Wallace’s pit bulls.  With that early political upbringing, he had no hope of personal reform, a more modest and realistic view of the course of history and its human events.  He was stuck in an adolescent college room with pennants and banners on the wall, lava lamps bubbling, photos of Angela Davis, Che Guevara, and Saul Alinsky above his bed.

Angela Davis Poster by Ervina Indarvati - Fine Art America

The thing of it was, despite all this commitment, purposeful intent, and tireless ambition nothing ever changed.  Wars kept coming, American military adventurism provided the fuel, the black ghettoes were still black, dysfunctional, dangerous places and but a few black men even bothered to escape, and the only thing to show were a few cross-dressers from the Castro, Folsom Street, and Bay-to-Breakers who went national.

Yet Bob was never deterred from his goal of a better world.  Discouraged? Depressed at the sluggish response to the progressive agenda and a reluctance to accept even the most rudimentary reforms? Yes, but never ever deterred.

“Isn’t it time we retired?”, his wife suggested in their later years. “A house on the Bay, grandchildren, pinochle?”

But there was no such thing as retirement when one’s life and profession had been so inextricably entwined.  “One cannot quit a cause”, he replied.  “I prefer to die in my traces”; and so he soldiered on, nicely comfortable within his community of like-minded friends.  They commiserated together, bemoaned the fate and state of the nation, the evil of Donald Trump and his jackbooted Nazi MAGA faithful, and the persistent retrograde refusal to see the light.  How could Americans not see the innate superiority of the black man, the final righteous reckoning of heterosexuality, the rapacious, destructive nature of capitalism?  How ignorant could they be, Bible-thumping, cornholing, idiots?  Progressives needed to redouble their efforts, he said; but even when they did, Americans went about their business – sex the normal way, church, whiteness, and entrepreneurial optimism.

So Bob, now an old man despite his political juvenilia who needed help up the stairs to the dais, a more resonant sound system, and shaded lighting, kept it up.  Sooner or later ‘they’ would see.  They would realize how democracy itself is in peril, their lives at risk from the rabid insurrectionists of the Right. “Listen”, he said from one pulpit, “and you can hear the booming of the advancing cannons of hate, the marching of brown-shirted storm troopers down Pennsylvania Avenue, the shouts and hurrahs from their supporters lining the route”.

He waxed eloquent as he aged, more uninhibited, less constrained by Ivy League proportions.  He spoke – or tried to speak – like his hero, the Reverend Josiah Williams, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Anacostia whose congregations deep in the heart of the Washington inner city was the biggest in the city.  Williams, born and brought up in the South, son of sharecroppers in the days of Jim Crow, the county’s only college graduate with a doctorate from Marshall Theological Seminary in Augusta, was an old time preacher who could move any congregation to stand and shake, holler and praise the Lord.

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Bob’s oratory despite his hours of practice in front of his bathroom mirror, was tepid and watery.  No one other than his fellow academics were listening.  He was a dud when it came to outreach.

Not only did his sermons fall flat; not only were racial, gender, and economic divisions in the country becoming more pronounced; and not only was the President, elected because of his progressive credentials, sabre-rattling and itching for war, Donald Trump was making his moves, 2024 or bust. It was a depressing time.

Bob kept drinking the political champagne of promised good times, buzzed by the thought of a better world, and smiling and happy at the faces around him; but quietly on his way to Xanax.  Unthinkable a few years ago, Bob began to consider that condominium in Florida.  Days and nights in a real, balmy, sedate, and settled place began to sound right.  Perhaps he was just wearing out, the old arteries and valves not what they were, the knees more wobbly, and the brain tending to happy thoughts rather than serious issues.

Yet he simply, positively, absolutely could not give up the good fight, his holy war, his Crusade, his commonwealth of righteousness.  He kept talking, preaching, lecturing, and writing but to diminishing audiences.  Progressives had moved on from this old, dilapidated guy and wanted black, Latino, and transgender firebrands. 

One day, in a mini-epiphany, he saw the light – he was no longer emeritus but supernumerary.  He leaned back in his Barcalounger, and went to sleep.

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