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

Friday, June 23, 2023

When Doing Good Loses Its Flavor–The Short, Unhappy Life Of A True Believer

Bob Musgrove was a progressive’s progressive – dutiful and faithful to issues of climate change, the plight of the black man, transgender oppression, abuse of women, and the predatory greed of capitalism.  He was always front row, center, and all major conferences and speaker at many.  He had garnered impeccable credentials over the decades – first on the busses to Selma, first phalanx in the March on Washington, and first and foremost in the protest against nuclear proliferation.  Now that he was well on in years, he had lost some of his cachet, but none of his passion.  Younger activists had no recollection of the Pettis bridge or even the Vietnam War, let alone the bomb and were consumed by more pressing issues.  Whereas Bob was still somewhat diffident about gender transformation (his Biblical upbringing still gave him pause when it came to strange sexual spots on the gender spectrum) his younger colleagues rushed to embrace the odd and the ‘twixt gender’.

RuPaul would "probably not" allow transgender queens who have transitioned  on Drag Race - Metro Weekly

The same was true for racial issues.  Whereas Bob had been suckled by Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and John Lewis, his younger associates had eyes only for Black Lives Matter.  For them it was not a question of integration and white-black collaboration in the struggle against Jim Crow, but a fight against white supremacy and systemic racism. 

Bob never thought that being white was a particular problem – his ancestors had come over on the Mayflower, founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony and went on to settle the New Haven and New Jersey plantations.  Ezekiel Evans Musgrove had been the leader of the Salem Five – Puritan deacons who organized and prosecuted the witch trials – and his son, Hiram had extended his father’s severe, punitive branch of Calvinism to the first settlements of New Hampshire.  For all the Sturm und Drang of the burnings at the stake, the early Musgroves were considered First Americans, and their heirs proud members of the historical societies which honored and perpetuated their legacy.  Bob’s mother was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (a Johnny Come Lately membership, given the Musgroves’ far earlier exploits in the New World but an honor that merited notation in the social registers of Boston and New York) and his father a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, an even more prestigious organizations dating back to Lafayette. 

Cotton Mather | Biography, Beliefs, & Facts | Britannica

As time went on and his 60s credentials began losing their luster, he was treated as an ordinary white man, one whose ancestors were part of the problem.  Hadn’t one Isaiah Musgrove owned one of the most important Newport shipping companies and made millions in the Three Cornered slave trade? Wasn’t the Lancaster branch of the family involved in the South Carolina slave trade?  To nix these rumors, Bob had his DNA tested, and was on pins and needles waiting for the result.  What if it was true? he wondered, and only hoped that the test would show that he had some black blood – the offspring of an interracial coupling – which would ensure his permanent membership in Black America, a union card, a passport to progressive leadership.

In any case, Bob never missed a trick or lost a step in the movement to restore America to a nation of social justice.  Regardless of his heritage, he was a star in the movement, a quick study on climate biochemistry, Ibo and Wolof tribal history, and sexual diversity since 1542.  He was the go-to eminence grise of American progressivism; and although many in the movement felt it was time for him to move on and cede space to the more properly attuned black lesbians and transgender socialists just coming to prominence, he persisted.  He would not go quietly, no chaise longue on a Miami beach for him.

However, progressive hopscotch is not for an older man, and keeping up with. let alone proselytizing on the multi-faceted war game, was becoming a bit much.  There were his knees, replaced by the best of the best at Sibley Memorial but still creaky and dodgy and his heart, not pumping at full capacity after a coronary incident while hiking in the Blue Ridge; but it was his mind which was of concern.  Where was the old fire?  He spoke about the curse of the black man, the transgression against the Second, Third and Fourth Sex, the coming fiery Armageddon of global warming, but his heart somehow was not in it.

Progressivism had always been a Barnum & Bailey affair – one big tent with lion tamers, trapeze acts, clowns, freaks, and trained bears; that is, climate activists, feminists, drag queens, Eugene V. Debs socialist revivalists all under one canvas roof- but it had become somewhat of a hodge podge, an inchoate mess of hysterics.  Of course Bob never leaked these very private thoughts, but they were there nonetheless.  Either he was getting too old to keep up, God forbid; or the movement itself had gone way beyond Baroque and into the Rococo, a field day of posing for the cameras, touting prophecy, and becoming supernumerary with each wild, unhinged sermon.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus | History & Closing | Britannica

Whichever.  It no longer mattered. The more Bob looked down the tunnel to the dimming light of his own end, the less interested he was in the fate of the planet, the black man or drag queens.  They were on their own, left to their own devices at the final reckoning.

“What’s wrong with you?”, asked his wife after one of his desultory moods.  “They need you”.

Bah, humbug, he thought and tuned into the latest episode of As The World Turns, wondering what would happen to Cecilia and Robert; and by extension to everyone and anyone else caught in the seepy, overblown, melodramatic episodes of a bad soap opera.  Who cared in the final accounting, what became of the black man or Blaise O’Fire? Not he, certainly, and perhaps not them when they see some perpetual motion machine turning history around and around until it revolved back to its starting point and then began turning again.

Yet, as a younger man he quickstepped from climate to gender to race to injustice in the blink of an eye, from one venue to another with alacrity and enthusiasm.  It was easy because all causes were linked – the sorry plight of the black man was because of predatory capitalism.  The fate of women due to its economic patriarchy.  The environment destroyed because of greed, white supremacy, and male arrogance.  Switching hats in a vaudeville act – from gender to climate to race – had become a practiced shtick and an easy one to boot.

Now he preferred Schubert to trumpets, cymbals, and horns.  Not only was he retiring to a world of personal quietude, but a redoubt from which he fired salvos at the eccentric, silly, shenanigans of his former colleagues of the Left. 

He was soon forgotten, the chaise lounge to which he retired a symbol of unconscionable retreat; but once again, who cares?  Not Bob, who finally, ultimately had seen the light.

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