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

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Poor, Black, And Gay - The Garlanded Glory Of Victimhood

Roy Steinberg had grown up in a modestly successful Jewish family in New York - tailors and jewelers for the most part, a rabbi or two, and uncles and cousins in the family business in Queens.  No one was wealthy per se, but had enough money to hold their heads up and be proud, quite an achievement given Warsaw and Sobibor. 

"It is great to be an American", said Roy's father at seder one Friday, and everyone around the table nodded in agreement.

As such the Steinbergs felt they should give back something to the country that had welcomed them so generously, and husband and wife had become active in the heady progressivism of the Thirties, a time of optimism and hope for real social reform.  The Soviet Union had shown the way, and Marx and Hegel were never more important.  Sadie became a member of the Ladies Garment Workers Union, and stood at the barricades for a fair living wage for women and the respectability that came with it. Levi had been a partisan of Samuel Gompers and the AFL and stood on picket lines in Chicago and St. Louis. 


Dinner at the Steinbergs' was always political.  The brisket, latkes, and tzimmes were ignored as one uncle after another hammered on about the capitalist pigs on Wall Street, the vultures of Detroit, and the Jew-haters of Rolling Rock.  They had escaped the Holocaust and now, in their blessed country had to witness another annihilation - this time the poor, the disadvantaged, the colored, and the weak. 

So Roy came by his virulent progressivism honestly.  He became a firebrand's firebrand in the Sixties, travelled with William Bertrand Graves on the freedom rides to Selma and Montgomery, marched across the Pettis Bridge, got hosed by Bull Connor, and came back bloodied but triumphant.  He had stood arm and arm with the black man and done right by him. 

Race turned to peace, and Roy became a passionate advocate for nuclear disarmament and world peace; and then when enthusiasm for those issues faded, he took up environmentalism, women, sexuality, and racism.  The United States was far worse than Uncle Abe had said in his most damning speeches at the dinner table.  It was a sinkhole of rot, putrefaction, and excrement -  a country of systemic racism, white supremacy, and climate ignorance; a nation of bigots and endemic cruelty to the other. 

He, like many of his colleagues not only criticized the white elite for its actions, but raised the status of those oppressed - the victims of the slavers of Wall Street and Washington - and turned them into heroes.  Poverty wasn't something to be left behind in a rush to betterment; it was a noble place, one  profoundly Christian  The poor were not sufferers but saints living a simple life of family, worth, and moral well-being. 

Black people were superior to whites in every way, and their defiance of white supremacy was the first step to restoring the greatness of African civilization and restoring the black man to his proper place on the cultural pyramid. 

Gays and transgenders represented the new wave of sexual pioneers who rejected the old, discredited notion of heterosexuality - a myth which had been responsible for jealous rage, murder, and deceit. 

Those who labored to restore climate sanity in a country obsessed with oil and gas were the avant-garde of environmentalism, Cassandras only until the forests and plains of America started to burn.  These unsung heroes, spat upon and reviled by gas-guzzling F-350 owners and climate deniers deserved laurel leaves, fetes, and honors. 

That did not leave much for Roy and his friends to enjoy; but then again, as he had learned from his parents and their crowd, life was not a bowl of cherries and never would be until the days of Utopia, the peaceful, verdant world of equality, compassion and love that could be achieved with dedication, hard work, and passion. 

Little by little Roy became 'addled' - so overcome with the problems facing the world that he couldn't think straight.  The simplest article in the paper would send him into apoplexy, a flag on a neighbor's lawn was an insult, a right-wing banner of reactionary conservatism, an innocuous comment about the government's COVID response was a cause for fury.  The curse of rabid individualism was everywhere. 

The arrival of Donald Trump put him over the edge  This evil man, this devil, this intellectual cretin, this morally bereft emotional throwback, this existential threat to America and goodness was frightening and yet unstoppable.  He represented all that was wrong with America, a vile mix of every evil of predatory capitalism and white entitlement possible.  He was climate denial, racism, homophobia, greed, and social dysfunction all rolled into one stinking package. 

The danger was inchoate, a hydra, a horribly twisted and frightening nightmare of demons and dragons. There was no one neck to throttle, no coup de grace possible in this ever moving chimera. 

Roy couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, and tasted the nastiness of undigested food repeating on him in the night.  The infection - the possession - grew worse with no balm, antidote, or exorcism possible.  Hatred for all that America represented consumed him. 

In fact his life had become a St. Vitus' dance of erraticism and frenzy.  He was no longer an asset to The Movement, but a liability, and he was soon shuffled off the stage and shuttled off stage, an ignominious end to a man who had started off well. 

"Did you ever meet his father?", one former colleague said to another, offering what would be one wild guess after another trying to make sense out of Roy's insanity.  No one looked at The Movement itself  for the reason.  Half its eager partisans were already beginning the same uncontrollable, flailing dance that had consumed him.  'The End Is Nigh' says the sign carried by the demented evangelist in the cartoon. 


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