Under the Rule of Spite
Thuggish Far-right Politics Must Be Defeated
The far right’s nastiness toward John McCain reminds me of William Faulkner’s 1930 novel As I Lay Dying, where Addie Bundren’s children argue over her coffin. The Bundrens’ cross-county trek to bury her could be titled, “Miserable People Making Bad Choices,” which might double as a description of present-day America.
White House special assistant Kelly Sadler last week said McCain’s opposition to CIA director nominee Gina Haspel for overseeing torture “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.” As I write, Sadler still has a job; the White House is more upset about her remark leaking. They couldn’t handle jokes at the Correspondents Dinner, but they’re okay with mocking a dying veteran.
Retired general Tom McInerney (who backed the birther lie and speculated about embedded Islamist sleeper agents in Obama’s White House) told Fox Business Network that torture had worked on McCain when he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam: “That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’” There is no evidence of this (and considerable evidence to the contrary), nor of anyone using that nickname before McInerney did.
This is shocking if unsurprising considering that our 45th president, despite having avoided serving in Vietnam by claiming he had bone spurs, said of McCain in 2015, “He’s a war hero ‘cause he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
The slander of heroes by saber-rattling spectators like the president was also directed at Silver Star and Bronze Star veteran John Kerry for working behind the scenes to save the Iran nuclear accord. The president attacked him for his efforts, while uttering not a peep against the forty-seven Republican senators led by Tom Cotton who wrote to Iran’s mullahs in 2015 trying to scuttle the deal. Republicans have one standard for themselves and another for the rest of the world.
White House Chief of Chaos John Kelly refused to apologize to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for outright lying about her after she criticized 45’s crassness toward the widow of slain soldier La David Johnson. Last week he baselessly insulted undocumented immigrants’ assimilation abilities. His boss, who learned scorched earth tactics from Roy Cohn, talks of revoking press credentials while hiding like a tinpot dictator behind howling mobs at rallies.
Persons of low character are as much a malignancy at the National Rifle Association as at the White House. Oliver North’s appointment to the NRA presidency paid poisonous dividends as he called the Parkland, Florida high school gun control activists “civil terrorists.”
“This is the kind of thing that’s never been seen against a civil rights organization in America,” North said. “You go back to the terrible days of Jim Crow and...even there you didn’t have this kind of thing.” Perhaps not, if Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. don’t count as civil rights activists and NRA leaders do. The terrorism to which North refers is use of social media.
North gained fame, or infamy, in the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987, where he portrayed his illegal sale of arms to Iran to raise money for right-wing Nicaraguan rebels as an act of patriotism. It was sobering to realize that millions were cheering him for the same performance that made me despise him. In 1994, his bid for the U.S. Senate was thwarted with help from Republican Senator John Warner, who denounced him as a fanatic. There are few John Warners now.
I recently wrote about the struggles of gay Ugandan refugees in Kenya. Helping can be hard on the soul because whatever you give, an ocean of suffering remains. It has to be enough that while you cannot help everyone, you can help someone.
On a wider scale, contrary to Thanos in the latest Marvel movie, the world has enough to feed its children; but like him, it prefers war. We have no Infinity Stones nor superheroes, only human hearts within which decency and indecency battle each other. Meanwhile, our president separates families at the border.
We are given no guarantees. It is up to us to refute and reject the torrent of lies and bile, and honor the ancestors who by the lives they lived inspire and summon us to rise. ▼