Are We Dying of History?

Nazi salutes and Weimar pastiche. Debates laden with references to Mossadegh, Allende, Cambodia, and the Sandinistas. Gaffes about Nancy Reagan. Discussions of George Wallace. Decades-old legislation. Have we ever had a presidential campaign so saturated in history, not just of the US but of other parts of the world? I feel like we’re watching history unspool, in a completely chaotic, unedited way. It’s as if we’re at one of those sumptuous and feverish Viennese balls from the turn of the century, and every ghost from empires past has shown up to dance. What’s going on? Joseph Roth, where are you?


  1. xenon2 March 12, 2016 at 11:53 pm | #

    I remember Mossadegh—when he was leader of Iran.
    Good grief, am I really that old?

    It was all the fault of the Dulles Brothers They knocked off Arbenz at the same time.When the French were tired of the war in
    Indochina, they gave it to the Dulles brothers.They made the war in Vietnam possible.

    O history…

  2. weldonberger March 13, 2016 at 12:13 am | #

    What we need now are dinosaurs.

  3. brodix March 13, 2016 at 8:18 am | #

    There are some basic metaphysical issues involved. We tend to think of time as this steady march from the past to the future and the past gradually fades into irrelevance.

    We experience reality as flashes of cognition and so it seems like this linear progression is fundamental, but the dynamic is a changing configuration that coalesces probability into actuality and then residual. Future becomes past. To wit, tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns.

    Alan Watts used the example of a boat and its wake to illustrate this, in that the wake doesn’t direct the boat, the boat creates the wake. Events have to occur, in order to be determined. They are in the present, then in the past.

    Which makes time an effect of action and essentially what is being measured is frequency and that makes it similar to temperature, which emerges from frequency and amplitude.

    So reality is much more these thermodynamic feedback loops. Since the energy is conserved, the forms it manifests are constantly being recycled. It is like a tapestry being woven of strands pulled from what had previously been woven.

    Now when we are living in the present and just cruising from one event to the next, it all seems like that linear progression of time. Sort of like the earth is flat on smaller scales.

    But when things get really stirred up and all those layers of sediment we think of as the past get pulled up and everything is swirling around and it becomes networks of non-linear connections, both pushing and pulling, with everyone dragging up their own narrative and no larger one gaining control, we wonder what happened to the simple basic path we thought we were following….

    • thom prentice March 13, 2016 at 6:17 pm | #

      Nicely put.

  4. L.M. Dorsey March 13, 2016 at 8:59 am | #

    It’s as if we’re at one of those sumptuous and feverish Viennese balls from the turn of the century, and every ghost from empires past has shown up to dance.

    Poe’s Masque:

    And Bageant’s Waltz:

    So sue me for being obvious.

  5. Carolyn Porter March 13, 2016 at 11:27 am | #

    Alas, we may be dying from forgetting the actual history.

  6. jonnybutter March 13, 2016 at 12:24 pm | #

    My theory (only partial, of course) is that the ‘natural’ end of the Reagan era was – electorally speaking, anyway – 2008, about 30 years after Saint Ron was elected; some of Obama’s appeal back then was similar to Bernie’s now. Here’s an ad in which BO campaigns against HRC for, among other things, having supported NAFTA. But Obama turned out to be what he always was: a conventional, conservative, high-achieving mediocrity; a very true reflection and exponent of today’s (or yesterday’s) Democratic party, the party of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Obama campaigned against big trade deals and militarism, but ended up…well, you know.

    But because people really were yearning for change back then and didn’t really get it (Sanders now says, correctly, that people want ‘REAL change’), a lot of energy continued to be suppressed beyond a natural breaking point. I think we’re just sort of spurting.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant March 14, 2016 at 11:45 am | #

      “high-achieving mediocrity”.

      Mind if I steal that phrase?

      I will promise attribution.

      • jonnybutter March 14, 2016 at 3:48 pm | #

        You are welcome to it, Donald! I would never dis the guy on a personal level, not to mention the fact that we clearly could do so, so much horrendously worse than BO (things can *always* get worse, boys and girls. You’re welcome). But policy-wise, how he sees the world, seems to be of, to me, surprisingly limited vision, i.e. very conventional context/horizon. I think he has been heroic for staying very cool under a ton of pressure and baggage and racism, but policy-wise, thinking of him as an outsized hero is not quite fair to him. In the words of Tammy Wynette, ‘After all, he’s just a man”.

        The ‘high-achieving’ part I meant in this sense: that it’s such a specialized, narrow skill to run for the presidency – just as getting a CEO job is a very specialized skill – that you are selecting for ppl who are good at *getting* the job, to the possible detriment of the qualities you need to actually *do* the job. I think this is a recognized thing in the business world, so why not in politics? BO was *really* good at *getting* the job.

        • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant March 14, 2016 at 4:24 pm | #

          For distinguishing elites, I have created a two category reference: The Blue Bloods and The Test Takers.

          The Blue Bloods are not just the aristocratic, old-money types but they are also that group of persons that inherit their elite status in the social hierarchy. Think the Bushes and the Kennedys and the family that gave us Paris Hilton. These are folks whose wealth and power go a ways back.

          The other group, The Test Takers, are those people who work hard and achieve “according to the rules”: elected officials; chiefs of police; corporate officers of many of the worlds very wealthy corporations; top military officials; top union officials in the (still) large and powerful collective bargaining units. They have “passed the exams” or otherwise worked their way up to the commanding heights of the pyramid of true social and political influence. Very often, they were not even born on the block where the stadium is located, never mind being born on third base (that is the province of our Blue Bloods). However, have inherited other elite elements (being born male or White — or both) or they have the correct religious faith.

          Barack Obama, who taught constitutional law, is a Test Taker. (By the way, so were Edmund Burke and Richard Nixon) Competence is not his problem. Unexamined ideology, internalized to point to of it seeming like common sense — sustained while often displaying evidence of that species of “tension” in a person who is smart enough to be critical of such ideology. What distinguishes him from either of the Clintons is that Obama is a true believer. Why else would a Black Democrat reach out the Republicans and actually be surprised at not only the rejection, but also the harshness of that rejection? As “conservative” (the term not used in the Robin-esque sense but in the colloquial sense) as he is, he has none of the apparent cynicism of the capital “C” Conservatives (in the Robin-esque sense). The cynicism of the movement Reactionary is a sensibility shared by the Clintons, and largely alien to Obama. But not completely alien — some of his more progressive Black colleagues in the Illinois Senate have been willing to tell all about his time there.

          I think that is why so many of Obama’s more progressive “fans” have expressed “disappointment” with him.

          • jonnybutter March 14, 2016 at 7:08 pm | #

            What distinguishes him from either of the Clintons is that Obama is a true believer. Why else would a Black Democrat reach out the Republicans and actually be surprised at not only the rejection, but also the harshness of that rejection?

            I like your comment and concur with it for the most part, but I wonder if the above is really true (now that you mention it)? I think when you are a president facing such total obstruction, your options are pretty limited no matter what. Why not try ‘reaching across the aisle’ since it’s something regular DLC Dems wanted him to do (and something most Americans probably wanted him to do). As I said, I think he expresses the Dem Party’s ethos, such as it is, very well. Maybe he was a true believer in compromise for its own sake (a truly stupid idea) or maybe it was just one of the things on a very short list of options.

            I think he is less cynical than the Clintons, but also more in their mold than a lot of people are comfortable with facing up to. He’s pretty harsh and conservative in some ways that both Clintons are/were too. And cynical about those of us who are supposedly way out on the left – us dangerous radicals who thought we were in the same party as FDR and LBJ. And also cynical enough to disband OFA right after the election.

            good stuff. Fingers crossed for Tuesday Hope I don’t have a stroke! ARG

          • jonnybutter March 15, 2016 at 9:38 am | #

            Two other quick things:

            I would call Bill Clinton a high-performing mediocrity too – similar situation: brilliant at getting the job of Pres., conventional/ho hum (at best) at actually doing the job.

            and, as per the original OP:

            Frank Zappa had a theory of death by, not history, but nostalgia. His idea was that as each cycle of [thing => nostalgia for that thing], got shorter, eventually everything would grind to a halt: death by nostalgia.

          • jonnybutter March 16, 2016 at 7:58 am | #

            HRC, on the other hand, is not even really high-achieving in the way the other two are. She’s just a mediocrity who doesn’t even belong in politics. Would not be where she is but for her husband – yes, a great feminist victory.

  7. Rolf Wiegand March 13, 2016 at 7:08 pm | #

    Due to his wealth, Trump evokes the aristocratic posture of Franklin Roosevelt minus Roosevelt’s compassionate platform.
    And even without the patrician upbringing and social standing, Sanders has resurrected the compassion policies Roosevelt brought to the Presidency. Put the two of them into the right kind of blender, and FDR would step right out.
    Personally, I’d rather honor Roosevelt’s compassion than his wealth.
    May a majority of Americans — including the angry, frustrated GOP blue-collar and well-to-do wings — recognize how critical the upcoming election is for the future of America and and give Sanders their support and vote.

  8. 123 March 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm | #

    Rather than “one of those sumptuous and feverish Viennese balls from the turn of the century” perhaps the 2002 film “Russian Ark” since there are fears this current election year will lead to a similar totalitarian end.

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