—From the Fool—
My friend Jeremy reads a lot, and he likes history. You learn lots of lessons from history, he says, like it repeats itself unless you learn it, and then it might not. The bad parts won’t, I guess he means. I don’t know if there’s any good parts to it. In school we studied George Washington, but that was about as far as it went with being good.
But Jeremy probably knew about some king back then who was pretty good, because he’s saying we’d be better off with a king. “We’d save a lot of money,” he says. The deal is, kings cost a bunch, with all the diamonds and stuff, but still you’d save way more from the TV ads. Billions, probably.
And whoever the king was, you’d have time to get used to him. If he was evil, at least it wouldn’t be a big surprise, and you could figure how to deal with all the evil. Problem being, sure, that it’s kind of a pig in a poke, but a pig in a presidency isn’t much better.
I asked Jeremy, well, what about democracy? Didn’t we fight all the wars to preserve our way of life? “Kings would fight just as many wars,” he said. It sounded logical when he said it.
“The big thing,” he said, “is we’d all be nicer to each other. The way it is, with elections and stuff, we all wind up hating each other and screaming and saying nasty things on the Web. With a king, we could just hate the king.”
Maybe it’d cut down on greenhouse gases.
This week I have the utterly blissful pleasure of being with family, here in Tuscany, walking across a 14th century stone bathroom floor to take a 21st century leak, sitting down to many glorious meals in Jo and Fra’s kitchen, and hearing the rain-refreshed brook purring at the bottom of the yard. What satisfies me most, though, is sensing how the four of us are not only family, we are tribe, woven from the same weird cloth.
The kitchen conversation is ripe with laughter springing from a shared sense of humor, bent as all hell and delightfully wicked. Stories abound. Jo is a professional translator and Conrad is working at the revision of one of our novels, and I am trying to accomplish revisions to our travel itinerary, so when the dishes are cleared, the digital devices come to roost. It looks like the modern version of the Three Bears — Jo has a big laptop, Conrad has the iPad, and I’m making do with my ancient iPod. Tappity-tap, in soft-shoe time.
Silences are comfortable. Time proceeds at an amble. Conrad goes down to the bottom floor to ride the exercise bike and stick French in his ears, Johanna takes a break from working on a short story translation by reading a New Yorker article on Donald Trump, Francesco is surrounded by a pile of books and photocopies, preparing tomorrow’s history lesson for his middle-schoolers, and I have finally caught up on the trip’s finances. We had some sun today, and the laundry dried outside on a line under the peach tree. (Last night the last of the peaches went into the piquant salad.)
The air is clean and earthy. There are absolutely no cars unless we need to go to town. Two crows gave a concert worthy of the most out-there grunge band while I sat out under the fig tree and pigged out on the poetry of Audre Lorde. And the four members of this tribal family are very, very pleased to be together.
I try to avoid lots of politics on this blog, as most of what I might say has been said ad nauseam. And I’m not hot for subjecting readership to my own therapeutic rants. I’m moved, though, to make a general comment.
I tend to be more critical of those of my own political persuasion than of the other side, simply because I feel a stake in us being more rational, sensible and basically decent. When I see the Left engaging in the same degree of spin-meistership as the Right, it stings to the core. Most recently, I’ve been bugged by the term racist.
Using that word as an adjective is perfectly valid: a racist act or a racist comment is a distinct action with potential or actual effect. But racist as a noun offers a very slippery slope. We’ve spent our working lives as theatre-makers charting the complexity of the human animal, a character as a teeming menagerie of personae, often self-contradictory, and thwacking a melodramatic label on a character’s forehead is utterly repugnant to me—even if I loathe and despise that person.
My mother would go on a rant about “all the niggers in North Omaha.” Racist words, no question. At other times I heard her comment on Jews, “dagos,” Danes, Catholics (though she married one), “queers,” anyone on welfare, any foreigner who was getting “foreign aid,” etc. etc., as well as most of her own relatives. It was dinner-table talk, not action or overt behavior, not even relevant to her when voting, and in the most extreme contrast to the way she treated people. Sitting at that dinner table, some indeed would call her “a racist.” That would change nothing, though you might feel, as I confess I did, more virtuous than her.
Perhaps, in the political arena, it’s an effective tactic to use that term as a tribal designation, but I have my doubts. I could readily label Trump a “bullshit artist,” because that implies a special skill, a mode of operation. Using the term racist for him or his supporters implies, to me, a purity of intent, a dedication, a concrete affliction like HIV and tends to take the spotlight from the other foul warts and carbuncles of his soul. It’s too reminiscent of the days when having a 1/16th or 1/32nd strain of “Negro blood” defined you as black-clear-through, all-black-all-the-time.