“Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.”
― Eric Hoffer,
― Eric Hoffer,
When I was a lad in high school, bereft of many friends, certainly no popularity contest participant or winner, I found my solace not in my studies, but in reading encyclopedic reams of science fiction. All the greats—Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury, Dick, and others too numerous to mention. This did not help my academic achievements, which was only to graduate. I had few dates, no girlfriend only friends who were girls, many of whom probably were as lonely as I was.
Books transported me from my 1950s home to other worlds, to scientific discoveries, that could then only be counted as imaginary fantasies: Missions to Mars, spaceships that could go at warp speed or bend the space time continuum to reach worlds the distance of which could only be measured in light-years. My humdrum, stultified, early teen years, were wondrously engaged by this pastime. I did not play many sports in high school, because my athletic genes were sparse, I received no parental encouragement, and books were just there for the taking. 25c paperbacks, library books, books borrowed from friends allowing me to escape my father’s obsession with the holocaust and his extended absence from my life.
Many of the films of today and even the 1970s saw their genesis in the imaginations of those 1950s novels.
And yes, this is going somewhere.
In those days, people thought the devices we now enjoy were products of someone’s hyperkinetic imagination, thinking that phones and watches that were essentially computers were products of pure fantasy. People worked in factories, enjoyed the miracle of a tiny black and white television screen and even air conditioning that might filter out the radioactive fallout from a Soviet nuclear blast. During mandatory air raid drills we shuddered under wooden desks at school as if they would shelter us from kilotons of hydrogen bombs. I served in the ground observer corps, stationed in a ramshackle building on the 71st street beach, where diagrams of Soviet airplanes festooned the walls. We pored over the latest books of Russian aircraft and watched our own H-Bomb tests annihilate Pacific atolls, their mushroom clouds rising in the atmosphere, nightmarish images of what could happen to us. Peering over the horizon with our binoculars, we were certain that the Russians were clearly coming to Miami Beach.
Red baiters such as Joseph McCarthy and the house un-American activities committee "protected" us from the likes of Hollywood fellow travelers and “pinkos,” as my uncle, a rich 7th avenue dress manufacturer, used to call them. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Jews, were executed as spies, after being represented by Jewish lawyers, prosecuted by a Jewish lawyer, and sentenced to death by a Jewish judge. They were the first spies to be executed in peacetime by the United States. Protests of the ultimate price they were doomed to pay manifested itself all over our country, and books were written about the injustice of the penalty. Hysteria, paranoia and fear permeated our lives. Protesters marched in Washington DC over the impending executions at Sing-Sing. Demagogues such as Roy Cohen and Joseph McCarthy terrorized ordinary citizens with their fear mongering, implicating innocents as communists, and destroying the lives of screenwriters, actors and artists, as well as many other citizens.
Fast forward to a world where much of the scientific imaginations of the past have come true.
But politically the same demagoguery is rampant in the Presidential campaign of 2016. With minds shaped by an Orwellian dystopic quest for power, the Republican political candidates seem no different than their earlier power-hungry prototypes. Trumpotopia, overtaking the panicked Republican establishment seems a surreal LSD-invoked hallucination of a psychedelic Woodstockian rock concert gone wild—a hodgepodge of stream of consciousness political huckster who has bamboozled “low information” voters into believing that America will be made “great again” by his Manichean, narcissistic, bombastic ramblings and who has actually appeared as an apocalyptic figure in a Joseph Conrad novel. Colonel Kurtz lives. He lives thanks to a corrupt, anachronistic political system infested by unlimited funds and super PACs on both sides of the aisle. But Republicans have excelled at the game, powered by corporate greed and a Supreme Court rationalizing that those same corporations are individuals who can buy elections. And no, I am not supporting Bernie.
This nightmare scenario has produced a zombie Dracula, coming to “take our country back.” The adoring masses of angry, disaffected white voters are massing in throngs to the demagogic drumbeat of isolationism, fear and despair. They cheer in unison at political rallies, reminiscent of Munich in 1939, the mad ravings of a man who people did not take seriously, and later plunging the world into an abyss.
All this is so hard to believe. President Obama, an analytical intellectual, has done his part to keep us from war, invested in infrastructure, clean energy, a deal keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the treaty agreed to by a host of other nations, and who has initiated health care for 30 million Americans who had none and has conducted himself with class and dignity, besides being the first African-American President and a credit to his race. Even after enduring the slings and arrows of what can only be called racism from the right.
It all makes no sense.