WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2020
The impulse which never dies: Robert Zaretsky is a history professor at the University of Houston. His various bio pages at that school don't seem to have been updated since maybe 2015.
Whatever! As a little-noted anniversary approaches, Zaretsky has offered this portrait at Slate—a portrait perhaps of ourselves:
ZARETSKY (11/17/20): At the command of their ruler, underlings burst into the homes of the leaders of the opposing party in the early hours of the morning, hacking them to pieces in their beds and dragging their remains through the streets. As dawn broke, many civilians, rather than recoiling in horror, responded with even greater frenzy. Fanning out across the city, they broke into the homes of their rivals, massacring entire families. Men drove swords into pregnant mothers and tore their unborn children from their wombs; other children were spared but were immersed in the blood of their slaughtered parents as a warning to never hold the same beliefs; the river running through the city turned deep red from the hundreds of hacked corpses thrown into it. By the time dogs found no more body parts to gnaw on, more than 2,000 people had lost their lives.
We are two years shy of the 450th anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The event was triggered by France’s Catholic King Charles IX and his mother, Catherine of Medici, when they either ordered or supported the killing of Huguenot Protestant leaders who had gathered in Paris for a royal marriage. But what was meant to be a surgical operation targeting Huguenot leaders turned into a mass butchery, thanks to the passions they had unleashed. While St. Bartholomew’s Day was the most infamous massacre of the period, it was not unique: Dozens of similar events—slighter though no less savage and committed by Huguenots no less than Catholics—occurred during the Wars of Religion that convulsed 16th-century France for more than three decades. Each side was convinced it held the truth; each side was determined to make the other see the light; each side was willing to keep killing until that light could appear.
As always, the two warring, self-assured "sides!" In his second inaugural address, Lincoln offered a rueful portrait of the two self-assured sides:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God...
We thought first of the killing fields of Rwanda as we read Zaretsky's opening passage. That said, the killing fields of Bosnia were underway at the same time.
Then too, PBS is currently airing a new "docudrama" series, Rise of the Nazis. We aren't in love with the series' writing, but the story never gets old.
Zaretsky says that what happened back then isn't happening here. Well—it isn't quite happening here:
ZARETSKY: Flash forward several centuries and the present moment is redolent with a sense of déjà vu. Of course, there are crucial distinctions between then and now. The truth claims of both Huguenots and Catholics were faith-based, a trait that is now mostly the province of the red camp, while the blue camp mostly insists upon an empirical and rational basis for truth. But if we look at the progressive wing of the blue camp, we see the growing and disturbing tendency to cultivate the very same group experience offered by their foes. As a result, there is the danger of dogmatism on our side, as well. At times, it seems less a question of, say, the relative merits of international engagement or national retrenchment, or the positive or negative forms of liberty. Instead, like our 16th-century ancestors, we lean Manichaean. Truth versus heresy, good versus evil, and right versus wrong.
Does our present-day blue camp "mostly insist upon an empirical and rational basis for truth?" We would be extremely slow to sign on to that portrait.
Indeed, as he continues in that passage, Zaretsky pokes holes in his own characterization of Us Liberals Today. And yes, we humans still "lean Manichean." Experts continue to tell us that it's bred in the bone.
This morning, in The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky is hoping we'll lock (most of) the others up. "There’s nothing I’d love more than to see the whole [Trump] family get sent up the river. Ivanka included," he says at the start of his essay.
Tomasky would even love to see Ivanka in chains! After acknowledging that this might be hard to achieve, he scales back his suggestions to Biden:
TOMASKY (11/18/20): Go hard after everybody not named Trump. That means Bannon, already indicted. Giuliani. Bill Barr, if they can find any way that he broke the law in meddling in these investigations. Lindsey Graham for that phone call. The whole lot of them. Nobody outside the hard right cares about any of these people. America knows they’re corrupt. Indicting any of the supporting characters would be still controversial, but very few Americans will really go to the mat for Bill Barr.
Tomasky can't possibly know what Graham actually said in that phone call. Already, though, he's urging the (presumptive) next president to lock him up—to lock him up for whatever it is he said.
Also, Biden should lock up Barr, "if he can find any way." As Lincoln almost said, "Each looked for an easy triumph."
(For the record, all such prosecutions would perhaps be hard to sustain. Whatever else he may be doing, Trump's current tsunami of tribal fictions will conceivably function as a form of future jury tampering.)
As all this happens, The Atlantic is thinking long and hard about the Kardashians' final season. And yes, it's apparently true—the family's three hundred "reality series" have apparently been on the air for a full twenty years.
Simple story! A nation so blindingly stupid can't hope to succeed or survive.
As we noted yesterday, Stephen Brill started out with a reasonably serious basic cable venture. Within a matter of a few years, it had re-emerged as a collection of "docusoaps," but also as a set of "reality" programs literally called World's Dumbest.
The history of basic cable's decline is comical but instructive. We'll return to that comical story tomorrow.
Beyond that, what other realities wait to be explored? The widespread stupidity everywhere else, the astonishing brain cell decline.
Tomorrow: The History Channel today. Plus, what hath Bravo wrought?