Monday April 27, 2020
Like a Blacklist for Everyone
I read both of these passages the other night and they felt sadly familiar. First, there was this general overview of our culture:
While the cultural climate turned blandly inoffensive, the political climate kept turning mean and intolerant. There seemed no bottom to its meanness. ... X was big-time show business. Television, the new arbiter of discourse, loved him. He combined two elements that had always brought shows high ratings: he was a gangster in a soap opera. He lay over the country like one of those disease-ridden blankets that white settlers had given the Indians. He sickened the body politic. The few voices against him were weak and ineffectual. X went his brutal, demagogic way, swinging his sockful of shit ... Unreason ruled the land.
Then the writer describes how all of this affected him:
My life revolved around those friendships. They were almost entirely with other X people; we had circled the wagons and it was dangerous to go outside the perimeter. In the morning I tried to write—speculative scripts or articles or the occasional short story, but they were desultory, lacking conviction. I seemed to need a validation I could not produce from myself alone. The days were aimless, as they had been when I was waiting to be drafted. I felt suspended; my real life was somewhere else, on hold, waiting to be resurrected when the country came to its senses.
The writer is Walter Bernstein in his 1995 book “Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist.” In the first passage above, the X is represented by Sen. Joseph McCarthy but it might as well be Pres. Donald Trump, who, of course, was taught by McCarthy's right-hand man: Roy Cohn, perpetual cretin.
In the second passage above, the X is represented by the blacklist. The line is: “other blacklisted people.” But it also seems like being a Democrat, or a sane Republican, during the Trump era—not to mentioin all of us during the Covid era: circling the wagons, real life on hold, waiting to be resurrected. Sadly, the Covid era is taking place during the Trump era, so instead of real leadership—how to get through these tough times and then get business and real life moving again in a safe and rational way, and hey, how about a hand for the front-line workers, the doctors and nurses and EMTs, as well as mayor and governors making tough decisions—Trump lies and misinforms, politicizes and avoids responsibility and casts blame. Did he really just suggest people inject disinfectant to try to kill the virus? (He did.) Then that becomes the topic, Trump's absurd proclamation, rather than our collective path out. He makes it all about him.
The Covid pandemic is like the blacklist except this time we‘re all on it. Which makes me think of Billy Bragg’s great song, “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward”:
Here comes the future and you can't run from it
If you‘ve got a blacklist I want to be on it
Bernstein’s book is recommended. As is Bragg's song.