Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Great Okay-ness

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (2005) (January 17 2010)

Days after the Tucson shooting, President Obama rode into town on a gooey gel of good will, but by the time the memorial service - or whatever it was - got underway, the president looked rather ill-at-ease. His speech was preceded by several others, including, for promotional purposes, the President of the University of Arizona, which hosted the event, a diversity infomercial in the person of a Native American shaman, the pert student government leader, a current and former governor, and the Attorney General of the US. The gooey gel couldn't contain the crowd, which more than a few times broke out in whoops and cheers.

The only kind of ritual that Americans seem to understand these days is an award ceremony, and that's what the Tucson event most resembled: a fete of congratulation and warm therapeutic self-affirmation. In the aftermath of yet another horrifying milestone event that changes nothing about how we live or what we do, comes the warm soothing anesthetic gel of okay-ness. I know a lot of people felt uplifted by Mr Obama's remarks. I give him points for venturing out to that politically toxic city (if that's what the agglomeration of strip malls actually is). What he said struck me as not just lacking in an original thought, but filled with something like pre-owned sentiment.

And Mr Obama looked less than comfortable through the whole gruesome show, as though he sensed there was something off about the vibe in arena, with all its photo-op immediacy that will fade into the cavalcade of a zillion preceding it and countless more yet to come. It all made me wonder: what is the difference exactly between trying to comfort people and making them comfortable? It's normal to want to comfort people who have suffered. But I'm not persuaded that the American public beyond the McKale Memorial Center deserves to feel comfortable about how they are and what they're doing at this moment in history. To me, the ceremony was short on solemnity and decorum, the willingness to suspend comfort for a little while in order to recognize that what happened at the Safeway supermarket was not okay. Even the official moment of silence near the end was too brief, as though they were trying to spare the crowd too much self-reflection.

I wasn't the only person in this country who felt a little jarred by the strange proceedings. As they wound down and the cameras followed Mr Obama milling with the crowd, CNN's anchor, John King came on air with a hastily-constructed narrative designed to explain all the hooting and hollering. His thesis was that the local folks of Tucson had been so emotionally squashed for five days that they just had to let it all hang out. This struck me as something between an excuse and a cockamamie story to paper over the awkward question: how come we don't know how to act in the face of tragedy?

Of course, we don't know how to act in the face of reality, either, by which I mean politics, our means for contending with reality. So much of the Tucson story was whether there is any remaining shred of something like common purpose between the opposing political wings and the answer resolving out of all the grief and soothing gel is no. Common purpose is AWOL in our politics lately because whatever terrain of the issues is not occupied by sheer lying is filled by cowardice and ignorance. We lie to ourselves incessantly about the nation's financial condition. We've suspended both the rules of accounting and the rule of law in banking matters (lying). We're too frightened to go into the vaults and find out exactly how much we've swindled ourselves (cowardice). And we aggressively misunderstand issues that will shape our future, such as how much oil is really in the ground, and how long people will be able to live in places like Tucson the way they do (ignorance) - all of this prompting us to march off the edge of a political cliff where we hang today, the cartoon coyote of nations, undone by our Acme techno-fantasies.

Discomfort is probably the only thing that will avail to alter this pattern of behavior. For the moment we have no idea where we're going, what we're doing, or who will take us to the next era where life will be very different. It could easily be some loutish spawn of Limbaugh and Beck, stepping in to push around a land full of lost souls desperate to be told what to do after years of forgetting how to do anything. All of Mr Obama's earnest, gel-like warmth does not conceal the astounding corruption of the Democratic party and the surrender of progressivism to anything that smells like money (in the immortal words of Matt Taibbi).

The Tucson shooting displaced two important political stories last week. (1) the sentencing of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay to three years in prison for money mischief, and (2) the appointment of JP Morgan executive William Daley as White House Chief of Staff. Both of these stories tell us as much about ourselves as the lethal antics of Jared Lee Loughner, but nobody paid attention.


Mr Kunstler's biography is at

Bill Totten


  • I noticed and wrote in (unpublished) the uber-powerful executive appointed to the White House while the Tuscon inevitable massacre and it's aftermath moved through our lines of sight. I applauded a possible change as needed, even if minimal

    I would bet there is no change at all, even to just wallpaper. An even greater tragedy than Tuscon. Suzanne

    By Blogger suzannedk, at 6:22 PM, January 20, 2011  

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