One of my go-to movies that I go to when I need to get away and don’t want any surprises is ‘Sneakers’ with Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn, Dan Akroyd, Mary McDonnell and others. I think what keeps me coming back to it is the band of misfits thing- and that they are able to hold it all together to outsmart the layers of stuff that gets thrown at them. For those who don’t know, it is kind of a hacker movie where they wind up with the ultimate translator chip that breaks all secret codes. It kind of falls in the timeline of things about midway between ‘War Games’ from way back in 1983 and the very early inklings of internet dalliances, and ‘the Matrix’ in 1999, which to me was a bit disturbing and earth shaking in its revelations about another reality at the other end of a phoneline that I won’t go into. The line from Sneakers that keeps coming back to me is from when Redford’s character is riding in a car in San Francisco with a member of the Russian consulate there, and they are pulled over but what appears to be agents from the FBI. Gregor, the Russian, implores Redford to not get out of the car by saying “you won’t know who to trust…”
There is a nice bit of twisted irony in that, and a somewhat scary prescience relating to the former occupant of the White House and his inclination toward believing in all things Russian, as opposed to anything our own intelligence services might have to say to the contrary. With the casting of doubt into the truth behind the results of the 2020 presidential election, the Mar A Lago menace has sown the seeds of distrust into the core of our democratic beliefs. He has done that with virtually no proof- just his “belief”. Certain national news organizations that have bolstered and amplified his claims in the past have continued to do so, again without any proof of fraud in the election, except for maybe the few instances where dead wives or mothers have been shown to have cast posthumous ballots in favor of Hair Twittler. This contrived view of a fabricated reality makes logical and coherent discourse about these things impossible. At least in the movie, Neo is given a choice of whether or not he wants to find out the truth about the Matrix in the form of choosing to take one or the other of two different pills. The blue pill allows one to wake up the next morning and carry on as one always has- the red pill takes one on a ride to a different reality, and opens up a window or a door there to actually see “how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Trump acolytes have embraced the blue pill, while it still remains to be seen if the Kool-Aid they are washing it down with will be terminal for the Republican party, or if it will just sustain them indefinitely on a delusional sugar high.
What is fascinating about the cast of the Matrix is that in some ways it is similar to the cast of Star Trek- they are both basically gender and race diverse, and seemingly neutral to their differences. Neo and his tribe are there to free minds from the enslavement of the machines. Kirk and Spock and the rest are on a mission to explore new worlds and do it under the guidance of the prime directive of non-interference into how those worlds go about their existence. On the other hand, what we are having to deal with in the Big Lie and its spin offs is the underpinning belief that there are lesser human beings out there, and that they are the source of all our troubles. Some might say that that is an oversimplification- I would disagree. The most disruptive bit of the Trumpian agenda manifested itself on 6 January 2021 in what has been called many things, but most accurately one can name it what it was- the Capital Insurrection. The people that were there have stated many times that their sole reason for participating was to “take back our country, and election, that was stolen from us”, and they were doing it because Trump had told them to.
Following their multitude of losses sustained in the 2020 election, it is people of color that the Republicans are targeting with all their new efforts to restrict and curtail voting rights, as well as the xenophobic fear of the other that is on display in the insane breach of voting security going on in the farcical recount currently happening in Arizona. It is there that the snipe hunt search continues for the bamboo paper ballots that some claim were flown in from China in order to stuff ballot boxes full of illegitimate votes aimed at denying Mar-A-Lardo the continuance of his emperorship. It is because of Trump’s racist characterization of Covid-19 as being the “China virus” or the “Kung flu”, that Asians are being attacked and beaten across this country by people who believe in what he is saying and are physically expressing their blame accordingly. And it is Trump’s racist rants against people of color in general that have enabled and entitled his public and political supporters to just make things up in order to further his and their racist, white supremacist agenda.
It is easy to just shake one’s head in disbelief at the Republicans’ seemingly relentless ability to make things up to suit their agenda du jour. One could continue to marinate in bafflement at what surely seems to be new levels of human indifference to the truth, but then a quick check of history might just tend to reveal that there is truly nothing new under the sun. We have talked about this before here, but it seems that one cannot repeat certain things too many times. When it comes to the setting and justification of basic, racist policy, one need look no further than the signing of the Doctrine of Discovery contained in the Papal Bull issued by Pope Alexander VI on the 4th of May, 1493. Just a year after Christopher Columbus supposedly “discovered” America, it was the Pope that declared that with all these explorer guys out there looking for stuff around this world, that they should probably have some sort of definition that delineated what might happen with what they found along the way. And so, in a somewhat sweeping and superior way, it was affirmed by Papal decree that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be discovered, claimed and exploited. If the indigenous, pagan inhabitants could not be converted to Christianity, they could then be enslaved or killed. In one fell swoop, Pope Alex VI established the basis for the taking of American lands from the “lazy savages” that lived there, and thus the white entitlement and belief of superiority that drives the “patriotic” inhabitants of the American Homeland. And then in 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court used the Pope’s bull to establish a precedent in determining that the government could sell lands and the Indians couldn’t in the case of Johnson v. McIntosh. This has been cited as recently as 2005 in the case of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York by none other than Ruth Bader Ginsberg, where she stated “Under the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’…[ownership] to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign- first the discovering European nation and later the original states and the United States.”
And so we come around and back to the question of where and when do we say that enough is enough and just put an end to a lie. According to fact checking done by the Huffington Post, by late November of last year Trump had told somewhere close to 30,000 lies, and in just one day he told 500 of them. One could extrapolate from that that he really doesn’t know what the truth is and that stretching it to serve his purposes is a big part of how he rolls. The fact that Trump logged this lie count while occupying the office of the president of the United States should be disturbing to pretty much anyone who attempts to digest that. This is not to say that U.S. presidents don’t lie, but it would seem that Trump’s total while in office would establish an unacceptably low bar of credibility for that position of power, or any position anywhere for that matter. One could say that popes should be held to a much higher standard. In truth, it was not just us that took Alex VI’s decree and exploited indigenous peoples, as much the same tale went on around the globe in the name of “discovery”.
As we now head out into the spaces of space, where do we go with this desire to get out there and take what we want with impunity? I would suspect in a purely speculative sense, that as we go where no one has gone before, that the people or beings that we meet out there will probably not have heard of Jesus, or Buddha or Muhammed for that matter. So, does that mean that everything out there is free for the taking from whomever we come in contact with? What would Jean Luc Picard say?
I have not yet turned the teevee on today, but the curious and disturbing news still filters through the tubes and dungeons of the internets. As expected, Liz Cheney has been removed from Republican power. Her dad was and is a liar, but Trump still probably has the upper hand on that account. As it was, Ms. Cheney was told to go because she was telling the truth about Trump’s big lie. In the same journalistic breath, I just read that 100 or so members from the ranks of military leadership in this country have sent out a letter in support of Trump’s big lie as well. It seems that once again, seventy two or so years on, Mr. Orwell has gotten it right again- Ignorance is Strength.
In looking it up, it appears that Joseph Welch passed away over sixty years ago. He was, of course, the lawyer that asked Joe McCarthy the pivotal question that turned the tide on McCarthy’s communist witch hunt when he plied, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” I have just read more of that exchange that I did not remember or had not heard. It is amazing to me now that there was a time when simple eloquence and a call for decency shut down a tirade of lies and mistruths. It appears that eloquence has no standing in a time of Trumpian outrages and abuse, and I have no idea what it might take to close this box of Pandora’s that he may have irretrievably pried open. I do believe though that part of the way toward gathering the errant demons and slamming the lid back shut on them will lie in a thorough examination of what we call free speech and truth, and whether or not anyone should be allowed to continuously trample upon it without at least some consequences.