Interview With a Republican


As the rush and buzz of information accelerates, generating tons of greenhouse gases (and new cases of cancer, and Information Fatigue Syndrome), by the hour, it’s easy to forget yesterday’s news, much less last week’s. As such, memories of John McCain’s recent death have probably already been buried under mountains of virtual garbage.

For those who no longer recall, the late anti-abortion warmonger’s triumphal procession to the great beyond elicited a profusion of pablum and palaver, along with some well thought through reflections. Among neither the former nor the latter was my satirical contribution (John McCain’s Dying Declaration). As it turned out, however, quite a few people missed the joke. I’d need nearly three hands to count all the emails I received asking for clarification. Was this real? I was asked. Did McCain really write that? An Australian publication, unfamiliar with McCain’s disdain for non-violence, even attributed the letter, replete with its references to Tolstoy and its plea for a communistic society, to McCain himself. But what can one do about such misunderstandings?

As it turns out, one can do quite a bit – especially if one has a ouija board. That’s right, I decided to contact McCain’s spirit. And though I didn’t expect to get much more than a terse response, some little comment, I ended up with so much more.

Now, despite Mike Pence and other religious zealots’ opinion that the ouija board is a satanic instrument, as Nancy and Ronald “Dutch” (pronounced douche) Reagan fully understood, they are extremely effective tools for examining the deeper recesses of the political imaginary. And so I went to work.

After several hours, however, I was unable to contact John McCain. Maybe his soul’s still in transit, or being processed, I thought. Or perhaps he’s a refugee in the realm of souls. Who knows, he might have even “horse-shoed” right back into a body. (Or his spirit might be too small.) Try as I might, I just couldn’t contact him. Fortuitously, though, I managed to contact the spirit of an even more illustrious Republican politician: Abraham Lincoln.

Now, the great beyond is a perplexing place, to say the least; and the ouija board (much like the tarot) manages to irrupt one’s intentions into the spirit realm. Consequently, because I was contacting McCain to ask for a comment on the satirical dying declaration I wrote in his name, Lincoln knew of it, too – and, to my surprise, he was eager to discuss it. So, for your edification, here is a transcript (edited for clarity) of our discussion.

TRANSCRIPT

ES: Sir, it is truly an honor.

AL: Thank you, I enjoyed the satire. I’d overlooked that one upon its initial publication. But I must confess that I pay less attention to the papers than I once did.

ES: How, may I ask, do you access the internet where you are?

AL: The internet? Yes, it is all – We are all – part of the spectrum. Specters on the spectrum, if you will.

ES: The spectrum?

AL: The electro-magnetic spectrum. Why, as energy, the internet is but an extension of the realm of the spirit – part of the land of the dead. Or haven’t you noticed the zombification of the nation? Well, perhaps that overstates it somewhat. But it’s certainly more dead than Alice.

ES: Alice?

AL: Alive. More dead than alive.

ES: So, what was it about the satire that you liked most?

AL: It was brief. I liked that. And the description of the colleges. You know, during our great civil war I thought about the very same thing. I even had a plan. I was going to order my generals to burn every plantation to the ground. And we would build new towns there, autonomous, albeit interconnected, communities, just as you described in your satire. We had plans for federal railroad lines connecting them all to production and distribution centers throughout the South, and in the North and out west as well. It was my delayed response to the shortcomings of Clay’s American System, which I had at one time admired considerably. That I failed to pursue that program has been one of my chief regrets. And, in wrestling with the question of liberty and emancipation, I frequently return to the idea. In fact, I like to think that, if my political career had not been cut short, I would have vigorously pursued that course. I had, I confess, many old-fashioned views then. Ideas I am ashamed of at present – concerning Black people, and native people and women – that I accepted without proper scrutiny. In any case, we play the hand the dealer deals. And what kind of deal do we obtain? A fair one? A square one? And isn’t the dealer in a government of, by, and for the people, not just some of the people? At any rate, the railroads would have certainly linked these towns into a viable federation of self-sufficient colleges – communal colleges – communes – nodes of radically democratic self-governance. And, as Marx observed – he wrote me, you know, and so I have read him – it is the commune that is the negation of the state. But how is such a deal to be arranged when the deck is so stacked against democratic distributions?

ES: I’m surprised to hear this, since you’re legacy is the union.

AL: Well, these are not entirely at odds. And I was, of course, motivated by notions of justice as well. But, to be quite honest, it was all so long ago. And I have read so many studies and biographies of myself and the times since then that I really can’t recall just what I was thinking with any precision. I will say, although I am proud for having played such a part in terminating as abhorrent a system as slavery, I deeply regret not effectuating a more salutary resolution of the matter. For it is still unresolved. And it may require another civil war to uproot the system of domination that sprung from its uncauterized wound, so to speak. That is another reason why I particularly esteem the college idea. It would allow for polluting industries and relations of domination, along with so many other violent mechanisms, to be designed out of society. So much unnecessary work would be eliminated, as well, since people’s basic needs would be met through the communal college system. This would enable us to shut off the engines of production and global warming, as well as reducing poverty and the violence of the state.

ES: Your ideas are, frankly, surprising, not to mention very different from those of the current Republican Party. How do you feel about the development of the party you played such a role in advancing?

AL: Oh it is enormously different now. One can’t really compare. And remember, I am a creature of the political left. True, my cause was the preservation of the union foremost, and that was a conservative position; but do not forget, I was conserving the principles of the American Revolution foremost: equality, and freedom. I was always consistent about that. And, by the end, I was a champion of radical emancipation. Now, emancipation did not work sufficiently, because we went not far enough.

We failed to emancipate ourselves from erroneous ways of thinking, and from systems of domination and exploitation generally. The market, for instance, which is nothing if not an exploiter of labor and resources, has only grown more powerful. And, of course, the market is where everything has a price. That is, within the market nothing is free. In other words, it is only beyond the market that we can be free, that we can be truly emancipated. Yet people have been taught to believe that we need unceasing economic growth: another thing we failed to emancipate ourselves from – this delusion. What is needed is in fact the opposite of growth. We need de-growth. We need ease. For what is health? What is the first rule of health? As we have recognized since Hippocrates, it is to do no harm. It is to rest, to take it easy. Ease, you see, is the opposite of disease. And that is health; not the instrumental health involved in running constantly about, and worrying, and oppressing others, which is a species of labor – from the Latin word labor, which meant toil and illness.

Yet we failed to emancipate ourselves from this benighted worship of work as an end unto itself. But since we also failed to emancipate ourselves from relations of domination and exploitation generally, this delusion still holds water. Beyond the failures of emancipation, however, and the failures of Reconstruction, as the country industrialized there came into being wholly new and unprecedented stricture structures.

ES: Stricture structures?

[pause]

Hello?

[End of Transcript]

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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