I’m reading an early George R. R. Martin (you know, the Game of Thrones guy) novel, The Armageddon Rag written in 1982. I’m only on page 88 of 363 in the Gollancz 2013 edition, evidently part of the Orion Publishing Group. Probably an afterthought publication in light of Mr. Martin’s recent phenomenal successes. I’ve read and very much enjoyed all the Game of Thrones novels to date including prequels and related stories, still though wondering how the television series, which I refuse to watch, got so far ahead of the novels. Amazingly, The Armageddon Rag seems incredibly more relevant and more worthwhile than its much more successful literary descendants, to today’s totally screwed up world. I’m at a stage in the novel where the protagonist is flashing back to the Democratic Party’s 1968 presidential nominating convention, one I lived through as a very recent college graduate, albeit at a distance, and it’s impacted me like a Mohamed Ali knockout punch from the mid 1960’s. As Yogi Berra once said, it feels like déjà vu all over again.
In 1968 I’d been a volunteer in Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign which by the time of the Democratic National Convention had become irrelevant (due to his assassination), at least irrelevant to the happy Humphrey delegates, and I recall so many of us who had worked in the Kennedy and McCarthy campaigns swearing, as Chicago devolved into the Democratic Party led violent reaction to peaceful protest, that we would never forgive the Democrats for the horrors they pounded into so many of our young peers. But here we are today, after the 1968 redux-lite that was Hillary Clinton’s convention (not, of course, the Democratic Party’s, she’d bought the election from then President Obama and the DNC leadership in exchange for paying off their debts, as we only recently found out), falling for the same old Pablum, OK, soy-yogurt-blends now.
The 1968 riots were not repeated in 2016. Demonstrators were excluded and herded and erased, their leaders selling them for somewhat more than thirty pieces of silver. What a difference a tame and wholly owned mainstream media makes. And carefully planned substitution too. Instead of angry real protesters following the Clintons electoral larceny, instead of real anti-war protesters and real human rights protesters, we had Pussy-Hatted Clinton girls led by a former Goldwater girl claiming everything was the Russians’ fault, now busily attacking sexual exploitation by anyone not affiliated with Democratic Party politicians; crowds of faux “liberals” engaging in faux protests, mocking the memories of 1968 with placid parodies. And with some success, especially in organizing violent young revolutionary wannabes.
The mainstream media is probably the most important difference between 1968 and now. It was politicized then but naïve and somewhat independent. Today it is comprised of a march-in-step zombie army sticking to carefully orchestrated scripts written to make us feel as though we were those young Chicago idealists who thought we could change the world while in fact, serving the very calcified interests of those who own it. Art, of course, is no longer really all that politically relevant, way too much of it has been coopted by the Hollywood culture, a mechanism designed to mould us into adherents of American exceptionalism and Identity Politics, safely divided into myriad groupings at each other’s throats, too outraged over relative trivialities to work on real solutions to real issues. Where are Simon and Garfunkel when we need them? Probably still looking to see where Joe DiMaggio went.
The bad guys won in Chicago in 1968 stealing the nomination for LBJ’s protégée, the “Happy Warrior” but then losing to the brilliant but flawed Richard Nixon that November; they won again in Philadelphia in 2016, too afraid to reconvene in Chicago perhaps, stealing the election in a much more straightforward fashion for the insane dowager from New York via Washington, DC, via Arkansas and originally from Illinois, only to again lose in November to another flawed Republican candidate, like Mr. Nixon, hated by his own party almost as much as by the Democrats, but as in Mr. Nixon’s case, viewed quite a bit more favorably by the electorate. In the first case the duopoly rid itself of the uncontrollable president. Imagine, détente with the Soviet Union and China for Heaven’s sake. And it is now, almost a half century later, engaged in an attempted “remake”. Imagine, seeking to collaborate with Russia and China, as if American presidents had learned nothing in the interim.
Things don’t seem to change all that much, at least not for the better, the best obviously being utterly beyond reach. I wonder what Mr. Martin thinks of this, assuming he does. He is now so popular and making so much money on fantasies that perhaps he’s forgotten the young George R. R. Martin who so vividly portrayed those terribly dark days in 1968 when idealists foreswore the Democratic Party, at least in their dreams, at least for a little while, at least until faux Kennedies named Clinton created a red neck version of a faux Camelot and gave us the all too real War on Terror, the War on the Poor, the War on Blacks, the War on Welfare, the War on Immigrants, deftly convincing each of those constituencies that they were their friends. No wonder Mr. Martin turned to fantasy, it seems so much more real.
So, … going on half a century after Black Chicago, way too many people who one would hope had more sense, more grace, more real ideals, are now part of the Pussy-Hat brigades, sure that change from within is the answer rather than throwing out the garbage and starting anew.
Spiro Agnew would have loved them.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.