A Comparative Nightmare: Cassandra’s Clear-Eyed Lament


Guillermo Calvo Mahé and Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia


Okay, it’s not really Cassandra here, certainly not the Cassandra, late of Troy, very, very, very late; she is long, long gone.  But her echoes linger.  It’s just me sharing my depressing observations on the state of two nations and the state of the world at large.

[Music flows in from somewhere, two middle aged guys surrounded by a bevy of beauties in daisy-dukes, with woebegone expressions on their faces are singing]  ….  “Gloom, despair and agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery, etc., etc., etc. (Roy Clark and Buck Owens, Hee Haw, circa some when in the 1970’s, a less depressing time).

It’s just me here but the gloom is real.

December 8, 2018, the night before the day I started to write these reflections.  In much of the Christian world, that night was a celebration of the ascension of the (purportedly) “Virgin” Mary.  Interestingly, to many non-Christians, that “Virgin” represents a pagan concept, the duality of the divine; both masculine and feminine aspects essential.  Some religious scholars posit that the Christian cult of the Virgin is merely a reactive response to the absence of a meaningful feminine component in the Abrahamic triad of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (see, e.g., Patai, Raphael (1978).  The Hebrew Goddess; Wayne State University Press, Detroit).  In some places, the Republic of Colombia among them, candles are placed in paper bags, lit and posted outside to guide some wise guys to a manger or something.  Conflagrations?  Hmmm, well none that night, at least none that I know of, a miracle of sorts.  That night I listened to echoes from 1825, Franz Schubert introducing his magnificent version of the Ave Maria, perhaps speculating that peace had descended among us at last (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAaJzTWX_Io).  But yesterday was the same as most days, perhaps all days recently.  Evil ascendant, the wealthy wealthier, the poor poorer, injustice and impunity stronger and better defended than ever: in the United States and in Colombia and seemingly everywhere.  As though the conniver, Saul of Tarsus, had actually been right about something and some sort of advent were imminent.

Is there really no hope other than the expectation of a metaphysical miracle we can only prompt by being more and more wicked?

I guess there must be some hope.  After all, we’re still here.  While on a macro level everything seems horrible, on a micro level, on the level of quotidian human interaction, things seem much the same as they’ve always been, the same as when Plato harped on the laziness and sloth of adolescents while philosophy and literature and art and science bloomed in the midst of a purportedly democratic slave-owner dominated society, parents striving desperately to give their progeny better lives while struggling to survive, progeny blissfully unaware of what was happening as adolescence bloomed into the first of a string of true loves; gardeners gardening, farmers farming, hustlers hustling, … you know, the daily stuff, the stuff people consider real not realizing how much other things directly impact them, things they might have a meaningful voice in if only they’d stop to think and to remember how many times in the past they’d been deceived.  But anyway, as we’ve recently discovered and as a senator from Wisconsin once warned during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, it’s all the Russians fault.

Democracy, an interesting concept.

I’ve long taught courses on comparative democracy and democratic theory and found in the complex of concepts sold under that brand name a jumble of contradictions, distortion and propaganda obfuscating fascinating possibilities, nothing more but nothing less; at best hypocritical dysfunction but, …. with possibilities.  Kind of like Pygmalion.  I honestly feel it might work were it ever given a chance but that has never happened despite the propaganda spread in our history books, our civics texts and our constitutions.

That begs the question “why”?  Why it never seems to work.  Especially given how important the answer might be to our survival.

As I awoke on the morning of December 9th, I had a thought.  Certainly not an epiphany given its recurrent nature, but one I thought worth sharing when I started this article on the first day following what the Romans would have called the nones of December. As I have written ab absurdum (whatever that means, it just came out and I decided to leave it there in case it’s a major subconscious breakthrough), at least in the United States the two party system seems to be the fount and spray of the problem.  Perhaps the problem is the concept of political parties itself; they have rarely if ever evolved out of the concept of self-serving factions we were warned about so long ago.  James Madison, as so often occurs when reflecting on the Federalist Papers in hindsight, was wrong again (see Federalist Paper Number 10)Political parties seem to serve only as self-perpetuating, power mad memeplexes.  At least that seems the case in the United States and the Republic of Colombia (the two states to which I owe political allegiance) although I suspect the problem to be very general.  Still, one can’t be an expert on everything everywhere although all too many of us believe that we are, especially academics, politicians and pseudo journalists, so perhaps somewhere, or at least some when, they are not the vile collectives of evil I perceive.

So, … I wake on another day during the incipient civil war that has come to characterize the two countries I call home.  Ergo ipso? Omni (it’s the nones thing, Latin seems to have me in its grasp, albeit poorly).  I am becoming more and more convinced that political parties are utterly inconsistent with functional democracy and the common welfare, especially in a two-party system.  They may work in a multi-party system where polarization in a quest for political dominance at any cost is not the target, where the major media sources are not bought and paid for, where the judiciary is not utterly politicized nor the justice system compromised, but especially in today’s United States’ putrid political context (and Colombia’s), that is obviously not the case.

In a comparative sense it fascinates me (in a morbid way) that tactics of political absurdity are in general, very similar.  In Colombia and the United States they are currently most visibly wielded by opposing political poles, although in the United States that is illusory: both major parties are wedded to the same right-wing, neo-liberal- neoconservative oligarchy.  Democrats are neither liberal nor left-wing, they are merely right wing wolves in left wing sheep’s clothing methodically obstructing real collectivist options like universal healthcare, universal basic income, universal peace, etc., while Republicans actively oppose them. It is the Democrats today who most effectively manage the blend of pure incoherence, deceit, hypocrisy and divisiveness at ultrasonic decibels that have us at each other’s throats, probably having crossed the thin line into treason for fun and profit, while shrilly and incessantly accusing Republicans of being the ones responsible, all under Joe McCarthy’s old banner of the Red Menace.  The real American left has been “left”, as have I, as was Cassandra, crying into the wind, seeing all too clearly the direction we’re heading in but having too few listen, too few to make a difference anyway, hence the title to this piece.

In the Republic of Colombia, things are a bit different, not better, just a bit different.  Of course, Colombia is not technically a bipartite system, there are now many political parties, none of them attaining majority status, but they are currently, through an odd twist of fate, grouped into two clearly discernible camps.  All of the old traditional parties and their newer progeny on one side (many of us call them the alliance of the corrupt as no matter who one has accused of past corruption, they are to be found among their ranks), and their center-left opponents on the other, seeking to unite under one banner, heretofore a futile task.  The political bifurcation is the result of the last presidential election in which all of the old traditional parties and their newer progeny, betraying their own candidates for president, united under a former de facto dictator’s putrid, blood stained banner (the utterly corrupt mass murderer, Alvaro Uribe Velez) to support his pledged marionette-apparent (term limits excluded Mr. Uribe from running), Ivan Duque Marquez.  Through a Clinton-like campaign of deception and dirty tricks, the coalition of the damned managed to pull off a victory, now much to the regret of most Colombians, perhaps especially those who were panicked into voting in their favor by, among others, a deviant Catholic clergy at war with their Pope (Mr. Duque’s popularity ratings are hovering at about twenty-seven percent).  The combined opposition, under the banner of former guerrilla leader turned one of the world’s best mayors and his country’s most successful anticorruption and antiwar legislator, Gustavo Petro, managed to shatter voting records for the left, indeed it secured the second highest popular vote in history.  Unfortunately, the highest total belonged to his opponent.  In Colombia, the Clintonite anti-trump at any costs 24/7 political strategy (Colombia today in some respects reminds me of the feudal Arkansas of many accidents of suicides common in the 1980’s) was and is being used by the right to exclude leftist politicians and civic leaders from finally attaining the power it seemed likely they might win next year[1], first through assassinations and fortuitous suicides, then by ill-concealed legal machinations designed to deny parties and candidates the right to electoral participation, and finally, by massive campaigns of naked calumny and deceit, the old Clinton tactic of accusing your opponents of everything you’ve been accused of, making up for lack of evidence with sheer volume and repetition, and of course, control of the media and abuse of the judiciary.  Tried and proven tactics, the wave of the future assuming the present survives.

Poor Colombia, whenever the United States sneezes it develops pneumonia and now that the United States is infested with cancer, ….?

In the United States for most if not all of my adult life we have been manipulated into voting against people we fear instead of in favor of things in which we believe: the “lesser evil syndrome”.  And as any sane person ought to have been able to predict, we keep getting evil as a result.  Somewhere Albert Einstein, with a heavy Yiddish – German accent whispers, commenting on our political insanity,… “I told you so”.  From a dank, grimy corner, fetid with garbage, a response, … “but this time it really is true, this electoral cycle the stakes are climactic …”  And too many of us keep listening as billionaire Nancy Pelosi, purported champion of the poor, once again becomes Speaker of the House.  In Colombia the same is true as the most corrupt retain their control over the myriad of constitutional institutions purportedly designed to minimize, … well, … corruption, but which instead magnify and focus it.

An image arises in my brain after I become bored of listening for the Sounds of Silence, a somewhat apocalyptic image:

“Insanity rules, its maddened ill-paired stallions and mares driving pell-mell towards doom”.

…. Oh well, another day another dollar.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé and Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia; Manizales, 2018; 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 guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.  Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia is a Colombian social communicator and journalist who collaborates with Dr. Calvo on diverse civic, social and political projects.

[1] See, e.g., “Los demonios andan sueltos”, an article by Professor Héctor Alonso Moreno in Semanario Virtual Caja de Herramientas, Edición N° 00617 – Semana del 7 al 14 de diciembre de 2018, a publication of the Corporación Viva la Ciudadanía, Bogota.

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