I’ve been writing recently about the ways in which I am being radicalized by the collapse of American civilization. I no longer think we need only to undertake a few thoughtful reforms to save the country.
The colossal farce of the Trump impeachment, wherein the most important material witness to the central allegation of the articles of impeachment was not called as a witness; the vast, now almost infinite, disparity between the lives of the superrich, who own most of the wealth of America, and the tens of millions of good and decent people who live paycheck to paycheck and in some cases meal to meal; the ways in which we are impairing the planet’s basic capacity to support life — with the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s lungs and the blinking out of hundreds of species per year so that we can store our nutrition-free soft drinks in use-once-throw-in-the-ocean plastic containers; the myriad ways that America, now the world’s only superpower, ignores the plight of the Kurds, the Syrians, the Palestinians, the Rowandans, while keeping the shipping lanes open for oil tankers and Walmart ships — all this has radicalized me.
We know too much now because of the proliferation of amazing and well-researched books about every troubled zip code of the world. We get to see Australia and California burning in high-definition home theaters. We watch, sometimes in real time, when our drones accidentally explode a wedding party in Afghanistan while trying to assassinate an Islamic jihadist. We have to choose to be ignorant now, to turn away deliberately from the implications and the cost of our way of life because if we actually stared the dark underside of American life in the face, we would have to do something about it, or just give up and shout drill baby drill.
Maybe I have been living with Thomas Jefferson too long, but I find myself gravitating more and more toward his revolutionary doctrines, and less to his dumbwaiters and skylights and library classification systems.
Here’s a local example.
In the last couple of years, a North Dakota rancher and industrial trucker threw up a bridge across the sacred Little Missouri River in McKenzie County, without bothering to get permits from the U.S. government or even the county in which he built the bridge. He just did it, I suppose on the principle that it is easier to ask forgiveness than get permission.
There aren’t many bridges on the Little Missouri River in the fabulous North Dakota Badlands because this is one of the most sparsely populated places in North America and because we should do everything in our power to save North Dakota’s most beautiful and stark landscapes from routine industrialization and extraction. But this very wealthy fellow wanted a bridge to make his life richer and more convenient, so he just had one built, partly on federal property.
When this crime was discovered by my friend, Jim Fuglie, who began his journalistic career as a sports editor and is ending it by writing some of the most important investigative journalism in North Dakota life, federal and state agencies, which were blissfully unaware that a bridge had been thrown up in North Dakota under their noses and they weren’t even aware of it!, wrung their hands and growled and grumbled for a while and then — of course — merely slapped the culprit’s hands and told him that he had done an irresponsible thing. But the bridge remains.
I believe the bridge must be demolished, carefully, and at the rascal’s expense; that he should pay a very large fine, one that bites into the millions he has extracted from the Bakken Oil Boom; and frankly, I believe, that he should go to prison. I’m serious. As President George H.W. Bush said when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait back in 1991, “This must not stand.”
The late Edward Abbey, who invented the phrase “monkey-wrenching,” probably would have advocated blowing up that bridge as a public service. I would not undertake that of course, and I would condemn it if it happened, probably. Though it would be a pretty cool final career move for someone who takes Thomas Jefferson seriously.
It was Jefferson, after all, who said, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical” world. And he wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
My demolition plan wouldn’t shed any blood, unless I managed to hoist myself with my own petard along the banks of the Little Missouri River, which was not unlikely given my fairly limited experience with dangerous explosives. I can see myself enjoying some time in federal prison, actually, as long as it was Club Fed, so long as I was permitted to read all the books that have been piling up in my house over the past 10 years. I would smuggle my manifesto out of prison on little squares of toilet paper, and I’d hereafter be known as that moron who blew up the bridge.
In a few days, I will be going to Cuba with a group of Jefferson Hour listeners. This is my first trip to Cuba. And though I know a fair amount about Theodore Roosevelt and San Juan Hill, about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I have read Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” I don’t really know much about the Cuban Revolution of the late 1950s, except that Fidel Castro managed to drive American policymakers crazy, actually bonkers, and the Kennedys spent years trying to assassinate him, Operation Mongoose, including a scheme to somehow put exploding cigars into his hands. That makes my Little Missouri Bridge scheme look positively rational. It is at least possible that the Kennedys fixation on ridding the world of Fidel Castro blew back Nov. 22, 1963 in Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
I have been reading books on this subject, including an excellent one-volume account of the revolution entitled “Cuba Libre,” by Tony Perrottet. What I have discovered is that Castro and his co-revolutionary, Che Guevara, were much more interesting than I had ever thought. I find myself on Castro’s side. I believe that he was a serious idealist and freedom fighter, particularly at the beginning. He believed that he was acting in the same spirit as the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont, the Son of Liberty, the Minutemen and the worthies of 1776, including Senor Jefferson.
And why, I keep asking, does the United States invariably support corrupt, rapacious, appalling thugs like the Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista? The answer is simple: to protect extractive corporate capitalism of the sort practiced then, and now, by mining companies and United Fruit Company.
I will be visiting Castro and Che sites in Cuba. I have even considered ordering a beret! Don’t get me wrong. I know that Castro was no saint, but the revolution he undertook — against almost impossible odds — was both right and righteous. In addition to which, we drove him into the hands of Khrushchev and the Soviet Union, when his natural affinity was not with Communism at all. And for 71 years, we have done what we can to make sure the Cuban Revolution fails.
Still, given my increasing radicalism, you may never hear from me again, it is either because I have thrown away my silly historical costumes and disappeared into the Sierra Maestra Mountains where the Cuban Revolution began. Call me Clay Guevara. Or perhaps I will be arrested at Miami for smuggling in authentic Cuban cigars.
Only time will tell.