Oh, how Gore Vidal is missed.
Perhaps the United States‘ only true 20th century renaissance man, Vidal’s intellect was boundless, informed by his prodigious reading, writing and intimate understanding of history, philosophy, and ancient civilisations – among so many other unfashionable disciplines these days.
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A writer of such singular breadth, nuance and virtuosity, Vidal never shied away from using his pen as a tool to first expose, then eviscerate the one-party oligarchy and surveillance state the US had long ago become and the propagandists who populate it.
Of course, I couldn’t help but think of what Vidal would have made of the absurd spectacle of 20 Democrats “debating” in 60-second soundbites over two nights on television last week – all vying to establish their bona fides to lead an imperial nation, rather than a mythic republic.
Vidal’s acidic verdict would, necessarily, have been the first and lasting word on the cockeyed proceedings. If anyone should doubt this, they need only recall what an older, but still dynamic Vidal said instantly after watching Barack Obama’s victory speech delivered in Chicago on November 4, 2008.
“I would like to think of him as completely virtuous. I suspect he is not. Why do I suspect that? Because I know how politics works,” Vidal said, while other “liberals” were swooning. “It was not his jib that got them. Americans are farcical when faced with force majeure and money. Two things that they worship. You can’t expect a democracy from a society like this.”
And so, a sliver of the “farcical” pantomime of American “democracy” was, once again, on display where a potpourri of candidates – most of whom, save Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Jay Inslee, share the same centrist credentials – jostled like jockeys down the homestretch for a jolt of attention and the campaign-sustaining dollars that inevitably flow from it.
The familiar, de rigueur, quality of the “debates” was confirmed, in part, by the largely ephemeral questions posed by the five wealthy, celebrity journalists (Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Jose Diaz-Balart) and the often predictably trite, well-rehearsed, Jeopardy-quick answers that followed.
The studio audience – presumably the voters who would help choose the eventual nominee if the backroom fixers at the Democratic National Committee would actually permit them to – were reduced, as always, to bursts of sophomoric cheerleading.
The real judges were the privileged super-delegates and the same roster of palatable establishment pundits who, as always, employed their customary, performance-focused calculus to determine the rapid-fire debates’ “winner”: Who scored a decisive blow? Who impressed? Who faltered?
Apparently, the prevailing consensus among the aforementioned pundits is that Senator Kamala Harris – by virtue of one short, sharp exchange about bussing and segregation with former Vice-President Joe Biden – emerged with the requisite “force majeure” to become president.
On cue, the big money moved in her direction. Reportedly, a former executive with the world’s fourth-largest bank, Wells Fargo, hosted an invitation-only fundraiser for Harris days after the “debate”.
Ever prescient, Vidal once famously called his homeland: “The United States of Amnesia.” Harris proved his point by agreeing to be feted by a banking heavyweight who used to be employed by an institution she had prosecuted repeatedly.
In 2012, as California’s attorney general, Harris, other state attorneys general and the Obama administration reached a $25bn settlement with several banks, including Well Fargo, mortgage malpractices which had triggered the recession in 2008. Unsurprisingly, not one bank executive involved in the foreclosure fraud was sent to jail.
Still, I believe Vidal would have agreed that, despite his cogent pessimism about the United States of Amnesia, Donald Trump must be defeated in 2020 and decisively if the republic he wrote about so eloquently and defended so intelligently is to have any conceivable chance of being repaired.
“There’s a lot of repair work that we’re going to need if we get the republic back. That’s the big question,” Vidal said several years before Trump’s ascendency to the presidency.
By any measure, the sham debates we have just witnessed and the others to come don’t constitute the imperative repair work Vidal alluded to. He understood that profound responsibility lay not with politicians coronated by institutional vested interests – commercial or political – but with Americans, stirred, if possible, to do the just and right thing when urgent times demand it.
“All along, I think the most useful and creative people in the United States from the very beginning, is the men who have said no. And many men have begun to say no again. And when the chorus gets loud enough, the people march,” a young Vidal told an interviewer about the mass demonstrations during the 1960s.
His words were true and prophetic. Had Vidal uttered them today he would, no doubt, have amended his statement by adding “women” – a staunch defender of feminism that he was.
Vidal understood the transformative power of no. Ironically, Obama won election chanting the amorphous slogan: Yes, we can.
Ultimately, Trump will lose in 2020 if enough Americans, in enough states, listen beyond the scripted, manufactured-for-TV debates, to Gore Vidal’s timeless admonition: No.
No, we won’t tolerate any longer a vulgar illiterate as president.
No, we won’t abide a racist president who praises other racists.
No, we won’t accept as president a cruel, pathological liar who has demonstrated time and again that he is allergic to truth and decency.
No, we won’t brook the endemic and systemic corruption that is synonymous with this president and his ethically diseased administration.
No, we won’t allow this president and his loyal acolytes to continue to desecrate the constitution to shield themselves from sanction.
No, we won’t permit this president to deny every American the inalienable right to live a life as they want to and to dictate who has agency over their bodies.
No, we won’t build walls.
No, we won’t cage children.
No, we won’t let any more fathers and daughters drown in their search for hope and asylum.
No, we won’t countenance four more years of Donald Trump as president.
Unless enough Americans, in enough states, join the “No, we won’t” chorus, Trump will likely win again. It won’t matter who the Democratic nominee is or what she or he says in a debate today or tomorrow.
The 2020 election will be decided on that simple, but poignant proposition: “No, we won’t.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.