“Who/whom,” or “Who does what to whom?” ~ The central question of politics, according to Vladimir Lenin.
A nineteenth century pundit wearily observed that British political parties behaved like competing carriage drivers, energetically splattering each other with mud while frantically pursuing the same course to the same destination.
An unknown Russian long ago devised the now-familiar joke in which a bright college student, drowning in impenetrable ideological cant, asks the smug Party hack posing as a professor to explain, in easily understood terms, the material difference between capitalism and socialism.
“Oh, that’s easy to explain,” replied the professor, his face twisted into a triumphant smirk. “Capitalism is based on the exploitation of man by man; socialism works exactly in the reverse!”
Granted, the latter gibe ignores or misrepresents the ideal of free market capitalism. But it is part of a large and ancient literature of wisdom — much of it encoded in humor — regarding the myriad ways that embittered enemies who supposedly represent diametrically opposed principles can wind up mimicking each other even as they seek to annihilate each other.
A suitable, if simplistic, depiction of this tendency is found in the classic Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” a Civil Rights allegory from the series’ notoriously uneven third and final season.
The story, which is told with an unusually clumsy narrative touch, has the crew of the Starship Enterprise, en route to aid the victims of a planetary ecological disaster, intercepting a fugitive named Lokai, who had commandeered a Federation shuttlecraft. Lokai is given medical care and taken into custody as a suspected hijacker. Although nobody comments about the matter, Lokai’s skin is black on one side and white on the other.
Subtlety wasn’t this story’s strong suit: Frank Gorshin (left) steps out of his Riddler costume to play an even campier role in an even more embarrassing outfit in one of Star Trek’s more heavy-handed theme episodes.
Shortly thereafter, the Enterprise encounters a second ship, which — owing to a depleted production budget — is said to be “invisible.”
That remarkable craft carries personage nearly identical to Lokai, who identifies himself as “Commissioner Bele” from Charon (a mythical planet found in “the southernmost part of the galaxy,” nudge-nudge wink-wink, not the then-undiscovered moon of Pluto). Bele demands that Captain Kirk surrender Lokai into his custody, claiming that the fellow Charon native is a terrorist, seditionist, and mass murderer whom he had pursued for centuries.
At one point Bele surprises Kirk and Spock by referring to Lokai as the obvious product of a “lesser breed.” Nonplussed, Kirk points out that Bele and Lokai are obviously members of the same race. This prompts an offended and incredulous Bele to elaborate: He and his people are black on the right side; Lokai and his followers are all black on the left side, and thus inferior. This supposedly critical difference provoked a conflict that was literally millennia old.
Bele demands that Lokai be turned over to him for trial and execution. Lokai demands that the Enterprise crew rally to his defense and kill Bele. Kirk and his colleagues, who have better things to worry about, can’t wait to be rid of both of them. But the particulars of the plot don’t matter much here. Suffice it to say that Bele, whose request for custody is turned down (there’s the matter of the stolen shuttlecraft to deal with), eventually hijacks the Enterprise and sends it to Charon, where he believes he will at long last be able to bring Lokai to justice.
Upon the ship’s arrival it is learned that the inhabitants of the planet had long since exterminated each other. Rather than extinguishing Bele and Lokai’s murderous mutual hatred, this revelation prompts them to flee the ship and return to their dark and lifeless home world to finish their struggle.
Unbearably campy today, this episode must have had some resonance when it was first broadcast in 1968: The description of the burned, ruined cities littering the surface of Charon would carry some emotional weight during a year that saw flames erupting in riot-torn American cities.
But when the unwieldy racial metaphor is dropped, the story actually works as an allegory for any supposedly irreconcilable conflict in which hate-motivated factions seek to exterminate each other over differences only they can discern.
Recently in this space I described how the “progressive” and “conservative” factions in our political system are working, in dialectical symbiosis, to build a totalitarian Homeland Security State, each of them foolishly assuming that the apparatus of regimentation and coercion would be used to punish the other. There is a desperate need, I wrote, for people of all political persuasions “to decide that they love liberty more than they despise their political enemies….”
At the very least, people have to be willing to repudiate the operational principle of mass politics since Lenin, the idea that the fundamental question of politics is “Who does what to whom.”
Well, as a friend of mine might put it, that’s a whole lot of “Ain’t-gonna-happen.”
In the same week that one of the Establishment’s dying newsweeklies giddily proclaimed that “We Are All Socialists Now,” Rush Limbaugh, speaking on behalf of the conservative movement he now leads, effectively admitted that “We’re all Leninists now.”
Lenin wedded the exterminationist principle kto kogo (“who/whom”) to the totalitarian formula for a “scientific dictatorship,” which he defined as “Power without limit, resting directly on force.”
During the Bush era, conservatism was reduced to nothing more than a set of rationales for the centralization of unlimited power in the executive branch. I had long wondered how conservatives would react when that power was transferred to someone who is not of their tribe: Would they cynically re-discover the dangers of executive tyranny, or would they simply entrench themselves and wait until they were restored to power, confident that they could use it to avenge themselves on their enemies?
In a protracted rant delivered to his audience yesterday (February 11), Limbaugh made it clear that he was choosing the latter option.
“We lost the election,” conceded the self-worshiping* radio blatherskite who now serves as the de facto head of the Republican Party. “But they’re going to lose down the road. They will not control government forever, and when our turn comes, we are going to turn the power of government against the left…. We’re going to build and use the big government that they have built and turn it right against them. We are gonna turn the power of government against the left, and against Democrats in ways they cannot imagine…. We are going to use the power that the left is centralizing in the federal government to punish them, to break ‘em up, and to make them pay for this…. It’s time they got a taste of their own medicine, and it’s going to happen folks, because they’re not going to hold power forever.”
Addressing those on the Left, Limbaugh warned that they are “creating a monster that you will not be able to control forever…. We are taking names. We are taking names now. We are monitoring who on the Left is going to deserve payback, and it’s going to be hell. This much I promise you.”
“If [those on the Left] are going to bastardize the American system, if they are going to make this government large and powerful and intrusive, someday they’re going to lose it,” continued the founder and president of the Flatulence in Broadcasting Network. “But they are going to lose it after having amassed all this power. We will control it…. We’re going to use the power of government just like the Left is using the power of government…. It’s going to be a bigger, more powerful, stronger government — and we’re going to turn it against the Left in ways they could never have imagined.”
Unlike his lemur-browed, synapse-deprived imitator Sean Hannity, Limbaugh is intelligent enough to know that the Democrats inherited a central government that had been gorged on power during the eight years of Bush the Dimmer’s reign. The fact that the final consequential act of the Bush Regime was to create an economic dictatorship headed by the Treasury Secretary has not evaded Limbaugh’s notice. The creation of a huge apparatus of regimentation, surveillance, and detention under Bush took place with the active support of Limbaugh and his ilk. So he is lying when he imputes sole responsibility for all of this to the Democrats.
But rather than urging that this edifice of tyranny be demolished, Limbaugh counsels his followers to be patient in the expectation that they will soon occupy its commanding heights, from which they can proceed with the extermination of their political enemies.
During the eight years of Bush the Destroyer’s rule, the bully-boy Right consistently condemned the Left not for embracing the State, but for impeding the growth of the State when it was under Republican control.
Every expression of skepticism about the Regime’s foreign wars or the expansion of its power at home was treated as a form of sedition. (The mush-mouthed cretin Michael Reagan, a third-tier pseudo-Limbaugh, actually called for critics of the Iraq War to be taken out and shot.) Perhaps the one good thing about Limbaugh’s revanchist rant was the fact that he’s now dropped the pretense of believing in limited government.
As luck or something else would have it, Limbaugh chose to unbosom himself of his exterminationist sentiments on the same day that James Adkisson was sentenced to life in prison for his murderous shooting rampage at a Knoxville, Tennessee Unitarian Universalist Church last July 27. Adkisson, a 58-year-old unemployed veteran, wrote a four-page manifesto prior to the assault describing the shooting as an act of politically motivated suicide terrorism: He wanted to conduct a “symbolic killing” of people he held responsible for support in the “damn left-wing liberals” in the media, government, and the Democratic Party leadership.
“I’m absolutely fed up,” wrote Adkisson. “So I thought I’d do something good for this country [ — ] kill Democrats til the cops kill me….. Liberals are a pest like termites. Millions of them. Each little bite contributes to the downfall of this great nation. The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I’d like to encourage other like-minded people to do what I’ve done. If life ain’t worth living anymore, don’t just kill yourself [;] do something for your country before you go. Go kill liberals.”
“Someone had to get the ball rolling,” Adkisson insisted. “I volunteered. I hope others do the same, it’s the only way we can rid America of this cancer, this pestilence.”
The two most urgent complaints against liberals listed by Adkisson were that they were “tying our hands in the war on terror” and opposing the war in Iraq — that is to say, that they were impeding the exercise of government power, not that they were abetting its growth. His home library included screeds written by (or at least on behalf of) Sean Hannity, Michael Weiner (aka Savage), and Bill O’Reilly, all of whom spent the years 2001—2009 promoting the Regime’s foreign wars and domestic crimes, and execrating those who opposed the onslaught.
Adkisson appears to be the incarnation of what Lew Rockwell calls “Red State Fascism” — an aggressive strain of embittered, totalitarian nationalism that has infected the Republican-aligned conservative movement.
His ideological derangement propelled him to carry a shotgun into the sanctuary of a church, where he unloaded on congregants as they watched a children’s play. He managed to murder two people and wound six others before he was disarmed and subdued by three unarmed men who acted with courage and composure that command the respect of those of us who do not share their political and theological views.
Left-leaning blogger Sara Robinson makes a compelling point when she describes Adkisson’s crime as “exactly the kind of rancid fruit that would inevitably take root in an American countryside thickly composted with two decades of hate radio bulls**t, freshly turned and watered with growing middle-class frustration over the failing economy.” She is likewise on firm footing in predicting that other acts of theatrical political violence by people of Adkisson’s ilk are likely to follow.
But then, as it always does, the polarity of this conflict shifts, with self-described liberals dropping pregnant hints about government action to reclaim the “public airwaves” from the Right Wing and issuing dark warnings about prosecuting their political rivals for expressing opinions that incite others to violence.
Neither side seeks to de-fang the “monster” described by Limbaugh; each seeks to be its master and use it to destroy the other. Bele and Lokai swap roles, with the prey becoming the predator, and the conflict continues — a self-sustaining cycle of mutually reinforcing hatred that will eventually be consummated in mass bloodshed.
Bele was black on his right, Lokai on his left. The Democrats are the party of the welfare/warfare state; the Republicans, on the other hand, are the party of the warfare/welfare state. And both of them are tools of an entrenched Power Elite that is delighted to cultivate the collectivist hatreds from which totalitarianism is sprouting even now.
*Limbaugh is currently unmarried and, by choice, has no children. (On several occasions he’s made it clear that he never had any desire for children.) The very first thing one sees in his living room, according to this account, is a “life-size oil portrait of El Rushbo, as he often calls himself….” What kind of person chooses such a work of art as the centerpiece of a home he shares with nobody else?