In the vast warehouse of insufferable chestnuts that comprises popular American political wisdom, few are more cloying and useless than “democracy is not a spectator sport.” Not just for its thick-headed, football coach motivation-speech optimism, but because, by point of fact, American democracy has always been a spectator sport. It has always feared the mob, always relied on passivity to get its business done, and – if you’ll indulge another stupid sports metaphor – has always viewed the voting public as an inert crowd watching while the real action happens on the field.
Comparisons between Protomartyr and the Fall are so commonplace they’re almost trite. Almost, but not quite. Joe Casey inhabits a great many of the musico-poetic roles that listeners loved in Mark E. Smith: sarcastic ambivalence that could unexpectedly give way to sincerity, a talent for the vivid grotesque, the aura of a madman carnival barker harnessing the existential circus.
EP Thompson saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the beginning of a new phase in world history. By itself this is not exceptional. Most historians, politicians and commentators, from across the political spectrum, saw the end of the Second World War and the dramatic shift in the geopolitical axis as the dawning of a new era. What set Thompson apart was the name he picked for the logic undergirding this new world: “exterminism.”
California’s fire season is back. It seems to arrive earlier and earlier every year, and becomes fiercer, more destructive, more indifferent to the fact that there are cities and towns in its way. There are currently more than 560 burning throughout the state, most of which have only appeared in the past week or so. Most are concentrated in the north and central parts, but southern California isn’t exactly being spared. A large handful of blazes are scattered throughout Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties. They are smaller, but that is always relative.
When we tear down statues, it is an attempt to alter the trajectory of history. Not history as just “what has happened,” which we can never change as much as reinterpret. No, this is history as a great unfolding, as something that is taking place and will take place on one route or another depending on what is done in this moment. You can hear it in the reactions of the right. In their barely contained apoplexy, their cries of “you can’t erase history,” they are, however unwittingly, announcing that there is consequence to how that history is experienced in the here and now.
Already the air is febrile, anxious, begging to move. It is easy to find the demonstration, with so many walking in the direction of the park. Everyone wears masks. Most wear black, many carry signs: “George Floyd did not deserve to die,” “ACAB,” “Fuck12,” “Defund police,” and, of course, “Black Lives Matter.” A police helicopter hums overhead, the first of at least five we will see over the next few hours.
For the past month we’ve come to grips with this strange yet somehow familiar feeling: history happening without our permission. Of course that’s always been how it is. How many of us have ever truly felt we’ve had definitive control over events? Damn few of us, that’s who. But still, in our schedules, our social engagements, our celebrations and obligations and deadlines, we we’ve always been able to cobble together some sense that things move along. That something called a future is, despite everything, still in store. And with that, something called hope.
There are no doubt plenty who thought that if there was salvation in this moment of time, it will come from the Musks of the world. Elon himself had offered to send thousands of life-saving ventilators off to hospitals in need. This was of course after he had downplayed the threat of coronavirus, calling the panic “dumb” and then saying children are immune. But with the productive capacity of the government hamstrung by Trump, his offer seemed a lifesaver. Then the ventilators arrived. And as it turns out, they aren’t the right kind of ventilator. In fact, according to some medical experts, they may actually speed up the transmission of the virus.
In some ways, it’s surprising that something like this has taken quite so long to happen in this election cycle. Almost a year after Poway, eighteen months after Pittsburgh, two-and-a-half years after Charlottesville. No, a flag can never do as much literal damage as a loaded rifle or a speeding muscle car plowing through a crowd, but to deny that they now exist on a continuum is the kind of vulgar materialism reserved for those who want to wish away just how bad things have gotten.
It was never going to be this easy. They were never, ever, going to let us have it, just throw their hands up and admit defeat. That is not in the emotional or intellectual wheelhouse of those who unjustly have more than the rest of us. For sure the smug sharing of memes of Lucy Parsons and Emma Goldman reminding us that the rich will never let us vote their wealth away are irritating, but they speak to a truth about class warfare in the United States. Namely that it is, indeed, warfare.