Driving Home


Driving down the main street downtown the other day, the first warm and sunny day after a long run of very cold and very gray ones, I pulled up to a light behind a pickup truck and saw a smaller version of this sticker in the same spot on its rear windshield. And the light changed and I swore like a goddamn sailor, hung on his bumper like an idiot for a block, and then came back to whatever of my senses I still have left and took an early left turn to go home.

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So it’s clear I wasn’t in the mood to see something like this this week. (And if you aren’t familiar, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you: this should do it.) By this week, the failure of the efforts of the GOP to overturn the results of the presidential election through their mobilization of an armed and intentionally lied-to mob–cheered on by the immensely dishonest and irresponsible junior senator from my state–was feeling less and less encouraging. The Senate didn’t convict, the lies continue, and state houses seem emboldened, pushing the worse, most blatantly racist kind of vote-suppressing legislation (along with a raft of other awful legislation on everything from guns to school vouchers to reproductive care).

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For many people, including me, one of the more difficult things to deal with about what happened January 6 and what’s been happening since is how much it drives home the hard fact that it’s not just Trump & Co. As we watched participants in the attack on the Capitol be identified and arrested, we saw that many of them didn’t seem to be fringe extremists, long-bearded survivalists with massive personal armories and militia t shirts. They were retired policemen. They worked regular jobs. They filmed themselves storming up the steps of the Capitol selling their services in real estate. Some of them were state legislators who were totally cool with being seen attacking their own nation’s capitol. One from my state missed his own swearing-in so he could be there.

It’s tempting to blame this all on the decades of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh (who’s gone, but whose giant malevolent head still sits in my state capitol) and other people telling them that it’s okay to say the racist part out loud now, and to say that the toxic Steves, Miller and Bannon (apologies to any Steves I might be forgetting) are just capitalizing on their work. But one very obvious but sometimes forgotten thing the demoralizing aftermath of January 6 should remind us of is that it goes way farther back than Limbaugh leaving sports radio and Murdoch wanting to trash yet another country’s public square.

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Limbaugh, bust
From Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson

I gave a talk the other night through my local library on the subject of viewing the history of Missouri through the work of its writers and in relation to the history of the country. I’m teaching a course on it now, so I’m thinking more than I would ever have imagined I would about these histories, and it is some fucked-up, sobering shit. It’s not anything whose broad outlines you don’t already know, but talking for almost an hour about novels and poems that tell stories about the things people have had to put up with because other people want what they’ve got, or don’t want to let them get anything, or are afraid they’re going to take what they already have, or just want their labor for nothing, and feel morally and even divinely sanctioned to act accordingly–it really drives it home.

It’s been like this here since the people who weren’t from here came here. The state legislators trying to keep this history from being taught in the schools don’t want to hear it and don’t want anybody else to say it, and of course it makes complete sense: it’s only a historical hop, skip, and jump from the first slavers to Limbaugh, to the guy who brought the confederate flag into the Capitol not very many weeks ago, to the guy who decided he would put that sticker on his truck. To the state rep who wants tax dollars to pay for some kids’ private schools so they don’t have to go to school with certain other peoples’ kids. To the US Senator who is happy to claw his way to the top on the backs of those other people and with a boost from the people who are happy to see them stepped on, somehow never noticing that his foot’s on their backs too.

I’ve got nothing good to say about all of this. I’m just constantly trying to keep myself from swearing about it.