“War” & the “Empire”

There’s a Jonatha Brooke song, about 22 years old, written after the first Gulf War. Lately, the lyrics keep floating back to me.
“Every morning I get up and I watch the war, watch the war
And every morning it upstages all my favorite shows
‘Donahue,’ ‘Hogan’s Heroes.'” (Jonatha Brooke, “War”)

The husband’s taken to calling CNN his “soap opera” that he tends to catch up on if he comes home for lunch, or get the highlights over dinner. It’s preempted all his favorite shows, though none of them were ‘Donahue.’ I know there are some who prefer to watch FoxNews all day, because it better normalizes all the things that are so not normal right now. Maybe it’s comforting to think all this is normal. Maybe it was just their favorite show before.

“It’s the American way, the new world order
We hold these truths to be self-evident
In the American day, you must give and I shall take
And I will tell you what is moral and what’s just.” (Jonatha Brooke, “War”)

There in lies the problem I think with much of the coverage of this spectacle. Each group is allowed to have their own “truths,” ignoring basic definitions, legalities, the parts of the constitution beyond their favorite bits.

“Well, there’s no time for doubt right now
And less time to explain.
So get back on your horses,
Kiss my ring, join our next campaign.” (Dar Williams, “Empire”*)

To live in “interesting times,” is as much a curse as anything. Watching this “show” unfold is harrowing because more than fictional lives are at stake. To see the right, especially the religious right, championing discrimination and restrictions for followers of other versions of “God” while employing doublespeak to shield their actions, while denouncing the same propaganda when it happens in the name of another God, is disheartening at best, but better described as terrifying.

“And we’ll kill the terror who rises
And a million of their races.
But when our people torture you
That’s a few random cases.” (Dar Williams, “Empire”)

Thing is, words matter. When words are weaponized, divorced from their original meanings, and thrown haphazardly into sentences and paragraphs without care, they are dangerous things. When the media calls “racism,” “sexism,” and “toxic masculinity,” “cultural anxiety” as though it’s a medical condition curable with a pill or a few sessions with a therapist, it negates the harm done by those wielding it. When the right says their inability to deny people pills and procedures they don’t like (or understand) infringes on their own rights, they are disingenuous at best. Words should matter, and I fear they don’t anymore. At least, they don’t to half the population.

“Some would say that we forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish.
Words are just words.
Don’t be so pessimistic, weak and girlish.” (Dar Williams, “Empire”)

Of course the media is often complicit. They need ratings and subscribers, all of them. But without supporting honest journalism – in words and deeds – our slide into dystopian dictatorship gets greased. Facts should matter more than empty nationalism. Patriotism should include questioning of actions, of legislation, that could crumble the republic.

“But the journalist cried out
When it was too late to stop us.
Everyone had awakened
To the dream they could enter our colossus.” (Dar Williams, “Empire”)

False patriotism and a nationalistic view of patriotism, an “us” vs “them” mentality coupled with the toxic/rigid masculinity, racism, sexism, and lack of exposure and empathy huddled, hidden, under the umbrella of “cultural anxiety” is fed by nationalists, populists, white supremacists, the religious right, the men’s rights activists, and others with anti-“other” agendas. Their propaganda targets the mentally vulnerable who rely on their national and religious identity to feel connected and twists those connections to their own will. The “illegal voter” narrative is a clear aspect of this, encouraging the “culturally anxious” to see non-white voters — especially those who became naturalized citizens — and even female voters as illegitimate.

“Every morning I get up and I raise the flag
Salute the monument of those who gave their lives
And I guess war’s ok, it’s just a little inconvenient
But it’s better than a video-game, it’s better than the movies.” (Jonatha Brooke, “War”)

Among those actions threatening the republic is the safety and well-being of the citizens. Was the ACA perfect? No. It still gave too much power and authority to the insurance companies, which used that limited weight (especially in states where Republican leaders refused additional federal subsidies) to make sure as many people as possible felt its problems in their wallets. That wasn’t a natural economic response. That was calculated by CEOs who walked away with millions in salary and benefits at the same time they whined to every broadcast that would listen about lower profits and struggles to maintain their current stock prices. Still, not enough people were financially injured by a bill that protected millions more from becoming bankrupt after an illness or accident. The AHCA promises insurance companies a return to their prior thievery while promising those so sold on the racism and anti-government messages of the GOP that they’ll be granted some utopian paradise while in reality they will go back to dying destitute. Of course, if you can convince those same people their lack of coverage is due to a personal, moral, failing so they die secure in the knowledge that it was their god’s will, that they must have done wrong to be so poor and so sick, you create a people who will still defend to the death their right to be executed at will or whim.

“We like strong, happy people
Who don’t think there’s something wrong with pride,
Work makes them free
And we spread that freedom far and wide.” (Dar Williams, “Empire”)

Then again, if they aren’t dying off fast enough from measles and mesothelioma, another war is faster. Few things get one to war faster than lying and bad diplomacy, especially when dealing with corrupt or unfriendly foreign powers. Perhaps starting a tariff war with one ally, being rude to another in phone calls, not shaking the hand of an important leader, and never calling the new leader of another ally country might not be the best course of action when simultaneously insulting countries about which one knows little and courting dangerous dictators as a fawning kid might cheerleaders.

“It’s the American way, the new world order
We hold these truths to be self-evident
In the American day, you must give and I shall take
And I will tell you what is moral and what’s just.” (Jonatha Brooke, “War”)

Recently, an op-ed written by someone who’d nearly killed her mother with an allergy pill, which brought up the link between anticholinergics and dementia. The class of anticholinergics is pretty extensive and includes a ton of common drugs that people take every day without thinking about them. The Harvard study also suggests taking some of these drugs long term, a Benadryl a day to keep allergies at bay, certain antidepressants and incontinence pills for example, can lead to lasting damage. Suddenly, I’m thinking of my pill-popping older relatives and wondering if the rise of our authoritarian government is the partially the result of all those innocuous little pills, parsed out by days of the week, eating away at the cognitive faculties that make younger people eschew FoxNews more than older.

“And the empire fell
On it’s own splintered axis.
And the emperor wanes
As the silver moon waxes.” (Dar Williams, “Empire”)

I know the Resistance is fighting back. I know many who prefer not to see the empire fall. I know others wish to impose their will no matter the consequences. Frighteningly, it appears some of those willing to impose their will no matter what are those in office, in power. And they appear to be less easily toppled than the republic, itself, which loses a few more bricks each day. We are a giant teetering Jenga tower in a stiff breeze, and our President is swinging wildly at that tower.

“Because I want, because I will, because I can
So will I kill “ (Jonatha Brooke, “War”)

In the meantime, many of us all over the globe tune in to watch the war.

“Every morning I get up and I watch the war, watch the war, watch the war
And every morning it upstages everything I know.” (Jonatha Brooke, “War”)



* The actual writer of “Empire” is Patrick Williams, but the song is best known for Dar Williams’s performance(s) of it.