Birthers, Royals and the Joy of Illusions
For those of you seduced by the notion that the world is a rational place, look no further than President Obama’s decision to release a copy of his birth certificate to satisfy those wondering about his pedigree. And while we are on the topic of pedigree, what’s all the fuss about the royal wedding in England?
When these become the issues of the day, we know that the night looms large, and darkness threatens to extinguish the light. Decline of the West? Come sweet death.
I was hustling out the door the other day with one ear-tuned to the Communist Party’s organ, that shrill voice of liberal unreason: National Public Radio. What caught my attention was a chirpy English voice: "Life-changing fortunes will be made at this event." I paused, interest piqued. "Just the right picture of the royal couple will yield royalties that will pay the photographer’s children’s tuition."
Oh, yeah. William and Kate are tying the knot.
"This is just a continuation of the Diana story," the voice continued. She was not referring to a Greek or Roman goddess. We’re too far gone for that. Today we worship celebrities, and even good Democrats get moist eyed over the marriage of a prince, and future king, to his bride, and future queen.
But let’s return to the big O.
That our politics have become so impoverished that anyone truly believes President Obama’s birth certificate matters should be a matter of deep and abiding national concern. Yes, the Constitution requires that the president to be born in the United States. If this were a real issue, it would have been raised long ago. Frankly, the issue is really just a code word for race. Folks too cowardly to say they just can’t accept a black man as president use the issue as a smokescreen. I actually overheard an honest American the other day: "The n--- wasn’t even born here," the man said. This is the same sort of guy who pretends to look for Jim Crow in ornithology books when challenged about his prejudices.
Donald Trump, the progenitor of the Hugh Keefe hairdo – "If you don’t got it, flip it!" – is all smiles. (Okay, I am at the opposite extreme, favoring the geriatric hippy Grateful-Not-To-Be-Dead look.) He forced the issue of the birth certificate. This man who would be president, television star, and consort to any available Barbie has a toe in the waters for the race the Republican nomination for president. Unemployment is high, the economy is limping along, we don’t have a sensible energy policy, the country is fracturing along almost medieval lines, and Donald comes chest-thumping about having forced the president to provide an original of his birth certificate? Okay, Donald, your private parts are bigger, honest. Now zip it up and disappear; shouldn’t you be at the royal wedding?
Sigmund Freud once wondered whether our ideas about justice and the state were of a piece with our ideas about God and immortality – illusions made necessary by the brute facts of life. William and Kate? Obama’s birth certificate? Clearly these are events and issues of no apparent consequences to any of us. They resonate for symbolic reasons, and hence the event and issue speaks volumes about us.
Let’s frame the issues with a conundrum: are we in time, or is time in us? In the great on-your-mark-get-set-go of life, we’re all dangling between beginnings we don’t know, and ends beyond our ken. Hence, the fascination with myths of origins and apocalyptic visions of the end. Fantasy sells, resolving, as it does, the inevitable tensions of the day.
Hence, the birthers: Once upon a time the world was safe and white. All the people that counted looked alike. Different people were killed or enslaved. And everyone had jobs and a stable future.
Hence, the royals: The good prince rescued Cinderella, and they lived happily ever after. And everyone had jobs and a stable future.
Why can’t we just dispense with the myths and the fluff and cut to the chase? We want jobs and a stable future; let’s summon the courage to face just how terrifying it is that we might not be able to have them.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.