June 19, 2016

Playing the Long Ball


First of all, in reaction to last weekend’s record-setting mass shooting in Orlando. I’d just like to re-run a couple of paragraphs I wrote following another mass shooting back in 2008. Tell me I wasn’t right then, and that it doesn’t still hold true today:

It’s become an hilariously predictable pattern. Following the most recent mass shooting (take your pick, or just wait until next week’s), the same thing happens. One half of the country gets all hair-pully, jumping about and screaming that we need more gun control. We need to close this or that loophole that allows the patently insane and murderous to freely and legally buy guns at the Walmart. We need to crack down on gun makers, gun sellers, the NRA and those politicians who take contributions from the NRA. Then they hold candlelight vigils and marches where they chant things like “Boy oh boy, this gun violence business is really, really bad.” Meanwhile the other half of the country gets similarly hair-pully, jumping around and screaming about the Second Amendment before making a run to the nearest gun shop to buy up as many firearms as they can carry, convinced the day is right around the corner when (legally) armed government storm troopers will begin making house-to-house searches, confiscating anything that even vaguely resembles a gun. Fireplace starters, garden hose nozzles, everything.

      The braying on both sides will continue for two weeks, and then we’ll all forget about it again, as easily distracted as we are by the latest celebrity breakdown or some new comic book movie. When the next mass shooting takes place, we’ll start the whole process over from the beginning.

            Okay, with that out of the way we can now get on with this week’s regularly scheduled column, which in its own odd way is closely related.

            In the mid-eighties, the University of Wisconsin was flooded with True Believers representing every shade on the political spectrum. There were the Young Republicans and the Progressive Student Union, assorted socialist groups, feminist groups, anti-nuke groups, right-wing groups with various gripes against gays and non-Christians and minorities, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups, and about half a dozen splintered and warring factions of the Communist Party. They all believed deeply and fervently in their chosen party rhetoric, and few if any had the slightest sense of humor about it.

            They organized rallies and protest marches and sit-ins and gave lots of speeches. My god, how they loved giving speeches. Long, earnest speeches peppered with dramatic and earnest proclamations to be followed by obligatory applause. For all their hard work and earnestness, though, none of them actually accomplished a damn thing.

            Which is why the Nihilist Workers Party was necessary. We were the True Unbelievers. Infused with a deep and burning apathy, Grinch and I celebrated purposeless, motiveless destruction, violence and criminality, the Empty and the Vapid. We did everything we could to offend absolutely everyone, regardless of their chosen belief system. We elevated junk food and bad media to near religious status, reveled in corruption, celebrity culture, and adamant ignorance. We were forward thinkers who looked to the future, preferably one that would give us the chance to see a trio of mushroom clouds rising on the horizon.

            We had a protest of our own once, and published angry screeds in the student paper. Not sure what they were about, then or now, but they got published. Although we never held any marches of our own (except to the bar), we did go to other people’s peaceful protests, just to ensure they would devolve into riots. More than anything, I’m proud to say we never, ever gave speeches. No, we didn’t accomplish anything either, save for making a bunch of humorless types really, really mad, but “accomplishing things” wasn’t exactly a plank in our party platform.

            At the time we were considered a joke, a couple of pranksters with very bad taste, but pranksters who nevertheless posed (at least according to the Chicago Tribune, Time magazine, and a right-wing student publication) a serious threat to the national security of the United States of America. That was news to us, but we thanked them for the compliment. Conservative groups considered us Left Wing terrorist kooks and the Left were convinced we were FBI operatives out to discredit them. But we knew better. Why bother going to the effort of discrediting something you didn’t give a good goddamn about? Waste of time. No, we knew that the NWP was the one true, unimpeachable political party that honestly reflected what America was all about. We may have been nihilists who didn’t believe in a fucking thing, but we were America’s Party, even if America didn’t know it at the time.

            Grinch, who is as savvy and sophisticated as they come in terms of understanding the sloppy and cruel-eyed mechanics of the political system, called the other afternoon.

            “Thirty years ago,” he said, “Madison was home to every kind of political group you could imagine.” He then went on to list most of the same groups I listed above. “But Slack? Answer me this: of all of them, whose agenda is about to be mandated by the public to run the country?” He then laughed a maniacal victorious laugh.

            A joke, were we? No, we were just laying down the political and philosophical groundwork for the future we envisioned, and knew would arrive in our lifetime.

            After an arduous, even interminable campaign season (though I admit I missed most of it, too busy watching vigilante movies and remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers), the American public carefully considered a bushel of potential candidates, all of them vying to take his or her rightful and ordained place in the Oval Office. Ultimately thoughtful and concerned voters discarded those whose stated and deeply-held principles seemed too extreme, too traditional, too inconsistent, or just too plain boring.

            In the end, voters settled on those two candidates who best reflected their own hopes and dreams for the nation, and most eloquently gave voice to their own core beliefs. So one party is offering up a candidate whose long, sordid, and well-documented history of treachery and bumbling corruption can be traced back more than a quarter century, and whose mad, even maniacal lust for power has been less than cleverly disguised. The other is a non-politician, a TV celebrity who has no real clear interest in holding public office, but loves being a celebrity. So why be satisfied with the penny-ante shit of being on TV for a mere hour once a week? If he was the damned President, the cameras would be on him twenty-four hours a day! What’s more, in this zap pow Warholian country, he found the best way to remain a celebrity is to speak to the lowest common denominator in the crassest and most outrageous of terms. It doesn’t matter what the hell he says, and it doesn’t matter whether he actually believes any of it or not, so long as it gets a reaction. And wouldn’t you know it? As the NWP discovered three decades back, it works like a charm. Most important of all, neither of them honestly believes in anything at all.

            Media pundits from the most respected newspapers to the scrubbiest of blogs have compared them to Hitler and the Gang of Four’s Jiang Qing, and both have been repeatedly declared “extremely dangerous” by publications and commentators from around the globe. Funnier and more exciting still, most everyone is firmly convinced this summer’s upcoming conventions will be host to some wild and bloody riots inspired by True Believers on both sides. Yes, I’m hard pressed to imagine two other candidates who, together, more fully embody the ideals Grinch and I set down all those years ago.

            (Okay, forget that reference to the Gang of Four. No one remembers them anymore so a reference to Jiang Qing would be pointless. But if anyone did remember them, boy oh boy would they be citing her!)

            An old professor once counseled me to always vote for the candidate who promised to be the most entertaining in office, and if I were the kind who voted, it would remain a guiding principle. It was certainly a central tenet of the NWP’s way of thinking. In other words, given the choices being placed before the people in November, whoever wins, we do.

            Thank you, American voters—you have at last vindicated the Nihilist Workers Party! Remember, we’re your Party.


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