It searches for us in the dark teatime of the soul. It tries to drag us down into nothingness. Usually we resist it.
Wealth and fame are no immunity from the Darkness. Talent doesn’t make you immune. Knowing it, being able to name it, doesn’t mean it won’t come for you. I’m not immune to it.
We don’t know what leads people to choose eternal Darkness. We can’t know. It’s a secret they take to the grave. As with mass shootings, we’re desperate to know, but our souls are private worlds.
We think celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade are special, but they’re just people. We also think America is special. The lesson of our time is that it’s not.
The idea of America has always been built on its denying the Darkness, but Darkness has always been here. It was a snake under the table when the Constitution was being written. It remained there, despite everything, after the Civil War. It remained there after World War I and World War II, spreading its tentacles through the “Banana Republics” of Latin America. The Darkness wasn’t destroyed by the Civil Rights movement. It just went underground.
While we pretended to have beaten the Darkness, it continued to grow in the American soul, despite the warnings of George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower that trying to police the world or build a military-industrial complex threatened everything we called our light. Now it has come out to play.
Everyone under 75 is familiar with American troops creating darkness. The Vietnam War is a crime beyond American imagining. It consumed Vietnam’s neighbors, killing millions in the name of a “domino theory” which proved to be a complete fabrication.
Yet today Vietnam stands as one of the youngest, most vibrant, fastest-growing countries in the world. After Anthony Bourdain got the standard “rich and famous” contract for Cook’s Confidential, Vietnam was one of his first destinations, and he fell in love with it. How could we do all that, to these people, he wondered, and how could these people possibly put those crimes in the rear-view mirror? Forgiveness. Amazing.
But Vietnam wasn’t an end for American Darkness. It was only a beginning. As resources became the center of the American economy, so did wars for oil. The Gulf War was a war for oil. The Iraq War was a war for oil. Young men went to war, fought, and died so Wall Street and its Republican allies could rake in the profit.
Bourdain saw that, too. Most memorably he went to Lebanon, just as a war was starting there, a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel that was a proxy fight in the larger oil war, and a precursor to the even-greater horrors that would soon destroy Syria. What he learned on his travels is that America isn’t special. It’s an Empire, like Hitler’s Germany, like Tojo’s Japan, like Stalin’s Russia. The difference is that, like Queen Victoria’s England, we won and got to write the Empire’s history.
That last paragraph may have you angry at me. Those who see the contradictions between America’s Darkness and the light of its ideals, and wish it ended, have long been called unpatriotic or told to just “shut up and sing.” So now those who revel in the gore, who delight in the Darkness, are in absolute power, with the intent of maintaining that power forever, by any means necessary.
Here’s the truth we need to face.
Much of the world’s Darkness originated right here, in the United States. It’s not just slavery. It’s the whole idea of racial superiority – that’s what eugenics was about. The “Winning of the West” was done on the back of a genocide.
Europeans weren’t fooled. Adolf Hitler wasn’t fooled. We were his model. Lebensraum would do to Eastern Europe what we did to the Indians. The final solution was eugenics in action.
Communism was a reaction to capitalism as it was being practiced in this country. It was the original resistance. The American dream of turning income into wealth, and having that money work for us, began as wage slavery, as the exploitation of the Earth, seizing the people, the land, everything beneath it for the benefit of a relative few.
Some wise-guy may say, wait a minute. He may point to progress as excusing the human suffering that is a byproduct of the American system. He may even point to the rising prosperity, to its spreading out into suburbs, making even working men comfortable, and tell the Darkness to shut up. He may….I may have done that.
But the Darkness is not foreign, even if it hates foreigners. The names of the foreigners change – from O’Donnell to Blankenhorn to Wong to Hussain and Hernandez – but the Darkness has always lain behind our hate.
The triumphs of America, against the Darkness, are rightly celebrated. The mistake liberals made, that Obama made, was to assume the battle was over, the war won, that we had become bathed in light.
You can’t beat the Darkness alone. You can always fight it, because the Darkness isn’t just within the world, or within America. It’s within you, and within me. Each one of us has both light and darkness within us. It’s at the heart of free will. We talk about “humanity” and call it the light, but humanity is also the Darkness.
The post-war order is based on the idea of win-win. But the Darkness doesn’t believe in win-win. The Darkness sees winners, and it sees losers, it sees only champions as winners, only dynasties as winning. Everyone else is a loser.
The Darkness is wrong. But if you raise people to believe that the Darkness has been banished, then every failure is someone else’s fault. If you educate them that they’re better and deserve more, but don’t give them the tools to succeed, they will grow up to see those who follow the path of knowledge to its very end prosper, and their views will become very dark.
For a generation, conventional thinkers on both sides of the aisle have seen the ignorance of our own people as collateral damage. If people in Alabama want to remain stupid, we’ll get smart people over from India. If the schools in Indiana suck, we’ll bring in graduates from Chinese schools. If West Virginians become drug addicts, we’ll bring in workers from Mexico, hungry for crumbs from our table, to feed us.
What we did, in my time, was to fight our Darkness by importing people who could see the light. That contradiction exploded in our faces in 2016 and is forcing us to confront the Darkness within our own souls anew.
To win we must first acknowledge the Darkness. We can’t pretend that Trump and his supporters are some “other.” They are us. We are them, because we have all benefited from the Darkness, the “sacrifices” in wars of conquest. We allowed this poison to fester in our national soul, because it was easier to turn away.
Racism, sexism, Know Nothingism, religious bigotry, willful ignorance, about science, economics, history and the value of knowledge itself. They have all united under Trump. They love him because he pisses “liberals” off. They are in love with stupidity. They don’t see the damage he’s doing to their own lives, or the damage to come when they can’t get health insurance, or they lose their jobs because there’s no one to trade with. When that damage comes, it’s assumed, they will blame Democrats. Which means we are looking down the barrel of America’s destruction.
Inside the light, there is also Darkness. Guilt is part of the darkness that hides within the light. Smugness is, too. We assume the triumph of the light, but death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. It takes, and it takes, and it takes, and it takes.
The only way I know to fight the Darkness is to tell the story, but I know this is insufficient. The only way to keep the Darkness away from me is to assume the better angels of our nature will triumph, but I know that’s not guaranteed.
The heroes of our time will be those among us who didn’t give up, who continue fighting the Darkness in ways great and small. We will all be judged by how we reacted to these times, as was true through such trials as McCarthyism and the Civil Rights movement. Republicans ignored Joe McCarthy until Richard Nixon was Vice President. White southerners ignored the Civil Rights Movement. Many continue to do so. You expect better from them with Trump?
What about you? Will you stand and defy the Darkness? Will you shy away from it? Do you passively go along? Do you actively participate?
We will all be judged by history on how we react to this time, to the Darkness taking over.
Fighting the Darkness, in our country and in our souls, is what this era is all about.