To which I replied: “[They] Might be right; a majority contentedly distracted w/Kardashians and zeitgeist can be brought along; we get “leaders” we deserve.”
Fournier suggested that people can watch the Kardashians and The Bachelorette and still be well-informed, but I have my doubts; I suggested that a “Kardashian Distracshian” is precisely what our “public servants” seem to want. That got me rummaging through my archives for this post, which is all about how imperceptibly nations can change while we sit around watching tv, having our thoughts, our opinions, and even our morals tooled and reshaped without our even realizing it.
Ten years later, do you see it, or do you disagree?
THE ART OF THE PAINLESS COUP
REPOST – Originally posted in October 2005
Peggy Noonan wrote a piece [October 27, 2005] in the WSJ that made many people unhappy; some found it defeatist, some found it reminiscent of Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech, some found it downright paranoid and semi-hysterical.
I found it to be none of those things. My impression, as one Long Island Irish Catholic Girl reading another, was that Noonan is on to something, but she’s not quite there with it. Perhaps that is because the next step to “there” is a step any successful and credible public figure would be very cautious about taking; it is a step toward the Eternal, toward things seen and unseen. To take such a step is to risk reputation and a life-time of work. I don’t blame her for not taking it.
I however, am not a successful and credible public figure, and I have no reputation to risk. Like Groucho, I have no wish to belong to any club that would have me, and so I can dare to walk where Ms. Noonan could not.
Noonan expressed her belief that, subconsciously, Americans are wandering through their days with a sense of things being, “Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination.”
Everything…A sense of unreality in our courts so deep that they think they can seize grandma’s house to build a strip mall; our media institutions imploding…Senators who seem owned by someone, actually owned, by an interest group or a financial entity. Great churches that have lost all sense of mission, and all authority. Do you have confidence in the CIA? The FBI? I didn’t think so.
A sense of unreality…yes…and illusions, too.
Some might argue that what is coming “off the tracks” are the easy illusions of 20th century America: The perhaps naive notions that our elected leaders actually seek office to serve the public good. That the press is interested only in presenting the truth, no matter what. That our courts are peopled with lofty higher beings and geniuses who know better than the rest of us. That our churches are both safe havens and by-ways to heaven.
There was a time in America when all of those statements would have been accepted at face value. In our nation’s babyhood we believed and we trusted all the parent figures – the governments, the courts, the press, the churches.
Now, past infancy, we have come to look upon those institutions with the glare of adolescent angst. We’ve observed enough to understand that those in authority over us are not the paragons of perfection we’d so looked up to as toddlers. We see them flawed, weak, seducable, wholly human and fallible, and like good adolescents who have caught Mom and Dad lying or stumbling drunk, we at first sneered about it and gave some voice to our sense of betrayal. Now, we’re merely numb. Since our “parents” in these authoritative roles have proven themselves to be mere creatures, and not heroes, well, we’ve turned up the volume on our ipods, buried ourselves in our trendy lambskin coats and shut our doors to them.
Our older siblings are observing this behavior with a measure of satisfaction. I am not talking about our cousins across the Atlantic. I mean the “elites” whom Noonan writes have decided to find their “separate peace” in all of this. She writes:
I suspect that history…will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble…
You’re a lobbyist or a senator or a cabinet chief, you’re an editor at a paper or a green-room schmoozer, you’re a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief, and you’re making your life a little fortress. That’s what I think a lot of the elites are up to.
Here is where I think Noonan falls a little short. These elites are not simply milling about waiting for “the next chapter of trouble.” I think in too many cases they — like troubled eldest siblings, the “first children” who have never quite gotten over the subsequent additions to the family — have been actively fomenting chapter after chapter of trouble, for some 40 years. They are complacently building little fortresses, but they are doing so for a reason. Having written all of these chapters of trouble, they are feeling quite confident that their story is solidly structured, and they are ready for the dénouement they have planned. The anticipation of their surprise ending is making them almost giddy.
The ending, of course, is the coup d’état. Believing that the rest of us, now disillusioned, are no longer clinging to romantic ideals of honor, or truth or nobility, these always-restless First Children, devoted to deconstruction, believe they are about to take down the presidency, the churches, the “old” government and even the “old” media. They expect to put into place something “brand new.” But believe me when I tell you what they are building is older than dirt. And up from it. Which is why they will need their fortresses. Castro lives in one, too.
They’ve been practicing all of this, by the way, perfecting the Art of the Painless Coup so thoroughly that most ordinary folks do not even realize what has occured.
Over the past 40 years these hyperactive First Children have been pulling off small scale coups with varying levels of success. They managed to deconstruct the academies, so that education is less a broadening of knowledge than a narrowing of perspective. They have deconstructed the liturgy to insist that a pantomime in clownface is a vast improvement over 2000 year-old sacrament and liturgy. They have deconstructed government by constructing something so huge and unwieldy that nothing coming out of it is reliable or dependable, and almost no one is accountable, either. They have deconstructed the press to the point where the truth of a story is less important than how it may be framed and spun. They have deconstructed the idea of fascism to mean “those democracies in Israel and America” rather than the freedom-suppressing regimes which surround them.
And all the while they have been busily pulling things apart, they have kept the rest of the family distracted with the television, with the radio, with the cinema — any or all of which have instantly been called into service whenever someone got a little bored and looked around, wondering what these kids were up to. “Abortion?” says Aunt Sally, “Abortion is a terrible thing!” Suddenly every news story is about the grim circumstance of illegal abortion. Suddenly sitcoms are showing the way. “Well, if Maude had an abortion…maybe sometimes it’s a good thing…”“Free love,” sputters Uncle Jim, “it’s immoral! It’s damaging to the family!” Suddenly every film hero or heroine is having free, uncomplicated, undamaging sex, and flashing some gratuitous T and A at Uncle Jim in the process. “I dunno,” he smiles to Aunt Sally as he settles back, “maybe it’s not all that bad…”
Except that Aunt Sally, having been spoon-fed her enlightenment by media overrun with these busy First Children and their co-horts, is not around to hear him. She has taken off her bra, taken the pill and several dozen lovers, she has “found herself,” lost her children and moved in with her newest partner, Charlene. They own cats and attend drum circles. They protest whenever possible, because a good protest can validate almost any life-choice by pinpointing and naming an enemy, and declaring that enemy an oppressor and a villain, even if that villain is liberating men, women and children and trying to create a safer world. “An illusion!” They shout. “There is no liberation, there is no safer world, there is no nobility, no honor, no truth! All lies!”
I will spare you the part where they strip down to their birthday suits and dance around, their sagging, pendulous breasts swaying out of sync with the drums.
The First Children applaud Aunt Sally. They love the distraction she causes as they work feverishly on their coup.
I think Ms. Noonan’s sense of things being “off-kilter,” is her own gut understanding that the painless coup is near, and perhaps she is not quite sure what might be done to prevent it.
Well, one way to prevent the coup is to be utterly fearless and authentic in pronouncing the things we believe. Pope John Paul II (and Pope Benedict XVI) made enormous headway against the Painless Coup, which had gone so far as to turn our beautiful churches into bare concrete monstrosities (ready-made for quick-conversion into temples to secular reason) and he managed to reclaim the liturgy and renew appreciation for the Eucharist by repeating the truth over and over, with the reminder, “do not be afraid!”
Thus so, we must repeat, over and over, that while illusions may well be all around us, some amorphous notions, like honor and freedom and truth, are still real. They are not just real, they are Eternal.
We must repeat again and again that imperfect as America may be this is still the land to which — in large or small ways — every free nation owes its current liberty. This is the nation that has routinely sent its idealistic young men off to foreign lands — to die there — not for empire, not for real-estate, but for the protection and advancement of that unseen thing that is freedom, the strengthener of the human spirit, the burnisher of human potential. First Children and their motley co-horts aside, this is still the nation to which millions of creative or industrious people wish to come, it is the nation to which the oppressed call out for rescue and relief.
We must repeat, over and over, that the American Presidency is, like a papacy or a monarchy, larger than the person who occupies the office, and that it can be noble. The American President freed slaves when too many would not entertain the notion. The American President has carried the big stick used to overthrow tyrants and bullies both foreign and domestic. The American President has put his airmen to use to keep his vanquished enemies in Berlin from starving in a brutal winter, he has used his navy to bring aid after tsunami. The American President has dreamed great space voyages into reality, has opened closed markets, has encouraged a people to tear down walls. The American President has envisioned tens of millions of people raising purple fingertips to the sky, and made it so.
We must repeat, over and over, that Liberty is the means by which we created creatures are meant to live and to grow and be. That Liberty lives in the Truth. That Liberty lives where people can speak freely, without fear of injury or reprisals. That Liberty lives only when the press is free and unencumbered — when it is detached from events instead of entwined in them. That Liberty lives when people refuse to be intimidated into silence or acquiescence, whether in the workplace or within the community. That Liberty is the fragile thing that diminishes whenever one refuses to acclaim it for oneself.
In between all of those repetitions, we must do something else, if we are to stave off the Painless Coup. We are going to have to turn away from our distractions — the television, the radio, the magazines, the talkshows, the films, the fashions, the escapist entertainment, even the internet. We will have to turn away from these empty things — to make them smaller in our lives, where they and the popular culture now loom so large — and we are going to have to get quiet.
A good musician knows that music is not created only by playing notes, but by understanding the spaces between the notes, and their value. Just so, it will not be enough to simply repeat what is true — if that is all we do, it will only add to the din — there must also be silence, in which to do our other, more powerful work.
It is a cacophony of noise that fuels so many illusions, and allows those “chapters of trouble” to be so deftly written. The over-stimulation of our senses has severely dulled our internal sensors. We have lost our bearings and our boundaries so profoundly that we are no longer guarded, interiorly, against scam-artists and tricksters.
We have to get those bearings back — to find our centers and get back in touch with our “gut instincts,” which are there for a reason. And the way to get back to the center — to our center, our “gut” — is through prayer and meditation and contemplation. Prayer has power. No force can stand against it. Not even the force of a generation bearing down and driving hard against everything that came before itself.
It is true that there are many illusions in the world. And on the world stage there stride some masters of the sleight-of-hand and the misdirection — you can recognize them because they are all of a mind, and of a piece, and they are all working different parts of the same trick.
But if you can recognize a trick for what it is, you can prevail against it.
And this is where the Eternal comes in — the things seen and unseen, which I mentioned earlier. An illusionist, no matter how masterful, is still peddling an illusion. He has nothing behind him but his crossed fingers. Prayer is no illusion, and one needn’t be a master to tap into its tremendous force. Even a novice may use it, although one does get stronger with practice and growth comes, for prayer is never stagnant.
Aunt Sally has no idea how disposable she is, or how her raised consciousness has been a mere means to an end, another illusion. In the coming denouement, she and Charlene and poor old, befuddled Uncle Jim will be equally expendable, or useful only for keeping the foodlines and the medical lines straight. They will all be outside the “fortresses” of the elites, with the rest of us, if the Coup is permitted, if the First Children achieve their goal.
So, it is time for the rest of us to turn off the ipods, shed the lambskin coat and come out of our self-imposed exile, ready to do battle. Things are indeed messed up and off-kilter. But no matter how much our parent figures in the government or the courts, or the churches or even the few grown-ups left in the press may embarrass us or disappoint, they’re still ours. They belong to us, and the bond is forever.