By Justin Frank, MD
Originally written in July 2001. I revisited this essay and found it very relevant to American political life in 2021, especially to the media’s coverage of our disgraced and dangerous ex-president Trump.
If I had been downright honest with myself, I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.
- Melville, Moby Dick p85 (Norton Edition)
There is something rotten in the State of Denmark. Only this time, in Washington, there is more than one something. At least three things are rotten. The way Bush became President; how lightly most elected Democrats view his destructiveness; and the virtual absence of media alarm or even criticism.
But it has always been thus: Phil Ochs sang about it: “Look outside my window there’s a women being grabbed, she’s taken to the bushes and now she’s being stabbed; maybe we should call the cops and try to ease the pain, but Monopoly’s so much fun and I’d hate to spoil the game…” Now, nearly 40 years later, just change “taken to the bushes” to “taken by the Bushes”. America, having been mugged by the Supreme Court, is now being taken by the Bushes, by big oil, by the Christian Right, by media indifference, and by our own general refusal to take seriously what Bush actually is doing.
This refusal to take Bush seriously is to me what is most rotten of all. We blind ourselves, much like those in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” fairy tale. Our inability to see takes many forms. We reassure ourselves about the stability of systems and the rule of law — the Supreme Court is inviolate. We think that this country is too large and has too many safeguards to be fundamentally altered or spoiled. And, after all, we say he’ll only be here for four years — how much damage can he actually do? All that contributes to complicity.
Blindness has psychological dimensions, too. In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king. And in a country with no tradition of loyal opposition — the term itself is an oxymoron to…