This is how it felt 30 years ago:
Saigon had fallen and Nixon was out.
We weren’t so much pleased about the ultimate Viet Cong and North Vietnamese
triumph over the South (and our troops), as we were glad to be purged of the
whole sordid affair.
And it did feel like an affair gone horribly wrong: the fatal attraction of
Wilsonian messianism trying to make the world “safe for democracy”
one more time. The weapons-of-mass-destruction issue of the day was “falling
dominoes.” If South Vietnam fell, then Burma, Thailand, the Philippines,
Australia—the whole panoply of the world, piece by piece, must fall to
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. To get us into full-scale crusade-mode,
Johnson had lied about the Tonkin Gulf Incident, the same way George W. Bush
and Tony Blair would lie about Saddam’s ties to Al-Qaeda, 9/11 and imminent
threats of nuclear destruction. Nixon kept the lie going and his C.R.E.E.P.
(Committee to Re-Elect the President) staged an inept burglary at the Democratic
Headquarters of the Watergate Complex in D.C.—one more attempt to subvert
the electoral process. CREEPS’s “plumbers” justified the break-in
in terms of National Security; it has been a catchall phrase to justify incompetence,
illicit wars, racist repression and ideological smut-peddling for quite a long
But those were heady days. A Cultural Revolution of students, teachers, working
people, women’s-libbers, artists, journalists, professors, housewives,
blacks, gays, Hispanics, Old Left and just plain folks had mobilized and organized
their disparate, not-always convergent, energies to unseat Tricky Dicky—the
faithful servant of the ideological Right who’d done his misconstrued
duty for God and Country. (Dicky assured us he had a plan for “peace with
honor,” but you wouldn’t want to buy a used car from him, nor a
used-up rationale for war, either.) Spewing Spiro, our alliterative and dismissive
Veep (“nattering nabobs of negativism” was my favorite Agnewism)
toppled of his own loopy mendacities and the stumbling, self-confessed mediocrity
Gerald Ford—“I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln”-- was brought
in to heal our nation’s rifts. To seal the deal, to re-play the end of
Reconstruction almost 100 years earlier, the nation brought in the toothy, smiling
Jimmy Carter and his bibulous brother Billy to show that we were really re-united,
one smiling, happy (if folksily dysfunctional) family again, north and south,
ready to put behind us all that nasty business in that faraway little yellow
country. (But just to keep the myth alive, John Wayne made a movie about it;
in one memorable scene of his “Green Berets,” the Duke has the sun
setting in the East—precisely the kind of foolishness that had lost the
The 70’s ended with the “Me Generation” screwing its brains
out, toking and smoking its way to Nirvana, and, not incidentally, getting into
the touchy-feelyness of Tim Leary, Yoga, Zen, the Beats, LSD, and whatever else
came down down down the mystical highway. We were “On the Road,”
and swelling and wallowing in our liberation-- “California-Dreaming,”
and out to reinvent ourselves, our country, our world. “If it feels good,
do it,” we cried, without a thought of consequence, one eye closed to
history, the other closed to the future.
One of my gods was Dylan Thomas. It seemed no one had captured the exuberance
of youth so well as he had in “Fern Hill”:
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes …
And, no one had sounded the nascent note of warning better:
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means …
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways …
We were the privileged sons and daughters of generations who had struggled
before us. (Let us have celebrations, John Adams had declared, to mark our Day
of Independence. Fireworks and parades….) And celebrate we did, as our
forefathers had: Thomas Paine’s vision of democracy and universal kinship
transmuted into Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson’s compromise
with empire and slavery, and Monroe’s Doctrine of expansionism, and we
who had stopped the war in Asia settled down and got serious, married, had kids,
got mortgages, traded tie-dyed T-shirts for Reaganomics’ suits.
The Draft had pulled us together, and when there was no longer the threat of
it, no longer the danger to our personal right to materially enrich ourselves
and pamper our mates and offspring, we forgot Hesse and Kerouac, Ginsberg and
London, Janis and Steinbeck, Levertov and Lennon … and, like some alien
creatures to ourselves, slunk into our sloughs of despond to continue the business
of empire-building. A diamond-clad, gap-toothed Madonna sang the anthem of the
80’s: “We are living in the material world.”
We were like those creatures in the movie about Dr. Oliver Sachs—the
ones who wake from aphasia, thanks to a miracle drug, discover the dazzling
world--nature, people and ideas. Then, as the affects of the drug fade, they
fall back into dreamless, waking sleep.
We hadn’t learned our lessons well—or we’d learned the wrong
lessons. We didn’t know that revolution is a lifelong journey with numerous
pitfalls; and, like the little fox of the I-Ching, just when we reached the
furthest bank and felt ourselves safest, when we let down our guards, we were
most likely to fall back in the river of forgetfulness.
We did not study and we did not remember. We crammed before exams and got by
with “Gentleman C’s” just like the Impostor-in-Chief now in
the White House (named for the little white lies cranked out of it daily; or
for the Brobdignaggian whitewashing that constantly metamorphosing). The first
mass generation to enjoy the opportunities of a college education was also the
first TV-generation to be cobbled from childhood with ADD-afflicting ads. Our
teachers were always competing with the narcosis-inducing Idiot Box of easy
answers and instant gratification. Schools necessary and sufficient to produce
Cold War-winning scientists and engineers, were deliberately undermined in terms
of raising social consciousness. It was astonishing that we’d ever pulled
together, because the whole point of our schools was to pull us apart: to fragment
knowledge among specialists; to destroy social cohesion with cutthroat competitiveness;
to inculcate authoritarianism and the accepted “facts” and “principles,”
while denigrating the twin spirits of inquiry and challenge that are the hallmarks
of true democracy. The coin of the realm was cunning self-advancement; community
“I saw the best minds of my generation,” Ginsberg had written in
Howl, “starving, hysterical, naked.” It was the struggle for wholeness,
personhood and community that Ginsberg elicited. But now our best minds genuflect
before the billionaire powers of a vainglorious fool like Donald Trump, or pull
the strings of our puppet Boy-Emperor who shucks and aws his way through dismantling
the social structure that has kept us intact as a people.
“Mankind cannot take too much reality,” Elliot wrote, and we see
it proven true each day, as a disenfranchised electorate wields SUV’s
around traffic-clogged, polluted interstates to slog its way home to the latest
fix/installment of Reality TV.
We are infantilized. The snake-charming despots who rule America—who
endeavor to rule the world—have succeeded in maintaining us in a state
of suspended animation—not quite adult, not quite human. They can lie
us into war and tell us they love freedom (like George W., the cowardly draft-dodging
warmonger). They can torture in our name for the sake of our oil supplies and
their profits. Cynical Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices collude in the
fabrications, shake their heads, blame the U.N. A Murdoch-fearing, kowtowing
media pimp the lies and bury the information that replenishes democracy. Freedom
without wisdom is a tree without roots. Intent to impose our brand of “freedom”
abroad, we allow it to wither in the home of the brave.
Electoral politics cannot succeed in this kind of climate, where a sleeping,
narcotized public is deluged with mis- and disinformation.
Our Constitution defines treason as the levying of war against our nation.
With its policy of preemptive wars, this Administration is guilty of instigating
wars against our nation. Every other nation must now seek to defend itself against
our PNAC - (Project for a New American Century) professed hegemonic machinations.
This Administration is guilty of treason and must be brought to heel. For the
sake of global security and our nation’s survival and integrity.
Back in ’75 there were attorneys like William Kunstler who could make
the case for impeachment and prosecution for treason better than I have here.
We still had a Democratic Party with vestiges of the spirit and integrity that
had stood up to Capitalist bosses, steeling itself with the Progressive message
of solidarity and equality. The country was not held hostage to the crusading
fanaticism of religious zealots and jingoists. Our writers sang “the body
electric” of the human family and did not first and foremost advocate
for personal grants in the name of the identity-politics of race, creed, gender,
sexual orientation. There were moments when we all came together and sang the
possibilities of a glowing, new dawn.
What will it take to waken from slumber; to cast off the shackles of infantilization;
to rise above the cheap sentimentalism of pseudo-patriotism; to reclaim the
vision of Paine; to do our duty to ourselves, our progeny, our planet?
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.
Gary Steven Corseri’s dramas have been published, and broadcast over
PBS-Atlanta; his prose and poems have appeared at CommonDreams, The New York
Times, Village Voice, Redbook, Sky, Georgia Review, CounterPunch, AxisOfLogic,
DissidentVoice and elsewhere. He has published two poetry collections and two
novels, edited the Manifestations anthology, taught in public schools and prisons
in the U.S., and at universities in the U.S. and Japan. He can be contacted