You have no excuse.

I’ve struggled with what to write, knowing that I can’t be silent. Joseph Brodsky once wrote that “what we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good.” And that’s the problem. What does one write when one’s fellow citizens are responsible for the evils in one’s country?

I look back at horrible events and passages in history and wonder if I would have had the guts to defy the wrongs and evils of a given time. To do so was easier in some times and places than others. To speak out against the evils of the Nazis, Kmer Rouge, Moaism, Stalinism or North Korea’s ‘dear leader’ meant and means certain death—for the lucky ones. We like to think the danger resided in a given leader, government or faceless ideology, but the greatest danger always resides in the citizen.

The evil that tears nursing babies from a mother’s breast; that steals children from the arms of parents; that concentrates those children in cages is the kind for which there is no rationale, no justification, no excuse; and yet rationalizations, justifications and excuses are being daily expounded by America’s citizens—in homes, media, political office. Do we argue against the ideology or do we shame the citizens expounding it?

In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not… No more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

I will not comply. I will not remain silent, if only so that my children’s children don’t ask why I said nothing. What is being done in the name of the law, supported by the citizens of the United States, is not just evil but banal in its malevolence—in it’s ignorance of the law and simple human decency. You might say we don’t live under conditions of terror and if so that merely argues you’re not the one being terrorized. You might say the law is the law. Then you are willfully ignorant of the laws that enslaved fellow Americans, laws that slaughtered tens of millions in Germany, Russia, Cambodia, China. Living in a civil society means tolerating insult. Living in a civil society means possessing the resilience demanded by freedom of speech and expression. Living in a civil society means stating unequivocally: If you continue to vote for and support—whether for prejudice, expedience or willful ignorance—a media, politician and party that continues to cruelly and maliciously victimize fellow human beings, don’t think that later generations will excuse you.

You have no excuse.

17 responses

  1. You are right. What’s happening is horrendous, and people are getting so ground-down by the chaos and circus and mis-statements around it, that they don’t act. Thanks for writing. k.

    • For all the good it does. But it’s something.

      I no longer feel at home in the United States. There’s nothing I like about the country’s attitude toward healthcare, infrastructure, education, science, race, guns, religion. I expect I’ll be leaving the States, returning to the EU, my childhood home, as soon as it makes sense to do so.

  2. Can I come with you?
    But if we all leave, who will be left?
    And what of the rising tide in Europe – do you think it can’t happen there?
    The only safe place may be under a coconut tree in Tahiti.
    I am in despair, disgust, desperation. I see no end to this.

    • Hi Karen. We all come into the world with a burden we’re meant to carry, and I think its best we know what it is. Mine is not to spend the latter portion of my life in a country I no longer respect. As to Europe—the same can most certainly happen there. And there are currently ugly strains of alt- and hard right “populism” and extremism, (just as in this country). But the societal attitude of Western Europeans toward their governments and toward each other is worlds removed from US citizens — attitudes toward gender, science, societal cooperation, religion, government, art, literature, education. Further, none of the Western European democracies are, as far as I know, party duopolies. This means, unlike in the US, that rabid minorities are very unlikely to dictate a given country’s policies. In the US, the two parties each have their “base” they pander to. This has increasingly given the most extreme voices in each party, but in the Right especially, the greatest influence. And the effect on the American right has been ugly, pernicious and corrupt. But given the massive propaganda machines that excuses the Right’s corruption, I also see no end to this. I don’t want my children to be gunned down, to be refused medical care because of a pre-existing condition, to put themselves into debilitating debt for daring to pursue an education.

  3. An excellent piece, Patrick. Brava and bravo.

    As for your Q: What does one write when one’s fellow citizens are responsible for the evils in one’s country?

    Here’s my A: One writes and speaks openly about the treachery behind perfidy in all its many forms on the political stage.

    We have no excuse.

  4. While I respect your views, they seem a little sentimental to me. For example, I live in an area of NC where many times when I go to the grocery story I’m the only white person there—among throngs of overweight blacks and Hispanics, half of whom have two or three children in tow. They all drive newer cars than I and eat more expensive though unhealthier foods. A visit to the emergency room for the poorest of them is free (a write-off), whereas because I own my home I can be leveraged all the way to probate (death) to pay a bill. Do we get along? Wonderfully! Because, on pain of being shot or stabbed, I stay out of the intimacies of their lives and they stay out of mine. On the other hand, if by some chance I collapsed of a heart attack in the grocery store I’m sure they’d comfort me and try to get me the help I need. And I would do the same for them. We have a practical sympathy for one another as most human beings do. Yet I dare say if the same demographic ratios were to overwhelm an ethno-state like Vermont there would be less capacity for practical sympathy than we have here in my area of NC. Indeed, if Bernie Sanders wanted to, he could arrange for Vermont to take in all these stranded migrants and then recruit Tysons to build a couple of chicken processing plants there, but he knows that would be his last term as Senator. Just as in his days with CORE, his moral preening is versus me or people like me, not him. Otherwise after he integrated public housing in Chicago he would have stayed and lived among the residents there rather than move to a white ethno-state like Vermont. Which is say (again), things are not always what they seem. So-called “bigots” like me could be walking Bernie’s talk more than he ever did.

    • Observing that Bernie Sanders lives in Vermont, that Hispanics are overweight and have children, that the poor have access to health care despite an inability to pay for it, that you stay out of your neighbor’s business in lieu of violence, and that you live in NC and the next man doesn’t, is not an excuse to steal children from their parents and lock them up in cages.

  5. “A photograph showing two immigrant children sleeping in a fenced enclosure, which sparked outrage when it surfaced last month, turned out to have been taken in an Arizona detention facility in 2014.”

    But I remain open to your evidence as well—please share it with me. Certainly if the evidence shows conditions are currently as you describe I’ll ask my congressman to check into it. The law should be enforced as humanely as possible.

    • A misleading photograph of a child in an Arizona detention facility does not constitute an excuse to forcibly separate and isolate children from their parents under any conditions.

  6. A strong and worthy statement, Patrick. And then you’re responses here surpass even it. Even as they make me sad. They put me in mind of the half dozen or so DP’s my mother (French) and father (Dutch) funneled through our home immediately after WWII.

    As for the unctuous, self-dissembling North Carolinian who somehow found his way to this blog, let his grit-in-the-gears presence stand as a reminder that there has always been an underside to the American experiment, an underside that is the touchstone from which Lincoln’s reference to our “better angels’ derives its meaning and its profundity. Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America (his latest book) wrote to plumb this complex American reality precisely because he recognizes that while America’s Presidents have not always risen to the ‘better angels’ position, the present incumbent “so rarely does.”

    Our treatment of America’s First Nations, the accommodation to slavery, Know Nothingism, Jim Crow, the Klan, McCarthyism, America First, and the seemingly unsaturable character of the curve the military industrial complex continues to impose on our relations with the rest of the world has allowed the transfer of power to “worser” angels, and we and the world are far less well off as a result.

  7. So you would hang Kipling? Benjamin Netanyahu? A rational rather than sentimental approach to public policy is the most humanitarian approach in the long term. Enter the thought experiment and open the ethno-state of Vermont up to the entire Third World—millions are more than eager to live there—and see who the real Klansman, Nazi, or du jour pejorative is. Besides, the separation issue was in the first instance the fault of the parents, or, in many cases, the human traffickers that brought and abandoned them at the border. That’s why I fully support all efforts to improve the lives of these beleaguered people within the bounds of their original habitation. For example, since you want to flee the U.S, have you considered a secular mission to Guatemala? Of course, even then you will find yourself competing with other missions and people of conscience who share your humanitarian concerns —those sponsored by the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention, for example–but who stridently object to, say, your birth control clinic. Issues are complex, to say the least, whether a hemisphere away or in your own backyard–where they will certainly end up if your current sentiments prevail.

    • Inhumanity is not rational. If they want to blame that sort of criminal behavior on Vermont, the parents, Catholics, etc., then let them try that in a courtroom. What the Nuremburg trials clarified is that following orders is no excuse.

  8. We could go on for weeks exchanging comparative moral quandaries, personal and systematic, until each of us is half psycho. The good news is, none of these is a dilemma secession can’t solve. Moreover (and I think Kipling would agree) I’d much rather read your beautiful poetry and criticism.

    • I’d much rather write poetry and criticism. I’ve kept politics off this blog for almost a decade, but the malevolence of the current era goes beyond politics. There’s nothing political about it. It’s malicious and inhuman; and though succession will be a kind of solution, the real rot, as I wrote in my post, is in we the people. If speaking out is the most and least I can do, then at least I’ve done it.

    • Thanks Manasvi. I’ll always consider guest posts, but not someone else’s poetry. I hesitate turning this blog into a journal. That said, I’m thinking of a way of creating a page for poets who write traditional poetry, a way for them to read each other’s work and meet each other.

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