I have often wondered what happens to old gods when their worshippers move on to greener Elyssian fields, Where do they go, and what do they do? But perhaps they are just patient? We all know that so-called paganism, especially in the hybrid form of Wicca, has enjoyed a little resurgence in bosky groves and ancient stone circles in the West. Yet it would seem that Icelandic pagans have gone one better. For the first time in a thousand years – when Iceland was very forcibly converted to Christianity – a new temple to the thunder god, Thor, has been constructed there and is, by all accounts, now doing a brisk business. Although a chicken was ritually slaughtered on the altar during opening ceremonies, blood sacrifices are apparently not to be a regular feature – although Thor once liked them to be. But feasting still plays a major role, as it always did back in the mead halls of yore. Horse flesh is consumed in large quantities, as are “sour testicles” and “rotten shark”. Well, if the god can’t have his human sacrifices, I suppose one cannot begrudge him a few favourite delicacies. A spokesperson for the temple told the CBC that interest in the old gods has been growing over recent years, because the standard religions are too wrapped up with corrupt corporate and political interests. Frey and Freya – a husband and wife team of divinities, ostensibly for war and love – have devotees similarly hoping to build them a fine new temple. The Pope can’t be happy, and Martin Luther must be ranting away furiously in Hell – but it strikes me as a harmless and beneficial trend. Those old religions are so refreshingly free of dogma and so deeply connected to realities, like cycles of nature and the sanctity of Mother Earth. Whereas orthodox Christianity and Islam in particular can all too often seem to be political appendages of the state, with an unseemly interest in wars and obesience.
Talking of which, what most surprised me about Donald Trump’s inauguration speech was not the groaning banality or the ranting jingoism but the numerous references to “God”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he’s not a religious man, and God never came up on the campaign trail – except, perhaps, for the one who is always perfunctorily urged to bless America, yet never required to respond. Suddenly, however, we have a God who looks over America and will protect her, a God who will bless possibly all Trump supporters – less possibly all listeners – and of course a God who is told in no uncertain terms to bless America. Twice – for the Donald never says anything important once. Is he so vacuously cynical that he just threw in Amerigod along with all the other emotive claptrap about pride, wealth, safety and greatness, because his purpose was merely to please those who believed in him more than they did in God? “I will never, never let you down,” he said, telling all those whose voices had been ignored that they would never, never be ignored in future – that the great country and its government was theirs again. Again? Theirs and the three billionaires and numerous millionaires now running it, alongside people of – how shall we put it? – rather dubious and suddenly furtive intent. I thought, man, O man, if ever words were custom designed to come back and haunt you nightly like Marley’s ghost, these were they – but then I realized that this was Trump. He’ll just deny he said it, or that his words were taken out of context – the media are all liars, terrible, terrible people, the news is fake, it’s all fake, and everything is rigged against him. If he even talks to most media by then. I dislike the expression “post-truth”, since truth is an absolute. This must then be the Age of the Liar, no? No, because, as I.F. Stone used to say, “All politicians lie about everything all the time.” When I heard Stone say that at the opening of a talk in the seventies, I thought he was exaggerating for effect. I’ve since realized he wasn’t.
The only slight attraction Trump held for me was the prospect of a new broom in Washington. It is clear that much of the public has wanted a change for years – it was, after all, the clarion call of Obama’s campaign message – and that they have now decided politicians cannot effect change. But billionaire businessmen can and will? Surely this is not getting rid of “elites”? I didn’t like Hilary Clinton’s reference to “deplorables” either – and I didn’t like her – but you have to admit that anyone who believes Trump can achieve even a few percent of what he promised upon taking the oath of office is… well, quite a lot naïve. And that includes him – if, that is, he believes it. Despite relying heavily on a healthy economy, a nation is not a business, and it cannot be run like one to generate quick profits. None of Trump’s much-advertized plans for domestic or foreign policy will be quick or easy to achieve – and many are not even remotely viable. He must know this, so is he lying?
Is this why he’s suddenly set his sights on a more manageable goal? From a very reliable source – although I haven’t personally verified it yet– I am told that he now intends to close down National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System – much as the Harper government here sorely wished they could dismantle the CBC. Why? The short answer is that public broadcasting is independent, not tied to vested corporate interests, and presents a reasonably balanced version of current affairs. In other words, it isn’t Fox News or the Rebel – and it cannot be. It has to represent the public as a whole, and virtually all coherent political views. This would seem to be a principal criterion of the news media in general – yet it is not. For whatever reasons – and I don’t dispute their right to it – some people prefer the news to reflect only their political opinions – which is to say they do not really want the truth. This would be no problem at all in a healthily diverse media market, such as the one in which I grew up in England during the fifties and sixties. In North America today, however – and this cannot be stated too often – all major media are owned and controlled by corporate interests which have much invested in a certain political outlook that favours them and their future prosperity. It amounts to an attack on free speech. In the recent US election, most mainstream media initially favoured Clinton, because her outlook was seen to guarantee business as usual. Trump was seen as a wild card, the Uncertainty Principle – and business hates undertainty. But something changed the corporate mind, and the stock market mysteriously rose after his electoral win. The opinion of media changed too, to one of it won’t be as bad as you think. This can only mean that corporate Titans and media-owners were reassured, during the many recent covert and overt meetings in Trump Tower, that the new President would be on their side.
For a long time, the lines have been tenuously drawn – the 99 percent against the one percent – but nothing tangible has emerged from this sloganeering. Yet something other than impotent outrage ought to emerge. The Constitution that Trump swore to uphold and defend, from enemies foreign or domestic, was written at a time when the structure of American society could hardly have been different from what it is now. Then, 95 percent of the population was self-employed – now only five percent is. There was no standing army, just a militia – which thus needed everyone to be familiar with firearms. 95 percent of the gross national income was from farming or manufacturing, and only five percent was from rentier sources, or other non-productive activities. These figures are now reversed, with most income derived from various forms of ownership and non-productive investment – much of it in the stock, bond and commodity markets, which, as any honest financier will admit, are a gigantic scam that only benefits a small handful of people, and actually harms many businesses and, most all, the smaller farmers. The America for which that Constitution was written has long gone, along with its relevance to anything. Like most state rituals, they are just hollow words.
As Leonard Cohen would say, everybody knows this – that the boat is sinking but the rich get richer – yet no one is able to, or capable of acting to change it. Perhaps, as Karl Marx said, action only occurs when all that is solid melts into air? And the only possible actors are the proletariat.
In this light, destroying public broadcasting is a very canny move. Who listens to or watches it? Liberal middle-class intellectuals, for the most part. In that sense, it would be like destroying Harper’s magazine – which, as I noticed in Iraq, didn’t bother US authorities at all, because it was only read by a few hundred thousand bookworms. What the mainstream national media did, or where they went, bothered the commandants a lot, however – because their audience is tens of millions of average citizens. So this move – if indeed it is to be – is just a spiteful lashing-out at that small minority Trump knows beyond all doubt despise him.
The Women’s March today was too decorus and generally-focussed to have any real impact as a protest – and do well-organized and well-behaved protests really ever have anything beyond a symbolic effect? It remains to be seen if the disaffected half of America will or can do anything truly pragmatic and transformative about a situation that they all, though in vastly differing ways, find intolerable. But, at least in Marxian terms, the country has not been more ripe for revolution since the late sixties. As always, though, it depends upon a small cadre of people who know what they are doing, and, ultimately, on which way the army decides to go – and, with the number of blacks and Hispanics in the armed forces, this is by no means certain anymore. It is true, though, that an overthrow of the status quo is nothing like as easy today as it was for the Paris mob in 1789, or for a rural middle-class in mid-17th=century England. Ironically enough, Trump, as he now still is, reminds me of an Oliver Cromwell, with business as a religion, and manufactured outrage as zeal. The question is will he turn out to have unpredicted qualities of genius in areas of endeavour he has never tackled before? Cromwell went with amazing agility from farmer to political activist to impressive military leader and to admired statesman. Can Trump go from entrepreneurial huckster to reality-TV star and thence to globally-renowned statesman? Nothing is impossible.
Unless something too awful to ignore emerges, however, I have resolved to give him six months before deciding that the revolution must happen before we’re all sunk…and everybody knows this too…
Paul William Roberts