Belmont Club

Day By Day

When things really fall apart many don’t hanker for the past, or even hope for a future. Instead they live from day to day in an uncertain present.  The fictional Rick Blaine, for instance, ran guns to Ethiopia in 1936 (though he would have made double working for the other side) instead of giving in to his idealism. Rhett Butler, in a setting 80 years before, preferred to be a smuggler than a true believer in the Cause.

Scarlett: But you are a blockade runner.
Rhett Butler: For profit, and profit only.
Scarlett: Are you tryin’ to tell me you don’t believe in the cause?
Rhett Butler: I believe in Rhett Butler, he’s the only cause I know.

Asked what they believed in, each would reply: only in myself or causes that were lost.  The only safe ideals are those that are out of reach, which like the memory of first love, can never betray you. Feasible dreams, like attainable loves, are still perilous. What is your cause: to rebuild America the Lost? You can be hurt by that. Eduardo Porter, writing in the New York Times, warns, “America’s best days may be behind it”. Or maybe it’s safer to trust in Hope, Change and Hillary.  Hillary Clinton writes glowingly about what she will accomplish in the Next Chapter.

On January 20, 2017, America will begin our next chapter. … Look where we are today. We’ve had 70 straight months of private-sector job growth. Our businesses have created 14.1 million jobs. The unemployment rate is the lowest in seven years. And the auto industry just had its best year ever.

But for those who have had it with “Next Chapters” the present will have to do. In that intermission, the present-day Blaines and Butlers find the willingness to do almost anything.  People smuggling for instance, is booming.  There’s a land office sale in fake and stolen passports.  Smugglers — the blockade runners of today — provide the rice, drugs and sex toys that keep Venezuela afloat.  The movie 13 Hours, according to US News, reveals that there are boots on the ground after all, despite denials, except that they belong to private military contractors. The arms industry was never better. The spiritual descendants of Harry Lime, yet another familiar character from fiction, were probably behind the factory in Turkey manufacturing fake life jackets for sale to refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Police allegedly seized 1,263 lifejackets filled with non-buoyant materials from an illegal workshop in Izmir …
The raid came in the same week that the bodies of more than 30 people washed up on Turkish beaches, having drowned in their attempt to reach Greece. Some of the dead were pictured wearing lifejackets, leading to suspicions that they may have been fake.

Josh Earnest’s pat reassurances that peace busting out all over is belied by the rise of all these sordid industries. Things must be vile because vileness is in demand.  You can almost hear Harry Lime: so what if the life jackets are fake, eh Holly? “Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”

You don’t want to be one of those dots. And when one reads predictions that Iran will double cross Obama, that the EU and Russia are going to fall apart, that the administration is making things worse in the Middle East or that North Korea and Iran are working together to build a a nuclear bomb, then it’s hard to dismiss Sidney Blumenthal’s argument to Hillary Clinton that it’s every bean in the hill for himself in this crazy world.

Two weeks after France began bombing Libya, in March, 2011, Hillary Clinton’s old friend and advisor Sidney Blumenthal passed her an intelligence memo that supposedly revealed France’s true — and quite unflattering— motivations for toppling Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. While France’s then-President Nicolas Sarkozy publicly said he wished to free the Libyan people from tyranny, Blumenthal’s memo argues that he was driven by a cocktail of less lofty incentives, including a desire for Libyan oil, and a fear that Qaddafi secretly planned to use his vast supply of gold to displace France’s primacy in the region.

If the noble French are not past making a buck, then who can you trust? Being a prominent person like Nicolas Sarkozy helps in this game. The SEAL who shot Bin Laden had less luck trying to keep back a souvenir.  “Matthew Bissonnette, the former SEAL and author of No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the 2011 bin Laden operation, had already been under investigation by both the Justice Department and the Navy” for keeping back a photo of the dead 9/11 architect and storing it on his computer in order to allegedly profit from it.

Judging from the cynical behavior of the elites, one would be forgiven for thinking that hope died a long time ago. With so much callousness in the air it takes a lot of faith to stay in the fight and a special kind of fool to keep loving when “nobody ever loved you that much”.  That so many people remain to do their duty and keep at their daily tasks is testimony to a kind of invisible hand about the world, a momentum that endures despite every betrayal.

The comforting thing is that history has been here before many, many times.  In crisis after crisis, humanity has not only endured but prospered. How they manage this is hard to explain.  St. Paul writes that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  Perhaps this is another way of saying that during a period of flux the great bulk of civilizational value resides in the ordinary life of men; with the headliners ironically the most dispensable element of all.

That is because the role of elites, which is to provide a narrative past and promise of the future is undermined during a discontinuity, leaving people to live in the present to an  extraordinary degree.  One of the most ironic consequences of the mistakes of Western leadership is that they’ve destroyed the present value of the future upon which their legitimacy depends. The future is no longer assured. This leaves everyone to live in the present, because there’s nowhere left to go.

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