The feeling that “there’s something strange in the neighborhood” used to raise alarms. In Shakespeare’s play Caesar and his wife Calpurnia wake to disturbances in the night. Caesar looks about him and tells Calpurnia “nor heaven nor earth have been at peace to-night.” She replies:
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn’d, and yielded up their dead …
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
“And I do fear them,” Calpurnia adds, for “when beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
In our less superstitious age the outré is purposely held to portend nothing and is explained away. With a new Cold War in the offing, a possible indictment hanging over the Democratic front runner, the European Union poised to break apart, and the middle class disappearing not just in the US, but in Germany, the Obama administration has adopted what Seth Cropsey calls “the Alfred E. Neuman defense policy” and concentrated on launching a toilet revolution overturning rules for using the bathroom.
For absurdity it rivals the droll story told in The Atlantic about the Venezuelan businessman who in the middle of the economic collapse tries to comply with “an obscure clause … requiring the factory’s restrooms to be stocked with toilet paper at all times” only to find himself raided by the secret police for buying black market lavatory paper claiming they had busted a major hoarding operation, “part of a U.S.-backed ‘economic war’ the Maduro government holds responsible for creating Venezuela’s shortages in the first place”. Charles Dickens argued that a man about to be hanged focuses on trivia to keep from thinking of the matter at hand. He describes Fagin’s last moments in the courtroom.
He looked up into the gallery again. Some of the people were eating, and some fanning themselves with handkerchiefs; for the crowded place was very hot. There was one young man sketching his face in a little note-book. He wondered whether it was like, and looked on when the artist broke his pencil-point, and made another with his knife, as any idle spectator might have done.
In the same way, when he turned his eyes towards the judge, his mind began to busy itself with the fashion of his dress, and what it cost, and how he put it on. There was an old fat gentleman on the bench, too, who had gone out, some half an hour before, and now come back. He wondered within himself whether this man had been to get his dinner, what he had had, and where he had had it; and pursued this train of careless thought until some new object caught his eye and roused another.
Not that, all this time, his mind was, for an instant, free from one oppressive overwhelming sense of the grave that opened at his feet; it was ever present to him, but in a vague and general way, and he could not fix his thoughts upon it. Thus, even while he trembled, and turned burning hot at the idea of speedy death, he fell to counting the iron spikes before him, and wondering how the head of one had been broken off, and whether they would mend it, or leave it as it was. Then, he thought of all the horrors of the gallows and the scaffold—and stopped to watch a man sprinkling the floor to cool it—and then went on to think again.
People used to know that when there was “something strange in the neighborhood” accompanied by an unnatural obsession with toilets there was probably trouble ahead. The oddest thing about these developments at the end of Obama administration is how supposedly natural they are. CNN reports that “the Obama administration issued guidance Friday directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. … The letter does not carry the force of law but the message was clear: Fall in line or face loss of federal funding.”
Yet one can’t help feeling the needle has skipped out of the groove, the TV series has jumped the shark, the system is printing random garbage on the console screen. Jeffrey Sachs complains in the Boston Globe that the stars have left their age-old tracks. “Impunity,” he tells us, “is epidemic in America. The rich and powerful get away with their heists in broad daylight. … Our major institutions, the ones that should know better, are often gross enablers of impunity.”
Like many opinion leaders he’s noticed just now there are no brakes. “They” — the Ivy League, the Republican party, Bill Nye, the churches even — have lost the ability to impose consequences or respect the natural order of things. For years we’ve talked it down and until finally we’ve pulled the brake pedal from the floor and chucked it out the window. “A lioness hath whelped in the streets” has become no more remarkable than CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. “And graves have yawn’d, and yielded up their dead” is just an episode in The Walking Dead. That “the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes” is undoubtedly true. Too bad that he died last April in his Minnesota home.
Zachary Jacobson argues in USA Today says Bernie Sanders is popular with Millennials because they never heard of the Cold War and are learning about Communism from him possibly for the first time.
Unlike older people, Millennials have no memories of socialism, communism and the Cold War that framed American foreign policy from 1945 to 1991. … For a vast number of Americans old enough to have lived through the Cold War era, referring to oneself as a socialist elicits reactions that range from dangerous suspicion to laughable condescension. Previously, a man with avowed respect for Fidel Castro would be disqualified as a high-level politician. Previously, a man who honeymooned in the former Soviet Union would be disqualified. A socialist (democratic or not) would recall not Scandinavia but aggressive Soviet communism, and would be disqualified. …
There were the stories of the Gulag’s slave labor, arrests without trial, political purges, the disappearance of writers, artists and political dissidents. There was the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Perhaps most symbolically fitting, in the early 1980s, the Soviet Union and its failing socialist doctrine were best captured by the series of sclerotic general secretaries passing away one after another in short order.
All this the Millennials missed. … Not unlike their late socialist and communist brethren, American youth increasingly have found their bogeymen in the titans of industry. Less and less does the idea of an intrusive Orwellian bureaucracy haunt young Americans. Sanders wants a vast expansion of the federal government, including government-run single-payer health insurance and free public higher education.
All that student debt and they never heard about the Cold War. They never heard about consequences either. To waken to a city with the sky above on fire and zombies roaming the streets is disturbing by itself. Yet the real alarm in Jeffrey Sach’s article is not that the elite cheat; but they are not above cheating each other. He complains that Harvard has proved willing to take donations ripped off of unwitting investors. Drug companies like Theranos are suspected of marketing faked treatments to the public. Hillary Clinton may have possibly provided “off-the-record favors for foreign governments”. But why not when Chelsea’s hedge fund husband lost 90% of the value of his bet on Greek stocks? Somebody had to lose the money so that someone could gain it. The elites are discovering that they are not only at the table, but also on the menu.
People who actually matter are starting to become victims. That’s the shock. Just as Caesar was soon to discover that he was the prince for whom the heavens mourned, the Millenials may be surprised learn that the perma-renter trend may eventually become the perma-tenter trap. “Just outside of Seattle sits a small cluster of tents in what resembles an overcrowded camping ground.” See those Hoovervilles? They’re for you.
There are hundreds of these pop-up encampments across the United States, where half a million are currently homeless. Many of these tent cities are technically illegal, but local governments generally leave them alone when the local homeless shelters are at capacity. There is no typical resident at these homeless camps. Construction workers, elementary school aids, recently unemployed college graduates, former veterans, and even flannel-wearing hipsters have all passed through the camps’ water-resistant, polyester doors.
The reason why revolutions eventually fail is not because they do not attain their goals but because they attain them too well. The great surprise is the discovery that it affects everyone in the end. As many former Chavez supportesr now falling in fruitless line from midnight have said, “I never thought it would happen to me.” Toilets anyone?
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