Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
by Shaun Bartone
Marx began his Eighteenth Brumaire with a correction of Hegel’s idea that history necessarily repeats itself: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great events and characters of world history occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. (Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then As Farce, 2009)
The Tragedy and the Farce are two events of the first decade of the Second Millennium that Zizek contrasts in his thesis: the attack on the Twin Towers of September 11 and the global financial meltdown of 2008. I progress this tale to the third moment of the Second Millennium, the 2016 election of Donald Trump, a Denouement that unmasked the Tragedy and the Farce and showed its true face: “the grotesque visage of our collapsed democracy.” (Hedges) Tragedy, Farce and Denouement rolled into one great tragi-comic opera.
Trump’s election in 2016 is every bit the outcome of the first two events, just as the Bank Bailout of 2008 was an outcome of 9-11. The World Trade Towers were desecrated as tragedy in Trump’s New York. It must have been a personal and existential assault on his sense of imperiousness and immortality, that they, the Muslim Terrorists, could do this in his New York, to the iconic Twin Towers that represented his greatest ambitions in life: world trade and global real estate.
The financial crash of 2008 as farce is again, Trump’s farce, the crash of the global real estate market. It became the game of thrones played by the One Percent in the Oval Office, who could twist the tourniquet hard enough to force central banks to vomit volcanic lava flows of cash into the corporate bank accounts of the already richest of the world. Looking back on this, one wonders why Trump hated President Obama so much. Didn’t Barry already give them everything they wanted? Bailed them out to the tune of trillions of dollars that would never be paid back? with no criminal indictments, no one going to jail? But Barrack was Black, and his middle name was Hussein, so there was that. Trump’s pursuit of the Birther cause was an early example of how the Donald can get blindly obsessed with something to the point of both tragedy and farce.
Donald the Evil Clown is the Looney Tunes personification of this farce, but now it has all become very clear: his surprise election in 2016 by elderly white hicks in Forgotten Fly Over America, and redundant drone replacements in the Rust Belt, the exact opposite of everything this king of coastal urbanity represents, was indeed the Denouement, the third and final act of this grand tragi-comic farce.
This week the Guardian reported that the Communist government of China is parading the election of Trump, amidst the assault on human rights of Black people, immigrants, Muslims, queers and women, as the farce of democracy.
I went ahead with my plan to leave the United States in 2007, after finishing a Masters in Sociology at New School, loaded with debt, slogging through ten years of no full-time work, no health insurance, no access to medical transitioning for transgender people, no future, and the fading of a ten year relationship. I had already lost nearly everything, so there was nothing else to lose.
So I immigrated to Maritime Canada. I spent five years roughing it in wintry New Brunswick, the last four in blissful Halfiax, Nova Scotia as a Canadian citizen. I had nearly completed my Ph.D, and just recuperated from top surgery, a gender-confirming surgery that I had sought in vain for 25 years in the US. It was all generously paid for by the Province of Nova Scotia. I had been teaching at the university level for four years, and was on my way to some kind of gratifying academic career.
My partner, who had immigrated with me, had already gone back the US to take a plum job as a nurse at UMass Medical. Durning her second year there, she decided she wanted me back in her life. After undergoing the surgery at the gender clinic in Montreal, I recuperated for three months at her house in Worcester, MA. At that point, it seemed like a sure bet that Hillary was going to win, and I decided I could live in Hillary’s America. We made plans for me to return to live with her in the US.
On the evening of Tuesday, November 7, in rust-belt Worcester, MA, I sat on the couch and watched with horror as the political nightmare unfolded. It reminded me of the time in my early 20s when I had dropped acid and watched the Bugs Bunny show. Acid Bugs had morphed into a bloody red spectre of Satan in Hell, but I couldn’t tell if it was the acid or if that was the actual show.
Back in Halifax, I found myself in the God Realm, having become a Buddhist and blissfully escaped the madness of the world through meditation and academia. I lived in what was for me the best neighbourhood in Halifax, also the poorest and most racially mixed, but likewise the best, because it was also the gay neighbourhood. Right around the corner from my apartment were two of the best gay bars in Halifax and a weekly drag show. After nine years in northern exile, I had been cured of the disease of the Ugly American, and became Happily Canadian.
The prospect of going back to America, to Trump’s America, pierced and deflated my Zeppelin abode in the God Realm. I had to leave Nirvana. Like a parachuting Alice, the fall out of the clouds feels like an endless fall and there is plenty of time to think about things on the way down.
I’m going back to an America that is steeped not in ignorance, but deliberate denial and contempt for rational facts. Going back to an America that lives in a fascist wet dream of bulked up manhood, compliant females and Trumpcare Viagra. Going back to an America that gets juiced up on self-righteous hate. Going back to an America high on crystal meth, opioids and a death wish for a transcendent White Paradise. The Dance of Death is the metaphysical orgasm for irrational fascism.
I’m going back, not to hide in a suburban middle class sangha, but to fight, because I’m going back to a war.
There is a war going on in America.
The Ruling Class has declared this war of all against all. Led by Caligula in a bathrobe tweeting delusional nonsense at 3 AM, it is stripped naked of its neoliberal pretensions, stripped of it’s preening code words and black tie negotiations, down to its pink, sweaty flesh. It is Casino Capitalism spinning the Russian Roulette Wheel at the Death Star Hotel, double or nothing, sudden death overtime. It dresses up in garish Halloween costumes of Nazi uniforms and KKK hoodies. It screams Christian Sovereign obscenities, ready to extort and execute and exile, ready for genocide, proclaiming its Ultimate Lies from the barrel of a gun. It is Gangster Capitalism, the kind of government that takes over after everything has already collapsed, like way back in 2008. Gangster Capitalism, just like Russia after the Soviet collapse in the 90s. It is the Moscow Mob, and #45 is the bloated Orange God Father.
It was the war that was just starting when I left, and now I’m in the middle of this war. I’m going back not as a ‘stream enterer’, but as a pierced and tattooed dharma punk, a flaming faggot Bodhisattva, pushing Against the Stream. Good thing I have a prescription for T—it puts me in the right frame of mind.
I’m not going back to save America. I’ve come to terms with the fact that America is too far gone, that ‘America’ cannot be saved. I’m not going to fight for a return to an American yesterday that never was. It never was a democratic nation, it never was fair or free for everyone, it never was a safe haven of opportunity for most people. It was always and from the beginning a nation of white Christian supremacists who exiled indigenous people and stole their land, that built its wealth on Black slavery, that oppressed women and queers in the Name of the Father, that fracked and strip-mined nature, that forced the working class to work for next-to-nothing. It was always run by the wealthiest of the Bourgeoisie, the One Percent, under the flag of the Corporate State.
America is so broken, so racially divided, so brutally raped by the corporate class, it is arriving late to its own funeral because it doesn’t know it is already dead. I’m not going back to save America, I’m going back to save human dignity. I’m going back to fight for people, for animals, for the planet, for queers, for my fellow stragglers in the precarious class.
I’m going back to fight in this war. The gloves are coming off. Gird your loins with leather, boy. No more Buddhist feel-good platitudes. No more drifting through arcane philosophies by Asian theologians. Boots on the ground. It’s time to face the brutal reality of what America is and what it has become. I dig in my heels and swear under my breath. My voice is loud and shrill. My mantra is Silence = Death.
I’m going back to fight for human decency. I’m going back to fight for the existential reality that our biosphere is dying, and that we are dying with it. I’m going back to fight for an awakening to universal human dignity, for an awakening to Life on this precarious planet. I’m going back to stick my head into the roaring maw of Fascism with nothing to shout back but Dark Optimism.
This grand opera has been the staging of my own tragedy and farce. I left America ten years ago in Obama’s Weimar Republic, as tragedy, worn out from banging my head against The Wall, the Invisible Wall that has always kept me out of Trump’s America. I have always been on the other side of this Wall, in the “other America.”
My return now is as farce. I put on the war paint and jump on to the stage into the middle of this Cabaret of Nazis in Rodeo Clown Drag. This is my Denouement, where I walk on stage into the final scene of this epic drama, and everything gets motherfuckin’ real.