WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG, majoring in marijuana at the university, hanging out with the Progressive Labor Party, and skipping through the clouds of tear gas on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, I was convinced that any war that would send my long-haired, sensitive, poetic and acid-tripping self off to wade through rice paddies in Vietnam just had to be wrong, wrong, wrong .
In those years it was easy to see the United States through red-tinted glasses. All you had to do was load a Chillum , roll another Giant Doobie, put Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” on the turntable, plug in the Bongomatic and light everything up. Like so many others in that long ago land of Nod-Out, this ritual was my major course of study.
Once this gentle ritual sufficiently soothed my tortured soul I’d often make my way (s l o w l y) to the daily Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) meeting for a righteous rap session on how “the man can’t bust our music or our movement.” Then I’d float my way back home to listen to my red-hot red-diaper girlfriend rhapsodize about her Worker’s Party parents and natter on about old Progressive Labor Party parties in New York that seemed to center not on politics but on heroin suppositories. She thought “those were the days.”
I wasn’t so sure that Amerikkka should be spelled with a ‘KKK’, but she had cool Communist credentials signed off on by no less than the dowager princess of the American Communist Party Bettina Aptheker, so I was inclined to go along with her drivel in order to get along with her. Living with a red-diaper princess who was on the steering committee of the VDC was, in those days at Berkeley, better than going steady with the Homecoming Queen.
In later life, my princess was due to come down in the world. The last I looked she was counseling latter-day lesbians suffering from Lesbian Bed Death; just another ordinary therapist wading through the muck of ordinary urban angst. Back then she was professionally oppressed by the fascist war machine and so was I. So was every other college-deferment clutching coward of my time. Fear and lust controlled us. She, and so many others, “said ‘Yes!’ to boys who said ‘No!’” so I memorized all the ways in which we were oppressed. She was always giving a test on this subject and I didn’t do so bad.
I also found that, like any good Berkeley radical, you needed — in this realm of unremitting oppressions so thick and so multiple that counting was foolish — to find some good friends; some very good friends both at home and abroad. And so you looked around, not so much for friends, but for enemies of your enemy, the oppressive AmeriKKKa. You looked around the world using the dubious intellectual filter: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
When you ran everything you said and did through the “Oppressive America ” filter you had no end of friends in the 60s and early 70s. Some of them even had guns, ammo, armies, armor, and nuclear weapons.
The “friends” of our slice of young America included, but were not limited to, The Soviet Union, The People’s Republic of China, Castro’s Cuba, and socialist and communist parties stretching across Europe and down through Mexico, Central, and South America. Elsewhere they included the Viet Minh, the Viet Cong, the Khmer Rouge, the Red Army Faction… on and on until the international litany of political dementia girdled the globe in a seamless political landscape of perpetual Revolution, sexual and otherwise. You and your oppressed and draftable friends saw those groups and nations as “righteous.” You saw them not as the totalitarian serial killers they were, but as the secular saviors of civilization. They were, well, just very cool guys. They were “happening, bro.”
When you got done with feeling cool about those friendly states and organizations, you still weren’t out of friends. Instead, you just went on to the “enemies of your enemy” that were not necessarily rooted in real estate, but in the mind and the culture. These groups have been summed up in a stunning fashion by Paul Mann in his perceptive essay “Stupid Undergrounds.” They were
–take a deep breath —
Apocalyptic cults and youth gangs, garage bands and wolfpacks, alternative colleges and phalansteries, espionage networks trading in vaporous facts and networks of home shoppers for illicit goods; monastic, penological, mutant-biomorphic, and anarcho- terrorist cells; renegade churches, dwarf communities, no-risk survivalist enclaves, unfunded quasi-scientific research units, paranoid think tanks, unregistered political parties, sub-employed workers councils, endo-exile colonies, glossolaliac fanclubs, acned anorexic primal hordes; zombie revenants, neo-fakirs, defrocked priests and detoxing prophets, psychedelic snake-oil shills, masseurs of undiagnosed symptoms, bitter excommunicants, faceless narcissists, ideological drag queens, mystical technophiles, sub- entrepreneurial dealers, derivative derivistes, tireless archivists of phantom conspiracies, alien abductees, dupe attendants, tardy primitives, vermin of abandoned factories, hermits, cranks, opportunists, users, connections, outriders, outpatients, wannabes, hackers, thieves, squatters, parasites, saboteurs; wings, wards, warehouses, arcades, hells, hives, dens, burrows, lofts, flocks, swarms, viruses, tribes, movements, groupuscules, cenacles, isms, and the endlessly multiplied hybridization of variant combinations of all these…
That just about sums up the enemies of our enemy, AmeriKKKa, in the Vietnam era.
As you can see we had plenty of friends.
And they and we all grew older.
We survived and thrived.
We didn’t “sell out,” we bought in.
Some of us even grew up, but only a few.
For most of us — no matter what was our lot in later life — it would always be 1968. We so loved being “The Lost Boys.”
Although I was of — and among — many of the stupid undergrounds above, none of them are among my friends any longer. I have, alas, far fewer friends. Indeed, as my strange political odyssey of saying “Goodbye to all that” continues, old friends seem to melt away like the highland mist at high noon in the desert. It is sad, but still, with friends like those…
Over the five decades since 1968, the list of regimes dedicated to, and capable of, the destruction of the United States shrank. They either took a long dirt nap in the muck of history or are now shambling towards the graveyard of all other failed but deadly fascist ideologies. The political genius and destiny of the United States lies, after all, in the fact that we do not require you to be a friend. You simply have to not be an enemy.
The American Way is, after all, that nothing need be personal when it can just be business. One on one, Americans can be very warm, understanding and generous. But piss us off too much and we’ll bomb your cities to rubble. We don’t like business to be disrupted too much.
In all this, the world at large has gone forward and, all in all, improved for the better. The world seems, slowly, to be working out well for most of those people who have, as they say, “gotten with the program.”
But there remains a residual group of Americans who, although they batten off the program, don’t want to get with it at all — except when it comes time to buy a new Prius, take a vacation in Provance, or score a country home. They take pride in never having sold out, even as they buy in. They are “the Not-So-Great Generation.” They are my generation.
These dreary souls without a country have made prosperous lives for themselves in our local, state and national governments and politics. They are legion in the comfortable realms of academia, the entertainment world, and the media. Graying, they tint their hair. Flaccid, they siphon their cellulite. Balding, they tie what they have back in a ponytail and strut on impertube. Some even drive their hatefully capitalist Ferrari to their hatefully capitalist private jet and fly to their hatefully capitalist private home on the beach in Hawaii.
The long list of Paul Mann’s Stupid Undergrounds shows no signs of shortening. Fueled by the vapid culture of cool it gets longer by the day. And it is from within this expanding list of Stupid Undergrounds that the American Left of today draws not only its strength but its fresh and much younger converts.
If it were only the denizens of these fringe groups that supplied the ideological cannon fodder of the American Left, it would be a small matter to marginalize them since their very mindsets marginalize them from the square numbered “1.” Indeed, just a few years ago, they could only exist within the rarefied environment of on-campus humanities and ethnic-studies departments. Once removed from these hyperbaric chambers, their failure to thrive in the world outside — absent a position in various media companies and Washington Wonk Tanks — was assured. They were, if not really useful idiots, harmless idiots.
That is no longer the case. A very large and significant American institution has stripped to the buff, oiled up, and made its body politic freely available to the tender mercies and tough love of the American Left. Indeed, the capture of this group is the single significant achievement of the American Left in decades. With the elevation of Howard Dean, the canonization of Hillary Clinton, the sanctification of Ted Kennedy, the renovation of Nancy Pelosi, the self-defenestration of Barbara Boxer, and the deification of Barack H. Obama, it is clear that the political base of the American Left has now migrated from the fringes of our political arena to the dead center of the Democratic Party. And it is there to stay.
The American Left now controls the political party that calls upon the allegiance of nearly half of the country. It is the political party that is the Plantation Party of African-Americans. It is a party that holds its members now not with the plans of what it will do for them in the future, but with the fading memories of what it did for them in the past when it was a great and honorable party. With the control of the media, the Left can continue with its plan to brainwash their entire stupid half of the population in bit bleach.
The American Left will remain in control of this Party’s shell since it has brought with it not only its failed ideology and all the rag-tag constituents of the Stupid Undergrounds of America, but the very fuel source of these groups itself — Trump Hate. And on the Left today, Trump-Hate, more than money, is the new mother’s milk of our darkening politics.
The conquest of the Democratic Party by the American Left which has now been consolidated is, of course, bad news for the Democrats and for the country as a whole. A vital two or even three party system is essential to the long term balance of the Republic.
But this doesn’t bother the Leftists of the Democratic Party at all. They are too busy counting the loot. And there is loot to be had.
The American Left receives many things from their conquest, not the least of which is the damage it does, axiomatically, to the United States. They also receive money, lots of it; especially when you think of the low funding levels the American Left has had for most of its existence. Their plunder also includes electoral organizations — many — as well as access to local, state, and national unions in the public and private realms. Add in mailing lists tens of millions of names long as well as websites and online acolytes by the thousands.
Most important of all, the American Left now has open access and control over sitting Democrats in Washington and the state legislatures. With money and organizations to win elections, the American Left now has the power over elected Democrats to instruct them to support and advance some decidedly non-centrist, non-liberal, but classic Leftist agendas. In a very real sense, the conquest of the Democratic Party gives the American Left a base that it could never hope to win, and will now probably never win, at the ballot box.
This regrettable transformation of the Democratic Party makes the American Left much bigger than it ever thought it could be. Those who have lingered all these years in the thick bong smoke of the 60s now have their fantasy within their grasp. They have made the enemies of Trump and the MAGA moment and movement at home and abroad into their friends and it is, at last, “Springtime for Lefties!”
Of course, it is a crowning irony to note that the proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” was originally an Arab proverb, as were, indeed, the fuming chillums of 1968’s Not-So-Great-Generation.
But hey, as me and my hardcore leftist friends said way back then, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em.”.