Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"The barriers and obstructions that stand between the holder of that powerful office and his own capacity for evil"

Philip Roth's 1971 satirical novel Our Gang chronicles the presidency, assassination, and eventual comeback of "Trick E. Dixon."

There were a lot of books written attacking Nixon (do I spoil the surprise by telling you that's who Roth's book is really about?), both at the time and since, but Our Gang stands without peer for its exuberant nastiness. The section I've excerpted below is one of the nicer parts.

Even for some Nixon-haters at the time, Roth's overwhelming dislike of Nixon went too far (he published this, after all, in the year before that now-famous "third rate burglary" even took place), but read this little slice and see what you think.

It's satire, yes, but is it so far out of the realm of possibility to imagine a president whose vanity, paranoia, and arrogance could reduce a sizable chunk of the planet's surface to hell on earth?

On the Comeback Trail; or, Tricky in Hell

My fellow Fallen:

Let me say at the outset that I of course agree with much of what Satan has said here tonight in his opening statement. I know that Satan feels as deeply as I do about what has to be done to make Wickedness all that it can and should be in the creation. For let there be no mistake about it: we are engaged in a deadly competition with the Kingdom of Righteousness. There isn't any question in my mind but that the God of Peace is out, as He Himself has said, "to crush" us "under His feet," and that He and His gang of angels will stop at nothing to accomplish this end. I could not agree more with Satan when he says that our goal is not just to keep Wickedness for ourselves, but to extend it to all creation, because that is Hell's destiny. To extend it to all creation because the aim of the Righteous is not just to hold their own, but to extend Righteousness. But we cannot be victorious over Righteousness with a strategy of simply holding the line. My disagreement with Satan then is not about the goals for Hell, but about the means to reach those goals.

Now Satan has said that we are ahead in this competition with Righteousness. I cannot agree with that appraisal of the situation. As I look at Hell today, I believe that we are following programs of an outdated leadership. I believe we are following programs many of which have not worked in the past and will not work in the future. I say that the programs and leadership that have failed under Satan's administration are not the programs and the leadership that Hell needs now. I say that the damned and the doomed do not want to go back to the policies of the Garden of Eden. I say that the Sons and Daughters of Disobedience deserve a devil of consummate depravity, a Devil who will devote himself not to old and worn-out iniquities, but to bold new programs in Evil that will overturn God's kingdom and plunge men into eternal death. What we need down here is not just high hopes. What we need is crafty wiles and untiring zeal. In the field of executive leadership, I believe it is essential that the Devil not only set the tone, but he must also lead; he must act as he talks.

Frankly, I don't think this is the kind of leadership we have been getting. Now since my arrival I have traveled to the very edges of the outer darkness. I have been down to the bottom of the bottomless pit. I have been burned in the unquenchable fire and have joined you in the comfortless gloom. I have talked to sinners from all walks of life. I have eaten with degenerates and blasphemed with the impious. I have looked into the eyes of the depraved and the malicious. I have familiarized myself with viciousness and baseness of all kinds. And one thing I have noted as I have traveled from one end of Hell to the other is the wonderful belief our people have in Wickedness. I tell you, with great pride, that I have never seen anything to equal our corruption. And that is why I don't think we have to settle for second best. I don't think we have to settle for anything less than a Devil who is the very embodiment of malice. And I humbly submit to you, the denizens of the greatest infernal region in all creation, that if elected, I would be that kind of Devil.

I was fortunate enough to hear an awful lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth on my trip around Hell, and I think the strongest impression I came away with was this: that you lost souls out there are just as sick and tired as I am of hearing the Devil downgraded and Hell itself dismissed as "old-fashioned" and "out-of-date." Well, maybe it is "old-fashioned" in some circles, but to those of us who live here, Hell happens to be home. And dating back as it does to the beginning of time, it happens to have been home to some of the most illustrious names in history. And I think with that kind of history and that kind of record, it is high time we put Hell back on the map, and high time the Devil was given his due.

Now I can only say, in this regard, that maybe Satan is satisfied with the fact that at least one half of the people presently on earth--and I know this, because I just came from there--at least one half of those people no longer believe in the existence of Hell, let alone its influence in world affairs. And maybe Satan is satisfied that the Devil, the highest official in the underworld, once the very symbol of nefariousness to millions, is considered in the upper regions to have absolutely no power at all over the decisions made there by men. And maybe Satan is satisfied when at least two thirds of the children in the world go to bed at night without any fear of fire or brimstone, or an undying worm gnawing at the heart. Incidentally, in that connection, they don't even fear the pitchfork. And maybe that's all right with Satan, too. However, let me make my position very clear. It's not all right with me. Maybe Satan is satisfied with the status quo; well, I'm not. I say that when Hell is nothing more than a dirty word in the mouths of most people living today, then something is wrong, and something has to be done about it.

What has happened to "the Devil's net" we used to hear so much about? My fellow Fallen, it is full of holes.

What has happened to "the power of the Devil" that used to terrify the hearts of men? My fellow Fallen, it has run out of steam.

And when was the last time you heard the phrase "the work of Satan"? Can you even remember? Maybe that's because after all these millennia in office, Satan is satisfied with the status quo.

But I'm not. I say the Devil's work is never done. I say he has a responsibility to get up there among the living and wage war against the forces of Righteousness. I say he has a responsibility to the denizens of Hell, and to all souls everywhere who aspire to Wickedness, to oppose truth with falsehood. I say he has a responsibility to obscure light with darkness. I say he has a responsibility to entangle men's minds in error. I say he as a responsibility to stir up hatred. I say he has a responsibility to kindle contentions and combats. And I say any Devil who does less than this is not deserving of the title "Prince of Darkness," and does serious harm to the power and prestige of Hell and to the security of the Wicked everywhere.

Now you may answer, "That is all fine and dandy, Mr. President, but what qualifications do you bring with you to the job of being a responsible Devil?"

I know as well as you do the claims my opponent makes for his experience in office. I know what has been written in grudging tribute of him, by no less than our own adversaries in Heaven. "When Satan lies," they way, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." And let there be no mistake about my position on this issue: I have the highest regard for his long and distinguished record as a liar. I know that I, like so many of you out there in the fires and down there in the pit, owe a deep debt of gratitude to the example of his never-say-die spirit, where lying is concerned.

To interject a personal note, you know I was born an opportunist, out in California, and during my years in public life I had the privilege of wheeling and dealing with other opportunists as well. And I think I speak for all opportunists when I say that Satan has been a constant source of inspiration to us from time immemorial, in good times and in bad. Surely I would want it understood through out this campaign, that I respect not only the tenacity with which he lies, but his sincerity in lying. And of course I would hope that he would agree that I am just as sincere in my lying as he is in his.

But let me make one thing perfectly clear. Much as I respect and admire his lies, I don't think that lies are something to stand on. I think they are something to build on. I don't think anyone, man or demon, can ever rely upon the lies he has told in the past, bold and audacious as they may have been at the time, to distort today's realities. We live in an era of rapid and dramatic change. My own experience has shown that yesterday's lies are just not going to confuse today's problems. You cannot expect to mislead people next year the way you misled them a year ago, let alone a million years ago. And that is why, with all due respect to my opponent's experience, I say we need a new administration in Hell, an administration with new horns, new half-truths, new horrors and new hypocrisies. I say we need a new commitment to Evil, new stratagems and contrivances to make our dream of a totally fallen world a reality.

And now let me say a word to those who point to my own record as President of the United States and contend that it less than it could have been, as regards suffering and anguish for all of the people, regardless of race, creed, or color. Let me remind you that I happened to have held that high office for less than one term before I was assassinated. Now not even Satan, I think, with the support of all his legions, would claim that he could bring a nation with a strong democratic tradition and the highest standard of living in the world to utter ruination in only a thousand days. Indeed, despite my brief tenure in the "White" House, I firmly believe that I was able to maintain and perpetuate all that was evil in American life when I came to power. Furthermore I think I can safely say that I was able to lay the groundwork for new oppressions and injustices and to sow seeds of bitterness and hatred between the races, the generations and the social classes that hopefully will plague the American people for years to come. Surely I did nothing whatsoever to decrease the eventuality of a nuclear holocaust, but rather continued to make progress in that direction by maintaining policies of belligerence, aggression, and subversion around the globe. I think I might point with particular pride to Southeast Asia, where I was able to achieve considerable growth in just the sort of human misery that the vengeful and vindictive souls here in our great inferno would wish upon the whole of mankind.

Now of course I do not claim sole responsibility for the devastation and misery visited by my country upon the Vietnamese, the Laotians, and the Cambodians. In fact, I know that in the years to come you are going to have the privilege of meeting many of the men who were equally as devoted as was I, and who worked long hours with great dedication and self-sacrifice, as did I, to make life a nightmare in that region for those Asian human beings. I know when they get here they are going to make a great contribution to Hell, and let me say in that connection that if I am elected Devil, I will not hesitate to avail myself of their counsel and advice here, as I did there.

While it is true then that I was not the sole author, leader and architect of this great program for suffering launched by my country in Southeast Asia, I will say this: when the opportunity to take charge of our program was presented to me, I did not stand pat on the butchery and carnage of my predecessors. Because I know, as do you, that where slaughter is concerned we cannot stand pat. We cannot stand pat for the reason that we're in a race, as I've indicated. We can't stand pat because it is essential with the conflict that we have around the globe that we not just hold our own, that we not just keep suffering for ourselves, but that we extend it to every last man, woman, and child. And I am confident that if you will look at the record, you will see that this is just what I was able to accomplish through Southeast Asia. I think you will agree that in the very brief time allotted to me I managed to seize upon the opportunity provided me by my predecessors and, with the aid of the United States Air Force, I turned that part of the globe into nothing less than Hell on earth.

Now I realize, as you do, that despite my record in Southeast Asia, there are still those who would impugn my reputation by pointing to certain "humane" or "benevolent" actions that I undertook while President of the United States. Well, let me say, as regards these wholly unfounded attacks upon my bad name, that I intend, after this broadcast, to issue a black paper, showing that in every single instance where they claim I was "humane" or "benevolent," I was in actual fact motivated solely by political self-interest, and acted with utter indifference, if not outright contempt and cynicism, for the welfare of anybody other than myself. If and when any good whatsoever accrued to anything but me and my career, it was--as I am confident the black paper will make perfectly clear--wholly unintentional and inadvertent.

Now I am not saying that ignorance of benign consequences is any excuse for a demon who aspires to be your Devil. I am only admitting to you that I was not so hideous on earth as I might have been. But then I am sure that the great majority of demons in Hell weren't either, and that you share with me regrets about wasted opportunities and pangs of conscience. But let there be no mistake about it: I am no longer a man burdened by all the limitations and weaknesses of that condition, such as conscience, caution and consideration for one's reputation. And I am no longer President of the United States, with all the barriers and obstructions that stand between the holder of that powerful office and his own capacity for evil. I am at long last a citizen of Hell, and let me tell you, that is a great challenge and a great opportunity. And that is why I can assure you, my fellow Fallen, that down here where no holds are barred and nothing is sacred, you are going to see a New Dixon, a Dixon such as I could only dream of being while still an American human being, a Dixon who humbly submits that he has what it takes in experience and energy to be the kind of devil all you lost souls deserve.

Philip Roth, Our Gang (1971)


MICKY said...

Are you living in the past?

Nothstine said...

Hi, Micky

No, not really. Today happened to be the date, and I just think it's a hilarious book. Tastes vary.

I guess any time you notice an anniversary, you're living in the past a little bit, but I don't think it's crippling me, if that's what you mean.

On the other hand, you don't really mean to suggest that the past has no importance for the present, do you?

* Cheney has maneuvered himself into unprecedented power in large part because of the lessons he thinks should be drawn from Watergate, the resignation, and post-Watergate reforms.

* The Iraq war was shaped and sold by Cheney and Rumsfeld, two Nixon administration survivors who thought they knew how to get around the harm that the Vietnam War did to Nixon's administration.

* One of the reason the House isn't debating articles of impeachment against Bush for his many crimes today is that conservative's resentment of Nixon's forced resignation made them eager for payback with Clinton--and in the process they tainted the impeachment process to the extent that even in the face of Bush's lawlessness it still looks to many people like a partisan weapon, not a constitutional remedy.

So in that sense, yeah, I'm living in the past--or at least with it. We all are.