The Hyenas Gather

They've got nothing and they know it: scavengers consume the corpse of a dead elephant. A recap of the twisted pageant we're still calling "primary debates."

The Hyenas Gather

When a elephant dies, all the vultures and hyenas arrive to eat the carcass, which makes for quite a show out on the savannah. This perhaps explains why earlier this week we witnessed the 2nd of what are being referred to as “presidential” primary debates. It happened like this: a bunch of people who are pretending to run for president congregated to pretend to debate over what they pretended were the issues, while a propaganda network that pretends to be a news channel televised it, and all the other news platforms, which still do some form of journalism to one degree or another, pretended along with all of this pretending to one degree or another. All of this seems an appropriate pageant for the Republican Party, since it is still pretending to be a political party and a participant within our democracy, instead of a fascist confederacy working to demolish and replace it; still pretending to have some interest in doing something like governance of our shared society even while it works overtime to steal it away.

All the usual hyenas were there, yapping at each other, jockeying for the best position at the hole ripped in the elephant’s belly.

Mike Pence was there, or at least a milky apparition resembling Mike Pence stumbled on stage to mumble sour nothings into our ears. A lot of Republican voters are confused why Mike Pence is running, but nobody so much, it seems, as Mike Pence. He brought his neck to the debate, which I think we can consider pandering, as I believe is the only part of him most Republican voters have been interested in since oh let’s say January 5, 2021.

Vivek Ramaswamy made an appearance. He’s the first Apple bitmoji to aspire to be a presidential candidate, and of all the scavengers on the dais he’s the one that seems to understand best what’s needed to head a pretend political party; that is, is a total lack of substance or shame, and a willingness to say literally anything in any moment to promote himself. Ramaswamy appears to have developed these skills until they have reached their natural apotheoses, by which I mean to say he seems to be coated in a protective layer that actually repels substance or character or sense, or even the appearance of them. He’s managed to claim that the fact of his candidacy should exclude him from facing legal proceedings, which is the most Republican thing imaginable, this side of taking a free lunch away from a hungry kid in the name of moral clarity. Also, Ramaswamy wants to end birthright citizenship, which is a sort of curious stance for him specifically to take. I mean, it’s certainly something that white racists want to hear, and if you want to be the standard bearer for the party of white supremacy you are absolutely going to need the white racists on your side—but if implemented, Ramaswamy’s policy would exclude from citizenship Vivek Ramaswamy, child of Indian immigrants1. I suppose pulling the ladder in after you’ve climbed it would appeal to a bunch of anti-immigrant pinkish-white descendants of immigrants, but all the same, it would seem obvious to note that, for white supremacist voters who wanted to back somebody with no substance or shame and a maximalist anti-immigrant position, the Republican field presents an, ahem, whiter selection.

For example, there’s poor little Ron DeSantis, who stuck his head into the elephant corpse for a while and poked around ineffectually. DeSantis is the dictator of Florida, a cruel wooden doll who hopes to become a real boy someday, but in those efforts he appears to be going backward, posing like a tiny alien who had just been briefed an hour ago how to operate human hands and facial muscles before being thrown into the cockpit, so he stands there awkwardly, his face auditioning discomfiting different expressions even as he holds his state up as the example of what sort of brisk sunny horror the entire nation might soon become. Florida is a fascist state where gay people and trans people in particular are menaced and harassed and harmed, but also up for mistreatment are teachers and librarians and health care workers and virologists and immunosuppressed people and Black people who want to participate in the electoral process and women who want to control their own bodies, and anybody else who attempts to speak the truth about supremacist systems. The truth in particular is a real bugbear for the pretend party, and the successful suppression of it is what brought DeSantis to prominence in the first place. One of DeSantis’ recent talking points is the notion that slavery was actually a beneficial thing, which is a strong position to take for a guy whose campaign staff recently put Nazi imagery on official campaign material. The idea here is that slavery taught enslaved people important work skills, and this self-defeatingly ignorant notion has become a key feature of the new curricula being forced onto Florida schoolteachers these days, in an attempt to prevent the greatest possible danger facing society: white children feeling a sense of moral responsibly. DeSantis says slavery taught enslaved Black people skills like “being a blacksmith—into doing things later in life.” Apparently in Florida slavery is now seen as a way of getting a hand up, not a hand out.

Speaking of proponents of nonsense history who seem to see slavery as the better old days, Tim Scott was on stage, and he made the point that Black families were better off under slavery than they were under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, because at least Black families survived under slavery. Now, “survive” is something a huge number of Black families manifestly did not do, since the abolition of Black families was not just a key result of the institution of modern slavery but a key strategy of it. This is something you’d know if you studied the history of slavery in America, which is now something illegal to do in Florida and other states currently held by the white supremacist party. Now, Tim Scott is a Black man, and that probably informs his beliefs about the life of Black people in America in ways that I am unqualified to comment on, but I can comment on “white” people, so I will note that whether or not Scott truly believes that the political era that brought most of the key pieces of civil rights legislation that the Civil Rights Movement fought and bled for truly was worse for Black people than was the evil institution of chattel slavery, he certainly knows that this is exactly the sort of white-exonerating thing that conservative white voters  expect to hear, particularly from Black candidates. Hell, I know that much; I’ve been hearing it from white conservatives for years; it’s the thing they tell themselves as a rationale for why they are trying to demolish the cornerstone achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, while also denying that they are the heirs of those who opposed that movement, and they always know exactly how many Black writers, politicians, and pundits agree with their premise that it is better for people, and most especially Black people, that these landmark legislations—which ended or curtailed many foundational underpinnings of institutionalized legalized racist policies—be demolished. In fact, most of these white conservatives will tell you that Martin Luther King himself—now that Martin Luther King is too peacefully dead to disagree with them—would agree with them about the salutary effects of their life work, a life’s work which, lest we forget, is the demolition of the life work of Martin Luther King.

It sure seems the Republican Party has been making a case for slavery these days, even as it prepares to detonate the explosive charges it’s spent decades placing around the dam holding back Jim Crow laws, and they are making it very strongly. One might think of this as a statement of intent, especially if one were paying enough attention to remember that Tim Scott also used the occasion of an auto workers’ strike to say “I think Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike. He said, you strike, you’re fired. Simple concept to me.” So we know that Tim Scott is also aware of another thing that the party of supremacy expects to hear from its candidates, which is that workers deserve a fair shot, but not those specific workers—meaning any workers who decide to demand a fair shot.

Nikki Haley was also there, another child of immigrants opposed to birthright citizenship, and perhaps the smoothest scavenger onstage. She keyed in on the only good thing about Ron DeSantis—the fact that he has opposed fracking—and made him pay a terrible price for the crime of holding an actually useful position. Now, fracking is a method of getting fossil fuels out of the ground that is particularly destructive to the environment, and it turns out that “environment” is one of the things that exists in DeSantis’ state, which again is Florida. And burning fossil fuels is the primary thing driving man-made climate catastrophe, and “climate catastrophe” is a thing making the planet rapidly unlivable for millions, and “the planet” is a place where we all live, which even includes the fascist state of Florida, where learning true things from schools or libraries is illegal, and where you increasingly can’t get home insurance anymore—because while Florida schoolchildren aren’t allowed to know disturbing truths, actuaries are, and they know that if we go on burning fossil fuels, then Florida will become a part of the Atlantic Ocean in no time. So in fact we all ought to be as opposed to fracking as we are to fascism, no matter the temporary cost, if we would like to survive. These are things that many of us try to pretend aren’t true, most especially if we belong to the party that is pretending that Nikki Haley and everyone else on that stage last Wednesday is running for president, or that the Republican party isn’t a corpse bloating with every form of supremacist agitation; particularly true if we are part of one of the many institutional entities still disastrously committed to playing along with all these fictions and many others, too.

Also, Doug Burgum.

Oh, and Chris Christie was on hand. Almost sad to see a gentleman from a more civilized time, when one did all one’s society-destroying self-serving fuckery behind closed doors and still pretended as if you didn’t really do it, because you thought you might try to get some votes from people who appreciate decency enough to expect to hear a few pretty lies told about decency. He’s doomed. These days Republican voters don’t just want to see you eating red meat, they want to see hunks of it still twitching between your teeth, and Christie just doesn’t have the stomach for that. The best Christie could manage in that regard was some weak sauce about Donald Trump (who is the actual nominee for the fascist party) being Donald Duck, because he was “ducking” these pretend debates.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, is the hyena who managed to climb all the way into the corpse, and his appetite seems infinite. He’s polling at over 50% in the Republican field, and his numbers go up every time he gets charged with yet another of the crimes that he did in broad daylight. He’s already won the nomination, and he knows it, and so does everyone on that debate stage. So Christie’s jibe about him refusing to take part in the game of make-believe happening onstage was really the only way that any of these candidates could attack him, because they know that he’s already the nominee, and everything else he stands for—the corruption and crime, the open authoritarianism, the celebration of violence, the nationalist myths of cleansing our population of undesirables, the joyful cruelty, the scapegoating of those who have least power, the open self-dealing, the hypocrisy, the saber-rattling—is exactly what makes him so popular, and the best they can hope to do is to exceed him in one or another of these categories; something they seem unlikely to achieve, because nobody more perfectly or effortlessly embodies a national level of narcissism.

Are they hoping he’ll wind up going to prison, allowing one of them to inherit the throne? Maybe. But they also know you can run for president from prison2, and that going to prison for these specific crimes of corruption and autocracy will only burnish his authoritarian credits. He’s done the one thing that none of the rest can claim: he actually tried to overthrow democracy, and almost did it, and thereby earned the unshakeable loyalty of those who want exactly that. Now that they’ve had the Classic Coke of confederacy, our frighteningly large polity of often well-off, often well-scrubbed, often polite white supremacists—who are mostly christian, mostly male, mostly white—will never consider any other brand.

This is why all these scavengers are pretending. They have nothing. They have nothing, and they know it; nothing but the corpse they’re all eating, while pretending it’s still alive.

They can’t offer solutions, because they’ve already positioned solutions as the enemy.

They can’t even mention the problems.

What idea do they have that even defines a real problem, much less solves one? What benefit for society do they celebrate that wasn’t achieved despite their opposition to it? What solution do they have that doesn’t involve increased punishment, increased authoritianism, increased pain, some scapegoating of some group to target them for punishment and exclusion, so the real problem can be obscured and forgotten, so that those who already have more than enough can acquire even more by exploiting the accelerated decay?

We can even see the places where the elephant is running out of flesh to eat, as vulture fights with vulture over the last scrap on a bone, and the desire to be militaristically belligerent comes into conflict with the desire to be hateful and bigoted. One Republican Senator, whose name, rather inexplicably, is “Tommy,” is blocking military appointments until the military gets less inclusive and starts … well it’s not clear what, but it involves becoming less “woke,” which means less of those types of people, and when societies start demanding less of those types of people, the blank where “those types” sits generally gets filled in later with whatever is at hand.

Again, these hyenas have nothing. They’re busy hollowing out the corpse of the party they are pretending they intend to lead, to gain whatever position and advantage they can while the getting is good, and their only hope is that next year, as a country, we’ll all agree to pretend along with them a little further, in numbers that might not be a majority but could be enough to agree to turn the national body into a new carcass, so that the scavengers have free rein to consume the rest.

We have to understand that one of our two major parties is a fascist husk and an existential danger to democracy and human life, a pack of scavengers who, in order to protect their own aggrieved sense of self-supremacy, wage war against the concepts of awareness and solutions and shared humanity; who want to create corpses seemingly because corpses are their primary food source; who worship a tinfoil dictator; who celebrate violence and tell a nationalist myth of purity that won’t include you once they get around to you; who are using the levers of democracy to end democracy, using the levers of journalism to demolish journalism; who are pointing toward decency to end decency; who have a slate of pretend candidates who pretend they are still participating in democracy to mask the fact that they are seeking to install authoritarian rule; who propose to be engaged in the governance of our shared society while yelling “BE UNGOVERNABLE!!!

They’re pretending. They’re hoping we’ll keep pretending along with them.

To the extent that we are, we ought to stop.

Stop pretending that climate change isn’t an existential danger entwined with rising fascism: or that its effects aren’t already in the news every day; stop pretending that our society isn’t going to have to dramatically change if it is to survive; stop pretending that our desire to avoid that change and its costs isn’t feeding the fascist urge to keep pretending that things are other than they are.

Stop pretending that our friends and neighbors, parents and siblings, aren’t facing real dehumanization and persecution, menace and harm and exclusion and death, often under pretty rationales smoothly told. We have to stop pretending that libraries aren’t being defunded, that newspapers aren’t being attacked by police, that police don’t represent a militarized extension of the fascist urge, that people everywhere aren’t drowning under predatory debt. We have to stop pretending there aren’t more than 500 bills restricting trans medical care that also threaten LGBTQ+ people with cancer, or that this doesn’t exist as only one point of a concerted effort to remove queer people from public spaces, or that queer people weren’t one of the first targets of an earlier gang of Nazi scavengers who managed to make the corpus of their own political movement into a national body, empowering them to pursue the only final solution fascism ever intends.

Stop pretending that fascism isn’t real, and here already, and traditional; enmeshed in our systems of information and commerce and religion; stop pretending that it isn’t fascism; stop pretending that people can’t belong to it simply because they are nice to us personally, or kind in many situations, or normal to our eye, or that a movement can’t be extremist and nationally suicidal simply because it is extremely popular. We have to stop pretending that the people supporting fascism’s rise aren’t also our friends and neighbors, our parents and siblings.

We have to be willing to stand up for one another and fight for one another. We have to understand that this only works if we believe humanity is all in this together, and we have to stop pretending that the scavengers haven’t already started eying each of us with pale and hungry eyes.

We have to urge our leaders and institutions to stop pretending that they are working with colleagues participating in democracy, and do everything they can to stop working with fascism, so as to create a real differentiation between them and fascism in the minds of anyone still persuadable to reality. We need to urge them to define the challenges before us as being as radical as they are, and propose radical reforms commensurate to the challenges—solutions that exclude nobody, that refuse divisions, that do not take into consideration questions of whether anyone deserves to survive.

Finally, we need to stop pretending this moment isn’t urgent. It won’t do to think that we still have time before we’re in danger. History teaches us that the time to act against fascists comes while the vultures are still circling above, not when they land; when we still feel safe, not when we already feel the danger.

As soon as it believes it has the advantage, a hyena will start to eat you while you’re still alive.

“Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.”

Hannah Arendt

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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He just wants the bread and baloney bundles to tuck away.

  1. I suppose you could point out that the proposal is to end it for illegal immigrants, and if you think this distinction matters I’d like you to read up on how fascists work, but first I’d like to sell you a bridge on Mars that Elon Musk just said he intends to build in 5-7 years.

  2. One hesitates to denigrate this practice. The most prominent person to run from prison was the American hero and socialist Eugene Debs, who had been railroaded on sedition charges for defying the anti-free speech Sedition Act. This demonstrates that the objection here is not that Trump might run from prison, but that Trump’s crimes were committed in service of fascism, and the problem is not so much that Trump can run from prison but that fascism has become so entrenched and popularized, and as a result enough of us have become divorced enough from reality that he still stands a chance of winning.