Jeremiah the Prophet is Alive and Well and Living in Short Hills
Remember Jeremiah? He’s the guy who kept trying to tell ancient Israel that it was going down, that it had lost God’s favor as the Chosen Nation because it had strayed too far from its first principles. Ever since, shrill, dire warnings have been called jeremiads.
A few weeks ago my day job took me to an affluent corner of New Jersey, the kind of place where you can’t back up your cart in the supermarket without hitting an investment banker’s second wife, the kind of place where 1950’s-vintage split-level starter homes trade for $1 million and get ripped down to put up bigger and better manses in the $3 to $15 million range.
I was there to call on an elderly Jewish gentleman who had amassed a tidy fortune over a lifetime of investing in commercial real estate. In spite of his wealth he is unassuming and kind. This is a guy who has a framed piece of sheepskin in his office, with a bunch of Latin written on it, but instead of the name of his alma mater it starts out with the inscription “Joannes Paulus II Max. Pont.” and is signed personally at the bottom by said max.pont. It’s a Papal knighthood for extraordinary charity, and according to one of the office staff is the only one ever given to a Jew.
I wanted to talk to him about writing a new mortgage on one of his shopping centers, but he wanted to talk about George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and the state of American politics.
“Bastards,” he spat. “Thieving, greedy bastards. They’re fascists, and I’m not just saying that to be dramatic. They’re the real thing. They want to loot the Treasury and give it to rich guys like me who already have more money than we know what to do with. They want to bankrupt the government in order to line their own pockets and create a crisis that installs themselves permanently in power. They steal elections. They want a one party system and are willing to rip up the Constitution to get it.”
“You sound like some of my radical younger friends,” I said.” I thought you’re supposed to get more conservative as you get older.”
“Oh, I’m conservative, all right,” he assured me. “I’ve voted Republican my whole life, until now. I can pick up the phone and Tom Kean or Christie Whitman will take my call. But what I’m conservative about is the American system of government, American freedoms, the American constitution. I won’t vote to turn America into a fascist state. These selfish, arrogant, greedy bastards want to tear it all down and stuff it in the dumper, and take over. Bastards.”
“Maybe they go a bit overboard with their hardball politics too much at home, but don’t you think they’re genuinely trying to promote liberty overseas?” I asked. “I mean, look at Iraq. I didn’t think we should go in there myself, but it looks as though we may succeed in creating a real democracy over there, one that could spread hopes for democracy throughout the Middle East. Someone who despises liberty doesn’t do that.”
He laughed ruefully. “That’s not why we’re there. We’re there to control the oil, and gin up a nationalistic fervor at home that helps them hold power. Those bastards, Cheney and Rumsfeld, don’t give a rat’s ass about liberty for Arabs. They don’t give a rat’s ass about how many poor American kids get killed for them to get the oil, kids who can’t get an education unless they do time in the so-called ‘volunteer’ military. What is it, a thousand American kids killed already, Fifteen hundred? And multiples of that maimed for life, and no end in sight. Do they care about these people? No, of course not. Does Bush, that little bastard? No, he never worked for anything in his life. Always had everthing handed to him on a plate, even the Presidency of the United States. Never had to work himself for anything. He thinks that’s the natural way of things. At least his father fought for this country and left home to make his own money, but not this greedy little ape.”
“What really bothers me,” I allowed, “is how they’re acting as if they won in a landslide. This was actually one of the closest elections ever. They don’t have anything like the mandate they imagine they have.”
“Mandate? Ha! That’s just pabulum for the media,” he sneered. “Remember, they outright stole the election in 2000. They don’t care about mandates. They only care about seizing and keeping power. Now they’re rigging the courts to help them keep it that way. Bastards. Dirty fascist bastards.”
“Well, if you’re right, I have to believe that in the next four years enough more of the electorate will get disgusted and vote them out of office,” I ventured. “It almost happened this time, even though the Democrats didn’t have a particularly strong candidate.”
He looked me in the eyes and shook his head sadly, wistfully. “My naïve friend,” he said, “if I’m right, the last genuine Presidential election this country will ever have happened in 1996.” Before I could express my shock, he added, “Remember, you’re talking to a man who has seen it happen before.”
Here in Massachusetts, today is Patriot’s Day, the state holiday when we are supposed to remember the events that sparked the American Revolution, Paul Revere’s ride and the Battles of Lexington and Concord. But on the morning local news shows, they aren’t showing the traditional ceremony at the monument at Concord Bridge. All they are showing is hype for the Boston Marathon. Is my latter-day Jeremiah correct?
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard 'round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson