Top Dogs

After being away from the computer for a couple of days, I return to a big dose of crazy-making news clips, all at once. (And I haven’t even glanced at the bulletins from CPAC. I’m scared to.) As upsetting as these bits are, seeing them all in a compressed space of time makes it easier to notice the common thread that runs through all of the stories.

Rachel Maddow has new details on the Sandy Hook shootings, and lets us watch the freshman senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, try to lecture Diane Feinstein on the Second Amendment. Since Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco in 1978 following the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, it’s pretty clear Cruz picked the wrong antagonist, but apparently nothing is going to stop him. He thinks it’s just peachy for us all to own high-capacity automatic rifles.

Saving the lives of children doesn’t interest him. Unless, I suppose, they haven’t yet been born. Once they’ve been born, just mow them down. Ted will give you a medal.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York grills some generals about the entire failure of the military justice system to deal with rape. She tries to get the generals to say that justice hasn’t been served, and they duck and weave and tap dance to avoid admitting it.

Over in North Africa, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is forthrightly opposing a U.N. resolution that attempts (toothlessly) to prevent violence against women. Apparently these guys don’t even give a moment’s thought to how vicious that stance is going to make them look. No, they’re too busy being appalled at the idea that women should be allowed to work, travel, and use contraception. This, they’re sure, will lead to a complete disintegration of Islamic society. I have to say, that would be a terrific result, but I would guess they’re getting a little too worked up.

Our attorney general, Eric “What, Me Worry?” Holder, can’t seem to find a way to prosecute billionaire bankers, no matter how egregiously they break the law. And meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress refuse to raise the minimum wage.

The common thread is this: Men who have power want to keep it. They react with hysteria when faced with the prospect of having to give up even a little of their power.

The opposition to gun control is not about rights, it’s about power. Men with guns feel powerful (even when, as is usually the case, they’re almost entirely powerless), and they love feeling powerful. They see any attempt to rein in the ownership of deadly weapons as a diminishment of their power, and they will say or do very nearly anything not to give up their real or imagined power.

Of course, if the primary measure of your power is your ability to massacre dozens of children — and that’s precisely what we’re talking about — it’s arguable that it’s time for some government-sponsored psychiatric care.

When male soldiers rape female soldiers (or, for that matter, civilian women) and their commanding officers let them off the hook — and that’s mostly how it plays out — men who love power (officers in the military) are rewarding lower-ranking soldiers and sailors by making sure they have unrestricted power over women. The women who were raped have no power, and the military “justice” system makes sure they stay that way.

The sad part, in a sort of detached intellectual sense, was watching that poor general squirm as he was being grilled by the senator. He refused to say that the jury that found the man guilty of rape was wrong — and he also refused to say that the commanding officer who reversed the verdict was wrong. His story was that both the jury and the C.O. were doing their duty. It would perhaps prove instructive to other generals who might be faced with this sort of question if that particular general were strung up from the nearest lamp post by his own entrails. I certainly don’t advocate lynching or violence of any kind, but I do think it would be useful if high-ranking military officers had to think, even for a few moments now and then, about whether a given act was right or wrong, and if they also had to ponder the value of being willing to state, in public, whether a given act was right or wrong.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which is a lot more like the United States military than either group would like to admit, insists on having complete and utter power over women. They tell us it’s the entire basis of their culture. For all I know, they may even be right about that. Ceding power to women — well, I’m sure they worry that their penises will all fall off, and that would be a nice result, but it’s not likely to happen. More likely, they just won’t be able to get erections when faced with women who enjoy a bit of power. Well, there’s always the little boys.

In his failure to prosecute criminals, Eric Holder may look like a powerless flunky, but that’s an illusion. He has the power to reward bankers, or to make their lives difficult. He rewards them. Doubtless they will find ways to reward him in the future (if they’re not doing so already). Powerful men band together to retain their power. Meanwhile, powerless people lose their homes, go to prison, or are hounded by prosecutors until they commit suicide. What was that bit about “liberty and justice for all”? I think I used to hear people say that from time to time, but by now my memory is getting a little vague.

And of course the Republicans insist that an employer has to have the power to force his least qualified entry-level workers to work for as little money as possible. Raising the minimum wage would inconvenience people (employers) who have a bit of power; far better to inconvenience those who have none. Republican attacks on unions are part of the same strategy: Keep the ordinary worker powerless.

Power is not a human invention. Baboons routinely compete with one another for dominance, as do songbirds. And power quite often leads to cruelty. Among primates, at least, power is desirable because if you have it you can reward your friends and punish those whom you dislike. (Baboon males routinely kill baby baboons, by the way. It’s a good thing those male baboons don’t own assault rifles. Oh, wait … that would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?)

What’s worse, the only way to prevent the abuse of power is by being more powerful than the abusers. Nothing else will stop them. True, a bunch of little people can band together to oppose a few powerful people — that’s the basis of socialism, and on paper it looks like a great idea. But soon after you get rid of the Tsar, you find you’ve replaced him with Josef Stalin. Get rid of Louis XVI and before long you’ve got Napoleon marching you off to war. Power oozes up to the top of the social pyramid, and it stays there. Socialist ideals are inevitably perverted by the powerful.

Powerful men tend to be almost completely unscrupulous. This is the scariest part of the story. We’re all cheering for Elizabeth Warren as she takes on the bankers — but you know what? If she actually starts being effective, the people whose power she’s trying to diminish will quite likely have her killed. Whatever would cause them to shrink from such a tactic?

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