Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Lewis Lapham spends one week of each month composing the most elegant political essay in America, shaping 3,000 words on a craftsman's wheel into a near-perfect pitcher of brilliant, layered human thought.
And after that Valpy gets downright sycophantic.
Here are some of the brilliant, layered thoughts that Lapham bestowed upon Michael Valpy and upon an audience at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada:
there is something chillingly comparable between the U.S. Attorney-General (and America's born-again President, who endorsed a statewide Jesus Day when he was governor of Texas) and Islam's fundamentalists.
Evidence: Ashcroft holds a prayer meeting before work each day; Ashcroft's speech to 6,000 religious broadcasters sparked several cries of "Amen" from the audience; Ashcroft once said in a speech "we have no king but Jesus." It's hard to believe that Ashcroft land Bush haven't called for a jihad to spill the blood of the infidel Muslims yet.
Lapham compares the rhetoric of Bush to the oratory of Pope Urban II at Clermont, France, in 1095, summoning Christian armies for the crusade against Islam: "Let them turn their weapons dripping with the blood of their brothers against the enemy of the Christian faith. Let them -- oppressors of orphans and widows, murderers and violaters of churches, robbers of the property of others, vultures drawn by the scent of battle -- let them hasten, if they love their souls, under their captain Christ to the rescue of Sion."
Oh, I guess Ashcroft et al.have called for a jihad against Muslims after all. Wow, I guess there’s more to “Let’s roll” than meets the eye.
He takes the word "unbelievable" that American media repeatedly used in describing the attack on the World Trade Center. Horrific, horrible, yes, he says, but unbelievable? No more unbelievable than American pilots dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; no more unbelievable than American bombs and foreign policy being responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children.
And apparently no more immoral. The U.S. has done worse! The U.S. has always done worse! Ain’t I a brilliant, layered thinker?
And the most unfair thing, in Valpy’s eyes, is that nobody in the U.S. actually pays attention to the U.S.’s “most lethal social critic.”
He has appeared on French and German television, the BBC World Service, CBC Newsworld's Counterspin and been invited on other occasions to appear on CBC-TV….
But America?…”Not many invitations." He pauses, and then says with a tone bordering on amazement: "I don't even get attacked."
Which illustrates, of course, what Lapham has been saying about American public discourse in general and American media in particular for about as long as he has been writing for Harper's -- since 1970, as editor since 1983 -- and most stridently since Sept. 11: that the U.S. media by and large is a cheerleader press for the business classes and the government of the day, obediently reporting what it is told to report, thinking what its betters think and showing an unsettling tendency to repress dissent.
Oh, absolutely. The fact that Americans ignore Lapham is prima facie evidence of the suppression of dissenting opinion in the U.S. It couldn’t possibly have to do with the utter inanity of what he says – after all, the French and the Germans listen to him all the time! By this measure, the fact that Americans don’t adore Jerry Lewis is prima facie evidence of the suppression of slapstick comedy in the U.S. It must be terrible for Lapham not to be able to voice his opinions anywhere…except of course in the pages of the national magazine that he has edited as his personal soapbox for nearly 20 years.
Valpy goes on to say that “a Lapham does not exist in Canada.” Want to know why?
[W]hen you think about it, you realize why. Canada is the egalitarian society that the United States pretends to be but isn't; Canada couldn't have a Lapham.
It doesn’t feel that way to me, but maybe Valpy is right. After all, when a country’s most talented people emigrate to the U.S. as fast as they can, it’s kind of easy to maintain a system of egalitarianism-by-mediocrity (search for “egalitarian”).