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What Fate Is Ours?

The favorite musical of my parents and me was “Kismet.” They had seen it on the stage, I only knew it from listening to our album, and reading the liner notes; until it returned to Los Angeles for a revival, with the incomparable Alfred Drake, who had originated the part on Broadway. “Kismet,” which essentially meant “portion” or “lot” in Arabic, and “fate” in Turkish , is like an Arabian Nights tale, but better. The music is taken from the works of the Russian composer Alexander Borodin, and the absolutely brilliant book and lyrics are from Robert Wright and George Forrest.

I must have listened to to the album fifty times as a boy, and I would sing the songs in the shower. My favorite, at about five years old, was “Was I Wazir?” which is certainly not the musical’s best song, but which I liked because of its elegant dark humor. I loved the sweeping ballad “Night of My Nights,” which I would sing while on the swing in nursery school. My father’s favorite was “Olive Tree,” a philosophical rumination. My mother’s was the truly beautiful “This is My Beloved,” with the music from a piece by Borodin described as the most beautiful chamber music ever written. If you have never seen “Kismet,” do not see the movie, it is not very good. Maybe you can see a stage version, if they still do them. It is wondrous.

Another of my favorites, an early song in the musical, was “Fate.” Drake, as the very clever Hajj, a beggar who along with his daughter Marsinah, sings witty rhymes to earn his alms, is considering a new turn in his fortunes, which he does not know what it will lead him to. He sings, “I sat down, feeling desolated/ Bowed my head and crossed my knees/ Is fortune really predicated on such tiny terms as these?/ Then fate’s a thing without a head/ A puzzle never understood/ And man proceeds where he is led, unguaranteed of bad or good.”

I will not write the entire part which Drake sings, but it is musical poetry. I would often consider those lyrics. You don’t know how things are going to turn out. You might believe that “fate” is completely outside of human intentions or actions, or you might think that we are masters of our destiny. You might believe that it is all predestined, or that we are living out someone else’s dream. Or you might feel that the only reasonable thing is to at least think that we have some power to affect how things happen.

Further, even when we know the outcome (and usually it is not a “final outcome,” though sometimes it is), we still can differ as to what it meant, or who actually won or lost, and why. Historians have a better perspective on it, with the benefits of much study, and of course possibly centuries of retrospective. But even so, the best historians will disagree as to the causes of an event, and whether it could have been avoided; and what the import has been, or will be. It can make for stimulating reading and discussion at university, or it can even be the topic of brief conversation, usually not rebutted, by guests on TV news shows. Most people do not spend much time on it, though.

The other day, I saw the historian Jon Meacham, talking about President Biden, whom he sometimes advises as to speeches., Meacham said that some Presidents are better at changing the course of things for the better, and some are better at winning elections. He compared Carter and Reagan in that way. He didn’t say that this would be Biden’s fate, doing good things for Americans, but not being able to convince them to vote for him in the next election, but one could not help but consider the distinction.

It is possible that Biden will do major things in improving the economy; creating jobs, doing something about climate change, helping to restore the roads and bridges, but not get enough credit for it to be re-elected. We already see Republicans who voted against the infrastructure bill, going home to their districts, and taking credit for the funds and improvements. That is obscene, really, but Republicans don’t care, it is part of their modus operandi, using anything they can to win elections, no matter how misleading or deceitful. And the media acts as if, well they are the bad boys, always finding ways to win. If Democrats did that, they would call for removing them.

We don’t know how this presidency will turn out. We cannot afford to have Biden end up like Carter politically, even if fifty years from now, historians, assuming that there are still historians, and history,, say that he did great things. It is even possible that his work will benefit Republicans, by insulating them from criticism that the country is falling apart, with unsafe roads and polluted waterways. Sort of a win-win for them, which is what they always strive for. We cannot afford that kind of pyrrhic victory.

Sometimes I have bet on sports, and I always try to discern patterns, or the larger scope. Will this turn out to be the year that a certain team overcomes its history of blowing the big games, or will the same pattern prevail? This is very hard to do, but it is important to view things outside the scope of the most recent games. What will the ultimate fate of this year’s team, or even the next five years of this team, be? Who will surprise? Who will do exactly as they have always seemed to do? What will the jigsaw puzzle look like when it is finished?

I try to do that with political campaigns, particularly the primary seasons in presidential elections. Who is going to rise up, maybe out of almost nowhere? Who is going to disappoint? Who will ultimately win?You can bet on those things, too, but it is much more important than that.

It is like you are watching a play unfold, and wondering what the end will look like, and how you will view it when all the lines are said. Most people don’t do that in terms of political and cultural history, and I wish they would try to. I could have told all those supposed Democrats and Independents, in 2016, that not voting for Hillary Clinton, out of disdain, spite, jealousy, or ignorance, would lead to the takeover of the Supreme Court by right-wing radical judges; the furthering of environmental destruction, and the possible turning of the country into a fascist state. It seemed very obvious, but so many foolishly or willfully refused to see it, as they lacked perspective, background, and the ability to think ahead.

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post just wrote a lauded piece about how dangerous the six-justice Radical Right majority on the Supreme Court is, but she was no great supporter of Hillary, when it was so obvious that she would appoint respected liberal jurists to the Court, while Trump would do whatever Leonard Leo and the Heritage Foundation wanted, and appoint radical judges who would seek to create a frightening new order and hierarchy in this country. What is the value in her writing this now?

We have to be able to think, and to try to foresee the future results of actions we take, either personally or collectively. We can’t just bumble along, and then be surprised at how badly it turns out. The media doesn’t seem to see it, either, so engrossed are they in the excitement of yelling, complaining, carping, and latching onto right-wing themes. Did Andrea Mitchell or Chris Matthews really want Trump to be elected? They certainly helped him to. I’m not suggesting that they should have overtly helped Hillary, but they loaded the dice against her. So much of the media did, and I am sure that some of those might possibly have said to themselves afterwards, “What have I done?” Too late, though.

Will the Biden Administration turn out to be a brief interregnum before the continued move toward American fascism? A nice man who did his very best, but was unable to get past his own general decency, to see and inveigh against the evil that was arrayed against him?

Is the world in general turning toward tyranny, the evil that we thought we had defeated in World War II? In a very bitter irony, will it be America, the birthplace of democracy, which becomes the world’s most powerful fascist state? I also thought of the bitter irony that the media would not be able to do its “both sides” refrain, if there is only one side, but that is the least of it.

Or will the historical movement still be toward freedom and respect for others? We do win some battles on the smaller scales. What is the world going to look like in a hundred years? Do we need some kind of deus ex machina to save us? Will people finally wake up to what is at stake? For that to occur, will Biden and Democrats need to make a dramatic attack on Republicans, saying that the choice on the ballots will be between democracy and tyranny; human rights, and the rights only of the rich and powerful; the freedom to vote and speak, and a state which is the absolute thing which Americans shed blood for to keep from ever coming to our shores?

We are all in the middle of history, but how well can we extrapolate from the past, and anticipate the likely future? If the human race is not sufficiently capable of doing that, then the product of human evolution will be its destruction, by fire or ice, either would suffice.

“Fate can play a trick with the twine/ To weave the evil and good in one design/ And so, my Destiny/ I look at you, but cannot see/ Is it good, is it ill?/ Am I blessed, am I cursed?/ Is it honey on my tongue, or brine?/ What fate, what fate is mine?”

7 Responses

  1. Biden wasn’t my first choice in 2020. He wasn’t even my fifth or sixth choice, but when he was elected, I was optimistic. (Okay, I admit I was desperate.)

    Here was a man who had spent most of his adult life in Washington, as a congressman, a senator, a vice president. He had a tremendous amount of experience. At his age, he wasn’t likely to run again (I thought) so he would want his one term as president, at such a momentous turning point in our history, to leave a great legacy. He would be bold, unafraid to push for major legislation, even if it made him unpopular with corporate interests or the media (owned by corporate interests). He would take on the right-wing insurrectionists and the obstructionists. He would twist arms within his own party. He would be FDR and LBJ, all rolled into one, a great leader for our troubled times.

    Yes, I thought that about Joe Biden. What was I smoking?

    • I’m gonna go with the ‘good stuff’… but know that you are not alone, I agree with everything you said, and also was hopeful with Biden, but alas, you can’t always get what you want to.

    • Well, I think that the two pieces of major legislation, one of course not passed yet, were pretty impressive, given that no Democratic President in this era can twist enough arms to make it an easy thing to turn a very small majority in Congress into a passed bill. I remember how hard it was for a more impressive President, BIll Clinton, to even get his first budget passed, with Bob Kerry and maybe another Democrat being as difficult as they could.

      And Biden has appointed some excellent people to administrative posts, although Garland has been very disappointing so far. The big problem is protecting voting rights, but there is the filibuster, and how do you get Manchin and Sinema to vote to override? How do you twist the arm of a conservative from a very Deep Red state, and a dilettante from Arizona who takes a great deal of corporate money? I think the biggest problems with Biden’s administration are his continuing wish to find common ground with Republicans, when there is none, except for what benefits Republicans;; and then his obvious limitations in terms of messaging. But I am more impressed with his overall efforts than that of Obama.

      Biden was never a liberal. Actually, of the twenty Democratic candidates, very few were liberals. Warren, certainly, but she was never going to win the nomination, we saw how she did in the primaries. I liked Beto, but he got short shrift, and was perhaps not ready. It is very difficult to weave through the impediments created by the Republicans, and now we have a new variant which they are somehow blaming on Biden. So I am sympathetic, and also, he is the only person we’ve got right now If Biden were not to run, which Democrat would be capable of winning a national election, with the Republican media machine ready to lie and slander her or him? Hilary could perhaps win, but she is not going to run. I don’t think Harris could,, or Buttigieg. Maybe Tim Ryan? But he is not a liberal. Hillary was a liberal, no matter how much the Sanders Left wanted to say that she wasn’t.

  2. Seventy-five percent of the populace, per polls, is in favor of Roe v. Wade not being overturned. And yet enough people voted for Republicans, and specifically for Trump in 2016, so that it will be overturned. This is a very tragic example of people not understanding what their vote means, what the implications will be.

    All those people who decided to cast “a conscience vote” for the grifter Jill Stein, who triple her vote total from 469,000 in 2012, to 1.45 million in 2016. Or the ludicrous Gary Johnson, who got 4.48 million votes. Or the people who didn’t vote at all.

    Oh, now they are overturning Roe? Oh, we didn’t want that! I guess most of these people were looking out the window during high school Government class, or more likely, simply let themselves be misdirected and tricked by the Republicans and the media, to think that the big issue was Hillary coughing for a few weeks or that she gave a speech at Goldman Sachs, or that she, along with 75 other Senators, voted for the AUMF Or of course, those emails, the biggest red herring ever invented in American politics.

    So they proudly or truculently cast their third-parry vote, or didn’t vote,,and now we’ve got this. Or maybe some of them believed “journalists” like Maureen Dowd, and others at the New York Times, who kept saying that ‘Tump is not on the Right,’ he is pragmatic, he doesn’t mean what he is saying about appointing only anti-Roe judges to the Court. And focus on the emails!” They did this, all of them. And so many regular folks simply did not care to, or were not able to, understand the implications of their vote or non-vote.

  3. Seventy-five percent of the populace, per polls, is in favor of Roe v. Wade not being overturned. And yet enough people voted for Republicans, and specifically for Trump in 2016, so that it will be overturned. This is a very tragic example of people not understanding what their vote means, what the implications will be.

    Oh, it’ll be tragic, all right.

    Tragic for the Grim Reaper Party (fka GOP), which–if the Supreme Joke majority is stupid enough to overturn RvW–will then kiss the vast majority of female swing voters, and many of the male ones, good-bye forever.

    They can’t win the White House, or majorities in Congress, without the swing voters.

    Plus, they seem to have gotten high on their own supply with their objectively pro-COVID propaganda. They don’t seem to realize that a disproportionate majority of the vaccine refuseniks are their voters. Corona-chan hasn’t been nicknamed “the Darwin virus” for nothing.

    GOP Bull Elephant: I’m gonna mate with that giant fan with the razor-sharp blades!

    Me (in Willy Wonka voice): Stop. Don’t. Come back. 😈

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