There may be no sure antidote for a country in thrall to a conspiracy of vicious right-wing cowards, but there are palliative measures. Among them are the two latest books by Garrison Keillor.
In “The Lake Wobegon Virus,” the residents of Keillor’s Edenic small town lose their social inhibitions after succumbing to a virus carried by homemade cheese. This leads to a split between pro-cheese and anti-cheese factions, and unexpected vitriol directed at the narrator — Keillor himself — who returns to his hometown to investigate.
It’s one of the best of Keillor’s long string of impressive novels, all of them marked by satire that caresses even as it — lightly — stings.
His second recent book, “That Time of Year — A Minnesota Life,” is a disarmingly frank autobiography that provides a salubrious example of so many of the qualities that our country, and countrymen and -women, seem to have lost over the past four and more years.
Among these qualities: humility, honesty, brevity in pursuit of clarity, and an introspection that never devolves into the notion that by probing one’s own inner life one is doing anything for humanity as important as a simple act of kindness to others.
“That Time of Year” is also a leave-taking: to his town and nation; to his dearly departed friends and relatives, who may now outnumber his living companions, save for the millions of fans of his books and of “Prairie Home Companion;” and to life itself.
The title is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Seldom if ever does Keillor, 78 years old, resort to direct attack upon the noisome qualities and people that have turned our country into a noxious pit of lies, of toxic, needless aggression, vile threats and insult: exemplified by the seditious shitshow staged inside and outside the U.S. Capitol this week.
The actions of Republicans in Congress — 147 of whom voted to subvert the presidential election even after their storm troopers sacked the Capitol — differ only in degree, not in kind, from the actions of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong that same day, as they rounded up 53 proponents of democracy — including a U.S. citizen — for all-but-certain prison terms, because they dared to run for office, or simply speak.
Let’s be clear about this: The 147 Republicans in Congress who tried to subvert the presidential election on Wednesday — 56% of the Republicans’ congressional delegation — showed themselves to be just as cowardly and corrupt as the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Republican delegation also aligned itself with reactionaries in Iran, whose Cabinet this week approved a bill that would criminalize “honor killings:” the murder of women by male relatives who disapprove of a woman’s “radical” actions, such as seeking a driver’s license or going on a date. Iranian men commit more than 1,500 such murders year.
Again, it’s a difference in degree, not in kind. The Republican Party tried to murder our democracy, by declaring that only the Republican Party — not the citizens — has the right to determine who lives and who dies, politically.
All of these trends — exemplified by Donald Trump’s phone call to the Georgia secretary of state, begging him to “find” 11,780 votes to subvert the election, and the subsequent storming of Congress — are the results of weakness, masquerading as strength: in Beijing, in Tehran, and in Washington, D.C.
Democracy in the United States is desperately ill, and more than half of the Republicans in Congress show no interest in curing it. As they showed Wednesday, they prefer to put it in hospice care, and let it die.