Motley’s the Only Wear

     William Shakespeare died 400 years ago Saturday.
     Any intelligent comment about Shakespeare is more interesting and important, in the long run, than anything in this week’s news.
     Humans have been recycling the same news for thousands of years: primarily, lust for power, and what it brings. Obituaries, distant wars and murders on the inside pages. Environmental catastrophe. Stories about animals.
     The sadness, boredom, hunger, early death and infrequent ecstasy of the struggle to survive is not news. That’s life. That’s not news.
     Our country’s news this year, even more than usual, is the lust for power. And many of the stars in this year’s show are fools. We could call most of them idiots — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing — and we wouldn’t be far wrong.
     We could call idiots too the herds of carnivorous sheep who follow them — baa-ing and mooing and voting for them and writing about them — but let’s be charitable and call them fools — remembering that Shakespeare’s fools often are the wisest people in the play, and the only ones allowed to tell truths to the king.
     Our greatest living scholar of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Stephen Booth, wrote 14 words that are more useful, and more important, than anything in this week’s news, or next week’s.
     Booth criticized fellow Shakespeareans who claim to have found the “true” interpretation of a sonnet, or of a single line of Shakespeare. He wrote of “the debilitating effects of insisting that anything that is true must be exclusively true”.
     There we have in a nutshell, bounded by infinite space, the idiocy of this year’s campaign, and the idiocy of the past 36 years of Republican politics.
     I’m not criticizing Democrats today because for 36 years Democrats have tried like hell to make themselves unimportant. And they have succeeded.
     Democrats have become cringing, cowardly followers of powerful idiots, who proclaim “Capitalism works!” and “We have the best military in the world.”
     True enough. Absolutely true. But not the absolute truth.
     Unique among nations, the United States of America — blessed by history, geography, distance, technology, God — call it what you will — was able to set up a capitalist nation on a virtually undefended continent, after suffering only the lightest overlay of oppression, from far away.
     Historians and politicians don’t spend much time on the underlayers: the people not light of skin, who bear, and always have borne, the heaviest burdens — the hungriest, the raped, the youngest dead.
     These people — not “those people” — our people, are still with us. They still constitute, as they always have, the majority of the world.
     The Big Lie of U.S. politics is that what has been true for us is exclusively true. That’s also the Big Lie of Chinese Communism, and of whatever lies Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, the ayatollahs, the Islamic State, Binyamin Netanyahu and the prime ministers of Pakistan and Turkey are peddling today.
     Restraining government’s ability to regulate business works sometimes: but not in coal mining, or pesticide production, or banking, or political bribery, or — dare I say it? — guns.
     We all like low taxes better than high taxes. But if my drinking water is poisoned — if the air I breathe gives me cancer, if the bridges I drive over collapse, if I can’t get medical care to treat a curable illness, if I can’t get good teachers or good cops — I will gladly pony up a few dollars more. Wouldn’t you?
     For a handful of millionaires and billionaires — for a single political party that has a stranglehold on our nation of 320 million people — to insist that a truth they hold dear — any truth — excludes all other truths, is not only not true, it is debilitating the country they claim to love.

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