The “Pale Rider” President


If a nation is being driven into the ground over a period of years, is its leader most likely to be a) fatally naive, b) grossly incompetent, c) incorrigibly foolish, d) chronically high, e) clinically insane, or f) essentially evil?

No one wants to dwell upon gloom and doom at this time of year—or at any time, really; but especially now.  I want to enjoy my son’s return from college, and my own few weeks of escape from the classroom grind (which has kept me from posting any columns for months).  But in the back of my mind, I can’t abstain from thinking about what group of “refugees” may be crouching at the edge of what major airport with a surface-to-air missile-launcher. (No, the “refugees” are not all tender hearts: Google Mahin Mousapour to find out how they’re treating Christians in Frankfurt.)  Whose child will make it home alive this Christmas, and whose child won’t?  Why are our families having to roll the dice everywhere they go now—the airport, the mall, school, church?  Are terrorists really so terrifying?

Well, no… but a government that invites them in is terrifying.  And infuriating.  Elected leaders who make our children pennies and dimes in some kind of crap shoot have to be considered Public Enemy Number One, in front of the murderers they arm (remember Fast and Furious?) and turn loose (have you read Michelle Malkin on who’s in charge of screening?).  We have no greater enemy than our own government.  Every one of us who is slaughtered in a terrorist incident from now on will likely be able to blame the shooter or bomber (in a dying breath) only indirectly.  The paid trigger-man is an accomplice to murder; his employer is the first guy named in the indictment.

I don’t know why the Paul Ryans of the world loan the murderer-in-chief enough money to buy hitmen.  I don’t even feel inclined to look into the matter.  The contortions of Judas’s soul have never interested me; I would prefer to turn the other way while he goes and hangs himself. The real Paul Ryan, of course, lacks Judas’s sense of shame. Maybe Mr. Boehner bequeathed his liquor cabinet to his successor.

But the murderer-in-chief… how many of us, over these many long years (these many darkening Christmases, each a little dimmer than the last), have been asking ourselves incessantly, “Why?”  Is he—can he be—so incredibly incompetent?  Apologists have claimed over and over that he is surrounded by inept help; but in that case, he would surely have upgraded the caliber of his advisors after so many years… unless things were going as planned.  Is he, then, stupid?  Or has he been transformed into an imbecile by a steady diet of recreational marihuana?  Can that account for his detachment, his contempt, his arrogance?  Or must not these have been his inclinations already, and the liberating drug simply have allowed them to run amuck?

Is he insane, but very clever?  Is the plan to put a terrorist in every town, stir up ethnic and racial hatreds, force law-abiding citizens to surrender their firearms, destroy the economy, and—when all of these ingredients blow up into nation-wide riots with a little shake of the test tube—declare martial law and suspend elections?

Is the most powerful man in the world a wasted idiot, or is he an evil genius?

I have long ago stopped reading articles whose title runs something like, “Iran Deal Insane,” or, “Screening of Refugees Criminally Misrepresented”.  What’s the use of running around the Titanic explaining to anyone who will stop and listen as the bow dips, “The Captain should have posted a better lookout”?  Instead, more and more, I simply play in my mind images of the Clint Eastwood film, High Plains Drifter.  It’s my least favorite of Clint’s westerns.  While several others dealt with revenge, they stirred in some degree of personal honor.  Not this one.  The mysterious stranger drifts into a corrupt, hypocritical, whited sepulcher of a town and proceeds to bully, abuse, and rape the population into abject submission.  He eventually has them paint the whole place red and christen it “Hell” on the big sign along the main road.  The implication is that he is the avenging revenant of an innocent man once publicly butchered by the town’s thugs as indifferent shopkeepers looked on.

Most of the same images were reprised more tastefully in Pale Rider.  Among other things, the “avenging angel” motif leaps right out of the apocalyptic title.  Eastwood had learned the pattern well, apparently, by working among much older cultures during his youth.  He had cut his movie-making teeth, shortly after his Rawhide days, in Italian director Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns”.  Much has been said and written to belittle these, not all of it unjustified; but a peculiar fact of the times was that German director Karl May was making similar flicks—while certain Japanese samurai films bore so narrow a resemblance to Italian shoot-’em-ups that Akira Kurosawa could successfully sue Leone for plagiarizing Yojimbo in Fistful of Dollars.  All three of the losing powers in World War II, that is, found that their local audiences would pack theaters to see violent tales of loners without allegiance to anything alive taking revenge upon a world of squalid ants crawling about in civilization’s rubble.

As a matter of fact, the archetypal journey of a shamanic figure traveling into the Land of the Dead is older than history can trace: probably as old as our humanity.  The traveler assumes certain attributes of the dead in order to penetrate their midst unmolested.  He changes his name or uses no name at all.  He disguises himself.  He may be mute or partially paralyzed.  His eerie otherness allows him to reconnoitre the Underworld, acquire whatever wisdom or treasure he came for, and finally to return back among the living.  He is a shape-shifter par excellence.  Like Hermes, the Greek messenger-god who guides lately departed spirits to the gates of Hades, he may also be able to turn the truth inside-out with the cleverest of lies.

I have lived too long and studied myths too deeply not to realize that they possess some secret kind of truth to our nature.  Down through the ages, we have persisted in replicating them, even when we’re not aware of them—perhaps especially then.  The Mysterious Stranger, skulking through the shades to the Dead King’s side with a question—or maybe coming on Death’s behalf to visit a dreadful justice upon the damned—remains a powerful figure.  Someone can be captured, body and soul, by such a “mission” without even consciously knowing what it is or that he has accepted it.  This particular itinerary for navigating life is one of perhaps only a dozen from which all of us choose a version.

Imagine a man whose father’s and mother’s cultures are profoundly irreconcilable, who was raised with exposure to competing religions, whose childhood playmates sometimes classed him as one of this group and sometimes as one of that; whose parents eventually separated, whose remaining half-family was visibly different from him in appearance, and whose frustrations found release in mood-altering drugs.  He matures into an identity which is always-other, always “not what you think”, always as Hermes-like as the chameleon.  He comes from one side but can move easily to the other.  He somehow migrates from a mediocre college to an Ivy League institution: the details of his admission are unknown. He succeeds famously at said institution… except that his “fame” is ex post facto: no one remembers ever seeing him in class. He directs a prestigious student publication and receives his degree… but nothing that he himself authored has ever been found (including a “ghost-written” bestseller from years later), and his college transcripts were apparently printed with water on the wind.

He is all things to all men… and yet, he is not really one of any of them. He belongs to the night, the shadows.  Just when you think you’re closest to grasping him, your hands are most full of thin air. You thought he was here to help you—but he’s really here to roast you.  His name is No Man; his name is Revenge.  Someone must pay for leaving him in limbo: everyone must pay.  He has created a new world inhabited by a single durable being, and around him he sees only trespassers and sacrificial offerings.

I hope this madman, this shaman drinking deeply of his mescal, this self-appointed Wrath of God and messenger of Zeus, doesn’t get any of our children killed over the busy travel season as he pursues his ongoing journey through the Underworld; but let us at least be clear, after all these years, about what he he means to do—not about what he is, or why he is so (for who really knows such things?), but about what he has in mind for the rest of us.  He intends to have us paint our town red, and to raise a big sign before it reading “Hell”.

If he makes his red paint from the blood of one of mine, I really don’t know what I’ll do.  I try not to think about it, as I’ve been trying now for seven long years not to think.  It’s like a long walk through Hell.

Peace on earth to men of good will!  God’s judgment, not man’s, will prevail.

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