Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
October 28, 2016, (posted October 30)
Mr. President: In the US, the political system has now disgorged two candidates the
citizenry cannot be less enthusiastic about. Driven by ambition more than a love of
the people or a sincere desire to serve, one can be forgiven for wondering if they are
just as trapped by their motivations as the public in its two-party myopia. No authentic
leader among the two ...
These thoughts lead to the rage of my youth, existentialism, and to Jean-Paul Sartre,
who died 36 years ago last April. More than 50,000 mourners lined the streets and
packed Montparnasse cemetery at his funeral, many quite young — improbable they
would exhibit a similar interest in the successor philosophies, notably the current
preoccupation with deconstruction, a focus on whether the written or spoken word is
successful (or not) in clarity of meaning.
Difficult as existentialism may be to pin down, there are a few necessary elements:
the individual, free will as crucial to human existence, the subsequent responsibility
for action that accompanies it, leading to an unavoidable anxiety as a consequence.
The authentic life then is one chosen freely rather than imposed by society. No
wonder it appealed to the young.
What triggered this meandering into Sartre and his philosophy was Hillary Clinton’s
two-minute summing up at the end of the last debate. She attested to her lifelong
concern (her latest claim) for improving the lives of children — a phrase bringing to
mind a balancing scale. One one side the improved lives of children in Arkansas and
the benefits of subsidies to children in general, and on the other the deaths of
hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere — the most vulnerable
that is the old, the sick and the children bearing the brunt. Politicians are a breed
apart, unconcerned with ‘responsibility’ and undisturbed by Sartre’s ‘anxiety’.
Not so long ago there was another US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who,
when asked about the 576,000 children who had died (according to a UN report) as a
result of the Iraq embargo, simply dismissed the question as a price to be paid to be
rid of Saddam Hussein. The embargo failed in that regard, and when Saddam was
removed by the successor US government’s military intervention, it resulted in chaos
and the birth of ISIS.
The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is unique, in that responsibility washes
over him and into the shower drain like a layer of dirt; he is devoid of it even in
personal interaction. The only rational explanation of his behavior is the term
‘prolonged adolescence’ used by professionals.
His basic issue over several decades has been bad deals — bad deals in defending
allies who he feels do not pay enough for their defense and bad trade deals. Trying
to peel off some voters, Hillary Clinton in the last debate pointed out that he took out
an ad in The New York Times opposing the right’s iconic Ronald Reagan over it. Like
any business owner or high level executive, he intends to issue orders expecting them
to be carried out. Good luck! It might explain the absence of concrete policy.
The American public has been short changed into picking either the lesser of two
evils, casting a protest vote with the minor left or right party, or just sitting this election
Sartre offered personal bliss in the few post-war years of hope and promise before
America’s fear of ideologies and overweening sense of power plunged us into
successive wars punctuated with interludes of peace. The wars continue, bleeding
the country of an estimated $5 trillion in the present cycle … the death and
destruction the worst since the Second World War.