My Turn: ‘Revenge is the only objective’


Published: 7/22/2021 1:02:25 PM

They were more interested in revenge, than survival. Are we too? It might yet make an accurate epitaph on our nation’s headstone.

That the past is prologue is a cliché, but I never really understood what it meant until recently.

The ancient Greeks, having defeated the Persian empire numerous times to keep alive the world’ first, highly flawed, but first, democracy. Yet a few decades later they destroyed themselves via recriminations, paranoia, civil strife, and then civil war.

Why? The old historian Herodotus says, because the once-united Greeks splintered into factions and were more interested in revenge upon their rivals, than their own survival. That past event is prologue to our present — we have become more interested in revenge than survival.

As usual, the Right is more frenzied about it, the entire “stop the steal” cult is dedicated solely to that one proposition: if America cannot re-elect Donald Trump, then America must die! This murder-suicide pact has been in the petri dish of politics for some time. Bill O’Reilly set the tone back in 2012, the night Barack Obama was re-elected. Sitting on his then Fox throne, O’Reilly, looking stunned, repeated over and over: “This is not my America. This is not my America.”

And it was not, and it is not, and it cannot ever be his “America” again.

The tactics of the right-wing are clear — take the lens through which we once looked at our nation and turn into a kaleidoscope so crazy no one knows which end is up. Their sole point is to sow confusion and discord — instead of fiddling while Rome burns, they are shooting off fireworks while the world burns. Or, shouting “FIRE!” in the very crowded theater of America. All they want is for folks to panic and start pushing each other on the way to the exits.

They seek more than anything else to destroy any sense of cohesion, to unravel that already knotty, stained, kind of poorly put together quilt that is America.

The more outrage, panic, fear, and just plain confusion they can sow, the better it is for them, and the worse for the rest of us. Revenge is the only objective.

Unfortunately, being more interested in revenge than survival also afflicts the Left — as always in a different manner, but unfortunately with similar results.

For the foreseeable future we will have a rerun of 2020 — the country is split so evenly we can only hope to move 6-8% of voters in one direction or the other. That shift is entirely up to the left. But much of the left, the mobilizing left, does not want to help move that small percentage so we can go on winning. The Revenge Impulse here is one that says: Yes, I will help plug the leak in the dam before we all die so long as you will sign off on the following progressive agenda items. If not? Away with you!

The fear of contamination, a dilution of purity, the need to compromise one’s principles to win politically, is a psychological wall for many liberals and progressives that prevents them from being able to help shift that magic 8% into the blue column. That too, is a form of revenge over survival. If Crazy is driving this clown car, then we have to stop talking to each other about how reprehensible it is to drive a car over a cliff, and simply take the wheel away!

Not an easy task in a culture where most information is sent out via social media and absorbed as social media — as feelings, not as information. The success of the right is that all they need do is sow confusion and strife. As a seventh grade teacher, I assure you that is an easy task. For the left to triumph we must be the arbiters of knowledge, truth, critical thinking. That is, the adult, the teacher in a room full of seventh grade chuckleheads high on Skittles.

You can’t teach a roomful of such seventh graders by becoming one of them — no matter how tempting or easy it would be. It is rare for a seventh grader to be able to reach the “ego state” of an adult. But it is easy for an adult to revert to the ego state of a 13-year-old.

If we are to survive it is the left that must be the adult teacher in a roomful of immature teens. It is us who have to accept all the slings and arrows — the expert button pushing — if, quite literally, the country is to be saved. Instead, the left seems to be adopting the right’s approach to politics and is acting more like the seventh graders who are rioting in the classroom.

My fear is that the left is also too interested in revenge over survival. And survival means we must change, we must stop seeing anyone who is different from us as an existential threat. But I do not know if we are up to the task. The dilemma reminds me of a poem by the immortal WH Auden: “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”

Better to be ruined than changed is the danger facing progressives. Revenge seems so simple, is so easy. Social media has made it so. But what the country needs is to survive. We must chose.

Joe Gannon, teacher, and author lives in Easthampton.


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