I’m a movie nerd. Movie quotes and moments pop into my head constantly, like a highlighter being applied to my life in real time. One of those quotes pops up with alarming regularity these days. You don’t have to be a Three Stooges fan to appreciate the genius of Curly Howard’s exquisitely delivered “I’m trying to think but nothing happens!”
It’s almost Shakespearean, that perspective on the human condition! I’m not kidding. Yeah, yeah – we get that “Curly-The-Stooge” tries to think but nothing happens. The better part of the joke comes from realizing how many more people could make the exact same statement – and they aren’t a self-described “stooge”. How many people – public people especially – literally get on camera, try to think and – regardless of what spews from their mouths – demonstrate that nothing happened – when they tried to think?
It would be easy to paint conservatives and conservatism with that broad brush – trying to think, nothing happens – but, in their defense, conservatives aren’t trying to think and they aren’t advertising themselves as if they were. Also in conservatism’s defense: if we’d only listen to Maya Angelou’s wisdom and take conservatives for who they say they are – people who want to CONSERVE something – we’d stop wondering (trying to think) what any conservative ever wants. Conservatives, as their name says, want to conserve. Fair enough! Next question: WHAT do conservatives want to conserve?
It’s just a stone cold fact: one cannot “conserve” the future. There is literally nothing to conserve. The future is unknown; it’s completely plastic and fungible. It could be any number of things. That seems to terrify the crap out of conservatives – the “not knowing” what’s going to happen next (especially since they have investments and property and, holy shit, they might be underinsured!). Theirs are the “gold standard” of first world problems.
Conservatives want to conserve “what is” because what “is” reflects all that’s left of what “was”. And “what was” is the very thing conservatives want to conserve. In a sense, they see the past encased in amber – here in the present – and they want to hold firmly those moments in amber. If there were some magical spell to stop human beings from progressing – or wanting to progress – conservatives would try to cast it. To be fair, “progress” is a relatively recent human event. Think of the millions of years proto-humans and early humans spent doing the exact same thing – hunting and gathering. It wasn’t until one human figured out agriculture – then got the rest of the humans in his or her tribe to entertain the idea – that agriculture replaced hunting and gathering. Instead of moving around nomadically (as hunter/gatherers must in order to hunt and gather), this first full-time-farmer’s tribe would put down literal roots that required tending, harvesting and (in bumper years) storing.
Skin in the game.
That’s the basis for conservative thought: I have skin in the game and want to keep the skin I have there. Understandable.
Therefore, from a conservative POV, all problem-solving – governing’s ultimate purpose – should aspire to maintain the status quo whatever that is. For instance: in America, commercial interests realized that the South’s three big cash crops – tobacco, sugar cane and cotton (all labor intensive from field to factory) – would be way more profitable if one of the soft costs – labor – was had for free. The whole point of slavery – of having a slave – is that the slave’s master gets the slave’s work product for nothing. The slave master may have to pay to clothe, feed and house the slave – if they want their investment to return anything – but those are just the “costs of doing business”. Clearly the value of slavery’s work product far exceeded whatever it cost to keep slaves because the South built its entire economy on that brutal idea. Take free labor out of the Confederacy and there’s no Confederacy.
In fact, slavery was so essential to the Southern economy that ending slavery would have destroyed it and deservedly so! Slavery was the entire reason we fought a Civil War. It’s why we’re still fighting that Civil War. Literal slavery may have ended but slavery’s fantom haunts us every day. The conservative kneejerk impulse to deny a social safety net to everyone but the poorest of the poor is workhouse thinking that sees everyone who isn’t them as another Oliver Twist wanting “more” just because they’re “hungry”. Want to know why conservatives hate the whole idea of a minimum wage? Because it directly conflicts with their desire to bring back slavery.
Here I am – letting conservatives off the hook for not being able to think when conservatives have nothing TO think.
That means it’s our news media who see Curly Howard as their Patron Saint!
“I’m trying to think but nothing happens” PERFECTLY describes our press every time they tried to wrap their heads around what Donald Trump’s relationship with Putin was. They looked at this image and couldn’t connect the dots.
Or this image…
Or this one…
How many lies did Trump have to speak before our news media finally used the word “lie” to describe what Trump was doing to them? Was it the thousandth lie that crossed the line? The ten Thousandth? The first lie should have been the end of it. That, news media, was the Rubicon right there.
Let’s put Trump-Putin aside. How about Trump-Republicans? Our news media remains utterly befuddled by Trump’s takeover of what used to be the GOP. If they scratched their heads any harder while pondering it, they’d put permanent divots in their scalps. The answer to that question has always been out in the open. If only our news media would think – they’d get it!
Hell, our news media doesn’t even have to think to get it. All they need to do is revisit their own reporting and remember that they reported it!
On June 25, 2016, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walked into a meeting of GOP leaders and insisted that “There’s two people I think Putin pays – Rohrbacher and Trump”. He was referring to the person the GOP was going to nominate a month later to be their presidential candidate as a clear national security threat should he get elected. No one in the room questioned McCarthy’s bold assertion. No one doubted it!
In fact, rather than doubt it, then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan insisted they keep that lack of doubt a secret. “That’s how we know we’re family”, Ryan said as he turned the conversation to other things. No one in the room got stuck “trying to think” and “nothing happening”. Everyone there knew exactly what to think – and what to do because of it.
Everyone there in that room committed treason. Anyone reporting this story is reporting a clear act of treason. Not much to think about, really. And yet…
We desperately need our news media to be ahead of this story and not where they are – miles and miles behind the story’s curve. We’re not going to get a Mulligan on our democracy.
We need to think – and have things happen (because we did the hard work of thinking). We need to stop listening to or valuing those for whom this is an impossibility.