I started a new book last night.
Normally this is not news. I start new books all the time - it's one of the things I do instead of climbing mountains, running for office, hitting home runs or adding value to society in readily definable terms. Not that those things would accomplish that either, so I like to think I'm in pretty good company that way.
It's starting out to be a good book. It's a dark, grim story set in a city suspended from chains over an infinite abyss, out of which the moans of the dead create winds strong enough to blow out candles. One of the main characters is an insane and bloodthirsty angel, and the main function of the city seems to be the final stop in a pilgrimage that always ends in death.
The fact that I started this book as a sanity break from another book on the modern conservative movement in America says something, I suppose.
One of my ongoing projects for the last several years has been studying the history of the extremists whose social views have taken over the Republican Party and turned it into a vehicle for the most radically authoritarian, treasonously anti-Constitutional, close-mindedly theocratic and arrogantly self-serving elements of American society. I want to know where these cockroaches came from, what they did to a party that - 45 years ago - I might have had a home within, and what they plan to do to the rest of us.
It's not fun reading.
I started out this project, as any historian would, by going back to the sources of the conservative movement. I read Edmund Burke. I examined the careers of Klemens von Metternich, Benjamin Disraeli and others along those lines. I even read Barry Goldwater's book, and let me tell you was that a chore.
And then I stopped doing that, because it became clear that modern American "conservatives" are not actually conservative in any meaningful way. They are not trying to "conserve" anything - if anything, they are radicals trying to destroy the traditional institutions of American society and replace them with a fringe-element new vision (utopian or dystopian, depending on whether you are in or out) of an America force fed their narrow view of what ought to be. Neither are they a governing movement in any meaningful way, since they value ideological purity and the vanquishing of supposed enemies over such things as responsible rule, planning for the future, or the sorts of compromises with reality that the Founding Fathers understood was the essence of grown-up politics. The Republican Party today advocates as part of its basic platform positions that were considered part of the lunatic fringe by Barry Goldwater, and the radicals who have taken over that party continue to push even further into the fringes with every passing day.
They are children having temper tantrums while wielding power, and that is a bad combination.
The hardest part of reading the history of this movement - and there are a great many hard parts, ranging from the damage they have inflicted on this country already to the damage they plan to inflict in the future - is the sheer viciousness of its leaders. It is astonishing to read how venal, corrupt, dictatorial, and abusive they are, in a way that puts leaders in other areas of American politics (even more traditional right-wingers) to shame. Left-wingers may think they play hardball and can be dirty when necessary but they are way out of their depth facing this crowd, and it shows in how this country has been governed over the last 40 years.
It is depressing to see how much support these radical conservative leaders receive even when their characters and machinations are well known and documented. It is even more depressing to see how much support they receive from their followers who know very well what those leaders have done and who insist that this only makes them better leaders. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
I can get through about 30 pages of this before I have to put down whatever I'm reading and take a break.
Bring on the moaning dead.