Charles Pierce and I have had a long and one-sided relationship: he doesn’t know I exist, and I’ve read his work voraciously since he covered Boston for the late lamented Phoenix newspaper. And up until very recently, I’ve read his opinions in Esquire several times a week. First thing in the morning, I’ve gone straight to Charles to get his take on the day ahead, just in case I’d missed anything the night before.
And then, a few weeks ago, I stopped. Cold turkey. I dropped Charles, NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Nicolle Wallace on MNBC, late-night comedian-observers rehashing the day’s events, even the local news on public and community radio.
The reason is simple: I’m tired of being angry all the time.
It was coming out all over the place, that anger. My publisher returned a draft of my most recent novel to me, requesting revisions because my protagonist had simply become too pissed off. I found myself unable to carry on even normal conversations without the toxicity creeping in. And I was starting to feel very cynical indeed about the future — or lack thereof. I was writing things I couldn’t even recognize myself.
I’ve been cleaning out old files on my computer and realized that what I’ve been writing lately sounds suspiciously familiar, if not in the details, then at least in the tone. My first published political op-ed appeared during the reign of Ronald Reagan, when I wondered in astonishment how far he could push things before people drew a line and said no more. (Pretty far, as it turned out.) I probably would have written during the Nixon years had I lived in the United States, but in France we had our own kettles of unrest to fry, and anyway as a self-absorbed teenager I was far too interested in observing myself observing the world to make any points worth publishing.
So there was Reagan. I had a lot to say about him, and it all still makes me angry. His inaction in the face of the AIDS plague. His arming of the Nicaraguan contras (against the will of the people as well as the law). His economic policies that dramatically widened the gap between the haves and have-nots. His funding of the Taliban (9/11, oops). His legacy for the United States: terrorism, poverty, and death.
After Reagan, there are no op-eds for a while — I was busy with graduate school — and then I started up again, perhaps not surprisingly, during the second Bush administration.
Bush: the one who invaded Iraq, murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians, and destabilized the Middle East so thoroughly that it may take the entire 21st century to recover. Bush, who brought suffering to the world and strangled civil liberties at home. Bush, and the recession for which he was responsible; Bush, and his imprimatur for Americans as torturers; Bush, and his inaction in the face of Katrina. His legacy for the United States: terrorism, poverty, and death.
Ah, there it is: this is what we writers call a theme.
In my lifetime, every time the United States has elected — or semi-elected — men who have thumbed their noses at the Constitution, the rule of law, and the will of the people, I’ve gone ballistic. My anger has been as impotent as it’s been intense. It hastened the end of a marriage, it cost me money and time and energy I didn’t have, it started making me into a person I didn’t like very much.
So when I started writing about the current administration, I experienced a little déjà vu. But what I do is read and write and think. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. So I spent a whole lot of time in the company of Charles Pierce and Nicolle Wallace and the rest of the boys in the band, and I started seeing it again: the seepage of the anger into the fabric of my life, the slow transformation of a reasonably nice, healthy, contented human being into a snarling cynical witch.
And it’s not as if any of the issues have changed. Maybe that's the most distressing aspect of it all: I’m still angry at the same things. The disregard for humanity writ large. The narcissism that makes sure the price is always paid — by somebody else. The fact that all the songs of oppression — Dylan and Jackson Browne and David Crosby/Stephen Stills/Graham Nash and Bruce Cockburn and Don Henley and Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen — could each be recycled and make sense today.
Can’t do it. Maybe I’m older. Maybe I’m wiser. Maybe I’m just more tired. But I’ve stopped reading Charles Pierce. I’ve stopped listening to or reading the news. I start my mornings in my garden now, and I read Tolstoy and Baudelaire and Agatha Christie, and I breathe. A lot. I think I’m doing better.
But damn, Charles Pierce, how I miss you.