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Ne raillons pas les fous; leur folie dure plus longtemps que la nôtre… Voilà toute la differénce.

It’s not a perfect match. Then, what is? —But it’s well known, the love the Norquist-Rovian axis has for Mark Hanna and William McKinley and that golden Gilded Age of yore, and dire prognostications as to what the world will look like if they get their way (nasty, brutish, and Darwinistic) doubtless fueled the savage glee which attended a recent viewing of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (George Hearn, Angela Lansbury, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 1982). “There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit and it’s filled with people who are filled with shit…” Yeah! you think. And Sweeney’s just the person to do something about it!


But it’s important, you know, not just to look to your own nightmares, but also the other side’s dreams. (Accepting for just this one quick moment the arrant fiction of a monolithic “other” “side.”) What sugar plums dance in Karl Rove’s head when he lays it on a 550–thread-count silk-and-cotton pillow? I couldn’t begin to guess with accuracy. But I can go searching for biographical information on Robert W. Chambers (in an unrelated matter) and stumble over the text online of perhaps his most famous story, “The Repairer of Reputations,” part of the King in Yellow sequence, regarding the effect that a rather disreputable play (“The King in Yellow”) has on those who read it:

If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of terror, or perhaps it was of joy so poignant that I suffered in every nerve, I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept shaking to my bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet. This is the thing that troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the Lake of Hali, and my mind will wear forever the memory of the Pallid Mask.

But we were talking about dreams, and not dire prognostications. —This is standard stuff, 19th c. metafiction and pulpy Edwardian horror, all coy unspeakables and things seen in a glass, darkly, and indeed, Lovecraft swiped quite a bit from Chambers, who was (though this is not saying that much) the better writer. (Lovecraft was the better storyteller, and this made all the difference. —We later learn what became of the author of this play:

“I only remember the excitement it created and the denunciations from pulpit and press. I believe the author shot himself after bringing forth this monstrosity, didn’t he?”
“I understand he is still alive,” I answered.
“That’s probably true,” he muttered; “bullets couldn’t kill a fiend like that.”

(O! What author wouldn’t kill for this immortality?)

Dreams, then: Chambers launches “The Repairer of Reputations” with a utopian vision to be troubled by the undercurrents he roils to its surface with that infamous, unseen play, and whether it’s a deeply personal idea of utopia, a carefully constructed utopia of people whose politics he wishes to disparage, or a utopia slapped together from random memes plucked from the Zeitgeist, I couldn’t tell you—nor does it matter. For it is definitely a utopian vision of a 1920 to come, a clean and shining 1920 on a hill, as seen from Gilded 1895:

Toward the end of the year 1920 the government of the United States had practically completed the programme adopted during the last months of President Winthrop’s administration. The country was apparently tranquil. Everybody knows how the Tariff and Labor questions were settled. The war with Germany, incident on that country’s seizure of the Samoan Islands, had left no visible scars upon the republic, and the temporary occupation of Norfolk by the invading army had been forgotten in the joy over repeated naval victories and the subsequent ridiculous plight of General Von Gartenlaube’s forces in the State of New Jersey. The Cuban and Hawaiian investments had paid one hundred per cent., and the territory of Samoa was well worth its cost as a coaling station. The country was in a superb state of defense. Every coast city had been well supplied with land fortifications; the army, under the parental eye of the general staff, organized according to the Prussian system, had been increased to three hundred thousand men, with a territorial reserve of a million; and six magnificent squadrons of cruisers and battle-ships patrolled the six stations of the navigable seas, leaving a steam reserve amply fitted to control home waters. The gentlemen from the West had at last been constrained to acknowledge that a college for the training of diplomats was a necessary as law schools are for the training of barristers; consequently we were no longer represented abroad by incompetent patriots. The nation was prosperous. Chicago, for a moment paralyzed after a second great fire, had risen from its ruins, white and imperial, and more beautiful than the white city which had been built for its plaything in 1893. Everywhere good architecture was replacing bad, and even in New York a sudden craving for decency had swept away a great portion of the existing horrors. Streets had been widened, properly paved, and lighted, trees had been planted, squares laid out, elevated structures demolished, and underground roads built to replace them. The new government buildings and barracks were fine bits of architecture, and the long system of stone quays which completely surrounded the island had been turned into parks, which proved a godsend to the population. The subsidizing of the state theatre and state opera brought its own reward. The United States National Academy of Design was much like European institutions of the same kind. Nobody envied the Secretary of Fine Arts either his cabinet position or his portfolio. The Secretary of Forestry and Game Preservation had a much easier time, thanks to the new system of National Mounted Police. We had profited well by the latest treaties with France and England; the exclusion of foreign-born Jews as a measure of national self-preservation, the settlement of the new independent negro state of Suanee, the checking of immigration, the new laws concerning naturalization, and the gradual centralization of power in the executive all contributed to national calm and prosperity. When the government solved the Indian problem and squadrons of Indian cavalry scouts in native costume were substituted for the pitiable organizations tacked on to the tail of skeletonized regiments by the former Secretary of War, the nation drew a long sigh of relief. When, after the colossal Congress of Religions, bigotry and intolerance were laid in their graves, and kindness and charity began to draw warring sects together, many thought the millennium had arrived, at least in the new world, which, after all, is a world by itself.
But self-preservation is the first law, and the United States had to look on in helpless sorrow as Germany, Italy, Spain, and Belgium writhed in the throes of anarchy, while Russia, watching from the Caucasus, stooped and bound them one by one.

No, it’s not a perfect match; one doubts Norquist’s America would have a Secretary of Fine Arts, and we all know what Rove’s cadre thinks of being represented abroad by other than incompetent patriots. But it is a glimpse of the roots of the light at the end of the tunnel through which some seem determined to drive us.

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