The Blog

Swamp Sickness and The Riddle of Man

Marco RubioWASHINGTON, D.C. – Washington D.C. was built on a swamp and the result of a public works project the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the glory days of the Egyptian Empire. The city has always been self-conscious of this fact, of the stinging truth that has forever besmirched their name and led to bruised and uneasy ego after bruised and uneasy ego. The rules of visiting the nation’s capital are simple and universally understood. Do not mention the less-than splendid origin and keep your damn mouth shut about what happens within the city limits.

It’s been years since I breezed into town in the midst of a blizzard and drove, white-knuckled, at the helm of a rented car and navigated a crazed maze of idiot streets and bloody car crashes. The destination was a conference that stunk with snow-weariness and personal defeat. Faces were ugly. Actions uglier.

This jaunt is different. The cherry blossoms are late this year following another beleaguering winter. Tourists are out in en masse and wearing shirts and hats touting their homelands and states. There’s a sense of federal duty in the air that mixes with the sweet scent of the blossoms, which are beginning to fall and rot on the sidewalks as we speak. The bay windows to the bars are open. Money is circulating. There is talk that the American Dream is back on the track, that there is still a chance this Great Experiment is not a failure, that maybe The Next One will right the course and give us another two hundred or so years. After that? All bets are off.

It’s a lofty goal, for sure. And the ones opening the betting lines at twenty to one are the only sharks in this casino. They know the truth, that this country has been bought and sold so many times the deed has been lost for decades. They know the American public are so hopeful and good, when it really comes down to it, that they’re willing to shell all of their hard-earned money into a gamble that could never hope to pay off. The house is setting the number so low as to not worry the happy tourists and promote panic at a time when real panic needs to be promoted. They are wise and this isn’t the first empire they’ve seen burn. The Egyptians had their day in the sun, after all, and some of their monuments still stand. It’s only thanks to the kindness of others though, those who revel in a real and sincere nostalgia that want to believe that something in this world can last forever.

The bets are streaming in and it’s only a matter of time until that number creeps up to the proper line.

***

I was walking down Connecticut Avenue yesterday and observing the other visitors observing the shops and the hustle and the bustle. We love the clout of business at work. We love the din of capitalism still grinding on in a very real way that can be seen, touched, drank, eaten, absorbed and then expunged.

It was Saturday and America was churning.

The couple I was watching were undoubtedly from Minnesota or Wisconsin or Michigan, one of those cold states where, somehow or another, the residents hunker down and make use of their Nordic roots and maintain some semblance of basic human decency. It was an old couple, no doubt a pair that had weathered their fair share of winters and recessions and Great Hopes and Great Failures, the kind of hardworking Americans who show up to vote and then sit at home and watch all of their dreams get crumpled and tossed out with Wednesday’s trash.

These are my people. People who have been beaten and thrushed within inches of their public lives and then asked to give their sons and daughters to the grist of war and production and faulty, rigged games that will never ever stop.

But yet, they still wear smiles. They are so happy to be alive. So happy to have their crummy existences and all they want in the world is for this rotten scam to leave them alone a little more than it does. They’ll take the scam, they’ll swallow the bitter pill, if it will only give them a weekend off here and there. And when they vacation, they come to the place where the scam is birthed and rebirthed to look at the limestone memorials and federal style buildings, wombs that have been designed with intimidation and reverence in mind. They climb the steps and they worship at the altar of everything that has ever fucked them.

They were slowly strolling down the avenue, letting the locals stream around them, when suddenly, and this happens in D.C. more than people would like to admit, a half dozen black Suburbans screamed into the street and pulled offensive maneuvers to choke traffic to a standstill. Suited agents of unknown origin, sporting pitch-black sunglasses and waving their pieces wildly, sprang from the Suburbans as detail sprinted into a nearby ice cream shop. The recipient of the treatment was some nameless, faceless bureaucrat, maybe a congressman, but probably not. More than likely, he was some paper-pusher three stops down from Somebody Who Matters and in Washington that’s enough of an excuse to put the boot on the throat of everyone within spitting distance.

The Midwestern couple watched the scene like it was something out of a movie, but only because it is. Shows of power in Washington are meant to frighten and imprint the arm’s reach of federal authority and with all the pomp and circumstance and skullduggery, it’s no wonder we let these sons of bitches get away with everything we do. They can, you know, stop traffic, pick you up by the scruff of your neck, and ship your happy ass down to Guantanamo Bay, because, you know, there are still cages and cells needing occupants. Good luck, Prisoner 4524. We’ll be in touch when the Secret Tribunal gets around to hearing your “case.”

One of the agents noticed the couple rubbernecking from the sidewalk and had decided they were a little too close. With a step, he crossed the distance between them and chested up on them in an effort to exert his authority to scare the shit out of any good, freedom-loving people he so chooses. The couple shrunk in fear and waited like obedient children for the bureaucrat, ice cream cone in hand, to be secured and whisked away.

When the scene was over and every trace of it forgotten outside of the clogged traffic, the couple proceeded to the next corner. A cabbie honked at another cabbie. Music leaked through the air like the scent of cherry blossoms. Something was rotten. Something was fetid.

The swamp has never gone away.

***

In the Toddler Days of the 2016 Election, the media will take any story they can get their hands on. This weekend it was the Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire where nineteen, count them, nineteen potential candidates for the GOP gathered and threw red meat to every freak and geek the Granite State had to offer. Talk was as fascist and insane as the Republicans could offer and the rumors afterward as delicious as a correspondent could hope for.

Besides word that Jeb Bush has gone on a diet (he allowed himself a piece of pie this weekend, CNN, the News Leader, reported Sunday morning) the tastiest tidbit is the opening schism between Bush and his protégé Marco Rubio, who Jeb has touted for years now and even famously gave a golden sword as a token of his appreciation and faith. GOP insiders had always seen the pair as a one-two punch, the kind of candidates who could give the Right eight years of Bush/Rubio/Rubio/Anybody in the West Wing, an inseparable coupling that had the world at its beck and call.

The Presidency does funny things to men though. Once candidates get a whiff of The Call, which is akin to a certain swamp sickness and usually comes late at night when the man or woman is pacing the halls with a real Sense of Duty and the Fire and the Juice of Destiny coursing through their arteries like amateur moonshine, they are forever wrecked to basic human decency. The idea of being The Leader of the Free World, of having one of those memorials on the National Mall, your portrait hung in offices around the land, it can drive a person to the point of homicide.

Take, for example, John Edwards, who was so sure of his Call that he found himself houndogging every bedroom and office from here to Cleveland and tossed his wife, his family, and whatever was left of his good name to the wind.

He heard The Call in the form of the Iowa Primary and when he stepped in front of the red lights on the cameras he was a bug removed of shell.

To his benefit or his folly, Rubio heard The Call and he’s determined to throw Jeb overboard the very first chance he gets. Early reports have Rubio telling anyone who’ll listen that he’s not going to “wait his turn,” a more than subtle nod toward Bush World and the Establishment Wing of the Old Republican Party. The first topic of discussion in his very first strategy meeting with his group of advisers had to have been how to distance himself from the presumed frontrunner and cut his hamstrings in the process. Rubio, a hack but a vicious one, was happy to supply the blade.

I can only imagine Jeb waking up this morning to widespread reports of a rift in his relationship with Rubio. He’s probably in the wake of a hangover from that slice of pie, probably slouching about his hotel room in soured undershirt and the pair of legacy underwear the Bushes no doubt pass down, beginning with Prescott, the ones that have been bought and sold and mended with old Nazi money and the blood of American decency, and he no doubt stared in the mirror and wondered how he ever came to trust this kid in the first place.

The picture of Rubio holding the golden sword is amazing. He looks sixteen years old, like an awkward sophomore who’s just served as page for the Florida Legislature as part of a high school program. In another time he might’ve been a boy king, an Alexander the Great standing knee-deep in Nile, thrusting his conquering sword in the face of the Old Gods.

Where’s the sword now?

According to this morning’s report, it’s “somewhere” in Rubio’s house.

Somewhere. Among the clutter. Tucked under a few old magazines and the bag he keeps meaning to take to Goodwill. A golden sword given to him by the governor of Florida. His friend. His mentor.

I have a theory and the theory is thus: Rubio knows where that sword is. There’s no chance that blade’s been misplaced because Rubio is sharpening it every night to the thrum and music of The Call. There is no feat more poetic than killing a man with the very weapon he has carried. That’s as old as the pyramids, dear reader, perhaps older. It’s the stuff of odes and plays and the material of nightmares that men and women have suffered standing over the cribs of their children.

The Call has a way of dumbing down instincts and ruining perspective. Marco Rubio will not be president. There is no possible route to the office for him, outside of a wild thousand-to-one shot that he somehow or another evolves within the next month into a serious and effective campaigner, and that’s the kind of line even sharks aren’t willing to put on the board. Rubio could be vice-president though. Bumblers have a history of making it there. Ask Dan Quayle. Ask Joe Biden. Bush would’ve been overjoyed to have given him the slot. It would’ve shorn up the GOP’s trouble history with Latino voters and would’ve given them Florida in a walk. After that, it’s just Ohio and a very real possibility at California, the type of thievery that might’ve changed the electoral map for generations to come.

That is over now. Just the hint of a fight between Bush and Rubio, and at a point where Bush hasn’t even declared, sets the stage for the type of bloodshed and warfare we haven’t seen since Teddy Roosevelt’s indignation led the country on a nightmarish, rage-ridden quest, a crusade that nearly won the presidency for an upstart political party whose only platform was the murder and destruction of Howard Taft. This is a betrayal, and as Rubio seeks to knee-cap Bush, who is maybe the one Adult In The Room for the Grand Old Party, we’re going to see a man who has no friends left. Being a frontrunner is hard business, and a lonely business at that. We’re going to see if Jeb cracks and if he can continue like a battleship with a smoking hole in the side. I have my doubts. Jeb’s a sensitive guy who has blushed at the very mention of criticism. He isn’t W with his blustery Texas confidence, or even H.W. who earned his mettle piloting fighter jets through enemy fire.

He’s the son of a man who was painted as a wimp though he was a hero and the brother of a man who was painted a hero though he was a wimp. The other Bushes at least had strong jaws. Jeb’s is soft and it looks made of glass. But make no mistake: cowards have pulled the trigger before.

This is going to be ugly business, there’s just no way around it.

The real question though, the real thing I can’t wait to see, is by the end of this, by the time the primaries are settled, is who’ll be raising that sword, and whose blood will be gleaming in the light.

 

Source: Marco Rubio Caricature by DonkeyHotey

About Jared Yates Sexton

A born and bred Hoosier, Jared Yates Sexton is the author of An End to All Things (2012, Atticus Books), The Hook and the Haymaker (2015, Split Lip Press), and Bring Me the Head of Yorkie Goodman (2015, New Pulp Press). He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University.

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