Reflections on Trump, Torture and Camus’ The Rebel

//Reflections on Trump, Torture and Camus’ The Rebel

Reflections on Trump, Torture and Camus’ The Rebel

By Karen Malpede


It will get worse.

Much worse with the Trump Administration fully in place. The Cabinet from hell, a collection of incompetents, racists, sexists, fossil fuel and other business moguls, Islamophobes, and ignoramuses, is in a slow, agonizing process of confirmation, one by one, against widespread civil protest and principled opposition from most senators in the minority and toothless Democratic Party. Some Cabinet nominees, like Betsy DeVos, sister of Eric Prince, founder of the notorious private contracting torture outfit, Blackwater, have direct ties to profiting from torture. DeVos is now Secretary of Education with responsibility for overseeing the education of the young.

It will get worse. Until … somehow— No one knows.

A nation can vote its (flawed) democracy away. Or, rather, a non-representational election system, the Electoral College, that favors states with smaller populations, plus half an eligible citizenry—demoralized, ill-educated or disenfranchised and refusing, forgetting or unable to vote—and an influx of billions over many years by the Koch Brothers and others to elect the most right-wing ideologues, can combine—did combine—to put a neo-fascist regime into the White House. One cannot call them public servants; they have been bought.

I was one among many who foolishly, it turns out, thought the nightmare would go away on November 8, Election Day. We were up most of the night, struggling with disbelief and woke to find the country we knew was gone.

What if we had held the Bush torturers accountable for their crimes? Starting with Jessen and Mitchel, the two psychologists who wrote the torture manual, and the private contractors, CACI, Blackwater and the rest, and going all the way up to Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, himself. What if we had held Colin Powell accountable for lying at the U.N.? What if we had prosecuted the administration for leading the U.S. into an illegal invasion of Iraq, which posed no present threat? But, despite the efforts of dedicated human rights organizations and lawyers who represented detainees and authors who wrote against the torture program the war, there was not the public will or interest to hold the torturers accountable.

When President Obama announced we must look forward, not back, that, although he would not sanction torture, he also would not investigate the crimes of the past, torture, in journalist Mark Danner’s words, became “a policy choice.” And drone warfare became the murder weapon of choice.

Now we have an announced Islamophobe in the White House who says, against all evidence, “that torture works”; who says the nation and the world are under threat, not from global warming which he calls “a hoax,” or nuclear weapons, but from “radical Islamic terrorism,” which must be stamped out. When he starts a war and uses “national security” to silence all dissent, if and when he turns the police against his own people in order to shut us up, then the resistance will go underground, but its numbers will be eroded as many people concerned mainly with domestic issues will silence themselves.

Two questions occupy me now: how to resist and how to survive.

When I was young, we had assassinations, one after the other, of great leaders, principled if flawed young men: John Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and many Black Panthers, including Fred Hampton, said to be the new, charismatic leader of a movement and assassinated by “law officers” as he slept in his bed. We had Civil Rights, Anti-War, Native American, Feminist and Gay Rights movements, for which those men and other men and women gave their lives, each movement achieving freedoms that had been too-long denied. Today, we see these movements recognizing and building common cause.

It is in reaction to the freedoms these mass movements won, that the Trump regime vowing to “make America great again” has come to power. The fears of white people struggling with falling incomes and the loss of jobs have been conveniently tied to the interests of the corporate class. The urgency of the fossil fuel industry (predominantly white, male) to extract and sell every last bit of oil and gas under the ground, in reaction to a growing Environmental Movement, has led to “a corporate takeover,” as Naomi Klein said with her usual acumen. We are caught between two fiery methods of mass annihilation, living under a president who is, most likely, mentally unstable, a pawn for corporate interests, and who understands neither the dangers of nuclear war nor climate change.

We are all potential torture victims now. We watch and wait as the instruments of our misery are readied and engaged. We have nothing to confess but that we failed to secure our liberty and protect the earth on which we live, though some of us fought and continue to fight hard and long for just these things.

We make phone calls, sign petitions; we march, by the millions; we rely, again, upon our principled lawyers and judges; we struggle to mount an effective opposition; and we try to keep our souls alive.

I have been reading Camus’ The Rebel, slowly since just after the election. I finished it last night. Camus lived through the worst nightmares of the Twentieth Century in which Nazi Fascism and Soviet Totalitarianism (both begun as revolutionary movements to make things “great”) caused the murders of many millions and gave rise, eventually, to the perhaps now fading but no less dangerous hegemony of the United States.

What does Camus propose? A rebellious heart that governs principled action. “The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one. … He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of master and slave.” Is this not a concise, persuasive anti-torture statement?

Moreover, despite his ever-present use of the masculine pronoun, Camus’ book proves itself to be a profound environmentalist, earth-centered, therefore, ecofeminist work. He insists upon limits, recognizing our concern for the present as the key to securing the future, and he acknowledges the finite sanctity of earth, earth’s creatures and earth’s biosystem as determinants of our actions. “The rebel thus rejects divinity in order to share in the struggles and destiny of all men. We shall choose Ithaca, the faithful land, frugal and audacious thought, lucid action, and the generosity of the man who understands. In the light, the earth remains our last love.” He reiterates the thought throughout: To earth we owe allegiance, earth’s needs set limits on our actions.

Camus does not promise success. The Rebel is not a hope-filled, revolutionary statement; Camus abhors the very notion of revolution. He offers, instead, description of an evolution of consciousness that is within the realm of human possibility and sentient being. Camus proposes an “insane generosity … which unhesitatingly gives the strength of its love and without a moment’s delay refuses injustice. … Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”


Originally published by Torture magazine.

Karen Malpede is an American social justice, antiwar and ecofeminist playwright. A collection of her plays, Plays in Time: The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Another Life, Prophecy, Extreme Whether, will be published by Intellect Press in 2017. She is a frequent contributor to Torture Magazine.

Illustration by Mario Piperni via a Creative Commons license.

By | 2017-05-26T12:49:42+00:00 May 25th, 2017|Categories: Issue 26: 25 May 2017|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Reflections on Trump, Torture and Camus’ The Rebel