The Daily

The Post Horn

For here were God knew how many citizens, deliberately choosing not to communicate by US Mail. It was not an act of treason, nor possibly even of defiance. But it was a calculated withdrawal, from the life of the Republic, from its machinery. Whatever else was being denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of their vote, loopholes, simple ignorance. This withdrawal was their own, unpublicized, private. Since they could not withdraw into a vacuum (could they?), there had to exist the separate, silent, unsuspected world.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

That handsome dandy on the left in the turn of the century photo is Lawrence Purdy (LP) Somerville from Ravenswood, West Virginia. He was my great grandfather on Mom’s side. A lot has been made lately of Appalachia mountain culture – Hillbilly Elegy has been on the NYT bestseller list for a while now. That book isn’t the  first to fetishize mountain folk and it won’t be the last. But assuming book sales ain’t gonna change their lot, you can ignore them at your peril. All you have to do is look in LP’s eyes in that photo to know I’m not lying. When a Union got busted, he crawled into the mines as a ‘scab’ – knowing the additional dangers that posed. And just like in a Dean Woodrell story or a Drive-By Truckers song, if it suited him he’d dig a hole for you too.

When confronted with a seemingly intractable problem, I like to wonder what my ancestors would have done. Besides diggin’ a hole.

In The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon wrote about a secret society using a surreptitious mail system called “WASTE” to communicate – cans with cantilevered lids marked WASTE were scattered under the city’s elevated highways and the secret mail was picked up and dropped off in these cans. The secret symbol for this network was the ‘post horn’ – tattooed on the hands of the initiated and stamped on the letters and packages they sent to one another.

Pynchon’s fantasy dystopia would be a welcome comfort here now. The evidence is mounting that foreign adversaries continue to attack our democratic process from the inside, using social media to exploit our differences. The unprecedented levels of acrimony and partisanship erupted last week when the President released a partisan memo summarizing classified documents the authors had never seen – against the express warnings of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

How it lingers. This question of a Government alienated from the people it purports to represent – a broken thing. And what to do about it. The tea party and occupy movements can both be seen as outgrowths of the same question. The news today makes you wonder whether to give in and, if not, what to do.

In a blog last June (Common Sense) I wrote that

Today, our Government is in disarray – polarized by hostile political forces that seem determined to tear one another apart. The news every day reveals some fresh shocking horror that nobody could have expected. The one constant trying to steer our society back on course? The Constitution as applied by and through our Courts, Judges and our lawyers. From Preet Bharara to Sally Yates to James Comey and the lawyers fighting out Constitutional challenges to the recent Immigration executive orders – lawyers are proving themselves to be the beating heart of our democracy.

Then a month later, in July (The Weight)

On most days, I’m relatively impressed that our institutions have not crumbled or even buckled much under the pressure – especially Branch3. But it’s only July.

Now it is February 2018 and we seem closer to a constitutional crisis than ever. You either go back to bed and pull the family quilt over your head or do something. “Shit er git off the pot,” as the Somervilles liked to say.

Business men, they drink my wine
Plowman dig my earth
None were level on the mind
Nobody up at his word
Hey, hey

All Along The Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix