I hesitate to suggest that the members of the US Senate are inhuman but they are every one of them ghouls and evil robots.
We gave undue time to the four senators who spent a few days last week reveling in faux equivocation as long as that was newsworthy before doing exactly what the Political Expediency™ app would predict they do. These four were special to the precise extent that their expediency calculations appeared a skosh more complicated than those of their colleagues, and it behooved them to pretend to calculate slowly and in public. It gave Lisa Murkowski, who managed to equivocate last, the opportunity to be even more ghoulish than everyone else by—after all was decided and so with the lowest possible stakes, with no bearing on the incipient annihilation of women’s reproductive rights—entering the meaningless vote of “present.” Surely none of her constituents can blame her for showing up! Joe Manchin and Susan Collins went the evil robot route. Jeff Flake is like if an evil robot ate a ghoul at prayer breakfast.
But successful prediction of voting position would have worked equally for the remaining 96, all of whom acted in the expedient manner, possibly using the knockoff Powr™ app. Their votes were decided well in advance of the FBI investigation and indeed in advance of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and indeed were decided at precisely the moment that the president nominated a hollering drunk who is more significantly a sex offender and a mediocrity and whose one contribution to society is that he has clarified for all of us exactly what “Yale” means. Our hopes for him are onefold: that the drinking will kill him early, overcoming the preservative powers of having one’s biases treated as the law of the land.
As always, however, there is something powerfully moving, not about 100 ghouls and evil robots, but about the actual humans, maybe the hundreds I saw on Twitter, maybe the 130 million voters, maybe somewhere in the middle there, who chose to treat those senators as similarly human. Who chose to call upon them to vote their consciences, called upon them to stand against both tear-gassy judicial temperament and rapeyness, to comport themselves virtuously, to believe women, more generally to have beliefs and act upon them, to do the things that humans do. It would be easy and true to say that all of that choosing and calling and hoping was naïve.
It was also profound. In short, they chose to treat a chamber full of professionally soulless creatures bound by the absolute and corrupt laws of expediency as if they were free to behave in ethical or even minimally decent ways. As if they were emancipated beings free to pursue human flourishing. They are not, they never will be, it is a bad rescue fantasy to believe this or to act as if one believes. But it was also an amazing thought. It was a kind of collective dream, albeit shrouded in panic and dread, of a world in which freedom exists. The fact that it was projected onto a hundred ghouls and evil robots says something about the structure of parliamentarism, the immense disempowerment that accompanies it. I think it is true that we have all felt this sort of wish that the world could be transformed, or even just improved a tiny bit, by free people believing the right things and acting on them.
This dream like all dreams was a displacement, though. It was finally for us. This is what is so moving. In those foreclosed wishes is the hope that we ourselves could be emancipated, could pursue human flourishing rather than expediency, could be something other than desperately reactive and structurally disempowered. We can though. It won’t involve reproducing the cadre of ghouls and evil robots. Emancipation is not for them.