Wide Trump with Tall Comey
In the Sixties one of the people who often dropped in at Scriver Studio to gossip and take a little break from selling or inspecting or advising — whatever — there was a big man with a booming voice who loved to break up the monotony of his sales route by coming into a business where he wasn’t known and demanding, “Who here called for the FBI?” People immediately assumed he WAS the FBI and hurried around to help him. He said he could even demand to see their financial books and they would comply, intimidated and probably guilty of something.
By the time Wounded Knee II rolled around in 1973, I was leaving the rez. By then the image of the FBI was something like Mormon missionary teams, “suits” with shined shoes and stony faces. They were scary and not on the side of the People. Even Bob, who disliked authority figures of all kinds, had a tendency to turn to them for information and help in this paranoid time, and they loved to fan the flames, literally. When some years later the shop was on fire in the night, they assured him it was AIM (the American Indian Movement) who were the arsonists. It turned out that the cause was fumes from the underground gas tank belonging to an abandoned service station on the block, accumulated through broken sewer pipes into the dark room of the studio and ignited by the water heater. But the fumes of paranoia were worse. Bob never recovered.
It’s realistic to say that today’s FBI director, James Comey, is head and shoulders above others. He is resolute and careful enough to begin to erase the image of J.Edgar Hoover in a red ruffled party dress, calling himself “Mary.” He is righteous about the persecution of MLK, Jr. and young enough to be my son. (He was born in 1960, when I was at NU, earning a BS.). In 1982, he was just about to enroll at the U of Chicago Law School where I was transcribing professor’s materials, using very early computer “stations” with a big industrial hard drive some mysterious place. Few professors could operate their own work stations, and we were told to ignore the sounds of “Asteroids” coming from offices, because it was the way they learned to use computer programs. The internet was not known.
I didn’t know Comey, but I knew some of his professors. Scalia was still there and sometimes I delivered his mail, but I never transcribed his writing. Sometimes big handsome men would appear from some outfit like the Rand Corporation and demand help. Everyone was very conscious of their own importance. I never met anyone there who knew anything about “Indians.” nor who ever said anything about Wounded Knee II. In fact, I never met an anthropologist on the U of C campus, not even Victor Turner.
What I’m getting at is that the suits we’re watching on the news are so important that they only deal with other suits. That means they are ignoring the big picture, the back country, the exceptions and exemptions, the sorrow and the suffering. These people are from a writing culture, guided by documents. The exception in the example of the crisis of the moment is that Trump is an oral culture guy, a face-to-face guy. He plays to the audience.
The composite accumulations of video moments have impressed me greatly, particularly the one of Trump’s handshakes with people of all kinds. He pushes them back, he yanks them forward, he squeezes, he evades, he ignores, he pats. So far the only exception is Trudeau who took Trump firmly by his handshake arm.
It’s enough to make a person want to back off to give a dignified bow or maybe hold up a hand like a movie “Indian” or like Keith Olbermann, Trump’s pursuer on Twitter. Trump wouldn’t know an “Indian” if he sat on an arrow and he would be easy to scalp: a good yank ought to do it. But it wouldn’t be much of a decoration on a warshirt. His own suits flap in the breeze, partly because he’s gaining weight and partly because he feels the heat in that bulky body.
I’m mocking, I’m undignified, I’m using my own life path to claim something, and I’m just sort of heartsick about the whole mess. It’s all blackened pots and kettles, but no stainless steel. Unless Comey comes through. He might. If he manages this with as much grace and grit as he has shown so far, that will be a beginning in changing a culture of the FBI that’s based on bravado and old movies, the urban pursuit of immigrant gangsters.
Maybe he’ll be able to begin turning things around on reservations where the FBI has jurisdiction over what used to be the “ten major crimes” with murder at the top of the list. https://leb.fbi.gov/2012/may/indian-country-and-the-tribal-law-and-order-act-of-2010 Praiseworthy attempts have been made to bring the duties up to date from what originated as U.S. Cavalry attempts to keep order among a “foreign” conquered people. Today the reservations struggle to maintain both casinos and colleges and to resist drugs, which often originate in Mexico with “Indios” who can “pass” on a rez.
Arguably much worse, somehow the mostly male suits of the FBI seem blind to the murders of indigenous women and children by outsiders, particularly when the tribal people are off the reservation and possibly trafficked. The white culture, especially on the super-conservative mad-dog red-neck end, has the idea that “squaws” and “bucks” are fair game, something like “slopes” and “ragheads.” These lowlifes are such a slimeball faction of the country that one can hardly bear to think about them. The FBI’s response seems to have been pulling away. The main office that used to be in Butte is now in Denver.
The legit media is mostly just unaware and baffled. Sensational media actively feeds on this stuff. Respectable middle-class tribal people don’t know what to do, but their children watch the vids, play the games, get the ideas into their systems. This is subversive.
It’s WORSE in Russia, but not different in kind and dynamics. It has risen like an oil spill tide until it has come up the Potomac, up the shores of Manhattan, into all our lives. Even tall Comey will be overwhelmed unless the citizens of all kinds get behind him. Without the bluster and fakery of Trump the salesman.