Scum! But By What Standard?

John McCain’s crotchety eruption at a group of Code Pink protesters last Thursday, during a Senate hearing convened to allow former Secretaries of State promulgate a theory of interventionism that flatters State power and aligns with his view of government, underscores the dangerous, yet reigning, mindset that looks at any citizen activism undertaken outside officially approved channels as unforgivable. The smug arrogance oozing from McCain during the hearing, as well as from the others, stemmed from their implicit belief that they were not only in the right, but that all actions committed by the assembled functionaries were beyond moral reproach.

McCain’s reaction laid bare what he thought of citizen action when it steps over "appropriate" bounds. "Get out of here, low life scum!" McCain snarled, evidently offended that the monotony of his Senate hearing was broken by pink-clad protesters dangling pink handcuffs in Kissinger’s Far Side-esque face. His disgust is plain to see, the hatred burned from his eyes as it would from a priest in reaction to hoodlums desecrating a temple. Because that’s what it is to him, a holy, inviolate place of worship. The State as religion, the State as provider and arbiter of life and death. His conviction about who in the room was ‘scum’ and who wasn’t was total, complete, irredeemable.

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, McCain again lamented having his Senate hearing disrupted by the scrappy activists.

"I think they are terrible people", he bemoaned, flabbergasted that anyone would have the nerve to crash the ceremony.

"… He’s a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder who was willing to come down and testify before Congress, to give us the benefit of his many years of wisdom. Of course I was outraged, and I’m still outraged." So we are supposed to feel sorry for Kissinger, now that he’s a little old man with a sling? And what does his wisdom consist of? How to successfully engineer foreign military coups that result in a wholesale butchering of the population?

The psychology of the State is what is interesting here. The appearances, the surface, the airs effected. We’re supposed to believe that, because these politicians are clean-cut, polite, mild-mannered, and well-dressed, they are owed an unconditional respect equal in intensity to the scorn heaped upon organizations like Code Pink. But take away the appearances, the expensive watches and limos, as well as the symbols of the State, and judge them solely by their actions. What’s left standing is a group of old people who have built their careers out of finagling the United States into international conflicts that have cost thousands of lives, destabilizing entire continents, and courting World War. That they have committed these crimes under the auspices of the State and the cloak of civility and decorum, does not absolve them of culpability.

What type of activism would be appropriate to senator McCain? Voting, probably. And the hamstrung, distant, and ultimately inconsequential sign-holding type of protest that is relegated to ‘free speech zones’. But the in-your-face, finger-pointing, righteous outrage on display during the hearing is too close for comfort, and unbearable to the likes of McCain.

Antiwar activism of any kind is instantly branded as unpatriotic, or crass, because this activism cuts at the source of the State’s ability to grow and enrich itself. "War is the health of the State", Randolph Bourne’s immortal framing of the issue that provides the philosophical bedrock of should be looping in one’s mind whenever the agents of the State close ranks in the face of this type of activism.

John McCain represents a strain of vulgar "patriotism" that is nothing more than nationalism dressed up with the native symbols. It’s a patriotism that exalts the State, the religion that sustains the State. It can be identified in every country, and history shows that it has existed everywhere, to varying degrees. It’s practiced every time we lay our hand on our heart in pledge to the "flag", inaugurate a President, and inwardly cheer when an American sniper cuts down foreign savages for the State.

It is also practiced every time we utter "thank you for your service" to veterans of our endless foreign wars. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because it’s a cheap, mindless ritual we engage in, in order absolve ourselves of any responsibility to understand what horrors that soldier endured. The "Support the Troops" mantra implies nothing of the sort. To truly support the troops would mean having to acquire an understanding of each conflict they are flung into, before they are flung into it. It would mean shielding them from being sacrificed to a hyped conflict in some desert halfway around the world.

Code Pink utilizes the tactics they do because they know that Kissinger, and the other former secretaries of state, will expire without feeling the hammer of justice strike for him. They do what they do to sting their conscience, to rattle whatever moral animal still resides in their deteriorating husks. These former power brokers are fawned over wherever they go; praise is poured onto them, honors, awards, doctorates, medals, all the trinkets gifted by the State for service in its name. They have privileged access to the talk show circuit, the $200,000 speech circuit, the ears of Senators, Congressmen, and Presidents. The havoc they unleash upon the world will only have good consequences for them.

According to Merriam-Webster, "scum" is defined as "people looked down upon as ignorant and of the lowest class", and "a person whose behavior is offensive to others". Judged by a moral standard that disregards who wears a suit or who holds power, John McCain and his ilk fit this definition to a T.

Shane Smith lives in Norman, Oklahoma and writes for Red Dirt Report.