The featured image is from the climax of the great 1949 film noir, Act Of Violence. Robert Ryan plays a wounded veteran seeking revenge against a compatriot who betrayed their unit played by Van Heflin. Heflin is properly contrite and guilt-ridden, but Ryan remained determined to take him down. The hurt runs deep because the two were once friends. I’m not going to divulge the ending because I know how tetchy internet people are about spoilers.
There are few actual acts of violence in the movie, but the threat of violence hangs over the proceedings. That’s where we find ourselves as a nation in the summer of 2022.
That brings me to the quote of the day. It comes from a piece by my countryman Tom Nichols, The New Era Of Political Violence Is Here:
Civil war is among the many terms we now use too easily. The American Civil War was a bloodbath driven by the inevitable confrontation between the Union and the organized forces of sedition and slavery. But at least the Civil War, as I said Friday on Morning Joe during a panel on political violence in America, was about something. Compared with the bizarre ideas and half-baked wackiness that now infest American political life, the arguments between the North and the South look like a deep treatise on government.
The United States now faces a different kind of violence, from people who believe in nothing—or at least, in nothing real. We do not risk the creation of organized armies and militias in Virginia or Louisiana or Alabama marching on federal institutions. Instead, all of us face random threats and unpredictable dangers from people among us who spend too much time watching television and plunging down internet rabbit holes. These people, acting individually or in small groups, will be led not by rebel generals but by narcissistic wannabe heroes, and they will be egged on by cowards and instigators who will inflame them from the safety of a television or radio studio—or from behind the shield of elected office. Occasionally, they will congeal into a mob, as they did on January 6, 2021.
The Impeached Insult Comedian did not create these forces, but he exploited and unleashed them. As my First Draft colleague Jamie O pointed out yesterday, violence and the threat of it are as American as apple pie. In the 1960’s the threat came from the far left with their fantasies of revolution. In 2022, it comes from the far right with their revanchist fantasies. Just one of many convergences of the extreme right and left.
Talk of political violence has given many people a bad case of the jitters. Many of my fellow liberals love to worry and wallow in angst and agita.
Lyndon Johnson called them “nervous Nellies.”
David Plouffe calls them “bedwetters.”
I have a friend who compares them to Chicken Little.
I’m calling them the worst-case scenarists from now on.
I fall somewhere in between the sunny optimists of the world and the worst-case scenarists. I’ve already been through one of the worst things imaginable: watching my 30-year-old first wife die of cancer.
At that point you have a choice: get on with life or wallow in grief. I was lucky enough to meet Dr. A two years later. As the song goes:
Like Van Heflin’s character in Act Of Violence, I went to hell and back as a young adult. It made me calmer and more reflective. As did the uncertainty during our Katrina exile. The worst can happen but it’s not inevitable.
Freaking out never made anything better.
I’m just glad that Robert Ryan isn’t stalking me through the mean streets of a film noir nightmare.