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Hollow Men

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Jim Opionin

by Jim Powers
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We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men…
                             T.S. Eliot

The modernist poet T.S. Eliot wrote this poem in 1925. He was writing in post WW1 Europe and was concerned with a sense of hopelessness at the time. The poem is much longer than this first stanza, but the theme set first here continues.

“Shape without form, shade without colour, Paralysed force, gesture without motion;” pretty much sums up his characterization of the Hollow Men, men who are spiritually and morally empty. They, in fact, have no values at all, living lives that are meaningless.

Steve Bannon, a former adviser to then President Donald Trump, was sentenced yesterday to four months in prison and a $6500 fine for Contempt of Congress in refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena. The Department of Justice prosecuted him, a grand jury indicted him, a jury found him guilty, and a Judge sentenced him. But that judge then announced that Bannon could remain a free man pending an appeal. Bannon is a wealthy man. He could stretch the appeals process potentially out for years. The Judge’s decision to stay the sentence was a gift Bannon did nothing to deserve.

The problem I have with this result is that it is unequal justice. You or I, unless you have much more influence than I have, would have likely been held in jail pending the trial, much less allowed free pending appeal. After all, there was no question about whether he was guilty. He defied a lawful subpoena. Simply said he wasn’t going to participate in the legal process. Why is he still a free man? Modern times.

More concerning, though, is what Bannon represents. Bannon is a Hollow Man. He has made it explicitly clear that he has no core values. He respects no law, no government, no man other than himself. He advocates anarchy, says he wants to deconstruct democracy and the state. He is a wealthy man whose only interest is personal wealth and power. The concerning thing, though, is that he is surrounded by an increasingly large number of very powerful Hollow Men that have embedded themselves in positions of leadership in our government and society. Including a lot of judges.

I guess the thing I most can’t understand is why people I know have values themselves seem to be drawn to men who have no values. Men who have publicly flip-flopped over the years as easily as they change their socks each day. 

Donald Trump was a Democrat before he was a Republican, Pro-Choice before Pro-Life, he notoriously doesn’t like to pay his bills, cheats on his taxes, lies to banks, drops people the moment they disagree with him. He is a Hollow Man with no core values, only wealth, power and control of others interests him. And yet, millions of people believe he is the Messiah, sent from God to save the earth. Steve Bannon wearing nicer clothes, who also wants anarchy, to deconstruct democracy and the state.

I’m not hopeful we are going to survive as a society much longer. If we are no longer willing to examine our own values, and reject people who have no values, then we are lost. If we are willing to vote against our own interests, supporting people who clearly hate democracy, then there is no hope.

These midterm elections may be the last democratically held elections in this country. I’ve heard too many republican candidates refuse to say they would accept the outcome of the midterms if they did not win. I have heard several of them say they would not. They seem determined to end democracy, win or lose. Despite the very real risk that this could be a failed election, and the end of democracy, voting is the only shot we have at saving it.

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