The Moment of Truth — July 11, 1998

At Louche Hitch-Ends, or Hitch: Un Chien in the Loo, or Hitch: L’ancien en Larousse

Hello, I’m mejeffdorchen. Welcome to the Moment of Truth, that gem that sparkles from out of the dreary dross of market-driven news and commentary like a ray of sunshine peeking through the death-shroud of gloom that hangs in a pall over the earth.

What’s happened this week? Chief Abiola, imprisoned for winning the last legitimate election in Nigerian history, political prisoner of the military dictatorship of Nigeria, is finally released from prison during a period of political instability and ostensible reform, and dies dramatically before the eyes of the US ambassador and his entourage. The State Department releases a statement saying there’s no reason suspect foul play. No reason? The fact that Abiola was the only living figure unifying the opposition movement is no reason to suspect foul play? The fact that he was just released from 4 years of imprisonment during a period of political instability and ostensible reform? The fact that international pressure seems to finally have forced the Nigerian military to open the political system a crack? The fact that the dictator who jailed Abiola, Sani Abacha, himself recently died, giving hope to the opposition for which Abiola was a rallying point?

No reason to suspect foul play. Imagine this: the one person who could overthrow the US government is put in prison for winning the presidential election. Finally, after years of international pressure, she is let out of prison. Millions of people support her and believe that she is the legitimate president of the United States, not Ollie North who seized power and put her in prison. She meets with the Canadian ambassador and dies of a heart attack. Is there reason to suspect foul play?

Let’s see: the Nigerian government obviously wanted him to be dead. But that’s no reason to think they killed him. Granted, they’ve killed other dissidents before. But that’s no reason to think they’d do it again.

I think what the State Department must mean when they say that they have no reason to suspect foul play is not that they have no logical reason. Clearly they have. Whether or not Abiola was murdered, there is every reason to suspect that he was. It’s clearly in the realm of possibility, plausibility, and even likelihood.

So the State Department doesn’t mean they don’t have a logical reason to suspect foul play. They just don’t have a political reason to suspect it. It wouldn’t do them any good. It would only give more ammunition to those who oppose the business ties of US corporations with the Nigerian government – trade being the foremost moral imperative of US foreign policy. It would make Clinton look all the worse for making nice on his trip to Africa, and splash more egg on the face of one of his main allies in the Senate, Carole Mosely Braun.

It’s scary enough for the powers that be that progressives in the US have figured out that Clintonism is just Reaganomics with a baby-boomer’s face. To besmirch Mosely Braun is to run the risk of delegitimizing the entire political system. If we go to all the trouble of electing a populist, prolabor, black woman senator, and all she does is vote for antiunion policies like NAFTA and suck up to dictatorial regimes like the one in Nigeria, maybe there really is no place for caring, progressive people in the arena of electoral politics. Maybe the problem isn’t who’s in office, but the entire arrangement. Maybe we could elect anarchist, albino, quadraplegic, radical lesbian buddhist siamese twins as president and still have hunger in the US, still have a widening gap between rich and poor, still disregard the rights of the disabled, still allow corporations to trample the rights of people all over the world, still deny food and shelter and education and health care to poor people just because we feel like it.

But the State Department has no reason to want us to ask these questions. They have no reason to encourage the people of Nigeria to hate their government even more than they already do. Therefore they have no reason to suspect foul play in the death of Chief Abiola.

This is what I mean when I say, "Read between the lines." You can’t listen to statements from the government or corporations with the same ears with which you listen to a reasonable human being you might meet in real life. "No reason to suspect" doesn’t mean the same thing to the people controlling the system as it does to those of us who have to put up with them and their arrogant decisions. When a normal person says, "I have no reason to believe in ghosts," she means she has no empirical evidence for believing in ghosts. When a State Department official says, "I have no reason to believe in ghosts," he means he has nothing to gain from it. It will not advance his career, it will not score him points with those to whom he must toady. Even if the ghost of Ken Sarawiwa, Nigerian dissident summarily executed for criticizing Shell Oil’s exploitation of Nigerian land, came up to a US ambassador and gave him a hickey, the US ambassador would still have no reason to believe in ghosts. He’d have every reason not to. If we had video footage of Richard Nixon admitting to engineering the assassination of Bobby Kennedy so he wouldn’t have to run against him in 1968, those who own the system would still say they had no reason to believe it. And they would be right, since what they mean when they say, "have a reason" is "expect to profit from."

This is the key to understanding the beliefs of our great leaders of state and industry. You just have to learn their language. It’s been key to my understanding of why people want to erect monuments to Ronald Reagan. I’ve heard people say, "How could Reagan claim to be a Christian and yet send troops to slaughter thousands of Grenadan civilians?" The answer is in linguistic interpretation. To Reagan, a Christian was someone who went through the motions of every superficial activity a Christian might go through in order to appear similar to the majority of US citizens. He certainly had no reason to believe in the precepts of Jesus. There was no profit in it.

Some may ask, "How could Reagan, the President, not know that the military wing of his administration was engaged in the illegal training of Central American rightwing troops to bomb, mine, kidnap and torture civilians?" Well, there was no reason for him to know. There was no profit in his knowing, and if he did know, certainly no profit in his remembering, and if he did remember, certainly no profit in his admitting that he did.

In fact, there was no profit in his achieving, knowing, or understanding anything that a president should do, know or understand. There was much more profit, that is, much more reason, for him to do nothing, know nothing, understand nothing. To, in effect, be a figurehead president.

Why don’t the conservatives who insist on fobbing Ronald Reagan off a "great man" admit that he was a self-interested moron who couldn’t distinguish fact from fiction? Why? Because they have no reason to.

So Reagan is a great man, cigarettes aren’t addictive, nuclear power is perfectly safe, anyone can grow up to be president, and there is no reason to believe that Chief Abiola died as a result of foul play. Join us here next week when we learn from the USDA and the big agribusiness corporations why vegetables treated with sewage and radiation are "organic". Until then I’m mejeffdorchen. Tune in for the MOMENT OF TRUTH next week on National Beer Presents This is Hell with your host Chuck Mertz Saturday from 10 am to noon on WNUR 89.3 FM Chicago’s sound experiment.