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Our America: President Skunk

Yep. Though I probably should avoid mixed mammaliaphors, I do think I’ve belled that cat. Skunks have a certain well-earned reputation; it’s not one they earn by making friends. Few—at least outside their immediate families, which tend to be small—can stand to be around them for long. One wonders how they ever manage to reproduce, and one may well suspect that a certain amount of inbreeding is involved. One thing is clear: when this animal is nearby, you’ll know it. The stench remains and is notoriously difficult to remove. Often, when something has been thoroughly soiled, the only remedy is burning.

The power of a skunk is singular, it has to be said. All the skunk needs do is threaten to spew—which it does indeed do, we’ve seen that spectacle too many times—and nearly everyone backs down, avoiding any possible confrontation, running in the opposite direction, whenever and wherever possible. You may ask then, quite reasonably, how could a skunk possibly draw a crowd? It’s good that you do ask, since it was, until recently, assumed that none ever could or would. No end of fun was had at this very idea: such a revolting, ugly spectacle, just imagine, stadiums full of skunk lovers, the masses enthralled with an odorous animal doing its thing in broad daylight. What everyone outside failed to see, of course, is that there is a kind of fun, a sadistic fun perhaps but pleasurable nonetheless, involved. So long as that spew is directed elsewhere, you, they, in short we, love that shit. We get great glee from seeing him shoot out his stuff indiscriminately, staining, spoiling, soiling, trashing, slashing and burning. So long as it’s at someone other than us.

For the longest time, there was a great deal of speculation about President Skunk, about whether, in the end, he was really that bad. His appalling behavior, no question, was obvious to all, but there were rumors that a quick snip of the glands could and perhaps would render him harmless. Skunks might even make good pets. Even the stalking, the verbally and physically violent attitude toward the opposite sex, seen from a certain angle, might seem more pathetic than predatory. Who hasn’t laughed at or felt sorry for Pepé Le Pew? In general, it was felt, there wasn’t any deep or real connection between his capacity for nasty and the targets he chose. All they had in common, it was thought, was their shared misfortune of having stumbled across his path, of having gotten in his way.

We’ve seen more than enough now to know better. A skunk, after all, is a skunk. We might wish it were different, but it’s not. We should all be thankful, at least, for those unmistakable visible markings: a black body with a white stripe. Sometimes it does make you wonder, however, if biology is destiny after all. Does anyone expect a change of stripe?

Despite the apparently indiscriminate nature of weaponized stench, the fact is that so far, in the case of President Skunk, one target has never left his sights. Like his legions, or minions, our spewer-in-chief apparently somehow believes that his whiteness will save him, that the stripe he wears proudly across his back marks him as superior, as privileged. Makes you wonder if he ever looks in the mirror. This belief is his core: for President Skunk, the world is, was, and always shall be black and white, them and us, winners and losers. Sad, very sad. His stench has no other source, it festers, putrefying; it is the hatred he shelters within, the hatred he incessantly attempts to attach to others. As if we don’t know where it comes from.

To cite Jeremiah 13:23, as it seems we must: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Thomas Dixon, author of The Clansman, used that quote to title the second of his best-selling white supremacist novels. And yet people, even President Skunk, are not animals; they can and do change. And countries are governed by people, not animals.

The question is, on the matter of race, whether President Skunk ever has changed, or ever will.

And the fact is that one target seems never to leave his sights.

Jim Hicks is Executive Editor of the Massachusetts Review.




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