In Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot, one of the characters, Nastassya, who has been seduced by a rich nobleman, is offered the chance to redeem her social standing through marriage to an ambitious young man, Ganya, whom the nobleman has offered a large sum of money to marry her. In an act of mad defiance Nastassya, in the presence of most of the individuals involved in her situation, refuses not only Ganya, but a disinterested offer of marriage from the hero, Prince Myskin, takes money offered to her by another admirer, Rogozhin, in return for the promise of her favors, throws it in the fire, telling Ganya to pull it out and take it if he wants it. She then leaves with Rogozhin, cementing her future as a demimondaine, exiled from respectable society. Through her act she denied the nobleman, Totsky, a way to escape his guilt for, in the terms of the time, “ruining” her, as well as showing up the moral emptiness of her society.
Nastassya’s grandiose, self-destructive gesture has always fascinated me. Was the momentary satisfaction worth it? She herself, after all, embraces the world view that will put her, as the mistress of Rogozhin, beyond the social pale. But powerless though she may be against the male-dominated world she lives in, she has, nevertheless, asserted her autonomy and embraced her destiny through her own free will.
Why am I talking about a nineteenth century novel now? In a word, Ferguson, and all the fallout thereof. If the connection doesn’t seem that obvious to you (and why should it?), just bear with me – although I may come up short on the melodrama when compared to Dostoyevsky.
One manifestation of the Ferguson fallout is today’s news that a coalition of African-American officials in St. Louis County have decided not to support the Democratic candidate for St. Louis County Executive, Steven Stenger, but rather to endorse Republican Rick Stream. Yes, that Rick Stream. Proto-Tea Partier, pal of the corrupt, massive beneficiary of lobbyists, sharia-fearing fantasist, cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face type of right-wing ideologue, etc., etc. Just the kind of guy who’ll be doing his best for the rich and powerful in St. Louis County, and to hell with the type of folks who’ve been out in the streets protesting the treatment African-Americans have received from the power structure.
But hey, it’s a poke in the eye for Steve Stenger and the Democratic aparatus that supports him, and to those doing te poking, I’m sure it feels as glorious as when Nastassa watches Ganya grovel in the fire for Rogozhin’s money. The coalition members claimed that they were angry about “what they characterized as “years and years of disrespect” by party leaders.” I’m sure that’s true. The timing of this announcement suggests, however, that Steve Stenger’s firm support of the County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s role in overseeing the investigation into the Michael Brown shooting may have been just one slight too many. According to one of the coalition members, “Steve Stenger’s unbreakable alignment with Bob McCulloch shows he will be unable to run the executive office independently and without influence.”
Maybe. I personally am not impressed by Stenger’s support for McCulloch which smacks of an effort to appease those folks who think a few nights of rioting in Ferguson are vastly more horrifying than the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a man entrusted with the safety of the public – and who were, no doubt, more than ready to toss a black county executive out on his backside. Nevertheless, the old cliche leaves us to believe that there is such a thing as out of the skillet and into the fire. Do these black officials really believe that Stream represents a party that will be inclined to show them much respect in the long run? Do they really think that he’d abandon McCulloch if given his druthers – no matter what he might say behind closed doors?
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing these folks. If I had the wherewithal, I’d be willing to jump from my own skillet into the GOP fire. For me the target would be Rep. Keith English (D-68), the SOB who sold out his party and gave legislative Republicans the last vote they needed to override Governor Nixon’s veto and enact SB509, a rich-man’s tax cut that has the potential to wreck the state’s social and economic infrastructure. That’s not all. He’s a real piece of the smelly stuff. He has, for instance, played an active role in the Missouri front of what is usually a strictly GOP war on female reproductive choice. In 2013 he brought SB298 to the floor of the Missouri House, a bill that would “require an ultrasound to be conducted and reviewed with the pregnant woman prior to the 24-hour waiting period for an abortion.” A real sweetheart for sure.
English was unopposed in last month’s primary and will likely win another term in the legislature. While, as I indicated above, he’s bad news, I do have to admit that he probably has the potential to vote occasionally in ways that are preferable to his Republican opponent, Rehka (Becky) Sharma. He’s been a reliable vote for labor in the past. Nevertheless, what he did in regard to SB298 is so egregiously bad that if it were up to me, he’d be exiled to the ninth ring of Hell.
Since I don’t live in the 68th district, English isn’t really my direct problem. But, while I don’t think I could tell people they should vote for Sharma, I couldn’t tell them to “suck it up” and vote for English either, which is almost as bad as voting directly for the Republican. So, I do understand just why the anti-Stenger officials have done what they did, and while I wish they were better, smarter than me, I can’t condemn them. I’d love to see Keith English burning in Hell and if they’d like to see Stenger twist and turn a little, I can’t play holier than thou.
And if, because we’re self-indulgent, we, in our little ways, help hand the state over to the GOP wrecking crew, to borrow an image from Thomas Frank, maybe it’ll be all for the best in the end. Maybe the sooner the Republicans take us the full Kansas route, the sooner Missourians will throw the clowns out. There was no happy ending for Nastassya, but, perhaps the inevitable, crashing right-wing failure will be enough to finally put Missouri back on the right track – even though we’ll all have to pay dearly for the nasty little detour we will have taken.
* First sentence of 5th paragraph amended slightly for clarity.