Everything is happening at once, I tell you. All times in all places are moving through the ether in parallel lines. It is enough to drive a person insane. But I am not insane. I simply hear the discordant music others cannot hear. And see events that others cannot see. And there’s nothing I can do to stop the circle of events or affect them—or even warn the players in them.
You don’t believe me? I’ll tell you. Only listen.
On the night of September 10, 2001, the many despots of history with their armies, great and small, stepped out of an immense fog into my street in the heart of the nation’s capital. I saw them. Waves of men broke violently through the mist: lines of men on foot, hordes of men on horseback, men in chariots and wagons, men in trucks and tanks. They came carrying spears, bows, broadswords, muskets, machine guns, cannon and rocket launchers. They came marching, galloping, racing, kicking up mud, trampling the dandelions and hacking through the rose bushes at the edge of my property. Their lines stretched to infinity in all directions.
Then the conquerors themselves broke through the gray, “leading” from the rear: Alexander; Caesar; Genghis; Attila; Charlemagne; Musa; Taric Ibn Ziyad; Ferdinand; the many Henrys, Charleses, Jameses, and Georges; Napoleon; Bismarck; Hitler; Stalin; Pol Pot; Idi Amin, and more. Side by side and on and on they came. Each one of them had his chest puffed out, eyes straight ahead—not one acknowledging the despot to his right or left, each staring only toward his own sought destiny somewhere over an invisible horizon.
I knew then that something bad was coming. Terrible times were on their way.
The next morning two planes ran into the World Trade Center in New York, and one plane was crashed in the countryside in Pennsylvania, and one plane ran into the Pentagon in northern Virginia. I could see the Pentagon’s smoke from the District.
As bad as that terrible but finite devastation was, I knew that a march of all the despots the world had ever known could not presage only that.
And I was right. The deluge began. The Roman Senate voted to make Caesar dictator, and the Germans voted to make Paul Von Hindenburg—the man who would then appoint Hitler as Chancellor—president in Germany. At the same time, our Congress passed the Patriot Act for President Bush, the younger, allowing suspects to be tortured and even our own citizens to be imprisoned in solitary confinement for years without charge or trial.
The ancient Romans skewed enrollment of voters from other parts of the Italian peninsula to dilute their voting power. Simultaneously, the political powers in thirty of our states manipulated voting districts to annihilate the opposing party’s voting power.
The Roman Empire only allowed provincial citizens to vote if they traveled to Rome itself. So, of more than 900,000 citizens, only a few thousand residents in and near Rome were able to vote. And again, simultaneously, our state governments made citizens travel great distances to obtain voter identification and limited the number of voting machines to ensure long lines in unfriendly districts.
You will argue that history repeats itself and there’s nothing new on the face of the earth.
But, I tell you, the parallels are all happening at the same time.
While the military were gassing Black Lives Matter protesters at Lafayette Square in 2019, Bull Connor was using police dogs and fire hoses to attack civil rights activists in 1963.
While police were routing 99 Percent Occupy protesters with tear gas in 2011 Oakland, California, police were arresting Coxey and his “army” in 1894 for trying to voice the same complaints.
Alongside the Occupy Wallstreet’s chants of “We are the 99 percent,” Coxey’s speech echoes in my ears: “For a quarter of a century, the rich have been growing richer, the poor poorer. By the close of the present century the middle class will have disappeared….”
And at the very same moment that President Trump’s followers invaded the Capitol and tried to find and kill Democratic leaders and legislators, ancient Athenian democrats were being murdered in a coup that set up an oligarchic dictatorship—their Council of the 400.
Now, there are indictments of former President Trump for attempting a coup, but simultaneously, I hear them: the Senate voting not to convict Trump after two impeachments—along with the 1934 McCormack-Dickstein Committee dismissing Major General Smedley Butler’s testimony against moneyed forces that tried to enlist him in a coup against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and President Ford’s announcement that he would pardon President Nixon for trying to steal this nation’s democracy.
The past is always there, right beneath the present. Time moves like a record under a needle, round and round in concentric spiral grooves. One time beneath another, simultaneously circling over and over, each repeating the same music, digging the grooves deeper and deeper, until the sound, though still there, is distorted.
I ask you—must we always follow the same worn path?
Must I alone be doomed to hear and see it?
Jessie Seigel (www.jessieseigel.com) is a former lawyer, a political columnist and a fiction editor at the Potomac Review. Her fiction, which generally has sociopolitical themes, has appeared in Ontario Review; The Pen Woman; Gargoyle; Daily Science Fiction, The London Reader, and the anthologies Electric Grace and Furious Gravity, among others. Seigel has twice received Artist’s Fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Her work has been a finalist for a Speculative Literature Foundation grant and for the 47th New Millennium Award as well as a semi-finalist for the William Faulkner Creative Writing Award for the Novel and for the Eludia Award. Jessie recommends Southern Poverty Law Center.