Two Poems by Elizabeth Jennings


You send an image hurrying out of doors
When you depose a king and seize his throne:
You exile symbols when you take by force.

And even if you say the power’s your own,
That you are your own hero, your own king
You will not wear the meaning of the crown.

The power a ruler has is how men bring
Their thoughts to bear upon him, how their minds
Construct the grandeur from the simple thing.

And kings prevented from their proper ends
Make a deep lack in men’s imaginings;
Heroes are nothing without worshipping,

Will not diminish into lovers, friends.


Last night they came across the river and
Entered the city. Women were awake
With lights and food. They entertained the band,
Not asking what the men had come to take
Or what strange tongue they spoke
Or why they came so suddenly through the land.

Now in the morning all the town is filled
With stories of the swift and dark invasion;
The women say that not one stranger told
A reason for his coming. The intrusion
Was not for devastation:
Peace is apparent still on hearth and field.

Yet all the city is a haunted place.
Man meeting man speaks cautiously. Old friends
Close up the candid looks upon their face.
There is no warmth in hands accepting hands;
Each ponders, ‘Better hide myself in case
Those strangers have set up their homes in minds
I used to walk in. Better draw the blinds
Even if the strangers haunt in my own house.’

Punishment for Good Intentions

Out of the goodness of my heart, I agreed to serve as a judge for the graduate research showcase. My kind intentions were immediately punished. One of the students assigned to me will be presenting on how the USSR liberated the Nazi Baltics in 1940.

I had no idea that there were people on campus whose research aims to praise the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. I would have been quite content to continue existing in that happy ignorance.

COVID Dandelions

In order to pay for the stimulus checks, the “free” vaccines, the “free” COVID tests, etc, the US government had to print a lot of money. That freshly printed money made the money already in existence less valuable. When there’s more of something, it loses value. Dandelions aren’t nearly as valuable as diamonds.

Since a dollar is worth less, you need more dollars than before to buy the same thing. That’s called inflation.

I’ve made some calculations, and my single “free” vaccine shot has already cost me thousands. Knowing what we know now, wouldn’t we have preferred to pay $30 for the vaccines or the tests?

I don’t want to discuss the advisability of the vaccines right now but the issue of what these “free” things ultimately cost. We’ve lived with the Universal Basic Income (aka COVID stimulus checks) for a little over a year. And look at the results. We are all poorer and more precarious.

Expensive Activities

All kids’ activities in the area have become dramatically more expensive. The Aquarium in St Louis is now for rich people. We’ve been once, and are not planning to return because the cost is exorbitant. The local kid gym and trampoline park where we used to go without even wondering how much they cost became a rare treat.

I have a very good income, folks, and it’s still too expensive. If a tenured academic with a techie husband can barely afford it, there’s really something wrong.

The most annoying part is that these price hikes that punish parents are the result of the COVID policies that. . . also punished parents. Lockdowns wiped out kids’ activities, making the ones that remain very expensive. COVID stimuli created the inflation.

The First Neoliberal President

“Government cannot solve our problems, it can’t set our goals, it cannot define our vision. Government cannot eliminate poverty or provide a bountiful economy or reduce inflation or save our cities or cure illiteracy or provide energy. And government cannot mandate goodness.”

No, it wasn’t Reagan who said this. It was the first neoliberal American president Jimmy Carter, inspired by his friend and neoliberal muse Ralph Nader.

Of course, now everybody will tell me this is widely known but I had no idea. I’m only finding this out from Gary Gerstle’s book The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order.

See? It’s what I keep saying. Political parties aren’t that important. There’s no difference between Carter’s words and Reagan’s later quip about the scariest words in the English language being “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” And guess who started the massive deregulation of the airline, trucking and railroad industries? Also Carter. Then Reagan carried on in the same vein.

It goes in waves. Neoliberal Carter, neoliberal Reagan, neoliberal Bush, neoliberal Clinton, and so on.

I’m only on page 67 out of 406 but it’s an excellent book so far. Reads very easily, no academic jargon at all. I’m on pins and needles to find out how the story ends because I’m now really doubting my earlier disagreements with Gerstle.

Hard Choices

I received the CVs of my Ukrainian candidates and I don’t know what to do. They are all amazing. One’s from Bakhmut. Another from Gorlovka (my mother’s native region.) One is from Irpin. One is from Mariupol and is studying at my former university. Three have a PhD in literature. All are multilingual, with very interesting languages.

I won’t be able to choose.

Taking Down the Soviet Flag

It’s pretty unbelievable that we still need to win wars to be able to take down Soviet flags. Whoever was it that “won the Cold War” did a piss-poor job of it.

Different Flavors of Freedom

So what is the difference between left-wing and right-wing neoliberalism?

The right-wing kind believes that there needs to be something keeping individuals away from embracing complete cuckoo-bananas freedom. People tend to become addicted, miserable, lonely, mentally unwell and impecunious if they start exercising complete freedom. So they need something that will keep limitless human desires under control. Religion, tradition, morality, something.

Left-wing neoliberalism believes that freedom should not be limited by any of these things because they are unduly oppressive. If individuals freely choose to make themselves addicted, miserable, lonely, mentally unwell, impecunious, and even chopped up into little bits, then that’s fine. Left-wing neoliberalism uses silence to avoid noticing the miserable jetsam of complete freedom. As long as nobody mentions the sad, upsetting detritus of the experiment in freedom, it’s all fine. That’s why cancel culture unleashes its wrath on people who say something about the negative consequences of all that freedom.

Of course, there’s no complete freedom. And no unlimited choice. Both are an illusion but it’s an illusion that has defined how we think about the world for a very long time.

Is Neoliberalism Doomed?

Freeing the individual and his or her consciousness from the grip of large, stultifying institutions; privileging disruption over order; celebrating cosmopolitanism—and multiculturalism—and the unexpected sorts of mixing and hybridities that emerge under these regimes: All of these beliefs, each of which marinated for years in the political and culture milieux inspired by the New Left, furthered neoliberal aspirations and helped to make it into a hegemonic ideological force.

Gary Gerstle, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order

Gerstle believes that the neoliberal order is doomed because if it weren’t, the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump wouldn’t be successful. He says that such a massive and open dislike of the neoliberal rhetoric as witnessed by the support of Sanders and Trump speaks to the weakness of the neoliberal order. I don’t agree, however. I believe that neoliberalism long moved past the stage when it needed a general consensus. In the hierarchy I spoke of yesterday, it doesn’t matter what the masses on the lowest two rungs of the ladder think. It used to matter but that’s all gone. As long as the two highest slots in the hierarchy are with the program, that’s enough.