Among the ancient gods, Pluto was both necessary and unwelcome. Somebody had to rule the underworld, especially because of the precious metals buried there. But having Gloomy Gus Pluto remain out of sight was fine with everyone, including him. He took little interest in human affairs, could only snag a wife through kidnapping, and kept company with things humans preferred to suppress, all those distasteful, ugly, painful reminders that we humans are sometimes, often, not very nice.
Pluto was the god who ruled over death, transformation, and rebirth, and he is associated with the discovery (un-earthing) of unconscious, hidden elements—not the best portfolio for winning a popularity contest. Pluto stands by as things are dug up, exposed, viewed, and acknowledged as real, whether charming or repulsive. Today, Pluto would be the god of colonic irrigations.
This year, 2022, the U.S. of A. celebrates its Pluto Return because the dwarf planet takes 246 years to orbit the sun. It’s right back where it sat in our sky in 1776, so no wonder every he or she or theyx is thinking about the moment of our national creation and its associated myths. The Supreme Court’s Catholic majority has one version; the 1619 Project another; the neocons busily redrawing the map of Europe, theirs.
A Fourth of July random massacre, then, as occurred in Highland Park last week, is a fitting Pluto Return moment. Not only was the holiday not exempt from our nation’s relentless compulsion to engage in random shoot-ups, last week’s edition was a virtual sacralization of it—a mystical union between the political entity on its own birthday and the method by which it brought itself about.
We came into being through force, including the strategic use of slaughter; we expanded through more of the same; and we have now come up against the limits of our force capacity just in time for a returning Pluto to expose the sordid underpinnings of how we possess this subcontinent and the reach of our supposed suzerainty over the entire world.
Viewed most superficially, Pluto returns as a war unfolds in Ukraine; layered atop it is another war, economic in nature; the two nestle in the swaddling clothes of competing ideologies that stage their own gladiatorial tournaments in the propaganda battles raging through cable channels, uploaded videos, reportage (such as it is), and windy think thank articles.
Struck dumb and blind, our chosen authorities insist on making all three wars worse: the longer the shooting war continues, the less there will be left of Ukraine. The neutron bomb of sanctions has boomeranged and landed explosively into the wobbling debt-o-sphere of our financialized western economies; and even the propaganda war, so deftly conducted by our division-strength phalanx of persuaders, will backfire when the depth of their duplicity becomes impossible to ignore.
And yet, there are other buried aspects to be uncovered about the moment of our national fertilization. At that instant when our American zygote sprang forth from the wiggling fishies of the founding dads implanted into the moist soils of the colonies, the populace dared to throw off the shackles of monarchy. A republic, imperfect and hypocritical, was born, with dubious possibilities for survival. And yet, it did.
So, despite the nasty parts of our Pluto story, other, less sanguinary impulses are also part of our founding DNA. We made a unique claim of citizen equality—within limits, of course, but still. While the enslavement and/or elimination of those not born into the privileged clans belied the foundational principle, nonetheless it emerged in 1776, right here on this soil. It resurfaced periodically as the polity absorbed, reluctantly and imperfectly, some of those it had brutally excluded.
Another foundational principle was quickly articulated by the earliest Americans—to confine our bloody business to the New World and not “go abroad to slay dragons [we] do not understand,” in the rarely remembered words of John Quincy Adams. The wisdom of that sentiment has long been buried, and no one is less interested in acknowledging it than the neocons ruling at Washington, London, and Brussels, determined to do the exact opposite. Yet, there it lies buried, ready to be exposed to the light of day.
It is often alleged that the neocon cabal that has seized control of our foreign policy establishment originated in a core group of individuals inspired more by the ideas of Trotsky than those of Madison or Franklin. Whether or not the Nulands and Sullivans and Kagans and Blinkens call their ideology “permanent revolution” or "spreading democracy," they carry on their crusades with the unshakeable faith of a self-appointed vanguard convinced that one more blow to the enemy will transform the world. For them, no sacrifice is too great to bring on the Millenium. The war in Ukraine not going so well? Start a new one over Taiwan. Encourage the Israelis to launch an attack on Iran. Double down, never admit error, never admit defeat, and escalate.
In their bubble world, failure can never result from their playbook. Unlike Trotsky or indeed any rational being, they have no concept of strategic retreat. In the current case, the U.S. populace, shielded from dissenting views, accepts that the war is going tolerably well and, at worst, will descend into a lengthy stalemate. But the rosy predictions of our propagandists are more faithful to their fanciful ideals than to stubborn factoids.
Sooner rather than later, IMNSHO, Russia will dictate the terms of surrender in Ukraine, and the “rules-based international order” (i.e., “we make the rules, and you follow the orders”) will implode. Back at home, the Republican autocrats will blame it all on Biden and install themselves more or less permanently in power as they rip up the rulebooks of 1776 and 1865.
We are on the cusp of a major rearrangement of our world. Pluto’s Return promises to be full of revelations—and perhaps death and rebirth as well.