distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


February 03, 2017

Reality Check

The question came up in a recent discussion, “Why are you so sure if more people had voted they would have voted for Hillary?”  Well, I’m not.  I am fairly certain most of them would not have voted for Trump.  I base that on a very simple number:  Trump pulled the base that always votes that way and in fact received fewer votes than Mitt Romney.  You can try to spin that any way you like, but to my mind that says something very significant.  Namely that the GOP in its current manifestation is utterly dependent on two things to stay in office—that base and keeping the rest of the country disaffected from the political process. They do this by a number of strategies, the two most important being propaganda about their opponents and redistricting in key states.  A host of lesser strategies added to these have effectively suppressed votes in some areas while largely throwing the opposing electorate into a bog of ambivalence about their political choices.

For their part, the opposition—Democrats, liberals, so-called socialists, and a variety of smaller categories with perhaps less clearly defined boundaries—have played into this by a combination of solicitude and poor explication of their positions.  As well, it seems that they have failed to connect with the ground level concerns of those who normally would be their natural constituents, namely working class people being displaced by the changing economic and social ecology.

To be clear, when I say solicitude, what I mean is the perfectly reasonable and basically preferable practice of bipartisan cooperation in order to move the business of the people forward.  We have a rich history to show that this always works best and it is natural to assume it is the way to govern most effectively. However, it presumes a two-way street, give and take.  When one side or the other decides that no matter what, cooperation is not on the table, then it behooves the other side to understand the new paradigm and respond accordingly.  When you see the kind of obdurate obstruction on the part of your opponent that we have seen for the last eight years, it becomes frustrating to see your preferred representatives continually yielding in an attempt to “work with” the other side.  That willingness is being used quite opportunistically to undermine programs and run a cynical power grab to their own benefit. The Democrats for their part seem not to be willing to risk losing what seats and positions they have to form a line and push back against this, possibly because what information they get from whatever sources they use tells them people wouldn’t like it.  They might even feel retributions for such resistance could cost ordinary people.  Whatever the reason, they have been unwilling to play as dirty as their Republican counterparts, at least in the public’s view, and this has resulted in continual loss of confidence.

To be clear, “playing dirty” is not something either side should be doing on our behalf, at least not with each other, but it is a reality.  The Right has a plan, or at least a goal, and they have adhered to it with religious fervor.  One thing we should note is that criticisms of that goal based on the undesirability of it play poorly.  Telling someone that what they just voted for will result in a loss of civil liberties for a particular group has no moral traction because that is exactly what the desired outcome is.  When you say to someone who seems to be on this bandwagon “But you’re taking away their rights!” it is as if an imp of the perverse in the depths of their psyché claps its hands in glee and shouts “They shouldn’t have those rights in the first place!”

We must be clear about this.  Legislation based on the notion that certain groups, however they’re defined, should not have certain rights—which in the parlance of the Right comes out as “privileges” instead of rights—we cannot confront this by trying to explain to them how they misunderstand the nature of such things. As far as they’re concerned, they misunderstand nothing.  Their desired outcome is to suppress.  What needs to be done—and is being done by many—is to confront and declare that they are flat wrong.  And their success will bite them in the end when they lose their rights.  Or are they privileges?

It is unpopular and unpleasant to recognize a basic misapprehension about rights.  We have floated for centuries now on the belief that rights are somehow Natural.  The Natural Law argument which informed most Enlightenment thinking, which is the thinking that defined the context in which the Founders constructed our national image, may have considerable to recommend it, and we could have a very healthy discussion about it, but we aren’t talking here about nature but politics.  The reality is, and has always been, that a right is an artificial construct, and is only as true as our ability to assert it in the face of antagonistic forces seeking counter-advantages.  This is why we put such stock in so-called Rule of Law.  If a right were so self-evident, as we like to say, why would we need law to establish it, define it, and defend it?  We may wax philosophical about “natural rights” all we want, but rights do not exist in nature, they are the product of intellect and political will.

This is unpopular for many reasons, but one of the chief in our present era is that it demands responsible participation, and for people who do not wish to be bothered this is burdensome.

Seldom in our history have the consequences of not wanting to be bothered come so viscerally home.

Why do I say that?  Because, depending on which breakdown you look at, the entire edifice of the current Right is in power based on less than a quarter of the electorate. Somewhere between 35% and 50% nonparticipation in regular elections—all of them, not just national, but it is in national elections where the consequences are so dramatically evident—means that a minority always determines the political complexion of the country.  It may well be that the true majority of Americans prefer what we have now, but we don’t know because people do not vote.

Voter suppression is real, however.  Let’s not forget that. In fact, that alone is illustrative of my point above about rights.  The right to vote ought to be a given, so how could it be possible to deny it to so many people?  One example that rarely rises to the surface in such estimates is the approximately six million people denied the vote outright due to felony convictions.  If voting is a “right” then why should that be allowed?  Redistricting—gerrymandering—has resulted in distortions of state elections and subsequently a distortion of the electoral college outcomes.  The Supreme Court overturn of the Voting Rights Act resulted in the closing down of several hundred polling sites, overwhelmingly in the south and overwhelmingly in African American and Hispanic districts.

But this kind of thing has been the case for a long time now and we have seen higher voter turnout even when it has been difficult for many people.  Ninety million people did not participate this past November, which suggests that all the effort to dissuade as well as suppress paid off.  Because Americans have traditionally disdained politics, advantage was taken.

All the major news sources failed to behave ethically, some morally.  Trump received an inordinate amount of free air time and in a culture that values celebrity the way we do, negative coverage can be just as useful as good coverage.  Any careful analysis of what he said on the campaign trail shows he had very little of any substance.  Hillary Clinton demonstrated clear superiority in all three of her debates with him—command of facts, comprehension of the global situation, a set of policy positions—while his entire rebuttal amounted to “She’s a nasty woman.”

Uncharitably but realistically, one can only conclude that people did not vote for her because they didn’t like the way she dressed.

The argument that she carried a “lot of baggage” is simply another way to avoid the responsibilities of reason and the requirements of citizenship.  During the course of the campaign, as details emerged, and material was made available, it became increasingly clear that most of the negativity about her was baseless, that in fact she proved to be even more honest than her chief rival, Bernie Sanders (a fact which surprised even me), but overcoming well-nurtured antipathies and working through the tsunami of rightwing invective about her apparently proved to be too much effort.

During the campaign one could make the argument that Trump’s opposition was based on the same kinds of detractions—smear—and that once he was in office it would be different.

I doubt any reasonable person, even one who voted for him, in the secret chambers of their own heart, thinks he is doing the job they may have imagined him doing.

On the other hand, maybe he is.  Maybe what was desired was no more than validation in the office of the president of their basic belief that government does not work.  Maybe they put him there purely to prove their opinion—uninformed, ill-considered, often bitter and sometimes malevolent—was right.

Whatever their reasons, what should concern us all is that so many who most likely feel otherwise felt it acceptable to stay home.

But to return for a moment to the current situation.  Trump’s selections for his cabinet demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of the purpose of the office. He is surrounding himself with mediocrities.  Nixon did the same thing, but he also had a few people who actually knew what they were doing.  The conflicts of interest alone ought to disqualify most of these people, but the Republican majority is proceeding to try to rubberstamp them.  To be clear, Rex Tillerson is not a mediocrity—but clearly he has no business being there.  I’m sure some would disagree, but his financial ties to Russia alone argue against him, and right now a bill is being introduced in the Senate to repeal a disclosure law that sheds light on foreign bribes which has been a thorn in the side of Exxon.

Trump did not seem to be aware that Steve Bannon would have to be approved by the Senate before taking a seat on the national security council.  This is basic knowledge.

We can continue, but his supporters will not care.  What is important is that those rights of which I spoke must be recognized as at risk and that relying on the privilege of never having been a target to remain uninvolved is inexcusable.

Lastly, regarding Trump, is the question of moral suitability.  “Giving him a chance” is an empty plea.  When he mocked Serge Kovaleski, he demonstrated a clear absence of moral capacity. How can I say that?  He was just goofing?  No.  This is basic.  This was at the level of courtesy, it is so basic.  We don’t even consider it in the context of moral failing because we view it in terms of good manners.  But this was a powerful man making fun of a less powerful man in public (South Carolina) in order to discredit him.  Rather than attack the news article that prompted the attack, he attacked Kovaleski’s handicap.  That is the tactic of a bully.

No.  Special pleading, “Oh, he didn’t mean it”, attempts at recontextualizing it after the fact, none of that alters the fact that he behaved boorishly, without regard for another human being, attacking—mocking—the thing that had nothing to do with any issue at hand, and then lying about it afterward.  That was a test and he failed.  And if you voted for him, you failed, too.

So, reality check:  Supposedly, you voted to “Make America Great Again.”  How is that working out?  We have a bully in the White House who instead of “draining the swamp” is importing more alligators.  None of them have a thing in common with you unless you’re a member of the seven figures annually club (and most of them probably did not vote for him).  He is threatening to end longtstanding agreements around the world, given verbal approval to Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear programs, annoyed China to the point where a war is at least imaginable, appointed people to his cabinet with zero expertise in the fields chosen for them, thrown hissyfits on Twitter over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, placed gag orders on various agencies, made promises he is either backing out of or revising to fit the feedback he gets from FOX News, has anointed  a xenophobe as his chief strategist, threatened long-settled law with Executive Orders, allowed that a man dead since 1882 is an African American who has done great work that is being recognized more and more, asked for  prayer at the first national prayer breakfast for the new host of one of his reality shows, and has yet to release his tax returns while threatening American businesses and playing with their futures by indiscriminately tweeting about them.  He has given tacit approval to the president of the Philippines for his “program” of murdering alleged drug dealers in the streets without due process and he has gotten into a flame war with the president of Mexico over a wall that would do nothing to alleviate a problem he has no real concept about in the first place.  He has signed an order barring immigration based on religion—no, it is, because we have it on record that he asked several people, especially Giuliani, how he could legally keep Muslims out of the country, so his backpedaling on that is for naught—while not barring immigration from countries we already know have originated terrorists that did us harm.  He is restarting the antipathies with Iran that over two decades of diplomacy was beginning to alleviate and get us to a point of normalizing relations with, in spite of their presumed leadership, what is really is a moderate country and could be an ally given the right moves on our part. He has placed people’s lives in jeopardy over this for no reason other than apparently a lot of his supporters are scared to death of people who dress funny and speak with an accent.  The only reason he has apparently, for now, backed off of attacking LGBTQ rights is that a “friend” of his called and asked him not to.

There is no thoughtful consideration evident in any of this.

While all this is going on, at the state level we have a sea of Republican controlled legislatures and governors who are passing Right To Work bills designed to strip unions of any serious power and although we have seen the consequences of such laws in state after state wherein standard of living and even environmental conservation erode in their wake, somehow the people voting for these representatives believe it won’t happen to them.

My conclusion is that such votes are driven by spite.  The almost volcanic eruption of people who suddenly realized that they might loser their healthcare under the man they voted for is telling.  It’s just probable that they thought it would only affect Those People Over There, the ones they’ve been told to fear and hate, who have been “getting away with things” and “cut in line” and “get things they don’t deserve.”  Along with that, the number of people who apparently did not understand that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were one in the same thing, while marginally amusing on one level, is stunning example of the corrupting power of corporate media.

Next up is the privatization of Social Security and MediCare.  I’m sure some people think doing so won’t change a thing and then maybe congress can balance the budget and pay off the national debt.  I’m sure some feel that way.

I’m sure.

A Note On Standards

I did not watch the inauguration.  This is nothing new, though, I rarely do.  I saw Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, I watched Obama’s, parts of it, after the fact. I would rather read the inaugural addresses than listen, but really the main reason I skip them is that for me they don’t mean much.  This is the party after the fight, so to speak.  Parades, lots of glad-handing, important people with lots of money doing a Hollywood red carpet thing.  It’s show.

Show is important in statecraft, certainly, but it’s not important to me, so…

But the aftermath this time has been fascinating.  It’s a show, so why lie about what went on?  Why try to tell the national press corps that what they saw with their own eyes was not the reality? Why start with petty numbers games as if the show was the only thing that mattered?

Well, Trump does do reality tv.

However, I would like to say a couple of things here about some of the images I’ve seen—and some of the vitriol attached—after the fact.

I’m not going to say one damn thing about Melania Trump unless she starts getting involved in policy.  Which from all appearances, she will not.  Likewise for his kids, especially Barron.  I don’t believe in that “Well, your dad’s a so-n-so, so you must be, too!” kind of schoolyard bullying.  I rejected that whole sins of the father argument back when I parted ways with christianity.  I won’t go there.

I will say this, though, about her supporters and detractors:  hypocrisy runs deep.

The so-called Christian Right lent considerable support to this man.  His wife is a former model and sex symbol.  She’s done nudes.  She projects an image which I had thought ran counter to the standards of that so-called Christian Right.  Had Michelle Obama done anything like that, these people would have declared the advent of Sodom and Gomorrah and the End Times.  (Many of them do that anyway, on a regular basis.)  These are people who collectively have made it clear they see the sexualization of culture as a decidedly Bad Thing.  But they voted for him anyway and got in the face of anyone who criticized Melania for being what till now they claimed to oppose.  This is Through The Looking Glass Time for them and I won’t pretend to claim any understanding, other than recognizing the serious two-faced hypocrisy evident.

As to those critics who have held old photographs of her up for disdain, mocking her and her husband thereby, as if the fact that she pursued a career which many of them might have made apologies about (women have so few options, etc) has anything to do with her suitability to be something else.

Lay off.  This is all part of the same bifurcated mindset that places sex in one room and everything else in another and then treats public examples of it as alternately empowering or a disease.

Just because her husband treats her like a trophy doesn’t mean the rest of us get to repurpose her for our own ends.

I have no problem with pointing out the hypocrisy of the Family Values crowd over this, but I will not blame Melania for it.  We just bid farewell to a presidential family that had no sex scandals of any kind and clearly set an example as a solid, loving, neuroses-free family—who suffered ongoing derision for 8 years at the hands of people who have violated their own professed standards in that that regard to elect someone who has pretty much been a poster-boy for everything they claim is wrong with America.  Well, clearly the whole thing was a deep, deep neurosis on their part.  I will not blame Melania for their shallowness, lack of integrity, and evident moral malleability.

Nor will I support attempts to ridicule him by holding her up as some example of unsuitability based on the opposite neurosis attaching to women who—

Well, let me put it this way:  all those who were (and are) madly in love with Hillary and feel the world has ended because she is not the president—would you have supported her fervently if nude photos of her from her college years surfaced?  With all the rest of her qualifications intact, had she taken a year to do something that doesn’t fit with an image of “stateswoman”, would the love have been there?

Food for thought.

But for now, unless she gets involved with policy—and if she does, I will wait to see how and what she produces—I will not credit any shaming that goes her way.

47

The number will make sense presently.

It’s Friday. I’ve spent the last few days trying to process what happened Tuesday. It is not going well. I’m angry, frightened, and more than a little disgusted by the fact that we allowed Donald Trump to be elected president. I’m a cynic most days, an optimist forced by reality to concede that the world is perhaps more malign than not.  But I’m also, marginally, an intellectual. By that I mean someone who deals with that reality by trying to understand it and make it cogent. By looking at things through the lens of causality, knowing that events are products, usually of combinations of factors no one person can see. So when the inexplicable happens, I do my best to analyze it and find the underlying drivers. This is how I am able to walk out my door every morning and conduct my life.

It is clear from everyone’s reactions that no one expected this, least of all Trump.  I think he was planning his next reality show, Real Losers of Presidential Races.  For that reason among many others, I do not believe he is even remotely prepared for the unsortable mess he is about to be required to deal with. As for the country, well, we’ve been playing with this idea that a “businessman” might be a good president. We’re about to find out.

What concerns me even more is the vast ocean of Red that now controls the country.  If Trump’s election was some kind of protest against establishment Washington, it failed, because most of the incumbents kept their seats.  So clearly there was only one office this vote was aimed at.  I’ve been saying to anyone interested in my opinion that possibly the more important part of this election was Congress.  Well, clearly no one listens to me.

Why am I so pessimistic about this election?  Because the ideology in control of this majority is contrary to everything I thought we were trying to build.   I can’t think of one thing these people want to do that will be good for anyone but the rich.  And actually I don’t think it will be very good for them in the long run, either.

Trump has sided with congressional Republicans in a desire to repeal what they persistently misname Obamacare.  There are people who have been hurt by this law, yes.  But there are many, many others who for the first time in their lives had access to meaningful healthcare.  Those millions will lose that unless what the Republican Party intends to do is simply expand MediCare to cover them.  That is not in their playbook.  They are committed to a policy that you should pay for your life yourself, that it is not the government’s job to make your life easier or better, even if the condition of your life is a consequence of government policy in the first place.  So the ACA gets repealed, insurance companies start voiding existing policies which are not profitable, healthcare costs resume their precipitous rise, and in a few years people start dying from treatable and often preventable illnesses that they might have avoided had they had the resources.  The pharmaceutical industry will once again gouge people, their profits will once more soar to ridiculous heights, and the poor will go begging.

Trump wants to “do something” about immigration. What he and apparently the majority of GOP congressional members mean by that involves mass deportations, stricter rules for visas, green cards, guest worker permits, etc, and punitive restraints against countries which have a problem with drug cartels running roughshod over them and making life hell for people trying to make a living, which is why they’re coming here in the first place.  We do not recognize “life under threat from a drug dealer” to be a legitimate form of persecution, so the drug war, which we fund, puts all these countries and their citizens in a bind which we refuse to take responsibility for.  Medium-sized businesses here that presently rely on guest workers (which is a good portion of the agricultural industry not owned by Archer Daniels Midland and the like) will find themselves stripped of a labor force they to date have had a difficult if not impossible time replacing with Americans who can’t afford to live on seasonal work at low wages. Other examples abound.  This will also mean deporting children and young people born here but never naturalized who have never known any other country.  In essence if not status they are Americans, but no matter.  Their “documents” are not in order.

Trump wants to produce jobs, “big league.”  Obama will be leaving office after presiding over seven years of the largest private sector jobs growth since the end of the Vietnam War (which is very relevant, that date), but Trump and the GOP act as if nothing has changed since 2008.  If you are one of those still underemployed or out of work, maybe Obama’s record makes no difference to you.  But it should.  The usual method of pumping up jobs numbers, employed by both parties but much indulged in recent times by the very Republican administrations who vowed to shrink the size of the government, has been to increase federal jobs and supply grants to states for state jobs.  These are not stable jobs because they depend on funding tools that are also unreliable given the recent push to cut spending and cut taxes.  Obama has reduced the deficit, which will rise if President Trump opts to pump money into infrastructure programs in order to produce those jobs.  If he intends to stick to the GOP pledge to cut taxes even further, that means he will have to borrow the money, which will increase the debt again. We don’t have much wiggle room there after the catastrophic policies of the Bush years.  We’re going to be bouncing up against 100% of GDP and then, Katy-bar-the-door if we have another recession because there will simply be no relief.  Trump has a track record of borrowing and defaulting.  He cannot default on this kind of debt, so the question will be,. what then?

But I can get behind a push to invest in infrastructure.  We need it badly.  What I cannot get behind is the continued refusal to address the extraction of capital out of our economy by way of a tax cut program that sees even more money sucked into the coffers of Big Business and out of the country.  You can’t increase spending AND cut taxes forever.  Eventually you reach the point where the mule dies.  (Old joke, the farmer who tries to train his mule to work on less and less food over time, until one day the mule keels over dead and he doesn’t understand why.)

I will say this again.  I know people don’t like taxes, but it’s largely reflexive.  They fail repeatedly to understand whose taxes are supposed to go up.  Coupled with the fact that to make up for what states are not getting from the federal government anymore, local taxes have to rise, the blame is universal.  People want services, but they don’t want to pay for them.  As services deteriorate due to lack of funds, they complain when a tax increase is sought which is intended to bring those services back up to par.  It’s a vicious circle of misapprehension.

Taxes are one of the surest tools to fix capital in a community.

Be that as it may, let us go on.

Why did people vote for Trump?  We don’t have to dig far to understand that by his own words he is a misogynist, a racist, someone who sees no problem contradicting himself, a liar, what we used to call a demagogue.  The projections for the election gave him a very low chance of winning. What happened?

A combination of things.  People wanted someone not a Washington “insider.”  Whatever that means.  No, I know what it’s intended to mean, but then why did they send all their incumbents back?  But Trump is not an insider, so there is that.

A certain segment of the population has been chafing under what they derisively term Political Correctness for decades.  It’s like having your table manners constantly corrected.  Why can’t I haver as baseball team named after Native Americans?  Why does that make me “culturally insensitive?” It’s just baseball.  And why do I have to adjust a lifetime of rote understanding to accommodate a biological male using the girls’ bathroom at my daughter’s high school?  And why are you still making me feel bad about slavery 150 years after it ended?  And why can’t I whistle at a pretty woman on the street?

Why do I have to change everything I’ve always taken for granted because someone I don’t know has gotten their feelings hurt?

Of course it’s more complicated than that, but for many it amounts to that level of anger.  They want to be who they are and not be criticized for it.

Unfortunately, this includes a host of less trivial-sounding factors, like reflexive distrust of anyone who doesn’t look like them, talk like them, think like them, or go to church like them.  These are not harmless traits, as we have seen.  Racism, nativism, intolerance, protectionism, all aided and abetted by a thick strain of anti-intellectualism which manages to include antagonism toward expertise, toward science, toward any kind of reasoning that calls into question who they are.

Added to that, we have people who have adopted a political view akin to religious dogma.  Hillary is a criminal.  No matter that she has been investigated, questioned, and cleared on every charge for decades.  FOX news or Rush Limbaugh told them.  This is holy.  They will not be dissuaded because if they have this wrong then everything they believe, everything they are, is wrong, and then what?  It took them years to acquire the veneer of informed opinion, they have neither the time or the capacity to undo all that armchair work.

Then there are people who truly believe the federal government is nothing but evil, just by virtue of existing, and they may feel that this is a good chance to see it crippled.  The instances of militia groups declaring armed uprisings should Hillary win are examples.

Some people are so enamored of money that anyone with more than seven figures to their name is automatically worthy of respect if not outright admiration.

Finally, there are those who simply cannot get past the idea of a woman in charge.  For them, it wouldn’t have mattered who it was.  I doubt Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin would have gotten their vote.

It may also be that, Americans being traditionally contrarian, a sizeable number of voters resented being told that Hillary was a shoe-in.  We still retain a perverse affection for the underdog—I say perverse because we don’t seem very consistent on who that may be.  When some CEO raking in hundreds of millions of dollars on bonuses complains about the cruel regulations placed on his company can successfully pose as a persecuted underdog, we may have a problem with understanding what that word actually is intended to describe.  Be that as it may, I wouldn’t doubt that a significant fraction of those who voted for Trump did so out of a misplaced sense of fairness.

Which brings me to the number.  47.  That would be 47%.  According to some polls, that is the percentage of people who did not vote.  Ninety million, more or less. I suspect the odds are good that the overwhelming majority of them would probably have voted against Trump.  Since this has been the case in the past, I’m going to assume it to be true. Hillary did win the popular vote.

Liberal apathy.

Oh, certainly a lot of them stayed home because they didn’t get to vote for Bernie Sanders.  “I didn’t get my candidate so I’m not going to vote at all!”  I have zero respect for this.  For many reasons, but just look at what you have done to the rest of us if that’s your reasoning.  Because if so, you not only left us with Trump, you were also instrumental in all those GOP incumbents going back to Congress.  You have damaged us with your petty snit.  “If I can’t have chocolate ice cream, I don’t want any!”

But there are many others who saw the projections and decided they didn’t need to go vote because Hillary was a shoe-in.  Despite the fact that she told you not to rely on those polls.  But even if that were the case and she was a shoe-in and she had won, the fact that you also didn’t vote to oust the Republican majority would have meant four years of the kind of grinding gridlock Obama has been through.  This was irresponsible.

47% of you decided to have no say in the future of your country and by your absence you have left us with what may turn out to be the most devastating administration since—

I won’t say.  You have no sense of history.  You don’t understand the concept of voting strategically.  I can only conclude that you are either selfish or lazy.  Either way, you will learn the price of abstaining.  As will we all.

I’m not criticizing people who voted third party.  They voted.  They acted responsibly.

So thank you for your nonparticipation.  The subsequent state of the country can be laid in large part at your feet.  You have, by your absence, shot us all in the face.

This is, in my experience, a liberal problem.  I remember back in the Sixties, when the country was in comparable disarray, how the Left began to hate liberals.  It seemed to many that the Left was a monolith, and subsequently all of them were painted with the same brush and labeled Liberal.  Liberal bashing has been a hallmark of the Republican Right since Reagan took office,  but really the GOP should be grateful to liberals, because they are so uninvolved.  There are likely many reasons for this, but the big one I have noticed is that liberals don’t seem to have any staying power.  They attack a cause, work to solve the problems, often overcome obstacles and put reforms in place.  Things change.  And then a curious thing happens.  They go home.  They leave the field.

In a way, this is understandable and very American.  For them, politics is a grimy, necessary chore that must be attended to in order to have the time, the space, and the freedom to do all the other things in life worth doing.  We should be able to solve the damn problem and be done with it.  Finished.  Now there are Other Things.  They assume the fix is done and we can go about our lives.

The Right has been like that as long as there was a status quo few people complained about.  But that hasn’t been the case since the Korean War.  So the Right does what it does.  For many of them, this is religion.  They fight, they stay, they don’t go home.  So when the liberal left decides it has won and does go home, the conservatives are still there, working to undo everything they don’t like.  That has been happening since 1980, consistently, and it is time liberals learned this lesson.  You can’t assume problems stays fixed.

Whatever the base cause, the fact remains that, at least for me, everything I like about this country is under attack by people who, for a variety of reasons, don’t like what progress has brought them.  In my opinion, they have bought the argument that it is not rich people taking everything not nailed down that is hurting them but all the people who have benefited from the totality of a civil rights movement that has not yet finished its work.

I still believe we can make a pretty good world.  But we have to collectively get over the idea that unrestrained acquisition is the only valid metric of success.

But you people who stayed home and left us with this mess? Read between the lines.

 

September 28, 2016

Crossing Eyes and Dotting Teas

In my previous post I talked about the use—misuse—of a term: Snowflake. It was brought to my attention that I myself may be misusing it or at least misunderstanding it.

It derives from Fight Club, as a negative.  “You are not special snowflakes…you are not unique…”  More or less.  Tyler Durden exhorting the new members of a club no one is supposed to speak about.  Which kind of automatically makes them special.  Exclusive club, deeply hidden, secret, and very radical.  How much more special can you get short of joining the Masons or being recruited by the NSA?

The term then entered the language by way of gaming, applied to people claiming unique privileges—usually unearned—in the course of some rule-heavy role-playing extravaganza.  It went from there to an appellation attached to Millennials of a certain mindset who had absorbed the pseudo-Montessori-esque lessons of specialness and uniqueness and then took it to the next level as sinecure that they, being unique and special, can do no wrong and are allowed to exercise a degree of privilege and intolerance based on that assumed status.

Like all such terms, obviously, it has been handed on, re-purposed, reapplied, contorted, enlarged, expanded, and now, today, it is being used to label anyone even glancingly allied to that other wonderful term that has come to be applied as a derogation, the Social Justice Warrior.

That’s the problem with labels.  They start out one way, they inevitably become something else, and then history gets retroactively rewritten to incorporate the new meanings.

Democrats belong to the party of Jim Crow.

Republicans freed the slaves.

As if those claims describe what they are intended to today.

What I have witnessed and heard is the appropriation of the label Snowflake by people who are unfriendly to messages and arguments about social justice, equality, political correctness, diversity, and related issues so they can apply it where needed to shut down debate.  Classifying someone as a Snowflake (or a Social Justice Warrior) is little more than an attempt to categorize what they have to say as a specific kind of rhetoric which we are not obliged to listen to or credit because it only describes the presumed delicate, unique, and supposedly privileged character of the speaker.  We don’t have to listen to them because, well, it’s just the way they are.

And somehow these delicate souls manage to harass the virtuous manly men (male or female) who have right on their side to the point of silence.

I haven’t, if you’ll forgive the mixed usage here, seen the silence.  On either side, frankly.  What I have seen is a big fat fence raised between the deponents made up of labels.

Now, labels can be useful.  I like to know which aisle contains the pet food as opposed to the household drygoods as opposed to the liquor.  I like to know which building houses what services and addresses are very handy.  I even like knowing what kind of music I’m likely to find on what station and it is helpful to know where in the bookstore I can find History as opposed to Humor.

But when it comes to people, labels are useless impediments to dialogue and intercourse.  And just because those people over there insist on using labels does NOT justify labeling by anyone else.  Because it is the nature of such things—language—that usage is hijacked, meanings change, and context shifts.

Back in the Sixties, there was an event in San Fransisco.  There was a funeral for Hippy.  The label, the tag, the identity.  Because the people at the core of the counter culture saw what was happening—that what they were, how they dressed, talked, acted, was about to be appropriated as fashion.  They knew that all they intended, all they meant for themselves, all they held important was about to be changed by the normal misuse of the American dialogue.  So they declared Hippy dead and they held a funeral.  There was, after that, no authentic hippy.

It didn’t stop the entire country from assuming it knew what a Hippy was and that they were all around.

In the Fifties the label Communist was horribly misapplied.  A wide net of philosophical and political opinions caught people up and labeled them and lives were ruined.  Because it’s easy to think in labels.  Action follows thought.

I don’t care for labels like that.  Especially when deployed in such a way as to shut down meaningful dialogue.

What I am seeing is the use of a term that once described something quite different being applied by people who think they have the right to determine what is meaningful by excluding what they think is without merit.

Does this go both ways?  Of course.  Labels have universal utility.  They are shorthand.  The problem with them is they make it easy to not think.

Just in case anyone thought I meant something else.

Stumpf and the Body On The Pavement

Watching Elizabeth Warren disassemble Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf is a gotcha moment, one wherein we assume the bad guy has been handed his still steaming intestines by the champion and justice will soon be served.  Much as I hate to admit this, I doubt it.

I doubt it because…look at him. He’s looking at her with an almost-blank expression, but there is enough there to tell.  To tell that he just doesn’t Get It.  He’s listening to her, he’s answering her questions with well-advised Policy Speak, doing his best to evade a direct answer until she pins him to the wall, and even then there seems to be a kind of “okay, sure, but so what?” attitude practically shining from him.

The problem which Warren, which the Justice Department, which the SEC, which we cannot address and which underlies all of this is that Not Getting It.

There is a hole in the psyché where some form of non-tribal empathy should be.  It’s not there. People like Stumpf follow guidelines and if the guidelines say what they do serves their tribe, it’s by definition ethical.  Whatever that is.

In his case, ethical is whatever benefits his selected tribe and keeps him from being ill-treated at their hands.

He’s looking at Warren as if she’s speaking some archaic form of English no one has spoken in a century or two.  He understands the words but the cultural content is foreign, alien.  Not there for him.  Why, he must be thinking, should I give a damn about a bunch of people who own no stock in Wells Fargo who got badly treated by the people I put in place to treat them badly?  And what’s that mean, anyway?  It’s not like it’s their money!  And besides (so he might tell himself, late at night, when everyone else is asleep) if everything works out they won’t know the difference and my tribe will be richer.  I will have Done Good.

But it didn’t work out, so, hell, now I have to sit here and listen to this tight-ass social justice warrior lecture me about something called ethics.

What is this nonsense about jail time?  How dare she compare what I do with a teller who might pilfer from the till!  Of course that person should go to jail, that’s theft!  I’m not a thief!

Why isn’t he a thief?

Because he’s following the guidelines.  And, just as an added bit of justification, if that teller steals twenties from the till, who else is that benefiting?  No one!  But what he has done has increased profits for the company and therefore put more money in the pockets of the shareholders.  What he has done has benefited people!  His people.  According to the guidelines they have given him.

What guidelines?

Make us more money.  We don’t care how.  How is your job, that’s why we hired you.  If we didn’t like the job you were doing, we would fire you.

He kept trying to talk about the Board, you note.  Warren wouldn’t let him.  If, in his view, what he had done was wrong, the Board would have fired him.  Therefore, he did nothing wrong.

So what’s this senator all up in a huff about?  Doesn’t she understand that the number one rule in this country is to make money?  And that when you make money for other people that’s the only justification you need?  It’s not like we’re robbing banks.  No, we’re putting money in the bank.  It’s the opposite of robbery.

Isn’t it?

I agree with Senator Warren, this will not stop until people at his level face serious jail time.  There are people outside his tribe that he took advantage of who cannot afford to lose ten dollars let alone the fiscal date rape they experienced.  He hurt people he not only doesn’t know but doesn’t regard as important.  Only their money, in aggregate, matters.

There are, no doubt, if by virtue of probability alone, CEOs who regularly say no to plans like this because it will do harm.  We almost never hear about them.  Scandal drives media ratings much more effectively than what we used to call “soft news” or, worse, “puff pieces.”  Feel good news is pleasant but doesn’t attract the same kind of attention.  We need to find these people, these moral CEOs, and have them teach classes on saying no for moral reasons.  It would maybe be worthwhile having them at such hearings to offer a counterexample on camera.

But the truth is, for Stumpf and others of his ilk, the problem goes much, much deeper.  This is for him the driving heuristic of his life.  Do for his tribe.  And his tribe is comprised of people just like him.  Moneyed, “educated,” connected.  They doubtless give to charities.  They do this as substitute for actually giving a damn about people they don’t know.

It is not a problem isolated to them.

Over this past weekend we had another police incident, this time in Tulsa.  A man is dead whose only “crime” was being where he was.  The dashcam videos, even the video from other sources, all confirms that this man was shot to death for no reason.

Oh.  Wait.  He was black.

Interestingly, of all the officers on the scene, all of them went for their tasers—except one, and she was the one who fired the fatal shot.

Why am I linking this to the CEO of Wells Fargo?  Because in my opinion, they share the same problem.  They don’t recognize anybody not part of their tribe.

Because what the officer later said about the situation is contradicted by the videos. And I believe she actually doesn’t know how what she did was wrong.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, explains how we “think” most of the time  by heuristics.  There is a folder in our brain containing files of behaviors based on experience, on received wisdom, on made-up shit that got us through something before.  It is easier to pull a file from that folder and paste it over a new situation than to think through something from first principles every time.

So what was the file the officer pulled out of that folder?  Maybe something like:  Large black male, threat, must put him down.

Yes, I’m guessing.  Just as I’m guessing about Mr., Stumpf’s thinking in regard to pillaging the personal funds through fraudulent deals of people he has already placed in a file labeled “Customers: cattle: no further regard required.”

It’s a problem of categorization on both ends.

News flash to both ends: we aren’t categories.  We’re people.  Start getting it.

July 19, 2016

Unqualified

The clown car rolled into the station, the occupants decamped, and the frollicks began in earnest.  Lots of shouting, foot-stamping, and low-grade denunciations from the podium of this or that.

Trump is almost universally seen by all but the most ardent supporters as unqualified for the office of the president.  We keep hearing that, squeezed in between all the other verbiage being spewed about him. That in fact the only reason for some to vote for Hillary is because Trump is so thoroughly unqualified.

And yet, it would seem that most people who support him have a “Yeah? So?” reaction.

Consider:  that very accusation, leveled by people despised by Trump supporters, makes him all the more appealing.  For many, the very fact that he is unqualified to fill an office which they have believed filled primarily by ideologues of the “wrong” stripe for decades is a bonus.  His very unsuitability in comparison to all others is the whole point.  So hammering on the “unqualified to be president” charge is counterproductive.  You’re only reinforcing what they already know—and approve.

What Trump has successfully managed is to project as counternarrative an image of the ideal outsider. Not only is he outside the mainstream of political circles but he is outside the traditional bounds of informed citizen.  The people to which this appeals most strongly are those who no longer believe in any kind of constructive dialogue.  In their bones, they seem to believe that because they either don’t understand the system or the language of cooperative discourse, they are always shut out of any major public dialogue.  They’re tired of the ongoing discussions because, for them, nothing ever goes their way.

This is not Trump’s doing but he has tapped into it very well.  He knows his audience.  Tell them you’ll put up a gigantic wall to keep foreigners out, any attempt at examining the merits of that proposal will be met with impatience and derision. “We don’t care about your ethics or even your cost-benefit analyses, we like the idea of a wall, so stop telling me it won’t work or shouldn’t work or—more to the point—that I have no right to feel that way!”

Trump won the GOP nomination very simply, by appealing to those who are fed up trying to understand “processes” or “paradigms” or “dynamics” or the intricacies of a system they feel—often correctly—is bent on screwing them, by telling them that he will be their John Wayne and clean up the town.  Which usually means gunplay and some form of segregation.

Yes, it does come directly from the implicit “Make America White Again” which is the essential motor in his campaign car.

The reason this never works and only succeeds in making a lot of other people extremely angry is that it is a fantasy.

And Trump knows how to play this. His wife’s speech at the convention, clearly cribbed from Michele Obama, is a seriously twisted example of cultural appropriation that compares well with anything George Orwell might have come up with.  An anti-immigrant candidate’s Eastern European wife steals a speech from an educated native born black woman and represents it as a model of what the GOP should strive for.  This is done without the least hint of irony and the floor erupted with glee at the profundities they heard.  Which they had heard before and, as with just about everything else attached to Obama, rejected.  Rejected without any consideration as to content only with regard to who was saying it.

Of course, if Trump’s presumed policies actually went into effect, his wife might have trouble staying here.  He’d have to give her a special pardon.

But his base doesn’t care.  Melania will be fine, she can stay, because what they want more than anything is the power to say who fits and who doesn’t.

Hence the comparisons to Nazism.  The Green Card will become the new Yellow Star.  What’s in your wallet?

Shifting to the other side, the lukewarm support for Hillary is in some ways based on the exact same set of criteria.  Qualifications.  She may well be the most qualified candidate for president we have ever seen.  On paper, I cannot think of any presidential candidate ever who brings more preparedness to the office.

And that very thing is making a lot of people very uncomfortable.  Because America has developed, over many decades, a culture that exudes contempt for professionalism, especially in politics and especially in someone who is the wrong kind of person.

The reason Melania Trump’s plagiarism (and let me stress, I don’t for a second believe Melania did that, her speech was written for her, but someone knew exactly what they were doing) will pass through the Trump base without stirring a leaf of indignation is because Michele Obama should never have been able to make it in the first place.  She’s the “wrong” kind of person to be smart and powerful.

So, in similar fashion, is Hillary Clinton.

Now, if she were a man…

How can I suggest that?  Because the kind of subterfuge, oligarchism, and political insider creds for which she is being criticized is shared by just about any career politician who has moved for any length of time at those levels of power.  Dig deep enough, you can find exactly the kinds of shenanigans of which Hillary is suspected, but in the main none of it ever gets before a Senate committee, because in the main all of them are men and the overwhelming majority are white.  It only becomes actionable when the status quo is threatened, and here the threat is to the gender bias that should have gone away in the Seventies.

At it’s simplest, the choice is this: we have a candidate who will effectively execute the office of president and run the country; and we have a candidate who will run the country into the ground.  The funny thing is, both of them are in equal measure cheered and reviled over the exact same question of qualifications.  One is amply qualified, the other is profoundly unqualified.

As for the direction of the country, I suggest that the important elections this year are not for the presidency.  If Hillary wins—and I suspect she will—she will be overseeing a political landscape that will either be in chaos or will be in the early stages of serious reform.  Her job will be to keep it together in either case.  Because it will be in congress that the real changes need to be made.  If we send the same congress back, Hillary will simply be there to be blamed for the same stagnant nonsense Obama has been putting up with.  If, however, we see record voter turnout and a massive overhaul in the Senate and the House, then a great deal of repair work will start, and that will be messy in a different way.  I’d still rather see Hillary there that Trump.

One thing, though, that has to change—our indifference to education and our suspicion of ability.

Oh, one other thing—we need to vote.

Phobic Identity

Here’s a the thing.  If you need someone to be in some way “less” than you in order for you to feel good—or even adequate—about yourself, you have a problem.  It’s not their problem, it’s yours.

This “pastor” who spewed all over Twitter that we shouldn’t feel bad about the Orlando killings because they were “perverts” is a prime example.  If he’s really a pastor, a religious leader, there is no reason for him to say any of that unless he’s just trying to assert superiority.  Which is entirely not the point of Christianity, as I understand it.  The point is to embrace the commonalities among people, not sort them out into boxes labeled “Preferred Types” and “Types To Be Condemned.”  No, he’s just indulging in bolstering a shaky self-image by dumping his own head full of crap on a group he finds personally—

What?  Offensive? Incomprehensible? Or simply indifferent to his beliefs.

But, then, how would he know?

People who try to make themselves feel better by denigrating others have always been among us but they have never been so able to broadcast their inadequacies so loudly and regularly and they have found each other and formed support groups. I can’t imagine a gloomier or, frankly, duller forum.

I have found that prejudice rarely survives real knowledge.  Actually knowing someone makes it very difficult to shove them into a category and hate “just because” they are a particular “type.”  Oh, it’s possible.  I have heard all manner of tortured rationalization to continue hating a group while embracing individuals from that group as friends.  But that requires, I think, a profound myopia. (And I have to wonder how much of a “friend” they can be.)  Generally, once you know someone, I believe it becomes harder and harder to categorically judge and hate them and those like them.

Which is why much of this hatred is based on ignorance.

But a particular kind of ignorance, one based on identity.

After 9/11 we saw people who suggested we learn more about Islam condemned as some species of traitor.  How dare you suggest we learn something about this group that just hurt us so badly!  How dare you suggest that we can’t programmatically cast all of them into the same box and deal with our pain by blaming them all and hating them!  How dare you suggest that more knowledge will benefit us!

It was a spasm of national smallness.  “I know who the enemy is, don’t tell me more about him or I might stop hating him.”

Reality is always more complicated.

People who feel squeezed by circumstance, unable often by virtue of their own ignorance to make the decisions necessary to get themselves out of their own cesspools of anger and frustration, seem to contract into themselves and put up a wall to keep out any ideas or facts that might tell them they are in error.  They end up hating, many of them, and you see it all over, with signs that are not only wrong-headed but in too many cases suggestive of poor education, illiteracy, and parochialisms that reinforce a siege mentality that grows daily more dense and difficult to penetrate.

No, sir or madam, “they” are not the problem.  There are conditions and circumstances that make for a toxic situation and someone has told you that “they” are the cause, the consequence, and the catalyst, all rolled into one, and if we can just be rid of “them” then you will stop being afraid.  Whoever told you that lied to you, probably because in so doing they have made themselves feel (falsely) more in control of their situation or they have a power agenda that depends on you buying into the lie.  It certainly depends on you never asking deeper questions.  Easier to just target and hate.  There, the shots have been fired, the bodies are on the floor, “they” have been dealt a blow.

Then why don’t you feel any safer?  Why can’t you get past the hate?

Why must we now shift aim to yet another group you know nothing about except that they don’t look or sound or act like you?

Too many people in this country harbor and nurture identity hatreds—we know who we are because we hate those people over there, who are different.

While you’re feeding on that, someone has been stealing your soul to use for purposes you’re too busy hating gays or Muslims or socialists or single parents or blacks or Latinos or Asians or Liberals or Democrats or anyone who knows something you don’t know or has an education or a vocabulary or anyone who reads or supports birth control or feminists or accepts evolution or advocates tolerance or the group of the day to notice.

On some level, along the way, inside, you are one or more of these very things. Hate them, you hate yourself.  And if by so doing you define who you are, then you have created for yourself a prison, with bars on the inside, through which to look and resent a world of which you have little understanding.  Because you refuse to.

And that pastor?  He’s one of the wardens.

Common Sense vs Common Crap

This will be brief.  I just saw another of those worthless “memes” comparing capitalism to socialism, this time with regards to military chest-pounding.  Why do “socialist” countries feel it necessary to “parade” their missiles down major avenues* if socialism is such a warm, cuddly, wonderful thing, while capitalism is supposed to be such a brutal, anti-human thing?

And of course, once the comments fly, the “socialist” country held up as example of this is…The Soviet Union.  Which for one thing doesn’t exist anymore, but for another is an example of how labels seem to hold sway over reason too much of the time.

The problem here is that with an avowed socialist in the presidential race, people who oppose him are reaching for any comparison that will make his proposals look horrific.  It’s a failure on the part of those who believe such memes to stop acting like rabbits and use their brains.  So we keep getting treated to these absurd talking points that suggest that under socialism we would come to be just like the former Soviet Union.

How stupid are we?

You find yourself, however, in order to refute the comparison, having to go back and reinvent fire, do the job that ought to have been done in grade school and high school in history and civics classes (oh, wait, we don’t teach civics anymore, do we?) to bring the purveyor of such nonsense up to speed with reality.

I’m not going to do that.  What I’m going to say here is that labels, for either side, explain nothing, but because they are so easy to apply and seem to explain things by association, a lot of people feel they don’t actually have to know anything about the subjects being poorly covered by them.

The former Soviet Union was first and foremost a dictatorship, or, to be a bit more precise, a totalitarian regime.  It used certain socialist ideas as tools internally, but any real analysis shows that it could not be described as a socialist state.  It was not, for one thing, a democracy, and a major aspect of socialism is based on democratic institutions, of which they had none.  Citizens were ruled, they were accountable to a small cadre of functionaries who were not conversely accountable to them.  Law was by decree and the security state held all the power.

This is not socialism.  Just as what Hitler wrought was not—functionally—socialism.  Fascism and Socialism are very different.  But of course, even back then, they understood the power of labels, so they called themselves something they were not and pushed that image and suppressed anyone who said “Wait, that’s not right.”

But even more than that, these things are systems.  They are constructs.  Capitalism is a construct.  It was a made thing, it is an artifice now.  Which means that it is a tool and ought to do as we wish.  So is socialism.  Tools.  We can set limits on both, use them, even combine them into forms that serve our purpose.

That we fail repeatedly to understand that is the largest single problem in our political reality.  And we are kept from understanding that by a crippled educational system and the repeated and deceptive use of labels that even as they purport to inform us and give us some power merely make us less likely to look past them and figure out what the reality is.

Here is the conundrum of our current age.

The benefactor of the current system, known euphemistically as The 1%, are invested in keeping that system in  place.  They do this by distorting government.  The distortion is that they have made it so the government sees them as their primary constituency.

Government therefore fails to serve the rest of us.  We consequently blame it.  Some of us correctly identify the problem and accuse government of being a tool of the 1%.

The solution is shown to be to strip government of its powers to facilitate the desires of the 1%.+

The 1% see this and by other avenues feed us the idea that government alone is the problem and in order to set things right we must take away its ability to function.

In reality, the only tool we the people have to correct the distortion is through government.  Instead of stripping of power, we should be using it in order to correct the systemic distortion.

Government is caught in the middle.  It’s a tool and can only do what it is tasked to do.  If we 99% believe it is at fault and tear it down, the 1% will have no barrier to their continued misuse of capitalist systems.  But we’ve been fed the canard that the government is entirely on their side and is the sole reason for the dysfunction.

Certain corrections to the distortion are based on socialist concepts.  But we’ve been told for decades how awful that would be.  Meanwhile, the situation continues to worsen because there is no viable solution offered, and the only avenue that appears to be viable is to weaken the one thing that might do us good. Our voice, clearly expressed through our government.

So enough with the idiotic comparison and the bullshit that we can’t use systems rather than be victim to them.

All it requires is a little common sense, less common crap, and participation.  Once again, vote. But for the sake of the country, learn something useful about things as they are and how they work.  Right now, we are very much like Thelma and Louise.  “We have to get to Mexico, but I ain’t going through Texas!”

__________________________________________________________________

  • I can’t recall the last time such a parade took place in Stockholm.  Hmm…
  • + One of the ways they do this is by funding candidates and buying elections, sending people to congress who tell us they’ll work for us then turn around and work for them.

Mania and the Resignation of Reason

Speaker of the House John Boehner is stepping down.  Old news by now, I know, but I’ve been looking at some of the responses and his own statements in the wake of the decision and while this is not a new opinion on my part I have come to the conclusion that a sizable element of the GOP, especially in the House, are simply batshit crazy.  I no longer believe they have an agenda.  As long as it’s not The Other Guy’s program.  When they announced back in 2009 that they intended to do anything to obstruct Obama, regardless, it was annoying but easy to assume that the more rational members of their party would temper their zeal and business would get done as it should.  And that’s been more or less true.  There are procedural tactics that have always been used by the opposition to appear to reject a policy while allowing that policy to proceed.  The GOP has been relying on them more and more so that the People’s Business can get done even while they must look to their base and present a facade of uncompromising opposition.

Boehner has been wrangling this circus now for almost 5 years.  His rhetoric has often made it seem he is one with the BSC contingent (Bat Shit Crazy people) while his deft handling of floor votes, positions, and other alignments of planets has seen more accomplished than one might expect.  But it’s a shell game and he knows it and it must be wearying to have to continually lead with a false face.

Mind you, I am no fan of Mr. Boehner’s policy stances, but he is far more a mainstream politician than appearances suggest, and he is fed up.

Such has been clear to anyone paying attention for a long time.  He has been undercut, encircled, compromised, and used by the BSC contingent and he has from time to time let it show.  Personally, I think he should have taken the high road and called bullshit on these people while he still held the gavel, but who knows what else he has had to deal with that is not public knowledge which may have stayed his hand.  Certainly he’s talking about them now.

The question I have, and have had for some time, is: what is it the BSC faction wants?  What is it they think they’re going after?

The end of welfare?

The privatization of everything the government does?

The cessation of taxation?  All of it?

The building of a military on par with the levels of World War II?

Complete return of all internal policy to the individual states, regardless of constitutionality?

The establishment of a state religion?

The end of any discussions about things that seem to impede the headlong rush toward American hegemony and domination?  (Including climate science, minority and women’s rights, economic justice, environmental science, and judicial reform?  This list could go on and includes just about everything that constitutes a criticism of business as usual.)

I look at the list, by no means complete, and all I see is a lot of flag waving in the wrong direction and rejection of reality.

No wonder the rest of the world is looking at us in dismay, wondering what ever happened to the Wise America that seemed imminent in the post WWII era.

Boehner is calling bullshit now on his colleagues who, by his assessment, seem to have no clue what this country is all about.  Of course he’s not saying it quite that way, but that’s what it amounts to.  They are living in a land of fever dreams and non sequiturs, refusing to compromise over the simplest things because they believe compromise leads to—

What?  I see vague, indistinct fears voiced.  Socialism?  They don’t appear to know what that is.  If they actually believe Obama is a socialist, they clearly have no idea.  But even so, they seem unaware that we’ve been using socialist tools since the 1930s and what do you know, our spines are still straight, our knuckles do not drag on the pavement, and a good number of us can think.  We have become the largest economy on the planet (whether you believe that’s a good thing is another matter, but the point is they think it is, so how has socialism been a problem?), the most powerful military force in history (again, mileage varies on how one feels about that, but they see this as a positive), and until we started enabling the top 1% to suck all the money out of the economy, we had the highest standard of living on the planet, even while incorporating those evil socialist programs.  Of course, they (the BSC faction) believe that if we’ve slipped on that a little it’s because of those socialist programs, not because they’ve been doing everything they can to enable the pillage of our national treasure, but the problem is they still talk about things as if we still had that position in the world and that we’re about to lose it.

Causation is one of those scientificky concepts they seem not to grasp.

But I don’t know what kind of country they think they’ll have when and if they get their wishes.  From the evidence, I don’t think most of us—including them—would like it very much.  They have no vision that I can see.

What I see is a lot of nativist warmongers who think by handing over the keys to the kingdom to the top 1% everything will be marvelous for them.  They remind me of Grima Wormtongue.

But I believe they are caught up in a mania.  They have no program, because that requires reasoned deliberation, and that has become an enemy to them.  They are headlong rushing toward the eradication of the institutions and people they think are their natural enemies, but it’s panic-driven.  It’s like some dark, twisted form of Beatlemania.  Reasonless and ultimately empty, but in this case even the music sucks.  They are a mob.  You speak reason to them and they do not understand.

They have been told so often and for so long that America needs to be great again and they seem never once to stop and ask what that would look like.

A job for everyone?

No divorce?

Minorities in distinctly small numbers who are nothing but grateful just to be here?

Men calling all the shots and women reduced to sex toys and brood mares?

God plastered all over everything, especially those things that should exist unquestioned?

Industry and invention but no actual science?

And what about all those people who simply don’t fit that kind of construct?

Well, that’s what prisons are for, I suppose…

A large part of the problem is that too many of us, even those of us not charter members of the BSC contingent, live too much by labels.  Even when we seem to be on the “right side” of an issue, very often we don’t know what’s in that issue.  This makes it difficult to argue effectively against people who don’t care about any of that but just want to win.  Win at all costs.

We have some serious issues that don’t get any real air-time.  The presidential debate was a demonstration of how little any of these people  are even aware of them.

For instance, whatever your feelings about the causes of climate change may be, the fact is we’re seeing it, and one of the consequences will be a dramatic redistribution of potable water.  This is already happening.  None of those people even raised the issue.  Of course, we’ve been told our real concern is oil, and consequently we’ve seen this horrible practice of fracking take off, to the quick benefit of  certain shareholders, but also to the gradual detriment of water.  Now, there may well be a lot to be discussed on either side of that issue, but it doesn’t even raise a blip on the radar of presidential campaigning!

For another instance, we have a growing number of displaced workers and a shrinking pool of traditional jobs to absorb them.  If anything gets said at all, it is couched in terms of entitlements and lazy people without a single nod to the fact that we are building our own replacements and jobs are simply not there.  No discussion of it at all on the level of local communities devastated by standard Big Business practices that often obliterate local economies.

Oh, can’t talk about that!  That implies a need for Regulation and we all know that regulation is inimical to growth.

Bullshit.

But my point is, these kinds of things, which are real and current and need to be dealt with do not get a reasonable public debate because we’re so damn caught up about someone’s fucking email account or whether angels are real.

I did not side with Mr. Boehner, but he has my sympathy.  He has probably felt like the only rational person in the room most of the time.  He has been bludgeoned by stupidity.

The problem, however, is that the GOP is losing its reasonable members.  They are becoming increasingly shrill because the BSC faction thinks it’s winning because people like Boehner throw up their hands and walk away.  You can only be in the same room with idiocy for so long before you begin to doubt your own sanity.  But it is that shrill, loud whine of lunacy that most people hear and it has the unfortunate attribute of overwhelming everything else.

It would be nice for a change if the quiet, thoughtful ones would stop demurring in the face of what is becoming criminal irrationality.  I kind of like a two-party system, but in order for it to function properly both parties must have credibility.  Right now, judging by the rhetoric and who they have running for the top position, the GOP has no credibility.  Not with me, anyway.  And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

 

June 25, 2015

A Few Words About Unpleasant Realities

First off, I would like to say that I work with some amazing people.  I will address just how amazing they are in a different post.  The reason I mention it here is that this morning I attended a meeting wherein we all discussed an extremely delicate, profoundly important issue in order to establish a protocol for a specific event and it was one of the most trenchant and moving experiences in which I’ve been involved.

In mid-July, Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set A Watchman, will be released.  That I am working at a bookstore when this is happening is incredible.  That I am working at a bookstore with the commitment to social justice and awareness that Left Bank Books brings to the table is doubly so, and one of the reasons I feel privileged is the discussion we engaged this morning.

It concerned a particular word and its use, both in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird and in the larger community of which we are all a part. Necessarily, it was about racism.

I’ve written about my experiences with racism previously. One of the startling and dismaying aspects of the present is the resurgence of arguments which some may believe were engaged decades ago and settled but which we can now see have simply gone subterranean.  At least for many people.  For others, obviously nothing has gone underground, their daily lives are exercises in rehashing the same old debates over and over again.  Lately it has been all over the news and it feels like Freedom Summer all over again when for a large part of the country the images of what actually went on in so many communities, events that had gone on out of sight until television news crews went to Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia and the images ended up in everyone’s living rooms often enough to prick the conscience of the majority culture and cause Something To Be Done.

What was done was tremendous.  That an old Southerner like Lyndon Johnson would be the one to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law is one of the mind-bending facts of our history that denies any attempt to reduce that history to simple, sound-bite-size capsules and forces reconsideration, assessment, and studied understanding that reality is never homogeneous, simplistic, or, more importantly, finished.

It became unacceptable for the culture to overtly treat minorities as inferior and allocate special conditions for their continued existence among us.

Those who objected to reform almost immediately began a counternarrative that the legal and social reforms were themselves the “special conditions” which were supposed to be done away with, conveniently forgetting that the level playing field such objections implied had never existed and that the “special conditions” that should have been done away with were the apartheid style separations and isolations these new laws were intended to end and redress.  Pretending that you have not stepped on someone for so long that they no longer know how to walk and then claiming that they are getting unwarranted special treatment when you provide a wheelchair is about as disingenuous and self-serving as one can get, even before the active attempt to deny access to the very things that will allow that person to walk again.

Some of this was ignorance. Documentary films of southern high school students angry that blacks would be coming into their schools when they had schools “just as good as ours” can only be seen as ignorance.  Spoon fed and willingly swallowed, certainly, but the cultural reinforcements were powerful.  The idea that a white teenager and his or her friends might have gone to black neighborhoods to see for themselves whether or not things were “just as good” would have been virtually unthinkable back then.  Not just peer pressure and adult censure would have come in play but the civic machinery might, had their intentions been discovered, have actively prevented the expedition.

But it is ignorance that is required to reinforce stereotypes and assert privilege where it ought not exist.

Bringing us to the present day, where one may quite honestly say that things have improved.  That African-Americans are better off than they could have been in 1964.  That for many so much has changed in two generations that it is possible for both sides to look at certain things and say, “hey, this is way better!”

Which prompts some to say—and believe—that the fight is over.

And the fact that it is not and that the arguments continue prompts some to believe it is a war and that the purpose of at least one side is hegemony over the other.

Which leads to events like that in Charleston and Dylann Roof’s savage attack.  He’s fighting a war.

The fact that so many people have leapt to excuse his behavior demonstrates that the struggle is ongoing.  I say excuse rather than defend, because with a few fringe exceptions I don’t see anybody hastening to defend his actions.  What I see, though, are people taking pains to explain his actions in contexts that mitigate the simple hatred in evidence.  For once, though, that has proven impossible because of Roof’s own words.  He was very clear as to why he was doing what he did.

He is terrified of black people.

Irrational? Certainly. Does that mean he is mentally ill?  Not in any legal sense.  He has strong beliefs.  Unless we’re willing to say strong beliefs per se are indicative of mental illness, that’s insufficient.  That he is operating out of a model of reality not supported by the larger reality…?

Now we get into dicey areas.  Because now we’re talking about what is or is not intrinsic to our culture.

Without re-examining a host of examples and arguments that go to one side or the other of this proposition, let me just bring up one aspect of this that came out of our morning staff meeting and the discussions around a particular word.

After the Sixties, it became unacceptable in the majority culture to use racial epithets, especially what we now refer to as The N Word.  We’ve enforced social restrictions sufficient to make most of us uncomfortable in its use.  In what one might term Polite Society it is not heard and we take steps to avoid it and render it unspoken most of the time.

To what extent, however, have we failed to point out that this does not mean you or I are not racists.  Just because we never and would never use that word, does that mean we’ve conquered that beast in ourselves or in our culture?

Because we can point to everything from incarceration rates all the way up to how President Obama is treated to show the opposite.  But because “race” is never the main cause, we claim these things have nothing to do with it.  We have arranged things, or allowed them to be so arranged, that we can conduct discriminatory behavior on several other bases without ever conceding to racism, and yet have much the same effect.

Because in populist media we have focused so heavily on That Word and its immediate social improprieties, we have allowed many people to assume, perhaps, because they’ve signed on to that program that they have matriculated out of their own racism and by extension have created a non-racist community.

That’s one problem, the blindness of a convenient excuse.  Put a label on something then agree that label represents everything bad about the subject, then agree to stop using the label, and presto change-o, the problem is gone.  Like sympathetic magic.  Except, deep down, we know it’s not so.

The deeper problem, I think, comes out of the commitment, made decades ago, to try to achieve a so-called “colorblind society.”  I know what was meant, it was the desire to exclude race as a factor in what ought to be merit-based judgments.  No such consideration should be present in education, jobs, where to live, where to shop.  We are all Americans and essentially the same amalgamated shade of red, white, and blue.  (Or, a bit crasser, what Jesse Jackson once said, that no one in America is black or white, we’re all Green, i.e. all classifications are based on money. He was wrong.)

While there is a certain naïve appeal to the idea, it was a wrongheaded approach for a number of reasons, chief of which it tended to negate lived experience.  Because on the street, in homes, people live their heritage, their family, their history, and if those things are based, positively or negatively, on color, then to say that as a society we should pretend color does not exist is to erase a substantial part of identity.

But worse than that, it offers another dodge, a way for people who have no intention (or ability) of getting over their bigotry to construct matters in such a way that all the barriers can still be put in place but based on factors which avoid race and hence appear “neutral.”

Demographics, income level, residence, occupation, education…all these can be used to excuse discriminatory behaviors as judgments based on presumably objective standards.

This has allowed for the problem to remain, for many people, unaddressed, and to fester.  It’s the drug war, not the race war.  It’s a problem with the educational system, not a cultural divide.  Crime stats have nothing to do with color.  Given a good rhetorician, we can talk around this for hours, days, years and avoid ever discussing the issue which Mr. Roof just dumped into our living rooms in the one color we all share without any possibility of quibbling—red.

We’ve had a century or more of practice dissembling over a related issue which is also now getting an airing that is long overdue.  The Confederate flag.  And likewise there are those trying to excuse it—that there never was a single flag for the entire Confederacy is in no way the issue, because generations of Lost Cause romantics thought there was and acted as if that were the case, using Lee’s battleflag to represent their conception of the South and the whole Gone With The Wind æsthetic.  We’ve been exercising that issue in our history since it happened, with even people who thought the North was right bowing the sophistry that the Civil War was not about slavery.

Lincoln steadfastly refused to accept a retributive agenda because he knew, must have known, that punishment would only entrench the very thing the country had to be done with. He did not live to see his convictions survive the reality of Reconstruction.

So we entered this discussion about the use of a word and its power to hurt and its place in art.  My own personal belief is that art, to be worthwhile at all, must be the place where the unsayable can be said, the unthinkable broached, the unpalatable examined, and the unseeable shown.  People who strive for the word under consideration to be expunged from a book, like, say, Huckleberry Finn, misunderstand this essential function of art.

For the word to lose valence in society, in public, in interactions both personal and political, it is not enough to simply ban it from use.  The reasons it has what potency it does must be worked through and our own selves examined for the nerves so jangled by its utterance.  That requires something many of us seem either unwilling or unable to do—reassess our inner selves, continually.  Examine what makes us respond to the world.  Socrates’ charge to live a life worth living is not a mere academic exercise but a radical act of self-reconstruction, sometimes on a daily basis.

Which requires that we pay attention and stop making excuses for the things we just don’t want to deal with.

 

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