Just a couple of thoughts. We’ve been hearing for months, here and there, how Donald Trump might be a trojan horse placed by the Democrats to discredit the Republican Party. That, presumably, a deal was done between The Donald and Hillary to run the most absurd campaign and make her look like the only viable choice. Not a bad idea for a potboiler political thriller. And the closer to the election we get, some variation of that idea is making more sense.
However. Despite what pessimists might say, the American electoral landscape is not really that controllable. And any such actual plan would long since have been discovered and revealed. You can’t keep something like that secret for this long. Someone will know and will tell. Just because that’s how things roll here.
But it’s not at all unlikely that some kind of a deal was done inside the GOP involving Trump.
Given the roster of candidates taking the field last year, what is perfectly plausible is that Trump was invited—maybe not even formally—to throw his hat in the ring. Be a Republican candidate. It would have been easy to tickle his vanity and get him to do it.
Because he’s a known berserker. We all know The Donald. He could stand up there and say things none of the others could and make them look like rational choices by comparison. Good cop bad cop. When you look at the row of right wing crazy that was running—people dedicated to deregulation, tax breaks for the wealthy, bigger military build-up, gutting healthcare reform, reinforcing corporate personhood, using immigrants as strawman threats against labor, natavism, anti-civil rights, security state wonks, anti-science pro-fundamentalist christian, nothing but a bucket of bad news for working class people—they needed, or thought they would benefit from, having someone who could draw attention away from all that by standing up there and being all the things Trump has been all along. The others would look civil, thoughtful, responsible. We would overlook their basic anti-egalitarianism and anti-intellectualism and, in some cases, their anti-humanitarianism, choose one of them, and clear the field for a fistfight they thought they could win with Hillary. Or Bernie.
It went pear shaped very quickly. They lost control of their candidate.
And the problem was they couldn’t really contradict him without making themselves vulnerable by their records, because Trump has not said a thing policy-wise that they had not all said, only in “nicer” terms. He didn’t contradict one policy plank. All he did was strip away the shiny so we could see the ugly underneath.
And they lost control. Is this possible?
It’s happened before. Back in the late Seventies the GOP courted the fundamentalist christian community, which till then had been traditionally apolitical. They went in, backed a guy named Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority, invited them into the tent to participate, made them promises about returning the country to a christian moral code (as defined by them, of course). It was a very cynical move because they clearly never intended to follow through on those promises. All they wanted was a kind of religious fifth column that would stir up the conservative base and get out the votes. It took longer, but they lost control of them. By the Nineties they had morphed into neocons and eventually gave birth to the Tea Party. That traditionally apolitical group got a taste for power politics and took matters into their own hands and look at the mess we have now. The Republican Party lost control.
And a lot of sane, responsible, decent Republicans lost elections or just left the field, unwilling to mix it up with the fanatics.
The GOP grew this faction from a bean and it has now lurched into the field flailing against anything that is not consistent with—
Well, that’s part of the problem. The Party apparatus itself knows that if it comes right out and says what the goals really are they could lose and lose bigtime. By actions if not words it has been clear for a long time they want an oligarchy. They don’t trust the average American, who may be too concerned with taking care of his or her family and might vote for things which will remove power from the privileged classes. You can argue if you want, but just follow the money—and the jobs—and the voting records of those who have enabled the decimation of the middle class and the empowerment of the corporate elite.
But now the Party apparatus has a bigger problem—the frightened mob they have nurtured since 1976 has turned into a mindless mass of terror-driven reactionaries, poorly educated, selfish, and aggressively anti-progressive. And they have lost control of that mob.
Which voted for the guy who was never supposed to get the nomination.
Now the rest of us have a problem. Trump is not only uncontrollable by the GOP, his supporters are beginning to sound like those fifth columnists the religious right was supposed to be. Except they aren’t talking about voting conscience—as far as I can tell, they don’t have one—but about taking up arms if Hillary wins.
And some of the GOP stalwarts are doubling down. McCain declaring that the Republicans will block all supreme court nominees made by Clinton is nothing but an attempt to appease that mob who seem to want no government rather than one they can’t understand.
They’re all complaining now that this isn’t what they intended, that they can’t support Trump, they never meant for this—
I’m reminded of the film Judgment At Nuremberg, in which Spencer Tracy plays a justice on the war crimes court, hearing the case of a German jurist, played by Burt Lancaster. At the end, Lancaster tells Tracy “We never meant for it to go so far.” To which Tracy responds, “Sir, it went that far the first time you sentenced an innocent man.” Or something to that effect. One could say to those now-chagrined and embarrassed GOP apparatchits claiming they never intended this: “It went this far the first time you placed party over country.”
We have a few weeks till the election. I don’t think there’s much else to say. We have a choice between progress and destruction. I believe that, no hyperbole intended. The destruction has been coming for a long time. Presidential election aside, we must expunge that mob of deplorables from the halls of power. Maybe Hillary had to apologize for that, but she was right. They are the worst aspects of our nature and—I’ll say it—too stupid to know how stupid they are. But that’s not their fault. They’ve been succored on the milk of ignorance by a cynical party machine that is now about to choke on its own poisons.
Vote. Vote congressional seats. Right now they’re as if not more important than who ends up in the oval office.
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.
I’ve heard it a lot recently. Snowflakes. “Those snowflakes.”
It’s an insult. It means, apparently, thin-skinned, easily offended, a lightweight, someone prone to knee-jerk reactions to certain things which the ones applying the label don’t see the problem with. “We mustn’t offend the snowflakes!”
What topics? It has something to do with political correctness, which is another one of those labels which has lost valence through overuse and misapplication.
What is political correctness?
Well, others may have their definitions, but mine is to speak truly about a subject rather than resort to cliché. To find out the reality before talking through one’s hat, using whatever popular cultural handles that may be lying around.
You can pretty much pick the topic and find disagreement over things ranging from stereotyping to cultural appropriation. There’s the popular opinion, then there’s the fabrication, and then there’s the reality. P.C. ought to mean we go for the reality, which requires a certain amount of work and a bit of sensitivity, which seems in short supply. And if you have no sensitivity, why would you bother to do the work?
Of course, if you don’t do the work, where will you ever get any sensitivity.
So we have a new label, a category—actually a steel-reinforced closet—into which and by which we can dispense with the need to deal with the issues raised by the behavior being tagged as that of a Snowflake. Once so labeled we can simply use that term to dismiss whatever might be upsetting them.
It’s hard then to know if what is upsetting them has any legitimacy because the conversation has now stopped.
Here’s a thought: those applying this new label seem to believe that these are delicate people who get flustered at the mere mention of opinions with which they disagree. What if that’s not it? What if it’s more likely the final loss of tolerance for dealing with attitudes, opinions, and treatment with which they have been subjected to for years and they’ve finally reached the point of saying “You know what, if you can’t see through your own bullshit, I don’t have to either help you or put up with it anymore.”
What if a good number, maybe the majority, of people being labeled Snowflakes are actually of such a toughness that it took years and decades of being misheard, misunderstood, categorized, dismissed, and otherwise bullied before they finally just had enough and decided to slam the door in your face?
I’ve been bullied. The one thing that becomes clear, finally, is that being bullied has no rational cause. Nothing you can say or do will change the fact that the bully just wants to hurt you. It’s not rational. They will bully you because you don’t fit some cool profile or they sense that you’re vulnerable or—more relevant to this situation—that you, just by being, represent a threat to their self-image. You can’t negotiate, you can’t “be reasonable,” and you sure as hell can’t educate them out of their desire, their urge really to put you in a box and keep you there.
You abuse someone long enough they will snap back. Right now, voices are being heard that have needed to be heard and certain people, who thought as long as the room was quiet everything was fine, are trying to shut them down. This is nothing new, this has been the reality for a long, long time. Now we have some acting out. Now we have some payback. Now the “nice, quiet, well-behaved so-n-so who was never a problem before” is standing up saying enough, and so a new label is required?
What you are seeing as hypersensitivity is really just the final loss of patience. If the conversation had been engaged honestly long ago you wouldn’t be facing a challenge to authority like this. And claiming you’re the ones under siege is one more example of the myopia of too-long hegemony.
Every time now I see or hear that label being used I think “Have you looked in a mirror lately? If anyone’s being hypersensitive…” But no, that’s wrong. It’s not hypersensitivity. It’s insensitivity.
Now, go to your room. Write a thousand times “I will not be an insensitive jerk and pretend it’s a defense of conservative principles.”
You just don’t like the message and you think creating and using a new label will fix the problem. Like that ever worked before.
I’ve been working my way through Mario Vargas Llosa’s intriguing little book Notes On The Death Of Culture, which intends to be a general critique on the state of high culture and the impact its enervation has had on the world at large. Reading that and watching the election campaigns is a strange thing.
One of Llosa’s main themes here is that we have demoted “high” culture through a process of democratization of self-brutalization via social media and a mistaken acceptance of the idea that everyone’s opinion carries equal weight. That we no longer value wisdom, quality, or know how to appreciate it as distinct from middle or lowbrow culture, so-called “popular” culture.
There’s something to this, certainly, but I hesitate to call it a death. A tumultuous sorting maybe. Because side by side, cheek by jowl, as it were, with undeniable banality, dross, and effluence that passes for æsthetic content—no, that’s not quite fair, is it? Garbage has an æsthetic quality, even if it can only be apprehended as a negative—that presents itself as of equal value and merit to works of genuine worth, we do see works of superior quality, intent, and impact. In fact, work being done now in all the arts offers examples equal to if not better than any masterpiece of the past. Even television, that vast wasteland, offers amazing work. If one looks for it one may find music, painting, photography, sculpture, literature both fictive and nonfiction, drama both on stage and recorded, that compares with the finest humanity has ever offered.
And with it, audiences. You might question their level of appreciation, but that has two aspects which negate the attempt. Firstly, how do you gauge “appreciation?” How can anyone determine the extent of comprehension, of response, of, finally, “takeaway” experienced by another human being? You can’t really, certainly not in any way that might be revealed in a poll or a survey. Certainly not as some prognostic assessment about the Culture. Secondly, those creating these works have not come from another planet. They emerge from among us. We, in some way, “produce” them. They are us, they are not alien, so if in fact what they do cannot be understood or appreciated or even recognized, how then do they appear? The fact is, they have an audience. And not, judging by the availability and public knowledge of the work, small, dying audiences.
Which means we are, irritatingly, forced to take on faith that the culture, whatever we might mean by that, is not dying. Transforming, sure, as culture always does. Isolation is harder to achieve, if in fact it is even desirable. We live in each others’ living rooms. At best, Llosa’s fears—which may be too strong a word—may have more to do with nostalgia than actual diagnosis.
But then there is this huge, gawping thing in our midst, this political circus, and it might be reasonable to wonder how much we may have lost in terms of “culture” that something like Trump can aspire as successfully as he has to the presidency. It is perhaps a handicap for many that the answers may be culture-based and insulting to a large group of people. But I think, for myself at least, that there is nothing wrong with affirming that some things are better than others and that all aspects of culture are not equal. When you see placards with gross misspellings and bad diction in service to poor logic and spiteful ignorance, it offends and perhaps causes one to hold back rather than indulge in the obvious assessments. But like the doofus who shows up at a formal-attire wedding in plaid shorts and tennis shoes with an emblazoned t-shirt and a product-placement ball cap, the initial conclusion may not be wrong.
Suggestions have been made that the GOP might intervene and force Trump to step down or even do something with the rules to make him ineligible. Hiding the blemish won’t cure it. Trump’s success, if not he himself, is an expression of a popular sentiment, an æsthetic, if you will, that has embraced the thing Llosa is, in part, talking about. He has brought them together, the subliterates, the banal, the velvet-paintings-of-Elvis crowd, those whose most trenchant popular icon should be Archie Bunker.
And they voted for him. Should the GOP try to remove Trump, understandable as the impulse may be, it will be a repudiation of the very people they have relied on and nurtured and groomed for over three decades. They have been largely unseen all this time because they have been salted throughout the larger culture, an aberration perhaps. But Trump has caused them to step forward as a group. We, the rest of us, can see them now. They’ve been there all along, but we have rarely encountered them in numbers so large we could not pretend they weren’t just fringe kooks, loonies, or family embarrassments.
Forgive my crudeness, but I’m engaging this problem the way they do. Name-calling, pigeon-holing, because it makes the unknown manageable. It is a practice we rightly abhor but is the obverse of recognizing a form of self-selection and commitment to a set of protocols. If it makes us uncomfortable to be confronted with a reality that has grown up in our midst, then perhaps we share some of the responsibility. We have as a culture been driven more by the shiny, the thalamic and hippocampic reactiveness that draws us to the bright thing at the expense, sometimes, of the good thing.
But then, what do you do with someone who has decided that truth and beauty are the same as a red dot sale at WalMart?
It’s perhaps one reason WalMart has been so successful.
Trump, finally, has caused nothing. He is playing to an audience. What he says is less important than the fact that there are people who like it. When he is long gone from the political stage, they will remain.
It’s a cultural problem.
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.