“Conservative” and “Liberal”: Useless Labels?

Not entirely, useless, I grant, as they seem to mean something to a lot of people, so they have rhetorical uses of some kind. (I think this is the late-Wittgenstein defense.)

And of course they’re attached to the USA’s two main political parties, so they’re used as substitute words.  (I think this is the tautological defense.)

But, seriously: Conservatives are not, in fact, fiscally responsible.  They’re much worse than Liberals on that score.  For example,  compare “conservative” Governor Sam Brownback’s fiscally irresponsible economic leadership to “liberal” Governor Jerry Brown’s–in the same years.  One injected the hallucinogenic drug, “trickle-down economics” into the veins of Kansas, which now has to go to rehab.  The other dealt with deficit spending well and helped California find its way out of the post-2008 doldrums, chiefly by following mainstream economic “theory” and forcing the legislators to compromise.   In the U.S. Congress, “Conservatives” want to address deficit spending by cutting taxes to very wealthy people, gutting health-care, but raising the defense-budget.  As a famous economist once said, “What a mess.”  The labels don’t really tell us anything, and more than that, they confuse things; for one is more likely to get prudent (“conservative” in that sense) economics from Democrats these days–which isn’t saying much as their only competition is Brownback and other nuts.

Conservatives like playing nice with dictators.  That makes them authoritarians if not fascist-leaning.  Liberals do the same thing, with the exception of Assad and Putin.  The labels are useless.

“Defending” the Constitution?  It’s always a tie, as the defense depends on the issues.  Conservatives gutted the Voting Rights Acts and enabled lots of Jim Crow voter-suppression.  Does that sound like defending the Constitution to you?  They blindly support excessive police force: again, more fascist than Constitutionalist.  Liberals want to interpret the Second Amendment’s whole sentence, not just the second part, so as to allow gun control.  Is that defending the Constitution?  Hard to say.

Foreign policy?  Okay, Trump’s worse than a disaster, but that’s not owing chiefly to his being labeled a “Conservative” (for the moment).  Bush and Cheney were more war-mongerish than Obama, but Obama maintained the wars and, like them, used drones.  They supported Israel exactly the same, propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding.  With regard to the defense budget, Democrats give the Pentagon whatever it wants, Republicans do to, but the GOP goes further and gives them stuff they don’t want.  Both parities are fully pro-military.  It’s not a close call.

You say liberals are more sympathetic to Civil Rights than conservatives?  For the sake of argument, let’s say yes.  But why is that not a “conservative” thing–conserving civil rights?  That’s right: because the GOP decided @50 years ago to become Dixiecrats with regard to race.  “Conservative” doesn’t necessarily mean “White Supremacist,” however. Anyway, liberals talk a good game, howling at the misbehavior of stock brokers and bankers who leveled the economy.  But I didn’t see Obama and Holder sending any of them to jail.

All of which is to ask Political Scientists to come up with more accurate, less ritualistic labels for politicians that describe.  I’d also go for a one-month ban on broadcasters’ and journalists’ use of “Conservative” and “Liberal,” just to see what new words they might bring in.

Of American White Supremacy: the Constant Plague

It leads to the continuing slaughter and unnecessary imprisonment of African Americans.  It leads to impoverished and working-class Euro-Americans to vote catastrophically against their own personal and economic interests.  It leads Euro-American women to vote for an admitted sexual assaulter for President. It leads to enthusiastic, widespread display of a flag that represents slavery, rape, murder, and terror: the Confederate flag. It leads to an irrational foreign policy.  It gets conflated with patriotism and Americanism.

It leads “pro-life” “Christians” to support a murderous justice system and a savage attitude toward healthcare, both of which kill people, just as it once led them to own slaves and lynch human beings.  It leads to de facto Jim Crow educational policies.  Even in relatively improved situations—such as the status of African Americans and Latino Americans in higher education—it leads to continuing dehumanization: racist graffiti on campuses, racist security “services,” racist treatment of professors and students, etc.

It is White Supremacy, an idea rooted in the fake science of 17th and 18th centuries, completely fictional constructions of multiple human species when in fact there is only one.  And obviously this idea helped to make slavery and genocidal colonialism, among other things, morally acceptable to alleged Christian nations, including ours.

White Supremacy never goes away.  It only changes shape, at most.  Slavery has ended, but widespread immiseration of minority populations remains, as does a proliferation of hate groups and lynching talk from elected representatives:  while still a U.S. Senator, Jim DeMint said of newly elected President Obama, “we will break him”; recently an elected official in the South said those responsible for removing monuments to confederate figures should be lynched.   The mindset leading to such rhetoric determines the character of the GOP, which is a White Supremacist Party.  As noted, de facto Jim Crow practices remain in the justice system, the political systems (voting rights eroded), the educational system, and the healthcare system.

Shortly before she retired from the liberal arts college at which I teach, a highly respected, nationally decorated colleague said to me, after I had mentioned the miserable jog the college did at recruiting and retaining Black students, “Why don’t they [African American students] just go to historically Black colleges [as opposed to “annoying” “us”,” I guess was the rest of the point.  In the GOP mind, she probably counts as a typical “liberal” professor.  Liberal and White Supremacist, unapologetically so.  Multiply her worldview by hundreds of thousands, and you’ll get some sense of how White Supremacy vitiates allegedly enlightened institutions. Imagine how that worldview inspires innumerable micro- and macro-aggressions, every day.

White Supremacy affects the Left, with hard-line quasi-socialists, including Bernie Sanders, downplaying (at best) the presence and effects of racism.  It affects liberals, who may say the right things but are almost never as aggressive as they need to be to wipe out White Supremacy.  It affects seemingly smart men like Justice Roberts, who asked, when the continuation of the Voting Rights Act was before the court, just how long such an Act (and other measures) was supposed to be allowed to go on.  In other words, when would “they” (African Americans) be satisfied?  Embedded in the rhetoric is the attitude of a White Supremacist doing somebody a favor and growing oh so weary of it.  The answer to the “how long” question is “as long as it takes,” of course.  And of course his Court struck down the Act, or at least its most potent parts, and doing so led directly to widespread voter suppression in the South and Midwest, where White “Christian” governors and legislatures reign.

It affects identity, not just in the narrow sense of “identity politics,” but in the sense that millions of Euro-Americans simply cannot construct an identity that doesn’t depend significantly on the belief that in some deep biological sense, they are superior to African Americans.

I just had lunch with a remarkably smart, well educated, successful former student who is African American.  She said that after Trump was elected, “it didn’t take long” for a White man driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal to yell the N-word and other violent expressions at her—no, not in the South, but in Westlake Village, Los Angeles.  Subsequently she visited Kansas City, Missouri, where she “didn’t feel safe” because of how White folks were behaving in public.  Multiply her experiences by millions and imagine the psychological impact on African Americans.  Imagine the stress this impact creates.

White Supremacy is certainly tied up in Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord on global warming because gleeful ignorance, doing thing because you can, showing contempt for scientists in particular and higher education and research in general, and throwing your imagined White Man weight around are linked to this problem of identity.

It affects the media, not just White Supremacist Fox News but also more mainstream outlets, who rarely mention the profound White Supremacist appeal of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the GOP and who rarely challenge the Democrats on their feckless or non-existent responses to racist policies.

It certainly affects academia, informing notions of the liberal arts, hurting students and professors, and leading other professors into very sad, racist territory, putting the lie to all their high-minded posturing.

Decades ago, the genial, urbane legal scholar Derrick Bell told me that he was telling friends that vicious racism [White Supremacy] in the U.S. would never go away.  And he added that a feeling of relief, at least briefly, came over him when he recognized and expressed that fact.

As a political and social entity, Euro-Americans have always had the power to knock the crap out of White Supremacy.  Instead, they take half-measures—at best.  Otherwise, they are by turns uselessly guilty, stupidly liberal, viciously “conservative” [let’s get real: the GOP is the same as the Dixiecrat Party], unctuously sympathetic, and enthusiastically harmful. They say shit like “I never owned slaves,” which is supposed to lead to the logical conclusion that “so I don’t have to do anything about White Supremacy [except enjoy it.”  “All lives matter,” “Obama got elected—what more do you want?,” “make American great again,” “Obama isn’t American,” and yadda yadda yadda. They do things like defend murderous police and vote for Donald Trump, already in the category of worst presidents ever, although he doesn’t own slaves, as Jefferson and Washington (among others) did.

Euro-Americans simply won’t get the job of eradicating White Supremacy, its legacies, and its consequences, done.  Much of the time, they perpetuate it, on purpose or through indifference and willful ignorance.  White Supremacy should be, but never will be, part of our daily political dialogue, given the horrors for which it has been responsible.  It is at the amoral core of the U.S.  It is the most obvious matter of urgency and the most ignored.  Sure, there are multiple factors that led to the election of a gleefully White Supremacist, “birther” President, who is catastrophically unfit for that position.  But if there were no White Supremacy or if there were only an enfeebled remnant of it, there would be no President Trump.

The disease of American White Supremacy continues to proliferate like a plague.  It makes everybody sick, one way or another.  I have no clue what to do about it, even though I write against it and do very tiny things in my very tiny sphere to oppose it.   I wish something would wake up Euro-Americans, en masse.   Wishing is not a strategy.

 

Are Trump Supporters Racists?

One is tempted to say yes, although one can imagine people supporting Trump because of a deadly mass psychosis different from racism/White Supremacy.  Something to do with xenophobia or misogyny, perhaps. Also, to parse the question with a bit more subtlety, one might argue that, in order to support Trump, people at least have to overlook or tolerate his racism, and especially at this stage of American history, toleration of racism is the same as racism because of the effects, which are both chronic and acute.

But how do we know Trump is racist?  Okay, I’ll play along.  Well, he and his father tried to bar African Americans from renting/buying their residential property in New York.  Also, Trump tried to de-legitimize candidate Obama by suggesting that Obama was born in Kenya, and of course this birtherism invited a range of other corrosive ideas: that a) Obama is Muslim, and b) that being Muslim is a bad thing; that Obama had various secret plans to . . . .take away Americans’ guns, use a syringe to inject “Sharia Law” into the Constitution, and so on. And now Trump is allowing his Attorney General to return to the excessive sentencing of African Americans for drug offenses, part of the “New Jim Crow” about which Michelle Alexander has written persuasively, piling up empirical evidence as she does so.

There is also the context of the GOP, which, after it absorbed the Dixiecrats, pursued (and continues to pursue) the racist Southern Strategy, used a variety of thin disguises to appeal White Supremacy (GOP operative Lee Atwater copped to this), supported the War on Drugs, which was and is a war on Black folks, and so on.  That is, we’re talking about systematic, deliberate, lethal racism–not a slip of the tongue, a gap in knowledge, or a half-conscious absorption of stereotyping.  Obviously these latter sorts of “racist moments,” although still wrong, deserve some slack. Some slack.   All White folks face a learning curve when it comes to race, as well as an unlearning-curve.  Learning and unlearning can take a lifetime.  In my case, it has taken a lifetime.

Also, to anticipate an objection, yes, of course, a supporter of Democrats can be racist; there are plenty of examples.  And not supporting Trump or the GOP doesn’t mean one has to support Democrats.

But the GOP has deliberately joined the line of history that goes from slavery to the post-Reconstruction nadir (a reign of terror in the South), Jim Crow (more terror), de facto segregation, racist financial and law-enforcement practices, the aforementioned Southern Strategy, the disrespecting of the first Black president in ways that go far beyond tough politics,  and so on.

Look, I get why smart people recoil at the suggestion that a Trump supporter is, by definition, racist.   For they have cultivated an internal detector that senses knee-jerk labeling. But in the case of Trump, and indeed of the GOP, it’s way past time to give people who support them a break with regard to racism.  The Confederate flag doesn’t stand for “heritage,” any more than Nazi regalia stands for achievements in beer-making and automotive design.  The Southern Strategy has roots in slavery.  So I don’t think it’s crude, unwarranted, or unfair to conclude that Trump supporters, at the very least, tolerate racism and White Supremacy–given American history, and American political history.  The burden of proof belongs to the supporters; they have to show they don’t help keep systematic racism potent.  There is no good reason to finesse this issue.

Link: Nell Irvin Painter on Whiteness in the Trump Era: Nell Irvin Painter

 

 

The Real Taboo Topics of American Politics

In many respects, Trump and the phenomena surrounding him represent a toxic residue of almost everything wrong, indeed evil, about the GOP and American society.  He and his followers are White Supremacists or tolerators thereof.  The same goes for misogyny, anti-intellectualism, and a brutishly indifference to environmental collapse.  Throw in reckless, often criminal foreign policy and the perpetual economic scam, “trickle-down economics” (which is, among other things, a method to loot economy), and you have most of the package.

One more key feature, however, is what I’ll call the real political correctness.  You will remember that one of Trump’s go-to, complacent excuses in the campaign for having said or done something grotesque was to label the critique a product of “political correctness” and move on, accompanied by the cheers of zombies.

I always thought the rise of the political correctness concept was complete bullshit.  Pardon my French. It was simply a lazy way to make an excuse for being too inflexible to change habits of thinking with regard to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and so on.  I’m so old, I remember when the idea of using non-sexist phrasing–for instance, not using “men” and related pronouns to stand for all people–was considered politically correct.  Have there been people who were over-zealous about marking resistance to change?  Of course.  So what?  There are a range of over-zealous people (recently they elected a depraved, barking mad president) in workplaces, professions, and at large.  Their presence doesn’t amount to a an excuse not to adapt one’s language and thinking.

Meanwhile, down the decades, the real bedrock political correctness belongs almost exclusively to the White right wing.  Here are some examples of topics that, systemically, American treats as taboo topics:

The military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower (not a “liberal”) warned us.  In media, politics, and society at large, one almost never sees or hears a serious discussion of economic and political engine, which drives everything from formulations of budgets to foreign policy.

White Supremacy and, specifically, the White Supremacy of the GOP.  The “Southern Strategy” is plainly racist and White Supremacist, rooted in a Southern and Midwest tradition of Jim Crow, terror, de facto segregation, jerrymandering, and “voter suppression”: Jim Crow.

Anti-labor thuggery.  The White Right has basically neutered labor movements; recall that one of Reagan’s first moves was to fire unionized air-traffic controllers.  Then came the “right to work” laws (great Orwellian phrasing) used to gut unionization.

The abject horrors of American justice.  The sheer number of people we imprison and how we imprison them are evil, and that’s before we raise the subjects of race, poverty,  militarized, unaccountable police forces, the war on Black people [“drugs”], and the school-prison pipeline.  Emblematic of this nightmare: Walter Sullivan, a middle-aged Black man, unarmed, running away from a policeman, shot in the back and killed.  The policeman then plants a gun next to the body.  The trial of the policemen results in no verdict, in spite of videotaped evidence.  Tamir Rice: slaughtered.  Freddie Gray: neck broken during an arrest.  Michael Brown: shot and killed, his body left uncovered in the street for hours as a trophy of White Supremacist policing.

Almost all Whites, including Bernie Sanders, get to be indifferent to such topics.  They get to drool such phrases as “well, ‘they’ shouldn’t commit crimes,” “I’m tired of talking about race,” “my family worked for everything it has” [thanks for the non sequitur].  The State of Michigan and the U.S. government get to react sluggishly, or not at all, to lead poisoning.  The new EPA director gets to dismiss global warming, the settled science behind the idea, and the consequences.  The White Chief Trump gets to brag about sexual assault on video/audio and get elected President.

Meanwhile, the media get to treat both parties as if they are morally the same, when mountains of evidence suggest the GOP is at base evil, not just a typically slippery, corrupt political party like the Democrats.  They get to treat “the Southern Strategy” as if it were some kind of cute chess-move and not a continuation of the Civil War.  They cheerfully go along with “the war on terror,” the war crimes that came along with it, and the ancillary rampant xenophobia that Trump promotes.

The real political correctness is the kind that normalizes the evils the GOP.  Trump is a direct consequence of this political correctness, which sneers at the slightest hint of critique or objection, and which informs the Goebbels-like propaganda of Fox News, Breitbart, Drudge, the president’s press secretary, and so on.

I recall viewing a Trump campaign rally at which, after Trump had said something ugly about Senator Clinton, a supporter yelled, “String her up.”  The crowd cheered.  Trump enjoyed the moment.  White Supremacy, in the form of lynch-talk, and vicious misogyny. Completely acceptable in our society.

“Populism”?

Here is a definition of populism:

  • S: (n) populism (the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite). [From wordnet via Princeton U.]

Given this definition, I can see why more than a few people might find the word almost useless with regard to the victory of Trump’s campaign.

First, Trump is of the privileged elite, obviously, and second, he wallows in this status in front of his followers.  Why the working-class sector of his followers celebrate his elitism has answers in studies of psychology, racism, misogyny, White Supremacy, mass media, and American history.   Second, perhaps they also truly believe he will represent and support their “struggle with the privileged elite; if so, then Pseudocracy did indeed triumph in this election.  Online, I’ve seen the term “drain the swamp” used by his supporters.  It is of course mostly an empty signifier, ready to be deployed in the service of blind rage and cultivated ignorance.  But even if we agree that it can refer to replacing elite insiders in government with commoners, it remains preposterous.  Most of Trump’s announced appointees seem to have spent a lot of time in the swamp.

I wonder if it’s also likely that Trumpster populism is actually anti-populism, a reaction against the demographic shifts in “the populace” that are making it less White, less Christian.  Trump’s loss of the popular vote may support this conjecture, and at any rate, the loss is certainly ironically counter-populists.  Trump’s obvious taste for authoritarianism and bullying help the irony to spike.

At the moment, I don’t see any effective means for opposing Trump’s anti-populist scheme to pimp the rage that springs from angry ignorance and ignorant anger. For one thing, his anti-populism relies on a disdain for facts, hallucinations induced by slogans (“Lock her up!”), and a depraved indifference to sensible solutions.  A cult-leader, Trump will probably not have to face any serious consequences for failing miserably to address material conditions unfavorable to those not wealthy, those not elite, and he will continue to benefit from expressed, livid opposition to parts of the populace that struggle mightily: many immigrants, many African Americans, many LGBTQ persons, many Muslims, and many women.

Uncomfortable Questions About the Next U.S. President

As noted in a recent post, I frequently asked myself and others over the past year or so why Trump wouldn’t be elected, and although occasionally I allowed myself to think he would not, I never really believed that a significant percentage of White voters wouldn’t vote for him–or do something with their vote equally as stupid.  My realism or pessimism was based on two assumptions: the U.S. remains a deeply, perhaps fatally, White Supremacist nation (empire), and its misogyny is also difficult to over-estimate, even among women.

Now that Trump is President, I find myself asking questions that are, in their specifics, perhaps more alarming than “Why wouldn’t they -White Americans – elect a White Supremacist, sexually predatory, misogynistic, politically irrational man?”

Such as . . .

  1. Why wouldn’t Trump deploy nuclear weapons?  What is to stop him?  Not the military structure, and not the governmental structure, not the advisers he is appointing, and not his capacity to make sober judgments or think about consequences.  He embodies  nihilistic impulsiveness.
  2. Why wouldn’t Trump’s presidency approve of/instigate even more violence against Blacks, LGBQT persons, Latinos, the press, and anyone perceived to be Left of Himmler? We already know his administration will be White Supremacist and misogynist, and we already know the sadistic nature of his campaign and his rallies.  And we can see how racist police personnel and White nationalists are emboldened, further licensed to spread misery and lethal harm.  (The FBI warned in 2006 of significant infiltration by White Supremacists in American police departments.)  Trump’s apparent pick for Attorney General is the Segregationist  Jeff Sessions, who regards the NAACP and the ACLU as un-American and “Communist.”  For what this appointment might mean, see this article: Jeff Sessions
  3. Why wouldn’t Trump wreck the national and global economy?  His own business-management “style” seems to be reckless and sometimes hopelessly inept.  His main skills are bullying, cheating, and declaring bankruptcy. His personality is such that he focuses mainly on looting, and now he may loot the largest economy in the world. We also know how vacuous he is with regard to history, economics, law, and–well, anything involving complexity. You might even say his campaign was the anti-knowledge, anti-complexity campaign.  The debates made that plain.  One participant was informed and rational (Clinton); the other, not.

People recoil from such questions, and why wouldn’t/shouldn’t they?  They want everything to seem all right, and they just want to get through their day.   Plus a significant majority of White people expect great (positive) things from Trump, not great disasters, in spite of mountains of evidence pointing (along the Bayesian spectrum of probability) to the contrary.  They view is having been elected with relief and joy, ecstasy.

Few people find comfort in acknowledging the likelihood of enormous disasters because, well, such acknowledgement requires discomfort and discourages the normalization or minimization of evil.  I can’t seem to put away these and other questions only because they seem logical to me, but that’s probably not a good enough reason to keep bothering people with them (this blog post notwithstanding).

A final question, one that is, I hope, less dour, alarmist, and cautiously pessimistic–and more academic: Is there a future for rhetoric, for public discourse that is in some fashion tethered to reason, logic, and some evidence?  It now seems an eon ago that a lot of us were concerned about “truthiness,” that slurring/blurring  of accuracy, agreed upon facts, and well defined terms.  Now the greater problem seems to be a complete rejection even of discourse that pretends to be rational.  For one main rhetorical message of the Trump campaign was anti-rhetorical.  It was “Shut up if you don’t agree with me.” Secretary Clinton’s knowledge of and experience with policy and her debate-preparation meant almost nothing when pitted against the beastly irrationality of Trump’s movement. And  I lost count of the Trump supporters who proclaimed, “I don’t care what he says–I support him.”  That seems like a post-rhetoric, post-propaganda stance.  Cultish. Will rhetoric be relegated to a hobby played by people who seek escape from the futility of trying to stop what Trump and his gangs will do?

 

 

 

Why Did Trump Get Elected President: Coda

Statistics on the White vote vis a vis Trump:

Working class White voters 72 to 23 per cent in Trump’s favor.

White non-college-educated women: 62 to 34 per cent in Trump’s favor.

White college-educated men: 54 to 39 per cent in Trump’s favor.

White college-educated women: 51-45 per cent in Clinton’s favor (barely, obviously).

There seems to be no evidence, according to CBS news’s polling,  that level of income among White voters significantly affected White support for Trump.  Tentatively, we can entertain the hypothesis that the vaunted “rage” of White voters was focused on something besides economics.

Source: White Voters

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-news-exit-polls-how-donald-trump-won-the-us-presidency/

 

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