The False Dichotomy Between “Progressives” and “Centrists”

Those left of Right in the U.S. seem to possess an unerring ability to divide and defeat themselves, and in addition to Jim Crow voter suppression and gerrymandering, this flaw helps keep the White Supremacist Republican Party in power.

For example, I was treated recently to the ghastly spectacle of Intercept comments regarding AG Barr’s declaration that there was no collusion between Trump’s campaign and malevolent Russians.  Glenn Greenwald and his enthusiasts trumpeted the “destroyed credibility” of Rachel Maddow and “corporate media.”  They barked and meowed ad nauseam about “accountability”–without ever having read the Mueller report. They equated Rachel Maddow’s “delusion” to the propaganda that led to the Iraq invasion, an imbalanced comparison, as Colin Powell, a cabinet official, lied about weapons of mass destruction, and Rachel Maddow is merely a conversationalist; also note that implicitly, we are instructed to disbelieve Powell and believe Barr. Many comments attempted to push back, creating further spectacle and making me lose what hope I had that those left of Right might embrace solidarity, common ground, and (wait for it) a relentless determination to excise Trump from power. To read some Intercept comments, you would think Maddow was a graver threat than Trump, and I’m not exaggerating.  Why bother to advance a liberal-progressive-centrist agenda when, as with 2016, you are doing more to elect Trump than the GOP is?  The Supreme Court went full White Supremacist because McConnell pulled his Jim Crow stunt but also because Hillary Clinton lost.  If you thought/think Clinton is the same as Trump, then you haven’t considered evidence and outcomes.

The dichotomy between centrists and progressive is largely false, and even where it isn’t, it can be bridged.  Both C’s and P’s accept the scientific consensus about climate change. Both favor civil rights, voting rights, and immigrant rights. Both want to make voting easier. Both want much broader access to healthcare. Both support women’s rights. And so on.

How can those left of Right best insure winning at the polls? To me this is a far more pertinent question than whether MSNBC is a deluded corporate medium. How can those who label themselves progressive and those who label themselves centrists [does anyone label themselves that?] find common ground so as to (wait for it) get stuff done? I’m all for speaking truth to power, but I’m more interested in those left of Right taking power.

The most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  They did not run against the center because they wanted to win. For some reason, they viewed the McGovern example as a bad one. Go figure. Clinton did odious things and pursued some odious policies, and Obama continued some policies that were less than optimal.  But they got elected, and they advanced a progressive agenda in many areas.  They were an obvious improvement over George Bush I, Robert Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.

Who is actually getting elected–White Supremacist lunatics or those left of Right? Once elected, who is actually getting stuff done, sometimes by means of bridging gaps and reaching some temporary compromises for tactical reasons while pursuing long-game strategies? Inflaming, indeed largely inventing,  the progressive/centrist is not responsible because it helps Trump and his thugs.

 

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Ted Cruz Encounters Data and Loses

In a debate with a retired admiral about climate change, Ted Cruz first labeled adherents to climate-change data “alarmists,” attempting to distract with the old straw-person/begging the question combo, and then cherry-picks the data. Unfortunately he was arguing with someone who knew the climate-change data and about all of the cherries, not just some. A link to a video snippet of the debate:

Cruz vs. Data

The “Tribalism” Red Herring

Perhaps like me you’ve noticed this assertion becoming widely visible in the media: One of America’s chief political/social problems is that Americans have retreated into “tribalism,” thereby tearing the social fabric.  Let David Brooks stand in for others who make this claim. In the column, “Retreat to Tribalism,” January 1, 2018, New York Times, Brooks published this paragraph early on, with “That,” the first word, referring to said retreat:

“That’s essentially what is happening in this country, N.Y.U.’s Jonathan Haidt argued in a lecture delivered to the Manhattan Institute in November. He listed some of the reasons centrifugal forces may now exceed centripetal: the loss of the common enemies we had in World War II and the Cold War, an increasingly fragmented media, the radicalization of the Republican Party, and a new form of identity politics, especially on campus.”

One issue I have with this perspective is that it assumes a “we” that was together before tribalism creeped in, when in fact people who imagined themselves white and imagined that white is the de facto ruling tribe in the U.S. have always occupied the social and political center. By “center” I mean the controlling middle, not the center between Left and Right.  If one was, has been, or is on the outside of that group looking in, then the social fabric isn’t so much torn as it is hostile to threads that aren’t white (and Christian).

I get what Brooks is reacting to: The Trump debacle, which has invited white supremacists, haters of women, haters of evidence, et al., to rise up boldly. This reaction helps account for the claim that the GOP has been “radicalized.”  In my view, if the GOP is now “radical,” it really hasn’t changed much since the Dixiecrats said goodbye to the Democratic Party and where then absorbed into the Southern Strategy promulgated by Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, and on and on. It was “radical” from the get-go. Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes all appealed to a racist base, one way or another.

There is no big difference between Trump and his base and the GOP and its enduring base.  Trump just happens to be a more outrageous white supremacist, misogynist, and ignoramus. He abandoned the dog whistle and just started shouting (and tweeting) horrible things. A lack of subtlety does not represent a radicalizing shift. The White Supremacist “Tribe” has been ruling the country from the beginning, with some relatively measured and hardly overpowering resistance from so-called liberals, civil rights activists, environmentalists, feminists, and labor-friendly politicians (and so on).

What is new is that a competent, affable Black man got elected President twice,  the White Tribe freaked out, and so it got a big crush on a lunatic con-man from Manhattan. The country hasn’t retreated to tribalism. White folks have simply become more lustily excited about the only tribalism that has ever really counted in the U.S.

By all accounts, roughly 90% of Republicans still support Trump strongly.  —After all that he has done and said. Trump is blatantly racist.  He scorns knowledge and evidence.  He oozes hatred for women, Latinos, African Americans, and those of Arab and Persian background. He is abjectly incompetent. He is an agent on behalf of Putin. He won’t do anything about glaring problems with environmental havoc, a decaying infrastructure, an obese deficit (thanks to the GOP tax-cut), and a chaotic healthcare system. And the Republicans love everything about this because Whiteness is back in charge.  And David Brooks has always supported the Republicans. Trump may make him queasy, but that’s more aesthetics than anything else.

I see one problematic tribe. I do not see a retreat to tribalism. If anything, the resistances to Trump are remarkably mixed in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender. Unfortunately, because they are inept, the Democrats will manage not to build on such solidarity, but that’s a separate issue.

We should note, too, that at the end of Brooks’s paragraph above, he gets in a shot at college campuses, which are allegedly more tribal. Nonsense. It’s just that occasionally some students make some noise about climate change, white supremacist statues, white supremacist visiting speakers, etc. Students aren’t supposed to make noise, just as presidents aren’t supposed to be Black.

Contemporary School Segregation in the U.S.

Without intending to do so, I seem recently to have had a lot of conversations and run across a lot of articles concerning the re-segregation (or continuing segregation) of American schools.  The issue pertains to “politics and language,” I think, because segregation probably correlates to ignorance about African American history, vulnerability to racist appeals, white echo-chambers regarding race, policing, the justice system, etc.  School “choice,” public funds for segregated charter schools, manipulation of school-district boundaries, lip-service (at best) to achievement-gaps, continuing white flight or white gentrification all contribute to a comprehensive effort to maintain segregated and unequal schools, all these years after the Broad v. Board of education decisions (plural).

It is as if, since the 1950s, White Supremacy has simply found ways around new federal civil rights laws so as to maintain segregation and inequality, preserve white citadels of power, make thinly euphemistic and direct racist appeals in politics, and make life much harder than it should be for African Americans and other ethnic groups, as well as immigrants.  (Astoundingly, a widely used textbook in Texas folded slavery into the topic of “patterns of migration” to the U.S. so as to pretend slavery didn’t exist.  (Perhaps Kanye is relying on that textbook.) Thus in the guise of Donald Trump did the spirit of George Wallace get elected president and the Republican Party become the Dixiecrat Party 2.0.  Sadly, even alleged “liberal” media still treat the GOP as acceptably “conservative,” not radically racist.

All of this is by way of introducing an article, “School Desegregation is Not a Myth,” by Will Stancil, The Atlantic, March 14, 2018.

Asymmetric Polarization and the Pseudocracy

A new column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times crystallized for me a problem with the American media in these pseudocractic times.

The link

Krugman argues that the intellectual integrity of American “conservatives” has been degraded so much and eschews evidence to such a degree that conservatives who have influence on the media and policy are “cranks and charlatans,” whereas the few conservatives who retain some principles and integrity (if such people exist) have no influence on media and politics.

The occasion for the column is the Atlantic‘s firing of the newly hired Kevin Williamson, whom the editors were “shocked, shocked” (Krugman) to find out was a crank who wanted to hang women who have abortions.  (And note how pervasive the lynching mentality is among Right Wingers.)

A broader issue Krugman’s point raises is the bizarre addiction to “both siderism” to be found in media and academia. At colleges and universities, there is much angst about taking pains to represent “conservative” views on campus.  Right wing faculty often play the victim, and centrist or left wing faculty get taken in by it.  Faculty like me wonder why we need to take pains to represent homophobia, trickle-down economics, creationsim, climate-change denial, and White Supremacy.  Just to show we are, like Fox News, “fair and balanced”? Why the compulsion to entertain abjectly stupid and, in the cases of White Supremacy and homophobia, verifiably lethal ideas?  Why not stick with ideas that are at least contestable in the realm of evidence?  Opposing views are the stuff of academia, for sure, but not all opposing views are legitimate–measured by the broadest of academic standards.

Krugman uses Larry Kudlow as a supreme example of “cranks and charlatans” who have influence but no integrity and no connection to evidence, and Kudlow is a perfect example. But for me, the greater problem is exemplified by MSNBC’s hiring on George Will and other right-wingers who are “shocked, shocked” to find out that a White Supremacist misogynistic loon is the leader of the GOP, not to mention the nation.  Will and others like him paved the way for Trump by supporting the race-baiting Southern Strategy, the “war on drugs,” Reagan’s “trickle-down” scam, the belittling of President Obama’s interest in ideas (recall the “faculty lounge” meme, in which Will and others tried to reduce Obama to a mere “academic,” depending upon the anti-intellectual meanness of the right wing.  To pander to “both siderism” (I guess), MSNBC, CNN, and all sorts of online periodicals indulge right-wingers who, because of Trump, pretend not to have been on the side Trump represents all along. For me, this practice is as potentially destructive as the presence of Fox News because it, too, legitimizes cranks and charlatans, even if they are less grotesque than Trump.

Concerning “Stupid,” “Ignorant,” and “Indifferent”

I just watched a two-plus minute video (excerpt) of Noam Chomsky regarding “stupid” people. Actually, the interviewer introduced the words “stupid people,” not Chomsky.

Chomsky had opined that two dire existential threats to humanity are the increasing (apparently) likelihood of nuclear war and the increasing damage inflicted by human-assisted climate change.  The interviewer asked, “Why do you care about stupid people?” Chomsky answered by pointing to those newly elected to Congress [5-7 years ago] who were “climate deniers”: people who cheerfully dismiss the science behind climate-studies and consequently perceived no responsibility to take action, either to reduce carbon emissions or to anticipate/address effects of climate change. He also opined that these same representatives a) have a “fanatical” belief in the “efficient market” (unregulated capitalism and b) front enormous, powerful financial interests.  Here is a link the video: Chomsky

I take “stupid” to mean not so much unlearned as incapable of learning certain things. For instance, I am not gifted in comprehending mathematics beyond basic algebra. My mind took to geometry quite well but recoiled from trigonometry.  Probably if I had set my mind to the tasks with more determination, I could have had more success, but even then, I would not have excelled, I suspect.

I am not “ignorant” of mathematics, and I certainly understand their importance.  I can grasp basic statistical evidence.  I am not indifferent to their (mathematics) central role, nor am I so cynical that I would like to vote for people who oppose mathematics just to–what?–feel comfortable?

The problems Chomsky highlights seem to spring from gleeful ignorance, a view of the world that implies “I know all I ever need to know.”  This ignorance and/or tolerance of ignorance seems to blossom into indifference or cynicism.  For so-called Republicans and Conservatives, the known includes a deep disrespect for government, but not enough disrespect to decline to serve in government. It is a subversiveness far more effective than anarchy.

For example, the EPA has been told by its director to scrub websites of climate-change language and information. The known includes the assumption that white supremacy is tolerable if not preferable and that all personal weaponry ought to be legal. It includes toleration of misogyny, a wish to abolish legal abortion combined with an opposition to contraception and sex education (go figure). Now it also seems to include a surreal combination of bellicosity and isolationism and enthusiasm about mixing greed, Christianity, and government.

I assume Republicans and Conservatives like Jeff Flake and Mitch McConnell are mentally gifted enough to understand the science behind human-assisted climate change. I assume they pretend to oppose the science so as to pander to their supporters–who may or may not be capable of understanding the science. Flake and McConnell and their ilk represent legions and wield enormous power. They tolerate White Supremacy and, in the form of the Southern Strategy, maintain its potency. They sometimes say tepid things to critique Trump, but they do nothing to impede him or his harmful cabinet and cabinet-level appointees.

Why do so many people, white people especially, support such indifference, ignorance, and cynicism when it puts virtually everyone, including them and their families, at risk? There’s the rub. Political scientists and economists often speak/write of “rational actors”: people who at least can be counted on to make decisions based on self-interest. The American train is being driven by irrational actors, at ease with current and impending destruction. From an African American point of view (to select one of many possible examples), I suppose this has always been the case. At any rate, how does one, how do many, fight back against and render ineffective the cynical indifferent and gleeful ignorance? There’s the rub, part deux. 

“Liberal,” “Conservative,” and Other Useless Terms

What good are the political terms “liberal” and “conservative”?  The patron saint of this blog, G. Orwell, championed clarity in prose and precision in terminology; from that point of view, the terms are as useless as money in the afterlife. Worse, they function as chutes through which to pass mind-numbing, rote discussions and debates, as well as profiles of mass mediated punditing.  The theater of oscillation between the terms is as mechanical as a metronome.  The Oscillator is THE mold into which most of our political discourse is poured.

Let us first stipulate that the two major political parties in the U.S. are corrupt and cult-like, ensconcing amphibians like McConnell and Schumer in atrophied institutions.  That said, “conservatives” represent evil in a way “liberals” usually don’t, although “liberals” distinguish themselves chiefly by their ineptitude and taking on such evil.

“Conservative” has nothing to do with preserving “values,” limiting government, preserving “individual freedom, and so on.  The Republican Party conserves White Supremacy through various means: the Southern Strategy, voter suppression, & de facto segregation of the economy, education, and neighborhoods.  It is more likely to blow up the budget than the Democratic Party.  It refuses to accepts the science behind global warming and thus conserves suicidal ignorance.  It has been Red-baiting and race-bating since the 1950s.  If you substituted “White Supremacist” for “Conservative” as you listen and read, you would achieve greater terminological clarity.

Thanks to the White Supremacist Party (GOP), “liberal” has come to connote intellectual interests (as a bad thing), support for government-located programs to help people (as a bad thing), environmentalism (as a bad thing), diversity (as a bad thing), and women in politics who aren’t Stepfordites (as a bad thing).  Liberals are antagonists in a drama produced and directed by White Supremacists. Remember Gingrich’s “tax-and-spend liberals” was of language?  Note that the Constitution constituted a government empowered to a) tax, and b) spend.

In reality, Democrats massage the interests of large corporations and the military-industrial complex as much as Republicans.  Little difference there. True, they are more likely to support Voting Rights, more likely to include and support people from a wide range of backgrounds (in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class-status); that they do this, when they do this, in order to hold power, not out of altruism, is a given. Still, it’s better than a sharp White Supremacist stick in the eye. Still, part two, “The Feckless” describes “liberals” better than “liberal.”

At the moment, the White Supremacists control all three branches of the federal government.  Among what they conserve is racism, environmental collapse, body- and sex-policing, poverty, addiction to war, torture, hatred of women, hatred of education, rampant death by guns, and hatred of empirical evidence.  I’m missing a few embodiments of evil here–including Christian hypocrisy raised to a fugue-state, thanks to the support of Trump– but you get the drift.  The Feckless enable this evil by various means. What amazes me (it shouldn’t) is the extent to which American political discourse, political self-identification, and policy rely on these this useless bifurcation of “conservative” v. “evil” and help make the country and the world more vulnerable to impulsive stupidity and a political culture dedicated to awful decisions, not to mention depravity. Dump these terms.

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