What Too Late Looks Like

Recent developments and long-term trends provide prospects: The criminalization of abortion; further destruction of civil and voting rights; continuing White Supremacist policing and border patrolling; natural catastrophes owing to global warming (half of California’s vegetation is under threat, for example); disarray in democratic Europe (helped along by the Trumpist U.S.); between 3 and 7 more years of a U.S. President who is insane, depraved, White Supremacist, impulsive, unprepared, and stupid–and who is a Russian asset, a point Malcolm Nance (former CIA professional) keeps making.  NBC and MSNBC News, June 26, 2018, for instance: “Malcolm Nance Argues Trump Became ‘Witting Asset” to Russia.”)  Regarding the latter, the Trump Presidency makes “The Manchurian Candidate” look like romantic comedy.  But Nance is more or less a Cassandra. The media keeps being shocked, shocked that Trump disrupts a variety of alliances at the obvious direction of Putin.  Most Americans can’t manage to care, apparently.

Please pause and consider: the most powerful person in our national system of government is a valet for a Russian fascist. What could go wrong?

For the longer term: in 60 years the global population will be 16 billion. It’s hard not to think some combination of catastrophe, chaos, and authoritarianism won’t prevail.  That said, I am not Cassandra. I have no idea what will happen, and I won’t be here.

The facts, however, tell me that for the present Right Wing White Supremacists have consolidated their power, control many U.S. states, and control all three branches of the federal government. They will abet environmental collapse, widen the wealth gap, wreck healthcare, and kill Black and brown people.  They may wreck the economy, as the federal debt amount is closing in on the GDP.

Meanwhile, everyone left of Right seems to have perfected self-division and ineptitude. While Leftists and Centrists squabble and give daily purity quizzes, Right Wingers just keep on winning. Apparently, President Obama and his organization were an exception: they could focus, they could win. What a concept.

In this atmosphere, it makes common sense to give up hope, so I was weirdly heartened by a piece in the Washington Post yesterday by Karen Attiah, “I’ve given up hope on White people” (Washington Post, June 29, 2018). She wrote:

“Those of us who knew we were under threat from Trump have, since Election Day 2016, been told that America’s institutions will protect us from Trumpism. Congress would be a check. The responsibility of the office of the presidency would humble him. None of this has happened. This week, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision decided to ignore the president’s Islamophobic rhetoric and upheld his ban on travelers from certain majority-Muslim countries, legally sanctioning Trump’s anti-Muslim animus into official policy. Now that Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement, Trump can shape the court even more in his own image for decades to come.”

She also quotes Dr. MLK, Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” wherein King comes to the conclusion that white moderates are the biggest obstacle to African Americans’ achieving civil rights, and she notes, as have many others, that white moderates love to pretend that King was all sweetness and light, was not confrontational, and aimed to disturb the peace.  Non-violent direct action was never supposed to be peaceful.

Some polls suggest, about half of white Americans think Trump is racist.  Half.  That in itself is grounds for giving up hope on them. Moreover, that half doesn’t really do anything to rip White Supremacy from the heart of American law and society.

Appiah also wrote:

In her book “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” writer Austin Channing Brown says she has “learned not to fear the death of hope. In order for me to stay in this work, hope must die.” She writes: “I cannot hope in whiteness, I cannot hope in white institutions or white America, I cannot hope in lawmakers or politicians. I cannot hope in misquoted wisdom from MLK, superficial ethnic heritage celebrations or love that is aloof. I cannot even even hope in myself. I am no one’s savior.” Instead, she has decided to embrace the shadow of hope, opting to continue “working in the dark not knowing if anything I do will ever make a difference.”

Both Appiah and Channing Brown echo legal scholar Derrick Bell, who in the 1980s and 1990s wrote such important books as We Are Not Saved: the Elusive Quest for Racial Justice (1989), Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (1993). I recall talking with him when he visited a campus at which I taught, and he said, “When I tell my friends, ‘It’s never going to change’ [it being the racist U.S. society],” they and I feel relief.”

Of course, if you are white, like me, and have been paying attention, you must agree with Appiah, Brown, and Bell, and you certainly must not take these things personally or croak weakly, “But I’m not a racist.”  (It’s not about you.)

Of course, Part Deux, Appiah, Brown, Bell, and others do not give up writing, protesting, or advocating.  They chose the both/and road: One has to admit that almost all white folks are useless, at best, but also keep fighting.  British poet John Keats called this move “Negative Capability,” the ability to keep opposing views in tension in one’s mind.  James Baldwin suggested to an interviewer in the 1960s that he had to keep writing and struggling against racism because to do otherwise would make the condition of African Americans a mere academic exercise.

The elections of President Obama provided false hope, in turns out (not Obama’s fault), partly because, obviously, millions of white folks seethed day and night, were obviously shocked and enraged that an affable, prepared Black man could get elected president.  So the empire of White Supremacy struck back, Hillary Clinton forgot to go to Wisconsin, the Russians helped Trump, and the New Left and Centrist Democrats bickered their way to defeat (I guess Bernie thought it was funny). Hopeless, indeed.

Trump won’t get impeached or indicted, ever. The Democrats will lose the Senate, possibly even the House.  The Supreme Court is lost. Putin will wreak havoc, with the help of his witting asset.  All of this will happen because those white people who aren’t white supremacists will never do what it takes to steamroll, at long last, those who are.

In a poem called “Oh, Yes,” American poet Charles Bukowski wrote,

“there are worse things
than being alone
but it often takes
decades to realize this
and most often when you do
it’s too late
and there’s nothing worse
than too late”

This poem is easy to find on the webs and nets, but I think it also appears in Bukowski’s book, Love is a Dog From Hell.  In case you’r wondering, Bukowski never performed with “Up With People.”

 

 

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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.

A New Book About Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”

My colleague and co-blogger, Professor William Haltom, and I have published Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in the Age of Pseudocracy with Routledge/Taylor & Francis in Routledge’s Series on Rhetoric and Composition. Now you will be prepared should someone ask you, “Do you know any recent books concering George Orwell’s famous essay about language and politics?” If you know any librarians who might want to order the book, we would not strenuously object to your mentioning it.  Here is a link to the book on Routledge’s site, followed by an image of the book’s cover, by which you may judge the book.

link to book

bookcoverostromhaltom

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.

“Evidence” of Mass Psychosis Outside Starbucks

Whereas social scientists and scientists are usually data-bound (not that it makes a difference to our current federal government), humanists like me are sometimes fond of “emblematic events.”  I witnessed one this morning outside my local Starbucks in Tacoma. I was walking out of the cafe with my drink, and there was another fellow standing outside drinking his beverage.  A third fellow had driven up and parked, and he had the door to his large truck open.  Miffed, he said to the other fellow, “Why would someone do that?”

Soon I realized he was talking about a rather large quantity of coffee with milk that had been dumped or spilled on the pavement right below his truck.  Although the quantity was large, the presence of such liquid in the parking lot outside Starbucks is not unheard of.  Sometimes people open their car door and pour out remaining liquid from their commuter cups.  I wouldn’t call it the ideal way to get rid of old coffee, but it’s more or less harmless.  The liquid evaporated rapidly; it isn’t toxic.

The man got out of his large truck. By this time I was moving on toward my car.  The other fellow, alas, was trapped. The man from the truck, in his late 50s or early 60s, had gotten out of his truck.  He said to the other fellow sarcastically, “God Bless liberalism!” This was follow-up to  “Why would someone do that?”

Immediately I grasped the chain of reasoning.  Starbucks is a “liberal” corporation is the first link.  Thus a liberal had spilled or dumped the coffee.

Right after Trump got elected, one fellow kept coming to my local wearing an enormous Trump button, as big as a saucer.  He was obviously on a mission to put the victory in the face of the “liberals” who visit Starbucks.  Of course, there is no sure way to tell what the politics are of the customers, as they represent quite a cross-section of Tacoma residents and visitors.  The customers merely ignored him the way most people used to ignore LaRouche folks outside post offices.

Another time–I think it was on a day that had been chosen by pro-gun activists–a fellow had come in with his family, ordered drinks, and sat down–and we all saw that he had strapped on a holster with a pistol in it.  It was a show-liberals-your-gun day. Like Mr. Saucer-Button, he didn’t seem to get the reaction he was looking for.

Anyway, the fellow offended by the spilled milk–and indeed, the volume made spilling, not dumping, the likely event–then walked closer to the fellow who was just trying to enjoy his beverage, and who simply nodded politely, if guardedly,  at whatever the other guy said.  The complaining man said, in a fabulous non sequitur, “I just heard that you’re supposed to say ‘chest’ when you really mean ‘tits.'”

Emblematic indeed.  “Liberalism” is now expanded to include anything thought to be a transgression, like spilling/dumping coffee on asphalt. Second, one transgression may be linked randomly to another “liberal” disease, such as “political correctness.”  The fellow obviously was put out by “having to” (of course, no one was forcing him) say “chest” when he meant “tits.”  Misogyny doesn’t like “political correctness,” for it is “liberal” and therefore evil. Round and round the confused thinking goes.

And then there was the rage.  The fellow was ready to be angry at anything. And the entitlement: he obviously thought the man he made listen to him owed him an audience for his irrationality. And finally, the absence of satisfaction.  Electing Trump was not and could not be enough.  The rage and the pose of an aggrieved victim must go on.  They feel too good, I suppose. And although Starbucks is “liberal,” you still have to go there, I guess, because that feels good, too, in some perverse way.

It is a mass psychosis we are dealing with.  And the other guy and I just wanted to get and drink a warm beverage.

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. 

W.E.B. Du Bois, Trump, and “Intellectual Totalitarianism”

I recently ran across a fascinating piece by Andrew Lanham in the Boston Review.  It concerns the U.S. government’s attempt in 1951 to convict Du Bois–when he was 83 years old, mind you–of sedition because he had helped create a petition opposing nuclear arms. He was forced to criss-cross the country giving speeches to raise money for his defense, which was ultimately successful.  Nonetheless, Du Bois regarded the episode to be a final break with the U.S., so sought exile in Ghana, where he eventually became a citizen and where he died.  The specifics of the case are interesting, but just the fact that the U.S. would treat such a person–accomplished scholar, important leader, writer, editor, and mentor–as it did remains mortifying–all the more so because Trumpism replicates the anti-democratic, white supremacist “spirit” of those times.

Link : Essay on Du Bois

Lanham wrote, “I thought of this history this week when Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, began his confirmation hearings. In 1986 Sessions was denied a federal judgeship partly because he allegedly called the NAACP, which was co-founded by Du Bois, “un-American.” (In his 1986 confirmation hearings, Sessions walked a fine line, saying that the NAACP “take positions that are considered un-American.”) Trump himself has suggested that the government should revoke the citizenship of flag burners, and Trump’s pick for national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has called for an indefinite world war on terrorism, which he says must begin at home by targeting Muslim Americans. This is the same ugly cluster of ideas that landed Du Bois in court on trumped-up charges sixty years ago: the idea that demanding basic civil rights is tantamount to treason; that protesting national policy means forfeiting one’s citizenship; that darker skin or leftist views make one less American; and that an open-ended global war justifies unconstitutional repression.”  And later, he refers to Hannah Arendt in connection with the Du Bois case:

“In 1951, the same year Du Bois waged his battle in court, the philosopher Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, in which she argued that we can ‘measure’ totalitarianism by whether governments strip their people of citizenship. Despite her own intense opposition to the Soviet Union, Arendt feared that “even free democracies” such as the United States were “seriously considering depriving native Americans who are Communists of their citizenship.” Du Bois did end up practically stateless when the State Department effectively cancelled his citizenship after he moved to Ghana in 1961. There is no description of this more accurate than what Arendt would call it: intellectual totalitarianism.”

Our current intellectual [if it rises to that level] totalitarianism affects civil rights, immigration, foreign policy, access to citizenship, gun-policy, voting rights, and so on. One might generously call our present political disaster atavistic, but that assumes the country advanced and hasn’t simply remained stuck in 1951.

Thanks to Lanham for a timely, illuminating essay.

 

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