“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.

 

“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?

 

 

 

Is Donald Trump the Most Honest Candidate Ever to Run For President?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Everyone:  I too recoil at the very idea this question poses.

However, because Trump is so transparent about his racism, bigotry, misogyny, self-absorption, cynicism, disrespect for the press, disrespect for all citizens (perhaps most especially his followers), indifference to  knowledge about policy, absence of curiosity about issues, disdain for charity (as a concrete practice and a spiritual attitude), fondness for the grotesque, hatred of process, willingness to commit war crimes, desire to flout law and custom, and so on, his candidacy cumulatively amounts to an eff-you to everything and everyone.  So much so that only people like him and people suffering from some kind of mental disorder or other generator of extreme irrationality it seems, will vote for him.

Of course, it would be easier if he would simply state, “I don’t care about anything or anyone, including myself.”  True, he boasts about possibly being the only person to run for the presidency and make money off it.  I think he means make money immediately, as Bill Clinton (for instance) has certainly cashed in. But he seems so reckless that even cynical profiteering seems beyond his interest and capability.  In a way, he’s an imitation grifter; he can’t really even get that right anymore.

It’s also true that he could be elected president.  That tells us much about the United States, about White Americans especially, and about the derangement caused (through no fault of Mr. Obama’s) by the election, twice, of Barack Obama–combined, of course, with willful ignorance, White Supremacy, bizarre White fantasies, and Whites’ own self-loathing. Can a nation that elected Barack Obama president turn around and elect Trump? Probably not, and of course I hope not, but you just never know about White Americans, and let’s face it, that’s whom we’re talking about.  The number of Asian Americans, Latino/a Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and citizens from other groups who will vote for Trump will hardly register in the data.  He is the candidate of disturbed and disturbing White America, or that section of White America that is so disturbed and disturbing.  That Fox News and other similar outlets assist Trump is all you need to know about them and their viewers, readers, listeners.  There’s simply no way to get around that.  By helping him, they, too, have dropped whatever scraps of pretense they held onto.

At any rate, Trump’s candidacy seems to say this: “I hate you all, I am the apotheosis of much that’s wrong with your country, and I dare you to vote for me anyway.  Did I mention I hate you?”

So, yes, even though Trump’s candidacy is all about dishonesty (he has probably set a record for lying–it’s not a close call), it is also about doing away with rhetoric that is in any way subtle, within bounds, and traditionally persuasive.  It’s as close to an “honest” punch in the face as it can get, and, not surprisingly, Trump  also “honestly” encourages violence at his rallies and in the streets. Can American handle this kind of “truth” about itself?  We’ll see.

Processing Trump

So how are allegedly rational citizens supposed to process Trump’s political language?  I mean aside from responding with disgust, alarm, and grave concern for the nation and just about everyone in it?

I do think it’s fair, especially after the last couple of weeks, to question his sanity because attributing his speech and behavior to cynicism, creating a persona, appealing to the base, etc., seems insufficient.  Within this news-cycle, he has suggested that President Obama is literally working with what Trumps calls “Islamists [ISIS],” revoked the Washington Post‘s credentials, wondered why the U.S. can’t block ISIS’s use of radios, and called again for a ban on immigration of people who are Muslim.

We may have reached the limits of analysis, so that everyone who is not part of the Trump cult should, although keeping eyes and ears tuned to the campaign, simply concentrate on making sure he is not elected.  That is, why analyze when there’s crucial work to be done?  Of course, we don’t necessarily have to choose between the two.

Would it profit us to approach Trump as the filthy, disturbing outcome of GOP speech, behavior, legislation, and foreign policy?  I don’t know.  He displays the xenophobia, fear-mongering, and willingness to wipe out due process that characterized Joseph McCarthy. He displays the vile racism of George Wallace, not to mention the slightly less subtle racist strategies and tactics of countless other Republicans–Reagan, Atwater, Rove, both Bushes, governors, senators, and representatives. He exudes the religious bigotry of Ted Cruz. He obviously has a disturbed view of women and a reactionary view of most issues affecting them–again, not all that different from other members of the GOP.  Power seems to have warped him badly, as it did Dick Cheney. Like Nixon, he’s obsessed with the press.

But we could also go in a different direction and assert that Trump is different from these GOP predecessors because he knows almost no limits to repellent political language, outrageous policy-suggestions, infantile insults to other politicians, and ghastly mockery of a disabled man. He also encourages violence at his rallies.

At the moment, I’m stuck somewhere between the two approaches.  Since Dixiecrat days, the GOP has been a party of racism and race-baiting, and its economic and foreign policies have been disastrous. That said, I do recall relatively decent GOP lawmakers who reached across the aisle to forge adequate if not excellent legislation, and at least Reagan and Bush I had some decorum. It would be easier to give the GOP a break if current GOP leaders would denounce him, and that might even be not just the proper thing to do, not just the best thing to do for the country, but also the smart political move.

What would Orwell do?  Probably he would attack Trump with his writing and view him as a fascist, and Orwell knew a thing or two about fascists. In the process, he might continue to parse Trump’s political language. But for whom should we parse the language?  I doubt if Orwell or anyone could, by analyzing Trump’s speech,  convince Trumpsters not to support the man.  I plan to spend a lot more time trying to make sure Trump doesn’t become president (writing that part of the sentence makes me a little sick: “Trump . . . president”) than thinking about the phenomenon or studying the language.

George Will and the “Logic” That Put the GOP in A Fix

“Fix” in this case means a broken state, one that begs to be fixed.

On FOX’s Sunday chat-show hosted by Chris Wallace, George Will opined that “fear” and “incredulity” prevented the GOP higher-ups from confronting and trying to stop Donald Trump’s climb to the nomination.  Whatever!

Will then climbed aboard the old Reaganesque hobby-nag, asserting that citizens who voted for Democratic candidates consisted chiefly of people who worked for “the government,” AFSCME union-members (federal, state, county, and municipal workers), teachers, and others who belonged to “a dependent class.”  Message: “gubment” (Reagan’s folksy pronunciation) is bad, the people who work in one of its capacities are lesser than those who don’t, one should recoil from them and gubment, and people who vote GOP are, one infers, “independent.”  Second message: But enough about the sociopath Trump: what about those bad citizens who don’t prefer him?

And now Will and other GOP geezers fear or deny the rise of a fatuous, hateful lard-ass who has been catapulted over the political wall, like the cow in Mony Python and the Holy Grail, by hateful, blind “anti-government” enthusiasm. Here is your Reaganism.  Here is your Reaganism on the Trump-drug.

Note that in the world of this logic, teachers, fire-fighters, food-inspectors, soldiers, spies, garbage-workers, the police, and so on are to be sniffed at imperiously as horseman Will passes by, insensible to the city-worker who will sweep up the horse-shit.  Whereas someone who works for the defense industry or FOX News is just flat-out better.  How? Well, they just are.

In Will’s dream-sequence, most of the better people are White, of course–hence his career-long dismissal of Blacks’ problems in the U.S. as their fault and hence Trump’s nihilistic comfort with KKK sentiments.

Shall we point out the obvious? The Constitution, created by all those sagacious  White founders, many of whom went on to join the dependent class, established a (wait for it) government. —So that by the time Reagan’s con to continue to seduce White folks, especially in the Dixiecrat South, mutates into Trumpery, it is, like a terrible virus, a form of reckless, accidental anarchy, anarchy not springing from some considered ideology or wise distrust of authority, but anarchy infatuated with authoritarianism. So that mere McConnell is loosed upon the Senate, refusing to allow the hateful government (of which he is a part, oops) to do, at least, what the Constitution says: review a SCOTUS nomination.

In his pretentious prose and pose, for the better part of four decades, George Will helped to create Donald Trump’s rise, even though the Rovian Tea Party is the more recent puff of meth that riled and roiled the racist, anti-knowledge mob.  Thank you, George. Thanks so much. I do fear the consequences of a  Trump presidency, as I appear to be somewhat sentient this morning.  I do not find Trump’s rise incredible (in the old sense of the word), however.  It looks more like inevitable.

 

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