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

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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.

The Trump coup d’etat and What’s Not Getting Done

Of course, the United States has experienced reactionary spasms before; indeed, the country, arguably, has always been reactionary, with brief moments of progressive politics that get eviscerate quickly.

In my experience, the election of Reagan seemed re-start the unrelenting slide to the Right that Nixon’s election began, one effect being that the feckless Democrats have been dragged to the Right, too.

And the White Supremacy, racism, misogyny, and goofy economics have been a mainstay of the “Republic,” too.  As is the free ride given the GOP (and, earlier, the Southern Democrats/Dixiecrats) for its dog-whistling and Southern Strategy.  It has been a White Supremacist Party for decades. How White Supremacist? Well, consider that, according to  a relatively recent poll, fully 46% of registered Republicans in Mississippi believe marriage between African Americans and white Americans should be illegal:

Poll of Mississippi GOP

http://www.businessinsider.com/shock-poll-46-of-mississippi-republicans-think-interracial-marriage-should-be-illegal-2011-4

And over 600,000 people–most of them believing they are proper Christians–voted for the anarcho-segregationist and pedophile, Roy Moore.  His opponent won by only 25,000 votes.  Sick? Yes. Such Christians also get a free ride from the media and from Christian “leaders.”

What is new with the White Supremacist, hyper-stupid Trump coup d’etat is, perhaps, the scale of what’s not getting done: smart solutions to immigration-problems and ignoring immigration issue that are illusory; addressing mass-incarceration; addressing global warming (the GOP stance is akin to ignoring viruses responsible for plagues); addressing, as opposed to widening, the immense wealth-gap; heading off another economic catastrophe; constructing a health system that provides more-than-adequate healthcare for people who live in the U.S. (mere Sweden can do it, but Big Daddy U.S. can’t? Seriously?); and so on.

From this perspective, the GOP is committing national homicide-suicide.  The Democrats and other sources of power are accessories to the crimes.

Not co-incidentally, a recent book by Peter Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of New Russia, applies aptly to the U.S.:

Donald Trump, the Ultimate Affirmative Action Candidate

After I watched the first presidential debate last night, I asked myself how someone as unprepared to serve as president, as ill informed about the world and national policy, and as badly composed could be the nominee of one major political party.   Many citizens must have been asking the same question, and I will add, although I shouldn’t have to, that the question pretty much ignores the politics of it all.  The perplexity has to do with the candidate, not his policies (?) or his Party’s policies.

It then occurred to me that Trump may be the ultimate affirmative action candidate, and here I am using “affirmative action” in the parodied, distorted sense its many critics have used it.  In their minds or in their cynical rhetorical strategies, affirmative action means that unqualified candidates take jobs that White candidates deserve because of liberals and their quota systems.  In reality, affirmative action mostly means this: because racism and bigotry have been at the heart of American history from the get go, perhaps some proactive (affirmative, as opposed to passive) steps to enlarge candidate pools should be taken.  I teach at a university that is “an affirmative action employer.”  All that has ever meant here is that the university advertises jobs so as to attract women candidates and candidates of color.  It has never meant that any department or program must hire person X because of that person’s gender or ethnic background.  Never.

But using affirmative action in the reactionary, parodic way, one may easily conclude that Trump is that affirmative action candidate the White Right has always warned us about.  He is completely unqualified for the job, if we take experience, temperament, knowledge of history, knowledge of global politics, grasp of policy, grasp of economics, ability to handle complexity soberly, patience, etc., into account.  But a mass of “angry White voters” wants him because they must have a White reactionary, and even a White Supremacist, president.  Birtherism is nothing more than an iteration of showing that “uppity” Black man who’s boss.

Trump’s supporters suffer from the cognitive dissonance of there having been a Black president for 8 years.  Even White evangelicals are flocking, so to speak, to Trump’s candidacy. Don’t laugh!   I’m just spit-balling here, but I can’t see evidence of Trump’s representing a Christian view of the world.  He is, for one thing, the Mammon candidate.

Even the media are in on the game.  They tend to normalize the horror he represents. They discuss him as just another Republican nominee, except for his fame and eccentricity.  The appropriate responses–incredulity, perplexity, outrage, urgency, figurative evisceration–are infrequent, at best.

Somewhere between 35 and 40 million citizens will vote for Trump–maybe more. They will do so because they must have a White male president, a White avaricious male demagogue, racist, misogynist, and xenophobe.  Qualifications be damned.  The country be damned.

 

Lies, Willful Ignorance, Shortcuts, and the Pseudocracy

The rhetoric surrounding the Affordable Healthcare Act continues to fascinate.

**For instance, it has been labeled Obamacare by the GOP–and then by the media. That tells us something about about the media. Need a shorter headline? Try AHCA or AHA. I grew up reading headlines that included JFK and LBJ. That said, President Obama practiced rhetorical aikido when suggesting that he welcomed the nickname, “Obamacare.” Is there a valid gender-related point to be made about “Hillarycare” and “Obamacare”? Hard to say.

**President Obama famously said that if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it. What he failed to say, or chose not to say, is that you can keep your plan if the insurance company lets you keep it. So he was deemed a liar. He is a politician; therefore, he prevaricates. However, I suspect he was taking a shortcut so as to keep things simple. For we live in a time when sophisticated, complex utterances (as if adding the bit about the insurance companies were complex) won’t fly in politics. The president’s lie, gaff, elision, or shorthand (you choose) was ironic, in part, because the AHCA is in fact not socialistic. You can’t keep your plan if the insurance company won’t let you BECAUSE the insurance company is a private entity, a capitalist corporation, which makes a profit on misery and/or on the prospect of misery. Or perhaps I’m being Dickensian here.

**The AHCA is “big government” and “socialist,” claim some GOPers. When large insurance-corporations became socialist and were taken over by the government, I do not know.

**Then the flap about the health-exchange website. Yes, a classic governmental eff-up, out-dated technology included. A gaff that may have turned President Obama briefly into a Casey Stengel impersonator. When Stengel was managing the hapless Mets, he once (or more than once) yelled, “Can anybody play this game?” However, a reality-check might induce one to mutter instead, “First World problems.” Oh, the Americans are having some software problems with their new health-care initiative. Let us pray! Meanwhile, consider the catastrophic slums in Venezuela and India, for example; or the horrendous problem with the trafficking of girls in Cambodia; or thousands dying of thirst and hunger around the globe.

**The Congressional Budget Office produced a report suggesting that the AHCA might influence workers to work less (fewer hours). The GOP translated that as “the AHCA will cause unemployment.” A CBO spokesperson responded more or less like the unnamed correspondent in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “That is not what we meant at all.” Paul Krugman asked whether Eric Cantor, for example, had spouted off about unemployment before reading the report, or whether he had read the report and decided to lie. Cantorian willful ignorance was operative no matter what, Krugman argued.

**In “News of the Weird,” we learned that the cost of a scanning-procedure in Philadelphia hospitals can range from about $1200 to $200. Welcome to retail! “How much does this treatment cost?” “Give me your debit card, and then I’ll tell you!”

All of it seems like a cry for help. Swedes and Germans, among others, must look at the spectacle, rhetorical and otherwise, and think, “How effing hard can it be?” Meanwhile, politicians and pundits continue to play the came because (pax Stengel) they can play the game, just not the game that matters to people when they become ill and/or infirm.

The March on Washington and White Privilege

Coverage of the remembrance of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s speech (1963) is mostly segregated, ironically. Here’s what I mean: in local and national newspapers, on network and cable programs, and so forth, coverage tends to focus on Black reactions to the March and the speech. A local paper might get the reaction of Black residents who are known to be activists or who attended the March or both. A cable channel might get the reaction of a Black political figure or a Black academic. And so on.

There’s nothing wrong with such coverage; it’s necessary. But what’s missing is a White response that isn’t merely reactionary, like that of Laura Ingraham’s on Fox News, or passive: think of a White commentator sitting back and observing Black folks reminisce or opine.

That is, the coverage maintains White privilege, in this case the privilege of remembering a moment comfortably, of watching Black folks discuss the event, and of having the event framed in safe ways. The overall effect of the coverage is to suggest that things were bad, there was a March and a great speech, and things got better.

I’d like to see more White folks interviewed–Whites who found themselves galvanized by the events and got involved, or even Whites who don’t remember the 1960s fondly. I’d like to hear from Whites who recognize their own privilege and see things in the nation and in their communities that still aren’t right: race-related issues with education, law-enforcement, the judicial system, voter-suppression, and so on.

I’d also like to see a more complicated remembrance of those times–one that includes views from Malcolm X, the actions or inaction of politicians at the time, facts about the FBI’s secret wiretapping and surveillance of Dr. Kind (a timely angle, given our current problems with surveillance).

Mainly I’d like to see coverage that genuinely engages White people and that doesn’t isolate black people, coverage that isn’t routine and even cliche.

All the Same?

Rachel Hannity
Piers Safer
Rush Schultz
Norman Savage
Lawrence Scarborough
Wolf O’Reilly
Bill Stewart
Stephen Coulter
Al Levin
Chris Sharpton
Ann Colbert
Stephanie Krauthammer
Chris Maddow

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