“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.

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“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.

Some New Books About Racism & White Supremacy

We who are appalled and terrified by the election of Trump have our various preferences for helping to explain the catastrophe–and explaining is about all most of us believe we can do about the situation. In our more pessimistic moods, we wonder whether Mueller’s investigation or “the resistance” will have any effect, and whether the necessary effect–removal from office–will occur in time.  With the tacit approval of Congress, the U.S. has delivered the executive branch to insane, White Supremacist authoritarianism.

The locus I isolate to explain Trump’s ghastly rise is White Supremacy. I don’t prefer it to the exclusion of other explanations, but I do think that, without the continuing, intractable presence of White Supremacy in the U.S., there would be no Trump.  It is the link between the different classes and genders of white Americans who voted for Trump, it is the cornerstone of the Republicans’ base, and it is something Democrats address ineffectually, at best.  And in spite of the rationalizations about the white working class, (for example), some data suggest that racism far outweighed class and economic considerations with regard to the way the vote went.  A recent piece in the Nation referenced this data:

Nation article

As we wait to see what further hell Trump, Bolton, and the Republicans will inflict, we might try further to understand, if not disable or eradicate, White Supremacy–that homicidal, suicidal force that’s been a part of the American colonies and the United States from the get-go.  Some titles, then:

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Edo-Lodge, Bloomsbury Books. I’m a White man who teaches African American Studies, and I can relate in the sense that there seems little point in trying to educate white Americans who don’t already “get it” about White Supremacy. Too many of them root their identity in it, I often think (and this includes many academics), to make attempts at persuasion anything but a waste of time.

Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas, by Ibram X. Kendi. Nation Books.  A good companion to The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter, which with superb scholarship tells the tale of the invention of Whiteness and White Supremacy during, ironically, the Enlightenment, and of how White Supremacy has been perpetuated mercilessly.

White Rage: the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson. Bloomsbury Books USA.  If we removed rage and a White Supremacist’s view of the world from Trump’s personality, what would remain?

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein.  Liveright.

The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, by David R. Roediger. Verso.

Good White People:The Problem With Middle-Class White Anti-Racism, by Shannon Sullivan. SUNY Press.

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.:

Government by Madness

Because the GOP is rooted in the Southern Strategy, reactionary Christianity, opposition to science (the human genome, global warming, economic data, etc.), trickle-down economics (which even The Economist, beacon of capitalism, mocks), White Supremacy (which informed the GOP reaction to a Black president and the election of Dr. Strangelove and continues to affect deeply the justice system), opposition to feminism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, opposition to learning (“Goddamn those ‘liberal professors’), and dedication to impracticality (look what they’re trying to do to healthcare systems), it must now reign through madness, so that even those who are probably rational must embrace a widespread denial of how things are and a nihilistic approach to how things probably ought to be.

Meanwhile, the Democrats orbit the insane GOP world like a timid moon, indulging in “explanation porn,” playing defense always, and forgetting to win elections while submitting colleagues to purity tests of one kind or another.

“Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

A Simpler Explanation for the Use of Jargon, Buzzwords, etc.

As we know, Orwell in ‘Politics and the English Language,” came down Puritanically hard on the use of jargon, “foreign phrases” (provincial much, George?), and academic-insider diction and vocabulary.  He virtually makes such usage a moral issue.

A simpler explanation, and one that fits our age of communication-deluge, is that how we learn language and, via language, how we learn to fit into families, schools, jobs, and so on, induce us to use “the latest words.”

I’ve seen this fitting-in phenomenon in academia frequently.  New terms will spread like a flu-bug during a large or small academic conference, and people reflexively start using them, not necessarily because of their efficacy but just because they are new and moving up the popular charts,  and people do not want to be perceived as being not fully current, not being part of the group that’s using this language.

It seems as if younger academics may be more susceptible to this anxious need to keep up on new lingo, but even if this is true, it doesn’t mean academics of every stage don’t do the same thing.  That said, there also seems to come a time in most academics’ careers when an opposing reflex kicks in: generally weary, and acutely weary of academia, many academics become hostile to new things and new words, and they become increasingly likely to dismiss the latter and align themselves epistemologically with the credo, “There’s nothing new under the sun!  Therefore, leave me alone!”

But it can happen anywhere–job sites of every kind, political groups, social groups.  The right-wing servicer, Frank Luntz, developed dozens of slippery phrases, to a) lie in a most “Orwellian”way, b) heap scorn on “liberals” (a term he never had to define), and c) further fortify White-Right political identity.  Members of the group, new and old, lap up the new cream like kittens, not least of all because they like that feeling of being righteous and accepted.  Of course the same thing goes on in virtually every kind of group.  I do think it’s pretty clear that, in the U.S., the Republicans have been much better at this language-game than the flat-footed, befuddled Democrats, who haven’t exactly put effective roadblocks in the way of right-wing flim-flammers from Reagan to the current bloated, narcissistic loon, Our President, who is too lazy, and too rewarded for his laziness, to use new language.  He sticks with words like terrible, sad, tremendous, bad, and good.  Before the end of his term(s), he may just start grunting at his rallies and in his press conferences, and a large percentage of White folks will cheer each nuanced sound effect. Animal Farm, indeed.

In any event, counteracting both the keeping-up-with-the jargon mania and the curmudgeonly hostility any new words and terms can be difficult because to do so with the former requires checking the impulse to fit in immediately, and to do so with the latter means checking your own desire to stop learning.  In other words, discernment and self-discipline are crucial.

After all, in whatever specialized group one may think of, new language will arise, and much of it will be appropriate and useful–a reasonable acknowledgement (if I do say so myself) that is tough to find in Orwell’s essay.

Simple forms of such discernment come in the shape of questions: “Why am I using this new word/term, exactly?”  “Am I sure I know what it means?”  “Why are ‘they’ using this new word/term, exactly?” “Are people using this term more or less unthinkingly, out of reflex, habit, or an anxious need to fit it?”

Discernment in vocabulary and diction, in writing, speaking, and reading/consuming: a good aptitude to develop, and one distinct from Orwell’s clumsy eradication-policy vis a vis (foreign phrase!) “jargon.”

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.

 

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