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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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Is Trump Mainstream?

Well, if enough people voted for Trump to secure the electoral votes needed, then, yes, he’s mainstream.  It’s a thought from many Americans (and others) who aren’t suffering from one kind of mass psychosis or another recoil.

In what sense is his White Supremacy not mainstream, given the “Southern Strategy” of his Party, actions leading up to the Black Lives Matter movement, continuing Jim Crow voter-suppression (abetted by the Supreme Court),  and the bizarre (if predictable) over-reactions to a middle-of-the road, prepared, pragmatic Black President?  Trump want to fire Sessions, not because the latter is a homophobic segregationist but because a proper investigation continues.

In what sense are his excesses, profligacy, proud ignorance, environmental nihilism, greed, and grifting not mainstream American?  Judging from what I hear and see at my nondescript liberal arts college, I would guess more than a few academics, even, are okay with Trump’s anti-political-correctness, anti-Obama, nobody-knows-the-trouble-White-folks-have-seen, misogynist persona.

Why would so many American “Christians” vote for and continue to support Trump if he weren’t mainstream?

The idea that if “we” could just get rid of Trump, then everything would get back to “normal,” may be a necessary delusion; who knows?  But the real problem is that “normal” is Trump and Trump is normative,  if more crudely direct.  After all, the GOP Congress and Supreme Court do his bidding.  It’s not like they oppose him in any meaningful way.

A deeper problem is that the U.S. has never truly addressed its White Supremacist core values, its cultish attraction to unregulated capitalism and the long-con of “trickle-down” economics, its unrelenting baiting of the White working class, its military-industrial complex, and its ultimately self-destructive (in addition to destructive) view of its home, Earth.  Now one reads article after article about how “liberals” (whatever that means) must learn how to appeal to White working class people, which is really a way of saying that we need to pretend what many of these people believe is hideous.  Also, the articles overlook the fact that a majority of White suburban men and women went for Trump, so apparently class isn’t the determining variable.

To me, Trump just looks like a inevitable result of American history, economics, and education.  He is America, particularly White America (and in politics, that’s still mostly what matters).

What people who recoil from Trump need to do is to recoil (and then do something about) all the things that make him American, as opposed to making excuses, minimizing, wilting under charges of “political correctness,” and remaining in denial. From its colonial inception, the country/nation has been as sick as a dog that drank anti-freeze.

“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.

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