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?

 

 

 

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.

The GOP Adjustment as Rhetorical Problem

Adapt or wither: that seems to be one major piece of advice the GOP is receiving. However, I did hear at least one “progressive” radio-host advise, “Please don’t adapt!”

Adapt to what? Allegedly, changing demographics, contrary attitudes toward some social issues, and the perception that the GOP chiefly represents “wealthy interests.”

If the problem(s) were seen in rhetorical, not strictly political terms, I might advise the following:

1. Define the “immigration problem” as “an immigration problem”–not as a problem of race and not as a threat to “culture.” If you think immigration-processes should be more orderly and consistent, then work with Democrats to make them so. Or don’t adapt and keep making the issue more about race and culture, and keep intimating that Latinos are “taking our jobs.”

2. Don’t swallow this business about “a changing America” whole. African Americans have made up 10-12 % of the population for a very long time. This isn’t a change. They vote largely Democratic because you, GOP, have basically pushed them to do so and because you have treated the first Black president like dirt. You can still play traditional rough politics and treat him with respect.

And if I were you, I’d have somebody confess that the Southern Strategy has always been about race, and I’d have the official confessor apologize.

3. When it comes to politics and governing, stop defining “gay marriage” as a religious issue. Treat it as a religious issue in your respective religions. If your church doesn’t want to host gay marriages, then it need not do so, obviously. But otherwise marriage is a civil matter, even if some couples–gay and straight–behave uncivilly after they get married. The U.S. isn’t a theocracy. I’ve met Tea Party people who agree with me on this, by the way.

4. Stop running the trickle-down con. People are catching on that’s it complete economic bullshit. More than that, there’s concrete evidence from Clinton’s 8 years that modestly raising taxes on the wealthiest helped the economy without hurting (as if!) the wealthy. Romney tried to run the Reagan con again, and enough people didn’t go for it (apparently) for you/him to win. It’s a pathos-move that’s quit working, and it never made logos-sense.

5. Look, we all know all politicians have to be data-deniers sometimes. Politicians lie. They deceive. But when it comes to data about evolution, global warming, dirty water, dirty air, and running out of fossil fuels, you all need to grow up.

6. When both you and the Democrats discuss budgetary issues and government-intrusion issues, you have to stop pretending the military is beyond enormous. It’s a data-thing. Empiricism.

7. If the question of abortion were as simple as you want to make it, a lot more people would agree with you now. If the question weren’t in large measure about women and their right to control what happens to their bodies, a lot more people would agree with you know. If you really want fewer abortions, support education and contraception. Or: don’t adapt.

Or–don’t adapt, as your progressive “friend” suggested.

David Brooks’ Faulty Reasoning About Why the GOP Lost

I give David Brooks credit. In looking for reasons why the GOP had a bad night, he’s not being as shameless as Karl Rove. I know that’s faint praise. The long-con-artist Rove is blaming a storm for his failure to deliver what billionaires paid him for. Here is Brooks’ take:

Growing beyond proper limits, government saps initiative, sucks resources, breeds a sense of entitlement and imposes a stifling uniformity on the diverse webs of local activity.

During the 2012 campaign, Republicans kept circling back to the spot where government expansion threatens personal initiative: you didn’t build that; makers versus takers; the supposed dependency of the 47 percent. Again and again, Republicans argued that the vital essence of the country is threatened by overweening government.

These economic values played well in places with a lot of Protestant dissenters and their cultural heirs. They struck chords with people whose imaginations are inspired by the frontier experience.

But, each year, there are more Americans whose cultural roots lie elsewhere. Each year, there are more people from different cultures, with different attitudes toward authority, different attitudes about individualism, different ideas about what makes people enterprising.

More important, people in these groups are facing problems not captured by the fundamental Republican equation: more government = less vitality.

The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.

Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.

Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.

* * *

As it happens, I’m an expert on part of what he says. I grew up “on the frontier”–in a High Sierra town of 200, once a Gold Rush town. And, culturally, part of me came from Sweden but that part was atheist, not Protestant. Also, I saw what the GI bill did for one of my uncles, who flew mission in a Flying Fortress. It allowed him to go to a state college and get a teaching degree. He taught and coached for the next 30+ years but never gave up on the “frontier” stuff like hunting, fishing, building your own cabin, and panning for gold.

My uncle’s values were not, in fact, different from those described in the Pew poll concerning these alleged “people from elsewhere.”

Everybody in the U.S. is from elsewhere, and why begin history with Protestant colonialists? Why not start it with the slaves who were brought here in 1619? Or the Spaniards out on that frontier? Or the French in the bayous? And so on? And why not mention that many of the early members of the federal and state governments owned slaved? That’s the ultimate “government intrusion” and extreme “attitude toward authority.”

So I assert that Brooks’ argument is based on a false, White-centered, nostalgic view of history. I also assert that the GOP had a bad night (but only narrowly, let us remember) because it has been begging for one. Look who speaks for them mostly loudly, hear how much hate is in the speech, and see how weird the stances are: abortion banned even in cases of rape; denying global warming; claiming “trickle down” economics is anything more than a long-con (70%+ of economic growth is driven by consumer–middle class spending, not by how much dough rich people get to keep); wanting government to intrude on two adults’ decision to spend their lives together (what’s more “American” than that?); and treating the first Black president like a you-know-what.

I also assert Brooks’ argument hinges on a false dichotomy: either government helps the economy or private enterprise does. They both do, and they both must. If these “new people from elsewhere” don’t work with the same fallacy as Brooks does, it may simply mean they are reasonable. Government can raise the taxes or sell the bonds necessary to build schools, bridges, sea-wall, an electric grid, and so on. Who does the work? Private contractors. So enough of that dodge, please.

If government has grown beyond proper limits, then why not question the proper limits of the defense budget, which is the most out of whack part of our budget when compared to all other countries?

Is a national health insurance program–operated by private insurance companies–and improper intrusion of government, or just something my practical uncle would see as necessary?

Barack Obama as Big Government Lefty is one of the larger straw men the GOP has built. On what issues is President Obama to the Left of Eisenhower or Truman?

I think the GOP decided to see how far right it could go on a range of issues, and so it went too far. I think it decided long ago to be a White party. Lindsay Graham has admitted as much, and we all know about the Southern Strategy, which is race-based. That’s the short version. There’s more to it than that, but it isn’t the more that Brooks cites.

Imagine If President Obama . . .

Imagine if President Obama . . .

1. . . . were a Mormon. Would the GOP/Right declare the subject off-limits, as the DEMS/Left apparently have chose to declare?
2. . . . had put his hands on a fellow debater, in 2008, as Romney did to Perry this year?
3. . . . were White. Would the election now be this close, given Romney’s blunders and cavalier attitude to sticking to a position, any position, on anything?
4. . . . were White. Would the GOP have stone-walled him on every piece of legislation and every judicial appointee (except for the Supremes) as they have done?
5. . . . were Republican. How would the punditry from his side have spun the first debate-performance?
6. . . . were White. Would Tagg Romney have said that he had wanted to take a swing at him?
7. . . . were White and semi-Southern, a la Clinton. Wouldn’t the GOP have agreed to a budget-compromise that included modest tax-hikes for higher bracket tax-payers by now?
8. . . . were White. Would the GOP claim that he took “too much credit” for having directed the operation against Osama Bid Laden?
9. . . . were White. Would the incessant demand for “papers” (birth certificate, transcripts, Social Security forms) have materialized?
10. . . . were White. Would his religion, nation of origin, “qualifications” (as if the presidency had any, beyond what’s in the Constitution), and temperament have been questioned for four years running?

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Politics

(Fans of the American short story or short fiction in general may see that the post’s title is a riff on the title of a fine story by Raymond Carver: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.)

1. We don’t talk about the American Empire. It never comes up, except indirectly, in the presidential campaign, for example. President Obama and Mr. Romney may squabble over Syria, but they don’t and the media don’t bring up the umbrella-topic: how the U.S. has military bases and “national interests” everywhere. For starters, I’m not really interested in a debate about whether the American Empire is good or bad or some of both. I’d just like the topic to be acknowledged, the number of bases established (agreed upon facts), the alleged purpose and the cost of the bases, and so on.

2. This is connected to #1: We don’t talk about one of the plainest and most apt warnings delivered by an outgoing president–Dwight Eisenhower, who wasn’t all that out-going. And the warning–about a military-industrial complex and its effects on the republic–was delivered by Someone Who Ought to Know, not just a general, but the general. It’s as if he’d never said the words, or as if the m-i-complex didn’t exist, didn’t determine much of our policy.

3. We don’t really talk about race. It seems like we do because it seeps into discussions of immigration and not-so-subtle attempts to make President Obama not-American. It comes into play when we talk about voter-suppression. But we really don’t talk about the lingering economic and social problems that spring from slavery and its aftermath. We don’t talk about our enormous prison-population (in general) and its racial makeup (in particular). We don’t talk about how children of color tend to suffer the most from the worst aspects of our educational system.

4. We don’t talk about the environment. It used to be kind of a big topic in presidential campaigns. The world and we are suffering some serious consequences of environmental mistreatment already–drought, fracking, running out of water, rising costs of food, and so on. How many minutes (heck, seconds) do you think will be spent on the environment in the three presidential debates.

And there’s much more important stuff (I beg the question, assuming my 4 are important) we don’t talk about because, well, that’s just how American politics and the media roll. What’s on your list?

Romney, Trump, and Almost Perfect Pseudocracy

If tomorrow Mitt Romney announced he’s in favor of gay marriage, would you, from the perspective of someone simply watching “the movie,” rather than from the perspective of a political analyst, be surprised? I would not. I would simply figure that someone in his campaign manufactured a reason to announce the change, that Romney said okay, and so the change. It’s too much to say that Romney is the most dishonest presidential candidate ever (with Clinton, the Bushes, and Dick Nixon lurking back there), but there is a sense in which we’ve now found the candidate who literally will say anything to get elected. In a weird way, Romney is incorruptible because how can you corrupt a vacuum?

And now Trump Redux, via the Birther gambit. In one sense, the situation begs to be ignored: the schtick-artist Trump wants more notoriety, so he brings up a topic we thought was buried. Trump is silly. Romney needs Trump’s endorsement because . . . .? Well, isn’t there a reason? Alas, pseudocracy.

I comment on it in party to ask, aloud, why a presidential candidate needs to stoop so low, why birthers don’t admit they just don’t like a Black guy as president, but most of all to ask why, instead of spending time watching the pseudocratic waltz of Romney and Trump, we (literally, we, but also info-media), we don’t spend it discussing…

aspects of global warming and its impact
the crisis in how to pay for college
why the Pentagon isn’t audited
civil liberties taken away by the Patriot Act & its extensions
Black unemployment
reaching common ground on immigration
how to help fix Europe’s economic crisis
and
so
on

That is, as I rode a stationary bike and watched (without listening) a variety news channels at once today, I realized more time was being allotted to Romney/Trump/birther than the topics above as well as equally important ones–or ones more important, from your point of view (if you are not a “birther”).

One cost of pseudocracy is that it functions as a rip-tide: forever occupied with pseudocratic nonsense, we cannot ever reach the shore to discuss and to act on important things.

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