Alienated from the Culture

The most serviceable definition of “culture” I’ve encountered came from an art history professor, Fritz Blodgett.  He defined it as “the sum of learned behavioral traits.” From this viewpoint, “culture” isn’t just high art like opera or low opera like professional wrestling, and it includes how or whether you use a fork to eat, for example.  Professor Blodgett encouraged us to see visual art in the context of the whole culture, not as a sequestered thing.

I find myself ever more alienated from “my” culture, chiefly because of aging but also because of temperament. The extent to which most people seem attached to their phones seems alien to me, but of course it is now mainstream behavior. For instance, I will see someone walking her/his dog and almost never losing contact with the phone. S/he’s either listening to it or texting on it. The immediate reality around her–trees, grass, traffic, sky, birds, etc.–is secondary. She must ignore it to live life as she wants to.

I’m also alienated from America’s gun culture, even though, having grown up in the rural Sierra Nevada, I was around guns a lot. But they were treated as tools to be used as needed–almost exclusively for hunting. When not needed, they were put away, and they weren’t discussed, and they weren’t linked to one’s sense of self or politics.  Now, of course, guns are everywhere, people display them, take them with them shopping, use them as a political symbol, and use them in massacres. Apparently a massacre-by-gun now occurs every 47 days in the U.S.  When I make an infrequent trip to the mall, I always wonder if this will be the day I get shot by a disturbed person further disturbed by online frenzy. America.

Also, death-by-police-shooting is now the sixth leading cause of death of young men–mid teens to mid-twenties. And this is all men, not just Black men, who of course have grown up in a culture that thinks they are expendable. (Alienation is nothing new for Black folks, obviously.)

The bad news is also the good news with my increasing alienation. I used to think I might have some role to play in changing things through activism. Not a chance, as I see now. The culture will go along on its merry way, a way that seems increasingly irrational and lethal to me, and I’m just one of 8 billion people. I assume Trump will be re-elected, and an essentially White Supremacist order of elites will continue to be ascendant, at least as far as power is concerned. The necessary critical mass of white folks doesn’t seem to be materializing to rip the guts out of White Supremacy once and for all. There are simply too many white women and men who require a myth of whiteness to go on.  They cling to it as the dog-walker clings to the phone. Accessories include enormous pickup trucks (their enormity not linked to job-requirements in trades) and guns and gun-decals on the mega trucks.

As I become more alienated every day, however, I’m blessed to be able to do things that are part of my personal version of culture: raising vegetables and flowers, watching this or that TV show from Europe, reading, writing, cooking.  Occasionally I will look at my phone, but I do not view it as a friend.  This is all good news to me. I rarely text  with it or even answer calls, most of which seem to be scam-related (another feature of our culture).  I find I don’t need a gun on my hip to pull weeds. Crazy, I know.

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Why Is Trump Even Money to Win Re-election? That Would Be White People

Oddsharks and other betting sites have Trump at 50/50 to win (or steal) re-election. I find such sites to be more reliable than polling because their income and that of (most of) their users depends upon their accuracy.

Why does Trump, in spite of what he had said and done, a toss-up and not a long shot to win re-election? Because most White people like his views, policies, and ways of behaving. White people control those states, and districts within states, which will likely give Trump a second term. White people control Congress, particularly the Senate. And White people control the Supreme Court, which controls such things as gerrymandering and voter-suppression.

The truth  is that Trump’s policies aren’t that different from the USA’s policies pre-Trump.  The country has always favored more or less unregulated capitalism and thus put such things as environmental health and human health in jeopardy. The country has always been white supremacist and elitist at its core. It has also been anti-intellectual, and that characteristic features significantly in Trump’s popularity. Trump is gleefully ignorant, and although most politicians are required to be dishonest, his dishonesty and his dismissal of evidence have put him–and the rulers of the nation–in a fugue state of falsehood.

We may also state the matter this way: IF most white people found Trump and his policies to be unacceptable, he would have no chance of winning re-election. At least up until now, it has always been white people’s choice as to what kind of country this country will be.  The country we have now tells us what their choice has been. We may also come at the issue with this question: If our only Black president had done or said what Trump has done and said, how would most white people have reacted? They would have found the behavior unacceptable, and impeachment would have been swift. At a rally, for example, Trump said that he and Kim Jong-un “fell in love.” What if Obama had said that? What if Obama had sided with Putin to weaken NATO? What if Obama’s policies had exploded the debt the way Trump’s have? What if Obama had bragged about groping women or been accused of rape? All the white terror of Black sexuality would have driven most white people homicidally insane.

As to Trump, then, it’s up to white folks. Again.

A Vaccination Against White Supremacy

Daily, weekly, racist news of one kind or another pours in. This week, it concerns singer Kate Smith’s recordings of racist songs, the re-discovery of which led to the Pittsburgh hockey team’s decision to cover the singers statue outside the arena. Black Church arson in the South–the culprit is the son of a sheriff’s deputy. Depending on the day or week, we might hear about another racist incident on a campus or in a fraternity. We might read another column about how baldly Trump appeals to White supremacy in his continuing efforts to make the immigration crisis worse. We might hear about nooses hanging in an auto plant, or a racist arrested at the border for kidnapping immigrants and threatening to kill candidates or office-holders. Cache after cache of weaponry owned by White Supremacists are unearthed.

The reactions and reactions to reactions are much the same. “This doesn’t represent our values,” says the standard PR response of a college, a fraternity, or a company.  Of course, it does represent a section of their vaules, and that’s the core problem, not the single event for which they are generating PR. Rep. Steve King might be relieved of his committee duties but continue to say racist things and to be a hero back home. David Brooks might right a column or a book about how important “character” is. Publications from the New Left will obsess over Rachel Maddow’s obsession over collusion with Russia but ignore the 300 pound blond racist gorilla in the Oval Office. Reparations are discussed elsewhere.

But nothing fundamental ever changes. Bandages cover wounds, at best.  Rituals of reassurance are re-enacted. We never seek a cure.

To begin to seek a cure, the country, led by the Democrats, the only Party without a “Southern [White Supremacist] Strategy,” must describe the GOP as the racist Party it is. Trump has merely exploited that existing racism, eschewing the dog whistle and picking up George Wallace’s bullhorn. Those Left of Right must take on the Left where it is in denial about White Supremacy.  Of course, none of this will happen because the Very Left has its semi-socialist working-class agenda, into which a fight against White Supremacy doesn’t fit, and because Left Center Field is afraid of offending parts of its White base.

People like George Will  and Max Boot and Bill Kristol get to wash their hands of Trump and “leave” the GOP but never fess up to the White Supremacy they allowed to determine the core strategy of that Party. If and when Trump keels over, they will be allowed to go back to the GOP without mending their ways.

White Supremacy has been killing and continues to kill Black and brown folks in the U.S. No news there. It is now killing the whole country, as the White Supremacist in Chief goes full authoritarian and continues to stoke the furnaces of hatred. Whatever shared powers the Constitution envisaged are being torn asunder. Voter suppression operates in full view. The N-word is tossed about gleefully in public. Police keep asking Black motorists what they’re doing in this or that neighborhood. The judiciary is getting saturated with White Supremacist judges. White Supremacy is coming for you, no matter who you are; it will take longer to get to White folks, of course, although it has already noshed on their souls.

Jonathan Metzl recently published a book on this topic:

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland

“The politics of racial resentment” is close to being a euphemism for White Supremacy. In general (not referring to Metzl here), white Americans don’t like to say “White Supremacy,” and they recoil from those who do use the phrase. Consider Jemele Hill, fired from ESPN for calling Donald Trump a White Supremacist. Here response later was to say, “I thought I was saying water is wet”:

Huff Post article on Jemele Hill

In the sphere of Orwell’s most famous essay, Hill was refusing to make murder respectable, in other words. A major media corporation fired her for simply mentioning a demonstrable fact.

Here is a data-rich article on White Supremacist violence in the U.S.:

“In Search of Data on White Supremacist Violent Crime,” by Sarah Tate Chambers

The Original American Sin. The American Dilemma. Plymouth Rock, the Rock on which America stubbed its toe: Langston Hughes’s lines. Malcom X’s line: he (his ethnic group) didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; it landed on me (us). The Lost Cause (the Confederate Meme that never dies). Call it what you will, it’s killing us. News reports, statements and books about values, sympathetic murmurs–none of it touches the core problem. By whatever non-violent means necessary, White Supremacy must be addressed personally, locally, regionally, nationally, politically, rhetorically. As with climate change, we’re about out of time.

The nation needs a vaccination.

Fox “News” Is Politically Correct

And so popular media are once again in a kerfuffle about Tucker Carlson’s exhumed comments, which assert the appropriateness of  thoughtlessness, rape, pedophilia, racism, xenophobia, and so on. Add Jeannine Pirro’s McCarthy-like questions about a Congressperson’s hijab, and you have a pretty good Goebbels week for Fox.

Which, I assert, is one of the true sources of political correctness. I’ve long that that PC (not the computer kind) was a Goebblesque piece of propaganda injected into White men and the women who are enthralled with them so that neither would have to change their views of women, people of color, fake American history, language, and simple good manners. It came with an add-on: the ready charge of victim-hood leveled against anyone who disagreed with them. This is Old School propaganda, which accuses the “enemy” (after an enemy is invented) of doing what the propagandist is doing. In this case, policing any hint of change.  The Jews are destroying Germany, said Hitler, as he was destroying Germany, of which there was almost nothing left in 1945. In Carlson, Pirro, and Trump, we have a kind of apotheosis of humorless, cultivated stupidity that makes enraged, uninformed citizens more enraged and uninformed. It’s Orwell’s politics-poisons-language-which-poisons-politics scheme exempt of boundaries.  That is, if Trump could get away with killing journalists and putting immigrants in permanent concentration camps and killing them (well, that’s already started), he would.  No boundaries.

One amusing response to Fox News’s latest poison is the cluck-clucking query, “Why won’t Fox apologize?” I don’t want Fox to apologize. I want it figuratively destroyed–by boycott and any other non-violent means necessary. I wanted Disney pressured to dismantle Fox. I want Mueller and company to eviscerate Trump (figuratively), by any legal means necessary.

That said, I do approve of Speaker Pelosi’s temporary disapproval of impeachment because a) the votes in the Senate aren’t there,  b) it’s a nice bit of rope-a-dope against Trump, complete with “he’s not worth it.” Besides if voters and the Democrats can’t defeat Trump in Fall 2020, we’re definitely in a situation that his not unlike (pax Orwell) Nazi Germany.  These people are that odious, for real. And it all goes back to the rotten core of America, rotten from the get-go: White Supremacy driven by a political majority of White men. I have heard some progressives opine that this era is one in which White Supremacy is in its death-throes.  Wishful thinking. If Fox and Trump and Company continue to wield power, there may be nothing worthwhile left of the U.S. Alarmist? I wish.

The “Tribalism” Red Herring

Perhaps like me you’ve noticed this assertion becoming widely visible in the media: One of America’s chief political/social problems is that Americans have retreated into “tribalism,” thereby tearing the social fabric.  Let David Brooks stand in for others who make this claim. In the column, “Retreat to Tribalism,” January 1, 2018, New York Times, Brooks published this paragraph early on, with “That,” the first word, referring to said retreat:

“That’s essentially what is happening in this country, N.Y.U.’s Jonathan Haidt argued in a lecture delivered to the Manhattan Institute in November. He listed some of the reasons centrifugal forces may now exceed centripetal: the loss of the common enemies we had in World War II and the Cold War, an increasingly fragmented media, the radicalization of the Republican Party, and a new form of identity politics, especially on campus.”

One issue I have with this perspective is that it assumes a “we” that was together before tribalism creeped in, when in fact people who imagined themselves white and imagined that white is the de facto ruling tribe in the U.S. have always occupied the social and political center. By “center” I mean the controlling middle, not the center between Left and Right.  If one was, has been, or is on the outside of that group looking in, then the social fabric isn’t so much torn as it is hostile to threads that aren’t white (and Christian).

I get what Brooks is reacting to: The Trump debacle, which has invited white supremacists, haters of women, haters of evidence, et al., to rise up boldly. This reaction helps account for the claim that the GOP has been “radicalized.”  In my view, if the GOP is now “radical,” it really hasn’t changed much since the Dixiecrats said goodbye to the Democratic Party and where then absorbed into the Southern Strategy promulgated by Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, and on and on. It was “radical” from the get-go. Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes all appealed to a racist base, one way or another.

There is no big difference between Trump and his base and the GOP and its enduring base.  Trump just happens to be a more outrageous white supremacist, misogynist, and ignoramus. He abandoned the dog whistle and just started shouting (and tweeting) horrible things. A lack of subtlety does not represent a radicalizing shift. The White Supremacist “Tribe” has been ruling the country from the beginning, with some relatively measured and hardly overpowering resistance from so-called liberals, civil rights activists, environmentalists, feminists, and labor-friendly politicians (and so on).

What is new is that a competent, affable Black man got elected President twice,  the White Tribe freaked out, and so it got a big crush on a lunatic con-man from Manhattan. The country hasn’t retreated to tribalism. White folks have simply become more lustily excited about the only tribalism that has ever really counted in the U.S.

By all accounts, roughly 90% of Republicans still support Trump strongly.  —After all that he has done and said. Trump is blatantly racist.  He scorns knowledge and evidence.  He oozes hatred for women, Latinos, African Americans, and those of Arab and Persian background. He is abjectly incompetent. He is an agent on behalf of Putin. He won’t do anything about glaring problems with environmental havoc, a decaying infrastructure, an obese deficit (thanks to the GOP tax-cut), and a chaotic healthcare system. And the Republicans love everything about this because Whiteness is back in charge.  And David Brooks has always supported the Republicans. Trump may make him queasy, but that’s more aesthetics than anything else.

I see one problematic tribe. I do not see a retreat to tribalism. If anything, the resistances to Trump are remarkably mixed in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender. Unfortunately, because they are inept, the Democrats will manage not to build on such solidarity, but that’s a separate issue.

We should note, too, that at the end of Brooks’s paragraph above, he gets in a shot at college campuses, which are allegedly more tribal. Nonsense. It’s just that occasionally some students make some noise about climate change, white supremacist statues, white supremacist visiting speakers, etc. Students aren’t supposed to make noise, just as presidents aren’t supposed to be Black.

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.”

 

 

Contemporary School Segregation in the U.S.

Without intending to do so, I seem recently to have had a lot of conversations and run across a lot of articles concerning the re-segregation (or continuing segregation) of American schools.  The issue pertains to “politics and language,” I think, because segregation probably correlates to ignorance about African American history, vulnerability to racist appeals, white echo-chambers regarding race, policing, the justice system, etc.  School “choice,” public funds for segregated charter schools, manipulation of school-district boundaries, lip-service (at best) to achievement-gaps, continuing white flight or white gentrification all contribute to a comprehensive effort to maintain segregated and unequal schools, all these years after the Broad v. Board of education decisions (plural).

It is as if, since the 1950s, White Supremacy has simply found ways around new federal civil rights laws so as to maintain segregation and inequality, preserve white citadels of power, make thinly euphemistic and direct racist appeals in politics, and make life much harder than it should be for African Americans and other ethnic groups, as well as immigrants.  (Astoundingly, a widely used textbook in Texas folded slavery into the topic of “patterns of migration” to the U.S. so as to pretend slavery didn’t exist.  (Perhaps Kanye is relying on that textbook.) Thus in the guise of Donald Trump did the spirit of George Wallace get elected president and the Republican Party become the Dixiecrat Party 2.0.  Sadly, even alleged “liberal” media still treat the GOP as acceptably “conservative,” not radically racist.

All of this is by way of introducing an article, “School Desegregation is Not a Myth,” by Will Stancil, The Atlantic, March 14, 2018.

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