Analyzing the Rhetoric of Cornel West’s Critique of TaNehisi Coates

In the Guardian [Dec. 17, 2017] Cornel West, academic and civil rights leader, recently published a harsh critique of TaNehisi Coates, writer for the Atlantic, labeling the latter the “neo-liberal face” of Black struggle.

The critique interests me because it perpetuates yet another fissure in the coalition required to resist Trump, because it recapitulates debates among Black leaders during the Harlem Renaissance (an era I have published in and taught courses on), and because it also reminds me of the position James Baldwin took in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; that position was of a writer first, although if you know about Baldwin, have read him, and have seen videos of him, you know he didn’t use that position to back away from struggles, attacks, and controversies.

There’s no getting around the fact (nor would I want to) that West has been a speaker and writer of titanic stature over the past three decades, and I agree with many of his positions.  That said–caveat lector--I’m very sympathetic to Coates and Baldwin.

The West piece isn’t that long, so I thought I’d reprint it and take up some of its points as we move through it.

“Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, a book about Barack Obama’s presidency and the tenacity of white supremacy, has captured the attention of many of us. One crucial question is why now in this moment has his apolitical pessimism gained such wide acceptance?

  1. I think West begs the question here.  That Coates isn’t political in the way West would like doesn’t mean he is apolitical. That he is pessimistic about matters of race seems rationally grounded in his experience and what America looks like today, with Trump at the top.

Coates and I come from a great tradition of the black freedom struggle. He represents the neoliberal wing that sounds militant about white supremacy but renders black fightback invisible. This wing reaps the benefits of the neoliberal establishment that rewards silences on issues such as Wall Street greed or Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people.

2. I think it would be more helpful for West to explore what concrete differences exist between Coates and him, rather than merely labeling Coates “neo-liberal.”  Further, until very recently, Coates had had a tough time making a living.  Then he got hired by the Atlantic and published two successful books. Making a living as a writer isn’t the same as “reaping rewards from the neoliberal establishment.” Further, writing about his own experience, writing “to” his son with the reader “looking on” (as Baldwin wrote to his nephew in The Fire Next Time), and focusing on White Supremacy does not equate with “silence” about these other issues; rather it suggests that Coates is writing about what he knows.

The disagreement between Coates and me is clear: any analysis or vision of our world that omits the centrality of Wall Street power, US military policies, and the complex dynamics of class, gender, and sexuality in black America is too narrow and dangerously misleading. So it is with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ worldview.

3. The disagreement is one West has invented. To my knowledge, Coates has not attacked (or even disagreed with) West in print or on video.  And after this piece by West was published, igniting a Twitter storm, Coates simply left Twitter, viewing the spectacle as a distraction.  I would speculate that Baldwin would have done the same, except Baldwin would never have joined Twitter.  His carefully wrought, enduring nonfiction simply wasn’t in that 140 (or more) character genre. –Not to mention all the silliness and propaganda (some of it Russian) that saturates the land of Twitts. 

Coates rightly highlights the vicious legacy of white supremacy – past and present. He sees it everywhere and ever reminds us of its plundering effects. Unfortunately, he hardly keeps track of our fightback, and never connects this ugly legacy to the predatory capitalist practices, imperial policies (of war, occupation, detention, assassination) or the black elite’s refusal to confront poverty, patriarchy or transphobia.

4. Again, Coates’s focusing on a few things, including White Supremacy, isn’t the same as ignoring the other issues; indeed, Coates has made it plain that, in his view, one can’t understand American without understanding White Supremacy, thereby suggesting that it (White Supremacy) vitiates all institutions and informs most irrational, hateful prejudices.  West’s logic reminds me of the New Left’s logic: everything must be about class, therefore don’t bring up race, and therefore if you don’t always concentrate on class, I can’t support you. 

In short, Coates fetishizes white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable. What concerns me is his narrative of “defiance”. For Coates, defiance is narrowly aesthetic – a personal commitment to writing with no connection to collective action. It generates crocodile tears of neoliberals who have no intention of sharing power or giving up privilege.

5. Coates does perceive White Supremacy to be implacably powerful (if not “almighty”), and, like Derrick Bell (as West notes later), doesn’t see that situation changing soon if ever.  It is hard to gainsay Coates’s realism.  Further, Coates sees his calling to be that of a nonfiction writer, a witness in prose to racism and White Supremacy.  He prefers not to be a leader, and he seems to know and respect his own limits. West wants him to be West, Jr., it seems, and Coates wants to be Coates. 

When he honestly asks: “How do you defy a power that insists on claiming you?”, the answer should be clear: they claim you because you are silent on what is a threat to their order (especially Wall Street and war). You defy them when you threaten that order.

6. For me, this comes way too close to blaming the victim.  White Supremacy’s effect on Coates, his family, his home city and neighborhood, and so on, does not spring from his being silent, nor has he been silent; he just doesn’t write what West wants him to.  Calling out White Supremacy is as much a threat to the “order” as calling out Wall Street. 

Coates tries to justify his “defiance” by an appeal to “black atheism, to a disbelief in dreams and moral appeal”. He not only has “no expectations of white people at all”, but for him, if freedom means anything at all it is “this defiance”.

7. Given American history then and now, Coates’s position of expecting nothing of white people (except more of the same) seems rational.  It occurred to be that West, for all his anti-neoliberal writing and preaching, may be caught up in the American narrative of progress: in American, things must and will get better.  In fact, things “must” do nothing, and they are getting worse, suggest the data.  For me, Coates’s position, like that of Derrick Bell, is refreshingly contrarian and honest. 

Note that his perception of white people is tribal and his conception of freedom is neoliberal. Racial groups are homogeneous and freedom is individualistic in his world. Classes don’t exist and empires are nonexistent.

8. I need to be persuaded that Coates’s view of white people is tribal.  Based on his experience, Coates simply doesn’t trust white people to change themselves or the country fundamentally, and he didn’t invent the white homogeneity that has forged American history and that informed Trump’s election. Neither is he a Black Nationalist. I wouldn’t presume, nor should West, to say what Coates’s view of freedom springs from, although Coates himself has made it clear that he’s interested primarily in making a living to support his family.  First things first isn’t “neoliberal.”

This presidency, he writes, “opened a market” for a new wave of black pundits, intellectuals, writers and journalists – one that Coates himself has benefited from. And his own literary “dreams” of success were facilitated by a black neoliberal president who ruled for eight years – an example of “Black respectability, good Negro government.”

9.  President Obama tried to change things within the “neoliberal” system.  West has chosen a different way, and Coates yet another one.  If anyone expected any president, let alone the first Black one (whom the GOP tried to “break,” even using that loaded language), then that person was delusional.  President Obama probably could have done more in some areas and done things differently in others so as to satisfy West and others.  He also came very close to doing all that was possible, given the circumstances. And if he had presented himself in the radical way West seems to have desired, he would not have been elected. Period.  He could have been radical, or he could have been president, but not both.  As things stood, the GOP effectively turned him into a radical in the eyes of the rabid, racist base. 

There is no doubt that the marketing of Coates – like the marketing of anyone – warrants suspicion. Does the profiteering of fatalism about white supremacy and pessimism of black freedom fit well in an age of Trump – an age of neo-fascism, US style?

11. I don’t want to get into an ad hominem attack, but the way West and his booking agents have marketed him and the way he has created a Cornel West “brand” (going so far as to appear on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly, contributing, one might argue, to a fascist spectacle) suggests he may want to tread lightly with regard to Coates’s moderate success.  Coates’s first book sold 1.5 million copies.  Why not be happy for him?  Further, even a cursory reading of Coates’s essays and books shows that they oppose the worldview of Trump and his followers.  

Coates wisely invokes the bleak worldview of the late great Derrick Bell. But Bell reveled in black fightback, rejoiced in black resistance and risked his life and career based on his love for black people and justice. Needless to say, the greatest truth-teller about white supremacy in the 20th century – Malcolm X – was also deeply pessimistic about America. Yet his pessimism was neither cheap nor abstract – it was earned, soaked in blood and tears of love for black people and justice.

12. So now Coates’s bleak worldview is wise, not neoliberal?  Further Coates’s pessimism has been earned: chiefly by growing up in a very hard neighborhood in the very hard city of Baltimore. Also, his writing is the opposite of cheap and abstract: it is deliberate, serious, and above all concrete.  There is a reason Toni Morrison, who knows a thing or two about writing, compared Coates to Baldwin.  It’s fine with me if West wants to critique the comparison between Malcolm X and Barack Obama, but that comparison was a one-off, and it is in no way central to Coates’s writing.  Obama inspired him: is that so horrible?

Unfortunately, Coates’ allegiance to Obama has produced an impoverished understanding of black history. He reveals this when he writes: “Ossie Davis famously eulogized Malcolm X as ‘our living, Black manhood’ and ‘our own Black shining prince.’ Only one man today could bear those twin honorifics: Barack Obama.”

This gross misunderstanding of who Malcolm X was – the greatest prophetic voice against the American Empire – and who Barack Obama is – the first black head of the American Empire – speaks volumes about Coates’ neoliberal view of the world.

13.  I’m getting close to thinking West hasn’t read Coates, whose writing reveals that he has an expansive, patiently developed view of American and black history.  In fact, he credits his time at Howard University with disrupting and correcting his facile view of history. Moreover, his father, a former Black Panther, literally forced Coates to read books.  That Coates’s worldview may differ from West’s does not mean that Coates understands American history less than West does. 

Coates praises Obama as a “deeply moral human being” while remaining silent on the 563 drone strikes, the assassination of US citizens with no trial, the 26,171 bombs dropped on five Muslim-majority countries in 2016 and the 550 Palestinian children killed with US supported planes in 51 days, etc. He calls Obama “one of the greatest presidents in American history,” who for “eight years … walked on ice and never fell.”

14. I agree with both West and Coates on this one.  True, there’s not all that much competition (and no competition from Trump), but Obama will likely be known as one of the better presidents, especially given the stiff headwind into which he had to sail.  That said, Obama no doubt approved immoral tactics.  

It is clear that his narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes or black elite indifference to poverty. For example, there is no serious attention to the plight of the most vulnerable in our community, the LGBT people who are disproportionately affected by violence, poverty, neglect and disrespect.

15. West has made no attempt to back up the charges of “tribalism” and “neoliberalism.”  He just keeps trying to apply the labels, hoping they’ll stick.  And concentrating on White Supremacy doesn’t imply indifference to the most vulnerable or those affected by violence, poverty, neglect, and disrespect.  Coates grew up among the most vulnerable and has written about that. 

The disagreements between Coates and I are substantive and serious. It would be wrong to construe my quest for truth and justice as motivated by pettiness. Must every serious critique be reduced to a vicious takedown or an ugly act of hatred? Can we not acknowledge that there are deep disagreements among us with our very lives and destinies at stake? Is it even possible to downplay career moves and personal insecurities in order to highlight our clashing and conflicting ways of viewing the cold and cruel world we inhabit?

16.  Maybe others have attacked West’s “career moves,” but Coates hasn’t, so I’m not sure what he’s getting at.  If anything, West seems to have gotten a bit personal with Coates, slapping labels on him with a certain amount of  glee and a glaring absence of evidence.  As to insecurities–well, in this particular piece and in his dust-up with Michael Eric Dyson, West sometimes reminds me of academics who attain a certain stature in their field, and as in West’s case, who attain celebrity.  They often view another’s success as an implicit  threat to their fame and influence. West has earned his stature.  I just wish he could thank Coates for his contributions and congratulate him for his modest success.  I think, too, that it would be more productive for West to view an array of critiques of white (or “neoliberal,” if you will) as necessary and, we hope, effective. Instead he seems to want all Black intellectuals to get in line, his line. 

I stand with those like Robin DG Kelley, Gerald Horne, Imani Perry and Barbara Ransby who represent the radical wing of the black freedom struggle. We refuse to disconnect white supremacy from the realities of class, empire, and other forms of domination – be it ecological, sexual, or others.

The same cannot be said for Ta-Nehisi Coates.

17. True enough. Coates decided to go his own way, but by focusing on white supremacy, he hasn’t ignored class.  He writes a lot about his own struggles in and with class. Further, concentrating on white supremacy seems crucial in America’s current predicament, and as Coates pursues that line, others can, should, and will pursue the others that West mentions. A productive division of labor. 


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.”

Processing Trump

So how are allegedly rational citizens supposed to process Trump’s political language?  I mean aside from responding with disgust, alarm, and grave concern for the nation and just about everyone in it?

I do think it’s fair, especially after the last couple of weeks, to question his sanity because attributing his speech and behavior to cynicism, creating a persona, appealing to the base, etc., seems insufficient.  Within this news-cycle, he has suggested that President Obama is literally working with what Trumps calls “Islamists [ISIS],” revoked the Washington Post‘s credentials, wondered why the U.S. can’t block ISIS’s use of radios, and called again for a ban on immigration of people who are Muslim.

We may have reached the limits of analysis, so that everyone who is not part of the Trump cult should, although keeping eyes and ears tuned to the campaign, simply concentrate on making sure he is not elected.  That is, why analyze when there’s crucial work to be done?  Of course, we don’t necessarily have to choose between the two.

Would it profit us to approach Trump as the filthy, disturbing outcome of GOP speech, behavior, legislation, and foreign policy?  I don’t know.  He displays the xenophobia, fear-mongering, and willingness to wipe out due process that characterized Joseph McCarthy. He displays the vile racism of George Wallace, not to mention the slightly less subtle racist strategies and tactics of countless other Republicans–Reagan, Atwater, Rove, both Bushes, governors, senators, and representatives. He exudes the religious bigotry of Ted Cruz. He obviously has a disturbed view of women and a reactionary view of most issues affecting them–again, not all that different from other members of the GOP.  Power seems to have warped him badly, as it did Dick Cheney. Like Nixon, he’s obsessed with the press.

But we could also go in a different direction and assert that Trump is different from these GOP predecessors because he knows almost no limits to repellent political language, outrageous policy-suggestions, infantile insults to other politicians, and ghastly mockery of a disabled man. He also encourages violence at his rallies.

At the moment, I’m stuck somewhere between the two approaches.  Since Dixiecrat days, the GOP has been a party of racism and race-baiting, and its economic and foreign policies have been disastrous. That said, I do recall relatively decent GOP lawmakers who reached across the aisle to forge adequate if not excellent legislation, and at least Reagan and Bush I had some decorum. It would be easier to give the GOP a break if current GOP leaders would denounce him, and that might even be not just the proper thing to do, not just the best thing to do for the country, but also the smart political move.

What would Orwell do?  Probably he would attack Trump with his writing and view him as a fascist, and Orwell knew a thing or two about fascists. In the process, he might continue to parse Trump’s political language. But for whom should we parse the language?  I doubt if Orwell or anyone could, by analyzing Trump’s speech,  convince Trumpsters not to support the man.  I plan to spend a lot more time trying to make sure Trump doesn’t become president (writing that part of the sentence makes me a little sick: “Trump . . . president”) than thinking about the phenomenon or studying the language.

The Pseudocracy Takes the “Com” Out of “Communication”

Yes, most of us will remember Marshal McLuan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” the message of which is there is no message except the experience of the medium.  More charming even than this dictum were two examples of it in popular culture: Henry Gibson’s utterance on Laugh In, “Marshal McLuan, what’re you doin’?” and, in a Woody Allen film, Allen’s character and another character in line to see a movie, chatting about McCluan, whereupon McCluan himself appears, as himself.

Electronic media and the pseudocracy, with regard to “political communication,” have . . . . what?  Expanded, perfected, refined (?) the mode McLuan characterized.

Thus, we experience what have been called “dog whistle politics.” Politicians, political machines (literally: computers), surrogates, and consultants utter, by various means, words, phrases, sentences, and memes meant solely to induce masses of people to react, non-rationally, immediately, reflexively. “Government takeover” is such a meme. “Heartless budget,” from the Dem side, is another. All Parties and various parties may seemly evoke panic with “time is running out,” “disaster [in an upcoming election] looms.” After the whistle is blown, we dogs are, in addition to reacting, click on the link to give money, or at least to remain in a state of perpetual, unreflective, simmering rage.

Thus, the “com” in “communication” has been removed. We are not being communicated with. We are being -municated to. Sometimes the phenomenon or mass-practice takes on paradoxical, parodic form. For example, a cable crooner (the political persuasion matters not) may ask “us” (it isn’t personal; it just seems that way) to weigh in on a “poll,” using our phone, which we carry around, more or less like a dog with a toy. “Tell us what YOU think.” Right. We use the phone to communicate with the floating image on a screen. As if!

Consider the extent to which you, as a political pet of one kind or another, are kept barking, are inundated constantly with -municative noises: questions, statements, phrases, words, pictures, “memos,” memes, “messages,” loud music, etc., all operating as jolts of electricity to make your mental tendons contract like one of Frankenstein’s-Monster’s limbs, as he lies on the slab. Please know, as I assume you already do, that no one wants to hear from you. It isn’t an exchange.

All Politics Are (Not) Local

Herein the blog asserts that Governor Chris Christie’s journey from New Jersey (where he is caught in the consequences of using the other kind of bully-pulpit to bully politicians who didn’t support him) to Las Vegas, where he must kiss the ring of a GOP Mega-Funder, is emblematic of the pseudocracy.

Such is the pseudocracy that ancient adages may be threatened.  Probably the adage, “You can’t beat something with nothing,” remains reliable, although didn’t John Ashcroft lose to a dead person in Missouri? Oh, well: the exception that tests the rule.

The blog believes (here I imitate Bill O’Reilly: “The Factor believes . . .”) that the adage “all politics is [are] local” is endangered. True, Chris Christie has his eye on the White House, so it is expected that he would suck up to a national Mega-Funder. That said, Mega-Funders such as the Koch Brothers pour money into House elections, flooding Congressional districts, and those elections frequently feature state officials wishing to climb, but they don’t climb based on how they brought farm-money home; they run on how well they conform to a nationalized Tea Party formula.

Moreover, the “issues” seem increasingly national. That is, if you associate with or want to please the Tea Party, you must be rabid about the budget in a Tea Party sort of way, viciously anti-Obama (not merely anti-Democratic), nativist, Randian, and NRA-friendly. You must, essentially, run on the implied promise of getting nothing done. “I will do nothing about immigration. I will do nothing about health-care, except oppose ways to deliver it. I will not work on the budget. I will work against it. I will not soil my hands with policy. I will vote regularly on symbolic ‘legislation.’ I will make government not work.”

And the idea of a New Jersey Governor flying to Vegas–Vegas: how perfect is that?–to perform for cash somehow captures what the Citizens United decision not so much did to politics in the U.S. but what it completed. The coup de grace.

Of course, candidates in both Parties must suck up to Big Funders, although it must be said that one way Obama and Democrats fought back against oligarchical money was to raise money online from “small” donors–three bucks a pop, even. Nonetheless, the Dems have their bundlers and Mega-Donors. In this sense, it is a one-Party system.

And even the online appeals to small donors have a national character, so that (for example) if a citizen gave money to Obama’s campaign, he or she will be asked every day to contribute to election-campaigns in a wide variety of states and Congressional districts, however far-flung.

There may come a time when Democratic candidates must fit themselves to a constrictive mold. For the moment, it seems as if only the GOP is functioning that way, so that experienced politicians (like Dick Lugar) get undercut by primary-challengers who have agreed to shape themselves according to assembly-line specifications. Model Tea Party.

Christie is in trouble because of painfully provincial, local, and stupid politics. Shutting down a bridge? Really? But he hopes to escape by doing a pole-dance (block that image) in our real national capital, Vegas. Viva, Chris Christie!

Meanwhile, the blog sentimentally longs for the old days of moderately corrupt pork-barreling, when at least we could count on incumbents to bring home money for roads, bridges, and buildings, and thereby (wait for it) put people to work. What a quaint idea. Horse-and-buggy thinking. Dear Blog: Grow up! Way too local and pragmatic for the pseudocracy, which, like our data, lives in a Cloud and cannot, must not, concern itself with what might be productive for a state, a district, a county, a city, or some people.

All politics are vaporously national. Does the assertion hold up? The Blog must ask some political scientists.

Squalid Scalia

An online definition of squalid goes as follows:

(of a place) Extremely dirty and unpleasant, esp. as a result of poverty or neglect.
Showing a contemptible lack of moral standards.

I apply it to Justice (ha!) Antonin Scalia, in general but with regard to today’s arguments concerning same-sex marriage.

Reportedly, Scalia asked Ted Olson, a conservative arguing in favor of supporting the overturning of Prop. 8 in California (thus arguing in favor, more broadly, of same-sex marriage), “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage?” (This is a paraphrase.) Then he offered a couple of dates when this might have (not) occurred. Olson’s answer was a question, “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit mixed race marriages?” Scalia’s answer was to tell Olson not to answer questions with a question. Ah, the highest court in the land. High on what, who knows?

Scalia positions himself as an “originalist.” He likes to go back to the original text of the C. itself, and to founders’ intent. Grudgingly, he agrees to look at amendments. By the way, wouldn’t founders’ intent require cloning? Yeah, sure, there are letters and the Federalist Papers, but still, those are incomplete. We’d have to have live cranial video of what the founders were thinking when they signed the C. Even cloning wouldn’t cut it because, for the sake of argument, let’s assume we could bring a Founder back to life. First question: How’s it going? Second question (for Jefferson): “What gives you the right to own slaves?” Third question:”What was your intent when you …?” So, Big Tom gives us an answer: “My intent was to . . .”. Why would we believe his account?

But of course one good rhetorical answer to Scalia’s question is not the question Olson asked but an imperative: “Show me when and where the Constitution explicitly prohibited same sex marriage.” Scalia would then have to talk about, well, obviously, back then, gay people didn’t get married, yadda, yadda. Yeah, fine, but show me where that gets us into the text of the Constitution, Moe. (He reminds of Moe in the Three Stooges.)

This is all a rhetorical (in the negative sense) exercise on my part because, in part, Scalia’s mind is squalid, not to mention made-up. It is dirty and unpleasant as a result of neglecting reason in favor of politics. He’s just a GOP hack. He shows a contemptible lack of moral standards. It is immoral to go on hunting trips with Cheney (also unwise) and then claim there is no conflict of interest when you hear (but not listen to) a case involving Cheney. Etc.

Please know I don’t think much of the rest of the Court, either. With the exception of Ginsburg, they all seem like robed clowns too much taken with themselves. And poor Justice Thomas has become a smoldering boulder of self-loathing. Breyer is a gasbag. So is Kagan. Kennedy sits his ass on the fence, guaranteeing no one respects him.

Still, Scalia is a cut below–especially with his lame “originalist” posturing.

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