COVID-19 and the Four Republican Horsemen of the Apocalypse*

Wishes for wellness for everyone out there.

*Choosing to use “The Four Horsemen of the Republican Apocalypse” is, I hope, hyperbolic, in spite of dire warnings about the effects of the pandemic and Trump’s mis- non-management of the crisis.

  1. Horseman One: Forty years, at least, of anti-government propaganda. Reagan famously characterized the sentence, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” as one everyone should dread. In light of a pandemic, his point seems grotesque, at best.   (This past summer, folks pointed out the irony of the Reagan Library’s having been saved from a wildfire by . . . the government.)  If government is so bad, why did Reagan want to preside over it? And an obvious point that nonetheless gets overlooked. The Constitution constituted/constitutes a government; that is its prime function, along with specifying rights (for some). At any rate, the anti-regulation folk (financial markets must be free to ruin the economy), Newt’s “Contract on America,” the Tea Party, “drain the swamp” (said the Creature from the Black Lagoon): all in the same insane vein, helping to cripple government’s response to the virus.
  2. Rider Two: The Republican Brain Drain. Eisenhower seems to have been a rational man who depended upon the best information he could get. Nixon, too; it’s just that sometimes he wanted to get it illegally. Now Republicans make a virtue out of ignoring the best evidence and sneering at bureaucratic folk who have expertise. They mocked Obama’s interest in ideas as “faculty lounge talk.” They routinely smear and under-fund higher education. They try to gut pubic education. They elect knuckle-draggers and a President who is probably not intellectually capable of reading a briefing, let alone wanting to do so. Result? Republican governors have routinely ignore the best advice about the virus and how to respond to it.
  3. Equestrian Three: A dedication to impracticality. People don’t need reliable, affordable healthcare because of “socialist” ideology. They need it because a) they get sick, and b) their resources are limited.  Somehow, the rest of the industrialized world, pretty much, leaped to this conclusion. Amazing. Because of the GOP, we still have around 30 million people uninsured, leaving us extra-vulnerable to the virus. Because Trump is insanely jealous of Obama, he can’t do the simplest and best thing and re-open up the Affordable Healthcare Act portal.  The GOP has also made unemployment insurance so relatively difficult to get that the economic effects of the virus will be unnecessarily worse.
  4. Horse’s Ass Four: White men know best. (Or: racializing and genderizing knowledge). Trump is the apotheosis of this ideology. White men know all about women’s health. White men don’t need to rely on science; like Trump, they can rely on their gut, which is often noticeably ample. White men don’t need the U.S. to have allies; they can hunker down with their guns, and everything will be fine. White men don’t need the government interfering in their lives (until they do, like now). White men don’t need smart, ambitious immigrants to broaden the pool of scientists, social scientists, humanists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.  White men don’t need women in government. They can get all the information they need from the dark web, Trump’s belched, belligerent briefings, and what they heard the other day from someone, can’t remember who.

Lawrence Goldstone on White Supremacy and the Impeachment “Trial”

Goldstone emphasizes the white-supremacist character of the Constitution and of the current Republican Party:

Goldstone in The Atlantic

The elections of the affable, centrist, competent, and learned President Obama (but not without faults, of course) terrified White Americans. A backlash ensued. The collateral damage includes concentration camps at the border, a lunatic foreign policy, fealty to Putin, ignoring climate change, making nuclear conflict more likely than before, and permanently corrupt elections.  The Democrats and the alleged “New Left” don’t seem to have an antidote except to winning. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

The Redefinition of “Reading”

I was going to title this “The Assault on ‘Reading.'” but that sounded to curmudgeonly. Here’s an example of what I mean by the redefinition of reading:

I go to a site online to read a brief article–a blog post. The site could be CNN or ESPN or a newspaper. I find my way to the piece. As I’m attempting to read it from top to bottom, as I have been taught, according to the old Gutenberg-print method, advertisements pop up in boxes, or maybe the piece is encased on all sides by advertisements, like an artifact packed in cotton. Anyway, these things distract my reading, at least according to the way I read. But maybe the common form of reading now is to be able to “read” (see, hear) many texts at once, or at least to place them in your reader’s field of vision.

What’s more common every day is the presences of videos, so going back to my example, above or below the article will be a small “screen” (box). I may have choice of clicking on an arrow–or I may not. The video might just start. Then, in another, smaller box elsewhere on my screen, another video will be cued and will probably start on its own. So before I start reading the article, I have to take note of and deal with one or two videos (and their noise).

The conservative in me–not politically conservative but, well, old fashioned–is tempted to say that the technological culture is doing away with conventional reading, which I’ll define simply as reading one thing at a time. The culture needs to hurry and harry us because it seeks attention, which–in theory–means more money coming in, for every distraction comes with another “opportunity” (temptation, baiting) to be confronted with a visual, textual, or aural pitch for a product or a service.

Obviously, the old way of reading is just that: a relic. At least online this is the case. I still read novels (printed on paper or “printed” on Kindle) the old way–more or less one word, phrase, clause, sentence, line, paragraph, page (etc.) at a time, although of course I have different speeds and techniques, including speed-reading ones (in the event I’m getting bored–but if I get too bored, I simply stop and go to another book).

I wonder what the effects of the new reading will have on people’s brains, their argument- or narrative-processing equipment, so to speak. What effect will the new reading have on logical analysis? On genre? That is, will a typical article/essay/piece/story become shorter and shorter, and more hastily slapped together to keep up with the speed of multiple virtual conveyor-belts?

At any rate, the new reading has to have multiple consequences related to Orwell’s classic essay, for Orwell focused in part on the extent to which we are lulled or distracted by bullshit. Orwell was over the top in concentrating on jargon, euphemism, and “long words,” but his overall point about being dulled, lulled, and distracted obtains.  I think online we’re meant not to think with some degree of patience and discernment about units of expression–an article, a line of argument, a narrative unit, , etc.

Wither “close reading”?  Wither concentration? (Wither words like “wither”?!) It all rather seems like a vast, ceaseless magic trick, with multiple levels of misdirection. Good luck to us.

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.

Book on Orwell Goes Full Kindle

Not that you asked, but the book my co-blogger and I wrote, Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in the Age of Pseudocracy  is  available on Kindle now.

 

Image result for ostrom haltom

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.

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

Asymmetric Polarization and the Pseudocracy

A new column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times crystallized for me a problem with the American media in these pseudocractic times.

The link

Krugman argues that the intellectual integrity of American “conservatives” has been degraded so much and eschews evidence to such a degree that conservatives who have influence on the media and policy are “cranks and charlatans,” whereas the few conservatives who retain some principles and integrity (if such people exist) have no influence on media and politics.

The occasion for the column is the Atlantic‘s firing of the newly hired Kevin Williamson, whom the editors were “shocked, shocked” (Krugman) to find out was a crank who wanted to hang women who have abortions.  (And note how pervasive the lynching mentality is among Right Wingers.)

A broader issue Krugman’s point raises is the bizarre addiction to “both siderism” to be found in media and academia. At colleges and universities, there is much angst about taking pains to represent “conservative” views on campus.  Right wing faculty often play the victim, and centrist or left wing faculty get taken in by it.  Faculty like me wonder why we need to take pains to represent homophobia, trickle-down economics, creationsim, climate-change denial, and White Supremacy.  Just to show we are, like Fox News, “fair and balanced”? Why the compulsion to entertain abjectly stupid and, in the cases of White Supremacy and homophobia, verifiably lethal ideas?  Why not stick with ideas that are at least contestable in the realm of evidence?  Opposing views are the stuff of academia, for sure, but not all opposing views are legitimate–measured by the broadest of academic standards.

Krugman uses Larry Kudlow as a supreme example of “cranks and charlatans” who have influence but no integrity and no connection to evidence, and Kudlow is a perfect example. But for me, the greater problem is exemplified by MSNBC’s hiring on George Will and other right-wingers who are “shocked, shocked” to find out that a White Supremacist misogynistic loon is the leader of the GOP, not to mention the nation.  Will and others like him paved the way for Trump by supporting the race-baiting Southern Strategy, the “war on drugs,” Reagan’s “trickle-down” scam, the belittling of President Obama’s interest in ideas (recall the “faculty lounge” meme, in which Will and others tried to reduce Obama to a mere “academic,” depending upon the anti-intellectual meanness of the right wing.  To pander to “both siderism” (I guess), MSNBC, CNN, and all sorts of online periodicals indulge right-wingers who, because of Trump, pretend not to have been on the side Trump represents all along. For me, this practice is as potentially destructive as the presence of Fox News because it, too, legitimizes cranks and charlatans, even if they are less grotesque than Trump.

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. 

W.E.B. Du Bois, Trump, and “Intellectual Totalitarianism”

I recently ran across a fascinating piece by Andrew Lanham in the Boston Review.  It concerns the U.S. government’s attempt in 1951 to convict Du Bois–when he was 83 years old, mind you–of sedition because he had helped create a petition opposing nuclear arms. He was forced to criss-cross the country giving speeches to raise money for his defense, which was ultimately successful.  Nonetheless, Du Bois regarded the episode to be a final break with the U.S., so sought exile in Ghana, where he eventually became a citizen and where he died.  The specifics of the case are interesting, but just the fact that the U.S. would treat such a person–accomplished scholar, important leader, writer, editor, and mentor–as it did remains mortifying–all the more so because Trumpism replicates the anti-democratic, white supremacist “spirit” of those times.

Link : Essay on Du Bois

Lanham wrote, “I thought of this history this week when Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, began his confirmation hearings. In 1986 Sessions was denied a federal judgeship partly because he allegedly called the NAACP, which was co-founded by Du Bois, “un-American.” (In his 1986 confirmation hearings, Sessions walked a fine line, saying that the NAACP “take positions that are considered un-American.”) Trump himself has suggested that the government should revoke the citizenship of flag burners, and Trump’s pick for national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has called for an indefinite world war on terrorism, which he says must begin at home by targeting Muslim Americans. This is the same ugly cluster of ideas that landed Du Bois in court on trumped-up charges sixty years ago: the idea that demanding basic civil rights is tantamount to treason; that protesting national policy means forfeiting one’s citizenship; that darker skin or leftist views make one less American; and that an open-ended global war justifies unconstitutional repression.”  And later, he refers to Hannah Arendt in connection with the Du Bois case:

“In 1951, the same year Du Bois waged his battle in court, the philosopher Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, in which she argued that we can ‘measure’ totalitarianism by whether governments strip their people of citizenship. Despite her own intense opposition to the Soviet Union, Arendt feared that “even free democracies” such as the United States were “seriously considering depriving native Americans who are Communists of their citizenship.” Du Bois did end up practically stateless when the State Department effectively cancelled his citizenship after he moved to Ghana in 1961. There is no description of this more accurate than what Arendt would call it: intellectual totalitarianism.”

Our current intellectual [if it rises to that level] totalitarianism affects civil rights, immigration, foreign policy, access to citizenship, gun-policy, voting rights, and so on. One might generously call our present political disaster atavistic, but that assumes the country advanced and hasn’t simply remained stuck in 1951.

Thanks to Lanham for a timely, illuminating essay.

 

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