The False Dichotomy Between “Progressives” and “Centrists”

Those left of Right in the U.S. seem to possess an unerring ability to divide and defeat themselves, and in addition to Jim Crow voter suppression and gerrymandering, this flaw helps keep the White Supremacist Republican Party in power.

For example, I was treated recently to the ghastly spectacle of Intercept comments regarding AG Barr’s declaration that there was no collusion between Trump’s campaign and malevolent Russians.  Glenn Greenwald and his enthusiasts trumpeted the “destroyed credibility” of Rachel Maddow and “corporate media.”  They barked and meowed ad nauseam about “accountability”–without ever having read the Mueller report. They equated Rachel Maddow’s “delusion” to the propaganda that led to the Iraq invasion, an imbalanced comparison, as Colin Powell, a cabinet official, lied about weapons of mass destruction, and Rachel Maddow is merely a conversationalist; also note that implicitly, we are instructed to disbelieve Powell and believe Barr. Many comments attempted to push back, creating further spectacle and making me lose what hope I had that those left of Right might embrace solidarity, common ground, and (wait for it) a relentless determination to excise Trump from power. To read some Intercept comments, you would think Maddow was a graver threat than Trump, and I’m not exaggerating.  Why bother to advance a liberal-progressive-centrist agenda when, as with 2016, you are doing more to elect Trump than the GOP is?  The Supreme Court went full White Supremacist because McConnell pulled his Jim Crow stunt but also because Hillary Clinton lost.  If you thought/think Clinton is the same as Trump, then you haven’t considered evidence and outcomes.

The dichotomy between centrists and progressive is largely false, and even where it isn’t, it can be bridged.  Both C’s and P’s accept the scientific consensus about climate change. Both favor civil rights, voting rights, and immigrant rights. Both want to make voting easier. Both want much broader access to healthcare. Both support women’s rights. And so on.

How can those left of Right best insure winning at the polls? To me this is a far more pertinent question than whether MSNBC is a deluded corporate medium. How can those who label themselves progressive and those who label themselves centrists [does anyone label themselves that?] find common ground so as to (wait for it) get stuff done? I’m all for speaking truth to power, but I’m more interested in those left of Right taking power.

The most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  They did not run against the center because they wanted to win. For some reason, they viewed the McGovern example as a bad one. Go figure. Clinton did odious things and pursued some odious policies, and Obama continued some policies that were less than optimal.  But they got elected, and they advanced a progressive agenda in many areas.  They were an obvious improvement over George Bush I, Robert Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.

Who is actually getting elected–White Supremacist lunatics or those left of Right? Once elected, who is actually getting stuff done, sometimes by means of bridging gaps and reaching some temporary compromises for tactical reasons while pursuing long-game strategies? Inflaming, indeed largely inventing,  the progressive/centrist is not responsible because it helps Trump and his thugs.

 

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Christopher Hitchens on Reparations for Slavery

In a debate at Boston College about reparations for slavery, Christopher Hitchens supported them and also gave an excellent lesson in rhetoric that he labeled “don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”  A link to a video of his remarks (and, if you like, contrast Hitchen’s discourse with Trump’s rhetorical vomit):

Hitchens on reparations

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.

The Trump coup d’etat and What’s Not Getting Done

Of course, the United States has experienced reactionary spasms before; indeed, the country, arguably, has always been reactionary, with brief moments of progressive politics that get eviscerate quickly.

In my experience, the election of Reagan seemed re-start the unrelenting slide to the Right that Nixon’s election began, one effect being that the feckless Democrats have been dragged to the Right, too.

And the White Supremacy, racism, misogyny, and goofy economics have been a mainstay of the “Republic,” too.  As is the free ride given the GOP (and, earlier, the Southern Democrats/Dixiecrats) for its dog-whistling and Southern Strategy.  It has been a White Supremacist Party for decades. How White Supremacist? Well, consider that, according to  a relatively recent poll, fully 46% of registered Republicans in Mississippi believe marriage between African Americans and white Americans should be illegal:

Poll of Mississippi GOP

http://www.businessinsider.com/shock-poll-46-of-mississippi-republicans-think-interracial-marriage-should-be-illegal-2011-4

And over 600,000 people–most of them believing they are proper Christians–voted for the anarcho-segregationist and pedophile, Roy Moore.  His opponent won by only 25,000 votes.  Sick? Yes. Such Christians also get a free ride from the media and from Christian “leaders.”

What is new with the White Supremacist, hyper-stupid Trump coup d’etat is, perhaps, the scale of what’s not getting done: smart solutions to immigration-problems and ignoring immigration issue that are illusory; addressing mass-incarceration; addressing global warming (the GOP stance is akin to ignoring viruses responsible for plagues); addressing, as opposed to widening, the immense wealth-gap; heading off another economic catastrophe; constructing a health system that provides more-than-adequate healthcare for people who live in the U.S. (mere Sweden can do it, but Big Daddy U.S. can’t? Seriously?); and so on.

From this perspective, the GOP is committing national homicide-suicide.  The Democrats and other sources of power are accessories to the crimes.

Not co-incidentally, a recent book by Peter Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of New Russia, applies aptly to the U.S.:

Anti-Social Non-Media

 

The idea holds promise. It might look like
sitting alone, phoneless and thinking,
which at least allows you
to imagine a country that has unfriended
racism, faved equity, pinned
knowledge, twanked twaddle
into truth, and stopped following.

As the media are mainly
a village of the damned celebrities,
it may be wise sometimes
to reduce the status of the spectacle
to that of an evening gnat that
passes by your eyes and ears–
a momentary minor whine.

hans ostrom 2017

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.”

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