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.”

 

 

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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.

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.

 

“Liberal,” “Conservative,” and Other Useless Terms

What good are the political terms “liberal” and “conservative”?  The patron saint of this blog, G. Orwell, championed clarity in prose and precision in terminology; from that point of view, the terms are as useless as money in the afterlife. Worse, they function as chutes through which to pass mind-numbing, rote discussions and debates, as well as profiles of mass mediated punditing.  The theater of oscillation between the terms is as mechanical as a metronome.  The Oscillator is THE mold into which most of our political discourse is poured.

Let us first stipulate that the two major political parties in the U.S. are corrupt and cult-like, ensconcing amphibians like McConnell and Schumer in atrophied institutions.  That said, “conservatives” represent evil in a way “liberals” usually don’t, although “liberals” distinguish themselves chiefly by their ineptitude and taking on such evil.

“Conservative” has nothing to do with preserving “values,” limiting government, preserving “individual freedom, and so on.  The Republican Party conserves White Supremacy through various means: the Southern Strategy, voter suppression, & de facto segregation of the economy, education, and neighborhoods.  It is more likely to blow up the budget than the Democratic Party.  It refuses to accepts the science behind global warming and thus conserves suicidal ignorance.  It has been Red-baiting and race-bating since the 1950s.  If you substituted “White Supremacist” for “Conservative” as you listen and read, you would achieve greater terminological clarity.

Thanks to the White Supremacist Party (GOP), “liberal” has come to connote intellectual interests (as a bad thing), support for government-located programs to help people (as a bad thing), environmentalism (as a bad thing), diversity (as a bad thing), and women in politics who aren’t Stepfordites (as a bad thing).  Liberals are antagonists in a drama produced and directed by White Supremacists. Remember Gingrich’s “tax-and-spend liberals” was of language?  Note that the Constitution constituted a government empowered to a) tax, and b) spend.

In reality, Democrats massage the interests of large corporations and the military-industrial complex as much as Republicans.  Little difference there. True, they are more likely to support Voting Rights, more likely to include and support people from a wide range of backgrounds (in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class-status); that they do this, when they do this, in order to hold power, not out of altruism, is a given. Still, it’s better than a sharp White Supremacist stick in the eye. Still, part two, “The Feckless” describes “liberals” better than “liberal.”

At the moment, the White Supremacists control all three branches of the federal government.  Among what they conserve is racism, environmental collapse, body- and sex-policing, poverty, addiction to war, torture, hatred of women, hatred of education, rampant death by guns, and hatred of empirical evidence.  I’m missing a few embodiments of evil here–including Christian hypocrisy raised to a fugue-state, thanks to the support of Trump– but you get the drift.  The Feckless enable this evil by various means. What amazes me (it shouldn’t) is the extent to which American political discourse, political self-identification, and policy rely on these this useless bifurcation of “conservative” v. “evil” and help make the country and the world more vulnerable to impulsive stupidity and a political culture dedicated to awful decisions, not to mention depravity. Dump these terms.

Some New Books About Racism & White Supremacy

We who are appalled and terrified by the election of Trump have our various preferences for helping to explain the catastrophe–and explaining is about all most of us believe we can do about the situation. In our more pessimistic moods, we wonder whether Mueller’s investigation or “the resistance” will have any effect, and whether the necessary effect–removal from office–will occur in time.  With the tacit approval of Congress, the U.S. has delivered the executive branch to insane, White Supremacist authoritarianism.

The locus I isolate to explain Trump’s ghastly rise is White Supremacy. I don’t prefer it to the exclusion of other explanations, but I do think that, without the continuing, intractable presence of White Supremacy in the U.S., there would be no Trump.  It is the link between the different classes and genders of white Americans who voted for Trump, it is the cornerstone of the Republicans’ base, and it is something Democrats address ineffectually, at best.  And in spite of the rationalizations about the white working class, (for example), some data suggest that racism far outweighed class and economic considerations with regard to the way the vote went.  A recent piece in the Nation referenced this data:

Nation article

As we wait to see what further hell Trump, Bolton, and the Republicans will inflict, we might try further to understand, if not disable or eradicate, White Supremacy–that homicidal, suicidal force that’s been a part of the American colonies and the United States from the get-go.  Some titles, then:

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Edo-Lodge, Bloomsbury Books. I’m a White man who teaches African American Studies, and I can relate in the sense that there seems little point in trying to educate white Americans who don’t already “get it” about White Supremacy. Too many of them root their identity in it, I often think (and this includes many academics), to make attempts at persuasion anything but a waste of time.

Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas, by Ibram X. Kendi. Nation Books.  A good companion to The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter, which with superb scholarship tells the tale of the invention of Whiteness and White Supremacy during, ironically, the Enlightenment, and of how White Supremacy has been perpetuated mercilessly.

White Rage: the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson. Bloomsbury Books USA.  If we removed rage and a White Supremacist’s view of the world from Trump’s personality, what would remain?

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein.  Liveright.

The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, by David R. Roediger. Verso.

Good White People:The Problem With Middle-Class White Anti-Racism, by Shannon Sullivan. SUNY Press.

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