Try to stay healthy, physical fitness

3 02 2017

Stand up! Fight back!

Yes yes yes: Good to remember, good to shout. Let us oppose this wretched administration in every way. But opposition is not enough.

I’m not saying anything particularly original, here. We’re riled up because the actions and policies of Trump, Inc. are an offense against our values, threats to our ways of life. Most of us out there yellin’ aren’t political nihilists, but seek to defend what matters.

And we—perhaps I should stop with the royal “we?—and I have to keep that close, that I am standing up for what matters to me as a citizen and as a human being, that I should not simply become the negative to whatever this administration proposes.

This doesn’t mean I think protesters or Democratic politicians should play nice, but that our dissent is not just about Trump or Steve Bannon or Jeff Sessions and their terrible policies, but about what we want our country to look like, to be.

I don’t know that all of us agree on that, which is fine, not least because I don’t know that all of us know. But if I am fine with obstruction as a tactic, it can’t be the entire strategy—that would just turn us into counter-Republicans. Our goals have to extend beyond NO.

That we should be “large” is something I’ve already mentioned: big-hearted and generous welcoming, confident and curious and capacious in our thinking, willing to take risks and just as willing to take care.

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats did a decent job of with the practicalities of how to build a better country—I and many others have our disagreements here and there, but there was a lot to work with—but I also think the Dems have coasted on a reassuring rather than compelling story of America, and that that wasn’t enough.

Trump has given the country his frightening, fearful, fractured, nasty vision of us. We have to say No! to it, to yell Stand up! Fight back! But that’s not enough, we also have to shout about what we’re fighting for.

Because we can’t just react to these wretches, to let them dictate our actions. In standing up, we have to stand on our own, and forge a new way.

We blended in with the crowd

31 01 2017

I’ve marched in enough protests to have lost count, but I admit that I’ve kinda lost my marching ways.

It’s not that I think marching is useless, not at all: it’s just that I’m lazy, and I find going to protests alone slightly depressing.

Still. I missed the NYC Women’s March (migraine, laziness, mood), but in reading about the many, many, many rallies from around the world, I was a little wistful. Also, I kept seeing the same refrain from women of color: All of these white women showing up for themselves; will they show up for anyone else?

And I thought: Good point.

So, last Wednesday, when there was a rally for immigrants and Muslims in Washington Square Park, I jumped into my Docs and headed on ovah. As I mentioned on Twitter, it was bracing to stand with thousands of others and yell “Stand up! Fight back!”

Not depressing at all.

Then, this past Sunday, in response to the execrable executive order on refugees, travellers, and would-be immigrants, I joined even more folks for a rally/march in Battery Park.




Lotta good—short! rally speeches should be short!—speeches tucked into two hours, but I confess to ducking out at Rector Street a few blocks into the march (the third hour) to head back to the train. It’s gonna take me a bit to get back full protest stamina.

Oh, and did I mention that the route to the 2 took me down Wall Street and past the Trump Building?

Yeah, I flipped it off both coming and going. Petty, but satisfying in its pettiness.

Anyway, there’ll be more protests—Clio knows there’ll be more protests—and I’m working on rounding up some fellow marchers, but I showed up, and it felt good

It might even have done some good.

They’ll think that white hood’s all they need

6 01 2017

So, waaaay back in 2013 I wrote this:

So I’ve been turning over this thought in my head about the whiteness of the GOP and arguments (click here for a Crooked Timber post that has the various relevant links) that Republicans don’t have to worry about being the party of the pasty.

I think they do.

I don’t have this all worked out, but it seems that in order for the GOP to be the White Party they’re going to have to entice voters based on their whiteness, and I don’t know how many folks think of themselves primarily as white.

This is the crumbling underside of the default standard of white: regular [i.e., non-academic, non-race-politicized] white folks haven’t had to think about their whiteness. To bring them to you, you first have to bring them to their whiteness, convince them that their whiteness ought to be their primary concern, then further convince them that their candidates will do the most to preserve their white privilege.

Yes, whitey-first appeals have worked and will continue to work in a number of districts, but I don’t see how this appeal can be expanded, largely because I don’t know how much white folks who aren’t already racialists really want to be racialists. I think white-first appeals would turn them off, maybe make them less likely to vote Republican.

Most Americans don’t want to think of themselves as racists—even the racists don’t want to be seen as racists—and aren’t in a hurry to separate themselves (in their imaginations, at least, if not always in practice) from their fellow Americans. We’re not always large, but an awful lot of us aspire to be.

I don’t know, I’m probably talking out of my nose. It just seems like  focus-on-the-whites is a losing proposition with many of those very same whites.

Boy o boy, was that wrong. Mostly.

I was clearly wrong about the appeal of whitey-first (and what was up with my use of “racialist”?)—horribly, painfully wrong. Whatever votes Republicans may have lost prior to 2016 may be traced less to their appeals to whiteness than the covertness of those appeals: make it explicit, and you win.


But at the risk of being wrong yet again, I do think I got one thing right back then: I still don’t believe most white people want to think of themselves as racist.

Are many of them (us) racist? You bet! Do we want to be called racist? HELL NO.

As has been pointed out by just about every black and brown (and a few white) political commentators, calling a white person “racist” is about the worst thing you can do. Even people who post pictures of a Klan member and caption it with I’m dreaming of a white Christmas don’t want to be called racist.

Not that this is much a wedge between the enthusiastic racist and those tolerant of the enthusiasts (the racist-adjacent?), nor even a slender reed. More like an onion skin, and about as strong.

But there is a gap, however thin. And that unwillingness to claim racism gives those of us committed to anti-racism something to grab on to, to try to peel those people away from a tolerance of racism.

It’ll be damnably difficult. Many people think racism is bad, think of themselves as good, and in so doing, deny that they themselves are racist. They—we—take the accusation of racism personally, which creates both the incentive for denial and the chance to say I get it, you think of yourself as a decent person, so how about acting like it?

Trying to reverse an upside-down virtue ethics is not enough, of course: it won’t wipe out systemic racism or uproot the white supremacy entangled in the history of this nation, but I do think if you give people an out, if you tell them, You don’t have to be racist, and give them ways to fight against it—to act decently—then maybe, maybe, some of them will say, Huh, that might be worth doing.

I am not, of course, optimistic, and I don’t much hope, but nothing happens on its own. Tolerance for racism will not disappear on its own.

This is a task for anti-racist whites. As I noted on Twitter, people of color have had to carry the burden of racism for far too long, and for far too long, (thinking-of-themourselves-as-) non-racist white people have considered it enough not actively to have added to that burden. We thought non-racism enough. For too many us—and you betcha I include myself in this group—the fight has been optional.

No more: to be truly anti-racist, the fight must be seen as necessary. And this piece of the fight, confronting whites who are comfortable enough with racism, is our (white) burden, my burden.

I’m sorry it took a kick in the head, i.e., Trump’s election, to see this.

There are other ways of establishing authority

2 01 2017

Trump = Hitler? Nah.

Trump = Kaiser Wilhelm II? Hmmm. . . .


From Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers:

Like Nicholas II, Wilhelm frequently—especially in the early years of his reign—bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with prevailing policy. (p. 178)


The Kaiser picked up ideas, enthused over them, grew bored or discouraged, and dropped them again. He was angry with the Russian Tsar one week, but infatuated with him the next. (p. 180)

We’ve yet to see the angry part, but it’s coming.

Wilhelm wasn’t content to fire off notes and marginalia to his ministers, he also broached his ideas directly to the representatives of foreign powers. Sometimes his interventions opposed the direction of official policy, sometimes they endorsed it; sometimes they overshot the mark to arrive at a grown overdrawn parody of the official view.  …

It was precisely because of episodes like this that Wilhelm’s ministers sought to keep him at one removed from the actual decision-making process. (pp. 180-81)

Not that those ministers’ decisions were always that great, either, but let’s see how much Trump’s advisers seek to, ah, shield him from having to make certain decisions.

It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.


And Clark is rather more temperate in his assessment of the last Kaiser than either Barbara Tuchman or Margaret MacMillan. Tuchman portrays him less the ‘over-excited teenager’ than petulance personified; in The Guns of August she notes

Envy of the older nations gnawed at him. He complained to Theodore Roosevelt that the English nobility on continental tours never visited Berlin but always went to Paris. He felt unappreciated. “All the long years of my reign,” he told the King of Italy, “my colleagues, the Monarchs of Europe, have paid no attention to what I have to say. Soon, with my great Navy to endorse my words, they will be more respectful.” (p. 6)

Like Clark, Tuchman observes a preference for aggressive words over aggressive actions:

He wanted greater power, greater prestige, above all more authority in the world’s affairs for Germany but he preferred to obtain them by frightening rather than by fighting other nations. He wanted the gladiator’s rewards without the battle, and whenever the prospect of battle came too close, as at Algeciras and Agadir, he shrank. (p. 75)

The Kaiser was also unhappy when his diplomacy/bullying didn’t work, peeved at the Belgians for their unwillingness to be peacefully invaded, and outraged at the English’s willingness to take up arms against him:

The Kaiser, in one of the least profound of all comments on the war, lamented: “To think that George and Nicky should have played me false! If my grandmother had been alive she would never have allowed it.” (p. 130)

Trump and the Kaiser also share an overestimation of their own abilities: “I need no chief,” said the Kaiser; “I can do this for myself.” (p. 331)

MacMillan most savors her roasting of the Kaiser, titling her chapter on him in The War That Ended Peace with the quote “Woe to the Country That Has a Child for King!”, but also giving him his due as an intelligent, earnest man whose position meant that his passions were never disciplined.

Wilhelm had a tendency, largely unchecked because of who he was, to know it all. He told his uncle, Edward, how the British should conduct the Boer War and sent sketches for battleships to his Navy Office. (He also gave the British navy much unsolicited advice.) He told conductors how to conduct and painters how to paint. As Edward said unkindly, he was “the most brilliant failure in history.”

He did not like being contradicted and did his best to avoid those who disagreed with him or wanted to give him unwelcome news. As the diplomat Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter said to Holstein in 1891, “He just talks himself into an opinion. . . .Anyone in favor of it is quoted as an authority; anyone who differs from it ‘is being fooled.'” (p. 66)

To be fair, a fair number of us tend toward that last particular bias.

The Kaiser, as the Eulenburg case so clearly demonstrated, was not perceptive when it came to character. Nor was he good at understanding the point of view of others. Eulenburg himself, possibly the Kaiser’s closest friend and one who loved him for himself, wrote in 1903: “H.M. sees and judges all things and all men purely from his personal standpoint. Objectivity is lost and subjectivity rides on a biting and stamping stallion.” He was always quick to feel affronted but frequently insulted others. (p. 68)


Wilhelm was both lazy and incapable of concentrating on anything for long. Bismarck compared him to a balloon: “If you don’t keep fast hold the string, you never know where he’ll be off to.” Although he complained about how overworked he was, Wilhelm cut back significantly on the regular schedule of interviews with military chiefs, Chancellor and ministers which his grandfather had faithfully maintained. Some ministers saw him only once or twice a year. Many grumbled even so that the Kaiser was inattentive and complained if their reports were too long. He refused to read newspapers and tossed long documents aside in irritation. Although he insisted he would be responsible for the annual fleet maneuvers of his new navy, he lost his temper when he found he was expected to consult with his officers and work out the details: “To hell with it! I am the Supreme War Lord. I do not decide. I command.” (p. 76)

I do not decide. I command.

This goes on, as do all of these brief bios of the Kaiser—and I should not that I have yet not gotten hold of JCG Rohl’s highly regarded work on Wilhelm II—to offer up example after example of his self-regard, his insecurities, his bloviations, and his sincere belief in himself as a great leader and Germany as deserving of its place on the center stage of the world.

Two further things: One, it does seem that the Kaiser was sincere and not cynical, and that, perhaps, it might have been better had he been a bit more of the latter. He sought aggrandizement, yes, but as always tied to Germany. He may have been terribly wrong in his judgements, but there remained in Wilhelm II a naïveté that lends a kind of pathos to the man himself.

I see little sincerity in Trump, and if America is somehow not made great again, he will blame us for having failed him.

That said, whatever human frailties both men exhibit, they are unable to take them into account. They see themselves as masters whom others must serve, reserve the best judgements to themselves, and seem quite incapable of seeing others (whether as people or as nations) as having their own legitimate interests. They do recognize the interests of others, but solely in terms of their own interests, such that when they conflict, those others become enemies.  They dismiss complexity and the views of any which do not align with their own. The world exists for them, and to the extent the world does not agree, all the worse for the world.

Two, even after laying out these similarities, it must, however, be admitted that this kind of comparison is too easy. With so much information on both men, all it takes to make a comparison is to pull out those bits which, on the surface, appear the same. Whatever qualities these two men share are likely shared by other leaders, and their dissimilarities are easily trivialized. That I can not-implausibly write Donald=Wilhelm doesn’t make it so.

Still, there is that not-implausibility. I tweeted about this originally as a lark, a way to amuse myself on a December night, but whatever the caveats, I think a line can be drawn between Queen Victoria’s grandson and Fred Trump’s Queens-born son.

Not that there’s much comfort to be drawn from this. No, Trump’s not Hitler and his regime will not be a Nazi regime, but his authoritarian impulses—which, in an impulsive man, are rather worrying—can lead to an incredible amount of damage.

As the memorials across Europe can attest.

Circus Maximus MMXVI: Hello darkness, my old friend

13 11 2016

So this is the end of the series—perhaps I should be using the Doors’s “This is the end” to mark the occasion.

The weekend after and I am still stunned. I still can’t listen to the news (WNYC & NPR), although I am reading plenty online. Reading is easier: as soon as I see something about THIS is the reason. . .  I know to move on. I laid out what I thought were the possible variables for Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss, accept that there might be still more; I don’t accept that anyone knows yet how to sort those variables.

I don’t. I have been knocked on my ass, and not have not managed to find my footing I don’t know much about the ground, either.

There were things I thought I knew. I thought I knew the extent of white supremacy in this country, thought most would, if faced with it, reject it. I didn’t think so many would just brush it aside, claim simultaneously that Trump was being both honest and that he didn’t really mean what he said, that the toxins he released weren’t that poisonous at all.

Maybe there’s something there, to be grasped: that those who embraced a racist didn’t want to be seen as racist. It is a slender reed.

So, what next? I don’t know.

What kind of president will he be? I don’t know.

Will he stick to his campaign promises? some of them? I don’t know.

Will he take the job seriously? I don’t know.

Will he turn over the day-to-day executive functions to his staff, to Pence? I don’t know.

Does he even want the job? I don’t know.

What kinds of judges will he appoint? I don’t know.

What kind of diplomacy will he conduct? I don’t know.

How will he react in crisis? I don’t know.

What will happen when he fails, as all presidents fail? I don’t know.

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. The best possible answers are bad; the worst, are more than I can now bear to imagine.

But if one is to prepare, to resist, then all possibilities, the worst possibilities, must be imagined.

Circus Maximus MMXVI: I break down in the middle and lose my thread

10 11 2016

I forced myself to listen to the radio yesterday morning, but last night I couldn’t do it, and today, still, radio silence.

Twitter, however, is still a go, with so, so many people saying THIS ONE THING is why Clinton lost/Trump won.

This gent, however, digs into the data to warn us “waitaminute”:

Read through the entire thread, as he really digs into and compares data across a number of states.

As he helpfully notes, there is no, one reason, and no reason that holds across all states. The “US electorate”, after all, is actually 50 states electorates, plus the D of C. What mattered a lot in one state may have mattered very little in another. Mistakes might either have tipped that electorate or were of no consequence whatsoever.

I don’t know that anyone has AN ANSWER to what happened on Tuesday, and if they do, I won’t believe ’em. I do think, however, that we can identify the possible pieces (or threads, if you will), that resulted in the overall electoral map, recognizing that the “thickness” of those threads varied across the states.

The parties: Republicans generally voted for Republicans and Democrats generally voted for Democrats, with some (varying) amount of crossover.  That’s been the general trend in American politics and there’s little evidence of deviation from it. The roles of the RNC and DNC were secondary to those of the campaigns.

The candidates: Each was flawed, each in his or her own way. Trump deviated a great deal from the standard Republican candidate, while Clinton was pretty much a standard Democratic one. What horrified Clinton supporters about Trump—his lack of political experience and unstable temperament—delighted his supporters: he was an outsider who spoke his mind. Similarly, his supporters derided her as a corrupt (emails! Clinton Foundation!) insider, with her experience a strike against her.

Some have argued that Sanders would have performed better than Clinton, but that’s awfully hard to conclude. He might have done better with some white voters, but not as well with black voters. That Feingold lost to the demonstrably terrible Johnson in Wisconsin leads me to doubt the “Sanders coulda. . !” advocates, but it’s also possible that Sanders at the top of the ticket might have helped Feingold. I doubt Sanders could have outperformed Clinton, but it is possible.

The campaigns: Given the candidates, did campaign strategies make sense? Arguably, Clinton erred in not spending time in Wisconsin, a decision driven in no small part by polling. Was there too much reliance on what turned out to be flawed state polls? What about ad strategy: too much on Trump’s flawed character and not enough on empathy for those attracted to him? Not enough reachout generally?

Turnout: This is of a piece with the campaigns itself. I had thought infrastructure and organization mattered a great deal in turning voters out, but Trump was able to do so with apparently relatively little staff. Does this mean that organization doesn’t matter generally, or that he was an outlier, able to pull people in via other means?

Racism/white nationalism: One of those possible other means, of course, was the implicit and explicit appeal to white nationalist grievances.

On the one hand, this is obvious, insofar as his support was overwhelming white, while Clinton’s was more ethnically mixed. On the other hand, there are also certainly plenty of Trump supporters who while tolerating the racism also seek to distance themselves from it, as well as to downplay the racism of the candidate himself. Those who revel in racism and those who tolerate racism collaborated to elect Trump, which matters a whole lot; but that they are also distinct may (or may not) matter as well.

(Add: class) As for those who suggest (often while touting Sanders) Clinton should have paid more attention to the “white working class”, well, if the key motivator is “whiteness” as opposed to “class”, then what? Is it possible to peel away an attachment to whiteness such that white workers consider themselves as part of a larger, multi-ethnic working class? Finally, initial data (subject to change) that I’ve seen suggests that Trump pulled the bulk of his support from the solidly-middle and upper-middle classes.

Actually, class deserves more than a parenthetical aside, not just for this campaign but for those going forward. It’s just that disentangling it from race is damnably difficult.

Sexism: How  and how much did it matter, one way or the other, that Clinton is, yes indeedy, a woman? How did that affect campaign strategy and tactics? How did it effect how the press covered her? How did it affect willingness to vote for her?

Voter suppression: Some states (WI) had tough voter i.d. laws such that some citizens couldn’t register to vote; some states (WI, NC) reduced the number of polling places and polling hours or relocated polls to locations less convenient for Democrats. Did this effect turnout? If turnout was down, as it was across many locales, could this be tied to suppression or simply to lack of enthusiasm?

The press: There have been a number of analyses of the amount of media attention given to policy versus everything else (emails emails emails), as well as a sense that few took Trump seriously enough to consider what his administration would actually look like.

They complained about her lack of press conferences, but said little about his similar lack. They (media organizations, not necessarily individual reporters) consented to having their reporters penned up. And Trump rather easily slid away from demands for his tax returns. Was she covered too much, too unfairly? Was he not covered enough? How did the coverage affect voting behavior, if at all?

The role of the press is highly contentious and will likely see the greatest play, not least because one of the media’s favorite activities is to talk about itself.

James Comey’s letter: This might be a sub-variable of the press, given how the press shouted about SHADOW OVER CLINTON WON’T GO AWAY. Still, should be considered on its own terms, especially given apparent widespread agency animus to Clinton. And, again, don’t know if or how it mattered at all.

Wikileaks: Again, another sub- of the press. Did the press give adequate context to the emails, especially in terms of ordinary operating procedures to campaigns? What of any (alleged) connections between Wikileaks and Russia? And even if there is a connection, does it matter?

Polls: They got it wrong. Why?

Voters: This would seem to be an output rather than input variable, but insofar as candidates will configure their campaigns around what they think will appeal to those voters, how voters respond to those campaigns will in turn affect the campaigns. What motivates and de-motivates voters? What do voters know, and what do they know that just ain’t so? What is the mix of rationality and irrationality among the voting public? And what of those who’ve voted before, but didn’t this time?

None of these variables is independent, of course. Some of these pieces reinforce and magnify others, while some minimize; and the relative size and  position of those pieces vary from state to state.

And this is crucial: Clinton won the popular vote (final tally t.d. unknown) and lost the Electoral College vote, so any wholly national focus will be wrong. What worked for her in one state could have worked against her in another, but given that the majority of voters did, in fact, vote for her suggests that she didn’t do everything wrong.

Finally, I’m trying to see a way to put together a rational understanding of what happened, but, as Carl Schmitt reminded-warned us, there’s a great deal to politics which is decidedly irrational.

Which means, of course, that you could do everything “right” and still lose.

Circus Maximus MMXVI: It ended up in tears

9 11 2016

This is painful:


We’ll get through this, we will, through our tears, however hard it will be.