Got my brother down ’cause it’s nothing to me

14 03 2017

I, along with every single other Hillary Clinton voter, am tired of hearing how we, who did not vote for the racist poo-flinging toddler for president, must sympathize, must empathize, with those who did.

Especially when that means they will be hurt by those they voted for.

Fuck that. They’re adults and citizens who bear responsibility for their votes. If they couldn’t be bothered to learn that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were the same damned thing, if they voted for Republicans who’ve promised for years and years and years to cut back on the social safety net and cut taxes the most for those who need it the least, if they decided that it was more important to make sure Those Others got less than everyone getting more, then they should goddamned own that.

They are my fellow citizens, my equals before the law and holding the exact same rights as me. I’m not going to treat them as lesser by condescending to them, ‘poor things’.

That long rant-claimer out of the way: they are my fellow citizens, and if I believe, as I do, that we should have universal coverage and more generous welfare for all, that means for all.

I get the impulse behind such monumentally shitty ideas as blue-state secession, but, as Hamilton Nolan points out,

The impulse to bandy about the threat of secession is not rooted in concern for the vulnerable. It is a tantrum by rich people who are angry that their political power temporarily does not match their economic power. Think about how shallow a self-proclaimed liberal’s commitment to social justice has to be for them to say that the proper response to the ascent of a quasi-fascist amoral strongman is to cede him the majority of the nation’s territory and stop helping to support social programs for everyone not lucky enough to live in a coastal state.

More to the point,

It is fine to point out that Donald Trump is a charlatan and the ignorant are his prey. It is not fine to conclude that they should all then be sentenced to die due to the Republican health care “reform” plan.

Nolan goes a bit more noblesse oblige than I’m comfortable with—“The responsibility of the coastal elites is to help those people, not cast them into the wilderness”—but I do think I have a responsibility to the fellow members of my polity.

Thus, if I think a policy—say, universal health care—is a good one, then I’m not going to say “but not for you”, that is, I’m not going to abandon a better policy for a worse one just to punish people who didn’t vote the way I did. Spite’s a helluva drug, but rather too corrosive to indulge with any regularity.

That said, as someone who prefers parliamentary systems to the Madisonian one we’ve got precisely because I think it leads to more “responsible” government—because a party has few structural barriers to enacting its policies, it fully owns those policies—there is a part of me that says, Well, if this is what you want, this is what you get. In other words, if Republican government and policies is what the unemployed coal miners who rely upon the ACA voted for, then it makes sense that they should bear the consequences of their votes.

Except: our system isn’t parliamentary and I’m not a Republican. I think their policies are bad and given that our system does allow for obstruction, then Democrats should obstruct all proposals that would make life worse for Americans and fight for those which make life better.

I think Trump is terrible and his administration a disgrace and the Republicans in Congress mean sons-of-bitches, and entirely too many of their supporters applaud the terrible meanness. Still, I’ll be damned if I let my disdain for them lead me away from what I think is good.

h/t Scott Lemieux





I’m not angry

6 03 2017

Oh my god, I am so fucking angry.

At least once a day, every day, I am hit anew with the incredible fact that Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States, and that over 60 million of my fellow Americans voted for this. . . man, and that a good chunk of them approve of his job performance.

And I don’t know what to do about it.

Oh, yeah, I keep reading and thinking, but I’ve fallen off in every other way because it all feels too much like performing resistance and not enough actual resistance. I’m not a lawyer, can’t help with immigration; not rich, can’t afford to stuff money into empty pockets; and while I can do things, including writing (real writing, not just this blog), everything I can do someone else can do as well.

The anger is fine, anger is useful, but anger and helplessness enrages in precisely the way that will send me spinning into myself rather than out into the world, where the anger can be put to use and the helplessness dissipated. There actually are things to do, and I’m not doing them.

~~~

This is not just inward-anger: I am also angry at those fellow Americans who cannot be bothered to do the barest amount of work to educate themselves about politics and argumentation and reason and consequences. They’ll believe insane conspiracy theories and bat away any notion that logic or evidence have any role whatsoever in politics. They’ll burn the village to save it and if the village isn’t saved, well, then, at least it’s burned.

(Do I need the sidenote that political fevers cross boundaries, that bananapants may be worn by anyone who gets her march on? Fine, noted.)

I’ve said that Carl Schmitt gets something right in highlighting the friends/enemies distinction in politics, that theorists who forget this forget something essential about politics. But politics and, especially, governance, is about more than tribalism. Politics is not just war with words.

I have to remind myself of this, to not let my anger at Trump supporters transform me from citizen to soldier. If I’m angered that they can’t be bothered to perform some of the most basic duties of citizenship, I can’t forget that they are, in fact, my fellow citizens, and that I have obligations to something more than my tribe, regardless.

~~~

The anger manifested itself as moodiness this weekend as I watched the second and third seasons of The Fall.

I watched the first season around the time it came out, then just a bit of season two. This past weekend I watched the very last episode of season 3, then went back and filled in the rest. I don’t know if The Fall is any good—I admit to zipping through scenes that focused exclusively on the killer—but I did find it compelling.

Again, I was in a moody mood—had I been more upbeat I might have thought it all so boring—and there are some blind alleys, plot-wise, but I appreciated the sharper edge on sexual politics. Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson makes some shit decisions and is not a hero, but she is brave, and I wish I were as unflinching as she.

I think it was that sharper edge that pulled me in. As I said, I video-skimmed the killer’s story (yet another sexual-sadist-with-a-backstory who hates women) which likely had the effect of making more apparent the meanness of the culture in which he was able to kill. At one point the assistant chief constable—and one-time lover of Stella’s—attacks her; she fends him off, then, pityingly, tends to the wounds she inflicted. Later, he insists to her that he’s “not the same” as the killer; Stella agrees, then notes, “but you did cross a line.”

I don’t know why, but that exchange shivved me. I’ve never been a victim of sexual violence and haven’t had to deal with much harassment, but that notion, of having to tend to the feelings of a man who cares nothing for my own, well. Stella is tired of it, it’s clear, and all-too-practices in  maneuvering around it.

All of that maneuvering, all of those thickets and brambles, the constant need to pick burrs out of one’s hair and ignore the scratches and kick aside the rocks and duck the swaying branches and just get on with it. I’m not Stella, not by a long shot, but I felt a rather intense sympathy for her—a sympathy which morphed into empathy—that I didn’t when I first tuned in.

~~~

My reaction to The Fall made me think of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,  which was, apparently, initially titled Men Who Hate Women. (I didn’t love the book, thought the Swedish movie adaptation better, and didn’t read or see the second and third installments.) I once thought that first title a bit of a joke, a kind of over-the-top absurdism.

I don’t anymore.

No, no, #NotAllMen. But while I recognized almost immediately how shook I was by the acceptance of racism as manifested in Trump’s victory, only now are the quakes from the misogyny moving through me. I’m mostly over the shock of the racism; I’m just beginning to come to terms with how much women, as women, are despised.

Again, I thought I knew, thought long consideration—decades-long consideration—gave me clear sight. But, again, so much I didn’t see that was always right there.





There’s a red cloud hanging over us

1 03 2017

I am once again yelling at the media.

Back in the day—waaaay back in the day—I used to regularly berate journalists, pundits, and politicians who happened across my t.v. screen or radio. I’d slap the newspaper or crunch it between my hands. I’d carry on arguments and yell rebuttals and gesticulate and swear and occasionally throw soft objects at whatever device was relaying the offending message.

I once smeared a butter pat on the t.v. in my dorm floor’s lounge (I cleaned it up).

It got to be a bit of joke among my friends, but it was never schtick to me: I’d honestly get pissed off and let loose. They might have thought it funny or stupid, but I was dead serious.

And then, at some point, I stopped.

I don’t know why. Maybe when I got rid of the t.v. and thus no longer watched the news I fell out of practice. Maybe I figured out that I was not required to listen to bullshit and thus turned off the radio/t.v. rather than get into a fight with the voices coming out of it. Maybe I just gave up.

Well, I’m back, and so is the yelling. Well, not yelling so much as muttering, and I’m not back to full-bore argumentation. No, I’m dropping such bon mots as “motherfucker” and “asshole” as I flick through my Twitter feed and suggesting “go fuck yourself” to whichever Trumpeter is weaseling on the radio.

I’m not proud of this, but I’m not quite chagrined, either. Swearing may not work to hold back the pile of radioactive horseshit Trump and his GOP enablers are shoveling at us, but it does remind me that I haven’t given up, that I shouldn’t give up.

I do think I’ll leave the butter be, however.





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.

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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.

Maybe.

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. . . .

Consider:

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)

More:

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.

Heh.

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)

More:

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.