The chains are locked and tied across the door

21 07 2017

How does helplessness become resentment?

I’m in the midst of reading Robert Gellately’s edited transcripts of psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn’s interviews with Nazis at Nuremberg, Nuremberg Interviews; what is striking are the protestations that they could have done nothing other than what they did.

They were helpless.

They were helpless before Hitler’s charisma, helpless before his charm, helpless to do anything other than their sworn duty—to the military, to Germany, to their own high moral principles. And those who weren’t personally helpless emphasized Germany’s helplessness following WWI and the victors and their unjust Treaty of Versailles.

And as for the Jews, well, while these Nazis disclaimed any personal anti-Semitism, they did point to Jewish dominance of German cultural life and that so many Communists were Jews—so really, was it so wrong to want to free Germans from the yoke of such an alien people? Goldensohn paraphrased Alfred Rosenberg:

The cause of the Jewish question was, of course, the Jews themselves. The Jews are a nation, and like every nation, have a nationalist spirit. That’s all every well, but they should be in their own homeland. … Why couldn’t the Jews be allowed to remain where they were , in other lands? They would have been all right if they didn’t do bad things, but they did. What did the Jews do? They spat at German culture. How? They controlled the theater, publishing, the stores, and so on.

Similar sentiments were expressed by others: Jews provoked anti-Semitism by their involvement in German life. What else could Germans do? Of course they had to defend themselves.

There has been a great deal of discussion of the role of resentment in politics, but isn’t behind resentment some notion of victimhood, helplessness? How does despair over the inability to control one’s own life become politically virulent?

Propaganda, inarguably, but that can’t be the sole catalyst, can it? What makes it work?

And while it is supremely easy to dismiss the rationalizations of Nazi defendants, what cannot be dismissed is that some peoples have been victimized, are being victimized, and may justifiably feel helpless amidst the conditions of their oppression. Is it not just that they be freed?

Political mobilization draws in part on moving people from a sense of apathy or despair and toward action; when is this mobilization just, and when is it malignant?

One quick response might be that any mobilization which relies on or stokes resentment tends toward malignancy, but, honestly, that seems too quick: what, for example, distinguishes “righteous indignation” from “resentment”?

It could be that this distinction is too caught up in ideology to be of any analytical use, that is, that my good views will always be based in righteousness, while your bad views are riddled with resentment.

Again, there’s a ton of work, both scholarly and journalistic, on resentment in politics, so likely nothing I’m saying here is at all original—for originality, I recommend Nietzsche.

Still, Nietzsche disdained the ressentiment of the weak toward the strong; the resentment of the strong toward the weak, well, that would not even have occurred to them: to be strong was to be above it all.





You better watch what you say

9 05 2017

Oh, are we fucked.

Eight ways to Sunday fucked.

Fuckity-fucked-fucked fucked.

Really fucking fucked.

I shed no tears for James Comey, a self-righteous shit who was more concerned about his own reputation than with the basic norms of electoral politics, a man made “mildly nauseous” at the thought he threw the election but would do it again, a man who, just a few days ago, delivered wildly incorrect testimony to Congress regarding Huma Abedin’s emails.

No, I don’t feel at all bad for him, including for the way he found out he was out.

I am, however, alarmed at the firing of this self-righteous shit by a president whose incompetence is outweighed only by his corruption. A man with no regard whatsoever for any norms at all. A man who seeks only his own advantage, who will never stop himself, who can only be stopped.

It’s not just Trump which worries me. If we had a functional Republican party, the damage could be limited—but, then again, if we had a functional Republican party, we wouldn’t have gotten Trump in the first place.

No, the Republicans as a whole are as craven as Trump. They might be troubled or concerned or disappointed, but as long as he tosses them Obamacare repeal and tax cuts and right-wing judges, they’ll do nothing to stop him. And hell, some think this is all just fine.

I don’t know if Trump fired him to hinder the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia or if he did so out of pique—was this tactical or narcissistic?—but by the hounds of Christ, a president under investigation who fires the investigator shows nothing but contempt for the citizens of the country he runs.

And yeah, it’s worth pointing out that even Nixon, architect of the Saturday night massacre, even Nixon didn’t fire the FBI director.

~~~

Shortly after Trump’s election, Dan Savage spearheaded a campaign to “impeach the motherfucker already,” with all proceeds split amongst Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the International Refugee Assistance Project.

I thought, Oh, huh, okay. I mean, I wasn’t opposed to it—he’s already raised over 100 grand and cut a series of checks—but I also don’t think you should impeach someone just because you hate them. It’s not enough to accept electoral outcomes when you win; you also have to accept them when you lost. Democratic norms matter.

It is precisely because I believe democratic norms matter, however, that tonight I bought some ITMFA swag. I believe Donald Trump and his minions are undermining our democracy, and threaten us not just politically, but institutionally, constitutionally.

Before, I was troubled, concerned, disappointed; now, I am alarmed.

Donald J. Trump is a menace to society.





Not ready to make nice

4 05 2017

So this is floating around Twitter as an example of Dem perfidy:

Interpretation? Pelosi could have stopped it, but instead she chose to let Trumpcare sail on through just so she’d be able to increase the chances for a Dem takeover of the House in 2018.

That House Dems, following the vote, taunted their Republican colleagues (in the same way GOPpers taunted them in 1993, after they voted in favor of tax increases) with a round of na-na hey-hey goodbye seems to confirm this view: they’re singing over people losing health care because they think it’ll benefit them!

Such horseshit.

One, there’s nothing Pelosi or the House Democrats could have done to have prevented the vote. Unlike those of the Senate, the procedural rules of the House give the minority no power to stop the majority. It might have been possible to delay matters for a bit (which Pelosi, thinking this would give the Republican leadership a better chance to round up those last few votes, declined to pursue), but if the leadership wanted the vote, they were going to get it.

So: stop bitching about Pelosi’s unwillingness to stop a vote she was in fact unable to prevent.

Two, talk of punishing Republicans for this vote is exactly what Pelosi and other House Dems should be doing.

Corey Robin, for his part, seems to think the idea of looking to punish Republicans for bad policy  is the exact same thing as encouraging bad policy, that seeking an advantage after a shitstorm is the same thing as whipping up that shitstorm.

No.

In fact, the Dems should be absolutely fucking ruthless about all of this. I and many others—including Robin—bitch about their tendency to collapse in a heap whenever they’re accused of not being nice; well, Pelosi don’t care about nice.

She stood on the floor of the House and warned Republicans against this vote, telling them “you have every provision of this bill tattooed on your forehead. You will glow in the dark on this one. So don’t walk the plank unnecessarily.”

And when that failed, she came back and reiterated

Well, let me just say that they have this vote tattooed on them.  This is a scar they will carry.  It’s their vote.  It’s not the Senate vote.  It’s their vote they are taking.

So that is really a poor choice, cowardly choice, I might add.  Why would they vote for it if they don’t think it’s worthy of support, but because the Senate will change it?  From what I hear the Republican Senators saying, they don’t have any interest in passing this bill as is.

And by the way, whatever happens down the road, the Members of the House Republican Caucus will be forever identified with the worst aspects of the bill they passed.

She didn’t encourage a vote in favor in order to heighten the contradictions, she didn’t say “vote for this terrible bill to help Democrats”; she said “Don’t do this, because if you do we will make you pay.”

And yes, make them pay with their House seats. Elect Democrats in place of Republicans.

How is this anything other than common sense?

But no, the puritans among us would have us believe that looking to unseat Republicans is evidence of a sell-out, and Pelosi’s unwillingness to commit seppuku, bad faith.

The only knives we on the left are allowed, apparently, are those we are willing to wield against each other.





Rollin’, rollin’ rollin’

18 04 2017

Grading, grading, grading. . . .

Okay, that’s not the only reason for my silence. I’ve been thinking about a particular post and what I wanted to say and it all just got bigger and more complicated and more. . . ugh.

I don’t really need to write it—others are writing on the same topic—and, honestly, I’m probably not in the best frame of mind to write it.

It’s about the election, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders.

(You get the “ugh” now, don’t you?)

I mean, I might at some point look particularly at the Trump campaign and what it did to burn through the Republican field and then to beat Clinton, but a big “Here’s the thing. . .” piece? Nope.

Why aren’t I in the best frame of mind to write it? Because I get really fucking angry even thinking about it, and anger and clarity do not mix well in my noggin.

It’s not even a reasonable ire at, say, the FBI and James Comey, or at the media—well, okay, a little bit at the media—but at the Berniesta dead-enders.

These folks are in no way the majority of Sanders supporters and, frankly, deserve no more attention that Jill Stein stans. But, goddammit, I keep running into them on Twitter and, yes, this means I should lay off Twitter but I kinda dig Twitter even though it drives me crazy so I won’t, and I keep getting pissed off.

God, even thinking about why these people piss me off is pissing me off.

Okay, lemme at this sideways. The particularities of the pissiness comes down to two, interrelated phenomena: the sanctification of the senator, and the bullshit illogic that the the only reason he lost to Clinton is that she cheated and the proof of this cheating is that Bernie lost.

That latter bit is bad sportsmanship, and I fuckin’ hate bad sportsmanship.

Yes, matches may be fixed and there is cheating in politics, but you have to bring, y’know, EVIDENCE of such cheating beyond an unhappy outcome.

And no, a party saying “you have to join the party in order to influence the party” is not evidence of cheating, nor is it unfair that long-standing Democratic politicians and activists would prefer, y’know, the long-standing Democratic candidate to the temporary-Democratic candidate.

Anyway, the bigger problem might be the former one: that Sanders is perfect and deserves no criticism, ever. Again, I don’t see this among most Sanders fans, but treating Sanders, or any politician, like some kind of savior is truly, madly, deeply wrong.

He’s a good and decent man, a good and decent senator who continues to pound on an issue which requires constant pounding: economic inequality. Good. Go Bernie!

But there are other issues, including ones related to that inequality, about which he doesn’t have much to say. That’s fine, really: no one can cover everything, and there are others who can air out those things. To mention this to Sanders-zombies, however, is to imply that He is Not Perfect, which is quite literally unbelievable. If Sanders must be right at all times and in all things, then any who disagrees or criticizes must be a heretic.

This is just shit politics. Like your politician. Love your politician. Volunteer for your politician—by all means. I really liked Obama, greatly admire him, and don’t think I will see a president as good as him in my lifetime. I think he is an exceptional man who failed well at an impossible job.

But there were things I didn’t like about his policies and questions I have about some of his decisions, and I am grateful for those good critics of his immigration, national security, and transparency policies in particular. And I think that some of the criticism he received regarding our carceral state helped to move him—alas, perhaps too late—toward some reform of our prison-industrial complex.

He was my president, and I was glad he was president. He wasn’t perfect, and didn’t expect to be treated as such, either.

I’m guessing that Bernie Sanders knows he’s not perfect and accepts that even those who quite like him might nonetheless wag a finger or two at him. Now, if only his worshipers could accept this as well.





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 are some who are in darkness

9 02 2017

First off, what is this shit? Few inches of snow and schools, CUNY close? If it’s safe enough for kids to go sledding, it’s safe enough for them to go to school.

I hate snow days: I put some effort into plotting out the syllabus, so missed days throws that off. Yeah, I do allow some slack, but I’d rather I, rather than the weather, were in charge of that flexibility.

(Straigtens shirt, smooths hair.) Back to bizness, and another hoisting-up of a dmf comment:

I remember when pol-sci/history types were going around telling us that Trump’s US was not the same as Hitler’s Germany (and I don’t think Trump is a fascist, too self-consumed for that) as if we knew which factors were the determinate ones in bringing facism to bloom, never struck me as being particularly verifiable, what would be the test of such assertions/speculations?

As one of those ranting that the US was/is not Weimar, I’d offer up the following as crucial factors:

1. History. The United States were created in rebellion against the British, and both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were written by those who prevailed in that rebellion. Slavery tore the country apart, but, again, with the victory of the Union and, crucially, the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, the US began a shift from United States to United States.

The Weimar republic, on the other hand, was borne of defeat, and its opponents never tired of blaming the republicans themselves for the loss the autocratic Kaiser and his generals, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff inflicted on the nation. The German populace was completely unprepared for defeat—the Kaiser himself thought well into fall that the Germans were on the brink of victory—and thus willing to entertain the notion that they were ‘stabbed in the back’. Not everyone accepted the Dolchstoßlegende, but the poison injected into the embryonic republic did weaken it.

2. Constitutional legitimacy. The US Constitution is widely and deeply accepted as legitimate across the political spectrum, although there are, of course, wide and deep differences as to the appropriate interpretation of said constitution. Those differences, significantly, break along whose interpretation is more legitimate, not whether the founding document is itself legit.

The Weimar Constitution, on the other hand, was never widely accepted, and the parties which ushered it into existence were themselves ushered out of power within a few years of its adoption. The Social Democrats and the German Democratic Party did serve in multiple governments between 1919 and 1932, but after 1920 elections, they never held the majority in the Reichstag. Further, after Social Democratic Friedrich Ebert’s death, the anti-republican Hindenburg took over as president; while he did little during the 1920s actively to undermine the republic, he did little to support it, either.

Which leads to the third point:

3. Constitutional structure. The German republic was, like the US, a federated one; unlike the US, however, the selection of the political leader was non-democratic.

Citizens did vote directly for members of the Reichstag (varying terms) and for the president (fixed 7-year term). Unlike in most parliamentary systems, however, where the majority party (the party with the best chance of forming a majority coalition) is offered the chance by a president or monarch to form a government and take over the prime minister’s/chancellor’s office, during Weimar the president could select whomever he wanted as chancellor.

This became an issue once Hindenburg took over. Given that he despised liberalism and republicanism and distrusted universal suffrage, he was loath to select a chancellor from the majority party/coalition. In fact, he was so opposed that he initially denied Hitler the chance to form a government which, as the leading party after the July 1932 elections, was his due. It was only after the failure of various conservative chancellor’s that he agreed to offer Hitler the chancellorship, along with only two (albeit crucial) cabinet posts.

Finally, the Weimar constitution under Article 48 gave the president emergency powers to suspend the constitution—a power which Ebert himself exercised rather too often—and which was used by Hindenburg and Papen to overthrow the Prussian state government; the coup was a death blow to the republic.

There is no equivalent power available to the US president.

These are the three most important factors, I think, in arguing against any kind of equivalence, but there are others as well. While the US is a violent society, the levels of political violence are in no way comparable to those of the Weimar republic: throughout the 1920s paramilitary organizations were aligned with all of the major parties, and they regularly engaged in brawls, intrigues, and, especially on the right, assassinations. Furthermore, the judiciary indulged right-wing violence—Hitler, a non-citizen, was nonetheless able to use ‘patriotism’ in his defense of the beer-hall putsch and to secure a light sentence—and the political parties routinely agreed to amnesty deals for their respective fighters.

Let me pull out that bit about the judiciary: it, like the civil service, the army, and most police forces, was hostile to the republic and unconcerned about its health. Many of those who served in these institutions, as well as in the universities, held to a notion of an ‘eternal Germany’ to which they devoted their loyalty—not the liberal-infested and hopefully-temporary republic; they were biding their time to a return to (authoritarian) normalcy.

In short, almost all governmental and a number of major civil society institutions were explicitly anti-republican and would at best do nothing and at worst abet those plotting to overthrow it. There are certainly those in the US who don’t accept the legitimacy of Democratic rule—see the Obama presidency, assaults on voting rights, or what’s happening in North Carolina—but there are institutional (largely although not solely judicial) barriers to wiping out the rights of Democrats and their sympathizers.

One last thing: As much as I don’t think we’re Weimar, I’m also not as confident as I was 4 months ago that we are exceedingly unlikely to become Weimar. I still consider it unlikely—there are far more buffers against collapse in the US than there were in 1920s Germany—but I admit that I will paying very close attention to those buffers over the next 2-4 years.

I was complacent before November 8, believing a defense of our republic unnecessary; no longer.





Let’s get it wrong

6 02 2017

November 8, I snapped: something fundamental in me, something I thought I knew, I did not.

Now, the consequences for the country—and, perhaps, the world—of electing a poorly-informed, thin-skinned, D-list celebrity are dire: ‘malevolence’ and ‘incompetence’ are fighting for descriptive supremacy of this GOP-administration-on-meth.

Just in case it wasn’t clear what I thought about all of this.

But there’s also the personal, intellectual side, and here the unpredictability is more promising.

As I’ve mentioned, I followed respected Americanists in understanding the 2016 elections, in particularly, their understanding of historic trends and of the polls. It was reasonable to do so, and for that reason, I don’t regret it. They, and by extension I, got it wrong, and that sucks—hard—but they were wrong on the margins in one of those exceptions in which the margins matter. Such error requires reconsideration, not the wrecking of an entire model (although how much reconsideration is for them, not me, to decide).

No, what I regret is that I only followed those respected Americanists, and discounted my own abilities as a theorist.

I’m not a great theorist—too much the syncretist to toss out something truly original—and goddess knows I’m not a great academic (haven’t published anything in years). But I am a pretty good theorist, and I let my failings as an academic blind me not only to my own skills as a theorist, but also to the insights that political theory and the humanities can bring to political phenomena.

I’ve tried to hold the line for political science and the social sciences generally as sciences, that is, as forms of inquiry into the human subject and human systems, but I’ve never considered political theory scientific. I (and not a few other theorists, I’d guess) cede the contemporary empirical observations to the quants and to those who follow closely Congress or the parties or the policy process, and let their regressions and outlines guide me in my judgements of the course of modern American politics.

Okay, this sounds snarky, but I don’t mean it to be: instead, I’m telling on myself for not having the courage of my own disciplinary convictions. I think quantitative analysis is useful, and limited, and that past is often, although not always, prologue, but when it came time to taking seriously what theory—what an analysis of rhetoric, of what may be animating partisan declarations, how various actions may be interpreted, how this fits, or doesn’t, with what Americanists were saying—I. . . didn’t.

I don’t know why. This may be due to the distance so many (although not all) political theorists have traditionally held themselves from contemporary politics, to the low esteem for theory everyone not a theorist has for the field, to the fact that I’m currently engaged in a project which has my head in centuries past—and I think all of that’s true.

But it’s also the case that I had inklings, anxieties, about this election that I dismissed. Now, the main reason for that dismissal is that I have anxieties about everything, so I work (to varying degrees of effectiveness) to dial it all down so I don’t find myself curled up under my bed with gin and the cats. But I also knew our social fractures were not just figments of my neurosis—see my various entries regarding ‘loaded dice’—and I didn’t collect those fractures into any kind of coherent skepticism of the ‘this is fine’ narrative.

Why not? Maybe because it’s all too impressionistic, reeks too much of Peggy Noonan’s ‘vibrations’ or comes off as political woo: the quants, after all, have the sharpness of their predictions (even as the best of them warn us of the fuzziness on the margins) and offer beguilingly ‘scientific’ understandings—proof! evidence! facts!—of electoral politics. Abashed by my own field’s meager offerings of ‘interpretations’, I was suckered into forgetting that ‘voting behavior’ and ‘party politics’ are themselves not the whole of politics.

Again, I don’t blame them for my willingness to follow and, again, I won’t stop listening to them. But I will return to what political theory can do, what I can do, and try to make sense from here. It will be, of necessity, more tentative, smaller, and much messier, but may offer the kind of clarity one can only find amidst the tumult.