Oh, don’t tell me what to say

29 11 2016

Tina Fey tells a story of Amy Poehler doing something vulgar and Jimmy Fallon squealing

“Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

I like this story.

Now, I heard this after having read Ta-Nehisi Coates for some years and imbibing his ethic of I’m not going to let you question my humanity; of Hannah Arendt stating it was no good to say she was human in spite of being Jewish, that she had to choose one or the other; of Steven Biko and Malcolm X emphasizing that their blackness made them in no way lesser.

You would not define them; they would define themselves, as they pleased—and not to please you.

To name, to define, to determine the worth of something or someone, is so basic a power that we often only see it when someone says No.

And then we see how much it matters to those who would define: How dare you think you’re pretty? How dare you think you’re funny? How dare you think you’re equal? How dare you think for yourself? How dare you think you don’t have to think of me, in thinking of yourself?

It’s not just that the default-definers don’t like the words you choose to define yourself, but that you chose them for yourself. You took a power away from them, a right to decide who others are and how they should live.

This is elemental to any supremacist (sexual, racial, ethnic, religious) system: the power to define.

That power is a power to abuse, of course, but it’s also a power of mercy: Look how good I am, deciding you’re worthy; how can I be a supremacist when I recognize that you’re not inferior? How can I be bad when I let you live?

Avid supremacists may hate your declaration of independence, but those in the majority who think of themselves as egalitarians, who act without malice, may also decry your claims: why are you rejecting me?

And sure, some of the liberationists may reject that person, personally, or may offer their own counter-supremacism, but mostly, at the center of someone saying I don’t fucking care if you like it, is the asserted-I, not the you.

Really, nothing personal, but you are no longer at the center of the world.

And this displacement can be profoundly confounding. This is, of course, a psychological as well as a philosophical disorientation, but not only that: it is also a political one. It is not always recognized as a loss of power, but that’s precisely what it is—and there should be no  surprise that people fight to hang on to it.





You’re taking one down

17 11 2016

After an extended period of sparse posting, I spurted out a bunch of political posting because, well, it was going to be allllll right and then it allllll went very, very wrong.

But that ain’t the only reason.

My life has gone to shit, and writing about the country going to shit gave me something else to focus on. That there are concrete things that one can do to try to avoid being completely flushed away politically gave me a kind of steadiness.

My life, however, is still shit. I’ve love to blame this on Trump—I look forward every time I miss a train or stub my toe to screaming FUCK TRUMP!—but nope, even had Clinton taken the Electoral College, I’d still be navigating the doldrums.

This is not as bad as it gets, thank christ nowhere near as bad as it gets, but a shitty time is a shitty time. Yeah, I’m working, halfheartedly, on dragging myself up, but it’s tough to really get anything going on half a heart.

Still, I’ll do what I can.





Transmit the message to the receiver

15 11 2016

After being knocked flat, then crouching, I’m back on my feet.

Still not listening to NPR, but I’ve managed WNYC and the BBC. It’ll come, it’ll come.

So, what are we to do?

My principles remain. I am committed to pluralism, committed to politics, and (I’ll try to be) committed to life beyond politics. I’m trying to be human. Politics won’t make us human, but it can make it easier or harder for us to become human. Let’s try to make it easier.

What does this mean? Since I’m a political theorist, I’ll be reading (natch) some political theory. I’ll also be reading some history, and anything else that can help me see what I do not see.

But not just that. If theories are to matter at all, they must be connected to actions. To that end, I sent the local offices of my representative and my two senators the following letter:

Given the recent election of a man manifestly unprepared to take over the presidency of this country, I understand that there is a great deal of discussion as to how much or how far the Democrats should go to aid or cooperate with President-elect Trump. This is indeed a difficult question, especially for those who value the institutions of government and who wish to mitigate any damage his administration will likely cause.

My suggestion to and to your Democratic colleagues: do nothing to help him.

He ran a hateful campaign predicated on harming large portions of the American citizenry, he could not be bothered to do the work to make the transition to the Oval Office, and he has selected a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim propagandist as his Chief Strategist. There is nothing in his actions to indicate he cares one whit about the people who voted for Secretary Clinton or anyone who did not enthusiastically cheer on his candidacy. He has done nothing to indicate he wants to be president for the entire United States.

In requesting that you do nothing to help the incoming administration, I do not also mean that you do nothing to help your constituents or this country. If he happens to put together a bill (e.g., the oft-mentioned infrastructure bill) which would injure no one and would do good, please do vote for it. Do what is necessary to fulfill your obligations to your constituents and to this country.

Those obligations, however, do not extend to aiding a man who would harm us. Yes, Mr. Trump will need a great deal of assistance if he is to rise even to the level of mediocrity. But let the Republicans, who selected this petty and careless man to represent their party, take responsibility for him.

Had Senator McCain or Governor Romney won the presidency in 2008 or 2012, I would have been distressed, but I would not have been moved to write a letter like this to you. Whatever my deep policy differences with these men, I doubted neither their experience nor their desire to do what they thought best for this country. I have no confidence whatsoever that the President-elect is concerned for anyone beyond himself or those within his inner circle.

(With all the necessary salutations and sign-offs and such.)

In doing this, I was following some of the advice of Emily Ellsworth,* a former Congressional staffer. Yes, she advises a phone call would be better, but late last night the letter seemed a good idea. As the weeks roll by, perhaps I’ll call. I’ll do what I can.

And that, dear readers, is what I suggest for those of you who are similarly distressed and looking for something to do: Do what you can.

There are all kinds of good ideas out there, some of which may make more sense to you than others. Do those. Don’t worry if someone is doing something else. Moving a country is a big damned deal and requires all different kinds of work. If you can’t stand to talk to someone who voted for Trump, don’t. If marching seems silly, don’t march. If you can’t stand to think about the national scene, look local. Wear a safety pin, don’t wear a safety pin—do what makes sense to you, and be kind to those on our side whose sense is different from yours.

I think the way through is by becoming large: big-hearted, broad-minded, and standing up and with one another whenever and wherever we can.

No, no compromise with racism and sexism, no compromise with hate. No compromise with the small and the mean. But we will have to invite to become large those who have taken refuge in the small.

I’m not ready to do this, not yet. If you voted for Trump, well, today I don’t want to talk to you. But some of us are going to have to, and maybe, down the line, I’ll be one of those who is able to.

But right now, I’m doing what I can.

~~~

What to do? Make contact:





Circus Maximus MMXVI: You know you’ll be hearing that sound

1 11 2016

IV. It’s not bad that white working class folks are getting some (sympathetic) attention from the press.

It is bad that it is mainly white working class folks who are getting the attention.

V. However much race and class are fused in the US, they are nonetheless separable. Those in the WWC who embrace Trump do so more in the name of their whiteness than their class.

Have their been breakdowns of union member support for the candidates? Do white union members put class before whiteness? What are the conditions under which white workers choose one candidate over the other?

Unionism is no barrier to racism—not by a long shot—but union membership, to the extent that it raises consciousness of one’s class status, might therefore blunt the primacy of whiteness.

VI. It’s worth pointing out, of course, that, during the primary season, the median income of Trump supporters was $72,000 while that for Clinton (and Sanders) was about 61 grand—in all cases, above the national median income of $56,000. And a Pew poll of general election preferences showed that Clinton did better both among $100,000+ voters (51 to 43%) and those making less than 30 grand (62 to 33%); they more-or-less tied in the two middle income categories.

Given how the Pew survey numbers are presented, however, it is difficult to draw any conclusions about the percentage of white working class voters who support Clinton or Trump. That overwhelming percentages of black and Hispanic voters support Clinton suggests that she’s drawing from all classes. And while Pew didn’t offer any numbers on Asian-American voters, 538 highlights a National Asian American Survey showing a clear movement of most groups away from Republicans and toward Democrats.

On thing that can be concluded is that Democrats are ethnically diverse and Republicans, increasingly, are not.

And that’s going to matter—although how, at this point, I can’t say.

I fear the possibilities.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Go on and put your ear to the ground

17 10 2016

I. The reasons someone supports a candidate you hate may not be the reasons you hate the candidate.

I think Donald Trump a menace, an unstable, thin-skinned, ill-informed blowhard who built his candidacy on a nasty brew of resentment and bigotry. I consider his terrible temperament—the sulking, the whining, the needy bullying—and terrible policies (to the extent he has any) and think What a fucking disaster.

Some (half? most?) Trump fans look at those same things and think Fuck yeah! Where I see instability, they see authenticity; what seems to me ill-informed seems to them common sense; resentment is, yes, resentment, but a righteous one; and bigotry, well, that’s simply refreshing political-incorrectness.

Some (half? most?) of these fans like the shove-it attitude just because he’s saying Shove it.

And some (half? most?) see only a champion for a life they want to have, think they deserve.

II.  Loss of privilege—unearned, unjust privilege—still registers as loss.

White supremacy is the founding injustice of this nation.

As a matter of justice in a plural nation, its destruction is of the greatest urgency.

As a matter of sociology in a plural nation, this destruction has led, does lead, to existential dislocation, to status disorientation on the part of those white folks who never had to deal with the costs of the construction of that whiteness.

As a matter of politics, both must be dealt with.

III. Everybody knows that the dice are loaded.

And nobody knows another game.

Is it worse to fix the fix, or to blow it all to hell, and start over?

The fix of the fix won’t hold; there’ll be new fixes. And blowing it all to hell is to blow it all away; there will be no restoration.

Pause: This is not to excuse—anything, or anyone.

I am trying to understand, to say what I see, to see what I see.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: And a little bit not (I)

13 09 2016

Oh, to be of many minds:

Mind1: The bug-eyed conspiracists certain that Hillary Clinton is hiding, I dunno, a tumor/mainstream pundits who are more than happy to indulge the, well-this-certainly-plays-into-the-appearance-of-dishonesty are shoveling enough shit to cover the prairies from Kansas to Saskatchewan.

Woman has pneumonia, got dehydrated while standing in a crowd, had to be helped into SUV, is apparently recovering. Bummer for her, not a big deal.

Mind2: Hillary Clinton, if elected, will be the second-oldest person (after Reagan) to begin her first term. This doesn’t mean that she’s enfeebled now or will be during either (Inshallah) of her terms in office—but it does mean that she is, to be grossly generalistic, less robust than someone 20 years younger.

This is a legitimate concern—not an emergency, not a disqualifier—but, yes, a legit concern.

(And no, that Trump is a year older than her doesn’t make Clinton “young”, even in comparison.)

Mind3: That pundits and conspiracists (and, yeah, one of my neighbors who is terrified of Trump and so highly concerned about Clinton’s health) are keening into the high winds about both her health and her alleged penchant for dishonesty makes me wanna holler She’ll be fine! She’ll be fine! Her doctor says she’ll be fine!

It also sets me to muttering that no matter what she says or authorizes her doctor to release, she’ll be accused of lying.

Mind4: She probably will be fine; I doubt she’s lying.

That said. . . whether or not the so-called narrative of Clinton’s dishonesty—isn’t that a nice way to call someone a liar by implying Oh, look, everyone thinks she’s a liar—is accurate, it has, in fact, taken hold. While it’s possible-to-likely that a more comprehensive summary of Clinton’s current health (i.e, past few-t0-5 years) wouldn’t satisfy those who refuse to be satisfied, it also wouldn’t be a bad move, if only in giving her a ready answer to questions about her health.

Given that Trump is shameless, there’s no way that her release of info would shame him into releasing his. Nope, any Clinton release would be a defensive tactic against the press and, perhaps, a kind of reassurance to her supporters (including my anxious neighbor).

Mind5: Did you notice what I did, there? I doubt she’s lying. Gliiiiiiided right past that.

I went fairly hard the other day about tossing aside all concerns other that politics, thereby brushing away concerns about Clinton’s alleged dishonesty, not least because I do think the whole “narrative says so” is bullshit.

But I didn’t stress enough that I really don’t know. I mean, she’s been involved in politics for a very, very long time and seems as sincere as a politician could be, but it’s also clear that she’d rather not share every last bit of info about her doings, please and thank you.

What does that mean? I dunno. Since she’s on my side of the field I’ll be voting for her, regardless; if she were on the other side this would be yet another reason not to—but, honestly (snerk), this wouldn’t be the thing I’d latch onto about that opponent.

I mean, that Trump hasn’t released his tax returns isn’t in the top 50 of the worst things about him.

Mind6: Is it fair that Clinton’s getting her bell rung by the press and Trump isn’t?

No; so?

As I’ve banged on about repeatedly, there’s nothing fair about elections, winning is the only thing that matters, etc., etc.

Besides, in this case, the unfairness may be less that the press expect Clinton to answer their questions about her health but that they don’t expect the same from Trump.

Mind7: In other words, it is not unreasonable to expect candidates for the presidency to release information about their health.

A full release of all of their health records is unnecessary and, likely, unwise, but, again, a comprehensive summary should give manage to drive the screamers back to the fringes from whence they came.

As for those who think the candidates’ own docs can’t be trusted? Well, I like the ideas put forth by some doctors and ethicists for a (voluntary) independent evaluation of the candidates by a doctor or panel of doctors. How to go about this would need to be worked out, and it might need some tweaking over successive elections, but this would likely be an improvement over the  ad-hockery (and ad-hackery) of the current non-system of health disclosure.

Mind8: Even as I write that it’s reasonable to want some reliable info on the candidates’ health, I am uneasy with that expectation.

Again, most powerful person on the planet, but I think even the most powerful person on the planet deserves some privacy.

Not total privacy. Not total transparency. Something in between. I don’t know what that in-between would be. Something about recent (and relevant less-recent) past health, current health, yes. Chronic conditions. Medications.

What about psychotherapy? Marriage counseling? Would pastoral counseling count?

That’s too much, isn’t it? I mean, maybe not the fact of counseling itself, but certainly not any details. . . and, frankly, wouldn’t it be nice for that as-yet-unnamed panel of doctors to recommend a psychiatrist or psychotherapist be assigned to the White House as a matter of course? Is that already the case? Too much of a tangent. . . ?

And what about genomic testing? I mean, Jesus, that seems way too far, but what happens when (and it is a when, not an if) everyone is tested as a matter of standard medical protocol? Hell, a lot of people are already paying out of pocket for their own partial genomic profiles; what should be the response to demands that candidates be tested?

That’s just. . . oh, man, that would be a terrible idea—which is, of course, no barrier to its adoption.

All of these minds cannot be successfully melded; I have, in the end, only questions: How much privacy should a candidate, a president, have? What do we, as citizens, deserve (as opposed to merely desire) to know about those who would lead us?





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Just a little bit longer

8 09 2016

I may wax and wane in my enthusiasm for voting for Hillary Clinton, but I am firm that I’ll vote for her.

And whatever waning there is, doesn’t mean I think I’m voting for “the lesser evil”.

Greater and lesser evils in politics: such horseshit.

Bernard Crick argued that politics requires pluralism, which in turn creates the conditions in which politics may flourish: that there are differences requires some mechanism for negotiating amongst those differences, and politics (as opposed to technocracy or totalitarianism) provides an open, inclusive, and non-violent way for a citizenry to deal with itself.

Politics is more than this, of course, but that notion of conciliation and compromise are key: if factions are only ever maximalist, only ever all-or-nothing, only ever my-way-or-else, then politics will be ground out of existence.

Which is where my evilism-is-horseshit stance comes from: someone is decried as a lesser evil because she isn’t perfect, is compromised, is too willing to compromise, adheres too closely or not closely enough to the party line, will disappoint, will likely fail.

All politicians fail. Good politicians fail well, bad politicians fail badly, but if politics is about advancing an agenda against competing agendas, then the old cliché sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you means that even the greatest advances will contain losses.

It also means that to advance your position, you’re likely to have to settle, to give something to get something. To compromise.

Yeah, sometimes you can hold the line, and those hard-liners do have a place (tho’ not in leadership) in politics, but if your political adversaries are present in enough numbers to get in your way (which is almost always the case, if not at any one moment then certainly over a relatively short period of time), you’re going to have to pay attention to them. You’re going to have to deal.

As with failing, you can be a good (moves you closer to your goals)  or bad (moves you further from your goals) dealer, but if you don’t deal at all you’re not much of a politician, much less a political leader.

To deal is to be political, not to be evil, so any assessment of a politician should not be Does she deal or not but Is she a good dealer or bad dealer?

Again, none of this means candidates, even ones one is waxingly enthusiastic about, are above criticism—criticize away! But criticize them on their politics, not on the fact of their imperfections.

~~~

*It’s not that evil doesn’t exist at all in politics—if you’re a genocidal dictator you pretty much fit the definition of an evil leader—but that in ordinary or functioning politics, the evil quotient is going to be pretty low. (I could go full Crick and state that genocidal dictators are anti-politics by definition, and thus fob off evil on the upside-down, but that’s a little too convenient.)