Break down, it’s all right

1 08 2017

When I was 22 I gave up hope.

It was necessary, a way to keep myself alive, but I don’t know that it was a conscious decision so much as a fait accompli.

Almost 30 years late, and I’m still snagged on that word, hope: hope you’re feeling better; hope it goes well; etc. I didn’t use it at all, for years, but sometimes there’s no good way to avoid the word without drawing attention to its avoidance. So, I use it, sparingly, and always with a mental reservation.

I gave it up because I was broken, as a person. I may or may not still be broken, and perhaps I won’t ever get past those breaks without at least a handshake with hope, but I have managed to put together a life without it.

It’s hard, and I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to anyone, but if you have to abandon hope, you can, and live.

The loss of hope is, or can be, less a tossing-away than an uncovering: you’ll see things, in this hope-less life, that you wouldn’t otherwise. I can’t say if this new sight is worth it, relatively speaking, but, again, there is a kind of clarity, here.

This is how I’m coming to see my response to the 2016 elections. Something broke inside of me, and I couldn’t get a handle on it. Now, I’m thinking that I had a kind of hope in American politics, a hope I never really considered, never really recognized, and that now that’s gone.

Again, a hard thing, but not the worst thing. Again, I gain a sight, a sense of the meanness of this country, which, however maddening, is useful to have.

The differences between the personal and the political hope-loss are that I didn’t know I had any left to lose, and that I thought I already knew how the US could be; that’s what made election night so unbelievably painful.

A more significant difference is that I ended up in a place where there are already a hell of a lot of people—mostly, people of color—who had discarded hope long ago. They haven’t given up; they just don’t expect that everything will somehow turn out right. No, there is work to be done.

This work would be easier, I’d think, if there were hope; or maybe it would just be easier to avoid the work. (I have evidence from my personal life to support both possibilities.) Regardless, there is work to be done.

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In the sky a broken flag, children wave and raise their arms

13 11 2016

Not quite on my feet, but getting there; to steal from myself:

So let me, uncharacteristically, respond to anger with affection, even love:

This is my city; this is New York City.

It is big and  it is tough, but it isn’t mean, and it shouldn’t be small.

Let us be large, let us be mixed-up and loud and jostling and gesturing and Jewish and Muslim and Christian and Hindu and Sikh and Voudou and pagan and heretic and agnostic and atheist and conservative and liberal and radical and apathetic and hustling and napping and dancing and falling down and flirting and singing and praying and chanting and arguing and mourning and laughing and embracing and letting go and everything everything everything that we have always been and always became and always will be.

Let us be all of that and everything more.

 





Baby, take a walk outside

4 07 2016

It’s time:

Camus’s take on the US, via John Doe and Exene’s uncertain harmony.





We leave the door of Destiny ajar

14 12 2015

Superficially, one might see the resemblances between Weimar and the US:

  • the concern, even hysteria, over supposedly inhuman enemies
  • polarization in society
  • economic insecurity
  • sense of wounded nationalism
  • dizzying movements within the culture
  • distrust of government
  • violence

But even more apparent is the crucial difference between the two:

  • the acceptance of Constitution itself

This is crucial because, in Weimar, large portions of the polity never accepted the constitution, never accepted the republic.

Part of this was due to, as I mentioned, the post-abdication government’s acceptance of the Armistice, and of the signing of the hated Treaty of Versailles: the German public couldn’t believe it had lost, and considered the harsh terms of the Treaty unjust. That the loss of territory, control over industrial regions, and, of course, reparations, made economic recovery difficult only heightened the skepticism toward a government which had apparently allowed all of this to happen.

Not everyone felt this way, of course. While liberal parties never managed to hold a majority in the Reichstag after 1920, the Social Democrats, the German Democratic Party, and the Catholic Center Party did hold significant chunks of parliament throughout this period, with various liberals holding the chancellorship as well.

But even had the Constitution been configured differently—the chancellor was appointed by an elected president, he was not simply the leader of the majority party or majority coalition in the Reichstag—it’s difficult to see how the republic could have overcome the irreconcilable differences in the polity itself.

Germany was divided between the reactionaries (those who wanted to restore the monarchy), the conservatives (ranging from nationalist-bourgeoisie to militarists), and liberals (social democrats, liberal-bourgeoisie); tucked in amongst these were Catholic interests, which tended toward conservatism (fear and loathing of the left) but which also appreciated the chance to participate in governance; the Communists, which by the 1920s subordinated themselves to Moscow; and various fascist groups, which had almost no role in government but which fought and killed in the streets throughout the decade.

Finally, after 1925 and with the election of Hindenburg, the republic’s president was a man who loathed the republic.

But it wasn’t just the politicians and the parties (many of which had paramilitary arms which regularly engaged in violence), but the institutions of the state itself were cool to the republic. The civil service was thoroughly conservative, as was the judiciary as well as the army. Bureaucrats, judges, and military officials rarely attacked the republic directly, but they never accepted it as legitimate; in the case of the judiciary, they would often sympathize with rightists who were brought before the bench, and raising a “patriotic” defense was often the ticket to either acquittal or a lenient sentence.

So, for example, none of the surviving conspirators in the assassination of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau served more than five years, and only one of the conspirators involved in the Kapp putsch served any time at all.

And, most famously, the man at the head of the beer-hall putsch in Munich, one Austrian corporal named Adolph Hitler (he didn’t become a German citizen until 1932), not only wasn’t deported, he was given free rein to speechify in court, and given only a five-year sentence in ‘fortress incarceration’—of which he served only a year.

The US polity is at least somewhat polarized (there is some controversy as to how much), but one touchstone for pretty much everyone is the Constitution: everybody who is anybody says they love it.

We don’t all love it the same way, of course, but does anyone think that the assassination of the Secretary State would lead to a sentence of less than 10 years? That the attempted armed overthrow of a state government (with the announced intention to overthrow the federal government) by a non-citizen would lead to prison term of merely 5 years? and that he’d be out after a year? and not deported?

In fact, for as violent a society as the US is, our violence is, largely, non-political. This hardly makes it benign (especially when perpetrated by officials of the state, i.e., the police), but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have paramilitary wings and their members tend not to participate in assassination attempts of political figures.

Furthermore, when someone is killed for political reasons—say, a doctor who performs abortions—most political leaders will distance themselves from the act itself (even if they do express sympathy for the motive). Just as if not more importantly, prosecutors, juries, and judges tend not to wave away such murders.

In other words, whatever the problems with our republic, most citizens, most elected officials, and most of the members filling the institutions of government, nonetheless accept the structure of the government.

I am very critical of elected officials (say, some Republicans) who suggest that other elected officials (say, some Democrats) are illegitimate, in no small part because attacks on the existence of the opposition in government is an attack on the legitimacy of the government itself—a dangerous proposition for any member of government to take. But even with Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” and the birther conspiracies and Mike Huckabee’s intimations that the president is some kind of traitor  (Jesus FUCK, Huckabee!), I have no doubt that any attempt on the life of the president, members of his Cabinet, or of anyone running for president would be met by near-universal condemnation.

(Yeah, near-universal: there will always be those who celebrate assassination, and some of the public condemners might be private celebrators, but it would be understood by all that public glee at the murder of a public official punches one’s ticket to the fringe.)

Which is to say, as much as folks may dislike the government, it’s probably not going too far to say they’d dislike the violent overthrow of that government even more.

To be continued.





Willkommen!

14 12 2015

Fucking hell, ONE DAY after I make the absolutely authoritative and IRREFUTABLE argument assertion that the US is not Weimar, and Jeffrey Goldberg’s Twitter stream puts me on to this:

FireShot Screen Capture #035 - 'Trump’s Weimar America

No. No no no no no no no. Annnnnnnnnnd: No.

Question: Does Cohen state in any way how the US is like Weimar? He does not.

Oh, he goes on about anger and antipathy and xenophobia and bombast—as if these were new things in US politics—but says next-to-nothing about what Weimar was about.

The one thing he does mention, hyperinflation, he (correctly) dismisses: hyperinflation hit Germany in January 1923 (really, the inflation was bad even in the latter half of 1922), but by the following year was under control.

(Which is to say: those who think hyperinflation in 1923 => Hitler in 1933 are incorrect.)

So let’s look at Weimar, if only briefly.

The first thing to know is that the republic was formed out of the corpse of an authoritarian empire, an empire which lasted less than 50 years. Some conservatives had hated Bismarck’s Reich, believing the realpolitik behind its inception too cold, too practical; they wanted an expansive Empire, one which would compete with the UK and France, and which would dominated Europe.

At the onset of war in 1914, Germany failed in the former task, but it certainly was the strongman of the continent: it was the most populous state, and had the largest economy. The Kaiser’s government vacillated in its attempts to restrain the Hapsburgs, but when war came, the population was ecstatic: they were certain they would win, and that the glory, and riches, of victory would be theirs.

The government and the General Staff of the Army encouraged such thinking and then, as Germany’s fortunes turned in 1918, discouraged any counter-message through suppression and censorship; the Kaiser himself was only told of the need for surrender in September.

Oh, and can I pause here to note what shits were Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff? They’d set up what was basically a ‘silent’ military dictatorship in 1916, and when their tactics failed, they disclaimed any responsibility for those failures. Hindenburg went on to testify, twisting the words of an English writer, that the German army had been ‘stabbed in the back’ and Ludendorff—such a shit—set up any following government for failure. According to Detlev Peukert,

he pressed for the formation of a new government, which would have to concede Germany’s defeat and accept the likely peace terms that would follow, from the majority parties in Parliament: the Social Democrats, the liberals, and the [Catholic] Centre. The eventual effect of this cynical manoeuvre, which absolved the ruling conservative and military leadership of responsibility for the consequences of its own failed war policy, was to inflict on the democratic parties the odium of the notorious Dolchstoß [stab-in-the-back], directed by stay-at-home-politicians against the fighting soldiers in the trenches. (The Weimar Republic, p. 27)

(Ludendorff, you will not be at all surprised to learn, was also involved in the 1923 beer-hall-putsch, although the court acquitted him. He was sidelined after an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1925 (Hindenburg won), but remained involved in far-right politics until his death in 1937.)

Now, I’m spending a lot of time on this, and we haven’t even gotten to the republic itself, but the point is, that republic was targeted by its enemies even before it was born—and those enemies came not from outside of Germany,* but from its very center.

To be continued.

~~~

*Okay, not entirely true: German Communists, inspired and later directed by the Bolsheviks, were also opposed to the republic—they did, after all, attempt a revolutionary coup in early 1919—and they created no small amount of trouble for the republicans once the new government was established. Still, whatever power they had in the cities and in industrial areas, they had little power in the apparatus of the state itself.

n.b.: I updated what had been “1924 =>. . .” to “1923”.





Everybody knows the fight was fixed, 20

5 10 2015

I’m not generally a fan of violence nor specifically a fan of assault.

However.

I cannot dredge up even the smallest bit of concern at the sight of an Air France executive chased over a fence by workers:

Kenzo Tribouillard , AFP/Getty

These workers are fighting for their jobs. They’re literally doing to the executives what the executives would—metaphorically—do to them.

I have no illusions that labor violence in the US would not be met by even greater police violence, nor that the citizenry would support the workers. Whatever our paeans to ‘plain-spoken hard-working salt-of-the-earth heartland’ types, what we Americans really respect is money.

If you have to work to get it, okay, fine, but if you’re out there doing what someone else can do (cheaper), shut up and get back to work.

There’s an incident recalled in Adam Gopnik’s essay “Trouble at the Tower” in which a tourist (British? American?) was prevented (roughly?) from getting off at the wrong platform by the elevator operator. She complained, he was fired, the rest of the tower workers went on strike until he was restored to his position.

Naturally, sympathy in France gathered quickly around the wronged operator and his striking friends, while sympathy in the Anglo-American side gathered around the roughed-up lady. . . [S]he was just trying to have a good time, we think. But he was only doing his job, they think.

Gopnik elaborates upon and, honestly, overplays the disjuncture between the customer/producer mentalities (just as I overplay the respect for money/work disjuncture), but I think he does get at something about cultural defaults: the French sympathy tends toward the worker, while the American does not.

In France, the storming of the offices of the jobs-cutting executives (or the blockade of roads by tractors) is not a horror, but a tactic. In the US, workers respond to cut jobs by reapplying for the same position at a lower wage.

And if corporations kill workers? Oh, well.

(Is it worth noting that the one of the few corporate executives who’s going to jail for killing people is doing so for killing customers, not workers? I think so, yes.)

There are plenty of us (in both countries) who would set the switch differently, but we’re straining against custom. What they (we) take as right we (they) can scarcely imagine here.

So to see what is possible—that fighting back is possible—well, if I’m not exactly thrilled by the assault, there is a certain grim satisfaction in that man’s ripped shirt.





Knights in white satin

2 12 2014

Racism just ain’t what it used to be.

Oh, sure, it’s evolved from “savages” and “primitives”, from “nigger nigger nigger” to “we need to cut this”, from Jim Crow to the Southern strategy to voter ID, and, of late, to “race realism” and “human biodiversity” and James-Watson-not-a-racist-in-the-conventional-way, but even the folk who hide behind economic populism and biological science would admit that there are racists in the USA:

They’re called Klan members.

Thus, as long as those race realists (and James Watson) aren’t marchin’ around in white robes or burning crosses on colored folks’ lawns, they’re not racists (at least not in the conventional way).

So what to do when someone posts a picture of a Klan member to his Facebook page and captions it “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”—and then insists he’s not racist?!

I mean, the KKK is the white-gold standard of racism in America! If the HBD-ers (and James Watson) aren’t able to point to their non-membership in the Klan as evidence of their non-racism, however will they convince people of their good faith and disinterested interpretation of evidence?

The horror.

Or maybe I’ve been wrong all along, and this new KKK≠racism equation proves once and for all that racism no longer exists in America.

At least among white people.