Men and women of principle

>> Thursday, December 08, 2016

In short, many religious Christians of a traditionalist bent believed that liberals not only reduce their deeply held beliefs to bigotry, but want to run them out of their jobs, close down their stores and undermine their institutions. When I first posted about this on Facebook, I wrote that I hope liberals really enjoyed running Brendan Eich out of his job and closing down the Sweet Cakes bakery, because it cost them the Supreme Court. I’ll add now that I hope Verrilli enjoyed putting the fear of government into the God-fearing because it cost his party the election.
The Washington Post, December 7th, 2016.

One naturally wonders what to do with these kinds of articles and arguments.

Firstly, because it's probably fair to say that Evangelical Christians are probably right that a fair number of us would like to see their beliefs relegated to the same dustbin that holds wife-burnings and human sacrifices.  I would like to be kinder and more tolerant about this, but I give up: I think if you're content to have your religion and let me have my lack of it, we can live together just fine, but if you want your belief in a sky fairy and a literal take on ancient legends to govern daily life and oppress consenting adults from having consenting adult relationships, or regulate adults' reproductive choices, for examples, we don't have much room to live together after all.  One of us has to give in about gay marriage and/or access to contraception, and I don't intend to.

This is why I've gotten tired of people insisting that there are "political" divisions that people "just need to get over" or "seek compromise" on.  You and I disagree on a tax rate, that's political.  You and I disagree on whether gay people are entitled to the full panoply of civil rights, that's something else.  And it's not a "compromise" for us to decide that gay people have some human rights but not others: that's just a "lite" version of deciding they're not entitled to be treated as fully human.

We went through this and are still going through this with African-Americans.  Either black folks and white folks have the same basic rights or they don't, and the white folks who spent the Reconstruction era saying that the former slaves ought to be satisfied with being former slaves without insisting on being able to vote and hold office, demand equal pay, and use the same public transit facilities were missing the point.

It may be that there will be a backlash and terrible bill to be paid for the Obergefell decision, but I'm not about to feel bad about that.  If a certain kind of Christian considers gay marriage an assault on their values, well maybe it is and if so it ought to be.

Which also brings us, the long way around back and through the woods, to the secondly.  (I certainly wouldn't begin a section "firstly" if I didn't have a "secondly."  Well.  Not on purpose, anyway.)

Secondly, it's hard to know what to make (if anything) of observations like Bernstein's when the evangelical voters he is writing about go out of their way to make it so damned hard to take their values seriously by voting for somebody who conspicuously flaunts and violates them.

The Mormons in Utah who voted for McMullin, I can respect where they were coming from and what they did; if it was a futile gesture, it was nevertheless a touchingly honest one.  I don't share their values, mostly, and I can't say I care for their candidate.  But they didn't reject Hillary Clinton in favor of a man who doesn't represent a single value the Church of Latter-Day Saints has ever laid claim to.  The evangelicals who voted for Trump, on the other hand....

The evangelicals who voted for Trump: we know they value something, whatever it is.  But that whatever seems to take precedence over, say, the seven venal sins, all of which seem to be embodied by Trump.  He's a braggart who can't open his mouth (or Twitter app) without boasting.  There's pride.  He boasts about pussy grabbing and makes lewd comments about his own daughter and goes through wives the way some people lease cars.  Lust, I think?  His lifestyle reeks of greed and gluttony (and more pride).  He's notorious for not working hard to prepare for things like the debates and the office he's the presumptive winner of, talked about how great it was to have an actual veteran give him an unearned Purple Heart because that was the easy way to get something he always wanted, and he's only where he is because of his dad's money.  Let's group these under laziness.  He has a short temper and is easily riled--there's anger.  Do you suppose his being upset about not getting an Emmy counts as envy?

Admittedly, the Seven Deadlies are very Catholic.  But one wonders at how Trump is granted forgiveness by so many self-pronounced Christians when he's undeniably done so many of the things these same people flayed the Clintons for.  Marital infidelities, corrupt self-dealing, public lying?  Sounds like Donald Trump.

Or--and I'm not a Christian, maybe I was misinformed--but I was given the distinct impression evangelicals put a high priority on family values and living a Christlike life.  It has been a long while since I perused the New Testament, but I fail to recall the passages where Jesus went around walking into women's dressing rooms at the beauty pageants he hosted, sexually harassed girls and women, cheated people out of their hard-earned money by promising to teach them at a fake "university," mocked the disabled and the families of dead soldiers, bullied people, and ran his mouth with such a pathological indifference to facts or consistency that calling it "lying" seems somehow inadequate and itself misleading.

I do seem to recall Jesus being something of a religious scholar: had the Bible as we now know it existed, I sincerely doubt he would have referred to something as "Two Corinthians."

The nearest resemblance to what passes for a Christian I can find in Donald Trump is a reference to the now-popular "Prosperity Gospel" that equates worldly success (something I vaguely recall Jesus as being disdainful towards in the actual Gospels) with virtue.  Trump, whatever his actual financial holdings, lives in a gilded world and has stumbled into the office of President of the United States; if these are signs that he has pleased God and therefore been rewarded... well, I have been told The Lord moves in mysterious ways, and I admit to being frankly baffled.  Indeed, if acting like a thoroughly godless, secular lout is the way to pleasing God, let me point out to the Divine Creator of the Universe that I don't even believe in Him, that I curse like a sailor and have questionable morals, and that my very profession is associated with prostitution and held in slightly less regard; surely I am even more pleasing, then, and deserve a little something something for my efforts?  Am overdue, even, for my beautiful reward?

It is, anyway, hard to look at someone who (a) claims they're an evangelical Christian and (b) voted for a lying, fraudulent, money-grubbing pervert, and decide that their actions and values are in alignment.  Indeed, one is inclined at this point to "reduce their deeply held beliefs to bigotry": if you are more distressed that two consenting adults of the same sex wish to spend their lives together with the full benefits accorded by a secular state than you are by the fact that you just voted for a man who resembles the money-lenders and hypocrites who appeared as villains and cautionary examples in Biblical tales more than he resembles your Savior, I don't see how it's surprising or even unfair for me to conclude that your homophobia is more important than any other values you pretend to have.  I'm not even saying that you necessarily believe Donald Trump is a good or godly man; only that you care about that less than you care about the squickiness you feel about grown men holding hands, kissing, or being allowed to participate in medical decisions on behalf of their partners.

Let me just say in closing that I can imagine some American pundit of a hundred-and-sixty-years ago gloating that he hoped John Frémont enjoyed threatening Southerners with the prospect of losing the balance of Free and Slave states in Congress and scaring hard-working property owners with the prospect of being unable to recover personal property that happened to abscond him-or-herself across the Mason-Dixon Line and onto Free Soil.  No doubt being staunchly abolitionist cost the Republicans of 1856 the White House, and nominating a firebrand like Frémont who would campaign under an offensive and divisive slogan like "Free Soil, Free Men, and Frémont!" was obviously a mistake; I imagine our pundit writing in the 19th Century's equivalent to Politico that if the Republicans wanted to have any hope whatsoever of winning future elections and to exist as a viable political party, they would need to abandon divisive rhetoric, reach out to those alienated by the Republican Party's "identity politics" and those rejecting the "political correctness" that reduced their "deeply-held values" to bigotry.  And by the metric of victory--surely the only thing that counts, right?--this pundit would be absolutely correct: the divisive, partisan, identity politics of the Republican Party cost them a Presidential election, practically handed the White House to James Buchanan, and the Republicans had no right to be upset about the results when it was clearly their own damned fault for picking a divisive and polarizing candidate like John C. Frémont as their standard-bearer instead of somebody willing to compromise on the issues that really mattered to the average American voter.  Remember the great bipartisan compromises like the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854?  That's the kind of middle-of-the-road, middle American cooperation this country needs to be great again.

Yeah?  Well?  I guess I have an appropriately Yuletide season response to that kind of thinking, then or now.


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No Real American would...

>> Tuesday, November 29, 2016




It has been observed, of course, that this would be all kinds of unconstitutional.  Not that the Great Orange Creature has read the Constitution since he was a schoolboy, not that he much cares what is in it, not that he has any more interest in the founding document than he does in the daily operations of the office he is now the heir presumptive to.

Photo ©NBC via Rob Beschizza.
But what is--perhaps--getting less noticed is that the Orange Man is the type of demagogue who would say--or tweet--the same thing even if he did know better.  He doesn't seem to much care what he himself says, for one thing; he does care what others say, when they are being disrespectful, when they are puncturing his hot air balloon ego.  So there's that.  But, thing is, even if he did care, he'd go on and Tweet things like that anyway, because it's chum for his frenzied base.  It's the kind of thing a certain kind of political beast would toss over the side of the boat just to set the dumb fish thrashing and chewing everything and nothing--seawater, empty air, a mouthful of blood and reeking fishguts, whatever.

For the sort of person who ardently supported the Bankruptcy King (I don't mean those who merely aided and abetted, voting for racism and misogyny and religious bigotry and bullying for "reasons"; these people have their own accounting to do, eventually, especially if there is a God and He's just), the kind of American who doesn't say the Pledge, who kneels during the National Anthem, who burns a flag in protest, is already suspect.  You should keep this in mind when reading the above tweet and all the other tweets like it and hear him say similar things.  The ardent supporter of Mr. Pussygrabber most likely, I think, takes it on some deep lizard level as already given that a protester or critic isn't really a citizen in the first place, and depriving her or him of citizenship would really be more a formality than anything else.  Real Americans don't do such things; Real Americans show a little respect; Real Americans love this country or ought to leave it, and to "love" implicitly means that it's your country, right or wrong, and you don't say even a word against it.

In Real America, patriotism is a facile thing, the blind devotion of the dog that licks the boots that kick him.

I do not really believe that DJT particularly cares about free speech or the flag, you know.  I strongly suspect he cares about being adored, and that he knows who his audience is.  Knows that if he says the things his core supporters believe in their deepest hearts, they will shout and chant and shake their fists.  This doesn't make him less dangerous, it should be said; it may well make him more dangerous.  You wonder what the Great Prevaricator might do if he lies his way into a corner; do consider that he is already walking back many of the impossible promises he made: the wall is becoming a fence, the Muslim registry may be little more than a reinstatement of the Bush-era NSEERS program for tracking foreign visitors, he may not be as interested in repealing the Affordable Care Act as previously advertised, his "swamp-draining" appears to involve offering appointments to a "Who's-Who" of washed-out Washington insiders like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani.  At some point, it's conceivable that his Truest Believers will start removing their "Make America Great" redcaps to rub their foreheads in confusion, asking "What gives?" as they notice that the man who tells it like it is isn't quite how he tells it.  And when that happens, does he shrug and admit there is nothing behind the curtain, that Oz The Great and Terrible is really just a two-bit real estate grifter from Queens whose daddy was rich enough to keep him from having to make a start in a boiler room with all the other jive turkeys, or does he start desperately trying to deliver?

I worry it will be Choice B.  And it may well be that whatever he does to deliver something so that he can hear the cheering over the jeering again will be terribly naughty and astonishingly illegal, but of course we have a country that is built upon deliberative processes--this was a feature in the original design, a way to keep a new nation from getting itself into trouble through hastiness and over-zealousness, but a feature that has become a chronic bug, regularly crashing the system; and so the people who become the chosen victims to be made examples of may get acquitted, or freed, or reinstated, or may receive reparations eventually (or their heirs might), but in the meantime their cases wind through the courts, or Presidential actions are brought before subcommittees and then committees and then one of the houses and then before the full Congress, or decades of shame pass until some future leader issues an apology or is authorized by the legislature to cut a check.

There's that.  Oh, and there's also the way Orange Crush's tweets and pronouncements galvanize the Real Americans.  Hate crimes are up, and we'll acknowledge that Deej is tepidly against them and he'll quietly ask his supporters to stop, "If it helps."  Unsurprisingly, he puts much less effort into stopping anyone than he did into winding them up in the first place; less a matter of sincerity than it is simply the fact that winding somebody up until they are frothing and shouting and shaking their fists in the air like they're at a pretty fantastic heavy metal concert is a lot less fun than telling people to pipe down; people like feeling excited and part of a throng, they like being part of the movement (it is part of being social creatures), telling them to cut it out suggests to people they're doing something wrong, that they might even need to feel some nebulous shame, which is not a pleasant feeling, much less the unbridled joy of cheering and chanting along with a roaring murmur of cheerers and chanters.

If you're not a citizen, if you ought to be locked up, then being approached by some nearly-violent, instigated wacko to be yelled at and perhaps even assaulted is really the least you could expect, yeah?  You have no rights, so you have no recourse; you shouldn't even complain, really, really you should be grateful that all you got was spat on and your silly little sign torn out of your hands and your ear clouted from behind, instead of going to a camp or prison, or being deported, or being whatever else a disloyal, traitorous, un-American, sad bitch ought to receive.  Being shamed or injured is less than you deserve, you don't even belong here.

That OJ hasn't come right out and said that, well, there's his moral cover he can pull over himself to keep himself warm and secure in his suite in Trump Tower, Man of the People that he is.  He didn't say the protesters weren't citizens, only that they shouldn't be.  And he went on CBS and he asked them to stop, if it would help, which it didn't, but he tried.  And then at three in the morning, when most of the east coast of his country is asleep, and he is lying awake thinking of the adoring mobs with their signs and their hats, he reaches for his phone and he will tweet another idle incitement, not because he means it, but because it's good to be loved.






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Comprehension test

>> Monday, November 14, 2016

So these Trump voters had a comprehension problem. But we were just as bad. We couldn't understand what they were saying to us. We refused to accept every signal about whom they hated, and how much. Why? Because Trump's voters were speaking a language that has been taboo in America for decades, if not forever.
Rolling Stone, November 10, 2016.

This bullshit is already getting tired.  Hey, I like Matt Taibbi, and I don't blame him for trying to spin a DT victory that blindsided him as much as anybody else even though he was on the trail covering the race and probably feels like he should have called it better.

But the problem here isn't that nobody was listening to the DT supporters.  Believe me, lots and lots of us were listening to DT supporters.  We were listening to DT supporters who chanted "Lock her up!" and "Trump that bitch!"  We were even listening when the less vitriolic supporters were talking about how DT's ideas--which often consisted of incoherent word salads--made sense.

We heard.  We heard and we couldn't believe our ears.

One of the major reasons a lot of us were blindsided by DT's win, honestly, is that we gave a lot of our fellow citizens too much credit.  I know: look at me here, intellectual elitist, being all condescending about my fellow Americans, and this is how I'm part of the problem.  Yeah, sure--go back to Taibbi's Rolling Stone postmortem whine, then; have fun.

If you're still here and want to talk seriously: yes, a lot of us dumb, naive liberals honestly believed that Trump's support peaked around one third of the one quarter of Americans who show up to vote in the Republican primaries.  We thought he had a ceiling that was much lower than it was, because frankly we thought other Republicans were smart enough and moral enough to be repelled by his rhetoric--which, to be fair, people like Mitt Romney deserve a lot of credit for standing up and trying to be heard.  (Let me just digress to give props to members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, of all people: I'm not a big fan, but looking at the quarter of the population of Utah who weren't willing to vote for Clinton but cast their protest vote for Evan McMullin instead of deciding racist demagoguery wasn't a big deal--respect.)

We thought that being an incompetent bigot would be a deal-breaker, even for people who loathed Hillary Clinton.  We thought, "Black President, Obergefell, Female Presidential Candidate--we're not there, but we've rounded the bend!"  And that was a mistake, absolutely: we were wrong.  Something around a quarter to a third of the voting population isn't racist in the showing-up-to-Klan-rallies sense, but they're what you might call racist enablers or endorsers: they don't care enough about how people of color are treated in this world to prioritize them over... whatever, gods only know; irrational hatred of Clinton, some kind of not-actually-factually-based ideas about global economics or national security, whatever.

The remaining DT supporters, the ones who actually got off on him getting away with language that everybody else in America regards as toxic at the very least?  Well, yeah, "Basket of Deplorables" may not have been the most politically felicitous phrasing and it pissed a lot of people off, but it's arguably a pretty accurate and maybe even euphemistic description of people who believe Muslims are radicalized terrorists, blacks are lazy welfare cheats who only vote for Democrats because they get free stuff for doing so, Mexicans are job-stealing murderers and rapists, America gives away more money to countries full of brown people than it spends on defending its borders, global warming is a conspiracy, and all the other crap I'm overlooking right now.

Not speaking their language?  How about not living in the same consensual reality?  The problem isn't that Americans don't know how to talk about class, the problem is that factual disagreements have replaced political ones.  A bit hard to have a policy discussion about the President's authorization of assassination-by-flying-robot when the other side is maundering about how said President is actually some kind of Kenyan Muslim sleeper agent trying to oh goddammit I don't even know what the fucking thread is here--I have a part time hobby of collecting absurd conspiracy theories and in all the years I've been doing that, never in my life until Barack Obama ran for President did I hear any frothing nutter spouting off about the damn Kenyan Muslims.  Bilderbergs, Freemasons, Illuminati, Jewish bankers, Communists, I've heard everyone named and blamed for everything from the French Revolution to the moon landing, and now, suddenly, people are terrified of the Machiavellian machinations of the Kenyans?  I can't even--

(Also, n.b. in the United States, Mr. Taibbi, and I feel like you know this: race is a historic proxy for class that we have been talking about for more than two centuries, admittedly poorly and haltingly and to less effect than might be hoped for; to the extent class exists separately from race in America, we of course have been talking about it, again poorly and haltingly and to less effect than might be hoped for, for maybe just a bit more than a hundred years; and also please n.b. that, to the extent we talk about class poorly and haltingly in America, that has a lot to do with the history of shooting people over it--it's a bit disingenuous to imply that Americans don't talk about class because liberal types have become isolated from the Great Working Masses when the stronger case is that we don't talk about class in America because people who talk earnestly about class in America get killed by strikebreakers and assassins.  As I write this, I'm less than a mile from a bridge named after a Sheriff whose claim to fame is getting killed while murdering strikers from the Loray Mill.  That kind of puts a sock in it.  Martin Luther King talked about class, look where it got him.  And the Republicans that DT supporters have a history of going for revere Ronald Reagan, by the way, who didn't actually murder the air traffic controllers, because they were white and it was no longer the 1930s, he just fired them and made them unemployable.  Sort of a symbolic murder, if you think about what that did to their families.  Meanwhile?  Meanwhile pointy headed college intellectuals talk about this shit and class and gender and race and intersectionality all the fucking time, it's just that the conservatives who gave socialism a poison name did the same thing to having an education while they were at it.)

And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast.

Well, you don't say?  Acted like it, too, didn't they?  Taibbi quotes, in a way that manages to come off as weirdly approving, a DT supporter from Pennsylvania:

"When [Trump] talks, I actually understand what he's saying," a young Pennsylvanian named Trent Gower told me at a Trump event a month ago. "But, like, when fricking Hillary Clinton talks, it just sounds like a bunch of bullshit."

We're to respect that?  I'm sorry, policy is hard.  The real world is complicated.  The fact is those we send to Washington to represent us in the legislative and executive branches have to make really complicated decisions based on data sets that often manage to be at once paradoxically overwhelming and insufficient.  In the context of defense policy, that incomplete and too-comprehensive mess gets the wonderfully apt label "The Fog of War" and it's often the same thing in economic policy or agrarian policy or energy policy--all of which all too frequently become fused, e.g. when we start talking about corn subsidies, an unholy and godawful cluster fuck of agriculture, energy, economy, and national defense.

Oh, yes, we've insufficiently educated our voters in a country where public education has quietly transitioned from something everybody once agreed was necessary to produce informed voters to a budgetary bargaining chip whose value is now measured in some large part by how many competent laborers it can produce for the American workforce; it's no longer as important to be able to find the Middle East on a map or to know who lost the American Civil War as it is to have "suitable job skills for entering the competitive marketplace of the 21st Century," gag, choke.  Perhaps we need some great communicator who can cut the tangled complexities of the modern world into bits that are easier to process.

But, funny thing, educated and informed people who listened to DT thought he was an idiot.  It's not that we didn't hear what he was saying: we heard, and its informational content was negative.  Whether it was thinking "Two Corinthians" was a book in the Bible and not the setup to a religious joke ("Two Corinthians walk into a bar, and the first one...") or clearly not knowing what the nuclear triad is, or not knowing what is in the Constitution at all, or his uninformed boasting about being smarter than American generals, or, or, or whatever--I don't know that there has been a more fundamentally ignorant Presidential candidate in our history; Andrew Jackson, who was mocked as a rube, and Harry Truman, who was mocked as a rube--they were better educated men than DT.

Which isn't to say that poor Gower is wholly wrong about Hillary Clinton and bullshit, mind you: look, I watched and listened to the debates, and there were undeniably times that Clinton was bullshitting.  Mostly in predictable and routine ways.  Yeah, she pivoted on questions she didn't like; yeah, she ducked issues she thought she was politically vulnerable on.  What she didn't do?  What she didn't do was sound like she didn't understand the questions she tried (often successfully) to avoid answering.  She didn't sound pathetically uninformed, incompetent, out of her depth, clueless, a hopeless idiot, where'd I put my thesaurus?

I can get being a little turned off by that, what I can't get is someone actually saying, "When Trump talks, I understand what he's saying."  Because there's nothing to understand--I kind of wish Taibbi hadn't named names with this guy, because for several years now, I've tried to be kind here towards people who aren't famous; in the early days of this blog, I sometimes punched down and I shouldn't have, but it's so hard, wanting to reach through the screen and shake Mr. Gower and shout, "Donald Trump makes noise but he doesn't say anything, you poor sack, and if you think he's saying something and you think he's making sense, it's because you have no fucking clue, you poor bastard!"  A DT debate answer is an exercise in pareidolia; fucking ELIZA would have given Clinton a tougher fight at the debates.  If you understand what Donald Trump is saying, you, sir, are as big an idiot as he is.

Gods only know: I know that liberals wrongly mocked George W. Bush's intellect.  Wrongly, because I really don't think--and I said this when the man was in office--that even a Legacy coasts through Yale and Harvard; I think Bush was incurious and trusting, was insufficiently skeptical of the people he surrounded himself and didn't ask the kinds of tough analytical questions Obama seems to.  In a lot of unfortunate ways, G.W. Bush was probably a bit like another Texan President, LBJ, who possessed a lot of savvy but allowed himself to be intellectually intimidated by people who weren't really any smarter than he was, they just carried off the pretense of being intellectuals tragically well.

But Bush, Bush could answer a damn question; oh, sure, he might mangle the grammar.  He didn't have the most orderly mind.  But you could tell where he was trying to go with his thought.  There was undeniable comedy in the way the thought got lost in the brush, sometimes, but you knew where it came from and you could see where it was supposed to come out, and if he accidentally spliced in a Pete Townshend lyric, say, well, that was worth a good laugh.  But DT?  He does not give great answers.  He does not give the best answers, the very best.  People do talk about his answers, but they are not saying nice things, the best things, the very best things, great things, about his answers.

Admittedly, it appears we were wrong that Clinton's basic competence would shine through and persuade even if she sometimes shoveled bullshit in what we took to be traditional, conventional, commonly and historically accepted ways.  "Naturally, she's a bit unsatisfactory about speaking fees and a bit dodgy on taxes, but who hasn't been since we started televising these things in 1960?  Hate the game, not the player, right?  We're comparing someone who has spent her life preparing for this job to someone who apparently doesn't know what he's auditioning for."  We said, and assumed, and we were wrong, undeniably we were wrong.

But I'm not sure we should be blamed for that.  The sin was in giving people what turned out to be too much credit: I can see what's going on here, surely everyone does.  I wouldn't vote for a racist over a competent non-racist, wouldn't you?  Okay, so there's a whiff of corruption in the whole speaking fees department and the e-mail server thing probably wasn't criminal but wasn't a hundred percent kosher, either, but this guy brags about not paying taxes for nearly twenty years because he lost a billion dollars that wasn't even his money, plus he's being sued for fraud and have you looked at his trail of bankruptcies?  To vote for this guy, you have to be okay with misogyny and racism, if not actually a misogynist and racist; you have to favor exotic and extraordinary displays of corruption and criminal behavior over the merely banal and typical; you have to be charmed by obvious ignorance and incompetence and somehow actually offended by someone who can demonstrate a broad grasp of myriad technical issues.

It's one thing to side with laugh with the bully and pick on the nerdy kid who didn't just do all last night's homework but actually spent the rest of his evening reading books that weren't even assigned.  Oh, hell: no it isn't, either.  Kids are little assholes when they do this kind of thing, and we adults tend to yell at them when we find out they're doing it.  What I meant, really, was that we sort of expect kids to do that kind of crap and take it accordingly.  And we expect those kids to grow out of it sometime around their late teens, when they start going to college or entering the armed forces or getting jobs or whatever it is they're going to do with themselves.  There's a not unreasonable expectation that adults are supposed to be impressed with experts at some level, and that these experts in whatever field they're found in will rise to the top of it.  I know, doesn't actually work out that way in real life all the time, and maybe less than you think or hope; but it's not unreasonable to think that in the adult world, the bully will be ostracized and the nerd will receive some kind of respect.

Guess not.

And really, what's the answer if Taibbi's right (he isn't)?  Pandering to racists?  Dumbing down the discourse even further?  Telling the same lies DT tells, if you can even call some of the random catchphrases he pops out lies?  (Does a statement have to have a meaning before it can be evaluated for truth or falsity?)  Saying that this is entirely, or even largely, a breakdown in communications is to imply that there's some validity to voting for DT, and is suggesting that the problem is that the complaints weren't heard or weren't understood, as opposed to heard, understood, and rejected.

Maybe we didn't lose because we didn't listen.  Maybe we lost because America is simply a worse place than we thought it was.



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Reaching out to the Rust Belt

>> Thursday, November 10, 2016

There's this idea that was floating around even before Secretary Clinton lost, that liberals in general and Democrats specifically just haven't done enough to reach out to the old blue collar workers.  Michael Moore predicted this would cost Clinton the election, and damned if it doesn't look like this played a big role in Donald taking the center of the country and yoiking the vote out from underneath the predictions that he had as little as a less than one percent chance of winning (oops).

I have to admit this whole line of recrimination bugs me.  I think there's truth to it; but I also think it's woefully unfair and simplistic.  The truth is that globalist utopian types like myself and some of my allies in the Democratic party haven't done a great job in being responsive to the concerns of old guard blue collar workers from the industrial heartland.  But there's another side to that, which is that there aren't really responses they want to hear.  There aren't responses they will accept, or could even be expected to accept.  When there are responses at all, because part of the problem is that a lot of the folks who wound up voting for Trump can't or shouldn't get what they want and may not even get what they need.

I think one of the things that global lefties like myself need to go ahead and confess is that we were naive and optimistic and that we ignored critiques and warnings, often with the best of intentions.  A lot of us, I suspect, rosily hoped that the good things to come out of global economic and political agreements would come so quickly that most people affected wouldn't notice a net negative impact, and blinded ourselves to warnings that most of the negative impact would be front-loaded in the first years of change while the positive impacts might be a much longer and slowly unfolding tail over decades if they happened at all.  A lot of us certainly ignored how much the pace of benefits from global trade agreements might get tied up in bureaucratic and legal issues.  And I'm very sure we underestimated the power of tribalism, whether manifested on a national level by nations or on a local level in small towns; we never really thought, though we certainly should have, that people would cling so tightly to dying pasts and antique loyalties when future possibilities beckoned so brightly.

Samuel Pierpont Langley - Potomac experiment 1903
Maybe we screwed up.  Idealists often do.  It's hard to apologize, though, when you're still sure the basic concept should have been sound.  You feel, perhaps, like Samuel Langley nose-diving prototype flying machine after prototype flying machine into the Potomac; unquestioningly, stubbornly certain that man can fly but still having to fish wreckage out of the river because the ways you keep attempting it just aren't working so far.  It's possible we're just that dumb, insert cliched line about definition of sanity here; it's also possible a couple of Ohioans on a beach trip to Kitty Hawk are going to make something soar.

And it's also true that we haven't communicated well.  But this is where I say we couldn't, because telling the truth to a lot of people in the industrial heart land would be damned hard and nobody wants to do it, and it doesn't help that anybody running for office who tried it could be expected to lose.  And so it's no wonder that we didn't.  Out of two kinds of cowardice, surely, the cowardice that comes from pity for some and the cowardice that comes from self-interest for others, and surely a mix of both for many who felt sorry and hopeful while also wanting to get elected to some station or another.

Nobody wants to sit down, look someone in the eyes, and say:

It's not about your job.  It's your whole industry.  It's dead or dying or in transition into something you wouldn't recognize, and it's not just taking your job with it.  Your industry can't exist anymore.  Your industry isn't sustainable as you know it.

It's not economically sustainable, it makes no sense to operate the way it used to.  It's not ecologically sustainable, it's killing the planet one way or another.  If it's in an extraction industry, it's literally not sustainable because one day, tomorrow or a hundred years from tomorrow, there won't be anything to pull out of the ground anymore.  It's not sustainable in the context of our foreign policy--we need these international trade agreements to try to keep a peace, and so this is also sustainability in the context of our military policy as well; we can't afford to get into fights over what you're doing anymore.  It's not technologically sustainable: if your industry still exists in ten years, or twenty, or fifty, your particular job will be done by robots or computers.

And it's really not about your job.  Your town, it was built around a mill, or a mine, or a factory, or some other industrial concern that can't be done anymore, or ought to be done somewhere else, or is going to be done by fewer people and more things in a place that makes more sense to do it in.  So your community isn't going to have a reason to exist anymore.  There's no reason for this mill, mine, or factory to operate at all, or operate here if it's going to; and so your town is going away unless it becomes something else.  Maybe if that mill, that mine, that factory just happened to be established somewhere picturesque, your town can continue to exist as a vacation spot that hardly resembles the place you grew up.  Maybe if your town is in the shadow of a city, it can survive as a bedroom community, and again become someplace you no longer recognize that's colonized on weekends by bankers and lawyers and information technologists and engineers.

Your kids, when they go to college, will have no reason to return.  And if they don't go to college, they'll have no reason to stay.

And it's not about your job.  The church where you and your parents and grandparents married will fill with old people and then the pews will empty out, and it will seem like nobody believes in your God anymore, unless some of the bankers and lawyers start attending.  If they believe in a God, or believe in your God, or believe in public worship; a lot of them are believers in vague ideas that it's not just a material universe out there, but that doesn't mean they'll come to your church every Sunday or any Sunday at all.  Perhaps, though, while your church empties, a new one started by the immigrants who commute from the town you thought you knew to the city you only visit for shopping will open.  It won't be the town you know, anyway.

It's so not about your job: if the only reason people ever had for living here was that mill, that mine, that factory, and that's gone, what happens to your Main Street.  Storefronts boarded up, merchants counting inventory for the last time; and if everybody's drifting away and the Walmart comes, all the unemployed, unemployable people going there for the low prices, so much for Main Street; and if your town instead persists, resurrected as a tourist spot or a commuter village, here come all the expensive boutiques full of the things you don't need that you can't afford, probably.  And this isn't your hometown anymore, either way; it's something else, a zombie corpse or a regenerated place so full of aliens that you're the one who feels like a stranger.

And if this town dies because there's no place in this world, or no place here at least, for your old mill, old mine, old factory, it dies hard.  Because we fund almost everything locally through property and sales taxes, and your property is worth nothing and nobody can buy anything anymore.  And if your taxes are worth nothing, so are your schools and your roads.

This place is dead to you, and your trade, your career, your family, your neighbors, your church, your institutions mean nothing--if you stay, you're dead too; as are they, if they do.  And there is nothing that can be done for you but to offer you an education you may not want to receive so you can transition to a trade you may not want to pursue which may be located someplace you have no desire to go to.  And we can offer your kids an escape route through college or the military, and they will be like strangers to you.

Nobody wants to say that.  But it's all true, basically.  You can tweak it here and there.  But there's no way to really say it that isn't brutal, that doesn't say, "Your life is worthless now," which is also true in its way.

Nobody wants to believe it, I'm sure.  Oh, it's obvious how you deny every last paragraph I just wrote: it's conspiracies, it's immigrants, it's cultural decadence.  Oh, surely it must be.  This mill, this mine, this factory: it employed everyone in town, everyone knew everybody, and now it's gone because of greed.  And the church empties because the liberal intellectuals tricked everyone into believing in Darwinism, not because nobody lives here anymore.  And the roads are cracked because the politicians in the capitol are lining their pockets, not because the local tax base is a flat line that can barely cover patching Main Street every other spring after the winter's last freeze.  The mill, the mine, the factory would still be running if some college faggots didn't want to hug some goddamn owl nobody heard of before last week.

But rail against it, and the industries aren't coming back.  They won't be, and not for one reason or another, but for all the reasons.  Because the world has changed, and will.  It always does.  The dictionary is full of words for jobs that are now exotic or extinct: tinkers and chandlers, limners and coopers, scriveners and lamplighters.

Has been changing.  We were wrong, we globalists, we internationalists, we utopians, about the pace, but one of the other ugly truths is that these industries have been dribbling away since the '70s or '80s; I guess it's undeniable now that trade agreements made in the '90s turned the spigots on so that the trickle became the deluge, but it was already happening.  We hoped it might happen more slowly.  We hoped that people might benefit before they had to pay in full, instead of the other way around.  We hoped people might change, that they might willingly trade their dying trades for newborn trades if we offered the right incentives; even when we didn't botch that part of it, we underestimated how much they'd want to live in the places they grew up and do the things they grew up doing.

So it was hard to look people in the eyes and tell them the truths we ourselves didn't really want to believe in the first place (who wants to believe they murdered a whole town, turf to steeple?), because we were sad and scared and it would have been costly to our souls and sometimes our ambitions.  But I ask you, what could we have been expected to say?  Of course we evaded, and some of us lied not just to the people we spoke to about the glorious benefits of being in a global community, but to ourselves.

We couldn't have made the promises someone made to get himself elected: we couldn't have told them these jobs were coming back, that the lives their parents or grandparents knew when most of the world was sunk to the waist in either the swamp of late colonialism or the wreckage of the Second World War and so the American economy was not merely ascendant but literally unrivaled would magically return.  We couldn't convince them that the only jobs immigrants were taking were either jobs they didn't want or jobs they weren't qualified for to begin with, that the jobs they knew and expected were gone.  We couldn't tell them that the problem wasn't violence on television or gays in movies or coarse language on the radio, that their neighborhood bonds were being broken because their communities no longer had a function beyond existing to exist, mere inertia, tontines without prizes.

Oh, we did try to ameliorate, of course.  We did.  We tried to offer safety nets.  From Social Security to the Affordable Care Act; we were accused of fostering dependence, we were told people wanted jobs not handouts, we were told the country couldn't afford to pay for any of it.  We were accused of creating slaves, we were accused of buying votes with entitlements, we were accused of bankrupting the country.  Well.

1st ed. cover via Wikipedia
There's a line in Frank Herbert's Dune my mind keeps circling back to.  Early in the book, Paul Atreides asks the Reverend Mother Gaius Mohiam why she keeps talking about him while saying nothing about his father.  The Reverend Mother replies with, "If there were a thing to be done for him, we'd have done it.  We may be able to salvage you.  Doubtful, but possible.  But for your father, nothing," a line that recurs throughout the book and appears in the 1984 David Lynch adaptation in a similar-but-slightly different context as "For the father, nothing."  It's become a little famous, you can find clips of the actress saying it on YouTube and audio snips of it on other media sites.  It seems like we could have said something similar to too many people in the Rust Belt and Appalachia: we might be able to teach your children to be computer programmers or financial services consultants or to process insurance forms, but for their fathers and mothers, it is too late; we can offer them a slim retirement and healthcare if Congress would just fund it without squabbling, and a chance their grandchildren won't be drafted.

But who wants to say this?  Who wants to hear it?










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The Great Divide

>> Wednesday, November 09, 2016



There will be a lot of nonsense now about the need for the country to come together, how we are all Americans, how our strengths are greater than our divisions.  It's nonsense because it's all based on what is increasingly obviously a false premise: we obviously aren't all Americans, all united, all one people.

We are tribes, one confederation of which embraces a seething resentment and fear of modernity and change.  Many of my friends and family reduce this to race or gender, but I think the racism and misogyny are symptomatic of a deeper fear and loathing.  The confederacy hates minorities and despises women because minorities and women "no longer know their places"; thus this animosity is part and parcel of a fear of immigrants, a distrust of science, a strong attraction to parochialism and tradition.  They hate gays and atheists for about the same reason: nostalgia for a time when both remained in the closet.  They cannot comprehend that they are becoming increasingly alien in their own land as the world moves towards diversity and cooperation, and so embrace infantile conspiracy theories.

They are right and have been right about one thing: there is a culture war.  They are besieged.  The naiveté of liberals like myself was to think that the Obama presidency and Obergefell decision and similar events of the past ten years were sufficiently fatal; that what remained of their ilk were mere pockets of resistance.  Holdouts like the Japanese soldiers you used to still hear about when I was a kid, stranded on remote desolate islands in the South Pacific, tensely unaware that World War II ended thirty years prior....

We were wrong.

They remain strong enough to mount a sortie--more than a sortie: we can expect, I think, for most of Obama's legacy to be stripped away before he's even fully settled into his post-Presidency.  They will get their Supreme Court Justice, they will get their repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they will dismantle all of his accomplishments but the one they can't take away (that he was--and, oh, they would take that one away, too, but if they could; they would edit him from the photos and dump his press down the memory hole until the record of him was nothing but the oddest collection of pictures of empty rooms and landscapes occasionally occupied by approved persons with their heads cocked towards empty spaces as if listening to ghosts).

Well, I'm not with them, and I refuse to be.  We'll do things the way they wanted.  I don't really know how, yet; this post may be nothing but a futile rave, a childish tantrum, an old man shaking his fist at clouds.  But I'm not living in their America, I'm not their American, and I want their world destroyed.

It's caused enough goddamn misery already.  I'm sick of being nice about it.

(Comments are closed on this post.  Thank you.)


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Banks & Steelz, "Giant"

>> Friday, October 21, 2016


Have I shared this before?  I don't think I've shared this.  Maybe I don't need to--it's been out a few months now.  But I'm a sucker for this kind of collaboration, and it's that kind of day with me being a bit under the weather and a little down, so here you go.

This would be, if you didn't already know, didn't already figure it out from the screencap for the video above, couldn't tell from the voices, etc., Wu-Tang's The RZA and Interpol's Paul Banks.  So all kinds of awesome, obviously.

Interesting bit of trivia I picked up in pulling this up to post: apparently RZA initially considered the collaboration "buddies playing chess," which I naturally assumed was a cool metaphor for two guys sending mix tapes and demos back and forth, but turns out to be, no, literal, RZA and Banks were actually just hanging out and playing chess, which seems supercool for some reason.  I guess because you'd assume a couple of well-regarded professional musicians hanging out would just music together, instead of, you know, being chums and just hanging out and doing pal stuff together.  A bit like if, I dunno, The Traveling Wilburys had started out as Bob Dylan's weekly poker night and it was only after they'd been exchanging money for several months that Tom Petty said, "Why haven't we ever made a record together?" and Jeff Lynne said, "That's stupid and are you going to ante up or what?" and George Harrison was, like, "No, he could be on to something," and Roy Orbison said, "Well, if you guys are going to talk about this instead of playing, I need to take a leak; anybody need anything out of the fridge while I'm up?"

I am possibly slightly feverish.  Just in case you wondered.  I haven't checked.  But it's possible.

So, anyway: "Giant"!  Banks & Steelz!  Awesomity incarnated!  Enjoy!


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Death Cab For Cutie, "Million Dollar Loan"

>> Monday, October 17, 2016


I have absolutely no idea what this song is about, but it has a nice beat to it.


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