[The sum total of the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial is that] no one except four people—one duly executed by lethal injection, another in jail for the rest of his life, a third sentenced to 12 years and a fourth granted immunity—had anything to do with creating the political context of antigovernment rage that made the bombing possible.
This denial is how a childlike nation gets past trauma. It demonstrates how unprepared our nation is for the trauma about to be visited upon it. – Rick Perlstein, “The Rush To Normalize Trump”, In These Times, Dec. 2, 2016
“I’m sure you’ve heard James Fallows talk about lies that Donald Trump has put out there in tweets, in things he’s said. What do you think about that?” [NPR radio host Dianne] Rehm asked.
Hughes responded that the existence of truth itself was dubious, and that the veracity of Trump’s tweets depended upon whether the person assessing them liked Trump. – Matt Shuham, “Trump Surogate’s Jaw-Dropping Claim: ‘No Such Thing’ As Facts Anymore,” Talking Points Memo, Dec. 2, 2016
It was a story that passed among liberals, with the usual clueless commentary. For example, on the original TPM post, daveyjones64 wrote in part, “And we all better believe that this is indeed going to be their playbook for the entirety of his time in the White House.” How sad would this commenter be if I pointed out that every Presidential Administration uses this same “playbook”. Usually, we call it by other names like “spin” or “just politics”. What it really is, however, is placing more faith in how people perceive and understand the world than anything “real” like “facts”.
Then, of course, there’s the inevitable recollection of Karl Rove’s “Empire’s create their own reality” statement, dutifully recalled by commenter 26degrees rising. It’s almost as if Rove’s clear-eyed statement of Imperial Truth that’s as old as humanity were some horrible incantation of the devil.
I’ve avoided most news and commentary since the election for a variety of reasons both private and otherwise. There is so much noise out there and I had zero interest in adding to it. Seeing this story linked in a FB friend’s timeline (the above-quoted historian, Rick Perlstein, to be exact) that piqued my interest. It was the headline, with it’s “I’m heading for the fainting couch” business calling Hughes statement “jaw-dropping”. It is neither jaw-dropping nor even new. Of course facts are malleable things, visible only from where one chooses to see and hear. This entire election season was an object lesson in how two incompatible views of the world, when meeting, talk past one another, treating the one another both with contempt and disdain.
As a for instance, let us consider some of the “big” facts governing our national life on social, cultural, and political planes. White supremacy – is it true or false? There is no doubt it has been part of our founding and expanding creed; it’s even enshrined in the original language of the Constitution. Is it or is it not a fact? That a particular species of capitalism is not only a preferable socio-economic organizing principle, but superior in principle to any and all others. Gotta tell ya, folks, I’ve never bought this one, and I know lots of other people who don’t either. Yet at least since the decade or so after the Civil War up until today, this was unquestioned and unquestionable. Even the socialist and communist revolutions did nothing to sway America from its insistence on its own inherent superiority; to be a true-believing socialist or communist was to be incoherent. It still is, particularly since the Establishment has decreed the anti-Soviet counter-revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 marked the end of communism as a viable socio-economic alternative.
Those are just two examples of “facts” that have been part of our national ethos for decades, even centuries. Is it at all possible to be shocked when someone says that “facts” really don’t exist? Much of this election season, people spent entirely too much time showing one another “facts” that fit their own ideological preferences, with no one quite realizing just how futile a practice it really was. Whether it was the “fact” that Hillary Clinton was personally responsible for the deaths of four diplomats and support staff in the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on our consulate, or the “fact” that Donald Trump was a misogynist demonstrated by his many demeaning comments about women, we posted them on social media, demanding others respond to what the poster’s clearly believed was an unanswerable charge. Thus it is that we Americans became a people divided by a common language; while ostensibly sounding the same, it was clear there were many words that meant very different things depending upon where one chose to sit.
Way back in 1948, French sociologist Jacques Ellul wrote what is really quite an unbelievable little book. Entitled The Presence Of The Kingdom, it was a kind of radical Christian manifesto, marking off up and coming ideological and material threats to true freedom. Listing propaganda a the rise of “technics” (Ellul would go on to write two well-received books on both these topics), the rise and spread of Islam, and the creation of institutions titularly for social betterment but rather to be used for social control. Among the things he wrote was a marvelous musing on “the fact”:
Now, however, we have the right to ask: “What is the general motive which – at the present time – leads man to this blindness about the world in which he lives?” There is no doubt the most powerful motive – which weighs upon us like an interdict, the motive which prevents us from questioning the elements of this civilization, and from starting on the road leading to this necessary revolution – is our respect for facts. It is well known that in other civilizations men did not respect facts to the same extent, nor did they conceive facts in the same way. At the present time the fact – whatever it is – the established fact, is the final reason, the criterion of truth. All that is a fact is justified, because it is a fact. People think that they have no right to judge a fact – all they have to do is to accept it.
Thus from the moment that technics, the State, or production, are facts, we must worship the as facts, and we must try to adapt ourselves to them. This is the very heart of modern religion, the religion of the established fact, the religion on which depend the lesser religions of the dollar, race, or the proletariat which are only expressions of the great modern divinity, the Moloch of fact. (p.27, emphases in original)
As long as people knew they had the facts on their side – Hillary Clinton is a lying crook; Donald Trump is a lying pig – there was little else others should do except acquiesce in the face of the facts. That this didn’t happen isn’t because one group or another is stupid, uneducated, delusional, or otherwise impaired from judging the “correctness” of the facts presented, although far too often that’s how we tend to speak of these things. On the contrary, facts were and continue to be irrelevant for the same reasons facts have never been all that interesting: One person’s fact is another person’s statement of something so “jaw-dropping” it’s impossible to believe anyone could believe and act upon such a ludicrous statement. Except, of course, name for me a single social group in human history that didn’t act upon what we now consider the most “dubious” of “facts”.
One example that always comes to my mind is one described by T. S. Kuhn. After inventing the telescope and seeing, among other things, far more stars than were visible to the naked eye, the four large moons of Jupiter and their revolutions about it, and much else, he was challenged by ecclesiastical authority as to the truthfulness of his claims. First, Galileo’s theory of optics, upon which the workings of his telescope were based, were both relatively new and hardly accepted by most people for whom such things were known. For every claim of what Galileo said he saw through his telescope, there was a perfectly reasonable, coherent, and – this is most important – accepted set of facts that explained them without overthrowing the church-preferred earth-centered cosmos. We may insist that Galileo was right because he had facts on his side; the truth is, however, the Church had far more facts on its side, facts accepted within a time-worn and well-tested set of physical assumptions about the Universe God had created. Thus Galileo was not only “wrong”; he had no “real facts” to support his claims.
We are far too entranced by our own sense of ourselves as sensible people for whom facts determine what is and is not real to realize just how fragile is that “reality”, just how contingent and malleable are those facts upon which we confidently rest our minds, and that when distinct views of the world clash – clashes far more dangerous than between any religion or political ideology – we wind up with incommensurable realities living side by side.
Which one survives? That’s a question of power, now isn’t it. It certainly doesn’t depend upon any facts.
N.B.: This is a slightly edited repost from one of my other sites from last year. It’s one of two that give an indication of what it was like to be part of my large, wonderful, sometimes slightly unbalanced family during the period from the late-70’s to mid-80’s. Thanksgiving was my Mom’s day to shine, and since so many of these memories have to do with holidays, I thought it a good idea to hoist it out of my archives. Have a great Thanksgiving, and enjoy your post-meal snoozes, everyone!
Moriah asked me something about growing up. God knows what led me down one particular path. I think it was after Thanksgiving last year, and I told the story – again I was reminded – about the time the chair in which I sat gave way beneath me. I looked up and my sister’s then-boyfriend looked down at me and said, “What are you doing on the floor?” That moment probably would have been less embarrassing if I hadn’t been 16 and there weren’t . . . let me count to make sure . . . twelve people sitting around the table.
It wasn’t just that we were a big family, at least by the standards of most of my friends. It wasn’t just that my siblings were a good deal older than I. It was the age difference, the bigness, and the appearance of friends and boyfriends and of course local extended family and my parents’ friends . . . and for a short season, the world was a lively, interesting , beguiling place. If anyone’s to blame, it’s my oldest sister and her husband. Gregarious and friendly not quite to a fault, their home was open to some of the most interesting, funniest, and just-plain-nicest people you’d want to meet. When my youngest sister was living with them, that circle expanded and cross-pollinated, with my youngest sister dating some of their friends, my oldest sister’s family’s friends becoming friendly with my youngest sister, then getting to know us as we’d visit on occasion. Looking back, I’ve never quite been sure when that very brief wild season began. I know it ended before I was old enough really to get the most out of it.
Best as I can remember, it was a Friday afternoon of my Junior year in high school I came home and there were four people in our house. My youngest sister, her boyfriend, and two other women, friends of my sister. It was something of a rule, I think, that to really associate with our family you had to have a sense of humor. So there was so much laughter. My sister was twenty, her friends probably close to the same age, her boyfriend a few years older. To me, at that time, mid-20’s seemed impossibly grown up. The thing is, though, when they asked what was going on and I told them a home high school football game and that I was in the marching band, they said they’d go.
That was the first time a friend of one of my adult siblings had acknowledged something I was doing and agreed to go. That was the moment I felt like I had moved from being that youngest kid who tags along until given something to do to being a part of that circle of my older siblings. It was huge. The fact that my sister always had the coolest people around her certainly helped.
And then there was that Thanksgiving. All those people. It was absolutely insane in some ways. At the time I don’t remember it feeling overwhelming. At the time, however, I was deep in the throes of . . . what? Trying to figure out how I felt about this girl I kissed? Yeah, that’ll do nicely for an explanation. Like most teens, my emotional world was about whatever happened to blow by at any particular moment. I do remember having a phone conversation with this young woman after school on the last day before Thanksgiving, and my oldest sister’s husband was getting his ass kicked in backgammon by my youngest sister’s boyfriend. I remember her asking why someone was yelling “fuck” a lot in the background. My time with this young woman was brief; the larger setting in which our conversation took place, though . . . that’s forever.
Like I said, my oldest sister and her husband had a large group of friends. All about their age, so mid-to-late 20’s. Impossibly old and so mature. They all worked hard. They loved their kids who are now far older than their parents were 34, 35 years ago. They also enjoyed themselves. This was true of my family no less than any of the others. When they started sharing stories of some of their parties, or just their goings-on, I had the impression that there probably wasn’t anything better in the world than being a part of my sister’s circle of friends. In fact, I was sure of it. To me, this is what “growing up” would be like.
Which is why I still wonder why I blew my first offered opportunity to smoke marijuana. In retrospect, probably the best decision I could have made given the context: Thanksgiving Day, 1981. It was my brother and my youngest sister’s boyfriend. The guy always had good weed, that I knew. Just the three of us were sitting in my parents’ living room. My sister’s boyfriend asked my brother if he wanted to “go for a drive”. My brother said yes. Then, in what was probably the biggest compliment I would receive for a long time, he asked me. I wondered what they were talking about. My brother leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Smoke some pot, stupid.”
I froze. I knew I wanted to experience that . . . some day. It was something that, in that large circle of friends, people did. It wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t believe all the scary crap people still get spoon-fed about marijuana. All the same, all I could think is that Mom and Dad would surely know something was wrong with me* so my best answer was “No”. For the sake of future generations I went with that “No” and the two others left without me. They returned, I don’t know, 20 minutes later, eyes bloodshot, plopping back down in the chairs they’d vacated earlier. They stared at nothing. They were quiet at dinner, except when my chair collapsed.
I titled this post “The Wild Years” because, well, compared to how I’ve lived in the years following, these were wild times. So full of people and laughter and drinks and the occasional toke and of course more laughter. Sitting and shooting the breeze. Sitting and solving the problems of the world. It was during this time my oldest sister’s husband gave me a phrase I have used, slightly edited, twice in my life: “I’m X fucking years old! If I want to go out after work and buy my wife a TV, I will!” So, thanks, Larry. That’s come in handy.
There was something special about those times. They were young. We all were. My oldest sister’s house, and by extension our family home, was occasionally filled to capacity with beautiful, wonderful, funny, smart, people who, because they were young, got the most out of life. You couldn’t help but get caught up in all that. I certainly have no regrets for any of my meager participation (well OK yeah, that one time I drove Pete and Larry to distraction after we’d finished a bottle of Tequila at Pete’s house; sorry about that).
At the same time, I don’t miss any of that. That’s who we all were then. It was a bit wild but God knows we all need a season in our lives to go a bit wild. If I became overly serious later in life, forgot all that or at least tried to deny its importance, well that I’m ashamed of. It was a great, brief, shining moment when it was OK to be young and wild and foolish. Nearing fifty, one daughter in high school, another in college, getting ready to start a lifetime of anti-cholesterol meds, trying to read this through my bifocals . . . I couldn’t go back to that if I wanted to.
I’m so glad I went through it, though. And I’m especially glad I went through it with my siblings. You guys have always been the best.
The studies, about Daily Show viewers and better-sized amygdalae, are knowing. It is the smug style’s first premise: a politics defined by a command of the Correct Facts and signaled by an allegiance to the Correct Culture. A politics that is just the politics of smart people in command of Good Facts. A politics that insists it has no ideology at all, only facts. No moral convictions, only charts, the kind that keep them from “imposing their morals” like the bad guys do.
Knowing is the shibboleth into the smug style’s culture, a cultural that celebrates hip commitments and valorizes hip taste, that loves nothing more than hate-reading anyone who doesn’t get them. A culture that has come to replace politics itself. – Emmett, Rensin, “The Smug Style In American Liberalism,” Vox.com, April 21, 2016
You may not be able to change the minds of these “anxious” people with facts. Truths like “Your plastic orange president-elect reflexively spits out lies like some kind of remarkably duplicitous Pez dispenser” will get you nowhere. Pleas to their sense of compassion, and duty to the larger community, will likely be met with an overcompressed JPEG plastered with a conspiracy theory and some invented statistics; you will make no headway with logic or science with Trump supporters. – Tabatha Southey, “Trigger warning, Trump fans: This column calls racists ‘racists’”, Toronto Globe and Mail, Nov. 11, 2016
There is no doubt that the most powerful motive – which weighs upon us like an interdict, the motive which prevents us from questioning the elements of this civilization, and from starting on the road leading to the necessary revolution – is our respect for facts. It is well known that in other civilizations men did not respect facts to the same extent, nor did they conceive facts in the same way. At the present time the fact – whatever it is – the established fact, is the final reason, the criterion of truth. All that is a fact is justified, because it is a fact. People think that they have no right to judge a fact – all they have to do is to accept it.
Thus from the moment that technics, the State, or production, are facts, we must worship them as facts, and we must try to adapt ourselves to them. This is the very heart of modern religion, the religion of the established fact, the religion on which depend the lesser religions of the dollar, race, or the proletariat, which are only expressions of the great modern divinity, the Moloch of fact. – Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom, p.27
I remember the mid-term elections of 2006 very well indeed. As summer moved to fall, it was becoming clear the Republicans were going to be defeated. When the story of Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley broke, with the news that senior Republican leadership knew of Foley’s preferences for teenage male pages and did nothing (we have since learned that may well have been because then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert had similar dark shadows in his past), there was very little chance, it seemed, for the Republicans led by historically unpopular Pres. George W. Bush, could do much else but look on as the Democratic Party took over both the House and Senate.
A popular mantra that year was, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. No one is entitled to their own facts.” I remember that mantra well. I remember being more than a little troubled by it. After all, of course people are entitled to their own facts, What are “facts” anyway? Is there something inherent in an event, a statistic, a study, a photograph, whatever it might be, that makes its existence unquestionable? How would it ever be possible to get most, let alone all, people to accept any particularly claimed moment as “factual”? If things like history, psychology, sociology, even physics and astronomy, tell us anything, they tell us that “facts” are the most labile things in the world. One person’s indisputable fact is another person bald-faced lie, non-event, irrelevant factoid. We laughed at Karl Rove’s statement that the US, being an empire, can create its own reality. We forgot the radical critique of imperialism that takes this as a given.
It isn’t fancy, nonsensical, irrational post-modernists who declare the reality that there are no more metanarratives determining our collective lives. They weren’t making this up to justify some hip new idea. The statement that we no longer live in a world dominated by a single, or several, metanarratives – call them “religion”, “science”, “rationality”, or “patriotism” – that set the parameters for what is and is not proper discourse, truth, knowledge, and goodness. It was stating the reality that we had long ago reached the end of the power of any over-arching narrative to determine our individual and collective lives. A whole lot of people, liberals and conservatives, reactionaries and revolutionaries, refuse to accept this observation, usually because these are people whose lives are dedicated to a particular metanarrative. Being told those commitments are figments of their imaginations certainly is no way to get them to pay attention.
This does not void the reality that, no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. This is neither irrationalism as many might claim nor some kind of weird notion that reality is little more than a mental construct of each individual mind (Bishop Berkeley was a big proponent of this idea in the 17th century). Rather, it is just the observation that human communities revolve around particular narratives, narratives that tell us who we are as opposed to “them” who tell a different story about “themselves”. These stories sometimes overlap, sometimes conflict, sometimes ignore one another, but in their difference do not cancel one another out. Philosophers like Richard Rorty, committed to a kind of post-modern liberalism without any need for metaphysical justification, offered us possibilities for telling different stories about ourselves, stories in which we human beings strove to live and be together without any felt need for God or Natural Law or Science or anything else to determine whether or not those stories are in some way or another “true” or not.
Having come through an election in which it became very evident two large groups of Americans told very different stories about “their” country, “their” history, “their” current predicament, we should at the very least have the humility to accept that, like it or not, people really do tell very different stories about themselves. Even people who may well share much in common, who may live close to one another, whose stories may well overlap far more than they separate, may well have differences that are large enough to make those different stories determinant of how they live their lives and vote.
Earlier this summer, I wrote something on Facebook about Hillary Clinton, about how a study showed that despite a sense among voters that she was dishonest Hillary Clinton was in fact the “most honest” candidate. A FB friend wrote something, the opening lines of which I still remember clearly: “I don’t care what anyone says . . .” At the time, I was shocked – shocked! – that someone would be so cavalier with a fact! Humbled now in the aftermath of the election, I am reminded what I had forgotten: Facts are little more than those things we decide to be factual. Thus, perhaps Hillary Clinton did indeed report certain statistics correctly, her role in particular events in the US Senate and the first Obama Administration, and other such things. That did not make her honest in the minds of those already committed to a story in which Hillary Clinton is inherently dishonest. Two very different stories take the same “facts” and come to the opposite conclusion. Who’s right?
It seems, for the moment, those who refused to accept Mrs. Clinton’s honesty are right. We who believe otherwise can never and will never make those folks change their minds. Not because they’re stupid or backward or racist or uneducated. Rather, they already have a story determining a set of commitments that preclude Hillary Clinton’s honesty. It is a hard reality to face that we are not so much engaged in an apocalyptic fight of absolutes warring against one another so much as different folks whose stories contradict, and that the determination of which story is right has no independent judge to which any group may appeal.
We may yet surrender our worship of that Moloch, fact. We may yet rid ourselves of the hubris that we have a monopoly on facts, on “truth”, are members of “the reality-based community”. We can stip ourselves of these prejudices, prejudices that always seem to preclude our willingness to listen to the stories of those we determine to be “racist”, “misogynist”, “uneducated”, on and on. We may not like the election results. We may fear for the future of the American experiment, for ourselves or loved ones who no longer represent “real” America to those in power. That does not absolve us of the need to listen to voices we have refused to hear, to stories we have discounted as irrelevant, and perhaps add a few sentences from their stories to the one we tell about ourselves so that we may yet be able to cross the divides that keep us from understanding one another.
We walked away from Eden
Put heaven in the sky
Put angels on the houses
That the Devil lives inside – Dead Soul Tribe, “In A Garden Made Of Stone”, lyrics by Devon Graves
The other day our younger daughter asked me what I thought of the anti-Trump protests. Miriam’s an intelligent, wise, insightful 15-year-old, but sometimes wants to hear what her parents have to say about things. I told her much of what I said Wednesday, that I found them a bit odd, to say the least. On the other hand, I told her, protest marches that sometimes defy the law and include mild property damage are an honorable American tradition that predates the Republic. So, too, does political violence, whether it’s the Whiskey Rebellion, the “troubles” in Kansas and Nebraska before the Civil War, the Haymarket Riots, the many race riots (most of which were attacks upon black communities by whites), the “We Want To Go Home” riots in Europe by American occupation forces, the counter-inauguration in 1968, I could go on. To pretend there is something un-American or inherently wrong with political protest, including political violence, is to ignore our short, bloody history.
I told Miriam that what I, at least, was seeing was, on the one hand our long tradition of political protest. On the other hand, however, I was also seeing a lot of violence sparking around the country, aimed at minorities and their communities, women, and others. The former has a long and respectable history. The latter, formerly chalked up to isolated pockets of bigots or drunk kids being stupid, can now be understood as political, as well. Donald Trump’s victory on election night seems to have emboldened many people, offering them what they believe to be license to express their rage, hatred, and fear of Others. Muslim women have had their hijab ripped off in public. Hateful graffiti like the above have been popping up all over the country. Hispanics are being shouted at to go back to Mexico. It is, and I hate using the analogy but I can’t seem to escape it, a kind of slow-motion Kristallnacht, the night the Nazi’s allowed mobs to attack Jewish businesses, burn synagogues, and attack and beat Jews going about their business. As each event occurs without a response from Trump, it’s easy to get the feeling he approves of such actions.
I spent the previous two days engaged in some soul-searching that I found important and necessary. I think I’ve made that point enough that now I can move on to talk about other things. Among those things are the celebration of Trump’s election by David Duke; the planned victory parade in North Carolina by the Klan; the very clear signs that not only will the advances made under Pres. Obama be reversed, but much of the civic infrastructure, carefully constructed over a century yet always precarious because it lives at the beneficence of increasingly hostile Congresses, that interlocking set of public institutions to keep the worst ravages of power run amok from our social, cultural, and economic life. It would be nothing at all to destroy it all in fairly short order.
We might well face the prospect of a Trump Justice Department bringing charges against Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most blatant political prosecution in our history. While many will no doubt cheer the prospect of such action, folks should always know that if they bring legal action against a clearly innocent woman, there is literally no stopping them from doing so to any perceived political opponent. Just as Trump sometimes used tort law to destroy those who sought just recompense when Trump refused to pay his bills, it is oh-so-easy to imagine him using the full power of the Justice Department to do much the same to his political opponents.
To say we are entering frightening territory is, I believe, an understatement. We are facing the very real possibility of a marriage between some of the worst instincts of our political life with the worst habits of our social and cultural life. I know that not all Trump supporters would endorse all of this; many (perhaps most) would insist these are not the reasons they supported Trump. Nevertheless, we must speak candidly about the new realities that will be unfolding in ensuing weeks and months. Whether it’s recent civil rights gains made by sexual minorities, decades-old and once-thought-settled Civil Rights legislation, or the privatization of Social Security and the destruction of Medicare, I have little doubt that all these things will happen before Trump leaves office. To say otherwise is, as one of my sisters said the other day, to have one’s head up one’s ass.
I’ve seen a lot of people posting pictures of safety pins on FB. Like the folks who posted photos of hoodie-wearing kids after the Trayvon Martin killings came to light, this is supposed to be “an act of solidarity”. I appreciate the sentiment, but in all honesty, I would much rather read about people willing to go to threatened communities, putting their bodies on the line defending the most vulnerable in American society. Better yet, I’d rather not see anything at all like that. Our acts of righteousness, after all, should be done in secret so our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing. Part of our problem on the left is we’ve endured way too much talk, much of it amounting to nothing at all. A whole lot of willingness to make symbolic stances without risking anything. Like the man who once insisted I didn’t care about the dead in Haiti from the earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic because I wasn’t writing about it, I’m amazed by the people who really believe that speaking or writing is some kind of substitute for actually risking something, whether it’s financial stability, social status, or even physical health. It’s the height of absurdity to insist others don’t care as much as oneself does simply because those others remain silent. It’s also the depth of ridiculousness to believe oneself more righteous than others because one says or does something that, in fact, millions of others are doing. Putting a safety pin on my FB page won’t protect children of Mexican and other Latin immigrants harassed by classmates. It won’t protect minority communities from the threat of violence. It won’t shield women from the depredations of those insistent upon a license to sexual violence.
We face dark times ahead. We face the reality that political organization and movement building takes time, money, and commitment far too few people are willing to expend. We face a sense of impotence as we will watch so much of what has made the United States powerful is willfully destroyed. Worst of all, we face all this knowing it could have been different, even avoided.
I’m always amused by people who use the “problem of evil” as some kind of excuse not to believe in God. As if God, who created us as very good, offering us peace, protection, and sinlessness only to have it tossed away for the false promise of equality with God, somehow owed us a world free from evil, hatred, violence, and death. All that we shall witness over the next four years of a Trump Presidency are events that are the result of decisions made and not made, of all too human actions with consequences bringing very real pain to millions. The best choice any of us can make is to commit ourselves both to healing the divisions within our country all the while acting to secure the lives and welfare of those who face very real dangers ahead. We must also accept that organization takes time and effort. It takes money and commitment. It is no longer an option we might forego. We must live knowing that to do so is to risk.
I saw the images last night as a FB friend posted them in real time – thousands and thousands of anti-Trump protesters marching through the streets, shutting down Michigan Ave. and other major arteries. They were sitting at major intersections and the police seemed to leave them be. Perhaps, as much of a horrible mayor as he is, Rahm at least showed his Part colors last night, letting the protesters speak for the vast majority of Chicagoans who didn’t vote for Donald Trump. As I looked at the photos, I wondered more than once if I wasn’t seeing portents of something truly awful beginning to brew.
Remember the last Presidential debate? Trump was asked if he would accept the results of the election, and he got all the pundits heading for the fainting chaise when he said he’d “keep people guessing”. I also remember saying at the time I found all the tongue clicking and shock – shock! – by our opinion formers more than a little disingenuous. That has been the Republican MO through two Democratic administrations: refuse to acknowledge their legitimacy and work tirelessly to undermine any policies the President might offer. And through that quarter century they said nothing, all those oh-so-moral guardians of our abysmal public discourse.
Now we’re faced with all sorts of oddities, not the least of them being thousands of Americans who did not vote for Trump – and it should be noted that he did, indeed, lose the popular vote – refusing to accept the results of the election. The #NotMyPresident sign is all over the place. Seeking to reverse the results of an election that, as far as we know, was both fair and legal, hackers took over the Trump campaign’s homepage and Twitter feed, demanding Trump “Resign Now!”, as if them yelling it enough would make it so. In short, like those Republicans we’ve spent eight years denying any legitimacy to Pres. Obama or the clear mandate he received in not one but two Presidential elections, we are behaving like children. It’s both sad and disgusting.
There’s also the unbearable smugness of those who voted for a third party candidate. Not all of them, mind you. Believing they have achieved a moral victory – as if such a thing mattered in the face of the impending national catastrophe of a Trump Presidency – they seem to revel in a kind of superiority only small people find comfortable. Like die-hard Nader voters in 2001, at least up until 9/11, they really believe their choice absolves them of responsibility to work to keep the damage to our physical and social and civic infrastructure to a minimum.
Which is exactly the reason I find #NotMyPresident not only childish and mindless; it is a way for people to cop out, to refuse to take responsibility for the mess we’ve made of our civic life that created the conditions for Trump to become President. One of the rules, maxims, whatever you may call it, by which I live my life is this: IT ISN’T ABOUT ME. The Universe, the world, the flow of time and events outside my immediate ability to affect and change – not a bit of it is about me. I assert the same is true for everyone: IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU, EITHER. It isn’t about your feelings or your wish to divorce yourself from responsibility for what’s happened. Asserting that Trump isn’t “your” President ignores something central to our republican polity: whether we voted for him or hot, he is both head of our government and head of state. We can struggle and protest and fight specific plans and policies; we cannot cease to be Americans by refusing to acknowledge that, love him or hate him, as of January 20 next year, he will be OUR President.
One of the most important psychological and spiritual disciplines I’ve learned in my life is this: When something bad or wrong or averse occurs, rather than search the immediate area for scapegoats, my first reflex is to look for my own culpability, for all the ways I have, through action or inaction, contributed to circumstances being what they are. Only then can I go about figuring out how to fix things. To do anything else, to my mind, is to shirk the central responsibility of healthy adulthood.
Yet far too many liberals and Democrats act no better toward our fellow Americans than conservatives do toward minorities and women, immigrants and people of other faiths. Before we can do anything about how Republicans act, we have to get it through our thick skulls that the only person’s behavior we can really change is our own. We can begin by not saying things like, “Why would I want to be in a Party with a bunch of racists?” or just shout at the top of our lungs, “Fuck you, America!” We can listen to Trump voters as they talk about their reasons for supporting him, and rather than tell them why they’re wrong, acknowledge their reasons are both real and important. Either we accept the humanity of our fellow Americans who checked a different name on the ballot or we become no different than those who display racist, sexist, or other prejudices.
The past week to ten days, I began to worry that I was inhabiting a bubble. Reading only liberal news sources, I refused to pay attention to what might be uncomfortable to read or hear. And now, like Mitt Romney four years ago who really believed the polls were skewed and that he was ahead, I like so many others realize we talked ourselves into believing Trump, who did everything wrong, could never win. We ignored all of the reality around us and cheered rogue Republicans like Ana Navarro. We shared all the stories about how this comedian or that person “destroyed” a Trump supporter on a news panel or during a late-night comedy routine. It appears, alas, all that destruction didn’t achieve any actual destruction.
Until and unless we on the left end of the political spectrum – from mainstream Democrats to Social Democrats to others even more radical – own up to all the things we did wrong (and please note the first-person plural here; I’m most definitely talking to myself) that allowed us the smug self-satisfaction that Trump just couldn’t win. That very smugness, that sense both of moral and political superiority – cheering while a major party candidate called supporters of another major party candidate “deplorable” without any sense of shame – is a very large part of why we are where we are right now. We either accept that we helped break our civic life and therefore own the responsibility of fixing it or we pretend that a social tantrum immunizes us from the many awful things that will unfold over the next few years. There is no more need of REAL solidarity across class, racial, religious, gender and sexual identities than there is right now. We cannot forget the many of the people who voted for Trump are going to be hurt the most by the things he both does and refuses to do. We either reach out and help when things get bad, or we forego any reason we should think so well of ourselves.
We demand a compassionate, loving, accepting nation, a people whose divisions aren’t as deep as our unity? Perhaps we can begin by loving those with whom we disagree the strongest. We listen to them and think about what they’re saying. We start acting the way we demand others act. We start living the way we believe we really do live but don’t.
None of this means we don’t protest, work, speak, write all tirelessly against any and every attempt of the upcoming Administration and Congress to undo the economic, social, and political gains made the past eight years. Of course we do. But rather than continue to tell a story of “two Americas”, we begin to tell a different story, of all of us in it together trying to shelter one another from the worst of what is to come.
Years ago, almost a decade perhaps, in the midst of an online political discussion, a conservative blogger began carrying on about Bill Maher, about what a smug, elitist nincompoop he was. To this person, Maher epitomized everything wrong with liberals. At the time, I wondered what the hell was going on. To me, Maher was a not-very-funny comedian who, for some reason, decided to use politics as his schtick. I never watched him, but saw enough of him – and his stupid movie about religion – to be of the opinion that he was one of those people who knew he was far smarter than he actually was; that he was a caricature of a coastal elite, sneering at the rest of the country much the same way H. L. Mencken would do (Mencken coined the term “booboisie” to describe people less sophisticated than he was), only without Mencken’s attendant racism and anti-Semitism.
I went to bed last night figuring Trump had won. Watching Netflix, I kept checking my phone for updates. When first Ohio, then North Carolina went to Trump, I knew it was over for Sec. Clinton. The only thing about which I was unsure was how I would react in the morning, fully awake and aware.
Turns out, I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Let me say, first, that I’ve perused over a dozen regular political commentators from left-leaning Paul Krugman to right-winger (but anti-Trump pundit) Ross Douthat. I’ve read several of Josh Marshall’s personal, editorial posts at Talking Points Memo. Like many of you, I’ve seen my Facebook newsfeed explode with sadness, confusion, anger, and fear. From the Trump supporters I’ve only seen one comment I found a bit stupid (regarding “Obamaphones”). By and large, Republicans and Trump supporters are celebrating a victory that at least one of my FB friends was the result of faith as much as anything else. Their faith has been rewarded, and they’re mostly in the mood to celebrate.
One FB friend had a series of posts listing people ranging from Anthony Wiener through John Podesta to James Comey, inviting them to go fuck themselves. And certainly, there is much for which this group, which also includes Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, need to answer. As yet another FB noted, it does nothing to “blame American voters” for Trump’s win (as Wonkette editor Rebecca Schoenkopf did in a late-night post entitled “Go Fuck Yourself America”) when the Democratic establishment got behind a candidate known for being a poor campaigner who had high negatives (regardless of whether they were deserved; I’ve made the point enough, I think, that they are not). Those perceptions dictated reality. The high negatives Mrs. Clinton had presented a constant stumbling block for her and her candidacy. I wrote last summer that Mrs. Clinton was fortunate in her opponent this year, opining at the time that any of the other Republicans in the primaries would have beaten her. That even Donald Trump – setting aside the train-car load of awfulness that is his personality and public campaign – defeated her, without a substantial GOTV effort all the while doing and saying things that would have destroyed a normal candidate long since, says less about how horrible the American people are and far more about just how weak a candidate Mrs. Clinton was.
I do want to say something about one of my favorite political commentators, Charles Pierce, who writes a political blog at Esquire online. Ridiculing the notion of economic anxiety, he highlighted the many demonstrable instances of racism, sexism, and just general awfulness that seemed to flow from Trump and some of his followers like a broken sewer main. Alas, he and many others (including me), forgot a few things. There really is economic anxiety out there among that group that lives with it as a daily reality – the working poor, marginally poor, however you wish to categorize them – who heard nothing about their fears until Trump came along last summer and started talking about building a wall between the US and Mexico. That racism, sexism, and a kind of generalized fear of The Other accompanies such marginal communities is something any second-year sociology undergraduate could explain. The complexities of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and religious identification are such that this group, ignored and feeling pushed aside or left out both by Bush and Obama, felt they had a spokesman. Trump was the guy who got it. This was a guy who understood that all the attention minority groups, women, foreigners, and non-Christians received silenced millions of Americans. He became their voice.
Does any of this have to do with reality? What did I write above? Perception is reality. The most important, and most real, perception was and continues to be that the political class and those who vocally support it, regardless of stated party identification or ideology, ignore, ridicule, and dismiss the concerns of millions of Americans, telling them they’re racist and sexist, telling them that America is changing despite them, telling them they no longer matter. That there’s quite a bit of rage right at the surface of much of the Trump movement should surprise no one. Like that long-ago political commentator who railed against Bill Maher, millions of working-class Americans were and are sick and tired of being ignored, passed over, and existing merely to be the butt of the jokes of people no better than they.
So now we face the reality not only of President-elect Trump, but quite probably an Executive Cabinet filled with some of the strangest and scariest characters imaginable. Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State, anyone? Perhaps Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General? Just imagine if Stave Bannon becomes Press Secretary. All of this was avoidable had we liberals – and again I say “we” because I count myself among their number – not been quite so smug and triumphal as we celebrated the spread of gay rights and the rise of the Trans-community Civil Rights movement. Had we actually sat and listened to folks whose parents felt abandoned by the Democratic Party, perhaps we’d have better candidates who could address matters of racial, gender, and sexual equality while never forgetting the diffuse yet substantial working class population who ask only their contributions to America be recognized; their concerns be heard and given voice; and that they, too, have a place at the table.
Just to be clear, I expect a Trump Presidency not only to be as horrible as many liberals (and not a few conservatives) have predicted, but probably worse. Surrounded by ignoramuses and fools, the least-qualified person elected to the Office in American history can only stumble from one crisis to the next, with political regulars in Congress and the Press trying to figure out how best to stop our general plummet. Should we manage to survive in some manner, fashion, or form over the next four years, we might yet have the opportunity to return to something resembling good governance.
Rather than reach out to an increasingly marginalized and disenfranchised working class, both major parties discarded them, the Republicans for the money changers in the Wall Street temples and the Democrats for their vision of a technocratic elite who understood better than the rest of us how best to order our collective lives. As that working class fell further and further behind, obviously they flocked to a demagogue; at least the demagogue talked to them, and seemed to speak for them.
We will have much rebuilding to do in this country. As a man in my late middle-age, I fear for the world my children, one an adult, the other soon to be one, will inherit. I think we can begin this rebuilding by taking a deep breath and remembering that the millions of people who voted for Donald Trump are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, family, friends, co-workers. As Pres. Obama said this morning, we’re all “on the same team” as it were. Even as the future Trump Administration stumbles from failure to crisis, we have a chance to listen to one another, perhaps at long last. We’re in this for the long haul, now, folks. I think we ALL need to pull together now because there’s a storm coming, and we need to be helping each other.
N.B>: Throughout this post, when I quote MRA and PUA websites, I will NOT be linking to the original posts. I have no desire to swim in cesspools. I will, rather, be using the website We Hunted The Mammoth as my main source for such quotes. If you have never read it, I highly recommend it as a source for all sorts of information on the seedier side of American “manliness”.
If you ever wanted to know why I’m not a conservative or a Republican, this craven pandering to women pretty much sums it up. I’m not sickened by Trump’s locker room talk. I’m sickened by the fact that weak little gamma males like Ryan … have any influence in Western society at all. The only correct response to this “scandal” should have been a single question: “so the f*ck what?”
Never trust a moderate, a Churchian, or a cuckservative. Never. They will stab you in the back in order to virtue-signal every single time. – Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, quoted in “Theodore “Vox Day” Beale defends Trump’s “Alpha talk about women””, We Hunted The Mammoth, October 8, 2016
“I think it’s locker room banter,” the younger Trump said. “I think sometimes when guys are together they get carried away, and sometimes that’s what happens when alpha personalities are in the same presence.” – Jenavieve Hatch, “Eric Trump: Bragging About Sexual Assault Is ‘What Happens’ When Alpha Males Are Together”, The Huffington Post, October 11, 2016
On the blog of the rabidly racist pickup artist James “Heartiste” Weidmann — you may recall his recent attacks on Paul Ryan — one of the regular commenters has a rather creative new theory about Hillary . . .
Hillary wants to send your sons off to war so your daughters will get their jobs. It’s a deliberate attempt to kill off large segments of the male population.
Maybe it’s conscious on her part; maybe it’s unconscious, but the end result is that lots of men will be pulled from the labor force making way for women. I’m surprised no one else has picked up on this. To me it perfectly explains why she’d be gunning for a war with Russia before she’s even in office. Has she been pushing for a female draft? No. Therefore, a large-scale war would be the ultimate “full employment” program for women.
The final solution for feminists, so to speak. – “Hillary wants to kill men and give their jobs to women, Alt-Right Trump fans charge”, We Hunted The Mammoth, October 11, 2016
I first learned about the whole Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) and Pick-Up Artist (PUA) movements a couple years back, at the depth of the Gamergate controversy. For those who have never heard of it, Gamergate actually occurred in two stages. First, game developer Zoe Quinn had a game she produced reviewed favorably in an online magazine. Some people thought the game was receiving more attention than it deserved, apparently; for some reason this turned into a concerted attack upon Quinn, including emailed rape and death threats, doxing (publication online of personal information, including telephone numbers and addresses). In August of 2014, one of Quinn’s former boyfriends published a very long blog post in which, for all intents and purposes, he claimed the initial good press Depression Quest received was due to a personal relationship between Quinn and gamer journalist Nathan Grayson. At this point, many started carrying on about “journalistic ethics” as the root cause of “Gamergate” rather than simple sexual harassment and threats of violence. An early vocal supporter of Quinn, game developer Phil Fish, was attacked so viciously he quit the industry and sold his company.
Media critic Anita Sarkeesian produced a YouTube video about the controversy and soon came under attack, facing the same rape and death threats, doxing, and other harassment. Through it all, a particular vocabulary among MRA/PUA folks emerged, including using the epithet “Social Justice Warriors” (SJW) as an insult and attack. It became clear to me as I followed these goings-on at a distance (I’m not a gamer, and I don’t follow gamer discussions online; I am, however, someone interested in things like the whole MRA/PUA movement and its utter degeneracy), it became clear the attacks were coming from seriously sick individuals.
It wasn’t long after I discovered the website We Hunted The Mammoth, a kind of clearinghouse for those interested in learning about MRA/PUA culture without having to dirty oneself too much. Blog writer and editor David Futrelle keeps tabs on the Alt-Right in general (white nationalism), Neo-Nazis, and the vocal MRA/PUA movement. A typical article, “Do women really enjoy sex, men who hate women ask”, from September 16 reads in part:
Ladies! Do you feel a bit twitchy? Is the hair on the back of your neck standing up? Don’t worry — that just means that Reddit’s MGTOWs are talking about you again.
On the Men Going Their Own Way subreddit the regulars are trying to figure out whether women enjoy sex as much as men. Or at all.
The general consensus? Women aren’t really into sex — unless it’s with the mythical Chad Thunderc*ck.
There follows C&P’d comments from a subreddit for “Men Going Their Own Way” (MGTOW; men who have given up on dating women because they insist women don’t actually want relationships with good, decent men such as themselves, proving that lack of self-awareness leads people to some pretty strange palces) that make it clear most of the men writing on this subreddit have never spoken to, let along kissed or had sex with, an actual human female. As the post concludes, “The MGTOW subreddit really is one of the saddest places on planet earth.”
Part of the MRA/PUA vocabulary and worldview is the nonsensical “Alpha Male” trope. To these men, they are actually “Alpha Males” who have been dismissed by women (usually women who are attractive by conventional standards) because of feminism. Somehow, feminism seem to have taught these women they no longer need the physical and financial protection of “Alpha Males” like themselves, allowing them the opportunity to pursue quickie, no-commitment sexual relationship with “Betas”, men who treat these women solely as sexual objects. There is something sad and desperate about all this. Clearly men who think this way have been hurt by life, perhaps even a woman, in their lives. It might have been a mother, it might have been an unrequited teenage crush, or perhaps these men never escaped the general angst and low self-esteem of adolescence. In any case, while certainly nonsensical, and often a projection of their own beliefs about women combining with their own massive insecurities, it is this particular bit of MRA/PUA discourse that suddenly rose to the top of the sewer with the release last Friday of a tape in which Donald Trump spoke with a casualness and comfort of sexual assault.
I already wrote about this a bit. Having given this background and context, I think it’s important to understand the source of all this “Alpha Male” talk. Besides being nonsense of the first order, it seems to me pretty obvious that self-proclaimed “Alpha Males” are anything but, given their own descriptions of the type. Is Donald Trump an Alpha? I think the answer to that is clear enough: A man who believes he has both the ability and the right, given his financial and social status, to sexually assault random women is no more an “Alpha Male” than are the sad “MGTOW” who insist they are giving up trying to date women because women seem only to be attracted to “Beta” men. The characteristics of “Betas” is a disregard for the women as people; they treat women as sexual objects only, sometimes going so far as to physically or emotionally abuse the women with whom they form attachments. The Alphas consider themselves the “good guys” women are always complaining they can’t find: men who appreciate women for who they are, will treat them well and properly, as a man should, offering both physical and financial protection, which is what women really want. That their entire approach to women is highly sexual; their major complaint that women won’t have sex with them; that the men they call “Betas” are more attractive, successful, and desirable than they are; that they presume to know what women want rather than listening to women and finding out what it is they want; all this demonstrates pretty clearly the whole “Alpha Male” nonsense is little more than a complex psychological defense against their own sense of their lack of self-worth, and their basic belief that women are nothing other than sexual objects.
Please recall the many times Donald Trump has said that no one respects women more than he does. Regardless of the emerging parade of women coming forward accusing Trump of unwanted attention and even sexual assault, I’m convinced that Trump himself actually really believes he respects women. Like the sad MGTOW men, his entire campaign has been an object lesson in how all sorts of personality disorders present themselves, whether it’s narcissism, megalomania, or the kind of lack of self-esteem that has men preoccupied with the size of their penises and their ability to seduce women. The particular traits with which I’m concerned here aren’t unfamiliar to anyone whose been or spent time with teenage boys. Part of figuring out what it means to be a man is spending time jostling one another not so much for a place near the top of the pack as much as going through a phase in which each one really is a man. Most of us leave this nonsense behind us after the age of 16 or so; some, alas, never emerge from adolescence, for any number of reasons. These men tend to post on MGTOW subreddits, declare themselves Alphas who aren’t recognized for their greatness, and Republican candidates for President in 2016. Rather than the “real men” somehow both powerful yet victimized by an over-feminized society, these guys are sad, pitiable individuals who occasionally engage in deplorable, even violent, behavior to make up for their own inadequacies.
I will be so glad when November 9 comes.