Monday, February 27, 2017

Confederate Battle Flags Reign Over Rural Western New York

A VERY Brief History of Making America Great Again and a Bit of a Warning.
This one is written with the gloves off.
Ruminations on The Plantation Owner, Reagan, and White Supremacism

First, have a look at the photograph I took at the local gas station donut shop parking lot.
There are Confederate battle flags everywhere out here in rural western New York. I drive by this Dunkin' where the counter kid's beat up pick up truck has the Confederate's flag painted the length of the tailgate. A stroll through the local cemeteries show that they are filled with Union dead. So what's going on?
I'd venture to say that most of you reading this live in places with significantly more cultural quality and social diversity than my little corner of Appalachia's End. Here, some 40+ miles south of Rochester, it's pure Trump country: old, white, rural, poor, sick, addicted, and uneducated. The exception are the wealthy second homes on the lakes. Our DeadRed Congressman was the first to endorse Trump because he knows his constituency. There are noteworthy exceptions to this intellectual bankruptcy, because there always are and we're really, really lucky to live next to some very swell people.  But the exceptions don't describe the majorities. Those are borne out by the numbers, the elections, and the facts on the ground.
Today with Trump's budget announcement ---drastic cuts in everything we care about and significant increases in military spending--- we witness the long term outcome of Post Reconstruction, the 1980 Reagan election, and the rise of white nationalism. Paul Ryan will soon have his way, make no mistake about it. This budget is Ryan's wet dream and he's gonna get it. Death to Big Bird, the environment, and education. Long live guns and Jesus.
A bit of history needs to be made obvious to us. First, the Plantation Owner's key take. You must shift the conversation from class to race. Bigotry is an easy emotional sell, economic rebuttals take time and thought. This is how you make sure that poor whites find no allies in other people who share their poverty, particularly brown people. Next, make sure Reagan's Revolution is in full form: cut education and arts and everything that is government, cut taxes for the wealthy, spend more money for war toys. Now add that last dose of white nationalism ---change is coming from brown, gay, different people who want a different America--- and it's a perfect alchemy of history.
Low income rural whites will agree to starve the beast that they have been told is bilking them for brownie while the military complex makes a tidy profit. The rich laugh all the way to the bank while they profit from deregulation and tax benefits. In effect, the trifecta of Confederacy, Reagan, and Bannon explains my western NY: Poor whites fear change and regard the "old days" as better; the real enemy is any one unlike themselves ----and they should be free to do whatever they want. It's those Others who are taking and insisting on their cultural inclusion rather than submitting to white assimilation. Liberal Elites spend our money and care about things we don't want. Raise the battle flag, paint it on the back of your pick up, put a sticker of Calvin pissing on Obama right next to the one supporting the NRA while Rush blasts over the AM. Now that's some freedom of expression.  Fake news be damned.  Welcome to my every day America.
The Reagan/Plantation/Trump Idea is self-fulfilling because everything that would change that scenario--- public education, health care, child care, etc., only gets worse. As people are less educated, they are more easily conned.  Greatness awaits us.
So why will this Trump Ryan McConnell budget pass? They have the votes.  And because the significant portion of America that prefers a steady diet of Doomsday Prepers and Limbaugh won't care that there are no arts or investments in the humanities. They will cheer when BannonTrump sends us to war and will think it patriotic to send their children. They don't care that the rich get richer or that the liberal expenditures that maintain water, roads, schools, and the rest will be eliminated. How would they notice? 

When all of this goes so very badly for them, they will blame it all on the liberals.

Here in rural America people will be delighted that the rich coastal elites will be forced to pay for their pleasures. After all, "art" is for sissies and education doesn't require school. When my neighbors can't get healthcare, when their retirement is abject poverty, their health is in ruins, and their children are dying of heroin they will blame the liberal elites again. This is the course of history right before our eyes.  Until we understand just how history does its business, we can't change the future.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Believe it or Not: Trying to Understand Trumpappeal as Americana 101

In the Aftermath of Trump's Press Conference
February 16, 2017

Not in the ol'Ripleys kinda' way or even with a purely incredulous exasperation of WTF, there is something about watching Trump that speaks obviously to important features of the American character. Americans are crass, immature, centrifugal individuals: we designed ourselves to be our own arbiters of reality. And with this rugged individualism comes a certain disregard for thinking, a primacy of feeling, an innate rebellion against anything that displeases our wants or claims.  We are liars from the start (e.g., "all men are created equal...") and there is nothing about lying that we will admit is lying.  This is because the world is as we want it to be.

There is a virulent streak of nihilism within American individualism, a feature principally of the privileged white men who have traditionally exploited the claim for their own benefit.  When you have the power to say that what you think or feel is real, all you need to promise someone else is that they have the same prerogative, the same right.  (Unless of course you mean to deprive them of those rights, but that is mere digression, a point that the utterly self-reliant can simply ignore.)  Nihilist populism manifests this kind of intractable selfishness.  We Get To Be Anyone We Want To Be because the only thing that's real is ME, so anything I do is solipsistically true ---and importantly, whatever anyone else thinks is just not, unless I decide to agree.  The world is pure will because I am my own representation.  Trump's narcissism is an exaggeration of our shared American pathology about the individual as creator of his universe.  Anyone who rejects that power is wrong, anyone who deprives me of feeling that power has stolen it from me.  Nearly an hour and a half of Press Conference today revealed nothing more than Whatever I Want is What I Say Is True.
I was reading Emerson's Self-Reliance with an undergraduate class this morning and there is within this essay's inveterately cheery petulance and willingness to risk reason, the claim that no individual should ever have to accept the dictates of any government, social institution, religion, or any authority beyond one's own deeply held personal conviction. The depths of one's most immaculate self provide incontrovertible authority.  William James picks this same note up in The Will to Believe and tempers it, as Emerson did, with another American trait, pragmatism, the claim that truth requires the conventions of agreement. But in both writers, such pragmatism becomes suspect when you choose to see the world another way. The world is agreements until we decide to disagree, then it's just My World.
When we take our critics too seriously or to heart then we lose authenticity; when we must make an account of the facts or admit factual veracity over belief we likewise lose authenticity. Now I'm not painting a very happy picture of ol'Ralph Waldo or Professor James and I'm overstating his points but there is still a wild frontier, do as you like, believe and trust at your peril ethos that is part of Trump's appeal. This comes with a claim of directness, sophistication in simplicity, of authenticity and directness that Trump's supporters see as truth and it mirrors a kind of truth that Emerson describes as his distinctively American worldview. We are the self-reliant people, which means reality is only whatever we claim is ours.  Trump's appeal is simply an America that appeals to the very worst kind of self-reliance, the kind that leaves truth only to the pragmatists who agree with him.  The rest of us are just wrong, or worse.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Gratitude for Vertebrates

James Baldwin with prescient discernment once wrote, "“The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

We were handed a spine-ful Constitutional victory last night. Other countries have courts, checks and balances. Most cannot check executive power when the executive denounces their credibility and impugns the judges personally. Most don't have a military as disciplined to civilian rule. We must hope that the Supreme Court will reveal itself to be just as unanimous.

But instead we worry, with good reason, about a split decision or worse. Let us be frank. Our fellow citizens elected him and 92 million did not vote. Republican Senators and Congressmen who told us they would never accept him are in lock step to empower his government even as they are insulted and willfully ignoring the consequences of their actions. This morning we learn that the National Security Advisor had conversations with the Russians pre-inauguration and everyday another action of the President* or his advisors is deemed illegal or unconstitutional. The Fire Next Time is _here_. And Paul Krugman is right, a terror attack and America may well cede all of the power to the new Louis XIV, "L’état, c’est moi."

We must be grateful this morning for judges with integrity and institutions of law that continue to function. But it is WE the people who stand between Trumpism and tyranny. The fatigue, even beleaguerment, we feel must not reduce us. We must continue to stand. We've got the spine. We must march with it, phone with it, reason with it, exercise it. Never has yoga seemed more relevant to living in the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rule 19

This morning Gail Collins of the NY Times writes a fine piece about wearing out the Republican madness by persistence and exhaustion. Can we exasperate them enough to bring attention to the country? Will Americans gather the message that their country has been taken over by an extremist ideology that is changing its institutions? Ms Collins claims that Majority Leader McConnell had no plan when he invoke Rule 19 to silence Senator Warren from reading the now-famous letter from Coretta Scott King about our now KKK-happy AG Sessions. In 1986 the Senate deemed Sessions too racist to be a Federal judge while in 2017 that majority Republican Senate is racist enough.

Whether McConnell was more exhausted and exasperated than he was planning or thinking when he invoked Rule 19 against Senator Warrant matters not one bit. The Republican base laps up this behavior and his actions will not cost him or his colleagues one bit. What Mitch knows is how deeply sexism, racism, and ethno-nationalism run in America, that they have won three branches of government running on these sentiments and values, and will likely win more and again in 2018 and 2020. America is actually not better than that. Or at least, not where they count votes that determine elections. Either way, Mitch has a winning hand for the foreseeable future.  Rule 19 is just a symptom of America's illness, the disease lies more deeply within the patient.…/o…/elizabeth-warren-persists.html…

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Note about Censorship

We need a nuanced understanding of censorship. For censorship to be truly effective in our digital age we must begin with the idea that no American can (yet) be completely silenced. But censorship does not require denial of access in order to be effective. It requires instead a deflection of attentions, a dulling of focus, and a questioning of credibility. This, you will notice, is the stock in trade of the ethno-nationalists and Trump. Look over here! "Alternative facts..." Our critics are dangerous liars. Etc. They mean to infect the discourse of truth by repeating blatant lies inserted into the everyday as if these were just the facts.  Censorship is allowing falsehood to be normalized.  Call out every single one or delete them, but don't let the lies become memes or be portrayed as facts.  In short, Republican censors turn the subject to something else and, in the meantime, fatigue becomes another form of censorship. Our task is to remain clear, focused, questioning, and resilient. Don't let them turn you away, blur your focus, or turn us on each other. That too is censorship.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Counter Narrative, A Narrative of Values

How many times this week did you hear or read, “This is not who we are.”  This is a normative statement that we can understand as “This is not who we ought to be.”  It’s also descriptive because in fact that there is a “new” American narrative being written in spasmotic tweets and executive orders.  That narrative is redrawing, in orange crayon and likely in blood, the straight line that has always existed from the Confederacy’s white supremacy entitlement directly past the New Deal, Great Society, and Obama’s Progress. What we should notice is that the veracity of the statement of our who-we-are-ness actually depends on who we are.

Living in rural western New York one learns first hand that the New Confederacy is not principally a geographic north-south divide.  There are Confederate flags everywhere in my neighborhood and southern pride is not the message.  There are more variables than this one but America's divide is still a story that possesses the nearly inalterable calumny of race.  We’re told that when we raise this demographic fact that spills into the Trump suburbs that we who mention it are the racists.  (I was explicitly told as much yesterday. Gaslighted as a racist is the new orange.)  In the world of alternative facts denying such revilement only proves it.  But the not so implicit racism that is the usual accoutrement of authoritarian populists will also include the exclusion of a host of others.  The assault on LGBTQ rights has only begun, on women’s reproductive rights, on science and healthcare while Mexicans, Muslims, regulations, tax relief for the Uber-pun-intended wealthy are already in the real mix.  Need we mention impending war with Iran, China, and koala bears brought about by the uncontrollable ranting of an egomaniacal nine-year old who happens to be the leader of the free world?  We know what we’re in for.

This President*, Actual President Bannon, and their coterie did not emerge from nowhere.  This too is who we are.  To deny that is to attempt to write over the more broken lines that saunter their way through America’s stories of colonialism, slavery, native people’s pogrom, homophobia, sexism, etc. in order to make ourselves feel better about progress.  There was progress, there is progress, and we fear rightly it might all be rewritten.  One hundred fifty-two years since the surrender at Appomattox Court House and whatever we deem progress may well be erased.  It can take a long time to scale a mountain and only a second to leap off the cliff.  We’d be fooling ourselves if we believed this untrue, and not only because we believe it.  Facts remain in the alt-fact world, no matter what the next WH Spicer Conjob spins.

We hear a lot too about composing a new narrative that will include everyone, especially those aggrieved Trump supporters and whoever else feels “the system” is too broken to fix.  It may well be but who thinks anarchy is the better choice given anarchy’s palpable examples all over the world? 

Returning to the Confederates, we might remember how they proudly rationalized their “lifestyle” ---that’s an alt-fact term for “slavery”--- with the Bible and the gun on the backs of Federal prosperities that nowadays take the form of Red State entitlements paid largely by Blue brethren.  We can hear them still proudly rebel yelling that we need to be great again.  And that is the key word that seals the deal: we once were better and we’ve lost something.  Trump has merely re-elevated the familiar barbarity in an effort to secure those blessings of anger, fear, and domination.  This is the part of old-fashioned religion that rejects change and almost anything new that requires adaptation and revision.  Most of all it rejects admission.  To change we have to admit that something about what we have been doing needs change.  This might also mean that something about who we are needs to change.   And so that means asking ourselves if that is really possible.  Can we change who we are without admitting that our current we is endemically flawed, flawed perhaps to its very core?  

If such admission and change is possible, it’s going to hurt.  Who wants to admit that there’s something wrong not only with what you are thinking, saying, and doing, but with who you are?  We might say those are all the same thing.  But we might also say that something deeper needs to happen.

For there to be a new American narrative, a narrative for all of us, we are going to have to explore the American soul.  I remain open to the possibility that America does not need one narrative at all but there are lots of practical ways in which we must create an ethos beneath a common set of laws.  Without one set of laws that apply to all of us equally is justice even possible?  So we need not agree with one another but we will need the same laws ---women’s reproductive rights stand out as do those that insure education reaches into communities traditionally disadvantaged.  (Affirmative action is a bias I strongly support and without such laws our schools will only serve the privileged.)  But the law is never a narrative itself.  Rather it is the foundation for a narrative, a basis upon which we are already telling the story.  When we dismantle Wall Street regulations that protect consumers from predatory lenders or conning investment brokers, we are telling a story with our laws.  Who are we?

A new American counter narrative to Trump’s New Confederacy will not be all-inclusive.  It will will neither include all who agree to oppose the tawdry white supremacist underbelly anymore than it will persuade his supporters.  The middle ground is apparently occupied by those estimated 40%, the 92,671,979 who did not vote, because we know that most everyone else has very strong opinions.  That we are a nation divided should be as self-evident as any of those truths we have yet to live up to.

If there is to be a different America, one that survives Trumpism, it must also be one that tolerates “conservatives” but restricts their governance.  That is currently the opposite of what is happening since half of the American States are governed by rigorously ideological conservatives and all three Federal branches.  If you believe that is not the majority of Americans, the facts of power and authority are currently self-evidently opposed.  What is next?

Who we are will be largely decided when people decide that the question really matters.  I mean, really matters.  Americans are not particularly introspective, we fancy ourselves doers not thinkers.  Americans are usually either shamed (liberals) by the continuance of structural failures or dismissive claiming we’re past that, cured of (conservatives) our deplorable histories of oppression.  We begin in alternative narratives, but not in alternative facts.  The chances of changing the American character, to become more reflective of history, more responsible to the truths of the past, or to win the battle with education are slim at best.  We need another strategy.

First we need to understand America’s conservatives and take them seriously. Conservatives fought against all of the freedoms of a diverse America from the outset, and they’re still fighting against them today.  Liberals know that we can’t go back. There is no future in which we will tolerate the loss of voting rights, the denigration of immigrants and brown people, a woman’s right to her body, or that gay people are people too.

So if someone has to suffer because our modern liberal narrative conflicts with the Great Again, then let it be those demanding a return to ignorance and simple-minded solutions to complex problems.  Ironically their Trump sycophancy and conservative “values” will create enough pain of its own accord.  The impending catastrophes and horrors of these philosophies and their their implementation will surely be visited upon all of us.

We will try to right those wrongs as soon as we can.  We must tell ourselves that in the long run the conservatives have always been on the wrong side of history, that human decency and morality will win out.  But that depends upon one more thing.   Those who oppose such regression and oppression must convince those in the middle, those who have opted out to ask themselves who they are.  We must convince ourselves to compromise with each other because the conservatives have proven that they want no part of that compromise.

Liberals are too deeply flawed, because that is to be human.  We don’t possess the answers and we have failed each other and ourselves.  Are we clear about that?  But which differences will make all the difference?  Whose values will decide the laws under which we will struggle to govern a discontented whole?  That is the heart of the matter.
There must be a new narrative that confers the dignity of difference on all of us within the American story, one that works with the law and serves as the foundation for justice.  If America is too diverse to be any one culture or group, any one ethnicity or language, if we are founded on propositions and laws, we cannot rely on shared values.  We don’t all share the same values.  Rather, we must each ask ourselves if we will be governed by the values of those willing to share.