Saturday, April 14, 2018

Priapos, Ryan, and Trump, Elevated Humor or Exhausted by the Salacious Details?

Every once in a while the NYTimes allows a columnist to use an unfamiliar word. Allow me. Today's word is "priapic." It was used today by the loathsome, not to be rehabilitated or forgiven Bret Stephens who supported the Iraq war, the Bush tax cuts, and every Ryan-esque effort to hurt ordinary people. He deserves no uplifting or resurrection for his past sins. Not yet. But he can write and so, like Buckley and Will, is the sort of conservative you are forced to read. He is now a NeverTrumper, which is only one degree of worth warmer than an absolute zero. He writes: "...conservatism opportunistically played the sycophant to the congenitally mendacious and previously priapic nativist bigot who, through a bad fluke, captured the White House."

The adjective "priapic" refers to Priapus or Priapos, in Greek, who manages to be the son of both Aphrodite and Dionysus. (He has other parentages but this one will, ummm, satisfy.) We would call him in Sanskrit "Lingotbhava" but for the...downside. "Linga" for phallus, "utbhava" for..."arising" or "emergent." So Priapos was renown for having what we might call an "ever-hard-on."

Much like conservatives, he's got one for immigrants, otherness, oil kleptocrats and environmental regulations, you get the idea: anything worth hating, serving to fuck anyone they feel deserves it, particularly the innocent, the environment, and decency itself. Our conservative Trumpist, like Trump, stars today in virility commercials but _only_ in the disclaimer or danger-phrase, "In the event of an erection that lasts more than four hours..." and other comparable forms of priapism. None of this is ever a good thing, but it does warrant further explaining. And so ends any comparison to Shiva or any reference to...well, anything but frustration, pain, toxicity, and failure, all of which describe the relationship between conservatives and Trump, and Trump himself.

So what do conservatives, Trump ,and Trumpism share with Priapos? Priapos was cursed by Hera while in the womb when Aphrodite's favorite Paris dared to pronounce Aphrodite more beautiful than herself. The curse, of course, was that the well-endowed and ever-erect Priopos would fail to maintain himself at just the proper moment, and so be always impotent, embarrassed, and a failure. He would be characterized by bluster, neediness, and self-inflation but never quite rise to the real occasion.

Now you could say that it's not poor Priapos' fault since, after all, his curse--- which also includes being ugly and particularly repulsive--- is a result of one of those strange matters of vindictiveness that follow around the Greek divines. (Sanskrit lore has strange sexuality matters but nothing that involves the gods cursing one another or taking it out on humans.) But we have to leave that unfortunate circumstance within mythic realms to make our point. Are conservatives just aberrant failures congenitally? We know that Trump is a congenital liar and that Republicanism is Trumpism: you can't get more "with the gentials" than that congenital aberrance.

Let me tinder, umm, tender another take on the matter at hand.

Conservatism is priapic because it was _always_ going to fail, it's curse is that it is based on enfeebled vanity, every kind of false and toxic masculine misconception known to man. It is all excuses, no explanations, no apologies, and no care for anything but its own self-pleasing fantasies. It is more than just factually incoherent (think: ummm, trickle-down economics), it wallows in the incapacity to know facts from fantasy, it is a pornography in which the porn star is the more honest business. No hush money required here, we know conservatism, like Trump, is cursed from the outset because the fix is not in the fixer. The fixer is going to jail and the country will be left unsatisfied.

Next, conservatives are priapic because, like Trump and Trumpism, they love to the wave the flag, dodge the draft, and employ their fake militarist patriotism (Let's have a parade!) all without ever serving up the truth. All of this tedious self-inflation displays their toxic, impotent, insecure, and false virility--- all in their effort to assert their superiority. Think: flag lapel pins, the insipid, self-righteous looks of seriousness on Mike Pence's face, and the Calvin pissing bumper stickers on the backs of jacked up pickup trucks. Think of the trucks themselves. Some need to be Chevys, "like a rock." Others are just gas guzzling Ford F-150s or, even worse, Ram Tough Mopar. (Apologies to rams.) Something about all of these things says to you, in the quiet of your own thoughts, "small dick, small mind, wearisome, enfeebled, idiotic masculinity." Now you can just say "failing priapism."

They then further use these priapic forms to erect and attempt to keep up their nativist biogtries. Think: tiki lamps, Confederate flags on those same pick up trucks, and Klan costumes, all of which are meant to scare and intimidate, when in truth they symbolize failure, the banality of hatred, and their own limp, sapless insecurities.

Enter Trump, Priapos himself, along with the toadyism of the current Republican Party Klan, all of whom are in full demonstration of their impotent, "priapic" character. It's plain as day, now isn't it?

So when the time comes ---think about that one--- Trump and conservatives like the...umm, "retiring" Paul Ryan are cowards, desiccated phony moralists, unproductive, incompetent, etiolated failures. They wan and pale when the moment of truth arrives and will leave the country stiffed, holding their deficits, and all of us by the balls when we are charged to fix the mess they leave behind.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Just 20 Miles but a World Away, Creating Chaos or Making Peace

It appears that I grew up a mere 22.7 miles from Donald Trump. Just two bridges and a stone's throw. Apparently that made a difference. I'm sure there's more: economics, upbringing, religion, all the rest.  But let's here take up that difference of circumstance and community.

Here's a formative fact to my upbringing: "In 1965, after a struggle to address de facto segregation in housing and education, Teaneck became the first community in the nation where a white majority voluntarily voted for school integration, without a court order requiring the district to implement the change."

Today the NYTimes makes this observation: "The Jamaica Estates of Mr. Trump’s boyhood was an exclusive and nearly all-white place, resistant to outsiders and largely impenetrable to minorities,” The Times reported in 2015. In fact, the 1950 census found that at that time, 96.5 percent of the 1.55 million Queens residents were white." The article by Thomas Edsall, does a fine job making the case, and it's simple enough. Trump wants 1950 back again, because that's when America was great in his understanding: before desegregation, before diversity, before "those" people showed up in the neighborhood.

What breaks my heart is that 63 million Americans, many of whom have had _no_ personal experience of diversity _at all_, harbor the same kinds of feelings about things outside their experience. We can call those feelings racist and bigoted because it is a fact.

But most Trump voters ---like the majority of my current neighbors--- have _never_ lived or worked or _gone to school as kids_ with anyone even slightly different from themselves. It is as much a kind of parochial xenophobia as it is racism. I have been literally called "you people" to my face and told I should "go back to where you came from."

What we have before us each day in Trump's growing isolation, in the pathology of his narcissism is a personal microcosm of the larger American problem. As he hunkers down into his own personal bunker of neurosis, fear, frustration, and rage, he will relive his childhood lessons. Everything that is not him is to blame; everything that is wrong comes from "those" people.

Donald Trump is ten years older than I am and grew up in Queens those 20 miles away. That ten years makes a difference but, in a certain way, we grew up in the same crises: civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the challenges of the 60s and 70s. But our differences are even more profound because it comes back to values and choices.

My integrated schools childhood didn't teach me not to fear difference or diversity. But it did expose me, challenge me, and invite me to it. I was not taught that everything was going to be okay. Instead it taught me that I had a choice: I could stand with change and justice or I could run away and into my bunker. We could have just fought each other or we could reach into what was around us. There was going to be real peril sometimes, we weren't going to understand each other or get along all the time. But we tried, we really tried.

We were also being _taught_ by our parents, by example, by our teachers, and from each other about our shared humanity. We weren't homogenized into sameness ---because that would have been running away. We were being invited into a richer, more complex way of being human. We could have sown enmity and planted the seeds of more chaos or we could try the more challenging path of peace and real diversity. We were lucky enough to have that chance because there were leaders and parents and however much strife, the effort to try.

I only wish that Trump had had more of my experience and less what it was like those 20 odd miles away. But what got Trump elected was another version of his own experience. Our challenge is to reach into that isolated and naturally xenophobic America and do the work of 1965 all over again. Perhaps that's another way hope can turn into change.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Conflicted Conscience

Today we learn of yet another chemical attack in Syria. There is no doubt that human beings are capable of incalculable evil. Such a fact drives those among us driven by conscience further into our inner conflicts. So a few words about America's unresolved crimes and history, to give us pause as we think more seriously about who we are and who we want to be. What are we prepared to do?

Let me begin by making it clear that I offer no excuses and no rationalizations for what we know to be true about President Lincoln. I am not party to any apologetics here. Every time I read his speeches I am disappointed and pained--- and yet there is something to learn about ourselves as we witness his inner struggles.  There is much to consider as we take to heart Lincoln's deep conflicts of heart and mind.

It took Lincoln a long time to reconcile his own racism with the inexcusable crime of slavery: to deny the former is to fail to understand his comprehension of the latter. Lincoln's moral flaws are today apparent and yet what he eventually came to understand required that he listen more deeply to his own heart, and to his own inner voice of reason.  I believe it was his capacity to think with his feelings that brought him to a place of moral transformation to oppose his own feelings and to oppose slavery unequivocally.

What Lincoln understood is that we human beings are, at once, creatures of immeasurable selfishness _and_ altruism, decency, and morality. It took him far too long to be on the right side of this paradox and to disavow our country's criminal original sin. But it is the measure of his failure that I take to heart as a lesson for today.

Had he not been conflicted, had he taken the purist view of the right-hearted abolitionists, he could not have won the Presidency, changed his own heart, and slavery would have continued in America for who knows how long. There would have been more "compromises" and so an endless continuation of white America's complete failure to represent its claims to the promises of liberty and decency.

I think about Lincoln, perhaps more than is relevant to the day, but I think about his moral conflicts, his deeply flawed and often painful arguments to himself, his inexcusable bigoted _feelings_. But who among is is not guilty of our own failures and cultural compromises with evil? What are you prepared to do to stop Assad in Syria from using chemical death on innocent people? We are all limited, one way or another, to meet our own ethical measures of goodness.

In 1854 in response to Stephan Douglas he said, "Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature,—opposition to it in his love of justice. These principles are in eternal antagonism, and when brought into collision so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri Compromise; repeal all compromises; repeal the Declaration of Independence; repeal all past history,—you still cannot repeal human nature. It still will be the abundance of man's heart that slavery extension is wrong, and out of the abundance of his heart his mouth will continue to speak...."

What are we going to do about such wrongs in the world? We cannot change human nature but we can demand from ourselves a deeper consideration of our actions.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

How Ya' Feelin'? (Because Thinking is Apparently Optional.)

I have argued before that we live in a post-factual society where only feelings really count. Until you need to get your computer or your cell phone to operate--- but that too evokes plenty of feelings. What we are following of late is government by feeling alone, by puerile impulse, by emotions largely made of frustration, anger, vindictiveness--- all fostered by a President who is clearly mentally ill and incapable of executing the duties of the office. And his poll numbers have gone up.

At the heart of the matter may be that Trump is more mentally incompetent than any kind of literacy or critical thinking could solve. It matters not that he doesn't read if he can't. "Critical" thinking for Trump means only disloyalty to the latest impulse. But we the citizenry reflect our government and the ethos of our history: Americans are doings, not thinkers, and now we are feelers abandoning reason. The republic, now more than ever, demands that we can reason, all of us, at least a little bit. It's no small matter in the 21st century.

Jefferson argued that the ordinary person ---and by that he meant only white men without an education--- were capable by their inner wisdom to tell right from wrong, to elect capable leaders (such as himself). But the tasks of right and wrong, still as much matters of character as they are of judgment, are no longer addressing the 18th century world. America is not an agrarian state of hard working farmer peasants. But it will be nothing more than if we don't take the tasks an educated citizenry more seriously.

Before we get too uppity about how we think about all this, let's be reminded that serious efforts to think require _learning_ to think. The "critical" in "critical thinking" is a word to take seriously: it involves method, process, and rules of engagement. Smart people need to _learn_ the critical method; it's not enough to be smart, one has to be _educated_. And, I tell you as a college professor of mostly STEM students, they are _not_ learning critical thinking in STEM, much less the power of words. Words too are no small matter because people are afraid, suspect, or intimidated by what they don't know. How many adults stray from the 2500 or so words that constitute basic fluency in English? How many look up a word with which they are unfamiliar? I do this _all_ the time. Reading takes time, it's often tedious, and who in this busy world of capitalist pressures has time?

In short, literacy appears in our culture as a privilege when it may well be a near-necessity. And critical thinking will not fall out of the sky merely because you went to college or tried to learn by your lonesome. We may not need advanced skills to "prosper", that is, to make a living and most of us don't need them at all for our work! But I'm of the opinion that we are likely doomed as a civic society, as a citizenry without them.

Some degree of literacy and the essentials of critical thinking are 21st century requisites of democratic citizenry if we are to address the difficult, messy business of democracy. It is authoritarianism that needs nothing more propaganda. Fox knows this is all they need. And so we are largely without them and we are failing. It's no wonder we have elected a President entirely bereft of these basic skills of political competence: he reflects the citizenry that is equally unqualified. Feel on, and we will get exactly what we have now.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Living in the Post-Belief World, A Report from the Twitter Trenches

Earlier today I noted how my new Twitter Troll-Friends have twice (at least) made clear that the KKK was founded by Democrats. Are they ignoring every bit of history since Eisenhower, do they not know it, are they just in denial? Sigh. But as I think a bit more about it, the issue is not policies but, like Trump, a reaction, drawn from impulses and fears, rooted in white nostalgia for past dominance and some deeply felt need to prevent change that has already arrived. I also told the story last week of meeting the old Wyoming cowboy reveling in his weathered isolation from liberals, savoring the last fresh air of freedom from change and distance from 'those people.'  Some of my neighbors refer to me as "you people." I try to imagine how hard it is not to be white and hear this.

These folks want things they way they were, dammit. When white men were uncontested to do as they pleased, when women defended men, when everyone else knew their place so that they could get along with being supreme. There's a little room for successful minorities, like Ben Carson and Clarence Thomas, because they _earned_ their way and don't advocate for government help. (It matters not that both of these men received such aid. Remember: facts do not matter, keep your eye on _feelings_ about facts.) The facts are no longer with them --- America is changing at last, but not so fast that cops can't kill black men with impunity or elections can't be gerrymandered and courts stacked. There are ways to keep things "conservative" and they aren't fools about political power, using money, and, above all, making sure the liberals and minorities don't take over too soon.

As the midterms approach, Democrats have plenty of ways to ignite their base: every day brings a new outrage of incompetence, corruption, and dangerous, regressive policies. Republicans will continue to ignore the facts, however plainly these are made to even the meanest intellect. Why? We'll get to that. But first...

Republicans continue to run against Hillary, obsess over Leader Pelosi and BLM. They are having a harder time using the Parkland students but they'll figure it out because their voters don't like kids "talking back." We mustn't make light of the sexism and racism, those are matters too important, however transparen, to dismiss. It is the emotional conjurations that we must try to fathom. Trump figured out that these white people don't care about facts or promises about policy or even Anne Coulter's Former Trumper kvetchings. They care about how what is said makes them feel.

Fox gets this, especially when it's another meme about Christians victimized, persecuted, and how liberals loathe them for their beliefs and think they are stupid. (They aren't wrong about this.) Like this one I culled from today's Times:

“Google snubbed Easter with no doodle for 18th year in a row, Christians say,” from Fox News: “For the 18th year in a row, Google has no doodle to celebrate Easter, and Christians are angry on this holy day. Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars editor-at-large, tweeted Sunday about Christianity’s most joyful day: ‏’So Google has a doodle for every obscure “woke” person/event imaginable, but nothing for Easter?... James Woods retweeted it, saying: ‘They loathe Christians. Plain and simple.’ The search giant did find room to celebrate April Fool’s Day — by inserting a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ game into Google Maps.”

Once the bullies of the playground uncontested, superior, and able to get away with murder--- they can still do that so long as the victim is a minority--- the Old White Christians don't even need to be professed Evangelicals or even Christian at all. They _feel_ Christian or at least "Judeo-Christian" even if they haven't been to church in ever. They only need to share the views of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. when they express their devotion to the notion that we _achieving_ white people are the true America and don't want "handouts." Further, it has be clearly implied that America must not be allowed to fall into the hands of 'those people.' It's not these beliefs they cherish as much as it's feelings about beliefs. These "Christians" are post-belief but not post-feelings. However they chose to cite their sources to justify their claims, beliefs serve feelings, not the other way around.

Daily claims are driven by something far more visceral and tribal, something that comes closer to entitlements of whiteness. These are not understood to be entitlements that have a structural history with roots in oppression and complex immigration movements. Rather, those matters are long past, as Justice Thomas and Gorsuch maintain: we have laws since the Cause was Lost that have made us all "equal" before the law. We can preserve our history in Confederate statues because heritage is a feeling that needs no further facts to consider. 

All this furthers the claim that everyone should earn their way, rely on no one but family, and hold in contempt anyone who needs, takes, or asks to serve the public good. Those are socialist and liberal ideas that ruin freedom. There is church but government is nothing but failure, intrusion, and oppression: and it will soon come to take your guns, another symbol of how their freedoms are being "taken away" and must be saved. Feeling aggrieved is not the same as being a whining snowflake. Yes, snowflakes can apparently whine.

Those of us who try our best to love facts, advance the values of progressive education, and still cherish family and even certain religious traditions, we too are post-belief. We know that facts are provisional, unfinished, and subject to revision because that's how human learn. We know that facts are important even though we also know we could be wrong. That is far, far too much to ask for from our feeling friends over on Twitter. Most of us (is this wishful thinking?) have traded in the religious superstitions of our familial traditions (some merely substituting with others) for a more social-based care-in-kind values. Nothing gets the dyspeptic Evangelicals going quite like their fellow liberal Christians talking about social gospels and helping the poor when they should be saying "He is Risen!" Catholics, well, they are all over this map, sometimes mapping with Evangelicals about women's rights and sometimes just following the money. (N.B., _always_ follow the money.) 

Our liberal post-belief world eschews literalism, which is why these Old White Christians believe everything we say is "fake news." The "facts," as they see them, are matters not to contest, much less doubt: they are _feelings about beliefs_ that have little (or nothing) to do with what we call facts. Our facts are merely "theories," like evolution and that's not faith.

For our part, our feelings are actually less tender than they are expressions of frustration and the endless futility that comes with dealing with feelings that cannot be penetrated by facts. To win over any of them, to get a few votes or get them to just stay home ---since many would rather die than vote for a Democrat--- we need to appeal to their feelings and only to their feelings. We can't win on policy. We don't share values or beliefs about values.

The way in is simple but we must find that sliver of an opening. The issue is "fairness." I've used quotation marks here because OWC notions of "fairness" have little to do with what any liberals think or even with any fact at all. But the Old White Christian grievance _feels_ it has a soft spot for "fairness," albeit only the sort that would favors them and keep 'those people' at bay. Regarding Trump the complaint must be, as Jonathan Chait has described, corruption, the kind that is just unfair, not him but his poor choices. HE means well, because we OWCs voted for him and we feel deeply and know we can't be wrong.

OWCs wish they were all rich like Trump, could act with the impunity and disregard for anything but themselves ---this is why no number of Stormys matter and why Mueller must go. They love authority, they want things simple again and they never resent the rich. But if the rich are playing them and not paying for their golf, jets, and glamor, then that's just not fair.

In fact, even Trump has fired those he senses are "corrupt," impervious to any of his own obvious corruptions ---but let us not devolve and confuse any of this with the facts. I remind you, facts are not important, it is feelings. OWCs need to _feel_ like the privileged are paying for their stuff just enough--- they can cheat on taxes, because that's okay, that's the guv'mint stealing your hard earned cash--- and they can put up with Russians and anything else because that's just deal making, and deals are good when you are a "winner." Tariffs are good because those people, the ones stealing from us, are unfair.

However, if we press the matter to a kind of corruption that touches the fairness-button and press gently, this will not win any hearts or minds, but it may keep 77,000 of them home on election day. And that's what we need. As for our plans, well, Democrats and progressives will form their own circular firing squads over ideas, purity principles, and agendas that divide and make villains of allies, because no one knows how to lose an election better than a room full of liberals. And that's a fact.