Make America Sensible Again

Last weekend, a Facebook friend of mine explained the Trump situation as the outcome of a Faustian bargain GOP elites made with racists and anti-intellectuals some decades ago. He was riffing on this WaPo editorial which asks “Where Were Republican Moderates 20 Years Ago.?” In the article Fareed Zakaria criticizes the Republican leaders who are now scrambling to fend off Donald Trump for allowing the situation to develop in the first place.

trump1

The Trumpster himself.

It’s a fairly stinging critique. Fareed argues that by failing to restrain the right wing of their party from using the virulent rhetoric and vicious tactics that have become a commonplace in U.S.politics — and in some cases actively encouraging it — the Republican leadership fostered the environment in which Trump is now flourishing. The money quote:

Here is a much simpler explanation for Donald Trump: Republicans have fed the country ideas about decline, betrayal and treason. They have encouraged the forces of anti-intellectualism, obstructionism and populism. They have flirted with bigotry and racism. Trump merely chose to unashamedly embrace all of it, saying plainly what they were hinting at for years. In doing so, he hit a jackpot.

I buy this. It tracks with what I said in my last #WeekendCoffeeShare post about why I consider Trump dangerous even if he loses.

When Presidential candidates say racist things to whip up political support, that sends a message to their followers that it’s ok say and do racist things in public. Which makes people who actually have racist attitudes a little more comfortable with spreading bigotry and hate.

Zakaria locates the Republicans’ turn toward toxic rhetoric in the Gingrich era. My own experience agrees with his assessment. When I Iook at how we arrived at this pass as a social/historical process, I can trace it back to the racist backlash against the Voting Rights Act with ease. The now-infamous Southern Strategy and Barry Goldwater’s run for President in 1964 are pieces of this puzzle.

goldwater_poster

A Goldwater poster and an early example of what we now understand as Political Dogwhistling.

That said, Zakaria has a point. I remember a fair amount of virulent political speech during the Reagan and Bush I eras. And keep in mind, I was 8 years old in 1980, so my memory is a bit fuzzy. “Welfare Queens” and a lot of homophobic things that were said during the AIDS crisis spring immediately to mind. But during the 1990s, the right wing of the Republican Party went absolutely bananas. There was a notable change in the things they were willing to do and say to win elections and policy debates.

The far right hated Bill Clinton and they expressed their hatred in the mass media. Even after the Obama birther madness and all the racism I’ve seen directed at our current President, I still don’t believe I’ve ever seen the level of vitriol spewed at a government official that was directed at Clinton. Maybe the Clinton era made a larger impression because I was younger and hadn’t been desensitized to it yet, but I am not sure.

Rush

Rush going all gangster.

We had Rush Limbaugh on television framing the Clinton Presidency as “America Under Siege” and counting the days. There were all manner of conspiracy theories accusing the Clintons of everything from cocaine smuggling to plotting with China to make the U.S. a vassal state of the PRC. The right exploited the Waco and Ruby Ridge catastrophes to score political points by whipping up anti-government sentiment, which ended up fueling the militia movement.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the government deserves criticism for both of these incidents. But criticism should be productive, and the right went too far. I’ll also point out that Ruby Ridge happened in August of 1992. Bill Clinton wasn’t sworn in until January of the next year, so it didn’t even happen on his watch. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that.

I’ll be honest in the interest of full disclosure. I not only supported Bill Clinton, I liked him. After 12 years of grandfatherly Presidents who smiled and said they cared about everyone while they happily went about the business of punishing poor people for being poor, Clinton was a breath of fresh air. He was dynamic. He was talented. When he said he cared about the rest of us, I believed him. He gave me hope for the future.

bill-clinton-saxophone

Bill Clinton convinced us he had more faith in the American people than any other politician of his generation. And he was a decent sax player. We had no choice but to love him.

Some of the most heated conversations I’ve ever had were during his impeachment trial. I thought at the time he shouldn’t have been impeached because Ronald Reagan wasn’t impeached for Iran-Contra despite the fact that the hearings revealed him to be either criminally culpable or so incompetent as to be unfit for office. I thought the whole sorry impeachment affair was orchestrated by opportunists who wanted to damage the Democratic Party so badly the country would go along with the GOP running the government forever.

I maintain to this day that if the circumstances had been the same, but Clinton had been a Republican, there would have been no trial. Heck, there probably never would have even been a Whitewater investigation. No one will ever convince me otherwise.

The right wing during the Clinton era went way beyond personal attacks and saying bigoted things to score points. They operated, from day one, from a position of contempt for the executive branch itself. These people didn’t want to govern. They wanted to rule.

So yeah, during the 90’s the extreme right escalated the bigotry and hate. The centrist wing of the GOP allowed it to happen by not stepping on it and in some cases, condoning it to win elections. The extremists pulled them to the right and forced them into a position which required them to “go nuclear or go home” any time they had even a slight disagreement with the Dems.

By the end of the decade we had a separatist problem and a militia problem because (almost exclusively white) people were joining what amounted to private paramilitary organizations out of fear that the Clinton administration was scheming to take away their guns or use the military against the population or some such. We’d seen a federal building in a major city bombed. I was never sure why so many people bought all that, given our well-established tradition of leaving problems in the hands of the civil authorities unless things break down to the point that they threaten public safety in a big way or the authorities plead for help.

second amendment

There’s a hard #truth here, and it is a big part of our problem.

We had people being abused and in some cases murdered for not being heterosexual and an uptick in violence against abortion providers. In my neck of the woods, people were using the label “Democrat” as a not-so-sly racial slur. Unless you were a thick-skinned, assertive person in the South, you thought twice about identifying as liberal or feminist. It took a LOT of courage, even at that late date, to be open about your sexual orientation unless you were a hetero, cisgendered person.

It’s tricky to identify causal relationships in these matters. But note the obvious way the escalation on the part of far right people in government seems to have enabled the bad behavior of average citizens who agreed with them. Note how it encouraged even more extreme elements of society to organize and collaborate. I believe this is a real thing I’m looking at.

There’s a relationship here between what our politicians say and how our citizens treat one another. I’m ready for our public discourse to start running in the direction of tolerance and respect. I’ll happily organize with anyone who convinces me they want the same.

Postscript

I started writing this post almost a week ago. Since then, we’ve seen a Trump rally in Chicago canceled because confrontations between his supporters and protesters became too violent for the event to go forward. Now he and his surrogates are claiming the protesters violated his First Amendment rights. I can’t publish this without saying a few words about all that.

trump_supporter

A Trump supporter who has since said she was just doing this because the other side were comparing her candidate to Hitler, and this was her way of thumbing her nose at them.

I’ll condemn violence no matter which end of the political spectrum it comes from. Violence is violence, period. But it’s a huge mistake to allow Trump to put this all on the protesters. The only reason people are protesting his rallies is because for months, he’s been spewing racism and encouraging his supporters to abuse people who object to what he’s saying.

In some cases, people who weren’t being disruptive in any way have been removed from his rallies because they were wearing other candidates’ messaging on their clothing or because they were black. And that IS a violation of the First Amendment, because those people were removed by police and/or Secret Service.

Trump has had every opportunity to dial back his rhetoric and to encourage restraint from the podium. He has not done that. The Republican Party has done very little to call him out for it, and what they have done has been too little, too late.

TrumpMeme

More #truth, and a more urgent part of our problem.

As Saturday Night Live pointed out in the Weekend Update this week in a much more pithy way than I am. Given the character and history of Chicago, is it any wonder a rally for an openly racist Presidential candidate who regularly incites his supporters to abuse people attracted a large protest and things got ugly? Is it any wonder at all?

Far as the First Amendment argument goes. Freedom of speech protects political speech from government censorship in public spaces. It doesn’t protect political candidates from being heckled by protesters.

Removing protesters from political rallies for disrupting the event to the point it can’t continue, or for threatening the safety of others, is totally legal. Removing people for standing silently with signs or listening attentively while wearing t-shirts supporting other candidates is illegal. One of the reasons Trump is encouraging his supporters to abuse any and all protesters whether they’re being disruptive or not is to create an environment in which those people aren’t safe so the police have an excuse to escort them out.

When you hear someone bemoaning the infringement of Donald Trump’s First Amendment rights, it is appropriate to call bullshit on that. Also appropriate to point out that it’s a classic case of projection. And here’s the funny thing about Trump hiding behind freedom of speech. This may be the only funny thing I’ve seen since he started his campaign.

I know quite a bit about trolling. I sometimes engage in discussions that attract the trolling-folk. I’ve written about their behavior. Donald Trump is using their tactics.

Sometimes I see people obviously trolling a thread with the intent to disrupt the conversation and I tell them to cut it out or step off. One of the most common responses I get when I do that is a rant about freedom of speech. At that point, I usually block the person so they can’t respond any more, and then explain to them that I’m not the government, and that even though blogs are publicly accessible, they are not public property, which means the First Amendment does not apply.

Donald Trump and his enablers are trolling us, y’all. It’s too bad we can’t all disengage and stop feeding him. But people are going to keep showing up at his rallies, and he’s not going to dial back his rhetoric. Even if he did at this point, I don’t think he could restrain the crowds. Trump is not holding these people in the palm of his hand the way he was even a month ago. He’s lost control of his own followers and he’s unleashed a thing.

We can’t accuse Donald Trump of directly inciting what happened in Chicago because he wasn’t even there. But I say no matter who threw the first punch, he bears more responsibility for that incident than any single person — on either side — who was in that crowd. Because if the things he’s been saying for these last few weeks aren’t incitement, I don’t know what that word means.

So let’s hope he somehow inexplicably loses big on Tuesday. But even if he does, be mindful of the fact that his following isn’t going to evaporate. Most will support Cruz if it comes to that. And we don’t want Trumpism to take hold the way the Obama Birthers’ ideas took hold. Because that strengthened the Tea Party and made governing harder for Obama than it had to be.

So, how do we handle this, since we can’t stop feeding the trolls in this case? I say we stay engaged with this election and see it through to November. And we assert our own views at every opportunity.

I’m not saying you have to let it take over your social media the way it’s taken over mine or berate your friends offline. That sort of incessant chatter isn’t for everyone. I know a lot of us are depressed, disgusted, and exhausted already and November is months away.

If it gets to be too much, step away from it for a few days and spend your internet time looking at pet photos and baby pictures. I’ve come to enjoy those over the last year or so and to see them as valuable as anything else we do on the social media. Because they make people smile and they foster positive relationships. We could do with a heap more of both right now.

All I’m saying is we can’t afford to burn out, or to just tune it all out in disgust. If someone asks you for your opinion on the election, give them a polite, honest answer and be firm if you receive conservative jackassery in return for your trouble. And if someone starts blithely extolling the virtues of Donald Trump to you, ask them what they think this country will look like if we elect a guy who has people escorted out of his rallies just for being black whether they are actually protesting or not and who incites his followers to violence.

And have a little faith in the American people, even though that’s getting harder by the day. We don’t always do the right thing, but it is my sincere hope that in this case, we will. I have to believe that even though I’m an unapologetic leftist and my views do not represent the mainstream in any way, most Americans want what I want in this election. I’m running entirely on faith and hope at this point.

We don’t want to make America great again because even though we’re at a low point and we are in a precarious position, we haven’t lost our greatness yet. We just want to make America sensible again.

america_kind

Let’s all get together and do this, plz!

ed.- I need to acknowledge a few people here because this is a different post than I’ve ever written, and a few people helped me get here, even though they might not realize it.

If not for the many conversations with my sister Diana, who runs the blog Part Time Monster, and our friend Gretchen Kelly of Drifting Through My Open Mind, over the last three years, I would not have found the heart to put a thing like this on the internet.

My friend Luther M. Siler of Infinite Free Time has taught me a lot about blogging, and interpreting statistics, and the dynamics of this election just by sharing his opinions with me these last couple of years and commenting on my threads. Luther is an author and he blogs about a lot of stuff other than politics, but you only need to spend two minutes scrolling through is archives to see he’s one of the good guys. Thank you, Luther, for your kindness, patience, and generosity.

I religiously follow the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on Facebook. I am not affiliated with them, but they always answer my communications and they post a lot of good stuff. I think of them as friends.

If you care about these things I’ve written about in this post, please give all these nice folks a look, and if you see why what they’re doing is valuable, give them a follow and some likes.

More to come.

 

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Weekend Coffee Share: In Which I Reboot and Get All Political

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I hope you’ve been well since the last time we chatted. Unless you are one of those folks who chatter with me on Facebook that means it’s been almost a month.

weekendcoffeeshare

And I’d tell you I’ve been doing some thinking — soul searching really — about what it’s going to take to get my blogging life back on track. My output isn’t where I’d like it to be. I doubt I’ll ever get it back to where it was in 2014 and ’15, but I’d like to be publishing a post per week somewhere. I don’t see why I can’t find a way to swing that.

My problem lately has been figuring out what to blog about. Coffee posts are definitely still on my agenda, but they can be about literally anything as long as they’re structured correctly. I feel as though my pop culture blogging has pretty much run its course for now. That was always about collaboration with other bloggers — my pop culture posts were consistently less popular than other contributors’ for the entire life of my collaborative blogging project, and in any case, I don’t have the time to write high-quality reviews nor to consume the amount of entertainment required to be a pop culture blogger.

The only other thing I’m absolutely committed to keeping up at this point is my feminism project, and I’m really wanting to do some other politically-oriented blogging as well. During 2014, when Diana and I were more or less throwing as many different types of posts against the wall and seeing what stuck, I wrote quite a few political posts at our blogs. Those posts didn’t do poorly, but as our contributor base grew and I moved into pop culture, I stopped with the political chatter. Here’s why I made that decision.

Getty stock image.

Getty stock image.

  • The audience I saw developing, such as it was, was an audience of creative types and pop culture geeks with highly diverse views. I felt as though my political writing — which is always strongly opinionated — had the potential to create unnecessary divisions among contributors and alienate readers who were just looking for cool photos and smart t.v. reviews.
  • The socio-political commentary market is thoroughly saturated, and political blogging is a competitive game. Since I didn’t have a foundation of readers who were interested in reading what I have to say about politics, I thought I’d probably just ending up screaming into space.
  • My original audience included many, many conservative southerners. Since I was trying to start up a pop culture blog and a writing blog and I was only generating 20 to 50 views per day, I didn’t think it was wise to continually antagonize 30 to 50 percent of my audience.
  • In short, I didn’t see enough benefit to warrant the effort, because I don’t blog for solely for emotional gratification. I blog because I want to be read.

My social media life has changed drastically since I started. The southern conservatives I depended on during the first few months of my blogging startup have mostly moved on, or have at least learned that when I start spouting off as an opinionated liberal in my own media space, discretion is the better part of valor. Many of the bloggers I met during the past two years who have an affinity for my political opinions are now Facebook friends. Sourcerer’s silent, but a lot of the people who contributed to that blog and kept the threads busy are still in contact and are contributing for one another now.

So the community-building part of the Sourcerer project was a success, even though I’m not able to get that blog running again right now. All of which leaves me in the position most bloggers find themselves in at some point in their careers. My output has dwindled and if I’m gonna ever get going again, I’ve got to start as a solo blogger and get to the point where I’m producing enough content to keep my own blog busy and give posts away from time to time.

This is me.

This is me.

And the only way I’ve ever been able to be consistent as a solo blogger is to write about things I care about and that I find not-terribly-taxing to write. Until I set up Sourcerer in 2013, all the blogging I’d ever done had been political blogging. I learned almost everything I know about how information spreads on the internet from studying the development of the early blogosphere in the first decade of this century. And I’m also good at turning personal experiences into entertaining stories.

So, for the next little while — until I find something that works bettter — what you’re getting from me on the blog is a combination of personal experiences and political opinions. Even during the months when I was mostly keeping politics off my social media, I never disengaged completely and I never stopped keeping up. One of the reasons I don’t have time to consume the quantity of entertainment media required to do pop culture blogging is that I consume a TON of information about domestic politics, international affairs, and social trends. So the only way I can realistically get back to blogging frequently is to leverage that information and hope to find readers who appreciate it.

So, just to get this reboot rolling, here are a couple of things I have on my radar at the moment.

The U.S. Presidential election, especially Donald Trump’s candidacy.

My Facebook feed is awash with Trump chatter. The smart money says it’s demographically impossible for him to win the general election, but his candidacy has unsettled me practically from the moment he announced. Just the other night I had a long and somewhat heated exchange with a person who claimed that Trump is a victim of a big media smear campaign, and who was also characterizing one of the Dem candidates as a “shameless felon,” despite the fact that the candidate in question has never been convicted — nor even indicted — for a felony.fblike

Now, of course election season in the U.S. always causes some people to say bizarro things. But I don’t see it that way. I think if anyone’s trying to smear Trump, it’s the GOP establishment, and they’re doing a terrible job of it. What I see the professional media doing is uncritically pumping Trump into the homes of potential voters 24/7 to sell ads and generate internet traffic. And I will never stand by and let another person jump into the middle of a conversation I’m having and call a public figure a felon just because they dislike that person. I’d call that out even if I saw someone whose politics I agree with characterizing a hard-right Republican that way.

I know anecdotes don’t count for much, but I find this trend in the U.S. political discourse disconcerting. And while I HOPE the people who say demographics preclude a Trump Presidency are correct, this poll worries me. Tl; dr:

What I found is a trend that has been widely overlooked. A voter’s gender, education, age, ideology, party identification, income, and race simply had no statistical bearing on whether someone supported Trump. Neither, despite predictions to the contrary, did evangelicalism.

Authoritarianism and a hybrid variable that links authoritarianism with a personal fear of terrorism were the only two variables that predicted, with statistical significance, support for Trump.

Now, to be clear. I don’t think the U.S. is about to slide into outright dictatorship on the fascist model. But if you think of “authoritarianism” as a set of attitudes which includes things like conformity, resistance to changes in traditional social norms, and fear of outsiders, maybe you can see the problem. There’s a deep and persistent strain of that type of authoritarian thought which runs through American political history all the way back to colonial times.

The sample size for the poll is small, but the fact that age and race weren’t statistically significant predictors of support for Trump worries the hell out of me. So does the general tone and attitude of the crowds from the Trump rallies that I’ve seen footage of.

Mississippi has Declared April Confederate Heritage Month

This one’s closer to home, and I may have more to say about it later. But I don’t like this. And I especially don’t like the potential for it to turn into a month-long aggrandizement of the Confederate government and military with no serious acknowledgement that the Civil War was fought to preserve chattel slavery as a legal institution.

The State of Mississippi made this clear in its Declaration of Secession:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

mlk_justiceI think any discussion of the Civil War as an exercise in remembrance needs to start by acknowledging that it was about slavery in the first instance. “States’ rights” is an abstract concept and it is a justification, or a best an explanation of the underlying philosophical differences between the factions of elites who drove the country to war. It is not a causus belli in and of itself.

That’s all I’m saying about it for now. I’m still deciding how to handle this one, and what I’ve said today may very well be my last word on it. Then again, I may use the A to Z Challenge to talk about my heritage in a real, honest way every day during April.

I’m over 1600 words, so I’ll thank you for reading and wish you a fine week. I hope to see you again next weekend, if not before.

Random Poetry: “Dover Beach”

Dover Beach

by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Text via Public Domain Poetry

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