Is nothing sacred?*
*credit to SMITW
Is nothing sacred?*
*credit to SMITW
Political partisanship is intensifying mostly because we surround ourselves with people and tune into news sources that affirm our political philosophies. And so they harden. The technical term is “confirmation bias“. Conservative versus Liberal. Red versus Blue. Believing in American exceptionalism or not.
I’m a little weird in that liberal friends of mine marvel that I regularly engage in political discussions with conservative friends. Relationships are frayed because of political tribalism. Not just casual workplace ones, relationships with neighbors and family members.
One possible solution to this problem is to deemphasize politics by avoiding political topics, to talk about any and everything else, like Taylor Swift’s surprise new album, the weather (cloudy and 61 degrees farenheit in Olympia, WA) or the superiority of the metric system.*
But more kitten videos and fewer Trump ones is not the answer because political discussions are about power and privilege, fairness, and whether we’re going to realize our ideals, topics far too important to delegate to elected officials. Some whites who think they’re especially enlightened say, “I don’t see race, I’m colorblind.” To which most people of color say, “Must be nice, never having to think about the color of your skin, because we have to all the time.” Colorblindess is another form of white privilege.
Attempting to be apolitical is similarly flawed. Ignoring questions of power, privilege, and fairness does not make them go away. So how do we engage in policy discussions with people whose politics are so different than ours? Without losing our minds and jeopardizing our ability to live peacefully with one another?
By treating others the way we want to be treated. There are a boatload of descriptors that I’d like on my tombstone. Husband, father, friend, educator, writer among them.** I do not want to be remembered as a Liberal Democrat. “Remember Ron, yeah, he was an amazing Liberal Democrat. Really consistent on the death penalty. Always right about the social safety net. Impeccable voting record.”
And here’s the key take-away, I’m guessing that’s equally true for my Conservative Republican friends. We can go all in on specific political philosophies without our affiliations dominating our identities. We’re all humans, parents, siblings, friends, citizens, first, second, and third.
Consider a dystopian future, in say 22nd Century (dis)United States, where tombstones in cemeteries lead with deceased people’s political parties. Name, birth year, year of death, Moderate Republican. Name, birth year, year of death, Social Democrat. At times it feels like we’re headed down that path.
Social consciousness necessitates political engagement; but political engagement should not detract from multi-layered, nuanced, constantly evolving identities that begin and end with our common humanity.
*upon further thought, each of which could turn political
**I’m going to be cremated and spread liberally (not conservatively) in nature
A week ago the President of the (dis)United States tweeted, “There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have.” Who knows why he capitalized “country”, and why he always plays the victim, something Republicans are never supposed to do.
Trump often wields the phrase “in the history of our country” like Senator-to-be Stuart Smalley using self-affirmations to feel better about himself.
Trump admiring himself in the mirror. . . “Greatest President in the history of the nation.” “Accomplished more than any administration in the history of the country.” It’s like Fox News using “fair and balanced” for their slogan. Continuously repeating it doesn’t make it true.
There’s a problem with these bizarre assertions beyond their laughable inaccuracy. Trump has admitted to not reading, so where is he getting the necessary historical understanding to proclaim himself King of Kings?
The next time he spouts his “history of our country” lunacy, it would be nice to see at least one journo quiz him on what other administrations have accomplished. Rest assured, he will not get the highest score in the history of our Country.
“. . . recognition is just Step One . . . once doubters see climate change as the dire threat it is, it will be easier for them to get on board with the only solutions believed to be able to rein it in: phasing out fossil fuels and scaling back our carbon footprint.”
What do uber-liberal Jennifer Weiner and right wing nutter Rush Limbaugh have in common? They both revel in their political opposites’ moral failings. More accurately, they both stand and applaud loudly when their political opposites are caught straying far from the sexual straight and narrow.
Weiner in today’s New York Times:
“The double standards employed by some members of the “do as I say, not as I do” Christian right are nothing new. Show me a senator who votes against gay marriage, and, at least in one infamous case, I’ll show you a guy who’s soliciting same-sex encounters in the airport men’s room. (Hello there, Larry Craig!)
Show me another Republican senator who made his name as a “pro-family advocate” and I’ll show you a guy whose phone number showed up in a Washington madam’s little black book. (Howdy, David Vitter!)
Show me the far-right speaker of the House, a man with perfect scores from the National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Coalition, and I’ll show you a guy who, as a high-school wrestling coach, set up a chair in front of the boys’ shower the better to ogle his protégés, and who was eventually jailed as a serial child molester. (Dennis Hastert, come on down!)
We’ve been down this road of duplicity before. The televangelist who prayed, alongside his wife, for the return of traditional morals, admitted to having sex with — and was accused of rape by — a 21-year-old church secretary, and found to have paid her $279,000. The congressman who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act was sexting with his underage male pages.”
4-0. Scoreboard! Nevermind all the wrecked lives left in the wake, our party is winning because theirs is losing.
Like a good Stoic practicing voluntary self deprivation, I listened to Rush Limbaugh during this morning’s commute. He went all Jennifer Weiner on Harvey Weinstein whose “alleged” decades of sexual harassment momentarily give the Republicans the edge in the Sexual Impropriety Olympics. I’m not sure of the actual score because its constantly adjusting for new sordid details from our most public figures on the right and left.
Note to Rush Limbaugh. You can’t constantly discredit the New York Times as a reputable publication and then cherry pick stories that give you a political hard on. Is it trustworthy journalism or not?
Ready for the most amazing insight I have on offer today? Neither political party has a monopoly on virtue. Scorekeeping belittles the victims, mostly less powerful women. Powerful men of all political persuasions are adept at breaking vows and taking advantage of the less powerful. Mindless sex scandal scorekeeping is an especially poignant example of partisanship run amok.
I lent my iPod to Alison once.
She ended up sharing its contents with my sissy who got a big kick out of my fondness for female artists of a folky/pop/R&B persuasion. I’m secure enough in my maleness to say I dig me some Karen Carpenter, Jill Scott, Abigail Washburn, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Tracy Chapman, Sade. I pity the faux-macho who are too insecure to embrace the beauty of female voices.
Which brings us to Haim, who I just learned about as a result of this lengthy review of their second album, Something to Tell You. Learning of my discovery on her visit home last week, Alison has been helping me catch up. Their voices are excellent, but I’m even more enamored by their stage presence.
Carl Wilson, Slate’s music reviewer, follows the music scene much, much more closely than me. As a result, I had to read Wilson’s review a couple of times to make sense of it. From the odd opening reference to Haim as “the smart set’s favorite white pop band”, I alternately really liked and disliked his analysis.
I liked his description of their newest vid.
“This emphasis on musicianship rebukes the stubborn stereotype of the “girl band” as an artificially assembled group of sexy singers. Haim (pronounced “Hi-um”)* doesn’t have to dress up and do choreographed dance routines. The sisters are not ornaments—they’re the music makers. (Of course, it’s the music business, so they’re still conventionally attractive. Though that also reinforces that they’re making a choice.) So, in the video, they move only when they feel the music, sing only when it seems expressive. Got it.”
I disliked his thesis.
“Every pop moment is embedded in history, and history is embedded in every pop moment. Thinking through Something to Tell You, I’m puzzled by how Haim has gotten better but seems worse than in 2013–14. The reason has to be that in the late Obama era, when pop-chart populism still seemed democratizing and progress was on the upswing, Haim’s sisterhood variation on the theme felt liberating. That populism now feels double-edged, so the songs don’t quite stick. At the tail of the “Want You Back” video, the dance routine falls apart, and the trio wanders off laughing as the camera pulls away. The cathartic feeling dwindles back to mere charm, a shrugging amiability. It works as a reclamation of the band’s autonomy from pop imperatives, but it’s also like what happened here didn’t matter. It’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A.”
Mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter, it’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A. That last phrase strikes me as especially odd. What makes L.A. carefree and privileged, the fact that they closed Van Nuys Boulevard for the shoot? And why is Haim responsible for, or even complicit in, L.A.’s supposed carefree, privilege?
Maybe Wilson is too deep for me, but the way I interpret his “mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter” sentence is that art must be political today. Meaning Haim has to take some sort of a stand on pressing issues of the day. I beg to differ because I interact regularly with a lot of young women who are extremely self conscious, sometimes to the point of being intensely anxious and/or clinically depressed.
When I watch the “Want You Back” vid and this one,
the Haim sisters come across as joyfully unencumbered. Carefree is absolutely right. Given some young women’s mental health challenges today, that is gift enough.
Every one of us struggles, to varying degrees, with being self-conscious. The less self conscious among us inspire us to be more authentic, to make art, to dress, to write, to live, however we feel.
I’ll take more unencumbered joy with my art than policy pronouncements any day.
LOVE hate it when I am right and Alison is wrong. DIG the hypen Al, two syllables!** Let your friends down easily.
** Exclamation point = Millennial flourish.
From “The Family Man” by Katy Waldman.
“Donald Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law has now been tasked with bringing peace to the Middle East, destroying ISIS, reshaping the federal government, halting the opioid epidemic, and wooing China to our side. This would be an ambitious set of action items for a century’s worth of competent presidential administrations. Trump has handed the to-do list to a boyish cipher whose dad paid millions for him to get into Harvard.”
I forced myself to watch this 55 minute-long Frontline documentary on the bike this morning. Pure unadulterated torture. Need a new word to describe it, “depressing” doesn’t nearly do it justice. And yet, it’s incredibly important that we seek to understand how we’ve arrived at this moment.
Postscript: A loyal reader returned serve thusly—Who is getting rich off your student debt? What might we call this evolving genre?
If you subscribe to the humble blog you received a link to a post a few weeks ago about my eldest daughter and her friends who were still struggling to come to grips with the U.S. Presidential election. Compared to them, I wrote in the post, I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved. My elaborating on why I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved upset my daughter so much she asked me to take the post down, which I of course did.
A few days later, an important mentor of mine wrote me a tactful but poignant note asking me to consider how my privilege might be preventing me from empathizing with my daughter and people like her who were still bitterly disappointed with the election results.
When I started this blog I wrote that “I’d get some things wrong.” Turns out, I got that right. I deserved Alison’s and Richie’s criticism. Normally, I’m very cognizant of my privilege, but this is a case where I have not been. In hindsight, I should have gone full-Socrates with questions about things I need to understand better.
When I asked if she’d engage in a blog-based dialogue with me, Alison responded enthusiastically. So here’s “Take Two”.
Ron: What are you most angry about? More specifically, who are you most angry with? Why?
Alison: I am angry that, as a country, selfishness and greed were valued more than empathy and compassion. I am angry that the health and safety and dignity of the same people who have always had their health and safety and dignity denied was devalued. People of color and women and gay people and immigrants were told explicitly that their right to life and safety was less important than the distress of Trump voters. I am angry because so many people have fought so hard, have sacrificed and died to make the progress that is now being washed away. Because a group of people are now in power (Trump and his advisors and appointees) who are going to work to restrict women’s right to make choices about her body, to destroy the environment, to cut social services, to delegitimize LBGTQ relationships and identities, to deny safe haven to refugees, to enable the proliferation of guns, and to divide immigrant families.
I am angry because injustice makes me angry. I am angry because seeing my friends suffer and grieve makes me angry. I am angry because the results of this election go against what I believe to be most fundamentally true and essential and against who I was raised to be. I am angry because the elections results weren’t a fluke. I didn’t think it would all add up to a Trump presidency, but I was angry about the way the election was being conducted and reported – the motherfucking false equivalences – as it was happening. I am gutted because Trump was not held to the same standard that Hillary was. Because he was not criticized, was not condemned, was not interrogated. I am angry because Donald Trump is a perpetrator of sexual assault and was not disqualified for that. That his criminal, violent offenses were treated with less interest and gravity than Hillary Clinton using an email server set-up that was exhaustively investigated and found to have no malicious intent or harmful consequences.
I am angry because misogyny was at the core of why Hillary lost and it’s being written out of the story – either by not being addressed or by being denied as a valid argument. I’m angry because racism was at the core of why Trump won and it’s being masked under a veil of economic populism. After being confronted with the most horrifying and overt display of racism and sexism and generalized hatred for anyone not white, male, and straight, this country still does not have the guts to look at our illnesses for what they are. We can’t handle looking our own weakness in the eye. It would be too scary to admit the extent of our sickness, too daunting to face, so those of us with the resources to have strong houses are turning a shoulder against a wind that’s tearing everything else out of the ground and pretending it’s not as strong. This self-serving cowardice makes me furious.
I am fucking furious that poisonous hatred and violent misogyny and racism and xenophobia and homophobia found a stage and a microphone and were applauded. I cry because people who hold these beliefs had them validated on election night. Because they woke up on Wednesday morning strengthened and affirmed in ways that will result in the suffering of vulnerable populations. I laid in my bed on Wednesday morning, unable to get the images I’d seen and stories I’d heard of Trump rallies out of my mind, frozen and scared and horrified in a way that I had never been before. And now I spend my days ricocheting between trying to keep myself afloat, and fearing, above anything else, no longer feeling devastated, no longer being angry. It’s left me stumbling.
The Sunday after the election I went to church. I needed to sit next to other people who were grasping, inside a structure that was built to house prayer, and for someone to tell me that this was all awful, all truly, truly awful, but that we would fight it. The churches in Boystown are great for this. I had spent the night at a friend’s apartment and accidentally thrown away my contacts the night before, so I sat in a pew, unable to see, and therefore feeling less able to be seen, listening to the pastor’s impassioned, furious sermon, weeping. She said a thousand things that I needed to hear, but this is the one that has stayed with me: don’t break ranks with the vulnerable. The advantages of my privileged birth afford me the possibility to turn into my own life, into the comforts I can provide myself, but that is unacceptable. There are people suffering, without such an option for relief, who are shouting as loud as they can that they are afraid. Therefore, the only possible course of action is to stand with them, because we share the same sacred humanity, and because I can not accept that anyone deserves less than another. Do not break ranks with the vulnerable. I’m aware I strayed away from the main question, sorry!
Ron: Thank you for not giving up on me! I better understand and appreciate the depth of your anger. In Arizona sometime in early October I think, Trump gave a truly hateful, anti-immigrant speech at a large rally. I challenge anyone to find a more hateful, unAmerican, anti-immigrant speech in the U.S. presidential campaign archives. Truly historic in the worst way imaginable. And yet, it got little play the next morning. Where we may differ is that despite that, I don’t think media coverage explains the election result. I think of the media’s coverage of the candidates like I do bad sports officiating, incompetent coverage of both sides tends to balance out. So that begs the question, what does explain it? Is it too soon to ask that question? If so, when can I ask my next, more analytical question? It’s Saturday, so church is out. Therefore, I’m going to watch the Bruin basketball team take it to the Ohio State Buckeyes while I anxiously await your reply. Despite the swearing, love you as always.
Think about the 2016 U.S. presidential election in the context of renowned Sinologist Orville Schell’s analysis of modern China in this recent essay. Some excerpts:
This confidence in the strength of the China model—and the supposed weakness of its Western competitors—has reshaped the way Beijing relates to the world. Its new confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an increasingly unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in its maritime disputes in the South and East China seas.
Couldn’t one say about the U.S., “Its longstanding confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in it disputes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”
Obama has been far more restrained than his predecessors when it comes to conventional warfare, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand when it comes to his unprecedented, unyielding, aggressive use of drones.
One clear message of this turbulent week is how interconnected everything actually has become in our 21st-century world. Financial markets, trade flows, pandemics and climate change all ineluctably tie us together.
This irrefutable insight is lost on Trump’s followers mired in 20th century notions of politics as a zero-sum game that we’re predestined to win as the world’s sole economic, political, and military superpower. Trumpism rests upon notions of American Exceptionalism mixed with nostalgia for the past when the relative economic, political, and military strength of the U.S. was undeniably greater than it is today; as well as competition between nations at the expense of cooperation; and scapegoating the newest citizens for pernicious public policy challenges that preceded their arrival.
Of late, China has been acting in an ever more unilateral way, perhaps at last enjoying the prerogatives of its long-sought wealth and power. Mao imagined a China rooted in the idea of “self-reliance,” zili gengsheng. The most encouraging news out of this week would be for Mr. Xi and his comrades to recognize that China can no longer be such an island—that China cannot succeed in isolation, much less by antagonizing most of its neighbors and the U.S.
As large, dynamic and successful as China has become, it still exists in a global context—and remains vulnerable to myriad forces beyond the party’s control. It must take the chip off its shoulder, recognize that it is already a great power and begin to put its people, its Pacific neighbors and the U.S. at ease. Any truly great nation must learn that the art of compromise lies at the heart of diplomacy, that it is almost always better to negotiate before resorting to war and that compromise is neither a sign of weakness nor surrender.
If the alarms over the past few months presage such a revelation in Beijing, it would not only enhance China’s stability but its soft power and historic quest for global respect. Given Mr. Xi’s track record, one dare not be too optimistic.
Is any U.S. intellectual in position to lecture China’s leadership about soft power and global respect? “Make America great again,” trumpets Trumpism, meaning less compromising, less diplomacy, more unilateralism.
Trumpism thrives on the insecurities of a people who feel their world dominance slipping. Ahistorical to the core, it has no patience for the complexities of public policy, environmental degradation, or globalization. It assumes people aren’t smart enough for the complexities of 21st century life. It advocates sloganeerism, brashness, and business principles as panaceas for problems real and imagined. It asks no questions, listens only for openings to speak, and never admits fault.
Eventually, enough people will see it for what it is, and reject it.