Thursday, December 29, 2016

20, or Rather 26 Meditations on 2016 and Modern American Politics

I’m shutting down this site, but for a good reason this time: I like what I’m doing on it enough to want to upgrade it. It’ll do the same thing, but with a longer focus, more projects, less (or shorter) politics, etc. And Conifers & Citrus will live on; I’m happy with that one, too.

Before leaving this site to drift forever in the ether (like V-ger! (aka, Voyager, Star Trek I reference; don’t see that one)), I want to leave a sort of marker at the top of it, one about the time and place in which all Americans are about to live, or already live in some ways. This is something I’ve started and deleted several times, and always for the same reason: once you start connecting the dots as to how the United States sorta, kinda elected Donald J. Trump in 2016 (e.g., nearly half the country were no-shows and less than half of actual voters voted Trump), the lines between those dots look like a frenzied spider web in very, very short order. By the time I feel like I’m starting to roll, I’m ten pages in and still have dozens of stranded dots.

(For example, the latest attempt squeezed in Alexander the Great, the idea that modern American capitalism is literally just a dick-measuring contest; technological innovation and how that’s hamstringing the holy shit out of that dick-measuring contest; the “permanent campaign;” freedom, and “freedom;” and, of course, Donald Fucking Trump. For all the good thoughts and a handful of good sentences, that attempt didn’t go any better (just four pages in this time). In all honesty, I can’t wrestle everything that’s on my mind with this into anything less than book form, but writing a book requires a completely different mindset, carries certain responsibilities to the reader, etc. And I don’t want to write a book, at least not about this shit.)

With that in mind, I am limiting myself to 20 talking points – hold on, 25, wait, 26; and 40 sentences max (now, 52; semicolons don’t count). (Shit!) Here no particular order…

1) Donald Trump is a manifestly shitty human being. He is amoral, if not immoral, and seems to view other human beings as (in no particular order) objects, obstacles, or marks, and he didn’t even sort of hide this on the campaign trail.

2) 63 million people still voted Trump. It is 1,000% important to remember that that number represents just one quarter of the population, because hope.

3) The composition of that voting population matters even more, because, by most accounts, Trump’s base includes a lot of soft targets – e.g., voters desperate enough for change to vote for a demagogue, the people who took Trump seriously, but not literally, people who just hated Hillary Clinton, but who would have stayed home had she not run, or voted Democratic for just about any other candidate.

4) There are reasonable Republicans (right?), people who don’t believe every piece of mad bullshit that pops up in their facebook feed, and they feel like the best bets for flipping. Next comes people who found the cherry tomatoes in Trump’s dumb fucking word salads – e.g., that he’d fix the VA or protect Social Security – and who are sufficiently tethered to reality to see it, and actually give a shit, when he bails on that stuff to make his rich buddies richer, because goals.

5) That thin support matters because the people Trump put in charge – e.g. movement conservatives and careerist Republican politicians (yo, idiots, that makes them the fucking elites, no matter their protestations) – are about to go all-in on every government-starving policy proposal they’ve ever had. Unless those proposals pan out 100% as planned, the outcomes will be neither helpful to the “little guy” nor popular…not that people still won’t blame the Democrats.

6) More than any other event, Election 2016 proved that the Republican Party stands only for the pursuit and exercise of power. 30+ years of hypocritical scandals has demonstrated, amply, that their embrace of morality never went beyond lip service or the campaign trail; nominating a sleazy shit like Trump just stabbed an exclamation point on the end of the sentiment.

7) For all that, conservatives have a guiding light: freezing American culture in a time when all good people were straight, bread-winning men, and those who supported them. While that is conservativism in its purist sense, it is a profoundly atavistic proposition, one that utterly ignores the reality that that system died for a multitude of reasons.

8) That, however, gets at why conservatives/Republicans will push harder and harder to maintain the mechanisms of plurality-rule – e.g., hyper-partisan gerrymandering (which deserves death), the Electoral College, suppression of Democratic voting wherever they can pull it off, plus stacking the Supreme Court with judges drunk on ideology. Bending rules is the only way to arrive at the right combination of votes cast (for them) and votes denied (to everyone else).

9) I’m not sure that the GOP invented the permanent campaign – i.e., the dynamic by which elected officials forever campaign/raise funds/scare the shit out of everyone, but never govern – but they sure as hell perfected it. As a party and, later, as a movement, they drove a stake into the ground of “no compromise,” the idea that politics are always zero-sum, that the public has no choice on any given issue but absolute victory and abject surrender.

10) Fuck them for that. Seriously, fuck everyone who ever so much as leaned into that argument. You hate democracy, as well as the actual country as a whole, and you have made every single citizen stupid, panicked, and, through that, borderline useless. Relentlessly identifying anyone who doesn’t bow down to the conservative orthodoxy du jour as actual enemies – something that Trumpism complicated by redefining anything that makes the sad orange prick sad – including tens of millions of fellow citizens, is the original sin of movement conservativism.

11) The test for these times – and I mean this literally – is whether we, as a voting public, can walk and chew bubble gum at the same fucking time. Can we hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in our head – e.g., it’s hard to be a cop, but that some people who pull on the uniform are disqualifying unfit to bear the strain/sometimes dangerous to themselves and others – and navigate toward solving those problems instead of screaming about the villainous duplicity of the other side or, worse, mushing it all into some moronic shit like “all lives matter”?

13) Charges of “liberal bias” (real) and “political correctness” (meaning exclusive to the eye of the beholder) are toxically hypocritical and lazy rhetorical devices most often used to evade the issue at hand; it’s like repeating the word “poop” during an argument. Conservatives abuse both terms in a way that tells me they neither has a functional definition, not even the original one.

14) The genuine tragedy of Election 2016 is that, when confronted with the idea that other people might shit on you for who you are – e.g. a white male, especially a Southern one – those same white males had the opportunity to think, “oh, that’s what it feels like to be judged and dismissed as a category, and not a person,” and to perhaps consider everyone else’s experience through that lens. Instead, white males and their enablers rolled with “fuck you” and voted for a middle finger to, oh, pretty much everyone who isn’t them.

15) Damn it. Still not constructive. Hoping to get there, but you see the dilemma, right?

16) Democrats sold out their natural constituents – e.g. the “little people,” the middle and working classes, aka anyone, any organization not capable of individually throwing large chunks of money at party coffers – to go after big donors. The essential détente among rich people and both mainstream political parties constitutes one of the most defining, but also quietest, realities of American life since the Bill Clinton presidency.

17) I don’t blame anyone for voting third party, sincerely and honestly, because I see the options clearly as they do. That said, I believe, and firmly, that any third party owes it to ALL concerned to build their party at the state and local level before they have a plausible claim to credibility; I understand why they run presidential candidates (branding/visibility), but till they can build a reasonable base at state and local levels, third parties ain’t shit.

18) You can admire Hillary Clinton all you want, get all geeked up about the first female president, but no human being better embodied the “fuck you, shut up, we know what we’re doing” essence of American elites quite like she did. Nothing drove this home quite like the week after the Democratic National Convention when she fucked off to the Hamptons to hang out with celebrities and mega-rich donors, instead of reaching out to anyone but those people.

19) Where the Republicans seize power, Democrats seem content to cling to it. All that triangulation, limiting thought, rhetoric, and action to “the art of the possible,” really does create the impression that their governing philosophy doesn’t extend beyond keeping the machinery running; in a setting where people question the shape and wisdom of the machine, this doesn’t resonate so good.

20) I’d like to see the Democrats adopt 3-5 core principles and to talk about those both relentlessly and simplistically. Off the top of my head, I’d go with protecting the integrity of the vote (which holds the sneaky, indirect potential of protecting the country’s more vulnerable communities), a truce in The Culture Wars that upholds individual liberty as its first principle, and serving as the institutional counter-balance against corporate/industry influence and the concentration of wealth; and they should be full-throated, vague, and unapologetic on all three.

21) The mainstream media needs to get off its ass, and get back to, or maybe just start reporting, as opposed to sticking a microphone in front of talking heads and straight-up whores from “both sides” (the phrase “both sides” gets at the problem all on its own) and having them verbally brawl over some moderator rendered neuter by rules of decorum and neutrality. None of those hacks says anything that’s worth a damn, so start focusing on what they do, not what they say, because what they say has all the permanence of the last breath you took.

22) I’d also like them aspire less to “objectivity” than intellectual honesty – i.e., the best fairest crack at what the person writing any given story believes to be the truth. Bias is neither a sin nor an actual problem, and it only hands dishonest dickhead shills the lazy off-ramp described up in #13 above; consciously fucking up the facts and employing bad logic are the real sins.

23) As for what everyday ordinary people can do, the best two ideas I see out there are 1) donating to organizations staffed with professionals and dedicated to giving Trumpism the punch to the groin it so very richly deserves, and 2) standing up personally and publicly when people act like either racist or sexist assholes. For what it’s worth, I think #2 has a greater impact when it happens in the real world, and not online…and I’m still processing how this looks best…

24) The means identified immediately above matter, along with Items 3, 4, 5, 8, 11 and 20 (probably, please check my work), because, unless we’re all gonna actually revolt, the only way to turn out Trump/Trumpism, and the rotten rump of the Republican Party is to vote them out of office.

25) With that in play (#24, especially), we should all do: take a step back from the awful existential treadmill that is the permanent campaign and let the professionals do their jobs, and demand that elected representatives govern, and lower the goddamn threat level, so that we can recharge our batteries. Representative democracy is based on the great idea that we turn over studying the issues and decision-making to elected representatives…though, admittedly, this is another area where I’m not clear on how to stop them from doing nothing but campaigning.

26) Lastly, and personally, and on the theory that the 24/7 news cycle constitutes one of the greater curses of the cable TV/internet age, I plan on unplugging from it, following current events from at least one step behind. That’ll mean more books, and more long reads, both on the theory that, the more context any individual has, the harder it gets for sleazy fuckers to make the bullshit stick.

OK, that’s out of my system. The next time I post to a site anything like this, it’ll have a new name and, ideally, a better layout. I plan on getting back to and expanding on the music project I started last year, because that’s been a goddamn hoot.

Before letting this go, though, I want to return to Items 2-4 way the hell up there. Since Election 2016 left a flaming bag of shit on Blue America’s door step, there has been a ton of ink spilled over the “white working class” and the idea of “winning them back.” Again, that’s fine. But they have to meet Blue America in the middle, or this whole thing won’t work. After all, the rest of us aren’t going anywhere. The first question that comes up in that is how.

The broad argument follows two schools of thought. First up, there’s former Breitbart…employee, Ben Shapiro, who over the course of a(n good) interview, made a pretty goddamn airtight case as to why it’s a terrible idea to roll every Trump voter into one big, racist, misogynist ball. I sincerely encourage anyone who finds this post to read the Shapiro interview because it’s enlightening, but the other piece (read this one; excellent) I’m flagging hits this entire idea from an angle I haven’t seen before or since. Here’s that:

“The truth of the matter is if in fact we are a democracy, minorities here in the next 20 years are going to be the dominant political voice in our country. So there is a transfer of power that’s going to happen, and the question is, is it going to be peaceful or is it going to be one that destroys us?...I think the point I would argue it has to happen before demographic change — you already have people taking to the streets yelling they want to take our country back. What does that look like 10 years from now? What happens when that angry 45, 46 percent think they’re losing power, because they are losing power?”
If Election 2016 really was about white people panicking (yeah, harsh, but electing a clown like Trump is panicking), how the country talks them out of their own hostage situation matters immensely. Worst case, the forces of rage and paranoia dig deeper and they lash out via the largely rural, largely white militias that sprang up during Barack Obama’s presidency. Think the takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, only bigger, broader, and really unlikely to be peaceful. When it comes to existential threats to American democracy, they’re the biggest ones – and the worst thing is, they’re pretty damn soft on the idea that societies can elect to change, even to evolve…then again, how many of those guys believe in evolution?

Personally, I’d be shocked and saddened if the situation got there – not least because there’s no need for it to get there, not in one of the richest, heretofore most stable countries in human history…

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