Which opens with one of my favorite songs, ever, balm for the soul:
Which opens with one of my favorite songs, ever, balm for the soul:
If, only . . . .
(Irving Penn photo)
Back before his batteries went dead and he became more focused on his celebrity than his job, Hunter Thompson was a solid journalist with a particularly good eye for harbingers. I think these bits, culled from his very good book on the Hell’s Angels, forewarned us about what’s happening now:
“The Angels are prototypes . . . A toad who believes he got a raw deal before he even knew who was dealing will usually be sympathetic to the mean, vindictive ignorance that colors the Hell’s Angels’ view of humanity. There is not much mental distance between a feeling of having been screwed and the ethic of total retaliation, or at least the kind of random revenge that comes with outraging the public decency . . . Their image of themselves derives mainly from Celluloid, from the Western movies and two-fisted TV shows that have taught them most of what they now about the society they live in. Very few read books . . . What little they know of history has come from the mass media, beginning with comics . . . so if they see themselves in terms of the past, it’s because they can’t grasp the terms of the present, much less the future . . .
The streets of every city are thronged with men who would pay all the money they could get their hands on to be transformed–even if for a day–into hairy, hard-fisted brutes who walk over cops, extort free drinks from terrified bartenders and thunder out of town on big motorcycles . . . ”
This is the mindset we’re dealing with.
Happy Birthday to an essential American spirit, Walt Whitman.
The much-honored Shakespearean scholar, Stephen Greenblatt, has a new book out: “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics.” The first three paragraphs not only impressed me with their perspicacity, but they also served as a reminder of how valuable the study of literature can be in making sense of things:
“From the early 1590s, at the beginning of his career, all the way through to its end, Shakespeare grappled again and again with a deeply unsettling question: how is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?
“A king rules over willing subjects,” wrote the influential sixteenth-century Scottish scholar George Buchanan, “a tyrant over the unwilling.” The institutions of a free society are designed to ward off those who would govern, as Buchanan put it, “not for their country but for themselves, who take account not of the public interest but of their own pleasure.” Under what circumstances, Shakespeare asked himself, do such cherished institutions, seemingly deep-rooted and impregnable, suddenly prove fragile? Why do large numbers of people knowingly accept being lied to? How does a figure like Richard III or Macbeth ascend to the throne?
“Such a disaster, Shakespeare suggested, could not happen without widespread complicity. His plays probe the psychological mechanisms that lead a nation to abandon its ideals and even its self-interest. Why would anyone, he asked himself, be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth? Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers? Why do otherwise proud and self-respecting people submit to the sheer effrontery of the tyrant, his sense that he can get away with saying and doing anything he likes, his spectacular indecency?”
Read the book.
I was reading an NYT opinion piece by Gerard Alexander, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a visiting scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, entitled, “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart As You Think You Are.” It repeats a current running talking point from the right that we on the liberal/progressive side of the fence are smug, condescending, and too willing to call out racism, to the point where we have energized voters to support the current denizen of the White House. In short: liberals are to blame.
In this, Associate Professor Alexander hits many familiar right-wing notes in his critique, including the “liberal control of the commanding heights of American culture” one. (Does he underestimate the influence of institutions like FOX, the NFL, and the Koch brothers and their allies on “American culture”?) He has plowed this turf several times before; for example, in AEI blog posts in 2010 – “Why are Liberals so Condescending?” and “Conservatism Does not Equal Racism, So Why Do Many Liberals Assume It Does?”- and, in 2012, “Dog Whistling Dixie.”
Basically, his point is, if we on the left would just sit and listen to what conservatives are saying, we could have an intelligent discussion. But, no, we are too busy shouting “racist” and looking down our noses over glasses of Chardonnay. Wonder what he made of the conversations during that white supremacist (or, as some might put it, racist) picnic last August in UVA’s hometown?
He does grant, in his lede that some-of-my-best-friends-are-liberal, which is kinda handing it on a silver platter, but I’ll pass over that one.
He then criticizes us for painting conservatives with the broad brush of racism, which is rather ironic, considering he’s taking that very approach in his essay.
I will allow (a) some people go overboard in their political speech, though considering what we hear and see daily from Dr. Alexander’s side, I feel safe in saying liberals and progressives certainly do not hold a majority stake in that regard, and (b) some on our side of the fence – as Bernie will say, over and over again – have not been strong on protecting the economic interests of millions of average Americans.
I do not happen to feel conservatism = racism; however, it’s beyond question that appeals to racism are a major underpinning of modern conservative politics. Judging by his career record and his photo, I’m going out on a limb and assuming I’m older than Dr. Alexander, so I remember the political shift that occurred in response to the legislative successes of the Civil Rights movement. That gave rise to Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Ronald Reagan’s first campaign stop in 1980 was in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three young Civil Rights workers were murdered, and he declared his support for “states’ rights.” So who was “dog whistling Dixie” then? Jumping ahead a few decades, at whom does Dr. Alexander think voter suppression was aimed? Has he noted the UMass study last August, showing the correlation among the 12 percent of Bernie primary voters who spurned Hillary Clinton in the general and their racial attitudes?
I observe Dr. Alexander writes, “My first book — The Sources of Democratic Consolidation (Cornell University Press, 2002) — argued that the key right-of-center political movements formed long-term commitments to democracy only when their political risks in democracy became relatively low as left
agendas moderated across time.” Now, consider that summary carefully. Perhaps I’m mis-reading, but I take that to mean that the right will only commit to democracy when its members believe the left won’t prevail.
Those of you who know me know I grew up in a very conservative household, and my eventual conversion to progressivism was triggered by my awareness of racism and how prevalent – and how violent – it was and is. Yes, we all need to listen better, but we don’t need to ignore something that’s right in front of us.