Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Trumpnost. Or, confessions of a semi-repentant Trump-aholic

UPDATE, Monday, Oct. 24... It's nice  to see that we've got an honest-to-goodness (or -badness?) conversation going around this topic...the first in a while now, he says with some chagrin. Be that as it may, and unless that Sweet Meteor of Death rescues us in the interim, we're just a fortnight removed from Election Day 2016. Would be nice to have good ol' SHAMblog serve as the venue for our own little family "discussion" about some of the attendant issues till the clock runs out (or the celestial object hits), no?

Consider this piece a bookend, if you will, to last week's USAToday column on Citizen Trump.

Like my little rendering of Trump & Pence?
I was at first drawn to Donald Trump—which is to say, fascinated by his rhetoric—because he was so disarmingly unabashed in his political incorrectness. It was mesmerizing to watch this caricature-esque billionaire say the outrageous things he said, incite the contempt he incited from the punditry class (as well as many in his own party), and then run away with the primaries. (It was almost as if offensiveness was his very raison d'etre.) Perhaps a better way to put it is that I was drawn to what Trump's oratorical inelegance symbolized: the bedrock notion that people are allowed to hold and voice unpopular, even reprehensible, opinions. He stood for the idea, to which I very much subscribe, that Americans should be allowed to say almost anything, no matter how controversial or even hurtful. For better or worse, that is the very basis of free speech. Popular, antiseptic viewpoints need no special protections, after all. 

So if at times I recoiled at the content—the Mexican rapists, the McCain thing, Megyn bleeding “wherever”—another part of me was titillated by the mere fact that someone, no less a candidate for the presidency, would utter such remarks in front of live mics or in formal sit-downs with Wolf and Megyn herself. The idea of a candidate talking sans filter was refreshing in a world in which we were suddenly supposed to filter everything: a world of safe spaces, trigger warnings and microaggressions. Donald Trump perpetrated MACROaggressions. He did it daily, and even seemed to thrive on doing it. This was all the more uplifting to some of us steeped in academia's stifling protocols, where one is forever at risk of being censured if not booted out for entertaining an unapproved thought. (Colleges are the last places where there ought to be "safe spaces." As I've written in op-eds, colleges are the great laboratories of the mind, and as in actual laboratories, we must sometimes handle that which may harm us.)
'...people are allowed to hold and voice unpopular, even reprehensible, opinions....' 
The improbable rise of Donald Trump testifies that there are least 13 million Americans who have deeply held beliefs, reasonable beliefs, that they've not been allowed to admit, let alone act upon. Alas, they lack sufficient wealth or status to insulate themselves from blowback from today's increasingly fascistic thought police; more bluntly, they lack “fuck-you money.” Thus, in a sense, in this age of surrogates, The Donald was their surrogate. Even if he didn't specifically address all of their grievances—even if he now and then went overboard—his brashness clearly felt like philosophical camaraderie to Americans who were sick of hearing themselves dismissed as racists, misogynists and xenophobes.

Americans, in other words, who were sick of being tossed into a “basket of deplorables” long before Hillary uttered the piquant neologism. Trump himself hasn't addressed all of the following points, but in a sense his very candidacy speaks to them, symbolizes them. It is not racist to be annoyed by #BlackLivesMatter's enshrinement of thugs like Michael Brown, or to aver that "mass incarceration" is actually "mass criminality." (For the record—memo to college campuses—it's not even illegal to be racist as long as you don't violate any laws by actively discriminating against others.) It is not misogynistic to feel that if a man and woman are both drunk, and they got that way voluntarily, any ensuing sex isn't rape. Nor is it transphobic to harbor the once well-established view that you don't want an adult person of indeterminate gender (but with a penis that would seem to settle the matter) sharing a bathroom with your teenage daughters; at minimum he may embarrass the hell out of them. Are people of traditional mores the only ones we don't care about offending nowadays?

The bottom line is that you can believe all of these things and more without being evil; the millions of Americans who fall into that category should never have been marginalized by our culture to begin with. No small part of Trump's early impetus was that he stood up for people who, despite white privilege (or maybe because of it?), had been disenfranchised by the discourse-tyranny of the Left. Even on those rare occasions when the candidate himself wasn't screaming, his attitude fairly screamed It's OK to speak your mind! Yes, even if what's in your mind is, ironically, unspeakable. 

I thus saw Donald Trump as the Lenny Bruce or Sam Kinison of politics, if you will. Or perhaps the Howard Stern: the “shock jock” of political campaigning. Although I don't think I could've ever pulled a lever for him—that seduced I was not—I felt he was an important addition to today's sociopolitical landscape, a necessary counterweight to the coercive forces of neoliberalism. 

In more recent days, however, I've had my wake-up call...and a rude awakening it was. It now occurs to me that comedy is comedy, and governance is governance, and never the twain should meet. The man whom I once found “refreshing” in his “honesty” has revealed himself as a serial liar and a pathological narcissist, as well as someone utterly out of his depth in seeking the nation's highest elective office. It also occurs to me that if Trump says reprehensible things, it may be because he's just, well, reprehensible. An awful human being. And if I deem it unlikely that he could reach the Oval Office, it nonetheless aggrieves me that there is always that chance. Especially in recent weeks as he pulls even with Hillary in the polls. 

That said, I'm not willing to shoulder my share of blame for Donald Trump; nor will I lay it as a yoke on the shoulders of my fellow Americans who remain in his thrall. 
All of this is happening—Trump is happening—because of political correctness. 
The chickens are home, and roosting madly. This is what you get when you force authorized points of view down people's throats for too long. This is what you get when you tell people that their legitimate fears and hopes and lenses on life are unacceptable, if not "unAmerican."

This, Donald Trump, is what you get. You might even call it "Trump Spring," or, forgive me, trumpnost. Donald Trump is a creature of the backlash against PC orthodoxy. So let us all sit back and gaze upon what we, in our socially just enlightenment, have wrought.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Hot off the Web: Kill the messenger, if you must, but...

...not (necessarily) his message.

My thoughts on how Trump's candicacy has suberverted the normal give-and-take of our multi-party system. There are debates we very much need to have that we are not having because Trump-the-man is such a turnoff.

From this morning's USAToday

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Suggested readings in nonconforming thought: a tantalizing trio with some brio.

Three bits of reading matter for you this morning. One, courtesy of long-time follower Londoner (the nice one, wink), describes the counterattack against campus orthodoxy led by UK students.
See, there are students who actually value free speech.
Funny, I'm reminded of my long-ago conversation with the editor who was working on the UK version of SHAM, and he candidly said he wondered if the book would catch on over there inasmuch as "we Brits are so cynical about this feel-good shit to begin with." (Maybe we were too hasty to declare our independence?)

Second and related, SJWs who enjoy quoting their favorite study about the panoply of injustices that afflict minorities might want to ask themselves:
Is social science really junk science?

And third, for those of you who just "know in your bones" that the criminal-justice system is rigged against blacks, there's this. Yes, it quotes more studies, but at least these studies are anchored in tangible facts, not perceptions or cute little interpersonal experiments that may or may not be repeatable.
The myth of criminal-justice racism.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

'It's not personal,'s strictly business.'

I am not one who views the so-called War on Terror as an apocalyptic battle between Good and Evilthe noble and cosmopolitan United State of America versus medieval savages. If there a God, and that God is Allah, ISIS may be right about us. (If God is possible, that too is We may well be the Great Satan, a nation of hyper-fornication and high finance, where the only real Almighty is the almighty buck. Furthermore, maybe they're correct in that we invited Islam's ire with our past colonialism and vast despoiling of their holy sites. Not a few of my students in Lehigh University's Global Studies program would agree.* 

I am willing to concede that if this is so, then maybe God (Allah) smiled on 9/11. Maybe we non-believers deserve every beheading, every acid bath, and worse. For who among us knows for certain if God exists and what He wants from us? Certainly I don't. Bottom line, I do not claim the high moral ground over radical Islam, the Koran, Sharia, etc.

But you know what? I don't care who's objectively/cosmically "right," if such a condition exists. I don't care if we're on the fast track to eternal damnation; I don't care if America has conducted itself with such hubris and impunity that we're now reaping our just desserts. I know only that I love America and (on balance) our American way of life. I love my grandchildren—adorable little apostates that they may be—and I want everything possible done to keep them safe. 

I am willing to cede to Islam the Afterlife as long as we prevail in this one.

So ISIS, if you're listening, I'm happy to let you have your caliphate...over there. Ditto Iran. By all means celebrate Islam in any way you choose. Kill the heretics, do what you will with your women-folk. It's not my concern, and it's no skin off my American nose, so to speak. Indeed, as I see it, the less my country gets embroiled in these far-flung entanglements and holy wars, the better off we are. As for humanitarian missions, I see plenty of candidates for such largess right here at home. No need to go to Aleppo; Appalachia calls.

But—I'm again addressing ISIS, Iran and the rest of radical Islam—if you insist on pursuing war against us, or even simply making my American dream fraught with anxiety, then I am adamant that you cease to be a threat. I will not learn to live with life as it's lived in Israel: being wary in airports or when I sit down to a nice dinner in a restaurant with my family. I want that wariness eliminated. By any means necessary, as Malcolm X once put it in another context. And understand, there's nothing personal about it; nothing at all. I don't hate you for hating me. Just as I don't hate the mosquito that I swat to prevent him from going about his mosquito's business. To reiterate, in some scriptural sense you may be better than I, or any other American, will ever be. I just insist on being able to live my American life without interference from you.

Even if it means that every last one of you, every man, woman or child who is part of your cause, must be dispersed in a thunderous tritium haze. And I want my president, the next president, to understand that that is how I feel.
* If you would like your horizons broadened as to the degree of American self-loathing rampant on America's college campuses, audit such a course someday. (In not a few classes it is part of the curriculum.) You'll be shocked, as I was...the first time.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Un-black like un-me.

I am so profoundly tired of the argument that goes, more or less,
'You whites have the luxury of not thinking about race. People see my race when they see me.'
OK, fine. So what? People see my brown hair (what remains of it) when they see me. People see that I'm 6-3, and within 5 minutes they probably know that I'm right-handed. That's how incidental, how inconsequential race should be (and can be, if we resolve to make it so). In fact, race should be less meaningful, as I'd guess there are tangible benefits to being tall and right-handed. 

My "black" friends, the fact that racist morons see your brown skin and associate that surface observation with all kinds of negative characteristics does not mean that you have to embrace that line of (non)thought, that bigotry, for yourself. Nor does it mean that you need to overcompensate the opposite way: "Black is beautiful" is every bit as wrong, and every bit as bad, for it too perpetuates the problem, the mythology. Black is not beautiful. White is not beautiful. They are merely shades on a spectrum. That's all we know for sure that they are, for now. 

And if blackness is a state of mind as well as a race, then it's still not innate: It's a set of attitudes and beliefs that are nurtured and reinforced from without, just as racism itself is a set of attitudes and beliefs. So in that case as well, race can be, should be, meaningless. If you feel black because of traditions and experiences (too often sad) that have been inculcated within you, then resolve not to pass those feelings on to your younger friends and children. For the love of God, do not do what Ta-Nehisi Coates did in writing Between the World and Me and dedicating it to his son, Samori. To my mind, passing along that kind of cynicism and, yes, racism borders on child abuse. It is every bit as loathsome as the white supremacist spiels W. Kamau Bell heard in an episode of his popular CNN show, United Shades of America. I shed tears along with the comedian as he listened. 

So needless. So stupid. Hating someone for being brown is as asinine as hating someone for being 5-foot-7. And loving someone for being brown is as asinine as loving someone for being 5-foot-7.

Someday science may give us information about characteristics that are indeed race-identified. Until that time there is no reason—none; zero—for us to perpetuate any of this. No reason for race to be more significant in our lives than height or hair color. And even after those prospective scientific revelations, such broad racial characteristics will tell us nothing about the individual white or black person standing in front of us. So please, let's throw this race nonsense into the dustbin of history, where it belongs. Please join me in that.

It won't be easy. There are major battles to be fought. We white folk in particular have a lot of work to do. But we all gotta begin somewhere, don't we? 
PS: I'm counting down the moments until someone tells me on Twitter, "Don't you tell me how to be black, you white m-f-er." It's what happens every time I try to start this dialog.