Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When America Was Great

It is my theory that the nationalist fervor Trump has so successfully tapped into can be traced directly to the debacle which the Vietnamese refer to as "the American war". People want to return to pre-Vietnam/pre-Korea America, the America whose "greatest generation" saved Europe from the Nazis ( the role of the Soviets lost to historical amnesia) and the Pacific from the Japanese. I believe this nostalgic yearning, articulated in Trumps slogan, taps into the subconscious grief and trauma and shame over the horror of that grotesque defeat in southeast Asia. It is a repressed grief we have never reckoned with as a country, despite the long black wall with all those names etched in it(50,000). The "conflict" (America never officially declared war) therefore continues to haunt the collective imaginary and manifest in endless "culture war" battles, patriotic zealotry and support for phallic, disciplinary Fathers like Trump. This is the more "immediate" cause, with the general acceleration of modernity and relativism of post-modernity being the background ambiance, as it were, for this dislocation/ alienation/ estrangement/anxiety (see earlier posts if you have nothing but time on your hands, which apparently you do if you are here).

It is hard to describe to those who weren't around for that insanity. Not just the napalm and body bags but race riots and campus revolts and feminism and hippies. This was a time when every household had a tv screen tuned to the nightly news and every one of those screens displayed a carnage that makes Trumps use of the word obscene. He has no fucking clue. Which is why John McCain despises the draft-dodging-silver-spoon licking puke with a depth I can't even imagine but, paradoxically, also why so many aging baby boomers see in him a redemptive, even transcendent erasure of that stain through masculine, hyper-aggressive re-assertion of dominance and authority. Psychic disturbance, big time.

The Super Duper Power with it's highly trained army and high-tech weaponry and endless resources got its ass kicked by a tiny but fervent anti-colonialist, revolutionary force of peasants and workers. 7 million tons of bombs (twice that of WWII) were dropped on Vietnam ,Laos and Cambodia and helicopters had to scoop people off the roof of the US embassy in Saigon as we fled in defeat. So making America "great again" would restore the pride of those who came home as losers, and in the mind of many ( not myself), as criminals. O

Of course the whole rust-belt/ working class/ endlessly looping Chevy truck commercial is a potent meme but the defeat is the under-layment that gives it real potency. That's my theory anyway.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Democracy Dumpsterfire

The pomp,the ceremony, the solemn rituals of fireworks and Bibles and "the peaceful hand-over of power" have concluded and a diverse array of white folks- hard working, hardly working, a few getting dividend checks, a few their disability checks- are enjoying a brief moment in the sun. Bumper sticker companies will re-set the type from Obama to Trump. Red baseball caps versus pink pussy hats.

And of course the opposition will enact its own rituals of stubborn defiance. Black blockers in hoodies "taking the streets". Angry housewives going to rallies. They will be asked to join things, sign things, send money and call their representatives. To re-engage as citizens in civil society, a pretty picture not just at odds with our obscene reality, but actually propping up the dangerous illusion.

I miss Hunter Thompson and his brutal willingness to pull back the curtain and expose the grotesque sausage making, the carnivalesque, morbid excess of power and those who enjoy (joissance) it. Tragically flawed himself, he could paint unflattering portraits of "actually existing" humans and not be accused of being politically uncorrect. In these times, displaying a bit of shaedenfreud that Kentucky coal miners "will get what they voted for" is to invite the ire of repentant liberals with no dirt under their own fingernails. But isn't this the most offensive form of condescension? "Forgive them, they are but children and know not what they do; voting against their own interests is sad but so 'understandable' (by us). Fuck that. Ignorant is ignorant, whether you went to Harvard or listen to Lee Greenwood.

Which is the perfect segue into this interminable, banal debate between "identity politics" and "class consciousness". Hillary versus Bernie blah blah. Except it's bullshit; Hillary is a tool (so sad) and Bernie was not prepared to take capitalism straight on. Talking about "billionaires" and "re-building the middle class" is not a radical critique. We see this playing out in less Kubuki form in France where "third way" fake socialist Hollande is challenged on the left by actual socialists and on the right by actual neoliberals. Unveiled political economy and a debate about ownership. How refreshing!

Rebecca Solnit believes just such an insurgency is possible in the USA. She, like Michah White, calls on "wild-eyed young radicals to take over the Democratic Party." But meanwhile there are hundreds of thousands of Women Marchers out there today, mobilized by social media all across the country, calling for what, Medicare for all? Nationalize the energy sector? Occupy the factories? No. They want their rights protected (including property rights) They will hear all about "Indivisible" or "How To Use Tea Party Tactics" to win back power. Maybe someone will mention Our Revolution. Planned Parenthood will get lots of donations. The Democrats will settle back onto their yoga mats, smartphone at the ready, so they can call their congressman in between posture changes.

Ken Ward, one of the Valve Turners facing 30 years in prison says "I think protests are absolutely inconsequential. Trump will welcome them. We need a totally different approach."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Comfortably Back in Opposition

A new spectre is haunting the American progressive media-sphere: Trumpism. At least a thousand gallons of ink have been spilled warning us, preparing us, defining for us what this shifting, ephemeral threat could mean. Yet underlying this daily barrage of doomsday scenarios (Nazis in the streets, police rounding up protestors, Mc Carthyite hearings, etc) one senses a profound relief, a joy even, to finally be back in opposition. No more having to support a bunch of crappy programs (like the ACA), or policies (like drone strikes)Now we can really protest! March and carry banners, ( certainly no lack of slogans)give heartfelt speeches in support of all the programs and policies we hope to save from the reactionary onslaught. The landscapes and little children! Democracy itself in peril! Lions and tigers and bears and Rex Tillerson, oh my!

The dudes name is Rex, I mean c'mon, square jawed, graying at the temples, manly and yet thoughtful, a walking Viagra ad,if Delillo or Pynchon were to write this character into a novel, in their most post-modern, literary ironic spoof, they could barely get away with Rex. So who names their kid Rex? And who would you rather have on your team growing up, Steve over there with the glasses- or Rex. Yeah. So be afraid, be very afraid. Michelle is out and Melania in.

Getting back to Trumpism, really? because we needed a new "ism" to hate?; what parts of the brain does it attack? Will I know it when I see it? I remember Bush though I don't recall Bushism, but maybe that was just what we called "stupidity". As in, has anybody found those weapons of mass destruction yet? What? Trump is a liar? His cabinet is all Big Money boys? I'm shocked! This is totally unprecedented!

The problem for me is one of age. I have seen this movie too many times and it just doesn't entertain anymore. How long can you actually ride a merry-go-round and not notice that the scenery is eerily familiar. Despite all the breathless claims that "this is unlike anything we have ever seen before" I still have this Groundhog Day feeling, disturbing at first but quickly sliding into under-whelmed boredom.

Yeah, if only Hillary or Bernie or Jill got more votes. But since they didn't, now we can be against stuff. Against the wall, and against the registry and against the cabinet picks and the generals. Against hate and discrimination and sexism and xenophobia. Damn, I feel better already!

Just don't ask me how we ever get off the merry-go-round.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Life Enrichment

I attended a panel discussion about the Standing Rock Protection (not protest) the other night, and it was painful. Following a brief description of the sacred nature of the action by a (white settler) professor in Native American studies, the four panelists described their various experiences while visiting the camp. The common thread was personal growth, enlightenment and transcendence, much like those who travel to Sedona Arizona might describe their 'personal journey'. The one native on the panel could speak with authenticity about a re-connection to cultural roots but even there it was a story of dislocation and alienation (joining the military and going to Iraq, PTSD, and isolation, etc..) within a damaged culture and individual and the return of a prodigal son. There was lots of emphasis placed on the fact that so many veterans were drawn in, wounded warriors, who might find a certain redemption and grace through immersion into "the sacred".

If I sound cynical it is because I know this audience and their collective yearning for a New Age, non-confrontational way to "accept the Universe" and "be the change they want to see". As opposed to fighting for it. So a gathering with teepees by a river where they simply listen and absorb ancient wisdom from aboriginal people, not unlike the expensive meditation retreats they frequent, is the perfect anti-dote to the chaos of The Political. Oneness and Unity and prayer. Tribal connectivity. There is simplicity as well in the "Water is Life" meme; no mention of climate catastrophe, no deep structural analysis with all its nuance and contingency,no talk of democracy or The Left. Any struggle is reduced to one between the coarse "material" realm and the ethereal "spiritual", between affect and intellect. In this sense it is binary thinking, the setting up of a dichotomy, specifically anti-dialectical, ironically the very "Western" schism they claim to reject.

The thing is, I have been a "water protector" for many decades and know how the role is constructed with built-in bureaucratic, regulatory barriers to systemic change. One begins by accepting the framework of "capitalist democracy" and its inherent power relations. "Safe standards" are those which "balance" the protection of health with profit and investment property.
It is exactly the "realism" promoted by 350 Missoula when they claim there will "never be one climactic, ultimate victory but instead a steady one-by-one rejection of proposals", in other words an endless chain of camps fighting an endless supply of brush fires.

At the meeting we were asked to put our questions for the panel on 3x5 cards but I just had to leave. How does localized water protection turn into the necessary generalized rejection and revolt? Where is power located and how is it confronted and de-legitimized? If society is currently organized by market relations, what takes their place? If everything is sacred, is nothing then sacred?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Guess Who

See if you can guess who this quote is from, Michael Moore, Thom Hartman or Steve Bannon?

"Middle-class taxpayers, people that are working-class people, right, people making incomes under $50,000 and $60,000, it was the burden of those taxpayers, right, that bailed out the elites. And let’s think about it for a second. Here’s how capitalism metastasized, is that all the burdens put on the working-class people who get none of the upside. All of the upside goes to the crony capitalists."

It could have come from the "People's Mic" at Occupy Missoula but actually it is Trump's special advisor and Breitbart News impressario Steve Bannon. What intrigues me is the overlap between this Tea Party intellectual and "progressives" on this issue of Crony Capitalism. I can imagine Bill Moyers interviewing Bannon and nodding along. In a panel discussion at the Vatican back in 2014, Bannon lashed out against the "greed of the investment banks", against so-called conservatives "binding with corporatists" and the fact that no one from the financial sector has gone to jail for the global economic collapse of 2007-8. Sound familiar? It should because it is the same line we heard from Michael Moore, Rachael Maddow, Thom Hartman, and that ilk. Remember Sarah Palin back in 2011, calling out the crony capitalism of "connections and government bailouts...and influence peddling and corporate welfare"? Though they never identify it as such, it is "progressive neoliberalism" (see Nancy Fraser in Dissent Magazine) that these New Conservatives have united against.

Capitalism is frequently described with an attached adjective, be it "late" or "corporate" or "predatory". That addition often indicates a desire to either reform or scrap capitalism altogether. So that when Bannon speaks of the "crisis of crony capitalism" he is referring to what he perceives as a turning away from a glorious, if wholly imagined, past, a previous period of efficient, just, victorious capitalism based on an "enlightened...underlying moral and spiritual foundation of Judeo-Christian belief." Here he is thinking of World War II production and the post-war settlement of labor peace that followed, which he calls "Pax Americana". This nostalgia is remarkably similar to that of progressives who look to those decades, as well as the period of the New Deal, as models for what could be. But of course this is magical thinking for both.

Here is Bannon from the same conference- this time channeling Chris Hedges- criticizing Objectivist precepts which: "...make people commodities and objectify people, use them..under the rubric of 'personal freedom'". Trumps new advisor went so far as to call for a cap on wealth creation and distribution, something not even Bernie, much less Clinton, ever dared to say. He believes his own alt-right/international Tea Party to be part of a "global, center-right populist movement..of working men and women... that is tired of being dictated to..by the party of Davos." Almost Naomi Klein if you ignore the center-right part. They are fine being dictated to by The Market, I guess, maybe because the Market is close to God (or is God!).

The irony- of course there is always the irony of a post-ironic age- is that all these "revolutionaries" also worship at the Tomb of Reagan, who, along with Thatcher, put a dramatic end to the Golden Age they so celebrate by crushing unions, continuing Volker's deflationary monetary policy, gutting social provision and lowering taxes on the rich. Their appeals to an amorphous working/middle classes mash-up put "traditional values" and nationalist pride front and center and tuck the Hayekian economics into the fine print. If Sarah Palin could memorize the mantra of "free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and risk", the struggling folks of the rust-belt can absorb the bumper-sticker version and trust a virile, flame-throwing leader to work out the details. Tying this proposed "new settlement" to Judeo-Christian prosperity gospel is a brilliant touch, adding affect, an emotional, even tactile connection, in a way the Left never seems to.

As with identity politics and political correctness, the Right has executed another ju jitsu move with crony capitalism. By exploiting feelings of victimhood and co-opting progressive strategy and language to build a coalition, they get some time in the sun. Because they so totally and completely mis-diagnose the crisis of capitalism, it will be fleeting, as all things are these days, when "all things solid melt into air", but it is fascinating to watch. Just banish greed and work hard and be good. Simple.