Posts from ‘Meta’

Jun
28

The Isley brothers have a song, “Fight the Power,” which has the line “When I roll with the punches I get knocked on the ground – by all this bullshit going down.” Yet rolling with the punches is what black folk have been good at throughout their history. From being rounded up by slave traders in Africa, surviving the long oversea voyage across the Atlantic, years of slavery and Jim Crow, black folk have continually been forced to make the best of bad situations. I would paraphrase the song to “you have to roll with the punches or you’ll get knocked to the ground, by all the bullshit going down.” This brings me to the recent Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade. I want to be clear on this: I think it is not only a warped opinion, but that it is a misreading of the Constitution. Clarence in his written opinion states that rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution like the right to have an abortion, the right to same sex marriage, and even the right to use contraception are not mentioned in the Constitution and therefore are not protected by it. However, the ninth amendment (part of the bill of rights) says “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Thus, it is quite proper to add rights not enumerated by the founders who lived in an 18th century agrarian society to those protected by the Constitution. The right to privacy for example. The Supreme Court has over the years taken on this task and defined what those rights should be. The right to abortion has just been one of them. This edition of the court has deemed it not to be, even though several justices in their Senate hearings said they consider it settled law and precedent. And the punches keep on coming as the court sides with prayer by high school coaches, concealed carry guns that you do not have to have a reason to  carry, police who have not Mirandized suspects and on and on with the Court’s conservative majority.

That’s where we are. The question is what do we do about it now? Sure national opinion polls show a majority of people favor a woman’s right to choose over the right to life of an unborn fetus. This is meaningless. The Court has ruled that the choice to protect women’s rights to choose, should and will be decided by the legislatures of the states and maybe the federal one. This means that we need to roll with the punch and elect more people that will vote for woman’s rights. That is why the national opinion polls are meaningless. The only poll that counts is the election poll. If the great majority of people who hold this position are in blue states, the anti-abortion folks may still control red states. Even if more people support abortion in the red states, they need to get out and vote accordingly. Even in a state as red as Texas, in a recent UT pool 39% of respondents say abortion should always be a matter of choice, and 78% say abortion should be available in specific cases of rape or incest. Only 15% say abortion should never be allowed. Unsurprisingly there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. Among the Democrats polled 67% said that abortion should always be allowed and only 15% of Republicans agreed. However, 42% of Republicans agreed that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest and 15% believed that there were cases outside of rape in which abortion should be allowed.

Since the ruling my email inbox has been flooded with requests for money from politicians and women’s rights groups. They are right that the battle needs to move to the political battleground. Of course I don’t donate to every candidate or cause that asks me. How do I choose? First of all I never donate to the Democratic National Committee or its subsidiaries. I do not like its preference for centrist candidates when we actually need progressive ones to win back the working class. Secondly they use money inefficiently spending it on candidates who have little chance of winning but who have been good fundraisers or who face big name opponents. I try to direct any of my few dollars to candidates who are at least within hailing distance of their opponents. I also direct some money to organizations who are working against the voter suppression activities that the Republicans have passed. That means groups like Fair Fight in Georgia or Rideshare2vote. If any of these candidates are going to have a chance it will be because the turnout is so high they will have difficulty stealing the election. I am too old and infirm to participate in demonstrations these days, but they are valuable for networking and lifting one’s spirits by finding like minded people. They need to be followed up by voting and voter registration to be effective though.

All in all there are many things we can do to roll with this punch by the bullshit going down. Get involved. Even if the opposition candidates to these sob’s are not perfect it is important to stop the attack on our rights first. We must make the best of a bad situation. We cannot let despair drive us to inaction. Let it drive us to the voting booth.

Feb
22

Recently the media have been full of the narrative that there is a split in the Republican Party between Trump supporters and its supporters in the corporate world.  Though Trump was far from the choice of the business community, he promised the deregulation, tax cuts, and other policies that they wanted. They therefore held their noses and supported him once he became the standard bearer for the party. Trump’s ability to appeal to his supporters as a populist while at the same time working for the 1%, is uncanny. His claims that he actually won the election and there was massive voter fraud, did not in themselves frighten the “corporate” Republicans, it was just Trump being Trump. They were wiling to accept it as they had been willing to accept his other idiosyncrasies like the narcissism, racism, nativism and lack of empathy for others his populous supporters ate up. The insurrection of January 6 shook their belief that these idiosyncrasies were harmless and exposed the threat to the Republic that they represented. Even though it has been uncovered that Republican deep pockets financed the rally that led to the insurrection, many of the “corporate” supporters of Trump and other Republicans quickly backtracked and cut off the money supply to those claiming election fraud. Just as among elected Republicans however, only a fraction actually denounced Trump and his attempted coup. The damage to Trump’s control over the Republican Party has been minimal. As long as he has that control the business part of the Republican Party will eventually, with less fanfare, continue to support it.

Moreover the Trump supporters still remain in control of the party. They believed Trump and other politicians that the election was stolen from them. It did not matter how many courts had thrown out Trump’s accusations of fraud, that no real evidence of massive fraud was ever found, that it certainly is strange that Democrats down ballot did not seem to win if there had been fraud, or that Trump had asked Republican campaign officials to “find” more votes for him. All of this was just evidence of how strong the “deep state” truly was. One Trump supporter asked how Biden could have won when he didn’t know one person who had voted for him. Now that the Senate has refused to convict him, he will still be eligible for the 2024 campaign. The did not convict him even though he sent a mob to kill some of them e.g. Pence, McConnell, That is how much they see their maintenance of power dependent on Trump and his followers. He certainly has the stockpile of money contributed to keep him in office.

The success of the Republicans in the recent elections and in the country at large belie the wishful thinking among the aristocratic Republicans like Bush, Romney and the Lincoln project that the party has been damaged. Remember the Republicans were able to maintain 50 Senate seats, make gains in the House of Representative, and still control the legislatures and governorships of a majority of states. There is no movement for red areas of the country to change their political allegiance. Just because some people saw the light and did not vote for Trump, does not mean that there has been a revolution for the Democratic party. Unless the Democrats do something bold to win back the disaffected people who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, they will lose the Senate in 2022 and the 2024 presidential election will be up for grabs with or without Trump. One strategy for the Democrats would be the Stacey Abrams approach: to do grassroots organizing that increases the Democratic voting base, the passage of a Voting Rights Act to battle against Republican voter suppression and institute measures to make voting easier e.g. expanded mail in voting, making Election day a holiday etc.

The conditions that produced Trump are still there. The lack of faith in the electoral system, the feeling that politicians ignore them, the conditions that impoverish them, and the feeling that they have lost control over their lives, persist. They accept the scapegoats that have been presented to them: immigrants, people of color, Muslims. They feel these things so strongly that they consider themselves “patriots” when they try to overthrown a democratically elect government to install an authoritarian loser. Worse they may elect someone who is more competent at the things Trump attempted. They do not realize that that Trump worked to promote the interests of the people they should hate and who have been keeping them in dire straits. He really cares only about the power his supporters can give him and not about them as human beings at all. They will remain the lifeblood of the Republican Party.

Jan
22

It’s only been a few days since we had a new president, but things are becoming clear. Instead of the damned lies, empty promises, revenge fantasies, and paranoid delusions that so appealed to Trump supporters, we are getting a different type of presidency. In the first few public appearances as president we are getting painful realities or truths from Biden. We are getting scientists in control and being the public face of pandemic efforts rather than politicians trying to cover their asses. We are getting  transparency and clear explanations of executive orders. Most of all we are getting actions to help common people instead of helping cronies, corporations and the 1%. Let me be clear; as bold as these steps may appear I wish they were bolder. The centrist weight of Democratic politics and the slim majority in the Senate will hamper getting needed legislation passed. However as one CNN commentator put it “the adults are now in the room.” Instead of inexperienced loyalists put in place as rewards or to shore up Trump’s support, we are getting people who actual know how to do the hard work of administering government programs. Instead of syncophants we are getting doers. Instead of people who feel that they should tear down their departments because there ought to be less government, people who wanted to eliminate controls on big business and line their own pockets, we are getting administrators who actually believe the purpose of government is to help people. Trump administrators were not very good at performing their jobs. The Biden administration is. We were saved by the incompetence of the Trump administration, but we will be saved by the competence of the Biden administration.

Biden has said he will begin to address the problems and the realities that common people face rather than take actions that a conservative ideology recommends. He has started with the Covid 19 pandemic while the Trump administration simply threw up its hands at the end and just hoped the pandemic would go away. Trump and the 1% thought they could protect themselves through excellent medical care, experimental drugs, and escaping to protected hideaways. They pretended that the disease did not exist by going maskless and having large indoor events. The result has been prolonging and deepening the crisis. Biden’s team on the other hand has masked up, eschewed large gatherings, taken direct actions to ramp up production of personal protective equipment, testing, and vaccine production. Yes, all these things were going on to a limited extent under Trump, but it was left in the hands of private companies and states without guidance as to how they were to be administered. The result has been a confused, chaotic, and ineffectual rollout. Biden seeks to use the power of the federal government to speed up and smooth out the roll out.

Biden is next taking actions to help those who have been hurt by the pandemic. I don’t know what those are yet, but I have hope that they will at the least help more people than the Trump administration did. Truly “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” as the Bible says.

Oct
19

Trump may still win the election. After all tens of millions still support him. Why? It seems to me that it is a cult. People support him because they see him as a beacon of light that will protect them against the impinging forces of darkness that threaten them. For the true believer facts, logical arguments, and pointing out his contradictions do nothing. Many cannot even explain them away or even need to. Their faith in him is blind. He is against the same things they are against and that is enough. Future historians will have much to say about this era and I doubt all of it will be kind. I’d like to get ahead of the game and offer my historical post mortem of this era now rather than later. What happened was this…

  1. Many Americans were fed up with a political system that failed to meet their needs. Trump appeared as an outsider who would upset the applecart of those smug Washington politicians. He had a persona created by and for reality television as a successful businessman who would make the tough and decisive choices to avoid the bullshit and move us forward. It turns out that the “reality” was that he is a failed businessman, narcissistic, lacking empathy, who had little understanding of the law, the U.S. political system, its history, and the Constitution. Rather than “draining the swamp” as he had promised in his election campaign, he hired cronies and sycophants who proceeded to undo their government departments and loot them for personal enrichment. People were hired and fired for their loyalty not their ability. Trump enriched himself and his class at the expense of the rest of the country. A pandemic swept down on the country and his incompetence was exposed. His concern was not to save lives but to minimize the effect of Covid 19 to avoid panicking the stock market. Most of these people came to regret the choice they had made and voted against him as soon as they could.
  2. Many people dissatisfied with the choice of candidates they were given simply did not vote. Over 90 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election. That’s over 40% of the electorate. In the electoral college system in key states that was enough to swing the election Trump’s way even if he did not win the most voters. For people dissatisfied with Trump this brought about a surge of voting in the 2020 and a questioning of the electoral college system.
  3. For those believing in the authoritarian strain in government described by political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weller (among others) Trump was the ideal candidate. His strongman persona resonated with an American brand of authoritarianism which held that the president should not be hindered by things like the Congress, the court system, and a free press. All of these should be tailored to support him. Trump’s idea of a leader was the same: strong willed, free to enact his beliefs, and resenting those who hindered him. Trump did not understand the difference between being president and being a CEO. Neither Trump nor his authoritarian supporters understood that the American system was created in reaction to such a leader and that Congress, that court system and that free press were designed  precisely as limits on the president’s powers. The Republicans in the Congress allowed and enabled him to undo the checks that the framers of the Constitution had intended. Seeing his popularity they became convinced that the only way to stay in power was to support him by protecting him from impeachment, loading the courts with sympathetic judges, and voting down policies rather than reaching compromises. They were Trump’s enablers.
  4. Racists, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists listened with glee to Trump’s dog whistles supporting their causes. His refusals to condemn them emboldened them to publicly proclaim their beliefs and take measures to enact them. Racist acts and domestic terrorist plots sky rocketed during his regime. One plot uncovered by the FBI planned to abduct the governor of Michigan and start a civil war. Anti racism groups like Black Lives Matter and anti-fascism groups demonstrated in the streets against the rise of police brutality or misconduct, racism and fascism.

All of this happened and is not some dystopian dream or fiction. I am optimistic that his reign will end in 2020, but regardless of whether it does, its effects will go on for years unless the next regime works to curtail them. The last four years should be a warning to always maintain vigilance lest the dark side of Americanism slips its bonds. It is always there.

Jun
14

Of course all lives matter, nobody in Black Lives Matter has said differently. The simple phrase has become, however, something that people hide behind to avoid addressing the uncomfortable realities of racism in American society. I would like to reclaim that phrase. Oppressed groups have long reclaimed the words that are used to oppress them e.g. nigger, bitch, faggot, queer. I want to use it to show that police militarization and brutality are not just black issues. All people of color, no matter how respectable they think they are, are subject to this brutality. The statistics for police violence against native Americans and Latino Americans are proportionately way higher than incidents of police violence against whites. Whites have long seen the police as protectors and well off whites call on police more than twice as often as member of minority groups to protect their persons or property. The recent Amy Cooper incident wherein a white women purposely lied to police about a black man simply to get her way, is only the latest incident in which whites use the police structure against nonwhites. By now it is probably not even the most recent. White women fraudulently claiming to be attacked, disrespected or raped has led to lynchings, imprisonment, beatings and murders of black people for hundreds of years. The current internet memes of “Karen” (that is white women) calling police to complain about black folk simply going about their business, are all too common. White males have not only used the police to enforce white superiority, but as the black man Ahmaud Arbery shot dead while jogging in southeast Georgia shows, they have taken vigilante actions themselves.

Note however that whites themselves have been the victims of police brutality too. White LGBTQ groups have long been the target of police violence. The police violence  (using rubber bullets, tear gas, and shields as battering rams,) has most recently been turned against white protestors. Rural and poor whites even have a mythology about fleeing the police exemplified by the “Dukes of Hazzard” for example. While a disproportionate number people of color are killed by the police, the police still kill more whites than blacks each year. The whites safest against police violence are those who show up at state capitals armed to the teeth. Ninety five percent of police killings of whites occur in neighborhoods where people earn less than $100,000 annually. There is thus a class bias in police killings. There is also a regional bias: people in Oklahoma had 6 times more police killings than Georgia in 2015 for example. Police killings have actually decreased in big cities and increased in suburban and rural areas. In 2019 there were only 27 days in the year on which the police didn’t kill someone. Let that one sink in for a minute. Whites who mock George Floyd are most likely not police supporters but racists who are willing to support things against their own interests to bolster their beliefs of black inferiority and white superiority.

Yet, only 1% of police are even indicted for police killings. The decrease in police killings in the big cities show that methods can be introduced to improve the situation. Shining the media’s light on the police can help the situation only if the people we elect to positions of power decide to do something. “Logical” police want to end police brutality because it prevents community support and makes their jobs harder. Tragically, entrenched police culture, police unions, wimpy civilian oversight, and timid politicians make reform difficult. If you truly believe that “All Lives Matter,” then you should work to end police brutality. If you, like the president, believe that police should meet the public with force, then brutality will happen and you don’t truly believe that all lives matter. You are lying to yourself. It is that simple.

May
31

James Baldwin said “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I keep this in mind as riots break out throughout the country in response to police killings of brothers.  Maybe we should ask not why they continue to happen though nothing changes, but why they don’t happen more often? The differential fatality rates of Covid 19 among racial groups has laid bare the results of racism in the health care system. The underlying racial (yeah I know there are other ways of looking at this) economic and social inequality is staring us in the face. When you add the stress of police brutality and killings, the “Karens” who try to use the inherent racism in the system to get their way, and the obvious different treatment of white and black protestors, is it any wonder that black communities explode like raisins in the sun? 

I have read many of the impassioned pleas from parents of black children with sorrow in my heart. Every black person killed by police was somebody’s child. Many were somebody’s loved one or parent. We all have given “the talk” to our children, not the one about the birds and the bees, but the one about what to do if you are stopped by police. We also realize that this is not protection against the wrong policeman at the wrong time in the wrong place. We do it not because we think it will keep them safe, but because we think it’s all we can do and we must do something. If nothing else moves you I beg you to see the problem as a parent. There is no excuse you will accept for a policeman killing your child. 

When will it stop? Not until whites stop ignoring the racism in our society and do something about it. Oh, people of color have things to do too, we must keep reminding you of the need to do it whether we are in elected office, on the streets, or in the ears and eyes of those in power. However, given the white dominated power structure and what will be our minority status in that power structure, white folks will determine how it plays out. In short, white people must end racism. Right now that couldn’t seem further away. We have a white supremacist would-be dictator in the White House, put there by racists and those willing to tolerate or even ignore his racism, his ignorance (of basic science, the Constitution, the law and the American system of government,) his corruption, his childish behavior, and his narcissism. His reign too shall pass whether in November or four years from now and we will still be stuck with the problem of racism. There will always be  sizeable numbers of people who consciously or subconsciously believe in white supremacy. There will always be people who do not realize that they benefit from racism and think themselves non-racist.

 Whites must realize that racism not only limits people of color, it does not protect white folk as they think it does. We have seen that many white people (certainly not all) are more likely to do things out of self interest, not ethics or altruism. Trump rode into power on the backs of whites who feel that the “system” is more concerned with people of color than it is with them. The protections accorded racist white policemen are because too many whites feel that such behavior keeps them safe. Racism will end not when whites realize white superiority is a myth (many never will), but when they realize that it is in their self interest to do so. It is not cynicism to say so. Yes, during that golden age of the civil rights movement enough whites and people in power realized that segregation and second class citizenship was wrong, but if you look at the long history of America you understand that this was an aberration. Racism never went away. There were enough people who believed in the tenets of racism to limit how much progress was actually made.

We have both the necessity and the opportunity to do it again. I am calling for a new civil rights movement that does not let the American conscience ignore the problems of racism any longer and beats back the forces of racism. I am calling for frequent peaceful demonstrations, letting politicians know that they will not get our vote unless they are anti-racists (i.e. working against racism not just claiming they aren’t racists,) and the calling out of racist acts no matter how small and accepted. BLACK LIVES MATTER. We must make sure everyone believes they do.

 

Apr
26

Many, many years ago when I was studying French I was required to read the pithy maxims of French philosopher and wit Francois VI Duke de La Rochefoucauld. He was an elitist French nobleman of the seventeenth century who commented on the foibles of humans. He wrote hundreds of quotes some good, some too pessimistic and some that are just irrelevant or too relevant for my life. Reading them again fifty years later here are 20 I have found to be true:

 

“How is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person? ~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld”

“We rarely think people have good sense unless they agree with us.”
― Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“The truest way to be deceived is to think oneself more knowing than others.”
― Francois de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

“As it is the characteristic of great wits to say much in few words, so small wits seem to have the gift of speaking much and saying nothing. ”
― François de La Rochefoucauld

“Old men delight in giving good advice as a consolation for the fact that they can no longer set bad examples.”
― François de La Rochefoucauld, Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims

“Our minds are lazier than our bodies.”
― François de La Rochefoucauld

“It is far easier to be wise for others than to be so for oneself.”
― Francois Duc de La Rochefoucauld

“Few know how to be old.”
― François Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Reflections: Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

“There exists an excess of good and evil which surpasses our comprehension”
― François Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Reflections: Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

“Little minds are too much wounded by little things; great minds see all and are not even hurt.”
― François Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Reflections: Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

The principal point of cleverness is to know how to value things just as they deserve. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

No men are oftener wrong than those that can least bear to be so.
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

It’s the height of folly to want to be the only wise one. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

Whatever good things people say of us, they tell us nothing new. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

A wise man thinks it more advantageous not to join the battle than to win. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

One is never fortunate or as unfortunate as one imagines. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

If we had no faults of our own, we should not take so much pleasure in noticing those in others.
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

We only confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no big ones. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

The accent of one’s birthplace remains in the mind and in the heart as in one’s speech. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Hope, deceiving as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route. Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/francois-de-la-rochefouca-quotes

Apr
03

I have read many of the tributes marking David Driskell’s death and they rightfully mention his enormous achievements.  However as one who met him I just wanted to remind folks that he was a wonderful man too. Over the course of my career I have had dinner with many of the the celebrity African Americans who came to my campus to speak. I just saw it as part of the job. Some impressed, some did not. One I will always remember was an unofficial private dinner arranged through an art historian colleague who was a great friend of David Driskell. She, my wife and I had dinner at his Maine summer home and studio with him and his wife. As a young man he had come to the Skowhegan art colony in Maine, liked the state so much that he became a part time Maine resident. He was the most sociable of people. We had a delightful, wide ranging conversation about life, academia, art and so many other things. His wife and mine hit it off so well that Mrs. Driskell would afterwards call my wife to go on shopping expeditions or just to talk. He regaled us with tales about how there were so few African Americans in Maine in his early days there, that turnpike toll-keepers many miles away could direct visitors to his house. As we talked it became clear how different our paths to academia had been. I had ridden an early wave of predominantly white institutions seeking to broaden their diversity by inviting African Americans into their parlors. He had come up in an era of strict segregation in which gaining a quality education and later academic employment was a much harder battle. He had moved around the HBCU circuit fighting for “Negro” art to become accepted by the white art world. Now of course it is recognized as part of the American art canvass. He was only about 20 years my elder so this massive shift had occurred just yesterday as historical time goes. As a pioneer he had gotten to know many of the African American artists of the 40’s 50’s and later, who were like him struggling to secure respect and recognition for their art. He had formed a strong personal bond between him and those I knew only from their work and the scholarship (including much of his own) devoted to them. At one point in our conversation he invited me out to his studio to show me something that illustrated a point we had been discussing. As he sifted through some completed canvases propped haphazardly in a corner, one struck my eye. When I mentioned it to him he stopped to pull it out of pile and said “that’s just something Jake gave to me.” “Jake” was Jacob Lawrence and the piece was an unknown Lawrence painting that any museum would give its eye teeth to have. I hope it eventually made its way into some collection or exhibit, but to David it was just part of the things picked up along the way.

I have always seen myself as incredibly lucky. Oh I worked hard and diligently, but that evening it came into focus how much harder it had been for David to achieve what he did. He was unpretentious about it; just shrugging it off as what you had to do in those days. To me it just magnifies his achievements and shows how special he was. Rest in peace David. You created generations of scholars, inspired dozens of artists, and made many, many friends along the way.

Mar
04

Everyone else is analyzing what happened so I thought I’d add my two cents for what it’s worth. Let’s first sum up. The Democratic primary voters have shown a preference for an innocuous, bland, no new ideas, oatmeal candidate who they feel is the most likely to defeat Trump rather than an insurgent candidate who they feel will alienate too many voters to oust Trump.  Barring some miracle it is now essential a two man (man used intentionally) race. I did not support either of the finalists, but I would vote for either in November. Both have shown weaknesses and strengths. Simplistically speaking Bernie has the support of the younger primary voter while as voters get older Biden moves in front. Those who want major change (Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, college for all)  support Bernie, while those whose primary concern is a safe candidate with (they assume) the best chance to defeat the Republicans at the top and down the ticket support Biden. African Americans support Biden while Latino and Asian Americans support Sanders by and large. Neither Bloomberg nor Warren have much chance of catching these front-runners before the convention. I want to emphasize that primary voting is different from general election voting. Even in areas where primary turnout was high, many more people vote in the general election than vote in primaries. Trends that hold in the primaries may not in the general election.

What to make of this situation? If neither Bernie nor Uncle Joe have enough delegates to win by the convention we will have what’s called a brokered convention where each candidate is wheeling and dealing for the delegates that will put them over the top. Warren is staying in the race so she can be a factor in a brokered convention. Bloomberg has become tired of spending his money in a lost cause and threw his support to Biden. Each would expect to get something for the support. If nobody wins on the first ballot then the super-delegates (elected and establishment Democrats) can vote and Bernie is toast. If Biden were in the lead at that point the establishment could claim that they were just confirming the “will of the people.” If Sanders were in the lead they would clearly be overturning the “will of the people.” The Dems have done this before in 1968 when the establishment chose Hubert Humphrey as their candidate while the insurgent candidate (McCarthy) had the most delegates at that point. They went on to lose the election to Richard Nixon. If Biden is the candidate there will be two questions 1) Will progressives especially the “Bernie bro’s” vote for him? 2) Will a Biden campaign “inspire” the turnout necessary to defeat Trump. If Sanders is the candidate the questions are the same but reversed, 1) Will the centrists support Bernie? 2) Will enough of Bernie’s youth brigade turn out to overcome the fear and lack of fervor that the centrist have about his candidacy?

Now I am not a prognosticator and many things can change between now and the convention. Biden or Sanders might reach out to the opposite “wing” of the party for a vice presidential candidate that may bring enough of those outcast by the nomination into the general election. Either might content himself with influence over the party platform and this consolation prize might be enough to convince at least some of his followers to support the other candidate. In any event unity is going to be the holy grail for the Democrats and will be hard to come by. One must contemplate what a second term for Trump would bring before making one’s decision. Those with privileged enough circumstances to ride out even a second Trump term must decide whether their cynicism, anger and disappointment at the rigged Democratic candidate selection process, the delay of the “revolution,” and the Democratic establishment, outweighs more Trump. Those without this privilege must turn out in droves to vote because their lives and those of people they love depend on it.

Feb
10

There is an African American narrative tradition in which a story begins “Now what happened was….” Once you hear this you know you are about to hear a long, convoluted tale that tells the story from the perspective of the storyteller and which only occasionally (and possibly never) has a connection to what actually happened. Here is a hilarious example of this storytelling tradition by Tiffany Hadish. The clip itself is about 8 minutes long but is so funny the time just flies by, however if you can sample just a minute or two you will understand the narrative tradition.  Enough of the things happened to make you think that all did, but some things are elaborations, fabrications or commentary. Like a great jazz player an excellent storyteller employs all of these things in their craft. At its best these stories can tell you what is going on behind the surface of events; at their worst they are self serving rationalizations of one’s behavior. Ms. Hadish is an entrancing storyteller and demonstrates this tradition at its best.

I am reminded of this tradition every time I hear Donald Trump speak. I am trying to understand his appeal, particularly to people for whom his actions are not in their best interests. Unlike Hadish however he is not a great storyteller. He should start all his speeches with “Now what happened was…” and we should expect a disjointed, self serving, rationalization that has only the most tenuous connection to reality. Some media has called him out on his lies, that is, the fact that many of the events he mentions or the inferences he draws are not true. Right wing media like Fox News although they occasionally fact check, propagate his stories as if they represent a reality. The fact that most of his pronouncements are true or false is really beside the point to his followers. What matters is that he is spinning narratives they want to hear, telling stories they want to hear and to believe. Like a great jazz player it is not how well he sticks to the truth of the melody, but how well they perceive his elaborations, restatements, improvisations, and commentary on the truth (melody.) His statements about his “exoneration” by the Mueller report, the transcripts he released, or his acquittal in the Senate provide evidence of this phenomenon.  Although a careful reading of all these things shows that their is no “exoneration,” he boldly claims that they do. The truth of his exoneration doesn’t matter; it is how well his performance of it is received.

The problem for his supporters is that they can’t live in his dream world forever. Reality always comes to bite one in the ass. Just ask his supporters whether his term as president has made any material difference in their lives. For some it has. If you are a member of the top 1% it has increased your income or your wealth. If you own a business that was beset by government regulations passed to protect the public, Trump’s deregulation has helped. If you are a member of his family or inner circle your wealth has probably increased. However, if you are a member of the middle class or a blue-collar worker it probably hasn’t. Has he stopped the exportation of your job abroad? Has he raised wages enough so that you can make a decent living? Has he cleared out the “swamp” in Washington or just changed the names? Has his immigration crackdown or planned border wall materially improved your life? How many of the promises he made during his campaign have come to pass? All you have gotten is the “psychological wage of whiteness.”

Indeed, I could spin a whole narrative that puts his ascension in a new light. Now what happened was this con man who is neither as smart, as rich, as good a businessman nor as good a negotiator as he said he was, harnessed people for whom the system isn’t working well and rode them to victory for himself and his cronies. He keeps tell them how much he is set upon (a condition to which they can relate because that is how they feel too) and promising them that he is working on their behalf while fattening his own wallet from the government trough. And so on and so on…

Let us change the narrative come November.