Trump week 1: on fears of a coup

The problem with these shock pieces is that they're demobilizing. It's hard to tell how much of Trump's first week is strategy and how much of it is incompetence. But we know that one thing that has slowed previous Republican over-reaches (Contract with America, government shutdowns, etc.) is protest and outrage, and this week has seen a bigger and quicker mobilization than many.

Meanwhile, the Jake Fuentes piece suggests that protesters may be unwitting pawns in Trump's game, and the Yonatan Zunger piece suggests that a goal of Trump's actions is to create "resistance fatigue." Both of these arguments are so bad that refuting them makes you dumber. Neither author has any deep knowledge of or experience thinking about social movements. Fuentes is an executive or mid-level manager, I can't quite tell which, at Capital One. Zunger is a computer engineer for Google. (I'm sure that there are lots of computer engineers who have interesting things to say about social movements, but to do so, you have to put in some time studying them. Zunger's articles don't suggest a deep engagement with the topic.)

Even Michael Moore has gotten in on the action. And he does have a deep engagement with politics and social movements. But he's also notoriously inconsistent.

Keep up the pressure! I have no idea how things will unfold, but this is a president who is historically unpopular as a newly elected president, with a majority in Congress which is suspicious of much of his agenda and a national security establishment that is at least partly quite concerned about him, too. The leaders of major, mainstream corporations have been speaking out loudly and confidently against the signature policy of his first week. That sounds more like a recipe for a coup against Trump (oddly contemplated here in a Chicago Tribune commentary) than a coup by him. (And for the record, we shouldn't be supporting either.)

There are a few more detailed responses to the claims of these pieces which are worth reading. Edit: Corey Robin's post makes some broader points which are well worth considering, and Arin Gupta has a good response to the straight-up coup speculation aspect of things.

I wonder about the psychological payoff of reading and sharing these kinds of pieces. I love reading them too. Right after Donald Trump was elected, all I wanted to read for a while was climate change apocalypse articles. There's something exciting (in the analytical sense, not the "fun" sense) about seeing the potential for doom in the present. I'm reminded of Melancholia ... reacting differently. The feeling of impending doom does not always produce inaction and quiescense. Obviously the last week has *not* generally produced that. But too much "watch the wizard/master chess player" seems to lean a little too much towards conspiracy theory and not enough towards recognizing the broader field of power.


Empathy and the desire for vindication? On poor and working-class Trump support

Patrick Blanchfield, in a review of Arlie Hochschild's Strangers in their own Land:

What her subjects want, Hochschild repeatedly says, and what they apparently see in Trump, is an opportunity for “vindication.” But “vindication” means something more than just “recognition” or “being seen.” Etymologically, “vindication” derives from a word for vengeance, and, ultimately, the assertion of authority through force. In America, such appeals to emotional revanchism, even when nominally colorblind, have never been neutral, and have fueled centuries of both structural oppression and extrajudicial violence (as documented brilliantly in Carol Anderson’s magisterial White Rage).

"Vindication" strikes me as a particularly good word for thinking about some of the affective structures that are percolating, here. And I think what is vexing about vindication gets at why empathy is not really the right form of engagement even if I agree with Hochschild that a rich engagement with understanding the structures of feeling at work here is important. Or to put it another way, I wonder if the politics of empathy stop with Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain." (Tbh the hot-take alternatives to empathy like calling people out for supporting a racist are probably necessary in some cases but wildly insufficient, too, but that's another story.)

The post-election incidents that have caught my attention most in this regard have been about angry white people making a scene in public, getting into an altercation, and then saying, more or less, I voted for Trump! That's right! We won and you lost! Wanna fight? There have been at least two of these kinds of incidents widely reported in the media, one in an airplane, the other in a craft store. And we could probably read some of the school taunting incidents (where a mainly white group of students taunts a group of students of color with something like "Trump's gonna build the wall and send you back") in a similar light.

This is not the behavior of people who won something and now have hope that their lives will be better. This is a behavior of people who seek a salve of vindication for wounds that they know full well are never going to heal, who know full well that their lives are never going to be better. (Perhaps this is a kind of non-regional version of a politics that have circulated around aggrieved Southern US whiteness for a long time.)
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Missing the crush of the crowd

I'm sad not to be in the Bay Area for the Super Bowl. Not because I would attend it, but because I enjoy uncomfortably large crowds organized around massive, limited-duration public events. Problems: 1) I'm an introvert, so I shouldn't like big crowds; but really big ones feel deliciously impersonal. If you are there with one or two people, then being with them feels not impersonal, but quite intimate. 2) Reflecting on this, I see my male privilege, and possibly a limited-scope "large-bodied privilege" as well; I can be in most crowds and not worry about being harrassed or badly squished. Also, as a friend used to remind me, I have never worked as a server. I do not think I would like harrassing crowd energy at all; I've certainly heard of this happening, but I can't really think of a time when I've seen it in person. Maybe this inability to remember is also a function of privilege; or maybe it is a function of having been harrassed (not in crowds) and getting good at self-protective forgetting.

I have seen crowds panic. Sometimes that is unpleasant: when I was caught up in the panic myself. I remember something at D2KLA involving cops on horseback and a kettle or a corral of some sort and it is all hazy but it seems I may have been one of the cattle and I got out without a scratch but a few minutes there were not pleasant. But sometimes the crowd behaves as if it is panicking when there is nothing meriting this, and one can look out and see every absurd wrong lurch every gross overreaction. This to me is a quite delicious, laughing at oneself, an absurd behavior outside of one's own control, like a limb falling asleep from the vantage point of a conscious cell perceiving the silly numbness.

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Nativism: the comparatively recent heart of white populist backlash

Thinking about a history which I understand poorly, though it is a history of the period of my life: anti-immigrant politics as a key element of the politics of white backlash in the US. I've seen a couple of people posting this video of Reagan and Bush from 1980, and it set off a chain of fascination. There seems to be a reading of this that it just shows how far to the right we have moved since 1980, and of course that's part of it. But for Nixon and Reagan and in a slightly different sense maybe even Bush I and Clinton, the racially coded Silent Majority / Southern Strategy stuff seems to have been most consistently focused on anti-Blackness rather than immigration. Of course there were virulent strains of anti-immigrant politics in the US well before the 1960s, but listening to this, I get the sense that the Chamber of Commerce position on immigration still held sway in the Republican Party at this time, though I bet people with a better knowledge of recent history will be able to cite some counter-examples. In fact, it seems like populist nativism may have been a bigger issue in the Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s. (Remembering, for example, the debate over the murder of Vincent Chin by a Chrysler supervisor and a laid-off autoworker in 1982, a time when white working-class nativism could be placed in and around unions and the debate over protectionism, and conservatives and Republicans could be expected to back both fewer trade regulations and the freedom of employers to hire immigrants.)

Nevertheless, sometime around the Proposition 187 campaign or slightly before, anti-immigrant politics became a staple of populist white backlash which they hadn't necessarily been in the preceding couple of decades. And every uptick of populist white backlash since then seems to have had an anti-immigrant dimension, whereas immigration was in the background for Reagan's appeal to the "Reagan Democrats" and Nixon's Silent Majority / anti-counterculture "hardhats." And, around this same time, coincidentally or for an articulated set of reasons I'm not sure, populist white backlash became primarily associated with something that was happening in and around the Republican Party as opposed to something that was happening both in/around the Democrats and in/around the Republicans in different ways.
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Some screen memories in the form of a eulogy, for Stephen R Hawkins

Photos: courtesy Jaina Bee

Eulogies drip with sentiment, and claims. Both made Steve Hawkins itch, most of the time, at least in his later years. How can I write something not too itchy for you today? None of us wants you itching, down there in the ground where you can’t scratch.

I’ll start with: what kind of person was this person? Maybe it’s always harder to answer that kind of question than we think. We answer from our perspectives. Steve elides the question more than most, maybe. People I’ve known who care deeply about Steve tend to talk about him in screen memories. Screen memory: “a recollection ... that may be falsely recalled or magnified in importance and that masks another memory of deep emotional significance.” For Freud, the screen was a function of one person’s unconscious, masking experiences which are too intense for the subject to process directly. Speaking loosely, with Steve, we might speak of a double or triple screen: the screens we use to remember him, the performative screens of his discourses and distances, and possibly the screens he used to keep intensity and voices at a distance from himself; instead of overwhelm, taking them as baubles worthy of cosmic laughter.

He was shy, and he charmed & attracted people. Sometimes he reveled in the performance, and sometimes the attention made him break out in hives. Marla remembers him charming the reporters for the Daily Kansan sometime in the early 70s at a feminist demonstration on campus. He was one of only one or two men in a crowd of women, but the cameras made him the leader of the march. From some people that might have been a bid for notoriety or leadership, but for him, it was an accident, happy or treacherous, quickly taken, quickly gone. Years later, he attracted interest around downtown Lawrence and in Vermont towers. Verbal mirth and sarcastic slicing, repartee with friends and passersby; what brilliance and/or madness was he typing at all hours on all those typewriters?
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Remembering my father, with fewer filters

I haven't posted on LJ in over a year, but this felt like an LJ post if ever there was one.

I found out on Friday that my father died earlier in the week, by receiving an email from my long-lost half sister. (Though it's possible that we were in the same room when I was an infant, I haven't had any contact with her since then.)

Most of my thoughts and feelings about my father have to do with stories my mom told about him, or ways we related to his absence, or ways I reacted when I ran into him and he reacted in an unwelcoming way (due, perhaps in part, to where he was at with mental issues). Inspired in part by reading my sister's recollections of her visit with him in 2013, I dug up my own recollections of what was probably the most positive and welcoming conversation I had with him, in 2007. Here it is, with some mild editing.


11/29/2007 5:19:35 PM

Yesterday I talked with S.R. for longer than I have in 26 or so years.

Scheduling the whole thing was an exercise in my mom’s willfulness. It finally worked out to have David take me over when he had to go for physical therapy. He came rolling up in his old brown car and honked, and I ran out and jumped in – in the back seat, because he rolls with an oxygen tank in the front.

We drove over to Eudora, and I felt like I was in the company of an interesting old codger. David is a mutual friend of S.R. and my mom from back in the day. In fact, my mom knew David first, and met S.R. through him. David and S.R. had had a falling out years ago, and had only reconnected since S.R. ended up in the hospital in 2007 after a severe bout of emphysema.

The drive over was uneventful, although I held my breath every time we came to an intersection. David tends not to brake until the last minute, and even then, he tends to overshoot the spot where he should stop by a good bit. We went to his PT. Afterwards, he entertained the therapist with a couple of Tom Lehrer songs. I couldn’t tell if the guy was genuinely intrigued or if he was just humoring this oddball patient the way he humors all patients to grease the wheels of the medical interaction.

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The Wrong Lessons about the Tea Party on the Left

It's striking to me how consistently leftists learn the wrong lessons about the Tea Party: that they took over swaths of the Republican Party by patient attention to boring things like caucuses and organization (so the Left should do the same with the Democratic Party). Of course the conventional wisdom keeps changing; two weeks ago the Tea Party was toast, and now, after the Eric Cantor loss, they are the toast of the town.

A better question for left Democrats would be: why has your every effort after the Rainbow Coalition been utterly boring and bereft of politics, of ideology in the motivating sense? The Tea Party has ideology and culture by the bucketload. They've got the silly pointy hats. They fight over issues that are downright bizarre, but motivating for their base. Left Democrats seem to care about sociology rather than politics: the institutional power of constituencies and individuals in party machinery.

The spaces on the left where a politics are being asserted in an electoral arena are sometimes outside of the Democratic Party entirely, such as the Socialist Alternative campaigns in Seattle and Minneapolis. Or sometimes they occupy an inside/outside niche that is structural as well as ideological: the Richmond Progressive Alliance includes left Democrats and Greens, but by running against Chevron in a company town, they've solidified a de facto division in the Democratic Party between the power structure and the left.

"The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements" is a truism that largely holds. Yet, examples like the RPA and Jackson, MS show limits of this truism - as does, I would argue, the Rainbow Coalition.

Temporary abstinence from the Facebook liturgical calendar, and some personal reflections

I'm a longtime believer in interventions in the (secular) liturgical calendar* of holidays and anniversaries, and I've blogged about this quite a bit in the past, but I think I am standing aside from the social media version for a while, at least a few months. No posts about MLK today; no posts about the history of St. Valentine's Day or any anniversary observed by more than three of my friends. Probably no obituary posts unless I have an unusual connection to the person. I'm going to consider the kind of commentary I post on news, pop culture, sports, etc. in light of this too.

Also: no judgement of people who do participate; in fact, I will probably comment, get involved in conversations, and appreciate thoughtful stuff. I've just been finding the cycle of point / counterpoint of these conversations wearying, even when they are nuanced and thoughtful. In some cases the cycle of enthusiasm / backlash seems entirely predictable and not like something I need in my life. Sometimes I catch myself worrying that the piece I posted at noon is not sufficiently nuanced for how the conversation has evolved by 6 PM, and then I'm usually disgusted by the hollowness and inefficacy of myself and the whole conversation, which is of course in a sense itself just a meta part of the backlash phase of the cycle.

Maybe I'm forgetting how to use Facebook. There have been lots of real changes in my life over the past couple of months, and I'm not sure how much I want to share. For the past many years I was a graduate student, and perhaps more significantly from the standpoint of social networking community, I was an active member of my union and student-worker groups organizing on campus against budget cuts and fee increases. Now I've graduated, and I lived in another corner of the state for a few months. Now back here, living in a new home, with two new short-term jobs, it's weird to realize that I'm not really part of anything that has a base anymore. I'm still friends with many union and justice in higher ed activists, of course, but I feel like an imposter participating in those communities, like an old alumnus hanger-on who must only be dragging around campus to relive his glory days. Ironically I still am working on campus, but in new campuses in transient roles. I suppose it's the dilemma faced not only by adjuncts (which I am, now) but also postdocs (which I also still am) and visiting / term faculty - not really belonging to a new life and a new place with a substance we can articulate and hold, we can start to feel, to put it a bit over-dramatically, like ghosts of ourselves.

Really I am a content-enough ghost; things are humming along, and flesh might animate old bones any day, now. In the meantime, we seem to be biding time rather than having much to haunt, and conversations that seemed meaningful and urgent a year or two ago start to feel distant.
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Movie notes - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is sure to be well analyzed by lots of people who have read the books, which I haven't, so these are really just some quick notes from a radical politics & critical theory junky to read the movie in that world of reference. My way into the universe of The Hunger Games is through vulgar political comparison and ideology critique. ***Mild to medium spoilers of the middle part of the plot throughout; you might want to wait on reading this until you've seen the movie if you don't know the plot and want to be surprised.***

The mix of iron fist police state and velvet glove (even opiate) spectacle is striking here. My friend (incidentally, the blogger at Work Resumed on the Tower) remarked on the absence of capital in The Hunger Games series. You see allusions to a capitalistic world of sponsors and so forth, but they play a secondary role in the spectacle. Instead, the police state apparatus seems to more or less directly run the spectacle apparatus of the games and the TV system. (Not sure the exact terms, here, and perhaps there is more nuance given in the books.) Coming out of 20th century historical experiences, we often think of "totalitarian" or centralist attempts at spectacle as clunky and frankly less effective than capitalism.
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Movie notes: An Angel at My Table

Catching up on a few movies. I should say that I'm calling these "movie notes" rather than "reviews," because they are essentially something like reading notes, taking note of interesting aspects of a movie I could imagine wanting to write about at some point. (Though inevitably I'll hit some movies I have no intention of ever writing about, and hopefully with those the notes can be brief.) I'm no film scholar or visual studies person, so I won't be focusing on the work that is done by the angles of shots, closeups vs. distance in camera work, etc. Rather, I'm more likely to focus on themes that tie in with my interests, which are sometimes writing interests but may be separate. (I've never written about the "man with no name" trope or postapocalypse, but both of these are longstanding cinematic interests.)

This movie is a biopic / film version of the autobiography of Janet Frame, a New Zealand poet and fiction writer whose work I haven't read. I wanted to watch this movie because of the exploration of themes of mental health (etc.) and writing. I think I added it to my list of movies to watch when I was watching movies about writers' block, but this movie doesn't fit at all - save for a summer love affair, Frame never seems to let anything block her writing. (Writers' block movies are also 80-90% focused on male protagonists, which is an interesting note for another post.)

The movie itself is beautifully filmed, but kind of workmanlike in its realism - rather striking given Frame's writing style, which is characterized as more along the lines of magical realism. Of course, it might be an accurate rendition of the autobiography, but I would've liked Frame's voice to come through a little more; I suspect I might like her writing more than I liked the movie. It was pretty good, but biopics are often not my thing.
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