I shot these videos at today's Women's March in DC. At the latest count more than 500,000 people marched in DC -- double the number that attended the Trump inauguration -- and more than 1 million marched globally.
In the United States, as in most other non-democracies, national politics is a moral sport of the wealthy.
The wealthy players fielded by America’s Red Team feel varying amounts of actual heartfelt care, ranging from the frigidly mercenary to the heatedly passionate, but are for the most part selfishly negative in their agenda. The wealthy players who take the field for the Blue Team are generally more empathic and positive. But both teams’ players perform in a steel-shielded arena where winning or losing may be ecstatic or hurt like hell, may earn roars or ridicule, but won’t affect their personal comfort or lifestyle or that of almost anyone they know.
American presidential and congressional politics, like the NFL or NBA or any other corporate-sponsored contest, is a cage match among fiercely-driven elite gladiators who, regardless of who wins or loses, will all leave the ring rich and surrounded by validators.
That is why Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost in 2016. That is why mainstream media reporters and pundits have become irrelevant to what Americans feel and believe. Insulated by corporate cash, with its gilded chokehold on who gets to compete for national leadership, the Blue Team has confidently hogged the mainstream “progressive” mic while growing ever more more clueless about what its voters have to say and need to hear. And the Red Team has increasingly cornered itself with the clash between its lunch-bucket rhetoric and its robber baron policy.
So, with the official political podium and official media closed off to angry and hungry voters who have known for decades (for people of color, make that centuries) that this nation and its economy have been broken by its masters, where could people go for attention?
To Twitter. And Facebook. Where, unlike the ruling American news operations and political parties, it is still permissible to truthfully say, “The system is rigged.”
Problem is, competent and decent potential Blue Team leaders were either self-silenced on this built-in function of economic inequality (Clinton), or blocked within the party (Sanders). And Red Team leaders were happy to exploit anger but incapable of blaming the rich for anything. So the field was left wide open for a celebrity demagogue named Donald Trump to declare, with veracity, “The system is rigged” – while lying about everything else and steering white rage toward people of color, women, and Muslims. All while he and his henchmen exploited Twitter’s and Facebook’s vulnerability to fake news and false accusations.
So the kinder corporate Blue Team lost this election because it convinced itself that it understood working people while having barred them from the actual field of play since at least the Reagan years. And the meaner corporate Red Team lost its stature and what was left of its self-respect in its cave-in to Trump’s white faux-populist scam, but in so doing it rode the coattails of his audacity.
And now, with fascism in the wings, the callow wealthy Reds and the outraged wealthy Blues regroup on the field, with as little to lose in their actual lives as before.
But for those who stand to lose everything, the Red and Blue game is over.
I received a link from my friend Aubrey to a piecewritten by a former resident of Chile remarking on the wicked irony of seeing Americans traumatized by Russian interference in our elections more than 40 years after his own country was ravaged by the bloody toppling of a democratically-elected Chilean government – that of President Salvador Allende – by the American CIA. The writer took no pleasure in the awful observation. But he also refused to spare we Americans the agony of the irony.
It reminds me of this podcast in which a Trump voter voiced her terrible sense of violation at seeing a community of Somali immigrants take over, from her point of view, an entire neighborhood that she and other enraged whites felt they intrinsically owned. She had not a clue about the wicked irony of her bitterness at losing "her" territory in a land where Native Americans know that very experience with far more gruesome familiarity than she will ever fathom.
That is the obscene, comic, tragic absurdity of the consciousness of tens of millions of scared American white voters: Their own tribal legacy on these shores is exactly, and I mean exactly, what they shriek for Trump to defeat in fetishized brown invaders: primitive ignorance, carnivorous violence, savage thievery, amoral entitlement.
It’s all right here in the making of a country that – over its few centuries of incompetent occupation – whiteness momentarily claims as its own.
Welcome to an experiment: Trump-Free Thursday, a place where All Trump All The Time yields to better and truer things.
Need a space to breathe? Today I suggest Gwarlingo, one of the truest windows I've yet found for art, poems, wild ideas, and all else creative: recent poetry by staggering channeler Nickole Brown, shockingly sublime postcard art by John Stezaker, the twisted fairy mirror of Grimm's tales, and way, way, more, courtesy of site founder Michelle Aldredge and a zillion contributors. (Full disclosure: I was one. But that was years ago.) Just go.
This from columnist Lindy West on why we stop at “alt-right” when we’re talking about ethnic-cleanser racial supremacists:
What does it take to call a Nazi a Nazi? In the interminable fortnight since the election of Donald Trump, the US press has been floundering in a gyre of panic over the internal taxonomy of racists.
For months, many (myself included) indulged Trump’s base in their euphemism of choice, the “alt-right”, an attempt to rebrand warmed-over Reconstruction-era white supremacy as a cool, new (and harmless!) internet fad. Despite the fact that Breitbart News (described by former honcho turned Trump adviser Stephen Bannon as “the platform for the alt-right”) had, at one point, a news tag labeled “black crime”, and was a driver of the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was a secret Kenyan Muslim, the press contorted itself into labyrinthine knots to avoid applying the word “racist” to Bannon or Trump in any committed way. (In our post-meaning world, being called a racist is nearly as grievous as being a racist.
Public outcry has prompted some hemming and hawing over the finer distinctions between “white nationalists” and “white supremacists”, the mainstream media not allowing either term to get too close to Trump himself, even as antisemitic, anti-black, anti-gay and Islamophobic hate crimes (not to mention KKK victory parades) continued to proliferate in his name. The website Boing Boing published a “White Supremacy Euphemism Generator for journalists”, explaining: “even when people pander to the idea Western culture’s wellbeing is inseparable from European ethnicity, they somehow avoid being called white nationalists or supremacists by journalists”. One hang-up seemed to be a lack of self-identification. If a person doesn’t consider himself a white supremacist, can he still be one? (Answer: OF COURSE.)
Finally, though, at Richard B Spencer’s closing speech at Saturday’s alt-right conference just a few blocks from the White House, it became undeniable what we’re dealing with here (at least among this particular sect of Trump’s true believers): it’s a bunch of straight-up neo-Nazis.
According to the New York Times, Spencer – who claims to have coined the term “alt-right” – “railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people … As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute.” The crowd joined Spencer in a cry of “Heil victory!”
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Richard Spencer: ‘railed against Jews and quoted Nazi propaganda.’ Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images
And yet, still, headlines were tentative. The New York Times gesticulated wildly toward Nazism without actually using the word (“Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election With a Salute: ‘Heil Victory’”), and a CNN panel managed to avoid saying “Nazi” entirely, despite discussing a chyron that read, “Alt-right founder questions if Jews are people.”
But if declaring the superiority of the white race, quoting Nazi propaganda, calling for “peaceful ethnic cleansing”, and provoking Nazi salutes from his audience isn’t enough to qualify one as a neo-Nazi, then where on earth is the bar? What is the hesitation? And, given the close ties between the “alt-right” and Trump’s cabinet, how is the top story on every front page not some version of “NEO-NAZIS ATTEMPTING TO SEIZE CONTROL OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT”?
My colleague and friend Keith Schlegel, a retired university English chair and owner of a baritone voice most guys would go to jail for, wrote and recorded a video reading of the following (I'll share a link when I have it [Update 12/8: video is here]):
"Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: "Words, words, words."
Well, yes, when we read or speak or listen, that is all we encounter, mere words, which, unlike sticks and stones, can never hurt us, or so we teach children. Hamlet's answer to Polonius is that it doesn't matter what Hamlet reads, that whatever it is is meaningless, that words are meaningless. Yet this play, itself made of words only, shows the meaning, purposes, and effects of words, which include cruelty, since words can hurt very much and not just our feelings about ourselves.
Words are in fact a species of action and the result of choice. Words are more than mere words to those who depend upon them to represent something like truth, to inspire us, to console, to teach us. Alas, words can also anger, harm, and, most dangerous of all, deceive.
Notwithstanding his claims that he has "great" words, President-elect Trump is pitifully lacking in good words, in accurate words. Is Pakistan really a "fantastic" nation full of "fantastic" people and led by a "fantastic" leader, as Donald Trump has recently said? When he said he "saw" hundreds of Muslims in America celebrate the horror of 9/11, his words were fully as perilous as a bomb thrown into a crowd. More recently, he exchanged words with the president of Taiwan, violating established diplomacy. Examples of irresponsible talk abound from the 2016 campaign, but now that it's over, Americans can and should assert a higher standard of active citizenship that listens, reads, judges, and most of all uses words critically and accurately. No excuses remain.
I doubt we can quickly or thoroughly change Mr. Trump's bad habits of careless speech, regardless of who is advising him. Those of us who worry most about the degradation of truth can, however, focus our resistance to the debasing of language. Accordingly, as we make ourselves the loyal opposition, we commit to name every misrepresentation, every unfounded assertion, every flattery of tyrants, every overly-general or unfair accusation. We plan to speak truth to power.
Over my decades teaching writing, I never let pass without comment any vague use of the word great. "Do you mean famous? large? powerful? important? good?" I'd comment. To make something "great again" surely first requires understanding what the word great means now and what it meant in the past, and much of the divide we now endure stems from people's not sharing the same meanings for words: in that way, the rise of Trumpism has made clear what before was hidden.
I'd be happy to agree that American citizens should try to make America great again if that means to return to the clear humanity of Abraham Lincoln or the hopefulness of a young President Kennedy or to the heroism of the civil rights workers or the sacrifices of American soldiers or indeed the promise of justice that lives in the Constitution, which our Presidents swear to defend in the words of their oath of office. I suspect these are not the values defining "great" of those who even now yell for the President-elect to throw Hillary Clinton in jail, albeit I seriously doubt one in a thousand could even name the supposed crime or explain how any President could exercise such unconstitutional powers. The Presidency is the most powerful office in our nation, but it is also limited in ways that would irritate any despot.
Much of the power of the American Presidency lies not in the exercise of force but in the authority and stature of the office such that Presidential words must be attended to. The Presidency is a pulpit (a "bully" one) to do good. This is a truth that President Obama knows well, as his soaring rhetoric has shown. Mr. Trump also gets the point, at least in part: when he tweeted this week attacking Boeing, the stock shares fell precipitously: now that’s power.
We do no disservice to our country when we demand high standards in Presidential speech: we show thereby that we honor the office.
This (President Donald Trump, with an administrative roster of goons and clowns like Steve Bannon, Ben Carson, Jeff Sessions, et. al.) is what a country gets after corporate-run decades of making public-interest government a bitter joke, after serving up Hillary Clinton as its best offer, after proving that corporate journalism is useless to actual people, and after suckering white working people into believing that niggerizing others is their only relief from being repeatedly kicked in the head by white bosses.
This is what the U.S.A. gets when it creates an evil mythology for non-rich white people and then breaks it.
Yesterday was a good day at the Missouri River in North Dakota, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won a resounding victory when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied passage for the Dakota Access pipeline – in proximity to tribal water supplies and sacred ancestral lands – and announced it would look for other routes. It may be a temporary victory, but it is an important one in our country, where a lame-duck Obama administration represents the last gasp of what passes for sanity in American corporate-funded politics. It happened only because thousands of protestors and their military veteran protectors put themselves in harm’s way – and in daily view of global media.
What Trump’s congealing administration will do in response to this and other crises is anybody’s guess. His incoming regime only further unfolds the question of what happens when money so poisons politics that even the self-preservation of future-thinking conglomerates falls victim to kinglike egoism and present-tense profiteering. This moment’s money talks, and all else walks.
What do we know of what comes next? Nothing. Trump’s co-optation of the rage of white working poor voters – after the Republican and Democratic parties left them stranded roadside for decades – could lead anywhere. He could develop a taste for ideology and move toward becoming what Noam Chomsky calls an “honest ideologue” in the Hitler mold, as opposed to Trump’s heretofore anchoring in ego and lazy impulse. He could push the nuclear red button at the prompt of a tweet. He could tire of the hard work of an actual idea-driven pursuit and quit or be impeached within a year, as David Brooks has reasonably suggested. Or he could simply implode from stubborn ignorance and confusion in the face of his impossible promises to his voting base (An unbuildable wall? A fantasied flood of new industrial blue-collar jobs? An assurance of better health coverage via a crippling of popular Obamacare reforms and a free rein to greedy insurance companies?). If Trump is known for anything, it’s for pitching suckers and then ditching them – be they investors, contractors, voters, reality show apprentices, or members of his own leadership team.
The big and terrifying question that we have to live with and deal with in the coming months, and perhaps years, is that no one, probably including Donald Trump himself, knows what in the world he will do. He is a pathologically self-blinded narcissist who awakens each morning as a kind of raging baby billionaire: the Frankenstein creation of a political culture where elections themselves have become banal, profanely scripted, chain-jerking reality shows. In a de-evolutionary swamp that has spawned the successive amoralities of Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Mitt Romney, how is Trump not a fit? And how is he not a deadly joke who could blow up the American state?
And so the corporate sector gets what it paid for: a white electorate in morbid withdrawal from the promised salve of privilege.
Any way you look at it, being a racial ex-boss is a dead-end job.
It is accurate to say that West Virginia attorney JB Akers’ detailed blog, Trump Won and I Don't Understand Why You Don't Understand, is self-promoting for his law practice, uninformed about the diversity and depth of suffering in urban communities, and disingenuous about the continuing appeal of racism and misogyny to non-college-educated white men whose footholds of security and cultural authority have been shattered.
But it is also essential that you read Akers' explanation of why economically shipwrecked white men and women were willing to vote for a cretin like Trump in their desperate hope for some kind of overturning of the status quo.
It is time for our self-defeating bullshit to stop. Pissed-off progressives and people of color need to be smarter than to anoint Trump’s win as a simple expression of white male supremacy and brutality, although Trump used this toxic lure brilliantly in his fake populist pitch. Furious whites who have been left to starve by the Demopublican economy need to be smarter than to treat the Hillary Clinton platform as any real expression of the hungers of progressives and people of color, although the 2016 Clinton campaign aggressively posed its corporate-friendly political jingle as the voice of “change.”
We know better. White people without college educations know when they’ve been scammed for decades by a crew of Senator Silverhairs from both parties. Blacks, Latinos, and other voters of color know when a toothless “Stronger Together” slogan falls short of what it takes to make them surge to the polls to vote their interests.
To be sure, Clinton’s winning the popular vote and still losing the 2016 election has, once again, ripped the scar tissue off the national deformity of the Electoral College. Add to that James Comey’s coerced interference and the unfathomable capabilities of Vladimir Putin’s digital regime and we have an electoral outcome that meets no trustworthy standard.
But let’s not fool ourselves. Hillary Clinton lost what should have been a commanding advantage from the beginning because she and her party were afraid of what angry drowning people on all sides really wanted: a passionate, fearless rebuke of business as usual in the post-Reagan economic state. And Trump was able to dishonestly occupy that turf because the Democrats, in jettisoning Bernie Sanders, abandoned their last claim to it.
That is what happened. That is what we have to face in order to discern what we do next.