28 December 2018

More on why I call this winter the Second Secession Winter

I have long felt that America has been reliving the 1840s and 1850s.  The Iraq War in particular served pretty much the same political purposes (and was built on equally flimsy pretexts) as the US-Mexico War of 1846-48:  it made a president and his party look full of manly patriotism and ensured growth opportunities for a major economic sector (first slave-powered agriculture, then in our lifetimes oil extraction).  In his Personal Memoirs, Ulysses Grant is pretty blunt about the fact that the Slave Power wanted the war -- and as a young officer fresh out of West Point, he served in it loyally and bravely.  It is, I find, a deliciously just irony of history that the combat experience he acquired in the invasion of Mexico was used to devastating effect, fifteen years later, against a rebellion based on the belief that slavery was perfect (not just a necessary evil, but the best kind of society:  read James McPherson's historical work on that).

And now, we are seeing that, yes, some biggish slice of America (but not a majority, certainly) believes that it is worth having no real federal government at all, that US Capitol cleaning workers and TSA screeners should self-enslave (what else can you call it, really?) because it is divinely ordained that Lindsey Graham's office trash should be collected by unpaid laborers, who, if they live in the District of Columbia, have zero ability to choose those who govern them at the federal level and must sleep in rented rooms without heat (somehow they can afford the rent, surely there is a faith-based organization or two out there that'll pay it!).   Docile they must be, and not dare complain to God's Lieutenant on Earth, who I guess is Mick Mulvaney in practice, since Mike Pence never says a damn thing in public anymore.  And if the Dow doesn't lose as many points in a day as it did that one time in October 1929, the general public should be happy and wish the President well (as Bob Woodward might put it)...

The trouble is, in 1860 as in this year, ideas and attitudes are changing.  A crazy socialist hussy named Alexandria won a primary election in June in New York City; an ex-NFL player is about to be a freshman Democrat representing a Dallas district; an openly gay Native American veteran is going to be representing a fourth of Kansas's population.  It is often forgotten that Abe Lincoln, too, was hardly a safe establishment choice for President, having to get past three Senators, a Governor, and a Supreme Court Justice to get the Republican Party's nomination.  His voters were called "mudsills"[1] and were often working-class and immigrant people (German-Americans were a very important constituency, something like the "model minority" of the mid-19th century, although that is a postulate for another essay).

In both periods, I am talking about literate and politically-minded people who are struggling to adapt to technological disruption and innovation, and about a generation highly receptive to socially revolutionary ideas (the German emigrant '48ers' for example, such as Carl Schurz, often ignored or slighted in the writing of US history).  I know we are heading into a rough year, possibly as rough as 1861, but I trust these Americans to do right and rally for a future we can believe in.[2]
1.   The mudsill theory was articulated recently in Blade Runner 2049 by the archvillain, who says "Every great civilization was built off the back of a disposable work force."

2.  My use of this Bernie campaign phrase does not constitute an endorsement of any 2020 candidate.

22 December 2018

In our national replay of the Secession Winter, I guess it was inevitable that two old white men should propose some updated equivalent of a graduated emancipation plan which could surely satisfy all people of good will -- that is, if only Delaware was willing to entertain the possibility that slavery could end in the lifetimes of its richest citizens (today:  if only Susan Collins felt that DACA recipients deserve civil rights) ...

11 December 2018

Talking About Racism is not "Tribalism"

This little jeremiad is not written in response to any one person or article, only as a reaction to an attitude that seems to me to be trendy in highly-educated America right now.

When I put on my Cubs cap or my big blue Cubs hoodie, I am making a tribalistic wardrobe choice.  I want to feel part of that small subsection of the country that supports this baseball team. 

Tribalism is as old as human society.  It gives us a feeling of belonging and, while of course it can be used for bad purposes, it has made many people's lives richer and more meaningful.  We cannot exist on social terms with literally everyone on the planet (although some Facebook users have tried), so we form social cliques around beer-drinking, board games, or sports teams that have cuddly bear logos. 

Racism is an ideology that was invented by white people in the 17th century to justify the West African slave trade.  Period.  No major innovations in the content of this ideology have occurred since then.

If we want to promote honest but respectful conversation about serious issues in our country, I do hope we can stop conflating racism with tribalism.  Calling people out as racist (or homophobic, for that matter) is not some kind of sad reversion to tribalism that we must avoid if we want to be Good High-Minded Progressives.  Two years ago Hillary Clinton was pilloried in the press for pointing out that racism and homophobia are part of a "basket of deplorables."  Perhaps the way she talked about all that cost her the election.  So what?  It is almost 2019 now and the person who won that election has a 41.9% approval rating*.

Wisconsin is soon to have a Black lieutenant governor, and the CEOs of Google and Microsoft are men of color (not to mention Apple's openly gay CEO).  It strikes me that maybe, in the coming year, these people would like to talk to us about issues of racial equity in America.  Let us not clutch our pearls too tightly and refuse to listen because they are preaching "tribalism."


*Today's FiveThirtyEight average.

06 December 2018

I'm reading various different sources about the lame-duck bill(s), some of which, admittedly, are more concerned with soaring old-school Marxist rhetoric than with comprehensive accuracy[1].  At this point it looks like Vos [2] and Fitzgerald [3] are going to get most of what they want, the worst of which is probably the reduction in the early voting period from six weeks to two. 

Other desires of theirs seem kind of performative.  Has Wizards of the Coast assured them that they can make the voter ID law indestructible?  And is the WEDC (Wis. Economic Development Corporation) now some kind of Tribal Enchantment that cannot be touched by the white wizard Evers' spells, at least until next September when his life total has been sufficiently depleted? [4]

1.  i.e., emailed statements from Socialist Alternative.  I enjoy them anyway, if for no other reason than they are clear-eyed about the reality that American "bipartisanship" (at least the mutual kind) died sometime in early 2009.

2. State Assembly Speaker.

3. State Senate Majority Leader and brother of the State Assembly Speaker just before Vos.  I will further add an editorial comment:  The Fitzgeralds are, or were, one of those white Chicago families that, spurred on by Nixonian and Reaganist racial politics, turned their back on the city and everything that made it a great and innovative community, or rather, many great communities.

4. Extended Magic the Gathering joke.

05 December 2018

I'm very glad that the FiveThirtyEight crew is talking about lame-duck shenanigans here in Wisconsin.  Going past the Capitol building two hours after sunset tonight, it looked, well, a lot like this.

I hardly ever travel to rural Wisconsin, which keeps electing these Republicans (yes, often by narrow margins).  I would urge any of my readers who do to talk to everybody you meet in those places about these Republicans.  Face-to-face conversations do work better than anything else at changing people's minds.  I could call my Democratic state assemblywoman about it, but I spoke with her on my front porch not a week before the election and I know damn well if we all wake up in the spring of 2020 and Ted Cruz is beating Kamala Harris in the Democratic presidential primary, it won't be her doing.

03 December 2018

You Cannot Slip

When you're the first of anything, the bar feels higher.  You feel like you don't have room to make mistakes ... That last flight we took out, when I was leaving from the Capitol, and we waved, we got on Air Force One the last time, I forgot about this because I didn't put it in the book, but a friend of mine reminded me that I cried for about 30 minutes.  And it was just the release of eight years of feeling like we had to do everything perfectly; that there wasn't a margin of error, that we couldn't make mistakes, that we couldn't slip, that our tone had to be perfect ... as the first, people will measure everyone of our race, of our gender, by what we do ...

--Michelle Obama to Stephen Colbert

I have to thank First Lady Obama for clarifying my thoughts about who I want to see run for president in 2020.  For a good while now I have harbored thoughts that perhaps Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was the best nominee we Democrats could put forward. Wouldn't it be amazing to see a gay man like me become President?  What a stroke against Mike Pence's ideology, etc. etc.  ...

And maybe Pete would be a truly stellar secretary of Veterans' Affairs.  But what Michelle told Stephen in that interview has the power of a home truth.  The kind of personal scrutiny a President Buttigieg would face is really not to be minimized.  Pete and his husband deserve many more years of happy marriage together, a marriage whose legal status owes much to the advocacy of people like the former First Lady.  I don't think they deserve to be America's Top Model Gay Couple, no matter how many young gay people they might inspire by their example.

I have to say now that I think a Beto O'Rourke or a Kirsten Gillibrand is more the kind of person I see as appropriate to lead the country.  (I won't use the term "electable" because I don't really know what it means.)  I will say that Senator Gillibrand's flavor of progressive Catholicism could be an amazing sort of 'change agent,' if you will.  Just as President Obama reinvigorated American Protestant discourse, she might give new life to Catholic social justice teachings.  And though I still love Bernie, he's just too old now.

I guess I don't lay open my unvarnished feelings about politics on this blog too much anymore; it is easier to hide behind parodies and ripostes of silly columnists -- God knows the Graduate Center for Silly White Male Columnists is churning them out at record speed these days.

This is not to say I am giving up hope of someday enjoying a quiet conversation about baseball with my fellow Midwesterners Secretary Buttigieg and Attorney General Jason Kander at an exclusive White House party... 

02 December 2018

SEN. MANCHIN:  Tell them to please come talk to me.  The Skyway will be open to all shortly, although I sincerely regret they must trudge five thousand miles through blizzard conditions to reach it.  Facilities will be available up here where they can remove the stench of their filthy cave lifestyle.  If I am not in my office when they arrive, a Nu will carefully record everything they would like to say and translate it into sonorous elemental chimes for the comprehension of my colleagues and myself.

01 December 2018

Image result for chrono trigger zeal mammon machine

QUEEN ZEAL: Ah, children, you want me to lame-duck myself.  That would be such a loss, considering the money I can raise for your re-elections with the Mammon Machine.  There is nothing else like it in the world for timely fundraising.

LUCCA:  Money doesn't always decide these races.  Look at Ocasio-Cor ----

ZEAL:  I made the Kingdom of Zeal.  Some of you may be too young to remember, but we had three floating continents, House, Senate and Presidency.  Enlightened beings enjoyed all the benefits of science and technology for two golden years.  We crafted a health care bill of surpassing beauty under the tutelage of Obama, the Guru of Compromise.  And you would ruin our chances of this ever returning?  Fools!