“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Yeah, maybe so. Works for me. Or a straight line to utopia with zigs and zags or dialectical fixes, earnest resolve or plain luck, position or maneuver, hesitations or meditations, atonement or penance— ya takes your choice and press on. In any case, we know, there are gonna be setbacks. Coming up on two hundred years since the birth of a wise middle European gray beard who took all this very seriously. In his mid- twenties he wrestled himself, some distance, but never that far, from his gang of “Hegel bros” —“You guys are just philosophizing.” Me, I’m looking for some new friends, he thought, “Done with interpreting; time to change the world!” So, eyes wide and fleet of foot, through tragic 18th of Brumaire and farce of the 1848 revolutions, to the the massacre of the communards in the May 1871 “Paris Agony” we organize: “Unite the Advanced! Educate the Intermediate, Isolate the backward!” Wait, friend where are you going? Tell us, now what? “I need a fucking minute.” Gonna hang in some reading rooms, a nice lot at the British Museum, check on a few writers and critics, prophesize with my pen a while.
Jump to November 2016. Probably all gonna need a few minutes? Maybe read a thing or two? So, for starters I’m pleased to share ten essays below.
1. Richard Rorty, Achieving our Country (1998)
Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots . . . One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion . . . All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
2. Jan Werner-Muller, Real Citizens. Boston Review .October 26, 2016
Populists always claim that they, and they alone, represent the people. Consider Trump’s salvific boast in his speech at the Republic National Convention: “I am your voice,” with the corollary: “I alone can fix it.” This rhetoric condemns other political contenders as entirely illegitimate. The populist does not just disagree about policy; disputes are always matters of character. Other politicians are corrupt, or they put elite institutions before the people. In a word, the defining orientation of the populist is not anti-elitist or even antiestablishment (for populists are perfectly content with the establishment when they are in power) but anti-pluralist. This attitude translates into exclusions both at the level of party politics—other politicians are crooked—and at the level of citizens: opponents are likened to traitors to the nation.
3. Jedediah Purdy,Tomorrow’s Fight, Dissent, November 9, 2016.
What does this mean? In the coming months, especially if Trump delivers on his promises of torture, attacks on the media, stepped-up deportation, and religiously selective exclusion, massive displays of peaceful resistance and refusal will be absolutely necessary. This may be four years of vigils. It will be time for serious discussion about the ethics of civil disobedience, not as an academic question, but in lived practice. On the one hand, we will be trying to keep the country whole, to appeal to the people against themselves, as Thoreau put it in his defense of civil disobedience….The first concern must be for the immigrants, women, people of color, and so many others that Trump attacked and belittled throughout his campaign. This means protection and solidarity against both official and private bigotry and targeting….We also must prepare for the likelihood that Trump will move from attacking the most vulnerable to betraying the rural and white working people who turned out for him. He won in part because he told them they had been betrayed by Democratic elites, and the Democrats did not succeed in refuting him. But he has nothing for those voters except a vicious identity politics that cloaks standard right-wing tax-cutting, government-slashing, and regulation-gutting. He told them they lived in a merciless world, and they agreed with him, but he has no mercy to bring. You do not have to forgive the votes for Trump, or excuse the reasons behind them, to understand that, as ever, political majorities need allies, and Trump in time will prove to be a true friend to very few people.
4. Janice Fine, Liberals and the right have been dismissing unions for years. Boston Review, November 15, 2016
Unions, more than any other institution of American life, have been the vehicles through which working-class people, often across boundaries of gender, race, and ethnicity, have organized to have their say, assert their power, and ensure their share of the economic pie. For these reasons, aside from the New Deal interregnum, they have come under unceasing attack….Just when we need them most, the main institutions that have fought for decent jobs are a shadow of their former selves. Unions that have played a singular role in forging solidarity across racial, ethnic, and gender lines can now do so only for a diminishing number of Americans. Adding insult to injury, it is not just the right that has hastened their demise; liberals have been dismissing unions for years….Union locals were once citizenship schools for the working class. When unions were weakened, working-class people lost a central means through which they could develop an understanding of the world—of who was to blame for the decline in their standard of living and how to take action to correct it….Unions have been at the forefront of the fight for Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights, affordable healthcare, occupational safety and health standards, and quality public schools. Today they are the backbone of the fight for immigrant rights, higher minimum wage, and paid sick days….It often seems that liberals think all we need do is make a good argument or speak truth to power. They disdain confrontation and the messy nature of mass-based, democratic, working-class unions. They may support some policies, such as raising the minimum wage, but not the powerful—and, yes, complicated—institutions that have made them achievable….In the absence of unions, no other institutions have arisen that have elevated the voice, needs, and aspirations of working-class people and organized at the scale they once achieved. In the absence of collective institutions, people have been known to look to charismatic men who promise to make their countries great again.
5. Mike Davis, Not a Revolution – Yet. Verso Blog, 15 November 2016
Certainly Trump will attempt to honor his commitment to the Christians and give them the Supreme Court — a goal that Mitch McConnell may facilitate with the ‘nuclear option’ in the Senate. Likewise Peabody, Arch and the other coal companies will get new permits to destroy the earth, immigrants will be sacrificed to the lions, and Pennsylvania will be blessed with a right-to-work law. And, of course, tax cuts…..But on social security, medicare, deficit spending on infrastructure, tariffs, technology, and so on, it’s almost impossible to imagine a perfect marriage between Trump and the institutional Republicans that doesn’t orphan his working-class supporters. Mortgage bankers still rule the universe….But whatever the hypothesis, it must take account of the real revolution in American politics, the Sanders campaign. The downward or blocked mobility of graduates, especially from working class and immigrant backgrounds, is the major emergent social reality, not the long agony of the Rustbelt. I say this while recognizing the momentum given to economic nationalism by the loss of five million industrial jobs over the last decade, more than half of them in the South….But Trumpism, however it evolves, cannot unify millennial economic distress with that of older white workers, while Sanders showed that heartland discontent can be brought under the umbrella of a ‘democratic socialism’ that reignites New Deal hopes for a Economic Bill of Rights. With the Democratic establishment in temporary disarray, the real opportunity for transformational political change belongs to Sanders and Warren. We must hurry.
6. Nell Irvin Painter, What Whiteness Means in the Trump Era, New York Times, NOV. 12, 2016
I don’t mean that Americans suddenly started counting people as “white.” This has been going on since the first federal census of 1790, which enumerated three categories of white people (“Free white Males of sixteen years and upwards, including heads of families,” “Free white Males under sixteen years” and “Free white Females”). That census also tabulated two other categories: “All other free persons” and “Slaves.” Period. Black was not marked.
….I’m saying that what it means to see yourself as white has fundamentally changed, from unmarked default to racially marked, a change now widely visible: from of course being president and of course being beauty queen and of course being the cute young people selling things in ads to having to make space for other, nonwhite people to fill those roles….In our racially oriented American society, this change marks a demotion for white people. From assumed domination, they now take their place among the multiracial American millions. For Trump supporters embracing the social dimension of “Make America Great Again,” their vote enacted a visceral “No!” to multicultural America. As if to say, “Take us back to the time of unmarked whiteness and racially unmarked power” assumed to be white….Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign’s leadership and support complicate making America great again, on account of the campaign’s tilt toward white nationalism. Here lies a snare that has entrapped white identity for decades. White nationalism scares many ordinary white people away from embracing whiteness, which white nationalism makes appear bigoted and terroristic. Given the people who emphasize their white racial identity — white nationalists, Nazis, Klansmen and so on — the white race is a spoiled identity. Embracing whiteness would seem to enmesh one in a history of slave-owning and all the discrimination flowing from it. What righteous person would want to embrace that? Up to now, there’s hardly been a pressing need to do so, for a fundamental dimension of white American identity has been individuality.
7. Katha Pollitt, An Unabashed Misogynist Is in Charge of Our Country. The Nation, November 15, 2016
She lost. We lost. Women lost. Racism, nationalism, and “economic anxiety” won. Misogyny beat feminism. Wives with pro-Trump husbands didn’t secretly pull the lever for Hillary—only 8 percent of Republican women voted for her. Pussy did not unsheathe her claws and grab back with enough fire and ferocity…. There are dozens of reasons why Trump won, but misogyny was a big part of it. And if you didn’t know women can be misogynistic, now you do. Trumpettes, if you voted for a grotesque liar, bankrupt, and groper with no public-service experience, the only candidate in 40 years not to have released his tax returns, don’t tell me you preferred him just because Hillary is “unlikable.” Judging men and women by such different standards is what female self-hatred is…. As the spearhead of Republican rule, Trump will change the country for women in ways that won’t be easy to reverse. His Supreme Court nominees will shape our laws for decades; the coming gerrymandering of districts in 2020 will make statehouses and Congress even more favorable to Republicans. Abortion rights, access to affordable birth control, Title IX, equal pay—it’s hard to imagine any of them faring well under the new regime. ….Conditions will be worst for the women already most disadvantaged: women of color, Muslim and immigrant women, low-income women, the disabled. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, or if the Supreme Court reverses itself and allows restrictions like the ones recently struck down in Texas, then getting a safe abortion will be hardest for women who can’t afford to travel to states where it remains legal. If social services are gutted, low-income women—disproportionately women of color—will be the ones with no place to go if they’re abused or homeless. If Obamacare is repealed, there goes medical care—including no-co-pay birth control and mammograms—for millions of women…. We Americans tend to think we’re unique, but the election of Trump is a version of what’s happening in many parts of the world. Look at Poland, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, India, Egypt, and the Philippines: all ruled by more or less democratically elected strongmen who are rewriting the very rules of government, beefing up conservative religion, squashing intellectuals, activists and progressive NGOs, and giving free rein to the police—all in the name of a return to national greatness. Repressing women in the name of purifying a decadent culture is always part of this package, as it was in the fascist states of the 1930s….“Fight back” has never seemed more like a mere slogan. But what choice do we have? No, we have to mourn, and then we have to get crazy busy. There will be lots of opportunities to protest, to organize resistance, to plan for 2018 and 2020, to figure out what happened and reach beyond our comfort zones.
8. Bruno Latour, Two Bubbles of Unrealism: Learning From the Tragedy of Trump, Los Angeles Review of Books (Originally published in Le Monde.) 11/20/2016
THE TRAGIC ELECTION of Trump has the advantage of clarifying the broader political situation. Brexit was not an anomaly. We should acknowledge as much and prepare ourselves accordingly for what is to come….Good, we have now been warned, so that we might avoid being so surprised moving forward. Indeed, our incapacity to foresee has been the main lesson of this cataclysm: how could we have been so wrong? All the polls, all the newspapers, all the commentators, the entire intelligentsia. It is as if we had completely lacked any means of encountering those whom we struggled even to name: the “uneducated white men,” the ones that “globalization left behind”; some even tried calling them “deplorables.”There’s no question that those people are out there, but we have utterly failed to hear their voices, let alone represent them. We, the “intellectuals,” live in a bubble — or, perhaps better, on an archipelago amid a sea of discontents. The real tragedy, though, is that the others live in a bubble, too: a world of the past completely undisturbed by climate change, a world that no fact, study, or science can shake. After all, they swallowed all the lies of the calls to restore an old order with perfect enthusiasm, while the alarm bells of the fact-checkers went on ringing unheard. A Trump goes on lying and cheating without remorse, and what a pleasure it is to be misled. We can’t expect them to play the roles of good, common-sense people, with their feet planted firmly on the ground. Their ideals are even more illusory than ours. We thus find ourselves with our countries split in two, each half becoming ever less capable of grasping its own reality, let alone the other side’s….Thus, two utopias: a utopia of the future confronting a utopia of the past. The opposition between Clinton and Trump illustrated this rather well: both occupied their own bubbles of unrealism. For now, the utopia of the past has won out. But there’s little reason to think that the situation would be much better and more sustainable had the utopia of the future triumphed instead….Something has happened in the past 20 years that accounts for this frenzy of retreats and surrenders. If the horizon of “globalization” can no longer attract the masses, it is because everyone now understands more or less clearly that there is no real, material world in the offing corresponding to that vision of a promised land. Just one year ago, the United Nations Climate Change Conference served as a solemn declaration of this impossibility: the “global” is simply too vast for the Earth. Beyond these limits, our tickets to the future are no longer valid. Nor can we count any longer on returning to the old countries of the past. They have vanished. In any case, they were always too tiny to contend with the new state of the Earth. The ecological crisis has arrived. No wonder both parties are dealing in unreality.
9. Perry Anderson, The Heirs of Gramsci, New Left Review 100, July-August 2016.
Looming was an authoritarian populism. Writing a month before Thatcher came to power in 1979, Stuart Hall warned that social democracy had shown itself incapable of mastering what had become an organic crisis of the post-war settlement, to which Thatcherism was now offering a potent response. Weaving together contradictory strands of monetarist neo-liberalism and organicist Toryism, it was seeking to construct a new common sense, as Gramsci understood this. Identifying freedom with the market and order with moral tradition, it was binding together the opportunities of the one with the values of the other in a single package for popular consumption. This was a hegemonic project, whose attractive effects could already be seen in the public debate over failures of schooling. Intuitively, Thatcherism had understood that social interests are often contradictory, that ideologies need not be coherent, that identities are seldom stable, and had worked on all three to form new popular subjects embodying its hegemony.
10. “Forever Young”: 2016 USA presidential election counting only the votes cast by those aged 18-24