bram: (galafractaxyl)
[personal profile] bram
I hardly ever write public entries on LiveJournal now. When I first got on tenure track, I played it careful. Also, Facebook has taken over a lot of my online socializing. Sometimes I vent in a friends-only entry. Let's see if I have much to say in public now.

Sometimes I think over things I've written and how they might appear to different people. Sometimes I think about the last entry I posted here. The political lens through which I expect my words to be read has been changing over the period I've had this blog, which I started back in 2000. In my last entry I bemoaned that even though the U.S. has so much going for it, there's always this insistence that we are an extraverted, busy people, always active and aimed at external achievement. Usually in the 16 years I've had this journal I've imagined someone scanning it over from a view to my political right, but times are a-changing as they used to say. The left has been gaining strength. So I imagine a reader thinking: "That's really the only bad thing you can say about this nation, that the cultural temperament doesn't always match yours? A nation that encoded slavery in its founding documents, that nearly wiped out the indigenous population in its borders?"

Well, having been so angry during the Bush years (starting with the way his "election" was handled and through the travesty of the Iraq War), and now happy to see the candidate I supported in the primaries (Obama) ensconced as President, I've been content to dole out more praise than scathing criticism of the way things are. When the Seth Rogan movie about North Korea, "The Interview", was threatened, I could download the movie to watch, and say: yeah, America should be free!

Of course I'm familiar with Chomsky, Zinn, et al., and almost entirely agree with their critiques. Paradoxically the potential and actual good in our systems have sat so close to the evil, often within single individuals like Thomas Jefferson. I'll skip over my theories for why that is, for now.

I guess I could say that the unbalanced temperament I find in the U.S., the emphasis on motion and extraverted energy, is probably linked in some way to its persistent deficiencies, the racist police violence, the predatory capitalism, etc.

The emergence of Trump as the Republican front-runner is maybe something I can address here. The way he denigrates his rivals as "low energy". He seems to appeal in similar ways as George W. Bush, who I detested, even though Trump called out the pious elision that allowed some to say of Bush, "he kept us safe," as if 9/11 came from an outer space time machine and not from the real world when Bush had more power than anyone else on the globe.

The similarity to me comes into play with Bush's joy over calling himself "the ex-ec-u-tive," and "the decider", drawing out all the syllables, strutting over the fact that he's The Boss, scoffing, "I don't do nuance"--the crisp, clean, executive who's worthy by the very act of making decisions. Trump too is known for being a reality TV show boss, taking joy in his power to make his words reality, no matter how they are tested (as his multiple bankruptcies show, he doesn't always pass the test!)--"You're fired!"

There was something also about the run-up to the Iraq War that deeply offended my temperament. We now know that some of the TV networks required at least 2 war advocates speak on air for every war opponent. There was a fearful group-think in the media. Maybe because the media is so often accused of being liberal they shilled for the war to prove their bona fides. That also offends me about Hillary Clinton, if I may continue to fit how current presidential contenders mesh with my world-view...

Before I get to her though--hearing Trump and the other Republicans talk about ISIS as if we could fix up the Middle East if only we were more ready to use violence... That offends me too! I think there are few things more tempting to humans than the prospect of doling out aggression to those who truly deserve it. We have to keep ourselves in check all the time, but if someone out there is a "bad guy" then finally we don't have to! And that biases some terribly... For some it's always the eve of WW II and every enemy of the U.S. is Hitler, every peaceful resolution is "appeasement"... (There was even one young TV talking head war advocate who kept insisting Obama's policy was "appeasement" who, when pressed, could not even describe what the historical policy of appeasement was!) And so there's very little I loathe more than when people fall into this trap.

I've become much more anti-war than I was when I started this journal. I viewed myself as liberal because I loved science, which is funded mostly through the government and not private industry. And so contrary to economic libertarians, I see a role for government, and it also made sense for the government to help those in need. I love science, and artistic expression, because they flow from our common humanity and imagination, and whether or not someone's good at making a buck, they share that common humanity and imagination and we should promote them and their lives as well.

But now I find there was something in the psychology of those who anticipated the Iraq War with joy that I despise. Also I've come to despise a certain kind of Conventional Wisdom that holds that certain things are politically inevitable, that must unfold in a certain way, and yet the ideas have been inherited from different eras. They no longer really apply but are being carried out blindly by political machinery--the way that guy accuses diplomacy of being "appeasement" because he knows it sounds bad even if he doesn't know what it means.

So that's part of what irks me about Hillary Clinton. The run-up to the Iraq War was a case of The Emperor's New Clothes. And there were several types of politician: those who hallucinated that the emperor did have new clothes, the type who could see the Emperor was naked but by political expediency assented to the consensus--or even worse, those who punched down, condemning those who spoke up and said, "he's naked!" Only a few would actually say "he's naked!" which is what helped Obama get the job in 2008 once we all saw the disaster Iraq was. Hillary Clinton strikes me as one who will always for expediency go with the conventional, even if it harms the activists who are getting it right from below.

Of course she did nothing wrong in Benghazi, but as Sec. of State she was far too aggressive in regime change in Libya. It was the old "get the bad guy" syndrome that led us to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

On the Democratic side though the election isn't turning on foreign policy so much, as that isn't Bernie Sanders's main interest. Were Biden to enter the race I'd give him a close look, because I know he's truly anti-war. The generals in Afghanistan called him "Vice President Bite-Me" because of his insistence that the war not be continued merely out of inertia and habit.

But when it comes to economics too, there's a lot of Conventional Wisdom that is making the present a prisoner to attitudes from the past. Both Obama and Hillary represented a post-Reagan synthesis, they were both middle-of-the-road politicians who were prepared to make compromises--only they would compromise in different ways. Obama has straddled the gap between neo-liberalism and leftism, and over the course of his presidency I have made the move from liberal to leftist. The next President probably won't be able to straddle those ideologies, but will have to choose. The neo-liberal advocates lower taxes, lower trade barriers, charter schools, thinks "our schools are failing" and teacher unions have too much power, thinks unions are archaic institutions that reek of the past and hold back the energetic dynamism of new transformative technology. Mostly the neo-liberal has incorporated the mind-set of the upper strata, and thinks, "If only the masses could have the discipline and energy of the elite! We must provide nudges for them, we must devise clever remedies for whatever infirmity led them not to be rich! But they always must be a win-win kind of deal; anything that would take away from the rich is anti-business, would hurt our competitiveness, would be class warfare, could not become political reality..."

Well, it's not 1980 any more... Not only are minority populations greater, but the Millennial generation has been completely screwed. Conventional politicians still think most Americans are middle-class. When I was in school I was taught we had a "barrel-like" wealth distribution in this country, mostly a middle class with smaller poor and wealthy classes. So many Americans now live paycheck to paycheck, so many have hardly any life savings to speak of. The Middle Class, a family that owns a house in a suburb and a couple of cars, is no longer normal, and the values of the class are not normal either. The reality is student debt... When liberal politicians like John Edwards invoked "two Americas", they were appealing to the compassion of liberals, but now so many Americans have fallen behind that such talk appeals to self-interest. Also on the theme of people living with a conventional wisdom of the past--the term "socialist" does not carry the baggage it once did! How many voter now never knew the Cold War?

I value nuance greatly of course, and believe that evolution is stronger and more stable than revolution. I believe that the incremental changes of the Obama era will really matter. We avoided the toxic "austerity" of Europe. But I also see that there has not been enough push-back to changes taking place largely out of their own momentum, changes pushed by advocates from another era--and the system is out of whack.

Anyway, maybe I'll end this here, and get on with my day...!
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