Saturday, November 19, 2016

The election as gender war: Was Clinton Aunt Polly?

I am admittedly a pessimist (or a realist) but as I ponder the choice of Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, a man who doesn't even have to be confirmed by Congress, I imagine World War III must be the goal, or at least an all-out Samuel Huntington style "clash of civilizations" war against Islam--and given more than a billion Muslims, how is that not a world war? I saw in The New York Times that Flynn thinks Islam (not radical Islam but Islam itself) is a "malignant cancer," calls Islamic militancy a "global" and "existential" threat, and argues that Islam is an "ideology" not a religion. I frankly don't think it's overreacting to be worried.

I wondered: what could be worse than what Bush II managed? He gifted us with a disastrous war in Iraq and global economic meltdown.  How could it get worse? Now that Bush and his cronies are starting to look like moderate centrists, how could Trump top him? What's left? 

It came to me: World War III. These guys are so testosterone laden you know that if they get us into a war, they're going to lob nuclear bombs: let's just hope it's limited.

Let's hope they don't blow us back to the stone age. What do you think? Odds? The fun ends for them too when that happens, so maybe we have hope ...

In yoga class, we woman discussed all the young men we know either in the army, or with strong army "buds," who voted for Trump. I thought of my son's friend from Olney Friends School, Yuxi, who joined the army to gain US citizenship (ironic, as he is the graduate of a Quaker school) and came to visit us this spring. He said everyone but everyone on his army base was crazy for Trump, so he too was going to vote for Trump too. My nephew in the National Guard, normally a highly sane person, was all Trump all the time. My Quaker yoga teacher's Quaker raised son was all set to vote Trump under the influence of his oil rig buddies: it's not clear, however, that he was registered to vote. And the stories go on. 

My epiphany hit, naturally a sudden bolt of revelation. The election, I realized, was the ultimate gender battle. The mommy/school marm archetype who wasn't going to let the boys play with guns, or have any fun, faced off against the chest-banging savage (apologies to savages everywhere) who was all about "c'mon guys, let's hunt us some Orc!!"

It's come clear: anybody but "Aunt Polly" Clinton would have stood a chance (except maybe Elizabeth Warren). An All-American Tom Sawyer drama played out, only this one with far, far more insidious overtones.

We should--we really should--have run Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden. As a woman who would have loved to see a woman elected, I hate to say that.

But we really weren't ready for a woman president. The guys wouldn't have it. Nor would many of the gals. She's "coming for our guns" had a deeper resonance that we knew. She might make us do our homework too. 

"Aunt Polly" Clinton. I voted for her, but it wasn't going to happen.

The men voted for someone in the John Elredge mode, whose publisher described his book Wild at Heart as follows:

"A formidable answer to an age-old question: How can a man make himself tolerable and useful while accepting and expressing his primordial maleness--the searching and aggressive urges to conquer what needs subduing, protect the vulnerable, fix what is broken, compete and risk what demands to be risked in himself and the world? The author’s message is set in the Christian tradition without being controlled by its ideology. Eldredge believes that institutions can oppress a man’s heart and keep society from benefiting from his fierce desire to love, do good, fight evil, and go beyond the limits."

 Trump clearly appealed to that.

He signaled he'd take care of her.
Of course, as Christianity Today put it, 

"Far from revealing the vigor of the Almighty, Eldredge removes it… . Eldredge has employed the reverse of John the Baptist's axiom: In order for men to increase, God must decrease."

But plenty of evangelicals voted for Trump.

So now we are faced with the possibility of World War III. 

When I saw Trump at the rally held at Ohio University Eastern  over the summer, he did ramble on at length about it being weak and foolish not to water board and torture prisoners because the terrorists "put people in cages and burn them alive." What's a little water boarding to that? Now that he's in power, he's doing what he said or at least putting in people who are of that mindset.

I want to believe there's going to be a good outcome to all this. I remember after 9/11, when I had to face, sadly, that it was the work of Middle Eastern terrorists, that we'd have to lob a few bombs on someone, probably Afghanistan. I comforted myself that we would drop a few bombs and go home, having made our statement.

How wrong I was. So now I fear my own optimism: Maybe we won't have a major war.

But, on the other hand, I do believe in miracles and if there ever were a moment ... . What do you think? 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Wendell Berry: Solace

As I move from numbed to grieved, this poem, sent by by good cyber-friend Elaine Pigeon, offers solace. The photos show my home:

  by Wendell Berry

"Yes, though hope is our duty,
let us live a while without it
to show ourselves we can.
Let us see that, without hope,
we still are well. Let hopelessness
shrink us to our proper size.
Without it we are half as large
as yesterday, and the world 
is twice as large. My small
place grows immense as I walk
upon it without hope.
Our springtime rue anemones
as I walk among them, hoping
not even to live, are beautiful
as Eden, and I their kinsman
am immortal in their moment.

"as beautiful as Eden, and I their kinsman am immortal in their moment."

Out of charity let us pray
for the great ones of politics
and war, the intellectuals,
scientists, and advisors,
the golden industrialists,
the CEOs, that they too
may wake to a day without hope
that in their smallness they
may know the greatness of Earth
and Heaven by which they so far
live, that they may see
themselves in their enemies,
and from their great wants fallen
know the small immortal
joys of beasts and birds."

HT: Elaine Pigeon

 "the small immortal joy of beasts"

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election yesterday: the bell tolls

I thought I would wake up this morning to metaphoric happy bells ringing in our first female President.

I thought my greatest worries would be Clinton staying on a progressive and peaceful path.

Completely wrong.

The near-term future is uncertain.

I am expecting the worst and hoping for the best.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election tomorrow

Tomorrow, thank God, is election day in the most stunning Presidential election in living memory and perhaps in the history of our country. The news of the first major-party nomination of a woman presidential candidate, remarkable in itself, has been utterly overshadowed by her opponent, the U.S.'s first brush with an unfettered demagogue contemptuous of U.S. democratic law and norms, mocker of the disabled, women, minorities, prisoners of war and fallen soldiers, coming within a hair's-breadth of power. Adding to the spectacle and the terror,  Brexit occurred in the midst of this, harbinger of the real possibility that the unthinkable could occur here too in a world where the average citizen has been effectively disenfranchised for far too long and may lash out with the wrecking ball at hand.

We face tomorrow hopeful but with the knowledge it could go either way. If the election goes the way I hope, in which a moderate, center-left lawyer, former senator and former Secretary of State wins the prize, I believe we should do the following:

First, take a moment to celebrate. This will be a victory. The apocalypse will have been thwarted. Instead of living in constant dread, we ought to have at least moment of high spirits before we get back to work. Yes, the monster is still there and Clinton will be ruthlessly opposed, but yet she will have power: the power of executive appointments, the power of the Presidential pulpit, the power to set the tone in the executive branch, the power in hundreds of subtle way to influence federal departments to head in directions that are pro-people. She will have the power to propose a budget and a legislative agenda. And if the worst happens and she can't get a Supreme Court nominee through, at least her presence will have blocked whatever the Republicans would have put forth.

Second, fight back against the rhetoric that government is fundamentally bad, fundamentally evil, inherently some hybrid of the "beast" in Revelation and Stalinist "socialism." Every time I go past the poster on the Young Republican bulletin board at a college where I teach, I feel a rise of anger at the poster that reads "Taxation is Theft," (a "gotcha" variation on the old socialist slogan "property is theft") not simply because I disagree (I do disagree, but can tolerate disagreement) but because it seems to me an unchallenged lie: in fact, not paying taxes is theft of the worst sort, theft from your country. We need to fight back against the notion that "government is the problem." In fact, to sober minds, sound government is a good and a gift.

In that vein, I like a wording, that could become a slogan, that I have been hearing more: whenever basic government spending is attacked, such as on education, roads, libraries, health care, as "socialism," people are saying: "It's civilization, not socialism."

Government spending long predates socialism.
"Government spending is civilization not socialism."
It is what civilized nations do.

After celebrating an election (I hope) and standing up for government as civilization, the third step will be keeping our eyes open.

First, we know the crazed elements in this country will not stop their ruthless, relentless campaign to undermine all progress. Moreover, we know that probably about 40% of voters will vote for Trump. He may go away, but, sadly, we have to expect another demagogue to follow.  The election has laid bare to what extent Trump is nothing new: he is a type well-known to Europeans, well understood by great writers. There's a surfeit of parallels, a huge body of literature to describe a person like him. We have been fortunate so far in this country not to have let his likes grab ultimate power, but his type is out there. The next one is likely to learn from Trump's mistakes and successes and thus be even more dangerous.

Second, as I think about the parallels between Clinton and Jane Austen's Fanny Price, while we sympathize with their sufferings, their intelligence, the way they both succeed because of what they learn from the unfairness and cruelty with which they have been treated in their privileged spheres, we don't, in either case, know the end of the story. Will Fanny and Clinton, even with hearts in the right place,  ameliorate and challenge the worst effects of the system or reinforce the system? That's the open question: we will need to keep the pressure on Clinton so that she stays true, as far as she can, to her progressive promises.

Perhaps in two days we will wake up and this blog will be so much dust in the wind. In the meantime, I remain optimistic.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Denial: Facts are ethical

Roger and I recently saw Denial, the story of holocaust denier David Irving's libel lawsuit against scholar Deborah E. Lipstadt. The movie is worth noting for its ethical core.

Rachel Weisz plays Deborah Lipstadt

Admittedly, there's much to annoy about this movie. Lipstadt's role is not well-scripted, so she comes across as an emotional child-woman (an image reinforced by what was apparently meant to be a 1990s-style permed bob cut but looks more like the wayward curls of a Shirley Temple). As a child-woman and an overly-emotional American, she has to be reined in and schooled by the wiser and more reasoned British (mostly) men on her legal team. The brilliant and morally perfect, as well as avuncular English barrister, Richard Rampton, played by Tom Wilkinson, particularly brings her to gentle heel. While she is not ritually humiliated, for which I give the movie credit, the contrition of her apology once she sees the folly of her ways has an unsettling note of abjection.  

Wilkinson as Rampton gathers the facts at Auschwitz while Lipstadt emotes. Yes the gender stereotypes grate.

In a better movie, we would feel Deborah's outrage and pain at her legal team's strategy. If the movie had been more successful, we as an audience would initially feel she should be able to say her piece in court rather than be muzzled. We would feel that she should, as she would like to do but is forbidden, be able to bring forward Holocaust survivors to prove that Irving is wrong.

In a better movie, the legal team's visit to Auschwitz would pack the emotional punch the filmmakers clearly intended and reinforce our sense that Lipstadt is justified in her righteous anger. Yet it falls flat. That's too bad, because having visited a concentration camp myself (Sachenhausen) I know what a deeply sobering impact such a place can have.

What does work is the film's moral core. There's never any question that Lipstadt is right and Irving wrong, that the Holocaust happened and that denying it is the worst kind of canard. The film makes a convincing, one might even say passionate, ethical case for the use of reason and strategy: winning over evil is far more important than expressing our righteous anger, blasting the truth out or indulging our outrage that a pernicious lie is being treated seriously in a court of law. What matters is winning, not for winning's sake or ego gratification, but so that the lie is smashed, such that that next time it rears up it becomes all the more difficult to tell the lie with any credibility.

The movie shows that to win--to crush the lie of David Irving--it's important to marshall facts, to do hard work and careful research, to keep our emotions, no matter how justified, in check and under control. It is heartening to see in England, at least in this case, a legal system that works, where truth wins and competence matters--and the film shows how important that is. 

Timothy Spall as David Irving. He's shot as a flaccid creep.

The focus on fact seems important to emphasize because we live in a world awash in emotionalism, so much so that one of our Presidential candidates seems to have no control over his twitching, twittering fingers,  a world where personality and "identity" shout down sober reality. As Christoper Hedges put in Truthdig ("American Irrationalism," Nov. 1, 2016):

"Political, intellectual and cultural discourse has been replaced with spectacle. Emotionalism and sensationalism are prized over truth." 

Agreed. While the alt-right or the Neo-Nazis might hope to reduce the holocaust's truth to whatever side can act more aggrieved, be more snide or derisive, or shout louder, to win because their "narrative"  gains "traction" in cyberspace, in fact, the movie says,  documenting the truth is how we defeat evil.

That may be an old-fashioned worldview, but it also the foundation of scholarship--that the careful compilation of verifiable facts matters--and truth is the foundation of democracy. It's also the foundation of the good life: we cannot prosper if we rush into wars or economic policies that are based on blatant fantasies.

The movie also does a good job of exposing Irving for the mocking racist, misogynist and anti-Semite he is. I was startled at his similarities to Trump in what were restagings of speeches he gave. He was also remarkably like Trump in his inability to live in reality: he immediately "spun" his resounding defeat in court as a victory. Well, why not, if facts don't count?

While I value emotion, I long for a society in which its importance is subordinated to truth.  Denial, though a flawed film, provides a decent template for how we can achieve that.