It’s been a good long while since I’ve written anything (that I’ve posted here, at any rate).
I’d been meaning to get back to posting regularly, in various forms, for a while now. Chances are the next few pieces, of whatever type, will feature stuff I’ve been chewing on these last few months.
This one, however, might as well cover some ground since last I posted.
Without further ado – Trump
I freely admit, I misjudged the situation in America in the run-up to the election. I was caught flat-footed on this as much as I was by Brexit. As evidenced in some of my previous posts, I was hardly rooting for a Clinton victory, but it was what I expected and what I was preparing for.
It might sound rather precious for me, a Canadian living in Britain, to say I was ‘preparing’ for anything to do with an American election, or even to believe that I’m warranted an opinion. On the other hand, though the States might not be my country, it is still the major imperial power of the day and that causes me concern enough to write this.
It’s no secret that Trump has been Bad News for Americans, and Mexicans, and Canadians, and the World, in very tangible ways. The emboldening of toxic, right-wing elements within the electorate has lead directly to the deaths of many. The policy positions, those few he has been successful in enacting, have posed even greater threats. I’m still not convinced the man himself is an out-and-out fascist. A bigot, a misogynist, a criminal, certainly. But, with the sloughing off of the most extreme elements of his coterie (Richard Spencer, Steve Bannon, etc.) it seems clear that we are dealing with a more standard Right-winger we are lead to believe – which is, I should say, certainly bad enough.
The Democrats and their cheer-leaders have been offensively unapologetic regarding the -abject- failure of the Clinton campaign. HRC is now, of course, setting out on a book tour denying any fault at all of her own in the rise of Trump, doubling down on the hubris that played a large role in how deeply unpopular her candidacy was. There is no doubting that there is a gross tendency of misogyny in America, perhaps the worst example of it in the West, but this doesn’t, as many claim, explain in full the results of last November. The belated and poorly executed Democrat resistance to Trump, only now really getting up to speed, is just so pathetic, and is indicative of these deeper issues. I mean, I could go for nuance here, or link to detailed commentary on the Dem’s conduct over the last year, but this comic from the Nib more than gets the point across:
I don’t know that many, if any, Democratic officials have said it on record themselves, but the amount of rhetoric from the luvvies in Hollywood, talking heads of the liberal/centrist media, the hoi poloi of Facebook/Twitter, all declaiming Trump as a fascist and what all else is nigh on rendering the concept meaningless. Trump isn’t effective enough to be a fascist. If he were, he’d be a great deal more organised, a great deal more thorough in subverting the fabric of American democracy (such as it is) and a great deal more direct in his methods. Trump is a shambolic megalomaniac, who has ridden to power on the seething hatred and cynicism of various parts of the American electorate, and that is enough.
I’ve actually sat on this piece a half a month now, and the unfolding of this most spectacular of presidencies has forced me to change up my tack. Back then, I had just read a puff piece on Martin Amis which actually prompted me to write this – he’s recently released a collection of essays – and in the article Amis mentions his relationship with Christopher Hitchens. In particular, he talks about Hitchens’ propping up of American Imperialism in his last years, and this jogged the memory of those times. I was struck by the similarities in the run-up to the Iraq war, the lies that were told, the grandstanding, the lot of it, to our own times. I was, if only for a day or so, possessed of a belief that the world might actually be headed towards WWIII.
However, the news cycle has moved on – Trump has shown yet again how much of a travesty he is for his own people, using his trip to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico to actively insult the residents of that colony; Trump has decided he’s tired of a far-East nuclear stand-off, and is trying to shred what seemed like a done deal with Iran – why one front when you can fight two? There was coverage of various angles following Trump’s diatribe at the UN, and one in particular struck me – Trump’s rhetoric is bred out of the one thing he half-way understands, that of machismo business conduct. Most of what he says about NK is likely, in fact, aimed at China. Setting the initial point far higher than what he wants at the end of the day, Trump is seeking to bring China to the bargaining table. We might yet bumble into war in Southeast Asia, but I no longer think that that is the direct intent of Trump and his administration. Most tellingly, the American military has made no obvious preparations for a large-scale adventure, and they’re the ones who’ll have to do all the heavy lifting.
I had, before I believed as I now do, intended to close this piece by coming round, half-way, to an endorsement of the liberal tactics mentioned above – this effort to paint Trump as, somehow, even worse than he is. He isn’t a Nazi, but, if making him out to be is effective in removing him from power more quickly than is telling the truth, perhaps it’s an acceptable fudge. Truth and the blind pursuit of it, especially after the training in Philosophy, has been something of a hang-up for me. However, more and more, this academically-manufactured foible is giving way to recognition that the truth is instrumental, and, more-often-than-not, completely side-lined in ‘civil’ discourse. The zeitgeist is laser-focused on ‘fake news’ at the moment, but this has always been the case – human beings are limitedly rational, and the heuristics we’ve developed to get on in an informationally-incomplete life sideline considerations of 100% accuracy. The unswerving pursuance thereof is a fetish for the secure and self-satisfied.
But, as I said, that was before. I’m still loosening up my miserly, pedant’s grip on the Truth, one finger at a time, but this doesn’t strike me as one of those moments to let slip the knowing lie. The truth has great power – it is in large part why Corbyn has found such success – and the abuse of it will inevitably result in trouble down the line (the current, recognised hollowness of the Dems is a case in point). Obviously, if we’re staring down nuclear war, onus should be put on current concerns, possible futures be damned. But, this isn’t the current project. If we right-thinking people do want to be rid of Trump, we need to root out his cause, for he is, ultimately, just a symptom. We will not do this by lying about the thing. As much as Cheeto Benito is an hilarious moniker.
There. Done. Back. Apologies for the meandering nature of the above. Next will be more succinct.
Comment on the American Election
Does Hillary Clinton face enormous amounts of misogynistic abuse? Without doubt.
Is this a major issue? You betcha.
The rhetoric that has been lobbed at Clinton in this election cycle, and back in 2008 as well, by both the left and the right is reprehensible in the extreme and needs to be countered in every instance. It is damaging to women everywhere, working to preclude eligibility to the highest office in America, and by extension, one of the most powerful positions in the world, purely on the basis of gender. Attacking Clinton on this level has rippling effects that reach far beyond this single presidential race.
This is not to say, though, that Hillary Clinton merits the Presidency. Her attackers may couch their positions in sexist rhetoric, and their aims are betrayed by this, but attacked she deserves to be.
What are the crimes of Donald Trump? Unscrupulous business practices, likely tax evasion, the whipping up of racial animus the likes of which haven’t been seen in a generation. These things have palpable, real consequences – hundreds of lives worsened or ruined, scores of individuals suffering physical assaults, businesses that people looked to for their livelihoods ripped apart. Donald Trump, while not a fascist in the ways we have known before, is a reckless, dangerous cretin, and to allow him access to the powers associated with the Presidency would be a grave mistake. What we have seen of him thus far, his blundering unpredictability, should give us pause.
How does Hillary Clinton stack up in comparison? The prospect of a Trump presidency is one that is all the more frightening for its mystery – we don’t know what he’d be able to achieve, how much damage he would be able to inflict. On the other hand, we know exactly what will come of an HRC presidency. She’s held enough high offices, been close enough to the power structure of the US now, for decades, to allay any questions one might still have.
Hillary Clinton is a murderous, corrupt, racist neo-con, and a presidency with her at the helm will be a continuation of the current murderous, corrupt, racist regime we’ve had for decades.
The damage that Donald Trump has been able to inflict upon the world pales to insignificance when compared with that of Hillary Clinton. When Secretary of State in 2009, Clinton supported the vicious military coup that toppled the democratically elected government of Honduras, legitimating the violence and internationally-maligned illegal conduct of the actors. In the wake of this, violence against LGBTQ people has spiked, the economy has tanked, and organised crime has seized control of ever more of the country. Hillary Clinton has been hawkish for her entire political career – her opposition to regime change in Haiti in ’94 came not because she was averse to needless death but because the effort was ‘too disorganised.’ She voted for the war in Iraq in 2002, quibbling over her motivations only after the whole thing came apart at the seams. At the time, she vocalised her support for that most-American of policies, gunboat diplomacy: “I believe in coercive diplomacy.” Despite paying lip-service to not involving America in Pakistani engagements , the drone-strikes that have killed thousands of civilians since 2008, all reservations evapourated upon being confirmed Secretary of State. She was a proponent of the surge of troops in Afghanistan under Obama and was for regime change in Libya. In Syria, she has been a supporter of dumping ever-more weapons into the ring, supposedly to aid the ‘moderate’ militias, in truth untraceable once they touch ground. It is plausible that a Clinton Presidency will raise tensions with Russia to the point of disaster.
Racism, particularly against blacks, has been woven into the cloth of America from its start. That said, it was the policy choices of the Clinton administration in the 90’s that set the scene for the current rash of institutionalised violence playing out now – with 102 unarmed black people murdered by police in 2015, and, at last count, 36 this year. Adding those that were armed with anything deemed a ‘weapon’ causes both numbers to multiply steeply. The heightening of the racist war on drugs, the implementation of the fundamentally flawed 1994 crime bill, the scapegoating of urban ghettos and those forced to live in them as source of all of society’s ills – these actions have brought America to where it is today. And Hillary Clinton, with her talk of young, black “super-predators” vocally supported it the whole time. While it was Trump that took ‘the Birther Movement’ to it’s farcical extremes through Obama’s two terms, but it was her campaign in 2008 that sowed the seeds of distrust, questioning Obama’s status as an America. We saw the same tactic used this primary season, with the Democratic National Committee – which we know to have been in cahoots with Clinton’s team due to leaked emails – actively triangulating to undercut Bernie Sanders on grounds of his Jewishness and his atheism. Clinton has shown again and again that she is shameless in her use of racist rhetoric to achieve her aims.
Trump, with his “small loan of a million to get on his feet,” his multiple bankruptcies, his dozens of failed businesses, exemplifies what it means to be part of the moneyed elite. His conduct, the fact that he is not held to account, is symptomatic of the state of American capitalism in the 21st century. It is Hilary Clinton, though, who is complicit in the creation of this situation. Clinton has been the tool of Wall-Street for decades, participating in the repealing of the Glass-Steagal Act in 1999 that lead directly to the financial crisis and world-wide economic recession of 2008. She has opposed efforts to reinstate it and has said that she will not do so if elected president.
In what has quickly become the take-away soundbite from Monday’s Presidential Debate, Clinton reeled off a list of her undoubtedly impressive accomplishments when questioned by Trump on her stamina. It is true, she is possessed of a strong fortitude, especially when we recognise that she has risen to her position in a system stacked against her as a woman from the start. But as we can see from the sample above, it is just these accomplishments that preclude her from deserving the Presidency. Or would do, if it were not the case that, in this day and age, the division of the American people, the grovelling abetment of the moneyed, the callous interventions into other nations’ governments is exactly what the President is meant to do.
Hillary Clinton, scion to war-criminal Henry Kissinger, canny fixer for Wall Street, inveterate racist, would, in any other pairing, be without doubt the villain. It is a sorry state of affairs that she looks the lesser of two evils.
Another Country, James Baldwin
It’s a funny thing – Baldwin writes with the density, the patience, that I’d love to bring to bear myself. Despite a limited cast of characters, the world he creates is full, more than likely because he has captured some of the most important elements of our own – an honesty, if a situated one. He describes life richly for his characters, whatever gender, orientation or race they may be, heartening fare in these latter days of identity politics, by way of a slow build – artless in its execution, in the best sense of the term. There are some novels, some stories, that can leave you saddened upon their completion – the characters have become, in a way, friends, and the end of the story is a parting that, despite the best efforts of imagination, you know to be final. A melancholia descends, irrespective of how the story ended – for good or ill. For all Baldwin’s skill, despite the quality of the work, Another Country was not, for me, one of those stories.
As per his reputation, Another Country does an admirable job at exploring, interrogating, race relations in post-war America. Not only do we have a frank exposure of the well-meaning yet chronically blind white liberal, destined to foul their best-intentioned efforts, but, even-handedly, there are examples of ways in which, despite whatever legitimacy it may have had in the offing, old hatreds, generational hatreds, can reach up and blind living beings, choke out the present and prevent any growth or change. The interplay of White and Black, the power dynamics that surge and boil in the New York of the early 60’s – races crammed in together, classes defined by the thinnest of streets yet living worlds apart – this is on display in Another Country, with all its terrible starkness. The characters, though none wish for it, are dealt a hand that needs to be reckoned with before any real life can happen. The problem, of course, is that the reckoning may simply be beyond them.
Baldwin, himself a gay man, also looks at the way we deal with a sexuality that is given to us, much as race is, in a straight cut, pre-packaged form. Throughout the novel, many of the characters battle with, protest against, or come to terms with feelings that they have for one another, for friends, for those of the same gender more generally. The way that this is wrapped up in racial relations is key – do white men use black men the same way that they use black women? Is the sexuality of white people, as one character believes, invariably twisted, such that they should mythologise black bodies and push on them their fears and hatreds? What does it mean of a man, his masculinity, that he should go with another man – the active submission, is it an emasculation? Is there power in the submission?
The description of sexual acts, while direct, never descends to the torrid. More often than not, the reader is left pitying the actors, rather than feeling aroused. It should be noted that while we have a rich examination of what it means to be an American man – there are characters of other nationalities, existing mostly as an example of dissimilarity – the characterisations of women, be they white or black, was a bit thin. It’s not to say that they weren’t enfleshed, but rather that they find the pole star of their motivation in their male associations. Without having done an exhaustive search, I’m fairly certain the book fails the Bechdel Test (whether or not we want to take that as worthwhile methodology, it is still something). This may not even be by negligence – the novel is set in a world that predates the sexual revolution, let alone its souring. Very much, it describes a Man’s World. The character that wants to make it on her own realises she will need to use, and be used by, men to do so. The housewife realises that she has infantilised her husband all the years of their marriage, providing him with tastes and positions because he was so vacuous. In doing so, she destroyed the love she had for him. It may be a comment on just how deep-rooted the tyranny of Heterosexual Masculinity was (continues to be?) that the woman characters can’t be otherwise than the reflection of their male counter-parts, but I’d be more comfortable with broader strokes. As is, it’s left open to accusations of inconsideration.
The scope is somewhat limited in the professions the characters take – all are either artists – writers, actors, musicians – or their hangers-on, industry types, etc. Some successful, most struggling. There are descriptions of their associations with more generic, more mundane workers – whether historical relations, or the stuff of daily life – so it is not as if the wider milieu are left totally unrepresented. However, it should be noted that there are important restrictions in place because of the set under examination. That said, the slow unfolding of the story allows for the characters, in moments of dialogue or internal asides, monologues, the space to both present and ruminate on real, fundamental elements of what it means to be a person in the modern world. This is what I meant by the patience of the piece. There is time enough to get a sense of what the characters mean, what they feel, even if it is self-contradictory, or patently wrong, or needlessly prejudiced, or whatever. It provides a groundedness that lends credibility to the work, makes it come alive and say more about the world than a bare few hundred pages of ink ought to.
As I was saying some several hundred words ago, it was a clean break on finishing Another Country. I’ll continue to digest it, no doubt, over the coming days and weeks. What I won’t do, however, is pine for the continuation of the story. And this is likely because I know the continuation of the story. We live it, with our Ferguson’s and our Stonewall’s, our Bataclan’s and the daily, ever-present anxiety of personhood and meaning and position. I don’t want to know more about the characters of Another Country because I already know too much.
New hole in the watering can. Gonna have to patch that up. Tomatuh plants looking kinda scraggly. Blasted wind been shifting up the dirt something fierce these days. Gonna have ta rig up a shelter – think I ‘member seein a sheet a corrugated iron back up the road, few miles. Head out t’morruh, see if I can’t find ‘nother watering can, maybe a tarp fer some shade.
Huh. Sun’s up. Mighty fierce t’day. Seems like it’s getting hotter, day by day. Wonder what that’s all about. Must be my ‘magination. How could the Sun be gettin’ hotter than it already is? It’s already 100, 110 most days. Can’t get much hotter, can it?
No clouds in tha sky. Guess we’re not gettin’ any rain agin t’day. Been weeks since it last rained proper. Jus’ ‘tween you and me, and I knows you ain’t gonna tell no one else, seein’ as you ain’t the talkative type, I’m not so sure we’re gonna see much rain around here anymore. I heard, fellah passin’ along the road, ain’t rained over in Louisiana fer a good six month. Now when’s the las’ time you heard it not rainin’ in Louisiana? Swamps dryin’ up, he said. All sorts a nasty beasts climbin’ up outta that dryin’ muck, lookin’ fer water jus’ like us.
I don’t like it, no I don’t. Dust storms we had last summer, well, you was here, you know how bad they got. No rain, be as bad agin this year. Bad.