Wednesday, December 7, 2016

They Want to Hurt Their Fellow Americans: There can be no "Dialogue" With Donald Trump's Supporters

One of my best friends teaches English at a community college located in one of the Rust Belt-like towns along the Connecticut River, where good-paying industrial jobs long ago vanished overseas. Her students are working class and poor strivers. Many are immigrants. These several dozen students are white, black and brown. Most of them are the first in their families to receive any amount of post-high school education.

She and I spoke on one of the days following Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton. What she told me was almost unbelievable — except in this moment when it is all too true.

My friend explained that most of her students were uninterested in politics until they realized what Donald Trump and his policies would do to people like them. Now they are terrified and scared. But there is one student in her class who was happy. He is white and working class. My friend told me how he sits in the corner of the room with apparent contempt on his face whenever the class discusses racism or sexism. During one of the days after Trump’s election he demanded to talk in class about the outcome. But the class was doing something else and my friend asked him to be quiet. This angered him.

He stood up, taking off his belt and then putting it on her desk. Smiling, with a mix of threat and joy, he announced that “We won!” His point was made: This is “his” country — and by extension (at least in his mind) his classroom — now and again. For this angry young white man, America’s natural order of things had been restored with the election of Donald Trump.

There have been many such instances in the days and weeks after Election Day. Unfortunately, a good number have escalated from mere words to serious threats and acts of physical violence. For example, an 8-year-old black child had his arm broken as he tried to defend his 4-year-old sister from white children who taunted and assaulted them.

Mosques have been sent letters saying, “There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump . . . He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims.”

Three white men are also now being investigated by police for the killing of a black man — an apparent post-Trump election hate crime in America’s most liberal city.

In total, in the days since Trump’s victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented at least 900 hate crimes against people of color, Muslims, gays, lesbians and others who are marked as the Other in America. Trump’s election is not coincidental to this foul behavior. It is causal.

This post-Trump election outbreak of hate is yet another reminder that the United States is a violent society. Political violence is neither foreign nor strange here; it is part of the nation’s cultural DNA. But even by those standards, this political moment somehow feels different and out of step with the America that elected Barack Obama twice as president and the decades of social and political progress that made his victories possible. Something is very much amiss.

For many white Americans, socialization through the schools and news media aided by the historical myth of American exceptionalism has consigned that history to the memory hole. First Nations people know that America is a country built on violence. African-Americans know that, too. The twin crimes against humanity — genocide and slavery — which lie at the heart of the nation’s founding belie any innocent notions about the country’s essentially benign character.

One would think that the descendants of the poor, white and working-class folks who were slaughtered in mining towns by Pinkerton goons and other agents of the robber barons in the 19th and 20th century America would remember that history, too. Alas, it seems that many of them have either forgotten this pain or had it washed away by the promise of whiteness and the American Dream. Or perhaps those white voters turned that pain in the wrong direction and in an act of political masochism backed Donald Trump.

* * *

Politics is often discussed using abstract and seemingly neutral language. Politics is about who gets what, how and why. In a democracy, “politics” and “public opinion” are often explained as being fundamentally about “matters of public concern” to which elites feel obligated to respond.

In all, politics in America is often made to feel and sound like something distant and sterile — matters for bureaucrats and political candidates to fight about. This is a veneer and a mask. The political is very much the personal, and the decisions of politicians impact our day-to-day lives and futures in a myriad of ways. But Trump did something relatively novel in recent American politics: He was able to take the naked anger and rage of members of his public and successfully direct it at their fellow Americans.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Conversation with Newsweek's Zack Schoden About All Things Andy Kaufman and Donald Trump

This week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show features two great guests.

Documentary filmmaker Steven Okazaki stops by to discuss his new documentary 'Mifune: The Last Samurai' and to also share what his documentary about drug addiction in America's rural and suburban communities can tell us about the election of the American Il Duce Donald Trump.
Zack Schoden is the second guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. He is a culture and politics writer for Newsweek Magazine.

In this week's episode of the podcast, Zach and Chauncey talk about the genius of Andy Kaufman, Donald Trump and political performance art, how best to fake one's own death, and "political correctness", and the business that is writing about culture and politics for a living.

During this week's podcast Chauncey explains why he was "thankful" on Thanksgiving for Donald Trump's victory, gives a soft start to the December fundraiser for the podcast and his other online work, and previews his conversation with Van Jones and the other great guests he has spoken to for the show this month. Chauncey also tells the truth about the stupid mouth breathers in places like Kentucky who hate Obama so much that they voted for Donald Trump and other Republicans who will take away their health insurance.

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show can be downloaded from Libysn and also listened to here.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on Itunes and at Stitcher.

The Chauncey DeVega Show can now be found on Spotify as well.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Emotions, Authoritarianism, and Fascism: An Essential and Must Read Essay on "Trumpism" and Today's Version of American Conservatism

Paul Rosenberg is one of the smartest and sharpest voices writing on American politics today. Rosenberg is also a friend of The Chauncey DeVega Show. Writing over at Salon he has a new fine and very necessary and incisive essay on the debates around psychological, morality, and conservatism--and how they help to explain the rise of the American Il Duce Donald Trump and his allure for his millions of human deplorables. If we are to defeat Donald Trump going forward we need to understand the forces and dynamics that gave rise to him: this is the true "swamp" that needs to be drained. 

Rosenberg begins:
The week before the 2016 presidential election, Francis Wilkinson wrote a piece for Bloomberg View headlined “The Moral Foundations of Trumpism.” The title was intentionally jarring. The moral foundations of a movement led by an accused sexual predator who has nourished and fed on racism, a proto-fascist, pathological liar, bullshitter and gaslighter? Or, as Wilkinson put it, a movement of “good, decent people supporting a moral delinquent who subverts many of their most basic values.” Believe it or not, that’s exactly where the idea of “Moral Foundations Theory,” or MFT, leads us.

MFT is a social psychology theory developed by Jonathan Haidt and others, popularized in Haidt’s 2012 bestseller, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” which purports to explain how everyone — liberal or conservative — is moral, just in different ways. As an explanation of liberal/conservative differences, the theory aims to shove aside decades of earlier research on a wide array of different distinguishing factors, which were first comprehensively brought together in the 2003 paper “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” by Jonathan Jost and his co-authors.

Two of those factors are particularly salient in regards to group prejudice, and were highlighted in John Dean’s 2006 bestseller, “Conservatives Without Conscience“: Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), which reflects ideological commitment to tradition, authority, and social convention; and social dominance orientation (SDO), reflecting commitment to group-based dominance and social inequality.
A key point:
“MFT seeks to obscure the darker sides of conservatism revealed in the work on both right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social-dominance orientation (SDO),” Sinn said. “MFT seeks to repackage RWA as simple in-group solidarity (denying the out-group antagonism) and completely denies SDO as the twin-driver of conservatism. Multiple studies show that the so-called binding foundations are simply RWA and that so-called ‘individualizing’ foundations replicate (the reverse of) SDO.” The only thing new MFT offers is “highlighting the special role of purity in conservatism,” he concluded.

Taking a step back, an even more basic problem comes into view: the fact that the dark side of conservative motivations — most vividly, SDO and the aforementioned “dark triad” — disqualifies them as moral values according to MFT itself. Haidt has defined morality as “any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible.” 
I asked Sinn about this. “Yes, I completely agree,” he responded. “It’s all a semantic game. MFT defines morality as those practices that regulate selfishness and then presumes [that] ideological differences reflect merely different moralities. SDO is an exploitative, power-based motivation not fitting the definition of morality, ergo it cannot be a driver of ideological differences. Sleight of hand. Nothing to see here.”
That sleight of hand may have worked with Obama in the White House, but it clearly doesn’t work in the face of Donald Trump. There is no getting around the fact that Trump’s powerful emotional draw on his conservative base is driven by appeals that unleash, justify and celebrate selfishness and even cruelty, topped off by his own very public “dark triad” behavior.
The closer:
At the very least, it can help us stop fooling ourselves. When it comes to moral foundations, Trump doesn’t have any that are worthy of the name. That needs to be made clear to anyone who yearns to side with him. There’s no hiding from that anymore behind a psychological or sociological just-so story. 
MFT argues that we must treat everyone’s moral conclusions as equally valid, but is based on a false claim of moral equivalency. Still, the striving for inclusion and equal treatment are fundamental to how liberals see the world. Conservatives may delight in warring against liberals, but liberals will always want to make peace. Neither basic orientation is about to change. What progressives and liberals can change is how we think about making peace. We can strive to respect and understand conservatives’ moral orientations and concerns without feeling any need to agree with their immoral conclusions. Once we’re clear on that, we can fight like hell for a just and lasting peace.
The corporate news media is normalizing Donald Trump. This is a parallel project to how too many social scientists have also been depicting conservatism and authoritarianism as mere points on a continuum of political values as opposed to something aberrant and dangerous. These researchers had too much faith in America's democratic institutions and values. They also refused to admit to themselves that normativity should and must often override their commitment to positivism. Stated differently: it is often insufficient to just describe a thing; we as truth tellers must make a moral demand and evaluation of it...and do so boldly and unapologetically.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On Mother Jones Magazine's Kevin Drum and His Piss Poor Understanding of 'White Supremacy' and the Color Line

Democrats, liberals and progressives are still conducting a postmortem, trying to determine just why Hillary Clinton was defeated by Donald Trump. To that end, they have come up with several recurring questions: Did she and the Democrats focus too much on “identity politics?” Can Democrats win over “white working-class voters” and still be responsive to the concerns of people of color? Did Clinton and the Democrats’ discussions of racism and sexism alienate white voters? Was there too much of a focus on racism and sexism as opposed to economic anxiety?

Writing for Mother Jones, (the usually reliable) Kevin Drum ventured into this conversation over the weekend and how it relates to Bernie Sanders’ comments about identity politics. Sparking controversy on social media and elsewhere, Drum wrote in his “Let’s Be Careful With the “White Supremacy” Label” that:
I was listening in on a listserv conversation the other day, and someone asked how and when it became fashionable to use the term “white supremacy” as a substitute for ordinary racism. Good question. I don’t know the answer, but my guess is that it started with Ta-Nehisi Coates, who began using it frequently a little while ago. Anyone have a better idea? 
For what it’s worth, this is a terrible fad. With the exception of actual neo-Nazis and a few others, there isn’t anyone in America who’s trying to promote the idea that whites are inherently superior to blacks or Latinos. Conversely, there are loads of Americans who display signs of overt racism — or unconscious bias or racial insensitivity or resentment over loss of status — in varying degrees.
He continued:
This isn’t just pedantic. It matters. It’s bad enough that liberals toss around charges of racism with more abandon than we should, but it’s far worse if we start calling every sign of racial animus — big or small, accidental or deliberate — white supremacy. I can hardly imagine a better way of proving to the non-liberal community that we’re all a bunch of out-of-touch nutbars who are going to label everyone and everything we don’t like as racist.
In total, “Let’s Be Careful With the ‘White Supremacy’ Label” is an example of piss poor analysis and argumentation. Drum’s errors are many and major.

White supremacy is a topic that demands serious care and attention. It is very difficult if not impossible in 500 or so words to distill down the hundreds if not thousands of books and articles that have been written on the topic. To attempt to do so, and thus write about white supremacy in a superficial manner, is at worst disingenuous and at best intellectually lazy.

Drum posed a question about the use of the term “white supremacy” — the answer to which is easily found with a minimum of effort. Of course, the application of the term “white supremacy” did not begin with Ta-Nehisi Coates. All Drum needed to do was to consider the readily available and much discussed work of freedom fighters such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass. White supremacy and the color line are not riddles. But to properly begin to grapple with them requires actual work and scholarship — not flippant, quasi-informed opinion.

There are, in fact, millions of white Americans who believe that African-Americans are less intelligent, genetically more similar to beasts and animals than fully developed human beings and are more prone to violence and other anti-social behaviors than are other groups of people. This has been complemented by Michael Tesler’s work that convincingly shows how “old-fashioned” racism is resurgent in America and now has a direct impact on white voters’ political party affiliation.

Other research has also demonstrated that on a subconscious level that many whites associate images of black people with those of apes and other primates. This is a function of how white supremacy dehumanizes black people — a lesson deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

White supremacy is in no way a “fad”. To the contrary, as historians and philosophers such as David Goldberg, Charles Mills, Nell Irvin Painter, Barbara Ramsby and many others have shown, white supremacy is one of the most powerful social, political, economic forces in modern history. I detailed this several years ago in a piece for Alternet:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Did You Know That 'White Supremacy' is a 'Fad?' Sharing Some Post-Thanksgiving Week Reading


The Golata-Bowe riot seems apropos for this political moment in America.

I hope that your Thanksgiving was restful and that there were no injuries caused by disagreements about politics or turkeys put into the fryer while still frozen.

To start the week, I would like to share some links and other material of interest that help to make sense (or not) the long twilight that is the Age of Trump. It has only been about three weeks but feels like an eternity.

Henry Girioux has been some amazing things. His most recent interview can be listened to here.

War on the Rocks had a great piece on cyber warfare, propaganda, and Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Toni Morrison laid out the raw truth about Trump's win, white supremacy, racism, and violence in her recent piece at The New Yorker.

Was it racism? Economic anxiety? Or something else that enabled Trump to steal the White House. The Atlantic says it was largely about educational level.

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum says that "white supremacy" is a "fad". I don't think you should take his essay seriously, but it is worthwhile for what it signal about "identity politics" and the Democratic Party going forward. And if you missed it, The New York Times' much discussed piece on the perils of "identity politics" can be read here. Laili Lalami also has a must read on the identity politics of whiteness that appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

What have you been reading, listening to, or watching?

And yes, I did buy my ticket for Star Wars: Rogue One. Have you?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why I am "Thankful" for Donald Trump on this Thanksgiving

It’s been said before but it must be said again — that 2016 has been a horrible year. The war in Syria rages on. Haiti’s long state of misery and suffering from causes both natural and man-made continues. Brexit confirmed the power of a dangerous right-wing movement sweeping Europe and beyond.
Scientists have (again) sounded a cataclysmic warning about the dangers of global warming. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali and Leonard Cohen. And 2016 gave us the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. Could it get any worse? I shudder at the thought.
In the United States, Thanksgiving is a national holiday where, between acts of unrestrained gluttony and football viewing, Americans are supposed to reflect on what they are thankful for in this life. Although this is merely a show for most people, it still has the potential to encourage some small acts of critical self-reflection. In that spirit, I will publicly share mine.
I am thankful for the love of my family and friends. I am thankful for my health. I am also very thankful for the many people whom I have been fortunate to speak with and learn from because of my writing and other work.
And yes, I am “thankful” for Donald Trump.
Let me explain.
I believe that the election of Donald Trump represents an existential threat to American democracy. By his actions, words and deeds Trump has shown that he is a racist, a bigot, a misogynist, a nativist and a fascist. His presidential administration will bring great harm to many millions of my fellow Americans — and likely many more millions of people around the world. In all, I find him to be contemptible and a national embarrassment. The voters who elected him share many of those traits.
But out of crisis there can be born opportunities.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Conversation with Author Joe Lansdale and International Affairs Expert William Astore

This week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show features two great guests.

Author, writer extraordinaire, and friend of the podcast "Champion" Joe Lansdale stops by to share his thoughts on Donald Trump's winning the White House, if Trump's voters are stupid, ignorant, racist or all three, and updates us on Season Two of Hap and Leonard on SundanceTV.

William Astore is the second guest on this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. He is a history professor and retired Air Force Lt. Colonel. Astore is also a contributor to TomDispatch, The Nation, Truthout, and The Huffington Post where he writes about military affairs and international relations. 

In this week's episode of the podcast William and Chauncey talk about Donald Trump's "foreign policy", our shared love of Star Wars and science fiction, what it was like to be stationed at Cheyenne Mountain during the Cold War, and what real national security would look like in the United States.

During this week's podcast Chauncey comes out of his media detox post-Trump period of reflection and mourning, reads a letter from someone who will be personally impacted by Trump's meanness and fascism, makes a public promise, and shares some wisdom from the political theorist and philosopher Sheldon Wolin. Chauncey also discovers a new favorite animal friend--the echidna.

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show can be downloaded from Libysn and also listened to here.

The Chauncey DeVega Show
is available on Itunes and at Stitcher.

The Chauncey DeVega Show can now be found on Spotify as well.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Orwell's "Newspeak" and the Normalization of Donald Trump and White Supremacy


The poet Maya Angelou wisely observed, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

In keeping with his fascist and authoritarian beliefs, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump threatened to sue members of the news media he did not like, offered conspiracy theories that “the media” were somehow unfairly maligning his campaign, called reporters “scum” and “disgraceful” and made reporters the objects of mockery and violence at his rallies. Trump’s white nationalist supporters and other deplorables responded in kind, yelling the Nazi chant “Lügenpresse” and “Jew-S-A” in roaring approval during his campaign events.

President-elect Donald Trump is continuing his war on the free press with enemies lists, a proposed expansion of slander and libel laws and threats to ban critics in the news media access to his administration. This should not be a surprise. In the United States, the Fourth Estate is supposed to serve as a guardian for democracy, a type of watchdog that helps members of the public make informed decisions and sounds the alarm on unchecked power and threats to the Constitution and the values it embodies.

In this moment of crisis, the American corporate news media has been presented with a critical choice: It can normalize Trump’s radical and dangerous anti-democratic behavior or it can stand up against it.

Already, too many members the media seem to be doing the former.

Many decades ago, George Orwell foreshadowed the abuse of language and truth that we have seen this year.

Donald Trump was able to defeat Hillary Clinton because he combined white racism with narratives of “economic insecurity.” While the impact of “economic insecurity” on the election outcome is very much in dispute, Trump was transparent in his efforts to use white rage and bigotry as a way to win the White House. There were many moments when members of the mainstream corporate American news media could have recoiled in disgust at Trump’s antics and tried to hold him accountable, but instead they chose to wait for a great “pivot” in his behavior that never came.

The American corporate news media also helped to legitimize the white nationalists and white supremacists at the core of Trump’s base — and now his key advisers — by allowing them to rebrand themselves as the alt-right.

The media has been complicit in this new marketing technique.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

September 11th and "The War on Terror" Created the Environment that Made President Donald Trump Possible

In many ways, Donald Trump’s victory on Election Day is collateral damage from the “War on Terror.” The profound changes in America’s political culture and values in response to 9/11 created a crack that Trump, the entrepreneur and political opportunist, was able to open wide enough so as to slip into the White House.

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek described the “War on Terror” as a sea change in a 2006 before-and-after essay for The Guardian:

September 11 is the symbol of the end of this utopia, a return to real history. A new era is here with new walls everywhere, between Israel and Palestine, around the EU, on the US-Mexico and Spain-Morocco borders. It is an era with new forms of apartheid and legalised torture. As President Bush said after September 11, America is in a state of war.

Writing in the London Review of Books in March 2002, Zizek also observed:

The paradox is that the state of emergency was the normal state, while “normal” democratic freedom was the briefly enacted exception. . . . The problem is that America is, precisely, not in a state of war, at least not in the conventional sense of the term (for the large majority, daily life goes on, and war remains the exclusive business of state agencies). With the distinction between a state of war and a state of peace thus effectively blurred, we are entering a time in which a state of peace can at the same time be a state of emergency.

The “War on Terror” created a condition where policies and decisions once thought impossible in the United States would now be made routine and quotidian. This includes drone strikes from afar on “terrorists” (attacks in which 90 percent of those killed are innocent civilians), policies such as extraordinary rendition and state sponsored torture and, of course, massive surveillance programs that intrude on the privacy of all Americans.

Beyond public policy, the “War on Terror” negatively affected America’s political culture.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Election of Donald Trump (Finally) Killed the Myth of American Exceptionalism

When I was a child there were moments when I would cry proud tears of patriotism upon hearing the national anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. With age comes wisdom, and superficial displays of faux patriotism no longer hold any appeal to me.

I see them as a type of “safe space” for petit authoritarians. If I had a time machine and could speak to my younger self, I would tell him to save those tears for an American tragedy because the United States will elect Donald Trump, a proudly ignorant incompetent racist as president.

Like people, countries and societies tell lies about themselves. These falsehoods take the form of national mythologies, which help to shape how a country’s citizenry thinks about its past, present and future. In the United States, these national mythologies are centered around meritocracy, opportunity, individualism, equality, prosperity and the country’s role as a benign force for “good in the world.”

These national mythologies are demolished by even a modicum of critical thinking. The American middle class is not the richest or most prosperous in the world; it ranks 27th (Australia’s middle class is the wealthiest). The United States is not a meritocracy; inherited wealth and social status are much more likely to determine a person’s life outcomes than “hard work.”

Racism and sexism greatly limit the life opportunities afforded to nonwhites and women; a society where white (male) privilege reigns cannot by any reasonable standard be a true meritocracy. The United States is an empire. It maintains 800 military bases around the world. United States special operations forces are active in at least 134 foreign countries. This is part of a much bigger pattern: The United States has been involved in war or conflict for most of its history.

And what about American exceptionalism, the belief that United States is a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty?