It’s sort of a fuzzy concept but so far as I can tell it basically means “the state of being more tolerant of others than I am comfortable with.” This is why it’s so widespread, I think, because pretty much every single American has a sliding scale of tolerance on which their own views are just?right, while everything to the right of them is bigotry and everything to the left of them is political correctness. Some people might quibble at this but it does correspond with the phenomenon of, say, a federal judge sending a ton of racist emails and then insisting that he’s not racist. Of course not! There are bigger racists out there, after all. Ironically, this sort of dodge is even more plausible during the Trump era, where the increased prevalence of violent white supremacy provides an easy, “Now that’s what racism is!” to people who want one. And even now after everything, there are a lot more Bret Stephenses and Ross Douthats in the world than there are Richard Spencers. Lots more people wanting to play the “but is he actually racist” game still. This is what the game is.
There is a reasonable argument to be made that the modern internet is a bad actor in all this, that its nature is to stir up conflict for clicks that should sometimes stay un-stirred, that it prioritizes the quick and easy over the difficult and right. This is all true! And yet, there is a lot of racism out there in the country and pointing it out angers people (mainly white people) who want to believe that things are basically good. There’s not an easy answer for this. FWIW my personal belief is to listen to other people and to try your best. Humility is your best friend in this as in everything else. It’s not steered me wrong.
I feel like civility and norms are the new version of the critique of the second Bush Administration as lawless. Which it was! But it was also, you know, wrong in a lot of what it did. Immoral. No doubt such language made the focus groups edgy, but maybe they should have been edgy. Because Obama’s ultimate solution to Bush’s lawlessness was to…largely make the shit he did legal (or at least, tacitly so after it was institutionalized and this everybody was responsible for it). Needless to say, this didn’t do much to stop the bad stuff. Torture hasn’t officially come back yet but I submit to you that it has. Separating a child from his or her parents is torture, if anything is.
Obviously not everything is reducible to morality, and it’s sort of a blunt weapon to use in a debate. Not always what you want to go with. But sometimes a blunt weapon is exactly what’s called for.
This is from a few weeks ago but nothing lays bare the bankruptcy of the contemporary Army general staff than just listening to them:
“If we put more troops in [Afghanistan] and we fight forever, that’s not a good outcome either. I’m not sure what [is] the right answer. My best suggestion is to keep a limited number of forces there and just kind of muddle along and see what we can do,” [General McChrystal] said.
“But that means you’re gonna lose some people, and then it’s fair for Americans to ask, ‘why am I doing this? Why am I putting my sons and daughters in harm’s way?’ And the answer is, there’s a certain cost to doing things in the world, being engaged,” McChrystal said. “That’s not as satisfying. That’s not an applause line kind of answer, but that’s what I think, the only thing I could recommend.”
I never thought I’d read text that’s the equivalent of the shrug emoji, but I think we just found it!
I do so love how every year the generals implore us to look forward and not backward in terms of what they’re doing. Because if we did that, we wouldn’t listen to them at all, as continuing whatever we’re doing over there would seem obviously insane and doomed to failure after all that has come before. Don’t worry, this time we’ll finally create that powerful Afghan state that nobody else ever could! But as Tom Ricks’s The Generals teaches us, the Army general staff is widely seen even among junior officers as amoral and careerist. Hard to imagine why!
But do you think so-and-so is personally racist?
I submit to you that this question is not only always unanswerable, but also always irrelevant.
Blaming teh left for a bigger than expected loss just don’t make any sense because they didn’t do a damn thing to hurt her campaign. Did they field a primary challenger or support a third party bid against her? No. Hell, I donated some cash to her and wish she’d won. So she’s mad that she took some flak for her bland positioning and bad votes? Criticism and pressure are hardly reprehensible in politics, particularly because they could be used as evidence of her moderation, as this good Slate piece notes. And also, like, what are political groups for if not to persuade politicians to vote in their preferred way? One sees here a rather annoying sense of entitlement: moderate Dems like McCaskill apparently believe that liberal groups should never try to push them to the left, which pretty much justifies the darkest criticisms of lefty critics of how the party thinks about its activists. What are they supposed to do, go hang out at TGI Friday’s while the right sets all the terms of the debate?
At any rate, Claire really has nobody to blame but herself but I do have some empathy for her. She did everything she thought would bring a win and it didn’t work at all. The Slate piece notes how she played every single piece of the DLC/Blue Dog/Third Way playbook. Distancing herself from the national party? Check! Downplaying any divisive issue to the extent that it makes you seem like a total phony? Check! Emphasizing noncontroversial bipartisan moderate issues that focus group through the roof (but that probably aren’t salient enough to drive votes)? Double check! Also talk a lot about bipartisanship talk, like all the time. She did it all and lost badly, and in casting around for someone to blame she’s found a group to scapegoat that provably did not do her in. Did the left also tank Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly? I guess they just barely missed Manchin and Tester. Heitkamp and Donnelly flopped doing largely the same thing as McCaskill but the thing is that Evan Bayh also flopped two years earlier doing it. It’s not like she couldn’t have known that this model failed in a comparable state in spite of having a solid candidate. More solid than Claire, honestly, who has always been defined by her close ties to the national party as one of Obama’s greatest allies in the Senate and thus was not a good fit for triangulation as a strategy. But Clintonism can only be failed I suppose.
The one thing that the Slate article gets wrong is in speculating that she’s prepping for another run for office. Nah, man, she’s just putting together her reel to be the next president of No Labels. That’s all this is about.
Magical Realism. It had to be magical realism.
Just kidding. I don’t have any issue with magical realism. A lot of people do, and I get why. It’s a style that can’t not be at least a little sentimental and all too often descends into what I think anybody can recognize as “twee shit.” And we all hate that. Anyway,?Beloved most assuredly does not fall into that category, though there is the ending. Again, it’s not a problem for me. What?is a problem for me is a certain style of allegorical storytelling in which people basically stop acting like people so that the author can make some point. And this is also about the ending.
But we don’t have to talk about that yet.
Beloved is about former slaves trying to find a way forward after slavery. Your main characters are Sethe, her daughter Denver, her once and current suitor Paul Garner, and Beloved, their child last seen dead by Sethe’s hand rather than raise her in slavery. And then she shows up, right after Paul has, right when the three others have just started to rebuild their lives and find a way forward. Obviously this is the allegorical element, with Beloved representing the living baggage of slavery that the characters thought they’d left behind. At the point that she arrives, the book enters a sort of a holding pattern plot-wise (there are multiple harrowing flashbacks of what slavery consisted of for these people and how they got out, what they did afterward) until the last quarter of the book where Beloved starts leveraging Sethe’s guilt and pressures Sethe to buy her things. This was the part I found most interesting. Unfortunately it’s fairly short and then we get to that ending.
So Toni Morrison has a Nobel Prize. That’s true. And I’m just some random guy on the internet. But I just have to say that this book was not an easy one for me to get through. Morrison’s attempts to channel 19th century prose were generally convincing, and there were some sections that I will take with me for a good long time. The flashbacks in general were strong. But man was it harder than it should have been, even before the ending. The relationships between the characters were well-rendered and everything. It’s kind of hard to explain why I had to rent this like five times from the library, and it’s not that thick of a book. I think it might be the language, honestly. People used to talk about “Oprah Book Club Syndrome,” which in its essence meant a book about difficult, ugly things that was beautifully, even breathtakingly written. Both of those things are good! But together…unless you’re going for an ironic effect, writing about ugly topics maybe shouldn’t be flowery and lovely, it should be terse and brutal. That may have been the issue. I wasn’t having issues with the characters or the plot or anything like that.
At least until the ending, anyway, where Beloved has emotionally blackmailed Sethe to such a degree and gotten so much food to eat that she’s grown…pregnant?…and then vanishes. It’s not all that hard to pick apart the intent here, honestly. But again, when allegory usurps the recognizable humanity in a character I tend not to be on board. Just feels a little shortcut-y to me. Again, no Nobel Prize here. But compared to, say, Their Eyes Were Watching God, I’m not sure I really had my mind blown this time out. It is good to be reminded of just how brutal slavery truly was from time to time, I suppose.
What’s Next? Who knows? The holidays are upon us and I’ve gone through all the books I had in mind to read for the project, at least for the first round. I’m sure this will be back at some point. For now, enjoy your holidays.
I remember when Gerald Ford died a dozen years ago. I didn’t think that the media overdid it with the Ford grief. Everybody pretty much seemed to agree that he was a pretty good all-around guy and not the greatest president–he was a man of the old school at the point when things were rapidly changing and he struggled to keep up–but not a terrible one either. That damn Nixon pardon got relitigated though I don’t think anybody changed their minds about it. Still, even a sub-single term president is a consequential figure. Some remembrance is only reasonable.
Compare that with the recent George H. W. Bush spectacle. The media acted as though he were a beloved and revered figure and way overdid it, and the whole thing felt like another smarmy MSM encomium to the civility of old rich white guys (which Ross Douthat witlessly spelled out). The thing is, Ford was like Bush in many ways. Decidedly not wacko Republicans in their bones, one term or less in office with a failed re-election bid (or just plain election in Ford’s case), sort of bland, almost corny public personalities, relentlessly mocked on SNL, overshadowed by their more interesting spouses. But Ford was handled more or less appropriately while Bush was given hagiographies by just about everyone. How come?
The context, I think, matters enormously. In 2006, the–for lack of a better term–establishment was still quite powerful and Boomer-dominated: there was still nary a millennial in Congress and wouldn’t be for another three years. If you look at the presidential candidates in both parties in 2008, almost none of them is in any way out of the mainstream. Yeah, Tom Tancredo and Dennis Kucinich both ran that year, but it’s easy to forget the former given what a snore-inducing candidate he was (such was the state of white nationalism before the financial collapse) and the latter was barely making the effort that he had in 2004. I may have mentioned this before but I actually met Kucinich in 2008 when he spoke briefly in the town of Atascadero where I lived at the time. On the one hand, I thought it was pretty cool to meet an actual live politician. And yet, even at the time I thought: why the hell isn’t he in L.A.? And then he arrived and his wife was with him and I thought: oh, I see. A little tourism under the guise of campaigning. So yeah, not really trying there. But the point is that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards–the top three in 2008–all had virtually identical platforms. Given the winner-take-all nature of the contest and the strong incentive to differentiate oneself, this was a little peculiar, unless you figure that the establishment was incredibly strong that year. And it was much the same on the GOP side. Aside from Tancredo and Duncan Hunter Sr., all the Republicans sounded exactly the same too. I suppose Giuliani already sounded a little fascist before that became the norm, but that’s it. And outside of political parties, there was nary a threat in sight. The internet meant bloggers, who were mad fun of for wearing pajamas all day.
Now it’s 2018 and the notion that “the establishment” can winnow the field on either side is silly. The ruling class is unhappy and divided, increasingly it is questionable if they rule anything at all. With the Bush funeral, what seems different from Ford was that in the latter case they were burying a president. In the former case, they’re burying themselves. Quite soon the millennials will take control for good, much the way they did a quarter century ago from Bush. The very Baby Boomers who relished in their vanquishing of the old guard now are the soon to be vanquished old guard. The sad thing is that, whatever Bush himself did, his generation did accomplish many marvelous things. Some bad ones too. But the Boomers inherited a pretty good world. They’re not handing one over to us. So they can fuck their self pity. Climate change, Iraq, the financial collapse: this is the Boomer legacy. And it always will be.
Dick Durbin is my least unfavorite of the Democrats’ congressional leadership ideologically. I wouldn’t say favorite since Durbin was pretty instrumental in establishing a career-killing standard of political correctness for any substantive criticism of Israel. (To wit.) And Republicans have the majority in the Senate, to be sure, so it’s not as if Democrats can run over them. But this is revealing. Sure, you can beg Republicans to help save a democracy that they have shown little interest in saving. Or, you can, you know, try to make them afraid not to, on pain of becoming unelectable for a generation. But that would involve power politics and perhaps a dash of incivility instead of Sorkinian lecturing so naturally it’s unthinkable.
To read what these people put out there you’d think that the pre-Gingrich Congress was heaven on Earth or something. It wasn’t. I’ve read books. Did it work better than what we have now? Sure*. But the real problem with the handful of really old people running Democratic politics now is the sepia tone they perpetually take about how Congress used to be, and their manifest obsession with returning to it. Not old people per se, but old thinking. People, it’s not coming back! Start thinking about where you want it to go from here, and if you can’t do that, then retire. Say what you want about Nancy Pelosi (I can and have!), but at least she’s nostalgic for 2005 and not 1985. That’s not great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the Hoyer/Durbin/Schumer obsession with Tip’n’Ronnie stuff**. It’s political Dad Rock! (Grandpa rock?)
*But it was probably doomed anyway, given that Mitch McConnell was in our future.
**I can’t help but think that Pelosi’s seeming lack of nostalgia for those old Congresses (and the corresponding obsession with her old white counterparts with them) might have something to do with those Congresses being made up of like 500 white guys. Also, nobody is nostalgic for when white male Democrats and white male Republicans could come together to cut taxes for the rich and deregulate finance, except for reporters.
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