Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Comes Next

There is some disagreement about whether or not Mark Twain actually said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but often it rhymes." Be that as it may, Geoff Smith writes that these days, in the United States, you can hear the rhymes -- with the 1920's:

Americans in the era both celebrated and recoiled from the impact of cosmopolitan urban culture upon long-standing rural values. Nervous citizens also rued the corrosive effect upon tradition of what journalist Walter Lippmann termed the “acids of modernity” — the automobile, radio, “black” music and literature, and, of course, bootleg liquor — upon accepted social mores.

The U.S. certainly helped win the Great War against the Central Powers, but to judge from events in the following decade, the country was as anxious as it was excited about the novel developments. Despite flappers, bootleg gin, colourful gangsters, and a loosening of old rules, one is struck by the American postwar dynamic of “taking back” America from inferior races and minorities.

And, despite the roaring economy, all kinds of nasty things were coming up for air:

In its purging of socialists and other radicals, the Red Scare of 1919-20 sought to revitalize an older, Anglo-Saxon America, as did restrictive immigration laws in 1921 and 1924, which closed the gates to Asians and Southern and Eastern Europeans.

Race riots and a spike in lynchings in the South, meanwhile, warned blacks not to traverse Jim Crow. The Ku Klux Klan assumed national prominence, similarly disposed against anything new or strange. The Klan was a many-splintered thing — anti-Semitic in the Northeast, anti-black in the South, anti-Catholic in the Midwest, and anti-Asian on the West Coast.

Other developments, included the burgeoning of Fundamentalist Christianity and the famed “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tenn., which featured three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan defending the literal truth of Jonah and the Whale, bespoke fiery Fundamentalist defences of Protestant Christianity, the Calvinist faith of the Fathers against all forms of religious liberalism.

In Michigan, automobile mogul Henry Ford railed against “international Jewry,” which, he charged, had taken control of American banking and entertainment circles. Ford’s calumnies against Jews everywhere caught the eye of a hopeful German politician named Adolf Hitler. His subsequent testament of hate, Mein Kampf, lifted passages verbatim from Ford.

It all came crashing down in 1929. One wonders what comes next.

Image: tr20's.co.uk

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Jury Is Still Out

Today, as the sun is temporarily blotted out over the United States,  Barbara Will wonders if her country is in a permanent state of eclipse:

Pick up any newspaper and the evidence is clear: most Americans feel pessimistic about the nation’s future. Since 2009, polls consistently show that over 70% of Americans worry that the country is on the wrong track. A full 65% believe the country is now “in a state of decline.” More than 40% fear an imminent terrorist attack.

Worries over race relations are at a record high. Bookstore shelves are lined with titles like The Plot to Hack America; White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.

The Great Experiment managed to survive the carnage of most of the 20th century:

For a large part of the 20th century, America was on the rise, enjoying a sense of peace and growing prosperity denied the countries who had suffered through World War I and its terrible aftermath, World War II. Yet if empires rise, they also fall, often with what historian Alfred McCoy has referred to as “unholy speed.”  

But the last fifty years have seen remarkable missteps:

It would take our own series of violent misadventures – in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as places like Guantanamo Bay – for a similar post-war dark mood to settle on our side of the Atlantic like a heavy shadow.

Today's solar eclipse is only temporary.  The jury is still out on whether the American eclipse is temporary.

Image: Wikipedia

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Leaving All Of Us In Poverty

In this weekend's Globe and Mail, Amira Elghawaby asks, "Where has all our empathy gone?" That's a question a lot of us are asking after Charlottesville. Here in Canada, Elghawaby writes, we have no reason to look down our noses at out neighbours to the South:

The events in Charlottesville, Va., are only the most recent to explode on our screens – and while this is happening more apparently in the South, many agree that Canadians have nothing to be smug about.

For instance, why is it that until now our federal government has refused to provide adequate support to Indigenous children at the same level as other Canadian children and to cease what the Canadian Human Rights Commission ruled is discriminatory treatment? Why aren't Canadians writing en masse to the federal government, demanding positive action? Is it because many of us cannot imagine what it's like to live on reserves, with poor and inadequate housing and limited access to subpar education?
The tragic case of Soleiman Faqiri of Ontario is another example. Last December, the 30-year-old Canadian Muslim man was being held in solitary confinement at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., waiting for a bed in a mental-health facility. He never made it. A coroner's report released to his family last month did not determine a cause of death, yet provides a horrific snapshot of his final hours: After an initial confrontation, he was beaten by a large number of prison guards, suffering more than 50 injuries – to his forehead, face, torso and limbs, the result of blunt impact trauma. Why is there little public outcry about this case, or others like it? Is it because most Canadians have never experienced what the Faqiri family is now going through, still waiting for accountability, seven months after losing their loved one?

A recent study done at UC Berkeley suggests that being wealthy and well off crowds out empathy:

By measuring how those with more wealth, occupational prestige and education behaved while driving, they were able to conclude that those from more well-off backgrounds showed less empathy than others.

Luxury-car drivers were more likely than others to cut off other motorists, or speed past pedestrians, rather than give them the right of way. The researchers concluded that such attitudes were likely attributable to feelings of freedom and independence that negated the need to rely on others, or care about how others feel.
When governments and political parties are mostly concerned with wooing middle- and upper-class voters, it is small wonder that there is less focus on more niche social-justice issues, and more on issues perceived as directly affecting those broader segments of our society. When governments do buck the trend, segments of these privileged populations will often push back aggressively, attempting to drown out those less equipped to engage.

The search for the goose that laid the golden eggs leaves all of us in poverty.

Image: Mortgage Compliance Magazine

Saturday, August 19, 2017

His Answer

Steve Bannon resigned yesterday. Tony Schwartz believes Donald Trump will resign, too -- perhaps before the end of the year. Frank Bruni believes it doesn't matter. Trump is already gone:

Trump resigned the presidency already — if we regard the job as one of moral stewardship, if we assume that an iota of civic concern must joust with self-regard, if we expect a president’s interest in legislation to rise above vacuous theatrics, if we consider a certain baseline of diplomatic etiquette to be part of the equation.

By those measures, it’s arguable that Trump’s presidency never really began. By those measures, it’s indisputable that his presidency ended in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon, when he chose — yes, chose — to litigate rather than lead, to attend to his wounded pride instead of his wounded nation and to debate the supposed fine points of white supremacy.

Trump wanted a lot from his campaign. But one thing he didn't want was to be president:

Because of his victories in the Republican primary and then the general election, his campaign was hailed for its tactical genius. But it was driven by, and tailored to, his emotional cravings. All that time on Twitter wasn’t principally about a direct connection to voters. It was a way to stare at an odometer of approval and monitor, in real time, how broadly his sentiments were being liked and shared.

Applause. Greater brand exposure. A new layer of perks atop an existence already lavish with them. Utter saturation of Americans’ consciousness. These were his foremost goals. Governing wasn’t, and that was obvious in his haziness and dishonesty before Election Day and in his laziness and defiance after.

Like Robert Redford's character in The Candidate, to Trump's surprise, he won. And he was faced with the question: "What do we do now? In the last six months, he's given the world his answer.

Image: Brooklyn Magazine

Friday, August 18, 2017

He Cannot Be Coddled

After Charlottesville, Michael Harris writes, Donald Trump becomes the touchstone by which we judge our own politicians:

The Trump White House isn’t the only North American political institution that has lost touch with the real world. The Conservative Party of Canada must now confront a hard fact: Their current leader lacks the nerve to pull the party back to the centre of what might be called ‘responsible conservatism’. In the wake of Charlottesville, that matters. If Conservatives don’t wise up, they may become the pot-bellied pigs of Canadian politics: yesterday’s fad that just smells up the house now.

Andrew Scheer says he won’t grant interviews to The Rebel, the Breitbart News wannabe run by Ezra Levant, under its current editorial direction. That’s nice. So what was it about Rebel’s former, pre-Charlottesville editorial direction that made Scheer comfortable enough to appear on the website several times when he was running for the leadership?

The Rebel was then, and is now, a collection of chocolate-encrusted nutbars — the lunatic villa of the alt-right.

And it should be said also that Scheer didn’t have any problem with having his leadership campaign run by Hamish Marshall, who was on the board of directors of The Rebel and is now, we are told, severing ties with the organization. So Scheer’s attempt to pretend he has only a passing familiarity with Ezra’s work is nonsense.

Justin Trudeau will ultimately be judged by how he deals with Trump:

And for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a postscript: Prime minister, you can coast a long way on selfies in a content-averse universe. But occasions arise when more is required of a leader than imagery. Donald Trump had already given the world his wish-washy take on Charlottesville. We didn’t need one from you.

What we needed from you was the straight goods. That means outing the racists by name and calling out the president of the United States for enabling violent, racist acts. That might have made your next meeting with Trump a little uncomfortable. But it’s a little like being told an off-color joke: If you don’t confront the person who told it, you might as well as laugh and walk away, realizing you have been diminished.

Trump is a force to be dealt with. He cannot be ignored. And he cannot be coddled.

Image: CBC

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Laughter Will Be Universal

Donald Trump disbanded all of his business councils yesterday -- before every member of each council resigned. The message is pretty clear: Donald Trump, the businessman par excellence, is bad for business. Vichy Mochama writes:

The time will come for all brands to dissociate from this administration. Based on the pictures of young men marching, it won’t be too long before polo shirt companies will disavow white nationalism. Somewhere, a public relations agency for Poly by Ralph Lauren and/or Lacoste is in the middle of a heated debate about if and when to change the name of their tennis whites.

From candy conglomerates to e-commerce giants like Etsy and AirBnB, there has been a steady stream of brands taking a stand against the president. Or at least tweeting that they have.

Earlier this year, New Balance, the running shoe company had to clarify whether they were, as claimed by some, the official shoe of white supremacy. Now, New Balance was once the unofficial show of “these are the sneakers I can afford.” But they’ve moved up in the world. They’re now the semi-official (as decided by me) show of Wearing Heels At the Office But Not On The Way.

But like, the official shoe of white people? Nah. Racist footwear depends on what the racist is doing. Flip-flops aren’t inherently racist unless they’re being worn by a non-Indigenous person who is also wearing a headdress at a music festival. Then, yes, those are racist flip-flops.

Increasingly companies and brands are making the connection between the American administration and the racists who support it.

It's all coming down around Donald's ears. And the only thing he knows how to do is go to war -- with everybody. Soon the derisive laughter will be universal. 

Image: Mane 'n Tail

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hopeless -- And Dangerous

When John Kelly took over as Donald Trump's Chief of Staff, many hoped that he would impose much needed discipline on the president. Monday's reworking of Trump's initial statement on Charlottesville had Kelly's fingerprints all over it. But, yesterday, we witnessed yet again how long Mr. Trump can be disciplined. This morning's New York Times editorializes:

Gone was the measured tone that the president’s aides had talked him into on Monday, when he said “racism is evil” and appeared to distance himself from his earlier claims about shared responsibility for the violence. In its place was a high-decibel defense of his original position, to which he added the claim that while there were “bad people” and “very fine people” on both sides, the “very, very violent” protesters on the “alt-left” who came “charging in without a permit” were at least as culpable as the neo-Nazi protesters.
In so doing, Mr. Trump took up many of the talking points of the white nationalists and far-right activists who have been complaining that the news media and the political establishment do not pay enough attention to leftists who call themselves anti-fascists. He also sympathized with the demonstrators’ demand — the announced reason for their rally — that Robert E. Lee’s statue in a Charlottesville park be saved. “Is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” However deep their flaws, though, Washington and Jefferson are memorialized as heroes of American freedom, whereas Lee symbolizes violent division. It was hardly a surprise, then, that David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, tweeted to thank the president for his “honesty & courage” in denouncing “leftist terrorists.”

Some are still trying to put lipstick on this pig. But yesterday confirmed that exercise is hopeless. And that Donald Trump is a very dangerous man.

Image: Pinterest