Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Listen to Killer Mike

Seriously, listen to the man. What I've been trying to say in way too many words, Killer Mike put succinctly:
“No matter who won, the day after tomorrow, this is our motherfucking country,” he continued. “Who gives a fuck who is president? And what we will build or keep this republic going on is truth, honesty, integrity, love and democracy.”
He also advised white liberals, who perhaps more than anyone are responsible for the disaffection that fueled Donnie's electoral win,
“Go outside of your white liberal, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant circle,” he said. “Go find other people and become a part of movements that you don’t lead. Go become a part of movements in which you have to learn from the people who have endured this ― since Reagan, since Nixon ― and you will start to see what they have had to do to thrive and survive. And you guys will learn and you guys will devise strategies together.”
Words of wisdom.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Not excusing Trump talk

By "not excusing Trump talk" I don't mean we mustn't excuse the casual hatred and bigotry that drips so easily from him. That's a given.

No, I'm responding to John McWhorter's opinion piece in the New York Times' Sunday Review.

McWhorter argues that there's a distinction between "talking" and "speaking". While other politicians speak, that is, they use formal language, Trump only knows how to talk — to put his thoughts into the more casual language we all use in ordinary conversation. It was only a matter of time before we increasingly informal Americans elected somebody who, like Trump, doesn't speak, but only talks. (George W. Bush similarly was a talker by nature rather than a speaker, but McWhorter notes that "Mr. Bush, however, always gave the impression of at least trying to 'speak' rather than 'talk'".)

The distinction between speaking and talking is all well and good. However, McWhorter continues:

... President Trump’s speaking style is throwing off the news media. All understand that his speech is structurally ungraceful. It may be harder to grasp that Mr. Trump, as someone just talking rather than artfully communicating ideas, has no sense of the tacit understanding that a politician’s utterances are more signals than statements, vehicles meant to convey larger messages.
This is not quite true. Politicians' utterances can and often do contain "dog whistle" subtexts that their fans are trained to hear, or at least assume they hear. However, we also hold politicians accountable for the very specific things they say, on the assumption that they wouldn't be saying it if they didn't mean it. This is considered by some to be nit-picking, but we do nit-pick, especially when it's somebody we don't like.

However, McWhorter really goes off the rails when he writes:

... the reporter and the pundit assume that Mr. Trump is “speaking” rather than talking. “What did Trump mean by that?” they say, scratching their heads. A Trump aide retorts, “The tweet speaks for itself.” That sounds trivial or deflective, until we understand that it makes perfect sense for someone who is just talking.
As a description of what's happening, this is true: most of us are puzzled not just by Trump's original tweets, but also by his staff's retorts that those tweets speak for themselves. Perhaps, too, it does make "perfect sense for someone who is just talking". But McWhorter is totally missing the point.

To explain that Trump is talking rather than speaking doesn't change the fact that we need to know what the hell he's saying.

It's one thing for me to talk casually among my friends. We share a lot of experiences and past conversations, and if they need me to explain myself they can just ask. Moreover, for the most part, if they don't understand me, it doesn't matter all that much. Nothing I do is going to loom all that large in their lives — or if it might, they'll pin me down until they understand exactly what I mean.

A public official isn't a close friend to most of the people to whom he or she will speak. A public official, speaking in his or her official capacity, has to be understood. That's part of the job.

I don't give a shit that Trump is more comfortable talking rather than speaking. If he's going to say something as President, it's his fucking responsibility to be clear. It's part of his fucking job.

McWhorter concludes:

Linguistically, I listen to the man who is now president as if he were roughly 12 years old. That way, he is always perfectly understandable.
That's a nice dismissal of the new president. It's a sentiment I understand. But it also lets him off the hook. He wanted the job and I'm damned well going to hold his feet to the fire. If he can't be bothered to speak rather than talk, let his feet scorch.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Be resolute

One of the smarter pundits around, Josh Marshall, put into words a sentiment that has been percolating, wordlessly, in my head for a month or two: "The Case for Not Being Crybabies".

Donnie is President. A majority of us didn't want that to happen, and we're frankly aghast at the appalling reality of it. But it's more than past time to get over it — not in sad resignation, but in calm determination to contain the damage.

Marshall's piece addresses his fellow journalists, who, as I've complained before, have done an embarrassingly bad job of handling Donnie by letting him handle them. He bluntly reminds them:

We know Trump's MO. He will bully people until they're cowed and humiliated and obedient. He'll threaten to kick the reporters out of the White House and then either cut a 'deal' or make some big to-do about 'allowing' the reporters to stay. These are all threats and mind games meant not so much to cow the press as make them think Trump is continually taking things away from them and that they need to make him stop.
But all the brouhaha about "access" profoundly misses what journalism is all about and what journalists are supposed to be doing.
That access isn't necessary to do their jobs. And bargaining over baubles of access which are of little consequence is not compatible with doing their job. Access can provide insight and understanding. But it's almost never where the good stuff comes from. Journalists unearth factual information and report it. If Trump wants to turn America into strong man state, journalists should cover that story rather than begging Trump not to be who he is.
Marshall speaks for me when he writes:
I've been surprised at the extent to which right-thinking people are all but threatening themselves with what Trump might do to, collapsing into their own sense of powerlessness.
For the press, the remedy is simple:
Trump wants to bully the press and profit off the presidency. He's told us this clearly in his own words. We need to accept the reality of both. The press should cover him on that basis, as a coward and a crook. The big corporate media organizations may not be able to use those words, I understand, but they should employ that prism. ... Trump is a punk and a bully. People who don't surrender up their dignity to him unhinge him.
That's smart advice not just for journalists, but the rest of us.

Don't surrender your dignity. Don't let Donnie goad you into forgetting who you are.

Keep your eye on what matters: "Ignore everything Donnie says. Pay attention solely to his deeds." And don't let him distract you. As I wrote more recently, "Work toward a better future in spite of him".

Most of all, be resolute. We are going to have a rough time of things on the political front for a long time. We already have a hostile administration and Congress; we are going to have a hostile Supreme Court majority as soon as Donnie and the Senate act. A lot of bad governmental actions and inaction are coming down the pike. We can (and should) decry these things and work to change them, but we have to keep our spirits and our strength up to do so. We know how to live with integrity and honor and decency. Don't let Donnie and the troubles these times will bring change our hearts. We are better than him and the worst impulses of his followers.

So are a lot of his followers, too: don't forget that. They are our neighbors. To change the country, we have to reach out to them. We must see their humanity, and help them to see ours. Then we have to learn how to talk to each other again. That is the great challenge of our time. We're never going to have functional electoral politics until we find common ground on which to call ourselves "Americans".

Be resolute in the face of trouble. We're going to get through this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Harvey apologizes

Steve Harvey made a joke recently that played on the stereotype that Asian men are sexually undesirable. I haven't mentioned it before because I've been laughing too hard. Or, well, no, I didn't mention it because it's merely the latest in a long line of dumbass "jokes" by a long line of clueless people who can't be bothered to wonder if they are clue-deprived.

Well, Harvey apologized. The text of the apology:

I offer the humblest apology for offending anyone, particularly those in the Asian community, last week. It was not my intention and the humor was not meant with any malice or disrespect whatsoever.
I give Harvey credit for not mealy-mouthing the apology with that bullshit "if anyone was offended" formula so many celebs use.

I wonder, though, why it took so f**king long for him to make it?

In a way, I find hope in the delay. Maybe he was resistant and somebody had to work long and hard to get through to him. A delay this long might mean he did some hard thinking and learned something.

I prefer to believe that, than to think he was forced by his PR flacks to stem the damage to his reputation. I'd like to think that his heart has changed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Trump trap

Teh Donald is a prick. He would probably beam if he heard me: it's a tacit admission that I know and at some level fear him. And yeah, I do fear him. How could I not fear an emotional toddler who will command the U.S. military and federal law enforcement?

Even so, I have a suggestion for pundits, journalists, policymakers and responsible citizens: don't personalize his presidency.

Disagree with and resist the policies that you find repugnant. Robustly criticize and resist the actions that defy reason and comity. But with just as much resolve, resist the urge to hurl ad hominem attacks (e.g., "Teh Donald is a prick"). These only harden his supporters' hearts against the rest of us, and we need to reach them. Worse, mixing it up with him distracts us from substantive issues, and he's a master at distracting the crowd. Stop falling for this trick!

When he goes after those who criticize his administration (and he will — look at how he has reacted to Rep. John Lewis and Alec Baldwin), look carefully for any substantive objections and respond to them, but as for his schoolyard taunting, simply assert, "Donald Trump's personal smears are not worth answering" and leave it at that.

Does it feel like he's getting away with something? Suck it up. Stay focused.

Teh Donald is a handy target if you want to lash out at the regressive trends we seem to be seeing in the country. If, however, you want to change those trends, you have to keep reminding yourself that he's not fundamentally the problem. The problem is that we do not understand each other in a way that will allow us to acknowledge our shared humanity when we disagree. Finding the center is crucial to our politics, but we're perilously close to not having a center any more. Hell, we don't have shared facts any more. Consensus requires coming to a shared understanding of how things are and we're not talking in a way that lets us hear each other.

This problem would exist even if Teh Donald didn't. However, he poses a unique obstacle to coming to grips with the problem because he's so good at sucking the oxygen out of the room. As a private citizen his hogging of the spotlight was a nuisance. As POTUS it could be disastrous for the country. We have serious problems to tackle: we can't waste our energies making him the focus of our attention.

I'm not under the illusion that we can depersonalize Teh Donald's presidency. However, we don't all have to fall into the Trump trap — not all the time, anyway. Stop throwing invective at him. Work toward a better future in spite of him.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Start resisting now

The headline is "Trump Promises a Revelation on Hacking".

Bullshit.

Trump lies the way the rest of us breathe. He might even believe this bullshit.

The rest of us mustn't.

So let the resistance to bullshit commence.