Trump completes the circle

My conservative friends have abandoned all hope for me long ago, and with good cause. My liberal friends, at least those under the age of 40, may also have their doubts about me. The 2016 U.S. election gives me an opportunity to complete the circle, so let me take a few moments to drive my liberal brothers and sisters crazy.

First, my thoughts on Trump in brief. My hunch is that he will be a terrible president – ill-informed, reckless, and easy manipulated (despite the outward braggadocio) by people who actually understand politics and world affairs. But I understand why many, including some of my friends and family, voted for him (albeit a mistake in my view). They were sick of politicians, sick of political correctness, sick of the climate in which everyone must parse every word and self-censor before every comment. To them, Trump’s showy disregard for political correctness had its appeal. And the white working class people who had worked hard all their lives and were now struggling were perhaps tired of being told to shut up and appreciate how privileged they were. (To my liberal friends, I am not commenting on the truth value of “privilege” claims, but only on the perception by this segment of voters.) This predicament left them easily swayed to vote Republican and vote Trump (against their own economic interest).

Am I saying that liberals are to blame for Trump’s victory? No, conservatives who have created the alt-right through talk radio, Fox News, and other media arms of disinformation carry most of the blame. But I do say that liberals do not get out of the blame scot-free. At least some self-examination may be helpful. The tendency in the past few decades for liberals to build walls instead of bridges has perhaps contracted their sphere of influence outside of academia and left them all too often preaching to the choir. It was not always this way. In the 1960s and 70s, hippie liberals were out to bust it all wide open and eliminate restrictions on what to do, what to say, on living and loving arrangements. They were the rebels against cultural policing. Today’s liberals, on the other hand, have become the cultural police. I understand the good intent – to stamp out racism and xenophobia and toxic speech and ideas – but the practical result is counterproductive. Forever warning people that they can’t do or say or wear this because of their demographic identity, scarlet-lettering everyone who disagrees with you as racist or misogynist, shuts down communication. Sure, official members of the KKK needs to be scarlet-lettered. But in this case, branding 47.2% of the U.S. population, burning that many bridges, has no practical value. If you’re lumping in half the population with the KKK, you might revisit your metric because you’re giving way too much to the KKK.

I live in a conservative part of the country (when not in Germany). Although my inner-city neighborhood in New Orleans tracks liberal, the metro area in general tracks conservative. I have friends and family members who voted for Trump. They did not do so because they hate women or minorities or immigrants. When Trump made his comments about the border, they did not hear, “He hates all Mexicans and Muslims.” They heard, “He has no problem with legal immigrants or Mexicans in general; he wants to better control illegal immigration to serve those who are here (including legal immigrants). He believes that stable, successful Mexicans are less inclined to jump the border, so the ones who come, although some are good people, tend to include more of the criminal element … He has no problem with Muslims in general; he believes the world has an Islamic terrorism problem and we need to address it at our borders.” Etc.

You can argue until you’re blue in the face that what you heard was more accurate than what they heard, but that doesn’t really get us anywhere. That’s just wall-building, getting both sides to circle the wagons. Since my own ear tends to track liberal, I could conclude that they are racist xenophobes and effectively shut down all communication. I prefer to conclude that they are wrong on the policy and on some of the social assumptions, but that they are essentially good people. I prefer to keep communication channels open. I prefer to hear any crazy theories they want to put forward and to haggle them out over a beer. I prefer to build bridges. May they learn a little bit from me, and may I learn a little bit from them. We should be celebrating conflicting voices at the table. The only way forward is through dialectic, not monologue. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Especially now. There is too much at stake with the impending Trump presidency, which does not bode well in my opinion, for the 47.2% (Trump) and the 47.9% (Clinton) to each construct their own walled citadel.

Thus Trump may complete the circle for me. Conservatives wrote me off long ago and perhaps my liberal friends may do the same, pushing me off the existing spectrum and one step closer to my own post-political wonderland. Then again, maybe i’m not the only one heading that way.

Caveats

  1. Do not misread. This is NOT an argument against passionately opposing Trump and Republican policy proposals whenever you find them unacceptable.
  2. I know I might have to eat these words one day, but until then I’m sticking to the idea that we’re all on the spaceship Earth together, like it or not.
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A revolution with no enemies

A recent blogger reminded me of Jeffrey Shurtleff’s stage suggestion to the crowd at Woodstock that the hippie revolution was different from other revolutions “in that we have no enemies.” The blogger (altrrockchick) sees in this the reality-denying naivete of the hippie movement. I respectfully disagree with her well-written analysis.

Don’t get me wrong. At first glance, I see her point. The enemies of hippiedom were vocal and widespread in 1969. But let’s assume for a moment that Shurtleff recognized as well as we do that many people in the “war, money, and machines” Establishment opposed the draft-dodging, bell-bottomed waifs of Golden Gate Park. Then what could he have meant? He must have meant that this was not a revolution in which one side wins and one side loses, but rather a revolution in human sensibility, which brings everyone along with it. To the cynic, this might sound naïve, but the hippies did not spring from a vacuum and other revolutionary voices prominent in the latter 20th century sounded a similar note. Gandhi repeatedly said the same thing – that those who opposed him were not enemies to be destroyed but good people who needed to be brought round. Mandela thought similarly of even the most brutal racist guards on Robben Island and after decades of trying to “bring them ‘round,” several of those guards became allies and attended his first inauguration. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the same. This is what is meant by a revolutionary movement that “has no enemies.”

Also, it is very likely that Shurtleff has his finger on the pulse of the larger cycles of history. With climate change and resource depletion, the period in human history where economies are measured by growth (i.e., by how rapidly they can churn through natural resources) and where human achievement is measured by how much private property one can amass – this period will of necessity end soon, and it cannot end happily without some fundamental shift in human sensibility. I understand the cynics’ point of view, and understand that reason might be on their side, but it’s still nice – indeed, I’d even say “practical” – to have some idealists in the mix. When it comes to assessing the situation of the day, the cynic has the upper hand. When it comes to envisioning possible futures for ourselves, individually and collectively, and setting our course, I’ll cast my lot with the naïve idealists. We have imagination on our side.

“You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one …”

Gary

Kurt Cobain and John Lennon: Memoria

I like to see the Nirvana song, “Come As You Are,” consciously or unconsciously, as Kurt Cobain’s memoriam (or rather “memoria” since the ambivalence doubles all values) to John Lennon. Many references are left vague in the song, but some things we can say we know. We know that he is addressing someone whose fate seems to have entangled with his own. He feels intense ambivalence toward that someone – an old friend and enduring enemy, and inspiration and a curse. He wants to arrange a meeting with this person and is torn between intense desire (“hurry up”) and intense reluctance (“take your time”) for the meeting. He feels the need to assure the person that he doesn’t have a gun, which makes perfect sense since the last time Lennon faced an obsessive worshipper/enemy whose fate was entangled with his, we all know what happened. But he may be doing more than pleading for soul-to-soul contact with Lennon, and assuring Lennon that his intent is not to shoot him like the last guy did. Considering that Cobain shot himself in the head three years later, he may have already had occasional suicidal feelings, and may have been assuring Lennon that the meeting would not lead Cobain himself to break down and commit suicide. This would have satisfied several unconscious needs at once: (1) the need to scoff at Lennon’s arrogance, (2) the need to express the magnitude of awe Cobain felt for Lennon, (3) the need to sublimate his own suicidal impulses into a concrete relationship – in this case his emotional dissolution is tied to the crushing ambivalence he, as a man defined by his musical creativity, had toward John Lennon.

Regarding the “doused in mud, soaked in bleach” lyric, I know it came from a needle exchange program slogan, and has led some to conclude that heroin is the “friend and enemy” of which Cobain sings. Of course the song could work on multiple levels, but it makes just as much sense to say Cobain saw the slogan and it resonated with his feelings about Lennon – whom he’d love to see come to the meeting dirty, ragged, deflated, exposed as someone who shits and pisses like the rest of us, but whom he also idealizes into a bleached white angel.

But he always comes back to, and ends on, the ominous keynote, the assurance he has to keep giving with a kind of obsessive-compulsive repetition, to Lennon … and to himself: “I swear that I don’t have a gun, no I don’t have a gun, no I don’t have a gun, I don’t have a gun.”

YouTube: Come As You Are, Nirvana