Archive for the ‘Ideology and Belief’ Category



So the Russkies discovered that Facebook was a fine venue through which to suggest to uninformed old cranks that Hillary Clinton is a spawn of Satan.

I still have a hard time accepting that anyone could have believed that bushwa about the child-slavery ring operating out of a pizza joint in New Jersey. But people did. And sent it on to their equally vindictive pals.

And Hillary is not our President.

God Americans are gullible. I hope these dopes are happy with the catastrophe their ignorance has wrought.

The photo of Sean Connery classes up the place, don’t you think?


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This morning someone on the TV machine said that Trump’s supporters don’t actually care what’s in the proposed health care bill; what they really want is to repeal Obamacare. IOW, Trump’s voters harbor such fierce resentment toward a black president and the people he tried to help that they are prepared to vote against their own best interests. This is why the so-called “Freedom Caucus” in the House of Representatives wants only to repeal the bill and won’t discuss any possible repairs that could be made to it.

I suggest that such sentiments are motivated by an identity politics that polite commentators call “ethnic nationalism.” The Urban Dictionary has a handy definition:  “The belief/pride in an ethnic group, based on cultural and genetic makeup. Ethnic nationalists often strive for autonomy of their specific ethnic group from another ruling nation.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with ethnic pride–I like St. Paddy’s day parades and the dancing and food at Greek festivals as much as the next person. It’s the autonomy stuff that bothers me, especially when that is combined with a notion of superiority. When these elements are present, as they are in the thinking of many Trump voters, I prefer to call ethnic nationalism what it actually is:  white supremacy.

To illustrate:  a couple of days ago Steve King (R-Iowa) suggested that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The frightening scenario painted by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale flashed through my mind when I heard this, and I suddenly realized that white supremacy explains why conservatives are so against abortion and contraception. Duh–sorry to be so slow in making this connection. Here I thought all along that they were were just protecting male dominance. Nope! They are also afraid that whites will soon be outnumbered by those “others”–you know, the non-white people who are mooching off Obamacare.

So, white women! Quit going to school and working all the time and start fucking! We have to keep up!

Does all of this sound drearily familiar? Well yeah. But it has taken on a newly ominous tone for me because I am reading Richard Evans’ monumental history of the Third Reich. In the first volume, which is about the rise of Nazism, Evans writes: “The fundamental problem for Nazi women . . . lay in the Party’s ineradicable male chauvinism, a conviction that women’s role was not to take part in politics but to stay at home and bear children” (2003, 213). But this stance was not motivated merely by “male chauvinism,” to use Evans’ quaint term. Hitler’s dream of lebensraum (living space) was to repopulate the lands east of Germany (Poland, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and even Russia) with “racially pure” folks after the Nazis had exterminated the Jews and other undesirables who lived there. So even the women who were attracted to Nazism were sent home to procreate because of the fear that still haunts insecure white men: they’re out to get us!

Today that same fear motivates white guys who stand on street corners showing off their abs while waving American, Confederate, and Nazi flags, and who cheer murderers like Dylan Roof. More ominously, white supremacy also motivates people to bomb Muslim houses of worship, overturn monuments in Jewish cemeteries, deface African-American churches, and attempt to bar a variety of  “undesirables” from emigrating to America.







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The online dictionary I just consulted says the plural is of “hiatus” is “hiatuses.” It offers this in a snippy tone, as if any decent English word should form its plural by the standard English-y means. As an admirer of Latin (and like Elizabeth Warren) I persist in thinking that this perfectly good Roman word suffers from Anglicizing. Hence I prefer “hiati.”

I need the plural to account for yet another prolonged absence from this blog. My excuse is Trump-stress.

During the hiatus I’ve been desultorily reading/rereading stuff about authoritarianism–Arendt on totalitarianism, Richard Evans’ history of the Third Reich, Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarian Personality.* This stuff is scary. For example, here is Evans on Germany in the early 1930s:  politicians “began to tap lower-middle-class feelings of being overtaken by big business, the small shopkeeper’s fear of the department store, the male clerk’s resentment of the growing presence in business of the female secretary, the bourgeois sense of disorientation when confronted by Expressionist and abstract art and many other unsettling effects of Germany’s headlong social, economic, and cultural modernization” (3). Even though the details differ, the outline seems familiar enough: members of a class that cannot always protect itself become resentful and lash out at those they perceive to be villains.

Fiction about authoritarianism is equally terrifying. I’m halfway through Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which imagines that Charles Lindbergh ran against FDR in 1940 and won the presidency using an “America First” platform. Roth did not make this up out of whole cloth: IRL Lindbergh actually was an admirer of Hitler and an anti-Semitic racist to boot. In order to sell the fiction (and to make a point) Roth depicts Lindbergh as a dashing figure: “the lean, tall, handsome hero, a lithe, athletic-looking man not yet forty years old arrived in his flying attire, having landed his own plane at the Philadelphia airport only minutes earlier” (15). This magnetism mesmerizes the crowds who flock to see, and later to elect, him President.

The Plot tempted me into ordering The Handmaid’s Tale (which I have not read in a long time) and Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. Atwood’s Tale is currently a best-seller at Amazon, along with Orwell’s 1984. Apparently I am not alone in my paranoia.

A couple of nights ago I watched “Denial,” a film about historian Deborah Lipstadt whose Denying the Holocaust I once taught to students of rhetoric. Her book condemned the work of holocaust deniers, chiefly that of David Irving. Irving famously sued Lipstadt for defamation and cleverly did so in Britain, where the burden of proof is on the defendant–that is, on Liptstadt, to prove that Irving was lying. The film is about the ensuing trial. “Riveting” may not be the most accurate way to describe this film for anyone who is not interested in argument; but for those who are, it demonstrates how easily history can be distorted to fit an agenda (which also goes, it may not need to be said, for “fake news.”) Tom Wilkinson, who plays Lipstadt’s lawyer, ends the film with an extended monologue, beautifully delivered, that is a searing condemnation liars like Irving and the cultural harm they do.

So that’s what I did on my winter hiatus.

*”Desultory” is one of my favorite words, in part because the emphasis falls on the first syllable, unlike most English words. That’s one (the only?) benefit of Trump-stress:  I have occasion to use the word “desultory.”



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Students dive to the ground as the Guard fires on faculty and stTwo am. Yes, I’m awake. Can’t sleep for fretting about the future of our country. This last two weeks feel like–smell like–the Nixon era. Having lived through that, I remember when armed troops opened fire on unarmed students. Twice. Several deaths resulted. At a President’s command.

Is that where we are headed once again? People often say that the genius of the Constitution is that there are three branches of government:  executive, judicial, and legislative. What is left out of this sunny equation is the fact that the executive–that is, the president–controls the military.

Given that the military, and even scarier, the cops, are trained to carry out orders without questioning them, I’m scared.

I’m also dismayed, to say the least, by a result from a recent PPP poll which indicates that while most Americans disagree with the President’s immigration ban, a whopping 51% of Trump supporters agree with his barely disguised attempt to deny entry to members of a single religion. Which support belies a shocking ignorance of the American Constitution, as well as a failure to realize that the Constitution is the only thing that protects them, as well, from a President who thinks he is a king.

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“-42% of Trump voters think he should be allowed to have a private email server to just 39% who think he shouldn’t be allowed to. Maybe cyber security wasn’t such a big issue in last year’s election after all.”

(Finding from a Public Policy Poll: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2017/01/americans-think-trump-will-be-worst-president-since-nixon.html#more).


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pyramid-b-kilbanNow we’re down the rabbit hole!  This morning the Hairball’s captive spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, disagreed with those who counted people attending his inauguration. She had the chutzpah to claim that the media relied upon “alternative facts” to make their count. To his credit, moderator Chuck Todd blew a gasket when he heard the phrase “alternative facts” (you can watch at MSNBC’s website).

Back in the day when I was still doing heavy scholarship, I often drew on the work of Jacques Derrida. Now Derrida was often accused by (conservative) literary critics of authorizing an “anything goes” attitude toward reality. The irony of this claim was that Derrida’s work was steeped in historical detail and fine-tuned historical analysis.Using history both as source and illustration, he argued that one’s reading of reality is–must be–influenced by one’s point of reference;  that is, judgements about reality are colored by one’s immersion in history, both a personal history and what can be known of larger histories at any given moment.

Derrida’s analysis, then, suggests that claims about “what is” always need to be adjudicated and/or adjusted. This is why there are histories of history. For example, we can trace the evolution of historians’ treatment of the Middle Ages, which has now moved away from characterizing this period as “Dark,” a reading adopted by Renaissance thinkers who wished to distinguish their era from that which preceded it. Or take the case of the history of American slavery, whose historians have slowly and quite recently come to appreciate the role played by black people in securing their own freedom.

Yes, I am describing a relativism. But it has both feet firmly planted in what can be known. Another way to think of this epistemological position is to compare such thinking to the claims made by science. Scientists base their work on careful and repeated study of the natural world. Still, given the limitations imposed on them by perception, the available equipment, or their operative assumptions–whatever–they long ago decided that their work would be more sound if they relied upon observations made by other qualified people in order to accept or reject it.

Hence scientific knowledge evolves, just as history does.This is pretty much what’s necessary given human limitations.

Such embedded relativism is VERY DIFFERENT from lying, which is what Conway was doing this morning. A person can lie out of ignorance–that is, because she does not have access to relevant information and interpretations. When honest people are asked to make judgements based on ignorance, they say something like “this is my best guess” so they can’t fairly be accused of lying. The only other way to lie is to knowingly misrepresent what happened. The point of doing this, of course, is to hide the truth. As far as I can see, there is no way around this conclusion (see how it’s done?) Anyone who suspects that lying has occurred has to look for a motive–why is is necessary to cover up, erase, give an alternate explanation, in this case?

The obvious answer (to me at least) is that for immediate political gain, Conway and her lying-ass cohort want to make the Hairball look more popular than Obama, more popular than he in fact is. On a larger historical level, however, they are doing the sort of dirty work that in the past has shored up authoritarianism and autocracy.

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In the midst of my depression I looked for sources of cheer. Might as well use the internets while we have them (which may not be long now). Here is one image that cheered me up in a snarky way:


PBS compares the crowd at Obama’s inauguration (on the left) to the folks who gathered today. BTW, if you are the liberal head of an enormously wealthy corporation or organization, please consider buying the Corporation for Public Broadcasting after the Hairball stops funding it.

And, looking forward to tomorrow, here are the duck statues in a Boston park, sporting their pussyhats:


Women who live in a geezer refuge just down the road from the one I live in have scheduled a march for tomorrow. They invited all of us to come and walk (with a cane if necessary) or ride (golf carts and wheelchairs welcome).

Will the Hairball be able to show his face in public tomorrow after women all over the nation demonstrate their contempt for him?  Of course he will. Missing the point is business as usual for him.

I’ll write more when my heart climbs back up out of my bowels.








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