Something wicked this way ->

Elizabeth Kolbert gets close to it in the New Yorker:

One way to understand the up-is-down logic of this election is as an expression of what might be called American sentimentalism. What moves the electorate is not true facts but true feelings.

Donald Trump is the kind of jerk who authentically, genuinely, unabashedly inhabits his own jerkiness…. His narcissism, petulance, and whatever other character flaw you care to choose aren’t under wraps; they’re on view for all to see and hear. In this sense, he truly is the real thing.

Clinton, meanwhile, is constantly role-playing. On the campaign trail, she displays an interest in people that, one can only assume, she doesn’t always feel. In her speeches, she invokes lofty ideals, when doubtless she’s often motivated by expedience.

A libido is trustworthy. It just is what it is. Same’s true of a rock. A person, that’s complex, a person has layers, makes choices, compromises, gets compromised. But for better or worse we need persons for president, not rocks or libidos, let alone libidos who claim the prerogatives of rocks – rolling, falling, being thrown, raining down – because we need choices made on our behalf by folks we’ve judged competent to make them.

Make it new, yes, it’s my poetics. But not in hate. If it’s hate, just stop.

I’m really scared. Don’t even know how scared to be – Nate Silver can’t, it turns out, tell me how certain to be about uncertainty. How little we know about anything, probability, uncertainty, other minds, values we thought we shared, really is coming home to me. But whatever happens next week, some kind of work of reconciliation has to begin.

Please vote? for a person who behaves as one? treats others as such?

And I seem in my assembly to mean something about magical thinking.

Elizabeth Kolbert, who tells us, career-long and with a cool head, of the maybe end of the world. Ice sheets, new inches of ocean. That we can think at all is magical – matter’s astonishment – and no guarantor of persistence.

Hillary Be Hillary

Okay. She’s got me. Was always going to vote for her, I’m not a Bernie die-hard, and the stakes are ginormous. But she’s won me over to semi-fandom.

I’ve always sensed and disliked a falsity in Clinton. Now I think it’s just, she’s not a natural orator, and has to work in the shadows of the last two Dem prezzies, who both are. She often seems to be mouthing the right words with a bit too much feeling, or a bit too little, or a little soon or a little late, or just off somehow.

When I get that sense from someone, I worry they’re putting something over on me. Also I’m a word person who treasures ease in language.

Never thought she was lying, or crooked, never gave a flying eff about the e-mails, but thought she was slippery, with less skill at it than Bill.

Now I think she’s a private person forced, for this part, to be public. Seeing Chelsea Clinton, who seems the same way, was illuminating. (Her laugh – nervous, compensatory, I felt for her.) So were the kitchen-table parts of the bio-pic, where she was so at ease. They humanized her for me just as they were meant to. Colour me, Morgan, manipulable.

And, as her speech went on, and she got into the policy deets and the digs at Trump, she seemed to lose her self-consciousness and get her truth on, which was fierce. I’d be just fine with that person leading me.

If that one’s not always on-line when at a podium, okay. A presidency’s not a podium, and authentic’s not a show.

Kinda hawkish for me, still. But even Obama turned out to be. And you can’t always get, according to the RNC soundtrack, what you want.

This one’s everywhere I’m sure by now –

A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

Her heart was in that. When she owns her truth, her ferocity, there’s no gainsaying it. When she second-guesses, there’s that falsity. (Why a woman of her time and nation might second-guess her own anger and instincts – a different post.)

And in that falsity she becomes a screen for our projections. Progressives who’ve hewn to Bernie read the falsity as (for example) a dismal capitulation to corporate interests. Republicans with an authoritarian bent (read this) see her as the rotten apple that rots the barrel. Those most keen to see the last glass ceiling smashed may read it as just the cost of entering, as a woman, this patriarchal political world.

Really maybe all it is, is discomfort being public, when you’re more private than that? I don’t know. I’m better being myself in front of a crowd of 75 than she is before a crowd of 30,000. Not much for a comparison. Maybe I should run for president? Not.

But I’m suggesting she’s become a screen for our projections – hopeful or ecstatic, indignant or hateful – just as Trump has.

But this difference. Trump feeds the projection, thrives on it, exists for and by it. Clinton abides it, waits for it to subside, so we can talk. (Obama’s way too.)

Thought experiments


Say Donald Drumpf wins the presidency. (He might.)

And say American democracy doesn’t survive the insult. (It might not.)

What comes next?


End to all climate accords? (Bad.)

End to the pax Americana? (Bad-good-bad.)

Mass deportations, end to free speech, guns on every corner, people of colour herded into, what’ll they call them, “protective enclaves”? (Bad-bad-bad-bad.)

Rise of Canada, under inevitable climate transformations and enlightened global leadership of an incipient Trudeau monarchy? (Good-bad-ish.)

A regional nuclear exchange, accidental or no? (Bad-bad-bad.)


Don’t like Clinton. Gotta be honest. Huge Obama fan, moderate Sanders fan, would have got on Biden’s wagon. Clinton grates me and I don’t give a flying fuck about the e-mails. (After those years of intrusion? I’d give as little of the truth as I could, for as long as I could, too.) Just don’t like chameleons.

But mostly, maybe 3/4, I like where she stands – now that she stands there – and the choice we got, seems to me, is between a bee-sting and apocalypse.

I watched his nomination speech. Didn’t want to, but I said to me, later this will be history having happened, you watch it. And it was, no exag, fascism.

Expect to find myself, notwithstanding a fat teaching load and renewed job search, pounding the pavement on Clinton’s behalf this fall.

Likeminded friends – please let’s make a Drumpf presidency not happen.

Our sickened discourse

This is what sickens our discourse. A small instance of it. I was asking me, how can I get excited about Clinton, since she’s the one now. And I thought, Warren for VP, a Clinton–Warren ticket, now that I could get excited about.

Next thought, Is the country ready for that, two women, oh boy I dunno.

Most of the world, it wouldn’t be no insuperable thing. Indira Ghandi. Golda Meir. Margaret Thatcher. Corazon Aquino. Benazir Bhutto. Dilma Rousseff. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. And those are just ones (in)famous enough to come quick to mind. (From one to two, okay, sure, but. No great leap in mind.)

Here in this backwater superpower though. Here, for a woman to have won through to major candidacy is huge. And I’m glad for it, lots, though I could wish for another individual than her. (I sense in there a good person. Don’t think she’s sold her soul but subdivided and mortgaged the parcels.)

So I wasn’t insulting women, folks, I was insulting America. If you want to get mad at me, that’s okay, but get mad for the right thing.

A senator made the mistake of asking the same completely reasonable question. Is the country “ready for” a two-woman ticket? And got shouted back into place for it. From Politico:

Sen. Jon Tester on Tuesday walked back controversial comments he made last week about voters possibly being unready for an all-female presidential ticket.

Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said he “wasn’t thinking” last week when asked if Elizabeth Warren would make a good running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve never had a position against her. She’d make a great running mate, absolutely,” he said today.

Conservative research group America Rising seized on Tester’s earlier comments in an email blast today questioning whether Democratic Senate candidate Maggie Hassan, current governor of New Hampshire, would denounce the “sexist statement.”

Tester said his response to a question from reporter Todd Zwillich last week about the possibility of a Clinton-Warren ticket — “Is the country ready for two women? I don’t know” — was “totally off the cuff.”

“Is the country ready for two women?” = “Is there still enough silent bias or kneejerk sexism lingering in the electorate to doom a two-woman ticket?”

The insult wasn’t to the women, or to women, but to the country.

When discourse gets choked off like this – when in a momentary lapse of self-monitoring a politician expresses directly a sincere thought and is slammed for it and made to walk it back – it’s got several pernicious effects.

One, politicians get that much better at slippy speech that says nothing.

Two, we get that much more disheartened by the emptiness of their discourse.

Three, a demagogue like Donald Drumpf gets that much more compelling. He’s renounced self-monitoring, brags he speaks off the cuff, is proud silly to offend.

We are so tired of monitored speech that we will, some of us, fly to any speech with spontaneity in it – it sounds a bit like the meaning we’re starved for.

With the cadences of a hypnotist and the patter of a carnival huckster to boot he “tells it like it is.” His monstrous eructations have a quality of life to them, an aliveness. It’s terrible. If we had a healthy political discourse, in which leaders could say what they think, Drumpf would pose no temptation.

The sort of smackdown Tester got helps make a Drumpf possible.

O my students. Campus discourse isn’t separate from this. Every act of silencing or censorship or imposition of correct thinking sends energy by secret karmic channels to a Drumpf rally somewhere in the country.

When did the Left become the superego and the Right the id?

How did that effing even happen?

The image atop is from a papyrus scroll containing Plato’s Phaedrus. A subtle freewheeling wideranging dialogue 2000+ years old that anticipates many – all? – of the questions we’re facing here about rhetoric, representation, misprision, the manipulation of affection.

Plus it’s got – I swear it’s true – a joke along the lines of, Is that a scroll in your toga, or are you just happy to see me?

Teaching a bit of it two weeks hence to my Editing and Publishing class.

Here endeth the interlude.

I write still working to process two unsettlements. One, an article in the New Yorker that leads with a petition in which students at my alma mater (Oberlin) accuse the college of perpetuating, under the cover of “equity, inclusion, and diversity,” the same old regime of “imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and … cissexist heteropatriarchy.” (Here’s the response from Oberlin’s president, Martin Krislov.)

Other, and prior, a similar document presented by the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation to the president of Western Washington University, where I teach, calling for, among other things, the creation of a College of Power and Liberation, and

the creation and implementation of a 15 persxn paid student committee, The Office for Social Transformation, to monitor, document, and archive all racist, anti- black, transphobic, cissexist, misogynistic, ablest, homophobic, islamophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitism, and otherwise oppressive behavior on campus.

If I read the document correctly, this body would be empowered to dismiss any and all faculty, on the basis of a “three-strike disciplinary system.” (Can’t find the full text of the response from Western’s president, Bruce Shepherd, but excerpts here.)

Links cuz the answer to what upsets you ain’t to silence it.

Belatedly he feels the bern

Walking home from the beer store it came to me. I’m voting for Sanders in the primary. I so did not see that coming.

Symbolic, I know Clinton1 is going to win, but still it matters somehow.

I really don’t much like her. Was going to hold my nose and vote for her just the same. She’s better rounded and worlds more pragmatic. She’ll get shit done, and most of said shit will be, at least domestically, more good than not, these fingers cross. What Sanders wants, I love and love him for, but he’s wildly unrealistic. Heaps of sympathetic economists concur. And he ain’t too very strong on facts beyond these murkin’ borders – and that, a little, turns internationalist me off.

What shifted it for me? Three thoughts fell, feather-light, to the floor.

He’s a better person than she is.2

His values align better with mine.

Most quadrennia, he’d be the weaker general election candidate, but this time round he’s stronger. And keeping Drumpf from power is the vital matter.

So, Bernie, you have me.

1. Am I fussy to be bothered by the sexism in her so often being called Hillary? It’s not like we need to distinguish her from Bill. Sanders’s advocates call him Bernie, yes, Drumpf’s fans skeptics and detractors call him The Donald, but Clinton is called Hillary rather more generally, by commentators assuming neutrality. Same phenom I see among students who call male authors by last name, female by first.

2. I know how problematic such a thing is to say. But it’s the form the thought came in and so I set it down in that form. I’m totally into authenticity. If I subscribed to Drumpfism, and never second-guessed my most base impulse, this footnote’d be fired.3

3. Some day in the future, when daring, a post on the liberation I think Drumpf seems to offer. Something to do with id energy uncensored by a super-ego. Something to do with a counter-swing from the sort of impulse-control of which President Obama – may blessings rain down upon him – is an acme.4

4. A complexity here. The counter-swing to Drumpf is a racist swing – from a scarily other president to a reassuring xenophobic anglo-puffball. And some of the anxiety around Obama is that he doesn’t plug into any familiar racialist narrative around American black men. He’s no animal. He don’t even talk black. He speaks Harvard. (Or Yale? I get those two confused. Went to Oberlin and worried more about the difference between tofu and tempeh.)

No wonder white trash find him condescending. That’s where you’re left when the back-and-forth of projection and introjection runs out of juice.

“White trash.” Well now that was asshole of me. I’m going to leave it, cuz I think Drumpf, his upwelling from the deeps of ‘Murka’s psyche, if it has value, it’s that he exposes the tribalism we’re all of us given to.

Myself too. “White trash” the surfacing of an ineradicable tribalism. I’m white and don’t want to be that white.

That’ll be the next post maybe – tribalism, rationalism. We all still do us-and-them, folks. We do it by skin colour, we do it by creed, we do it, here in Bellingham,  by bumper sticker. You might have time, before I get to it, to read Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, which lays out how Hume and Voltaire lead to Hitler, Hollywood, and our present bind.

“Return of the repressed.” What you repress returns, doublestrong.

That includes, repress the repressor. Trump’s our asshole, and that’s hardly even a metaphor. He’s America’s id, unrepressed but constipated.