The First White President

A very powerful essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates. An excerpt:

"The American tragedy now being wrought is larger than most imagine and will not end with Trump. In recent times, whiteness as an overt political tactic has been restrained by a kind of cordiality that held that its overt invocation would scare off 'moderate' whites. This has proved to be only half true at best. Trump’s legacy will be exposing the patina of decency for what it is and revealing just how much a demagogue can get away with. It does not take much to imagine another politician, wiser in the ways of Washington and better schooled in the methodology of governance—and now liberated from the pretense of antiracist civility—doing a much more effective job than Trump… The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president—and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it."

A Time For Refusal

I can't quite get my mind around the reality of President-elect Trump, so I haven't yet written a post, but this NYTimes article on Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" sums up the "normalization" aspect nicely:

"Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else. This is not a process that began a week or month or year ago. It did not begin with drone assassinations, or with the war on Iraq. Evil has always been here. But now it has taken on a totalitarian tone."

Ripe for Tyranny

The current American election cycle is equal parts baffling, depressing, terrifying, and embarrassing. "What is wrong with the electorate?" and "Where are all the statesmen and women?" I've asked time and time again. This article from the NYTimes on Condorcet's Paradox and Arrow's Impossibility Theorem makes me feel better -- "maybe the Republican primary results say less about the desires of Republican voters than they do about the tensions inherent in groups of people deciding what to do" -- and this one from NYMag on "end democracy" makes me feel much, much worse. Sullivan says:

"To call this fascism doesn't do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. But his movement is clearly fascistic in its demonization of foreigners, its hyping of a threat by a domestic minority (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews), its focus on a single supreme leader of what can only be called a cult, and its deep belief in violence and coercion in a democracy that has heretofore relied on debate and persuasion. This is a Weimar aspect of our current moment."

And what's worse, it shouldn't be surprising to any of us. American "liberals" of various stripes have rallied around women's right, "black lives," gays, and the politically correct. We've seemingly forgotten about large swathes of the population, namely, the white working class:

"For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome... much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well... and so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the Tea Party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life."

Sullivan tells us that to protect democracy from its own destabilizing excesses, we need the elites to step up. I agree. He also reminds us that we had it coming: "An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: 'We Respectables' deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force." And it's terrifying.

Ambitious Women

From this article in the New Yorker on Hillary Clinton's ambition:

“'Professional women face a Catch-22: They must overcome negative stereotypes about women by 'acting like men,' yet when they do so they risk being penalized for violating gender prescriptions. In fact, self-promoting women are seen as more dominant and arrogant than self-promoting men, whose behavior is consistent with stereotypic expectations.' That double standard, they write, 'is a critical barrier to women’s equitable treatment because self-promotion is necessary for career advancement, yet only women risk penalties for it.'"

A President's Humanity

Last night, as we watched CNN coverage of the dismal New Hampshire primary and discussed some of the ill-advised policies of the leading candidates, a friend commented that he misses the Reagan years and another noted that even the Bush Gore election season was more civilized than this. There's so much fear-mongering and mud-slinging, and so little substantive debate and mutual respect. We're watching unprincipled clowns, not statesmen. After reading this David Brooks op-ed this morning, I had a think about the Obama presidency and Obama the man, and I agree with some of Brooks' main points, particularly that he "radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners, and elegance." Though I have not agreed with most of his policies over the past eight years, and have been exasperated by his foreign policy particularly, I certainly prefer him to Clinton, Sanders, Trump, and Cruz, and would be tempted to vote for him again given the current state of affairs.

". . .a sense of basic humanity. Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.

He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments."

Women's Rights in Afghanistan

Considering recent events in Afghanistan, including the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death and the gains made by ISIS, all of these questions are important for U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan going forward, and every presidential candidate should be able to answer them competently. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of question #3:  Do you think it is important for the US to help Afghan women protect the gains they have made over the past 14 years and prevent a return to Taliban-style oppression?

As the article points out, American discussions about Afghan policy generally focus on the security aspects of the situation rather than the humanitarian concerns. I think it's incredibly important - especially in a country like Afghanistan - to keep human rights considerations at the fore. The Taliban had established a brutal and repressive regime that particularly targeted Afghan women and girls—banning them from schools, requiring them to stay at home or to go outside the home only fully covered and accompanied by male relatives, and applying punishments ranging from throwing acid on girls’ faces to stoning women to death. Millions of Afghan girls are now in school thanks to the efforts of the US, its NATO and international partners, the international community, and the Afghan government. Women can walk about freely in many (but by no means all) parts of Afghanistan, engage in commerce, and live without fear of horrific punishments. Do you think that defending human rights and the rights of women is an appropriate objective of American foreign policy in Afghanistan?

I hope the next President of the United States answers this question affirmatively and with conviction.

The Candidate

At Continental Gate 26 I realized that Mitt must be going to Michigan too. I watched him approach with a little coterie of admirers trailing behind; the college guys who were conversing with the aide, and two middle-aged men who looked like computer programmers. The latter two were fawning all over him, pledging their support for the election while simultaneously holding out cameras at arms length, trying in vain to capture their heads with some part of his body.

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Big Tents

In a previous essay, I argued for liberaltarianism, that is, some kind of alliance between libertarians and American liberals, the Democrats.  Yesterday I read an article by a colleague, which explains in detail why he believes a third party will never capture the presidency in the American political system.

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