Monday, September 18, 2017

They Ignored Too Much To Write Their Articles - Neither Coates Nor Packer Considered Enough To Defeat Trumpism and Republican-fascism In The Future

I haven't been following the dispute between Ta-Nehisi Coates and George Packer very closely, though I had read Coates essay about the predominance of white racism over blue-collar class in the election of Donald Trump and how a concentration on blue-collar white resentment downplays the role of racism in Trump's election.  Of course Ta-Nehisi Coates is right, that racism is the predominant feature of this past election as it has been in Republican politics for decades.  It is the tool which Republicans have used to sucker poor whites into voting for people who make law and policy that is worse for them than Democratic policy all along.  It has been one of the main tools of American aristocrats to divide those they use and exploit since the colonial period, the American equivalent of the British class system which exploits racial identity as a tool to divide and conquer in a more racially diverse population.  That tactic couldn't work if poor white people weren't all too willing, in large numbers, to get played to weaken them against the economic interests they have in common with poor black people so as to benefit the aristocrats who exploit that self-assumed weakness.

None of that would work if a large percent, a majority of poor white people weren't disabled by their racism and that wouldn't persist to be the case, today, if they weren't encouraged in that racism by the media, movies, TV*, the internet, which encourage that racism.  I think that's among the most important things about this.

I read both Coates and Packer's response to Coates and noticed several things, they agree on a lot more than they disagree and both of them seem to ignore that none of the groups in question are uniform.  A large minority of all of the white income groups that Coates correctly noted voted for Trump, voted against him.  Obviously those people who voted against Trump were not persuaded by his appeals to racism.  There were people who voted for Trump who had voted for Barack Obama, what is up with that would seem to be an important consideration. especially if how they were appealed to in voting FOR Barack Obama could be repeated in future elections.  The difference between those who will never vote for a Barack Obama and those who can be won over by someone is the difference between who holds power and who doesn't.

The temptation among English speaking intellectuals to turn a majority of a group in some survey into a monolithic characterization of the entire group, ignoring that the very numbers they depend on don't say that would seem to be irresistible.  None of it is as easy as that, none of it is as easily turned into aphoristic, universal statements that look strong on the page but which aren't much use in producing political success.   A thin margin of white voters who voted the other way, white women, for example, of those who had voted for Barack Obama once or even twice but who either stayed home or voted for Trump, that kind of thing can make all the difference in an election.  And that's what we are talking about, who gets elected and who doesn't and why.

And I'm also struck at how little Hillary Clinton,  Donald Trump's opponent in the election figures in this discussion, her gender, her having been the object of a quarter of a century of lies and attacks from every establishment institution from the New York Times down to FOX, Sinclaire and the bottom of the septic tank entities such as are funded by the Kochs and the Mercers, and, as important to how she was not elected, The Nation and other allegedly lefty media, the Greens and, yes, the Bernie Sanders campaign, none of which I think can be easily or honestly characterized as either racist nor subject the the same character of economic aggrievement that is the subject of Packer's original piece.

Those were not negligible factors in how Donald Trump won.

Neither are the Constitutional features such as the Electoral College put in place by 18th century slave owners to enhance the power of racists in their time and which have not ever been removed even as their empowerment of racism and the economic elite worked just as was intended.   That those are deemed to be inviolate as they have worked to undermine and overturn progress against racism and inequality, certainly in every election in which the Electoral College was decisive putting Rutherford Hayes,  George W. Bush and now Donald Trump in the presidency** is a serious problem which is ever deferred to an ever fading later.

I don't find anything in general to disagree with in either Coates or Packer, though both of them have the same bad habits that lead them to over generalize.  I do think that Coates' point about the overwhelming role racism played as a tool of Trumpery, especially in so far as it was and has been the major tool of the wealthy to sucker poor whites into voting against their interest is likely the key to a larger understanding of how Trump got the presidency.  But I think that understanding is of secondary importance in how to change that and in doing that noting how Hillary Clinton was not able to do what Barack Obama did twice is of greater practical importance.  Did sexism play an even greater role in putting Trump in office?  I have no idea.  Would a woman who had not been subjected to a quarter of a century of character assassination by the New York Times and mainstream media have made this discussion never happen?  I don't think either Coates or Packer have included enough information in their articles to come to a useful understanding of these issues.  Maybe that can't be done but it should certainly be tried.

*  I read that last night's Emmy awards demonstrated that TV is far more "effortlessly diverse" than the Oscars repeatedly show that the movie industry is not.  I haven't thought much about that since I don't consume much of either, these days.  When I did pay attention to American TV it had gone from a very brief period when producers, directors and writers made a conscious effort to present positive images of black people peaking in the early 1970s to, as the backlash against that took over and, especially starting in the Reagan era, racial paranoia and fear became the predominant image presented.  I don't know the extent to which that may have changed in the past decade and more.

** Not to mention seriously weakening the one mildly anti-inequality president who managed to eke out becoming a president through it, John Quincy Adams.  At least one biographer I remember, pointed out that it was his experience of that election and his troubled one term-presidency was what radicalized him into becoming the great champion of abolition in his congressional career.  He'd been lukewarm about the issue before that, though, like his father, something of an opponent of slavery.


  1. "At the heart of American politics there is racism. But it’s not alone—there’s also greed, and broken communities, and partisan hatred, and ignorance."--George Packer

    I'm not sure what the distinction is here between those ideas, and racism. Not that racism is the root of all American evil, but frankly, it might as well be. It started as soon as Columbus got here and put the natives to work for him as....wait for it....slaves. Greed, broken communities, ignorance: three out of four, only because there was no partisanship at the time.

    And frankly, none of those four Packer limns are entirely new to American history, or worse now than they've ever been before. There was plenty of partisanship over the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act; just not enough to defeat either one, or even slow them down significantly. The continuing backlash against them (which is what the last 50 years has been, politically, although not against those two laws alone) is not something new in America.

    You are right, we should not decide all whites voted based on racist attitudes. And frankly, we have to consider, contra Coates, how many black voters didn't bother to show up and vote for their interests, which were hardly to put Donald Trump in office. Part of this analysis has to be why people think their vote matters, or doesn't, and why they think withholding their vote means the election won't really happen.

    1. Figuring out who voted for Obama, what won BOTH 2008 and 2012 for him and comparing it to who won the popular vote for Hillary Clinton but lost her the Electoral College is probably more useful than trying to endlessly go over who will never vote for either an Obama or a Hillary Clinton.

      And it's also pointless to act as if racists are all the same or uniformly irredeemable. To believe that is to abandon all hope, though it may be temporarily satisfying, it is a form of surrender to it.

      The part that Barack Obama's determined avoidance of taking strong positions against the economic elite, especially through Eric Holder, in discouraging people who had been victims of the 2008 implosion should also be figured in. If they had gone after the plutocratic crooks as well has pushing hard for the kinds of programs that would have helped the blue collar income groups instead of pissing away stuff to try to get Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to vote for them, so he could be a bi-partisan president would have been more persuasive than him being the coolest president in history. More Nancy Pelosi and less Rahm Emanuel would have put the party in a much better position than Obama left it in. But all of that was in place by 2012, yet he still managed to win reelection, decisively, against a far more credible candidate.

      I do think that both Coates and Packer downplay the extent to which sexism may have played in putting Trump into office. You certainly can't claim that white women were casting a racist vote against Hillary Clinton though they could have been casting an anti-woman vote against her, certainly the role that the campaign of character assassination the media conducted against her, casting her as dishonest and somehow sleazy had a big role in that.

      It's race but it's also a lot of other things that don't fit into the blanket categorizations that both Coates and Packer practiced. Frankly, I think both of them could do better and have written far better articles, but ones of that complexity don't get buzz.

  2. It's the problem of our discourse: if you don't hammer on racism, people will not discuss it even though it's one of the fundamentals of American culture. If you do hammer on it, people will say you're pushing it too hard, and need to back off.

    And, of course, if you hammer on it hard enough to get attention, there is a legitimate critique that you are ignoring other factors. The problem is, we simply can't talk about two ideas at once, not in the public marketplace of ideas. So we either talk too much about race in America, or we don't talk about it enough.

    That, and the topic of race is sort of subject to it's own version of Godwin's Law: if you bring it up, it is such an elemental evil it stops conversation (or we think it does). So then we can only "tut-tut" about racism, and not address its pernicious nature. We really do treat it as all or nothing, which is what I was getting at with my critique of JMM's response to Coates and Packer (mostly to Coates, in that case).

    It is about race; it is about a lot of other things that feed racist attitudes; and racism is not such an evil as to be equivalent, truly, to Nazism. You can be a "little bit" racist, and still be a "good person." That's where the problem of self-examination comes in, and that's really what Coates is starting from, and Packer is rejecting. As I say, racism doesn't really stand apart from ignorance, greed, and broken communities. But until we understand that, and can talk about that truth, too much of the discussion will be about "blanket categorizations." And yes, that's a problem for Coates and Packer.