The Bittersweet Taste of Reality: an activist’s addiction

By: Bill Whaley
19 November, 2016

A few Thoughts

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

Undefeated Despair.” (John Berger’s description of Palestinian attitudes)

“Mike Pence booed at Hamilton performance and hears diversity plea.” The Guardian, 19 November, 2016. (The cast lectured the VP elect at the end of the performance.)

The Bubble Bursts

Experience and education stimulate reflection on the complexity of socio-political ideas of justice and freedom. As the ancients, moderns, and current philosophers teach, a conscious human being thinks as a morally imaginative and free person. Thinking and freedom go hand in hand. Sometimes, as the existentialists claimed, action comes first.

The bubble that burst for so many with the elevation of Trump speaks to the substitution of public relations language for critical thinking. As Marx predicted in his little book, The Communist Manifesto, capitalist propaganda overwhelms the “language of reality.” When the individual allows the “social givens” or “conventions” to provide the thinking, he or she is no longer engaged in society as a conscious human being.

Both social and mainstream media divert attention from the issues and promote a melodramatic or black and white view of the world, reducing complex ideas to simple-minded slogans.

But Democracy and freedom require daily vigilance.

When citizens create a bubble or point of view that is self-deceptive, they, like Clinton, the pundits, pollsters, and their supporters blind themselves to the economic dislocation and despair of fellow citizens. In a capitalist state, as the Watergate wag pointed out, you need only follow the money to find the nexus of complaint. The Trump phenomena both rejects and affirms the manipulation of a blind and deaf political class decades in the making: the arrogant disregard for jobs, due to global deals like NAFTA resulting in government support for financiers, who manipulate manufacturing and displaced the industrial economy.

Check out the definition of “demagogue” on Wikipedia and you will see that Trump persona neatly matches the rise of every demagogue since Cleon of Athens right up through Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and Joseph McCarthy: scapegoating, fear-mongering, lying, oratory and charisma, accusing opponents of weakness and disloyalty, promising the impossible, violence and intimidation, insults and ridicule, vulgarity and outrageous behavior, folksy posturing, gross oversimplification, attacking the media. Early on Trump made the connection to McCarthy via attorney Roy Cohn, the legendary agent-attorney who advised clients to double down on “attacking” the opposition.

Flight or Fight

Yesterday I overheard two dis-affected anonymous types at a coffee shop, discussing their options: whether to rent or sell their houses and escape to South America. A number of well-meaning folks have expressed their shock at the results of the election. I was surprised but neither shocked nor depressed.

We saw the fascists coming in Bush v. Gore, the U.S. Supreme court coup in the 2000 election. Since the 2010 elections, billionaire right wing extremists and their supporters have been knocking down governorships and state legislatures, gerrymandering districts, and implementing the “vast right wing conspiracy.” Throw in Citizens United and the repeal of voting rights and you’ve got the court conspiring with the right wing. Yet the somnolent democrats wake up only for presidential elections, once every four years.

Politics is a daily task in a democracy. Though I supported Bernie Sanders, during the 2016 primary, I resent the Sandernistas who woke up long enough to vote for Bernie and a couple of deeply corrupt local officials. I forgive them but I do not forget that they do not know. I get notes all the time from folks who say they don’t care about local politics. But, as Tip O’Neil said, “All politics is local.”

You’ve got to practice and learn to hit and catch before you get in the game. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series because the general manager instituted a long-term game plan. Trump is the logical conclusion of a decades long campaign to reverse the social gains of the New Deal, the voting rights act, civil rights gains, the rise of income equality for women. Years ago Republicans began the campaign by running candidates for school board across the South and the heartland.

As the economic squeeze intensified, the gap between the haves and have-nots has increased. So the average citizen has focused on “survival” and/or the pleasures of consumer society, buying stuff, travel, recreation, etc. When human identity becomes a function of economics and the pleasure principle, the moral imagination declines as a practice along with the values of human consciousness. Equality, freedom, and justice, the values that undergird the rule of law and American principles disappear; the ravages of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and alienation rise.

In Taos, Taos Pueblo serves as an example of an enduring indigenous community that maintains historic traditions even as the Natives adapt to change. But on this side of the cattle guard, the itinerant professionals, who justify economic development at the expense of the historic Hispanic culture, are in ascendancy. Apathy, indicated by a decline in Hispanic voter turnout, suggests those of us who love the uncanny way of life and funky charm of Taos, are also under siege by these autocratic functionaries. We think the Town is killing some of the enduring charm that draws visitors to Taos.

Recently, activists fought back against the illegal Smith’s movida. More activists have filed a lawsuit against the Town’s proposed four-story blot on the skyline, a symbol of cultural contempt for the arts and environment. Several activists continue to resist the failed policies of the Kit Carson Electric Coop long march toward financial insolvency. The Town itself is planning an attack on local cultural attractions by smothering farolitos and luminarias with garish Christmas tree lights, designed by Walmart.

At Horse Fly an editor once said to me: “You think everything in Taos is a street fight.” I agreed. Taos, like America, is worth the fight. If we don’t fight in the streets, at town meetings, in the courts, at public hearings, we shall get Trumped.

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