‘Conservatives, Immigrants, and the Romantic Imagination’ Up At Three Quarks Daily

My essay ‘Conservatives, Immigrants, and the Romantic Imagination‘ is up at Three Quarks Daily. The following is an abstract of sorts:

American immigrants, especially the first and second generations, were sometimes reckoned a safe vote for the Republican Party’s brand of conservatism. This was not just the case with immigrants from formerly communist countries who might be reckoned willing and enthusiastic consumers of the Republican Party and American conservatism’s historical anti-communist stance. Rather, American immigrants of all stripes have often shown a marked allegiance to conservative causes and claims. This trend, which did not always translate into major electoral gains, was attenuated by the Republican Party’s continuing adoption of nativism and crude populism, of xenophobia, of the crudest forms of racism and exclusivism. But it was not always thus; there were good reasons to imagine the immigrant was a  was a possible Republican and conservative mark.

In my essay, I argue that the immigrant imagination, tinged as it is with a hint of the romantic, bears some explanatory responsibility for this political predilection. In particular, by examining recent descriptions of conservative intellectuals–ranging from Edmund Burke to William Buckley Jr.– as a species of romantic reactionaries, and comparing them to immigrant self-descriptions of their migratory journeys of arrival and accomplishment, I claim that the immigrant and the conservative are united by a species of self-conception that views them as outsiders subverting and eventually mastering–in their highly individual and particular ways–a dominant system. Like the conservative, the immigrant too, sometimes finds himself suggesting ‘the ladder be pulled up,’ now that he is aboard. The immigrant is in sympathy with a conservative vision then, because romantically, like the conservative, he sees himself as an outsider who has ‘made it.’

I will explore this claim–via an autobiographical perspective–in the American context, thus illuminating the ways in which so-called ‘model minorities’ have conceived of their place in the American nation. The reflexively conservative standpoint I adopted when I was a brand-new migrant to the US should help explain why immigrants have not always been successful in building multi-racial alliances with African-Americans, and thus, why American anti-racism politics remains handicapped by a lack of solidarity between its demographic components. They suggest the Republican Party could further find in its electoral toolbox a rhetorical appeal to divide the current anti-Republican coalition by attacking one of its most vulnerable points.

The Republican Party And The Disavowal Of Donald Trump

In response to my post yesterday on the liberal ‘impeachment of Donald Trump’ fantasy, which rests on a fallacious delinking of Donald Trump from the Republican Party, Seth Brodsky writes (over at Facebook):

I agree—passionately—that the desperate attempt to delink the GOP from Trump is…a fantasy. But I don’t think it’s a fantasy held only by liberals, whose very identity as a party of no part, a neutral party, is dependent on it….the GOP has this delinking fantasy too, and it was all too well displayed during the primary. But it’s a fantasy framed in a very different way: Trump is the *essence* of the GOP, but an essence that needs to remain hidden, cached, the principle and not the surplus, something to keep skimming off. He is…the purely libidinal patriarch, the undemocratic king-in-the-flesh, that Republican democracy, always gnawing viciously at its own foundations, has to conceal in order to prop itself up as a kind of democratic subject. In order for the fantasy to operate, and the subject to sustain itself, the object of the fantasy must be held at a distance. It can’t actually show up….Republicans don’t actually want the primal father to show up. They *want to want him,* they want to crow to the ends of the earth about how needed he is, how shameful it is that the world doesn’t give his memory proper respect, how angry he’ll be when he finally returns, how he appeared in a dream to them and demanded, for the love of God, that we stop this nonsense, whatever it is. Which is all to say: they want to enjoy the enormous resentment that comes from His absence.

Brodsky is right here–and I thank him for this interjection of a psychoanalytic take into the proceedings. (I wonder what the Good Doctor would have made of this past election season and of the Trump Twitter feed.) The Republican Party treated Trump like an interloper and a gatecrasher and an ‘outsider’ during the primaries–thus tremendously aiding his election prospects–precisely because he was a rude reminder that this was the true beating heart of the party–just a little too vulgar, a little too overt, a little too clumsy at disguising his plain ‘ol boring Republicanness. This treatment as an outsider allowed Republican Trump voters to feel like rebels and iconoclasts, like pioneers on a new American frontier, one once again populated by hordes of shrieking Injuns (immigrants and Muslims and Black Lives Matter protesters and transgender folk clamoring to use public bathrooms for instance.) If Trump were to come to power, the game would be up; there would be nothing left to complain about. The endless whining and self-pity and moaning would have to stop; conservatives would have to admit they got what they wanted. Their loss would not be special any more. (I am merely amplifying Brodsky’s points here, but it is crucial to make note of how important self-pity is to the Republican image; unsurprisingly, Trump’s twitter feed contains many desperately self-pitying cries. Some of his most overt allies, like the police, are famously afflicted with their own deadly self-pity, the kind that causes them to kill again and again.)

They’ve got their primal father now…it’s a huge threat to their identity. But *not* because it’s external to them. Just the opposite: it’s an alien body at the heart of the party, the basis for their repression, formative and disavowed at once….there are quite a few Republicans out there who are confused as fuck, on the level of action and affect both. They’ve got their daddy now, and are not sure what to do.

Part of the problem, as many Republicans are realizing, is that when the dog-whistle is replaced by the klaxon horn, greater disruption ensues: sure, more of the faithful come out of the woodwork, convinced the Messiah is at hand, but the heretics listen too, and they take to the streets to protest like they never did before.

Where I think Brodsky and I gently disagree is that I think Republicans have begun to reconcile themselves to the presence of this realized fantasy; self-pity and dreams of power are intoxicating but so is power itself. All that accumulated misery of the eight years of watching two beautiful black people in the White House, of the wrong folk getting a little too uppity, has to find an outlet somewhere, and perhaps this regime will provide one.  Self-pity and resentment makes the Republican tumescent; power can bring blissful release.

The Republican Party Will Be Just Fine, Thanks Very Much

The supposed collapse of the Republican Party–in the face of an insurgent onslaught led by a motley crew of Tea Partiers, Donald Trump devotees, and Rush Limbaugh fans (which may indeed, be the same demographic)–during this election season is extremely wishful thinking on the part of election pundits and journalistic commentators. What animates these fantasies of an implosion in the Republican Party is, of course, yet another American political fantasy: that one day, there will be more choices on the political landscape besides the ones our current political parties offer. It also makes for entertaining speculation during a never-ending election season and offers more fuel for ‘discussion’ and ‘analysis’ on our twenty-four news channels.

The Republican Party will be just fine. When the smoke clears, after or before its convention, it will have found a way to package this election season’s supposedly ‘new lunacy’ into its platforms and manifestos, which are not too different in content from most of the central positions Donald Trump has adopted in his stump speeches. The Republican Party likes its fascism in the crypto, not the overt, varietal. Very soon–once he has locked up the nomination, if not sooner–Trump will begin to sound like that mythical creature, a ‘moderate Republican,’ and the party will close ranks around him. Just as it did last night, when his opponents at the Republican debate, after spending two hours abusing him as a con man and a fake, said they would still support him in the general elections. Trump’s racism and outright flirtations with white supremacism have not exactly caused a dramatic distancing from him on the part of party operatives and leaders either. Indeed, as many political observers have pointed out, among the Terrible Trio of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, Trump is the least dangerous, precisely because he is the least ideologically committed, which is why he is anathema to Republican leadership, who would prefer someone crazier in the dimensions of their choice. They’d rather eviscerate this nation’s Constitution and polity in their own distinctive style.

Most importantly, as Corey Robin has deftly pointed out, nothing Trump has said–or promised to do–marks him out as a singularity in the pantheon of Republican leadership and political thought over the past half-century.  Lest we forget, the Republican Party has provided us a stolen election in 2000, a president that declared an illegal war and sanctioned torture, and let Sarah Palin run as their vice-presidential candidate in 2008. Let that sink in for a second. This is a political party that was willing to take the chance of letting a person with the intellectual nous of a daffodil take command of a nuclear arsenal had John McCain shuffled off this mortal coil during his presidential term.

A few more floating turds will not radically change the character of this cesspool. A foul bubble or two,  a few roiling waves, and then the sludge will roll back over to conceal the depths below.

Road-Tripping With Rush Limbaugh And Glenn Beck

Yesterday, I drove up to Albany to meet an old friend. After spending the night, I returned this afternoon to Brooklyn. While driving, I sought entertainment through radio. The usual fare of FM was hard to snare: reception was often spotty–for whatever reason, the selections were uninspiring–a little too much emphasis on the Eagles methinks, and as usual, there were way too many commercials. After entertaining myself for a little while with the Hudson Valley’s WPDH, as I got closer to Albany, I found WGY on FM 103.1, ” a radio station licensed to Schenectady, New York and owned by iHeartMedia, Inc., broadcasting a news and conservative talk radio format.” On it, I heard Rush Limbaugh yesterday afternoon, and Glenn Beck this morning. It was, as might be expected, an edifying experience.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  1. Rush Limbaugh is most accurately analogized to an angry, blustering, bully, who imagines himself the leader of an insurrection; his broadcasting booth is the balcony of his palace. Glenn Beck imagines himself a deeply religious libertarian scholar of the constitution, one deeply steeped in the history of this nation, this “republic” (which might be his favorite word of all time), who also happens to be leading a folk movement to take back political power.
  2. Donald Trump is scared of no one but Rush Limbaugh. With great glee, Limbaugh played an “audio bite” of Trump responding to a reporter’s question about Limbaugh having described him as not being “a true conservative.” Trump’s response went roughly as follows: “I’ve heard that, and I just want to say that I respect Rush; he’s been great to me, and I have a lot of respect for him. I love him and I think he’s been great to me.” That’s all. Limbaugh played this clip at least four times, chortling on each occasion.
  3. Glenn Beck speaks with many, many, pauses for dramatic effect, all the better to let the portentousness of his pronouncements about “the republic,” the Constitution, “this nation’s founding fathers,” “self-evident truths,” and liberty sink in. This is a man who clearly thinks he is saying Very Important Things.
  4. Both Limbaugh and Beck agree, roughly, that this nation “is hanging by a thread,” that there is “a state of cultural decay,” that “we are headed for a dictatorship.” They also agree that the disdain of the Republican Party for the Trump candidacy is proof positive that the Trump is doing something right, that he, as Beck put it, might be “the one we’ve been waiting for.” (They both also breathe heavily into their microphones.)
  5. Limbaugh is definitely the more paranoid of the two: the Bernie Sanders candidacy is a conspiracy, stage managed by the Democrats to show that Hillary Clinton is a tough candidate, capable of riding out a tough primary challenge, and of dispelling any notions that she is merely placing the crown on her head. (Rush also thinks Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are bigots and racists for suggesting a boycott of this year’s Oscars.)

I did not just listen to a couple of radio shows; I traveled to distant lands. Sorry to sound like an anthropologist, but my sense of having encountered a distinct cultural formation was very acute.

 

Nicholas Kristof is Gullible, Very Gullible

Nicholas Kristof thinks conservatives are–like a broken clock–right at least some of the time. Kristof, unfortunately, is just wrong throughout his latest limp Op-Ed. To borrow a line from Steven Soderbergh‘s plainspoken Limey they are right precisely the ‘square root of sweet FA‘ number of times – a vanishingly small number.

What are the conservatives right about? Or at least, what ‘ideas’ are they supposed to be credited with?

First:

STRONG FAMILIES Conservatives highlight the primacy of family and argue that family breakdown exacerbates poverty, and they’re right.

Except that they don’t care about family. War–a favorite preoccupation of conservatives–is not family-friendly, and neither is unrelenting hostility to family-planning, maternity leave, paternity leave, and flexible work-schedules. Heck, hostility to women doesn’t seem particularly family-friendly.

Second:

JOB CREATION President Reagan was right when he said that the best social program is a job. Good jobs also strengthen families.

But conservatives don’t care about  job creation. Their interest in exacerbating income inequality doesn’t show an interest in job creation; their enthrallment by corporate ideals doesn’t either. Come to think of it, the wholesale enthusiasm for trade treaties that result in a net loss of jobs doesn’t seem to indicate an interest in job creation either.

Third,

SCHOOL REFORM Republicans were right to blow the whistle on broken school systems, for education in inner-city schools is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Democrats, in cahoots with teachers’ unions and protective of a dysfunctional system, were long part of the problem.

This makes me want to throw up. In fact, I think I just did. Remember war and its budgets? Or taxes on the rich? Or, income inequality and attendant poverty in the  inner city? Or racism? A lack of interest in ameliorating the effects of these doesn’t seem to indicate an interest in school reform. Kristof, bizarrely enough, seems ignorant enough to believe that conservative ‘concern’ about school systems has nothing to do with hostility to the idea of organized labor.

When conservatives espouse the ideas that Kristof so misguidedly praises them for, they are merely using them as stepping-stones to reach other targets. Concern for the family seeks to demonize working women, to restrict sexual and reproductive choice;concern for job creation is a ploy to secure tax breaks, to further protect the economic privileges of their class; concern for schools is a ruse to push through their anti-union agenda (and now, increasingly to reward their fat-cat friends in the testing and charter school industry).

Kristof imagines that somehow, in each case, he can separate out the holding of an ‘idea’ or ‘belief’ and the prescriptions that are intended to achieve its aims. But you can’t do that. Your prescriptions for the ‘problem’ reveal, quite clearly, whether you actually hold that belief or not. We reveal our beliefs by our actions; Kristof should know that much.

Kristof’s biggest problem is quite simple and represents an acute intellectual failure: he confuses mere lip-service with an actual intellectual standpoint. He does not want to look past the posturing; he is content with sound bites and insincerity. This is gullibility of the highest order.

Ross Douthat is Feeling Sorry for Bigots

Ross Douthat doth protest too much:

I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying.

I have news for you, Ross: you are being self-pitying. This bemoaning a straightforward victory for common-sense–the vetoing of Arizona’s benighted SB1062–is a particularly pathetic exercise . An entire Op-Ed to tell us bigots are on the run, and will be ‘forced’ to do so?

What makes this response [to Arizona’s benighted SB1062] particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.

This is sophistry. Call a spade a spade; it’s “carving out protections for bigotry.”

If your only goal is ensuring that support for traditional marriage diminishes as rapidly as possible, applying constant pressure to religious individuals and institutions will probably do the job.

What would really help is supporters for traditional marriage renting a clue and reading a book or two about marriage’s historical origins and its placement within the political economy of society, its role in the subjugation of women and the enforcement of patriarchy. Then perhaps this utterly profane institution will be demoted from the ranks of the sacred and take its rightful place among other social customs, each with its own historical origin, each rooted in human needs, and each serving very particular ideologies. Also: why not replace “traditional marriage” above with “the bigoted exclusion of gays from social rituals”?

Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.

Here are the exceedingly simple terms of the surrender: stop being bigoted assholes; stop feeling sorry for yourself.