Teflon Trump’s Terrifying Troops

I did not watch the Donald Trump acceptance speech last night; I did not want to run the risk of a disturbed night’s sleep. I did however, read a transcript that was available on the net before he went live. It was a terrifying read just because it was so ‘good’: pitch-perfect in its tone and content, aiming for the easily visible targets of law and order, national security, loss of jobs, economic inequality, corporate trade deals, the rigged political system. His scapegoats were perfectly picked too: immigrants, aliens, foreigners, indeed, the world ‘outside.’ Trump was not speaking off the cuff, he was reading a prepared speech, one crafted for him by his speechwriters, who distilled the most populist parts of his campaign trail message and artfully packaged it with a corrosive covering of nativism, xenophobia, and paranoia. The speech will be picked apart for its hostility and its lies but it will not matter. If the history of this campaign is any indication of things to come.

Ronald Reagan used to be called the ‘Teflon President.’ Well, let me tell you, Ronnie had nothing on the The Donald. Nothing sticks to the Trump; call him a liar, a crook, a failed businessman, a misogynist, a racist, an ignorant warmonger, it does not matter. His ‘base’ does not care–a fact that made the hoopla over the Melania Trump plagiarism non-scandal especially risible. I suspect that Trump’s followers loved the plagiarizing of Michelle Obama’s speech–‘screw them and their fancy-ass, stuck-up, elitist notions of who wrote what.’ (Besides, why not steal from someone you despise?) Indeed, every attempt to critique Trump on the basis of some conventional understanding of decency and  honesty runs afoul of this inclination on the part of his followers to merely incorporate that critique into their understanding of Trump as an iconoclast willfully denying those staid conventions that work for everyone else. His followers are the most frightening thing about him.

Many are tempted to lie and flirt with the forces of darkness to gain presidential power, to command the trillion dollar military that goes with it which lets grown men feel like pre-adolescent boys again, to strut on the world stage like the new Messiah. What those aspirants for power need to realize their dreams is the unquestioned acceptance and obedience of their followers. That Trump has. He is well aware he can lie, prevaricate, dissemble; it will not dent his chances with this crew. When the smoke clears, and if a Trump defeat is the outcome, he will slink away to book deals, speaking engagements, possibly a new television series and a talk-show. More fortunes await him. (I’m shying away from the possibility of his victory for that prospect demands another sort of response altogether.) But his followers will not rest content even then.

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Right, well, that’s been taken care of by The Donald. The spirits have been summoned; and now they strut on the stage. Banishing them is going to take some doing.

Was Charlie Hebdo ‘Mocking’ The Death Of Alan Kurdi?

Charlie Hebdo has offended again. A recently published cartoon titled “So Close to His Goal”, shows Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose tragic drowning death sharply focused the world’s attention on the desperation of the migrant crisis in Europe, lying face down on the sand near a billboard featuring Ronald McDonald and advertising a 2-for-1 McDonald’s Happy Meal with the legend: ‘Two children’s’ meals for the price of one.” The caption reads, ‘So close to his goal.’ And above it all, reads “Welcome to migrants.’ A second cartoon titled “The Proof that Europe is Christian” shows a toddler drowning in the ocean. waters. Next to him a Christ-like figure walks on water. The caption reads, “Christians walk on waters… Muslims kids sink.”

Here is how I ‘read’ the cartoon, roughly: The West and Europe imagines itself the haven of liberal, secular ideals; it imagines itself the bastion of democracy, republicanism, and the social welfare state. In point of fact, it is as much in thrall to old-fashioned notions of Christian triumphalism and the blurring of the church and state as those regimes that it disdains. The West and Europe still fight holy wars; they still imagine itself under attack from the ‘Huns’ and the ‘Goths’ and the ‘barbarians’ and the ‘Moors.’ The migrants might have thought they were escaping to this promised land where they would be welcomed with open arms and invited to make a new life. Little do they know that they were only heading for a vapid, shallow, xenophobic, insular, Islamophobic, consumerist culture, one whose patron saint is Ronald McDonald, and whose guiding slogans are not the call to arms of the great revolutions, but rather, sales pitches for cheap goods.

That’s how I read it. I did not take these cartoons to be ‘mocking’ a dead child.  I do not claim to know the ‘intent’ of the cartoonist, but given Charlie Hebdo’s history, and the current context, my interpretation strikes me as at least halfway plausible.

I am not going to offer a systematic defense here of Charlie Hebdo, but want to make note of a couple of what I think are relevant points:

  1. The famous cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama exchanging fist-bumps in the Oval Office, while wearing ‘Arab dresses’ and carrying guns, appeared on the cover of the New Yorker. Had it appeared on the cover of the National Review Online, complete with a comments section of gibbering right-wingers rubbing their hands in glee, reactions to it would have been considerably sharper. (I thank Justin E. H. Smith for this example.)
  2. The Onion once ran an article titled ‘Redskins Kike Owner Refuses To Change Team’s Offensive Name.’ I did not think the article or its headline was anti-Semitic. Some Jewish friends of mine were certainly offended.

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are bound to offend many and their choice of vehicle for making their political points might be questioned. But they have ample material to choose from and ample opportunity to offend; this world and its dominant species’ arrogance and continuing self-destructive behavior will ensure that. Satirists exist and find work because we are worthy targets of satire.

CUNY Administrators: Hanging with the Powerful

Readers of my ‘With Trustees Like These, Who Needs Enemies‘ series of posts will know that I’m not overly fond of CUNY administration. From interfering with faculty governance, to cracking down on academic freedom, to awarding golden parachutes to overpaid, retiring vice-chancellors, they appear to have most bases covered in their drive to subvert the mission of a public university.

What is it that animates this herd so much? A small clue presents itself for perusal in propaganda missives that are issued by the Office of University Relations, an office presumably dedicated to showing this university in the ‘best light’, and charged, possibly, with highlighting the university’s achievements in all matters academic and cultural. That its publications often serve to echo 80th Street’s party line is, I’m sure, purely accidental. One of the Office of University Relations’ publications is CUNYMatters. In its Spring 2013 issue, on page 5 of the print edition, (i,.e., five pages on from the front page story that glorifies the detested–and contested by faculty–initiative Pathways), we have a photo, prominently placed and highlighted with the tag ‘Inauguration Day 2013’. The caption for the photo reads:

First Lady Michelle Obama, leaves the White House with CUNY Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning Iris Weinshall en route to the U.S. Capitol for President Obama’s ceremonial swearing-in for his second term. Weinshall is married to New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who headed the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Elsewhere, in the same issue of CUNYMatters, we have stories on faculty book publications, grants, student awards, and the other items of news showcasing the life of the mind. But, as noted, we also have this photo noted above.

And what’s the photo about? It shows a CUNY administrator in the presence of Someone Powerful at an Important Event. This ‘powerful’ person is not an elected representative of the people, but the spouse of one, the American President. Nevertheless, this person is the closest we’ll get to American Royalty, so presumably our CUNY Administrator is blessed, and consequently, so are we, her minions. But what has the CUNY Administrator done to deserve this entrée to the corridors of power? She is the Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning at CUNY; is she being recognized for stellar planning of facilities? The caption does not say so. Rather the caption merely notes that she is the spouse of Someone Powerful, a US senator in this case.

So there you have it folks: this is a photo worth publishing in an official publication of the Office of University Relations because a CUNY Administrator, who happens to be the spouse of the US Senator that heads the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and thus was able to score an invite for the inauguration, happened to walk out of the White House–that palace in which American Royalty lives–with the spouse of the President of the US.

Fawning, bended knees to power; basking in reflected glory; these, apparently, are the values of the CUNY Administration, worth highlighting to all and sundry.