Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Expressing a Right to be Shocked

Following is my response to an article by blogger Courtney Parker West (right) titled "On 'Woke' White People Advertising Their Shock That Racism Just Won a Presidency," in which she asserts that the way people express their feelings should be dictated by their race. My sense from an examination of her social media presence overall is that her primary goal was to emotionally bully her white liberal friends rather than make statements that would clearly be outrageously racist if the word "black" was substituted for "white" throughout. In short, and to emulate her tactic of using made-up words as a device for controlling the dialogue, "West performs a macroloathsomeness in order to merely achieve microloathsomeness." One would think this was not the time for liberals to be turning on each other, or to be relinquishing their commitment to speech that promotes racial parity. 

Suffice it to say that I find this article offputting and even a bit pathetic, in that it takes a poke not at people who voted for Trump because they support his racist rhetoric, not at those who voted for him in spite of that, and not even at those who did not vote at all — but rather at those who took a stand against him because the author does not approve of the way they are processing their own grief and fear.

Yes, I was shocked and upset that Trump won this election, because I fought like hell to the extent that I could to keep that from happening, through personal interactions, attendance at political events, posts on social media, and articles on websites and in the local newspaper. As a resident of rural Texas, my political and social views are in the minority where I live, and I have publicly spoken out against Trump in a local city where white supremacist events are now being organized. My supposed “white privilege” is probably not worth as much to me in this environment as Courtney Parker West would like to imagine. And if something happens to one of my biracial daughters or grandchildren, or one or the many people I care about deeply who are members of minority groups, should I still feel “privileged”? And will that then be something I am allowed to express feelings about, or will West still want me to keep quiet simply because of the color of my skin?

So, being both white and surprised that Trump won, even though I did everything in my limited power to keep that from happening, makes me the villain of West's unpleasant little narrative. I can only wonder if West is going to follow up with articles on large groups of minorities who stayed home on election day and did not vote at all, or on the DNC, which undermined the candidate the majority of Democratic voters wanted. It would seem to me that their indifference and malignance, respectively, are far more relevant than my after-the-fact surprise at the results of the election.

On the day of the election — when I thought Hillary Clinton was going to win but before the results were known so that it would not look like I was trying to curry favor with either side — I posted on Facebook that I have never unfriended someone merely because of their political views. I was thus interested to learn that, according to the meme West included with her article, that this makes me a “douche.” I have, in fact, unfriended plenty of people who have used racist epithets or advocated violence, just not ones who have simply stated a specific political preference or candidate, and I have been unfriended by plenty of less-tolerant rightwing friends and relatives. As soon as I unfriend large numbers of people who have opposing viewpoints, however, I lose any kind of platform for influencing them. If West thinks a verbal circle jerk where only talking to people with similar points of view is productive then I will direct her to the results of the most recent election.

Finally, as an aside, I don’t know if I’m “woke” or not, because I’m 50 and therefore not accountable for learning new slang. I will note, however, that one of the organizations I have always admired most in my capacity as a writer is the Black Panthers, because they traditionally made a point of producing materials only in standard written English (i.e., in the 1960s and '70s), so that everyone would be able to quickly and easily understand their message.

Suffice it to say that I have found this article to be divisive, unproductive, and hurtful and that it has made me a little sad and angry. And now, I am going to soldier on, because the world is full of douches and dumb jerks who look like me — and also ones who look like Courtney Parker West, it turns out — and we have got more work to do than ever before. 

This is the picture that appears with West's article.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Contemplating the Worth of Values

Following is an op-ed piece I wrote for the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung that it ran on November 3 as "Finding the 'values' in this election." It is somewhat longer than what the newspaper normally accepts and the editors there had to tighten it up a bit and, in doing so, wisely toned down some of my more inflammatory verbiage. Hope you enjoy it or, at least, are prompted to reflect upon the issues it addresses. 

Never before the current election cycle have I been so grateful to be almost entirely bereft of values and to have had to limp through life guided by almost nothing but ideals. Likewise, never before have I so pitied the many “values voters” who have contorted themselves to cite their fundamental beliefs as the basis for defending candidate Donald Trump and the many loathsome and disturbing things he has personally uttered and admitted to. 

Certainly there are not many good choices in the current presidential election and, as I am wholly unable to defend or promote Hillary Clinton, I cannot in good conscience reproach anyone for even misguidedly choosing Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils. What baffles me, however, are the many convoluted and grotesque attempts to invoke moral values on behalf of Donald Trump that we have seen recently. 

Perhaps my problem getting my mind around this apparent disconnect is my own lack of values and subsequent failure to comprehend them, and so I am attempting to understand the difference between them and ideals. 

To me, ideals are forward-looking and represent hopes and aspirations. One of my ideals, for example, is that “I want to live in a country where women don’t have to fear sexual violence and where those who admit to such crimes are held accountable for them.” 

Values are harder for me to get my mind around but I have identified a number of common characteristics many of them share. One is that they are applied to the conduct of others at least as much, and often more so, than to one’s own behavior. Another is that they can be invoked as the standard of behavior in a fictitious golden age that existed before our current era of moral decline. Yet another is that they tend to claim as their moral authority verses from the Bible. In that the contents of the Bible are meaningless to the more than one-third of Americans who are not members of Christian congregations — and, as far as I can tell, that it is not actually comprehensively read by most Christians anyway — this last trait really does seem like an odd basis for anything one might want everyone to get on board with. 

Having recognized these attributes, however, I decided to watch people purporting to have values on the news, on social media, and in person, and to see if by doing so I could formulate some of my own and come to a better understanding of them. Here are some of my initial results and conclusions about them: 

“Bill Clinton is a rapist.” 

Hmmm, strangely, I hear this get invoked a lot as a direct answer to questions about Donald Trump’s conduct, but that technically makes it what we used to call a non sequitur, rather than a value. 


Nope, that is not a value, just a city in the Middle East. 


No, that’s the date of a historical event, not actually a value. 

“Make America great again.” 

OK, sure, at first this sounds like a value, but is obviously predicated on the idea that America is not in fact a great nation today. This is the kind of assertion that might have gotten hippies, blacks, or other troublemakers pretty badly beaten by conservatives in earlier eras, so it is kind of funny that it has been co-opted by rightwing “patriots” today. I would postulate that, by definition, a statement that demeans the United States cannot be characterized as a legitimate American value. And aren’t the people saying this now the same ones who coined “Love it or leave it” back in the day? 

“My Christian faith does not allow me to judge others.” 

Hahahaha! Oh, good grief. OK, so this really does meet all the tests for being a value. What makes it ridiculously laughable as a defense for Trump, however, is that we have all routinely seen many of the people who are invoking it today — from individuals we know to prominent religious leaders — actively judge and condemn others as a matter of course. Withholding judgement only when it applies to someone a person has already decided to vote for does seem like a bit of a double standard. 

“People who have more money and power than me have the right to demean and use women, including ones I care about, as they see fit.” 

Yes! This one actually hits all the marks and can be regarded as a genuine value. In Genesis 20, for example, we see Abraham willingly give his wife to Abimelek, king of Gerar — and read that she is returned to him only because of direct intervention by God — so it meets the test for being supported by obscure sacred texts. And it echoes the disturbing medieval practice of primae noctis, in which a feudal lord could exert the right to sleep with a new bride ahead of her husband, thereby hearkening back to a golden age when everyone knew their place. And, most critically, adherence to this value allows one to support Donald Trump not just despite the most loathsome things he has openly admitted to but even because of them. It would be a humiliatingly shameful thing for any American to say out loud, of course, but for months now we have seen any number of them implicitly promoting this idea as their reality. 

My initial success at formulating a value notwithstanding, this is probably pretty clearly something that does not come naturally to me, and moving ahead I am likely simply going to have to remain value-free and continue to stick just with ideals. And, if the only use for values is to show that black is white, that evil is good, that ugliness is beautiful, then I really don’t have much use for them anyway.