YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 1, 2012

“Populist” radicalism and Obama

Black Jesus poster

Black Jesus poster

A spirited discussion broke out on my Facebook page over a recent article in the New York Times characterizing Thomas Jefferson as a “monster.” (http://tinyurl.com/d6cnc3o.) During the course of the discussion, I decried hatchet jobs in general, pointing out that there was usually a lurking target that was not obvious to the reader. For instance, in the case of Jefferson and slavery, the historian author (Paul Finkelman) might be solely interested in Jefferson’s racism and moral failures regarding slaveholding, or there might be a larger agenda:  namely the post-60s campaign to regard the Founding Fathers and the framing of the “aristocratic” Constitution as morally tainted, with subsequent Americans battening off their ill-gotten gains. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/30/collectivism-in-the-history-establishment/. )

As I have written frequently, for leftists and left-leaning corporatist liberals alike, America is seen as essentially racist, sexist, imperialist, and anti-environment. In other words, we not only fail to historicize the individual and intellectually diverse Founders in their 18th century context, we are reiterating the most virulent Soviet and even Nazi propaganda. (In the latter case, it was held that Jews controlled the US, pushing it to such atrocities as the extermination of the Aryan-like indigenous “Indians,” or, during WW2 and more recently, Nazis and their sympathizers argued that Americans were fighting what was in effect a war that solely benefited “the Jews.”)

Since the election that re-elected “the first black president,” I have seen much gloom emanating from Romney supporters. I myself have suggested that there is something proto-fascist about the current direction of our country, while others declare that POTUS is a straight out Communist/Third Worlder, seeking to destroy America, aiming at its very foundations as a free market society.

Both these pessimistic, if plausible, views are speculative, but perhaps we can get more precise if we understand the rationale behind “petit-bourgeois” radicalism (populism), both as it has existed in “middle class” America, and as an explanation for Hitler’s base in the so-called Mittelstand (i.e. the lower middle-class in Germany, dominating the working class and resentful of the haute bourgeoisie). For after WW2, liberal journalists and academics seized upon the petit-bourgeoisie as responsible for Hitler’s rise to power, stressing their mobbish susceptibility to propaganda and the class resentments that Hitler exploited so effectively. Unfortunately, they ignored the conservative nationalists who put him in power, and even worse, structural continuities with Weimar social democracy and Bismarckian strategies against the rising German Left. Instead, they depicted Hitler as crazy and/or as a failed artist/thug, and explained his popularity as the effectiveness of images and propaganda in general. (This was the legacy of German Idealism that held images to constitute “reality,” a view that ignored institutions and other structural and cultural factors.)

Young James H. Cone

Young James H. Cone

During the period of my life starting in 1969 at Pacifica Radio and on through getting my doctorate (1983-1993) and then shopping my expanded dissertation (1993-1999), I watched the direction of the civil rights movement/the women’s movement that had stirred me out of somnolence during the 1960s. What stunned me was the success of upwardly mobile persons of color and women in climbing the ladders of academe, the media, and to some extent, in business and the professions. What I was not prepared for was the failure of the integrationist project in favor of cultural nationalism and even black supremacy as urged by such theologians as James Cone and his allies in the Chicago Democratic machine. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hal_Cone.) I was even more startled to see that black nationalism had pretty much taken over the civil rights movement by the mid-1960s (see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/11/09/race-and-the-problem-of-inclusion/.)

The Way We Live Now

The Way We Live Now

What does this have to do with Obama’s character and motives, open or hidden? We might do better to see him as an ambitious petit-bourgeois radical, i.e., a populist, rather than as either a fascist-in-waiting or a communist. Like his wealthy liberal supporters, he protects his own reputation by attacking [Republican] elites as the originators of “inequality,” while he satisfies his minority constituencies by increasing public sector employment and supporting teachers unions who promulgate the anti-American history curriculum described above. The aim is to instill liberal guilt and hence unquestioning support of the first black president, even as he moves toward dictatorship and reverses prior economic positions that gained him support as a “moderate.”

But keep in mind that although Marxist-Leninism supposedly focuses on the working class as the agent of revolutionary socialism, there is a strong populist appeal to this ideology, for instance in the demonization of “finance capital.” (See https://clarespark.com/2012/08/05/hating-finance-capital/.)  For more on populism see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/. And right-wing populism was undoubtedly the decisive factor in Hitler’s rise to power and to popular support for his entire regime.  I remain worried about the transition from populism/progressivism to full-throated dictatorship, call it what you will.


November 9, 2012

“Race” and the problem of “inclusion”

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Dee Dee Benkie

Amidst the varying postmortems on an election disastrous for conservatives and Republicans, one theme is debated, but poorly. On November 8, 2012, the O’Reilly show was guest hosted by Laura Ingraham, who grumbled about “bean counting” to make the Republican party more inclusive, as one guest, Dee Dee Benkie, seemed to be suggesting (though Benkie was thinking mostly about women). But adding female or black and brown faces to the optics of the Republican Party will not solve a much deeper challenge: the curriculum that teaches  children to hate our country, and to seek Democratic Party [pseudo-solutions] to achieve “social justice.” Personally, I believe in social justice, but it can only come about through a thoughtful reform of the curriculum in all our schools, and it must tell the truth about the American past, which is a mixed bag of glorious achievement and loathsome discrimination, exploitation, and oppression. We should not pretend otherwise, unless we want to look like amnesiac opportunists.

On the last three blogs (https://clarespark.com/2012/11/07/capitalism-is-on-the-line/, https://clarespark.com/2012/11/08/the-demographic-change-explanation-is-racist/, https://clarespark.com/2012/11/08/the-magical-power-of-negroes-and-other-beautiful-people/)  I developed the themes of race and racism, perhaps the most relevant problem in our political culture. The progressives (whose racism was once well known) have co-opted anti-racist forces through a version of “inclusion” that spells the end of rational politics and pushes us down the path to total disintegration as a polity:

1. Separatist Black Studies programs that mobilized even more hatred against the “white” oppressor, thus reinforcing the notion of history as above all, racial struggle; and

2. Strategic tokenism. Window dressing that gave a rainbow aura to the Democratic coalition, even as it failed to address the curriculum that should have been dispensing such tools to all students that would aid in their upward mobility, not to speak of an accurate account of U.S. history, which is more complicated than the current curricula would have it. (Where, for instance, is Charles Sumner or Ralph Bunche today?) Above all, it allowed black liberation theology to annex the integrationist approach of Martin Luther King Jr. to the cause of black supremacy. This has gone relatively unnoticed by the white majority, but black antisemitism and hatred of “Whitey” is worse than ever, with many black adherents to the Nation of Islam.

3. The progressives put forth a version of  American and European history that described the West as essentially racist, sexist, classist, and ecocidal. Their alternative was the racialist/fascist notion of pan-Africanism, reflected in the favored term of African-American for black people. Instead of defining American nationality as equality under the law for rich and poor alike, American nationality was now hyphenated along racial or ethnic categories: there are Mexican-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. This is not only a betrayal of the Constitution, but a route to hopeless disunity and a thoroughly racialist discourse. This move is not only bogus, but fatal to everything we hold dear as unhyphenated Americans. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.)

Ralph Bunche, American

March 14, 2012

History as trauma

Bruce Bartlett

This blog started out as a meditation on Bruce Bartlett’s Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). (For a conversation between the author and Clarence Page, see http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/204475-1.] A better discussion is here: http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/1494. Glenn C. Loury, professor of economics at Brown University is a far sharper partner to Bartlett, and enunciates the same take on elite micromanagement of racial politics in the universities as the views advanced on my website. For a graduation speech that explicates Loury’s view of “identity” see http://today.brown.edu/articles/2008/09/loury.)

Bruce Bartlett has been a widely read policy adviser to the Republican Party; he says that he has libertarian leanings; he seems to have switched to the Democratic Party recently. But in the very last words of his history of the close ties of the Democratic Party with white supremacist doctrines, he writes “The purpose of this book is to encourage Republicans to compete for the black vote and at the same time show blacks why they should be receptive if Republicans should ask for a hearing. Blacks deserve better than being pawns in the political game. It is very much in their interest to be players. But that won’t happen unless they are willing to loosen the ties that bind them almost exclusively to the Democratic Party, the party to which their greatest oppressors belonged (p. 194).

This blog attempts to complicate Bartlett’s proposed outreach to black Americans by the Republican Party with some thoughts gleaned from another book that I have been reading: Robert C. Scaer, M.D., The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease, second ed. (Routledge, 2007). Dr. Scaer, a neurologist, lays out a materialist explanation for psychogenic illnesses that stem from earlier traumas, such as military combat, assault, rape, incest, spousal abuse, lack of mother-child bonding, child abuse, torture, messy divorces, and other stressors that may be re-enacted even when the traumatized individual suffers from mild shocks, such as whiplash. Scaer does not mention the teaching of history as one possible source of trauma, but I have observed in my own grandchildren that when such horrors as chattel slavery in the American South are taught at an inappropriately early age, the student may be terrified to the point of trauma; s/he can find no safe place to hide from the predator, especially when leftists proclaim that white supremacy will endure until there is a violent overthrow of the status quo. And the same may be said of other events in U.S. and world history: the destruction of indigenous peoples, or the mass death that was enabled by mechanized warfare, starting with the American Civil War. And of course, the teaching of the Holocaust is another potentially traumatizing practice. Add to these gothic moments, the impending destruction of the environment advanced by deep ecologists.

In Bartlett’s book, his notion of reparations suggests free college scholarships to the descendants of slaves, but he does not consider teaching the dubious origin of race theory itself as a strategy. I remind  the reader of my blogs that “race” is a social construction, not an objective fact. Race thinking is filled with nonsense such as the “one-drop” rule for blackness. We are all in the same species, whatever the variation in physical characteristics. What racists do is to claim that “race,” a collective category, predicts mental and emotional characteristics, usually within a hierarchy. Who turns out to be the top dog depends on the group constructing the hierarchy. For a German Romantic’s view of the hierarchy see https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/. Obviously, a Chinese or Japanese nationalist would have a different arrangement of the hierarchy of races, as would Pan-African nationalists such as James Cone (https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/).   If you watch the dialogue between Glenn C. Loury and Bruce Bartlett, cited above, you will hear Loury criticize the notion of race as such.

Glenn C. Loury

I don’t look to ultra-social conservatives in the Republican Party to consider trauma or to deploy any other toolbox that smells like neo-Freudianism, for such believers are not worldly, in contrast to Dr. Scaer and other mental health professionals. Indeed, as fundamentalists, these denizens of the far Right are not in history at all, for this world is but the prelude to a better one, and disasters are part of God’s plan. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.) It is no accident that the impetus for education reform through school choice is emanating from within the Democratic Party (though Milton Friedman suggested it long ago), with little encouragement from social conservatives demanding local control and the choice of a religious education. For public schools are a scary site that could alienate the child of the ultra-conservative from the family of origin. What all of us need to do, whether we are of the [modernized] Center Right, or Independents or Liberals, is to think of the curriculum as a mine field when we attempt to teach the dark side of human history. I could have entitled this blog “Freezing fear in the classroom.” We may be traumatizing and re-traumatizing our children, not willfully, but as a side effect of our ignorance of the effect of the emotions on physical health; an ignorance that subsequently diminishes our capacity to be rational actors in a representative republic. In our attempts to educate the young are we teaching learned helplessness? For the youngster cannot change the awful past we transmit with the best of intentions.

Perhaps the current vogue for vampires, zombies, and other terrifying monsters (e.g. wolverines as illustrated), is a defense mechanism by adolescents and pre-teens and even younger children; i.e., identifying with the cruel individuals and events that they can never master in their own real lives. But this is a defense only, and does not get us closer to releasing the terrors that remain locked within the psyche, and that might be among the potential cause(s) for auto-immune diseases. Lest anyone be discouraged by this blog: Dr. Scaer argues that medicine is still in its infancy. It is a great advance in human history that we are learning so much about the physiology of stress, as opposed to relying upon supernatural explanations for the ups and downs of living. Perhaps one strategy to mitigate learned helplessness (not within the scope of Scaer’s book)  is to relate through education and through popular and high culture how both inviduals and groups have banded together to overcome threats to survival. Call such tactics a promising form of preventive medicine. For part 2 of this essay, see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/18/history-as-trauma-2-rosebud-version/.

February 22, 2011

Inflaming minorities in the universities

American Progress

I have written extensively about the master narrative that dominates the teaching of U.S. History in  post-civil rights America throughout this website. The mobilizing of pro-government workers unions has put this issue front and center. The purpose of this blog is to remind our visitors that the humanities curriculum as it was adjusted after the assassinations of MLK Jr. and Malcolm X could have done nothing else but to intensify already existent divisions in our country, thence to under-educate the students most in need of high quality education that would prepare them to compete in the job market in fields where there is high demand for skilled labor.

I refer of course to the focus on Native Americans as victims of westward expansion; the Mexican War; slavery, the slave trade, the Civil War and Reconstruction; the Chinese Exclusion Act; the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII; and the exclusionary policies of labor unions until the establishment of the CIO. Not only these events were and are deployed by leftists and liberals to insure the hatred of “the dominant culture” (including the “racist” white working class), but these events that did of course happen, are said to linger in the present, despite a congeries of government programs at all levels, including preferential treatment in the race for college admissions, hiring in government employment, separatist ethnic studies programs in universities and colleges, and in corporations.

1960s activists against the Viet Nam war and “the system” have taken over the command posts of education and media, always in the name of a higher law than those “bourgeois” rules that constitute the basis for our democratic republic. Such high dudgeon is then used to justify lawless actions against “the system” that has tortured and dispossessed the minorities who comprise so much of the base of the Democratic Party.  So although we see mostly white faces in the Wisconsin protesters, I suggest  that their “civil disobedience” is experienced by them as a link to abolitionists and others who argued for “the higher law” that abrogated the Constitution, seen as a slaveholders’ document. OTOH, recall that Charles Sumner, the antislavery Senator from Massachusetts and a founder of the Republican Party, did not appeal to a higher law, but rather argued that the case for antislavery lay in the Declaration of Independence and in the Preamble to the Constitution; that the individual States were akin to Republics that should insure the promised equality in our founding documents, hence could not use “state’s rights” to justify slavery and its expansion. After the Civil War, he pleaded that the hatred must stop. For this, along with his “radical” even “Jacobin” proposal for compensating the freedmen (along with patriot soldiers and poor whites) with confiscated land and full civil rights, he has been diminished by some key academic authorities as harsh and extreme.

Already, government and other unions are mobilizing across the nation to strengthen their collective hands against an insurgent Republican Party. It is to be hoped that the public will use this opportunity to examine every phase of our educational system, including the demoralizing curriculum that is hurting everyone, indeed, that in tandem with much of the mass media, is inspiring cynicism on a massive scale, threatening to bring down the Republic, a Republic that is our “last best hope” for the future of our species.

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