Monday, January 23, 2017

Zombie Liberalism

Last night I watched the 2016 Korean film Train To Busan, newly out on video.  I'm not a fan of horror movies, let alone zombie movies, but I've seen my share of each type, and this one made an impression on me.  Though it wasn't intended to be, it worked as an allegory of Trump's America.  (But don't worry, it's primarily a fast-moving action film; I'm just imposing my post-modernist, deconstructionist mindset on it.)

So someone I know liked a post on Facebook, and it showed up in my feed.  The writer is a woman of color; her post in full:
I'm so sick of de no slut shaming Melania shit Michelle Obama had to have degrees many of them let's face it if she were a model or an escort or a hooker or sex worker or gold digger or whatever it would never have happened nada nothing no Obama Black Presidency-zilcho. Anyway I saw Hidden Figures tonight and I'm feeling empowered ????
Bigots are always "so sick of" being told not to bigot.  If you have any exposure to right-wing opinions, you've seen the same complaint from them many times.  If this is an example of the "empowerment" that comes from seeing Hidden Figures, then Cthulhu help us.  (I haven't yet seen Hidden Figures, but I read the book, and it's excellent.)  And it's far from the only example I've seen in the past week from liberals justifying behavior they attacked, rightly, when Republicans indulged in it.  But now they invoke Republicans as role models, and they're imitating them very well.  I can hardly tell the difference; only the names of the guilty have been changed.

Someone else responded to my criticism on this point:
You can criticize my guy all day because regardless of your opinion about how the country is run, the results can be quantified. The same can't be said about asking when an 11 year old is going to get her first abortion. If that make me a hypocrite, well, Hi, Hypocrite, party of 1.
That was exactly what I'd said.  You can, and should, criticize and attack Trump on his policies and behavior -- it's not as if he hasn't given potential critics plenty of fodder for criticism -- without slut-shaming, fat-shaming, being racist, being misogynist, etc.  It's not really that difficult.  Plenty of people have done so, from ordinary citizens to published writers.  That many liberals and self-styled progressives prefer to fall back on these old reliables says a lot about how deep their principles go.

Now, I don't know this latter person, so she may be an exception, but in general I have not found that liberals are okay with criticism of their guy on his policies -- very much the opposite.  This may be partly because they're as ignorant of their guy's policies as any Tea Party Republican.  The best that can be said is that they are really comfortable with abusive personal attacks on their guy and his family, because they know how to react to those: Oh, how can you say such awful things? You're a terrible person, etc., followed by abusive personal attacks in kind.  Like their right-wing opponents, they're on comfortable ground here because it requires no knowledge, no ability to construct an argument, just ragegasms.  Confronted with principled criticism of their guy from the left, they are helpless, assume the critic is a Republican, and fall back on what they know best, namely personal attacks.  As I said of the right after Obama's election, personal attacks are the best they have to offer.

Ironically, this stuff is proliferating just a few days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Many of the same people who piously celebrated King's legacy are now pissing on it. (Well, they have a good role model for that in President Obama, after all.)  It's perfectly legitimate to reject King's legacy, of course, to repudiate his methods and style; but paying lip service to him while behaving in exactly opposite ways is not.  (I can imagine people replying that King lived in a different era, and faced different obstacles and dangers.  That's true: the America he lived in was even more dangerous for people of color than the one we live in now.  Yet King took the high road, instead of wallowing in pigshit with the White Citizens' Councils.)

The word "unprecedented" turns up a lot in liberal discourse about Trump.  I'm not so sure of that myself, but what I want to point out is that the same word was common coin in Bush and Obama's War on Terror: We face an unprecedented enemy, so we cannot be bound by outdated scruples and limits on our conduct of this war.  This trope was used to justify torture and other crimes against humanity, though of course the US was never really constrained by those supposed scruples and limits before anyway.  It seems to me that invoking "unprecedented" with regard to Trump has a similar function: to excuse and justify unethical, irrational, dishonest speech and behavior by his liberal opponents.  I would have thought, when I was younger and more naive, that if you face an unprecedented threat, the proper and natural response would be to think carefully and rationally rather than to panic and resort to abusive, destructive methods from the past.  Now I know better.

I was impressed by the international women's marches that took place around the world this weekend, but I wonder what will come of them.  So does Ian Welsh, who wrote today:
Trump doesn’t need to be popular with everyone. It doesn’t matter that the women’s march produced more people than his inauguration, despite his squealing about it: it is irrelevant because those people couldn’t produce enough people in the right states to with the election AND, as with previous great protests, nothing appears to have been built on top of the protests. It’s nice they all showed up, but they aren’t being asked (and organized) to do things that matter in the future, for all the talk of “the resistance”. If you wanted power, you’d want to be able to get one-fifth that crowd to show up when needed to oppose specific bills and actions by Congress, for example.
Mass demonstrations are useful for producing a feeling of community, that one is not alone, and they can be used to build organization.  But they're also old-fashioned, reflexive responses -- basically, they are religious revivals -- and if Trump is an unprecedented threat, shouldn't people be coming up with unprecedented tactics and strategies to fight him?  I've become skeptical of the actual usefulness of such demonstrations since I saw how ineffective the South Korean candlelight vigils were in stopping the corrupt neoliberal regime of then-President Lee Myung-bak several years ago.  And that was in a society with plenty of organizations at all levels, where the mass protests really represented groups that could worked after the protests were over.  Vigils on the same breathtaking scale have taken place to call for the removal of current President Park Geun-hye, whose corruption and lawbreaking have been even more egregious than Lee's.  It remains to be seen if the prosecutors will be able to follow through.

For example, how's the abolition of the Electoral College coming along?  A few weeks ago liberal Democrats were up in arms about it, but I haven't heard much lately.  The last I saw on Facebook was a political cartoon of the Founders deciding to set up the EC in order to prevent a "fucking moron" from becoming President; the person who shared it thought it was very clever, though they apparently overlooked the small detail that by their standards, the Electoral College had just put a "fucking moron" in the White House.  I don't blame people for having short attention spans, or for lacking the stamina for hard, day-to-day political work; that's me to a T.  But the posturing and strutting, the waving around of words like "Revolution" and "Resistance" by people who think that wearing pink "pussy hats" for a day in Washington DC is a revolutionary act, doesn't make me feel hopeful.