GRADING ON A CURVE

Posted in Quick Hits on September 12th, 2016 by Ed

Charles Pierce is usually On, although like all of us I've gotten the feeling that he's struggling to think of what to say at this point about this election. I know he's taken a look at this site at least a few times, and I'd like to think that my post from Saturday was his inspiration to use the term "fee fees" (although I'm sure it's just two stellar minds thinking alike) in his latest missive. But his description of the media treatment of Trump (and conservatives in general) cannot be improved upon.

There is an accomplished woman saying something everybody knows is true and there is a vulgar talking yam who apparently could set his own dick on fire and not pay much of a price for it on television. That is grading on the curve, but it's nothing new. Hell, we've been grading Republicans on a curve for decades. We graded Reagan on a curve when he burbled about trees and air pollution. We graded him on a curve during Iran Contra on the grounds that he was too dim to know what was going on around him. We graded W on a curve for the whole 2000 campaign when he didn't know Utah from Uzbekistan, but Al Gore knew too much stuff and what fun was he, anyway? We graded Republicans on a curve when they attached themselves to the remnants of American apartheid, when they played footsie with the militias out west and with the heirs to the White Citizens Councils in the South. We graded them on a curve every time they won a campaign behind Karl Rove or Lee Atwater or the late Terry Dolan back in the 1970s. We talked about how they were "reaching out" to disillusioned white voters who'd suffered in the changing economy, as though African-American workers didn't get slugged harder than anyone else by deindustrialization. We pretended not to notice how racial animus was the accelerant for the fire of discontent in the "Reagan Democrats." That was, and is, grading on a moral curve.

I'd be grumpy that I was working on something along these lines and now it's irrelevant, but the "grading curve" is so much better a metaphor than anything I was coming up with that I can't even be mad. Sometimes you just take a bow.

THE CONTEST THAT CAN'T BE WON

Posted in Rants on September 12th, 2016 by Ed

This election, stretching all the way back to the summer of 2015 when the invisible primary began, has been hard for me. Lord knows I haven't had to do any of the work on the campaigns and I have the manifest luxury of being able to ignore it for a day or two here and there. But it has been a profoundly depressing experience and grows more so every day. Were it possible to sleep through the next nine weeks and awaken with the whole thing over, I would do it and accept the loss of gainful employment as a steep but necessary price to pay.

Late last week, for reasons that are not worth explaining, it hit me why this has been such a singularly depressing experience. It seemed profound at the time, although in hindsight (and at first sight to many of you) it seems obvious. This election is horrible in new ways that elections have not been in the United States in living memory. It is horrible because there is no outcome that can erase how awful the election itself has been. It is doing damage that can't and won't be undone. We've seen a part of who we are as a nation and as a society that is so viscerally ugly that no amount of time, reflection, or half-hearted exhortations toward national unity will make us forget what we saw. Have you ever seen anything so gory and shocking that it's with you forever? Maybe seeing somebody get shot, or seeing a victim of a car accident. It's like that. Now that we've seen that a good portion of white America's real beliefs, noble-sounding crap about small government conservative principles aside, boil down to "Keep the Mexicans and Muslims out, and put the Darkies back in their place," well…there's no way to un-see that.

An ordinary election is two boxers alternating between attempts at strategy and the exchange of blind, wild punches. Some of those even slip and land below the belt. At the end of the bout there is, if not mutual respect, at least nothing that happened in the ring that either side will be unable to let go. This election is one boxer in the middle of the ring and the other standing in the corner screaming racial slurs and calling her a bitch. My opinion will not be shared universally, but I believe this election has exposed a divide that no platitudes or soothing language can overcome. That's the funny thing about, you know, mainstreaming and attempting to normalize white nationalism. Turns out that it leaves hard feelings all around.

I will never say that I don't care who wins. That is a statement of pure privilege, the ability to declare that as a white male of middle income I'll probably be fine either way so who cares. I care who wins inasmuch as there are plenty of other people who stand to lose a great deal in this election, and inasmuch as I am not 14 or a total narcissist, other people are important to me. But I'm convinced now that regardless of who wins, there is no outcome to this election that we will be able to define as Good, or even Okay. The best possible outcome is a mediocre, middling neoliberal president bickering unproductively with House wingnuts while Americans attempt to forget that something like a quarter of us appear to want a dictator.

How do you walk that back? How do we process all those "nice" but "misguided" or "uneducated" acquaintances and family members who openly advocate genocide in the same way that a normal person might suggest going to Ikea? How do we collectively ignore how easy it was for an uncharismatic asshole to get millions of people to follow him like slobbering dogs even while he was openly contemptuous of them?

Someone will bring up the Civil War and remind me that time heals all wounds. That's possible. Maybe this is catastrophic thinking caused by excessive exposure to what is going on right now. But a lot of our social problems now flow from the fact that we're having an increasingly difficult time ignoring problems, which has always been the preferred American technique for fostering unity. Racism? Hey just sweep it under the rug and let's hug it out over some Monday Night Football! Now, though…I dunno, man. We've seen things. I don't think there's any way to go back. And that, despite how many aspects of this election are horrible, is the worst part about all of this.