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Sunday, January 22, 2017

The rebirth of a romantic assumption

The Rebirth of a  Romantic Assumption

Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear.  Let a race of men now rise and take control.

Margaret Walker, "For My People"

January 20-21, 2017, Trump Days #1 and #2

When I knew my mother was dying in 1992, I began to cry.  My mother, looking at me quite sternly, said: "When do you plan to grow up?  I never promised you I'd be here forever.  Besides, I am tired."

Aware that the mouth of D. J. Trump exercised its First Amendment right to be vulgar, divided Americans beyond reconciliation, and positioned his nation to implode, many  American citizens have suddenly grown up, minimized decency and civility in political discourses, and internalized profanity. Many Americans have consciously "normalized" profanity and embraced mauvaise foi (bad faith).  Others, who are not absolutely immune to bad faith,  have embraced the pieties of sacred and secular religions. American pragmatism  has come home again.

 American citizens should woman-up and man-up to the death of a  romantic assumption imprisoned in the signifying  language of democracy.  They should admit they are not political infants  and act accordingly. This assumption is a fantasy of natural superiority and greatness, and its essential irrationality condemns it to be romantic.  It is securely inscribed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, but it is treacherous.   It lends dubious legitimacy to the paradox of freedom, namely a socially constructed,  de jure reality of liberation and the de facto actuality of American daily life and rampant oppression. The paradox endlessly delays consensus about what it means to be an American; it gives aid and comfort to fascism, to systemic enslavement.

 As a psychic element in the evolving of the human mind, the fantasy of racial superiority advertizes itself  to be  universal.  Nevertheless, its narrative manifestations are not transcendent.  They are bound by time and space and are  fundamentally local. The assumption, however,   is a powerful determinant in shaping American  oral and written histories.  It is seductive.  It appeals to and  captivates the imaginations of  the ignorant as well as the intelligent, the obscenely rich and the obscenely poor.  Its "magic" properties  satisfy  everyone's perverse desire to be great.  Those who automatically proclaim the  assumption is a blatant fake ought to fact-check their roles in enabling Trump's ascent and recognize why and how he gambled and raked in all the electoral chips.  If the popular vote could veto the Electoral College, it is not unthinkable  that American citizens might begin a long and painful journey into approximate democracy, and emancipate themselves from the abjectness so beautifully described in Plato's allegory of the cave.

 If citizens man-up and woman-up (as some began doing on November 9, 2016) , they increase the likelihood of recognizing that, according to Leon P. Baradat,  "reactionary extremism did not die in 1945 with Hitler and Mussolini. It has reemerged from time to  time, most recently during the current decade in Europe and the United States." This extremism  is the linchpin in Trump's suspect plans to make America great.  His extreme narcissism  touched the lives of all American citizens before he took the oath of office, and it will burn their lives during his tenure as President and Commander in Chief.  Unless citizens admit the whole spectrum of belief and ideology is extreme, will they not author their death warrants? 

Praising Trump and demonizing Trump are First Amendment  acts of speech, but they  free no one from the death and rebirth cycles of a romantic assumption.  Words will not break the cycles, but cold ethical/ethnic  actions may produce the life-sustaining,  anti-romantic assumption that is needed in the twenty-first century.  It was prophetically brilliant that Gwendolyn Brooks urged her fellow Americans to "First fight. Then fiddle." Americans choose not to be subjects and objects of fascism will heed her admonition in actions more powerful than  tragicomic, rhetorical spectacles of protest.

January 22, 2017, Trump Day #3

To the extent that reading is a preparation for critical thinking , and thinking shapes  mind and body for crucial  "revolutionary" action,  reading gives us pause and minimizes our leaping madly and blindly into the romance of revolution.  Reading alerts us to the fact that the word "revolution" is used quite too loosely in the USA, to the fact that few American citizens distinguish,  in their haste to be debatably neo-progressive  or pristinely   neo-conservative or adamantly   neo-liberal, "revolution" from "rebellion."  The words are related but not interchangeable.

As was the case in 2016, a considerable amount of American  critical reflection  will be influenced by the legacy of Leo Strauss (1899-1973),  by the ideas he proposed regarding political philosophy, Jewish studies, and Islamic studies.  We have an opportunity to ponder how those ideas were transformed  into domestic and foreign polices during the two terms President Obama served in office and how they may be further twisted, with Machiavellian zeal, as the Trump administration struggles with odd phenomenological mixture : dread,  fear, terrorism, and the fallacy of greatness;  the ecology of the ego;  the denial of climate change, the increase of mental health  and drug addiction problems; the triumph of nihilism;   the irreversible widening of the gap between wealth and poverty in our nation. We can weigh the utility of tossing  faith, hope and charity into a black hole ---the post-human cultivation of  wretched  disregard for the sanctity of human life.  What matters in 2017 must truly be more than one's ability to persuade others that  lies are facts.

Reading all or some of the works listed below may help in the difficult task of making good choices about political action.

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2010.

Anderson, Carol. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Bellah, Robert N. et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. New York: Perennial Library, 1986.

Bok, Sissela.  Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life.  New York:  Vintage, 1978.

Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. The Fourth Ghost: White Southern Writers and European Fascism, 1930-1950. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2009.

Eco, Umberto. "Ur-Fascism." New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995.  Access online at

Faust, David. The Limits of Scientific Reasoning.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

Guyatt, Nicholas.  Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation. New York: Basic Books, 2016.

Isenberg, Nancy.  White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America.  New York: Viking, 2016.

Katznelson, Ira. Fear Itself :The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. New York: Liveright, 2013.

Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning.  New York: Nation Books, 2016.

Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W. W. Norton,  1979.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince (De Principatibus, 1513)

Murray, Albert. The Omni-Americans.  New York: Avon, 1970.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Antichrist: A Criticism of Christianity (1895). Trans. Anthony M. Ludovici.  New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006.

_______________________. The Will to Power (1906). Trans. Anthony M. Ludovici. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006.

Obama, Barack.  The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.

Parkinson, Robert G. The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Pres, 2016.

Power, Samantha. "A Problem from Hell:" America and the Age of Genocide. New York: Perennial, 2003.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Reich, Walter, ed. Origins of Terrorism.  Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998.

Resendez, Andres. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Walker, David.  David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in particular and very expressly, to those of the United States of America. Ed. Charles M. Wiltse.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1965.

Wheelock, Stefan M. Barbaric Culture and Black Critique: Black Antislavery Writers, Religion, and the Slaveholding Atlantic.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

White, James Boyd. Acts of Hope: Creating Authority in Literature, Law, and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            January 22, 2017

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