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Amor Mundi: January 22nd, 2017

Populism and Totalitarianism

“Totalitarian politics—far from being simply antisemitic or racist or imperialist or communist—use and abuse their own ideological and political elements until the basis of factual reality, from which the ideologies originally derived their strength and their propaganda value—the reality of class struggle, for instance, or the interest conflict between Jews and their neighbors—have all but disappeared.”

– Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Donald Trump gave an inaugural speech as the 45th President of the United States . “January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential…

Continue reading this piece on Medium…


Stop Making Sense

In an interview, French translator Bérengère Viennot describes the challenges of translating the rhetoric of Donald Trump into French:

“You have to be able to get into someone’s mind in order to translate his speech and reformulate it into your own language. Trump is not easy to translate, first of all, because, most of the time, when he speaks he seems not to know quite where he’s going. In my essay, I took the example of the interview he gave to The New York Times. He seems to hang onto a word in the question, or to a word that pops into his mind, repeating it over and over again. He shapes his thought around it and, sometimes, succeeds in giving part of an answer — often the same answer: namely, that he won the election. Trump seems to go from point A (the question) to point B (himself, most of the time) with no real logic. It’s as if he had thematic clouds in his head that he would pick from with no need of a logical thread to link them.

That is not at all the way I am used to thinking, which, in itself, would not matter so much, as I very often have to translate things that are unfamiliar to me. But here’s the other problem with Trump: even once you’ve understood his point (or lack thereof), you must still express it in your own language. You realize, at that moment, that you have written something very unpleasant to read. Trump’s vocabulary is limited, his syntax is broken; he repeats the same phrases over and over, forcing the translator to follow suit. If she does not, she betrays the spirit of the original piece. The translator has to translate the content and the style. So that is what I do, and reading Trump in French, which is a very structured and logical language, reveals the poor quality of his language and, consequently, of his thought…

As a translator of political discourse, you also have the duty to write readable texts: so what am I to do? Translate Trump as he speaks, and let French readers struggle with whatever content there is? (Not to mention the fact that I will be judged on the vocabulary I choose — sometimes the translator is blamed for the poor quality of a piece.) Or keep the content, but smooth out the style, so that it is a little bit more intelligible, leading non-English speakers to believe that Trump is an ordinary politician who speaks properly — when this is obviously not the case?”


Global Populism

What, wonders Rebecca Liao, are the global (and globalized) classes supposed to do in the age of Trump?:

“If Trump and his ilk are Americanists, Brexiters, the Front National and the Alternative für Deutschland, what has happened to the boosters of globalism—the so-called globalists? Once the target of anti-globalization protesters, in Seattle and Genoa, the “Davos Man” is now the target of elected officials.

The short-term result has been unctuous, false humility. In the days following the American presidential election, some of the most prominent globalists stepped forward to declare that globalization bears significant responsibility for the current populist resurgence. Barack Obama, one of globalization’s chief evangelists, acknowledged the day after the election that “Globalization combined with technology, combined with social media and constant information has disrupted people’s lives . . . A manufacturing plant closes and suddenly an entire town no longer has what was the primary source of employment.” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman made these high-level criticisms more personal: “When the two most important things in your life are upended—the workplace and community that anchor you and give you identity—it’s not surprising that people are disoriented and reach for the simplistic solutions touted by a would-be strongman.” Niall Ferguson, meanwhile, highlighted the cognitive dissonance of the globalist class. With a blithe lack of self-consciousness, he told CNNMoney that “establishments generally underestimate how much they’re hated, particularly if they’re cut off from contact with regular people. I think there’s a worldwide backlash against globalization—and it’s economic discontent, a backlash against immigration, a backlash against free trade.”… he conflict between Trumpism and globalism is overstated, not least by Trump himself; but also by the people who feared him leading up to the election. Many of the people picked for the administration, or likely to work with it, are not only perfectly fine with free trade, but are boosters of it. Secretary of Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, and Goldman Sachs veterans Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn—the probable future heads of American economic policy—are all beneficiaries and defenders of the current global economic system. It seems unlikely that Trump will directly undermine the World Economic Forum (the organization behind Davos), the Aspen Institute, or the think tanks, consultancies, and conferences that make up the cottage industry of global thought leadership. For starters, massive tax cuts for the wealthy are more likely to inflate the fortunes of the small base that keeps this industry going.But this highest stratosphere of prestige is not simply bound together by money. Davos represents a very specific global ethos directly at odds with most of

But this highest stratosphere of prestige is not simply bound together by money. Davos represents a very specific global ethos directly at odds with most of Trumpism. We’ve seen and will continue to see changes in the emphases and nature of global thinking as globalists look for clever ways to do business with the incoming US President and survive upcoming power shifts across the world system.”


Not Even Past

Andrew Lanham turns to W.E.B. Du Bois for a critique of Trumpism:

“Du Bois held open a small but resilient public space for criticizing American military policy and calling for civil rights at home and abroad. By the end of the 1950s, that conversation had borne fruit, as black activists such as Rebecca Stiles Taylor called for feminist resistance to the bomb, Einstein published his famous 1955 antinuclear manifesto with the philosopher Bertrand Russell, and Martin Luther King Jr. framed antinuclear politics as crucial to civil rights. In the 1960s such coalitional activism expanded beyond Du Bois’s wildest dreams. King famously damned the Vietnam War as a racist colonial adventure. The Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, who ran for president with the Peace Party in 1968, cited Du Bois’s trial as his inspiration.

Du Bois’s battle for peace offers four major lessons. First, we need to make visible the economic and social structures that produce violence at home and abroad. Second, we need to use history to track how and why those structures evolved and how past activists fought them. Third, in a period of ideological polarization and permanent war such as our own, democratic debate and the free circulation of ideas is the first thing to defend. Finally, we must build robust coalitions, across movements and between nations, to resist violence, oppression, inequality, and injustice. “Peace is not an end,” Du Bois wrote in 1949. “It is the gateway to real civilization.” His democratic ideals remain our best path to peace and justice. Just as Du Bois helped preserve those ideals in the early 1950s, we have to keep them alive today.”


Krazy Kat Loves Ignatz Mouse

Gabrielle Bellott on the subtle race and gender radicalism of George Herriman’s early 20th century Krazy Kat comic strip:

“Krazy’s gender, to the consternation of many readers, was never stable. Herriman would switch the cat’s pronouns every so often, sometimes within a strip; in one, from 1921, Krazy switches gender four times in a single sentence. When Krazy is portrayed as male, the comic becomes the story of one male character openly pining for another—in some touching scenes, the characters even nestle together to sleep. For all his pestering and punishing of Krazy, Ignatz ultimately seems to have a soft spot for the ingenuous cat; when Krazy plants a kiss on a sleeping Ignatz in one daily, Ignatz’s dreams, suddenly visible to the reader, become filled with little cupids and hearts. In two strips from 1915, Krazy wonders aloud “whether to take unto myself a ‘wife’ or a ‘husband.’ ” In a strip from 1922, an owl attempts to find out Krazy’s gender by knocking on the cat’s door and asking if the lady or gentleman of the house is in, only to find that Krazy answers to both titles. At the end of the exchange, Krazy charmingly self-identifies simply as “me.” Some fans of “Krazy Kat” were mystified by all of this. In his autobiography, the director Frank Capra described a conversation he had with Herriman on the subject. “I asked him if Krazy Kat was a he or a she,” he writes. Herriman, Capra tells us, lit his pipe before answering. “I get dozens of letters asking me the same question,” Herriman told Capra. “I don’t know. I fooled around with it once; began to think the Kat is a girl—even drew up some strips with her being pregnant. It wasn’t the Kat any longer; too much concerned with her own problems—like a soap opera. . . . Then I realized Krazy was something like a sprite, an elf,” he continued, according to Capra. “They have no sex. So the Kat can’t be a he or a she. The Kat’s a spirit—a pixie—free to butt into anything.” Capra, bemused by the answer, remarked, “If there’s any pixie around here, he’s smoking a pipe.”…

I asked Tisserand if he thought Herriman’s own experience with racial identity and his depiction of gender in the strip were linked. Tisserand pointed me to a 1914 strip, in which Ignatz asks Krazy about sometimes being a “Miss” and sometimes a “Mr.” “It’s a sed story, ‘Ignatz,’ which will move you to a tear,” Krazy says. “When us ladies first got the ‘votes,’ I went to a voting boot to vote. The man said to me, Is you ‘Miss,’ ‘Mrs.,’ or ‘Mr.’? Not to offend him, I said, Any one which you like sir, or all three should you rather have it that way. Well, it’s here my sedness begun,” Krazy concludes. Tisserand said, “Herriman wouldn’t have had that exact experience, but would have, at the age of nineteen, while living in a boarding house at Coney Island, had to choose his own racial designation, for the first time in his life.” Herriman, like Krazy, might have decided “to choose whatever wouldn’t give offense,” Tisserand proposed. In a world that required rigid demarcations, being someone who didn’t fit neatly could feel both dangerous and demeaning.”


Zygmunt Bauman

Mark Davis and Tom Campbell eulogize Zygmunt Bauman.

“In a book published in 2000, the Polish-born sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who has died aged 91, deployed a metaphor since taken up by the anti-globalisation movement around the world. Liquid Modernity analysed the disappearance of the solid structures and institutions that once provided the stable foundations for well-ordered modern societies, and the consequences for individuals and communities.

Bauman, professor of sociology at Leeds University (1971-91, and then emeritus), argued that our “liquid modern” world was unable to stand still and keep its shape for long. Everything seems to change – the fashions we follow, the events that catch our attention, the things we dream of and the things we fear. An increasing polarisation between the elite and the rest, our growing tolerance of ever-expanding inequalities, and a separation between power and politics remained constant themes in his writings – in all he produced more than 60 books. As the state and the market vie for supremacy within the space of global capitalism, the fate of poor and vulnerable people assumes particular importance. As he put it: “When elephants fight, pity the grass.””


Posted on 22 January 2017 | 9:00 am

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