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Amor Mundi: Sanders and Trump

Sanders and Trump

Danielle Kurtzleben looks at a new study that shows that more than 1 in 10 people who voted for Bernie Sanders also voted for Donald Trump. This is an important study and shows how many people on both sides of the political spectrum are voting out of anger and protest at the established parties. It also shows that much of their anger and disenchantment has to do with race.

“Fully 12 percent of people who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries voted for President Trump in the general election. That is according to the data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study — a massive election survey of around 50,000 people. (For perspective, a run-of-the-mill survey measuring Trump’s job approval right now has a sample of 800 to 1,500.)

Political science professor Brian Schaffner of University of Massachusetts, Amherst tweeted the data on Wednesday.

Schaffner’s numbers show that after a bitter Democratic primary, more than 1 in 10 of those who voted in the primaries for the very progressive Sanders ended up voting for the Republican in the general election, rather than for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

What drove those voters to Trump? Schaffner dug into that, as well. What it wasn’t was trade, an issue where Sanders was closer to Trump’s philosophy than Clinton’s. At least, the issue of trade didn’t seem to have that much of an impact…. And then there is race. Nearly half of Sanders-Trump voters disagree with the idea that “white people have advantages.” This tracks with broader observations about election 2016 — for example, as I wrote last week, in general, the larger a state’s general-election Trump vote, the less likely its residents are to perceive a lot of discrimination in the world, according to data from the Public Religion Research Institute. And another postelection study — co-authored by Schaffner — found a “relatively strong indication that racism and sexism were more important in 2016 than they had been in previous elections.””

The Need To Confront Our Shadow

Hannah Arendt insisted that none of us could survive having our motivations and intimate thoughts—the dark truths of our human heart—exposed in the public. That is why we need to wear a public mask. And yet, it is also true that we may need to confront the truth that each of us has a heart of darkness. Alexander Blum agrees and turns to Carl Jung to find insights into the darkness in us all that has helped give rise to Donald Trump.

“Carl Jung was done a disservice by the sanitized spirituality of the New Age movement. Jungian archetypes were shoved into the same bucket as the zodiac, astrology, and healing crystals, lost in the blur of wishful thinking that had captured the late 1960s and 1970s and its desire to create a better society out of love and mercy alone. But the short-lived optimism of the sexual revolution and the hippie movement meant its demise in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration saw the rebels hang up their flowers and instead don suits, taking to Madison Avenue and extinguishing the flame of creative renaissance that wanted so badly to break free from the Cold War West.

Perhaps there is some parallel here with the Obama years culminating in the election of Donald Trump. During the Obama Presidency, American progressives became pacified, trading economic arguments for cultural dissatisfaction, forsaking the ideas of the New Deal for an emotional and ideological clamp upon the unconscious forces of racism and sexism. There was a pervasive sense that history had ended, that a centrist Democrat could potentially rule the West forever, and that the shadows of racism, sexism, and hate speech would finally be chased out of public society after the victory of Hillary Clinton, a female President.

Jung would not have been surprised by what followed. In The Philosophical Tree, he wrote:

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

American progressives believed that through a respectable politics, the psychology of hatred could be repressed through a combination of censorship and social pressure. They imagined that the march of progress was so inevitable that by shaming and denying the power of our worst impulses, we could create a paradise. But the ghosts of theosophy still haunt our politics. It seems today that the branches of the Jewish Kabbala’s Tree of Sephirot, answering to a cosmic balance between mercy and severity (as Valentin Tomberg wrote in his mystical magnum opus Meditations on the Tarot), has been ignored in favor of mercy alone. Compassion, empathy, and tolerance – all bundled into the package of political correctness – these forces alone would squash the shadow, our lower nature, and save us. Such was the promise of contemporary political correctness. But Jung would suggest that the politically correct are ignoring the very real severity in their own nature: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is…if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.””

21st Century Censorship

Tim Wu argues that with technologies like Twitter, Facebook and Google, we need a new revitalized idea of free speech.

“But in the 21st century, censorship works differently, as the writer and academic Zeynep Tufekci has illustrated. The complete suppression of dissenting speech isn’t feasible in our “cheap speech” era. Instead, the world’s most sophisticated censors, including Russia and China, have spent a decade pioneering tools and techniques that are better suited to the internet age. Unfortunately, those new censorship tools have become unwelcome imports in the United States, with catastrophic results for our democracy.

The Russian government was among the first to recognize that speech itself could be used as a tool of suppression and control. The agents of its “web brigade,” often called the “troll army,” disseminate pro-government news, generate false stories and coordinate swarm attacks on critics of the government. The Chinese government has perfected “reverse censorship,” whereby disfavored speech is drowned out by “floods” of distraction or pro-government sentiment. As the journalist Peter Pomerantsev writes, these techniques employ information “in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert and paralyze.”

Our distressing state of public discourse stems from the widespread use of these new tools of censorship and speech control, including by the White House. The administration habitually crosses the line between fact and propaganda. Instead of taking action itself, it demands that others punish its supposed enemies. To add to the mess, it is apparent that the Russian government and possibly others hope to manipulate American political debate, as its exploitation of Facebook and Twitter in the last election shows.”

Gameification and Citizenship

Rachel Botsman examines the roll out of an actual dystopian nightmare: China’s system of social credit, a method with which of all the country’s citizens will be monitored and ranked starting in 2020:

“Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It’s not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it’s already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility…

Others are less sanguine about its wider purpose. “It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,” is how Johan Lagerkvist, a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, described the social credit system. Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral scholar specialising in Chinese law and governance at the Van Vollenhoven Institute at Leiden University, who published a comprehensive translation of the plan, compared it to “Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder.””

When Words are Not Enough

Tiya Miles suggests that now is the time for action:

“There is worth in the expression of shared principles, as well as in the support that stems from collaboration. But beyond the immediate affirmation of restating our moral convictions, I confess my nagging worry that ceaseless statement-writing as an act of protest is sucking us dry — of time, rest, energy, creativity and our place in the public square.

Protest aims to voice dissent and sway public opinion toward the ultimate end of shaping social change, or in our moment, halting social decline. But when formulaic statements are issued by committees of liberal professors, or “the educated elite” — the same voices who always lecture on race — the words have limited impact. Our proliferation of statements online may in fact spur those who enjoy setting off shock waves through race-baiting language and then sitting back and watching the show…

This is not to say that words do not matter. Words hold immeasurable weight, which is why we bemoan Donald Trump’s mean and facile use of them. But all word-work requires time, and some have more impact than others. In this mudslinging cultural melee, we need the right words: the stories, jokes, essays, poems, harangues and treatises that paint a compelling vision that we all want to stand for. And beyond judiciously choosing the words to put on the page, we would be wise to follow in the great social-movement tradition of matching our words with bodies in action.”

We Were Migrants

In an interview, the poet and sociologist of education Eve Ewing discusses reclaiming an important aspect of black history:

“I think that it’s going to be interesting in the next century based on the work that Isabel Wilkerson has done and other people have done as black Americans, kind of reclaiming the migrant narrative. We’re told in school that we were never migrants, you know? And I remember being in fourth grade and basically being taught about Ellis Island, and having my teacher share her immigrant narrative, how they came through Ellis Island. The white kids in my class would go interview their grandparents and great-grandparents, and come back and talk about how they had come from different places in Europe. I remember one of my best friends had this handwritten report; she had interviewed her grandma, and her grandma talked about looking outside the window and seeing Nazi soldiers beating somebody up on a corner, and realizing, We have to leave the country.

I remember hearing those narratives, and being like, well, we don’t have that as black people. But part of the reason why the book stuff is so stressful is because I’m finishing up this other book at the same time [When the Bell Stops Ringing: Race, History and Discourse amid Chicago’s School Closures, forthcoming from University of Chicago Press in fall 2018], and the other book is about race in schools, and racism, and school policy, specifically school closure in Chicago. And I’ve been looking at all these pictures from the WPA that people came and took—of migrants during the Great Migration when they arrived in Chicago, and then in these kitchenettes, which were essentially tenement housing. This week I saw this one really stunning photo of this whole family, and they had worn their Sunday best to get on the train. It’s the picture right when they’ve arrived in the train station and they’re all standing there as a family of six people. They all have hats, and wool coats, and they’re holding these suitcases. That’s how my grandmother left Mississippi. And now I’m kind of wrangling with all of those things in terms of my own relationship to Mississippi or to the South, in terms of a place I’ve never been to that I sort of romanticize in some regard, but also which my family fled because of terror.

I went and I lived in Boston for five years, and the whole time I was basically obsessed with how to come home. Not just in terms of job stuff, but in terms of using the analytical skills that I developed in graduate school to think about my home. I sat in Harvard for five years reading books about the corners and neighborhoods of my own hometown, where I had spent the preceding two and a half decades. And then I just came back as soon as I could. And one of my advisors said, “Nobody goes to Harvard and comes back home afterwards.” But for me that was always the whole purpose. I always felt like I was sort of a long-term loan.”

Saving Throw

Neima Jahromi chronicles the rising popularity of Dungeons and Dragons in the age of the video game:

“This turn of events might shock a time traveller from the twentieth century. In the seventies and eighties, Dungeons & Dragons, with its supernatural themes, became the fixation of an overheated news media in the midst of a culture war. Role players were seen as closet cases, the least productive kind of geek, retreating to basements to open maps, spill out bags of dice, and light candles by which to see their medieval figurines. They squared with no one. Unlike their hippie peers, they had dropped out without bothering to tune in. On the other side of politics,Christian moralists’ cries of the occult and anxiety about witchcraft followed D. & D. players everywhere. Worse still, parents feared how this enveloping set of lies about druids in dark cloaks and paladins on horseback could tip already vulnerable minds off the cliff of reality. At the end of the 1982 TV movie “Mazes and Monsters,” a troubled gamer, played by a pre-fame Tom Hanks, loses touch and starts to believe that he really does live beside an evil wood in need of heroes. “He saw the monsters. We did not,” his ex-girlfriend says in a voice-over. “We saw nothing but the death of hope, and the loss of our friend.”

Decades passed, D. & D. movies and cartoons came and went, and the game remade itself over and over. But interest fell like an orc beneath a bastard sword. The game’s designers, surrounded by copycats and perplexed about how to bring D. & D. online, made flat-footed attempts at developing new rule books to mimic the video games that D. & D. had inspired. Gygax died, in 2008, occasioning a wealth of tributes but little enthusiasm. Then, a fifth edition of D. & D. rules came out, in 2014, and, somehow, the culture was receptive again to bags of holding and silver-haired drow. People started buying up these volumes in droves. “More people are interested in D&D than we thought,” the game’s lead developer, Mike Mearls, said, as print runs repeatedly sold out. “Who are these people? What do they want?”

In 2017, gathering your friends in a room, setting your devices aside, and taking turns to contrive a story that exists largely in your head gives off a radical whiff for a completely different reason than it did in 1987. And the fear that a role-playing game might wound the psychologically fragile seems to have flipped on its head. Therapists use D. & D. to get troubled kids to talk about experiences that might otherwise embarrass them, and children with autism use the game to improve their social skills. Last year, researchers found that a group of a hundred and twenty-seven role players exhibited above-average levels of empathy, and a Brazilian study from 2013 showed that role-playing classes were an extremely effective way to teach cellular biology to medical undergraduates.”

Not Joining A Club That Wants You As A Member

Jeremy Daub asks what makes a joke Jewish:

“Is this joke, with its multiplicity of potential punch lines, a Jewish joke? And if so, why? Is it the syntax, with its faint Yiddish overtones? The slightly smart-ass sensibility? The comfort with its meta-jokiness, or, put another way, the subversive, near-parodic jab at the joke’s very form? Is it the particular refusal to provide the closure of a punch line, which could be taken, by an overzealous interpreter, as a metaphor for a Jewish historical consciousness ever in wait for messianic redemption? Or is it just a joke about herring? While you think about that, here’s a story about telling Jewish jokes. It’s an old story, a tale of the Preacher of Dubno, an eighteenth-century Hasidic rabbi famous for his apt and witty parables. Asked by an admirer how he always managed to find such an appropriate parable for each and every sermon, he answered, not uncharacteristically, with another parable. He told the story of a general visiting his troops who was struck by the results of their target practice: while most of the chalk circles drawn as makeshift targets on the wall revealed your regular variety of hit-or-miss results, one showed nothing but bullseyes—dead center, every shot. Gasping, the general demanded to see this marksman; he was even more surprised to discover the shooter was a Jew, a conscript forced to serve in the tsar’s army. He asked the Jew the secret of his success at arms. The Jew looked at the general as if he were cockeyed and responded: “Well, it’s very easy. First you fire the gun, and then, once you see where the bullet hole is, you draw a circle around it.” This had always been his technique, the maggid concluded: find a good joke or story, then figure out the larger point to draw from it.

A joke, a story: a statement of the problem, an approach to solving it. The problem, of course, is how to define and describe Jewish humor as it’s appeared in all its vast and variegated forms, from antiquity to yesterday. It’s hardly a new enterprise: there have been previous efforts, especially over the last few decades, and especially in America, where for a while it seemed like Jewish humor was American humor, or at least a pretty central part of it. Steve Allen, who should know, referred to American comedy in 1981 as “a sort of Jewish cottage industry,” putting Jewish participation in the field at approaching 80 percent. Some, though by no means all, of the approaches advanced in those efforts—arguments focusing on language, on sensibility, on history—are hinted at above.

But Jewish comedy tends to resist any single explanation. For every argument that’s been advanced as to what it really is, a bit of thought immediately reveals all sorts of exceptions and counterexamples—so much so that other equally perspicacious critics have thrown up their hands and suggested any attempt to define a specifically Jewish humor is doomed to futility. What’s more, the counterexamples themselves aren’t just indicative: they’re almost as vast and numerous as Jewish history itself, which covers a lot of ground, of both the actual and metaphorical variety.”

Who Is Public Space For?

Ryan Krull examines the relationship between public institutions, libraries, in this case, and patrons who aren’t always welcome:

“Russell had a long beard that at least one librarian likened to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s. Every day he showed up to the Central Library building in downtown St. Louis, and because he always wore the same clothes, bearing the logo of the city’s former NFL team, the staff privately nicknamed him “Rams Jacket.” It was increasingly becoming a problem that hundreds of people like Russell, who spent their nights at the homeless shelter across the street, would spend their days in the library. But Russell was, according to one librarian who worked at Central at the time, “the most regular of the regulars.”

He always sat in the exact same room, at the same table, in the same chair. He usually read quietly, and when not reading, he napped sitting with the book propped up in front of him. He was in many ways the ideal library patron. However, Russell slept at a shelter where a different person used every bed each night, the linens changed only once a week. He became afflicted with bed bugs. He suffered from painful, suppurating sores.

Homeless people spending time in and around public libraries are nothing unusual in metropolitan areas. It has been written about before, widely. But at this central library in St. Louis, the city system’s crown jewel, a conundrum that exists all over the country was heightened to a rare degree. A library is supposed to be a place for all people. But how does the library keep its doors open to all?

Posted on 29 October 2017 | 8:15 am

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