Saturday, September 25, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"He is a poor writer who does not teach courage of treatment."
painting: Heroic Roses by Paul Klee, as a Happy Birthday to MTK and DKB.

The Infernal Storm

If the polls and pundits are right--the many that claim an increasing likelihood than Democrats and President Obama will be repudiated with one or even both houses of Congress becoming majority Republican--the outlines of the perfect and perfectly infernal oncoming storm are all too clear.

There's the separate but related phenomena noted before: the increasingly blatant theocratic Christian right, the increasingly bold racism, and the increasingly confident Bush Redux pols, all trafficking in Big Lies. That the Bushcorpse agenda is once again front and center, less than two years removed from its greatest disaster, is in itself a measure of the insanity.

There's the big money secretly fueling the so-called grassroots revolt, and the powerful anger of the rich.

There's the new media environment that (as previously noted) no longer restrains extremism or covers it in proportion, but amplifies it. From E. J. Dionne:But something is haywire in our media and our politics. Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian whose new book is "The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History," observed in an interview that there is a "hall of mirrors" effect created by the rise of "niche" opinion media. They magnify small movements into powerhouses, while old-fashioned journalism, which is supposed to put such movements in perspective, reacts to the same niche incentives.

There's congressional Democrats and even the White House doing itself no favors in terms of generating voter enthusiasm by not forcing a vote on renewing the budget-busting Bush tax cuts for millionaires, and opposing enforcement of a judge's decision to end Don't Ask Don't Tell.

There's whiny progressives apparently willing to pull a Nader because they didn't get everything they wanted, lacking all historical memory when they point to the contrast with the great days of JFK, FDR and even Bill Clinton, all of whom were castigated by the progressives of their day for not doing enough, just as they were all castigated by conservatives for doing too much. Obama eloquently addressed this tendency, in a speech which I saw covered only by a newspaper in England. "This is not some academic exercise," President Obama said of the coming election. " Don't compare us to the Almighty; compare us to the alternative."

Though measuring the fault and the factors is more than I can calibrate, the reality is that the Obama record has not been clear to the country, and now the President is barely being heard by anyone, it seems. The GOPers are controlling the debate, or in any case, defining the noise. (For one thing, asks E.J. Dionne in a different column, why is everyone talking about the Bush tax cuts and not about extending the Obama tax cuts for the middle class, which are also about to expire?)

But the most important supposition is that voters aren't thinking beyond punishing Democrats for the slow pace of economic recovery. In their fury and effectively their stupidity, they will choose extremists making the same promises that the Bushcorpse either broke or broke the country with. And extremists without the sagacity or even the intent to serve as responsible members of government, which is what they're running for. Some of whom are on record as racists and theocrats, and some of whom are on record as suggesting armed insurrection if they don't get elected.

Against all this noise, there is some counter-evidence. Dionne gathered some to suggest that the Tea Party in particular represents a tiny minority, with electoral victories representing a very small number of votes. There are studies and polls that suggest the country is not moving into Rabid Right Suicideland. But all of that will be cold comfort if this infernal storm combines voting extremists with sullen stay-at-home moderates and progressives, and ends up with elected officials and ballot propositions that stop the change, and throw us into furious battles just to keep from making things worse. It's hard enough repairing the damage from the Bushcorpse years, slowly turning the ship of state in a positive direction. But that's what the infernal storm threatens: next stop Hell.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Whether we achieve what we are hoping for or not, it is important for us to keep hope. Hope is the basis of our future."
Dalai Lama
Happy Autumn...a day early.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Sunset Effect

I don't know if William Irwin Thompson invented the idea of the Sunset Effect, though he mentions it several times in his work, without (as far as I could find) really defining it. I take it to mean that just as the dying day produces a final spectacular brightness, a dying aspect of culture lights up the sky before fading and going dark completely. He does use the idea to explain the disconcerting power of the Rabid Right, when the progress of science and culture offers possible solutions to the mortal threats the old culture has caused, but such progress is seemingly superseded politically and culturally by the regressive and reactionary ideologies of groups that time is passing by. He calls it a "farewell phenomenon."

The metaphor of the Sunset Effect may offer some comfort, and perhaps some explanation, for what's happening in U.S. politics and culture at this moment. It may be pertinent to the power of white reactionaries as their numbers dwindle while other demographic groups grow (as discussed in the previous post, White Makes Right.) It may in some sense explain the extremes of the efflorescence. I am daily amazed by just how bold are the extremes that suddenly current political and cultural leaders are stating openly, as amplified by the eager media, including progressive Internet sites. There's the not unfamiliar political extremism (it used to be getting rid of federal cabinet departments, now it's slicing away at the Constitution), but notably the racist extremism linked to an emboldened religious extremism.

In part this seems to be a final venting, an explosion of true beliefs that these folks feel the culture has suppressed, with all the power of repression unleashed. The anger over needing to keep quiet or talk in code seems to furnish a lot of the power behind this extremism, now that it's become politically permissible to say this stuff, proud and loud. In addition to the open racism (while denying that's what it is), there's a coming clean about the Christian right dogma--their God as they define God is the real one, and everybody else is wrong and probably evil--as expressed by this Tea Party candidate for the U.S. House: "But … the significant difference between the kumbaya sessions and interfaith vigils and atheist protests of the Religious Left and the Bible studies and prayer circles of the Religious Right is that our God is real."

The white Christian Right component is integral to this End of Days efflorescence, as its own politicians admit. There's another Sunset Effect component, too--the traditional manipulation of the lowest common denominator by the highest monied interests, protecting their flow of wealth derived from exploiting people and the planet, including the fossil fuel industries eking out the last billions before they deplete themselves and kill off the life of the planet. Notably, President Obama last week named them as insidiously attempting to take over U.S. democracy, a pretty strong assertion that in other times would have resounded more than it did. Though statistics so far back him up, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for media to blow any whistles on corporate millions secretly empowering political extremism, since the same media are the chief financial beneficiaries of this spending. If it weren't for billions spent on political advertising, much of the media as we know it would disappear.

The Sunset Effect may be some solace in explaining why even the most outrageous views and antics don't seem to slow the momentum of these extremists. But there are probably less metaphorical reasons. The rise of the Tea Party extremism--which has yet to prove itself in electoral tests, by the way, beyond intra-party primaries--is inextricably bound to ongoing shifts in the U. S. media of public information. For almost a century, Americans have received political and cultural information--and importantly, absorbed political and cultural clues--through a relatively small number of large media outlets they shared in common (as well as smaller, special interest outlets.) This was particularly true in the television age of three national networks.

Now there are no media sources of information Americans have in common, and all the media are special interests. In particular, the ideological and political power of Fox News is a new factor in this age, joining the somewhat dwindling power of Rabid Right talk radio beyond Rush Limbaugh. Nobody in America gets more air time than Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Not the President, not any elected official or any progressive on any issue. The rest of the media plays to their agenda, either supporting or opposing it, but always amplifying it and feeding off it. Add to that the need for corporate money by all the traditional media running scared, plus the financial need of new media to expand and take their place.

Various polls and studies conclude that Fox's audience is overwhelmingly white, old and Rabid Right wing, and that they pay attention to no other news media but Fox. It is the Sunset Effect itself blossoming on the screen. But the moment is dangerous. This year is clearly some kind of culmination, a purging of poisons. But it may infect the body politic, and eventually kill the host. Politically, it's a fight between the rapid march to Armageddon fostered by the Rabid Right and the slow, painful change begun by President Obama. As Obama said Sunday, "The last election was a changing of the guard. Now we need to guard the change.” Whether Americans have the patience to continue on this path is a test of political maturity, the kind that Americans have flunked repeatedly in the past couple of decades. But the darkness gets ever closer.

Emerson for the Day

"I lose days determining how hours should be spent."