[Update: slight edit on the genesis of the title quote.]
Kieth Savage was this guy who would perform poetry at the Brainwash Cafe open mic back in the day. He was homeless, but he was also a brilliant performer. Sometimes he could sweep the whole place into his monologue like some kind of charismatic preacher. Poetry is powerful – way more powerful than most folks know. Zizek is fond of saying that there cannot be war without poetry. Anyways, there was one night that Kieth got pretty far afield talking about George W Bush and the Iraq war that was unfolding at the time. Afterwards, I was discussing the performance with another one of the scene regulars. He was saying to me, about Kieth’s monologue, “It’s like, alright man, I follow you, but…” and I finished the sentence “Where are we?”
America is surreal right now. I want to be happy about Hillary Clinton’s win last night in South Carolina, but the more I’ve thought about it through the day, the harder it gets to be upbeat about it. The New York Times put out a special report this morning about the importance of her influence as Secretary of State on the bombing of Libya, critical of her stance on foreign policy. She is a hawk, and she’s been a hawk. In my view, she has to be a hawk, because there are large, powerful institutional forces that will see to it that non-hawks stay out of the Commander-in-Chief position. Moreover, a great many Americans are hawks, and they get extremely upset about any kind of constraint on their hawkishness. I recall after 11 September 2001 thinking that we had to go to war, because people would accept nothing short of that. They needed revenge. (Balance!)
There’s a scene in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier where the young, impetuous title character challenges the old belligerent aristocrat to a duel with swords, and wounds him with a scratch on the arm, to which the aristocrat responds with horror, calling for a doctor and claiming to be grievously injured when he is clearly anything but. He demands that his attacker be executed for his affront. I remember watching the scene and thinking “Well, this is just how it is with the powerful. Every little scratch is mortal wound, to be repaid with the harshest retribution.” As traumatic as 9/11 was, there’s no way you can justify the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by that one day. But Clinton went right along with all of that, and if she hadn’t, there’s no way she’d be running for President right now. I don’t think she especially enjoys sending people to their deaths, or dealing with corrupt dictators, but that’s the world she lives in. She can deal with it, or she can not be a part of it.
There was a delightful discussion on the latest episode of Vox’s podcast “The Weeds” where they come up with the idea that there is often confusion between structural problems and tactical problems. In the context of the discussion, they’re talking about how establishment conservatives in the Republican party seem to be stuck thinking that, if they could just find the right way to attack Trump, they could put forward their candidate – but the structural problem is that Republican voters no longer trust the establishment. They want Trump because he isn’t the establishment, and the only way to restore trust in the party is to change the party. I think this is true in the Democratic party as well. And last night’s South Carolina primary, I think, might give us a clue to what that might look like.
The Atlantic put out an interesting article this morning about the South Carolina result in which it is recalled that Bill Clinton’s own candidacy was a pragmatic move to reclaim the working class white vote that had been alienated by the increasing influence of minorities and progressives in Democratic politics. Last night demonstrates that, in the long run, Jesse Jackson was right. The irony is that its Hillary Clinton who’s now leading the Democratic coalition, and that she’s being supported by the same minorities that Bill rejected in the “Sister Souljah” moment all those years ago. Even more interesting is that minorities are not forgetting – but they are forgiving. Which indicates to me that they are thinking about this election. And I find that very encouraging. Republican voters are not thinking about this election almost at all – its all feelings. Its why you can’t reason with them, or negotiate. And Trump represents all that to a tee.
But I think that if that’s the situation, then we might be in for a major realignment in American politics, and that could get pretty crazy, and have deep influences on the economy going forward.