J’ai le sentiment ce matin d’être dans un nouveau monde sans majuscules. Quelques impressions, après avoir mal dormi.
Wall Street ne s’est pas effondré et donne l’impression de récupérer rapidement. La grande nouvelle est que le gouvernement entier est à droite ou à l’extrême-droite. Je n’ose l’appeler républicain car ils sont très divisés. Il est à craindre que la surveillance de la grande banque se relâchera, l’assurance santé va retourner au Wild West (plus de vingt millions d’assurés sous cet Affordable Care Act, méprisé sous le nom d’Obamacare, mais aussi des augmentations brutales des contributions santé cette année dûes aux assurances privées), les jeunes immigrants vont perdre le peu de protections qu’ils avaient, le salaire minimum va rester très bas, allocation chômage très bas aussi, l’industrie pétrolière et charbon va reprendre sans considérations intempestives sur les effets climatiques, l’immobilier va pouvoir gonfler sa bulle, le mouvement de privatisation de l’éducation s’accélérera, etc…
J’espère que l’administration Trump n’osera pas toucher à la Sécurité sociale ou à Medicare à cause du danger électoral, mais les pressions d’un parti républicain même divisé seront fortes. Quant aux autres dossiers sociaux (avortement, mariage, homosexualité, drogue et prison), il reste à voir ce qu’une administration Trump acceptera de tolérer (Trump lui-même paraît indifférent à ce genre de questions). Je doute que les grands traités internationaux en préparation pour le Pacifique ou l’Atlantique nord ne soient pas signés, et vite, malgré l’opposition au “globalisme” du candidat Trump, car c’est le seul dossier sur lequel Obama était soutenu par le parti républicain et on peut penser qu’une entente sera vite conçue entre intérêts industriels, financiers et politiques (que ceux-ci soient d’un parti ou de l’autre).
Le fond du paysage économique reste le même: plus grande automation des tâches, rationalisation de la gestion plus extensive, création d’emplois précaires. Et donc faiblesse de la demande globale, timidité des investissements à longue durée, stagnation de la productivité, accélération continue des différentiations de revenu et de statut social.
Quant à la politique politicienne, il est difficile de prévoir ce qui va se passer dans nos deux grands partis. Quelle leçon vont tirer les membres du parti républicain de cet événement? Qu’ils doivent faire un réarmement moral (comme le suggéraient récemment les Douthat, Brooks, Wehner, et al dans le New York Times)? Ou bien que la démagogie larvée des trente dernières années ne paie que si pratiquée en grand et sans souffrir aucune hésitation de leur part? Le parti démocrate lui aussi devra monter au créneau et se demander ce qu’est une société de justice et de paix, au delà des discours qui ne coûtent rien sur l’intégration sociale, au lieu de faire une confiance aveugle à une rationalité et un calcul utilisés comme instruments de pouvoir.
Je crois qu’on va à la catastrophe un peu plus vite qu’on ne l’aurait fait sous Clinton. J’ai voté pour elle sans enthousiasme. Le Federal Reserve n’a plus d’instrument de contrôle avec le taux d’intérêt de base à zéro. Discours courageux mais lénifiants de Clinton et Obama ce matin sur le transfert de pouvoir et la bonne volonté de tous dans “notre” grande tradition démocrate. C’est de résistance qu’il s’agit maintenant.
On peut penser qu’une petite moustache ne siée pas à Trump et que nous sommes encore en démocratie. D’autres suivent dans l’ombre cependant. Que se passera-t-il quand les employés de l’industrie et des services qui ont voté pour lui dans les grandes zones industrielles défoncées s’apercevront que rien n’a été résolu, au contraire, et qu’ils ont été floués? Au Wisconsin, Michigan, en Pennsylvanie, Ohio, etc., là où on votait démocrate au temps des syndicats malgré les promesses non tenues? Mais ils le savent déjà. Ce vote de colère ne résoud rien et je crains qu’il n’annonce de plus grands mouvements.
Post-trump political gurus and shills were hard at work this morning: the two Brooks of the NYT, both self-defined moralists who are busily spending their time separating and protecting the “conservative movement” from the crowds. They are revolted by Trump’s “grabbing”, mud-slinging, and total lack of civility. It allows them to talk up the soft side of conservatives: a social concern, a sense of connectedness and responsibility, even compassion for the poor (in moderation). This goes with systematic criticism (silence at best) of the Affordable Care Act—their own production—, no raise or adjustment of minimum salary, all out globalization, privatization of education by vouchers (at best), systematic rewarding of capital in all forms, and destruction of any semblance of fairness in the tax system as well as of any social goal in it, aggressive foreign policy without political aims, simply a machinery that provides rich contracts to armament, electronic, and surveillance industries.
These opinion writers feel pressure to externalize Trump as a “pityable” object beyond redemption. How much easier it is to treat Trump as a deranged outlyer in the capitalist system than recognize the much deeper and broader corrosion that threatens to engulf everyone. It is the profit making at the heart of capitalism that wrecks civil society and one of its expressions, civility. To quote a comment on David Brooks’ opinion article:
Trump is a sort of human embodiment of an un-parented, unregulated free market capitalism that runs over everything in its way, externalizes costs to everyone else and makes a “killing” for its practitioners.
Trump is not a lonely, single narcissist, but the truth of our conquering capitalistic culture. Attempts to paint this culture as potentially humane and compassionate are illusions if not lies. What will happen in the next election cycle, four or eight years from now, when much worse and organized than Trump may surface? As another comment says:
This election shows just how close we are to a fascist government in this country, and it will not take much to bring it into being, a bad down-turn in the economy and the right demagogue and we’ll be on our way.
[8 Oct 2011] On the way to Sabba’s place, I am on Delaware, in and of the world, yet in dire need of its compassion. I move, I live, do I do more than replicate and explicate. It is ad majorem dei gloriam, glory and exultet. The reeds along the San Lorenzo river wait for the breeze to brush against each other. Glory. Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be…. Sabba is in a circle of a dozen people in wheelchairs, listening to Jan who is leading the group through puzzle questions. Which country did Mother Teresa work in? What’s the name for a group of military officers who take power by coup d’état? I walk with Ben who is responsive today and whose hands are relaxed. He extends his arms more easily than Thursday and is able to hold the walker. I ask myself why it is different today. Questions take me away from the world. Is it the time of the day, my being more receptive, or a myriad other reasons? Questions are duplications, unfolding and refolding, how to conjure things to be other than they are. Back to the world. I learn the names: Mina, Herman, John… I forget other names. Hallowed be…. Dorothy thinks Ben is her departed Jack, Lorice sits near Ben. Her brother directed Catholic labor organizations. We speak of Dorothy Day. Your kingdom come. Ben is able to grab and hold the piece of fresh, sticky bread I give him. He gnaws at it. Drink: he slowly puts his fingers around the cup, lifts it, shapes his lips to drink, is able to tilt the glass with some assistance. I help with bits of pasta, turkey, zucchini. Their shape and size preoccupy me as does the dignity of this ninety-year-old man. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We share the sour dough bought at the market this morning. A piece of the still warm bread, with peanut butter, not only to Sabba but also to the neighbors. Apple sauce and yogurt for dessert, after the pills to help control the tremors. Comment allez-vous Mr. Kleinstein? He repeats. Then: מה שלוםך? It takes a while, but he repeats and perhaps means to continue, בסדר. Special day today: sabbath and Yom Kippur. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts. Our trespasses. Our breaks and heartbreaks. Yom Kippur. אבינו מלכנו חננו ועננו… חטאנו ופשענו ואין בנו מעשין… שלח לנו…
We sing, correction, I sing. Lorice: “You have a nice voice.” This leads to stories of Lent, old liturgical habits, Asperges me, thoughts of the hyssop that was used on the altar of the temple, et mundabor (“and I’ll be made pure”), and on to the paschal vidi aquam egredientem…. with a latere dextro on my mind, or is it my heart ?
This year, French students were offered the following choice of questions on the menu of the philosophy section of the French baccalauréat (end of high school exam):
- Are our moral convictions based on experience?
- Is desire inherently unlimited?
- Do we always know what we want?
- Why should we study history?
- Does working less mean a better life?
- Does knowledge require proof?
- Does obeying the law make you just?
- Can we always justify our beliefs?
- Nos convictions morales sont-elles fondées sur l’expérience ?
- Le désir est-il par nature illimité ?
- Savons-nous toujours ce que nous désirons ?
- Pourquoi avons-nous intérêt à étudier l’Histoire ?
- Travailler moins, est-ce vivre mieux ?
- Faut-il démontrer pour savoir ?
- Pour être juste, suffit-il d’obéir aux lois ?
- Pouvons-nous toujours justifier nos croyances ?
Orlando: fifty dead, including the killer who came from a US family of Afghan background, had been married, was separated from his wife who accused him of beating her, had extreme opinions he may have learned in his home and religious milieu, and worked for a security firm. He had been suspected twice of having ties with Islamic extremists but nothing came out of it. He was able to buy more guns very recently. Needless to say, politicians were quick to draw their own conclusions from the disaster. Trump took advantage of it and tr(i)ump(hantly) claimed he had been right all along. About what? His shouts and egotistic appeal to visceral feelings, I suppose. Clinton was prudent, too prudent probably. She and her team are wondering how tough she should look? In his NYT op-ed, Roger Cohen managed to attack Obama again for his alleged pusillanimity in Syria in the past five years. As if it is possible to destroy Islamic extremist movements after our long recent history of military aggressivity in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, East Africa, Afghanistan and Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The list is very long of places where we have supported leaders on the dark side and our perceived interests have relentlessly been pursued without regard for the cultures and religious feelings of societies with enormous demographic and economic problems.
Art objects are amassed by the thousands in Geneva port and kept under heavy security. They are owned by some wealthy individuals, banks and other companies as a form of appreciating capital, a hedge against the erosion and erasure of values. A genuflecting bow to the spirit by the immense, jealous accumulation of material power? It is likely that very few of these works will come out and be seen by anyone for decades. In effect, it is a huge Tutankhamon’s tomb, a hundred times or a thousand times bigger, crammed to its ceilings with objects meant to be treasured and not seen. No myth of eternal life accompanies or surrounds these drab buildings defended by barbed-wire, except a perpetual sacrifice of human spiritual capacities to the gods of envy.
Our stories tell of the loss of a place and hearth—home and temple—by which we imagine and structure an original, unmediated presence as being lost. Our dancing liturgies endow it with power (cre-do), name it our god(s), send some of us to approach the hidden monuments of that presence. The place was also the temple, the fire its sacrificial cult, the prayers the consolidation or condensation of this no-name “presence.” The temple and its (hi)story are remembered and rebuilt as a dreamy capacity to get near the presence and keep up the possibility of visitation and renewal. It is part of the dynamic capacity all human beings are thrown into and have at their disposal. We are capable of recognizing we are in “circles” that can be described as distant points from something that ipso facto gets figured as a center. And so we keep re-imagining and reinventing our history, both individual and macro-social. The history of the mapping of, or distance from, this center at the beating heart of the person, its consuming life, gets things accomplished in ways more and more distant from and yet articulated on an improbable center. This, amici, was a comment on the polished story of Baal Shem and successors, quoted by Gershom Scholem (where? I don’t have a copy) and requoted by Martha Himmelfarb:
When the Baal Shem had a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire and meditate in prayer—and what he had set out to perform was done. When a generation later the “Maggid” of Meseritz was faced with the same task he would go to the same place in the woods and say: We can no longer light the fire, but we can still speak the prayers—and what he wanted done became reality. Again a generation later Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov had to perform this task. And he went into the woods and said: We can no longer light a fire, nor do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayer, but we do know the place in the woods to which it all belongs—and that must be sufficient; and sufficient it was. But when another generation had passed and Rabbi Israel of Rishin was called upon to perform the task, he sat down on his golden chair in his castle and said: We cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of how it was done. And, the story-teller adds, the story which he told had the same effect as the actions of the other three.
From Himmelfarb’s Ascent to heaven in Jewish and Christian apocalypses (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 113.
Why does the demagoguery of the right and extreme right work so well in this US election? Many white and non-white middle or low earners have seen the vast majority of good jobs vanish. My last post mentioned Robert Reich’s book on labor and its conclusion that the middle class was losing traction at an accelerating pace. Without going into a discussion of ever-developing robotics and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is enough to look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projections for jobs with the most growth expected between 2014 and 2024. There used to be plenty of jobs: technical, skilled and satisfying jobs that didn’t necessarily require a long and difficult education which led to better but not vastly superior benefits. Many middle and lower class people are being unwillingly pushed into menial jobs, as a walk along Woodward Avenue north of Detroit made me aware again this morning. White workers especially can be excused for questioning and even hating themselves for failing to live to an image they grew up with since at least the eighties. Longevity statistics of middle-aged white Americans have been discussed recently. This segment of the population is more inclined to substance abuse, alcoholism, suicide. For evidence and discussion, see these two recent articles: Death rates rising for middle-aged white Americans; and Why are white death rates rising? These new workers belong to a generation that had parents with better salaries, cheaper homes (mortgages are a most important barometer), a decent pension system and medicare. Not all of this is gone but it has become very fragile and much more difficult to acquire. Thirty-five year old skilled workers cannot raise a family like their parents did, buy a home, and hope their present jobs, let alone pension and health coverage, will be there next year. One would have to take into account also the pressure new communication systems put not only on socially-enforced consumption but even more on labor saving systems and productivity.
Non-whites presumably do not have the same self-image problem even though they are under even greater economic pressure. They know or assume that their parents and grand-parents had to struggle to ensure a minimum education and welfare for their children. They are continuing this struggle and perhaps are readier to accept the harshness of their lives in the hope they have for themselves and especially the next generation. But for many workers, especially white men and women, the hope in a better life and the trust placed in the nation, its government, and its economic institutions, have been sullied or shattered. They cannot admit they are angry at themselves, perhaps their parents’ generation, or those like themselves—with whom they identify—who had their fingers on the levers of power. The publicized and authorized anger at immigrants that is so easily mediatized, as well as a more coded hate of blacks, is directed at all those weaker and even more vulnerable than they are.
For the working class to adopt a broader analysis and look at their real historical condition rather than turning on each other seems hardly possible in the US. Or rather a whole new crop of rich and well-educated demagogues like a Trump, a Rubio, or a Cruz, systematically helped by the media, resorts to inflammatory words to temporarily unify and use or abuse as many of these electors as they can. With feelings of hate and contempt directed at those poorer than themselves, a large segment of the population is provided by the elites with a new escape from reasoned political analysis and action. In regard to such deception, there is no difference between Trump and a standard Republican establishment that proclaims its revulsion at his demagoguery. The whole party, helped by its paid political and media affiliates, has long played a divisive game in order to suppress any social and political analysis of the real situation of labor. Even worse, some of its leadership is actually beginning to say that Trump will not be so bad after all. No matter the dangers in terms of domestic peace and foreign policy, they seem willing to harvest what they sowed—or rather to have others harvest the storm. The mostly cost-free cultural values that have long been used to hide real bread and butter issues (no to abortion, prayer in school, anti-gay measures) become less important for the Republican party if the temporary unity that Trump or anyone else builds on anger and hate gathers sufficient votes and power politics as usual can then continue.
Robert Reich’s most recent book, Saving Capitalism (Knopf, 2015), presents a dark view of the social and political divisions in today’s capitalism. Twenty years ago, it was still possible for Reich and many others to believe that technological inventions and skills could spread widely and help the middle class survive if not deploy any further. The new book by Reich presents a sociological and statistical analysis of the last twenty years that leads to different conclusions. The middle class is not being lifted by education and is losing traction at an accelerating pace. Counterweights like unions are being marginalized in what is at heart a political refashioning of the US and the world. All the candidates to the US presidency are willing agents, except Sanders who strikes me as a bona fide FDR democrat, as he said in last night debate with Clinton. The political system has turned massively into such a willing servant of the exploitative machinery that FDR and even Eisenhower look like rabid socialists. Clinton presents herself as a genial, experienced tinkerer on the margins of this systematic, legally enforced spoliation of people. The various worthy liberal claims attached to her persona may be genuine—I do believe they are—as is her appeal to Jesus’ beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew. The enactment of these claims will cost almost nothing, however, compared to other needed transformations. Liberal claims are presently most useful in hiding the transfer of wealth and the speedy, scary weakening and fracturing of people’s dignity.