Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Life-sized ugliness: a mirror for right-wing politicians

I'm in Port Townsend again, writing. Reading essays is one part of my daily routine here. No matter what I read, serendipity always comes into play, and what I read helps me think about the fiction I'm working on. This morning's reading, though, resonated so powerfully with the violent political theater that this year's presidential campaign season has devolved into that I'm going to share a bit of it with you here (with the hope that the distraction from my work will then pass). My current reading is bell hooks' Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, which is a relatively old book-- Routledge first published it in 1994. It's a collection of essays that includes a 1993 interview conducted by Marie-France Alderman, chiefly discussing films of the day. The films they discuss are likely unfamiliar to many people now, but the discussion itself doesn't strike me as in the least out of date. Here is the resonant passage:
You know a film I saw recently that was very moving to me--and I kept contrasting it to Menace II Society-- was the film Falling Down. There is a way to talk about Falling Down as describing the end of Western civilization. Black philosopher Cornel West talks about the fact that part of the crisis we're in has to do with Western patriarchal biases no longer functioning, and there is a way in which Falling Down is about a white man who's saying, I trusted in this system. I did exactly what the system told me to and it's not working for me. It's lied to me." That doesn't mean you have the right to be so angry that you can attack people of color or attack other marginal groups. In so many ways, though, that's exactly how a lot of white people feel. There's this sense that if this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy isn't working for white people--most especially for working-class white men, or middle-class white men--it's the fault of some others out there.
Sound familiar? 1994 was the year the Newt Gingrich cohort took over the House of Representatives with a take-no-prisoners approach to holding the federal government hostage (a tactic that has since become a standard arrow in the far-right wing's quiver), that a few years later resulted in the virtual elimination of welfare assistance. And then of course, later, came the even more extreme Tea Party faction, which, though it is a minority, has successfully imposed a state of apparently permanent gridlock in Congress. Gingrich and the Tea Party politicians share most of Trump's values and attitudes. So why are some of these same far-right politicians now so dismayed by Trump's performance? Can it be that they are horrified to see the embodiment of some of their most cherished attitudes and values? (Never have their opinions and values looked as ugly as they do when expounded by Trump, whose primary form of disguise is to claim after he's said something more than usually outrageous he said was joking.) That makes more sense to me than the mainstream media's argument that they're fearing that Trump's boasts targets the kind of women their wives and daughters are. They've certainly never before opposed the language of rape culture. (And in fact, yesterday Rudy Giuliani got laughs at a Trump rally by joking about "locker room talk," which is how Trump characterized his boasting about his adventures sexually assaulting white women.)

Later in the interview, hooks muses on the reactions of many people to women presuming to speak in the public sphere (which in 1993 belonged solely to men--witness the Anita Hill hearings and Alan Simpson's rebuke of then president of NOW Molly Yard for what he called her "tiresome arrogance" in presuming to speak before Congress):
I was just home recently at a family reunion, and people said such mean and brutal things to me that I started to think, "What's going on here?" And my brother said that a lot of what's going on here is envy. [Envy for hooks' success as a well-published author.] ....We hear all these statistics about how many women are raped and beaten every so many seconds yet when we talk about having fear in patriarchy, we're made to feel that that's crazy. What incredible women today--especially those who are feminists--aren't talked about in many contexts as mad?
      Trump keeps playing the crazy card because the crazy card worked just about every time it was deployed against a woman for most of the twentieth century in the US. (I can recall numerous instances in personal life where the conclusion, on a woman's behaving willfully, which is to say, without regard for what the dominant man in her life was insisting on, was that she was "crazy.") These days, this trope doesn't work all that well with younger generations. Targeting Clinton as a woman out of control (crazy and criminal in the same breath--in any case, needing silencing and institutionalization of one sort or another) does work with people who share what hooks calls "this sense that if this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy isn't working for white people--most especially for working-class white men, or middle-class white men--it's the fault of some others out there."

Okay, having vented, I can now get back to work.   

No comments: