16 February 2017

My grievances and your resentments (post no. 700)

Dueling resentments take up a lot of space in political debates and online comment sections these days. For eight years the U.S. president, Barack Obama, tried to be the voice of reason in times of racial crisis, falling tragically short according to some -- and, on the other hand, recently charged with being the most "racially divisive" president in the speaker's memory.

That speaker, Alabama's congressman Mo Brooks, wasn't finished. His generalizations reached a point of incandescence:
"It’s a part of the Democratic party’s campaign strategy to divide Americans based on skin pigmentation, and to try to collect the votes of everybody who is a non-white on the basis that whites are discriminatory and the reason you are where you are in the economic ladder is because of racism," Brooks said. "That’s been their campaign strategy for decades, but Barack Obama has honed it to a level of perfection not heretofore seen." (Source.)
Now the question begins to make sense: "Is it racist to call someone 'racist'?"

This practice -- one-upping others' resentments by asserting one's own -- is given as (at least) a partial explanation of the recent U.S. election outcome. Nearly 63 million voters cast ballots for Trump. As I survey Facebook comments and online commentaries, some of those millions cited positive reasons for their choice: a businessman who makes deals, someone unlikely to get into war with Russia, someone who will nominate conservative Supreme Court justices. But time and again, certain resentments also pop up over and over again: those awful Clintons, self-serving politicians in general, bureaucrats who don't understand small businesses, a country flooded with dangerous immigrants.

These voters contacted by The Guardian expressed an interesting balance of hope and resentment. Many of them may have voted differently had a more palatable range of choices been available. Here's my question for both you and me: what do we now say to each of these voters and the millions who feel as they do? And how do we say it?

Among the people I know and (usually) agree with, many have responded to Trump's first weeks in office with anger and ridicule. If you have had the endurance to read my posts for the last few weeks, you know that I worry about this limited menu -- it contributes to the degradation of political culture that Trump himself is accelerating.

Now for the "However...":

    Russian political humor exists, especially online!
    Here's an evil villains' support group:
    Panel 1: "I'm Darth Vader, and I love blowing up planets."
    "What are you worried about?" "It's what's expected."
    "It happens."
    Panel 2: "I'm Voldemort and I wiped out a bunch of people 
    for the sake of the scar-faced boy." "Nonsense, Voldy!"
    "Everyone does stuff like that."
    Panel 3: "And I'm Doctor Evil. I voted for United Russia."
    Panel 4: "What a douchebag!" "Disgusting!"
I still had this skepticism in mind as I listened to the Culture Gabfest podcast this week. In their conversation about the recent revival of the variety TV show Saturday Night Live's ratings, panelist Julia Turner referred to David Plotz expressing concern on his podcast (Political Gabfest) the previous week about the gleefulness of SNL's anti-Trump satire. Plotz worried that such liberal delight in chortling about the "craven stupidity of Trump and those around him" (Turner's restatement of Plotz's concern) was politically counterproductive. The group raised the question of whether the overall effect of this glee somehow links to the near-monopoly held by liberals over mass media entertainment and, therefore, just makes the nation's divisions that much worse.

Other panelists defended SNL-type satire, referring to its stress-relief function. Somewhat to my surprise, I also found myself, in my own thoughts, defending this satire.

Here's my reasoning: Liberal domination is beside the point. Satirical commentary is a defined arena; you can enter it as participant or audience, or avoid it altogether. For example, I probably watch SNL maybe once a decade, if that often, and I have not watched it since moving to Russia, with one exception: I watched Melissa McCarthy's recent Sean Spicer performance. Satire is an occupational hazard for every prominent politician, and rightly so. It forms part of the feedback loop that gives wise leaders valuable information about their intelligibility and their weaknesses, while, we hope, exposing the unwise. I choose not to fill my days with abrasive satire, but I also don't advocate shielding any powerful figure from the satirist's spear.

One of my Facebook friends reported that his wife's niece, a university student, was treated mercilessly by her dorm mates when they found out that she voted for Donald Trump. Students! People who should be, above all, curious!! Even if 100% of these dorm residents opposed Trump, why would they not thank their lucky stars that someone who supported him is right there in their midst, giving them a convenient opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about her motivations and reasoning for drawing a different conclusion than they did? Of course I don't know the details about this specific situation, but it sadly has the ring of truth.

This is my 700th post. For the time being, I've written enough about the current U.S. president. Starting next week, I hope to return to normal programming!

I think I've been doing all I can to avoid commenting on this development in my beloved yearly meeting. Maybe next week, if I can't stall again.

In the ever-popular (?) "loving your enemies" department, Taking Jesus Seriously AND Literally. Thanks to Bill Samuel for the link.

"... God is never disappointed in us," says Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Which faith group do Americans not feel warmer about, according to a recent Pew survey? You probably guessed it. GetReligion goes on ...
The Times team focused on the survey's larger trend, which was the rise in positive numbers. That's a valid approach to this news story.

Christianity Today dug deeper and, as a key voice among evangelical Protestants, probed the implications of this survey for its readers. That's a valid approach, too, especially if you are looking for an edgier headline that fits these tense times in the public square of American life.
Do Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia face liquidation? (Four years ago, I quoted a friend on why they experience such relentless repression in Russia. Meanwhile, another JW conscientious objector tries to navigate the alternative service labyrinth.)

Recalculating Russia's economic performance.

The "Beyond Carravagio" exhibition moves to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. (More images and background information about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio on Artsy's site.)

I'm departing from my usual blues dessert to bring you a video from Lakocha, a wonderful "ethno-fusion" group in Moscow. They performed a benefit concert recently for the organization that houses our Moscow Friends Meeting. They sometimes call their music "Balkan cafe music," drawing from Serbian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Jewish, Greek, and Russian sources.

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