The election is now seven weeks or so in the past, the inauguration three weeks away, and I think I'm in a position to say that my one feeble effort in the political debate of the past year or so has been a complete failure. I refer to the attempt to persuade Democrats that the habit of denouncing as bigots everyone who disagrees with them is partly responsible for the Trump phenomenon. Judging by the reactions of people I know, and from what I see on the Internet, they're having none of it. Asked to consider the possibility that telling people how much you despise them is not a good way to get them on your side, many don't seem able to see that they are perceived that way. The reaction has tended to be "Obviously those bad people didn't get the message that they are bad, so we need to say it more loudly and frequently."
The accusation that their enemies are driven by hate and fear, whereas they themselves are driven by love and tolerance, is so integral a part of the left's self-conception that most of them seem to be truly incapable of seeing that what those enemies see directed toward them is, precisely, hate and fear. One of the first things I wrote on this site, back in 2004, was an attempt to analyze liberal bigotry. The phenomenon has only grown more intense and more common since then. I've been struck over and over again in recent weeks by the degree to which the psychological mechanism of bigotry is operative among those for whom opposition to bigotry is an important part of their self-conception. "See the ugly thing that a Trump supporter said; Trump supporters are evil." It's exactly the same mental operation as that of a racist commenting on a crime committed by a black person. It seems to me that they are, you might say, self-inoculated against the capacity to see what they're doing: "I am not a bigot, therefore what I do is not bigotry."
So the polarization seems likely to continue and intensify, the diagnosis of undeclared civil war more frequently heard, the two sides less and less able to see the possibility of coexistence, more likely to see the seizing of federal power as the only way of avoiding subjugation by the other side.
Oh, and I suppose I should mention the continuing failure of another favored effort of mine: to persuade people, mainly those on the left to whom it seems most applicable, that the attempt to enforce national uniformity on controversial matters is a mistake, and that a path to peaceful coexistence is to allow the federal system to operate, leaving many things in the hands of the states. The response is always to point to slavery, segregation, and the civil rights laws: the resolution at the national level of great injustice. The well of federalism has been poisoned. I suspect that hundreds of years from now it will be generally seen that slavery and its related evils were the fundamental source of the forces that destroyed the United States. The lesson that might be drawn from the current situation is that we have invested too much power in the central government, and too much power and symbolic importance in the person of the president. The fact that he matters so much is not healthy, and was not intended by the founders. But the reaction seems rather to be a renewed sense of urgent necessity for seizing control of the national government. We do not elect a monarch, but some large portion of our citizenry seems to believe that we do, and that Trump could, if he chose, simply give the order to start rounding up everyone he (and/or his supporters) dislikes and putting them into concentration camps. (I'm not exaggerating.) And that the only defense against him is to seize the power attributed to him for their own side.
There's been a lot of talk about the effect of this election on the position of the media. I'm certainly not a student of the matter, but it seems to me that maybe we've reached some sort of recognition of the situation that's been developing for decades: the existence of openly partisan news media, along the lines of the newspapers ca. 1900. That's not altogether a bad thing. Anyone on the rightward side of the political spectrum is very well aware of bias on the part of the media establishment, bias which operates most powerfully not in the specific slanting of news stories but in the assumption by the media of the right and power to set the boundaries of acceptable discourse, in fact of truth itself. The Trump phenomenon seems to be evidence that that power has been reduced if not destroyed. James Bowman, whose media column in The New Criterion generally contains some useful insights, described what has happened this way--the context is of the Brexit vote, and the media coverage of the presidential debates:
...the job of reporting the news has in recent years too often taken a back seat to the reinforcement, with the help of media-identified experts, of an elite, bipartisan consensus on everything from trade to global warming to how to stimulate the economy to gay marriage. This consensus is also seen in both countries as being under threat from an incipient revolt by social and intellectual undesirables....
The media themselves, in other words, are the real experts in their own conceit. What they see as their unassailable moral authority gives them the right to identify the right experts, as it does to report the right facts, and so to decide in advance all those questions that were once supposed by non-experts to be debatable....
The consensus, and the right of the media to define it, have been severely damaged, though I think not destroyed. Even people like me who did not support Trump think that's a good thing. The next few years will be...interesting.
Back in November I saw several films at the Fairhope Film Festival which I wanted to recommend. We already had a full slate of 52 Movies entries, so I haven't yet mentioned them. One of them is a Swedish film, A Man Called Ove. (The name is pronounced "oo-veh", by the way.) I'm a little suspicious of my reaction to it, a little suspicious that I've allowed myself to fall victim to something sentimental. A brief summary of the plot reinforces the suspicion: a bitter and misanthropic old man is restored to humanity by engagement with the people around him. Although I can't think of a specific example, it seems a cliched plot.
It's both funny and moving, and even putting it that way arouses the suspicion that I was tricked by sentimentality into thinking it's a better movie than it is (the tear and the smile!). Well, so be it, I still recommend it. I argue that it's done so well that it succeeds in spite of the obvious pitfalls of the subject.
The film is based on a best-selling book (best-selling in Sweden, at least). I haven't read it, but my wife has, and liked it, which is a big part of the reason why we saw it.
Yesterday I went to a funeral. The deceased was not someone I knew at all well; it was the mother of a friend, and I went as an act of respect for him and his family, not because of any personal sense of loss. As is often the case when I attend a funeral, especially in a circumstance like this where I was not close to the person who died, I feel that there is something a little appalling about the way life goes on for the rest of us. Here is this enormously important event, and my wife and I are wondering if we can work it into a day of which the focus is going down to my sister-in-law's house in Josephine, Alabama, and watching the Alabama vs. Washington playoff game. I'm reminded of a story about a country preacher admonishing his flock to keep in mind the transitory nature of this life: "One day they'll lower you into the ground, and then everybody will go back to the church and eat chicken and potato salad."
For some reason--well, for definite reasons both cosmic and personal--Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush" has been on my mind for some weeks now. Here's a link to someone reading the poem, which includes the text and a rather nice graphic. It's the closing lines of the poem I keep hearing:
Some blessed hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware