Sunday, April 24, 2022

Dear Liberals, The Rules Won't Save You

On Friday Twitter was all aflutter with a legal hearing regarding Marjorie Taylor Greene's eligibility to run in this year's election. Plenty of liberals and progressives were electrified by the idea that she would be disqualified for having encouraged an insurrection, a violation of the 14th Amendment. I was shocked that anyone could actually think such a thing would happen.

The past six years should have been a massive wakeup call to liberals that invoking rules and process against a rising fascist movement is a futile strategy. The Mueller Report showed that Trump's campaign got help from Russian intelligence, and nothing happened. His followers tried to overthrow the government with his coordination and Trump wasn't even removed from office. The January 6th committee keeps uncovering more and more evidence of Trump's involvement with the attempt to steal the election, and that has also resulted in, you guessed it, nothing. In the meantime, the courts so many liberals think are their friends have been stocked with Trump loyalists and conservative ideologues. 

The underlying problem is that so many affluent white liberals are naturally inclined to see The Law and Institutions in a positive light because those things have always worked on their behalf. They are constitutionally incapable of seeing them as malign forces. And so they watch while red states obliterate trans rights and go McCarthy on public schools and put their hands on their hips and ask indignantly "How can they DO that?"

Well they can because that's how power operates. There is no moral arc to this universe, which is completely indifferent to good and evil. Dr King's famous lines were meant to give hope in a difficult time but so many today interpret them to mean they don't actually have to do the work because progress will somehow magically keep happening without them having to do a damn thing to bring it about.

It is a poisonous mentality, especially when democracy is under direct threat. The solution is not to "go high" but to organize and fight. This is about power, taking it and using it for good ends. When the wrong people get power The Rules become whatever they want them to be. This is a lesson more liberals need to heed. Stop wondering "how can they do this" and go out and create a new political reality before it's too late. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

American Weimar and the Soft Middle

I just finished reading my advisor Peter Fritsche's recent history of the first 100 days of the Nazi regime, which has me feeling both optimistic and shaken. He argues that after the Reichstag Fire the Nazis had the 52% of people who voted for them and their allies in the German National People's Party on their side, and it the ensuing 100 days through both coercion and mostly consent grabbed a significant chunk of the remaining 48%. 

As he has for a long time, Fritzsche argues that the nationalist desires and resentments from World War I gave the Nazis a great appeal to the political middle, who were aching to embrace a new national community even if it meant the death of democracy. This made me somewhat optimistic about the current political situation in the US, because there is no similar galvanizing issue that the crypto-fascists in the Republican Party have on their side. The crisis that killed Weimar lasted about three years, the current American crisis has been going on for at least twice as long. The fact that democracy has not fallen despite it might have to do with the lack of a fascist appeal to the middle.

However, I got more depressed when I realized that in the US facsists don't need a majority to attain power. The electoral college, Senate, and gerrymandering gave us Donald Trump and states like Wisconsin where conservatives have large majorities in the state legislature that do not reflect the vote. Add blatant voter suppression and now perhaps voter nullification, and the attainment of power becomes far easier. 

We've seen this before in the United States, of course, during the reign of Jim Crow. That's a more apt historical comparison to be made than to Germany. As I have said before, it's looking a lot like 1877, not 1933.

But I do think Fritzsche's book keys in on something relevant for the current moment in the US. Fascists cannot attain a majority on their own, but they can if they find ways to win over the mushy political middle, and that middle is extremely persuadable right now. Panics over crime and children's education are potent and exploitable. Look at Youngkin's win in Virginia, and Adams' win in New York City. Also take into account the media's coverage of politics, which is at great pains to "both sides" every single issue, making the existence of anti-democratic party literally something they can't report on, lest it be "biased." The voters in the soft middle hear about crime, inflation, and CRT and think the Republicans are merely a center-right alternative to the party in power, and give it their vote. 

For more proof, just look at how the attempt to overthrow the government on January 6 has played out. None of the politicians who backed Trump's coup have been punished; in fact, they have grown their profiles. MTG, Lauren Boebert, and Madison Cawthorn are all celebrities now. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are even more powerful. Trump has not faced any consequences beyond a Twitter ban. Back on January 6, QAnon's extremism finally crossed the radar of normie America. Fifteen months later the logic of QAnon and its conspiracies of child abuse are at the heart of the Republican message after being laundered into attacks on LGBT people and public schools. 

Come November the party of these fascistic forces will control even more states and likely Congress as well. Up against them is a weak, gerontocratic party trying so hard to appeal to the soft middle that they are losing their base of support in the process. Many will stay home, others will say "time for something new." In the meantime democracy will be eroded and lives ruined. I am more and more convinced that there was enough opposition to weather the crisis of Trump, which culminated in 1/6. That opposition has spent itself, while the fascists have regrouped. If the soft middle still sees this as just another partisan split, get ready for 1877 all over again.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Beatles, "Paperback Writer" (Track of the Week)

Can't I just be obvious for once?

Yes just about everyone loves the Beatles, but it's easy to take them for granted. The brilliant Get Back documentary was a necessary reminder of their greatness and how their songs should not be reduced to mere musical wallpaper.

In that vein, I was talking with a friend about the Beatles recently, and we both started gushing about "Paperback Writer." I had first heard the song as an eleven-year old when I got my first Beatles album, The Beatles 20 Greatest Hits, on cassette for Christmas. It's not the best compilation even by the standards of 80s Beatles comps, mostly because by hitting the biggest hits it omits a lot of psychedelic stuff. I didn't hear that stuff until much later.

However, "Paperback Writer" gave me a taste with its phased background vocals. Back in '66 the Beatles laid down several gauntlets on Revolver, but before they dropped that bomb in August, "Paperback Writer" backed with "Rain" (their best non-album B-side by a country mile) made a bold declaration. "Rain" gets really strange with some parts played backwards while "Paperback Writer" serves up the hooks. 

Those hooks allowed the Beatles to sneak something much more interesting than "I want to hold your hand" love sentiments into the Top 40. Hearing it on that Beatles comp I was fascinated by the song's narrative. It's just a guy begging a publisher to take on his book. He seems kind of desperate to escape the obvious drudgery of his daily life. It's a strange slice of life image that bands not as big as the Beatles would have been allowed to get on the radio. 

Beyond the lyrics, the song rocks harder than anything the Beatles had recorded up to that point. It's almost as if they heard all the great garage punk bands in America playing a harder version of the British Beat originated by the Fab Four and decided to show them how it REALLY ought to be done. The guitar riff just cuts like a buzzsaw. The song moves fast, clocking in at only two minutes and 18 seconds but it's so intense you don't even notice it. On top of all that, McCartney's bass is placed up front. He plays complex lines untethered from the main riff, freeing his instrument from its usual background role. It's a revolution in the use of bass in rock and roll years ahead of its time yet easy to miss because he never overwhelms the song. 

It's a song I've heard performed on their last tour, and those performances made their need to retreat to the studio pretty clear. The music was getting too complex to be played on a stage where they couldn't really hear each other. People like to mark that transition with "Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane' but I do it with "Paperback Writer/Rain."

Monday, April 4, 2022

Nirvana, "Aneurysm" (Track of the Week)

Even though I grew up in the 90s if I decide to listen to old music I will dig up stuff from the 60s and 70s as opposed to the decade of my youth. It's not because I don't like the music, it's because it has such intense emotional connections for me. The memories can get a bit overwhelming. 

For some reason, I have been able to overcome that recently, and have been incessantly listening to the OG grunge that came out of Seattle in the early 90s, before the Silverchairs and Bush-es of the world turned the genre into lamesville. 

Back in 1991 I was trying to explore more challenging, less mainstream music with the resources available to me in a small town in the middle of Nebraska before the internet. In the fall of 1991 this meant a lot of REM, The Clash, Depeche Mode and *gulp* The Doors. That was my main listening diet when I got hit upside the head by "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It was love at first feedback. 

After a year of listening to Nevermind on repeat and going back to pick up Bleach I was desperate for more of my favorite band, and so I bought the B-sides and rarities comp Incesticide the day it came out. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but some of the songs put their hooks in me, including "Aneurysm." (I find it best heard in the live version at Reading.) At their best Nirvana sounded like an explosion, but here their fireworks do the loud-quiet-loud thing they lifted from The Pixies for their biggest hit. (It's fitting that this was the B-side to "Smells Like Teen Spirit.") The loud parts are truly fearsome, the most savage attack they mounted in any of their songs. For me it's a song that belongs in the B-side hall of fame.

Nirvana reminds me of my angsty teen years like nothing else, when I would blast this music in my car and blow away all of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy in a hurricane of feedback and drums. It can feel weird and a bit embarrassing to go back to that state of mind as an adult, but the music is a reminder that I've come a long way. I only wish Kurt had been able to make his own journey. 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

You Know the Frankfurt School, Here's the Frankfort School!

For April Fool's yesterday I did a thing at the Tropics of Meta inspired by their illustrious editor Alex Sayf Cummings' joke that reactionaries should start something called the Frankfort School since they are always on about the evils of the Frankfurt School. I think it's pretty hilarious, please check it out.