Category Archives: Education

The huddled masses yearning to be free

In the wake of the election of President Trump, we have to acknowledge that there was great anger on the part of the electorate and great yearning too.

statue_of_liberty-cr
Lady Liberty holds the torch of freedom for all — the high and mighty, the weak and oppressed, the billionaire, the redneck, the wetback, the elite.

I think of the Emma Lazarus lines inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, think ironically of these lines, for today’s wretched, huddled masses, it seems to me, who may be counted by virtue of my education among the moralists and elitists, are the rednecks and other uneducated white working class (WWC) folks who elected Trump.

Our yearnings are theirs too. Who among us doesn’t want freedom, however we define it? Freedom from fear and want? Freedom from oppression by the government or other institutional forces who may despise and/or underestimate us?

The WWC have long disdained the long arm of the law and government that tells them what to think and how to express themselves. They can’t express their doubt or anger in their limited vocabulary (and whose vocabulary is not limited?), so they vote for the anti-PC candidate.

As Andrew Marantz writes in the New Yorker, Mike Cernovich, whom I profiled last month, became a prominent vessel of pro-Trump populism by saying unconscionable things on Twitter. “This election was a contest between P.C. culture and free-speech culture,” he told me the day after Trump’s victory. “Most people know what it’s like for some smug, élite asshole to tell them, ‘You can’t say that, it’s racist, it’s bad.’ Well, a vote for Trump meant, ‘Fuck you, you don’t get to tell me what to say.’ ”

In this yearning for freedom to say what one thinks, whatever one thinks, however “unconscionable,” whatever anyone else thinks of what one thinks, the wretched masses are like artists.

For if the essence of art is the yearning for freedom, so too the votes of the WWC. Now, the WWC may not have the skills or materials to be actual or actualized artists, but they do have human voices and human dignity and are worth listening to. Worth closing our yaps for, just a minute, and listening to. Not to worry, we’ll have our chance to talk again. And we’ll have our chance, again, at the ballot box. Our chance to vote and perhaps to vote for a candidate who’s more to the liking of a greater number of the people as a whole.

Meanwhile, it may be time to learn a little humility and bear up under the weight of what we might think of as our own oppression. For there is art in suffering, too, and learning. We don’t want to end up, after all, like Robert Frost’s runaway boy, in the first poem of his Boy’s Will (1913), who concludes, in perverse, puerile triumph,

They would not find me changed from him they knew —
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Angry and ignorant

Following up my recent entry about the GOP and the presidential race, which cited Charles Simic’s article “Age of Ignorance,” a friend posted an article by Fred Schaeffer on Facebook that supports and enlarges this view that an illiterate and/or poorly prepared American electorate is open to extremist views like Trump’s.

Trump exists as the likely Republican nominee for two reasons:

First, Neil Postman’s prophetic book Amusing Ourselves to Death has been vindicated. It’s not coincidental that Donald Trump is a reality TV star. He is the face of an illiterate America that  gets its “facts” from TV news and talk radio hosts. He is the result of a celebrity “culture” gone wild.

Second, Donald Trump is the creation of white angry lower and middle-class Americans who have come through our educational system that failed to educate them. … They are not moved by facts, but their energy is fueled by overt racism, hate, xenophobia, isolationism and ignorance.

Wow! These are serious charges, but let’s examine them calmly.

Reality TV? About as far from reality as you can get, but sadly becoming too many people’s ersatz or substitute reality. If you sit in front of the TV and drool for entertainment, then you’ll accept any fool business to lift you out of your torpor, your low sense of self. But here comes my own living room billionaire to hire me and fire me, and tell me who I am!

Racism and xenophobia? I don’t know right-wingers who aren’t fueled by these hateful emotions.

My neighbor A prides himself on being a hard man: he runs and works out and has a lean, toned body. His mind is similarly hard. Because he has made it, he says, on his own, without  much help from his parents or advantages in his roots, anybody can make it. Then he cites a list of numbers about murders and imprisonment — “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” in Mark Twain’s words — that prove that black people are responsible for their own sad plight.

My gym rat buddy Z, whom I’ve mentioned above, doesn’t pass on a chance to revile blacks and Latinos — anyone else who looks a little different from him, as if he were the Great White Hope that would save the race from the mongrel hordes! Of course, he’s a gun nut too, ignorant and paranoid about the real threats to America: the main one not being that someone is going to break into your door and slaughter your family but that you yourself in you family, your house, standing your ground, as they say, will continue to be an ignorant right-wing redneck and live with as much imagination and compassion as a zombie.

Yes, my countrymen, the living dead, awakened by Donald Trump and walking around the landscape with their mouths open and their brains shut.

Age of ignorance

This is the season of political choices, as we all know. The presidential primaries are hard upon us, and here in Arkansas we also vote for judges and other lesser offices.

Last night my wife watched the Republican debate, in which Sens. Rubio and Cruz lit into the front runner Donald Trump. There was plenty of sound and fury in the debate, evidently, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch, as I loathe all of the candidates. Disgusting to see them all pander to popular taste, Cruz and Rubio trying to outdo each other in claiming the mantle of true conservatism, Trump continuing to insult his opponents as well as the intelligence of viewers in general.

Read an article in The New York Review of Books by the poet Charles Simic, who was born, in 1938, in the former Yugoslavia, where I taught one year (1979–1980). Simic writes about what he calls the “Age of Ignorance”:

In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe. The hucksters, who manipulate them for the powerful financial interests, know that they can be made to believe anything, because, to the ignorant and the bigoted, lies always sound better than truth:

We are less and less able, as a nation, Simic suggests, to distinguish critically between idiot candidates and intelligent ones. Those who appeal most to our passions, fan the flames of our ignorance are those who stand the best chance. Trump has a huge lead in his bid precisely because he “tells it as it is,” that is, resists the pressure to be “politically correct” by spewing out all his venom toward women and non-whites. He will build a wall to shut out all Mexicans. He will deport all Muslims. He will call all women cunts.

Ah, such refreshing views. They are not correct, true, true. They are not true, either. But they fan the flames, and here is Herr Trump, like a new mini-Hitler, perched on the edge of securing the Republican nomination. That ought to do in the Republican party for a good, long while, but if Simic is right our popular ignorance is not about to go away.

As an English teacher, who’s tried to teach critical thinking for a long time, I too am appalled by the lack of clear and logical thought. But apparently it’s way too much to ask of an ignorant electorate, besotted by TV and the mass media, duped by corporate interests, intent only on feeding their fat faces and the fat faces of their children. Oh Founding Fathers, thou should be with us at this hour!