Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

14 January 2018

Hold that Image! Remember!

[For reasons to be happy on MLK Day, click here. For links to popular recent posts, click here.]

Effete Media II,
or Why I Won’t (Yet) Subscribe to the New York Times

If you want to know what’s wrong with the New York Times, just pick up the front page of today’s print paper (Tuesday, January 16, 2018). Then read the “story” headlined “Can Lawyer Ignore Wishes Of His Client?” in the left-hand column.

What’s wrong with this story? Just about everything. The headline doesn’t accurately identify the subject matter. The one-sentence “lead” reads like an introduction to a short story. You are halfway through the material before the page jump (about seven column inches) before you even know what the “story” is about: a Supreme-Court case to be argued this week.

If I want short stories written in literary style, I’ll pick up the New Yorker or The Atlantic. If I pick up a newspaper, whether in print or on line, I expect an invariable formula.

The headline should tell me what the story’s about. The lead sentence should amplify and expand the headline, as should the lead entire lead paragraph. (Like most good paragraphs, it should usually have more than one sentence.)

Then the rest of the story should explain, amplify and expand the subject matter, in such a way as to respect my time and attention. The details should appear in logical order, not chronological order, so that every column inch is worth my attention. I ought to be able to tune out whenever I’ve had enough, especially when reading the Times, for the adjective “fulsome” applies to more than half of its writing.

The author of this would-be short story, Jeffery C. Mays, got a full large-type byline for it. If it were up to me, I would send him back to journalism school for remedial work.

Authors of far more complex stories on far more important matters often get only collective “this story was written by” notices in tiny type. If I were one of them, I would feel jealous and resentful of Mays. I would wonder to whom on the front-page editorial staff he’s related.

I can easily afford a subscription to the Times. I want to support great journalists like David Leonhardt, Peter Baker, David Sanger and Paul Krugman. But I’ll be damned if I’ll pay for a rag that doesn’t know the difference between a newspaper and a literary review, and that often toadies up to Wall Street just because it owns Manhattan. If the new publisher Sulzberger wants to get the “vote” of my subscription, he’d better find a new front-page editor, preferably one who knows what a newspaper is and how to edit. (Hint: editing often involves sending a piece back for a complete rewrite, especially if it misconstrues its literary genre.)

It’s too bad we don’t have the video. We know from honest people who were present exactly what the president said about “shit-hole” countries and the mostly black people who come from them.

But some of those who were present and ought to know better deny. They say they don’t recall. How could anyone forget that?

So we the people and our honest pols must remember for them. We must hold the images in our minds, at least for ten more months. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

We must preserve what video and audio we have. We must guard the clip of Trump defaming Mexicans as murderers and rapists. We must preserve the image of him lauding as “fine people” the white supremacists who murdered an innocent protestor in Charlottesville. We must save his exhortations to his “base” to beat up protestors at his rallies and to jail his political rival.

We must preserve these images in our minds’ eyes and in our archives as if they were the most precious of treasures. For in a way, they are. They remind us of who we are and who we are not.

Nearly every one of us came from a “shit-hole.” The Pilgrims who populated Jamestown fled religious persecution as awful as burning at the stake. Waves of immigrants followed, fleeing revolutions, persecution and cataclysms in Europe: the Irish famine, the failed mid-nineteenth century revolution in Germany, the world wars.

My own ancestors fled a “shit-hole” that today is called “Ukraine.” The part from which they came was then in Tsarist Russia. The Tsar proposed to draft my great-uncle into his army, and his draft was for twenty years.

For Jews like my great-uncle, the draft was a death sentence, because the Cossacks who ruled the Tsar’s army often used Jews for target practice. So my great-grandfather packed up his things and fled to America, sending for his wife and eight children after he had gained a foothold here.

Almost every family in America has a story like that. Sometimes it goes back to our Revolution and our Founding. Sometimes it’s only a generation or two in the past. For many (but not all) African-Americans, the story begins with Emancipation, at the end of our most terrible war. They came from a “shit-hole” of our own making: the “shit-hole” of slavery.

But there’s the thing. Because nearly all of us came from “shit-holes,” we all made a promise as Americans. Our Land would never become a “shit-hole.” How could we be sure? We would respect, help, and protect each other, whatever our various origins.

So simple a prescription! But it’s one that Every Boy Scout, Cub Scout and Girl Scout knows. You don’t disrespect a little old black lady from Haiti or Nigeria. You help her cross the street.

It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the American thing to do. It’s also the practical thing to do: that little old black lady from the Caribbean could be the mother of a Colin Powell.

By making sure we help and even love each other, we guarantee that our Land will never become a “shit-hole” like so many from which our ancestors fled. That attitude—that idea—makes all the difference.

Lindsey Graham, a loyal Son of the South, understands the idea. But he won’t stand by it when the chips are down. He’ll follow Donald Trump into the Jaws of Hell just to hold onto political power, regardless of what happens to that idea and our nation. McConnell and the rest are much the same.

So we the people must remember for them, for at least ten more months. We must keep the clips in our minds and at the ready.

Then, as the next hottest-ever summer turns to fall, we must release the clips again. We must flood our memories, the Internet and the airways with the messages of hate that this president and his lackeys have multiplied. We must contrast them with the messages of hope, respect and love that are America.

We must remind ourselves who we are and who we are not. As we do, the waters of Justice will roll down like a mighty stream, just as Dr. King predicted. They will cleanse the halls of Congress and our statehouses. They will set the stage for impeaching a man who never should have been president, as all his many reluctant facilitators know full well.

The River of Righteousness will cleanse the Augean stables of our politics of hate, and we will set our nation right again. For we will know, once again, that we are all refugees from “shit-holes.” We can stand tall only if we stand together.

We will cleanse our minds of hate and our politics of rancor. We will reject the subversion of Putin and our own heedless traitors. We will restore the unity and coherence that have made us the strongest nation on earth—knit together by the ideas of justice and equality, not by mere soil or blood.

We will emerge invincible by remembering who we are, and by rejecting who we are not. And we will do so decisively, this coming fall. We will do so because, in the long haul, doing so is all that matters, and the only way to make us great again.

Happy MLK Day!

This subtitle is not ironic. The darkest hour is often just before dawn, and I believe that’s just where we are.

For starters, our mainstream media have awakened to our president’s inveterate racism. David Leonhardt—one of the best journalists of my 72 years—has documented it irrefutably, going back to the 70s and 80s. Columnist Charles Blow has explored the ramifications and asked the relevant question, “What are we going to do about it?”

Both journalists have surmounted the potential-energy barrier of effete journalism: the desire to duck lawsuits and avoid controversy at all costs. They have called the thing by its name: Donald Trump is a racist and has been so all his public life. He based his successful presidential campaign largely on racism, which is why only about a third of Americans now support him.

Yet the darkest cloud always has a silver lining. That is so in this case.

The mainstream-media’s acknowledgment that Trump is a racist is strangely liberating. It frees us all to focus on the 800 pound gorilla that has been sitting in the middle of our dining room tables since the 1960s. It frees every one of us—not just the racists—to look at race in our troubled society with fresh eyes.

It frees a white geezer like me in so many ways. I no longer have to pretend we live in a “post-racial society,” or to coddle people who so believe, against all the daily evidence assaulting their senses.

The issue never came up with Barack Obama because he was, quite simply, the best presidential candidate of any race or party since JFK. He was and is far more faithful to progressive values, and has far greater political skill, than either Clinton.

That’s why and how he won the presidency twice, in a still consummately racist society. If George Washington’s precedent and our Twenty-Second Amendment had not precluded his third term, we would not be suffering under an incompetent, unqualified, racist leader now.

But in my 2008 essay exulting over Obama’s first presidential victory, I raised a question that I haven’t had to answer until now. What about black and other minority pols who are merely good, but lack Obama’s stellar intelligence, empathy, and political sensitivity? How should I react to them?

Now I know. With race and racism out in the open, I can put my thumb on the scales, with a clear conscience, and know precisely why. I can support the underdog, fulfilling an ancient American trope, and one particularly suited to my Jewish background. I can support the most loyal and steadfast progressive Democrats, and I can identify them by race. I can acknowledge the pols and the people who consistently support my party and my policies at levels above 90%, and I can do my utmost to make sure they have the power and the tools to allow everyone who looks like them to vote.

I can send money to Stacey Abrams in Georgia—a state in which I have never lived and never will—just as I once sent money to Harvey Gantt in his quixotic quest to unseat the bigot Jesse Helms. But this time I can expect more of Abrams because the times and the tides are changing. I can have realistic hope that she will turn Georgia blue and, in so doing, put the “Solid South” back in the progressive camp, where (apart from persistent racism) it belongs. And I can do a similar thing with Ruben Gallego in Arizona, my neighbor state, and with Kevin de León in Calfornia, a state where I reside with my fiancée part time.

I can vote for and support the black and brown candidates in part because they are black or brown, believing that they will never betray progressive values as the Clintons did. I can accept them as true political allies, not just because they “have nowhere else to go,” but for their ideas, their political skill, their youth and enthusiasm, and (for the black ones) their heroic perseverance in peaceful pursuit of American values over four centuries.

In so doing, I can help forge a durable coalition among progressive whites and rising minorities that will last for at least three generations, at least until something better comes along.

I can cement the sequel to Lyndon Johnson’s “two generation” clock: Dems’ loss of the South after passage of the sixties’ civil rights laws. I can exult in the clock running out on the racists and troglodytes and the resurgence of progressive values that will surely follow. And I can hope that, in so doing, I can help change America and change the world, long before America becomes a majority-minority nation.

Now that we know we suffer under a racist government, we can do something about it. We can dedicate ourselves to a new coalition—one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, one borne of generational struggle and sacrifice. And with that new coalition, we can change this nation for the better, now and forever.

Happy MLK Day, and let us work to bring on the new dawn!

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