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When it comes to democracy in America, it may be fair to invoke Charles Dickens’ opening phrase of his novel A Tale of Two Cities to characterize this moment: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . “

Most recently, since the January 6 violent storming of the Capitol, media coverage has focused obsessively on the worst of these times: the anti-democratic organized riot aimed at taking over the Capitol building in the name of Donald Trump and white supremacy and at overturning the presidential election Joe Biden won last November.

This obsessive focus is not without reason. We learn more and more each day about the orchestration of this event, the key players, its deadly intentions, and the potential, even likely, involvement of some of our own congressional leaders. In short, we are learning more and more about the forces organizing the effort to forestall progress towards the achievement of democracy in the United States by maintaining and insisting upon the status quo of white supremacy. And we need to uncover and understand as much as we can about this organized anti-democratic riot and the future plans of those involved. …


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Pundits, talking heads, and journalists have talked about the violent storming of the nation’s Capitol last January 6 as a “coup” and “insurrection.” We hear that this episode was one of international humiliation for the U.S.,that the whole world was watching our proud beacon of democracy turn against itself and devolve toward racist autocracy.

These now standard characterizations of the events of January 6 need some unpacking and interrogation, as they risk disarming, once again, a productive understanding and intervention into the racism, or white supremacy, dynamically at work in U.S. culture, society, and politics in the present and historically.

Let’s start here. …


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In the aftermath of the violent assault on the nation’s Capitol, all I heard on the cable news shows was how well-educated Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are. Cruz attended Princeton University and graduated from Harvard Law School. Hawley earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford University before completing his law degree at Yale.

Brian Williams, in particular, on his MSNBC show The 11th Hour, repeatedly invoked Hawley’s and Cruz’s elite educational pedigrees, perhaps not so much to praise them, but to highlight that somehow they ought to know better than to raise objections to the electoral college’s votes. They should have understood and honored the myriad court rulings that found no evidence of voter fraud; and they no doubt knew full well that their objections could not overturn the election, despite their encouragement of the violent “insurrectionist” behavior we all witnessed this week. …


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All of us in the nation, indeed on the planet, witnessed the largely white mobs storming the U.S. capitol building last week.

This shameful episode, what many have termed an attempted coup, is yet another reminder in a long stream of reminders in recent history, for those with short memories, of the prevalent, indeed dominant, strain of white supremacy animating American culture.

While white supremacy informs American culture in thoroughgoing and often unacknowledged and less visible ways, the “domestic terrorists” taking over the capitol were its most overt manifestation, waving the three flags that most brazenly and proudly celebrate white supremacy: the confederate flag, the Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread on me”), and the Trump flag. …


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Watching the senate, under the callous and inhumane rule of Mitch McConnell, fail to respond sufficiently and urgently to the dire suffering and needs of out-of-work Americans, largely denying their reality, brought to mind a scene from American author William Dean Howells’ 1890 novel A Hazard of New Fortunes.

Howells narrates in the novel the move of the married middle-class couple Basil and Isabelle March from Boston to New York with their children, as Basil pursues a mid-life career change from insurance executive to editor.

In New York, especially as they hunt arduously for an apartment, they encounter a metropolis much more sprawling and an urban culture much for diverse and divided and much less solicitous of human need and suffering. …


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“Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.”

This phrase has accompanied many a report on how to improve and reform public education in America and, of course, policy statements from education associations that support the work of teachers.

To a large degree, the phrase is not just pithy but also has the ring of truth. It seems like basic common sense. …


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Last October Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren blasted now President-elect Joe Biden for wearing a mask, suggesting that it was somehow womanly. Biden had tweeted that masks save lives, with a picture of himself masked.

“Might as well carry a purse with that mask, Joe,” she tweeted back.

First, let’s not fall into the trap of defending Joe Biden’s manhood or the manliness of wearing masks — and thus reinforcing sexist norms that still see womanliness as an insult, that see women as inferior.

Calling a man “womanly” or “feminine,” and thus questioning his masculinity, is meant as an insult — that somehow he is less than a man. And being less than a man, in our still inveterately patriarchal culture, means being less of a person, just as women have been seen as less than men, less than full people throughout American history. …


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“The free and full development of each is the precondition for the free and full development of all.” These words penned by a pair of nineteenth-century German philosophers have always struck me as undeniably true. It just seems like basic common sense that the most productive and creative society for all, a fully-developed society, would be one that harnessed all the creativity and talent each individual had to offer, such that it would actively seek to help individuals develop to their fullest potentials.

When we think about this basic philosophical truism, it should seem odd the amount of energy our society has historically expended in denying people their free and full development on the basis of sex and race, and that we have created a class system that aims more to exploit and repress people for the gain of some than to help people develop and contribute all they can for the benefit of all. With our class system, and its attendant ideologies of sexism and racism, we have created a world that actually works against our collective self-interest in a society that works as productively as possible to meet our needs. …


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Over the past four years, Americans have gotten a potent dose of autocracy, witnessing Trump’s repeated violations of basic democratic norms, climaxing in his still ongoing plot to overturn last November’s presidential election.

And we need to stress that the autocratic urge in U.S. society is not a solo endeavor on Trump’s part. …


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While Americans have by and large done a horrible and irresponsible job of practicing social distancing during this pandemic, a group of anti-Trump Republicans have been strategically and deceptively practicing a political distancing from Trump and the Republican Party.

Let’s be clear, though, that this political distancing is just that — a matter of political strategy, not one of ideological difference.

These anti-Trumpers, re-constituting themselves as members of the Lincoln Project, are simply trying to save conservative ideology from Trump’s sinking ship. While Trump has, for all intents and purposes, pulled back the curtain on traditional Republican “ideals,” revealing the small-man retrograde politics of racism, mass redistribution of wealth to wealthiest, sexism, anti-unionism, resistance to LGBTQ civil rights, and more, these defectors from Trump and the GOP are trying to create a life raft for conservatism by speciously peddling the story that the values of traditional conservatism and Trump’s Republican Party are somehow distinct. …

About

Tim Libretti, PhD

Professor of Literature, Political Economy enthusiast, Dad, always thinking about the optimal world

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