A week or so ago, Curtis White dropped me an email with subject heading “Lamentations of an aging hippie,” which contained a link to the first in a four-part series of cultural/political analyses of the current malaise (not so current since White can find fitting quotes from as far back as Nathanael West) he had written for the MobyLives site at Melville House. The word “lamentations” is Biblical and prophetic. The phrase “aging hippie” is ironic since hippies have long come in for mild derision, if not worse. But an aging hippie is a person who participated in the great era of cultural consciousness-raising, the halcyon moment of America’s affluence, hope and resistance before we began to go down before the forces if neo-liberalism.
Here’s a teaser from the first essay “Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part I)”:
In short, American democracy is at present an exercise in self-destruction. We can’t dismiss that fact with the idea that the election of Donald Trump or of Paul Ryan, for that matter, was somehow a mistake that we won’t repeat. If it is a mistake, it is one that the people living on two-thirds of the landmass of the United States are committed to. This self-defeating commitment is the dark, dark side of Jerry Brown’s indifference to what the rest of the country does. As far as the people of Youngstown, Pennsylvania, are concerned, California has already seceded. For the dispossessed, voting for candidates like Donald Trump offers the illusion of “blowing up” the establishment (or “deconstructing the administrative state,” as Steve Bannon likes to say, trying very hard to sound as addled as some assistant professors of English), but in truth their vote is more like protest through self-immolation.
And it is likely to get worse. As the most ambitious, well-educated, and affluent people flee any Red State vibe and concentrate themselves in metro-Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, the rest of the country will get poorer, more ignorant, and ever more resentful. While the technological wonders of the modern world are displayed all around them, it feels to them as if they are suffering internal exile in some Third World country of the soul. This is not a new experience for the dispossessed of the earth. Nathanael West described their condition lucidly in Day of the Locust (1939):
Scattered among these [wealthy] masqueraders were people of a different type. Their clothing was somber and badly cut, bought from mail-order houses. While the others moved rapidly, darting into stores and cocktail bars, they loitered on the corners or stood with their backs to the shop windows and stared at everyone who passed. When their stare was returned, their eyes filled with hatred.
And here’s a teaser from the second “Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part II)”:
The danger in a putative “resistance” led in these ways is that—through entirely conventional forms of political activism administered by yet more millionaires, like Trump’s ex-pal Jeffrey Zucker at CNN—we will end up, whether we mean to or not, restoring a neoliberal political establishment whose interest in economic justice is tepid at best. There is something disturbing about the ease with which liberals line up behind MSNBC and Starbucks while voicing contempt for Fox and Cracker Barrel. It is disturbing because there is an unacknowledged element of class bigotry at work. We’re led to think, “Our enemy is white trash America, the poor and the stupid, and they eat at Cracker Barrel and they watch Sean Hannity!”
As James Baldwin could have said of the Democratic Party of the last thirty years, “They have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” They still do not want to know it, even after Hillary Clinton’s unprecedented rejection by the working class of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Keep an eye on the site for the remaining essays in the series.
Also check out Patrick J. Keane’s prescient pre-election essay “Slouching Toward Anarchy,” which appeared here on Numéro Cinq in April a year ago.