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JHan's Journal
JHan's Journal
December 8, 2017

On the Demise of Our Public Language

You dislike the revolution in party-political communications ushered in by New Labour in the 1990s – though you may console yourself with the fact that it prompted Armando Iannucci to produce his best work. You are sick to death with the unrelenting abuse of language in public life. You nervously watch the fortunes of European nativist politicians and you appreciate the significance of the election of Trump. You look to media and news and current affairs to help you to make sense of public language, replete as it is with instances of hocus-pocus, weasel words, sleight of hand, euphemisms, bare-faced lying, and a battery of other techniques which debase public life. You shake your fist at the radio and television when you feel that broadcasters are falling down on the job – such is the importance of their role. You know that Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language is a classic study of the nexus between the two, but you are aware of how the world has changed so much since Orwell wrote it, and that, alas, it doesn’t cut the mustard now. You wish someone would write an accessible and insightful study of language and politics today. Mark Thompson’s Enough Said might well be the book you have been waiting for.

Thompson’s ur-text is The Art of Rhetoric, in which Aristotle discusses the constituent features of rhetoric before proceeding to discuss three types. For Aristotle, rhetoric consists of logos (dialectic or pure argument), pathos (the speaker’s ability to sense the audience’s mood and “work it”, in Thompson’s description), and ethos (the power of the character and integrity of the speaker), and he advocates a balance between these elements in public language. Of the three kinds of rhetoric, deliberative rhetoric is the language suited to politics – forensic and demonstrative rhetoric are for other occasions.

Against the backdrop of disillusionment with mainstream politicians, the rise of the ‘anti-politician,’ the burgeoning of ‘communications,’ and a media eco-system that is more competitive than ever, Thompson does justice to a number of dilemmas currently faced by politicians and broadcasters. But, more interestingly, he also examines unmistakable trends in politics and media which represent causes for concern. Four striking contentions, shaped by Aristotle’s thinking, emerge over the course of the book’s remarkable main chapters.

First, Thompson characterizes today’s rhetoric as speech in which logos is sacrificed at the altars of ethos and pathos. Today’s ‘anti-politicians’ are guilty of this, but this tendency already has an extended history: New Labour and ‘spin’ are discussed in terms of these conceptions, and in one section, Thompson traces it back to Reagan, although balance still inheres in Reagan’s rhetoric. Second, he argues that political parties, whether they are in power or in opposition, often use the language of campaigning throughout terms of office. Third, many of today’s politicians are ‘authenticists.’ It is authenticism that separates, say, Tony Blair from Donald Trump: although both place a premium on pathos and ethos, the anti-politician discards focus groups and aims for a less mediated authentic effect – though that may of course may be the result of just as much micro-management of communications (it’s all smoke-and-mirrors). And fourth, rather than conducting our affairs in deliberative rhetoric, the invasion of ‘marketing-speak’ into political rhetoric means that, more and more often, we hear a form of demonstrative rhetoric when a politician orates.

It goes without saying that the media should somehow help us to process political acts of persuasion: politicians speak to us through the media, but news and current affairs programmes have the power to filter, reject, refine and so on. But Thompson alerts us to a number of dangers in this domain as well. Across a number of chapters, he provides us with a history of the process whereby sources of news have been denatured. That history begins in his account with television news coverage in the United States in the 1980s, when news was “shortened and simplified.” The age of digital journalism only exacerbates a decline in such programmes. ‘Legacy publishers’ need to compete with all manner of alternate news sources against a background of far greater choice, and as a result they have been unable to stick fully to the old somewhat paternalistic practice of generating ‘serious-minded’ content. Across the board, “Headlines, brief summaries, lists, and other formats which can be absorbed in seconds” is the new norm. Stories are “maximal.” Logos gives way to ethos. And what dialectic remains is more doxa (opinion) than episteme (knowledge), especially on Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere, “a limitless marketplace for doxa.”

December 4, 2017

Redneck Revolt Says Deal With Racism First, Then Economics

Addressing our systems of White supremacy cannot be dismissed as “identity politics.”

“Our entire capitalist system is built on a bedrock of White supremacy.”

Moved by the need for control, for an unchallenged top tier, the power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences where possible.

—Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

There is no shortage of media commentary discrediting “identity politics,” particularly the focus on Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities calling for justice and equity. Economics is our real problem, a counter argument goes, not race, sex, gender, citizenship. But as author Nancy Isenberg points out in White Trash, “identity has always been a part of politics.”

Laws have been written to oppress and exploit particular identities—Native Americans, Black Americans, Asians, homosexuals, transgender, and women—in a successful effort to maintain a system of White supremacy. Yet, members of these communities have worked for the rights and equality of everyone. In turn, White allies have joined in these anti-racism fights.

The Redneck Revolt is one such organization. The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group challenges working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.

I recently talked to Brett, one of the members who heads up the network’s Southeast Michigan Chapter. (Because of hostilities toward the organization, Redneck Revolt members use only their first names publicly.) There are about 40 chapters nationwide. He explained why the group focuses on anti-racism rather than economics even though it seeks out white working-class and poor people in economically struggling rural areas.

Jeffries: Can you give an example of what you mean by “changing hearts and minds.” What does that look like?

Brett: A really great example would be back in June. The ACT for America folks did an anti-sharia law march. Redneck Revolt was there. We were on one side of the barricades along with a slew of other leftist organizations. On the other side of the barricades were Proud Boys, Vanguard America, and a hodgepodge of other alt-right groups. But one of the most prominent was the Michigan Liberty Militia, which is famously racist and famously exclusionary.

Toward the end of the demonstration, this one older gentleman—he was an older White man up at the barricade with all the gear on, and armed—had his rifle. One of my members and I went up to this guy and were like, “I understand mixing state and religion is not good. Nobody here wants to mix state and religion, nobody is protesting that. it’s clearly anti-Muslim. This protest is against Muslims.

“Furthermore, it’s against all people of color because this neighborhood [is] first-generation Somali, first-generation people form sub-Saharan Africa who are fleeing abject poverty and warfare, starvation, disease. So how can you be in this neighborhood and be like, ‘This is what America stands for’?

“Not only that, if you look to your left and right, those kids with the sun wheel on their shields, and the eagle on their shirts, those guys are self-described, literal Nazis. We fought a war about this. I thought we were all in unanimous agreement that Nazis are bad.”
And this guy he kind of started tearing up, and he was like, “You know, I’ll tell you, my dad died in World War II in Europe fighting Nazis.” And he goes, “This really has given me [something to think about]. You know I may not agree with everything you say. But associating myself like this has really given me pause, and has really made me think about what I’m doing here.”

I get that economics in an important factor. I did not share this to start another economics vs identity debate, but to share a story of activists in the field, working on making the world a little better, doing the difficult task of persuading hearts and minds and the reasoning behind their approach and strategy.
November 21, 2017

surprising insight given the source: "The White Minstrel Show"

from The National Review of all places ...

by KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON ( who, for all his other flaws, managed to write an insightful opEd critiquing conservatism)

My disagreements with him are where he dismisses external factors which worsen outcomes and falls back to the trope of "Pulling yourself up by own bootstraps" etc. Other than that, he is spot on in his dissection of anti-elitist populism.

White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment. The manners of the white underclass are Trump’s — vulgar, aggressive, boastful, selfish, promiscuous, consumerist. The white working class has a very different ethic. Its members are, in the main, churchgoing, financially prudent, and married, and their manners are formal to the point of icy politeness. You’ll recognize the style if you’ve ever been around it: It’s “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” but it is the formality of soldiers and police officers — correct and polite, but not in the least bit deferential. It is a formality adopted not to acknowledge the superiority of social betters but to assert the equality of the speaker — equal to any person or situation, perfectly republican manners. It is the general social respect rooted in genuine self-respect.

Its opposite is the sneering, leveling, drag-’em-all-down-into-the-mud anti-“elitism” of contemporary right-wing populism. Self-respect says: “I’m an American citizen, and I can walk into any room, talk to any president, prince, or potentate, because I can rise to any occasion.” Populist anti-elitism says the opposite: “I can be rude enough and denigrating enough to drag anybody down to my level.” Trump’s rhetoric — ridiculous and demeaning schoolyard nicknames, boasting about money, etc. — has always been about reducing. Trump doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to duke it out with even the modest wits at the New York Times, hence it’s “the failing New York Times.” Never mind that the New York Times isn’t actually failing and that any number of Trump-related businesses have failed so thoroughly that they’ve gone into bankruptcy; the truth doesn’t matter to the argument any more than it matters whether the fifth-grade bully actually has an actionable claim on some poor kid’s lunch money. It would never even occur to the low-minded to identify with anybody other than the bully. That’s what all that ridiculous stuff about “winning” was all about in the campaign. It is might-makes-right, i.e., the politics of chimpanzee troupes, prison yards, kindergartens, and other primitive environments. That is where the underclass ethic thrives — and how “smart people” came to be a term of abuse."


The populist Right’s abandonment of principle has been accompanied by a repudiation of good taste, achievement, education, refinement, and manners — all of which are abominated as signs of effete “elitism.” During the Clinton years, Virtue Inc. was the top-performing share in the Republican political stock exchange. Fortunes were made, books were sold by the ton, and homilies were delivered. The same people today are celebrating Donald Trump — not in spite of his being a dishonest, crude serial adulterer but because of it. His dishonesty, the quondam cardinals of Virtue Inc. assure us, is simply the mark of a savvy businessman, his vulgarity the badge of his genuineness and lack of “political correctness,” and his pitiless abuse of his several wives and children the mark of a genuine “alpha male.”

No less a virtue entrepreneur than Bill Bennett dismissed those who pointed out Trump’s endless lies and habitual betrayals as suffering from “moral superiority,” from people on “high horses,” and said that Trump simply is “a guy who says some things awkwardly, indecorously, infelicitously.” Thus did the author of The Book of Virtues embrace the author of “Grab ’Em By the P***y.”

We need a Moynihan Report for conservative broadcasters. The problem, in Bennett’s telling (and that of many other conservatives), isn’t that Trump is a morally defective reprobate but that he is aesthetically displeasing to overly refined “elitists.” That is a pretty common line of argument — and an intellectual cop-out — but set that aside for the moment. Let’s pretend that Bennett et al. are correct and this is simply a matter of manners. Are we now to celebrate vulgarity as a virtue? Are we to embrace crassness? Are we supposed to pretend that a casino-cum-strip-joint is a civilizational contribution up there with Notre-Dame, that the Trump Taj Mahal trumps the Taj Mahal? Are we supposed to snigger at people who ask that question? Are we supposed to abandon our traditional defense of standards to mimic Trump’s bucket-of-KFC-and-gold-plated-toilet routine? "


"What the Trump-style would-be tribunes of the plebs most have in common with self-appointed progressive advocates for the poor is ignorance of the actual subject matter. It weren’t the scheming Chinaman what stole ol’ Bubba’s job down Bovina, ’cause ol’ Bubba didn’t really have him a job to steal. And it isn’t capitalism that made rural Appalachia or small-town Texas what it is. Well-heeled children of privilege such as Elizabeth Bruenig condescend to speak on behalf of people and communities about whom they know practically nothing — people who have not, let’s remember, asked the well-scrubbed sons and daughters of the ruling class to speak on their behalf. When they were asked, they chose Donald Trump by a very large margin, but then the poor make poor choices all the time — that’s part of why they’re poor. The Left is convinced of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? thesis, that the poor and struggling in the conservative and rural parts of the country are just too besotted with Jesus talk and homosexual panic to understand what actually is at stake, and who therefore — the famous phrase — “vote against their own economic interests.” Progressives preach about — and to — people with whom they have no real connection, and do so in ways that would embarrass them to death if it were a racial line rather than a class line they were crossing in such a state of pristine ignorance. They are the mirror image of white conservatives who wonder why poor black people in the Bronx can’t just “act white” and get with the program. If I might be permitted to address the would-be benefactors of the white underclass from the southerly side of the class line: Ain’t nobody asked you to speak for us."
October 30, 2017

Trump, Assange, Bannon, Farage bound together in an unholy alliance

Carole Cadwalladr asking the right questions:

.... if there’s one person who’s in the middle of all of this, but who has escaped any proper scrutiny, it’s Nigel Farage. That’s Nigel Farage, who led the Leave.EU campaign, which is being investigated by the Electoral Commission alongside Cambridge Analytica, about whether the latter made an “impermissible donation” of services to the leave campaign. Nigel Farage who visited Donald Trump and then Julian Assange. Who is friends with Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer. Who headed an organisation – Ukip – which has multiple, public, visible but almost entirely unreported Russian connections. Who is paid by the Russian state via the broadcaster RT, which was banned last week from Twitter. And who appears like clockwork on British television without any word of this.


..............Try to follow this on a daily basis and it’s one long headspin: a spider’s web of relationships and networks of power and patronage and alliances that spans the Atlantic and embraces data firms, thinktanks and media outlets. It is about complicated corporate structures in obscure jurisdictions, involving offshore funds funnelled through the black-box algorithms of the platform tech monopolists. That it’s eye-wateringly complicated and geographically diffuse is not a coincidence. Confusion is the charlatan’s friend, noise its accessory. The babble on Twitter is a convenient cloak of darkness.

In a well-functioning democracy, a well-functioning press and a well-functioning parliament would help a well-functioning judiciary do its job. Britain is not that country. There is a vacuum where questions should be, the committees, the inquiries, the headlines on the TV bulletins. What was Nigel Farage doing in the Ecuadorian embassy? More to the point: why has no public official asked him? Why is he giving speeches – for money – in the US? Who’s paying him? I know this because my weirdest new hobby of 2017 is to harry Arron Banks, the Bristol businessman who was Ukip and Leave.EU’s main funder, and Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s comms man and Belize’s trade attache to the US, across the internet late at night. Wigmore told me about this new US venture – an offshore-based political consultancy working on Steve Bannon-related projects – in a series of tweets. Is it true? Who knows? Leave.EU has learned from its Trumpian friends that black is white and white is black and these half-facts are a convenient way of diffusing scandal and obscuring truth.

What on earth was Farage doing advancing Calexit – Californian Brexit? And why did I find a photo of him hanging out with Dana Rohrabacher, the Californian known in the US press as “Putin’s favourite congressman”? The same Dana Rohrabacher who’s met with Don Trump Jr’s Russian lawyer and – wait for it – also visited Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. And who is now interceding on his behalf to obtain a pardon from Don Trump Junior’s dad.

October 7, 2017

How Computers Turned Gerrymandering Into a Science

..... this isn’t just a politics story; it’s also a technology story. Gerrymandering used to be an art, but advanced computation has made it a science. Wisconsin’s Republican legislators, after their victory in the census year of 2010, tried out map after map, tweak after tweak. They ran each potential map through computer algorithms that tested its performance in a wide range of political climates. The map they adopted is precisely engineered to assure Republican control in all but the most extreme circumstances.

In a gerrymandered map, you concentrate opposing voters in a few districts where you lose big, and win the rest by modest margins. But it’s risky to count on a lot of close wins, which can easily flip to close losses. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor thought this risk meant the Supreme Court didn’t need to step in. In a 1986 case, she wrote that “there is good reason to think political gerrymandering is a self-limiting enterprise” since “an overambitious gerrymander can lead to disaster for the legislative majority.”

Back then, she may have been right. But today’s computing power has blown away the self-limiting nature of the enterprise, as it has with so many other limits. A new paper by a team of scientists at Duke paints a startling picture of the way the Wisconsin district map protects Republicans from risk. Remember the Volkswagen scandal? Volkswagen installed software in its diesel cars to fool regulators into thinking the engines were meeting emissions standards. The software detected when it was being tested, and only then did it turn on the antipollution system. The Wisconsin district map is a similarly audacious piece of engineering.

When the overall Republican vote share in the state is 50 percent or more, the authors of the paper show, the map behaves much like an unbiased one. But when the map is tested by an electorate that leans Democratic, its special features kick in, maintaining a healthy Republican majority against the popular headwind. To gain control of the State Assembly, the authors estimate, Wisconsin Democrats would have to beat Republicans by 8 to 10 points, a margin rarely achieved in statewide elections by either party in this evenly split state. As a mathematician, I’m impressed. As a Wisconsin voter, I feel a little ill.

October 6, 2017

Clarence Thomas on Trumpism

"Most significantly, there is the backlash against affirmative action by 'angry, white males.' I do not question a person’s belief that affirmative action is unjust because it judges people based on their sex or the color of their skin. But something far more insidious is afoot. For some white men, preoccupation with oppression has become the defining feature of their existence. They have fallen prey to the very aspects of the modern ideology of victimology that they deplore….They must remember they if we are to play the victim game, the very people they decry have the better claim to victim status."

From "Victims and Heroes in the Benevolent State"

Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Spring 1996,

October 5, 2017

Mass Killings: An Evolutionary Perspective.

Suicidal Mass Murderers tend to have a messianic view of themselves, and their motives are tied to status or loss of it whether they're jihadists, Christian apocalyptics, white supremacists, or just bitter and angry.

For one horrifying moment, they become judge, jury and executioner, inflicting as much terror on the world as they could....If this sounds like someone wanting to play God, it is precisely that: exacting their vision of divine revenge on others, in Paddock's case targeting people enjoying a concert and having fun.

There may be other layers to Paddock's personality that would add more depth to his profile, but ascribing motives like neurological disorders and health issues ( based on no evidence) are all bits of interesting speculation but ultimately a distraction.

This was a man who wanted the world to hurt and had the weaponry to exact as much maximum damage as he possibly could in a short space of time.

From Robert King at Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hive-mind/201710/mass-killings-evolutionary-perspective

Mass killings are, among many other things, a deliberate attempt to drive a wedge into the existing social order. That is why they are public, and why the killer seeks to maximise attention, and rarely seeks to escape. Some of these motives are obviously political—the intent is to sow fear and destabilise government--and I am not going to have anything much to say about those. What about people with more individual motives?

Attention to our evolved natures can cast some light on this. (1) Notice I say some light. The evolutionary perspective adds depth to existing accounts—it is an “added value” aspect of psychology, not a replacement for other—more local—explanations such as individual pathology, or why a location or victim was chosen.

I’ve likened the evolutionary account of a trait, to knowing the etymology of a word. For instance, knowing that the origin of the word “lemur” (those beautiful dark-eyed primates) comes from the Latin for “spirits of the dead” adds something to our understanding of the word. Not everything. Something. Sorry to have to keep saying this but, well, apparently I have to keep saying this. Let’s move on.


Male humans swim in worlds of status, like trout swim in complex currents of water. Anyone who is not aware of this (or in denial about it) finds things like the high rates of male suicide, or the fact that males are massively over-represented in apparently senseless crimes, utterly baffling. (2) Glib talk of “toxic masculinity” barely scratches the surface of what is going on. (3) “Toxic” does not explain the half of it, and it is worth noting that even the most toxic of masculinity does not put off all possible sexual partners.

Paddock seemed to have also been a general asshole and enjoyed berating his girlfriend in public: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-las-vegas-shooting-live-updates-at-his-local-starbucks-vegas-shooter-1507060195-htmlstory.html

October 2, 2017

Spare me the thoughts and prayers....

because this level of mass violence won't end.

We may not know the exact moment when another mass shooting will occur but we know it will happen again and again.. and again.

These events aren't contingent upon some random flare-up of a disgruntled and paranoid person, these events happen in societies where anyone with a grudge can subject a city to terror with maximum effect - all they need is some cash, maybe a couple grand, and they can turn a city into a slaughterhouse.

"Thoughts and prayers" sentiments and " lone wolf" explanations won't change the fact we need mental health care reform.

"Thoughts and prayers" won't change the fact that as we speak, more weaponry is being produced that anyone with a diseased mind can access without too much trouble, depending which state they live.

"Thoughts and prayers" won't change the fact that in a country with a massive military budget, America seems incapable of preventing her cities being turned into slaughterhouses, because Arms merchants have their thumb on the scale.

And this is also historical. America has whitewashed the original sin of wiping out native American populations by twisting genocide into heroic fables of the wild west and a romanticization of the frontier - and the gun is central to this symbolism.

Now we have the religious apocalyptics, the resentful angry losers who hate to see people have fun because of their own failures, nurtured in a society where the gun is as American as apple pie.

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About JHan

Be true, be brave, stand. All the rest is darkness.
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