Saturday, June 11, 2016

Tell Us Who We Are (Tom Engelhardt)

This piece by Tom Engelhardt reminds me of a couple of things: (1) Trump is a symptom of "the virus of right-wing authoritarianism" that shows up almost everywhere we look these days: from the Tea Party halls of Congress to Russia, North Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the rest.  (2) We desperately need new language, prophetic language that describes our decaying democracy and the dangerous role of big money in determining representation and then charting the agenda of government.  The entire piece is worth reading and takes the shape of a letter to the graduating class of 2016.

From Tom Engelhardt on Tom Dispatch

"Perhaps it would be better to see Donald Trump as a symptom, not the problem itself, to think of him not as the Zika Virus but as the first infectious mosquito to hit the shores of this country. If you need proof that he’s at worst a potential aider and abettor of authoritarianism, just take a look at the rest of our world, where the mosquitoes are many and the virus of right-wing authoritarianism spreading rapidly with the rise of a new nationalism (that often goes hand in hand with anti-immigrant fervor of a Trumpian sort).  He is, in other words, just one particularly bizarre figure in an increasingly crowded room."


"Here’s my thought: to change this world of ours, you first have to name (or rename) it, as any magical realist novelist from Gabriel García Márquez on has long known.  The world is only yours when you've given it and its component parts names.
"If there’s one thing that the Occupy Wall Street movement reminded us of, it was this: that the first task in changing our world is to find new words to describe it.  In 2011, that movement arrived at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan calling the masters of our universe “the 1%” and the rest of us “the 99%.”  Simply wielding those two phrases brought to the fore a set of previously half-seen realities -- the growing inequality gap in this country and the world -- and so briefly electrified the country and changed the conversation.  By relabeling the mental map of our world, those protesters cleared some of the fog away, allowing us to begin to imagine paths through it and so ways to act.

"Right now, we need you to take these last four hard years and everything you know, including what you weren’t taught in any classroom but learned on your own -- your experience, for instance, of your education as a financial rip-off -- and tell those of us in desperate need of fresh eyes just how our world should be described.

"In order to act, in order to change much of anything, you first need to give that world the names, the labels, it deserves, and they may not be “election” or “democracy” or so many of the other commonplace words of our past and our present moment.  Otherwise, we’ll all continue to spend our time struggling to grasp ghostly shapes in that fog.
Now, all you graduates, form up your serried ranks, muster the words you’ve taken four years to master, and prepare to march out of those gates and begin to apply them in ways that your elders are incapable of doing.

"Class of 2016, tell us who we are and where we are."