Monday 25 January 2021

The Winds Of Change.

Yesterday's Gone: Cold shivers are running up and down the spines of conservatives everywhere. Donald Trump may have gone, but all the signs point to there being something much more momentous in the wind-shift than a simple return to the status quo ante. A change is gonna come.

ONE COULD ALMOST feel sorry for them. Until, that is, their propositions are subjected to robust interrogation. All around the world, conservatives are feeling the fresh winds blowing out of Washington – and they are shivering. They fear that ideas hitherto denied the full imprimatur of state power have been issued arms and are on the march. In short, today’s conservatives are feeling what old-fashioned Labourites and social democrats felt in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was sworn-in as the fortieth President of the United States.

President Joe Biden is 78 years old. He has trod the floor of the Capitol Building for nigh on 40 years, trimming his sails to the prevailing winds as all successful politicians learn to do. All those years of experience are speaking to him now: warning him that the mighty gale currently filling the sails of the American ship of state cannot be tacked against, only run before. This will not be a “trimming” presidency: the Biden years will be a time of surging forward.

As one recent comment on The Daily Kos put it: “This isn’t Biden 2008. Something in the last 12 years has broadened his horizon and pushed him to centre-left territory. He put RFK’s bust in his office along with Caesar Chavez. If that’s where he’s looking for inspiration, I’m happy.”

Which explains the cold shivers running up and down the spines of conservatives everywhere. Donald Trump may have gone, but all the signs point to there being something much more momentous in the wind-shift than a simple return to the status quo ante.

Biden’s victory was built on the votes of America’s youth, America’s women, and, most triumphantly, on the votes of America’s people of colour. “Sleepy Joe” knows that his campaign was dead in the water until the veteran black congressman from South Carolina, James Clyburn, rallied his people behind the former Vice-President and pushed him all the way to the White House. As a long-time mover-and-shaker in the US Senate, Biden also knows that without the astonishing efforts of black activist Stacey Abrams in Georgia, neither he nor his party could have uplifted the legislative tools of change.

Someone else who knows this is the forty-third President of the United States, George W. Bush. Encountering James Clyburn in the Capitol Building on Inauguration Day, ‘Dubbya’ told the veteran congressman that he was America’s “saviour”. Without his intervention, said Bush, the only politician who could have beaten Trump would not have won the nomination.

Most certainly it was no accident that the person who ended up stealing the show on Inauguration Day was young, female and black. Rightly celebrated for the power of “The Hill We Climb”, her poem in honour of the new President, Amanda Gorman was also a flesh and blood celebration of the new America that is rising. Clearly, it is not going to be an America dominated by the values of conservative white males. Equally clearly, that message has been received loud and clear by conservative white males everywhere.

Fourteen thousand kilometres to the south, the Weekend Herald’s columnist, John Roughan, offered words of advice on the best way to reach out to Trump’s defeated army of followers. He addressed his remarks not only to the US Democratic Party, but also the American news media:

“If American Democrats and the country’s respected newspapers and television networks really would like to bridge their country’s cultural divides, rather than simply saying they do, they need to come halfway over the bridge. They need to overcome their aversion to certain views and respect the fact that a lot of people, about half the population, think that way.”

Wrapped up in those two sentences is pretty much the whole of the world view that conservatives believe to be threatened and which they are moving heaven and earth to protect. Under no circumstances should “respected” media outlets give extensive access (and, by implication, validation) to the voices of those on the receiving end of these “certain views” held by “about half the population”. Rather, it is the duty of the mainstream news media to “overcome their aversion” to such views.

Another way of saying this might be to invite responsible journalists to come halfway across the bridge (Selma Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, perhaps?) to meet the racism, sexism, climate change denial and white supremacist thinking that has allegedly enthralled half their fellow citizens – along with every other ideological defence of inequality the political right sees fit to advance.

Failure to display such tolerance will have consequences. “If the world is not to suffer more populist disasters,” warns the author of hundreds of NZ Herald leader articles, “possibly even an encore for Donald Trump, news media have to find an open mind again.”

Or, it might have to narrow its mind somewhat.

“Many journalists have had a tertiary education in liberal arts and it shows”, writes Roughan. “Some of their news angles reflect the values and explanations of a social science seminar where nobody’s misfortune can be attributable to poor personal decisions, society is always to blame, if an ethnic minority is underperforming it is evidence of ‘systemic’ racism.”

Is Roughan accusing the graduates of New Zealand’s universities and journalism schools of disseminating “fake news”? Or, is he merely giving credence to Kellyanne Conway’s classic Trumpian assertion that it is perfectly acceptable, when debating politics, to advance “alternative facts”?

Then again, if we are not to trust the evidence of social scientists: or, if we are being asked not to rely upon evidence at all; then in who and in what should we repose our trust? In the scepticism of those whose world views cannot survive the introduction of contradictory evidence? In the ‘reckons’ of people who believe democracy consists of one’s own ignorance being regarded in every respect as the equal of others’ knowledge? Or, are we simply being invited to accept that, politically-speaking, everything goes more smoothly when educated citizens agree to meet ignorance and prejudice half way?

John Roughan argues that Joe Biden struck a series of “clanging notes” when he used his inaugural address to call out “political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism . . . anger, hatred, extremism . . . racism, nativism, fear . . . facts that are manipulated, even manufactured”. What the Weekend Herald columnist did not explain, however, is how the new President could possibly have kept faith with the eighty million Americans whose votes put him in the White House if he had refused to strike the Liberty Bell so forcefully.

The consequences of heeding Roughan’s advice are there in American history for all to see. In the decades following the Civil War, politicians and newspaper editors from North and South insisted with ever-increasing fervour that it was time for the people of the United States to put the rancour of those bloody years behind them. Increasingly, it was asserted that far from being about the abolition of slavery and “a new birth of freedom” for the American republic, the war had only been about its noble antagonists’ differing definitions of freedom. Before long, the veterans of Blue and Gray were warmly embracing each other like long lost brothers.

Thus was racism reprieved in the United States. As white men’s willingness to meet each other half way condemned African-Americans to a life that offered them no way at all to the full and equal enjoyment of their constitutional rights.

Amanda Gorman’s poem spells out the moral obligation this historical failure places upon her fellow citizens:

because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

New Zealanders should learn from America’s experience. Truth owes nothing to falsehood. Knowledge owes nothing to ignorance. Tolerance owes nothing to prejudice. Equality owes nothing to racism. Justice owes nothing to injustice. And anyone who suggests otherwise is most definitely offering you fake news.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 25 January 2021.


Kat said...

John Roughan the moral absolutist, is indulging in some spin. He firmly believes the black and white, them or us, left or right idiom "every coin has two sides". Clearly for him the current political coins that are falling flat on the table, in his view, are wrong side up.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

“If American Democrats and the country’s respected newspapers and television networks really would like to bridge their country’s cultural divides, rather than simply saying they do, they need to come halfway over the bridge. They need to overcome their aversion to certain views and respect the fact that a lot of people, about half the population, think that way.”

Amazing isn't it? After eight years of complete and utter abandonment of the traditional cooperation by Republicans with the Obama administration – which to say the least was centrist – all of a sudden it's now the Democrats' responsibility to heal the breach? That assumes somewhat Christ-like qualities which I hope to God Biden does not have, because before the breach can be healed, there needs to be a cleansing or cauterisation.
Those people who used their freedom of speech to encourage people to believe that the election was rigged, and to invade the Capitol building should be held to account. They caused the deaths of five people, and while most of them seem to have been seditionists, they were still people and didn't necessarily deserve the death penalty. Although to be fair, the way that these idiots managed to incriminate themselves by posting pictures on Facebook and the like these me to believe that conservatives aren't sending us their brightest and best.

ChrisH said...

It seems that John Roughan may simply be something of a contrarian, being not only a climate change denier of the flabbier sort ("It is not totally unreasonable to doubt that a 2-degree rise in global temperature over the course of a century would be an unmitigated disaster.") but also a bit of a Covid skeptic too: "Reading reports from heavily infected countries you could get that impression [that things are bad] but, when you contact relatives abroad or talk to people who have come from those countries, it's rare to hear the virus has touched them or anyone they know." ('Did we overestimate the pandemic threat?', NZ Herald, 26 Dec 2020). A great many NZ commentators and even academics are like that of course, in part because being an idle skeptic is cheaper and less troublesome to the powers that be than doing real research or investigation or taking a real stand on an issue. Bill Pearson had a bit to say about the "that's all very well, but" brigade in his Fretful Sleepters, and Monty Python did a skit about it too:

greywarbler said...

The good citizen eager for progressive, thoughtful policies producing helpful, useful, problem-solving action from politicians eager for their vote and getting into power to presumably implement such policies: Audrey Hepburn gives a spirited rendition of how such good citizens feel -
Show Me from My Fair Lady:

And it is followed by Audrey singing Wouldn't It Be Loverley!
Oh yes, we say rapturously.

Wayne Mapp said...

The last 25 years of government in New Zealand has moderation as a virtue. That the winner does not seek total victory, but governs taking into account those that didn't vote for them. Sometimes you seem to think that this is a good thing, other times you seem to think it is bad. Anyway moderation is how Ardern seems to govern, and as such is likely to give her a good three terms.

Why will the US under Biden be different? The last four years were all about ignoring the other side. Is Biden really going to want to replay that approach. As you point out, all his experience points in the opposite direction. He will be moderate. No doubt he will be more adventurous than Obama. But not that much. The Congressional margins are too thin for that. Following your prescription would have Biden loosing the House in 2022. Which could easily occur anyway.

Just because Roughan talks about moderation hardly means he should be compared (even by implication) to the southern Jim Crow era of reconstruction. I think Roughan's reference point is more akin to President Johnson's aspiration. The Great Society (undone by Vietnam) was ambitious, but it was not intended to be a revolution.

Nick J said...

It would appear to me Chris that you are riding a wave of euphoria, the message I'm hearing from much of the so called "Left" is winner takes all, that includes "truth".

In effect what you appear to be saying is that the beliefs and values of half the population are invalid, untrue and will be torn down by a new truth. If only it was so simple.

First problem of being in government is that the winners have to govern for both sides. If they delegitimise the losers their own legitimacy will get challenged.

Second problem is that the ideas floating around the extremes of both Left and Right will be opposed by the centre. Nobody wants to be told that they were born racist because they are white, or that they are genetically underperformers because they are born black. Both sides currently have their fair share of calamitous "truths". If one side thinks just because they are in power that their ideas can be forced through without examination they know nothing of history. Jacobins invariably kill themselves in an orgy of ideological purity, the counter revolution mops them up.

The last but biggest problem I see is that the election has given power back to the US plutocracy, that very narrow belt of wealthy corporate bosses and deep staters. I am cynical enough to believe that these people only give a rats arse for change when it costs them nothing. The Left and all of its anti conservative post modernist dogma has proven useful to garner votes, but hell, when faced with Trump where else were they going to go? Paradise postponed, wind or no wind.

John Hurley said...

The historical record in many countries shows that when populist outsiders challenge oligarchic insiders, the oligarchs almost always win. The oligarchs may not have numbers, but they control most of the wealth, expertise, and political influence and dominate the media, universities, and nonprofit sectors. Most populist waves break and disperse on the concrete seawalls of elite privilege.
The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Metropolitan Elite (p. 86):
Michael Lind

Guerilla Surgeon said...

All this stuff about governing for both sides is hilarious. You're either wilfully ignorant or too young to remember Roger Douglas et al.

Trev1 said...

Sadly Biden is a senile and increasingly irascible old fool who is being used by the Far Left to advance their agenda. He will likely be replaced as soon as the Left believe they have sufficient control over the levers of power. Nick Timothy has captured the ethos of the new administration in the following paragraph in a current Telegraph editorial: "For blaming people on the basis of their own immutable characteristics for the misfortunes of others, for discriminating today to compensate for the discrimination of yesterday, for attacking the traditions and institutions that many hold dear, for policing thought, word and deed with such vindictiveness and zeal, the Left cannot be the unifiers they claim to be". The auguries are not auspicious.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what, it's about time some younger people happened along here and took over the business of pointing out the nonsense that some people on this site post.
1. Biden is a damn sight less senile than Trump.
2. There is no extreme left in America apart from about 300 communists. Out of 300 million. So they are pretty much literally one in a million. Just stop saying this – it's simply copied from Fox News or Breitbart or some bloody thing. And it shows your extreme ignorance of American politics. His vice president is a centrist or the very least centre-right in our terms, and those social Democrats in the Democratic party are new, powerless, and few. Although think Christ they are clever, articulate and hard-working.
3. Whoever Nick Timothy is he is an eejit. Christ on a crutch, Brandolini's law intervenes every time.

greywarbler said...

ChrisH - about his? Fretful Sleepers referral: Could be interesting.
Bill Pearson’s Fretful Sleepers: A Sketch of New Zealand Behaviour and its Implications for the Artist has had a kind of academic cult status ever since its original publication in Landfall in 1952.

Nick J said...

GS, you could use Brandolinis Law as an excuse not to battle with the bullshit embodied in wokester ideology.

Fortunately these real academics decided that the effort was worthwhile. You may not be amused. I was.

The Barron said...

Great writing Chris, and good contribution by the Hon. Wayne. If I can make my own modest note on Roughan's piece.
There are many types of unsavory writings on the perception of racism, the worst is the nudge, nudge, wink, wink- fill in the gaps - you know what I mean bullshit. While criticizing young reporters, Roughan suggests they easily conclude, "if an ethnic minority is underperforming it is evidence of ‘systemic’ racism".
If he has 'an ethnic minority' he is referring to, he should say it. if he has an actual journalist whose work he is criticizing he should state so. If he thinks there are reasons other than 'systemic racisim' for a group under performing (a description which leads to the obvious question of under performing where, how and in what context) he should state those reasons (biological? cultural laziness? - come on John say what you mean).
Stuff has recently distanced itself from the type of writing Roughan does. Perhaps the Herald should examine their editorial policies.

sumsuch said...

And the previous post you criticize the great Bernard Hickey. And the Stuff I'd send money to if I had it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

1. There is no "wokester ideology". The piece you cite is one of those stupid exercises that "edgy" academics like to indulge in every so often to stroke their own egos.
2. As usual they take the most extreme, and posit it as mainstream. As do most conservatives. You find this often on places like Fox news.
3. My problem is that someone can do a two-minute cut-and-paste job, make a few idle comments, and I have to spend half an hour or so investigating order to show them for what they are. A typical example would be the "senile" Biden, and American "far left". Although to be fair, that didn't take very long as I'd already investigated it due to my daily correspondence with American Trump supporting nut bags.
4. It seems to me that you either fall into this category or fall for it.

greywarbler said...

greywarbler at 12.46 'Fretful sleepers' is interesting indeed. It could be the basis of a post Chris T? But I suggest it should be read in two or three sessions. It is a lot to take in and think about. I recognise some habits and behaviours. But have we changed from 1950's or just mutated? I measure what we are now by looking at what we were in the last half of last century, and consider that we have failed to build a strong country with individual enterprise and pride. Therefore we have to lean, do and think in different ways now, two decades on in the 21st century.

We need to have everyone, including the retired, having creative input into the national enterprise. Everyone needs a sense of belonging in the community and that we are rich with vital fascinating people with groups combining with varied talents, all adding their bit to the fabric. And we have to start now, before the Mordors take control and the world turns dark grey instead of the presently porridge-coloured. Will Wellington and its denizens turn into our Mount Doom inflicting their brand of fascism on us all? There is a comparatively short time before disasters arise too frequently for recovery to our memory of our plucky little country.

Nick J said...

Ah GS, you definitely were not amused. Pitty you couldnt deconstruct the reality behind their satirising of the far Left academic nonsense that is post modernism, neo Marxism, critical theory adherents, those things you say dont exist.
Well they do. The ideas I describe as wokester have been well formulated, well documented and taught in academia and now spread widely. By denying this you trivialise the many who have devoted their time and efforts to that which you spout. How ungrateful you are, and sillier still to be in denial.

David Stone said...

I think you are ascribing to Biden and his administration qualities and policies that he has not himself given voice to and has not during his long political history given any reason to assume he will implement; although in terms while dramatic and strident so vague as not to risk any fear of contradiction whatever the man may do during the next 4 years.
Also your depiction of those who voted against him is similarly dramatic, condemnatory, ridiculing and vague.
People of many kinds voted for Trump and for many reasons. Few of them imagined him to be any kind of Messiah , but they hoped he could improve the lot of the once working class of middle America whose jobs and livelihoods have been exported to third world low wage countries without worker protection just as has happened here, but more so . Others hoped he would reduce the everlasting wars that America wages all over the world but mainly in the Middle East as he said he would and tried to do .
Let's see what wonderful things Biden produces for the under privileged of any colour or race in America, Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Yemen , Afghanistan, Ukraine or anywhere else in the next 4 years. The news outlets I read have him firmly the property of the American 1%. Far more so than was Trump who was a rank outsider in Washington.
I would not be surprised if Trump turns the tables in 4 years time. Not because he is wonderful, but because he is known; and known as the enemy of the establishment. Next time he might have collected around him a team of his own choosing , sufficient to actually achieve things like pulling out of Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan rather than being defied and lied to by his military officials.
Whatever his personal failings Trump was duly elected in 2016. The way he has been disrespected and ridiculed and opposed by those responsible to serve the president of the US has likewise disrespected and ridiculed the office. The office will never recover it's mana.

Tom Hunter said...

Several points to be made here.

First up is the fact that Biden is still trimming his sails, now to the new prevailing winds inside the Democrat Party. No more talk of Delawarians heading south to fight for the Confederacy (1988 blather from his first aborted Presidential run). But the Left blowing those winds will soon discover the difference between an Executive Order and real meaningful change that can only be enacted via legislation.

Second is the fact that Biden has the slimmest of majorities in the House and Senate. Obama started with an almost overwhelming advantage in both in 2008 and still got little done, to the extent that things like the Paris Climate agreement and JCPOA were never even submitted to a Democrat-controlled Senate because everybody knew they'd fail. Back to EO's...

Third, it's amazing the change in tone between victory and defeat. Four years ago the wailing and lamentation here and around Lefty world was how awful (and awfully stupid) it had been for Hillary to talk of the Deplorables, though True Leftists clung to that bitter claim. But for most the talk was of how to win them back and the lessons of "Hillbilly Elegy". But with victory comes gleeful talk of "cold shivers running up spines" and the end of the White Patriarchy.

Fourth, actually that White Patriarchy is more entrenched and more White than it's been in forty years, as pointed out in this article on Oligarchy in America. The wealthy and super-wealthy are more than happy to unleash Critical Race Theory on the rest of the USA because they and their kids are protected from it by wealth.

Fifth, every time a Lefty of any stripe wins, be it Norman Kirk, Bill Clinton, Helen Clark, Tony Blair, Obama, or Jacinda Adern, Chris blasts out huge amounts of sunshine about what this says of our changing world and at long last the glorious end to a conservatism that ties our societies to their pasts.

And it always ends in sad, deflated failure to change the core of things.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Nick – I never even read the thing. It's not so uncommon that somebody does something like this and I've seen them before. Honestly, you people go on and on about neo-Marxists and cultural Marxism and all that shit, but Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Žižek between them couldn't name more than half a dozen of these so-called cultural Marxists who are intent on taking over the world. And none of them were especially influential. Easy enough to make fun of the way they talk, and I've been marked down occasionally in my assignments were not talking like that, but where are the results? It can't be the public service where you'd think they want to start taking over New Zealand at least, because that's still full of neoliberal babble. Meanwhile you waste your time using young people's slang, which makes you look faintly ridiculous to be honest, in order to condemn people who have pretty much no influence compared to neoliberals.
Maybe you should start deconstructing or as management speak has it "decoding" ‘competition’, ‘growth’, ‘risk’. ‘welfare dependency’, and ‘stakeholder’. Because these have far more influence in our society than any feminist or cultural Marxist jargon.
Take immigration for instance. Yes the "wokesters" as you would put it may support immigration, the dreadful Professor Spoonley who seems to strike fear into all your hearts certainly does, but it wouldn't be a goer unless the neoliberal elites didn't want it as well. They don't want it for any multicultural benefits, but simply to try to keep wages down. The most dangerous people in New Zealand at the moment are people who go on about post-modernism, yet themselves think that they're unsupported and ignorant opinion is just as good as the opinion of someone who has studied a subject for most of their life. That's post-modernism to a T. Post modern conservatism.

Nick J said...

I'd love to agree with you GS but youve done two things in your response. First you underestimate the power of ideas. The ideas I categorise as "woke" are very prominent and have so many conscious and unconscious adherents. That in itself is not a bad thing as all ideas need challenging.
Second you identify a false dichotomy. Conservative ideas are not neoliberal, in fact quite the opposite. And "woke" ideas come from a different part of the liberal tradition. And they can co-exist. For example the new US presidency seems to happily encompass both.
I have examined this issue widely, best oppositional critiques can be seen on Youtube. Look up Triggernometry, watch David Starkey, Stephen Hicks and Tom Holland in particular. You might not like their views but it will enable you to come to grips with the subject.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The ideas I categorise as "woke" are very prominent and have so many conscious and unconscious adherents. "

You have figures for this?
What are 'unconscious adherents'?

Seems to me if you have a large cabal of people intend on taking over the world, the people who claim that should be able to name them. And they can't. Certainly none in any great positions of power. Even in universities. You can't just spout vague generalities about adherents without evidence.

So I'm calling Bullshit on that.

"Conservative ideas are not neoliberal"

Perhaps not, but if that's the case a lot of conservatives and neoliberals are using the term very loosely.

sumsuch said...

Biden, unless thick thick, must understand a positive revolution is needed. Looking after the people. Just as LBJ modelled himself on FDR and was pissed off by the JFK who Biden plagiarized. CNN and Msnbc are resistant, being paid for. Endlessly amusing how they treat progressives -- or demo-crats like every over western country. But you have to rark for your employer.

sumsuch said...

Fkn over-complexity, GS. Please break down Jordan Peterson. Or, Chris?

I rely on the simplicity of my faith, the pre-eminent place of the people, as lead by a people's party.

As a joke, Labour is laughable in that pozzie. Despise'm to the depths of their boots. Like Chris surely?

sumsuch said...

And looking after the people owes everything to looking after the people. Not caring about the people has produced all our present troubles. Thatcher and her friends were just an accounting trick, as I thought at the time. The strain on social connection and the inability to face challenges, because of the new rich rulers' short term interests.

sumsuch said...

Plutocratic America has weaponized all arguments against demo-cracy. So violence is inevitable. Biden must provide for the people, the only way. He remembers.