Stupid Is as Stupid Does

 

Supporters of the current president gathered outside the State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 25, to protest immigration reform measures being debated by state legislators. They undercut any interest in their arguments by badgering and hectoring brown skinned legislators, state office workers, and even schoolchildren on a field trip as they walked in the vicinity of the Capitol, presumptively proclaiming them illegal aliens, while giving white skinned folks a pass. They reached the epitome of their belligerent ignorance when one of them challenged the citizenship status of State Representative Eric Descheenie, a Native American of Navajo descent.

 

Besides the ignorance of challenging such a person on his right to be here, there is the sheer gall of doing so. The ignorance has always been there with some people, but the gall has risen to the surface lately on account of how emboldened they feel by the angry rhetoric of their Supreme Leader in the White House. Many of these particular protesters in Phoenix were armed, as well, and their allies in the police stood idly by while they harassed the targets of their hatred.

Mexican Cession
1848 Mexican Cession of territory after the Mexican-American War. 2008 map by Kballen.

Viceroyalty of the New Spain 1819 (without Philippines)
The Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1819. 2013 map by Giggette.

The police were supposedly studiously allowing the protesters room to express themselves freely, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Strange how the ideology of protesters seems to affect how the police enforce First Amendment rights, though of course nothing can be proven. A similarly scrupulous desire for allowance of free expression strangely affected law enforcement at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, and that after an incident in July in Charlottesville when the cops tear gassed for no very good reason counter protesters at a KKK gathering.

Since self-reflection and a balanced view of history are traits that are probably either non-existent or very low on the list for some of the denser supporters of the Ignoramus-in-Chief, any appeal here will fall only on their deaf ears, if at all, and the words will serve merely as preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, on the principle that a trickle of water may eventually lead to a baptism, it is worth a try. Has the schizophrenic nature of Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric never struck a discordant chord with any of these Know Nothings? The fact that their economic betters in the Republican establishment, the ones who back their Supreme Leader behind the scenes solely on account of his capacity to put yet more money in their pockets, have no desire to change current immigration policy because it suits their business interests to have cheap, exploitable labor. It has always been so.

From the 1994 Robert Zemeckis film Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks as the title character repeats a bit of received wisdom, “Stupid is as stupid does”.
Economically and politically the beliefs of the protesters at the Arizona Capitol will never get anywhere because they fly in the face of the moneyed interests who pull all the strings. So what is it all for, then? Blowing off steam from the angry white European descent base of the new hard right Republicans. The rich ones aren’t angry; they have no reason to be, since they are getting everything they want. It’s the people stuck in the economic levels below that who are angry. Why don’t they get angry with the people above them who are ripping them off? Good question, but one for a different day. They are angry with the people they see supplanting them as the most important demographic in this country, fragmenting solid white bread into hundreds of permutations of bagels and tortillas and pita pockets, many of them gluten-free.

 

Why do they vent their hatred and anger on brown skinned immigrants? Who else is left? The economic and political arguments of the anti-immigrant crowd largely fall apart under scrutiny, at least they do if this country is to continue to operate under the same principles it has going back hundreds of years, when the ancestors of the current anti-immigrants made their way here with little government interference and then, with the active encouragement of the government, violently shouldered aside the indigenous peoples who had been here thousands of years before them. It is a dangerous game that Republican leaders are playing, however, standing aside to let the angry base blow steam so that the moneyed interests can loot the country while everyone is distracted. They are counting on the casualties falling among groups they care nothing about other than their utility to them, such as liberals and immigrants. The people steering the Thief-in-Chief and his hard core minions around like a crazed nozzle spitting vituperation need to understand, though, that high pressure steam has a history of escaping control and blowing up in everyone’s faces.
— Vita

Early indian west
Early Native American tribal territories, superimposed on the present day western United States. 1970 map by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey. Where’s Arizona, and where are all the white folks of European descent?

 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – Immigration Version

 

It seems it is human nature to need someone or some group to look down on and cast as the reason for one’s misfortunes. From vilification of Jews and now Muslims, to hatred of black people and now brown people, a lot of folks are always looking for a scapegoat. The rich and powerful know this as well as anyone, and are quick to take advantage of this tendency when it serves to turn away the attention of the masses from the true source of their economic stagnation, which is to say the kleptocracy of the rich and powerful.

 

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian’s Wall; photo by Mark Burnett. People have always built walls, with varying degrees of effectiveness. This one was built by the Romans in the reign of the emperor Hadrian on the border of England and Scotland, to keep the Scots out of England. It turns out the Scots had more to fear from the English, just ask any Scot.
While it is no longer acceptable in open civil discourse to rant about the evils of the Jews and the blacks, and that sort of talk has been relegated to private conversations among like-minded peers, feelings of xenophobia and revulsion at The Other have found their outlet in public condemnation of Muslims and brown people as long as it is couched in terms of protection from terrorists or crackdowns on illegal immigration. There is probably just as much racism and visceral need for scapegoats as ever, it’s just that now, at least in public, peddlers of base emotional venting know to use code words and dog whistles. Everyone knows what the peddlers mean, but everyone can maintain deniability, whether plausible or not is a matter left to an individual’s tolerance for hypocrisy.

 

Regarding illegal immigration specifically, the facts are not as scary as the current administration cynically pretends they are, and there is a decent compromise solution called “permanent non-citizen resident status”, which the political science scholar Peter Skerry explains at length in a 2103 article in National Affairs. It’s interesting to note that since many Hispanic illegal immigrants are young men away from home and family and view their presence in the United States as a temporary employment situation only, they tend to be insular and not always on their best behavior, two characteristics which contribute to a poor view of them by the resident, mostly Anglo population.

The workers were “settlers in fact but sojourners in attitude.” . . . Not surprisingly, such transience is not confined to the workplace. Young people detached from the constraints as well as the supports of families back home exhibit what one sociologist refers to as “instrumental sociability,” characterized by transitory friendships, casual sexual encounters, and excessive drinking to a degree uncommon back home.

― Excerpted from “Splitting the Difference on Illegal Immigration” by Peter Skerry.

The phrase “instrumental sociability”, when referring to Hispanics, can conjure up a tinge of Tortilla Flat stereotyping, but the more accurate similarity in reference is to another subgroup in our culture, the military. The military also is composed of mostly young men who are away from home and family in what they view as a temporary situation, and they maintain an insularity from the community at large where they are based out of what amounts to a mutual, tacit agreement with the locals. The analogy doesn’t go far before breaking down, such as in discussions of the presence or lack of strong leadership and policing within the subgroup, but still it is ironic that many of the people in the larger culture who adulate the military with nearly onanistic devotion are the same ones who most loudly berate brown-skinned “illegals”.

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard together sang the most famous version of “Pancho and Lefty”, a song written by Townes Van Zandt. Here, at a tribute to Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash sings a stirring version.

Before people with middle class and higher incomes, with college or higher educations, and with supposedly refined ethics, start congratulating themselves over how they are above looking down on people and scapegoating one group or another, they might reflect on the rhetoric following the 2016 presidential election when people just like them, and perhaps they themselves, were quick to berate stupid, bigoted rednecks for the disastrous outcome. The caricature that emerged of the typical voter for the Republican winner was of an Anglo male, middle-aged and older, working class and possibly unemployed, and an uneducated bigot as well. While that demographic did make up a significant part of the winner’s constituency, it was not the majority. The picture that has emerged of the majority is of people with middle class and higher incomes, with college or higher educations, possibly with refined ethics, and a great many of them were female. It is simpler and more satisfying, however, to berate the stupid, bigoted rednecks living in the trailer park on the other side of the railroad tracks than it is to grapple with how it is that your neighbor on your suburban cul-de-sac, the nice one you’ve known for thirty years and who looks after your place while you’re away on vacation, how that kindly neighbor could have voted that way and done that to you.

This is meant as no defense for being a redneck, because unlike other personal characteristics it is not intrinsic and immutable, but rather the culmination of a number of repugnant beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. People confuse rednecks with good ol’ boys. They are not the same. The protagonists in Deliverance were good ol’ boys; the moronic backwoodsmen they tangled with were rednecks. All this appears to stray far from the discussion of scapegoating illegal immigrants, but not really, because the outcome is ugly whatever the source, high or low, and whether the people at the receiving end are “bad hombres” or “deplorables”.
― Ed.

 

As High as an Elephant’s Eye

There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow.
There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow.
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,
And it looks like it’s climbing right up to the sky.

 

Oh, what a beautiful morning!
Oh, what a beautiful day!
I’ve got a beautiful feeling
Every thing’s going my way!

― Excerpt from “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma!; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

The hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, has had a tortured history over the past hundred years on account of its close relative, also Cannabis sativa, but more commonly known as marijuana. The variety grown as hemp and renowned throughout history over several continents for its practical uses has a vanishingly small tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of less than 1%, while the variety grown for its psychoactive properties has a THC content over 20%. Smoking hemp would induce a headache rather than relieve one. Why then has hemp been demonized along with its fun-loving and meditative relative?

Like the shreds of fiber running through a stalk of hemp itself, the story has many strands, and they are all entwined within the Cannabis sativa plant as a whole. In the early twentieth century, Mexicans fleeing the chaos of revolution in their country came to the United States in large numbers and brought their recreational and medicinal use of marijuana (their term) with them. Americans had long grown hemp, but they had little interest in its higher THC relative. Americans evidently preferred liquid spirits. The influx of Mexican immigrants with their loco weed coincided with the push toward prohibition of alcohol which culminated in the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919.

Americans who were now prohibited alcohol could not be allowed to turn to marijuana for relief, particularly considering its association with poor brown-skinned people and, increasingly, poor black-skinned ones. The demonization began in the southwestern and southern states in the 1920s and spread to the rest of the country by the early 1930s. Government agents would have too much difficulty discerning innocent hemp in the field from devil weed, and therefore it was all to be outlawed. Farmers who still wished to grow hemp had to apply for a license from the government and submit to oversight and red tape. Fewer and fewer farmers wished to put up with the hassle from the 1930s on until, after a brief blip of government encouragement during World War II, no one was growing hemp in this country after about 1956.

Hemp for Victory, a 1942 short film from the United States Department of Agriculture.

 

There are also possibly self-serving culprits in the demonization of marijuana among the powerful of the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, among them William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Mellon, and the DuPont family. Hemp, a useful and unglamorous plant with no psychoactive properties, was difficult to demonize. It’s smoky Jazz Age relative, on the other hand, lent itself more easily to demonization, and then hemp, the real target of powerful business competitors, was more easily tossed by them onto the smoldering pyre of public condemnation as a matter of guilt by association.
Sing a Song of Six Pants (1947) 2
Shemp Howard, in the middle, receives an ironing board rebuke from Moe Howard, on the left, while Larry Fine looks on in Sing a Song of Six Pants, a Three Stooges short from 1947. Shemp should not be confused with hemp, nor with Joe Palma, also known as “Fake Shemp” after he doubled for Shemp following the famous comedian’s untimely demise.
The lowest point was reached in the 1970s and 1980s with the designation of marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the creation of the self-perpetuating Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) a few years later, and in the 1980s the introduction of draconian mandatory, minimum sentencing laws with the promise and encouragement of zealous enforcement by the administration of President Ronald Reagan. The prisons, many of them now privately operated for profit, have been bursting at the seams ever since, mostly with the grandchildren of those poor brown or black people we discussed earlier, a lot of them busted for minor drug offenses. How do you control a population? Start with their customs and particularly target what you can portray as their vices. Have a stiff alcoholic drink then and consider whether your profitable – and even patriotic – plan to grow some useful hemp is worth your while to hassle with the DEA, the ultimate overseer, state laws tendering you encouragement notwithstanding.
― Izzy

 

A Plague on Both Your Houses

Romeo:

Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.

Mercutio:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.

Romeo:

I thought all for the best.

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act III, Scene i).

 

From February 23rd to the 26th, the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will meet to elect a new chairperson to replace Donna Brazile, who has served as interim chair since Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. The two leading candidates are Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. Ellison is backed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, while Perez is backed by more of the Party establishment. It’s anyone’s guess at this point whether the election of a new chairperson will serve to correct the faults within the Party that led to the 2016 election debacle, but the signs are dubious at best.

DNC chair candidate Sally Boynton Brown of Idaho garnered a lot of publicity for her remarks about serving as a voice for minorities, even if that means suppressing the voices of white people. She no doubt meant well, but her ill-chosen phrasing has only stirred the embers from the last election, when the Clinton campaign’s reliance on identity politics and neglect of working class voters, mostly white, in the Rust Belt states led to a decisive turnout for the opposition. It is now almost three months since the election, and the Democratic Party establishment still has not come to terms with their own complicity in losing a very winnable election. They still seek to blame others, such as the Russians for meddling in the election, for which they have negligible evidence, and the Rust Belt voters who upset their apple cart. The continuing denigration of white working class voters by Democratic Party elitists as ignorant, misogynistic, racist “deplorables” shows they are still  incapable of accepting any blame themselves.

According to psychologists, the five stages of grief are 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and 5) Acceptance. It’s clear from both public and private rhetoric that many Democrats are still in stages 1 and 2. They have every right to feel that way for a time, though in many cases their anger is misdirected. They should be directing their anger at their leaders rather than the working people those leaders have abandoned and ignored over the last forty years while they courted corporate money and the academic and professional classes. In the past, many so-called deplorables were a part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt coalition that ensured a solidly Democratic Party majority in this country through the middle years of the Twentieth Century, before the Democrats lost their way and decided to mimic Republicans in becoming bedfellows with Wall Street plutocrats, while cynically attempting to retain credibility with a portion of their base by throwing them identity politics sops.

Unfortunately, being mired in denial and anger obstructs recovery, which begins with acknowledging there is a problem, as any twelve step program informs us. Until Democratic Party leaders demonstrate a willingness to stop blaming the Russians and others for their own failings, and thereafter attempt to reform the Party by returning it to the left of center FDR coalition that served the majority of its members well for many years, Progressives will need to look outside the Democratic Party and begin working earnestly to make a third Party a force to be reckoned with. Progressives – and maybe some disgusted Republicans, too – will, like the wounded Mercutio, have to say to the two major Parties, “A plague o’ both your houses!” Let’s hope in the meantime that, unlike Mercutio’s wound, the new era of Supreme Leader doesn’t prove fatal.
― Ed.