I am invested in, and emotionally responsive, to the idea of black people doing for themselves.
Yes. So many of us are. Including me. You can scroll back through the archives and look at my response to Obama's Father's Day speech, to his speech to the NAACP, and his invocation of personal responsibility. For those of us of a particular quasi-nationalist persuasion, the idea hits a sweet spot and lives in a long tradition of "doing for self."
The difference between Obama, on the one hand, and Douglass, Garvey, Ida, and Martin, on the other, is that the latter always paired "do for self" with a solid critique of race in America. When Ida Wells was attacking the "manhood" of black men during the height of the Red Summers, she was just as aggressively inveighing against American racism. Douglass's final autobiography is filled with a moral critique of his own community. But it's obviously paired with a recognition of the history and nature of racism.
Obama is only practically capable of delivering on half of that formula -- and it's a half that's very popular in the larger country. The self-help nationalistic strain of black thought resonates with how Americans think about themselves. Consider this:
For all of Malcolm's invective, his most seductive notion was that of collective self-creation: the idea that black people could, through force of will, remake themselves. Toward the end of his book, Marable tells the story of Gerry Fulcher, a white police officer, who--almost against his will--fell under Malcolm's sway. Assigned to wiretap Malcolm's phone, Fulcher believed Malcolm to be "one of the bad guys," interested in killing cops and overthrowing the government. But his views changed. "What I heard was nothing like I expected," said Fulcher. "I remember saying to myself, 'Let's see, he's right about that ... He wants [blacks] to get jobs. He wants them to get education. He wants them to get into the system. What's wrong with that?'"
Fulcher is a white police officer who should be plotting against Malcolm--but "do for self" resonated with Fulcher. With that said, "do for self" -- divorced from a critique of racism--has the convenient side-effect of letting white people off the hook. This is the version of "do for self" that Obama delivers -- a palatable black nationalism, inoffensive to, and uncritical of, white people. Obama's a smart dude, with a serious knowledge of black history. I suspect he knew what he was doing when he went on his bamboozled riff. I suspect he knows exactly what he's doing now.
I am not unsympathetic to his dilemma. There's simply no way he can be president and be honest with the country about race. The one time he tried it, during Gates-gate, he paid for it.
On top of that, Obama's very presence in the White House has deep symbolic significance to many African-Americans. There's an element of the black Left that would have that symbolism dismissed, and argue that black people have somehow been duped. I think that's wrong. Living with racism is hard. Living with the belief that racism has not changed, and never will change, is even harder. Obama is radical evidence that the latter claim, no matter how much we feel it, is false. That means something.
Of course the result is that Obama gets a pass, on policy, from black people, that Hillary Clinton simply would never enjoy. If you're in the business of pressuring the Democratic Party to be more progressive, this is a source of frustration.
So where does that leave us? Is it wrong for the head of the American government to speak as black citizen out of convenience? What do we say to the crowds of black people in Beaumont, Texas, who cheer his rhetoric on? I think there's something to be learned there. And yet I also believe in applying pressure.
I watch that clip in Beaumont and laugh. I don't know what that says.
Saturday’s unprecedented show of opposition punctured a core myth of the Trump presidency. Will it change his behavior? And can it be sustained?
George W. Bush campaigned as a uniter, not a divider, then presided for eight polarizing years, provoking protests like the one against the Iraq War on February 15, 2003, that sent hundreds of thousands of Americans into the streets of major cities. Those protests stopped neither the Iraq War nor the reelection of the president.
Months after Barack Obama was sworn in, on April 15, 2009, protesters associated with the Tea Party held rallies in 350 cities, attracting more than 300,000 Americans. They were angry about the financial crisis, the Bush administration’s response to it, and the progressive agenda of the polarizing new president and Congress. The following year, 84 Republican freshmen joined the House during the 2010 midterms. By 2012, the Tea Party had fueled victories for politicians including Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Scott Brown, and Nikki Haley. President Obama’s ability to advance a domestic agenda was all but finished, though he retained enough popularity to be reelected easily in the 2012 campaign.
If the president and his aides will tell easily disproven falsehoods about crowd sizes and speeches, what else will they be willing to dissemble about?
One of the many things that is remarkable about the Trump administration is its devotion, even in its first days, to a particular variety of pointless falsehood.
Mendacity among politicians and the spokespeople hired to spin for them runs across eras and aisles, though it is true that some are more honest than others, and Donald Trump was a historically dishonest presidential candidate. But the Trump administration has displayed a commitment to needlessly lying that is confounding to even the most cynical observers of American politics.
Popular demonstrations can bring change and topple governments. They can also spark retaliation from those in power.
The signs were so clever.
“We shall overcomb.”
“Viva la vulva.”
“I MAKE THE BEST SIGNS I REALLY DO EVERYONE SAYS SO THEY’RE TERRIFIC.”
Someone even made a papier-mâché vagina dentata.
The people were so cheerful and happy to be with one another, forgetting the cold and enjoying what often seemed less like a protest and more like a block party. There were families there, with grandmas in wheelchairs and babies in strollers. They were ecstatic and in disbelief at the number of people. TheWashington Post reported that the organizers put the attendance at up to half a million. They had hoped for less than half that.
It was surreal how similar this all felt, and my Russian friends on social media confirmed it: “Totally Bolotnaya,” one of them wrote. Bolotnaya is the square in the center of Moscow, right across the river from the Kremlin, where on December 10, 2011 around 50,000 people came out to protest fraudulent parliamentary elections. They had expected 3,000 and were stunned by their success. It was cold and gray that day, too, and the feeling of being in that joyous crowd was unforgettable, which is why I remembered it so vividly today. It is the giddiness of watching people vent their political frustrations with a sense of humor and good cheer, and the euphoria of observing people discover that they are not alone, that there are thousands and thousands of people just like them.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Democrat or Republican, no one on Capitol Hill is certain what changes the president will bring.
What can the American people expect from the 115th Congress? Sounds like a trick question, right––or the start of a bad political joke? I mean, what have the American people come to expect from every Congress: dysfunction, partisanship, hypocrisy, opportunism, chaos … Down, down, down the list spirals.
For all his Who’s-your-daddy swagger and drain-the-swamp chatter, Donald Trump is unlikely to make much of a dent in this dynamic. (Some cultures are simply beyond help.) But that doesn’t mean Capitol Hill isn’t braced for upheaval. Every election, particularly one involving a presidential transition, reshuffles legislative priorities and power dynamics. Toss in an erratic, ideologically fuzzy commander-in-chief who stumped hard against both congressional teams, and things could go topsy-turvy pretty quickly.
Driven by opportunism, pragmatism, or fear, many begin to forget that they used to think certain things were unacceptable.
In The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz tells a story about a man who ventures out in the immediate aftermath of the fall of a regime. Papers full of state secrets lie in the streets, their knowledge less important for the moment than that of where to find something to eat. A little boy plays in a bombed-out street, whistling a song about the leader. “The song remains, but the leader of yesterday is already part of an extinct past.”
When authoritarians fall from power, even if they are secretly mourned, they must be publicly forgotten. Yet they remain as traces within the bodies of their people. The muscle memory to salute, to sing their songs, to fear their wrath, can be hard to shake. My years of studying Mussolini and his two-decade long regime have taught me not to underestimate the individual and collective work of disentanglement that comes with the ruler’s fall from power.
In his first official White House briefing, Sean Spicer blasted journalists for “deliberately false reporting,” and made categorical claims about crowd-size at odds with the available evidence.
In his first appearance in the White House briefing room since President Trump’s inauguration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer delivered an indignant statement Saturday night condemning the media’s coverage of the inauguration crowd size, and accusing the press of “deliberately false reporting.”
Standing next to a video screen that showed the crowd from President Trump’s vantage point, Spicer insisted that media outlets had “intentionally framed” their photographs to minimize its size. After attacking journalists for sharing unofficial crowd-size estimates—“no one had numbers,” he said—he proceeded to offer a categorical claim of his own. “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” he said, visibly outraged. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
M. Night Shyamalan’s new film ends on a typically surprising note—and there’s a lot to unpack about its wider implications.
This article spoils the entire plot, and twist ending, of Split.
M. Night Shyamalan is a writer and director who is legendarily fond of the surprise twist ending. It was a stunt that made his career with his third film, The Sixth Sense, in 1999, turning a small-scale ghost story into a word-of-mouth smash hit that dominated the box office for an entire summer. He’s deployed it over and over throughout his career, to arguably diminishing returns, before dropping it entirely. But recently, as he’s dipped back into the horror genre that put his name on the map, he’s brought back his favorite gimmick, and his new film Split has a final reveal that is too bonkers not to discuss; one that redefines the overall thrust of the film, and that ends up referring back to his larger oeuvre in an unconventional way.