Moon of Alabama

by Corey Robin on December 16, 2017

My weekly digest for The Guardian, looking back on Tuesday’s Senate election in Alabama with the help of Brecht and Weill, Sheldon Wolin, Matt Bruenig, and Eddie Glaude.

Some excerpts:

Since Tuesday’s Senate election in Alabama, when the mild centrist Doug Jones defeated the menacing racist Roy Moore, social media has been spinning two tunes. Politicians tweeted Lynyrd Skyrnyrd’s Sweet Home, Alabama. Historians tweeted the 1934 classic Stars Fell on Alabama.

My mind’s been drifting to The Alabama Song. Not the obvious reference from The Doors/Bowie version – “Oh, show us the way to the next little girl” – but two other lines that recur throughout the song: “We now must say goodbye … I tell you we must die.”

It’s a lyric for the left, which can’t seem to let go of its sense of defeat, even when the right loses.

After every defeat of the right, after every poll shows dangerously low approval ratings for Trump or the Republican, I hear the same response from the left, especially on social media: what about the minority of voters who still support the right? How can they do it? What is wrong with them?

Even though Tuesday’s election showed signs of a fairly large switch in the white vote of Alabama, from red to blue, even though 24% of the American people approved of Richard Nixon the day he resigned – eight points lower, incidentally, than Trump’s current approval rating – the left can’t let go of the voters who remain committed to Trumpism. Even when the candidates of those voters lose major statewide elections twice in a row. In southern states.

But the left doesn’t need to convince every last Republican of the error of their ways. It doesn’t need to put all Republican voters in the public square, forcing them to recant their beliefs. It doesn’t need Christian suasion, encouraging rightwingers to apologize and confess their sins.

In an electoral democracy, the way to break your opponents – especially opponents like these – is to demoralize them, to make them feel they are a small and isolated minority, that their cause is a loser.

On election day, the left needs to convince the right – not through voter suppression or intimidation but through rhetoric and speech – that their movement is going nowhere, so they shouldn’t either. That’s exactly what happened in Alabama, where “the biggest reason for the shift” in counties that voted for Trump last November going for Jones this December is that “GOP voters stayed home”, according to MCIMaps.

What black voters, particularly black women, have gotten instead is a lot of thank-yous. From liberals and Democrats, on Twitter and Facebook: thank you, black people, for saving “us” or America or democracy from “ourselves”.

It’s a weird move, with weird overtones. Rather than treating black people as political agents in their own right, acting in their own interest, rather than viewing black people as part of an inclusive movement of the left, the thank-you-note writers treat African Americans as if they were the indispensable helpmates of an addled white upper-middle class, a class that’s too harried, busy, or distracted to deal with the hassle of everyday life, the drudgery of daily upkeep, the housekeeping of democracy.

 Keep reading, there’s a lot more!

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

by John Holbo on December 16, 2017

‘Tis the season! For that uncanny one on your list who is always hard to shop for I would recommend My Favorite Thing Is Monsters [amazon]. The only bad thing about it is we have to wait a year for vol. 2. The good thing is everything else. The story. The art. The combination of those two. It’s the best graphic novel I’ve read all year. I haven’t really been excited about new comics for a while, sad to say. (I liked Seth’s latest. I always love Seth’s latest.)

As I was saying: Monsters. This one stopped me dead in my tracks, spun me around. I read it late into the night, feeling kind of weird. My cat was looking at me curiously. Then I reread parts of it. Then just stared at some of the pictures. It’s about a 10-year old girl, Karen, living in Chicago in the late 60’s, who wants to be a werewolf (but isn’t.) She’s trying to solve the mystery of the murder of the woman – Anka, a Holocaust survivor – who lived upstairs. Karen has a lot of problems in her life.

The author, Emil Ferris, has an amazing story story as well. From this NPR story:

She was a 40-year-old single mom who supported herself doing illustrations when she was bitten by a mosquito, she contracted West Nile Virus, became paralyzed from the waist down, and lost the use of her drawing hand. Fighting chronic pain, she taught herself to draw again, then reinvented herself as a graphic novelist, spending six long years creating what’s clearly an emotional autobiography.

The detailed crosshatching throughout the book is a wonder to behold. You see that cover? It’s all like that.

‘Tis also the season for me to remind you I myself have a fine, uncanny Christmas work available on Amazon. It makes a fine stocking-stuffer. Mama In Her Kerchief and I In My Madness, A Visitation of Sog-Nug-Hotep: A Truly Awful Christmas Volume.

The book will also test your eyesight – in a good way, I say. All those finicky ligatures I added, just to make your eyes water. [click to continue…]

The Cat, The Goof and Musical Mose – Some Notes

by John Holbo on December 16, 2017

I’ve been meaning to write something about Philip Nel’s new book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books [amazon]. It’s caused some fuss. But I was already a Nel reader because, as a sometime Seussian myself, I read and enjoyed and learned a lot from his earlier book Dr. Seuss: American Icon.

There is an inherent risk that any degree of analytic subtly and investigative archaeology breeds ethical over-sensitivity, in a case like this. It isn’t scholarship if it doesn’t bring to light something a reasonably intelligent, moderately informed reader might miss. It isn’t dangerous to tender young minds if it sails over their heads. No 5-year old is going to notice the Cat owes a visual debt to minstrelsy, much less that Dr. Seuss apparently took some visual inspiration from a white-gloved African-American elevator operator named Annie Williams. Who knew? If that’s the concern, maybe it’s not much of one. (Not in the same league as giving a slightly older kid an original edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the original, racist Oompa-Loompa illustrations. Here is Nel on the subject, some years ago.)

Since conservatives are super-hyper-sensitive to the risk that someone besides their snowflake-y selves might be even slightly over-sensitive, it’s pretty much impossible for Nel to broach his whole topic without ‘triggering’ the fainting couch set, be he ever so mild about minatory whispers in your shell-like.

But fair is fair: let me give an example of analysis and plausible harm wires maybe getting crossed. [click to continue…]