Nov. 22nd, 2016

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Currently in Havelock: -0.5. Spent yesterday in snowy Kingston. Don't that just take ya back.

Here's one of those things that I think of from time to time and mean to look up, and then when I look it up, it doesn't quite say what I imagined it to say--from "September 11: The View from the West", by Jonathan Raban, New York Review of Books 52:14, Sept. 22, 2005:

That week, my compatriot Christopher Hitchens, stranded in Seattle after giving a lecture on September 10 in Walla Walla, Washington, said over dinner that "at times like this, America turns into a one-party state," and reminded me of the prophecy made by Robert Lowell back in 1966, when he answered a questionnaire sent to him by the editors of Partisan Review: "I have a gloomy premonition ... that we will soon look back on this troubled moment as a golden time of freedom and license to act and speculate. One feels the sinews of the tiger, an ascetic, 'moral' and authoritarian reign of piety and iron." The mood of our fellow diners in the restaurant was one of forced joviality--a few jokes and laughs too many were coming from the tables around us. "I think we've just entered the reign of piety and iron," Hitchens said.

The vague memory I had of it was that Hitchens's first reaction to 9/11 (ironically, you might think, but Hitchens was a complicated guy capable of reconciling what simpler people see as contradictions (and I note that both "complicated" and "simple" have pejorative connotations)) was something along the lines that he feared for America's soul ... which is certainly in the neighbourhood of what he actually said. Anyway, I keep thinking since the presidential election that this feels like the aftermath of 9/11 all over again, and obviously it is the other shoe dropping from that (though let's never forget that this particular shoe did not drop of anything like historical necessity, that Trump decisively lost the popular vote and would not have stood a realistic chance of winning if the US had a less, uh, quaint--say, for instance, a more French--manner of electing its president (though let's also not forget that the US is a federal union of states and that there are good historical reasons, if not compelling reasons on the whole, for arguing that the states, and not the people at large, should elect the president of the federation)). What Hitchens turns out to have specifically said actually speaks to something else I've been thinking: at least this time the Democrats are not on board. (Obviously there are also a number of powerful Republicans who are also not on board, although one of the depressing things about the exit polls is they show that self-identified Republicans voted for their party's candidate slightly more consistently than self-identified Democrats voted for theirs. (Somehow the single most depressing thing to me about the exit polls is that they show that people who made up their minds late were much more likely to vote for Trump.))

Another thing I keep thinking: this election has got to prove to any reasonable observer, who was not already convinced, that evangelical Christians in the US, on the whole, are, I don't know, utterly full of shit. The irony is that Michael Flynn's calling Islam a political ideology and not a religion has gotten so much play when nothing has ever demonstrated so well as the overwhelming support of evangelical Christians for what you might as well call the least Christ-like presidential candidate in living memory if not in history that American evangelical Christianity is a political ideology and not a religion.

I'm not sure whether the most depressing thing of all is that the alternative was the election of a neoliberal hawk to the presidency, but that is certainly up there (and again France comes to mind, with the runoff between Chirac and Le Pen ... but the current Socialist president of France is also a neoliberal hawk, so whatcha gonna do).

Definitely the most personally annoying thing about all this is that we're going to have to keep thinking about it for at least the next several years. Back in the summer I was distressed that Howard Adelman was spending so much energy writing about Donald Trump, who after all was likely going to lose and sooner or later go away after wasting everyone's time. But as I said to someone after Bush II's reelection, you can't expect history to go in a straight line.

... and insofar as the arc of history does bend toward justice (not to say the good!), it is, a la Hegel, because it bends toward increasing rationalization ... and maybe the trouble with Fukuyama's take on the end of history, as a Hegelian take, was that liberal democracy won a struggle within the forms of political reason, and not against the political forces of un-reason ... among the latter of which the "alt-right" is the JV team of "radical Islam" ...
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