Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Humanity and its discontents

From recent correspondence

Edited by Morris Dean

News of Stephen Greenblatt’s having been awarded the Holberg Prize warmed my heart. Good on him!
    I’m happy too for what the award signals to the public at large about the value of the Humanities — in this time when the Humanities are coming under attack for allegedly not preparing students for employment. “Stephen Greenblatt Wins Holberg Prize” [Jennifer Schuessler, NY Times, March 11] Excerpt:

Stephen Greenblatt, the Harvard literary scholar best known for his studies of Shakespeare, has won Norway’s 4.5-million kroner (about $531,000) Holberg Prize, which is awarded annually to scholars who have made outstanding contributions to research in the arts, humanities, the social sciences, law or theology.
    In the announcement the awards committee cited Mr. Greenblatt’s “distinctive and defining role in the field of literature and his influential voice in the humanities over four decades.” [read more]
[We interviewed Stephen Greenblatt on Shakespeare’s birthday in 2014.]

Trump really is the champion of a forgotten group of Americans, both in style and substance — something which the critical press and opinion hardly mention: “The Geography of Trumpism” [Neil Irwin & Josh Katz, NY Times, March 12] Excerpt:
When the Census Bureau asks Americans about their ancestors, some respondents don’t give a standard answer like “English” or “German.” Instead, they simply answer “American.”
    The places with high concentrations of these self-described Americans turn out to be the places Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has performed the strongest....
    “It’s a nonurban, blue-collar and now apparently quite angry population,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “They’re not people who have moved around a lot, and things have been changing away from them, but they live in areas that feel stagnant in a lot of ways.”
    Mr. Trump has his share of support from the affluent and the well educated, but in the places where support for Mr. Trump runs the strongest, the proportion of the white population that didn’t finish high school is relatively high. So is the proportion of working-age adults who neither have a job nor are looking for one....
    The high proportion of whites without a high school diploma in these places — the single strongest predictor of Trump support of those we tested — has lasting consequences for incomes, for example. The education pay gap starts small when people are early in their career before widening over the decades of their working lives. College graduates are less likely to become unemployed and more likely to find a new job quickly if they do, and they are comparatively few in Trump-land....
    One of the strongest predictors of Trump support is the proportion of the population that is native-born. Relatively few people in the places where Trump is strong are immigrants — and, as their answers on their ancestry reveal, they very much wear Americanness on their sleeve. [read more]
Was there a moment when Trump decided to mount a presidential bid? “Donald Trump’s Presidential Run Began in an Effort to Gain Stature” [Maggie Haberman & Alexander Burns, NY Times, March 12] Excerpt:
Donald J. Trump arrived at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in April 2011, reveling in the moment as he mingled with the political luminaries who gathered at the Washington Hilton. He made his way to his seat beside his host, Lally Weymouth, the journalist and socialite daughter of Katharine Graham, longtime publisher of The Washington Post.
    A short while later, the humiliation started.
    The annual dinner features a lighthearted speech from the president; that year, President Obama chose Mr. Trump, then flirting with his own presidential bid, as a punch line.
    He lampooned Mr. Trump’s gaudy taste in décor. He ridiculed his fixation on false rumors that the president had been born in Kenya. He belittled his reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
    Mr. Trump at first offered a drawn smile, then a game wave of the hand. But as the president’s mocking of him continued and people at other tables craned their necks to gauge his reaction, Mr. Trump hunched forward with a frozen grimace. [read more]
As we already know, “Trump Is No Accident,” [Paul Krugman, NY Times, March 14] Excerpt:
Establishment Republicans who are horrified by the rise of Donald Trump might want to take a minute to remember the glitch heard round the world — the talking point Marco Rubio couldn’t stop repeating in a crucial debate, exposing him to devastating ridicule and sending his campaign into a death spiral.
    It went like this: “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.” The clear, if ungrammatical, implication was that all the bad things Republicans claim have happened under President Obama — in particular, America’s allegedly reduced stature in the world — are the result of a deliberate effort to weaken the nation.
    In other words, the establishment favorite for the G.O.P. nomination, the man Time magazine once put on its cover with the headline “The Republican Savior,” was deliberately channeling the paranoid style in American politics. He was suggesting, albeit coyly, that a sitting president is a traitor.
    And now the establishment is shocked to see a candidate who basically plays the same game, but without the coyness, the overwhelming front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Why?
    The truth is that the road to Trumpism began long ago, when movement conservatives — ideological warriors of the right — took over the G.O.P. [read more]
And Trump is eating all this up: “Donald Trump’s Epic Neediness” [Frank Bruni, NY Times, March 12] Excerpt:
Trump’s candidacy has uncorked more words and analysis than perhaps any in my lifetime, as those of us flailing to make sense of him reach for new insights, novel theories, deeper understanding.
    But while his appeal may be layered, his drive isn’t. What set him in motion was a compulsion to see his face flickering across TV screens, his handle popping up in retweets, his minions arrayed before him. What eggs him on is the sound of his name uttered by pundits, rivals, crowds. To his ears it’s a music sweeter than Beethoven’s, saucier than Beyoncé’s. He tangos to it, or at least his itty-bitty heart does. And he can’t quite hear or fully appreciate the ugliness of some of the noise he has whipped up.
    Everything about Trump’s campaign can be explained in terms of substance abuse: He’s addicted to attention, demanding regular fixes and going to ever greater lengths — in terms of reckless statements and provocative acts — to get them.
    Imagine what that would mean for a Trump presidency. His agenda wouldn’t be conservative, moderate, liberal or for that matter coherent. It would be self-affirming and self-aggrandizing: whatever it takes to remain the focus of everyone’s gaze, the syllable tumbling from everyone’s lips. Trump, Trump, Trump. [read more]
With gratitude for the informative NY Times

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