2016 was the year people started using the word “narrative” to critique certain trains of the thought in the discourse, but yet seemed totally incapable of realizing they were perpetuating it. My favourite couple narratives now are are all the shitty liberals racing to use their personal hobby horses to explain why Donald Trump won.
Obsessing over gender nonsense is why Trump won!
Black Lives Matter! People are sick of being called racist!
Safe spaces! Snowflakes! Political correctness!
Apparently, the “left” forgot about the concerns of the working man, and in their “economic anxiety” America turned to the demagogue. Yeah, man, the GOP really got their fingers on the pulse of the blue collar community. That’s why they’re busy busting unions, dismantling health care, and stripping overtime regulation, while making laws entrenching gendered bathrooms. Let me fill you in on a little secret, the right are just as obsessed, probably more so, with identity politics, they’ve just won the war over semantics.
Yet, Clinton won the popular vote by a huge margin. One of the biggest in history. She got the second amount of votes for any candidate ever, aside from Obama in 2008. Trump won because of a shitty electoral collage, demographics, and James Comey. So, all these #hottakes on why Clinton lost are pretty much bullshit.
And here’s a thought, perhaps Trump’s victory isn’t a failure of the left, but a failure of the right. They’re the ones who put forward this sociopath and got him into office. Suddenly, it’s the other side’s fault for not stopping a huge portion of the population hell bent on driving America into fascism? “Oh, well sure I covered myself in shit, but you should’ve stopped me! It’s your fault!”
Ugh. Then there’s the “both candidates are awful” crowd. You’re all so edgy and individualistic, guys. No way the lamestream media is ever gonna get one over on y’all. Hope you enjoy masturbating in front of a mirror for the next couple years as we get to find out what happens to the world when America is turned into Zimbabwe.
As Trump and his ship of fools continue to demonize the press, I can only wonder when the public book burnings will start. Until then, help yourself to some of these.
George RR Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire
Everyone’s favourite literary reference for politics these days.
So many people were hoping that Clinton would be Daenerys. Instead, she was more like Little Finger, a conniving technocrat. Which, IMO, isn’t that bad. Instead, we get Joffrey.
Jonathan Franzen – Purity
I was a little underwhelmed when I first finished Purity, but it’s really stayed with me the past year and I was reminded of it many times during the election. Throughout the novel Franzen considers the concept of purity from a number of angles. Characters become fixated with a particular ideology and become fanatically rigid.
There is one character that was especially pertinent, a hacker named Andreas Wolf. Wolf fervently believes that government secrets must be exposed, but guards many of his own personal secrets. Sound like someone familiar?
While I don’t agree with a lot of what Franzen says, I agree that purity has become a destructive force in our current political discourse. Bernie Bros and Trumpists were obsessed with the untainted quality of their candidates, whereas Clinton was tarnished by her time in office. The notion of being pragmatic and taking the lesser of several evils isn’t doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore. Drain the swamp! Revolution! Blow it up!
Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France
Speaking of revolution, Burke’s treatise on the French revolution is a classic in conservative literature (or at least when conservatism was sensible). Burke is painfully wordy, but he zeros in on a number of important points. He deconstructs the sexy fervour around revolution and emphasises its violent and destructive reality. It is better, he reasons, to pursue slow change, gradual so that the people can adapt and digest these changes. Slavoj Zizek makes a somewhat similar point when he talks about a culture’s failure to imagine an alternate reality after a revolution, in order to avoid the old “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Frankly, the celebration of revolution smacks of privilege. A lot of leftists have gleefully embraced Trump as a potential to burn everything to the ground and start over with a glorious socialist ascension. Maybe that’s true? But it seems to be that a lot of people are gonna get trampled underfoot while we wait for that to play out.
Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
And who are these people that are about to be trampled? Well, women are an immediate target. The GOP have already set their sights on defunding Planet Parenthood. Mike Pence has been particularly zealous in oppressing women, including pursuing a bill that would force would-be mothers to hold funerals for their miscarried children. Yeah. Seriously. Fun fact: the war on abortion is actually a war on affordable abortions for poor women. Rich women have always had access to safe abortions, and conservatives are all too content to let poor women kill themselves with grotesque solutions.
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most fucked up books I’ve ever read. I felt tense the entire time while reading it. It’s a dystopian future where Christian extremists have taken over the United States. Fertility rates are perilous, so fertile women are selected to be “handmaids” to powerful families. Basically, a heifer. Atwood’s description of this perverse threesome is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read.
Albert Speer – Inside the Third Reich
Trump’s campaign sure had an overt stench of antisemitism. He certainly didn’t go to any lengths to downplay it with the hiring of Bannon. Trump’s embrace of the “alt-right” has catapulted neo-Nazis into the mainstream. Except, shhh. We’re not supposed to call them that. It’s totally just liberal hyperbole to call a group of people who openly flaunt Nazi iconography and xenophobia “Nazis.” Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?
Speer, the Third Reich’s official architect and later minister of munitions, details his rise through Hitler’s regime. It’s also a rare document that gives a first-person POV of the social milieu of Germany that lead to the rise of the Third Reich. Most notably for me, is his focus on how Germany disregarded its history and importance of self-reflection. Everything was reduced to utilitarianism, which makes me think our current state.
Ta-Nehisi Coates – “The Case for Reparations”
Coates has had the Midas touch the last couple years. I love his work in the Atlantic and for Black Panther. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten to Between the World and Me, but its reputation is impressive.
“The Case for Reparations” is one of the best essays I’ve ever read. Coates breaks down the historical circumstances of how White America has been able to build its wealth by plundering Black communities, from Jim Crow laws in the South, to housing schemes in Chicago.
If you’re genuinely curious about the BLM movement, then this is a great place to start.
Thomas Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century
In case you were wondering how a shithead like Trump managed to make a fortune (the size of which is still very much debatable) then this is an excellent book. Piketty explores the way capital is allowed to flow freely by the wealthy, who in turn drive up the margin of inequality. His main thesis is that that when the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth over the long term, the result is concentration of wealth, which causes social and economic instability. Moreover, this trend towards concentration of wealth is an inherent feature of capitalism (hello there again, Marx), and the only solution is state intervention and progressive taxation.
This obviously a great read after going through the 2008 recession, and with Trump loading up his cabinet with Wall Streeters (so much for draining the swamp) it looks like we’re careening back towards something far worse. It’s fascinating/terrifying to see how Putin is successfully spreading his kleptocracy across the globe.
Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything
Klein is a tricky figure for me. I think she’s an excellent writer and I agree with much of what she says (however, her praise of Ontario’s green energy plans in this book are cringe-worthy), I’m not such a fan of her activism. She’s very intractable and non-compromising. I mean, she’s probably right. It certainly seems like climate action needs immediate, far-reaching intervention, but unfortunately, for many complex reasons, we’re not there as a population. The best we can muster right now is a modest carbon tax.
But hey, you’re allowed to like a writer without agreeing with %100 of their views, something we’ve seemed to have chosen to jettison.
Aside from being a great primer for climate issues, I think Klein’s best moments are when she delineates how a green energy revolution will fundamentally change capitalism. Green technology has the potential to disrupt the control big energy companies have over the means of production. Yes, this is all very Marxist, which is why it’s awesome. That’s a revolution I can get behind.
A green tech revolution is also likely the best chance we have of underminingthe power a petro state like Russia has.
Edward Said – Orientalism
I think it’s fair to say Trump comes from the “now is not the time for sociology” school of foreign affairs. If you only read the intro to Orientalism you’ll be all the richer for it. Said delineates the way will to knowledge went hand in hand with colonialism in the “East.” Basically, western powers wanted to plunder eastern wealth so they dispatch scholars to represent these places back to us in ways that subtly justified foreign intervention. Thus we begin to see how the Orient was envisioned as this mysterious, wild frontier, crying out to be brought to bear by western hegemony. They didn’t even understand the wealth they were sitting on!
In a word, be mindful of the gaze in which subjects are rendered.
Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment
Had to sneak this one in. A classic from the Russian master about a character who self-righteously commits murder, insisting the end justifies the means.
Likewise, I have a feeling the whole thing about Russian hacking is gonna go from “this is bullshit!” to “Russia was right to infiltrate the election.” Recently, Marine Le Pen visited Trump Tower (which is ominously accruing Sauron vibes), which can only be interpreted as Putin pushing plotting his next move to subvert democracy in Europe. As this plays out, expect a lot of rationalization about how the means of fascism justify the ends.
Anyways, I think that should be enough. Enjoy your Three Doors Down concert, losers.