Tag Archives: identity politics

Taibbi: How Weaponized Identity Politics Destroyed Sanders

Matt Taibbi/Will Menaker, Chapo Trap House 435

Matt Taibbi: So this politician who has a long history of courting the white, middle of the road voter and doing the Sister Souljah moment, now suddenly when Sanders comes along and he starts talking about breaking up the banks, what’s Hillary’s response? “Oh, if we broke up the banks tomorrow would that end racism?” And people Continue reading Taibbi: How Weaponized Identity Politics Destroyed Sanders

Long Live the Dirtbag Left 2.0

Making his first appearance on Chapo Trap House last week, Michael Moore referred to Matt Christman and Virgil Texas as his “babies.” (Amber Frost, Felix Biederman and Will Menaker were absent).

Moore was not wrong in claiming patrimony.

Those of us old enough to remember Moore’s firing from Mother Jones magazine by the same elite liberal cast now  smearing Bernie Sanders, Moore’s classic films beginning with Roger and Me and Continue reading Long Live the Dirtbag Left 2.0

Solidarity Forever and Pavlov’s Dogs: Why Is Elizabeth Warren Being Ignored?


A well known form of insanity involves attempting to correct basic factual errors on the internet.

I generally don’t, but sometimes it’s hard to resist the temptation.

That was the case last week when a meme circulated suggesting, as one tweet put it, that because Elizabeth Warren “clearly thinks about the issues beyond pandering & has actual policy plans and ideas . .  . she would be the front runner and would be receiving most of the press.”

At least  that would be so-and here we are to imagine a muted low brass chord as the narrator ominously intones . . .  “if she were a man.”

This was Pavlovian red meat dangled in front of identity politics addled liberals sure to induce a wave of frenzied clicks.

Continue reading Solidarity Forever and Pavlov’s Dogs: Why Is Elizabeth Warren Being Ignored?

My Delgado Endorsement (Part 2)

So that’s the endorsement.  Now, as promised, comes the self-critique which being applicable to myself is by definition of no general interest.  That said, it is worth discussing in that my specific circumstances are fairly typical in at least one important respect of my rough cultural, social and economic class.  In particular, those in our class position have a particular set of privileges and among these is being able to make political choices and to publicly express them without too much concern for the consequences of doing so. These include, as some of us have chosen, radical politics.

It is, of course, never easy to make sacrifices-to take positions which challenge those with real economic, social and political power which is what if means to be a radical, after all. However, it is much easier to do so if one has resources which can cushion their impact. By resources I mean that in the most material sense, namely, access to capital: not income but accumulated wealth-both personal and family-which can be drawn on if, for example, one is fired from one’s job due to expressing one’s political beliefs, or isn’t hired in the first place. Of course, no one likes living on the margins, but the cost of being a “luftmensch” can be born by those with resources. Those who don’t have these can’t make the sacrifice and will rarely make it.

Continue reading My Delgado Endorsement (Part 2)

Briahna Joy Gray: Moving Forward Post-Kavanaugh

Briahna  Joy Gray in  conversation with Will Menaker, Amber Frost Chapo Trap House Episode 251: (10/5/18)

Where do we go from here?

WM: Where do we go from here? What’s the way forward?  Is there any constructive protest or dissent that would be at all productive?

Practically speaking, I’m not passed the perjury point.  Making the case (against) Kavanaugh is not solely based on what he did 36 years ago it’s about what he did last week, it’s about him lying under oath and not having the integrity to uphold our laws.  And to drive that point home would I think be helpful going into the midterms.  That would be something they don’t usually do which is to make an argument on principle.  For years Republicans have tried to grab the moral high ground, Trump has offered an opportunity for the Democrats to make some declarative, prescriptive statements that can shift the dialog to illustrating how their party platform is clearly a lot more ethical and has a lot more integrity than the Republican tax cuts and their clear power grabs and their choice to pursue whatever policy goals are going to benefit the upper class.

The class point, needs to be stressed.

And I think that that point, the class point, needs to be stressed as well. I don’t see turning this into an argument about race or partisanship is going to be as effective as pointing out that Trump defended Kavanaugh on the grounds that he went to Yale. He had a perfect life.  This guy was “destined”, he said,’ to be in this position. That’s an argument for the people in power and not the horde of Trump voters who are cheering on this nomination from their working class, everyday lives. If the Democrats are able to draw the contrast between the interests that are being preserved here and the people on the ground who are not being serve from this appointment of from the kinds of decisions he’s going to hand down from the bench.  I think that that again will help to set up a clear contrast going into the midterms.

It’s obvious that the Democrats need to talk more about the working class.

WM: How does one use the term working class in contemporary politics without pissing someone off? Or is that impossible?

BJG: Part of what’s so frustrating is that it’s obvious that the Democrats need to talk more about the working class, but they have decided that working class is a dog whistle. And not on their own, obviously: the Republicans have manipulated it an cast it that way. But instead of pushing back, and making clear that working class is a class category and not a racial category, the continue to play this game where working class is implicitly followed by the word “white”, or talking about black or hispanic in racial terms and not because they have any broader class project and only speaking to our interests only as people who are discriminated against and only speaking to class through the lens of this disparity discourse. Which is fine but it limits the political project significantly, and cordons off the populists into Trump voters and brown people, ignoring the fact that most of America isn’t brown, and you get this obsessive focus on demographic changes and this hopefulness about the growing latino populations that’s kind of craven, frankly, and ignores the interests and needs of those communities which in large part overlaps with “working class whites”.

“Single payer is covertly racist”-a tactic to fight the left.

What were seeing now as one of the tactics to fight the left and its increasingly popular demands for things like single payer health care or free college eduction is this idea that these proposals are,  if not overtly, then covertly racist because they do not address the immediate concerns of black and brown people in this country, or that they are putting the interest of white people first.

An intentional effort to cleave the interest of African Americans and people of color from the interest of every other poor and working class people

AF: It’s a means of rallying what the actual base of the Democratic Party is which is liberal minded, middle class people who desperately want to seem like good people. They see politics as a kind of moral mission, so it’s very easy to make those people insecure, I don’t want to seem like I’m racist, I’m very concerned about sexism, I don’t want to seem like I’m ignoring those projects and, for elite liberals, it’s very easy to manipulate a morally insecure person.

BJG: Yes, absolutely.  This has been my preoccupation for about a year now and I finally got my thoughts down in a piece called Beware of the Race Reductionist in The Intercept.The gist is to drill down on this pattern of characterizing every policy that is quote unquote “universal” that brings benefits to low income whites in addition to low income everybody else, the impulse to characterize is as a capitulation to white interests or throwing people of color under the bus or undermining the interest of people of color. What has happened is that there has been an intentional effort to cleave the interest of african americans and people of color from the interest of every other poor and working class people as though they are 100% distinct from the interests of low income whites. And of course there are interests that don’t effect low income whites: racism is a separate ill that needs to be addressed at times with specific and independent programs.

But the idea that the primary problem with racism, that the way that it manifests itself in a majority-not all but a majority-of cases is through these economic effects. And so you end up going round and round with people and having the same conversations on the internet.

So you will say, of course, Affirmative Action or Black Livers Matter are incredibly important programs, but what is the effect of racism: well, I can’t get housing.  But, if I’m rich, I can get housing.  I personally have no problem getting housing because I’m upper middle class it doesn’t matter that I’m black.

But these things work together and the idea that ameliorating the effects of racism-poor education has to do with low income and not being in an affluent school district that is able to serve your kids, being in a high crime neighborhood. Zaid Jelani in The Intercept did this article where he looked at the average income of the neighborhoods where police shootings occur.  Zero percent of them occur in neighborhoods where the average income is over $200,000 a year. 95% of them happen in the neighborhoods where the average income is less than $95,000 a year.

So the idea that you can take the economic implications outside of what the racial implications are and deal with those problems separately is not only wrongheaded, it’s completely the opposite of the purpose of intersectionality-a buzzword that Hillary Clinton and the like love to talk about-the opposite of what it’s supposed to mean. But, that’s become the project of the Democratic establishment, because it’s much easier for them, and it’s much less consequential for their financial and corporate interests for them to talk about race separately without addressing the underlying economic concerns.

In 2020, you will see a full pronged identity based attack on Bernie Sanders.

And that’s where we are today, and that why what you’re going to see in 2020 if there’s a candidate who isn’t a person of color, like Bernie Sanders, you will see a full pronged identity based attack.  Because the threat of these universal programs to the economic bottom line you’re going to see everybody-especially people of color-making weaponized identity politics based attacks.  If you can’t make a moral argument against universal health care, you can only argue that it’s racist.  If you can’t make a moral argument against free college, you’re going to say it’s racist.  If you can’t make a moral argument against solar panels, you going to argue that it’s racist. And people already have.

When Jazzbros Attack

While I enjoyed writing it, I confess that I was not looking forward to the various screeds which were sure to emerge in response to my Jacobin piece Jazz after Politics.

As mentioned, jazz audiences tend to be disproportionately drawn from the “jazzbro” demographic whose linguistic competence rarely extends much beyond monosyllabic obscenities. And so it wasn’t a surprise that “Fuck this shit” became a fairly representative utterance posted to various comment sections though I was taken aback by the small flood of hate mail coming over my transom.I use the term “bro” here advisedly, as with one  exception, the outpouring of invective derived from names such as “Ryan”, “John”, “Mark”, “Jacob”, “Andrei”, “Jesse”, a lone “Esther” appearing among a sample of 30 odd names.

That implies that jazz remains as gonadally challenged as it was when, as I well recall, unmitigated misogyny towards “chick singers” was routine.  In any case, these ejaculations served as a useful reminder that I neglected to mention women as a constituency joining others who have long since voted with their feet to escape the stultifying embrace of the jazzbros.

In addition to these was a minority of responses which managed to communicate something other than baffled contempt by managing to make empirically verifiable claims. As might be expected, these were not of much better quality, among them the confident assertion that I “know nothing about jazz.”

As a subsequent commenter noted, this is worthy of nothing more than an “lol” given that as a performing musician in San Francisco and New York in the 1980s working with, among others, Sonny Stitt, Eddie Henderson, and Freddie Hubbard, I am intimately familiar with most of the classic repertoire and syntax of the genre.

Those parading their ignorance about my expertise no doubt assume they are doing God’s work by defending jazz from the infidels.  But in fact they are doing nothing other than making themselves, and by extension, jazz, look absurd.  LOL indeed.

What seems to lie behind this display of willful blindness is the assumption that that one cannot deeply admire an art form while maintaining a critical awareness of when and how it fails to achieve its expressive aspirations.

Of course, this is routine in concert music: pretty much everyone will admit that Beethoven is a great composer but that Wellington’s Victory March is a compositional disaster.  Same with Brahms’s Triumphlied.  Even some of us find certain pieces by Schubert saccharine, Mahler overwrought, Lizst annoying, etc.

But critical admiration, the only admiration worth taking seriously, is anathema to the Manichean jazzbro mentality.  In jazz circles, deference to authority is de riguer, those violating taboos by asking questions consigned to the gallows or targeted for ritualistic abuse.

One such taboo topic came up in the piece, namely, whether the great saxophonist and composer Joe Henderson could have been “oblivious” to the now long forgotten racist lyrics of a standard tune he recorded in the mid 1960s.

Daring to view this matter critically elicited the expected torrent of hostility:
“How dare John fucking Halle purport to know what Joe Henderson was thinking?” asked one blogger.
The simple answer to the question is that I know because I asked Henderson when i was on a gig with him in San Francisco in the mid 1980s. His response clearly indicated that he was entirely unaware of them, which is to say, he was “oblivious.”

But even if I didn’t know this based on first hand evidence, the music provides clear evidence that it is the case:  the harmonization, instrumentation, form, and basic character are no different from the treatment accorded numerous other pretty songs which Henderson recorded over his career.  Had Henderson been responding to the vile racist sentiment, by fashioning, as pianist Ethan Iverson claims, “absolutely a political statement about pretty tunes, hard bebop, Coltrane, race, velocity, and transition” it would have been required to be different in kind from the others in at least one significant respect.  But the much vaunted “scholarly” retort fails to identify any such characteristic, nor does it even attempt to do so-for the obvious reason that it can’t be done.

The gambit here is, of course, familiar as a variant of the long standing debates on Shostakovich, specifically the claims by partisans that the music reveals him to be “a hidden dissident”.  For Shostakovich, there is at least a superficial basis for the assertion: the  minor key, aggressive character of the scherzo of the tenth symphony could be construed as “a musical portrait of Stalin.”  The same goes for the ultra triumphant finale of the fifth symphony which could be construed, as Solomon Volkov notoriously claimed, as representing the “forced rejoicing” required of loyal citizens.  Similarly, the “torpid” third movement could be understood as memorializing the victims of the purges.  The key word here, of course, is “could” for all of the evidence indicates that nothing of the sort WAS the case, as scholars such as Laurel Fay, Richard Taruskin and others have taken pains to point out.

The difference with respect to the claims for Henderson’s arrangement of Without a Song is that there is nothing to debunk.  While Iverson will, of course, deny it, I’d be willing to bet that he, or the other jazzers reacting with such outrage, never had any idea of the original lyrics before they encountered them on Sunday.   His construction of the ex-post facto ironic narrative is pure invention-a bad faith attempt to shore up the ideological foundations of the music-a task which is both futile and, as I mention in the piece, entirely unnecessary.

Utlimately, the real problem here isn’t intellectual dishonesty but rather the stultifying, cultish atmosphere surrounding jazz, one which craves establishment respectability while dismissing as heretical any failure to wave the pom-poms with sufficient enthusiasm.

Of course, the music of Shostakovich survived his defenders and there’s no reason to think Joe Henderson will fail to survive his.  I’d like to think, based on the few brief conversations I had with this elegant, brilliant and occasionally eccentric genius that he’d be the first to grow tired of the tedious, universal, uncritical adulation directed at him by cultists and quickly show them the door.

Updated: 9/11/14
Ethan Iverson seems to think that I am “scolding” Joe Henderson.  That is the case only insofar as centuries of critics and scholars have been “scolding” great artists when they discuss what they regard as flaws in some major or minor aspect of their work. As I have pointed out ad nauseum, it is only in cults that such a conversation is impossible, and it is clear from the unhinged reaction to my attempts to have it that jazz has regrettably assumed this status, the obscenity laced tirades and frantic retweeting of banalities or trivial falsehoods accomplishing nothing other than further revealing to those outside what they had already suspected to be the case about jazzbro culture. Iverson’s response is unusual and maybe unique among these in that he does not dismiss with contempt an attempt to reconcile the musical form of a work with its immanent content.  Indeed, Iverson implicitly accepts that it may be at times necessary or at least desirable to wrestle with the question.

The problem is with the evidence which Iverson provides, including his useful transcription, which simply reinforces the point that Henderson’s treatment of Without a Song is little different in kind from other standards with which he was associated over his career.  Yes, there is the minimal reharmonization, but why should a reharmonization indicate any kind of critical perspective on the source?  Are we to interpret Coltrane’s reharmonization of Body and Soul as somehow a repudiation of the underlying lovey dovey sentiments of the original?  In both cases, it is exactly as Iverson shows, a technique to introduce a quicker circulation of pitch materials allowing both Coltrane and Henderson to demonstrate their remarkable fluency in negotiating these.

Had Henderson transposed the entire song into a minor dirge (along the lines of, say, Coltrane’s Alabama) that would have indicated an awareness and a response, or had he somehow transformed it into a blistering group free improvisiation along the lines of Coltrane’s Ascension or Freddie Hubbard’s Sing me a Song of Song My.  But Henderson does nothing of the kind-altering only slightly the original tempo of the song, maintaining the bright harmonies and essential upbeat sensibility of the original.

Does this matter?  As I say repeatedly, for many listeners, it does not and that was the case for me when I first discovered the recording in the mid seventies and wore it out on my Thorens TD 160 turntable.  It was only some years later that I became aware of the back story and began to feel that there was something absurd about the discontinuity. Those who find this difficult to understand should consider what their response would have been had Henderson performed a slightly reharmonized, up tempo arrangement of the Horst Wessel song.  Would anyone regard that as anything other than weird if not altogether pathological?  Why should an equally offensive relic of Jim Crow culture be regarded any differently by us? That so many are willing to take this in stride is unfortunately indicative yet again of one of the essential points of my piece: that society shows repeatedly that it does not care about black people-all of our genuflections to certain selective artifacts of their culture notwithstanding.

That said, I wouldn’t have discussed this had I not felt there was a larger critical observation to be made: as a general matter, I do feel that jazz overemphasizes autonomous syntax sometimes at the expense of considering the expressive ends to which these syntactic means are put.  Interestingly, in that respect it shares some similarities with post-war modernism of the Second Viennese School and its numerous descendants in the domestic academy which I have also been critical of.

While I find the general tendency disturbing, I should make clear that jazz musicians, when they choose to do so, can register an awareness of the implicit and explicit expressive content of standard tunes and react to it, or even against it.

To give an example of a classic performance from the jazz repertoire which arguably does just that, I’d point to Bud Powell’s rendering of Bronislaw Kaper’s All God’s Chillun . While not nearly as offensive as Without a Song, the lyrics clearly trade off the same class of stereotypes which are made gruesomely explicit in Without a Song:

All God’s chillun got rhythm, all God’s chillun got swing
Maybe haven’t got money, maybe haven’t got shoes
All God’s chillun got rhythm for to push away their blues

Powell’s response, as I hear it, was to eviscerate the original, imposing on it what can only be called a proto thrash metal arrangment.  The tempo is not just fast, of the sort which only he could manage (as he shows in Cherokee and Tempus Fugit) it is faster than fast, reminscent of Schumann’s marking in the Symphonic Etudes: Presto Possibile, followed a few pages later by Piu Presto in the coda.  The effect is extraordinary-in its protean virtuousity but also in its seeming unalloyed contempt for the source.

Is this a viable reading?  Unlike the case of Without a Song I have no external evidence that Powell was aware of the lyrics or of the trivializing portrayal in the movie A Day at the Races where the song was employed-though it’s likely that he was.  What we do know is that Powell was a repeated victim of racist violence and it appears that, unlike Charlie Parker and Lester Young who managed elaborate and evidently sufficiently effective strategies for coping with it, Powell had few adequate emotional and practical defenses (hence his bouts with institutionalization). As such it is the rawness of Powell’s emotions which comes through in this rendition-counterpoised to the perfect, effortless fluency with which Henderson negotiates the changes in Without a Song.

Do I wish Henderson had pushed himself to do more?  Yes I do.  Does this in any way significantly diminish his stature as an artist?  No it does not.  Is this matter and others related to it not worth discussing? Only if one is comfortable with the intellectually debased musical culture which the jazzbro contingent seems to desire and has succeeded, at least in part, in imposing.

The Left is Hopeless, installment 7,329

A tweet from journalist Allison Kilkenny-who has done some good work over the years.

“Key to success: Be old and white and male and make decisions that kill lots of poor brown people.”

So let’s see, the guy who’s signing off on the drone attacks is middle aged and black, his U.N. ambassador justifying them a middle-aged, black female, the previous secretary of state responsible for massive death and destruction was a white female, preceded by a black middle aged female etc. In short, killing poor brown people is an equal opportunity employer.
It has been for a long time. Those who own and operate the political system love it when they can find young fresh faces-especially black and female ones-to do their business for them.

Why can’t we wake up to that fact?