Thursday, November 12, 2020

Joe Biden & Kamala Harris Have Won

President-Elect Joe Biden Jr.
& Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

This has been a nightmarish year on so many levels, from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, to the Ahmed Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor murders, as well as many others, at the hands of police and extrajudicial forces, to the current economic crisis (the second major one in less than two decades, yet again under an inept Republican administration) and ballooning wealth and resource inequality, to the devastating effects of climate change (hurricanes and tropical storms, wildfires, etc.), and on and on, but if I can identify one possible ray of light, troubled though it may be, it would be the Joe Biden's and Kamala Harris's historical and groundbreaking defeat of Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the recent presidential election. Four years of malign incompetence, brazen criminality, incoherent domestic and external policies all keyed to and driven by the narcissistically warped vision thankfully met with a major NO MORE from US voters, and now Biden and Harris are the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect of the US, and will, attempted coups by Trump and the GOP notwithstanding, assume office on January 20, 2021.

They defeated Trump despite the Covid-19 pandemic (or, more likely, as a result of his catastrophically horrendous response to it), which meant markedly reduced in person campaigning and canvassing by Democrats; evident and relentless voter suppression across the US; threats of continued Russian interference; Trump's seeming attempts to destroy the United States Post Office by appointing as Postmaster General his supporter Louis DeJoy, who gutted branches all over the US by removing sorting machines and reducing hours; and a steady drumbeat of disinformation, misinformation, and anti-voting rhetoric from the President, his supporters, various other agents of disruption, and at times the legacy media, which amplified--rather than countering--Trump's message of a "rigged election" and "voter fraud." (We very well may look back and find that in fact he was, as usual, projecting about his own attempts to steal the election this year.)

In the end, Biden and Harris received more than 80+ million total votes, the most ever, 7 million more than Trump and Pence's 73+ million, and 306 electoral votes, the exact total Trump received in 2016, when, despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, he labeled his victory a "landslide." The Biden-Harris combo won back three states-Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania--that Barack Obama had won in 2008 and 2012, but which Clinton lost in 2016 by slender margins, while also winning two more, Arizona and Georgia, that a Democratic presidential candidate had not won since Bill Clinton in the 1990s. They make history with Harris becoming the first woman Vice President, first Black woman VP, and the first Asian American VP.  She also is the first graduate of an Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to serve as VP, and the first member of a Black sorority to hold that office as well. She will be the second VP not to be White (Charles Curtis was the first) and the second in an interracial marriage. Biden will be the oldest man elected to the presidency, and the second Roman Catholic president, and a decidedly devout one, after JFK. 

The next President and Vice President
of the United States of America

Ideologically Biden has tended to be a conservative to moderate Democrat, with a problematic legislative history, especially during his Senate tenure, of support for racist, pro-corporate policies, while Harris, at least in the US Senate, is considered one of the most liberal US Senators based on her voting record, though her records while California's and San Francisco's Attorneys General were more mixed, sometimes quite progressive and at other times conservative (pro-police). (I should note that in the Democratic Presidential primary I again voted for Bernie Sanders, but have contributed the campaigns of both Harris and Biden.) Both have expressed support for and voted for neoliberal economic and social policies in the past, and during the primary campaign, neither would consistently commit to programs that progressive and Democratic Socialist branches of the party endorsed, like Medicare for All or Single Payer health insurance, or the comprehensive Green New Deal. That does not mean, however, that they cannot be pushed towards more comprehensive, popular, paradigm-shifting policies, but their political backgrounds, especially Biden's suggest moderate rather than radical changes. But I am going into the next four years with clear eyes, and have set my expectations low. The first tests of this will be how they deal with this pandemic, which has worsened as Trump's malignant time in office winds toward its close.

Whatever they do achieve will depend in significant part on which party controls the US Senate, whose fate hangs in the balance as Georgia's two Senate seats head to runoffs, but also will hinge on the Democrats' ability to retain their control of the House, where their margins for error plummeted as Republicans regained a number of the seats they lost in the 2018 midtarms. How Biden will govern given the challenges, which mount daily, facing the country and his administration, remains to be seen, but if he can take any lessons from Trump's four years, and the eight Biden served as VP under Obama, they might include grasping the nature of the contemporary zombie Republican Party and its overriding goal of nihilistically holding power; the appeal of economically populist policies and politics and the effect of government largess for the 99% (remember 2012?) vs. the abject failure of neoliberal capitalist orthodoxy and libertarianism, especially amidst a pandemic and its aftermath; the importance of transparency, openness and regular communication with the nation; liberal interventionism in foreign policy should be a dead letter from now on; and the absolutely fundamental concept of not forgetting and ignoring your base voters, as Obama frequently seemed to and Trump never did, which, in Biden's case, comprises Black and other BIPOC voters, especially Black women, young people (Gen Z and millennials), seniors, urbanites and many suburbanites, educated middle class voters, and working-class and poor voters, even if and as he works to expand his coalition. 

It is one thing to clean house when it comes to Trump's lawlessness, recklessness and incompetence, but replicating the worst aspects of the Obama years will imperil not only Biden's tenure and doom Democrats but the nation and the globe. I cannot predict how the next four years will turn out, but it will be refreshing to have Trump out of the White House, whatever damage he attempts as a private citizen, and, as when Obama was president, we will have to press Biden and Harris, as FDR said, to do what is needed; in fact, echoing FDR, we will need to make him (them) do it.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

My 2019 (Semi-)Hiatus

A photo from our contract rally at
Rutgers-Newark, April 2019
As J's Theater readers--if there still are any!--may have noted, last year (2019) was a very lean one in terms of my presence here. I believe I managed six entries (with perhaps double that still in draft mode), and that was pushing it. One, which I only recently published, featured a review I undertook for Art in America on last year's Whitney Biennial, which I found fascinating on multiple levels, in contrast to many mainstream critics, including one who summed it for me at lunch late in the year, as "predictable." As it turns out, it was anything but--and, as I argued in that piece, really multiple Biennials, including one transformed by the protests that not only the Biennial's artists, but outside activists, supporters and artists, and the Museum's staff, launched. To be able to watch it unfold and write about it was a pleasure, but alas, I had almost no time to focus on it here.  I also had no real time--or rather no time to focus--to complete memorials to figures who have been incredible important to me, whom we lost in 2019, and I am thinking in particular of Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall (who was one of my favorite teachers in grad school), and Ernest J. Gaines, among many others. They are but a few of the people who left this human plane last year, and perhaps at some point I can either finish my mini-tributes and turn those live or write new ones this year. We will see.

My day jobs are, as readers know, a writer, and a professor of English and African American and African Studies (AAAS). Over the last six years (roughly since 2013), however, I've also served first as Acting Chair and then full-time Chair of AAAS, a post I have enjoyed deeply, but which also has entailed a very different level and kind of time commitment, since chair duties, I had to learn quickly, run every day of the week and all year long, and involve all kinds of matters, from curricula to student needs and concerns to staff and faculty personnel issues to other kinds of university service to general administration to tasks defying categorization. 

What I also learned was that there often is little training, except on the job, for the challenges that present themselves. Soliciting the advice of one's peers, especially other chairs or former chairs, and colleagues, listening to them carefully, addressing pressing and longer-term issues, and encouraging and engaging not only in an ethos but a practice of collaboration are all key, but administrative duties can be very stressful, and run along timelines parallel to but different from those of the academic year. Add this to my regular (teaching, mentoring, advising, my own life and writing) and irregular duties (letters of recommendation, tenure, judging panels, etc.), and it's fair to say that my blogging has been one major area to suffer some of the the greatest blows as a result.

This past fall was also a particular challenge because, on top of everything else, I was serving on four search committees. Serving on one search committee is a high hurdle; four is almost impossible to describe, though I grasped why I was asked to serve, and was cognizant throughout of what my presence could help to effect and why I committed to each. I can say, breaking no confidences, that each went quite well, and 2020 should bring good news to my institution and some excellent people who, I hope, will be wonderful leaders in their various ways and invaluable colleagues. That, as all such work tends to be, is the hope and goal, making people, programs and departments, the institution itself, better and stronger than they were before, with added benefits not yet foreseen but which will redound and resonate long after the moment of the work has ended. That is the core of so much of what we do in life, though, isn't it, or at least hope to?

2020 brings a competitive leave sabbatical--courtesy of several fellowships I received in 2018--so I hope to be able to post here more often. I have been thinking quite a bit about how blogging has changed in the 14 (soon to be 15!) years since I began this blog, and though I am ever more convinced that we live in an increasingly post-literate, let alone post-post-modern world, where the power of the regime of images grows ever stronger, the role of the oral has become more central and dominant, public prose is transforming into a shadow of itself, and social media's forces and forms are reshaping not only language as an exterior medium but our interiorities in ways we have not fully recognized or reckoned with,  I do believe there is a place for this blog and others, even if it ends up looking somewhat different than it did in the past, so I will strive to post semi-regularly here, even if, as I have at times, primarily with quotes and notices from others, including citations of and links to blogs I still follow, like Keguro Macharia's, to name one of my favorites and one of the very best. (And speaking of which, his remarkable study Frottage: Frictions of Intimacy Across the Black Diaspora is now out from NYU Press!)

So, here's to 2020, more blogging (I hope), and the excitement to come!

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Happy New Year / 2020

At the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Manhattan, NY (photo @ C)

Happy New Year!

Feliz año nuevo
Feliz Ano Novo
Bonne année
Buon Anno e tanti auguri
Kull 'aam wa-antum bikhayr
Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv
Na MwakaMweru wi Gikeno
Feliĉan novan jaron
聖誕快樂 新年快樂 [圣诞快乐 新年快乐]
Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mise duit
Nava Varsh Ki Haardik Shubh Kaamnaayen
Ein gesundes neues Jahr
Mwaka Mwena
Pudhu Varusha Vaazhthukkal
Afe nhyia pa
Ufaaveri aa ahareh
Er sala we pîroz be
سال نو
С наступающим Новым Годом
šťastný nový rok
Manigong Bagong Taon sa inyong lahat
Feliç Any Nou
Yeni yılınızı kutlar, sağlık ve başarılar dileriz
نايا سال مبارک هو
Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Chronia polla
Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Kia pai te Tau Hou e heke mai nei
Shinnen omedeto goziamasu (クリスマスと新年おめでとうございます)
IHozhi Naghai
a manuia le Tausaga Fou
Paglaun Ukiutchiaq
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho

(International greetings courtesy of Omniglot and Jennifer's Polyglot Links; please note a few of the phrases may also contain Christmas greetings)