These Are America’s Brezhnev Years

In 1991, plenty of Americans made the somewhat arrogant assumption that the United States had “won” the Cold War. A quarter-century later, with institutions like the EU fragmenting and a Russia-backed president of the United States refusing to guarantee its support to NATO allies, those exultant cries of victory look pretty naïve. Obviously, something was going on in the past two decades that a lot of people missed. During the Dubya presidency I started formulating a theory, which I now find to be vindicated, that America was living in its Brezhnev years. In case you do not know, Brezhnev came for power in the Soviet Union along with Alexei Kosygin in 1964, forcing out Nikita Khrushchev. … [Read more...]

Originalism: The Original Trigger Warning

Neil Gorsuch will soon be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Barring any eleventh-hour scandal (unlikely, if one is to judge by his haircut), the Senate will confirm him. It will be confirming a young man, in judge years, a reliable conservative in politics and an originalist in legal philosophy. The first two traits are unobjectionable in a judicial nominee—we expect presidents to nominate people with views consummate with their own ideology (or, in Trump’s case, the ideology he promised Christian conservatives he would have at the time of the nomination). There is some opprobrium hanging over the fact that it is a “stolen seat,” but that shame attaches to the Senate, not to Trump … [Read more...]

Sipping on the Indian Haterade: Hindu American Whiteness and Support for Trump

Unlike other communities of color in the United States, it has not been so easy for South Asian Americans to organize and act as one.  The very complexity of South Asia and the myriad of internal politics make mobilization a difficult issue.   Even during my time in Atlanta conducting ethnographic research on the South Asian American sporting community, organizations like South Asians for Unity struggled to collectively engage the heterogeneous ethnic, class, and religious South Asian American community in Atlanta.  Sikh American elders and I (a Christian Tamil) shared a sentiment of feeling minimally included in the discussions about peace on the subcontinent. Thus, even the coming … [Read more...]

Trump, Brexit, and the Abject Poverty of Liberalism

Two seemingly monumental and world-historic events occurred in two of the most powerful imperialist countries this past year. On 23 June, the United Kingdom held a referendum on its membership in the European Union, resulting in a “leave” vote. On the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for President of the United States, was victorious in his electoral campaign against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The Leave Campaign won the “Brexit” referendum with 17.4 million ballots, or 51.9 percent of the votes, whereas Donald Trump won the US presidency with 62.9 million votes, amounting to 46.1 percent of the ballots cast (note that Clinton won the popular vote with … [Read more...]

TV, Blogs, Memes, & Even a Little Hope: The Best of the Rest in 2016

Finally, we wind down our retrospective of the "anus horribilis" with the rest of the responses to our annual survey of contributors: the stuff that moved us, surprised us, made us laugh and (most definitely) made us cry this year. We may have had fascism in 2016, but we also had beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes... you name it! Best TV Show ASC: Easily Atlanta--wunderkind creator Donald Glover's take on life in the A combined verité realism with the occasional touch of the brilliantly absurd to capture the wonderful weirdness of the city it chronicles.  Like the thinking man's Twin Peaks.  Two other shows also brought a lot of light into 2016, recently available to American audiences via … [Read more...]

Bacon’s Rebellion, Donald Trump, and American Populism

Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 took place long before Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House, but if we allow for a wide-angle view of history we might trace out some general similarities between these two events. In fact, I am inclined to argue that the American populist tradition has its roots in Bacon’s Rebellion. Following such an argument, Donald Trump can be explained as the latest incarnation of Nathanael Bacon, though contextualized to the early twenty-first century. The key word here is: populism. Populism, Defined or Not First of all, what is populism? The easy answer is: who knows, you decide. “Scholars debate whether it [populism] is a creed, a style, a political strategy, a … [Read more...]

Stiff Upper Lip, Friends

At ToM, we have always loved Max Weber's essay "Politics as a Vocation" -- especially, and always, in times of political despair. The wise old sociologist was speaking amid revolutionary tumult in Germany in 1919, in the wake of the First World War. (And yes, he was speaking, despite the fact that the lecture is extraordinarily long and dense.) Somehow, Weber knew that dark times were ahead -- perhaps even intuiting the rise of Nazism, as you can see in the quotation below.  But he urged his countrymen and comrades to steel themselves for the hard vicissitudes of politics, whatever may come their way. Eric Foner reminded us of this in the darkest days of George W. Bush and the Iraq War, … [Read more...]

Sorry, Folks, but Trump Really Is Different

Trump is different. Wow—a really big breakthrough discovery, huh? Maybe it is. Some contributors to this discussion seem determined to carry a brief for the Left by proving that Trump is merely the coming home to roost of GOP chickens. His misogyny and racism is “nothing new,” or just the logical conclusion of 40 years or more of GOP rhetoric. As tempted as I am to accept this analysis, I cannot. Something new—or at least, not terribly old—is happening right now. To explain away Trump by citing Willie Horton or Strom Thurmond or something is to choose not to reckon with the evidence of the recent past.  Sure, the GOP made robust use of dog whistles and “coded” language to play on the … [Read more...]

New Right, Far Right, Alt-Right? Donald Trump and the Historiography of Conservatism

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about the most frequent cause of my current existential dread election and I half-jokingly remarked that Donald Trump’s outlandish candidacy almost made me miss George W. Bush. She laughed and said that Bush had made her feel the same way about Richard Nixon. We both chuckled at the absurdity of the conversation and went on our merry ways. When I got back to my office, however, something didn’t sit well. Did I really just say I missed George W. Bush? The Bush administration was a clear point in my own political and professional development. I was in college during the Iraq War and I started grad school toward the end of Bush’s presidency, all … [Read more...]

Trump doth bestride the narrow world, like a tiny-handed Colossus…

Is Trump sui generis? The culmination of forty years of oblique race-baiting in the GOP? A reality television hack? An avatar for fascism? We are asking the wrong questions. The real question is how our political culture has become so denigrated that we would allow a rank amateur so clearly out of his depth to rise this far, this fast. Then again, the questions always seem to outpace the answers when it comes to Trump’s nettlesome presence in the 2016 presidential election. A year and some ago, he was only the most orangey in a crowded field of GOP attention-seekers, from Ted “Puddin’head” Cruz, Mike “not quite primetime” Huckabee and Ben “Egyptologist” Carson. How long til the Donald … [Read more...]