The Social Media Transformation of César Sayoc: I disagree

In today’s New York Times, I find an article tracing the evolution of the Trump Supporter’s campaign to kill Democrats from his “normal” Facebook posts, to his “extremist” Twitter account. The article begins:

Until 2016, Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr.’s life on social media looked unremarkable. On his Facebook page, he posted photos of decadent meals, gym workouts, scantily clad women and sports games — the stereotypical trappings of middle-age masculinity.

This may be common, but it is far from “unremarkable” as reporter Kevin Roose states.  I remarked many things about it. Then a quote from an expert in digital journalism:

“He went from posting pictures of women, real estate, dining and cars to posting pictures of ISIS, guns and people in jail,” said Jonathan Albright, the research director for Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “It’s a remarkable change.”

From unremarkable to remarkable. However, here is what I remarked in the first incarnation of Mr. Sayoc’s online persona.  “Scantily clad women” denotes objectification; women as things, not people; decadent meals signal affluence and pleasure; real estate and cars are signs of prestige, money and power. All of these are signs of toxic masculinity, an idea of human relationships as transactional and impersonal, a technocratic bent, and a desire for male domination. These are completely consistent with the Twitter account, the support of Trump, and, eventually, the pipe bombs.

I’d suggest the proper way to frame this article is as a continuum of his offenses, displayed on social media. Just as many mass killers begin with domestic violence, many perverts as peeping toms; just as sexual harassers will forge expense reports, or take credit for other people’s work, the signs of violence are often visible in other actions and evidenced in seemingly minor social media posts online. “Criminal versatility” is common, and criminal tendencies can be read in early prejudices. I see the signs of César Sayoc’s tendencies already writ large on his Facebook page.

“Put a king over us”

The people came to Samuel and said, “Put a king over us, to guide us.”

 

Samuel  said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.  Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

 

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

 

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

1 Samuel 8

What happened in the 70s?

Jyri posted an article on Facebook, Where Inequality Took Root: “In the mid-70’s, we traded in our post-World War II social contract for a new one, where ‘greed is good.'”  This amazing graph shows something big happened in the 1970s to prevent workers from sharing the gains of productivity in the workplace, but the question is, what?

productivity-versus-wages

Jyri conjectures that personal computing may have had something to do with the changes.However, I think that was a small part of the changes going on in the United States at the time. The bigger changes were social.

There was a great deal of change during the 70s in terms of womens’ rights, gay rights, civil rights and also, significantly, immigration. For example, after Hart-Celler was passed, the ethnic makeup of the U.S. changed dramatically, viz, this data from Wikipedia:

“Prior to 1965, the demographics of immigration stood as mostly Europeans; 68 percent of legal immigrants in the 1950s came from Europe and Canada. However, in the years 1971–1991, immigrants from Hispanic and Latin American countries made 47.9 percent of immigrants (with Mexico accounting for 23.7 percent) and immigrants from Asia 35.2 percent. Not only did it change the ethnic makeup of immigration, but it also greatly increased the number of immigrants—immigration constituted 11 percent of the total U.S. population growth between 1960 and 1970, growing to 33 percent from 1970–80, and to 39 percent from 1980–90.”

My mother’s family immigrated from the Philippines to the United States when people from non-European countries were subjected to more stringent requirements than Europeans, and very few were allowed in. They believe they were admitted to the U.S., for example, because they had had a great deal of higher education, and graduate degrees from American universities.

The graph above can tell a thousand stories, and it is hard to point to any single factor. Personal computing may have changed the workplace dramatically, but I think it is likely that the social contract changed because the social construct changed. More women, more minorities, more foreign-born citizens were taking their places in American society and there was a growing sense of threat to entrenched power.

Trump voters aren’t voting policy, they’re voting identity

We’ve been reading so many words about who the Trump voter is and why they vote the way they do. So many explanations. But this is the first article that made sense to me, and it tells how people are voting more for who they “identify” with, who they feel represents them, and people like them than for any particular issue or policy. It is an interview with Katherine J. Cramer about her book The Politics of Resentment. Here is part of the interview:

…we all do that thing of encountering information and interpreting it in a way that supports our own predispositions. Recent studies in political science have shown that it’s actually those of us who think of ourselves as the most politically sophisticated, the most educated, who do it more than others.

So I really resist this characterization of Trump supporters as ignorant.

There’s just more and more of a recognition that politics for people is not — and this is going to sound awful, but — it’s not about facts and policies. It’s so much about identities, people forming ideas about the kind of person they are and the kind of people others are. Who am I for, and who am I against?

Policy is part of that, but policy is not the driver of these judgments. There are assessments of, is this someone like me? Is this someone who gets someone like me?

I think all too often, we put our energies into figuring out where people stand on particular policies. I think putting energy into trying to understanding they way they view the world and their place in it — that gets us so much further toward understanding how they’re going to vote, or which candidates are going to be appealing to them.

Remember the Story of Guillermo Rodriguez

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On Aug. 19, 2015, shortly after midnight, the brothers Stephen and Scott Leader assaulted Guillermo Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been sleeping near a train station in Boston. The Leader brothers beat him with a metal pipe, breaking his nose and bruising his ribs, and called him a “wetback.” They urinated on him. “All these illegals need to be deported,” they are said to have declared during the attack. The brothers were fans of the candidate who would go on to win the Republican party’s presidential nomination. Told of the incident at the time, that candidate said: “People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country, and they want this country to be great again.”

– Teju Cole, A Time for Refusal

Act Now, Electoral College

Stopping demagogues and unqualified candidates is why the Electoral College was created. Time to reread The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton. Jon Zieger paraphrases and explains:

The intention of the electoral college is to protect us from interference in our elections by foreign powers and from unqualified candidates who rise up quickly based on “little arts in popularity”;  to stop “foreign powers… gain[ing] an improper ascendant in our councils… by raising a creature of their own to the [Presidency].” its purpose is to “afford a moral certainty that [POTUS] … will never fall to any man not in eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications as a majority of votes might not … happen [go to] one man, and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive…it provides that, in such a contingency, the House of Representatives shall select the man who … may be best qualified”

And he concludes:

If there were ever a case for individual electors to exercise judgment independent of their state populations, this is it. And doing so would be consistent with both the constitution and the intention of the system as expressed by the framers.

Yes.

21 States do not restrict their Electors. There is already unrest: Texas elector has said he couldn’t support Trump.

Tyranny comes from democracy

tarot-tower

I read Chris Hedges’ book The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, many years ago, and I was impressed by his strong statements and his searing condemnation of the educated class to which we belong, and how we lost the people by the cynically serving them spectacle, and how that spectacle would eventually become indistinguishable, to them, from reality.

In his trademark manner he articulated and clarified many things that had been vague, unformed ideas I’d entertained, writing of a future characterized by a widening gulf between the literate and the illiterate, complexity no longer understandable by the masses. His writing was hyperbolic, dire, doomsday. It seemed like an apocalyptic screed and much too dark. No more. His prognostications have been realized, the day he warned of has arrived.

Chris Hedges writes again, with many more now hopefully listening, that neoliberal kowtowing to corporate masters destroyed the underclass and opened the doors for fascism. He writes in an August 2016 article:

College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades.

On behalf of corporations indeed. He excoriates the press too, in this interview with my former boss David Talbot, dismissing most journalists as stenographers for the powerful.

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

These Americans want a kind of freedom—a freedom to hate. They want the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag.” They want the freedom to idealize violence and the gun culture. They want the freedom to have enemies, to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their cryptofascism. They want the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. They want the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture. They want the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave. And they want the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism and white patriarchy. These are the core sentiments of fascism. These sentiments are engendered by the collapse of the liberal state.

The freedom to hate has arrived and we can see it in the streets, in stores, in classrooms today, unleashed by the election of Trump.  All over the internet you can find innumerable examples of rising fascism such as this, which happened yesterday in Queens:

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Hedges quotes Richard Rorty, an old favorite of mine, whom I encountered because of his chapter “The Barber of Kasbeam”about cruelty in the work of Vladimir Nabokov in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity particularly “the potential of cruelty inherent in the quest for autonomy”. Rorty writes in his 1998 book Achieving Our Country a prediction of our current state of affairs:

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

But we can go even farther back than 1998 for this prediction.  Plato, in his Republic, warns that democracy is the very birthplace of tyranny. “Too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery, for both private man and city.” The Third Reich rose out of an era of great liberality and decadence, particularly in the cities, among the elite, a society of great freedom for women, gays, and Jews. At the time there was what people were calling a “überfremdung”–an “overpowering”–a great influx of foreigners into Germany.

There is a section, if you can bear to read it, on page 789 of your Bollingen edition of Plato, and continuing onto page 790 that describes a former oligarch, become a democrat, now shameless and resplendent in his freedom, sharing “equality” all around. See if you don’t recognize us in it:

“And does he not,” said, I, “also live out his life in this fashion, day by day indulging the appetite of the day, now winebibbing and abandoning himself to the lascivious pleasing of the flute and again drinking only water and dieting, and at one time exercising his body, and sometimes idling and neglecting all things, and at another time seeming to occupy himself with philosophy. And frequently he goes in for politics and bounces up and says and does whatever enters his head. And if military men excite his emulation, thither he rushes, and in his existence, but he calls this life of his the life of pleasure and freedom and happiness an cleaves to it to the end.”

“That is a perfect description,” he said, “of a devotee of equality.”

It is not reminiscent of the now classic description of the liberal elite as “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving”? And, too, this “devotee of equality” is not unlike Hedges’ description of liberals lavish in their inclusion, but excluding one group in particular:

These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

This game has ended indeed, and not how we thought it would. We’re paying attention now. These have been bad days, and after my sorrow and shock, I begin working on a plan.

I seek relief in poetry, Plato and the care and feeding of children and small dogs.

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