FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2015
Epilogue—The first of several stories: We're so old that we can remember what was life was like in this country before the fascistic Candidate Trump advanced his latest proposal.
(To better understand Trump's fascism, see Salon's "The GOP can’t believe this is really happening: The 7 biggest establishment freakouts in the wake of Trump’s fascist turn."
Also, see Salon's "Paul Krugman: Fascists like Trump only possible because Republican leadership is 'inbred and out of touch.'"
Warning! Krugman doesn't use the word "fascist" in the column under review. No problem, though! The headline writers at Salon decided to help him along.)
Back to our disappeared national idyll:
Last Sunday was the final day of that earlier era. On that day, we read Maria Konnikova's assessment of the persuasive power of stories and the reasons why otherwise sensible people may fall for various cons.
Konnikova's piece made us think of the highly persuasive stories our own liberal tribe increasingly promulgates and loves. It also made us think of an extremely well-received book.
In our view, the book, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is a superlative memoir. Have we always had Paris over here? Coates' account of his trips to that city will let us always have Paris all over again in a whole different context.
We'll also recommend, in the strongest way, Coates' portrait of an important figure in his memoir, that figure being his wife. "She always gave the best advice," we might want to say, stealing from glorious Homer. As Terry Malloy meets Edie Doyle and realizes he wants to be more like her, picking up the glove she has dropped and reflexively slipping it onto his hand, so too we admire Coates for the good sense he displays in recognizing and accepting the constant good sense of his very wise, superlative wife, who goes unnamed in his book.
In our view, certain parts of Coates' memoir are quite beautiful, a trait Coates has always pursued. Other parts could perhaps be extremely instructive if anyone wanted to discuss them, which no one actually wants to do. Within our vastly self-impressed tribe, we do what's been done in the case of this book when it comes to such subject matter—we offer the mandated words of praise, then quickly depart in disinterest.
Major elites give Coates awards. The book goes undiscussed.
We think the memoir is exceptionally good at certain points. We think the book's various analyses pretty much aren't. They're helped along by all those stories, persuasive stories of the type our liberal tribe increasingly loves.
One such story opens the book. First, a bit of background:
On Monday, November 25 of last year, "a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson, 28, for firing six shots in a confrontation in August that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said late Monday."
We're quoting the next day's news report in USA Today. That Sunday, November 30, 2014, CBS' Face the Nation began its hour with a segment about that decision.
Norah O'Donnell was the program's guest host. She spoke about this topic with three guests, all of whom were black progressives. One of the three was Coates.
(The other guests: Benjamin Crump, lawyer to Michael Brown's family, who was interviewed first. Also, James Peterson, director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University, who then appeared with Coates.)
Coates' widely-praised book begins with an account of what happened on that program. He doesn't name the program, and he doesn't name O'Donnell. But it's clear that this is the program he is talking about.
In his first six pages (pages 5-11), Coates discusses what happened on that program and his reaction to same. As a general matter, we'd have to say that his account of what occurred is extremely hard to square with the program's transcript and tape, which exist to this very day, even in this new era.
By his fifth page—and these are short pages—Coates is flatly misstating basic facts concerning a final exchange. Fifteen hundred words into the book, we read an account which is flatly inaccurate. Coates then portrays himself walking the streets, in the wake of the show, in deep existential gloom.
In fairness, it makes a good story! But do our tribe's persuasive stories actually have to be true?
In our view, Coates tells quite a few stories in his book which are fact- and logic-challenged. Some concern well-known, important events; they're stories he has told in the past, perhaps in ways which differ a bit from the stories he tells in the book.
Do our stories have to be true? Within our self-impressed tribe, we're very good at critiquing the behavior of the fascists, bigots, racist and xenophobes we can see Over There in Their tribe.
We're very, very tough on Them. What kinds of standards do we maintain for Us, Over Here, in Our Own glorious tribe?
In ur view, Coates' memoir is sometimes quite beautiful. Other parts of his memoir could be extremely instructive if we ever decide to discuss them in a serious way. On the other hand, his analyses strike us as weak and perhaps unhelpful. But you haven't seen such matters discussed because, if you really want the truth, in Our Tribe we don't really care.
Coates' subject matter is extremely important. This country is full of good, decent kids. In various ways, he's writing about their experiences—but as we've noted again and again, there's no sign that anyone cares.
After the start of the year, we hope to offer an extensive review of Coates' new book, with allusions to his previous memoir. Given the wealth of topics Coates discusses, any such respectful review would take a number of weeks.
His subject matter is very important. Do we actually care about those topics? Or do we just like the kinds of stories which let us trash Them, Over There?