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essays Politics

Understanding power and status

The past four years of the Trump presidency have been dizzying. Watching Trump, honestly a master communicator, whip audiences into frenzies of rage over shared grievance was like, “Damn, he’s a master of triggering his audience” … but what are the sources of the rage? Well, racism was explicit, as was precarity, well larded with disdain/rage for ‘the elites.’

Yet the right wing is and has been dominating. McConnell completely controls the Senate, the House was Republican in 2016, Trump of course, and the Federalist society clones are stuffing the judicial branch with remorseless reactionaries. They have power, and lots of it, well fortified with antimajoritarian structures of electoral college, gerrymandering, Census manipulation and of course the Senate. So where’s the rage from?

All of the above made much more sense after reading this NYT column by Thomas Edsall titled “The Resentment That Never Sleeps” – the two keys are status and last place aversion. Let me explain.

Last place aversion, from this paper of the same name, is a terrible aspect of human nature. We don’t want to be last. Politicians have long understood this on a visceral level:

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” – LBJ

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/lbj-convince-the-lowest-white-man/

Trump uses the combination of precarity and last place aversion to drive his base: “The black and brown people are bad and they’re going to be higher status than you.”

Status is more interesting and more complex. They key thing I learned from Edsall is that the two parties have different status measures and goals – the Democrats use “prestige” based on “notable achievement in a field” and Republicans are using “dominance” based on threats and bullying.

Re-read that last bit. Think: any Trump speech, ‘Fuck your feelings’ campaign shirts, rolling coal, police riots, “owning the libs”, right wing militias and much more. They all make sense if the goal is to intimidate, to cause fear, to dominate.

There’s a ton more in the Edsall piece, it’s superbly researched and linked and worth reading several times.

It’s a bleak read. I don’t expect Biden to be effective in this climate, and I fully expect Trump and McConnell to continue their sabotage. At the same time, as well explained in “Listen, Liberal” the Democrats remain focused only on their white collar constituents and seem deaf to the plight of everyone else:

They are a party of the professional class—a.k.a. the “learning class” or the “creative class”—and they are infatuated with the idea of a post-ideological society in which competence is all that matters.

https://tcfrank.com/product/listen-liberal/

Sound like the prestige status hierarchy to me.

I fear for my country, and that’s no joke.

Categories
Random Watches

Truth, beauty and quartz

A recent podcast (Scottish Watches, with Adam Craniotes) there was a nice side discussion of the nature of men’s watches. “Metal Barbie dolls,” to paraphrase, and it did inspire a thought or two.

This is the watch on my wrist now – Seiko SBGX117, a Grand Seiko quartz diver made between 2014 and 2017. 42mm, steel, titanium hands, thermocompensated quartz movement accurate to ten seconds per year. List price was about 4k USD new, I got it used in a trade for about about 2500.

Seiko SBGX117
Seiko SBGX117

If you’re curious, Ariel wrote a nice review here on ABtW.

I’ve also been enjoying this Scurfa recently too:

Scurfa Diver One DI-500

And of course my even-more-accurate 9F GMT:

Seiko SBGN001

For men in the western culture milieu, the only socially acceptable forms of jewelry are the watch and wedding band. There are few exceptions, of course; I’m speaking in generalities here for cishet.

And we’re not allowed to ever, ever call them ‘pretty.’ It has to be masculine, engineering-focused, etc. All gendered language. Yet all the while, we’re always looking for beauty, even if we call it proportion, ratio, finishing and craftwork.

We are, however, allowed to Seek Truth, and for that quartz is king. There’s a wonderful well of difficult problems, interesting physics and obsessive engineering required to make a really accurate timekeeper, and these Seiko 9F movements are among the finest ever made. For that matter, I have a lot of meetings these days, often over video with remote participants, so it is super useful to know the precise time.

9F movement, picture Seiko

So watches are how we thread the needle of societal expectations. We can enjoy manly bonding over our shiny jewelry while still performing masculinity. And hey, it really does come in handy to know what time it is with a watch that can get wet, handle rough treatment, lasts a decade or more and doesn’t require charging every day or two and setting every week.

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Politics Uncategorized

The Empty Core of the Trump Mystique | The New Republic

Another pertinent factor is envy, a basic human emotion that rising social inequality can only exacerbate. To put it in cruder terms: “The world sucks for me, so I am going to make it suck for you too. I have lost my job, my status as a white male, and may even lose my gun. So you, my smug, privileged friend, are going to lose your civil liberties, your faith in social progress, your endangered species, your affirmative action, your reproductive freedom, your international alliances, your ‘wonderful’ exchange student from Syria.”

A stellar and thought-provoking essay.

via The Empty Core of the Trump Mystique | The New Republic

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Politics Uncategorized

The Remaking of Class | The New Republicp

It suggests that there have always been many Americans for whom class is no mystery at all, but a very practical project of self-advancement and self-defense.

via The Remaking of Class | The New Republic

Well worth your time to read.