Vic Mensa: What Palestine Taught Me About American Racism

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“For once in my life I didn’t feel like the nigger. As I sat comfortably at a coffee shop, gawking at a group of Israeli soldiers harassing a Palestinian teenager, it was clear who was the nigger. My American passport, ironically, had awarded me a higher position in the social hierarchy of Jerusalem than it did in my hometown of Chicago.”

His debut album The Autobiography is pretty stunning, too.


 

Key findings about U.S. immigrants

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By way of background to what nowadays passes for politics in the United States (or should I say United Shitholes?) of America.

The U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 43.2 million in 2015.  Immigrants today account for 13.4% of the U.S. population, nearly triple the share (4.7%) in 1970. However, today’s immigrant share remains below the record 14.8% share in 1890, when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S.

Useful data from the Pew Research Center.  In snowflake Canada, by way of comparison, the foreign-born population was 20.6% in 2011 Census.  The sky hasn’t fallen yet (and the food choices get better by the year).


 

Sense and sensitivity

3000

“After the 10th or so person sent me the stunningly silly anti-#MeToo letter signed by Catherine Deneuve and a hundred other French women (the actual authorship of which we’ll get to), informing me that I’d love it because finally someone was standing up for sanity, I considered a form letter response: ‘If the question is whether #MeToo has gone too far or not far enough, the answer is obviously BOTH. Putting yourself on one side or the other is politically obtuse.'”

Thank you Laura Kipnis.  Pissing off all sides, as usual.  Both/and rather than either/or.  Courage, subtlety, and intellect, very well worth the long read.


 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200

my fair lady

But Frankenstein is no memoir. The question it asks, “How far is too far?”, is at the very heart of modernity. The Romantics, Mary among them, “leaned in” to progress … Published early in this classical era of modernity, Mary’s novel still helps us define its terms today. Shorthand for the way we experience ourselves within a world of increasing man-made complexity, “modernity” is both positive and negative, signalling hope for progress as well as our fear of change. Frankenstein identifies the mismatch between human experience and what we are expected to become as technology and science advance.  (Fiona Sampson, on her new book on Mary Shelley).

“It is the migrant, the refugee, and the Muslim that have become the poor lone impossible monsters abhorr’d of our time, the nameless figures of terror against whom we must circle our wagons and strengthen our walls.  It is salutary how quickly Helena’s sympathy for the robots [in Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R.] turns to disgust once she learns they are not “just like me”—once, that is to say, they have been convincingly Othered, cast outside the pale of the League of Humanity.  “Oh, stop!  At least send them out of the room!” she begs.  In this respect R.U.R. is a more pertinent text for our times than Frankenstein, because of its grasp of this dialectic of resemblance and alterity, attraction and repulsion, fascination and fear. We can send them out of the room but the suspicion of their humanity can never be exorcized.  It eternally returns to haunt us, pricking the collective conscience—in the image of a three-year-old Syrian boy in blue shorts and red top lying face down, drowned, on a Greek beach, for instance, or in the blank, uncomprehending face of a black man who cannot believe he lost all his fingers to frostbite while trying to walk from North Dakota to Manitoba.  The more we can’t get them out of our heads, the more we wish they would just go away.  Make it stop!  Do I hear murmurings of a Final Solution?  We have been here before, and it wasn’t in 1816.”  My take on why Shelley’s astonishing novel still matters.


 

Nonsense and insensitivity

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London’s oldest strip club, the Windmill Theater in Soho, has lost its license after a women’s rights group hired private detectives to gather evidence that the venue broke a ban on physical contact between dancers and clients.  Stacey Clare is a stripper, performance artist, writer, activist and co-founding member of the East London Strippers Collective.  She writes:

“Closing down a venue may feel like a victory to those who champion the abolition of the industry, but taking work away from women relying on it is tantamount to taking food from our mouths. Thousands of girls who otherwise have less value in the wider job market (foreign nationals, single mums, anyone with any sort of disadvantaged background) are turning to stripping and other forms of sex work to survive. According to the English Collective of Prostitutes, record numbers have moved into the sex industry under austerity, which disproportionately affects women, particularly single mothers. In fact, putting women out of work is about the most un-feminist thing possible …

Their [feminist anti-strip club campaigners’] cloak and dagger tactics reveal the kind of attitude women’s rights campaigners have towards us, the women at the centre of this issue – that we, the ‘victims’, cannot be trusted to have a say in the matter so decisions must be made on our behalf, rather than consult with us directly.”

The infernal problem of false consciousness, aka I know what’s good for you better than you do, dear.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

 

Roads to nowhere

Lower Manhattan Expwy

 

The postwar passion for highway construction saw cities around the world carved up in the name of progress. But as communities fought back many schemes were abandoned – their half-built traces showing what might have been.

Among others: the Lower Manhattan Expressway, New York; Spadina Expressway, Toronto; Marina Freeway, L.A.; Glasgow Inner Ring Road (Charing Cross); Plan Pompidou, Paris; Olympyka highway, Poland; Borovsko Bridge, Czech Republic.


 

Modern cruelty 1 (Making America Great Again)

saalvadorans expelled

 

 

Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador who have been allowed to live in the United States for more than a decade must leave the country, government officials announced Monday. It is the Trump administration’s latest reversal of years of immigration policies and one of the most consequential to date.

Homeland security officials said that they were ending a humanitarian program, known as Temporary Protected Status, for Salvadorans who have been allowed to live and work legally in the United States since a pair of devastating earthquakes struck their country in 2001.


 

Concerto Al Quds

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A man who loves his shackles,
a wife fully veiled,
a girl wearing a headscarf,
and halal meat.
A hotel, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a graveyard.

Donald Trump recently and controversially announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the seemingly endless debate over the city and the possibility of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine flared up again in the headlines. Coincidentally, recent weeks have also seen the publication of Concerto al-Quds, a book-length poem meditating on the history and fate of Jerusalem, from the renowned poet Adonis.


 

Modern cruelty 2 (England for the English aka Taking Back Control)

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‘I cry most days.’

An 83-year-old widowed nurse who worked for the NHS for 30 years before retiring to Jamaica has had multiple requests to visit her family in the UK refused, despite drawing an NHS pension and a full British state pension.

Icilda Williams moved to the UK from Jamaica with her husband in 1962. Both were Commonwealth citizens and British subjects. The couple bought a house in Bradford, had children there – all of whom are British passport holders – and Williams devoted her life to caring for mentally ill children in two local hospitals.


 

My skin is contraband

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“I pull on a long black-and-white mottled skirt, a black t-shirt, and black flats. Each of these items of clothing is carefully considered. The skirt covers my legs and tattoos. The shirt is loose, but not too loose, and covers other tattoos. The shoes are unlikely to set off the metal detector. It’s 65 degrees out and so I risk a light sweater. Here I might run into problems. It’s voluminous and has a cowl neck, both of which might raise suspicions that I’m smuggling in contraband. It also has a meshed back which, though I’m wearing a shirt under it, may still be too suggestive of the possibility of seeing flesh that it will be nixed …”

A woman dresses for a prison visit.  A remarkable essay by Tiffany D. Vann Sprecher.


 

Modern cruelty 3 (Making America the Greatest Ever, Baby)

visa denial letters

Five-year-old Gamila Almansoob has asked the same question for years: “When are we going to daddy?” Each time, the Yemeni girl’s mother gives the same reply: “When we get the paperwork.”

Gamila’s father, Ramy Almansoob, a US citizen, moved to Virginia in 2015 with the hopes that his wife and three daughters could soon follow and escape their war-torn home country. After a lengthy vetting process, the visas were approved on 4 December 2017. That same day, however, the US supreme court ruled that Donald Trump’s travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen, could go into effect.

 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

 

 

Three days after I posted my reflections on Trump’s Cabinet, Brexit voters, and Rolling Stone’s top twenty albums of all time on my blog, this appeared on Stereogum.  Another petrifying coincidence.

“The Beatles finish 2017 [sic!] with the top two selling vinyl LPs of the year: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (72,000 — powered in large part by the album’s deluxe anniversary reissue in 2017) and Abbey Road (66,000). The soundtrack Guardians Of The Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is the third biggest with 62,000.”

 

Sgt.Pepper.Faces_

 

trump camp david jan 2018

 

Trump defends his “I am a stable genius” tweet at Camp David, surrounded by loyal toadies.  All white, all but one male, and almost all past retirement age (Paul Ryan was just born old).  And still partying like there’s no tomorrow.

 

Selective humanitarianism

ahed photo

Ahed Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl, was recently arrested in a night-time raid on her home. The Israeli authorities accuse her of “assaulting” an Israeli soldier and an officer. A day earlier she had confronted Israeli soldiers who had entered her family’s backyard. The incident happened shortly after a soldier shot her 14-year-old cousin in the head with a rubber bullet, and fired tear-gas canisters directly at their home, breaking windows.

Her mother and cousin were arrested later as well. All three remain in detention.

There has been a curious lack of support for Ahed from Western feminist groups, human rights advocates and state officials who otherwise present themselves as the purveyors of human rights and champions of girls’ empowerment.

Their campaigns on empowering girls in the global South are innumerable: Girl Up, Girl Rising, G(irls)20 Summit, Because I am a Girl, Let Girls Learn, Girl Declaration …


 

Israel Offers African Migrants a Choice: Ticket Out or Jail

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“Every country must guard its borders,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, announcing the plan. “The infiltrators have a clear choice — cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use other tools at our disposal, which are also according to the law.”

Later, on Facebook, Mr. Netanyahu wrote, “The government approved a plan today that will give every infiltrator two options: a flight ticket out or jail.”

It is the latest phase of Israel’s long campaign to expel tens of thousands of African migrants and asylum seekers, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese, who entered the country illegally. At least 20,000 have already left Israel. “The mission now,” Mr. Netanyahu said, “is to deport the rest.”

Absolutely not an apartheid state, and to criticize it as racist is anti-Semitic. After all, isn’t the US doing the same thing?


 

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

diallo

A bitter row over the difficulties of debating racism in France has erupted after a high-profile feminist and anti-racism campaigner was forced off a government advisory body, prompting the resignation of the director and most of its members.

Journalist Rokhaya Diallo has repeatedly spoken out against what she calls institutional racism in France, notably police stop and search practices against non-white young men …

“When I talked of institutional racism in France, I was hugely reproached for it,” Diallo said. “The fact is that Jean-Michel Blanquer, instead of concerning himself with the racism that is produced by the state, prefers to take legal action against an expression …”

“The foundation stone of the French Republic is that all citizens should be equal and free from distinctions of class, race or religion. It is illegal to classify people by ethnicity or to collect data or ask census questions on race or origins.  But campaigners say this masks ongoing problems of racism and discrimination in society.”


 

Moby dick

 

moby

A possible plan to move the city’s dogs onto a plant-based diet has the backing of prominent vegans such as Moby, but others warn it could get messy.

Proponents say it will make Los Angeles the world’s progressive capital.  Sceptics say it will mean diarrhea, lots of diarrhea.

The proposal, which has divided scientists and animal rights groups and inflamed social media, is to put dogs in the city’s public shelters on a vegan diet.

First world problems, much?


 

Lana Del Rey’s America

 

lana del rey

Del Rey’s America was always a kind of dystopia—a bubblegum pastiche, except peopled by lecherous old bikers and drug addictions and bad boyfriends who stalk her through beaches and deserts and stifling small towns. America is as much a character in her work as a setting, shaping and stealing scenes. What’s made her brand of Americana endearing to many is that it manages to be enthusiastic about the idea of America while filtering its reality through enough hazy nostalgia to wipe out any notion that she’s talking about a country that actually exists—or ever did …

With Trump’s election, the bleak, kitschy America Del Rey holds onto has acquired another layer. Trumplandia has made her rethink her patriotism, in other words, but not abandon it.  In an interview with Pitchfork, the singer said she would stop flying the stars and stripes behind her when performing “Born to Die,” the title track off her first album.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

A New Year’s feuilleton for 2018

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What do Rolling Stone magazine’s top twenty albums of all time and Donald Trump’s cabinet have in common, and what does it say about the state of the world at the beginning of 2018? 

 

1  The greatest albums of all time

I saw The Who perform My Generation at Rochester Odeon, where they were jointly headlining with the Spencer Davis Group, on April 23, 1966.  Rochester is a small town in Kent in south-east England, the Odeon was our local cinema, and I was 15.  It was my first rock concert.  The Spencer Davis Group topped the British charts that week with Somebody Help Me, their second #1 single of the year.  But it was My Generation—which had peaked at #2 in the UK the previous November but never got any higher than #74 on the US Billboard Hot 100—that became legendary.  The Who never had a UK or US number 1.  Still, Rolling Stone magazine ranks Pete Townshend’s “immortal fuck-off to the elders in his way” as #11 in its “definitive list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.”

“I hope I die before I get old” screamed lead singer Roger Daltrey.  Drummer Keith Moon obliged when he succumbed to an overdose of barbiturates in 1978 at the age of 32.   Bassist John Entwistle partied on to age 57, when the stripper he had taken to bed the night before woke to find him dead of a cocaine-induced heart attack in his Las Vegas hotel room early one morning in 2002. Townshend and Daltrey continue to perform as The Who.  By the time they headlined Superbowl XLIV in 2010 both were on the verge of qualifying for their UK state pensions (Townshend was 64, Daltrey 65).  On that occasion they tactfully omitted My Generation, but it is usually a highlight of every show.

Nowadays Daltrey is a high-profile Brexit supporter. “We went into the Common Market in 1973,” he told the Daily Mirror.  “Do you know what was going on before we went in?”

It was the 1960s.

The most exciting time ever—Britain was Swinging.

Films, Theatre, Fashion, Art and Music.

We were the World leaders.

You had Harold Pinter, The Beatles, John Osborne, Mary Quant, The Stones, Queen … and The Who.

This was all before we joined the EU. We were just Kids but we were filling stadiums all round the World.

Britain was the centre of the World.

You got that because Britain was doing its own thing.

It was independent. Not sure we’ll ever get that again when we’re ruled by bureaucrats in the European Union.

Exactly which EU regulations would have prevented Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Mary Quant, and The Beatles from doing their own thing, Daltrey doesn’t say.  He neglects to mention that The Beatles debuted All You Need Is Love for the European Broadcasting Union program Our World—the first live international satellite television production—in June 1967, and that The Rolling Stones recorded their masterpiece, Exile on Main Street, at Keith Richards’s mansion Nellcôte in the south of France.  The album’s title references the fact that the band fled the UK for the Côte d’Azur in 1971 to escape the long arm of the British taxman.

Daltrey is not the only aging rocker nostalgic for a half-remembered golden past.  Despite having previously dismissed Brexit as a “romantic delusion of Victorian isolation” in which “There’ll be no industry, there’ll be no trade, there’ll be nothing—a slow, dismal, collapse,” John Lydon—better known as Johnny Rotten, the infamous lead singer of the 1970s punk band the Sex Pistols—proclaimed in March 2017 that “The working class have voted and I support them.  Let it be a nice exit.  A truly brilliant British exit.”  He went on to describe Nigel Farage as “fantastic,” adding that Donald Trump (whom he insisted was not racist) was “the political Sex Pistol.”  Everybody’s favorite Beatle Ringo Starr (who lives in Los Angeles) also thought Brexit was “a great move,” while former Smiths’ frontman Morrissey hailed the EU referendum result as “magnificent.”

It’s not quite Eric Clapton’s rant on the stage of the Birmingham Odeon on 5 August 1976, but it’s getting there:

Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch [Powell] will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans don’t belong here, we don’t want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here … Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!

Clapton is ranked #2 on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists.  It must have galled him to lose the #1 spot to Jimi Hendrix, a black American whose career took off after he moved to the UK in late 1966.

The Who don’t make the top twenty in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” but their 1970 effort Who’s Next checks in at a creditable #28.  The list echoes Daltrey’s assessment of the 1960s as “the most exciting time ever.”  No less than seven of the top ten albums—The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (#1), Revolver (#3), Rubber Soul (#5), and White Album (#10), Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (#4) and Blonde on Blonde (#9), and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (#2)—were released between 1965 and 1968.  This was peak sixties, understood as a cultural phenomenon rather than a chronological decade.  The sixties went together with sexual intercourse, which as Philip Larkin famously observed began “In nineteen sixty-three … Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/And the Beatles’ first LP.”  They ended in a swirl of violence at Altamont Speedway in San Francisco on December 6, 1969 when Hell’s Angels killed a black teenager, Meredith Hunter, as The Rolling Stones were performing on stage.

The remaining three albums in Rolling Stone’s all-time top ten are Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? (#6, 1971), the Stones’ Exile on Main Street (#7, 1972), and The Clash’s London Calling (#8, 1980).  Entries 11-20 in the list marginally expand the timeframe to include Elvis’s mid-1950s Sun Sessions (#11), Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (#12, 1959), Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (#16, 1975), and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run (#18, 1975)—and give us yet more peak sixties with Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? (#15, 1967), The Velvet Underground and Nico (#13, 1967), Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks (#19, 1968), and the Beatles’ Abbey Road (#14, 1969).  Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991) at #17 and Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982) at #20 round out the top twenty, bringing the total number of albums recorded after 1975 to three.

Acoustic recording has been with us since the turn of the twentieth century, electrical recording since the mid-1920s, and the long-playing record since 1948.  Yet 15 of Rolling Stone’s top twenty albums of all time hail from the single decade 1965-75, and 11 of these date from 1965-9.  The Beatles alone produced a quarter of the albums in this list (and three of the top five).  For those of us with long enough memories this cannot but bring back that astonishing week of April 4, 1964 when John, Paul, George, and Ringo held the #1-5 positions in the Billboard Hot 100 with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.”  Who could doubt that Britain was the center of the world?  I was 13.

The Rolling Stone editors compiled their “definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time” in 2011 on the basis of two polls, one carried out by a panel of 271 “artists, producers, industry executives and journalists” in 2003, and the other undertaken “by a similar group of 100 experts” in 2009 to pick the best albums of the 2000s.  I don’t know who these experts were, but that the most recent album to make their top twenty was recorded twenty years earlier, in 1991, speaks volumes.  So does the fact that despite the enormous indebtedness of Anglo-American popular music to Afro-American musical genres only four of the top twenty albums—and only one in the top ten—are by black artists.  The only female singer to make the top twenty is Nico, who fronted the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut but thereafter left the band.  My generation, baby.

 

2  The highest IQ of any cabinet ever

Many Rolling Stone readers would no doubt resent the comparison, but this arrogant equation of the formative musical landmarks of a generation with the best of all time brings to mind the hyperbole of Donald Trump, for whom never in history has there been so huge an inaugural crowd, so massive a tax cut, so persecuted a president.  His cabinet, Trump claimed, had “by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled.”  Whatever its intelligence, just like Rolling Stone’s top twenty albums that cabinet was also conspicuously old, white, and male.

Trump’s first cabinet contained 18 white men (as compared with Obama’s 8, George W. Bush’s 11, Clinton’s 10, and George Bush’s 12) and only 6 women and members of ethnic minorities—two of whom, Elaine Chow and Nikki Haley, did double duty as both.  None of the latter occupy major offices of state, as Condoleeza Rice did under George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton did under Obama.   While the racial and gender biases of Trump’s cabinet have been widely noted—along with its members’ unprecedented wealth, which Quartz values at $9.5 billion, more than the bottom third of all American households combined—less attention has been paid to the cabinet’s age composition.

At 70, Trump is the oldest man to begin a first term as US president, beating the record of 69 set by Ronald Reagan—whose dementia symptoms, according to his son, already manifested during his first term.  Trump likes to be surrounded by folks from my generation.  The average age of his first cabinet was 62 years, compared with 58 for Obama’s and 55 for George W. Bush’s.  This is the oldest cabinet in American history.

Of the 24 current US cabinet members and cabinet rank officials, Wilbur Ross (80), Dan Coats (74), Sonny Purdue (71), Jeff Sessions (71), and Robert Lighthizer (70) are older than any Obama or Bush appointee, while Linda McMahon (69), Jim Mathis (67), Rick Perry (67), John Kelly (67), and Ben Carson (66) are all also at or past the normal US retirement age.  If we add Rex Tillerson (65) and Elaine Chao (64), fully half of the US cabinet is over 64—the age at which, on Rolling Stone’s #1 album of all time, Paul McCartney looked forward to a quiet retirement doing the garden, digging the weeds, while his lover dandled their grandchildren on her knee.  Betsy DeVos (59), Mike Pence (58), David Schulkin (58), and Ryan Zinke (56) are in their later fifties.  Only four members of cabinet—Alex Acosta (48), Kirstjen Nielsen (45), Nikki Haley (45), and Scott Pruit (49)—are under 50.  The rest are all old enough to remember where they were when Elvis died.

The same pattern prevails across the legislative and judicial branches of US government.  In 1981, the average age of congressmen was 49 and of senators 53.  The comparable ages today are 59 and 63—on average, Congress has aged by ten years since Ronald Reagan first entered the White House.  In the current Congress 14.4% of congressmen are 65-69, 14.2% are 70-79, and 2.35% are over 80, while 20% of senators are 65-69, 17% are 70-79, and 8% are in their eighties—meaning that over 30% of congressmen and almost 45% of senators are past the normal retirement age of the rest of US society.   The gap between the average age of Americans and that of their congressional representatives is the same as that between the most recent entry in Rolling Stone’s top twenty albums and the date the list was compiled—twenty years, which is to say a full generation.

The average age of US Supreme Court justices is over 69, and the projected age when a justice will leave the Supreme Court is now 83—ten years later than it was in the 1950s.  Assuming good health, Trump’s controversial nominee Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court at age 49, can expect to still be there in 2050.  People over pension age lead both the Republican and Democratic parties: Mitch McConnell may be 75, but Chuck Schumer is 67, Elizabeth Warren 68, Hillary Clinton 70, and Nancy Pelosi 77.  Bernie Sanders, who is currently regarded by many on the left as the only candidate who can beat Trump, is a sprightly 76.  Should Sanders be elected in 2020 and survive his first year in office the US would have its first octogenarian president (Reagan was “only” 77 at the end of his second term).

While Americans seem to regard their gerontocracy as unremarkable, this pattern is strikingly out of line with other western democracies.  The average age of Theresa May’s cabinet in the UK is 56, and only one minister, 69-year-old David Davis, is over 62.  Some might think it appropriate that he is the minister in charge of Brexit.  In France the average age of ministers is 54.6, while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is 46 and President Emanuel Macron is 39.  The average age of Angela Merkel’s cabinet is 52.  Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is the only member of his government over the age of 60, and 13 of his 22 cabinet members are under 50.  Canada’s Justin Trudeau is now 45, and presides over a gender-balanced and ethnically diverse cabinet whose average age is 50.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is just 37.

Most of these folks are way too young to remember the Summer of Love, Woodstock, or Altamont.  Not to mention the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King, the marches from Selma to Montgomery, the Vietnam War, Watergate, or any of the other formative political experiences of my generation.

It is an ironic coincidence, in this context, that in 2016—the year Trump was elected—the number of millennials (those then aged 18-34) in the US population reached 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers for the first time.  Generation X (those aged 35-50) is projected to overtake the boomers by 2028.   The boomers are understood here as those who were aged 51-69 in 2015, i.e. people born between 1946 and 1964, but many scholars have argued that from a cultural standpoint the boomer generation is better understood as having begun with people born in the early 1940s.  Many of those most closely identified with the sixties, including The Beatles (b. 1940-43), Bob Dylan (b. 1941), and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones (b. 1942-3), were war babies.  So were Roger Daltrey (b. 1944), Pete Townshend (b. 1945), and Eric Clapton (b. 1945).  When The Who immortalized my generation, this was the cohort they were talkin’ ’bout.

However we date the start of my generation, in Donald Trump’s cabinet and other US institutions of government not only is power heavily concentrated in its hands, but this concentration has increased even as the proportion of over 50s in the population has declined.  We are hangin’ in there for dear life, baby, and gatecrashing all tomorrow’s parties.

In the 2016 American presidential election boomers formed the single largest age cohort of Donald Trump’s voters.   Clinton emphatically outperformed Trump among 18-24 year olds (56%-34%), 25-29 year olds (53%-39%) and 30-39 year olds (51%-40%), but Trump took 53% of the vote of those aged 50 and over.  Indeed, 62% of his voters were over 45.

Much like Rolling Stone’s top twenty albums of all time, Trump’s supporters reflect America’s divisions of race and gender as well as age.  Whites voted 58% for Trump and 37% for Clinton, while Hispanics voted 65% for Clinton and 29% for Trump and African-Americans voted 88% for Clinton and 8% for Trump.  Overall, Trump won the votes of 53% of men and only 41% of women.  But 63% of white men voted for Trump—and so did 53% of white women despite his advocacy of “grabbing them by the pussy.”  While white non-Hispanic Americans made up 61.3% of the US population in July 2016, 87% of Trump’s supporters were white.  Only 4% of Afro-American women voted for Trump as against 96% for Clinton.

As I mentioned earlier, the political institutions of the UK are not as gerontocratic as those of the US.  The average age of UK Members of Parliament is 51, only two years higher than it was in 1979, and Britain’s youngest MP Mhairi Black was just 20 when she was first elected in 2015.   But age did play a crucial role in the Brexit referendum.  The slender majority (52%-48%) in favor of leaving the European Union was delivered by a similar Trumpian combination of mostly older, predominantly white voters.

As in the US presidential election race, class, locality, and educational level also played a part in shaping people’s choices (though gender was not as significant an axis of division).   But on average, the older the voters the more likely they were to vote leave.  While 73% of those aged 18-24 and 62% of those aged 25-34 voted to remain in the EU, a majority of my generation—and 65% of over-65s—chose to leave.  Twenty-seven of the 30 areas with the highest proportion of elderly people in the UK voted leave, while London, whose proportion of inhabitants aged 65 and over is well below the national average, voted decisively (60%) to remain.

None of this is to say that age is the only factor in shaping these votes.  Nor is it to deny that large numbers of older people are as appalled by Trump and as devastated by Brexit as I am.   Many of them—including some old-time rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Geldof, and Neil Young—have been prominent in resisting the sharp right turn in Anglo-American politics.  But the fact remains that it was the votes of my generation (or more accurately, the white part of it) that took Britain out of the European Union and put Donald Trump in the White House.

We are the elders now, and it is us that are standing in the way of the young.

 

3  Why don’t you all f-fade away?

As we enter 2018 I am not enthused by the prospect of a future in which classic rock radio stations have Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Pet Sounds on endless repeat while the refugee and migrant hordes are kept at bay by Trumpian walls.

Instead, I despair at the breathtaking selfishness of my generation—the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived generation the planet has ever known, in part because of the seventy years of peace safeguarded by the framework of international institutions, including the UN and the EU, that the Brexiteers and Trumpers are busy demolishing.  Yes, I know Europe and the US offshored their wars after 1945, but this too was part of my generation’s extraordinary—and entirely unearned—good fortune.

Certainly these privileges have not been shared equally.   But it is fair to say that more baby boomers—especially white baby boomers—have enjoyed security of employment, home ownership, decent pensions, rising living standards, and affordable healthcare and education than in any generation before or since.   They seem determined to keep these privileges for themselves, at whatever cost to their grandchildren.

The young are meantime trying to make their way in a world in which job security and guaranteed pensions have become a thing of the past, home ownership is beyond most pockets, post-secondary education comes at the price of crippling debt, the welfare state is under siege, and politicians react to climate change by withdrawing from international agreements and making a demagogic bonfire out of environmental regulations.  In the UK Roger Daltrey-style nostalgia for a non-existent golden-age past has also robbed them of the opportunity to live, marry, and work freely across the 28 countries of the EU—an opportunity the baby boomers have enjoyed for over 40 years.

Today’s Anglo-American world is ruled by the most privileged members of an entitled and narcissistic generation that will not consider sharing its wealth or its power.  My generation played a disproportionate part in voting them into office.  The new gerontocratic order is epitomized in Donald Trump’s cabinet.  But it is also reflected in Rolling Stone magazine’s exclusionary list of the top twenty greatest albums of all time.

I cannot help thinking it would have been better if a few more of us had died before we got old.  Just enough that the young really could say fuck off to their elders, and not just through their music.

 

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I’m sorry I have been off here for a year.  I have been retiring (from full-time employment at a university), traveling, writing, and moving continents (from UK to Canada, where I am reacquainting myself with real winter in Calgary, Alberta).

If there is anybody still reading this blog, I’ve just posted a piece on academia.edu (whose final version will be published next month in the Journal of Historical Sociology) on Brexit and Trump.  Please publicize if you like it.

Here is the abstract:

Following the victories of the “Brexit” camp in the UK’s 2016 referendum and Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, a new explanatory narrative rapidly established itself. According to this view, which has been widely accepted on both the political left and right, we are witnessing a popular revolt against “elites” spearheaded by white working-class “victims of globalization.” Drawing on extensive polling and census data, this paper debunks this new consensus as an artifact of post-factual politics driven by feeling rather than evidence. These were not instances of a “misshapen class struggle” that sometimes assumed racist or xenophobic forms, but centrally a race war on the non-native Other that has successfully managed to pass itself off as a revolt of the (white) deprived and dispossessed.

Here is the link:

https://www.academia.edu/31635901/White_Riot_Brexit_Trump_and_Post-Factual_Politics