Years ago at work, there was an election for a leadership position. There were two candidates: a very experienced, knowledgeable, competent, feminist woman and a flamboyant, narcissistic, pudgy, outsider man with no requisite experience but with a lot of fake charm and some authoritarian tendencies.
I swear to God I’m not making this up. This all happened. There are people reading this right now who were there, and they will confirm I’m telling the literal truth. We can disagree on interpretations (e.g. he wasn’t pudgy, he was overweight.) But the facts are these.
I strongly voiced my opposition to the outsider. I was loud and obnoxious about being opposed to him because I usually am loud and obnoxious anyway. The people’s vote went to the woman. But the man won on a technicality. I swear, folks, I’m not making this up.
We were all upset. This was a sensitive time for us for many reasons, and we wanted the candidate we knew was competent to guide us through it. But. . . it wasn’t meant to be. The pudgy fellow with a comb-over and a much younger wife (no, seriously, it’s all true, and it happened many years ago) took the office.
On the day that happened, I stopped being upset about it. The pudgy fellow as our leader was now a fact of objective reality and militating against that reality seemed like a waste of time. I found a way to work very productively with this new boss. I learned how to co-exist with his. . . erm. . . peculiarities, and we never had a problem, not once. We didn’t become bosom buddies, I never compromised my integrity or moral character (which was something that this person thrived on), I was always completely open and honest about everything with everybody. But I worked very well and very productively during those years and got this fellow to assist me in everything I needed.
Some people – not everybody but a couple of folks – started something like a resistance. Which, thank God in heaven, they didn’t call that. But that’s what it was. Everything he said, did or suggested was sabotaged or greeted with mute resentment and avoidance. This understandably drove the guy crazy. I had been opposed to him as a candidate but I started feeling pity for the fellow who would suggest something really trivial and completely uncontroversial only to be actively sabotaged again, and again, and again. Please understand that he was somebody I actually knew, and even though I hadn’t liked him as a candidate, I could see he was suffering and I couldn’t avoid feeling compassion. I don’t like to see people suffer.
The result of all this was pretty lousy for all of us. I don’t want to go into details because the post is already too long. Plus it got to the point where the legal system got involved, and I don’t want to get in the middle of courtroom drama. But it all stank to high heaven, and even now, years later and several bosses since, the damage is still there.
And then years passed, and something similar happened in national politics. I’m one of those sentimental doofuses who actually cried when I read Hillary’s concession speech. I had to read and not watch because I was afraid I’d have a fit of hysterics if I had to actually see it. This was a big, big, big letdown.
It took me about two days to get over it. After that, I accepted the facts of objective reality and saw no reason to keep seething, fretting or emoting in any way about them. So it happened. It stinks. Now let’s see what use can be derived out of it, how the bad can be mitigated and the good can be promoted. This is what I actually call politics both at work and in actual politics. Taking a sub-optimal situation – because that’s what there normally is in life – and turning it around to maximize what I believe is good and right.
Unfortunately, though, this vision of politics is outdated. As Zygmunt Bauman warned, the space of public interaction has been turned into the arena for the outpourings of the heretofore deeply private. It’s not about getting anything done. It’s about having a chance to emote in as public way as possible.
I apologize for the uncharacteristically long post. I will now go back to publishing cute stories about Klara, dieting, and productivity planners.
18 thoughts on “Politics”
I cannot understand why you seem to argue that keeping up opposition to maintain the necessary energy and enthusiasm to win the next election is useless. Without this, most of us merely despair and give up hope, which is what despots count on, I think.
If I saw energy and enthusiasm, I’d be overjoyed. Because those are my two favorite things in the world. But what I’m seeing instead is apocalyptic rants, ridiculously overblown outrage over nothing whatsoever, and complete refusal to discuss any actual existing issues and how they can be resolved right now. Life is happening today.
It’s like with the pudgy boss. I couldn’t wait for the next election – which did take place and did yield the results I wanted. But before it happened, I had to advance my interests and those of my students. Which wouldn’t have happened if for 4 years I just bemoaned, ranted and raged.
“keeping up opposition to maintain the necessary energy and enthusiasm to win the next election is useless”
It’s impossible to keep “resistance” alive that long. Politics is a long game and it means there’s a time for rallying the public and there’s a time for cultivating the base.
The anti-Trump “resistance” seems to think that remaining in a state of nervous distress for four years is all that’s needed to win in 2020…. it’s not.
There’s a key to winning the current realignment but neither party has been able to harness and ride it yet. Bernie was close and Trump during the primaries was close, but after the nominations….. it’s dissipated.
And let’s say the Democrats win the House in 2018. And I’m sure they do. Let’s say they even win the Senate. Great, fantastic. But other than a sense of victory, what does it give us? Will we finally start a discussion about the erosion of the nation state and how to slow it down? Will we finally realize that the liquefaction of the economy is a fact and it has to be dealt with in some new ways?
Trump is horrible, detestable, yes. And he also made it clear that the fluid world is not a very happy place. So I say, let’s use this realization for the common good. Let’s not get into the mode of “if he says it snows, I say it doesn’t because he’s a despicable human being.” Because it’s really snowing hard (metaphorically speaking), and we need to get over the tantrum and start shoveling snow already or we’ll all be buried.
And yes, Trump is a bad, bad bunny. But yelling that from the rooftops or even removing him from office today will not stop the blizzard.
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I take your points.
But you don’t say several things, so I assume none were true in your parallel story:
1) the man was a congenital liar.
2) There was this history of sabotage, resentment and avoidance for the predecessor, which was extremely effective in curtailing that agenda.
3)There was a declared and open hatred of the predecessor by this dude and a dedication to undoing everything the predecessor did and a constant re-litigating by this man of the election he won on a technicality.
An absence of this makes the temptation to turn politics into this ridiculous Manichean struggle much easier to resist.
I think 1) is probably the most important. Without it, even making nose holding incremental deals is seen by the “Resistance” as an exercise in futility.
As of now, it only makes sense for me to do these things 1)vote in local elections, 2)get involved in with voter protection and registration and 3)take measures for fluidity because chosen fluidity is better than fluidity thrust upon one (I’m being deliberately vague.)
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Gosh, you know, this guy. He lied his way into tenure without ever presenting a tenure case. This takes major skill. And enormous gall. So yeah. . . And major issues with the predecessor. So the parallel holds, if on a very tiny scale.
I agree with your action list completely. It’s a great list. We should all do this.
More fluidity incoming.
Well, for what it’s worth, pudgy academic guy did not have sole authority to launch a nuclear first strike…
Oh, for Pete’s sake. That’s exactly the kind of drama that drives me nuts everywhere else. Please let’s keep this space free of it at least because it’s colonized everything else.
I freak people out by not holding grudges. They don’t know what to do. I find this odd because where I come from you have to get over things.
Still I am more worried about the current administration than I am about any single academic hire no matter how bad.
Worry will always find a reason to exist. But the usefulness of worrying, especially about something like the happenings in the White House is pretty much nil.
Then I’ll put it less diplomatically: this administration has already done far more damage than any university administrator could.
I understand that I have totally wasted my time with this post. It was naive to hope to be heard.
It’s a poor analogy (I think.) Work with the person who was hired, or who was elected, fine, but there are so many policies of this administration and the GOP that need to be fought. The same would have been true of Clinton although to a lesser degree. What the GOP has done in the past year on science and environmental policy is v. serious, and I’d really like them not to throw any nukes.
But wanting to lament, yet not to act, I do know this phenomenon from the university, also refusing to work with the one who was hired because it was not your person. Bauman is quite right.
I would say the focus on getting Democratic seats and calling it good if that happens is fairly futile unless one looks at what’s really going on and addresses it. You have to work locally.
And even in that completely unimportant and trivial situation of a minor college administrator people were behaving like WWIII had just started. He was compared – completely seriously and accompanied by actual weeping – to Hitler and Videla.
The magnitude of the provocation doesn’t seem to matter much, is what I’m saying.
That’s true, I think people enjoy the hormones or enzymes or whatever it is they are that are released when you feel outrage.
They also want to believe they are witnessing something historic and not just a run-of-the-mill neoliberal grab for resources.
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That’s definitely true and a real problem.