Weekend Column with Salon: “Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elites” – The Truth Behind the Mindless Cliche

In my weekend cultural column with Salon, I unpack the idiocy of the popular juxtaposition of “coastal elites” and “real Americans.” Clearly, the term “elite” has no meaning if Donald Trump qualifies as an “anti-elite populist.”

All of the indignant talk about the evils of the elite is actually a disguise for anti-intellectualism. America worships wealth, but distrusts intellectual excellence. “Elitism” is code for expertise, not financial status, and “populism” is the celebration of intellectual mediocrity.

Read my explanation at Salon.

New Essay for Salon: Our United States of Fear

In a recent essay for Salon, I fight back against the culture of fear now dominant in the United States, paying particular attention to the hysteria surrounding college campuses. As an instructor at two different universities, I have never once seen any suppression of free speech, and I consistently find inspiration in my students. The data, largely unreported, confirms the veracity and universality of my experience.

Read the essay for a little sanity.

New Essay at Salon: Who The Hell Are These Trump Supporters?

In my new essay at Salon, which caught hell from conservatives and liberals, I review the data, and draw some logical and reasonable conclusions about Donald Trump’s supporters.

The conclusions are not pretty, but given what Trump has already done, and promises to do, to the United States, they are deservedly hideous.

Read the essay at Salon.

New Essay for the Daily Beast: Cornel West’s Disappointing Decline

For many years, one of the most important influences in the development of my thinking and writing was Cornel West. Many of his early books, along with the experiences I had watching him deliver moving and provocative lectures, were essential to the cultivation of my own political perspective, sense of cultural engagement, and philosophical framework.

Over the past few years, however, West has transformed from an intellectual into a celebrity, and in doing so, he has fallen into the American media trap of relying on slogans, recycling soundbites, and regurgitating a greatest hits of his analytic history. He’s also told obvious lies about major figures. For example, claiming that President Obama “cussed him out” in front of dozens of witnesses, none of whom have ever come forward to confirm West’s account. West claims the incident happened after Obama’s address to the National Urban League a few years ago. It seems that if the President of the United States cussed out a public intellectual in front of journalists and witnesses, someone besides West would have noticed.

My latest essay for the Daily Beast tracks West’s decline, focusing primarily on his new book. Black Prophetic Fire, West’s new collection of interviews, is a strange and sad culmination of his metamorphosis from philosopher to television personality. He offers little depth on any subject he tackles in the book, often criticizes people without supporting his critique with evidence, and praises people because he knows them personally. The concept of the book is brilliant, and if it were better, it would serve as a wonderful introduction to one of the world’s most important traditions – the radical African American improvement of American democracy, resulting in immeasurably important contributions in politics, law, literature, theology, sociology, art, and philosophy. Unfortunately, West doesn’t seem to take the project seriously.

My essay gives a detailed account and analysis, and you can read it here.

The response to my essay has been fascinating. First, I know West has gained great popularity, but I had no idea that, as he acquired fame, he has become a secular god. Staggering amounts of people sent me emails of such anger, I could almost picture them foaming at the mouth as they hit the “send” button. Most interesting about these emails, is that none of them actually mounted a defense of West against the reasonable points I make in my essay. Many resorted to attacking me personally, and many others offered only vague arguments for West’s activism, which I myself praise in the article.

I’ve long suspected that most of the people who comment on essays on the internet do not actually read the essays. NPR has conducted experiments that confirm my suspicion, but my essay on West offers pretty devastating evidence. Many people who leave comments make statements that are directly refuted by my article. Space and time don’t permit me to leave every example, but I’ve selected a few comments that represent dozens more of their kind, and I’ll show how quotes taken from my essay contradict the comments.

So you’ve bought into the “How dare anyone criticize Obama!!” silliness, eh? Please, tell me how his criticism of Obama’s increasingly center-right, non-transparent, dishonest, flip-flopping administration lessens in any way Dr. West’s “intellectual chops?”

“Black Prophetic Fire aims to serve an important purpose in an era when there is increasing pressure and lucrative rewards for black leaders to follow the Barack Obama-Deval Patrick-Cory Booker model by moderating, moving to the center, and after gaining power, governing as a soft Democrat…The ascendancy of black leaders to the White House, the Senate, and governors’ mansions, contrary to the assumptions of conservatives and moderate Democrats, does not nullify the need for a Black freedom movement that furthers the march of icons West identifies in his new book. Mass incarceration, vicious educational disparities and segregation along racial lines, police brutality, and lack of opportunity for economic mobility among the black poor do not cause less pain, break fewer hearts, or magically vanish because Barack Obama became president. Critical and radical thinkers like Cornel West are necessary to confront an America too quick to fall into the cultural blindness and political complacency of “post-racial” mythmaking.”

In other words. The author likes West when West agrees with the author.

“For historical and political reasons, the concept of Black Prophetic Fire is excellent. It’s the delivery that’s awful.”

This is a stupid attempt to smear a great scholar.

“The publication of West’s most popular book, Race Matters, in 1993 demonstrated that he was one of the best cultural critics in American political debate. He could combine compelling elements from sociology, philosophy, and economics to present a challenging, but fascinating account of American race relations, democracy, and popular culture. During the height of the hideous Bush years, West brewed the same intoxicating tonic with Democracy Matters, and in doing so, gave beleaguered leftists the intellectual space to make sense of the Bush-Cheney nightmare of international aggression and domestic regression, and enough spiritual nourishment to inspire hope for a better day in American politics. West has also offered essential examinations of the essence and importance of African-American Christianity in Prophesy Deliverance!, his first book, and Prophetic Fragments.”

—–

I could go on like this with several more examples. Disagreement with my ideas and analysis does not bother me. I welcome debate and discussion, but comment sections on websites seem to empower the insane, shallow, and overly emotional. It is for this reason that I applaud Ta-Nehisi Coates for often forbidding comments on his essays. If people are going to angrily attack writers for their written work, the least they can do is read that work.

 

 

New Essay for The Daily Beast: Pulling the Plug On English Departments

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, I defend English Departments against the boneheaded belief that college students have no need to read narrative prose. In doing so, I also write about the techno-buffoonery and anti-intellectualism sweeping the country. The lowering cultural standards are particularly visible when major journals defend them.

As I begin the essay:

It is easy to observe the sad and sickly decline of American intellectual life, through the cultural and institutional lowering of standards, when prestigious publications promote the defense, if not the celebration, of lower standards.

 

Writing recently in TheNew Republic on the seemingly inevitable death of the college English department, James Pulizzi represents the shortsighted techno-boosterism and foolish progressivism that is rendering American culture increasingly superficial and frivolous.

 

“Within a few decades, contemporary literature departments will be largely extinct,” Pulizzi submits before predicting that “communications, composition, and media studies will take English’s place.”

 

Rather than expressing anxiety, or at least, worry over the impending destruction of one of the only mechanisms for introducing young Americans to a pillar of art, human history, and the Western tradition, Pulizzi credulously asks, “Why should college students read narrative prose when they get their fill of stories from television, cinema, and interactive video games?”

 

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously indicted the cultural condition of “defining deviancy down.” As standards migrate from the mountain to the basement, the formerly vulgar, indecent, and stupid becomes the norm. One can easily see how eventually thinkers like Pulizzi will delete a few words from their rhetorical question to simply ask, “Why should college students read?”

 

Read the rest here.

New Essay at the Federalist: The Patchetic Provincialism of American Feminists

In my latest essay for the Federalist, I indict American feminists for their obsession with petty, frivolous issues, and their indifference in the face of real women’s suffering in America, and around the world.

One of the few insights from Karl Marx still relevant is the need for international solidarity among oppressed people. If American women truly believed they were oppressed, they would have all the more reason to zealously advocate for the liberation of their African and Asian sisters, but instead they will obliviously protest that the existence of suffering elsewhere is no reason not to focus on making improvements here, no matter how marginal those improvements seem. The defense proves hollow when American feminists refuse to even come to the aid of fellow Americans, whether they are the impoverished immigrants suffering under the cruelty of Islamic insanity, or the working-class women of the military, who too often encounter an institution more worried about public relations than justice for rape victims. In an irony invisible to the Left, American feminism has become an elitist expression of upper-class concerns. Highly educated and paid women endlessly describe their own inconveniences, while ignoring the legitimate suffering of the poor, in foreign countries and their own cities.

Read the rest at the Federalist.

New Essay at The Daily Beast: Richard Hofstadter and America’s New Wave of Anti-Intellectualism

Twenty-first century philistines, suffering from a lack of imagination and curiosity, have seized upon understandable economic anxieties since the financial crash of 2008, to shepherd an increasingly large flock of American sheep into the livestock freight carrier Pulitzer prize winning historian, Richard Hofstadter, called “anti-intellectualism.

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life—one of Hofstadter’s best, among many great books – was a pile of dynamite in 1963, when it was first published and blew a sizable hole in the house of America’s self-comforting delusions of intellectual superiority. In 2014, one can only hope that some of its initial blast still reverberates, as media commentators, university administrators, and even the President, have exposed themselves as adherents to what Hofstadter indicted as the “lowest common denominator criterion” of thought and “technician conformity” of lifestyle. Suspicion, and often outright hatred, of ideas is making American culture as riveting as oatmeal. By reading Hofstadter, one learns that the resurgence of a new anti-intellectualism isn’t new, at all. In fact, Hofstadter identified the particularly poisonous strain of the virus that now infects the American mind and kills the imagination.

Read the rest at the Daily Beast.

New Essay for The Indianapolis Star – The Reason Behind the Cost of Higher Education and The Fight Against It

The Indianapolis Star has run my new essay on the reasons behind the absurd and paralytic costs of higher education. In the op-ed piece, I indict and condemn the venal, corrupt, and cruel system of higher education in America, calling it a “lucrative playground for tenured faculty, many of whom make well over $100,000 per year for teaching two or three courses a semester, and administration, whose mysterious duties and invisible tasks earn some of them annual salaries over $200,000.”

As I explain in the article, multiple studies have connected “administrative bloat” with the exorbitant increases in college tuition. University employees are enriching themselves, while they scam students and their families, and pay adjunct instructors miserly wages for carrying the same work loads as their tenured peers. They pull off the heist all while congratulating themselves for advocating “social justice,” “diversity”, and “multiculturalism.”

The cost of higher education leaves countless young people paying off heavy debts for their entire lives. It has become one of the most important factors in the lives of millions of Americans, yet no major political figure or media commentator tackles the problem. Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue, has broken the trend of complacency, by announcing a tuition freeze and promising to cut the Purdue budget by $40 million. My article summarizes the situation and places the issue in its proper context. I call the Daniels story one of the most important in America.

bildeOn an interesting side note, I pitched the story to several other major publications – news and culture magazines, left wing websites, and right wing websites – but everyone passed. I’d like to thank The Star for its courage in spotlighting the story. It seems that issue of student debt is not yet on the nation’s radar. To put it simply, most people don’t care, but when the student loan bubble pops, everyone will be wondering what happened and why no one tried to stop it. The bleak outlook of the future is why Daniels’ new crusade is so important.