New Column at Salon: An Interview with Rita Dove

There are few writers worthy of such high distinction, but to read Rita Dove is to encounter the transformative. Her feeling comes in aid of your feeling. Suddenly, you believe you have undergone an alteration of mind and spirit. Dove’s poetry breathes life onto the page and into the reader.

The Pulitzer Prize committee shared this assessment, awarding her the prize for poetry in 1987 for her beautiful, biographical treatment of her grandparents through a series of interconnected poems, “Thomas and Beulah.” Dove also received the National Medal of Arts commendation from President Barack Obama, who complimented her singular ability to “blend beauty, lyricism, critique, and politics.”

In a national moment of suffocation, it is for our civic health that we turn to those voices that offer the relief of oxygen.

Earlier this week, I interviewed Rita Dove about the power of poetry and the necessity of the arts, especially in times of political trouble and terror.

Read a transcript of our conversation at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: The Fiery Racial Gospel of Michael Eric Dyson

I began devouring Michael Eric Dyson’s work as a high school student, eager to learn about the world, and study the craft of essayistic writing. He quickly became inspirational and foundational to my intellectual and literary development. It is difficult to conceive of myself as a thinker and writer without the influence of Dyson.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Dyson during the Chicago stop on his book tour. We discussed a new book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, along with a wide range of issues pertaining to race, culture, and politics.

In my new column for Salon, I appraise the high value of Dyson’s analysis and rhetorical style, and offer some of the most provocative and poignant excerpts from our conversation.

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New Column for Salon: Vulgarians at the Gate

In my new column for Salon, I address how America’s increasingly vulgar culture will only coarsen under the influence of Donald Trump, a repugnant vulgarian himself. Sociologists often discuss the cultural process of “defining deviancy down.” Tolerance for the previously unthinkable is nearly impossible to reverse. It only creates room for further degradation of public standards.

Presidents exert as much cultural as political influence. Trump has and will continue to empower the crude and crass elements of society.

Read my entire examination of an unpleasant topic at Salon.

New Column at Salon: Donald Trump and The Hobbling of Shame – David Foster Wallace Warned Us about Reality TV

In my new column for Salon, I examine how entertainment values have corrupted the American political process, comparing Donald Trump to a pro wrestling character, and his admirers to frenzied WWE fans. The corrosion of civic virtues in the name of entertainment vices began long before Trump’s entrance into politics, but the new president-elect represents the culmination of it.

The late David Foster Wallace, one of America’s great writers, was obsessed with America’s addiction to entertainment, and how it would make the country weaker and dumber. His prophetic wisdom makes for the perfect predicate to my analysis of the presidential election circus.

Read the entire essay at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: My College Students aren’t ‘Snowflakes’ – They are Tougher than their Critics

In my new column for Salon, I ridicule the sanctimonious and cowardly baby boomers who refuse to surrender their favorite hobby – demeaning young people.

My years of teaching experience at the college level have allowed me to meet many different students. I consistently find them smart, strong, and even inspiring. Studies of campus life demonstrate that “trigger warning,” “safe spaces,” and tantrums of “political correctness,” are actually quite rare, despite the alternative reality that boomers, and right wing media commentators, have invented.

I’ve had students who have survived cancer, recovered from the unexpected death of family members, lost their homes in natural disasters, and continue to work and study in the pursuit happiness, even while they suffer a financial burden for their education that previous generations never shouldered.

They are tougher, and better for the country, than their critics.

Read the column at Salon.

New Column at Salon: America’s Empty Culture of Hustling in the Age of Trump

In my newest column for Salon, I use the recent footage of Mitt Romney devouring his own soul for the amusement of Donald Trump as a predicate to examine America’s destructive culture of hustling. Historian Morris Berman has argued that hustling is all that occupies the center of the United States, and because hustling is philosophically and ethically empty, it has led to irreversible decline throughout the country.

The election of Donald Trump is the political manifestation of the hustling culture.

Read the column at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: The Right Wing Bubble

In my latest column for Salon, I address the boring bromide, in constant broadcast since the surreal victory of Donald Trump, that liberal Americans live in a bubble, rendering them unable to access reality or relate to the “real America.”

Logic and reason, as antiquated as they might be, demonstrate that it is actually the “real America” living in a closed-minded cocoon. An excerpt from my column:

When was the last time any mainstream commentator suggested that the rural, white Christian conservative Sunday School teacher escape her bubble, and befriend a group of black lesbians? Can anyone recall ridicule of a right wing, suburban housepainter who believes God watches his every brushstroke for not attending a public lecture from an award winning evolutionary biologist?

The absence of any criticism against the conservative bubble, which is undeniably smaller and tighter that the liberal bubble, demonstrates that American culture has condescended to the conservative with, to resurrect an old George W. Bush chestnut, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

No one reasonable really expects the right wing Christian conservative to escape their own cocoon. People who applaud when a political candidate proposes banning Muslims from entering the country know nothing about Islam. Voters who support someone who called Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing drugs,” probably never knowingly met a Latino who emigrated from Mexico. The conservative bubble of bigotry and ignorance actually damages the country, and results in destructive public policy, while the liberal bubble results in nothing more that slightly damaged feelings. Insulated progressives might adopt snobbery when considering the daily routine of “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” but they actively support political leaders who aim to alleviate poverty. The rural whites who “cling to their guns and religion,” as President Barack Obama rightly said, benefit when the liberals they hate enter high office. One of the interesting numbers to track after Trump’s inauguration is how many poor white people lose access to health care if the President-Elect keeps his promise to “repeal Obamacare.”

 The coating of the conservative bubble is often so dense that it prevents inhabitants from accurately identifying their own interests.

Read the entire column at Salon.

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.

In New Role as Weekend Cultural Columnist with Salon, First Column Looks at White Flight From Reality and Trump’s Victory

Readers of my work are aware that for the past two years, I have written regularly for Salon in an unofficial, freelance capacity. I am now a weekend cultural columnist with the publication, where I will contribute essays on the arts, cultural issues, and politics.

In my first essay as weekend columnist, I react to the frightening and demoralizing electoral victory of Donald Trump.

Most national journalists and pundits reside in New York or Washington DC, and therefore, miss the on the ground reality of “soft racism” rampant throughout white America. I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, and currently live in Northern Indiana. In my region, the powerful presence of racism is unmistakable.

My first weekend column for Salon, “White Flight From Reality,” draws on my own personal experiences and observations – witnessing white flight, constantly overhearing racist remarks, and noticing racial conflict as a consistency – to diagnose much of white America with “soft racism.” Soft racists are not going to burn crosses and tattoo swastikas on their forearms. They will treat their black and Latino coworkers with cordiality. They will wave to the Muslim family in their neighborhood. They will even discipline their children for using racial epithets, but deep down inside, they believe that people of color are inferior, and that the United States of America, by virtue of their whiteness, belongs to them. Often, they will vote accordingly.

By now, I have reviewed the data demonstrating that there was no “white surge” for Donald Trump, who actually received fewer white votes than Mitt Romney. Many clueless and oblivious analysts are using those numbers to argue that racism did not play a critical role in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Again, they miss the point. Reality, perhaps, is too painful and ugly for some Americans to acknowledge.

If white America was not full of racism, Donald Trump would have lost in a landslide. A man who called Mexicans “rapists,” advocated for the ban of Muslim immigrants, and amplified every stereotype to diagnose African American life as “hell,” would have had no chance against a brilliant woman who dedicated her life to public service. Just as, if sexism were not viral throughout America, a man who bragged about committing sexual assault could have never challenged the first woman nominee for president.

As I state in the essay, “The best defense available to a Trump voter, among a wide range of pathetic options, is to claim that he or she voted for Trump, despite his disrespect of Hispanics, Muslims, the disabled, African Americans, and women. Tolerance translates to the cold message: ‘Because your suffering and exclusion do not affect me, I’m going to vote for the guy who will cut my taxes, nominate anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, and isn’t a woman who used a private email server.'”

Read about my personal experiences in the Midwest, and how those experiences illustrate the hideous truth behind Trump’s victory at Salon.

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New Essay at Salon: Revisiting Walt Whitman’s, “Democratic Vistas”

In my new essay for Salon, I revisit the master’s work, paying particular attention to the 1871 essay, “Democratic Vistas.” Whitman’s exploration of the struggle of democracy, the beauty and necessity of diversity, equality for women, the gullibility of the populace, and the essentiality of creating a culture of democracy, with the fine arts at the center, applies to America in 2016 with stunning prescience.

My essay includes references to Whitman’s true masterpiece, the epic poem, Leaves of Grass, but most of the focus is on the underrated “Democratic Vistas,” because it is there that Whitman directly confronts all of the triumphs and traumas of the American experiment in self-governance. His wisdom shows no signs of age. My essay begins:

The most wise and visionary analysis of American culture, and the presidential race, in 2016 comes from 1871. In the profound and prescient essay, “Democratic Vistas,” Walt Whitman addressed a nation struggling to unify after civil war, and in the turbulence of its democratic struggle, continuing to fail to extend its promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all of its people. Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s masterpiece, exercised as inspiration the beauty and brutality of any attempt to turn E Pluribus Unum into reality. The ongoing altercation to amplify what Whitman, in his poetry, called “the password primeval” and “the sign of democracy” has defined the presidential campaign in ways that would surprise even the sharpest of observers. Whitman believed that the sign of democracy included the voices of slaves, prostitutes, deformed persons, the diseased and despairing, and anyone else whose body gives off the human scent – “an aroma finer than prayer.”

Read the rest at Salon.

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