WSJ and Charlottesville: Parsing the text

(Image courtesy of NBC News)

 

One of the enduring issues that arise when African Americans speak to a dominant media forum about race is a failure to ‘parse the script’. They come to a debate with their own version of the meaning of words and events and this is futile. While emphasizing their own views creates solidarity with a group and confirms them in their own world view it achieves absolutely nothing in a debate which rapidly becomes a dialogue of the deaf – which the dominant media forum is quite happy with. For too long African Americans have allowed the dominant media to control the sub-text without exposing it and rendering the sub-text the matter for discussion. There is an absolute need to parse the texts.

Here is an attempt to parse a Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Henninger ‘Welcome to the Politics of Pointlessness’ dated18 August 2017. (Note 1)

View an NBC report at: http://www.nbcnews.com/video/kkk-holds-rally-in-charlottesville-virginia-987497027504

Lets start with some context:

“At 1:42pm (17:42 GMT) a speeding car rammed into anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.

  • The speeding car fled the scene but was soon located and stopped by police.
  • James Alex Fields Jr of Ohio has been charged with second-degree murder and other counts following the incident. “ (Note 2)

This was a terrorist act – driving a vehicle directly into a crowd of civilians as had been witnessed in France, UK and now US. In the UK there were two similar terrorist acts, one by Islamic extremist (Note 3) and another by white supremacists (Note 4).

The specifics of Charlottesville statues sub text would be as follows: the conservative trope is to argue that these statues are war memorials and symbols of history as if they were put up at a different time in history merely acknowledging a person. The actual history is that the statutes were put up at a much later time than the end of the American Civil War. They were put up at a time of public lynching of Black people and were intended to be seen as symbols of racism and racial subjugation and not as mere remembrances. The crucial role of sub-text must not be under estimated. Is this debate about historical monuments or about the political significance of those monuments? What the dominant media wish to do is to de-politicize the monuments and so make the protesters the extremists. African Americans need to learn make more use of world history and keep in tune with events. When the Berlin Wall fell statues of Lenin were being torn down to the rapturous applause of the Western press. When during the invasion of Iraq statues of Saddam Hussein were toppled this was also met with rapturous applause by Western media. It would have been better to challenge Western commentators on their sudden political tone deafness to the current significance of historical statues by reference to their responses to similar events elsewhere.

Now lets look at Henninger’s article in detail.

He argues that American politics is disconnecting from reality – ‘our politics is starting to seem psychotic’. He then concludes: ‘Charlottesville was a political riot’. ‘Psychotic’ and ‘riot’ are words that suggest that we don’t have anything to rationally evaluate here. ‘Street politics has become the politics du jour’ and then he adds: ‘The protests no doubt are based in belief or sentiment of some sort, but it is more often than not difficult to recognize any political goal normally associated with conservatism, liberalism or progressivism ‘. The neo-Nazis are certainly not lacking in goals and made their views quite clear so his evasion is in the use of the phrase ’normally associated’. But that was the point of the march and the point of Bannon to introduce matters not normally associated with mainstream political discourse. Because the agenda of neo-Nazis is not normally associated with mainstream politics we may just ignore it? In fact he then plumps directly into Trump-land by saying ‘It was a pitched battle between two organized mobs‘. Recall there was a terrorist attack which has now been entirely forgotten and merged into a general ‘riot’ by two mobs. We don’t need to discuss the politics of the two groups because there was none. Then he flips to implicitly criticising the major institutions that did not suppress these extreme views: ‘ There have been a series of events lately that suggest the most basic requirements of intellectual or political seriousness are losing ground inside institutions that once provided ballast against the extremes. ‘ Here he has now equated those who protested against hate and extremism as another form of extremism. If protesting against hate groups, if rejecting anti-semitism, if marching against neo-nazism is not taking politics seriously one wonders what he has in mind as taking politics seriously? Actually he then answers this query: what he has in mind are the views of those who oppose the ‘goals of diversity’:

The Google firing of James Damore was one of these big events. Its meaning was that the goal of diversity, whatever its original intent, has become mostly a totem. Mr. Damore was the little boy in the folk tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” who shouts, “But he doesn’t have anything on!” Google’s emperors banished James Damore for unmasking their diversity conceit. ‘

So through a series of tropes Henninger has moved from a terrorist attack on peaceful protesters to a ‘violence on both sides’ to ‘political riot’ evoking a sense of senseless activity and then moved to equate ‘the goal of diversity’ with this wave of senseless activity. Not a mention of slogans of anti-semitism or the driving of a vehicle into a crowd as if these were usual acts expected at political rallies in United States.

Once we parse Henninger we can see that his views are a hair’s breadth away from those who protested against the statues at Charlotesville and mirror Trump’s views. What are the differences between Henninger and some people on the extreme right? One obvious difference is that Henninger is suave and subtle, coded and elliptical, in his expressions. But in ignoring the terrorist act and equating the protesters and the neo-nazis as both politically senseless he engages in an act of extreme verbal violence. Henninger is more dangerous by his pollution of social discourse than all the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville put together. Protesting against neo-Nazis and driving a vehicle into a crowd are not equivalent actions. To suggest otherwise is to engage in extreme literary and political violence and should be called out as such.

 

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NOTES

1. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-politics-of-pointlessness-1502924185

2. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/charlottesville-attack-170813081045115.html

 

3. Islamic attack

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_2017_London_Bridge_attack

 

4. White supremacist:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/19/several-casualties-reported-after-van-hits-pedestrians-in-north-london