nathaniel rich has a several books by and about james baldwin in the may 12 nyrb. it's not the worst thing i've ever read, though rich is no baldwin. but it ends with this typical symptom of obsessive, delusional political partisanship, which runs like painful urination through the pages of the new york review of books, the new york times, the new yorker, and so on.
Baldwin’s novels and essays describe a nation suffering from a pain so profound that it cannot be discussed openly. This was not a pessimistic view; it was, rather, deeply optimistic. It suggested that most people, deep down, wanted to resolve the crisis—that they were not apathetic or, in Baldwin’s term, brutally indifferent. Today it can be difficult to preserve this optimism. Still there are strong indications that there is more pain than indifference. You can tell this by the general level of fear, which is, after all, the source of that pain. It has risen to the surface, often reaching the level of total panic, evident in the calls to “take our country back,” to “reignite the promise of America,” to “abolish the IRS,” to “restore America’s brand,” and the many other revanchist sentiments that dominate the political discourse. These messages do not ring of indifference. They are expressions of great terror.
now, rich echoes baldwin in insisting that white americans examine the bigotry in themselves and its effects on their own psyche. rich engages in no such self-reflection, but just goes for the autonomic trump-bashing. but truly, his approach is just bizarre. so, for example, 'abolish the irs' is supposed to be an obvious expression of great terror and racism. say what? i suppose the internal revenue service is an agency dedicated to ending the national nightmare of racism. only a racist would have misgivings about american tax policy. 'restore america's brand' is supposed to be something you'd only say if you were terrified, i guess? also i suppose that the most wicked insult rich has at his disposal is 'revanchist.' is there nothing people like you, nathaniel rich, will not try to turn to partisan account? and can you do it no better than that?
what baldwin - one of my heroes - would tell someone like nathaniel rich is to try to start peeling back his own racial attitudes before he starts hurling his inexplosive bombs. and i will say, as i have said before, that american leftism has been an extreme disaster for the black community. we are approximately as segregated now as we were in the 1950s. housing programs in particular, but the welfare state in general, has frozen a permanent racial underclass and destroyed black communities. democrats loved and prosecuted mass race incarceration until they pretended to see the light. that they've trapped black folks in this insane dilemma where they vote 90% democrat is unforgivable. and there is racism at the very heart of white liberalism, but it is 'unconscious': incredibly condescending, taking no account of the experience of the people whose conditions or selves it proposes to ameliorate, engaged in continual moral self-congratulation, which is what it is for.
also, just for the hell of it, hillary's campaign is already based entirely on fear, of the 'dangerous loose cannon', etc. of course, some fears are rational, so that accusing someone of operating politically on fear is not adequate to condemn their position. also 'make america great again' sounds strangely like hope, though not like my hope. and sheer hope isn't enough either; it depends on what you hope for.
the partisanship we see now - and i emphasize the left though it's certainly coming from both ends - is obsessive, manipulative, and delusional. baldwin would tell you that if he were still around, rich boy. the people who write in this mode for these publications are only writing for people who already agree with them, and the whole thing is an exercise in slapping one's own back, all day every day. also the people who already agree are the only people who could be expected to nod along with non sequiturs of this caliber: disliking the internal revenue service can only be an expression of racial terror. i hope your ass gets audited, son, and they end up coming for your paycheck.
talking only to people who agree with you leads to thinking of this quality, as heads bob up and down in unison. also it's liable to lead to some kind of partition in this country, or maybe a civil war if it keeps going like this. tell you what: let's see where race is after 8 years of hillary (admittedly, hillary getting elected is unlikely). just where we are now, i believe. or after 8 years of trump: also more or less just where we are now. engage in some self-reflection or leave james baldwin alone, son. you are not ready.