Conservatives in the Trump Age

Mar 8, 2018

TAA 0011 – C. Travis Webb and Seph Rodney discuss writer David Roberts recent take down of the New York Times opinion page, and its attempt to incorporate conservative leaning writers. Is conservatism just a series of “irritable mental gestures” or a vital and coherent worldview?

C.T. WEBB 00:17 Good afternoon, good morning or good evening and welcome to the American Age Podcast. I’m talking with Seph Rodney today. Seph, how you doing?
S. RODNEY 00:25 Not too bad.
C.T. WEBB 00:28 So I know it’s a 3-hour time difference. I don’t know, and I don’t think our listeners know this, I don’t know why they would, but I’m on the West Coast and Seth is on the East Coast. And so it’s always a little bit of a logistical complication to get together and figure out how we’re going to do this, but. So it’s a little later for him than it is for me.
S. RODNEY 00:46 Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. But I’m fine with it.
C.T. WEBB 00:48 I’m sure everyone appreciates that. Okay. So today’s topic was suggested by Seph and he had found or– how did you come across the tweets, Seth?
S. RODNEY 01:03 It just showed up on my feed. It just showed up on my feed. A guy named David Roberts who goes by @drvox–
C.T. WEBB 01:10 Does he–
S. RODNEY 01:10 Go ahead.
C.T. WEBB 01:11 –write for Vox? Do you know if he writes about some of the political stuff?
S. RODNEY 01:13 I think so. I think I checked out his profile and I believe that he writes on climate change and associated technologies.
C.T. WEBB 01:25 Okay. Well this guy has got like 16,000 followers and– or 16,000 likes– 80,000 followers.
S. RODNEY 01:31 Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 01:31 We’ve got like 19, so. He’s a good person to engage with. You know you should always try and punch above your weight class as they say, so. So I actually have the tweet. They’re a series of 18, 20, 19 tweets.
S. RODNEY 01:50 20.
C.T. WEBB 01:50 20, which essentially amounts to a little mini essay, which Seth and I were talking before the broadcast and I was saying that he really kind of blew my mind with what you could accomplish with tweets, so. Because he essentially puts together a little essay. So Seth, do you want to kind of summarize what his argument is, or would you like to actually pull a couple of the most poignant tweets into the conversation?
S. RODNEY 02:17 Yeah. That’s what I’ll do.
C.T. WEBB 02:18 Okay.
S. RODNEY 02:19 The ones that really struck me– Well I was struck by the first in the threaded series. There’s a thread of 20. In the first one he says, “All right. This controversy over conservative columnist in the New York Times Opinion Page, essentially, is bugging me. Everyone is dancing around the central point. And in parenthesis, the same central point everyone dances around in numerous contemporary controversy, so I’m a lay it out. And then what he does is he says, “Basically, here’s a case of what conservatives in America has become and here’s why the New York Times feels that it has to intellectually come to grips with that and here’s how they fail to do that and here’s why.” So the main point is– and this is the second tweet– the contemporary right wing in the US has become in Lionel [inaudible] immortal words a bundle of “irritable mental gestures we seek to resemble ideas.” And he summarizes that–
C.T. WEBB 03:19 Great quotation by the way.
S. RODNEY 03:20 Yeah. He summarizes that further by saying “It’s just a tangle of resentment and bigotries driven by the erosion of white privilege.”
C.T. WEBB 03:29 Right.
S. RODNEY 03:29 So he goes on from there and says, “This has always been a part of conservatism in the US, but you had this class of DC conservatives.” And here, I can think of a lot of the talking heads that use to show up on Sunday Morning Shows. You know, people like David Brooks, people like Will– who’s the patrician one that use to write for The Post? Will?–
C.T. WEBB 03:57 I’m not sure actually.
S. RODNEY 03:58 George Will.
C.T. WEBB 04:00 Oh, George Will. Is George Will on the New York Times Opinion Page?
S. RODNEY 04:03 No, no, no, no, no, no. But he was in Washington Post.
C.T. WEBB 04:04 Oh. You mean his– Oh yeah. Oh yes, of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
S. RODNEY 04:07 Right. Right. So anyway, he says there’s always been this element in conservatism, but DC conservatives would code switch. They spoke this very serious language of ideas and policies, right? But Trump has shown that the purported principles of conservative ideology mean virtually nothing to the conservative masses. Because he swerved this way and that. He said this and said that. Taxes, Immigration, Healthcare, Guns – it doesn’t matter, the base follows him. Whether he’s going into the deep, dark ditches of– suggesting that they can do away with due process where [inaudible] seizing people’s guns, which he said publicly the other day– to arbitrarily suggesting that because a Judge is Mexican that he can possibly treat a case before him [inaudible].
C.T. WEBB 05:10 Curiel.
S. RODNEY 05:11 Right. So then Roberts goes on to say, “The New York Times Opinion Pages faces a dilemma. It wants to expose its readers to the perspectives of true conservatives. However, the problem with that is that if they did, where they would end up.” And he says this “It would print a bunch of paranoid, Fox-generated, fairy tales and belligerent expressions of xenophobia, misogyny, racism and proud anti-intelletcual ignorance. So what he has to do is recruit people who basically give you conservatism light. People like David Brooks, Gershon, Duthat, Stevens. He says they have little voice or influence inside actual conservatism, and in fact, they’re all anti-Trump. They are anomalies, idiosyncrasies, not representative of anything broader. And so what do the mainstream “voices of conservatism have left?” One half-assed whataboutism. “Sure Trump and the GOP are terrible. What about that time that person on the left said that one bad thing?” And he says that this explains why people are now obsessed with Farrakan and why people are now obsessed with campus speech intolerance. It’s not much, he says, but it’s all they have left. There’s nowhere left to go intellectually. So Stephens and the others are playing this old parlor game where “serious conservatives tell liberals that they or bad or wrong and liberals perceive to engage in self-loathing and hampering about it.” And I just think that that’s the gist of his argument and I just think that that is one of the most insightful things I have read this year. And it may be one of the most insightful critiques of the state of our current politics and how those politics get sort of threaded through our mainstream– I don’t like that word– our legacy media, right?
C.T. WEBB 07:28 Yeah.
S. RODNEY 07:29 Go head. Go head.
C.T. WEBB 07:30 No, no, no. Please finish your point and then [inaudible].
S. RODNEY 07:33 Well I think I was done. I just wanted to say that it was compelling to me because it diagnosed the way I generally think about conservatism in the US. And I think that there are lots of people who would have very strenuous objections to it being characterized in this way. Essentially, a bunch of resentments that pertain most deeply to race.
C.T. WEBB 08:03 So I– when you first proposed the topic I had said that I agreed with a portion of it, but disagreed with a significant junk of that. And some of it’s shifted in where I agree and disagree. But rather than taking on the argument as a whole, from the beginning, I think I want to poke at some of it’s underlying assumptions.
S. RODNEY 08:30 Okay.
C.T. WEBB 08:30 So, to me, he is claiming a coherency that he is also at the same time trying to undermine by claiming that conservatives who are putting forth a coherent articulation of what it means to be conservative, and I think you’re going to get some divergencies in the The New York Times Opinion Page even about that, but let’s let just kind of paint it with one broad brush because I think there’s probably some validity to that. And at the same time what is propelling the popularity of Trump amongst republican voters is motivated by a single thing which is the erosion of white privilege. I don’t buy that interpretation because it’s too flat. And part of my issue with all of this short of shouting back and forth, like you know, just come clean, it’s racism. Just come clean, it’s this. Just come clean, it’s that. What as I see as the primary– okay, that’s ridiculous. Not the primary problem. One of the most significant problems right now with public discourse in the United States is it is not up to the task of the complexity of 21st century America. And I don’t think that David Roberts is helpfully contributing to that, to attacking that problem. You’re talking about– so the NRA, for example, when they do these– I have a hunting license because my dad grew up in Arkansas and so he and I would go hunting–
S. RODNEY 10:34 I had no idea you had a hunting license.
C.T. WEBB 10:36 I do, yes. So–
S. RODNEY 10:38 Jesus Christ, that makes me think differently about you [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 10:43 So, it really should not.
S. RODNEY 10:44 But it does [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 10:46 Wait. Wait. Is your ass vegetarian? I’m sorry. Did you become vegetarian recently and I didn’t know? I’m sorry. I missed the memo. You should’ve let me know.
S. RODNEY 10:57 That’s funny. That’s funny.
C.T. WEBB 10:58 So I have a hunting license and one of things that was talked about in this hunting class was that your responsibility for engaging in the act of hunting and being a gun owner, etc. is that not to turn the 60% against us. And what the person meant by that was you’ve got basically 20% of people that actually are just totally and completely opposed to gun ownership, gun rights, see it as a cancer on society. And then you got 20% of people that are complete nut jobs about guns. They want to have like one AR-15 for every appendage or something like that, right? And back research that will allow you to shoot machine guns with your toes and things like that, so. And then there’s the 60% of the country that are just fine. They are just going on about their lives and doing whatever they’re doing and if you want to go hunting, you want to go hunting and that’s fine. And this resonated with me when I was recently– we put a tweet out about this at the AAAS, which is the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. And they held a poster session on what to do about the spread of misinformation, you know, fake news and alternative facts and all this. And one of their top strategies was completely independent of this to appeal to the 60%. So appeal to the 60% that are not nut jobs. You can find one in five Americans to literally believe anything. One in five Americans believe in fucking angels, right? Like literally. They have a pet angel that’s on their shoulder telling them to go do shit.
S. RODNEY 12:57 Right.
C.T. WEBB 12:57 So that number, 20% of people, one in five, that believe some crazy stuff. And I don’t mean they’re one in five that believe in crazy stuff and therefore they do crazy things. But they believe in some, you know, like hooey, right?
S. RODNEY 13:13 Right. Right.
C.T. WEBB 13:13 Some whatever kind of mysterious, nefarious force in the universe. So in Roberts’ assessment of what the entire right wing base in this country is, I just don’t buy it. Do I think that there is a significant minority that is filled with racial paranoia and that motivates their actions? Yes. Do I think that there is maybe a majority that are filled with racial anxiety? Yes. Do I think that those two things intermingle together in a dangerous way when you have a demagogue in power? Absolutely. Is the way to combat that to say all of you all who are sympathetic to this demagogue are nuts? No. What that does is that pushes more and more people in the 60 to the fringes and the extreme so.
S. RODNEY 14:15 Mm-hmm. So–
C.T. WEBB 14:15 Oh. Go ahead please. Jump in.
S. RODNEY 14:18 Well there’s several things I want to say. One is that he’s not saying that they’re all nut jobs. He’s saying that there are a–
C.T. WEBB 14:27 A bundle of irritable, mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.
S. RODNEY 14:33 A tangle of resentment and bigotries driven by the erosion of white privilege. So I just– let me just flush this out a little bit. Because I think there is something to your argument, but I actually do want to stick to mine and here’s why. There’s lots of conceptions for what the US is and what it constitutes. But one of the key ones, one of the ones that’s publicly shared the most widely, is that it is a bastion of democracy. It is a place where– and this is very much true for immigrants, right? This is the place where you can come and reinvent yourself because you can be anybody that you want to be.
C.T. WEBB 15:17 RIght.
S. RODNEY 15:17 And part of that, that narrative, that ideology is based on– well it’s based on a certain kind of economy, a booming economy basically post-war. It’s mostly been going up and up and up.
C.T. WEBB 15:37 Not just post-war. I mean that’s manifest destined. I mean, I’m saying, the booming economy has been tied to violence and the aftermath of violence for two hundred plus years.
S. RODNEY 15:50 No that’s right. No. Thank you for clarifying that. That is actually more correct than what I was saying. But here’s the thing, part of it is also based on inequality. Like fundamentally. Whether we’re talking the economic system, and it’s clear that that economic system has been about taking advantage of a particular class of people, often times a racialized class. And this is how we got to the point where we did have a booming economy, where slave labor was exploited or indentured servitude was exploited in order to build up the kind of capital by which American can become a superpower. But let’s even put the economic argument aside because I’m actually more concerned with the other one which is the rhetorical constitution of the shining republic, right? Part of that advocacy has always been based on the notion that you are equal in the eyes of the market, you are equal in the eyes of the law, you are equal, equal, equal, all down the board. And we did not have a true democracy in this country until 1964 and 1968 with the passage–
C.T. WEBB 17:10 Absolutely.
S. RODNEY 17:09 of the Voting Rights Act in 64, and Fair Housing Act in 68, Civil Rights Act in– what was it?– 63?
C.T. WEBB 17:17 I don’t think that’s right.
S. RODNEY 17:18 They did not have it. So this entire kind of structure is built on this rhetoric of equality which we have not had. And here’s the thing– even when we had kind of procedural equality on the books, finally in 1968, for most of civic life, for most of public life– we still have been fighting this rare guard action trying to chip away at it, trying to make it difficult for people of color to actually be equal in the ways that we’ve–
C.T. WEBB 17:56 And that’s on ongoing. And 64 was the Civil Rights Act by the way. I just googled it while you were talking so. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 18:01 Okay. Thank you. Right. So my argument is that he’s right to an extent in that conservative, which is essentially sought, to preserve a kind of status quo that has a general picture of this is US society that is– I mean let’s just put the economics aside for a moment– but is essentially a place where “Christian values” that are held by evangelicals and generally protestant evangelicals holds way. So–
C.T. WEBB 18:50 Okay. So can I jump in or are you–?
S. RODNEY 18:53 Yes, please. Please do.
C.T. WEBB 18:54 Okay. So, yeah. So I want to start somewhere but I don’t want to finish with that point. This is not my point, this is just the starting off point.
S. RODNEY 19:06 Okay.
C.T. WEBB 19:06 So, yes, all of those things that you are saying are absolutely correct. And the effort to disenfranchise people based on race is ongoing and vigorous. And that has not– I was about to say it has not abated. It has, of course, abated. It’s not as on full display as it has been historically.
S. RODNEY 19:32 Precisely. Precisely.
C.T. WEBB 19:33 And I’m not offering this up as exceptionalism. I am offering this up as context in order to push the conversation somewhere, which is that, in the history of the world. In our 5,000 year history of starting to make cities and live in them and wage war and unify, what has our record of liberty and equality and fraternity looked like? Terrible. Awful.
S. RODNEY 20:07 Fair enough. Fair enough.
C.T. WEBB 20:08 Just abysmal.
S. RODNEY 20:10 Right.
C.T. WEBB 20:11 And is the United States an exception to that history? In its rhetoric? Yes.
S. RODNEY 20:17 Yes.
C.T. WEBB 20:17 In its practice?
S. RODNEY 20:20 No.
C.T. WEBB 20:20 It has failed miserably.
S. RODNEY 20:23 Thank you.
C.T. WEBB 20:23 Miserably.
S. RODNEY 20:24 Okay.
C.T. WEBB 20:24 To live up to that. And that hypocrisy grates on me. I don’t use this word very often, but I abhor it. I abhor our ability to stay true to our rhetorical and principled roots in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. And I do not think that David Roberts is contributing to the work that needs to be done because all of the– and this is what it comes down to– all of the easy battles have been fought and won. They’ve been fought and won. It’s the easy ones. I’m not saying all the battles. I’m not saying there’s equality amongst the races. I’m not saying that misogyny is not alive and well. I’m not saying that.
S. RODNEY 21:13 I hear you.
C.T. WEBB 21:17 But the easy ones. Like the big, bulls-eye targets that you could just have direct unfettered indignation at, they’re gone. Like what’s left? Our internet scene, messy, difficult, ugly light problems that can only be fought in a sort of intellectually guerilla way. Like it’s guerilla warfare for intellectuals, or it should be. That would be my argument, that it should be that. I mean how does David Roberts– if he was here, we could ask him– how does he explain the shift in voting between 2008 and 2016? You have a significant number of voters that voted for Obama and voted for Trump. Now that’s kind of madness in my world. Like I don’t, I don’t, I just don’t even– I can’t even articulate how far apart those things are. But yet somewhere they meet because there were voters that did that. So somewhere my understanding falls down because it happened. And, yes, Roberts can paint a story that like– Oh, you know. I mean, I myself have proffered this story of the magic negro, right? So here comes Obama. He’s going to fix everyone’s problems. And so this is what motivated those voters, right? But that’s again– come on– that’s too easy.
S. RODNEY 22:59 Okay. Okay. So–
C.T. WEBB 23:00 I’m sorry. Go ahead.
S. RODNEY 23:01 No, no. I interrupted you. I’m sorry. But I do have an answer to that. And actually what tripped me into remembering this– which is a key part of his argument which I left out actually– was what you said about the magic negro. Oh, it’s, yeah, magic negro, magical. Is that he mentions this notion of, yes, the noble savage fantasy, right? Which is that people in the heartland are somehow more genuine, more authentic and they have these small town virtues that don’t deserve defending. And both conservatives, he argues, both conservatives and liberals want to hold on to them. And that is another key part of conservatism. Which, you’re right. He did leave out of his sort of initial– what’s the word?– sort of blistering attack on conservatism. Yes. There is that part of conservatism which is essentially rural versus the city, right? It’s–
C.T. WEBB 24:13 Sure. Urban. Sure. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 24:14 Right. Right. It’s this notion that– and in some ways they would, I think– this is part of conservatism even though I don’t think conservatives would cop to this– they do hold on to this notion of it taking a village to raise a child. They really do believe in a kind of core sense of community. But I think sort of supporting that is this notion of the sort of noble, white settler savage, right? And so here’s my problem with that, that he may not have come– I don’t know whether he had an adequate explanation for what happened with how voting patterns switched in the last election. But I imagine he would say something like, “You still have these constituencies, these very separate constituencies, that can meet in a candidate like Trump.” So you still have the DC conservatives who are very sort of high-minded and at least espouse certain kinds of economic principles generally that are conservative. And then you do have those small town, rural folks who see themselves as comprising the heartland of America, and they very much see themselves as disappearing from the public conversation on a promise, right? And we talked about this months ago, how the one group that you are now allowed to publicly just crap all over are straight, White men and small town White people. And women get thrown in there too. You can pretty much do that all day. Like if they’re [inaudible] your redneck, your fodder for everybody.
C.T. WEBB 26:12 Absolutely. Yeah. It’s joking season.
S. RODNEY 26:13 Everybody’s got jokes. Right.
C.T. WEBB 26:13 Culturally.
S. RODNEY 26:15 Yeah, culturally. Right. So I do think that he has simplified, perhaps oversimplified, some things. But I do think there are these particular constituencies within the broad umbrella of conservatism, that for me, still at the end of the day, are in some ways, maybe not primarily, but in some ways, are driven by racial anxiety or resentment.
C.T. WEBB 26:47 So I think you and I are basically– and it’s so probably slightly less interesting conversation because I think you and I are basically in complete agreement about that. What Roberts is tapping into and what you just articulated, I do agree that the unraveling of Whiteness, what we’ll just call Whiteness– so Whiteness being kind of the umbrella term for what it meant for much of American history to be White, which was free, self-determined and capable of bending the world to one’s will, or failing to do so and reaping the consequences of that. So that picture of Whiteness has begun to come– I mean it was frayed from the beginning. There were founding fathers that new this was madness. But even Jefferson, with all of his Bullshit, knew it was also madness. He has a line about like “Holding a wolf by the ears.” And notes on the establishment in a government in Virginia or something like that. He talks about how slavery is essentially having a wolf by the ears and that you can’t let it go because the wolf will tear you apart. You know which is also just like some Bullshit justification for selling his kids into slavery and shit like that.
S. RODNEY 28:17 Right.
C.T. WEBB 28:18 But whatever. So that idea was frayed from the very beginning. But it’s fraying accelerated. And at least culturally, not economically, maybe not even interpersonally, culturally has become untenable, right? You can’t constitute that version of Whiteness anymore.
S. RODNEY 28:46 Well at least not publicly and not be taken seriously
C.T. WEBB 28:50 Yeah, yeah, yeah.
S. RODNEY 28:51 Because the Alt-right is doing precisely that, right? They keep trying to do that.
C.T. WEBB 28:55 Yeah. Absolutely. Yes. I don’t mean it’s gone. I just mean that it’s unapologetic defense or its reflexive defense is untenable currently even though it still lives on in a variety of forms.
S. RODNEY 29:13 Right. And then by the way, just so we can quickly prove that with an anecdote. And this struck me was that, remember when the Orangeman said on camera that there were good people on both sides of the issue. And it’s sort of exhaustive sort of line of stupidity because there aren’t both sides, there’s several sides– but whatever. He’s essentially talking about Antifa versus the White Supremacists marches. And the people on his economic councils started to run like rats leaving ship.
C.T. WEBB 29:53 I remember.
S. RODNEY 29:55 Right? And these guys– I mean you would imagine–
C.T. WEBB 29:59 These are not social justice warriors
S. RODNEY 30:01 Right. Exactly. Right. They’re just beholden to their shareholders. But it looks so bad for the sitting President to publicly defend White Supremacists. And they’re were like “I’m out. I’m out, dude. I’m out.”
C.T. WEBB 30:15 Right. Right. But I see that unraveling of Whiteness as plaguing not just White people, right? The problem is that it’s also morphed into a kind of unselfconscious righteousness amongst people that have the right opinions, that are wearing the right intellectual clothing to fit in at the dinner parties and the cocktail parties and the seminar classrooms in colleges. And by that, I mean, that not everyone that is voicing the right opinion about what it means to be Black in America today in the history of that oppression in the ways in which institutional racism are alive and well. I would go so far as to say the majority of people that articulate that opinion have not actually done the intellectual work to arrive at that opinion. This is a mode. It’s a fashion.
S. RODNEY 31:36 Well it’s also as a package, right?
C.T. WEBB 31:37 Yes.
S. RODNEY 31:39 Some kids– and I know this from talking with people of color, particularly in the art scene because– you’re right– and to a good extent, it’s fashionable or rather– No, no, no. Let me put it in slightly, more accurate terms. It’s dereger. It’s like of the course to have these sorts of opinions if you’re in certain areas of the art scene. Yes. That is true. And I do– I have to just admit– I do get tired of that. I do get tired of people of color starting off the conversation there because, and partly I want to say to everyone, I want to say to White people as well, but also just people of color, you know we could talk about other things. Like we actually don’t need to start there.
C.T. WEBB 32:28 That’s right.
S. RODNEY 32:29 We do have other areas of our lives that are really interesting to us.
C.T. WEBB 32:32 This was Malcolm X’s frustration back in the 60’s. Like why doesn’t someone ask me about the Space Program? Like I actually have other interests and opinions about the world than just race relations.
S. RODNEY 32:49 Right. Right.
C.T. WEBB 32:49 And that was in the 60’s. And that was Malcolm X.
S. RODNEY 32:52 Right. Right.
C.T. WEBB 32:53 So I feel like to push back at David Roberts, I mean, I meant to lookup his photo, his little character-like New York street artist pencil drawing, he looks sort of like a White dude to me. So I mean–
S. RODNEY 33:09 He does.
C.T. WEBB 33:10 Okay, so, which is cool. I’m fine with Roberts. So I’m a lay it out. You know? Like little colloquialism at the beginning [laughter].
S. RODNEY 33:22 Oh you caught that, did you? [laughter]
C.T. WEBB 33:24 Yeah. That’s cool, David [laughter]. I understand. You got to take the street cred where you can get it, rhetorically. No problem. But–
S. RODNEY 33:35 Well he’s a White guy. I just looked him up.
C.T. WEBB 33:37 Okay. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 33:38 Yeah. He’s a White guy. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 33:38 You know me. I would never box anyone’s opinion around that. But I would like to call maybe a little Bullshit because just as he is calling out the sort of incoherency and the– what does he call it? I feel like he used code switching a little bit in not quite the way that it’s typically meant but– there was one piece of it that– anyway, I can just make my point. I apologize for all the fumbling around. Which is just that he is drawing on a set of opinions and poses in his own sort of profession and enlightenment. How he’s just going to explain it all.
S. RODNEY 34:33 So you mean, when he said, “Spoke the very serious language of ideas and policies?
C.T. WEBB 34:37 Yes.
S. RODNEY 34:38 DC conservatives? He code switched?
C.T. WEBB 34:40 Yeah. He’s saying– Oh. When he talks up like the noble savage, like their own sort of noble savage myth or whatever.
S. RODNEY 34:48 Right, right, right, right, right, right.
C.T. WEBB 34:49 And he is playing into his own myth that of– or it seems to me in this series of tweets. I shouldn’t paint him with a single brush, right? Because I haven’t read his other stuff, so. And he’s clearly very bright and on point and I think there are a number of insightful comments that he makes and I’ve probably– I’ve hedged my opinion enough, I think, so. I feel self-conscious being uncritically critical of Roberts here.
S. RODNEY 35:21 But you can drag the truck over him now. Go ahead.
C.T. WEBB 35:23 Yeah [laughter].
S. RODNEY 35:25 It’s what you want to do [laughter]. So just, you know, vroom, vroom. Let’s go. Right?
C.T. WEBB 35:30 So to me this reads a little bit like insider [inaudible].
S. RODNEY 35:36 Right.
C.T. WEBB 35:37 No conservative White people. This is the way that you are supposed to be White now. Like this is the way that it’s okay to be White, to like identify all of these covert injustices. And even though I agree with sort of the kernel of what would drive that indignation, I’m on board with. But the smugness of it really puts me at odds.
S. RODNEY 36:14 Okay. So I do have a good question, I think. And it’s something that’s been kind of percolating in the back of my mind for a while. How do we come to the place where– and I think you and I both struggle with this– how do we come to the place where we have some clarity on some issues, right? Like what constitutes conservatism? What constitutes liberalism? What constitutes being really honest with others and honest with yourself, la la la? How do you get to that place? And then when you have that conversation with a person who’s different, how do have that conversation where you look for common ground and not be a little smug? Because, honestly, I struggle with that.
C.T. WEBB 37:06 Yeah.
S. RODNEY 37:06 I think about my students. And I think I told you this anecdote. And I may have told someone else. I think I told Caroline this, but I was explaining to my student– I teach a Research and Methodologies class at Parsons, in the new school, currently. And I was attempting– and it was late in the class time. We were close to the time that we needed to leave. And I was trying to explain my expectations for what they would pick up from the course. And I said something about these critical skills that would allow you to sift evidence and determine whether the evidence you found was relevant to the question you were posing. And whether it constituted evidence that could be corroborated. That other researchers following you could follow, right? And could replicate or could find again. Or could find and reach similar conclusions, right? And someone at the end of class said, right after I’d kind of given this very quite heartfelt spiel about how important it is to get these skills. She said something like– Oh. What she’d asked is that– because I talked about Derrida, and his idea of the supplement. And I talked about how I used that idea in a piece of art criticism [inaudible]. And someone asked, I think it was my student Carli. She asked, “Well why is it that he gets to have what he does?” Which is theory. “Why is that taken more seriously than ‘conspiracy theorists’?” Right? Because they’re both doing theory, essentially is what she’s saying. She didn’t say that but that was the subtext of the question. “They’re both doing theory, so how come, you know?” He’s, Derrida, valorized and feted. And I said, “Well part of the reason for that is that he came up through a system of schooling where he was credentialed by an institution that’s respected widely. And he went through a process of training by which other people could tell he was a serious thinker.” So that’s part of it, right? And I said that and then she said, “Oh, so you’re saying that basically that people that go through that system are just better at mind control?” [laughter] I was like, “Honey. Honey. Is that what you heard when I said what I just said? That’s what you heard?”
C.T. WEBB 40:12 Right, right.
S. RODNEY 40:13 What? So partly, knowing that I’m dealing with that kind of mishearing a lot, right? And I’m also dealing with a deep, deep resentment in some people, and resistance to hearing anything that doesn’t confirm what they already hold as a world view. I must admit I do get a little smug. And I think it’s not smugness because I think I’m so wonderful and brilliant. It’s smugness because I’m impatient. Because I’m tired already. Like I have these fantasies of running into someone like Laura Ingraham or something, publicly, and then having a conversation with her. And I just think with the first sentence out of the mouth, I would just say, “No. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to me to engage with you.”
C.T. WEBB 41:08 So I think I would like to qualify something that you said, which is I personally see a difference between a student that is with– I mean this in the flatest way that you can mean this word, ignorant, without judgment. There are plenty of things that I’m ignorant to.
S. RODNEY 41:31 Right, right, right, right. Me too.
C.T. WEBB 41:33 And someone like Laura Ingraham, who I do not think is ignorant. And I think peddles ideas and is irresponsible with the peddling of those ideas and is intentionally demagoguing and whipping up resentments. And has a fully-articulated, totally Bullshit worldview. So for someone like that–
S. RODNEY 41:58 You’re right. You’re right.
C.T. WEBB 41:59 I think pull every weapon you have. Like level that person to the best of your ability in front of other people, preferably.
S. RODNEY 42:08 Yes.
C.T. WEBB 42:08 Humiliate them.
S. RODNEY 42:09 Yes. Publicly. Yes.
C.T. WEBB 42:12 Yes. I am all for that level. I mean at that point, you’re talking about like sort of like this is a combat against equals. And so not to be overly violent about it, but I subscribe to those. I think those analogies are appropriate in context like this. And so I think that that is a completely appropriate response to someone like that. Now in the cultural’s sphere, to bring it back to the issues that Roberts was talking about, which I think we’re still on pretty clearly. Did you read about this Bruno Mars’ controversy? He got criticized by Seren Sensei, I think her name is. It’s on this web series called The Grapevine. And it’s kind of a Black American sort of culture show where they sort of work through certain experiences and opinions and stuff life that. Anyway, she has this thing where she goes off on Bruno Mars about how he’s a cultural appropriator, and like he borrowed all this stuff from funk and all that. I mean just– and you know she is just like full of like verve and self-righteousness. I mean, she’s just wearing it, right? It’s wafting off of her. And it has a little bit of the sort of Black church feel to it. Like there’d be someone in the background just keep saying, “Facts. Facts.” Over and over again. Which I found incredibly grating and irritating, mostly because she was just wrong about– not like Bruno Mars. I don’t know Bruno Mars. Just for starters, and I’m going to qualify this. Her name is Seren Sensei. And the Sensei is spelled the way that Sensei is spelled in the anglicized version of the Japanese word. And I was curious, so I googled around is like this an African name also? I didn’t find anything, so. A lot of cultures in Africa. So maybe there’s some that that is a– Sensei, as in S-E-N-S-E-I.
S. RODNEY 44:26 Right. That’s the way it’s supposed to be spelled, right?
C.T. WEBB 44:29 Yes, it is. But she is not Japanese.
S. RODNEY 44:32 Right. And she’s not a teacher [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 44:34 Yes. So that’s fine that she feels– and I could be ignorant of the culture that she comes from and that that is an “authentic”– even though I don’t actually believe in that. That’s why I put “authentic.” And air quotes for no one that can see, except you.
S. RODNEY 44:53 Right. Right.
C.T. WEBB 44:54 So she feels comfortable appropriating whatever culture she needs to appropriate in order to forge her identity. This is Whiteness. This is Whiteness that is being worn by a Black woman in America.
S. RODNEY 45:08 I agree with you.
C.T. WEBB 45:09 And that is the idea that you, by virtue of who you are and your history and your purported sort of metaphysical position in the social universe, get access to opinions and ideas that other people should not have access to.
S. RODNEY 45:31 Right.
C.T. WEBB 45:31 That’s Whiteness.
S. RODNEY 45:33 I agree.
C.T. WEBB 45:33 And I think Roberts is in a way drawing on that as well. When he out of hand dismisses the efforts and the histories of these men and women that are doing their absolute most to articulate what is a terrible and frightening moment in American history, right? And this is one– I told you I was going to try and be, at the start, a little bit more vulnerable about it. I everyday worry that I am too tepid in my response in private conversation with friends and family, and in the beginning of my public work in response to the Trump presidency. I worry that I am being accommodationist. Because everything about him and what he stands for is repugnant to me. I mean, like literally, physically repugnant. Like he turns my stomach. And I have not felt that way about other politicians and leaders, for the most part, even the ones that I disagree with strongly. And so I worry though. And this is where I think, “Oh. Well Roberts kind of has a point.” Am I pasting over something that should not be complicated? Right? Am I doing the work of the very people that I disdain?
S. RODNEY 47:06 That’s a good question and maybe we can pick this up next time because I think that it’s a conversation that is worth carrying on. But I want to leave us with a question too.
C.T. WEBB 47:15 Please.
S. RODNEY 47:16 And that’s a great question. But the question I want to ask, and I really mean to ask this of everyone who I do think is a genuine conservative. And by that, people like Jennifer Rubin who has the Right Turn column in The Washington Post who espouses views I fundamentally disagree with. But at her core, she is principled. And I can tell this by the way that she’s responding to the Trump presidency. I want to ask people like her, honestly, at the end of the day, “How is it going to be possible for us to live together? Is it possible for us to weave a kind of police system, legal system, economic system where neither of us feels like we’re being taken advantage of by the other?”
C.T. WEBB 48:12 Yeah. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 48:13 Ultimately– and this is what makes me really, I think more, sympathetic to what Roberts has articulated in his thread– ultimately, I feel like conservatives don’t care. They don’t want to compromise. What they want, honestly, at the end of the day, I feel like the majority of them and I may be wrong about this, and I’m really open to me being wrong about this. I feel like most of them just want me to be in shackles. They just prefer me to some indentured servant or slave, never speaking until spoken to. Because I honestly don’t think that they want to figure out a way to live together. And maybe we should just start another conversation there.
C.T. WEBB 49:01 Yeah. I agree. The only thing I would quickly add to that is I don’t know that I disagree except that I think with people that have strongly conservative worldviews, they don’t care if you are in shackles. But they believe that there is a class of human that that is the best that they can aspire to.
S. RODNEY 49:21 Goddamn.
C.T. WEBB 49:23 So I think they’re racially agnostic in the 21st century. I think they’ll take their “Yes, Masses, from anyone.”
S. RODNEY 49:31 Wow. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 49:32 So.
S. RODNEY 49:35 Another night.
C.T. WEBB 49:35 Yeah, yeah, Seph. Great talking to you. Thanks everyone for listening.
S. RODNEY 49:40 Yes. Thank you and good night.
C.T. WEBB 49:42 Good night.


First referenced at 26:47

Of Grammatology 

Jacques Derrida’s revolutionary approach to phenomenology, psychoanalysis, structuralism, linguistics, and indeed the entire European tradition of philosophy―called deconstruction―changed the face of criticism.

First referenced at 37:06

Notes on the State of Virginia 

Jefferson’s chronicle of the natural, social, and political history of Virginia is at once a scientific discourse, an attempt to define America, and a brilliant examination of the idea of freedom.


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