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My Mother, Public Seminar, and Donald Trump, with an Assist from Red Foxx

The Life of the Mind Online

As I end the week of mourning for my mother, I am beginning to think again about the larger world, now in her absence. Over the past weeks, both before and after I heard her last breath, my thoughts have been focused on my mother’s life, the way she lived, and the way the people responded to her. Pearl Goldfarb was a good person, and people noticed, particularly as she revealed herself through her gorgeous smile.

Now, I am thinking about the world as life continues, remembering her. I am back in my study, even if a bit shakier than usual. To my great satisfaction, the Public Seminar team has kept up its good work.  I am particularly impressed with how PS has helped me reengage the world. The intelligence of posts of the last two weeks guide me back. I am gratified by the work of my colleagues and the way my vision for an intellectual platform is being realized. But beyond that, I am able, visiting our site, to go beyond my family concerns and try to understand the world as it has become.

There were great pieces on the perplexing problems of gender and sexuality, from reflections on singlehood, to illuminating reflections on history, gender, and manners in public life as they revolve around the term “ladies,” and also including a telling letter on who goes to jail for sex crimes. 

Our roundtable on Adorno’s essay on fascist propaganda, as part of our fascism old and new series, reveals a way to confront the perplexing situation we now find ourselves in. Each essay uses Adorno, and Freud, as they were thinking about the horrors of the twentieth century to make sense of the emerging horrors of our century. 

A great interview of a great novelist and activist illuminates the continuing challenges of race and racism in America, and a noble struggle to overcome them. And then there were two more pieces that critically consider deep political and theoretical problems in the shadows of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia, past and present (see here and here).  (Coming soon, I hope, a small book published by Public Seminar on the response to the racism revealed in Charlottesville.)

And two pieces on the question of liberal democracy were particularly helpful as I think  about how the political ground upon which my most fundamental political commitments are based – a free public life, the rule of law and representative democracy – is softening. Populist interests in constitutions must be taken seriously, and when a political figure, such as John McCain, speaks eloquently about the importance of the basic principles of democratic life, his remarks should be welcomed, even if you disagree with him on most political issues.

These pieces on gender and sexuality, fascism, and race and racism, and the institutional and cultural foundations of democracy enable me to think about pressing substantive problems of our dark times, but as I do so I loop back to my memories of my mother.

She was profoundly offended and confused by Trump and the people who voted for him. She often asked: “Jeffrey, how is this possible? What is going to happen? What should we do?” I would try to answer, but couldn’t to her satisfaction, or mine.

But sometimes dark humor helps us. A nurse (who had become her friend, like so many others who assisted her in her final months) and mom would share their fantasy that someone should shoot him. Of course, they didn’t really mean it. I warned them that saying such things aloud is not allowed. I would then tell them of my thoughts about the Supreme Court during the Obama years, that I wouldn’t be overly sad if one of the conservative Justices met his end, sooner rather than later. I suggested to them that it is safer to speak in this way.

I shared this story with family around my mother’s bed last week. My sister’s husband recalled Red Foxx’s prayer for the Governor Wallace, as performed by Ray Scott. 

Humor, especially of the most biting sort, is one way that we manage to live through dark times, both public and private.

Also for you:

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb

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