The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

All Issues
MAR 2020 Issue
Publisher's Message

Dear Friends and Readers,

“Knowledge is not a guarantee of good political behavior, but ignorance is a virtual guarantee of bad behavior.” — Martha Nussbaum

“Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.” — Bryan Stevenson

It’s impossible these days not to be reminded of American politics as a perpetual and iconic swing of the pendulum: if it swings too far to the left, it will inevitably swing too far to the right. However way we’d like to think of the country as an ongoing experiment of democracy, we can’t help but notice at some point in the pendulum's swing that it has more kinetic energy, while at other points, it has more potential energy. We also know at this point in time that no working system is ideal––no pendulum can swing forever simply because friction will eventually bring it to a stop. Hence, we can all agree the US election depends so much on the energy of the candidate, and how they inject that energy back into the system, not unlike how a grandfather clock needs to be rewound every few days. We’ve come to realize the strength of the Republican party, once they identified Trump as their energy-of-choice, is unquestionable unity. Trump may be their last hope and advancement of an even-whiter-male party, knowing that white supremacy drives his platform, and the Republican party is willing to rally under this appalling rhetoric.

All the while, the Democratic party doesn’t seem to comprehend whatsoever the aphorism: “Self-discipline is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, even when you don’t feel like doing it.” At the moment the Democratic party seems like a soccer team whose entire team is chasing after the ball with no strategy. Where is the team’s unity, we wonder? And come November 3rd, could we survive another four years of Trump and his “politics of eternity” (to borrow Timothy Snyder’s term), which essentially is the sole policy of implementing nostalgia of past glory as a psychological mechanism against Americans, while suppressing facts to amplify fear of the future’s uncertainty.

The question is: would John Dewey’s idea of “participatory democracy” or Jürgen Habermas’s “public sphere” be effective if activated? The answer is yes, with clear goals instead of perpetually arguing amongst each other to prove who is more intelligent. We don’t have time to marvel over postmodern leftism, which has for far too long created a high pedestal on which cultural politics is placed instead of real politics. The seductive desire to elevate political philosophy over political action among educated groups––however small or insular they may choose to be––is so far removed from real life and from working-class Americans. We’ve already witnessed the election of Donald Trump as a choice by many nonsuburban voters feeling they have been isolated from politics; as Richard Rorty wrote in 1998, “The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for––someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.”

More than ever, we need to come together based on our common goals and work together to confront racial discrimination against African Americans and Americans of color; to end mass incarceration; to acknowledge we, Americans, are all immigrants; to address the imminent crisis of our environment, our planet. The time is now, and the most productive action we can take, while being mindful of the forthcoming election date, is to rally all of our friends, especially those from the sciences, arts, and humanities. It’s time for us all, especially our professor friends, their colleagues, and their respective students (undergraduate, graduate, even PhD) from all disciplines in every college and university across the land to reactivate Dewey’s “participatory democracy” and Habermas’s “public sphere,” from which an exchange of progressive ideas that have been cultivated by scientific thinking, artistic inventions, and other explorations of creative freedom can mediate action through inclusive platforms of urgent social and political issues. As many of us have had the privilege to grow and foster our own intellectual or artistic interests (which at times may require complete removal from our social lives), we can certainly participate by creating multiple platforms for these interests to cross-pollinate so that the potential transference from the personal to the universal, the private to the public is assertively warranted. Just as a scientist, engineer, or architect in their laboratory or study discovers a new innovation, a new composite, or a new design that leads to new life forms and demonstrate how to build a better world, similarly by vocation, a philosopher, poet, writer, historian (of art or other disciplines), composer, musician, choreographer, dancer, filmmaker (or filmer, as Jonas Mekas preferred), painter, sculptor, performing artist, and so on question why we need new life forms and what it means to live in a better world. In other words, the arts and humanities provide us the context and wisdom of our existence. While it's the sciences that need to be structured logically, the arts and the humanities aspire to open the realm of the imagination; the unification of all is imminent as our culture continues to be under the threat of the self-serving aggression of a dictatorial government. Self-corrective democracy must prevail.

In solidarity, onward and upward,

Phong H. Bui

P.S. We’re honored to welcome Susan Harris and Paul Lachman as new members of the Rail’s Board of Directors. Their intelligence and energy will undoubtedly fuel the fire of our passion and commitment to keep the Rail inclusive and free forever. We’d also like to thank Matthew Forker for the dedication and hard work he provided as a Production Assistant, and are confident he will continue his work as a musician with skill and success. We’re thrilled to welcome Emily Dean, Miko Jeffries, Malvika Jolly, and Riley Mang as our new Production Assistants, and look forward to their contributions to the Rail’s living organism.


Phong Bui

Phong H. Bui is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

All Issues