The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues
SEPT 2020 Issue
Publisher's Message

Dear Friends and Readers,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Love is not consolation. It is light.” — Simone Weil

“Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us; shedding light over this world can alone help us.” — Walt Whitman

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” — Mahtma Gandhi

What have we learned from the 2020 DNC (Democratic National Convention August 17–20) at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the RNC (Republican National Convention August 24–27), which was held at the Charlotte Convention Center, the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other remote venues, all held virtually except for the live speeches of Donald J. Trump and his last selected company that were staged in front of 1,500 supporters on the South Lawn of the White House?

Again, the extremity of contrast between both political parties is intensely visible. While on the one hand Joe Biden and his supporting cast have amplified the mere exhaustion of Trump’s divisive policies, hence proposing pathways toward unification. Among other critical issues, including immigration, climate change, and global warming, racial justice and Trump’s failure of handling COVID-19 were prominently communicated front and center. Trump and his ensemble, on the other hand, praised their own accomplishment of a record-high economy, while deploying the “law and order” tactic as a means of restoring security and safety in the midst of endless protests and police shootings of Black people across the country. What do we each come away with? How can we identify with what was being said as the most discernible memorandums?

First of all, ever since Trump’s claim during his first term he has built the greatest economy in the last 50 years, for those of us who were compelled to seek real facts, we’ve discovered that the numbers that showed the average quarterly economic growth under Trump, 2.5 percent, were almost identical to the 2.4 percent under Obama’s second term. What was considered economic growth (initiated by Obama) provided Trump’s continuation, even if Trump himself would deny he didn’t inherit from our former president. Besides Trump accusing Biden, his fellow running mate Kamala Harris, and their fellow Democrats of being radical socialists (which is untrue since among the 24 candidates for President only Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont identified himself as a Democratic Socialist), he didn’t have any coherent criticism of Biden. There was essentially nothing new in Trump’s re-election policy apart from recalibrating the same-old Trump as an insurgent of 2016 rather than the incumbent of 2020. Even at the expense of Trump’s usual deployment of speed as means to intensify chaos and fear among us, as the convicted war criminal Hermann Göring, the commander-in-chief of the Nazi Luftwaffe (air force) said in one interview during the Nuremberg Trials, before taking a potassium cyanide capsule the night before he was to be hanged,

Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. And it is always a simple matter to drag people along, where it is the democracy of a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship…Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Trump’s endless recreations, reduplications, representations, reenactments—one can even say his “simulacrum”—and whatnot seem to be from an old nostalgia handbook on how to relive the past when things were peaceful and prosperous.

Secondly, Trump should know that most Americans, if not all, are aware of their own history that their very own grandparents and ancestors had spent their lives fighting against any form or shape of monarchy and totalitarianism. That was the sole reason why they came to the US in the first place, and people are still aspiring to come to this country, for however fragile it is in its ideal of democracy, which requires constant self-correction as it does at this moment more than ever before, everyone was and is, as it seems to be, committed to this remarkable perpetual experimentation. Reinvention is the absolute and indispensable condition that has always been associated with the present and even more with the future, not recreation or any form or shape of replicating the past. In short, in spite of the annoyance of the “breaking news” that seems to apply to all the mainstream media, most Americans, if not all at this moment in time—this critical and profound time which evokes the memories of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Anti-war, Civil Rights, and Women’s Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and even more dangerously to McCarthyism of the 1950s—are ready to face the facts of reality: one, COVID-19 has taken over 183,000 American lives, which is more than those who died at Pearl Harbor (2,403), on 9/11 (2,977), in the Iraq War (4,424), in Afghanistan (2,372), among others, in total. This is to say, as much as the reality TV theatrics Trump has mustered to recycle Richard Nixon’s 1968 “law and order,” it won’t materialize, for Nixon pronounced to deliver his “law and order” epistle as his promise to restore calmness once he took office, as opposed to Trump, who, on June 1, 2020, amid the George Floyd protests in Washington, DC, ordered law enforcement officers to use tear gas, pepper spray, and physical force upon peaceful protesters to clear the path for Trump, his daughter Ivanka, and his sycophantic accomplices (including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley) to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he held up the Bible and posed for a photo op in front of the church’s parish house. Lastly, as the Chinese proverb says, “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” Trump’s insistence on building walls as his one-trick pony won’t be able to restore the chaos he has created from the very beginning.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have felt the turning of the pendulum. Knowing the Democrats’ long history of racial justice, including Harry S. Truman’s executive order 9981 (issued on July 26, 1948) which led to the ending of segregation in the services during the Korean War (1950–1953), and Lyndon B. Johnson’s passing of the landmark Civil Rights Acts of 1964, they must mediate the right balance between security and freedom, for as the late Polish-British sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman (1925–2017) has said, security without freedom is slavery and freedom without security is utter chaos. Similarly, their message of police reform should be clearly articulated, not to defund policing but rather to re-direct the funds and other governmental resources to rebuilding our education system while reasserting the indispensable roles of the sciences, the arts, and the humanities, accessible as they were during the Great Depression. All of which will heal the soul of this nation.

In solidarity, onward and upward,

Phong H. Bui

P.S. This issue is dedicated to both the extraordinary and astonishing life and work of John Lewis (1940–2020), whose legacy as an American statesmen and Civil Rights leader has paved the way for our love and care of the extreme fragility of this country’s self-correcting democracy, and Ron Gorchov (1930–2020), whose exploration of reverie has profoundly ordained endless possibilities that live between invention and discovery, form and substance, restraint and constraint, soul and spirit. Our generation and the next generation of cultural workers will be forever grateful to what they have left for us.

We’d also like to welcome Bryan Doerries, Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), and Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper as our new Editors-at-Large, as well as our new Designer, Tuan Quoc Pham, the new Co-Editors of our theater section, Billy McEntee and Yan Chen, and our new Production Assistant, Anya Bernstein. Welcome to our living organism! We thank Madeleine Cravens, Miko Jeffries, and Mike Tully for their dedication to the Rail and wish them great success in their graduate studies, as well as Everett Narciso and Claudio Ortiz Ortega as they embark on new journeys.


Phong Bui

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


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues