Today I read a pair of blogposts and attached articles analyzing Toni Morrison/Paradiso that I felt would go together wonderfully.
The first was by Hannah, and included this article describing in Zhizekian terms how tyrants create their oppressive regimes. To summarize: the tyrants create an evil other, which they give responsibility for all their nation’s problems, (problems usually caused by themselves.) they then set about violently destroying that other. I feel that Toni Morrison’s application of this methodology within Paradiso is blatant and twofold. first, the obvious assault on the covenant. Second, 8rock’s ostracizing of any family or person with lighter skin, up to letting a pregnant woman die with her baby for that reason. “Even with their wives begging they came up with excuses because they looked down on you,” (197.)
The second post was by Taylor, and covered Toni Morrion’s usage of scapegoats within Paradise. She describes how Toni Morrison creates discourse on the use of scapegoats to oppress women and other minorities. I’ve found that scapegoating, as described by Morrison and analyzed by Taylor, makes a good term for the process described within Hannah’s article.
Now, I want to add a new element to this scapegoating. This is the destructive aspect, caused by a society ignoring its actual problems to focus on its scapegoat. Taylor asked me if her analysis rang any bells. It did. I’ll start with this quote by deep southern blue dog turned liberal President Lyndon B. Johnson: “If you convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Ruby is a town on the slide. The town’s community is divided into a row between young and old over the state of the inscription on their beloved oven. The town itself is described as entering economic and social decline, what with families producing less and less children, and having internal conflicts. As symbolism, on the night of the Convent raid, Morrison describes how the rain makes the oven slide off its foundations. “Shortly after the men have left Sargent’s place…The impacted ground on which it rests is undermined.” (287) This is Morrison’s symbolism for the results of their ignoring Ruby’s own flaws, caused by their ignorance and hatred, they are pursuing their scapegoat. Ruby is being destroyed right beneath their feet and they don’t notice for want of their hunt. Now, where can we apply Toni Morrison’s analysis to the modern world?
In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidency on the backs of the white working class. This was despite the fact that he’s proven to buy against the working class, meaning that they voted against their own interests. How did he do this? Well, to start, the white working class is in economic ruins and heroin epidemic, having been left behind by both ruling political establishment. Trump gave them scapegoats to vent their rage over. One of these was the illegal immigrants, with his inflated claims on the impact of illegal immigration on the jobs market, border wall, and mass deportation policies. Another was his ‘drain the swamp’ promise to remove the establishment politicians.* In essence, the white working class hated the establishment, and Trump promised to burn it down for them. Now Trump’s cabinet is full of business insiders and nepotism, the kind of corporate whores he promised to fight against. Trump successfully used a tyrant’s surrogate plan to be elected to Presidency. Toni Morrison warns us about the outcome of such ignorance going unchecked: the gradual decline of our nation as its real social/economic problems go ignored in favor of destructively pursuing scapegoats.
*Clinton gave him a lot of help in that pursuit, but that’s a different article. #Bernie