U.S. Intellectual History Blog

I’ve got nothing but Thinky Thoughts for you today; or, a day on the edge of Trump’s America.

Unforeseen obstacles (and, to be honest, poor planning) has resulted in neither of my two ideas for a post today panning out. It has now been an hour of me sitting here rummaging through my mind for a coherent idea but…nothing. I’ve got a whole lot of shards of glass, however, so rather than come up short two weeks in a row, I’m going to wing it. I apologize ahead of time.

So let’s set the scene for this flow of consciousness. I am seated in front of a Starbucks – and I mean right in front of a Starbucks, as the picture below testifies to. Behind me is a sea of cars, of course. I have headphones in my ears because the young man to my left is having a conference call with people who sound like they are his employees. (Ah, the mobility and intimacy of small business in the age of neoliberalism.) My Pandora station is on the Bach station, which creates an eerie effect every time something tinged with Gregorian Chants come on and I glance up at one of the most overwhelming and omnipresent corporate logos of our time. Mammon, you are our God.

It is a beautiful day, and watching people walk by in their black leggings and earth-colored cardigans one would never know that the breaking news story the day before confirmed that the Attorney General of the United States perjured himself in front of Congress a few weeks ago and that the fact that he undeniably got caught red handed matters not a whit to the administration nor to the millions of people who will support Trump and his cronies till the bitter, apocalyptic end. (As I write this, the conference call dude finally leaves, sparing me from having to listen to Pachelbel’s Cannon for the fifteenth time.)

But this is California and, even more to the point, Davis. There is perhaps no better place in the country to contemplate how spaces construct and constrain our political consciousness – this place is not only pleasant, but pleasant in a way that even underemployed PhDs who write snarky blog posts can appreciate. True, there is a Starbucks in front of me and a parking lot behind me right now, but move downtown and you’ll enjoy a plethora of locally owned businesses on narrow streets with more bikes than cars. Outside of my favorite coffee shop – where I can be found sitting during nice weather about five days out of the week – my Miniature Schnauzer Maverick enjoys a minor celebrity status, the cafe owner often referring to him as “the perfect dog.” I feel like it is a real community and I, a real community member.

That’s a privilege, however. I’ve long known that for many people of color, Davis can be an oppressively white space, in culture especially rather than mere demographics. I’ve twice overheard black people talking about getting pulled over with every trip to Davis, and those same local business owners who create such charming storefronts penned an article last year complaining about the lazy, spoiled homeless people who are impacting their businesses negatively by, well, existing visibly. At least Maverick’s admirer was not one of the signatories to that petition of shame, but this is setting the bar pretty low.

Back to where we are. Two women behind me are talking about their respective modeling careers. One is relaying a story about when she was about 10 and had the misfortune of dealing with a younger model half her age who would simply not sit still and passively follow directions. “I guess she was only five or six though,” she notes. “Still,” her friend replies, “if they were paying her that much she should have behaved. Some 6 year olds can understand the value of money.” I stare back up at the looming Starbucks logo.

Yes, I’m a horrible eavesdropper – or a very good one, depending on your stance on eavesdropping. Actually one of my two ideas for a real post this week was on the feeling historians get to have sometimes of being a fly on the wall, whether it’s through reading private correspondence or transcripts of semi-casual conversations, as was the case with the conference discussion transcript that gave me the idea in the first place. I actually think there is a lot to munch on there; what portion of historians chose their vocation at least partially out of a thirst for gossip that extends over both time and space?; but writing that post would have required me to, once again, talk about Moynihan being Moynihan and quite frankly, I’m not sure I can bring myself to do that unless it is absolutely required for the sake of my book project. That man just exhausts me.

If this was a movie, I would suddenly overhear someone discussing how the culture of poverty is the real problem in black communities and I would sink into a hole of despair that would nonetheless provide an excellent way to wrap up this wandering post. But instead I’ll just close it off awkwardly, sitting here in front of Starbucks surrounded by ambiguity, enjoying the sunshine while simultaneously always wondering how long it will last.