Stephen Miller Is Even Worse Than You Thought

Stephen Miller is a bad person. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 3.0)

In case you were previously unaware, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller is soulless human garbage in a suit and shouldn’t have a role anywhere near the President of the United States. But Donald Trump is our president, Miller has been one of the longest-tenured members of his administration, and here we are.

You may not know much about Miller other than that he has a receding hairline and pretty much every photo of him makes him look like an insufferable dick. He also can claim the dubious honor of having his own uncle call out his hypocritical douchebaggery in an essay that made the rounds online. His own uncle. Let that sink in for a moment.

Of course, resting bitch face and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do behavior do not a monster necessarily make. Promoting white nationalist propaganda and conspiracy theories, obsessing over conceptions of “racial identity,” and invoking Hitlerian attitudes on immigration, though, are more conclusive signs.

In a series of E-mails between Miller and Breitbart News editors first leaked to the Southern Law Poverty Center by Katie McHugh, a former editor at Breitbart, the depth of Miller’s affinity for white nationalism is laid bare. SLPC’s Hatewatch blog, in reviewing more than 900 E-mails which span from March 2015 to June 2016, characterizes the subject matter of these messages as “strikingly narrow,” unsympathetic, and biased. Regarding immigration, Miller focused only on limiting if not ending nonwhite immigration to the United States. That’s it.

To this effect, Miller’s correspondence included but was not limited to these delightful exchanges and messages:

  • Sending McHugh stories from white nationalist websites known for promulgating the “white genocide” theory as well as those emphasizing crimes committed by nonwhites and espousing anti-Muslim views
  • Recommending Camp of the Saints, a 1973 novel depicting the destruction of Western civilization through mass immigration of nonwhites, as a point of comparison to real-world immigration and refugeeism trends
  • Pushing stories lamenting the loss of cultural markers like the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments
  • Embracing restrictive American immigration policies of yesteryear, the likes of which were based on eugenics theory and were referenced favorably in Mein Kampf
  • Offering original conspiracy theories as to why the “ruinous” history of the Hart-Celler Act wasn’t covered in “elitist” publications

Hatewatch also revisited Miller’s history with prominent white nationalist figures to provide context for these E-mails. Specifically, Miller has connections to Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, a white supremacist website, and Richard Spencer, like, the poster child for white nationalism and the alt-right, from his time at Duke. He and Spencer worked together to organize a debate between Brimelow and journalist/professor Peter Laufer on immigration across our southern border. Miller has sought to refute this relationship, but Spencer has acknowledged their familiarity with one another in passing. Miller’s denial is, as far as the SPLC is concerned, implausible.

As noted, these E-mails are several years old and his time at Duke yet further back. Still, not only are these messages not that far behind us, but Miller’s fingerprints are all over Trump’s immigration policy directives. As Hatewatch has also documented, Miller was one of the strongest advocates for the “zero tolerance” policy which saw a spike in family separations at the border with Mexico, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there. In addition, alongside Steve Bannon, he was a chief architect of the so-called “travel ban,” which is a Muslim ban in everything but the name.

Again, as the leaked E-mails and SPLC’s additional context hint at, there is a path to these policies in Miller’s past associations. As recently as 2014, he attended an event for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative foundation which traffics in Islamophobia, introducing his then-boss Jeff Sessions as a speaker.

There’s his involvement with the Center for Immigration Studies, too, a anti-immigrant think tank (if you can call it that; the inclusion of the word “think” seems like a stretch) whose very founders subscribed to white nationalist and eugenicist world views and of which misleading/false claims about immigrant crime are a mainstay. Miller was a keynote speaker at a CIS conference in 2015 and has repeatedly cited CIS reports in publicly defending Trump administration policy directives.

As always, one can’t know for sure how many of Miller’s professed beliefs are true to what he believes deep down. After all, he, like any number of modern conservative grifters, may simply be leveraging the prejudices of everyday Americans as a means of bolstering his own profile.

Ultimately, however, as with his current employer, it is immaterial what he truly believes. His words and (mis)deeds shared with the outside world are what matter, and the zeal with which he has pursued bigoted, racist, and xenophobic policies and rhetoric conveys the sense he really means it. Like the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Stephen Miller walks like a racist and quacks like a racist. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.


At this writing, 107 Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Mike Coffman, a House Republican, have called for Stephen Miller’s resignation or firing. It’s not just members of Congress either. Over 50 civil rights groups, including Jewish organizations (Miller is Jewish), have likewise condemned Miller’s bigotry. Predictably, the White House has used these calls for the senior adviser’s head as fodder for charges of anti-Semitism, much as the man himself has tried to use his faith as a shield from criticism in the past.

The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, though. You can be a Jew and still suffer from prejudice. None of us are immune herein regardless of our religious or political beliefs. Besides, the nature of the White House’s defense obscures the intent of the growing resignation demand. This isn’t a bunch of totalitarian leftists trying to exploit the E-mail leak as political weaponry. Miller has given his critics across the political spectrum plenty of ammunition throughout his tenure in the Trump administration. The leak is just the racist, Islamophobic straw that broke the camel’s back.

Does all of this outrage matter, though? Will President Donald Trump turn a deaf ear to the controversy surrounding Miller, more concerned with his own concerns over his ongoing impeachment inquiry? Would he consider keeping Miller in his present role just to signify his stubborn will and/or to “own the libs?”

It’s hard to say. On one hand, some of the worst crooks and liars have seemed to do the best (that is, last the longest) in the Trump administration. Betsy DeVos is still carrying water for Trump as Secretary of Education despite a history of evidenced incompetence and notions she, like Trump, is using her position to enrich herself. Kellyanne Conway continues to be employed despite being a professional author of “alternative facts.” And don’t even get me started about Jared Kushner. If that guy has any personality or foreign policy know-how worth sharing, it is unknown to the rest of Planet Earth.

So, yeah, Stephen Miller is a natural fit for the Trump White House and this bit of public outrage may just be a blip on the radar of his career as a political influencer. Then again, it may not. While several Trump administration officials have resigned, Trump has let the ax fall on occasion. Among the figures identified by CNN as either “fired” or “pushed out” are high-profile names like Jeff Sessions (Attorney General and Miller’s one-time employer), John Bolton (National Security Adviser), John Kelly (White House Chief of Staff), Michael Flynn (also National Security Adviser), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), and Steve Bannon (White House Chief Strategist), not to mention holdovers from the Obama administration like Andrew McCabe (FBI Deputy Director), James Comey (FBI Director), and Sally Yates (Deputy Attorney General). Heck, Anthony Scaramucci only lasted 10 days as White House Communications Director.

When not striking a defiant tone, Trump and Co. have also exhibited a sensitivity to low public support. That zero-tolerance immigration policy championed by Miller which will forever serve as a black mark on an already-checkered American legacy? It has been formally ended, though it has been reported that children continue to be separated by their parents and logistical problems facing the reunification of families remain. Alas, nothing goes smoothly with this administration, especially not when cruelty is on the agenda.

The president has additionally and vocally wavered on Syria, not only with respect to withdrawal of troops but whether to support the Kurds fighting there or to roll out the proverbial red carpet for Erdogan and Turkey after widespread bipartisan condemnation of abandoning our allies there. Trump’s not a smart man, but he can tell when the prevailing sentiment is against him. (Hint: If the chowderheads at Fox & Friends and 2019’s version of Lindsey Graham are disagreeing with you, you know you screwed up.)

All this adds up to the idea Stephen Miller’s job may not be as safe as we might imagine. Whatever the outcome, the pressure for him to be fired or resign should continue as long as he is one of the worst examples of what the Trump White House has to offer and one of the ugliest Americans in recent memory given his personally- and professionally-stated beliefs. As his leaked correspondence with Katie McHugh shows, Miller is even worse than we thought. It’s time to get him out before he does any more damage to the country than he already has.

Guys, Stop Being So Mean to the Billionaires

Guys, stop insisting billionaires pay more taxes. You big meanies. (Photo Credit: Jim Gillooly/PEI/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

On behalf of the billionaires of the United States of America, I would like to request that you, the reader, refrain from any talk of a wealth tax or tax increase on the super-rich.

While we’re at it, you should abandon all notions of supporting the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. None of this is politically feasible, and what’s more, you’d be taxing job creators, thereby hurting employment and the U.S. economy. In other words, just go back to enjoying the status quo.

You big meanies.

Dispensing with that bit of pretense, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty sick and tired of billionaires telling us what we can and can’t do in a political sense and why taxing them “to the hilt,” to borrow their verbiage, is so blatantly unfair.

The intertwined issues of personal finances, wealth, and taxation have gained new resonance with the entry of Michael Bloomberg into the 2020 presidential race. Evidently, having one billionaire on the Democratic side of things already (Tom Steyer) isn’t enough.

Also, there’s the matter of safeguarding certain ideologies. With progressives Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders more than relevant in the Democratic primary and Joe “I Got Along Fine with Segregationists” Biden not the sure bet to win the nomination that some establishment Dems might have envisioned at the start of his candidacy, Bloomberg’s late-start bid can be seen as the last gasp of old-guard centrists trying to cement their place in the American political landscape. You know, unless Hillary Clinton jumps in too, which in that case, just go ahead, shoot me, and be merciful. I just don’t think I can bear to watch that a reprise of that fiasco.

Because money equates to power and political influence, Bloomberg is not the only billionaire who is wont to gripe about plans to claw back dollars from the super-rich or lament Sen. Warren’s ascendancy in polls and have media outlets ready to listen. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, when recently asked about Warren’s proposed “ultra-millionaire tax,” joked about how much he’d have left under such a policy. Gates also highlighted how much he has already paid in taxes as well as given in a philanthropic sense, effectually debating whether or not a tax hike might depress charitable contributions.

All kidding aside, Gates realistically has more money than he or his family will ever need. The notion Warren’s tax plan or that of any similar framework could jeopardize his finances or his ability to donate is absurd. What’s yet worse is his response or lack thereof to a question about whether he would vote for Donald Trump’s re-election over Warren or any other Democratic candidate. For someone who has slammed Trump and his policies in the past, Gates appears to be putting his money where his critical mouth and thinking should be. The result is not a good one.

Before Gates cracked wise about being placed into a whole new tax bracket, there was former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who not only has similarly derided Warren’s ultra-millionaire tax as “ridiculous,” but once had visions of a presidential run dancing in his head as he went on a promotional book tour. Schultz’s “run” ended before it began, seemingly generating more scorn than praise from the general public. Hell, the man didn’t even make it past September.

Schultz’s decision to mount or not mount a campaign certainly garnered a lot of media attention prior to his opting for the latter, however, if for no other reason than the existential dread which accompanied the possibility, even if remote, that he might vie for president as an independent. And while he may have been heckled at stops on his tour and ratioed on Twitter, news of his political contemplation made the rounds on cable news and in major newspapers in much more favorable terms.

His both-sides-ing of Democrats and Republicans despite the GOP harboring honest-to-goodness white supremacists earned him not condemnation, but a platform by which to dispense his ridiculous comparisons. As it does too often these days, the world of political punditry largely failed to diagnose Schultz’s shortcomings prior to his abandonment of his aspirations for the time being. Though if you’ve been paying attention to the Bret Stephenses and the Donny Deutsches of the world, this may come as no great shock to you.

Which brings us now to Michael Bloomberg, presidential candidate, who has derided the GND as “pie-in-the-sky,” has insisted M4A will “bankrupt the country,” and who possesses a—shall we say—complicated political legacy dating back to his time as mayor of New York City, including but not limited to his repeated switches away from and later back toward the Democratic Party, his push to extend the city’s term limits law so he could serve a third term in office, and his support for much-criticized policies such as stop-and-frisk. In many respects, he appears to be out of step with his chosen party of the moment, not to mention prospective Democratic voters.

Try telling to this to the talking heads at MSNBC, however. In an on-air segment shortly after Bloomberg’s filing to get his name on the Alabama Democratic primary ballot, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd rather nauseatingly argued that Bloomberg is not only a “serious contender,” but is among the more progressive candidates on the core issues appealing to leftists. Bernie Sanders already had fired shots at Bloomberg’s candidacy, saying that the former NYC mayor “ain’t gonna buy this election.” Tom Steyer, fellow billionaire, suggested Bloomberg should agree to the idea of a wealth tax if he were serious about running for president. Todd’s own panel guests didn’t even seem to be buying this analysis.

And yet, here was Todd, trying to make the case for Bloomberg because of his, um, supposed appeal to suburban Republicans? While I’m all for Chuck Todd embarrassing himself on live television, these talking points do nothing but insult the intelligence of the viewer. Michael Bloomberg is a “serious” candidate because of his personal finances. End of story. He may have better electoral prospects than his successor, Bill de Blasio, but that’s not saying much considering de Blasio (who doesn’t believe Bloomberg should be running in the first place, by the by) ended his run not long after Howard Schultz suspended his ill-fated quest for glory in 2020. In an era in which the status quo is being scrutinized and flat-out rejected, Bloomberg seems like a prototypical bad candidate. All this before we get to his past comments on women and alleged inappropriate conduct toward them, which make him look like the center-left’s version of Trump. This is who Democratic Party supporters should back?

Ah, but this is what privilege looks like. It affords you ample opportunity to publicly lament the concept of a wealth tax and have other people give you free press and do your dirty work trying to convince the public of your legitimacy for you. It gives you a ticket to the dance without having to do any of the hard work of building a political profile or raising the funds to mount a campaign. It lets you create a toxic work environment that encourages the open objectification of female employees and emboldens male leadership to make sexual advances and inappropriate comments with impunity. The potential loss of this privilege and criticism of the above may be interpreted by people like Bloomberg as unfairness. But it’s a bit of the scales tipping in the other direction—and perhaps they haven’t tipped quite far enough yet.


For a progressive like myself, what is so frustrating about the existence of presidential wannabes like Michael Bloomberg and Howard Schultz—aside from the notion they are glaring examples of why we need to get big money out of politics—is that they only serve to amplify the voices of other centrists like them, making the case to Americans that there is no way we can achieve the kinds of policies the Bernie Sanderses and Elizabeth Warrens of the world envision. They’re too unrealistic. They’d be a disaster for the country. They’re akin to the pony that children ask for for their birthdays or Christmas. You’re not a child, are you, prospective voter?

Presumably, Bloomberg and Schultz are smart men. They might be prone to delusions of grandeur, mind you, but who isn’t from time to time? But yes, this is why their take on issues like the environment and health care are so disappointing. If someone like Bloomberg is such a visionary leader, why can’t he think of a way to make initiatives like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All work?

For that matter, why can’t other moderates see the light? In mathematics, students are taught to work backwards to solve problems. Sure, the potential solutions for the United States might be more complex than with a sixth-grader’s homework. The mechanism, though, is the same. Before saying no to an idea, why not play around with it? What meaningful societal advancement has ever arisen from defeatist capitulation?

The obvious complication herein, of course, is that Bloomberg and others may be aware of how to work to solve these problems, but actively choose to ignore these avenues. Then again, maybe they simply are blinded by a mindset that refuses to let them envision the full range of possibilities. One might argue that there are no conditions by which men like Bloomberg and Schultz could appreciate the big picture. They are so far removed from what life is like for average Americans they simply can’t acknowledge their situations.

Sure, this critique can be leveled at politicians of all make and model to a lesser or greater degree; Bernie supporter that I am, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that he is a millionaire in his own right on the strength of his book sales. For the likes of these billionaires, however, it rings especially true. What’s more, it can’t be ruled out that they aren’t panning Elizabeth Warren’s ultra-millionaire tax out of self-serving interest. Even when they have more money than God like Bill Gates does.

Could Michael Bloomberg make an impact on the 2020 presidential race? Perhaps. Is he what America needs, though? No, and you can bet Donald Trump is licking his chops at the prospect of facing him in the general election. Democrats, there’s too much at stake to entertain thoughts of what President Bloomberg might do for the country.

Sorry to be such a meanie about it.

Facebook Is Not Your Friend

Mark Zuckerberg invoked the iconic figures of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. when defending why his company will allow political candidates to lie with reckless abandon. Wait, what? (Photo Credit: Anthony Quintano/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Q: What kind of company views the very existence of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign as an “existential threat?”

A: Facebook, and the doom-and-gloom terms in which it frames this discussion tell you all you need to know about whose side it’s on.

What’s Mark Zuckerberg and Co.’s bugaboo about the progressive Democrat’s candidacy? Senator Warren doesn’t seem like the most physically imposing character. Could one woman really represent that much of a danger to a corporation worth billions of dollars?

Well, if she becomes President of the United States, perhaps. As a Democratic senator from the state of Massachusetts, Warren has built a profile championing corporate accountability and emphasizing standing up for the rights of end users of companies’ goods and services. Despite Joe Biden’s attempt to take credit for it in the most recent Democratic presidential debate, her signature achievement heretofore is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creation explicitly and singularly devoted to safeguarding average Americans in their solicitation of financial services.

On a related note, Warren has been a vocal critic of Wells Fargo and its executive leadership, memorably grilling then-CEO John Stumpf in 2016 during a Senate Banking Committee hearing about the banking giant’s underhanded business practices and later advocating for the institution to remain under a growth cap imposed by the Fed until it can evidence a willingness to comply with standards of equitable behavior. Seeing as Wells Fargo has seen a revolving door at the top since then and still languishes under an asset restriction, it appears her concerns are more than warranted.

Broadly speaking then, Elizabeth Warren represents a desire to more directly regulate corporate America, including the tech sector, distinguishing herself from rival Bernie Sanders as an adherent of capitalism rather than a self-described democratic socialist. For Facebook, meanwhile, an organization predicated on selling and manipulating user data which might have and should have faced stronger repercussions for the breadth of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, this does not compute.

Understandably, monoliths like Amazon, Facebook, and Google don’t wish to have their size or power circumscribed. The same applies to the big banks, who have met likewise with Sen. Sanders’s ire and calls for separation of their traditional banking elements and more speculative financial services. How Facebook is going about trying to resist demands for greater accountability, however, deserves every bit of admonishment and scrutiny.

Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Digital Platforms & Democracy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School and former adviser to both Facebook and the Obama administration, is one of the growing lot who believes it’s time for Facebook to be more strictly regulated. Ghosh’s sentiments come on the heels of an announcement by the social media titan that it won’t censor or even fact-check politicians despite the notion these ads may contain false or misleading claims.

To be fair, actors across the political spectrum are prone to false or misleading content in their political advertisements; Sen. Warren’s campaign, for a bit of shock value, recently led its own Facebook ad with the notion that Zuckerberg and Facebook had endorsed Donald Trump for re-election before admitting within the same space that that wasn’t literally true. (In response, the Facebook Newsroom Twitter account sent a rebuke of sorts referencing the ad, which is vaguely astonishing in itself.) Nonetheless, when a policy shift clearly benefits lying liars who lie such as Trump, such a move gives pause.

Let’s get one thing straight: Donald Trump is not a smart man, but he ain’t no dummy either. This is to say that he knows how to take advantage of an institution which helps his bottom line, and his campaign has exploited Facebook’s refusal to remove disingenuous political content with heavy investment in advertising through this medium as well as Google. While Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s alleged malfeasance have been a frequent target of Trump’s scorn—even though there is no evidence to suggest the Bidens have done anything improper and, ahem, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones—the falsehoods and rules violations have been widespread and numerous. In a way, this spending is a perfect microcosm of a presidency marked by its own flagrant falsehoods and rules violations.

For his part, Zuckerberg has sought to defend Facebook’s new open-door political advertising policy on free speech grounds, weirdly invoking the likes of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.—what?—in making his case across media outlets and envisioning his company as one which charitably allows for freedom of expression. Much as you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater or yell “Bomb!” on a airplane with impunity, though, if you’re a platform with the influence and reach of Facebook, you can’t let other people and entities with influence and reach wantonly peddle their lies—or at least you shouldn’t be able to. At the very least, if you’re going to enforce the rules (or not enforce them), you should do so without apparent political prejudice.

Ay, here’s the rub: for all the accusations of a liberal bias on platforms like Facebook, the company’s actions and its very structure suggest a complicity with conservatism and conservative figures/outlets. Over the past few weeks, Judd Legum has practically made Facebook’s dalliances with right-wing favoritism the raison d’être of his newsletter Popular Information. Among the items Legum has cataloged:

  • Zuckerberg meeting with Tucker Carlson and other conservative commentators and journalists to discuss matters of free speech and partnership, and Facebook naming the Daily Caller as a fact-checking partner despite a history of inaccuracies (to put it mildly)
  • Facebook stacking its D.C. office top leadership with veterans of Republican politics
  • Zuckerberg falsely claiming Facebook was created in response to and as a means to facilitate conversation about the Iraq War and other conflicts
  • Facebook permitting coordinated inauthentic behavior by the Daily Wire, originally Ben Shapiro’s baby, while acting to outlaw the same practices from progressive sources
  • Facebook failing to override its automated controls to flag and ban content for Black Lives Matter groups, LGBTQ activists, left-leaning small publications, and others forums which may be critical of conservative views

All this has made for a climate at Facebook hinting at a “frightening new world for political communication,” as Ghosh phrases it. He writes:

It is now the case that leading politicians can openly spread political lies without repercussion. Indeed, the Trump campaign was already spreading other falsehoods through online advertising immediately before Facebook made its announcement — and as one might predict, most of those advertisements have not been removed from the platform.

Should our politicians fail to reform regulations for internet platforms and digital advertising, our political future will be at risk. The 2016 election revealed the tremendous harm to the American democratic process that can result from coordinated misinformation campaigns; 2020 will be far worse if we do nothing to contain the capacity for politicians to lie on social media.

Could the Trump presidential campaign engage in the same kind of chicanery it did in 2016 and still lose in 2020? Sure. In fact, if the results of that election were based solely on the popular vote, Trump never would’ve been elected. Still, Facebook is playing a dangerous game, one which invites great risk to the American political process without much risk to its own survival and which allies the company with disreputable (outside of conservative circles anyway) people like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson. It is deliberately trying to sway the election to serve the desires of executive leadership, whether it legitimately believes the kind of rhetoric from publications like the Daily Caller and the Daily Wire or not.

In doing so, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are making it clear they are acting only in their own selfish interests. That doesn’t sound like something either Frederick Douglass or MLK would’ve wanted.


When we talk about Facebook’s sense of responsibility regarding how it handles user data and the veracity of claims in advertising that appear on the site, opinions may vary with respect to how culpable we truly believe Mark Zuckerberg et al. to be. If we were to take, say, a Friedman-esque examination of things, we might aver that if Facebook is financially responsible to its shareholders and isn’t breaking the law outright, deliberations about corporate social responsibility are much ado about nothing. In other words, while we might find Facebook’s actions objectionable, as far as leadership may be concerned, they are doing what’s best for the business. At heart, that is priority one.

In this day and age, however, such a perspective is a minority opinion. Personal and organizational accountability matter, even if not everyone agrees on how we can enforce adherence to a certain standard of conduct. Fines against a company may look like an appropriate punishment, but not only might these sums function as a mere drop in the proverbial bucket for corporations like Facebook, they don’t get at the personnel and the faulty leadership structures to blame for such lapses or intentional misdeeds.

What’s more, assigning guilt to an entity without the capacity for feeling guilty (i.e. a corporation is not a person) arguably is of limited utility and may only serve to ensnare lower-level accomplices or negatively impact workers on the lower links of the food chain. Much in the way #MeToo can be scrutinized for how much change it has effected and how durable its assignment of repercussions, there is room to wonder how punitive these measures truly are for major players in the U.S. economy, especially within the tech sector. Both in terms of applicable statutes and defined ethical frameworks, we seem to be lagging behind Silicon Valley’s attempts to define itself as an adjudicator of moral standards.

So, what’s the answer? Owing to the complexity of the question re individual vs. company-wide responsibility, the potential solutions are manifold, but some part of what actions should be taken would seem to involve government intervention. As noted, Dipayan Ghosh, for one, believes it’s time to regulate. From the closing of his piece:

If Facebook cannot take appropriate action and remove paid political lies from its platform, the only answer must be earnest regulation of the company — regulation that forces Facebook to be transparent about the nature of political ads and prevents it from propagating political falsehoods, even if they are enthusiastically distributed by President Trump.

Our nation has always aspired to place the interests of our democratic purpose over the interests of markets. Silicon Valley should be no exception.

Going back to Elizabeth Warren, supposed existential threat that she is, she advocates going a step further and breaking up monopolistic tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, even going as far as to call for the undoing of certain mergers such as Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and Facebook’s ownership of Instagram. Zuckerberg, in the leaked audio from a Facebook employee meeting that produced his quote about Warren in the first place, acknowledges the likelihood of a lawsuit to combat such a move, in the same breath expressing his confidence that the company would be successful in an eventual legal challenge. Are Warren’s plans unrealistic? Is Zuckerberg overconfident in this instance? By now, we’re used to big businesses winning, but the courts, interpreting existing antitrust law, may yet favor would-be regulators.

To say the least therefore, the fight over Facebook’s open-door political advertising policy appears far from over. In the meantime, and barring a course change like that of Twitter’s to ban all political ads (personally, I don’t love the idea the company is just throwing up its hands and waiving its potential to be a model actor, but it’s better than doing nothing), what you can be sure of is that, Facebook, a company which has never meaningfully apologized for the large-scale breach of trust exposed by the Cambridge Analytica bombshell, is not your friend. You may like being able to connect with family and friends and share photos and do all the things the social media platform is capable of doing. But executive leadership is neither truly interested in your privacy nor the sanctity of the First Amendment, and if you’re using the service, you’re implicitly giving your assent to their disregard of both. Whether that’s a deal-breaker is up to you.

Subpoenas Aren’t Optional, and Other Impeachment Musings

Apparently, being Donald Trump’s personal lawyer means you forget how the law is supposed to work. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In May, when former White House Counsel Don McGahn was called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding information sought related to Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible conspiracy and obstruction charges for President Donald Trump and other members of his transition team, McGahn willingly defied the subpoena.

For a political figure like Trump and others around him, that McGahn would simply no-show members of Congress is, while almost unprecedented, not particularly surprising. We’ve thrown out the book on presidential behavior and politics as usual so often lately that the binding is cracked and our arms are worn out from the repetitive action.

Still, you would hope as a lawyer that McGahn would have some respect for the law and legal precepts. Besides, and at any rate, you’re, um, not supposed to be able to up and refuse a subpoena like that. As Committee chair Jerry Nadler put it, “Our subpoenas are not optional. We will not allow the president to stop this investigation.” He also warned that McGahn could face contempt charges for failing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.

This was several months ago, when House Democrats were dancing around the very idea of impeachment and seeking an alternate route to accessing information about Trump’s potential impeachable offenses. It’s October now. Needless to say, the paradigm has shifted regarding the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry. With a majority of House Democrats and even members of the Senate/presidential candidates favoring impeachment, and with Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly indicating plans to move forward with impeachment proceedings, there is yet greater urgency to compel prospective witnesses to comply with congressional ultimatums.

Unfortunately, that urgency is lost on these witnesses themselves. Sure, the exact circumstances are different than they were a few months prior. Pelosi and Co’s. decision to finally go ahead with impeachment was brought about by a whistleblower complaint which has since come to light from an unnamed individual in U.S. intelligence made in August.

Among other things, the whistleblower alleges Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky multiple times to investigate Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, regarding his role as a board member of a Ukrainian energy company. Despite Trump’s assertions, there is no evidence either Biden did anything wrong within this sphere of influence. As with the focus on Hillary Clinton and her numerous supposed scandals prior to the 2016 election, however, the suggestion alone may be sufficient to sway the minds of voters. And to be clear, Biden, despite numerous bad policy positions (past and present) and the real possibility he is losing his mind, is still the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Please excuse me while I bang my head against a wall for a moment.

Seriously, though, this is serious business involving Trump. Asking for a foreign leader to investigate a political rival not as a matter of national security, but as a matter of personal political gain, may be a crime and is probably an impeachable offense. Either way, and getting to the central point about testifying before Congress, persons of interest within the context of an impeachment inquiry should not be treating subpoenas as if they’re tickets to some voluntary information session, some theoretical event. As Merriam-Webster defines subpoena, it is “a writ commanding a person designated in it to appear in court under a penalty for failure.” It’s not a request.

Try telling that to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though, who has admitted he was on the call between Trump and Zelensky and has stated that he won’t comply with a House Foreign Affairs Committee subpoena, has vowed to fight the deposition of other State Department officials in the service of impeachment proceedings, and who has labeled the committee’s “request” (which, again, isn’t a request) as an attempt to “intimidate, bully, and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.” As Pompeo would have you believe, committee chair Eliot Engel will personally hold down each of these “distinguished professionals” and take their lunch money, whereupon they will be given wedgies and quite possibly will be forced into their own lockers.

Trump personal lawyer and morning talk show resident-crazy-person Rudy Giuliani also has commented about a subpoena in terms of something to which he may or may not accede. Evidently, Giuliani has received subpoenas from three different House committees, but claims that before a “proper” decision can be made, a number of issues have to be weighed, including attorney-client privilege, “substantial constitutional and legal issues,” and “other privileges.” What’s that, Mr. Giuliani? Adhering to the law might involve the Constitution and other legal principles? You don’t say! Never mind that attorney-client privilege might not actually apply in your case because you’re such a blabbermouth. But I digress.

For a House committee issuing a subpoena, when one of the objects of its investigatory powers fails to acquiesce to its summons, what recourse does it possess? Well, one option is to involve the courts. Regarding McGahn’s earlier refusal to appear before Congress and to try to nullify a larger strategy of the White House’s to shield presidential advisers from being held accountable, the House Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit in August with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force McGahn to testify. The White House has claimed McGahn has “absolute immunity” from being made to testify before the Committee, a concept which has been used by past administrations but hasn’t been fully tested by the courts.

The problem with this route? It, well, takes time. As stated in the New York Times article linked above, this case could take months or longer to resolve. With a presidential election little more than a year from now, this is obviously far from ideal. As Judd Legum, author of the political newsletter Popular Information, and others have pointed out, meanwhile, another possibility exists in invoking inherent contempt.

Congress hasn’t invoked inherent contempt in more than seven decades, but in this case and given the gravity of the Trump administration’s repeated attempted erosion of the Constitution and democracy overall, it seems well warranted. It certainly is a more direct path to try to get a particular target to comply. Upon the passing of a resolution to execute an arrest warrant, the desired party is taken into custody, tried for contempt, and if found guilty, can be detained or imprisoned “until the obstruction to the exercise of legislative power is removed.” The legislature can also fine the non-compliant party for failing to observe its authority, as Rep. Mike Quigley has publicly observed.

If House Democrats are truly forthright about wanting to carry out an impeachment inquiry with any due sense of efficiency, they shouldn’t hesitate to invoke contempt for those Trump administration officials and actual freaking lawyers who apparently don’t know what a subpoena is. Sure, it may feel like an extreme step to some, particularly among the president’s defenders. Then again, as Legum would insist, “these are extraordinary times.”


Despite the notion many of us looking on at this impeachment business from the cheap seats have been anticipating such action for a long time now, an unfortunate byproduct of this unfolding scandal is that we have even more coverage of Donald Trump now. Visit one of the major cable news sites and witness the litany of Trump-oriented stories available for your consumption. Trump lashes out. Trump attacks. Trump, at his worst. Trump this. Trump that. Even in potential infamy, Trump’s name is everywhere. He couldn’t have succeeded better on this front if he had tried.

What’s particularly bad about this state of affairs is it pushes news items important in their own right to the back pages. The United Kingdom is still in political turmoil, trying to come to grips with the results of a Brexit referendum vote that seemingly never had a chance of being implemented smoothly in the first place. Foreign interference in the 2020 election is probable if not certain, with Vladimir Putin among those laughing about the very suggestion. Mohammad bin Salman and Saudi Arabia have yet to face substantive consequences for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and war continues in Yemen, of which the Saudis, aided by American weapons and aircraft, are key players. U.S. manufacturing is on the decline. The border crisis is anything but resolved. Deforestation and fires continue in the Amazon, a direct result of an ill-advised policy shift by Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil. In short, there’s a lot of bad shit happening right now, and the fevered news coverage surrounding Trump’s legal and political entanglements obscures these real problems.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we shouldn’t be paying attention to the events and players relevant to the impeachment process. Even with Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the rear view mirror, so to speak, what we’re witnessing with Trump is historic and its own animal.

All the same, we should be cognizant of what we’re missing by dwelling on this single controversy. Besides, even if Trump were to be impeached and removed by Congress, that wouldn’t be the end of Republican control of the White House and Senate, nor would it magically put a stop to a rise in hate crimes and overt right-wing extremism in the United States and elsewhere. It’s not like he’s the Night King. Removing him wouldn’t mean the end of ugly rhetoric here in the United States and it wouldn’t essentially spell doom for the Republican Party’s attempts to stack the federal judiciary, target entitlement programs for cuts, and do other harm to the social safety net and fairness in representative democracy.

Donald Trump, members of his administration, and enablers of his on the outside like Rudy Giuliani may not have much regard for the rule of law. That notwithstanding, we shouldn’t treat their flippant dismissal of congressional authority as something to be considered acceptable or normal. In theory, no one is above the law. The Democrats and American news media would be wise to reinforce this idea in both their speech and actions, especially if we are to have but the semblance of confidence in them as institutions going forward.

When the Kids Are the Grown-Ups

Greta Thunberg is only 16. If you’re not with her, kindly shut up, step aside, and let someone prepared to lead on the subject of climate change get to work. (Photo Credit: Twitter/@GretaThunberg)

It’s hard not to be impressed with climate activist Greta Thunberg. Well, that is, unless you’re a climate change denier.

In that case, her clarion call to stronger action apparently gives you carte blanche to call her all sorts of names and demean her, a girl of 16 with Asperger’s syndrome. Because, evidently, that’s what adults do.

Take Rich Lowry of National Review, who insists we not listen to Thunberg because she is a “pawn” who, as a kid, has “nothing interesting to say to us.” Or Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, who panned Thunberg as “remarkably ill-informed,” despite being an abject blockhead who, among other things, tried to advance the notion his constituents were being “soft” for wanting to close schools despite dangerously low temperatures in his state. Or conservative commentator Michael J. Knowles, who dismissed Thunberg as “mentally ill” amid his ranting against the left’s “climate hysteria” during a recent FOX News segment. When your fellow, ahem, FOX News contributors are admonishing you for your conduct, you know you’re behaving badly.

Even President Donald Trump, never one to shy away from a war of words, mocked Thunberg’s warning of widespread suffering, death, ecological collapse, and mass extinction in the service of maintaining the bottom line of the world’s wealthy, tweeting, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”

Under usual circumstances, we might look at a sitting president taking a sarcastic jab like this at a young woman and consider it an instance of punching down. But this is 2019 and that president is Trump, a man-baby who wouldn’t know decorum if it were dressed like Frederick Douglass and bit him on the ass. On a maturity level, he’s punching at eye level—if not looking up at Thunberg.

What’s telling in all of these responses—aside from the fact these are all older men talking down to a younger female—is their utter lack of substance. Lowry pivots to talk of a declining global poverty rate and an increase in life expectancy, professing that today’s youth will have ample resources and technology to deal with tomorrow’s problems. These trends say nothing about the actual state of the climate crisis, though, and seriously undercut the urgency of Thunberg’s and others’ messaging. Gov. Bevin has already disqualified himself from discussion of climate change and weather patterns by virtue of his callous “kids are too soft” rhetoric. Trump speaks in the sarcastic, dismissing tone of a bully. Again, no mention of the scientific consensus surrounding the warming of the planet and humans’ role in contributing to it. Not that I totally grasp the science behind it, but you can bet Trump doesn’t get it.

And Knowles’s deflection on the subject of Thunberg’s supposed “mental illness” is uniquely loathsome. Asperger’s syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disability. This diagnosis does not imply, however, that Thunberg is mentally or intellectually incapable of understanding the threat the planet faces; in fact, while acknowledging it makes her “different,” she nonetheless has referred to it as “her superpower,” Going back to Lowry’s discussion of technological advances, Thunberg, like many students her age, has access to untold stores of information regarding climate change. She has done her homework. Knowles evidently wasn’t paying attention the day they addressed global warming in class—that or he was and he simply chose not to believe it.

This, presumably, is why self-professed climate “skeptics”—which is a funny way of saying “climate change deniers,” but we’re all prone to euphemisms from time to time—feel the need to attack one teenage girl with such acrimony. She represents an existential threat of a different kind: that of a rebuke to their insufficient explanations and ad hominem attacks. Thunberg and other concerned youths like her are smarter, better-informed, and, frankly, more well-liked than them. Lowry et al. cater to a conservative crowd characterized by a rapidly-shrinking demographic. Thunberg et al. have a growing worldwide audience fueled by worsening planetary conditions. The former group knows this is and is clearly scared of the latter group. They should be.

Such is why musings on Thunberg playing the part of the impetuous child pawn or the hysterical individual ring hollow. As Thunberg herself underscored in her latest impassioned speech to world leaders, she should’ve been in school, not telling the world’s so-called “elites” to do their job as responsible stewards for a planet on the brink of catastrophe. When the adults behave and think like children, however, the kids apparently have no choice but to fill the grown-ups’ void.


Greta Thunberg is not the only young activist to be sounding the alarm on the climate crisis facing Earth. This article on Mashable identifies five other climate activists who are making an impact beyond their communities and who haven’t even reached 20 years of age. Twice as old as them in some cases, I feel all the more unaccomplished and unproductive by proxy. Gee, thanks, kids! In all seriousness, I am glad these kids and young adults are sounding the alarm on an issue that demands immediate, substantive action and for which ego and strict geographical boundaries (i.e. “They are the biggest polluters, not us!”) should have no bearing.

For men like Donald Trump, Matt Bevin, Michael Knowles, and Rich Lowry, however, they clearly don’t share the same sense of gratitude, and I wonder exactly why. Are they beholden to the designs of the fossil fuel lobby and thereby compelled to help spread its disinformation? Do they go against the consensus as a means of making a name for themselves and despite what they truly believe? Do they loathe these teens as a function of generational distrust and reflexively refuse to value their ideas as the products of attention-seeking and entitlement?

On the last count, I feel as if, owing to preconceived notions about young people’s character, they should be celebrating these children for being so outspoken and politically active. These kids aren’t spending too much time on their phone or playing video games all day. They’re making an impact by raising awareness of a critical issue facing our planet. This is a good thing, right?

It is, unless you’re a conservative/Republican whose influence is predicated by and large on dissuading younger, smarter people (especially women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and every intersection therein) from political involvement. These men must sense that a cultural shift is underway, one which challenges their absolute authority and which makes their proverbial place in the sun (getting hotter with the passing years) not the guarantee it once was. Simply put, we don’t need them. That must shake them and their regressive outlooks to their core.

So, armed with faulty science, they resort to the kind of name-calling you witnessed earlier. Greta Thunberg is a pawn. A brat. A mental case. If you’re especially an asshole who somehow got elected to the highest office in the United States, a very happy young girl. Such are the tactics of schoolyard bullies, not adults. They should shut up, get out of the way, and let the real adults get to work.

Not the Sharp(i)est Tool in the Shed

This collection of angular squiggles is apparently Donald Trump’s signature. Yikes.

As the science of graphology would have it, you can tell a lot about a person from his or her handwriting.

According to this article for Cosmopolitan from February of 2017, Donald Trump’s signature and handwriting reveal some, well, not-so-flattering character traits. He’s aggressive, as indicated by his sharp, angular lettering within minimal space between letters. He needs attention, as evidenced by his big, bold lettering and heavy use of capitalization. His use of block print is considered “bullish.” The absence of curves in his signature shows he is an unfeeling, humorless sort. The pressure he exerts on the paper when he writes signifies defensiveness. And last but perhaps not least, the “P” in Trump is a manly, phallic gesture—over-sized and overwrought.

Of course, you can take or leave this analysis. Graphology is regarded by many as a pseudoscience, no better than astrology in predicting job performance and personality. If someone dislikes Trump, he or she may easily ascribe various flaws to him and his penmanship using vague analysis. You may also choose not to value the insights of past and present Cosmo contributors, though I am not one to judge a book by its cover. Especially when it promises to teach me sexual positions so hot they will burn a hole in the bed.

Graphological profiles aside, it is perhaps odd and telling that Trump enjoys using Sharpie markers. After all, writing in permanent marker isn’t subtle, and we all know the president is anything but subtle when it comes to his public persona. This is relevant in light of Trump’s recent attempt to indicate Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian by referring to a map he altered with a Sharpie.

His account was specifically refuted by the National Weather Service out of Birmingham and appeared to be based on outdated forecast models that gave Alabama no more than a 20% chance to feel the impact of the storm’s winds in the first place. Yet, after the fact and despite the evidence against him, Trump continues to defend including Alabama in the preparation for Dorian—in cartoonish fashion, no less—saying he was with the so-called “Heart of Dixie” all the way and more so than the “Fake News” anyway. Weird flex but OK, Mr. President.

But yes, the Sharpie business. Michael D’Antonio, author, CNN contributor, journalist, and Trump biographer, recently penned a piece about Trump’s love for the iconic permanent marker brand. For D’Antonio, Trump’s affiliation for Sharpie markers is decidedly on-brand, though it may not speak as highly for the person who wields it as he might believe or hope.

As a Trump biographer, D’Antonio is well familiar with the man’s predilection for all things Sharpie. Regular Sharpie markers. Gold Sharpie markers, for when he wants to make things especially fancy. From D’Antonio’s perspective and from what he knows of Trump, this makes sense. He writes:

The blunt quality of a Sharpie fits Trump’s personality. Its thick barrel and wide tip make it impossible to write with any delicacy. If you want to make your message clear, you are forced to write in big strokes. Similarly, the thick lines produced by a Sharpie provide a cover for the writer who wants to tease with an impossible-to-read signature like Trump’s saw-tooth autograph. A Sharpie-writer forces others to pay closer attention.

Big, bold strokes. A saw-tooth signature. A lack of delicacy and need for attention. These are not unlike the observations from the graphologists we read earlier, as much as we might dismiss them as the product of pop science.

D’Antonio’s revelations in them of themselves aren’t earth-shattering. We have a humanitarian crisis at our southern border and a climate emergency facing the planet and we’re talking about the president’s penmanship? Believe me, I get it.

The bit about changing the map of Hurricane Dorian’s projected path, however, is more intriguing. D’Antonio closes his article with these sentiments:

Trump’s choice of pen is about his desire to make a permanent mark. But here the tool that the White House selected — it is unclear whether or not Trump himself made the alteration — to make an impression seems to reveal more than Trump might have wanted. Like a grade-schooler’s attempt to turn a report card D into a B the line added to the weather map only drew more attention to the reality the scrawl was intended to cover-up. Ill-informed about the hurricane he was supposedly monitoring, our President offered not the truth but a forgery. He thinks we’re too stupid to recognize a Sharpie line added to a weather map, but we see it as clearly as we discern his juvenile character.

By now, we have apparent confirmation Trump was the one to edit the map. As some commentators might otherwise have insisted, “Who else would’ve done something like that?” Regardless of who actually wielded the Sharpie, the purpose was clear: to deceive. I’m giving you the truth, not the fake news media. I alone care about you, Alabama.

That his “forgery” wasn’t a particularly good one is all the more fitting in light of his track record. From the jump, President Trump and his flunkies tried to spin his lower inauguration attendance numbers relative to Barack Obama as “alternative facts,” camera angles, photo tricks, or some other mainstream trickery. Trump has made a career of being a fraud and con man, and often not in very convincing fashion either. While nothing new, and probably not even on his Top 10 worst offenses since taking the Oath of Office, this episode still must be decried for the attempted chicanery it is. That this kind of thing is still happening this far into his presidency is all the more galling and reinforces how patently un-presidential Trump is.

And to think, this is all with respect to his handwritten offerings. We haven’t even touched his haphazard tweets, “covfefe” and all. Back in January, John McWhorter, linguistics teacher at Columbia at contributing editor at The Atlantic, shined a spotlight on Trump’s myriad typographical errors.

As McWhorter argues, it’s one thing that the president’s Twitter ramblings lack polish or delicacy. We all have our faults, including where the written word is concerned, and besides, Twitter isn’t a medium known for its observation of formality. It’s another that his expressions betray a lack of consideration or thought, a notion magnified by the fact he is well, the freaking President of the United States. Trump simply couldn’t be bothered to check his writing before sending it out—or have someone else do it.

McWhorter doesn’t stop there. Even Trump’s vocalized speech reflects a lack of deliberation, variation, and frankly, maturity. He overuses words like “do,” eschewing more specific verbs for those he finds more accessible or familiar. He also, ahem, overdoes it with “very,” “good,” and other vague modifiers that merely inflate the volume of his words rather than relying on substance.

The crux of the matter? Trump is an idiot. OK, that’s a bit harsh, but he’s clearly exhibiting neither a capacity nor desire for higher-order thought. McWhorter closes with these thoughts:

Trump’s admirers might see him as a straight shooter, focused on telling us what’s on his mind, too busy doing the right things to bother with niceties. The tragedy is that in his hurried, lexically impoverished blurts, Trump almost daily shows us that what’s on his mind is very little.

“What’s on his mind is very little.” This is not necessarily something you want to hear said about the ostensible leader of the free world, someone with access to our nation’s nuclear codes, no less. As remote as the possibility sounds, so too did the odds of his presidency coming to fruition once seem. In other words, we may not wish to take this lightly.


Some people, despite an abundance of evidence of Donald Trump’s inept disingenuousness (not to mention his abject cruelty toward those unlike him), will never sour on him. This post is obviously not for them, and they’d probably be quick to unleash their vitriol upon it along with Michael D’Antonio’s and John McWhorter’s offerings. We’re part of a “liberal media” intent on vilifying a great man and on hating the U.S.A. We look down upon hard-working Americans from atop our ivory towers of opinion journalism. Why don’t we learn to enjoy our robust U.S. economy and other elements of the nation at present? If we dislike our president and others within it so much, why don’t we just leave?

To the extent they or I might gaze at my fellow man condescendingly, I cannot rightly say. From what I can tell, D’Antonio and McWhorter didn’t write anything particularly deprecating outside of their criticism of Trump. D’Antonio merely made observations about Trump’s fanatical use of permanent markers. McWhorter highlighted how the president’s speech reflects a lack of preparation and nuance, but his criticisms are aimed at Trump specifically because he is a world leader imbued with a great deal of responsibility. I may despise Trump, but I have no great disdain for those who believe in him because they believe in a better life for themselves and others around them. That is, while I might disagree with them, I don’t begrudge the folks who act in good faith. As strange as that might sound to some, I believe they do yet exist.

It is those individuals who see Trump for who he is, meanwhile, and opt to back him anyway, at whom I dedicate this post and with whom I take issue. Trump and his rabid supporters talk negatively about the media and even some politicians like Ilhan Omar who supposedly have nothing but disdain for “the common man.” On Omar’s behalf, I categorically reject this assertion, but fine, I’ll concede that some members of the news media evince signs of elitism.

Not merely to point the finger back at Trump, however, but what about him? This is a man who has touted his Ivy League education (it apparently didn’t do him that much good, but whatever) and has slapped his name on everything from buildings to steaks in the name of luxury. What does he know about the common man, the common man of whom he evidently thinks very little?

After all, he believes he could shoot someone in broad daylight and still get elected, and on this most recent note, he thinks you’re too stupid to realize that he drew something on a map of a hurricane’s projected path and that it wasn’t there the whole time. Again, not the worst thing he and his administration have done by a longshot. But that he would insist up is down as a matter of being a hypocritical fraud is another turn in the tenure of a would-be fascist, and we shouldn’t be downplaying this, as laughable as it is.

In other words, some lines aren’t meant to be crossed. They also aren’t meant to be added to a weather map with Sharpie marker to unnecessarily stoke fear or exploit a crisis for political capital. Donald Trump is banking on the idea you won’t know or care enough to want to hold him accountable on this front. Don’t give him the satisfaction.

OK, Socialism Is “the Devil,” but What About Capitalism?

Is a $2,000 pizza made with 24K gold, caviar, foie gras, and Stilton cheese inherently immoral? No, but it may not be worth it taste-wise, and moreover, the inequalities created by capitalism serve to make extravagant purchases like this seem wrong in deference to all the things you could buy instead with that money. (Photo Credit: Industry Kitchen)

WARNING: For those with delicate political and economic sensibilities, this piece will make repeated references to a particular term. A dirty word in certain circles, to be sure. In fact, some may be unable to speak it lest they devolve into paroxysms of uncontrollable shouting and frothing at the mouth. He doesn’t mean what I think he means, you shudder. Oh, but I do, intrepid reader. You guessed it: that word. The “S word.”

Socialism. (Boo! Hiss!)

As we approach Election Day 2020, attacks from the right have been trying to frame any and all serious Democratic contenders as “socialists,” railing against the purported evils of suggested policy shifts such as Medicare for All, free tuition at public colleges and universities, the Green New Deal, and other tenets of a progressive or liberal agenda. Under this haphazard framework, legitimate elements resembling facets of socialist societies can and do get conflated with all sorts of things right-leaning individuals don’t like.

Political correctness? Socialism. The LGBTQ “agenda?” Socialism. Migrants crossing our southern border? Socialism. Democrats “coming for your guns?” Socialism. Electric cars? Socialism. Liberal indoctrination of our youth? Socialism. The sissification of manly men? You better believe your patootie it’s socialism!

Thrown around recklessly in this manner, socialism also gets confused with other economic and political systems people either don’t grasp or haven’t bothered to try to understand. In the minds of some, socialism, a theory of organization which favors social ownership of the means of production and of working to satisfy human needs, is synonymous with communism, which can be seen as the next step after socialism in a post-capitalist society, and which advocates for doing away with notions of class, money, occupational specificity, and private ownership.

As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I’ve heard the question numerous times, “Isn’t he a c-c-communist?” As if the person asking were a character out of Scooby Doo or something, staring down a ghost. No, he’s not. As other democratic socialists believe, he feels both the U.S. economy and society should be run democratically to meet the greatest public need and not just for the benefit of a privileged few. Especially when understood next to communism, some might even believe his proposed reforms don’t go far enough.

Let’s not get bogged down in discussion of specific political candidates, though. The larger point is that talk of socialism, in the hands of bad-faith actors and critics, becomes a weapon used to discredit anyone and anything resembling a leftist or espousing leftist ideologies. In this sense, socialism is understood as both logically and morally inferior to capitalism. Ah, yes, capitalism. The free market. A model of economic efficiency free from the tyranny of government control. A bastion of Western rectitude and a symbol of the industry of a proud country like the U.S. of A. Surely, the right’s embrace of unfettered capitalism puts it on the right side of history. After all, you don’t want America becoming Venezuela, do you?

Put aside any notions of Venezuela possessing unique features which have led to its economic disarray (e.g. an overreliance on oil as a source of revenue) as well as doubts about whether socialism as it is designed has actually been employed there by the likes of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro (it hasn’t), though. If we are to invoke capitalism as a defense of why socialist functions can’t or shouldn’t exist in America, shouldn’t we be able to explain with a straight face why it is fundamentally better? To this effect, shouldn’t we all be able to speak to the wonders capitalism has done for all of our lives?

In a two-part video essay titled “What’s Wrong with Capitalism” for her channel ContraPoints, Natalie Wynn, ex-philosopher and YouTuber with a mind for social justice (and a great follow on YouTube and Twitter, by the by), addresses some of the potential shortcomings of a capitalist society like ours.

Beginning with a bit of context about acute feelings that something is wrong with our world as expressed by middle-class white males facing a changing population at home, an expanding global marketplace/exchange of ideas, and a commensurate loss of privilege, Wynn avers that while this sense of “getting screwed” is accurate, others are getting screwed worse. In this regard, and with respect to vague attempts to scapegoat other disenfranchised groups, the problem is not “the Jews,” nor is it feminism, the ghost of Karl Marx, people of color, trans people, vegans, or anyone else who might be labeled a “cuck,” a “snowflake,” etc. The problem is capitalism.

So, what’s wrong with capitalism? Wynn makes these salient points in service of her arguments:

Alienated labor: Or as Wynn simplifies it, “shitty jobs.” Because many workers have no stake in the profitability of the company they serve and are merely working to make money, ensure a path to other benefits, and/or not get passed over for a promotion or fired, there’s no sense of intrinsic reward from their efforts or a sense of camaraderie because they are being pitted against one another.

Depending on the situation, they might also be forced to engage in company retreats and other “team building” exercises or they might not even be identified as employees at all (i.e. independent contractors, who are liable for much of their own expenses and not privy to the same benefits). The pretense makes it that much worse.

Advertising: As Wynn defines it, the purpose of advertising is “to manufacture desires, which brands across the world spend nearly five hundred billion dollars a year doing.” In theory, if we are rational beings capable of making rational decisions in our best interest, as is an assumption of capitalism, we shouldn’t require such illogical pairings of, say, attractive women and luxury vehicles, or celebrities and expensive watches. That’s because the point of advertising in a capitalist system is not to satisfy existing needs, but to endlessly create new “needs,” leaving those original very real needs dangerously unfulfilled.

Inequality: Referencing BuzzFeed’s web series Worth It, in which Steven Lim and Andrew Ilnyckyj try more reasonably priced items against a vastly pricier counterpart to assess whether the high-end option is, as the name indicates, “worth it,” and putting a spotlight on Season 2, Episode 5, in which Steven and Andrew compare a $2.75 slice of pizza to a $2,000 24K-gold-covered pizza from Industry Kitchen comprised of various expensive items, Wynn highlights how by simply consuming the decadent choice, because they judge it to be inferior, this suddenly begins to weigh on their conscience. They feel, on some level, guilty for having been a part of consuming something of which the cost arguably could’ve been better used elsewhere.

As Wynn explains, morality has little to no bearing on this situation. Ilnyckyj and Lim are not bad people for eating a high-falutin’ pizza, nor are the makers of the pizza wrong for creating such a pricy entrée. It is, instead, the fault of capitalism that it fuels and makes so evident the divides in income and wealth inequality which promote feelings of guilt when the alternatives are juxtaposed together. Or, to phrase this in a concise philosophical argument:

Capitalism as we know it is a defective economic system, because, although it’s good at creating large amounts of wealth in an incredibly efficient way, it distributes that wealth in an incredibly inefficient way, where efficiency is understood not as the capacity to maximize total wealth but as the capacity to maximize human happiness.

This failure is therefore not necessarily a function of some dysfunction or inability on the part of those most disenfranchised by capitalism’s elaboration, but rather a systemic flaw.

Money buys happiness…but only to an extent

Within the American economic system, more income yields more happiness, presumably because individuals/their families have enough money to meet their basic needs and can live more comfortably. At somewhere between $65,000 to $95,000 a year, however, the reported happiness benefit plateaus.

According to this interpretation of socioeconomic data, then, the stark difference between the mean income (about $72,000, within the plateau zone) and the national median ($59,000, below the plateau zone) is vaguely startling, at least as far as the goal of maximizing happiness through the economy goes. Moreover, the top 1% of American earners make more than $389,000, well beyond the upper limits of the plateau zone. What good does that serve them or us?

To Wynn, what’s particularly galling for lower-income families is not just that they have trouble making ends meet or have to worry about money/what to sacrifice, it’s that they have to do so knowing full well there are other Americans who are obscenely rich. Their eventual anger, which she likens to the kind felt at the peak of the French Revolution, would therefore be justifiable.

This analysis comes from one person, who while being humorously self-deprecating about her acumen, is yet an ex-academic who describes herself as a “dumb-dumb” who “likes shiny things.” This is to say that while she did her research and presented her viewpoints in a very entertaining way, she is not an expert in this subject matter. Yet armed with a group of economists who specialize in researching and addressing widening equality, who knows what else we could throw alongside Wynn’s content. 40 minutes? Maybe 400 minutes is more appropriate given the potential complexity of this topic.

Capitalism, you’re getting off easy here.


For those of us sold on the perils of capitalism either as a result of Natalie Wynn et al.‘s discourse on the subject or based on our own feelings of dissatisfaction and alienation within a capitalist society, it is clear what the problems are, but not necessarily how we move past them. As Wynn indicates, the conditions for socialism to take root in the United States would require a failure of the current system. At the very least, that will take time.

In the interim, Wynn largely demurs on the actions she prescribes for her viewers to take to comic effect, suggesting among other things that we eat more vegetables, try not to be manipulated into waging war against other downtrodden people, tweet radically, vote Labour, and not cede more power to “the absolute worst dingbats our society has to offer.” Ultimately, she yields to the call to arms of Tabby, a cat-woman radical and one of her videos’ list of personas (fur-sonas?), who seeks to smash her way to revolution. Catgirls of the world unite! The idea has appeal, if for no other reason than the patent absurdity of it all.

I would submit that amid taking actions to benefit the planet and the world’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we should also keep conservations going about the long-term viability of our society as is and how well each of us are doing (or aren’t) within the confines of a capitalist framework. In my relatively short life span, I have witnessed a global financial crisis and the ensuing recession. Despite our apparent current economic fortune, there’s reason to fear we could be headed there again. An ongoing trade war with China. Widespread accusations of currency manipulation of allies and rivals alike. A slowdown in world trade across continents. And we still haven’t felt the full force of the GOP tax cuts or realized their implications. In other words, there are plenty of reasons to fear another recession, and Donald Trump’s White House is a key player in all of this.

Relatedly, and with a nod to Trump loyalists who have stuck by him amid the disarray, I urge his supporters and others sympathetic to his cause to think about, beyond his positions on immigration and other social issues, just how much they’re getting as a function of his presidency. You may have faith in him despite misgivings about his bully mentality, his fascist leanings, his misogyny, racism, transphobia, and xenophobia. Hell, you may actually like these things about him, and if you made it this far, thanks for reading. I’m not sure why you did, but thanks.

When it comes down to it, however, if you and your bottom line are what primarily concern you, keep thinking about what President Trump and the GOP are or aren’t doing for you. You probably are already watching the markets. But keep the tax cuts in mind and how you have benefited, if at all. Or how trade wars, which Trump boldly proclaimed are easy to win, may actually be hurting you when you’re picking up the tab. Or why, despite all the promises you’d be “winning,” things feel pretty much the same as before, if not worse. Barack Obama’s shift in the Oval Office is over, and when Republicans start coming for your social safety net to try to make up for their shitty policy goals, you won’t be able to blame him for it. Not terribly sincerely, in any event.

And by all means, amidst the doom and gloom depicted by conservatives and centrists alike about socialism, consider whether it is vitally important that we live in a world of unfettered capitalism. An end to capitalism wouldn’t mean an end to your ability to enjoy stuff as you might in our present materialistic society. It would, meanwhile, signify a shift away from a system that prizes profit over people and seeks to make money rather than satisfying human needs and happiness. Whether by regulating capitalism more heavily or by transitioning away from it, that seems like an end result worth striving for.