On Anti-Vaxxers, Climate Change Deniers, and Flat Earthers

Anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, Flat Earthers: you are among those encouraged not to cherry-pick data and rely on charlatans to tell you what is wrong with our world today. (Photo Credit: Johnny Silvercloud/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
  1. The Earth is an oblate spheroid, not flat.
  2. Climate change on Earth is real.
  3. Vaccines don’t cause autism and you should definitely vaccinate your kids.

Many of us would agree readily to all of the above. Ample evidence exists that glaciers are melting, the seas are rising and warming with the rest of the planet, and more and more animal species are facing extinction. The link between vaccines and autism is a spurious one, having been debunked numerous times over. The Earth is round because, well, it’s 2019 and we have technology that lets us see that sort of thing.

And yet, there are those people who would contest one or more of these statements. Flat Earthers, as the name implies, contend that the Earth is flat, citing visual evidence. Anti-vaxxers, often inspired by some Republicans/libertarians, insist that the government is wrong to mandate they vaccinate their children, making the issue a matter of personal freedoms. Climate change deniers dispute that global warming exists, argue against humans’ role in promoting deleterious climate change, and/or say that all this carbon dioxide we’re creating is actually a good thing because plants need it. Right.

It’s one thing, for instance, for Flat Earthers to more narrowly believe that our globe is not a globe and have it end then and there. The rest of us say one thing, they say another—to each his or her own. Sure, some (or most) of us might laugh at their expense, but we agree to disagree.

The problem arises when subscription to an alternative viewpoint potentially puts the non-subscribers among us at risk. Anti-vaxxers are wingnuts to be dismissed—that is, until areas start encountering outbreaks of measles, a disease said to be eliminated from the United States in 2000. Climate change deniers are all well and good—except for the notion the world is on fire and we need all hands on deck to prevent a climate catastrophe. And when even Flat Earthers move from a relatively innocuous refusal to accept that the world is round to the theory that tragedies like the Holocaust and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting never happened, it would appear their healthy skepticism is anything but.

Such is why all of the above extreme stances existing in opposition to verifiable scientific evidence must be regarded seriously, even if some members of these various movements aren’t wholeheartedly committed or straightforward. Susceptibility to mis- and disinformation campaigns is a pressing matter, especially in the digital age. A few errant clicks and you may find yourself down the proverbial rabbit hole, led astray by some YouTuber with a cursory grasp of video production and a passion for pushing conspiracy theories. Or—who knows!—that red-blooded American you’ve been talking to online might not have your best interests in mind—and he or she might actually be half a world away at that.

As a point of emphasis, the growth of these factions is disconcerting. Though measles is on the rise in the U.S. after a historic low, it’s not all the fault of anti-vaccination rhetoric. Inadequate access to vaccinations for poorer Americans/families of color and imported measles cases from overseas are contributing factors, too. Nonetheless, the anti-vaxxer movement is gaining traction and, along with it, so is the risk that measles or any other highly contagious disease may spread. Climate change skepticism, even if it were to be standing pat, is an impediment to the kind of progress we need to be making on this issue. Simply put, staying still at a moment in which we need to be moving forward is effectively sending us backwards.

Making matters worse is the idea these movements are at the cusp of becoming mainstream if not already there. A handful of celebrities—some of them comparatively minor but even so (cough, B.o.B., cough)—have counted themselves at one point among those who doubt the sincerity of NASA and other scientific organizations for putting forth a round-Earth framework. Republican leaders like Kentucky governor Matt Bevin promote anti-vaccination talking points from their seats as elected officials. On the climate change front, meanwhile, there is perhaps no more prominent skeptic than the Denier-in-Chief himself, Donald Trump, who once famously referred to the observed effects of climate change as a “hoax.”

These aren’t just fringe campaigns. They possess real potential to influence large swaths of individuals, people who are our neighbors, parents of children at our schools, even family and friends. Like the diseases vaccines are developed to guard against, left unchecked, they have the ability to spread and do real damage. What’s more, addressing them in the wrong way could make holders of their core beliefs that much more resistant to change.

This begs the question: how do those of us who have accepted phenomena like the efficacy of vaccines, human beings’ part in contributing to climate change, and the very roundness of Planet Earth as fact have a conversation with those who don’t? How do we operate in an environment in which truth almost seems to be treated as merely a construct, a relativistic abstract concept independent of what we can test and infer? Despite the obvious perils accepting alternative theories presents, the evident uptick of pseudoscience peddlers is, in it of itself, alarming. As the great thinker (if only in his own mind) Ben Shapiro has said, facts don’t care about your feelings. Fine. Great. But when it’s my facts vs. your “facts,” we are at quite an impasse indeed.


Earlier, I noted how it’s easy these days, as a result of a few errant clicks, to find oneself in the company of a YouTuber who peddles nonsensical arguments and unsubstantiated conjecture to serve a particular narrative. On that note, I’m about to supplement my stances with content proffered by…a YouTuber. Wait, the climate-change-eschewin’, flat-Earth-believin’, no-vaccine-havin’ among you may say, you think your YouTubers are better than our YouTubers because they subscribe to the prevailing views of the scientific community and we don’t? My answer to this is, um, in a nutshell, yes. Yes, I do.

In a video essay on the Flat Earth ideology from December of last year, Harry Brewis, known by the handle “Hbomberguy,” argues that, despite how ludicrous some of us might find this position, its holders may not necessarily, ahem, flat out reject scientific principles. He explains in the waning moments of his 40-plus-minute production:

These people are attempting a form of science, and I think that’s what really gets to me about them—not simply that they’re pretending they’re scientists who’ve secretly found the truth. … People like Mark [Sargent] are right to want to question authorities on issues. They’re right to want to question everything they know about reality and the society they live in, and that’s because at the center of Flat Earth—not the North Pole, the actual center of the ideology—its core is a tiny, shining fragment of a systemic critique. It’s the beginning of trying to understand what’s wrong with our society and what to do about it.

… People seek these solutions because they perceive, on some level, a problem—and they’re right. Something is wrong with the world right now. The world is figuratively on fire. World leaders are asleep at the wheel. There’s nothing in place to prevent another massive financial crash which will destroy thousands if not millions of livelihoods. And ecologically speaking, on top of being, you know, figuratively on fire, the Earth is literally on fire. Wildfires are getting worse, temperatures are all over the place, ice is melting at an astounding rate. Even on a globe Earth, the edge is coming fast.

So I can’t blame anyone for feeling alienated and lonely about living in late-capitalist society. At least under feudalism, we had job security. So of course people are going to try to find something that helps them cope or seems like a solution. That’s why you get cults. That’s why you get Scientology. That’s why you get Jordan Peterson supporters. Something is wrong and we can all tell, and some people have arrived at a solution that doesn’t really work or at the very least makes them feel a little bit better.

… Believing these things isn’t a solution, and it’s not really accurate about what the problems are. The problem isn’t NASA. The problem isn’t the Earth being flat. The problem is something else.

While mercilessly roasting the more outspoken promulgators of Flat Earth like Mark Sargent and calling out its most bigoted elements, Brewis does seem to possess a certain degree of sympathy for its followers. The same might apply to anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers. They feel something is wrong. They distrust the authorities and institutions that, to a large extent, have let them down.

When someone comes along and offers them an alternative, who tells them they are right to be scared and eagerly points out a scapegoat, that’s how we get parents who decry the long arm of the state in forcing them to vaccinate their children. That’s how we get millions of viewers who believe the likes of Steven Crowder regarding the notion the ice at the poles is growing, not shrinking. That’s how we get Brexit and President Donald Trump. These people are right to be skeptical. Unfortunately, they’ve picked the wrong matters to be skeptical about and the wrong people to guide them in their search for meaning and purpose.

This rejection of scientific consensus based on anecdotal evidence (“I’ve never seen the Earth curve—have you?”) or disqualification due to a presumed agenda (e.g. vaccines as a ploy of the for-profit health care industry) is not to be utterly exonerated. Certainly, those individuals who would exploit others’ susceptibility to manipulation in this way should be held accountable as well.

The question of how to interact with these types of people, however, still lingers. How do you penetrate a world in which facts don’t matter to people who claim to believe in science? A piece by Bill Radke and Sarah Leibovitz accompanying Radke’s interview of Boston University philosopher of science Lee McIntyre for KUOW’s The Record might provide some insight.

As McIntyre did or at least attempted to do going undercover at the Flat Earth International Conference, he approached attendees armed not with evidence or an attacking or condescending manner, but with a “philosopher’s question”: What would it take to convince you you’re wrong? According to the article, they didn’t have an answer.

McIntyre submits that this is a hallmark of anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, Flat Earthers and the like and thus where they diverge from true scientists: they cherry-pick data, ignoring information that disagrees with what they believe. To be fair, in a time in which Russian bots and other foreign agents try to influence public opinion and in which information reaches our senses faster than we can rightly process, it’s not just the InfoWars-Breitbart crowd who can fall prey to what is termed “confirmation bias.”

Prevailing trends of the population at large notwithstanding, McIntyre cautions against simply brushing these alternative-theory movements aside for fear of encouraging other campaigns built on faulty reasoning. He also reasons you shouldn’t write off their subscribers or cut them off, but rather “engage, listen, and work the facts in where you can.” Additionally, scientists need to do their part in standing up for the importance of uncertainty to the scientific method. It’s OK not to have the answers—that is, as long as this admission is made in the service of trying to find them in earnest.

The Earth is an oblate spheroid, not flat. Climate change on Earth is real. Vaccines don’t cause autism and you should definitely vaccinate your kids. It’s important we uphold these truths. At the same time, we can engage non-believers in an accessible, trust-oriented way and draw attention to the real causes of the problems Harry Brewis and others might enumerate. After all, we’re going to need a communal effort to solve them and it’s going to take all types of people working together to do it.

There Sure Are a Lot of “Lone” Wolves Out There

Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a Charleston, SC church in 2015, though considered a “lone wolf” attacker, is one of a growing number of people dining on hateful beliefs promulgated in online circles. (Photo Credit: Charleston County Sheriff’s Office)

A bar or nightclub. An office building. A place of worship. A school. Seemingly weekly, news of horrific acts of violence by a “lone wolf” attacker reaches our consciousness. Just recently, a shooting at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in southern California, which left one person dead and three injured, made headlines.

The profile is all too familiar: a sole gunman entered and opened fire with an assault weapon. That the shooting occurred on Passover also suggests this was more than a coincidence; multiple officials, including President Donald Trump, referred to it as a “hate crime.” According to San Diego County sheriff William Gore and as first reported in USA TODAY on April 27, though law enforcement officials were still verifying its authenticity, a “manifesto” of sorts posted online around the time of the attack hinted at the shooter’s possible motivations/reasons for targeting Jews.

In terms of our experience and our feelings about these attacks, it’s difficult to know to what degree we should feel encouraged or dismayed. Concerning the Poway synagogue shooting in particular, that only one person died certainly is worth celebrating. Viewing these matters more globally, however, the verdict is less clear, and with each attack, our ability to process it all is tested.

Undoubtedly, for the communities directly impacted by this sort of violence, the brutality and sense of loss felt is profound. Recent suicides by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL and by the father of one of the children lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary attack speak to the devastating long-term emotional toll gun violence can effect. To say the suffering is a shared one appears wholly accurate.

Even for those of us who haven’t felt the brunt of the carnage wrought by lone wolf attackers and other perpetrators of mass violence, the repetition of the same story may be affecting in its own way. Each tragedy can feel like a punch to the gut, or worse, we may become numb to these events as a function of their apparent frequency. As is often talked about in media circles, we then run the risk of allowing these acts of terrorism to become the “new normal.”

A survivor of a 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, when asked whether she were surprised about what transpired, replied that she felt “eventually [a shooting] was going to happen” at her school. Her resignation to this idea as a young child, sounding more defeated than optimistic, was perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of this affair. I can only imagine how parents of young children must feel today, sending their children off to school in clear or bulletproof backpacks to participate in active shooter drills. It’s not a set of circumstances I envy.

Witnessing news reports on incidences of hate-fueled violence, as with other crimes, can make them seem more common than they actually are. We respond to the gravity of these situations and not necessarily to the statistical likelihood we will face our own personal encounters with this type of thing. Still, trends in observed data surrounding mass shootings and mass murderers are enough to cause alarm, even though the odds of an attack in our neighborhood may be comparatively slim.

Though published back in 2016, a Frontline PBS report by Katie Worth on the increasing incidence and lethality of lone wolf attacks still carries weight. Citing available research from multiple sources on the subject, Worth explains how five core findings have emerged relating to trends in this kind of violence in the United States. The findings, as she spells them out:

1. Lone wolf attacks are becoming more common. While noting these attacks are still rare and though they are nothing new, Worth details how both the number of attacks and the number of fatalities from these events have gone up in the past decade. In fact, by the date of the Frontline report, the 2010s had already surpassed all other decades in these regards, so one can only imagine where we’re at now.

2. White supremacist ideologies remain the top source of inspiration for lone wolves, though jihadism is also a significant influence. Though the left is not immune to instances of lone wolf attacks, predominantly, it is right-wing extremism which motivates these terrorists. And whether they are white supremacists or jihadis, they are terrorists. Though their exact motivations may be different (the appeal of al-Qaeda and ISIS for some young Westerners is particularly disturbing to national security experts), don’t let the absence of their condemnation and the disproportionate anti-Muslim rhetoric of conservative circles convince you there is some gargantuan divide between them.

3. Lone wolves are different than conventional terrorists. Though terrorists they may be, there are distinctions to be had. Lone wolves are mostly single white males with a criminal record, diverging from those who commit violence as part of a political organization in that they tend to be older, less educated, and significantly more prone to mental illness. Perhaps most surprisingly, lone wolf attackers motivated in part by politics tend to resemble if they aren’t patently indistinguishable from apolitical mass murderers who harbor some personal grievance. The only major difference herein is that mass murderers are more likely to perpetrate violence in a place with which they are familiar, whereas lone wolves are more likely to go somewhere previously unknown.

4. Guns are lone wolves’ weapon of choice. Though once upon a time, lone wolf attacks in America more frequently featured the use of explosives, controls on the purchase of bomb-making materials following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings are believed to be a key factor in reducing the incidence of attacks involving explosive devices. The bad news is that the permissiveness of U.S. gun laws has afforded would-be lone wolves with a staggering array of high-velocity firearms capable of hurting or killing many people in a short span. Say what you want about the Second Amendment, but the statistics are pretty clear on this front.

5. Lone wolves usually tell others about their plans. Whether it’s a cryptic post on social media, a manifesto mailed to media outlets, or some other sign of intent, lone wolves frequently telegraph their acts of violence. Of course, prevention is no easy task and finding useful intelligence to this effect raises concerns about surveillance and possible infringement of people’s civil liberties. As the report also indicates, lone wolf attacks tend to be less effective and deadly than coordinated attacks involving multiple actors. These notions aside, with this type of threat on the rise, there is some comfort in knowing investigators have hope for stopping the next tragedy in that these threats don’t usually arise in complete isolation.


It bears underscoring that not everyone who holds extremist beliefs goes on to shoot up a church or school or what-have-you. As alluded to earlier, lone wolf attacks, though on the rise, are still fairly uncommon. It should also be noted that not everyone professing fealty to an extremist cause necessarily believes in all its tenets. As experts on the subject will aver, what complicates our understanding of lone wolf attacks is that some individuals get involved with extremist movements simply as a means of inciting violence. The backdrop of hate serves as a backdoor to inflicting pain and suffering.

From a law enforcement/criminal justice standpoint, this may facilitate their prosecution. Whatever the reasons for committing these crimes, they are highly visible. In our ever-present search for meaning, however, the obscurity of a perpetrator’s motive can lead to frustration or downright despair. How do we overcome something when its very form is elusive? To say this isn’t easy seems like the understatement of understatements. In addition, our comprehension of these matters is hindered by a lack of available information on the subject, aided (and abetted) by a shift at the federal level away from viewing all forms of domestic terrorism as such. Under President Trump, counterterrorism efforts have focused almost exclusively on Islamic terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has eliminated distinctions between different types of domestic terrorism, conflating white supremacist violence with that of so-called “black identity extremists” in its new category of “racially-motivated violent extremism,” confusing the frequency of cases between the two. This is no accident, a move with political designs written all over them, a concession to Trump’s base and to the changing face of the Republican Party. The president’s supporters by and large do not want to contemplate the rise of white supremacist violence here and abroad. Trump and his administration are only too happy to acquiesce.

This intentional minimization of the threat posed by white supremacists in the U.S. is understandably not lost on the rest of us, especially not members of the opposition party. Earlier this month, a handful of Democratic senators including presidential hopefuls Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris signed and sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr (yes, that AG Barr) and FBI director Christopher Wray admonishing the Department of Justice and the Bureau for failing to adequately acknowledge and address the growing danger posed by white supremacist terrorism.

The senators also charged the DOJ and FBI with taking concrete steps to address this issue, outlining resources to be used in their efforts, and to explain why its classification system for domestic terrorism changed in the first place. Decry this as an “attack” on Trump designed to garner political capital if you will, but these concerns are undoubtedly shared by these legislators’ constituents and scores of other Americans like you and me. Even political opportunists get it right at least occasionally.

Irrespective of examples of mass shootings and other violence, the exigency of curbing white supremacist influence around the world demands action. Since Trump’s inauguration, outward shows of racism, xenophobia, and other forms of prejudice have become more mainstream. On one hand, that these dark attitudes and behaviors are becoming more visible means we are better able to combat them with love, understanding, and if necessary, peaceful resistance. On the other hand, to the extent this sense of empowerment would allow those possessing extremist beliefs to expand their reach, such transparency is recognizably problematic.

Seattle-based investigative journalist David Neiwert, in a recent opinion piece, writes about how hate groups are recruiting young people into a “toxic” belief system at an alarming rate. Addressing the increasing frequency of lone wolf attacks like the Chabad of Poway shooting, Neiwert underscores how many of these perpetrators of violence feel they are doing something heroic, fed by conspiracy theories and convinced they have taken the “red pill” and see what is real. Often, social media and other online or phone-accessible forums are the breeding ground for this hate. What’s more, we as a society need to acknowledge the proliferation of dangerous extremism for what it is. From the article:

It’s time for us to stop looking away and start paying attention. We need to acknowledge that our own children are being radicalized online, and that a social media ecosystem predicated on a toxic libertarianism that allows hateful speech to run rampant has been the main platform enabling this phenomenon. Before the arrival of the alt-right, white nationalism was on its elderly deathbed. Now the numbers are unquestionably surging with youthful converts. Judging from pure internet, social media and gaming-hub traffic, we’re talking in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of new young white nationalists being born online right now. We need to recognize that there are policies that are fueling it, as well as irresponsible media entities doing the same — and that these things must cease.

What also must be stressed is that, while we employ the term “lone wolves” to apply to the individuals who carry out these heinous attacks, as Katie Worth’s Frontline PBS report underscores, usually someone is made aware of their intentions. To this point, Amy Spitalnick, executive director of the nonprofit Integrity First for America, writes in her own essay how anti-Semitic lone wolves aren’t really “lone” wolves at all, but rather a group hiding in plain sight.

As Spitalnick tells it, these attackers are “part of an online cabal that perpetuates this violent hate.” Whether it’s through messaging apps, 8chan, the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, or some other forum, lone wolves are often making their intentions to do harm known to others, with their postings reading like a “virtual road map” after the fact. These premeditations are not met with condemnation and revulsion, but acceptance, fame, and idol worship.

Along these lines, Spitalnick shares Neiwert’s sense of urgency about how to combat this disturbing phenomenon. At a minimum, she advocates for recognition of the surge in white supremacist terrorism as a national emergency, as well as investment by the federal government in programs designed to address this crisis rather than cuts and amorphous distinctions between white supremacists and “black identity extremists” which misrepresent and obscure. To boot, platforms like Twitter need to get serious about curbing abuse, harassment, hate, and threats of violence. Looking at you, @jack.

Having Donald Trump promote white nationalist views from his bully pulpit in the White House is bad in it of itself. Even if we remove him from office through electoral or other means, though, the problem won’t be solved. He is not the Night King whose defeat will suddenly mean the destruction of all other bigots around him. Trump’s rise is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and with all these “lone” wolves committing wanton acts of violence, the time for a unified front working to stem the spread of chilling right-wing extremism is now. To borrow another Game of Thrones reference, winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.

On Trump’s Garbage Sanctuary City Plan

President Donald Trump (center) is considering a plan to send undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities as a form of political retribution. Sens. Tom Cotton (left) and David Perdue (right) are co-sponsors of a bill that seeks to drastically reduce legal immigration to the U.S. Both proposals are garbage steeped in prejudice. (Photo Credit: The White House/Flickr)

A burden. An infestation. Like refuse to be sent away and dumped elsewhere.

These are the kinds of characterizations evoked by the Trump administration’s considered plan to send undocumented immigrants detained at the border to so-called “sanctuary cities” and “sanctuary states” as a means of political retribution. The plan, which is of questionable legality to begin with, obviously has Trump’s backing and the tacit approval of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, but congressional Republicans have been slow if unwilling to throw their support behind such a measure. While not explicitly endorsing such a policy, though, they yet may try to leverage pushback by Democrats into a bipartisan legislative deal. Where there’s political will, there’s a way, eh?

Before we begin dissecting Trump’s proposal, let’s first get one thing straight about “sanctuary” cities and states. The term refers to municipalities and other jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal authorities on immigration law so as to reduce fear among immigrant communities and to encourage them to use necessary public resources and to report crimes to law enforcement. To this effect, sanctuary cities may prohibit law enforcement and municipal officials from asking about an individual’s status or may refuse to hold immigrants beyond their release date without a judge’s warrant for committing a crime not related to immigration status.

This distinction, however, does not preclude ICE agents from enforcing immigration law of their own accord. For this reason, some immigrant rights activists favor the term “welcoming city” or “fair and welcoming city” to pertain to these places so as not to imbue immigrants or their advocates with an undue sense of security. Calling your city a “sanctuary city” does not magically seal its boundaries to prevent federal authorities from coming in.

With that point behind us, let’s get to Trump’s idea. Donald Trump has had sanctuary cities in his crosshairs even before becoming president. On the campaign trail, he suggested refusing to send federal funding to these jurisdictions who fail to cooperate on matters of immigration law. In doing so, Trump pointed to highly-publicized cases like Kate Steinle’s murder at the hands of an undocumented immigrant as a partial justification for his policy proposal. Such a directive, as with the current notion of unloading undocumented immigrants on sanctuary cities/Democratic Party strongholds, would’ve been of questionable legality, not to mention it was probably overstated so as to gin up his base. If anything, Trump is more likely to target specific programs like Justice Assistance Grants or the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which President Barack Obama even eyed axing during his tenure.

In this respect, a decision to ship out asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities is nothing new for Trump, who has made illegal immigration his chief bugaboo since announcing his bid for the presidency. It is, meanwhile, of questionable utility. By relocating asylum-seekers and economic migrants within the U.S., his administration is making it all the more unlikely these people won’t be deported. Press Secretary Sanders noted this isn’t the president’s first option. As we all know, Trump and his stalwart fans want the wall and they want it yesterday.

Even so, if the goal is deportation and deterrence, this move would seem to fly in the face of that agenda. Reportedly, several mayors of major U.S. cities seemed to embrace the idea, and Central American migrants and their advocates reason this could actually be a godsend for them. In addition, some analysts believe the intended overtaxing of public resources implied by the administration’s plan would be slim to none. Even in smaller municipalities identifying as sanctuary cities or towns theoretically less equipped to deal with a rapid influx of people, undocumented immigrants would probably just move on if the economic resources were to be lacking in a given locale. There would be nothing to compel them to stay in one place or to dissuade them from heading elsewhere.

It’s one thing that the Trump administration’s sanctuary city proposal, as with that of a wall at the Mexican border, would be of dubious effectiveness in controlling illegal immigration and marshalling flows of peoples. For that matter, knowing Trump’s, er, penchant for details, such an undertaking would likely be a logistical nightmare marked by cost overruns, delays, harsh treatment of the people to be transported, and lack of meaningful oversight. As with the wall, however, it’s the cruelty of the messaging behind it that really makes it so disturbing.

Bill Carter, CNN media analyst and author, for one, decries Trump’s “vicious” revenge plan. For Carter, the “depraved,” “grotesque,” “insane,” and “sociopathic” policy proposal (as others have described it) is, on the face of it, “awful.” What makes it especially troublesome is that this event is but one in a sea of additional complications facing this country, a number of them involving Pres. Trump. Carter writes:

By any historical standard, the proposed White House plan to try to inflict some kind of damage on districts hospitable to immigrants by busing masses of detainees to those locations and setting them loose — like an “infestation,” a favorite characterization of this White House about immigrants from Mexico and Central America — would have unleashed a torrent of intense and sustained high-volume coverage. And viewers and readers encountering widespread analysis of a story marked by terms like insanity and sociopathy would recognize something extraordinary had happened.

Instead, the din of incessant political noise can be expected to quickly obliterate any effort to give this latest development what would, in the past, have been its proper due as a screamer of a headline. And context will fly off into the ether. Astonishment will ebb. Media heads will snap back.

For Carter, despite the obvious allusions to be made between Watergate and Trump’s scandals and despite the media’s “indispensable” role in holding the president accountable, when it comes to the mess that is the Trump White House, it’s unclear just how strong the media’s influence still is. The era of Trump is one defined by incomprehensible absurdity that defies attempts to easily define or explain it. As Carter makes the analogy, it’s like fighting wave after wave of zombies. After a while, the sheer volume would wear you down. In Trump’s America, news of a notion to move undocumented immigrants to and fro, treating them like trash, is but one part of an assault on the senses of the news media consumer. And, as Carter tells ominously, it just keeps coming.


Along the lines of what Bill Carter points to as a barrage of newsworthy events, this latest to-do involving Donald Trump and U.S. immigration policy is concerning beyond its immediate circumstances. For one, the half-baked sanctuary cities plan is a distraction from any number of things amiss with the Trump administration, not the least of which is the ongoing drama surrounding the findings of the Mueller investigation.

If anything, Attorney General William Barr, in his presser on the Mueller report and his release of a heavily redacted version of the document, has raised more questions than he has provided concrete answers on whether Trump obstructed justice. His presentation of its contents in a misleading, if not patently false, way has prompted Democratic lawmakers to call for Robert Mueller to testify before Congress on matters relevant to his findings, and in a few cases—notably as recommended by presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren—to begin impeachment proceedings against the president. Barr’s actions smack of cronyism and certainly have done nothing to appease those on the left who have closely followed this investigation.

To boot, news of this plan may be a way to get a less drastic policy directive across and make it seem all the more savory by comparison. Back in 2017, Carlos Maza, video producer at Vox and the creative force behind the “Strikethrough” series, which examines manifestations of the media in the Trump era, published a seven-minute video piece about Trump’s antics in the context of what is known as the Overton window, or the range of acceptability for an idea in public political discourse. As Maza explains in accordance with the theory, the easiest way to move that window is to propose an “unthinkable” idea, even if it is rejected, as it will make more “radical” or “ridiculous” ideas seem relatively “normal.”

As this concept relates to Trump, behavior that would’ve shocked us under previous presidents has become that much more commonplace. We regularly expect to be bullshitted, as Maza so colorfully puts it. A side effect of this reality, though, is that media outlets have stocked their panels with anti-Trump conservatives to argue against pro-Trump personalities, creating a new middle ground for the conversation. As a result, our expectations get lower. Republicans are no longer concerned with governing well, but merely with not being Trump. The proverbial bar is so low it’s on the ground.

Maza points to the egregious Republican tax bill as an example of this. The Senate version of the bill was rushed through a vote with lawmakers barely having read it. Meanwhile, Pres. Trump was busy tweeting about Michael Flynn. Suddenly, with Trump pushing his brand of crazy, the GOP’s chicanery was not the embarrassment it should’ve been but rather a win from which Trump’s ranting served to distract. The president provided political cover for his party mates helping to promote his regressive domestic agenda.

Maza’s report came out prior to the Democratic Party regaining control of the House after the midterms, so the political climate has changed appreciably since that time. Nevertheless, that’s unlikely to stop Republicans from trying to advance legislation impacting immigration. Earlier this month, Sens. David Perdue, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton reintroduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, aimed at reducing legal immigration to the United States by as much as 50%.

Billed as a defense of American workers, it is a proposal supported by White House adviser Stephen Miller—and that alone should give one pause. The claim that “they’re taking our jobs” has been argued for years without much credible evidence to support it. In addition, the bill’s given priority to highly-skilled workers despite an ever-present need for “skilled” and “unskilled” labor is recognizable as a backdoor to reduce the influx of immigrants altogether. The RAISE Act, ostensibly a piece of legislation geared toward benefiting the U.S. economy, appears to be plagued by an misunderstanding of the immigration situation in this country, or worse, intentionally skews a debate informed by racial prejudices. Next to Trump’s absurd sanctuary cities plan, however, it not only seems more logical, but more responsible. The available evidence suggests otherwise.

Amid the chaos of the Trump administration, a notion to send migrants and asylum-seekers to sanctuary cities as political retribution is just one in a series of confounding happenings. But even if doesn’t come to pass, the message it sends is not to be minimized. It is one of cruel dehumanization of some of the most vulnerable residents here in America, and it, unlike them, is garbage.

You Should Think Twice before Making That Hitler Analogy

In defending nationalism, Candace Owens cited Adolf Hitler’s globalist intentions as his major flaw. In doing so, she casually forgot to mention, you know, that whole attempted genocide of the Jewish people thing. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Nowadays, it’s hard to know what political norms have a function or are otherwise subject to being summarily eschewed. In the era of President Donald J. Trump, it would seem all bets, as they say, are off. One set of guiding principles that’s still fairly sacrosanct, meanwhile, is what I call the Hitler Rules. As I would phrase them, they are as follows:

  1. Don’t talk about Adolf Hitler in a remotely positive light or quote him without a very good reason for doing so.
  2. If you find yourself extolling Hitler’s virtues or publicly citing Mein Kampf, stop immediately and apologize profusely.
  3. Dear God, why are you still talking about Hitler?

If you get to Principle #1, you messed up. If you get to Principle #3, you really messed up. If any of this doesn’t make sense, go watch the History Channel or visit the Holocaust Museum or open up a book (yes, an actual physical book) about World War II. There’s way too much to cover in the span of one blog post.

And yet, people like Candace Owens evidently are unapologetic about their references to a man who advocated for the ethnic cleansing of an entire people. Back in February, the conservative activist Owens spoke at the London launch of right-wing organization Turning Point USA, a student-oriented group focused on changing the narrative that the liberal left has a “monopoly” over young people. When asked by an audience member how those who champion nationalist causes can, well, not be called “nationalists,” Owens had this to say:

I actually don’t have any problems at all with the word “nationalism.” I think that the definition gets poisoned by elitists that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want. […] Whenever we say nationalism, the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler.

He was a national socialist. But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize. He wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German. Everybody to look a different way. To me, that’s not nationalism. In thinking about how we could go bad down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism. I really don’t.

So, wait: Hitler wasn’t bad until he took his act on the road? What about the whole, you know, attempted extermination of the Jews thing? However you slice it, it seems pretty bad. Also puzzling is Owens’s definition of “nationalism.” It’s one thing for members of a state to embrace certain cultural elements and values. It’s quite another to insist people all act, look, and speak a certain way as part of a racist or xenophobic agenda. Oxford Dictionaries defines nationalism as “identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” Including but not limited to starting a world freaking war and killing millions of people in accordance with some perverted ideal of racial purity. Yes, Ms. Owens, that would make Hitler a nationalist.

In the ensuing backlash, Owens insisted she was taken out of context, which conservatives often like to claim when being held accountable for dumb shit they say. In an ex post facto explanatory video uploaded to Twitter, Owens derided Buzzfeed and its report that helped draw attention to her remarks as a “scum-of-the-earth” publication. She also doubled down on her assertion that wanting to protect the “sovereignty” of one’s nation from outside “threats” shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing, defending the likes of Pres. Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, as well as standing by her interpretation of “nationalism” to exclude Hitler on the basis he didn’t put Germany first because he killed German Jews. You could’ve at least mentioned that the first time around, Ms. Owens.

Owens put a cap on her rebuttal by pointing to the “insanity” of leftist journalists for highlighting her comments about Hitler. Here’s the thing, though, Ms. Owens: no one forced you to bring up Hitler. You made the initial comment that people (which people, anyway?) think of the Führer when they think of nationalism. You could’ve stopped there. At any rate, you should’ve denounced his hate and genocidal violence right then and there in your initial answer. But you didn’t. At best, your explanation was a lazy one. At worst, it intentionally left out the mass murder of European Jews as a matter of German domestic and foreign policy. Don’t blame liberal journos for your deficiency. Even given full context, your lack of clarity merits admonishment.

When not explicitly issuing bad takes on Adolf Hitler, others in recent memory have questionably quoted his inflammatory language as a means of attacking the other side. A few weeks ago, Republican Mo Brooks invoked Mein Kampf as a way of railing against Democrats and the Mueller investigation. Citing Hitler’s words directly, he assailed Dems for promoting “big lie propaganda.” Evidently, Rep. Brooks tried to make the connection that because some Democrats identify as socialists and because the Nazis identified as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the Democratic Party is akin to the Nazi Party. Um, what?

First of all, Rep. Brooks, Hitler and the Nazis were fascists. Their “national socialism” was a nationalist recontextualization of the term socialism that emphasized hierarchical structures (as opposed to universal equality) and disdained representative democracy. As with the Nazis’ use of the swastika and their celebration of an Aryan “master race,” their brand of “socialism” was a perversion of the kind adhered to by the likes of the Marxists.

Second of all, even if the point you were trying to make was a sound one
—which it was not—this is Mein freaking Kampf we’re talking about here. We can do without Hitler’s verbiage. Besides, while we’re discussing whether people are being taken out of context, Hitler’s concept of a “big lie” refers to the notion of a Jewish conspiracy to blame Germany’s defeat in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff. Its function was to foment anti-Semitism, effectively creating a scapegoat in the Jewish people. So what—you’re alleging the president is as persecuted as the Jews? Pardon me if I elect not to weep for a man of Trump’s purported wealth, a straight white male, no less.

In both Owens’s and Brooks’s cases, these mentions of Hitler were unsolicited on the part of those observing. For Owens, it was a discussion of the leader of the Nazi Party and nationalism that sounded like a defense more than anything and that was wrongheaded either way. For Brooks, it was a ham-handed comparison between the Democratic Party and the Nazis, one that unnecessarily and disingenuously cited Mein Kampf and therefore could’ve been replaced by the writings of pretty much any other public figure such that it would’ve made for an improvement. Heck, you could’ve thrown a random Post Malone lyric out there. I’m not sure what the relevance would have been, mind you, but at least it wouldn’t have come from Hitler-Comma-Adolf. Both of these individuals flagrantly violated the Hitler Rules—and no amount of context can take them off the hook for that.


Conjuring images of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany willy-nilly is, for most rational people not beholden to a regressive conservative agenda, ill-advised. Of course, if you’re a member of a far-right political organization or a neo-Nazi group looking to recruit new members, naked affection for Hitler’s agenda is likely welcome. With today’s Republican Party under Donald Trump, the separation between a party that implicitly excludes people on racist and classist principles and one that openly campaigns on destruction of the other is ever narrowing.

Then again, some people may just be invoking a different fascist leader. Sen. John Cornyn made news in February when he posted to his Twitter account a quote, without context, by Benito Mussolini. As with Mo Brooks, this was a dig at self-professed democratic socialists. Never mind that Mussolini, like Hitler, was a fascist who, despite earlier socialist leanings, came to denounce the Italian Socialist Party as he embraced a more nationalist outlook and eventually rose to dictatorial heights. In other words, if your aim as Sen. Cornyn is to demean socialism by promoting fascism or otherwise directly quoting a mass murderer and despot, your priorities may need realignment.

We might be remiss if we didn’t consider that conservatives are not the only ones who have made allusions to Hitler in their comparisons. Candace Owens noted in her violation of the Hitler Rules how nationalism, at least in the U.S., gets conflated with Germany’s one-time Nazi leader. As the Promulgator-in-Chief of “America First” nationalism, Trump is therefore the Hitler figure in this analogy.

This is where Trump’s defenders customarily begin to lose their shit and/or exhibit their performative umbrage over the supposed likeness. How dare liberals talk bad about our beloved president! He’s a great man and certainly no Adolf Hitler! In an ironic twist, they throw a hissy fit and talk about something they allege the left suffers from in “Trump derangement syndrome.” Which, not for nothing, is a terrible name. For one, it’s cumbersome. Second of all, it doesn’t make awfully clear which party is the deranged one. Just as easily, I could infer that Trump is the one who suffers from his own distinctive brand of insanity. From a marketing perspective, it doesn’t “pop.”

Literally speaking, Trump isn’t Hitler. He hasn’t led the Axis Powers on a mission of world conquest, nor has he advocated for the full-scale deletion of an entire race. (Not yet, at least.) Nevertheless, elements of his administration’s policy and Trump’s rhetoric are worrisome and reminiscent of Hitler’s stewardship of Nazi Germany.

Maiken Umbach, professor of modern history at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, wrote a piece back in 2016 prior to the election asking what the similarities between Hitler and Trump are. It’s not just the denigration of minority groups. Sadly, Trump is not the only bad actor in this regard worldwide; we need look no further than Marine Le Pen’s candidacy for the top office in France or the success of the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum vote for other modern cohorts. Umbach would also echo the concern that Trump is not proposing a “final solution” to get rid of Mexicans and other immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. Although by now, the separation of families at the border and putting them in glorified cages, hearkening back to how Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps during World War II, doesn’t exactly bolster Trump’s credibility on this front.

These thoughts aside, where Umbach and others see parallels between Trump and Hitler is in the promotion of domestic and foreign policy short on specifics and long on the creation of a charismatic leader who claims he alone can decisively move the country forward and in a way that breaks with established corruption. She closes her article with these considerations:

Like Hitler, Trump is capitalising on a longing for charismatic leadership, to which even highly developed Western democracies seem very susceptible when democratic structures fail to deliver all the desired outcomes. No Western democracy currently faces problems on the scale of those Germany grappled with before 1933. And yet, there is a very real sense amongst a large part of the population that they have not been on the “winning side” for a long time.

The gap between rich and poor is getting wider, and in the process, the classical attributes of political leadership – education, expertise, eloquent speeches – have come to be seen not as problem-solving strategies, but as the identity markers of a social elite who are looking after their own interests only.

Even where new policies on healthcare, education, or job creation achieve their goals, they are not popular, because they are tinged with that smell of elitism that makes many ordinary people not feel valued by the political classes. Trump has not been the first demagogue to capitalise on such sentiments, and he will not be the last. If elected, we will not see a resurgence of National Socialism. Trump is, nevertheless, a symptom of a fundamental problem with our democratic system, which we seem utterly unable to fix.

As it must be stressed, President Donald Trump is merely an outgrowth of a dysfunctional political system and an embodiment of prejudices that have existed long before his rise to power. In Umbach’s parlance, he is not the first and won’t be the last. Just the same, the attitudes and behaviors he encourages should not be altogether dismissed, nor should we ignore the conditions that led to Trump’s upset electoral victory. Feelings of anger, fear, and hate have come to be associated with Trump’s base. That the Hitler comparison even appears credible at points suggests this is not simple hyperbole or “derangement.” And it’s not just American leftists throwing out the analogy either. When Holocaust survivors tell you there is room for comparison, you tend to listen.

Whatever side of the political fence you’re on, name-dropping Adolf Hitler is a move to which one should give due weight before acting on it. The above examples coming from the right are rather egregious instances of individuals attempting to defend their personal embrace of nationalism or attack their political rivals according to a faulty pretext. The left is not altogether blameless in this regard, however, and must be judicious in its connections to Nazism lest its card-carrying members lose credibility amid the withering criticism of right-wing trolls.

If nothing else, though, the concession should be easy to make that Hitler wasn’t a “good” leader. A few weeks back, in my home state, a high school athletic director tried to make the case that Hitler was a good leader with “bad moral character and intentions.” It may seem like semantics, but beyond framing Hitler as an effective leader who led his country down a dark and ruinous path, there should be no justification for calling him a good leader. That is, you can’t neatly separate his leadership style from the deleterious results, presuming you think it effective in the first place.

The same might be said for Trump and an assessment of his presidency as a whole. Judging by the turmoil in his administration and the Cabinet as well as the damage he has done to our standing in the world by moving America deliberately backwards, Trump’s presidency has been an utter disaster. Never mind what he and his backers might aver. The ends, in this case, by no means justify the means, and by this token, Trump is no good leader either.

We can’t forget the lessons World War II and Adolf Hitler’s ascendancy have taught us. The context in which we revisit these lessons, on the other hand, matters. Candace Owens and Mo Brooks in particular should heed this advice or risk suffering the consequences.

The Artist, the Art, and the People in Between

Michael Jackson was a gifted entertainer and by many accounts a loving person. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he is innocent and it doesn’t justify his fans’ harsh treatment of his accusers. (Photo Credit: Zoran Veselinovic/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Michael Jackson was a phenomenally talented individual and entertainer. He also may well have been a pedophile who abused multiple children entrusted to his care. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive, and our complicated relationship with the artist and his art is illustrative of our larger struggle with how to regard the accused, their accusers, and their past creations in the #MeToo era.

Concerns about Jackson’s troubled legacy related to his long-suspected indiscretions have returned with renewed vigor in the wake of the airing of the documentary Leaving Neverland. The four-hour film, which prominently features Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two of Jackson’s accusers, is by many accounts a must-see.

As with any creative work, the movie’s merits may certainly be debated. Some critics have also observed the documentary, in its spotlight on the accusers, is not neutral—though it’s realistically difficult for the people involved with making the film not to take a stand on a matter of such import. Whatever you think of the veracity of the accusers’ accounts, the subject of child abuse and the effect it has on families is a discussion worth having, and to the extent Leaving Neverland can add to this discussion, this suggests its existence has value.

The subsequent backlash has been notable, at any rate. Some radio stations have removed Michael Jackson’s catalog from their programming. Other artists/companies/productions sampling or performing his songs have canceled upcoming projects invoking his image or have likewise moved to retroactively remove his likeness and his music. Perhaps fitting for this era, the backlash itself has seen a backlash, particularly from Jackson’s estate and his avid fans. The former filed a $100 million defamation lawsuit against HBO. Protestors came out in full force outside the office of British television company Channel 4 and at the Sundance Film Festival for showing the movie. To put it mildly, Leaving Neverland has caused a stir.

Most of us are not as close to the events of the documentary or Jackson’s music to have such strong feelings as his accusers, his family and friends, or his loyal supporters. Still, it’s not like the rest of us aren’t familiar with the man and his body of work. After all, they didn’t call him “the King of Pop” for nothing. At his peak popularity, Jackson possessed the kind of fame most of today’s entertainers could only dream of. The allusion to him being pop royalty was especially apt. His stardom rivaled the love and affection the queen of England might receive. Heck, he met with presidents and foreign dignitaries. If not quite larger than life, “MJ” was pretty gosh darn huge nonetheless.

Accordingly, we all possess some degree of connection to Jackson and his music. The question then becomes: how do we regard the artist and his art? For many people, it’s an uncomfortable situation marked by cognitive dissonance. “I like his music. People tell me he’s a pedophile. This upsets me. How do I reconcile these disparate feelings?” I paint this picture as if it’s a wholly conscious decision on our parts, though I am cognizant of the notion it is not. We use coping mechanisms to assuage ourselves of the discordant emotions and ideations within our minds. It’s up to us as individuals to process and sort through how we experience it all.

So, to listen or not to listen? If you ask Kate Maltby, broadcaster, columnist, and theater critic in the UK, the answer—at least for her—is yes. For her part, Maltby believes Robson and Safechuck. Among her reasons is the idea that these accusers would be loath to invite the wrath of the Jackson estate and his fans except for the need to tell the truth. Not to mention their lawsuits against the estate have since been dismissed on effective technicalities or statutes of limitation. If this were a ruse for the sake of money or fame, it wouldn’t appear to serve those ends very well.

Assuming we do believe these men, Maltby feels we are doing ourselves a disservice by negating the greatness of Jackson’s hits alongside adding a new context to his life’s saga. In making this assertion, she is making a key distinction between a figure who has passed on and can’t make any more money off of his creative works and those of disgraced living entertainers who are abusers and whose mere presence would stunt the development of other potential collaborators. Jackson’s family didn’t perpetrate these acts. Why should they suffer as a result?

Ultimately, for Maltby, the recognition that Michael Jackson was a musical “genius” and an active worker for the benefit of charities but also a flawed human being is essential, lest we try to absolve other gifted individuals because of their ability in the future. She directs this argument at Jackson’s “superfans,” specifically the kinds that “wonder why people don’t come out earlier with accusations of abuse, then attack those who do.” She finishes her op-ed on this subject with these thoughts:

Appreciating Jackson’s music should help us see him, and humanity, as susceptible to complex tragedy. Jackson’s own father has been called “one of the most monstrous fathers in pop” — and we know how many children of abuse go on to abuse others in turn. Jackson’s superfans would do well to reflect on how quick they are to believe Jackson’s own tales of childhood abuse — whippings with electric cords and belt buckles — and how quick to disbelieve his accusers.

Jackson’s critics should be open-minded enough to recognize that his impact on our musical landscape can’t be reversed. But his defenders should be open-minded enough to accept he may still have done terrible things. The rest of us should keep playing those tracks — and test how easy it is to lose ourselves in the music.

Though it may be small consolation to some to hear, approaching Jackson’s identity as a peerless talent with a dark side isn’t easy for anyone. Perhaps this is simply the nature of these things. As hard as it is to assign blame or prove guilt in cases of sexual abuse, it’s also difficult to reckon with the emotional and psychological aftermath of these acts in their own way. Child abuse has pervasive negative effects on our psyches and these effects are only magnified in the case of an alleged abuser with the profile of “the King of Pop.” Our collective discomfort only hints at the destructive force of this sort of violence and the sense of shame survivors can feel.


Long before Leaving Neverland, Dave Chappelle invoked Michael Jackson’s trials in a sketch for his hit eponymous comedy show. The premise is that Chappelle is a potential juror in various courtroom proceedings of high-profile black celebrities, a premise of which the genesis could be found in his conversations with one of the show’s writers about the notion that he (Chappelle) almost never believes these stars are guilty. Chappelle’s character goes to great lengths to absolve Jackson of any culpability, downplaying accounts of his accusers describing Jackson’s genitalia as well as Jackson’s own admissions that he slept in the same bed as children who stayed at his Neverland ranch. He also reasons Jackson can’t be guilty because “the man made Thriller.”

Of course, this is comedy and Chappelle’s juror, when asked by the prosecutor if he’d let his children sleep in the same bed, responds with a disgusted “F**k no!” Still, this sketch arguably hasn’t aged very well. Regardless of the character’s sincerity, these are real arguments used against survivors of sexual abuse. Why didn’t they come forward sooner? What’s in it for them? Are they doing it for the money? For the attention? Where’s the evidence?

In Jackson’s case, while not the only ones to cast aspersions on Wade Robson’s and James Safechuck’s accounts, those “superfans” Kate Maltby describes take it to an extreme. Mike Pesca, writing for Slate, is among those who say Jackson’s steadfast defenders “sound like conspiracy theorists” way past impartiality more so than discerning consumers of news and entertainment media. Pesca likens these fanatics to so-called 9/11 “truthers” who aver that this tragedy was an inside job. He points out that he doesn’t know “for certain” that Jackson is an abuser, but that a preponderance of evidence suggests he is and that Robson and Safechuck are telling the truth.

That hasn’t resonated with Jackson’s defenders, however. As Pesca characterizes their defenses of their beloved pop idol, there are three major points by which his accusers can be refuted: 1) there were plenty of boys Jackson didn’t molest, 2) Robson testified on Jackson’s behalf back in the 2004-2005 trial against him, and 3) they are after Jackson’s money.

Let’s start with #3, which we’ve already addressed in part with discussion of the fact Robson’s and Safechuck’s lawsuits against the Jackson estate have been thrown out. We may be eager to discount the accusers as motivated by money, but what about the Jackson’s estate’s lawyers? What about the relatives who, in defending Michael, neglect to mention that their public profiles and musical relevance are intimately connected with his image? If Robson and Safechuck are fair game, certainly, those with a material interest in Michael Jackson’s marketability making public statements on his behalf are too.

As for the other proverbial prongs in the trident that is Jackson’s defense, on the first count—that Jackson didn’t molest many children—this doesn’t prove he couldn’t have violated other young people. The same kind of defense was used by Brett Kavanaugh’s apologizers after multiple accusations of sexual impropriety not long ago. If it seemed suspicious then, it should seem equally specious now if not more so given the irregularity of Jackson’s behavior during the period in question. On #2? Very simply, Robson could’ve been lying then and is telling the truth now, and not the other way around.

For Pesca, that Jackson’s staunchest defenders take to ramblings on Medium and YouTube doesn’t damn them absolutely, but it doesn’t speak highly of them either. Even when those who stand by Jackson possess a veneer of greater respectability—in name-checking music journalist Joe Vogel, Pesca confesses he doesn’t possess a high regard for Forbes—they still might be reliant on character references who themselves may be blind to or uncapable of entertaining the thought that Jackson molested children.

Another defense Pesca underscores is that Jackson was black and his accusers are white, reminiscent of Dave Chappelle’s hyperbolic characterization. Vogel awkwardly tries to make this case too, citing—of all things—To Kill a Mockingbird. Mr. Vogel, ahem, you are no Harper Lee. Ditto for will.i.am, who threw out the idea that the backlash against Jackson is a “smear campaign” and that black artists are targeted disproportionately over white artists.

Even if will.i.am—I hate that I have to keep writing his name this way—has a point about the inherent hypocrisy in the ability of corporations and certain other individuals to reclaim their standing after heinous acts, the perceived lack of empathy here undermines the strength of his argument. Why is it so much easier to believe that Jackson is innocent and that his accusers are opportunists than the reverse? Or espouse the belief that their mothers were terrible parents and say nothing of Jackson’s alleged misdeeds? Because, as Chappelle joked, he made Thriller? Should it matter if the accused is, as the song goes, black or white?

As with sorting out our feelings on these matters, answering these questions isn’t easy either. Despite the controversy related to Leaving Neverland and radio station bans, streams of Michael Jackson’s music increased following the documentary’s premiere. Maybe listeners are simply able to separate the art from the artist. Maybe it’s a show of defiance from the fans who have never lost faith. For those of us in between and victims of physical and sexual abuse everywhere, the reasons may change but the song remains the same.

Who Is the Real “Journo-Terrorist” Here?

Laura Ingraham likes to be taken seriously for offering baseless opinions steeped in racism and xenophobia and for routinely attacking real journalists and other people with less power. But sure, Talia Lavin and Lauren Duca are the “journo-terrorists.” (Photo Credit: Brent Clanton)

A notable aspect of being an “opinion journalist” is that you can offer a viewpoint or set of arguments without being held to the same standards as objective journalists. By this token, I am such a “journalist,” though I tend to refer to myself as a blogger or writer in deference to those journos who do hard reporting. I try to back up my assertions with research and give credit where credit is due. But my pieces are opinion pieces. If you share my opinions, great. If you don’t, that’s fine, though hopefully what I write gives you something to think about. I don’t derive pleasure from targeting people who disagree with me or making them a target.

Regarding commentators who possess much larger platforms and whose narratives depend on demonization of “the other,” however, the same can’t necessarily be said. Their identity as opinion journalists, aided and abetted by employers who fail or refuse to hold them accountable, is a convenient hedge. As noted, because they offer opinions, they are not subject to the rigorous fact-checking of other forms of content. Yet, because they offer insights relevant to today’s current events, they can claim to be “journalists” and maintain some sense of credibility. All the while, they can attack other members of the media and reporters in an age when journalists are increasingly under attack, in both the physical and non-physical senses.

This brings us to FOX News’s Laura Ingraham, who regularly rages against “elites” and highly-paid athletes (despite being college-educated and highly-paid herself) as well as immigrants of all kinds (despite adopting children from foreign countries). Recently, Ingraham, amidst decrying “attacks” against “free speech” on college campuses, pointed to NYU’s hire of Talia Lavin and Lauren Duca as adjunct journalism professors as further evidence of the “liberal indoctrination” of today’s youth.

Lavin has been a frequent target of FOX News and other conservatives after mistakenly referring, alongside others, to a picture of ICE agent Justin Gaertner as having a Nazi tattoo when it was really a symbol of his platoon while serving in Afghanistan; Lavin apologized and resigned as a fact-checker from The New Yorker in the midst of the controversy. Plus, it probably doesn’t help she is A) an outspoken woman and critic of the Trump administration and B) Jewish. Duca, too, has been a subject of abuse for her own feminist views and for, among other things, calling Tucker Carlson a “partisan hack” while being interviewed on his show. Ironically, she herself has been accused of harassment dating back to her days working for Huffington Post (as it was then called), though that doesn’t mean she should be harassed in turn.

Whatever you think of Lavin and Duca and their writing, here were Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza, commentator, conspiracy theorist filmmaker, and convicted felon, waxing philosophical about these “radical anti-conservatives'” journalistic integrity, dismissing them as writers of “hit pieces,” and Ingraham in particular labeling them as “little journo-terrorists.” To Ingraham’s 2.5 million viewers. About an adjunct teaching assignment for one semester. Right. To say this spotlight seems disproportionate and unfair would be an understatement.

It’s already suspect when you’re relying on the “expertise” of someone like D’Souza, an individual with a highly questionable relationship to truth-telling and a person of color who repeatedly apologizes for racism on the right, to make your points. For Ingraham, though, what is a “journo-terrorist” anyway? On the face of it, it appears to be merely a pretty bad portmanteau of “journo” and “terrorist.” Like, where’s the art herein, Ms. Ingraham?

Let’s take a deeper dive here, though. Vague as her comments were, here’s what Ingraham said about Lavin in response to D’Souza’s notion that Duca and Lavin were hired not because NYU cares about ethics in journalism, but that they simply want people who espouse leftist ideologies:

They want to circumscribe speech. They want to take players off the field altogether. So she’s just a hit gal, she’s another, you know, Media Matters—they don’t want to argue, they don’t want to win the debate. They want to search and destroy—that’s what they do, that’s why, you know, FOX viewers are so loyal to this network. Because we refuse to bow, refuse to cave in to these kinds of terroristic tactics. And that’s what they are: little “journo-terrorists.”

“Search and destroy?” Are these freelance writers or Hellfire missiles? What makes Ingraham’s, ahem, angle so suspect is it is devoid of specifics. Who is someone like Talia Lavin trying to search and destroy? What makes their work “terroristic” in nature? Last time I checked, these women weren’t shooting up mosques in New Zealand like the legitimate terrorist you and your FOX News brethren didn’t adequately condemn because he is a white nationalist and that has essentially been your brand since your employer abandoned all pretense of objectivity in its sycophantic support for President Donald Trump.

Lavin herself reacted with horror to having her face emblazoned on national TV in hyperbolic fashion, tweeting, “I am 29. I have no full-time job. I am teaching a single course, for $7k, as an adjunct. This is insane. And irresponsible. It is incitement. It is not OK.” She’s right. By her own admission, Lavin is “not an interesting or significant person with any power.”

That seems to be the point, however. Ingraham is going after a freelance journalist without an employer, a leftist Jew, no less, precisely because she’s an easy target. Not that having an employer automatically protects your job status, mind you, and actually may cause you to be seen as a liability. See also Marc Lamont Hill. Duca, for her part, responded with a still image from Seinfeld with Jerry and George eating ice cream and the subtitle “Whatever.” We all have different ways of coping.

The larger idea is this: if Ingraham respects journalism, she has a funny way of showing it going after the livelihood of two young women trying to survive by working in an industry plagued by monetization concerns in the Internet/mobile age and which—seemingly like every other industry
—is dogged by allegations of sexism and harassment. Likewise funny (but not humorous) is her “J’accuse!” about terrorism directed at Lavin and Duca when she is the one who dines on scaremongering about immigrants, Muslims, and other people of color and when she has the larger audience predisposed to attack others’ employment. In these respects, Ingraham’s use of the term “journo-terrorist” is all too appropriate: it refers to something that doesn’t exist designed to stoke fear as used by someone who’s not a real journalist.


This isn’t the first time Laura Ingraham has fired shots from atop her bully pulpit and I suspect it won’t be the last. Ingraham notably drew condemnation when she mocked Parkland shooting survivor turned activist David Hogg for “whining” about not getting into the school he wanted when posting a video online about his college application process. Even if you think Hogg shouldn’t be complaining about such matters like the entitled brat you imagine him to be, you’d probably agree Ingraham’s comments were ill-conceived. Why go after one of the survivors of one of the worst mass shootings in the United States in recent memory, one who’s, for all intents and purposes, a kid? According to your mindset, shouldn’t this be considered “punching down?” Don’t you have more important things to worry about?

Evidently not. Either way, Hogg took the occasion to exhort his Twitter followers to boycott and contact companies from a list of Ingraham’s sponsors to voice their displeasure, prompting an exodus of sponsors from her program at least at the time. (I haven’t followed up to see whether these corporations have re-upped once the heat on them was turned down, which has happened and is hence why I qualify my characterization of the loss of sponsors.) I wasn’t weeping for Ingraham’s sake nor did I buy the sincerity of her apology as sponsors continued to jump ship.

This notwithstanding, and coming back to Talia Lavin, Lauren Duca, and what you can do to admonish Ingraham, I think the why is as important as the what. Certainly, you should support Lavin and Duca as writers and you can even support them by donating if you have the money and are feeling charitable. As for calling for a boycott of her advertisers or contacting them directly to make our feelings known, I’m not sure I’m on board with such actions as a means of revenge or something like that. That is, I’m not necessarily going to call for someone’s job on the right even though they go after people’s livelihood on the left. However, if you’re a proponent of such activism specifically as a way to take away Ingraham’s platform because she’s a bully who spews racist and xenophobic hatred, I’m all for it. Ditto for Tucker Carlson. A white supremacist agenda is not the kind I want any brands I use to support.

If Laura Ingraham were a holder for political office, that’d be one thing. The prescribed remedy would be easy: vote her out. Not that it would necessarily provide solace and depending on the political orientation of her district that might be easier said than done, but it would be the most direct way and one free from concerns about participating through allocation of money rather than truly participating. Ingraham can’t be held so accountable, though, and since FOX News sure doesn’t like to reprimand its biggest draws—short of murder, I don’t know what would compel them to fire Sean Hannity, for instance—the onus is on us as consumers and viewers to act accordingly. Ingraham and people like her make a habit of targeting those without power. But we have more power than we sometimes realize and that should scare scaremongers like her more than anything.

On Sex Work, Morality, and Truth

Pete Buttigieg is among those on the left who, in deriding Donald Trump as a “porn star president,” takes a jab at an industry in sex work that has been disproportionately stigmatized and which sees its professionals face certain risks and a lack of concern for their rights and trustworthiness. (Photo Credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

At a recent CNN town hall, Democratic hopeful Pete Buttigieg took specific issue with Vice President Mike Pence’s support of Donald Trump. Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana (Pence’s home state) and openly gay (ahem, not Pence’s favorite distinction), criticized Pence for his support for Trump in an apparent abandonment of his principles as a Christian. As Buttigieg put it, “How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”

As far as the post-event dissection and sound bite accumulation went, this was Buttigieg’s quote of the night. For what it’s worth, the pointed criticism of Pence and the religious right is well taken. Prior to the rise of Trump, white evangelicals were most likely to insist on a candidate’s morality as an important quality. Now, however, they downplay Trump’s moral and other deficiencies of character, in this respect acting more white than evangelical. For some, it may be unconscious, but either way, religious conservatives see an ally in a president who appears to exemplify the so-called “prosperity gospel” and who would uphold their brand of “religious freedom.”

Mayor Buttigieg, though, is not a member of the religious right. He is a Democrat and Episcopalian whose mere sexual orientation would make him a target of conservative Christians’ scorn. His attack of Trump’s “porn star presidency” is a double-edged sword that strikes not only at Mike Pence’s hypocrisy and that of his ilk but also at adult entertainers and their choice of vocation. Within his comments are an implicit criticism of porn stars—or at least a failure to defend them. Trump is a bad person. He consorts with porn stars. By association, if you associate with him or them, you are a bad person.

The unnamed allusion to Trump’s extramarital liaison with Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels is not the first knock on the woman who alleges she slept with Trump and was paid off in advance of the 2016 presidential election for her silence. Rudy Giuliani—or the crazy person masquerading as Rudy Giuliani for the purposes of defending Donald Trump—expressed to a national audience the belief that Daniels has no credibility because she is a porn star. Translation: Stormy Daniels is a lying whore who can’t be trusted because all porn stars are lying whores. Michael Avenatti’s detractors on the right have leveled similar criticisms of Daniels’s then-lawyer on guilt-by-association principles. He represents porn stars, ipso facto, he is a lying scumbag.

Irrespective of what you think of their personalities—Avenatti, in particular, strikes me as an obnoxious attention-seeker—their choice of vocation or client shouldn’t have a bearing on their believability. As is oft said, love the sinner; hate the sin. In this instance, however, even on the left, there are those who condemn the sinner and sin. Trump is a “porn star president.” Lost in the discussion of his and Pence’s and Daniels’s and Avenatti’s morality is the more relevant issue of whether Donald Trump specifically directed a payoff to Stormy Daniels and whether that constituted a breach of campaign finance law. It shouldn’t matter whether Daniels is a porn star or prostitute or any other similar type of professional. It’s Trump’s conduct with which we should be primarily concerned.

Unfortunately, this bilateral takedown of adult entertainers and other sex workers is emblematic of our larger discomfort with sex work as a function of our discomfort with, well, sex. Sex is enjoyable. It’s the reason most of us are here, barring in vitro fertilization or the like. Talking about it, though, for many of us can be an, er, icky prospect, necessitating the use of double entendre or other euphemistic language. And showing our appreciation of its splendor? Oh, no. Especially for women, that’s not very “lady-like.” Too much sex and you risk getting branded as a “slut.” Worse yet if you’re a prostitute. Then you’re a criminal and deserve to be admonished. So much for the world’s oldest profession.

I watch porn. (Mom, if you’re reading this, apologies.) I’m not without my reservations. There are the usual complaints. The costumes tend to be tacky. Lo, the cut-rate nurse uniforms. The dialogue is often stilted. The acting is frequently subpar. And is there nothing that doesn’t get a porn parody? Who asks for a Rugrats porn parody anyway? Who finds that sexy?

Even when these things are improved upon—and I do think the production value of today’s adult entertainment is largely superior to the XXX offerings of yesteryear—there are troubling aspects of the presentation and of the industry as a whole. The plots—which often barely qualify as such and for some reason usually revolve around sex with stepfamily—can be steeped in misogyny, involving coercion or trickery of the female participant(s) as pivotal “plot” points.

Even when the content is geared to be more “female friendly,” the on-screen enjoyment is often reserved for wealthy characters who enjoy lavish accommodations on the count of being highly-paid hard-working individuals. It’s luxury porn on top of being actual porn. There are also concerns off camera about suicides of numerous high-profile stars and the ever-present worry about transmission of sexually-transmitted infections in a world where condom use is infrequent. And we haven’t yet gotten to the problem of monetization for production companies and actors/actresses alike.

So yeah, the adult entertainment industry has its issues—and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Still, I’m not sure why there seems to be such a disdain or disregard for the people involved, the type which prompts left-leaning comedians like Chelsea Handler to equate porn stars with abusers, child molesters, and Russian hackers. I get that its objectors may see porn as exploitative and the performers as lacking talent. But why the hate? Because they love sex and like getting paid for it? Even within the context of the on-film productions, there seems to be an inherent condemnation of the young women in these situations modeled on real life. These whores will do anything for money! They can’t control themselves when they see what he’s packing down there! We condemn them for their vices while absconding to our bedrooms, gratifying our pleasures. To the extent that these scenes are a reflection of us and our society is disconcerting.

Morality also appears to cloud our collective judgment when it comes to our demonization of escorts, prostitutes, et cetera and advocacy for their rights. A presumption in this regard is that the sex worker has agency over her or his circumstances—and that may be a big presumption to make. There are arguments by some feminists and others that sex work is an oppressive form of labor, especially as it relates to exploitation by “pimps.” Speaking of exploitation, there are serious concerns about human and sex trafficking that would subvert that necessary agency and constitute a serious crime. In many cases, there are quantifiable risks to the sex worker, including drug use, poverty, rape, sexually-transmitted infections, and violence.

These issues notwithstanding, the stigma of sex work lingers. As with adult entertainers, prostitutes who get involved with this line of work for the money or sex are demeaned as unskilled opportunists, and as for the risks they face, the consensus response seems to be an effective shrug of the shoulders. They chose this lifestyle. If they don’t like it, they should get an education and a real job. This comes to a head when discussing sex workers’ desire for safety and protection against burdensome regulations as well as freedom of movement, available health services, and other rights that mere status as a human being should confer. In practice, this is not always the reality.

Meera Senthilingam, a CNN Health and Wellness editor, penned an article which appeared on CNN in February concerning “what sex workers really want.” In the opinion of one sex worker interviewed for the piece, seeing as they pay the same taxes, sex workers should be afforded the same rights as other service professionals who are allowed to work from home. There is also the problem for some prostitutes when law enforcement gets involved. In places where the legality of the practice is null or vague and dependent on who solicits who, the presence of police may actually be a deterrent to would-be customers.

This assumes, by the by, that the police aren’t the ones abusing, exploiting, or harassing sex workers, and as with the agency of sex workers mentioned earlier, this is quite an assumption to make. As with any profession, there are bad actors, and for a population in sex workers already susceptible to violence and other health and safety concerns, it puts practitioners in a bind, to put it mildly. It begs the question: who will watch the watchers when it comes to safeguarding their liberties as citizens?

The above deliberations are worth talking about. Whether it’s because of a deprecating attitude regarding sex work, a discomfort in approaching such matters, or both, however, even those on the left who usually are keen on standing up for individuals’ agency over their bodies and protecting their inalienable rights appear loath to mention sex workers specifically. Chalk it up to social mores or personal morality, but in 2019, America and the world at large is evidently lagging on this topic.


You might ask why we are worried about the feelings and opinions and rights of someone like Stormy Daniels. The woman didn’t even vote, for crying out loud! What do she and her contemporaries have to contribute to the larger discussion about Donald Trump and American politics? To be honest, I’m not totally sure, but if we dismiss her as an opportunist and a slut from the jump, what chance do we have to listen and know with an open mind?

In front of an audience of 500 women or so at The Wing, a work and community space designed for women in Washington, D.C., Daniels recently said she believes Michael Cohen to be true in his testimony to lawmakers. Cohen, like Daniels, has had his credibility attacked reflexively by Republican supporters of the president, and while she may not possess a great deal of affection for the man—she referred to Cohen as “dumber than herpes”—she thinks he is honest and that, like her, he came forward because he’s tired of “being bullied” and “being called a liar and a rat.”

Sure, this is just one person’s opinion, but it comes from someone who alleges to know Trump intimately—in more than one sense of the word. In this respect, her thoughts have at least much value as a shameless defender of Trump like Sean Hannity. Instead, though, she’s a porn star to be derided alongside the president, Mike Pence, and even child molesters and wife beaters. Thanks for the insight, but we’d rather scoff at you from atop our high horses. Don’t call us; we’ll call you.

Whether it’s within the context of #MeToo or of simply acknowledging the dignity of sex workers as human beings, the left has a problematic relationship with those storytellers it considers to be problematic or unsavory. Daniels has stressed she is a not a victim with regard to #MeToo. Cohen, set to spend three years in federal prison, is sure as heck not a victim.

Through all the deals they’ve struck and monies they’ve received, this doesn’t mean they’re utterly irredeemable. And their past actions and vocations have no bearing on the veracity of what they say about Trump. To allow our social and moral misgivings to stand in the way of our better judgment is to fall prey to the same kind of prejudices that have characterized conservatism of late. You know, when its practitioners actually heed their conscience or the teachings of scripture.

You Don’t Have to Be a Democrat—but Who Are You Supporting?

Candace Owens is right that blacks don’t have to support the Democrats. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all she’s right about. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Treating the analogy of the closing bar as a metaphor for political affiliation, “going home” is presumably supporting the Democratic Party, at least for people who have been party supporters or are members of subsets of the electorate that traditionally have formed the party’s base. It may not be the most satisfying way to end the night but it’s safe, familiar.

The “staying here” non-option-option, by association, is supporting the Republican Party. In terms of the bar analogy, this means if you don’t leave willingly, the cops show up and you likely go to jail. In politics, it means likely supporting a party in the GOP that stokes racist prejudice and makes upholding the status quo a priority—whether that’s good for the population as a whole or not.

In either case, the “staying here” option seems like a questionable decision to make. Who would rather go to jail than leave of his or her own volition? Why would you support a party that seems predicated on hatred of people like yourself?

And yet, there are obviously exceptions to the rule. For example, in the 2016 election, an estimated 8% of black voters opted for Donald Trump. As Michael D. Shear, John Eligon, and Maggie Haberman profile in a piece for The New York Times, there are those blacks who stand by the president even at the risk of damage to their credibility and despite his negative messaging.

The article focuses on but isn’t limited to people that have a following on social media and YouTube, namely Candace Owens and the sisterly duo of Diamond and Silk. These figures had prominent roles at this year’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) as well, loudly arguing against liberalism, socialism, and reparations, among other things. As Owens would insist, President Trump is not a racist and black people who hear him speak up close “love him.” As Trump’s fervent backers would insist, this support from black voters as well as his relationships with black celebrities is evidence that the mogul-turned-Commander-in-Chief is not a racist.

Only Donald J. Trump knows what’s in Donald J. Trump’s heart for sure. From what we’ve seen so far, meanwhile, the evidence pointing to him not being a racist is, well, not good. The firm of Eligon, Haberman, and Shear isolate just a handful of instances where Trump and his rhetoric speak to an anti-black bias, namely accusations of housing discrimination for him and his father, Fred Trump, calls for violence against Black Lives Matter activists, his unrepentant advocacy for the death penalty or other punishment for the Central Park Five even after their exoneration, and that whole “shithole countries” comment in reference to Africa and immigration. In other words, if Trump isn’t a racist, he’s got a lot of explaining to do. And this is all before we get to his treatment of other people of color, especially Hispanics/Latinx residents and individuals from countries subject to his administration’s “travel ban” (or “Muslim ban,” as its critics would less diplomatically label it).

Also not a good sign: the lack of black representation in Trump’s Cabinet and his administration as a whole. Ben Carson is the only African-American in the Cabinet, serving in a capacity for which he was questionably qualified in the first place as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Omarosa Manigault Newman was the only black member of his senior staff and has since written a tell-all book that would seek to confirm the allegations of racism at which Trump’s public conduct hints.

Expanding the conversation to the Republican Party at large, the article’s authors key in on a recent episode during the Cohen hearing in which Rep. Mark Meadows defended the president from Michael Cohen’s allegations of racism by pointing to his employ of Lynne Patton, an official within Carson’s HUD department. For detractors, this was Meadows using Patton as a “prop” and an example of a bigger pattern of GOP leaders relying on “token” members as proof of their commitment to minority groups. I can’t be a racist. I have family that are people of color. If it seems like weak sauce to a white person like myself, you can just imagine how it might sound to actual people of color.

This is what makes Trump backers like Candace Owens and Diamond and Silk so confounding and profiles like the recent New York Times piece so compelling. Short of a gun to my head or literal brain damage, I can’t think of any reason why I would cast a vote for Trump in 2020—to be clear, I didn’t vote for him in 2016—and being a straight white cisgender male, I am the least likely to feel the brunt of the administration’s more destructive policies toward communities of color. For blacks and other members of minority groups, the reasons for standing by President Trump seem less clear.

The division within the ranks of black Republicans as told by Shear, Eligon, and Haberman may shed some light. Even within this sphere, conflict and uneasiness abound. Some unequivocally believe in Trump. Some support him despite his rhetoric or what they see as black administration officials reinforcing negative stereotypes. And some, like their white GOP counterparts, have distanced themselves from the president entirely.

Accordingly, if we non-Republicans are perplexed, we are not alone. For the Candace Owenses of the world, “staying here” and sticking with the Republican Party has been an option and, what’s more, it has boosted their national profile. It’s a path and a profile not without risk to their long-term relevance, though, and not without consequences for other women and people of color. Not to mention all bets may be off when, as with the closing bar, the cops show up. Unless you believe all the African-Americans who have died at the hands of police had it coming to them. In that case, don’t let me dissuade you.


For those not totally enamored with Donald Trump’s approach and/or who represent a potentially vulnerable segment of the electorate, they may see their identity as a Republican or Trump supporter as a virtue, even as others might deem it a liability.

Returning to the Eligon, Haberman, and Shear piece, black political strategist Raynard Jackson, who found himself aghast at the spectacle of Mark Meadows and Lynne Patton, is cited within as a Trump backer despite certain misgivings. While he criticizes the president for “surrounding himself with black people who told him what he wanted to hear rather than what he needed to hear,” Jackson still stands by him because of his economic policies and because he feels he (Jackson) can make a bigger difference from the inside of the conservative movement. If nothing else, he feels he has a seat at the table. Love or hate Trump, that’s more than a lot of us can say.

The portion of African-Americans who support Trump/other Republicans is perhaps an extreme example owing to how small it is. I also recognize the idea that I am perhaps not the best or most qualified person to be talking about Trump’s approval as it intersects with race. Either way, let’s open the conversation to a larger discussion of his supporters and why they voted for our country’s leader.

Back in 2015, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic asked 30 Trump supporters why they backed the orange-faced one. The answers were fairly wide-ranging, though understandably, some common themes emerged. He’s a moderate at heart. He wants America to win. He has a drive for perfection. He’s living the American dream. He’s an alpha male. He has led large organizations before. He has BUILT REAL THINGS. He’s not politically correct. He’s not politically correct. He’s not politically correct. He’s not rehearsed. He’s a deal-maker. He won’t take no for an answer. He’s not Barack Obama. He’s not Hillary Clinton. He stands up for working Americans. He’ll protect America and put it first. He has put illegal immigration front and center. We’ll be able to burn it down and build it up faster with him in charge. The two-party system is broken. The presidency is a joke. At least it will all be entertaining.

As Friedersdorf found, the responses tended to fall into one of two broad categories: 1) those who believed Trump was the best choice to lead the country, and 2) chaotic as his presidency would be, it would be a sight to behold. Reading through the responses myself, what struck me—beyond the ideas that some people are really fed up with political correctness and that some people simply want to watch the world burn—is that Americans wanted someone who made them feel proud to be Americans. Obama, in his intellectual, reserved manner, did not always communicate that sense of bravado and confidence that people have come to associate with our proud republic. On the other hand, Trump, the consummate showman, articulates these sentiments better than anyone. For a self-professed Ivy league-educated billionaire, he’s somehow relatable.

Minuscule as the segment of pro-Trump black voters may be, it nonetheless may be instructive not to dismiss what the president means to them. Trump, for many, represents winning and patriotic pride. For all their fidelity to the Democratic Party, black Americans may not find their lives dramatically better because of it. As it bears stressing, politics and your support should be fundamentally about what you believe is right; it shouldn’t necessarily be characterized by what you expect to get out of the deal. But could I understand blacks expressing their dissatisfaction with a party they feel has taken them for granted? Sure. As a progressive, I feel it sometimes myself. Perhaps not in the same way, mind you, but feel it I have.

You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. Nothing says you have to vote Democrat. You can vote independent. You can vote third-party. You can not vote at all, which I would discourage, but it’s your choice. The likes of Candace Owens and Kanye West have helped promote this notion. At the end of the day, however, voting Republican in the era of Trump, despite what it means for one’s sense of autonomy or desire to succeed or national pride or even morbid curiosity, nonetheless strikes me as a counterproductive exercise. It’s one thing to walk away from the Democratic Party. It’s another to walk away and into the jaws of a party that uses you as a prop or actively campaigns on the idea you are something lesser.

“A Tale of Two Countries,” Or, the 2019 State of the Union Address

Donald Trump preached unity in the 2019 State of the Union and shared an agenda based on a vision of America. Unfortunately, it’s a vision for an America which doesn’t exist coming from a man who actively divides his constituents. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

President Donald Trump finally got to deliver his State of the Union address with the recent partial government shutdown in the rear-view mirror (although we could totally have another one in the near future if we don’t figure out how to decouple the subject of a border wall from funding federal agencies, so yay?). The good news is the president stopped short of calling for a state of emergency to advance construction of a border wall. The bad news is Trump had a national platform by which to spew his rhetoric at the American people.

Before we get to the veracity of what Trump said or lack thereof, let’s first address what the man spoke about. Trump’s agenda, at least in principle, was devoted to the areas where members of both parties can find consensus. These major topics included promoting fair trade and other policies which help American jobs/workers, rebuilding our infrastructure, reducing the price of health care (including prescription drugs), creating a more modern and secure immigration system, and advancing foreign policy goals that align with American interests.

On the economy, it was jobs, jobs, jobs! Wages are rising! Unemployment is declining! Regulations are going away! Companies are coming back! And it’s all because of me! So let’s stop all these needless investigations into my affairs. You don’t want THE AMERICAN PEOPLE to suffer on account of me, do you? Trump also addressed tariffs and the USMCA, but rather than calling out countries like China for abuse of workers’ rights or currency manipulation or anything like that, he expressed respect for Xi Jinping and instead laid blame at the feet of past leaders and lawmakers. As always, thanks, Obama.

On immigration, well, you probably know the story by now. Immigrants enrich our society in many ways—except when they don’t, taking away jobs, lowering wages, bringing drugs and violent crime, encouraging the trafficking of human beings, and taxing our public services. ICE is a bunch of heroes, gosh darn it! And we need that wall!

On infrastructure, Trump indicated we need both parties to work together and that he is “eager” to work with Congress on new, cutting-edge investments that the country requires to keep pace in a rapidly developing world. That’s it. Not a lot of what these infrastructural improvements would look like or how we’d go about funding them. But, huzzah, infrastructure!

On lowering drug prices/health care, Congress, wouldja put something together already? Sheesh? Also, HIV and AIDS—why are they still a thing? Let’s cut that out. Cancer? You’re next. Really, we need to recognize that all life is precious. Looking at you, Democrats, and your whole insistence on women’s right to choose. #NotMyAbortions

Lastly, on foreign policy, Trump extolled the virtues of our Armed Forces and thus explained why we need to shower them with money on an annual basis. Also, NATO was being very mean to us but now its members are going to spend more on defense. Also also, Russia is being a doo-doo head and that’s why we pulled out of the INF Treaty. Also also also, Kim Jong-un and I are BFFs and we’re going to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. Also also also also, Guaidó > Maduro and socialism never works. Also 5x, Israel is super cool, the Holocaust was bad, ISIS is defeated, and did I mention we love our troops?

In conclusion, America is awesome and greatness awaits us. So ladies and gents, let’s not screw the pooch on this one and work together. Because if we fail, it will because you all couldn’t figure out how to rise above our differences. #NotMyFault


Depending on your political views, it may not surprise you to know that several of President Trump’s remarks were characterized as either “false” or “misleading” by fact-checkers. Among Trump’s misrepresentations, according to The New York Times:

  • Our economy isn’t growing twice as fast today as when Trump took office, and in fact, American economic growth in 2018 fell short of that of even Greece. Greece!
  • Trump claimed his administration has cut more regulations than any other administration in U.S. history, but according to experts, these rollbacks aren’t at the level of the Carter and Reagan administrations.
  • Job creation during Trump’s tenure isn’t some miraculous, near-impossible feat. It’s roughly on par with the state of affairs during the Obama administration and down from job creation in the 1990s. Also, more people are working in the United States than ever before because more people live here. Unless he wants to take credit for helping populate America too.
  • On immigration, phew, where do we start? El Paso was never one of America’s most dangerous cities. San Diego’s border fencing “did not have a discernible impact” on lower border apprehension rates, according to the Congressional Research Service. In addition, the idea that “large, organized caravans” of migrants are on their way to the U.S. is exaggerated.
  • Not only has the USMCA not been approved by Congress yet, but it might not bring as many manufacturing jobs back to America—or for that matter, the North American continent—as anticipated.
  • On Nicolás Maduro and Venezuela, it’s not so much that Maduro is a socialist as much as he’s a dictator whose rule has been marked by corruption, deficiency in the rule of law, and the circumvention of democracy. But keep parroting conservative talking points.
  • Trump claimed we’d be at war with North Korea if he hadn’t been elected. Bullshit. Especially in the incipient stages of his presidency, Trump notably egged on Kim Jong-un, referring to him as “Little Rocket Man.” Back the trolley up there, Mr. President.
  • On abortion, more misleading remarks. Trump suggested New York’s Reproductive Health Act allows abortions until shortly before birth, but rather, the law permits abortions after 24 weeks in cases where the fetus is not viable or the mother’s health would be imperiled.
  • Trump also invoked Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s comments about discussing abortion with physicians up until birth and end-of-life care in instances where a child wouldn’t live, though Trump treated them as tantamount to advocating for babies’ execution after birth. Sadly, Northam’s ongoing controversy involving whether or not he appeared dressed in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan costume in a college yearbook photo was not part of Trump’s deceptive commentary. That’s on you, Ralph, and I wish you would resign already.

The State of the Union address, especially under Pres. Donald Trump, is a bizarre bit of theater. Here is a function outlined in the Constitution and adapted by means of tradition that makes for much pomp and circumstance amid the formal procedures and recognitions which occur within, presided over by a president who consistently flouts convention and other semblances of decorum. The Trump presidency has been one marked by chaos and one which encourages division within the electorate. The very date of the address was postponed by a shutdown characterized by partisan gridlock—which went curiously unmentioned during Trump’s speech—and was a bone of contention between the president and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. To have members of Congress from both parties smiling and clapping for him seems rather jarring.

It’s particularly jarring to witness this spectacle and the parade of “Lenny Skutniks” that presidents trot out in the name of bolstering their credibility (Trump called upon World War II veterans, a minister who had her non-violent drug offense commuted by Trump, another former inmate who sold drugs and has since reformed, the family of victims of a undocumented immigrant’s violence, an immigrant-turned-ICE special agent, a cancer survivor, the father of someone lost in the attack on the USS Cole, a SWAT officer on the scene at last year’s synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, and a Holocaust survivor) when the Democrats offered an official rebuttal, as is custom.

Stacey Abrams, who came within two percentage points of winning the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election and might’ve won if not for then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s shenanigans, delivered the Dems’ response. She assailed the Republican Party for crafting an immigration plan that tears families apart and puts children in cages, for working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, for failing to take action on climate change, for rigging elections and judiciaries, and for repeatedly attacking the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, among other things. Abrams closed her speech with these thoughts:

Even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems—I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.

Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment—to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together. Because America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies: foreign and domestic. That is who we are—and when we do so, never wavering—the state of our union will always be strong.

Abrams’s sentiments may seem a bit schmaltzy at points, but alongside Trump’s rhetoric since he began his presidential campaign, she is much better equipped to talk about the state of the union and bipartisan solutions than our Commander-in-Chief. And while this message serves an obvious partisan purpose, criticism of Trump’s divisiveness is deserved, notably in light of his numerous falsehoods and distortions.

That’s what makes this all so disorienting. Donald Trump speaks to solving problems which may or may not exist, leaving existing problems unaddressed and creating phantoms where bogeymen are needed. As senator Richard Blumenthal wrote on Twitter, Trump’s State of the Union speech was a “tale of two countries.”

To entertain the absurdities of his presidency with any degree of normalcy, applauding him and dignifying his comments with formality and a primetime audience, is therefore to acknowledge two different speeches: the one that the president gave and the one that Americans actually deserved. It creates a sort of cognitive dissonance that requires some degree of mental gymnastics to try to sort out. Is Trump the uniter and Democrats the dividers? Was it all a farce, his plea for unity and his presidential tone an exercise in cynicism? Or was it just an unofficial rally for his base and potential voters heading into 2020? Does anything he say truly matter? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The questions abound, as do the anxiety, probable headaches, and possible additional Queen references.

I’m not sure what the answer is here, if there is only one. I chose not to watch the live broadcast and to read a transcript, view photos, and watch video clips after the fact. I would’ve liked to see more lawmakers do the same, though I suppose Nancy Pelosi did get in some epic eye-rolls. Maybe we should do away with the whole spectacle altogether.

At least as far as Trump is concerned, he’s already made his true feelings known via social media countless times over. Why bother with the charade when we can just read a written report or his tweets instead? If nothing else, it would save time.

Don’t Trust Your Lying Eyes, Say the Liars

What’s the matter, Nick? Don’t feel like wearing your MAGA hat now? What about that smirk? Stop it before I throw up. (Image Credit: Savannah Guthrie/Twitter)

A while back, I attended a Saturday morning meeting for a group of Democratic Party supporters in northern New Jersey. Former FOX News personality and Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky was the special guest. She talked about, among other things, having conversations with people who hold different political views, and at one point, fielded questions from those in attendance.

Anna Wong, a tireless activist and someone I know from her work with Indivisible NJ-5, stepped up to the mic, and with a sense of due frustration, asked how we’re supposed to reach across the aisle when we can’t even agree on a set of facts, let alone whether facts matter.

Anna’s question and how she delivered it prompted laughter from the audience—myself included—but she was very earnest in her query. Thinking back to this scene, as I frequently do, I too wonder how having a dialog with people of opposing ideologies is possible when both can’t agree to the same qualitative or quantitative data—right down to what we see.

The episode which jumps to mind, especially as a tone-setter for the Trump administration, is the whole business about whose inauguration crowd was bigger: Donald Trump’s or Barack Obama’s. It seems like eons ago when Sean Spicer—remember him?—was trying to persuade us to believe that the president’s detractors were manipulating camera angles of aerial views to diminish Trump and his achievements.

Meanwhile, in the real world, objective visual analysis showed Obama’s numbers clearly bested Trump’s. Like, it wasn’t even close. If Washington, D.C. transit numbers are any indication, Obama walloped Trump in attendance, managing 513,000 trips on the Metro by 11 A.M. in 2009 to his successor’s 193,000 by the same time. The numbers, at least in this case, don’t lie.

And yet, Trump et al. held to their erroneous claim. As Groucho Marx would say or is thus attributed, who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes? Like some errant, erratic philosopher, President Trump seemed to be arguing against the very existence of verifiable truth. To borrow a phrase from Kellyanne Conway, there were no lies—only “alternative facts.” Seeing is believing? No, no—believing is believing. If you’re not on the side of the president, you’re not on the side of America. How are we supposed to make the country great again if you don’t buy in?

We’re in 2019 now, but the same tactics are being used by conservative commentators and, in turn, centrist media outlets to make us question what we see and know. Back in November, there was an uproar from the right after CNN reporter Jim Acosta was alleged to have manhandled a female aide who tried (unsuccessfully) to grab his microphone during a Trump press conference. Abuser, they cried! Assault, they railed! Of course, there was a proportionate uproar from the other direction when the Trump administration moved to revoke Acosta’s credentials (and deservedly so), but with various critics calling for his ouster at CNN, one might’ve been concerned the network would give in to the calls for Acosta’s head.

What was truly disturbing about the whole episode was not Acosta’s conduct—the CNN correspondent may have been a bit defensive about giving up the mic but he did excuse himself as the young woman grasped for it—but rather the attempts to discredit him. Instrumental in the effort to get Acosta canned was a video shared on social media by InfoWars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson and later passed along by Sarah Sanders that showed the interaction between Acosta and the aide.

The clip appeared to show Acosta arresting the woman’s arm with a “karate chop” of sorts. Casually omitted from proliferation of this video segment, however, was the knowledge that the action had been slowed or sped up at points to make Acosta’s movement seem harsher than it actually was. The audio of Acosta excusing himself also was removed. The footage from the press conference was, in a word, doctored.

By the time the clarifications could be assigned a day later, the right was already off and running with its narrative. To this day, conservative trolls maintain that Acosta should’ve been fired for his “attack” on the aide. In doing so, they have chosen a very convenient point at which to come to the defense of a young woman when members of the Republican Party are generally so intent on circumscribing women’s power and freedom. But I digress.

These cases are a little bit different in their presentation. With the aerial shots that proved Obama’s crowds were bigger beyond the shadow of a doubt, there was little Donald Trump and his cronies could do outside of arguing for the relativity of truth in the abstract. Re Jim Acosta vs. the female White House aide, there was intentional manipulation at work(Watson denies it, but it’s not like he and InfoWars have built a strong sense of credibility), though there were other versions of the clip from more trustworthy sources available. Either way, you were made to doubt what you saw or thought you saw. The eyes, they play tricks. And as we know, tricks are for kids. You’re not a kid, are you?

It is within this context that we can view the much-talked-about interaction between Covington Catholic High School (KY) students in Washington for a March for Life and Nathan Phillips, a Native American and veteran present for the Indigenous Peoples March. The iconic moment, if you will, happened when Nick Sandmann, one of the students and one of a number of them wearing a MAGA hat, stood face to face with Phillips while the latter beat a drum and sang. As Phillips has said in interviews, he was attempting to intercede between the students and members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who shouted epithets at the high schoolers and preached about how they were “cursed Edomites.”

In the initial reaction to video from the interaction, most people regarded the Covington Catholic H.S. students fairly negatively. They were akin to a mob, standing in menacing opposition to Phillips, who was but one man. And that smirk. The enduring image of Sandmann staring motionless and speechless with a smirk on his face conveyed notions of racism and white privilege. Here were a bunch of white kids ganging up on an older person of color, a veteran and Native American no less. What better symbol of Trump’s effect and how discriminatory values are inculcated in future generations?

Not soon after, though, the narrative began to change. Additional videos were released that showed additional footage, including the students being egged on by the Black Hebrew Israelites. All of a sudden, these boys were the victim or were regarded with less contempt than before given the circumstances. Actually, now that I look closer, Phillips accosted them, not the other way around! We owe them an apology! We’re so sorry, Covington Catholic High! Our mea culpas and retractions can’t come fast enough!

Thankfully, not everyone is buying the “both sides” arguments and self-flagellation many among the media, their associated outlets, and Hollywood’s elite have begun to make. Laura Wagner, reporter at Deadspin, for one, advises us not to doubt what we saw with our own eyes.

Recounting the predictable shift from immediate condemnation of the boys’ conduct to downplaying if not outright denying any wrongdoing, Wagner addresses the notion that the kerfuffle on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is nothing more than a Rorschach test for what you personally believe:

One lesson of the past two days is that you will see what you want to see here, if you are determined to do so; that does not mean that there is anything to be seen but what is there. I see a frothing mass of MAGA youth—who, since we’re taking in all angles here, go to a school where students fairly recently wore blackface to a basketball game—frenzied and yelling and out of control. I see four black men who seem to belong to the Black Israelites—a threat to women in their orbit, but not to random white people they’re heckling—yelling insults at the students. Then I see Phillips, as he has stated from the beginning that he did, walk up to the teens, in what seems to be an attempt to diffuse the situation. I see them laughing and dancing, red MAGA hats bobbing up and down in glee. I see them yell in Phillips’ face, and I see that he doesn’t falter. I see the smugness of a group secure in its relative power over someone more vulnerable than they are. Nothing about the video showing the offensive language of Black Israelites changes how upsetting it was to see the Covington students, and Sandmann in particular, stare at Phillips with such contempt. I don’t see how you could watch this and think otherwise unless you’re willing to gaslight yourself, and others, in the service of granting undeserved sympathy to the privileged.

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Various individuals backtracked, excused themselves, blamed their “reptile brains.” They ignored their initial emotional responses and, without much else informing their decision-making, reversed their position. I apologize. I regret. I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.

As far as Wagner is concerned, the reason for this is simple: it makes them seem more reasonable and trustworthy. They’re not among the followers of the news who react impassionedly to it, betraying their better judgment for the sake of an outrage fix. Even if that means, as Wagner puts it, “siding with some shithead MAGA teens and saying that 2 + 2 = 5 in the face of every bit of evidence there is to be had.”

Whatever the reason, the final outcome still stands. These people failed to believe what they had seen with their own eyes.


One criticism from people tracking this story is that these kids are being demonized by some, but what would you have them do instead? Unfortunately for promoters of this line of thinking, the answers are pretty easy. Walk away. Find a chaperone. Certainly, don’t make mocking tomahawk chants. For those suggesting “boys will be boys” or pointing to the folly of youth, that shouldn’t be an excuse. If Gillette can make an advertisement about toxic masculinity (which you may hate for being too preachy, but that’s another story), these Catholic school kids can behave in a respectful manner. Blame the parents if you want, but let’s have some responsibility assigned.

Otherwise, some might point to the remarks made by Nick Sandmann and agree with his side of the story. But come the eff on. Why would this kid and his family need to hire a PR firm if, as the saying goes, the truth shall set you free? And that smirk. I know I’m harping on it, but it’s pretty hard to get past. Sandmann says he was trying to diffuse the situation, but he could’ve taken any of the prescribed actions to do that rather than standing within feet of Nathan Phillips and smiling like an entitled little asshole. That Savannah Guthrie would encourage his defense of his “right” to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and listen to Phillips as part of a softball interview is downright nauseating.

The last objection to deliberation on this altercation may be perhaps the most valid: “Who cares?” That is, why are we spending so much time on whether some high schooler was smirking at an older Native American man when there’s a crisis in Yemen, lead is still being found in drinking water, and other catastrophes abound? Relatively speaking, the events of this past weekend are a blip on the proverbial radar.

Their symbolic value, meanwhile, carries more weight. It’s about media portrayal of members of different ethnicities. It’s about how pressure by conservative commentators and right-wing trolls—including threats of violence and release of personal information—can influence individuals and media outlets to spin the national conversation toward white victimhood. And it’s about how people irrespective of gender or political ideology can be made to doubt what they see. It has nothing to do with “intelligence” either. When group dynamics are at work, the pressure to conform is a powerful force. We’re all susceptible.

Returning to the anecdote from the start of this piece, if it’s hard to agree on what is factual or whether that matters, it’s that much more difficult to have a meaningful conversation when something is right before our eyes and we can’t come to a consensus on what we see. That’s the most disturbing implication of the Covington Catholic/Nathan Phillips standoff and why people like Laura Wagner invoke 1984‘s dystopia. When you’re made to question your own judgment, you’re liable to believe anything.

Should Nick Sandmann or anyone else involved herein be sent death threats? Of course not. But should he and his peers be absolved of all culpability? I submit no, and neither should the antagonists of the Black Hebrew Israelites. If you saw what I saw, you’re not wrong—lying eyes and all.