Donald Trump is on his campaign, as President of the United States, to turn back the clock. By now, we already know the phrase “Make America Great Again,” which has adorned umpteen baseball caps and bumper stickers of Trump supporters—and which may also be borderline unpatriotic by insisting that the country isn’t great when it already may be. Many of Trump’s executive orders and appointees have targeted Obama-era regulations with the intention of rolling them back, making a broad appeal to industry leaders, especially those in the banking/financial, fossil fuels, and telecommunications fields. In particular, Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who, if he were any more of a dinosaur, he’d be staring down Chris Pratt in Jurassic World—has been right behind Donald Trump in the quest to hurtle the nation back in time by decades. For one, Sessions, continuing his Reefer Madness-esque rhetoric from his tenure as a U.S. senator, has made a target of marijuana, and even commissioned a task force to look into possible actions to take regarding the drug’s legality at the state level. Which, it should be noted, does not recommend any actions be taken. Sessions also has toed the Trump line on immigration, recently identifying supposed “sanctuary cities” from which federal funding might be withheld, including, for whatever reason, Baltimore, as well as that of crime enforcement and “cracking down” on illusory rampant lawlessness, favoring reduced restrictions on police forces and sending more people to prison. Every strongman needs henchmen to do his bidding, and Jeff Sessions vis-à-vis Pres. Trump fits this description to a T.
In line with the notion of “making America great again” and returning the country back to a nameless, mythical time in which it had no problems and the streets were paved with gold on the backs of cheap immigrant labor, and commensurate with Jeff Sessions’ own racist tendencies, the Department of Justice recently indicated its desire to pursue an investigation into “race-based discrimination” in college admissions practices. That’s discrimination against whites, mind you. Obviously, this re-ignites the debate over affirmative action that has dogged discussion of race relations, not to mention class warfare, as it intersects with the sphere of higher education. Ira Katznelson, political science and history professor at Columbia University, president of the Social Science Research Council, and author of a freaking book on affirmative action—so, needless to say, someone who might have some insight into this subject—wrote a piece for The New York Times which specifically addresses the Justice Department’s memo seeking an inquiry into discrimination in recruitment at colleges and universities.
Per Prof. Katznelson, this focus by the DOJ on affirmative action in higher education is a distraction from the systemic affirmative action backed by the federal government since the Great Depression which has largely benefited whites. Indeed, New Deal- and Fair Deal-era reforms addressed/established various social welfare programs which helped create a “modern middle class,” but the machinations of Southern Democrats and the long reach of Jim Crow made it so this new middle class was not an inclusive one. In fact, they specifically disenfranchised blacks and Mexican-Americans by excluding certain classes of laborers which were predominant to people of color from eligibility for benefits . What’s more, the ripple effects of these racist exclusions are still being felt today in terms of ever-widening gaps in income, opportunity and wealth inequalities along racial lines. In other words, Jeff Sessions and his ilk are confronting admissions policies at institutions of higher education and vague notions of unfairness under the assumption that there is a level playing field among larger socioeconomic factors at their intersection with race. Knowing our history and looking at the evidence, however, this is far from true.
Besides being on the wrong side of history, arguments about the unfairness of affirmative action are part of a worldview highly correlative with that of Trump supporters that appeals to diversity are a hindrance to the success of hard-working white people and create a false sense of equality between people of different races. Sean McElwee, whose analysis has been featured here on United States of Joe before, plotted out back in February in a piece for Salon how Trump’s crowd, ever wont to assail liberals for being a bunch of “snowflakes” dependent on safe spaces and trigger warnings, tend to claim victimhood in their own right. Citing reported data from the 2016 American National Election Studies pilot survey, McElwee notes how respondents who favored Donald Trump were much more likely to agree with statements that Christians face “a great deal” of discrimination and that the federal government treats blacks “much better.” This phenomenon has been termed white victimhood, and for Sean McElwee, it is the byproduct of perceived discrimination when the loss of privilege makes equality feel like something is being taken away. McElwee closes his essay with these thoughts:
Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy. It is one that requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization. This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist attacks en masse (they aren’t at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it’s the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving black people (black people receive government support in accordance with their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.
At the same time, the right has created a caricature of their opponents on the left. In this imagined caricature, the left is sensitive to being “triggered” at every corner, but also capable of unspeakable political violence. The activist left are “snowflakes” on one hand, and brutal killers on the other. In reality, political violence has long been a tactic of the right, from the labor violence that left thousands of workers dead to lynchings to brutality against peaceful protesters inflicted by corporate security and police to the harassment of women seeking abortion, the destruction of abortion clinics and the assassination of doctors who provide abortions. The rhetoric of victimization has costs — white supremacists are committing unspeakable violence to combat the perceived threat of immigrants, Muslims and people of color. For the next four years, we are likely to have a government driven by perceptions of white Christian victimhood.
“Trumpist” white victimhood, to put it bluntly, feeds on promulgated falsehoods that cater to deeply-held prejudices held by those persons who wave its banner. Most disturbingly, this deception-fueled ideology has the potential to become dangerous in the wrong hands, as it has in the past. Once more near the forefront and emboldened by Donald Trump’s electoral victory, white supremacists—who are not the entirety of Trump’s base, it should be stressed, but a significant subset regardless of their size—are more visible and are acting more recklessly than they did during Barack Obama’s tenure or even George W. Bush’s stay in the White House. With Trump at the helm, all but sanctioning the violence and unrest already encouraged by a us-versus-them mentality, the threat faced by all Americans, especially those of color, is a clear and present one.
Concerns voiced by white people about discriminatory practices related to affirmative action in college admissions policies are not something new to the Trump-Sessions brain trust. Much as Donald Trump’s concessions to the United States’ racist and xenophobic underpinnings are not a starting point, but rather an outgrowth of a resentment among white Americans to changing cultural and population trends, the Department of Justice’s reservations about affirmative action are variations on the same theme. In December of 2015, this issue made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Per the case, Abigail Fisher’s contention was that she was denied acceptance to the University of Texas back in 2008 because she is white and despite being more qualified than minority candidates for available slots. As you might imagine, failing to garner acceptance at UT did not severely impair Fisher’s ability to secure a quality education; by the time her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court a second time, she had already graduated from another institution.
The case was eventually and narrowly decided four to three in 2016 to uphold the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in favor of the university. This was not before public comments were made by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which were characterized by his dissenters as falling anywhere on the spectrum between outmoded in one’s thinking and morally repugnant. Scalia suggested that minority students with “inferior” credentials may fare better at “a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.” He went on to say that most of the black scientists in the United States did not come from schools like the University of Texas, but “lesser” schools “where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.” These kinds of lines drew muted gasps from the audience, and perhaps rightfully so given how shockingly antiquated they seemed. Before burying Justice Scalia even further in his grave on this issue, it is worth noting his beliefs likely were grounded in what is known as the mismatch theory, which supposes that minority students will be hurt by affirmative action practices which match them to schools above their academic credentials and will struggle to succeed in this unfamiliar environment. It should also be noted, meanwhile, that numerous studies outside those of Richard Sander and other like-minded scientists have produced results which oppose this theory. For many, this would stand to reason, but it doesn’t hurt to have empirical data to give one’s argument its due weight.
For a significant portion of Donald Trump’s base of support, however, the sense of loss they feel transcends the refusal of the highest court in the United States to effectively abolish the use of consideration of race in admissions. For them, this is but one cog in a machine tuned to greater cultural sensitivity, but with this, a sense that their “cultural identity” is disappearing and the America they know with it. This is the context in which we can place the events of the last few days as they transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a reaction to news that authorities plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park, a mob of white nationalists holding torches rallied and marched on the University of Virginia campus. The white nationalist protestors were met by counter-protestors more than twice their number, and as might be expected, violence and unrest ensued when the two groups descended upon one another. Regrettably, people were killed and injured as a direct result of the upheaval in Charlottesville. Heather Heyer, one of the counter-protestors, died after being struck by a vehicle helmed by a man who had a fascination with Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and some 19 others were also struck and injured by the rogue automobile. Two police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died as well Saturday in a helicopter crash outside the city.
The response across the country to not only the senselessness of the violence following clashes between the groups of protestors, but especially the very showing of an antagonistic group of white supremacists, was swift and vocal. Irrespective of party affiliation, politicians and non-politicians alike condemned the white supremacists and the hate which fuels them and lent itself to the turmoil in Charlottesville. Vigils were likewise quickly organized and continue to be held across the United States as a show of solidarity against the discrimination inherent in white supremacy and the terroristic nature of their assembly in Virginia this past weekend. In the immediate aftermath, however, the silence from one source on the subject of white supremacy was deafening. Unsurprisingly, that source is President Donald Trump, who only on Monday categorically spoke out against the aims of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. On Saturday, he criticized the violence in Charlottesville, but very generally and somewhat dismissively, referring to the actions of protestors on both sides rather than explicitly naming white supremacist groups. By the time Trump had made his speech on Monday denouncing their hatred, it was too little, too late. He had effectively shown his true colors, and evidently was more interested in lashing out at Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Twitter than adequately addressing what happened in Virginia.
With Trump’s refusal to more strongly decry white nationalism in America, outside observers were left to wonder whether it were because he is a coward who doesn’t want to lose the white nationalist vote, or whether he tacitly approves of the white nationalist agenda. Michael D’Antonio, author of a whole book on the subject of Donald Trump, explained in a piece for CNN “why Trump won’t stand up against hate.” In reality, as D’Antonio details, it’s a little of Column A and Column B. On the side of the former, and as we’ve discussed, Trump is waving the banner of “Make America Great Again,” spurring visions of a time before the intensification of the civil rights movement and tapping into this central phenomenon of white victimhood. As for the latter, meanwhile? Trump has evidenced a pattern of bigotry in his own personal and professional life. When the Trump Organization was forced to follow fair housing practices, he invoked the idea of “reverse discrimination.” He once took out full-page ads in newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in response to the case against five teenagers and persons of color accused of the rape of a Central Park jogger. (Turns out they were innocent, which DNA testing had to prove after the fact.) He also has—huge shocker!—pointed to affirmative action as an unfair advantage for black students, and has done a poor job of naming black people within his company as executives. Plus, let’s not forget his lingering identity as one of the most outspoken leaders of the “birtherism” movement, as well as his, you know, wholesale diminishment of Mexicans as drug peddlers, rapists, and violent criminals. In short, Donald Trump is not only a coward, but a bully and a bigot. No wonder he failed a test in his response to Charlottesville that he should have aced.
As it must be emphasized, though, Trump’s catering to racists and his own racist attitudes, while they can and should be assailed, are nothing new. The response of many Americans appalled at the events of Charlottesville is something akin to “this is not my America.” Others who condemn the anger, racism and violence marking these events would be apt to point this is, in fact, your America, one built on subjugation of people of color as well as a patriarchal power struggle. While raising these considerations indiscriminately and attacking the other person is a self-defeating prospect, at the core of this drama, the need to discuss these subjects in a productive way is paramount. For too long, we have been reluctant in this country to have a honest dialog about race and associated topics like affirmative action and white privilege. Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, it is incumbent upon we, the people, to force the issue and raise our voices when silence would otherwise stunt our social progress as a nation.
I don’t watch the FOX News Channel. Not terribly surprising, and say what you will about me sticking to my “bubble,” but I don’t. Simply put, I don’t think I’m part of its intended audience. Granted, just because I do not fit neatly into FOX’s target demographic doesn’t mean I can’t tune in, if for no other reason than to understand how people on the other side of the political aisle think. Plus, I suppose there’s also an odd sense of entertainment in what I presume is the network’s various personalities’ contortions to avoid talking about or to downplay the endless scandal that is the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, financial or not. All this aside, I don’t watch FOX News, and I doubt I will be tuning in anytime soon. And I, with great specificity, will be avoiding Tucker Carlson’s program.
Before I get to Carlson, let’s take a step back first and consider FOX News as a brand and a “news service.” I say “news service” in quotes because—let’s be honest—FOX News is a propaganda factory masquerading as a legitimate journalistic organization. I suppose the same could be said for other outlets—The New York Times and Washington Post are not without their centrist, corporatist biases, and CNN, Daily Kos, and Huffington Post have been derided at times for being Hillary Clinton apologists, which is essentially the same thing. That said, FOX News has taken the art of political spin on cable news to a new level. If you’ll recall, once upon a time, FOX News’s slogan was “Fair and Balanced.” They’ve since replaced that motto with “Most Watched, Most Trusted,” but on the side of being trustworthy, as with being fair and balanced, this much is dubious.
In recent memory, FOX News has helped fuel the paranoia over WMDs that led, in large part, to our involvement in Iraq; has advanced conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory about Barack Obama in an effort to delegitimize his presidency; and in the era of Trump, has maintained its ways of race-baiting and giving credence to stories that are based on faulty intelligence or are otherwise quickly debunked. That the dishonorable Judge Andrew Napolitano yet has a prominent voice on the network is perhaps no better symbol of its questionable commitment to journalistic ethics. For that matter, when the likes of Shepard Smith are coming to the defense of CNN’s standards and this is seen as a surprise, it is telling where FOX News fits in with the rest of its cable news brethren. (It also, not for nothing, speaks volumes about Donald Trump and his ongoing assault on the American free press.)
FOX News, as I’m sure you’ve heard, has been the subject of some interest lately, and mostly for the wrong reasons. The late Roger Ailes, founder and one-time CEO of FOX News, resigned prior to his death after numerous accusations of sexual harassment by former female FOX News personalities. Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s more recognizable figures and one of the leading conservatives because of his platform, was ousted from his primetime slot as host of The O’Reilly Factor because of his own alleged acts of sexual harassment. And Sean Hannity lost advertisers because of his pursuit of conspiracy theories regarding the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who some have suspected as being murdered for leaking DNC E-mails to WikiLeaks (the official explanation is that Rich was killed in a botched robbery). In short, it’s been a tumultuous time at FOX News recently, and with the kind of turnover in staff and executive leadership that only MSNBC could seem to rival, it’s no wonder that divisions within its ranks have become apparent, especially with a figure as divisive as Donald Trump in the White House.
Perhaps it is a sign of where we are as a country that much like how Trump became President Trump despite the apparent constant upheaval within his campaign, FOX News, despite the improprieties of its personnel and the second-rate journalism it peddles as unvarnished truth, has enjoyed a sizable run at the apex of the cable news hierarchy. FOX News has spent 28 weeks at the top of the charts, and in fact, a majority of Americans get their news from the #1 cable news outlet in all the land. MSNBC, on the strength of its predominantly anti-Trump coverage, has been the recent runner-up. CNN, the bastion of “fake news” that it is made out to be, is a comparative also-ran. Ainsley Earhardt, Bret Baier, Brian Kilmeade, Chris Wallace, Dana Perino, Greg Gutfeld, Jeanine Pirro, Juan Williams, Jesse Watters, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Martha McCallum, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Shepard Smith, Steve Doocy—FOX News has no shortage of white people, Juan Williams, and occasionally Geraldo Rivera to deliver unsubstantiated reports to the eyes and minds of its viewers. Which includes Mr. Trump, who apparently trusts this network more than his actual intelligence community.
And then there’s Tucker Carlson. He wasn’t included in that run of vaguely douche-y talking heads, but though he’s no less douche-y, he’s a special case (and last alphabetically by first name). Tucker McNear Carlson began a career in journalism serving on the editorial staff of the conservative publication Policy Review, as well as sharpening his skills as a reporter and journalist for various prominent magazines and newspapers. It was in 2001, though, that Carlson began his rise to cable news prominence when he became co-host of CNN’s Crossfire; you may recall his rather testy back-and-forth with Jon Stewart. After a few years at CNN, his contract wasn’t renewed—or he resigned, if you believe Tucker—and Carlson spent a spell at MSNBC with his namesake show Tucker. It got cancelled due to low ratings—or because MSNBC is run by a bunch of liberals, per Tucker. Eventually, though, Tucker Carlson found a home at the FOX News Channel, first appearing as a contributor to various programs, and later moving on to co-host the weekend edition of Fox and Friends. Just last year, he was given another marquee primetime hosting gig, taking the reins in November at Tucker Carlson Tonight. With Bill O’Reilly getting the boot, Carlson also assumed his time slot. He now owns an enviable time slot on basic cable’s most-watched news source. To this end, I commend him.
On his politics, however, I cannot commend him, a notion buoyed by the current political climate in the United States and abroad in which unabashed racists and white supremacists suddenly feel emboldened enough to spray swastikas on the sides of buildings and run for political office. Along these lines, Carlos Maza, a correspondent for the site Vox who produces video content related to journalism and the media in the Trump era, recently authored a piece on why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson. Yes, love. Presumably with hearts adorned with nooses and burning crosses. Before even getting to the whole white supremacist base angle thing, Maza acknowledges that Carlson enjoys the highest ratings of any primetime cable news program, so clearly he is resonating with American viewers, and ever tongue-in-cheek, Maza indicates Fox News executives probably adore him because he isn’t embroiled in any sexual harassment scandals. You know, that we know of.
But, yeah, about the whole white supremacist thing. Richard Spencer, one of the leading voices in the American white supremacist movement, regards Tucker more highly than his time slot predecessor because not only does he view Carlson as more intelligent than Bill O’Reilly, but he also conceives of him as more open-minded to white supremacist ideals. David Duke—and if you don’t know who David Duke is, please stop reading, Google it, do a spit-take, and then come back—is also a Tucker-phile. Even the American neo-Nazi and white supremacist publication The Daily Stormer identifies Carlson as “its greatest ally.” White supremacist views—on basic cable? Yea, verily, my friends. And as king of cable news, Tucker Carlson is thus a dangerous voice in this regard.
So, now that I’ve whetted your appetite with my whole preamble, why do white supremacists love Tucker Carlson so much, other than that he has exhibited a proclivity over the years for being a fancy dresser? As Carlos Maza explains in detail, while typical FOX News viewers may merely approve of Carlson because he, like other on-air personalities from his network, rails against the “liberal media” and political correctness, white supremacists dig TC because he portrays all immigration as detrimental to the fabric of American society—illegal or not. According to Maza, Carlson made it a priority in the first few months of Tucker Carlson Tonight to question how complete or valid the statistics are on legal immigrants committing crimes, and made out Mexicans, Muslims, and refugees/migrants—many of whom tend to be Hispanic/Latino or Muslim—to be a potential threat. Carlson relies on the myth that minorities within these groups commit violent crimes at a disproportionate rate to white citizens, when really, it is the other way around. To this end, he cherry-picks his way through data to form the conclusion that “foreigners” are coming to this country just to murder, rape, and steal from honest, hard-working “Americans,” or simply invites anti-immigrant extremists like Ann Coulter to, as Maza puts it, “do his dirty work for him.”
Wait—it gets worse. As Carlos Maza would have it, the worst part of Tucker Carlson’s enabling of white supremacist views, other than his over-the-top raising of his eyebrows whenever he agrees with a guest of the show, is how he openly rejects the merits of multiculturalism in the United States today, suggesting “Western culture” is superior to that of any culture belonging to whence these immigrants/refugees came, and that embracing multiculturalism is tantamount to teaching Americans to hate their own cultural identity. In other words, we are not all equal under the same sun, snowflake. As Carlson—and yes, David Duke and Richard Spencer—would submit, all forms of immigration to this country will lead to an erosion of this nation’s values and its ultimate fragmentation. As with Donald Trump, the depiction is of a critical moment in U.S. history when the future of its very existence is at stake, a fear-inducing, apocalyptic viewpoint. This all comes to a head in the creation of a space in Tucker Carlson Tonight in which everything that is “different” is associated with being bad or wrong. Teaching Spanish in schools is seen as a destructive force rather than a practical means of readying children for a bilingual state and a cultural bridge. Refugees and other people fleeing the degradation of their land due to climate change, poverty, and/or war are labeled “invaders” instead of those merely seeking a better life, or simply not trying to lose their life.
This kind of racist, xenophobic rhetoric enabled by Tucker Carlson and elaborated by the Ann Coulters and Katie Hopkinses of the world is dog-whistle politics—make no mistake about it. Concern for the changing face of our country and of its values is coded language for “the purity and sanctity of white blood is being defiled.” “Western culture” or “European culture” is that of the white, imperialistic majority, and therefore not of indigenous peoples or non-Christians. Pointing to the crimes of immigrants is another way of saying “they” should get out and/or stay out. What makes Carlson’s prominence all the more unsettling are the implications behind his success. For one, Tucker is able to plant the seeds of prejudice even when he is demonstrably wrong. Maza points to Carlson’s belaboring of the Rockville, MD rape case against two immigrant teenagers, a story which came to national attention when then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer referenced it. The charges eventually were dropped, but not after repeated mentions of the case by Carlson and his on-air guests, and with no apparent desire by TC to recant on his amateur pre-judgment of its merits, i.e. no accountability for his character assassination of these children based on xenophobic leanings. In addition, because he is neat and well-dressed, he makes white supremacist views seem that much more mainstream and palatable. Or, as Carlos Maza puts forth in closing, he makes white supremacists’ jobs that much easier.
For years, Tucker Carlson seemed like a political commentator who was kind of a dick and wore a bowtie—the latter of which only made him seem like more of a dick. He has since dispensed with the bowtie, but he’s still pretty much a dick, and what’s more, he’s got much more influence than he possessed during his formative years on CNN and MSNBC. I’ve already invoked the name of Donald Trump herein, comparing his tumultuous-but-ultimately-successful presidential campaign to the scandal-plagued-but-dominant-ratings-wise FOX News Channel. In a way, though, Trump is kind of like Carlson and vice-versa. Donald Trump, like Tucker Carlson, was largely seen as a dick, but you didn’t really think much about him beyond that in terms of political influence. Now he’s President, and his Tweets are regular news, just by virtue of him being the leader of the country. In both cases, despite not exhibiting a great deal of talent in their chosen professions, they have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Again, this is an acknowledgment of their success, and not an endorsement of any intelligence or savvy. Carlson owes a certain debt of gratitude to Bill O’Reilly and his allegedly grope-y ways. Trump benefited from a muddled, weak Republican field and a Democratic Party nominee in Hillary Clinton who is just about as unlikable as he is.
Regardless of how neatly the Trump-Carlson comparison fits, both men are key cogs in a larger movement that seeks to define who is and who isn’t a “true” American, a distinction fed by fear, hate, and irrationality. Often, concordant with the emotions the racism and xenophobia of the alt-right and its ilk engender, the leaders of this movement paint a picture of the situation as a culture “war” and one for the fate of the United States of America. From the vantage point of the left, this is largely hyperbole, but though we shouldn’t consider the other side of the political spectrum the enemy, we shouldn’t undersell the threat represented by normalizing their behavior and rhetoric. As it must be said umpteen times in resistance, Donald Trump is not normal. His antics aren’t becoming of a President of the United States, and by this token, he probably would’ve been fired by now if the would-be CEO-as-President were actually running a business. (Mind you, he is still benefiting from the Trump Corporation’s operations, and that isn’t normal either.)
In his apparent beliefs, however, Trump is not alone, and these feelings of entitlement felt by his supporters and people like Tucker Carlson to regularly spout their outmoded and bigoted remarks should likewise not be accepted. If the white supremacists of America and of the world conceive of their campaign against immigration and multiculturalism as a war for the soul of their respective nation, they, by all indications, are fighting a losing battle. This doesn’t mean that we should take these trends for granted, though. Financial pressure has been levied against Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in terms of boycotting the Trump Family’s products and appealing to companies to withdraw their advertisements. The same should be effected with respect to Tucker Carlson, white supremacist darling, and anything less is a tacit approval of the hate he helps give a voice to and a blatant allegiance with revenue over morals.
I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)
With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.
Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)
One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:
Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.
This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.
The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.
The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”
Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:
Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.
In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.
It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.
The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.
So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:
Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.
Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.
Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?
It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:
Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.
At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.
But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.
Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:
When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.
“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.
In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?
Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:
Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.
Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.
This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.
This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:
In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.
Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.
For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.
The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:
As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”
OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:
The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.
During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”
In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.
Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.
Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.
Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.
As I’m sure you’re aware, on the evening of January 29, in Quebec City, a 27-year-old man named Alexandre Bissonnette walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec mosque and started firing. By the end, six men were killed, with others injured, and the next day, Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to condemn the attack as a terrorist act and one of cowardice on the part of the assailant, and authorities and Canadian citizens alike called for a spirit of inclusivity and togetherness in the wake of the violence. While mass shootings have become regrettably almost run-of-the-mill in America, mass shootings in Canada have been relatively sparse.
Within the United States, however, for a number of vocal Trump supporters during the early confusion of details filtering down from Quebec, the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique was Exhibit A as to why the recently-enacted “Muslim ban” is not only advisable, but patently necessary. Initial reports identified two suspects in connection with the shooting, one of whom was Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student originally from Morocco. The jingoists among us, eager to fly the Stars and Stripes at first notice of an exclusionary narrative onto which to latch, were likely already foaming at the mouth at mention of the name “Mohamed,” and news of Belkhadir’s connection with the crime just sent them over the top. See, this is why we don’t want to let refugees from Muslim nations into the country! There’s too great a danger! You never know when ISIS might be lurking around the corner! Bear in mind Morocco isn’t one of the countries specified in President Trump’s ban on immigration, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good argument, shall we?
Except for the eventual revelation Mohamed Belkhadir was not actually a suspect in the mosque attack, but a witness. Oops! According to reports, Belkhadir was trying to administer first aid to a friend and fled to the cultural center’s parking lot when he saw someone with a gun, not knowing that person was a cop. Indeed, the search for a narrative and the desire to run with it led to a hasty presumption based on unconfirmed information and betrayed a series of arguments predicated on racial and xenophobic prejudice. What’s more, regarding the person of Alexandre Bissonnette, a synopsis of various media sources by Manisha Krishnan, writing for VICE, paints a picture of the Laval University student that might easily be recognized stateside as well as in Canada. According to these reports, he is a loner, a subscriber to right-wing views, a xenophobe, someone who displays misogynistic tendencies and trolls a Facebook group for refugees, is a white nationalist, and—to top it all off—is a fan of Donald Trump and his policies. Oops, again! While I personally might balk at the idea that Bissonnette is one of the Trump Train lot, as, ahem, not every Trump supporter is a mass murderer, that Bissonnette would seem to be an admirer of the President’s puts an almost ironic twist on the quick finger pointed at the Muslim world wholesale by those espousing similar right-wing views.
There are any number of striking things about this example of brutality. Certainly, the idea that Donald Trump’s influence translates into French Canada and abroad may startle, though the rise of white nationalism is certainly not limited to Trump; Alexandre Bissonnette is also said to be an admirer of France’s Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party has gained popularity by adopting a similar anti-immigrant stance. What also grabs the attention, however, at least for yours truly, is statistical information regarding all Canadians’ attitudes toward Muslims. Justin Trudeau, either because he’s being diplomatic, he truly believes it, or both, has, in the wake of the mosque attack, consistently preached the country’s support for the Canadian Muslim community and solidarity with the population. Personal views, meanwhile, tend to vary. Alyssa Favreau, a Montreal-based writer, connects the Quebec shooting to a rising sea of anti-Muslim sentiment.
As Favreau notes within the piece, police-reported hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled in Canada from 2012 to 2014, and the raw number (99) stands to be much larger because the majority of these crimes go unreported. What’s more, the attitudes of average Canadians toward Islam on the whole speak to a vague apprehension about the religion and its practitioners. A 2015 survey by the Quebec Human Rights Commission found that, despite about half of respondents having reservations about organized religions in general, a significantly higher percentage of those surveyed said they felt more uncomfortable about someone wearing a hijab as opposed to one wearing a cross. As for the Canadian population as a whole, based on a Forum Poll (Canada’s leading public opinion service) survey, more than a quarter of respondents had unfavorable feelings about Muslims. In other words, if Trudeau’s sentiments conveyed the sense some sort of love-fest exists in his country for followers of Islam, evidence points to the contrary.
In the United States, meanwhile, according to a report by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, just under half of respondents across a composite of four polls during the election year disapproved of Islam on the whole; the approval rate for Muslim people fared yet better, with 70% of respondents viewing this subset of the population in a positive light, as opposed to 28% surveyed viewing Muslims in a negative light as of October 2016. This actually marks an improvement on these ratings since November 2015, and in spite of the salience of events like the Orlando shooting. As Telhami instructs, the upward trend in pro-Muslim leanings is almost exclusively attributable to changing views among Democrats and independents, and may well be a reaction to Donald Trump’s divisive actions and rhetoric. While the direction of this trend may be surprising, the source seems less so. After all, we would expect more liberal-oriented respondents to more readily embrace Islam and those who practice the faith.
If American views of Islam and Muslims are on the upswing, and even though progressives would like to see improvement on the dimensions governed by the polls interpreted by Shibley Telhami and his associates, it is therefore somewhat troubling to have people who would more readily identify with the left espousing views that mischaracterize Islam. By and large, I appreciate the comedy of Bill Maher, and while I may not agree with all of his positions on key issues, I have a certain degree of respect for the man. His stances on Islam and Muslims, on the other hand, I patently disagree with, and his embrace of fringe theories about this religion is not only arguably counterproductive, but potentially dangerous as well.
On a recent airing of his show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the namesake host featured a conversation with Sam Harris, author, cognitive neuroscientist, and co-founder of Project Reason, on the nature of Islam. Harris, no stranger to the program and notable for being a leader within what has been coined the New Atheist movement, had some choice words for the Muslim world and those liberals who support them. According to Sam Harris, “the left has allied itself with Islamists and closet Islamists,” and while on one hand, he and Bill Maher reject the merits of the Muslim ban, he had this to say about criticisms from left-leaners of others possessing Islamophobic tendencies: “You don’t have to be a fascist or a racist or even a Trumpian to not want to import people into your society who think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet.” Maher was quick to chime in at one point on this broad subject, condemning comparisons made between Islamist terrorist groups and the Ku Klux Klan, saying dismissively, “The KKK is not seeking nuclear weapons.” Um, bully for them then?
Both Sam Harris and Bill Maher, in discussing Muslims and Islam in this way, appear to be making a fundamental error. Harris, making a sweeping generalization, evidently believes all Muslims and refugees from countries where the predominant faith is Islam think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet Muhammad or otherwise representing them in a less-than-holy light, when realistically, this is a hallmark of radical or ultra-conservative Muslims, and not necessarily your everyday followers. As for Maher, he makes the distinction between the Ku Klux Klan and various Islamist groups, as if to say, “See? What did I tell you about Islam!” If saying the KKK doesn’t want nukes is your primary defense of this group, though, it’s a bit of splitting proverbial hairs, no? It’s like saying Donald Trump isn’t Hitler because he hasn’t tried to exterminate the Jews. That’s really a cold comfort, and besides, dude’s still got ample time in his first 100 days and Stephen Bannon the Skeleton King pouring poison into his ear. In either case, Harris and Maher are conflating the work of jihadists with that of rank-and-file Muslims, and such discourse not only seems to be steeped in faulty logic, but potentially is dangerous given the national voice these figures possess.
Sadly, this is nothing new for either man. Though a bit dated by Internet standards, Salon in 2015 compiled a compendium of Bill Maher’s “greatest hits” on Islam, which includes references to Muslims’ beliefs as “pernicious,” the Koran as a “hate-filled holy book,” and to Islam itself not being a religion of peace. As for Sam Harris, Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the best journalist you’ve never heard of, penned a lengthy op-ed about Harris and other New Atheists on “anti-Muslim animus” back in 2013. I know—positively ancient, right? And yet, not much seems to have changed or evolved within Harris’s world view since. Greenwald acknowledges Sam Harris’s antipathy toward organized religion as a whole (Bill Maher, though not an avowed atheist, is like-minded in his distaste for organized religion and its more deleterious effects), but notes how Harris, for lack of better phrasing, has a hard-on for Islam and those that worship in accordance with its precepts. From the essay:
The key point is that Harris does far, far more than voice criticisms of Islam as part of a general critique of religion. He has repeatedly made clear that he thinks Islam is uniquely threatening: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” He has insisted that there are unique dangers from Muslims possessing nuclear weapons, as opposed to nice western Christians (the only ones to ever use them) or those kind Israeli Jews: “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence.” In his 2005 “End of Faith”, he claimed that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”
This is not a critique of religion generally; it is a relentless effort to depict Islam as the supreme threat. Based on that view, Harris, while depicting the Iraq war as a humanitarian endeavor, has proclaimed that “we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” He has also decreed that “this is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with millions more than have any direct affiliation with Al Qaeda.” “We”—the civilized peoples of the west—are at war with “millions” of Muslims, he says. Indeed, he repeatedly posits a dichotomy between “civilized” people and Muslims: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.”
This isn’t “quote-mining”, the term evidently favored by Harris and his defenders to dismiss the use of his own words to make this case. To the contrary, I’ve long ago read the full context of what he has written and did so again yesterday. […] Yes, he criticizes Christianity, but he reserves the most intense attacks and superlative condemnations for Islam, as well as unique policy prescriptions of aggression, violence and rights abridgments aimed only at Muslims. As the atheist scholar John L Perkins wrote about Harris’ 2005 anti-religion book: “Harris is particularly scathing about Islam.”
The larger significance of these kinds of attitudes, as Glenn Greenwald sees things, is that this thinking can be used to justify all sorts of aggression, human rights abuses, and violence against Muslims, the kinds of acts to which rights activists independent of political affiliation strongly object. They include anti-Muslim profiling, state violence (i.e. liberals are “soft” on terrorism), support for Israel even in the face of international criticism, and torture. What’s more, whereas defenders of divisive behavior and rhetoric on the right might view this as justified based on vague ideas of Christian righteousness or outright racism and xenophobia, the foundation of New Atheism’s anti-Muslim sentiments is feelings and notions of a moral superiority. Sure, Sam Harris and his confederates might view their objections to Islam as more correct because they are not based on strict adherence to religious doctrine, but viewed in the context of secular morality and a battle of good versus evil, they are equally as insidious, if not more so. “They know not what they do”? Hardly. Harris and Company know exactly what they do—and that’s the point.
As Glenn Greenwald frames his arguments, then, Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s wholesale character assassination of Islam fits in all-too-nicely with a generalized American and Western condemnation of the Muslim world, and a tendency to side with our own interests even when they may be seen as wrong. Greenwald describes the problem with Harris’s denigration of Muslims and Islam quite succinctly:
Harris’ self-loving mentality amounts to this: those primitive Muslims are so tribal for reflexively siding with their own kind, while I constantly tout the superiority of my own side and justify what We do against Them. […] He is at least as tribal, jingoistic, and provincial as those he condemns for those human failings, as he constantly hails the nobility of his side while demeaning those Others.
As Sam Harris and other New Atheists would have it, the end game of Islam is to convert everyone to the faith, politically subjugate those who don’t convert, or kill those who stand in the way. Otherwise, the assumptions they make about the way Muslims think are based not on factual observation or rational, intellectual inferences, but rather a spirit grounded in religious or “tribal” attitudes—and if we really want to get down to brass tacks, this liberal Islamophobia is pretty much a religion in of itself. So much for that whole “no religion” bit.
It’s one thing for educated folks like Bill Maher and Sam Harris to sneer at the section of right-wing America that, to paraphrase Barack Obama’s infamous quote, clings to its Bibles, its guns, and its resentment against the foreign and the unfamiliar. It’s quite another, however, for their likes to convey an elitist tone and deride the Muslim ban as an obvious poor choice while they, in the same breath, denigrate Muslims and what they believe. So, while Maher, Harris and other non-believers/agnostics may thumb their noses at those who get caught up in matters of sectarian conflict, looking down at the rigidity of organized religions from atop their high horses, by painting Islam and Muslims with broad, largely negative strokes, they are no better than the Americans who, say, argue Muslims are a danger to the United States because they want nothing more than to make sharia law the supreme law of the land and subvert our existing statutes in the name of Allah.
Speaking of which, on that last note, in another one of those quasi-ironic twists that I seem to love these days, if anything is liable to bring religiously-motivated laws into a position of greater influence and effect, it is not Muslims, but the man behind the ban himself, President Donald Trump. Alongside plotting a gutting of the Dodd-Frank Act, a piece of legislation crafted in direct response to the irresponsible banking, lending and other regulatory practices which led to the global financial crisis almost a decade ago, Trump vowed recently to destroy the Johnson Amendment, which effectively bars churches from making political contributions, and thus, is an important aspect of the separation of church and state in the United States. Evidently, and in short, Trump, his cronies, and Republicans who aid and abet him in terrible policy-making are content to let the financial industry and religious organizations alike run amok. As many of us may reason, they might as well. You know, after confirming the likes of Rex Tillerson, a man who has ties to Vladimir Putin and who until recently helmed a company that dealt with countries considered state sponsors of terrorism, and Betsy DeVos, whose millions of dollars of political contributions somehow are supposed to count for a complete lack of competence and experience, there’s almost nowhere to go but up. Almost.
What we don’t need, therefore, returning our focus to the topic of anti-Muslim sentiment, is more noise from individuals professing to uphold science and intellectualism but instead giving way to beliefs that smack of white ethnocentrism and are reliant on a warped understanding of a religion practiced by over a billion people worldwide. People like Sam Harris argue liberals are in bed with jihadists and others like Bill Maher feel political correctness holds us back from having an honest and open conversation about Islam and the Muslim world, and at worst, makes us “pussies.” Little do they realize, however, it is, to a considerable extent, their closed-mindedness which only fuels mutual misunderstanding between East and West and drives us all further apart.
When someone blows up a physical embodiment of the year “2016” and encourages people to tell that year to go f**k itself, you know it’s been an abnormally bad one. John Oliver took the opportunity to give 2016 this proper send-off (a report on this event was equally properly filed under the category “F**K 2016” by Aimée Lutkin and Jezebel), and that HBO agreed to afford Oliver the chance to explode something of that magnitude likewise speaks to the horror that was this past 366 days. That’s right—in case you had forgotten, 2016 was a leap year, so all-too-appropriately, we were given one extra day to protract the misery. The Julian and Gregorian calendars can eat a collective dick on that front.
I only started this blog in the middle of June of this year, so I missed the chance to comment on some things that happened earlier in 2016. With over 50 posts under my belt on United States of Joe, however, there’s still enough topics to revisit to make reflecting on the year that was worthwhile. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And since, despite my overall belief in fair and democratic principles, this blog is not a democracy but a Joe-ocracy, that’s the agenda for this session. You’re welcome. So, kick back. Get plenty of champagne ready—noting how awful the past year has been, it may take quite a bit of alcohol to get into the spirit. And get ready to count down to 2017. It’s time to give our own send-off to 2016, middle fingers in the air and all.
Well, before we take the plunge into the abjectly negative, let’s go back to the app-based sensation that was Pokémon Go. Since its initial breakthrough success which had critics saying the smartphone game had ushered in a new era of augmented reality and had fundamentally changed the way we look at mobile gaming, downloads and use of the title have understandably cooled. In light of the downward trend, members of the media are now looking at Pokémon Go altogether as a disappointment, especially in light of some updates which failed to impress. You need to walk 3 KM just for one stinking Charmander candy? I’m never going to get that Charizard! NEVER, I SAY!
Now that I’m done being dramatic, not only do I find these charges against the game and its maker Niantic overblown (although, seriously, those Buddy System ratios are pretty shitty), but expectations, buttressed by the app’s initial success, were probably always too high. Though Niantic did its part to make the game palatable to people of all ages and ability levels by making gameplay largely based around throwing Poké Balls and by simplifying battles, the players who are most likely to find the experience rewarding are fans of the original game, who are used to grinding for experience, completing the game as completely as possible, and overall, staying in it for the long haul. It’s not Angry Birds. It’s not Candy Crush Saga. It’s not Fruit freaking Ninja. You have to walk and work for your rewards. You know, when you can’t pay money for some of them. Either way, you still have to walk!
When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in July and formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, it admittedly felt like a punch to the gut. For all the mental preparation made, when the moment actually arrived, it still hurt. What made Sanders’ decision and the associated feelings yet worse, though, was the reception his standing behind Clinton received and the accusations that got hurled around in the wake of the announcement. Con-man. Sell-out. Traitor. Looking at Bernie’s endorsement in a purely ideological vacuum, it is easy to assess this move as a betrayal of his principles and what he stands for. In this instance, however, context is everything, and with Donald Trump having sewn up the Republican Party nomination, Sanders saw greater merit in trying to unite Democrats and other prospective voters in an effort to defeat Trump. Ultimately, the orange one shocked the world and scored an electoral victory, but Bernie Sanders did his best to avoid this eventuality. That not enough Americans either came out to vote or otherwise didn’t buy what Hillary was selling is largely on her, not Bernie.
Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the remaining candidates looked to capitalize. Even with the bulk of Sanders supporters presumed to be going over to Hillary Clinton’s camp, Donald Trump himself made an instantaneous pitch to those “feeling the Bern,” trying to tap into their fervent and justifiable anger at the political establishment. Third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, too, though, made a play for these suddenly available votes, rationalizing that there was no better time than now than to tell the two major parties to shove it. In endorsing Clinton, Bernie repeatedly tried to communicate the danger and inadequacies of Trump as a presidential candidate first and foremost, even though he may have largely been preaching to the choir, as younger voters by and large detested “the Donald.” He also, meanwhile, cautioned against a “protest vote” for someone like Johnson, Stein, or even Harambe (and yes, he would’ve loved to follow this election), realizing, as did all these newfound suitors for Bernie backers’ affections, that the votes of his faithful could swing the election by helping to decide key swing states. To reiterate, it didn’t work all that well, but the effort on Sanders’ part was there.
Ultimately, as Bernie Sanders himself will insist, his run for President, while important, was always more concerned with starting a revolution and getting more Americans, especially younger voters and working-class individuals, involved with the political process, even at the local level. Whether the energy behind his campaign and the urge for progressive grass-roots activism is sustainable in the United States is yet to be seen, but either way, there is yet room for optimism that people will want to keep active and informed as a means of exerting greater control over their own destiny. Thus, you may call Bernie any name you want, but I choose to label him an inspiration, and I feel history will bear out this sentiment as well.
As we Bernie Sanders supporters worked our way through the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, eventually, we had to come to accept that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was going to be our next President. In fact, even the non-Berners were forced to do the same, in all likelihood ensuring many who were on the fence—that is, on whether or not they would vote at all—would choose the latter option and just stay home. In my piece referenced in the title of this section, I mused about the notion that maybe we, as a collective electorate, did not deserve better than these choices that a significant portion of said electorate neither trusted nor cared for much. Ever since 2000, when Ralph Nader was accused of costing Al Gore the election (even though Gore lost that shit on his own, with an admitted probable helping from electoral shenanigans down in Florida), Americans have been highly critical of parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, with the usual refrain being some combination of “they could play spoiler to a legitimate candidate” or “you’re throwing away your vote” if you opt for one of them.
However, to invoke the words of Mr. Nader himself, not only is this attitude politically bigoted, as it negates the will of the individual to make an informed choice in accordance with his or her conscience, but it nullifies our bargaining power with the two major parties. After all, if we blindly vote either Democratic or Republican, beyond losing the election, what motivation does either party have to institute reform that better reflects the needs and wants of the voting public? Especially for members of the working class, both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to take them for granted, which at least partially explains why the Dems lost this election and why Trump and Sanders achieved the levels of popularity they did this election cycle.
In the end, though, despite the increased visibility of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the lead-up to the election, most Americans who voted (and there was a good portion of the country who could’ve voted which didn’t) cast their ballots for either Hillary or Donald. As historically unfavorable as these two candidates were, and for all their flaws—Trump as an idiot and professional con-man stoking the flames of fear and hatred, Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist with a penchant for pandering and expensive Giorgio Armani jackets—better than nine-tenths of voters decided they had to pick one of the two, if for no other reason than to block the other candidate they liked even less. Which is pretty shitty, if you ask me. Personally, even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t win, I voted for Jill Stein, as I felt neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton had earned my vote. That relative few other Americans opted out of the two-party paradigm, however, signals to me that we, as a nation, are not ready to demand political change as strongly as we should. It’s either red and blue in these United States, and if you don’t like either color, the present message, unfortunately, is to get the f**k out.
Holy f**k, indeed. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the pollsters were so surprised that Donald Trump scored the “upset” victory, or why we were so easily convinced that Hillary Clinton was such a strong favorite to win the presidency, when their models were consistently wrong or failed to predict the magnitudes of certain results throughout the primary season. At any rate, as must be reiterated for anyone who sees Trump’s win as a mandate, the man who considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” won the presidency on the strength of electoral votes, not because he had a resounding victory in the popular vote (in fact, he lost by more than 2 million votes, and it apparently tears him up inside)—and certainly not because he ran a stellar campaign.
So, how did Trump win? Looking at the exit poll data, certain trends do tend to stick out. Regionally, Donald Trump fared much better in the Midwest and the South, and of course, he carried key swing states, notably those in the Rust Belt (e.g. Ohio, Wisconsin). In terms of demographic data, Trump had an easy advantage among male voters and voters 45 and above, not to mention he held an appeal among less educated individuals and the wealthiest earners (a seeming paradox, though as evidenced by how they spend their money, rich people aren’t necessarily all that smart—look at Trump himself!), as well as evangelicals and married people, but perhaps most notable of all, whites voted at almost a 60% clip for Donald Trump, while close to three of four non-whites went for Hillary Clinton. CNN commentator Van Jones referred to this aspect of the results as a “white-lash”, as in “white backlash” after eight years of a black president the Republicans have characterized as a cause of America’s problems and someone with a secret Muslim agenda, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, really. When the former head of the Ku Klux Klan is cheering you on and citing you as an inspiration, you know white supremacist beliefs, racism and xenophobia helped you to victory.
On a somewhat related note, the thematic reasons why Trump voters chose the way did are also significant. Speaking of racism and xenophobia, supporters of Donald Trump rated immigration trends and terrorism the most important issues facing the United States. Screw the economy and foreign relations—let’s worry some more about brown people. As for the quality that best drew voters to Trump, it wasn’t whether the candidate cares about them, exhibits good judgment, or has the right experience—those voters tended to go for Clinton—but whether he or she could bring about “change.” Whatever the heck that means.
In a nutshell, that’s why Donald Trump is set to be our next President. As for who we can blame for this, besides the obvious in Trump himself and his supporters, there are three core enablers for the man’s political success. Certainly, the Republican Party let him waltz right in and secure the nomination after a barrage of similarly weak candidates failed to stand in his way, and after the GOP at large sowed the seeds of fear and hate he exploited. The media, too, acted irresponsibly and selfishly, chasing ratings while failing to challenge Trump on his lack of defined policy, his factual inaccuracies, his reckless language, or even his refusal to publish his tax returns. In addition, the Democratic Party, in its own right bears some responsibility. Among its most damning sins are its failure to stand up for the working class, its inability to protect jobs and wages, its support for disastrous trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, its complicity with corporations and wealthy donors, and its allowing antitrust laws to lapse or otherwise become weaker, thereby consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands. The failure to stop Donald Trump is a collective one, and though it probably won’t happen, these enablers should do some serious soul-searching for fear of endangering their long-term prospects.
Should anything happen to Donald Trump, whether in terms of his health (not that I’m wishing for the man to pull a William Henry Harrison or anything) or impeachment, the next man in line may not be all that much of an improvement. Mike Pence, who has been governing the proud state of Indiana, has arguably made a number of shitty choices during his tenure. He vetoed a refund of a tax overcharge on the basis it would have cost too much to administer. Before he got too much (warranted) negative feedback, he proposed JustIN, a state-run news service some likened to Pravda in the Soviet era. He rejected Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act on principle, to the detriment of his constituents. He insisted on a ban against a needle exchange program that was effective in limiting the spread of HIV related to a particular drug injection, and later reversed his position, but refused to use state funding to provide for such exchanges. Perhaps most notably, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allowed for discrimination against the LGBT community and cost Indiana some $60 million in revenue before its reversal. An opponent of gay marriage and women controlling their own reproductive rights, Mike Pence is one of a seemingly increasingly long line of conservative Republican leaders who puts evangelical beliefs ahead of his state’s and the nation’s best interests. He’s not Trump, but he’s no rose either.
In terms of what damage he may do in terms of signing legislation into law and what damage he likely already is doing in his appointees for key positions (Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy—are you f**king serious?), that Donald Trump has been thrust into a position of immense power is bad enough, but his association with the far-right and his inspiration to the likes of David Duke makes for some shitty ripple effects just the same, let me tell you. I said earlier that Trump’s electoral victory should not be seen as a mandate given how he lost the popular vote and in light of how divided we are as a nation. And yet, the Breitbart crowd and members of the so-called “alt-right” have taken it as such, viewing themselves as fighters in a culture war they are winning, standing against political correctness and other liberal “absurdities.” They also apparently like boycotting companies who don’t stand for their white supremacist agenda. You know, even though they probably don’t use their products anyway. But boycott it is! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP!
When Hillary Clinton formally acknowledged the alt-right in a speech during the campaign, though I feel it needed to be said, it further legitimized this loosely-constructed movement that coincides with the likes of Gamergate’s sexist perpetuators. That Stephen Bannon has been given a prominent advisory role in Trump’s administration, though, should concern us more conscientious Americans. Donald Trump is not normal, and those who sanction his misdeeds and try to normalize his objectionable behavior are standing in the way of progress. Furthermore, the gang mentality with which many of them operate, encouraging online attacks on and/or death threats against individuals whose values clash with theirs, is troubling, as is the unwillingness of social media services to more aggressively pursue those accounts which violate their terms of service for fear of losing traffic. In short, the alt-right has arrived, as much as many of us might not like to dignify them with a response, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have respect for others—not just respect for white males who refuse to admit to their privilege—to speak out against their behavior and words as dangerous and wrong.
Before Donald Trump swooped in to save the day and stop the threat of taco trucks on every corner in the United States, the United Kingdom gave us a teaser trailer for the U.S. presidential election with a referendum vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union. As with the election in the States, the experts predicted voters would do the sensible thing; if this were an analogy in the vein of the old SATs: UNITED STATES: ELECT HILLARY CLINTON :: UNITED KINGDOM: VOTE REMAIN. And, as with the election in the States, voters did the exact opposite.
The parallels are uncanny. The decision to leave the EU was, as it was in the United States, mediated by a greater incidence of older voters opting to do the wrong thing. Like with Trump’s anti-immigrant appeals and vague notions of “making America great again,” Leave voters were swayed by visions of “securing the nation’s borders” and “taking back control” of the country’s economy, not to mention equally empty promises of the UK Independence Party. Additionally, voters seemed to be making choices that were a direct rejection of existing politics. Barack Obama, David Cameron—either way you slice it, the public clamored for change, no matter who would bring it or what it would entail. The fallout from both votes is still being assessed, but the discontentment of the working-class voter and upward trends in outspokenness among white nationalists worldwide suggest the U.S. and UK votes are not isolated incidents, and in turn, that the risk of other Brexit-like events occurring in the future in other countries is all-too-real. The winds of change are blowing, and one can only hope our houses don’t get knocked over when the gusts have subsided.
Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, black people don’t enjoy getting mowed down by police at routine traffic stops. While police shootings may not have been any more numerous in 2016 than in years past, through the advent of cellphones and other camera-based technologies, violence involving police certainly has become more visible. Whatever the precise rates of deaths related to encounters between civilians and police, it would seem as though we have a lot of progress to make regarding recognition of the disparity of treatment people of color receive at the hands of police and that which is received by whites, regardless of whether the person accosted by one or more officers has a gun or not.
A perfect illustration of the failure of much of white America to confront its privilege in this regard comes in arguments about the very name and nature of black activism in the United States which exists in large part due to documented police brutality. In response to hearing the moniker Black Lives Matter, or merely even the phrase “black lives matter,” some people are too quick to “correct” the original speaker with the phrase “all lives matter,” or counter with their own version (i.e. “blue lives matter”) that serves to negate the critical recognition of blackness inherent in the initial figure of speech. To me, however, this falls prey to a fairly obvious logical trap: if all lives matter, then black lives, as a subset of all lives, should matter too, and there should be no problem accepting that terminology. “Black lives matter” does not mean black lives should matter more than other lives, but simply that they should matter as much as white lives, blue lives, or any other color lives of which one can think. Clearly, though, they don’t, or else there wouldn’t be a need for organizations such as Black Lives Matter.
The need to scrutinize adherence by individual officers to specified protocol when engaging possible suspects, as well as the systems which serve to shield “rogue” cops from criticism and/or prosecution, is undermined by two key strategies of those who react to protests with knee-jerk defenses of our uniformed police. The first is to question the integrity of the victim—yes, victim—who, because he or she is labeled a “thug” or has a history with the law, evidently deserves to be effectively lynched by the police who intercede him or her. The second is to de-legitimize efforts of black activists wholesale, conflating them unfairly with those who loot and otherwise take advantage of violence and associated protests for their own gain, likening them to terrorists, or wrongly insisting they are advocating for the slaughter of police. In both cases, this is counterproductive, regressive thinking.
As some have argued, those cops who are too nervous not to shoot someone at a routine encounter shouldn’t be placed in such a highly leveraged situation, and either way, good police—which comprise the majority of forces around the nation, let’s be clear—should be appreciative of efforts to root out bad actors from their ranks. As for the protests against police brutality, this doesn’t equate to disrespect for the police, nor does kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem constitute an affront to our military, as Colin Kaepernick’s example reminds us. Black Lives Matter et al. don’t want to see law and order dissolved. They just want to see police officers and officials who wear the badge held accountable when they do wrong, and at a very basic level, not to be utterly afraid they might die when getting pulled over by a squad car. It’s 2016. We need to do better as a country in addressing racial inequality, especially within the purview of criminal justice.
There have been too many mass shootings in the United States of late, but the Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular, was particularly devastating for many of us. Not only was it a tremendous loss of life, but that the LGBT community was apparently the specific target of the violence made this brutality that much worse for a population that regularly faces hatred and persecution. Speaking for myself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could harbor such hate for themselves and others that they would wish to walk into a building and start firing indiscriminately. Perhaps this idea gets the tiniest bit easier to understand when we understand this hate works both ways. As jihadists would seek to inspire terror in the West through bombings and mass shootings, white nationalism encountered in Austria, France, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations, has created an environment that has often proved hostile to Muslims, and has made the prospect of accepting more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria decidedly poor. I mean, Donald Trump ran on a platform of which one of the key tenets was a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. for all Muslims. It’s incredible, and incredibly shameful, at that.
Never mind the idea that all this bluster about “bombing the shit out of ISIS” may actually be good for the Islamic State’s ability to recruit and strengthening its resolve. The jingoists among us would have everyone believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the laws of the United States, that it is a “cancer” to be snuffed out, and that American Muslims who don’t do enough to help discover would-be terrorists in their midst (which, evidently, is quite easy) are guilty in their own right, and regardless, likely merit surveillance of their homes/places of worship and tests administered to gauge their love for and commitment to the U-S-of-A. This conflation of Islam, a religion which preaches peace at its core, and the bastardized religion ISIS and other jihadists/”radical Islamists” practice, is a patently false equivalency.
For the sake of an analogy—one for which I can’t take credit, let me stress—ISIS is to everyday Muslims what the Ku Klux Klan is to white people who aren’t unabashed racists. In both cases, the majority disavows the hate and violence these groups perpetuate. This is by no means saying we shouldn’t be vigilant against individuals who would wish to do us harm. As bad as the Orlando massacre was, though, and as unforgivable as the actions of an organization like ISIS/ISIL have proven, our responses and the negative feelings that accompany some of these reactions reveal an ugly side to our patriotism as well. In the demonization and the pursuit of “the other,” we run the clear risk of losing ourselves.
I didn’t originally write about it, but the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series. To wit, I have neither observed nor heard any stories about swarms of locusts descending on fields or rivers of blood forming, but I’m not ruling them out just yet. The apocalypse takes time to develop, you know?
Wells Fargo was forced to fire thousands of mid-level managers for directing employees to create fake accounts and sign up customers for services without their knowledge, essentially making them scapegoats for the company’s aggressive sales model. The company eventually apologized—sort of—and John Stumpf was eventually removed from the role of CEO, but the big bank largely closed the book on this sordid chapter of its history without really admitting wrongdoing, and Stumpf had a nice golden parachute on which to drift to security. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has apparently learned absolutely nothing from this fiasco, as new CEO Tim Sloan has expressed the belief that the company and the banking industry as a whole could actually do with less regulation. Evidently, it’s all fun and games when you get to play with other people’s money.
FBI director James Comey, despite finding that Hillary Clinton and her aides were extremely careless in their handling of E-mail while Clinton was Secretary of State, that Clinton should’ve known certain E-mails were classified and didn’t belong on an unsecured server in the first place, that the State Department was generally lacking in security protocol for classified E-mails, and that Hillary used multiple unsecured devices in locations where American adversaries could have exploited this vulnerability, held a press conference to announce he was not recommending charges be filed against the Democratic Party nominee. Then, a week before the general election, he announced that the Bureau was looking anew into Clinton’s E-mails, which she and her campaign cite as a factor in why she lost. So, nice going, Director Comey! You’ve undermined confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and perhaps swayed the election! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard!
Chris Christie not only failed to capture the Republican Party nomination, but he was overlooked by Donald Trump for vice president despite being, more or less, his manservant. Oh, and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, two key figures in “Bridge-gate,” were found guilty on all counts in a trial related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and a separate criminal trial is set to take place for Christie himself. Congratulations, Chris. You played yourself.
Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt, a result fueled by a combination of fiscal and economic factors, including the repeal of tax breaks for businesses, the creation and sale of triple tax-exempt municipal bonds, the inability of the commonwealth to declare for bankruptcy, exempting wealthy investors and businesses from paying capital gains taxes, “vulture” hedge funds buying up bonds and demanding a full payday, and institutions like UBS selling risky bonds they themselves underwrote to unsuspecting customers. Today, Puerto Rico’s financial future is yet in peril with individuals who are alleged to have helped the island along the path to crisis serving on its appointed oversight board, and with Donald Trump being a crazy mofo. Also, the U.S. Virgin Islands may be on the way to its own debt crisis. Um, huzzah?
In some good news, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be all but dead, being disliked on both sides of the political aisle. Also, the Dakota Access Pipeline is on indefinite hold, as the Army Corps of Engineers found more research needed to be done regarding the environmental effects of its intended route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Of course, supporters of these canceled or postponed initiatives may yet redouble their efforts, so we concerned progressives can’t really relax. At least we can enjoy a short breather before the ball drops, eh?
In the title of this piece (remember back that far?), I reference the notion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I’m not sure it amounts to much, though, beyond wishful thinking. If the best qualification for improvement which comes to mind is that we won’t be electing Donald Trump, it’s cold comfort in light of the fact he’ll already be President. Going back to his appointees, if they are any evidence, the country is set upon a bumpy path for the next four years, or until the man gets impeached—whichever comes first. His Defense and National Security Cabinet leaders view Islam as a threat to America. His Education Secretary is an opponent of public schools, despite never having attended one. His Energy Secretary infamously once forgot the name of the department he has been tapped to helm. His Health and Human Services director wants to privatize everything and largely gut social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. His HUD Secretary knows nothing about housing administration.
Wait, I’m not done yet! His head of the Justice Department failed to be confirmed as a federal judge once upon a time because he was an out-and-out racist. His Labor Secretary opposes raising the minimum wage. His Secretary of State has likely financial ties to Vladimir Putin. His Transportation Secretary is married to Mitch McConnell—and that’s evidence enough of poor judgment. His Treasury Secretary oversaw 50,000 or so foreclosures from his position within OneWest Bank, an entity which was accused of unethical practices and discrimination against minorities. His EPA head is a climate change denier. His Small Business Administration director is former CEO of a fake wrestling empire. And his United Nations representative has no foreign policy experience. Irresponsible does not begin to describe these selections, and fingers are crossed that one or more of them fail to get confirmed by the Senate.
So, yeah, I’m not incredibly optimistic about the United States’ prospects right now. The silver lining, as I see it, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization that our system is broken and that it doesn’t work for everyone, and with luck, that number will grow as the sheen wears off the shiny promises Trump has made and can’t hope to keep. I wouldn’t have wished for a Donald Trump presidency in a thousand years, but if this hastens the movement of the nation in a more progressive direction, so be it. For those of us who refuse to accept Trump and the America he has envisioned as normal, and who insist that we’ve come too far as a country to simply put the train in reverse, the resistance starts now. 2017, we look to you in strengthening our resolve. And 2016, once more, you can go f**k yourself.
“Prepared for the worst but still praying for the best.” This is a line from Lil Wayne’s “John” off Tha Carter IV. Fulfilling the stereotype about hip-hop music, Wayne proceeds to make sexual comments about women, and talk about money and guns in the next few lines, but in isolation, this sentiment likely holds true for the half of the electorate which did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and is yet reeling from the news of his victory and is, to put it mildly, concerned about the direction of the United States of America moving forward.
Anecdotally, there are two more frequent responses I have encountered in engaging people about the election, when the default “I don’t want to talk about it” is not selected. The first is something to the effect of, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now” or “It is what it is.” Which, if you ask me, is depressing, though as someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, I might be predisposed to thinking this way anyhow. With respect to the notion that we “can’t do anything,” to throw up our hands and admit powerlessness seems like a complete admission of defeat. Democrats, in particular, need to get their shit together in preparation for the 2018 mid-terms, and we as discerning, dissenting voters need to be watchful of everything Trump does and says up until inauguration and through that date. As for the idea that “it is what it is,” let me just specify that this is one of the most overused and least useful phrases that exists in popular speech, because everything is what it is. A tree is a tree. A snail is a snail. This tells the listener absolutely nothing of value, and what’s more, it signifies the same sort of resigned attitude that accompanies the “can’t do anything” mindset. Shrug your shoulders. Sigh deeply. Get ready to binge-watch Orange Is the New Black on Netflix with a family-size bag of Cheetos—all for yourself.
The other response I’ve heard—and I commend the people who answer with this much optimism—is something along the lines of, “Maybe some good will come out of Trump’s presidency” or “we should give him a chance.” Prepared for the worst but still praying for the best. I am not cynical enough to say that wanting to put a positive spin on things is naïve, or that praying for a fortunate result is without merit. Though I am open to the possibility there is no God or force at work in our world, I tend to believe that something or someone guides or lives. Still, this wishful thinking of individuals who now have to come to grips with the unsettling reality of President-Elect Trump has all the reassurance of a Kansas homeowner suggesting that maybe his or her house might be OK despite just seeing the neighbor and his dog spirited away by a twister. Yes, in theory, Donald Trump, despite his best efforts, might be able to succeed as President of the United States, could bring the country unimaginable prosperity, and may single-handedly heal rifts between various demographic groups within his first four-year term. By this token, however, it is technically statistically possible that I could have a threesome with Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. As improbable as that scenario is—for so many reasons—so too are the odds not particularly good that a Trump presidency leaves the country in a better state than when he takes office. Especially not if you are other than a rich white male like Donald Trump himself.
This second kind of response is at the crux of this piece. Even those of us possessing the sunniest of dispositions, if not suckered in by Donald Trump’s promises of lollipops, sunshine and kicking out “illegals,” know deep down that most likely, despite all our hoping and praying and wishing, that things will not turn out better than we expect. This is not a comforting thought, and by no means should it be. It’s especially unfortunate after an exhausting presidential campaign that saw, by many Democrats’ and independents’ estimation, two vastly superior candidates (namely Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders) fall by the wayside only to have someone with the attention span of a goldfish and roughly the same complexion instead garner the top political office in the country—without a lick of experience as an elected official, to boot. After weeks and months of mudslinging between the two major-party nominees, not to mention activism and donations on behalf of candidates and social causes by people who dedicated their blood, sweat, tears, time, money, and maybe even let someone use their phone once or twice, and after all the hard work and sacrifice—concepts completely foreign to Trump, mind you—many of those who gave their all to the electoral process are likely looking for a breather or a return to some sense of normalcy. I myself, a donor to the Sanders campaign and supporter of his cause, remarked on numerous occasions that I would just be glad when it all was over.
To be sure, the respite from the Clinton campaign E-mails asking for donations, and the Trump campaign attack ads all but putting loaded weapons in Hillary’s hand as the “Butcher of Benghazi” and the founder of ISIS, is appreciated. Of course, even if Hillary Clinton had won, the more progressive among us were wont to be on guard for the Democratic Party challenger’s commitment to the more newly adopted elements of the official party platform, notably her stated opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With Donald Trump set to take the reins of the nation—or “grab it by the pussy,” in Trumpian vernacular—there is a yet stronger sense of urgency in organizing to defend against abrogation of our civil liberties. Again, Trump might soften on some of these more severe positions that won him the presidency, such as authorizing a temporary ban of Muslims entering the country, bombing the shit out of the Middle East, building a wall at the Mexican border, defying the Geneva Conventions, and other fun domestic and foreign public policy positions. But when his campaign starts—not even ends on, but starts, mind you—with the stated belief that Mexicans are crossing the border into the United States in vast numbers, many of them drug dealers, killers and rapists, one really should have no realistic expectation for a kinder, gentler President Donald J. Trump. Oh, sure, Trump has vowed to become “more presidential” after winning the election, but it’s not as easy as turning on a light switch. After all, to invoke, of all people, Judge Judy Sheindlin, “Beauty fades; dumb is forever.” In Trump’s case, the man is neither beautiful nor particularly smart, so why even pretend to have faith in his ability as a leader?
The obvious counterargument, besides the exceedingly dumb defense that he hasn’t started the job yet, is that even if Donald Trump lacks experience and defined policy goals, he can at least surround himself with capable advisers and appointees. As the saying goes, you judge a man by the company he keeps. Well, operating under this standard and noting the kind of people Trump has already enlisted to help him as part of his administration, um, we may very well be in for a bad time. Let’s review the cast of winners (note the sarcasm) President-Elect Trump has tapped to help him in his bid to “Make America Great Again”:
Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump
Wait, you’re saying, I’ve heard that name before. Well, I’ve talked about him before in my piece on the alt-right, but that likely doesn’t mean much—my readership is a small one, and even those who follow me on Facebook may have skipped over that one. To fully jog your memory, Stephen Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart, a self-professed extreme right-wing news service and media outlet. In other words, he’s an asshole. The kind of material and headlines that appear on Bannon’s site, I believe, speak for themselves; for some choice ones (note additional sarcasm), check the Raw Story post here.
If we bring personal matters into the discussion, meanwhile, additional questions about the kind of man Donald Trump is endorsing arise. Stephen Bannon has been married and divorced three times, which should not in it of itself disqualify him from serving the President, though it doesn’t exactly make him overqualified for his position, let’s be clear. Still, some of the allegations from one of his exes, Mary Louise Piccard, give the reader pause. Though dropped due to lack of cooperation from Piccard, Bannon was brought up on charges of battery, dissuading a witness, and misdemeanor domestic violence. During divorce proceedings, too, Piccard accused Bannon of anti-Semitic remarks, which may or may not be accurate, but the man’s association with Breitbart, a source of content numerous detractors have associated with virulent white nationalism, does not help protestations of innocence in this regard. Stephen Bannon is a bigot on a number of levels, and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the White House. As the kids say, “Facts.”
Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor
Michael T. Flynn, retired Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army and formerly assigned to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to some, left his post early because he wanted to tell the truth about the situation in Syria but was effectively muzzled by the Obama administration and then forced out. According to others, meanwhile, including sources at the DIA, Flynn was something of a confrontational leader who had a “loose relationship with the facts.” Hmm, sound like someone we know?
Lt. Gen. Flynn, though a registered Democrat, has expressed some troubling opinions about Muslims and about how to combat extremism in the Middle East, and increasingly so since the beginning of his apparent involvement with Trump. He is apparently of the belief that Islam is a political ideology above all, and a “cancer,” and furthermore that fear of Muslims is rational. He, like Donald Trump, also eschews the insistence on political correctness that he believes is holding back our nation, and apparently believes waterboarding shouldn’t necessarily be off the table. So much for cooler heads prevailing, eh?
Mike Pompeo, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Mike Pompeo, Republican Representative for Kansas’s 4th District, like Stephen Bannon, is a bit of a dick. By this I mean he takes a lot of positions on issues that stand to negatively affect people who are not him, and stands by them stubbornly. Just the kind of person you want in charge of the CIA, right? Pompeo’s less savory stances include:
Opposing abortion, even in cases of rape or incest
Rejecting the science on climate change
Having anything to do with the NRA
Opposing the Affordable Care Act, for no reason apparent other than fellow Republicans told him to oppose it
Supporting government shutdowns, to the possible detriment of the economy
Advocating the unnecessary gathering of metadata from the American people as part of normal surveillance (don’t pick that wedgie—they’re watching you!)
Supporting the death penalty for Edward Snowden, or for that matter, the death penalty at all
Opposing the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, or as I like to call it, “America’s House of Super Happy Fun Times”
Criticizing the Obama administration’s move away from secret CIA prisons and strict adherence to anti-torture laws (I mean, come on, they’re more like anti-torture “suggestions,” am I right?)
Mike Pompeo is appropriately named because he is a pompous asshole. His Tea Party politics arguably don’t belong in Congress, let alone in a position so vitally important as the Director of the CIA, but there you have Donald Trump and his appointees in a nutshell.
Jeff Sessions, Attorney General
If there’s one thing that’s evident with Donald Trump’s picks, it’s that he values loyalty in the form of sycophantic obeisance. Case in point Jeff Sessions, U.S. Senator from the state of Alabama and former Alabama Attorney General, who supported Trump early in his campaign and even advised the Republican Party nominee on matters such as immigration and national security. Sessions, as you might imagine, supports strong crackdowns on illegal immigration and opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants in good standing. He unequivocally supported the Iraq War, and voted against measures that would outlaw certain forms of torture to be used by the U.S. government. He thinks civil forfeiture programs are a good idea, even if they encourage abuse and overreach on the part of law enforcement. He would have liked the Bush tax cuts to be permanent, even if they didn’t magically get rid of the national debt. He has criticized the use of federal funding to equip libraries with books related to Islam. He supports severe penalties for drug crimes and opposes the legalization of marijuana in whatever context. Sen. Sessions, like his ass-hat Republican cronies, has refused to hear President Obama’s Supreme Court pick.
In short, Jeff Sessions seems liable to undo progress the Obama administration and others have made with respect to drug law reform, immigration reform and racial understanding. He’s a bigot who appears intent to take us back to the days of Ronald Reagan. Well, let’s just break out the jelly beans, put on “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” and have ourselves an 80’s party, shall we? I’ll bring the Jordache jeans if you bring the Tab!
Yup, nothing says “progress” like tapping a bunch of Muslim-hating white dudes to prominent positions in the U.S. government. I alluded to this sentiment in my last post, but a number of people who supported/voted for Donald Trump, or otherwise favor Republicans in power, are crying foul about, well, all the crying foul about the reality of a Trump presidency from the left. For that matter, many voters who cast their ballots in hopes of preventing this sobering eventuality themselves see little virtue of belaboring the outcome. “The Donald” won fair and square. He will be the 45th President of the United States. Cue the “Deal with It” GIF with the sunglasses falling into place. In terms of respecting the democratic process, I acknowledge that Donald Trump won the election by securing enough electoral votes. I also accept the electors voting in exact accordance with the results of the Electoral College, though it is worth stressing that prevention of a demagogue such as Trump is one of the main reasons the Founding Fathers put a buffer between the general electorate and the presidency. After all, I wouldn’t want the reverse done should a Democratic candidate prevail. Then again, I think the popular vote should decide who wins and who loses, but that’s a whole ‘nother kit and caboodle.
Speaking of the Founding Fathers—who, mind you, might just be spinning in their graves right about now—an interesting thing happened on the way to the forum the other night, or rather, when Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton on Broadway. For one, Pence was booed mercilessly by other audience members throughout the show, necessitating pauses by the performers to accommodate the added ambient noise. Better yet, however, cast member Brandon Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, had this message for the Vice-President-Elect following the show:
“Vice President-Elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
This is no small potatoes. Broadway performers do not regularly address members of the audience, let alone future vice presidents, to remind them to uphold American values. This is not standard operating procedure for actors in musicals, though Hamilton, to be sure, is no ordinary musical. Meanwhile, Trump University just settled a lawsuit against it to the tune of $25 million. This likewise is the not the usual for incoming presidents. See, here’s the thing: Americans are behaving as if Donald Trump is just another in the line of conservative Republicans such as Reagan or Bush and Son, that this is just another election.
To espouse such beliefs, however, I submit, is to engage in some serious self-deception. As John Oliver and others have put it, Trump is not normal. Tweeting regularly to make disparaging comments about people who criticize them should not be a common practice for people about to inherit the responsibilities of an entire nation and much of the free world, at that. (Trump, by the by, railed against the cast of Hamilton for their supposed “harassment” of Mike Pence and suggested they apologize, and his supporters have since called for a boycott of the show. Not only is it incredibly ironic Donald Trump is lecturing anyone about harassment given his reputation, but calling for a boycott rings hollow, you know, when you probably can’t even get tickets in the first place.) Presidents-elect should not be receiving congratulations from former or current members of the Ku Klux Klan. Serious presidential candidates should not be able to list being honored in the WWE Hall of Fame as one of their primary qualifications for political office.
Donald Trump, to put it succinctly, is unlike any POTUS we’ve ever seen. To a large extent, this explains how he got elected; he is the self-professed antithesis of the “all talk, no action” politicians who have left the country in what I would agree is a sorry state. Still, the public’s desire for a change has put a dangerously unqualified and temperamental man in the Oval Office, and to merely accept the ripple effects of hate and prejudice that have been experienced in the wake of Trump’s victory/his supporters celebrating his win as some sort of “mandate” (hard to call it that when your candidate of choice didn’t even capture the popular vote) is to, putting it bluntly, be errant in one’s thinking. To remain silent while others encourage the trampling of the Constitution and our most cherished freedoms, morals and values, therefore, is not a virtue, but rather arguably unconscionable.
Coming back to the idea of “giving Donald Trump a chance,” as far as I’m concerned, the man has been given too many chances in life as a spoiled rich brat, including having the door to the White House opened to him by both major political parties and an irresponsible mainstream media. Respectful dissent like the kind witnessed at Hamilton recently is not only within the bounds of fairness, but is important to keeping the conversation going about standing up for what is right. Donald Trump will be our next President. He won the election. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, nor does it mean we need to stand idly by while distrust, fear and hate predominate as part of his rhetoric. After all, this is our America, not his. No matter what Trump says or thinks.
To me, Alt-Right sounds like some sort of keyboard shortcut that allows you to move to the next page in a Microsoft Word document or scroll across on a webpage or something. Unfortunately, speaking in political/social terms, the so-called “alt-right” movement is not a helpful keystroke, nor does it seem to be particular useful to society. In fact, from the recently-built consensus on this loose assortment of activists and theorists, the forces behind the alt-right might actually portend the coming of a battle against deleterious influences within the American electorate.
So, why the hubbub all of a sudden about this element, one for which I will readily admit I was not aware a name actually existed until recently? Well, a big reason likely lies in the fact Hillary Clinton just referenced the alt-right in a fiery speech denouncing its core motivations and tenets. Here’s a snippet from her latest anti-Donald Trump tirade in Reno, Nevada this past Thursday:
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, Breitbart embraces “ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas—all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the “Alt-Right.”
Alt-Right is short for “Alternative Right.” The Wall Street Journal describes it as a loosely organized movement, mostly online, that “rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity.” The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the Alt-Right. A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party.
This is part of a broader story—the rising tide of hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world.
As I’ve made abundantly clear through my posts here, I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but give the devil wearing Prada her due, she’s spot-on here, which partially explains why outlets like CNN were practically having an orgasm over how strong Clinton seemed in delivering this diatribe. The Republican Party, led by Trump and touched by crazies, has more or less been hijacked by this ilk, alienating high-ranking members, including past presidents, in the process. As for the rise of “hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world,” HRC is correct on this assertion as well. As we’ve seen throughout Europe, be it with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party in Austria (jeez, these nationalists sure like their freedom, don’t they?) and, perhaps most notably, in the machinations of Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party resulting in the Brexit referendum and the eventual vote which decided the United Kingdom would leave the EU, rabid anti-immigrant nationalism and xenophobia are alive and well in places other than the United States of America. And while he claims no allegiance to or even knowledge of the alt-right, Donald Trump has seemingly embraced its kind and the same principles set forth by the know-nothings across the pond. In fact, Trump has even envisioned himself as some sort of “Mr. Brexit.” If by this, he means that, like the decision to exit the European Union, he is hated by young people and feared to destroy the country’s economy, then sure, Mr. Brexit it is.
Let’s go a little deeper into the nature of the alt-right in an attempt to further facilitate understanding, though. Sarah Posner, writing for Mother Jones, profiles Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart Media and newly-enlisted head of the Donald Trump, as someone more unabashedly supportive of the alternative right and someone with yet more pronounced fingerprints on the movement’s origins. In doing so, she, as so many journalists have had to do in apparently scrambling to cover the abstract concept of the alt-right, pursues an operational definition of the term:
Exactly who and what defines the alt-right is hotly debated in conservative circles, but its most visible proponents—who tend to be young, white, and male—are united in a belief that traditional movement conservatism has failed. They often criticize immigration policies and a “globalist” agenda as examples of how the deck is stacked in favor of outsiders instead of “real Americans.” They bash social conservatives as ineffective sellouts to the GOP establishment, and rail against neo-conservative hawks for their embrace of Israel. They see themselves as a threat to the establishment, far bolder and edgier than Fox News. While often tapping into legitimate economic grievances, their social-media hashtags (such as #altright on Twitter) dredge up torrents of racist, sexist, and xenophobic memes.
Posner, like many, acknowledges that painting the alt-right with a broad brush, or at least panning it outright, as with most movements, has it perils. Establishment politics on both sides of the political aisle in the U.S. is being decried by more extreme factions within the Democratic and Republican Parties; on the blue side, Bernie Sanders and other more progressive candidates have taken Hillary Clinton and other mainstream Dems to task for abandoning working-class Americans and preserving a status quo characterized by massive income and wealth inequality. Trickle-down conservative economics are also well worthy of criticism, as is the country’s pandering to Israel’s agenda in Gaza and the West Bank at the expense of legitimate Palestinian claims and interests.
This notwithstanding, it is the methods of many self-identifying members of the alternative right that threaten to undermine any more cogent arguments to be made within. Sarah Posner speaks to recurrent themes of racism, sexism and xenophobia in alt-righters’ online communications, and along these lines, bullying, hate speech and targeted attacks have become a modus operandi of sorts for individuals like Milo Yiannopoulos and his followers, as the persistent harassment of Ghostbusters (2016) and Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones serves to indicate. Not to mention there are additional policy stances held by the alt-right and mentioned by Posner in the above blurb that are not nearly as well-regarded by the national and international communities, chief among them the vehement antipathy toward immigrants and others perceived to be “outsiders” or otherwise not “real Americans.” Not only would some argue this is sentiment is decidedly un-American, especially since the backbone of this nation and the source of much of its character is immigration, but the sheer notion of what constitutes a “real American” and how elusively subjective that definition is further detracts from the alt-right’s credibility.
Concerning Stephen Bannon’s role in the promulgation of alt-right rhetoric, Sarah Posner gives salient examples of how his views and those of Breitbart readers coincide:
Bannon’s views often echo those of his devoted followers. He describes Islam as “a political ideology” and Sharia law as “like Nazism, fascism, and communism.” On his Sirius XM radio show, he heaped praise on Pamela Geller, whose American Freedom Defense Initiative has been labeled an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bannon called her “one of the leading experts in the country, if not the world,” on Islam. And he basically endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s primary challenger, businessman Paul Nehlen, who floated the idea of deporting all Muslims from the United States.
Posner also underscores how Bannon has utilized Breitbart Media as a mouthpiece against black activists, especially those identifying with Black Lives Matter, suggesting those killed by police brutality likely deserved it, and that certain people—he doesn’t say African-Americans, but you know he totally means it—are predisposed toward aggression and violence. And when Stephen Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and others aren’t being overtly bigoted, misogynistic or xenophobic, which seemingly doesn’t happen often, much of their behavior still qualifies as bullying. It’s as if followers of the alt-right know deep down that they can’t win on the strength of their viewpoints alone, so they gang up on people, aiming to badger or frighten them into submission, thereby winning on a technical knockout, if you will, rather than a convincing string of logical arguments delivered on respectful terms. Toward the end of her piece, Sarah Posner provides yet another illustration of the sort of corrosive, abusive language that appears to be a hallmark of the alt-right:
On Thursday, in the Washington Post, [former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben] Shapiro upped the ante, describing the alt-right as a “movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism,” and Breitbart News as “a party organ, a pathetic cog in the Trump-Media Complex and a gathering place for white nationalists.” The reception he and another conservative Jewish Breitbart critic, Bethany Mandel, have experienced in the Bannonosphere is revealing: In May, when Shapiro, who became editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire after leaving Breitbart, tweeted about the birth of his second child, he received a torrent of anti-Semitic tweets. “Into the gas chamber with all 4 of you,” one read. Another tweet depicted his family as lampshades. Mandel says she has been harassed on Twitter for months, “called a ‘slimy Jewess’ and told that I ‘deserve the oven.'”
After Shapiro called out the anti-Semitism, BreitbartNews published (under the byline of Pizza Party Ben) a post ridiculing Shapiro for “playing the victim on Twitter and throwing around allegations of anti-Semitism and racism, just like the people he used to mock.”
Back at the RNC, Bannon dismissed Shapiro as a “whiner…I don’t think that the alt-right is anti-Semitic at all,” he told me. “Are there anti-Semitic people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. But I don’t believe that the movement overall is anti-Semitic.”
Holocaust imagery. Demeaning foul language, and stubborn denial of the hate it encourages. Accusing others of falsely playing “the victim.” What passes as political discourse by much of the alt-right is a mix of puerile remarks and threatening epithets that in most cases amounts to nothing, but in a country like the United States replete with lethal weapons and even in nations with stricter gun laws, that one or more of these peddlers of death threats and threats of other bodily harm might actually seek to act on their anger and prejudices is enough that the rest of us can’t simply disregard the potential for tragedy. What’s more, while authorities may be able to intervene in time in the case of a telling social media post, in so many instances, the warning comes too quickly or not at all, such that someone may walk into a building or up to a person on the street and just start firing, with the target more or less completely unaware of the threat that looms. It’s scary, but this is the reality of life in 2016. Call it the “new normal,” if you must, but the possibility, however slim, statistically speaking, is ever-present.
If, perhaps, the alt-right’s most outspoken voices lack genuine conviction in their system of beliefs, it is their unshakable confidence in the inviolate permissiveness of free speech and their thinking that political correctness is a deleterious force in today’s domestic and foreign policy which are most striking. Before knowing full well of the extent of what the alternative right comprises, I wrote about Milo Yiannopoulos’ directed, targeted abuse at Leslie Jones that ended up getting him banned on Twitter. This is not merely to toot my own horn, I assure you, but to recall how Milo didn’t exactly take this perceived affront by Twitter et al lightly, and furthermore, framed his reaction with respect to what he and others like him envision as a larger conflict of ideals. From his response on—where else?—Breitbart:
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.
Because we had so much fun the first time, let’s dissect this bold talk from everyone’s favorite British-Greek “journalist” once more, shall we?
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans.
Milo Yiannopoulos certainly doesn’t lack for high opinion for himself, does he? But he may be right on aspects of his rhetoric, in particular, the notion that permanent Twitter bans and bombastic Clintonian speeches lend legitimacy to the alt-right movement and give them free press. In fact, as Rebecca Harrington of Business Insiderreports, alt-right thinkers were “practically giddy” that Hillary had done their work for them, so there may be something to the “bashing us only drives up our ratings” claim.
The other points are more debatable. Certainly, the concept of the “totalitarian” left is not a new one, with articles like this one from The American Thinker slamming modern liberals as enthusiastic about diversity along demographic lines but not about diversity of opinions, and essentially being one step away from fascists. In Milo’s case, however, not only was he violating Twitter’s terms of service by encouraging Leslie Jones’s harassment at the hands (fingertips?) of his fans, but he afterwards made a false connection between an alleged instance of overreach by Twitter’s censorship and the supposed unmitigated sanctity of the First Amendment. As I suggested in my aforementioned earlier post, free speech is all well and good, but it doesn’t entitle you to be a complete and total asshole. There are limits, and you just cried about totalitarianism because Twitter refused to give in to you like a mother does to her spoiled-brat child.
As for the “regressive left” mantra, this also is not a new idea. Critics of liberal policymakers and thinkers have long considered, for instance, the refusal to use the term “radical Islam” as pandering to Muslims and diversity at the expense of America’s security. Like with the “totalitarian” charge, however, this characterization falls into a logical trap. Apparently, since America hasn’t closed the door on the War on Terror, and political correctness has marked much of the White House’s relationship with this initiative as a subset of relationships with the Muslim community in the United States, it must be that a more delicate, nuanced handling of the situation is ineffective. By this logic, once again, being an asshole is evidently the correct way to approach these matters, and measures such as banning Muslims are supposed to reverse our fortunes. Even though terrorism experts insist that this is having the exact opposite effect. But what would they know?
We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
The phrase “culture war” implies that there are two sides intent on the other’s destruction, and while this sentiment definitely applies for Breitbart and its readers, the reverse, I would argue, does not hold as true. Liberalism in the United States, broadly speaking, tends to focus on civil liberty and equality, and thus fighting for Americans as a whole, rather than fighting against someone or something, as in the amorphous notion of “the Left.” Moreover, while liberalism certainly can err on the side of failing to assign responsibility to groups or individuals for their role in economic, moral and social shortcomings, perhaps explaining in part the rise in popularity of the alt-right, to say that it is “winning” the culture war is a stretch, to say the least. After all, when media types find themselves writing articles about what the alt-right entails because they themselves don’t know what that is, let alone their readers, it’s hard to argue you’re winning anything, let alone making much of a dent in the national consciousness.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.
Like I said in my previous piece, Twitter seems to be doing just fine without you, Mr. Yiannopoulos. And speaking of the alt-right, if Donald Trump is seen as a key figure in this movement—whether he recognizes it or not—he, for one, has been given free reign to use social media as a soapbox, or to hit back at his detractors like the petulant child he is deep down. The fact of the matter is Twitter is a business, and unfortunately, it likely has to deal with the more unsavory aspects of some people’s behavior, or else ban them and risk seeming like the “totalitarian” institution alt-right sympathizers envision them to be. Again, though, I submit, it’s not a question of free speech—it’s that the alternative right’s bullying ways impinge upon the First Amendment rights of other users, namely those of wanting to have certain material remain private and of wishing to feel safe in the online environment. These wants are not unreasonable, and should not be negotiable, what’s more. So, Milo, when it comes down to it, it appears it’s just you and a select few other poor sports who are not welcome on Twitter. Congratulations on this dubious distinction.
Linda Stasi, writing for the New York Daily News and obviously taking Leslie Jones’ online harassment quite personally, recently clapped back at her would-be aggressors and others that seem to fit the alternative right mold:
Instead of doing anything to improve yourselves, you waste your lives online spewing hatred, misogyny and racism. How ’bout getting off your asses and doing something to improve the world?
You have declared open warfare on women like Jones because she’s black, a woman, accomplished. But you really hate her because you aren’t any of those things.
Because you aren’t, you instead insult women by calling them by body parts, and by using ugly sexual references.
You are such dimwits that you think it’s clever to post nonsense like telling women who’ve accomplished much in life to get a life. News flash: If their lives were any bigger, they’d explode. Meantime, you’re the ones writing hate mail to celebrities you’ve never met. Seriously, losers: Time you all got a life.
It may be a bit of an oversimplification to depict the anti-SJW crowd in this way—as jealous, lazy, sexually frustrated, whiny white guys who hide behind their keyboards. As is the nature of many stereotypes, though, they exist because more often than not, they are true. And while some delicacy might be warranted with members of the alt-right because of the remote possibility they might represent a physical or other danger to the people around them, this should not be taken as a sign of defeat. If anything, it might actually be advantageous to Hillary Clinton and those outside the alt-right to let them think they’ve won something, only to emerge more confident and determined in promoting progressive ideas in the future. So, no, in short, the alt-right isn’t alright, nor are they, in most cases, right. And until they, by and large, learn to express themselves in ways that command respect, they should not receive it.