Donald Trump, at the time the lamest of lame duck presidents, got himself kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. For many liberals and progressives alike, this was a real “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” moment.
Of course, the events leading up to Trump’s widely-celebrated ban were not particularly inspiring, unless we are talking about emotions like fear and abject horror. On January 6, Trump supporters, buoyed by the urging of their preferred candidate to go to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., stormed the place, prompting an evacuation and a halt of the counting of the Electoral College votes. What under normal circumstances is characteristically a rather prosaic affair became a chaotic series of events, the fallout of which is still being reckoned with as details of how it got so out of hand continue to emerge.
Trump, for his part, didn’t do much to stamp out the proverbial flames, offering a weak condemnation of the rioters and the eventual deadly violence before ultimately giving a statement telling the mob he egged on in the first place to go home. All the while, he expressed his “love” for the protesters and repeated his absurd claims that the election was stolen. Since then, he has—surprise!—refused to take responsibility for his role in fueling tensions that led to the debacle. Welp, if there’s one thing we can say about our Donald, it’s that he’s consistent!
It was therefore perhaps unavoidable that a score of social media sites would make the decision to ban Donald Trump indefinitely from their ranks, while other companies, if not banning Trump specifically, removed servers frequented by his followers or dropped Parler, a messaging app known to be frequented by right-wingers—particularly conspiracy theorists—and a forum on which planning for the so-called “insurrection” at the Capitol was evidently discussed.
Perhaps most significantly for Trump following his electoral defeat, he and his brand have taken a hit. Shopify, for one, removed all official Trump campaign merchandise by disabling his online stores. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America also voted to terminate their relationship with the Trump name, which means his Bedminster course won’t be hosting the PGA Championship next year. I, for one, am despondent I won’t be able to wear my MAGA hat and watch golf’s finest tee off from Trump’s private golf club—I don’t know about you.
So, yes, Trump was banned and all is well, right? That depends on who’s answering and how the ensuing discussion goes. The American Civil Liberties Union, for one, while not explicitly condemning the decision to outlaw Trump and his ilk, nonetheless expressed reservation about Big Tech’s part in all of this. The ACLU’s senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane put forth these views in the wake of Twitter’s announcement of Trump’s permanent suspension:
For months, President Trump has been using social media platforms to seed doubt about the results of the election and to undermine the will of voters. We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions—especially when political realities make those decisions easier. President Trump can turn to his press team of FOX News to communicate with the public, but others—like the many Black, Brown, and LGBTQ activists who have been censored by social media companies—will not have that luxury. It is our hope that these companies will apply their rules transparently to everyone.
Predictably, conservative outlets like Breitbart, Newsmax and the Washington Times jumped on Ruane’s statement as justification for why banning Trump was the wrong course of action for Twitter et al. Look—even the liberal ACLU thinks suspending Trump was wrong! That tells you something! Meanwhile, the kneejerk reaction of some on the left bordered on incredulity. Are you kidding me? Trump’s ban is a godsend and long overdue! Don’t rain on our parade, ACLU!
On both sides of the aisle, these protestations lack nuance, a seeming hallmark of much of today’s political discourse. Such does not seem terribly shocking coming from the right given that misleading information and misdirection are standard operating procedure for news outlets sympathetic to Trump and increasingly so the further right we go. As noted, the ACLU did not enthusiastically get behind a global social media Trump ban, but it’s not as if they gave the man a glowing review either. Speaking for the Union, Kate Ruane said that “we understand the desire to permanently suspend him.” That’s not a ringing endorsement, and Ruane pointedly mentions his sowing seeds of doubt about the democratic process. Highlighting this statement as a defense of Trump or a rebuke of Facebook and Twitter for banning him is decidedly disingenuous.
Re criticisms from the left, meanwhile, they run the risk of failing to see the forest for its digital trees. Donald Trump’s reach, president or not, should not be understated. That said, the power of Twitter and other large communications platforms to shape politics in the United States and abroad should not be undersold. We’ve seen what impact Facebook can have in the negative sense for its role in helping to spread hate speech fueling genocide in Myanmar and for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm with ties to Ted Cruz’s and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaigns, to harvest the data of tens of millions of Facebook users without their explicit consent. That’s an awful lot of authority in the hands of a privileged few entities.
In the span of a short statement, then, we can appreciate how much there is to unpack regarding this thorny issue. An arguably better tack is to consider some of the questions surrounding the debate about whether banning Trump is the right move. So let’s give it the ol’ college try, shall we?
Did Donald Trump do enough to warrant expulsion from Twitter and other media?
Um, have you been paying attention for the last half a decade? As even those who side with the ACLU’s view on these matters would tend to agree, if Trump were a regular person without his stature and his following, he would’ve been banned years ago. Google/YouTube, in particular, was rightly criticized for, in delivering its own public statement on why it was suspending the outgoing president, essentially admitting it was applying standards that already existed but weren’t being enforced until this point.
For particularly salient perspectives on this dimension, we need to look no further than those who are the primary targets of Trumpian rhetoric. Dianna E. Anderson, a non-binary, queer author/writer, took to Twitter to voice her “strong disagreement” with the ACLU on the Trump blackout. As they reason, the ACLU tends “to lean on a slippery slope argument when it comes to free speech, which ignores the power dynamic that happens when all speech is allowed without any kind of moderation.” For Anderson, fascists and Nazi-adjacent types are “fundamentally eliminationist” and argue from the cover of free speech to limit the freedoms—speech included—of everyone else. From this vantage point, removing Trump is de-platforming someone with dangerous views and making the Internet that much safer for members of minority communities.
Doesn’t this just risk making Trump a martyr of sorts and fueling accusations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies?
If one is worried about conservatives playing the victim card, then they will be all but paralyzed to inaction because these right-wingers do it all the time. All. The. Time. Trump is undoubtedly the biggest, whiniest baby of them all, but for all the barbs about the “snowflakes” on the liberal end of the spectrum, it’s conservatives who are consistently crying foul over perceived slights.
Their assertions, it should be stressed, have no basis in reality. Going back to Facebook, conservative posts are consistently among the most shared and viewed. In a similar vein, YouTube has been a haven for some truly repugnant right-wing content creators. Professional blockhead Steven Crowder got little more than a slap on the wrist for repeatedly hurling homophobic epithets and other demeaning comments at video producer and activist Carlos Maza for his work with Vox. If these companies exhibit a liberal bias, they have a funny way of doing it by letting literal white supremacists run rampant on their services.
This is where Ruane’s point about censorship of activists from vulnerable populations really comes into play. Whether specifically to silence these voices based on their politics or to preserve the appearance of “balance,” the failure of social media companies to consistently and transparently apply their stated codes of conduct or their overreliance on algorithms and other automated systems of content oversight have made at times for an inhospitable environment for leftist content creation. For smaller, independent creators, this is an especially onerous reality.
These are private companies. Isn’t it their prerogative to say who can and cannot be allowed on their service?
Whether bans like the one on Donald Trump are “censorship” is a sticking point in the ongoing conversation about the role of social media in our everyday lives, and in some respects, may be a bit of semantics. As the ACLU itself defines the word, censorship is “the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive’.” It is unconstitutional when carried out by the government. Because a certain amount of ambiguity exists with respect to censorship and First Amendment rights, often necessitating the intervention of the courts, and because freedom of expression is among our most cherished rights, cries about the censoriousness of these companies often draw the attention of people irrespective of party affiliation or lack thereof.
This is usually the point when objectors will point out that companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are private companies and can restrict who they want however they please. True as that may be and despite the risk these tech giants run by operating in uneven or heavy-handed ways, the theory that social media apps/sites should be regulated by the government as an essential public service or “utility” exists in opposition to the absolute discretion of the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
To insist on the ability of these companies to self-regulate ignores the monopolistic power they possess, the scope of their influence, and their already-exhibited inability to prevent abuses of their platforms’ capabilities. It’s why calls to “break up Big Tech” have only gotten louder in recent years and will no doubt continue to crescendo in certain circles. Heck, Elizabeth Warren made it a key component of her campaign platform. Big Tech may not be a government unto itself, but left unchecked, it stands to wield its influence to further stifle competition and undermine our democracy.
Banning the likes of Donald Trump amid cries of social media censorship and concern for the political influence of Big Tech altogether makes for a thorny discussion without easy answers. Especially after a whirlwind Trump presidency that saw real harm done to the United States and further damage to its democratic framework—a framework that has been under siege for quite some time, mind you—this can be frustrating. The Trump era is over, man! Let us kick up our feet and relax for a moment! Stop harshing our post-Inauguration mellow!
Far be it from me to throw the wettest of blankets on this celebratory mood, but beyond the urge, nay, the need to hold Joe Biden and his administration accountable for his campaign promises and pursuing policies that will benefit Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status, discussion of the effects social media has on our lives, for better and for worse, is an important talk to be having as well.
I’ve heard it said that the focus on Trump’s social media status is a distraction because it takes away from the dialog we should be reserving about stemming the monopolistic domination of companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. To a certain extent, I disagree, in that I believe the insistence of Dianna Anderson and others that fascists be de-platformed is also critical. At the same time, however, I do worry that ceding power to Big Tech, without due restriction, is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or, in this case, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Should Donald Trump have been kicked off social media? Yes, I think so. Is conservative backlash to be worried about? Perhaps, but not to the extent it precludes his removal. Lastly, is this or should this be the end of the conversation? Not in the slightest. Until the Internet becomes a place that is safe for users from minority groups and does not privilege the interests of corporations and certain influential individuals, we have a lot more work to do in ensuring a free and fair medium.
These two moods best describe how I feel heading into a new year and a new decade. On one hand, I am eager to see how the United States presidential election and how impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump will shake out. On the other hand, I worry voters are prepared to repeat a very dumb decision they made back in 2016 on top of being concerned about the health of the global economy, the future of our planet, and the welfare of the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised segments of the population. I’m getting my popcorn ready—and trying not to bite my nails as I prepare to eat it.
Where do you stand as we turn the calendar to 2020? Are you looking ahead, saying “good riddance” to 2019? Are you pumping the brakes, cautious about the hell that the coming year might have to offer? Or, if you’re like me, are you somewhere in between? Whatever your sentiments, this recap of the past year is designed to reflect on some of its prevailing themes, at least as far as this writer covered it. So without further ado, stop looking at those Baby Yoda memes and let’s take a look back on the year that was.
Tucker Carlson’s white power hour
FOX News has been a repository for false or misleading narratives and opinion journalism masquerading as real news reporting for some time now. Of late, though, its prime time lineup has seemed particularly reprehensible and soulless.
Trying to choose which of FOX’s personalities is the worst is a bit like deciding whether you’d rather be burned alive, poisoned, or shot. However you look at it, there’s a terrible option awaiting you. Sean Hannity is a shameless Trump apologist who serves as a propaganda machine for the president and who regularly traffics in conspiracy theories. Laura Ingraham likewise is a staunch Trump defender who has assailed Democrats for voting to impeach Trump and who has targeted liberal critics of her employer as “journo-terrorists,” inciting her followers to spew venom in their direction.
If one figure takes FOX News’s cake of hateful conservative rhetoric, however, that person might just be Tucker Carlson, who has demonized not just illegal immigration, but all non-white immigration to the United States, lamenting would-be immigrants as making “our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.” Not exactly lifting our lamp beside the golden door, are we, Tucker?
Depending on how you view American attitudes toward immigration, such an argument is either un-American or distinctly American, but it certainly goes against our stated values as that fabled melting pot of the North American continent. Tucker Carlson is a white nationalist who espouses racist views regularly from his position as a highly-watched political commentator. At heart, it doesn’t matter what he believes. His platform for cruelty and hate outweighs his protestations on the basis of free speech, and calls for boycotts of his program are more than warranted.
Candace Owens is a conservative grifter
Candace Owens makes a legitimate point: Blacks don’t necessarily have to vote for Democrats. In truth, they, like members of other minority groups, have probably been underserved by the Democratic Party. That said, this reality does nothing to absolve the Republican Party of being an exclusionary group of largely white males which harbors actual white supremacists. It also doesn’t mean that Owens has any legitimacy as a political activist.
Conservatives like Owens because she makes their talking points for them and because they can point to her as a token example of how the GOP isn’t just a repository for folks of the Caucasian persuasion. The problem with Owens’s service in this capacity is that she makes her arguments in bad faith and/or in ignorance of the true history of past events.
For example, she downplays the existence of racism in America despite her and her family members being a victim of it. Because she’s NOT A VICTIM, YOU LIBERAL CUCKS. YOU’RE THE SNOWFLAKE. Also, there was the time she tried to claim Adolf Hitler wasn’t a nationalist, as if to say that the Führer was fine except for when he took his act on the road. Right.
Candace Owens is someone who has filled a void among today’s conservatives to rise to prominence despite being a relative newcomer to the fold. But she’s an opportunist who owes her popularity in right-wing circles to YouTube more than the content of her speeches and she shouldn’t be taken seriously—you know, even if she was asked to testify before Congress.
Making America Great Again—whether you realize it or not
Americans frequently lament the political divide which dominates the nation’s discourse. When they can’t even agree on the same set of facts let alone holding different opinions, however, the notion that many of us are living in separate realities becomes readily apparent.
Take the case of a group of students from Covington Catholic High School attending a March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. and Nathan Phillips, a Native American and veteran on hand for the Indigenous Peoples March. Upon members of the Black Hebrew Israelites shouting epithets at the kids on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Phillips interceded to try to diffuse the situation, singing and drumming. The students, meanwhile, several wearing MAGA hats, mocked Phillips, with one boy, Nick Sandmann, standing face-to-face to him and smirking derisively.
Of course, that Sandmann and his family would be sent death threats is inexcusable. That media outlets and public figures would post hasty retractions and hold softball interviews with the fresh-faced white kid, all the while doubting their initial reactions to what they saw, though, is wrong all the same. Spare me the hagiographic sanctification of Sandmann’s “right” to do what he did. His privilege existed before this incident and will certainly continue long after it. Furthermore, the both-sides-ing of this case is appalling in light of the implied racism herein.
Alas, this is emblematic of America in the era of President Trump. If you believe him and his supporters, the economy has never been doing better, immigrants are a danger to the country, Israel is our only ally in the Middle East and that will always be the case, and he alone is the reason why North Korea hasn’t moved to nuke us. These are the falsehoods perpetuated by a Divider-in-Chief who, as he gives as a State of the Union address, only promotes more disunity.
There’s something about “The Squad”
Outside of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, whose evident shadow presidency has loomed over Donald Trump’s tenure since before it began, no figures make Republicans and conservative pundits foam at the mouth quite like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, known colloquially as “The Squad.”
The congressional neophytes have been a frequent target for Trump and others, with the president himself playing every part the ugly American and suggesting they “go back where they came from.” Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descent and was born in the Bronx. Pressley was born on American soil, too, as was Tlaib. Only Omar was born outside the United States and she eventually secured citizenship. These women are Americans and their patriotism shouldn’t be questioned.
Omar in particular has seen more than her share of abuse from detractors on the left and right. She and Tlaib, for their support of Palestinian rights and for their attention to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, specifically AIPAC, have been branded as anti-Semites. Being a Muslim and alluding to the corrosive influence of money in politics doesn’t make you an anti-Semite, however, and Omar’s forced apology only seems to make her point about the Israel lobby’s reach for her.
Party leaders like Pelosi may downplay the influence of these women as limited to their Twitter followers, but going after The Squad is ill-advised no matter where you land on the political spectrum. Centrist Dems may balk at their progressive ideals, but if they are not model Democrats, who is?
The irresponsibility of social media giants
Social media has greatly expanded our idea to communicate ideas to one another and share content. The bad news is not all of this material is equal in its merit and companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are unwilling or unable to handle it.
On YouTube, for instance, right-wing and far-right content creators have been given effective carte blanche to peddle their hate to impressionable young males, and pedophiles have been given access to random people’s videos through the service’s automated recommendation system. Twitter has been slow to respond to warranted bans for professional liars such as Alex Jones and has seemingly been content to make cosmetic changes to its interface rather than authentically enforce its stated guidelines.
Perhaps the worst actor in this regard, though, is Facebook, whose founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has expressly identified Elizabeth Warren’s prospects of winning the presidency as an “existential threat.” Earlier this year, the company announced a shift that would allow political campaigns to essentially lie with impunity in their advertisements, a shift that favors the Trump campaign, a haven for disinformation.
Zuckerberg has publicly defended this change on free speech grounds, weirdly invoking civil rights leaders amid attempting to justify Facebook’s abdication of its responsibility. But realistically speaking, Facebook has been derelict in its duty for some time now, failing to clearly state rules or enforcing them only in the most obvious and publicized instances. If companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter can’t police themselves, it’s high time we move to regulate them or even break them up to the point they can be effectively managed.
Hey, did you know there’s a process called “impeachment?”
Will they or won’t they? By now, we know they did, although, as some would argue, they could’ve done more with it.
I’m talking about impeachment, in case you were unaware or did not read the heading preceding this subsection. For the longest time, it seemed as if Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats were going to forgo bringing articles of impeachment up for a vote. As Pelosi stated publicly, there was the matter of beating Donald Trump in 2020 at the ballot box. She also insisted Trump impeached himself, even though self-impeachment isn’t a thing and that just made it appear as if she were waiting for the president to self-destruct or for someone else to do the Democrats’ dirty work for them.
Unfortunately for Pelosi and Company, Robert Mueller, while he could not clear Trump of the possibility of obstruction of justice in his report, also wouldn’t move to prosecute the president, citing DOJ precedent. With growing public support for impeachment not to mention an increasing number of House Democrats making their preference for impeachment known, it became harder and harder to resist the calls.
When news broke of Trump’s fateful call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky requesting an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden as well as an admission of guilt regarding Ukraine’s framing of Russia for interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (based on a debunked conspiracy theory, no less) all as part of a quid pro quo to secure $400 million in aid already earmarked by Congress, the path forward became clear. In September, a formal impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump was announced and in December, the House voted to impeach Trump on two counts: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Obstruction of justice was notably absent from these counts.
Support for or against impeachment has largely fallen along party lines. Justin Amash deserves at least a modicum of credit for breaking from his fellow Republicans and opting to impeach Trump, though his new identity as an independent who criticizes both parties equally isn’t exactly great. Jeff Van Drew, in switching from a Democrat to a Republican because he was unlikely to get re-elected, deserves nothing but scorn, as does Tulsi Gabbard for voting Present on the articles of impeachment. The concerns of vulnerable Democratic seats are well taken but aren’t numerous enough to merit withholding on impeachment altogether.
While winning the presidential election is critical for Democrats and losing House seats would clearly not be a desired outcome, at the end of the day, accountability matters. For Democrats to sit by and do nothing while Trump continues on a path of corruption and destruction would’ve been unconscionable. It took them long enough, but at least they did something.
The absolute mess that has been the Democratic primary
Joe Biden. Michael Bloomberg. Cory Booker. Pete Buttigieg. Julián Castro. Bill de Blasio. John Delaney. Tulsi Gabbard. Kirsten Gillibrand. Kamala Harris. Amy Klobuchar. Beto O’Rourke. Bernie Sanders. Tom Steyer. Elizabeth Warren. Marianne Williamson. And a bunch of dudes you probably didn’t even know were running or still are campaigning. Welcome to the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary, ladies and gentlemen.
By this point in the race, we’ve lost some notable contenders, chief among them Harris and O’Rourke. Some, like Bloomberg, joined late. Howard Schultz never even joined and was unmercifully booed along his path to discovering he had no shot. More concessions of defeat will eventually come, but in the meantime, the field remains crowded as all heck in advance of the Iowa caucuses. It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen in February.
As it stands, Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee, despite the absence of clear policy goals, a checkered record as a legislator, and apparent signs of decline. This is not to say the race is over, however. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are strong contenders, and Pete Buttigieg has seen his star rise in recent weeks. With a significant portion of prospective primary voters yet undecided, it’s still anyone’s proverbial ballgame. OK, probably not Michael Bennet’s, but yes, still very wide open.
In a theoretical match-up with a generic Democrat, Donald Trump loses frequently depending on the survey. While Biden and Buttigieg are seen as perhaps the “safest” bets based on their place in the polls and their centrist stances, in 2016, the centrist Hillary Clinton proved to be the loser and a moderate could well lose again to Trump in 2020.
Establishment Democrats may be loath to have a progressive like Elizabeth Warren or, worse yet, an independent and self-described democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket, a feeling exacerbated by Jeremy Corbyn’s and the Labour Party’s recent drubbing at the hands of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in the UK. There are appreciable differences to be had between someone like Corbyn and someone like Sanders, though, including the very different situations facing the United States and a United Kingdom still trying to come to grips with the Brexit referendum vote. If the Dems are serious about beating Trump this coming November, a Sanders or Warren might just be their best hope to achieve this.
Evidently, some Democratic donors are still in their feelings about Al Franken’s fall from grace. Even though, you know, Franken made his own bed and lay in it. Meanwhile, another fallen male celebrity of the #MeToo era, Kevin Spacey, continues to be creepy AF.
Michael Jackson’s image took yet another hit upon the release of the docu-series Leaving Neverland. Jackson’s most rabid fans, er, did not take kindly to this new production.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise and “lone wolf” attacks carried out by shooters sharing hateful extremist views continue to occur. But Ilhan Omar is the bad guy because she pointed out the connection between the Israel lobby and public positions on Israel. Is that you pounding your head on the table or is it me?
In my home state of New Jersey, so-called Democrats like Steve Sweeney have seen fit to challenge Phil Murphy on various initiatives for daring to question millions in tax breaks given to party boss George Norcross and companies linked to him. Nice to know where their priorities lie.
Sarah Sanders resigned from her post of White House press secretary, allowing the White House to finally, er, continue not having actual press conferences.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey dared to support Hong Kong protesters in their opposition to heavy-handed Chinese policies aimed at the region. China had a fit and cancelled various deals with the Rockets and the NBA. In general, China has a major influence on our economy and holds a lot of our debt, greatly impacting publicly-stated political positions. But sure, let’s talk about Russia some more, shall we, MSNBC?
Migrant families are still being detained in inhumane conditions at the border, and yes, they are still concentration camps.
Much of today’s political punditry, dominated by white males, continues to suck. Especially yours, Bret Stephens, you bed bug, you.
Mitch McConnell is still, like, the worst.
On second thought, no, Stephen Miller is probably the worst.
I struggled for a while before settling on “No Rest for the Weary” as the title of this post. Why did I choose this? In trying to look back at the 2010s and identify a theme, a lot of what seemed to characterize major events was unrest. A global financial crisis. The uprisings of what was termed the Arab Spring. The emergence of ISIS. The annexation of Crimea. Brexit. The ongoing climate crisis.
Much of this has a chaotic feel to it, and what’s more, there’s little to no reassurance the 2020s will be any better along this dimension. As income and wealth inequality grow in the United States and abroad, and as more people become refugees as a result of a less habitable planet, there are plenty of reasons to worry we’ll reach some sort of tipping point unless dramatic corrective action is taken. In truth, we should really be further along than we are.
All this uncertainty and unrest is, well, tiring. It takes a lot to invest oneself in the politics and social issues and economics of the day. I myself continuously feel as if I am not saying or doing enough to contribute to the betterment of our society. Realistically, depending on one’s immediate circumstances, it can be a real struggle to want to be involved in the first place.
Despite the emotional and physical fatigue of it all, seeing what happens when Americans aren’t engaged with the issues affecting them or aren’t involved with the decisions impacting them at home and at work makes it all the more imperative that we stay informed and politically active. The Washington Post has adopted the slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness.” While they may be overstating their part in this a bit, I feel the maxim holds true. When we cede our power to those who seek to diminish us for theirs or someone else’s personal gain, we have lost a great deal indeed.
My hope is that all is not lost, however. I would not have wished President Donald Trump on this country for anything, but in the wake of his catastrophe, ordinary people are organizing and making their voices heard. This may have happened regardless of who won in 2016, but in America, Trump’s political ascendancy sure seems to have accelerated things.
What needs to happen and what I believe is already underway is a political revolution. You and I may have different ideas on how that will manifest. I believe a progressive direction is the best and perhaps only path forward. Much of our story has yet to be written. Whatever happens, though, it is through our solidarity as everyday people that positive change will be achieved.
In all, here’s hoping for a better 2020. There may be no rest for the weary, but there are enough people and big ideas at work to suggest a new dawn is on the horizon.
In a recent piece for The Intercept, Sam Biddle outlines how Project Veritas, a conservative group known for using deception and subterfuge in its attempts to expose the alleged misdeeds of leftists and left-leaning outlets like The Washington Post, has openly violated Facebook’s guidelines about the use of fake profiles in the service of “coordinated authentic behavior.”
The article, which includes deposition from members of the group admitting to how manufactured Facebook profiles factor into their work as well as context about the group’s backing, has this to say about Facebook’s oversight of the content it hosts alongside the company’s stated goal of stemming disinformation and propaganda:
The real issue is uneven, arbitrary enforcement of “the rules.” Max Read, writing in New York magazine on another social network’s enforcement blunders, argued that “the problem for YouTube is that for rules to be taken seriously by the people they govern, they need to be applied consistently and clearly.” YouTube is about as terrible at this exercise as Facebook is, and there’s a good chance that if Facebook treated malicious right-wing American exploitation of its network the same way it treats malicious foreign exploitation of its network, it would probably botch the whole thing and end up burning people who actually do use phony Facebook profiles for work toward the public good.
That a company like Facebook is even in a position to create “rules” like the coordinated inauthentic behavior policy that apply to a large chunk of the Earth’s population is itself a serious problem, one made considerably worse by completely erratic enforcement. It’s bad enough having a couple guys in California take up the banner of defending “Democracy” around the world through the exclusive control of one of the most powerful information organs in human history; if nothing else, we should hope their decisions are predictable and consistent.
While Biddle acknowledges that Facebook would probably screw up its attempts to officiate its policies against domestic political manipulation anyway, that it gives the practice a half-hearted, inconsistent effort doesn’t make matters better.
As the allusion to YouTube in Biddle’s closing additionally suggests, this phenomenon of tech giants being inadequate gatekeepers of authentic information free from hate speech is a pattern of frustrating behavior for observers across the political spectrum. Recently, YouTube caught a lot of heat from the journalist community when Carlos Maza, producer, writer, and host of the “Strikethrough” video series at Vox, made a public plea to the video-sharing website in a series of tweets pointing to homophobic and racist abuse by Steven Crowder, a conservative talk show host and self-professed comedian who has near four million subscribers to his name.
Crowder’s hollow defense against Maza’s compilation of all the times he referred to him as a “queer,” a “Mexican,” or demeaned his “lispy” delivery while caricaturing gay men has been that his is a comedy show and that his comments amount to nothing more than “playful ribbing.” This, however, to most objective observers, is unmitigated bullshit. Crowder’s repeated jabs at Maza for his criticisms of right-wing talking heads like Tucker Carlson are much stronger than the barbs you’d reserve for one of your friends—and even then they’re probably not all that appropriate and definitely not funny.
Crowder’s protestations of YouTube’s responses during this whole affair also miss the mark. Predictably, YouTube first addressed Maza’s plight by doing, well, nothing, claiming Crowder hadn’t violated its terms of service. This, like Crowder’s claims of innocence, is bogus. YouTube’s rules explicitly outlaw “content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others” and furthermore view hate speech as a violation. Representatives from the company explained that it opted not to take action against Crowder because he didn’t direct his viewers to harass Maza, which is immaterial to the above concerns and, at any rate, irrelevant in consideration of the notion he himself (Crowder) was the one doing the bullying.
Eventually, however, enough people raised objections whereby YouTube moved to demonetize Crowder, itself a token gesture given the conservative provocateur gets the bulk of his revenue from merchandise sales (including his ever-tasteful “Socialism Is for Fags” T-shirt depicting Che Guevara). Crowder’s reaction? This was YouTube caving to the demands of a corporation throwing its weight around to “censor” a conservative voice in accordance with the demands of a leftist who had targeted him, one of the “little guys,” because he didn’t like his viewpoints. Never mind that Maza is a gay Latino who regular receives abuse on both Crowder’s channel and Vox each time he makes a post. Right, Mr. Crowder, you’re the marginalized one here.
This isn’t censorship, though. This is a private company enforcing its rules by which Crowder did not abide. What’s more, it’s not even doing that right. For violations of its terms, YouTube should be removing this content, not simply demonetizing it. Instead, the offending remarks remain and Crowder gets to use this episode to rally his troops and paint Maza as the aggressor. Show your outrage by signing up for the Mug Club! What better way than to proudly exhibit your freedom!
At a minimum, this is an episode that makes YouTube look very bad. That its decision-making appears so wishy-washy lends credence to the criticism that the company is trying merely to avoid accusations of bias rather than doing the right thing. It doesn’t help either that these events are unfolding during Pride Month, an occasion for which YouTube has touted its commitment to the LGBTQ community. If it were really interested in upholding the civil rights of a vulnerable subset of the population beyond mere window-dressing, maybe YouTube would actually stand in solidarity with its LGBTQ creators rather than banning them too in the interest of purported “fairness.”
I mentioned Twitter in the headline for this article. Emil Protalinski, news editor for VentureBeat, while trashing YouTube for, alongside perpetuating the Maza-Crowder fiasco, allowing its automated recommendation system to show random people’s videos to pedophiles and providing platforms for content creators to capitalize on the anger of impressionable young male viewers, likewise takes Facebook and Twitter to task for their uneven commitment to rules they aver are clearly posted and stated.
In both cases, Protalinski views failure to consistently uphold a set of guidelines as occurring so often that there are simply “too many examples to list.” The instances he does highlight, meanwhile, are salient and illustrative. Re Facebook, its refusal to remove a video headily edited to make Nancy Pelosi look drunk, senile, or some combination thereof was highly criticized at the time for irresponsibility in allowing false/misleading content to exist contrary to the company’s stated goals.
As for Twitter, Protalinski cites the social media behemoth’s dilatory response to other apps and sites banning conspiracy theory promulgator Alex Jones from its service. If nothing else, Twitter is woefully behind the curve when it comes to properly marshaling the content it hosts. And, not for nothing, but why are there so many Nazis hanging around? Like, why is banning them evidently so controversial?
Lather, rinse, repeat. We’ve sadly seen this before and we’ll see it again. Protalinski writes:
There are two whack-a-mole cycles happening on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. First, these companies fail to write clear rules. Disgusting content on their platform is brought to light. It isn’t removed. Users protest. The companies point to their rules. More outrage follows. Finally, if there is enough of a blowback, apologies are issued, the rules are “clarified,” and the example content is taken down.
The second cycle is happening at the same time. A given rule is already clear and specific. Disgusting content is brought to light. It isn’t removed. Users protest. The companies fail to explain why it wasn’t removed immediately or make up excuses. More outrage follows. Finally, if there is enough of a blowback, apologies are issued, the rules are “clarified,” and the example content is taken down.
In these cycles, only blatant and high-profile cases are removed. And that process can take anywhere from weeks to months from when the original content was published. By then it has done the damage and generated the revenue.
In either scenario, the sticking point is not necessarily the specificity of rules (although lacking clear standards of conduct is in it of itself a problem), but rather the inability or unwillingness to consistently enforce them independent of political affiliation or other identifying characteristic. Without the requisite amount of outrage or clout of the individuals expressing that outrage, nothing moves forward. Even then, actions taken are liable to be too little, too late, and backed by an inauthentic, insufficient rationale. In other words, and to echo Protalinski, the damage is done.
To be fair, this business of moderating the wealth of content that appears on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is no easy task given its sheer volume and the rapidity with which it is created. At the same time, this is the responsibility these companies bear as providers. If your priorities involve retaining your share of the content creation/streaming market and growing your business, you’re going to have invest in a modicum of safeguards to ensure that users and creators alike feel comfortable using your platform.
So spare us the half-assed excuses and non-apology apologies. If people like Steven Crowder don’t want to play by the rules, invite them to abide by your code of conduct or find somewhere else to peddle their hate and disinformation. I, for one, could do without the moral quandary I face by using your services—and I know I’m not alone.
Chances are someone you know has given up on using Facebook, Twitter, or both because he or she regards it as a haven for discord and stupidity. Personally, my biggest gripe is there are too many Nazis and far-righters milling about, but I sympathize with the position of those who have forsaken these outlets. After all, when you write a post about how whiteness is a distinction that merits no pride, and the first comment you receive is from someone you don’t know living across the country who suggests you should pick a fight with a “real white man” and find out, you tend to want to roll your eyes, throw your computer in the garbage, and call it a day.
Suffice it to say, though, that outrage isn’t just plentiful in the Twitterverse and within the blogosphere—it may as well be a type of currency for social media. In the era of President Donald Trump, it seemingly has spiked the way bitcoin’s price shot up amid its initial surge.
Liberals are upset with the Trump presidency because, well, it’s a shit show. Conservatives are upset with liberals who are upset with Trump. Progressives are upset with liberals for hewing too close to center. Ultra-conservatives are upset with conservatives for spending too much on war and other things. Trump, on top of all this, tweets in frustration all the time, and most of us will be damned if we can figure out why exactly. In all, it’s an exhausting maelstrom of deprecation and fury.
The demand for outrage-inducing content is such that, in the haste to provide it, people, works of art, etc. can be exploited as icons of this outrage. Often times, this purpose will be served against the express wishes of those whose images or work is being usurped.
A recent salient example of this was when Mollie Tibbetts’ murder at the hands of an undocumented immigrant became a rallying cry for border security and immigration enforcement. Trump and other xenophobes like him once again began beating the drum of immigration “reform,” sounding a call for building a wall and for addressing the alleged flood of dangerous immigrants crossing into the United States.
One person who isn’t joining in with pitchforks and torches, meanwhile, is Ron Tibbetts, Mollie’s father, echoing a position other family members have espoused. In an op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register, he urged people not to “distort her death to advance racist views.” From the piece:
Ten days ago, we learned that Mollie would not be coming home. Shattered, my family set out to celebrate Mollie’s extraordinary life and chose to share our sorrow in private. At the outset, politicians and pundits used Mollie’s death to promote various political agendas. We appealed to them and they graciously stopped. For that, we are grateful.
Sadly, others have ignored our request. They have instead chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed. I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome. But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist. The act grievously extends the crime that stole Mollie from our family and is, to quote Donald Trump Jr., “heartless” and “despicable.”
Make no mistake, Mollie was my daughter and my best friend. At her eulogy, I said Mollie was nobody’s victim. Nor is she a pawn in others’ debate. She may not be able to speak for herself, but I can and will. Please leave us out of your debate. Allow us to grieve in privacy and with dignity. At long last, show some decency. On behalf of my family and Mollie’s memory, I’m imploring you to stop.
It is hard to imagine the heartbreak I would feel having a member of my immediate family die in such a gruesome way, and on top of this, to have people like Candace Owens invoke the racist trope of the white woman attacked by a man of color to further their agenda amid my grief. For that matter, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be angry at the individual who killed someone I love.
Keeping this in mind, I consider it a testament of Ron Tibbetts’ character and of Mollie’s that he would argue against messages of division and hate in the aftermath of learning that she had died. As such, his appeals to not “knowingly foment discord among races” as a “disgrace to our flag” and to “build bridges, not walls” carry much weight. As does his notion that the divisive rhetoric of Trump et al. does not leadership make.
“The Lonesome Death of Mollie Tibbetts” isn’t the only event in recent memory by which Americans, flying a flag of pseudo-patriotism, have taken an idea and run with it despite the explicit objection of its originator. The forthcoming movie First Man, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, has garnered criticism for not showing the planting of the flag on the moon as part of Apollo 11, a perceived slight against America about which Buzz Aldrin helped kindle outrage. The movie reportedly focuses on Neil Armstrong’s personal journey leading up to the moonwalk, and on that walk, the visit to Little West Crater.
As Neil’s sons Rick and Mark Armstrong have interceded to emphasize, though they believe otherwise, the famed astronaut did not consider himself an “American hero,” a point actor Ryan Gosling, who stars in the film, also stressed. Thus, they defend director Damien Chazelle’s choice. Chazelle himself also explained that he wanted to portray the events of the Apollo 11 moon landing from a different perspective, highlighting the humanity behind Armstrong’s experience and the universality of his achievement. One small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind, no? Besides, as Armstrong’s sons and others have reasoned, most people nitpicking First Man haven’t actually seen it to tear it asunder.
Then there’s the whole matter of Colin Kaepernick as the face of Nike’s 30th anniversary advertisement for their “Just Do It” campaign. The print ad, which shows Kaepernick’s face up close and personal, features the tagline, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” As self-styled arbiters of patriotism and what is good and right would aver, however, Kaepernick hasn’t sacrificed anything, and featuring a non-patriot like him is grounds for divorce.
Consequently, the hashtag #NikeBoycott was trending on Labor Day and into Tuesday, replete with videos of indignant Nike owners burning their sneakers and other apparel, cutting/ripping the telltale “swooshes” out of their clothing, or otherwise vowing to never shop Nike again. I suppose on some level I appreciate their enthusiasm, though I submit there are any number of reasons why this is folly, including:
First of all, if you never planned on buying Nike products in the first place, don’t front like your “boycott” means anything. It’s like people who complained about the Starbucks red nondenominational “holiday” cup controversy. Come on—you know y’all were only getting your coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts.
Assuming you did actually buy Nike sneakers and apparel, burning things doesn’t take the money back. As far as the company is concerned, you can eat the shoes when you’re done with them. The transaction is done.
Though it seems like a lost point by now, Colin Kaepernick consulted Nate Boyer, a former long snapper in the NFL and U.S. Army Green Beret, about how to protest respectfully. They eventually decided on kneeling rather than sitting as a sort of compromise, evoking the image of the serviceperson kneeling at the grave of a fallen comrade. At any rate, it’s not America or the military that Kaepernick and others have protested—it’s the treatment of people of color at the hands of law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and other rigged institutions.
A more meaningful boycott directed at Nike would be recognizing the company’s questionable commitment to worker rights here and abroad over the past few decades, including more recent allegations of a corporate culture that discriminates against women. Just saying.
As I’m sure numerous veterans would agree, regardless of what you think about Kaepernick and his playing ability, fighting overseas for inalienable human rights just to see players deprived of the right to protest—that is, able to enjoy fewer freedoms—does not indicate progress.
The financial fallout from Nike’s taking a stand, of course, still needs to be measured. There’s also the notion aligning with Colin Kaepernick will ruffle feathers of NFL executives and team owners. Still, one reasons Nike would not make such a potentially controversial move without knowing what it was doing, or at least figuring it was a gamble worth taking.
Going back to social media and expression of outrage, people unhappy about Nike’s decision to celebrate a figure in Kaepernick they perceive to be a spoiled rich athlete who doesn’t know the meaning of the word sacrifice also have been active in creating and sharing parodies of Nike’s advertisement with the late Pat Tillman, another NFL player/serviceperson, swapped in for Kaepernick. While Tillman is certainly worth the admiration, it appears doubtful he would want his image used in this way.
In fact, as many would suggest, based on his political views, it’s Kaepernick he would support, not the other way around. Marie Tillman, Pat’s wife, while not specifically endorsing player protests, nonetheless publicly rebuked Trump for retweeting a post using her husband’s image. As she put it, “The very action of self expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart—no matter those views—is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for. Even if they don’t always agree with those views.” As with Ron Tibbetts’s pleas not to exploit or capitalize his daughter’s death, Marie’s desire not to see her husband’s sacrifice and service politicized is one worth honoring.
There’s any number of examples of people’s art and memories being used without their permission (assuming they can give it) despite requests to the contrary. Recently, Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler sent a cease-and-desist letter to President Trump warning him not to use his (Tyler’s) music without his (Tyler’s) permission at his (Trump’s) political rallies. As Tyler insists, this is strictly about copyright protection—not about politics. As Trump insists, he already has the rights to use Aerosmith’s songs. If I’m believing one or the other, I’ll opt for the one who isn’t a serial liar, cheater, predator, and fraud, but you may do with these examples as you wish.
The larger point here, however, is that in the zeal for sparking outrage about political and social issues, there too frequently seems to be a failure to appreciate context—if not a blatant disregard for it. Mollie Tibbetts didn’t believe in an immigration policy which vilifies Latinx immigrants and other people of color. Neil Armstrong, in all likelihood, wouldn’t have balked at choosing not to show the planting of the U.S. flag on the moon. Pat Tillman probably would’ve backed the ability of Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players to protest during the playing of the National Anthem.
In all cases, a politically-motivated counternarrative threatens to derail meaningful discussion on the underlying subject matter. The outrage builds, as does the mistrust. The few issues upon which we disagree potentially overshadow the larger consensus we share on important topics. Sadly, this also seems to be the way many representatives of the major political parties like it.
I’ve highlighted examples in which people of a conservative mindset have coopted other people’s memories and works amid their expression of anger and resentment. This is not to say, mind you, that there aren’t occurrences on the other end of the political spectrum.
Not long ago, actor Peter Dinklage had to intervene to defray a controversy surrounding his casting as Hervé Villechaize in a forthcoming biopic about the late actor and painter. The charge was that this casting was a case of Hollywood “whitewashing.” As Dinklage explained in an interview, however, Villechaize is not Asian, as some people believe or claim, but suffered from a particular form of dwarfism that explains why they might assume this ethnicity. From the interview:
There’s this term “whitewashing.” I completely understand that. But Hervé wasn’t Filipino. Dwarfism manifests physically in many different ways. I have a very different type of dwarfism than Hervé had. I’ve met his brother and other members of his family. He was French, and of German and English descent. So it’s strange these people are saying he’s Filipino. They kind of don’t have any information. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or sense of justice because I feel the exact same way when there’s some weird racial profile. But these people think they’re doing the right thing politically and morally and it’s actually getting flipped because what they’re doing is judging and assuming what he is ethnically based on his looks alone. He has a very unique face and people have to be very careful about this stuff. This [movie] isn’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Personally, I would never do that, and I haven’t done that, because he wasn’t. People are jumping to conclusions based on a man’s appearance alone and that saddens me.
Jumping to conclusions—on the Internet? Well, I never! Dinklage seems to take this in stride along the lines of folks meaning well, but not necessarily being well informed. In this instance, the error is fairly innocuous, but the rush to judgment in today’s climate of information sharing can have serious consequences. There’s a lesson here, no matter what your political inclinations.
As for the Nike/Colin Kaepernick business which Donald Trump may very well be tweeting about right now, Drew Magary, writing for GQ, insists that something is “hopelessly broken” when people feel compelled to champion the company synonymous with the swoosh for taking a stand. He writes:
Corporations already control so much in America that people are compelled—happy, even—to depend on them as beacons of social change, because they are now the ONLY possible drivers of it. I shouldn’t need Nike to get police departments to stop being violent and corrupt. Making decent shoes is hard enough for them, you know what I mean? But I’m forced to applaud their efforts here only because I live in a world where people cannot effect anywhere near the level of change that a billion-dollar corporation can. The social compact of this nation was meant to be between its citizens, but brands have essentially hijacked that compact, driving all meaningful conversation within. A great many brands have performed a great many acts of evil thanks to this. Others have talked up a big game while still being evil (that’s you, Silicon Valley). Only rarely do brands use their ownership of the social compact for good and genuine ends, and even then it accomplishes far less than what actual PEOPLE could accomplish if they had that compact to themselves once more. Politically speaking, one Colin Kaepernick ought to be worth a million Nikes.
Instead, as Magary tells it, “we live in a country where causes only to get to see daylight if they have a sponsor attached.” It’s a particularly bad phenomenon because corporations like Nike exist for their own benefit and have no “obligation to society.” Thus, if we need an athletic apparel company to lecture us on the virtues of sacrifice and of protesting police brutality, or if we need a pizza company to fill in potholes that municipalities can’t or won’t address, you know we’re in pretty bad shape.
While we contemplate our eroding civic virtue and crumbling infrastructure—a contemplation none too heartening, at that—we might also consider what we can do to end the “internet outrage cycle,” as Spencer Kornhaber, staff writer at The Atlantic, put it. Certainly, much as discretion may be deemed the better part of valor, discretion about what to post or tweet and whether to do so seems fundamental to limiting the reactionary culture of outrage, and outrage about others’ outrage that plagues much of interaction on contentious topics. Besides, while we’re dabbling in truisms, if one doesn’t have anything nice to say, perhaps one shouldn’t say anything at all.
Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and their ability to organize for meritorious purposes is too profound to ignore. If we’re going to use them constructively, we will need to resist the iconography of outrage, specifically that which distorts images and people to serve a new agenda. At a time when ownership of creative works can get lost in the ability to share them, and when public figures can become buried under an avalanche of negativity, it’s best to do our homework and to pick our battles when choosing a cause to fight for.
The funny thing about saying someone is “hard-working” is that, while giving him or her a sincere compliment, you are nevertheless saying nothing of that person’s effectiveness in producing positive results for a given task. This idea is central to the phrase “giving an A for effort.” Sure, one may expend a fair bit of physical or mental energy trying to achieve a particular goal, but unless that goal is specifically and expressly reached, the merits of the process merit their own scrutiny. I’d like for you to keep this theme in mind as we read a statement from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, regarding President Donald Trump’s schedule:
The time in the morning is a mix of residence time and Oval Office time but he always has calls with staff, Hill members, cabinet members and foreign leaders during this time. The President is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen and puts in long hours and long days nearly every day of the week all year long. It has been noted by reporters many times that they wish he would slow down because they sometimes have trouble keeping up with him.
OK, first things first, we have to remember that this may be complete and unmitigated bullshit coming from Sanders. Ever since Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway set the tone of this administration by trying to argue the “alternative fact” that Trump’s Inauguration crowd was bigger than either of Obama’s two crowds, one was made to understand that the White House’s relationship with the truth is decidedly shaky. Going back to the idea of the President being so hard-working that reporters can barely keep up with him, though—and we get it, Trump supporters: the liberal media sucks and it’s no wonder they can’t keep up with him—that his schedule is so inscrutable and that it may be loosely constructed to begin with is not necessarily a virtue.
Sarah Sanders’s comments quoted above are actually a direct response to a “scoop” from Jonathan Swan, a national political reporter covering the Trump presidency and GOP Capitol Hill leadership. In his recent piece on AXIOS, Swan details how Donald Trump’s daily schedule seems to be shrinking and how much of it seems to be devoted to “Executive Time”, a function that appears to be intentionally amorphous. From the article:
President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us. The schedules shown to me are different than the sanitized ones released to the media and public.
The schedule says Trump has “Executive Time” in the Oval Office every day from 8am to 11am, but the reality is he spends that time in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting.
Trump comes down for his first meeting of the day, which is often an intelligence briefing, at 11am.
That’s far later than George W. Bush, who typically arrived in the Oval by 6:45am.
Obama worked out first thing in the morning and usually got into the Oval between 9 and 10am, according to a former senior aide.
Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11am to 6pm, then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he’s back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.
Some of you may be thinking, “Nice schedule if you can get it,” but the grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. Besides, being the President of the United States of America is a stressful job, and you probably wouldn’t want it anyway. (I mean, just think what it would do to grey your hair!) Also, the comparisons to Dubya and Barack Obama ultimately don’t mean much. At 6:45 in the morning, I’m pretty sure I would be a complete disaster as POTUS, and would be lucky to get my breakfast in my sleepy mouth. Still, it’s not unreasonable to question Trump’s work ethic here, as well as to suggest that his balance of looking at screens vs. not looking at screens may well be unhealthily off. Plus, while we would expect most political figures to deviate from their campaign pledges, Trump has in no way, shape, or form tried to uphold his boast that he would be more committed to his work than, say, President Obama, and that he would avoid vacationing and golf because he would be too busy running the country. At this point, Trump is looking like he will exceed Obama’s number of rounds of golf over his eight-year tenure by the 2018 mid-terms. Granted, hypocrisy is nothing new in Washington, D.C., but for someone who billed himself as the anti-politician, “the Donald” is playing the part every bit.
As Swan characterizes Donald Trump’s schedule of late, the President’s time in the White House is usually spent between 11 and 6, with various periods of “Executive Time” punctuating that span. This day has gotten shorter since Trump began, and from Swan’s examples from the written schedule, the official day doesn’t even seem to last that long, with the last items for particular days being listed at 4 or 4:15, and doubtful to extend past the 6:00 mark. That’s a seven-hour day, including lunch and whatever “Executive Time” is supposed to be. Again, the job of President is a tough one, and everyone is entitled to a break. Still, the amount of time spent on the phone, Tweeting, and watching television doesn’t exactly communicate an image of Trump as the blue-collar, roll-your-sleeves-up kind of worker. It instead makes him seem like a typical executive who makes his own hours and is “in touch” with the issues that concern him only because he has been specifically briefed on them. What’s more, if insider reports of Trump’s media consumption are true, then it means his access to actionable, credible intelligence is likely limited, given his predilection for FOX News, not to mention his child-like attention span and suspected substandard reading comprehension. For someone who brags to opposing world leaders about the size of his “nuclear button,” this doesn’t appear to be a positive development for Donald Trump—or for our country, for that matter.
Viewed alongside doubts about President Trump’s mental fitness, the tone Jonathan Swan takes strikes the reader as vaguely deprecating, but not without genuine concern about Trump’s health. Swan ends his piece thusly:
Aides say Trump is always doing something — he’s a whirl of activity and some aides wish he would sleep more — but his time in the residence is unstructured and undisciplined. He’s calling people, watching TV, tweeting, and generally taking the same loose, improvisational approach to being president that he took to running the Trump Organization for so many years. Old habits die hard.
“Loose, improvisational approach.” While we’re invoking insider accounts of the Trump White House, we would arguably be remiss if we did not consider Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House in our assessment of the state of Trump’s White House, and perhaps most pertinently, the suggestion that Trump didn’t really want or expect to win the 2016 election. As others have theorized, this may be well why Donald Trump and his transition team seemed so unprepared to set forth an agenda or even fill needed vacancies at the federal level. About a year into Trump’s tenure as POTUS, though, if what Jonathan Swan reports is similarly true, then concerns about his health may well be valid if he is a TV junkie with an erratic schedule and poor sleep habits. Bear in mind this shouldn’t automatically start proceedings pursuant to the 25th Amendment—these discussions tend to be overwrought anyway. At the same time, however, it reveals the kind of details of the life of a man you might be hesitant to have running a company. Or one of the most powerful countries in the world.
Questions about President Donald Trump’s mental fitness for the presidency have dogged the White House lately. Speaking of the 25th Amendment and whether or not Trump can be removed from office because he is certifiably insane, I am of the belief that he may be “crazy” in the commonplace usage of the word, but diagnosing him with anything other than a narcissistic personality disorder seems like a bit of a stretch—and even then, this doesn’t mean he can’t run the nation. Of course, it could mean he’d be running the nation like an asshole—which he is, because he is one—but such does not preclude one from leadership roles. (In fact, in numerous contexts, it actually seems to be encouraged.) Taking an unstructured approach to leadership while watching too much television, spending too much time on Twitter, and not sleeping enough, meanwhile? Though not disqualifying factors, these habits can be destructive to the person who practices them, and in the case of someone like Trump, whose actions and words can impact entire countries and regions, there is ample room for collateral damage.
BBC News, referencing Jonathan Swan’s scoop on AXIOS, also delved into presidential schedules in recent history. As the BBC report insists up front, Trump wouldn’t be the first President to eschew a normal 9-to-5 schedule, nor would he be the first to make phone calls or do other things in the early morning (after midnight). He also wouldn’t be the first to be obsessed with his public image, according to Matthew Dallek, George Washington University professor, cited in the piece; LBJ grew very concerned about defending himself during the Vietnam War and would voice his concerns to his aides in the middle of the night. As we have been asking in this post, however, and as the BBC article explores, this does not, by any means, mean this behavior is healthy or productive. A key insight from Prof. Dallek comes when prompted about Trump’s late-night/early-morning Tweets:
The problem, Professor Dallek said, is that for the president, “unstructured time can be destructive and debilitating”, citing his tweets.
“In terms of leading the country, presidents run into dangers when they freelance,” he said. “Words can be taken as policy and create a lot of chaos.”
Chaos, eh? Sure sounds like the Trump White House, an administration marked by near-constant controversy and upheaval within its ranks, and one with an average approval rating of 38% over the President’s term, per Gallup and as of this writing. Dallek’s meditations on presidential “freelancing” would seem stand to reason. When I found out Greg Gianforte, the political candidate who physically attacked reporter Ben Jacobs shortly before the special election to replace Ryan Zinke, had won in Montana after waking up in the middle of the night, I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations, and rather diplomatically suggested those who voted for Gianforte could “eat a dick.” What I received were taunts from conservative trolls who either made fun of my last name, reveled in my anger, or sarcastically applauded me for being another “classy” Democrat/liberal. Not my finest moment, and I regretted it afterwards.
Just imagine if I were the President, though, and I told half the electorate they could ingest a phallus. It imaginably wouldn’t go over well. The same can be said for other countries reading Tweets about things that would dramatically impact their livelihood. Like, for instance, when Trump posts about building a wall and have Mexico pay for it. It necessitates a response from some current or former Mexican official who says something to the effect of, “No, President Trump, we are not paying for that f**king wall!” Use of social media in this way breeds contempt, and in a matter of minutes, diplomatic relations between two countries can become strained. All because one man has an itchy Twitter finger and a base to appeal to. Not to mention that, for such a brave new world with a world leader being able to regularly Tweet, strongman Trump comes off as a coward for saying something he probably wouldn’t say to President Nieto in person. The power of social media is one that can embolden us—often further than we perhaps should be emboldened.
All this makes for a strange case study in how or for what someone like Donald Trump should be held accountable for what he says versus what he Tweets, and whether or not there should be an appreciable difference. Other celebrities are regularly dragged across the Internet for errant Tweets, and Trump is no different. “Covfefe,” anyone? Still, when LaVar Ball complains about how the Los Angeles Lakers are being coached, this does not carry the weight of a nation’s government or military might. With Pres. Trump, though, it does, and this is where concerns about heads of state being able to use personal social media accounts come into play. Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, points specifically to Trump’s “nuclear button” boast as “the most irresponsible Tweet in history,” and meditates on whether or where Twitter or any other sites are willing to draw the line on speech that can be considered hateful or threatening depending on the source. Friedersdorf writes:
For most of us, the consequences of an ill-considered tweet are relatively small. The benefits of the communicative mode arguably outweighs its costs. The philosophy, “We believe that everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,” seems eminently defensible.
But heads of state should not share “instantly.” The weightiness of their pronouncements should be a barrier that causes them to pause before every pronouncement, for their words can carry immediate consequences, and can conceivably affect billions. Some leaders have triggered genocides and pogroms with their words. The wrong words about nuclear war could literally end human civilization.
Having global leaders tweeting gives humanity nothing commensurate with the risks we bear so that the powerful can communicate this way.
In making this assertion, Friedersdorf makes a distinction between what is ostensibly acceptable for you or I to post, and what should be within the locus of power for presidents, prime ministers, and the like to post outside of official channels. Thus, while my “eat a dick” Tweet is not exactly to be encouraged, based on the fairly insubstantial consequences and my decidedly short list of followers, it is not likely to cause a major uproar or put others in danger. Trump potentially inviting a nuclear holocaust? That’s a little more of a bugaboo.
Indeed, the risks of allowing political leaders to use Twitter in this way would seem to outweigh the benefits. Conor Friedersdorf also makes these observations in spelling out his rationale for banning certain high-profile individuals from being Twitter users:
Despite Trump’s claim that he needs Twitter to reach voters, most of Trump’s supporters are not on Twitter, and there are any number of alternative ways to get his message across, including television, radio, and holding rallies. Hell, FOX News does a lot of his dirty work for him.
In large part because Twitter encourages posting without a significant amount of prior thought, this is where Trump “is most erratic, juvenile, unpredictable, and unstable, by a wide margin.”
Trump is bad, but potentially worse users with a similarly high profile (and of similar political influence) could follow in his footsteps.
Other Twitter users have gotten banned from Twitter for less than mutually assured destruction.
Though this isn’t Trump’s problem, such has been a long-standing gripe about Twitter and other social media platforms: that specific rules, where they exist, are applied inconsistently or not at all. For users concerned about avoiding hate and harassment where it may lurk online—and as you probably know, it doesn’t as much lurk as it does exist in plain sight, unabashed—this is problematic when just random other rank-and-file users are the perpetrators. One of my tormentors following my venting about Greg Gianforte winning reacted to another user commenting about how they couldn’t believe Gianforte could emerge victorious after punching a liberal Jew reporter, even if it was Montana (whatever that means), by saying something to the effect of, “Just wait until the concentration camps are opened up.”
As doubtful as the likelihood of Nazi concentration camps springing up in the United States in the near future is, that language is not appropriate for any context. I don’t remember which user uttered this remark, or whether or not he or she was reported. Frankly, I don’t care; I’m simply trying to illustrate a point. If this is the kind of speech that already would alienate prospective Twitter users, a bigot like Donald Trump with his platform is bound to be upsetting. In fact, Friedersdorf cites an Economist/YouGov poll that found just 26% of respondents believe Trump’s Twitter use is appropriate. That’s worse than his overall approval rating, and much worse than his approval rating with respect to his handling of the economy. The above concerns lead the writer to issue this final thought, which sounds like a warning as much as anything:
Twitter should give the people what they want, and ban the most elite of the political elites once and for all. Or if it won’t, it must at least tell the public, in advance of future catastrophe: Would it let a president tweet literally anything? If not, where is the line?
“Where is the line?” It’s an apparently pertinent question in today’s political discourse. Much as many Americans are undoubtedly wondering what it will take for Republicans to want to bring impeachment proceedings against President Trump—even though this won’t solve all of the country’s problems—or what it will take for the GOP to lose serious credibility from an electoral standpoint—though the Democrats seriously could do more on their part—myself and others have to be wondering if and when Trump, the hard-working man of the people that he isn’t, can either lose his voice in relation to his base of support, or can at least have his voice muted in part by having social media outlets like Twitter refuse to give him a virtual soapbox. Then again, shutting down Trump could just make him into something of a martyr or amplify the voices of other like-minded personalities on the right and the far right. At this point, though, for the future of the planet, it seems like the better bet. Besides, if nothing else, we could probably use a breather from the craziness for a while.
Social media has the power to bring people together in ways we could have only dreamt of centuries or even decades ago. It allows users to share intimate moments and milestones with their family and friends. It affords people a way to re-connect with those with whom they’ve lost touch, or simply to connect with loved ones in times of crisis. It permits you to, um, Poke people and send game requests to individuals you met some five years ago in an Eastern Religions course in college. OK, so not all uses of social media are as worthwhile as others, but for everything from breaking news stories to umpteen baby pictures, social media services help foster connections between people across cable lines and potentially across great distances as well as across demographic lines. In the ability of these apps/sites to bring people together, however, we realize this connectivity has the potential to be a blessing and a curse. While we would presume most users use sites like Facebook and Google and Twitter with the intention of spreading goodwill and cheer—or at least seeking sympathy when they are not so full of cheer—there are those who seem to use social media for no other purpose than spreading hate, harassing and intimidating others, and deliberately picking fights. I’m sure you have encountered your fair share of Internet trolls, from the moderately pesky ones to those who challenge you to come find them at their house and see if you still feel like making your same arguments. In this respect, social media tends to feel like a minefield across which you are advised to tread lightly for fear of igniting an explosive situation.
Keeping with the theme of confrontational discourse between individuals of disparate personal stories and viewpoints, another byproduct of the interconnectedness of our world, alongside users’ relative anonymity, is that people will readily advocate and say things online they wouldn’t imagine saying out loud in everyday life given the apparent lack of impunity for their actions. Here is where the epithets, insults, mockery, and threats really start flying. Given the cloak of limited visibility the Internet provides, individual users can set forth all sorts of body-shaming, homo- and trans-phobic, politically bigoted, racist, sexist, vulgar, xenophobic, and otherwise discriminatory or unsavory language. And when they band together to form a unified front of nastiness, the collective hate they spew can be a destructive, alienating force. Numerous high-profile users in recent memory have announced their departure from social media (at least temporarily), citing abuse or threats against them and their family as motivating factors. The likes of Leslie Jones and Ed Sheeran are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, at that. We all know the fabled notion sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. These are different times, however, and depending on the mental make-up of the recipient of these proverbial sticks and stones, the brunt may be hard to bear indeed, if not impossible. Suicides among teens and preteens have become all too prevalent outcomes from prolonged, targeted cyberbullying. In some cases, the abuse continues on social media even after the individual has taken his or her own life.
As with the sale and use of guns in mass shootings, the issue of liability for the manufacturer/provider in online interactions via social media is a sticky one. In a society as litigious as ours and otherwise accustomed to scapegoating, the impetus is frequently on assigning culpability on someone or something. With respect to the former, and depending on one’s point of view, it’s the fault of the maker of the gun for creating a dangerous weapon that could be bought and handled by a general public ill-equipped to operate it safely; it’s the fault of the parents of the child for not taking better care to safeguard the firearm; it’s the fault of the gun lobby for preventing sensible gun reform; it’s the fault of the anti-gun activists that we don’t have more guns in schools to prevent such a tragedy. Round and round we go in the Blame Game—where we stop, nobody knows. With social media and cyberbullying, on one hand, there is the idea that today’s young people and celebrities are too pampered and thin-skinned. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps. Besides, no one forced these kids to keep using social media in the face of the abuse. Shouldn’t their parents have been watching what their kids were doing anyway?
On the other hand, meanwhile, whereas mass shootings may have a rather short preamble in terms of shooters making their intentions known to friends or family, with targeted harassment on social media, the patterns of abuse can take place over a protracted period of time. Granted, when minors are the subject of cyberbullying, from the user perspective, their parent(s) or guardian(s) may not comprehend the scope of the torment their child faces, especially when he or she is less than forthcoming about the nature of the problem. From across the screen, however, the purveyors of various popular social media services can witness what is going on, and this tension between creating an environment where users can feel safe in their online interactions and maximizing traffic to associated apps and sites is at the crux of the matter. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter find themselves performing a balancing act between safeguarding their audiences and maintaining the appearance of being unbiased and hospitable to all users. This wouldn’t seem like such a tough tug-of-war but for a rejection of diversity, multiculturalism and political correctness on the far right, as well as an apparent growing tendency toward hostility in discussions where personalities and viewpoints clash regardless of political affiliation.
In talking about the tightrope that social media companies walk with respect to fair play vs. revenue—a dilemma that quite generally seems to be faced by corporate entities, of which the primary goal is profit/expansion, and of which social responsibility is a more recent derivation (and hopefully not an afterthought)—this implies that the big names in the industry are capable and willing enough to err on the side of caution for the sake of their most vulnerable users. But are they really? This is where there is room for debate in online circles, for many would allege these content providers are not doing enough to thwart cyberbullying and the dissemination of questionable content. Brianna Provenzano, staff writer at Mic, would tend to agree, a subject of angry, hate-filled messages herself. Recently, Provenzano had dared to ask Milo Yiannopoulos, conservative provocateur and all-around dickhead, if he got an invite to the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards—because MTV says they sure as hell didn’t ask for him to be there. Whereupon Yiannopoulos kindly told Provenzano to “F**k off,” posted their E-mail exchange on his Facebook page, and let his followers do the work for him. Provenzano describes the situation thusly:
Milo hadn’t called for blood outright, but the angry mob showed up anyway. The sound you hear when you kick the hornet’s nest in Milo-land is an angry crescendo of bees in Fred Perry polos, crawling out of their social media honeycombs to sling insults about how your full name sounds like two cheeses alongside more venomous darts about your intellect, your body and your career.
Yiannopoulos has 2.3 million followers on Facebook, and after he posted my email, the swarm infiltrated my Twitter and my Facebook inbox too. A few stragglers found their way into my Instagram comments. A phone call with Facebook representatives yielded no action. They told me they’re aware Yiannopoulos has figured out a way to game the system, pulling certain levers to summon his goons without running afoul of their harassment policies. But Facebook’s guidelines, as they currently exist, are cut-and-dry: Milo might be indirectly inciting harassment, but as long as he doesn’t call for it explicitly, his speech is protected. The post is still up.
The bad news, though, is that his followers seem to be taking his lead. Beneath the screengrab of our email exchange, one commenter wrote, “His minions are emailing her at this very moment, detailing how they’re going to rape her.” Is alluding to my rape the same thing as calling for it outright? Free-speech guidelines are tricky like that. The bottom line: Though internet trolls are evolving, Facebook’s harassment protections are not.
Talk about walking a fine line. Whereas sites like Facebook are concerned with walking on eggshells so as not to alienate potential drivers of traffic, someone like Milo Yiannopoulos is walking the line on Facebook’s harassment policy by not telling his supporters to avenge him for some perceived slight, but nonetheless achieving the desire effect by letting them know how he was so aggrieved, posting Brianna Provenzano’s contact information in doing so, and letting the chips fall where they may. This hearkens back to our central discussion of accountability, and the ensuing dialog is a tricky one, indeed. True, Milo isn’t pulling the trigger. All the same, he’s effectively giving his followers the loaded gun and telling them where to shoot. As for Facebook, if it’s supposed to be the police, it’s hiding behind a rationale of insufficient evidence of a crime. Very clearly, though, the intent to cause ill will is there. What’s more, Facebook itself seems to indicate that it understands that’s what Yiannopoulous is doing, but that its hands are tied. Where the analogy ends, however, is in the notion that Facebook not only enforces the rules, but writes them too. As such, it is within its power to either adopt stricter policies against harassment and abuse within its platform, or to interpret their guidelines more broadly and consider that inaction under the guise of neutrality carries risk in its own right.
The unfortunate pattern for social media apps/sites given evidence of abuse seems to be this: 1) individual becomes target for verbal attacks and threats of bodily harm; 2) social media providers stand idly by while “evidence” accumulates; 3) public outcry forces attention to the harassment; 4) by drawing attention to the issue, abuse increases; 5) content provider is forced to intervene by suspending accounts or some other method of remediation. What makes this cycle especially unfortunate is that aspects of it are by no means guaranteed. For one, public outcry is obviously more likely for public figures and people of relative renown. As for social media sites swooping in and coming to the rescue, so to speak, this decision may come too late—if it comes at all. In Brianna Provenzano’s case, without writing about her situation, it is unlikely anyone beyond close friends and family and loyal Mic readers would know she has been met with all kinds of invectives at the hands of rabid alt-righters. In addition, as of this writing and her writing, it appears she will see no meaningful resolution from Facebook. Indeed, to have that happen would the best-case scenario, and even then, it necessitates some sort of wrongdoing on the part of another party—potentially over a considerable span and from many quasi-anonymous sources.
As Provenzano is keen to observe, female reporters are frequent targets of abuse merely for reporting on the kind of misogynistic abuse faced by other women, thereby creating an awful circle by which the writer becomes the subject. As she also observes, women of color and members of the LGBT community tend to be hit particularly hard by harassment over social media, and in some cases, it is the content providers themselves who discriminate against members of minority groups or fail to properly moderate content in a way that projects fairness for all users. In an illustration of how seemingly broken Facebook’s system of content moderation is, black activist Ijeoma Oluo posted a tongue-in-cheek comment about going to a Cracker Barrel for the first time, seeing a bunch of white people in cowboy hats, and wondering if they’d “let [her] black ass walk out of there.”
Apparently, a number of people who read her entry didn’t take kindly to her commentary on race relations, for before long, she began to receive a torrent of hate-filled messages. Days’ worth of abuse ensued, with Oluo taking screenshots of the kinds of epithets hurled her way and reporting the harassment to Facebook. At long last, though, the company and its content moderators intervened. There was only one small problem: it was Oluo who had her account suspended for posting the evidence of her abuse. Facebook representatives later apologized for what they characterized as a mistake, but by then, the damage was done. Besides, Ijeoma Oluo’s experience is not an isolated incident, and is evocative of a running theme: that of social media companies being slow or otherwise inadequate to respond to reports of abuse at the hands of other users. It would appear, at least in this instance, that Facebook was unable to handle the magnitude and truth of what was happening any more than Oluo’s tormentors could accept the reality and scope of racism in America.
In the closing of her piece, Brianna Provenzano notes that sites like Facebook have acted when members of the alt-right, neo-Nazis, and their ilk have led campaigns encouraging targeted abuse against specific users or otherwise have promoted a racist agenda. Twitter, for example, suspended Milo Yiannopoulos’ account after he directed his followers to attack Leslie Jones with racist images and words. Both GoDaddy and Google Domains dropped The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi online publication, after the violence at Charlottesville. These actions took place only after days or longer of offenders spewing their hate, however, and only with the requisite amount of public backlash demanding these service providers do something. From the companies’ perspective, what truly warranted intervention were the negative reputation they stood to receive from all the bad publicity and the consequential loss of revenue associated with their loss of standing. As Provenzano puts it re Facebook:
As long as capitalism is in charge, the historically marginalized groups hurt most by Facebook’s slipshod harassment protections should expect to continue to bear the burden of a failing system.
In other words, the bottom is line is just that: about the companies’ bottom lines. Concerning another recent iteration of the social commentary vs. corporate interests at the intersection of race relations, ESPN personality Jemele Hill made news for a series of Tweets she authored related to President Donald Trump, in which she unequivocally labeled Trump a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with other white supremacists and whose rise can be attributed to white supremacy. Predictably, a backlash occurred from Trump supporters and from the man himself, with many calling for her suspension or outright firing, and with POTUS desiring an apology from the network in addition to whatever Hill might have offered. In the end, it was Hill alone who issued an apology for “crossing the line” with her political opinions.
For many of us discerning individuals, however, Hill’s statements weren’t particularly controversial. This is to say that calling Donald Trump a white supremacist surrounded by white supremacists and supported by them isn’t really that much of a stretch. Lord knows what Trump feels and believes deep down, but after a point, it doesn’t matter when he’s ginning up racists and white nationalists. Jemele Hill is ostensibly right on these points, and thus it would appear her most grievous sin is working for a corporation—recall ESPN exists under the Disney Corp. banner—that squelches opinions when they fear they could alienate a certain segment of their viewership/readership. And just imagine what kind of abuse Hill will be subject to now that she is in the spotlight and in the crosshairs of Internet trolls. When the angry mob threatens to pull its dollars away, corporate America has signaled, by and large, that it will kowtow to its wishes.
With advances in computer and mobile phone technology, use of social media platforms has exploded over the last half-decade, and for the most part, the benefits of these media in terms of professional networking and socialization are to be celebrated. For many companies who provide social media interfaces, however, their ability and willingness to curb cyberbullying and online harassment has lagged behind the industry’s apparent growth, and this reality detracts from the user experience for the general public, regardless of gender, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, or other identifying factor(s). To ask potential targets for abuse to “grin and bear it” or to “just log off” is as impractical as it is an abdication of duty for the companies who are supposed to provide a safe space for their subscribers as a function of their conduct policies. Simply put, if social media giants like Facebook and Twitter wish to show they truly care about cracking down against hate speech and other forms of abuse, they need to do better—or risk losing more than just individual celebrities from their ranks.
Acclaimed actress Meryl Streep recently made a speech at the Golden Globes. You, um, may have heard about it.
As should be no great surprise given how much the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has showered Streep with love over her career—and deservedly so, let me be clear—she was called to the podium during the ceremony to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award, an honorary award given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” As actors and other entertainers often do, Streep took the opportunity to preach a little to those in attendance and those listening at home, and her remarks had a definite political lean to them. This passage, in particular, had people’s ears perked up:
Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts. They gave me three seconds to say this. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.
There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.
And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.
This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
You don’t need someone like me to point out who is referenced within these comments without being named. Which I know because He-Who-Was-Not-Named, as dumb as he is, put two and two together and understood Meryl Streep was talking about him. That would be none other than our beloved leader Donald J. Trump, who, in his usual way of reacting to news, responded tactfully after much deliberation and reflection. Taking to the medium of choice for tactful deliberation and reflection—obviously, I am referring to Twitter—DJT had this to say about Streep’s allusion to his person:
Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked me last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (I would never do that) but simply showed him “groveling” when he totally changed a 16-year-old story that he had written to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!
If you’ve been exposed to Trump’s Tweets, you probably noted they look awfully neat as quoted here. I edited them. You’re welcome. In just a few lines of text, Donald Trump seemingly always manages to give us so much to analyze and discuss. Usually, it’s analysis and discussion trying to figure out what the hell he’s actually talking about, but we do the best with what we are given. Some thoughts of mine:
“Overrated?” Perhaps. The woman has received an absurd number of award nominations over the years. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better actress over the past few decades than Ms. Streep. Go ahead—name one. I’ll wait. This charge really makes one wonder who, pray tell, Trump actually thinks isn’t overrated. Stacey Dash? Does Sarah Palin count? Help me—I’m legitimately having trouble thinking of famous conservative actresses.
She doesn’t “know” you? I don’t know, Mr. Trump—I think we’ve seen enough of you over the years to have a pretty good idea of who you are. Unfortunately.
“She is a Hillary flunky who lost big.” Wait, did she lose big, or did Hillary lose big? Or did she lose big because Hillary lost big? I’m confused. Especially since saying Meryl Streep lost big seems a bit redundant, as I believe we all lost big because you won, Mr. Trump.
“You never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter?” Yes, you did. There are animated GIFs to prove it. Even if you weren’t mocking him because of his disability per se, you were still mocking him like a schoolyard bully.
“Just more very dishonest media!” EXCLAMATION POINTS STRENGTHEN YOUR ARGUMENT!!!!
These five points, as I see them, are indefensible on Donald Trump’s part, with a possible sixth going to a scratching of the head regarding the use of quotation marks on “groveling.” (i.e. Why are they there? Are we simply being pretentious and putting things in quotation marks? Or are you quoting someone? Heck, are you quoting yourself? Are you that narcissistic? Wait—don’t answer that.) As wrong as Trump is here to clap back at Meryl Streep, however, this does not necessarily preclude her from being wrong in her own right. As Streep herself insists, an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and this, I believe, is what gets those who skew more to the right’s dander up. That is, it’s not necessarily a problem that she feels the way she does about multiculturalism or the press or what-have-you, but that she’s using her acceptance speech to get atop her soapbox and talk down to the pro-Trump crowd watching at home. Well, at least that’s how it comes across to these types of viewers anyway. These “limousine liberals” think they’re better than us with their mansions and their jet-setting. Why don’t they just stay in their lane and make movies, and leave the politics for the politicians?
On some level, though, this is a strange attitude to be taking given legacy of the United States of America as a sovereign nation. Streep, in her defense of safe spaces within the media and of the press in general, expressed herself with an air of defiance against Donald Trump and others who would employ an autocratic leadership style. In doing so, she hearkened back to the very rebellious spirit which informed the American Revolution and the formation of this country. See, questioning authority when we believe it merits questioning is in our DNA. Even those of us with a cursory knowledge of U.S. history are probably familiar with one or more reasons for our rejection of colonial rule at the hands of the British. “No taxation without representation,” and whatnot. Of course, one is free to debate whether or not the Revolution itself was justified, especially in light of the colonists’ initial pledge to the crown as the foundation of their relationship, as well as the notion British subjects on the mainland were bearing as steep a price in taxes if not more so. It’s at least worth a discussion. You know, after this post. Right now, we’re talking Trump’s tyranny, not imperial taxes and tariffs.
Meryl Streep’s declaration of independence notwithstanding, is it wrong for celebrities to use award show acceptance speeches as their own personal pulpits? I mean, there’s a time and a place for this kind of proselytism, isn’t there? Here’s the thing, though: for all those who insist there is a time and a place for such discourse, there seem to be few suggestions as to where and when it should occur beyond nowhere and never. Moreover, when a dialog actually is opened up, the prevailing tendency seems to be one of flagging civility on the part of both parties, especially when social media gets involved and the barrier of physical proximity (which, presumably, stunts candor) is removed. With apologies, back to Twitter we go, and a war of words involving two participants who may as well have been chosen using a Random Celebrity Fight Generator. Comedian-actor Billy Eichner—who, if you’ve watched pretty much any episode of his show Billy on the Street, you know Streep is his favorite actress—reacted to her speech in exultation. Or, as he so colorfully put it:
MERYL. F**KING. STREEP. That’s all.
Which is when Meghan McCain, FOX News personality and daughter of Sen. John McCain, saw fit to involve herself. Like this:
This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won. And if people in Hollywood don’t start recognizing why and how, you will help him get re-elected.
I’ve got more to say on this topic in a bit, so I’ll put this thought of McCain’s aside for now. Let’s stay with the theme of interpersonal drama as a subset of personal politics. Eichner’s laudatory Tweet could have gone unnoticed by Ms. McCain, and certainly, she could’ve let it slide without a reply. Indeed, however, her “lib-tard” radar was a-spinning, and she just had to add in her two cents. Once again, though, Billy Eichner had some colorful words for the senator’s daughter:
Um, she asked him not to make fun of disabled people, and advocated for the freedom of the press and the arts, you f**king moron.
In the words of Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly.” Yea, verily, in terms of conflict resolution, Eichner did just about the exact opposite of what you are advised to do in these situations. It’s not terribly surprising, given his personality, but still. So, while I agree with his politics, he could have chosen his words, ahem, more delicately. Meghan McCain wasn’t done yet, however, and expectedly so. I mean, when some calls you a “f**king moron,” you tend to desire a follow-up. She replied:
Calling Republicans like me “f**king morons” is a great way for Hollywood to bridge the cultural divide. Enjoy your bubble.
Sick burn, Meghan! As you might anticipate, I’ve got more to say on this in a bit, too, so regrettably, I will put this on hold as well. Getting back to the drama, McCain essentially answered Eichner’s insult by telling him he’s being divisive. Even though, you know, she basically started this whole confrontation, but you know. In any event, leave it to Billy Eichner to knock down the entire house of cards:
I’d rather live in a bubble than live with people who don’t feel the need to respect the disabled, freedom of speech, and the arts! Oh, and another message from my bubble: can you ask Dad to give back the MILLIONS he’s received from the NRA? Love being told I live in a bubble by the daughter of a millionaire politician who sometimes guest co-hosts Hoda and Kathie Lee. And I have no desire to “bridge the cultural divide” with ignorant cultures with ignorant voters who don’t respect other cultures! MERYL F**KING STREEP!
Meryl f**king Streep, indeed, Billy. Meryl f**king Streep, indeed. With Eichner’s tirade, we jumped from “Let’s not be so divisive” to “Divisive? DIVISIVE? I’ll show you divisive! I’ll stay in my bubble as long as I g-d well please, thank you very much!” This attitude, I believe, present on both sides of the political aisle, speaks to the current state of the United States political landscape and of individuals’ two-headed (or, as some would charge, hypocritical) outlook on this sphere of American life. On one hand, so many of us are quick to point out to “the other”—be they Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, even religious and atheistic—as being the “dividers” in our nation. Lord knows (sorry, atheists) this was a fervent criticism from the right of our outgoing president throughout his tenure.
On the other hand, while condemning the other side as divisive, we seemingly implicitly want to be divided. (In Billy Eichner’s case, of course, it is explicit. And it involves a lot of use of the word “f**king.”) For example, we love America, but say, as long as those who live in the North stay in the North and those from the South do the same. Concerning the kinds of “bubbles” Billy Eichner and Meghan McCain referenced, there is no doubt this effect, fueled by the proliferation of social media, is real, and you likely have suspected it already based on your own anecdotal observations. A June 2016 study conducted by Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonio Scala and Cass Sunstein found empirical evidence that Facebook users promote their favored narratives and tend to form polarized groups, in doing so mostly assimilating that information which confirms what they know or think they know, and ignoring that which stands to refute what they believe. In other words, the “bubbles” in which we find ourselves are of the sort that we actively create—and to dare to burst someone else’s bubble could end up getting one drenched in a torrent of partisan antipathy the likes of which no umbrella could protect you from.
Heretofore, we’ve talked mainly about divisive rhetoric in political discourse. Unfortunately, accusations of divisiveness go only so far when assessments of the originators of conflict are in the eye of the beholder. Donald Trump is a divider to many because he arouses sentiments of fear, hate and jingoistic pride, encouraging people to classify those who reside in this country as “true Americans” or “not true Americans.” Democratic leaders like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, are seen by others as dividers and out-of-touch elitists who are too concerned with political correctness and preserving the status quo to put Americans first and bring about the kind of change this country needs.
To an extent, both sides may be right, but perhaps a more instructive focus is on a different set of “-ives”—that of inclinations toward the exclusive and the inclusive. These are sweeping generalizations, to be sure, but broadly speaking, on the left side of the political spectrum, and concerning matters of economic and social policy, the emphasis is on inclusivity, whereas on the right, exclusivity is a point of order. With the exclusivity of the right and the far-right, it is not difficult to see how this acts to divide. School choice, as liberal critics would have it, separates communities along socioeconomic lines, and as is often the case, racial lines along with it. Privatization of health care and slashing funding for entitlement programs separates people into groups of, well, those who can afford healthcare, and those who can’t, quite frankly. Shit, people want to see a wall constructed at the Mexican border which would literally separate folks. If there’s a way to dissect the American population on the basis of demographics, conservative Republicans have probably thought of it.
It may be a little trickier to see how the left can be found in the wrong for promoting inclusion, especially if you fancy yourself a liberal/progressive and find yourself a victim of the same echo-chamber-bubble phenomenon detailed earlier. Nonetheless, if you think about it long enough, you can probably come up with some answers, if nothing else, within a devil’s advocate context. For instance, greater inclusion in terms of immigration and acceptance of refugees, per its detractors, invites unnecessary risk and a negative element depending on which groups are attempting to assimilate into the fold. Economically speaking, meanwhile, the push for equality can be seen as a delusion, for not all people are created equal, and is at least the belief, the cream will rise to the top and will earn what they deserve. If children can’t afford to go to school or have significant debt, they need to get a better job or choose a less expensive college or university. About the only time critics of the left uniformly agree that all lives matter is when they are actually saying “All lives matter,” and even then, this phrase obscures the notion that all lives do not matter quite so evenly. Again, however, perhaps that is truly how individuals who see themselves as opponents of the left believe things should work.
Even with these arguments in place—the likes of which I don’t actually believe, mind you—it’s admittedly still a little strange to think of calls for greater inclusion and showing more empathy as divisive. On a related note, two recent criticisms by Hollywood elites I found a bit strange or surprising. No, not Scott Baio or Antonio Sabato, Jr. or that guy from “Duck Dynasty”—actual A-list celebrities. Zoe Saldana, in a recent interview with Agence France-Presse, expressed her belief that she and others in Hollywood were culpable in “bullying” Donald Trump and making him into a sympathetic figure among his supporters. Saldana said the following:
We got cocky and became arrogant and we also became bullies. We were trying to single out a man for all these things he was doing wrong—and that created empathy in a big group of people in America that felt bad for him and that are believing in his promises.
I say this thinking is strange, apart from it revealing that Hollywood is far from a unified front, in that Zoe Saldana is making the case Trump, a noted bully, is himself being bullied. I suppose it’s possible for a bully to be bullied, but this sort of goes back to the origins of the discussion between Billy Eichner and Meghan McCain. McCain defended Trump against the “bullying,” or as some see it, the “fascism” of the left, whereas Eichner rather saucily insisted this was not bullying, but rather standing up for Serge Kovaleski, the disabled reporter referenced by Meryl Streep in her acceptance speech. On this dimension, I tend to agree with Eichner, if not his methods.
The other criticism, if you will, came from Nicole Kidman. Now, I know what you’re thinking: why is an Australian telling Americans how to feel about U.S. politics? Just hold on there, Uncle Sam or Aunt Sally (shut up—I’m trying to be gender-neutral here, OK?). Kidman happens to have dual citizenship, so her opinion is as valid as any of ours. That said, here is her commentary, as told to the BBC, on supporting our new President:
[Trump]’s now elected, and we as a country need to support whoever is president because that’s what the country’s based on. However that happened, he’s there, and let’s go.
I don’t mean to sound unpatriotic, Ms. Kidman, but shouldn’t the President support us if we’re going to support him? That is, if Donald Trump makes his support of us contingent on our support of him—and from what we’ve seen so far in his individual business deals with corporations in supposedly saving jobs from going to Mexico (Trump vastly overestimates his ability in this regard), as well as his political appointees (and what a bunch of winners they are!), that’s exactly what he expects—then we should similarly approach our relationship with President Trump in terms of a transaction. You want me to back you? Show me something first. Jeez, listening to Zoe Saldana and Nicole Kidman talk, people who because of their fame, privilege or wealth stand to be less adversely affected by the damage Trump’s presidency can and probably will do, it’s hard not to feel a little resentful at celebrities. Where’s that Brad Pitt at? I’ve got an angry fist I’d like to shake in his direction!
In all seriousness, rather than focusing on who is making a political statement, I feel more attention should be paid to what is being said and how it is being said. With this in mind, I would argue the way our everyday conversations unfold about politics need to change if we’re truly going to make progress on “bridging the divide,” as so many politicians talk about doing but rarely seem to actually be able to do. Some things which I believe would need to change before we’re ready to have a genuine and productive conversation about improving our country:
Concede that others who support a different political party don’t want to see the country go to shit.
Even when viewing things from across the political aisle, if we stop and think about matters—which would be a deviation from the blathering, blustering political figures shouting at one another to whom and which we are exposed seemingly daily in periodic soundbites and YouTube clips—we stand a better chance of realizing that those individuals across the way most likely want the United States of America to succeed as much as we do. You know, even if we think they’re misguided. Of course, there are those who would insist too many of us liberals aren’t that committed to this nation because we already have one foot in a car or on a plane to Canada or Europe. To that, I would say that we do love America as much as you do. We just might not feel as strong an urge to show it, or wave a flag, or, say, shoot off guns in celebration of our home. But we do. Still, though, despite the notion we probably won’t leave the country, um, don’t push us. After all, this could easily become Canadian Provinces of Joe. Just saying.
When reading others’ comments and posts on websites and social media, consider not saying anything at all.
Especially if you can’t say anything nice. Not every uninformed opinion rendered merits a response. Besides there not being enough time in the day or even the year to address all the garbage people put out in electronic form, too many users are seemingly itching for a war of words, and won’t hesitate to get nasty and/or reduce you to a stereotype. Trolls lurk everywhere in today’s public forums, and feeding them with your own salvo of rhetoric and demeaning epithets only encourages more of the same. This doesn’t mean you can’t read or observe what is being discussed, mind you, but do not engage. I repeat: do not engage.
If you do say something, consider not calling the other person a “f**king moron.”
Even if it might be true. Sorry, Billy Eichner. I like the sentiment, just not the execution. Similarly, you might also want to refrain from the kind of verbiage employed by director Joss Whedon in a recent Tweet, in which he professed his desire to have a rhino “f**k [Paul Ryan] to death with its horn.” Again, I like the sentiment, Joss, just not the execution. Plus, I don’t really need the mental image either, thank you very much. In general, you should refrain from attacks of a personal nature and wishing death or harm on the other person. Say your piece and move on. If the other person won’t, report them. If that doesn’t work, I’m not sure what to tell you, quite frankly. I’m of the belief sites/apps like Facebook and Twitter aren’t doing enough to police their content, most likely because even hate speech generates traffic and therefore revenue, and accordingly, I think these outlets need to be pressured to better safeguard against online abuse. The best I can say is be careful out there, and if push comes to shove, just steer clear of certain media altogether. I mean, if enough people stop using a platform, the company in charge will get the message, right? Of course, that would mean you’d have to stop logging in. You’re on Facebook right now, aren’t you? On that note, I hastily admit defeat.
I don’t know when exactly the relative merits of political arguments became unimportant, and instead coverage of notable events became a competition between news outlets to produce the most sensational and slanted coverage possible, but especially within the realm of fringe publications and conspiratorially-minded blogs, there is seemingly less accountability these days for sites regarding content, and more emphasis on loaded words that betray a distorting bias. Conservative publications commenting on the confrontation between Donald Trump and CNN reporter Jim Acosta during Trump’s press conference seized on this moment and framed it as the former “laying the hammer down” on the latter or “crushing” him or “eviscerating” him or in someway inflicting serious physical or emotional harm on his questioner, at least metaphorically speaking. Making such an assessment, however, necessitates a viewpoint that supposes Trump was correct in his handling of the situation, and to more objective observers, he was not. This kind of language also depicts the situation in such a way that would have you believe Acosta was left shaking in the fetal position, his pants soaked from urination after having being cowed into not responding. More accurately, Donald Trump made an unfounded charge of Jim Acosta and CNN, and refused to call on the reporter. What supporters of Trump liken to a drubbing was simply a case of our new President being a jerk. I know—shocking, right?
This focus on winning and losing above all else, if nothing else, is just one more aspect of present-day political discourse which acts to separate rather than to bridge the cultural divide. Besides, where there are winners, there are losers, and the winners are OK with their fellow Americans finding misfortune in some way. As is often the case, those losing make up a disproportionately large segment of the total population, and here specifically, the unlucky ones are those who actually try to follow and listen to find meaning through all the bullshit.
Make a better attempt at citing actual news.
Bearing in mind that this is a blog created by an amateur political analyst on WordPress, if we’re going to cite sources in rendering opinions, we should at least point to credible avenues of information. I myself try to link to reputable informational articles and give credit where it is due, even making attributions where images contained on this site are concerned. Granted, you may have your issues with sources that you feel are not trustworthy, notably if you see the mainstream media as biased, if not outright liars. Nevertheless, finding a report on hiddentruths.blogspot.info that suggests Hillary Clinton had a sex change operation in the 1970s or that Joe Biden fathered a secret love child with Madeline Albright isn’t going about the pursuit of content the right way either. Lest I make it seem as though citing sources is something which is easily known and knowable, or that it’s necessarily easy to separate fact from fake news, neither is true, let’s be clear. This aside, the effort should be made to move beyond our individual bubbles, no matter how uncomfortable this may be for us. And even if we have Wi-Fi in said bubbles. Sweet, sweet Wi-Fi.
These suggestions seem to be fairly common-sense in nature, and yet how many of us are guilty of failing to follow one or more? In my personal experience, I’ve been accused of not stepping outside my political comfort zone online by my brother, and have had my aunt tell one of my Facebook friends and former colleagues that maybe we should test out the effectiveness of waterboarding by using it on her, the friend. (Not cool, Aunt Cathy. Not cool.) These matters get emotional for so many of us, myself included. What’s more, we settle into a habit of bickering amongst one another when systemic economic and political dysfunction merits a dialog between individuals of various political affiliations and a unified approach to addressing power disparities. At the hour of Donald Trump’s Inauguration, our nation seems as divided as one can remember in modern times, and yet more fractured than it was when Barack Obama took office. And with that, let me say: sure—we can vilify Trump and Meryl Streep as we may. We can fire angry Tweets at each other. We can even imagine Elizabeth Warren giving Betsy DeVos Indian Burns on her wrists if it makes us happy. Once the fleeting satisfaction is gone, though, the abyss that is the political divide still looms, and we can only wonder how long those on each side can point across at the “other” and embrace division while the chasm widens, threatening to swallow the lot of us whole.
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.
In one form or another, you’re probably well familiar with the saying attributed to Voltaire, but really authored by writer and Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” With that, this phrase is probably the most common citation used in evoking the fundamental right of the individual of free speech in a free society. Not made explicit herein is the presumption that any argument which qualifies as protected speech under this maxim is reasonable or otherwise not intended as an injurious attack, though many would contend this much is implied. In other words, freedom of speech, conferred upon the American people by the First Amendment to the Constitution, is not absolute.
Where common sense has been insufficient, case law has helped to fill the void and define the parameters of what constitutes protected speech and that by which an individual may be held liable for what they say. Pursuant to this notion, another popular trope concerning the potential limitations of free speech is the “shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater” analogy made by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in expressing the Supreme Court’s opinion in the unanimous ruling in the 1919 case Schenck v. United States, which seeks to illustrate the point that false statements of a kind that would “create a clear and present danger” to the public are and should not be protected. This is to say, in a larger sense, that malicious or reckless language could present a liability for the person who indiscriminately utters it.
Now that we’ve got some context under our belt, let’s get to the relevant present-day circumstances, shall we? As reported by Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel and his cohorts on numerous other media outlets, on July 19, conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned on Twitter after he evidently orchestrated a campaign to attack Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live cast member and star of the female-led Ghostbusters remake, via social media, which Yiannopoulos’ loyal followers acceded to in the form of scores of racist and otherwise derogatory images and remarks. The totality of the hateful messages Jones received spurred her to, in an emotion-laden post, announce her self-imposed Twitter hiatus, prompting Paul Feig, the director of the new Ghostbusters, to come to her defense and, eventually, Twitter itself to intervene. Here’s what the company—or a spokesperson within its ranks—had to say on the decision to ban Milo:
People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.
We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders. We have been in the process of reviewing our hateful conduct policy to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted. We’ll provide more details on those changes in the coming weeks.
As Warzel highlights in the Buzzfeed piece, it’s not so much his own hateful speech which got Yiannopoulos indefinitely barred—though his bullying, condescending (Milo refers to Jones as “barely literate” after a typo) and insulting comments likely didn’t help his case—but that he put a target on Leslie Jones’ back and encouraged abuse hurled at her. Milo Yiannopoulos, meanwhile, did not go gentle into that good night of social media censure, firing back at Twitter from his soapbox on Breitbart, for which he serves as tech editor. Straight from the horse’s ass, er, mouth:
With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.
Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?
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.
Wow. Yiannopoulos’ response to Twitter’s administrative action hits on a number of underlying issues, so it’s difficult to know where to begin. Before sifting through his arguments, let me first say that I find it a tad bit perplexing that Milo would vilify Leslie Jones for playing the victim when his speech is framed in a way that makes him seem like a martyr, crucified by the “totalitarian regressive left” and its dictatorial arm, the fascist Twitter. Nice use of manipulative demagoguery there, Milo. Maybe the Trump campaign could use you as part of its public relations wing.
Without going further on Milo Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric, let me take a step back with my own views on the very concept of a Ghostbusters remake. Personally, when I first heard about this project, I was not enthusiastic about it. Before you go ahead and infer a reason, let me explain. My aversion to this 2016 do-over of the original popular action-comedy film has little to do with the casting, and much more to do with the decision to green-light it in the first place. See, this kind of “creative” work strikes me as an example of the kind of unoriginality which plagues much of Hollywood’s output these days. If movies are not being remade, they are adapted from existing media. Like comic books and graphic novels. There are more superhero movies nowadays than one could shake a turbo-charged stick at, and as some might argue, these are a big part of the problem with modern American cinema. Or there are “reboots.” You can thank that trend for why we’ve had not one, but two shitty Fantastic Four adaptations in the past decade. And sequels. God help us, the sequels. From reports, the Saw film series, which I submit should have never gone beyond the first iteration, is likely to see its eighth installment start filming in the next few months. And the Ice Age franchise just released a movie involving a saber-toothed squirrel flying around, of all things, a spaceship. SPACESHIPS? FOR F**K’S SAKE! DID WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER F**KING “ICE AGE” MOVIE?!?
Sorry, I get worked up about these kinds of things. But yes, my major malfunction is with the perceived lack of effort on producers’ and studios’ parts, not on the gender of Ghostbusters (2016)’s primary quartet. If anything, my quibble with the casting would be that the film’s makers borrowed too heavily from the current and former ranks of SNL (though I acknowledge the common lineage), but on talent, I can’t say I fault these choices—Leslie Jones especially. Others who are more vocal in their criticisms may have similarly legitimate objections to the existence of this new movie, namely their condemnation of the updated model in favor of the 1984 original, which has stood the test of time since its release and has inspired its much-warranted affection and legacy. Simply put, 1984 Ghostbusters is good enough that 2016 Ghostbusters was patently unnecessary. That the comedic talents of Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis have been supplanted or usurped, as some might see it, and in a format that simply because it is different is threatening, makes this especially galling. “They’re just sweeping the 1984 version under the rug! There’s no emoticon for what I am feeling!”
For those individuals who are not Ghostbusters fanboys, or otherwise are not nerdish enough in their protests to argue against the Jones-McCarthy-McKinnon-Wiig quaternity based on its revisionist nature, if not embracing this fab female four, or just hopelessly ambivalent, the likely alternative is outright hatred, and not necessarily based on the movie’s technical merit. Here’s where we start to approach the position of Milo Yiannopoulos and his ilk. While Yiannopoulos may choose to hide behind his assertion that Leslie Jones participated in a terrible movie, and hence deserves to be targeted, the tone of the “hate mail” directed at Jones as a result of his efforts really puts the “hate” in “hate mail.” Jones, who is black and fairly large in physical stature (though not obese/seriously overweight or anything like that), drew unfortunate comparisons to an ape in many of the Tweets that bombarded her account. Otherwise, death threats, derogatory imagery of a sexual nature, and taunts about her being ugly pervaded the glut of responses she received as a result of her involvement with the movie and her own reactions to the vitriol to which she was subjected. I don’t blame Leslie for wanting to abandon Twitter outright after having to absorb that level of abuse.
In the eyes and minds of Jones’ online assailants, a prohibitively male audience, the new Ghostbusters and its star are a symbol of a vague leftist conspiracy that intrudes upon their way of life. In particular, their reading of a feminist bias in the movie’s cast—which to them, based on their definition of “feminism,” stands for the subjugation of the male even though mainstream feminists seek elevation of the female only to the extent female and male are equal—and an ever-increasing tendency for society as a whole to insist on political correctness represent a threat of the highest order. Consequently, those so-called “social justice warriors” who argue on behalf of what are seen as faulty defenses of feminism and political correctness (under this purview, I suppose I would qualify as an SJW, too) are ostracized for their beliefs and for pontificating from behind a keyboard on issues they neither care about nor truly understand. As much as one might counter that this rebellion against the social justice warrior is a bit like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, with any confrontations with chauvinistic trolls on these terms, appeals to logic may only go so far. So it goes in the arena of Internet discourse.
As a result, right or wrong, these users’ free speech is understood by them to be unassailable, and in turn, any harassment of other users is justifiable based on the cloak of the First Amendment and the imminent danger of a woman-oriented, politically correct existence. Which brings us back to Milo Yiannopoulos. Let’s—at last—dissect what he has to say regarding Twitter’s “cowardice,” as he elects to call it.
With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.
Putting aside that these may be legitimate issues, what does this have to do with you getting kicked off Twitter? You’re deflecting from the subject at hand: whether or not you specifically targeted someone for abuse.
Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?
Um, Milo, you do understand that was a hoax, right? Yiannopoulos is referencing a hashtag campaign prank circa 2013 with apparent origins on 4chan—a site known for its fair share of targeted attacks and threats of violence as organized by its users. The prank, accompanied by fake but nonetheless graphic photos of people cutting their arms over their frustration with Justin Bieber’s alleged use of marijuana, evidently targeted the singer’s fans, perhaps even aiming to convince them through the hashtag #CuttingForBieber to cut their own limbs out of protest of Bieber’s bad behavior. A sick joke, yes, and again, maybe Twitter bears some responsibility on its end (though arguably 4chan should shoulder a larger portion of the blame), but nonetheless, this is once more deflecting from your culpability with respect to attacks on Leslie Jones and others.
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.
Hmm, someone really has a high opinion of himself, doesn’t he? Milo Yiannopoulos speaks of a culture war, and I can only think he’s referring to a seemingly growing divide between Americans who think political correctness is a good thing, because, well, it is—people generally like to be treated with respect and sensitivity—and those who think it imperils and inhibits us—when what they’re really saying is, “I’m bigoted/racist/sexist/xenophobic/all of the above, and I hate that you’re making me think before I speak.” Are you really winning the culture war, though, Milo, or is this just what your sycophantic followers have convinced you is true?
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.
I don’t know—last time I checked, Twitter was still doing OK for itself. Really a vibrant community, actually. Beyond the 140-character limit, however, I have never felt particularly restricted by Twitter’s terms and conditions. Then again, though, I don’t target actresses who only appear in films—as opposed to actually directing, producing or writing them—with derision and hate. Hearkening back to my discussion of the First Amendment at the start of this piece, freedom of speech is not inherently absolute, and furthermore, you broke the rules that Twitter had posted as terms of your use of the site. It’s not about free speech. It’s about you being a complete and total asshole.
Leslie Jones’ harassment at the hands of a small but vocal group of haters is reminiscent of the kind of abuse Alison Rapp faced when localization changes were made in a number of titles by then-employer Nintendo regarding the sexualization of young women and the anticipated negative backlash which would ensue among Western audiences to have female characters depicted in a certain way. Rather than blame Nintendo, however, Internet trolls, always lurking, looked for a scapegoat for this action of the video game company’s, which they saw as emblematic of a feminist-led crusade in favor of censorship and political correctness. Enter Rapp, a self-professed feminist, who had nothing to do with the decisions on content, and lo and behold, their target was acquired. What ensued was an attack of a number of levels. Of course, there was the expected name-calling, with her aggressors labeling her “cancerous” as well as a “femi-Nazi.” Always enjoy that particular portmanteau, myself.
This element hell-bent on Alison Rapp’s destruction, however, which she believed was affiliated with the loosely-constructed GamerGate movement, took things a step further by digging into her academic and professional-verging-on-the-personal lives. Regarding the former, Rapp wrote a paper while in college concerning Western pressure on Japan to strengthen laws against sexualized depictions of minors, arguing that this agenda was misplaced because it didn’t take into account cultural differences and shifted blame away from the governments and other “patriarchal” systems that enable the abuse of children. In the hands of the online lynch mob calling for her head, though, this was translated to mean she endorses the legalization of kiddie porn, which is an absurd extrapolation. As for the latter, the anti-SJW crowd which put Alison in their crosshairs wasn’t shy about bringing to Nintendo’s attention the fact that she moonlighted as a model under an alias posing for pictures that were not unforgivably obscene but still NSFW.
Nintendo, being the understanding company it is, though, was not cowed by the stream of antipathy hurled at Rapp nor was it influenced by these revelations about her off-the-clock identity. Kidding! They fired her. Nintendo has maintained they “terminated” Alison Rapp because of her second job. From a statement by a company representative:
Alison Rapp was terminated due to violation of an internal company policy involving holding a second job in conflict with Nintendo’s corporate culture. Though Ms. Rapp’s termination follows her being the subject of criticism from certain groups via social media several weeks ago, the two are absolutely not related.
Nintendo is a company committed to fostering inclusion and diversity in both our company and the broader video game industry and we firmly reject the harassment of individuals based on gender, race or personal beliefs. We wish Ms. Rapp well in her future endeavors.
“Ms. Rapp,” meanwhile, disputes this explanation. According to the moonlighting model herself, “Moonlighting is actually accepted at Nintendo. It’s policy.” Regardless of why she was fired, however, what a number of people reacting to this situation when news first broke were dismayed with was not simply that the company terminated Alison Rapp—though numerous critics expressed the belief that Nintendo caved to the pressure exerted by the GamerGate gang—but that it failed to support Alison through months of directed online attacks. As Jessica Lachenal wrote in a piece on The Mary Sue:
For an industry that apparently tries so hard to “make things better” for women, this is one hell of a way of show it. Provided with an opportunity to make an impact for women working in games, Nintendo instead chose to distance itself from someone undeserving of the harassment she soaked up on behalf of the company. Most of all, it comes down to this: For many, it is completely unsurprising that Nintendo did what it did. This is the sad, depressing expectation of all women working in games. When—and believe me, it is a when and not an if—they become the target of harassment, it’s more likely than not that they can expect to be “laterally moved” out of what they love to do and iced out, or perhaps even outright fired for completely unrelated reasons. These things can and will and have happened through no fault of their own; they will have their entire lives dramatically altered simply because a faceless group of people have decided to harass and dig up skeletons in order to assassinate a person’s character.
Viewing the circumstances behind Rapp’s firing in this way, what happened was fairly simple. A group of anonymous trolls decided Alison Rapp was intruding on what they saw as their space—the male-dominated world of video games—they attacked her with prejudice and without restraint, and a high-profile company stood by and watched it happen. The parallels to Leslie Jones’ abuse on Twitter at the behest of Milo Yiannopoulos and others are obvious, and what’s more, her case is just another turn in the long-standing saga of content providers being unable—or perhaps unwilling—to step in to curb misogynistic malice. As Twitter itself seems to grasp in its justification for suspending Yiannopoulos’ account, there are those who feel it hasn’t done enough to discourage or stop hate speech on its interface. I, for one, would count myself among this concerned bloc of users.
The reality is that, even with Twitter insisting it is working on improving tools and enforcement systems to better root out abuse, especially the type coming from repeat offenders, there is little assurance that either Milo Yiannopoulos’ censure will be the first of many to come, or that Jones’ prolonged abuse will be among the last of its kind. Twitter, as a business and one devoted to allowing people to express themselves, respectfully must walk a fine line in generating traffic without wanting to seem like an institution of the “totalitarian regressive left.” That said, if it fails to act in a way that discourages hate, Twitter runs a risk of alienating even more of its millions of accountholders. It’s the same dance that an organization like, say, the Republican Party must reckon with. On one hand, it must try to expand its ranks if it is to avoid stagnation. On the other hand, it is set to feature a man who revels in his divisiveness as its nominee for President of the United States. My, what a dance it is, indeed.
As much as doubts may exist about Twitter and other social media sites’ ability to police its content, aspersions have similarly been cast on their ability to enforce Milo Yiannopoulos’ “permanent” ban. Soon after the announcement of the ban, the hashtag #FreeMilo was trending, and it is doubtful we’ve heard the last on this case or this topic. In the meantime, though, I won’t shed any tears for Milo. Not because he’s a conservative. Or because he’s gay. It’s because he behaves like an entitled asshole. Apparently, he believes he’s entitled to free speech because this is America or that he’s particularly clever or whatever. But when your free speech makes others feel trapped—in the case of Leslie Jones, like she’s in her own “personal hell”—it’s not really so “free.” When abuse, online or otherwise, is on the table, there is always a cost. If Milo Yiannopoulos has to pay it, someone with a history of directing hateful, malicious attacks on innocent users, all the better.