In case you were previously unaware, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller is soulless human garbage in a suit and shouldn’t have a role anywhere near the President of the United States. But Donald Trump is our president, Miller has been one of the longest-tenured members of his administration, and here we are.
You may not know much about Miller other than that he has a receding hairline and pretty much every photo of him makes him look like an insufferable dick. He also can claim the dubious honor of having his own uncle call out his hypocritical douchebaggery in an essay that made the rounds online. His own uncle. Let that sink in for a moment.
Of course, resting bitch face and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do behavior do not a monster necessarily make. Promoting white nationalist propaganda and conspiracy theories, obsessing over conceptions of “racial identity,” and invoking Hitlerian attitudes on immigration, though, are more conclusive signs.
In a series of E-mails between Miller and Breitbart News editors first leaked to the Southern Law Poverty Center by Katie McHugh, a former editor at Breitbart, the depth of Miller’s affinity for white nationalism is laid bare. SLPC’s Hatewatch blog, in reviewing more than 900 E-mails which span from March 2015 to June 2016, characterizes the subject matter of these messages as “strikingly narrow,” unsympathetic, and biased. Regarding immigration, Miller focused only on limiting if not ending nonwhite immigration to the United States. That’s it.
To this effect, Miller’s correspondence included but was not limited to these delightful exchanges and messages:
Sending McHugh stories from white nationalist websites known for promulgating the “white genocide” theory as well as those emphasizing crimes committed by nonwhites and espousing anti-Muslim views
Recommending Camp of the Saints, a 1973 novel depicting the destruction of Western civilization through mass immigration of nonwhites, as a point of comparison to real-world immigration and refugeeism trends
Pushing stories lamenting the loss of cultural markers like the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments
Embracing restrictive American immigration policies of yesteryear, the likes of which were based on eugenics theory and were referenced favorably in Mein Kampf
Offering original conspiracy theories as to why the “ruinous” history of the Hart-Celler Act wasn’t covered in “elitist” publications
Hatewatch also revisited Miller’s history with prominent white nationalist figures to provide context for these E-mails. Specifically, Miller has connections to Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, a white supremacist website, and Richard Spencer, like, the poster child for white nationalism and the alt-right, from his time at Duke. He and Spencer worked together to organize a debate between Brimelow and journalist/professor Peter Laufer on immigration across our southern border. Miller has sought to refute this relationship, but Spencer has acknowledged their familiarity with one another in passing. Miller’s denial is, as far as the SPLC is concerned, implausible.
As noted, these E-mails are several years old and his time at Duke yet further back. Still, not only are these messages not that far behind us, but Miller’s fingerprints are all over Trump’s immigration policy directives. As Hatewatch has also documented, Miller was one of the strongest advocates for the “zero tolerance” policy which saw a spike in family separations at the border with Mexico, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there. In addition, alongside Steve Bannon, he was a chief architect of the so-called “travel ban,” which is a Muslim ban in everything but the name.
Again, as the leaked E-mails and SPLC’s additional context hint at, there is a path to these policies in Miller’s past associations. As recently as 2014, he attended an event for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative foundation which traffics in Islamophobia, introducing his then-boss Jeff Sessions as a speaker.
There’s his involvement with the Center for Immigration Studies, too, a anti-immigrant think tank (if you can call it that; the inclusion of the word “think” seems like a stretch) whose very founders subscribed to white nationalist and eugenicist world views and of which misleading/false claims about immigrant crime are a mainstay. Miller was a keynote speaker at a CIS conference in 2015 and has repeatedly cited CIS reports in publicly defending Trump administration policy directives.
As always, one can’t know for sure how many of Miller’s professed beliefs are true to what he believes deep down. After all, he, like any number of modern conservative grifters, may simply be leveraging the prejudices of everyday Americans as a means of bolstering his own profile.
Ultimately, however, as with his current employer, it is immaterial what he truly believes. His words and (mis)deeds shared with the outside world are what matter, and the zeal with which he has pursued bigoted, racist, and xenophobic policies and rhetoric conveys the sense he really means it. Like the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Stephen Miller walks like a racist and quacks like a racist. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.
At this writing, 107 Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Mike Coffman, a House Republican, have called for Stephen Miller’s resignation or firing. It’s not just members of Congress either. Over 50 civil rights groups, including Jewish organizations (Miller is Jewish), have likewise condemned Miller’s bigotry. Predictably, the White House has used these calls for the senior adviser’s head as fodder for charges of anti-Semitism, much as the man himself has tried to use his faith as a shield from criticism in the past.
The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, though. You can be a Jew and still suffer from prejudice. None of us are immune herein regardless of our religious or political beliefs. Besides, the nature of the White House’s defense obscures the intent of the growing resignation demand. This isn’t a bunch of totalitarian leftists trying to exploit the E-mail leak as political weaponry. Miller has given his critics across the political spectrum plenty of ammunition throughout his tenure in the Trump administration. The leak is just the racist, Islamophobic straw that broke the camel’s back.
Does all of this outrage matter, though? Will President Donald Trump turn a deaf ear to the controversy surrounding Miller, more concerned with his own concerns over his ongoing impeachment inquiry? Would he consider keeping Miller in his present role just to signify his stubborn will and/or to “own the libs?”
It’s hard to say. On one hand, some of the worst crooks and liars have seemed to do the best (that is, last the longest) in the Trump administration. Betsy DeVos is still carrying water for Trump as Secretary of Education despite a history of evidenced incompetence and notions she, like Trump, is using her position to enrich herself. Kellyanne Conway continues to be employed despite being a professional author of “alternative facts.” And don’t even get me started about Jared Kushner. If that guy has any personality or foreign policy know-how worth sharing, it is unknown to the rest of Planet Earth.
So, yeah, Stephen Miller is a natural fit for the Trump White House and this bit of public outrage may just be a blip on the radar of his career as a political influencer. Then again, it may not. While several Trump administration officials have resigned, Trump has let the ax fall on occasion. Among the figures identified by CNN as either “fired” or “pushed out” are high-profile names like Jeff Sessions (Attorney General and Miller’s one-time employer), John Bolton (National Security Adviser), John Kelly (White House Chief of Staff), Michael Flynn (also National Security Adviser), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), and Steve Bannon (White House Chief Strategist), not to mention holdovers from the Obama administration like Andrew McCabe (FBI Deputy Director), James Comey (FBI Director), and Sally Yates (Deputy Attorney General). Heck, Anthony Scaramucci only lasted 10 days as White House Communications Director.
When not striking a defiant tone, Trump and Co. have also exhibited a sensitivity to low public support. That zero-tolerance immigration policy championed by Miller which will forever serve as a black mark on an already-checkered American legacy? It has been formally ended, though it has been reported that children continue to be separated by their parents and logistical problems facing the reunification of families remain. Alas, nothing goes smoothly with this administration, especially not when cruelty is on the agenda.
The president has additionally and vocally wavered on Syria, not only with respect to withdrawal of troops but whether to support the Kurds fighting there or to roll out the proverbial red carpet for Erdogan and Turkey after widespread bipartisan condemnation of abandoning our allies there. Trump’s not a smart man, but he can tell when the prevailing sentiment is against him. (Hint: If the chowderheads at Fox & Friends and 2019’s version of Lindsey Graham are disagreeing with you, you know you screwed up.)
All this adds up to the idea Stephen Miller’s job may not be as safe as we might imagine. Whatever the outcome, the pressure for him to be fired or resign should continue as long as he is one of the worst examples of what the Trump White House has to offer and one of the ugliest Americans in recent memory given his personally- and professionally-stated beliefs. As his leaked correspondence with Katie McHugh shows, Miller is even worse than we thought. It’s time to get him out before he does any more damage to the country than he already has.
Nowadays, it’s hard to know what political norms have a function or are otherwise subject to being summarily eschewed. In the era of President Donald J. Trump, it would seem all bets, as they say, are off. One set of guiding principles that’s still fairly sacrosanct, meanwhile, is what I call the Hitler Rules. As I would phrase them, they are as follows:
Don’t talk about Adolf Hitler in a remotely positive light or quote him without a very good reason for doing so.
If you find yourself extolling Hitler’s virtues or publicly citing Mein Kampf, stop immediately and apologize profusely.
Dear God, why are you still talking about Hitler?
If you get to Principle #1, you messed up. If you get to Principle #3, you really messed up. If any of this doesn’t make sense, go watch the History Channel or visit the Holocaust Museum or open up a book (yes, an actual physical book) about World War II. There’s way too much to cover in the span of one blog post.
And yet, people like Candace Owens evidently are unapologetic about their references to a man who advocated for the ethnic cleansing of an entire people. Back in February, the conservative activist Owens spoke at the London launch of right-wing organization Turning Point USA, a student-oriented group focused on changing the narrative that the liberal left has a “monopoly” over young people. When asked by an audience member how those who champion nationalist causes can, well, not be called “nationalists,” Owens had this to say:
I actually don’t have any problems at all with the word “nationalism.” I think that the definition gets poisoned by elitists that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want. […] Whenever we say nationalism, the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler.
He was a national socialist. But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize. He wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German. Everybody to look a different way. To me, that’s not nationalism. In thinking about how we could go bad down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism. I really don’t.
So, wait: Hitler wasn’t bad until he took his act on the road? What about the whole, you know, attempted extermination of the Jews thing? However you slice it, it seems pretty bad. Also puzzling is Owens’s definition of “nationalism.” It’s one thing for members of a state to embrace certain cultural elements and values. It’s quite another to insist people all act, look, and speak a certain way as part of a racist or xenophobic agenda. Oxford Dictionaries defines nationalism as “identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” Including but not limited to starting a world freaking war and killing millions of people in accordance with some perverted ideal of racial purity. Yes, Ms. Owens, that would make Hitler a nationalist.
In the ensuing backlash, Owens insisted she was taken out of context, which conservatives often like to claim when being held accountable for dumb shit they say. In an ex post facto explanatory video uploaded to Twitter, Owens derided Buzzfeed and its report that helped draw attention to her remarks as a “scum-of-the-earth” publication. She also doubled down on her assertion that wanting to protect the “sovereignty” of one’s nation from outside “threats” shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing, defending the likes of Pres. Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, as well as standing by her interpretation of “nationalism” to exclude Hitler on the basis he didn’t put Germany first because he killed German Jews. You could’ve at least mentioned that the first time around, Ms. Owens.
Owens put a cap on her rebuttal by pointing to the “insanity” of leftist journalists for highlighting her comments about Hitler. Here’s the thing, though, Ms. Owens: no one forced you to bring up Hitler. You made the initial comment that people (which people, anyway?) think of the Führer when they think of nationalism. You could’ve stopped there. At any rate, you should’ve denounced his hate and genocidal violence right then and there in your initial answer. But you didn’t. At best, your explanation was a lazy one. At worst, it intentionally left out the mass murder of European Jews as a matter of German domestic and foreign policy. Don’t blame liberal journos for your deficiency. Even given full context, your lack of clarity merits admonishment.
When not explicitly issuing bad takes on Adolf Hitler, others in recent memory have questionably quoted his inflammatory language as a means of attacking the other side. A few weeks ago, Republican Mo Brooks invoked Mein Kampf as a way of railing against Democrats and the Mueller investigation. Citing Hitler’s words directly, he assailed Dems for promoting “big lie propaganda.” Evidently, Rep. Brooks tried to make the connection that because some Democrats identify as socialists and because the Nazis identified as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the Democratic Party is akin to the Nazi Party. Um, what?
First of all, Rep. Brooks, Hitler and the Nazis were fascists. Their “national socialism” was a nationalist recontextualization of the term socialism that emphasized hierarchical structures (as opposed to universal equality) and disdained representative democracy. As with the Nazis’ use of the swastika and their celebration of an Aryan “master race,” their brand of “socialism” was a perversion of the kind adhered to by the likes of the Marxists.
Second of all, even if the point you were trying to make was a sound one —which it was not—this is Mein freaking Kampf we’re talking about here. We can do without Hitler’s verbiage. Besides, while we’re discussing whether people are being taken out of context, Hitler’s concept of a “big lie” refers to the notion of a Jewish conspiracy to blame Germany’s defeat in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff. Its function was to foment anti-Semitism, effectively creating a scapegoat in the Jewish people. So what—you’re alleging the president is as persecuted as the Jews? Pardon me if I elect not to weep for a man of Trump’s purported wealth, a straight white male, no less.
In both Owens’s and Brooks’s cases, these mentions of Hitler were unsolicited on the part of those observing. For Owens, it was a discussion of the leader of the Nazi Party and nationalism that sounded like a defense more than anything and that was wrongheaded either way. For Brooks, it was a ham-handed comparison between the Democratic Party and the Nazis, one that unnecessarily and disingenuously cited Mein Kampf and therefore could’ve been replaced by the writings of pretty much any other public figure such that it would’ve made for an improvement. Heck, you could’ve thrown a random Post Malone lyric out there. I’m not sure what the relevance would have been, mind you, but at least it wouldn’t have come from Hitler-Comma-Adolf. Both of these individuals flagrantly violated the Hitler Rules—and no amount of context can take them off the hook for that.
Conjuring images of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany willy-nilly is, for most rational people not beholden to a regressive conservative agenda, ill-advised. Of course, if you’re a member of a far-right political organization or a neo-Nazi group looking to recruit new members, naked affection for Hitler’s agenda is likely welcome. With today’s Republican Party under Donald Trump, the separation between a party that implicitly excludes people on racist and classist principles and one that openly campaigns on destruction of the other is ever narrowing.
Then again, some people may just be invoking a different fascist leader. Sen. John Cornyn made news in February when he posted to his Twitter account a quote, without context, by Benito Mussolini. As with Mo Brooks, this was a dig at self-professed democratic socialists. Never mind that Mussolini, like Hitler, was a fascist who, despite earlier socialist leanings, came to denounce the Italian Socialist Party as he embraced a more nationalist outlook and eventually rose to dictatorial heights. In other words, if your aim as Sen. Cornyn is to demean socialism by promoting fascism or otherwise directly quoting a mass murderer and despot, your priorities may need realignment.
We might be remiss if we didn’t consider that conservatives are not the only ones who have made allusions to Hitler in their comparisons. Candace Owens noted in her violation of the Hitler Rules how nationalism, at least in the U.S., gets conflated with Germany’s one-time Nazi leader. As the Promulgator-in-Chief of “America First” nationalism, Trump is therefore the Hitler figure in this analogy.
This is where Trump’s defenders customarily begin to lose their shit and/or exhibit their performative umbrage over the supposed likeness. How dare liberals talk bad about our beloved president! He’s a great man and certainly no Adolf Hitler! In an ironic twist, they throw a hissy fit and talk about something they allege the left suffers from in “Trump derangement syndrome.” Which, not for nothing, is a terrible name. For one, it’s cumbersome. Second of all, it doesn’t make awfully clear which party is the deranged one. Just as easily, I could infer that Trump is the one who suffers from his own distinctive brand of insanity. From a marketing perspective, it doesn’t “pop.”
Literally speaking, Trump isn’t Hitler. He hasn’t led the Axis Powers on a mission of world conquest, nor has he advocated for the full-scale deletion of an entire race. (Not yet, at least.) Nevertheless, elements of his administration’s policy and Trump’s rhetoric are worrisome and reminiscent of Hitler’s stewardship of Nazi Germany.
Maiken Umbach, professor of modern history at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, wrote a piece back in 2016 prior to the election asking what the similarities between Hitler and Trump are. It’s not just the denigration of minority groups. Sadly, Trump is not the only bad actor in this regard worldwide; we need look no further than Marine Le Pen’s candidacy for the top office in France or the success of the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum vote for other modern cohorts. Umbach would also echo the concern that Trump is not proposing a “final solution” to get rid of Mexicans and other immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. Although by now, the separation of families at the border and putting them in glorified cages, hearkening back to how Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps during World War II, doesn’t exactly bolster Trump’s credibility on this front.
These thoughts aside, where Umbach and others see parallels between Trump and Hitler is in the promotion of domestic and foreign policy short on specifics and long on the creation of a charismatic leader who claims he alone can decisively move the country forward and in a way that breaks with established corruption. She closes her article with these considerations:
Like Hitler, Trump is capitalising on a longing for charismatic leadership, to which even highly developed Western democracies seem very susceptible when democratic structures fail to deliver all the desired outcomes. No Western democracy currently faces problems on the scale of those Germany grappled with before 1933. And yet, there is a very real sense amongst a large part of the population that they have not been on the “winning side” for a long time.
The gap between rich and poor is getting wider, and in the process, the classical attributes of political leadership – education, expertise, eloquent speeches – have come to be seen not as problem-solving strategies, but as the identity markers of a social elite who are looking after their own interests only.
Even where new policies on healthcare, education, or job creation achieve their goals, they are not popular, because they are tinged with that smell of elitism that makes many ordinary people not feel valued by the political classes. Trump has not been the first demagogue to capitalise on such sentiments, and he will not be the last. If elected, we will not see a resurgence of National Socialism. Trump is, nevertheless, a symptom of a fundamental problem with our democratic system, which we seem utterly unable to fix.
As it must be stressed, President Donald Trump is merely an outgrowth of a dysfunctional political system and an embodiment of prejudices that have existed long before his rise to power. In Umbach’s parlance, he is not the first and won’t be the last. Just the same, the attitudes and behaviors he encourages should not be altogether dismissed, nor should we ignore the conditions that led to Trump’s upset electoral victory. Feelings of anger, fear, and hate have come to be associated with Trump’s base. That the Hitler comparison even appears credible at points suggests this is not simple hyperbole or “derangement.” And it’s not just American leftists throwing out the analogy either. When Holocaust survivors tell you there is room for comparison, you tend to listen.
Whatever side of the political fence you’re on, name-dropping Adolf Hitler is a move to which one should give due weight before acting on it. The above examples coming from the right are rather egregious instances of individuals attempting to defend their personal embrace of nationalism or attack their political rivals according to a faulty pretext. The left is not altogether blameless in this regard, however, and must be judicious in its connections to Nazism lest its card-carrying members lose credibility amid the withering criticism of right-wing trolls.
If nothing else, though, the concession should be easy to make that Hitler wasn’t a “good” leader. A few weeks back, in my home state, a high school athletic director tried to make the case that Hitler was a good leader with “bad moral character and intentions.” It may seem like semantics, but beyond framing Hitler as an effective leader who led his country down a dark and ruinous path, there should be no justification for calling him a good leader. That is, you can’t neatly separate his leadership style from the deleterious results, presuming you think it effective in the first place.
The same might be said for Trump and an assessment of his presidency as a whole. Judging by the turmoil in his administration and the Cabinet as well as the damage he has done to our standing in the world by moving America deliberately backwards, Trump’s presidency has been an utter disaster. Never mind what he and his backers might aver. The ends, in this case, by no means justify the means, and by this token, Trump is no good leader either.
We can’t forget the lessons World War II and Adolf Hitler’s ascendancy have taught us. The context in which we revisit these lessons, on the other hand, matters. Candace Owens and Mo Brooks in particular should heed this advice or risk suffering the consequences.
When it comes to the present-day incarnation of the Republican Party, always beware the shell game.
Per Dictionary.com, shell game is defined as “a sleight-of-hand swindling game resembling thimblerig but employing walnut shells or the like instead of thimblelike cups.” If you’re familiar with the setup of three-card Monte, the logistics are essentially the same, only with cards instead of shells. Find the pea (or the Queen of Hearts) under the shell. Double-down on your ability to find it again. If you’re successful, you win big. If you’re not, the opposite happens.
With Donald Trump, Con-Man-in-Chief, working in cahoots with a party whose agenda seems increasingly predicated on deception—so that you don’t discover how bad their policies actually are for you or the country at large—this diversionary tactic is alive and well. Before your eyes, numerous issues await your attention, but energy/money/time being limited, you can only pick one on which to act at the risk of having all three suffer.
Concerning the events of the last week and change, three “shells” jump to mind being of national import, especially fresh after Election Day. All merit scrutiny as threats to democracy, and yet, there aren’t enough hours in the day.
That press conference
President Trump has had some stupendously bad press conferences during his tenure, but his post-election presser, if not the outright worst, ranks right up there. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get to the nitty-gritty, shall we?
The great and powerful Republican Party: First things first, Trump started by lionizing the GOP’s “achievements.” Apparently, not losing control of the Senate and ceding control of the House qualify. At any rate, they were achievements because the Democrats had an unfair advantage in fundraising from special interests and wealthy donors and because the media is so gosh-darned mean to Republican candidates. Also, we had a bunch of retirements. But we had big rallies! And we did better than Obama! The country is booming! If the Democrats don’t screw everything up, we’ll all be united and thriving together!
On bipartisanship: With the whining about the Republicans’ handicap thus dispensed with, it was time for questions. First up, about that spirit of bipartisanship he and Nancy Pelosi talked about. Like, that’s not really going to happen, right? Especially with all the investigations expected to be going on and unless y’all compromise? Trump demurred on the issue. No, we’re totally going to be able to work together with the Democrats. Of course, if we can’t, they’re the ones in control of the House, so you know—their fault.
Oh, that border wall… We’re gonna build the wall. We’ve already started building it, in fact. Just try and stop it. The American people want it. The Democrats want it—they just don’t want to admit it. Fine by me. I’ll take the political capital and run with it. But the caravan is coming, ladies and gents. I can’t say for sure that I’d advocate shutting down the government for it. But come on—I totally would.
On the ever-tumultuous Cabinet: Trump is totally happy with his Cabinet. Good Cabinet. Great Cabinet. As long as no one suddenly displeases him, he has love for all. At this point, in a completely unrelated move, the President pushed a button revealing a pool of sharks underneath the floor and lowering a human-sized cage suspended above it from the ceiling.
The Jim Acosta portion of the program: If there’s one moment of the press conference you heard about, it was likely this. CNN’s Jim Acosta, established persona non grata among Trump’s base, pressed Trump on referring to the migrant caravan in Central America as an “invasion.” Trump was all, like, well, I consider it an invasion. Acosta was all, like, but that caravan is hundreds and hundreds of miles away and you’re demonizing immigrants by showing them climbing over walls, which they’re not going to do. And that’s when things got really interesting. As Trump settled into Attack Mode, Acosta tried to ask a follow-up question. Trump was all, like, you’ve had enough, pal. Nevertheless, he persisted, trying to ask about the Russia investigation. Meanwhile, a female aide tried to grab the mic away from Acosta, which he stifled with a “Pardon me, ma’am” and a hand on her arm. Before Acosta relented, Trump called the investigation a “hoax” and called Acosta a “rude, terrible person.” Fun times.
More about the Jim Acosta portion of the program: NBC News’s Peter Alexander came to Acosta’s defense as next reporter up—only to get harangued by the President in his own right—but the implications of this kerfuffle and the subsequent revocation of Acosta’s press privileges in covering the White House are serious. I don’t care what you think about Acosta personally, even if you feel he’s a self-aggrandizing hack. Judging by the smarmy attitude of other CNN personalities like Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo, elevated self-appraisals seem to be a fairly common occurrence there. I also don’t care what you think about Barack Obama’s frosty relationship with FOX News and the questionable treatment its reporters received at the hands of the Obama White House. On the latter count, two wrongs don’t make a right, and if Trump and Co. want to distinguish themselves, they should do it by being better and less petty—not the other way around. To that effect, squelching Acosta’s voice in a dictatorial way should be concerning no matter where you stand politically in the name of journalistic integrity and a free press. And let’s not start with the whole “Acosta assaulted that young woman” narrative. If you’re relying on a doctored InfoWars clip to make your argument, you already should take the hint you’re probably on some bullshit.
More on bipartisanship: After Jim Acosta was given the ol’ Vaudeville Hook, Alexander questioned Trump on why he was pitting Americans against one another. To which Trump asked back—and I am not making this up—”What are you—trying to be him?” He was referring to Acosta, of course. Even after what just happened, it was stunning. For the record, Pres. Trump gave a dodgy “they’re soft on crime” answer and suggested the results of the election would have a “very positive impact.” So, um, yay togetherness!
If the Mueller investigation is unfair to the country and it’s costing millions of dollars, why doesn’t Trump just end it? I’m posting the whole question here, because the President sure didn’t answer it convincingly.
On voter suppression: “I’ll give you ‘voter suppression’: Take a look at the CNN polls, how inaccurate they were. That’s called ‘voter suppression’.” Um, what?
On the individual mandate: You know, I could tell you what he said, but do you have any confidence that, regardless of how people feel about the individual mandate, Republicans have a plan in mind which will allow them to keep premiums down and cover preexisting conditions? Neither do I.
When all questions by women of color are “stupid” or “racist”: Speaking of three-card Monte, here’s a shell game within the shell game in which you get to pick which one is the most flagrantly dog-whistle-y. PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor asked Trump about whether his claim to be a “nationalist” has emboldened “white nationalists” here and abroad. Trump said it’s a “racist” question. Putting aside the notion held by many that racism implies power and Trump therefore has no idea what he’s talking about in this regard, it’s a legitimate question. Trump pivoted to his overwhelming support from African-American voters—a fabrication, at any rate—but his lack of an appropriate response betrays his complicity on this issue.
More on denigrating black female reporters: While the dialog with Alcindor was the only such interaction with an African-American female reporter during the press conference, it’s not his only recent unflattering characterization herein. In response to a question by CNN’s Abby Phillip about whether he appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting Attorney General, he called her query “stupid” and opined that she asks “a lot of stupid questions.” As for April Ryan, Trump recently referred to her as a “loser” and someone “who doesn’t know what she’s doing.” If these comments were isolated incidents, one might be able to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. In such close proximity to one another and based on his track record, though, Trump deserves no such consideration. He’s attacking these women of color because he has a problem with being challenged by strong females and because it’s red meat to throw at his base.
Other odds and ends:
Trump evidently can’t turn over his tax returns because he is under audit. This is complete and unmitigated bullshit.
Trump likes Oprah. Even if she, too, is a loser.
If anything is going to be done with DACA, it will apparently have to be dealt with in court. Whose fault is that? You guessed it: the Democrats.
Trump claimed to have a lot of trouble understanding people from foreign news outlets. If there were anything to make him seem like more of the “ugly American,” well, this would be it.
What did Trump learn from the midterm results? Seeing as he learned that “people like him” and that “people like the job he’s doing,” he obviously didn’t learn a damn thing.
Will Mike Pence be Trump’s running mate in 2020? Yes. Glad that’s settled. Nice hardball question there.
How will Trump push a pro-life agenda with a divided Congress? Like a mother trying to give birth, he’s just going to keep pushing—don’t you worry, evangelicals.
Did China or Russia interfere in the election? The official report’s, as they say, in the mail.
How can we enact a middle-class tax cut alongside the existing corporate/high-earner tax cut? With an “adjustment.” What kind of adjustment? Trump’s “not telling.” YOU HAVE NO IDEA. JUST SAY IT.
Per “Two Corinthians” Trump, God plays a very big role in his life. He’s also a “great moral leader,” and he loves our country. On an unrelated note, a lightning bolt ripped through the ceiling during the press conference, narrowly missing Trump as he delivered his remarks.
Au revoir, Monsieur Sessions
Politics makes strange bedfellows. If you’re thinking how strange it is to be protesting the firing of Jeff bleeping Sessions, you’re not alone. Sessions’ aforementioned removal as AG in favor of Trump loyalist Matthew Whitaker—assuming he actually was fired and didn’t resign, though how would we know?—is not something that anyone feels bad about for Sessions’s sake. You make a deal with the Devil, and eventually, you expect to get burned, no? Given his profile as a notorious anti-drug dinosaur who infamously once professed that good people don’t use marijuana, some drug reform activism groups are even happy he’s gone.
Outside of this context, though, the larger partisan hostility toward Robert Mueller and his investigation matters. I’m not going to even get into whether Trump has the right to remove Sessions and replace him with someone like Whitaker who wasn’t confirmed by the Senate, or whether it matters if he was fired or if he quit. Honestly, these questions are above my ken as a citizen journalist.
If past statements are any indication, however, putting Whitaker in charge of the DOJ is suspect. The man didn’t exactly write the book on how to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation, but he did pen an opinion piece for Trump’s favorite news outlet on how it should be done. As with invalidating Jim Acosta’s White House press privileges (a move which has prompted another lawsuit against the Trump administration, mind you), such is a line the president should not cross, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. As Americans, we should all be worried about the fate of the Mueller investigation as it comes to a head, and should implore our elected officials to safeguard the inquiry’s results.
The ghost of the 2000 election
Oh, those hanging chads. It’s somehow comforting—and yet actually deeply, deeply disturbing—that not much has changed since the fracas surrounding the 2000 recount that captivated a nation and prompted cries of a “stolen” victory for George W. Bush. Then again, that Al Gore didn’t win his own state and that thousands of Florida Democrats voted for Bush puts a bit of a damper on pointing to these shenanigans and Ralph Nader as the only reasons why Gore lost. As with Hillary Clinton losing in 2016, alongside legitimate concerns about Russian meddling and James Comey’s untimely letter to Congress, it’s not as if strategic miscues or lack of enthusiasm about the Democratic candidate in question didn’t play a role.
Now that I’ve set the scene, let’s talk about 2018. There were a number of close races across the country this Election Day—some so close they still haven’t been certified or conceded. Depending on your views, some were either disappointments or godsends. If you were pulling for Beto O’Rourke in Texas, while you still should be encouraged, you were nonetheless dismayed to find that enough voters willingly re-elected Ted Cruz, famed annoyance and rumored Zodiac Killer. If you were pulling for Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, meanwhile, you likely were over the moon once the race was finally called.
Of the key races not yet called at this writing, those in Florida and Georgia loom particularly large. In the Sunshine State, the candidates of both the race for U.S. Senate between Rick Scott (R) and Bill Nelson (D) and the race for governor between Ron DeSantis (R) and Andrew Gillum (D) are separated by less than half of 1%. Meanwhile, in the Peach State gubernatorial race, there are enough outstanding votes that Stacey Abrams (D) and her campaign are convinced they can force a runoff election based on the margin.
In all three cases, despite the razor-thin vote disparities, Republicans have been quick to cry fraud or try to expedite certifying the results. Scott, with Trump throwing his own claim around wildly in support, has made accusations of electoral malfeasance without the evidence to back it up.
And this is just speaking about what has happened after the election. Leading up to the election, DeSantis caught flak for telling voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, dog-whistling loud enough for racists across the Southeast to hear. Brian Kemp (R), meanwhile as Georgia Secretary of State, oversaw the purging of voters from rolls, the failure to process voter applications, and keeping voting machines locked up—all primarily at the expense of voters of color, a key Democratic constituency.
Depending on how far back you wish to go, the antics of DeSantis, Kemp, and Scott are only the latest turn in a long-standing American tradition of voter suppression aimed at blacks. Carol Anderson, professor of African-American studies at Emory University, provides a concise but effective history of keeping blacks from the polls—by hook or by crook. We may no longer be threatening prospective voters of color with tar and feathers, but voter purges, closure of polling locations, and disenfranchisement of felons from being able to vote aren’t much of an improvement. This is 2018, after all.
As Van Jones and others might insist, Kemp et al. can only win one way: by stealing. To put it another way, if these Republicans were convinced they had won legitimately, they wouldn’t need all the chicanery, subterfuge, and insinuations of impropriety. Even if they do prove to have the votes necessary to win, their conduct is a stain on the offices they have served or will serve.
Like it is with the White House’s revocation of Jim Acosta’s privileges following Trump’s press conference or the suspicious installation of Matthew Whitaker as head of the Department of Justice, the injustice here is such that it should, ahem, trump partisanship. Instead, our “winning is the only thing” mentality and emphasis on results over process all but ensures bipartisan inaction.
Assuming a shell game is run fairly, the customer playing need only follow the correct shell amid all the movement. This itself might be a chore depending on how much and how fast the shells move. Going back to the Wikipedia entry on the shell game, though, there’s an important note about how, frequently, games of these sort are not on the up-and-up:
In practice, however, the shell game is notorious for its use by confidence tricksters who will typically rig the game using sleight of hand to move or hide the ball during play and replace it as required. Fraudulent shell games are also known for the use of psychological tricks to convince potential players of the legitimacy of the game – for example, by using shills or by allowing a player to win a few times before beginning the scam.
In other words, it’s a con. You’ve been following the wrong shell all along because the eyes deceive. In the context of President Donald Trump’s unbecoming behavior, his DOJ shakeup of questionable legitimacy, and the Republican Party’s stacking of the electoral deck, while all of these matters merit your justifiable outrage, they are yet a distraction from something else not even on the table.
For one, shortly after the press conference, Trump issued a directive designed to halt asylum-seeking at our southern border. It’s a particularly problematic order, in that it appears to fundamentally misunderstand asylum law and makes it yet harder to apply for asylum than it already is. It’s also reactionary policy that overstates the dangers of the migrant caravan and illegal immigration in general, and further puts us out of step with international standards on safeguarding refugees/asylees.
This executive order comes on the heels of Trump’s stated desire to end birthright citizenship, another move which would be of dubious constitutional validity and subject to challenge in court by civil rights advocacy groups, not to mention having U.S. troops stationed at the border with Mexico. It’s easy to dismiss these as political stunts designed to fire up his base when you have no skin in the game, so to speak.
For immigrants and would-be applicants for asylum/visas, this rhetoric is more worrisome. Owing to our country’s poor track record of acting on behalf of vulnerable populations—I’ll bring our sordid history of intimidating voters of color and otherwise acting in official capacities to deny them their rights back up, in case you need reminding—this is more than simple hand-wringing based on the theoretical.
In the miasma and noise of a Republican agenda fueled by the views of FOX News talking heads, Koch-Brothers-funded legislative influence, obeisance to moneyed interests and religious conservatives, Tea Party railing against deficits, and Trump’s own prejudicial outlook, it’s legitimately hard to cut through all the bullshit and focus on what we can do as possible influencers. By now, the sense of fatigue is real, especially because when we act to counteract said agenda, there’s also half-hearted Democratic Party policies and media clickbait designed to offend around which to work.
So, what’s the answer? Assuming my words are even that useful in this regard, I’m not sure. As noted, all of the above merits scrutiny, but we have our limitations. It may be useful to zero in on one or a handful of issues that arouse your personal political passions. Plus, if you can afford it, so many causes spearheaded by organizations devoted to the betterment of society deserve your donations, though throwing money at these problems does not automatically equate to solving them.
At the end of the day, though, what is abundantly clear after decades of failed policy initiatives is that tuning out is not a viable option if we want meaningful change. Indeed, people-powered solutions will be necessary if we are to fix our broken democracy—and there’s a lot to fix, at that. Recognize the shell game for what it is, but don’t refuse to play. Instead, change the game.
It’s impossible to talk about the state of affairs in this country politically, socially, and economically without touching on the subject of race.
While we can slice Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory any number of ways, at heart, his win was facilitated by whites concerned with America’s changing demographics and perceived trends toward godlessness, joblessness, and lawlessness. Even within subsets of the electorate that favored Trump apparently unrelated to the white/non-white binary, there are racial components to be found; among evangelicals, while 81% of white evangelicals who voted went for Trump, two-thirds of evangelicals of color opted for Hillary Clinton.
Since Trump’s upset win on a ticket more than tinged by white nationalism, white nationalists of his ilk have become emboldened by his success. A number of avowed white supremacists and individuals flirting with white supremacist support are on the ballot in 2018. Perhaps most notorious of them all is Arthur Jones, an outspoken Holocaust denier and American Nazi Party figurehead running for Congress in the state of Illinois. He is unlikely to win given his district’s propensity for voting blue, but the mere fact he is the GOP’s representative for this district (after having run unopposed in the Republican primary) is both chilling and telling.
It is with this mind to present racial hostilities amid growing mutual appreciation among people of different ethnicities, faiths, gender identification, nationalities, sexual orientation, and other identifying characteristics that I present a column by Talia Lavin, writer, extremism researcher, and one-time target of Milo Yiannopoulos’s anti-Semitism entitled “It’s OK to Be White, but It’s Not Enough.”
Lavin, who writes this piece with an explicit hope it pisses off white supremacists, expresses her opinions through a lens of having recently watched Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and seeing the juxtaposition within the film of David Duke’s call for “racial purity” with activist Jerome Turner’s recollection of the lynching of Jesse Washington. She writes:
The camera intercuts between the two speeches — Duke declaring the need for racial purity, Turner describing the devastation the policing of that spurious purity has caused — and serves, as much of the film does, to offer a lucid appraisal of the violent boundaries of whiteness, and the sucking, vacuous nullity at the center of that concept. “White power,” as championed by Duke, is the urge toward violence for the sake of the preservation of unearned dominance. “Black power,” as spoken by the young activists in the film, is the reclamation of strength stolen by an oppressive state, a celebration of physicality denigrated as undesirable, degenerate. That much hasn’t changed in the decades since the incidents that inspired the film took place in 1979. But in a time of social upheaval, the grim little soldiers of white power have re-emerged emboldened.
“The violent boundaries of whiteness, and the sucking, vacuous nullity at the center of that concept.” This is stark language coming from Lavin, but it may very well be deserved.
Firstly, there is the matter of whiteness and its boundaries. As Lavin argues in outlining it conceptually from a historical perspective, whiteness is an idea treated as something concrete, but it is ultimately amorphous so as to serve the purpose of those who wield it as a weapon.
For all the rigidity with which its bounds are policed, whiteness has been a surprisingly elastic category. Immigrant groups — Irish and Italians in particular — who were initially cast as ethnically inferior found themselves assimilated into whiteness over the course of the twentieth century. Whiteness expands and contracts as necessary to police its bounds, and keep its enemies subjugated. Even Jews, in the last decades of the twentieth century, found themselves conditionally admitted. The elasticity of whiteness is rooted in its essential lack of substance, its existence as a negation of the other.
Along these lines, whiteness is a tool that informs a struggle between those who have power and those who don’t or, as defenders of “white pride” would aver, shouldn’t. The inclusion of Irish, Italians, and Jews would therefore seem to be a function of wanting to deny representation to a group less easily defined by matters of adherence to religion and more predicated on observable physical features. It’s not merely about secularization, either. As Lavin takes care to point out, white supremacists have used the Bible alongside pseudoscience to prop up their racist beliefs.
Additionally, Lavin puts forth that whiteness as a concept is rooted in nothingness and is a thing solely to do damage and perpetuate fear and resentment.
At its hollow core, whiteness is nothing in particular: It’s an airless vacuum, bereft of any affirmative quality. To be white in America is merely to benefit from the absence of racial discrimination. To be white in America is to walk a path that contains no hurdles based on the color of one’s skin, one’s name, one’s outward presentation to the world. To be white is to benefit from a history of slavery, theft, and colonization that transpired before you were born; it’s to reap the harvest, without any effort on your own part, of centuries of religious and intellectual justification for violence. It’s playing life, like a video game, on the easiest setting. There’s no shame in being born white, but there’s no pride in it either, because it is by definition a category bereft of specificity.
Whiteness exists to punish blackness; whiteness exists to hurt those who are not white; whiteness exists to exert its own supremacy, in a great feral and bitter taunt against those it loathes. Whiteness has no language of its own; whiteness has no homeland, no cuisine, none of the markers that distinguish a culture worth celebrating. “White pride” — the notion that whiteness itself is something to boast about — is rooted in this vacuity, and that’s why it manifests as violence. White pride is a license to patrol the boundaries of whiteness, to inflict violence on those who seek to live, as white people do, unencumbered by racial prejudice. And the “White Power” of David Duke and his contemporary analogues is precisely this power: the power to inflict harm and to create fear. That’s what Spike Lee hammers home so well in BlackKlansman [sic]: If black power is about the reclamation of a stolen history, a stolen sense of self-esteem and worth, white power is about perpetrating that theft over and over again.
Lavin’s sentiments strike at the core of a reactionary set of beliefs that elevate the accomplishments of “western” or “Judeo-Christian culture” above all others and lament the supposed demonization of whites, males especially. To take part in white pride is to deny the existence of white privilege, and to do so in the face of perceived diminishment is to mistake the loss of such privilege for discrimination. The attitudes of white supremacists comprise an absurd worldview that helps perpetuate terms like “reverse racism.” As if America doesn’t possess an established history of the institutionalized subjugation and vilification of non-whites. But sure, affirmative action is wrong, political correctness is a threat to the United States and the world at large, and reverse racism is, you know, a thing.
As Lavin underscores, though, one does not need to be sorry he or she is white, but one shouldn’t revel in this either. The better course of action is to do research into one’s heritage and to be an active and good member of one’s community, both in the immediate geographic and global sense. Lavin concludes her column thusly:
If you are white in America, you have nothing to apologize for — but you have much to learn. If you wish to celebrate yourself, to feel part of something bigger, to express pride in a heritage, you can do better than the cruel sucking nullity of whiteness. Surely you were born somewhere; surely your ancestors came from somewhere; surely your hometown has a history you can plumb; surely there is music in its annals. Perhaps you can be an American; or you can be a Pole or an Irishman, a Scot, a German, a Finn, or bits of each rolled into a delicious composite that is you. Love your family, love your ancestors. Love where you live and your neighbors.
White pride and white power seduce by means of an easy solidarity, a call to arms against a formless threat, an appeal to inchoate anger. But they are essentially empty; they have nothing to give you but rage, and in this world rage is bountiful enough.
Work toward justice, and center yourself in the movement to create a better world, so you can be proud of the work of your hands, and not merely their color.
Lavin’s guidance here seems to be an appeal directly to the individual who would insist that the kinds of abuses perpetrated by slavery happened long ago and therefore he or she doesn’t need to apologize because he or she wasn’t there, or similarly, that she doesn’t benefit from white privilege insomuch as he or she is not super rich and therefore can’t be all that privileged.
White people shouldn’t feel a sense of shame to the extent it cripples them and prevents from getting out the door, beset by woe over the ills of the world other white people have inflicted. Rather, recognizing that white privilege exists even independent of class, that systemic issues related to race yet exist even after the formal abolition of slavery, and that more needs to be done by activists of all make and model is critically important. At any rate, compassion and empathy should be driving forces, not the rage which characterizes white pride and white power. As Lavin underscores, it is easy to be seduced by their appeal to “solidarity,” much as it is easy to tear others down. The trick, and the more difficult part, is building up others in the name of a shared identity as human beings.
As a younger Italian-American, I confessedly approach both the past treatment of those with Italian heritage in America and my personal connection to my ancestry with a sense of detachment. I have never known a time when Italians were ostracized to the extent certain minority groups are today, a resident of a bubble in which surnames like D’Addetta and Fragale and Leone and Napolitano are commonplace.
As for my closeness to my roots, well, I’m no stranger to Italian food (at one point, my father actually worked at a pasta company), but otherwise, I’ve associated myself more so with being “white” than being “Italian,” of which the majority of my ancestors are. In fact, I’ve gotten mistaken for Albanian, Irish, and a number of other nationalities from the European continent. Maybe that’s to be expected considering how many countries are on top of one another there.
Just because I don’t feel an overwhelmingly strong attachment to my roots doesn’t mean I am not critical of stereotypes of Italian-Americans that hearken back to perception of them as lesser-than, mind you. No, I am not nor do I know anyone in the Mafia, and truth be told, I never even watched The Sopranos. For that matter, I never watched Jersey Shore either, and I find that show way more offensive to Italian-Americans and my home state. No “guido” am I, Sir or Madam.
Perhaps I could take a cue from Ms. Lavin and learn more about my heritage. Maybe I could take a class to learn Italian, which I’ll note wasn’t even offered in my high school; at the time there, it was Latin, Spanish, or the highway. Or I could visit Italy. After all, my brother has visited there. Because of his darker complexion, that he has a full beard, that he was traveling alone, and that he doesn’t speak a lick of Italian, he may have received more than his fair share of scrutiny at the airport. Certainly, I would hope to fare better in that regard.
Then again, maybe I could be a more active member of my community. I’ve been involved with the local chapters of Our Revolution and Indivisible in my area. I also recently started a campaign to get a member removed from the Board of Education in my town for his sharing of memes with misogynistic language. This is not to say I’ve done as much as I’ve wanted to do, or by this token, enough. But I’m trying. As always, it’s a process, such that rather than considering myself “woke” (never liked that term anyway), I would say I’m starting to wake up. At any rate, it’s not about “arriving” at a fixed destination.
I’ll stop boring you with my personal journey toward cultural appreciation and political awakening. Suffice it to say, however, that I regard Lavin’s comments about rejecting white pride and white power seriously. It is one thing to feel the need to apologize for one’s whiteness or to stress that white supremacists are bad. The latter, in particular, is not really going out on a limb.
It’s another, however, and more valuable to oppose the attitudes that color white pride/power with action as well as words. I’m not suggesting we go around punching Nazis. In fact, I am explicitly saying we should avoid punching Nazis. Protesting “Unite the Right” rallies in a non-violent fashion and defeating white supremacist candidates at the polls are more productive uses of our time, and take the starch out of the talking points made by conservative commentators vilifying the supposedly destructive, intolerant left. At a time when skirmishes between neo-Nazis and Antifa groups can result in the loss of life, commitment to nonviolence and de-escalation seems more important than ever.
Many of us might commit to resisting the “blank sucking nullity” (thanks to David Roth for this turn of phrase) of the Trump White House, as we should, because it’s not going to get better. The larger commitment to resisting the “easy solidarity” and “cruel sucking nullity” of white pride alluded to by Talia Lavin is the bigger fish to fry, however, because Trump’s rise is only an outgrowth of the rage and trepidation he stokes. We can do better as a nation. In truth, we must.
2017 looks poised to finish on a high note, at least economically speaking. The stock market in the United States is near a record high, likely buoyed by the GOP’s corporation-friendly tax cut that President Donald Trump signed into law. Reportedly, the holiday season saw an increase of 5% in sales, an increase of 3.7% from the same span in 2016. Winning, winning, winning. Aren’t you tired of winning so much, fellow Americans? Aren’t you glad Pres. Trump is making America great again? Never mind the notion that he may not have as much to do with the economy as he would lead you to believe. Also, maybe we shouldn’t mention that, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London, England, China and India’s economies will surpass that of the U.S.’s by 2030. In other long-term news, meanwhile, productivity growth within America’s economy remains low, income inequality remains startlingly high, the federal debt continues to skyrocket, and the nation is gripped by an opioid dependency epidemic.
So, glass half empty or glass half full? How do you see these United States shaping up over the next few years and into the future? It likely depends on which side of the political or socioeconomic fence you live—and whether or not you stand to personally benefit from the policies the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress aim to advance. Looking just at the GOP tax cuts, opponents of this policy shift have assailed it as a present for the super-wealthy and industry leaders at the expense of average Americans, and as a greasing of the slippery slope toward the erosion of Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs. In other words, the advantages of this agenda would tend to be appreciated by the few rather than the many, and perhaps it is no wonder Trump’s approval ratings are languishing south of 40%, a historical low at this point in the presidency.
Perhaps it’s instructive to see where we’ve been to help gauge where we may be going in 2018, in 2020, and beyond. Let’s take a look back at some of the topics covered in 2017 on United States of Joe. Warning: we may have a bit more to say regarding our orange leader. If you have any small children in the room, you may want to move them to a safe location—especially if they happen to frequent beauty pageants. I hear El Presidente and his buddies like ’em young, and like to invade dressing rooms of contestants while they’re potentially less-than-fully clothed. Without further ado, let’s do the…
US of J 2017 Review: This Time, It’s Personal—Because Our President Takes Everything Personally
The Biggest Inauguration in U.S. History—Kinda, Sorta
Hey—did you realize Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? No? Let Trump himself tell you about it! In fact, let him tell you about how he won going away every time something goes wrong or the press challenges him on the quality of his performance as President. You know, even though he didn’t win going away—dude didn’t even win the popular vote. Of course, Trump being the stupid baby that he is, he would challenge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s supremacy in the popular vote, a harbinger of a disturbing trend that continues to play out with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Hillary didn’t win the popular vote—it was massive fraud involving undocumented immigrants that illegitimately got her that small victory. There’s absolutely no credible evidence of this, mind you, and the bullshit voter fraud task force the White House commissioned hasn’t turned up anything either. Trump’s Inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. Don’t believe the visual evidence? That’s OK—Trump, Sean Spicer and Co. were simply offering “alternative facts.” Don’t care for CNN’s brand of reporting? No problem—it’s “fake news.” After all, the media isn’t to be trusted in the first place—it’s the enemy of the people. I’m sure you felt that deep down anyhow, though.
Donald Trump’s assault on the truth and on verifiable fact is unmistakable, and his attacks on the press, including his fetishistic obsession with CNN, are overstated. That said, it’s not as if American news media is blameless in this regard either. Even before Trump was elected President, the mainstream media was an unabashed enabler of his antics. With Buzzfeed’s release of the “Pee-Pee Papers,” a salacious and unauthenticated account of Russian prostitutes performing sex acts at Trump’s behest supposedly based on credible intelligence, and CNN retracting a story on a supposed connection between Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House Communications Director was remarkably short-lived, and Trump’s Russian ties, Trump suddenly appears more credible. In the push for ratings and clicks in an turbulent era for journalism, the rush of media outlets to meet the demand of consumers for up-to-date information is understandable, but this does not excuse sloppy, irresponsible reporting. For the sake of the institution as a whole, the U.S. news media must balance the need to generate revenue with the importance of upholding standards of journalistic integrity, and must stand together when Trump et al. would seek to undermine one among their ranks—or risk a more precipitous downfall.
Gorsuch: Silver Fox and Supreme Court Justice
One of the big concerns following the death of Antonin Scalia and prompting voters to think hard about voting strategically between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the idea the next President would get to nominate Scalia’s successor. We would be remiss if we did not mention that Barack Obama, well in advance of his departure from the White House, had already tapped Merrick Garland, a fine candidate to fill Scalia’s void. Mitch McConnell a.k.a. Turtle McTurtleface and the other Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, would not even entertain Obama’s choice, prompting their constituents to protest outside of their offices and chant “Do your job!” In other words, it was really a dick move on the GOP’s part, and a gamble that the party would win the 2016 presidential election so they could install Antonin Scalia 2.0. Trump’s upset electoral victory thus paved the way for Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the highest court in the United States.
Gorsuch, previously a U.S. Circuit Court Judge with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is eminently qualified in his own right. This didn’t seem to be a point of contention between leaders of the two parties. Still, coming off a situation in which a perfectly good candidate in Garland was blocked as a function of mere partisanship, it brought an added measure of scrutiny and tension to confirmation proceedings. The Democrats filibustered to prevent cloture and delay a confirmation vote. The Republicans countered by invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” effectively changing Senate rules whereby they could break the filibuster with a simple majority. By a 54-45 vote, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice. The whole process ultimately revealed few interesting tidbits about Gorsuch, and more so demonstrated the ugliness of political brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of Congress in this day and age. And we wonder why average Americans are not more politically engaged.
The Trump Administration vs. the World
As a function of “making America great again,” Donald Trump apparently believes strongly in defense spending and letting the world know the United States is #1. After alternatively touting his desire to bring the country along a more isolationist track and vowing to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” on the campaign trail, Trump, well, sort of did both. In terms of shows of force, his administration was responsible for dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, as well as approving the launch of dozens of missiles into Syria, supposedly as retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of toxic gas on its own people. The latter, in particular, got the dander of his white nationalist supporters up, though as far as most kinder, gentler souls are concerned, the disappointment of a bunch of ethnocentric xenophobes is not all that much of a loss. Less talked-about, but perhaps no less significant, were other less successful operations across international lines. First of all, not long after Trump took office, there was a botched raid in Yemen that saw Navy SEAL Ryan Owens killed, and to date, little information has been offered on the attack that led to his death and by all appearances was ill-advised. And there was the massacre at a mosque in Syria outside Aleppo. According to U.S. officials, numerous al-Qaeda operatives were taken out by the strike in the town of Jinah, but activists and others on the ground there tell a different story, one of civilians attending religious services and being fired upon as they tried to flee the place of worship. Reportedly, at least 46 people were killed in the assault on the mosque, and the U.S. military was criticized by humanitarian groups for not doing its due diligence in assessing the target for the possibility of civilian casualties. Oh, well—they were Muslims and not Americans anyway. Whoops!
In terms of isolating itself from the international community, America has done that under Donald Trump—if for other reason than it has done to things to alienate that international community. There was the whole backing of out of the Paris climate accord thing, which is voluntary in the first place and thus mostly serves as a middle finger to those here and abroad who give a hoot about polluting and climate change. Even before apparent attacks on American diplomats there, Trump and his administration have reversed course on Cuba relative to an Obama-era thawing of frigid diplomatic relations, and the benefit of this 180 to either side merits questioning. They’ve taken a tough tone with Iran and accused the country of not meeting its end of the bargain with respect to the nuclear deal much hated by conservative Republicans, in apparent deference to the whims of Saudi Arabia. Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong-un have basically had a year-long war of words through television news media and social media, with the latter referring to the former as a “dotard.” (Essentially, he told our President he’s a senile moron. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) The White House has resolved to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to acknowledge the city, contested as to its very boundaries, as the capital of Israel, prompting a United Nations resolution condemning the move. And this is all before we even get to the investigation into Trump, his transition team, his administration, and suspected ties to Russia. In short, if Donald Trump hasn’t pissed you off this year, you’re either one of his core supporters or have just run out of f**ks to give—and I’m not sure which one is worse.
Race to the Exit: The Trump Administration Story
Viewing some of Trump’s picks for Cabinet posts and various positions within the White House at length, it was a wonder for many to see who might be first to go or fail to even get confirmed. At least Andrew Puzder, then-CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had the decency to withdraw before the confirmation process was over; as potential Secretary of Labor, it was his employ of undocumented immigrants which was his undoing. Not giving less than half a shit about his employees and being opposed to raising the minimum wage? Nah, that was fine. In fact, it made him more than suitable for nomination in the era of Trump. Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Linda McMahon, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions—these are the kinds of individuals that Donald Trump, seemingly without irony, tapped for important government posts despite a lack of proficiency in their area of supposed expertise, a stated desire to abolish the very agency they were named to head, or both. Price ultimately resigned when information about his questionable spending of the government’s finances to suit his convenience came to light, and there have been whispers about the job security of Sessions and Rex Tillerson from time to time, but for the most part, the bulk of them still remain. And so much for draining the swamp—between Goldman Sachs and billionaires, this Cabinet is as marshy as they come.
As for other appointees and residual officeholders, there was yet more volatility to be had. Michael Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of about a month before getting canned, and currently, he’s facing repercussions after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Anthony Scaramucci lasted a scant ten days before his sacking as White House Communications Director, and in that short time, he divested himself of business ties and ruined his marriage. Welcome to the team, Mooch—and don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His predecessor, Sean “Spicey” Spicer, made it to July before bowing out, but not before some hilarious cameos on Saturday Night Live featuring Melissa McCarthy as Spicer. Steve Bannon, the Skeleton King, made it to August before he was either fired or before he resigned—depending on who you ask. Sebastian Gorka also departed in August, and seeing as he didn’t do much but argue with the press in interviews anyway, I’m relatively sure he isn’t missed. Omarosa Manigault Newman is set to resign in January, and evidently is not afraid to tell all. In sum, people can’t get out of the Trump White House soon enough, and whether some vacancies will go unfilled or simply are taking forever to get filled, the hallmark of this administration is disarray and upheaval. And somehow Kellyanne Conway still has a job. Sorry—that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. I’ll try to keep it down.
The Democrats Form a Killer Strategy to Win in 2018, 2020, and Be—Oh, Who Are We Kidding?
For a while, it was relatively quiet on the Democratic Party front following the election and even the Inauguration with the Dems licking their wounds. This is not to say, obviously, that nothing was going on behind the scenes. One event which seems fairly minor but reflects deep conflicts within the Democratic ranks was the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair to replace departing interim chair Donna Brazile, herself a replacement for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Keith Ellison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and popular progressive Democrat, was the front-runner for the position early, but concerns about Ellison’s lack of obeisance to the positions of the DNC’s rich Jewish donors and the establishment wing of the party not wishing to cede too much control to the “Bernie-crats” among them led former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the fray. In the end, the vote was close, but Perez carried the day. That the Obama-Hillary segment of the Democratic Party would expend so much energy on a position that is largely ceremonial and concerned with fundraising is telling, and signals that any progressive reform of the party will be slow in coming—if at all.
If there is any further doubt about this, look at how certain races played out outside of the presidential milieu. Sure, Democrats may point to more recent victories in the gubernatorial elections of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and Virginia (Ralph Northam), as well as the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama (Doug Jones), but other losses appear indicative of the Dems’ failure to commit to a comprehensive, 50-state strategy, namely Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Thompson in Kansas, and Rob Quist in Montana, who lost to Greg Gianforte, even after the latter beat up a reporter. Seriously. Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton, after a moment of repose, released a book in which she accepted full responsibility for losing a election she was largely expected to win. Kidding! She blamed Bernie Sanders, voters for not coming out more strongly for her, James Comey, and even the DNC. That last one seems particularly disingenuous, especially when considering that Donna Brazile herself had a book to release critical of Hillary and one which confirmed what many of us already knew: that Hill-Dawg and the Committee were in cahoots long before the primaries. The Democrats seem content to allow Donald Trump and the machinations of the Republican Party to dig the GOP into an electoral hole. For an electorate increasingly weary of the “We’re Not the Other One” line, though, this does not a strategy make, and without an obvious frontrunner for 2020, the Democratic Party’s presumed advantage could well be overstated. Such that, if Trump actually makes it that far, it’s not inconceivable to think he could be re-elected. Talk about a recurring nightmare.
The White Supremacists, They Come Bearing Tiki Torches
In 2017, I would’ve thought it crazy for a scene to play out like it did in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Some 250 protestors, carrying kerosene-filled torches and rebelling against a perceived erosion of their heritage and history, marched on the University of Virginia campus, shouting epithets, vowing not to be “replaced,” and generally ready to start a ruckus over the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The next day, though, if not as frightening in terms of the imagery, was worse in terms of the outcome. Protestors arrived carrying nationalist banners clubs, guns, and shields. Counter-protestors were also on hand to “greet” the white supremacists, the anti-fascists among them armed as well. It was not long before violence broke out, and by the time the police intervened, there already were injuries to tally. The worst of it all, though, were the fatalities. Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed as a result of a man deliberately plowing into people, and two state troopers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died in a separate helicopter crash. In terms of senseless violence and loss, the Charlottesville riots seem to epitomize the very concept.
The apparent surge in white nationalist leanings following the election of Donald Trump is disturbing in its own right, but by the same token, so too is it unsettling that people would condone attacks against their ranks so readily. Some people who reject any set of principles that resembles Nazism believe violence to suppress hateful rhetoric is justified. Such is the belief of various antifa groups, and this where the debate of the movement’s merits comes into play. Though anti-fascists like those who don the mark of the Black Bloc don’t actually have much to do with traditional liberalism, their association with the left threatens the credibility of true liberal and progressive groups, and nullifies the bargaining power that these individuals have over the deficient worldviews they oppose. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and violence as a tool to suppress violence does not serve its intended purpose.
Congress vs. Everyday Americans: F**k Your Health Care, and F**k Your Income Inequality
Per President Trump, the Affordable Care Act, also affectionately known as “ObamaCare,” is a total disaster. Republican leaders likewise have been decrying the ACA for some time now, painting it as an unwanted intrusion of the federal government in the health care industry. Never mind that a significant portion of red-state voters depend on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be able to pay for medically necessary services, and that a sizable subset of America would actually like to see the nation move to a single-payer/Medicare-for-all model. Trump and a GOP Congress had a lot riding on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it, though owing to the notion the devil is in the details, that Republicans tried to rush legislation through the House and the Senate with little idea of what was in it was telling that it probably wasn’t something they would want to share with their constituents. In the end, John McCain’s “no” vote on a “skinny” repeal of ObamaCare turned out to be pivotal in the measure’s failure to pass. Trump would later issue an executive order that would broadly task the government with working on ways to improve competition, prices, and quality of care, though it faced criticisms for how it essentially opened a backdoor for the destabilization of ACA marketplaces by taking younger, healthier consumers of the equation. Yet more significant could be the planned ending of cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers that would likely mean higher prices for the consumer. Whatever the case, Trump and the GOP haven’t killed the Affordable Care Act, despite their boasts—they’ve only repealed the individual mandate aspect of the law. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Republicans are done coming for affordable health care. Far from it, in all likelihood.
Where Trump et al. found greater success—to our detriment, it should be stressed—is in the passage and signing of their tax reform bill. Once again, the knowledge of its contents prior to voting among lawmakers was questionable, but ultimately, by relatively slim margins in the House and Senate, what many have referred to as the “GOP Tax Scam” cleared Congress. Make no mistake: this is not good news for average Americans. Any benefits to be enjoyed in the short term are outweighed by how the wealthiest among us and corporations will experience that much more of a boon, with long-term consequences to the national debt and minimal rewards to be trickled down to the rank-and-file. In short, it’s class warfare, and potentially a troubling herald of future attempts to screw with Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs—and the worst part is most of us seem to know it. One can only hope that Republicans will face their own consequences in forthcoming elections. It’s not a great consolation, but at this point, it’s the best we’ve got.
Some Protests Get Lost in the Shouting/Tweeting; Others Succeed Beyond Expectations
Even before Colin Kaepernick, there were player protests and refusals to stand at attention for the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Not long after the start of the NFL season, however, the continued kneeling, sitting, staying in the locker room, or raising of fists raised the ire of one President Donald Trump who, while apparently not busy playing golf or signing disastrous legislation into law, started a fracas about players refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, suggesting they should be suspended or outright released for their disrespect of the flag and of those who have served and died for our country. Trump also cited the NFL’s declining ratings and ticket sales as a direct impact of the players kneeling. While it’s possible reactions to player protests may be a factor in these downturns, this overlooks other persistent issues facing professional sports in general: declines in traditional television viewership among younger adults, high costs of premium sports channel packages, the prevalence of injuries and concerns about traumatic brain injuries, the steep price tag for attending games in person, and the mediocrity of play of any number of teams. All the while, the original thrust of Kaepernick’s protest—to raise awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of police and other institutions—seemed to get lost in the discussion of who was protesting, which teams issued ultimatums about standing and which did not, and why people weren’t watching now. So much for fighting racial injustice. Better luck in 2018, people of color.
In perhaps a surprising turn of events, though, and possibly a watershed moment in the fights for gender equality and for standing up for victims of sexual assault and harassment, movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a habitual offender of sexual misconduct, if not outright rape, opened the floodgates for other accusations, admissions, allegations, and denials. Hollywood has apparently borne the brunt of the revelations inspired by the #MeToo movement, with any number of projects shelved or cancelled as a result of men’s misdeeds, but the political realm also has seen its share of high-profile figures caught in the spotlight. Al Franken was forced to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate after numerous women accused him of impropriety. John Conyers, another congressional Democrat, resigned too in the wake of a veritable mountain of allegations. Roy Moore didn’t abandon his political aspirations even after the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan suggested he should step aside, but he also didn’t win as a Republican in Alabama. And then there’s maybe the biggest fish of them all: none other than Donald Trump. That Trump hasn’t been brought down by his own accusations—or for any other wrongdoing, for that matter—is somewhat deflating. Then again, maybe it’s only a matter of time. As with members of the GOP losing in 2018 and 2020, once more, we can only hope.
Meryl Streep famously put Donald Trump on blast at the Golden Globes. Predictably, this invited jeers from Trump supporters who felt “limousine liberals” like herself should “stay in their lane.” You may not like that Streep has a platform in this manner, but she still is an American, and that means not only is she entitled to say what she wants given the opportunity, but as she and others might see it, she has a civic duty to speak out when someone who ostensibly represents us, the people, does so in a destructive way. Kudos, Ms. Streep. I look forward to your acceptance speech at the forthcoming Golden Globes. Come on—you know it’s coming.
Bill Maher more or less engaged in a conversation with Sam Harris about how Islam is a deficient religion—though both men notably have their issues with organized religion, so take this for what it’s worth. In a separate chat with Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, when jokingly asked by the senator if he would work in the fields of Nebraska, Maher referred to himself as a “house n****r.” For an educated guy, Maher is kind of a dickish moron.
Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz had a health care debate on CNN. Why? Why not! At any rate, it was better than the Republican Party debates from last primary season.
In perhaps a glaring example of where we are as a nation in 2017, our President revealed he did not know who Frederick Douglass is—though Trump being Trump, tried to play it off like he did. Also, Kellyanne Conway continued to speak words that sounded like actual thoughts, declaring herself a “feminist” who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and elsewhere suggesting microwaves can be turned into cameras and be used to spy on us. Hmm—it appears my nose is bleeding. Or maybe that’s just my brain liquefying from these comments. Carry on, please.
In international news, Canada moved closer to legalizing marijuana, with a target date of Canada Day, 2018. In the States? Jeff Sessions the Racist Dinosaur and others like him talk about how weed is a drug for “bad people.” So, if you’re keeping score at home: cannabis :: bad; alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—things that are way more deadly than cannabis :: good. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.
A handful of inmates were executed in Alabama, essentially because the state had a bunch of drugs used in lethal injection at its disposal set to expire, so—what the hell!—might as well use them! Pardon me for waxing philosophical as this moment, but the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. It is revenge for the sake of revenge, and way too often (and too late), it has ended the lives of those whose guilt would be proven false with new evidence and advances in forensic science. It should be abolished. Thank you. I’ll get down from my soapbox now.
James Comey was fired from his post as FBI director. This was in no way politically or personally motivated and in no way related to the investigation into Donald Trump, his finances, and any collusion with or other connections to Russia involving him or his surrogates. Right.
In Florida, the Grieving Families Act was signed into law, allowing women who have had miscarriages to obtain a “certificate of nonviable birth” for their fetus. So it’s about providing solace to women and their families? No, not really. At heart, it’s an end-around about abortion that seeks to specify when life begins and potentially heralds future attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Not to mention it connotes the idea that women who lose or terminate their pregnancies should only feel grief, when really, it can be a complex mix of emotions. As long as men are making decisions on the behalf of their female constituents about what they can and can’t do with their bodies, we’ll continue to see policies like this. Keep your eyes peeled.
Dana Loesch released a fiery video about the NRA and how it is “freedom’s last stand.” In other exciting gun news, a guy shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed a bunch of people. Let freedom ring, eh?
White nationalists apparently love Tucker Carlson because he question the merits of all immigration—legal or not. Carlson, like Bill Maher, is kind of a douche.
Venezuela held a sham election “won” by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro identifies with socialism. Socialism, therefore, is bad, and Bernie Sanders is the devil. Are you following this logic? If it makes sense to you, um, you’re probably not the intended audience for this blog, but thanks for reading anyway.
Catalonia had a vote to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government, well, didn’t like that too much. The result was a violent crackdown against pro-independence protests and a lot of international attention drawn to the situation, and in a recent vote, separatists won a slim majority after Spain ousted the previous Catalan government. Great job, Prime Minister Rajoy! You really screwed the Puigdemont on that one.
Joe Arpaio, a virulent racist and all-around ass-hat who held inmates in substandard conditions and profiled residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants as Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona, was pardoned by President Trump. In other words, f**k off, Hispanics and Latinos.
Millennials can still be blamed for pretty much anything, depending on who you ask. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Oh, yeah—we did that shit.
Bitcoin continues to see wild swings in its valuation after the spike in the second half of the year which brought it to the national consciousness. Does this mean it’s inherently bad? Not necessarily. As with any emerging technology, there are ups and downs to be had with Bitcoin made more pronounced by its recent prominence. Are you behind the curve now, though, with respect to making big bucks off of a relatively small investment? Most definitely.
By installing Mick Mulvaney as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, America moved one step closer to eliminating the one agency expressly devoted to protecting consumer interests as regards their finances and investment vehicles. Consumer advocacy—what a joke!
Speaking of one step closer, the powers-that-be edged the Doomsday Clock one tick nearer to midnight. Er, pop the champagne?
In advance of the coming year, as far as politics and current events are concerned, there are all kinds of things that may factor into predictions for 2018. Certainly, though, we would expect certain things to continue as they are. Our beloved President will undoubtedly keep Tweeting acrimonious barbs at anyone who runs afoul of him and making cheap concessions to his supporters, especially from the context of rallies that he shouldn’t be having while not on the campaign trail. A GOP-majority Congress will still try to pass off policy designed to primarily benefit its wealthy corporate and individual donors as a boon for the “American people.” Bitcoin will probably still see extreme volatility as to its price, if the bubble doesn’t burst outright. And don’t even get me started about America’s attention to environmental conservation. When Trump and his Republican cronies are repealing Obama-era protections on keeping mining waste out of clean water, reversing bans on the Keystone XL Pipeline going through Native American reservations, allowing for the use of lead ammunition in national parks, and greenlighting drilling for oil in wildlife refuges, you know we are not close to doing our part to combat deleterious climate change. These actions belie the seriousness of the problem, and stunt the progress which can’t be stopped regarding the transition to renewable energy sources away from fossil fuels. At a time when we need to do all we can to slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, standing still is going backward.
Sounds bad, huh? While there are yet more reasons to be concerned from an activism/human rights standpoint—the all-too-slow recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the pervasive influence of money in politics and gerrymandering purely for political gain; the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees worldwide; and the repeated iterations of the travel ban (read: Muslim ban) jump to mind—there is yet for hope for those on the left, and perhaps even those on the right. You know, even if they don’t know any better. In the political sphere, in particular, the deficient policies advanced by Republicans could end up in an electoral backlash in 2018 and 2020. Granted, this does not mean that Democrats don’t need to be held to higher standards, and as bad as GOP leadership has been, that Bernie Sanders, an aging independent from Vermont, remains a more popular choice than most prominent Dems suggests not is entirely well with the Democratic Party either. Speaking of bad leadership, and depending on the contents of Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump might also be in real trouble from an ethical/legal standpoint. While visions of impeachment and President Mike Pence aren’t all that inspiring, at this point, anyone seems better than President Pussy-Grabber. I mean, eventually, all the terrible shit Trump has said and done has to come back to him, right? Right?
In truth, I am not terribly optimistic about 2018. But I’m also not done resisting against those who compromise ethical and moral standards to enrich themselves at the expense of others. By this, I mean the people at the top who are willing to see everyday Americans struggle through hunger, poverty, sickness and even death to further their bottom line. For all the preoccupation about border security, crime, and terrorism for many prospective 2020 voters, the “rigged” system about which Trump offhandedly talks is a yet bigger worry, and the aforementioned climate crisis our Earth faces is potentially worst of all. This all sounds very old-hat and trite, but until we start making real progress on the various forms of inequality which plague our society, these aphorisms must be repeated and stressed. Accordingly, through all the trepidation we might feel, there is too much work to be done not to do it. It’s worth the effort. After all, it’s our very lives and livelihoods we’re fighting for.
Whatever path you choose, best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond, and keep fighting the good fight.
Following Donald Trump’s inauguration, Richard Spencer, a leading voice in America’s white nationalism movement, was physically attacked during an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation on the street in Washington, D.C. Reportedly, Spencer was being asked about whether or not he is a neo-Nazi—to which he replied that he is not—and then was prompted for a response about why he was wearing a Pepe the Frog pin, when he was punched in the face by a masked protestor. According to Spencer, he was punched twice and spat on in the aftermath of Trump’s swearing in, something about which he didn’t seem all that fazed. Evidently, when you are a white nationalist with a vaguely douche-y self-assured attitude, you are used to or at least mentally prepared to be physically beaten. Of course, this did not stop Richard Spencer from utilizing Twitter and Periscope to relay his account of the attacks to his followers, and to denounce the “antifas” who perpetrated this violence. For all the wry amusement of his notion that he can “take a punch,” it loses something in the conversion to a heart-to-heart via social media that potentially allows his fellow white supremacist friends to rally behind him.
Speaking of social media, the reaction of non-alt-righters was one of near-universal celebration. Richard Spencer, like any ultra-conservative provocateur, is bound to ruffle some feathers, not to mention—in my humble opinion—the man seems to look as if his face beckons a punching. In light of his nationalist ideologies, the memes and jokes were flowing like no one’s business. Confessedly, I enjoyed some of them, especially the idea that he did Nazi that first blow coming. (In case you missed it, read that last sentence out to yourself. Get it? Good.) However, the notion that we were celebrating a man getting punched in the face without remorse was a bit startling. For those of us more discerning types, the whole white supremacy and making “Heil Hitler” signs bit is indefensible, but just because his beliefs are reprehensible doesn’t mean he should be physically attacked. He’s still a human being, after all. If we can talk about respecting the civil rights of convicted felons in prisons, then certainly, Spencer deserves the same or better. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of not getting sucker punched on the street in broad daylight. I’m pretty sure that’s how it was written by our Founding Fathers, yes.
Danielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard University, agrees, and expressed her views in the form of a piece which appeared in The Washington Post entitled, “No, don’t punch more Nazis.” Allen’s sentiments are a direct response to an observed instance of a Netroots Nation member wearing a custom-made T-shirt to a recent public event headlined by Elizabeth Warren, encouraging the viewer—however genuinely—to “PUNCH MORE NAZIS.” Even in gest, however, Allen argues this kind of thinking is patently destructive, if not self-defeating. The principle of nonviolence should be a nonpartisan issue, with the goal of a relatively peaceful and stable society ideal for members of all party affiliations and those otherwise unattached to a particular political designation. When the courts and the laws fail, Allen stresses, the answer is not taking the law into one’s hands, but rather reform of these institutions. With violence, the bridge to a better path forward is obstructed, if not burned outright. Consummate with this notion, it cannot be said here that “the ends justify the means.” That is, one cannot fight for justice with injustice. No fists, no kicks, no guns—only the kind of moral clarity that beckons true justice.
The rise of Donald Trump has emboldened white supremacists and others who reject trends toward increased cultural sensitivity and globalism for the United States of America. In pandering to their interests and playing to Americans’ sense of fear and hate, Trump has inspired a lot of anger and anxiety from people on the left and those otherwise outside the vanguard of the conservative right. With this, there seems to be a growing acceptance of violence as a fact of rallies, protests, and counter-protests, and it would appear that many on the left don’t recognize this is as a problem, whether they are convinced these shows of aggression are justified because of possession of moral high ground, they genuinely are unaware of what is going on, or they are unable to confront the situation. Richard Spencer referenced the term “antifa” in his social media tell-all following his attacks, but it’s only very recently that this term has begun to reach the national consciousness, much as alt-right—a term widely credited to Spencer in describing the movement—really came to prominence with its mention by Hillary Clinton. Pres. Trump has used antifa and “alt-left” to try to demonize liberals and to galvanize support from his base in his apparent never-ending campaign for President—even closing in on a year since his electoral victory. I guess after an overstated career as a businessman and entrepreneur, and given a glaring inability to lead the country effectively, he might as well as stick to the one thing he (miraculously) hasn’t been able to totally screw up lately.
What exactly do these terms mean, though? It’s doubtful Donald Trump fully comprehends them—or even knows how to pronounce them, for that matter. First of all, concerning “alt-left,” this is largely nonsensical. Self-respecting left-leaners do not refer to themselves by this moniker, as it is a creation of conservatives looking to demean liberals as morally bankrupt individuals, and if used by actual liberals, it is probably in the pejorative sense and meant to distinguish the more progressive elements of the left from its more moderate members, i.e. we want nothing to do with you progressives under normal circumstances, but please give us your vote on Election Day. As for “antifa,” this is short for “anti-fascist,” and is awfully broadly stated to assign an exact definition beyond that. What appears to distinguish this movement from the larger progressive liberal movement in America is the use of force and violence against people and property alike. Some antifa members are even denoted by their dress: all black and wearing masks; they are commonly known as “black bloc” activists and this style has origins in 1980s-era protests in Germany against neo-Nazism, with vague sentiments toward anti-capitalism and a rejection of police states and a theoretical New World Order. With these anti-government sentiments, though, it quickly becomes apparent we are not dealing with a purely liberal or even characteristically leftist association.
Going back to The Washington Post, its editorial board recently published an excellent primer on the subject of antifa, with due context as to who and what antifa groups represent—or don’t represent—how much of a threat antifa is to the very societal order—or isn’t—and what their actions stand to accomplish—or not accomplish. Some key observations from its synopsis:
1. Comparisons between antifa and white supremacist groups are false equivalencies.
There is a general consensus that white nationalism, apparently on the rise in the United States and elsewhere, is a threat which must be addressed and confronted as a rejection of hate; such is why President Trump’s comment talking about violence on both sides in Charlottesville was so abhorrent. Antifa groups, most notably at a recent protest in Berkeley, California against Marxism in America, have been responsible for their fair share of violence and/or unrest. But this does not mean these two movements are on the same level. As the WP editorial board is keen to state, it “would not for a minute equate it to the menace of violent, ultra-right white supremacist groups, which are enjoying an ugly renaissance bred, in part, by the succor President Trump has given to racial and religious intolerance.”
2. As of yet, there is no “clear and present danger” from antifa groups regarding the “broader political system.”
As the board frames this notion, antifa violence has “shown a disturbing capacity for intimidating and confusing various officials in locales” across the country. Incidents in Middlebury, Vermont and Portland, Oregon—perhaps unexpected settings for confrontations—are cited within the opinion piece. Returning to Berkeley for a moment, the violence encountered there prompted Mayor Jesse Arreguin—endorsed by Bernie Sanders, among others, in his mayoral bid—to even call for authorities to recognize antifa members as part of a “gang,” which could mean potential tougher sentences for any offenses committed, as per California law. Heretofore, however, these are largely isolated incidents.
3. This is not to say, though, that antifa groups should not be considered dangerous.
Per the Washington Post editorial board, this is a two-pronged danger. The first is more obvious: intimidation and violence do harm to people, property, and the very free speech the First Amendment is designed to protect. This is not to be undersold, and is why it appears in the very title of this piece. The second danger, meanwhile, and one which may or may not be appreciated by antifa members, is that such violence threatens the overall progress the country is making against hate and racism, and only risks fueling the forces that antifa seeks to eradicate. To give the board the final say on the subject, “In terms of objective political impact, the group is badly misnamed: ‘Profa’ would be more accurate.” Harsh, but not wholly undeserved.
Antifa groups who use threats of bodily harm or worse do not represent the whole of the Resistance, and realistically, as the Post explains, are “not liberals or democrats, much less liberal Democrats.” Nonetheless, whether as a kneejerk reaction from mainstream political analysts or specifically as a means of trying to demonize the left for political capital, their activism all too easily becomes conflated with that of peaceful groups on the liberal side of the spectrum. For moderate Democrats and progressives alike, this is problematic. For one, it allows right-wingers on FOX News and Breitbart to point and shout across the aisle at what many conservatives see as a flawed, immoral ideology inherent in liberalism. To give conservatives, ahem, more ammunition would appear to be in bad form. Not to mention it gives Donald Trump and his ilk a subject around which to rally and engender support (and, of course, accrue donations). In addition, without the requisite response from groups which stand to be lumped in with these bad actors among law-abiding protestors, more reputable organizations run the risk of appearing less legitimate and/or out of touch with what is going on their own house, so to speak. Assuming people will be able to see the difference is not sufficient, if Donald Trump’s electoral win has taught us anything. Especially when so many red voters are made to think that the liberal left is clueless, employing a laissez-faire approach to dealing with the growing presence of antifa is arguably self-defeating.
Accordingly, it is incumbent upon members of the Democratic Party and sympathetic politicians and activists on the left to strongly denounce the use of violence, the damage of property, and the disruption of free speech and assembly which antifa has represented and can represent in the future. By now, it is impossible to get ahead of the narrative being spun by Sean Hannity et al. that antifa is symptomatic of liberal politics in sum, but a certain amount of damage control is prudent, if not necessary to avoid ceding ground to a Republican Party which has itself ceded control to more conservative elements and which all but sat idly by as Donald Trump decimated its field of similarly unqualified political entrants and ineffectual insiders en route to the party nomination. At the same time, news media should be held accountable for their characterization of antifa, and should clearly delineate the difference between its destructive elements and groups which prioritize peaceful reform of faulty institutions, and should refrain from false comparisons between antifa and white supremacist groups. Antifa, unlike members of white nationalist and white supremacist groups, does not discriminate based on race or any other demographic characteristic, not to mention the movement lacks a real sense of cohesion. This is not to say, however, that antifa is highly moral or that its actions can’t be considered terroristic. Here is a situation that really craves a fair and balanced press to put antifa’s existence in its proper perspective.
Regardless of whether or not antifa is classified as a “gang” or “hate group,” people on both the left and right should decry the use of violence as a political tactic no matter who aims to implement it. As it must be stated and restated, violence as a political tool is not the answer. It is antithetical to its very aims and advancement through reform, and if we cannot agree to this end, we cannot have the kind of discussion we need as Americans to make real progress on this issue.
By virtue of living in Bergen County, New Jersey, my family and I read The Record, known colloquially as The Bergen Record. I don’t follow the local news as much as I should, instead amusing myself with diversions like the crosswords and negative op-eds about Chris Christie. It was to my mild astonishment when I saw that The Record and columnist Mike Kelly, who has been with the newspaper since 1981 and who has appeared on various radio shows in the area, as well as NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CBS Evening News, had recently made national news on the count of their interviewee. That would be an unfortunately public figure and member of the Trump administration in the person of Kellyanne Conway. Kelly’s interview touched on a number of different topics, but on the heels of Donald Trump’s baseless allegations that Barack Obama and his administration had him wiretapped (remember, pieces on Breitbart do not count as actual news), and WikiLeaks’ subsequent revelations through the release of Agency documents that the CIA has outlined the use of instructions and tools to spy on individuals through vulnerabilities in Apple and Android smartphones, various messaging apps, and even Samsung smart TVs, one line of discussion that dominated headlines was the notion other devices could be used in surveillance of everyday Americans. Particularly microwaves. No, really—microwaves. According to Conway, monitoring could be done through “microwaves that turn into cameras,” and that “we know this is a fact of modern life.”
The Twitterverse and blogosphere alike were abuzz following these assertions by the Counselor to the President, heaping ridicule and microwave-oriented Photoshopped pictures upon her comments. To be fair, maybe Kellyanne Conway really does know something about the hidden capacity for state espionage buried deep within our General Electric appliances, and we’ll all have egg on our faces when it turns out she was right all along. Given her past loose association with the truth, however, and President Trump and his administration’s apparent war on facts, it is—how should I put this—not bloody likely. Recall that Conway herself is already synonymous with “alternative facts,” an abstract concept that is as ludicrous as it is dangerous with respect to how readily she and others within the President’s circle of trust are apt to deflect away from serious lines of inquiry by the press. These new claims are all the more troubling given how apparently flippant she is in this instance about matters of verifiability. “We know this is a fact of modern life.” Who is “we”? What evidence do you have that microwaves are being used in this way? As far as Kellyanne Conway seems to be concerned, the truth of what she said seems to be self-evident in the notion that this is the modern age and that it could happen, or that she’s banking on you having insufficient knowledge of the subject to disprove her. Either way, by the time you’re ready to challenge the veracity of what she says, Conway is already prepared to pivot to the next point.
Will Saletan, in a piece for Slate, explains the nature of her elusiveness when being interviewed, and why it’s effectively useless for members of the media to try to engage her on matters of fact or to get her to admit to an outright lie. From his article:
An interview with Conway is like a game of Crazy Eights with one rule change: Every card is crazy. No matter what you say, she’ll pick a word from your question and use it to change suits. Use the word “fact,” and she’ll ask, “Chuck, do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance?”
Ask her about Russian interference in the election and she’ll reply, as in [an] interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “A lot of people in the mainstream media interfered with our election by trying to help Hillary Clinton win.” Ask her about the intelligence on the Russian hack—“You don’t believe the intercepts?” asked CNN’s Chris Cuomo—and she’ll say, “Here’s what I don’t believe … that [this issue is] so darn important to you now.”
Tell her there’s “no evidence that there were millions of illegal votes,” (Stephanopoulos again) and she’ll fire back, “There’s also no evidence that a recount is going to change the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.” You’ll never win this game because you’ll have to use words. She’ll pick the one she likes and throw out the rest.
Saletan’s advice, therefore, for members of the press is not to ask Kellyanne Conway about right and wrong, but to stick to “simple factual queries,” and to move on immediately when she begins to veer away from a yes-or-no answer. As he reasons, “There’s no point in getting apoplectic at Conway. She’s never going to break. If you think the only way to beat these people is to make them admit their lies, you’re the one who will lose.”
Let’s take this a step further, though. Will Saletan’s advice assumes a desire to or even a need to talk Ms. Conway. From The Record‘s perspective, Kellyanne Conway is more relevant than she would otherwise be because she lives in Alpine, NJ, probably the most affluent town in an already-well-to-do county in Bergen County, generally speaking. Here’s the thing, though: what did we learn as a result of this interview? Sure, the bit about microwaves generates clicks, and certainly, as much of a train-wreck in the making Donald Trump as POTUS seems to be, his tenure has been entertaining. All the same, the failure of the media to hold Trump and his lot accountable—because the latter have done their part to avoid the press, restrict its access, and undermine its credibility so as to make the job of the former near impossible—means more extreme measures must be taken so as not to further lose ground in the public eye in terms of respectability, at least not with respect to the viewers who still value the mainstream media as a viable source of information. With Conway in particular, if she is not going to provide useful material to viewers, it begs the follow-up question: why bother talking to her at all?
This isn’t a new line of thinking either, with more qualified people than likely you and definitely I expressing similar viewpoints. As part of a recent CNN panel moderated by Don Lemon discussing these comments made by Kellyanne Conway on wiretapping and other possible methods of domestic surveillance, Carl Bernstein, well-known for his work as an investigative journalist during the Watergate scandal, noticeably grimaced before delivering these remarks:
You know, I suggest that it’s time we all stop taking Kellyanne Conway seriously—she’s not a serious person. It’s time for us to drop her from our news agenda, unless she very specifically has something to say that we know has been put out there by the President of the United States.
Lemon agreed, referring to these continued claims of wiretapping by the White House despite a complete lack of evidence and/or the refusal to definitively refute them as “nonsense” and “silly.” (Side note: if Don Lemon is referring to you as “silly,” you know you’ve got to be doing a pretty bad job.) But Bernstein wasn’t content to write off this matter completely, adopting a more serious tone. His response was as follows:
It’s not silly—it’s dangerous—the extent to which we take it seriously. We need to keep doing our reporting on the real stories, including what’s going on with the Russians, with Trump and the people around him. We continue to be destabilized by the Russians and what is going on. Putin has got our number here, and we need to be looking at all aspects of this including whether or not we have a President of the United States who is capable and responsible enough to deal with what is going on.
As noted, Conway’s comments make for good theatre, but Carl Bernstein is correct: they are a distraction. Russian interference in our affairs, including our elections, has been a hot topic of conversation ever since the DNC leaks, and WikiLeaks has long been suspected of having a benefactor in the Russian government of the kind of information that Julian Assange and Company have been able to disseminate across Internet channels. Even the timing of WikiLeaks’ latest release is fairly suspect, as valid or valuable as the information within may be. Max Boot, in an article appearing in Foreign Policy, speaks in rather damning terms to this effect, indicating from the very title that “WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration.”
Boot notes within the article that WikiLeaks has timed past releases for maximum effect, as with the DNC leaks, when revelations about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others within the Committee acting to effectively sandbag Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid despite their professed neutrality were intended to cast doubt about Hillary Clinton after having sewn up the Democratic Party nomination—and likely to deter fervent Sanders supporters from switching their support to the first female presidential nominee of a major party in U.S. history. The contents of WikiLeaks’ latest data dump puts the American intelligence community on the defensive, at a time when Donald Trump’s claims of wiretapping and his contentious relationship with the CIA and other federal agencies critical to our nation’s security are worthy of our scrutiny, if only for how unreasonable they are. The shell game that is Trump’s relationship to Russia and that of others around him just grows faster and faster as we go. Where it stops—no one knows.
Kellyanne Conway is a glaring example of someone given a platform when it can be argued that all of her exposure primarily benefits the administration she serves and does little for the populace she is supposed to serve. She is not the only one, however, and not the only glaring example, at that. Much as Conway will lie and obscure her way to defending the man who appointed her, others within the media sphere will continually apologize for President Trump—and it is members of the media who enable such behavior, if only to appear fair and balanced. Let’s go back to CNN for a moment, and discuss why in the hell, if a professed leader in cable news such as they is to deem itself a respectable news network, they would have someone like Jeffrey Lord among their ranks. Jeff Lord got a degree in Government from Franklin & Marshall College in 1973. Where? Exactly—I didn’t know this place exists either, much less know it is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also, their mascot is the Diplomat, and Roy Scheider is a notable fellow alumnus. How do you like them apples? He also was apparently in the Ronald Reagan presidential administration from 1987 to 1988 as an associate political director—whatever that means.
Today, however, Jeffrey Lord is chiefly a political commentator and general annoyance on CNN and in various print and online publications. He also, more recently, has become a shameless defender of Donald Trump, and even wrote a book about the man entitled What America Needs: The Case for Trump. If that alone does not cast aspersions as to the soundness of his judgment, other controversial stances over the past few years have helped cement his reputation as being among the Piers Morgan ilk of ill-informed political douchebags (apparently, CNN has a penchant for hiring such wannabe click-bait). Jeff Lord once attacked the credibility of Shirley Sherrod, a former Department of Agriculture official, effectively over an issue of semantics about whether a relative of hers was “lynched” as opposed to beaten to death at the hands of a police officer. Lord also has compared Barack Obama when he was president to Mao Zedong and the Hitler Youth, has called on the Democratic Party and prominent figures within it to apologize for the party’s one-time support for slavery, and has defended his criticism of the Democratic Party on the basis that the KKK once supported them—hence, left-wingers today are apparently a bunch of bigots who “divide citizens by race.” The Democratic Party is not above criticism, and certainly, establishment bigwigs like Hillary Clinton are known for some egregious examples of pandering, but trying to vilify the Democrats of today for ties to the KKK and slavery is disingenuous, to say the least.
Not only is Lord feeding these “absurd” viewpoints, as fellow CNN commentator Van Jones referred to the last one in particular, and thereby giving credence to them due to his position of relative influence among cable news viewers, but other network personalities and guests must waste time pointing out the ridiculousness of his comments — time that could be better spent along the lines of what Carl Bernstein argues we should be discussing instead. This year alone, other political commentators have had to do all they could not to pull out their own hair trying to argue with Jeffrey Lord on points that really should be beyond debate by now. Robert Reich had, as Sarah K. Burris termed it, a “WTF moment” in reaction to Lord’s assertion that the intelligence community, specifically the CIA and NSA, were conspiring to try to bring down Donald Trump. A few weeks back, Bill Maher had Jeff Lord on his show, and had to shout “Don’t bullshit me!” to stop Lord from insisting that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election. Just the other day, meanwhile, Anderson Cooper was forced to “debate” with Lord on the subject of the Congressional Budget Office finding that some 24 million people stand to lose coverage with the passage of the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Jeff Lord pointed out that the CBO was off significantly in its initial estimate back in 2010 of how many people would be enrolled in a health insurance plan through the ACA by 2017, to which Cooper added context by highlighting the idea that the Office didn’t account for states opting out of the Medicare expansion. You know, because it was dumb of them to do so since it deprived their constituents of valuable federal funding, but these are politicians we’re talking about here, especially on the GOP side. To this Lord replied—and I wish I were making this up:
Right, but that’s my point, Anderson. We don’t know what the weather is going to be. It’s going to snow, but how much? I mean, we don’t know. We don’t trust weathermen, so why should we trust the CBO? Not that they’re not good people, but this is the problem perpetually in Washington.
Either Jeffrey Lord thinks weather is supremely easy to predict, forecasts of all makes and models are bullshit, or both, or possibly none of it all, but once again, Lord, like his idol Donald Trump, is seeking to undermine public confidence in government departments that contradict the President’s and the GOP’s regressive agenda, and in doing so, is using the inexact nature of statistical models as a means of diminishing math, science, and other subjects requiring sound professional judgment and a substantial degree of education. In other words, Jeff Lord is chumming the waters for the sharks watching at home and following on social media smelling blood in the water with the perception of Donald Trump’s win as a turning of the tide against the liberal elites who so long have been thumbing their noses at working-class America—or at least as they would have it. Not only is this dangerous for the mainstream media’s long-term survival, but as a subset of the cable news circuit, CNN itself is playing with fire by encouraging the “CNN is fake news” crowd and narrative. Down with the MSM! Down with Washington fat cats! Drain the swamp! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Doesn’t anyone else here see a problem for CNN with trotting out Jeffrey Lord—at the very least, a credibility problem?
Kellyanne Conway plays a game of Keep-Away that presents a danger in distracting us from what the rest of the Trump administration and the Republican Party are doing to destroy our country, not to mention making the media look very foolish in trying to make sense of her brand of crazy. Jeffrey Lord is an unflinching sycophant whose knee-jerk defenses of Donald Trump undoubtedly bolster the confidence of other Trump fanatics at home. Perhaps the most dangerous of these kinds of people we haven’t even discussed yet, however, and that they are as brazen as they are is likely a sign of the times and the political-social environment Trump has helped create here in the United States and abroad. I’m talking about unabashed white nationalists and racists, a group of which Representative Steve King, a political figure at the freaking federal level, is a part.
King, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 4th Congressional District in Iowa, recently made headlines when he re-Tweeted Geert Wilders, far-right Dutch politician and founder-leader of the Party for Freedom, which has essentially made exclusionary politics its raison d’être. The Iowa lawmaker added his own commentary—as if Wilders’ original content wasn’t bad enough—declaring that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The media and Democrats alike were quick to pounce on this apparent flagrant violation of American ideals of fraternity and diversity among people of different creeds, races, and walks of life, and even prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump via Sean Spicer made apparent attempts to distance themselves from King’s inflammatory remark.
This is just one of Steve King’s boldly prejudicial claims of the last year or so, if not the last week. According to King’s prediction, as expressed to Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson and responding to Jorge Ramos’s suggestion that by 2044, whites, despite likely still being a majority in terms of political power and influence but, in terms of overall population numbers, would be a minority given current trends, “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” Let this sink in for a moment—as mind-numbing as that may prove. There is so much wrong with this idea it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Rep. King seems literally unable to comprehend that this might happen—that whites are poised to become a “minority-majority” in the United States in a few decades’ time—and so he dismisses the very notion despite the proverbial writing on the wall. Second, he refers to them as “the blacks.” That’s like an older adult referring to the world’s preeminent search engine as “the Google.” It smacks of Jim Crow-era antiquated language. Lastly, the idea that African-Americans and Hispanics would fight because, you know, they’re predisposed to fighting and inciting violence, is wildly racist, not to mention wholly cynical. It has no basis in fact, and even if it did, you would think a politician would be loath to admit as much. And let’s not forget King’s questioning what other “subgroups” have done for Western civilization next to whites, which caused an immediate uproar from the MSNBC panel convened during the Republican National Convention and made it appear as if April Ryan was ready to slap some sense into him—something of which she would have been consummately justified in doing, by the by.
That these kinds of thoughts are coming from an elected official are somewhat astonishing, though not if we chart King’s past remarks and even relevant votes (King evidently was among those opposed to putting Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill). Given his penchant for white nationalist xenophobia and concern for the preservation of white ethnic and cultural elements at the apparent expense of all others, it also is vaguely surprising Steve King—or, as I like to call him, Evil Ed Harris Look-Alike—manages to keep getting elected. Then again, he is from the state of Iowa, a state that is—shall we say—not as diverse as others. As Corky Siemaszko details for NBC News, Rep. King remains immensely popular among voters in his district, and has consistently fended off challenges to his post since first being elected to it way back in 2002. Much of this appeal is owed to his district being over 90% white, but if we’re going to give him credit for something, it’s that he’s also an effective public speaker and can connect with people on a personal level. Of course, he can also pander to the pro-gun, anti-abortion crowd, and play on the fears of a conservative, Republican-heavy electorate concerned about a shrinking working class, changes in the American landscape, and attacks from abroad, but many Iowans see him as a personable, relatable kind of guy. We see another Donald Trump, but his neighbors see, well, a neighbor.
His popularity at home notwithstanding, why EEHLA is allowed to spew his white supremacist garbage on national television is beyond me, as I fail to understand why The Record would opt to interview Kellyanne Conway and her nonsense, or CNN would dare keep Jeffrey “Andrew Jackson’s Secret Descendant” Lord on their payroll. OK—I get that media outlets feel the need to report on Steve King’s outrageous statements. He can and should be called out for his divisive rhetoric, despite his insistence that he is interested in bringing people together. Beyond that initial reporting, though, the story can end there, or if nothing else, can do without further inquiry of King. And yet, who was interviewing him in the aftermath of his babies comment but—you guessed it—CNN. On-air personality Chris Cuomo asked Rep. King to clarify his remarks, as if to intimate that he might want to apologize for seeming like a racist asshole, but King was unfazed.
Here’s the thing: I feel as if CNN should’ve known Steve King wasn’t going to walk back his comments, that they couldn’t in this instance try to claim moral superiority and make him squirm. On some level, I feel King believes he’s right, and by now, he’s obviously not worried about alienating his constituents back in Iowa, many of whom likely agree with him. The only way to “win,” so to speak, is not to play. Don’t have him on at all. Bringing this discussion back to its central point, this is a lesson I feel the network should have learned with Kellyanne Conway, and why Jeffrey Lord stands to be such a losing proposition for them. You want to be purveyors of truth and go after obvious bigots and liars like Steve King and Trump’s cronies. For those who see Conway and King and Lord and don’t dismiss what they say, though, you’re merely feeding the narratives these people want to believe.
Throughout the presidential campaign, there was no shortage of critics pointing out Donald Trump’s follies and factual inaccuracies. And look where it got him: the White House. The lack of appeal to reason or even morality, in the minds of many, should be enough to disqualify Trump and the other aforementioned individuals. But it obviously doesn’t for enough Americans, and organizations from CNN to the Democratic Party need to start understanding this evident sea change in American politics and tap into what Trump voters/Republican voters care about. Sure, they may not see eye-to-eye on a whole lot with this new audience, but these bastions of “fake news” and “liberal elitism” can at least facilitate a conversation with everyday people rather than putting a bunch of clowns on camera who play up the crazy just to satisfy vague ideas of “fairness” or to garner a greater share of ratings, or attacking these public figures without clearly communicating an identity for themselves and thereby undermining their own credibility.
For the media in particular, though, and to put it succinctly: stop enabling apologists, liars, and racists. You’re still losing by the mere fact of giving them a platform, and may only succeed in hastening your own demise as a result.
As I’m sure you’re aware, on the evening of January 29, in Quebec City, a 27-year-old man named Alexandre Bissonnette walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec mosque and started firing. By the end, six men were killed, with others injured, and the next day, Bissonnette was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to condemn the attack as a terrorist act and one of cowardice on the part of the assailant, and authorities and Canadian citizens alike called for a spirit of inclusivity and togetherness in the wake of the violence. While mass shootings have become regrettably almost run-of-the-mill in America, mass shootings in Canada have been relatively sparse.
Within the United States, however, for a number of vocal Trump supporters during the early confusion of details filtering down from Quebec, the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique was Exhibit A as to why the recently-enacted “Muslim ban” is not only advisable, but patently necessary. Initial reports identified two suspects in connection with the shooting, one of whom was Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student originally from Morocco. The jingoists among us, eager to fly the Stars and Stripes at first notice of an exclusionary narrative onto which to latch, were likely already foaming at the mouth at mention of the name “Mohamed,” and news of Belkhadir’s connection with the crime just sent them over the top. See, this is why we don’t want to let refugees from Muslim nations into the country! There’s too great a danger! You never know when ISIS might be lurking around the corner! Bear in mind Morocco isn’t one of the countries specified in President Trump’s ban on immigration, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good argument, shall we?
Except for the eventual revelation Mohamed Belkhadir was not actually a suspect in the mosque attack, but a witness. Oops! According to reports, Belkhadir was trying to administer first aid to a friend and fled to the cultural center’s parking lot when he saw someone with a gun, not knowing that person was a cop. Indeed, the search for a narrative and the desire to run with it led to a hasty presumption based on unconfirmed information and betrayed a series of arguments predicated on racial and xenophobic prejudice. What’s more, regarding the person of Alexandre Bissonnette, a synopsis of various media sources by Manisha Krishnan, writing for VICE, paints a picture of the Laval University student that might easily be recognized stateside as well as in Canada. According to these reports, he is a loner, a subscriber to right-wing views, a xenophobe, someone who displays misogynistic tendencies and trolls a Facebook group for refugees, is a white nationalist, and—to top it all off—is a fan of Donald Trump and his policies. Oops, again! While I personally might balk at the idea that Bissonnette is one of the Trump Train lot, as, ahem, not every Trump supporter is a mass murderer, that Bissonnette would seem to be an admirer of the President’s puts an almost ironic twist on the quick finger pointed at the Muslim world wholesale by those espousing similar right-wing views.
There are any number of striking things about this example of brutality. Certainly, the idea that Donald Trump’s influence translates into French Canada and abroad may startle, though the rise of white nationalism is certainly not limited to Trump; Alexandre Bissonnette is also said to be an admirer of France’s Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party has gained popularity by adopting a similar anti-immigrant stance. What also grabs the attention, however, at least for yours truly, is statistical information regarding all Canadians’ attitudes toward Muslims. Justin Trudeau, either because he’s being diplomatic, he truly believes it, or both, has, in the wake of the mosque attack, consistently preached the country’s support for the Canadian Muslim community and solidarity with the population. Personal views, meanwhile, tend to vary. Alyssa Favreau, a Montreal-based writer, connects the Quebec shooting to a rising sea of anti-Muslim sentiment.
As Favreau notes within the piece, police-reported hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled in Canada from 2012 to 2014, and the raw number (99) stands to be much larger because the majority of these crimes go unreported. What’s more, the attitudes of average Canadians toward Islam on the whole speak to a vague apprehension about the religion and its practitioners. A 2015 survey by the Quebec Human Rights Commission found that, despite about half of respondents having reservations about organized religions in general, a significantly higher percentage of those surveyed said they felt more uncomfortable about someone wearing a hijab as opposed to one wearing a cross. As for the Canadian population as a whole, based on a Forum Poll (Canada’s leading public opinion service) survey, more than a quarter of respondents had unfavorable feelings about Muslims. In other words, if Trudeau’s sentiments conveyed the sense some sort of love-fest exists in his country for followers of Islam, evidence points to the contrary.
In the United States, meanwhile, according to a report by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, just under half of respondents across a composite of four polls during the election year disapproved of Islam on the whole; the approval rate for Muslim people fared yet better, with 70% of respondents viewing this subset of the population in a positive light, as opposed to 28% surveyed viewing Muslims in a negative light as of October 2016. This actually marks an improvement on these ratings since November 2015, and in spite of the salience of events like the Orlando shooting. As Telhami instructs, the upward trend in pro-Muslim leanings is almost exclusively attributable to changing views among Democrats and independents, and may well be a reaction to Donald Trump’s divisive actions and rhetoric. While the direction of this trend may be surprising, the source seems less so. After all, we would expect more liberal-oriented respondents to more readily embrace Islam and those who practice the faith.
If American views of Islam and Muslims are on the upswing, and even though progressives would like to see improvement on the dimensions governed by the polls interpreted by Shibley Telhami and his associates, it is therefore somewhat troubling to have people who would more readily identify with the left espousing views that mischaracterize Islam. By and large, I appreciate the comedy of Bill Maher, and while I may not agree with all of his positions on key issues, I have a certain degree of respect for the man. His stances on Islam and Muslims, on the other hand, I patently disagree with, and his embrace of fringe theories about this religion is not only arguably counterproductive, but potentially dangerous as well.
On a recent airing of his show, Real Time with Bill Maher, the namesake host featured a conversation with Sam Harris, author, cognitive neuroscientist, and co-founder of Project Reason, on the nature of Islam. Harris, no stranger to the program and notable for being a leader within what has been coined the New Atheist movement, had some choice words for the Muslim world and those liberals who support them. According to Sam Harris, “the left has allied itself with Islamists and closet Islamists,” and while on one hand, he and Bill Maher reject the merits of the Muslim ban, he had this to say about criticisms from left-leaners of others possessing Islamophobic tendencies: “You don’t have to be a fascist or a racist or even a Trumpian to not want to import people into your society who think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet.” Maher was quick to chime in at one point on this broad subject, condemning comparisons made between Islamist terrorist groups and the Ku Klux Klan, saying dismissively, “The KKK is not seeking nuclear weapons.” Um, bully for them then?
Both Sam Harris and Bill Maher, in discussing Muslims and Islam in this way, appear to be making a fundamental error. Harris, making a sweeping generalization, evidently believes all Muslims and refugees from countries where the predominant faith is Islam think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet Muhammad or otherwise representing them in a less-than-holy light, when realistically, this is a hallmark of radical or ultra-conservative Muslims, and not necessarily your everyday followers. As for Maher, he makes the distinction between the Ku Klux Klan and various Islamist groups, as if to say, “See? What did I tell you about Islam!” If saying the KKK doesn’t want nukes is your primary defense of this group, though, it’s a bit of splitting proverbial hairs, no? It’s like saying Donald Trump isn’t Hitler because he hasn’t tried to exterminate the Jews. That’s really a cold comfort, and besides, dude’s still got ample time in his first 100 days and Stephen Bannon the Skeleton King pouring poison into his ear. In either case, Harris and Maher are conflating the work of jihadists with that of rank-and-file Muslims, and such discourse not only seems to be steeped in faulty logic, but potentially is dangerous given the national voice these figures possess.
Sadly, this is nothing new for either man. Though a bit dated by Internet standards, Salon in 2015 compiled a compendium of Bill Maher’s “greatest hits” on Islam, which includes references to Muslims’ beliefs as “pernicious,” the Koran as a “hate-filled holy book,” and to Islam itself not being a religion of peace. As for Sam Harris, Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the best journalist you’ve never heard of, penned a lengthy op-ed about Harris and other New Atheists on “anti-Muslim animus” back in 2013. I know—positively ancient, right? And yet, not much seems to have changed or evolved within Harris’s world view since. Greenwald acknowledges Sam Harris’s antipathy toward organized religion as a whole (Bill Maher, though not an avowed atheist, is like-minded in his distaste for organized religion and its more deleterious effects), but notes how Harris, for lack of better phrasing, has a hard-on for Islam and those that worship in accordance with its precepts. From the essay:
The key point is that Harris does far, far more than voice criticisms of Islam as part of a general critique of religion. He has repeatedly made clear that he thinks Islam is uniquely threatening: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” He has insisted that there are unique dangers from Muslims possessing nuclear weapons, as opposed to nice western Christians (the only ones to ever use them) or those kind Israeli Jews: “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence.” In his 2005 “End of Faith”, he claimed that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”
This is not a critique of religion generally; it is a relentless effort to depict Islam as the supreme threat. Based on that view, Harris, while depicting the Iraq war as a humanitarian endeavor, has proclaimed that “we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” He has also decreed that “this is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with millions more than have any direct affiliation with Al Qaeda.” “We”—the civilized peoples of the west—are at war with “millions” of Muslims, he says. Indeed, he repeatedly posits a dichotomy between “civilized” people and Muslims: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.”
This isn’t “quote-mining”, the term evidently favored by Harris and his defenders to dismiss the use of his own words to make this case. To the contrary, I’ve long ago read the full context of what he has written and did so again yesterday. […] Yes, he criticizes Christianity, but he reserves the most intense attacks and superlative condemnations for Islam, as well as unique policy prescriptions of aggression, violence and rights abridgments aimed only at Muslims. As the atheist scholar John L Perkins wrote about Harris’ 2005 anti-religion book: “Harris is particularly scathing about Islam.”
The larger significance of these kinds of attitudes, as Glenn Greenwald sees things, is that this thinking can be used to justify all sorts of aggression, human rights abuses, and violence against Muslims, the kinds of acts to which rights activists independent of political affiliation strongly object. They include anti-Muslim profiling, state violence (i.e. liberals are “soft” on terrorism), support for Israel even in the face of international criticism, and torture. What’s more, whereas defenders of divisive behavior and rhetoric on the right might view this as justified based on vague ideas of Christian righteousness or outright racism and xenophobia, the foundation of New Atheism’s anti-Muslim sentiments is feelings and notions of a moral superiority. Sure, Sam Harris and his confederates might view their objections to Islam as more correct because they are not based on strict adherence to religious doctrine, but viewed in the context of secular morality and a battle of good versus evil, they are equally as insidious, if not more so. “They know not what they do”? Hardly. Harris and Company know exactly what they do—and that’s the point.
As Glenn Greenwald frames his arguments, then, Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s wholesale character assassination of Islam fits in all-too-nicely with a generalized American and Western condemnation of the Muslim world, and a tendency to side with our own interests even when they may be seen as wrong. Greenwald describes the problem with Harris’s denigration of Muslims and Islam quite succinctly:
Harris’ self-loving mentality amounts to this: those primitive Muslims are so tribal for reflexively siding with their own kind, while I constantly tout the superiority of my own side and justify what We do against Them. […] He is at least as tribal, jingoistic, and provincial as those he condemns for those human failings, as he constantly hails the nobility of his side while demeaning those Others.
As Sam Harris and other New Atheists would have it, the end game of Islam is to convert everyone to the faith, politically subjugate those who don’t convert, or kill those who stand in the way. Otherwise, the assumptions they make about the way Muslims think are based not on factual observation or rational, intellectual inferences, but rather a spirit grounded in religious or “tribal” attitudes—and if we really want to get down to brass tacks, this liberal Islamophobia is pretty much a religion in of itself. So much for that whole “no religion” bit.
It’s one thing for educated folks like Bill Maher and Sam Harris to sneer at the section of right-wing America that, to paraphrase Barack Obama’s infamous quote, clings to its Bibles, its guns, and its resentment against the foreign and the unfamiliar. It’s quite another, however, for their likes to convey an elitist tone and deride the Muslim ban as an obvious poor choice while they, in the same breath, denigrate Muslims and what they believe. So, while Maher, Harris and other non-believers/agnostics may thumb their noses at those who get caught up in matters of sectarian conflict, looking down at the rigidity of organized religions from atop their high horses, by painting Islam and Muslims with broad, largely negative strokes, they are no better than the Americans who, say, argue Muslims are a danger to the United States because they want nothing more than to make sharia law the supreme law of the land and subvert our existing statutes in the name of Allah.
Speaking of which, on that last note, in another one of those quasi-ironic twists that I seem to love these days, if anything is liable to bring religiously-motivated laws into a position of greater influence and effect, it is not Muslims, but the man behind the ban himself, President Donald Trump. Alongside plotting a gutting of the Dodd-Frank Act, a piece of legislation crafted in direct response to the irresponsible banking, lending and other regulatory practices which led to the global financial crisis almost a decade ago, Trump vowed recently to destroy the Johnson Amendment, which effectively bars churches from making political contributions, and thus, is an important aspect of the separation of church and state in the United States. Evidently, and in short, Trump, his cronies, and Republicans who aid and abet him in terrible policy-making are content to let the financial industry and religious organizations alike run amok. As many of us may reason, they might as well. You know, after confirming the likes of Rex Tillerson, a man who has ties to Vladimir Putin and who until recently helmed a company that dealt with countries considered state sponsors of terrorism, and Betsy DeVos, whose millions of dollars of political contributions somehow are supposed to count for a complete lack of competence and experience, there’s almost nowhere to go but up. Almost.
What we don’t need, therefore, returning our focus to the topic of anti-Muslim sentiment, is more noise from individuals professing to uphold science and intellectualism but instead giving way to beliefs that smack of white ethnocentrism and are reliant on a warped understanding of a religion practiced by over a billion people worldwide. People like Sam Harris argue liberals are in bed with jihadists and others like Bill Maher feel political correctness holds us back from having an honest and open conversation about Islam and the Muslim world, and at worst, makes us “pussies.” Little do they realize, however, it is, to a considerable extent, their closed-mindedness which only fuels mutual misunderstanding between East and West and drives us all further apart.