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White Men Can’t Assimilate

In PeaceAble, Politics on January 16, 2021 at 4:55 pm

It’s been a problem right from the start. 

Before white men arrived on the shores of what they thought was India, the American continents had thriving, sophisticated, complex civilizations.  They had all the things that Europe had, albeit their own versions of those things.  They had agriculture, industry and commerce; they had art, literature, music, and dance; they had sports; they had religions; they had class structures.  They even had war.

But in an instance of irony of nearly cosmic scale, the white men who came to exploit and then to conquer, who brought deadly weapons and deadlier diseases, who raped and murdered, saw only savages. 

White men have, of course, never sought to assimilate with their inferiors.

Since then, white men have always insisted that the burden of assimilation is on the people we have tried to save from the curse of non-whiteness.  We have been successful at this rather bizarre insistence on our self-assigned superiority for hundreds of years across all the continents of the planet except Antarctica, which has escaped only because it had the good fortune not to be previously occupied by humans, though the penguins have not escaped unscathed.

This, of course, is because white men invented race, but exempted ourselves from the consequences which we assigned to it.  We even went so far as to remove the mention of our own whiteness as a qualifier of our accomplishments.  We were not so much a race ourselves as a default identity, referred to primarily when necessary to justify our behavior towards other races. 

The result was that we lost the ability to see ourselves as the other.

In fact, it may be that fundamental to everything else white men fear we will lose in a more diverse and equal world is the loss of the ability to ignore our own racial otherness and to never need to assimilate.  If white men should no longer be the center of the racial universe, but just one of the many races we have, ourselves, created, then we will have to accept the equal humanity of all people.  And we will have to learn to live among them, rather than assuming that they must always live among us.

The first step may be simply to acknowledge that there are more of them.  There always have been. 

In the past, we have been able to imagine that it didn’t matter, but as technology and information have shrunk the world, we can no longer pretend.  White men are a minority in the world, and we must acknowledge that and surrender our unearned privilege and our imagined superiority.

What we really fear, of course, is that we will reap what we have sown.  If we become the other, then we will be treated according to the rules we have made for how the “other” is to be treated.  This signifies two unspoken assumptions: first, that the others are just like us, not different at all; and then, that they may be just as angry with us as we imagine we would be had the shoe been on the other foot all that time, and they will be looking for revenge. 

Also, there is the sense that equality is ours to grant.  We hear that every time a white man complains that the other wants “special privileges,” and that’s not fair.  Why, goes the question, should we give them affirmative action, why should we give them equal pay, why should we give them the same access to the voting booth, that we have?  Why should we, white men, give the gift of being equally human to the others?

And then we ask, “why can’t we just start, fresh, OK?”  We promise to be “color blind” from now on.  Everyone’s the same.  That way, we don’t have to give you anything.  We’ll all start equal, starting today.  Of course, we’ll still have nearly all the wealth, nearly all the power, and all the existing social and cultural norms; but, hey, all the others have to do is work hard, and not cause any trouble, and they can earn their own stuff.

Except the norms, of course.  We’ll hold onto those, because, well, tradition and values and the American way, and God, you know.

What we don’t want to admit is that the problem isn’t what we have to give, it’s what we have to give up.

That’s what assimilation is, after all.  It’s giving up things, so that we can live harmoniously and peaceably with others who are, in fact, different from us.  We have to share our toys.  We have to stop whining about fairness when someone else gets something we wanted. 

We have to stop trying to control the conversation, and just listen for a while.

And we have to stop expecting the others to accommodate to our superiority and our privilege, to protect us from the consequences of our history.

It’s going to be difficult.  It will, especially if we continue to resist it, be painful at times.  We will not do it well; not at first, anyway.  We have no experience in it.  It’s foreign to us.  There’ll be a learning curve.  But if we work hard and try to stay out of trouble . . . well . . . you know.

One day at a time.  That’s what addicts are told when they’re trying to quit.  Superiority, privilege, and the invisibility of our own racial culpability are our addictions.  They are what we need to quit.

And so, let us begin, we white men.  One day at a time.  Every day, we need to give up a little more of our dependency on being white.  Acknowledge the problem, take responsibility for it, and actively seek solutions.

It’s been said recently that it’s not enough to strive to be non-racist.  We must become anti-racist.  We white men cannot simply take back race as though we’d never invented it, never practiced it, have not had our whole lives shaped by the reality of it.  We have to tear it down, brick, by brick.  We built it.  We own it.  And it will, ultimately be we who will have to give it up.  We will have to take an active part in the demolition. The only other choice is to have it torn down around us, and that will almost certainly mean the realization of our worst fears.

The world is no longer Euro-centrically male and white, and we will have to assimilate.

THE DISUNITED STATES

In PeaceAble, Politics on December 12, 2020 at 10:46 am

Perhaps we should have seen it coming.  Maybe it was always inevitable.  Possibly the plan was fatally flawed from the very beginning.

America.  No, wait.  The United States of America.  Sure, we regularly use the shorthand, but the 50 states and 5 unincorporated, permanently inhabited territories are not America.  They are, in fact, not even most of America, which refers properly to two continents that comprise nearly all of the western hemisphere.

I bring this up because the 2020 presidential election, following four years of a presidency that has ripped the sheets off deep and abiding divisions and enflamed them nearly to the breaking point, has led to what may seem impossible-to-heal polarization.  On the left there is talk of never forgiving those who have so egregiously wounded the fundamental bonds of democracy; and on the right there is talk of a new civil war, of secession.  Each side is throwing around charges against the other of sedition and treason. 

How very “American” of us.

We call ourselves the “United States,” but a degree of disunity has always been there, has always lingered in the shadows, waiting for its chance to break things apart.

Each of the “united” states has individual sovereignty.  We have always been a federation of sovereign states, not a nation with a unitarian identity.  Our differences and divisions have been part of who we are since before the revolution, and have been codified by the Constitution and the courts since the 18th century.

The most obvious manifestations of this have always centered around racism and slavery, but have expanded to include all kinds of arguments involving every kind of human characteristic that distinguishes white men as the natural ruling class; wealth as the equivalence of superior intelligence and ability; nominally Puritan ideas about sex, gender, matrimony and general morality as normative; protestant Christianity (itself rife with internal division) as the institution of authority for all things called god; and Manifest Destiny as the final word on the United States’ proper place in the world.

We are, in other words, not really designed to be a nation at peace with itself, with a singularity of purpose or vision.

In some ways, this has been our strength.  We gave ourselves permission, whether the founders knew it or not, to become incredibly diverse, to become a melting pot, to become a home to so many who found themselves homeless in other nations. It gave us a foundation on which to build arguments of justice and freedom and fairness for non-whites, for immigrants, for the differently-abled, for LGBTQ+ individuals, for followers of a broad range of religious beliefs and doctrines or none at all, and all kinds of educational, economic, and cultural classes, communities, practices and personal choices.

But it has also allowed us to hang onto deeply rooted prejudices, and normalized discrimination.  It has allowed us to abuse, disenfranchise, dehumanize our own citizens.  It has allowed us to make self-aggrandizing claims of freedom, equality and justice while maintaining embedded exploitation, inequality, and injustice.  Freedom has come to mean a measure of anarchy; equality has come to embrace the idea that the false is equal to the true and the harmful equal to the healthy; and justice has been reimagined as the rule of authoritarian law.

This is the great dilemma that must ultimately be resolved.  Are we to be a single nation?  Will we embrace in reality our idealistic pledge of indivisibility?  Can we at last find a way to reconcile and repair our violent, bloody past and the long-festering, unhealed wounds of intolerance, bigotry, and human exploitation?  Can we, in the 21st century, use this moment of open – even honest in its own way – polarization to become what we have fantasized ourselves to be?

Have we, at last, hit bottom?

For the moment, the ball is in the Progressives’ court.  If meaningful change, lasting change, substantive change, is to happen, it will be because Progressives are able to seize this moment without rancor, without vengeance, without exacerbating the divisions that plague us, but by finding intelligent and effective solutions and advocating tirelessly for their implementation.  It will require perseverance, patience, and genuine adherence and fidelity to our most important principles, even when we have to apply them to people we have heretofore denigrated as deplorable and dismissed as irredeemable.

I sincerely hope that we are up to the task.

COMPARING RACISM

In Politics on October 23, 2020 at 10:45 am

It is, to put it plainly, ridiculous to argue over which of two white American men in their seventies is more racist.

Comparing degrees of racism is like comparing how much “special ingredient” Minny put in our pie.  I mean how much should we be okay with?

Now, if we accept the idea that it is nearly impossible to find an adult white American male who is completely free of racism, then we can begin to address the more complicated issue: what are we going to do about it?

And I say this as a white American man in my seventies.

From my admittedly privileged perspective on issues of race, I would argue that there are two kinds of institutional and systemic racism: white supremacist and white privileged.

White supremacist racism ranges from the overt acts of racism by proud white nationalists to the small daily doubts of people who grew up in overtly racist times and can’t quite free themselves of the occasional racist response.  It is the second group that needs to be helped.  The first group will need to eventually die out – or not.

A lot of the white privileged group are sincere, kind, honest, and loving people who have tried very hard to change, and may even be convinced that they are no longer or have never been racist.  They have lots of professional and social interactions with non-whites.  Their circles are broadly diverse.  They may even intermarry, or genuinely celebrate the inter-racial relationships of their friends and family.  They may even work very hard to advance social change around things like ghettoization, income and work inequality, unequal treatment in interactions with the legal system, hate speech and hate crime, and so on.

But.

Every once in a while, there is a moment when they wonder if “black on black crime” may be a fair point; or they have to fire up Google to fact-check whether Black communities really do have an “absent father” problem that white communities don’t.  Every once in a while, they may listen with a moment of sympathy or thoughtful intellectualism to a debate about whether the principal cause of the Civil War was rooted in slavery or in economics or in states’ rights, before it kicks in that the economic history of America is inseparable from slavery and the states’ right being fought about was the right to own slaves.  Every once in a while, they realize that they are far more aware of, and concerned with, in ways both small and large, the race of their non-white friends than their white ones.

Racism is part of our national character.  We have all been affected by it.  Even non-whites raised in America have internalized it. It’s a disease that lingers in us, and occasionally erupts into noticeable sores. We have learned to live with it, but we would be so much better off if we could find a cure.

What cure?

I don’t want to overstate it or give the wrong impression, but the current COVID-19 pandemic may provide a useful, though flawed, analogy.

We have to start by understanding that racism is highly contagious; can be debilitating or even fatal; requires us to assume for our own safety that everyone we come into contact with may be infected; and even asymptomatic carriers can transmit the disease.

To fight the disease, we will need to watch ourselves carefully.  Try to stay away from people and places where it is likely to be spread.  Especially avoid potential super-spreader events, like certain political gatherings.  Know who in your personal bubble is less likely to be putting themselves in harm’s way, and self-isolate within that bubble. When you must venture out, take precautions.  Sanitize regularly; every time you have had contact with anyone or anything that is suspect, wash your hands of it.  When your “crazy uncle” tells a “Mexican” joke, tell him it’s not funny and you won’t have any part of it.  When a white acquaintance tries to “whitesplain” the BLM movement. Refuse to cooperate.

And here’s what may be the hardest part.  Wear a mask to reduce the possibility of your inadvertently spreading the disease.  Think before you speak, before you act.  If you’re about to argue with a non-white person about their described experience of being non-white in America, stop yourself; and just listen instead.  Remind yourself regularly that even the smallest droplets of racism you might unconsciously breathe into your surroundings can spread the disease.

There won’t be any vaccine any time soon.  We aren’t going to discover any miracle cure.  Herd immunity is clearly not going to happen.  The disease will be with us for a long time.  It will continue to be a drag on our society, our economy, our lives in myriad ways.  We may need to shut some things down for a while.  Some radical surgery may be needed, such as tearing down memorials to racism or racists, such as cutting irredeemable racists out of our social and political and economic systems, such as cutting our own ties with those persons or institutions that are helping to spread the disease.

But the first, and most important step is to recognize both the severity and the inevitability of the disease itself, and to take responsibility for our own part in it.  The second step is to take whatever action we can to root it out and deal with it both within ourselves and within the culture.  The third step is to demand the kinds of systemic, institutionalized, and culturally normative changes that will be necessary to someday eradicate the disease.  And all of these steps need to be taken simultaneously.

Now let me reiterate.  I’m a white American male in my seventies.  I am, by definition, a carrier of the disease.  It is my responsibility to do whatever I can to treat the disease in myself, reduce the spread of it to others, and advocate for treatments now and a cure in the future.

I can’t be certain, of course, that I am speaking for anyone else, or reflecting a perspective that others will find useful, or even valid.  What I am certain of is that if I don’t say something, do something, try something, then I will never fully recover.  And if we, none of us, do, say, or try, then there is a real possibility that the disease will prove terminal for us all.

WAITING FOR THE PUNCHLINE – AND WANTING TO PUNCH SOMEONE

In Politics on March 29, 2020 at 11:01 am

We have relied, for the past several years, on the network and cable comedy shows to help keep us sane in these difficult times. Often, it seems as though John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, and the other late-night hosts have been a more reliable source of the truth about what’s happening in this country and the world than the main stream media.
And yet.
And yet.
Now that all the shows have been put online without audiences, I have been unable to bring myself to watch them. I see the Daily Show videos, the Colbert monologues, and I can’t bring myself to watch them.
I can no longer allow myself the luxury of relying on comedy to get me through this. It is too great a privilege.
I am a 72-year-old white male, retired, living at home with my wife, who is also retired. I can afford to sit at home and laugh through my anger and fear. I’m not being deprived of a wage that was already less than a living wage. I don’t have to figure out what to do about my children. I have books and television and radio and my cell phone and my computer. I can be isolated and not alone. I don’t have to go to work every day and risk my life. I don’t have to strip off my clothes before entering my house, then deny myself and my family even the simplest intimacies.
I am fortunate and I am privileged.
I even have reason to believe that even if I got sick I could afford testing and treatment.
My wife and I are social-distancing, self-isolating. We go out only to pick up a few things at the grocery store, where she goes in because she is younger than I and all the advisories say that I am more at risk if one of us gets infected. She is also required by family obligations to go out more than I. Of course, we must assume that if one of us were to become infected it is most likely that we both would.
Still, we follow the protocols. We clean everything that comes into the house. We leave groceries on the porch until we can sanitize the packages as best we can. We wipe down the mail. When we go for a walk outside with a friend, we stay 6 feet apart. We wash our hands frequently. We have reviewed all the guidelines. We live in a rural community where the virus has not yet been shown to be present, but assume it is only a matter of time.
We do this not simply because the government or the CDC or WHO or anyone else has required it, but because we want to be as safe as possible and we want others to be safe as well.
We worry about our sisters and brothers, our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors, many of whom may be more at risk than we are.
We live in ignorance of the facts. Like everyone else, we cannot really know the extent or location of the virus because testing is not being done as broadly or efficiently as it should. Was that dry cough a reaction to my blood pressure medicine or was I sick? Is there always a fever, or could I have been carrying the virus asymptomatically? Were our grandchildren infected before the schools were closed; before their soccer practice or games were suspended?
Will the measures now, finally, being taken mean that this crisis will be behind us by summer or still with us at Christmas?
How long? How much?
And that is why I cannot look right now at the comedy.
I’m too angry.
I can no longer laugh at Donald Trump. I can no longer see his daily displays of ignorance, pettiness, self-aggrandizement, lack of empathy or compassion, attacks on anyone and everyone who dares to suggest he might be wrong, might do better, might have some genuine responsibility to something other than himself, and not feel frightened for the future of our country, our democracy, our way of life.
I am way past the time to allow myself to believe that black humor, trench humor, can help us. These are dangerous times; not just because of the coronavirus, but because we are witnessing the willingness of the people in power openly and wantonly to destroy the Constitution in order to enrich themselves with both money and political power.
While we sit in our houses or suffer through our lives in the shadow of COVID-19, Our government is conspiring to stack the federal courts with unqualified, ideologically driven judges. They are arranging to give away hundreds of billions of taxpayer money to multi-billion-dollar corporations. They are stealing land and stealing the vote from the First Nations. They are carrying out petty vendettas. And they are dragging their feet on addressing the COVID-19 crisis because of unrelated, unimportant, fringe beliefs and issues. They are spinning lies and conspiracy theories and distortions rather than dealing directly with the very real issues of life and death.
And I want to go into the streets. I want all of us, by the millions to be in the streets. And we can’t be. The coronavirus has not just made us into hermits, it has robbed us of our most important power as citizens.
I expect I will get my sense of humor back. I do see some hopeful signs, good things swirling around in the chaos with everything else. I am, however, afraid that November may be too late for far too many of us. What will be left by then? And will we be able to come back from this?
We must stay engaged. We must stay afraid. We must stay angry. We must stay safe. When the doctors and the health experts tell us it is safe enough, we must go into the streets. And when the Fall does come around, we must take our fear and our anger to the voting booth in numbers that will make it loud and clear that we are not fooling around any longer.

Why the Democrats Could win this Election and Lose the Next

In Politics on March 20, 2020 at 11:19 am

I feel fortunate to live in a state that is extremely unlikely to give its electoral votes to Donald Trump in 2020. As a result, I could probably choose to vote third party and not change the outcome of the general election. Nonetheless, I am committed to voting for the Democrat in November, even if it is Joe Biden, whom I do not believe will be a strong effective President and whose policies both current and historically are nowhere near to what I can enthusiastically support. I will do so because I think that it is important that the Donald Trump presidency needs to be overwhelmingly rejected both in the electoral college and in the popular vote.
(If you are a Trump supporter please stop reading this now and do not respond with some sort of pro-Trump MAGA nonsense. This discussion is not for you and not about you.)
But if either of the old white men currently leading in the primaries is ultimately chosen as the candidate, and the party does not select a running mate who is significantly younger, progressive, FEMALE, and – as a bonus – non-white, the Democrats may win this election, but lose their majority going forward.
Let’s be honest. The Democratic Party of 2020 is a center-right party. The left wing of the party, represented at its extreme by Bernie Sanders, would be simply center-left if our major parties actually reflected the spectrum of the American people, their values, their priorities, and their needs.
And if we continue to be honest with ourselves, we need to recognize that the rightward drift of the Democrats is neither historically all that distant a drift. The Democrats are as stuck in the past as the Republicans; and though the Democratic party still offers a greater likelihood that the kinds of progressive policies I support may eventually be realized, they cannot count on that small likelihood to sustain them after 2020.
It’s comforting for some in the party to believe that the party’s rightward shift was politically necessary, that they needed to shift right because that’s where the country was going, so the shift was needed to win elections. What they don’t say out loud, however is that the party establishment actually believed that it was the correct direction for the party to go in ideologically. In other words, they thought that the Republicans weren’t entirely wrong.
The rightward movement of the American people was always a myth created by the media after Ronald Reagan was elected. It was a way of explaining both Reagan’s success and Carter’s rejection. A time magazine article at the time of Reagan’s election analyzed it as some kind of extreme rightward change in America. To prove it, they did a survey. They asked a lot of general questions designed to elicit expected responses that could be analyzed as conservative. But when they asked, in the same survey, more specific questions about support for abortion rights, gun regulations, civil rights, women’s rights, and so on, the results were almost entirely left of center by sixty to seventy percent or more. Their conclusion: the country is in a major conservative swing . . . but there is still some disagreement about the issues.
The Democrats have long counted on the left wing of the party having nowhere to go. Minor party voting has long carried a risk of electing regressive right wing politicians and slowing even the modest progress that was being made to address gender, race, religious, and economic inequalities and inequities and injustices that have persisted throughout American history. And this has encouraged the conservatives who control the party to keep moving to the right while promising slow, delayed, “eventual” progress on the issues important to progressives; then asserting that the left has to vote democrat.
2018 showed us that there is not only enough progressive enthusiasm and power to move the party back to the left, there is also enough to seriously suggest that it would be possible to create a new, left of center, Democratic Socialist party that would be a major party rather than a third party spoiler. If the center right Democrats win the White House in 2020, but fail to deliver on progressive issues for the next four years, they may forever lose the support of the progressives.
But here’s the thing. If that meant the practical demise of the Republican party as a major party in this 2-party system of ours, it might be a good thing. Poll after poll show that the political center of the country on issues such as women’s health and abortion access, on taxation of the very wealthy, on income equity and a living wage, on Social Security and Medicare, on LGBTQ issues, on universal health care, and so on, is significantly left of where the Democratic party’s “centrists” are.
If we are to be a system that depends on two major political parties, then those parties should offer more than just two choices on the same side of the political spectrum. One should be able to represent the right of center and the other the left, so that there is a balance between left and right that allows for progress to be made, but compromises, also.
So, I am somewhat torn. I would love to see the Democratic party move back toward the left, embrace the Democratic Socialists, start in 2020 to restore what we have lost, and begin to make real substantive progress beyond that. On the other hand, I would love to see the white supremacists, racists, oligarchs, religious zealots and exclusionists of the far right, and the current Republican party that embraces them reduced to fringe political existence; and the rise of a new, powerful, progressive party to replace them.
For that reason, I will vote blue in November even if the candidate is not even my fourth or fifth or worse choice among the primary contenders who started. And I will work to help elect genuine progressives at the local and state level and into both houses of Congress.

Donald Trump and the Democratic Plot to Destroy the GOP

In Politics, Uncategorized on December 4, 2019 at 11:40 am

 

(Satire . . . or is it?)
The Premise:
We have always assumed that it is the GOP who know how to take the long view, to play the long game. The Democrats are always looking to solve some specific social “problem” or other, but don’t know how to plan for what comes next. The roots of the rise of the right that put Trump in office can be seen in Dick Cheney’s choice of himself as Vice-President, and in Karl Rove’s pledge to create a permanent GOP majority, and in Gingrich’s “revolution,” and Reagan’s trickle-down economics and Nixon’s war on drugs. The failure of the left to make lasting, systemic progress on civil rights, women’s rights, abortion access, universal health care, LGBTQ+ rights, separation of church and state, and so on can be seen in how easily those things have been to dismantle, sideline and cripple since 2017.
But what if the so-called “centrist” Democrats who have systematically moved the party further and further to the right since the 1970s have actually developed a long game of their own that is so clever and so subtle, though hiding in plain sight, that it may destroy the GOP as early as 2020 and leave the Democratic establishment, with its oligarchy and pandering to the poor, the middle class, and minorities of every stripe?
Now stay with me here. I don’t have a whiteboard behind me, so you’ll have to follow along without charts or illustrations. I promise it will make sense in the end.
The Plot:
The Democrats had assumed all along that Hillary Clinton would be President from 2009 to 2016. But when Barack Obama took the nomination, they saw, instead of disappointment and defeat, opportunity. This was a black man who had presented himself as an agent of enormous social change, while actually being only barely left of the new center that had been crafted by the Dems during the Reagan years and solidified by Bill Clinton. The idea was to promote modest tax increases as radical departures from the Republicans’ corporate and oligarch friendly economic policies; and to promote small, cautious, baby steps on social issues as radical left-of-center progressive change. This would allow them to continue to attract the backing (and money) of corporations and wealthy donors while simultaneously creating the illusion of enormous political and philosophical distance between themselves and the GOP.
Perhaps Hillary had lost to Obama this time, but there was no one else who could stop her in 2016. Obama would give them liberal street cred and Hillary would keep solidify the right-of-center centrist control for decades to come.
The Gift That Was Donald Trump:
When the 2016 election got under way, the Dems assumed that Clinton would be their nominee and Jeb Bush would be the Republican candidate. So, they began to plan for that. But when Donald Trump, who had always claimed to be a Democrat, entered the race as a Republican and began to do surprisingly well, despite being a crude, proudly ignorant, arrogant, misogynistic, racist narcissist, they saw an opportunity to not only win the election, but destroy the GOP. Let Trump be Trump, make him the face of the Republican party, and put Clinton in the White House for eight years so they could build a middle-of-the-road political legacy they could paint as both populist and highly progressive – compared to the extreme right-wing brush with which they would paint the entire GOP.
When Republican resistance to Trump began to collapse, the plan got an added boost. Fusion GPS came to the DNC and said, “The GOP had us dig up all this dirt on Trump, but now they don’t want it anymore. How about you?” Corruption, playing footsie with Putin, the pee tape . . . it seemed as if the gods were on the side of the Dems. This stuff would give them decades of dirt to throw at the GOP for the mistake of choosing Donald Trump.
The Big Gamble:
Putting Clinton in the Presidency seemed almost too easy. And that wasn’t good. If she won too easily it would seem as if it was just politics as usual. People would assume she had won it because it was simply her turn. It would allow the GOP to use Trump’s loss as a reason to repudiate him and his extremism in public while recognizing privately that they could use his ideas to solidify their hold on the very policies of oligarchy, racism, xenophobia and misogyny that had helped them turn the South and Center of America red. Clinton was certainly a flawed candidate. She and her husband both had a long political history full of potential problems. If they played them carefully enough, they could keep the race close, proclaim victory, then begin the process of showing how the nation had just barely escaped the evils that would surely have descended on us all if Trump had been elected. And the closeness of the race would be evidence that the GOP was, in fact, the party of Trump. This would have the added benefit of showing the party that if a centrist like Clinton had just barely survived, then the wisdom of not going with a socialist like Bernie Sanders would be obvious.
So, when Mitch McConnell blocked the Garland SCOTUS nomination and refused to join Obama in making the Russian election interference public, all they Dems needed was something to keep their electorate from getting too complacent about Clinton’s election. They needed something that they could allow to seem troubling, but also connected to something so obviously ridiculous that it wouldn’t actually make a difference. The answer was right in front of them. The disgraced, then rehabilitated, then re-disgraced Anthony Weiner had a laptop. If someone leaked out that it might have some files of Huma Abedeen’s that might be, somehow, related to Clinton’s e-mails, or Benghazi, or something, then they would have a “scandal” far enough removed from Clinton to be safe, and easily debunked and ridiculed if it got too close. All they needed was for the head of the FBI to make the discovery public and announce the re-opening of an investigation. Nothing in particular would be alleged, no crimes would be uncovered, no Clinton misdeeds revealed. It would look like just more GOP dirty tricks. It seemed perfect.
Loss and Turning Lemons Into Lemonade:
But the risk was misjudged, Michigan and Wisconsin were missed, and there was more discontent among the progressives in the party than had been anticipated. Clinton lost. And the Republicans still controlled Congress. Things were looking grim. And then they got worse. Trump and the GOP began dismantling decades of progress on voting rights, women’s rights, health care, LGBTQ rights, minority rights and climate action; and they began to reshape the judiciary in ways that further threatened those rights.
And the centrist Dems saw an opening. The GOP was calling Nancy Pelosi a socialist and anyone even a step to her left was suddenly a communist. The establishment Dems could finally say that, with the far right, fundamentalist swing of the GOP base in full view, they were the center after all. But how to capitalize on it?
Bernie Sanders was still running for President, and a full roster of left-of-center candidates, minority non-white candidates, gay candidates, and self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists were gearing up to run for Congress, governorships, and state legislatures all over the country. Ocasio-Cortez showed that they could win even against establishment, big-money Dems in places like New York and the Midwest and even in the South. If enough of them could win, not too many, just enough, then the Dems could bring home the left wing of the party that had abandoned them in 2016.
2018 became the year to show that the Democratic party had truly become the party of diversity, of change, of progress – and Donald Trump was giving them room on the right to also be the party of populism, patriotism, and the average American.
The End Game:
2020 was now set up to be the year the centrist Dems could lower the boom on the GOP for a generation or more. All they needed was a good, business-friendly, non-controversial, establishment candidate for President. Anyone who said the right things about minorities and gays and women and saving the ACA and doing something, anything, about guns could beat Donald Trump. And it would leave the GOP as essentially little more than a fringe group in the electorate. The Dems would own the middle.
It would have an additional benefit. The left would have only two choices. They could stay with the Dems and accept whatever they got, or they could form a new party and get less. With the Dems controlling the broad center and the GOP stuck far right, the Democratic Socialists would simply mirror them on the left. America would have a three-party system with one major party, the Dems. And all the centrists would have to do is begin a careful, step-by-step restoration of what had been the progressive status quo before Trump and they’d be seen as hugely progressive by comparison. Meanwhile, they could continue to court big money and big business, offer token tax increases, and token social progress while continuing to support the oligarchy, the military, and the churches.
The Conspiracy Theory:
Now just suppose that it was all a set-up from the beginning. What if Trump has been part of it all along? Trump wasn’t going anywhere near the White House until Barack Obama made fun of him. If you’re a Trump supporter who thinks Trump is a genius, doesn’t this make a whole lot more sense than the idea that a billionaire business man would exhibit so many crude, stupid, irrational, and dangerous tendencies, still win big, openly flout constitutionality and convention, have so many corrupt and crazy associates in his administration, send Rudy Giuliani onto the major news networks to undermine him at every turn, be allowed to make a fortune off of the Presidency, and risk impeachment? You’ve been played. Trump is a Manchurian candidate, all right; but not for Putin – for the Democrats, the party he belonged to before deciding to run as a Republican – something he said would he could do because he thought Republican voters were stupid enough to support him.
Will It Work?:
Who knows, really. But the centrist Dems are having some unexpected difficulties. Joe Biden, their preferred candidate, is unlikely to be nominated. Same with booker and Steyer. Pete Buttigieg may hang on for a while, but he’s no shoo-in. Kamala Harris is gone. They’ve thrown Bloomberg and Patrick at the wall, but it’s not clear either one will stick. Meanwhile, Bernie is still very much in the fight, and it’s the social democrats who are creating the most excitement in the electorate. They might be able to work out something with Warren, but she’s a loose cannon as a centrist and the oligarchs don’t like her. The wealthy would almost rather have Bernie if they could get a fairly centrist congress.
But for the Republican electorate the bottom line is this. Do you want your party to survive? Then you have only one course of action. Abandon Trump, send Pence home to mother, and let someone like Bill Weld run for President. He practically looks like a centrist Dem already, but a Republican Congress could keep him in line.

“I’ve Changed!”: Why expecting forgiveness for past bigotry is just another form of privilege.

In PeaceAble, Politics on February 11, 2019 at 12:50 pm

If you are a white person over the age of 30 in America (I’m trying to be generous here.) you need to accept, understand, acknowledge and learn to deal with the fact that you were raised in a culture that supported, even promoted, racism and white superiority as normal. It was normal for real estate agents to direct people of color away from white communities. It was normal for businesses to reject black job applicants. It was normal for advertising and film to make their heroes and heroines white; their servants, their inferiors, their attackers, their enemies non-white; it was normal to see things like blackface as harmless remnants of minstrel shows and the memory of performers like Al Jolson, and Amos and Andy. It was normal to see native Americans portrayed as either villainous or noble savages. It was normal to assume that non-whites were less intelligent, more violent, poorer, and generally less civilized than whites.
If you are a male of the same age you need to also accept, understand, acknowledge and learn to deal with the fact that you were raised in a culture that supported, even promoted, misogyny and male superiority as normal. It was normal to assume that a man would get paid for his work and a woman would not. It was normal to assume that when a woman was paid, she would be paid less than a man. “The weaker sex” was a normal thing to say about women. It was normal to expect that strong, virile men would be sexually active and non-monogamous, but that only immoral, wicked women would be. It was normal to believe that women were less intelligent, less mechanically inclined, less interested or credible in matters of politics or the world in general, and more suited to domestic duties than men. It was normal to believe that women were intended to serve men, not compete with them.
Because of these things, if you have always been a normal, ordinary white person, it is quite possible that you have, sometime in your life behaved in ways that reflected what that culture was teaching you. Perhaps you went to a Halloween party dressed in blackface, saying “yesiree, boss” as you shuffled along in too-big clothes with patches. Perhaps you went as an “Indian,” with leather fringed clothing and a feather in a head band, saying “kemo sabe” or using “me” instead of “I,” giving out “war whoops” as you did a “war dance” around the room. Perhaps you found it funny to dress up as Charlie Chan and pronounce your Rs like Ls. Perhaps you thought you were not affected by racism because you had some non-white friends or co-workers that you liked. Perhaps you told yourself that it wasn’t Malcolm X’s, or Muhammed Ali’s, or Martin Luther King’s race that was the problem, but their politics.
Because of what the culture had been teaching you since your birth, as a normal, ordinary male, it is quite possible that have, sometime in your life, behaved in ways that reflect the culture’s misogyny and chauvinism. Perhaps you found it disturbing that a woman was put in a position of authority over you. Perhaps you thought that putting a woman on a pedestal was the same as respecting her. Perhaps you thought that being able to seduce a lot of women into sex meant that you “love women.” Perhaps you thought that getting a woman drunk and having sex with her was consensual. Perhaps you thought that a woman you met in a bar should have expected to have sex with you. But you wanted your wife to be a virgin the first time you took her to bed, and you vowed to “kill” any boy who tried anything with your daughter.
If any of this is true, perhaps you don’t see that it should be a big deal now. It’s unfair that there should be consequences now for how things were then. You’ve changed. Times have changed. All that was a long time ago. You apologize, explain, seek redemption and forgiveness, what else can you do?
The argument has always been that human beings are products of their time and their culture, so we should excuse their past behaviors and only judge them on who they are now. The problem with that is that who we are now are products of our own past, and that includes our past prejudices, our past behaviors, and our past privileges. And the people who were subjected to who we were then are also products of that past. Expecting forgiveness is just another expression of the normative privilege we have always enjoyed.
And here’s another thing. The normative rules haven’t really changed all that much. Racism persists. Misogyny persists. Religious bigotry persists. Xenophobia persists. Homophobia persists. Fascism persists. The class system persists. And we are still raising generations of white men who believe that they are the normative measure of all things, who are being taught that cultural change is an assault against them, not just culturally, but individually. They are being taught to fear the change, to see themselves as the victims.
So, what can we do?
We can embrace our own past and learn from it. We can learn to empathize with the other, to see our past in the context of the other’s experience of it, not just our own. We need to become who we say we are now not in spite of our past, but because of it. We need to take personal responsibility for cultural privilege.
We need to shift our focus from proclaiming that we support progressive change in spite of our past to understanding how and why we can support progressive change because of our past. It’s not enough to apologize for past sins and promise that you are a different person today. You need to be able to explain how those sins changed you then, are changing you still, and how they inform your actions today. And if you can’t do that, then expect neither forgiveness nor redemption.
The truth is, it will be difficult for white men to present themselves as the champions of changing cultural norms that have benefitted them for a very, very long time.
Is that unfair? Is it more unfair than the historic injustices suffered by people of color and women?

I’m a Democratic Socialist – but I repeat myself; Voting as a Socialist Act

In PeaceAble, Politics, Uncategorized on August 8, 2018 at 12:16 pm

In all societies, power moves upward, from the masses of people who individually hold little power to the powerful few who collect and hoard whatever power they can extract from the many.
The core misunderstanding a great many people have about socialism is that it is simply an economic system in which money is redistributed from the wealthy to the poor. But money is just one form of power, and socialism more broadly is a philosophical system that advocates for the redistribution of all forms of power from those who hoard it to those who need to use it for their survival, as a way to guarantee a more equitable distribution of resources.
Every time a democracy holds an election, it is a deliberate act of redistributing power.
When a voter enters the polling both, he brings with him all his power. When he chooses a candidate and casts a vote he gives a small amount of his power to the candidate. That power, combined with the power contained by all those who vote for the candidate becomes the candidate’s power. If the candidate loses the election she can use that collected power as credibility to continue to argue for the policies she supports (and for which people supported her). If she wins the election she can apply the collected power to directly seek to influence policy in her elective position.
It’s important to note that the power the elected official has collected through votes does not obligate her to use that power exactly as the individual voters might have hoped. Each voter is only transferring a small amount of power, and individual voters may have different and conflicting ideas and needs. And, just as spending a few bucks at your favorite store does not give you any ability to tell the store owner how to spend his money, your individual vote doesn’t give you any special power to control the actions of the elected official. When you voted, however, you didn’t give up all your power, only a small piece of it, and that piece will be coming back to you at the next election.
Also, you still retain significant power once you realize that it isn’t about you, but about all of us. You gave your power to a candidate during an election, now you can give it to a cause, a movement, or an idea. Every time you contribute to an organization working for something you believe in, you use your power. Every time you choose to shop at a particular business or to withhold your patronage, you use your power. Every time you get into a discussion with your friends and acquaintances about something happening in the world and find your own mind or someone else’s changing, even a bit, you have used your power. Every time you step up in defense of those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those whose voices are not being heard, you use your power. If there is a blue wave in November, it won’t just be because a lot of people used their power at the polls, but because a lot of people have been using their power all along in both large and small ways.
Power, like every valuable thing, isn’t dependent on exactly how much one has of it, but how that compares to what others have. You are only as power rich as others are power poor. The powerful few do not, of course, want to give up their power. They will hoard whatever they can of it. Voter suppression is theft of power. Voter apathy is the squandering of power. Fewer people voting means there are fewer people to convince that they should give a candidate their power. If a party sees that a minority of voters agree with them on the issues, but can control which people don’t vote they can make it more likely that those who do vote will be those who will give them power. And if significant numbers of people voluntarily don’t vote, the party or candidate that wins assumes these non-voter’s power as well. It’s like a power tax. If you don’t vote for anything, then it’s assumed that you support those who won. After all, if you didn’t support them, you would have voted against them.
Polls show over and over again that when it comes to some of the most important and most party-line divisive issues this country is facing, issues like abortion and women’s health, income and wealth inequity, gun laws and regulation, health care, Social Security and Medicare, the social safety net, there is significant agreement about what needs to be done, if not how to do it. So, if the people who have been elected aren’t doing those things, then we need to exert our power to elect those who will.
Power is interchangeable, too. Those with a significant amount of one kind of power can use it to acquire and protect other forms power. Thus, political power can provide access to wealth and vice-versa. Someone like David Koch or Sheldon Adelson or, to be fair, George Soros, can exert enormous power all by himself, but the rest of us have to organize, we have to work together, we have to find common ground and common purpose.
We have to vote. Every time. No exceptions.
And we have to stay involved. All the time. In between elections, not just every two or four years, not just about who is going to be President, but who is going to sit on our school boards or decide our zoning or whether the town needs a new pickup truck or some new textbooks.
Doing that doesn’t start after the parties have decided who their candidates are going to be. It doesn’t start by deciding that your only choice is the lesser of two evils. It starts when you understand that you have power and that you are unconsciously giving away that power every day; and you decide to stop doing that.
If this is to be a government of, by, and for the people, then the people have to be involved. Those who represent us are spending our collective power. It is up to us, then, to keep letting them know how we want that power spent, and give our power to those who will listen.

What’s Holding You Back?

In PeaceAble, Politics on June 22, 2018 at 10:57 am

During the last election, there were people who said that if Donald Trump was elected they would leave the country. Others said that if Hillary Clinton was elected they would leave. Of course, very few of them intended to leave and even fewer made any effort to go.
Why would they? How would the election of either candidate have affected the comfort and privilege of their lives sufficiently to cause them to give any of it up.
So, I am going to ask you to step back from the current reality of your life for a moment and try to imagine a different life. How bad would things have to be for you?
What level of poverty or oppression would you have to endure?
How much would you need to fear for your own life or the lives of your children?
What level of violence on the part of criminals or your own government would cause you to flee?
Now imagine that you are a resident of Florida and the only place you could get to where you might be safe is Canada. But you can no longer just put your passport in your pocket and drive there, passing a charming border guard with a slight French accent who tells you to have a nice day and enjoy your visit. Instead, you have to save up, out of your meager salary, giving up some of the essentials of day-to-day survival, six months’ or a year’s salary or income in order to pay a smuggler to get you across the entire continent and over the border in secret.
And imagine that the smuggler might be just as dangerous, just as likely to rob or rape or kill you as any of the gangs or government thugs you are fleeing. Imagine that it means you will likely suffer extremes of heat or cold, of hunger, of lack of shelter, of illness; and there will be no relief or assistance. Imagine that the journey means risking your life.
Finally, imagine that you have heard that when you get to the border you will be treated as a dangerous criminal rather than as a refugee. You may be arrested and your children taken away by force or deception, and you might never see them again nor know what fate you have brought them to. You may be sent home, to the place you have fled, into the clutches of your worst fears, your ugliest nightmares.
Now go back to the questions we began with. Knowing these things, how much worse, how much more dangerous, more oppressed, more unbearable would your life have to be to get you on the move?
Our government would have you believe that cages are summer camp; that it is a simple matter of law and these people are, by definition, criminals; that the issue is not their humanity, not what they have suffered; they would have you believe that we are the real victims here, that we must protect ourselves from the other.
If compassion for the human beings at our border, and disgust or outrage at the way our government is treating them is not enough; then perhaps you need to move to empathy. Put yourself, just for a moment, into their lives. Step away from the assumptions and expectations of your current reality and imagine one that would lead you to do what they have done.
And while you’re at it, step back from your assumptions and expectations of the rights and privileges of our constitutional government and imagine that you have become the Jew in pre-war Germany. Imagine that we have seen the rise of a fascist, dictatorial, white-nationalist government. And imagine, because you must, that we are almost there. What do you imagine you will be able and willing to do about that?

Media and Murder: Why “fixing” violence in popular entertainment won’t stop mass shootings, but we may want to do it anyway.

In No Particular Path, PeaceAble, Politics on February 28, 2018 at 12:39 pm

 

In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting there has been a new round of discussions about how to prevent such tragedies.  And one of the ideas being pressed by people who really don’t want to talk about things like gun control is the old claim that we need to do something about violent video games and movies.

 

The available evidence, however suggests two seemingly contradictory ideas: first, violence in video games and movies (or any other media) does not cause people to commit mass murder; second, we should nonetheless work to reduce the amount of graphic violence in entertainment media.

 

The idea that video games or movies are to blame seems to surface only when the killer is a teenager or very young adult.  The average age of U.S. mass shooters, however, is 35.  And, although the average age of video game users is around 31, the largest number (29%) of users are under 18; but that percentage is not significantly higher than 18-35 (27%) or 50+ (26%).  In addition, only 20% of video games are “shooter” games, and as video game sales have increased significantly, violent crime rates have remained steady or shown decreases.  And even in individual cases, there has never been any clear link between the actions of any mass shooter and his consumption of violent media.  In other words, there is no evidence that suggests the use of violent video games or watching violence in films or on TV has any causative relationship to mass shootings.

 

Most media studies seem to suggest that entertainment reflects popular attitudes and serves to reinforce them, but does not directly cause them. Think of it this way: if you are going to make a movie or design a game that will appeal to as large a segment of the population as possible, you won’t try to change what they want, you will try to discover what they already want and give them more of it.  In other words, people aren’t expressing themselves violently because popular entertainment is violent; popular entertainment is violent because people are expressing themselves that way.  And there are a great many social and cultural factors involved in that. 

 

It has long been observed that movies, in particular, reflect the times in which they are made.  During World War II, for example, Hollywood made a lot of movies showing the heroism of our fighting forces, the evils of our enemies, and the courage of Americans on the home front.  Following the Vietnam conflict, an unpopular war, there were a lot of films that showed the horrors of war, the physical and psychological effects of war on both troops and the general populace.  When Ronald Reagan was elected and the country seemed to be shifting back in a more conservative direction, we saw more movies about the cold war and home-town heroes rising up to defend against Soviet invasion, and movies that revised the Vietnam narrative and the idea of the super-soldier.  As things improved and the cold war ended, film began to reflect more positively on human relationships.  But since 9/11 amid renewed fears of terrorism and attack, we have seen a great many more movies about superheroes and the military, with ever increasing amounts of violence.  When people are afraid, Hollywood gives them superheroes of all kinds.

 

But there is in that realization cause for concern.  If the violence of our entertainments is a reflection of who we are, is this who we want to be?  And what is the danger in that?

 

One lesson of the women’s movement and its attempts to deal with misogyny in American culture has been that media is extremely important in the reinforcement of cultural norms, and that culture changes much more slowly than social awareness or changes in law or individual behavior.  Much has changed with respect to the role of women in the workplace, but events of the last two years have shown that the culturally normative idea that women exist subservient to the power and fantasies and physical needs of men remains firmly in place.  And just as the cultural norms cling to archaic views of men and women, it also clings to normative fantasies about the military, American exceptionalism, white supremacy, and violence as a solution to problems of violence.

 

American culture continues to tell us two things of relevance here.  First, it tells white, heterosexual, Christian, American males that they have reason to be afraid, primarily of the “other.”  And, second, it continues to try to frame the solutions to that fear in fantasies of superheroes and militaristic violence, weapons of enormous destruction, and personal heroism.  Notice, as something of an aside, that greater awareness of the ubiquity of violence against women has coincided with an increase in the number of movies involving female superheroes, females in the military, and female characters equal to men in their capacity for violence.  Our culture, as reflected in our popular entertainment, values the capacity for violence as a measure of our ability to respond to our fears.

 

The graphic and excessive violence of popular media shows us, in other words, that we have a much deeper problem of violence embedded in The American culture, and we need to address that.  So, what can we do?  How do we change the culture?

 

Media in America are profit driven.  They respond to what media consumers tell them they want.  If we tell them, through our purchase of video games, our attendance at movies, our TV habits, that we want more militarism, more police action, more superheroes, more personal heroism, more graphic depictions of more violent responses to conflict, more reinforcement of our fears about those who are different from us; then that is what  we will get, and we can expect that there will be more and more incidents of people trying to solve their problems by taking large, extremely deadly weapons to places where they can kill as many people as possible.  There is no reason, except the public’s appetite for it, that superhero films, or vigilante films, or action video games need to show scenes of extremely graphic, extremely destructive violence.  If the public were to decide, in large enough numbers, that they no longer want to be told that the solution to violence is more and greater violence; if they were to stop paying good money to go to the latest big-budget superhero blockbuster; if they were to not go out to get the latest version of Grand Theft Auto; then the media would stop making those things.

 

But that’s a hard thing to do.  Most of the people I know really love the latest dark manifestations of Marvel fantasy characters.  They like a good action movie with lots of enormous guns being fired, lots of big explosions going off, and lots of hugely muscled heroes killing lots of ugly, despicable villains.  And real cultural change would require us to give some of that up.  We would have to dial it down.  We would have to start playing games that require more nuanced solutions, we would have to start patronizing films, even superhero and military films, that require less graphic on-screen violence to arrive at a climax.

 

It is a myth that watching violence purges us of violent feelings.  Do you leave a violent game or a violent movie thinking, “wow, that’s great; now I don’t feel like I need to do that in real life,” or do you leave thinking, “I am so energized, so pumped up, that I think I could (or wish I could) be a hero like that in real life”? 

 

There is no single solution to the problem of violence and the increase in the kind of mass murder we have witnessed in Parkland, in Las Vegas, and in so many other of our schools, our malls, our concert venues, our churches and our public spaces.  We need a comprehensive approach that combines a variety of strategies.  Most of those strategies are well known, but cannot work in isolation from one another.  Certainly, passing a lot of new laws and regulations about violence in entertainment won’t make a huge difference by itself.  But all of these things can make a difference if we begin to take a hard look at how our culture, through it’s entertainment, its other public media, its politics and its policies, reinforces the idea that our problems can be solved by more and greater violence.

 

As consumers of public media and popular entertainment we can change the culture if we have the will to do it.  It won’t be quick and it won’t be easy, but long term effective solutions rarely are.  What ideas about violence are you helping to reinforce by how you spend your entertainment dollar and your leisure time?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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