politics, Uncategorized

Yes, We Can Be Reasonable About Trump Too

Trump’s in the news again. I suppose at this point to say that Trump is in the news is rather like reporting that air is still breathable. Being a narcissist, and apparently a deeply malignant and even likely quasi-sociopathic one, he can’t stop getting his fix of attention, positive or negative. Like any person who never came out of an extremely broken and childlike mentality, if he feels the attention wavering he will, self-admittedly, say things that are as evil and controversial as he can to once again be the center of a controversy.

Still, this time what he said there is a slight defense for. Trump said that the “if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know”. The assumption was that he was calling for an assassination of Hillary Clinton. I immediately thought that there were two interpretations: that of assassination, and that of political resistance, as if the Second Amendment folks (a strong group but definitely a minority) could single-handedly stop a President who had already won her judicial picks.

Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk has argued that there’s a lot of faux-PC outrage against Trump and that it’s not an effective tactic. This is a case that I think somewhat illustrates his point.

And yet, Donald Trump and his surrogates are still in the wrong.

If this was the first, or second, or even fifth, misstep that Trump had made during his campaign, it could be viewed as a momentary gaffe. Similar stupidity about NATO was defended by Mitch McConnell was a “rookie mistake”, ignoring that Trump is not a rookie any more and that he’s running for the highest political job in the land which suggests that he should be nothing less than a seasoned pro. (Hey, remember when Republicans got angry at Obama for his lack of experience, like with Chris Christie lambasting Marco Rubio by making a comparison of Rubio to Obama, ignoring that Obama isn’t a robot and can actually speak off the cuff quite well? I’d love for Republicans to bring that up again as their newest candidate has served in no public office, clearly only ran this year because people were now making fun of his empty declarations in the past, and has bankrupted six separate endeavors).

It’s not. Trump has had a campaign that has repeatedly stoked violence, called for the suppression of rival journalists (even as he himself behaves in hideously libelous fashions), seen an attorney within the campaign deny that marital rape is illegal (it is) while threatening an outlet that reported on Trump’s horrible treatment of Ivana with comments that bordered on death threats, and seen his campaign manager clearly commit assault against a journalist that was on his side.

And this is how Hillary Clinton ripped him apart in return: noting that Trump is the kind of man who decides to spew venomous slander about a Gold Star family. And the Secret Service took it seriously too. The fact is that Trump is grotesquely incompetent and irresponsible. He should have known better than to say something like that, and the moment he said it, he should have corrected himself. If he couldn’t do that, he should have taken every opportunity he gets to come onto the media and said, “Hey, my followers? Don’t shoot anyone. That wouldn’t be tremendous”. He doesn’t do something that elementally honest. He stokes anger and then moves onto the next issue, because that anger gets him elected. And every Republican that is considering voting for him is being sucked into that dishonest dynamic.

Republicans are now so committed to pushing away their cognitive dissonance that one on CNN today even dared to make a comparison to Obama making a reference to the fucking Untouchables. When Jake Tapper on CNN pointed out that it was a movie reference, the clown said that he didn’t know that and hadn’t known that since 2008.

Putting aside that the Untouchables is far from obscure and damn near everyone on the planet knows that line (I sure as hell did): Hey, buddy, ever heard of this place called Google? Search engines have been around for twenty years. You could have looked up the quote to see if it was from something. Instead, by your own admission, you repeated an easily-disprovable statement for eight years without bothering to research it. That’s what we call a “lie” in my part of the world, homeboy.

We liberals and leftists can be reasonable. We can recognize that Trump said something ambiguous that has multiple interpretations. And that still makes him a shitty candidate.

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politics

Steve King, You’re Incompatible with Western Civilization

This is the only election I’ve heard neo-Nazi and white supremacist arguments being side by public officials.

Steve King, a Representative from Iowa, repeated the idea that non-white people haven’t contributed to history. Not writing, not agriculture, not corn and tomatoes and chickens.

If Trump wins, white supremacists will think that this rhetoric is acceptable. These ideas have a long pedigree and they don’t become that much less dangerous with time. I never thought that I’d see the kind of things I used to only see on message boards offered by anonymous people in the mainstream, and yet here it is. People like King feel emboldened.

Too many people in this country think that you get a freebie on issues like this. That, whenever you please, you can trot out the idea that this is your country and civilization, and you’ll take back the nice things you gave. Steve has the right to say these things. And in a civilized society, he would be voted out of office and his ideas would see universal censure.

We’re nowhere near that. Our moves toward basic decency and courtesy (what dishonest people called “political correctness”) mean nothing if these ideas aren’t extinguished. Not by censorship, but by being roundly defeated in the intellectual arena and rejected as immoral statements.

And while many conservatives may get scared by that kind of rhetoric, and I understand to a point, these are the same people saying that radical Islam is not compatible with Western civilization. Neither is what Steve King said. It’s not compatible with any kind of civilization, anywhere.

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politics

Boo, Hillary. Boo.

So Sarah Silverman and Al Franken got booed by Bernie supporters at the DNC, chanting “Bernie!” in response to her effort to get us to be proud of voting Hillary.
 
I appreciate the effort Sarah is making to try to defeat Trump. I do. I was never a diehard #BernieOrBust guy. 
Just today, I had someone point out to me how Hillary’s record as a feminist, in pushing education, in It Takes A Village, and elsewhere are impressive. And the RNC had made me sympathize with her massively.
 
But as I listened, I realized that the DNC doesn’t have a leg to stand on. 
 
Hillary didn’t make Bernie the VP. She didn’t do that despite the fact that she clearly knew about the collusion between her and the campaign. She gambled on us not finding out.
 
The Democratic Party wants us to vote for them when they loudly indicated that they didn’t want our vote. Sure, perhaps Bernie might have lost either way. But in this world, we didn’t get to find that out, because the Democratic Party didn’t want to let their members decide. They want us to be happy to be in a rigged game.
 
And they want us to vote for them to avert Trump, but they don’t want to earn our vote. They don’t want to actually apologize for what happened in any systemic way or rectify it. Nor do they want to actually do the work to get progressives.
 
Want my vote, Hillary? Earn it. Energize me like Bernie. Because you intentionally stole my opportunity to see him try for it. #jillstein2016
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politics, Uncategorized

Trump Will Be The Golf President

Trump wants to be the CEO President. What that means is the golf President.

It’s not just that electing Trump would be electing a shadow President, with the VP doing all the “foreign and domestic policy” duty. It’s not just that, contrary to those who want to vote the guy in to burn the country down, we would ultimately just get a pretty standard far right-wing Presidency because his advisors will all be far-right.

It’s that we’ve already seen that Trump can’t delegate worth a damn. Put aside his failing businesses. His campaign, right now, is a traffic pileup. He couldn’t manage a shoe store. From Lewandowski’s ignoble ejection to the fact that they’re struggling to pay people to the infamous Iowa debacle where he didn’t realize you need to actually get your supporters to talk to actual human beings to get out the vote, he’s proven that he isn’t a good delegater. Trump creates vacuums of leadership that lead to confusion in the ranks rather than exemplary development.

He’s a terrible boss. Whatever would make him a good President?

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activism, changemaking, politics, social justice, Uncategorized

Bill Gates and Technocratic Solutions to Social Problems

Patrick Bond, a really insightful thinker, offers a really good analysis of the limitations of charitable approaches like the ones Bill Gates proposes.

I’ve actually been impressed by how erudite and compassionate Bill can be on issues, recognizing risks ranging from the serious threat of a pandemic to the still-salient specter of nuclear war. But Gates is at his heart an engineer, and he embodies a problem I’ve often discussed before and been disappointed to see in otherwise-decent people: the idea that problems can always be solved by a technical or engineering or technological approach, and indeed that such an approach is always the best. But human beings aren’t machines and societies aren’t computers, and you can’t just hack problems away. It’s always worth it to try for clever solutions and to try to leverage technology and creativity to go for unorthodox approaches, but the problem is that those ways of thinking are usually efforts to try to be apolitical. A political problem doesn’t become less political when you try to pretend it’s just a debugging exercise. Smart technological and scientific solutions to social problems need to occur alongside political, social, economic and cultural change, in conjunction with artists, activists, attorneys, civil servants, social workers, psychologists, and others. Instead, folks like Bill tend to try to skip that part.

We should always try to look for win-win solutions, and we should have optimism in the power of the brain. But we should also have optimism in the power of the heart too, and when we use exclusively technical approaches, we’re actually expressing severe pessimism in human potential.

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Christianity, feminism, gender, media, politics, race, racism, religion, social justice, Uncategorized, white privilege

Why “Politically Correct” Is A Right-Wing Slur Designed to Silence Opposition

I was recently asked about whether “politically correct is correct”. Here is my response.

The term “politically correct” is a right-wing specter. I have never once in my life heard an informed activist for the LGBTQ movement, the civil rights and anti-racist movement, the feminist movement, etc. say to someone “We have to be politically correct”. It doesn’t work, it has a namby-pamby ring to it, it doesn’t express the appropriate outrage, and it is frankly not appropriate for activism.
There are so many problems with the assertions against “PC” (I will now call them “basic courtesy and accuracy”) arguments.

The most major one is that we are never discussing the mere use of a slur in isolation. Even when a comedian breaks decorum in some way that costs them popularity, like when Michael Richards (of Kramer fame) did it, no one was focusing just on the mere use of the n-word. It wasn’t as if Richards said, “Man, isn’t Al Sharpton cool? He’s my ni**a”. Rather, he said “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside-down with a f**king fork up your ass!” and “That’s what happens when you interrupt the white man, don’t you know?” In other words, Richards’ rant was racial terrorism. He evoked some of the horrible atrocities that happened to people who were lynched, including being burnt with blowtorches and having pieces taken off, and he asserted his white supremacy and the degree to which he belonged. Yes, that was all still rhetoric, but it wasn’t just the literal word: it was his aggressiveness against people of color.

Many defended Richards on this front. They defended him as if his opposition was just fetishizing a word, “ni**er”, and giving it magical properties.

Of course, each time I write out that word, that word that has been used with hate, my stomach churns. See, whites have the privilege of viewing that word as just being a word. For blacks and even many other people of color (especially Native Americans, Arabs and Muslims, who have been roped into it by “prairie ni**er” and “sand ni**er”), it evokes five hundred years of history. It evokes hundreds of years where that word was bellowed in an effort to kill, enslave, bomb, hurt, lynch, burn, terrorize, and mangle people. It evokes hundreds of years of fear.
White folks routinely have the privilege of pretending history doesn’t matter and doesn’t echo. Even I, as the son of an immigrant, have to know better than that. I know supremacy has a life and a breath all of its own.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should call people “transgender” and call them by the gender pronoun that matches their new gender identity, we aren’t just saying that as an idle matter of decorum: we are saying it to people who want them to go into a bathroom that they will mentally and in many cases physically not belong, who want to cut their wages or kick them out of their community.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should try to call “Mexicans” Chicana/os, Hispanics or Latina/os, we aren’t just talking to people who insist on calling people from Mexico Mexicans: we are fighting against those who would call them rapists and drug dealers, as if the entire group was just one raping, drug dealing apparatus or entity, some tentacled monster.

When people on the political left and center-left insist that we should use gender-neutral language (“firefighters” rather than “firemen”), we aren’t just fighting the rhetorical obliteration of females doing a job: we’re also fighting those who think women can’t be leaders because of their periods.
Notice how no one really organizes as a movement to say “Don’t call atheists ‘godless heathens'”, and yet they still encounter a widespread sentiment that they are inferior and dangerous.

See, conservatives seem to think, “You’ve won everything! Can’t you just leave the English language alone?”

Oh, no, brother (and it is so often a brother rather than a sister), you have it twisted.

In fact, we have so far to go, from anti-discrimination law to basic tolerance in public spaces to people actually being informed about atheists. We are fighting institutional discrimination, prejudice and bigotry stemming from institutional racism and white supremacy, homophobia and heteronormativity, sexism and male dominance, anti-atheist and agnostic bigotry and Christian hegemony, anti-immigrant and anti-global attitudes and American hegemony, and classism and the dominance of the rich. Notice how, in each case, I listed not just the group that was being targeted but the group that was being elevated. Every time someone says “This is a Christian nation”, it is yet another rhetorical assertion of a dominance that they have come to expect and yet have no right to expect and have not earned because such an endeavor would be impossible. The sacrifices of Christians who came before gives no modern Christian a single claim to institutional supremacy. Their majority status does not either.
Even within the realm of language, we’re not just making individual words taboo. When someone says “Blacks have lower IQ”, they are repeating an essentialist, racist, bigoted, stereotypical notion of people of color as if they’re in a spreadsheet. Even when there is some evidence supporting it, that evidence is never deployed honestly or consistently. And many times, such evidence is just outright false and dishonest. We are fighting people’s racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic ideas of other human beings, arguing that other human beings are on average just as competent, decent, intelligent and kind as they are. And those biases are used to justify present inequities. The logic, even when it isn’t stated out loud, goes, “Well, black people are criminals anyways, so why bother feeding their children?” or “Well, blacks are more likely to commit a homicide anyways, so why bother getting lead off the walls?” Once again, we can’t separate language and cognition from political ideas. Martin Gilens, and researchers working in his vein, have repeatedly found that racist biases are massively deterministic of whether one is willing to support policies like welfare. Policy issues in America are racialized and sexualized. Masculine identity is part of militaristic policies, which in turn influences debates like gays and women in the military.
The second issue is that, even insofar as we’re rectifying language, this is what societies do.
No society within the history of the planet has ever said that all language is equally appropriate in public parlance.

Most societies had very strong rules about what one could say in public. Honor codes, rules about courtesy that governed not just what hand one shook with (often as part of an effort to avoid contamination and the spread of germs even before people knew about the modern germ theory), kosher rules… the idea that there are certain things one does not say and do is common to history. Two of the Ten Commandments concern speech: Not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and honoring one’s mother and father.

One could argue that this was the case of feudal, monarchic and non-democratic societies. But that is emphatically false. Courtesy rules, manners books and so forth still exist. There are numerous 1950s shorts about the proper courtesy and rules for having a family dinner together. These emphatically include ways of talking and not talking: don’t gossip, don’t monopolize speech, don’t put people off their lunch.

What astonishes me so much about this is the political cleavage. Naively, I would have thought that many conservatives, people who are concerned with courtesy and decorum, would naturally and easily come to accept that there are certain ways we should and should not speak as a normative fact. They would come to accept, “Ah, these human beings prefer to be addressed by the opposite gender. How boorish would it be not to accommodate it?” One would think it’d be punk leftists who would spit and say “They’re a dude!”

But of course this is accepting conservative self-image and propaganda. In fact, the right-wing across history, the forces that preserve tradition, have always been perfectly able to be rude, cruel, and decidedly non-courteous. They just pretended otherwise as a thin veneer of civilization.
And challenging the entitlement (not the right but the sense that one should not face consequences) of those used to being afforded unlimited latitude challenges their supremacy. And when their supremacy is challenged, they are willing to get mighty rude.
Now, of course, is there a balance to be struck? Of course. Certain taboos should always be challenged. A transgressive attitude is always healthy at the right time and the right place. If friends are hanging out and talking, and there’s a high degree of trust, then it can be reasonable to say some things one might not say in mixed company. And certainly artists, comedians, etc. need to be granted some leeway to break sacred cows without too much criticism in response.
But remember: So many of the same people who fight the “PC agenda” will loudly support Trump’s support of seditious libel suits against journalists, loudly insist that one shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, demand that the American flag never be burned or defaced, and insist that one should always “support the troops” no matter one’s disagreements with American foreign policy.
And it is precisely that “high degree of trust” that is not to be taken for granted. When so many people are able to say “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”, or otherwise signal that they’re not “one of the bad ones” and should be given some latitude, they fundamentally misunderstand the trust people. People of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, atheists and agnostics… none of them can trust the rhetorical goodwill of someone they don’t know.
The final point is precisely what the original questioner asked: “Others believe that being politically correct limits opinions, and will restrain them from conversing and interacting with others. Because of this, it will create a barrier between different groups, and do more harm then good”.
In other words, for the need of social lubrication and discussion, once again people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, non-Americans, immigrants… they all must sacrifice their sense of humanity and how they wish people would speak to them for the good of society.
Never once must the dominant group sacrifice their own sense of comfort, even temporarily, in order to learn new language and to (much more importantly) unlearn their toxic, unfair biases.
Every human being has a right to say, “I demand to be treated with respect, and if you don’t, I will not interact with you, I will not speak to you, and I will not do business with you”. There is a bare minimum of treatment we can demand in order to interact with us in commerce and daily life.

Those who demand that people not correct other people’s speech… are correcting other people’s speech.
The anti-PC brigade have a fundamental hypocrisy: They say “I should be able to say anything I want, and you shouldn’t be able to say anything you want”.
To quote Jeremy Sherman’s astute analysis: “By accusing people of being PC we try to persuade people to be less sensitive, less influenced by other people’s opinions, but in declaring PC a universal moral error, we pretend that we could live in a world where no one influences anyone. Usually we do it as a way of claiming our right to try to influence others without being influenced. It’s like the current libertarian craze, motivated by ‘my freedom to say and do what I want, without getting hassled’ If you want your freedom to say and do what you want, expect the same from everyone else. The person who accuses others of being PC has his own PC sensitivities. He’s saying it’s politically incorrect for you to be politically correct. Anti-PC and libertarianism are often rationalizations for dishing it out without having to take it in”.
Either we accept that anything is okay to say or we accept that there should be voluntary rules that we choose, as civilized human beings, as to what we say or do not say. And if anything is okay to say, I get to tell someone else to shut up. If someone else gets to call a friend of mine the “n-word”, I get to call them a monster who shouldn’t show their face in public. If we’re going to make society an endless war of words, then we get every weapon just like you do. Either way, the anti-PC crowd is wrong. Either way, they are demanding “My rules for thee but not for me”.
See, what conservatives want is consequence-free speech, not free speech.
Not only is that not a right, not only is it a logical contradiction, but it is a moral absurdity.
You see, this entire battle is really a battle of entitlement against responsibility.

When we have rights as human beings, that gives us power. And with great power comes great responsibility.

If we have the right to choose how we speak, we have the duty to choose that speech carefully.

Those who argue against those calling on them to have respect and kindness for others are arguing to be moral children. They want the rights without the attendant responsibilities.
That is not good for them. And it must be obliterated as an idea.

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activism, feminism, politics, race, Uncategorized, white privilege

One of the Best Microcosms of American Politics Ever

It’s hard to know where to begin here. (For those who don’t follow the link: Palin is blaming Obama for her son’s domestic abuse, by virtue of PTSD and the challenges of being a vet).

Should I say that blaming Obama for PTSD, instead of Bush or the Republican Party or the Democrats writ large or the military-industrial system, is a bit like blaming the janitor when an apartment complex gets trashed? Should I say that the sheer political hypocrisy ignores that it’s her party that wants to cut mental health benefits for veterans?

Should I note that this is from the supposed party of personal responsibility?

Should I note that it’s an example of a white person getting off the hook because we can blame someone else, in this case a black politician?

Should I say that, as much as I sympathize with what Palin is saying (with perfect hypocrisy and with no serious belief), saying that her son became violent as a result of military service is to insult millions of people with PTSD who will not hurt others?

Should I point to the fact that again domestic violence is the fault of everyone but the male abuser?

Should I say that this is another example of a leading politician blaming anyone but themselves for their family’s problems?

Perhaps the biggest thing I can say is this: Again, we see that conservatives in this country are committed to “Me and mine first” as an ideology. Palin could care less about PTSD and how it hollows you out until it was her family that was hurt. And she doesn’t want solutions: She wants to be able to be angry.

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