An Open Letter to Elected Democrats

Well, we’re two weeks in, and it’s as clear as it ought to have been all along that what we’re dealing with the Trump Administration and the Republican-dominated Congress is as far past normal as Alpha Centauri is past the corner convenience store. A blitzkrieg of bad policy and worse nominees is overrunning the nation’s institutional defenses, as between them the Administration and Congress try and push through every bad idea the right’s ever had. I’m sure you don’t need me to read you the laundry list.


So here’s what I and my fellow liberals, progressives, and sane Americans with functioning empathy, conscience, and reason want you to know:

You. Must. Resist.

At every turn, in every way you can. Throw up roadblocks. Boycott hearings. Present amendment after amendment until the docket is filled til 2018. Whatever you can do to fight them or gum up the works, we expect you to do it.

It’s time to stop bringing a strongly-worded letter to a knife fight. The America we love and put our faith in is on the line. History is watching.

And you know what? We’re watching, too. And we’re going to remember.

Here’s something that I think is worth thinking about, if the case on the merits isn’t enough motivation for you. In October 2002, then-Senator Hillary Clinton voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq. At the time, it looked like the politically-smart play, even though the Bush Administration’s case for war in Iraq had more holes in it than a paper bin Laden target at a West Texas shooting range. But the Bush Administration had a strong hand, politically, and made a disciplined push. In the wake of 9/11 there were few Democrats with the foresight and backbone to vote no.

That vote’s been an albatross around Hillary Clinton’s neck ever since. It cost her the nomination in 2008, and the Presidency in 2016. Because a lot of people never forgave her for that. Never forgot the calculation she made, for short-term political gain, and the tragedy, horror, and damage to our national soul that resulted from the war, and the bipartisan cover she and her fellow Congressional Democrats provided its justification.

Left unchecked, the present Administration and Congress are going to unwind a century’s progress. A lot of people are going to suffer and die unnecessarily. It’s up in the air whether we’ll have a trade or shooting war first. Up in the air whether we’ll still have a democracy.

The only option open to a person of conscience is vigorous, unflinching, disciplined opposition. At every turn. On every front. That’s what we want from you. That’s what history demands at this moment.

So show us what you’re made of. Give us a reason to believe in you, a reason to keep backing you. Do this thing, and we’ll do everything we can to get you re-elected and expand your caucus til we can do some good or at least unwind some of the bad.

If you don’t? Well, you’re already hearing from us, and seeing us everytime you go out in public. We’ll keep that up, month in and year out. And the next time you run for re-election? You can expect a primary challenge from the left.

And by then? We’re going to be really good at this organizing thing.

On This Idea That Things Have to Get Worse Before We Can Make Them Better

Short on time, so I’m going to keep this quick and dirty.

The notion that if things only get bad enough that suddenly the progressive agenda will become more widely appealing (and thus easy to implement) is a fucking canard. Ain’t gonna happen, no way no how.

If you have to destroy the village to save it, you didn’t save it.

First off, we tried it back in 2000. Maybe you forgot, or weren’t alive, or weren’t old enough to be paying attention, but things were going pretty fucking well at the end of the ’90s. The economy was chugging along pretty well, and there was plenty to go around. Yeah, not everyone was doing great, but there was a lot of cause for optimism. We hadn’t been in a shooting war in decades. Hell, our worst threat was a bunch of goat-fuckers in camps in Afghanistan who wanted to hurt us but mostly weren’t pulling if off.

Was it the best of all possible worlds? No. But things were good and getting better. There was a solid foundation to build further progress on. Hell, it seemed eminently reasonable to vote for Ralph Nader, if only to elevate the Green Party to minor party status and get it some federal funding to build a roots-up political organization that could do some good in the world. I, myself, voted, donated to, and volunteered for Ralph.

Then Bush won, and shit went south pretty much right away.

Not one but two massive tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy. 9/11, which happened at least in part because Bush et al took their eyes off the aforementioned goat-fuckers. Then the Iraq War. Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib. CIA black sites. Katrina. Two Supreme Court Justices — including a new Chief Justice — who have contributed to decisions like Citizens United, and Shelby County. Oh, and let’s not forget the US Attorney scandal, in which they tried to fire ostensibly independent LEOs for not prosecuting enough Democrats or, God forbid, prosecuting Republicans. And, of course, the financial deregulation that gave us the Great Recession, which continues to fuck the economy to this day despite the best efforts of the Obama Administration.

We lost a *lot* of ground towards the progressive utopia we all want to see brought about, thanks at least in part to a solid chunk of the population that thought “If it gets bad enough, people will see the foolishness of conservative/Republican governance, and turn, as they must, to the other side.”

I mean, seriously, if you’re worried about, say climate change — and if you aren’t, you’re a fool or at least fooling yourself — just think for a moment what eight or even four years with the guy who made An Inconvenient Truth in the White House might have done to make progress on fighting or at least managing it.

Then we got Obama, who’s done a pretty good job turning things around, but could have done so much more if liberals, progressives, and generally sane people hadn’t sat out the 2010 Census Year Mid-term elections in such big numbers, allowing the Republicans and their Tea Party bomb-throwers to gerrymander a damn near unsinkable House Majority for a whole fucking decade.

So here we are now. Things are turning around. Yes, it could be faster. Yes, the system’s corrupt. But again, we’ve made some real progress. Laid a foundation for more. We’ve got a Democratic candidate in Hillary Clinton who ought to be a progressive dream candidate. Not only a woman — and holla for breaking that glass ceiling — but one running on the most progressive platform in the history of ever. Even if her opponent wasn’t a racist, sexist, xenophobic, fascist idiot narcissist in the pocket of the Russians who genuinely doesn’t understand why we don’t use the nuclear weapons we have or any other goddamn thing, anyone who even remotely identifies as liberal or progressive ought to be jumping for joy at the prospect of the most qualified and capable candidate for the highest office in the land in the history of the goddamned Republic.

But, again, we’ve got a bunch of people who just can’t bring themselves to pull the lever for her, and who think, once again, that if we let the racist, sexist, xenophobic, fascist idiot narcissist in the pocket of the Russians win that things will finally get so bad the Glorious Progressive Revolution will come of its own accord.

The problem, aside from the damage done and the many, many steps backward that will entail, is that human nature doesn’t work that way. A progressive society is contingent on prosperity. When people ain’t got shit, they start looking out for them and theirs, and fuck everybody else. They cling to their guns and their religion and their tribe harder than ever, because if there ain’t enough to go around then they’ll make damn sure they and theirs get what they need first, and the rest can go hang.

Look. I get it. There’s a lot to object to in the way our country is run. But if the choice is between an imperfect status quo and the goddamned apocalypse, then that shouldn’t be a fucking choice at all. If you have enough privilege to ride out the serial disaster that would be a Trump administration, bully for you. But there’s a whole fuckload of people who don’t, and way way way too many of them stand to get hurt while you wait for the revolution you haven’t really thought through to ripen.

You want progress? You want change? Then not only do you have to vote for Hillary Clinton (hold your nose or no, I don’t really give a fuck). You have to vote Democrat all the way down the ballot. You know why shit’s so dysfunctional? Because the goddamned Republicans put party before country, and have sabotaged and vandalized and obstructed every fucking thing that might make things better. They have to, because their whole thing is that government can’t work and is never the solution and if you elect them they’ll prove it to you, as they fucking have for decades now. The Democrats may be imperfect and their tent’s big enough that they’re as centrist as they are liberal, but at least they want to keep the fucking lights on.

It’s not sexy, I know. But if you care about making the world a better place by enacting a progressive agenda, then you have to build on the progress we’ve already made.

Hillary, Bernie, and Me

I was a strong and early supporter of Bernie Sanders, especially the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign: the guy who took the high road, who spoke truth to power, who organized at the grassroots and refused to engage in negative campaigning. The guy who said on her worst day Hillary Clinton would be a better President than any of the Republicans.
But I have a confession to make: I never thought he’d win.
It wasn’t lack of faith in the message or devotion to the agenda he espoused. That faith and devotion is what drove my support. To me Bernie Sanders was only a vehicle for getting the word out and starting to organize. It was clear the man himself was an imperfect vessel (he is, after all, a career politician). It was also based on a cold, hard political calculation. Remember the incident in Seattle about a year ago, when two #blacklivesmatter activists stormed a stage he was set to speak on? The way Bernie and, more importantly, his most ardent supporters handled that told me all I needed to know. However you stand on the incident, nobody gets the Democratic nomination without support from African-Americans. And while Bernie has done a great job of mobilizing younger African-Americans, they were outnumbered by their elders, who were less willing to take a chance.
Still, I advocated, and donated, and when the time came I caucused. All along I tried my best to keep to the high road the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign laid out.
Sadly, my candidate chose not to. Somewhere along the way, some subtle threshold got crossed. It was about Bernie now. Bernie the man, the visionary, the leader of a revolution, though what the revolution meant or would look like was never made clear. He started throwing punches, insisted he was going to win despite the fact that the path to victory only got narrower and less likely with every primary and caucus, even the ones that he won.

Continue reading “Hillary, Bernie, and Me”

Trump Trolled

I know a lot has happened in the days since the confrontation in Chicago between protesters and supporters at the cancelled Trump rally. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and come to a conclusion that, while I’ve seen it hinted at here and there, I haven’t seen anyone explicitly say.

The whole thing was a conscious ploy by Trump, and the progressive left fell for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I found it as uplifting and heartening as any two-fisted, red-blooded American progressive to see pushback against the animus and incitement to hatred and violence that is Mr. Trump’s stock in trade. But the triumphalist notes that have been sounded are, to my mind, misguided, because Mr. Trump laid a trap and we walked right into it.

Here are the dots I’m trying to connect:

Trump plans a rally, not only in Chicago, which is as strong a Democratic stronghold as there is, but he also does it at a large, diverse public university, where he can be guaranteed a large number of protesters. Keep in mind that Chicago is also undergoing some pretty major race-based conflict lately.

Protesters show up in large numbers, many of whom manage to get inside the venue.

Fights break out inside, as rightly incensed protesters, many of them POCs, are put in close proximity to Trump supporters, who’ve been fed a steady diet of racist hatemongering and calls to beat up protesters. Footage is captured.

Trump cancels the rally, claiming the Chicago Police Department has advised him to do so (a claim later proved false).

It seems like a defeat, but it’s anything but. Because now Trump can claim, however falsely, that it’s the protesters who are causing the violence at his rallies, and he has footage that can be spun to support the assertion. Not only that, but it plays into his narrative of white victimhood, because here’s all these white folks just trying to peaceably assemble for a political rally, but they can’t because these violent protesters came and shut them down and started fights and just generally disrupted the rally, denying Trump his right to free speech and his supporters their right to peaceably assemble. He gets to look like the good guy for calling off the rally so as to prevent violence, and it only bolsters his support among his followers, whose narrative of white victimization, however misguided, has been reaffirmed. Polling confirms that it worked.

Then Trump gets to go on TV and make the narrative about how violent protesters are disrupting his otherwise peaceful events, derailing the more general (and true) narrative about his stoking of racial resentments and his proponence of violence as a solution to it. And now he’s got the footage to prove it, or at least he’s got footage that reaffirms his narrative of white victimization.

Fuckery that it is, you have to admire the slickness of it.

Put an Asterisk Next to His Accomplishments: Why It’s So Difficult to Get a White Man to See, Much Less Admit, His Own Privilege

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his [privilege] depends on his not understanding it.”

-Upton Sinclair, paraphrased

Very few people see the world as it truly is. It’s not our fault; that’s just how human brains work. For the most part, we only see what we’re looking for, what our worldview and training prepare and allow us to see. And it’s useful, even necessary: imagine what your life might be like if you were conscious of everything, every quantum of sense-data, every implication and nuance of every thought and decision. Without reasonable filters, you’d be overwhelmed, unable to sift through the reams and mountains of input in order to make enough sense to act or even just understand.

The flipside of the coin is that those filters can and often do filter out useful, even necessary information, salient facts and inconvenient truths that clash with our worldview and training. Cognitive dissonance ensues, and we find ourselves in the position of the robot caught in a logic trap, saying ‘Does not compute, does not compute’ over and over until our mainframe overheats and seizes up in a cloud of smoke, shutting us down.

Of course when that happens to people, we don’t generally seize up and shut down. Not literally, anyway. Mostly we just get angry and deny whatever information slipped through the filter to dissonate our cognizance. And who can blame us? It’s a lot easier than recalibrating (or replacing) our much-beloved and ever-so-useful filters.

In The Question Concerning Technology, the philosopher Martin Heidegger characterized our modern way of knowing with the word enframing, that is, by capturing what we sense and experience and placing it within a set of bounds by which we can render it meaningful. That sense of meaning is important, because it defines the grammar by which we interpret the narrative of our lives.

Its important to note that that grammar is both positive and negative, in that it allows certain formulations while disallowing others. This is why it’s so hard to get people to see their own privilege, especially cisgendered white men, who are most privileged of all.

Not that most of them will admit it.

Why won’t they? After all, to those outside the frame of cisgendered white male privilege, it’s plain as the nose on your face. The whole system, our whole society is set up with us at the top of the pecking order. In earlier times such was taken as both just and true, a sign of some inherent superiority or God’s will.

As Roland Barthes said in his book Mythologies, myth is what turns history into nature.

These mythologies are more contentious nowadays, and rightly so. But they are insidious, both in the macro-level social environment and in its micro-level reprise in our minds. They are at odds with new, and to my mind better, notions of egalitarianism and a level playing field, a world where, to paraphrase Dr. King, a person is situated by the content of their character and not by qualities outside their ability to determine.

Which is why even straight white guys (like me) who are allies and progressives can have real difficulties recognizing and admitting their own privilege.

In the end, I think it has mostly to do with our self-assessment. Our place in the narratives we tell ourselves about our lives. To recognize our privilege requires us not only to endure but embrace the cognitive dissonance that comes from admitting truths that undermine our view of the world and our place in it, which by itself is painful enough. But difficult as that is, that’s not the bit that really undermines our sense of self. What undermines our sense of self is the asterisk it requires us to put next to all our accomplishments. That’s the bit that sticks in the craw, because part of those insidious received mythologies that make up our personal narrative grammars is that a man stands on his own two feet and wins his advantage from the world through his own blood, sweat, tears, and toil. Admitting to a privileged spot in the hierarchy and the advantages that go with it undermines that sense of accomplishment, that sense that a man has earned what he has, and therefore deserves it. Take that away, even put an asterisk next to it, and that man feels like less of a person.

It takes a lot of heart to admit something like that.

Look, the thing is, most privileged people don’t feel privileged. And compared to the rockstars and oligarchs at the top of our social pecking order, they aren’t. Even with the advantages of cisgendered white masculinity, being accomplished enough to self-assess positively on your own merits takes more effort and sacrifice than most people can muster. To admit that folks without those advantages have a harder time of things can require a fundamental re-evaluation of the mythologies by which we live our lives and structure our society. That the work is necessary makes it no less difficult.