A Call to Arms

I recently heard from a mutual acquaintance that an old friend whom I’ve lost touch with plans to leave the country.  This soon-to-be emigrant is an immigrant with brown skin, and has quite understandably decided that he does not want to live in Donald Trump’s America.    He is also a British  citizen with a way out.

I don’t begrudge my old friend for wanting to move back to Great Britain now that Trump and his cavalcade of cronies have infested the White House.  For at least the next two years, the United States, and sadly much of the rest of the world given the United States’ size, power, and influence, will endure a stunning string of short and long term setbacks that, while difficult to predict the specifics of, will almost certainly range from the ridiculous to the serious and even the frightful.

Why sit in the center of the storm when you can reasonably take shelter elsewhere?  Especially as a person of color with a British passport, why endure the absurdities and horrors of America’s Trumpist turn?

No, I don’t blame him one bit for wanting to get out.

But me?  I’m gong to stay here and fight.  And this is not a decision I have reached recently.  It’s a conclusion I drew 25 years ago. Continue reading A Call to Arms

Outraged? Get Outrageous!

I was reading a friend’s FB post earlier today.  I respect this person immensely, although I disagreed with him on one point.  Which is good.  He’s the kind of dedicated and genuine intellectual who encourages honest exchanges.

My friend is thoroughly appalled by the American political situation at the moment, as am I.  But he is also not given to public displays of emotion.  And so perhaps it made sense that, with regards to politics, he warned us that,
“the satisfactions of flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right can make it less, rather than more, likely we are going to turn this thing around as soon as it can be turned around.”

This is where I disagreed with him.  I wrote a short response on his page as to why, but I would like to expand upon it here.

Let me begin by acknowledging that there are many things we can do to effectively oppose Trump.  We need a broad palette.  But one important thing we can do, I believe, is engage in occasional public displays of moral outrage.  Even flamboyant ones.

Public displays of moral outrage against the lunacy and mendacity of Donald Trump specifically, against his core of executive cronies, and against the GOP more generally, are actually a good and productive thing right now.  There are several reasons why, but before I list them, let me clarify what I mean by “flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right,” to borrow my friend’s words.

I am not advocating that we join the GOP in its filthy pit of lies and “alternative facts.”  While I’m going to advocate a fight fire with fire approach, I don’t think we should extend that to the Right’s immolation of the factual truth, lest we lose sight of the forest from the trees.   We should not sacrifice core principles of democracy to win the immediate battle.  Indeed, in many ways the fight must be fore those core principles.

So, for example, we should not counter their science denialism; (climate change, evolution) with politically convenient science denialism of our own; for example, let’s not start wooing the anti-vaxer vote by spurring that movement on.  And let’s not sink to the level of fabricating lies to smear Republicans.  For starters, it’s so unnecessary; given their horrible actions and hateful ideology, it’s easy enough to smear them with the plain truth.

Rather,  I am championing the notion that we become morally outraged at Trump’s and the GOP’s fabrications and falsehoods, their lies and lunacy, their brazen assaults on honesty and democracy.  Furthermore, I think we should feel free to publicly display our moral outrage.  Why?  For several reasons.

For starters, it is important to recognize that we are clearly past normal. Continue reading Outraged? Get Outrageous!

Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

I’ve been writing blog posts at this website for over six years now.  Well over 500 to date.  But I’m not doing it today.  I’m not writing an essay today.

Why, you ask?  Why am I refusing to entertain my loyal dozens (and countless accidental readers) with yet another rambling jeremiad today?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of reasons, really.  Behold.

I’m a Lazy Bastard: My whole life I’ve loved nothing better than doing nothing.  Sometimes I come clean and admit my lethargy.  Yet people often refuse to believe me.  “You have a Ph.D.  You’ve published three books.  You helped negotiate the Peace of Westphalia.  You can’t possibly be lazy.”  I wave off their protestations.  I insist that I am really quite slovenly.  I remind them that professors are notoriously lazy, barely rousing themselves to fabricate random grades for their students.  But the skeptics just pshaw and in insist I’m energetic.

Yeah?  Well not energetic enough to write this essay.

There’s a Stray Cat on the Back Porch: I think he might be part Maine Coon.  He’s got pointy ears that sprout tufts of hair.  He’s not fully grown but looks to be getting quite large.  And he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.  Hell, I think he enjoys it.  A few weeks back it got down to 14F at night.  For you fancy people with your hip, scientific measurements, that’s some big negative number in Celcius. Continue reading Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

The Counter Revolution

The United States boasts a deeply conservative economic tradition.  From its origins as a colonial, agricultural society, it quickly emerged as a slave holding republic built on the ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide of Indigenous peoples.  After the Civil War (1861-65), it reshaped itself in the crucible of unfettered laissez-faire capitalism straight through to the Roaring ‘20s.  A post-Depression Keynesian consensus led U.S. leaders to reign in the most conservative impulses during the mid-20th century, but the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s set the stage for the current neo-liberal moment.

Consequently, ever since the industrial revolution, the United States has typically trailed other developed nations in establishing a basic social welfare system.  It has never fielded a competitive socialist or labor party.  It was the last major nation to implement an old age pension.  More recently, ObamaCare made it the last major nation to mandate that all of its citizens receive some sort of healthcare coverage, even if it’s quite wanting in many cases.

Amid its overriding conservativism, the United States has had only three presidents with any real socialist tendencies: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45), Harry S. Truman (1945-53), and most recently Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose presidency (1963-69) ended before half of current Americans were born (median age 37.9)

The election of Donald Trump as president and, just as important, the impending Republican dominance of Congress, make certain that the United States will not correct its social welfare shortcomings anytime soon.  Indeed, the nation may take significant steps backwards.

However, a quick review of America’s stunted progressive history suggests that the opportunity for a progressive counter-revolution may be closer than it appears at this dark moment.  And not because Trump’s victory represents the last gasp of an aging generation or the violent undulations of a shrinking white electorate.  But rather, because Trump and his Grand Old Posse have the potential to wreak so much damage and engender so much ignominy upon the national consciousness as to generate the kind of rare and extreme circumstances that have previously led the United States to make genuine progress in developing modern social welfare.  The chaos and horrors of a Trump presidency may yet produce opportunities for improving the nation. Continue reading The Counter Revolution

Dear Readers: Let’s Make Me Bad

professor-plumApparently there’s a new sheriff in town, and its name is Professor Watch List.

In case you hadn’t heard, its a website dedicated to spying on and publicly decrying liberal college professors.  Its mission is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

Anti-American values?  That’s my middle name!

So far they’ve outed about a couple of hundred college professors, a rambling list that is organized by the professors’ first names because maybe  . . . they couldn’t manage anything more sophisticated than hitting the Sort button?

From this long and growing list, highlighted for ridicule on the site’s home page are: a white woman, a Latino, a Jew, two blacks, and an Italian American who, gasp, is “an admitted socialist.”

Diversity!

A look at the longer list reveals some odd choices.  Continue reading Dear Readers: Let’s Make Me Bad

This Is Not About White People

white-personMaybe one day I’ll publish the 2,500 word screed I just wrote about how fucking sick I am of white people.  And not just the racist, sexist assholes who eagerly voted for a racist, sexist asshole flaunting racism and sexism as a central part of his campaign; or the not-racist, sexist assholes who held their noses and pulled the lever for a racist, sexist asshole, and in doing so exhibited moral bankruptcy by giving public sanction to racism and sexism; but also the middle class, white liberals assholes who valiantly fought hard to prevent a racist, sexist asshole from reaching the White House but, once they lost, became self-centered, self-indulgent turds who had to publicly make everything about themselves, because nobody fucking suffers like white people.

Maybe one day I’ll publish that essay.

But not today.  Because publishing that essay, ironically enough, would be just one more way in which a white, middle class asshole (me) found a way to use his privileged platform (this and other, larger websites where I publish) to make public declarations about white people.  And even though it’s a blistering critique which I stand behind every word of, it would just be another example of a white person making this all about white people.

And right now, this is not about white people.  This is about what we, as Americans, choose to do amid the horror that some of us have wrought.

So instead of going an angry rant, I am going to write in support brown people, in support immigrants, and in support women, and in support of LGBTQ people. Continue reading This Is Not About White People

The Founders Didn’t Want You to Vote, But I Do

founding fathersI’ve been blogging for just over six years.  During that time, I’ve published nearly 500 essays.

By far, the article that has been linked to more than any other is one of the first I penned back in 2010.  It is entitled “The Founding Fathers Did Not Want You to Vote.”

Traffic to that essay has been up and down over the years, tending to do well during election season.  But this year was different.

Online views began a consistent upward trend last November, experienced several spikes during primary season, and picked up steam as the party conventions aired.  Since September, it has been viewed dozens, and then hundreds of times per day.

So far in 2016, the essay has received more than three times as many hits as it had during the previous five years combined.

To date it has been viewed nearly 7,000 times at my website, with another 150 views today before by 10:00 AM.

I run a small, non-profit, personal web page.  An idiosyncratic little blog with fewer than 70 subscribers and just over 500 Facebook followers.  The popularity of “The Founding Fathers Did Not Want You to Vote” dwarfs anything else I’ve ever published, including my many essays cross-posted at much larger sites like 3 Quarks Daily, or various pieces that have occasionally caught lightening in a bottle.

I have no illusions about the essay’s popularity.  I realize that many people who click to the page do not actually read it, or much of it.

But I also know how people are finding it, and I think that says something. Continue reading The Founders Didn’t Want You to Vote, But I Do

Throw Your Vote Away

fissureTo say this has been an interesting presidential election season would be an understatement.  Regardless of who is declared president after the polls close three weeks from tomorrow, this is almost certainly a tussle that historians will pick over and analyze for decades to come, if not centuries.  They’re apt to do that when an election reveals deep fissures in society, as has this one.

But of course there’s more to it than that.  Donald Trump’s candidacy is not just about a political outsider emerging as the champion of ostensible insiders (mostly white males) who have come to see themselves as disenchanted, frustrated outsiders amid long term changes in the national economy, culture, and demography.

Among other things, it’s also about a startlingly unqualified person taking the reigns of a major party against the wishes of that party’s leadership; an unleashing of various bigotries that have forced comfortable Americans to stop pretending racism and sexism aren’t real problems; and the dramatic erosion of lines separating entertainment and politics.

Amid this whirlwind of upheaval, Hillary Clinton now seems very likely to win.  Our Lady of the Establishment looks ever more presidential, partly in contrast to Trump’s glaring ineptitude, but mostly because so many people find The Donald to be utterly contemptible.

Under more banal circumstances, her victory might have been most noteworthy for the United States electing its first female president nearly a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote.  under current conditions, it will now largely be seen as a moment when simple sanity held sway over startling lunacy.

Regardless of how high the stakes appear, however, there are still only two good reasons why you should vote for Hillary Clinton:

  • You believe she would be a good president
  • You don’t believe she would be a good president, but you live in a swing state and don’t want Donald Trump to become president

For these two reasons, tens of millions of people will vote for Hillary Clinton, and I applaud them.  I really do think it’s important we avoid the wretched shambles of a Trump presidency.

However, neither of these reasons apply to me or many other millions of voters.  When such is the case, we should recognize it and vote accordingly. Continue reading Throw Your Vote Away

Guest Blogger Scott Pilutik: Donald Trump’s Attack on the Constitution

Image credit: NRO (from NationalReview.com)Pointing out Donald Trump’s democracy-threatening moments is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.  But I fear some of his more egregious ideas are being normalized, and thus becoming progressively less dangerous-sounding the second, third, and thousandth time they’re uttered.

Two from last night’s debate in particular are worth mentioning: (1) Threatening to jail your political opponent should you succeed to the job, and; (2) Smearing defense lawyers with their client’s crime.

Neither critique is new.  “Lock Her Up” will be on the future K-tel greatest hits version of Trump’s campaign, and criminal defense attorneys are hardly strangers to populist condemnation (when you get a chance, thank Law & Order’s Dick Wolf for his malignant contribution to this perception).

However, threatening to jail your political opponents is a common feature of banana republics and dictatorships, and it’s sad that people feel the need to even point this out.  Sad!  Hillary Clinton was cleared by the justice department.  People need to get over it and be less selectively outraged.

Furthermore, when Trump hauled Kathy Shelton into his shit-flinging circus, he implicitly assailed the Sixth Amendment’s guaranteed right to defense counsel in criminal trials.   In 1975, Clinton was appointed defense counsel to the man Shelton accused of rape.  It’s the type of job that few people want, but which is absolutely necessary in a functioning democracy.

Our Bill of Rights contains a number of counter-intuitive features that are intended to cement boundaries that can’t be breached by the whims of majorities: First Amendment freedom of speech guarantees the right of even KKK members to march in a parade; the Fourth Amendment prevents illegally obtained evidence from being used against otherwise-guilty criminals at trial, thereby serving the larger goal of keeping police forces honest; and the Indy 500Sixth Amendment promises that no person will be left defenseless at trial, even rapists, murderers, and, say, Nancy Grace.

These and many other features were installed for good reasons by people who acutely understood the damage that results without such protections.

It is precisely these unpopular protections that “Make America Great,” and what made our Constitution the model for so many democratic nations.  The people who assume unpopular roles within the constitutional scheme are vital and, indeed, heroes.

Which is why it’s not only ironic but dangerous that Trump marches under the banner of patriotism while he promises to govern by his angry, impulsive id, and erode these protections.

Scott Pilutik is a lawyer and Rangers fan living in New York City.

Continue reading Guest Blogger Scott Pilutik: Donald Trump’s Attack on the Constitution

Talking to a High School Student about Racism

high-schoolRecently, a high school student contacted me because she had questions about racism in America.  Specifically, she wanted to interview me for a school project on the topic of institutional racism.

Institutional racism is a tricky subject, and I did my best to introduce her to the complexities and nuances of something that often flies under the radar.  Many white Americans are unaware of the issue, or have trouble understanding it if they are aware.  And so after I answered her questions, I decided to re-print our Q&A.

Here is my conversation with a high schooler about racism in America.

*

Thank you very much for helping me with my project by taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions on the following questions/topics.

How do you define institutional racism?  And how prevalent would you say it is in modern North American society?

We normally associate racism and bigotry with the intentional actions of an individual or group of people.  But institutional racism is the result of larger social forces that can be difficult to detect.  Instead of one person or a few people doing or saying something racist, institutional racism comes about when society at large expresses racism in more subtle and impersonal ways. Continue reading Talking to a High School Student about Racism