Category Archives: Current Events

The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

Teenager For BarryMuch has been made of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most loathed presidential candidates since the birth of polling.  Each of them has managed to alienate roughly half the country.  About a quarter of Americans despise both of them.  They make Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney look beloved.

There has been a lot of focus on why these two candidates are so widely reviled.  Simple partisanship doesn’t seem to adequately explain it; fewer than a third of American view either of them favorably.

The Washington Post and ABC News tell us that Clinton-haters typically see her as a corrupt, untrustworthy flip-flopper, while Trump-haters hate too many things about him to list here, but it largely boils down to him being perceived as an inexperienced hatemonger.

Fortune magazine dispenses with the specifics and instead points to Clinton’s and Trump’s long and choppy resumés as repulsing the masses.  Despite whatever accomplishments they may have racked up over the years, the thinking goes, voters simply can’t get past the many “bad” things each candidate has done.

However, I’m less concerned with why exactly these two candidates are so widely detested.  On some level, the why doesn’t really matter; what’s more pressing, I believe, is the how.  In terms of American political mechanics, how could this happen and what does it mean?  How did we get here, and what can we learn from it?

The one common mechanical process in almost every aspect of American politics is the two-party system: an extra-constitutional artifice that long ago hijacked government.  And it is through those double swinging doors that we have stumbled into our current political purgatory.

This bi-polar orgy of villainy signifies that America’s two-party system itself is badly broken; indeed, this scenario might not have emerged if there were additional healthy political parties.

Let’s start with Donald Trump. Continue reading The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

Why You’re Going to Vote for Trump and How You Can Win a Free Ticket to Mexico

2+2=5I was very, very wrong, and now it’s time to pay for my mistakes.

The good news is, when I pay, you just might be the one to collect.  My loss can be your windfall.

The catch? You too will have to publicly debase yourself

Sigh.

How did it come to this? You and I publicly shaming ourselves on the internet, each of us desperately hoping to salvage a little bit of joy as the world burns around us?

It’s all because of that goddamned Donald Trump.

Trump is about to claim the Republican presidential nomination, and a whole lotta pundits got that one wrong.  Legions of professional gabbers, from every corner of the political spectrum, badly missed the mark, assuring you that he’d never be the GOP candidate.

Despite their wishful thinking dressed up in high falutin’ gibberish, it’s happening anyway; Trump is poised to become leader of the pachyderm pack.  And so a lot of the yakkers had to make amends.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post literally ate his words.  Pass the salt and pepper.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times and David Byler of Real Clear Politics each created a laundry list of everything they got wrong, which like most analysts, was quite a lot.

Perhaps the oddest mea culpa came from polling wunderkind Nate Silver, who explained away his spectacular failure by saying that he had acted like a barbaric “pundit” instead of staying true to the “scientific method.”  Rather than relying on statistical modeling to figure out if Trump would win, Silver says he just made “educated guesses.”

Since Silver never really explains why he traded  true reason for such wild tomfoolery, I’m just gonna assume he went on a months-long bender.

Normally, it would be very easy for me to look down my nose at these losers.  After all, I’m not a statistician or a professional talking head.  I’m a historian.  And if there’s one thing studying history has taught me, it’s that trying to predict the future is pure folly.

What were these dullards thinking? Guess the future? Good luck with those crystal ball shenanigans.  Studying history has shown me, time and time again, that the future is unknowable.  The past is a mystery and the future is an illusion.  So allow me, in full haughtiness, to point a sanctimonious finger at these morons.

Except for one thing.  It turns out that I’m one of those morons.  I, too, am a loser. Continue reading Why You’re Going to Vote for Trump and How You Can Win a Free Ticket to Mexico

The NRA Supports Terrorists

Omar Mateen“The NRA does not want terrorists or dangerous people to have firearms,” National Rifle Association Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Baker said last November after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

I have no doubt that’s  true.  After all, why would the NRA want terrorists to have firearms?  It’s difficult to imagine a reason.

Baker went on to say: “any suggestion otherwise is offensive and wrong.”

Well, it’s not my intention to offend anyone, but honestly, I don’t care if I do.  Because it is increasingly obvious to most rational observers that while the NRA may have good intentions, its actions facilitate domestic terrorists’ acquisition of firearms.

The NRA likes to prattle on about how gun control laws won’t keep guns away from criminals.  But in the case of Orlando, Florida shooter Omar Matteen and other terrorists, we’re not talking about mere criminals. We’re talking about enemy combatants: people who have effectively declared war on the United States and seek to overthrow the constitution, including the 2nd amendment the NRA cherishes above all else.

As has been widely reported, the FBI investigated Mateen three times for possible terrorist links and activities.  Mateen variously pledged support to ISIS, Hezbollah, and a branch of Al-Quaida  called the Nursra Front.  These three groups all oppose each other, which illustrates Mateen’s incoherence.  However, the groups also all have something in common: they are all hostile to the United States, and the federal government lists them as terrorist organizations.

Nevertheless, Mateen legally purchased two guns from a shop run, ironically enough, by a retired New York City police officer who worked out of the World Trade Center on September 11.  Continue reading The NRA Supports Terrorists

In Memoriam: Muhammad Ali

Photo by John Peodincuk/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesAs a boy, I was a Ken Norton fan.  That means I spent the 1970s rooting against Muhammad Ali, which was usually quite fruitless.  Any Norton fan could tell you: our man had beaten him two out of three, although the judges robbed one of those from Norton with a crooked decision.

So when the vampiric Leon Spinks shocked the world by outpointing Ali in 1977, it was a cause for celebration.  And when Ali got revenge in the rematch, it was to be expected.

The underlying story, however, was that when someone like Ali loses to someone like Spinks, it’s time to hang up the gloves up.  Yet Ali kept going, trudging through a series of embarrassments.  By the time Trevor Berbick finally pummeled him into retirement in 1981, it was hard to hate on Ali anymore.   He seemed like just another sad pugilist who’d hung around long past his due date.

It was also increasingly obvious to most observers that Ali was becoming what was then known as “punch drunk.”  The more technical terms was dementia pugilistica.  Today it’s it’s called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopahty), the form of brain damage that makes parents think twice about letting their kids play football.

As I came of age during the 1980s, I learned more about Ali, née Cassius Clay.  As a boxing fan, I came to appreciate that he was, in fact, almost certainly the greatest heavyweight of all time,  and undoubtedly one of the greatest boxers of any class.

But far more interesting was the life he lived outside the ring. Continue reading In Memoriam: Muhammad Ali

How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly

Marty Two Bulls cartoon
cartoon by Marty Two Bulls

Did I ever tell you about the four years I spent in prison back in the late 1990s?

Well, actually, it was just two hours on Thursday afternoons as a volunteer with the Native men’s group at Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I could gussy up the experience and say I was teaching inmates.  But mostly I was just hanging out.  Many prisoners, particularly those who’ve been in a while, are starved for new faces and happy to get some fresh conversation.

Sometimes I’d talk to people about serious issues.  Other times we’d just shoot the breeze.  One day while inside, I was talking to a guy.  Nothing serious.  I don’t even remember about what.  He asked something of me.  I said, “You got it, chief.”

Now here’s the thing.  Growing up in New York City, “chief” was (and still is) in the same class of words as “boss” and “buddy.”  They’re all informal monikers one man might casually give another if you don’t actually know each other’s names, or as a temporary nickname even when you do.  It’s a sign of modest respect and affection in the moment.  In a typical New York City context, they’re all completely harmless words and have zero racial connotation.

But the moment “chief” slipped out of my mouth in prison, I immediately remembered that of course this particular word has a very heavy connotation for Native people, particularly men.

His entire demeanor changed in a heartbeat.  We’d been happy, joshing around.  Now he stared right through me.

“Don’t you ever call me that again,” he said quietly, anger flashing in his eyes. Continue reading How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly

The Public Professor Site Redesign

cropped-Profile-Picture.jpgFive and a half years after its initial launch, this site is receiving a substantial update for the first time.  Some of it is aesthetics, with new colors, imagery, and font.  Some of it involves updating content.

The “Pages” at the top of the site (eg. “Me” and “Books I Done Written”) are not only renamed, but also updated.  Click inside and see.

In addition, I’ve added two new pages: “Books I Might Write” and “CV.”  The former contains brief overviews of book projects I’m working on.  Beyond the infamous Communities book that was responsible for launching this site but has yet to see the light of day, there are also working manuscripts on music and misadventures from the road.  The “CV” page contains my Curriculum Vitae, which is what professors call their resumé.  Is our pretentious Latin name for it better than your pretentious French name for it?  Who knows.  The bottom line is, we’re all pretentious.

Enjoy!

P.S. Yes, I’ll keep blogging here on the front page.  If you’d like to sign up for email notifications, or get them via Facebook or Twitter, that’s just to the right near the top of any page.  Viva la blog! (That’s pretentious Spanish for, “None of this stuff ends up on my resumé.”

Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

Lincoln quotesYou can fool all the people some of the time
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

For example, sometimes all of the people believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered these famous words.  But he didn’t.  It originally traces back to a French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie in 1684.  The phrase doesn’t show up in American letters until some Prohibitionist politicians started using it in 1885.  Twenty years after Lincoln died.

Until recently, I simply took at face value the common claim that these were Lincoln’s words.  It’s not a very important issue, so what would push me to question it?

My decision to title this essay.

A little healthy skepticism is all it took.  After all, lots of famous quotes are misattributed to famous people, ergo the Yogi Berra line: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”  Which he really did say.

So before titling and publishing this rant, I looked up the aphorism at a reputable site with citations, just to be sure.  And presto: suddenly I am, at least in this regard, all of the people some of the time, and not some of the people all of the time.

You really don’t want to be some of those people who get fooled all the time.  Which brings us to Donald Trump. Continue reading Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

Salon Says Trump is a Fascist. I Heartily Disagree.

writing at Salon.com makes the case that Donald Trump is a fascist.  Buric is an actual historian, so we should take him seriously.  What’s more, unlike me, he specializes in modern Europe, so he’s far more qualified than I am to make this assessment.

But despite all that, I think he’s wrong.  Donald Trump is not a fascist.

Buric’s essay is very good and worth reading.  He serves up a compelling case about certain similarities between Trump’s antics and Italian fascism of the 1920s and 1930s.  For example, he makes interesting comparisons  between Trump and  Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. 

I am disputing none of the facts Buric presents, and I agree very strongly with some of his insights.  For example, I think Buric’s absolutely right to say “It is no coincidence that the Trump phenomenon emerges during the tenure of the first black President.”

However, in the end I think Buric comes to the wrong conclusion because he has fallen into a logical trap.  He tallies up lots of similarities between Trump and Mussolini, and between today’s environment and the atmosphere that produced European fascism, but too many of those similarities are superficial.  And more importantly perhaps, the differences are profound. Continue reading Salon Says Trump is a Fascist. I Heartily Disagree.

On Donald Trump: I Was Wrong, I Will Be Right, & Here’s What You Want

Donald TrumpThe Trumpster killed it in Nevada yesterday.  He collected about as many votes as the combined total of his only real rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

He’s tan and in command.

Of course this goes squarely against an earlier prediction I made here and at 3 Quarks Daily, saying Trump would be done by the Ides of March.  Obviously, and much to your chagrin, I was wrong.  It’s full steam ahead for The Donald.

But before you go reaching for the Kleenex [Note: This blog is not sponsored by Kleenex.  Or Xerox.  Or Clorox.], pull yourself together and take heart.  Because in the big picture view, this is all starting to look pretty good.

In fact, I’m firmly standing by my primary prognostication: No way in Hell does Donald Trump actually win the presidency, and if he does, I’ll buy you a one-way ticket to Mexico (better food and weather than Canada).

But between now and his eventual downfall, it’s gonna be a little rocky.  So here’s what you need to do: Strap in for the most terrifying roller coaster ride of your life, and have faith that it doesn’t end when you look up and realize Donnie Hairpie’s at the controls, aiming your careening car straight for the White House.

It’s an act of faith, I know.  But if you don’t want a Republican president working with a GOP Congress in this current political climate, then what you should really, really want is for . . .

Donald Trump to win the Republican presidential nomination. Continue reading On Donald Trump: I Was Wrong, I Will Be Right, & Here’s What You Want

What You See Is What You Get

ScaliaAntonin Scalia is dead.  President Barack Obama will soon be nominating his replacement.  There should be no surprises.

There can be zero doubt that Obama and his team have their short list updated and ready to go.  Five or six names, perhaps?  And a much longer list of backups just in case.

Who is on the list is a bit of an open secret.  People who follow the Supreme Court and its politics can take very informed guesses as to whose names are in the president’s back pocket.

Much of the vetting has already taken place.   Someone will be tabbed shortly.  That person will reflect much (although of course not all) of Obama’s legal and political philosophy.  That person will probably be liberal on some issues, center-right on others.

After being contacted, but before being publicly announced, the nominee will begin receiving expert grooming from the White House on handling the press and the Senate confirmation hearings.

That person will be smart, polite, and tight lipped in public.

All will go according to plan.  There will be no surprises.  The process will be boring.  Their appointment is a fâit accompli.  Their tenure as one of the nation’s nine highest arbiters will be straightforward.

It’s been a while since a Supreme Court member didn’t really behave as advertised.  It’s been a while since a nominee botched it and fell short of the bench.

But oh, how it used to be different.

Does the name Harriet Miers ring a bell? Continue reading What You See Is What You Get