The Purpose of Arms

I believe modern militaries have one traditional purpose (to resist foreign invaders) that is largely outmoded among so-called superpowers, and three more relevant modern purposes:

  1. to frighten the vast populations of the modern superpower/nation state into submission and apathy by virtue of the vast killing power of the superpower’s weaponry
  2. to intimidate lower-GDP nation states with less weaponry into doing the will of the regional or global superpower; and
  3. to, via occasionally hot or persistently warm ‘brush wars’ conducted in underdeveloped proxy nations, efficiently destroy excess military-industrial complex hardware and/or gain access to resources (oil) in order to stimulate new production and economic growth among favored constituents and industries.

The rest is hogwash.

This is Your October Surprise

Feeling paralyzed by the endless string of horrific events, deranged world-views, endless lies, and soul-killing policies? Feeling powerless? If so, then their plan is working. It’s how every fascist movement works–by intimidation and a constant wearing down of a weary electorate.

You have one great power left – use it now.

Coming on the heels of last week’s right-wing mail bomb terror campaign conducted against the president’s declared enemies, the race-hatred murders this week of two African Americans out shopping and eleven Jews practicing their faith–this is your October surprise. The president’s bid to upend the Constitution by fiat is just the kicker, timed to exploit these events for maximum hate-mongering.

Blame is meaningless. VOTE accordingly. You can vote for reason, or you can vote for white nationalist authoritarianism unleashed on a soon-to-be-former democratic republic.

There is no equivalence. Unless you consider it a crisis of law (or even formal Democratic party policy) that a few unhinged leftist protesters have verbally harassed public officials in elevators and restaurants, or that a few anti-fascist rebels meeting the “fine people” with swastikas on their helmets in mutual battle is a crisis of law—unless you believe that lie–you know from documented events that only one “side” is conducting a coordinated war on American norms and values, ginning up white paranoia and spreading bald-faced lies for political gain,  then refusing to respond when their lies are corrected by the press.

Only one side’s populist figurehead is exhorting racial animus and fanning its flames at Nuremberg-style populist rallies soaked in hate–and has been for years. Only one side’s figurehead tried for eight years to spread “birtherism” nonsense about an African-American president, convincing a sizeable (racist) portion of  the country that the president was “not a real American”–not because of where he was born, but because he is black.

Only one side’s figurehead is celebrating political violence and hate speech at these rallies, later reading condemnations of the same, in a listless monotone, a teleprompter’s canned words rather than his own, when such violence is carried out in his name. These condemnations are read in that slow, robotic manner as if to impart the coded message that “They’re making me say this snowflake stuff – for now”. And for all that, such statements are usually undermined quickly with an impromptu speech from the “heart” [sic] that erases any vestiges of human feeling that might have been found in the original statement prepared by his handlers. Because the president does not really believe in mercy or tolerance or sympathy–these are the qualities of the weak. He believes only in strength, power, and dominance over one’s enemies. 

Only one side is characterizing refugees fleeing violence and crippling poverty as some kind of military invasion requiring a military response. This tactic supports American white nationalist/neo-Nazi philosophy as promulgated through “Storm Front” and other hate groups—i.e., that multicultural Democrats led by “globalist” Jews like George Soros are organizing immigrants/refugees to “take over” the US and wipe out the “white race,” whatever that is. It matters not that the president’s son-in-law is a Jew; Jared and the kids are safe in the White House, and the president believes he can “use” such support to maintain his power–the only thing that matters–which is why he has praised white supremacists and neo-Nazis as “good people” and recently referred to himself as a “_____ Nationalist” (fill in the blank). He does not waste time pondering how the cavalier political use–and social elevation–of dangerous shadow groups dedicated to mayhem steeped in anti-Semitism may affect–or in the case of this week, how it has affected–the lives of “ordinary” American Jews.

Only one side is ignoring the Constitution in its pursuit of power, threatening extra-Constitutional executive orders and legislation to strip Americans of the rights they are born with. Only one side abrogated their duty under the Constitution by ignoring a Supreme Court nomination by the sitting president in order to steal that seat for Republicans. Only one side is seeking to disenfranchise minority voters and actively suppressing their right to vote, then defending this criminality as a remedy for a proven-to-be-fake “voter fraud” crisis they refuse to acknowledge is fake (because they don’t want to). Only one side is ignoring the clanging alarm bells of global climate change in favor of the next quarter’s balance sheet. Only one side risks bankrupting the nation with irresponsible, unnecessary tax cuts, transferring over a trillion dollars in (borrowed) wealth from ordinary citizens’ future earnings to their ultra-wealthy donors who prop them up in Congress. Only one side is systematically dismantling women’s access to reproductive health care bit by bit–endangering millions of non-wealthy women’s lives–all in the name of “life”. Only one side is publicly calling the other side “evil” and “corrupt” at its figurehead’s political rallies. Only one side’s frothing arena denizens scream “LOCK THEM UP” about former US leaders and the press, indeed about any and all political opponents the figurehead cares to name, people guilty of no crime save being a political threat to the promised new order. Only one side’s figurehead is fomenting widespread mistrust of the free press in favor of his proven lies. Only one side is encouraging the belief that the free press is the “enemy of the people.”

This is not a culture war with two “sides” seeking political advantage. This is an assault by a white nationalist insurgency, which has captured a major political party and, with help from America’s geopolitical foes, installed a selfish, uncaring, willfully ignorant narcissist figurehead in the White House. It is an assault by a powerful, paranoid minority on the principles and institutions of the United States, a group that has decided the only way to preserve white power is to bring about an end to democratically administered rule of law via a “post-truth” philosophy of white hegemony at all costs. They mouth support for the “rule of law” only in regard to laws they like, laws that restrict freedoms rather than grant them. The first and fourteenth amendments are suspect. Non-corporate speech should be “controlled,” mosques “monitored,” protests “outlawed”. Citizenship is fluid, not defined by the Constitution; it is to be defined by them once power is consolidated. Laws enacted by the “evil” Democrats and bench legislation from “activist” (i.e. liberal/moderate) judges are suspect. The very truth of the law is suspect–their may be “alternative facts” to support another interpretation of its plain words.

Reason and fealty to the law are not their priorities–the constant lying about what the law is demonstrates this. They are driven by fear–fear of the “other”, fear of retribution at the hands of those they now oppress and relegate to the margins of society, a fear stoked daily by their former reality show star and leader, fear that has–as it has in so many places in the past–metastasized into a deep hatred of all who oppose them. And wherever this philosophy of a “strongman” who will protect Us from Them presides or looms large–be it Russia, North Korea, Poland, Hungary, Brazil, the Philippines or anywhere else–they find fast friends. Where freedom reigns–Canada, the EU, Japan, France, Germany–they see the enemy.

The other “side”—though nearly powerless at this point—is simply trying to stop them. No amount of threats, ridicule, sarcasm, lies or “whataboutism” changes these truths. One side is trying to destroy what we are and remake us in the fear-mongering, hate-filled, paranoid image of their irrational, ignorant, lying reality show star. The other is trying to preserve our freedoms and our dignity, and to prevent this descent into authoritarian nationalism. It is not a Republican thing. It is not a Democrat thing. It is an American thing.

Don’t vote like a party member. Vote like an American–like a Pennsylvania Jew at worship or an African-American out shopping. Vote like an American Muslim whose mosque was burned down. Vote like a journalist, caged in Trump’s arena with thousands mocking you, threatening you for telling the truth about their golden calf. Vote like a poor working single mother with a pre-existing condition. Vote like a senior depending on Medicare. Vote like a refugee fleeing violence, locked in a cage, your children locked in another cage, a “kinder” cage. Vote like your life depends on the outcome. Because it does. 

White Man’s Brethren

I am white, and a man. That puts me in some storied company, and it also puts me in a category. How should I feel about my story? My company? My category?

It’s true I never owned any slaves or denied anyone a seat on a bus or at a lunch counter, but I live in a nation where much of the capital city was built by slaves, where for centuries men who look just like me bought and sold people as if they had that right. And even after that wrong was undone, Jim Crow laws and – now – quiet institutional racism (in the courts, corporate America, schools – it goes on) keep African-Americans at arms length from the breaks, resources and opportunities whites take for granted. And of course I live in a history-damaged culture that automatically assumes the best about me as it automatically assumes the worst about black and brown people.

Everywhere I go. I don’t get followed around in stores, people don’t cross the street when I’m walking towards them on the sidewalk. I haven’t been pulled over in 30 years. And even if I were to be pulled over, chances are I’d be treated with automatic respect rather than automatic suspicion.

All of which means that even if I don’t promote racism or racist hegemonic policies, I benefit from those in power who do, as do those who keep them in power with their votes. And that means staying silent about this massive inequity built into our system is a kind of silent assent. It is equivalent to the “wink” received by the late student who is the teacher’s pet, while the other late students languish in detention for the same offense.

In today’s parlance, what I am trying to achieve is known as being “woke”. Part of that is being awake to the reality that it is not laziness, or genetic differences (which don’t exist by the way) or even cultural differences that leave African-Americans and other “visible” non-whites behind the starting gate and perennially behind the curve. it is our color-coded institutions themselves, and our willful ignorance of the reality of the lives of minorities, that perpetuates this inequality, this injustice that has spanned centuries.

There are plenty of statistics on this, if you’re into that. But it should not be necessary to see the hard data to know, as an American, that our playing field is far from level. You see it play out every day, in the color of gangsters, the color of kids in detention or juvenile court, the color of kids in failing schools, versus the color of kids in private preschools, suburban Debate Team kids, Senate interns, private college alumni and beer-soaked fraternity brothers. Yet we persist in this fantasy – that “everyone” has the same chances to work hard, get ahead, be successful, what have you. We trot out anomalous examples like Colin Powell (2nd gen Jamaican American) and Barack Obama (2nd gen Kenyan American) as if these men put the lie to the millions of citizens who are struggling to stay alive and make ends meet in a society that cares little about whether they do or not.

In fact, these examples do more to prove the rarity of such achievement than how common it could be “if minorities would only take advantage of all the opportunities this country has to offer”. News flash: those opportunities are rare in the ghetto. Powell and Obama are unicorns, the million-to-one black Americans who never lived in public housing, whose family legacies in this country did not begin with being another man’s property. But they were still black. They made it big despite the mountain of obstacles that still stood in their way. So yes, these are exceptional men. And we could expand these examples to people like Clarence Thomas, Valerie Jarrett, Maxine Waters, Oprah, Beyonce, Tiger, and all the way back to ML King, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and further back to W.E.B. DuBois, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglas, not to mention the many successful black and minority athletes, entertainers. and business achievers over the centuries.

But the fact that we can name so many of these people from memory demonstrates that they are the exceptions, not the rule. And good for them, for their amazing talents show us also that there is by no means an intellectual, creative or moral “advantage” to being white (as Thomas Jefferson fervently believed). Quite the contrary: it is the narrow thinking and immorality of white America’s past-into-present that has kept their numbers so low. Witness also how many of these well-known and well-regarded black Americans are from our recent past, a time when at least the non-corporate world has opened up more and more opportunities for minorities to demonstrate their chops. It is particularly interesting to note that where black and minority Americans seem to succeed the most – in athletics, in entertainment, in the military, in medicine, in politics and the law – these are fields where your success depends the least on “who you know” and the most on “what you can do.” Yes – sisters are doing if for themselves, and brothers are willing to work it out.

Of course, we can say the same thing about women. How many female Senators were there in 1950? How may female CEOs? How many female Supreme Court justices? Was it because women back then were too “emotionally unstable” to hold such authority? Of course not, it was because the idea of mental weakness was projected onto them by men who were bent on retaining the exclusivity of their governing club. Having lived with women all their lives, having had mothers who raised them, they knew all too well of the vast capabilities of women. They simply pretended such abilities were overshadowed by an “Achilles heel” attributable to their sex. Nothing personal, ladies!

If I ever feel put-upon or unfairly judged for being white, or male, or a white male, I need to remember to suck it up and embrace the pendulum theory and the various philosophies of liberation that instruct my thinking:  if I am going to identify as a white man (as I must), I need to humbly acknowledge my cohort’s past behavior (and in too many cases, present behavior). I may not be responsible for it personally, but I am – by virtue of being born and especially by virtue of enjoying the tacit “entrée” of a white man’s world – a legacy member of the club that is responsible. Unless I vociferously  condemn the actions of men who have controlled and brutalized whole societies and half the world’s population for centuries (even when women are IN the same society), it would be reasonable to assume I tacitly condone such actions and beliefs. After all, I benefit from them.

But I condemn them now, and will always condemn them. Here is my humble manifesto: I reject the politics of hegemony, and in fact the very idea of hegemony, in what should be celebrated as a diverse, pluralistic society capable of fairness and equality, both under the law and in terms of the preparation of the next generation and legal reparations for those who’ve been oppressed and denied opportunities such as I have had for far too long. As we continue to divide along political lines, I am not on any “side,” because there should be no sides. I am on the side of justice, equality, and fairness.

Perhaps this is akin to what William Blake—a cultural rebel–was thinking when he wrote, “I must create a system, or be enslav’d by another man’s.” I am trying to live these words, to reify this vision, not just say the words to hear myself talk in lofty tones. And I’m not waiting for consensus. These words are true in and of themselves.

So if the pendulum is finally swinging, at least in the cultural imagination if not in the actual halls of power in 2018, the other way–toward condemnation of past practice and the awakening of those who suffered so long under the arbitrary caprices of various white European manipulators and oppressors—then I can draw no other conclusion but that it is a good thing. If as a result we, the reverse doppelgangers of the likes of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and Adolf Hitler, need to stand aside and let these people breathe free and speak their minds freely regarding our past performance, that is a good thing too. (I am suddenly reminded of South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation” commission. Maybe we need one of those.) If we all celebrate equality and, on the part of the oppressor demographic, practice humility and reconciliation, then perhaps the idea of egalitarianism can eventually take hold among the populace at large and, eventually, work its way all the way up to corporate board rooms and Washington’s halls of Ivy League-branded power. We’ve done something like it before (shout out to MLK and Barack). But in 2018 we have dropped the ball.

Although there are powerful forces arrayed against those who would leave nostalgia for the old white America behind, I think the majority of society will keep pushing that pendulum to the side of equality and universal liberty for the simple reason that we in the privileged class are outnumbered—soon we white folks will be just another minority. And if nothing else will motivate us, perhaps the looming prospect of  our chickens coming home to roost will. It’s how the good stories end, after all, with the downfall of the tyrant, brought on by those under his thumb who realize they have the will – and now the numbers. As we become that minority, I hope we will not need the threat of revolution to get all the way past the notion that anyone deserves any special privileges merely by reason of the circumstances of their birth.

Post-Politics

I was just watching the end of a concert by a favorite band, The XX. It was sort of an epiphany – you’d have to see the concert, but it is simply a show full of love. These kids love one another (I’ve seen them in interviews) and I believe they love their fans for giving them a voice. And their fans love them.

It used to be you could just assume folks put love in the “plus” column, unless they’re jerks. But need I tell you? Jerks are on the rise.

And not just love. Everything that goes into it, into art, into soulful expression – into taking that risk of putting yourself out there, in whatever form, to affirm that love is good, to make yourself vulnerable to ridicule by expressing admiration for warm emotions, for friendship and respect. For honor, which is based on honesty, and truth, which is required for honesty.

It appears you risk being some kind of snowflake. Be that as it may, it’s a risk the vast majority of us are still willing to take. Only a few have found this time to be an apt opportunity to reveal an inner, coarser self, one that had heretofore been kept under wraps.

But they are a noisy few!

What my eyes and ears tell me, though, when witnessing an XX concert or a flood of “mad” emojis under a Pence speech, is that they are few in number compared to those who simply want to live and let live. The problem? Of course, it’s simple – though relatively rare, white Christian nationalism is now concentrated in the political class, more specifically the Republican party. This is having, for some, a legitimizing effect on what would have been scandalous behavior not ten years ago.

I mean, remember when you could get impeached for lying about a blow job?

When the governor of Nebraska goes into open battle with public higher education and Planned Parenthood, going so far as to call Nebraska a “pro-life” state (where he is dying to execute his prisoners, but never mind) – this reveals a deeper corrosion that preceded the president’s slimy rise to power. Ditto Walker, Brownback, Christie, Sessions, Bannon, Miller. They were waiting for him as one awaits a savior.

And the Joe Blows out there, with the aid of Facebook, are ascendant in their new nastiness, their on-script, imagination-free on line bullying and harassment.  Feeling their new “legitimacy” [sic] and testing out those “button-pushing” words!

I was never able to imagine how the right-wing political class would normalize Trump. I thought it impossible. And I was right – the man refuses to even pretend to be civilized. But I was forgetting that for a significant minority, it was not necessary to normalize the president’s boorish behavior.

To them, he was already normal.

In this, I believe many of us are “post-political,” in that we know we are members of a sane, rational majority. But we have little representation in the central government or in our region, both of which are seas of deepest, now-darkest red. Our leaders are leaders in name only. They are sectarians. They don’t identify with us, they don’t represent us, and they don’t want to. We are sailing different seas, every day. Our paths do not cross. Or if they do, it is to oppose each other’s ideas.

They are becoming to me as I already am to them – irrelevant.

 

Two and Two Make Trumpism

I believe we are watching our language break down in real time in the manner described by George Orwell in his famous novel 1984. I believe a lot of people have simply given up on independent thinking and objective reality, and are content to merely spout empty slogans to shield themselves from words they perceive as threatening to their self-constructed, solipsistic world view.

To such people the truth is, in effect, arbitrary and tangential to the goal of communication, which is to win.

This never really occurred to me before, that the principles of Newspeak (i.e. the fewer words people have to use, the better at limiting what they think) would go mainstream in 2016. Instead of the nuanced analysis and acceptance of facts not in support of one’s position required by honest debate,  we get people who’ve been trained to rely on epithets and catch phrases: “swamp creature” and “snowflake” and “lock her up” (complete with 2-minute hates, a la Goldsteinism) and “build that wall” and “violent/intolerant left” and “fake news” and all the other all-purpose MAGA terms that seek to shut down informed debate before it can start.

I no longer attempt to “argue” with self-identified Trumpers, because there will be no reasoned argument. There will be only slogans and Kellyanne-style “whataboutisms” and, if those don’t silence the unwanted sound of information coming their way – insults designed to intimidate or subtly threaten the speaker for not being on the right team, and never mind the details. Wrong team.

What there will never be is an admission that anything Trump ever said or did was wrong or misguided or illegal. Or, if he did make a slight error in judgment, what about Hillary and her emails? What about the murder of Seth Rich by the DNC? And other assorted distracting falsehoods and irrelevancies (oft-repeated to gain that veneer of truthiness).

What supporters of Trump ask of us is that we deny the reality of our senses – that we not believe our eyes and ears. Reality is not the foundation on which their arguments are made – it is the prize to be won by making them. Everything Trump announces about himself on a regular basis – that he is a sexual predator, a misogynist, a narcissist, a bigot, a fraud, a serial liar, a criminal and a cheat – none of these facts can be relevant or even true. They cannot. Because if they were, Trump supporters would be backing a man with no moral authority whatsoever. They would be backing a fraud.

So to Trump supporters, Trump’s not a sexual predator – CNN doctored that tape. He’s not a misogynist – (insert woman’s name) is lying (or she had it coming). He did not make fun of that disabled reporter, even though it’s on tape. He’s not a bigot – Mexicans really are mostly rapists and drug dealers and “maybe a few good people too”, and Muslims are dangerous and need watching anyway. He’s not a cheat – all those contractors who say they got stiffed are lying. The hundreds of lawsuits? Sore losers. And the massive protests? Protesters are all actors being paid by George Soros and the DNC.

Eventually, Trump will have never gotten draft deferments, will never have had five kids from three different wives whom he serially cheated on, will never have called Mexicans rapists, will never have mused about having sex with his own daughter. And he will never have called the press “the enemy of the American people” – once he controls the press.

At that point, the matter will be settled. Two and two will make five. Forever.

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