politics

Thoughts from a melting snowflake

I don’t understand the point of insults. Not in an I’m-impervious-to-them kind of way, I have a pretty thin skin, but I don’t get what they’re supposed to accomplish. Especially in a debate where your goal is supposed to be convincing the other person you’re right and they’re wrong. How exactly is an insult supposed to help you in this endeavor?

I have a masochistic habit of reading internet comments. I never comment myself but I’m fascinated by the people that do.  And I’ve noticed a trend in the way that people deploy insults. They are used;

A) To hit a soft target. To insult a group on an article or post that is already negative towards that group. An insult that acts as ‘going in on the fun’ and that expects to find acceptance within the target audience of the post.

or

B) To derail the conversation. This insult will pop up from the ‘rival’ group to disparage all those who agree with the post.

Since I live in a liberal bubble and generally only see one side of each insult. I get the impression that conservatives tend more towards B. But this observation is likely highly influenced by a perception bias (seeing what I expect to see) and shouldn’t be trusted. Still, I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say that liberals call conservatives bigots, conservative call liberals weak, and both groups call each other stupid.  (the last insult is crowd pleaser favored by any corner of the political spectrum)

These insults NEVER change anyone. NEVER add to the conversation. And NEVER (I’m speculating here) make the insulter feel better for any longer than a second.

The reasons we use them are obvious. We’re mad and we want to hurt the people who make us mad. We have an opinion that we lack either the knowledge or the creativity to defend and so saying someone is Hitler is the next best thing. And last, and most importantly, knowing where you stand in the world is a scary and precarious position. If some belief is your foundation it is unsettling to find out that other people are capable of disagreeing with it. It can make us question ourselves and feel powerless. Insults seem like the best way to take the power back, or at least diminish the power of your opponent.

So, why do I bring this up?  Well, yesterday my typically safe observer status was taken away from me. I was insulted by someone in a private Facebook message. A man with whom I had had semi-regular, and previously public, debates with sent me a message with an insult about how I post too much on facebook. Fair enough, I do post a lot.

Thing is, this really came out of left field for me. For one, I hadn’t actually posted anything that political recently. Two, I thought this guy and I had an understanding. I knew him from the church I grew up in.. The church I attended when I was still devoutly Christian before I started to feel like someone who thinks that it’s fine for gay people to exist and for trans people to live as their true selves had no place in the fundamentalist Christian society.  I left the church because what I felt was right and what the church told me was moral no longer matched one another.

At any rate, I have always been determined to not be one of those lapsed Christians who gets their jollys talking shit about what they used to believe. I was determined to stay connected and to actively keep alive in myself what it was to hold those beliefs. It’s good to have some person in your life with whom you can politely disagree. Ultimately the world is a better place when thoughtful people engage in debate and make earnest attempts to understand the other side. I thought that that was our arrangement. I thought we respected each other. It was disappointing to find out that I was wrong. It hurt my feelings.

So, let’s go back to liberals being weak. I think this is based in the way we talk about offensive behavior. It can be hard to understand where we’re coming from when we often fail to make our argument passed the point of the offense. To quote Stephen Fry “You’re offended, so what?” We have to move the argument passed the what and into the why. But, on the other hand, to quote Louis CK “When someone tells you that you hurt them you don’t get to say that you didn’t.”

In light of this, I’ll explain my hurt feelings;

I don’t like the implication that my posts are so offensive to you, so threatening, so infuriating that you send a private message to try and shame me out of them. This is not an attack on some changeable behavior I have that’s annoying, like chewing loudly, this is a comment on an aspect of who I am. I like politics. I like talking about politics. When I post about politics it’s not to hear myself talk (on the internet). I’m hoping you respond, I’m hoping there’s a conversation because that is so much more interesting then me being mad in my liberal bubble. I don’t really care about sports. I have no interest in having a baby. I like talking politics. That is a fundamental part of me that if you don’t like then, unfortunately, you don’t like me. It’s not sold separately.

I don’t like that you felt like that message was worth both your time and your energy. When they say that it’s better to say something nice or nothing at all, you should listen to them.  The world is not better for that. That was a pointlessly mean thing, and it was beneath you. There is both an unfriend and an unfollow option of Facebook. I invite you to chose either of them in the future.

And last, it was patronizing. I don’t want to cry sexism. I am sure that this can and does happen to guys. But I am constantly being told by men with little to no acquaintances with me, what exactly it is I am doing wrong in my life. The fact that you think you know better is offensive. The fact that you think that an insult will shame me into behaving the way you think is best, is laughable. The fact that you are so convinced that you know best… The audacity that any human can decide how another human is supposed to act and feel, is ludicrous. Tell me I’m wrong! Present me with a ten pages essay illuminating every point of my wrongness, but don’t tell me to shut up and expect that to work.

The opinions I hold which don’t match yours infect your newsfeed and drive you to distraction, I get that. But let’s be real, either you don’t like me or you don’t like being reminded that there is anyone in the world who disagrees with you. In either case, there’s a better way to handle it.

Fight No More Forever

Wednesday was the anniversary of the surrender of the Nez Perce at Bear Paw which brought an end to the Nez Perce War. I didn’t want to let the day pass too far by me without remembering what Chief Joseph said on that day 139 years ago;

“Tell General Howard I know his Heart. What He told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting, Looking Glass is dead. too-Hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

This speech is both haunting and incredibly beautiful, but I’ll try not to focus too hard on the beauty. Often in American culture, when we do acknowledge indigenous people, it is with a kind of orientalism. New agey myths surround the “wisdom” of the first Americans as if they only existed as shaman proffering a fun spirituality that we can pick-up in our twenties and decorate our facebooks with, then just as easily toss aside for the next culture we want to fetishize. In remembering Chief Joseph’s words, I want to remember that this was a human man who suffered great loss.

But I do think it’s important to remember these words because they, like all beautiful things, reach a place in ourselves that would otherwise be unreachable. They are a visceral reminder that this nation was built on a genocide. (And if you now want to stop reading this now because you don’t like that last statement you’re actually exactly who I want to talk to (hopefully not lecture, but talk to)). I don’t think we love our country any better by pretending history never happened. I don’t think blindness is good patriotism.

We pick and chose and borrow and steal from those parts of this nation’s history that are beautiful, affirming, and encourage us to think of ourselves as the hero of history. We get very, very angry at anyone pointing out that firebombs killed civilians in WWII, internment camps imprisoned law abiding US citizens and stole their property, slavery was an evil that made America rich (North and South), the wounds of Jim Crow have NOT healed. We get very, very, very angry when a man uses his very public stage to say that justice is not available to everyone in this country.

The outcry is “How dare you not love this country!” But if that’s how you love your country, I don’t think you and your country have a very healthy relationship. Total and unquestioning acceptance is not love. It is not loving to sit in silence while your loved one hurts herself. It is not patriotism to make standing for a song, repeating a pledge, and never ever criticizing, the hallmarks of good citizenry. Especially in a democracy where it is our duty to be vigilant protectors of this fragile experiment.

Love for America is not contingent on the belief that America is without sin. Rather, the ability for democracy to grow, and learn, and change, depends on people challenging the complacency of believing we’re perfect. That is what we should take pride in, protestors are patriots. I believe that we are strong enough to challenge ourselves and overcome, to acknowledge the sins of our past and from them learn to do better and be better. That is how I love my country. So from time to time, I remind myself of the worst parts of history so that I can find ways to make us better.

Quick thought on hate speech

Please read this article to know what I’m talking about (tldr; the number of hate crimes against the Muslim American community is on the rise.

This violence is a direct result of hate speech. It is not a coincidence. It is not just some people taking it too far. Continual statements from public figures that demonize all of Islam, that spread fear about people who think and look differently, that propose that an American citizen who practices Islam is anything other than an American citizen. Those statements create a hateful cloud of misinformation from which acts of violence are the lightning strikes.

Those that commit hate crimes don’t do so because they are ‘lone wolves’ and they don’t do so because they are misunderstanding what a politician is saying when he’s “telling it like it is.” Picking out a group as ‘unamerican,’ repeatedly making statements about the danger of this group, makes that group into an ‘other.’ (An ‘other’ is a nameless, faceless, straw-man diametrically opposed against everything that you are.) A group, once othered, is subhuman. They are not worthy of empathy, their lives mean less.

For example, look at the discourse surrounding the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust. The victims of those crimes were likened to vermin. They were said to be the enemies of the ‘true’ people. Nurturing the othering of any human is the first step in every terrible act that the human race is capable of.

That is why I say that hate speech is the direct cause of hate crimes, not the unfortunate misunderstanding of a misguided few. It is true that not everyone who spreads hate speech commits hate crimes, but everyone that commits hate crimes believes in the hate speech. Those that perpetrate violence do so because they are acting on the necessary extension of the logic laid down by hate speech, “these people are not my people”, “these people don’t belong here”, “these people are my enemy.” They feel that their actions are legitimate because those in authority repeatedly tell them that they are under attack.The repeated message “All practicers of Islam are the same. America is at war with Islam. To be Muslim is to be against ‘true’ America*.” sinks in, people believe it is true and act as if it were true. Without hate speech constructing that dichotomy of the other and the “true American” violence would have no narrative through which to legitimize itself.

Words have power. It is with words that people create their understanding of the word  and their understanding of themselves. There is no such thing as an innocuous statement, particularly from a person with power and privilege. Perhaps if we were living in a culture that valued substance over sound bites we might be better equipped to critically pull apart all that is entailed in a public statement. But until then we should recognize hate speech for what it is, a threat to peace.

* “True American” can be interpreted as “White Christian”

 

Post Tuesday Blues

Well, I’m disappointed. It’s not as if I believed the highly unlikely would happen. I tried to temper my enthusiasm and remind myself that generally, there are never surprises in politics, it’s too big and too well orchestrated a game to have any unexpected results.
I was ready for Hillary in a big way. Almost immediately after I cast my vote for President Obama in 2012 I was eagerly anticipating her run in 2016. But then Bernie Sander’s entered the race.
Wednesday, in the aftermath of my disappointment I’ve been reading the liberal op-eds and their tone is far from victorious. It’s a strange reaction when you consider that we are so close to a history making election. But it makes sense when you take into account the tone of the Clinton campaign thus far.
When I said that there are never any surprises in politics what I should have said is that there are never any good surprises. He-who-shall-not-be-named (because every time we type his name it only increases his brand value) threw the republican primary into a sharp spiral towards the far right. When we had expected the usual battle between moderate forces and the theocratic Tea Party we ended up with a massacre of moderation in favor of bluster and hate speech.

On the other side, Senator Sanders’ entrance pushed mainstream debate further left and for liberal democrats like me it was thrilling. To have things like single payer insurance even enter the sunlight of the national discussion was something I had previously only dreamed of. Even if that discussion played out; “Single payer insurance? Psht, that will never work.”

The deficit of exuberance I think we are seeing post California is a result of the Clinton campaign’s winning strategy. She was forced to define herself from Sanders’ as the practical one, and define herself from you-know-who as the less evil one. Stuck in-between these two swelling tides, Clinton became the campaign of “Psht, that will never work.”

As much as moderation is a necessity for a healthy democracy there is still as sense of deflating when the supposedly cooler head has prevailed. I don’t think that this deflation is merely our idealistic bubble bursting. I reject the characterization that all Bernie supporters are a bunch of hippies chasing a pie in the sky. California is the unsatisfying reminder that liberal politics is not about ideals, is not about innovation, and it is certainly not about rocking the boat.

Of course, it is not great for government to be the sort of organization that moves on whims or gets too experimental, but when the fear of change stops even the conversation, when the knee jerk mistrust of anything remotely socialist means that the attitude that prevails in liberal discourse is dismissal of new and engaging ideas, those are circumstances that continue to make liberal voters disengage from the process. We have become the party of the safe bet and we are stagnating under incremental change that moves in millimeters.

The fact that the only challenge to the status quo which has managed to take root this primary season is the challenge to our decency and inclusiveness is a disconcerting indication of where American politics is headed. It is a result of timid liberalism that stifles itself with the fear of being challenged. I wish that we could be more comfortable with our critical capabilities and raise the level of debate over the punchy zingers or easily digestible, but nutritionally valueless, fluff. I am sick of throwing the socialist baby out with the communist bathwater, because politicians don’t have respect enough for the intelligence of American people to standup for a platform with any shades of nuance.

Negativity won the day Tuesday, both for the people who want to regress the country back to the point before all those irritating civil rights came about and for the people who look at a bold vision for real change in this country and think, “psht, that will never work.”

Hey, Bernie or Busters, You Say You Want a Revolution

I was thrilled when Senator Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, thrilled in a way that I had never been about politics. Of course, I had been political for some time, anyone unfortunate enough to be my Facebook friend would know that. I had fought hard for President Obama’s second term (by which I mean about five posts a day. No campaign contributions or anything silly like that.) But much as I admired, and still admire President Obama, Sen. Sanders was someone who seemed to believe in all the things that were important to me. I want single payer insurance, I want less defense spending, I want to hold Wall Street accountable. The Democratic Party was never left enough for me, the incremental change was way too incremental. I had been finding it hard to keep defending the DNC to my more idealistic friends. Bernie was like the cavalry, he was riding in to save my faith in American politics.

I attended the first Sanders rally in Dallas. Up until that point I had only ever been an armchair politico, so I have nothing to compare it to but the crowd was massive and electric. It filled the ballroom of the Sheraton hotel and spilled out, almost filling the lobby. When he spoke people screamed with utter joy as he breathed fresh life into suffocated liberalism. The Millennials in the room especially, finally felt like at last the timidity of progressivism and empty rhetoric was done and now there was going to be some real action.  We are a generation so over McCarthyism and its absurd paranoia. We have seen the banks ruin the world economy take their bonuses and get away with it. We are third wave feminists who understand intersectionality and structural inequality. This was our guy, one hundred percent he got us.

It’s been a long and somewhat depressing road since then. Media ends every of the few sentences it utters about Sen. Sanders with words like “unlikely” and “longshot”. The DNC seems dead set on its choice of candidate, electorate be damned. We, who are still in the Bernie camp, know that our devotion is not diminished, that despite near constant undervaluing, that crowd in Dallas and thousands like it are still in love with the ideas of the senator from Vermont.

But that’s just politics and we accept the will of the system with grace- except, wait no of course we don’t; enter Bernie or Bust.

I’ve had qualms about criticizing the movement up to this point, mostly because my primary complaint against it is an aversion to eating one’s own. Petty infighting is for republicans, not democrats. We’re supposed to be the party of cool headed reason. I wanted to pretend that we could all get along, that despite our differences we’d all be able to back the candidate that won the establishment contest and therefor stood the best chance of defeating the rightwing in November.

But the posts on the Bernie Sander’s for President Facebook feed (which I’m sure do not reflect the opinions of the man himself) have become more and more venomously anti-Clinton. Bernie supporters there have painted themselves into a moral corner, if Secretary Clinton is the candidate of the established leftwing, in order to vote progressive, they would have to vote for someone who they have spent months calling a liar, a criminal, and a corporate shill.

Still I would have refrained from joining in and only further frothing the water of our drowning political respectability, if I hadn’t made the mistake of trying to understand the movement by reading articles  purporting to present with that cool liberal reason a defense of Bernie or Bust. My understanding from my reading is that Busters feel justified in not voting or voting for Trump because they’ve had enough and it’s time for a political revolution. It’s a bad argument and all peacemaking aside, I cannot let a bad argument go unchallenged.

I’ll start my rebuttal by simply stating that democracy, any democracy, has always been and ever shall be a system of choosing the lesser evil. It’s is in the very architecture of the philosophy. A government which is truly representative of and responsive to the will of the people will never comprehensively match the will of any one person. Compromise is everything and it’s something we’ve certainly forgotten, John Boehner’s out of a job because we forgotten it. Protection against the supremacy of one ideology over all others is the reason why the majority of the power in our government resides in congress and not in the presidency. It is diffused across 535 people. 535 people who, if they were doing their job correctly, would be participating in a lot of comprise all the time. But rather than caring about those contests which actually matter a lot more we put all our energy into the big name prize fight because it feels like a bigger victory and it’s easier to keep track of the players.

The stakes always feel so high in a presidential race because the height of the rhetoric. It puts us in a fever of fear. I thought Mitt Romney would be the worst thing to ever happen to this country… boy, if I had only waited a few years I could have saved up all my Nazi metaphors for someone supported by actual Nazis, instead of wasting them on the Affordable Care Act.

Maybe I’m older and wiser, but it all just feels so theatrical and self defeating this time around. Constantly  portraying the people with whom we disagree as the worst and most evil of all human beings makes compromise impossible, hinders discourse which could sharpen our ideals, and just plain obstructs everything. That’s the attitude that makes us vote for a “winner” rather than someone who’s says and believe things that matter. It’s  also the attitude that hands midterm elections to the Tea Party voters who are will to show up, rather than the liberals who’d rather sit around and complain that voting is pointless and will only feel their point is justified when the people they took no part in electing fail to represent them (Hint: it’s because they don’t). I really, heartily, disagree that kicking your feet and holding your breath until the candidate that is your absolute favorite wins counts as political stance. Not voting is not a statement, it is the opposite of a statement, it is pouting in a corner because you don’t want to play. Nobody cares about the kid in the corner, they’re just going to keep right on playing.

Does this mean that if you truly think that Secretary Clinton is not a progressive, that if you believe she is not just a concession within but an actual opponent to progressive ideals that I’m arguing that you should still vote for her just because she’s got the democratic label? No, of course not, there are other options, but we’ll get to that later. My point is that abstaining from politics by not voting is a direct misunderstanding of what democracy is and how it works. You do not win anything by sitting it out and waiting for the perfect good, you’re handing your rights of citizenship over to whatever takers remain, good or evil.

Which brings me to my second point, and I’ll try to tackle this one without undoing that great point I just made about not portray political rivals as pure evil. Threating to vote for Donald Trump because Hillary Clinton is not progressive enough is utter nonsense. It is cutting off your nose to spite your face in the worst way. Threatening to vote for someone whose key platforms involve hawkish military posturing and vilifying immigrants, someone who really strikes a chord with white supremacists (whether he disavows them or not), threatening to vote for that man because Sen. Sander’s is not the democratic candidate makes me question whether or not you ever believed in what Sander’s was saying in the first place.

Bernie Sander’s is an exciting candidate because he doesn’t just spout out a bunch of fluff about inequality; he seems to have a deep understanding of its structural roots. Sen. Sander’s is opposed to military expansion. He is for fair and humane immigration reform. He bullishly determined to level the playing field for the middle and lower classes with government investment into medical care and education, two expenses which cripple those classes with inescapable debt. How does any of that jive with Trump? If you want to stick it to Hillary so bad that you will vote for the man who suggested we halt the immigration of Muslims when heavily Islamic regions of the world are in the midst of  the defining human right emergency of our generation, then forgive me but I don’t think you like Bernie like I like Bernie. People are drowned by the thousands in the Mediterranean Sea, but you want to prove some point about how unfair it is that super delegates exist.

This is a revolution, right? That what Busters say. This is the moment where we can wrestle out of the vice like grip of the two party system, let me tell you I am all about that. But I cannot see how a vote for Trump (real or in absentia) accomplishes that.

The one bright side to this nightmare of a preliminary has been the glimmer of hope that the Republicans might do what they probably should have done as soon as the Tea Party arrived. As the writing was definitely on the wall and Kasich and Cruz were more or less flailing in their death throws I was waiting for someone to say those three magic words “third party candidate.” I’ve heard it muttered a few times, but nobody is exactly shouting it just yet. It puts me in an awkward position, I’m really rooting for the libertarians to get it together. Me, a big government loving girl, rooting for those Ayn Rand obsessed anarchists to present a good case.

I’m worried like everyone not supporting Trump or Bernie or Busting that all this venom going around the Democrats could  put Trump in the White House. The strategic thing to do would be to keep the progressive vote together and let the Republicans split. But if we’re really going to be idealistic about this, then let’s actually live up to those ideals. If this is going to be the election where we finally make it about the interests of the people rather than preserving behemoth parties then why is plan of action merely to trade one behemoth for another? There are other alternatives.

I can understand the frustration behind Bernie or Bust. But I  don’t think the movement is living up to what it thinks it’s living up to. You want the ideals of Bernie not to fade out of mainstream public discussion, you care so much about what he stands for, and believe that Hilary is the antithesis of true progressivism? Then why are you not learning the name Dr. Jill Stein? Surely that’s the card up your sleeve? To completely ignore the real progressive alternative in this race makes Bernie or Bust seem less like they love the ideas of Bernie Sanders and more like they just really hate Hillary Clinton. This could be an opportunity to harness the excitement Senator Sanders and channel that it into some actual change, something for those of us more left of center to hold on to.

I get that he’s still in this and it’s not over till Debbie Wasserman Schultz sings. To suggest that the diehard Berniecrates go green at this stage in the game is a little soon. But at end of the day, if Bernie or Bust wants to defend itself as something more then an empty threat or a petulant whine, as a real contender for big change in politics then not voting or voting for Trump should not be their weapons of choice. That’s not a revolution, that’s a surrender. This is supposed to be about making our democracy more responsive to it’s people and we do that with multiple parties.

Maybe  California will change everything, but maybe you should also look up Jill Stein