I’ve been struggling for the better part of this week to put something, anything, down to words regarding the recent tragedy in Charlottesville.
First, if you haven’t watched the VICE News documentary HBO posted online, please do so. You really can’t understand a lot of this without witnessing it. And since we’re supposed to put “trigger warnings” on stuff now, there are some incredibly disturbing and violent images within that doc, but again I would strongly recommend every American watch it. Those of you gazing at the angry fulminations emanating from my social media platforms will know how I feel about this. But what does this actually mean?
Next, I feel some basic things about this event must be stated, and repeatedly. A group of white supremacists/nationalists and neo-Nazis marched across a college campus with torches chanting “You/Jews will not replace us,” and finding their rallying base around a statue of a Confederate war general. This happened in America in 2017. The next day, during clashes at a protest people were injured, and after police ordered everyone to disburse a car driven by a supremacist sympathizer rammed over several dozen peaceful protestors, killing 32 year old Heather Heyer. The President of the United States has still been unable to issue any kind of statement making it clear where the majority of the violence on this tragic day was to be found. As of this writing, a week after this all happened, while almost everyone he brought with him to the White House is gone, he still has not issued any kind of statement to correct the record. This is how the President of the United States thinks, in 2017.
Third, these things are all irrefutable. And yet I find myself immersed in social media discussions in which many people out there cannot seem to understand, let alone morally grasp, the terms of this “debate.” This is rather unnerving because we Americans take it as a point of major pride that we helped Russia triumph over the Nazi menace during the Second World War. And yet even that type of speech is now considered by some people to deserve equal footing with anti-racist slogans and agendas. How did this decoupling of morality and consequence occur? Well, it sure didn’t happen one week ago.
We live in an age right now in which we are asking gigantic questions about society that seemed solidly in place even years prior. But many of these changes were accelerating in the first part of the great “War on Terror” with Dubya. This is a time that a lot of young people have no memory of, or if they do remember it’s filled with war. It bears repeating that the United States has been at war in Afghanistan for longer than any other war in its history. The lies came fast and furious after 9/11, and many precedents for Trump were set right here. “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “reality-based community.” Just three examples of words twisted beyond recognition by an administration bent on war and reaffirming the supposed world order of things by any means. And of course there were other egregious cases, such as pretending a great southern city (New Orleans) didn’t really exist in its time of most dire need. These are all things that are barely a decade past us.
Obama came, but we saw very little change in substance when it came to the militarization of our populace. While the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President got a lot of great press for supposedly winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in reality our nation got ever more enmeshed in the Middle East during his tenure, and Obama became known as the “Drone President” for how much he shifted military reliance on this technology. But the twisting of language didn’t stop under this man, as words like “imminent threat” became used to justify the preemptive assassination of American citizens abroad who were suspected of terrorism.
And there’s that word again. The word that has lost all meaning to today’s populace. The acts of James Alex Fields were certainly those of terrorism, especially as the media loves to define it today (car being driven over multiple pedestrians). And yet never more was the establishment media at pains to describe this as exactly what it was: an act of terrorism, perpetrated by a domestic terrorist. This debate has been worn out in the years after 9/11, but it’s hard to pretend as if most people don’t see it precisely this way: “terrorism” is stuff done by “those” people (i.e. anyone not white, but mostly Muslims). Again, the terms of the debate shifted steadily under the Bush II administration, but Obama did very little to quell this. And the GOP was literally using their racist bases’ impulse to go against that president through groups like the TEA Party.
This all leads us to where we stand now. Everyone wants to bemoan the state of “polarization” in our politics today, but very few seem to grasp the roots of our outrage. Could it be because:
The United States has never been forced through a truth and reconciliation process over any part of its horrifying racist past? Talking about the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, KKK, the list goes on. There is a reason why somebody born after 9/11 could still be indoctrinated in this type of evil mindset. Because generations before never had to be fully confronted with the malice of their deeds. And the rest of us were apparently OK with this for our generations.
Most of our US populace has become inherently deadened by the Neoliberal regime initiated by Reagan and Thatcher in the 80’s and was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in the 2008 financial crash to be the largest financial swindle in history. This pernicious ideology has led vast swathes to view the entire world as a transactable thing, and leaves little room for other considerations. This alone has led to pain and suffering throughout the world that has the convenient excuse (still today!) of pretending as if it is an unchallengeable ideology (it isn’t). For more on this topic, I’d highly recommend Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.
Or perhaps it’s just a simple lack of education, with our elite betters exploiting it against us at every turn. Millions of people turned up in the streets to protest the Iraq War, but it still happened. Thousands of leftist, anti-racist and antifa organizers turned up at the Charlottesville protest, but somebody still got murdered. And the President sided with the murderers. Hard to think of a more concise example of the stark terms of the situation.
So yeah, this is war. In some ways it’s a war that never got resolved, much in the way the Korean peninsula situation threatens to spiral out of control because the war fought there by our nation a half-century ago led to much death and destruction but very little verdict. These things occur, and then pass us by as our populace becomes more and more inured to the catastrophic future awaiting us through climate change and political instability.
All of these things being predicate, how did we get here in 2017? I have no idea if the concepts I’m laying out here do justice to that question. But, as with the Boston Marathon bombing four years ago, these types of terrorist attacks have a large piece of context that never quite gets discussed in the media even when they happen.
Surely there is a reason these types of attacks are occurring on what appears to be a daily basis. Why is it so easy for most of us to throw around the “terrorism” label when it’s happening over there, and yet have such an inability to realize that it is our own foreign policy providing large amounts of “terror” to the world population? This kind of cognitive dissonance was a large part of what Trump was able to exploit to “win” the election, and continues to balance on moronic statements like “both sides.” It becomes apparent that this is racist balderdash is what the President truly thinks, and why wouldn’t he if his chief news sources are Fox News and Alex Jones? Our cherished belief to insulate ourselves in filter bubbles is only making these problems worse, and for those already massively uninformed, downright dangerous.
That’s essentially what we saw in Charlottesville: a large group of amazingly uninformed people acting on those beliefs in a violent way. Now, one could argue that’s the general thrust of American politics (as Tina Fey pointed out recently on Weekend Update, it was actually us who stole all of this land, another convenient fact to forget), but that is leaving off the hook those other problems I mentioned. And until that type of stuff is resolved, this all is only going to get worse.
The Right wants to paint all of this as “political correctness” gone awry, and while there is a grain of truth to some of that argument, I would argue that the statement of murdering a young woman in cold blood for no reason kinda of puts a lot of that to the side. Doesn’t mean we should go after these people with violence, but I’m finding it very hard to feel bad for some of these guys who are so internet savvy on the alt-Right but didn’t think about how a public doxing of their own might ostracize them from their communities. There should never be a single law against any type of speech in this country, but many courts have rightly made exceptions regarding violence to others. Again, some of this becomes blurry in our age of American insanity, but if the next rallies get worse be prepared to watch all of this take on a larger significance.
For those reading this, I wish I could come to a better conclusion than this. But there are solutions to many of the problems plaguing the nation. Single-payer healthcare, massive investments in alternative energy and basic infrastructure, and gigantic tax increases on the wealthy would significantly help a lot of what ails our country and the planet. But we cannot get there until we wrangle ourselves together as a populace who wants to make things better. The way some of the discussion has tilted in the wake of Charlottesville, I don’t think we are remotely there yet. But there is still time left (not in climate change terms, as we’ve now reached decade zero).
And it is time to get angry. For people like me, who stupidly didn’t understand the current electorate and the powers that seek to manipulate it, and for people who weren’t angry enough even after the bigot-in-chief was sworn in. People are now literally dying in the streets for these principles. It is incumbent upon all of us who reject white supremacist ideology to make our feelings known, online and in letters/calls to our representatives, and especially in the streets and through activism.
Because all of this, I fear, is only the beginning.
If you haven’t been hiding in a cave (either out of ignorance or for your own sanity) you are probably aware by now that we are in the final throes of one of the biggest farces of human interaction perpetrated in centuries. And by that I mean the 2016 US Presidential Election.
Long-time readers know I have been grousing about this stuff for years now, and I have witnessed time and again the very little change brought about by both major party candidates. Now in this possible nadir of American democracy (#demopocolypse), I want to examine the arguments being pursued in favor of one candidate over the other. This is known as the “lesser of two evils” argument, and had been bandied about in political circles since the entire process became much more corporatized a back in the 80’s. Essentially it boils down to this: yes, both candidates are corrupt, venal creatures forced to accept basic bribery to keep their campaigns afloat, but only one of them is “pure” evil. Since that is the case, vote for the other person.
Generally this argument can be laughed out of hand, because it pre-supposes that we as American citizens have absolutely no other ways to affect our democracy. But during this Presidential election, the idea has more allure than ever. This probably has something to do with the orange, misogynistic monster that somehow has captured the GOP nomination. But it also contributes to a softening of the picture on Hilary, overlooking her casual relationship with corruption and deceit throughout a (mostly) decent run as a public servant since being elected to the Senate from New York in 2000. In any other “normal” campaign, the leaks coming out regarding Clinton and her supposed two-faced motives would be potentially threatening. But that campaign left the station right around the time the orange behemoth began spouting white-nationalistic rhetoric like “Mexicans are rapists.”
In the effort of giving this argument the full hearing it deserves, I wanted to take a look at what we are acknowledging when we make the “lesser of two evils” argument.
First, TheDonald. What else remains to be said about this cretin? Misogynist, racist, neo-facist, xenophobe, the list could be endless. But I’ll be honest, what really freaks me out about this guy is what he represents: the conservative worldview as it remains in this decade. Remember when a bunch of old, white people filled up those town hall meetings to protest the Affordable Care Act? They weren’t protesting the legions of problems with that legislation (no public option, allowing the corporate health behemoths to continue to raise prices), but were angry that their hard-earned tax dollars were going to be used to pay for health care for people without their lovely skin complexion. This is just one example of the alternative universe that right-wingers live in these days. I should say have been allowed to live in, as the propaganda factory building to this was initially established in the 1970’s. But the important thing to remember is this: when Trump spouts garbage about building the wall, how our inner cities are like “hell” and regurgitates nonsense like the Clinton machine assassinating Vince Foster, he is saying these things because he believes them to be true. Just like millions of people who get “information” from places like Fox “News” and conservative radio think they are true. For you see, an entire disinformation campaign has been built up on the right for decades. Trump is as pure a form of that type of thinking as I’ve ever seen, and it terrifies me. Growing up in rural Iowa, I listened to a fair amount of Rush Limbaugh as my father and uncles drove around the farm fields. That didn’t prevent me from gaining a great work ethic, but it did contribute to my inability to be a free-thinking individual. Despite rejecting all of that fear-mongering over a decade ago, I still reflect with horror over how much I drank the Kool-Aid, because it was what I was taught to believe. Of course when I got to college and learned the value of free thought I abandoned it, but a lot of people never get to that point and simply become more and more angry throughout their lives. Kinda like the brutish Oompa-Loompa we saw on that stage last night. The people that support Trump might have a hard time dealing with his horrendous treatment of women, but they have no problem with ninety minutes of sustained assault on Clinton. In their minds, everything Trump is saying is true, but the supposed “liberal” media (anything that proves these conspiracy theories are false is “liberal”) won’t tell us the truth about it. This is literally the mindset of a ton of people, and it’s not like they are going away after this election. Many political commentators I read have speculated that it will only take a serious politician with brains another four years to radicalize these poor saps enough so that they might actually take over the country. Because if you believe the world is out to get you, all you really want is somebody telling you that you are right. Trump in certain moments got that correct, but was such a clownish buffoon the “liberal” media needed only to replay the stuff he said in public to show how unfit for the office he is. Just remember, millions of people liked everything they heard over the last year. They are not going away, and they are not going to be exiting their alternate universe any time soon. With real, actual problems like climate change (another part of reality they deny) occurring with scary regularity, now is not the time to have a huge percentage of your population living in a fantasy world.
Which brings me to Clinton. Again, there are over thirty years to pick through, but I want to focus chiefly on her tenure as Secretary of State. This is mostly because when she became First Lady I was a scant ten years old, and then only a few years away from my indoctrination into the conservative universe. I think of Clinton more as the spineless pretender of the 2008 race, in which her campaign surrogates didn’t think twice of revolving around pictures of Obama in supposed “Muslim” garb (remember that?). This woman almost completely defines “political corruption” in the modern world, and anyone who has considered voting for her ought to be well aware of this. This doesn’t mean she isn’t qualified for the job of president, but so what? Just being qualified does not excuse a litany of horrendous, appalling judgement that has led to the suffering of thousands. In case anyone forgot, Clinton was all over the bandwagon of support for the disastrous, illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Oh sure, she later called it a “mistake” but I don’t ever recall her apologizing for the over 100,000 Iraqis who were killed in the conflict, nor for pathetic ineptitude of her party, upon re-taking the Congress in 2007, to end the illegal devastation. But more contemporarily, her tenure as SOS has been littered with disaster (although that word might be a Trump trademark by now). I guess I’ll start with Libya, since Clinton herself seemingly still will not concede what a monumental error in judgement it was to remove Gaddafi from power there. After fear-mongering all summer 2011 (during the height of the Arab Spring), she essentially pushed Obama into bombing the crap out of Gaddafi’s forces, even going so far as to claim credit for the destruction like a good imperialist (“we came, we saw, he died”). Of course, one of the few factual claims Trump has made over the course of this farce of a campaign is that since then, the country has devolved into tyranny and terrorism, which is what happened but will never be acknowledged by Madam Secretary. Another thing that really bugged me during her tenure was that she bragged about how many countries she’d visited and how little sleep she maintained, as if that was an excellent recipe for conducting diplomacy around the world. How many meetings do you suppose she traipsed through due to lack of sleep? And I suppose I should mention the private email server - while yes, this was incredibly stupid and possibly could have allowed classified foreign policy information to be purloined, what really freaking irritates me about this incident is the complete lack of awareness of why this was a bad idea. Remember, this was the same woman who cried endlessly about Chelsea Manning leaking those secrets to Wikileaks six years ago, doing something potentially even worse (Manning was trying to wake up the American populace to the slaughters perpetrated by their armed forces; she specifically did not leak any intelligence secrets to Russia, and of course neither did Snowden) with her own email servers. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and a huge reason why she should not be trusted when she starts spouting garbage about Wikileaks’ supposed menacing connections with Putin. This woman clearly does not understand either how the Internet works or how it is going to be used to keep her in check now that it has become the dominant communication system of the world. Any Millennial with a Snapchat account ought to be aware of how disturbing this is.
So what is the point of this diatribe? Everyone who makes this argument needs to, at the very least, acknowledge what you’re asking people to admit. On the one hand, you have an orange monster, on the other, a corrupt politician who thinks little of the pain and suffering brought by our nation upon the rest of the world. Of course these aren’t even the totality of candidates, but you wouldn’t know that from the obscenely corporate-controlled “debate” process/farce that we saw play out over the past month. The fact that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have viable viewpoints on the future of our nation means little to the corporate elite controlling the “debate” process, most of whom would prefer if Clinton glided into the White House. Recall that by proffering this argument you are saying it’s just fine that our democracy is bought and paid for, and that you have to accept either of these power-mad people in the highest office in the land. You are also stating that we have to accept that this is the way things have to be, instead of the thousands of meaningful ways activists have tried changing the conversation over the past decade. In the “debates” there was not a SINGLE mention of climate change (this happened almost to the letter in 2012, too) - but that didn’t stop activists from shutting down numerous pipelines during the same time period. From the questions asked at the debate, you’d think the Second Amendment had been nearly torn out of the Constitution, instead of the very reality of dozens of black men being shot on the street by their supposed “protectors.” By saying that these two are the most viable and best candidates for the job of POTUS, you are conceding the terms of the debate.
And while I can’t tell anybody how to vote this November, at the very least if you’re going to make an argument about the lesser of two evils, it should be your sworn duty to bring up the many, many things that argument does not acknowledge. For only if we see this nightmare of democracy for what it is, and what it could be, then we can begin to change it into something that works for everyone. It is my hope that this crazy campaign and what it has revealed about America might begin that process, but who knows? It’s gone on this long, perhaps it will continue until we all melt in the wake of Co2 emissions. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.