After a year of brutal and unrepresentative government by a Republican Congress and President, I want to take a moment to examine an aspect of our degrading society that is, admittedly, not the most important or direct consequence. It resides mostly in the minds of people, but also in the words they speak and the hopes they allow themselves, it is as real as any material deprivation. It is time for each of us to examine our politics, and banish forever the ideas that the stakes are low and reversible, that the only important thing is that we “restore sanity” to the presidency, and that our culture is not sick.
I speak of the despair and fear that millions of people feel- even if they are lucky enough to escape the direct and immediate consequences of radical-right policy. What the United States government is doing in some communities is terrorizing, pure and simple. When you begin rolling up convenience store clerks for the high crime of working without the proper documents, you don’t just create a climate of fear among the undocumented, but also their families and others who rely upon them. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers hang out at courthouses and schools attempting to spot people they can legally round up and throw into cages before sending them away forever, they aren’t just looking for marks on some report, but to send a message- Uncle Sam is not your friend if you aren’t white. He has no general welfare to promote among you, no interest in your pursuit of happiness, no interest in your access to justice or education. No, Uncle Sam is racist as hell, 14th and 6th amendments be damned, and he’s done even pretending to care. To hell with your citizen children or your ties to the community or the relationships you’ve formed or even your human rights- your new full-time job is worrying about him and his fascist thugs disappearing people from America.
I speak of the complete collapse of concern among the elite for legions of educated adults, both young and old, who followed the advice of their parents and popular wisdom and devoted themselves to obtaining a coveted middle-class slot in our economy through education. These graduates find themselves facing a society with no interest in the lack of slots available for them beyond a few lucky I.T. staff and software engineers, but an obsessive interest in making sure that every penny of student loan debt is repaid. Is it any wonder, finding themselves relegated to menial tasks and a subsistence existence, that they have concluded that the vision they were sold on is a lie? They want answers, a way to explain what is happening to them- and while some will rightly conclude that the problem is a rapacious and exploitative global capitalism, others will descend into despair, anger, and impotent resentment, and others still will be seduced by the easy explanations of racists and xenophobes.
I speak of my African-American brothers and sisters, who, in addition to dealing with the tangible and direct effects of Uncle Sam’s negligence and/or oppression, also have to live in a climate of consistently heightened awareness of the police- and also with the awareness that it’s entirely possible to do everything right and still lose everything. They teach their children to fear and obey without question men with badges in order to protect them, that they must be careful about crossing this street or that one into the rich, white side of the divide, that their dreams should be smaller and their focus should be survival.
If you’re thinking about politics these days, it’s these sorts of folk you should never allow too far from your mind. For these people, who must expend effort constantly looking over their shoulders, worrying about their futures or lack thereof, afraid of being shot during a traffic stop or put in handcuffs for not having a Social Security number, politics is not a matter of sport-like entertainment but often literally life-or-death. It is for these people and their sake that I avoid the luxury and indulgence of cynicism and false equivalence between our two major political parties, and have little patience for those who still do. Certainly much would be better off if Trump had lost rather than won. But it is also for their sake, those without the ability to simply spectate and offer commentary, that I refuse not to challenge the conventional positions of imminently-reasonable liberals, democrats and cable news pundits. Because the truth is, you shouldn’t have to be a perfect model-immigrant to live in this country in peace, freedom, and dignity. You shouldn’t have to sign yourself into debt peonage for the chance at an increasingly rare middle-class job with health insurance and non-insulting wages. Massive wealth inequality, much of which progressed without protestation among liberals, has led to this turning point in popular political discourse , where the neoliberal vision for America has very publicly lost popular legitimacy but an alternative has not yet been accepted. Time is running out for the Democratic Party to articulate a new vision based upon the universal human desire to live in liberty, peace, and prosperity, even if you’re not a veteran or small business owner or disruptive tech entrepreneur or college graduate. Here’s hoping they do- the future is socialism or barbarism, and one way or another we are doing away with American Dream of old. Will we become a country of oppression and the never-ending struggle just to get by, or one of cooperation, sharing, and ambition?
A few months ago, as I looked out upon the hell-world that was taking shape in the United States of America, I was not feeling very good about much of anything. I did (and sometimes still do) blame my poverty on myself, frequently felt raw and emotional, and just generally felt like the only sane person in a sea of fascist insanity. None of these feelings have vanished entirely, and none of the problems plaguing my beloved country have, either.
And yet, despite the shorter days and longer odds for team democracy, I am feeling a bit better these days. And it’s not because my website and podcast are a hit (haha), or because Evan McMullin has finally led the #resistance to victory, or I’ve gotten any more charming or intelligent. I am feeling a better because of the community and relationships I’ve formed, and for that I need to say thank you.
If I make you laugh, thanks. If we learn when we speak together, thanks. If you hear me on The Majority Report and my bits make you smile, thanks. I don’t know what else to say other than thanks, thanks for letting me do something that isn’t mindless drudgery or unthinking primitivist accumulation or a futile struggle to escape personal serfdom through YET MORE education and job training.
Thanks for hanging with a poor peasant. If you want, you can help keep our hut nice and cozy this winter by chipping in here.
The podcast will be back next week. Stay dissident, serfs.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
-Amendment I, US Constitution
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
-Amendment IVX, Section 1, US Constitution
I may be but a humble peasant, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable, in the wake of the many injuries and one death suffered by heroic patriots at the hands of a white supremacist, to wonder whether a commitment to free speech is foolish. Many other better-functioning democracies like Canada and Germany do not allow for absolute freedom of political expression, and they undoubtedly remain free societies, and if that Nazi rally had been banned by a government official Heather Heyer would still be alive today.
The 1st amendment notwithstanding, however, we peasants have never truly enjoyed free speech. The private consequences of speaking your mind, whether related to employment or social standing, are not banned. No one enjoys a right to speak to a group of captive college students or on a television program- these are privileges. The government itself can restrain certain kinds of speech that incites violence or is a threat to public safety. The point is, there is already a limit in this country to the types of speech allowed- and any line means your speech is not absolutely free.
With all of that out of the way, it remains the case that the government can’t ban speech that it finds distasteful, inconvenient, or critical of itself, and I wholeheartedly believe this is the way things should be. I’m not going to appeal to your sense of patriotism, dear reader. I won’t wax eloquent on how this is one of our country’s best ideas, and how we can’t throw it away because we are frightened. I won’t point out that the Nazi rally-goers were armed and thus not peaceably demonstrating, at least not according to this guy and his non-lawerly reading of the Constitution. (On the other hand, the pack of lawyers at the ACLU happen to agree with me.)
No, I just have some quick questions for you, because this isn’t a 3 am bong-hit thought experiment. If we gave the government the power to ban political speech, do you think the state, controlled presently by greedy, reactionary and fascistic elements who rely on white supremacist voters, would ban white supremacy and Nazism BEFORE they banned any talk of socialism or wealth redistribution? BEFORE they banned the “hate group” Black Lives Matter? BEFORE they banned any political organizing around challenging their power and wealth even a little bit?
Shout those Nazis down. Confront them as citizens, and use self-defense against violence if necessary. Engage in civil disobedience and be ready to go to jail if you’re caught aggressively punching Nazis, but be careful about saying things like “Nazis shouldn’t be allowed to march.” Expanding the governments ability to ban rallies and political speech is not a good idea- it will end with dead peasants.
Imagine you are the “beleaguered” Attorney General of the semi-senile orange fascist currently occupying the office of President of The United States. You had to recuse yourself from investigations into said president after becoming his earliest senatorial supporter (and because you embarrassingly perjured yourself in your confirmation hearing).
That same previously-mentioned fascist has been making it clear, whenever he can, that he’s not happy about this investigation, and was counting on you to shut it down, which you don’t feel you can do. You truly enjoy your job, shutting down the civil rights division and litigating against plaintiffs looking for freedom from discrimination based on perceived gender roles, keeping people from voting and ramping up the drug war- lifelong dreams in danger of a sudden death, because you might get fired.
Cue the countdown for some some incoherent and angry tweets from the orange man-child currently occupying the Oval Office:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate allegations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday, citing two unnamed people familiar with the matter.
The grand jury began its work in recent weeks and is a sign that Mueller’s inquiry into Russia’s efforts to influence the election and whether it colluded with President Donald Trump’s campaign is ramping up, the Journal said.
Other reporting makes clear what the grand jury is likely to be focused on:
Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said.
I, among many others, originally thought that the reason Trump never wanted to show his tax returns to the public is because they would show him to be much more highly leveraged and less wealthy than he claims. But with Trump freaking out when learning Mueller would have access to those returns (uh, yeah, why wouldn’t he receive access if he has reasonable suspicions they’re evidence to a crime?), it now appears that the real reason is because they would raise troubling questions about his financial ties to global organized crime.
I’m happy to hear the wheels of justice grind forward, but less happy that I have such an obviously-guilty idiot for a president who requires investigating. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton once deleted some personal emails and is a bitch, so who knows if we’d be in better shape with her in office than Trump.