The events of the past few days have left me exhausted. I’ve sat down many times since Saturday, wanting to write more, wishing to say something – anything – coherent enough and sensible enough that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to post it. These have been days of chaos, of irrational hatred, of violence, of death. Part of me wants only to make sense of it so this will no longer be true.
The truth is, I’m just going to leave it be what it has been – days of rage and violence, of irrationality, of chaos, of the official sanctioning of racist violence by no less a person than the President of the United States. There is no way typing that can make any more sense. No matter how hard people will try, it is what it is.
Part of me wants to remind readers that Hillary Clinton warned us, last fall during the Presidential campaign. People got upset with her for calling some of Trump’s supporters “deplorable”. Even I, at the time, thought that wasn’t the best move on her part, even though I also thought she was right. The thing is, at that moment she wasn’t caring about politics. She was doing what she thought was right: Warning us as a nation not only what kind of man Donald Trump was, but what kind of people he was carrying along with him in his train. People like David Duke:
Which leads me to say this: Anyone who claims either that Trump isn’t a racist, or that no one can know what’s in another’s heart: (A) Of course he’s a racist. His record on that score is long and very public; (B) White supremacists and Nazis were among his most vocal supporters during his campaign, telling the world he was one of them; (C) You know what’s “in a person’s heart” by that person’s words and actions. Yesterday Donald Trump stood and gave cover to Nazis and white supremacists, cover for their violence that killed one person and wounded 19 others, cover for a group of pipe wielding thugs beating a young African-American.
I was quite sure Trump’s Presidency would be horrible. I remember once saying it would be even more horrible than I could imagine at the time (before the inauguration). The complete and utter moral collapse of the Presidency, however, was nothing even I could imagine. The silence of the Republican leadership following Trump’s horrible press conference yesterday leaves them complicit in his ongoing embrace of the worst among us.
Let me be clear: As long as the Republican leadership – Congressional, Party bureaucracy, Administration members – remain in place saying or doing nothing, they own this turn toward overt white supremacy support by their party. Pretty words by a few here and there, mean absolutely nothing. Either the Party rises up to save itself, or like everything else Trump touches, it will be forever stained by his very presence. Either the Republican Party acts out a very clear, “No!” to white supremacy, it is now the party of white supremacy.
We are at a critical moment. Our President has taken sides with the most morally depraved elements of American society. His failure as a human being, on display for all to see, leaves us with the simple choice of continuing to support him in an office for which he has always been demonstrably unfit, aligning oneself with Nazis, the Klan, white supremacist murderers, and their enablers; or we stand as a country and demand an end to this failure of a Presidency, removing him from office as quickly as possible. While Mike Pence is no one’s choice for President, either, his brand of crazy conversatism is just slightly less deplorable than Trump’s.
Trump has made his bed, in linens covered in swastikas, and is quite comfortable there. The damage he has done to the instruments of our state power is vast, including now vitiating the moral authority the Office of the Presidency. It is up to we the people to demand an end to all of it as soon as possible. Only then can we begin to sort through the wreckage for what’s salvageable.
There are people who are going to read this and be angry with me. Some people might unfriend my on Facebook. Some might want to argue with me. At this point, I couldn’t care less. In light of events in Charlottesville, VA since last night silence is a privilege I will no longer exercise. Wanting not to hear or read about events is something only those who are insulated from the potential dangers of events at UVA spinning out of control can afford. Of course, I’m far removed in many respects, so I could be silent. But I cannot.
First, what’s happening in Charlottesville is not some aberration, something strange and foreign to us as a people. On the contrary, the mass expression of hatred and a desire for violence against minorities is older than the the Republic. When H. Rap Brown said, “Violence is as American as cherry pie,” he wasn’t defending Black Power tactics. He was talking about things like Charlottesville. Because, you see, it’s not new. From the first African slave markets in 17th-century Virginia through the 3/5ths clause of the United States Constitution; the outlawing of freed blacks across the South in the decades before the Civil War; the rise of the first Ku Klux Klan led by a former Confederate Army General and the institutionalization of segregation and white supremacy across first the old Confederacy then the rest of the country; Chief Justice of the United States Roger Taney, writing in Dred Scott v. Ferguson that even freed African-Americans were not citizens, having no rights a white man need respect; the racial terrorism of lynching and the acceptability of the white rape of black women; the destruction of African-American communities in Tulsa, OK and Rosewood, FL; the lynching and murder and continued segregation of African-American veterans returning from war in France in 1918; race riots across the country in 1919 and 1920; massive resistance to school desegregation; George Wallace declaring, “Segregation forever!”; the Ole Miss riots; the harassment and murder of volunteers registering people to vote; riots in LA, Rochester, Newark, Detroit, Harlem, and Chicago; the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King followed by white celebrations; the anti-busing riots in Boston; the destruction of a Philadelphia neighborhood in 1985 because of a small group of MOVE radicals; the on-going murder of young black men by police departments with impunity and without consequence; stripping the Voting Rights Act of any enforcement mechanisms; the criminalization of Black Lives Matter.
Eight years of racist hatred against the first African-American President of the United States.
What’s happening in Charlottesville is just another moment in our ongoing national pageantry of racist violence. If you really think it an aberration, are shocked and saddened, and wish to separate yourself from the torch-wielding mob, please remember we cannot do so without continuing to accept this as part and parcel of American life. We have indeed made great strides, legally and socially. That has not eradicated the dark heart of America, our ugly, evil hatred of those different than we are. Our Constitution is a racist document. Our national wealth is constructed upon centuries of chattel slavery, white supremacy, and the capitalist exploitation of our inherent, institutionalized racism. Even our religion has been hijacked by this demonic stain, with denominations and churches enforcing segregation and white supremacy. Until and unless we see this clearly, accept it as part and parcel of being American, then we shall fail to deal honestly with events in Virginia.
When people demand an example of institutionalized racism – as if I or someone else had made up the idea out of whole-cloth, contrasting events last night and today with what happened in Ferguson, MO a few years back makes it so clear. When a community marched peacefully against decades of racist police practices that culminated in the murder of an unarmed young black man, the police who met them were militarized. A single image captures the absurdity of that particular moment:
Last night, hundreds marched through Charlottesville carrying lit torches with not a police officer in sight.
In Ferguson, it was a community tired an angry at official neglect and harassment. They weren’t anti-police; they wanted better police.
In Charlottesville, they chanted Nazi slogans like “Blood and Soil”.
I want to be very clear here so there’s no misunderstanding: the widespread disdain for BlackLivesMatter among whites ignores the reality of blue-on-black violence as well as the desire African-Americans have for their lives and their persons treated the same as whites. Those who claim this is already the case don’t see the truth expressed in these contrasting photos.
This is an American problem. White racial grievances have certainly been encouraged by politicians, aggrieved and enraged whites soothed by promises to make America great again. I want to be clear here on this point: The Republican Party has done more than just play footsie with the darkness that is racist America. When Ronald Reagan began his 1980 campaign for the Presidency in Philadelphia, MS – where two young Jewish men and one young African-American man were murdered for the heinous affront of registering black voters – he was making it very clear to any who were paying attention where he and his party stood. In the decades since, whether it was the Willie Horton commercial, Jesse Helms’s “white hands” commercial, or last year’s love affair between the Klan and the Trump Campaign, highly-visible Republican candidates for high office have certainly been unafraid to make clear where they stand regarding race relations in America. Indeed, the whole idea behind Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan relies upon the ridiculous notion that under Barack Obama, the United States somehow lost respect around the world, or that our domestic life was somehow destroyed. Trump campaigned on white grievance; not a single Republican spoke against it, most denying it all as liberal fantasies. In many ways, what’s happening in Charlottesville right now is not at all surprising or shocking, but rather the result of Republican coddling of racists for over a generation.
Yet, these people are not somehow “un-American” or otherwise not part of our civic life. They represent some of the oldest, darkest parts of what it is to be American. Until and unless we’re willing to claim this, events like this will continue.
And we must rid ourselves of the idea that “non-violence” is a strategy that will work. People who carry lit torches, chant racist slogans, and are part of organizations promoting violence against minorities aren’t interested in dialogue; they won’t be won over by peaceful counter-protests. Force and the threat of violence can only be met with superior force. There will, alas, be blood.
We cannot escape ourselves, no matter how much we might wish to do so. As events continue to unfold in Charlottesville, with the State Police dispersing the fascists, a car plowing into counter-protesters then speeding away, and surely more violence to come, we need to watch and see this all-American show unfolding before us.
it’s become painfully clear to me reading comments tonight that most people don’t have a fucking clue what Transgender even is!! Just sayin… – An old school friend of mine, on Facebook
I’m going to say it up front and out loud: I’m uncomfortable with trans people. This isn’t due to any ideas about what makes men and women real. Mostly, it’s because I haven’t spent much time around them. It’s also ignorance about the complexities of gender identity confusion, something that I have been trying to learn but, honestly, there are other things I am doing which is a lazy person’s excuse, I suppose. In any case, yeah. The notion of people transitioning from one gender to another makes me uncomfortable.
My discomfort, however, doesn’t mean I think they’re weird or odd or anything else. The problem isn’t with the trans folks. The problem is most definitely mine, an unease borne of a combination of ignorance and few contacts with trans people. It isn’t up to them to show me they’re “just folks”. It’s up to me to understand trans people are just people, people who live with a difficult, sometimes debilitating confused sense of identity. The target of violent harassment, out trans people demonstrate courage in ways that most of us wouldn’t have the guts to demonstrate. Even though I’m uncomfortable, I’m not asking for help getting over that discomfort because that’s my cross to bear.
As far as “knowing” what trans people look like . . .
This is a trans man. If he wasn’t wearing that shirt, would you even know? Would you even dare ask him his gender identity without his self-identification? I thought not.
This woman on the other hand, what, exactly about her threatens so many men they want her to use a public men’s room? How many of you, not knowing she was trans, would be at all comfortable with her walking in while you’re standing at the urinal?
These aren’t pedophiles, looking to use restrooms to entice somebody’s precious child into sex. These aren’t people who are “obviously” any gender in particular. They’re just men and women who would prefer to go about their lives without ignoramuses like me speculating about what they have in their underwear, or claiming they’re weird perverts.
And they serve in the military. I read several places yesterday claiming there are currently 15,000 active duty trans in the military. Perhaps. Even if it’s only ten percent of that number, Issuing an order demanding their immediate separation from the service for no other reason than who they are – without regard to questions of readiness, troop moral, and security – isn’t exactly supporting our troops. The only reason Trump cited for this order was cost; specifically, the cost of gender reassignment surgery for active duty troops. I found out this morning via Twitter that House Republicans were looking to remove this line item from this year’s NDAA. They had no intention of removing trans troops from the ranks; they just wanted Trump to support their bigoted parsimony. Considering the President gave no notice to anyone, civilian or military – many in the military feared, based on the wording of his first Tweet and the lengthy delay between it and the second Tweet, that he was announcing a strike against North Korea via Twitter, which would be horrible – and only cited “cost” as the reason for ordering separation.
I’ll be honest. I’m guessing that some in the ranks weren’t happy about openly integrating trans people. I’m sure units were angry and confused, if for no other reason than changes like this can be unsettling, just like racial integration was in 1948 and moving women in to front line combat units was. While I tend to believe reports that these actions haven’t altered military preparedness or readiness, I’m quite sure there are some, perhaps many, for whom this action last year was shocking and disconcerting. Had there been any disruptions in preparedness, troop readiness and effectiveness, and unit cohesion, surely that information would have leaked long ago. So, these folks who weren’t happy about the change were, in essence, like me: Uncomfortable with trans because of ignorance and a lack of interpersonal contact.
I cannot stress this enough – if some or even many people in the military were unhappy with this change, not because it disrupted unit cohesion or effected the willingness of troops to serve together, but just because they have something against trans folks, it isn’t incumbent upon the military or anyone else to accommodate their personal feelings. If you, dear reader, just “believes” trans people don’t belong in the military that is certainly your right to believe that. That belief, however, shouldn’t be raised to the level of national policy. Remember, there are die-hard bigots in the ranks who believe people of color have no business integrating with white troops, and I don’t see or hear the brass demanding an end to racial integration.
A couple things that happened yesterday did bug me. First, one of the cable networks – I can’t remember if it was CNN or MSNBC – had on a Naval Lt. Commander who is trans to speak on the matter. I found this disturbing because our service members shouldn’t be put in the position of questioning, on national television, the orders of the Commander-in-Chief. This person wasn’t in uniform, but that doesn’t make it any less discomfiting. There are plenty of vets who spoke out both for and against Trump’s order yesterday available to any network for interview. Getting someone, an officer no less, to speak out in this way was . . . it was wrong, OK?
The other thing that bugged me were all the people insisting that if critics hadn’t served in the military, they shouldn’t speak out. The last time I checked the military was under civilian control in this country: Their C-in-C is a civilian, the secretaries of the services are civilian, the Congress that determines how much money they can spend, on what, and for how long are all civilians. And, yeah, your run-of-the-mill person on the street with no military experience not only has the right but the duty to speak out. I’m actually quite tired of people being silenced, or at least the attempt to silence critics, because “we don’t know what it’s like”, yadda-yadda-yadda. We either engage actively on these matters or we turn control of military matters over to the military, which is a truly horrible idea. Claiming a privileged position in a discussion based on personal experience is really tiresome. While vets and troops certainly should be listened to, they shouldn’t have some kind of automatic veto on what is and is not acceptable in discussions over military policy. There was a time, not that long ago in fact, when the civilian public actually distrusted the views of vets and the military. I’m not suggesting we return to such a time, but all things should be met with a healthy skepticism. We need more, not less, public engagement.
So, yeah, random thoughts bearing on the matter. My problem is not only with the order and the way it was announced; my problem is with so much talk about the issue that’s divorced from any reality people actually encounter. And if you’re uncomfortable with trans people, like I am, I suggest you follow my lead and not let that personal discomfort become some universal truth that guides your life.
Yesterday, I had a post planned on the series of New York Times articles concerning Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with people he believed to be agents of the Russian government. Monday afternoon the Times published a story online that claimed there was an email in which it specifically stated just that. The problem with that article was the email itself wasn’t disclosed and the article stated the reporters had only the word of three sources such a monstrosity existed. At that point I thought the Times had jumped the shark. I was highly skeptical for one simple reason: I refused to believe anyone involved in this kind of high-level nonsense would be so stupid as to write such things down so clearly. So, after completing some work I needed to get done, I was sitting down to write about my skepticism.
Before I did that, however, I was going through Twitter and discovered my feed had exploded with news that Donald Trump, Jr. had released the email chain that included precisely the email about whose existence I was so skeptical. I quite literally spent the next ten minutes sitting with my mouth hanging open, aghast at just how stupid Donald Trump, Jr. really is. I honestly felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Even though I was seeing it, and reading the emails, and reading what others were saying (including one independent journalist whose shock was personal; he’d spent a year on this story and Trump, as this journalist wrote, “just tweeted it out”), I just couldn’t wrap my mind around just how stupid these people are.
So my post yesterday was out the window.
Today I just want to offer some reflections on the reactions to this story. I’m not talking about Trump, Jr or his father carrying on about how innocent Junior is in all this, because the emails pretty clearly incriminate not just him but Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort as well. I think it should be obvious that many people see this quite obvious evidence – at the very least – of attempted collusion with a foreign power as not only shocking but bordering precariously on treasonous behavior. Now in the US, “treason” is the only crime defined in the Constitution:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
As we aren’t at war with the Russians (although one could easily make the argument, as many have, that their cyber attacks on our major political parties constitute an act of war), I’m not sure that, legally, anyone should be charged with this specific crime. I do, however, believe it has the same general stench, a willingness to act against both the laws and best interests of the United States and receive information from a hostile foreign power during a national election. This is appalling and, one would think, indefensible.
All the same, almost immediately, Trump supporters online, including on my Facebook page, have been out in force slinging all sorts of mud in the form of what’s called “Whataboutisms”, as in “What about when Obama worked to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu?” or, “What about when the DNC worked with Ukraine during the last election?” or, among my favorites, “Since the Russians didn’t offer any actual information, no crime was committed.” I like this last one because it elides the reality that Junior not only believed such information would be on offer, but responded enthusiastically – “If it’s what you say it is I love it” – to the offer. Now, any other campaign would immediately have taken this information to the FBI. Why? Because you don’t meet with agents of a foreign adversary trying to influence a campaign for the Presidency!
As to the matters of the US interfering in the domestic politics of Israel and dozens of other countries, all I can say is conservatives used to love all those CIA front groups, invasions, and assassinations. People such as me who were outraged by them back during the Cold War were frequently called unAmerican and communist sympathizers because we thought it was pretty horrible that the United States would, say, kill the democratically elected leaders of Iran and Chile, say, or work with dissident military officials in Greece and Cyprus to overthrow their civilian governments. Now, however, the fact that the United States has acted this way means it’s perfectly fine for the Russians to do the same to us.
That’s not even close to being anything other than nihilism, pure and simple. These alleged superpatriots (at least according to many of their self-descriptions) are somehow down with the Russians attacking the United States during an election. I’m just dumbfounded that anyone calling themselves a patriotic American would ever say anything like this.
We are at a crucial point in what is clearly the biggest – and let’s say it, the stupidest, most venal – corruption story in American history. President Trump really does have the power both to fire independent investigator Robert Mueller (and not a few of his allies are insisting he do just that) as well as pardon anyone convicted of any crimes. Trump is both unstable and really quite idiotic, so we might just see these things, although I make no predictions. Were he to do so, however, this would constitute a very clear act of direct interference in an investigation (his firing of former FBI director James Comey looks more and more like just that), and would most certainly create an even deeper Constitutional crisis than the one we’re currently embroiled in.
I say we’re in a Constitutional crisis because the Republican leadership in both Houses of Congress have abdicated their responsibilities under the Constitution to act in their oversight and investigative capacities. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are refusing to act, for very different reasons, even as Democratic members in both Houses are demanding action. Which brings me to a point about which I want to be very clear: the willingness of elected Republican officials to defend both the President and his idiot child make this a partisan issue. The Republican Party’s willing acquiescence in acts like these should become a Scarlet Letter any Republican seeking office should wear for a very long time. The Democratic Part, after the Civil War, was often characterized as the party of rebellion (along with rum and Romanism, but that’s for another post), hindering their ability at rebuilding a national party base; there were only two Democratic Presidents between 1865 and 1932, sixteen out of sixty-seven years. I believe the Democratic Part needs to begin right now to make clear the entire Republican Party establishment is tainted by these events. They’ve proven themselves again and again over the past nine years unfit to govern. With their acceptance and defense of Trump and his son, they should be labeled the part quite willing to work with foreign powers against the United States. These events should be painted on their foreheads, worn on their arms, and called to mind each and every time a politician with an “R” after his or her name is mentioned. To pretend otherwise is to invite more such actions in the future.
Events are happening quickly, and – who knows?!? – by the time I hit “publish” this whole piece may well be mooted just as yesterday’s was. All the same, I think Americans need to speak out about these events. Our civic institutions, from the federal bureaucracy to our national elections, are and have been under attack and been seriously damaged by less than six months of a Trump Presidency. These are things worth fighting to preserve. Calling out people willing to put family and Party above their country is an ugly but necessary part of ensuring nothing like this ever happens again.
There’s been a flurry of activity among prominent spokespersons (all white men) from the Wesley Covenant Association (WCA) as the Commission on the Way Forward begins its work. With Annual Conferences scheduled to begin around the United States in a week or two, the pressure on delegates to act certainly seems to be rising.
There are several things I think all Annual Conference members, Bishops, members of the Commission on the Way Forward, and the average lay person in the pew should consider as the politicking becomes more intense and the rhetoric ramps up.
First, we need to be very clear what the WCA is and is not. It is a gathering of largely older, white, male clergy and academics whose goal is one thing alone:
“I think that the way ahead lies with an exit plan for those who cannot accept the canonical teaching and practice of the church rather than a plan for division,” Abraham announced, coining the term “Mexit” for this Methodist departure.
Abraham suggested “those who disagree with the teachings and practices of the church should follow through on their own convictions and recognize the moral obligation of exiting The United Methodist Church.” – Mark Tooley, “‘Mexit’ For United Methodist Sexual/Theological Dissenters”, Juicyecumenism.com, March 29, 2017
There’s nothing Wesleyan or Covenantal about their organization. Indeed, I think it’s more than fair to say that, rather than the spokesmen for some silent majority, the WCA represents an ever-shrinking minority. Recent polling of the denomination, according to the linked Christianity Today article, has been consistent with a plurality favoring the removal of the discriminatory language from the Book of Discipline. The vast majority (90%!) want nothing to do with schism, split, or kicking anyone out over matters of sexuality, insisting the constant attention is diverting the larger church from its mission. So when Chris Ritter claims, “The majority of United Methodists believe what the Book of Discipline teaches about human sexuality whether they are vocal about this or not.” he is not only making an impossible, self-contradictory claim (how is it possible for anyone to know what the vast majority of any group believes if they also insist they are silent about it?), the claim is contradicted by actual surveys that show the UMC in America would far prefer we set aside the discriminatory language and lay the issue to rest to get back to being the Church.
From my own experience of more than four decades, I would venture to say the majority of United Methodists don’t even know there is a Book of Discipline or if they do know, only know it is a book of law for the denomination. I also observe that most United Methodists don’t live their lives on a denominational level but on a congregational level where they learn about and exercise their Christian faith far from any Book of Discipline.
This is a fair picture of my own experience as well. Which is not to say that church members consider matters of church law irrelevant. As they should be, and as surveys show, members of our United Methodists congregations around the country are far more focused on the mission of their local churches and how that fits into the mission of the United Methodist Church. Matters of human sexuality not only aren’t a priority; they’re a distraction.
The WCA claims to be the guardians of something one of their spokesmen calls “the Wesleyan/Evangelical/Orthodox tradition”. Yet none of the statements of the WCA regarding their beliefs – other than endorsing other statements of faith – has any theological content at all. Indeed, as I noted the other day in a piece linked at the top of this paragraph, what few statements I have seen are deliberately designed to be void of content while presenting to those outside the group a particular image: guardians of a tradition that is as old as the Church itself. For all they carry along a few big name United Methodist academics, there is nothing theological about their statements, about their attitude toward the larger denomination, and their insistence that either people who don’t accept the current Book of Discipline must leave or they will. They misrepresent who they are, who they represent, and how they should be perceived.
As we move into the always contentious Annual Conference season; as some observe from afar the working of the Commission on the Way Forward; as we all pray for discernment and peace; we need to bear in mind the WCA is the exact opposite of what it claims (as has its previous incarnations as Good News and The Confessing Movement): an aging conglomerate of the same older white men who have held far too much power far too long who deliberately mislead people regarding their intentions, often offering easily disproven claims as fact to bolster arguments that wind up being internally incoherent. They only have any power and authority because some people choose to grant it to them.
Their membership is relatively small, but there are members across the United States. We should love and honor these people who may have become members for any number of reasons all the while making clear they do not now and will not in the future represent some hidden silent majority of members of the United Methodist Church. They exist solely for the purpose of enforcing discrimination against sexual minorities, and will do anything to achieve their ends.
The easiest way to strip them of any power is not to grant them any; to speak plainly and honestly about who they are, how they operate, and that they just aren’t representative of even a large plurality of church members. Their goal, schism over questions regarding human sexuality, is rejected by the vast majority of the persons for whom they claim to speak. As they aren’t trustworthy conversation partners on a way forward for all of us, they should be rejected as part of that larger conversation.
I saw the image last night (the person has since taken it down). A quick check at snopes.com told me what I suspected – the image is fake.
Yet, it remains, as do all things on the internet. No doubt it will be resurrected at some point in the future when Ms. Grande, known for courting controversy, says or does something that upsets someone somewhere. That it’s an obvious Photoshop will always be beside the point. Like all the nonsense spewed on the internet, this fake picture – which libels Ms. Grande in a most crude fashion – will follow Cokie’s Law:
Cokie’s Law, in which she proved that truth and facts are rarely the issue when it comes to arcane Clinton scandals:
“At this point,it doesn’t much matter whether she said it or not because it’s become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about.”
Far deeper than this obvious problem, however, is the matter of why someone, anyone, would do such a despicable thing. What, precisely, would be the point of this? Because Ms. Grande (falsely) wiped her ass on an American flag, the dead and injured do not deserve our sympathy? That she somehow was in cahoots with a murderous suicide bomber, and she shares responsibility for the pain and suffering and loss? That fact that, according to the Snopes.com article, this image was shared over 40,000 times seems to mean there are tens of thousands of people willing to believe that a pop star is somehow complicit in a horrible act of murderous terrorism.
There is something wrong, something deep and ugly and hateful, with some people. Not only the person who created this image, but those who shared it and refuse to take it down (I’m sure Joe Abrahamson isn’t the only one). The image itself and its implicit message are ugly and hateful, do nothing but spread suspicion, division, and fear. As far as I know, the most offensive thing Ms. Grande has ever done is include obscenities and sexual references in some of her songs, neither of which is really that offensive. Why debase her in this way? Because she’s a woman? Because you don’t like her music?
I should note that I was chastised by several people last week because I was, ahem, disrespectful of Roger Ailes upon news of his death. One person even called the veracity of my faith into question. I made clear at the time that I had good reasons to speak ill of the recently dead, and while he might disagree with me, I wasn’t lying or doing so out of personal spite. So these same folks might think I’m being more than a little hypocritical when I sit and wonder why people do horrible things.
As with all things, the specific circumstances matter. In the case of me saying that Roger Ailes had started rotting years before he actually died, I wanted to remind people that Ailes’ life was not one people should celebrate because his professional life was dedicated to undermining American democracy. I feel no need to pretend otherwise.
Which leads me back to this image and its propagation. What the hell was Joe Abrahamson, and all those who shared his post, trying to achieve? The attack certainly wasn’t aimed directly at Arianna Grande. She certainly had no part in it. Even were she disrespectful of the American flag would hardly mean she would celebrate mass death and destruction. The dead and wounded, their friends and families, the larger British public, none of these are honored, helped, or comforted by spreading this image and its message. It’s gratuitous hate and violence, the very thing that created the conditions for someone to strap a bomb to himself and kill and wound dozens at a concert.
Sadly, there seems little to do to stop it. Which hurts my heart.
While in the abstract, Arendt concedes that the use of force by state actors against its own citizens, such as in Ferguson, MO, demonstrates the collapse of legitimacy, she never addresses the interlocking systems of violence, coercion, and dehumanization that produce a constant state of fear and anger among target populations. If, for example, the actions of the Ferguson, MO police force in the wake of organized, peaceful protests are illegitimate, what about a police force that is nearly all white in a minority-majority community? What kind of legitimacy does any police force have among minority communities in the United States, who have a long history of official repression and continue to experience daily humiliations and harassment by the most visible representatives of state power? In such a situation, is not the question not the wisdom or rationality of a violent response by persons in communities who are exhausted by police harassment, but rather the on-going low-level violence these communities face? – Me, “Hannah Arendt’s ‘On Violence'”, No One Special, August 19, 2014
A torch-wielding mob chanting racist slogans descended on a Charlottesville, Virginia, park Saturday evening, to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.
Chanting “All White Lives Matter,” and “No More Brother Wars,” the crowd, which said they were protecting their “white heritage” from the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a statue in the Virginia town’s park.
They also chanted “You will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend.” Dozens of protesters also brought bamboo tiki torches to a second rally once it became dark out. . . .
No arrests were made and there were no reports of injuries. – Phil McCausland, “White Nationalist Leads Torch-Bearing Protesters Against Removal of Confederate Statue,” nbcnews.com, May 15, 2017
I was surprised the other day to see someone recently read and liked my nearly three-year-old post on Hannah Arendt’s essay “On Violence”. Since my usual habit is not to go back and read old posts, and since I’d completely forgotten writing such a thing in the first place, I decided to give it a read. My general opinion is that it was a pretty average contemporary critique of Arendt’s essay. What surprised me, however, was a quite remarkable, not-fleshed-out set of ideas regarding the legitimacy of the state’s monopoly on violence, particularly in regards to the racist structures of violence and repression that are the American norm. In light of the rise of Trumpism and the emboldened racist fringe, it seems more than ever we need to ask questions regarding the legitimacy of violence as a political tactic, whether on the part of the state or of groups protesting violence against them by the state and those supported by the state.
First, I neither know nor care whether Donald Trump is a bigot. While he talks like a pretty typical clueless, privileged white guy; while he took out a full page ad in The New York Times demanding the death penalty for the young men originally arrested in the Central Park jogger assault, a sentence to be carried out absent any trial; while he pretended not to know or care about the support he received – and continues to enjoy – among members of vocally racist groups; none of this interests me in the least.
What is far more fascinating is that, while such groups certainly became far more visible during the years Barack Obama was President, with Trump they obviously feel free to make their presence far more visible. Trump emboldened racists groups from the Klan to the Nazi’s and so-called “alt-Right” (nothing more than Nazi’s who hide their swastikas), for whom they worked during the Presidential campaign. While certainly never hugely numerous and obviously outside the “mainstream” of our public discourse, the rise in the visibility of these groups has posed problems for those who have tried to think clearly regarding protest and resistance to the Trump Administration.
Nothing exemplifies these troubles more than the reaction to the Inauguration Day assault on neo-Nazi Richard Spence while he gave a television interview on the streets of Washington, DC. Many, including me, saw this act of violence as a fitting response to the very presence of Richard Spencer. Indeed, the phrase “Nazi-punching” has entered our current lexicon thanks to this single act of violent defiance. Many liberals, influenced by the constant talk of “non-violent resistance” and the appeal of moral superiority in the face of intransigent resistance, continue to insist that any violence by those opposed to Trump, his supporters, or his policies is illegitimate. I have read more than one commentator insist that violence in the face of “differing political opinions” in unAmerican.
That last is so grotesque it almost defies comprehension. To make the claim that Nazism, gussied up with some other name but the same filth nevertheless, is a political ideology worthy of respect by anyone is both ignorant and disgusting. People like Richard Spencer embrace the idea of the mass murder of minorties – Jews, African-Americans, sexual minorities, Latinos – and they deserve neither our time nor effort at understanding. While verbal rebuke and rejection are always called-for, physical attacks should be considered a rational response, particularly when such attacks come from members of the very minority communities these racists would prefer disappeared. When white liberals insist that such acts of preemptive violence are inherently illegitimate, they are speaking from a place of privilege, removing a rational and viable response from affected groups to very real threats of violence and death.
There are other matters regarding the matter of violence, particularly the question of the state’s monopoly on violence, raised by last night’s protests in Charlottesville. While the linked article does call the group a “mob”, and note that later in the evening as counter-protests arose there were “scuffles” and the police arrived, that not a single person involved was arrested demonstrates the unequal treatment of racial groups by authorities. In my original essay on Arendt, linked above, I noted that the police response in Ferguson, MO to what were largely peaceful protests against a police department with a history of racism; a police department in a predominantly African-American city made up of white people; and a police department that was defending the shooting of a community member in a questionable act of self-defense; was beyond any rationally considered response. The famous image of a man facing police in military camouflage armed with automatic weapons exemplifies the police overreaction to peaceful, non-violence protests.
Both the shooting that prompted the protests and the reaction to the protests themselves, not to mention a long history of police harassment of the African-American population of Ferguson, exemplify “systemic racism” in America. It is the archetype of what people mean when discussing the matter of systemic racism in America. While the police in Ferguson outfitted themselves for urban combat, the police in Charlottesville did not. Numerous people were arrested in Ferguson. None were arrested in Charlottesville, despite the protests in Charlottesville being violent and those in Ferguson remaining peaceful.
For people, particularly those not living, say, in Ferguson, MO to speak about the illegitimacy of violence without qualifying that to be the illegitimacy of state violence is to ignore the very real situation our minority communities face on a daily basis. To insist on greater police presence in the face of racist protests and violence in Charlottesville is to demand the state stop deploying its police power only against groups from minority communities while leaving racist whites unbothered by the presence of armored vehicles, camouflage uniforms, and automatic weapons pointed in their faces. The systemic racism endemic to America, part and parcel of who we are as a country, is riven with violence, both state imposed and state sanctioned. When private groups whose very ideology is violence are not met with the same kind of armed response as peaceful groups of ordinary citizens demanding real justice for their communities, we are confronted with the reality both of systemic racism as well as the reality of state-perpetrated violence to enforce the racist status quo.
While non-violent confrontation with state actors certainly remains a live option for any group, to artificially limit such confrontation in such a way without taking into consideration the uses to which the state puts its monopoly on violence is to ignore the realities many communities face each and every day. As with everything, a consideration of the whole context is necessary, including the already-existing place of violence as a method of social control, before making any judgments regarding the legitimacy or otherwise of violence as a tactic in social protet.