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Bigger Fish To Fry: A Modest Proposal For The UMC

Most United Methodists, and quite a few non-Methodists, know we’re holding a special session of General Conference in February to consider a plan for bringing sexual and gender minorities more fully into the life and ministry of the Church. It is, as it has been for 46 years now, the flash-point of our internal political struggles.

Personally, I’m all for surrendering to the WCA, telling them they won, and letting them go, albeit not without honoring things like the Trust Clause, say, or making sure current UMC pastors who choose to leave the denomination forfeit their pensions.

They’ve already lost both the internal and cultural debate. They’re influence is outsized due to the peculiarities of our institutional rules. The truth is, those who continue to carry on about gay folk are a shrinking, dying group. Let ’em have their WCA, their sense of pleasure at destroying the community that baptized and nurtured them in their life of faith. Cancel the whole thing, tell ’em to go, wish them well, and move on. With neither physical capital, a large group of clergy willing to forfeit their pensions,  nor that many congregations willing to go through the years-long, costly process of formal separation, they will neither prosper nor last very long.

We as a faith community have far larger business to which we should attend. Like the survival of our larger community.

We are fractured at precisely the wrong time for us to be of any help to the larger community. How can we be a faithful guide through our national brokenness if our time and resources and energies are wasted on a decades old, now largely mooted, point of church law? Around all of us, Christian or not, United Methodist or not, forces of lawlessness, barbarism, and violence continue to gain strength and power even as we continue to hold meetings about the deck chair arrangement on our own sectarian Titanic.

There is much we could do to help change our larger social and civic situation. Not least by making it clear that we serve Jesus Christ, crucified and risen; we are a people who live out grace because we have experienced it in our own lives; that grace, however, needs discipline, including the discipline of discernment. As St. Paul wrote, testing the Spirits and the fruit their produce. Speaking clearly that it is precisely because of who we are as the people called Methodist we stand against the paganization of American Christianity, broadly understood. Ours is a word of grace, to be sure, but that must always be followed by a word of judgment and condemnation. There is still time for us United Methodists to work with other faith communities and persons of good will to help right our ship of state. But first, we need to rid ourselves of a played-out argument, and the set-piece Special Session whose outcome has already been made clear.

The survival far more than the United Methodist Church is at stake in the choices we make in our public life. We may not have the luxury of time to wait until our house is finally settled to get around to helping our neighbors.


Our Age Of Mass Death

The Holocaust was a tragedy, and every tragedy inevitably implies failure. There i no denying that during the period of the exterminations, the Jewish people suffered a crushing defeat, and there is no evading the painful question of why this tragic defeat occurred. We have to face it. But the failure was not only ours; the catastrophe was not of the Jews alone. It was a general human catastrophe: Europe’s culture and civilization, forged through centuries, was ravaged during the days of Hitler’s rule, and the human condition in the modern, technological world was illuminated by the fires of the crematoria at Auschwitz. The Jew, not for the first time in his history, epitomized man’s fate in a time fraught with peril. No historical event can ever be eradicated; once it has happened the possibility of its occurrence is proven. The history of the world since World War II shows that Hitler created a fissure in the moral dam of religion and culture through which a flood of violence and cruelty, stemming from man’s most sinister impulses, burst forth. Thus, our period has been dubbed the Age of Violence, and its most prominent and shocking manifestation was the extermination camp, where violence was raised as a banner and became the emblem of the age. – Leni Yahil, The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945.

The gates to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Last week, one man, having sneaked an arsenal of weapons into his hotel room at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay hotel, opened fire on a crowd gathered to listen to a concert by country-western singer Jason Aldean. In a short span of time – no more than ten or so minutes – he killed 59 people and wounded more than 500. While shock, anger, and sorrow greeted the horrible news, so, too, did the demand we not speak about the possibility of controlling the flow of firearms in the United States. Not only were we told it was too soon, we were also reminded – as if we needed reminding – that the right to bear arms is a Constitutional freedom. This particular, contested Amendment to the Constitution has become something of an Escher Drawing of legalese; it presents multiple dimensions all at the same time, confounding our ability to make any kind of singular sense out of its vague meaning and now-lost historical context. All the same, it has been abundantly clear for decades that, to a segment of the population, their ability to own a weapon designed solely for the purpose of killing – whether animals or other human beings – outweighs the rights of others to live free from the fear that any public outing might well end with someone lying dead in a pool of blood from a firearm. We Americans accept both the daily wastage (as the British Army called it during WWI) as well as the occasional orgy of mass death as the price we must pay to make sure a shrinking number of people can purchase firearms without undo obstruction.

We Americans, it seems, have grown comfortable to this Age within which we live. The late Israeli historian Leni Yahil, in her edited and abridged English translation of her own history of the Holocaust, calls it the “Age of Violence”. All human ages, however, have been marked by violence. What is distinct about our current Age of Mass Death is that we now sanction death on a massive scale, excusing it for any number of reasons, whether racial or ethnic purity, religious purity, or the maintenance of a dubious Constitutional status quo. As Yahil notes, this is not a “Jewish” or “German” problem, although they are the exemplars. It is, in fact, a human problem, one with which we have not only not yet come to turns. We rarely recognize it as such. Insisting on “our” own purity both of intent and purpose, we can watch the slaughter of millions and insist it is, for one reason or another, necessary. Human life, never worth that much, has become the penny-stock of our times.

The Enlightenment still has its defenders, to be sure. Already beaten and tattered by the time Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, the moral fabric of western society was gassed, machine gunned, and shelled to death in Flanders and Nancy, on the Somme and at Verdun. With mass death no longer an impossibility, the next few steps to genocide seem, in retrospect, fairly easy to take. The combination of Hitler’s force of personality and Germany’s perfection of technically-minded bureaucracy, the perfect combination emerged to create the conditions for the systematic steps in the destruction of European Jewish life: from stripping them of civil rights and protections; making illegal the practices of Jewish life, creating an outlaw people; the use of a special military force – the Einsatzgruppen – first during the invasion of invasion of Poland, for mass executions; then the gradual, careful, and exhaustively documented trial and error process by which the Nazis arrived at the death camps. While many reeled in horror when the extent of German terror was exposed, leaders around the world understood with something like acceptance that now was the time during which death on a massive scale had become something that could be woven into public policy.

The nuclear shadow under which we continue to live is little more than the acceptance that the threat of mass death, now on a global scale, is the price we must pay for maintaining an always precarious balance of global power. While the anti-nuclear movement certainly claimed a particular moral vocabulary in an attempt to clear the dust from the eyes of those who refused to see the Gordian thread that held thousands of hydrogen bombs at bay, it was no match for the reality that such a moral vocabulary is now, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. Taken over by the powers that hold the keys to near human extinction, that moral vocabulary has, for the past 72 years, been used to justify both the threat and reality of slaughter. Whether in Korea, Indonesia, or Vietnam; Cambodia, Serbia, or Rwanda; in the rubble of the World Trade Center or the blood-soaked schools and streets of the United States; all understand now that there are always reasons for the careful, purposeful use of slaughter as a tool, whether of war or keeping the peace, terrorism or counter-terrorism, or maintaining outdated and incomprehensible notions of “rights”. The only thing that continues to surprise is the constant surprise people express at events that are not at all surprising.

We Americans are at a pivotal moment in our history. The single most unfit person ever to hold the office currently serves as President. His casual disregard for human life, his shallow, thin-skinned personality, and his lack of any understanding of the duties of his office lead us perilously close to yet another brush with nuclear holocaust. We can accept our responsibility for this farcical situation and demand an end both to his Presidency and the political party that continues to enable his dangerous rule. Or we can, which I believe is far more likely to be the case, just accept that our Age of Mass Death continue apace, with the deaths to come only the price to be paid by others for our own fear and venality.

How To Talk About Gun Control

SFGATE reached out to the FBI for their definition and spokesperson Andrew Ames wrote in an email, “our definitions are based on federal law” and directed us to the bureau’s Active Shooter Resources site that uses a broad definition to define mass killings as three or more people killed regardless of weapon. . . .

[James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston] . . . thinks the most accurate definition is four or more victims, not including the killer, and encompasses family, public and burglary killings, and this is the one the U.S. Congressional Research Service uses. With this definition, he says on average there are about two dozen mass shootings a year. – Amy Graff, “How many mass shootings have there really been in 2017? It depends on the source”,, October 2, 2017

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson on Friday morning told a group of high school students that they don’t have a right to health care, food and shelter. . . .

“Do you consider food a right? Do you consider clothing a right? Do you consider shelter a right? What we have as rights is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Past that point, we have the right to freedom. Past that point is a limited resource that we have to use our opportunities given to us to afford those things.”

Johnson then referred to comments made by Sen. Rand Paul more than six years ago when Paul compared the “right to health care” to slavery.

He said the task of public officials is to create an environment that grows the economy so that more people can enjoy the “privilege” of food, shelter and health care. – Hillary Minz, “Johnson: Access to health care ‘a privilege'”, WISN, September 29, 2017

We do not exist only for ourselves, but always in relation to others, from the time we are born. This is no less true in politics than it is in family life. And like family, we exist in a community not of our own making and not of our own choosing. Our very bodies belong not only to us, but always have a public dimension – Mandy Rogers-Gates, “Our Precarious Lives”, Women in Theology, October 2, 2017

A man covers a woman’s body with his own during the shooting outside the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Sunday night.

It’s become a ritual, as ingrained in our civil discourse as obeisance to the Constitution and paeans to freedom and equality: There’s been a mass shooting and all sorts of people, from the President’s spokesperson yesterday to your average person posting on social media, demand we not start discussing gun control in the immediate aftermath of yet another massacre. Which is odd, when you think about it. After all, no other time seems to be a good one to have such a discussion. In 2012, 20 first graders were massacred just a couple weeks before Christmas and despite an enormous public outcry, Congress insisted on doing exactly nothing. If the slaughter of children is simply the price we pay for living in a free society, then the killing of nearly 60 and wounding of well over 500 certainly doesn’t seem like a time to do anything about gun violence.

Constitutional scholars and social philosophers on all sides seem to emerge, arguing everything from the instant repeal of the Second Amendment to counseling inaction, seeing as criminals will always commit crimes, therefore gun control just won’t work.

Wouldn’t it be better if we were able to talk about gun control as what it really is? That is to say, a successful social policy enacted to one extent or another by most of the industrialized world with the amazing result that there just aren’t that many gun deaths in those countries, on a per capita basis, as there are in the United States. Of course there are gun deaths in those countries; if there weren’t we wouldn’t need a law to protect the public from criminals wielding guns! Still, the daily body count you see here in the US just doesn’t exist in other places because those governments made the conscious decision and took action to restrict access to firearms.

Like the health care debate back in 2009, our public discussion around guns and their regulation ignores the reality that other countries seem to manage just fine. Of course, there are always debates and discussions, both on the principles and the details, but the concept that it is government’s role to regulate areas of our social and civic life is rarely questioned.

Except, as Sen. Ron Johnson made so inelegantly clear, here in the United States. Now, on the face of things, Johnson is not only wrong in spirit, but in the spirit of our Republican dedication to personal freedoms. Our freedoms  are actually both delineated – freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, from unlawful search and seizure, to a trial by jury – and expansive – both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution make it quite clear there are other rights, rights unnamed, that adhere both to individuals and are up to the states to determine. With the adoption of the 14th Amendment in the wake of the Civil War, both the express and implied rights of the Constitution extended up and down our federalist system.

Furthermore, to claim that human beings have no “right”, say, to food, quite apart from its dubious legal truthfulness, is morally vicious in the extreme. To further claim that government’s only job is to create the space for freedom to afford such a “privilege” is ahistorical. Of course people have the right to food. Life isn’t possible without a steady access to food. Human societies were formed in the first place to guarantee that access to the necessities of life – water, food, shelter – were available to all. This isn’t a philosophical point. It’s just a truism that anyone studying human history even at a glance understands to be the case.

The best way to talk about gun control is to talk about it. It’s not sacred space upon which none can venture. Nor does having a perfectly normal, reasonable discussion about the necessity of balancing individual liberty against the safety of society at large threaten anyone at all. Such discussions happen all the time! If the balance between individual liberty and social safety were always struck just right, we’d have no need for government at all. Because times change, needs change, understandings change, and social and cultural situations change, so to do our laws. Again, this isn’t some big insight; it’s common sense. None of the freedoms of the Constitution are now or ever have been considered absolute or sacrosanct. For example, seditious libel – while nearly impossible to prove – nevertheless exists as a law against speech in the United States. The extent of Constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure, say, or even habeas corpus – a right so fundamental the authors of the Constitution didn’t delineate it, because its necessity was assumed – have undergone fluctuating understandings in American history. Officially sanctioned prayer was once thought to be no big deal; as we have become a far more secular as well as multi-religious society, however, officially sanctioned prayer is far less tenable not least because it violates the freedom of individuals not to adhere to any particular religion at all, certainly not the once prevalent mainline Protestantism.

Whether the number of mass shootings each year is in the hundreds (a number I think is far too high) or a couple dozen (a number I find far more reflective of our reality), the reality is neither should be socially acceptable. Survey associations, both partisan and non-partisan, have shown pretty consistently there is broad support for particular regulations regarding gun ownership in the United States. Having a discussion that it most certainly within the purview of the state to manage and regulate items that pose a threat and danger to society at large while recognizing there are also legitimate and perfectly reasonable reasons individual gun ownership should be maintained as a fundamental Constitutional right is neither impossible nor even difficult.

The trick is not caring about all the shouting and background noise, and getting the job done. That, alas, takes political courage in an age when such seems non-existent. Having a discussion about gun control begins – and ends! – with having the discussion. Of course people on all sides are going to shout and scream and rant and rave. That’s OK. They certainly have the right, perhaps even duty, to do so, if for no other reason than to remind us that a very real balance needs to be sought between individual liberty and social safety. Neither is absolute nor paramount. Each is legitimate, even if contradictory.

We have these discussions all the time, though. Why should gun control be any different? Let’s just start talking.

On Antifa and Violent Protest

Antifa is composed of autonomous groups, and thus has no formal organization.[2][24] Antifa groups either form loose support networks, such as NYC Antifa, or operate independently.[25] Activists typically organize protests via social media and through websites and email lists.[2][24] According to Salon it is an organizing strategy, not a group of people.[26] While its membership numbers cannot be estimated accurately, the movement has grown since the election of Donald Trump; approximately 200 groups currently exist in the US, of varying sizes and levels of engagement. – Wikipedia

The revulsion to violence on the part of most people on the left, from liberal to radical, is not born of naïveté over the scale of the right-wing threat. It’s the expression of basic moral principle, as well as a pragmatic political understanding that random mob violence by masked vigilates on the left isn’t going to defeat the Alt Right. In the Bay Area this weekend, the Alt Right was already defeated. All Antifa did was transform that message of people-powered victory into a cascade of headlines bolstering Trump’s “both sides” talking point.

The revulsion to Antifa’s violence is also an indication of the paucity of trust Antifa has established with much of the wider, non-activist world. People want the white nationalist movement smashed into dust; that’s why they’re showing up by the thousands and the tens of thousands to protests against the Alt Right. That doesn’t mean they want to hand leadership over to a subcultural vanguardist movement that barks at them from behind masks and shields and threatens to beat those who disagree with them into submission. – Leighton Woodhouse, “The Ugly Side Of Antifa”,, August 28, 2017

Nazi Richard Spencer punched on the streets of Washington, DC during live TV interview on Inauguration Day.

I’d read the word “antifa” used, mostly by far right and white supremacist supporters, during the summer and fall of 2016. These tended to be whines by members of violent groups about “unfair” treatment by the media who seemed, they claimed, to report “antifa violence”. I looked near and far and just couldn’t see any evidence of such a thing. Truth is, the only time I have ever seen the word used is when the media shouts about anarchists smashing windows or walking around carrying sticks and clubs. While there was some violence at last weeks anti-fascist march instigated by black-shirted, ski-masked anarchists, this is hardly surprising. Anarchists have always reveled in violence, particularly against property (which they insist is not violence). While they were a defensive presence in Charlottesville, protecting a United Methodist Church working as a safe haven for counter-protesters as well as surrounding groups of clergy marching through the Nazi horde. Cornel West and many clergy insist their presence protected the clergy from violence.

All the same, ever since Charlottesville, all I read about is “violent antifa”, classified as a domestic terrorist group by the Obama Justice Department and FBI (see the above-linked Wikipedia article). It’s almost as if a white supremacist speeding his car through a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing one young woman, never happened. Instead, a small group of anarchist nincompoops have somehow become the face of anti-Trump and anti-Nazi protests. Not through anything they’ve done, because the truth is all they’ve done is smash a few windows, punch a few Nazis (including Richard Spencer at Trump’s inauguration), and make their presence known through their dress code. It’s come to the point that some left-wing commentators, including those for whom I have a great deal of respect, insist that liberals and leftists have to disavow what is, by all indications, small cells scattered across the country, most of whom do nothing but carry on online. I, for one, feel no need to speak out against antifa violence, largely because it isn’t anything coordinated (anarchists aren’t big into organizing on the large scale), has no long history like the white supremacists and Nazis, and unlike these latter groups, I’ve yet to see or hear a mainstream Democratic politician insist violent anarchists represent a part of the party, unlike Republicans who have been encouraging these very groups for years without consequence.

These morons don’t even represent anti-fascism. To be anti-fascist is to be a decent human being. Sometimes, alas, it becomes necessary to defend one’s self with the threat or practice of violence; particularly against individuals and groups whose very existence is a threat to civil peace and justice. I cried no tears for Richard Spencer when he was cold-cocked on January 20. On the contrary, I watch the video every once in a while just to smile. Not because I’m a violent person, or “support violence”. No, I smile because Richard Spencer is a vocal Nazi. He embraces a violent, degenerate political philosophy that seeks the physical destruction both of our Constitutional Republic as well as whole groups of human beings. His very existence is violence. Getting punched, it seems to me, is a bit of rough justice, particularly since Spencer has done nothing but whine about it ever since. So much for the master race . . .

Way back in my Seminary days in the spring of 1993 I was taking a seminary on Liberation Theology. A topic that came up early was violence. Our professor had us read The Wretched of the Earth, including the second half in which Fanon insists that violence, while justified in the abstract, is actually counter-productive, destroying the psyches and lives of those who practice violence. When discussing non-violence, however, with our eyes on the height of largely church-led Civil Rights Movement in the United States, I noted that while non-violence certainly sounds good in the abstract, in fact there cannot be “non-violent” protest against a system that is inherently violence. Precisely because white supremacist segregation in the American south was violent to its core, any resistance to it or action against it could only ever be considered itself violent, regardless of the words or actions of those speaking and protesting. I still believe that to be true, and applicable in particular circumstances. While non-violence works well, for example in Boston a few weeks back when the Nazis were simply outnumbered by the tens of thousands (and it’s no small irony the Black Lives Matter members acted as escorts for the fascists as they made their way through the anti-fascist crowd, protecting them), I have never accepted the idea that non-violent protest is the only real way political activists should protest. In the real world, even those actions called “non-violent” are considered violent by those who oppose them. When Nazis and white supremacists gather, as they did in Charlottesville, they arm themselves. To pretend that “non-violence” is morally superior in the face of the direct threat of violence, we forget forceful self-defense is an equally moral option. By their very existence, the Klan, Aryan Nations, other white supremacist organizations, the Nazi Party and its loose affiliates of supporters and hangers-on, represent, preach, and practice violence against our political order, public peace, and whole groups within the country. As far as I know, while a few folks might have been roughed up by Antifa in Boston and Berkeley, only the fascists have actually killed someone – someone protesting peacefully, no less. It’s foolishness to insist, prior to any actual situation, that only non-violence should be practiced. It is also ridiculous for anyone to claim that the anarchists at the inauguration, in Boston, or in Berkeley represent any part of the left; the article quoted above as an epigram appeared in a Marxist online journal. While I don’t doubt the veracity of the claims the author makes regarding what he witnessed, I also think it important to note that Communists and Anarchists detest one another, and have done so for decades. I’m not going to take my political cues from a member of a group institutionally committed to opposing anarchism.

It’s been clear that racist groups, white supremacists, and Nazis have been emboldened by the Trump Administration.  The mainstream media isn’t helping much by trying to insist on some moral equivalence between small groups breaking windows and throwing some punches and groups with decades-long histories of violence whose actions have resulted in the death of on counter-protester. The word “antifa”, tossed around so glibly by so many, should be considered a badge of honor. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being against fascism. And insisting a priori on a policy of non-violence does nothing but restrict possible counter-measures to those whose very existence stinks of the blood of millions. Remember, a Nazi is someone who understands full well the blood of millions is on their hands; white supremacists and Klan members embrace the history of violent intimidation, lynching, and social structures designed to oppress African-Americans. These are not people who should be treated with kid gloves.


Heather Heyer, who was killed while protesting hate.

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:

David Duke, along with other white supremacists, got President’ Trump’s message loud and clear.

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.

We Are Living Very Fast Now

Donald Trump, Jr. appearing on Sean Hannity’s FOXNews program last night. Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune.

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.

Really? REALLY?!?

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.

The Legitimacy Of Violence

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,”, May 15, 2017

White Supremacist Richard Spencer being punched in the face while giving an on-air interview, January 20, 2017. Spencer was the leader of the “protest” in Charlottesville.

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.