The Democratic Divide

There’s a trench running down the middle of America’s left wing and both sides are hurling grenades.


It’s hard to look at the divide between moderate Democrats and those to the left of them and not be reminded of the Republican party after the 2008 presidential election. Civil war broke out among the elephants and from that sprang the Tea Party and later on in Congress, the Freedom Caucus. We should be reminded that although they are outnumbered by their more centrist colleagues, the rightmost members of the party are numerous enough to stall the legislation of their own party even when it’s in power. For proof you only need to look at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s first attempt at repealing Obamacare.

I, uh, got nuthin’ to say about this. I just…I dunno.

Are Democrats headed down a similar path with their more progressive, liberal brethren? It may be to early to tell for certain, but the cracks are definitely there. The difference between the donkeys and the pachyderms is that the Democratic party is staring down a split that isn’t necessarily linked to matters of policy and platform. It’s about two sides who can’t let go of the truth: They both lost in 2016. Bernie losing in the primary was a tough pill to swallow for progressives and Hillary losing in the general was a tougher pill to swallow for most of the country.

Let’s first acknowledge some things about both of these highly-respectable career public servants.

Hillary was the first woman to ever win a major party’s nomination for president and not enough time is spent addressing that historic achievement. She got jobbed by the electoral process, however. In fact, her effort was behind only Obama’s two campaigns in total popular votes. The rampant sexism expressed by the media and her opponents coupled together with the non-story that was her e-mail server and the Benghazi masquerade hindered her, but she was the most qualified candidate since maybe Richard Nixon. I think a lot of Bernie’s people can accept these things about her without feeling like they have to take something away from Bernie.

There’s ice water in them veins.

Now, as for Bernie. He remains the most popular American politician and his run for the Democratic nomination was historic in its own right. His progressive bona fides are undeniable and he pushed the party’s platform leftward towards middle and lower-income families where it was supposed to have been already. The DNC had it in for him, however. But it’s not like I can completely blame them. Clinton was their gal and they’d been investing in her for years. Another thing that hampered Sanders was that the media gave Trump’s tweets more attention than Bernie’s policies which did every voter a disservice because Sanders might’ve been the only candidate with actual policy proposals. I think a lot of Hillary’s people can accept these things about him without feeling like that they have to take something away from Hillary.

If you go out to eat with Bernie I guarantee you’ll have no trouble asking for the check.

If we can agree on all of those points then what else could possibly be the problem? To hear it from moderate democrats, Bernie’s people are a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys and to hear it from progressives Hillary’s people are a bunch of elitists.

You know what? As a proudly unaffiliated voter, I can say that both claims are partly true. Moderates may sometimes be snobby but they know the game and they’re reliable. Progressives may be new and to the scene and hard to please but they bring in fresh ideas and young voters. You need this confluence to keep the party going.

Moderates have got to stop looking down on the progressive wing of the party. The Bernie Bro is a myth and just because people like Bernie doesn’t mean Hillary has to be a villain. Trying to pin the Alexandria shooting on Bernie as a cynical attempt to catapult him away from the party is just disgusting.

Yikes.

 

Bernie’s people need to stop spinning fantasy yarns and stay organized. And remember that dissent can occur within a party and still lead to healthy debate. Bernie himself knows this and has reached across the aisle to push legislation and hopefully will again in the future. If you think you can jettison a potential relationship with anyone who disagrees with you on just one issue then you need to get out of the way, that’s not how politics work.Although Bernie himself is quite partisan in drafting bills he knows that sometimes when allowing for some wiggle room you might find that more gets done than being an obstructionist and just saying “no” all the time. Look no further than the House of Representatives to see what years of that mindset achieves: Nothing.

The Democratic party and liberals in general need to be more engaged. Every election counts and Republicans always turn up so either donate or vote if you can be bothered to care. Liberals love a good march but they don’t play small ball at that well. Thirty-two of the country’s state houses and thirty-three governors are Republican and yet Hillary had the third-highest ever vote total. Maybe one can explain it away as regional demographics at work but we know that when voter turnout is low, Republicans win.

Blue: Democratic-controlled State Legislature, Red: Republican, Purple: Mix

 

Tom Perez, now the chair of the Democratic Party, appointed Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison as the Vice Chair. Ellison, who is black, is also the first Muslim ever to be elected to Congress and it should be shouted from the hilltops in perpetuity that he was one of the only people on the left to predict that Trump could win the presidency. They laughed in his face but he clearly had his finger on the pulse of America at the time when no one else did. His appointment to Vice Chair after losing to Perez in the vote for chair of the Democratic party was an important diplomatic maneuver as Perez, it should be mentioned, had a couple of different stints in Bill Clinton’s administration and was supported by moderates in the campaign for party chair. Whereas Ellison was backed by, maybe you already knew or guessed it, Bernie Sanders.

We are seeing the party leadership gelling and making the moves that they need to in order to survive and move forward, so perhaps it’s time for the people on the ground to suck it up and do the same.


Alex Biscarner is a freelance writer currently teaching English as a second language in the Czech Republic. Follow him on Twitter.

Compassion for the Trump Supporter

I mean to share a notion that liberals and progressives might find distasteful; sympathy for Trump supporters.

Before you recoil in disgust, mouth agape and brimming with righteous indignation, let me remind you as I’ve had to remind myself time and time again: I am friends with and related to Trump supporters. That said, in the immediate wake of the election I didn’t waste a moment’s time in taking to that black hole of bias called the internet and shouting into the void that people who voted for Trump were racists, xenophobes, and/or misogynists. The maelstrom in my soul prevented me from realizing that I had been blind to the realities that many of these people face.

It’s become a cliché to be an open-minded, creative kid from a small town who feels stymied and boxed-in by their drab surroundings and lack of diversity and big-city strangeness. But it is a thing and it’s palpable. People want to go where they feel like they fit in. But in doing so, one risks becoming further disassociated with where they came from. Those of us who leave home can struggle when they return for a visit. We usually leave Ma and Pa in the rear-view while we’re still becoming adults. As time peels away we emerge from our city-life chrysalis and find that little has changed in our point of origin. The sleepy towns can’t compare with the burgeoning cities and we wrongfully assume that our former neighbors are also stuck in the past, not realizing that many of them are uneasy about the future because it’s not all that clear to them.

And therein lies the problem. Many of us current city-dwellers simply don’t know what people back home are feeling or thinking. And when we woke up to find that we had a Mr. President and not a Mrs. President we felt the pang of betrayal from those we left behind. We were probably so utterly shattered because we didn’t see it coming and soon realized that we didn’t know the extent of our friends and family members’ plight. We chalk it up to their lack of growth without taking note that maybe we’ve changed and are also, quite simply, out of the loop.

An old power plant in my hometown of Marysville, Michigan was imploded in November 2015 and was perhaps the most exciting thing not related to high school sports that ever happened there.

If your moral outrage is about to bubble over, take a moment and breathe deeply. I too was at one time frothing at the mouth and thought that most, if not all, Trump supporters were very clearly racists because they voted him into office. I still think that a good portion of them were and are, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some racists voting for Hillary too. Some racists probably voted for Obama believe it or not. Propping up someone spouting the kind of language that Trump does is a mistake and there’s no doubt about it. However, many of his supporters weren’t supporting him for those reasons. They have a legitimate claim to feeling left out of the political process and whether he was honest or not, he spoke directly to them and won because of it. Allow yourself to acknowledge the nuanced consideration that some of his voters may have even detested his racial rhetoric but simply decided his economic and national security proposals were more important to them and their families. Accepting this as a possible explanation is crucial to repairing our country.

This particular example gets dredged up on a daily basis but the 2016 election for a lot of people smelled a bit too much like Germany in the 1930’s. Yet little time is spent on wondering just what was going on in the minds of those who cast their ballots for a man who ultimately tore Europe in half. We often talk of using history as a tool to help society avoid past pitfalls but we don’t always sufficiently identify what went wrong and where. When it comes to those events of yesteryear so much emphasis is placed on the military realities of the time, the geopolitical alliances, and other secondary concerns. However, the primary concern from back then should be the primary concern of today: The hearts and minds of the people.

Oh, the glory days. When our enemy was Wall Street and not each other. When we feared for the economy instead of our country’s future. Makes you kinda wistful, doesn’t it?

What do the people need? Do they feel safe? Do they feel financially secure? Are they happy? While many of us have moved on and are yukking it up in the cities, the Great Recession is still being felt back at home to varying degrees. The Midwest and the South haven’t seen the same gains since the downturn was at its worse in 2008. The people who inhabit the wide swaths of the country that were developed and cultivated for industrial use wake up each morning to scan the headlines and find out just which country their jobs are moving to or who was the latest victim of the opioid epidemic that, it should be noted, has hit rural areas the hardest.

Our collective post-election grief and dismay is owed largely to our ignorance of the grief and dismay felt by our small-town brothers and sisters.

If we would just can the moral high-ground stuff for a moment it would be to all our benefit. Also cutting it out with the name-calling and the down-the-nose way we look at our fellow citizens would be a start. Before anyone interjects with anything along the lines of a “Well-they-started-it” argument ought to check themselves before they finish that thought. If one is to live up to the icons of Progressivism, Liberalism, or Civil Rights, one must try and be above the fray themselves and be solutions-oriented, not obsessed with finger-pointing.

Trump and Flynn, the “Thelma and Louise” remake we never knew we wanted.

It’s not too late to transform that moral outrage into moral outreach. Trump supporters, those who aren’t billionaires anyway, are not going to be getting the help they need from this administration anytime soon. Whether it’s the AHCA or the incomprehensibly chaotic White House we now see, the needs of his core supporters are not front and center. Their lives remain mired in place, with their guy in office and accomplishing nothing.

Organize the people in your home town. Move back and start your own grassroots political movement. If you live in a different state now but are still a registered voter where you come from, research local politicians and choose wisely, blind straight-ticket voting isn’t an option. If you can’t vote for your favored candidates back home, donate to them instead. Have an in-person conversation with someone you disagree with and listen more than you speak. We should be reminded that although Trump supporters find themselves in the minority, there were enough of them to elect him. We will need to work with them if changes are to be made.

Should such sentiments prove to be unpalatable for you, it need only be said that the future of our country will depend on emphasizing reconciliation over persistent division and that can start with your next visit home.

A Woman is Not Just Some Body

Try as I might I can’t shake the compulsion to rate women on Wayne Campbell’s stroke-ability scale.

wayne

Here I am, watching the all-girl alternative rock group Dream Wife and their super duper feminist track “Somebody” and liking what I’m hearing but unable to resist objectifying what I’m seeing. Recognizing this stirs disquiet in me. It also brings to mind the news of allegations against the one half of the queer-punk group PWR BTTM. This particular band has trafficked in positivity and acceptance in their lyrics and yet we hear troubling accusations that should be all-too familiar these days. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Hopkins is rumored to have forced himself on several people and in varying degrees of severity. If someone can appear to be a font of forward-thinking values and yet also be a creeper, then what about me?

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Hello, laaadiiieeesssss…

Which brings me back to the beginning. Here I am, a reasonably progressive dude (I think) and I can’t override my lizard brain when looking at women even as I am admiring their intellect, talent and creativity. Yeah, thoughts are not criminal, actions are. But it’s still a jarring experience to think you’re one way, that you’re above such impulses and then realize that you are not immune to poisonous thought. That you are also culpable and capable of harm.

We as a society assume that sexual predators are just one type of guy. So, ff we start counting the different stereotypes of heterosexual men that are floating around in the zeitgeist, among the first you might come up with is some version of dude-bro knuckledragger and maybe another is a liberal arts major with an ironically old-fashioned wardrobe. We assume that one subset is comprised of utterly pussy-obsessed incorrigibles while the other is respectful and genteel. But come on, it’s not that simple.

predatormovie

Good Predator/Bad Predator

If we get caught up in labels like those we gloss over the good and don’t recognize the bad until it’s too late. It’s my opinion that plague after plague of handsy rapers has less to do with archetypes and more to do with mindsets. It’s typically men who feel entitled who commit acts most heinous. These sorts of guys feel like they’ve “earned” something and so they try and take it. The same spark that might move someone to commit adultery is perhaps not so far removed from whatever it is that convinces some dudes that it’s okay to be grabby gorilla men. Now, don’t get it crooked, I’m not equating adultery to sexual assault. What I’m saying is that the notion that we all are prone to exists in both situations, “You know what? I deserve this.”

In the putting of the self before the consideration of others one can justify, in their own mind at least, just about anything. I’m no expert but I can’t help but wonder how much of this is environmental. Girls are told not to look like sluts and boys are told that sometimes girls play hard to get, that they gotta earn it. Not through emotional intimacy and patience but through gifts and insinuation. And lest we forget, the boys know what we’re communicating to the girls and vice-versa. Talk about some friggin’ weird input to take with you out into the big, wide world. When we tell our kids crazy stuff like that what are we expecting to happen? Is President Grab ‘Em By the Pussy really such a shock anymore when you consider the kind of stuff adults teach children either on purpose or by accident? We’re basically showing them that males have the power and that’s just how it goes.

kids-01

Teach us how to make responsible decisions while respectfully acknowledging the physical and emotional boundaries of others, yay!

And so much emphasis is placed on sex as a subject by parents and so little on decency and respect. Either tell a kid to run from sex or run to it, but good grief don’t you dare tell them about what consent is. I could speculate for days about what got our culture into this mess but to tell you the truth, we might never know for sure but it’s certainly some kind of cocktail of culture and biology. The question we should be asking is, “Where do we go from here?”

Dream Wife has a pretty good idea that we could probably stand to learn from. In the aforementioned track, “Somebody”, (which is eerily evocative of the controversy swirling around PWR BTTM at the present) there appears the lyrics:

“I am not my body

I am somebody”

And there you go. Empathy’s the key. Bodies are not things, bodies are people. Be sure to pass it on to the kiddies.

Rome Wasn’t Burned in a Day

This all-too irresistible comparison was made early on in Trump’s presidency and persists either literally or implicitly to this day:

President Trump is a modern-day Emperor Nero and the United States of America is Rome, now hand him his fiddle and watch him go.

I understand the compulsion to anchor Trump to a historical figure we associate with insanity whether mythical or not in order to illustrate some notion that he will preside over the country while it descends into anarchy and destruction. But the analogy falls apart under closer scrutiny.

Trump Wrong

For starters, the U.S. of A. is not an empire. Depending on who you ask it’s either a democracy or a republic and yes, there’s a difference. But anyhoo, the U.S.A is both influential and powerful, and absolutely so. Rome was an empire, ruled by an a series of emperors and it too was immensely strong and was so significant that we, especially I, are still talking about it today.

But hold on, Rome was a republic before it was an empire.

The Roman Republic, while different from the U.S.A. in a multitude of ways, is perhaps more analogous to our current form of governance than its successor, the Roman Empire. The Roman Republic’s death throes came about as controversies and political infighting reached a fever pitch and the government essentially became unable to function. It was then that a popular strongman made his move and triggered a series of events that would send a seismic shift throughout the ancient world.

Yeah, I went there. I just compared Trump to Julius Caesar.

Emperor-Julius-Caesar

Caesar: Pioneer of male-pattern baldness.

Scoff though you may, the U.S. has not yet fallen into ruin. However, we are most certainly at a crossroads. You can find just as many signs indicating unavoidable entropy and chaos as you can discover hope and optimism. It’s not too late, but we are flirting with the brink.

Part of what paralyzed the Roman Republic was that their government couldn’t keep pace with the rate in which it accumulated lands and by extension, citizens. The politicians at the center cared more about their own finances and legacies than the health of their ever-expanding territory. At the height of it all Caesar was able to consolidate power and render other governing bodies obsolete and ineffective. His brute force methods and the authority he wrested for himself became a precedent for those who would follow him long after Brutus and company carved him up like a pot roast.

This analogy comes with certain caveats however. Politics in Rome were often reduced to blood-sport. Do a little bit of reading and you’ll discover instances of mobs lead by politicians hunting down and murdering political adversaries and their supporters. As of yet, the worst we’ve seen in American politics is someone being put on blast on cable news, which is a bit of a far cry from the days of toga-clad treachery. In addition, one of the crucial turning points was when Caesar refused to disband his army and marched on Rome. If there was a three-act play written about the end of the Roman Republic, that moment would have to be Act One, Scene One. Our system doesn’t work quite that way, as Trump doesn’t have his own army per se.

List-Why-Rome-Fell-E

Rome if you want to.

All that aside, perhaps you can see what I’m driving at. We haven’t yet reached Caligula and Nero levels of depravity, but there’s nothing to indicate we won’t. As incompetent and potentially corrupt as the Trump administration seems, it’s not clear if this is as bad as it can get. If we look at a place like Turkey who was not that long ago playing footsie with the European Union, we see what appeared to be a modern, functional democracy but is now more than ever under the heel of authoritarianism. It’s not for me to say whether or not Turkey at its ideal Western-style zenith was ever comparable to other democracies, but I can say that by just about anyone’s assessment, Erdoğan supporters aside, it has fallen quite far from that point.

Turkey’s future could be our future. An already dicey situation just got dicier. Rome’s past could be our future. But we aren’t so far gone as of yet. If Trump is in the same league as Julius Caesar (in many ways he simply isn’t) and plays a similar role then we shouldn’t only be worried about Trump. Whenever he happens to leave office we will also need to concern ourselves with who’s got next.

tenor

Wednesday Whackness: Allen West Edition

allen west

Allen West. I like to think of him as the reason we invented the phrase “bat-shit crazy.” He was a one-term U.S. Representative from Florida and it’s not because he answered to a higher calling, it’s because he was voted out even quicker than he arrived.

He’s proven himself to be a gold medal-caliber bigot and conspiracy theorist. He rode into office on the Tea Party wave and the current must’ve been too strong because two years later it carried him right back the fuck out. The re-election campaign that he lost was the most expensive one ever waged in the history of Congress. Guess it goes to show that all the money in the world can’t convince people to vote for crazy two times in a row. These days he hangs out where all now-unelectable Republicans go to retire; Fox News.

The following image (WARNING: It is somewhat graphic) comes courtesy of the Facebook profile, “Allen West Republic” which claims to be in support of his website:

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The easiest way to gig him on this is poor grammar. Or what seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of what Islam is. But that’s low-hanging fruit so how about the message of the image instead?

In looking for countries ruled by Islam (his terms, not mine), I figured the quickest way would be to find a list of countries where Muslims represent at least a simple majority of the population. And here is a quick blurb from that link:

According to the Pew Research Center in 2010 there were 50 Muslim-majority countries. Around 62% of the world’s Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia, with over 1 billion adherents. The largest Muslim population in a country is in Indonesia, a nation home to 12.7% of the world’s Muslims, followed by Pakistan (11.0%), India (10.9%), and Bangladesh (9.2%). About 20% of Muslims live in Arab countries. In the Middle East, the non-Arab countries of Turkey and Iran are the largest Muslim-majority countries; in Africa, Egypt and Nigeria have the most populous Muslim communities. The study found more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon and more in China than in Syria.

So, let’s assume that from the perspective of the graphic’s creator that they’re talking about countries in the Middle East, which is not really a stretch considering current events. That being said, after reading the statistics above you might be asking yourself how can a claim such as the one in the graphic be true if the majority of Muslims don’t live in the countries implied? And the simple answer is that it’s not, it’s an out-and-out fabrication.

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I’m just shooting from the hip here, but I can count at least twenty out of the fifty Muslim-majority countries that I know are not a “HELLISH NIGHTMARE” as West would have you believe. Now, those are only the countries I know something about. Out of the same fifty Muslim-majority countries I can only name around ten that I absolutely would not visit even if I knew more about them. Maybe this isn’t the most scientific of approaches, but I think it’s hard to say that it has any less merit than West’s. I pray that you’ll find that my argument at least includes numbers and research and most hopeful of all, good grammar. (If yer not picking up what I’m laying down, this is a good resource that gets more in-depth.)

This image and countless others shared by West’s supporters and people like them continue the incredibly short-sighted, reductive arguments that will only serve to harm American policy both foreign and domestic. I urge, even beg people to not blindly accept any broad-based assertion that they happen upon, regardless of its intent. But that’s perhaps a little too optimistic of me. I would just like to sign off by reminding anyone who still isn’t with me that never in our history as Americans has discriminating against an entire group of people ever worked out for the best.

Palate cleanser: