Now We Organize: Step 0

Remember to Take Breaks

In the wake of Election Day, I wrote a piece called Now We Organize. I was unsatisfied with each section, feeling I had more to say. As I waffled, some aspects of Trump’s administration started to take shape, meaning some revision was in order. Rather than publishing, I have expanded it into a series of blog posts and will release it all by inauguration day.

The axiom of progressive politics is that problems are systemic. Even if you acknowledge that there might be an individual dynamic to who is in poverty, that there is poverty for people to fall into is social. Further, that acknowledgement has limits; poverty for some is the bad luck to be born without the privileges of others. If you are feeling exhausted watching Trump’s administration take shape, that has a profound impact on your responsibilities as well.

Your individual choices cannot solve systemic oppression.

This means that you can take days off and sit out certain fights.

Two things must be acknowledged. First, being able to sit out fights is a function of privilege. But, MacIntosh unpacked the invisible knapsack, she found privileges we must give up and privileges we must expand. The right to take breaks is one that must expand. Insofar as you are sitting something out to recharge, you are doing your due diligence. Mental health is an axis of oppression, and taking care of yourself is a radical act. Being mindful of the ways in which you can do more is laudable, but guilt about not stretching yourself thin serves no one. Second—and this largely goes without saying—you still have to deal with individual manifestations of oppression, including your own. Basically, you can turn off the news for day, but you still have to point out your coworker’s racist behavior and consider the ways you are being sexist.

Let’s take this logic one step further. Part of what we must do is leave room for people to take a breather. Cover for each other. Encourage stressed people to check out for a day or two. Normalize therapy. Kindly but firmly ask people not to shame those who are not 100% engaged 100% of the time. The “real issues” rhetoric is toxic, apart from the ways it often marginalizes whatever group is labeled distracting, because it suggests that there is a narrow script we must follow. The progressive project is about building space for those who need it; that must include those who need space to breathe in our work.

We have a lot of work to do. Get some rest and we’ll tackle it in the morning.

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The Art of the Deal with It

I have exactly one thing to add to the deluge of commentary about this Tweet, and it is not ultimately about this Tweet, per se.

This is the case for a recount. If the President Elect thinks voter fraud was rampant, that means he thinks that the election we just had is illegitimate. Now, I understand that mortal men are fallible, which is why we would count on Clinton to raise the concern if there were, you know, evidence of a problem. (This weird Stein-raises-the-issue-by-proxy situation is weird, but suffice it to say, it befits the long shot nature of irregularities.) After all, why would Trump challenge an election he won? But if the President Elect thinks that the vote is sullied, it will fall to the next president to ensure that future elections are clean. He should want to the bottom of this. And if he does not want a recount, he should own that he lost popular vote.

That Trump had to say he won the popular vote—that he had to have the most flattering outcome—is flat out dangerous. Look beyond the damage this does to the integrity of future election, though don’t overlook it. When the trade deals he claims he is going to negotiate do not come at how he envisions, what is he going to do? We have a good idea from his spat with Mexican authorities. He is going to, in his capacity as Head of the American State, Tweet false things. The politicians who steer the ship in other countries will have to take hard stances to protect their images, entrenching Trump’s (and the nation’s) losses. His congressional spats will likely look much the same—which should be cold comfort to concerned liberals.

Heads of state cannot throw temper tantrums. If Trump does not learn the Art of the Deal with It when he loses, he could do real damage foreign and domestic.

Argument of the Week: Bannon Planned the Hamilton Fiasco

From time to time—ideally weekly—I will highlight an especially bad argument I saw made by the press or political class. Recipients need not collect their award in person, but rather take a sabbatical from public life in general.

In the aftermath of the Hamilton Stars in Much Ado About Nothing, variants of an argument suggesting that Bannon or Kushner planned the spectacle. At first glance it seems possible—it did bury the Trump University story. But the more you consider it, the more it should strike you as incorrect:

  • It was a poor cover-up: Trump also tweeted at length about how he would have won the suit. That was actually a major news story during the day.
  • The settlement, for different reasons, would have been a low news item: News outlets in the US are somewhat ham-stringed in reporting on settlements. While it makes sense to read them as admissions of guilt, most specify that they are literally the opposite and that no one involved may suggest otherwise. So while the press can imply it, they cannot say this proves his guilt. The lack of a juicy angle would have suffocated the story without an elaborate scheme from Bannon or Kushner.
  • These are Hamilton Tickets: Pence probably did not buy them last minute; Bannon probably could not have “sent” Pence and his family all that easily.
  • Bannon would have been hard pressed to predict what the Hamilton cast would say, if anything: It seems obvious in retrospect that the Hamilton cast would have said something, but this was a bit unusual. That’s part of the controversy. As far as gambles go, there are better ones.
  • Trump’s Twitter Meltdown about Hamilton was in fact newsworthy: Whether or not you think it should have been covered as much—see above—the president threw a temper tantrum about his VP getting criticized. A day of arguing if the president-elect was respecting norms of criticism was not a win.
  • Related to that, it was a bad way to distract: Many articles actually put the Hamilton Twitter Meltdown in context of the Trump University Meltdown. Bannon is an editor; he would have seen this coming.
  • It endows Bannon with more foresight than people have: If you’ve ever sat through an ad that was “designed” to go viral, you know how hard it is to design viral content. Breitbart and other outlets use a pretty simple formula for getting pieces to go viral: look at what worked, do it a lot, and let the law of large numbers send a fraction of them viral. Bannon would have been hard pressed to guess in advance that this would take off.
  • The disorganization: Pence ended up contradicting the master plan when he said the booing was what freedom sounded like. Or maybe that was part of the plan all along? Or maybe it backfired? Doesn’t this all just seem like Donald Trump throwing another tantrum?

As a pilot episode of a new political drama, I’m in. The power behind the throne orchestrates a convoluted scandal to make another scandal disappear. Watching the pieces fall into place, seeing them explained by our anti-hero as he sips whisky, and then he compares himself to Satan. House of Cards, move over!

But life is not House of Cards. Bannon almost certainly found out about this when a staffer called him to say Donald was tweeting again. He said his favorite four letter word. You know what? He might have considered that this could mask some of the fallout from Trump University. But then he set to work putting out the new fire.

This is a flimsy conspiracy theory filled with holes.

Alt-Right and Nazi Mean Different Things

And That Matters for Everyone

As the reality that Donald Trump is going to be President and Breitbart will be steering the ship sets in, there is a debate about what to call Bannon’s basket of deplorables. People are calling for us to avoid using the term Alt-Right and instead favor Nazi. I think this misses the important development that comes from “Alt-Right”.

Alt-Right is the actual basket that Clinton referred to—and it includes a lot of people who are not actually Nazis. In the past few years, White Nationalists, White Supremacists, and virulent anti-feminists have started forming a loose alliance. They are different things—and not even that homogeneous within their corners. Make no mistake: the anti-feminists are broadly racist and the White Nationalists continue to prefer “traditional” gender roles. But their reasons and goals are sometimes disparate. This should feel familiar to the left, who have long engaged in coalition politics.

The differences between White Supremacists and White Nationalists are pretty large—the difference between the extermination camps of Nazi Germany and the still onerous restrictions of Jim Crow. The anti-feminists too have their own set of policies; I doubt the KKK is hot on legalizing rape.

Use Alt-Right when referring to the alliance of these groups and platforms that facilitate it. Breitbart is Alt-Right because it gives voice to the whole basket of deplorables. The KKK is, depending on the chapter, White Supremacist or White Nationalist because they believe that the government should actively favor whites. West’s fear that Alt-Right will be used to neuter the violent racism of these various groups is well-founded. But it is also important to recognize that the KKK and Nazis, long opposed, are putting aside their differences and building a minority coalition that is being invited into our government.

I will commit to saying what I mean and meaning what I say—which means Alt-Right has a time and a place.

I’m 10,000% Done with Bernie Sanders

Bernie or Bust! You did it! You Won!

What’s that? Incoming message from Bernie himself?

But, but, here is my point, and this is where there is going to be division within the Democratic Party. It is not good enough for someone to say, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!” No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry. In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African-American head or CEO of some major corporation.

You know what? Go jump in a lake.

That is a completely unfair representation of literally everything that Clinton worked on. Before you made your endless, shrill, contentless talking points, Clinton had worked on many substantive policies that did all the things you asked for. Sure, she often got work done by making the hard choices you are too cowardly to, but she got the job done. Clinton supported greater regulation for banks—you gave a speech complaining it wasn’t good enough. She has long supported affordable healthcare, and was famously involved in the Clintoncare push in the 90s. (The link, as an aside, proves that while her credentials on caring are good, the Clintons did not handle things well. But if that’s your standard, Bernie, when was the last time you did more than bluster in front of a crowd?) While her plan cut an unorthodox path—and one that is fair to criticize on its merits—she was not shy about “standing up to big oil”. Clinton’s progressive credentials bear the tarnish of having actually had the principle to not just fight for Americans, but win.

You want to know why Clinton lost? It is because millennials didn’t show up. We didn’t turn out because we got the idea that she was some sort of hard-right Republican. I CANNOT FATHOM WHERE WE HEARD THAT! Sanders, because you are a spineless, extremist career politician, you have chosen to mistake passing legislation for selling out the middle class. And shame on every would-be Clinton voter who mistook that for principle and didn’t vote for Clinton. Shame on you, Bernie, for encouraging the idea that finding a path to workable legislation is the same thing as selling out the working class.

Because you know what actually is selling out the working class? Torpedoing the liberal coalition. But keep at it! You got your movement now! Your job is secure and you have the boogieman you desperately need in the highest office of the land. Do I think you did that on purpose? Not for a second. But do I think it is awfully convenient for you? Definitely.

Because you know what? All those things you list that you say you are for? Rights for black people, equal pay for women, and protections of LGBT folks? Those are identity politics. What you mean is that as long as you get to put your far-left policies first, you’ll let us sit in the back of the bus and come along for the ride. But if there aren’t enough seats, well, we can walk.

At least someone will benefit from a Trump presidency, bro.

Reading the Tea Leaves: President Trump

This post began its life as a partial rebuttal to Scott Alexander’s 8000-word plea, You Are Still Crying Wolf. In it, Alexander shows that Donald Trump has a history of saying empty platitudes about all sorts of people he is assumed to be against and therefore concludes that he is not, by any stretch, either unusually or overtly racist. While I still disagree, as I got further into my rebuttal, several news stories broke that made me rethink the details of my position. I still think Alexander is being too anodyne, but I realized that Donald Trump isn’t the kind of overt racist I feared he was.

He’s a rich, Northeast racist.

First of all—and I have some developments that have happened since Alexander published to draw on—he is up to his elbows with racists of various stripes. The worst we’ve seen at publication of this article is Jeff Sessions. You absolutely get to judge people by the company they keep, and much more so when they are hiring for government posts. While Alexander can be excused for not noticing Jeff Sessions would be appointed in the future, Trump has been hiring overt racists for 16 months. So while he says some platitudes about wanting to help gay folks, he also has rabidly anti-gay Mike Pence as his VP pick.

Another development this week was around the Muslim registry. Let’s give all people involved in this catastrophe a fair shake. No one was proposing either registering Muslim citizens or rounding up Muslims for another round of internment. Members of the Trump Transition Team were working on a registry for Muslim immigrants, which is plenty bad. However, one of them, Carl Higbie, said that we could do this because of the Korematsu case and caused a bunch of people, not least of whom was Megyn Kelly, to say, “Kill it fire”.

The guy maybe behind all this, Kris Kobach, was…disappeared? from the Trump transition team. He had been apparently working for them all week and then the Trump team said that, actually, he never was. In case you think that might be true, they also said Trump never supported the registry, which is simply a lie. He had been for this a year ago. Here’s Rachel Maddow being just as floored as I am about this:

Now Bannon is saying it nothing is off the table. To review, Trump said he was for extreme vetting, someone he hired said they were working on it, they fired the guy and said no one ever was for it, and now they are saying it is on the table. I agree with Alexander to a point: Trump is only covertly racist insofar as he keeps changing his mind.

If you are a person of color, a queer person, or a woman and you have ever dealt with the insidious racism, homophobia, or sexism of the Northeast, this is going to feel awfully familiar. Donald Trump has no problem being openly racist, homophobic, or sexist when he feels safe. But as soon as that threatens his social standing, he distances himself. I refuse to have the semantic argument about whether or not that counts as “overt”, but it is familiar and blatant to a lot of people in the country. Trump is as publicly prejudiced as he thinks his reputation can bear—and that varies week to week.

There is a silver lining in all this. It suggests that an engaged public can sway him, making it all the more vital that we oppose decisions like appointing Jeff Sessions. It means that real world protests, letters, and (yes) social media posts are going to have more of an impact on President Trump than they did on, say, Governor Pence. Trump, like many racists in the Northeast, cares that his neighbors don’t think of him as some Jeff Sessions-esque troll who thought the KKK was pretty swell apart from using weed. (Seriously, what was up with that?)

This last week suggests that Donald Trump is more vain than racist, and he is plenty of the latter. There is a winning strategy in that.

Argument of the Week: He Went to Business School

From time to time—ideally weekly—I will highlight an especially bad argument I saw made by the press or political class. Recipients need not collect their award in person, but rather take a sabbatical from public life in general.

All my posts this week have been dedicated to The Donald and his ascent to high office. I’ve hardly mentioned Steve Bannon because, well, the rest of the internet is covering him quite thoroughly. And well they should! The former editor in chief of Brietbart represents everything going wrong on the right and will soon by the chief strategist for the White House. He is the architect of the “Alt-Right” movement, having seen that it would be profitable to run articles from both neo-Nazis an the KKK on his website and presided over the unholy matrimony of many white supremacist groups into one cesspool. For some reason, there is doubt as to whether or not that counts as being a white supremacist yourself. Or as Reince Priebus said:

The guy I know is a guy sitting in an office all day yesterday talking about hiring, talking about people,” Priebus said on the Today Show. “Here’s a guy who is Harvard Business School, he was a ten-year naval officer, London School of Economics, I believe. He is a guy who is very, very smart, very temperate.

Wat.

This is, depending on your tastes, some parts false dichotomy and some parts non-sequitor. (Informal fallacies are, well, informal, after all.) You can go to Harvard and be a white supremacist—a cynical part of me thinks it might be an asset in the business world. You can be in our military and be a white supremacist, though the US Armed Forces have done a reasonable job tamping down on that for a long time. The London School of Economics does not throw you out for being a White Supremacist. Indeed, all three of these institutions used to keep black people out.

This is a dreadful argument. Not because it is wrong—though, yes, he is a white supremacist—but because it does not hold up. If you said that Obama was not a white supremacist because he too went to Harvard, your argument would be invalid. These things have nothing to do with one’s beliefs about white people.

So come on down, Mr. Priebus, and collect your award!