Aleppo Rant

The part of me that wears the tinfoil hat (increasingly, it would seem, the same part that is motivated to post) wonders if it’s possible that wages are kept insufficient (and jobs unavailable) as a deliberate means of forcing people to think selfishly out of necessity, if maybe we’ve allowed entertainment and advertising to become so data-driven and personalized in order to make them more effective opiates at the individual and societal level, and if it’s possible that similarly we’re now being kept so scared of (and/or mesmerized by) the political situation at home that we feel like we can’t afford to answer and/or choose to distract ourselves from such desperate calls to action abroad: https://twitter.com/i/moments/808593529589075968

Regardless of your political views, these are civilians who fear for their lives, and seemingly rightly so. I’m sure those in Aleppo are not the only ones in the world who are in this kind of situation, but their story made it to my eyes and ears and what I choose to do in response to that information I think reflects my character. Morally, you just can’t remain silent about it and be OK with that.

Rant continues below:
The same with domestic issues that I’m not directly affected by but that I have been made aware of. “They broke the law” in and of itself is not justification for inhumane treatment, and I think we have a problem understanding that in this country. Did the law-breaker do harm? Harm to whom? Is the law’s response proportionate to the harm?

If you don’t feel like you have the background or the skill or the means to make a difference, who is your champion? What are they doing to empower you? If they’re not empowering you, who are they empowering?

American prosperity cannot come at the cost of our humanity. Turning a blind eye and/or saying “this isn’t our fight” is not an acceptable solution. If we can’t win this fight, who or what could? What would it take to implement that solution? As a species, we are problem-solvers and tool-makers. When we stop trying to engineer solutions, we have accepted the problem as reality, and I don’t think we can afford to do that in any situation in which there are peaceful people suffering in the name of law and order. (I’m allowing for peaceful people to retain that descriptor if the only violence they commit is in self-defense because they will be killed if they do not protect themselves).

If your answer to victims in need, begging on the basis of their humanity alone for your assistance, is “I’m sorry, I don’t have the means to help you.” or “We tried but I’m sorry, it’s simply too difficult for me/us to try harder.” then you have been rendered incapable of serving as a functional human and you need to think about what has made you that way and who benefits from keeping you that way.

“Why do you suddenly care about this now? Atrocities against peaceful people have been committed all over the world (and within this country) forever, and probably will go on forever.” Because there was a period of time during which I stopped caring, and I need to make up for that lost time and humanity.

I understand the necessity of power to create change and prevent regression, and the necessarily exploitive nature of power (it’s arguably an arms-race of exploitation anytime there’s a power struggle), I just wonder if we in America might find a less morally questionable way of going about that exploitation, and if not, if that means the geopolitical apparatus that calls itself America is not really telling the story of America with its actions anymore- because a democracy would not allow for these atrocities to happen (I’m referring to police brutality at home as much as summary executions of resisting civilians abroad), UNLESS BOTH those who are outraged by it do not have the power to change it and those who do have the power to change it prefer not to.

And despite what this lengthy post may lead you to believe about me, if that is indeed the two-fold problem, and we’ve given up on attempting solutions to it, I don’t know what to say to that.

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Assorted Articles (Nov-Dec 2016)

1) Helpful (albeit alarming) perspective https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/15/truth-lost-game-turkey-europe-america-facts-values (chess with a pigeon)

2) “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them… The notion that certain opinions cannot safely be allowed a hearing is growing. It is given currency by intellectuals who confuse the issue by not distinguishing between democratic opposition and open rebellion, and it is reflected in our growing indifference to tyranny and injustice abroad. And even those who declare themselves to be in favour of freedom of opinion generally drop their claim when it is their own adversaries who are being prosecutued.” (http://orwell.ru/library/articles/park/english/e_fpark)

3) Worth repeating
“If we did not care about our country, our friends and family, our values, we could shrug our shoulders and simply move on. The fact that we do not speaks volume of our commitment, our principles and yes, our patriotism. The challenge before us is how to channel that passion into active civic engagement.”
“Some sixty million Americans voted for Donald Trump, and I refuse to accept that most did so because of what he stands for, but rather despite it.”
“Trump’s supporters have an opportunity as well to blunt the harshest elements of his candidacy and now soon his presidency.”
“While we recommit ourselves to being the champions to all middle class and working Americans, we can and will do so by holding Trump and his cohorts accountable at each step for their regressive economic agenda, by safeguarding our cherished liberties of a free press and the right to worship and assemble, and by opposing any policies or actions that might do damage to our communities, our economy, and our environment.”
“And while we must accept the outcome of the election, we do not and will not accept the degradation or destruction of our rights, our democratic institutions, or our national character.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/15/george-takei-the-challenge-ahead-under-president-elect-trump.html

More recently: “When they came for my family and my community back in 1942, very few others stood up for us. The Japanese-American community felt alone. Similarly, when drag queens rioted at Stonewall in 1969, the LGBT community also had few allies. But today, when the incoming administration threatened Muslim registries and racial profiling, the progressive response was collective and swift to say we would register as well. When Native Americans camped out in the freezing cold to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline, veterans came to stand with them. And when Trump began to name a cabinet of homophobic and hateful bigots, communities of all colors and creeds decried it. We truly have grown stronger together, and with each new assault upon our dignity and humanity, we will grow stronger still.” from http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2016/12/21/george-takeiwelcome-resistance

4) “Technocrats have always shown little interest in fights over fundamental values. Their work proceeds from the assumption that everyone — or at least all the people who truly matter — already share the same enlightened commitment to democratic values. The only debate they are concerned about is over evidence on “what works” among policy inputs to produce the desired measurable outputs, like higher wages and GDP, less poverty, less crime and terrorism, or less war.

The problem occurs when some people turn out not to share those enlightened values and insist on challenging them. Technocrats, in these situations, don’t know what to say because they can’t rely on evidence to make their case. So when technocrats are all we have to defend democracy, fights over fundamental values become embarrassingly one-sided.”

“Which is why the principal defense of democratic values must be that they are desirable in themselves as values — something technocrats are not trained to do.”

“As the economist John Stuart Mill said almost 150 years ago, the true test of freedom is not whether we care about our own rights but whether we care about “the rights of others.” ”

“Democratic values have never been capable of defending themselves — equal rights require eloquent defenses capable of building broad alliances on their behalf.” https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/12/23/democracy-is-dying-as-technocrats-watch/

5) If your eyes start to glaze over, skip to the final paragraph (from Connor P):

There is a story about Trump’s victory that treats his election as a rejection of the American political status quo. Some versions of this story celebrate Trump as the outsider who will shake up Washington, and cast Clinton’s defeat as a rejection of corrupt business as usual. Others criticize Trump as a deranged proto-dictator who flouts American democracy, and cast Clinton’s defeat as the voters’ failure to recognize the benefits of experience and a level head. But both versions get the 2016 election wrong. Things will change under Trump, yes, but far from representing any kind of fundamental transformation of American politics, Trump’s election is a sign of the durability of American neoliberalism, and of capital’s facility for co-opting critique. Trump’s victory has handed the reins of government to a cabal of political insiders—led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell—and the news of his cabinet picks tells more of the same story. Much of Trump’s support came from moneyed voters who, one assumes, saw through the scrim of his populist rhetoric and recognized that his victory would be a victory for their class. The question of whether the working-class voters who believed Trump when he said he would be their champion will ever wake to the fact that they were sold a bill of goods is an open one, but one of the great tragedies of this election is that the Trump campaign was, in effect, an alchemical mechanism for converting popular dissatisfaction with “the system” into a carte blanche mandate for some of the most rigid and anti-populist elements of that system to carry on as they always have.

It is important that we recognize that Trump’s presidency has emerged from a complex of factors—the legitimate economic grievances of white working-class America, an absence of viable political structures on the left prepared to address those concerns, the frightening availability and viability of populist politics on the right, and the neoliberal system’s success at co-opting that right populism—and that we resist the urge to explain the Trump phenomenon in terms that reduce it to the playing out of any one political or social dynamic. To do so would be to misunderstand the nature and range of the threats that Trump’s presidency poses. Trump’s ascendancy was a victory of establishment forces, which pandered to and deployed white nationalism as a convenient pawn; what this means, then, is that we now face two distinct threats. On the one hand, an emboldened and energized white nationalist movement—a xenophobic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, violent movement that is already making its presence felt in the form of attacks on immigrants, people of color, and others among the most vulnerable members of society. On the other hand, the prospect of unchecked legislative and judicial activism by the most right-leaning members of the neoliberal political establishment, which will surely result in grave damage to America’s already thin battery of social programs, to the real wealth and well-being of all but the wealthiest of Americans, and to the natural environment. These threats are, in almost every way, distinct issues, involving different agents and mechanisms of violence and different groups of victims, and calling for different kinds of response and resistance. But one of the challenges of the coming years is going to be keeping them clearly distinguished.

It will be difficult to remain focused on the institutional enemy in Washington that is working to the impoverishment of us all when a sizeable number of that enemy’s victims are singing its praises and lashing out with real, tangible violence at our loved ones. It will be galling to acknowledge the victimization of people who refuse to acknowledge their privilege, who dehumanize people of color, deny LGBTQ people their right to self-determination, and demean and brutalize women. It will be more than galling. It will be dangerous, as many of these people are perfectly prepared to hurt and to kill—indeed, are excited and eager to do so. But the working-class Americans who perpetuate white nationalist violence are also victims of neoliberal capitalism, and the license to indulge their basest urges that Trump has handed them is, in effect, a twenty-first-century version of bread and circuses. To treat the nationalist right as only an enemy, rather than as at once an enemy and a fellow victim, is to play into capital’s hands. The function of David Duke is to make us ignore Paul Ryan. If we refuse to try and establish common ground with these people who are so absolute in their refusal to seek common ground with us, then we will only reinforce the story that they tell each other about white America’s victimization and isolation. That this narrative is a lie does not change the fact that reinforcing it will feed the fires of white nationalism and make it more difficult to address the forces that work towards the impoverishment of all working- and middle-class Americans.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we should be conciliatory towards racists and misogynists. I am not saying that, in the name of some abstract principle of national identity, we should offer sympathy to those who hate and insult and kill us. I am not saying that those who are wrong and evil should not be held accountable for their sins, nor am I saying that we do not have the right to defend ourselves and our communities with every degree of force that proves to be necessary. I am only saying that the crisis we confront is not a simple one. In a world where neither privilege nor oppression are monolithic, it is entirely possible for someone to be a deeply guilty victimizer and, at the same time, to be a victim of other forces that are also victimizing their victims. In this world, it is possible for something that is right and true—like telling a racist Trump supporter to get fucked—to exacerbate the problems we need to find solutions for. The path forward, if it is to lead us forward, will not be marked out with such unilateral declarations, no matter how right and true and necessary they are.

The challenge that we face is not simply to find the most effective ways to oppose and hinder President Trump and those who follow him. Yes, we must protect ourselves and our friends and our families from the physical violence of white nationalists, and yes, we must protect American institutions, social programs, and household incomes from the legislative and judicial violence of the Republican Party. But we must also find ways to do these things that do not reinforce and reproduce the same toxic partisanships that have allowed the Republican Party to so successfully rouse and deploy white nationalism as a counter to and distraction from popular anger about neoliberal abuses. We have to build a pro-labor political structure that can act as an alternative to the neoliberalism of today’s DNC and RNC, but we also have to find ways of convincing the most xenophobic elements of the white working class that this structure is their champion, and not an organ of an elite intellectual movement that despises them. If we cannot find such solutions, and we succeed only in opposing and hindering President Trump, then in four years we will have another election that is not a contentious and difficult conversation about the future of our government but a knock-down, drag-out fight in which irreconcilable camps hurl insults and punches while the forces that profit from neoliberal globalism carry on unchecked in the background.

6) Hate crimes and racist behavior emboldened

This is why you can’t tell people to chill out about a Trump victory: https://twitter.com/i/moments/796417517157830656

Our worst selves have come out of their hiding places. Those whom they would make victims of need allies.

Hold the line on being a decent human being, don’t let this shit go unanswered (that’s tacit agreement) but don’t try to start a fight either. Hurting them and/or condescending to them will only make them even less capable of reasoning and empathy. You may disagree with me, but I think that’s our best way forward.

This is an opportunity to understand and confront this problem directly, without denial and without malice. Own this ugly aspect of our country because it’s only by accepting that it’s the truth that we have any hope of changing it. This is not something that was created by a Trump victory – it’s just something that would have stayed under its rock had his campaign not emboldened it. Getting rid of Trump won’t get rid of the problem, it’ll only make it harder to engage.

The last paragraph of this story is the most important:
http://patch.com/connecticut/thehaddams-killingworth/east-haddam-womans-message-love-vandalized-overnight

Sensible advice, not limited to race-related forms of bigotry:

Regarding lumping non-bigoted Trump voters with the rest, I thought my post was directly about response to bigoted behavior (“don’t let this shit go unanswered” is not about a vote, but an attack). What about it left the door open?

Incidentally, I do think those who voted for Trump should be leading the charge more loudly and proudly than liberals when it comes to combating racist and sexist and Islamophobic and able-ist remarks and behavior. They ae aware of the seeming implications of their elected official’s campaign, to remain silent about it is tantamount to endorsing it, and to only offer lip service to the fact that it’s reprehensible is morally irresponsible.

Liberals get upset, I think, not because conservatives hurt their feelings and have a more cynical view of things which shits on their sunshine and rainbows, but because conservatives seem to have no problem invoking American virtues when their interests are threatened but seem inconsistent at best when it comes to the interests of other Americans.

So I think art has this problem- anything trying to make a change. You have to meet people close enough to where they are that they’re willing to listen to you long enough that you can make the case to them to let you lead them a little further away, and again, and again. In the context of art, if you are 100% provocative but 0% accessible, you’re not likely to impact your desired audience. While that 10% or 30% “concession” I’m making may be less than ideal, it’s how I think I need to frame things in order to have the greatest positive impact as people are willing to give me enough attention and let me keep their trust long enough that when they see where I’m going they aren’t scared off, because I’ve had the chance to earn enough credibility with them.

I guess to put it in shorter words: If your first instinct is to downplay the problem rather than brainstorm solutions to fix it, you have become part of the problem. Similarly, if your first reaction is to figure out who to blame (or at least direct your anger at), you are not helping and are in fact making it harder for those who are trying to help.

The problem exists- that cannot be denied. How do we fix it?

My instinct is to try to engage people to de-escalate the situation, but conventional wisdom on the matter seems to suggest that the best thing to do is to is just the opposite. Engage the victim rather than the perpetrator. Stand with them and talk to them about normal things. The perpetrator is looking for confrontation and so by changing the focus of the situation, they are more likely to lose interest- whereas if you engage them directly, things are actually more likely to escalate (though I really want to ask “why do you think that?” and “you’re acting like you feel threatened – why do you feel threatened?”).

I’ve heard/read a few stories already from friends already about shit that’s happened- please let me know if you encounter situations, how you dealt with them, and how they seemed to resolve. We need to educate each other on how to deal with this. One final note: I think being a cynic about this is not going to help anyone. And if you’re going to be a cynic about it, please share what you believe a more effective approach to be. I’m not devoted to mine, it just seems like the most sensible place to start.

https://www.splcenter.org/20150126/speak-responding-everyday-bigotry

NYC-specific:  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScGWE8zpTAqoLj6HMLGkKIoKRDVq2RMW_vH8jjh0OwyBGU0YA/viewform?c=0&w=1

http://www.rollcall.com/news/opinion/im-a-coastal-elite-from-the-midwest-the-real-bubble-is-rural-america

http://www.politico.com/states/massachusetts/story/2016/11/healey-launches-hotline-to-report-potential-post-election-hate-crimes-107324

7) We’re His Problem Now Calling Sheet

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/174f0WBSVNSdcQ5_S6rWPGB3pNCsruyyM_ZRQ6QUhGmo/edit#gid=53223984

8) Justice Sonia Sotomayor: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2016/11/16/justice-sotomayor-we-cant-afford-for-a-president-to-fail/

9)

“These truths may be self-evident but they are not self-replicating. Each generation has to renew these vows. This nation was founded as an opposite pole to the capriciousness of an authoritarian monarch. We set up institutions like a free press and an independent court system to protect our fragile rights. We have survived through bloody spasms of a Civil War and a Civil Rights Movement to extend more of these rights to more of our citizens. But the direction of our ship of state has not always been one of progress. We interned Japanese Americans, Red Baited during the McCarthy era, and more. I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing.” http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/11/22/1603094/-Dan-Rather-sounds-the-alarm-Now-is-a-time-when-none-of-us-can-afford-to-remain-seated-or-silent

10) Know Your Rights

https://www.aclu.org/feature/feel-at-risk

11) To go full tin foil hat for a moment:
What if Trump was the necessary choice because our country is about to do some terrible things and it will be convenient to have him as a scapegoat in the history books?

(ultimate point: not a statement of fact, a declaration of intent)

12)
The political process cannot just be a drive thru window if democracy is to function properly. We need to take a more active role in setting what’s on the menu.

I was certainly captivated by that optimism you’ve described but that’s not what I was alluding to.

As Trump’s and Sanders’ campaigns provided opportunities for us to take a hard look at the election process (including the role of political rhetoric and media coverage), perhaps the results will cause us to re-evaluate what aspects of life we let the federal government influence, how we engage those with differing political viewpoints than our own, and how seriously we take people’s lack of faith in the democratic system.

The results of this election, I hope, will serve to force us to learn the above lessons (and others too) rather than slipping back into the lazy comfort that “something like that could never happen.” It did. The answer is not to whine about it or use it as an excuse for why shit sucks and it’s pointless to fight it (though I concede some time is probably necessary to grieve), but to be grateful that the need for action is so clear. Better this than a more insidious villain. It sucks that the next four years will require so much work and attention and endurance from all of us, but I suspect that change was needed years ago and it’s only now that we have no ground left to retreat to to ignore that (at least, not until Game of Thrones is back on the air, right?).

Also while I think some of the racism and sexism of Trump is exaggerated, it’s still there (as is his able-ism), and this election has proven that it’s American to find that acceptable in a leader who represents you and who has global impact. We need to come to terms with that as well – though I don’t have as clear an idea of what that process-towards-solution needs to look like. The political/civic aspect of it is easy to envision.

1) There’s clearly problems in this country we’ve been ignoring. I don’t just mean the ones anti-Trump folks have identified early and often.
There *must* be systemic failures of the federal government (and perhaps our civilization more broadly) so cataclysmic that Trump made sense as the better option. I refuse to believe that that many people voted for him out of hate and ignorance alone. If the election results took you by surprise as much as they did me, we both probably need to take this opportunity to learn more about what’s going wrong for our fellow Americans.

2) There are a lot of people who are scared right now due to an anticipated surge in bigotry. We need to show our support openly and maintain it consistently.
While I’m relatively quiet about my sexuality and as a result have had a pretty easy time with American life because I can ‘pass’ for straight ethical white middle class male, it still meant a lot to me when friends posted support of non-hetero-normative relationships/behaviors on social media (and spoke about it in person). I didn’t expect it would affect me, but that kind of show of support really did (thanks for that, all) – and I don’t even have to deal with social stigma most of the time. I think it’s important we let our friends and neighbors who fear imminent persecution and/or stigma know that we have their backs.

3) Not all Trump supporters are crazy bigots (but some sure as fuck are).
You may think them foolish (or selfish) for thinking that they can get the policy they want from Trump without the cultural consequences (and you may be right), but the results of this election are not inherently an endorsement of hate. It’s certainly not a step in the right direction, but we will not find our way out of this by writing off half the country as crazy assholes. I’m not saying we need to hold hands and sing cumbaya, but assuaging our neighbors’ fears and showing our support for them does not need to take the form of an implicit antagonism. There are crazy assholes and we will have to either teach them or endure them, but we are the ones who need to be taught and/or endured if we are committed to thinking that that’s the majority of people who don’t agree with us. I’m not denying that the bigotry is real, I’m not denying that it’s a problem we need to seriously deal with – I’m just suggesting that the best way to go about it might be to try to understand The Other without judging first, then proceed to explaining the problems you see with their perspective in a manner that suggests you view your interlocutor as a rational being. You heard them out, now they’re hearing you out- neither of you are talking down to the other, you’re just trying to provide information that they were not taking into consideration. Chances are, no one’s mind will be changed in this first conversation – but at least you’re starting a dialogue.

4) Hoping for impeachment is a form of denial.
Whether or not Trump remains President of the United States of America, this election still happened. And if we focus on “fixing” the fact that he’s in office, we’re totally missing the point. What conditions made Trump so appealing? (I know to some this sounds like
Person with head up ass: I JUST WISH I COULD FIGURE OUT WHY PEOPLE VOTED FOR TRUMP….
Sensible person: It’s racism (or sexism, Islamophobia, etc.).
Ass-ostrich: POLITICS IS SO COMPLICATED, HMM GUESS WE’LL LEAVE THIS ONE FOR THE HISTORIANS TO PUZZLE OUT!
but I think we’re going to continue to have problems if we assume we already have the full lay of the land).

.