There was always a bit of hoping against hope on my part that Democrats would pull off the impossible and retain the United States Senate. After all, there has been an abundance of tangible wins to light upon when thinking of what has been called the “Age of Obama”: despite the sickening intransigence of the Right, this country now has an unemployment rate of under six percent for the first time in over six years. Oil prices have fallen dramatically of late, now sitting under $80 per barrel, which has translated into gas prices sitting well below three dollars a gallon.
After a slow, buggy start, the Affordable Care Act is finally doing the work of saving millions of Americans money in health insurance. In terms of environmental policy, this President has been the guarantor of the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, as New York’s Jonathan Chait wrote:
The second way to measure Obama’s climate-change record is: What has he done? He has done quite a bit, probably far more than you think, and not all of it advertised as climate legislation, or advertised as much of anything at all. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was many things—primarily, a desperate bid to shove money into enough Americans’ pockets to prevent another Great Depression—but one of them was a major piece of environmental reform. The law contained upwards of $90 billion in subsidies for green energy, which had a catalyzing effect on burgeoning industries. American wind-power generation has doubled, and solar power has increased more than six times over. As Time magazine’s Michael Grunwald detailed in his book The New New Deal, the new law suddenly transformed the Department of Energy, previously a sclerotic backwater charged mainly with overseeing the nuclear-weapons cache, into a massive new engine of cutting-edge environmental science.
With this record, one would argue the country should be proud to stand side-by-side with the very effective Executive Barack Obama has been thus far. Voters would finally see this Nation, dragged for years through the failings of George W. Bush’s presidency, as having turned a corner, and that great things were about to happen, so long as the successful political party were allowed to stay in power.
But alas, that did not happen.
And how could it? It can’t be by accident that U.S. News and World Report reported decreases in voter turnout in all but twelve states, or that only thirteen percent of voters were under the age of 30. For all the talk of the Right suppressing voter turnout with draconian voter ID laws, what did one think was going to happen when the Left did plenty of its own voter suppression by turning on a President that was not absolutely adherent to everything on their own esoteric policy “wishlists”? Did no one remember the lessons of “progressives” like Markos Moulitsas and others who told liberals to stay home back in 2010?
Of course not.
Because we as liberals love to repeat our own mistakes.
Let’s just be real with ourselves. Since Barack Obama’s name was spoken into the realm of possibility to be our 44th Executive, all this base has wished for was this President to be a “Magic Negro” that would fix everything, without them ever lifting a finger. From the Black “Progressives” who wanted Obama to be Stokely Carmichael in matters of race, to the Occupy crowd that has all but demanded every investment banker’s head on a pike to parade up the Canyon of Heroes, this base saw what only what they wanted to see, and turned on this President when he governed as the very skilled, pragmatic centrist he is.
At bottom, there is nothing that would please a base completely ignorant of civics and the inner workings of politics, then caterwaul incessantly about Barack Obama not living up to their individual ideals. Nothing will ever be enough a base made up of disruption-addicted college professors and pundits out for self-confirming “Conversations” on Melissa Harris-Perry that gloat about staying home as the harder work of building a Legislative branch capable of the change they want to see goes undone year after year.
No, as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) demonstrated Election Night, it would seem they would rather Obama go it completely alone, or else we all become Republicans.
We have lost our way.
And in so doing, the Right could not have asked for a better friend to advance their agenda than liberal purism.
So yes, fellow liberals, let’s keep neglecting our duties at the ballot box for the sake of ideological purity. Because it’ll be a lot of fun consistently electing Democratic presidents that can’t get anything done with a conservative lawmaking body.
On Wednesday morning, approximately around 3:30 a.m., I was awakened by my mother-in-law, who had heard the sound of a diesel truck pull up directly in front of the house. She screamed for me to go out front, as the diesel engine belonged to a tow truck, which had arrived to carry out the most unwelcome task for the fiscally irresponsible. After ninety-one days past due, the bank I had financed Delores through finally came to take her back.
I threw on clothes faster than I ever have, being the size and weight I am. I ran outside to see Delores already hitched, propped by her front wheels. I begged the truck driver, himself a family man, to leave Delores where she was so I could get together what little money I could to send in a payment. But the driver refused, saying that if he left her there, he would lose his own job.
After getting together a few of my personal items, including my first pair of running shoes, my baseball glove, and a bat gifted to me by teammates of a community college baseball team I played with nearly two decades ago, the tow driver rumbled away, Delores silently at its back. I shed no tear that would belie my grief, but deep inside, despair, anguish, embarrassment and shame tore my soul to shreds.
Delores was gone, and I had failed.
♦ ♦ ♦
In October 2011, we bought a 2008 Volkswagen Passat, Cobalt Blue in color. It was perhaps the nicest vehicle I’d ever owned. It was my very first time owning a German marque; in many respects, vehicles that come from Deutschland are believed to be the platinum standard of automaking. Practically speaking, it was a big addition to our pile of stuff; after nearly nine months of being unemployed, I had taken an offer to work for a bank branch in Bowie, Maryland. My wife’s car at the time, a 1999 Nissan Altima SE with a library’s worth of stories in its own mileage, would not be sound for an everyday commute of nearly forty miles each way.
2011 was a shit year for Jessica and I. We had just gotten engaged in April of 2010, and had begun to slowly make plans to build a permanent life around each other. The woman I know as the great love of my life had become more dear to me than life itself, having been the only thing keeping me somewhat sane after going through an ugly separation, and catching heat from my family over my impending divorce three years earlier. I proposed to Jessica at Union Square, and after driving throughout Manhattan, she finally said yes, in front of all places, Yankee Stadium.
Trouble was brewing. The job market cratered in New York City that year. Jessica had spent six years getting her undergraduate in the hills of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and an associate’s in Fashion Design in Tribeca after that, and was a casualty of the fashion industry’s restructuring. I was selling cars at a luxury dealership on the West Side of Manhattan, and lost that job in May. My grandmother’s health had begun to rapidly deteriorate, and my extended family was on edge as the inevitable drew closer. Our Bronx apartment that had given us issue after issue developed leaks in the ceiling over the kitchen. The question we had started to ask ourselves in the midst of all this, one that we seriously did not want to answer on our own, began to answer itself:
Is it time to move back to Baltimore?
The answer became yes. In July of 2010, we left New York, emotional baggage and all. Neither of us wanted to leave, especially Jessica. She had spent her entire life trying to get to the Big Apple, and here we were, four years after her initial arrival, crossing the George Washington Bridge with our belongings for the last time as New York residents. I had gotten a job with an Audi dealership in Baltimore County, and was prepared to start fresh. Jessica and I would live separately the rest of that year, she with her mother, and I at my grandmother’s house. Thus would begin our rebuilding stage, in the city we were both from, yet neither of us truly wanted to be here. It would be here in Baltimore that I would watch my grandmother decline, inexorably to the end.
♦ ♦ ♦
Alice Delores Marie Shired was born October 21, 1933. The day she was born is one of note in our family; it is a date shared by her daughter (my mother), and my father’s mother, who was born the same day in 1926. Growing up, October 21st was known as ” All Mother’s Day”, and was a pretty big event for our family.
I am my grandmother’s first grandson, and our connection was made almost immediately upon my arrival on this earth. There is a story my mother tells of my grandmother being on the phone at the hospital, and my father holding me in his arms and putting the phone up to my mouth to talk to her, not even a couple hours old. My grandmother cried tears of joy when she heard me speak. I’m fairly certain that this was my first encouragement to pursue a career in speaking, or a guarantee that I’d never shut up. You’d have to ask my wife about that.
My grandmother and I were always very close, and there wasn’t much we didn’t do. As a little boy, sometimes I would watch The Price Is Right while on the phone with her. When I got older, I would watch the show with my grandmother in her room before she got her day started. Throughout that time, my grandfather, Robert L. Brown was there, sipping his Milwaukee’s Best at the bar in his basement. By way of his service to this nation during the Korean War, and decades put in at Bethlehem Steel, they moved from the ‘hood of West Lombard Street by Baltimore’s Westside Shopping Center, and settled in the heart of Glen, part of the city’s largest community of orthodox Jews.
Grand-Dad died of cancer in January of 1998, and not too long after, my grandmother’s health began to fail. Perhaps the death of her Beloved proved too much for her to handle; not too long afterwards, my Grandma had her first stroke.
Then there were the heart attacks. Then the dementia.
And then the organs shutting down.
Eventually, my grandmother would end up going to dialysis three days a week. The one good kidney she had left failed long ago, but her condition had not stopped her from opening her home to me when I became homeless in 2008, right before I left for New York. Thankfully, it did not stop her from welcoming me back when I returned in 2010.
I helped out in any way I could. In the morning, I would help her get down the stairs for my aunts to take her to dialysis. I sometimes would get meals for her, picking up things to eat on my way home from work. If there were messes made, I cleaned them up for her.
And when there were times she needed to be carried up the stairs, I did that too, most notably in October of that year, when I would carry her up those stairs one last time.
Jessica had picked me up from work, and we were discussing something. Maybe we were arguing or something as we traveled down I-83, but something told me to veer off onto Northern Parkway, to check on my grandmother. We arrived to find her in the living room, cold and shaking. She had been on the couch for several hours, and was confused, and hungry. She couldn’t walk, so Jessica and I carried her up the stairs ourselves. Once there, Jessica put Grandma in her pajamas while I made something hot for her to eat.
Three days later, my grandmother would leave her home, never to return.
♦ ♦ ♦
My grandmother would shuttle constantly between Union Memorial Hospital and the rehab clinic south of it, especially after her finger went black. The middle finger of her left hand that was the first piece of her body to wither and die. Some in our family thought it was from the port in her arm used to flush her system during dialysis. However it started, it put her in a lot of pain.
I was doing well at the Audi dealership, despite the circumstances there. It wasn’t easy to sell cars there when the sales manager handed over every internet lead to the salesperson that had followed him up from Annapolis. But I was making it work, and was heading over to see my grandmother every Tuesday, no matter where she was. It was right around this time I started putting away money for a really nice apartment in Station North, just above Baltimore’s Penn Station.
I saw an ad for the place on Craigslist: a three-bedroom, two-bath spot on East Lafayette Avenue. The stated rent seemed like a pretty good deal, especially for an apartment north of Penn Station that was over 1300 square feet in space. The close proximity to the Amtrak station–which meant direct access to both Washington, DC and New York City–was a major selling point. A former Facebook friend went so far as to call the neighborhood an unofficial “suburb” of the city that meant so much to us.
I went to see the place, which was absolutely beautiful. I had never seen such an immaculate apartment, with such incredible expanse. It seemed like the perfect place to start our new life in Baltimore, Jessica and I. We would be able to have everything we wanted, and be happy for once in our living situation. The experience in the Bronx had left us with a bad taste in our mouths about renting.
I decided to surprise my wife-to-be with this new apartment. For all my horrendous habits with money, I managed to save up enough to put a deposit down on the apartment of my dreams. And this time, I wanted to make it all a surprise. After all, I thought, isn’t that what a man’s supposed to do, welcome his lady into the home he built?
There were hiccups along the way, and the management company wasn’t able to hold the apartment for us. However, they informed us of another property they had acquired on Barclay Street that was about to be built–still in close proximity to the train station, but in a far rougher block in the neighborhood. Ultimately, this would be the place we would make our new home. This whole time, however, my grandmother had deteriorated badly. My aunts, enduring much consternation over the decision, finally agreed to let doctors amputate her finger. No more blood flowed to that extremity at all. The nail on that finger had fallen off, and unbeknownst to us, gangrene had already begun to take my grandmother’s body, and had started to pop up in other places. In fact, one of the last things my grandmother said to me about her condition was, “I feel like my legs are dying.”
Two of the fingers on her hand were taken, but despite the therapy sessions and hospital visits, my grandmother was almost gone, and there was nothing that could be done.
♦ ♦ ♦
In March 2011, I received a text message while at an event in Mount Vernon, south of Station North. My cousin sent me the news I knew was coming: My grandmother was in hospice, dying rapidly of sepsis. The gangrene from her withered body had finally dealt her the blow she would not recover from. Sepsis, as defined by the National Institutes of Health, is a severe reaction to bacteria or other pathogens that afflict the body. It is an excruciating disease, one that inflicts severe pain, delirium, chills, and shaking. Very few people that go through sepsis survive.
Though I was expecting the news to come down, I was not mentally prepared for it. That previous month, I had been fired from the Audi dealership I was working, two days after I delivered two cars in the same evening. Having lost such a job was devastating, especially since I had become so fond of Audi during my years in New York.
That next morning, I went to see my grandmother one last time, along with one of my brothers. When we entered the room, I saw Alice Delores Marie Shired Brown–a woman who had given so much of her own life to others, much less my own–curled into a ball, ravaged in her septic state. My brother lifted the cover over her legs, revealing one them had been amputated. The nurses had kept her morphine levels up to keep her comfortable, and after a nurse had come to check in on her, I spoke to her directly in her ear.
I thanked her for everything she had done for me; for the lessons in life, the times we watched The Price Is Right, and for her example of strength and resiliency in the face of her death. I thanked her for rebuking my tendency to worry about her so much, and for telling me that above all else, to be a strong man and leader.
I took my grandmother’s hand, kissed it, then after I told her I loved her, I said, “Go home.”
I have no memory of what I did the rest of that day. Seeing my grandmother in such a state left my mind in a numbed fog. Perhaps I ate something. Took a shower. Not really sure–
I awoke with a start around 12:30 in the morning, in a cold sweat and shaking. My bedroom had become frigid, despite the heat being on. I looked around briefly, then went back to sleep. Later that morning, I got a phone call from my mother, who broke the news.
On March 4th, 2011, Alice Delores Marie Shired Brown had returned to the Ancestors, and to the husband who went before her thirteen years before. She was the last of my grandparents to die. Strangely, in the week leading up to the funeral, I never cried once; I tried to be strong for my grandmother as I thought she would want, spending my time instead being thankful that her suffering had ended. The day of the funeral was no different. I truly believed I had it all together, until we made our way to her final resting place, and watched as her remains were returned to the earth. Jessica–who had developed a deep love for my grandmother after losing her own in childhood–and I finally let go of every single tear we had been holding in.
As I mentioned before, 2011 was a shit year.
♦ ♦ ♦
When we bought the Passat that October, this car represented a new, grand chapter in our lives. 2011 had started terribly, but only got worse as spring and summer came along.
The air conditioning unit went up in our apartment, and the woman who lived below us lost a massive amount of property due to the water damage. Mold quickly sickened my wife and our neighbor, who at one time I personally rushed both to the hospital at once. The property management company had been exposed as a thief, stealing water from the city by not having a meter from the alley.
And on top of all that, I couldn’t find full-time work. Resumes were sent out, and networking was done, but I got nowhere until I got the aforementioned job at the bank, which paid a great salary, health benefits, and even a savings plan.
Jessica named her Altima “Clara”, after her grandmother Clara Wade, her beloved “Nano.” This gave me the inspiration to name the new car after my own. That 2008 Volkswagen Passat would heretofore be known as “Delores.”
This vehicle honors not just the memory of the woman who helped shape my life, but also my father’s mother Rowena Wingfield, who was brutally murdered in her own home in 2005. The color blue was her favorite, and is a testament to her wisdom and her own regal character. Delores carried me down to Busboys and Poets the night I met the man who would become my father in journalism, Jonathan Capehart. Delores bears the logos of my school, the University of Baltimore, and carried in its trunk multiple copies of The UB Post during my time as a Staff Writer and Editor-in-Chief. Aside from the trips up and down I-95 to New York, Delores brought my wife and I safely to Virginia Beach and back, with two bad spark plugs.
This car–yes, a car–became not just a way to get around, but was a mark of my identity, and a reminder of the road I’ve traveled to get to get this far.
Which is why I feel so much shame in screwing this all up.
I humbly admit to my readers, my family, my mentors, and most of all, my wife: I should have been much more careful with this car. Hindsight has rendered me a regretful, stuttering mess in the wake of my own folly. I made too many mistakes. Instead of treasuring that which I had, I let this slip away. Getting laid off from a position that sought to bring focus and gravity to the subject of voting, especially in a year filled with so many reasons to exercise this precious franchise, did not help either.
This is the first time I have ever done something like this, to publicly ask for help. Perhaps I have taken too long to “get to the point”, so to speak, as putting the legacy of my grandmother in even this way was a very personal endeavor. My grandmother meant so much to me, and was one of a powerful cadre of people that directed me to go to school, and unlock my potential. I’m still not there yet.
I am asking for this assistance so that I can make things better for my family, and for my future. I did not want you, my readers, to have any doubts as to where your money will go, or what my motivations were.
Any and all help is appreciated by clicking on this link. Also, should you hear of any open fellowship programs or writing jobs, please let me know. Thank you, thank you; a thousand times, I thank you.
NEARLY TWO WEEKS AGO, MOST OF LIBERAL AMERICA began a period of mourning after the United States Supreme Court handed down its most striking ruling to date. Having traditionally paid far more attention historically to decisions affecting social issues than matters of business, many of our ideology were blindsided by Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a decision that somehow seemed to affect and pervert both.
Timelines and pieces filled with anguish–or all-out panic–flowed in the days following the 5-4 ruling, denouncing it as a severe injustice to women’s rights and the ability of science to shape health policy. One article in Blue Nation Review, a new journalism venture headed by Jimmy Williams, called on women everywhere to “incorporate themselves”, as the highest court in the land had now given more protections to businesses than they. Ironically, America seemed united the week before in praising the merits of the Roberts Court on the 9-0 ruling that protected people’s private information held in smartphones. Perhaps this was a bit of collective self-interest on display; apparently nothing unites liberals and conservatives more than telling cops to shove off and “get a warrant.”
But I digress.
Reading through Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion, it seemed straightforward enough: terrible as it might be, Hobby Lobby’s founder’s beliefs that four of the twenty forms of contraception mandated to be covered by the Affordable Care Act were upheld as infringed upon under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. But as I read through Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, a 35-page categorical dismantling of the Court’s ruling that seemed to place unprecedented, sweeping power in the hands of for-profit businesses, one word kept passing through my mind: How?
How could this Court overturn nearly two hundred years of clearly established, starkly defined legal precedent? How could the Judicial branch of our government place belief in fanciful machinations above science and reason? Did the Supreme Court just legislate from the bench? What type of religion do David and Barbara Green follow, as the Bible itself, allegedly the immutable “Word of God”, bids its denizens to place themselves under all earthly authority, as found in Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13?
What exactly happened here?
In truth, it’s really not that simple. And when it comes to matters of the interpretation of law, there really is no reason to believe it should be.
First of all, if female employees of Hobby Lobby were stripped of every form of access to contraception by this decision, I would have joined in the chorus of liberal outrage. However, as The Atlantic’s Emma Green writes, women who work at these stores will still have access to birth control:
In the majority opinion, Alito specifically suggests that the government could use the same kind of exemption it has set up for non-profit organizations: Companies would have to sign a short document certifying that they object to providing birth-control coverage, and then the government would take over coverage from there. Several separate court cases about this accommodation are still pending in lower courts, but the point is that the Court doesn’t think bosses should get to deny affordable birth-control access to their employees—they just shouldn’t necessarily have to pay for it.
That said, there can be little doubt Burwell v. Hobby Lobby granted corporations a grand amount of unprecedented power. And yes, there will be (and have already been) a number of entities that will and have issued their own challenges to the law, including from supporters of the President. Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People, gave his take in The Daily Caller:
One of the Court’s problems is a failure of imagination. The justices look at the current landscape of corporate ownership, and the fact that no one ever thought to raise claims for corporate religious exemptions before, and conclude that the issue is narrow. But reduced employee insurance costs will give a slight market edge in a low-margin business. If a small group of evangelical investors, or Saudi princes, can buy a companyand then cut costs on health insurance by raising religious objections to rules that their competitors must follow, they will. And if a Saudi billionaire objects to paying any health insurance costs for women who work outside the home, then he can really cut costs.
While this is now true if said investors wish to create a for-profit business, the same has already been true for anyone of deeply held religious beliefs wishing to start a non-profit. All that seemed to happen here is a balancing of the for-profit/non-profit scale and nothing more in terms of the contraception mandate.
Justice Kennedy may be right that the decision is not a slippery slope toward allowing exemptions from other medical coverage (such as blood transfusions and vaccines) or toward allowing religious exemptions from anti-discrimination law. The court expressly disavowed these possibilities, arguing that compelling state interests, in public health and equality, respectively, justify denying exemptions in those cases. This argument is vulnerable, however. The majority did not dispute a compelling state interest in Hobby Lobby—it instead struck down the contraception mandate as not narrowly tailored to meet that interest. Simply noting that compelling interests exist in other scenarios only matters in light of how rigorously the court applies the narrow tailoring requirement to those future cases. The majority is also conspicuously silent about LGBT discrimination. It disclaims the possibility that Hobby Lobby could justify racial discrimination but says nothing about LGBT discrimination or even gender discrimination—even though Justice Ginsburg expressly raised that prospect in dissent. If Justice Kennedy is proven correct that Hobby Lobby does not undermine LGBT rights, it will be because of the decision of a future majority, not today’s opinion.
Secondly, the Hobby Lobby case, and this litigation season in particular, has indeed become yet another example of the Roberts Court’s penchant for aggressively inserting the Judicial branch into actual policycraft, as Simon Lazarus of The New Republic writes:
After 1938, through the balance of the twentieth century, and, indeed, well into the twenty-first, Supreme Court majorities never overtly and, only rarely, departed from or implicitly challenged the hands-off economic regulation mandate of rational basis deference. Of course, during those decades, there were recurrent, fiery right-left battles on and about the Supreme Court. But those battles were about the extent to which the Court should actively protect individual civil and political rights, not economic rights. Only a small cadre of libertarian academics and think tanks disputed the consensus confining economic liberty to second-class constitutional status. No more. No longer marginalized, libertarian-inspired legal ideas are now a force to be reckoned with. That tectonic shift was first proclaimed two years ago in the Court’s opinions in the challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and expansion of Medicaid, even though Chief Justice John Roberts’ controlling opinion largely upheld the law. This term’s decisions reinforce that trend.
But finally, for those who believe this case to be a simple matter of five Republican men exercising their patriarchal duty to their genitalia, and/or a grand exercise in how orthodoxies come together to shove their own fictive beliefs down the throats of the American public, it is important to remember that in a nation of plurality, where so many systems of belief come together and are represented, some folk will operate their businesses by their own personal ethos, and will see even their for-profit ventures as extensions of ministry. We can whinge day after day about how unbelievably stupid, wrong-headed, idiotic, and problematic this ruling is. We can praise former federal judges for “speaking truth to power” by telling the Court to “STFU.” But at the end of it, this still remains a country where people are free to make their own decisions, and order their lives by whatever personal beliefs they choose, as we are free to do the same.
As everyone except children and ideologues understand, goods sometimes conflict with one another. Liberalism’s greatest virtue and strength as a political philosophy is its effort to adjudicate those conflicts, to allow people on various sides of moral and theological clashes to reach peaceful settlements that, on the whole, maximize human freedom.
It’s a messy business that requires trade-offs and compromises, and sometimes leaves no one fully satisfied. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t preferable to the alternative, which is to fully satisfy some, leave others significantly less free, and create a more homogenous civil society, with private entities forced to function as arms of the liberal state.
Emma Green rightly points out that no one side gets to be “right” with respect to the Hobby Lobby ruling, as this is a decision not to be placed within that context. True equality means giving those we despise just as much a berth as we give those we love and agree with.
Such is the necessary work of maintaining a truly free democracy.
WHEN PRESIDENT OBAMA STOOD on that stage with young brothers from his hometown of Chicago to announce the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, it filled me with an awe I had never known before. Perhaps it was the imagery of seeing a new generation of promising Black men, full of talent and skills to be brought out and honed for the betterment of themselves and their communities, standing there with the one who had reached the highest level of power achievable in this Nation. For all its imperfections, and historical shames of housing discrimination, Jim Crow, and our Original Sin of slavery, this twice-elected Executive was doing what he could to create more that would follow in the path he blazed.
Throughout his era, those beholden to an ethos of Blacks being a perpetually downtrodden minority incapable of rising past the pitfalls of structural and institutional racism have been intensely working to undermine President Obama’s entire existence, with a particular viciousness matched only by the Tea Party. Having created a media identity from victimology, prominent Black academics and pundits synchronously wrote headlines trashing My Brother’s Keeper as a “flawed” program. Over the last several months, the attacks have moved from the program being a retrenchment of “respectability politics” to something far worse.
The latest assailant of My Brother’s Keeper is Brittney Cooper, assistant professor at Rutgers University, co-founder of Crunk Feminist Collective and contributor at Salon, who has established herself as possibly the most vindictive critic of the program thus far. Her latest column sets a repugnant narrative of the President as some sort of non-Black misogynist for not including women of girls of color at the last minute:
When it comes to addressing racial justice issues, President Obama’s personal identifications with blackness take center stage, trumping substantial attention to black women as a political constituency. I used to believe that Obama’s personal racial identifications were powerful, that having a president who had experienced racism personally would help him commit to doing something about it when he had the opportunity to do so. But what has become apparent is that President Obama’s personal understanding of racism is deeply tethered to his position as both black and male. The effect is that his personal experience has limited his vision of racial justice to just one gender.
So if concerns about intersectionality and how the program impacts women and girls of color, the obvious thing to do would be to demand more from the Council on Women and Girls, as Jarrett is reportedly open to doing. But somehow, the power of Twitter as the engine of social change “hashtag activists” love to proclaim when trying to start a Conversation doesn’t extend to arranging meetings with people in the White House. So at best, Prof. Cooper is grossly misinformed, or at worst, she is a liar building a brand in the manner of Tavis Smiley.
It takes a certain level of hatred and vitriol to attack the President in such a baseless manner. But to back down from a standing invitation to come to the White House and voice concerns is nothing short of disingenuous, dangerous cowardice. These continued attacks from Black Thought Leaders serve as proof that actually having a hand in crafting “life-changing policy” is something scoundrels like Cooper can’t be bothered with.
If patriarchy, misogyny and sexism all stem from broken, ancient definitions of unstructured manhood, how is it productive–or even remotely conducive to the cause of true equality–to continually attempt to sabotage the best thing to ever happen to our young men? If mass incarceration, high unemployment and the school-to-prison pipeline threaten our boys from the day the set foot in pre-school, how is throwing women onto the back-end of a program at the last minute serving them better than strengthening a program for girls that has existed for years?
Every well-educated, well-prepared Black man that comes from My Brother’s Keeper is a threat to the relevancy and brands of this group of people. And these schemes to tear down this initiative serve as proof that most of these Black Thought Leaders do not care in the slightest about young Black men’s lives unless they are languishing behind bars, ripped from this plane of existence at the other end of a white man’s gun, or kept broken and weak, angrily locked in a mode of protest.
Back in 2011, I had the opportunity to meet Otis Rolley, a native of Jersey City, New Jersey who was running for mayor after an eight-year run as Baltimore’s Director of Planning. As one who treasures infrastructure, I was drawn to Rolley’s background, and saw him as a possibly a great choice to lead the city.
I wanted to speak to Rolley directly to get a better understanding of his platform and politics, and we met at his campaign office on The Avenue in the neighborhood of Hampden. He was very gracious, and we spoke about what his vision was for the city. Regrettably, I don’t remember much of the specifics what we talked about. But what struck me was the confidence his team had in their internal poll numbers, which had Rolley’s team feeling pretty confident, since they showed him ahead of everyone in the field!
When I asked where they got the numbers from, or if I could see the data that was gathered, they politely declined, and asked me to simply trust what they were saying. Of course, as just a part-time security guard at the time, I had no choice but to go with their word. Rolley would go on to come in third place in Baltimore’s mayoral primary election, winning just over 9,400 votes.
Perhaps it was this inflated self-confidence that did in Eric Cantor, the seven-term GOP Congressman and former Majority Leader in the House who lost to Dave Brat in last week’s congressional primary in Virginia’s . The Washington Post reported that a poll conducted May 27-28 showed that Cantor had a 34-point lead over the economics professor, which obviously left the esteemed Congressman to pursue his very passionate steak habit:
Cantor’s campaign and leadership PAC spent about $170,000 at classic D.C. powerhouse restaurants including Bobby Van’s Steakhouse and BLT Steak, according to FEC records. By comparison, his primary opponent Dave Brat spent about $122,000 in his entire campaign.
“It’s rare that you would see a fundraiser at a Ruby Tuesday or a Chipotle,” said Lisa Spies, a veteran GOP fundraiser who worked on Mitt Romney’s Jewish and female outreach programs. “You’ve got to spend money to raise money.”
It is no wonder why there was such a frenzy among those of our craft to cover this monumental upset. After all, this was the first time in American history that a sitting House Majority Leader has been defeated in a primary election. In a post-Citizens United environment, the fact that this occurred in such a fiscally efficient manner was jarring as well. As expected, conservative talk radio hosts loudly declared Cantor’s defeat as the death-knell for comprehensive immigration reform, despite data that disproves such a claim.
So if a lack of Right-wing orthodoxy on immigration and an addiction to the finest dry-aged, grass-fed cuts of USDA Prime were not enough, what was the silver arrow that felled Eric Cantor?
The truth is that Cantor’s electoral demise did not occur overnight. It was the culmination of more than four years of grass-roots organizing, from both the right and the left, to unseat him. Behind the scenes, Cantor opponents who otherwise had little ideological common ground cooperated in his demise. I know, because I helped engineer it.
In 2010, I managed the general election campaign of Cantor’s Democratic opponent. I never expected us to win, but I was a 27-year-old looking to get involved, and I thought we could achieve some good even by losing the race. (I have since disengaged from partisan politics.) At that time, an “Anyone But Cantor” mentality was beginning to take hold in central Virginia and the Richmond suburbs. In this heavily Republican district, many Democrats and Republicans told me in conversations that they saw Cantor as a disingenuous political insider looking out for his own self-interest above the interests of his constituents.
All politics is local, proven once more.
National Journal’s Ron Fournier wrote that what happened to Eric Cantor should be a lesson to all those who lose sight of what elected officials were sent to Washington to do. That diametrically opposed political factions like liberals and the Tea Party were able to collectively sack Cantor is a sign that something does indeed have to give, as Umana confirms:
To my mind, though, Dave Brat’s victory and Cantor’s defeat should be cause for celebration among people from across the ideological spectrum. Anyone who wants their elected leaders held accountable—and reminded that they work for the citizens—might count Tuesday’s primary as a win. As Jonathan Blank, a partner in the Charlottesville arm of McGuire Woods and a former local Democratic Party chairman, told me happily: “It is another signal to both parties that the politics of ‘no’ is unsustainable.” There is another message from this, though. Any citizen who works hard and cooperates with others can make a difference in our society, and even in our electoral history.
I’m no fan of Dave Brat, a man who is even more extreme in his views than Cantor ever was. But at a moment when people do indeed feel marginalized by those who create laws, it’s hard to argue with the fact that when people realize the power they have at the ballot box, real change can and does happen.
Hopefully this sentiment will continue beyond this election cycle.
I had to laugh weeks ago when discussing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece, “The Case For Reparations” with friends on Twitter. Having known what to expect from Coates for a while now, it did not shock me that people were waiting with the proverbial bated breath as they watched the trailer–yes, in the manner of a summer blockbuster film–heralding the piece validating everything that Black people all over the country that enslaved our ancestors had always known. Coates is viewed by many to be the intellectual scion and/or reincarnation of James Baldwin, so the adulation before the piece was written came at no surprise.
Allow me to declare something that will surprise most of my readers: Never before have I read such a complete, all-encompassing historical artifact. Coates deserves both all credit and praise (and will no doubt receive a Hillman award) for taking his time with this piece, and I personally congratulate this man for such an achievement. This is the type of writing that originally drew me to Coates in the first place, and before this work was written, I had no idea of the existence of Belinda Royall, a former slave who successfully petitioned the government for reparations. Nor had I ever heard of Clyde Ross, the 91-year-old who fought Chicago’s housing discrimination with the Contract Buyers League. Despite my differences with Coates, this was a very important piece.
What disturbed me most about this article is that after drawing one of the straightest lines of comprehensive historical progression, Coates provided nothing even remotely representing a clear definition of what modern reparations should look like, save for support for Rep. John Conyers’ H.R. 40. As he stated in his afterword the next day, this was his intent all along. Others began filling in the gaps Coates left, offering their own definitions of reparations in the context of housing discrimination, which some (including myself) believe is the overarching theme of Coates’ article.
But then, I had to remember something very important: This is Ta-Nehisi Coates, the one who has blatantly stated he really only wants to remain “intensely curious” about racism, and is not vested in actually solving anything. And as more commentary on Coates’ work continues to come out, it becomes more clear that a goal for making reparations a reality–a full redress for every ill and injustice ever suffered by Blacks in this country over nearly five centuries’ time–is something many of these Black Thought Leaders simply do not want to tackle. The stated goal, it seems, is just to “continue The Conversation.”
…in the Obama age, where the fact of a black first family frequently muffles the national conversation on race and democracy, Americans need a primer on why race matters now more than ever. This includes young black folk, who are at times confused or ambivalent about the way in which the seemingly distant past (to them, the 1980s, let alone the 1960s or the 1860s) connects to their contemporary lives.
A candid discussion of reparations will ultimately force us to “imagine a new country,” observes Coates, in a note of hard-earned optimism in an otherwise unfailingly sober historical and political assessment of race in 21st-century America.
Coates confirms this case here:
And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans. What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.
This bit of commentary seems high-minded and noble. But when you consider those who have made monolithic Black oppression their brand identity, any trace of real progress by Blacks in this nation must be dismissed as some impractical, unattainable exceptionalism. This abstract of reparations–one wide open, all-platform, grand Conversation where a precise definition remains open-ended to anyone–is both disingenuous and insulting because its sole purpose at bottom is to retain overall relevance.
How can we know this? Let’s start at his interview with BuzzFeed deputy Editor-in-Chief Shani Hilton last week, who gave this response when asked why his cover story broke online readership records:
When we came up with this idea on the edit side and we started talking about it and it got out into the company what we were doing, I would talk to business people and they would say, “Yeah, this is gonna be big.” And I was like, How is reparations going to be good for business? How is anyone going to walk into an ad meeting and say, “Yeah. This is what we’re doing?” I think a part of it is, one of the things I learned very early in my career is that if you made any claim or charge about racism, people click. So, I literally could have gone when I first started, and said, blog post number one: “Racism.” Blog post number two: “White Folks Did It.” Blog post number three: “Black Folks Did It.” And you could just go down the line because people, for some reason it sets their hair on fire. That’s it, right? I think that’s the first thing.
Get clicks. Set records. Further “The Conversation.”
The second way to tell the lack of seriousness from these falsely so-called Black Thought Leaders is when they openly declare that advancing “The Conversation” on reparations to its inexorable next stage–the logistics–is somehow “missing the point” or, as NPR’s Gene Demby writes, evidence that one has not read Coates’ case past the headline. This position asks that one immediately shut off all intellectual endeavors in solving and repairing the impacts of this nation’s Original Sin at precisely the moment they’re needed most, which is frankly stupid when by one recent estimate, there is at least $10 trillion we could be discussing. If one dares to “imagine a new country” without presenting a single tangible solution as to how it is made reality, what is it all worth?
Is it possible that a serious discussion of reparations scares even the mighty Ta-Nehisi?
The Brookings Institute’s Megan Bradley offers this to explain why discussing the logistics of reparations are appropriate and necessary:
Outside of the legal framework, definitions of reparation, restitution and redress have become particularly muddled. For example, scholar Elazar Barkan’s definition of restitution has significant overlaps with the legal definition of reparation, but is much broader than the concept of restitution under international law. In his influential text The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices, Barkan offers a comprehensive notion of restitution as the ‘entire spectrum of attempts to rectify historical injustices’ (Barkan 2001: xix). Barkan (2001: xviii) contends that the legal tools of remedy, that is, restitution, compensation and satisfaction, ‘are all different levels of acknowledgement that together create a mosaic of recognition by perpetrators for the need to amend past injustices’. Although broad, this conceptualisation is salient because it encompasses the diverse yet interrelated approaches available to remedy injustice, including high-level legal initiatives such as trials and property restitution mechanisms, political efforts such as apologies and truth commissions, and grassroots reconciliation and coexistence projects.
Coates and others of his ilk bid this nation to live in a perpetual state of remorseful, unending penitence; to forevermore wallow in the regrets of American white supremacy within bounds only they can set. He writes, “The payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.” The problem with this argument, other than Coates’ premise that America is cursed ground specifically engineered for Black extermination (though factual, one may wish to ask an Indian about that some time) is that as a nation, we are already very much introspective, as John McWhorter points out:
Despite frequent claims that America “doesn’t want to talk about race,” we talk about it 24/7 amidst ringing declamations against racism on all forms. Over the past year’s time, I need only mention Trayvon Martin, Paula Deen, Cliven Bundy, and Donald Sterling. Over the past few years, three of the best-selling and most-discussed nonfiction books have been Isabel Wilkerson’s chronicle of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, Rebecca Skloot’s book about the harvesting of a black woman’s cancer cells (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), and Michelle Alexander’s invaluable The New Jim Crow. And let’s not forget recent major release films such as The Help, 12 Years a Slave, and The Butler. Can we really say that these are signs of a nation in denial about race, racism, and its history?
I certainly can’t. While only a deluded fool would dare deny the legacy and continued effects of white supremacy in these United States, it is nothing short of perverse to incessantly draw the Black gaze to the perceived monolithic riches of white people to one’s own station in life and hopelessly declare Blackness as a destitute, zero-sum game. An incomplete “Conversation” on race that refuses to focus on how we improve our own future merely feeds the beast of confirmation bias.
But finally, the greatest impediment to reparations lies not in any grand cabal of white supremacy; it rests firmly in the yet unchallenged ethos of individualism, which permeates every facet of our existence and has resisted repeated historical challenges, as Allen Guelzo wrote in 2002:
American law, both in terms of statute law and common law, is rooted in long historical assumptions about where rights are located. From the time of the American founding, we have understood rights to be located in individuals. We recognize no titles of nobility: this means not only that the American republic repudiates the notion of a titled aristocracy, but that it does not recognize any special category of rights belonging to a class of people. There is, in the politics of the Founders, no essential quality of nobility that all aristocrats are presumed to share and others not, and which we are all obliged to recognize legally. By the same logic, we recognize no national language, no national church, and no national race, because we do not locate civil status or rights in groups, whether those groups are ethnic, religious, or racial. So, when a crime is committed, we want to know about the guilt or innocence of the individual, not someone’s racial group, religion, or other characteristic. And when a civil judgment is issued, we want to compensate the individuals who were actually harmed, even in a class action, not the race or church or bowling league they belong to.
The grain of American jurisprudence thus runs completely against assigning blame on the basis of group identity (something which we have shown most recently in our instinctive recoil from the practice of racial profiling). It expresses the measure of resistance we have toward identifying individuals as anything but individuals, and it poses a philosophical stumbling block for reparations litigation right on the threshold of the courtroom.
It is individualism and esotericism that derails progress and eliminates real traction for political and social change in this country. Stories abound of movements that begin with much fanfare and hope, then become easy targets of punchlines and scorn once revealed as aught but shameless self-promotion. Coates’ grand sermon delineating the sins of this Nation and demanding its repentance boost his brand and his profile, but true reparations–the admittance of wrong; the apology and recompense by the offending party, and the forgiveness of that party by the victims–would be the single-most collectivist act ever committed in this country, an amazing feat given that not only do few believe in paying for the sins of generations long dead, but that many are not interested in forgiveness of wrong either.
Thus, the impasse remains, and the hurt further entrenches.
When screamed into the public discourse at a town hall five years ago, these words became the call-to-arms for the purest, most virulent fringes of conservatism to unite. For centuries, the United States, for all its initial tropes about freedom and liberty from the British crown, had held to a very basic ideal: that you were only considered a “real American” if you were a white, land-owning man. This was rigorously enforced through indentured servitude, chattel slavery, and de jure segregation. Slowly but surely, the oft-mentioned “arc of justice” bent towards racial equality, reducing in the minds of many the impact of overt, naked bigotry.
When Barack Obama was elected President the first time, it upset centuries of deeply held beliefs and norms about the purity of the office. Blacks could serve as members of presidential cabinets, even as high as Secretary of State, but anything even remotely leading the Executive Branch was off-limits. The Right first viewed Obama’s rise as a horrible mistake of history; another of those “firsts” the Blacks love oh-so much, and would be forgotten just as quickly. But when Obama was elected to his second term as the Executive, the truth the Right refused to acknowledge before eventually came out. This President was now more than some passing fad the electorate would grow out of; he and the demographics that voted for him were now the harbingers of the Right’s demise. Despite the warnings of pundits, pollsters and the occasional plagiarizing libertarian Senator, the Republican Party was now that of the Aging White Rich Guy, with nothing between them and complete societal irrelevance.
These things are not new. But through all of this hatred and chaos remains the task of examining the science of these matters with clear, pragmatic distinction, able to emotionally disconnect from the issues and properly analyze the data set before us. Understanding the history and devastation of racism in America is a multidimensional–and multicultural–debate that is not for the simpleminded, and to his credit, Jonathan Chait of New York magazine attempted to do so, in a cover story entitled, “The Color of His Presidency.” However, his analysis has been repeatedly and aggressively criticized in the press, which is both sad and indicative of many of the points he was trying to make.
Where Chait Was Wrong…
DEFINITIONS ARE FUNNY THINGS in the construction of narratives, and nowhere is that more true than in Chait’s three words “prominent Republican figure.” When not placed within a clearly defined context, one is free to interpret that phrase however they wish. How do we define prominence? Is prominence determined by who shows up in media the most, or who has actual lawmaking power?
Pat Buchanan is a “prominent Republican figure”–if this were the year 1988. In 2011, however, Buchanan openly referred to Barack Obama as a “boy”, doing so in one of the most remarkable displays of career suicide ever recorded in an MSNBC interview with Rev. Al Sharpton. As if to compound his fall from the mainstream, Buchanan would go on to write a book on how bad America will be for white people in eleven years.
Despite his past significance in Republican politics, Buchanan was not the most “prominent Republican figure” to call President Obama a “boy” while in office, as Chait alleged. In terms of lawmakers, that disgrace goes to Rep. Mike D. Rogers, a Republican from Alabama’s Third District with seats on several House subcommittees:
We survived Jimmy Carter … we can survive this ol’ boy. … This is very similar to the mid-1970s. We had a long war (Vietnam), a corrupt administration, the nation elected a peanut farmer from Georgia and had high home-mortgage rates. Then at the end of four years, the American people said ‘enough’ and elected Ronald Reagan. It took him two years to dig us out, and we had two decades of prosperity. Then we backslid and we elected a community organizer from Chicago. History repeats itself.
In this respect, Chait was mistaken. While no biographies have been published yet calling this President “Boy Obama” (and given the current state of the conservative publishing industry, none likely will), Obama has endured reprehensible animus throughout his presidency on behalf of conservatives, having been called a “skinny, ghetto crackhead” by L. Brent Bozell III, founder of Media Research Group. Arguably the most “prominent Republican figure” over nearly three decades, Rush Limbaugh has racially assaulted President Obama repeatedly, referring to him as the “Halfrican American” in 2007 and appropriating a Los Angeles Times headline for a Paul Shanklin song entitled, “Barack the Magic Negro.”
And while the Clinton presidency was in many ways worse in terms of Republican partisan sentiment (who could forget those wonderful conspiracy theories about Vince Foster and Ron Brown), Clinton never had to cough up a birth certificate to prove he was a citizen of this nation.
This is what Chait got wrong. However, this piece was filled with much more that he was right about than people are giving him credit for.
What Chait Got Right
THE PRESIDENCY OF BARACK OBAMA is one that has produced much in terms of exposing America’s maturity deficit, showing how ill-prepared we are as a nation to have the “much-needed conversations” about race necessary to bring this country closer together. But even more than this, the criticism of people with views that do not differ all that much from their own has taken a nosedive in maturity as well. Consider this portion of Chait’s piece, in which he seeks to mark a clear distinction between a classical and social history of the Obama era:
…if you instead set out to write a social history of the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experience of political life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never before. Hardly a day goes by without a volley and counter-volley of accusations of racial insensitivity and racial hypersensitivity. And even when the red and blue tribes are not waging their endless war of mutual victimization, the subject of race courses through everything else: debt, health care, unemployment. Whereas the great themes of the Bush years revolved around foreign policy and a cultural divide over what or who constituted “real” America, the Obama years have been defined by a bitter disagreement over the size of government, which quickly reduces to an argument over whether the recipients of big-government largesse deserve it. There is no separating this discussion from one’s sympathies or prejudices toward, and identification with, black America.
Here lies our first evidence of objective analysis being lost. As “conversations” have stratified across the country (as seen everywhere from Twitter hashtags to weekend news shows), the one thing lost above all else is trust. Chait talks about a scientific study done for UCLA by Michael Tesler and David Sears in 2010 that showed how race was indeed the primary motivator for most of the heated political discourse seen throughout Obama’s first term:
Like the [Dr. Henry Louis] Gates incident, Carter’s controversial racial comments generated considerable media attention. Claims of race-based opposition to Obama, in fact, received more attention than any other topic in the blogosphere from September 14 to September 25. Not surprisingly, 40 percent of respondents interviewed during this time period recalled hearing “a lot” about “charges that racism is a factor in criticisms of President Obama and his politics.” The president immediately attempted to dampen this race-based media firestorm by telling four Sunday morning talks shows airing the week of Carter’s comments that the vitriolic opposition facing his administration stemmed primarily from his policy positions, not his race. Whether or not these accusations of racially motivated opposition were actually true, the fact that they garnered so much press interest suggests that the Obama White House was operating in a more race-conscious atmosphere in its early months than were previous presidents.
As seen through the eye of empiricism, these findings were undeniably critical, but otherwise liberal critics attacked these findings as not being personal enough. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie basically wrote that the facts Chait found should not matter nearly as much as firsthand anecdotal accounts, accusing him of treating race as an “intellectual exercise” devoid of “lived experiences.” Melissa Harris-Perry, an MSNBC host and political science professor, strangely said the same thing, both saying in short that Chait’s view wasn’t Black enough.
Perhaps if Chait had written a piece that hit all the necessary buzzwords of one that has “checked his ‘privilege’ at the door” (a phrase that has become the new hotness when wishing to render dissent of any kind completely silent), he would have been hailed as one of the greatest assets in understanding how racism and scientifically proven racial hypersensitivity have affected the way people view the new political landscape. Instead, his analysis was treated as an affront to Black pain, and was given the echo-chamber treatment at MHP’s table while barely being allowed a chance to defend his premise.
This leads to several questions: In discussions on race in this country, what evidence should be used, pure scientific analysis or endless stories of “microaggressions”? Has faith in academic institutions eroded so much that people now view empiricism as some form of white oppression?
Also: was progressive ideology always this anti-intellectual?
Secondly, let us examine another point Chait was rigorously criticised for:
One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life, a lesson that has been driven home over decades by everybody from Jimmy the Greek to Paula Deen. This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.
The racial debate of the Obama years emits some of the poisonous waft of the debates over communism during the McCarthy years. It defies rational resolution in part because it is about secret motives and concealed evil.
Few liberals acknowledge that the ability to label a person racist represents, in 21st-century America, real and frequently terrifying power. Conservatives feel that dread viscerally. Though the liberal analytic method begins with a sound grasp of the broad connection between conservatism and white racial resentment, it almost always devolves into an open-ended license to target opponents on the basis of their ideological profile. The power is rife with abuse.
The controversial nature of this statement is held in its absolute truth. To deny that we live in a society where to be openly branded a racist regardless of veracity often leads to public shame and humiliation (and in increasing cases, loss of status and livelihood) is a gross denial of recent history and progress.
Examples of this can be found in myriad: Joseph Williams, whose statements about Mitt Romney’s comfort level around white people in 2012 (the 47% video would eventually vindicate him) cost him his job with Politico and imperiled an illustrious three-decade career in journalism. Martin Bashir, on whose show Williams made his fateful comments, would lose his job after declaring that Sarah Palin should be subjected to the same punishment that slaves on Thomas Thistlewood’s plantation endured for her likening of the national debt to slavery. The aforementioned Melissa Harris-Perry was publicly reduced to a tearful apology for making a joke about Romney’s Black adopted grandson, Kieran.
Recent events have proven that this terrifying power is seen on the Right as well. Cliven Bundy was yet another courageous conservative “Everyman” getting stepped on by a bloated federal government until he decided to state his level of expertise on Black work ethic (involving “Nigras” and picking cotton), losing nearly every shred of mainstream conservative support he had. Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, was already infamous for his housing discrimination practices before taped conversations with his mistress would render him persona non grata by the National Basketball Association, which banned him for life and fined him $2.5 million, the maximum allowed by the NBA’s constitution. Conservatives fell silent once it was discovered unequivocally that Sterling was a registered Republican.
And in a remarkable display of bipartisan racist intersectionality, Suey Park, a 23-year-old “hashtag activist”, was the darling of liberal media outlets such as Salon and The New Yorkerfor her #CancelColbert campaign, until it was found that she collaborated with conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, best known for her defense of the internment camps that Japanese families were held in during World War II.
If being called a racist is not a terrifying power–especially in an era of heightened public awareness via social media and overall basic enlightenment–why were the heinous sins of Donald Sterling brought out for a new generation to identify and denounce? If being called racist or accusations of employing them were not things avoided on levels approaching paranoia, why then are Williams and Bashir still unemployed?
In terms of policycraft, it has become quite easy to spot racism from the Right, especially after being given so many gifts of disgusting sentiment over the Obama years. From Rep. Steve King’s reprehensible comments about illegal immigrant drug mules and their “cantaloupe-sized” calf muscles, to Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint’s ridiculous revisionist history of the reasons behind the Civil War, there is much to rightly condemn the Right on. As Chait pointed out in his piece, the Left indeed found Lee Atwater’s “nigger, nigger, nigger” remarks back in 1981 to be a “Rosetta stone” of sorts in seeking to decode conservative motives in lawmaking.
So what would drive a person to believe that despite all the rancorous, very openly racist rhetoric the Right spouts, and all the subtle bigotry found throughout conservative dogma, that it is “completely insane” to believe that Republican politics is at its core an institution specifically designed to destroy minorities?
One answer could be that a view like this still holds to the possibility of actual bipartisanship being missed. If Republican racist absolutism were a real thing, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) would never have gotten together with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont back in January to attempt to revive the Voting Rights Act. Neither would Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a Black liberal and a Black conservative, have ever collaborated on a bill last month that would create paid apprenticeships to help young minorities find a trade. But because no one ever expects actual governance to take place in such a bitterly divided political climate, the sentiment of persistent ethnocentrism becomes the prevailing narrative.
The thing that all people should be striving for is to clearly identify the issues our country faces. Our goal should be to work with those willing to work collaboratively, and shun all who seek to benefit from sheer ethnocentric rage, no matter where it comes from. The racism that has pervaded the Obama era exists without question, and seeing its effects on dialogue and trust in this country has been discouraging at best. But finding solutions–actually moving past conversation mode– to overcome it all is imperative to our nation’s survival and status, both here at home and around the world. We are indeed in the “pangs of a new nation not yet born”, and the last six years has made that evident. But as is the way of all growing pains, they cease, and we emerge both older, wiser, and stronger in the process.
Though I must admit, it’s been amusing to watch your decrepit, freeloading ass roam all across the Nevada landscape, squatting on federal property for over two decades and drawing the most virulent white supremacists out of the bunkers they’ve been streaming Stormfront from. You’ve been declared a hero in the eyes of the mainstream conservative movement, getting the Kochs, the Paul clan, Sean Hannity and the rest of the Fox News sycophants to cover you and your thieving posse with nearly as much non-stop fervor as CNN’s coverage of MH370.
But as you shit-kickers are wont to do, you get comfortable with the people who are like you. Yep, soon as you think you’re in totally friendly company at those daily press conferences, that top button gets loosed, the belt buckle gets pulled up a little bit and you let it all hang out:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
So now you, the deadbeat–the wannabe insurrectionist who’s run up a tab to the tune of $1 million since 1993; who has been in and out of court more than a few times because you felt your “right” to graze your cattle on federal land was more important than preserving an endangered species of tortoise; not only do you believe yourself above the law of the land, but then dare to ask if Black people were better off under slavery? You, Cliven, the mooching welfare whore that sucks up the taxes I pay every year, have the audacity to demand putting us back in chains to serve you people?
Fuck that. And fuck you.
Yeah, you’ve got a lot of Republican friends that have echoed your ethos; Jonathan Capehart and Ta-Nehisi Coates (don’t start) have given wonderful reminders of who they are. But at least your spiritual ancestors, the plantation masters of the antebellum South, owned their property. The acres of fields fertilized by the blood, bones and flesh of my ancestors that amassed $10 Trillion in today’s wealth were legally held property. Hell, if you owned anything yourself, you might have actually been able to turn a decent profit…
According to the Congressional Research Service, Bureau of Land Management fees for federal lands are drastically lower than fees charged by private landowners — $1.35 per animal month-unit (AUM) versus an $8-$23 fee on private land. What’s more, the federal agencies who administer this grazing land “typically spend far more managing their grazing programs than they collect in grazing fees.” The net result is that federal grazing programs are an enormous giveaway to ranchers that carries both direct and opportunity costs for the rest of us.
But then again, Cliven, you might just be on to something. After all, this is sort of the “American Dream” you antiquated mongrels have defended since your kind migrated from the West Indies after running out of land to pillage and slaves to run through. Guess this explains the violent response perfectly, because apparently, no one tells a Southern gentleman what to do, especially the Feds:
When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.
Once we understand the two different definitions of “liberty” at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand…[t]he fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all — the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they’ve defended these “liberties” across the length of their history.
Cliven Bundy, you are hereby exposed. And as the Right begins its mass exodus away from you to avoid being stained by your filth (a bit too late, but nice to watch), I wonder what your ultimate fate will be. I truly hope to see you and your enabling horde brought to justice without incident, but seeing how you all took up arms against this government, it seems you are resigned to a fate much worse.
Whatever the case, just make sure you return that hat…
UPDATE: Turns out Cliven Bundy may need to repent his sins before God in his scofflaw stance against the federal government over these grazing fees. By God, I mean Ronald Reagan; 40th President of the United States, chief deity of conservatism and author of Executive Order #12548, issued February 14, 1986:
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, and in order to provide for establishment of appropriate fees for the grazing of domestic livestock on public rangelands, it is ordered as follows:
Section 1. Determination of Fees. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior are directed to exercise their authority, to the extent permitted by law under the various statutes they administer, to establish fees for domestic livestock grazing on the public rangelands which annually equals the $1.23 base established by the 1966 Western Livestock Grazing Survey multiplied by the result of the Forage Value Index (computed annually from data supplied by the Statistical Reporting Service) added to the Combined Index (Beef Cattle Price Index minus the Prices Paid Index) and divided by 100; provided, that the annual increase or decrease in such fee for any given year shall be limited to not more than plus or minus 25 percent of the previous year’s fee, and provided further, that the fee shall not be less than $1.35 per animal unit month.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”
Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View made an amazing point about the desperate speed with which the Right chooses their heroes, and dumps them just as quickly:
You would think, after worshipping so many false idols, that conservative leaders might temper their enthusiasm for the latest purveyor of right-wing melodrama. As my Bloomberg View colleague James Greiff wrote last week, “There is no grand principle here, just the ill-judgment of a man who has helped himself at the public trough while believing he has a right to pick and choose which laws to obey.”
We have entered territory well beyond the reach of happenstance. It’s no coincidence that the heroic vessels in which conservatives keep pouring their varied and convoluted grievances invariably sink, never to rise again. The culture is moving fast. Changing demographics, globalization, cosmopolitanism all pose threats of one sort or another to conservative complacency. Yet each successive clampdown — against immigrants, minority voting, abortion — yields only a minimal, uneasy respite.
He was the man who some say singlehandedly brought down the military’s policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, placing his entire person in full view of the public. Wearing the Army’s dress blues and the stare of a disciplined infantryman on the cover of The Atlantic, Lt. Dan Choi became the face of a revolution that would allow millions of Americans the opportunity to serve their country without the ostracism that would come from being who they truly were.
His was a brand of courage; the kind of “truth to power” hardly seen anymore save for one-off political speeches and movie scripts. Choi had an ability to capture the attention of the nation, and he used it often, as The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana reported:
For 21 months—between his debut on The Rachel Maddow Show in March 2009 and the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2010—Dan Choi was not just the best-known spokesperson for the movement to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He was its emblem. A West Point graduate, a combat veteran, a fluent Arabic speaker, he was the kind of soldier the military should have been promoting instead of kicking out. In interviews and at press conferences, he was articulate and passionate, charming and funny.
“The issue needed a voice and a face to get the attention of the media, the military, and Washington,” says Nathaniel Frank, a historian at New York University and author of Unfriendly Fire, the pre-eminent account of gays serving under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “Dan Choi had a good understanding of political theater, a passionate attachment to his role as an activist, and a strong sense of righteous anger that he was unwilling to let go of.”
That righteous anger would eventually consume Choi entirely. His melodramatic antics during a federal trial last year over a simple violation of failing to “…obey a lawful order” after he and twelve others handcuffed themselves to the fence surrounding the White House was the denouement of a period in which he began to think of himself as being bigger than the work to which he gave so much. His name now reduced to a punchline after a breakdown in open court,
…Dan wakes up most days with nothing to do. After the sun rouses him from his spot on the couch, where he sleeps under his “affirmation quilt”—fan letters are printed on each square—he takes two capsules of Hydroxycut, a diet pill loaded with caffeine, and Wellbutrin, an antidepressant used to treat bipolar disorder. Sometimes he goes for a long bike ride or works out at the gym in his building. He attends fundraisers and art openings, occasionally in uniform. Now and then, he drives to Fire Island, a gay vacation destination off Long Island. He earns a living by giving speeches at $10,000 a pop, which the Gotham Artists agency arranges for him. He smokes pot—a lot of it, he admits. “I can’t tell the difference,” he says, “between being high and not.”
To understand Dan Choi is to understand Suey Park.
And we may have dodged a bullet.
No one should fear the 23-year-old “hashtag activist”, at which The Nation’s Julia Carrie Wong hints in her headline. Rather, one should fear the erosion of good faith that Park represents, given her collaboration with Michelle Malkin, a notorious Right-winger that wrote a defense of the World War II internment camps that shames this country even now. In seeking to give space to fresh faces eager to “share their own stories”, I loathe the enabling stupidity that many in the so-called progressive media have displayed in not once mentioning this blatant malfeasance, apparently checking basic journalism skills along with their “privilege” at the door. The point Colbert made about how disgusting and abhorrent Dan Snyder’s patronizing of Native Americans with his foundation was almost completely lost, due to this woman’s desire to take a movement and make it all about herself.
Dave Zirin does an amazing job of explaining precisely why failing to focus on Dan Snyder’s deplorable behavior is not an option:
There was the time he sent a public letter to fans stating that the “Red Cloud Athletic Fund helped design the team logo in 1971” only to have it revealed that this was a lie and the Red Cloud Indian School was virulently opposed to the name.
There was the time his minions, including hall of fame coach Joe Gibbs, promoted ESPN columnist Rick Reilly’s article about Reilly’s Native American father-in-law’s love of the name. His Native American father-in-law later said that he not only opposed the name and not only had Reilly misquoted him, but his dear son-in-law had refused to make a correction. There was the time the team aggressivly promoted the endorsement of Chief Dodson, “a full-blooded American Inuit chief” who loved the name and said, “We don’t have a problem with [the name] at all; in fact we’re honored. We’re quite honored…. When we were on the reservation, we would call each other, ‘Hey, what’s up redskin?’ We would nickname it just ‘skins.’” It turned out, as Dave McKenna wrote, Dodson was “not a chief, and probably not an Indian.”
In our conversation, Park admitted that despite the hashtag’s command, she did not want “The Colbert Report” to be cancelled. “I like the show,” she said. Instead, she said, she saw the hashtag as a way to critique white liberals who use forms of racial humor to mock more blatant forms of racism. “Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot,” Park told me. “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”
But hey, all’s fair in starting a “very important Conversation”, right?
In terms of dealing with important political issues, emotional outrage is an addictive, fatalistic disease that evaporates rationality and reason, setting in its place confirmation bias, solipsism, and an inflated view of self. Loss is the mark of nobility; pain is the guide by which one’s worldview is shaped in manners devoid of nuance and substance, and often translates into searing bitterness.
Like Dan Choi before her, Suey Park represents the worst of what can happen when outrage becomes the vector by which one believes fame and fortune is just one moment of offense away. Civil discourse and good faith are of the highest order when seeking to make real change in society.
Without those things, you become just another “brand” taking itself way too seriously.
In this new era of instant celebrity and fame, individualism has taken a turn for the pathological. All it takes nowadays is a Twitter account, some controversial tweets, or a catchy movement to gain notoriety and followers. George Carlin, in his prophetic genius, spoke about this in his 2006 special, “Life Is Worth Losing.”
Carlin was one of the grittiest, most aggressive comedians of all time, who used some of the most over-the-top (and often grotesque) methods to elicit laughs and make the overall point of how American culture embraces the wrong things. In “Back In Town”, Carlin went on for eight full minutes describing an America where Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah were turned into fenced-in prison colonies, housing everything from sex offenders, junkies and violent criminals–and how the country would pay great money to see them kill each other to escape through gates that would open for only seven seconds.
Carlin pissed off everybody. He offended every single modern liberal sensitivity, glorifying crucifixion for crooked bankers and bashed feminists in ways that would make “hashtag activists'” heads explode. He once used every single racial slur known to humanity to explain the importance of context in 1990, and nine years later called the word nigger what it is: “authentic American language.” Much like Stephen Colbert, who dons the caricature of a dimwitted, self-unaware Fox News host, the color of his skin gave Carlin the agency to condemn the Right on their own playing field and was one of liberalism’s greatest champions (views against voting notwithstanding), and never once apologized.
Back then, everybody got the joke.
When Carlin died in 2008, the ability for liberals to process satire as an effective tool against the Right’s onslaught perished with him. On Thursday night, Stephen Colbert used his show to rightly destroy Washington football team owner Dan Snyder’s creation of the Original Americans Foundation, a charity he says is devoted to the improvement of the lives of Native Americans across the country, by a creation of his character’s own: The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. Suey Park, a 23-year-old “activist” that scored acclaim for her #NotYourAsianSidekick on Twitter some time ago, took to the social media platform again to voice her displeasure at Colbert’s use of Asian stereotypes as if he had exposed himself as some hateful enemy of the marginalized.
Except that Park was unequivocally wrong.
For starters, no one was talking about Asians to begin with. Colbert’s ire was targeted specifically at Dan Snyder’s perennial trolling of the media via his refusal to change the name of his team (a task that has become the cause of people like The Nation’s Dave Zirin and MSNBC’s Jamil Smith) despite appeals to his wallet and basic human decency. Snyder outdid himself again in this sense by making Gary L. Edwards CEO, who The Washington Post reported yesterday is connected to a fraudulent million-dollar federal contract involving law enforcement recruiting:
The investigation, outlined in a 2012 inspector general’s report, found that of the 748 applications the organization supplied, none were usable. One applicant was 80 years old. Several were not U.S. citizens. Of the 514 applications reviewed by the inspector general’s office, only 22 were of Indian descent. The inspector general’s office advised that the contract be terminated immediately, and it was. But then the bureau paid Edwards’s group an additional $600,000 as “settlement costs,” meaning it received almost the entire $1 million of the contract.
Secondly, let’s look a little deeper, in terms of demographics. Colbert was brilliant in choosing Asians because right next to Native Americans, Asians are the second smallest population group, according to the Census Bureau. The whole point of Colbert’s skit was that the marginalization of any minority, no matter how small, is both heinous and un-American. Had Park understood this context, she could have saved herself a lot of drama, as well as the co-opting of the #CancelColbert hashtag by Michelle Malkin, of all people. Instead, Park reduced herself to a liability; a caricature of a stereotype the Left has been fighting for years: the humorless, word-policing prude constantly looking for things to be offended by.
Lewis Black said years ago that when one loses their sense of humor, they become dangerously close to everything we criticize others for. And let’s face it: as crazy as this world is, sometimes you just have to laugh. When you take away the ability to find a laugh in things, you lose the last vestiges of what it is to be truly human.
And that is a “privilege” I am not willing to check.