Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and the Inversion of Liberalism

Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine. A Bernie Sanders supporter, he did a lot of work getting the word — and the vote — out for Sanders’ presidential campaign in his neighborhood. Our work schedules don’t afford us the opportunity to see each other regularly, but we run into each other fairly often in Astoria, Queens.

On one occasion, we met up at a coffee shop on Steinway Street, where he was doing some work. Our conversations always somehow end up going into politics, but this time, we started getting into the differences in thought between liberals and conservatives.

He asked me, “What if political reasoning isn’t always in a straight line? What if it’s more more circular between the Left and the Right?”

It’s ironic he asked that question. Over the years, and especially throughout the advent of social media, I’d been asking that question a lot. Having been conservative, I remember well the rigidity of political reasoning, especially while growing up in a decidedly Christian conservative family. For as long as I can remember, political candidates on the national level weren’t so much selected according to their track records of public service, as they were based on how close to the “infallible, immutable” Word of God their beliefs were. During the GOP primary, their guy was Ted Cruz.

But the Left, for all its talk of treasuring diversity of belief, color and creed, has many of their own orthodoxies. From Black Lives Matter*, “cultural appropriation” and the Occupy movement, to the censorship produced by the demand of “safe spaces” free of ideological threats to the all-too-precious belief sets of millenials (and faculty) on the college campus, the “social justice” movement has been the most militant arm of progressivism. Hungry for revolution, and devoid of any real understanding of how the democratic process works, progressives bared their teeth at Hillary Clinton, aping instead for a savior who will give them said revolution by any means necessary.

It’s no wonder, then, that progressives have flocked to Sanders, who has been selling his “revolutionary” schtick this entire election.

But since Sanders isn’t anywhere near Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic candidacy for President, they have nowhere to go. Their purism of ideology won’t let them.

So instead, they flock to….

Donald Trump?

Yeah, this could very well happen. Progressives are willing to throw their support behind a racist, overtly fascist scumbag, and are willing to make cases for doing so based on Trump’s “anti-establishment” brand, a term that means nothing anymore.

From Salon.com:

Trump’s brand of populism has been enabled by the roughly 40-year decline of our middle class that both parties have facilitated through the abandonment of Franklin D. Roosevelt in favor of Ronald Reagan. Trump may not offer policy specifics, but he does not need them because the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, have failed the American people so badly, and the people have caught on.

The piece goes further.

If he were to be elected, it would force our leaders to have a real conversation about these problems that they simply won’t have if the people elect an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton. If anything, the narrative that would emerge from a Clinton presidency would be that change isn’t possible. The parties pick the candidates, and regardless of what their policies are, the people fall in line with them eventually. Power never truly changes hands.

Excusing the fact that Trump, himself, is a corporate interest, he would shake the current system to its core — which needs to happen.

Along with progressives’ obsession with having “conversations”, the above proves what can no longer be denied: progressives want nothing more than ideological purity, and are willing to sell their souls to the Right to get it. As is their precious Bernie, they are only out for themselves, true political and social progress be damned.

And Trump is all but happy to reach out to them:

“You have two candidates in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders which have reignited a group of people who have been disenfranchised and disappointed with the way Washington, D.C. and career politicians have run the country,” Lewandowski said. “Bernie Sanders has large crowds — not as large as Mr. Trump’s, but large crowds — and so there is a level of excitement there for people about his messaging and we will bring those people in.”

Political thought in this country can no longer be perceived as a linear plane of varying degrees of liberalism or conservatism. The further out to the fringes puritopians wander, the more they begin to sound like each other, from the unbending social justice warrior to the equally orthodox Bible-thumping theocrat. And as the general election face-off begins to take shape, it will be interesting to see which side will win.

Prepare yourselves, pragmatics.

It’s gonna be a LONG road to November.

 

Trump’s Rise is America’s Descent

Being the vulgar pragmatist, I often do what I can to see things beyond the typical buzzwords thrown around on social media, especially when talking about race. Too many times, “racism” and “privilege” are used as silencers of dissent in progressive circles, much like “repentance” and “sin nature” are among evangelicals.

What has resulted from this — at least for me, anyway — is the meaning of these words and terms get lost. I’ve said many times that when everything is “racism”, be it a silly “microaggression”, an ill-timed tweet or Facebook post, or even simple disagreement — NOTHING is racism. The “honest conversation” progressives claim they wish to have very quickly turn into long, incoherent diatribes lacking of substance.

For this reason, and for other personal matters I’ll get into in a later piece, I have largely avoided the 2016 election cycle. On the left, it’s been very interesting to watch from a distance as high and holy figures within “the conversation” on race such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, bell hooks, Killer Mike, Shaun King and others have planted their flag with Sen. Bernie Sanders, ironically placing their faith in an old white man with promises of revolution, and the tearing down of the successes of the Obama presidency.

But then, there’s the Right, limping into 2016 already battered and bruised by the backfiring of all their stonewalling of President Obama’s agenda — and the advancement of most of it despite them. Having very little momentum going in their favor, their initial mile-wide, ankle-deep list of candidates seemed tailor-made for a Democratic landslide in the general election.

But with the advent of Donald Trump, they just might have guaranteed a 50-state blowout.

Hopefully.

Your soon-to-be-presumptive Republican nominee for President, ladies and gentlemen:

There are no consequences for protesters anymore in the United States, Donald Trump said Friday during a raucous rally in St. Louis where the interruptions were frequent and the candidate appeared more assertive than ever in denouncing them.

“Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long [to kick them out] is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore,” Trump said during a speech at the Peabody Opera House — around 12 miles from Ferguson, Mo., the site of racially charged mass protests in 2014.

“There used to be consequences. There are none anymore,” Trump said. “These people are so bad for our country. You have no idea folks, you have no idea.”

Donald Trump is without question the most vulgar, unqualified, undignified; horrid candidate to ever run for the office of the President. He is the end result of the Right-wing base’s anger and fear of a changing, more diverse country; not to mention the blinding rage at being thwarted often by a man who upset two hundred-plus years of white males running the country. To the Right’s base, Trump is their savior; one unafraid of “political correctness”, offering up a clear agenda of division and all-out hatred.

And then there’s this.

Trump’s rise in this election season was the one thing to rouse me out of my writing exile. I have to hand it to him for that. But with Black people being assaulted at Trump rallies, and his open courting of such violence, it is truly only a matter of time before something worse happens.

Time to mobilize the vote, folks.

A Return to My Readers

Hello all.

I’m back.

Allow me to first apologize for being absent over a year. So much has changed in the last several months, and along with a change of scenery (and careers), I have spent this last year and change doing something I should have done years ago: finally set to work on myself, and working to improve my own life.

I’ve experienced a little bit of everything since I’ve been away. I’ll go into greater detail in a later post, but suffice it to say I had to have a lot taken away from me–things, friends; even the comfort and safety of a home–in order to finally see the ultimate truth: I have never been the person I thought I was, and had to be cornered by the Universe in order to see that.

My views have evolved in the last several months. I am still as pragmatic as ever, a trait pushed to the limit during my time away. Those who follow me on Twitter may think I have taken a more conservative approach to politics; sorry, but you would be wrong. My heart is still liberal. I still believe in the basic tenets of moderate liberalism, such as the importance of infrastructure. The need of an increased minimum wage (yes, a $15/hour minimum wage is of the utmost importance as the cost of living continues to rise). I believe in the sacrament of voting as the penultimate tool of a free people.

But as it is now expected of Black people to have a view on matters of race, I have become disgusted with a lot of the (for lack of a better term) shit that now passes for journalism. To be Black in America in 2015 is no longer a non-monolithic experience to be treasured and celebrated; according to those considered the new Black “thought leaders”, every African American lives in a state of pent-up, unresolved “Black pain” from centuries of slavery, and living in a world full of “microaggressions” and “white privilege” aimed at preventing justice for our helpless state.

To borrow from the iconic John Ridley, and W. E. B. DuBois, Modern American (fill in the blank) are having the day in the sun they’ve always dreamed of.

This cannot continue.

But, before I get to them, you must know what I’ve seen and experienced in my new scene.

Watch this space.

Liberals, the Right’s Best Voting Base

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.

 

 

Razr MAXX photos 1037

Getting Delores Back

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.

My grandmother and I, circa 2008.

My grandmother and I, circa 2008.

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.

 

Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby Is Not The Dawn of Corporate Theocracy

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 company and 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.

Laurence H. Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard who has been very critical of the liberal response to the Court’s decision, offered this the day of the ruling in Slate:

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.

Like it or not, as Damon Linker writes, democracy was upheld:

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.

Yes, This Is Sabotage.

Dr. Brittney Cooper.

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.

There are many problems with Cooper’s entire premise, but in particular, she speaks as if women and girls are completely and maliciously ignored by this Executive. The White House Council on Women and Girlscreated within the first one hundred days of President Obama’s first term and headed by a woman of color,  Valerie Jarrett–serves to render this attack on the administration as utter nonsense. Furthermore, when confronted as to why she ignored this fact, she basically declared the program doesn’t focus on Black girls enough.

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.

Let this foolishness cease, and quickly.