The Failed Northern Strategy

NEW YORK–Imagine, if you will, being painted with a broad brush; marginalized, ridiculed and made fun of for years for being a bunch of backwards-thinking, gun-fellating, Bible-thumping trailer trash, who hate all minorities and religions other than those “Judeo-Christian” values they hold so dear, by granola-crunching, kombucha-drinking hypocrites, with our “safe spaces”, “trigger warnings”, and privileged ability to look for and find racism via “microaggressions”, residing in densely populated, mostly liberal cities never, once having to look at or care about these people, or the things which they’ve lost.

From my own coastal liberal perch in New York City, it’s been difficult as a man of the left to maintain some resolve in the wake of last week’s general election. In an instant, every poll showing Hillary Clinton was upended; all of the “conventional wisdom” espoused by many–myself included–came undone. And the millions of people who cast their votes to elect the first woman president in our nation’s history had their hopes dashed to pieces in the worst possible way, never dreaming the following words would never be uttered: President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Liberalism was defeated not because of the Electoral College being predisposed to racism and giving former slave states a voice in presidential elections, and it damn sure wasn’t just because of the email scandal that many people, including Secretary Clinton herself, believe. Liberalism was defeated due to its arrogance; this “silent majority” was such only because we chose to ignore them and their needs. We wished them good luck, and left them to their own devices; to do otherwise was labeled as being racist, or giving in to the nonsense of “white privilege.” Hillary Clinton–and I say this as one who voted for her–was seen by many to be the worst example of the elitism and exclusionary mindset, now rewarded by a President Trump.

From a publication called The Daily Yonder:

Hillary Clinton stood before a giant gleaming John Deere tractor in Iowa as she rolled out her Future of America’s Rural Economy plan on August 26, 2015. The white paper (pretty much a carbon copy of her 2008 rural plan) garnered some positive press and the Rural for Hillary Twitter feed picked up a few more followers. Then Madame Secretary wiped her hands and walked away from rural America. Most of the effort to woo rural voters was left to surrogates at a couple of debates and forums with Trump representatives on the other side of the stage and a handful of upstate New Yorkers who testified that Clinton paid attention to them as senator and helped push some initiatives that benefitted Empire State agriculture. The candidate herself told people to go to her website to read her position papers. For millions of rural residents without access to high-speed broadband, that is hard to do. On November 8, the Rural for Hillary Twitter page had a total of 783 followers. 783 Twitter peeps? As they say on Monday Night Football, “C’mon man!”

Last year, In These Times, a website devoted to covering rural American life, answered its own question when asking why the Left was ignoring them:

American disinterest in the poverty of its own pastoral lands can be traced across the Atlantic Ocean and back several hundred years to the origins of social sciences in academia. The rise of these disciplines coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the mass migration of peasants from the country into cities. As an effect of these circumstances, the leading theorists of the era—Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber—were primarily concerned with living conditions in cities and industrializing societies, setting the foundation for the metro-centrism that continues to characterize the social sciences.

“In academia, there’s an urban bias throughout all research, not just poverty research. It starts with where these disciplines origins—they came out of the 1800’s—[when] theorists were preoccupied with the movement from a rural sort of feudal society to a modern, industrial society,” Linda Loabo, a professor of rural sociology at Ohio State University, tells Rural America In These Times. “The old was rural and the feudal and the agricultural and the new was the industry and the city.”

And, as always, arrogance is rewarded by defeat. From the Huffington Post:

Several theories have been proffered to explain just what went wrong for the Clinton campaign in an election that virtually everyone expected the Democratic nominee to win. But lost in the discussion is a simple explanation, one that was re-emphasized to HuffPost in interviews with several high-ranking officials and state-based organizers: The Clinton campaign was harmed by its own neglect.

In Michigan alone, a senior battleground state operative told HuffPost that the state party and local officials were running at roughly one-tenth the paid canvasser capacity that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) had when he ran for president in 2004. Desperate for more human capital, the state party and local officials ended up raising $300,000 themselves to pay 500 people to help canvass in the election’s closing weeks. By that point, however, they were operating in the dark. One organizer said that in a precinct in Flint, they were sent to a burned down trailer park. No one had taken it off the list of places to visit because no one had been there until the final weekend. Clinton lost the state by 12,000 votes.

We ignored those “deplorables” at our own peril, and now a man with absolutely no record of public service is now the President-elect of the United States.

And if we keep up like this, we’re going to lose every time.

It’s going to be an interesting four years.


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.


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.


Philip Seymour Hoffman, Genius Lost

You get used to heroin if you’re a native to Baltimore. Even if you’ve never used the drug yourself, the scars of Baltimore’s unmentionable love affair with heroin become gaping eyesores.

You see these scars up and down North Avenue, especially on the eastern end at Gay Street, where throngs of people in various stages of recovery line up to get their methadone at Turning Point clinic. The ones who haven’t made it to recovery yet are in front of Lexington Market, panhandling in mid-nod. Heroin has put people in some of the most shameful positions, even nodding over young children on a bus.  There’s strong chance a family member, an in-law, or even a co-worker is or has been an addict in Baltimore.There are statistics to back up the anecdotes, too; Dan Rodricks wrote today that two years ago, one out of every thirteen people were estimated to be addicted to heroin according to city health officials.

When artists of renown die, it is natural for those who knew of their work to feel a strong sense of loss, and is amplified when they die young. Paul Walker’s death last month hit me in this manner, having been a fan of The Fast and The Furious saga since the first movie. But that Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the greatest actors of the modern era was found dead with a needle in his arm and seventy bags of dope in his apartment Sunday, is not just a tragedy of the highest order–it is the grand theft of a priceless treasure that will never be duplicated.

This one hurts.  I knew of Hoffman’s acting prowess as a lover of movies, and revered him as one of the best villains I had ever seen in Mission: Impossible III and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I remember him vividly in Red Dragon, and was in awe of how his roles in Doubt and Charlie Wilson’s War confirmed him as one of the great masters of his craft. But to know that his end came at the end of a needle–the needle that has erased countless lives and talent here in Baltimore–is truly heartbreaking.

Tom Junod honors Hoffman in a manner that I humbly defer to:

He often played creeps, but he rarely played them creepily. His metier was human loneliness — the terrible uncinematic kind that has very little to do with high-noon heroism and everything to do with everyday empathy — and the necessary curse of human self-knowledge. He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized. He played frauds who knew they were frauds, schemers who knew they were schemers, closeted men who could only groan with frustrated love, heavy breathers dignified by impeccable manners, and angels who could withstand the worst that life could hand out because they seemed to know the worst was just the beginning.

Rest well, Phil.

I Want My Thirty Minutes Back, Lena Dunham

Last night on Twitter I joked about who was going to write the first “think-piece” on the HBO pseudo-comedy, Girls. The first person I thought was going to do so was MSNBC’s Toure’, which I was completely wrong about. In searching for tweets and positive reviews of Girls I thought he had written, I instead found a very interesting story of a fight he had on Twitter back in 2012 with one of the show’s executive producers, Judd Apatow. I’ll explain why later in this piece.

The second person I thought was going to write a “think-piece” on Girls was Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has written pieces first casting faint praise on the show in 2012 and glowingly for the Chicago Tribune a year later. Having never watched a single episode of Girls, I always wondered if all the criticism was overblown, and that there might be something to the show after all, so I decided to break from the Golden Globes and watch Girls’ season premiere.

What ensued was the biggest waste of a half-hour I have ever subjected myself to, at any moment in my 31-and-a-half years on this plane of existence. The show’s vacuity and gross indulgence in the alleged wonder that is Lena Dunham is only eclipsed by the tiresome stages of hipster racist selfishness that emanates from its main characters. This show is over-the-top caricature in almost the exact vein of a Tyler Perry film, even down to the dark tones that pervade the scenes.

I tried to give this show the benefit of the doubt, understanding that a large part of what makes comedy what it is (and what renders most hyperventilating about the offense of what is said in comedy moot) is generalization, and its usage to get a laugh out of the audience. However, the huge secret beyond Girls is that it doesn’t even remotely try to be funny; the show is solely about the privileged bohemian angst of its creator, and if you dare criticize her or anyone else associated with her show, well, something’s wrong with you.

Consider what happened when Toure’ criticized Judd Apatow in the aforementioned Twitter fight. Apatow in receiving negative feedback on how bad This is 40 was went completely ballistic, attacking Toure’ ad hominem about how he was “hard to like” because he never pretended that Santa existed to his kids.

Or, if you like, consider this exchange when Tim Molloy dared ask about Dunham’s (and only Dunham’s) copious amounts of nudity on the show:

Why is Lena Dunham’s character on “Girls” naked so much?

That question made Dunham and her fellow “Girls” executive producers, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, mad at me Thursday during a Television Critics Association panel. Apatow later said my question was sexist, offensive and misogynistic. He asked me to transcribe what I asked and re-read what I asked Dunham, so here it is:

“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”

Dunham’s response was classic narcissism: “Yeah. It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem.” However, Apatow continued to go in on Molloy, denouncing him as offensive and misogynistic, even daring him at one point to show his girlfriend the above question, daring him to “tell him how it goes” afterward. Molloy responded this way:

Actually, my girlfriend has wondered about this, too. Here’s why. “Girls” has more nudity by its lead character than any show, well, ever. But my girlfriend and I don’t understand the reason for it. We’re cool with nudity, and if Dunham wants to be naked, great. I’m not offended by it. I don’t like it or not like it. I just don’t get the artistic reason for it, and want to understand it, because I’m a TV critic.

Girls is atrocious. This show will be here for several weeks, and is guaranteed to be back next season, as HBO has renewed the show. As I write mostly about politics, perhaps the network sees Girls the way Politico views Playbook: a niche brand that serves a select few, but is great at “driving a conversation”, despite its chronic self-obsession.

Whatever. I still want my half-hour back…

The Unfair Rejection of Michael Bloomberg

My wife Jessica, having lived in New York City longer than I have (she had been in the city about two years before I moved there), has always wondered at my immense love of the town we once called home, at times even more than my birthplace of Baltimore, Maryland. She often reminds me of the level of new success I have enjoyed here since moving back nearly four years ago: returning to school, spent a year and a half with the University of Baltimore’s student newspaper; growing in my writing ability, and developing some of the most amazing connections with people here in Baltimore and abroad.

When she asked me after our most recent trip to New York why I wanted to move back there, I told her that to me, New York City is in many respects the world as it should be; an interconnected metropolis full of people from nearly every corner of the world, with vigorous devotion to the arts, to music, and to architecture. Never before in my life had I lived in such a walkable, easily accessible city, or enjoyed food from as many places as I did than when I was there.

So as I watched the scene at the inauguration of the City of New York’s 109th mayor, I was awed at what was possibly the most colorful ceremony in recent memory; a beautiful, seemingly endless cadre of the new faces of the Five Boroughs: the Star-Spangled Banner sung by the Celia Cruz Bronx High School Choir. The swearing in of Leticia James, New York’s first Black woman to hold the office of Public Advocate (or any other citywide office) with Dasani Coates, the young lady whose life was profiled by the New York Times, at her side.

What also had me amazed at that inauguration was how the entire ceremony from top to bottom seemed like a complete repudiation of the work, the legacy, and the record of Michael R. Bloomberg’s twelve years as mayor. Although seemingly inevitable given the 40-point blowout Bill de Blasio won over Republican Joe Lhota, the airing of grievances by Harry Belafonte, Rev. Fred Lucas Jr. and Imam Askia Muhammad were prolific, as if a great weight created by three terms of Bloomberg suddenly dropped off, and prosperity for poor people and people of color could now begin with Bloomberg gone.

The palpability of the frustration is understandable; after all, income inequality in New York is wider than it has ever been. Homelessness has increased, and half of the city’s residents live at or below the poverty line. Hospitals and schools have closed at an alarming rate, and all these things have happened with major successes taking place at the same time. As I and other people have written before, cognitive dissonance will be the order of the day for a very long time when dissecting Bloomberg’s legacy.

However, to dismiss Michael Bloomberg as a completely out-of-touch oligarch with no caring toward the poor is a bit disingenuous. In his article for New York magazine, entitled “Autocrat for the People”, Chris Smith explained it this way:

As Bloomberg leaves office, he can accurately be labeled a visionary. He pursued ambitious, difficult objectives, many of which were unpopular and had short-term political consequences. He pushed New York ahead of the curve on issues, drastically reducing crime and the carbon footprint, making the city a canvas for giant artworks, paying kids for good grades. Bloomberg enlarged the notion of what a city can and should do—partly because he’s a citizen of the world, inspecting commuter trains in Hong Kong and discussing ­greenhouse gases in Rio, partly because innovators and potentates seek him out.

It is important to remember that for every person we choose by way of elections, no one is ever going to get everything they want, even with a potentially transformational mayor like Bill de Blasio, who has already rankled those who wanted Stop-and-Frisk incinerated by selecting Bill Bratton as his head of the NYPD. The New Yorker’s George Packer, author of the prolific book The Unwinding said this today:

Anyone who’s disgusted with the politics and economics of inequality should wish Bill de Blasio well. He made it his theme and rode it to an overwhelming victory, in the process surprising opinionmakers who live on the winning side of the divide with the news that large numbers of other New Yorkers feel left out and discarded. It’s unclear how much the Mayor of New York can do about entrenched economic unfairness, beyond bringing to bear the power of rhetoric. It’s also unclear whether de Blasio is the mayor to do it. New York’s mayors are managers more than policymakers—that’s where they succeed or fail. It’s risky for de Blasio’s tenure to symbolize so much when his power to realize the vision is so limited. I admire him for aiming so high, but it’s like watching a man set out on a tightrope strung between skyscrapers.

So as we put our hopes on a more affordable, more opportunity-laden New York City, let us also give credit where it is due. Bloomberg was great for the city, and there is no reason to believe de Blasio will not be as well. As I stated earlier, time will tell.