There’s No Rational Argument For Keeping Confederate Statues

In light of the renewed debate over the removal of Confederate statues and Baltimore’s recent decision to remove four of its Confederate monuments, a number of very specious arguments have appeared in opposition to the removal of these statues and monuments.

Invariably, anybody with an opinion on this issue, especially those in support of removing any statue or monument, will have come across a slew of different arguments against removal.

With that in mind, it is important to illustrate why these arguments are so wrong, insidious and, ultimately, immoral.

Argument #1: Removing Confederate statues is an erasure of history.

The most common argument in defense of Confederate statues is perhaps the most insidious misrepresentation of the movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy.

Statues and monuments in themselves are not history.

Statues and monuments exists to honor specific individuals and events from history, and are closely related to the values a society claims to uphold.

In the case of Confederate monuments, they came into existence solely to glorify the Lost Cause movement during the height of segregation. These statues and monuments closely mirror a society that valued the oppression of African-Americans.

These are not values that any society that claims to value freedom and equality can remotely rationalize.

This argument intentionally destroys the distinction between honoring history and remembering it.

These monuments belong in museums dedicated to the Civil War — an event that will forever resonate in American history.

It is disingenuous to claim that moving monuments from public display to museums is remotely akin to erasing history.

Nobody is arguing that we should delete the Confederacy from the history books and from history curriculum — just that we should no longer honor them.

Argument #2: We can at least honor the Confederate dead.

Of all arguments against removing Confederate monuments, this one at least has some merit to it. I can certainly understand honoring the Confederate soldiers that died in the Civil War, especially as many did not have a choice not to fight for the Confederacy.

Even so, those soldiers were still enlisted to defend a government fighting in defense of slavery. Continuing to honor those soldiers is still a de facto endorsement of the cause of the Confederacy. You are not going to find many monuments honoring German soldiers that fought for the Third Reich during World War II, even if many of those soldiers did not specifically support the Nazi cause.

Argument #3: What about removing statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington?

Oh, yes, the famous slippery slope argument; so common that the President of the United States made it yesterday in a press conference, thinking it was a genius response. Not only is this argument a blatant enough rhetorical fallacy of false equivalence and whataboutism that it should be entirely discounted but it intentionally makes a mockery of American history.

To be sure, Jefferson and Washington have incredibly complicated historical legacies, especially in regards to owning slaves, but we as a society must reckon with. The argument, though, is especially problematic as it wrongfully makes a direct comparison between the founders of the country and the important leaders of the Confederacy. Washington and Jefferson, despite their many flaws, were integral in the establishment of the United States.

Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and many others do not exist in the same moral universe as Jefferson and Washington. Those men fought for a rogue nation that came into existence specifically in defense of the “peculiar institution of slavery.” Unlike many of the founding fathers, the historical legacies of Confederate politicians and generals are hardly complicated; they defended perhaps the most morally reprehensible economic and political institution in American and world history.

Intentionally muddling American history and making a backward false equivalence for mere rhetorical sleight-of-hand to defend the continued existence of monuments to slavery and the oppression of black people is at best historical endurance and at worst apologia for white supremacy.

Argument #4: ISIS destroyed historical monuments, too.

This argument is too specious and insulting to legitimize by even attempting to debunk. Not only does this wrongly and immorally compare those pushing to remove Confederate statues to perhaps the most sociopathic terrorist group in existence today, it is insulting to those that have suffered in Iraq and Syria under ISIS rule. ISIS has destroyed ruins of ancient civilizations, in addition to destroying countless churches, Shia mosques and other religious symbols as a way to oppress already marginalized religious minorities. Comparing that to taking down monuments that were only built to support the oppressive political project of Jim Crow is downright offensive.

Again, I hate to legitimize an argument so incorrect and morally dubious but one cannot let it slide.

Argument #5: Removing Confederate monuments and statutes will not defeat racism.

No reasonable person will remotely argue that removing these monuments and statues will defeat racism once and for all. That is a complete strawman.

Ironically, many of the people making this argument are probably not doing much themselves to defeat racism and white supremacy.

The truth is the following: if we truly want to build an equitable and just society for individuals of all races, especially African-Americans, we cannot continue to glorify historical individuals that literally fought to oppress and enslave the ancestors of millions of Americans.

Removing these monuments and statues will never be the final answer to ending every form of racism. Nonetheless, that ideal can never be reached as long as those monuments continue to stand.

***

The one question I would like to ask any individual supporting the continued public display of Confederate statues is the following:

Would you support removing Confederate monuments and statues, and replacing them with monuments and statues to abolitionist and civil rights icons?

To me, the answer to such a question would be quite revealing. It would unveil the true motivations of those not wanting to take them down.

If we truly want to advance as a nation, we must put monuments that serve to uphold a societal order that reminds black people of their inferiority where they belong: in museums.

More importantly, it is not enough to simply remove Confederate statues and monuments; it is imperative to replace them with the monuments that honor the heroes of both the abolitionist and the civil rights movement — individuals that fought for the true ideals of this country, and represent the continuing struggle toward freedom, equality and justice.

We must build statues for Nat Turner, John Brown, Harriet Tubman and William Lloyd Garrison.

We must build statues for Medgar Evers, Stokely Carmichael, Fannie Lou Hamer and James Baldwin.

These individuals, among many others, did more to improve the United States than any general or leader of the Confederacy — traitors who sought to destroy the Union.

Communities across the country must begin this work, or people will take matters into their own hands.

To be blunt: I have no opposition to Americans taking down the statues themselves. Mere order is not the most important value for a society — justice is.

Laws against destruction of property do not trump public property that honors the biggest villains of American history.

Those brave citizens that took down the Berlin Wall were surely breaking the law, but none cared. Reuniting a divided nation and divided families took moral precedence over laws that supported order above freedom.

It is a moral imperative: all Confederate statues must come down.

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Charlottesville, Like Trump, Did Not Come Out of Nowhere

When fascism comes to America, it will come carrying tiki torches, calling themselves Proud Boys and yelling about Kekistan.

In light of the gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville that predictably turned into a display right wing violence, thuggery and intimidation that left one counter-protester dead and many others injured, much of the commentariat on cable news and social media immediately insisted that Pres. Trump condemned the events in the strongest terms possible.

While this line of criticism is completely valid, it obscures that not only does the president have no political incentive to condemn violence by his self-proclaimed supporters but that even if Trump did condemn violence he has remained silent on, it would not fundamentally change his political strategy and policies.

In a vacuum, that insistence makes sense; people, especially establishment voices on the center-left and center-right, want the president of the United States to be a voice of moral clarity and guidance. Unfortunately, the current occupant of the White House has never been a voice of moral conviction — not as president, not as a candidate and not once in his 70 years of life.

One statement of condemnation will do nothing to change that.

Of course, the insistence that Donald Trump condemn violence committed extensively in his name paid off as he did offer a statement of condemnation.

Unsurprisingly, that condemnation was wholly insufficient, lacking in moral clarity and reeking of cynical false equivalence.

If anything, the president’s statement should begin to put to bed the strange insistence that an amoral opportunist would have any interest in a wholeheartedly condemning any violent act that does not specifically benefit his political project and aspirations.

It ought to be unequivocally clear at this point that Trump can never be trusted to condemn violence that doesn’t explicitly play into his message nor will any condemnation stem the torrent of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Muslim bigotry only amplified by his administration.

The fact that this insistence continues to have major resonance among conservative and liberal critics of the president reveals the extent to which the discomfort with Trump in the White House reverts back to the hyperventilation of his destruction of “norms” and, especially with conservatives, his uncouth nature.

The elite media’s hopeful obsession with Trump becoming normal can be neatly summed up in a recent New York Times op-ed by Thomas Friedman.

Friedman writes:

“What strikes me most about Trump, though, is how easily he still could become more popular — fast — if he just behaved like a normal leader for a month: if he reached out to Democrats on health care, taxes or infrastructure; stopped insulting every newsperson who writes critically about him; stopped lying; stopped tweeting inanities; and actually apologized for some of his most egregious actions and asked for forgiveness. Americans are a forgiving people.”

This passage presupposes that the American people’s biggest reason for disapproving the president are his tweets and behavior, not his policies, general incompetence and belief that he is above the law.

It also neglects that part of Trump’s insatiable popularity with his base is exactly his breaking of norms, and the exact reason his behavior will never change.

The strange pining among many elites that Trump act like a “normal” politician runs parallel to the notion of Trump as an aberration, instead of the result of dozens of social, economic, cultural and political trends of American life over the past few generations.

The Trump as an aberration narrative, in the eyes of much of the Washington consensus and for many liberals, is understandable since his election took a sledgehammer to a perceived reality of America.

The constant cries of “this is not normal” reflect that narrative at the most basic level.

This brings us back to Charlottesville where many of the same media pundits have decried the events as somehow foreign to America with shrieks of “this is not the country I know.”

Trump and his administration have undoubtably emboldened racism and bigotry to its most visceral levels in years, but it is difficult to claim his political ascendancy was anymore rooted in the politics of racial resentment than Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George HW Bush.

Lest we forget that Nixon gave us the racist project of the war on drugs, Reagan began his 1980 political campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi of all places, and Bush ran perhaps the most racist campaign ad in history.

The only difference between those politicians and Trump is that the racial dog whistles have been traded in for blow horns.

Before I continue, it is important to acknowledge two things:

1. This weekend’s events in Charlottesville were a gathering of white supremacist activists organized to defend the statue of a Confederate icon on the UVA campus and with the expressed goal to intimidate an entire community that ended in a display of violent thuggery and terrorism, resulting in the death of one counter-protester.

The visceral, violent face of white supremacy.

2. This display was the ugliest distillation of a hatred sanctioned by the White House, and the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement for over 50 years.

This did not come out of nowhere, and it does not exist in a vacuum. This is not an aberration but inexorably tethered to this nation’s racist past and present.

This is the direct result of decades of racial resentment inculcated via Fox News and right-wing talk radio.

That the president of the United States, a man that built his political career on white rage, uttered the most unimaginatively pathetic condemnation is thoroughly unsurprising.

It would have been better if he just remained silent.

We already know which side this president stands on white supremacy, so at least his silence would have been more instructive than an insufficient, muddled statement.

***

In the absence of an adequate condemnation from the president, it’s time to move on from the fantasy that if he were to adequately condemn his supporters’ violence it would mark his transformation into a moral leader.

Instead, our collective energy would be better spent applauding and remembering the solidarity displayed by a diverse array of individuals standing up against the scourge of the alt-right and white supremacy.

Tragically, Heather Heyer gave her life fighting for the dignity of people of color, immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community and people with disabilities.

The events in Charlottesville that came to a horrifically violent and ought to be a reminder that white supremacist should not be able to gather without vociferous opposition.

They may have the right to gather but not without merciless disruption by legions of counter-protesters.

They must be challenged whenever possible, for lives are in the balance.

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The NFL’s Existential Crisis Just Got Worse

This is not just a concussion but a symbol of a sport and a cultural institution in crisis. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)

The fall of football and the NFL may slowly be in motion, and its further decline may have just been witnessed in the pages of the New York Times.

Specifically, I am talking about a study published yesterday in the Times analyzing the brains of 111 deceased NFL players.

Most shockingly, the study found that 99 percent of brains studied (110 out of 111) had physical evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The study looked at donated brains of deceased former NFL players from every position, ranging from the ages of 23 to 89. Forty-four of the brains found to have CTE belonged to lineman.

While the NFL has made its share of progress in recognizing and combating the issue of concussions and traumatic brain injuries among former and current players, this study only exacerbates those concerns and speaks to the serious existential crisis it poses to the league and the sport as a whole.

Sure, most followers of the NFL and its relationship to the concussion crisis, are in no need to be further convinced of the severity of concussions and traumatic brain injuries, but it is difficult not to be shocked by the stark reality of CTE as illustrated by the study.

More evidence of the sheer enormity of the problem just continues to pile up, so, in reality, these results ought to be completely unsurprising.

Yet, one has to wonder if this study may ultimately prove to be more consequential than any other previous study or piece of evidence articulating the true extent of football’s concussion predicament.

To me, the most terrifying aspect of this study is that the terrible extent of CTE in the brains of deceased players but the unfortunate realization that despite all the efforts the NFL has made to improve player safety, not much more can be done and soon enough football will see an inevitable, exponential decline.

For many Americans and others that enjoy the sport, that is a reality many would like to wishfully deny, though it must become a bona fide fear for millions of football fans. The unconquerable mountain of evidence of the link between concussions in football and CTE is unlike an existential crisis any sport or major cultural institution has faced.

The impending doom of football and the NFL should not be mourned; it should be accepted as proof athletes and parents value the health of the brain beyond any potential glory on the football field.

Of course, many individuals in the NFL will continue to downplay or outright deny the enormity of the concussion crisis.

Analysts and former players and coaches will undoubtedly decry any further attempt to make the sport safer as the sinister meddling of “politically correct” busybodies trying to destroy a pure and noble American institution.

The TV networks will still market the sport as the go-to entertainment product for millions on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights.

All of that will continue to occur even as football’s existential crisis perpetually lingers in the background.

Despite the incessant denial that football may become a relative afterthought in the American cultural imagination in two or three generations, youth football participation will further decline within the next decade.

Some of the NFL stars of today will die prematurely, and it will be revealed that they suffered from CTE as they slowly withered away due to memory loss, depression, addiction and suicide.

More players will retire early in the prime of their careers.

At some point, the top college players will avoid playing in the NFL altogether. The top high school athletes choose other sports.

Finally, and most crucially, parents all across the country will stop letting their children play.

Soon enough the sport will reach a point of no return, and by the end of the century (likely even earlier) the NFL web best be a niche sport akin to boxing, or at the very worse nonexistent or unrecognisably different.

Football’s existential crisis is real and it will not subside; let us all realize that now and prevent more football players from suffering the terrible fate of CTE.

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The Political Power of Netflix’s ‘Okja’

Netflix has done it again.

Again, by releasing another original production that profoundly reflects our current social, cultural and political moment.

This time it is the original film Okja, directed by Boon Joon-ho.

It tells the tale of the agricultural multinational Mirando Corporation (a wink and a nod reference to Monsanto) that has recently developed a superpig. The company decided to send 26 piglets to farmers around the globe to be raised for 10 years prior to the company deciding which farmers have raised the best superpig. The film focuses on two South Korean farmers — a young girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), and her grandfather — raising the superpig, Okja.

Okja is subsequently chosen as the winner of the competition to be taken to New York City to be shown off by the company. The rest of the film follows Mija’s efforts, along with a ragtag group of animal rights activists, to rescue Okja.

It is fun, dramatic and heartfelt. Most of all, it is politically powerful.

Okja is most politically relevant through its discussion of the morality of factory farming, questions of animal rights and analysis of environmentalism.

Nonetheless, it is at its politically most profound not in its criticisms of factory farming but its smart and radical analysis of corporate culture, activism and direct action, and the nature of capitalism.

With the recent resurgence of socialist, leftist and anti-capitalist sentiment, Okja is a distillation of the increasing disillusionment with capitalism.

Putting a Happy Face on Corporate Neoliberalism

We see it everywhere; corporations playing up their progressive ethics in flashy PR campaigns to mask the behind-the-scenes corruption and immorality of their business practices.

For every cause, there will be some corporation lining up to support it — be it LGBT rights, women’s rights or immigrant rights.

The same is true for the Mirando Corporation.

The company markets its superpigs under the guise of progressive environmental ethics, highlighting that the pigs are non-GMO. CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) further plays up the company’s environmentally-friendly image by outsourcing the raising of the pigs to sustainable farmers around the globe.

As the film reveals, though, this is all just a façade; the pigs are not non-GMO, they are still slaughtered en mass, the company exploits its small, “independent” farmers.

This façade is rationalized by Lucy as she argues that she has remade the company’s image from a corporation criticized for its cruelty to an “enlightened” corporation. She makes reference to Mirando’s past of manufacturing Agent Orange to lionize how “nice” the company has become under her direction.

One real-life parallel to this corporate strategy can be seen prominently in the PR of Goldman Sachs.

Like other Wall Street firms, Goldman makes a conscious effort to remind the public of their commitment to diversity and inclusion, recruiting women, and environmental stewardship.

Committing to those values is obviously all well and good, but, of course, those values don’t obscure that Goldman played a major in the 2008 financial crisis — a financial crisis destroyed the wealth of countless women and people of color.

Goldman has no problem advocating for greater diversity on their corporate board; just don’t forget that this is the same company that Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi described as a “giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

In fact, there is a sick but unsurprising irony of placing a statue of “Wonder Girl” is a symbol to female empowerment on a street that symbolizes the literal extraction of wealth.

But, after all, corporations have no problem parading around their performative progressivism as they engage in in all manner of crimes and exploitation.

The Chaotic Beauty of Civil Disobedience

The civil disobedience and direct action of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) feature prominently in the film.

In the film, Okja is being taken from the company’s headquarters in Seoul to New York City in a truck when the ALF arrive to rescue her.

Okja eventually breaks loose from the Mirando truck and a wild chase ensues three mall between the ALF and the police to capture her. Creatively, the masked anarchists use umbrellas to shield Okja from the police’s tranquilizer darts and, later, throw marbles onto the ground to impede the police.

It is a chaotic scene but also beautiful and inspiring.

The scene reminds us of much of the current chaotic yet beautiful acts of civil disobedience.

The direct action of the ADAPT disability activist organization in the current fight to oppose Trumpcare and defend Medicaid immediately spring to mind.

We have seen the chaos of police pulling people with disabilities out of their wheelchairs for the nonviolent act of occupying their Senator’s empty office.

Powerfully, ADAPT has become the iconic face of the opposition to the Republican health care agenda and Mitch McConnell’s plan to eviscerate Medicaid — a policy that literally threatens the lives of thousands of people with disabilities.

In the case of ADAPT, in addition to Black Lives Matter and other activist movements, we must remind ourselves that activism and civil disobedience can be messy and chaotic but without it progress cannot occur.

The Ruthless Violence of Capitalism

As my own thoughts on capitalism have gradually shifted in recent months, I have come to better understand the violence and ruthlessness that allows capitalism its preeminence.

A system of private ownership of the means of production must necessarily derive its power and legitimacy through violence.

This was true when John D. Rockefeller employed the Pinkertons to shoot down striking miners at Ludlow to the CIA overthrowing the Guatemalan government in 1954 for the expressed purpose of benefiting the United Fruit Company to the recent case of United Airlines dragging a passenger out of his seat.

The same dynamic of capitalism enforcing itself through violence is clearly evident in the film.

Toward the end, the ALF invades the Mirando Corporation’s unveiling of Okja to liberate her. As the group chaotically disrupts the festive proceedings, the company’s CEO, Nancy Mirando, calls in an elite NYPD squad to arrest the ALF members — by any means necessary.

Of course, the militarized police force arrives in seconds to utterly crush the ALF. With terrifying precision force, the police force beats and smashes any activist either in their way or attempting to escape.

The police act as nothing more than paid thugs of the Mirando Corporation, swiftly putting down any action that remotely threatens the company property. Okja, after all, is the property of the company and violence is necessary to protect it.

A situation eerily reminiscent of Pres. Grover Cleveland sending in the National Guard to annihilate the Pullman Strike.

***

Okja is the best film I have seen so far this year.

It is a heartfelt story of the deep, spiritual connection between people and animals. It has a radical political consciousness, acting as a vehicle to examine our social and economic institutions.

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Watching ‘Wonder Woman’ in an Age of Endless War

Recently, I was doing some very basic research (more like reading a Wikipedia article) on World War I. The interest of arose after I recently saw Wonder Woman, where World War I features prominently.

The film’s intersection with the Great War, in addition to numerous recent events, well encapsulates why such research resonated with me.

Personally, I found the film to be a decent to above average example of the superhero genre; sporadic yet exciting action scences, clever yet cheesy one-liners, and a predictable plot.

As I left the theater, though, I continuously ruminated on message it was attempting to impart regarding war.

I came up with two central messages: one problematic and one refreshing.

Upon my initial viewing, the singular message I most took issue with was its imagining of the liberal, humanitarian war between identifiable good and evil sides.

The scene that most powerfully evoked that sentiment was when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) emotionally proclaims: “You can do something or you can do nothing. And I have had enough of doing nothing.” He says this as he decides to take Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to the Western front for the mission to kill the German General Ludendorff and put an end to his manufacture of a terrifying chemical weapon.

This is a not-so-subtle nod to a sentiment that has justified nearly every Western military intervention, and continued intervention, in a foreign nation in my lifetime.

United States military intervention and perpetual military presence in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and, most recently, Syria has been justified by the impervious clarion call of “we must do something!”

Such a motto is, of course, integral to cultivating a more civilized, humanitarian imperialism — even if the results are anything but.

Liberal interventionists and neo-conservatives may feign disagreement on matters of war and foreign policy but fundamentally they view the humanitarian military intervention as a worthwhile pursuit — though the degree of such brutality slightly differs.

Take Iraq over the past 25 years.

During the Clinton years, those noble, liberal interventionists, a brutal sanctions regime that killed upwards of 500,000 Iraqis. That brutality was only increased under Bush, that bumbling neocon, with an invasion that killed 4,000 American soldiers, 1 million Iraqis, further destabilize the region, and unleashed the genocidal, millenarian terror of the Islamic State.

But “we had to do something!” to take on the evil Saddam Hussein.

The realities of an invasion to “liberate” Iraq.
REUTERS/Ali Jasim

Such humanitarian interventionism continued unabated under Obama as he unleashed an army of flying killer robots and a destabilizing intervention in Libya.

This ethic of “civil” military intervention has now completely washed away under Trump’s full-throated support of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, resulting in a man-made famine and cholera epidemic.

That reminds me to bring things back to the film’s premise of the “good” war, which made me especially infuriated given its background of World War I.

Using World War II as background would have made more sense as World War I was anything but a “good” war.

The war was mostly a result of irreconcilable tensions between numerous imperial powers and their complicated web of alliances.

Though the film casts the Germans as the singular evil to be destroyed, the war itself was anything else but a simple good versus evil dichotomy — despite what little I and many others learned about it in history class.

The “War to End All Wars” was a horrific bloodbath where an entire generation of young men were killed and maimed in sacrifice for the desires of imperialists and politicians. It was a fruitless annihilation of 38 million lives only to result in a bloodier round two a generation later.

The scars of “humanitarian” World War I as seen in a French village.

A very noble war indeed.

While I don’t expect a Hollywood movie to be historically accurate, it is an enormous disservice to a war many Americans know little about.

To be fair, there is one place where Wonder Woman partially redeems its political message on war.

It is its criticism of the “Great Man” theory, which views history through the lens of great heroes or villains and their valiant achievements or ferocious evil.

This occurs in the film when Steve tells Diana peace cannot be achieved simply by killing the “evil” General Ludendorff (Danny Houston) in the same way that peace cannot be achieved on Earth simply by killing Ares (David Thewlis), the god of war.

The “Great Man” theory of history is present in many recent wars and military interventions.

If only Bashar Assad would step down, the bloodshed in Syria will stop.

If only Saddam would just give up his weapons of mass destruction, invasion would be avoided.

If only Kim Jong-un were assassinated, North Korea would be less of a nuisance.

If only we defeat ISIS, terrorism will no longer threaten us.

If only we elect a stronger, smarter president, will the world respect us again.

Viewing history as a cosmic contest between the good, strong leader and the sociopathic, barbarous dictator is simple, it is comforting, it makes the world less complicated.

In the midst of Wonder Woman’s ideological crusade of the “good” war, it is refreshing that it provides a reprieve to seeing historical events, especially wars, as mere consequence of individual actions.

***

I am 23. For more than two thirds of my life my country has been at war, and it doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon.

This is because of many reasons, but our collective subscription to the notion of the humanitarian war and the “Great Man” theory are just a few reasons for our state of endless war.

It doesn’t help that our popular culture contributes to the circulation of those ideological viewpoints.

As I contemplated Wonder Woman and its political message, I couldn’t help but realize how thoroughly detached I and many of my peers out to the realities of war.

Other than a few people I vaguely remember from high school, I have no personal connection to anybody currently serving overseas, much less that served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I can’t imagine how much further detached our elite policymakers are from war than even myself.

We have been at war so long it barely registers for most. Unsurprisingly, the war in Afghanistan never came up once during last year’s presidential debates.

This is why I was so struck by a series of editorials in the Wall Street Journal last week; one advocating regime change in North Korea and the other regime change in Iran.

The twisted irony is that nobody that contributed to those editorials, and likely nobody in their families, will ever have to sacrifice life or limb conducting that regime change — regime change which will not be peaceful.

It’s easy to advocate for war when you can read about it with your morning coffee.

It is totally unfathomable for me to envision being a Frenchman during World War I or World War II where I would personally know many people destroyed, physically and spiritually, by total war.

For a film I saw as having its largest political resonance on the question of war, contemplating it in an age of endless war is both fascinating and utterly tragic.

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“Move to the Center, Democrats:” A Response

Credit: Alex Nabaum

Once again, there is yet another postmortem piece in a mainstream publication bemoaning what went wrong for the Democratic Party in 2016 and how it should go about rebuilding itself.

The latest in this series of takes came yet again in the New York Times in an op-ed by Mark Penn, former pollster and advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Andrew Stein, a former New York City politician and Democrat-turned-Trump supporter.

In short, the article is a typical amalgamation of 1990s nostalgia, a mischaracterization of the contemporary political climate, ahistoric nonsense, strawmen, and unconstructive, bad-faith criticisms.

Below, I will run through some of the more problematic claims made in the article. Excerpts from the article will be quoted in bold; my responses will then follow.

“The path back to power for the Democratic Party today, as it was in the 1990s, is to move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left, whose policies and ideas have weakened the party.”

Right away, the authors assume the current political, economic and social environment is roughly equivalent to the 1990s. Second, the party is framed as left-wing instead of center-left. Keep these assumptions in mind as we continue through the article.

“In the early 1990s, the Democrats relied on identity politics, promoted equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity and looked to find a government solution for every problem.”

The identification of “identity politics, promoted equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity and looked to find a government solution for every problem” function as strawmen. First: The authors assume identity politics is exclusive to the progressive wing of the party, and not also present within the Republican Party. It also pushes the idea that interests of racial and ethnic minorities, women and LGBTs were, are and should continue to be unimportant and secondary.

Second: “Promoted equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity and looked to find a government solution for every problem” are complete mischaracterizations of the party’s historical platform, which have been echoed by conservative activists and media for almost 40 years.

“President Bill Clinton moved the party back to the center in 1995 by supporting a balanced budget, welfare reform, a crime bill that called for providing 100,000 new police officers and a step-by-step approach to broadening health care. Mr. Clinton won a resounding re-election victory in 1996 and Democrats were back.”

The authors are correct Bill Clinton pushed the party right with following the 1994 midterm debacle. The policy shift here was mostly for political expediency and a proper understanding of the political environment of the decade. It also fails to mention that Clinton’s reelection effort benefited enormously from the prosperous economy of the 90s. Furthermore, this passage fails to understand the real, negative effects of those policies on actual people.

“But the last few years of the Obama administration and the 2016 primary season once again created a rush to the left. Identity politics, class warfare and big government all made comebacks. Candidates inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and a host of well-funded groups have embraced sharply leftist ideas.”

Again, listing “identity politics, class warfare and big government” are strawmen that today only have resonance among right-wing activists, Republican primary voters, and on Fox News and talk radio.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren pushed the party to the left, though their policies are in line with the traditional Democratic platform articulated by FDR and Lyndon Johnson. They are progressive but by no means “leftist.” Also, the left wing of the party may certainly be well-funded but by individual donations, not th wealthy, corporate donors of the party’s mainstream and the GOP.

“But the results at the voting booth have been anything but positive: Democrats lost over 1,000 legislative seats across the country and control of both houses of Congress during the Obama years.”

There are many reasons why Democrats lost control of Congress and state legislatures during the Obama era, though the party moving to the left is not one of them. Low turnout in 2010 and 2014, the shuddering of Obama’s Organizing for America, uninspiring candidates, the lack of clear policy agenda, partisan redistricting and an energized conservative movement are all much better explanations of those losses.

“Central to the Democrats’ diminishment has been their loss of support among working-class voters, who feel abandoned by the party’s shift away from moderate positions on trade and immigration, from backing police and tough anti-crime measures, from trying to restore manufacturing jobs.”

The first mistake here is cynically associating the working class with conservative, rural white voters. The claim that the party shifted away from moderate positions on trade is just ahistorical. Bill Clinton’s embrace of NAFTA indicates the party’s shift to the center — a shift away from the left that the Trump campaign used to win over working-class voters in the Upper Midwest. I would argue the Democrats’ growing unpopularity with the working-class is more to do with the party’s embrace of elitism and the donor class.

Furthermore, the party’s more progressive position on immigration and criminal justice issues certainly do not resonate with many in the white working class, yet going to the center on those issues would mean abandoning the party’s core values and core supporters.

“They saw the party being mired too often in political correctness, transgender bathroom issues and policies offering more help to undocumented immigrants than to the heartland.”

Again, all of these are standard Republican talking points that mostly hold sway the conservative base, not the country more broadly. The transgender bathroom issue, in particular, has been used as a wedge issue in the fevered scaremongering on the right, not the left. In fact, the issue doomed former North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory in the state’s recent gubernatorial election.

“Today, identity politics and disdain for religion are creating a new social divide that the Democrats need to bridge by embracing free speech on college campuses and respect for Catholics and people of other faiths who feel marginalized within the party.”

What exactly is meant by “disdain for religion?” Support for LGBT equality and a woman’s right to choose? This again presupposes that Democrats should cynically betray their core values on the incredibly small chance that evangelical voters will move away from their natural home in the GOP.

The authors bring up free speech on college campuses as yet another strawman that again only riles up conservative activists. I’m not sure which prominent Democrats are actively against free speech on campus, but oh well.

They need to reject socialist ideas and adopt an agenda of renewed growth, greater protection for American workers and a return to fiscal responsibility.”

When did the Democrats adopt socialist ideas? Again, only in the fevered dreams of Fox News. But “greater protection for workers” sure sounds left-wing to me. Furthermore, fiscal responsibility sounds good in theory but if it means Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are on the chopping block, most Americans would balk at it.

“While the old brick-and-mortar economy is being regulated to death, the new tech-driven economy has been given a pass to flout labor laws with unregulated, low-paying gig jobs, to concentrate vast profits and to decimate retailing.”

Here is where things start to get confusing. They complain about overregulation only to complain about the lack of regulation of the tech industry in the next clause — a critique offered by leftists and progressives against companies like Uber.

“Rural areas have been left without adequate broadband and with shrinking opportunities.”

Again, this is another left-wing criticism of the lack of infrastructure funding and development in rural America. You would be hard-pressed to find centrists as vocally committed to fixing this issue.

“The opioid crisis has spiraled out of control, killing tens of thousands, while pardons have been given to so-called nonviolent drug offenders.”

Not sure how pardoning nonviolent drug offenders connects to the lack of solutions to the opioid crisis. Again, the progressive wing of the party is able to simultaneously oppose the AHCA, which would devastate communities affected by the opioid crisis, and support releasing nonviolent drug offenders from prison.

“Repairing and expanding infrastructure, a classic Democratic issue, has been hijacked by President Trump — meaning Democrats have a chance to reach across the aisle to show they understand that voters like bipartisanship.”

This assumes that left-wing Democrats have abandoned support for massive infrastructure investment. It remains to be seen how much the Trump administration actually pushes for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that isn’t a giveaway to corporations. More likely that was just a silly campaign promise.

“Immigration is also ripe for a solution from the center. Washington should restore the sanctity of America’s borders, create a path to work permits and possibly citizenship, and give up on both building walls and defending sanctuary cities.”

This sounds exactly like the immigration platform Obama campaigned on and attempted to push through. The authors also make a false equivalency between building a border wall and defending sanctuary cities. The former president deported more than 2 million people, and he still did not come close to appeasing the anti-immigration and pro-mass deportation wing of the GOP.

“On trade, Democrats should recognize that they can no longer simultaneously try to be the free-trade party and speak for the working class. They need to support fair trade and oppose manufacturing plants’ moving jobs overseas, by imposing new taxes on such transfers while allowing repatriation of foreign profits.”

Once again, the authors are confused about exactly what a centrist policy is. Here, they put forth an incredibly progressive policy proposal on trade that is supported by Sanders and his supporters. This is a policy that would undoubtedly meet intense opposition from party leaders and the donor class.

“Health care is the one area where the Democrats have gained the upper hand and have a coherent message about protecting the working poor from losing coverage. But the Affordable Care Act needs to be adjusted to control costs better, lest employer-sponsored health care become unaffordable. For now, the Democrats are right to hold the line in defending Obamacare in the face of Republican disunity.”

Interesting that the only place where the authors praise the Democrats is for enacting a conservative policy first articulated by the Heritage Foundation. It briefly mentions some of the limitations of the ACA but neglects to articulate that a Medicare for All platform is what the base wants and is now popular nationally.

“Easily lost in today’s divided politics is that only a little more than a quarter of Americans consider themselves liberals, while almost three in four are self-identified moderates or conservatives.”

This is true but mostly a result of a PR campaign 40 years in the making to turn “liberal” into an insult. They 8lso intentionally forgets to say that individual “progressive” policies are, in fact, quite popular with most Americans.

“Americans are looking for can-do Democrats in the mold of John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton — leaders who rose above partisanship to unify the country, who defended human rights and equality passionately, and who also encouraged economic growth and rising wages.”

Interesting that Roosevelt and Johnson are not praised as “can-do Democrats” when those two presidents achieved many significant policy objectives, and were instrumental figures and pushing the party to the left.

The conclusion of this article entirely functions as a hagiography of the Clinton presidency by entirely misrepresenting the actual realities of the era. “Rose above partisanship to unify the country?” Clinton’s move to the center certainly did not make Republicans any less hostile to him as they pursued a partisan impeachment effort. “Defended human rights and equality passionately?” Certainly not when it came to mass incarceration. “Encouraged economic growth and rising wages?” Perhaps, but not without pursuing an agenda of deregulation and spending cuts.

***

In sum, this article, in addition to its inaccurate reading of past history, makes a crucial error: it misunderstands how elections are won.

Elections are not won by appealing to the center but by mobilizing a party’s base. In winning two elections, Barack Obama understood that by getting the Democratic coalition to turn out.

The Obama campaign succeeded by turning out young people, Latinos, African Americans, women, and white working-class voters in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Republicans have understood the same concept as the party mobilized its conservative base in three of the last four election cycles, gaining majorities in Congress and controlling at least one branch of government in 44 states.

Lurching to the center is one important factor that doomed Hillary Clinton in her 2008 and 2016 campaigns.

Democrats must ignore suggestions to bargain away their core values and supporters in fruitless pursuit of moderate suburbanites.

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Who Can Revive Derrick Rose’s Career?

I  believe Derrick Rose is one of the most tragic figures in American sports history.

The moment the Chicago Bulls won the draft lottery in 2008 with less than a 1 percent chance of winning the top pick, the universe began to align.

Obviously, without hesitation, they drafted the Chicago kid to be the cornerstone of a franchise looking for its first superstar since Jordan.

Instantly, that superstar potential was no fluke as he ran away with the Rookie of the Year honors, and got an All-Star selection in his sophomore season.

Then, the phenom transformed into a veritable franchise-defining player being named the youngest MVP in NBA history.

Then, the reckoning…

In the waning moments of a playoff-opening blowout in April 2012, our heroic figure collapsed in a painful heap; that is where this modern-day rendering of a Greek tragedy begins.

Then came two full years of rehab, re-injury and impatiently watching from the bench in well-tailored suits.

Rose’s health finally returned, though his former dynamism could not be located — if it was there at all.

Finally, the unfortunate case of Derrick Rose’s Bulls career met its tragic culmination in a trade to New York last summer.

Before we continue, I want to apologize to the city of Chicago for retelling this Shakespearean tragedy of sorts. Sorry for bringing back memories of a painful past.

***

Now, for the first time in his career, Derrick Rose will be a free agent.

For me, the most intriguing storyline in free agency is where Derrick Rose signs, and if his career can be meaningfully revived.

By revived, I don’t mean returning to his pre-ACL injury self but to a player with a renewed sense of confidence, a fire in his belly, with something to prove.

I believe Derrick Rose can play productive, meaningful basketball for a playoff contender. The only question: where?

Rose was largely a forgotten man last season. Yes, playing for the New York Knicks will do that to but that shouldn’t negate that he was a fairly productive presence at Madison Square Garden.

Last season, he averaged 18 points per game (his best since 2011-12) and shot 47 percent from the field (his highest since 2009-10).

Rose also had his highest player efficiency rating (PER) and his most offensive win shares since 2011-12.

In short, Derrick Rose had his best season last year since prior to his ACL tear in 2012.

He can still bring value to a winning team as a starting point guard or a backup depending on the situation.

Though the Knicks have indicated their interest in bringing him back long-term, returning to a perennially dysfunctional franchise is not his best option.

Despite a productive season, Rose received his most media attention of the year when he failed to show up for a game and when his whereabouts were unknown for a few hours.

It’s not enough to attribute that episode as a byproduct of being on the Knicks, though it indicated the lack of a stable support structure surrounding him.

Rather, it is in his best interest to consider signing somewhere else, and in the best interest of certain franchises to consider bringing Derrick Rose into the mix.

His best options are: the Spurs or the Timberwolves.

Let’s begin with the first of those options.

There is no more polar opposite NBA franchise of the New York Knicks than San Antonio. The executive-head coach partnership of Greg Popovich and R.C. Buford bring a stability to the franchise that could benefit Rose.

Though Rose would not be slated to start for the Spurs, he could excel as a backup to an injury-prone Tony Parker.

The talent, leadership and selflessness in that locker room could work wonders for a player lacking a supporting cast of that caliber when he was in New York and in his final season in Chicago.

As he proved at certain points the last two seasons, a healthy Derrick Rose can easily average 16 points per game and upwards of five assists.

Going to the Spurs to link up with a championship contender, a Hall of Fame coach, an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard and a stacked roster of wily veterans and exciting young players could be the rejuvenation D-Rose needs at this stage in his career.

Now that signing Chris Paul is off the table for San Antonio, Rose is a perfect second option.

The second option, and perhaps more desired option for Bulls fans, would be to reunite with Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler in Minnesota.

Like Butler, there is no question that Derrick Rose benefited tremendously from playing under Thibodeau. While Thibodeau is not the cause of Rose’s MVP campaign in 2010-11, his system of allowing Rose free reign to run the offense partly transformed his game.

Before Butler became a star and a top two-way player, he emerged as a defensive stalwart under the direction of Thibodeau — a defensive mastermind himself. For both Butler and Rose, it is hard to imagine where their careers would be without the influence of Thibodeau.

Minnesota already had a bright future prior to training for Butler, but now with Butler in tow they have future championship contender written all over.

Not only would the Timberwolves offer a sense of familiarity, their exciting young core of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns is intriguing for a veteran player to help guide.

Rose would be an ideal upgrade over the inconsistent Ricky Rubio, especially for a team ready to contend now and in the near future.

***

It is no secret that I firmly hope Derrick Rose succeed again and help a team win, and that I firmly believe he can do so.

To me, the rise and fall (and hopefully full-fledged revival) of D-Rose resonates in that life has its valleys and we will always fall, but we always keep trudging, we always keep driving to the basket.

The tragic career path of Derrick Rose reminds us that many things in life are fleeting but there is light somewhere in some distant arena, and it sure beats the darkness.

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Bulls Have No Process to Trust

After almost one year of endless rumors and speculation, it’s official: the Bulls have traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and the seventh pick in yesterday’s draft.

This is finally the signal Bulls fans have expected that the team has committed to a major rebuilding project.

The rebuild is now on but three or four seasons of darkness lie on the horizon, patiently waiting for “The Process” to work its magic.

But for the Bulls, with John Paxson and Gar Forman at the helm, there may be no process to trust.

Most Bulls fans always knew trading away Jimmy Butler was going to happen at some point but it nonetheless still hurts to trade away a top 15 player in his prime.

After knee injuries caught up to Derrick Rose, Butler was the face and heart-and-soul of the franchise, a fan favorite and an ideal civic representation of Chicago.

Thanks for everything, Jimmy.

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Now, that is all gone, and finding another Jimmy Butler, arguably the best two-way player in the league, is highly unlikely.

Quickly, let’s recap the Bulls’ end of the bargain:

Kris Dunn is a nice point guard prospect, though he averaged less than four points per game in extremely limited playing time. He has decent potential to become an effective defender and facilitator within an offense, but he does not appear to boast the offensive skill set to become a solid scorer.

Zach Lavine, currently on the shelf with a torn ACL, did average 19 points per game last year, though he is still an incredibly raw offensive talent that remains unlikely to give much on the defensive end and is turnover prone.

Lauri Markkenen, drafted with the seventh pick from Minnesota, is a decent prospect with strong shooting range for a big man, but it will take a number of years for him to become an effective NBA player.

OFFICIAL: The #Bulls acquire Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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The chances of any of these players even come close to matching Jimmy Butler are slim to none.

Certainly not the best way to begin a likely long, arduous rebuilding process.

Given the players the Bulls received from giving away a perennial All-Star, the rebuilding process may be doomed right at the starting line.

***

The process of rebuilding a team is nothing to be taken lightly as it requires great sacrifices and an all-in commitment.

Part of that sacrifice involves conceding a handful of bad seasons and relevance.

An organization cannot choose to undertake a massive rebuild project and simultaneously remain relevant — that is not a false dichotomy; an organization cannot have their cake and eat it too.

The 76ers are the perfect example. The franchise has spent the last five seasons in complete irrelevance, displaying some of the most awful basketball imaginable.

The front office led by GM Sam Hinkie understood that sacrifice, and committed to tanking (a strategy many decry as cynical and exploitative). For now, the strategy has seemed to work as the Sixers have a crop of potential NBA stars in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Markelle Fultz.

The Sixers and their fan base have totally bought in to trusting the process, and the great young talent now assembled in Philadelphia is a testament to that trust.

The organization certainly trust the process but now can the process trust the organization. The central question remains: can the young talent assembled actually perform?

If not, then trusting the process was simply an exercise in magical thinking.

Closer to home for Chicago sports fans are the now successful rebuilding projects of the Cubs and Blackhawks. For a period of time, both teams were utterly irrelevant in their respective sports as the organizations acquired great young talent. Both rebuilding projects worked as the Blackhawks went on to win three Stanley Cups and the Cubs made history.

Nonetheless, those tanking and rebuilding projects were exceptions to the countless rebuilding projects that have fizzled out.

Unfortunately, given the track record of the Bulls front office the prospect of trusting any process appears daunting.

The organization had an opportunity to begin the rebuilding process last off-season. Instead, they opted to sign to aging guards in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. During the season, the team stupidly traded away young talent in Doug McDermott after they gave up so much to acquire him a few years earlier.

Sure, Forman and Paxson have made great decisions in the past like drafting Rose and Butler. But they have made many boneheaded decisions too like drafting Tony Snell and Marcus Teague.

Even hiring Fred Hoiberg, whom the front office assured the fan base was a smart hire, has backfired as he has been unable to put any imprint or influence on the team.

After yesterday’s trade, the front office has indicated the direction they want to go in, but that direction is not characterized by any clear core philosophy.

The Bulls are no longer directionless but they are still identity-less.

As the inconsistent 2016-17 season proved, the front office hopes to commit to the impossible task of rebuilding and staying relevant.

Despite trading Butler, the Bulls are still trapped between rebuilding and relevance. They seemingly want to accept being bad, yet hope to keep the fan base excited.

When training camp begins in September, there’s a good chance the Bulls’ roster will be populated by two aging, injury prone guards, a veteran center in Robin Lopez and an inconsistent three-point shooter (that can’t do anything else) in Nikola Mirotic.

Not exactly the recipe for a team truly committed to a difficult rebuild.

That is part of the reason why trading Butler to Minnesota was so frustrating. The Bulls easily could have traded Butler to the Celtics for their top pick via Brooklyn. If the Bulls simply traded Butler for the Celtics’ first round pick in 2018, they could possibly have two top 10 picks next season.

But, alas, shortsightedness is a defining characteristic of the Forman-Paxson regime.

For the first time since the early 2000s, the Bulls are facing a major rebuilding process.

Unfortunately, there may be no “Process” to put one’s trust.

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Lessons from Georgia Special Election

The first real bellwether election of the Trump era, at least according to the media, finally concluded as Republican Karen Handel dispatched her Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff in the special election for Georgia’s Sixth congressional district. As such, much will be inferred from this result — perhaps too much from a special election overhyped by the media and by big donors.

As much as I prefer not to read too much into one special election, I will do so below. It is time to perform perhaps the most wretched of arts — the political hot take. Yes, the Georgia special election may have been overhyped but it nonetheless portends important lessons.

Republican relief, but trouble lurks

I was always of the belief that a Republican loss in GA-06 would have a much more profound effect on the short-term political landscape than a Republican victory. For that reason, Handel’s victory after most polls had Ossoff ahead should be a relief for Republicans but nothing to truly celebrate. It was, after all, a historically Republican district where former congressman Tom Price cruised to a 23-point victory in 2016 albeit with Trump barely winning it.

Though the result signals to national Republicans that the president’s scandals and low approval rating have yet to negatively affect Republicans in friendly territory, Trump’s unpopularity is still nothing for the GOP to ignore. His current unpopularity (though it could get worse or better in the next 18 months) may still be a liability for Republicans in districts won by Hillary Clinton last November.

Some pundits have interpreted Handel’s victory as a signal to Republicans to assure them to pass the AHCA. That may be true, but the Republicans’ win yesterday does not obscure that their repeal-and-replace bill is still inordinately unpopular. As such, the fate of the bill is highly uncertain. It would be incredibly shortsighted for certain Republican senators to interpret a victory in a House special election as a reason to pass an unpopular bill criticized for its secrecy to the public.

Democrat disappointment, but there is momentum

In the sense that the only result that would have been a game changer was a Ossoff victory, yesterday’s result is a major disappointment for Democrats. It was both a wasted opportunity to send shockwaves across the political landscape and panic through the GOP, and a major waste of treasure. If Democrats are to retake the House in 2018 (the party needs to flip 24 seats currently held by Republicans), GA-06 was one of those Republican-leaning districts Democrats will need to flip next year.

Democrats will invariably speak of the result as a moral victory, though how many more moral victories do Democrats really want to claim going forward? Regardless, yesterday’s resultIllustrates that, for now, national trends point in favor of Democratic success in 2018. Ossoff did, after all, overperform by 17 points over the previous Democrat in 2016. This comes on the heels of Democrats overperforming their 2016 results in the three other special elections by 14 points in Montana, 24 points in Kansas’s Fourth congressional district and 17 points in South Carolina’s Fifth (the completely under the radar special election yesterday which ended up being closer than in Georgia).

Democrats may have some modicum of momentum based on those results, but getting closer is not going to cut it if the party wants to gain power again in 2018.

Democratic Message Post-Trump: Still in Flux

Ossoff’s loss once again brings up the point that Democrats still lack a unified and coherent message as the midterms approach. Ossoff, though he overperformed the average Democrat in the district, was a weak and rather bland candidate. His lack of political experience and his residing outside the district also proved to be severe limitations. Reacting after the election last night, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias argued that Ossoff’s bland, boring campaign message cast the election as “about nothing” which allowed Republicans to attack him on non-substantive issues such as living outside the district and tying him to Kathy Griffin.

The defeat proves that Democrats cannot simply rely on voters’ antipathy toward Trump and his unpopularity for electoral success in Republican-leaning districts. Ossoff and the Democrats trapped themselves in an inarticulate message of economic centrism, anti-Trump sentiment and social progressivism. That message and strategy may work with a more experienced candidate in a less Republican-leaning district, but it proved faulty in GA-06.

It may be time for Democrats to shift their 2018 message to not only tying Republican candidates to a currently unpopular president but also a message that strongly focuses on the unpopular policy agenda of Paul Ryan and the GOP more broadly. Attacking and criticizing the latter on healthcare and the much derided AHCA appears to be where Democrats can potentially find the most success. If the AHCA is to pass through the Senate and become law, that would give Democrats a ton of ammunition for the midterms.

Nonetheless, the party will not see major success in 2018 merely by voicing opposition to a health care bill even Republicans have had difficulty defending. Only can a positive, substantive alternative on health care be able to energize and turn out the base, attract moderates and independence, and flip even a smattering of disaffected Republicans.

Democrats’ Nancy Pelosi Problem

If it is not clear to the Democratic Party that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is a liability, Tuesday’s defeat sure further prove it. A major part of Handel’s campaign strategy was to connect Ossoff to Pelosi — forever a Republican caricature of the elite San Francisco liberal. Once again, Republicans prove that, in Republican districts especially, Pelosi will always be a millstone around the neck of Democrats.

It may just be time for Democrats to seriously a new leader in the House. Even Ossoff himself understood that as he declined to say if he would endorse Pelosi for Democratic House leader.

Now, if the progressive wing of the party were really bold they would consider drafting a primary challenger to Pelosi’s left in a heavily Democratic district.

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Julius Caesar and Limits of Cultural Politics

In Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-right, Angela Nagle writes, “Politics has been hollowed out too much into little other than a purely cultural politics over the last half-century, which the ugly spectacle of the Trump-Hillary race represented the logical conclusion of — politics as culture war.”

This excerpt, from Nagel’s relevant and engrossing new book on the rise of Internet culture wars, strongly stood out to me in light of the recent kerfuffle over a recent adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The adaptation and the ensuing controversy is a perfect analog for the culture wars of the Trump era, and ultimately the limits of cultural politics.

Briefly, New York City’s Public Theater put on an adaptation of the play with Julius Caesar reimagined as a Donald Trump-like figure. Subsequently, there was much anger among Trump supporters over the production’s violent depiction of Caesar’s assassination.

The controversy came to a head after Tuesday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice involving Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. Trump’s son, Don Jr., explicitly blamed the shooting, and the general toxic political climate, on the adaptation.

The controversy further exploded into the national conversation when a recent performance was interrupted by alt-right media personalities Laura Loomer and Jack Posobiec.  After Loomer walked on stage in the middle of the performance and was removed by security, Posobiec began yelling at the crowd. Among other things, he yelled, “you are all [Joseph] Goebbels” and “you are all Nazis.”

Much of the anger aimed at the theater’s adaptation of Julius Caesar was swiftly and mercilessly criticized by many. Some focused on the fact that the play is not a celebration of political violence but a condemnation of assassination, especially given the chaos unleashed upon Rome after Brutus assassinates Caesar. (If the play’s critics knew anything about the play they would be thankful that Trump was depicted as Caesar and not as Brutus or Cassius.) Others criticized the hypocrisy of the play’s critics given the lack of controversy for another recent adaptation depicting Caesar as Obama.

In light of Nagel’s observation that politics is now, first and foremost, about culture, it’s easy to see why this controversy has erupted. For both sides, conservatives and Trump supporters, and liberals and the president’s opponents, this nicely fits into the culture wars of the current era.

For Trump supporters, the Julius Caesar controversy is perfectly emblematic of liberal New York City elites enjoying Shakespeare (a symbol of highfalutin culture) as they take joy in a dramatization of the president’s assassination. Furthermore, this has further allowed the Right to point fingers at liberals for the coarsened rhetoric and for legitimizing violence.

To a lesser extent, for Trump’s opponents, the controversy has played into the cultural narrative of Trump supporters as ignorant and thoroughly unable to tolerate any criticism or satire of the president.

These narratives that have developed around the play well encapsulate Andrew Breitbart’s prescient aphorism that “politics is downstream from culture.”

Of course, politics masquerading as culture and vice versa, is nothing new in American history. Last few decades have seen variations on the theme of politics as culture from the 1960s culture wars of drugs, hippies and Vietnam to the the 1980s and 90s culture wars of feminism, gay rights, abortion and pornography. Now, the theme has continued to the culture wars of transgender rights, Islam, free speech and anything Donald Trump.

Obviously, as Nagel claims, the 2016 election was the high point of purely cultural politics.

Arguably, the election was entirely a competition between cultural narratives. On one side, it was Trump casting Clinton as a corrupt, dishonest, out-of-touch elite unable to truly represent “Real Americans.” On the other side, it was Clinton casting Trump as an unfit, profane, bigoted bully representing the worst aspects of American culture.

This is not to say that policy was not an important part of the election but that the policies of the candidates were inexorably linked to greater cultural narratives.

Take the border wall or promising to reinvest in coal power as ideal examples.

Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was perhaps the most identifiable example of his cultural argument to his supporters.

Even the Clinton campaign illustrated an even larger lack of focus on policy (as this study indicates).

Even as president, policies such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement have been justified in cultural terms. Trump’s quip about being elected to represent “the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris” has been analyzed by some as a gendered slogan, since it harkens back to a working class past of masculine men toiling in the steel mills of a tough, hardscrabble city like Pittsburgh. Paris, by contrast, is imagined as a place inhabited by culturally elite emasculated men enjoying art and reading Sartre.

When politics becomes primarily about culture, we obscure the real causes of last week’s shooting, for example, and instead blame it on cultural factors.

We ignore the social and materialist causes of violence, opting instead to focus exclusively on the culture of coarsened political rhetoric typified by a play.

In the case of James Hodgkinson, it appears that an intense anger highlighted by a history of domestic abuse and easy access to firearms was certainly more to blame than violent rhetoric on the Left or a Julius Caesar adaptation.

What battles over culture, the recent controversy included, neglect is that for most individuals politics is about policy.

Many polls indicate that voters’ most pressing concerns are typically the economy, jobs and health care.

More crucially, according to Chris Hooks:

“That’s what politics is — the way we distribute pain. It’s not a sport or a fraternity or a game. It’s how we determine who gets medication and who dies young, who learns in a class of twenty kids and who learns in a class of thirty.”

Even the most divisive issues of the culture wars, LGBT+ rights and abortion, are ultimately at their core about economics and public health.

We can see the negative implications of an exclusively cultural politics not only in the last presidential election but also in the campaign for the special election for Georgia’s Sixth congressional district.

The Republican campaign has focused much of its energy on painting Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff as an out-of-touch West Coast liberal, in league with violent leftists, and a terrorist sympathizer.

Of course, what else could they really run on when the AHCA is disapproved of by 75 percent of voters in the district and 50 percent of Republicans? That does not take into account the general unpopularity of the Republican healthcare proposal and Trump himself across the country.

Given those factors and that the Republican policy agenda does not boast wide popularity nationally, a conservative cultural politics may be the only way for the party to have any success in the Trump era.

For Democrats and the Left, the limits of cultural politics hold important considerations, also. Too often, cultural politics has served as a vehicle to shift the Overton window rightward. Case in point: the overemphasis of the conservatism of the electorate on gun control, immigration and abortion.

The problem for Democrats is not the unpopular of their agenda but what they represent culturally for many voters. The party is cast as run by wealthy, educated cultural elites concentrated in coastal urban areas — though certainly not without reason.

Democrats can only rebuild a broken party via an understanding of their negative cultural representation among a wide swath of Americans, and to understand the limitations of politics as culture.

That is part of what made the success of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK such a rousing phenomenon. He successfully shifted the conversation away from politics as culture and toward politics as primarily about one’s relationship to the material conditions that affect one’s livelihood. No wonder his success is such a watershed moment for the ascendancy for a policy-based, materialist left-wing politics.

The fact of the matter is that since culture is strongly connected to values, and values are strongly connected to politics, cultural politics will always be a force. Art is simply a distillation of societal and cultural values, and a battlefield of debates over them.

Nonetheless, an exclusive rendering of politics as culture has its set of limitations — limitations that must be taken into account.

***

Before I conclude, all the indignation surrounding this adaptation of a classic illustrates why it is important to read and understand Shakespeare — even today. If anything proved the need for liberal arts and the humanities, it is the proud and full-throated ignorance of Shakespeare’s message in the play.

Plus, how can you not see the irony of so-called defenders of Western culture and civilization trashing a crown jewel of Western literature in favor of shilling for their “Caesar.”

The fault, dear readers, is not in our stars but in ourselves at our inability to properly heed Shakespeare’s warnings from nearly 400 years ago.

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In Praise of the Warriors-Cavaliers Rivalry

For the past three seasons, the trilogy of NBA Finals matchups between Golden State and Cleveland have been full of indelible moments and unforgettable storylines. One of those indelible moments could be found in the ecstatic and chaotic aftermath in the clinching moments of the Warriors’ second NBA title in three years and the final game at Oracle Arena.

Fresh off winning his first championship, Kevin Durant embraced his mother Wanda on the court in the center of a raucous celebration. It was a powerful, emotional moment between a mother and son who have remained close through the immense trials and tribulations of his NBA career. If for just a few brief, fleeting moments a torrent pride, joyful excitement and relief flowed through the embrace. It was a far cry from the embrace with his mom five years earlier after KD broke down in tears after a Finals defeat to the Miami Heat.

That is just one of the top indelible moments from a rivalry that is left an imprint on the American cultural and sporting consciousness, and has rapidly become one of the most memorable rivalries in NBA history.

The NBA has always been a league that measures its eras and epochs by the teams that have dominated the sport. 1950s and 60s defined by Russell’s Celtics and West’s Lakers.  The 80s by the Showtime Lakers and Bird’s Celtics. The 90s by the Bulls and his Airness. The 2000s by Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers and Duncan’s Spurs. And, now, the 2010s by LeBron and the Cavaliers and Curry’s (and now Durant’s) Warriors.

The only exception is the 70s, a rare decade of parity for NBA standards, with eight different champions. The 1970s NBA is not without its stars and memorable moments, though it is without a single identifiable dominant or dynastic squad.

Of course, the NFL is the only other American sports league where each decade can be associated with a specific team.

Baseball and the MLB differ from this dynamic in that certain eras are associated more with league-wide trends than with dominant franchises. For example, the 90s and early 2000s can be termed the “Steroid Era” and the early 20th century the Dead Ball Era. Sure, certain eras can be associated with dominant squads such as the Yankees from late 20s to the early 60s and again in the late 90s. Still, I would argue eras in the sport are not as closely tied to the teams that dominated.

As such, every area in NBA history immediately springs up a slew of images and moments.

1980s: Magic’s baby hook, Bird’s steal, Rambis’ clothesline

1990s: Paxson’s dagger in Phoenix, Jordan’s shrug, The Flu Game, Kerr’s shot

Similarly, the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry has boasted its share of moments that will still be remembered 30 years from now.

2015: LeBron carrying a beaten and battered Cavs team, attempting to bring a championship to Cleveland. The Warriors bringing an NBA title back to the Bay Area for the first time in 40 years.

2016: LeBron finally bringing a title back to Cleveland, coming back from a 3-1 deficit. Green’s Game 5 suspension. Kyrie’s clutch shot in Game 7. The barrage of “Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” memes. LeBron’s tears of happiness.

2017: Golden State avenging 2016’s debacle. KD getting his first ring. LeBron averaging a triple-double.

Each of these moments and storyline, some more than others, have become seared in the collective memory of this generation of NBA fans, and in the process become cultural touchstones beyond basketball and into the American cultural landscape.

It may not seem so now, but once we have the benefit of hindsight this rivalry over the past three years will swiftly vault itself into the pantheon of great basketball and sporting rivalries.

To this day, NBA fans there to experience the rivalries and dominant teams of the past still speak of them in reverential tones. That is what the league has always prided itself upon: a mythic ethos of titanic squads facing off in battle and the heroic journeys of its most treasured stars.

To connect things back to baseball, that sport, for nearly the past decade, has mostly lacked a identifiable dominant team in an identifiable superstar. There are stars in the sport today, no question. Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Manny Machado come to mind, but those names are not transcendent cultural phenomenons in the same way as LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The most recent crop of MLB stars that one could identify as transcending beyond the sport to the wider popular culture were David Ortiz and Derek Jeter.

There hasn’t been a rivalry in baseball that can match the Warriors-Cavs since the Yankees and Red Sox circa 2003 and 2004. Furthermore, with a few exceptions can the layperson name one World Series in the past 10 years that has boasted one moment more indelible than the past three NBA finals?

In fact, that is what made the 2016 Fall Classic between the Cubs and Indians so memorable and so widely viewed. It is nearly impossible to have a more intriguing storyline than two classic Midwestern city franchises fighting in a seven-game series both gunning to make history; one winning its first championship in over a century and the other needing to wait at least one more year.

A transcendent cultural moment, indeed.

***

Many NBA fans to love to complain about the supposed lack of parity and competitive balance in the league. In the abstract, it is true that the NBA does not have the parity of other sports leagues and that increasing competitive balance would be beneficial — though that ignores a few facts.

First, at the current moment, the NBA is very likely at its historical apex in terms of the overall talent level, its popularity and its cultural significance around the globe.

Second, as illustrated earlier, the NBA has always been elite dominated by a small number of franchises at different times throughout its history.

Lastly, over the past three seasons, would anyone really have want to seen any other NBA Finals matchup? I highly doubt it.

What NBA and sports fans in general are most attracted to are the best of the best matching up and the narratives those matchups bring.

No other NBA finals over the past three years could have done for those two things of sports fans crave most, and, for that, the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry has been a massive boon to the NBA.

No wonder the last three Finals have gotten the best TV ratings since between 1996-1998.

What else would the average NBA fan rather want than a fourth consecutive finals matchup between the two?

Luckily, odds are that we get that once again in 2018.

Wells, really, could make it? Maybe the Spurs if they Chris Paul. Maybe the Celtics if they trade for Jimmy Butler or sign Gordon Hayward. Even then, I wouldn’t count on any other Finals matchup.

With that, I say to the Warriors and Cavaliers, let’s bring it on next season.

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4 Storylines to Follow in UK Election

Thursday, 8 June promises to be a wild political day in two nations: US and the UK.

The American political scene will be focused on the testimony of James Comey before the Senate, and its ramifications on the future and the survival of the Trump presidency.

Over in the UK, the political events of the day are likely even more consequential as the balance of power in Parliament and potentially a new Prime Minister lay in the balance. The UK general election will also have major implications for the future of Britain’s relationship to Europe post-Brexit. In addition to those things, the importance of the selection spreads beyond British politics.

In that vein, here are four important trends to follow in the UK election:

1. Can a “New” Labour Pull a Shocking Upset?

When Prime Minister Theresa May surprised the British political establishment in April by calling a snap election, the assumed motivation was for her government to gain a larger mandate. More cynically, the snap election was called more likely because the PM sought to take advantage of an inordinately weak Labour Party. At the time, the Tories (Conservatives) were ahead by nearly 20 points in the polls and assumed Labour and its left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn would go gentle into the night.

Except right when the end appeared near, Corbyn and Labour released their party platform. Since that moment early in May, Labour has closed the gap to seven points. Running on a platform that emphasizes increased spending on infrastructure, the NHS, and social welfare and curbing cuts to education, Corbyn has gained popularity at the expense of the Conservatives and their largely unpopular platform. The difference between the platforms was most evident during a controversy over the so-called “dementia tax.” This involved major outcry over a plank in the Conservative platform to make the elderly pay more in social care. Eventually, the party deleted it from the platform.

Since Corbyn took over the reins of Labour in September 2015 the party has seen a tremendous shift from the earlier neoliberal establishment of the New Labour movement under former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The party is now on the verge of being totally remade in a much more radical and left-wing direction.

Now, will that transformation be enough to capture a shocking electoral upset? It remains unlikely. According to recent forecasts, the Conservatives are expected to expand their majority in parliament. The most likely positive outcome for Labour is the potential prospect of a hung parliament where no party boasts a majority. In that case, the Labour would have a prime opportunity to form a coalition government with the SNP (Scottish National Party) and the Liberal Democrats.

2. Politics of Brexit

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union last year is unequivocally one of the most significant events in the recent history of the country. As such, its effects on the nation’s political scene cannot be overstated. It is also the defining issue of the election campaign, especially since the election was called for the primary reason of giving the government a stronger mandate prior to negotiating the terms exit with the EU.

Now that Labour have withdrawn any commitment to roll back Brexit, the election is between two competing visions of the post-EU UK. On one end, the Tories have campaigned on a hard Brexit emphasized by this section the party’s platform: “The principle, however, is clear: the days of Britain making vast annual contributions to the European Union will end.” This echoes that under Conservative leadership the UK will maintain a distant relationship from Europe.

On the other end, the Labour position on Brexit is fundamentally different as it calls for a deal that prioritizes a close relationship with Europe and one that emphasizes strong protections for workers and the environment. Essentially, Labour is pushing for a post-EU future in line with their principles under Corbyn.

The debate between the parties ahead of the election is now not about the question of staying in Europe or not but for the long-term future of a nation entering a new era. We shall see which vision wins out.

3. The Terrorism Factor

Since March, the UK has been wracked by three terrorist attacks. Because two of those three incidents happened within weeks of the June 8 election, they invariably carry tremendous political weight — whether we want to politicize terrorist acts or not. The conventional wisdom is that terrorist attacks politically benefit center-right or right-wing parties.

Yet, this election may be a test on that theory since the three attacks occurred under the leadership of May and the Conservatives both whom have campaigned as the leaders to trust to stop terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of the recent attack on London Bridge, it was Corbyn who challenged the PM’s record on terrorism and her policies as lacking in effective counterterrorism measures. When May served as the Home Secretary for six years, she was responsible for major cuts in staffing and funding to local police departments.

Instead, Corbyn positioned himself as a strong candidate on terrorism, emphasizing Labour’s plan to more adequately staff and fund police to fight terrorism. In a recent speech, he also focused on the UK foreign policy’s role in creating terrorism as he promised to reevaluate Britain’s relationship to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations — nations he criticized for their history of supporting terrorist groups materially and ideologically.

How Corbyn’s new campaign strategy in regards to terrorism will benefit Labour remains to be seen. His lack of emphasis on curtailing immigration as a counterterrorism strategy, in addition to his own past where he has been smeared as an IRA sympathizer and for calling Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends” is unlikely to bring older, more conservative voters to his side.

4. The Surge in Left-wing Populism

By now, everyone has heard about the rise of right-wing populism around the globe. Maybe a bit too much, though certainly not surprising given its triumphs in the United States. Yet, the recent trend is for populist, right-wing parties to underperform expectations. Even in the US has the so-called surge in right-wing populism been shown to be largely a mirage as Trump has governed in a manner in line with Republican orthodoxy — albeit as such policies have been framed in a populist way.

Now, given Labour’s surprising rise in the polls and that the UK election is now up in the air more than ever before, it is time to start paying attention to the potential rise in left-wing populism. Americans should not be surprised by this trend as it was shown to be popular with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary. Despite being portrayed in much of British media as a wide-eyed radical whose policies are mere fantasy, Corbyn has further proven the staying power of this political trend on both sides of the Atlantic. Highlighted by a popular populist, left-wing platform, Labour is illustrating left-wing populism’s political power with voting blocs such as young people and the traditional working-class base of the party.

The double-edged success of the Labour platform and the burgeoning power of left-wing populism portends trends that the Democratic Party should wisely take into account. It is crucial for the Democratic Party and the left more generally the US to emphasize the importance of a popular platform, especially one that strongly contrasts with the Republican platform. It is equally important that the party take steps to rebuild itself with its tradition support base of working-class voters in the Midwest.

Much of Trump’s electoral success with those traditional Democratic voters in the Midwest was in some ways a result of a platform, or at least a campaign, that emphasized renegotiating trade deals and spending more on infrastructure. As the Democratic Party hopes to use the anti-Trump energy to propel itself to success in 2018 and ultimately 2020, it must take a page out of the Corbyn playbook — even if Labour does not win.

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