Category Archives: Weekly Rant

Weekly Rant: Every Republican Must Be Driven out of Office

I say this with a heavy heart. The GOP is done.

In the aftermath of Trump’s racist tweets this past Sunday, his doubling down on them, and his truly frightening incitement of a rally chant of “Send her back!” regarding Ilhan Omar, the fact that so many Republicans across the country have not vociferously condemned should disturb each and every one us. More than that, it demonstrates, once and for all, that the GOP has nothing to contribute to American political life.

Oh sure, most of them gave at least some measure of a mealy-mouthed condemnation of what he said. The ever-spineless Susan Collins said that he should delete the tweet, and sundry others have offered faint condemnation, first of the original tweets and then of his incitement of the chant in North Carolina (for more on the latter, see this Slate article). Others, such as Andy Harris of Maryland (my own congressman, Andy Harris, bent himself into mental pretzels trying to say how Trump’s tweets weren’t racist at all).

Far too many, however, prefaced their remarks with full-throated condemnation of the congresswomen: Susan Collins, for example, said that she fundamentally disagreed with with the four congresswomen. John Kennedy of Louisiana hyperbolically referred to them as the “four horsewomen of the apocalypse.” Most infamous was the truly disgusting and sycophantic Lindsey Graham, who decried the four women as communists who hate America, even though he told Trump that he should challenge them on ideology rather than launching personal attacks.

Grammatically speaking, these comments indicate where the true emphasis of their condemnation lies: with the Squad. From Susan Collins to John Kennedy, all of them imply that it is these four women’s fault that Trump went after them with racist tweets so staggering in their vitriol that it caused even cynical me to take a step backward. This really shouldn’t surprise us, however. The Right has a history of justifying their bad behavior toward people they disagree with by pinning the blame on the opposite party. However, the fact that they would so transparently cave to Trump’s racism, even knowing how dangerous it is to do so, is truly breathtaking.

Given that fact, we must finally admit what has been staring us in the face for some time now: the GOP is an active menace to American society. I know this might seem like an outlandish claim, analogous to their strategy of painting anyone who criticizes the U.S. as somehow not worthy of American citizenship or respect. However, it’s clear that, if the GOP isn’t driven out of elected office, the tide of white nationalism will only continue to grow, emboldened by Trump and by his party’s refusal to condemn him.

Indeed, total annihilation at the ballot box is the only thing that will convince the Republican Party to abandon its tolerance (and often outright support) of racism and white supremacy. If they can’t even muster the wherewithal to join in the House resolution condemning the original tweets (with the exception of four of their number), why should this country’s most vulnerable populations think that they will go to bat for them if things get even worse? One has to wonder if there is anything, literally anything, that today’s Republicans will do in defense of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ from those who would eliminate them.

Let me be clear, I mean that we must do everything in our electoral power to sweep them from office from the top of the ticket to the bottom, from the presidency to the town council, from the U.S. Senate to the local dog-catcher. Because, when you get right down to it, electoral defeat is the only language that these corrupt cowards can understand. After all, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that the reason they don’t challenge Trump is because they’re afraid that they will either lose a primary or general election. Well, then, let’s show them that there are also consequences for standing up for Trump.

This will, of course, require a great deal of heavy lifting on all our parts. The GOP has shown itself ready, willing, and able to suppress the votes of anyone they think will vote against them, and with the Citizens United and gerrymandering cases having already been decided in their favour, they now have almost limitless power to do so.

Nevertheless, there are signs that their power is not infinite. The improbable victory of Doug Jones over Roy Moore in Alabama–largely as a result of the massive turn of black women–revealed that there is hope in this country. It will take a hell of a lot of work, and it will require that we all do our part. We must have important conversations, with those on the right, the left, and the middle, even when it’s difficult, even when causes strains between us and our family and friends. We must all do our part to show them that there is more at stake than tax cuts and deregulation and conservative justices. We need to remind them that, if they care about the most vulnerable people in their life, that they’ve got to put their votes where their feelings are.

I truly believe there is no other way to restore this republic to the health and vitality that it once enjoyed. The GOP has proven, unequivocally, that it doesn’t have either the ability or the willpower to stop our downward slide into fascism and tyranny nor the desire to do so. Their continued enabling of Trump and their willful ignorance of the growing tide of white nationalism, racism, and white supremacy should scare us all. If we, collectively, want to restore even a modicum of health to the body politic, we must show the GOP that this will not be tolerated. They must endure the same sort of period in the wilderness they endured after Nixon’s downfall, but this time it must be true everywhere on the electoral map.

They wanted to “take their country” back? Well, now it’s our turn.

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Weekly Rant: On Queer Progress, Part 2

A few days ago, I wrote about the dangers of downplaying all of the progress that we have made in the fifty year since Stonewall. As I noted, queer people now enjoy unprecedented legal, political, and cultural representation. Companies now court us openly, popular culture shows us ourselves (in some forms, at least), and politicians talk about us on national stages (and one of us is actually running for president!) While this is a mixed blessing, it is nevertheless a sign of just how far we have come, and how powerful the campaign for visibility has been.

Now, I’d like to talk about the flip side of that equation, about just how endangered we are, and how fragile are the gains that we have made. There is no question that now, in the era of men like Donald Trump and Mike Pence, that queer people are in increased danger. For many, it is literally a matter of life and death.

Since I wrote that earlier piece, I’ve come to NYC for the celebration of World Pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. While wandering through the exhibitions of Stonewall at the New York Public Library and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, I was struck by the power of what I was seeing. These were the people who sacrificed a great deal, who fought tooth and nail for their equal rights, and I was sometimes moved to tears at the bravery that it took for them to do so.

What really stood out to me, however, was how very quickly the clock seems to be turning back, how the the hard work that those brave people put in is being jettisoned. For make no mistake, it is as bad as you’ve been to believe, if not worse.

We now live in a world where, according to recent polls, people are increasingly willing to express their distaste for queer people. A new Harris poll, for example, showed that even among millennials a startling number of people would be uncomfortable learning that a family member of teacher was LGBTQ. Another recent poll by the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) revealed a staggering number of people were willing to accept that small business owners should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people if doing so was in accordance with their religious beliefs. If we thought that the arc of justice bends inexorably toward justice, and if we thought that we had won the war of public opinion, we were very much mistaken. There is much work that we have to do if we do not want to lose the progress that we have made in terms of public acceptance.

We now live in a world where a tragic number of LGBTQ+ youths seriously consider suicide. What kind of country are we building if so many of our young people no longer consider their lives worth living? How can we live with ourselves, if we know that our queer children see no place for them?

We now live in a world where trans women of color are murdered at a truly alarming rate. The fact that this isn’t cause for outrage, that we are not out in the streets every day demanding justice for these women, says something very depressing about how we, as a collective, devalue their lives. People are dying, and it is incumbent on each and every one of us to not only remember their names, but to fight for justice.

We now live in a world where the Supreme Court of the United States, which granted queer people the right to marry, is in control of the conservatives and where one of them has publicly hinted that he thinks that Obergefell should be overturned. Given the fact that the Trump administration–aided and abetted by Mitch McConnell–has radically reshaped the federal judiciary, and given the unrelenting assault that Republicans across the country have lodged in an attempt to undercut marriage equality (to say nothing of access to reproductive care), it is not hard to imagine a future in which same-sex marriage is once again a state issue. In fact, though it might be a bit alarmist, it’s not hard to imagine a resurgent far-right movement attempting to codify their anti-LGBTQ+ animus in law.

So, what’s to be done?

2020 is hurtling toward us like a freight train. If all of us–old and young, queer and straight, moderate and radical–join together to cast out this crop of Republicans who have done so much to turn back the clock. For make no mistake. If Donald Trump wins again in 2020, and if the Republicans maintain their control of the Senate (to say nothing of state legislatures and governorships and the House), we could very well see the complete and total unraveling of everything that we have worked so hard to gain. And if you are foolish enough to think that things can’t get any worse, let me assure you that they most definitely can. When Trumpers scream “Make America Great Again!” they mean nothing less than that they want to see us shoved in the closet. Or, in the darkest scenarios, obliterated entirely.

Fifty years after Stonewall, we have much to be proud of, but there is much that we have yet to do. The most vulnerable among us are daily battered by the awareness that the state and our culture are gradually turning against them, and it is up to those of us who occupy positions of privilege to continue speaking out on behalf of those who do not have that privilege.

However, as I stood outside the Stonewall Inn tonight, on the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous event, I was overcome with feelings: of hope, of joy, and of fierce pride in what we’ve done and what we can do. These are dark days, and we shouldn’t hide from that, but we can bring light back into the world. We must always remember that we are powerful, and we can do anything.

Weekly Rant: On Queer Progress

Look, queers, we need to have a talk.

When Taylor Swift’s new music video dropped, I only heard about it tangentially at first, mostly because I’m not a huge fan of her pop music (I know, I know, I’m a monster). However, then I watched it, and I found myself caught up in its utopian delights, with its queer stars, its addictive rhythm, and its vivid colors. And, of course, there was the note at the end encouraging viewers to petition the Senate to pass pro-LGBTQ+ legislation.

There were, of course, the explosion of think pieces taking down Swift for any one of the following: appropriation, shallowness, false pretenses, etc., etc., etc. For many, it was far too simplistic, and to see it as some sort of mark of progress for queer people–or, for that matter, to celebrate Swift’s embrace of her queer fandom. To many, it was just another way that popular culture had appropriated and misused queer identity.

To my mind, the logic underpinning these critiques is flawed for two reasons: one, it’s a music video. By a pop star. OBVIOUSLY it isn’t going to be some masterful polemic. Two, and more importantly, it’s followed by a call to political action. While, of course, it’s unclear just how effective that might be, it seems to me that Swift deserves at least a little bit of credit for encouraging her listener’s to become more politically engaged (considering how young those listeners are, and how many of them there are, this seems to me to be very important).

This takedown of Swift is, of course, part of a broader trend within certain circles of queer left activism that I find troubling for both philosophical and political reasons. There are some who find the recent inclusion of queer people into capitalism and the military (as well as other facets of mainstream progress) a problem because it buys into the system rather than overthrows it (to be replaced with…IDK. Nor do I know how, exactly, such an overthrow would take place).

However valid those criticisms are, to my mind they obscure the progress that has been made and how meaningful that progress is, especially for young queer people. I think it’s a good thing that, in some places, the police are actively embracing the queer community (I, for one, would rather have them on our side than against us). And sure, one can be cynical about the ways in which corporations are now cashing in on Pride Month, but again, I would much rather have them in our corner than otherwise (I also love rainbow swag, but I digress). These things are cultural capital, and it matters that we’ve accrued them.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a lot of room for reform in the world of policing, and I am not by any stretch of the imagination a military apologist. However, I am not in favor of abolishing the police, nor do I think we gain much by relentlessly vilifying them even when they are doing the things that they are supposed to be doing and acting in good faith. To do so, I would argue, de-incentivizes such groups from helping us when we need it most. Why should they feel the motivation to help us in our times of need when we are so intent on demonizing them even when they don’t deserve it?

I would argue that it is more important now than ever to make sure that those who have power (both real and symbolic) understand and embrace our struggles. Every victory we win makes it easier to continue advocating for the bigger goals that we have. The more the mainstream grows comfortable with various aspects of queer identity–even if that’s just seeing rainbows in a store window–the safer and better our lives become.

Nor is this take-down phenomenon limited to the specifically queer left. We have seen time and time again how politicians who, after deep reflection and after processing input from their constituents, have changed their stance on issues only to be reprimanded for doing so. Hillary Clinton Barack Obama, Joe Biden…all of them changed their tune on LGBTQ+ issues for the better, and they were often criticized for doing so. Because, of course, in this hyper-partisan, puritanical and deeply, pathologically cynical age, anything that smacks of flip-flopping or political expediency must in fact be a sign of some inner moral turpitude and is grounds for expulsion from the herd.

Again, this begs the question: why should we expect our elected representatives to change their positions based on our wishes if, when they do, we then reprimand them for doing the exact thing we supposedly wanted them to do? Obviously, we must continue to hold them accountable, to remind them who it is that they serve, but it also bears repeating that we definitely hurt our chances of politicians taking our needs seriously if we insist on scourging them even when they do the things that we ask them to do. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how anyone thinks that this is a winning strategy.

I suppose the takeaway from all of this is that, as few who know me will be surprised to learn, I’m a radical in philosophy but a moderate in practice. That’s because I accept the reality that, whether I like it or not (and I don’t), there are a myriad of people in this vast country whose views about these issues don’t align directly with my own. Having come to that realization some time ago, I now recognize that, if we really want progressive policies to move ahead in this country, we have got to learn how to talk to people who don’t agree with us. We must remember that, for many people, marriage is fulfilling. For many people, serving in the military is a means of financial survival or a genuine act of patriotism (or both). For many people, seeing Pride merchandise is a reminder of just how far we’ve come.

If I could go back in time to a scared 13-year-old T.J., who scoured the world of popular culture for signs of queer existence, who despaired of politicians ever openly declaring their support for LGBTQ+ (let alone seeing an openly-gay presidential candidate!), who wanted to know that it was okay to be who he was, I’d tell him to that yes, it does indeed get better.

I hope that young queer people coming of age today realize how fortunate they are, and I hope that the world continues its march toward progress and equality.

Weekly Rant: On Being a #BernieNo: 5 Theses

Well, I was going to write my new blog post on Kamala Harris’s new book but, since Bernie announced his candidacy today, I decided I’ll go with a rant instead. So, allow me to make it clear why I’m a #BernieNo (as opposed to the obnoxious and toxic Bernie Bros).

1.) Bernie is an ineffective legislator. Despite his many years serving in the United States Senate, he has achieved remarkably little. It’s really rather staggering when you think about it. What’s more concerning for his prospects as a presidential candidate, to my mind, is that this doesn’t bode well for his ability to craft any sort of legislation that has a chance of making it through Congress. Furthermore, it’s a well-attested fact that Bernie seemed unable (or unwilling) to forge alliances with his fellow legislators (Barney Frank was apparently not a fan).

3.) Bernie is an egomaniac. There, I said it. Bernie seems to be under the impression that he is the only one who can rescue the country from its myriad ills. It’s pretty staggering that people still make the claim that Hillary felt she was entitled to the nomination, even though she won the popular vote by quite a large margin and even though Sanders still seems to operate under the assumption that his assumption of the Democratic crown is only his due. This despite the fact that he has done very little for the party whose nomination he seeks, which leads me to…

4.) Bernie isn’t a Democrat. To my mind, it takes a particularly egregious sense of self to believe that, as an stubborn Independent, you have the right to come in and take over a party you have done literally nothing to help. In fact, Bernie is well-known for his contempt of the Democratic Party and its politicians, frequently painting them as just as bad as Republicans. If you want to be a part of the Democratic Party, then fine, our door is wide open. However, if you’re only going to be a Democrat when it suits you, then I am not here for it.

5.) Bernie is disingenuous. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Sanders referred to almost anyone who opposed him as “The Establishment.” The Human Rights Campaign (who advocate for the LGBTQ+ community) was the Establishment. Planned Parenthood (which presses for safe, affordable abortion) was the Establishment. And why? Because they supported his opponent. And the real kicker? Bernie Sanders, a United States Senator, IS PART OF THE ESTABLISHMENT. His effective weaponization of this empty term is one of his most grievous offenses, as was his grouchy (and, to put it mildly), lukewarm concession to Clinton in 2016.

6.) Bernie doesn’t care about black people. Or queer people. Or women. Bernie, like so many Marxist bros that I had the displeasure of encountering in graduate school. Like those men, Sanders sees things only through the prism of class struggle; anything else is secondary. One would think that, given the ways in which intersectionality has become part of the everyday lexicon of Americans since 2016, Bernie would adjust his language accordingly, but he continues to cling to the belief that nothing matters but economic justice. Fix the rigged system, he claims, and prosperity will inevitably follow. More perniciously, he continues to act as if one’s other social identities don’t matter (and are certainly not worth organizing politics around) and to excuse the white racists who he presumably sees as part of his base.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If, heaven forfend, Bernie should lock down the Democratic nomination, I will assuredly vote for him in the general. And I will do so without an ounce of reservation, and I might even be able to muster up the sort of excitement that I now feel for Kamala Harris. I recognize that, much as I dislike him, he is miles and miles better than Trump.

For make no mistake, we are in the midst of a full-blown existential crisis. 2020 may well be the last chance that we have to get this country back on track. After all, Justice Ginsburg will almost certainly not make it through another presidential term, and the planet will be a burnt cinder if we don’t take meaningful action on climate change.

All that being said, 2020 is going to be a bloody slog.

Heaven help us all.

Weekly Rant: West Virginia, We Need to Talk

You know, for a while there I’m sure (as The Onion put it) that West Virginia was feeling pretty smug watching the slow-moving disaster in Virginia.

Well, never let anyone think that we can’t hold our own when it comes to looking like huge dumbasses on the national stage.

Cue Eric Porterfield, West Virginia Delegate. His behaviour over the past week has shone a spotlight on why it is that West Virginia struggles to keep its brilliant young people, attract investment, and in general remains a laughingstock to the rest of the country.

In a series of remarks, Porterfield has referred to the LGBT+ Rights Movement as equivalent to the KKK, argued that queer people are a public menace, and suggested that he would drown his children if he happened to find out that they were gay. All with no sense that anything he was saying or doing was harmful, bigoted, and cruel (unsurprisingly, he wore a red MAGA hat during a television interview). When pushed about his implication of drowning his children, he said he was just baiting the libs. Because yes, joking about drowning your gay children is sooo funny. What a great way to show the world how much you lack human compassion!

To me, though, the most upsetting thing about this whole debacle is that it is so unsurprising. When I was a member of the Young Democrats in the aftermath of 2004, I distinctly remember a speaker informing us that Kerry lost the election because of “God, Guns, and Gays.” As a young gay man and proud Democrat, it was one of the most insulting and dispiriting things I had ever heard, and I still feel that betrayal almost a decade and a half later.

Things have only gotten worse since then for queers in West Virginia and, despite the passage of protections at the local level (for which several cities deserve great respect and applause), the climate there is not friendly. Though I once thought about returning to my home after I finished my Ph.D., at this point I don’t think that you could pay me enough to go back there. I much prefer to live in queer-affirming states like NY and MD, thank you very much.

Nor am I the only one. In fact, there’s quite an expat community of queer folk from WV who have left the state, taking their talents with them. After all, who wants to stay in a state that seems so dead-set on alienating every minority group that it can?

West Virginians, I urge you to wake up and smell the coffee. I know that you’ve convinced yourself (or allowed yourself to be convinced) that your ignorance and bigotry are some sort of principled stand in the culture war, but you are literally hurting your loved ones. Every time that you allow a man like Porterfield to keep his seat after these kinds of hateful comments, you send a message to your queer family and friends that your own right to feel insulated from political and cultural change is more important than their literal right to feel safe in their own state.

If nothing else, you should realize that the problems you face–the flight of young people, the dearth of decent job opportunities, and on and on–are only going to get worse when people like Porterfield are the face that you present to the nation at large. No one wants to relocate to a state known for its bigotry, and that most definitely includes young people. How long do you think you can continue on this path?

West Virginia, I know you’re better than this, I really do. I know that there’s love and compassion and earthy wisdom in those hollers and mountains, but for the love of all that’s holy, you’ve got to start showing it and standing up for it. Looking like a bunch of ignorant rednecks isn’t a political statement: it’s a one-way ticket to desolation.

Despite everything, I still think that there is a lot of good in you, but you’re going to have to work really hard to show this to the world. I know you can do it, though.

I have faith in you.

Weekly Rant: Barbara Ehrenreich, et al. and the Banality of Racism

Ugh. Some days.

I didn’t start Monday thinking that I was going to be struggling with rage all day; I figured that would come Tuesday, when the country would once again be subjected to the inane blatherings of Trump during his State of the Union.

Then, while playing on Facebook to avoid doing work, I happened to notice a frame capture of a Twitter exchange among Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollitt, and Elaine Showalter. You can see it below.

Now, I would hope that most of you would recognize why this caused so much anger, hurt, and sadness among the Twitter left. Here we have these three giants of feminist thought openly trading in Orientalist language, at once dismissive and condescending. Ehrenreich’s crude neoconservative pining for the days of “American greatness” and Pollitt’s and Showalter’s patronizing language referring to Kondo as “fairy-like,” as a “pretty little pixie” and “Tinkerbell” are breathtaking in their offensiveness. I had to double-check to make sure that these weren’t trolls out to take down noted feminists.

Unfortunately, the exchange was all too real.

What astounded me the most about the exchange among these three feminist giants was how banal it all seemed. Nothing about the way they were talking suggested that they saw what they were saying as problematic, no awareness that they were participating in long-standing means by which white people have dismissed Asian culture, Asian people, and Asian traditions. How was it possible, I wondered (and still wonder) that these prominent intellectuals could be so complicit in this system of power and not even seem to know about it? How could they be having this conversation on Twitter for the world to see as if they were merely having tea in their parlors?

The answer, of course, is that their white privilege shields them from having to think about these issues, or they think it does (because it once did). Ensconced in their ivory towers, they think they can get away with this kind of language because they always have. One can’t help but wonder how Showalter’s casual racism has affected those of her students who aren’t white or, for that matter, how much it has influenced every aspect of her research and her pedagogy.

I suppose what really frustrated–frightened, me really–was how shocked I was by all of this, even though I know that white feminists have a long history of being dismissive of the concerns of women of color. I was also deeply angry, because even though I realized some time ago that Ehrenreich was a bit of a hack, I had continued to look up to Katha Pollitt and Elaine Showalter (Showalter’s feminist criticism was hugely inspiring to me as a young undergraduate). To find these two women trading in racist and Orientalist language was, for me, a profound betrayal. I particularly expected more of Elaine Showalter who, as a feminist academic, should absolutely know better. I guess you could say that I felt like my trust had been betrayed in some deeply personal way, even though I know that that makes me sound hopelessly naïve.

But then again, perhaps it’s a good thing that all of this played out on Twitter, so that we could at least have a public accounting. One can’t help but wonder, though, if this is the kind of racist trash they peddle in public, what do they say in private? It almost doesn’t bear thinking about.

And all of this on the same day that Liam Neeson admitted (apropos of nothing, really), in an interview with The Independent, that at one point after a friend of his had been raped he had gone out hoping to violently assault a random black man (you cannot make this stuff up).

And all of what I have just described took place during the same few days when it was revealed the Virginia’s governor has a racist past of dressing in blackface.

Sometimes, you just have to admit that the world is broken.

Weekly Rant: Dear Dr. Stein

Dear Dr. Stein:

I struggled with writing this letter and with whether or not to put it out into the public. Finally, though, I decided that I need to have these thoughts in the public sphere, so that you can know how your decision to deliberately undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton has had real consequences for people like me.

This election, American voters ultimately had a choice. This was more than about the two candidates. This was about choosing a flawed but progressive candidate who represented an incremental but steady march to the Left on many issues and a raging, xenophobic, racist know-nothing that proudly assaulted women (to say nothing of his running mate, who has made no secret of his disdain for LGBTQ+ Americans). This was between bringing into power those who would work to protect our country’s most vulnerable citizens, rather than ushering into power a man buoyed by the absolute worst impulses in the American psyche. This was about forward progress against a descent into the worst sort of barbarism.

Once it became clear that the match-up would be between Clinton and Trump, the ethical thing for yourself and the Green Party to do would have been to make a sacrifice–and make no mistake, that’s what it would have been–in order to help rouse and excite the Left for Clinton. Instead, you went out of your way to paint Hillary as the epitome of all that was wrong with politics, and in the process you have helped bring into power this creature known as Trump, as well as his legions of deplorables. You helped to obliterate the Obama legacy and have helped solidify the tide of hatred and danger that threatens to sweep away everything you claim to hold dear.

Already, we have seen the effects of this as social media has exploded with reports of assaults on all of the minorities that Trump has targeted throughout his campaign. People that I know personally have been assaulted by Trump supporters, emboldened by his victory.

And for my part, for the first time since I came out of the closet as a queer man in 2002, I feel afraid to be who I am. I am afraid to be queer, and I can’t help but lay some of the blame at your door.

You and yours could have prevented this, but instead you valued principle and ideological purity over and above the bodies, lives, and well-beings of people of colour, immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBTQ+ people, and countless others. Rather than helping to unite the Left, you continued to sow division, diminishing enthusiasm for Clinton and in the progress throwing many others under the bus for the service of your own ego. You could have encouraged your followers to vote for Clinton, but you didn’t. And this is the result.

I will forgive you, those who voted for you, and those who were persuaded enough by your message that they sat this one out. I’ll forgive you because I have far more in common with you than I do our mutual enemies on the Right. I’ll forgive you because I know that we have to move forward together on a progressive agenda.

But I will never, ever forget what happened this year.

And you shouldn’t either.

Weekly Rant: Misogyny Rears Its Ugly Head in the Democratic Primary

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the last 48 hours, you’ve probably heard that a Sanders surrogate, by Dr. Paul Song, referred in his opening remarks to “corporate Democratic whores.” Of course, such a comment would be problematic in the best of times, but it is especially so during a campaign in which one of the two leading candidates in the Democratic race has the very real possibility of becoming the first female President of the United States. Fortunately, Sanders did disavow the remark, but it took a rather long time to do it, and that strikes me as especially troubling and, dare I say it, problematic.

I guess I’m not entirely surprised by this course of events. I’ve long suspected that there is a strong edge of misogyny lurking underneath many of those who support Bernie Sanders. This is not to say that everyone who supports him is a misogynist, only that there is a great deal of woman-hating animus motivating the opposition to Hillary. There is something deeply threatening about the idea of a woman, especially this woman, ascending to the nation’s top executive position, so it makes sense that many would leap to the use of words like “whore” to disparage her.

And make no mistake, the use of the word “whore” was deliberate. For all that some might like to make the argument that assuming the word is gendered feminine is the sexist act, we cannot escape the fact that, like so many words in our cultural lexicon, this word carries cultural baggage along with it. To pretend otherwise, or to somehow argue that pointing out that words matter is somehow disingenuous or making a mountain out of a molehill, is a betrayal of the very progressive politics that we all claim to espouse. Progressives, of all people, should know the importance of words and how they carry with them implications and connotations that are deeply embedded in structures of power.

Even more discouraging was the fact that the hashtag #DemocraticWhores began trending on Twitter, unironically. How is it possible that the Democratic Party, the party that has long taken the lead for the rights and dignity of women, would give birth to the use of the word “whore” in the public sphere? Did I somehow blink and miss our conversion to the Donald Trump method of politics? Somehow, legions of Bernie supporters were using the word “whore” as if it were suddenly a word that hadn’t been used to viciously and poisonously denigrate women’s sexuality for centuries. Whatever candidate you support, you should be concerned. This is not acceptable, and you should spread that message as far as possible.

So, what’s to be done? Well, for one thing, both campaigns should begin demanding more accountability from their followers. That’s not likely to come from either of the two candidates, not least because the stakes are so very high for both of them, and they have both gone too far to come back. Perhaps just as importantly, the followers for each candidate are unlikely to be allow them to make too many concessions to the other. The splintering of the Democratic Party has well and truly begun (I think), and we have only ourselves to blame.

The worst thing about this is that people will excuse it all as just another aspect of the dark vortex of American politics. For me, however, that excuse just isn’t good enough. We’re Democrats, progressives, and radicals. We’re the Left, damn it, and I continue to insist that we are better than this. If we are truly invested in a better future for everyone, we can, we must, do better.

Weekly Rant: Charleston, SC and the Terror of History

Since news broke on Thursday that a young white man had killed nine black men and women in a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, I have struggled to make sense of this tragedy.  I have pored over articles in my preferred news outlets, including Slate, Salon, and The Atlantic.  While those pieces were helpful in collecting and concretizing my thoughts and helping me to make sense of my tangled and raw emotions, I also found myself still struggling, as if something, some crucial bit of understanding, hovered just out of reach.

Part of this, I think, has to do with the overwhelming weight of history that this incident represents, centuries of exploitation and terrorism, in which the lives of people of color have been systematically devalued and rendered invisible.  How can one person contend with, let alone psychologically and emotionally process, such a mountain of misery?

While I do not, in any way, want to diminish the importance of the ongoing, if still stilted, discussion of mental illness in this country, I want to emphasize my firm and profound belief in the absolute necessity of contending with the terror of this country’s history.  I mean this in multiple (and interconnected senses):  the well-documented terror that white culture has inflicted on people of color, whether it be the Ku Klux Klan or The Birth of a Nation, police brutality and use of unnecessary force or the matter-of-fact slaughter of innocents in a place of worship.

Yet what troubles me the most about this whole incident in Charleston is precisely how unexceptional it is.  This is a state, after all, that has refused to take down the Confederate flag (which is, no matter how you spin it, a signifier of racial violence and oppression) from the grounds of its state house, as well as a region of the country that fought tooth and nail to keep people of colour from equal access to everything from education to elected government, and in many cases continues to do so (though largely through more obfuscated means).

Further, the American South is a region that continues to fetishize and enshrine the vestiges of its antebellum past, often either without acknowledging the ways in which the glories of that past were built on the back of ruthless exploitation or ensuring that that exploitation is rendered quaint or somehow excusable.  What remains understated, however, was the way that the romanticizing of that past was in large part responsible for the terrors that were unleashed after Reconstruction was abandoned.  Thus, while the South is the place where this all comes to a head, it is important to not commit the equally grievous sin of writing the North a blank check, for it was precisely those in the North who turned a blind eye to the horrors unfolding in their southern neighbors, with white northerners more interested in rapprochement with their racial counterparts than helping or aiding the afflicted people of color.

And yet, one might wonder:  why, in the face of so much violence, does mainstream, white American culture still find it difficult, if not impossible, to contend with that past?  Why is it so much easier to pretend that we live in an eternal present, where atrocities committed by people with racial hatred worn proudly on their sleeve can be explained by anti-religious animus or by mental illness rather than by an acknowledgment of the systems of power and the weight of history?  Well, it is precisely because really engaging with history is, indeed, terrifying.  To confront the terror of history face to face is to recognize so much else:  complicity in oppression, an acknowledgment that the American dream is a myth and a lie, that sometimes the acts of an individual are circumscribed and embedded within systems of power that are hard to comprehend in their totality.  It is far easier, then, to simply boil things down to the actions of a lone wolf, an entity that can be locked up with any deeper, more probing questions shunted aside.

This is one of the many reasons that I take my social justice-inflected pedagogy so seriously.  If I can allow at least one student to gain a more nuanced understanding of how race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc. have complicated and violent histories, then I can hopefully do my part to ensure that the horrible events that have  At the same time, however, I also recognize that many of my students, and my colleagues, will probably remain in the bastions of progressive thought and relative safety (the Northeast, the West Coast, and the larger cities in the South and Midwest).  However, it is precisely the not-safe spaces, the South, Appalachia, the rural reaches of the Midwest and the Northeast, that desperately need the presence of critical thinkers and educators.

Only by forcing an acknowledgment of the deep problems and terrors of history can we ever hope, however faintly, for a better, more just, more peaceful world.

Weekly Rant: Living in the Age of Irony

A couple of years ago, the always-inflammatory Salon ran a piece entitled “The 15 Most Hated Bands of the Last 30 Years.”  Included on the list were such hate-favourites as Nickelback (hatred of them has become so common as to be ubiquitous), but also many of the bands whose work came to define the sounds of the ’90s.  Think Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band, and Hootie and the Blowfish.  Surprised to hear that they are the most hated band?  So was I.  But then again, in many ways I really wasn’t.  Though I was incredibly annoyed at rediscovering this list a little over a week ago, I saw it as just another sign that we are indeed still living in “The Age of Irony.”

At first, I couldn’t quite figure out why the list annoyed me so much.  Was it simply because they had listed the Goo Goo Dolls, one of my favourite bands, on the list?  Was it the commonsensical way it was written, as if of course we would all agree that those pseudo-authentic rock bands from the 1990s were really just plain awful and that anyone who thought they were actually good were delusional at best and philistines at worst?  Or was it the patronizing, ironic tone it adopted, so common among self-styled music critics and others in the click-bait universe who manage to garner views by adopting a hipsterish ironic pose to every item of popular culture they encounter?

Of course, it was all of those things.  In the Age of Irony, everything is just a surface to be mocked and ridiculed.  Indeed, the source of the pleasure isn’t even in the cultural object, but instead in finding something amusing about it, placing oneself above it so that one is, allegedly, no longer under the thrall of the omniscient, omnivorous, omnipresent culture industry.  At a deeper level, however, these types of ironic clickbait posts also suggest something deeper about our cultural zeitgeist.  We might just as well say that we are living in an Age of Alienation, when it becomes much easier (and allegedly more satisfying) to use the texts that surround us ironically, rather than seeking out any sense of emotional authenticity they might contain (because how could anything produced by the mass culture industry be authentic, anyway?)

Now, I’m not saying that irony doesn’t have its purposes, or that it can’t be an effective political tool for the disenfranchised to strike back at the dominant world that swamps them with its ideologies.  No one who has ever studied gay camp and its deconstruction of traditional gender norms and performances would be able to say that.  However, I fear that this particular type of irony, a key part of the world of postmodernism, only ends up reinscribing the very power structures that should be critiqued.  You can be ironic and laugh at how foolish the masses are, but only if you’re educated enough, only if you’ve managed to procure the types of reading skills that allow you to reach the Olympian heights of today’s finest ironists.  Otherwise, you’re just another one of the foolish plebians, shut out of the party.

You may call me old-fashioned, and perhaps I am blinded by my own love of many aspects of 1990s culture (I was born in 1984, so I am too young to have the millennial sense of distance from the ’90s).  But, on the other hand, can you blame me for wanting to obtain a little bit of authentic feeling from the music that defined my youth?  Truly, I think that some of these “most hated bands” do allow us to gain some sort of feeling, a measure of the zeitgeist of the last decade of the 20th Century (and, I might point out, the second millennium).  Simply dismissing them as “most hated” as if that is a piece of commonsense wisdom ultimately says more about the ways in which the contemporary decade looks at its 20th Century forbear than it does about the music itself, or about those who like said music.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go turn on my Goo Goo Dolls, settle in, and re-experience that heady, moody time known as the ’90s.