A Brief Word on Notre Dame

I have to be honest here, I don’t know if I should be writing this piece.

I’m not French, I don’t know a lick of the language, and my reference point in regards to the cathedral is more informed by adaptations of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris than any personal experiences.

And yet I can’t help but empathize with the damage done to such a significant edifice. While prevalence of video content and written text has taken up most of our artistic curiosity, we sometimes forget the importance of architecture. Before the first camera and prior to the advent of mass literacy, it was buildings like Notre Dame, works that took lifetimes to build and stood for centuries after their constructions, that imparted shared ideals and meaning to multiple generations of a society. It was the original common language.

To put it in a more American context, think of the Statue of Liberty. It’s golden torch, the depiction of the goddess Libertas, the plaque containing Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus”, beckoning the world to:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It’s a radical promise of welcoming the other, one the United States hasn’t ever fulfilled, especially in light of recent events, but nevertheless inspires in those who gaze upon the statue the hope that we can one day live up to it.

That is the importance of edifices, the significance of architecture. Imparting meaning that transcends lifetimes, governments, victories, and tragedies. That what Notre Dame is  to the French, representing the legacy of the nation’s catholicism, the triumphs and tribulations of the Revolution. Both France’s long line of kings and its current democracy.  To have such a site burn is a collective trauma.

The cathedral still stands, the foundations still strong. But the damage is there; centuries-old glass panes broken, it’s tallest spire crumbled. And while these features can be rebuilt, they will act as scar-tissue. And yet the French should count themselves lucky, as the edifices of other cultures have suffered less fortunate fates. So to my largely American readers, take time to appreciate the edifices around you and how they built your identity. And as you shed a tear with the French, be prepared to do so again for similar losses from more foreign places.

An All Too Early List of the Top Six Democratic 2020 Presidential Candidates that Will be Proven Wrong in a Few Months or So

Is it just me or is this upcoming presidential election starting up early, like unusually early. Normally candidates start announcing their intentions towards the spring and summer, but now everyone seems anxious to start campaigning as soon as the ball dropped. Whether it be in the hopes to have a clear nominee several months before the convention or to have the time necessary to muster small-donor contributions, I don’t know. But in an attempt to keep my blog topical, I guess I should comment on the forming contest.

So in this analysis I’ll be looking at several aspects:

  1. Whether the candidate stands on a platform that can appeal to the big tent that is the base of the Democratic Party while also being able to draw in moderates for the general election.
  2. The candidates past record in terms of votes or other actions that either represent strengths they can rely on or weaknesses they will need to cover.
  3. A personal perspective on which candidate’s vision best fits the current moment.

In light of the sensitivity that surrounds the discussion of presidential races, note that I don’t hate or even dislike anyone on this list and would vote for them in the general election were they to get the nomination. With that lets get started.

6) Amy Klobuchar

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Raised and trained in the snowy hills of Minnesota don’t you know, Amy Klobuchar stands ready to compete for your vote. What’s the senator’s strategy; well ever heard of the third way. Contrary to the rest of the candidates on this list, who are trying to portray themselves as progressives with major reforms in mind, it has become evident as the Klobuchar campaign has rolled out that their platform stands on the precepts of moderation and technocratic fixes. In a recent CNN town hall, while Amy appreciated the aspirational qualities of proposals such as free public college, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for all, she nevertheless insisted that these proposals were unrealistic and offered technocratic fixes as alternatives such as an expansion of pell grants, a restoration of Obama’s clean power plan, and the establishment of a public option for healthcare.

So the question is, how does portraying one self as a moderate fare in an election? It is certainly important in the general election to have a platform that appeals to people outside of the party. Thats how winning is done. But here is the rub; before even thinking about reaching out, you have to have your base on your side. They will always be your largest group of reliable supporters, and they have to be enthused about you. That’s what the primaries are all about. Looking back towards President Obama’s two presidential campaign’s reveals the usefulness of bold leftist proposals. In 2008, when all other candidates offered hawkish foreign policy, Obama placed an emphasis on diplomacy. He ran on a federal minimum wage increase, the reform of bankruptcy laws, an increased regulation on financial markets, and universal healthcare; all proposals clearly appealing to the left rather than the center. And he won on the back of these initiatives, drawing in overwhelming support from the Democratic base and moderates.

The trouble with appealing to the center is that it is always in flux, pulled in either direction by the power struggle between the right and left. This in addition the Democratic party’s shift to the left in recent years makes Klobuchar’s platform of moderation unlikely to be a winning one. I don’t believe it would enthuse democratic voters that are needed to win in the primaries. While I do suspect she’ll enjoy a greater turn-out among older voters than say Bernie Sanders due to her more modest policy prescriptions being, at the very least, detailed, she suffers from a similar problem to Sanders 2016 campaign in that she fails, as evidenced by the recent town-hall, to connect these technocratic fixes to the specific struggles of minority voters. With this in mind, while she is a force to be reckoned with I suspect that in the end she’ll be left snowed in.

5) Kamala Harris

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Sneaking her way into the electoral arena, Kamala Harris desires to infiltrate your hearts and minds and persuade you to vote for her as your next president. Yet despite her recent introduction into national politics, being elected for her first term as a Californian senator in 2016,  the junior senator has been making waves in the polls. As a district attorney, and later attorney general, she gained a record of criminal justice reforms such as enacting the first statewide implicit bias and procedural justice training in the country and made officers wear body cameras. She also started pattern and practice investigations into discriminatory actions and demanded that data on in-custody deaths and police shootings be made public to ensure accountability. She also struck a foreclosure deal that greatly benefited homeowners, according to San Francisco Gate.

And yet, despite being nominally a progressive, giving support to reparations, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All, and having a decent voting record in the Senate, I can’t say I rate Kamala Harris as highly as other news media, such as CNN, does. She does have advantages such as being from California, a major state to win in the Democratic primaries, and having a rhetoric that, as the New York Times points out, could make her appealing to great swaths of voters. However, when looking a her record and past deeds, out of all the candidates on this list it is the most spotty. As Dr. Lara Bazelon points out in her New York Times column, Kamala Harris has a history of bad decisions in wrongful conviction cases. To give a more egregious example, George Case was accused by his step-daughter in 1999 for sexual-abusing her during her childhood. As the case proceeded, the judge discovered that Kamala Harris’s prosecutor had unlawfully held back potentially exculpatory evidence, including medical reports indicating that the stepdaughter had been repeatedly lied to law enforcement. Her mother even described her as “a pathological liar” who “lives her lies.” In 2015, when the case reached the Ninth Circuit Appeals court in San Francisco, Ms. Harris’s prosecutors defended the conviction. They pointed out that Mr. Gage, while forced to act as his own lawyer, had not properly raised the legal issue in the lower court, as the law required. The appellate judges acknowledged this impediment and sent the case to mediation, a clear signal for Ms. Harris to dismiss the case. When she refused to budge, the court upheld the conviction on that technicality. Mr. Gage is still in prison serving a 70-year sentence.

For a candidate who has made criminal justice her central issue, such a past can undermine her integrity in the eye the electorate. Granted, it is possible to make up for such mistakes through a long and consistent progressive voting record on the issue. Yet she doesn’t really have that, after all she has only been in the Senate, and subsequently national politics, for only a little more than two years. That isn’t enough time to mount a proper defense. Not to say that Kamala Harris doesn’t have a role to play in a later presidential run, but for 2020 I believe it’s not her time.

4) Bernie Sanders

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The man. The meme. The legend. Bernie Sanders rises from the ashes of his 2016 primary campaign to run again in 2020. But it’s a crowded field this time around, he isn’t just facing one serious contender but several. How does he fare? Well since he ran relatively recently there is some data that can be pulled that is relevant in the upcoming national contest. In a breakdown of the 2016 primary provided by The Wall Street Journal, while Hillary and Bernie were neck to neck in terms of white voters, Hillary garner a clear majority of support from the African-American bloc; leading Sanders 75.9% to his 23.1%. Data such as this often plays into the narrative that Senator Sanders platform doesn’t appeal to black voters, but a more thorough analysis reveals that conclusion to be misleading. The more accurate statement would be that Bernie struggled to appeal to black voters 30 or older in 2016. In polls conducted by Edison Research on primary voters and caucus-goers in 20 states, NPR reported that “among African-Americans, who are 17 through 29, Bernie Sanders is actually leading that group, 51 to 48” with a similar lead in 17-29 latino voters as well.

Being popular with young folk, while not the most powerful voting bloc in terms of turn-out, does have it’s advantages. In 2008, Barack Obama made use of his popularity with young adults, especially within the African-American community, to convince their parents and grand-parents to support him as opposed to Hillary when she was all but assured to be the favorite amongst older voters. However, Bernie Sanders was never able to turn that potential energy into anything kinetic, an inability I deduce can be drawn from his platform more than anything.

Campaigning in the Democratic Party is a task in appealing to multiple interests at once. The party is diverse, a big tent encompassing large parts of the LGBT, African-American, Latino, and other minority communities with white progressives filling in the crevasses. These communities push for their own unique interests that a candidate needs to appeal to. In short, being a single-issue candidate isn’t going to cut it. Now Bernie isn’t hostile to the concerns of these communities, far from it, but his rhetoric and legislative focus has historically lied on addressing economic inequality at the expense of other struggles. Speaking to NPR, Dr. Huck Gutman, a close friend of Sanders and his former chief of staff, confirmed such blind-spots saying that “his (Bernie Sanders) central concerns have never been war or civil rights or gay rights or women’s rights.”

To be fair, that was 3 years ago, plenty of time fix the mistakes of yesterday. However, while the 2020 Sanders campaign have acknowledged some takeaways from 2016, such as more robust foreign policy platform as Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times has pointed out, the initial rollout of Sanders campaign indicates a failure to learn at least that particular lesson. When asked about whether he best represented the current Democratic Party after announcing his campaign on Vermont Public Radio, Bernie Sanders responded by saying “we have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age.” In a time where folks feel under attack because of their racial, sexual, or gender identity, pushing for non-discrimination so a old, white man can be elected while failing to connect your platform to the struggles of these communities is simply a bad take.

Combine that with, as Paul Krugman would say, a perchance toward rhetoric and sweeping proposals over legislative specifics, I can’t say I’m feeling the bern. Certainly the man shouldn’t be discounted, he performed well in a primary where Hillary was seen as nigh invincible. But with other candidates offering similar policies with more details and a proven ability to connect such a platform to the concerns of the disparate wings of the Democratic Party, I doubt Bernie’s chances to get past the primaries. To be fair, there is plenty of time left for Bernie to prove me wrong but until then, I’m sorry, but the bern has cooled.

3) Kirsten Gillibrand

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The guardian of ranch and a lioness in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand is on the prowl to snatch the presidential election. And so far, the New York Senator seems to be making all the right moves. Unlike some other candidates we discussed before, with their messaging having a limited appeal to the base of the party, Gillibrand’s platform has embraced intersectionality. Like other democratic candidates, she has embraced the cause of single-payer healthcare while also appealing to the specific health care concerns of minority voting blocs, arguing that child care must be affordable and accessible and that maternal mortality rates in the U.S., which are particularly high among women of color, must be brought down at any cost. In regards to sexual harassment, she was the arbiter of a 2013 bill designed to protect sexual assault victims in the military and has often spoken out against public figures who have committed such acts such as Donald Trump and even former Democratic Senator Al Franken, which demonstrates a substantial amount of consistency. She also has in mind specific proposals that would help communities of color such as allowing Americans without checking accounts to bank at the local post office; a disproportionate percentage of such individuals being people of color. Like Sanders, Gillibrand is portraying herself as a progressive, but unlike Sanders she has embraced intersectionality which significantly broadens her appeal.

All good things, but what prevents her from being higher on this list? In the end, it comes down to a matter of history. Before her appointment to the U.S. senate to replace the vacant seat left by Hillary Clinton, Kirsten Gillibrand was the Representative of New York’s 20th congressional district. This district in upstate New York was, prior to Kirsten’s 2006 election, firmly in the hands of the Republican Party since 1992 and is generally a more conservative region of the state. Thus Mrs. Gillibrand ran on and advocated more conservative positions. She was a member of the House’s blue dogs coalition, a group of conservative democrats, and is noted for voting against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 over concerns with earmarks and voted for two bills would have withheld federal funds from sanctuary cities as well as another that would have limited information-sharing between federal agencies about firearm purchasers, which helped earn her a 100% rating from the NRA. Granted, once she became a senator she morphed into a standard-bearer of progressive causes, one part explained by her now representing the entirety of New York State and it’s constituents more left-leaning beliefs, another due to a steady change of perspectives on her own behalf.

Still, in a political climate occupied by an establishment v.s. anti-establishment dichotomy and some voters puritanical obsession with a life-long consistency to the progressive line, such a conservative past might bite Gillibrand in the ass. Since she is trying to cast herself as a progressive, all it would take is just one of candidates competing for that role to mention her prior positions to kickstart a massive line of criticism. How the Senator deals with this likely attack remains to be seen. She has had a consistent left-leaning voting record since joining the senate, so I feel she can comfortably defend herself. However, when compared to the other candidates higher on this list, Kirsten Gillibrand’s Achilles heel is the most glaring. She stands at this early stage in campaign with a strong chance of securing the nomination, but until the race plays out further I do believe there are other candidates with an even stronger chance.

2) Elizabeth Warren

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The firebrand from Massachusetts, Senator Elizabeth Warren enters the ring to fight for your vote. And boy she is coming out swinging. Ever since joining the Senate in 2013, Sen. Warren has been a consistent champion of leftist causes. She reintroduced, along with Sen. McCain and Maria Cantwell, legislation that would restore the Glass-Steagall Act, a set of New Deal era laws that separated commercial and investment banking. Writing for Medium, Warren detailed a plan for universal child care that would create a new subsidy, paid for by revenue brought in by her proposed wealth tax, that would provide grants to states, cities, nonprofits, schools, and other local partners to “create a network of child care options that would be available to every family.” She has also recently spoke with Reuters highlighting a bill she introduced that would make it easier for minorities to get a down payment on homes and expressed support for reparations towards African-Americans saying “we must confront the dark history of slavery and government-sanctioned discrimination in this country that has had many consequences including undermining the ability of Black families to build wealth in America for generations.” Like Kirsten Gillibrand, Warren has embraced intersectionality without the baggage of a conservative past to hold her back. Debatably, she might be the candidate that would be best able to procure progressive voters.

But why isn’t she higher on this list. While I don’t have doubts that she would be able to appeal to wide enough margins to possibly clinch the nomination, how her fiery rhetoric will be received by less committed voters in the general election gives me pause. Warren is a fighter when she speaks. When campaigning in Iowa, the New York Times reported that Warren taunted Trump with claims that the Democrats shouldn’t focus their attention on him because “by the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president, in fact, he may not even be a free person.” While jabs like this are certainly cathartic for us on the left and will no doubt energize the Democratic base to overcome any obstacle in their way come Election Day to go to polls, I doubt how many other moderate voters it will attract who might be intimidated by such strong words. Not to say that Warren needs to make her platform more centrist, or allow Trump to walk all over her. Doing that would simply be bad politics. However, it is possible to straddle the line between an open palm and a closed fist. For example, in both of his presidential runs Barack Obama ran to the left, but always reminded his audience of the value of bipartisanship and recognized the common struggles between disparate populations. This balance is what carried him to the Oval Office twice, and I suspect that the candidate that is best able to strike a similar balance in presentation will be the one that will be best able to evict the real-estate mongrel from public housing. This is not to discount Warren and her rhetoric, I could very well be reading the current political moment wrong and, irrespective of my reading, Warren tone has secured her a seat in the Senate; results are hard to argue with. Still if my reading is correct, while Warren stands a strong chance in securing the nomination there is one other candidate with even better odds.

1) Cory Booker

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Coming outta of Newark to score a touchdown to secure the presidency, it’s Sen. Cory Booker; the winner of a strange guy on the internet list of Democratic presidential contenders that will likely be proven wrong in a matter of months. Although, I don’t believe I am wrong here. Granted I perhaps have a regional bias, living in New Jersey, that makes me more familiar with the Senator than the other candidates. But given his record, presentation, and what I have gleaned about his character from afar, I am confident in Booker’s chances.

His record speaks for itself. As Mayor of Newark he accomplished a great expansion of economic development. As reported by Governing, during his tenure Newark saw new grocery stores and hotel open for the first time in decades, Panasonic North America and Audible relocated their headquarters, the city reported $1 billion in real estate development in 2011 and 2012—about a third of all development across the state in sheer square footage, and Newark was finally bucked its 60-year depopulation trend in the 2010 Census. All occurring in the back drop of the Great Recession, which meant the city had very little revenue to work with and often had to rely on negotiations of public-private partnerships and philanthropic investments to pick up the slack. This is not to say the Booker was solely responsible for the city’s current path to recovery, as the New York Times points out current Mayor Ras Baraka has made great strides in avoiding the dangers of gentrification and ensuring the citizens of the city are seeing the fruits of such economic developments, but Booker did lay a solid foundation.

As Senator, Cory Booker was instrumental in passing one of the few good pieces of legislation to come out of the last Congress, the First Step Act, which reformed the criminal justice system to shorten mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and eased the federal “three-strikes” rule among other measures, as told by the Brennan Center for Justice. His proposed “Baby Bonds”, which would create trust accounts for every infant born and would be added to each year by the treasury an amount based on the child’s household income, could, as pointed out by the New Yorker, significantly reduce the wealth gap, especially the racial wealth gap. He also has a consistent voting record on other progressive issues such LGBT rights, women rights, and economic policy.

While he has clear left-leaning sensibilities that would appeal to the base of the Democratic party, his rhetoric provides an appealing accompaniment to voters outside of the base with an emphasis on the common pains of U.S. citizens and the need to rediscover a common purpose. It straddles the line in way that the number 2 choice, Elizabeth Warren, hasn’t proven herself capable of as of yet, though this not to say fiery rhetoric doesn’t have it’s own benefits or place in politics.

There are a two notable weaknesses when it comes to Cory Booker that would likely come up in the primaries, his past advocacy as Mayor for education reform proposals such as charter schools and ‘school choice’ as well as his connections to the pharmaceuticals industry, though Booker has a solid defense for both of these problems.

During his time as Mayor, Newark schools were under the state’s control as opposed to the city’s school board. This mean Cory Booker had to work with Gov. Chris Christie, another education reform advocate, to improve Newark’s schools performance. And on that metric, performance did improve. In a 2018 study conducted by Harvard University, they found that while in both charter and district schools, students’ annual growth on state tests initially declined in 2011, by 2016, students were making greater gains in English than they had before the reform and were able to transfer from under-preforming schools to high-preforming district schools and charters. The foundation Cory Booker laid, that was built upon by current Mayor Ras Baraka, has improved Newark’s schools so much that in 2018, as reported by NJ.com, the state relinquished control and returned jurisdiction to the city’s school board. In the end, it’s hard to argue with results.

As for connections to the pharmaceutical industry, a major sector in New Jersey’s economy, while it is true that in past they contributed to Cory Booker’s campaigns, for this presidential run Cory is relying on small donations from supporters as opposed to fundraising from industry donors and his record doesn’t suggest any loyalty to the sector. For example, on January 10, 2019 Cory Booker gave a press release announcing his partnership with Sen. Sanders and other House and Senate Democrats on a legislative package aimed at reducing drug prices, proposals which include the importing of drugs from other nations such as Canada.

When all the factors are added up and candidates are fully compared and contrasted, I do think that Cory Booker has the strongest chance out of all current Democratic contenders. He simply has the most strengths ,with the least amount of weaknesses that could harm him in either the primaries or the general election. But hey,  I could be wrong, the race is just beginning, the fight just in it’s first minute.

 

Dear Hillary Clinton, I am Sorry

With Donald Trump’s occupation of the presidency, most analysis of the 2016 presidential race focuses on the coalition of white voters of either a middle or working class and how it is reflective of the dissonance between the relative prosperity of urban centers and the decline of rural areas. While that is certainly a valid and important area of focus, personally when I look back at the 2016 election I can’t help but feel a ting of regret. A guilt directed at the democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I am sure you know the figure well. Hillary Clinton: a Rose Law Firm attorney, a pro bono child advocate, a First Lady, a New York Senator, a Secretary of State, and a two-time presidential candidate. Or as Senator Bernie Sanders, then serving 26 years in congress, would have put it, the “establishment candidate”. Indeed, while the criticism from the right was to be expected, with it ranging from Benghazi conspiracies to outright sexist remarks, the criticism from the left seemed to dominate much of the discourse that election cycle.

Hillary’s rise to national attention in the 1990s came on the heels of the ‘third way’ realignment of the Democratic Party. In the aftermath of the Reagan’s administration and the conservative movement’s injection of skepticism towards the role of government and a preference towards market solutions, the third way sought to recover lost ground by combining a commitment to left-leaning social policies, such as LGBT rights and family planning, with fiscal conservatism as a way of reasserting the Democratic Party nationally by capturing the center.

This is not to suggest that Hillary, especially in recent years, is a strict adherent to this program. In 2016, she ran on a program of free-tuition community colleges and federal investment in infrastructure that would be unthinkable in the 1990s. Yet what consistently informs her in both these examples is a sense of pragmatism, of what the current zeitgeist of political discourse could make possible for left-leaning reforms and modifying proposals to fit that mold.

There is a lot of criticism that can be levied at this approach, namely how it is reactive and ignores the possibility of moving the Overton window to the left with more radical proposals. But rarely did criticism from the left ever acknowledge the context for Hillary Clinton’s evolution as a public servant, one that emerged in the shadow of the largest conservative realignment in recent U.S. history and helped build a national platform for the left to assert itself in this climate.

This, unfortunately, is the source of my regret, of having failed to acknowledge this context. In April 2015, several weeks after Hillary’s announcement of her candidacy, I wrote an article for Ramapo News heavily criticizing Hillary, calling her “no champion” of feminism, LGBT rights, and other causes of the left. Beyond the obvious problematic premise of the article, a straight white man gatekeeping struggles that he lacks an intimate experience with, the evidence I gave back then is what really strikes me with shame. Not that it is necessarily inaccurate, but how it served to put the suffering of people at the hands of major corporations and the ill-effects of U.S. foreign policy on one woman who was only tangential to the issue. I remember how I felt back then, so disillusioned with the U.S. and it’s institutions, so angry at my seeming powerlessness, that I lashed out at the nearest recognizable target I could find. I wasn’t being a critic, I was being a bully. Though, in retrospect, if I could say anything positive about the article it’s that it was ironically prophetic, as it seems that many others had similar feelings and reactions.

I remembered a conversation I had with a friend, one wiser than me and more patient than I deserve, about my feelings on Hillary’s candidacy. She said something that always stuck out to me, that despite the circumstances and system in place instilling disillusionment it was our duty to fight for ours and other rights, even if it only secures incremental progress rather than the massive reconciliation we seek. She was right, cutting through my veil of hopelessness like a knife, so much that I ended up voting for Hillary twice. But in regards to my initial offense, I still need to make amends. So Hillary, if you just so happen to fall down the rabbit hole into this strange corner of the internet I call home, know that you didn’t deserve that level of vitriol and I apologize for participating in it for even a second. I am sorry.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: A Survey of the Online Conservative ‘Intellectual’

The blessing of the internet has also proven to be it’s greatest curse. It’s ease of access and ability to host multiple, more obscure perspectives through a variety of platforms has allowed many people of good faith to express themselves and their perspectives in ways previously unavailable to them. But for those of ill faith, the internet poses an opportunity to escape the formal rules regarding sources, styles of presentation, and other such regulation meant to enforce a standard of fair, accurate perspectives in older publications in a brazen attempt to instill their ideology to impressionable ears that pass them by. Case and point, the online conservative ‘intellectual’, represented now-a-days by figures such as Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and others, as well as myriad of organizations and publications that host thinkers of a similar cloth.

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Regarding these individuals and publications, their arguments are not where my intrigue lies. Plenty of others have countered Jordan Peterson’s ridiculous claims that lobsters are a good biological analog for human behavior, demolished Ben Shapiro’s essentialist assertions that gender pronouns are linguistically rooted in chromosomes, revealed how Dave Rubin interview style lacks any sort of journalistic integrity, and other such arguments that the conservative ‘intellectual’ ilk produce at a regular basis.  I’ll leave the task to those better suited for it than me. What does intrigue me, however, is not the minutiae of their arguments, rather the thrust behind them.

When looking at these conservatives and the arguments that they make, you see a trend of hypocrisy as they give their perspectives on different topics. For example, when discussing gun control on Piers Morgan Tonight, Ben Shapiro feared that “50 to a 100 years from now a tyranny will rise in the United States” and a armed citizenry is necessary to stop it. Ignoring his faulty comparisons to Nazi Germany and blatant fear-mongering, the central tenet he is seemingly trying to convey is that government’s have the potential to become tyrannical, that this tyranny is likely to be enforced by armed forces such as the military and police, and that a similarly armed citizenry is the only means to combat this threat. Contrast that acknowledgement to his remarks during a Young America’s Foundation conference, where he states that police disproportionate presence and violence in predominantly African-American communities is solely due to high crime rates in those communities. Putting aside the argument’s ignorance of the unique historical situation of African-Americans that separate them from other minority populations and how the police’s development has often intersected with this history, a lot early municipal police forces in the south had roots in slave patrols, for instance, note the tenet being promoted here. In this argument, the underlying principle is that the government, as represented by the police, cannot unjustly target a subset of the population without due cause with no acknowledgement of the potential of a government to become tyrannical and begin to commit immoral actions. The underlying tenets behind the two arguments are in contradiction with one another, rendering the speaker, Ben Shapiro, a philosophical hypocrite.

This isn’t an isolated incident, for either Ben or other online conservative ‘intellectuals’. It is instead a common occurrence amongst the stock. For example, Jordan Peterson, in his opposition to bill C-16 which amended the Canadian Human Right’s Act to include trans-people under it’s protections, rooted his concerns in an appeal to an free speech. Yet when Professor Wendy Lee of Bloomsberg University, located in Pennsylvania claimed on twitter that Peterson was a “White Nationalist” and a “Incel Misogynist”, Jordan threaten to sue for libel despite any clear malicious intent as required under U.S. law, revealing a disregard for free speech.

This pattern of behavior indicates a lack of any consistent philosophy underpinning online conservative ‘intellectuals’ political stances. Instead, they seemingly change philosophies per their convenience, like a wolf swapping a sheep’s clothing whenever he needs to blend into a particular flock. Contrast this with conservative’s writing their perspectives in more established mediums, such as New York Times David Brooks and Ross Douthat. I disagree with these commentators on almost everything topic, but at the very least I can be certain of their sincerity, that they are not trying to deliberately mislead and can be pinpointed to a idealogical tradition, whether that be Douthat’s Catholicism or Brook’s Burke-esque thinking. This allows an individual encountering these commentators to hold them to account on both a factual and a idealogical level. They welcome it. With online conservative ‘intellectuals’ though, that level sincerity is non-existent. They seemingly don’t desire the confines of an ideology that they could be held to, much like their disregard for facts. Instead, they are nihilists, only adopting a tenet when it seemingly benefits them and discarding it when it becomes inconvenient towards their goal.

What is their goal then? What is the wolf hiding underneath the coat of a sheep? I can’t say I know for certain, I never personally interacted with these people after all. Though if  I were to speculate, I would identify that wolf as resentment. Resentment for LGBT people asserting themselves and challenging sexual and gender norms. Resentment for women and minorities increasing power in society. Resentment for the left’s challenges to capitalism and the classes that benefit from it. That’s all there is, resentment and the rhetoric that expresses it and instills it in others. Taking a page from Mussolini, these ‘intellectuals’ adopt overtly contradictory philosophical positions because ideology is only a means to power. This approach can be described in many ways, from blatantly dishonest to eerily ur-fascist. Though my preferred way of regarding it is this: pathetic!

Who Wears the Yellow Vest?

Romantic images have always seemed to circulate in the imaginations of Americans when they think towards Paris. Not just for the promise of a good meal, or a getaway with a lover, but on noble political struggle. An assurance that the mistreated underclasses can rise up to rid themselves of an aloof king and craft a better world. But looking at the recent ‘Gilets Jaunes’ or ‘Yellow Vest’ protests to the Macron Administration disrupts the fantasy. Not just in terms of violence, such as the 100 people injured in the desecration of the Arc de Triomphe as reported by the New York Times, though that is of some note. What is devastating however is the absence of a coherent idealogical through-line, a clear and consistent set of demands that the romance necessitates. In it’s place is simply a collective rage.

Looking towards the beginnings of these protests reveals the lack of organization. The New York Times reports that the movement can be traced back to a petition calling for a reduction started by cosmetic business owner Priscilla Ludosky that was later given attention by truck driver Eric Drouet who went on to garner a car rally cum protest on Nov. 17. But that just the Times. Meanwhile, CNN reports that the protests originated from motor mechanic Ghislain Coutard, who’s viral video encouraged people to wear the yellow vests mandated by the state for drivers to wear in the event of an accident in protest to the hike in gas taxes, along with identifying other instigators. This isn’t a case of one report being right while the other wrong, rather it highlights the contemporary nature of the yellow vest movement. Rather than emerging from a labor union or political party, the protests have emerged spontaneously across France; emblematic of the role social media played in fueling this zeitgeist of backlash.

The people shrouded by this zeitgeist are cut from a similar cloth. Men and women, mostly from rural areas, who are rich enough to escape the poverty line and subsequently welfare protections yet poor enough to feel the impact the raised fuel taxes have on their bottom line. Without a reliable public transport, these people are reliant on automobiles everyday. “We are really struggling” says Thomas, a gamekeeper, to France 24 “the people on 1,000-1,200 euros; once we pay the bills there is nothing left.”

So in the face of this predicament, the yellow vest movement has taken to streets and with it the movement’s lack of focus, in both tactics and demands, has come into view. Most protestors have been peaceful, with one anonymous women handing out flowers to the police as a sign of her pacifism. “I’m not here to fight” she said to The New York Times “I’m here for justice”. Others have been more violent: torching cars, assaulting officers, vandalizing shops and monuments. Speaking to French 24, Virginia, a nurse, called the violence an unfortunate necessity. “If it had just been us” Virginia said “than we’ve just been tear gassed and gone in twenty minutes and everybody would have forgotten about us.” “It’s hard to say, but the fact that there were vandals meant that we were noticed.”

The demands to lack a coherent through-line beyond an end to the fuel tax and the resignation of President Macron. Some desire the ISF, a solidarity tax on assets in excess of 1,300,000 euros that targeted the wealthy, to be reinstated following its repeal in 2017. Others, such as Clement, a contractor, spoke to France 24 about anxieties regarding a loss of social connections as small businesses are pushed out of the market by larger chains. Elements of fascism have cropped up, with Maxime Nicolle spreading falsehoods such as that Macron is preparing to sign a United Nations agreement to allow 480 million more immigrants into Europe along with other conspiracies regarding globalism and the deep state.

48367625_10156233747875000_2308530773977726976_n.jpgAn infographic (shown above) that was uploaded by the France Bleu radio conglomerate, shows an abbreviated list of demands by members of the yellow vest movement. What this reveals is a mixture of genuine concerns coupled with contradictions and conspiratorial thinking. There is a call to respect international treaties and agreements, yet a demand to withdraw from NATO and the EU. A call for a greater state investment in low-income housing and re-nationalization, yet a demand to restrain the income tax burden to only a maximum of 25 percent. All coming packaged with references to right-wing conspiracies such as globalism, a culling of immigration, and a call for a chokehold to be placed on news media and the courts. It’s no wonder that pundits on both sides of the political aisle have used the yellow vest movement as a prop to embellish their rhetoric with comfort. And given how popular the far right has been in France and the rest of Europe this decade, Macron himself faced a challenge in the nationalistic Marine Le Pen the last presidential election, the movement would likely be pushed further to the right if Macron’s administration were to rupture.

Who are the yellow vests? Individually they are men and women, but collectively they embody a rage, an anxious ghost hovering over liberal capitalist democracies. That the forces of capital have excessive dominion over society as communities are disrupted, austerity is implemented, and the divide in wealth grows greater and more concentrated. But rage is just a feeling, it can be channeled in multiple directions. An insistence that there is an elite that are undoing French civilization can easily be contorted to ominously rhyme with the classic forms of French right-wing nationalism, including indigenous anti-semitism. Protest and popular passions are inevitable and important in any society, but they are not always the best place to govern from, especially when the collective rage isn’t channeled in a clear direction. The romance of righteous revolution is alluring, but it hides the fragility of liberal institutions and the hungry right-wing ghouls lying in wait to take power. The governed need to recall this, the governing even more so.

 

 

The Death of John McCain: How We Talk about Legacy

John McCain is dead. A war hero, a bastion of decency, a maverick. A war monger, a rude old man, a toe-the-line conservative. McCain has been attributed these epitaphs many times, by groups with varying political persuasions. And to be frank, I suspect that the last three descriptors I ascribed to the recently departed might have offended a great many of you. And understandably so. With the public mourning and his body lying in state for the purposes of national ritual, there is no denying McCain as an icon. An icon whose’s legacy is, shall we say, being cemented rather uncritically. And is that craft, the making of legacy, that makes this present moment very interesting for us as a people. How do we shape a legacy in the making?

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I won’t spend too many words on the life and times of John McCain, as others have done so to great length. Suffice to say, it’s complicated. Yes, McCain has been known to cross the political divide to support bipartisan efforts such as his co-authorship of the 2005  Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act with the late Ted Kennedy, which would have established a guest worker program and path to citizenship to migrants that conservatives loathed. Yet this effort, like many of his others, failed and what is left are positions that fall in line with conservative dogma, such as his support for Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 “Papers Please” legislation, which gave Arizona police the power to detain anyone they suspected of dubious immigration status, which corresponded closely with his senatorial primary race. It’s this confusing dichotomy that runs through McCain’s life. He may have supported the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act of 1988 which helped indigenous people’s, including Arizona’s Navajo tribe, establish what would become the main economic driver for these societies, yet nevertheless would force them to relocate from Oak Flats and Big Mountain to satisfy industrial mining interests. And while he had reservations about torture, as evidenced by him speaking out against the U.S. partaking in it at Abu Ghraib, he stilled remained a staunch advocate of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and beyond. If I can summarize my feelings towards the recently departed, as limited by the para-social relationship I have to the man, McCain was an exemplar of the tendencies of liberal conservatism, for better and for worst. He was rhetorically committed to liberal values, but would often make exceptions and compromises in an seemingly pragmatic effort to remain on the good graces of corporate interests, his neoconservative allies in Congress, and his personal ambitions. Exceptions that would often hurt others, both here and afar.

Yet with the flood of obituaries and eulogies from journalists, politicians of both parties, and personal friends, that more honest assessment is being masked. His largely conservative voting record being obscured in favor of a focus on his bipartisan efforts; his consistent militarism and the accompanying fallout of said actions veiled by a focus on his civility. That is the image, the legacy that is being shaped. A legacy not just for a passive remembrance, but to actively shape the public imagination.

Who is legacy for? Is it purely for the dead, a mere record of their past deeds? If that was entirely the case, I would doubt these ghosts would still be popping up in our present conversations as often. Take Martin Luther King. To anyone who has studied him, his writings, his actions, and the culture’s reaction to him and the rest of the civil rights movement, knows of his radicalism, his stances against white centrism, and the negative reactions he received for his acts of civil disobedience and the overall gains of the civil rights movement. Yet these truths about the man are often ignored whenever a Black Lives Matter or National Anthem protest rolls around. When Martin Luther King is evoked in these moments, it’s often to cast the contemporary protests as uncivil, as spitting in the face of his memory; whether it be a protest on the street or kneeling on the field. In these scenarios, MLK’s legacy of civil disobedience is twisted to help shape the moving goalposts protestors of racial disparities have to aim for if they desire majority support.

My point in this brief aside is to introduce you to the idea that legacy is less a record of the dead, and more a tool for the living. A tool that helps shape the public zeitgeist to the interests of the sociological majority and the institutions that largely represent them. From my observations of John McCain’s funeral and the statements made in this moment of public mourning, the beginnings of crafting legacy as a tool seems to be happening once again.

Various media outlets have focused on the subtle digs at Trump that have appeared through-out the funeral proceedings by Meghan McCain, Barack Obama, and more. Indeed, with the focus on McCain’s public feud with Trump as of late and the president unsurprising tone-deaf actions in response to the famed politician’s death, such an emphasis is expected. Though such rebukes might indicate what direction McCain’s legacy will take in the immediate future. Trump and the gang of ghouls that ascended with him are emblematic of the rise of the illiberal elements of the Republican Party, figures who have little regard for liberal values, save for when they can be used to push forward their agenda, and openly align themselves with white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, and other strict interpretations of the social hierarchies of our liberal society. The alt-right in other words.  By focusing on how McCain’s legacy symbolically counters this rising storm, men and women from both parties hope to restore the liberal conservatism that McCain exemplified. A tendency that, while reliant on the after mentioned illiberal elements as a method to drum up support, was never completely consumed by them in rhetoric or values.

Some might say that this is a good thing, a way to counter Trump and his base. I disagree! Trump certainly is unique specimen of cockroach, and the alt-right is a blight I rather see snuffed out. But I feel the position I described ignores the failings of liberal conservatism.  Ever since it’s rise in the 1980s, liberal conservatism has saw the rise of neoliberal capitalism and the erosion of many of the gains for women and people of color in the 1960s and 70s; developments that I consider largely responsible for many of the present disparities in the world today. Reviving such an ideology is counter-productive in finding the solutions to the problems we face in the present.

Rather than using legacy as a tool of idealogical warfare, I propose equating legacy to lesson. What we, the living, owe the dead is not to view them as either angels or demons, but rather to craft their legacy to be as close to the truth as we can. This way we can learn from them, their successes, their failures, to craft a better present for ourselves and a even greater future for our posterity. Some might say that such efforts are best left to a more convenient season, to let the dead be buried and the wounds of loss to heal. I am sympathetic to this, particularly for those who were close to the man, but given the crucial moment this represents in terms of legacy formation, I chose to stand firm. We owe the dead the truth so the living may avoid the sins of the past and enjoy the hope of the future.