Tag: america

Understanding the State of the Union

Tumultuous times, indeed.  America’s political parties are both under a heavy state of duress, with non-establishment candidates shaping the narrative of this election cycle.  As of this writing almost eleven million people have voted for Donald J. Trump in the Republican primary, which has resulted in him being the presumptive nominee.  Bernie Sanders, while not appearing to be in a position to win, has created far more noise than anyone had anticipated.  As of this writing around nine million people have voted for him in the Democratic primary.

While the popular vote totals are rarely referenced or brought up in America (since they technically don’t count; that’s another conversation for another time), I feel they are very important in order to provide some context to what is happening in this country right now.

Obviously, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are extremely dissimilar candidates, philosophically.  Sanders self-identifies as a democratic socialist, while Trump is a wild card that appears to be aligning with most traditional Republican positions.  However, one common thread they share, as I’ve discussed here before, is that they’re both anti-establishment.  Their existence and success is based completely on the fact that large portions of their respective parties have had enough of the status quo, for varying reasons.

Now, it’s real easy for people on any side to belittle supporters of either candidate.  In Trump’s case, his nativist slant and acerbic, acidic discourse doesn’t bode well for someone who’s supposed to be considered the Leader of the Free World.  Regarding Sanders, it’s easy to point out that a number of his stated goals are extremely unlikely to occur in an American governmental system that is engineered to resist drastic change, by design.

For supporters of both, there’s a large backlash that is trying to tell them they’re crazy, that they’re supporting a candidate that can’t deliver what they’re promising.  They’re being told that they’re not seeing the bigger picture, that they’re not considering all the issues, that they’re not understanding why they’re wrong.

The point I think we need to understand is this: more than twenty million people have case a primary ballot for a non-establishment candidate, and we’re not finished.  That is a significant number of people; it’s more than 40% of people who cast a primary vote among both parties.

Whether anyone likes it or not, at least twenty million people are fed the fuck up with something.  Whether it’s immigrants, corporate welfare, regressive trade policies, or punitive tuition cost, people are pissed.  More people are pissed than there has been in quite a long time.

All this anger and resentment didn’t come out of nowhere.  There’s a great number of reasons for it, mainly because there are a great number of reasons for the anger and resentment.  Corporate hegemony, an inconsistent and weak economy, the continuing regression of the middle class caused by middling wages and rising costs of living, the overall corruption of our government (and how obvious it is at this point).  Lots of these causes have simmered and boiled over the last few decades, and now we’re at a point where shit happens.

This is the bed we made.  This is the country we live in.  This should not be surprising.

If your national media is allowed to focus its efforts on what’s good for money instead on what’s good for news, what you get is a national media that doesn’t inform the public sufficiently, or at worst misinforms the public with outright lies or out-of-context facts that are meaningless.  We could have cared, but we didn’t.  We ate it up and asked for more.

If we don’t speak up when the banks are allowed to buy each other and become too big to fail, then we run the risk of those banks making bad deals and needing a bailout.  We could have cared, but we didn’t.  We gave them that money and hoped they won’t do it again.

If we thought it was wrong for our government to lie to us so they could rationalize a war, we could have said something, demanded an impeachment, demanded to hold those responsible culpable.  We could have cared, but we didn’t.  We sent our sons and daughters and hoped it would be worth it.

If we thought that politicians and government officials were corrupt, we could have said something.  We could demand term limits, we could disallow corporate donations to campaigns.  We could have cared, but we didn’t.  We watched our government become bought, and hoped it would work out.

Now, we’re caring.  All this fire and anger is good for us.  There’s arguments about whether the outcome of all this is going to be positive, but I have some faith.  And I don’t have faith in much.

The good news is that throughout history, when people finally get pissed and passionate about politics, things change.  Either we get so angry that we revolt, or the systems will change to serve the new demands.  One thing is certain: something will change.  It’s usually for the better, in the end.

I feel like I need to make a note and underline it here: I am not supporting Trump as President.  My primary vote went to Bernie Sanders, and my general election vote will likely go to Hillary Clinton.  In a lot of contexts though, it won’t matter who’s President.  The principal issues with our country and our economy are beyond the President’s power anyways.  The Senate and the House, however, will react, and whoever the President is will too.  They’ll have to.

The long-standing pillars of our democracy, the Democrat and Republican parties, will change.  To resist it is to invite death; that is a universal truth that cannot be avoided.  People have spoken, they will continue to speak until they are made whole.

As crazy and weird as it looks right now, this is democracy in action.

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It’s everyone’s fault.

I’ve thought and written about the regressing, reductive nature of American social and political conversation a lot.  I think it’s one of the central problems with the country; not only are there many people who don’t vote at all, but there’s a huge lack of research and a large surplus of misinformation.  It’s too easy to get a framed talking point embedded in your brain, to be oblivious to either it’s insignificance in the grand scheme of things or to be straight-up lied to.  It’s a sound-bite society, and when it comes to the important shit, that’s real dangerous.

The recent developments of the Republican party (or what’s left of it) have highlighted this problem.  There have now been enough people who have actually cast votes for Donald Trump where he is the presumptive nominee for the GOP in this upcoming election.  But there’s so much more wrong with this, and it has little to do with Trump himself, in my eyes.

Trump’s not a unique snowflake.  There have been candidates like him before; full of bluster, positioning themselves as the “outsider,” keeping their message basic and easily digestable.  Most of the time, primary voters (who tend to be slightly more discerning than general election voters) will weed these types out long before they start winning states and delegates.  For better or worse, the system is set up that way for that reason; any political party will want guys they like as the main choices, and tenets such as tradition will keep many voters from straying too far off of the reservation.

What has made Trump different is the specific manner in which he is presenting his issues, and the issues he’s presenting in the first place.  He has fostered a political climate that is friendly to xenophobia and nativism.  He has taken the Overton Window and ripped open the side of it.  This has tapped into an anger and resentment that a portion of the GOP has hidden or obfuscated for a long time.  That, coupled with frustration with a black president and the ineffectual status quo of the GOP candidate pool, has allowed this orange monster to manifest itself.

It’s fun to say the GOP made this bed and now has to lie in it, but that’s too easy, and a pretty lazy argument.

It doesn’t take a long look at the other side of party lines to see practically the same thing happening.  There’s a few key differences which will likely make the outcome different, but it’s similarities are striking.

(Disclaimer: I am not comparing Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump; the only two things they have in common are that they’re not establishment candidates and they both share disdain for international trade agreements.  Past that, they’re almost completely opposite.)

Bernard Sanders is a similar anti-establishment candidate, but his campaign has been much more “standard” than Trump’s.  Sanders’ path to victory involved reshaping the Democratic party into one that will accept him.  Trump’s path to victory just involved smashing bugs until there were none left.

The primary difference in the outcomes of their prospective campaigns is Hillary Clinton.  Sanders will not likely win the nomination simply because his opponent is a far more accomplished, experienced, and prepared candidate than anyone Trump had to face.  If there were a long-time Republican stalwart running against Trump, his outcome would likely be far different; instead, he got to slice through a relatively cream-puff schedule of first-timers, has-beens, zealots, and John Kasich.  None of them come close to the name recognition, experience, or party loyalty than HRC.

There’s thousands of words to go around here regarding the possibilities of these races (at least of what’s left of them), but the important factor to take from it all is this: shit’s changing.  Shit’s changing a lot.  Both parties have had enough unrest that establishment-unfriendly candidates went very, very far in these primaries.  One looks like he’ll win, the other has come far closer than anyone would have ever guessed.

People are fucking angry, is what I’m trying to say.  They’re angry enough to leave the cocoons of party politics and find candidates that invigorate them.  They’re angry enough to refuse to look inside the box, because inside the box hasn’t worked for them well enough.  In some cases (the death of the middle class, trade agreements that are good for business/bad for people, questionable foreign policy decisions) these angry masses have a point.  In some cases (xenophobia, nativism) they don’t.  But none of it matters if they remain angry.

If they remain angry and impassioned, shit will change.  It simply has to.  There is nothing more terrifying to a government than a mobilization of angry masses, mainly because that’s what gets them killed/removed from power/otherwise marginalized.  This isn’t conjecture, this is history that has repeated itself forever.

And we can’t just point at the GOP and go “WOW THEY FUCKED THIS UP.”  This became fucked up.  Everyone is involved, everyone is responsible.  Anyone can say what they want about Trump’s racists or Sanders’ comrades, they are people who believe in their action and support for their candidate.  They didn’t wake up and go “fuck the police.”  They feel cheated, they feel abandoned, they feel unrepresented.

Yeah, I gave that word the italics, the bold, and the underline treatment.  That word should evoke the last time people in America felt unrepresented.  We threw a bunch of tea into the ocean, then there was a big war that created our country.

I can’t keep up with this primary cycle.

It’s too much.  We’ve become such a polarized, combative, ignorant, and hateful nation of dickholes.  No one thinks anymore.  Everyone jumps to the conclusion they want to jump to, and stubbornly clings to the narrative they made up in their head (or read on a Facebook meme during breakfast a week ago).  Everyone loves to make cute comparisons to horrible things for effect, then end up believing their own hyperbolic garbage.

All sides are guilty of this.  No one is exempt.  This isn’t a “Trump voter” thing, or a “stupid liberal” thing.  This is an “entire country” thing.  We are all this dumb.

We are now getting the political leaders we deserve.

One is an obstinate, hyper-religious zealot who is probably the most hated politician in the country, at least by other politicians.  He’s getting votes mainly because he’s the most aggressively Christian candidate, and being that will always gain a good chunk of votes in America.

Another is a long-term independent running in the Democratic party, and it shows.  His policies are more socialist and challenge a large concentrated power base in the country (banks, billionaires), but he’s made the mistake of using the actual words “socialist” and “revolution”.  Even though this country is 60 years removed from the last Red Scare and 15 years removed from the end of the Cold War, those two words are still frightening to many.

Yet another is one of the most establishment-approved candidates in political history, despite the fact that she would be the first woman president.  She’s tried to maintain a message that paints her presidency as something new based on the fact that she’s a woman, but in reality her politics line up perfectly with two of the last three presidents, and her overarching economic and foreign policy aligns with the interests that have shaped our country for the last 40-60 years.

Finally, there is a reality television star who can’t stop telling us how rich he is.  He has stated and supported multiple nativist and xenophobic policies, and has replied to almost any question asking about specific policy with some form of “it’s going to be great.”  We spent a week talking about his dick.  He speaks to us like we’re fifth-graders, because we are.  He’s a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.

This is it, everyone.  This is the part of the history book where there’s a new heading called “Peak and Descent.”  We have one of the most extravagant standards of living in human history, but it’s spoiled us so much that now we’re electing our political leaders by opening cereal boxes and hoping the prize is a toy.

America is fucking great.  And we’re fucking it up.

A Crippling Lack of Empathy

I’ve written a lot about how frustrating American political discourse can be.  Much of it has emphasized and highlighted the lack of research or intellectual curiosity among most of the citizenry, and that’s certainly one of the major faults we have as a society.  I’d like to opine on another problem though.

Being passionate about something obviously implies having passion, which means emotion.  That emotion can be love, anger, sadness, etc.  Much of the passion I see in American political discourse is guided by some of this, and few are exempt.  Even I get bent out of shape sometimes when trying to explain the importance of the issues I hold dear, specifically healthcare costs, education, and corporate regulation.

To me, that’s a key to get people interested in politics; action will come if emotion stirs.  There’s no better way to motivate someone than to stoke a fire in someone, for whatever reason.

However, there are a number of issues that many of people don’t need any encouragement on, and most of the time it involves issues where someone is getting money that they aren’t.  It would be nice if people got more angry about corporate welfare and subsidy, but instead they get pissed about “welfare mothers” and “freeloaders”, wanting everyone to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” or whatever idiom they choose in the moment.

A common thread in all this, is the fact that many, many people simply don’t give a shit about people they can’t see.  That sounds insanely reductive, but I don’t think it’s inaccurate.

I couldn’t find the exact quote, but Henry Rollins said something meaningful years ago after he returned from a long philanthropic trip to Africa.  It was along the lines of this: We (as in Americans) are all insanely lucky to not just avoid the conditions in Africa, but also to not even have to see it.  A very poignant point, but it’s part of the problem.  We as a culture have chosen to ignore the plight of those we can’t see, and it’s been endorsed and raised high.

Almost all of us use smartphones made overseas in warehouses that need to have suicide nets because the working conditions are so poor.

Most of us wear cheap clothes that are only cheap because someone we can’t see made them for a matter of cents per hour.

Our government has participated in a number of imperialist endeavors across the globe, motivated by the continued goal of achieving business-friendly (re: American business) situations in countries ripe for exploit.  Millions have died because of these endeavors.

We don’t care.

This crippling lack of empathy permeates to within our own borders, as well.  When people don’t give a shit about welfare recipients, they’re less likely to understand (and care to understand) how people get on welfare, and they likely don’t know anyone on it either.  It’s easy to say “build a wall” when you aren’t even in the states where the wall is going up.  It’s simple to be ignorant of minority struggle when you don’t know anyone that’s a minority and don’t understand the history or culture.

We as a country continue to be blind to our own atrocities.  The plunder of African-Americans is largely misunderstood or unknown to most.  The causes and effects of our “immigration problem” are not even considered when we think about wall-building.  Our continued subjugation of resource-rich countries through trade or force is wrapped in a “spreading freedom” ribbon, while we ask our young adults to pledge their life for it.

And I feel much of it is rooted in the fact that on the whole, we simply don’t give a shit.  Out of sight, out of mind, out of conscience.

No One Fucking Thinks Anymore And It’s Driving Me Crazy

It takes all I can muster to not be an insufferable cunt on Facebook every day.  If I had less self-discipline, I would comment on every single fucking social/political meme that had 4 brain cell’s worth of thought put into it, which was then reposted a million times by people who agreed with a premise they refused to research or verify.  I would comment on every single fucking one with facts and analysis to show them how dumb they were for sharing an idea or statement that is fundamentally flawed with only 10 minutes of Google-Fu.

And it wouldn’t do a damn thing.

No one wants to know anything, and that’s the problem.  They want their feelings formed into a bullet point, and that’s good enough.  Fuck reading, fuck research, fuck fact-checking, fuck verification.  Someone took two minutes captioning a picture, so it can’t be all wrong, right?

This happened today:

Someone who I thought was smarter than they actually are reposted the following on their Facebook feed:

dumb

Hey, that’s not a bad point at first blush.  If I pretend like I only have a few hundred brain cells, I could probably conjure some rage and follow that up with “Yeah, how dare they!”

First: should risking your life be the only path to affordable higher education?

Second: tuition has increased at least 1,000% over the last 30-50 years (depending on who you ask), and that’s with adjustment for inflation.  So yeah, I guess risking your life does seem like a good fucking idea now.

Third: Note that the veteran in the picture is white; not surprisingly, that makes it more accurate.  There is a long history of minorities, specifically African-Americans, getting a shaft of some sort or another regarding their G.I. Bill benefits.

Fourth: Like many veteran’s benefits, the G.I. Bill has received numerous cuts in recent years.

Fifth: This meme distorts the overall message of the outcries from millennial/GenX young people who are often identified as the people “whining” and “complaining” about “life.”  The overall message is that they were sold a bill of goods (work hard, be smart, have a house and family and dog and comfortable life) that hasn’t been delivered upon.  Costs for everything are higher today than they were only 20 years ago, let alone 40 (adjusted for inflation, of course).  Hard work can still get you places, but not the same places it got your parents, or your parent’s parents.  Most people who are “crying” about getting their student loans forgiven are mad because they paid more for college and got far less than their parents (and their parent’s entire generation) did.

I spent maybe 10 minutes searching all that information up.  I’m not a genius.  But I am now more informed than what feels like half the people in America.  I’m not special, so that makes things even sadder.

The worst part of this is that the righteous indignation that people spew along with their opinions, opinions that have been poorly (if at all) researched, or opinions that they got from a fucking meme.  The person I know on Facebook probably posted that with an internal “yeah, those lazy fucks!”  Not only have they internalized a really weak opinion, but they have paired it with the entitled condescension of someone who you would have thought would have done a search or used their brain.  In reality, all they did was nod at a picture and click “share.”

This isn’t just obnoxious, this is deleterious to society, and has spread like wildfire.  Many, many people just don’t research for themselves.  They take the spoonfuls of information they’re willing to eat, and accepting that it is right.  It is reducing our culture to that of bullet points and sound bites.  I know this  is happening because Donald Fucking Trump is going to win a nomination for President Of The Fucking United States while treating every debate like it’s a wrestling promo.  He has provided zero detail on his plans, only surface-level proclamations, yet there are people hailing him a savior.

I don’t have a solution for this.  I can’t understand it.  The way I’m wired, if I read something that I’m not sure of, I go and research it.  I can accept that not everyone is like me.  But isn’t it good to, y’know, know things?  Isn’t it good to make sure you’re right before you call someone lazy, or worthless, or wrong?  Isn’t it good to base your arguments on things like facts instead of emotions or fucking memes?

Just fucking burn it to the ground, we wouldn’t notice anyways.

My New Favorite Podcast: The Dollop

Dollop-logo
Two of my major obsessions are comedy and history.  I’m a huge fan of stand-up comedy, to a point where I follow and cheer for comedians not unlike how some cheer for sports teams or political candidates.  On the other side, history probably would have been my major if I had completed college, and that’s probably a good thing that I didn’t, because having a history major usually means you have a lot of student loan debt without a matching career to justify it.

Anyways, The Dollop is a bi-weekly podcast hosted by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, two excellent stand-up comedians who explore weird parts of American history.  The format is simple: Dave reads while Gareth reacts, though they will often go on tangents where they act out possible situations in the story they’re telling.  The end result is informative and hilarious.  I love it to pieces.

The true genius here is that there is an endless supply of material to mine.  They confine themselves to American history, but there are so many weird things that have happened in America’s relatively short history that there should be no end in sight for what they could do.  And even if they do run out, I don’t think anyone would fault them if they expanded their net to include the rest of the world.

Above all else, even if you don’t think the idea of a history/comedy podcast is a good one, you should listen to what is so far my favorite installment of The Dollop, The Rube.  I won’t spoil anything, but it is one of the most ridiculous sports figures in the history of all mankind, who I sadly had never heard of before I listen to Dave and Gareth.  The Rube is now my favorite baseball player of all time, full stop.

Anyways, do yourself a favor and give them a listen.  You’ll learn a thing or three, and laugh while doing so.  It’s typically difficult to get me to full-gut laugh these days, but these guys manage it on a bi-weekly basis.

“The Establishment Has Failed”, or “What Happens When Government Stops Serving The Majority”

trumpsanders
No matter what part of the political spectrum you lie on, there is a scary candidate on the other side.  Republicans are frightened of the potential of a “socialist” Sanders presidency (and that “socialist” label is being applied to Clinton as well, to a lesser extent).  Democrats are wringing their hands at the momentum Trump appears to have.

While Sanders and Trump are as close to diametrically opposed as can be philosophically, they do share one common trait: they are populist, non-establishment candidates.  Trump brings far more consternation among Republicans than Sanders does among Democrats, but neither are the preferred candidate of either party.  Trump threatens to splinter the GOP, while the DNC has more subtle fears about Sanders, mainly the concern that he is too far left and will turn off centrist voters (which are the key to winning anything).  Both of them are getting their funding from nontraditional sources (Sanders by a large volume of small donors and unions, Trump from his own coffers), and both are appealing on a populist platform.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  The success of both candidates points to a rising tide of dissatisfaction with either political establishment.  While it may be shocking to see this on both sides at this time, to me this was a situation that was inevitable.

This is what happens when the majority of the country (re: middle class and lower) have not been served properly by the government for decades.

This is what happens when both political establishments have sold out (pardon the cliched term) to corporate interests.

This is what happens when the decay of the majority is so apparent that people turn to relatively extreme candidates and their ideologies.

The most ardent Sanders or Trump supporters share that same thought process: the establishments have failed us, we must look elsewhere for help.  The perceived failures, possible solutions, “radical” ideologies, and the candidates themselves are obviously different depending on which side you ask, but the resentment and dissatisfaction is of the same stripe: Washington has failed the American people, and enough is enough.

For the Democratic party, this is less of a concern for a variety of reasons.  The current establishment candidate is a strong household name, and Sanders’ success hasn’t been enough to carry him to a clear victory (and most sober predictive measures don’t show him as a real threat anymore).  While Sanders’ success is still going to provide a lasting effect even without a win (in that his ideals are now exposed and talked about in political analysis), the fact that he simply won’t win doesn’t threaten the Democratic party to a great extent.  The largest consequence of his success is the fact that it’s very obvious that the younger generation of Democrats and liberals largely share his ideals, and this is something that needs to be accounted for as they get older.

The GOP, on the other hand, may be heading for a fracture of immense proportions.  Trump’s success, now some of it in hindsight, is rather obvious to trace.  He is tapping into a portion of conservatives that share his somewhat-to-obvious xenophobic proposals, and are also dissatisfied with recent establishment results.  This is exacerbated by the fact that Trump appears to have appeared at the “perfect” time, where there is no clear opponent.  There’s no one with the cache of Hillary Clinton on the Republican side to oppose Trump.  The GOP’s initial establishment candidate, Jeb Bush, has already been ousted from contention, and the newly-crowned Marco Rubio has yet to win a state.  Some would think lining up behind Ted Cruz would be the obvious play for the GOP, but they dislike him almost as much as they do Trump, so they chose to back Rubio.

 


Both sides have themselves to blame.  Income inequality has been rising steadily for over four decades now; it was only a matter of time before people took notice.  Corporations now exert their power over our government with impunity.  While I wouldn’t call this a “revolution” by any standard (you’d need a lot more voter turnout to consider that term), it may be the beginning of one.  It may be the first wave of a sustained storm that may reshape American politics as we know it.

Will the establishments adjust to this development?  Will our government realign their priorities to serve the majority once more?  Will all this culminate into a splintering of parties, resulting in a four-or-five-or-six-party system?

Well, who the hell knows.  Right now we have a self-labeled socialist and a reality TV star in our primaries.