The Star-Spangled Banner

Friday I received my DD form 214 from the Navy saying that I will be honorably discharged one month from today. I threw a couple of mooring lines from the pier to cast off my ship, which was embarking the same day on a qualifying underway schedule. It will, fingers confidently crossed, be the final act I’ll perform for the United States military, an organization with whose mission I have deep problems. I went to an office on base, handed in my check-out forms and a personnel specialist gave me a beautiful blue folder with the 214 and various other documents.

I had been under the impression that someone would retrieve my military ID so I couldn’t have access to base facilities that are reserved mostly for active-duty sailors, but no one did. So I woke up very early this morning, drove back on base and used the gym for an hour. On my way back out, colors was starting, which is a twice-daily ceremony where the American flag is first raised then lowered. During the morning colors, base loudspeakers play the Star-Spangled Banner. Sailors in uniform are required to stop and salute the flag through the national anthem. Those in civilian clothing pop to attention. Drivers stop and place their hands in their laps. But shrewd ones duck into buildings where these edicts of respect don’t apply – which to me belies a lack of patriotism that is often in popular circles ascribed to military service members. (In my experience, most sailors did not join because they wanted to serve their country but because they wanted better benefits than were available in the private sector.)

As I drove from the gym, the Star-Spangled Banner started to blare through my open driver window just as my tires hit a speed bump exactly inside the base gate. Technically I should have stopped, but I gunned it and sped toward the exit to the main road off base, the doppler effect prolonging the notes of the dramatic song until I couldn’t hear it anymore.

Cast any aspersion you wish – I’m comfortable with my distaste for the conventions of an organization that propagates the hellish institution of war. In any case, though, there are two sides to the tale of the ballad’s history.

The first and more popular (since the verses embody our nation’s patriotism and cannot be tainted by racism) goes like this. Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, penned the lyrics for the song as a poem originally titled “The Defence of Fort M’Henry.” It was inspired at the culmination of his vantage of the famous Royal Navy attack  on Fort McHenry in Baltimore. The attack consisted of a sustained fusillade of bombs launched from 19 British ships that lasted 25 hours from September 13 to 14. Key was a lucky white man – born to plantation-owning parents, he embodied white privilege. He was held by the British as a character witness for American prisoner of war on the British command ship that led the attack on Fort McHenry. They would be releases only after the attack. Key’s mind was marked by incredible dismay at British victories in recent battles. As he watched the vicious attack on Fort McHenry unfold, he couldn’t conceive that the Americans would win. But as a flag, of stars and stripes, rose from the smoke toward the end of the assault, an American victory became clear. This sight inspired the words of the “Defence,” and most know their chant. (Google it, if you’re unclear.)

What’s lost in this telling is a palpable and crucial fact of the war. The British had initiated the conflict because they had seen the Americans as instrumental allies to the enemy in Britain’s ongoing wars with the French. The United States had been trading on neutral ground with the French, and the British saw this trade as a bulwark of French military actions. It waged a war on America to stop the flow of goods and to abet its efforts, it publicly called for the defection of black American slaves to fight on behalf of the British in exchange for freedom in Halifax. The defecting slaves helped the British win their victories leading up to the Battle at Fort McHenry.

A crucial third stanza of the American national anthem is omitted during official events that portray the victory as a lynchpin of American values. Key, a racist, was bitter that slaves would dare take leave of their chains to fight for the British and assist in filling some of Key’s people. So he included in the venerated poem these words, a selfish dig, which serve as the third stanza:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,

That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion

A home and a Country should leave us no more?

Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The land of the free. The home of the brave.

What home? What country? The blood of slaves had previously only been given to the bringing in of crops and for the entertainment of white men. The flag waved over, as Key put it, the sifting of the certain humans who could sustain the American economy as it were (and would be).

This history was quickly lost in popular culture but was revived anew and rewritten in the early twentieth century, as lawmakers tried to co-opt the poem for nationalistic purposes. It took 14 tries to get the legislation through congress making the Star-Spangled Banner America’s official patriotic song in 1931. But that effort realized the third stanza was inconsistent with American values that were enshrined in our culture subsequently to the Star-Spangled Banner’s writing. It was secretly expunged. By which I don’t mean to say it was deleted from history. The full text of the song is easily accessible on Google. But it is deleted, generally, from our history of it, even by blacks. Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Jennifer Hudson, and Beyonce all sang it at the Superbowl. All skipped the third stanza. Swept up in the pageantry, black football players teared up. To think what all the slaves who defected to the British reasoned for to justify their insolence in the War of 1812. I feel safe assuming they’d not look kindly on the rewriting of history.

Key, in retrospect, probably would have wanted his song to be remembered this way. Bitterness has a way of dissipating. The perception of slights gives way to perspective. We hold grudges simply for the sake of politics. The problem is, politics is insidious. It dives under our skin and builds a callous. We take a tenderizing hammer to some of these callouses. Parts of the American callous against gays and transgenders have been beaten off (no pun). Unfortunately, some calcify before they can be cast off, and racism is one of these latter.

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Cheryl

I was angry at Cheryl. She took the $30 I’d given her for a cab, which would pick her up on the street corner just outside by house. There was bus stop on that corner, and she’d been waiting for a vessel, she said for “hours.” I’m cynical about that estimation because Cheryl was clearly unstable.

When I spotted her, she wore a white sundress with embroidered flowering under a fur coat whose authenticity I couldn’t tell. This clothing was dirty and Cheryl was addled by something. Her hair was in a loose bun, and her eyes drooped. She talked as if she was loosing her mind. I talked on the phone with a friend on my front porch and watched Cheryl walk around my neighborhood and end up on the sidewalk right across my front yard, swaying like an apparition. Cheryl stared as me. Her wispy hair got in her face, and eyes, not sunken like the rest of her face, pleaded for solace.

“Hang on a second,” I interrupted my friend.

“Can I help you, ma’am?” I called to Cheryl.

“Yes,” her voice shook.

I hung up on my friend and walked to Cheryl.

“I’ve been waiting for the bus out here for hours, and it hasn’t come,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”

I told her I didn’t know anything about the bus schedule on Fridays.

“Can you give me ride?”

I’d been drinking a little, and I told her no.

“You shouldn’t drink,” she said.

“I do this sometimes on Friday afternoons.”

Air. She look at me with dead lowbeams. I tried to ascribe her human qualities, and all I could produce were those of the addict. The skin surrounding her eyes was weathered paper. No blood vessels in the whites, only an ambient pink that darkened as it approached the lids and dry corners. Her arms swayed delicately at her sides, like she was avoiding to disturb some beast inside.

“Here’s what I gotta say,” I said. “I’ll give you some cash and will call you a cab. Follow me out to the corner here.”

“Okay.” she trembled.

“What’s your name, ma’am?”

“Cheryl.”

I dialed a cab and asked the cost of her trip. The proprietor told me a driver would be here shortly.

I told her to wait, went inside, retrieved the $30 she’d need and brought it to her.

“You don’t have to give me money,” she labored.

“Just take it, the cab will be here in 15 minutes.”

“Right here?” she quivered, standing next to bus post like a ghost.

“Right here,” I confirmed, “can you do that?”

“I hope I can make it the whole ride to my apartment without wetting the carseat.”

“You wanna use my bathroom before the cab gets here?”

“No, I can manage.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

I walked back to my porch and returned to the horn with my friend. I checked the corner from the vantage of my porch every minute for five minutes, and Cheryl sat put. I turned my back and watered the flowers. This took about two minutes. I turned back again and Cheryl was nowhere to be seen.

The cab pulled up, earlier than expected and made a swoop through the neighborhood. I told my friend I had to talk to the driver and hung up. I approached and asked the driver, “Are you here for Cheryl?”

“I think so,” she said.

I told her the situation and offered to pay her for her wasted time. She pleasantly understood, said payment wasn’t necessary and drove away.

I called my friend back. Five more minutes.

***

On November 9, I couldn’t feel my face. It was 3 a.m. and I saw the headline in the New York Times announcing the election results. I told myself I had to do something. I had a bunch of ideas to counteract what was happening in the world in the following days, but none of them seemed right.

So I started giving money to homeless people.

I had given a couple beers to a guy who was asking for change on a sidewalk in Austin the prior February, but other than that I’d usually opined that people who wanted to help those in need should contribute to humanitarian institutions (after researching them, of course). I haven’t lost that conviction. People should donate to humanitarian institutions. But something changed November 9. I stopped caring what homeless people would use the money for. I started giving $20 bills to dirty people with signs about how anything-helps and having a family-but-no-food who frequent the corner of my local grocer. I’m not sure if it made them feel human. I’m not sure what the money went to. Maybe some went to hard drugs; Bremerton is home to one of America’s many heroin nests. I do know that I once asked a regular if he wanted a beer because I had no cash on me, and he turned it down.

Perhaps it made them feel human. It absolutely made me feel human.

***

Cheryl floated back up to my sidewalk. I hung up again on my friend.

“Where’d you go?” I accused Cheryl.

“I got antsy feet,” she matter-of-factly explained.

“Well, the cab came and went.”

“Maybe you could call me another one? I still have the money you gave me.”

“I’m not calling you another cab, Cheryl; they’ll think I’m pulling their chain.”

“Okay, we’ll here’s your money back,” she said, digging into her periwinkle, moth-eaten wallet. She hung her head.

“I don’t want the money back. Here’s what you’re gonna do.”

I gave her directions to the grocer and told her to talk to customer service. They’d call her a cab. She agreed and shuffled back the way she had come.

I got back on the horn with my friend, told her I worried Cheryl would let her comrades know there’s a dude at my address who will give them $30 for a cab if they show up and look pitiful enough.

It’s been about a week. I haven’t seen Cheryl. Or any of her friends.

The Relevance of Stephen King’s “It”: Hanlon and Obama

Warning: This piece contains the N-word.

Pages 671 through 709 of Stephen King’s “It” are nothing if not prescient. These pages embody most of Chapter 13, “The Apocalyptic Rockfight,” which describes a crucial showdown between the book’s protagonists and some of the ancillary bad guys. For the purpose of this piece, these pages can be extracted from the book’s larger context, but a small bit of subplot is applicable.

The setting is 1958 Derry, Maine, a somewhat rural and faltering mill town that supports a few farmers and, formerly, a military base. It is a fictional town whose topography is widely represented to be based on nearby Bangor, a real-live place. (There’s even a cottage industry in Bangor spawned by local artists who give kitschy tours of Stephen King’s “Derry.” Just Google it.) But the landscape, politics and demographics of Derry are as “American” as they come, and for parallel I draw below, appropriate.

The relevant antagonist in this section is disaffected and behind-in-his-studies Henry Bowers, a rural white preteen raised by a poor, working-class, abusive father, Butch, who once nearly killed Henry’s mother in their ramshackle Derry home. (Henry’s mother had left by ‘58.) Henry spends any time not doing chores on Butch’s farm putzing around Derry’s now iconic scenes exploding firecrackers, watching movies in the theater and antagonizing any smaller local school kid who crosses his path. It’s clear he has learned this behavior from his father, who is violent with Henry when he disappoints Butch. In the summer of 1958, Henry takes particular interest in a group of slightly-younger outcasts – who are the horror classic’s heroes – that calls itself “the Loser’s Club.” He is offended by them in various ways but most of all by the blackness of one. Butch spends much of his time with his son demonizing the sole black family in the town, the Hanlons.

Will Hanlon, who also runs a farm on the outskirts of Derry, is a dutiful farmer and a military veteran who, decades earlier, escaped a fire set by white supremacists to a black watering hole on his base, in which hundreds of people died. Will cobbles his life back together after the terrorist attack. He becomes the successful (some times more than others), hardworking proprietor of his family farm business. Will spends much time with his son, Mike, impressing on him the importance of going places, learning things and perhaps most palpable, staying out of the way of white people who want to commit violence against him. Henry is one of these, given Butch’s vendetta against Will. The nature of this quarrel is as follows: Butch, seeing Will’s decent white house and relative business success as an affront to his whiteness, paints a swastika on Will’s land and kills his chickens. In restitution, Will demands that Butch pay him $200 for the chickens in exchange for withdrawing charges. Informed by local police that he’d be convicted of a hate crime for the swastika, Butch grudgingly scrounges the cash by selling a car and acquiesces to Will’s demands. Butch has always seen everything bad that happens in his own life and everything good that happens in Will’s as a part of a broader conspiracy by blacks and “nigger lovers” to ethnically cleanse the community of its white people.

“And why not?” Butch would ask his round-eyed dirty-necked silent son. “Why not? I was just a man who fought the Japs for his country. There was lots of guys like us, but he was the only nigger.”

The chicken business had been followed by one unlucky incident after another – his Deere tractor had blown a rod; his good harrow got busted in the north field; he got a boil on his neck which became infected, had to be lanced, then became infected again and had to be removed surgically; the nigger started using his foully-gotten money to undercut Butch’s prices so they lost custom.

In Henry’s ears, it was a constant litany: the nigger, the nigger, the nigger. Everything was the nigger’s fault. The nigger had a nice white house with an upstairs and an oil furnace while Butch and his wife and his son lived in what was not better than a tarpaper shack. When Butch couldn’t make enough money farming and had to go to work in the woods for awhile, it was the nigger’s fault. When their well went dry in 1956, it was the nigger’s fault.

With all of this in mind, Henry directs his malice toward Mike. He makes “a tarbaby” out of him, washing a terrified Mike in mud, shoving the mud in his ears. Henry lovingly courts the good friendship of Mike’s dog, Mr. Chips, by offering it delicious people food and once he has the dog’s trust, feeds the pooch meat poisoned with pest killer.

When the pains started, Henry produced a piece of clothesline and tied Mr. Chips and tied Mr. Chips to a birch so he couldn’t get away and run home. He then sat on a flat sun warmed rock, put his chin in his palms, and watched the dog die. It took a good long time, but Henry considered it time well spent. At the end Mr. Chips began to convulse and a thin green film ran from between his jaws.

Henry goes home to his dad and tells Butch the story of the dog’s death, and Butch gives Henry a beer and praises him, one of the only fond memories Henry comes to have of his dad, whose throat Henry, who goes quite insane, slits in his sleep later that summer.

Henry lurks behind buildings and in alleyways plotting to avenge his father’s misfortune by assaulting the black boy. He does so with friends who come from similarly failing blue-collar backgrounds and have similar characteristics – slowness of mind and body, mental illness, bitter tendencies at their stations in life. They are muscle-bound, physically slow, hateful. They harbor simplistic political views and incredible victim complexes.

Anything ring a bell relating to current events?

A black man has worked hard at various social crafts his whole life. Raised in a multicultural family in Hawaii, he holds sanguine views on white people but is aware of their pitfalls. He raises his offspring to be respectful, upstanding social citizens. He becomes president, a level of success Will Hanlon would never have been able to imagine. But the similarity lies here: in the spectrum of presidents, Barack Obama is only moderately successful. He is midway down the list of all American presidents in terms of net worth. (His successor tops the list.) He has ups and downs. He is not perfect, especially in the realm of progressive accomplishments. Though it achieves insurance for tens of millions of Americans, his health care bill is in no way radical. Though it saves the auto industry from ruin, his bailout benefits the wealthy more than it does the poor. His war policy is largely fashioned on that of his predecessor. And though it’s the first real stride toward a solution to climate change, his leadership in the Paris Climate Accord is watered down by outcomes that would still be environmentally catastrophic. Still, in the spectrum of presidents, he is a good one. His moral stature is one young men – not young black men but young men – should aspire to. Taken in the context of his nation’s addled relationship with race, his accomplishments are impressive.

He is no Malcolm X. He is no liberal. He is certainly no Muslim or socialist. He is simply a curious man, a policy wonk with a fondness for learning and a moderately successful president. He is Will Hanlon.

And he has a Butch Bowers in his life. Obama’s Butch is the social id of white supremacy and white victimhood, which manifests in the congressional elections of his two terms. The Bachmanns, the Ryans, the McConnells and the Kings. The Tea Party, which, though it overtly distanced itself from white supremacy, showed its true colors when it called Obama’s health care plan, a market solution spawned by libertarian think-tanks, socialism. Wise to the racist implications of accusing Obama of being a Malcolm X figure, Obama’s Butch Bowers dumbly zeroed in on Islam and socialism. It had figured out the one out but, stupidly, not the other.

Sadly, that didn’t stop it. In its quest to claw back all social benefits in favor of whites, it spawned Henry, who grew intent on killing Mike. It fueled the rhetoric that produced the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, an empty vessel into which white supremacy could pour its cocktail of vile tendencies and create a menace. Trump, prone to the sin of self-aggrandizement, gobbled up the praise of a movement that knew it could co-opt him. David Duke endorsed Trump. Richard Spencer. Milo Yiannoploulos. Sarah Palin. Rudy Giuliani. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. Ann Coulter.

It was a vast but simplistic Henry. It was a Henry that, true to form, seeing the success of a black man, however menial in the spectrum of presidents, could not stand the idea that a nigger lived in a nice, white house. It could not stand the idea that a nigger was wielding influence. It could not stand the idea that a nigger had institutional strength enforcing his way.

The nigger, the nigger, the nigger.

In lieu of killing him, which Henry came to know was not feasible, it beat him up and killed his dog. It surreptitiously circumvented one of Obama’s Supreme Court appointments. It shut down the government twice, inflating the cost of the thing it wanted to kill. Parts of it illegally redrew election boundaries to propagate its influence. It created a virulent media apparatus that contrived stories from thin air to best its opponents. It manipulated a flawed election system to wrest the power of policy from the left. It withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. It attempted to kill Obama’s biggest legacy, the health care law, but it could not. It is killing Obama’s national monuments. It is killing his reforms to integrate the military for all people.

It is poisoning his dog.

It is comprised of a minority of the country. But we, the majority who opposed most of what Donald Trump and the Trump ilk are trying to do, let it happen. There is at least one other part of “It” that is prescient: Adrian Daub wrote last year in the LA Review of Books: “Not for nothing does It make its home in the town’s sewers; as one character puts it: ‘Nobody knows where all the damned sewers and drains go, or why. When they work, nobody cares.’”

The sewers and the drains worked with Obama. Nobody cared where they went. And now the sewers and drains are busted.

Credit: King, Stephen: “It”, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY; 2016; paperback

Greenland’s Deeply-Burning Fire

It’s come to the attention of people that Greenland burns differently than much of the rest of the world. In most instances of wildfire, flames bound and frolic across landscapes, quickly consuming trees, brush and grasses. It is an established scientific norm that fire typically moves laterally. But wildfire in Greenland is a phenomenon that was previously inscrutable because it rarely happened. It rarely happened because the only fuel that exists in Greenland’s scant naked acreage has historically been locked in permafrost. The remainder of the vast island is covered by a robust but weakening shell of glacier ice. But as temperatures warm in the Arctic circle – far more quickly than they are warming in the rest of the world – the permafrost has melted and the peat that cloaks the Greenland tundra is drying out. New flora is sprouting in the warmer climate that facilitates wildfires, but the substance of the current crisis on the island is not above the surface. It is underneath.

Peat bogs burn slowly in every direction but up. Greenland’s peat is burning. Peat is a concentrated carbon matter, an amalgam comprised of plant corpses that decay at a glacial pace that builds deep deposits of itself in moist, plant-rich environments. It is used by hippies and efficient people for heat. It smolders at a high temperature and releases into the atmosphere more carbon than other heating fuels. Wood burns quickly; peat burns slowly. Because of this concentrated nature and the depth of a peat bog, the Greenland fires burn down instead of out. Like a natural insidious napalm, a peat fire burrows inward until the fuel is spent. Because of this, a much smaller area of land burned is required for a given measure of carbon release, which accelerates the very phenomenon that created the climate shift allowing the peat to burn.

There is another potential terrifying feedback loop associated with the Greenland wildfires. To grasp this, it’s important to understand an existing feedback loop that is exponentially accelerating the melting of the Arctic ice sheet. White ice reflects light – and heat – back to space. Even absent the greenhouse effect, the less ice that exists, the less resilient a marine environment is to temperature. A dark surface attracts light and heat. As more Arctic ice melts each year, more attractive black ocean is exposed, instead of reflective white ice. The black absorbs the sun’s heat, increasing the ocean temperature and melting the adjacent ice at a faster rate. Regional climate scientists in Greenland worry about a similar dynamic with the Greenland ice sheet. Because Greenland’s glaciers sit atop land (as glaciers do), their melting does not create more black ocean that melts the ice. But climatologists worry that the soot released by the fire will end up coating the surface of Greenland’s glaciers, absorbing instead of reflecting sunlight and melting the glaciers at a faster pace than they already are melting.

The stakes here are dire. If the entire Greenland ice sheet melts, scientists predict the global sea level will rise about 23 feet, which is enough to basically destroy each of the world’s coastal cities. It will alter the currents of the ocean, which are vital to migration and weather patterns. It will change the gulf stream.

The world as we know it is ending.

Violence and Free Speech: Defining the Sides

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I’m often approached by a guy on my ship, a young electronics technician, who wants to convert me to the alt-right. I don’t know what he sees in me that makes him think his message will resonate, but he does it anyway. He tells me climate change is a hoax, statistics pointing to the benefits of socialist economics are contrived by the government to maintain a bureaucratic stranglehold on the advancement of capitalism, and the left is systemically orchestrating the fall of modern society. When Republican Representative Steve Scalise was shot in the leg at a practice for an annual bipartisan charity baseball game by a man who’d supported Bernie Sanders, he knew it was a broader effort by a leftist organization called Antifa (short for anti fascism). The attacker, James Hodgkinson, turned out to be a kook with a history of violence. He unfortunately had espoused the ideology of the left, but that’s as far as it went. He was part of no leftist conspiracy to take over the United States, like my shipmate contended. He had acted on his own.

The conspiratorial right perceives a vast effort by social structures to subjugate it. It’s an ironic notion, considering that every liberal force in society is a natural outgrowth of resistance toward conservative movements to do that very thing to minorities and women. But many on the right seem immune to that irony.

Planning this sequel, I had discussions with two good friends of mine who lean libertarian. Each sees violence on both sides of the gap that divides white supremacists – embodied by neo-Nazis, American nationalists and militia members – and the counter-movement left – Antifa, Black Lives Matter and other groups who lay claim to democratic socialism and communism. Our conversations were sparked by the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the broadest terms, they are correct. Certain fringe members of the left have embraced violence, lighting limos aflame, breaking windows, burning empty business fronts and, in self-defense, punching Nazis. Conversely, the alt-right’s platform is to subjugate all who don’t look or live like them. This does not exclude killing the Other, a practice which planted its toehold firmly in the American conscious Saturday, which was not the first time. Just months ago, a white nationalist in Portland, Oregon, stabbed to death two good Samaritans and injured a third after they intervened when the white nationalist accosted a Muslim woman for wearing a hijab on a train following a white supremacist rally. There is violence on both sides. One of my libertarian friends was willing to bet that violence perpetrated by people who associate themselves with BLM and those who claim ties to white supremacy is similar in frequency and intensity, and he suggested a systemic approach to the argument. So that’s what I took.

Placed aside each other, the comparison between the two sides takes on ridiculous proportions that would be comical if not for the grave implication of the difference. The difference makes sense. One wishes to relegate the other to a wasteland, committing much the largest amount of social violence of any group; the other wishes to defend itself, barely noted in statistics about social violence against personhood.

Historically and today, the left is responsible for far less violence than the right. The New York Times writes:

White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.

Of the nearly 1,500 individuals in a University of Maryland study of radicalization from 1948 to 2013, 43 percent espoused far-right ideologies, compared to 21 percent for the far left. Far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.

Though Black Lives Matter is a more prominent movement and has been blamed (falsely) for espousing violence, observant alt-right members see a more particular threat in Antifa. DemocracyNow! hosted Mark Bray this morning, an academic who specializes in the long, ill-known and rich history of Antifa. He provided some clarity. If you don’t know what Antifa is, here’s a quick (oversimplified) refresher. It could be characterized as a vigilante movement against the crimes of the far right. It has nearly a century of roots that intermesh the history of fascist movements, including those that engulfed Italy and Germany in the run-up to World War II. Antifa members are accused of authoritarianism because they are not capable to employ judicial process in their methods. What this criticism misses is similar to what criticism of the Black Panthers missed in the middle-late twentieth century. Like the Black Panthers, the Antifa movement studies and defends normal people against white supremacy and Nazism. As Bray noted to Amy Goodman, DN’s host, once these movements become relatively dormant, they focus on more systemic things like access to public resources for people to whom those resources have been historically denied. Antifa, which has advocated self-defense against Nazis and the denial of speaking platforms to those who promise to advance physical violence against minorities (Milo Yiannopoulos, for example), is a reactionary force. It is a Newtonian reaction to violence that is proactively employed against minorities. So when Antifa members punch Nazis, they see that violence as a necessary action against a threat to the vulnerable.

So considering the scope and nature of action on the left, it’s impossible to characterize the movement as violent. It is not violent. In fact, it is peaceful. The movement on the right if the opposite. It is inherently violent. It inherently asks its members to subjugate or kill people who don’t look or live like them.

In the terrifying context of our moment, I can’t say what matters any better than I did with one of my libertarian friends over email about what Donald Trump means to us. I’ll leave you with it:

Trump, Spencer, Duke, et al., intend to incite violence. Trump encouraged police officers to brutalize those they arrest. He’s well aware that of the nature of his following, that his supporters will take his fusillade against the media as statements in support of violence against reporters. He can’t claim the inciter’s ignorance. He’s born witness to what his statements inspire, on the campaign trail and in the hundreds of hate crimes committed in his name in the week after his election. Spencer and his ilk actively advocate the subjugation of women, blacks, gays, anyone who doesn’t look or live like them. They are advocating violent crimes against people’s bodies, which becomes a public safety problem. An imperfect analogy is yelling “bomb!” in a crowded theater, which is has historically not been considered protected speech under the First Amendment. But the reason that example is imperfect is because it doesn’t have the systemic effect of what the alt-right movement is doing. On a systemic level, this takes away a person’s agency. You are not hurt directly when Trump’s commands his following to beat you up, and you can calmly argue with Trump the illogic of his words, but you will be hurt when his imps lay their hands on you.

This is different from the defense against gas chambers. It is is different than the fleeing of demands for papers. In fact, it is the cause of all those things, the thing  that forced it. I’m wrong in that first paragraph. There is not violence on both sides. There is violence on one, self-defense on the other.

Violence and Free Speech: What’s Unacceptable

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As American white supremacy boils over the cistern of convention that (mostly) formerly contained it, one of the sentiments most palpable in the effluent is that white nationalism is  being denied a platform. This is laughable, considering its most prominent spokesperson is now the President of the United States. Sure, colleges have cancelled speeches by people like Ann Coulter and Richard Spencer, and city councils have deliberated long over their strategies of facilitating white nationalist events. Texas A&M canceled a scheduled white supremacist rally for its campus, citing the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The federal government has little to do with these actions, but white supremacists see them as a systemic affront to their movement, nothing less than a thread in the fabric of the burgeoning brown parade against the white race. Never mind that these white supremacist rallies are accompanied, as a necessary function, by violence. Of course, the retort to this would be that the other side does it, too. Black Lives Matter marches have been flanked by arson. Election protesters broke windows. Two palpable distinctions are ignored in the false equivalency of “both sides” (which to our mathematically challenged POTUS equals “many sides). That became a related but separate subject that I’ll address that in the next post.

As a person who two years ago would have disagreed with what’s below, I’ve learned some painful lessons since November 9. One is that some messages should receive different levels of tolerance in the public arena.

Before I continue, it would be dangerous for me not to qualify this, so here I go. Alex O’Connor, a young British academic who hosts a brilliant and wildly popular YouTube vlog called CosmicSceptic, has argued that failure to give hate a platform allows it to stew in the shadows and become more dangerous than it otherwise would have been. O’Connor’s format for his vlog posts is to take an argument and dissect it logically, primarily taking on popular misconceptions about science and atheism. But he also enthusiastically and respectfully engages the arguments of his disagreers in in-person debates. His show is a prime example of healthy dialogue between warring sides. Science celebrity Bill Nye the Science Guy famously held a prominent debate with Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, an organization that advocates biblical literalism, which resulted in some productivity for the conversation. It’s important not only to provide platforms for regressive ideas but also to engage them. It is the only way to show them for what they are. If we pretend they don’t exist and shun them from the public sphere, it isn’t only anti secular, it isolates regressive ideas to a petri dish in which they are allowed to metastasize.

Some thinkers, right and left, have attempted to construe this effect as part of what happened with the last election. A certain demographic was not heard out by power structures, the logic goes, so it formed its own narrative, largely plagiarized from the dark annals of eugenics, Nazism and slavery, all of which America has in the past embraced. (If you haven’t read James Q. Whitman’s new book, “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law,” you’re missing tons of vital context). This notion is embraced in the flood of feature stories in newspapers about disaffected Trump voters and in Michael Moore’s public musings that Trump voters wanted to toss a wrench in a machine that didn’t work for them. (The average American face that didn’t vote for Trump is lost in this cacophony.) There’s something to this – I have friends and family who, feeling the pinch of capitalism, saw hope in Trump’s empty promises.

But the truth is that the eugenicists, the Nazis and the white supremacists have had their day. They were heard from the beginning of science when power brokers enlisted quack geneticists to prove that blacks are inferior to whites, gays to straights, women to men. With notable exceptions, bigotry ruled the world for most of man’s history. That rule met its end, more or less, last century. It was over with the steps forward of the civil rights, environmental and feminist movements and the Sexual Revolution. Even the capitalism that used regressive structures as tools to maintain its stranglehold on global society has begun to abandon them because their optics have become bad for business. A small example: Google recently fired a prominent engineer, James Damore, for justifying the company’s gender-based employment gap in internal memos on the scientifically wrong assumption that women are genetically disinclined to coding. It’s clear that we know, institutionally, that efforts to suppress women and minorities were – and are – wrong on both scientific and moral levels. Bigotry has seen its last chance in Donald Trump, who, though he read a script denouncing it, represents the dying gasp of white supremacy.

This movement’s only hope now, indeed it’s strategy since its inception, is violence. This is the only mode it knows because violence is its essence. White supremacy necessarily implies violence against anything that doesn’t look, or live, white. Unfortunately for it, society is, at least outwardly, wise to violence. So it has found sheep’s clothing in the First Amendment. It has claimed white victimhood in the aforementioned cancellations, in the aggressive journalism that has been wielded against it, in the loud protest that meets it in every public square. It claims to be beset. It claims to be silenced. Sadly, these complaints are heard, their callers obliged. Governments have gone so far as ultimately ignoring their mandate to maintain public safety to facilitate the violent expression of white supremacy.

There is tremendous power in speech – the power to set things right. And the power to set things wrong. And the power to get people killed. And the power to incite genocide. We’re not to that last one just yet, but if we’re not careful it’s where we’ll be headed. The government is rightly barred constitutionally from leaving any person of her ability to express her opinion. White supremacists are people. The government cannot silence white supremacy. This impossible syllogism breaks my heart. But it does not mean there is nothing to be done. There is a vast array of solutions too complicated to detail in a blog post and too long-term to be considered viable in the urgency of our moment. Systemic socialism that would bring many Trump supporters into the fold of sanity is too far-reaching a goal. The generations that still must learn the racist history of the United States are too far from graduation, the necessary curriculum too far from publication. Trump’s promise of health care for all is too lost in his incoherence and that of Congress. The gerrymandering that ushered in too many racists to the federal Congress will take too long to undo. Impeachment is a years-long process.

What’s needed now is exactly what’s happening at too low a frequency on the grassroots of the left. Loud voices. Strong protest. Angry letters to congresspeople. All of these should say in solid terms that, First Amendment be damned, white supremacists have no part in the American social contract. If there’s a note in Terry McAuliffe’s statement denouncing the white supremacist violence that killed and injured Saturday that should resonate, it’s that white supremacy is not welcome in America. Its members are not welcome. Its expression is not welcome. Its speech, which necessarily leads to violence, is not protected in the Bill of Rights.

Texas A&M has a right – nay, a responsibility – to protect its students from the violence that accompanies the alt-right message. The ivy leagues that have rejected speakers who promised to advocate segregation and incite physical violence on their campuses owe it to their students to draw back their venues. City councils are bound by the social contract to control the atmosphere and stage of the events they do allow. And precisely because the federal government cannot tell a person what to say in the street, a CEO of a American company is free to withdraw his support from a president who is hesitant to declare racism a problem. We are failing to do or to support all or any of this. Donald Trump rails about clear and present dangers in the form of ISIS or North Korea, but he embodies the clearest and most present danger that faces the American people: that of white nationalism. He represents the clear and present danger, and nothing, especially not Nazism thinly disguised as free speech, should stop us as a society from calling it what it is and rejecting it wholly.