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Beware the ides of March: This is where it stops being funny

The first wave of primaries1 is now over. Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders in the delegate count 766-576 (465-25 superdelegates), and Trump has nearly a triple digit lead on the field—459 to Ted Cruz’s 360, Marco Rubio’s 152, and John Kasich’s 54.2

States have been voting for six weeks now. The narratives that drive political momentum have been baked—Trump is made of Teflon and very electable, Clinton has a lock on minority voters and probably the nomination—and as we approach the ides of March, shit is getting real. Clinton and Trump both took big leads on Super Tuesday, and have, by and large, ran the table since. At some point in each cycle though, the math takes over. Enter the March 15th primaries—which include four of the 10 most populous states: Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. A strong showing from both frontrunners in those states could sew up their respective nominations.

At this time, it’s only natural that Trump and Clinton pivot towards the general election—trying out their messages aimed up and across, squarely at each other.

Pandering or Pampering?: Democrats hone in on the Black and brown vote

“I can’t help Trayvon at this time, but there are other Trayvon Martin’s I can help.” –Sabrina Fulton

The tone of the Democratic campaign has shifted. Sanders shocking victory in Michigan exposed that perhaps Clinton doesn’t have the Warriors-esque hold on the minority vote we had initially surmised from her Super Tuesday performance in the South. The Sanders camp worked hard to make sure Michigan grabbed all the headlines, but let’s be clear: the math is squarely still in Clinton’s favor. It’s easy to forget that Clinton won the delegate count the Tuesday after Super Tuesday. She whopped Sanders in Mississippi, winning over 82% of the vote and 30 of the state’s available 34 delegates.

Many3 called Sanders’ win in Michigan the greatest primary upset in modern political history. 70% of Michigan Democratic primary voters were white,4 and Sanders won whites 56-42—in line with national polls and anecdotal evidence. Sanders still lost the Black vote,5 but chipped away at the astronomical leads Clinton’s been putting up in southern states. Sanders won nearly a third of Black Democratic Michigan voters, giving the Clinton camp a dose of anxiety.

On Friday, Clinton released an emotional “Mothers of the Movement” ad that features the mothers of slain young Black men and woman Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Sandra Bland, and Trayvon Martin. Both endorsement and heartfelt narrative, the mothers tell their story in this three minute ad that is perhaps most notable for its near complete lack of Clinton screentime. She has a 15-second soundbite at the end and only appears on stage with the mothers at a campaign rally—a brilliant move.

 

 

Earlier in the week, during a debate hosted by Univision in Miami, Florida aimed at Hispanic voters, both candidates promised to not deport children or criminals.6

During the debate, Sanders unveiled a beautifully shot, emotionally fraught ad almost entirely in Spanish about a small agriculture town in Florida, Imokalee, and the plight of its undocumented farm workers who were paid poorly and treated worse.

 

 

The ad is clearly meant to show Sanders’ history of devotion to and success on behalf of workers’ rights—and by extension, the Hispanic community. The format of the Imokalee ad presages the candidates’ presence in the Clinton ad—minimal.

Cynics will surely call what Sanders and Clinton are doing pandering. Sure. It might be, and if these ads were the only evidence of minority engagement, then both Sanders and Clinton could rightly be called phonies. Instead, these ads reflect a deep history and relationship with Black and Hispanic issues. Sanders, with his civil rights record, and Clinton, with her deeply entrenched relationships with Black leaders in the South.7

The Democratic Party could do a lot worse than make the remainder of the primaries about minorities and the issues we face. Coming off of the first ever Black president whose campaign expanded the Democratic Party and turned out the greatest number of primary voters ever, the two white Democrats running for the nomination need to demonstrate that they care about minority issues to keep us invested.

The percentage of non-white voters has been steadily increasing, so the decision to pivot on minority issues isn’t just good primary politics, it’s a foreshadowing of the general election.

Courtesy of United States Election Project
Courtesy of United States Election Project

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that minority and immigrant issues are fundamentally American issues. That fact only becomes more salient as America becomes browner and blacker. As the Republican Party seemingly doubles down on a white electorate afraid of the teeming mass of melanin, this is a good long-term strategy that will factor in in 2020 and beyond.

Violence begets hate begets clownshoes

 “I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here.” – Donald Trump

Thursday night’s GOP Presidential debate was by many accounts unspectacular. These performances have come to represent the highest form of reality television. The combination of personal ego, utter disregard for fact, and highness of stakes have made them must-watch television.

This past week though, neither Ted Cruz nor Marco Rubio tag-teamed Donald Trump. No dick jokes were made. Even the absence of Ben Carson was felt8 The crowd was post-Burning Man blood-thristy.9 The debate offered the same old policy but without the fireworks of ad homonym attacks.10

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve suspended my generally high expectations for presidential-level policy debates in lieu of something baser that appeases the animal part of my brain. Hell, they’ve been fun to watch and the candidates don’t seem to give a shit about higher political discourse. Why should I?

I and so many others have willfully blinded myself to the glib and glamour of the last dozen GOP debates. Every one of the candidates have dazzlingly misstepped and gaffed right into a Twilight Zone of ineptitude.11 With the lights dimmed down to a level that we could actually see the substance of their positions, it was sparse and uninspired.

Trump struck a civil tone. Rubio denied global warming in his home state.12. Cruz had a moment in one of the very few attacks on Trump, but it didn’t do anything to make him any more likable.13 Kasich got nearly the same screen time as Cruz and Rubio.

Buried somewhere in there was a blip of a moment that, in the grand scheme of things, will be forgotten by April.

 

 

Did you miss it? It was that moment Rubio–the reasoned, well-mannered wunderkid–didn’t categorically deny racism and xenophobia because it’s absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

Instead, Rubio pivoted to Christian Missionaries, a married couple14 that chose to go into a culturally rich, economically poor Bangladesh leveraging a lack of resources for blind devotion to their church.15 Rubio posited” don’t be mean to the angry Muslims because they’ll be mean back, especially to the16 Christians who consciously went into a Muslim-heavy country with the explicit purpose of telling said angry Muslims that their religion is wack.17  Following it up by saying, “But the military is great and there are Muslims in the military so those Muslims are great too!” does not make it better. If anything, Rubio is assigning them a value based on their willingness to defend and die for a cause he supports politically but not in reality.

By all appearances, Rubio should be a conservative worthy of disagreement rather than abject disrespect.18 There are even elements of his personal narrative that resonate strongly with liberals and immigrants.19 However, his willingness to consistently belittle and denigrate a group of people in order to score political points is a character flaw unworthy of the office of President.

Speaking of unworthy of the office of the president, a Trump rally was cancelled in Chicago the day after the GOP Debate in Miami. A group of largely Black and brown protesters descended on the University of Illinois at Chicago where the event was supposed to take place and shut that ish down. They even chanted some Kendrick:

 


This was an inevitable outcome. Protest and violence are increasingly becoming frequent occurrences at Trump rallies.

Earlier in the week, a North Carolina Trump supporter John “Whitey” McGraw was charged with assault for sucker punching a Black protestor who was already being escorted out. He later told Inside Edition,20 “Next time, we might have to kill him.”

Even earlier in the same week Breitbart21 reporter Michelle Fields was grabbed and bruised by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Washington Post reporter Ben Terris corroborates Fields’ story. The Trump camp has categorically denied the claim, saying both Fields and Terris are making it up and that Fields has a history of histrionics.22 Fields has since filed charges.

Trump’s rallies have a history of violence, one perpetrated by the vitriolic rhetoric the GOP frontrunner employs to rally his base. When the more-often-than-not Black and brown protestors are escorted out of Trump’s eyesight, he’s said things like “I’d like to punch them right in the face,” or “Back in my day, they’d be taken out on a stretcher.”23

On Saturday, an Ohio man jumped a fence during a Trump rally in Dayton. He never made it to the stage. The commotion it caused gave Trump the opportunity to compose himself while whipping his supporters into a fever-pitch.

 

 

Trump is practically rabid. I see foam coming from his mouth24 We’ve seen xenophobia in the context of a presidential election cycle for so long, we’ve just come to accept it.

Race: The most important issue in America, American politics

On the one hand, Democrats are side fighting for minority votes. On the other, we’ve come to normalize racism. America is becoming browner and it’s scaring the shit out of low-income, poorly educated white people. They’re turning out in Republican primaries in record numbers, and observers like myself have vacillated between being awestruck or actively cheering on the Hindenburg-level GOP catastrophe in the spirit of entertainment25.

Whether overtly stated or not, race is quickly becoming the most critical issue of this presidential election. Sanders and Clinton will continue to position themselves as the most in tune with and natural inheritor of race relations. All while reasonable conservatives watch Trump26 dance around the dumpster fire masked as a racial divide masked as an effort to make America great again.

We can rationalize it away. We could pretend that this is just the nature of campaigning and election cycle politics. We can accept that maybe this is just an aberration.27 At this point, we’re just waiting until the general election, which will show that the racists hijacking the GOP are actually a subset of a subset.28 With sublimated aggression after sublimated aggression bringing us to this point, the circus of American politics eventually stops with the fun and games, the grip and grins, the rallies and baby-kissing.

Whether dramatically bringing new minority and immigrant issues to center stage or feeding anger with hate, the tone coming from both sides are becoming decidedly more serious. This is where it stops being funny.

 

 

Your Candidate is a bad person and so are you!

I saw The Big Short and Hillary likes banks and I am really mad about it

“All Hillary supporters are capitalist sell-outs who would happily close their eyes and mortgage 1 the future of our country to investment bankers and their lobbyists in exchange for the promise of incremental improvement and a bulwark against the Trumpocalypse. They lack agency and support Hillary because they have been conditioned to do so.”

First, Candidates have been sponsored by corporate interests for all of our adult lives unless you are about 120 years old. The fact that people are paying attention and reacting to the means by which corporate interests are represented in politics is less a symptom of some new illness and more people learning that waking up and puking every morning isn’t actually normal. Hillary is an exceptional politician with decades of experience functioning within a political system that has always demanded compromises. She is taking money from the same people Obama took money from. Everyone does it and always has. To think that electing Clinton will be somehow cataclysmic because she will work, in part, for the interests of the same banks who the last 10 presidents worked for doesn’t make sense. 2

Additionally, many ad hominem attacks on Hillary and her supporters are suffused with sexist rhetoric. The word “shrill” is maybe a bit on-the-nose but still a decent example for the kind of ostensibly “defensible” descriptors that an anti-Hillary blogger might use. Sure, that word and many others like it exist and can describe things, like say, an annoying bird. 3 But, we really shouldn’t need to prove that sexist rhetorical connotations for certain words and archetypes exist and we definitely shouldn’t have to do so via explicit means because that is sort of missing the entire point (words having connoted meanings and all…). Said anti-Hillary blogger can write a post about how Hillary is “calculating and efficient” and step away claiming they were being somehow complimentary, but they are still pretty much just saying she is sinister and/or a bitch and they probably know that.

Bernie Bros are white and I am white and I hate them because they are unrealistic and because we are white

“All Bernie Sanders supporters are unrealistic ideologues who hide a misogynist and possibly racist agenda behind thinly veiled claims to populism. Any policy Bernie promises on the campaign trail will be summarily voted down by a Republican congress with a Democratic Party minority that may not be in his corner either. Bernie supporters are all white people in their mid-20’s which automatically disqualifies them from having anything interesting to say – particularly in regard to the liberal agenda they try to defend but do not truly understand.” 4

First, has the current Republican Congress left anyone the illusion that ANYBODY would be able to get them to act in support of ANY agenda? No matter which liberal candidate is elected, that candidate will face complete and unilateral obstruction from a Republican Congress. Bernie is a liberal Jew who stands in direct opposition to the interests who got the majority of them elected and, himself, pretty much never compromises. Hillary is a slightly-less-but-still-liberal woman with the last name Clinton. Neither will be invited to many BBQs and both will likely hear the typical impeachment bullshit before they even step into office. 5

The Bernie bro narrative has also been a frustrating rhetorical condemnation. Essentially the narrative became centered around the idea that Bernie Sander’s supporters were white, male misogynists who were categorically abusive and sexist in their online behavior. While the initial article was pretty much just a playful jab and actually pretty funny, the narratives spinning out of that initial moniker -developing original have become increasingly condemning and try-hardy as the “I need to push this idea to the brink of sanity to get more clicks” machine got itself humming. 6 Bernie stands for a few uncompromising populist ideals that get pushed around the internet a lot. It is easy to write passionately about how things should be. Idealists like him and idealists are often young and vocal which means you end up having to read a lot of re-posted articles. I guess that is annoying enough to write and repost a bunch of other articles about how they post too many articles.

Fun with ad hominem attacks

What is represented in these admittedly lazy strawmen examples of the rhetoric on both sides is the emphasis on the supporter rather than the candidate. Debates  between liberals, people who by and large think of themselves as being compassionate and empathetic, should be about meeting in the middle. One of Hillary Clinton’s selling points is her ability to work within a system predicated on compromise. Why would somebody support a person like that with inflexible, antagonistic arguments? Bernie sells himself on being compassionate and progressive. Why would somebody support a person like that by condemning friends and family as corporate shills?

Why are policy debates that should be centered on compromise so antagonistic? 

Outrage is easy. It is the simplest thing in the world to dismiss a dissenting attitude by assuming that attitude is backstopped by a mind that is either critically misinformed or incapable of operating at your level.

Lashing out at a group of individuals in a condescending “I-can’t-believe-you-would-think-that” tone is the rhetorical equivalent of throwing your work papers up in the air – an exciting and seemingly-impressive gesture that’s essentially hollow and unconstructive.

It is an unfortunate side-effect of an outmoded two party system that people begin to relish the opportunity to identify as a “supporter” of a candidate or an ideal rather than as an individual who happens to be more partial to the ideas and policies espoused by one candidate or the other. The mono a mono competitive facets of the political system in the United States have become so perfected over time that the election cycle feels like a game, and people love to win games whether on the micro or macro scale. Dismissing another group’s opinion as insane, silly, or unfounded, particularly when among like-minded individuals, is comforting. It makes you feel superior, it makes you feel like you belong, like you are with the “in” crowd. 7

The part that gets left out is how we need to live with– not only the result of these political games, but — the violent versions of dissent this system fosters from friends and family on the day after Election Day. I have had family members send me angry, hateful emails prior to major elections since they expect me to vote for a Democrat. This isn’t healthy and this isn’t some symptom inherent to elected democracy. 

We are all personally responsible for feeding into an environment where people’s intelligence and integrity can be questioned on the basis of political preference.

If you have an issue with a Hillary supporter, talk to them and try to understand where they are coming from. Do the same with Cruz supporters. Dismissing a dissenting view as stupid is useless especially if the view is stupid. Even if you are dealing with somebody who violently offends every sensibility that you have, reacting with outrage and dismissal just allows that sentiment to fester in the margins of society, where a feedback loop of like-minded people allow any idea or belief to regress to its most self-certain iteration.

A person’s view doesn’t change if you embarrass them and dismiss their thoughts as misinformed, as stupid. When you conflate an opinion with the person who has the opinion, the person hardens their position until they identify with their opinion further. Their view of themselves becomes inseparable from the opinion they hold and any further appeal to alter that opinion comes through the wires as a personal attack, because that is how you have conditioned them to feel. They are no longer somebody who agrees with Hillary or Bernie or Trump – they are a Hillary or Bernie or Trump supporter. An attitude formerly reserved for die-hards becomes universal.

Sort of like Identity Politics but without the aspiration to usefulness

Individuals in underserved demographics have found that by sticking together and affirming their difference from mainstream culture, they could influence that culture and find a place beside it. 8 The politics surrounding the democratic primaries has piggybacked on the sentiment of identity politics while foregoing the underlying substance. The effect is a lot of wealthy white people online yelling at other wealthy white people for being too white9.

Whether you agree or disagree with the efficacy of affirming difference as means for inclusion into mainstream culture, you can at least respect that there is a reason to do something.

What makes the political rhetoric of 2016 so divisive10 is that the us-against-them attitude is meant to reaffirm difference when this, out of the last four, year feels like a good time to find common ground. Among current Republican voters, I can’t really blame them. When squaring off with a Trump supporter, I can imagine suppressing outrage and disbelief is challenging. Particularly given the dismissive and fact-averse attitude that works its way from the top-down and somehow seems to permeate about a third of the American south which is still important in deciding who runs the whole country 11

Being outraged is really easy . Coming to a discussion with an argumentative mindset is easy. Being open-minded is hard. Disagreeing amicably is almost impossible. The thesis of this rambling exercise is to be a little less hard on one another. Try to find out why people disagree with you. Be less of a “supporter” and more of a person. The second we subsume our ability to process facts and alter opinions under an ideology or a candidate’s opinions, we lose the ability to think critically. Don’t do that. I’ll try also.

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What a Super Tuesday it was! But what does it mean?

And the circus continues. The weeks following Super Tuesday,1 are when see the shape of the general election beginning to form. Smarter folks than I start drawing out narratives. Here are some stories.

The singular and inescapable takeaway of Super Tuesday is that the stage is set for a Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump general election. Both won seven out of 11 states and American Samoa. Both didn’t exactly surprise observers in the states won column, but the strength of the respective coalitions Clinton and Trump have coalesced is truly eye-opening.

It turns out both can win in the south—but that means dramatically different things on each side. It’s important to keep in mind when we talk about primary voters, especially in the south, that their demographics vary wildly.2 A tale of two electorate bodies, if you will.

More stark in the south than any other, Democratic primary voters don’t only have different values from their Republican counterparts, but they look very different too. In Georgia for example, the African American community makes up less than a third (31%) of eligible voters, however, they cast over a majority (51%) of 2008 ballots. Turnout numbers from that election cycle are by no means a good corollary for this year, 3 however, the numbers still point to the major racial chasm that underpins our parties’ polarization.

Great Orange Porpoise (GOP)

Trump has a hefty delegate lead (316-226-106 according to RCP early Wednesday morning) but a lot critics are quick to point to the fact he didn’t win the majority of the vote or even a majority of the delegate count. The inevitable outcome of Trump’s inability to pull together a majority coalition is a brokered convention4—painted by critics as the last possible stand to stop the Great Orange Porpoise. An open convention doesn’t shut Trump out of the decision making process though. By virtue of numbers and representation an open convention is less populist for sure,5 but it’s not inconceivable that he offers John Kasich or even Ted Cruz a spot on the ticket or in his cabinet in exchange for their delegates.

An open convention would be good television—and, right in the weird vortex of 2016 presidential election cycle wheelhouse, an incredible opportunity for Trump to flex his deal-making skills. That’s right, his candidacy may very well rest on his ability to close a deal.6

In the meantime, Trump’s lack of a majority coalition and others’ inability to pull fundamentally alter the course of the campaign keeps the GOP field fractured and all the candidates in the race.7 So a plurality of ego will maintain the status quo, and Trump won’t ever need to win more than 40% of the primary vote to ride into the convention with proportionally the same lead he has now.

To celebrate his Super Tuesday victory, Trump’s campaign declined the typical rally and victory speech made by nearly every candidate since Hoover.8  Instead he opted for a brief statement and a press conference. It was strange. Trump was conciliatory but on fire. Reporters were on the attack. Chris Christie was silently trapped in a living nightmare. Cable news carried it for forty-plus minutes. Trump supporters were absent. On the whole, it was a magnificent piece of performance art.

My one gripe is that I wish Trump had gone longer. If he’d chosen to run a 90-minute to two-hour presser, CNN and MSNBC would have stuck with him. I cannot iterate enough how novel the choice was to hold a q and a with reporters on Super Tuesday night. Compared to the other candidates—who looked like candidates at a campaign trail rally—standing behind a podium backing off radical positions, weaseling a bit more to the center, and generally captivating the national conscious for nearly an hour was a feat that looked downright presidential.9

Dems the Yams

Hillary Clinton crushed the South, like bless-her-heart-and-these-stars-and-bars-by-the-good-grace-of-Dixie steamrolled to a 543-349 delegate lead (according to RCP early Wednesday morning). And where the republicans relied on older, conservative and evangelical white voters, Clinton won on the back of black and brown voters.

She absolutely dominated the African American vote, thumping Sanders routinely by 60-point margins and creeping into 90% territory for several states.

Clinton also dispelled any notion that Nevada augured trouble with the Hispanic vote.

Bernie wins 4! Is a semi-popular narrative pushed out by the Sanders’ campaign and its acolytes, but that still also points to a state-focused—not precint-, district-, and delegate-focused—campaign strategy. Whether by design or nature, the middle to upper-middle class white coalition that Sanders has such a firm hold on will not deliver him the Democratic Party nomination.

Without a retail politics approach applied at full-court press intensity in black churches and community organizations across the South, Sanders now relies on a Ray-Allen-corner-three-in-the-last-game-of-the-NBA-Finals-but-on-the-grace-of-a-fortunate-offensive-rebound-type wild finish.10

It almost certainly won’t happen.

Ironically, despite a stronger civil right record, the Jewish organizer from Brooklyn, New York just couldn’t break through. Sanders fundraised a whopping $42M in February though, all but ensuring that he’ll be around till the end, acting as the liberal conscience11 of the party.

Clinton is already using the message of togetherness12 to pit herself against Trump. Unity will be a word continues to use more and more as she positions herself as the elder stateswoman that is the only real choice in the general election.

As long as Sanders sticks around and progressives continue to rally, she’ll have to do some unifying of the Democratic party too. Looking forward, Clinton will have to tap Sanders or at least someone in the liberal flank of the party13 as her running mate.

For a guy who was polling at 3% a year ago, that’s a pretty significant impact to make on one of the craziest presidential election cycles ever.

 

 

What the hell happened Saturday? – Pt. 3: Antonin Scalia’ death, the South Carolina GOP primary, and a losing type of politics

This thinkpiece1 is my final toast to Saturday. Quick recap of the crap that I couldn’t let go all week: The night started out with a GOP Debate that was clearly written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. During this time, the greatest NBA Slam Dunk competition in the history of ever happened (and by extension, the best overall mini-games day of All-Star Weekend in recent memory). Then, Chance the Rapper killed Saturday Night Live—like I-was-transported-to-an-otherworldly-church killed—presaging the release of Kanye West’s latest album, which is singularly the most erratic, momentarily brilliant filament of platinum I’ve consumed in a long time. Needless to say, I stayed up late trying to make sense of it all. I’m still digesting.

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“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” –George Washington

The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia threw the entire political world out of focus. The haze had barely set in before the lights were up for the South Carolina GOP debate, and CBS moderator John Dickerson opened the show with the politics of nominating a replacement.

“If you were President, and had a chance with 11 months left to go in your term, wouldn’t it be an abdication to conservatives in particular, not to name a conservative justice with the rest of your term?”

It might as well have happened at this point that the audience started booing. South Carolina has a reputation for dirty, Real Housewives of Raleigh-type politics, and for the last two election cycles, the audiences at the debates have done their part to carry on that proud tradition.2

The GOP primary debates of the last few election cycles have been the highest form of reality television, and this latest iteration was the Jesse James of the damn bunch.  

The debate experience itself was wild. Less a group interview for the most important jobs in the world, it was reminiscent of an antebellum saloon brawl somewhere along the Mason-Dixon. The presidential hopefuls ran headlong into each other with onlookers swinging from the rafters and the barkeeper3 ducking out of sight. The GOP primary debates of the last few election cycles have been the highest form of reality television, and this latest iteration was the Jesse James of the damn bunch.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about the whole affair was how quickly the crowd got involved and, how even quicker, the GOP candidates—being as impressionable as they are to political convenience—indulged the mob. The debate devolved into “Liar, liar, pants on fire!,” “No, your pants are on fire!” exchanges. The moderators let it.

In an sudden show of one-upmanship,4 Ted Cruz started shouting in Spanish5 at Marco Rubio in an apparent effort to court the Hispanic vote by out-Latinoing each other.6 It’s unclear which candidate more solidified their bona fides, but it was clear who tried the hardest.

And we haven’t even gotten to the circus and utter lack of governing or policy detail that is Donald J. Trump’s campaign.7

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“I have never known a peace made, even the most advantageous, that was not censured as inadequate, and the makers condemned as injudicious or corrupt. “Blessed are the peacemakers” is, I suppose, to be understood in the other world; for in this they are frequently cursed.” –Benjamin Franklin

It’s easy to go there for a laugh—to make jokes, to indulge in the vitriol. Hairdos make for easy punchlines after all. Pettiness is cheap and self-reinforcing. There’s a case to be made—and more people should be making it—for elevating the level of public discourse, but what I don’t understand is the GOP’s embrace of a losing political strategy.

It’s not news that the GOP has been bending to its radical wing since for most of this century. Cow-towing to radical elements of any party through anger and fear is thoroughly untenable, and the Republicans’ inability to craft a coherent statement not involving prejudice or exclusion will come back to bite them.

A politics of negation only has one outcome—disagreement, which is not a position from which you can govern. The choice to govern comes with an implicit agreement to come together with whoever else is there8 in the common spirit of doing some goddamn good.

  The GOP strategy to the extent there has been one has relied on pitting white middle class insecurities against the ever-growing brownness of popular culture and the White House.

The GOP strategy to the extent there has been one has relied on pitting white middle class insecurities against the ever-growing brownness of popular culture and the White House.9 As a whole, the party has seemingly doubled down on that demo. As white middle class voices get pushed to the margins and mainstream America more resembles the cast of Hamilton, GOP adherence to a that demo ensures diminished votershare. They’ve set the course to be on the outside of the White House looking in for a long time.

Kasich did well throughout Saturday’s SC GOP debate—at least insofar as he was the only candidate who mentioned the word togetherness. There’s tinge of bipartisanship to him, and in 2016, that’s enough to make him look like a Roosevelt. At minimum, Kasich would be so uninspiring so as to not raise the ire or fervor of the crazy, hateful people that the GOP is committing suicide over right now. So, that is something to consider.

On Thursday, Marco Rubio picked up a trio of endorsements from SC Congressman Trey Gowdy, Senator Tim Scott and Governor Nikki Hailey. Hailey called the final photo op a “Benetton commercial.”[/note]Or a prospective students brochure cover from an exclusive liberal arts college. Although, I still can’t get the cast of Hamilton out my mind.[/note] Good for them. If they turn out to be the next ruling class of the GOP, I’ll hold some hope for a responsible opposition. Don’t underestimate a diverse electorate as a force to drive political will, and the class of Rubio, Hailey, and Scott may wind up with the keys.

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“Americans have one of the greatest legal systems, but not a monopoly of the sense of justice, which is universal; nor have we a permanent copyright on the means of securing justice, for it is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.” –Earl Warren

Public grief is a crappy phenomenon, and the social media spaces carved out by liberal millennials in the wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death were riddled with its most self-indulgent form. It was off-putting, if not shocking, two scroll through the argle-bargle. There were primarily two strains of responses: 1) “Ding dong! The witch is dead!” 2) “Stop cheering the death of a human being, asshole.”

Ultimately, this dialectic is self-indulgent and not even really about the person that died. Participating in the discussion and taking one of these positions becomes a proxy for the type of person you want to signify to the world that you are.10

As the most opinionated conservative on the Supreme Court, Scalia would time and time again give insight into the what conservatism really meant in the realm of law—an unshakable belief in a constitution preserved in amber and that with every new law, a little more freedom gets taken away.

Scalia was an important11 figure in American life. You didn’t have to agree with him to appreciate his impact. When he came to the high court, Scalia changed the dynamics of oral arguments. The question and answer section of proceedings used to be a fairly blasé affair, but Scalia arrived on fire and turned this part of the process into a line of questioning as a proxy for debate. Lines were drawn and feelers were dispatched. The intensity and insistence he brought to the bench made the whole affair a spectator sport and gave us a sliver of a window into closed door debates.

To the crowd who would dance on his grave, I would point out that liberal lion that she is, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg12 counted Scalia as her “best buddy.” There’s even an opera centered on their friendship.

As the most opinionated conservative on the Supreme Court, Scalia would time and time again give insight into the what conservatism really meant in the realm of law—an unshakable belief in a constitution preserved in amber and that with every new law, a little more freedom gets taken away.13

In today’s discussion on what and how much government can and should do, the US Supreme Court sits on a largely unexamined perch, wielding a tremendous amount of influence. And while the political side of American government has turned into a circus of flash and mob mentality, the Scalia-Ginsburg professional and personal relationship reflected a deep kind of affection forged out of fundamental disagreement.

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“[D]emocracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with use are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.” –Barack Obama

The GOP-controlled Senate will have to nominate a Supreme Court Justice—this year or next. Maybe Senate Republicans don’t want to give anything more to the Obama legacy, maybe they actually think they’ll get to vote on a nominee of their party’s own choosing. Either way, their decision to stall is a refusal to do a job.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell among others has gone even further, demanding that POTUS not fulfill his constitutional duty.14 I get it. The GOP doesn’t want the balance of the court to shift away from them. But that’s why there’s a process—supported by will of the people. Let the senate vote. Let senators run re-election campaigns on that vote. Republicans may win their primaries with obstructionism, but the calculus changes significantly in a general.

  Wherever one falls on the ideological spectrum, there’s plenty to argue about—where should education funding come from? How do we eradicate poverty? What can we do to build, once more, the most robust economy and vibrant literary and arts culture in the world?

In some ways, not taking up the vote is playing at good short-term politics—fighting to preserve a conservative court while not being able to hang the senate vote around Senate Republican necks. It’ll help keep McConnell and others in office this November, but selectively doing their job combined with a shrinking votershare spells a long presidential drought for this incar party.15

In my whole adult life, I’ve never known a responsible opposition.

If you lose an election over a position or vote, that’s confirmation that you’re not suited to represent that constituency. If the people want obstruction then stand for it and let them validate your position. That’s the ball game.

Alternatively, if you have to raise barriers to vote and redistrict yourself into a more favorable electorate, then you’re really not doing your job and you’re not doing democracy and favors. If Rubio and Hailey become the central figures in the GOP, gerrymandering becomes obsolete. A little less pettiness offers a little more room for real issues.

Wherever one falls on the ideological spectrum, there’s plenty to argue about—where should education funding come from? How do we eradicate poverty? What can we do to build, once more, the most robust economy and vibrant literary and arts culture in the world?

Fighting pettiness with pettiness yields only pettiness. When there is no substance to confront, no real ideas to engage with, you get the SC GOP debate,16 and an opposition party that’s alienated damn near everyone and now they’re looking at the date that brung ‘em, wondering how the hell they ever ended up here.

 

 

“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” – FX’s fun and topical new series

“It’s a tasty Proustian cronut that makes you remember the events of not only 1995 but 2015.”  – Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker

That’s right, young (younger?) America! FX and Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story (not to be confused with Abc’s American Crimehas somehow managed to give us a chance (and for older America a second chance) to experience the O.J. Simpson Story (chase, trial, and media storm) through a dimer, but still national spotlight. Based on its subject matter this series could have easily yielded nothing more than an expensive and embarrassing Lifetime movie, but instead delivers a topical, thought provoking, and nuanced experience. Following the straightforward, expositive, storytelling techniques of more traditional network television (with a higher budget) Murphy and FX present a nostalgic, accessible series with loud themes and clear reflections on this period in American history.

Like myself, I assume when all of you saw the teasers for this series last fall we all had the similar feeling of “WTF!”After so many years of experiencing this story on the singular note of “He got away with it,” hearing about a big budget series being made feels tiresome, overdone, and like a waste of your time. I will admit, I only started watching the series after reading and listening to overwhelming positive reviews from critics. Contrary to the initial impressions, American Crime Story brings humanity to the spectacle of the case and, will not have audiences “re-trying O.J. Simpson” but, instead attempting to reevaluate the entire judicial system, media’s role, societal and political issues of the time, etc. The premier episode starts (before anything O.J. related at all) with real news coverage and footage from the 1992 L.A. Riots. The writers aren’t being coy about wanting us to engage the coming narrative with the tone the riots set in mind. It will not yield the standard, speculative TV discussion about what “could” happen but, instead a reflective what “should” have happened. A conversation close to the hearts and minds of Americans as police brutality and racial/ class inequality continue to be a issue for finding justice and unity in this country.

The “spectacle” nature of the series lends itself well to Ryan Murphy whose hit or miss career in spectacle speaks for itself: Glee, American Horror Story, New Normal, Scream QueensMurphy’s campy nature tends to overly niche characters into their roles: the geek, the cheerleader, the conservative grandmother, etc. This at times becomes problematic because it leaves you with very one dimensional characters lacking in agency. However, this technique lends itself well to the O.J. narrative as it is one where the cast of characters are already overly niched players: Marcia Clark, Bob Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian, and O.J. Simpson and use them as anchors for the viewers. From their Murphy is able to create something essential to the tone and ideological discussions of the series, the factions of L.A./ O.J. trial; the strongest of which are Johnnie Cochran, O.J Simpson, and Marcia Clark.

All of the performances in the series do it justice, including David Schwimmer (Kardashian), but Sarah Paulson (Clark), Cuba Gooding Jr. (O.J.), and Courtney B. Vance (Cochran) present an authenticity and energy that draws you in. Cuba Gooding’s O.J. is perfectly unbalanced and over the top, creating a character who is sympathetic and emanates the vibe of celebrity corruption. Paulson brings, to Marcia Clark, a fire and a passion that pierces through the apathy in her DA’s office; all she sees is a domestic abuse victim whom the system failed, Nicole Brown Simpson. Johnnie Cochran has yet to take a side in the literal case, but his presence in the series represents the racial wave that the show so far has slowly been building.  Vance portrays Cochran as pragmatic, intelligent, and the only man who seems to have a understanding of how racial tension in L.A. will lead to this man’s acquittal. All three performers are/ will act as our guides through the series, and so far the performances warrant following.

American Crime Story tackling the O. J. story first was a huge challenge as a first project to take on, and so far it has surpassed all of my expectations. Using hindsight at its most entertaining, it puts America’s celebrity worshiping culture under examine and, peaks at a dark side of America’s not too distant past with issues still very present today. If this style of storytelling will lend itself well to the Hurricane Katrina planned season 2 of the series is to be determined. Similar to Fargo, True Detective, and Murphy’s own American Horror Story another season of this anthology could have a completely different direction and style. That being said, Hurricane Katrina seems like a similarly great place/ time to discuss the themes of: race, class, government, and media bottled in a national spectacle/ disaster.

With so much new content constantly being released on various streaming platforms, and even on television it is rarer to find a series that everyone in America watches and talks about (Game of Thrones being the major exception). FX creating American Crime Story brilliantly attempts to fill that void with a universal and nostalgic series, and is notably the network’s first participation in the current true-crime trend, which arose over the past two years (Making a Murderer, The Jinx, Serial). So go call your folks and tell them to start watching. Just say, “We will have more to talk about when I call.”

American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson New Episodes Tuesdays at 10:20pm on FX, and/ or available for streaming with FXNow on your computer or various phone/ tablet devices.

http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/american-crime-story/episodes

 

We say we want a revolution: Sanders is our last hope for saving American Democracy

“The upcoming election isn’t about detailed policy proposals. It’s about power – whether those who have it will keep it, or whether average Americans will get some as well.”

–Robert Reich, Former US Secretary of Labor1

Head v. heart, pragmatism v. vision

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the most experienced presidential candidate in the modern era and probably ever.2

Her most recent tenures as Secretary of State and Senator of a major state (New York) would forever be the first line of Clinton’s bio if the ride were to end here—already a longer resume than some former (and current)3 Presidents when they assumed office. As such, she understands foreign policy, the nuances of governing and institutional record more than anyone in the field, and will be the most prepared on day one to tackle the job.

As FLOTUS, she represented her husband’s more liberal 4 angels—universal healthcare, children and women’s rights. Before and throughout her stint as FLOArk, Clinton was highly politically engaged. It was during this time, she took up the fight—which she continues today—for women and children, all while playing “rainmaker” at her prestigious law and bringing home the bacon.5

Clinton’s broad experience and deep devotion to public service makes her an unimaginably qualified candidate. Her brand of pragmatism and “progressive doer” is vital to the health of the Democratic Party and American Civics. Hence our absolute, unqualified endorsement of her as Vice President of the United States and first alternate for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

In the preference of practicality, Clinton has eschewed a grand vision for America.6

Mario Cuomo7 famously said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”8 Hillary Clinton is all prose and pragmatism—even in this, her most important campaign. We need political leaders with Clinton’s breadth and depth of knowledge and experience; it’s the only way we’ll ever get anything done.

In the same breathe, the Luckswing Editorial staff strongly believes that a candidate asking to be President of the United States should have a clear and sweeping vision of tomorrow’s America. It is not only poetic, but vital to our self-determined national narrative, which, frankly, is one of the last vestiges of American exceptionalism.

There is only one candidate in today’s Presidential election cycle—on either side of the primaries—that understands that elections present opportunities, not only for peaceful political revolution, but to recast ourselves in the image of what we believe we should be. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) not only represents a normalization of progressive politics and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct the atrocity of big money in politics, he has real support and hard numbers that can be leveraged into instruments of political will.

A real shot

Let’s be clear upfront: though the odds have shifted dramatically in the last six months, a Sanders inauguration is still unlikely. The headwinds of change come strongest during election year, however, and here are four headwinds to heed from the last week alone:

  • The 50-50 split in Iowa was a win. Hillary Clinton was ahead 30% in Iowa as little as four months ago.9 Make no mistake: that coin flips dominated the post-caucus narrative and not margin by which Clinton spanked Sanders is a major victory for the Democratic Socialist.
  • New Hampshire is a lock. The generous University of New Hampshire pollsters had Sanders up 30, whereas the stingy Suffolk University number-crunchers10 him up 9, and Fivethirtyeight is giving the neighbor Senator a greater than 99% chance of victory.
  • If money is speech, Sanders’ choir sings loudest.11 Sanders out-fundraised Clinton for the first time this cycle with $20M in January—$5M more than the Secretary. He certainly hasn’t closed the gap, but to put this feat in perspective, Clinton started the campaign with $47M in the war chest to Sanders’ $15M. His, at one point, novel fundraising model is gaining momentum too. He’s fundraised over $75M with over 3.5M individual contributions at an average of $27 and no PACs. The sheer number of individual contributions alone is unprecedented in American politics and makes its own case for populism.12

fundraising screenshot

  • Early states, momentum still matters as national poll numbers keep rising. A Quinnipiac University national poll released on Friday shows Clinton and Sanders in a virtual tie—44% to 42%, respectively.13 Six weeks ago, Quinnipiac had him down 61/30.14 The biggest difference? Sanders’ results in Iowa, of course! He outperformed expectations, which puts column inches and air time in his favor, which signals to the general political conscious that he’s electable because other people are doing.

The nomination is far from guaranteed, but if Sanders’ margin of victory in New Hampshire is substantial, then we’re off to the races.15

Unapologetic liberals are a thing now16

The rise of Sanders has coincided with the growing prevalence of unapologetic liberals and increasingly progressive political rhetoric.17 A chicken and egg situation to be sure, the fact remains his “for the people by the people” candidacy, campaign, and message resonates strongly within the liberal sweet spot.

Let’s pause to point out that in these flickering shadows of the Cold War,18 Sanders’ viability as presidential candidate is, without exaggeration, incredible. He was a child during the McCarthy19 years, and now he’s a self-proclaimed Socialist among the two most likely candidates to be elected President of the United States.

But more to the point of a more progressive America, socialism is gaining traction among young voters; a June Gallup poll showed that 60% of 18 to 29 year olds and 50% of 30 to 49 year olds would vote for a socialist.20

 

socialism pollPeople are responding to Sanders’ radical politics. They’re contributing real money and showing up in the tens of thousands.21 Should this trend continue, his political world view no longer remains radical but becomes mainstream. His presence in the presidential political landscape validates an increasingly liberal electorate, and, like it or not, his presidency would normalize progressive policies and ideals, redrawing the very boundaries of mainstream national politics to the left.

The importance of aligning American policy to progressive ideals cannot be overstated, if only to set up Sanders’ political revolution.

We say we want a revolution

Which brings us to why we’re for the man in the first place22—the revolution.23

The 2016 Sanders political revolution is two-fold, and his thus far successful insurgency is the opening salvo and the proof of concept for perhaps the most important part.

Part 1: Socialism is totally okay

Liberal policies are good for Americans.24 More education opportunities,25 broader healthcare coverage, greater access to civil rights—there’s no way anyone says that every American citizen wouldn’t benefit from all of them. Surely, there are debates to be had on where the money comes from, but the fundamental values these policy outcomes represent are irreproachable.26

We stand with the most liberal candidate in the field27 because, in this moment, the evolution of our political consciousness requires it.

Sanders’ strain of socialism presents as myopic, so says the criticism. There’s virtually no foreign policy experience.28 His world view is limited to middle-class economics and income inequality.

To his critics: yes.

To Sanders: stay strong.

The question every Democrat and eventually every American voter has to answer is this: Is it middle-class economics and income equality the defining issue of our time? And can my vote in this election serve to preserve opportunity, meritocracy, and the American Dream?

We think it is, and we think your vote can.

Part 2: Nothing short of preserving American democracy

A Sanders presidency will net out the best and only real opportunity to take big money out of politics, thereby reinvigorating the democratic process and the very nature of representation.29

Academics, a former president, and anyone with working knowledge of a dictionary agree America’s trend towards oligarchy—as opposed to a true democracy. Power is concentrated among the rich. And thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2009 Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) decision, money equates to speech, safeguarding the system for wealthiest Americans to keep the loudest voices in the halls of government.

There aren’t many options when it comes to overturning a Supreme Court ruling, but the most definitive is through constitutional amendment.

Constitutional amendments, however, are really really hard to pull off30—requiring a Congressional supermajority to propose, and 75% of state legislatures to approve.31

If Bernie wins, a constitutional amendment stands a chance,32 and he’ll point to this cycle’s fundraising, volunteer, and voter support as the model for subsequent elections. A Sanders victory would be a signal to elected officials33 across the US that in they in fact have leverage against corporate interests; it would represent the eye in the heretofore unthreadable needle of big money in politics. It’s a chance to fundamentally alter the nature of representation through our republican democracy at the state and federal level.

There is absolutely no guarantee that an opportunity like this will arise in our life time. It’s incumbent on us to seize it.

Make America Great again: An open, untimely letter to Ammon Bundy

Dear Ammon,
You and your crew are actors in a great American tragedy.

With your semi-automatic weapons, legitimate grievances, and calls for violence, and my English degree, penchant for public policy, and lazy allusions to Euripides, it would seem that we’re destined to rip each other apart. Political campaigns, a relentless news cycle, and an ever-connected world have conspired to ensure the rhetoric coming from our respective corners remains divisive. We’ve forgotten how to disagree. That a race to arms, an invasion of federal land, and a public invitation of violence was considered a strong opening salvo to you is as much proof of this as it is a tragic irony.

There seem to be two pillars to your position—the reckless nature of mandatory minimums, and federal mismanagement of grazing fees and land rights—the former of which I wholeheartedly concede.

You see, we agree on mandatory minimums—the catalyst for your misguided incursion. You and I, improbable allies, both recognize mandatory sentencing laws are unjust. Sentencing statutes do irreparable damage not just to the individuals victimized by blind laws but to the very principle of justice; they strip judges of the very thing they were trained to do.
The mandatory five-year minimum sentences imposed on Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven have moved you to protest. I applaud your effort. The injustice of these sentencing laws must have been made apparent to you when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the original, much lesser sentences of three months and one year, respectively. Bring me a petition to end mandatory minimums. I will happily sign it.

To your apparent second point: federal land management should be a great, historic debate. We’d sit across the table from each other and talk. I’d start with the Homestead Act, pointing to originating injustice of receiving free land while Native Americans were robbed of their homes and freed slaves never receiving their 40 acres. You’d say that was before your time and isn’t germane. I’d say you get steep discounts for grazing on federal lands, and you’d say that the cost of remaining compliant is killing your livelihood. I’d point to the subsidies you receive from the same federal government you villainize. You’d point to a bureaucratic villain 3,000 miles away making grazing and water rights decisions without your input. I’d concede that the Bureau of Land Management policy disproportionately affects western states. You’d concede your business model is unsustainable in today’s economy. I’d offer recommendations. You’d share insights. I’d listen. You’d organize other ranchers to take legal and civil action. I’d call your congressman for you. We’d celebrate and commiserate, together, over sections of watered-down legislation that made some, if incremental, change.

Compromise might offend the ultimately unimpressive and ineffective machismo pose you’ve struck. But the same founding fathers called upon in the heat of unbending rhetoric would call that same compromise fundamentally American.

Disagreement is good. It’s how we know we live in a free society. Responsible opposition is necessary to a thriving democracy, and democracy is about the incremental movement of the whole of society to a better place.

The extreme and illegal action you’ve chosen to take skips several steps of jurisprudence and peaceful civil disobedience—the better angels of American history and tradition. A great nation requires great citizenship, and your act of ill-advised aggression undermines every core value we have ever stood for. It constitutes an act of terror.

As an Asian-Arab-American, I’m acutely aware of profiling and of labels that may limit better outcomes. Take the privilege you have been afforded and go home peacefully. Participate in and demand a higher level of discourse. Don’t be a terrorist, and make America great again.

Sincerely,

Dujie Tahat

A Tale of Two Videos: Tony Stewart & Ray Rice

Tony Stewart will not face charges on the murder, the vehicular homicide or the accidental death of Kevin Ward, Jr.

I’ve lost all hope in humanity.

The American justice system has failed yet again. I can only surmise Eric Holder’s recently announced resignation comes as a result of the inaction by officials to hold yet another a popular white “athlete” accountable for his crimes (see: Duke Lacrosse team, Oscar Pistorius, baseball players).

 »«

Two weeks ago, the last apparent last bastion of the fourth estate TMZ released a video of Ray Rice shamelessly knocking out his then-fiancé Janay Palmer.

Once revered as maybe the top running back in the world, Rice’s career as it stands appears unredeemable. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The NFL Players Association has since appealed on his behalf, sighting tired (but unfortunately, most likely true) slippery slope, two punishments for one crime arguments.

 «»

On August 9th in upstate New York a 43-year old man driving a 1400 pound vehicle at a speeds of nearly 140 miles per hour hit a 20-year man—a boy really. The young man with a long, bright future ahead of him died, almost immediately. It was caught on tape.

One would hope—given the above circumstances—that the full weight of the law and public reaction would fall on the culprit. One would imagine that said culprit would be collapse under the pressure, a charged and convicted criminal as the world celebrates the triumph of justice.

 »«

So here we are. The NFL is the midst of a once-in-a-generation scandal. Employees are answering to the former Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (the goddamn Director of the F-B-goddamn-I!), turning over communications, cataloging steps taken and not taken in an investigation completed or not completed. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell—the shoot-first sheriff, self-proclaimed judge and jury of the NFL when he ascended to power—finds himself in the unusual position of target practice.

Rice is at fault, and the NFL and Goodell screwed everything to hell.

«»

There is a video that shows Ward’s murder. It wasn’t shown on ESPN or your local news, because it’s a video of someone dying (as if all that war footage of rockets firing and landing on nightly network news weren’t). Watch it here—if you can bear it.

The 43-year old man—Stewart, let’s be painfully clear—is free. He woke up this morning to a loving family, doting fans, a dedicated racing team and a job that he loves.

Ward will never get a chance to realize the NASCAR dreams Stewart shamelessly tried preserved in his all-too-early return to the track.

But more than that, Ward will never get to find and marry the love of his life, to swell with pride as he watches his children stumble and get back up, to grow old and see the world change. Ward will never get to turn the ignition or choke the throttle of his beat up no. 13, joke around with his team or get angry at his opponents, relish in victory or rise again from a loss.

Ward graduated from high school two years ago. Two years ago. And will remain fixed in his family’s memory an eternal 20-year old.

 »«

The institution of the NFL has been turned inside out—and rightfully so—for countless reasons. Among these include: the culture of violence that has been absorbed by the players’ family members for years, the countless players facing even more countless charges of violent crimes and the apparent cover-up (or shameful ineptitude, if you’re an optimist) of the Rice incident—only the most recent indication of the NFL’s unspoken mandate to “protect the shield.”

Despite all this, last Sunday came and went. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the country flocked to their football meccas and millions tuned in at home. Billions of dollars were made in salary and advertising revenue. The testament of sport.

It would be pretentious, and in many ways wrong, to call for a boycott of the NFL—and not just because it would never happen. After all, most football players are by-and-large good people (I think) who understand that they’re not actually allowed to pulverize other people off the field.

I would hope that recent events have disrupted fandom—at least for a blip—causing unease and skepticism. There has been some reporting on this, but not nearly enough.

Football is good. Ray Rice is bad. And the NFL fucked up.

End scene.

«»

Ray Rice knocked someone unconscious—his partner nonetheless. He may never face judge or a jury, but he is being punished—by the league he belonged to, the team he was a part of and the American public at large.

Tony Stewart Killed a person. Where’s the indignation? Why hasn’t ESPN rushed to Ward’s aide with hours of outraged Olbermanns and Wilbons?

When we were talking about Ward’s death—for that brief two week period that quickly was swept under the rug the moment Stewart gloriously returned to the race track to bravely not lose his position in the Sprint cup race—we seemed to shy away from what actually happened. Our headlines never used the words like “killed” or “fatally struck.” Instead it was an unfortunate accident that happened to an unfortunately young person.

“…an on-track accident that left 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. dead.”

“…he was involved in an incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.”

“Kevin Ward Jr.’s death…”

“A sprint car racing incident involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart left another driver with fatal injuries…”

It’s no wonder that Stewart got away with murder. Our verbs hid him from the truth of it. I don’t know yet if that was for his sake or ours. Both are infuriating reasons.

Accidents and death are part of the machismo of racing. I get it. But Ward didn’t die in an accident. He died after an accident—when Stewart’s right front tire clipped Ward, throwing him in the air like a rag doll. As for machismo, the NFL certainly doesn’t lack in it, and they’ve still managed to hold individuals to a modicum of accountability—no matter how disjointed and backwards-ass the path is to get there.

Stewart Killed a person. It’s on tape. I’m still waiting for the Fury of God’s Own Thunder.

The Crossover: Greetings from Earth, Basketball is the Best I Ever Had

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests (this is hardly true). There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you: The Crossover.

Shea Hurley:

Dujie,

Please respond to this email having something interesting to say about basketball. I’m a little bored. You’re probably not: congrats once again.

Michelle and me went to Leavenworth last weekend and climbed a proper mountain so it’s safe to say my ankle is mostly healed. I talked to your mom at the wedding, she said you felt at fault. I said you weren’t but that it was fine you going on thinking you were. So it goes.

Dujie Tahat:

I do feel at fault. You’d never played basketball really before and I should have warned you sooner that an ankle injury was inevitable if you didn’t get any basketball shoes. Unfortunately, yours was much, much worse than most (almost grotesquely so), and your subsequent employment was dependent on your physical prowess (not all of us can be 6’4”, a sinewy 215 and have a perfectly symmetrical face—so fuck you love you!) . Also, that was just one of the worst-sounding, -looking, gut-bending injuries I’ve ever been on a basketball court to witness. That definitely added to the guilt (for your stupid affinity for Tom Brady):

I’m over it now.

On this topic though, I have been meaning to ask you a question: what it was like to fall in love with basketball?

Yes. Love.

I’ve spent nearly as far back as I can remember playing basketball and can’t remember what it was like in the early years/months. Of course, over that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with the game, and subsequently, recommitted myself. Even then, there’s a rush when I lace up for the first time in a long time. The distinct tightness and traction of basketball shoes, a mishandled dribble, the first swish, when muscle memory takes over, even the pennies and compression shorts— it’s thrilling.

In those moments, during games, I find myself in complete ambivalence–one of those truly unsettling moments where you’re equally culpable to opposing forces. One the one hand, I am reorienting myself to the logistics of the game: positioning, spacing, assessing my side’s needs and focusing on those (i.e. rebounding, shooting, etc. (not et cetera: those are actually the only two things on a basketball court I can actually do)). On the other hand, I fight to get in “the zone”—which is already a losing battle I think because the sensation has always felt more like finding “the zone.” As if I had drunkenly, haphazardly and accidently stumbled into that state of mind that I’d characterize by a sharp dullness, or a sluggish honing.

It is a strange position to be in—rediscovering something you know so well—holding both these necessarily contradicting thoughts in a singular mind, in a singular body, in a singular game.  One requires thought and analysis; while the other demands near-blankness.

xoxo

 SR:

My affinity for Tom Brady—the great protagonist of the American Dream—is childish, sure, but it is not stupid. Lupe Fiasco is stupid, so were running shoes and I should have known that much without needing to be told.

As for love and basketball, I’m a little hesitant to throw love around while talking about a sport so new to me. But there was definitely something pseudo-romantic going on. Playing basketball had the same kinds of insecurities as a new love. I knew I was going to have to stop for a long time very soon and I was reminded always that it was a risky way to get in shape. If basketball was a love interest it was a fem fatal minx. I was infatuated, I had everything to lose, and I knew that at any moment it could expose me as a klutz and a fraud. I just didn’t think it would be so dramatic, or have such severe consequences when it happened.

Generally speaking, it is a bad situation to be in when your employment is dependent on your physical condition. Sometimes the job is worth it—it seemed like it was to me—most of the time it’s probably not.

As it turns out the premier rappel and jump bases in the country are both on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington. I asked one of the older hotshot guys why he never jumped and he told me to put a 100lbs pack on and jump off my house. That was why, he said. Needless to say aerially delivered fire-fighters get hurt constantly. A jumper a few years ago, seeing the rocks ahead of him, threw up in his flight helmet before breaking both his legs on impact. The point here is that an injury was likely all along, so no worries; I’d rather beef it in the gym in front of ten people than in the wilderness in front of, like, no one at all.

Anyway, back to basketball. They say if you’re new to something it is best not to be nervous when doing it and visa-versa, when you are skilled at something the nerves can heighten your senses and are generally good for performance. This was the pendulum swing I found myself moving through and I felt much more natural, even in the zone, while I was able to think less. Thinking less, of course, I can’t do consciously. When I was thinking more it was about what a big rube I must look like, with my tall socks, ticking-bomb shoes and general lack of basketball paraphernalia. Or maybe a ruse instead of a rube, like a big, cruel trick in the form of a rangy, althletic-looking body who you could be pretty sure played at least JV in high school but who was really completely inexperienced and (initially) completely unskilled. Brick, sorry. That’s the punch-line and the joke’s on you, teammates.

I only wish I found the game sooner.

stay dreamy

DT:

Lupe Fiasco is not stupid. He’s a God. Toe shoes are stupid. I mean for Christ’s sake, wear regular fucking shoes! Or go barefoot! Mostly just pick one—stop trying to do both!

Also Tom Brady is not, I repeat not, the Nick Carraway of the American Dream—way more like Gatsby, or our 21st century version:

I mean, sure, seventh round pick, career back up, turned his one opportunity into multiple MVPs and Lombardi trophies, but whatever: the dude benefitted from the most effective pro football system since Vince Lombardi’s 1960s patented “Our endzone is that way, idiot!” offense.

Tommy Boi went to private school, went to football camps led by former Atlanta Falcon (and ArenaBowl Champion!) Anthony Graziani and grew up in San Mateo, California, among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S. (just under $83,000 per capita), and the third wealthiest in California. There’s only one paradigm in the American Dream that his ascendency captures: MORE!

(Also, thanks Wikipedia for not failing to prove my point. This time.)

As far as basketball goes, I hadn’t meant love in a romantic sense. An initial pass makes that seem way too limiting, but I think you might be onto something.

Upon further review, I realized that I recently married a woman I’ve been on and off with for six years. Our relationship bears many of the characteristics of the relationship I have with basketball: there’s a definitive muscle memory to our motions, reading and reacting, learned instinct, a general machinery and lines that dictates the parameters but that wouldn’t mean a thing without the sheer joy of improvisation and cooperative freeplay.

There is one undeniable difference though: primarily that all sport ends.

I don’t believe that any human relationship ends—especially one that bears love. It just changes form.

To that end, when does basketball end? Surely, Basketball does not.

I get great joy from watching—marveling, really—at professional basketball players whose whole livelihood, whose whole identity and techne are contingent on what their bodies can do, a physical limit. To them, basketball never ends. They are the closest thing there is to the embodiment of Basketball. And yet, their’s is a precarious agreement with fate. Their very existence is all a gamble, a tightrope walk. Thousands of jumpshots, rebounds and crossovers a season, not to mention practice, conditioning, playing with the kids, each an opportunity to cripple these giants of the game.

I mean, can you imagine, these guys as fragile?

I’ve said it before, you need to watch Hoop Dreams. Not only will it keep warm your fire for the hardwood, but it’s just a great fucking movie. It changed the way documentaries were made thereafter. I bring it up though because what could be harder than your employment relying on your physical ability? Probably that the only opportunity you’ll ever have at any social mobility relying on your body.

To preempt some of your certain criticism: Yes. It’s not fair. Big picture, it’s a social condition that needs to be addressed.

The fire fighter that jumps out of a helicopter with a 100lbs strapped to their back into a blazing wildfire is perhaps the perfect metaphor for those kids. They’re the elite of the elite, playing men, acting like men when they’re probably only still boys, carrying their families and communities on the shoulders into a situation that will almost certainly eat them alive.

One of the kids Hoop Dreams follows, William Gates, suffered from a debilitating knee injury just as he was turning on in high school and college scouts were starting to pay attention. In fact, he had gotten into private school on a basketball scholarship. He never made it. He got swallowed by the fire.

I was never that elite of an athlete at anything to merit that kind of attention or even fancy. We were poor but, my parents insisted on education as my way up the ladder. I guess in many ways I’ve been tremendously lucky. It almost seems like a crime to insist that I, too, had and hold onto my own Hoop Dreams.

xoxo

SH:

Fine Dujie,

Tom Brady went to private school in San Mateo. But any descent parents would send their kid to a school that good if they could, if only to buddy-up with the crowd. And I should hope that when hardworking parents succeed in supplying their children with this quality of upbringing they do not resent the child as you seemingly resent the adult for what he got. So what if he went to private school in San Mateo? Tommy Jr. didn’t have say in the matter. This is to judge the son by the sins of the father (which—tsk-tsk—is anti-enlightenment and un-American) and frankly a sin I think you would readily commit.

But say (as you do) that Brady’s rich and lazy, embezzling, glitterati parents managed to jostle him into the lowest tier of a public university’s football program. Let’s give him the debts and credits starting there. Remember when he got to Michigan he was a timorous figure in the long shadow of Brian Griese, was 7th on the depth chart and seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety. He had to claw for the starting job at Michigan and for his spot in the pros. As a football player, it doesn’t seem like he was given much of anything besides talent, a pure apprehension of failure and a work ethic to channel it. These characteristics, thank you for noticing also, do evoke shades of Jay Gatsby.

“The Child is the father of the Man” as Wordsworth put it, probably holds true for both figures. I imagine the newly invented penniless Jay Gatsby looked out at the copper-kahuna, Dan Cody from the shores of Lake Superior much the same way the young Tom Brady Jr. regarded Joe Montana from the aisles of Candlestick Park.

The difference of course is that Brady does not come from piss-pot North Dakota. He did get his Daisy: the far-flung, sylphlike wonder of femininity Gisele Bündchen, and hasn’t yet suffered tragic decline and demise by the careless lies of careless people. Not to get too far ahead of myself though, he does play for the NFL, and with Junior Sau in mind, he might shoot himself in the chest before it is all over.

As for Lupe, I wouldn’t want it thought that I set myself up (and what a set-up it would be) so I will be short: He has paranoid delusions about the government of the United States, which is pitiable in its way, but also annoying because of his swollen following of credulous discontents who will take a junk-theory over the facts in plain view, if only to distinguish themselves from the presumed naiveté of cow-eyed parents and classmates and I guess whoever else.

~ ~ ~

Long break here. Work sleep work sleep work.

~ ~ ~

At age ten, I was deposed of my spot—middle back row—on class-picture day because I wasn’t any longer the tallest kid in class. It hurt then like no bad grade ever had or could. I feel a pathetic now remembering it, but I was young, and regarding at least my height, I grew up. Priorities, anxieties and pressures all changed. Problems might have arose if they didn’t, and games are a good example because maintaining skill at them becomes increasingly less practical as time goes by.

I’m not like William Gates (is the irony of that name addressed in Hoop Dreams?), who might have turned fragile athleticism into a career (i.e. a person for whom the game is practical). That was made clear to me early on. Time to go? Okay then, won’t have to tell me twice. The problem is with people hanging around after they should have left like drink-spilling old men at college bars: It’s just not going to happen these people and they’re the only ones who can’t see it.

Gates is exactly the kind of cautionary, all-eggs-in-one-imploded-basket-tale that 17 year-olds are hard wired to ignore in lieu of stories of guys who made it. If you can dream and not make dreams your master… If only. Outliers is bunk by the way.

Speaking of practicality and dreams and the boy being the father of the man, the image of the adult offered by the NBA—by pro sports in general—is not in the least bit practical. It provides a select few, a pre-selected few even—because DNA transcription is really more important here than anything that might follow—a chance to be rich and eccentric and idolized while it strings everybody else along.  Right now there is a guy just down the way on a barstool lamenting his wretched heap of a life to some poor stranger all because, he says, coach wouldn’t put him in, or his knee went out, or Ms. Bitch English teacher failed him out of eligibility. You’ll notice that when you chance upon this tedious foe (you have, and you will again and again and again) he is reliably incapable of prompting your sympathy.

The owners of the NBA—here I invite you to pause and muse with me on the oatmeal colored folds and gathers of Donald Sterling’s collapsing face—are nothing if not shrewd capitalists. Having an underclass of snowflake-or-bust kids who are made to think their endeavors on the court, or the field are more likely to repay their efforts than what they do in the classroom is agreeable; friendly; face-sucking, hand-under-shirt, over-bra simpatico to the status quo. The status quo being, of course, that the kids are without skills or footing and people like Sterling (who has excess money in almost exact proportion to excess skin) go on selling them hoop dreams. Dreams which are, to borrow a phrase nothing but net.

As I realize there is a Macklemore song about this I fill with self-loathing.

Talk to me

Shea

DT:

You did a whole thing there where you grew up and became a cynical old curmudgeon in the span of your last five ‘graphs. Good for you!

I’m going to try and keep this under 3000 words because I turn into a pumpkin after that.

Very quickly on Tom Brady: I would send my kids to private school. I hope to. But let’s not amplify the narrative. His ascendancy is limited to football—which, frankly, isn’t a mountain he could climb without coming from an upper-class, white, privileged family. I take no offense to his unlikely (sports) myth. As a fan of sport, I cannot help but to admire it. I do take offense to calling it the American Dream, and him the main character of it. America is no longer just a sea of pretty white boys (bad news for you). The American Dream connotes there is no alternative. His life wasn’t on the line and neither was the socio-economic outcome of his children. With or without football, Tommy Jr. probably would have still been rich, and his kids would still have their trust funds.

191 words to go.

The Brady discussion seems the perfect digression for the irony of William Gates’ name.

You are unassailably right about how the NBA is structured and capitalism in general. It sucks to be a Plebian. It’d be way cooler to wear a toga and admire little boys. But it sucks much less to be a Pleb that has mastered—or at least gets the daily opportunity to master—a craft as endlessly surprising and infinite as basketball.

Gates is a cautionary tale. There are a dozen of him for every Jimmy Butler. But you can’t blame people for doing what they’re good at, and hoping to achieve the highest form of success doing it. Anyone who can commit to that, seems to me, is the true “protagonist of the American Dream.” Failure is part of the equation. Much less talked about (makes a less inspiring poster), but completely necessary.

I know you’ve probably got some cheeky rebuttal, but this email exchange is my thing, so you’re going to have to hold onto it until next time.

xoxo

Guest Post: New Clubs, Same Old Racket

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] G [/dropcap] oing to the golf course cannot be recommended highly or often enough. The Beast of Boredom is rank and hairy and rising always on its hind limbs to overtake you, and the internet alone will not save you. The solitary sound of that little ball as it is welted into deep-green empty space, however, is as numinous a thing as there is anywhere, in any sport, and it will not fail you.

For those of us who can’t dunk a basketball, or send a baseball to the econo-stands on a line, a beautiful drive is maybe the highest confluence of physical power, symmetry, and control we will achieve. And we are not all alone; as you know, the list of retired and working athletes who regularly play golf is as long in length as it is high in profile. Clyde Drexler, Pete Sampras, Jerry Rice to name a few, even Mark McGwire—oh the motley bouquet of P.E.D. applications—probably have, no offense, lower handicaps than you. McGwire is purported to be an even-par golfer, discouraging I know, but take heart: Your friends will take your reported 85 (or whatever) at face value.

Ah, the drive: The sacrosanct, fixed concentration before the stroke begins is broken by the slow, dilatory rise of the back swing. The back swing stretches the front facing shoulder as the club-head reaches over to its cap and swooshes back down, igniting the ball and the fragrance of the turf. The ball lifts and disappears in an evanescent gleam.

If you have never tried this, it’s worth a Saturday. It’s worth a Saturday in any case.

The game of golf is not, however, won or fully appreciated from the tee, and while this seems like common knowledge it also seems that most golfers tend to spend their money emphasizing this particular aspect of the game. If the above has you considering a weekend loaf on the links, or at least the driving range (I consider my effort a failure if it does not) please also consider the following before you do.

It is more important to have a good hat, or a shirt that fits right under the arm, or a descent pair of sunglasses than it is to have an expensive or new set of clubs. If you can find grandpa’s blades in the storage room, by all means use those—the point is it doesn’t really matter.

Bobby Jones Jr., the spindly little boy who grew up to be a golf champion and legend, the co-designer of Augusta National, and a practicing lawyer of descent reputation and character (among these things, which is the rarer achievement you may decide for yourself) set what was then the single round record (in a winning effort) at The Open at St. Andrews with 68 through eighteen. This was done in 1927 with clubs made from persimmon and hickory and it would be over thirty years before the record was lowered again. The current record—Nick Faldo’s second round 65—was set in 1990 and has been tied only once.

That’s 63 years of golf-club technology developed through the most industrious years of the 20th Century to yield three strokes at St. Andrews, or 1 stroke every 21 years. This period has accounted for the slowest rate of professional improvement since the game was invented. I’ll add that golf is now being played by more people in more places than ever—bigger pond equals bigger fish—and is exponentially more lucrative than it has ever been. The winner’s share for Faldo in 1990 was £85,000 and for the most recent champion, Louis Oosthuizen, £850,000. These two factors convincingly negate really any credit that could be given to the dubiously improved balls and clubs.

No player has ever shot under 63 at one of the four major-championships and Johnny Miller first did it in 1973. I scorn to remind you that that was over 40 years ago.

A record, forty years unbeaten, in a sport whose sponsors supply so much esteem to their equipment, and to themselves, of course, for the equipment’s ongoing refinement and development, must mean only one of two things: Either golf club and golf ball manufacturers are not taking their jobs seriously; or, and this is my itching suspicion, they do not actually have a job to do in the first place—besides stamping the little bludgeons out. After all, they are not dealing with electric cars or Lady-Viagra or other things which technology might foreseeably improve.

Remove the word golf and you will be confronted with the essential absurdity in the phrase club technology. We have had 41 seasons of voguish product lines and glittery new rollouts since any bunch of them actually delivered what they all have promised to confer. No need to feel sorry for the sheep-like bourgeoisie that Callaway, Titleist and Ping annually fleece of their pocket money, I agree. This, however, is a plain racket that panders in magazine ads to the most solipsistic depths in the American psyche and is an embarrassment to any thinking, albeit occasional, reader of Golf Digest on every other glossy page.

The Shooter McGavin vibe of the sports’ ostensible practitioners aside I won’t hear it said that a game I love is all about class, or money, or anything of the sort. Class and money are about class and money and they have as much to do with golf as they do with anything else, which admittedly is a lot.

Golf though, when seen from the fairway instead of the clubhouse, is about other things.

To begin with, it is about the dictatorial clutch of a good groundskeeper and the essential Hanoverian exercise of pitiless dominion over all that troublesome vegetation. It is about hoary double entendre and childish sexual innuendo, obviously. It is about a person in silly clothes trying to command a petulant little ball while adhering to austere, made-up rules of principle. And, most singularly—now largely a bygone casualty of TV invigilation—golf is about self-governance and personal accountability. Like P.G. Wodehouse said of character: “Golf… is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that [no one] is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.” If you have the competitive vein and have ever felt unsure of who you are when no one is looking that little pencil will tell you right away.

The golf course is a land apart from everyday life where I can face my essential human futility—the inability to transmute intention into reality—on prettier and more reassuring grounds and terms. I wouldn’t be without it and I invite you all to join.