The Democratic Party is Irrelevant

It looks like Hillary has the Democratic Party nomination all but locked up right now. We’re down to recriminations and sour grapes and I-told-you-sos and calls for party unity. Bernie’s still talking a big game but Hillary’s already gearing up for her victory lap and Trump has started ignoring Cruz and Kasich in favor of taking potshots at Hillary and mocking the media for its notion of what “presidential” looks like while the media tells us that he is, in fact, presidential.[1] All of this is maneuvering and posturing for the big show that will consume all of us between now and November. All of this ignores the one thing no one in America is able to recognize. Whether Hillary wins by 90 points or Trump becomes America’s most wildly unqualified President-elect since Zachary Taylor the Democratic Party is going to lose.

We’ve been hearing tales of the death of the Republican Party for years. In 2008 there were gleeful reports of the end of all things Republican Party. John McCain went from being one of the most respected politicians in America to a has-been joke accompanied by a word-salad shooting moron in a matter of months while the Democratic Party Ascendant had Barack Obama and still had Hillary waiting in the wings. In 2012 when the Republican Clown Car was whittled down to a bafflingly wealthy board with an amazing head of hair with no chance of winning the pundits looked at the vast wasteland of Republican benchwarmers and also-rans and asked yet again if the Republicans would soon go the way of the Whigs, the Anti-Masonic Party, and the American Party.[2]

What all of this ignores is the fact that the Republican Party is far stronger now than it was in 2008. The Republican Party won the most important political race of this generation in 2010 while the Democratic Party was asleep at the switch. Don’t believe me? Let me throw three names at you: John Kasich, Scott Walker, and Rick Snyder.

What do all three of those men have in common? All three were inaugurated as state governors in January of 2011. All three followed a Democratic Governor. All three are currently governors of old, mainline Union states whose men had heroic tales of fighting the Confederates in the Civil War. All three had a long tradition of leading the way on labor rights issues. All three states went to Barack Obama in 2008. The states in question are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

You may recognize all of those names. John Kasich is, of course, the current answer to the question, “Hey, who’s the other guy who’s still in the Republican race for some reason?” Scott Walker is famous for having to run another race for his own job shortly after being elected when it turned out that he mostly wanted to tell teachers to go fuck themselves. Rick Snyder, meanwhile, let the city of Flint, Michigan drink and bathe in delicious lead water for a year or so.[3]

The Republican Party didn’t just grab a few governor’s offices in 2010. They took control of the House and very nearly managed to grab the Senate. The Senate seat grab came at the cost of the Illinois Senate seat that had belonged to Barack Obama, although there was the weird influence selling scheme by Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris had already vacated the seat by the time Mark Kirk was sworn in. The big loss in 2010 came in — wait for it — Wisconsin, where liberal stalwart Russ Feingold was booted in favor of Ron Johnson, as dingbatty a Tea Party dingbat as any of the other Tea Partiers.[4]

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other Republicans who won the governorship in formerly Democratic-governed states. Rick Scott took Florida and became the first governor to push for drug testing of welfare recipients. He also refused to say that he knows anything about climate change while governing a state that’s slowly drowning. Paul LePage got the governor’s seat in Maine with just under 39% of the vote and proceeded to just be the worst. Sam Brownback won in Kansas and decided to use it as a laboratory for Republican financial policies of cutting taxes to the rich and services to everyone else and Kansas is suffering heavily from lack of funds. But it’s okay because Kansas is going to pay you $2,500 the state doesn’t have if you check the genitalia of everyone in their public restrooms and find that someone has an outtie where there should be an innie.[5]

So, in short, in 2008 the Democratic Party won the Oval Office and majorities in both houses of Congress. The pundits started asking if that would be the end of the Republican Party. Two years later the Republicans had taken basically everything back but the office of the President. We should all have such a difficult death.

This whole change came about because of the Tea Party, a pseudo grassroots organization that was fueled by equal parts racism, religious bigotry, hatred of the poor, and generalized rage at the Other. Much ado was made about how the Republican Establishment wasn’t a fan of the Tea Party and either the Tea Party would take over the Republican Party or the Republican Party would splinter into a Mainline Conservative faction and a Tea Party faction. This, it was reported, would be the death of the Republican Party as a force in American politics.

We all know that didn’t happen. I’m now convinced that the Republican Party will long outlive the Democratic Party. This, of course, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. The Republican Party is the party of old people, after all. Its supporters will soon die out and its ideologies will soon become irrelevant. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The simple fact of the matter is that it’s the Democratic Party is irrelevant. There is no nationwide plan. They look at the major grassroots, socially-driven, progressive movements in this country and they respond with shrugs at best and lectures at worst. The Democratic Party did nothing to help Occupy or Black Lives Matter. The Democratic Party gave up the high ground on North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” and let Starbucks and Target and Bruce Springsteen take up the fight.

For all of the gleeful discussion of how 2008 was a sign that the Republican Party was in its death throes the Republicans gained ground. For all of the speculation that Donald Trump will destroy the Republican Party the Republicans keep gaining ground. The Republican Party has a strong coalition because the Republican Party has a coalition based on hate and fear. It doesn’t matter if the voters hate taxes or government or gays or brown people, they all hate something. And Donald Trump hates and fears the same things they do just as strongly as they do.

I do not for a moment believe that the powers that be in the Republican Party actually give a shit about whether or not Trump wins the nomination. The Kochs and the Adelsons and the dark money groups know something that most of America doesn’t: the office of the President doesn’t actually matter. It’s a sideshow. Get a stranglehold on 50 governors and 50 state legislatures and a plurality of Congress and the President could be a magical unicorn that farts jobs programs and shits healthcare vouchers and it won’t matter.

The Republican rank and file will go to the polls in November. They will vote for Trump. Whether or not Trump wins it won’t matter, though, since those very same voters will also vote for Louie Gohmert and Chuck Grassley and David Vitter and they’ll go back to the polls in two years to vote for Louie Gohmert and Rick Snyder and Bruce Rauner while the Democratic Party takes a nap and maybe lectures social progressives on what they need to do to get on the Sunday morning shows and the front page of HuffPo.

If Hillary loses, which is not a bet I’m currently willing to take, the Democratic Party will eat its own tail. It will turn on Bernie’s supporters and wag its finger and tell all of those damn Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros that it was their fault. The thing about it is, though, that those same lazy Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros flock to rallies and march in protests and love Elizabeth Warren. So maybe it’s not that they’re too lazy to vote or hate women but that they’re looking for something authentic and they see it in Bernie and Warren and don’t see it in Hillary and the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party needs to find ways to leverage enthusiasm for Bernie but it won’t. How do I know this? We saw it in 2008 with Howard Dean. Dean, for those who can remember things that happened 12 years ago, was the presumptive frontrunner going into the 2004 election. He lost, badly, but became the DNC Chair and formulated the 50-State-Strategy, which was an attempt to counter the Republican tendency to make sure they had people running for every seat from President on down to County Coroner. Dean’s strategy was crucial for the Democratic Party wins in the 2006 mid-term and 2008’s visit to the woodshed with the Republican Party. How was Dean rewarded after the 2008 election? He was kicked to the curb.

See, it’s conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party that some seats just can’t be won and, as such, no money should be spent on those seats. It was Dean’s belief that you lose 100% of the seats you don’t put a candidate up for. Dean’s primary opponent was Rahm Immanuel, also known as Obama’s first Chief of Staff and the current mayor of the soon-to-be-formerly-great city of Chicago. It doesn’t take too much to figure out how Dean ended up on the outside of the fight.

I can assure you, as someone who has taken the Democratic ballot in several primaries and seen that half of the sheet is blank, that it’s frustrating and demoralizing. This primary season I wanted to vote for Bernie. I was also proud to get a chance to vote for Tammy Duckworth. After that most of the boxes on my ballot were blank. All that does is signal that in November those same boxes will have a name with an R next to it and no name with a D.

So let’s review. The Democratic Party doesn’t care about trying to win seats in districts that are in Chicago’s collar counties. The Democratic Party would rather that the people from Occupy and Black Lives Matter go home and be quiet and speak with their votes. When those people do speak with their votes for Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party scolds them for dragging out Hillary’s coronation.

Meanwhile, the unfettered id of the Republican Party runs amok. “Hey, I hear you hate Muslims. So do we!” say Trump and Cruz. “What’s that? You’re worried that the Mexicans are taking your jobs? We’ll build a wall!” “You don’t like the gays getting married? Here’s a bill that will stop all that from happening!”

And that’s the lesson the Democratic Party needs to take from the death throes of the Republicans in 2008 and 2010.[6] There will always be Tea Partiers. There will always be angry people. The rank and file of the Republican Party isn’t united in their love of low capital gains taxes or Evangelical Christianity. It’s united in the fact that the people who vote Republican are deeply, existentially, afraid of something and are looking for someone to tell them that they’re not alone in their fears. They’re looking for someone to tell them, “Yes, we are standing here on the ramparts and we will defend you from that big, scary monster.”

The Tea Party didn’t destroy the Republican Party because as far as the Republicans were concerned the Tea Party was a giant, angry focus group. Trump’s supporters are much the same. The entire Trump campaign has normalized hate and bigotry to a degree that would make Barry Goldwater blush. No matter what happens in November of 2016 the Republicans will take that information and run with it in 2018 and again in 2020.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, begs Black Lives Matter to quiet down and told Occupy to go home because they might make it harder to work with the Republicans. Those self-same Republicans who seven years ago said it was their entire job to keep Barack Obama from accomplishing anything while he was President. On one level they failed, since Obama got quite a bit accomplished. But even when Obama pushed through a victory, like the ACA, the Republicans still managed to functionally stop it from working in states like Texas by just refusing the Federal subsidies. They also made sure it was a horribly written law hated by basically everyone from the start.

Occupy should have been a refreshing of the Democratic Party. Black Lives Matter should be the signal of the start of a new Civil Rights Movement. The enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders should be a wake-up call that a huge chunk of the country is clamoring for a real progressive bent to the supposedly liberal Democratic Party. That’s simply not happening. The Democratic Party is pushing away those they should embrace.

It should be said at this point that the Democratic Party has had a pretty good track record with gay rights and women’s health issues these last few years. But even those victories have to be written down with big, fat asterisks. For every step forward at the Federal level there are huge steps backward in the Red States. Gay marriage is now the law of the land but Republican lawmakers down in the states are doubling-down with discriminatory laws. Planned Parenthood and similar organizations have been all but pushed out of the South because legislators have been allowed to write bizarre, specific laws and then change them on a whim.

What it all comes down to is the idea that a big, splashy win is meaningless if it doesn’t bring about real, helpful change. The Democratic Party focuses on big wins while the Republican Party focuses on little victories because the Republicans know that the little victories add up. The Oval Office is a big win but six governors, seventy Congresspeople, and a whole bunch of state legislators are a heap of little victories. We know from American history that the little victories mean more.

In 1876 the Republicans got the White House. The Democrats got the little victory of the end of Reconstruction. This set the stage for Jim Crow and allowed racist policies to rule the South until the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1963. The Civil Rights Act was a big win. In 1964 the Republicans started their string of little victories with the Southern Strategy. That strategy, as I’ve talked about before, is why we are where we are today.

There are real people in America who are hurting. Transgender people in North Carolina are being told they aren’t allowed to use the bathroom because they’re sexually violent. Black kids in Chicago and St Louis are being shot by the police who are supposed to help them. Toddlers in Flint have developmental defects from drinking lead water. The state of Illinois is no longer paying its bills because Bruce Rauner has made sure there isn’t a budget for nearly a year. Kansas appears to be at a breaking point but Brownback keeps doubling down.

Each of these things costs us something. Each of these things is another step down the road to ruin. It’s not inevitable. It’s not irreversible. But as long as the Republicans keep finding a new way to harness hate and anger while the Democrats keep seeing the progressive grassroots as a hindrance we’ll keep walking down that road.

The Democratic Party either needs to wake up or move aside. Anything else is a death spiral of irrelevance and ruin.

———————-

[1]This is one of the subplots of the 2016 Presidential race that just completely boggles my mind. The news media mocked Trump when it looked like he was just running to sell more books last year. As this bizarre farce has gone on the news has started telling us that, no, really, he can totally be President, you guys. Look! He’s learned how to use a teleprompter! And he went three whole sentences without kicking Ted Cruz in the nuts, metaphorically speaking! So President. Much gravitas.

[2]A.K.A. the Know-Nothings. That’s my second favorite political epithet behind the Mugwumps.

[3]The whole thing with Snyder is actually significantly worse than it looks if you do a little digging. One of the reasons it got to that point in the first place was because of the Emergency Financial Manager position in Michigan. It was a law originally created in 1988 to give the state the ability to step in and fix broken financial situations in municipalities. One of Snyder’s first acts as Governor was to drastically expand the scope of the Emergency Financial Manager’s power. The people of Michigan slapped the revision down but then Snyder pushed a similar bill through in 2012. Flint was living under Snyder’s rule when the city’s Emergency Financial Manager switched from Lake Huron water to Flint River water.

So, y’know, fuck Rick Snyder.

[4]2010 also included an off-cycle Senate election that followed the death of Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. In that election the woefully inadequate Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican empty suit and former underwear model Scott Brown. In 2012 Scott Brown got his ass handed to him by Elizabeth Warren because Elizabeth Warren is one of the five or so politicians in America who is actually good at their job. Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Dick Durbin, and Tammy Duckworth are the other four.

[5]Here in the civilized world we call people who go into public restrooms and force other people to show them their genitals “sex offenders.” I guess things are different in Kansas.

[6]And, for that matter, 1964.

Donald Trump and the Rise of American Fascism

Fascism is a difficult subject to discuss. Mostly it’s because fascism itself was never truly and properly defined but was always one of those, “I’ll know it when I see it,” sorts of things. Unfortunately ever since the end of WWII the, “I’ll know it when I see it,” aspect of defining fascism basically boiled down to, “Fascism is when my political opponents do something I don’t like.” The internet has made it even worse, with everything immediately going to name-calling of the “Hitler” and “Nazi” variety.

The most interesting thing about attempting to define fascism is that looking for comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis isn’t really a useful place to start. German fascism was very different from Italian fascism and different again from Spanish fascism. They started from different places but ended up in a similar space that we’ve labeled “fascism” ever since.

So we must start by talking about where fascism came from. We can actually get a pretty big clue from the origins of the word itself. The term originated with “fasces,” a Latin word for an ax bundled inside of elm or birch rods. It was a symbol of authority in the Roman Republic. In the late 19th Century the image was appropriated by workers’ parties in Italy, the most famous of which, eventually, was the one run by Benito Mussolini.

In the aftermath of WWI Mussolini and his compatriots were angry with the Italian government for not taking advantage of the end of WWI and expanding Italy’s borders. They believed Italy was the true heir to the Roman Empire and that the key to survival as a nation was to take that heritage in philosophy and action. This is why Mussolini claimed that his ultimate goal was to turn the Mediterranean into a “Roman lake” yet again. In Italy, then, the root of fascism was imperialism. The fascists appealed to a mythological interpretation of Italian history as descending directly from and deserving of the laurels of the Roman Empire.

Spanish fascism, as lead by General Franco and the Nationalists, was a different story. It was rooted in civil war and fear of both communism and anarchism. Franco and the Nationalists declared themselves defenders of Christian civilization against the slavering hordes of communists and anarchists who were trying to destroy Spain.

German fascism grew out of anger. The reparations foisted upon the Germans after Versailles were punitive and impossible. It was, at its core, anti-communist and racist, appealing to a German national identity that we all recognize now as the Aryan supremacy. The attempted extermination of all Jews receives the most attention, but the Nazis were indiscriminate, attempting to exterminate homosexuals, gypsies, and all other undesirable elements in order to create a purified Germany. One of the interesting things about the early years of the Nazi party was that although it was deeply rooted in anti-communist rhetoric and action it also did not support the notions of a wealthy class or unrestrained corporate power.

This was, in fact, one of the key aspects of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s. They believed in a merging of the government and industry and complete mobilization of the citizenry to achieve the national goals of prosperity and strength. This is not all that different from the communist ideal of the workers taking over the means of production and, I believe, one of the many reasons that current discussion of fascism confuses and obliterates the distinction between communism and fascism. The communist ideal, however, was for the workers to rise up and throw off the shackles of their bourgeois oppressors. The fascist ideal was to put the government in charge of the means of production in order to dictate the actions of the state.

This aspect of a fascist revolution is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of in America today. It is deeply embedded in the rhetoric of the right, however. We hear it every single time a conservative talks about how regulations, any regulations, strangle business. We hear it when right wing pundits spout off about how the Affordable Care Act was Barack Obama taking over the entire medical industry. Government regulations are a necessary part of making the world work to the satisfaction of as many people as possible. At no point did Obama nationalize the health care system and anyone who knows anything about how much money the Affordable Care Act put into the pockets of the insurance companies knows that the ACA was anything but an attempt to break the back of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

In order to understand American fascism, then, we must look at other aspects of the great fascist movements of the 20th Century. Many historians with much better credentials than I possess have tried and failed to come to a universal understanding of fascism so I won’t even try. I only wish to draw in broad strokes.

First of all, the fascists were all deeply nationalistic. Moreover, within that nationalism they were tribal, appealing to a notion of the proper Italian, German, or Spaniard. This notion of the proper person was different and based on the ideal of that particular nation. Having identified a true and proper person they then defined their enemies. Communists were always on the top of that list.[1] Jews were on the list in Germany because of good, old-fashioned anti-Semitism and the ancient notion that the people were poor because the rich Jewish bankers had stolen all of their money.

Second, they were based on a mythology of power. The Italian fascists pointed back to the Roman Empire as their true birthright. The Nazis were heavily into the occult as a source of mythic power from ancient German and Christian symbolism.

Third, they required a narrative of stolen glory. The Italian fascists believed the government had sold the Italian people short in the wake of WWI. The Nazis believed they were being victimized by the reparations in the wake of WWI.[2] In each case, though, the nation was once great and had been destroyed. There was then a group or collection of groups that were responsible for that downfall. The failures were emphatically never the responsibility of the state or the right kinds of citizens.

Fourth, fascism itself is, at its core, a cult of personality. Mussolini and Franco were leaders of their parties and drew their followers to themselves as much as, if not more than, the parties they represented. The Nazis chose Hitler as their leader because they saw him as a galvanizing and controlling force over the people. We would not have had the Fascist Party without Mussolini and the word itself would still just be a description of a Roman ceremonial device languishing in the minds and books of professors of antiquity. The Nazis would be a footnote in the history books without Hitler.

One of the most interesting things to note here is that it can easily be said that the United States had its own form of proto-fascism long before Mussolini popularized the term. The South in the years after the end of the Civil War built up the Lost Cause myth, gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan, and blamed all of their problems on freed slaves, Northern carpetbaggers, and Southern scalawags. What the South was missing in the years immediately following the Civil War was the cult of personality. Nathan Bedford Forrest is the only figure I can really consider having the necessary clout but he did not extend his influence beyond the Klan itself. The most obvious person to take on the mantle of would-be proto-fascist strongman was Robert E. Lee, but he was far too much of a gentleman to involve himself in such things. The South would get their strongmen during the Civil Rights Movement in the form of George Wallace and his ilk. By then the game had changed, however. Still, it should come as no surprise that as I discuss the notion of American fascism the people who most resemble that notion are the heirs of the old South and oftentimes still fly the Confederate flag.

When I say that the game changed I’m talking about Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Presidential election, and the Southern Strategy. This is the part of American history that apparently never happened according to everyone’s racist uncle on Facebook. According to the racist uncle the Democrats are the real racists and the Republicans are the real defenders of freedom because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and the Democrats were the party that seceded in 1861. What this ignores is the events of 1964 and 1965 when Lyndon B Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law, effectively reversed the Democratic Party’s stance from the century before, and essentially completed Lincoln’s legacy.

The main opponents to the Civil Rights Act in 1964 were Southern Democrats, known as the Dixiecrats. The primary Senate opposition came from Richard Russell, Robert Byrd, and Strom Thurmond, all Democrats from Georgia, West Virginia,[3] and South Carolina, respectively. Two months later Strom Thurmond would switch party affiliation to the Republican Party. In 1968 he was a key figure in gaining the South for Richard Nixon. In this he was assisted by George Wallace, who split the Democratic ticket with Hubert Humphrey that year.[4]

This was the realization of the Southern Strategy. It began in 1964 when Barry Goldwater won the Deep South as a Republican on his way to losing the election to Lyndon B. Johnson. The Republicans simply did not win in the South up until that point but the Democratic Party’s increasing support of civil rights was angering Southern white conservatives. In 1968 the Republicans specifically targeted the South and, aided by George Wallace’s third-party run and the switchover of prominent Dixiecrats, won the South. The Republicans have held onto the South ever since, save for the 1976 election when Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, managed to wrestle it away, and 1992 when the Clinton/Gore ticket, consisting of an Arkansan and a Tennesseean, managed to nab a couple of the Southern States.[5]

The Southern Strategy has long depended on the Confederate sympathies of the South and that proto-fascist streak that has lived in the hearts of the unrepentant secessionists who still make up a vocal minority of the population below the Mason-Dixon Line. Much as the South simply lacked the capability of winning the Civil War the retrograde elements of the Southern electorate aren’t enough to carry the entire country in an election. The lessons learned in 1964 and 1968 taught the Republicans that there are enough people out there who can be swayed by a Southern Strategy style campaign to win elections. This is what gave us the rise of the Tea Party and right wing rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims and homosexuals. Immigrants and Muslims and homosexuals all represent a form of other that’s scary to some segment of the American population.[6]

This is the electoral ring into which Donald Trump threw his Make America Great Again cap last year. I honestly believe he thought he was just going to have a laugh and sell a few books. I don’t think he set out to become an American Mussolini but he managed to do exactly that. His rhetoric actually hits on all of the main points of fascist propaganda starting with that Make America Great Again ball cap. It says that America was once the pinnacle but has been dethroned and someone needs to step up and fix it. Who is it that ruined American greatness, according to Trump’s rhetoric? Illegal immigrants, liberals, the media, and non-white people in general. He then presented himself as the strong man with all of the answers to all of the problems and his followers created the cult of personality that’s the final key to the fascist movement. It’s terrifying to watch in real time and, worse, it’s escalating as time goes on.

One of the new themes in Trump’s rallies is the kicking out of protestors. I have now read many accounts of Trump rallies where protesters are regularly surrounded, security is summoned, and the protesters are removed from the building. All the while Trump stands on stage and eggs on the spectacle. In most of the accounts I have read some of the protesters are actually making noise, but most seem to be people who are there and minding their own business. One account I read was of a pair of black teenage girls who were wearing anti-Trump shirts but interacting pleasantly with the people around them until suddenly the crowd turned against them.

Historians have often asked how Germany went insane in the 1930s. This is the answer to that question. It starts small. It starts with people turning against their neighbors in small ways. It starts with the leadership applauding the actions of those who turn on their neighbors. Germany did not wake up one morning and say, “Hey, let’s put Hitler in charge and kill all of the Jews.” The Nazis took over a small percentage of the Reichstag and eventually rose to just under 40% control. From there they stopped the government from doing anything while forcing von Hindenberg into declaring Hitler Chancellor. Even that was met with protests.

All of this leads us, for the moment, to Chicago on Friday. The Illinois primary is on Tuesday[7] and this is the first time in a long time when Illinois actually mattered in the primary election.[8] Trump scheduled a rally in Chicago on Friday night and ended up cancelling it. Violence ensued.

The initial reports were that anti-Trump protesters in Chicago got violent and Trump called the rally because of that. I initially reacted by saying that it was a disgrace that Chicago had descended to Trump’s level. Then on Saturday morning new information came to light. Eyewitness reports indicated that the anti-Trump crowd was generally peaceful and it was also far too large to be bullied like the scattering of anti-Trump people at his usual rallies. So Trump cancelled the rally. That was when everything went to hell.

Trump has since claimed that the Chicago protesters violated his First Amendment rights to free speech. That’s beyond stupid, but par for the course for most of America these days. The First Amendment guarantees that the government won’t suppress free speech but says nothing about whether or not protesters are allowed to try to stop or drown out someone else. That’s also beside the point.

The big lesson here: you don’t fuck with Chicago. We don’t put up with Trump’s shit. I expect that as we continue our death march to the Republican Convention Trump will be met with larger and better organized protests. The country is starting to take him seriously. The fight started in Chicago but won’t end here.

Trump’s Presidential run is scary. His supporters are scarier. It’s hard not to see the undertones of fascism in Trumps rallies. I fully expect that if Trump wins the nomination the rallies will get more dangerous, the protests will get louder, and that there will be at least one headline about someone getting killed at a Trump rally.

This is how fascism comes to America. There is nothing inevitable about President Trump. What we need to do is recognize the roots of American fascism and remain vigilant. We must realize that “it can’t happen here” is incorrect. It is happening here. We can stop it. We can’t stop it with Twitter hashtags or passing around memes making fun of Trump’s hair. We have to stand up and say, “No, we won’t allow you to be the loudest voice in the room.” We have to recognize that anger at the other is the first step to oblivion.

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[1]This opposition to communism was more or less opportunistic. The communists were simply the bogeyman and a visible force to rally against. Communist philosophy was a natural foil to fascism, though, as the ultimate goal of communism is the obliteration of the machinery of the state in favor of the workers while the ultimate goal of fascism was the transcendence of the state itself.

[2]This, for the record, is a valid complaint. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were ruinous to Germany. Which is one of the great tragedies of WWI. As far as wars go it was basically morally neutral. There was no great good v. evil frame for WWI. It started by accident and snowballed because of an interlaced web of treaties and protection agreements. In the aftermath of the war, though, Germany was treated as if it had singlehandedly undertaken to destroy the world while the Kaiser cackled maniacally and clapped with glee. It’s entirely likely that this reaction was based on the overall horror of the war itself but had the unintended consequence of forcing the German people to turn to monsters to protect themselves.

[3]The West Virginia part there is interesting, as West Virginia effectively seceded from Virginia when Virginia went with the Confederacy. West Virginia’s legacy since then has not been one rich in liberalism, however.

[4]Byrd, it should be noted, remained a Democrat and would later renounce his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He remained a conservative voice in the Democratic Party but he did see the light on the issue of civil rights.

[5]There’s a cautionary tale built into the electoral maps for Hillary Clinton. Her biggest primary wins were in Southern states where she holds a major lead in the black vote. Barack Obama, who got something like 97% of the black vote if my memory serves, didn’t win a single one of those states in 2008 or 2012. This is an electoral mine field for the Democratic Party, as Bernie Sanders has been winning in the states that will probably go blue in the general. It’s possible that we’re headed for a perfect storm of Democratic Party malaise that will open up a path for Donald Trump to actually win in November.

[6]There is, of course, nothing new under the Sun here. America has a long and troubled history of immigrants closing the doors on the next group trying to get in. Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans were once thought of in the same way that a lot of Americans think of Mexicans today. The election of John F Kennedy was a major coup, as Americans had long thought of Catholics as a dangerous religious group beholden to the Pope over the President.

[7]I’ve already taken advantage of early voting, as is my wont. Feel the Bern!

[8]There were two times in my life when I had the chance to vote for Barack Obama and didn’t. The first was the 2004 general. I was out at school at the time and never quite got around to figuring out how to vote outside of my home precinct. That election would have marked my switch from conservative to liberal, as I voted for Bush in 2000 but intended to vote for Kerry in 2004. That was also Obama’s Senate election, where he was initially running against Jack Ryan, former husband of Jeri Ryan, who played Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager. Ryan dropped out of the race in disgrace when it the proceedings from his divorce came to light and the public learned that he had a thing for sex clubs and public sex in general and the whole thing was super weird (but, in Jack Ryan’s defense, if I was married to Jeri Ryan in the ‘90s I would totally want to have sex with her in public because, holy shit, people, look at me having sex with Jeri Ryan!). The Illinois Republican Party then seriously attempted to recruit Mike Ditka as their candidate. Da Coach was not interested. They eventually recruited professional runner-up and general disaster Alan Keyes to run against Obama. Obama won that race by so much that he actually sent his money and volunteers to work for other Democratic campaigns. It was this that paved the way for Obama’s keynote at the 2004 Democratic Convention and caused everyone to declare him the future of the Democratic Party.

I voted for Dennis Kucinich in the 2008 Democratic Primary. By that point Obama had the nomination locked up and I had an irrational love of Dennis Kucinich. He was kind of a proto-Bernie but he also believed in aliens and shit and was just generally amusing. I remain convinced that he’s actually some kind of magical elf.

Considering the Atomic Bomb

I find myself thinking about atomic bombs.

When the subject of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki come up it’s almost always in isolation. People who are against it only talk in terms of their belief that the attacks were barbaric and unnecessary. People who are for it only talk in terms of their belief that the attack was necessary to stop the much, much greater destruction that would be caused by an American invasion of the Japanese islands. I admit that I have often fallen under this trap myself. It cannot and should not be thought of in those terms, however.

The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the final action in three decades of insanity that gripped the entire globe. That number is almost exact, since it was an event that occurred in early 1915 that precipitated the entire event. It was there that the idea of attacking civilians became normal, expected even.

Throughout most of recorded history there was a notion that warfare was, somehow, civilized. Well, maybe not civilized, so much, but certainly subject to rules. Those rules, in turn, were as much a product of available technology as any sort of desire on the part of men to be kind to other men. The basic explanation is two-fold. First, until the last century or so it was really hard for people to kill each other. Second, throughout most of human history killing civilians was a giant waste. They were much more useful as workers or slaves.

The instances of indiscriminate attacks on civilians are fairly rare throughout recorded history. That doesn’t mean they’re nonexistent. The Viking raids on the British Isles come to mind, for one. Even so, the Viking attacks were borne of practicality. They hit monasteries because monks make terrible warriors and usually had gold. They were also generally isolated, making for easy pickings. Genghis Khan occasionally wiped towns off the map. Even that was usually pragmatic. It was a way of making sure that everyone else knew not to fuck with the Golden Horde.

Attacks against civilians, overall, were rare though. The reason is fairly simple. It was exceptionally hard to kill people throughout most of history. If you need to run someone through with a spear or hack their head off at the neck with an axe you have to be there. You have to think about it. You have to see the fear in their eyes. You can’t accidentally kill someone the next town over or destroy that town because you missed a swing with your sword. You have to, in short, want to kill people.

The Civil War in the United States was arguably the first modern war. Armies started using repeating rifles and Gatling guns. The Union engaged in aerial reconnaissance throughout much of the war. News was transmitted instantaneously using telegraph. Steam powered metal ships fought all along the coasts and up the Mississippi River. By 1864 the ground around Richmond, VA was almost indistinguishable from the Western Front in 1918.

The Civil War also contained two instances of direct attempts to take a country out of the war by taking the civilians out of the war. In the fall of 1864 Philip Sheridan decided to deny the Confederates use of the Shenandoah Valley by burning the fields and destroying livestock. Two months later William Tecumseh Sherman made his famous March to the Sea and turned himself into one of the greatest villains of the war from the Southern perspective. Even that wasn’t truly unconditional warfare. Sheridan and Sherman went after the livelihood of the Southern civilians but did not intentionally attempt to go after anyone’s lives.

It was left to the Great War for the next step. The most tragic thing about WWI was that it was a completely and totally unnecessary war. Europe had developed a policy of avoiding direct war on the continent through a combination of diplomacy and proxy conflicts over colonial holdings. When the war broke out it was because everyone overreacted to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the careful system of avoidance completely broke down. Rather than recognizing that the war was stupid and back down the various powers went entirely beyond all civility.

Germany, for reasons I don’t fully understand, was the nation that introduced the three worst innovations of WWI. Two of those things were a combination of technology and necessity. Before the war Germany had gone all-in on airships and submarines. The Zeppelins were magnificent pieces of technology for their day, capable of carrying heavy payloads long distances. This was at a time when airplanes weren’t guaranteed to be more than curiosities. The U-Boat fleet was basically ignored by the rest of the world, as submarines had so far proven to be fragile and unreliable at best. German war planners were forward thinking enough to realize that they had a major disadvantage in any war against Britain and that was the British navy. The High Seas Fleet simply could not stand up to the Royal Navy in a head-to-head fight. Britain itself was a fortress defended by a wide, well-patrolled moat. The only answer, then was to avoid Britain’s strength and strike it where it was weak. Go below or above, not through.

It’s also important to realize that in 1914 there was no radar, there was no sonar. The notion of aerial combat was basically nonexistent. We may look back on those primitive U-Boats and scoff. We may shake our heads at the idea of floating into combat in a big, flammable balloon. It wasn’t that outlandish to think of those as weapons of war when you realize that at the outset of World War I there were literally no countermeasures to U-Boats or Zeppelins.

In early 1915 the Germans made their first Zeppelin raid over England. The attack itself was a massive failure. The Zeppelins didn’t hit their targets. Instead the bombs missed and struck civilian buildings. They tried again with similar results. Kaiser Wilhelm was not a fan, as that sort of thing simply wasn’t civilized. His war planners saw something different, however. They saw a way to take the British population out of the war and force Britain to sue for peace.

At roughly the same time the Germans were realizing that their original plans for the U-Boats were lacking. Sinking a ship without showing yourself was simply ungentlemanly, so in the early days of the war the U-Boats would surface and warn their targets. This maneuver basically ruins every advantage the submarine has over a surface ship so it was quickly abandoned. By May of 1915 the Germans had already settled on a policy of indiscriminate warfare. Even that still had some trappings of the gentlemanly style of old in that the Germans took out newspaper ads warning the world that they intended to take out any ships headed for Britain. Woodrow Wilson considered banning Americans from traveling to Britain but decided against it. That’s Germans ended up taking American lives in the sinking of the Lusitania, an action that would eventually bring the United States into the war.

The third German innovation of the war was, by far, the scariest. In the early days of that war both sides engaged in low-grade chemical warfare. The French were the first, using tear gas during an early battle to try to break the stalemate on the Western Front. The Germans soon started doing the same, using non-lethal gases on both the Western and Eastern Fronts. Then in April of 1915 they stepped up the use of gas, releasing deadly chlorine gas in advance of attacks on British positions near Ypres. Both sides were soon lobbing tons of chemicals at each other, each more deadly than the last.

By the end of World War I the Zeppelins had been replaced by the long range Gotha bombers and the idea attacking specifically to destroy civilian areas was normal. By the end of World War I the notion that all shipping, military or civilian, was fair game for submarines was normal. By the end of World War I gas masks were a common sight. The thin veneer of civility that had always allowed man to war with man was wiped away.

In the inter-war years there were attempts to pull back from the extreme barbarity of World War I. They didn’t take. As soon as France fell the German Luftwaffe began their night raids over London. As soon as the British had the Lancaster bomber they began bombing civilian targets all across Germany. America joined in, sending B-17s by the hundreds to drop bombs on Berlin.

The Pacific theater had its own acts of extreme barbarism. The Japanese perpetrated the infamous Rape of Nanking directed at Chinese civilians. In the first days of their war against the United States they marched surrendered American soldiers to work camps in an action that would become known as the Bataan Death March. For its part when the United States gained the ability to reach the Japanese Home Islands they filled the bellies of their B-29 Superfortresses with incendiary bombs and set the wooden Japanese cities on fire.

It was against this backdrop that Harry Truman gave the okay to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. There was no question of civility. I don’t know that there was even a question of expediency. I think that the world had just spent thirty years losing its collective mind, stacking one atrocity atop another. I find it amazing, in retrospect, that we as a human race survived the 1940s.

I think, however, that in the moments following the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki we finally realized that we had gone too far. It didn’t happen all at once. Douglas MacArthur, for one, wanted to use atomic weapons against North Korea and the Chinese. The US and USSR engaged in a protracted nuclear arms race that could have destroyed the whole world at the drop of a hat. I believe that in the worst moments of the Cold War those images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki haunted the dreams of the decision makers.

We cannot, I do not think, judge those horrible days in August of 1945 without context. We cannot debate the merits of dropping the bomb without realizing that for the first half of the 20th Century human life was cheap. A few thousand here, a million there. It was all just numbers. If more of them died than us we won. The atomic bomb was just a bigger, better, more efficient way to do it.

I also think that the act of dropping the bomb was the moment we all woke up. We realized that our ability to kill had, in the course of just a few years, far outstripped our ability to comprehend death. We had become death, destroyer of worlds. For the first time we realized that the world we were destroying was ours.

I still can’t explain it. I can’t really wrap my mind around any of it. It’s an awful thing to have to try to comprehend.

We Need to Talk About Gun Violence in Chicago

Over the summer I went to see Straight Outta Compton. The very first time I saw a trailer for the movie I said, “Oh, they’re doing Jersey Boys for my generation.” Turns out that I was 100% correct. The movie was a brilliant look at how N.W.A. members lived in and spoke about an America that we weren’t willing to talk about in the ’90s but that was plastered all over our TV screens the last two summers as Ferguson and Baltimore and so many other places exploded into protests and fury over the inherent racial divide that has split America since its founding.

The thing that strikes me the most now, though, is how familiar the Compton of the first few scenes of the movie were. I’m white, in my 30s, and from the suburbs of Chicago but I recognized the Compton where we first met Eazy-E, Dre, and Ice Cube. I’ve walked and driven those streets. I’ve participated in their culture. After a fashion. Video game developers at Rockstar stole those streets when they created Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V. It was almost impossible to watch the first half hour of Straight Outta Compton without occasionally hearing Carl Johnson yell, “Grove Street needs yo car!” in my ear.

N.W.A. has passed into the realm of safe history. Dre pushes terrible, overpriced headphones to hipster douchebags. Ice Cube does stupid kids’ movies. Snoop Dogg has become a combination of Michael Jordan and Tommy Chong. The heirs of that movement have gone on to marry Kardashians and do reality TV shows and shit. Suburban teenagers play video games based on the excesses of that world and the hysterics of the news anchors broadcasting tales of those excesses to suburban white people tucked safely in their enclaves.

Yet the scene in Detroit where N.W.A. was banned from playing “Fuck tha Police” but did it anyway and started a riot still resonated. It resonated because the same scenes from Compton have played out in Ferguson and Baltimore. It resonated because while N.W.A.’s world has now become safe for the consumption of sheltered white suburbanites it still isn’t safe for poor black people all over the country.

It’s why we need to talk about Chiraq.

I have never lived within the city limits of Chicago but I consider myself a Chicagoan. I love Chicago. I am convinced that there is no city in America that is better than Chicago and precious few that are of equal importance. As a history major I know that the westward expansion of America never would have happened without Chicago. I know that that very westward expansion brought about the terrible conditions of Packingtown and the Pullman Village and those conditions, in turn, gave us the workers’ rights movement. I am proud to say that the rest of the world celebrates May Day as the International Worker’s Day because of the Haymarket Riots. I used to work a couple block from Haymarket. There’s nothing quite like ordering a Revolution Anti-Hero from the Haymarket Pub if you know why and how both of those businesses pay homage to Chicago’s history.[1]

Chicago’s story is the story of America. America’s story cannot be told without Chicago.

My mental map of Chicago, however, is incomplete. Chicago, to me, is a map of The Loop branching out into River North and various locations along the Brown and Red Lines. It’s The Vic and the Beat Kitchen and the Riviera. It’s the Museum of Science and Industry and Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile. It’s Hyde Park and the view of the skyline from the Eisenhower.

It’s why my map of Chicago has no place for the news reports of violence in Chicago. It’s why I’m so utterly baffled that much of the rest of the country considers Chicago synonymous with flying bullets and dead bodies. That’s not the Chicago I know. That’s not the Chicago I love.

That Chicago is the reality for far too many people who live within its borders.

That Chicago is also used by far too many people as proof that gun laws won’t change the reality of gun violence. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” the gun advocates say, “Look at Chicago. It has the highest levels of gun violence in the nation and the most restrictive gun ownership laws. That just proves that you can’t regulate guns because criminals don’t care about laws. That’s why they’re criminals.”

There’s usually an unsavory racial commentary built into that sort of commentary, too. Chicago is filled with “those people.” You know, blacks, liberals, various and sundry people who voted for Barack Obama, who only made it into the Oval Office because of Chicago-style machine politics. Chicago is, to many in the conservative, gun-totin’ side of the American political divide, synonymous with everything wrong with America. There’s an unmistakable glee with which statistics about gun violence in Chicago are trotted out alongside Chicago’s historically restrictive gun regulations.

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Let’s say you live next to a river. You also, for some reason, have no indoor plumbing. So every morning you walk outside of your house and take a shit in the river because, hey, the shit washes away. You have a neighbor a mile downriver who also takes a shit in the river every morning. That neighbor’s neighbor also shits in the river. And so on and so forth.

One day you take a trip down river because you need to get something from a town one hundred miles away. As you get closer to that town you start to smell something rather unpleasant in the air. When you hit the town limits the smell is overpowering and you’re forced to plug your nose. Finally you get to the downtown business district, which is located right on the river, and you look out across the river and all you see is a stagnant mire of shit, stretching as far as the eye can see.

You do your business in town and beat feet back up river to your home as fast as you can. When you get home you say to your family, “Those idiots in the town live right next to a vast, stagnant river of shit. I don’t know what’s wrong with them.” You then laugh at the idiots who live next to a river of shit.

The next morning you go out and take a shit in the river.

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I woke up this morning and saw this article on my Facebook feed.

I actually came up with the river of shit analogy a couple of weeks ago while thinking about Chicago and guns and all of that other stuff. All of those stories in the news about violence and guns in Chicago pretend that Chicago is a closed system. They pretend that the restrictive gun laws in the city and the overabundance of gun violence exist in a closed system. They pretend that guns can’t reach Chicago from outside of the city or outside of the state which means that Chicago’s gun laws have failed which means that gun laws as a concept have failed.

The strange thing about that is that most arguments about how we can’t possibly stop gun violence with laws come from people who want to build a wall along the border with Mexico and keep the War on Drugs from ever ending. Laws can’t possibly stop guns from reaching Chicago because criminals don’t obey the law but laws can stop people from crossing the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico and Texas and southern California with condoms full of cocaine in their asses.

It’s a strange disconnect, this lack of realization that guns from Indiana might have made their way to Chicago coupled with this belief that drugs from Columbia can be kept away from Dallas. The War on Drugs has been in a constant state of failure since it began but when Obama releases a bunch of non-violent drug offenders from jail it indicates the end of the world while we literally cannot be allowed to do anything about guns even after someone shoots up an elementary school.

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Human civilization is all about attempting to move upriver from the shit. Laws exist to regulate the amount of shit that can be dumped into the river. That’s really all there is to it.

Drugs are shit. Guns are shit. Oil is shit. Plastic is shit. Inflation is shit.

Someone is always living downriver. Someone is always living at the confluence of everyone else’s shit. Laws exist to say, “Hey, don’t shit in the river.”

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I really wanted to be pissed at Spike Lee for making Chiraq. I went to the video of his latest joint ready to work myself up.

Spike Lee is trying to remake Lysistrata in Chicago in 2015.

It works because we’ve been telling the same damn story for as long as we’ve had civilization. Lysistrata made it’s way to Rome and that made its way to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and that made its way to Spike Lee’s Chiraq.

Why does that happen? Because we keep insisting on shitting in the river.

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[1]Also, seriously, Revolution Anti-Hero might just be the second best IPA in the world. Only Dogfish Head 90 Minute is better. I used to hate IPAs. Then I learned of Dogfish Head. At this point the only four IPAs I will drink are 90 Minute, Anti-Hero, and Two Brothers Outlaw and Heavy Handed. But even Two Brothers takes a distant 3rd.

What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Kim Davis

I grew up in a world at war. Signs of that war were everywhere. Evidence of battles won and lost could be found in the daily newspaper and on the nightly television broadcasts. Lives were being lost and the world hung in the balance. Everyone, everywhere was in constant danger.

I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. Wheaton is a quiet, upper middle class suburb of Chicago and home to one of the most prominent institutions in American Christianity. There were no tanks in the street. There were no gutted homes. There were no running gun battles through downtown.

Still, we knew we were in the middle of a war. Seeing that war required what we called “discernment.” That notion of discernment came from a cobbled together collection of Bible verses that said there were powers and principalities beyond human understanding constantly acting on the world as part of the eternal war between good and evil, between God and Satan.

The funny thing about all of that is I came of age in the 1990s. The ’90s were, for anyone living in the bucolic splendor of American suburbia, a quiet time. The tech boom had brought prosperity to the nation, there were no major wars to be fought, cussing and cleavage weren’t allowed on the television, and things were pretty great for your average white, male Christian.

There’s a reason the Republicans endlessly chased Bill Clinton’s penis throughout the ’90s. The Cold War was over. 9/11 was still in the future. America was an impregnable force, sitting atop the world as its sole superpower. The great social upheavals of the following decade were little more than a murmur in the national conversation.

We needed an enemy. The serial philanderer in the White House seemed like a good choice. To the obvious charges of infidelity we added dark whispers of the Clintons killing Vince Foster and conspiracies to give American military technology to the Chinese. We got Left Behind and the usual dark warnings of the United Nations as a One World Government on its way to take away our freedoms.

Those with the gift of discernment read the signs in the newspapers and saw all the places the followers of Jesus were losing their fight against the world. Everything was either a win for Jesus or for the world. See, Jesus once told his followers that the world hated him, so obviously the world would hate them. Since that comment made it into the Bible we knew that Jesus meant to tell us the same thing. That message was to be taken exactly the same in Wheaton, Illinois in 1996 as it was to be taken by a small sub-sect of Jews living under the thumb of the Roman Empire during a time of unrest that would ultimately lead to the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple. The spiritual gift of discernment, it would seem, did not include the understanding of context.

I say this with the caveat that I graduated from high school in 1999. I was pretty young for most of the events I recall in the 1990s and it was only much, much later that I began to unpack the world as it was during that decade and separate it from the world as I saw it. I was convinced at that time that I was in training to be a soldier on the front line of a spiritual war. I decided in high school that I was going to be a missionary or maybe go to seminary to become a pastor. I saw the wreckage of the world all around me. I wanted to fight against the Devil himself.

Fast forward fifteen years or so. We lived through the horror of 9/11 and found a new enemy to replace the Soviet Union. The economy collapsed. America no longer feels invincible. We are the proud statue with clay feet from Daniel’s prophecies of Babylon.

I left the church a long time ago. I spent years unpacking how I saw the ’90s and re-learning much of the history of the world from my youth, this time not shaded by the proper levels of spiritual discernment. I came to understand the notion of privilege and see how my bucolic, suburban upbringing was a far different experience from so many in America.

The me of 15 years ago would not have been prepared to handle the America of 2015. Social justice movements have swept across the country with breathtaking speed. Gay marriage took far too long to arrive, but when it got here it got here extremely fast.

That’s how we get to Kim Davis and what the fight over Kim Davis actually represents. To those outside of that subculture it should be a non-story. She’s not doing her job, so she should be removed, replaced, or circumvented, marriage licenses should be handed out and we should all go to lunch.

I highly doubt that Kim Davis expected this to go as far as it did. The circus surrounding her should be squarely blamed on the absurdity of the 24 hour news cycle and the grandstanding of assholes like Mike Huckabee. Her decision to retain Mat Staver as her lawyer does not reflect well on her intentions, but I’ve seen the video of her walking out of the police station to “Eye of the Tiger” with a dazed, confused look on her face. I don’t think she intended to become this week’s celebrity news target.

There’s a larger discussion to be had here about the nature of celebrity in America in 2015. We talk endlessly about the Kardashians. We get needlessly worked up over the Duggars and Octomom. Twitter and YouTube are legitimate paths to fame and fortune for those who understand how to use them.

I don’t think that in those first days of her fight against gay marriage Kim Davis realized that she was stepping into the American celebrity machine. I believe that she thought she was standing up to the Devil. To the Christian subculture I grew up in homosexuality was a sin and god would have no part of anyone who engaged in such wicked acts. Legalizing gay marriage, then, means that the state is sanctioning sin and in the metrics of us-v-them Christianity that’s a firm win for them, “them,” in this case being Satan.

The sort of thinking with which I was indoctrinated in my youth has not gone away. If anything I suspect it’s gotten worse, as the Internet has risen as the great equalizer of speech and movements for social justice finally got a platform that allowed them equal time. There used to be signs of the impending apocalypse once or twice a day in the newspaper and the 10 o’clock news. Now every hashtag has the potential to signal Satan’s impending conquest of the world.

Prepare for more Kim Davises in the coming days. The only thing we can do is understand that these issues which are, to most, obvious stops along the universe’s trail to justice are signs of Satan’s victory to those like Kim Davis. Wherever there’s a Kim Davis playing the role of true believer there will be a Mat Staver and Mike Huckabee willing to turn the whole thing into a circus for their own ends.

Bending Towards Justice

The United States of America is falling apart. Our politicians are corrupt at worst, completely unserious at best, and have turned the nation into a circus. The civil rights and even lives of large swaths of the population are being abridged. Christian leaders have a stranglehold on the public discourse and even the government. We are divided, we are constantly fighting amongst ourselves. The end, surely, is near.

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The United States of America is falling apart. Our politicians are engaged in an ongoing struggle to take our rights and are turning the nation into a prison camp. Large numbers of undesirables are dragging us down, some from within and some from without. The nation has turned away from god. We are divided, we are constantly fighting amongst ourselves. The end, surely, is near.

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It’s easy to get down on life in the United States of America, especially now in the post-9/11 world. It seems as if we’ve lost something fundamentally, for a lack of a better word, American about America. America, after all, is the land of the free, the land of opportunity. Or, at least, that’s what it says in all the grade school history books.

America as a nation is an aspiration. What it aspires to has changed drastically in the two and a half centuries since we declared our independence from the British Empire. The one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that every single change of aspiration has come because of a fight.

We paint ourselves in colors of blue and red in America and talk about this great fight between the Democrats and the Republicans, between the liberals and the conservatives. I don’t think that really explains what is going on too well, though. I think the big fight in America is between the progressives and the regressives.

The progressives are the ones who are always looking to the next injustice and trying to identify the next fight. They aren’t and never will be satisfied with the status quo as long as that status quo includes one person whose voice is silenced. The regressives are the ones who are always digging in their heels and saying, “Haven’t we gone too far already?”

This is far, far more complicated than the simple blue state/red state dichotomy. It’s far messier than the straight ticket party representation that seems to be the norm. It’s how a Ron Paul can walk in lock step with the Republican Party on fiscal policy but be completely against the so-called War on Drugs. It’s how President Obama can continue US policies of indiscriminate drone warfare in the so-called War on Drugs. The progressive move for the former is the realization that we’re criminalizing too many behaviors and imprisoning too much of our population for no good reason. The regressive move for the latter is in attempting to maintain this notion of the United States as the savior and policeman of the entire world and the last bulwark against any and all forms of overseas chaos.

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We’re so caught up in the day-to-day battles and so focused on the incremental victories and tiny losses that we miss the big picture. American history is the story of progressive victory after progressive victory. The score sheet isn’t even close.

We need to remember that the United States’ Constitution, for all that it was a revolutionary document at the time, was ratified with one of the most odious phrases of all time. Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 says, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” That “three-fifths of all other Persons” at the end is what is known as the three fifths compromise, wherein those grand defenders of freedom decided that, yes, the United States would continue to own slaves and, yes, the slaves would count towards the population so that their white owners could have appropriate representation in the House of Representatives, which would be the primary bulwark of America’s freedom. We eventually fought a war to fix that one.

Oh, and that war? That one is actually surprisingly complicated on the progressive/regressive spectrum. It’s pretty obvious that the regressives were the ones who left the country in order to continue owning other people. The progressives weren’t really in the conversation at first, though. For the first year and a half of the war the North was content to fight to preserve the Union and Abraham Lincoln would have allowed the South to come back, slaves and all at first. That he’s now known as The Great Emancipator is as much a mark of his shrewd political maneuvering as anything else.

Also, if you were a woman when the Constitution was ratified you didn’t get to vote. They didn’t get that right until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1919. That’s nearly a century and a half after the Constitution was written and 65 years after the slaves were freed and instantly enfranchised.[1]

On the economic side it’s also been win after win for progressives. Unions were illegal, minimum wages nonexistent, and workplace safety a nonexistent concept as we entered the 20th Century. That was a fight that progressives fought and won.

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I’m not saying that we need to look back and say, “Well, everything used to be worse, so let’s stop fighting now.” No victory is permanent, after all. No one is free until we’re all free. The fight now is harder, too, since we’ve already taken care of much of the low-hanging fruit. “People shouldn’t be property” is pretty easy to conceptualize. “Women should be allowed to vote” is, too. It’s a testament to human stupidity and the power of tradition that we didn’t allow for those truths for so very long.

We’ve moved a step or three farther back into the esoteric. It’s obvious to some of us that women should have the same education and career options as men, that black people should have the same as white. It’s obvious to some of us that women who have sex shouldn’t be disregarded as whores, that black people shouldn’t be disregarded as thugs and welfare cases, that Muslims shouldn’t be disregarded as terrorists.

The fact is, though, that we need to stop being so damn pessimistic. Progressives scored a couple more big victories this past year. Gay marriage is now the law of the land. $15 minimum wages are on the way in parts of the country. Is that enough? No. Not by a longshot. Racist police are everywhere. Crazy people are able to get guns and use them to open fire in Amy Schumer movies. Poverty still stalks the land and the poor are still beset on all sides.

History is not our enemy, however. The aspirational nature of America is not our enemy. Despair is our only enemy. We must keep pushing forward. We must keep calling out for freedom.

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There is nothing new under the sun. We fret about a nation where Donald Trump is the Republican front runner. We worry that bankers blew up the economy and got off scot-free. We fear the spirit that brought us The Patriot Act. We wonder about how so many people can still think that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim attempting to take over the country with Mexican immigrants.[2] This, in truth, is absolutely nothing new.

We’ve always had unserious presidential candidates. A few of them have even made it all the way to the presidency. Andrew Jackson comes to mind. Zachary Taylor, too. Andrew Johnson was probably more disastrous as an accidental president than Sarah Palin would ever have been. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, fuck Rutherfraud B Hayes.[3]

Throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s we had periodic Panics. We would call these Panics “recessions” today. They happened because the captains of industry and bankers fucked around and nearly tanked the economy. We finally stopped them after the Great Depression because of a combination of Keynesian Economics, WWII, and the post-war boom.

Before the Patriot Act we had the House UnAmerican Activities Commission. Before HUAC we had the Know Nothings. Before the Know Nothings we had the Alien and Sedition Acts. We always came to our senses eventually.

Before Obama’s birth certificate we had Bill Clinton’s penis. Before Bill Clinton’s penis we had JFK’s Catholicism. Before JFK we had the Alien and Sedition Acts.[4]

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What’s my larger point? Simply that America has pretty much always sucked. It’s always been up to Americans to make America suck less. We’d done an admirable job of that most of the time. We need to keep up the fight but we also need to look at where we’ve been and how far we’ve come and realize that we shouldn’t despair. It will get better.

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[1]Erm, kinda. It depends on if you’re talking about the Emancipation Proclamation of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

[2]Or, y’know, something. I still haven’t figured out what Obama’s evil plan is.

[3]I’ve decided to use this blog to carry on my beef with Rutherford B Hayes. Fuck you, guy who’s been dead for over a century and can’t defend himself.

[4]I keep bringing up the Alien and Sedition Acts. Why? Because they were breathtakingly terrible, that’s why. Basically, Jon Adams (yes, that Jon Adams) was so worried about the potential presidential handoff to Thomas Jefferson (yes, THAT Thomas Jefferson) that he passed a series of acts that would become known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. They increased residency requirements for citizenship from 5 to 14 years, allowed for the deportation of people regarded as dangerous to the state, and made it illegal to speak against the government. They were also set to expire in 1800 and 1801 because Jon Adams blatantly wanted to use them against the Democratic-Republicans and didn’t want to see them used against the Federalists if Jefferson managed to win.

So, the lesson here is that the Founding Fathers were no less capable of being massive jackasses than Strom Thurmond or John Boehner.

Considering the Prophecies of Nostradamus

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of prophecy. It’s something that has stuck with me since my days in the church trying to understand the strange and unworldly images of the Book of Revelation. While I’m no longer fascinated by the timing of the Second Coming I’m still fascinated by prophecy itself.

This, naturally, means that I’ve been studying Nostradamus of late. While many of his predictive quatrains have been poured over and used to show that he predicted many of the key events of the last two hundred years, from Napolean to Hitler to 9/11, the library of Nostradamus quatrains remains vast and often ignored by the mainstream. I’ve decided to bring some of the more interesting predictions to light.

Quatrain 18-35

A game suspects the desperate origin.
A defined incompetent advises over an appalling defeated.
A generator speaks across a leader.
When can the eminent passenger stomach the mordant copper?

Let’s start with something near and dear to all of us right now. I believe that Nostradamus predicted the economic collapse of 2008. Let’s pull it all apart.

First, “a game suspects the desperate origin,” could very easily apply to Goldman Sachs and Wall Street investment bankers in general. They were playing games with everyone’s wealth and started a time of desperation for many. The “defined incompetent” could be any number of people who did stupid things, like Jaime Dimon of JP Morgan. The “appalling defeated” could easily refer to someone like Bernie Madoff.

I believe that the third and fourth lines then refer to either George W Bush or Barack Obama attempting to use the government to fix the problem. Possibly both. It’s very possible that “the eminent passenger” was the government as a whole having to suck it up and eat the “mordant copper” of the government bailout. It could also refer to the great bankers having to deal with a world where they suddenly had to answer to the government and deal with greater regulation.

Either way, it’s a chilling prediction of economic collapse.

Quatrain 14-8

Every variable disorder applies a miserable attribute.
How will the doctor invert the dinner?
The ingenious teacher guards the nurse.
The uneasy fantasy consents.

I think this has something to do with the Spanish Flu striking Europe in the middle of WWI. It’s a little unclear, but the “variable disorder” seems to indicate several different afflictions at once and there’s a lot of medical imagery. Plus I think that “the ingenious teacher” refers to Woodrow Wilson.  The fantasy could be that it was the “war to end all wars,” which Nostradamus would have known was impossible.

Quatrain 6-95

The ironic mumble tutors the day.
The configured machination bites beneath a swimming beloved.
The mummy retracts inside the device.
A manned orbital reaches.

My theory is that this quatrain predicts the machinery of modern warfare. The machination beneath a swimmer had something to do with submarines. I think that the final two lines about a mummy inside a device and an orbital reach also has something to do with the nuclear missiles current submarines have the ability to launch. It’s possible that this is prediction even points to the beginning of World War III and some sort of pre-emptive nuclear strike.

We should definitely be aware of the possibility.

Quatrain 24-73

The squared cult rots under each turnaround.
The booklet doubts the wrapper.
A fussy battle dictates.
A traveled reign hails the contempt.

I think this has something to do with the freemasons. Their symbol is the square and they’re considered to be a cult by many. The booklet doubting the wrapper probably has something to do with the American Revolution and/or the Constitutional Convention, wherein there were many pamphleteers fighting battles in the newspapers.

As such, I believe that this quatrain is a prediction that the Freemasons would be involved in the formation of the United States. It’s more than a little disturbing that the notion of the Freemasons would bring rot at the very beginning of the American experiment. Given that there’s ample proof that the Freemasons were involved and that most of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons it could be an indication that Nostradamus knew about America’s role in the New World Order.

Quatrain 17-32

Around the drug prosecutes a south hypocrisy.
The advance pauses within an inn.
The relevance speaks on top of the barred wrath.
The sacred oil strikes the wood.

This one fascinates me because it can be nothing other than a prediction of America’s War on Drugs. I mean, it starts out with “drug” and “prosecutes a south hypocrisy.” There’s plenty of hypocrisy inherent in the War on Drugs and they’re all coming from south of the border, after all.

I believe that the “sacred oil strikes the wood” has something to do with the Iran Contra Scandal, wherein we sold weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua and used the money, which was drug money, by the by, to get money to release hostages and further American oil interests in the Middle East.

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So I’m sure you’re expecting me to source these Nostradamus quatrains. They come from watchout4snakes.com. It’s a random phrase generator. Turns out that you can take absolute gibberish and read any meaning you want into it. I did change a few of the words around and took a couple out, but it was mostly to get rid of any words that seemed too modern.

Either way, it’s a fun game. You should play it some time, too.