So liberal Twitter today got into an internecine spat about Trump’s comments over Mike Pence being politely addressed by the cast at last night’s showing of Hamilton. Pence was booed by the audience, and then after the show, actor Brandon Dixon addressed the VP-Elect in a serious but respectful manner. The following morning, Trump, incensed that anyone would chastise a powerful white guy, said the cast was rude and that they should apologize. It was Trump being Trump, but it was worth noting his hypocrisy, weakness, and inability to let any slight go by unnoticed.
Or was it? There was then a counter uproar saying that people who cared about the Hamilton incident were being distracted from the Trump University fraud settlement and that Trump is getting richer by having foreign diplomats stay in his Washington, D.C. hotel. Trump was using social media as a distraction so people wouldn’t call him on settling the Trump U scandal even after he had previously promised he would never settle (Trump lied! It’s true!).
So we have liberals chastising liberals over the proper way to respond to which scandals, and saying that this is Trump’s genius strategy: throw so many problems at people that they can’t focus, and he can get away with everything. There are just a few problems with this.
1) If “Trump Wins by Being on Twitter” was true, then why did his staff force him off of it in the final weeks of the campaign? “Aides to Mr. Trump have finally wrested away the Twitter account that he used to colorfully — and often counterproductively — savage his rivals,” wrote the New York Times on November 6th. The more Trump opens his mouth, the more opportunities people have to attack him, and during the campaign, his aides were smart enough to realize that if he could just shut the fuck up for more than two weeks, the news cycle would consume Hillary Clinton. (This, by the way, is not the sole reason Clinton lost)
2) Trump may have a lot of issues, but it’s not your place to tell people what they can and can’t care about. People are scared and hurting right now, and trying to police that outrage is sanctimonious and counter-productive. Let’s go back to the campaign, and assume that if all liberals had just focused on one issue to the neglect of all others, then Trump would have lost. So what issue should it have been? His sexist comments? His racist comments? His lack of political experience? His dealings with Russia? The Trump University fraud? Who gets to decide what’s important to everyone? Do you want to be the one who tells a woman who was sexually assaulted, “Hey, it’s rough, but we’ve got to keep the focus on his ties to Russia.” Do you want to tell the Muslim man, “I know he wants to criminalize being Muslim, but we can only care about his sexual assault charges.”
Trump does pose a unique problem in that he is a non-stop (to borrow one of his few and favorite words) disaster. It is difficult to pin him down to any one thing, but that makes it more important for all of us to care about all of it. And I know that’s exhausting. I know that in the last 10 days, it’s been nightmarish, and it’s not going to get any easier. Life is going to be hard, and it’s going to suck for a while, but telling people what they can and can’t care about isn’t a solution. Every day is going to be a struggle, and there’s no saying, “You are only allowed to care about these things.” It’s incumbent on all of us to hold Trump and his administration accountable 24/7. If that means today we rail against him for chastising artists, wiggling out of a fraud trial, filling his cabinet with racists, and profiting off foreign diplomats staying at his hotel, then that’s what the day calls for. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fun, and there is no alternative.
When the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were announced yesterday in favor of gay marriage, I was overjoyed…for about 20 minutes. I wasn’t particularly shocked since I deeply doubted that the Supreme Court would pull a Dred Scott and do something horrible. The tide of history was turning, and perhaps if this ruling had come to the court twenty years ago, it would have been against gay marriage or punted. But the possibility of this terrible outcome weighed far more heavily on the minds of gays and lesbians. Whether the Supreme Court ruled for or against gay marriage, my life would stay the same. Thankfully, the Supreme Court mostly did the right thing and provided a victory to the battle, but not the war.
And that’s why my enthusiasm faded after about 20 minutes. First, the ruling on Prop 8 was limited to California, and it was limited on the grounds of those who opposed it (the Mormon Church instead of the State) rather than the fundamental inequality of the proposition itself. That fundamental inequality was addressed in the DOMA ruling, but DOMA can only apply to places that have passed a bill allowing gay marriage—currently 13 states plus the District of Columbia. There are 37 states left, and they have laws on the books making gay marriage illegal.
My concern is that yesterday’s victory will seem like the conclusion of the fight rather than what it is: a major victory in an ongoing conflict. I think of my gay friends in Georgia, and if they want to get married, they can’t live here. The federal benefits now allowed by the DOMA ruling will not affect them until they can be married. Their fight continues, but it continues in a red state. And every red state, especially in the South, is far from allowing it.
So how does that fight continue? Is it now every state for itself? I don’t know how national coalitions for gay and lesbian rights will proceed, but I’m afraid that there may be a divide and conquer mentality where pro-gay rights groups in deeply red states won’t have the resources to even begin mounting a serious battle against the deeply entrenched forces allied against gay marriage.
It’s important to remember that the fight is far from over, and that a new national strategy is needed because the battle now begins in the individual states. Thankfully, three more states will be on the side of equality by the end of the summer: Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.
34 to go.
I just finished re-watching George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. It was like stepping into a time machine, although not in the way of throwing back to 1953 and Edward R. Murrow’s fight against Joe McCarthy (not to dismiss the excellent historical portrayal of the era). It was a time machine into the Bush Administration, which is what the movie is really about. It was about a fiercely-divided America that had been fundamentally ruptured by the attacks of 9/11 and war-hungry response of the Bush Administration. We were at war not only with “terror”, but with each other. And our news couldn’t save us. The news we trusted helped facilitate a march towards war.
I was in college at the time, and being a college student is already far too quick with half-baked ideas. It’s the last time you can revel in the concept that you know everything (post-academic life quickly lets you know how little you know). I became a big fan of Michael Moore, because in the 2000s conflict, each side had its heroes. I look back and shake my head, but Clooney’s film, which I saw in my senior year, persists, while Moore is a joke.
Nevertheless, it was an intense time, and yet oddly simple. We saw the wedges and knew the problems insofar as the issues. There was a flood of information, but pro-war, anti-war was easy to understand. Meanwhile, there was a gathering financial storm that no one cared to notice, and now that we’re still suffering its aftershocks, we still don’t understand it. We know things are bad, but the reasons are too complicated, and intentionally so. You instinctively know that it’s bad for someone to fight and die on a lie. Or perhaps you’re persuaded by the “Fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them here,” argument. But how many people can explain a credit default swap and why that financial instrument was partially responsible for the downfall of our economic system. In a run-up to war, we will (hopefully) never again be so quick to accept information because we’re motivated by fear. But how do you stop a crime you don’t understand? Obama hasn’t taken any serious steps to punish those responsible for our economic collapse nor has he set up any measures to stop it from happening again. We still live in dangerous times. We just can’t clearly articulate it for a variety of reasons. There are so many distractions, so many opinions, and so many “facts” we glean from the Internet, the box that provides trivia and calls it knowledge.
Bush is gone and the world has tried to forget him (and he’s done his best to help), but I feel like we live in even more dangerous times. I don’t like thinking that because I know part of that fear is simply me getting older, getting stuck in my ways, looking at the future and fearing what’s to come. Namely, I fear a world where we’re all disconnected but think we’re closer than ever. Social networks will provide the illusion of intimacy just like a glance at a webpage or reading a single article will provide the illusion of knowledge rather the truth that we’re swimming in a sea of confirmation bias.
Earlier this week, the Bush Library opened its doors, but it was a small story (as such openings are) mixed in with news about flight delays caused by the sequester, and further developments in the case of the Boston bombers. The easy joke is to openly wonder if the Library contains a copy of “My Pet Goat”. I think back to 2005 when ridiculing and despising George W. Bush was a matter of course. I certainly don’t think Obama would have been elected without Bush. The extreme change of electing a black president couldn’t have been accomplished without a thoroughly reviled and unpopular previous president (it also didn’t hurt that Clinton ran a shit campaign, and McCain imploded by selecting Palin as his running mate). But our problems persist, but the political air isn’t thick in the same way. It’s the air of a stalemate rather than battle. Washington is broken, it’s broken behind closed doors, and the American people are exhausted from four years of intransigence.
Clooney tried to explore the difficulty of political change in his 2011 film, The Ides of March. It doesn’t really work since it’s a mixed metaphor where the movie is supposed to be about disillusionment, but because the disillusionment comes from such heightened circumstances (spoiler alert)–the candidate sleeping with a staffer and then the staffer committing suicide–it doesn’t ring true like Good Night, and Good Luck. It’s because it’s so much tougher to see where we are right now, and that’s the difficulty of the dramatization.
If I sound wistful for the days of Bush’s clear-cut-nation-dividing, I’m not. I’m absolutely rambling (but it’s for my personal blog, so who cares), but I wonder if I’ll be sitting alone on a Saturday night eight years from now, and looking back at a movie that makes me thinking about the 2010s, and the new kind of dread it inspired. Will it be about a herald leader not up to the task? Will it be about a political system that can no longer function because it’s been warped and twisted by time, culture, technology, and money?
Then I have to look at history, shake my head, and laugh a little bit because I feel silly. I feel that we have to hope because living in hopelessness is no way to live. Living in fear is no way to live. Of course, these sentiments are luxuries of a privileged life, and I write them sitting comfortably from my desk chair on my nice computer.
If I don’t stop soon, I’ll ramble on until dawn, so I’ll quickly finish by saying that on November 3, 2004, when Bush had been reelected, the world looked bleak. It’s almost ten years later, and we’re still here. Talking about what’s with us will keep me rambling until dawn.
We had the Olympics this past summer (where people seemed more focused on how NBC was ill-equipped to handle broadcasting time-delayed events in the digital age), but the real games begin this fall. Baseball playoffs are about to begin (go Braves!), football is in full swing (go Falcons!), and we’re about to have the Presidential debates (go America!).
If you don’t think politics is a game, you haven’t been paying attention. Policy is serious, but politics—particularly the way it’s covered—is a game. It’s a game that has far-reaching implications for the future of our country, but we hear about it in terms of a game. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s gaining? Who’s losing? Did Candidate X hit a home run with his speech? Did Candidate Y fumble the response to the question?
And tonight, the first of three Presidential debates begin. I hesitate to put the word “debates” into question marks because it seems too cynical. The candidates are responding to each other in real time, but the time is so short. Everything is condensed. Points and counter-points have to be rapidly delivered. But do these debates really tell us anything? The candidates are simply reiterating points they’ve been making for months. The format has changed, but the messages are the same.
But the debates matter for the small sliver of the population that somehow, for reasons that defy understanding, haven’t made up their minds. We’re not talking about Jack Johnson and John Jackson. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have fundamental disagreements on the direction for our government. If you believe that government has an obligation to help its people, then vote Democrat. If you believe that unregulated businesses benefit the country, then vote Republican. The differences regarding social issues couldn’t be clearer: Pro-choice or pro-life? Gay rights or discrimination? Expansion of health care or go broke and die? And on the issues where there’s no daylight between the candidates—war on drugs, prosecuting financial crimes—they’re not going to change their positions.
Nevertheless, the debates will dominate our media landscape for the next couple of weeks because that’s where the game is played. For those who couldn’t be bothered to do research into the candidates, they’ll now get the biggest political ad possible. And at the end, the punditry will squabble over who won. Who was the most eloquent, who stumbled over a question, and who now has the edge.
Except there will be no edge. Strangely enough, even though they’re designed to convince independent voters, debates don’t seriously sway presidential elections in the modern age. The candidates enter at their current popularity and they leave at about the same level. This is entertainment, and no one becomes a Texans fan simply because they played well on Sunday.
Looking at where the candidates currently stand, Obama wins the election. The chattering class can go on about how close it is, but they’re looking at the nationwide poll, which would be important if Presidents were elected by popular vote. But we use the Electoral College, and as you’ll see, Obama is almost at 270 electoral votes. On election night, Obama may not have dominated the popular vote, but according to polling guru Nate Silver, Obama is likely to win the election. Republicans will harp on the popular vote all day, but it won’t matter as long as Obama wins it by at least 50.1%.
So when you tune in for the debates, remember that we’re watching condensed stump speeches, and unnecessary ones at that. The best thing that could happen is if Obama’s opening statement was “I killed Bin Laden, and Mitt Romney hates 47% of America,” drops the mic and walks away. I’d vote for that.
A couple weeks ago, Dan Cathy, the President and COO of Chick-Fil-A, made the following statement on the Ken Coleman Show:
“We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”
Dan Cathy is an idiot. He’s a bigot, and he’s on the wrong side of history. In 2004, George W. Bush was re-elected in part because Karl Rove was able to prey on homophobia and intolerance (and also by getting people to believe that a decorated veteran was less able to lead the country in a time of war than a guy who never saw a day of combat in his life). Eight years later, more states have legalized gay marriage, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is no more, the President came out in favor of gay marriage, and a nationwide movement began with “It Gets Better”.
But refusing to eat Chick-Fil-A on moral grounds isn’t part of turning the tide. Since Cathy’s statement, there has been an uprising on social networks chastising the corporation for its homophobic believes. Somehow, people were surprised that a business that’s closed on Sunday to observe the sabbath had deep ties to Christianity. This shock has led to not only Facebook and Twitter posts against Chick-Fil-A, but calls to boycott the business.
There seems to be a misunderstanding regarding the efficacy of boycotts. It’s a throwback to the 1960s when civil rights organizations boycotted segregated businesses. However, these businesses tended to be small, family-owned shops. If your restaurant was located in a neighborhood that was half-black and half-white, and all the black people stopped eating there, then you’ve lost 50% of your revenue, and you were forced to consider whether how much money you’d be willing to lose because of bigotry.
Boycotting a corporation like Chick-Fil-A, however, doesn’t register to them. While they obviously can’t ignore the media blowback from Cathy’s statement, there’s no way for them to measure how many people are boycotting. Maybe profits are lower because people are eating out less since the economy sucks. Maybe more competitive businesses are rising up around their locations. And how will Chick-Fil-A fix this problem? I doubt Dan Cathy will make an apology and even if he did, how many people would it bring back? Isn’t it easier to lay people off or raise prices? I assume if Chick-Fil-A’s profits dropped steeply, that would be their move because Dan Cathy’s convictions are stronger than the convictions of his detractors.
As I said, I think Dan Cathy’s views are despicable, but we should acknowledge that he’s willing to sacrifice millions of dollars for them. Chick-Fil-A could be making 1/7th more money than it makes now by being open on a Sunday. The bible says to take a day off for the sabbath, and Dan Cathy will abide by that commandment. His opponents, on the other hand, can’t be bothered to do more than not spend money on fast food.
This isn’t to say that people haven’t gone out to protest. If you picked up a sign, staged a sit-in, or did anything that required you to do more than sit at home, this post is not directed at you. I commend you on taking action, taking time out of your life, and showing people that you truly care about this issue. You have done far more than someone who posts a negative Chick-Fil-A meme on Facebook followed by a funny picture of an adorable animal.
Because we now live on the Internet, and are defined by how we share our beliefs and spend our money, then a simple post qualifies as protest. “I’m so angry, I shared someone else’s link.” We’re past the point of raising awareness (and again, if you weren’t aware that Chick-Fil-A’s management has Christian beliefs, then you weren’t really paying attention in the first place), so it’s really just to make yourself feel better. You’re pro-gay rights, and you lifted a finger to do something by clicking on your mouse. Well done.
I can’t stand that anymore. I can’t stand this unearned self-righteousness and people refusing to truly sacrifice for what they believe in. Honestly, I’m not that bothered by eating at Chick-Fil-A. As I said, history’s inexorable shift towards gay rights is unstoppable, and it doesn’t matter how much money Dan Cathy and his ilk donate to anti-gay organizations. They’re on the wrong side of history whether I buy an 8-piece chicken nuggets or not. I’ll support gay rights right now and you can too: click here to donate money to the It Gets Better Project.
“But if you’re pouring money into Chick-Fil-A’s coffers, then you’re just negating what you’re putting into It Gets Better!” a person I just made up might say. Except Chick-Fil-A is on the wrong side of history. I will happily give them money so I can watch them waste millions of it on a social issue they’re going to lose. Their money is poorly spent. It Gets Better’s money is wisely spent because they need momentum, and they will touch the lives of countless young people who will in turn support each other. Chick-Fil-A can’t create homophobes, so unless they’ve concocted an anti-aging formula that runs off intolerance, then the company can’t change the fact that homophobic people are the past and enlightened young people are the future.
However, if your argument is that you can’t in good conscience give money to a homophobic business, then that’s fine. But what are you willing to give your money to? In all likelihood, you own some piece of technology made in a factory in China. In China, they work long hours for slave wages in factories that are so bad that one corporation, Foxconn, had to put up suicide nets. Working conditions are so terrible, that they had to come up with a way to stop employees from killing themselves. Nets are cheaper than higher wages and decent working conditions.
If this bothers you, then I encourage you to throw away any piece of technology that was made on the backs of this kind of harsh labor. Chick-Fil-A might be against gay rights, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t any suicide nets on the premises (I guess an argument could be made for the ball pit on the playground). Also, if you put gas in your car, then why do you support endangering our oceans? As we learned a couple years ago, deepwater drilling is incredibly hazardous, and conditions have not significantly improved since Deepwater Horizon.
Except giving up your technology or your car is sacrifice. It won’t stop tech companies from using cheap labor or oil companies from drilling, but you will feel that sacrifice every day because your life will be more difficult because of it. Circling back to Christianity, the notion of tithing doesn’t have a bad premise. If you were forced to give up 10% of your income to charity, you would most likely feel it. That’s sacrifice. That’s the courage of your convictions. Refusing to eat a chicken sandwich: not courageous.
This morning, the country woke up to the tragic news that a gunman had opened fire at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and killed 12 people. The number of injured was initially reported at 38, but new reports have put it at 59. I want to say it’s “shocking”, but it’s not. It feels inevitable.
But today, social networks are in an uproar about gun control and gun violence. It’s the roar that comes every 6-12 months because it rarely takes longer than a year for another one of these massacres to occur. And then the uproar dies down, and we move on to the latest news story. It’s also a little strange that gun violence only seems to rouse people to action when it’s in a cluster. Massacres make headlines, but I don’t hear an outcry on Twitter on a daily basis. There were 12,632 gun-related homicides in 2007. What makes those gun deaths less notable than those that happened at the Aurora Century 16 theater?
The question we’ve become forced to ask ourselves is not “Why does this happen?” but “Why doesn’t this happen more often?”
There’s no political will to make it stop. If Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords getting shot in the head doesn’t spur congress to action on tougher gun control laws, then a bunch of Batman fans at a midnight screening isn’t going to register. Just like a bunch of college kids at Virginia Tech didn’t register. Just like the birthday party killings in Texas didn’t register (I didn’t even remember the one until The New Yorker mentioned it). Taking on guns is a political loser because it means wasting a lot of money fighting the NRA, and stronger gun control doesn’t get candidates elected. Americans don’t like being told what we can’t do and what we can’t have.
This post isn’t a call to ban guns, or a call for stricter gun laws. This isn’t a call for anything. It’s just an observation about how we could have had today’s discussion about guns yesterday, and we’ll probably be having this conversation a year from now. The problem of gun violence in America never dies.
I want to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. I really do. I agree with the majority consensus on major issues (get money out of politics, banking reform, stop congressmen and women from passing legislation affecting companies where the senator or representative is an investor) and I’m terrified that this latest nationwide crackdown is trying to snuff out the movement.*
However, I’m also terrified of well-intentioned-yet-ignorant. Here’s a statement released by Occupy Atlanta regarding Black Friday protests:
Black Friday gets its name because it is traditionally the day that retailers, big banks, and major corporations move from “in the red” to “in the black” where they start to turn a profit. While the 1% are doing better than ever, every day ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet. In a world of foreclosures, unemployment, and high cost of living,
Americans are seemingly always “in the red.”
Big corporations and the media try to use this day to tell us that the economy is doing fine. We know that is a lie. More and more people are falling into poverty. 50 million Americans now have to rely on food stamps. Homes are being foreclosed on at an astonishing rate every day. In Atlanta alone, 1% of the population controls almost 70% of our resources. We say the economy is not doing fine.
Occupy Atlanta is using the massive crowds of everyday people gathering on Black Friday as an opportunity to raise awareness of immoral corporate practices and income inequality. We will be reaching out to the community through symbolic actions of civil disobedience. This field guide was created not just for people from Occupy Atlanta or the rest of the city to take action, but to encourage those in the rest of the state and country to have a little fun, and raise some awareness this holiday season.
In addition we will also be holding a really, really free market at 3pm at Troy Davis Park(formerly Woodruff Park) featuring free food, clothing, and other items.
First off, not all corporations are evil. Some absolutely are, but you can’t paint all of them with the same brush. But more importantly, shopping is good for the economy. Yes, small businesses deserve love too, but take a company like Best Buy:
Best Buy is not a perfect company because no perfect company exists. Their return policies can be nightmarish and their “Geek Squad” should be avoided at all costs. However, Best Buy employs thousands of workers. The company is not only staffed by the blue-shirts you see on the floor. There’s a corporate infrastructure at work and all those people need jobs. If you cut off Best Buy, then there will be layoffs. Furthermore, there’s a ripple effect. The company can’t afford as much merchandise so that hurts everyone behind those products. Most importantly, spending is how money goes back into the economy.
That’s why stimulus is so important. It’s not just for repairing roads and bridges (although that’s also important). It’s to put money in the pockets of Americans so they can go spend it. Occupy Atlanta doesn’t understand this. I appreciate that they took the day to try and raise awareness of the movement, but it’s a muddled message and people don’t like being chastised for shopping.
One final note: Woodruff Park is not “Troy Davis Park”. You can’t rename places just because you want to. Furthermore, the wrongful execution of a man has nothing to do with the economy unless everything falls under the umbrella of “injustice”. Finally, this renaming damages the use of Twitter to spread the word and gather people. If you tweet “Meet up at Troy Davis Park”, some people may not know what you’re talking about unless they’re already involved in the movement and were probably going to show up anyway. If you tweet “Meet up at Troy Davis Park (formerly Woodruff Park)” you’ve burned off a lot of characters. And if you just do the sensible thing and tweet “Meet up at Woodruff Park”, then there was really no point in renaming anyway.
I don’t know how Occupy is working in other cities, but here in Atlanta it needs to be smarter and better understand what it’s protesting. No one cares if Occupy Atlanta is standing in solidarity with the Egyptian people. The movement can’t be a catch-all, especially if it doesn’t understand what it’s catching.
*As a side note, I don’t recall this kind of force being brought against Tea Party protestors.
The long case of death row inmate Troy Davis is coming to a close. His case now stands before the Supreme Court as they deliberate on whether or not he deserves to die for a crime he most likely did not commit. The outcry has been vocal and people are refreshing news sites and checking their Twitter feed to see if Davis is free or if he is dead.
Meanwhile, in Texas, a man named Lawrence Brewer is being executed for the murder of James Byrd Jr.*
There is no outcry for Mr. Brewer because he is most likely guilty whereas Davis’ case hits to the heart of our deepest fears about the death penalty: what if we killed an innocent person?
We already have. In 1976, the death penalty was reinstated. 1,276 men and women have been executed as of September 13, 2011. The odds are slim that every single person executed was guilty of their crime.
But that’s beside the point. Mr. Brewer should not have been executed just as Mr. Davis should not be executed. However, we rally around Mr. Davis because it makes the case that if even one innocent person is executed, then the death penalty should be abolished. But really it just makes the argument, “Please be really, really, really sure someone is guilty before you kill him.”
The death penalty is wrong. Period. The innocence or guilt of the condemned is irrelevant. The death penalty is not a deterrent and it is not how a modern society should behave. A murderer is either too enraged to think about the death penalty or he/she doesn’t care. And if it doesn’t reduce homicides, then it is simply the implementation of an antiquated system of moral justice. The Code of Hammurabi was over 3,700 years ago. Surely, we must have made some progress since then. But clearly, at least in America and any other place that still executes its citizens, we haven’t.
The case of Troy Davis isn’t special unless you believe that some people deserve to die and others don’t and it is up to us to make that call. But if you believe, as I do, that the death penalty is always wrong no matter the guilt or innocence of the condemned, then the case of Troy Davis isn’t horrifying because an innocent man may be put to death. It’s horrifying because whether Troy Davis is executed tonight or not, Lawrence Brewer was and he won’t be the last.
*I feel it’s important to note that Brewer was a white supremacist convicted of dragging Mr. Byrd to death from the back of his pick-up truck. Despite the ugliness of the crime, I feel that Mr. Brewer should have been left to rot in prison for the rest of his days. Executing Brewer doesn’t bring back Mr. Byrd, it won’t stop future hate crimes, and if the only benefit is that we as a society feel justified by Mr. Brewer’s execution, let me remind you that Mr. Brewer felt justified in his slaying of Mr. Byrd. Brewer’s execution may bring comfort to the friends and family of Mr. Byrd but if the purpose of “justice” is only to bring comfort, then our definition of justice is on par with a tub of Häagen-Dazs and a warm bath. The purpose of justice isn’t to serve individuals but to serve society as a whole.
Obama had to move his big jobs speech up to 7pm (EST) so as not to interfere with the first football game of the season. This speaks to two points:
1.) How far Obama has fallen in the public’s eyes. The President’s approval rating has reached a new low and it’s not tough to see why. The economy isn’t growing new jobs, unemployment remains stuck at over 9%, and people see banks returning to normal while their own lives have fallen apart. Beyond that, it says something that a gifted orator like Obama can no longer command an audience. Part of that speaks to the public’s weariness with politicians in general and the continued disenchantment with Obama and his pro-big business policies with only lip service to small businesses.
2.) We care more about entertainment than we do about our country. Will Obama’s speech be full of big ideas, empty promises, and a vague road map sure to be thwarted at every turn by Republicans? Probably. But this is a Presidential Address. Our country’s leader is speaking. You may not agree with what he has to say but this isn’t Sunday’s weekly, “Hey, how ya doin’ America? Really wish the Republicans would shape up. Oh well.” He wants prime time and the country says, “Sorry, but we’re ready for some football.” So Obama has to move his speech up to 7pm (4pm PST when most people will be in front of a TV), and it sends the message that the speech is less important than a sporting event. The speech is about jobs, it’s about the economy, it’s about putting our country back to work, but unfortunately there are two championship teams squaring off and we don’t want people to miss the first quarter.
And that speaks to the greater character of our country: our entertainment is more important than our nation’s welfare. We are amusing ourselves to death. Even how we perceive our politics is cast in the mold of entertainment. We don’t want to hear policy. We want to hear who’s up, who’s down, who looks good, who looks bad, the latest flub, the soaring rhetoric, and enjoy the horserace.
Even outside this “Football Beats the President” story, we can’t afford to not be plugged into something. I went to the pharmacy today and people waiting for their prescription to be filled were immersed in their mobile device, myself included. I was handling e-mail but there was nothing urgent in my inbox. Our phones are filled with games, music, movies, the Internet and everything to help us dodge the awkward silence and interactions with the people sitting next to us. A guy who looks down and doesn’t talk to anyone at a party is awkward and shy. A guy who looks down and doesn’t talk to anyone but is typing into his iPhone might be awkward and shy, but he looks busy and perhaps even important as he can’t be bothered by the people around him due to his intense game of Angry Birds.
Entertainment is important. It’s our cultural touchstone. It’s how we’ve come to communicate with each other and define our identity through our interests. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But when entertainment is deemed more important than a Presidential Address, then our citizenship no longer really matters. We don’t belong to America because we’re now part of the Packers nation or Team Edward or the Browncoats. I was never a big believer in pledging allegiance to the flag, but now we pledge our allegiance to our entertainment. We pledge allegiance, to the entertainment, of the United States of Distraction, and to the Episode, Sequel, or Game for which it stands, one Nation, under fandom, with liberty and justice for all who are on my side.
**Please note that when I say “we”, I’m not using it in the accusatory sense that really means “Everybody but me.” I’m as guilty of these distractions as anyone if not more so since my job is to cover movies, TV, and video games plus I’m a big football fan.**
Keith Olbermann issued a withering Special Comment last night aimed at the debt deal. It’s a good comment in so far as it uses Olbermann’s eloquence to effectively voice the anger many of us are feeling at Obama and the Democrats’ latest capitulation (or as Matt Taibbi put it, they took a dive). But Olbermann the makes a half-assed rallying cry that progressives and the middle and working class take back the government. Olbermann makes vague appeals to the powers of social networking and calling back the attitudes of the late 60s and early 70s (remind me, who won the 1968 and 1972 elections? His name was Richard-something-or-other).
But ultimately such cries for change are in vein. Obama was the last time most of us will be fooled. So much was riding on his rhetoric and we hoped and prayed we were getting a once-in-a-generation figure. But it was actually image politics at its finest and so many were glad to be getting a guy who spoke in complete sentences because that’s where George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were setting the bar. We made a big deal about Obama being the first black President but he’s shown himself to be as yellow as any other.
And truly, there are no replacements. We won’t change campaign finance laws because people, no matter how well-intentioned, will almost always find their way to the money. They’ll do a stint in congress and then find their way to a high-priced lobbying firm and trade access for fat cash. And since there’s no profit in helping an ill-defined group of middle-class voters (we’ve already seen this year how unions can be destroyed), no organization on the behalf of the middle-class can ever raise enough money to compete with the Goldman Sachs and Koch Brothers of the world. Even if they could, there’s more money to be made helping the richer organizations.
We live in an oligarchy and who we choose as our leaders is about as important as who we choose as the next American Idol.