The election and the threat of white supremacist violence

If you’re going to read anything I write about the election this week, make it this piece for De Correspondent — on white supremacist mobs, political violence, and a crisis in US journalism:

It is a terrible feeling to sense a threat coming, and know that many are abetting it by promoting the man who propels it. It is worse when the threat reveals itself to be real, yet complacency remains, and you do not know whether this reaction is rooted in apathy or cowardice. Cowardice toward Trump has been epic: in the media, among the GOP, and even in organizations like the American Bar Association, who last week studied Trump’s use of lawsuits to silence opponents, then refused to publish the study out of fear he would sue them. While in recent months journalists have run critical coverage of Trump, most dismissed him as a joke or indulged him before and during the primaries, facilitating his rise. His fellow Republicans, even when they criticize him, still endorse him.

The same phenomenon is taking place all over the Western world, as demagogic white nationalists rise, elites falsely predict their loss or play down the ramifications of their win, and hate crimes explode once victory is achieved, as witnessed in post-Brexit UK. It was all predictable, but now there is no clear organized process to stop it. Instead, victimized populations wait for their hardship to be taken seriously, and wait, and wait. Meanwhile, in the confusion and inertia, white nationalists consolidate their power.

I do not know what kind of America I will wake up to November 9. But I know that the result of the election does not hinge on Election Day. What happens to the U.S. will be the cumulative effect of a campaign that has mainstreamed bigotry and is now mainstreaming – or at least severely playing down – white supremacist violence.

Trump never specified what era he was referring to when he said he would “Make America Great Again.” Many assumed it was the 1950s, when job growth for whites was high and civil rights were denied. But when I visit Lovejoy’s grave across the river, I am reminded of life in St. Louis in the 1830s, of the mob violence that preceded the Civil War, of the way Lovejoy tried to convince people that non-whites were human and white mobs were a dangerous problem, and how he anticipated his own death as a result of these toxic politics. His era was in which white men could attack non-whites with impunity, and those who defied them faced terrifying consequences. It would have been a great era to be Donald Trump.

The tyranny of the mob is enabled by those who refuse to recognize the threat, who rationalize the mob’s aims, or who – like the elites of the 1830s – avoid discussion of the racial enmity at its core. That same deep denial is occurring today, over 180 years later. We have a moral obligation to oppose it and document it, as others have in dangerous eras, in the hopes of negating threats to the most vulnerable.

As Lovejoy proclaimed, there is no excuse for deserting your post.

Read the whole thing here

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Conspiracies and machinations: what’s going on with the FBI?

For about a year, I have been arguing that Trump is trying to pull fringe movements to the center and mainstream extremism — and has succeeded thanks to the cooperation of ratings-hungry, morally vacant members of media. (When I pointed this out on MSNBC, they booted me off the air…) This week, however, has yielded a new development:  factions of the FBI are seemingly on board as well. My latest for the Globe and Mail:

The FBI’s strange behaviour did not stop there. Soon after, a previously dormant FBI account began tweeting heavily redacted case files, some of which concerned the Clintons, and one of which characterized Mr. Trump’s father, who was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination, as a “philanthropist.”

The FBI chalked up the release of these documents, one week before the election, as automated and apolitical.

But any case file released by the FBI at this time is political, and combined with Mr. Comey’s actions, they contribute to what has been the most successful method of attack on Ms. Clinton: ceaseless insinuations of wrongdoing that provide little new information about her but create confusion and suspicion.

This tactic is a hallmark of the Trump campaign. He has aligned with and is backed by media-savvy conspiracy theorists like Mr. Stone, Alex Jones and Steve Bannon, who has declared that the path to victory lies with the campaign’s ability to manipulate people through the Internet. Now, Trump campaign conspiracies travel not only through social media and mainstream outlets, but through the FBI, whose authoritative reputation lends innuendo legitimacy, intentionally or not.

According to one former State Department official turned conspiracy-mongering Trump fan, the FBI’s actions are intentional. Steve Pieczenik announced in a video that the Trump campaign had pulled off a coup with FBI assistance. Mr. Trump’s fans are rejoicing. U.S. government officials have offered no explanation.

Mr. Trump’s campaign has long been aimed at pulling the fringes into the centre, mainstreaming extremism so that it is not recognizable as extreme any more.

In authoritarian states, conspiracy narratives are a routine part of this practice. They operate both as a method of intimidation and as a way to rally followers. To dismiss those who propagate such narratives as “only conspiracists” is to ignore that Mr. Trump, himself, is a major conspiracist, who may soon gain access to lethal power.

Read the whole thing here



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What’s next for Uzbekistan? Karimov’s legacy and Mirziyoyev’s challenges

I wrote a 3000-word essay for World Politics Review on Uzbekistan’s history as an independent state, the rise of Islam Karimov, the death of Karimov, and the challenges for his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The essay explains how and why authoritarian leaders backed by force also try to establish popular legitimacy — which may prove difficult given Uzbekistan’s political and economic crises:

Here, Mirziyoyev may run into serious problems. Under Karimov, Uzbekistan’s prosperity declined as its sense of nationhood solidified, with patriotism offered as a balm for persecution and poverty. Under Mirziyoyev, frustrations at the declining quality of life may finally be publicly expressed, for Uzbeks would no longer be insulting Karimov, but his unproven successor.

Critiquing Mirziyoyev is unwise, from a safety perspective, but it is not quite the attack on national identity that critiquing Karimov was. Should Mirziyoyev fail to improve Uzbekistan’s material conditions, he may be accused of insulting Karimov’s legacy, even though he is merely continuing its brutal ways. Karimov created a compelling illusion, and if Mirziyoyev cannot find his role—or construct one for himself—in the national mythos, he may take the fall.

There has always been a divide between the Uzbekistan presented in propaganda and the Uzbekistan of people’s everyday life, between the laws and protections written in the constitution and the oppressive behavior of officials on the ground. If Uzbekistan continues its downward economic spiral, that split may be represented in another way: between Karimov, the lost Uzbek ideal, and Mirziyoyev, the grim Uzbek reality. There may be calls from the public, perhaps peaceful, perhaps violent, for that reality to change. And should that occur, a new way of being Uzbek, one actually determined by Uzbek citizens, may finally emerge.

Read the whole thing here

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On irrational exuberance

For the Globe and Mail, I wrote about the virtues of low enthusiasm when it comes to political candidates:

If this election has taught us anything, it is that enthusiasm for a political figure can be dangerous. It is a pathway to demagoguery, and the absence of enthusiasm is often a sign that the democratic process is working – provided sensible caution does not transform into knee-jerk distrust and other forms of nihilism and zealotry. As citizens, we are not meant to be cheerleaders for presidents; they are meant to serve us. Blind loyalty, in the end, is merely blindness.

Americans entered the 21st century with Alan Greenspan’s warning of “irrational exuberance” on their minds, a term referring to the stock-market bubble but which is broadly applicable as a cautionary tale. Things Americans have been irrationally exuberant about include the Iraq War and the candidacy of Barack Obama – the former a foreign-policy disaster; the latter a president at times denigrated for not meeting obscenely high expectations. Mr. Trump, too, is buoyed by irrational exuberance, as are populist authoritarians around the world.

Read the whole thing here 

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More on Trump’s “rigged” allegations

My article on the third debate for the Globe and Mail:

In Mr. Trump’s alternate reality, Ms. Clinton occupies two contradictory positions. First, she is so powerful that she is unilaterally responsible for everything that has happened in the U.S. for the past 30 years. Second, she is innately worthless, someone who, as he said last night, “should not be allowed to run.” This dynamic presented itself most clearly when Mr. Trump tried to defend his manipulation of tax loopholes (after bragging about it) by claiming that somehow Ms.  Clinton forced him to not pay his share, though she had nothing to do with it. When Ms. Clinton discussed his finances later in the debate, Mr. Trump flew into a rage, sputtering: “Such a nasty woman.”

Ms. Clinton ignored his insults and continued to talk, as she is now practised at doing.

Mr. Trump calls her “the devil,” as do prominent Trump supporters such as radio show host Alex Jones. Like Salem witch trial officiants, they have imbued Goody Hillary with magical powers. But Ms. Clinton’s greatest power over Mr. Trump is quite simple: she publicly and repeatedly points out that he is accountable for his actions, and notes that his actions have consequences.

One of the consequences of Mr. Trump’s recent actions is that he is likely to lose the election. For Mr. Trump, however, this is incomprehensible, and so we arrive at the unprecedented scenario of a candidate who may not concede.

The debate could have – and should have – stopped at Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to say he will accept the results of the election. As he rages at rallies and creates conspiracies, he puts not only the democratic process but actual lives at risk. White supremacist and militia groups have been on the rise for eight years, and avenging Mr. Trump’s loss may be their unifying cause.

Read the whole thing here

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Two new articles on the election

Too busy to update this site lately. A couple of new(ish) articles on the election:

Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories are making his supporters paranoid — and dangerous (10/13/16) <– This article was about the possibility of armed white supremacists plotting violence and or after Election Day. Shortly after this article was published, three “militia” men were arrested for plotting a terrorist attack in Kansas for the day after Election Day, and Trump has been inciting supporters toward violence.

To Donald Trump, we are all bit players in a fantasy America starring Donald Trump (10/19/16) <– On Trump’s fantastical view of America, his dated and insulting view of the “inner city”, the spread of suburban poverty, and more.

Read them and weep! Debate coverage coming tomorrow…

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The debate from hell

For the Globe and Mail, some thoughts on the worst presidential debate in US history:

Who won the debate? Does it matter? When this country has sunk this low – after a year dominated by bigotry and threats and now revelations about sexual assault – is it possible to contemplate anything but loss? Loss of trust, loss of respect, loss of dignity, loss of purpose. Loss of faith in our leaders, loss of faith in each other – in the ability of our media to challenge a candidate’s worst behaviour instead of exploiting it for profit, in the willingness of our leaders to defend the most vulnerable instead of exacerbating their pain.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” wrote poet Maya Angelou, a St. Louis native. Sunday night, 10 kilometres from Ms. Angelou’s childhood home, Mr. Trump took the stage and stereotyped black Americans, insulted Muslims, threatened to jail his opponent, and lied so blatantly about his past statements that we were forced to remember what exactly the Republican nominee had said about checking out that sex tape.

Ms. Angelou was right: You never forget how someone made you feel. What we felt was gross, and sad, and scared. The campus felt coated in slime. The debate was a lurid soap opera, in which everything unsaid loomed larger than what was spoken.

The stagecraft lent itself to grotesque microdramas of physical exchange. You may not remember what the candidates said, but you’ll remember that they did not shake hands at the start of the debate. You’ll remember how he stood behind Hillary Clinton, hulking and hovering. You’ll remember his strange sniffing, his ceaseless interruptions, and her withering disdain.

Read the whole thing here

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Midwestern Nice, Midwestern Lies

Last night I got to watch two Midwesterners debate each other in a style any Missouri resident knows well — “Midwestern nice.” On Kaine vs Pence:

The vice-presidential debate was Midwestern Nice meets Midwestern Lies. An anticipated snoozefest between two mild-mannered Midwesterners – Mr. Pence, a life-long Indiana resident now serving as Governor; and Mr. Kaine, who lived in Minnesota, Kansas, and Missouri before becoming Senator of Virginia – the debate was actually vicious, if you could read between the lines. To do this, you must comprehend Midwestern Nice.

Midwestern Nice is a vernacular of wholesome politeness masking bitter contempt. It is employed primarily by white Christians of the U.S. heartland. To speak Midwestern Nice, you must know certain key words, and Mr. Pence and Mr. Kaine lobbed them like they were in a Norman Rockwell battle royale. Mr. Pence rhapsodized about small towns and cornfields; Mr. Kaine hit back with Little League and Sunday school. Mr. Pence praised the power of prayer; Mr. Kaine name-checked a Methodist youth group.

Eventually, a “faith-off” commenced, as the moderator asked each candidate to speak about their religious values. Mr. Kaine and Mr. Pence each spoke reverently of their Christianity, and made sure to praise the piety of their opponent. In Midwestern Nice, this was actually them telling each other to where to go.

Read the whole thing at the Globe and Mail

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The Murder of Darren Seals

For De Correspondent, I wrote about the murder of Darren Seals, a Ferguson activist who believed the local movement here had been coopted:

September 6, 2016, Darren Seals, a Ferguson protester and local activist, was found dead in St. Louis’s Riverview municipality in a car that had been set on fire. He had been shot to death before the car was torched. The crime is being investigated by St. Louis police as a homicide. There have been no arrests. Seals was 29 years old.

Do you know who Darren Seals is? Maybe you do, since his murder quickly became international news,covered by the very media outlets which, in life, he chastised for ignoring him and the other St. Louis protesters whose activity did not stop after the cameras left town.

Did you know who Darren Seals was before he died? If you live in St. Louis, and were involved in the Ferguson protests, you did. On Facebookand on Twitter, Seals had been criticizing the cooption of Ferguson activism since late 2014, detailing an internal division between the Ferguson movement and the national civil rights movement known as Black Lives Matter. At the heart of this division, wrote Seals, was the exploitation of black pain for profit – conducted not only by white media and NGOs, but by out-of-town black elites who seized on Ferguson as a stepping stone to glory.

You can read the full story here. RIP Darren.

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The soft bigotry of Trumpian expectations

More on the presidential debate for Quartz:

That is the difference between skepticism and nihilism. The latter is what some elite journalists did by declaring Trump the winner before he opened his mouth. That is a capitulation to incompetence, the bestowing of a free pass to man known for bigotry and hate-mongering, and a show of naiveté toward Trump’s mastery of spin, which he wields as staunchly as Clinton does facts. Reactions like Todd’s and Brooks’ show that Trump has not lost his touch, as they responded by pandering to the standard of expectations set in part by Trump’s own campaign.

Trump did, however, lose the debate. Because the debate existed in its own realm, free from selective edits and crowd feedback, divorced—in the moment at least—from “post-fact” punditry manipulation. The candidates had to speak candidly. They had to react on the spot. They had to argue their case on merit. They had to deal with expectations, and Trump could not meet them, and there was no one who could cover for him and nowhere for him to hide. Hype and hyperbole dissipated as the contrast between the candidates became clear. Reality TV ceded into reality, an arena where Trump has always faltered.

Heading into the next two debates ahead of the election, we must remember to keep expectations high—not because we believe they will be met, but because if we surrender expectations, we will not notice when they have been betrayed.

Read the whole thing here

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