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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Hillary Clinton destroyed Trump in the debate

My take on last night’s presidential debate for Globe and Mail:

Last night, Hillary Clinton, the daughter of a drape maker, revealed the man behind the curtain. Combining the personal with the political, she hit Trump where it hurt – his brand, revealed to be as bankrupt as the businesses he bottomed out.

Before last night, Trump had never been confronted directly by an adversary for a sustained period of time. He had appeared before cheering crowds and chatted with sycophants, but dodged or banned any journalist who challenged him. Unlike, for example, Sarah Palin and Katie Couric in 2008, Trump never had an extended interview with an objective party. At the first presidential debate, it was painfully evident why.

Clinton’s brand-destroying strategy emerged early on, when the two candidates were asked about the economy. As Trump lied that he was given a “very small amount” by his father – in reality, it was millions – Clinton noted not only his wealth but his reluctance to spread it. She ticked off a list of workers who he refused to pay, adding that she was grateful that her father was not among them.

Trump’s attempt to present himself as someone who understood American economic pain crumbled when he was outed as a man who caused it. Clinton debunked not only Trump’s origin story, but the ethics of his business practices and, in turn, the ethics of his candidacy. He never recovered.

Trump not only failed to deny that he fleeced workers; he implied they deserved it. When the issue of his tax returns was raised, Trump lied about why he couldn’t release them, citing an audit – which does not prohibit release – and stating that not paying taxes “makes me smart” and is “good business.”

Clinton gave names to these unethical practices: “the Trump loophole” and “Trumped up, trickle-down economics.” Trump, who has spent his campaign devising nicknames for rivals, faltered when his own beloved name was cast in a disparaging light. Lauded by some for his potential to shake things up, Trump was now inextricably tied with shaking people down.

Read the whole thing at Globe and Mail

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The terrible new gun law of Missouri/Missourah

For Quartz, I wrote about Missouri’s terrible new permitless carry law and our state’s cultural divide:

Gun culture, in Missouri, is indeed ubiquitous: that Kander, running as a Democrat advocating gun control, assembled a rifle on TV to show his bona fides speaks to its dominance. But while gun culture may shape state discourse, and gun regulation is the subject of heated debate both in Missouri’s media and legislature, the issue of gun ownership itself remains more of a mystery. Who are Missouri’s gun owners? How does ownership vary by region, gender, and race? Where are the guns coming from? What are they being used for?

The answer is that no one really knows. That’s because in 1996, the National Rifle Association goaded Congress into forbidding the US Centers for Disease Control from spending funds “to advocate or promote gun control,” stripping the center of $2.6 million in funding to research gun violence. Despite an executive order by president Barack Obama prompted by the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, the CDC continues to refuse research funding, in part because of fear that they will be hassled by the NRA. The result, a Los Angeles Times study concluded, is that “we’re flying blind on gun violence.”

It may be that gun ownership in Missouri—and in the US in general—is not as pervasive as it seems. This week, the Guardian gained access to a rare piece of quantitative research: an in-depth study from Harvard and Northeastern Universities showing that half of all guns are owned by only 3% of American adults. While Americans own an estimated 265 million guns—more than one gun for every adult—133 million of these guns are owned by the 3%. The authors of the study note that gun ownership in the US has actually fallen from 25% to 22% since 1994, but the number of guns available has risen dramatically.

The primary reason for increased gun ownership? Fear. “The desire to own a gun for protection—there’s a disconnect between that and the decreasing rates of lethal violence in this country. It isn’t a response to actuarial reality,” Matthew Miller, one of the authors of the study, told the Guardian, noting that the gun ownership surge occurred as violent crime decreased nationwide.

In Missouri, that fear is palpable, and it’s also self-perpetuating. While crime has plummeted since the 1990s, Missouri gun deaths are increasing, as is paranoia.

Read the whole thing at Quartz.

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For the Globe and Mail, I wrote about Trump’s long-running birther crusade against President Obama:

What Americans did not know is that this was arguably the moment Mr. Trump’s serious presidential ambitions began. When Mr. Trump announced his 2016 candidacy, he had not yet shaken the mockery of President Obama’s riposte, nor had he gained, in the interim, the “credentials” or “breadth of experience” Barack Obama said he lacked.

What he had managed to do was turn birtherism into a national narrative. Birtherism is a vision of the U.S. that excludes Mr. Obama and any American whose name or heritage marks a break in white Christian dominance. Mr. Trump’s vow to “make America great again” always rested on rendering non-white, non-Christian citizens inherently suspect. Proclaiming Mexicans “rapists” and Muslims “terrorists,” Mr. Trump propelled white nationalism out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Birtherism was never truly about where Barack Obama came from. It was about where he was allowed to go. Power, for Mr. Trump, a wealthy real estate scion, was rooted in birthright. Birthright became a theme of his campaign, as he insisted to supporters that illegitimate outsiders like Mr. Obama had taken what was rightly theirs. In ways both subtle and overt, Mr. Trump promoted whiteness as assurance, for white Americans, of immunity from hard times.

Read the whole thing at the Globe and Mail

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Did Trump buy the Fourth Estate?

I have been writing and tweeting about Trump’s relationship with the US media for over a year. Now I have written a summary of the fiasco, appropriately published in a Canadian newspaper, where I can speak freely. An excerpt:

Some have accused the media of fabricating a “horse race,” but this is an erroneous assumption. As shown over the summer – when Mr. Trump insulted the family of a fallen veteran, feuded with a baby and called on Russia to obtain Ms. Clinton’s e-mails, among other things – one does not need to cover Mr. Trump favourably to get favourable ratings. Viewers will tune in because it is the Trump Show. Ms. Clinton, similarly, is a source of both fascination and contempt. Americans will watch no matter what.

Something more ominous seems to be guiding the skewed coverage. Mr. Trump has named the media his enemy, despite its history as his friend. He has banned multiple organizations from his rallies. He has a history of litigation, is currently suing several outlets over articles on his wife, and is backed by Peter Thiel, the billionaire who sued Gawker out of existence. He is also advised by Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chief who has compiled massive dossiers on journalists he despises.

Mr. Trump’s campaign is run by Steve Bannon, a veteran of Breitbart, a paramount right-wing website. On Aug. 18, Mr. Bannon’s employees told the Associated Press of their plan to “humanize” Mr. Trump in the media and “use the Internet to win a general election.” The AP went on that week to release a Trump puff piece ignoring all scandals, a widely debunked exposé on the Clinton Foundation, a fake map showing the candidates tied, and other pro-Trump coverage. The AP’s behaviour was so egregious that it was questioned on CNN, where AP editor Kathleen Carroll admitted they were printing lies, but shrugged off the complaints. (On Friday, The AP admitted they had erred in their election coverage.)

CNN, meanwhile, has hired Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid commentator while he is still being paid by the Trump campaign. CNN is headed by Jeff Zucker, former CEO of NBC, which produced Mr. Trump’s reality-TV series The Apprentice. Today Mr. Zucker keeps a framed Trump tweet in his office.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump gleefully brags about his insider knowledge of the media industry. Given his 40 years working in or with the media, he likely has secrets that could destroy careers. Trailing in the polls, Mr. Trump is planning to launch his own media empire should he lose the election. Some U.S. journalists appear to be auditioning. Others seem scared into silence.

Americans in general should also be afraid. Mr. Trump, who spent his life buying buildings, appears to have bought the Fourth Estate.

Read the whole thing at the Globe and Mail

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No, Uzbekistan is probably not going to be invaded by terrorists

For twenty-five years, an invasion of Uzbekistan by Islamic terrorists has been predicted, and for twenty-five years, it has not happened. Instead, that fear has been used as a pretext for the state to clamp down on domestic dissent. For Politico Europe:

Despite Uzbekistan’s reputation as a hotbed of Islamic militancy, terror attacks in the country are extremely rare. Islamic militant groups have no substantive presence within the country, and few Uzbeks are interested in joining one. If there is a threat to the country and its citizens, it’s more likely to come from government security forces than from Islamic insurgents.

Karimov died as he lived, shrouded in secrets, discussed by his countrymen through the mish-mish— gossip — that forms the primary source of communication in his insular, authoritarian state. During his 27-year rule — he served first as secretary of the Communist Party before becoming president in 1991 — Karimov repressed the rights of his people and suppressed evidence of the repression.

His control of the country’s information system seems to have outlived him. On August 26, Uzbek officials abruptly announced that September 2 would be an official “day off,” claiming Uzbeks needed time to rest after the festivities. In reality, it appears to have been a pre-planned day of mourning. Late that evening, Karimov was announced dead, and he was buried the next day in an elaborate funeral in Samarkand.

The perception that Uzbekistan is beset by Islamic militants is a product of Karimov’s propaganda apparatus and his efforts to maintain control. Karimov encouraged Uzbeks to follow their Muslim faith, but in an extremely narrow way that conformed to state directives and acquiesced to state-approved mosques and imams.

Read  on as to what the death of Karimov means for Uzbekistan 


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A Trump rally without Trump

What is a Trump rally like without Donald Trump present? To find out, I drove to a Harley Davidson lot in Festus, Missouri, where the local branch of the Tea Party was holding their own rally without them. It was very different than the last time I attended a Trump rally in St. Louis. For Quartz:

But Trump rallies, which attract fanatical followers, do not tell the whole story of Trump’s support. This raises an interesting question: What is a Trump rally like without Trump? What happens to the crowd when the demagogue is absent?

In an attempt to answer this question, I drove to the parking lot of a Harley Davidson outlet in Festus, Missouri, a small city outside of St. Louis. This was where the local branch of the Tea Party was holding its own Trump rally—without Trump in attendance. Speakers included local Tea Party leaders like Jim Hoft, a popular right-wing blogger better known as the Gateway Pundit, and Ed Martin, Jr., an associate of ultraconservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly, a St. Louis native herself. This was a St. Louis gathering. Both in tone and topic, it was far more in the spirit of St. Louis—white, bigoted St. Louis, that is—than in the spirit of Trump.

I knew this because, back in March, I attended a Trump rally in St. Louis—the first to be significantly disrupted by protesters, and one of the bloodiest rallies to date. As Trump spewed hateful epithets from the podium that were broadcast through speakers placed outside the building where the rally was held, Trump fans and opponents clashed both inside and on the streets, sometimes getting into physical altercations. Novel at the time, this has since become standard for Trump rallies.

In Festus, the atmosphere was quite different. A comparatively small audience of roughly 200 people were in attendance—still overwhelmingly white, and mostly middle-aged or older. There were Trump hats and Trump signs on display. But there were just as many for local politicians like Eric Greitens (the Missouri GOP candidate for governor best known for ads in which he is shown shooting an Gatling-style machine gun). The differences between a Trump rally and a Trump fan-only rally were so stark, both in topic and tenor, that it raised the question of how closely Trump and Tea Party interests are aligned, particularly in a region home to many evangelical conservatives.

Read the whole thing here

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Islam Karimov is dead

As I noted in an earlier post — which you should read if you’re interested in Uzbekistan — I have been studying Uzbekistan extensively for over a decade. Islam Karimov, its first and only president, has died. I will likely be writing more about this in the days to come. For now, an excerpt of my op-ed for The New York Times:

Uzbeks who loved Mr. Karimov — and there are many who did — will mourn his passing. Others mourn because they fear for a greater loss of stability in a country already troubled by widespread poverty and a scarcity of gas, food and water. But some Uzbeks have already been mourning for years — for the Uzbekistan that Mr. Karimov never allowed to exist, and for the promises that were never honored in practice.

For 25 years, Uzbeks were told they lived in a “future great state.” That slogan, still ubiquitous, never came with a timeline. Previously, when one would ask Uzbeks when they thought Uzbekistan would change, they would always say, “When Karimov is gone.”

That day, both longed for and dreaded, may be here. What is Uzbekistan without Islam Karimov? For the first time in independent Uzbekistan’s history, the future has arrived.

Read the whole thing here

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A wall against open minds

For the Globe and Mail, I wrote about Trump’s trip to Mexico and his horrifying immigration speech:

The proposed Mexican wall is fantastical. It is as fantastical as the wall being built in Atlanta, a wall that guards nothing but the sanctity of bigotry. The Trump fans, endlessly mocking political correctness, are building themselves a safe space. Their safe space is a shrine – to Mr. Trump, to audacity, to doing things because one can, not because it serves the public good. Such is the Trump campaign.

The wall was never truly about Mexico, but it was always about borders. His antipathy toward Mexicans – and Muslims, and blacks, and other minorities – was aimed at capturing the allegiance of whites. His campaign was born this way, and it thrived this way, until he became too erratic and vulgar. His support stagnated, then fell.

Now he is attempting to appease the groups he insulted – visiting Mexico, reaching out to blacks – but his message still targets white voters. He needs to reassure them he is not a bigot so they can reassure themselves they are not either.

Mr. Trump followed up his Mexico excursion with a rally speech in Arizona. Surrounded by cheering fans, he reverted to form: energetic and paranoid, portraying the divide between the U.S. and Mexico as a divide between safety and danger. Any illegal immigrant who committed a crime stood in for all illegal immigrants. When not murdering “good Americans,” they were leeching off the system, stealing resources and jobs.

Early in his speech, Mr. Trump bemoaned the “illegal flow of drugs, cash, guns and people.” In his world view, objects are the same as human beings: dangerous and disposable, so long as they come from Mexico.

He spoke of “compassion for Americans,” but the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans he insulted merited none. His rage in Arizona stood in stark contrast to his meekness earlier in the day. Confronted with the humanity of his enemy in Mexico, he faltered; surrounded by adoration, he struck from afar.

Read the whole thing here

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How immigrants to America become “white”

For De Correspondent, I wrote on the white supremacist movement surrounding the Trump campaign, and the complicated history of “whiteness” in America. An excerpt on Polish-Americans:

Here it is important to understand how, exactly, Americans ‘become white’. The history of Polish-Americans is an illuminating example. Upon arriving in the U.S. en masse in the late 19th and early 20th century, Poles endured discrimination based on their appearance, religion and culture.In 1903, the New England Magazine decried the Poles’ “expressionless Slavic faces” and “stunted figures” as well as their inherent “ignorance” and “propensity to violence”. Working for terrible wages, Polish workers were renamed things like “Thomas Jefferson” by their bigoted Anglo-Saxon bosses who refused to utter Polish names.

The Poles, in other words, were not considered white. Far from it: they were considered a mysterious menace that should be expelled. When Polish-American Leon Czolgosz killedPresident William McKinley in 1901, all Poles were deemedpotential violent anarchists. “All people are mourning, and it is caused by a maniac who is of our nationality,” a Polish-American newspaper wrote, pressured to apologize for their own people. The collective blame of Poles for terrorism bears great similarity to how Muslims (both in the U.S. and Europe) are collectively blamed today.

But then something changed. In 1919, Irish gangs in blackface attacked Polish neighborhoods in Chicago in an attempt to convince Poles, and other Eastern European groups, that they, too, were “white” and should join them in the fight against blacks. As historian David R. Roedigerrecalls, “Poles argued that the riot was a conflict between blacks and whites, with Poles abstaining because they belonged to neither group.” But the Irish gangs considered whiteness, as is often the case in America, as anti-blackness. And as in the early 20th century Chicago experienced an influx not only of white immigrants from Europe, but blacks from the South, white groups who felt threatened by black arrivals decided that it would be politically advantageous if the Poles were considered white as well.

Over time, the strategy of positioning Poles as “white” against a dark-skinned “other” was successful. Poles came to consider themselves white, and more importantly, they came to be considered white by their fellow Americans, as did Italians, Greeks, Jews, Russians, and others from Southern and Eastern Europe, all of whom held an ambivalent racial status in U.S. society. With that new white identity came the ability to practice the discrimination they had once endured.

Read the whole thing at De Correspondent

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