“I wish I was alive in 2020.” Witnessing History from the Frontline

July 22, 2020

You’ve heard it a thousand times. “If I was around in the 1960s, I would have been marching with Dr. King!” Or how about this one, “If I was around in the 1930s or 1940s, I would have been fighting the Nazis!” As if the moment you’re in right now doesn’t require you to pony up and join the frontlines in the fight against oppression. Your time is now.

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One of the great twentieth century sociologists, C. Wright Mills, wrote in 1959 that we tend to see our biographies as separate from the moments in history that we live in. We focus on the, often mundane, day to day parts of our lives and not our lives as part of a larger historical moment. Very few of the people engaged in the vibrant protests in 1968 thought, “I’m in 1968, making history!” They might have thought, “I’m going to this protest with my friend and then I need to pick up some milk on the way home.” We are making history because every day we are making history by merely existing. But Karl Marx once wrote, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.” However, there are times, like now, where we can actually alter the course of events.

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Portland is again at the epicenter of national events. The media from around the world (including China and Canada) has been calling me to ask what to make of federal forces shooting “non-lethal munitions” into the faces of protestors and grabbing them off the street in actions that look more like Argentina in 1980 than anything America could ever be. And now President Trump has ordered federal police into Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque in what he has branded, “Operation Legend.” (I won’t psychoanalyze how that title fits Trump’s delusions of grandeur.) State and local leaders and well as senators and congress members have demanded the federal forces leave. Oregon Senior Senator Ron Wyden tweeted, “@realDonaldTrump get your jackbooted goons out of my city.”

The arrival of federal forces has completely altered the dynamic of the conflict. The protests had been geared towards Black Lives Matter and the systemic racial injustices that were highlighted by the May 25th murder of George Floyd. Even in Portland they were beginning to lose steam, as they had in Minneapolis, Washington, DC, and other cities. We were trying to move to a sponsored dialogue phase of the conflict. I was working with the Department of Justice on a plan to get protestors and Portland police to the table together. Then, in a bizarre attempt at political theater (and perhaps a distraction from the unending COVID-19 headlines), Trump sends in federal forces to throw a tanker full of gasoline on to the fire. If it was his actual intention to quell the protests, he failed miserably. People who have never engaged in protests are now manning the barricades; grandmothers, veterans, dads with leaf blowers, all willing to take volleys of CS gas to the face to make a stand.

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This is now about a lot more than Black Lives Mattering. This is about a shockingly rapid slide into authoritarianism. We don’t have go back 80 years to Germany, or even 40 years to Argentina. The parallel is the Philippines, where the 2016 election of “law and order” candidate Rodrigo Duterte turned the country into a police dictatorship in which the media are regularly imprisoned. In 2017, Donald Trump praised the dictator and invited him to the White House. The people who are protesting in America understand how fragile democracy is. The Philippines was a democracy. It is not one now. Those who mocked Antifa activists for warning about the threat of fascism in America are witnessing something that looks a lot more like fascism than it does democracy rooted in constitutional due process. When Fox New’s Chris Wallace asked Trump this week if he would accept the results of the election in November if he loses, his response was that he’ll “have to see.”

So here America is at a turning point. Will we move to civil war or an era of peacemaking and healing? Are the protestors who are risking their lives to drive the federal forces out of Portland lawless anarchists, American patriots, or both? My wife and I (who were tear-gassed at an earlier protest) have stayed up into the morning hours watching the nightly mayhem in a small area of the city, wondering what’s happening to this country. Whatever it is, it’s history unfolding before our eyes. You missed Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 but you can show up to Chapman Square in Portland in 2020 for a front row seat for tomorrow’s American History textbook.

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I’m lucky to have a wide range of friends that run the gamut from U.S. Attorney’s Office civil rights lawyers and police officers to members of the “Wall of Moms” and some of those “lawless anarchists.” I have to imagine all of us are aware that this is a true crossroads in U.S. history. It’s both exciting and frightening. It reminds me of the end of the Cold War and being in London clubs as newly freed eastern Europeans danced their asses off. But it could easily go the other way as Trump’s America continues to flirt with our most dystopian dark fantasies. Police riots and “law and order” rhetoric got Richard Nixon elected in 1968, extending the Vietnam War into the mid-70s, but I think America is in a different place in 2020. At least I hope so.

This is history. Future generations will debate what happened in America in 2020. This great transformation could be a wonderful act reconciliation or the death of America itself. Pay attention. You are not required to participate in this moment, but you are required to bear witness to it.

Real Americans Burn Confederate Flags

June 28, 2020

Seeing this weekend’s vote to remove the Confederate stars and bars from the Mississippi state flag gave me a moment of hope in the progress of this once violently divided nation. The Confederate battle flag was first added to the Magnolia State’s flag, not during the actual Confederate era, but in 1894, 29 years after the end of the Civil War. It was inserted as a pro-Jim Crow protest against the Reconstructionist federal forces who were trying to integrate southern states into a nation free of slavery. We had a similar moment in Georgia in 2001, when the state finally canned the rebel stars and bars that had been placed in the state flag in 1956 to stake Georgia’s claim in racial segregation. Change happens.

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But so what? It’s just a piece of cloth. Yeah, a piece of cloth that has been a fixture at Ku Klux Klan rallies for over a hundred years. In probably the least expected “woke” move this year, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag, but you’re still going to see it flying at NASCAR tailgate parties. Why are we so hung up on this red, white, and blue banner?

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Tick tock, time is up on the traitors who cling to the Confederate battle flag of the Northern Army of Virginia. (It’s not even the actual Confederate flag, but don’t expect ahistorical bigots to actually read history books.) All true-blue Americans should rip those flags off the Antebellum porches and mobile homes from across this great country and set them alight. And here’s why.

1. The Confederate Flag is the Flag of Treason

You would think that people who are still fighting the “war of Northern aggression” in their minds would actually know something about the Civil War. Without the replaying the entire bloody conflict that started before RACIST TERRORISTS attacked a United State military instillation called Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861 and ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered his traitorous forces at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, there is just one thing to remember; the Confederate States waged war against the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. And the USA won. USA! USA!

To be pro-Confederacy is to be anti-USA. What do these rednecks not understand? America, love it or leave it, dumbass.

The South’s act of treason led to the death of 360,222 American soldiers from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines. That’s a hell of lot more than on 9/11. How can you “support the troops” and fly the flag of the forces that killed over 360,000 of them? Do you also fly the ISIS flag?

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There are those who claim the Confederate flag as a non-racial flag of rebellion, nothing more. I remember fairly decent white guy Tom Petty using the flag as a backdrop on his 1985 Southern Accents tour. In 2015, he declared the move “downright stupid.” “I wish I would have given it more thought, “ he told Rolling Stone magazine. A lot of people are giving it more thought right now. But if you want a true rebel flag, I’d like to suggest the rainbow flag. You wanna rebel against society, Johnny Reb? Fly that Pride flag. Be proud you’re a rebel! Let’s fill the stands at Talladega with rainbow flags! Yee-haw, girlfriend!

But it’s not a “rebel flag.” It’s a racist flag. I was doing a presentation at a high school in an unnamed town in Oregon (Hood River) and I noticed a ton of Confederate flags on backpacks and lockers and t-shirts. I asked the students why, so far from the Old South, the Confederate Flag was so ubiquitous. One young white student, said, “Well, the Mexicans have their flag. We want ours.” And when I said, “Wouldn’t the flag of the United States be your flag?” he said nothing. Because he wasn’t a rebel. He was a racist. Rebels rebel against white supremacy, they don’t wave a flag to uphold it.

2. The Confederate Flag Causes Americans Emotional and Psychological Trauma

There are approximately 42 million African-Americans in the United States (according to the 2010 Census). I’m guessing that every single one of them understands what the Confederate flag means. Well, maybe not black babies, but I bet that black toddler holding the “I matter” sign in the (Dixie) Chicks “March, March” video knows. It represents centuries of terror of white supremacy that didn’t magically end in 1865 when the traitor Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

Let’s be 100% clear, race does not exist as a scientific fact. It was created by white Europeans in the 17th century to justify their superiority over other people. The enslavement of Africans was cleared by Pope Nicholas V on June 18, 1452 when he declared the people of Africa to not have souls and therefore not be fully human. The history of racism was built on the dehumanization of people whose roots were in Africa. And the history of America was built on the brutal enslavement of those people.

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And if you don’t know American history, let me tell you that that enslavement was brutal beyond belief. Rape and torture and kidnapping were “light” days in the slave trade. There’s a reason the true history of the slave trade is populated with stories of women who killed their own children to prevent them from becoming the white man’s slave. Whites love Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben and the Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah happy slave. “They were better off as slaves than living in Africa,” a white person recently told me. The violent savagery of the slave trade is the worst kept secret in America, but whites today are in mass denial. Like all that brutality was wiped clean at Appomattox.

 

“Slavery ended in 1865. What are they complaining about?” “I never owned a slave. Why are they angry at me?” “Get over it!” You hear white people say all kinds of things to get themselves off the hook of their white privilege. The truth is the savage brutality of slavery, became the savage brutality of Jim Crow, and then became the savage brutality of a criminal justice system that saw a uniformed officer of the law choke the life out of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while onlookers recorded the modern-day lynching.

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To be black in America is to live with both the inherited trauma of the legacy of slavery that violently defined black men, women, and children as less than human and the present trauma of a white supremacist system that will murder you just for going on a jog. It will certainly pull you over, ticket you, deny to medical service, not give you a home loan at a good rate, make people get off an elevator that you get on, and cause Becky to dial 911 when you’re having a BBQ with your black friends. The numbers don’t lie. Racism is alive and well in every aspect of American culture, and if you forgot about it for a sweet second, there’s some idiot with a Confederate Flag decal on her Honda Accord to remind you that you can’t breathe in America.

The trauma of anti-black racism is real and deep and the Confederate flag does nothing to heal the pain of 42 million African-origined Americans. It only deepens the wound. Real Americans want to help their fellow Americans heal. We don’t support the flying of the Nazi flag because of the trauma that causes, so why do we tolerate the flying of the Confederate flag? And both the Nazis and the Confederacy had their asses kicked by the USA!

Let’s Be Clear About What This Flag Debate is About

Whenever someone says that tearing down a statue of a slave owner or removing a Confederate memorial is “destroying history,” I like to inform those people is that there is this thing called BOOKS. There’s a ton of good history alive and well in books. I just put “Robert E. Lee” in the search engine at Amazon and came back with over 8000 results. “Confederate States of America” generates over 4000 results. Confederate history is not dead, it’s growing exponentially in books.

But, but of course these people don’t read. They don’t actually care about history.

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What they care about is preserving white supremacy. They will claim not to be racists but work desperately to block every local, state, and/or federal action that might serve to dismantle white supremacy. And they’ve got a president who has promised to defend Confederate memorials and make America (white) again. But nobody’s buying it anymore. Nobody is buying the honky shuck and jive that bleats, “It’s heritage not hate!” It’s a heritage of hate. And you better see the Mississippi flag’s death as the end of your plantation fantasy. Your “Southern culture” is on the skids. You wanna “preserve” it? Write a book.

Real Americans reject the racist divisiveness of that stupid flag. Real Americans know we have to work to heal the wounds from centuries of rape, murder, kidnaping, dismembering, and traumatizing of our black neighbors. Real Americans know anyone who flies the Confederate battle flag hates all that is good and possible about this country. Let’s have a mass flag burning and out of the ashes will rise the promise of America.

And to my fellow white people, now is the time step to the right side of history and be better people. Tom Petty and NASCAR did it. So can you. It’s only a flag. You can’t destroy history, you can only make it.

2019 in Review – 22 Snapshots and an Impeachment

December 31, 2019

I guess I’ve been a crummy blogger this year. When Cozy was a baby, I could squeeze out a couple of blogposts a week on everything from housework to feminist cowboy movies. In 2019, I only managed 22 posts. To be fair, I actually taught full-time the entire year. It felt good to be back at work. My wonderful students got to be the recipients of my random thoughts about the state of the world. And now that Cozy is a kindergartener, typing up cohesive essays is more of a luxury. Plus, I’ve spent much of my spare time chasing squirrels out of our attic.

I was excited that my writing still had an audience even though every single post wasn’t about Trump’s racism. My tribute to my late friend (and Atlanta punk icon) David Dickens had the most reads (1,900). My piece on the Christchurch killings was reprinted in The Peace Chronicle, which was a great privilege.

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2018 was a year of global travel. For 2019, I managed to stay mostly on the West Coast, with a few weeks in Mexico to give a couple of lectures in my favorite anthropology field school. I still managed plenty of world media appearances (especially CNN International), but my favorite media interview was when a rare tornado came right down our street. Under my name, instead of usual “HATE CRIME EXPERT” it said, “LIVES NEAR DOWNED TREE.” Much more exciting than an appearance in Turkish TV (which I also did in 2019).

Of course the driving theme of the year was growing blackhole being created by our idiot president, culminating in his impeachment on December 18. By that point I had written so many posts about his inevitable impeachment that the actual thing was anticlimactic and I didn’t even bother to comment on it. (I do wonder what will happen to all the ITMFA t-shirts that are so common here in Portland.) I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say as the divide widens even further in 2020, with Trump loyalists promising civil war if they don’t get their way. It’s like the country is being taken over by hordes of fascist babies.

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For me, the focus of 2019 was on my family. Working steadily gave me a better foundation to be grounded in the real and not the endless yammering on social media. My classes Portland Community College and my CLE trainings for attorneys gave me the professional connections I craved and I got to work on a few murder cases that let me to put my skills to work in very important arenas. This allowed me to not worry too much about financial issues, and focus on being present for Andrea and Cozy. Maybe the best moment was taking Cozy on a surprise trip to Disney in LA that included a stop at their animation studios where a friend showed her the work he was completing on Frozen 2. There was also a trip to Las Vegas to see The Beatles’ LOVE, twice! Family times was its own reward.

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The coming year will have plenty challenges. I imagine I will be commenting directly on the rise of anti-Semitic violence and the Trump cult’s threats to peace and equality. But my personal agenda will be focused on making good educational choices for my daughter, showing my wife how much I cherish her, and finally getting the squirrels out of the attic.

2019 WTW Posts

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“Thanks, punk!” (For David Dickens) (January 10, 2019)

Watching fragile men freak out over a Gillette ad (January 17, 2019)

Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump (January 25, 2019)

A silly love song for my wife (February 14, 2019)

The Wisdom of Double Nickels: On Turning 55(February 22, 2019)

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On not dying youngish(March 5, 2019)

He Killed My Child: Meditations on Christchurch and the Sociopathy of White Supremacy (March 19, 2019)

I have found what I was looking for, Bono.(April 14, 2019)

Globalization and Nationalism: Get Ready for More Fascist Violence(April 28, 2018)

This War on Women and a Strategy to Defend Choice (May 20, 2019)

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Just Open the Damn Border (June 18, 2019)

Female Role Models For My Daughter (and all those boys) (July 7, 2019)

How Do You Solve a Racist Problem like Donald? (July 17, 2019)

Lita was one cool cat.(July 26, 2019)

Your loved one was just killed by an angry white man with a gun. OK?(August 4, 2019)

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Matterhorn not withstanding, we have a 5-year old (August 29, 2019)

Your biography is history: Taking in the Trump impeachment (October 3, 2019)

White People: If you aren’t actively anti-racism, you are pro-racism (October 23, 2019)

I was 5 once, too!(November 27, 2019)

Reelin’ in the Tens: What was this decade about anyway? (December 29, 2019)

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 Dad’s Top Discs of 2019 (December 30, 2019)

2019 in Review – 22 Snapshots and an Impeachment (December 31, 2019)

 

Your biography is history: Taking in the Trump impeachment

October 3, 2019

When I was a teenager in the late-1970s, I wished I had been a teenager in the 1960s, so I could have swum in the countercultural revolution. Of course, I was already in history. It was called the punk rock rebellion, and there are a million kids now who wished they could have been in my shoes, buying Ramones albums (on vinyl!) as they came out. I was just too close to it to see it as a moment in history. It was just my life.

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The great sociologist C. Wright Mills argued that for people to start to understand how society works they have to understand their own biographies as history. When we read a biography, we see it as a reflection of the history that was unfolding around that person’s life, whether it’s the biography of George Washington or Judy Garland. My students are reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X this quarter and you can’t view the life of Malcolm Little/Malcolm X/Malik Shabazz outside of the context of the racially oppressive twentieth century. His biography is the history of hi century.

And so is yours. The goal of any individual should be to create a biography that both reflects the times and impacts the times. Live in the moment and shape the moment. You are living history. Most fascinating of all histories is the present.

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This couldn’t be any truer than right now. This era will be analyzed for centuries. People are still debating whether or not the French Revolution worked. That won’t hold a candle to the late night conversations students, history buffs, and robots will have about the spectacular rise and fall of Donald J. Trump. We are in perhaps the most significant turning point in U.S. history since the test of World War II. This generation may be witnessing the end of the American Century or the birth of a global youth revolution to save the Earth, sparked by a Swedish kid with Aspergers who demonstrates more class and intelligence than our president does on his very best day (which, I know, isn’t saying much).

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I cut my political teeth on the Watergate hearings in 1973. I was 9-years-old and watched it with rapt attention. When Nixon named Gerald Ford as his vice-president in 1974, I knew there was a quid pro quo that would lead to Ford’s pardon of Tricky Dick. My first trip to the White House was while Nixon was deciding to bug out instead of enduring impeachment proceedings. I probably could have stolen the china and they would have assumed Pat Nixon was looting the place before their shameful exodus.

It felt like history was happening and it feels that way again. The impeachment of Bill Clinton felt more like politics as usual. Bill’s shenanigan’s definitely sparked a national conversation about what constitutes “sex.” (To future generations, blow jobs are, in fact, sexual relations.) It all unfolded during my disastrous first marriage and I don’t doubt that couples across the country were having uncomfortable conversations about the nature of infidelity thanks to the Oval Office antics of Slick Willy. But it didn’t seem monumental, just sad. This feels monumental.

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History is always happening and always has a soundtrack. Yeah, the upheaval of 1968 had the Beatles’ “Revolution” and the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” but you better believe the “look backs” 20 years from now will have Billie Eilish and Lizzo playing along. (“Why men great ’til they gotta be great? Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face.”) This moment in history is framed by news apps, bipartisan divides, and generational warfare. The old white men would rather die guns blazing and burn the house down on their way out than see young women (especially young women of color) even the playing field. Sorry Mitch McConnell, the future of America looks more and more like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez every day. We’re no longer being handed history by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, we’re finding it on our phones and Twitter feeds. And we’re sharing the news that the Orange Emperor has no clothes. (Cannot unsee!)

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There’s a great 2011 Woody Allen film called Midnight in Paris all about how we over-romanticize the past. It was always better in some previous era. I’ve often thought about how great it would be to live in the Bohemia of 1840’s Paris or 1950’s San Francisco. No doubt the food would suck in both and no wi-fi to boot. The same is true for the Make America Great Again suckers who think the country was better off back in the days of Jim Crow. (Also no wifi.) This is the moment to be in. This crisis. This opportunity for transformation.

I’m committed to taking all this in, every presidential tweet storm, every unhinged Rudy Giuliani interview, every cabinet member indictment, every smirking Stephen Colbert monologue. Future generations will ask us what it was like to witness the compete collapse of America’s mad king. I’ll tell them I LMAO. They’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.

How Do You Solve a Racist Problem like Donald?

July 17, 2019

After this week, if you don’t think Donald Trump is a racist, you might be a white nationalist. I’ve been interviewing avowed white supremacists for over 30 years and when I do there is two things they ALWAYS say:

  1. I’m not a racist. (I just love my people.)
  2. If you don’t like the way things are you can go back to where you came from.

Only the most sub-moronic of rednecks and Trump apologists do not recognize Trump’s latest hissy fit about Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashid Tlaib is rooted in tried and true racist tropes. Ask any person of color (including Mitch McConnell’s wife) what they hear when a white person tells them to “go back where they came from.” Trump is a racist. Every free-thinking person knows it.

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I started writing about Trump’s use of racist tactics in 2015 and it’s only gotten worse. I know plenty of former proudly white supremacist organizers who had a reckoning of conscience and are now the most bad-ass anti-racist activists.  At 73, I won’t expect any moment of redemption from the current occupant of the White House. Don’t expect Donald Trump to sign up to be rescued by the good people at Life After Hate. He’s going to carry this diseased bone to his grave like the old dog that he is. It’s not worth trotting out the evidence to convince the unconvinced. Those people are idiots and/or racists themselves.

So we have a virulently racist president who will probably have the bully pulpit until he is sworn out of office on January 20, 2021. (I’m still hoping he’ll just quit like a bloated Nixon.) What do we do about it? How do we adapt to the fact that the office of the President of the United States of America is caked in hundred year old pig shit?

FIRST – There are real victims of Trump’s racism. There are traumatized children at the border because they have been ripped from their parents seeking to protect them from the violence of their home countries. There are families traumatized through prolonged separation because of his “Muslim ban.” There are increasing numbers of Americans traumatized by hate crimes, as the racists who worship Trump scream, “Go back to where you came from!” as they harass and beat and shoot them. The most important thing is to protect, defend, and heal these people until the source of Trumpism is confined to the trash heap of history.

I was a Boy Scout and we were taught to take care of the least among us. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” we’d say. We learned that from the American armed forces. I grew up thinking that was an American value. When I watch Trump throw red meat to his rabid base, I wonder if we’re still America or if we’ve become ancient Rome. This is not America. We have to defend those who are the targets of his fear mongering. We have to be willing to stand on the tracks of the Trump train and say, “No more!”

SECOND – Obviously, Trump is not a unifier. He has made America 1861 again. We have never been more divided. We need to resist the divide & conquer tactics. The new rebel finds common ground.

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His moronic refrain is that if you have a problem with America, “you can just leave.” Does he really think that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does not love this country? Or is that just what he thinks his cult of supporters want him to think? In the 1960s, right-wingers would chant, “America! Love it or leave it!” to civil rights marchers and anti-war protestors. The more rational reply was, “America! Love it and fix what’s broken!” I had a lot of fun ten years ago telling Tea Partiers, who where always complaining about President Obama, “America! Love it or leave it!” The irony sailed right over their thick skulls. It didn’t accomplish anything but it was fun.

I’ll admit the divisiveness can be fun. I can go all in for a good Facebook fight. But that only serves Trump and his Russian troll overlords. They want chaos. Remember when Jeb Bush called Trump the “chaos candidate”? Shocker: Jeb Bush was right. The antidote is political civility and unity. It was encouraging to see several Republicans sign on to the congressional condemnation of Trump’s most recent racist tirade. There may still be a shadow of a spine in the GOP. We need more of that. And just not unity in clapping back at the Dear Leader.

There is good research about political civility. It can happen. I know it seems impossible right now but we need to build bridges not walls. There’s a great Special AKA song from 1984 that goes, “If you’ve got a racist friend, now is the time for that friendship to end.” It’s wrong. As much as I want to unfriend people who blather about Trump not being racist (please stop), I want to keep them on board. Keep them engaged. Find ways in. Free them from their bigotry. Bring them to the light side of the Force.

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THIRD – We need to remove Donald Trump by whatever constitutional means possible, including the ballot box. The damage this madman is causing our great nation will take generations to repair. 2020 can’t be about third parties and “voting your conscience.” Ross Perot is dead. There is too much at stake. Whoever the Democratic nominee is, you’re gonna have complaints. “He’s too old!” “She prosecuted too many people of color!” “I can’t pronounce his name!” Shut the fuck up. Get out your debit card and make a contribution. Put a bumper sticker on your Uber. Hold your nose and vote. There are kids in cages. If I meet a single “anarchist” in 2020 who tells me they are not voting because elections are bullshit, I will personally hand them over to their Russian troll puppetmasters. We need everyone, including frustrated Republicans and youth in Che Guevara t-shirts (Made in China, no doubt). We need the sophistics and the folks who never pay attention to politics. We need a massive rebuke of this very anti-American American president.

It’s not worth it to debate Trump’s racism. Too many credible people (Thank you, Don Lemon) have already done it. The question now is who are we as a nation? Are we going to tolerate a tinpot dictator who wants to make America Jim Crow again, or are we going to stand for the great promise of our country holds for all people in the world? You must choose.

The Wisdom of Double Nickels: On Turning 55

February 22, 2019

Sometimes I think the whole thing about the “wisdom of our elders” is a lot of poppycock to make the aged feel better about their bodies sputtering out. Maybe among native tribal people, the old lady who remembered what plants not to eat was a needed resource, but now there’s an app for that. Sometimes I feel completely clueless in this fast moving culture. (So I can’t call myself an “ally,” right?) And then I see these Generation Z kids from Parkland, or the ones marching for the environment in Europe today, who seem straight up on top of it. What wisdom do I have to offer them?

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I turned 55 this week. I was born in February 1964 as Beatlemania tried to heal the nation after the JFK assassination. (I was a 6 month old fetus on that dark day.) I was born into the light of the 60s, 1964 being a year when the world turned on a Roosevelt dime. I had a great birthday that started with my 4-year-old singing “Happy Birthday” to me, and included a rare sunny Portland winter day, two lectures on white collar crime, an interview with CNN about women escaping ISIS, an amazing concert by my old college friend Amy Ray (also born in 1964) and ending with a nightcap with my beautiful wife in our favorite local bar. What started in 1964 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” ended with “Life is good but I want to go to bed.”

What kernel of wisdom should be gleaned from all that in-between? What have I learned in those over 20,000 days? Lots, especially about race, gender, and the privilege I hold. But there is a newer insight born of the news cycle that I think my younger friends don’t know yet.

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The Jussie Smollett story is heartbreaking. Lying about being a victim of hate crime to advance your career hurts every single legitimate victim of hate. The incident on the Washington mall with the Native American protestor and the MAGA-wearing hat boys was confusing. Those kids seemed like entitled little pricks. Here in Portland there is a scandal involving a police officer who was texting the leader of an alt-right group which has been frustrating. It sure seems like the cops were cozying up to the fascists.

Not so fast. Just not so fast to any news story. People were CONVINCED Smollett was an actual victim. They were convinced the MAGA kids were harassing the Native elder. Here in Portland they are convinced the police are in bed with Neo-Nazis. There is a rush to judgment when a news story fits our pre-existing narrative. It’s proof! We’re right! Just click this link!

So at 55, I’m pledging to reserving judgment until all the facts are in, even if it reduces the ammo for my side. My radical take on things will survive even if Smollett lied about his attack, the MAGA kids were not being malicious to that Native American, and the Portland officer was just conducting standard crowd control procedures. (He also texted an antifa protestor – gasp!) 

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Portland recently had another little drama with the city council deciding whether or not to stay on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The JTTF emerged after 9/11 as a way for local and county law enforcement to have a relationship with the FBI on terrorism issues. The city has been on and off it depending on the political winds of the day. The task force doesn’t have a lot of success to boast about. There was a 2010 arrest of a Muslim kid who had been lured into a fake plot to blow up a downtown Christmas tree lighting. Last year a former FBI investigator testified to city council that the JTTF infringes on civil liberties, including of Muslim Americans. Seems like a mess.

A local paper called me for my opinion and I said I had no position on the matter, contrary to my left-wing and right-wing community members who definitely have an opinion. I just made the case that the “threat (of white extremism) is real and the Northwest has long been a center for that thinking. … There is a value in keeping the channels of communication open (between agencies) about what the real threat is.” But I was clear that I had no official position on Portland’s place on the JJTF. Well, that didn’t stop a city commissioner from claiming that I endorsed the city staying on the JTTF. So more kerfuffle for me! Yeah! There are already a host of left-wing activists who are convinced I’m a police collaborator. I had to laugh.

My seasoned perspective is now to resist the temptation to jump into the fight, even when it feels like I am being forced to pick a side. I’m a social scientist. We like as much data as possible before we decide there if is evidence to demonstrate support for a theory. Scientists never prove anything. Never. We know reality is complexity and the only certainty is chaos. The simplistic “us vs. them” narratives on the left and right make for great protest posters, but the truth is that we’re all in this mess together. It’s worth taking a beat to get all the facts. Anyone who is 100% cocksure of their position is a fool. I’m a radical agnostic. I defend my right to say that I don’t know.

Older and wiser but still radical. I still want to transform the misogynistic, ableist, white supremacist foundation of all reality as we know it. But I’m going to lay back a bit and let the fuller picture to come in to focus. I still have time for that. When I was younger I thought anyone who didn’t immediately man the barricades was an enemy. There is another route to the same goal. Take a breath.

 

President Trump is not smart enough not to throw America into a civil war

October 29, 2018

This has been a week like no other for the ascendant violence of right wing extremism. Not since the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 have we seen right wingers so fueled by a commitment to unleash their violent vision on America. And if that weren’t enough, Brazil just elected a neo-fascist who promises to out-Trump Trump. I hate it went I start thinking those Antifa kids might have been right all along. It suddenly feels like Trump has made America 1940 again, when the original America First Committee was founded in a wash of anti-Semitism. It suddenly feels like all rednecks who have told me that the “South will rise again!” might have a fighting chance. It feels like America is dying on the kudzu vine.

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The week’s (this time legitimately-based) fear-driven headlines were propelled by a Trump fanatic and self-self-professed white supremacist (even though he is biracial) mailing over a dozen pipe bombs to the “enemies” of Trump, including CNN. Then on Wednesday, an armed white guy in Louisville, Kentucky tried to get into a black church, failed and killed two African-Americans in a Kroger parking lot. Finally, on Saturday morning, while I was preparing a talk on hate crimes for the convention of the Oregon Court Reporters Association, the news came down about Pittsburgh and the worst anti-Semitic hate crime in this nation’s dark history. I wanted to throw up.

We have a right to ask what the hell is happening to our country. There have been those on the (formerly) extreme right who have begun openly calling for an armed civil war, especially if their richy rich man-god Donald Trump is impeached or loses in 2020. I spend too much time lurking on deep web chat sites and have seen them echo his conspiracy theories about “deep state actors” who want to control the MAGA agenda. Their apocalyptic time bomb is ticking. To be fair, this talk of impending doom and the violent call to action far predates the daddy-made billionaire from Queens, but it’s been turned up to 11 of late.

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There’s so many parts to this moving disaster, it’s hard to focus on just one threat matrix. What’s clear is that Donald Trump is far too stupid to understand what’s actually at stake and he’s willing to push us that much closer to collapse if it feeds his narcissistic psychosis. He can read some good copy when there has been a horrific massacre and mouth the word “unity” off the teleprompter, but then drops right back into masturbating in front of his adoring MAGA cult. Not only does he not have the intellect to understand the true magnitude of the cliff he has perched us on, he doesn’t care to know. His closest advisors hide paperwork from him in hopes he will forget that it exists and have referred to him as a “fucking moron.” Trump himself has said he doesn’t read his Presidential Daily Briefings. I doubt he has ever read an actual book. So how can this TV huckster have any clue how to lead us forward? He’s best served by his “imported workers” at Mar-a-Lago and leave governing to the adults.

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So let me try to simplify it as much as possible. As someone who has over thirty-years of studying right-wing extremism, both historical and contemporary, let me try to explain this in a way that even the redcaps can understand. Saturday night I was live on CNN International trying to explain the context of the slaughter in Pittsburgh. They gave me four-and-a-half minutes. Give me at least that here.

Trolls of the alt right

The alt right subculture that spilled out from the internet in 2014 is a many splendored thing but generally feels the GOP is not “conservative” enough and mired in the swamp of mainstream politics. While building their trolling skills on line, they were characterized by random racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. Fragile white boys can be kind of dicks when anonymously posting from their mommy’s basements. Trump’s racist campaign rhetoric gave them permission to hit the streets and after the election alt right godfather Richard Spencer had them chanting “Heil Trump!” in our nation’s capital. Soon gangs of thugs, like the Proud Boys, were acting like Trump’s Brown Shirts, pledging to “clean the streets” of liberals and other “pansies.” Trump’s hyper-masculine calls to “knock the hell out of ‘em” was playing out in real time and the President never told them to stop.

But there is a split in this dark world of extremism and it’s scary as hell, so let me try to lay out the landscape of what’s being foisted on our increasingly less civil society.

Before I go any farther, let me explain something to the intellectually challenged who have a difficult time time with complexity: Not every Trump-supporter is white supremacist or member of the alt right. And not every white supremacist alt right Nazi is a Trump supporter. And I know that the KKK was founded by Democrats 150 years ago. Shit changes.

The Trumpists

Camp #1 are the white supremacists who believe Trump is their guy. That this spray-tanned rich guy with dyed hair will advance the cause of white nationalism farther than any skinhead or Klansman ever could. This camp includes Spencer and former Klan Grand Dragon David Duke. Trump’s Muslim bans, opposition to civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter and kneeling NFL players, and hyperbole amount Mexican “murderers and rapists” and caravans of Central American “invaders” is music to their ears. Most white people are murdered by other white people but find a story of a white female killed by a brown male and Trump will used that as “proof” of the need to go medieval on the savages. As I said over three years ago, the Trump rhetoric perfectly parallels the rhetoric I heard at Klan rallies during my field research.

Trump’s racism is nothing new and predates his call for the executions of the (exonerated) Central Park 5 in 1989. Camp #1 eats it all up. Calling Africa the land of “shithole countries” or dismissing claims of sexual assault as “locker room talk,” they know MAGA means MAWA – Make America White Again. When Trump told CNN that America was “last great” in the “late 1940s and early 1950s,” they heard of a mythical country before Brown v. Board of Education, feminism, Stonewall, and “multiculturalism.” They’ll even tolerate a minstrel show from Kanye West if it means preventing the “white genocide” they fear is coming. Any black guy with a MAGA cap, gets a close up. See? They’re not racists! (wink)

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Camp #1 includes the hyper-violent Proud Boys and Identity Evropa, who has been heavily targeting white college students, claiming they are the victims of “political correctness” (aka, the long effort to create a more fair and equitable society) and need organized advocates for the white males, the “new minority,” on campuses. This camp can now claim bodybuilder, strip club DJ, and Number 1 Trump fan who lived in the Number 1 Trump van Cesar Sayoc. Sayoc’s mail bombs for Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker, and other Trump critics (it must have a rough week for Michael Moore) took Trump’s screed about “enemies” to its logical conclusion.

The McVeighists

Camp #2 is even more frightening. Camp #2 sees Trump as a buffoon and an opportunist. Even though our president has now proclaimed himself to be a “nationalist” and is icky-chummy with white nationalist icon Vladimir Putin, he’s too deferential Israel for these neo-Nazis. Very early on they expressed revulsion that he would “let” his daughter marry a Jew. They are steeped in anti-Semitic conspiracies that see both Republican and Democratic parties controlled by a global Zionist cabal, beholden to the international money lenders and hellbent on destroying the white race though multiculturalism, abortion, and even circumcision.

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The most notorious member of this camp was Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, who killed 168 Americans, including 19 children who were in a federal daycare facility. McVeigh was operating from a racist playbook called The Turner Diaries, and had hoped to inspire a wave attacks by fellow “patriots” to purge the Jewish control of the American government. The playbook ends with racist patriots infiltrating the military and launching nuclear missiles at Israel and New York City, as the two seats of global Jewish power. McVeigh failed and was executed in 2001, but in the process became a martyr to countless racists. This includes Jeremy Christian, the Portland Max Train Murderer, who posted an ode to McVeigh on Facebook in 2017, on the 22nd anniversary of the bombing. Every federal worker knows that the threat of another McVeigh is a daily concern. The recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents must only add to their anxiety.

Camp #2 includes neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Strike Force and Atomwaffen, who have been linked to murderous violence across the country, including the murder of a gay Jewish teenager in California. Camp #2 now includes Robert Bowers, who screamed “All Jews must die” as he opened fire in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning, killing eleven worshipers. Bowers had a massive social media footprint, ranting about Jews and Trump’s Jewish connections, posting on the alt-right loved app Gab, “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.” I’m gonna guess they’ll find a copy of The Turner Diaries and pin-up of Timothy McVeigh in his footlocker. Camp #2 will ride on Trump’s coattails until it’s time to launch their second American revolution.

Where is the President?

Both camps merged last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, where young men in red MAGA hats chanted, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” and ended in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. Her killer, James Fields, was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump because of what he perceived of as Trump’s racial views. Afterwards, Trump said that there were “fine people” on both sides of the conflict between neo-Nazis and protestors. I was live on CNN that afternoon and the anchor asked me if I was President Trump’s speechwriter what would I have him say. I laughed at the thought. I wanted to say that he was just not smart enough to understand the depth of the problem.

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In the wake of this past week, it should be 100% clear there is a void in the leadership in this county. I remember in 2001, being so grateful to George W. Bush, a man who I thought was completely illegitimate as president and incapable of performing the task. After the 9/11 attacks he went to the National Mosque in Washington, DC and, on live TV,  read from the Koran and said that this fight was not against Islam. Immediately hate crimes against our Muslim and Arab neighbors decreased. Trump is incapable of this type of humility, instead escaping his work in the Oval Office for the limelight of his adoring fans. He wants us to know that hate is a problem all over the world and was happening before he ever came to town. It has absolutely nothing to do with him. He reads a well-written prompt about unity and then goes right back to attacking the media (which neo-Nazis believe is controlled by the Jews) and his laundry list of the “enemies” of America.

After the arrest of Cesar Sayok on Friday, I spent a few minutes listing to conservative radio, anxious to how they would spin the revelation that the mail bomber was one of their own (and not a false flag like Rush Limbaugh had hoped). I tuned into local host Lars Larson to hear the expected chat that the bomber was just a “nut” and not a true conservative. Larson tried to defend Trump’s language about “enemies.” “If someone hurts you, aren’t they your enemy?” he lectured a seemingly rational caller who cow-towed to Larson’s booming voice. I thought, no, of course not. If I give a student an F on their mid-term, I’ve hurt them but that does not make me their enemy. I could say government policies have hurt me in some way, but that doesn’t make those lawmakers my enemy. What is behind this hyper-masculine need for enemies to fight? It seems like the psychological profile of little boy soldiers not grown adults.

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Added to this are the looney conspiracy theories that come from Alex Jones (who Trump has supported), QAnon digbats (who flock to Trump’s rallies), and Trump himself. Did you know there are secret Middle-Easterners in the Central American refugee caravan, which was organized by the Democratic party to smuggle illegal voters into this country for the midterm election? A stoned college freshman didn’t come up with this theory. It was the President of the United States of America.  It’s only a hop, skip, and jump from that wack-a-doodle to “You know the Jews run the deep state.” The fact that GOP majority leader Kevin McCarthy recently tweeted, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA,” makes the anti-Jewish conspiracy theory all the more “legitimate.” (I won’t even get into Fox News’ obsession with George Soros that regularly smacks of anti-Semitism.)

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To be clear, I don’t think the majority of Trump-supporters are Nazis. Neither were the majority of Germans in 1933. But there is a certain personality profile that falls for a strongman and his cult of personality, and you don’t need a numerical majority to drop a once great nation down the rabbit hole of fascism (Olá Brasil) or push it to the tipping point of violent civil war (Rais Rawanda). The US is not guaranteed eternal stability. Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale recently? Trump loves “his generals.” The complexity of political work, not so much. The man is just not smart enough for the job, but those who are equally moronic exalt his simplistic style (even if it is built on a house of post-factual cards). And those who are a bit smarter but deeply sociopathic will wait for that house of cards to collapse and then make their move and Saturday’s synagogue attack will pale in comparison. White supremacists call it Rahowa – Racial Holy War and they’ve been fantasizing about it for a long time.

The threat is real. The body count is already mounting from right-wing terrorism. Our nation needs leadership not a narcissistic man-child who constantly needs his ego fellated. William Safire once wrote a line for Richard Nixon’s 1968 speeches that referred to a sign held by a 13-yer-old girl that read, “Bring us together.” 2018 is 1968 with even more at stake. Trump is incapable of this demand. He is the product of this division, has magnified this division, and benefits from this division. We need a actual leader and we need one quick.

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What Do We Do About the Nazis After Charlottesville?

August 11, 2018

How much has this nation changed in one year? In the wake of the murderous rampage of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, we’ve seen an increase in hate crimes and a white supremacist administration who complains about “shit-hole” countries in Africa, puts brown kids in cages, deports asylum seekers, and threatens to revoke the green cards of legal immigrants. Oh, and white nationalists are marching on our capital. Are the racists winning?

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A year later the same “Jews won’t replace us” thugs who marched in Charlottesville are on their way to the nation’s capital and the city is bracing itself for more right-wing violence.

I’m in Washington, DC, participating in some events in response to the second “Unite the Right” rally. Part of this was appearing at a teach-in to counter domestic extremism. It was organized by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and held at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Right-wing extremist expert Leonard Zeskind spoke about the roots of white nationalism. I was part of a panel entitled “Developing Effective Responses to Eliminate Hate,” featuring Dr. Wes Bellamy, Vice Mayor, Charlottesville, VA, Lecia Brooks from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Monica Hopkins, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, D.C., Tony McAleer, Board Chair of Life After Hate, and Chris Magyarics, Senior Investigative Researcher at the ADL. It all ended with a mighty 45-minute sermon from Rev. Dr. William Barber II that made me feel like I was sitting in the lap of God.

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Teach-ins and sermons are great, but this one had the ears of members of Congress and you felt a shift.

The question is – What do you do when Nazis come to your town? This event is one response. You organize to educate and embolden the resistance. Sometimes the batteries of social justice needs to be recharged and there’s nothing like a few rousing political speeches and a sermon from on high to get folks back on track. Otherwise, what’s on TV? A body can waste precious hours scrolling through a Facebook feed when it could be engaging with minds in a room with other folks who have the same end goal. It’s so easy to be distracted these days but to be in a synagogue full of people bending the arc of history towards justice seemed a good way to spend a Friday afternoon.

We use these words now – build community capacity. By educating people to the threats present, both existential and physical, but also about what has been done and can be done, you build a resilience. A resilience to say no (again) and resilience to do what needs to be done (again). Fighting the forces of oppression is a marathon, not a street battle. (Sorry, Antifa.) As Rev. Barber said last night, if you really want to fight racism in America, get serious about fighting the voter suppression by Republicans that silences minority voters.

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A point I made at the event (which made it out over the C-SPAN airwaves), is that I don’t want to play Wack-a-Mole with alt-right “Western chauvinists” (formerly known as neo-Nazis). I don’t want to have to plan my weekends around what they’re latest stunt. That lets them drive the narrative. It hands the power to organized racists. “Well, I was going to go hiking this weekend but the Patriot Prayer is having another rally so I have to go downtown and tell them they’re idiots.” Not gonna do it.

Instead, let’s do this work everyday in our communities, in our schools, in our places of worship, and our workplaces. And in our leisure time as well when our friends say something bigoted and think we won’t call them on it. Building community capacity is a full time job but it pays off in numerous ways.

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First and foremost is food. What brings people together more than food? Last week in a Portland park their was an immigrant family having a picnic. Some uppity white lady told them that they didn’t belong in this country and to “Go back where you belong.” Another white lady told uppity lady to leave them alone. She shut the bigotry down. Then the community, an area called Rose City, came together in a unity rally to support the vulnerable in their community. There was music and food. Lots off food. I stuffed myself with tamales. A local ice cream truck rolled out and gave away free scoops. Community capacity is delicious.

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Not in our town – strength for our neighbors

(For the next section of the blog, I’m writing at the Starbucks at the Trump International Hotel. You know, for irony. #Portlandrepresent)

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The second; community gatherings build capacity by linking us together as neighbors, not in front of screens, but face to face. As much as I appreciate a live tweet, the hugs shared last night were more encouraging to keep up the fight than I might have guessed. This includes from veteran social justice warriors that were in the trenches when I was a wee pup to high school kids who earnestly asked, “How can we do this anti-racism work in our school?” More hugs would be a good place to start.

The truth is liberation work is hard. And it’s a thousand times harder for people of color than it is for me. I can “turn it off” and go back to my white privilege bubble and say, Yeah, I’m a gonna take that fight on next week. It’s hard because requires dedication to see the subtly of oppression, including our own internalized white supremacy. It’s hard because, at times, the Trump white nationalist march to make America 1850 again seems unstoppable. And it’s hard because some of your allies will try to pull you down, like crabs in a barrel trying to stop another crab from lifting itself out (to help free all the goddamn crabs).

I posted a link to C-SPAN feed to the teach-in on the Coalition Against Hate Crimes Facebook page and this was the first comment.  You still hang out with Nazis on weekend to “create dialog”? A dismissive white dude as Chair of OCAHC is still a bad look, I could care less about your credentials. The average POC has far more expertise on this subject matter. I had to check my white fragility because my impulse was to fight. Instead, I replied,  I’d love to buy you a coffee one day and tell you why I think my work is important. And you can tell me what you think I can best do to help the cause. (Still waiting for a response.)

This is a marathon. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

Cut off their oxygen 

Alt-Right Organized Free Speech Event In Boston Met With Counter Protest

The third benefit of the community building is it deprives the hate machine of fuel. The alt right is actively recruiting young white males who have no sense of connection. If you are alienated, you will join any group that says it  will build you up, and that’s exactly what thuggish groups like the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa do (and your traditional street gang or cult, for that matter). It’s not the racism that attracts whites to the groups. It’s not understanding the social and demographic shifts that they are living through and the only ones who are explaining the “whys” to them are “Western chauvinists.” It’s not surprising that they are attracting lots of white guys who think everything was better in a mythical past. “Again.”

If we have strong communities where neighbors know neighbors, including that new family from Syria or El Salvador, the alt right hate spin has less pull. Those targeted people, even older white men with beer bellies, are less alienated and less likely to fall for the simplistic rhetoric of the far-right. I think everyone wants the same thing, to live in a (tag Paul McCartney song) peaceful neighborhood. I don’t need to join an extremist group. I have friends and neighbors I care about and I’d rather defend them against the threat of your extremist group, thank you very much.

I won’t speak against the people who will show up to directly confront the alt right boys this weekend in Washington, DC, Charlottesville, and wherever else they are seeking photo ops. Those counter-protestors are willing to risk their necks to say that fascists are not welcome and don’t represent the true direction of this country’s future. I’ve spent plenty of time on the frontline. It’s both exhilarating and righteous. I hope they get lots of pictures of these “patriots” so they can be shamed back under their rocks. But I also want to reach out to these alienated folks, who seem so full of anger, and invite them to our side, where we are less alienated and there’s better food. Some of the most committed anti-racists I know are former members of the hate movement.

Tonight there is a vigil in front of the home of alt right godfather Richard Spencer in Arlington. Maybe someone will invite him out for some pho or tapas. Maybe Spencer will be a “former” on the second anniversary of the Unite the Right march that led to the death of Heather Heyer. Maybe he’ll be on a panel in a synagogue asking for forgiveness and permission to join our marathon.

How do we respond to Charlottesville? Some liberal hippie once said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Let’s start there.

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Imagining a Time After Nations

July 20, 2018

“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do.” – John Lennon

I was sitting in a refugee center in Leeds, England yesterday, listening to the story of migrants from many places, including Syria, Slovakia, and Kenya. Most are in a bind as the British nation decides what to do with the disastrous Brexit decision. The United Kingdom had been a part of the European Union, allowing Europeans to move freely about the continent. In 2016, while just enough Americans were voting (motivated, in part, by racist fears) for Donald “Would/wouldn’t” Trump, just enough Brits were voting (motivated, in part, by racist fears) to leave the EU.

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Would Polish migrants have to leave friends and family and move back to Poland? Italians? Slovaks? Is the Britain just for the British? And what about the Syrian dentist who now has to work as London cab driver because his dental school credentials were no longer valid after he fled the war zone with his family? Who was “English” in a nation that proclaimed the global empire of Britannia? The black Jamaican? The brown Hindu? Racist groups like the English Defense League chant “Britain first!” (and Trump retweets their Islamaphobic posts), but who is “English” in the land invaded by Romans and Anglo-Saxons?

There was a time when there were no countries. Dinosaurs didn’t live in “Switzerland.” There was no Switzerland (formed in 1291 C.E.). Humans have walked the earth for 100,000 years and countries have barely been around for 2000 of those years. We had “tribes” and “lands,” but nations didn’t begin to appear until Japan was founded in 660 B.C.E., then San Marino (in what is now Italy) was founded in 301 B.C.E., and China was founded in 221 B.C.E.. People didn’t need passports 2000 years ago or even 200 years ago.

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When I want to start my classroom discussion of the African slave trade, I draw on the chalkboard a picture of the Earth “upside down,” with Africa and South America on the top. The students are always confused and then I tell them that the little land mass pointing upward is Florida. They get it and laugh. The point is that white people created maps with their countries on top and black and brown people are “below.” North is “up.”

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I’m old enough to remember the pictures of Earth from Apollo 8, fifty years ago. I was Cozy’s age and wondered where all the lines were that divided states and countries. My state was the pink one. Where was “Pacific Ocean” imprinted in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Was this a picture of Earth before men built walls and declared the people on the other side to be “murderers and rapists?” Or was this a picture from our future, after nations became obsolete?

In science fiction, aliens live on planets, not in countries. Spock was from Vulcan, not some country on Vulcan. Luke Skywalker was Tatooine, and all Tatooinoids hung together. What do they know that we don’t? If the Klingons can have planetary unity, why can’t we? But there we go planting American flags on the moon. God knows what Trump’s SPACE FORCE is going to do to Uranus.

As I wrote last week, no nation is guaranteed permanence. There will be a time when the United States of America ceases to exist. (It feels like that might be sooner than later.) There is also a time coming when no nations, in general, will exist. The question is – will we be here to enjoy that evolution in human existence, when there is no need for man made borders? Nation states? Meh.

This work I’m doing in Europe has reminded me of the limitation of these political inventions called “nations.” It seems like we should be smarter than this by now. While fascists clamor for a new nationalism so they can push some group out, more people see themselves as global citizens. A 2016 survey of 20,000 people in 18 countries found that half saw themselves as global, instead of national, citizens (30% of Germans and 73% of Nigerians). As Cozy recently told me, “Daddy, we don’t live in America, we live in Portland!”

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So many of our problems are caused by the existence of these silly things called countries. That includes wars and economic exploitation. It’s OK that people suffer in factories to make our smart phones and other “can’t live without” items because they’re in other countries. It’s not like they’re real people. It’s us verses them, people (and non-people). Maybe we should go back to a time when there was only the various peoples of the Planet Earth.  Would that be such a bad thing? The Vulcans would deem it logical.

Witnessing the end of the American Century from the former British Empire

14 July 2018

All good/bad things come to an end. It was 229 years ago today that the French revolutionaries, fueled by the principles of The Enlightenment (and the American Revolution), stormed the Bastille Prison in Paris, marking the beginning of the end King Louis XVI of the old regime. I’m on a train to London, watching the ripples of the Trump visit, which includes his slamming the Prime Minister and almost running over the queen to get his photo op. At least 250,000 people filled the streets of London to protest Trump but it seems almost pointless. Nobody has done more to overthrow King Donald of Orange than Donald J. Trump. I have a meeting at the U.S. Embassy on Monday and I just hope they’ve steam-cleaned the carpets.

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As we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in November, we will also be marking the beginning of the American Century. Centuries last one hundred years, so ours seems to be winding down quite nicely. We should have it wrapped up by November 11. They used to say the sun never sets on the British Empire and now what have they got left? Bermuda? All empires end and the world is watching the fading of America. The only remaining question is whether or not Trump will salute Putin on Monday when they meet in Helsinki. (After all, he saluted a North Korean general so why the hell not?)

I may be being a bit overdramatic. I’ve just seen the U.S. president floating through the air as a giant baby in a diaper. My emotions might be more in charge than my insight as a political scientist, but there is a theory at work here.

My very first academic publication was in the area of World Systems Theory. WST looks at the impact of the rise and fall of the global economy over centuries. Before I began studying Nazi skinheads, I was studying the birth of the world market by running complex statistical analyses of Dutch shipping records from the early 1600s. (I can’t begin to tell you how boring that was – Thank you, Nazi skinheads!) This theory sees global economic class devisions. Imagine “third world” countries as the workers of the world, selling their labor in the earth’s great factory, making shit for the enjoyment of those in the first world, known as the “core.”

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At the top of the ladder is the global hegemon, the top dog of both wealth and political influence. The top dog changes about every 100 years. In the 1600s it was Spain. In the 1900s it was the USA. Fairly accurately, World Systems Theory predicts that a country gets about a century at the top and then there is some global economic shake-up. Suddenly there is a new sheriff in town. The end of WWI saw the demotion of Britain as America and her mighty industrial economy (driven by some serious “Gilded Age” corruption, by the way) stormed through the clouds like Eddie Rickenbacker.

The United States of America won’t last forever. Other than China, most nations have a relatively short life-span. Germany only goes back to 1871. Yugoslavia ceased to exist in 2003. Whether or not you think God likes you best, there is no guarantee of a nation’s permanence. Even less sure is a nation’s dominance on the world stage. With our current buffoonery creating a vacuum of world leadership and only division at home, it appears the writing is on the wall for the once exalted “land of the free.” America first!

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There is a feeling of doom in the United States but it’s even more depressing witnessing it from abroad. I was having a pint in a pub in Luton, England last night. A patron, hearing my accent, asked, “What the fuck’s happened to your country?” I could only cry in my beer and try to assure him that good people will rally against this tyrant like we did against theirs two centuries ago. (They’ve got their own questions to ask about the passage of Brexit, which is already dismantling their stability. Maybe we can be buddies as the world watches us go down the toilet.) Trump is an embarrassment to us Yanks abroad. There were plenty of Americans in the streets on London yesterday (and up in Scotland today). As I changed my dollars to pounds and saw the devaluing of the buck to the bob, I figured the end might come sooner than we expect. Economists have been predicting that the Obama recovery looks to implode into a Trump recession at any minute. America first! the said as the ship sank.

Who the next global hegemon will be is anyone’s guess. WST predicts that it’s typically the ascendent economic power, so we might best learn how to speak Chinese. But Russia is in the running and with the recent indictments further linking Trump’s presidency to Putin’s power, my money is on the Ruskies. What will Vlad and Don talk about in that closed door session in Finland? Maybe where Trump will leave the keys to the White House in exchange for his new job as a Russian oligarch (and wife #4!). Russia first!

Sociologists are fond of saying that a fish doesn’t know it’s in water until you take it out. It’s hard for us to see the end of American dominance while the illusion of it still surrounds us. Both the Romans and the Nazis thought their reign was unbound by time. America might still have a few good years in it if we can replace the current kakistocracy with a vibrant participatory democracy, but odds are the Democrats will turn a cake walk into a mud bath. So you might be best served by thinking of options outside the USA! USA! Investing in rubles, perhaps.

When historians write about the madness of King Don, they will talk about how he drove a once great nation into the ditch, like a rich chauffeured brat who demands the keys to the car he has never driven. But he didn’t do it all by himself. We encouraged him because we thought it would be entertaining. And it was, until it wasn’t.

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