The Kavanaugh hearings are a shit show but they do show what a corner certain parts of society have painted themselves into:
They’ve tried to argue, “it was a long time ago,” and lost the moral high ground because there is no expiration on decency
They’ve tried to argue, “even if it DID happen, he’s a good man,” and lost the moral high ground again because good men (and there are PLENTY OF THEM) don’t harass women
They’ve tried to argue, “the mistakes of youth shouldn’t follow people,” and lost the moral high ground for simultaneously holding opinions that young men and women who commit petty crimes or fall pregnant should have those choices follow them for the rest of their lives
They’ve tried to claim respecting women, and then got the highest office in the land to cast doubts and aspersions on the women who have come forward (almost all of them admitting fear of doing so, having seen what happened to Anita Hill and knowing how many of the EXACT SAME MEN will be questioning them in the same way).
They’ve tried to use the “drunken/slut/drunken slut” aspect…but women aren’t tolerating that shit any more.
There have been libellous accusations made on Twitter that cross the line into outright conspiracy theory. There is some evidence of coordination of smear tactics and commentary amongst allies (looking at you, Senator Hatch’s office). And even as more and more accusations of bad, crass, and increasingly ugly behavior piled up, the Senate seemed hell bent on trying to fast track his confirmation.
In other words…
The hearings have also underscored for me that if there’s anything people who benefit from a powerful structure can do, it’s ignore the corners.
Kavanaugh’s defense of himself was all the things that a woman, a person of color, or frankly any member of the non-patriarchy could never be: tearful, a bit petulant at having to defend himself in the first place (a textbook definition of privilege), indignant, and emotional.
Every male Republican senator who questioned him expressed sympathy for having to deal with the accusations. There were far fewer expressions of sympathy for Dr. Ford for her ordeal. Lindsey Graham seemed to be auditioning for a role on the Cabinet with a shrill explosion that interrupted Ms. Mitchel, the lawyer hired to question Dr. Blasley Ford and the nominee. The reigns were never really handed back, meaning that Dr. Blasley Ford was questioned by a trained lawyer, Judge Kavanaugh was questioned by his allies. The Cable News Watcher In Chief tweeted his support.
This whole story has been an exercise in patriarchy closing ranks in self defense. I have no doubt that there will be a committee vote today, and I expect he will be seated to the Supreme Court. In spite of a desperately partisan biases on display (on both sides, yes, but one has to wonder how his statements may come back to haunt him in his future rulings). In spite of credible questions of bad behaviour and poor judgement. In spite of it all.
At some point, the ruling party (and a whole lot of society) is going to have to make a decision: are women–their bodies and their stories, their truths and their needs–disposable or not? Is the safety and autonomy of girls and women worthy of defense and respect, worthy of holding powerful men to account and denying them advancement and prestige when they violate it?
Or are women’s bodies acceptable collateral damage on your route to power? If yes, fine. Own it. It’s misogyny, and it really is that simple.
If you want to know why women don’t come forward with allegations of sexual assault, watching a panel of Republican Senators hire a prosecutor to try and pick apart Ford’s credibility on national television rather than launch an actual investigation offers a clue.
“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.” ― H.L. Mencken
I read this piece from The Washington Post today and it made me genuinely wonder how this political moment and the personality of this president is going to be viewed, both in a few years and further down the line. George W. Bush has gone from being almost universally derided to being seen as a gentle sort of man who probably wanted to the do the right thing but was perhaps not equal to the task. This is an enormously flattering take, in my opinion, but it exists. Barack Obama is increasingly seen as a idealistic and probably personally good man who fell short of his own ideals and disappointed many. What are we going to make of Donald Trump with his frankly brilliant showmanship and his seething grievance, his apparent privilege and his ever present resentment of scrutiny and criticism? I then realized something that I’ve been struggling to put into words about Mr. Trump that finally clicked into place. That’s what defines so much of his behavior and statements since coming into office: a reaction to scrutiny.
Mr. Trump is strange because he catapulted from celebrity into public life (which are NOT the same thing, just ask the Royal Family). Celebrity is a space where personality is everything, selling your own narrative arc to the public in the great public theatre of pop culture is part of the job. In this world, your foibles and failings can be winked at if not treated as actual assets. Mr. Trump cultivated shamelessness as armor against criticism and leveraged it into a successful brand. The only thing that matters is your fandom, they are your social leverage and quite often your marketing.
Public life is different. Shame is one of the great levelers in it and is supposed to act as a policing measure, something we are now watching fail in real time as an administration (far from one person or personality) copes with several scandals in any given week which would have ground most previous administrations to a halt or broken them. Fans are not the same thing as allies and in this world you need the latter. And yet, in this world, the glare of attention does not just come with adoration or outrage, it comes with scrutiny. That seems to be what Mr. Trump didn’t really expect and which he is coping with extraordinarily badly.
On just a personality level he simple doesn’t seem capable (or indeed interested) in behaving with the reserve we have historically expected of our presidents and insists on emoting publicly. I’m personally wrestling with the idea that this is something I’ve been clamoring for in men and masculinity for a long time. If we are going to insist on space for different emotional displays in women than what has been historically acceptable and encouraged, we must do the same in men. Does the president of the United States have a right to be petty in public? Maybe he does. But like so many of the gender changes we are going through as a culture, this is such a rapid shift that we are having to grapple with the fallout of it in real time. Some of this fallout is an omnipresent attention on the president’s emotional state. He finds this unflattering and unfair, but in many ways it’s a self created problem. More on that in a moment.
On a higher level, how dare his business life be looked into? How dare the movements and actions of his children be front page news? How dare his motives be questioned or his rants on Twitter be evaluated as statements of policy? In other words, how dare we the public (especially the unfriendly public whose votes he didn’t win) scrutinize him?
He didn’t seem to realize that this is literally part of the job. This is what being a president is. It’s often one half of the country hating you, and everything you doing carrying weight. He seems love and crave the attention while resenting it at the same time. He enjoys the spotlight, but that same spotlight is shining into areas of his life and business that he probably thought (with good reason) might not see the light of day and he’d rather it not.
I’m fascinated by reporting that focuses on his businesses because having worked in similar industries, I know how often those industries (while absolutely following the letter of the law in most cases and doing nothing illegal in the slightest) can be vehicles for transactions and behavior that the vast majority of the population finds distasteful at the very least. The business world of the very wealthy is one of the great engines of capitalism, but there are also a lot of shades of gray around the edges. In its most extreme cases, there is an awful lot of white collar crime that goes on that is simply never paid attention or prosecuted. I would not be surprised if the Trump Organization participated in this, what reporting is out there indicates that this is at least possible if not likely. But this sort of crime and behavior is so rarely punished. We kind of wink at it as a society–which is a whole topic in and of itself. Had he never won the presidency, it’s entirely likely to me that Mr. Trump could have continued existing in this probable space as well as his celebrity space very comfortably and profitably for the rest of his career.
But the office brings scrutiny and that’s fundamentally different from publicity. For better or worse, the office is different from the man and no matter how hard he tries to combine the two (which it really seems as though he is trying to do, which is also a topic for another day because I think this has interesting potential to affect our politics as a nation permanently), holding this office means that the stakes have changed and certain people or groups are going to hold him accountable for things he has never been asked to answer for. His emotional state is a matter of national interest. His business relationships may have security implications. His bad behavior is suddenly not a brand consistent foible, it’s a liability.
It may very well turn out that the Trump Organization did nothing illegal or even unethical during the campaign, especially with foreign interference. They sure aren’t acting like it, but it’s possible. It’s also possible that it never occurred to key people that the meetings they were taking may have been dangerous and unethical–I genuinely wonder this. Again, none of these people with few exceptions had engaged in public life before. Celebrity yes, but not public service. They may simply have not realized what a massive conflict of interest it was to take meetings with certain actors, how unethical and in appropriate it would seem for the office. Ignorance doesn’t make them less responsible or mean they shouldn’t be held accountable, but as an explanation it too is possible.
When I say I think Mr. Trump is unfit for the job, this is a big part of what I mean. He didn’t seem to understand some of these implications about winning the office and as he learns the implications in real time, he throws temper tantrums in public that are damaging to the country’s ability to govern itself domestically and abroad. I happen to think he’s brought a lot of drama on himself by making the Mueller investigation about himself when ostensibly it’s about Russian interference in the election–especially as he insists that it’s a topic that has nothing to do with him personally. This would not be the clown circus it is if he had kept a tighter reign on his Twitter temper. In fact, he probably would be under a lot less scrutiny overall if he himself hadn’t insisted on making various claims publicly over the years–the size of his fortune, various relationships, and so on.
Donald Trump, and frankly a lot of American electorate, have badly confused politics and entertainment for years now. He’s the public face of this phenomenon and depending on how this scrutiny on him plays out, he may be the most public victim of it…or its first great success. Either way, he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the ride. I have a strange level of sympathy for him on this point alone: I really don’t believe that he really knew what he was getting into when he won; he did not want and is not prepared (or possibly emotional resilient enough) for this level of scrutiny. I guess no one in his life or team prepared him for this reality, and if they tried he clearly didn’t listen. There are no stakes if you’re just playing role, after all, and he’s built his whole public persona on role playing until it all suddenly became very real. I believe reporting which suggests that he was terrified of his first year in office and is now just sort of winging it.
Because I don’t think Mr. Trump ever really wanted to be president. He just wanted to play one on TV.
ETA later this same day, the President tweeted this, once again changing the official version of this story. More intelligent people than me have commented about this but I am baffled by what he chooses to be defensive about under scrutiny and what he chooses to just blurt out to the world. For some reason, probably going back to the idea of shame as a public policing mechanism, our system seems totally unable to hold him accountable to what he admits publicly. If this had leaked or been revealed a la Nixon, it would be a scandal in any other administration. I suspect this confessional style statement will have precisely zero effects.
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” ― George Washington
People sometimes ask when Jeff and I will return to the States. It makes me howl with laughter. I may not be a citizen of the UK, but I work hard and pay taxes here. And in exchange…
I have free healthcare including birth control and OBGYN services.
Hell, I have an IUD already.
I have maternity and paternity leave protections and options should I need them.
I have access to abortion services should I require them.
I have robust public transportation.
I am an immigrant who feels protected by the laws of the nation I live in.
Yeah, we’ve got Brexit (a mess), sky rocketing rent (ugh), and nationalism on the rise here in Europe too (guys, what the hell?!). But living here does not frighten me. Are there acts of public violence? Horribly yes, but they are peanuts compared to those of my own country. I might think some individual politicians are through the looking glass, but I don’t feel as though one party or personality is holding this nation hostage. Yes we have hypocrisy here, but it doesn’t cause me whiplash or existential dread.
I am an American who, without hyperbole–I’m not invoking the tired meme of moving to Canada–has no desire to live in my own country during the present moment. I see too much going on that I can’t understand, reject, and of which I am genuinely fearful. Don’t misunderstand, I recognize that we are not experiencing collapse or ruin or war or famine like so many other nations are. I don’t pretend to believe that we’re in an apocalypse. But I still don’t want to live there.
I don’t expect perfection from my country, but I do expect better than what I have experienced in my 14 years as an active and involved voter. I am horrified to see bad faith rewarded in the way that I feel I have in my voting lifetime. I fear the long term repercussions, including radicalism on my own side. But I fear even more the darker underlying forces at work in my country which I knew existed, but of whose power and influence I significantly and ignorantly mis-estimated for way too long.
The good news is that while I may live in a different country that I love, my vote still counts in my own which I love just as much. I will sure as hell be using it. And I am putting money where my mouth is from now through November; I encourage like minded voters to do the same.
Don’t forget that at it’s most fundamental, this was a manufactured crisis from a White House that specializes in manufacturing crises. They literally set the fire, they should not get any praise for putting it out. They should also get a lot of criticism for causing confusion in the first place.
So much of the Trump administration is Trump creating crises then partially solving them. The travel ban, trade wars, escalation with North Korea, Obamacare subsidies, family separation…
Again and again, Trump triggers disaster, then demands credit for semi-averting it.
Don’t forget that the policies and underlying ethno-nationalistic sentiments this administration came to power on…are still in power.
Don’t forget that there are children right now who need to be immediately reunited with parents and guardians and the pressure needs to stay up until that happens and can be confirmed and documented publicly.
Don’t forget that the administration has other crackdowns planned between now and November, because a certain part of their base wants them (and because certain key members of the administration genuinely believe in them).
Don’t forget that the president has spent the last 72 hours lying about how this policy came to be and how he couldn’t do a thing to change it. This untruth of this needs to be hammered home.
Don’t forget who backed up those lies and tried to reinforce a demonstrably false narrative, up to and including the Secretary of Homeland Security on whose word are supposed to rely in the event of national emergency or threat.
Don’t forget this administration tried something as extreme as taking hostages. On some level, it all feels like a trial balloon to test what they can get away with and what their control over the media narrative really is.
And finally do not forget how quickly this timeline moved. Only three days ago, Secretary Neilsen said that this policy didn’t exist. 72 hours later, the president is issuing an executive order to dismantle aspects of it.
“A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.” – James Baldwin
Alright, this can’t wait for Friday; let’s talk about the Trump administration policy of separating children from families at the border and why the administration’s attempt to flip or shift the narrative is bullshit. The good news at the moment is that for once, it seems as if the administration’s attempt to steamroll facts isn’t working, but given their unbelievable success at doing this in the past doesn’t fill me with wild hope.
It’s up to congress to fix (false, since the administration put it in place in the first instance, and is a long way from the, “I alone can fix it,” rhetoric of the campaign trail)
Let’s be clear. The administration has taken children away from the parents for a crime ranked as a misdemeanor (on the same level as petty theft or public intoxication), and made their release and reunification (a flimsy prospect since it doesn’t appear that there are robust enough systems for this already) conditional upon certain legislation. The administration has taken hostages.
Remember, provocation is a feature, not a bug, of this White House. They manufactured this crisis by creating the policy in the first place and are now claiming their hands are tied. They are positioning themselves as the victims when they are the hostage takers. This should not hold water with anyone, I’m incredulous that it is in some quarters. And while I hope the president backs down, I’m not counting on it because if you think the president and key people in the White House want this “problem” (meaning the furor and coverage) to go away, you have not been paying attention. They live for this.
Yes, I abhor the policy. But almost as disgusting to me is how the administration gets away with it all. They can defend a pro-Israel policy and defend Nazis rallying in our streets. The president can go on TV and state publicly that he fired the director of the FBI to try and make an investigation go away and experience zero consequences. He can promise healthcare “for everybody,” dismantle the current healthcare system, and be praised by the people who voted for him on his original promise and who will pay the highest price. His DHS Secretary can go from denying a policy’s existence to defending it in less than 24 hours without batting an eye. Where are the consequences of this kind of double speak? How long until it is checked? The damage it does to our credibility, our position of moral leadership, and our underlying moral fiber is frightening.
Finally, I don’t care what your politics are, I need people to understand that one way or another, there is no future in which this does not come back and bite all Americans in the ass. Whether it enables new scorched earth warfare between the parties that will end in casualties, or whether antagonists over the world feel empowered to use the same tactics against us someday, THIS. WILL. COST. US. Anyone willing to trade in lives will someday have to pay the same price themselves. All of human history is a testament to this awful fact.
This time, the call is coming from inside the house.
“I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit.” ― Mel Brooks
Samantha Bee used the C word to describe Ivanka Trump this week on her show and, like unto Roseanne Barr, it caused something of a kerfuffle. More in the links post tomorrow.
But in the meantime, and while I have this on the brain, do you know what? I HATE the C word. Hate it. It’s slung around in the UK like loose change in a way I never experienced in the States, and I haven’t gotten used to it in five years. I still feel a full body cringe at its ugliness whenever someone uses it. If TBS chose to reprimand or punish Samantha Bee like ABC chose to do with Roseanne, I wouldn’t like it, but I’d grudgingly admit it’s the network’s prerogative to make that kind of call.
I similarly think it’s the NFL’s right to try and set certain boundaries the speech of its players. I further think that deliberately defying rules is literally the point of a protest so we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples. Nevertheless, the Twitter wars rage.
The difference between a comedian and a president is that one of those people is expected, even encouraged to be vulgar. The other, historically, is expected to set an example to the nation state. One is expected to set standards, the other to push boundaries.vWhich brings me to the broad point I can’t shake.
Anyone who tries to defend the current political administration (the target of the comment in the first place) with the claim that vulgarity (as opposed to racism, for instance) should cost someone their job needs to have an intellectually honest conversation about the dude in the White House and how he got there. He weaponized vulgarity and rode it all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.
You do not get to cheer a man who kicked off his political life by calling Mexican immigrants rapists, has a history of sexual assault allegations, and been caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by their “pussy,” and then cry foul when an entertainer uses foul language towards one of his administration officals. One side does not get to say that Roseanne Barr’s statements on her twitter feed, filled with antisemitism and conspiracy theories, are jokes and then turn around and say that an unfriendly comedian’s jokes are beyond the pale.
Pick a lane. Either offensive jokes are acceptable more broadly or they are not. If you insist on your side’s right to be offensive, you should in turn be prepared to buckle up and be offended right back.
Here’s the thing. I believe wholeheartedly that the overall coarsening of our culture and public discourse is not a good thing. We’re all worse off for it. But spare me the moral hand wringing if your whole ethos and political strategy is built around “triggering” other people. These are your rules, it’s your game, and you’re in charge. Either toughen up and take what you sling out, or do your best to claw back the moral high ground if you can.
But to say that systemic and historically racist speech and vulgar speech are on par is a false equivalence. Both are bad. Both may incur consequences on the speaker. But one traditionally operates from the vantage point of power which could be interpreted as punching down, while the other is “punching up.” Ugly language may be frowned on but as a society we agree that there are places where it’s appropriate or at least acceptable. Antisemitism on the other hand, is not welcome. Unless you agree that there are “fine people” who believe in it.
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” ― James Baldwin
Kittens, what a week. This could be written about any week for the past calendar year and a half but once again, it was a doozy and I’m not even going to attempt a recap. Who would have thought we’d get Oprah trending and yet more vulgarities from our vulgarian in chief? As I put the finishing touches on this post I glimpsed something from the Washington Post about an adult film star and Trump hush money? Whatever, I’m not clicking.
God, this man is humiliating. NPR had to send out a briefing memo to its news team today instructing them on the proper usage of the word “shithole” throughout the day. What a world.
Many women wore black gowns for the Golden Globes as a statement of solidarity, protest, and attention direction this year. And to anyone who naysays fashion as frivolous, I say it has always been used as social and political statement, especially by women. As Tom and Lorenzo point out, far more articulately than I could, fashion and style choices are some of the most potent weapons some of these women can use in an industry that traffics in their images. I loved that several women also brought activists as guests. More of this in 2018, please.
Bad feminist confession, I adore the film The Women and love but have always questioned the technicolor fashion montage that appears halfway through it. Well, color me educated (see what I did there?).
David Frum cautions that the real threat to our democracy is not in, “…corrosion, not crisis. In a crisis, of course we’ll all be heroes—or so we assure ourselves. But in the muddy complexity of the slow misappropriation of the state for self-interested purposes, occasions for heroism do not present themselves.”
In Mormon news, the president of the LDS church passed away last week, and this write up from Harvard Divinity School is an excellent explanation as to why his ministry was important to the faith, what happens next in the organization, and what happened during his stewardship of the church.
Senator Feinstein released transcripts of the interview of the man whose research firm was behind the infamous Steele Dossier, it’s a long read but political junkies should read it. Here’s ongoing NPR analysis for the pressed-for-time.
This take on the whole Fire and Fury situation and what the book reveals (he argues, whatever errors or faults in contains) by Ezra Klein of Vox *feels* fundamentally correct to me. It’s also weirdly sad, or it would be were not the stakes so damn high.
I like this list of things to declutter from your life in 2018.
A while back, as the sexual assault conversation was ramping up, a list made headlines. Created by an anonymous founder it was called the “Shitty Media Men” list and documented anonymous woman-to-woman heads up about potential bosses or work situations they might want to avoid. It broke into wider consciousness when it was discovered and shared on reddit. The thinkpieces, attacks, and defenses flowed. This past week on Twitter reports surfaced that the magazine Harper’s intended to publish a piece that revealed or “doxxed” the identity of the original creator. Feminist Twitter flew into a frenzy with writers pulling their pieces from the magazine and calls to protect the identity of this woman since backlashes against women have been so historically vicious and awful (see: Gamergate). But then…the creator of the list unveiled herself instead in The Cut. I have no idea what the backlash is going to be but I choose to read something into this decision and attribute it to the moment where women are collectively deciding that past terror cannot dictate future action.
All I can say is that I’m thrilled Mr. Trump cancelled his visit to London, as I was fully intending to protest and now I don’t need to request time off for that. I’m also endlessly bemused at how he lacks even the most basic grasp of history and facts (in this case regarding the plans and timeline of the new US embassy). I didn’t expect much from him, but does no one on his staff brief him on anything? At least one ambassador has resigned and several more have been summoned to their various host governments to explain the inexplicable.