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The Peaceful Protest Movement and the Last Days of White Nationalism

The Peaceful Protest Movement and the Last Days of White Nationalism

The consensus is growing that police reform is needed in the United States. The conservative media is joining in, or at least the intellectual branch of it is. As this article from National Review points out, “The present round of protest is different. The participants are people of every race, ethnicity, sex, age, and religion.” Even the President is recognizing that he can’t ignore the issue.

Protests aren’t just happening in major cities with diverse populations, but in small towns where all or almost all of the participants are white. I can confirm this from my own participation in small protests in Twin Valley, Pennsylvania, where, for the most part, passing motorists honk in solidarity with the protestors.

Unfortunately, there has also been hostility from Trump supporters here, including counterprotestors showing up with firearms. What is it with this need that Red Staters have to sport their weapons in public? There is nothing that threatens them except an opposing political view that favors diversity. Are they ready to go to war over this?

It’s worrisome. It’s like they need to find a use for the expensive arsenals that they’ve gone to so much trouble to acquire. I think about the scene from His Girl Friday, where Hildy Johnson convinces a prisoner that he must have been inpired to shoot someone by hearing about the doctrine of production for use.

I can even see how the preponderance of military equipment owned by police forces accounts for the militaristic response to the recent BLM protests. Were they supposed to not use all those grenades and bullets they were given? I’m sure the tension was insanely high, with police lined up facing large crowds of protesters, and everyone full of pent-up energy from weeks of COVID lockdown.

I wrote about the protests in my last blog post and linked to some of the many viral videos of violent encounters that occurred. But as disturbing as those incidents captured on video are, the overall level of violence has actually been less than what was experienced during the infamously riotous late 1960s, or even the 1992 Los Angeles riots. This is all the more remarkable considering the size and nationwide extent of the movement.

I do believe this peaceful protest movement marks a critical turning point in the evolution of our current Crisis Era. The divisiveness of the Culture Wars that has persisted and been called a ‘cold civil war’ seems intractable. But we have actually gradually come to a consensus on many Culture Wars issues, such as gay rights and cannabis legalization. And now it is happening with reform of the justice system.

Back in May 2016 I attempted to identify an emerging new values consensus, and marked the recognition of the need for criminal justice reform as part of that consensus. But then I amended my list after the election, indicating that it was less clear that this was so, given Trump’s victory. But Trump’s hold on power is weakening, and his poisonous white nationalist ideology losing credibility in the face of massive public outrage at the evils it perpetrates on racial minorities. A fair and equal justice system will come as part of a new civic regeneracy, and the days of white nationalism are numbered.

Black Lives Matter protest in Twin Valley, Berks County, PA
The Red State’s Toxic Form of Law and Order

The Red State’s Toxic Form of Law and Order

It is not surprising that protests against police brutality are being met by more police brutality. After all, the protesting is specifically against the police themselves. The police are not at the protests to maintain order but to counterprotest. They are there as a show of muscle by the currently empowered Red State.

The infamous event at Lafayette Square, where law enforcement assaulted protesters with tear gas to clear a path for a Presidential photo op, underscores this fact. Tear gas is supposed to be a last resort for riot control, not something to use unprovoked on a peaceful assembly. It is the same with rubber bullets. They are for riot control, but there have been no riots. Instead, law enforcement has been using these weapons everywhere across the United States to attack peaceful gatherings of people, the same people they ostensibly exist to serve and protect. Attacking them as if they were an enemy.

I apologize for linking to all this violent content, though by now you’ve probably seen it because it has become a staple of social media feeds. I just want to make the point of how dangerous the militarization of police forces has become to the citizens of the United States. The Red State has even gone as far as to call in the National Guard to attack people in their homes.

Why do I use the term Red State? Because it is clear that the current conflict across the United States is the Culture Wars of the previous era coming to a head in city streets. I’ve written before about these two partisan sides; the Red v. Blue narrative goes way back. And in the current conflict between protesters and police, it is likely that where you fall along this partisan divide determines what facts you believe, and how you perceive the conduct of either side.

When I first delineated the differences between the Red Zone and the Blue Zone, following the 2000 election, I identified “worst examples” on each side, meaning the most dangerous extremists.

It’s unfortunate that the worst example of the Red Zone remains a persistent problem. Police forces have been infiltrated by white supremacists, and police have actively supported white vigilantes. These elements are emboldened by the support of their “law and order” President. Even I got a tiny taste of it when, in a small Black Lives Matter vigil in my podunk Pennsylvania town, young white men speeding by in their pickup trucks yelled “Fuck you!” and “Go fuck yourselves!” out of their windows.

I’m not going to go deeply into the issue of systemic racism and how we should implement judicial reform – the heart of why the BLM movement exists – because that’s not the point of this post. The point I am making is that we are now past the era of ideological argument. We are in a struggle for power. A struggle to determine who gets to decide how law and order are implemented in this country. And we cannot let the Red State’s racist authoritarianism prevail.

That is why those of us opposed to it must continue to resist. We must show solidarity, and use what is left of our democratic institutions as best as we can to fight the Red State’s toxic form of law and order. Don’t worry about the ideological labelling, or being accused of virtue signalling or performative activism. Don’t worry about whether you are too far to the left or not far enough. It doesn’t fucking matter. What matters is that you are against the white nationalism that Trump and his minions are trying to institute.

The truth is that violence and crime have declined in the United States in the past generation, though Red State propaganda would have you believe otherwise. The young people out protesting are correct to demand better treatment at the hands of law enforcement. The massively built up police forces that protesters are facing are a legacy of a past “tough-on-crime” regime that has become obsolete. It is time to reform the police and the judicial system, for the sake of the peaceful and diverse Millennial generation. And that requires a Blue Wave to sweep away the Red State’s vile apparatus of control. So persist.

Signs posted on the White House fence that was constructed to keep protesters away

The Long Road to Freedom

The Long Road to Freedom

I’ve been struggling to write a blog post about the events of this past week. It’s been such a difficult time, and my heart is troubled and my mind scattered. So while I’m trying to get that together, I’m just going to share my goodreads review of a book I just finished reading. It’s Howard Fast’s Freedom Road, set in the Reconstruction South. I picked it up off my shelf of unread books mainly because it’s a small paperback suitable for carrying around at the office, so I could read it at lunch or on breaks. But of course I haven’t been at the office in months so I finished it at home.

Here is the review:

Howard Fast dedicates this novel to all those, of every race, who have died in the fight against fascism. It was written during the Second World War, when America was fighting fascism abroad. At once hopeful and harrowing, it tells a story of progress and setbacks for African-Americans living on a former plantation in South Carolina during Reconstruction. The fascism they fight is that of the white supremacist terrorists who erased the progress made in the immediate years after the Civil War, after the Union pulled their forces out of the South as part of the Tilden Compromise.

The writing is crisp and vibrant, the characters vivid and believable, and the plot dramatic, including action, romance, and political intrigue. As a good novel should, this one makes you feel like you are there in that place and time, living the characters’ lives along with them. The author does use dated language, including stereotypes and prolific use of a word forbidden to white people. This would probably get him canceled by today’s social justice warriors, which is ironic since he was blacklisted as a Communist in the McCarthy Era. I would hope that modern readers could look past that, since this story has so much say about the struggle for racial justice, and what the true stakes are in that ongoing conflict. It couldn’t be more relevant than it is right now.

A Memorial Day that will go down in infamy

A Memorial Day that will go down in infamy

Memorial Day 2020 will be remembered as the day America blew off the experts and partied with the coronavirus. Reading the news articles about how crowds gathered at beaches and parks, ignoring the social distancing recommendations of the CDC, I can’t help but notice the irony. Memorial Day was instituted as a holiday to honor those who have died performing their civic duty. And America chose to celebrate it by ignoring civic duty altogether.

Maybe it’s just that the definition of civic duty has changed. After all, the President told us just after 9/11 to do our duty by going shopping. As citizen-consumers of the neo-liberal market state, it is our responsibility to sustain economic activity at all costs, even if the cost is the lives of those vulnerable to a contagious new virus.

This could be seen as a consequence of the failure of leadership at the Federal level, with the current President actually touting conspiracy theories. It’s a crying shame that partisanship has split the country to the point that it determines what facts you believe. I get that it’s hard to know what’s really going on, given that even the experts on disease control can only make a best assessment based on limited data. But would it really have been so hard to just enjoy this weekend from home?

Next Memorial Day should be dedicated to those who are now going to die because so many people chose to ignore social distancing and spread SARS-COV-2. Next Memorial Day should honor those who did their duty for freedom, by suffering and dying of COVID-19, thanks to this weekend’s hordes of the irresponsible and ignorant.

Beachgoers on Memorial Day in Port Aransas, Texas
Just Call Me A Zoomer

Just Call Me A Zoomer

It’s been six weeks in lockdown. Except for cashiers at the grocery store and a few curbside pickups of take out food, I haven’t interacted face-to-face in real life with anyone other than family. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t socialized. Like many of us shuttered in at home, I have videoconferenced – both for business and pleasure – using the software that has suddenly taken over our lives: Zoom.

So far I’ve attended a couple of hangouts with old friends, one of which was a surprise birthday party. I’ve been to happy hours with my work colleagues – and yes, we are welcome to have a drink. It’s nice to see the faces of my coworkers after a week of working online from home. I’ve also particicpated in a couple of script-readings for the eldest son’s script analysis class (put together by his attentive mother), including one where we were Zoombombed by professional actors.

Ok, we weren’t really Zoombombed, because the participants were invited. Ok, at work we actually use different software. I just mean to stick a label on this phenomenon where our socializing has abruptly moved into the digital space, as the Internet proceeds to the next phase of its complete takeover of our lives. We’re all Zoomers now.

It’s been fun figuring out the finer points of Zoom. Gallery view is best for a general conversation, but active speaker is good for the script reading. If you have a lot of participants, you can scroll through them to catch late arrivals, and make sure they get welcomed. And don’t forget about the chat option!

I do find that an online video hangout satisfies the need for social interaction. It feels like a change of scenery, and it alleviates the cabin fever. Good thing, because we don’t want this Sim’s mood to drop too low. Now if I could just get my virtual background to work…

Everything changed so fast

Everything changed so fast

Time moves fast in a Crisis.

I remember back when 2019 was coming to an end, and everyone on social media was posting retrospectives of the 2010s. There was this exciting sense of being there for the end of an era. I even participated by Tweeting a list of my favorite streaming shows, since I saw the rise of streaming on-demand television as the decade’s big story in the media and entertainment space.

When 2020 began, I had plans already lined up to hit the many travel destinations I like to visit periodically. I don’t know why, but I felt this compulsion to do it all as soon as I could. It was like I wanted to start the new decade right.

I went down to North Carolina, where I used to live, and attended a gaming convention with my BFF. That was in January. In February, we went to Washington, D.C. and visited my mother and sister. We also went to New York and saw two shows, as well her best friend from high school days. By then, the novel coronavirus was in the headlines.

At the very end of the month, I went down to Virginia to play Magic: The Gathering with old friends that I have been playing with since the 1990s. It was a fun get together after a year apart. We were making jokes about the coronavirus.

As March began, I looked forward to the high school theater season starting up, since my BFF and I attend performances as part of the Philadelphia Independence Awards. By then, the severity of the novel coronavirus contagion was becoming apparent. There was talk of shutdowns. The company where I work had a WFH day as a drill.

We ended up seeing one Independence Award show, and it was a dress rehearsal because the actual performances were cancelled. The last large gathering we attended was a funeral. We thought about maybe not going, but we wanted to pay our respects to a friend who had died tragically at too young an age. The funeral was attended by hundreds of people.

Since then we’ve been in lockdown, only leaving the house for grocery runs, or to go on walks in the neighborhood. Everyone at my office is working from home. I know that I am very lucky to have that opportunity, because many others are out of work and with no prospects.

All that travel and activity in the recent past seems like it might have been too risky. Especially the trip to New York. We actually came down with colds when we got back from there. Did we have it? I don’t think so, but we can’t be sure.

What now? The future looks ominous. I had all these ideas for blog posts lined up, but now they don’t seem relevant. Everything changed so fast. I’m glad I got all that travelling in at the start of the year, since it looks like that might be the last of it for the year. Personal, private life will be slower for awhile, even as events in the outside world move faster and faster.

Exactly what you’d expect in a Crisis Era.

Silent of the Week: Anthony Fauci

Silent of the Week: Anthony Fauci

My most recent Silent of the Week posts featured Democratic politicians, as the two stories that dominated the beginning of the year were impeachment and the Democratic primaries. That’s all on the wayside now, with the COVID-19 pandemic taking over news feeds. The crisis has thrust numerous leaders into the limelight, with some reputations faring well, and others not so well.

Most of these leaders are Boomers or Gen-Xers, but there is one notable member of the Silent Generation who is in the limelight now. That would be Anthony Fauci (b. 1940), director of the NIAID and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

A highly credentialed physician and immunologist, Fauci has had a long career in the Federal government. He has been at the forefront of government policy and research involving epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola, as well as bioterrorism. He has been in his current role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since the 1980s, serving under many Presidential administrations.

A long and distinguished career as a specialist mark him as a member of his generation, whose legacies include expertise and working within the system. Another legacy of his generation is acting as a tempering influence on the volatile personalities of the Boomers who came after them. And boy does he have that work cut out for him now, as evidenced by a recent meme of him face palming during a task force press conference.

For giving us hope that there is at least someone intelligent with expertise working within the White House in this most desperate time, and for valiantly continuing his long service under this most feckless of administrations, I name Anthony Fauci my Silent of the Week.

A Book about a Crisis Era

A Book about a Crisis Era

Some time ago I started reading Citizens, by Simon Schama. I finally finished it and posted a review on Goodreads, as part of my reading challenge. Here is the review reproduced for this blog, as well as some additional thoughts on what lessons the French Revolution might have for our own time.

First, the review.

At 875 pages (not counting the bibliography and index), Simon Schama’s Citizens looks like a formidable work to tackle. But his eloquent prose and touching, personal approach to history make for an easy read. There is certainly enough to write about the French Revolution to fill 875 pages, covering the span of time from the Revolution’s origins in the Enlightenment Era, up to the dramatic events of Thermidor and the fall of Robespierre. I enjoyed it all; this book is, as they say, a real page-turner.

In his narrative, Schama focuses on the individuals whose stories comprise the overarching epic of France’s transformation from floundering Monarchy to militant Republic. These are his titular citizens, and theirs is a shared journey through the gates of history, in which their identities shift from that of their prescribed roles in the old regime, to that of free and equal members of a common fraternity, devoted to the fatherland. And woe to those whose devotion was found insufficient, as conflict and violence swept through French society like wildfire.

The brutality of the violence and the fervor of the mobs which challenged the authority of every French government of the period, monarchical and Republican alike, is the most startling aspect of the Revolution. Schama disavows the idea that this was class warfare brought about by the disaffection of France’s poor and underprivileged. Not that there were no disaffections; these were famously written down in the lists of grievances presented to the King at the fateful convening of the Estates-General. But the impetus for change came from all levels of society. Many aristocrats and episcopalians were pushing for reform; for a Constitutional Monarchy in line with the ideals of the Age of Reason and the Rights of Man, inspired by philosphers like Thomas Paine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They did not anticipate that in a few short years their King would be dead and they would be fleeing the Terror of the radical Republicans.

Schama’s narrative shows a society consumed by a kind of madness for a new political identity and national rebirth. The French Revolution wasn’t a mechanical process of adjustment to modernity, driven by material circumstances. It was a conscious, creative effort of the human spirit. Material circumstances merely limited the scope of the change that Revolution could effect, particularly in economic conditions. And it was the limits of the human psyche itself that prevented the rapid succession of governments from ever establishing political order, without ultimately resorting to totalitarianism and mass murder, in an awful premonition of the horrors to come in a later century.

In this fascinating story of a nation’s struggle to redefine itself, we can detect lessons for our own time. In particular, the saga of the French Revolution warns of the dangers of partisanship, extremism, and the demand for ideological purity – all of which can sweep through a people like a tidal force, and drag them toward an unavoidable fate. It’s a warning we should well heed today.

Now for some additional thoughts on parallels between the French Revolution and our times.

There are two obvious rhymes between our time and that distant time in French history. One is the effects of extreme partisanship – how it creates an unbridgeable gap between the two sides, limiting people’s thinking to conform with their particular partisan view (we call it the “echo chamber” today), and how it completely disempowers political moderates (good luck, Joe Biden). The other effect, related to the first, is how easily misinformation spreads. The rumors that spread through French society, causing massive fear and anxiety, way back in the late 1700s, are no different than the “fake news” of today. As they say, the first casualty of war is truth.

As for the terrifying levels of violence, mentioned in the review, I will say that it is my great hope that we are past that. It was a more violent time back then. Life was cheap. But certainly there are violent, extremist elements in our society today, lurking in the background like the spectre of dangers past. And we are in dangerous times.

We are in a Crisis Era, like the one that France was in during the Revolution. Our society will – indeed, must – transform, just as France’s did, though it will not be the same kind of transformation. We have a mature Republic, not one that is or has just been formed, and though it is straining, it is still intact. Now we are in a great test to see if our institutions can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century – if we can muster our own spirit to face the great difficulties ahead.

It was fun while it lasted

It was fun while it lasted

With the outbreak of novel coronavirus COVID-19 shocking markets and threatening supply chains, it seems like we might finally have hit the crisis moment that breaks the old order for good. I don’t think any bailouts can help us now.

Of all generations, Generation X is the least well positioned for it. Silents and Boomers are on their way out and will witness the end in their final years. Millennials are still young and have enough time to bounce back. But Gen X will watch their 401Ks evaporate along with any possible opportunity to recover in time for their elder years, which will be spent in poverty.

At least, that aligns with one prediction from Strauss & Howe generations theory, which I can’t help but mull over as I watch the headlines.

Review: Heroes of the Fourth Turning

Review: Heroes of the Fourth Turning

I have been a student and fan of the Fourth Turning theory for over a quarter of a century. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that a play which incorporates the theory is running off-Broadway. It’s called Heroes of the Fourth Turning, written by Will Arbery and directed by Danya Taymor. I got a ticket for it as soon as I could, and luckily my BFF was able to come along as well. It’s premiering at Playwrights Horizons, which is basically a development house supporting playwrights and producing new works.

Since I am so interested in the aforementioned theory, I wanted to review not so much the play itself as how it presents and incorporates the Fourth Turning concept. So I will be looking at the play through a soda straw, so to speak. But I will start with a brief summary review from a general perspective.

The play we saw is an excellent production. It’s well written, well directed and well acted. It has one long act, entirely set on the back porch of a house in Wyoming, on a very specific night in the year 2017. It has great tech too, with the set design and dark lighting pulling you into a setting that seems very real.

There are only five characters, and the premise of the play is that four of them are from the same college class and are reuniting seven years after graduation. Their dialogue establishes their characters, the tensions between them, and reveals secrets from their past – good dramatic stuff. The fifth character is their former teacher/mentor, who arrives later in the play to add a little generational conflict.

The Fourth Turning idea comes into the script because one of the Millennial graduates is familiar with the theory. She explains it in detail in an animated monologue, which absolutely amazed me to behold, seeing as I’ve been interested in generational theory for so long. I certainly never expected to see it explained one day on stage in New York City.

Now this character knows about the theory thanks to Steve Bannon, which is possibly how many people first encountered it back in 2017. And she’s interested in Bannon’s ideas because she is a conservative Catholic and a Trump supporter. In fact, the college the four graduates attended is a conservative Catholic institution – so the play ends up being a kind of exposé of the Red State perspective. We can see why it is set in Wyoming.

The director’s notes mention that the play is meant to shine light on how people on this side of the political spectrum think, but not necessarily to empathize with them. Judging from their reactions, the audience did not approve of the characters’ beliefs at all (at least that was my impression). The conservative stances on abortion and LBGTQ seemed particularly upsetting. Of course, this is not surprising coming from an audience in New York. The promotional material makes a point about how this show is giving a perspective not usually presented to theater audiences.

The playwright, Will Arbery, actually comes from a conservative, Catholic background himself (though he makes clear in his notes in the program that he voted for Obama), which I guess is why he was motivated to write about the subject of conservative thought. It’s kind of a weird twist of fate that the Fourth Turning theory is associated popularly with the political right, seeing as it could just as easily be applied in a story about supporters of Bernie Sanders.

It’s understandable why a theory about a cyclic return to civic renewal would appeal to a minority group of beleaguered traditionalists. Kudos to Will Arbery for making that connection. He also incorporates the idea of different generations – one of the graduates is a Gen Xer, since he is ten years older than the others, who are Millennials, while the professor is a Boomer who was a Goldwater girl, like Hillary Clinton. It’s the Millennials who are ostensibly the Heroes of the play’s title, and whether or not they are ready for the challenge of the Fourth Turning is for you to decide.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a brilliant play. If you are interested in what a play could have to say about generational theory, or what it could reveal about conservative politics in the Trump era, or just want some good character drama, it is worth seeing. You’ll have to hurry, though – it’s only up through November 17. I hope it finds another venue because it is a wonderful work and very pertinent to our time.