A start to explaining ‘aesthetic warfare’

A few weeks ago, I started articulating one of the most central aspects of my experience as a trans woman: the notion of being an ‘aesthetic warrior’.

I want to start to unpack this concept.


Any given trans person, and particularly any given transfeminine person, is in a constant state of conflict with mainstream culture. This is, in practice, a conflict that I feel is best analogized to warfare, both by the precept that “all’s fair in love and war”, and that there are untold casualties of this conflict.

When it comes to integrating into Western culture as a transgender person, all are wounded by the forces of violence towards our very existence.

Many have died; many are dying; many will continue to die.


A brief history of Western gender-variant terminology:

For the first centuries of its collective existence, post-Enlightenment European culture denied that gender-variant people existed in any respectable, and/or respectful, sense.

We were deviants, nothing more.

Within the culture, we functionally did not exist, though we might find a place within a local gay subculture, such as at molly houses.

Eventually, the term “transvestism” was coined in 1910, by a German doctor-advocate that may well have performed the first known sexual reassignment surgery in Western history. The term was intended to be as broad as possible with respect to cross-dressing; it subsequently became a psychiatric diagnosis indicating mental illness, and the term carries the weight of that pathologizing to this day.

The most memorable historical marker for the change from “transvestite” to “transgender” is the name of the gay liberation organization STAR, started by revolutionary gay/trans activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Formed in 1970, the organization was named Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

At the same time as this organization was founded, the idea of “transgender” was being popularized in the more erudite, moneyed, and White corners of the discourse. This tension eventually led to transgender as a dominant terminology, with “transvestism” retaining its association with cross-dressing. Eventually, it came to be broadly understood that “transvestism” was something you did, and “transgender” was who you were.

When Sylvia Rivera re-formed STAR some years after the passing of Marsha P. Johnson, “transgender” was substituted for “transvestite”. I would guess that Marsha P. Johnson would have approved of this had she lived to see it, but I am also quite sure that she would also have had her own choice opinions to share about the matter.

It was no coincidence that the terminology of “transgender” came with increased access to medical resources for transition – access which was heavily informed by racial dynamics and classism. These rifts of the usage of “gay” (meaning specifically homosexual) and “transgender” identities led to radical reclamation of the slur “queer” among those opposed to the efforts at assimilation by people with relative privilege, leading to the memorable saying, “Not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.”

Today, the ‘alphabet soup’ era of acronyms such as “LGBTQ2IA+” has mostly resolved to “LGBT” in mainstream discourse, and “LGBTQ/LGBTQ+” among people ‘in the know’. Umbrella references to two-spirit identities of indigenous Americans (“2”) and non-Western conceptualizations of gender (much of “+”) have generally been colonialist and destructive; intersex folk (“I”) are generally excluded from most conversations on gender and sexual diversity as a bridge too far; and asexual folk (“A”) as a collective movement have been less than engaging, often with similar dynamics of privilege in relation to the LGBT community as the “transgender” vs. “transvestite” divide.


I give this overview of the history of terminology to make the point that the identity of “transgender” is living history within Western society.

The phenomenon of being outside the cisgender binary is not new – but the broader scope of acceptance and tolerance, and the accompanying terminology, is new. At the top level, things are much better in North America, Europe, and other places informed by post-Enlightenment values than they have been for anywhere from centuries to millenia.

That said, those same post-Enlightenment values give rise to the curious problem of aesthetic violence.


It is the Enlightment-based division of thought and feeling or being, most easily traced to the influential philosopher René Decartes, which allows for the  cognitive dissonance between political value and personal practice that devastates the hopes and dreams of trans folk.

Because many people believe that their feelings are not ‘real’ in the same way as their thoughts and conscious beliefs, most liberals don’t experience conceptual conflict when they cheer on the advancement of LGBTQ rights while remaining uncomfortable with the concept of trans people as neighbors, family members, and/or romantic partners.

The saying ‘not in my backyard‘ becomes something ranging from ‘not in my neighborhood’ to ‘not in my family’ to ‘not in my bedroom’.

And this disapproval, at the systemic level, is the greatest threat to the survival of transgender and gender-variant people that exists today.

It is why we are so vulnerable to interpersonal violence of all forms. It is why we can’t get jobs and pay our bills; it is the primary reason we kill ourselves.

It, as a whole, is the most central reason why this blog is [was] anonymous, and why I’m not making money off this post.

And it is the reason that you probably ought to find a trans person on the Internet – more specifically, a trans person of color – who is broke and unemployed, or financially trapped in a terrible and hopeless job or career, and send them some money.


How does one undo this at the systemic level?

By abiding by the tradition of the USA’s Founding Fathers, and not fighting by someone else’s rules.

By engaging in conflict with the bigotry of anti-transgender ‘personal preferences’ on one’s own terms.

By inviting battles that can be won, and avoiding ones that will be lost.


Every day I want to wear a dress, I have a choice: do I shave my face, or do I have facial hair?

This choice is, among many trans women, not a choice at all; regardless of their personal feelings, there is no possibility that they will find acceptance of themselves in the world while presenting with any obvious masculine features such as facial hair. Their face must be shaved and made up. The alternative is financial death, social death, or literal death.

The choice of a trans woman having visible hair on their body anywhere but their head is, most often, literally a matter of life and death.

I am fortunate enough to not have to live in that state of perpetual existential danger. I am able, within carefully chosen or carefully cultivated spaces, to present as I feel comfortable on that day – including with a beard. In those spaces, the worst affront I typically face is disconcerting and painful assumptions and confusion about my preferred pronouns.

Much of my ability to do this is reflective of my class privileges (particularly my educational background and familial resources), my racial privilege, and my quick silver tongue.

It is not easy.

It is not without danger to me, as well as to mine.


Each beard with a dress is a personal declaration of war against the culture that deems my existence an article of disgust and shame.

And it is a battle that I willingly fight.

Because the alternative is ‘the little-death that brings total obliteration‘.


I face my fears each day I put on a dress.

Sometimes I shave.

Often I don’t.

Sometimes, I just don’t put on the dress at all.

Every choice that I make in this is with a mind to the conflict I will sow by simply existing as a transgender person, a trans woman.

And each day, I choose courage – including the courage to avoid a battle that is better to not fight.

So that each time I alter the consciousness of another human being by presenting as a ‘man in a dress’, there will be a trans sister or brother who does not have to.

This is my battle.

This is my war.


Wherein cis white feminists continue to exhaust me and require callouts

via Digby

So, once again we seem to be on the verge of opening up the Big Tent to anti-abortion politics, thus giving the 100% unified Republicans an ability to make bipartisan deals with Democrats to deny women’s rights. It was ever thus. Whenever Democrats lose they go right to abortion rights as the first place to start compromising. It certainly works to keep the feminists in their place which is always good. They tend to get uppity

So, fellow White people: could we just… not do this? Please?

Reclaiming a denigrating term with racial connotations for feminists is not the best thing.

I’d tolerate accusations of nitpicking if it wasn’t very much of a piece with the rest of it.


I also think that human rights are fundamental and as some awful old biddy once said, women’s rights are human rights. Or, at least, I thought they were. They seem to be expendable when the need arises.

What’s it like to live in a world where the law defines people’s having of human rights? It sounds nice there.

I don’t seek to disrespect the importance of access to abortion and birth control. But there seems to be some deep disconnect between what is legal and what is happening, that is associated with being in a position of relative social power.

As an autistic-y person, for whom it’s just gone out of style for the leading advocacy organization to wish to remove me from the gene pool, I don’t have a super big expectation of the law to be helpful for me in feeling safe, accommodated, and respected.

As a trans woman, being part of the hot new target demographic for gay-bashing and general cultural hostility doesn’t make LGBT anti-discrimination laws quite as important in my daily life as people not considering me an abomination.

Meanwhile, feminist spaces are spaces where I expect disgust and am on guard against some of the most violent rhetoric you’ll ever find from a cis feminist. I’ll highlight this post of atonement from a cis woman feminist as an example of what cis woman feminists need to be doing.


The law is extremely important. But so is cultural acceptance. And what I don’t see enough of in my corner of the political Internet is honest conversations about abortion being a difficult and scary subject that raises basic questions about spiritual and ethical values, no matter how it is regulated.

And, as a person who has faced and continues to face genocidal political rhetoric about my very being, those conversations would help clarify what human rights I in practice actually have.


…But just in case you thought I was just going to be whinging about nuance and being a snowflake the whole time, let’s get to the heart of the issue.

The coup de grace of being problematic:

One thing they can always count on is that the mainstream Democratic women will swallow their concerns and their pride and at least vote against the worst of the two evils. What else are they going to do?… But it’s a hell of a way to treat your most loyal voters.


But meanwhile…

White women, as a demographic, favored Trump by 6 points.

That was a thing.

I don’t know who you’re defining as ‘loyal’, but it smells.

It’s an insult to the top-line demographic that is actually the most loyally Democratic:


The voters in this country who voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump, 88 to 8.

It might be worth exploring the gap between African-American men and African-American women… except that white women, as a whole, favored Trump, and you’re actively suppressing that.

The pro-Hillary women vote is from women of color. Not from white women. White women are the part of that demographic that’s dragging things down.

And blocking that out actively makes things worse.


So, cis white women who think like the above: it’d be nice if you could, like, stop exploiting people, especially Black folk and women of color, to bolster your notion of feminism?

That’d be super awesome.

In response to a relative’s racism behind closed doors – part 1 in an occasional series

Since I not too long ago had the pleasure of overhearing toxic racist conversation about government moochers from a beloved relative, I’d like to take a moment to look at two thinkpieces on one of the most substantial and impactful USA federal affirmative action programs for white people in the 20th century.

If this post makes you interested in pondering the flipside, I recommend looking into the phrase ’40 acres and a mule’.


Today, we’ll be looking at a couple of writeups about FDR’s New Deal.

First, a disinterested political commentator’s biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in two-word (or less) sentences:

Born rich.
Dutch descent.
Harvard, Columbia.
Married Eleanor.
Entered politics.
Failed veep.
Got polio.
Enter wheelchair.
Political resurgence.
NY guvna.
Stomped Hoover.
New prez.
New Deal.
Prohibition repeal.
Court packing?
WWII looming.
Armed Allies.
Pearl Harbor.
Had sad.
Japanese internment.
Re-elected thrice.
22nd Amendment.


As I understand it, FDR has historically been considered the ultimate ‘good liberal’ president of the 20th century.

To hear certain people tell it, FDR was the sweet and lovely dude who established and fought for Good Liberal Values, rescued the country from the Great Depression, and is responsible for the existence of such bedrocks of modern society as Social Security, government insurance for bank accounts, and afaict the institutional attitude that the federal government has a right to regulate private businesses as regards their externalities.

Which leads to the existence of this piece from the Cato Institute on the anti-Black impact of FDR’s flagship collection of social and economic programs, which are collectively known as the New Deal. Because even a think tank founded by the Koch Brothers is capable of pointing out institutional racism when they are so moved.


Doing a running commentary on the piece:

[M]ounting evidence, developed by dozens of economists across the country, shows that the New Deal prolonged joblessness for millions, and black people were especially hard hit.

Hmm, but economists referenced by the Cato Institute tend to be lying liars. Continue.

The Wagner Act (1935) harmed blacks by making labor union monopolies legal. Economists Thomas E. Hall and J. David Ferguson explained: “By encouraging unionization, the Wagner Act raised the number of insiders (those with jobs) who had the incentive and ability to exclude outsiders (those without jobs). Once high wages have been negotiated, employers are less likely to hire outsiders, and thus the insiders could protect their own interest.”

By giving labor unions the monopoly power to exclusively represent employees in a workplace, the Wagner Act had the effect of excluding blacks, since the dominant unions discriminated against blacks.

An interesting critique of unions. Those bastions of liberal values of the 20th century? I’m sure that they’re being misrepresented.

The Wagner Act had originally been drafted with a provision prohibiting racial discrimination. But the American Federation of Labor successfully lobbied against it, and it was dropped.

…Well then. That sounds quite damning.

I do rather despise a lack of sourcing for claims, but I will give some slight leeway that this article is based on an interview of two authors of a history book on the Great Depression, and the article was originally published in 2003.

And now, a crash course in information literacy, documenting my process of verifying whether or not the above claim is accurate.

My search terms started with ‘wagner act’ and ‘wagner act racism lobbying american federation of labor’.

I then looked up the book by the authors and glanced at the Amazon.com reviews for claims of fake facts. The reviews are relatively negative, but at a glance, the negative reviews appear to be mostly academic whinging about the crafting and narrative of the book, rather than accusations of falsehoods in its reporting.

A search of the Wikipedia page for the National Labor Relations Act (the formal name of the Wagner Act) finds no mention of ‘race’ or ‘black’.

(By the way – that sentence you just read? That’s the incriminating tell.)

From the Wikipedia page from the American Federation of Labor, under the section “Historical Problems”, in the subsection “Racism”:

During its first years, the AFL admitted nearly anyone.

Really! Nearly anyone!

Gompers opened the AFL to radical and socialist workers and to some semiskilled and unskilled workers. Women, African Americans, and immigrants joined in small numbers. But by the 1890s, the Federation had begun to organize only skilled workers in craft unions and became an organization of mostly white men. Although the Federation preached a policy of egalitarianism in regard to African American workers, it actively discriminated against black workers. The AFL sanctioned the maintenance of segregated locals within its affiliates—particularly in the construction and railroad industries—a practice which often excluded black workers altogether from union membership and thus from employment in organized industries.

This doesn’t look good for you, American Federation of Labor.

In 1901, the AFL lobbied Congress to reauthorize the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and issued a pamphlet entitled “Some reasons for Chinese exclusion. Which shall survive?” The AFL also began one of the first organized labor boycotts when they began putting white stickers on the cigars made by unionized white cigar rollers while simultaneously discouraging consumers from purchasing cigars rolled by Chinese workers.

Oof. That’s nasty stuff.

Ok, but then, about the Wagner Act…

Oh wait.

That’s it.

That’s the entire history of racism in the American Federation of Labor worth knowing about, according to the organization’s Wikipedia page.

At least, the narrative ends in their actively racist lobbying efforts in 1901, left aside until the American Federation of Labor merged with another group of unions in 1955 to become the biggest federation of unions in the USA. Like, the one that’s still the biggest one today. That’s the AFL-CIO.

You have heard about them in terms of ‘the unions’ endorsing a candidate in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary?

That’s their group.

Still around.

Same name.

Same organization.

I’ll close with the discovered thesis of a research project, published on the official website of Social Security – yes, that Social Security – regarding racism in the New Deal:

The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded from coverage about half the workers in the American economy. Among the excluded groups were agricultural and domestic workers—a large percentage of whom were African Americans. This has led some scholars to conclude that policymakers in 1935 deliberately excluded African Americans from the Social Security system because of prevailing racial biases during that period. This article examines both the logic of this thesis and the available empirical evidence on the origins of the coverage exclusions. The author concludes that the racial-bias thesis is both conceptually flawed and unsupported by the existing empirical evidence. The exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers from the early program was due to considerations of administrative feasibility involving tax-collection procedures. The author finds no evidence of any other policy motive involving racial bias.

So the answer to the economically isolated and racially subjugated Black folk of the Great Depression is that they were too economically isolated by their racial subjugation to be helped.

Nothing to be done.

Nothing to see. Move along.

Acceptable losses.

Move along.

Well, that is all a good enough answer to my initial question for my taste.

Did you find it satisfactory, reader?


Because a person of a certain political persuasion, and generally a certain privileged lightness of skin, might vocally object to the above analysis.

Those dirty, deceitful Koch brothers! They just want to undermine Black support for Democrats and social programs! How dare I besmirch the good name of a disabled president who fought for the proletariat with the rhetorical trickery of those who seek corporate oligarchy and the expansion of wage slavery!

*significant cough*

And, honestly, in terms of the argument that lies underneath however much bullshit they bring to the table, I agree.

I find what FDR’s modern vanguard has to say on the subject far more telling.


This is the first and best line of defense that the institute “[i]nspired by the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor” gives in this response to concerns and anger about anti-Blackness in the New Deal:

“Judged from the standards of today, of course, there is much we can criticize about the New Deal/Roosevelt era. It did not bring to an end the tremendous injustices that African Americans had to suffer on a day-to-day basis, and some of its activities, such as the work of the Federal Housing Administration, served to build rather than break down the walls of segregation that separated black from white in Jim Crow America. Yet as Mary McLeod Bethune once noted, the Roosevelt era represented “the first time in their history” that African Americans felt that they could communicate their grievances to their government with the “expectancy of sympathetic understanding and interpretation.” Indeed, it was during the New Deal, that the silent, invisible hand of racism was fully exposed as a national issue; as a problem that at the very least needed to be recognized; as something the county could no longer pretend did not exist.

Let’s take a moment to sit with this:

The very best defense that the Roosevelt Institute can provide for its namesake president’s actions is to first acknowledge he not just failed to challenge, but directly aided and abetted, some seriously anti-Black and racist shit. (Further down in the piece: “FDR had to choose his battles carefully and at times appears timorous in the face of racial injustice – especially when viewed from today.”)

Then, after acknowledging that the dude who was responsible for the forced internment of people of Japanese descent during WWII wasn’t exactly a fierce fighter for racial equality, the very best case that the Roosevelt Institute can make on his behalf is that he was the president who was able to speak about the American Dream, national unity and common cause for the sake of the national welfare, and the importance of material and economic security, and then turn around, and listen to the ardent grievances and pleas of Black folk, and say:

“Well that sucks.”


…and that’s it.

Not that he and his administration did much of anything about the suffering of Black folk.

Not that they even really cared about racism and anti-Blackness.

But that they were willing to politely and diplomatically converse with people suffering unconscionable violence, genocide, subjugation, and, in the South, unyielding attempts at re-enslavement.

This is the best defense that the Roosevelt Institute can give for the racist inequalities of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program.

I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough for me, regardless of further historical research and reading of other people’s analysis, to conclude that the New Deal was really quite shitty for Black folk, and for people of color more generally.


And why was the New Deal so shitty to people of color/Black folk?

Because white people were happier getting their fair share and more, and denying people of color/Black folk the share they were due.

And FDR apparently frowned, and then shrugged, and said “Well, shit. I guess we’ll trade off paying attention to the needs of Black folk [and POC] to help the national economy. Damn. Oh well.”


(If we can be honest, we know that his reasoning and private sentiments were significantly more racist than that – what I wrote was probably the central unspoken subtext of Bernie Sanders’ campaign strategy meetings in 2016.)


This concludes the blog post.

Waking Up From The American Dream, Part 1: On Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

I had a fantastic social studies teacher in high school, who assigned the class reading materials that were way more critically developed than he had any right to get away with giving to us.

Two pieces from that class that always stay with me are excerpts from Harold Bloom’s “The American Religion”, and a Harper’s piece from September 2002 by Mark Slouka, titled “A Year Later”.


Having been not yet six years old when Newt Gingrich ascended to Speaker of the House, the political era of my youth was fully defined by Republican narrative dominance, craven exploitation and hypocrisy, and ultimately, crowned by the re-election of George W. Bush.

It’s worth remembering back to that re-election, what with it happening in the midst of the still-ongoing military actions in Iraq of which we no longer speak in polite American society. It is difficult for me to remember this era without my blood boiling in the recollection of W. jokingly looking under White House furniture for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

That came before his re-election.

Because Swift-boating.

Golly, remember those times? It seems hard to, and like it gets harder to remember as time goes by. Believe it or not, the deceptively motivated, machinated and marketed invasion of Iraq, and the torture of Brown terrorists, used to be the gravest and most serious threat to our national integrity that we knew of.

How the goalposts move.

It was in those more idealistic times, as a later-stage teenager with a profound sense of political despair and an associated contempt for my political elders near and far, that I came to Bloom’s “The American Religion”, and gained a sense of clarity about how American Christianity and American patriotism had come to inform one another as they do today.

As a teenager whose upbringing encouraged a general aversion to collectivist notions such as faithful religious practice and patriotic values, Bloom’s work was revolutionary for me in understanding and relating to both individual Americans and the United States of America as a whole.

Through it, I came to recognize, within American Christianity, a solipsistic entanglement which seeks to situate the individual as isolated, helpless, and in submission to the greatest authority figure, the Holy Father.


Harold Bloom is a figure of some controversy as an academic; looking at his Wikipedia page, he seems to make a point of being a troublemaker. One such instance, “The American Religion”, was in exploring how Christianity works in the modern-day United States of America.

Quoting from Wikipedia:

In this book, Bloom begins [his] practice [of his newly created analytical genre named ‘religious criticism’] by looking at religious groups in the United States of America. Bloom identifies Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James as previous scholars who practiced religious criticism of American religion.

He concludes that in America there is a single, dominant religion of which many nominally distinct denominations are a part. Among these he identifies Mormonism, the Southern Baptist Convention, Pentecostalism, and Seventh-day Adventism. To a lesser extent however, he also includes nearly all “Christian” denominations in America, including mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Bloom’s view is that all of these groups in America are united by requiring that each person may only truly meet with the divine when experiencing a “total inward solitude” and that salvation cannot be achieved by engaging with a community, but only through a one-to-one confrontation with the divine.


Bloom’s book was driving at the essential hypocrisies and deceits within American Christian practices that will drive most readers of this blog crazy among ‘the faithful’ – the false pretenses of humility and God-fearing worship, the refusing to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and the prosperity gospel that’s become the logical end result of American Christian practice.

These analyses have been made many a time on the left since then, though perhaps in mostly fragmented and incoherent ways. I’ll decline to explore them in detail, because I don’t wish to cause that sort of trouble here.

Instead, I’ll turn our focus to Bloom, through his portraits of Christian practice in the United States of America, illustrating the historical contradictions of our country – the Christian nation without a formal religion; the practice of Christianity as a form of patriotism; the contradictions of being a Christianity-tending country which was founded on colonialism, genocide, and chattel slavery. However, he appears to have been too conservative to engage with those contradictions as directly and/or honestly as one might have wished him to.


What truly solidified the lessons of Bloom’s book for me is the Harper’s article that was published in memoriam of the September 11 terror attacks of 2001, titled “A Year Later”.

In the piece, Mark Slouka gives a viscerally moving critique of, most prominently, the suspiciously self-centered existential crises of many liberals following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also describes his life’s struggles as a second-generation Central European immigrant in coping with, to turn a phrase, ‘the unbearable lightness of being American’.

Some passages (with one sentence re-formatted for emphasis:

It seems almost trite to say it: Whatever else last September’s events have done, they have forced on us–or will, eventually–a revolution in seeing. It will take time to understand what we have been shown; as of yet, the work of re-vision has hardly begun. Still, a few facts seem to be taking shape. A few truths, even. The first is that, despite the muzzy pap of the globalists, who never tire of limning their vision of a borderless, friction-free world, we remain strikingly–even shockingly–tribal. The second is that the source of this tribal identity–the three-century-old myth of American exceptionalism–is alive and well. And not just alive and well but ruddy-cheeked and thriving. Quieted for a time by prosperity, it has revived under stress.

Some years ago, at the University of California, San Diego, a young woman raised her hand in the middle of a seminar I was then teaching on the first century of Rome and the dawn of the Christian Era. She seemed genuinely disturbed by something. “I know you’re all going to think this is crazy,” she said, “but I always thought Jesus was an American.”

A lovely moment. What she had articulated, as succinctly as I had ever heard it articulated, was the spirit behind three and a half centuries of American history: America as an elect nation, the world-redeeming ark of Christ, chosen, above all the nations of the world, for a special dispensation. What she had expressed, with an almost poetic compaction, was the core myth of America. Had John Winthrop been sitting at the table with us that foggy day in La Jolla, he would have understood what she was saying, and approved of it. As would Harriet Beecher Stowe. And Ronald Reagan. And, apparently, Attorney General John Ashcroft.

I had occasion to recall all this more than once last fall. I remembered it when I read that the sales of millennial tracts across the nation were going through the roof because, according to biblical prophesy, the last days were to be preceded by great sorrow (as though only our sorrow would weigh in the record), when educated friends explained to me, with a kind of tragic gusto, that their entire worldview had been convulsed by the tragedy (and implied that it was vaguely un-American of me that mine had not), when a minister acquaintance confessed to undergoing a crisis of faith so severe that he was considering leaving the Church.

When I wondered aloud to another acquaintance how it was possible for a man’s faith to sail over Auschwitz, say, only to founder on the World Trade Center, I found myself quickly taken to task for both my myopia and my callousness–the product, he implied, of my excessively European sensibility. He himself had been in a state of crisis for two months, he said. He slept badly, struggled with depression. His children were afraid to get in the subway or walk past a tall building, and there was nothing he could tell them. He was considering leaving New York and moving to Mexico. “How can you not see that everything is different now?” he concluded. “And anyway, who are you to decide when it’s right for someone to have a crisis of faith?”

The answer to the second question was easy enough: no one, though I did reserve the right to wonder at the minister’s timing, or where his faith might have been hiding when half a million human beings were being massacred in Rwanda, not a few of them in churches. But the first had me stumped. Simply put, I did not believe that everything was different now, particularly not in the ontological sense in which my friend intended it. Nor did I understand his apparent eagerness to proclaim it so.


Mark Slouka’s piece brought a loud and clear message to the table:

Liberals of the United States of America do the exact same bullshitting of themselves as the country’s conservatives do.

On becoming a cheerleader for my country’s spies and federal cops

(Adapted from my posts in a discussion thread on TalkingPointsMemo‘s subscribers-only forum, directed primarily at Democrats and their allies.)

It might sound a little weird, but I can’t manage to actually care about politics in the ‘Democrats vs. Republicans, now fight!’ sense lately.

Republican figures know that demographics and societal tides are not on their side, and they’re living a desperate hustle until things collapse. At the end of the day, it’s a death rattle of the Southern Strategy, though one that currently directly threatens the survival of our nation as we know it, as well as threatening the survival of tens of millions of its own citizens and endangering the rest of the world.

Here’s what I can’t stop dealing with –

What about our damn election being intentionally compromised by the Trump campaign in coordination with efforts of Russian intelligence?

There’s no remaining way to plausibly defend Trump’s ‘weird’ pro-Russia campaign stuff and invitation for Russia to hack his political opponent and/or release classified information anymore. And Jared Kushner committed a meta-treasonous act in wanting to go off the federal grid, so we’re just basically at that point, right now, with everything that we currently know.

If we don’t repudiate the entirety of a presidential administration, among other 2016 election results, that can be accurately described as a coup by an enemy nation, does our nation even exist in the usual sense anymore?


The United States is a country whose identity is defined by its democracy.

Our values are good values because they fuel the democratic systems we worship; our democratic systems work because of our good values. Absent a formal religious ethos or foundational culture, we anxiously promote ourselves as a ‘city upon a hill‘ – we must know if you’ve heard the good news of humanity’s political deliverance, the blessing of our Founding Fathers. We have attained political nirvana; we are the end of history. If you take issue with our values and our democracy, or get in the way of our path to fulfillment of political Revelation, we’ll send the Marines as our missionaries, or leverage what’s termed ‘soft power’ until you are remade as we wish.

When our identity and our political self-concept are inseparable, what do we do when our politics were successfully compromised? If we can’t collectively accept our democracy having failed, how are we going to be able to develop the kind of collective cultural integrity that would be necessary to prevent any given person or organization with enough resources from directing or taking control of our political process?

Given our country’s colonial and politically revolutionary origins, which leaves us with no self-concept that is separable from our political system, what, exactly, are people going to be left to faithfully identify with as being the United States of America?

The domestically based political corruption has been terrible, but I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing on the stuff that is already happening at the hands of people intentionally sabotaging the country from the outside.

Assuming that we don’t get both Trump and Pence out before 2020, we’re going to need a truth and reconciliation commission someday to deal with this past election, even just with what is currently public information. But we’ve been ‘the city on a hill’ for coming up on 400 years – historical reckoning has always been for other people. Would we be capable of collectively recognizing that we need that kind of an intervention?

As a contrast: It’s been fascinating for me to watch a historically accurate Japanese children’s cartoon series, set less than 150 years ago, where the people who fought a war to re-install an emperor in a position of influence were ‘the good guys’. Because that’s actually a notion of government that has existed and still exists, including in the UK. Which would be a nice sort of authority figure to have right now.

Instead of our government functioning with the formal approval of a spiritual representative of the country, we have spies and federal law enforcement laying everything out and saying ‘trust us, we’re doing our jobs faithfully and well, and Trump and company are corrupt and traitorous’ to every flag-waving patriot, regardless of political view.

I’m not hopeless, but I feel like people underestimate how big a deal the myth (as in existential truth-statement) of electoral integrity is to our country’s conceptual coherence, and how important that conceptual coherence is to an unspeakable number of people staying on the right side of the notion that any functioning society is four missed meals away from violent anarchy.

In case you can imagine that scenario not being a negative outcome in your and others’ lives – please remember that our country has lots and lots of:

-and nukes.


It’s important to think about Comey’s explanation for acting on the fake memo that was frequently pooh-poohed when it came out – he acted despite knowing it was fake.

Why would he do this? A relatively straightforward answer would be that otherwise, the FBI’s reputation would be endangered among Republicans when Russia propagated the ‘news’ itself via fake news on Facebook and the conservative fear-based grift ecosystem, which would be not-good in the face of determined adversaries at home and abroad.

Comey’s been playing this game a lot longer than we have. He’s presumably been facing this enemy since before it was a ‘paranoid’ twinkle in the eye of Josh Marshall, who’s been publicly wondering about the nature of the Trump-Russia relationship on TalkingPointsMemo since last summer at the very latest.

I’m not exactly a fan of them… but I have to throw in my lot with the top cops and the spooky spies on this one.

Because we’re dealing with a situation where the CIA, FBI, and whoever else wanted in are joining forces to publicly prosecute the president and his men.

It’s hard for me to call this performance ‘cloak and dagger’ when the whole point is to put on a show for the public eye for patriotic citizens of our country to actually believe them about how bad things are.

Right now, our intelligence agencies are asking to act as our nation’s voice of reason in repudiating the most fatal consequences of the corrupted national election of 2016.


A brief step back to Watergate:

Nixon’s fate wasn’t decided by the rule of law. It was decided by, for example, the Supreme Court agreeing to disagree and compromise on their judicial opinion in order to preserve the impact and precedence of a unanimous decision on the president not being above the law.

I’ve read that this was out of fear that Nixon’s response to a divided ruling would be, roughly:

“I respect the legal opinions of the dissenters. Now what?”

Apart from the damage to the judicial precedent and public perception that the president is not above the law, this would not have been a good thing, even if such a statement had resulted in Nixon’s impeachment and removal from office. He resigned with 24 percent of those polled approving of him.

That leaves a lot of angry people looking for excuses to feel like the victims of a political conspiracy, in a country for which widespread political conspiracy theories is an existential threat.

There isn’t any such thing as politics apart from those sorts of things. We, as a nation, have chosen to collectively pretend otherwise, because we’re the ‘city on a hill’, God damn it.


I’ve played a lot of poker in my lifetime.

And during the two days of the ‘I knew it was fake intel’ story followed by the Kushner back-channel story, my perceptions of Comey transformed at a startling pace. He began the first day by seeming to be a confusing, stooge-like figure making bizarre but oddly coherent choices, and he ended the second day by seeming to be a very knowing ‘card shark’, who’s playing to win in ways that I can’t hope to fully comprehend but that I can respect enough to get out of the way of.

And if he and the people behind and with him don’t win this second-order war, then things are going to get extremely ugly, and, in a historical sense, extremely fast.

Despite my fears of extending any goodwill to the organizations who were behind COINTELPRO, Manuel Noriega and the Contras – and, by way of Noriega and the Contras, the 1980s crack epidemic – I’d like him and his guys to win.

So pass me the pom-poms. In this pitched battle, I know who I’m rooting for.

An instructional video

(Hat tip to my sister-in-law for inspiring this post.)

If you wish to better understand why people like Trump, this video is important fuel for contemplation.

This is my best means of instruction to confused liberals as to what ‘the other team’, regardless of color or creed, believed he might do as president of our nation.

It is pretty well exactly this.

(content warnings – use of ‘faggot’ and other illiberal rhetorical ornaments, and generalized foul language)


To well-meaning liberals: Do you get the picture?