California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has received a file full of racist and threatening letters to his Sacramento office.
A recent profile in the Sacramento Bee revealed that the latest letter is addressed to “Corrupt Mexican” and ends with the line: “hurry up and die.” It was signed “White Power.” It certainly wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last hateful letter sent to leaders of color in the state’s capitol.
Since his freshman year in the Assembly, de León has been attacked with derogatory comments and ethnic slurs. However, since the 2016 election, they’ve gotten worse and more frequent.
It isn’t just him either state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) was attacked by a stranger screaming profanities and ethnic slurs in his face. State Sen. Holly Mitchell’s Los Angeles office gets calls at least once a month calling her the N-word. It never happened before the 2016 election, a staffer said.
“We dealt with it pretty much throughout my entire tenure,” said former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez to the Sacramento Bee. “The more high profile you are, the more of these attacks you get.”
De León received one letter in April from a person claiming to be a “decorated U.S. Marine sniper,” who bragged he left no DNA or fingerprints on the letter. It threatened to hunt down liberal legislators like dogs.
“Not today, not tomorrow, maybe in 15 years when you feel safe, I will be your worst nightmare come true,” the letter read.
Arthur Schaper, a frequent attendee at Democratic town halls ,once yelled at de León “cities are for citizens!” He did so while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat from the Trump campaign.
“Trump has excited so many disaffected conservatives and angry citizens in general,” he told the Sacramento Bee. “More people are getting out there. They’ve seen the damage that has been done to this country by eight years of radical leftism from the Obama presidency.”
He was quick to clarify that he isn’t a racist and doesn’t know of any racist comments he has posted or sent to leaders. Instead, his affiliations are isolated to anti-immigrant groups and those that advocate nationalism like “Well the People Rising,” American Children First and The Remembrance Project.
Schaper explained to the Sacramento Bee that after years of going to town halls and harassing legislators, he finally feels like he has a president on his side.
“This is Trump territory, folks, even in de León’s office,” Schaper said in a video of him outside of the legislator’s district office. “This is our country.”
Christian Broadcast News has suggested President Donald Trump’s cabinet is the most evangelical cabinet in history even more than born again Christian George W. Bush.
“These are godly individuals that God has risen to a position of prominence in our culture,” said Capitol Ministries president and founder Ralph Drollinger. According to CBN, the majority of the cabinet officials attend a frequent Bible study class, that is the first of its kind in at least 100 years.
He has long maintained that changing the hearts of lawmakers to see a Christian worldview could guide them to making good policies. While he doesn’t lobby on behalf of peace or advocate policies that would fit a Jesus-like agenda, he has started a Bible study group in 40 state capitols as well as foreign capitols. He teaches weekly Bible study classes for the U.S. House and Senate and now leads a group of nearly all of Trump’s cabinet officials.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy Devos, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and CIA Director Mike Pompeo are all regular attendees.
The most notable, however, is Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“He’ll go out the same day I teach him something and I’ll see him do it on camera and I just think, ‘Wow, these guys are faithful, available and teachable and they’re at Bible study every week they’re in town,'” Drollinger said of his influence.
He said that the group is the “best” he’s “ever taught” because the officials “are so teachable; they’re so noble; they’re so learned.”
Trump, however, is in an entirely different category. While the president is always invited to the groups, Drollinger doesn’t disclose that he’s attended, only that he’s been invited. He also sends a copy of the teaching each week to the president.
“I don’t think Donald Trump has figured out that he chained himself to the Apostle Paul,” Drollinger said, though it isn’t clear who the “Paul” is in this analogy. It’s doubtful Trump would get the reference either given his confusion about popular Biblical texts.
Vice President Mike Pence does plan on attending in the future as his schedule permits and he serves as the sponsor of the group.
“Mike Pence has respect for the office. He dresses right – like it says Joseph cleaned himself up before he went to stand before the Pharaoh,” Drollinger explained to CBN. “Mike Pence has uncompromising biblical tenacity and he has a loving tone about him that’s not just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And then fourthly, he brings real value to the head of the nation.”
Drollinger sees Trump as the biblical character Samson, who is known for the source of his strength coming from his hair. Jn Judges, Samson is an immoral person who does little more than slaughter and betray people.
“I just praise God for them,” Drollinger continued. “And I praise God for Mike Pence, who I think with Donald Trump chose great people to lead our nation.”
Trump is an authoritarian—but by instinct rather than by ideology. It is blindingly obvious that he is an amateurish hack of a president, who doesn’t have anything close to a strategic plan to concentrate power in his own hands. But it is also blindingly obvious that he is unwilling to tolerate any rightful limits on his authority, and seeks to weaken or abolish independent institutions whenever they frustrate his ambitions.
Trump did not come into office as a sworn enemy of the FBI, or the filibuster, or even the judiciary. But since all of these institutions have hampered his ability to rule by fiat, or stand above the rule of law, each of them has quickly come to bear the brunt of his anger.
When the director of the FBI refused to pledge his personal loyalty to the president, or to shut down the bureau’s investigation into the campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump fired him. When the Senate failed to take health care away from millions of Americans, Trump called for the abolition of the filibuster. And when judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals repeatedly ruled against the administration, Trump threatened to dissolve it.
So far, a lot of this authoritarian behavior has remained in the realm of rhetoric. This is not to say that it’s harmless: When the president exhorts cops to rough up suspects, for example, this is likely to lead to some all-too-real violations of basic rights. Even so, the key question now is whether Trump’s authoritarian instincts will eventually push him one crucial step further—pitting his administration against other branches of government in deed as well as in word.
It is also blindingly obvious that he is unwilling to tolerate any rightful limits on his authority.
Recent developments suggest that the day when Trump starts to overstep the bounds of his legitimate authority, and deliberately undermines the power of other branches of government, may now be nigh. About a week ago, media outlets began to report that he had decided to build a “war Cabinet.” Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci as director of communications, prompting Sean Spicer to resign as press secretary. A week later, Trump fired Reince Priebus as chief of staff, replacing him with John Kelly, a four-star Marine general. All the while, Trump has kept up unprecedented Twitter broadsides against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and special counsel Robert Mueller.
It is all too clear which enemy Trump wants his war Cabinet to defeat: not ISIS, the Taliban, North Korea, or Iran, but the “haters” who have so far hampered his power. And since Trump has selected his core team for its unwavering loyalty rather than its political acumen, it is also clear that the new men in the White House will be willing to take some pretty extreme steps to please their master. Having sworn fealty to their chief, and being used to command as CEOs or as generals, they—like the president himself—have little respect for the conventional limits on executive power.
When I first argued that Trump was an authoritarian by instinct rather than by ideology, I thought that this description pointed to a hope as well as a danger: Ideological authoritarians like Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have a much better sense of their ultimate destination and can therefore pursue the destruction of independent institutions in a much more consistent manner. Instinctive authoritarians like Trump, by contrast, might take a while to stumble in that same direction, making big blunders and squandering key opportunities along the way.
In many ways, this has proved to be true. If Trump were more competent and more disciplined—pursuing his goals in a more consistent manner and abstaining from needless fights—he could have marshalled far greater public and congressional support for his agenda. And if he were more farsighted, he could have made far more effective use of past opportunities to expand his power. (Although Neil Gorsuch is turning out to be an extremely conservative jurist, for example, there is no real indication that he would rubber-stamp a Trumpian power grab.)
And yet, it is also clear that, six months into his presidency, Trump is already morphing into the authoritarian he was destined to become. Frustrated with the barriers put in his way by independent institutions, he now considers himself at war with them. Though he remains a lot less ideological than Orban or Erdogan, his authoritarian instincts are pushing him toward the same destination. There is little reason to think that he is less of a danger to democracy than they have proved to be.
New White House chief of staff John Kelly was so upset with how President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that Kelly called Comey afterward and said he was considering resigning, according to two sources familiar with a conversation between Kelly and Comey.
Both sources cautioned that it was unclear how serious Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, was about resigning himself.
"John was angry and hurt by what he saw and the way (Comey) was treated," one of the sources said.
Comey learned of his dismissal on May 9 from televisions tuned to the news as he was addressing the workforce at the FBI office in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources said at the time. Comey made a joke about it to lighten the mood and called his office to get confirmation.
Comey, who took Kelly's call while traveling back from Los Angeles to Washington, responded to Kelly by telling him not to resign, one of the sources said.
The sources said Comey and Kelly are not close friends but that they had a professional relationship and a deep mutual respect for each other.
Comey declined to comment for this story. The White House and the Department of Homeland Security have not responded to requests for comment.
Trump announced Friday that Kelly would replace Reince Priebus as chief of staff, the latest in a series of staff moves aiming to reset the White House's communications and agenda efforts.
A permanent replacement for Comey as FBI director is expected soon when the full Senate votes on the nomination of Christopher Wray, who cleared the judiciary committee with unanimous support.
Tump may not believe it or may forgive him.But he will always mistrust him from here on in.
Whoever leaked this knew they were driving a wedge in between Trump and his new General.
President Trump, lacking any legislative achievements and finally under some weak fire from some in his own party, got out of town last week and went to speak before the Boy Scouts, turning their annual jamboree into a crude Trump rally. He even regaled them with the thrilling highlights of his Electoral College victory and stories of his rich friends and their decadent adventures, saying, “The Boy Scouts know life.” You literally cannot take him anywhere.
As disturbing as that was, it was Trump’s other rallies last week that made the hair on the back of civil libertarians’ necks stand up. He went to Youngstown, Ohio, and said this to a swooning crowd of screaming admirers:
The predators and criminal aliens who poison our communities with drugs and prey on innocent young people, these beautiful, beautiful innocent young people, will find no safe haven anywhere in our country. And you’ve seen some of these stories about some of these animals.
They don’t want to use guns because it’s too fast and it’s not painful enough. So they’ll take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15, and others, and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die. And these are the animals that we’ve been protecting for so long. Well, they’re not being protected any longer, folks.
Trump has been talking about the “aliens” who are polluting our country, raping and killing with abandon, since the day he descended that escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy. He has a very vivid and violent imagination, and he loves to display it in front of big crowds. He used to get them all charged up as he told the stories of “Beautiful Kate” and “Jamal” and a “66-year-old veteran who was raped and sodomized” by an illegal immigrant.
He also spent hours on the campaign trail relaying gory tales of ISIS fighters “drowning people in steel cages” and “chopping off heads.” He promised to fight fire with fire, and torture and kill them right back. He repeatedly told the apocryphal story about Gen. Jack Pershing in the Spanish-American War, who supposedly dipped bullets in pig’s blood and executed hundreds of Muslim prisoners to teach the population a lesson, as an illustration of smart anti-terror tactics.
Trump is obsessed with blood-soaked imagery and came back to it time and again to elicit a febrile excitement in his followers during the campaign. Today he is the president of the United States, and he is in a position to make good on his promise.
MS-13 is a dangerous, violent gang that is, in fact, benefiting from Trump’s crackdown on the immigrants who are the victims of their violence. Many such immigrants are now too afraid to come forward to the authorities and are even more vulnerable than before. As with everything else in this world, this administration’s policies are making things worse.
Trump is in trouble, and now he is turning to the demagogue’s favorite ploy to get his crowds revved up. We all know how it was done in Germany in the 1930s or in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. We saw it happen before our eyes in Rwanda just 20 years ago, using exactly the same language of “slicing and dicing.” Needless to say, we had centuries of these calls to violence here in the United States with someone riling up the locals about young black males allegedly molesting virginal white women. We all know what that was about too.
Trump is taking this to another level with his speech to Youngstown and another one last Friday before a crowd of police officers in Brentwood, New York. In both speeches, to one extent or another, he exhorted the police to use extrajudicial violence, complimenting them for “liberating” American towns from “the enemy.”
In Youngstown he said:
We’re doing it rough. Our guys are rougher than their guys. I asked one of our great generals, “How tough are our people? How tough are they?” He said, “Sir, you don’t want to know about it.”
He never mentions the rule of law, the judicial process or the legal system at all. In New York, where he described the Long Island suburbs as “blood-stained killing fields,” he went even further:
When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough. I said, “Please, don’t be too nice.” Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting the head. You know? The way you put the hand over [the head], like “Don’t hit their head” and they’ve just killed somebody, “Don’t hit their head.”
I said, “You can take the hand away,” OK?”
The cops at the rally cheered wildly.
Trump on handling suspected criminals: "Don't be too nice" to "thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon" https://t.co/rZyICcW4Yr
As it happens, one of Trump’s favorite world leaders was in the news this weekend, a man who has also made his name by evoking violent, grisly imagery in his speeches and has unleashed unprecedented police and vigilante violence in his country. That would be Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in office just over a year, the man whose drug policies impressed Trump so much that he invited him to the White House.
This past weekend alone, 15 people were killed in a late-night police “raid” in Ozamiz City, one of whom was the mayor — an official named on a published list of 150 politicians Duterte claimed were involved in the drug trade. He’s the third mayor on Duterte’s list to be murdered by police. It’s a big list and it’s growing — Duterte claims to have a private list with over a million names on it.
When Duterte ran for president, he famously said, “Forget the law on human rights.” He has done so, sanctioning the murders of thousands of his own citizens — and is reportedly more popular than ever.
Donald Trump is an amateur compared to Duterte at this point, but his impulses run in the same direction, and their rhetoric is uncomfortably similar. Considering the cheers Trump receives among his supporters — including many police officers, when he encourages brutality and dehumanizes immigrants and others — no one should feel complacent. It’s not as if the United States is immune to outbreaks of brutal, racist violence.
“People said, ‘Rev. Barber, come here and lead our movement.’ I said, no, but I will slip in and teach you what we’ve learned, so you can lead it yourself.” – Moral Monday leader Reverend William J. Barber, II
Just a warning. Self-promotion below. We're going to talk political infrastructure.
Democrats in North Carolina have got "a ton of energy," says Raleigh-based Democratic strategist Morgan Jackson. They'll need it in 2018. They've got a heavy lift if they expect by 2021 to regain control of redistricting from the Republican super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
Republicans gained control of both state houses in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction and earned veto-proof majorities in 2012 even though Obama was back on the ballot — using districts drawn in 2011 that, as Democrats point out often, have been declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court. Obama lost the state by two percentage points in 2012, and Republican Donald Trump won the battleground state by 3.6 percentage points in 2016.
Gov. Roy Cooper launched his “Break the Majority” campaign earlier this month, announcing that he’s raised more than $1 million for the effort to win enough state legislative seats to uphold his vetoes. Democrats would need to gain three seats in the House or six seats in the Senate to break the Republican super-majorities that allow them to override Cooper’s vetoes.
[State Democratic Party Chair Wayne] Goodwin said hundreds of potential candidates have contacted the party about running themselves for the state legislature or promoting another person to run. The state must redraw its legislative map after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 28 districts were illegal racially gerrymandered. The new maps will be used in the 2018 election, but have yet to be made public.
With Republicans dragging their feet on court-ordered redrawing of state district maps, Democrats are still unsure how to deploy their 2018 resources. That's no accident.
Because 2018 will be especially challenging even if Democrats knew where to focus:
The Voter Participation Center predicted that 1.7 million fewer voters will participate in North Carolina’s 2018 election than voted in the 2016 – with 1.1 million of them being unmarried women, people of color and millennials, what the center deems the “rising American electorate (RAE).” The Voter Participation Center is a group that wants to increase civic engagement among those Americans.
Off-year mobilization is tough anytime. But while Democrats still have a statewide registration edge, unaffiliated voter registration is spiking. Getting voters to turn out will be especially challenging in 2018 because there will be no national or statewide races in North Carolina. Neither U.S. Senate seat is on the ballot in 2018. Congressional races will be the top of the ticket in the state's 13 famously gerrymandered districts. Republicans hold 10 out of the 13 seats. Fair redistricting in 2021 could make the rest more competitive for Democrats. But that means winning very local state House and Senate races to which many voters pay little attention.
Winning U.S. House seats here may help Democrats in Washington, but it won't do much for us in North Carolina unless those districts overlap state House and Senate seats where Democrats can field competitive candidates who might benefit from coattails.
Not to take away from the governor's fundraising, but Cooper's field plan will likely derive from his (barely) successful statewide strategy in 2016. Getting volunteers and voters off their couches statewide will be a real trick, Trump or no Trump. Democrats prone to focusing globally on national and statewide races struggle when it is time to focus granularly on smaller districts. In rural ones where many legislative districts lie, county teams can be less experienced at campaign tech. And because the focus is always on short-term wins, there are never resources for longer-term infrastructure building. As the saying goes, there's never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.
It is a perennial complaint in progressive circles that Democrats slack sufficient infrastructure for winning independent of having rock-star candidates to draw interest, donations and volunteers. It's true. When a Barack Obama comes along with limitless money and boisterous volunteers, Democrats are hard to beat. The problem, however, is that campaign infrastructure appears overnight and disappears just as quickly when campaigns pull up stakes. If they show up at all where you live, state and national campaign teams expect to call the shots, leave little behind except unused office supplies, and state parties (as best I can tell) focus on immediate get-out-the-vote needs only, and then primarily in cities where the largest blocks of blue votes are. In 2-4 years, we start again from scratch.
Rural counties where big campaigns don't go are left to fend for themselves with little direction except in organizing precincts and pulling walk/phone lists. You'd go blue in the face holding your breath waiting for the cavalry to arrive with additional resources. And those places are where the state House and Senate seats are that Democrats need to win to flip state legislatures across the country.
Our county has the only Democratic state representatives and state senator west of Charlotte. What has made our county successful is having local infrastructure that persists beyond Election Day. We built a progressive team. We have a plan. We know our jobs. We train our replacements. When one leadership team ages out, the next is ready to go. Know-how isn’t lost when the old team steps aside (and we do) to make room for younger blood. That inspires confidence in both volunteers and donors. Volunteers persist year-round here. When vans rolled in here last fall from Nashville and Memphis the weekend ahead of the election, Tennessee vols said they'd never seen anything like it. Not the first time I've heard that.
We build experience with each election cycle. That make ours a formidable organization. To win here, we don't need marching orders from national campaigns that parachute in every four years. We sit them down and tell them how we expect them to work with us to elect their candidates and ours further down-ticket. Imagine if every county in every state had that permanent foundation.
I wrote a primer for teaching under-resourced counties typically not on the cutting edge of digital tech how to step up their games. It is intended for county-level party officers, not professional campaign geeks. No theory. No targeting. No manual on running individual campaigns. Just the field-tested nuts-and-bolts of how local parties can organize a months-long, countywide effort to help national, state, and local campaigns win. On a shoestring. Sixty-six pages, plus free tools and simple Office templates. They don't teach this at Wellstone. Over the next 6-7 months I hope to be exporting what we know to points east in this state. I'll be issuing an update in March for 2018. We'll see if power players in the state capitol(s) get religion:
I sense that people are staying to think that because Trump is an imbecile he can't really do much harm. That's wrong.
Jeffrey Toobin writes a bit about the Sessions jihad in The New Yorker today and points out all all the terrible things Sessions is doing to enact the Trump agenda all of which is a nightmare. But he goes on to make an important point about the "rule of law" problem:
All these initiatives are unwise, unjust, and counterproductive, but they nevertheless represent the kind of change that tends to occur when an Administration of one political party takes over from the other. Elections, it is often noted, have consequences. President Trump’s behavior, however, represents a different kind of change—one that threatens the basic norms underlying our system of government. No President in recent history has treated his Attorney General solely as a political, or even as a personal, functionary. When Alberto Gonzales, who served as the Attorney General under George W. Bush, fired U.S. Attorneys for failing to do the bidding of the Republican Party, Gonzales, quite properly, lost his job, too. He had violated a principle that, until now, seemed inviolate: that the Attorney General serves the public, not the political interests of the President who appoints him.
Trump’s fixation on the personal allegiance of members of his Administration also led to his decision to fire James Comey as the F.B.I. director. As Comey recounted in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump repeatedly pressed him for his loyalty—demands that Comey tried to finesse, until the President abruptly ended his tenure. Congress set the term of F.B.I. directors at ten years, in order to establish a standard of political independence for them; no President had heretofore violated that tradition out of personal or political pique. But, as bad as the decision to fire Comey was, and as lamentable as Trump’s attempted defenestration of Sessions is, the President may be heading toward even more dramatic departures from American norms in the near future.
Trump now seems set on terminating Mueller’s investigation, which he could attempt to do by directing the head of the Justice Department (whoever that winds up being) to fire him. This, of course, would be reminiscent of President Nixon’s determination, in October, 1973, to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor. But a dismissal of Mueller would be worse. Nixon clashed with Cox over what was at least an arguable matter of principle—specifically, whether the prosecutor had the right to subpoena the White House tapes. Trump wants Mueller gone simply because he doesn’t want to be investigated. An order to fire Mueller would be an abuse of power, but one in keeping with the way that Trump has conducted his Presidency. On the Saturday night that Cox was fired, he said, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people” to decide. So it remains today.
I am reminded today of this interview with Yale historian Timothy Snyder who has been warning about the authoritarian turn since the election:
A week after Donald Trump’s election, Timothy Snyder, a professor of European history at Yale, posted a long note on Facebook. “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism,” he began. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”
The note consisted of “twenty lessons from the twentieth century,” adapted to what Snyder called “the circumstances of today.” Among other things, he admonished Americans to defend democratic institutions, to not repeat the same words and phrases we hear in the media, to think clearly and critically, and to “take responsibility for the face of the world.”
The post went viral. It’s now the basis of Snyder’s new book, On Tyranny. The book is a brisk read packed with lucid prose. If it’s not quite alarmist, it’s certainly bracing. This is a call to action, a reminder that the future isn’t fixed. Being a citizen, Snyder argues, means engaging — with the world, with other people, with the truth.
“You submit to tyranny,” he writes, “when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case.”
If there’s a recurring theme in On Tyranny, it’s that accepting untruth is a precondition of tyranny. “Post-truth is pre-fascism,” he warns, and “to abandon facts is to abandon freedom.”
In this interview, I talk to Snyder about the book, the fragility of America’s liberal democratic system, and what we might learn from Europe’s descent into fascism.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
This is a brief book, but you cover a lot of ground. The tone is measured but also urgent. You write as though the American political order is truly imperiled.
Absolutely. I believe it is. I wrote the book in a few days in December, so it was all done a month before the inauguration. It sounded true at the time, and it sounds even more true now. These are thoughts I had relatively long ago. As a historian, I understand that democratic republics fall all the time. You work on European history and you know that most times it actually doesn't work out.
You also know that the Europeans who saw their regimes change were not necessarily less wise than we are. I'd be tempted to say they're wiser, in fact. I think we have a lot of good attributes in our society, in our political system, but also we've been lucky a lot of the time. It's important to be humble and to realize that past success is no guarantee of future returns.
So what happens next is going to depend on us.
The American founders were very attuned to the dangers of tyranny, and they designed a system that would guard against it. Why is that system short-circuiting now?
I'm just going to repeat the point that you make. This is something that Americans often get wrong. We think that because we're America, everything will work itself out. This is exactly what the founders refused to believe. They thought human nature is such that you have to constrain it by institutions. They preferred rule of law and checks and balances. They were the opposite of American exceptionalists.
They thought they knew something from history because of the Greeks and Romans. In the book, I just argue that they were right and that we can also learn from more recent and relevant examples because two more centuries have passed. I think our institutions are basically okay, but there are a couple of things that have gone wrong before the election.
What went wrong before the election?
An obvious problem is the role of money in politics, the confusion between the right to free speech and the right to give as much money as you want to anyone you want. Those are obviously two different things. The founders knew, because they read Aristotle, that inequality itself is always going to be a threat to democracy. If you have too much inequality, Aristotle warned, the people will grow tired of oligarchs. And someone like Trump will come along and say, well, the world's run by billionaires but at least I'll be your billionaire, which is false and demagogic and generally horrible.
But it makes a certain kind of sense when you've already reached a point of extremity.
Tell me about the distinction you make between “a politics of inevitability” and “a politics of eternity.” I find this interesting from a political theory perspective. What you’re describing is two equally misguided orientations to politics, both of which are grounded in a false story we tell ourselves about history. The price we pay for this is blindness to the present, and to our role in shaping the future.
It all starts with me trying to assert that history matters, that we have to start from history itself and not from the comforting or delusive myths we might have about the past. A politics of inevitability is an idea that’s been pretty widespread in the US since 1989. It’s the view that the past is messy and violent and chaotic but that we’re inching inexorably toward a freer, safer, more progressive world. The future will be better, in other words, because that’s how history works. There will be more globalization, more life, more prosperity, more democracy. But this is just not true.
No big narrative or grand stories like that are true, and they actually blind you to the very real danger of returning to the kinds of things you're saying can't happen, which is where the politics of eternity emerges.
A politics of eternity is an equally antihistorical posture. It’s a self-absorbed concern with the past, free of any real concern with facts. In the book, I call this a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous. An eternity politician seduces the populace with a vision of the past in which the nation was once great, only to be sullied by some external enemy. This focus on the past and on victimhood means people think less about possible futures, less about possible solutions to real problems.
But again, these are just stories. The truth is that history is much more open and we have much more agency and responsibility than we think.
This reminds me of a recent discussion I had with Fareed Zakaria. People mistakenly assume that history moves in only one direction, that liberal democracy is the logical endpoint of Western civilization. But that’s clearly not the case. History, like everything else, is in flux, and the range of outcomes is infinite.
That is exactly why I wrote the book. I was afraid the dominant narrative reaction would be something like: “Oh, well, it's a bump in the road. It's a detour. The institutions will handle it. It'll all be fine in the end, right?” That's what we were talking about earlier. That's the politics of inevitability. That's just not true.
It's just not true that things have any kind of direction. That's a big intellectual mistake that we made in 1989. We put ourselves to sleep and now we're having a rough awakening, and the rough awakening has to lead us to realize that no, we're actually in charge, and things can go in all kinds of directions.
A recurring theme of your book is that many democracies have failed in circumstances that resemble our own. Tell me what you mean by “circumstances that resemble our own.”
Well, for one, people overlook the fact that regime change in a democracy usually happens after an election — that’s when we have to be on guard. There are dramatic cases like the Bolshevik Revolution where a very, very young republic was overturned by a true revolution, but usually what happens is the scenario begins with an election, a big election. This is how Hitler came to power, for instance. His party won more votes than anyone else. Once inside, he decided the system needed to be changed. Something similar happened with the communists in Czechoslovakia, who won an election in 1946 and then wanted to carry out a coup d’état.
But to answer your basic question: The general circumstances are when an unusual figure is elected by way of normal mechanisms at a time when for other reasons the system is under stress. That’s the basic setup, and that’s what I was referring to.
You said a minute ago that you still believe in the basic viability of our institutions. But I wonder if that’s true for the majority of Americans. This last election showed, among other things, that a lot of people have lost faith in public institutions. They elected a man in large part because he wasn’t a product of these institutions. It seems they were willing to flirt with disaster to register their disgust with the system.
So we’re already in a very dangerous place. A liberal democracy can’t survive if people don’t believe in it.
We're not just flirting. We're in a long-term relationship with disaster. The question is whether we get out of it in time. There are two steps here. The first is dealing with these flawed institutions; there’s too much stress in the system. There's gerrymandering, for example, which is an affront to the one-vote-for-one-person principle. These are problems that have to be addressed.
But we’re in a stage now where we have to first rescue the flawed system and then work to improve it. In order to do that, one does have to have some idea of an America that would be better, right? It's an aspiration of America that would be improved. It's not enough to say, “Let's go back to 2016.” We have to have some idea of this as an experience from which one learns and then applies those lessons.
So I do believe our institutions in their logic are basically sound, but I agree with you that they will have to be corrected. The doubt that Americans have for institutions has to be mobilized toward a sense that they can improve as opposed to a cynicism about institutions and rules in general.
If we reach that point where people say, nothing ever works, it's all nonsense, then we really are done.
Are we there already? My sense is that November 8 was a Rubicon-crossing moment for the country. But you’re a historian, and this is a book about historical lessons, so tell me there’s a non-terrifying precedent for this.
Talk me off the ledge!
My whole gambit in this book is that I'm not a US historian. I'm a historian of Europe, and the experience I'm bringing to bear is what happened to many European democracies and what people I admire have to say about how they resisted and what they learned when beating back authoritarianism. These are the sources of my book, and I believe the lessons learned in the 20th century apply equally to the 21st century.
History doesn't give you perfect analogues, perfect parallels. It doesn't repeat, and it doesn't even rhyme, but it does present patterns.
Well, let’s talk about one of those patterns, namely the discrediting of truth in totalitarian regimes.
This whole idea we're dealing with now about the alternative facts and post-factuality is pretty familiar to the 1920s. It’s a vision that's very similar to the central premise of the fascist vision. It's important because if you don't have the facts, you don't have the rule of law. If you don't have the rule of law, you can't have democracy.
And people who want to get rid of democracy and the rule of law understand this because they actively propose an alternative vision. The everyday is boring, they say. Forget about the facts. Experts are boring. Let's instead attach ourselves to a much more attractive and basically fictional world.
So I'm not saying that Trump is just like the fascists of 1920s, but I am saying this isn’t new.
In the book, you say that abandoning facts means abandoning freedom.
That's absolutely the case. The thing that makes you an individual, the thing that makes you stand out, is your ability to figure out what's going on for yourself. If you abandon that, then you open yourself up to some grand dream, and you cease to be free in any meaningful sense.
Abandoning facts also means abandoning truth, and a civilization can’t get along without shared truths.
Sociologists say that a belief in truth is what makes trust in authority possible. Without trust, without respect for journalists or doctors or politicians, a society can’t hang together. Nobody trusts anyone, which leaves society open to resentment and propaganda, and of course to demagogues.
If a community or country can't hold together horizontally by way of an idea of factuality, then someone comes along vertically with a huge myth, and that person wins.
When you address this in the book, your intended audience is individual citizens. “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given,” you write. “Individuals offer themselves without being asked.” Political theorists have understood for a long time that the foundation of political power is consent, which can always be withdrawn. But this is not well understood by most citizens.
I think Americans do understand this well enough for normal times. In normal times, consent means political consent, as expressed in voting. What Americans might not understand is that in abnormal times, when the political system as they understand it is shaken and transformed, they can express consent to these changes without being aware that they are doing so. In normal political times, this sort of social adjustment would also be normal. But in times like these, our impulse to adjust takes on radical political significance.
Are you optimistic about the potential for collective action in this environment?
Collective action is hard, but there are real opportunities. If we manage to get our heads away from the screens, if we manage to meet people and talk to people with whom we disagree, then there can be new forms of action which may turn out to be effective. It doesn't have to be that all Americans at exactly the same time do the same thing.
If 10,000 little groups do 5,000 little things, that will make a tremendous difference.
What’s the most important — and relevant — lesson in the book? What do you urge people to do with these historical truths?
The book has 20 lessons in there, and they're of a different character. Some people are going to find some of them more relevant than others. What I want to emphasize is the instruction of the people who survived and learned about totalitarianism. There is wisdom in their examples, in what they did in those dramatic moments. For example, people who lived through fascism understand that when governments talk about terrorism and extremism, you have to be on guard, because these are always the words you hear before your rights are taken away from you.
If another terrorist attack occurs in the United States, which unfortunately is very likely, we have to be vigilant about what comes next. For these are the moments when rights are lost and regimes are changed. So we have to be prepared for that.
We can’t trade our actual freedom for a false feeling of security.
A majority of Americans are ready to move on from healthcare reform at this point after the U.S. Senate's effort to dismantle Obamacare failed on Friday, according to an exclusive Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Saturday. Nearly two-thirds of the country wants to either keep or modify the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, and a majority of Americans want Congress to turn its attention to other priorities, the survey found. Republicans have vowed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act since Democratic President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2010, and it appeared they finally had their chance when Republican President Donald Trump took office in January. But the law, which helped 20 million people obtain health insurance, has steadily grown more popular.
The July 28-29 poll of more than 1,130 Americans, conducted after the Republican-led effort collapsed in the Senate, found that 64 percent said they wanted to keep Obamacare, either "entirely as is" or after fixing "problem areas." That is up from 54 percent in January.
The survey found that support for the law still runs along party lines, with nine out of 10 Democrats and just three out of 10 Republicans saying they wanted to keep or modify Obamacare.
Among Republicans, three-fourths said they would like their party's leaders to try to repeal and replace Obamacare at some point, though most listed other issues that they would give a higher priority right now.
Disappointment among Republicans and happiness among Democrats about the repeal's failure were palpable. Two-thirds of Republicans felt "bad" that the Senate failed to pass a healthcare bill, while three-fourths of Democrats felt "good," according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll.
When asked what they think Congress should do next, most Americans picked other priorities such as tax reform, foreign relations and infrastructure. Only 29 percent said they wanted Republicans in Congress to "continue working on a new healthcare bill."
He's desperate and he's pissed. And he could easily do this:
Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to President Trump, said Sunday he will make a decision this week on ending key payments to insurance companies under ObamaCare.
"He’s going to make that decision this week," she told "Fox News Sunday."
The payments are known as Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments. Referring to them as “bailouts,” Trump threatened to end the payments on Saturday.
His tweet followed the collapse of the GOP effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare in the Senate this week. Trump is urging Republicans not to give up on the healthcare reform effort and threatening that if they do not pass a bill, he will end the federal subsidies to insurance companies.
If the subsidies are taken away millions of middle class and working class people will see their premiums rise by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars overnight. Remember, the eligibility is determined by the adjusted gross income. So people who make as much as 65-70k a year gross, particularly those who have small businesses or work as independent contractors are eligible for subsidies.
But hey, fine. To hell with them. They deserve to suffer, amirite? Maybe those 60 year olds will get some initiative and go out and inherit millions from their rich daddies like all good Americans should do.
The Sunday Times of London has fired the writer of an op-ed article denouncing the campaign by women of the British Broadcasting Corporation for equal pay after the column sparked widespread accusations that it was anti-Semitic and misogynistic.
The move came after the article, by Kevin Myers, an Irish journalist with a record of provocative right-wing statements, was pulled from its website and the editor of The Sunday Times and the editor of the paper’s Irish edition apologized for the column.
“I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC — Claudia Winkelman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted — are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity. I wonder, who are their agents? If they’re the same ones that negotiated the pay for the women on the lower scales, then maybe the latter have found their true value in their marketplace.”
Elsewhere he wrote:
“Only one woman is among the top 10 best-paid BBC presenters. Now, why is this? Is it because men are more charismatic performers? Because they work harder? Because they are more driven? Possibly a bit of each. The human resources department — what used to be called “personnel” until people come to be considered as a metabolising, respiring form of mineral ore — will probably tell you that men usually work harder, get sick less frequently and seldom get pregnant.”
The column, which had been commissioned for the print version of the outlet’s Irish edition, also attacked “the PC traitors who run BBC News and current affairs, which have stifled and corrupted all useful debate on national identity, immigration and race, thereby doing irreversible damage to British society.”
The article was widely condemned on social media. Oneperson wrote: “This kind of hateful nonsense should never make it past an editor. Myers has been writing drivel for a long time. Stop giving him a platform.”
Daniel Harris, who writes for The Guardian and The New Statesman, tweeted: “Kevin Myers of the actual Times of London, complete with Nazi terminology. Reassuring to see we’ve moved on from the old antisemitic tropes.”
An Irish lawyer, Aoife Carroll, wrote: “I’d love to know how many editors that article got through before being published. I’ll take a wild guess that none were women.”
Lionel Barber, the editor of The Financial Times, also denounced the article on Twitter.
By midmorning local time, the article had been removed from the website, which The Sunday Times shares with The Times of London, both part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
“The comments in a column by Kevin Myers in today’s Irish edition of The Sunday Times were unacceptable and should not have been published. It has been taken down, and we sincerely apologize both for the remarks and the error of judgment that led to publication.”
A separate statement from Frank Fitzgibbon, the editor of the paper’s Irish edition in Dublin, said in part:
“As the editor of the Ireland edition I take full responsibility for this error of judgment. This newspaper abhors anti-Semitism and did not intend to cause offense to Jewish people.”
That statement, however, was criticized for not addressing what many saw as Mr. Myers’s misogyny.
Calls to Mr. Myers’s cellphone and home numbers went unanswered on Sunday. He also did not immediately respond to a voice mail message and email.
On Sunday afternoon, the paper confirmed that Mr. Myers was let go. A spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Kevin Myers will not write again for The Sunday Times Ireland. A printed apology will appear in next week’s paper.
“The Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens has also apologized personally to Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz for these unacceptable comments both to Jewish people and to women in the workplace.”
More at the link.
It's good they fired him. But the fact that it took an uproar for them to see what was wrong with it tells you everything you need to know about how fighting "political correctness" is really just a useful excuse for unabashed bigotry and prejudice.
Politics and Reality Radio: Jacob Hacker: A Tough Road to Universal Coverage; Katha Pollitt on the Psychological Toll of Trumpism
with Joshua Holland
This week, we kick off the show with a look at the hero worship of John McCain and the remarkable cowardice of 49 of his Senate colleagues.
Then we'll be joined by Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, one of the intellectual forebearers of Obamacare, to talk about what might be ahead in the fight to establish universal health care in the US, now in its 105th year.
Finally, we'll talk to Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, about a piece she wrote last week surveying how some liberals and progressives are coping after six months with Donald Trump in the White House. Their reactions are more diverse than you might imagine.
Foo Fighters: "My Hero (Acoustic)"
Southern Culture on the Skids: "Camelwalk"
Celine Dion: "God Bless America"
I wrote a piece for DAME Magazine this week in which I explain why I believe (have always believed) that the first woman president will most likely be a conservative. It starts off with some discussion of what happened in 2016:
At least Schumer is consistent, because earlier in the week, as he unveiled the Democrats' new slogan and strategy—"A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future"—it seems pretty clear that both parties have decided to run against Hillary Clinton in 2018, pushing their truism that it was the terrible Democratic candidate who did herself in. That narrative of the campaign was set in the early days of national stunned disbelief when various pundits and political players with axes to grind told the tale of a group of angry white working-class men whom Clinton allegedly ignored in favor of a campaign which foolishly assumed that in 2016, a majority of Americans were decent people who would be persuaded to reject the most openly misogynist, bigoted demagogue in modern political memory.
She was right about that. She won 3 million more votes than he did. But some quirks of the system gave Donald Trump the victory anyway when the Republican party united behind him and cobbled together a decisive electoral college victory. Nobody could call it a democratic result but by the archaic rules of the electoral college he became president and she was relegated to diving into a bottle of Chardonnay and wandering the Chappaqua woods.
And women all over the country muttered under their breath, "Yep. Even when we get the highest score, we still don't get the job." We simply don't count, no matter what we do.
Women are half the population but only hold 20 percent of the political representation in the U.S. federal government. We place 100th in the world for female political representation with only 20 percent of offices held by women. The business press cheered wildly at the news that the share of women CEOs surged in the last year—from 4 percent to 6 percent. Women comprised just 7 percent of Hollywood film directors last year, down 2 percent from the year before. Across the board American women are lagging in leadership posts in absolute terms and in comparison to other nations.
As the early days of shock turned into an inchoate need to vent and share, women's frustration and despair found at least some expression in the woman's march which morphed into a grassroots movement that is working all over the country to resist the Trump administration and elect Democrats to office. Nonetheless, it became clear that any talk of the election as an illustration of the enduring sexism and misogyny in our culture was not going to be tolerated.
As Rebecca Traister chronicled in her brilliant post-election profile in New Yorkmagazine, when Hillary Clinton herself dared to mention it as a factor in her defeat, pundits and analysts held her up for ridicule accusing her of making excuses for her own failure and demanding she apologize. When she tweeted congratulations to the new DNC chair, a well-known columnist responded with a simple command to "retire" suggesting that even having the temerity to participate in social media was unacceptable. A Daily News columnist put it more bluntly: "Hillary Clinton, shut the f— up and go away already.”
And women who voted for Clinton got the message, loud and clear. It wasn't just about her. It was about them too. As the New Yorker's Daniel Kibblesmith satirically remarked, "It is time for Hillary Clinton to disappear from our magazine covers and our television screens, and gracefully retire from public life. Ideally, taking all other women with her."
But the fact that nobody wants to reckon with the truth does not change the fact that sexism did play a role—a big one—one so big that, if you stop and think about it, is so obvious it's shocking that there's even any controversy. After all, the reaction of the Republican party to what everyone assumed was be the inevitable nomination of the first woman presidential nominee was to choose a man so crudely misogynist that he was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it. Republican voters wore T-shirts that said "Don’t be a pussy. Vote for Trump"; "Trump that Bitch"; "Hillary Sucks, but not like Monica"; and "Hillary for Prison." They sold pins that had pictures of a boy urinating on her name. And that's just for starters.
These lovely items weren't just produced on the sly by enterprising entrepreneurs catering to the fringe. They were sold at the Republican National Convention, the gathering which introduced the nation to the "lock her up" chants that resembled nothing so much as an angry 16th-century mob hysterically demanding a witch burning.
It was vulgar, rank misogyny. It was primal. It was explicit. And unlike the crude subterranean racism that roiled beneath President Obama's two races, it was sanctioned by the highest reaches of the GOP and celebrated before a national television audience. And yet we are supposed to pretend that it didn't happen. And if it did, the woman was asking for it because she was a terrible candidate, even though she won 3 million more votes.
Despite the virtual gag order on talking about sexism in 2016, there have been some intrepid souls who have analyzed polling data and it backs up what we all saw with our own eyes. The Blair Center Poll from the Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas polled 3,668 individuals immediately after the election using the Modern Sexism Scale, a tool similar to those employed by social scientists to detect racial resentment. They asked people to agree or disagree on a scale of one to ten with the following statements:
Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for “equality.”
Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.
Feminists are seeking for women to have more power than men.
When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against.
Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States.
The results are very thorough and complex and show that the 2016 electorate was very much in the grip of sexism. 36.2 percent were clearly sexist and another 16.7 were neutral, although if you have a neutral response to those questions it's a good indication that you aren't exactly a crusader for women's rights. Over half the public has a pretty low opinion of women and their response to those questions explains why nobody wants to hear about it.
And, by the way, I do hope fervently that I am wrong and that it will be a feminist who becomes the first woman president. One got more votes last time, so it's certainly not impossible. But any liberal feminist woman is going to have some big hills to climb even within her own coalition.
What with daily Twitter outbursts from the president's phone, it is hard to ignore the fact that the entity now leading this country is both malevolent, malformed, emotionally and morally stunted. People wanted a businessman running the country as a business. What they elected was a 70 year-old child who has never run anything but a closely held family business. He has no conception what accountability to others even means. Donald Trump couldn't manage a convenience store if the employees weren't relatives hanging on for their inheritance.
Charles Mathewes, Professor of Religious Studies at the university of Virginia, along with PhD candidate Evan Sandsmark comment on the toxic effects of great wealth in the Washington Post. They do not mention the sitting president by name. They don't have to. But he is the occasion for their examination.
The pair cite studies, etc. on the corruptions of wealth, but you don't need a weatherman to know which way Trump's hair blows (or Anthony Scaramucci's, for that matter).
The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree. Ancient Stoic philosophers railed against greed and luxury, and Roman historians such as Tacitus lay many of the empire’s struggles at the feet of imperial avarice. Confucius lived an austere life. The Buddha famously left his opulent palace behind. And Jesus didn’t exactly go easy on the rich, either — think camels and needles, for starters.
That folk belief still holds in many quarters. Pope Francis' quarters in an otherwise opulent Vatican are essentially "a small suite in what is effectively the Vatican’s hostel." But our contemporary view has shifted to something more akin to the NRA's view of firearms. Wealth doesn't corrupt, corrupt people misuse it. As with firearms, we had help reaching that conclusion:
Getting here wasn’t straightforward. Wealth has arguably been seen as less threatening to one’s moral health since the Reformation, after which material success was sometimes taken as evidence of divine election. But extreme wealth remained morally suspect, with the rich bearing particular scrutiny and stigmatization during periods like the Gilded Age. This stigma persisted until relatively recently; only in the 1970s did political shifts cause executive salaries skyrocket, and the current effectively unprecedented inequality in income (and wealth) begin to appear, without any significant public complaint or lament.
The story of how a stigma fades is always murky, but contributing factors are not hard to identify. For one, think tanks have become increasingly partisan over the past several decades, particularly on the right: Certain conservative institutions, enjoying the backing of billionaires such as the Koch brothers, have thrown a ton of money at pseudo-academics and “thought leaders” to normalize and legitimate obscene piles of lucre. They produced arguments that suggest that high salaries naturally flowed from extreme talent and merit, thus baptizing wealth as simply some excellent people’s wholly legitimate rewards. These arguments were happily regurgitated by conservative media figures and politicians, eventually seeping into the broader public and replacing the folk wisdom of yore. But it is hard to argue that a company’s top earners are literally hundreds of times more talented than the lowest-paid employees.
Perhaps the sitting president is simply an extreme case among extreme cases. In Trump's frequent invocation of savage imagery to paint entire populations as "animals" and in systematic public humiliation of his own attorney general, Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune finds not just cruelty, but sadism.
If we survive his tenure, perhaps this administration will provide an object lesson in the toxicity of great wealth. But don't bet on it.
After another tumultuous week under this president, the persistent image of Trump I am left with is the entity Trelane from the Star Trek episode, "The Squire of Gothos." A man with godlike powers but with the temperament of a spoiled child, Trelane fancies himself a 18th century Earth general. He torments the Enterprise crew until they are rescued by the disembodied voices of Trelane's parents who scold him as "disobedient and cruel."
"I didn't do anything wrong. I was just playing," Trelane whines. "Oh, but you saw. I was winning. I would have won. Honest."
"You must forgive our child," Trelane's mother tells Captain Kirk. "The fault is ours for indulging him too much. He will be punished."
Money may corrupt. But there's something worse in charge of the White House. And no one yet to call the spoiled child to stop and come inside.
Saturday Night at the Movies Sisters are doin’ it for themselves: Landline (**½) & Mali Blues (***½)
By Dennis Hartley
Why are New Yorkers always screaming at each other? Is it in order to be heard above the constant din of traffic, sirens, and subway brakes? Maybe there really is something in the water (that same “whatsit” in NYC tap water that makes the bagels taste so…intense).
There’s even more screaming than usual in the latest NYC-based film, Landline. That’s because director/co-writer Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child) sets her tale of two sisters in the mid-1990s, a not-so-bygone era when humans were still experiencing “face time” with each other (now the only time people turn off their goddam personal devices is when they pay $15 to sit in the dark-and watch characters in a film text each other for 2 hours).
Not that there is anything wrong with a dialog-driven film…and every character in Landline has plenty to say, particularly the two sisters I mentioned earlier. Dana (Jenny Slate) is the older of the siblings. She’s recently become engaged to her live-in boyfriend Ben (Jay Duplass), who is a bit of a milquetoast in contrast with his quirky, bubbly fiancée. That could explain why Dana seems to be vacillating about this big commitment.
Something else has been weighing on Dana’s mind…she is beginning to suspect that her father (John Turturro) has been carrying on a longtime affair. When she confides this to her sullen teenage sister Ali (Abby Quinn), the estranged pair begin to bond as they brainstorm on how to dig deeper without sending up red flags to their mom (Edie Falco).
Lots of family angst (and yes, screaming) ensues. Fortunately, there are laughs as well. That said, you do have to wade waist-deep in neurotic New Yorker whingeing for 90 minutes to net the choicest zingers (which average about once every five minutes or so).
Frankly, what primarily keeps this at times blatantly derivative mashup of Hannah and Her Sisters and glorified episode of HBO’s Girls afloat is the appealing cast. The always-reliable Turturro and Falco do that voodoo that they do so well, and Slate and Quinn nicely hold their own against the more seasoned players. Slate, in particular is a young actor I’d love to see more of; she has an unselfconsciously goofy charm that is hard to resist. She’s like the lovechild of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. For all I know…she is.
“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
African women live through too much hell and suffering
We should look again at our ancestral beliefs and assess them
Keep what’s good for us, and reject all that harms us
African women live through too much hell and suffering
They cut it…stop female circumcision!
Mother, it hurts so much
It hurts so much
-from “Boloko”, by Fatoumata Diawara
Needless to say, self-taught Mali guitarist-singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara does not make her living churning out moon-June pop tunes. She is a creative artist who is fiercely and fearlessly dedicated to speaking truth to power. That’s the kind of stance that makes you a lightning rod anywhere in the world (especially if you are a woman), but it borders on suicidal in an impoverished West African nation where Islamic militants have declared war on music and musicians. From a 2012 Guardian article by Andy Morgan:
The pickup halted in Kidal, the far-flung Malian desert town that is home to members of the Grammy award-winning band Tinariwen. Seven AK47-toting militiamen got out and marched to the family home of a local musician. He wasn't home, but the message delivered to his sister was chilling: "If you speak to him, tell him that if he ever shows his face in this town again, we'll cut off all the fingers he uses to play his guitar with."
The gang then removed guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones and a drum kit from the house, doused them with petrol, and set them ablaze. In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music.
When a rabble of different Islamist groups took control of the region in April there were fears that its rich culture would suffer. But no one imagined that music would almost cease to exist – not in Mali, a country that has become internationally renowned for its sound.
"Culture is our petrol," says Toumani Diabaté, the Malian kora player who has collaborated with Damon Albarn and Björk, to name but a few. "Music is our mineral wealth. There isn't a single major music prize in the world today that hasn't been won by a Malian artist."
"Music regulates the life of every Malian," adds Cheich Tidiane Seck, a prolific Malian musician and producer. "From the cradle to the grave. From ancient times right up to today. A Mali without music? No … I mean … give me another one!"
In his new documentary, Mali Blues, Lutz Gregor follows popular world music artist Fatoumata Diawara as she prepares for her appearance at the 2015 Festival of the Niger. Originally born in Ivory Coast to Malian parents and currently living in France, Diawara has not been back to Mali since she left at age 19. That is why her participation in the festival has profound personal significance; it signals Diawara’s first performance in her home country since achieving international recognition and success as a recording artist.
Several of Diawara’s fellow Malian musicians also appearing at the festival are profiled as well, including Taureg guitarist Ahmed Ag Kaedi, rapper Master Soumy, and ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate. As a guitar player, I was particularly taken with Kouyate’s mastery of his instrument...he’s like the Hendrix of the ngoni. I have never seen anyone play an electrified ngoni before; much less enhanced with pedal effects (like a wah-wah). To just look at this oddly rectangular, 4-string banjo-like instrument, you’d never imagine one could wriggle such a broad spectrum of power, beauty and spacious tonality out of it.
Beautifully photographed and edited, with no voiceover to take you out of the frame, Gregor’s documentary plays like a meditative narrative film. In the film’s most bittersweet scene, Diawara performs “Boloko” (her song about the draconian practice of female circumcision) for a small audience of women and girls in a Mali village where she spent her formative years. After a moment of silence once the song ends, the women begin to ruminate. “A song is nothing without its meaning,” one of the women says to Diawara, continuing, “You are good and courageous.” And, as this extraordinary film illustrates, a culture is nothing without its music...or its poetry, literature, or art for that matter. Those who would destroy it will never hold a candle to the good and courageous.