Bloom Briefing 2: Women's March on Washington, End of American Empire, Thanks Obama, Cycling and Gender
Welcome to the Trump years, or, as I prefer, the resistance years. The times ahead will be challenging. They will test our mettle and resolve, but we have the opportunity to remake our world in a better image, an exciting opportunity indeed.
For those of you new to the newsletter, welcome! I write a weekly roundup of topical political articles and ideas. I'm eager to hear why you think I'm right or, more interestingly, wrong. I hope you enjoy!
Dispatch from the Women’s March on Washington
WHAT. A. DAY. Yesterday, millions of women (and some men) across the world took to the streets to show tremendous solidarity with the many marginalized members of our society. Over 1% of the country participated in a mass protest demonstration of love and respect. They protested for equal rights for women, for our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters, and for immigrants. They insisted that #BlackLivesMatter, and that the earth be protected from our exploitation. They demanded that all Americans, regardless of religion or gender or sexual orientation or race or looks or ability or anything be treated with dignity and respect.
The atmosphere at the National Mall in Washington was one predominantly of love and hope. Those of us who were there were doing our best to build each other up. While there were some anti-Trump chants, more common were chants of “no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here” and “women’s rights are human rights” and “black lives matter.” Unity through affirmation is much harder than unity through shared antipathy, but it was this more challenging and powerful unity that was the prevailing sentiment.
There remains much work to be done, but the resistance is well and fully underway. It is my belief that when liberal democracy is threatened by a president (and congress) who not only do not believe in liberal democracy but show active antipathy towards its founding principles (see below), resistance is the only moral option. A few million of our fellow citizens agree. We must build on this momentum, but we can do so strengthened in our resolve by the fact that so many of our citizens have our back.
The Fall of the American Republic
At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jonathan Kirshner ponders if the American Empire is situated on the precipice of its collapse. He reminds us, in the context of our current political predicament, that the “great civilizations almost invariably collapse from within.” And he argues that many of the norms which protected us from repeating the great horrors of the 20th-century are now tenuously sustained or gone entirely.
Kirschner makes a reasonably good case “that we have exposed the limits of our ability to govern ourselves.” After all, as much as the left might like to blame the right for the rise of Trump, the Democratic Party was complicit in the deregulation of the financial industry which led to the financial crisis and, subsequently, the Great Recession. Both parties’ politicians are deeply dependent on the financing of the special interests they should be looking to regulate.
Of course, the transgressions are not equivalent, particularly when it comes to issues of inclusivity. Republicans are far more likely to support the soft racism of the politics of white resentment than Democrats are. Many conservatives who would disavow David Duke with the strongest possible language are totally fine complaining that white people are victims of a government scheme to benefit their fellow black and brown citizens. “Scratch at the arguments of a Trump voter, and too often you’ll find white resentment close to the surface,” as Kirschner puts it.
Woven throughout this piece are elucidating references to mid-century Germany and France. As Hitler was able to motivate the most unsavory characters of Germany through a politics of racial resentment, “Trump’s unmediated racism warmed the hearts of once-shadowy white supremacists.” Even if we survive the next four years, vote Trump out of office, reform the political system, and restore to order some functioning government, “we will always be the country that elected Donald Trump.” Countries around the world will look at us in the way we look slightly askance, with suspicion, of Germany... even today.
The best of these historical anecdotes, however, is Kirschner’s conclusion about how we proceed: resist. “They resisted in occupied France, they resisted in Franco’s Spain. Even in the twilight years of the 1930s, times considerably darker than today, regular men and women stood up against much graver dangers and longer odds than those we now face. They did not resist, necessarily, because they thought they would win, they resisted because they simply could not imagine collaborating, even passively.”
This is the situation in which we find ourselves today. Collaboration with a racist demagogue, with an authoritarian liar, with a know-nothing bully is simply unacceptable and unimaginable. All the more appropriate, then, that many of us have adopted the language of those intrepid individuals of occupied France: “Viva la Resistance.”
Thanks Obama, with Sincerity
Carvell Wallace has written for the New Yorker about how his view of the world has shifted in the 8 years of the Obama presidency. He writes of growing up afraid of racists as a kid, how Obama’s election gave him hope, and how Obama’s presidency made him feel powerful.
President Obama was the epitome of class, deliberation, thoughtfulness, and grace. In spite of this (or because of it), “he was called names and branded by the opposition as a failure. His citizenship and religion were called into question. Republicans in the House and Senate preferred to nearly tank the country rather than appear to be in league with him. Newscasters vociferously questioned his fitness for the job. These reactions moved beyond the terrifying and into the cartoonish. White racism, which I used to take so seriously, came, more and more, to seem childish and pitiful to me.”
It is the decadence of white racism, from omnipotent and ubiquitous threat to cartoonish pettiness, that Wallace takes to be the strengthening salve of the Obama years. The arguments of racists are bad. They are foolish. And knowing that truth and history and moral righteousness are on your side makes you powerful.
A Small Victory
Sports are not frequently bastions of progressivism. Their politically progressive moments tend to come via individual player actions as opposed to those of the governing bodies (NBA players wearing “I can’t breathe” shirts, for example; or Colin Kaepernick’s, and others’, anthem protests). The governing bodies and teams themselves tend to express strictly centrist viewpoints (when any are expressed) that they feel will avoid alienating any sizable number of fans.
Depending upon how you look at it then, this weeks’ move by the Tour Down Under, cycling’s first major race of the season, to eliminate the use of podium girls is either a testament to progress made in the struggle for women to be treated as more than sexual objects or an unusually progressive action from a sports franchise (of sorts).
Podium girls, for those of you uninitiated with this vestigial custom of professional cycling, are two women, generally selected exclusively on the basis of their visual appeal, to flank the winner(s) of the stage. They present the trophy, zip up the winner’s special jersey (it goes on top of the one they wore for the race), and then pose for photos while kissing the winner on the cheek.
This has gone on in professional cycling for decades, and the Tour Down Under’s move won’t impact more major races in less gender-progressive countries; Australia does better on these issues than places like Italy, Spain, and France which play host to cycling’s three grand tours. Nonetheless, it strikes me as a move in the right direction, and, at the very least, will spur a conversation about gender representation in professional cycling.
If you enjoy this newsletter, consider sharing it with friends and family who you think might enjoy it too. New subscribers can sign up here.