Bloom Briefing 20: Portland and Manchester; Gianforte and 'Snowflakes'; Confederate Memorials; Trump-Russia
Happy Memorial Day, and welcome to the twentieth edition of The Bloom Briefing: Note from the Resistance. The Trump-Russia scandal continued full steam ahead this week, but for those of you interested in reading about other stuff, I’ve included sections on the acts of terrorism in Portland and Manchester, the tearing down of confederate war memorials, and the cowardice of Greg Gianforte.
Acts of Terror in Portland, Manchester
Sometimes words fail us because there is nothing to say. Tragedy strikes, an act of God, lives are destroyed, the damage is incomprehensible, and the world keeps on spinning. Other times words fail us because there is too much to say. The words get stuck on our tongue as we try to push them all out at once. Portland is this latter kind of tragedy. I will try to say what there is to say, but two great men have been mercilessly taken from this world far too soon, and too many lives have been irreparably damaged.
Let’s call attacker Jeremy Joseph Christian what he is: a radical, right-wing Islamophobic, xenophobic, sexist, racist, neo-Nazi terrorist. He started shouting hatefully at two women of color, one wearing a head-covering, when they boarded a public transit train. When several men intervened, he pulled out a knife and slashed them, killing two and injuring a third.
He then fled from the scene. The police tracked him down, yet despite carrying a knife and being covered in blood, they didn't shoot him; he was arrested. Had he been brown and bearded or 17-years-old and black, do we really think he would have been taken alive? Dylann Roof was taken alive. Timothy McVeigh was taken alive. These are some of the worst terrorists in recent American history, yet they were captured. Meanwhile Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and countless other non-threatening, non-criminal black and brown bodies are peppered with bullets.
I was going to write “unnecessarily” in the last sentence, but I am no longer sure that said murder is unnecessary. Unnecessary for what? These killings (in Portland and of our black brothers and sisters) are not random. They are not flukes. They are not unnecessary to those who would commit such heinous acts. These shootings are in fact perceived to be necessary by those whose ends are the preservation of white hegemony, the maintenance of racial hierarchy, or the safeguarding of the psychology of white superiority.
Meanwhile, the effects on the psychology of our brothers and sisters of color is severe. One of the girls verbally accosted by Christian on the Max train tearfully sobbed that the men who defended her “lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we look.”
No, my sister, they lost their lives because America is a country plagued by white insecurity about the equal beauty of all human beings. They lost their lives because a white man was so threatened by the presence of two teenage girls that he had to lash out. They lost their lives to a manifestation of this country’s ugliest impulse, to attack its own greatest asset, its diversity. They lost their lives to radical white terrorism. Like Nazism, radical white terrorism treats white race-traitors no better than those it seeks to exterminate.
But how do we ask these girls to carry on? What can we ever do to reassure them that they are welcome here? What can we do to show them that this country is more theirs than Jeremy Joseph Christian’s? When a man with the same ideology as Christian inhabits the White House, staffs his team with neo-Nazi sympathizers, and uses the same kind of hateful rhetoric himself, what can we possibly say to our brothers and sisters of colors to make them not fear that they, too, will be targets of this white psychosis?
Perhaps we can simply start by treating terrorists the same. After all, Jeremy Joseph Christian has more in common with Salman Abedi than he probably knows. Abedi, the suicide bomber who detonated a bomb at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester earlier this week, also objected to multiculturalism and western liberalism. They both made young girls the focus of their violence. Instead of committing an act of terror on behalf of whiteness and a perverse understanding Christianity, he committed an act of terror on behalf of a perverse understanding of Islam.
Religious fanatics (as these men are) fail to grasp that attacks like the ones in Portland and Manchester undermine their own stated ends. When the foundational principles of democratic society are threatened, individual members of society rush to their defense. Love, liberalism, pluralism - these are the values that give meaning and purpose to our lives. They are abiding principles that link us to our ancestors. They are the enduring and distinguishing principles of a free and open and democratic society. They are undebatable, uncontestable, nonnegotiable components of democratic life. When these values are threatened, our defense of them becomes that much more formidable.
Tearing Down the Confederacy Again
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered one of the speeches of our time this week on the removal of confederate monuments in New Orleans. There are too many standout lines and paragraphs to excerpt them all (so definitely read the transcript), but this paragraph stands out:
“You see - New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum - out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America's largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined 'separate but equal'; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.”
The searing truth indeed. Both Landrieu’s speech and this Jamelle Bouie column seek to place the erection of confederate war memorials in their proper historical context, not as post-war memorials to the fallen, but as late-19th and early-20th-century attempts to rewrite the history of the Civil War. As Landrieu argued, “After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone's lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.”
Just read Landrieu’s speech. It is a work of art.
Greg Gianforte’s Violence is Cowardice Incarnate
At The Atlantic, Adam Serwer wrote an excellent analysis of Greg Gianforte’s now-famous body-slam, comparing it to Preston Brooks’ Senate-floor cane-assault of Charles Sumner. Both, acts of unprovoked violence, were treated as acts of bravery and manliness by their defenders. Serwer argues that they are better understood as acts of cowardice.
“These are the politics of a false valor forged by fear. It is the undercurrent of a politics that defends grown men who stalk black teenagers in the night and then gun them down when they raise their hands in their own defense; it is the politics that rationalizes Ohio police shooting a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun without so much as a chance to surrender; it is the politics of mass deportation and Muslim bans and Blue Lives Matter bills. It is the political logic of frightened people who need to tell themselves they are brave. This is not valor; it is the celebration of violence against those who cannot respond in kind.”
Defenders and promoters of violence, among whom our current president, Greg Gianforte, and many in the conservative media count themselves, in so doing, become nothing more than school-ground bullies.
The other feature of such a politics on which it is important to dwell, is the gendered nature of these arguments that go back to our days in primary school. As a boy, I remember the gendered insults that came with a refusal to participate in confrontation. “Man up,” “Grow a pair,” “don’t be such a pussy,” “suck my dick,” “you cry like a girl,” “don’t be so soft,” etc. The equation here is confrontation is good, strong and masculine, while emotional sensitivity is bad, weak, and feminine.
The term ‘snowflake,’ which a number of conservatives used to describe Ben Jacobs (the body-slammed reporter), is the contemporary, “adult” version of the same insult. The right uses it with exactly these same coded meanings. Jacobs is labeled a ‘snowflake’ not because he was emotionally sensitive, but because he “lost” at confrontation. Student activists are ‘snowflakes’ because they care about how hate speech impacts their ability to learn. It’s squishy and emotional.
In essence, what both these meanings have in common is the transformation of dominance into a virtue. But it’s the gendered nature of the concepts that makes their application inconsistent. Otherwise, how is it not Gianforte who is the ‘snowflake,’ so upset by a question that he resorts to physical violence? Because violence and Gianforte are coded powerful and masculine. Liberal, British (though he’s not), writer are all coded feminine.
When conservatives support Gianforte, or defend or promote the use of physical violence (as Trump did numerous times throughout the campaign), what they are saying is that toxic masculinity is acceptable. The urge to punch, kick, shoot, smash, stab, take, kill, and body-slam is okay… as long as it is masculine manly-men who are doing it to someone or something less masculine.
Violence is violence and violence is wrong. Domination and the enforcement of stratified social hierarchy are wrong. The putting down of those one believes to be “less than” is wrong. Treating physical violence as a virtue, as a representation of masculinity, as worthy of praise is wrong. It is demeaning to women and self-destructive to men. In the end it is nothing more than the absolute conflation of bravery and cowardice.
If you prefer to read this entire argument in humorous form, the Washington Post’s satirist Alexandra Petri was in fine form this week.
It was another week of near-daily scoops on the Trump-Russia scandal.
On Monday, we got confirmation that Flynn would “take the fifth” with respect to turning over his documents to the senate panel investigating him; Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, accused Flynn of lying to the Pentagon about his contacts with foreign leaders. Then the bombshell of the day was that Trump asked two heads of intelligence to push back on the FBI’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians. That's not the appearance of a cover-up. That's an attempted cover-up.
On Tuesday, we learned that the Federal Election Commission is considering whether to expand its own probe into the Trump campaign “to investigate whether Russian agents paid for Facebook ads to spread damaging stories about Hillary Clinton ahead of last fall’s presidential election.” The FEC is already investigating collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia. Also on Tuesday, ex-C.I.A. chief John Brennan testified that he believed Russia was attempting to influence the Trump campaign.
On Wednesday, the New York Times learned that U.S. intelligence services had received intelligence last summer that the Russian government was attempting to look into how to influence Trump through his top advisors, specifically Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.
On Thursday, remarkably, there was no above-the-fold breaking news about Trump and Russia.
Then on Friday, the Washington Post broke probably the biggest story of the week, and perhaps to-date in the Trump-Russia scandal: Jared Kushner asked Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to use Russia secret facilities in the U.S. to establish a secret line of communication with Moscow. And oh by the way, Michael Flynn was at that meeting too.
Remember that this is Jared Kusner, nepotistically given a role in the White House after a career as the inheritor of a family real estate business… which brings me to my “if you read one thing this week” recommendation: ProPublica published a must-read profile of Kushner’s real estate activities. Hint: he’s a slum-lord. It’s a shocking (but not when you stop to think about) tale of avarice. He and Donald are two peas in a pod.
Despite the investigation into Kushner, despite the fact that he asked the Russians for a secret communications channel with Russia, despite his lack of qualification for his role and total incompetence, he remains employed by the White House with security clearance. This is, I should not have to say, a danger to our country.
If you’re looking for a fuller recap of what went down this week, complete with how it fits into the broader portfolio of the Trump-Russia scandal, Jack Shafer’s overview in Politico is masterful. I’ll leave you with the best paragraph:
“This was the week that the seeds of scandal and ineptitude planted over the past six months finally sprouted their first shoots, wrapping green tendrils around the president’s ankles and around the throats of his aides, yanking them to earth. This was the week the idea that Trump could stall or outrun his tormentors was put to rest as two congressional committees, one special counsel, the FBI and the deep state pressed him from every angle. Trump is now caught in history’s grinder, and the sparks and noise emitted are lighting up the media universe.”
At New York Magazine, Rebecca Traister wrote a wonderful (and long) piece on Hillary Clinton. “A competent woman losing a job to an incompetent man is not an anomalous Election Day surprise; it is Tuesday in America.”
At BuzzFeed, Ben Smith has written about the changing nature of the Democratic Party.
At Slate, Jamelle Bouie has written about the menace that is David Clarke.
At DCist, Rachel Sadon has introduced us to a new hero: C. Christine Fair, who confronted Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi, at the gym. Fair’s Tumblr post about the incident is a simply magical rant.
At the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum has written about the upending of the American-European alliance: “Trump prefers the company of dictators who flatter him to democrats who treat him as an equal.”
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