Bill Clinton’s Re-Evaluation

Bill Clinton’s Re-Evaluation

History is always being rewritten. The heroes of yesterday become the villains of today. We’ve seen this with the toppling of statues recently and the scathing rebukes of once-beloved or admired figures such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, After all, our values change and once ignored facts (inconveniences), such as Churchill’s white supremacy , come into greater light with new appreciation (or lack thereof). This revisionism is natural and no historical evaluation is without fault.

But something’s changed as of late. Our fervent grasps for social justice have left us empty-handed too often when it comes to a nuanced appreciation of certain historical figures. We fail to see these figures as a whole because one nibbling, doubtful, pernicious defect often overrides all common sense. In this case, I’m referring to the scandals that detract from the legacy of William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States (1993-2001).

Speculation and Scandals

Now, don’t get me wrong. The man is problematic, if we must indulge that favored millennial word. Some of the decisions made under his administration have had negative consequences, ranging from the short-sighted (crime bills, economic impairments linked to the 2008 crash) to the devastating (initial inaction in Bosnia and Rwanda). But really, what people focus on, in their retribution, is the man’s personal life. How many affairs has he had? Is his marriage an arranged partnership? What exactly was the nature of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein? At the very least, the latter one should be investigated because of the differences in accounts being brought forward (it’s said he may have taken up to 26 flights on Epstein’s private jet and visited the island, although no affairs with any of the girls have been exposed). As for the other questions, one could defend him and say he has the right to a private life and that it’s unimportant in the larger scheme of things but instead of doing that, I will touch on the nature of speculation that surrounds the Clintons.

Speculation has hindered both Bill and Hillary’s public image more than any other figure in American politics. There’s always been this pervasive feeling that they’ve been up to something, be it through business connections or the Clinton Global Initiative, which arouses suspicion in the form of a lingering, shadowy question mark. The more questions that arise, the darker that shadow gets, even if there’s no substance or merit behind the question. What was Whitewater? I don’t know, man, but there’s something there. What were in Hillary’s emails? Shrug. And why did Vince Foster kill himself? Did he know something the Clintons wanted kept secret?

Indeed, the latter episode was a most shameful one in American history given the man’s longtime friendship to Bill. But when the Deputy White House Counsel committed suicide, Bill wasn’t even afforded a common level of decency in his grief. Ken Starr and the Republicans spent all their energy trying to discredit the man with a new, nasty kind of politics that involved personal injury at whatever cost. When the Whitewater investigation, which began looking into the real estate dealings of the Clintons, proved unfruitful, they simply kept the heat going. The Paula Jones’ sexual harassment allegations also persevered, though the Republicans were quite ready to redirect their focus when the “gift” of Monica Lewinsky came around.

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Clinton’s famous “I did not have sexual relations” moment.

In this regard, Bill deservedly brought some of the wrath upon himself. In a deposition, he was blind sighted by Lewinsky’s name being brought up and denied any “sexual relations”, given the legal definition provided by the Starr counsel. It was a technically correct answer but an unwise and immoral move that reinforced his image as a dodgy, snake-like politician. For months, he would deny the nature of their relationship, even to his staff and Hillary, until it became too obvious he was lying, or in his words “misleading” the nation. It was a personal embarrassment and a horrible thing to do to both Hillary and Monica, whose life would be greatly affected as a result (although, this enters the realm of cyber bullying for which many millions more than Bill also deserve a portion of blame).

Many people today, in light of the #metoo movement, point to this scandal as a demonstrable abuse of power. A couple of years back, Clinton’s attempts to salvage himself and take on an interviewer who brought it up, only served to convey a seeming lack of empathy on his part. Lewinksy, too, has been critical of the president, who never apologized directly to her.

That’s something he really should have done, straight away. He should have apologized to Monica and her family because they were given an unwarranted amount of press, that was relentless and downright mean. That’s not necessarily his fault but he could’ve stepped in and said “enough is enough, we’ve all made mistakes, leave her alone.” I think that would’ve helped but I also believe nothing he could have said or done would ever have been enough. Remember, this scandal came about, not because the people were concerned with Clinton’s supposed weakness for women but because the Republicans were attempting to destroy his presidency.

The impeachment which resulted was largely a joke, made in a last-ditch effort to humiliate Bill. Already, the Democrats had won back the House while his and Hillary’s approval ratings shot up. Back then, people had a better understanding of what was actually going on and in a universal middle-finger to the GOP, took to the polls. Ordinary people and leaders of other nations, including Neslon Mandela and Tony Blair, would stand by Clinton with the belief that he was a decent man who had done a bad thing. Today, I can’t imagine the same thing would play out and that’s not an effort to outright dismiss our morals. Integrity is important and we should expect it in our world leaders but let’s face it, there are more important things at play in shaping that integrity than personal scandals and failings.

The Record: A Moderate Democrat

Another interesting nugget you might hear about Bill Clinton was that he was not all that progressive or liberal. Correct. In the 1980s, the Democratic Party weren’t exactly on their A-game. Following the largely besmirched Carter Presidency (and for the record, he’s my favorite president), which was plagued by a struggle between moderacy and liberalism in the 1980 primaries, they had a hard time finding their footing. Eventually, the party’s liberals acquiesced to the more pragmatic middle-ground ideologies of the likes of Clinton, which gave way to a presidential victory after three consecutive Republican terms bolstered by the Reagan revolution and a strong but faltering economy. Reaganomics was good politics but very much the “voodoo economics” George HW Bush had called it when up against Reagan in 1980. By 1990, Bush had to rescind his “no new taxes” pledge for the good of the nation. It was a bold but noble move that damaged him in the 1992 election.

The first baby-boomer president made the economy one of his top priorities and actually left the country with a surplus, three years in a row at the end of his tenure. This had not been achieved since the post-war years under Harry Truman. Given Bush’s concession to the Democrats in 1990 and some of the negative consequences that resulted in 2008 (although that can be attributed to several administrations), this achievement has appropriately been lessened but it still remains a positive in most historians’ eyes. In the following years that would see major tax cuts and costly wars, people would naturally look back on the Clinton Presidency, in this regard, with nostalgia. It was a relatively prosperous time, helped by the rise of the Internet but also by a set of steady hands.

Social unrest was also another major concern which helped Clinton get elected. He pledged to invest in more police forces to keep the streets safe. This was a popular stance to take and received bi-partisanship support, resulting in the lowest crime rate America had in decades. Unfortunately however, this also led to a rise in mass-incarceration with arrests of minorities and low-grade drug offenders. Undoubtedly this has tainted his legacy and deservedly so, with both Bill and Hillary admitting that aspects of the crime bill needing to be revisited. Part of the problem, as most people now see it however, also lies with pervasive racism in certain areas and unaccountable police officers; a common trend that stretches back way before this crime bill passed.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of 1993 was another controversial measure. Bill had pledged in his campaign that gays could serve in the military. Many opposed this. So, quite quickly, they compromised. Basically, gays could serve but couldn’t come out as gay. Better than nothing? Possibly but ultimately, a pretty feeble gesture, which Bill was quite happy to get rid of, given the controversy surrounding such a topic at the time.

What’s interesting about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, along with some of Clinton’s other compromises is that they demonstrated a strategic tactfulness to his administration. Elected as essentially a moderate, he was willing to settle for what he could get, aware that the Republicans (who swept into power in the 1994 midterms) would accept only certain things. Another example: Hillary’s health-care led initiative essentially stalled that same year with fervent opposition. Aware of this, they worked to at least provide health care to children with CHIP (Children Healthcare Insurance Program).

Compromise is often seen as a dirty word. The Clintons were largely pragmatic though, aware of the political game and very much willing to play it. Even in his memoir, My Life, Bill Clinton can’t help but admire the strategy Newt Gingrich employed to lead his party to victory in 1994. The problem arises when people perceive their party as moving away from their traditional values and causes. The Republicans’ success and move to the right in the 1980s didn’t result in the Democrats following suit towards their side. Rather, they also moved to the right. This meant, for many, that a moderate Democrat was essentially an old-style conservative. Of course, now that the Democratic Party has actually started to move to the left, we’re in a whole different scenario, which lends credence to the liberal critics of the Clinton administration.

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Bill Clinton delivers his State of the Union address in 1995.

Political pragmatism is important though, even if perceived as selling out. Had Ted Kennedy been more willing to work with Jimmy Carter’s more pragmatic approach to health care, then they might have actually gotten something achieved instead of nothing. The Clintons failed to get health care too, as so many before had, but at least they tried and got something done. After all, millions of children as a result were given a safety net they otherwise would not have had.

This pragmatism became all the more crucial however in Clinton’s foreign affairs, which began on a rocky trajectory before steadily improving. First, there was Black Hawk Down, which cast doubt over whether Clinton could really manage a humanitarian crisis. Initially, the US had been successful in their Somalian dealings at the end of Bush’s presidency (Bush being, by most accounts, a masterful player on the world stage). Then Bosnia followed, which saw a massive ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. At first, the US were hesitant in their approach but by 1995, Clinton came into his own as commander-in-chief, sending in forces. Perhaps he had learned from the Rwandan genocide, which he always regretted inaction about. Part of the problem was public opposition to US intervention elsewhere, given the disaster of Somalia. It seemed navigating the morality of the US’ role in these conflicts was not always that black and white. You were damned if you acted and damned if you didn’t.

By the late 1990s however, Bill Clinton was very much a respected leader around the world. The intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was seen as a prudent step across the board, between Democrats and Republicans, and he had helped negotiate the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the year before, which greatly helped the situation in Northern Ireland. While his efforts to formulate a lasting peace agreement between Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David ultimately stalled in 2000, it was seen later as one of the better attempts made by a US president at resolving the problem.

Legacy

Towards the end of his presidency, when asked about his legacy, Bill Clinton saw it in terms of navigating the shift from one American age (Industrial) to another (the Information Age) as had occurred a century before. He felt the historians would wonder whether he had succeeded in preparing America for the new century but he was realistic even in his thinking, realizing that if George W. was elected and the Republicans regained power, much of what he had achieved could be undone. Indeed, that became the case notably when the Brady Bill (which acquired some gun control legislation) wasn’t renewed.

It may not stand in the mercurial tide of politics as one of the most important presidencies of American history but in my opinion, it was a good one. Despite personal setbacks and a new norm of vitriolic partisanship, Clinton was able to hone in on what could be achieved and act accordingly. While negative consequences arose as tributaries to the main functions of certain bills (like the crime bill), the overall objectives were usually sound and reasoned. His foreign relations too were smart without recklessness (queue an analysis of the Bush II administration) and where he failed (e.g. Rwanda, Somalia), he at least had the decency to learn and make adjustments so he could help (queue an analysis of the Trump administration).

Of course, consensus and absolute certainty make for a dismal appreciation of any historical figure when discussing nuance. Most US presidents have been imperfect with wildly mixed legacies. It can’t be helped when you’re playing chess on such a massive scale. I decided to write this long piece and read his ridiculously long memoir (958 pages) because I felt we were in danger of simplifying this man’s legacy. In the years that have passed since his presidency, he’s gone from one of the most respected world leaders to a figure of disdain, even for many from his own party. I wouldn’t go so far as to point to Hillary’s loss in 2016 as a referendum on their legacy but in this new age of evaluation, I feel the constraints of examining history through a modern lens should be acknowledged.

Context is key to any historical understanding and we can learn from history. But just as the problems of today don’t necessarily require the attitudes and solutions of years before, so too did the problems of those years not necessarily requite the outlook we would hold now.

Statues: Heritage and Hate

Statues: Heritage and Hate

As someone who studied History to an MA level, I often find myself dismayed and a little disappointed at the trivial and reductive nature by which certain historical figures and events are popularly surmised. This includes the Clinton and Nixon legacies being arraigned around scandals, the morality of the Atomic Bomb drop, and the retrospective reassessment of leaders such as Churchill.

So let’s make something clear as quickly as possible. I do not admire people like Churchill and in his case, think revisionism as related to his treatment of India is in dire need of being taught more expansively at school-level. It is true to call a man a monster on one end and an inspiring leader on another however. For generations, he was held as a key figure of inspiration for Britons, primarily for the speeches he gave during their darkest hour. That should not be disregarded as we move forward in tackling our understanding of history. In fact, I think it’s even important that the pendulum of scholarly and popular opinion swings the other way, so that we might arrive at a more reasoned disposition.

In this particular scenario, I think I’m against statues of Churchill being taken down and that is with full knowledge of him being a dick. While his legacy will continue to darken as we adopt more liberal viewpoints, his importance within his period will never change. Indeed, most statues commemorate leading figures who were at one stage beloved or felt representative of an ideology or cause within a specific framework. For that reason, I felt for quite a long time, that history should be kept on the long finger, examined but without emotional plea or reckoning from a modern viewpoint. Naturally, I’ve learned it’s not that simple.

First of all, it’s rather easy and insensitive for another white man to dismiss concerns over historical monuments and statue for the sake of preserving heritage and culture. In the US, Black people’s lives are affected by a deeply ingrained, systemic racism that branches out to government, employment, and pretty much everything, including statues. Seeing the likes of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee memorialised is a sickening kind of reminder that while, yes, the Confederates lost the Civil War, they’re very much still the boss. I can try and do my best to be an ally but being frank and realistic, I can never fully appreciate how difficult that must be to face.

So why keep Confederate statues up then? Well, you could argue history comprises the good and the bad, that both interweave in the fabric of American culture but the legacy of the Civil War and slavery is still pertinent to today. So, maybe certain statues should be removed. Let’s face it, people are unlikely to forget these historical figures and if what they stood for is largely discredited or maligned, then what exactly are we holding them up for. Churchill, at least, fought against the totalitarianism of a greater racism in Nazism. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, led the defected states in an effort to defend slavery. He was an important figure, yes, but one, only the very ill-nerved would try to defend.

What about Christopher Columbus then? Here’s a figure more removed from the current climate of racism and division but whose lasting imprint on American history is just as deadly, if not more so, in the eyes of Native Americans. Several statues of his have been targeted in recent weeks, including a decapitation in Boston (as the above picture). These instances have given me more pause for thought because they raise the question of just how far back we can go in our quest for reappraising history. I’ve no interest in defending his character, of course, but to cast judgment on the imperialist and colonist mindset of 15th century figures just strikes me as bizarre. Should we target everyone from the past who committed unspeakable atrocities or put aside our distaste at some point? I do not mean to be glib on this but to what extent can we remove our emotions from the past?

Again, history is complicated and the “greats”, even more so. A statue of Thomas Jefferson was toppled in Portland, Oregon recently; a founding father, who owned nearly 200 slaves, had relationships with several but who was also one of the most notable opponents of slavery in his time, calling it a “moral blot” that was the greatest threat to America. How can we reconcile such hypocrisy? You could argue that slavery was central to the American economic system but even then, you’d then have to face the fact that that system thrived because Black people were dehumanised so whites could justify their fortitude. Unfortunately, even the noblest of historical figures (like Lincoln) held views we’d be deeply offended by today.

Context is key in our appreciation for the past. We should not judge harshly but we should not ignore clear violations of human rights, atrocities, and their lasting legacies, especially when they’re still so prescient today. In this sense, I think there’s reasonable doubt for both sides on the argument of whether statues should be kept or removed. The question which then arises is who gets to decide and when petitions are ignored or not given proper evaluation (as felt with the Cecil Rhodes statue), can we not expect others to take a stand?

I’m fully willing to accept my viewpoint on this is at best limited but when history is devalued to base analyses, I think it’s important to take a step back and think. Maybe there are better ways to memorialise our leaders or reflect on past events. In Berlin, they’ve done this with the Holocaust memorial and other centres which acknowledge their darkest chapter without trying to erase or sweep over it. Maybe that’s better or maybe we do need to take on each statue with a specific lens as to what it represented, what it represents now, and will, in the future.

Online Convenience

The quarantine has yanked the rope sharply in the tug of war between online convenience and retail industry. As the likes of Amazon and Walmart thrive in the current climate, many other major vendors have suffered remarkably, knocked flat in an already losing battle. In the US, J.Crew, Neiman Marcus, JCPenney, and more have filed for bankruptcy; a most disturbing development since these are nationwide chains. What hope can there be for local businesses if they fail?

Perhaps this is just the nature of our capitalist, economic model. Perhaps, the truly innovative and adaptable industries will emerge stronger than ever when things get back on track. Perhaps, this quarantine has even just sped things up that were bound to happen.

It’s true that Amazon offers a much faster, reliable, and convenient service than most stores can afford to but are we really serving our greater interests in investing all our purchases through them? Don’t get me wrong. I’ve used this site many times, have a Kindle, and think Audible is great! It’s also much cheaper and that’s in Ireland, where it’s not even at the height of its powers! In America with Prime, you can get your treadmill or shelf or box of Sour Patch Kids sent to you in two days! Why would you go through the hassle of a trip to a supermarket or independent retailer when you know that you’ll have to pay more and even expose yourself to the virus?

That’s a hard thing to argue against. After all, we should be social distancing and with uncertain economic times ahead, we should all be saving as much as we can. Indeed, there’s very little room for some high-minded rhetoric. Or at least there would be, if this kind of thinking wasn’t so short-sighted and narrow-minded.

Monopolies are not good. They’re not even in the spirit of capitalism. They pave the way for uniformity and sheer blandness in the products we buy, effectively reduce employment opportunities, and discourage trade unions and workers’ rights. After all, what real incentive is there for benefits, sick leave, and other amenities when there’s little to no alternative options for your employee?

Amazon’s record on employee treatment is, in this regard, exceptionally bad but I don’t want to focus on the titans of modern industry purely because really, we (or the growing majority of us) are also to blame. We simply can’t expect new businesses to flourish or even some of the older ones if we demand this level of convenience. Yes, customer service is important and sometimes we’re on a budget but even for the pure sake of imagination, how about we exhibit a little patience and try to help the little guy out for once? Our world would be a lot better for it and in time, many of our towns might even lose those tumbleweeds soundtracked by slide guitars.

At present, this seems like an almost irresponsible message to spread given that aforementioned pandemic. With a little common sense though, I think most people can visit their corner shop, local supermarket, or bookstore with reasonable peace of mind. They might not be able to prevent a recession from occurring but they can make things so much better by keeping these local industries afloat. Even, the other major retailers in competition with Amazon and Walmart deserve our business. It’s better to have five titans than two!

The choice is yours… for now. I will, personally, be making an effort to shop locally as much as possible when businesses attempt to reopen this summer. Will I buy anything online? Of course. Sometimes I need to for presents if they’re not available nearby and have a date to order by. But if you can’t resist that urge to splurge while browsing then at least have the decency to not buy your Sour Patch Kids through Amazon.

Will Corona Response Be Trump’s End?

Throughout history, it’s often been the case that great crises produce great leaders, should they meet the challenge of their time. Lincoln prevailed in his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment during the bloodiest war in American History. Franklin D. Roosevelt saw America through both the Great Depression and World War II. Even John F. Kennedy, to a less significant extent, bolstered his legacy by navigating the Cuban Missile Crisis (although it must be said, this was a crisis he had a hand in creating). In trying times, petty squabbles are usually put aside, and people do something quite rare; they support their leaders.

That support can be inspiring albeit brief. After the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush’s approval ratings rose to 90%. His father’s also peaked during the Gulf War, a decade before. In both cases, those numbers quickly dwindled. I would like to suspect the same will happen for Donald J. Trump, whose approval ratings have somehow risen, despite a disastrous response to Covid-19.

I would like to think that because…

The effects of his inaction and bluster are palpable. As I write (Easter Sunday), the death toll in the US resulting from Covid-19 has reached 20,000. Unfortunately, that will continue to rise and many more will continue to be incapacitated to some extent or another. Hospitals are overwhelmed and there are not enough face masks to go around. Trump’s position has shifted considerably from a month ago when he glibly downplayed the extent of the crisis; something a lot of people did, but not those with top-level intel. I’m glad he is now taking it seriously and yes, perhaps it could’ve gotten a lot worse but really, with a competent president, it could’ve been a lot better.

Before this crisis, Trump had already made a mockery of the Oval Office and committed himself to the status of being the worst US President in history. However, a lot of his legacy was also built on the fragmentation of politics and polarisation of liberals and conservatives. The latter, fervent in their beliefs, would not give an inch even if it meant ignoring treason on their leader’s part. That’s pretty despicable and we can get into it another day but what’s fundamentally different about this crisis, is that politics simply shouldn’t enter the equation. Trump’s response is not political dogma; it’s sheer incompetence. Economically and emotionally, neither liberals or conservatives will be spared. The figures speak for themselves.

Alas though, I suspect he might survive this…

His election in 2016 was a fathomless affair so who’s to say this will finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? He’s defied reason and become exception at every other turn. Maybe, ideological differences will continue to outweigh any other perceptions. Maybe, this will still not give credence to the importance of a comprehensive health care system. Plus…

Well, you might have heard that Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic race last week. This was a surprising turn for many although even if the primaries weren’t delayed, he was unlikely to succeed (being 300 delegates behind). Effectively, this has rendered “Sleepy Joe” the Democratic nominee. Again, I would like to think he would be a shoe-in to defeat Trump but his interviews thus far have been… they’ve been disastrous. Let’s not beat around the bush. He’s clearly out of his wits; uncertain of what he’s quoting, what he’s saying, and what exactly is going on. Is this a harsh assessment? Yes. But a necessary one. Joe. Needs. To. Get. His. Shit. Together. Hillary Clinton lost to Trump after all. Joe Biden, like her, is perceived by many as an establishment centrist but he’s a) “another old white dude” and b) less smart.

Now, Bernie’s supporters should do what they can to help him get elected. Although he has an iffy track record in several departments and is a less than ideal substitute for a progressive, he is a lot better than Trump. He will be reasonable, he may even work with some of those progressives, and yes, restoring a sense of normality would be a good thing. More importantly though, there’s just too much at stake to take a risk at another four years. Joe and his cohorts are right when they say the character of America would be fundamentally changed by a second term.

I’m not a big fan of theoretic propositions or what ifs when it comes to history. That way lies some Back to the Future II madness. But what if we actually tried to learn something from this crisis. It’s a devastating and frankly depressing time and one which should not be trivialised. To that extent, I’d like to specify that I’m not referring to some vague spiritual reawakening on mankind’s part or for the celebrities involved in that “Imagine” cover to reconvene and do better. I mean, what if we learn to appreciate and prioritise what matters on a practical level: the health care system. For too long, America’s rolled the dice on this one and sorry to say, it’s coming back to bite them on the ass. Politicians have sold out their peoples’ future and now innocent, less well-off people are suffering in the masses.

This crisis couldn’t have been avoided completely but it could’ve done with a steady pair of hands and a calm, reassuring voice. Like Obama’s. Trump is no leader. He’s not a unifier. He’s not smart. He’s not willing to learn. His ego means more to him than the lives of his people. That’s a hard truth for people to accept but we’re running out of time for bullshit. Again, politics shouldn’t matter. How could they in this situation? There’s no use left in blaming all those who voted for him in 2016 but it’s time to start thinking about what it’d be like to have, if not a genius in the Oval Office, a decent individual?

Super Super Tuesday

Super Super Tuesday

Or “The Washington Walrus’ Guide & Insight to Super Tuesday”.

What makes Super Tuesday so super? And why have we, The Washington Walrus, elected to add another “super” into the mix? Yes, this was no fortuitous matter. For you see, while the media and pundits have been endlessly speculating on the ramifications of the debates and results from recent primaries/caucuses, the fact of the matter is that everything could go topsy turvy this Tuesday coming. Here’s a few questions we’ve submitted and answered ourselves to shed some light.

What is Super Tuesday?

It’s like the Wrestlemania of the primary season for Republicans and Democrats. Since there’s nothing going on with the former party, the latter will be granted the full glare of the spotlight when 14 states (and the American Samoa caucuses) go up for grabs.

What are these states?

There’s Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.

How many delegates are up for grabs?

A thousand, three hundred and thirty four! To put this in context, 100 have been granted so far (with 54 more shortly as South Carolina is decided) out of a total 3,979. So while it’s not a complete deal breaker, it’s a very strong indicator of where the stars align.

What state has the most?

California with 415.

So should the candidates not put more effort into the likes of California than say, Maine?

Now, now. Maine’s 24 delegates may seem meager in comparison but the little things matter and come the general election, you’ll want to make sure you’ve covered more than just the east and west coast. Hillary learned this the hard way. After all, the electoral college is still a thing.

What is the electoral college?

Ughh… we’ll get to that at another time.

So why is so much emphasis placed on Iowa?

As aforementioned, the media revel in a good post-results analysis and while this may not account for what happens Super Tuesday, it’s important to see who has momentum. Iowa, as the first state, is something of a springboard. When Pete Buttigieg prematurely announced his victory (quite unfairly and somewhat inaccurately), he got the spotlight to shine just a little brighter on him. Sleepy Joe, on the otherhand, with his lack of success, quickly got painted as a candidate in decline.

Who’s leading right now?

Without South Carolina’s results accounted for, Bernie Sanders is leading at the moment with 45 delegates; Mayor Pete’s in 2nd place with 25; Sleepy Joe with 15, Elizabeth Warren with 8, and Amy Klobuchar with 7.

Who’s going to win Super Tuesday?

With a diverse range of states, nobody exactly wins, although a victor will be painted as such. It’s a little hard to call. Bernie Sanders has recently been topping polls nationwide so my money would be on him. This could be a turning point for the trailing Joe Biden however, who’s asserted he has a better chance of winning over Trump supporters and more moderate democrats. Mayor Pete too, is angling this territory whilst Elizabeth Warren’s settled into the gap between Bernie and them. In the end though, it’ll probably be a mix with Pete and Biden (and possibly Warren) hanging on through to the end of March.

What about Bloomberg?

His debate performances thus far have been so terrible that his camp could even do with getting help from Jeb! 2016 (don’t forget the exclamation mark). He has a tonne of money though, so you can’t exactly rule him out.

When exactly will we know who the Democratic nominee is?

The primary season ends in early June, although we should have a good idea by the end of April. Then, of course, there’s the shadowy league of super-delegates to deal with.

What are super-delegates?

Nobody quite knows. It is said they were born from an occult-like, yet beige, experiment in the woods when leading Democratic establishment figures realized they could lose the run of things after several disappointing election results. Actually, we wrote an article back in 2016 about them if you’re interested but what you need to know is that at 775 members (this year), they make up 1/5 of the total delegates and vote after the primary season is over. They’re criticized largely because they can potentially muck up things and could undermine the nomination of, oh let’s say, Bernie Sanders, should he prove problematic to the party’s core members.

When is Super Tuesday?

This Tuesday. We already mentioned this.

Ah.

Indeed. Any other questions?

Yes, why is this site called the Washington Walrus? 

Washington- cause we deal primarily with American politics. Walrus- to suggest a degree of majesty.

I don’t know if they’re all that majestic-

We said a degree of- that concludes this article!

 

 

 

My Favorite President: Jimmy Carter

My Favorite President: Jimmy Carter

On Presidents’ Day, we like to take some time out from covering current events and issues to look back at past presidents, their ups and downs, and how they shaped the United States. In 2017, we ranked the modern presidents (including Trump) and last year, we pondered which presidents might make up a Mount Rushmore of the worst leaders (including Trump). This year, we’re taking a positive turn to examine my favorite president; James Earl Carter (1977-1981).

Let’s address first the fact that Carter was not a popular leader and is not even that well regarded by Democrats or Republicans. With massive levels of inflation, long lines for petrol, an energy crisis, and a tense Iranian hostage situation dominating headlines in the late 1970s, it was only natural that his image would suffer. Besides these largely external factors however, Carter was perceived as a weak leader, indeterminate in his decision making and unable to inspire a nation brought down by a prolonged war in Vietnam and the controversial Watergate scandal. He was even challenged by the popular senator Ted Kennedy for the nomination in 1980 when he went up for re-election, going on to beat him before eventually losing to Reagan. So… I’ve got a fair amount to explain.

One of America’s biggest problems has always been its unmitigated patriotism. The idea that this is a superior nation where Government is always the problem, not the people, really got a burst of steam in 1980 when Reagan ran against Carter. This was an easy card to play against a president who once stated that “human identity is no longer defined by what one does but rather by what one owns.” Carter was not a man of bluster and pomp; at his inauguration, he demonstrated as much by getting out of the limo and walking towards Congress. Unlike previous presidents before he him, he would not be removed from the people. He would always do what was right and always be honest; a far cry from what we expect of any politician today.

The thing is people don’t like to be told they’re wrong or that they need to change their ways. On almost every measure he undertook, Carter had to face an upwards battle, be it with the return of the Panama Canal, passing energy bills, SALT II, and even a lost battle for national health insurance. With the latter, he was notably more conservative than the great liberal hopeful, Ted Kennedy, but not to the degree that he was senseless or insensitive. Rather, he was being somewhat measured and cautious with taxation, given the economic problems of the time. This was perhaps the Democrats’ greatest chance at a comprehensive health care scheme too up until the Obama administration, destroyed not by the president but by Ted Kennedy, who saw his last-minute withdrawal of support as an opportune moment to leverage his stakes against Carter in 1980. This has been leveled as a failure of the Carter administration despite the fact that Ted Kennedy undermined the bill for mere electoral purposes (when asked why he was running for president, the man could barely even respond).

Carter and Kennedy’s animosity towards each other had been building even before that battle. The reason was simple enough. Carter was an outsider. He was not a part of the traditional Democratic elite and his election had come out of nowhere for a party who had ran Hubert Humphries and George McGovern in 1968 and 1972 to no avail. In the wake of Watergate, the nationally unknown governor of Georgia was able to capitalize on the peoples’ disenfranchisement and rise like no other candidate before or since. In power, he comprised a cabinet of his own people (the so-called “Georgia mafia”) and adopted something of a middle-ground idealism between the Republican and Democratic parties. In many ways, the Democrats had much more trouble with him than the adversary party. Carter would not play ball with them on everything; upon taking office, he quickly axed several water projects that had been in projection for years and set about tackling goals they had no interest in. Kennedy’s opposition would eventually fracture the Democratic party and make it a lot easier for Reagan to win. Had the senator’s personal ego not gotten in the way in 1980, Carter’s success might have been a whole other story.

There were successes too of note. Carter was the only president to broker a lasting peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in the Camp David Accords, which stunned even his most ardent critics. He brought human rights front and center for all the world to appreciate and understand in a way that hadn’t been done by any president before. He established both the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He didn’t launch a single missile (the only president since WW2 to not do so). And, he tried to tackle America’s growing dependence on foreign resources. He even had solar panels up on the White House!

On paper or online then, it’s quite easy to make a case for the 39th president. A majority of people simply didn’t see him as presidential however. He wasn’t bold in his decision making; he didn’t rock the boat the way Reagan would with the Soviet Union. He didn’t deliver a multitude of triumphant speeches (although his Crisis of Confidence speech, which we looked at back in 2017, was one of the greatest ever given by a president) and he didn’t equate military might with strength as a nation.

On this last point, it’s difficult to wholly absolve him of blame for the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The helicopter rescue was a disaster, if well meaning, and his decision to let the Shah receive cancer treatment in the US too was short-sighted (again, if decent). Carter was made to look foolish throughout the prolonged period in which the hostages were held (lasting 444 days) to the point that they were mockingly released mere moments into the Reagan administration. This episode however also speaks volumes of the man’s decency because the first thing he did, upon leaving office (having stayed up the whole night negotiating their release) was to fly and meet them. Carter might’ve been more successful had he launched a missile, yes (something Reagan would’ve had no hesitation in doing) but above anything, he was concerned what ramifications this might have had for the prisoners. That kind of humanity is often lost in those reaches of powers.

I don’t consider Jimmy Carter to be the greatest US president or even in the top ten but what he was, was a different choice who, given enough time, might have set the US on a much more noble path. They might’ve really had a shot at implementing renewable sources elsewhere (had Reagan not had the solar panels torn down) and might really have made further grounds with the Middle East peace process. Alas, in 1980, America decided to turn the other cheek and have the convenient microwave meal. Carter went on to inspire in his own way, establishing the Carter Center for Human Rights, tackling the guinea worm disease in Africa, monitoring elections, and going on to win a Noble Peace Prize in 2002. He’s one of the very few presidents in US history I believe who refused the easy short cuts and was willing to make the hardest decisions, because they were right and not out of political motivation.

Can Bernie Do It?

Can Bernie Do It?

We are a week out from the Iowa caucus now and my hopeful 2015 self should be starting to re-emerge in full blossom. Bernie Sanders is leading. Not only there. But in New Hampshire. Momentum is growing. The attacks are escalating on him, yes, but they don’t seem to be having the desired effect. And yet, I’m filled with trepidation when anyone speaks the warm and effervescent words “President Sanders”. I should stop them. I raise a finger as if to offer counsel but I just cant. Hardship must be learned in the battle fields.

I speak metaphorically, of course, with a dash of drama thrown in. After all, the 2016 election wasn’t that long ago. I still remember it well. I remember thinking: Holy cheese and crackers, he could really do it. If social media’s anything to go by, nobody’s voting for Hillary. Like that Kevin Spacey character from House of Cards, she can remain a part of the old Washington tapestry. Kevin Spacey sure does seem like a nice guy in interviews though…

What a fool I was. Not only did it turn out that my liberally-infested social media actually accounted for f- all in the grand scheme of things but apparently Kevin Spacey was also somewhat demanding on film sets. Ah, to have that cocky gleam brought back to my eyes; that penchant for hope that made 2008 a magical year for so many. But alas, it is not 2008. It’s not 2016. It’s 2020. We’ve seen the election of Donald Trump. We’ve seen Brexit come to pass. We’ve seen Bolsanaro turn a blind eye to the Amazon fires in Brazil. We’ve seen similar fires ravage the landscape of Australia and be ignored by political leadership. We’ve seen both Game of Thrones and Star Wars butchered to death. We should probably just give up and hope Sleepy Joe doesn’t make a faux pas in the debate against Donald Trump.

It would be easier that way but even though I’m skeptical of what I read on social media these days, I am hopeful to a reasonable degree. Why? Because somethings have changed for the better since 2016. Hillary may have got the nomination back then but the momentum of the party came from the rallies of Bernie Sanders. Three years later, we were given a wide and much more liberal-leaning Democratic field than we could have imagined, debating the best ways to tackle the climate change crisis without a major candidate’s proposal falling below the Greenpeace B grade. The year before, the Democrats also took the House back with cultural change highlighted in the election of representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.

Despite becoming a household name, Sanders has had, in some respects, a tougher climb this time around however. Whilst a breath of fresh air in 2015/16, by the time candidates were declaring early last year, he was one of several leftist options. Warren was leading him for the most part. Even, Kamala Harris managed a strong ascent for awhile. Joe Biden, of course, became the presumptive nominee even before he had announced. Plus, the rise of woke culture meant he had to deal with the impossible contention of being “another old white man”; a deal breaker for some people we can’t find a politically correct word for. He also had to account for some volunteers of his sexually harrassing others in 2016, as if he personally shepharded every single person involved in his campaign. The criticism was feeble and his moral consistency never wavered; that’s why he managed to succeed.

In recent weeks, the attacks have gotten more desperate. First, Elizabeth Warren affirmed that in a private meeting in December 2018, Sanders had told her he didn’t believe a woman could be president. She quickly tried to downplay the importance of this, which seemed unfair considering anyone alive would know how big a splash this would make. Sanders outright dismissed the validity of this statement anyways, leaving speculation to hang in the air although to many, Warren’s allegations came across as calculated given her falling poll numbers. Then Hillary Clinton, most calculated of all politicians, said that “nobody likes” Sanders, criticizing the culture around “Bernie Bros” and calling him a “career politician”. This may have boosted his numbers, if anything because a) people saw this as a child-like insult, b) people countered that he had done in excess of 30 rallies for her in 2016 (far more than she did for Obama in 2008), and c) not that many people like her (even Trump probably thought to enter the backlash for a minute before returning to his Mc Cheese Burger). And then, Bernie had the audacity to share a video of popular podcaster Joe Rogan saying he’d “probably” vote for Sanders, which many pointed out, was wrong because Joe Rogan has said made some controversial comments about trans people in the past. Bernie’s team responded by saying that just because he valued the endorsement does not mean he agrees with everything Joe Rogan says. I mean, it was hardly an endorsement from the KKK.

So, the attacks don’t seem to be landing. The latest polls show Bernie leading Buttigieg and Biden in Iowa. There is a good chance he could win the primaries and go onto becoming the Democratic nominee. His battle with Trump will be a whole other challenge thereafter. I don’t believe there are any proper controversies that are worth taking this man down. Unfortunately, I’m not part of the crowd with the loudest voices. Taking into account those cases above, anything seems to be on the cards for a stir. Bernie could lose half of his online California following by dismissing a vegan sandwich as “gross”. Maybe he’ll stand on a grasshopper? Who knows? For now, most people seem to be wising up to the vapid nature of woke criticism but just remember any previous election in US history; things get dirty and viscous. Is it worth discarding an A candidate if we discover a little tip-ex over the minus part that follows? Is it worth jeopardizing the future of the party over impossible standards and loose lips that okay, sometimes say the wrong words (or the right words the wrong way)?

The idea of “President Sanders” is not an impossibility. It is not going to be a walk in the park either. Just as the Republicans have united to win elections when unity was called for, so should the Democrats follow suit. And I mean this too for if Warren or Biden or Buttigieg (somehow) gets the nomination. The hope that defined Obama’s rise twelve years ago was a noble but surface concept; the jaded US of today needs something a little more tangible.

The 2010s: A Premature Evaluation

The 2010s: A Premature Evaluation

Hindsight Is Key

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History… suggested that with the end of the Cold War, humanity had reached an end/block point to the ideological evolution of the 20th century resulting in a broad acceptance of Western liberal democratic values. It was a stupendously general claim to make and one that would be criticised as new problems rose to take the place of the old. But if you take a step back, you’ll see how it is sometimes crucial for our understanding of history to get a broad overview before splitting stones because back then the US had very much started a new chapter of its story.

Hindsight is key for any proper historical evaluation. This article will simply not be able to capture the essence, key themes and ideas of the last decade; at least, not in a lasting way- primarily because, we don’t know what’s going to be important six months from now, let alone in 20 years. New information always becomes available and our core values change with each generation. Obama may be considered left of centre today but for future generations, he could be positively right-wing. Heck, Richard Nixon (the most flabbergasted of Republican presidents) established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Enough dawdling though; this context is important for the purpose of humility but it does not advance the story of the 2010s. What was this decade all about? How did America get from point A to point B? From Hope to Trump.

A New Generation

The millennials came of age this decade. Cast in the shadow of global austerity measures and economic hardship following the Financial Collapse of 2008, theirs (I say theirs, ours really) was a generation fraught with a unique level of anxiety. Many degrees were becoming increasingly less advantageous as job opportunities dried up and the unpaid internship net widened. It’s no wonder why, in this context, a sea of resentment festered; particularly against Boomers who wreaked prosperous opportunities in less tech-automated times whilst ignoring the most pressing issues facing the youth of today. As such, we’ve seen more people living at home for longer, trying for MAs, and adapting to a range of career positions; fluidity and creativity all the more pertinent.

Wall Street

Did the Obama administration fail this generation then by following in Bush’s lead in bailing out the banks? Intentions are certainly important; Obama did save America from the brink of a depression but the seeds of discord were planted in 2009 and the early 2010s. If millennials were to be denied the opportunities of their fathers or grandfathers, they’d at least strive to make their voices heard- which they very much have; for better and worse.

With regards the better, they (and Generation Z) have called for increasingly liberal stances on issues such as student fees, climate change, and health care. Whilst not altogether effective yet, the knocking on the government’s door has been getting louder and louder in recent years. How else would one explain the sensation that is Bernie Sanders; a candidate who probably wouldn’t have prospered this way in the 2000s. In another area, they have been more effective; calling for increased diversity in workplaces, media, and arts. Today’s music, TV, and film scene is a lot less white than it was 20 years ago.

With regards the worse, millennials are often seen (seen, don’t cancel me) as petty and entitled by the older generations (who in turn, have seemingly forgotten their responsibility to rear and guide their children). Is there truth to this? It’s a wild stereotype that’s limited but keeping in mind, the general overview from the intro, I’m inclined to believe that for all the good done with social media justice, there is an equal and lamentable drive for over-reaction. It is far too easy to get a rise out of people on social media or to have their television or film contract reassessed due to some stupid but ultimately unimportant remarks made in the past. On college campuses, speakers are protested for merely holding non-liberal views and as a result, many fear the very idea of free speech is under threat (especially when the term “hate speech” gets added to the mix). Outrage is an industry in and of itself.

Millennials can be said to be tolerant of anything but intolerance. Again, generally. At first glance, this may seem amicable and perfectly reasonable. Look at the strides made by the LGBTQ community this decade; today, people assess sexuality and gender in a far broader context than ten years ago. On the other hand, judgment has become popular and forgiveness is in short supply. This is not meant to advocate some false equivalency of opinion between liberals and conservatives but rather to point out that to effect change among certain groups, it is sometimes wise to speak rather than shout, listen so as to at least be cordial. This is as much a question of generational divide as it is political ideology; a great gulf has split people on subjects ranging from health care to gender neutral bathrooms. I believe we should let decency prevail where political correctness fails because there are numbers to be gained from the other side, especially in 2020.

With all that in mind, I don’t think millennials can be faulted for their intentions. Climate change does need to be addressed and for this reason alone, there is more hope to be found with 20- to 30-somethings than with our elders. The question looming over the 2020s on this issue, among others (like gun control) will be did they manage to tackle the problem effectively as well as righteously.

The Culture Wars (On Steroids)

To explore this generational/ideological gulf further, we must assess why and how everything became so political. What do I mean? What talk show today doesn’t feature a joke about Trump? What books or movies or genres of music do well with one camp or with another? This isn’t exactly a new idea- the culture wars have long been prevalent in American society but nowadays, even a movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is read by some as a feminist assault on traditional cinema. The reactions to divisive projects like this are often downright ridiculous but they do have origins tales of their own; for just as diversity promised to enrich America’ cultural experience, there were those who felt the pendulum was moving a little too fast and in places with a little too much force (e.g. female reboots, politically correct re-workings). With the recent reaction to John Legend’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, it’s fair to say that “woke culture” (to broaden this horizon) was given a bit of a slap in the face. The condemning of past opinions too (like John Wayne’s on race relations), while right, also seem trivial and petty. Will it be a case that liberals have to learn to pick their battles or will a dignified if self-righteous sense of morality prevail?

John Legend and Kelly Clarkson’s new version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been criticised as an example of the left pandering to minute sensitivities and PC culture.

Of course, the culture wars don’t matter to most people and outrage (built on Twitter feeds) has never truly reflected the actuality of common opinion. Clickbait journalism and not-even-trying-to-be-objective-anymore news stations have amplified once barely prevalent tensions. Controversy sells and as long as people relinquish their sacred duty for critical thinking (on the left and right), the battleground will continue to get muddier.

It’s also become harder to blend opposing facets of oneself. You vote Blue so you must adhere to every liberal constitution, right? Your favourite movie is Moonlight and you drive a hybrid? Where the divide between Democrats and Republicans has intensified on the actual issues, so too have the values associated with social liberals and conservatives. It may not come across on your social media field but there have been gay republicans and fervently religious but vegan democrats. Contradictions may arise if you take everything literally but people aren’t just what they wear, what they vote, or what they listen to. The idea of groupthink and identity politics may be useful for our understanding of certain privileges and economic disadvantages but it is fundamentally important to remember the individuals (sometimes) trapped within.

From Hope to Trump

So far, we have largely explored the emerging tide of liberal values among millennials as well as their shortcomings. While their voices may be heard across social media and campuses however, the real power now lies with a bizarre authoritarian right wing. Is this a reaction to political correctness? A reaction to an America older white people don’t recognise? To the failure and stalling of democracy? Obama? It’s hard to pin it down to one reason but most people would agree it is indeed a reaction.

Let’s go back to 2010. The economy is poor and health care legislation has been passed. The Republicans have amped up their objection to an 11. Will they undo Obama’s key piece of legislation? No. But they will use it as bait to take back both the House and Senate later that year and for the next six, make Obama’s presidency as much of a struggle as possible. Every time, a shooting occurs, they will keep focused and ensure protection of the NRA… I mean, the 2nd Amendment. Every time, a liberal piece of legislation comes forward from Obama, they will block it because they understand it to be good politics; the attack strategies of the last twenty years have worked, so why not? Thus, Obama is confined to foreign policy measures and acting where he can. To many, he appears weak.

Obama’s team is not willing to give up that easily however. There are cards to play and victories do emerge, even if they take time. One such victory was the assassination of Bin Laden in 2011, which undoubtedly helped push the re-election campaign along nicely. Beating Romney the following year also cemented his popularity, meaning he could argue his case to the public more frequently. The Iran Nuclear Deal and Gay Marriage followed in 2015 and all things considered, Obama had done a pretty good job with what he was given. So why was there such a fundamental shift in 2016?

For one, people underestimated just how important the appeal of Obama, himself, was. Hillarys politics may not have been miles off his but she simply couldn’t inspire the loyalty he did; he was one of the greatest orators of all time. As well as that however, Obama was unable to translate his messages across as those of the Democratic establishment. After all, they lost handily in 2014, even before Trump entered the picture. Perhaps because, for all their gesticulation, they couldn’t advertise themselves half as well as the GOP. Confidence it seems can be as toxic as it is appealing. That’s where Trump comes in.

Trump won, not because of the substance of his arguments but because of the way he projected them and himself. The Republican field toppled in the debates of late 2015 and all the while, throughout the primaries, we fooled ourselves into thinking this was some kind of joke. Brexit should’ve rang alarm bells. Trump getting the nomination should have too. But like an age-old tragedy, we followed the path blindly and suffered as a result.

If Trump wasn’t a traditional conservative, it didn’t matter at all. As stated earlier, Nixon established the EPA; so clearly this party’s open to whatever. And just like that, they all relinquished honesty and their duty for the sake of power (… Paul Ryan). The Democrats, on the other hand, may not have exactly appeased their camp but they did little to persuade voters, who could be turned, why theirs was a better one to join. Many liberals simply took to labelling Trump supporters stupid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. This continues to be a mistake, in my view, and a crucial one differentiating many working class people struggling with every day economic opportunities from the elitist self-righteous liberals who know nothing of them.

Trump’s impeachment may get rid of the man but it won’t get rid of the problem because he’s as much a symptom of the ills dominating the bi-polarity of politics this decade as obtuse NRA support or further tax breaks for the 1% are. In a strange way, it’s odd that it’s taken so long for a clown to ascend to the throne considering the acrobatics and pantomime politicians perform but if anything should be clear to the Democrats now, it is that their battle will not end in 2020. Complacency has always been their problem.

A New Left

There is a spark of hope to be found in the Democratic Party however as we end the 2010s. For just as the right has moved beyond any nuance of centrism, the left has recognised its need to stake its own ground too. The campaign of Bernie in 2016 mobilised a movement the corporate Democrats simply didn’t understand; one that has already flourished with the election of candidates like Alexandria Occasion Cortes last year and the adoption of more liberal stances in the election field this year. The party is undergoing a period of transformation, having essentially spent the last 30 years meeting their adversaries in a compromised middle. Whether this will prove wise remains to be seen. Two schools of thought are currently battling it out to see who can take back those Trump voters; the more centrist likes of Joe Biden and the others like Bernie/Warren. Again, we see the political and the cultural dominoes of America falling in tandem.

As I’ve often stated in pieces on this site, I believe the issues should remain central to Bernie’s and other’s campaigns, not the bait Republicans masquerade as issues (e.g. patriotism) nor the scandals that get blown out of proportion (e.g. Hillary’s emails). So far, they seem to be on track but as the other elections of the 2010s have shown, the Republicans aren’t bad at winning.

In Summation

How strange the Clinton-Blair years now seem to us in a world turned upside down. Forests are burning, debts are rising, automation threatens millions of jobs, racism appears more openly acceptable, and James Corden has a chat show. The 2010s have been a scary time and they’ve only gotten more so; the fresh fruit of the Obama years now rotten to its core. Were we misguided by hope as we may be now? Possibly. I think, more likely however, voter apathy and perennial compromise by liberals beset on preaching without acting led to desperation.

In times of economic upheaval and vulnerability, radical ideologies become all the more appealing. That is not to say we will face a direct parallel with the 1930s and devolve into a fight between fascism, democracy, and communism but this sharp split is somewhat reminiscent. It will play out dramatically in next year’s election, which will be about much more than electing a new president; it’ll be about ratifying the course American culture will head in under the auspices of ideological, generational, and human values (or as Joe Biden put it, the “soul of America”).

The 2010s are yet foggy and there was a great deal more I could have explored (e.g. foreign policy, keyboard warriors, police brutality, #metoo, etc.) but a feint trajectory permeates this hew nonetheless; one linking our apathy and disinterest to upheaval and renewed activism. The people of today speak of politics far more than they did ten years ago. This is both a good and bad thing.

Celebrity Endorsements & Activism

Celebrity Endorsements & Activism

The 2020 election’s in full swing and that means one thing; it’s time for the A-listers to have their voices heard. So, drop your shield and pick up your placard Chris Evans cause this time, you know it’s going to matter!

Okay, perhaps that’s a tad too snotty because really, celebrities can influence an election turnout by drawing attention to issues and candidates. Oprah’s endorsement of Obama, without a doubt, made an impact in the lead up to the 2008 election and certain groups can be targeted, that would otherwise be out of reach on proper news networks, like the Kardashian fan base (I’m not abandoning snottiness altogether). On the other hand however, celebrity endorsements and political proclamations can sometimes be a wealth of patronizing embarrassments. For instance:

That happened and we let it happen…

In all seriousness however, there was a lot of criticism to be drawn from the Hillary camp in 2016 as an endless deluge of pop stars and actors came forward at rallies to incite substance-less messages, achieving nothing really besides spectacle.  Maybe that was just Hillary, though. Maybe, not even the ghost of Sir Laurence Olivier could have inspired people to flock to her side. Maybe… just maybe, we don’t give the people enough credit in their own critical thinking. I suspect the latter notion holds true because while people may admire certain celebrities like Beyonce, they also understand that their life experiences are far removed from the working peoples’.

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joins Jay Z and Beyonce onstage at a campaign concert in Cleveland
“Here I am with my friends, Queen Bee and Jason Z!”

There’s another layer to this differentiation too; the cultural divide between liberals and conservatives has in recent years been amplified by the mainstream media, often courtesy of the latest woke trends / virtue signalling of celebrities. I’m not just talking about Gwyneth Paltrow’s holier-than-thou approach to good living. I’m talking about every celebrity that appears on the Colbert show with an anti-Trump message; every time a celebrity coins a weird hipster form of phrase (e.g. Emma Watson’s “self-partnered”, i.e single status affirmation); and every time we’re given some pandering new display of wokeness (e.g. John Legend’s new version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”). These changes in the zeitgeist are, to many, welcome and sensible extensions of progressive thinking. To many others though, they’re tedious nuggets of preaching that detract from the actual substantive issues (economy, health care, job loss, climate change) and reminders that yes, you’re out of touch.

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John Legend, among others, found the classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to be problematic. So, he made a new version. Wait until he hears any rap song released in the last fifteen years.

I don’t think these celebrities have bad intentions, to be fair. Emma Watson has certainly gone above and beyond in her duties as a UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, proving herself truly dedicated to her cause. Still, the perception remains and that’s what’s so important as we approach next year’s election; to present a noble and dignified front for the Democratic party, instead of exacerbating the elitist theatrics of a militant #cancel, PC faction.

To this end, it’s important to lastly examine why we, as a society, give so much clout to celebrities’ political opinions. Is it really as simple as saying they draw attention to important issues, where needed? That’s a pretty shallow response, if so. It suggests we’d rather an unqualified opinion that’s popular than an experts’ know-how. Therein lies the loss of nuance and the opportunity to present a false sense of validation for the virtue signaler who really doesn’t know what they’re talking about (e.g. when Ben Affleck called Sam Harris and Bill Maher “racist” over their criticism of Islam.) It’s a response, used among others however, to justify peoples’ greater complacency when it comes to avoiding actual research and reading on the issues. It’s a response, I think, that has effectively become default across the world too.

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“You do know I’m Batman, right?”

Why else would we continue making celebrities UN ambassadors? In general elections and chat shows, I can compromise and allow for a bit of endorsements and activism but with an international institution? Am I purely curmudgeonly or is this just downright tacky? For that matter too, why does the Queen keep knighting ageing rock stars every couple of years? Is this really a way of honoring those who’ve made a significant contribution to the arts or just cheap publicity for the sake of relevancy?

Perhaps, this societal framework is all in contribution to raising awareness and encouraging charity and political activism. Perhaps, we all need our own “fight” song. It’s difficult to come down on those doing more than yourself to make the world a better place but in conclusion, I think it’s of great importance to remind people to think for themselves and not accept a cheap form of populism. After all, Trump didn’t even have the real Smash Mouth performing at his inauguration.

Scorsese vs. Marvel: Cultural Divides and Toxic Fandom

Scorsese vs. Marvel: Cultural Divides and Toxic Fandom

Earlier this month, Martin Scorsese compared Marvel movies to “theme park rides”, stating that they are not what he considers to be proper “cinema”. Social media reaction was, as you could imagine, well thought out and nuanced. LOL JK! For real, the shit hit the fan with many bemoaning this “hackneyed, old curmudgeon fuck-face” for not being with “it”. Okay, I’m paraphrasing but it was embarrassing to read the amount of comments I did with people unfavorably comparing his movies to Marvel’s. Don’t get me wrong! I enjoy all the Marvel movies. But Scorsese has directed Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, among many other original greats. In some cases, sure, it’s a matter of opinion but beyond this, what became apparent to me was how vitriolic and nasty these people were in their comments. This has become the norm, all too readily, when an unpopular opinion is shared, even in a matter as insignificant as this.

On some level, I think Scorsese was being picked a part for not speaking as delicately as he should have. I don’t actually agree with his opinion and would note that these Marvel movies are keeping cinemas alive, to an extent. Plus, there is some proper acting, directorial creativity, and emotion to be found in them. You could even argue that the magnitude of a shared, albeit commercially-driven universe, like the MCU, is a bold and ambitious experiment in modern cinema. On the other hand, I want to back Scorsese because his knowledge of cinema is second-to-none (or very few), he has helped restore many great movies, and has a point when he says we’re being “invaded” by these kind of movies. There are too many of them and on some level, it feels like a factory-churning process. For instance, Captain Marvel came less than two months before Endgame which was followed by Spiderman: Far From Home, just over two months later. We knew Spiderman was fine after the snap in Infinity War before we’d even seen its sequel. Furthermore, there seems to be no end in sight. Disney have already filled their calendar for the next three years with an array of shows, sequels, and new additions to the MCU. It really is an all-consuming empire.

So, you can go back and forth on this. You may not like Scorsese. You may think superhero movies are for children. What’s so desperate about this all is how hard it is to even have a conversation without great offense being suffered. That’s where I admire Robert Downey Jr., who simply left it at “appreciating” Scorsese’s opinion (which has been edified slightly since to acknowledge them as a different/new kind of “art”, if not proper cinema- I don’t know, it was kind of vague). Downey Jr’s latter-day career has been built on the legacy of Iron Man and he’s made a ton of dough from it but he’s not arrogant enough to disregard what one of the true greats has to say. Interestingly, he compared the Marvel phenomenon to a  “stomping beast [eliminating] the competition”. When things like that happen, as with the Westerns’ craze in the 1950s, there’s naturally going to be some push back. Sometimes, a spanner needs to be thrown into the works to get things interesting again. Punk did that for music in 1976 and the likes of Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola did that for cinema that same decade.

Thanks to social media, cults of fandom have been given a voice most people used to ignore. We can all, in some sense, be producers of the franchises we love and consume. For instance, notice how the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker are steering things back from the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi? Disney listens because Disney has a product to sell. That doesn’t mean their movies lack artistic integrity but it does color the picture, if only a little bit. It’s gratifying for fans to have their voices heard but when you pay too much due diligence to popularity, you appropriate credibility in turn. That’s why there’s such a sense of entitlement in these fans’ expectations of these franchise movies and why more unique, original projects are so lacking today. I suspect the directors of old, like Scorsese and Coppola, feel this way, which is why they are so hostile to the way industry has gone recently. The culture has changed.

Now since, we’re here- my top five MCU movies:

  1. Avengers: Infinity War
  2. Captain America: Civil War
  3. Spiderman: Far From Home
  4. Thor: Ragnarok
  5. Avengers: Endgame

and my top five Scorsese movies:

  1. Goodfellas 
  2. Taxi Driver
  3. Casino
  4. Raging Bull
  5. The King of Comedy