Why pose such a question? Well, it’s Presidents’ Day and while in the past we have taken to ranking the modern presidents on their historical achievements, this year; we thought we’d put a negative spin on things. So if there was a Mount Rushmore to commemorate the lowest of the low, the ones that just plainly didn’t know what they were doing or acted against the interests of the nation, who would they be? There are worthy cases to be made for the likes of Franklin Pierce and Hebert Hoover. Many believe that George W. Bush’s two terms were damaging beyond repair. Some radicals might even posit that Nixon took a misstep or two. Dig down deep enough into the barrel however and you’ll find that there is a loose chip of wood which barely contains the cess pit beneath that is these four individuals. (And guess what “woke” millennials, they’re all white males!)
Donald J. Trump (2017- )
The incumbent recently declared a National Emergency so that he could get his border wall built. The emergency, many retorted, was his presidency. And the wall is (let’s face it) one of the stupidest ideas ever proposed by anyone on the face of the Earth… but there are just too many other reasons why Trump will go down as one of the worst leaders of anything ever to ignore, so here’s a few more:
his lack of respect for democracy and a free press
his indifference to injustices committed against Black Americans
his rhetoric and how it’s inflamed tribalism/division
his narcissism and inability to criticism
his respect for authoritarians
the whole Putin thing / basically betraying the US
But hey! It’s only been two years! There’s still time to get your engorged face off of this mountain. (One could imagine Trump actually demanding his face be bigger than the others, even in such a scenario.)
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
Lincoln’s successor was one of only two presidents to ever be impeached (pending). He was acquitted on the basis that everyone supposed he would lose election (having not won one before; Lincoln died but a month into his second term). His legacy rests mainly (and quite strangely) on fighting against the kind of advances made by the president he served, opposing the 14th Amendment (which addressed citizenship rights for former slaves) while fighting fellow Republicans (who sought to oppose seceded states from instating old, pro-slavery leaders). Like Trump, he also had a penchant for firing cabinet members which led to the Tenure of Office Act. He even got drunk at Lincoln’s second inauguration!
In a time of national mourning for such an inspiring leader as Lincoln, it is quite perplexing that Johnson sough to appease Confederates with the ball in his court. He also just looks like a bit of grump, in general.
James Buchanan (1857-1861)
Lincoln’s presidency (the most highly appraised by historians) is nestled between two of the worst. Buchanan came before and basically did nothing to address the shifting tides of the national consciousness and the growing unrest that led to the secession of the Confederate States in 1861. He managed to alienate Northern Democrats and Republicans in an attempt to administer Kansas as a Slave State and provoked one of the greatest moral failings of any president in supporting the outcome of the Dred Scott case (which determined that Scott, a slave, could not sue for his freedom in a Free State). Although he supported the North in the Civil War, his partiality to the South in the preceding years did more damage than he ever could admit.
It is said that he declared the day before his death that “history [would] vindicate my memory”. He was… well, you get where I’m going with this.
Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
Like Trump, this guy didn’t really know what he was doing. To be fair though, he did at least acknowledge how incompetent he was in saying “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here”. So, there’s that.
Although strongly mourned upon his death just two years into office, a series of scandals emerged which shaped historical revisionism in the immediate years following. These basically amounted to Harding’s cronies looting the treasury with dodgy deals such as the Teapot Dome Scandal. Elsewhere, he was also seen as an ineffective and uninspiring leader, one whose popularity drove him to prominence rather than any intellectual stances posited for helping the nation.
Alas, the 2020 election’s already rearing its ugly head even though there’s still 19 months till it actually happens. With candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren emerging and with the stakes higher than ever, I thought this would be a good opportunity to provide some necessary nuggets of advice because… well, let’s face it- the Democrats kind of… suck. That is, not to say, that their candidates are bad or that their ideas lack gravitas or sense; they just don’t know how to sell themselves or stay the course. So, please take heed because nothing’s guaranteed.
Don’t turn on one another: Bernie Sanders isn’t the enemy, nor is any other candidate who takes the steam away from the party’s star darling. In 1980, the Democrats’ chances were greatly skewered by Senator Ted Kennedy’s challenge against incumbent Jimmy Carter. In 2016, Hillary and Bernie supporters clawed and gnawed at each other to the point that many of Bernie’s ranks became Trump voters while many of Hillary’s bemoaned the sheer gall of a challenge .
Stand by your liberal values: The latest stream of Democrats in the House suggests the Democratic party is moving to the left. Agreeing on a final platform in the summer of 2020 will undoubtedly be a messy affair but at this juncture, there’s no sense in compromising to meet the Republican base’s standards. Trump’s damaging the party in spectacular ways and if the Democrats present a centrist vision, they may lose the value of contrast.
At the same time, don’t be the wrong kind of liberal: The issues are what matters, not the identity politics gripping today’s culture. Yes, they shouldn’t compromise on their values but there’s no need to alienate moderates or even potential conservative turn-abouts with condescending notions of political correctness. Don’t abide racism, sexism, or any other form of prejudice. Yes, these things matter. With that said, sometimes a joke is a joke. Don’t be the kind of candidate who polices language and how “woke” people are with the thin-moustachiod zeal of the PC Principal.
Attempt a 50-state strategy: Yes, we all know the electoral college system’s stupid but it’s not likely to go away anytime soon, is it? So, do the right thing and engage as many Americans as possible, even if it means a trip to a blood red state. A personal touch really makes a difference. Trump had a horrible platform in 2016 but he didn’t just bring it to Iowa.
Keep an eye on Social Media: With or without Russian hackers, people flick by a large number of sensationalist headlines every day on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The more and more you see a story or a theme repeated, the more likely you are to believe it or at least, give it some pause for thought. In today’s culture, it’s become very difficult to separate the truth from the bullshit, so if the Republicans are going to play dirty, the Democrats either a) need to as well or b) find an effective way to convey just how wrong these articles/the Republicans’ assertions are. As I write this, I understand that this is of course, a lot easier said than done.
Engage your opponents: This is to further point 3 above; be prepared and willing to engage with those who don’t hold your opinion on say, abortion, or gun control. Even if you strongly disagree with someone, you can still have a conversation with them. You might feel their’s is perhaps a dangerous opinion and that they should not be given a platform (as has happened on university campuses), considering the scores of others who have never had their voice heard. I grant that that is a fair and even practical approach at first glance. When you try to impede someone’s free speech however, you often just strengthen their resolve and help marshal others to their cause. You even appear weak and afraid that perhaps their bluster pertains more nuance and scope than you first imagined. The Republicans, I believe, are fundamentally wrong on a number of issues but that does not make them villains who we must banish to the darkness.
Don’t make age an issue: Chances are rife that a lot of these candidates are going to be in their 60s and 70s. They could easily just keel over and die at any moment, right? Do they really represent the youth? Sure, not every issue affects every age group equally and yes, people die more so later on in age but a) these candidates do preach, by and large, to concerns affecting most Americans (income inequality, climate change, etc.) and b) some of the best Democratic senators and representatives have served well on in life (take Jerry Brown’s work as Governor of California for example or two of the most popular prospective candidates, Sanders and Biden).
Don’t be passive, inspire: Above, I wrote about how sensationalist articles can cloud people’s better judgment on Social Media. Sometimes, sensationalism is needed to convey a point effectively though. Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will need to take Trump to task with strong, vitriolic language. There is just cause because this is a ridiculous man and a lame-duck, politician type will not be successful in his arena. Why not even take a stab at being a great orator? One who can inspire the way Obama or JFK did?
And lastly, be yourself: There’s probably a good point to be made here, concerning Hillary’s robotic approach but I’m just going to take this opportunity to wish all the candidates good luck. You may not run for president again, after all. So reach for the stars, show ’em what you got, and all that!
Undoubtedly, there’s a lot more these candidates will need to be mindful of but as I’ve already said, it’s a long way away yet. Anything at this point is mere speculation. What we do know for sure if that Elizabeth Warren is seeking to run, Kamala Harris is running, and a number of others are considering it. Like in 1976, it’s a fairly open field and anyone’s guesses are as good (if not better) than mine. I expect we will have at least ten noteworthy candidates by June (perhaps Beto O’ Rourke and Cory Booker) and at least five options. We mustn’t, of course, make the mistake of 2016 and assume anything’s for sure however. Biden’s not 100% definite. Nor is Sanders. Or anyone else. And there’s still a lot of work to be done by the House to keep Trump at bay.
George H.W. Bush one said in an interview that the “L” word was banned from his household in regards to defining his legacy and part played in history. His humility, today, seems all the more gratifying and admirable for the Sasquatch who now occupies the White House and the incessant stranglehold of political tribalism gripping America. Bush was, in many respects, a classic conservative but like McCain (who passed earlier this year), he tempered the extremists of his party. (He could also take a joke- inviting Dana Carvey, who impersonated him on SNL, to perform at the White House upon re-election defeat in 1992.) He raised taxes at great political cost. He formed a lasting friendship with the man who beat him in his re-election bid. He even voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This man, to many, seems like the last of a dying kind.
In 1989, the world transformed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. What seemed an unlikely reality mere years ago quickly materialized and a steady hand was needed to oversee the end of the Cold War. Bush was the perfect man for this. His mother had instilled in him from an early age the idea to never brag and take any successes as a team’s, not his own. To be fair, Bush wasn’t responsible for what transpired across Eastern Europe or in Russia, credit or fault (depending on who you ask) belongs to a great many but for a US president to not drag this out as a triumphal moment took remarkable tact and restraint. “I’m just not an emotional kind of guy” he remarked, almost disinterested, when pressured by the press. Gorbachev certainly appreciated this. Relations between the US and Russia had never before (or since) been so cordial. This respectful line of diplomacy would prove instrumental in German reunification in the succeeding couple of years.
While he may have averted the world’s gaze from his own mantle however, he wasn’t ready to let America slip by the wayside in its foreign policy. The New World Order, as defined by the end of the Cold War, would see America stand up for sovereign nations being aggrieved across the world. To the World War 2 Generation, this may have seemed admirable, especially with despots like Noriega (in Panama) and Saddam Hussein pushing their luck. To many others however, this marked the beginning of a sinister role for their nation; world police.
The Gulf War of 1991 however was no Vietnam. It was a quick and altogether successful operation, as set out by the Bush administration, which resulted in the liberation of Kuwait. Critics on the left may have questioned the legitimacy of this war (albeit to a lesser extent than his son’s) and pointed to instances of civilian casualties as war crimes. Critics on the right may have argued that the US should have gone into Iraq and overthrown Saddam. Both voices of dissent were largely drowned though by the majority when Bush’s approval ratings shot to an unprecedented 91%.
So how, just over a year later, did such a popular president lose re-election? There were a wide variety of reasons, chief among them; a recession caused by Reaganomics, the entry of a third-party candidate into the race- Ross Perot, and the perceived image of Bush as a man out of touch. Particularly in the case of the latter factor, the Bush Administration’s take on the AIDS crisis and the War on Drugs are remembered unfavorably but he was also seen as a president far more interested in foreign policy than domestic. This is understandable given the Gulf War, Panama, and Somalian interventions, as well as all the changes occurring across Eastern Europe but Bush deserves a little more credit here, in my opinion. There was for one instance, a Clean Air Act, which seems out of place in a Republican’s administration. There was the tax compromise, aforementioned, which eschewed politics in favor of national interest (earning him years later, a Profile in Courage award from the Kennedy Center.) Then there was also the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 which gave legal protections to people with disabilities, previously unaccounted for. This doesn’t often get mentioned but is a key piece of Civil Rights legislation.
Despite all this, Slick Willy Clinton really was able to capture the spirit of the country at the time with his “I feel your pain” moments, saxophone solos, and direct intern management. The 1992 election got fierce and Bush felt the blow personally for years after but he always refrained from criticizing his successor, wishing him the best of luck from day one with a now viral letter (below). He spent the rest of his life, mostly out of the spotlight, save a couple humanitarian relief efforts with Bill and parachute jumps on his birthdays (the last one on his 90th in 2014).
Historians, he once noted, “will point out what we did wrong” and “perhaps, some of the things we got right.” Has a former president ever put it so simply yet brilliantly? One can certainly argue the proportions of these wrongs and rights and yes, one certainly should not do it, merely by comparison to Trump (a benchmark set so low it goes without bothering with) or his son (their approach to Iraq was fundamentally different). It’s definitely a mixed bag, as is the case with most presidents. The impression, I always got of this man however, was that he truly wasn’t obsessed with his legacy or bragging rights. He served 58 air missions in World War 2 (when with his rich connections, he probably could’ve avoided service), took some thankless tasks (chairing the RNC under Nixon, fathering “weak-sauce” Jeb), and acted as a public servant, rather than a typical calculative politician. Even putting aside today’s dark climate, this is the kind of leader we’re unlikely to ever see again.
In the last few years, American politics have become increasingly preoccupied with style over substance, in the avenue of political correctness, the culture wars, and identity politics. The latter issue hasn’t been discussed much yet on this website because hey! who needs to hear from another white male about race and gender issues? This may seem like a cheap joke or key point, depending on your point of view, but it cuts right down to why this has become incontrovertibly linked with political discourse today.
Identity politics (and how it’s stirred in conversation) breeds off a culture of resentment among alienated groups (privileged and disenfranchised, generally) while at the same time remaining all the more relevant, in times when a US president can’t even be bothered to condemn the KKK. Its genesis lies in the history of oppression of minority groups (Blacks, LGBT+, etc.) and the effective silencing of their voices resulting in what many believe to be a necessary template for defense. Its faults, as some would argue, lie in the abuse of where it’s applied and the mentality of “victimhood” it encourages; giving a victim the leverage of identity over an opponent in debate. Naturally, it’s a sensitive topic to discuss because discrimination isn’t some abstract idea for many people but to make some steady progress, let’s examine the criticisms and defense channeling this conversation.
Criticism of Identity Politics
Let’s divide the critics into two types: a) rhetorical and b) practical.
The former have problems with the rhetoric identity politics inspires. They charge that it inspires groupthink, which in turn compromises individual thought on complex issues and furthers the gulf between left and right. In common discourse, we expect minorities to side with liberals all the time, even though many of the matters dividing the Republican and Democratic parties have little to do with identity, e.g. gun control, climate change. We assume race and sexuality plays a major role in a Black or Gay person’s life which may be statistically sound but at times, possibly comes across as condescending and untrue. As the popular political commentator Dave Rubin has noted, “you as an individual are much more than your immutable characteristics.”
Plus, experience does not necessarily establish authority in an argument. We may not be able to fully appreciate another person’s struggles and yes, it may at times appear insensitive to even engage but debates should be run on good ideas, regardless of one’s “immutable characteristics”. This notion blossomed considerably when echoed by Obama in a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth in July (when he said opinions should not be dismissed just because they are white or male).
Practical critics think along these lines too but with goals in mind- i.e. beating Trump in 2020. As Sheri Berman opined in a Guardian piece (“Why Identity Politics Benefits The Right More Than The Left”): “Is our ultimate goal ensuring the compatibility of diversity and democracy? Then promoting the overlapping interests and identification that enable citizens to become more comfortable with differences and thus more tolerant and trusting, is absolutely necessary.” Left and right have been painted as stark opponents in the culture wars. A tough point, some liberals seem unwilling to accept, is that not all Trump’s supporters are racist white males. Okay, there are definitely some racists. And yes, a lot of his support was from white males. Their support did not rest solely on identity politics however. It derived from other places; chiefly, economic misfortune- a shared characteristic for people of all identities in many situations. In short, as Bernie Sanders would hound, the media needs to pay more attention to the issues!
In Defense of Identity Politics
Okay, so that’s all very good but racism, homophobia, and sexism are everyday issues affecting millions of lives. There are oppressive methods in place preventing Blacks from voting (by conservatives gerrymanders and legislators). There is a double standard for women and inequality of opportunities in many job sectors. LGBT groups are routinely subjected to the nastiest treatment and commentary for merely being who they are. So, in many respects, identity politics is something that has been thrust upon these groups rather than something they’ve sought out and just as the right are known to parry off cries of offense with deflections like “oh you’re just being PC”, is it not possible that identity politics helps their cause a little when it comes to such enduring prejudice?
In his article, “In Defense of Identity Politics”, Paul Von Blume writes that American society has been mechanized to the umpteenth degree to reinforce the status quo of white male privilege. When expressions like “just plain American” or “melting pot” are bandied about, he argues that while they may be “well meaning,” they really just brush over the historical “exclusion” of millions of its people. Direct, aggressive racism or prejudice in general does not necessarily tie this altogether. White privilege is maintained out of fear that the promotion of less enfranchised persons may lead to a decline in their quality of life (a concern that pervaded the “turbulence” of the 1960s). Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of Sociology at Georgetown University and Peterson opponent), has noted this much, writing for the New York Times in December 2016 that “the interests of the white working class have often been used by white political elites to stave off challenges to inequality and discrimination by black folk and other minority groups”. (It should be noted however that he’s been criticized for pushing identity politics to the extreme, referring to Jordan Peterson as a “mean mad white man” during a debate on political correctness).
White men like me will never fully appreciate the Black, Women, or Muslim experience, as diversified or as shared as it can be. In many respects, our culture and systemic prejudice has necessitated such labels as identity be used in the mainstream. It catches people’s attention when a meme or hashtag or article goes viral, encapsulating all the frustrations of “mansplaining”, whitewashed history, or privilege. It’s all very understandable but at times, overtly sensitive to the point debate gets shut down; e.g. with the above case between Peterson and Dyson, the former debater was immediately cast under suspicion (or an attempt was made) just because he was a white male arguing against political correctness. At times, this isn’t fair but there will always be exceptions in every case that define how we must study it. For example, a panel of all male commentators discussing abortion would seem ridiculous to most but of all females, rather reasonable. Also, “All Lives Matter”?
It’s a trying discussion which transmogrifies the collective into the personal experience. For all practicalities’ sake though, in light of recent political developments, it has become a “serious nuisance” underlying almost every political debate. In order for the Democrats to make some ground on those stubborn Trump supporters, there needs to be some attempt at reconciling the majority with the minority, whose interests don’t necessarily deviate from one another’s. The 2018 midterms and the 2020 election should return to the boring stuff that makes up most sane countries’ elections; economic opportunity- and that means to help all citizens advance, be it on an individual or group level.
Much has been made of Jordan Peterson, the Clinical Psychologist, and his foray into the world of public intellectualism and politics. At times, his rhetoric seems deigned for ingratiating proponents of free speech and those sickened by the debasement of open dialogue into base proclivities and at others, for widening the gulf between liberals and conservatives. Does Peterson’s loyalties lie with the latter? I think that’s reductive but certainly there’s a case to be made that his words could do a whole lot more for that camp than any other figure stealing headlines.
Peterson became something of a fixture following his challenge of the Canadian government’s Bill C-16, which proposed to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. His objection lay on the grounds, not of transphobia, but this being an assault on free speech (by inference of “compelled speech”). Naturally, some saw this as transgressive and petty. Peterson managed to ride a wave of popularity thereafter though, with a series of videos riling against political correctness. This led eventually on to a bestseller 12 Rules for Life, a self-help guide, whose insistence on personal responsibility (and not victimhood) became inextricably linked with the numerous issues he was being questioned on. These included feminism, a crisis in masculinity, and support from some members of the alt-right.
The thing is a lot of Peterson’s support is comprised of anti-PC white males. In the arena of identity politics, he’s been attacked by many because he doesn’t seem to disavow the more extremist parts of his base. Is this necessarily his responsibility? Maybe not but it becomes a worrying clause because conservatives really could do with an intellectual figure or at least his ideas. It gives them something the likes of Trump can’t- legitimacy. Dorian Lynskey illustrated this cohesively in a February piece for the Guardian on the “dangerous” side of this professor and his perceived image as “the cooly rational man of science facing down the hysteria of P.C”. He writes, “[His] YouTube gospel resonates with young white men who feel alienated by the jargon of social justice discourse and crave an empowering theory of the world in which they are not the designated oppressors.” A little ambitious on their part, yes.
Many have brought Peterson up on his defense of patriarchies as natural outcomes of history by asserting that that doesn’t necessarily make them desirable. I wonder if perhaps both sides are being too hasty in this increasingly complicated dialogue. Yes, one could muster that the many elements constituting the history of mankind have resulted in the kind of society we now have but even with this viewpoint, that doesn’t mean all Peterson’s views are calculated to an anti-leftist agenda. In many respects, he’s a breath of fresh air because he dares to question the background behind things like the gender pay gap and the ideology surrounding humanities in universities. It’s also kind of nice to just hear an articulate figure coming from somewhere outside the left.
Even if he’s a troll benefiting from all this controversy, the liberals will take the bait however. In one notable instance, he clashed with Cathy Newman in a Channel 4 interview and came out all the more triumphant and heroic to his base by holding his own against an onslaught of accusations as to what his intentions are (e.g. is he against equal pay for equal work?!?) In others, he’s been protested with blaring horns during speaking engagements on campuses (to the effect that his free speech is quite literally being drowned out). His appeal has magnified significantly as a result of these instances and given the impression to many that liberals really are as hysterical and outraged as conservatives believe.
On the other hand, we can then return to his base of support/fans. They’re aggressive and the message that open, calm debate is the best strategy for discourse seems lost on them. Just look at the YouTube searches related to him. The titles are unabashedly biased and intended to only promote what these people already believe; e.g. “Those 7 Times Jordan Peterson Went Beast Mode” and “Jordan Peterson Destroys Transgender Professor”. These are not the kind of fans you want. As Lynskey has noted, their “intense adoration can turn nasty. His more extreme supporters have abused, harrassed, and doxxed several of his critics”. (That is to publish their personal details online.) Again, he’s not wholly responsible but we can’t ignore the fact that his platform lends him major influence. Some have even referred to him as the most popular Western intellectual in the world today.
Academics are credible sources of wisdom. At least, they’re perceived to be. The problem is that Peterson may have become too big for his shoes. Maybe he does have a lot to offer in clinical psychology and helping young men take responsibility for their lives but now, his inferences have shaped new, highly impressionable ideologies that people are grappling with in quite a messy manner. I admit I find it difficult to distinguish between admiration and skepticism in his case. He’s an engaging and forthright speaker but for every seemingly sensible theory/notion he brings up (I always enjoy a bit of PC bashing), there’s a rocky generalization or embarrassing climate skeptic posturing.
Initially, I wanted to write purely on the dangerous aspects and repercussion of his espousing but a) Lynskey’s article does that both eloquently and in great depth and b) I don’t want to contribute to the idea that he’s just good or bad. He’s a complicated figure and his ideas have opened and added to our dialogue on a number of key issues governing the divide between left and right.
Recently, I watched a Munk debate on the motion, “Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress…”. On the pro-side, Michael Dyson and Michelle Goldberg argued for the necessary protection of targeted groups, who have been mistreated on the basis of identity, particularly in the case of African Americans. On the con-side, Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson pointed out the indemnifying effects this cultural swing has had on free speech, thought, and the Enlightenment. The con-side won by 70% but the issue, which I had once seen as frustratingly stupid and obvious, was actually complicated for me.
As it stands, I still think PC culture is annoying and potentially dangerous in certain cases. Beforehand however, I had never really considered the pro-based arguments one might employ. I would like to discuss some thoughts on that part first. For while it may seem the “PC Police” conglomerate are out to make sure we never speak our mind, there is an inherent need in society to check those who would vilify certain groups with hate speech or false propaganda. Terrible things can occur as a result of blatant bigotry, like the Holocaust. Plus, on a subconscious level, images can be drawn of racial, religious, and cultural groups that become highly influential.
Certain conservative commentators spring to mind in this thread, like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh. It’s fair to have an opinion; even one that diametrically opposes yours. Is it fair to exert that however, when you sprinkle misinformation throughout your diatribes and have a expansive market for your voice? Here’s where things become foggy. Hate speech should be discouraged, challenged, and forcefully opposed, yes. To oppress and shut it down however only ever serves to create a greater furor. It emboldens the ridiculous too.
For example, Katie Hopkins. You ever heard of this banshee? She believes you can judge kids’s characters on their given names, and other such things. She came to prominence in some season of The Apprentice and has somehow managed to leach off public outrage in the UK since for her wild assertions. When she spoke at Brunel University in 2015, students organised a “silent protest” by walking out. Theirs was a view based on the idea of opposing controversial views and terrible guest speakers. Why even give these people a platform to speak? While I can wholeheartedly agree that was a dumb miscalculation on the university’s part, it only served to highlight the weakness of what some might call the “Regressive Left.” There’s a great deal more satisfaction to be gained in taking one’s controversial views down on the debate platform than there is in ignoring them. So when Hopkins later asserted that the students were “close minded”, she actually had some ground on which to stand. As Professor Richard Dawkins has argued, if you can’t have honest debate and face new ideas in a university setting, where can you? If those ideas are awful, take them down.
Of course, this kind of treatment hasn’t just been reserved for D-list celebrities. Walkouts and protests have been arranged for scholars, politicians, authors, and comedians as well. One of the most depressing examples was in 2014, when former Secretary of Condoleeza Rice pulled out of giving a speech at Rutgers University, over protests surrounding the Bush Administration’s involvement in Iraq. I’m not going to argue it was a worthy war or that she was an excellent Secretary of State but she is an important political and historical figure and such figures, should be heard, regardless of your opinion. Again, it’s much more satisfying to challenge these people in person. It also demonstrates that you can articulate in an intellectual manner just why these people are wrong.
To return to the pro-side of the aforementioned debate, I’d like to refer to Michael Dyson’s argument, which he based on the idea of White Privilege. I believe it is a harsh reality and it is fair, in a sense, to assert that White people have more to lose in a politically correct society than others do, who lack that societal advantage. Perhaps, it is agonizing for some groups to hear their very real concerns and fears being brushed of with assertions of overt-sensitivity. After all, White people, like me, have not had to deal with everyday racism or bigotry. Ours is an entirely different experience. It’s beyond our sphere of comprehension, for the most part.
Political correctness and racism/bigotry may correlate but that does not necessarily mean it is an adequate or sensible means of curing society’s ills. It’s actually a rather lazy means by which to tackle those doing the damage because a) again, when you try to silence them you only really embolden them and their base and b) it pushes us on the path to a different kind of oppression- an Orwellian kind in which group think (and to a degree, thoughtspeak) replace the freedom of individual expression and wide margin needed for intellectual debate. The reality is people say the wrong thing sometimes or express opinions indelicately. That is no means for justifying racism or sexism or homophobia (pay heed Trump supporters) but rather, a reminder that we learn best when we expose ourselves to all sorts of ideas and debate them openly. In the end, good ideas are good and bad ideas are bad, irrespective of identity.
20 years ago, the scandal that would define the latter part of the Clinton presidency broke on The Drudge Report. With the advent of the Internet Age, this story would take on a life of its own, exposing a changing media and political landscape traceable right through to today. Although the focus of the scandal would consume the next year’s news, resulting in the impeachment of the president, its elements and themes remain ever prevalent. In retrospect, we can now understand just how significant this cultural moment was for a) partisan politics, b) media sensationalism, and c) the online community / cyber bullying. Just how, you ask?
a) Partisan Politics
To be fair, 1998 can hardly be pointed to as the year in which partisan politics turned ugly. It’s not even when tensions began to spark between the Clinton Administration and the Republican majority. It is, however, reasonable to identify it as the year in which these tensions took a hold of the national consciousness and shifted the focus away from the issues to the ideological fronts on play. In establishing the impeachment process against Clinton in December 1998, the Republicans ushered in a new breed of malice that would become commonplace over the course of the next 20 years.
Of course, Clinton survived impeachment and his approval ratings even soared as the public saw past the petty under goings of the Ken Starr investigation but the bar for civility in politics was undoubtedly lowered. From thereon, the creed of the Republican Party became largely associated with winning on any level, as opposed to winning on the issues. Thus, support for Trump.
b) Media Sensationalism
Again, 1998 wasn’t the year sensationalism in the media was born but it easily got vamped up a notch as every sordid detail was covered in this case- from the blue dress to the definition of what sex is (“it depends on what the meaning of the word is is”- smooth Bill, really smooth).
Now, I’m not saying it’s in any way appropriate for the president to have an affair on the job but to be fair, a president’s always on the job and it’s a private matter. The media loves a scandal, of course, so in many ways Clinton can be blamed for digging his own grave. (It is conjectured by many that he’s a self-saboteur.) What many pundits, anchors, and journalists failed to recognize (or rather, chose to ignore) at the time however was a) how distracting their constant coverage was to the political and legislative process, b) how distracting it was from serious issues that could have been addressed- e.g. the growing threat of terrorist activity or the rise of Smash Mouth, and c) how damaging it was to a young woman (which we’ll cover in a moment.)
It’s one thing to make a case out of a proper injustice in the system (e.g. Watergate) but unlike any scandal beforehand, save that, this was covered with more gall and obsession than could ever be justified. And whilst being frank about it, let’s put to rest the claim that Clinton’s evasiveness and lies damaged the moral fabric of America. Yes, he was wrong but also politically motivated like any of the Republicans going after him, to save his own ass so that important things could be accomplished. Of course, many of his greatest opponents, like Newt Gingrinch, would later come under fire for their own affairs. Somehow, that just didn’t leave the same mark on the mass media’s blueprints however.
c) Cyber Bullying
Today, you only have to load the comments’ section on any Youtube video to encounter the ugliest, most vile, and seemingly illiterate people around. In some ways, Monica Lewinsky was patient zero for this new wave of bullying (at least on a national level) and it took a long time for her to come to grips with what had happened, especially because the focus turned to her so immediately. As she remarked in her 2015 TED talk; “overnight I went from being a completely private person to being completely publicly humiliated.”
It could be argued that she hardly helped the situation. She, of course, had an affair with a married man and later admitted to having done this before, all whilst under the delusion that this could result in an actual partnership, swayed by the charm of old Slick Willy. (She even kept the dress…) Her mistakes were her own but the backlash was insatiable, as she struggled for years to find work and at every corner, was reminded of the shame she had brought upon herself and her family.
Years later, she became an activist against cyber bullying, relating her own experiences to those targeted on social media and other platforms: “I couldn’t count how many horrible things people online had said about me, but I could count when somebody said something face to face on one hand.”
This is symptomatic of what’s going on today and ties in with the points above, in illustrating the inner portrait of America that was being painted a la Dorian Gray style. I’m not saying things were perfect before this happened but in these three respects, they were a little nicer and political relations were a little more civil. When you lower your standards, it only gets harder to reach for a higher platform. Trump, the modern GOP, social media, and mass media have largely followed this line to to its natural next breach and where it goes next is beyond daunting.
On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations will be revealed and a maelstrom of ill-informed opinions will flood social media, ranging from whether the #metoo movement is appropriately being represented to what degree of whiteness this year’s festivities have lauded upon us. Of course, most of these people will not have seen the majority of these movies because a) most of them have only seen limited releases in America and b) people don’t seem to think before they enter the foray of the comments section (no doubt, a golden idea for Aaron Sorkin’s next outing.)
But hold on- this is the Washington Walrus- so why are we talking about the Oscars? Well, we thought with the Government Shutdown, it’d be a nice opportunity to delve into something a little different. Besides that, Hollywood’s been the focus of a lot of controversy lately thanks to the likes of Harvey Weinstein (well, not thanks… but you know what I mean.) So, sit back and relax with a few thoughts on what’s been going on lately:
Is Oprah Gonna Be There?
Maybe but people need to stop being stupid and suggesting she run for higher office. I mean, she’s a good interviewer (if a bit emotionally exploitative) and that was a nice speech at the Globes but just because Trump’s lowered the bar so far, doesn’t mean we should resort to castigating intellectual political leaders and rallying around celebrity icons (albeit successful and smart ones). This kind of playful discourse might seem harmless but it’s what led to Trump getting much further than he ever should have. If we accept his leadership as a new level of normalcy, then we are in deep trouble.
Do Female Roles Suck Compared to Males’?
Kind of. Jessica Chastain recently demonstrated with the help of an ever-giddy Jimmy Fallon the difference often found between male and female roles in movies. It’s a fair observation, especially for blockbuster franchises where women are often relegated to the role of eye-candy love interest, worrying mother, or deceptively kickass but otherwise entirely boring allies. To address this latter part in particular’ a “strong” female role should not necessarily mean that the female character is wholly competent or even treated as an equal (depending on cultural and historical context) but rather, that they are simply three-dimensional and complicated beyond what their primary role is supposed to be.
Take Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones for example- at first, she’s the annoying, princess aspiring elder sister of the much cooler Arya Stark. Then, for a few seasons, she’s treated like shit and learns to accept her role in an aggressively patriarchal and chauvinistic society. Then, she begins to understand the dynamics of these politics and drags herself away from an awful position to a point of both political and emotional influence. On the surface, it’d appear that she’s a useless, albeit sympathetic figure. But within this role, despite the frustrations she encounters at every turn, there’s depth there and an opportunity to explore a range of emotions. That’s a well written character.
How about Sarah Connors from Terminator. She’s initially unremarkable but soon toughens up and becomes a resilient rebel in the war against Cybernet. Is she perfect? No– she’s temperamental and not exactly the best mom. That’s good though, no character should be perfect- in movies, that’s almost just as bad as being useless.
So of course, the bigger, better, and meatier roles are still being given to men (just look at most theatrical posters) and this may be an issue with the fact that some male writers are just not that great at writing female parts because women can sometimes be confusing to us. An effort needs to be made to change this however, because variety is simply invaluable for the creative process. It’s good that there’s a female Jedi now. It’s good that there are female-led franchises (like the Hunger Games.) It diversifies the medium, draws in a larger audience, and inspires women. With that said, Hollywood figures and producers must also recognize that these movies must be treated with tact; a lazy idea with an agenda can be spotted pretty easily… Female Ghostbusters…
Is The #metoo Movement A Witch Hunt?
Liam Neeson recently caught a lot of flack for an interview he did in which he acknowledged the importance of this watershed movement, whilst asserting that it was a ‘bit of a witch hunt’. Matt Damon, faced similar criticism, when he pointed out the undistinguished degree to which each figure faced with allegations was being reprimanded. Many people are outraged because they feel the legitimacy of this movement could easily be undermined by the questioning of its execution by those, who for all practical purposes, exert influence in this industry. This is understandable. There are also a lot of emotions out there. Women can relate to harassment on a level men just can’t. Plus, it’s long overdue.
It’s a difficult topic to broach and there are not a lot of popular, alternative ways of thinking outside the central narrative. With that said, if people are not willing to admit an element of paranoia inhabits this discourse, they should be willing to debate the intricacies of it. That’s what people do in a democracy, no matter how ugly or offensive the arguments mustered against them are.
Recently, James Franco and Azis Ansari have come under fire. Both Globe winners, their immediate careers now hang tenuously over the statements made by them and others in the coming couple of weeks (although Ansari seems relatively in the clear). Franco’s case is the more interesting one as he was until recently, for many, a surefire nominee for an Oscar. That could very well still be the case but given the toxic environment that it would create as well as what appears to be a call-out from Scarlett Johannson at the Women’s March, it seems ever more unlikely. Has his treatment been fair? Well, due process doesn’t seem to exist anymore for the collective public (even though this is not a legal case) but his responses have, at best, been tepid. If someone’s making false allegations against you, why not respond to them appropriately and call them out for what they are-lies. Clearly, he’s uneasy about something or at least giving that impression, at the worst point possible, to the public.
Again, because this movement has been long overdue, there is an element of bullshit fatigue for women. In the past, many figures have been afforded enough wiggle room to overcome their controversies and continue working. For example, Casey Affleck won an Oscar last year, despite mass protestations online and one of the most memorable facial expressions ever delivered by Brie Larson.
So what is the solution? To simply label it a “Witch Hunt” is to many, a way of undermining and thus, delegitimizing the movement. However, without some due process and recognition that the likes of Weinstein and Franco are not equal offenders, what can be said about the credibility of this cause? Clearly, we have no answer to offer but question marks are often just as good because they keep people thinking and thinking is never a bad thing (comment exceptions below).
So Should I Watch The Oscars? Is It Gonna Be Relentlessly Political?
I will- or rather, I will record and skim through it because it’s far too long and certain categories are boring (you know the ones).
It will be relentlessly political however. If you thought last year’s apology for 2016’s #oscarssowhite was encroaching (and it was), then prepare yourself for a a female win in every category (including Best Male.) Nah… but there will be speeches addressing all that’s gone on lately (as well as Trump) and there will be some half-assed attempt to draw parallels between today and what’s going on in Spielberg’s The Post. (Did you know when you were making it???)
Still, for the most part, I’ve always felt good movies were rewarded at the Oscars that otherwise might not have seen the light of day in a Box-Office driven market. They don’t always award the Best Picture category wisely (Goodfellas lost out in 1991 to Dances with Wolves). They don’t always go smoothly (last year’s La La Land kerfuffle). Most the speeches are pathetically cringeworthy (literally just type “Oscars Acceptance Speech” into Youtube.) But… the opening monologue is usually good and the forced grace by which the losers conduct themselves is something else…
So that’s all! Any thoughts yourself? Will Meryl Streep blast Trump? Will the statue now be of a woman’s figure? Who will win?
Impeachment… the one sweet word caught in a perpetual echo these days; the prospect which denotes hope and security for the majority; and which entails many ramifications, of which, we cannot be certain. As it seems likely that President Trump will spontaneously combust any day soon, we decided it was finally time to take a look at a man less charismatic than beige wallpaper- he, who would be king, should impeachment or this combustion occur. Yes, you guessed it- this article is about the guy who looks like he’s from Thunderbirds- Mike Pence. (The title was also a clue.)
Who is he? It’s an important question to ask as he’s never exactly stolen one subset of a headline. Fret not, we’re here to dispel the mystery surrounding him. Born into an iron-clad Catholic family in 1959, the would be-law student went on to shock his community by becoming a born-again Evangelical. He then adopted an array of hypocritical conservative-Christian stances, before his first defeat for the Indiana 2nd Congressional District. Unfortunately however, he persevered (ignoring God’s will after a second defeat), succeeded in 2000, and thereafter every two years up until 2012. Then, he became the Governor of Indiana and something of a national joke among liberals for his refusal to attend any alcohol-serving events without his wife and for his draconian beliefs regarding gays. (Basically, they’re sick and need to be cured.) In many respects, just another right-wing righter.
At the 2016 Republican National Convention, he called himself a ‘Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.’ Indeed, his religious convictions seem to shape his persona even more so than the average Republican. Brian Hovey, a political columnist from Indiana once wrote that ‘[he] doesn’t simply wear his faith on his sleeve, he wears the entire Jesus jersey.’ Given the fact that he’s been one of Trump’s more steadfast supporters, it’s fair to posit that these principles are flexible (basing these on the Bible). Of course, one could then argue that like any other politician, he merely employs these convictions for electoral purposes while bending them to his own end. Plus, he’s the VP! It hardly makes sense to speak rashly about a man who fires people as frequently as he used to on The Apprentice. That POTUS handle could be a mere tweet away!
The conventional thought is that while Pence isn’t ideal, he’s a great deal more amenable that the Donald. It’s certainly hard to imagine him doing something so obviously stupid as flaring tensions with North Korea or insulting a war hero or widow the way Trump has. He is, however, dangerous in that he’s more closely associated with the traditional GOP base. He will work with Paul Ryan and others to establish solid conservative pieces of legislation and he will do it under the cover of less scrutiny because a) he’s no Trump, b) this kind of news will become relatively boring, and c) the people are ready to turn off.
Historically speaking, he has campaigned against abortion- placing restrictions on providers as recently as least year. He’s also supported most international trade acts, including NAFTA (which Trump’s consistently called a failure). He once stated ‘societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family’ just in case he betrayed any image of outright homophobia. He supported Iraq (which apparently Trump always thought was a mistake) and he praised the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. A bit of a mix bag, in some respects, considering the administration he’s a part of but also an ‘unfortunate necessity’ in the words of Steve Bannon.
So, do you feel prepped? Or is there no point in such speculation? After all, there’s a new wild, crazt twist every month (if not, week) from the Trump administration and Pence could very well become nothing more than a footnote in the Age of Fantastic Ratings (if even for just wearing the same tie as Trump one day). He could also, however, be the man who brings America back from the pit of madness to the edge. Will he inspire? Will he be an improvement? Could he make America great again. No, probably, and no.
As the Trump Administration stumbles its way out of its seventh month, one can only begin to wonder when exactly this vessel of chaos will finally crumble. Given the preponderance of Hurricane Harvey, one can of course be forgiven for forgetting that the Breitbart phantom, Steve Bannon, only left his position as Chief Strategist a mere two weeks ago. Indeed, it seems each scandal or road-bump along the way has been subsumed by another. This one shouldn’t be quickly skipped over, however, for it highlights what has already become crystal clear that Trump seems hell-bent on attaining a higher turnover rate than an unpaid McDonald’s internship.
On January 30, a mere ten days into the Age of Truly Fantastic Ratings, the attorney general Sally Yates was the first to go, after directing lawyers not to defend Trump’s Muslim ban. Michael Flynn soon after resigned as National Security Adviser, pressured by the ongoing scrutiny of the Russian hacks. James Comey, the unfortunate FBI director who clearly didn’t pay attention to Flynn’s resignation, was fired on May 9 in the course of his investigation into the same subject. On July 21, Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned, after being found hiding in a bush and opposing the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci (the Communications Director) who would be gone ten days later and ten before his official start date. Even in that narrow gap however, we also lost Rince Priebus, the Chief of Staff, who just couldn’t whip the White House staff into shape. Then, as already mentioned, was the departure of Steve Bannon, who gradually fell out of favour somehow with the usually steadfast Commander-in-Chief. Of course, that’s not all the company Trump’s kept that has fallen by the wayside but it’s simply unrealistic to expect us to comment on every single one.
Naturally, turnovers occur and previous administrations have experienced their own tumultuous periods. In 1979, Carter fired five members of his cabinet in one foul sweep that backfired against his wishes to renew his administration’s credibility. In 1987, Reagan lost seven members of his cabinet when the Iran-Contra scandal came to light and threatened to take down his presidency. George W. Bush’s cabinet were hardly the bedrock of stability and even Obama’s, whilst relatively secure, was not the same in 2016 or 2012 as it was in 2009. Typically, according to a political science blog from Middlesbury College (2010), 75% of the president’s senior cabinet and advisers are retained through to the second year. Again however, Trump is only seven months in and he has already gone through a National Security Adviser, Press Secretary, and Chief of Staff. These are hardly the foyer decorators.
It is like jumping from a sinking ship that hit an iceberg November 8. Some analysts have opined that this turnover rate can be credited to the fact that Trump is a terrible leader. In conclusion, this fracture will undoubtedly plague any re-election hopes he might hold, for by 2020, it seems unlikely there’ll be any Republicans left to work for him.