Forget winter. Farage is coming

The day after the 2016 EU referendum, I warned that Remainers needed to get on board with Brexit in order to avoid a swell of far-right populism. Looking back, I feel like a Stark on Game of Thrones, saying “Winter is Coming” during a long, sunny summer.

Few, it seems, were listening.

It has been clear for some time that the UK is in the midst of the greatest political realignment since the 19th century. The Conservatives and Labour parties dominated the 20th century, but there is no guarantee they will survive the 21st. This weekend’s European election results indicate they may be in more trouble than we thought. I have never been more sorrowful to be proven right.

The Brexit Party won big, carrying a 10+ point lead over its nearest competitor, the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives and Labour suffered their worst defeats in living memory, and ChangeUK – the new party founded by former Labour, and then Tory, Remainer MPs – didn’t even crack five per cent.

There is a silver lining for Remainers, in that if you combine the explicitly remain parties (LibDems, ChangeUK, SNP, Greens), they’re practically neck in neck with the combined total of the Brexit Party and the seemingly now-irrelevant UKIP. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that a plurality of the electorate chose to vote for a party who is so adamant on leaving the EU that they put it in their name, led by Britain’s very own Littlefinger. If chaos is a ladder, as Lord Baelish once said, Nigel Farage is climbing it right to the top.

And therein lies the problem. Hearken back to the good ole days of 2015. After the General Election, one of the biggest questions in British politics was what would happen to Nigel Farage. UKIP did abysmally and it looked like his career was over. But like a reactionary Jon Snow, Nigel Farage rose from the political dead, and 2016 saw his life’s mission accomplished. It emboldened him, and today he can claim to be the most effective party leader in the UK.

The risk here isn’t Brexit. Not really. Despite being a lifelong Eurosceptic, I supported the Remain campaign because I couldn’t stomach the people leading the Leave Campaign – a group of hard-right goons who, as was once said of Littlefinger and is certainly true of Farage, would see the country burn if they could be kings of the ashes. I saw the writings on the wall then, and I see them even more urgently now: hard-right populism is on the rise in the UK, and Brexit is the dragon on which it will arrive.

So while most in the Westminster bubble argued over who would sit on the Iron Throne, some of us were frantically trying to get people to pay attention to the threat from the North (of England). A rising sense of disenchantment with the political establishment was emboldening a dangerous new reactionary politics. And now, that threat has arrived. The only thing that kept UKIP from gaining more than one seat in 2015 was first-past-the-post, a system in which the candidate or party with the largest share of votes in a constituency wins that seat. The Conservatives and Labour were the bulwark against such a threat, the two-party system, to beat this metaphor to death, like the Wall keeping out the White Walkers.

But now those two great political parties look like they’re about to fall. They were both decimated this weekend. The Tories are now involved in their own Game of Thrones. The Labour leadership is more interested in appeasing its members than winning an election, leading it to be unable or unwilling to formulate a cohesive Brexit strategy.

All this while Farage and the nefarious policies he represents gain massive political inroads.

It is no longer worth discussing what happens if authoritarian populism becomes mainstream. It already has. So how to nip this in the bud? The answer is simple.

The UK must leave the European Union on 31 October, deal or no deal.

In another Westerosi turn of events, as Theresa May falls, her house words become clearer and more relevant than ever: Brexit means Brexit. It must, no matter the cost.

There are dire consequences to exiting the European Union without a deal, I know. And in some ways, it means Farage and the Brexit Party have won. After all, this is what they want – the UK to exit the EU and default to World Trade Organisation rules. There’s the issue of Northern Ireland and the border. There’s the issue of the millions of EU citizens living in the UK and the millions of British citizens living in the EU. Leaving these issues unresolved is the worst possible scenario, next to not leaving at all.

The alternative is just too grim. If Brexit doesn’t happen, and soon, it won’t just be the European Elections the Brexit Party wins. Every day the country remains in the EU is a day Prime Minister Nigel Farage becomes more likely. Think of what that would mean to the working classes, who would suffer under his economic policies, or to immigrants and people of colour, or to LGBT rights, the feminist movement, or trade unions. It would be devastating.

The only way to turn back the tide of authoritarianism is to give the people what they want and put this issue to bed once and for all. The only way to stop Farage from winning in Westminster is to let him win in Europe.The only way the country can move on from Brexit is to Brexit.

Not doing so is to risk everything. It is clear the British voters want the UK to leave the European Union. A second referendum was held, in a way, and Remain lost again. The choice was the squabbling of the past three years or to just get on with it and leave, and “just get on with it and leave” was so appealing that the country just voted for the Night King.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an American writer. He writes about British politics and culture and has covered every British election since 2010. His work as appeared at The Independent, HuffPost UK, Salon, the Daily Dot, The GayUK Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives on the coast in North Carolina.

 

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Theresa May resigned. There must be a general election

After the 2015 election, I appeared on a political web show as an American journalist covering the British elections. When discussion turned to who would succeed David Cameron, I stated that “after a nuclear holocaust there would be cockroaches and Theresa May.” I wasn’t trying to compare the then-Home Secretary to a cockroach, but rather comment on her staying power. She is the longest serving Home Secretary in more than a century. She seemed an unstoppable force.

Then she became Prime Minister. Number 10—or perhaps more accurately, Brexit—proved the boot which finally crushed her political career. Theresa May has been an abysmal Prime Minister, losing the Tory majority in an ill-planned (for the Conservatives, anyway) 2017 general election and being utterly unable to unite a country deeply divided on Brexit. Indeed, her premiership will be remembered more for tinned soundbites (“Brexit means Brexit,” “strong and stable”) than any actual accomplishments.

Now, a bevvy of unsavoury characters (Boris Johnson, Andera Leadsom, etc) are poised to fight out a tumultuous Conservative leadership contest. The winner will ultimately lead the country out of the European Union. But they shouldn’t, at least, not simply by ascending to Number 10. They must have a mandate from the people, and that means the new Prime Minister must call a general election.

To be certain, technically, they don’t have to call an election. John Major didn’t go to the country until nearly two years after he succeeded Margaret Thatcher. Gordon Brown took nearly three years after he took over from Tony Blair. The next election doesn’t have to be held until 2022.

Certainly, there are sound arguments against calling an election. The country is already in tumult thanks to Brexit. A general election could add to the chaos, especially if the voters return a hung parliament (that is, no party has a clear majority). We more-or-less know what a Conservative Prime Minister will deliver (most likely, a no-deal Brexit), but simply by virtue of being in opposition, we know less what Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn might negotiate.

But here’s what we know. The next Tory leader will likely be an arch-Brexiteer. The Brexiteers campaigned on returning sovereignty to the British people. How, then, can they possibly justify a Prime Minister with no mandate from the people leading the country out of the European Union?

To be sure, there are plenty of constitutional arguments to make this point null and void. Technically, Prime Ministers aren’t directly elected (well, not by anyone but their constituents, who elect them as an MP). The Conservatives are still the largest party. The Westminster system is functioning as it ought to.

All of this is true, but it betrays a more basic fact. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, and those who campaigned to leave the EU did so in large part because of the “unelected” EU making decisions on behalf of the UK and that these decisions should be made by the British parliament, elected by the British people. How, then, can the most monumental peacetime decision be, if not made, than certainly executed by someone to whom the British people never had a chance to say aye?

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have already tweeted their support for a general election. The new Leader of the Conservative Party must follow suit. If Brexit is about democracy—both being restored and being honoured—they would be hypocrites not to.

Skylar’s First Impressions of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Watching the Sunday shows this morning, it occurred to me that I haven’t really commented on the 2020 election. That’s mostly because I think it’s stupid to talk about something that won’t happen until January 2020 in June 2019. I hate America’s perpetual election cycle.

But as I get back into political writing, it behoves me to get up-to-date with the coming election. So, in alphabetical order, here is my first impression of each candidate for the Democratic nomination:

  • Mike Bennett, Senator from Colorado – No name recognition. Who is he going to appeal to that someone better-known won’t? I can’t imagine him getting a lot of traction. Imagine he’ll drop out early
  • Joe Biden, former Vice President from Delaware – Seems to be the frontrunner right now, running as the “beat Trump” candidate. Name recognition, veep to a beloved president, blue collar appeal and a helluva politician. Plus, he really wants this. Like, you don’t know. Joe Biden has wanted to be president since he was an embryo. The one to beat.
  • Cory Booker, Senator from New Jersey – he once saved a person from a fire. Turned Newark around. Pretty cool backstory. But he’s not the most progressive, and in a field where Biden is going to run as the moderate, how does he really distinguish himself? Could win big in South Carolina if Black voters turn on Kamala Harris for her record of incarcerations or don’t warm to Biden – but that last one is a big if
  • Steve Bullock, Governor of Montana – Running as a Washington outsider, which is a pretty smart strategy considering how many of these candidates are senators, congresspeople, or former members of the executive branch (or all three, in the case of Joe Biden). Could bring that salt-of-the-earth heartland vibe that resonates with voters in Iowa, and could do well as a fellow westerner in Nevada. But I don’t know much about his record. Still a longshot – though worth noting that governors historically do better winning the presidency than vice presidents or senators
  • Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana – I’ve been a fan of Mayor Pete for years, and endorsed him from DNC chair in 2017. But is he ready to be president? Yes, he did wonders for unemployment in South Bend and helped save a dying city. He’s young (if elected, he’d be the first Millennial president, and the youngest full stop). He’s good looking. His husband—yes, husband—has a cracking social media game. Would be the first openly gay president (second gay president; RIP President Buchanan). Refreshingly, that could be a benefit and not a hindrance in a primary. In a general election, is America ready to vote for a gay president? I don’t know. And more pressingly, is being the mayor of a small city qualification enough for the Oval Office? And will Democrats go for a moderate like Pete when Biden’s in the race? He’s probably seen his moment in the sun already this cycle, but could be a dark horse worth watching
  • Julian Castro, former Secretary of HUD from Texas – the less exciting of the Castro brothers. I don’t have much to say here. Could surprise people in Nevada, but I don’t see him as a top-tier candidate
  • Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, New York – from what I understand, New York City hates him. Why wouldn’t America? He’s a progressive who I probably agree with more than anyone else as far as policy goes, but I just don’t see him as a serious contender
  • John Delaney, Congressman from Maryland – seriously, who? I know nothing about this man
  • Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawaii – Thank u, next
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator from New York – I once said that if Kirsten Gillibrand ran for president I would quit my job and work on her campaign. I haven’t done that, and her campaign has failed to take off the way many thought it would. I’m not saying there’s a correlation here, but… in all seriousness, though, don’t underestimate Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s probably the fiercest proponent of women’s rights and really shined when #MeToo took off, especially in condemning Bill Clinton’s behaviour in the 1990s and before. That took guts. With abortion becoming the issue of the summer, expect her profile—and prospects—to rise
  • Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska – perineal candidate. Has about as much a chance as an Alaskan snowball’s chance in hell
  • Kamala Harris, Senator from California – Kamala, more than anyone, deserves to debate Donald Trump. It would be amazing. She’d show him for the moron he is. But she hasn’t taken off the way I thought she would. That might be because voters are turned off by her record as Attorney General of California, where she was known for locking up low-level drug offenders. In the era of Black Lives Matter and prison abolitionism, that’s not a good look. Still, don’t count her out
  • John Hickenlooper, former Governor of Colorado – If Joe Biden wasn’t in the race, I’d say John Hickenlooper would be the one to watch. A plain-talking white man from middle America is usually a shoo-in for presidential nominations, but Hickenlooper is stuck in the shadow of Biden, and so similar to Bullock that they could split the same voters
  • Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington – Running on the climate, Inslee could capture Millennial and Gen-Z voters, the oldest of whom will be able to vote for the first time in 2020. But is it enough? If he gets a high-profile endorsement (say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), he could see some wind in his sails. But that’s a big “if,” I think. Another western governor means he’s competing with Hickenlooper and Bullock
  • Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota – her announcement speech was the stuff of legend, given during a snowstorm in a brutal Minnesota winter, but it was overshadowed with accusations she bullies her staff. Leaving aside the sexist notion that women asserting authority are bullies (and not at all commenting on the accusations, as I’ve not researched them enough to know if that’s what’s at play here), Klobuchar just hasn’t distinguished herself in this field. It’s early days, but again, if voters want a moderate, Joe Biden seems to be their choice. Klobuchar could find herself running for veep.
  • Wayne Messam, Mayor of Miramar, Florida – lol who?
  • Seth Moulton, Congressman from Massachusetts – a decorated war hero (he’s an Iraq veteran), Seth Moulton is a young, telegenic candidate who could surprise us all. His service to his country and dashing good looks stand in stark contrast to Donald Trump, who risks looking like Nixon debating Kennedy, except without the Nixonian brain (if the Nixonian instincts for corruption). But does anyone know who Seth Moulton is? No, not outside political junkies and his constituents – and the latter is iffy given American apathy. Might not be his time, but watch his star rise
  • Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman from Texas – Oh Beto. We barely knew thee. Could surprise us, but I think he’s more likely to go back and fight a statewide Texas race sometime in the near future. I don’t think his political career is over, but I don’t think he’s going to win the nomination. Not this time.
  • Tim Ryan, Congressman from Ohio – Good Democrat, but I can’t think of anything that distinguishes him from the others in the field
  • Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont – Wish he’d go away. HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT. But he could win, and to my mind is the biggest threat to Biden. I’m closer to Sanders’ politics than Bidens’, but something about him irks me. I think it’s that HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT and won’t join the party unless we let him lead it. Still, voters like him and he has the wind in his sails from 2016 which could propel him to the nomination. (Watching a debate between him and Trump would be like nails on a chalkboard, though, both of them so gruff and brash)
  • Eric Swalwell, Congressman from California – Staple on MSNBC, but beyond that, not much of a national profile. One of the fiercest critics of Trump in the House, Swalwell could benefit if the House impeaches Trump, but considering Biden’s running on the “gotta-beat-Trump” platform, I don’t think that’ll be enough
  • Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts – Elizabeth Warren could beat Joe Biden. She’s got the background and expertise and record to take him on when it comes to financial regulation, consumer rights, and all the things progressives don’t like about Joe Biden. She’s extremely popular in the Democratic Party and has every chance of winning this nomination. Can she beat Trump? No idea. But she would certainly be a stark contrast – an intelligent, educated Harvard professor who campaigns for the little people against a dumb, ignorant con artist who didn’t pay his workers
  • Marianne Williamson, activist from California – Umm, do I know you?
  • Andrew Yang, entrepreneur from New York – Not really familiar with him. Know some of my friends are really excited about him. Concerningly, they’re kind of conservative or libertarian leaning, which leads me to think he’s not my ideal candidate. Cute though

 

What do you think of the 2020 field? Can anybody beat Biden? Will there be a dark horse who emerges in the debates? Or in the early primaries and caucuses? Is it too early to talk about any of this? Leave your comments below!

Trump’s attacks on the press makes the press moreimportant than ever

trump acosta

Donald Trump hates the press. It’s no secret. He’s been attacking us since before he won the presidency. But yesterday, he acted on that hatred in a sinister threat to democracy.

News broke last night that the White House had revoked the “hard pass” of CNN’s Jim Acosta, allegedly for grabbing a White House staffer during a press conference in which Trump called Acosta “terrible person” who reports for “fake news,” an accusation he lobbed at Acosta and CNN after Acosta asked a question about bombs sent to the network earlier this month.

The revocation of Acosta’s hard pass effectively bans Acosta from the White House. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, the Leni Riefenstahl of this administration, Acosta was suspended for touching a staffer during his questioning. The video shows the White House is lying, and it’s actually Acosta who was grabbed.

In the same press conference, Trump called PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor’s question about whether his embracing the term “nationalist” – a term loaded with fascistic connotations – may have emboldened white nationalists. It was clearly a way to shut Alcindor up without having to answer her quite relevant question.

We should all be terrified by this sudden turn of events. It is utterly unprecedent for a president to ban a reporter for asking tough questions. Sure, many (if not all) presidents have had strained relations with the media at one time or another. That’s because it’s our job, as the free and unfettered press, to ask tough questions, speak truth to power, and hold administrations to account.

Trump doesn’t believe that. Instead, he wants fawning talking-heads like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro singing his praises like they’re the Pink Lady of North Korea. When they do, they’re rewarded. Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro both got to appear onstage with the president ahead of the midterms—a move so blatantly unethical that even Fox News had to publicly chastise their top-rated talent for making. When they don’t, they get chucked out like Jim Acosta.

I’d love to say this is all just a temper tantrum because Trump took a bruising in the midterms. But it’s not. His history of hostility towards the press is storied. Now that he’s lost the House of Representatives—and sees the walls closing in around him—it’s only going to get worse. Donald Trump will not take this lying down.

But neither should we, the free and unfettered press. For that is what we are—for now. We must keep speaking truth to power. We must keep asking the tough, uncomfortable questions, like “why the president emboldening racists?” and “why does he think it’s okay to say CNN is the “enemy of the people?” after one of his supporters tried to blow CNN up.

Some on Twitter have suggested that the entire White House Press Corps walks out in support of Acosta. I cannot support this. If no one is there to report on this administration, who knows that they will do? Instead, reporters should double-down, asking tougher questions and demanding more thorough answers. The Republic depends on it.

None of this is hyperbole. Oh, that it were. This is serious. Trump has become even more unhinged in defeat than he was in victory. He’s like a caged animal, teeth bared and ready to fight for his life. His first targets are us in the press.

We cannot back down. Rarely has the press been as vital as it is now. The American people deserve to know the truth about what’s going on, and this administration is bound and determined that they do not. Trump insists on propaganda. We must counter it by continuing to report what we know, writing what we see, and making sure the people know the truth behind the lies. History has its eyes on us.

Last week, I wrote in the Independent that as a critic of the Trump administration, I am scared for my safety. But that fear cannot stop us from doing our duties as journalists and opinion writers. We are vital to the survival of democracy, and rarely in American history has the survival of democracy looked so tenuous. It won’t be easy. There are swaths of the country ready to accept the lies of the Trump administration. But we must steady the buffs. The future of the Republic is at stake, and we are the last bastion before it falls to an authoritarian strongman.

I’m not going to shut up. Neither should you.

 

“Jenny” Lives with Sodomites: Section 28 in Historic Context

section 28

Photo: BBC/Alamy (If you look, third from the right, you’ll see a young Peter Tatchell)

I wrote this paper during my senior year at Western Kentucky University. 

It came up in conversation on Twitter last night, so I thought I’d share with you all. I only have a hard copy, so I scanned it and made it a .pdf. I’m not super tech-savvy, so I’m not sure how to make it look any more pleasing to the eye. But if you click that link, you should be able to read the paper.

For those of you who don’t know, Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in British schools and by British local councils. It is what galvanised the lesbian and gay movements into coalescing. From the struggle against Section 28, an alliance emerged that would produce, among other notable groups, Stonewall.

This, to me, has always been the genesis of what we consider the “gay rights movement” in the UK. There were disparate groups before Section 28, sure, but they didn’t have the political successes that the movement would experience in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. This is down to several factors, including – ironically – that Section 28 had the whole nation talking about homosexuality, which is exactly what it was meant to stop.

The 1980s saw a slowing of progress on gay rights, brought on by Thatcher, yes, but also by the Aids crisis. Section 28 was an overreaction by Conservative backbenchers to what was a minor controversy in London. In this paper, I try to put these events, and others, into historic context to give a picture of the birth of the modern British LGBT rights movement.

A few things to remember when reading this:

  • I wrote this eight years ago as a student. It is only about 28 pages long (double-spaced, as was required). So it is by no means exhaustive. It is simply my contribution.
  • My writing has (hopefully!) matured and improved since my early 20s. Please be kind
  • I’m American, and was only two years old in 1988. So I don’t have a memory of these events. Some of you may remember things differently, and I would love to hear from you

I hope you find this as interesting as I do, and that you enjoy the paper.

Finally, this seemed to be a big hit on Twitter last night, so I leave you with a video of the Lesbian Avengers abseiling into the House of Lords to protest what was then known as Clause 28.

 

 

On my hiatus

 

 

jacksonville

This piece is a long time coming.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been writing for the past eight months, save a couple pieces for INTO. While this was the plan in late 2017 – to take 2018 off of pitching and writing about politics and pop culture – it hasn’t exactly happened as I anticipated. “Man plans, God laughs,” they say.

The plan back in January was to write my first novel. I’ve long dreamed of doing this, and spent much of 2017 doing the legwork, building out this elaborate fantasy world and creating these rich characters. If that sounds like bragging, it kind of is. I’m incredibly excited about this project. I don’t know if it will ever get published, but in January and last year, I wasn’t worried about that. I was just having fun being creative and writing for the sake of writing.

And then my brother got his by a bus, and he almost died. Something like this is bound to impact you, but it utterly changed my life. While he was still in a coma I decided I was going to uproot my life, one I’d spent seven years building, and move from Chicago to North Carolina to be closer to him. By the end of March, I was here.

For the first couple weeks I was back I was at the hospital with him nonstop. He was in a rehabilitation wing making remarkable progress. When I left to pack up my life and move down here at the end of February, we weren’t sure he’d be much more than a vegetable. By April 1, he was walking on his own and mentally sharp as a tack, if a little obstinate and mouthy – as teenagers are apt to be. By the time he was released, though, it was clear that he was going to make as near a full recovery as anyone who is hit by a giant bus going 35 MPH possibly can.

So I went back to Jacksonville, where my family lives, and settled in at my grandmother’s house.

Then I had to find a job. That took longer than I thought it would.

Then I had to find an apartment. That happened faster than I thought it would.

Then I had to build a social life. That still hasn’t happened.

And now, after two months working at an office job (hi new work friends!), I’m ready to start writing again.

Truth be told, I had the itch for the first time when Connor was still in ICU. We were waiting for the doctors to tell us something or other, I can’t even remember, and I was in the waiting room watching live coverage of the Parkland shooting. The aftermath of that, seeing these brave high school students stand up for commonsense gun laws and for their – and my brother’s – generation, was inspiring. I wanted to cover it so badly. But not as badly as I wanted to be there for my brother. And so, my focus remained on him.

Since then, there have been countless times where I’ve thought that I should pitch an article, or write a blog, or do something else to get back in the game. But I haven’t. And part of that is understanding my own limitations.

Writing is an exhausting endeavor, even when you’re well practiced and nimble. Producing a 650-1000-word essay on a dime is no small task, especially when you’re trying to persuade the world around to your point of view. It’s mentally draining and can be physically exhausting.

So is looking after your hospitalized brother. One thing my mother and I discussed while Connor was in the hospital was how exhausting simply sitting in a hospital can be. The stress of sitting, waiting for some news, wondering if your loved one is going to be okay or if the test results the doctors are giving you are going to confirm some unknown horror, is a crucible of anxiety I cannot explain unless you’ve gone through it yourself. It takes everything out of you, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

But then, this was going to be a tough year by any measure. Those of you who were around back in January know that 2018 started off with a self-reckoning. I was drinking too much, I was unhappy with my overall appearance – in particularly my weight – and I was trying to figure out where I wanted my life to go. Then, Connor got hit and everything changed. Suddenly I wasn’t living my life just for me, but for someone else. My brother needed me, and he needed me clear-eyed and alert.

Deciding to move here was the easy part; settling in has been more challenging. I’m not exactly from a big city – Hyden, Kentucky only has about 400 people, and I lived seven miles outside of it. Even Bowling Green, where I went to college, or Dayton, where I grew up aren’t all that big. But after seven years spent in Chicago, with holidays in London, and not really living either very often, coming to a town the size of Jacksonville, North Carolina – population about 70,000 – has been an adjustment.

There are no gay bars here, let alone a gay village. Fine dining is Olive Garden. And while God forbid they socialize healthcare in North Carolina, they have no problem socializing booze; the state literally owns the liquor stores, so you must go to one of these Alcoholic Beverage Control (or “ABC”) stores to buy anything harder than a Malbec. Church is where folks go to see and be seen, and some people even have bumper stickers next to their “MAGA” decals that proudly proclaim they are “NOT A LIBERAL!” to which I always think “THAT’S A SHAME!” when I see them (yes, them – I’ve seen more than a few).

It’s safe to say, then, that it’s been a bit of a culture shock. But it hasn’t been as bad as you’re probably imagining. The people down here are friendly and nice. Not Midwestern nice, but proper nice; they genuinely care when they ask how your day is going. The weather is hot and humid, and it rains all the time, but it’s sure as hell going to beat Chicago come February. The cost of living is astronomically lower. I have a two bedroom in the heart of Jacksonville for less than I was paying for my garden unit one bedroom in Logan Square. And of course, it’s nice to be close to family.

But even with all that’s good, it still isn’t anything I’m used to. Getting used to being back in the south, coupled with the sheer stress of moving a thousand miles (regardless of where from or to), has really taken all the energy and spare time I’ve had. For not only am I having to adjust to a new town, with new people, in a new state, but I’m having to get used to a new time zone, a new routine, and a brand-new life full of brand new people.

That’s made writing not only more difficult, but less of a priority. I knew that in order for me to flourish in Jacksonville, I was going to have to focus on being in Jacksonville. And that meant not focusing on what was going on in Washington, or New York, and certainly not my beloved London.

I’ve spent the past four months doing just that – getting to know my new town, finding my new hangout spots, and settling into a groove that suits this new life. I think I’ve finally found it. Last week, I started writing my novel. I’m only about 1500 words in, but it’s a start. It’s invigorating. While I’m still dealing with the anxiety I’ve always dealt with when it comes to writing, I feel excited enough to push through it, and hope to have a rough draft finished by December 31.

I also think I’m going to start pitching again and commenting on the news of the day, though I’ll probably do it less frequently than I used to and probably share less of my work on social media. The truth is, I have a lot to say about politics and media, but I’m not particularly interested in discussing or debating it with my cousin’s boyfriend’s mother’s best friend on Facebook. It’s just not a productive use of my time. Arguing on social media is a waste of energy, accomplishes very little, and ultimately is quite boring. I’ve thought of deleting all the social media apps from my phone, following the brilliant Abi Wilkinson’s lead, to eliminate distractions and simply live more presently in the moment. It will, I think, help me be a better writer. I’ve not done it yet, but I’ll let you know if I do and what comes of it.

In the meantime, this is my first piece back to work, as it were. I don’t really know why I felt the need to write this, but I did. I suppose, on some level, it’s so that I can process the past eight months and the whirlwind journey I’ve been on. It really feels like it has less to do with who is reading this than it does with simply writing it and proving to myself that not only am I ready to start writing again, but that I can start writing again.

I also wanted to give you all and update on my life. I haven’t been as active on social media, I’ve all but disappeared from the websites you used to read me at, and I haven’t been terribly open about what’s been going on.

So that’s it. I’m a North Carolinian now. But I’m still a writer. And I can’t wait to write so much more.

Donald Trump is wrong to cut foreign aid

trump sotu

Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address last night on Capitol Hill. Photo: CBS News

Hell hath no fury like Donald Trump scorned. He is still smarting over nearly every nation in the world voting to condemn his decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and it has now translated into policy. Last night, the President pledged last night to cut foreign aid to countries which oppose American foreign policy.

Immediately #MAGA Twitter applauded the news. Retired Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin – who currently serves as Vice President for the far-right Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group – called the news “phenomenal” in a tweet. “American dollars must support American interests,” he said.

Anyone with even the faintest idea of international politics ought to know that’s exactly what foreign aid does, though. This isn’t free money for ungrateful poor countries, which is how Trump and his acolytes frame it. Foreign aid is vital to American interests.

The Chinese know this. Beijing is investing in Africa at a record pace, building infrastructure and providing economic aid while Trump calls its nation’s “shitholes.” Instead of insulting them, he ought to be looking to see how he can help them and make allies out of them. Considering the West’s history of carving up the continent, direct investment in their security and stability and humanitarian aid is a great place to start.

If not for the altruistic goal of improving the lives of some of the world’s most impoverished people, we ought to do it for our own national security. Throughout West Africa, US aid helped to contain and eradicate Ebola before it had a chance to spread outside the region, including to the United States.

Providing money to fight disease, combat terrorism, and feed those in need is a great way to win the hearts of populations we desperately need on our side and to prevent the spread of terrorism. In Nigeria, US aid has “provide[s] life-saving humanitarian assistance and transitional programs for stabilisation” against Boko Haram, an offshoot of ISIS which last year killed four American soldiers. But don’t take my word for it – that’s a direct quote from the US State Department.

The State Department has an entire website dedicated to showing the American people just how their tax dollars our being spent abroad, and its both enlightening and sobering reading. It specifically mentions the “deteriorating situation in Syria and instability in Iraq” – where ISIS operates – in explaining the need for $3.8 million in foreign aid it plans to give Turkey this fiscal year for “training in the detection of illicit weapons, improved licensing procedures, and enhanced border controls.” This is chump change compared to the $87 million the US is giving to Mexico, which the State Department says “continues to be a strong partner of the initiatives that complement the United States’ programs to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America.”

Even the Red Hats can surely applaud that goal. It is an irrefutable fact that part of the reason people from Central America migrate to the US is the instability in their own countries, whether due to cartel violence or economic insecurity. These are countries in America’s own backyard, and whether the isolationists – or even the President – want to admit it or not, their stability is tied to our own stability.

We have a vested interest in the success of other nations, even if they don’t always kotow to Trump. Regardless of how much the President and his cronies want to deny it, we live in a globalised world where American interests are directly tied to the interests of other countries. This fact doesn’t stop just because Trump doesn’t like the way our allies vote at the UN.

Friends sometimes disagree, but that doesn’t mean that we should turn our backs on them. When Margaret Thatcher went to war against Argentina to protect the Falklands, the Reagan administration vehemently disagreed – but American didn’t turn its back on Britain. When America invaded Grenada, Thatcher was furious, but Britain still stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us.

Invasions and war makes a UN resolution seem like small potatoes. It really illustrates just how petty Trump is and how utterly clueless the isolationists lauding his decision to cut foreign aid to those who disagree with his policies are. They are throwing a temper tantrum that puts America’s own national security and interests at risk. We can afford foreign aid. We can’t afford that.

Skylar Baker-Jordan runs “The Curious American.” His writing has appeared at The Independent, HuffPostUK, The Daily Dot, The Advocate, and elsewhere. He is a contributing editor at THEGAYUK Magazine. He lives in Chicago.