Author Archives: skylarjordan

About skylarjordan

I'm a Yank who likes Britain. A lot. Once described as "so brilliant, but uses it for evil."

On my hiatus

 

 

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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.

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Donald Trump is wrong to cut foreign aid

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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.

“Roseanne” could be just the show we need – if ABC does it right

AMES MCNAMARA, SARA GILBERT, LAURIE METCALF, EMMA KENNEY, JAYDEN REY, ROSEANNE BARR, MICHAEL FISHMAN, JOHN GOODMAN, LECY GORANSON, SARAH CHALKE

The cast of ABC’s Roseanne, which returns on 27 March

I love Roseanne. A show about a working class white family in downstate Illinois, it has long been one of my favourites. I remember watching it with my family as a child and have seen every episode at least twice as an adult. I can quote many episodes by heart. It spoke to me and my upbringing as a working-class kid in Ohio and Kentucky. In the Conner’s, I saw a reflection of my own family. It’s no surprise then that I was thrilled to hear the show was returning, 20 years after it went off the air.

But Roseanne Barr is a Trump supporter, and as revealed at the Television Critics’ Association up-fronts this week, so now is her character.  “I’ve always tried to have it be a true reflection of the society we live in. Half the people voted for Trump and half didn’t. It’s just realistic,” she said about the decision to have the Conner family split between Hillary and Trump voters, adding (incorrectly) that it was working class white people who elected Trump.

Predictably, this has led many fans of the original series to boycott the reboot. I understand the sentiment. Roseanne’s politics repulse me. If I want to see a Trump apologist I’d turn on Fox News. To say that both Roseanne Barr’s and Roseanne Conner’s support for that sunburnt sasquatch hasn’t diminished my joy and tainted my love for the show would be a lie.

During the show’s first iteration Roseanne Conner was a strident, if unintentional, feminist who broke the mould of what a woman could and should be on TV. She led a union walkout at her factory. She started her own business with her sister, mother, and best friend. She insisted her children not be hampered by gender norms, in one memorable scene telling daughter Darlene that a baseball glove was a girl’s thing if a girl used it.  She dealt with racism, sexism, and domestic violence – both addressing her own physical abuse as a child and her sister Jackie’s abuse by her boyfriend. She had gay and lesbian friends and even threw a same-sex wedding years before the idea gained mainstream acceptance, even amongst gay rights activists.

The Roseanne Conner of yesteryear would never tolerate someone who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. In fact, some of that old progressive spark seems to be alive in the reboot. Sara Gilbert, the openly lesbian actress who plays Darlene, is a producer. Her character’s son, Mark, will be a gender non-conforming boy who wears dresses. And Michael Fishman’s character DJ’s daughter is a Black girl named Mary, after her great-great grandmother. (No word on whether Mary’s mom will appear.)

So it’s hard to see how the character could come to such a wildly different worldview today than she had in 1997. Barr didn’t offer much in the way of explanation at the up-fronts, which leaves a lot of old fans like me very sceptical that this show is going to be anything other than a platform for Barr to espouse her weird conspiracy theories and unabashed support for the orange oppressor.

That the show would tackle Trump is hardly surprising, though. Roseanne takes place in the fictional small town of Lanford, Illinois – an exurb of Chicago smack dab in the middle of the Rust Belt. It’s this region of the country which seems to be the strongest bastion of Trump support (it was certainly the region that handed him the White House), and a lot of the issues the series dealt with in the 1980s and 1990s – low and stagnant wages, factory closings, un- and underemployment, community blight – are issues which many more communities in the Great Lakes states are experiencing today.

It’s easy to believe most people in Lanford would be Trump voters. Indeed, when announcing the return of the series last year, ABC President Channing Dungey said she wanted to “bring back a point of view that has really been missing on the air,” citing Trump voters as the show’s target demographic. What better family to speak to the white working class than the iconic Conner clan? I doubt they’re watching shows like Fresh of the Boat or blackish. And the Conners are the antithesis of the Pritchetts and Dunphys on Modern Family.

So ABC has brought back the Conners, which by all reports is a family divided. Word out of the TCA up-front is that Jackie (played by the remarkable Laurie Metcalfe) hasn’t spoken to her sister Roseanne in a year because of the latter’s support for Trump. (Stills released by the network show Jackie dressed in a “nasty woman” shirt and pink pussy hat.) Far be it from me to argue this isn’t realistic or relevant. I’ve written about my own feuding family a couple times, including how I haven’t spoken to my sister since the 2016 election. There’s artistic merit in exploring this critical moment in our history with a sitcom, much like Norman Lear did with the Vietnam War in All in the Family.

Of course, loveable bigot Archie Bunker always got his comeuppance and frequently realised he was on the wrong side of history. My fear, though, is that the Conners are going to be used by Barr to excuse the bigotry latent in support for Trump. You must tolerate and to a degree embrace the misogyny, racism, and xenophobia of Donald Trump to vote for and continue to support him. That’s going to have to be addressed if this show is going to retain any credibility and not turn into straight-up Trumpist propaganda.

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2017

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It’s that time of year where we all get drunk, sing hokey songs, and hang our stockings in anticipation of Santa’s visit. I’m already in the festive spirit, wearing my Christmas pyjamas at my favourite microbrewery and drinking a beer whilst petting a very cute dog called Finegan. I can’t tell you whether you’re getting candy or coal this year, but I know I’ve been very good indeed. The same can’t be said for everyone, though. With that, I give you this year’s naughty and nice list!

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5. Arlene Foster

The Bigot of Belfast had a banner year. The leader of the DUP, along with her nefarious elf Nigel Dodds, secured a billion pound cheque from Number 10 in exchange for propping up Theresa May’s shambolic government. This is after a scandal over an energy deal she made in 2012 which ended up making profits for those enrolled but cost the taxpayers of Northern Ireland £500 million. Her refusal to stand aside during an investigation led to a power-sharing collapse between the DUP and Sinn Fein and created the largest political crisis in the province since the Good Friday Agreement. She’s exacerbated this with her sabotaging a deal between Theresa May and the EU over the Irish border. Never mind her continued opposition to equal marriage in Northern Ireland – she’s royally screwed the UK and looks set to continue to do so into 2018 and beyond.

4. Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell

From capitulating to Trump on the Muslim ban to turning a blind eye to his threats to the media to trying to repeal Obamacare to passing the single biggest transfer of wealth from the working class to the 1% in a generation, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have shown themselves patently unable or unwilling to be a check on the executive branch. They kowtow to Trump at every turn, stymie the Russia investigation, and lead the Republican Party straight into fascism just to line the pockets of their supporters. These ghastly men can hardly be called patriots.

3. Roy Moore

This man (allegedly) molested teenage girls and still came within a breath of winning a seat in the US Senate. That’s how depraved the modern Republican Party is. But Roy Moore was always an odious man. He was twice kicked off the Alabama bench for ignoring rulings from the US Supreme Court. He blamed sodomy for 9/11. He said gays should be executed. He’s human trash, and the people of Alabama finally took out the garbage. Thanks to his reactionary, bigoted, and frankly sexually predatory antics, a deep red state just became a beautiful shade of purple.

2. Theresa May

Oh Teeza. What a year you’ve had. From cozying up to a proto-fascist (that’d be Trump) and inviting him to meet the Queen (leave her out of this) to that shambolic campaign, your year didn’t start off very well. Then you lost David Cameron’s majority, bought the support of a bunch of homophobes, had cabinet minister after cabinet minister resign – including Priti Patel who took meetings with Israeli officials and didn’t think you mattered enough to tell – and have negotiated exactly nothing when it comes to Brexit. You’re going down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers and you’ve only been in office for 18 months. Well done, you.

1. Men (as a class)
Donald Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Mario Batali. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Mark Halperin. John Conyers. Stephen Crabb. Charlie Elphicke. Louis CK. Jeffrey Tambor. Glenn Thrush. Jared O’Mara. Nelly. Matt Damon. Ben Affleck. Casey Affleck. Danny Masterson. Michael Fallon. Mark Garnier. Lorin Stein.  George Takei. Damien Greene. Daniel Kawczynski. Tavis Smiley. Garrison Keillor. Kelvin Hopkins. Clive Lewis. Russell Simmons. Ed Westwick. Dustin Hoffman. Jeremy Piven. George HW Bush. Bill Clinton. Etc, Etc, Etc.

We’re scum.

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5. Colin Kaepernick

Kaep gave up a lucrative career in the NFL to stand up for what’s right. His subtle act of “taking a knee” for the American national anthem sparked a national protest movement against police brutality and gun violence. He has spoken out on not only this, but the need for community investment in our inner cities, schools, and children. Colin Kaepernick has become the voice for a generation of activists saying “enough” and looking to challenge white supremacy and the extrajudicial killings of Black people wherever they find it. He is an American hero.

4. Diane Abbott

I admit it hasn’t been the easiest year for the Shadow Home Secretary, who had a couple rocky interviews during the general election campaign back in the spring. But no one on either side of the Atlantic has been a more effective and louder voice against online harassment, particularly against women of colour, than Diane has. She delivered a brilliant speech in the Commons, a heart-wrenching op-ed in the Guardian, and has highlighted an issue which stifles discourse and threatens to defer thousands of young women, especially, of entering politics. Regardless of whether you’re a Labour supporter or not, or of what you think of Diane’s politics, her contribution cannot be understated.

3. Robert Mueller

After Trump sacked former FBI Director James Comey, Robert Mueller stepped in as a special prosecutor into the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Since then, he’s gotten guilty pleas out of two Trump campaign staffers, including Trump’s first National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, and has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Whatever nefarious actions the Trump campaign was up to in 2016, Mueller has begun to shed light on them in 2017 and it looks like we’ll hear more from him in 2018. Good, because it’s time to LOCK. HIM. UP.

2. David Lammy

I’ll never forget watching David Lammy’s emotional interview after the Grenfell Tower fire. He’d lost a friend, rising artist Khadija Saye, in the blaze and has become one of the most vocal champions not only of the victims, but of working class and poor people across the nation who so often live in substandard housing. Since the tragedy at Grenfell, David has never ceased in his efforts to find justice for the victims and to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again by leading the movement for more social housing and stricter safety codes. A rising star, David Lammy has already proven himself a champion of the people and one of the few MPs who seem willing to truly advocate for an end to the endemic housing crisis that has plagued Britain for years.


1. Women (as a class)

Perhaps paradoxically, considering the election of Trump in 2016, 2017 has been the year of women in so many ways. Women have led the resistance to the resurgent fascism Trump embodies and espouses from the Women’s March in January to Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand in Congress. And then Harvey Weinstein happened, and women around the world began speaking out about their own experiences with sexual violence and harassment. Watching the sheer volume of women I know tweet #MeToo has been jarring, humbling, and empowering all at once. Speaking out is courageous, but after Weinstein was exposed a grassroots movement began which cannot be stopped. You have my solidarity and my utter awe, women. The shit you put up with just to exist in this world no male can ever even fathom. I stand with you.

That’s it from me in 2017. I may have one more piece at the HuffPost UK or Independent, but other than that, it’ll be fairly quiet until next year. So I’m wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2018!

xx Skylar

Of course America has a gun violence problem. We always have.

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A man covers a woman during the shooting in Las Vegas on 1 October. Photo: ABC/David Becker/Getty

Another week in America, another mass shooting. This time, at least 59 people have lost their lives following an attack on a country music festival in Las Vegas. The perpetrator was a wealthy, white sexagenarian, the latest in a long line of mostly white males who massacre their fellow Americans. This is, sadly, a regular occurrence here in the United States.

I write for a mostly international audience, and several people on Twitter have asked why this seems to happen in America more frequently than anywhere else in the Western world. I’ve spent much of the past week grappling with this question, trying to figure out a way to summarise exactly what makes America so exceptional when it comes to massacring our own.

The answer, it turns out, is both simple and complex – one that is both born of the present and rooted deep in America’s past.

There’s the obvious: we have the most guns, and the most lax gun laws, of any developed nation. Following the Port Arthur massacre, Australia banned automatic and semiautomatic weapons, instituted a gun buyback scheme, and hasn’t had a mass shooting since, save for the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis which saw 3 people killed and 4 others wounded. That’s small potatoes compared to an average American mass shooting – and certainly compared to Las Vegas, where over 500 people are reportedly injured, many critically.

Of course, Australia doesn’t have a Second Amendment, which enshrines “the right to bear arms.” Leaving aside the semantic and constitutional arguments about whether the Framers ever intended for that to extend outside state militias (the equivalent of which is modern-day state National Guards) or whether they anticipated the advent of modern weapons of mass murder, this law does seem to give Americans an inalienable right to own firearms. And it’s one that many people take very seriously.

To understand why, you have to understand something about the American character. In a 2016 speech, former president Barack Obama said that Americans “are not inherently more prone to violence.”

He was wrong. Americans are more inherently prone to violence. Violence is ingrained in our national DNA.

The United States of America was born in violence. We gained our independence through a bloody revolution in which we waged war to throw off the yoke of British rule. But before that, we were founded on white settler colonialism which saw us enslave Africans to work our plantations and exterminate the Native Americans of the Eastern Seaboard, Southeast, and Midwest in order to “settle” those lands.

This continued when we pushed westward. A cultural narrative of “us-versus-them” sprung up vis-a-vis white settlers and Native Americans. From the Bear River Massacre, where nearly 250 Shoshone Indians were killed to Wounded Knee, where close to 300 Lakota were slain by the US Army, the story of the West is one of violent conquest.

The imperial colonisation of the West also gave rise to the belief in “rugged individualism,” which has permeated the American psyche ever since. At its most basic, “rugged individualism” is almost anarchist in its belief that the state won’t take care of citizens and so citizens must take care of themselves.

In the Old West, this was somewhat true – settlers were often far from the protections of the state and had to fend for themselves against the elements and outlaws, and yes, Native Americans who were trying desperately to protect their homeland against the invading colonists (and make no mistake, that’s what white settlers were). But somehow, as the West was tamed by federal and state law enforcement, Americans never gave up their guns.

This is hardly surprising. Slaveholders in the south needed guns in order to keep enslaved African-Americans in line and avoid slave insurrections. One of the only things that kept slaves – who greatly outnumbered slaveholders – from rebelling en masse was that they did not have firearms whereas the masters did. Then came the Civil War, where the South took up arms against the federal government in order to preserve slavery. After that failed – in what is to date the bloodiest war in American history – they used guns to help enforce Jim Crow laws, which subjugated Black Americans for another century.

There is another lesson to be drawn from the Civil War, though – one that many left-wing Americans won’t accept but that is extremely important to consider. The reason the South was able to so quickly raise an army to fight the federal government was that they had guns. And for many, many Americans – especially white Americans – this is a primary reason for clinging to their guns.

They see firearms as a fail-safe against a potentially tyrannical government which would usurp their liberties. This is certainly how many racist slaveholders saw the election of Lincoln, and it is how many – again, mostly white – Americans view guns today.

After all, as I said, this was a country born in violent revolution. From the Whiskey Rebellion to the Civil War to the Miners War, the right to bear arms has been something the citizenry has used to fight back against what they’ve felt is government tyranny.

Of course, this right has only ever extended to white people. Prior to the 1970s, the National Rifle Association (NRA), America’s gun lobby, had broadly supported gun control measures. This began to change in 1967, when gun control measures supported by then California governor Ronald Reagan (yes, that Ronald Reagan) would have banned Black Panther members from carrying arms.

Opposing the law, members of the Black Panther Party carried their guns into the California capitol demanding their right to bear arms. Reagan commented at the time that “there’s no reason why, on the street today, a citizen should be carrying a loaded weapon.” He changed his tune by the time he ran for president in 1980.

Following the turmoil of the late 1960s, in which urban Blacks – in particular the Black Panther Party – began arming themselves against violent white oppression, the NRA saw an influx of rural members who quickly turned the organisation from a gun training organisation to a strict defender of the Second Amendment – and of gun rights laws.

They didn’t do it because of any desire to support the rights of Black urbanites, though. They actually felt that gun control laws on Black people were unduly affecting them. Over the past four decades, the NRA has routinely failed to protect the Second Amendment rights of Black Americans, most markedly in the case of Philando Castile, a Black Minnesotan who was shot and killed by police when he acknowledged the presence of a legal firearm in his car. The NRA said nothing.

That’s the long way around. But if you want the abstract of this piece, it’s this: America was born in violence, and that violence is as much a part of our national DNA as is a belief in individual liberty. Indeed, they’re inextricably connected for many Americans.

This isn’t just about the War for Independence. The way we settled this continent  was, to be frank, a genocide against the Native population. We did it with the labour of enslaved Africans and their descendants. For 400 years white America has used firearms to defend themselves, yes, but more to the point, to subjugate people of colour in order to conquer the North American continent.

The belief that government is tyrannical is still rife within our populations. This is born from the Calvinists who fled England in the 1600s and continues to this day, with Americans who have an innate distrust for authority. Many Americans still feel that there will be a second American Revolution – just look at the likes of the white nationalists who died at Ruby Ridge, or Timothy McVeigh, who committed the deadliest act of domestic terror in US history when he bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City. Look at the militia movements around the country. Look at the people who elected Donald Trump who were ready for battle if Hillary Clinton won and tried to take their guns (which she never planned to do).

Some have countered that these mass shootings, with “lone wolf” white men killing scores of innocent people don’t fit into this narrative, as there has been no political motive. But the shooters at Columbine and Virginia Tech both left manifestos. The shooter at Pulse seemed to have a motive – whether homophobia, Islamic radicalism, or both – as did Dylann Roof when he killed Black churchgoers in Charleston. Elliott Rodger, who killed six people in the 2014 Isla Vista, California massacre, was motivated by deep misogyny. The Umpqua Community College shooter was described as a “hate filled” white supremacist. And no one can argue Jared Laughner didn’t have a political motive when he shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people in Tuscon, Arizona in 2011.

The truth is, contrary to what Barack Obama said, America is more inherently violent than other Western countries. Our nation, perhaps uniquely amongst the Western democracies, was forged in violence – both against the colonial motherland and against the indigenous and enslaved populations.

America has never reckoned with its violent character and utter distrust of government, and until it does, gun violence will continue to be a problem we cannot avoid – one that will continue to claim countless innocent lives this country is ready to sacrifice on the altar of the Second Amendment.

Everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about British politics

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Over the weekend, I asked Facebook friends to send me their questions on what’s happening in aftermath of the UK election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Below are some of their questions and a few I added to clarify a few things. Hope this helps my American readers understand British politics a bit more:

  1. Does the Prime Minister always get to decide when to call special elections? Has this situation ever happened before?

Yes and no. Before 2010, the Prime Minister had almost sole discretion on when an election would be called. One had to be held at least every five years, but when that happened was largely down to the whims of the government of the day (led by the Prime Minister). As you may expect, this led to a lot of elections called when the government felt it was advantageous for it (such as when they’re leading in the polls) or not called unless absolutely necessary if the party in power was suffering the polls. This was the case in 1997, when the Conservatives lost power to Labour after 18 years in government.

The Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2010 was meant to change this. Brought in by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, it was meant to ensure stability during the 2010-2015 Coalition Government (more on this later). It set out a fixed date for the next election, which was held in May 2015. The next subsequent election was not due until May 2020. However, there was a provision in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act which allowed for the dissolution of Parliament – necessary for the calling of another election – if there was a vote of no confidence in the government of the day  or if the Prime Minister requested dissolution.

Theresa May requested a dissolution of Parliament in April, setting the date for the next election as 8 June. As she was not the leader of the Conservative Party in 2015 (that was David Cameron, who resigned last year following the Brexit vote), some argued she was seeking a mandate of her own. She wanted to increase her majority to strengthen her hand when negotiating Brexit. It didn’t quite work out as well as she’d have liked though, as the Conservatives lost their majority. No one party has a majority of Members of Parliament now, which means Mrs May must seek coalition or a minority government.

  1. What does it mean to “form a government?”

    There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs), so to have a majority a party must win at least 326 seats. There are two main parties – the Conservatives and Labour – and only they have formed a government since 1922. In the simplest of times, forming a government just means the largest party appoints people to the cabinet (as the leader of the party would be Prime Minister) and puts forward its agenda in a Queen’s Speech (we’ll get to her role later). But these are not simple times.

    In 2010, like now, no one party had a majority of seats – a scenario known as a “hung parliament.” David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), sought coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who held 57 seats. The Lib Dems accepted, and a coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government ran things until 2015, when the Conservatives secured a majority of seats and governed on their own.

 Mrs May has squandered that majority, losing 13 seats and taking her party’s total to 318. The Lib Dems have ruled out another coalition – they suffered greatly for their role in the last one, losing 49 seats in 2015 – which means Mrs May needs to find another minor party to bolster her numbers. She looks set to do that with the Democratic Unionist Party out of Northern Ireland, which has 10 seats.

This is where it gets tricky, though, as the DUP really can’t join the government due to the peace agreement in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics, but that’s another story for another day. Right now it looks like the DUP will prop up Mrs May’s government but not join it, meaning she’ll form a minority government with the understanding that she can depend on the DUP to support her agenda in most cases.

  1. I read that Prime Minister May was going to propose something to the Queen. What is the monarchy’s involvement with the elected government (and vice versa)?

The role of the monarchy is entirely symbolic in practice yet vast in theory. Theoretically, the sovereign is an absolute monarch – all power is vested in the crown. However, the doctrine of crown-in-parliament means that whilst Her Majesty technically holds these powers, in practice and custom they are exercised by Parliament and the government (which consists of MPs – even the Prime Minister is an MP). This goes back hundreds of years in a system that has largely haphazardly developed. Britain has no written constitution, like the United States, so its democracy functions largely on customs and a body of separate laws collectively referred to as “the constitution.”

Because these powers are technically the Queen’s, she must invite someone to form a government in her name. She does this to whoever wins the most seats. Mrs May won the most seats (even if she didn’t secure a majority), so by custom she has the first shot to form a government. She went to see the Queen to be invited to form a government. If Mrs May can’t form a government (that is, get enough support to get through her agenda, laid out in a Queen’s Speech), then the second-place Labour Party could try to form a minority government and get enough votes to pass its Queen’s Speech. If no party can get their Queen’s Speech passed, another election will be held.

  1. What is a Queen’s Speech?

The Queen’s Speech is essentially the ruling party’s agenda. It is a set of proposed laws the new government hopes to pass. During the state opening of Parliament, the Queen travels to the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Commons and House of Lords both convene) and, from the House of Lords, delivers a speech written by the party seeking to form a government. She has no political input (though could have some stylistic critiques, since she’s the one who has to say the damn thing). Why does the Queen, and not the Prime Minister, give this speech? Because the powers are actually the Queen’s, even if they are exercised by the Prime Minister and Parliament, so she’s telling the Lords, the Commons, and the country what she is instructing her government to do – even though it’s the government telling the queen what to tell them to do.

The state opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech is surrounded by a lot of really complicated pomp and circumstance. C-SPAN typically airs it live, and I encourage you all to watch it, because it really is a sight to behold. We have nothing like it in the United States.

  1. Could the Queen step in and stop the nonsense or deny any requests?

No she could not. Okay, technically she could – all these powers are hers in theory – but if she did you can bet that parliament and the people would vote to abolish the monarchy. Her Majesty is actually quite committed to democracy and the constitution, so the thought of intervening in the business of parliament would appall her.

The best example of this happening is actually not in Britain, but in Australia, where Elizabeth II is also the Queen (represented by a Governor General, since she lives in London and not Canberra). In 1975 the Governor General dismissed the Australian Prime Minister because of political instability in the House of Representatives and Senate (think Commons and Lords in Britain). This was the greatest constitutional crisis in Australian history, and Her Majesty refused to be drawn into it.

  1. What are the main belief systems of each party (and dot he ones with similar sounding names have similar beliefs/policies – ie is the UK Conservative Party similar to an American conservative)?

There are two main parties in the UK: the Conservatives (aka the Tories) and Labour. The Conservatives are capitalists, whilst Labour consists of varying shades of socialism (from democratic socialism akin to Bernie Sanders to some out-and-out Trotskyites). In the middle of this is the Liberal Democrats, which formed from the merger the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which had broken off from the Labour Party. It is more of a centrist party.

Then you have several smaller parties. The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), and the Green Party all have MPs and are all centre-left to varying degrees. If Labour were to form a minority government, they would rely on these three parties.

There are only two parties with seats from Northern Ireland: Sinn Fien and the before-mentioned DUP. Sinn Fien is a left wing Irish nationalist party, mostly identified with Catholics in Northern Ireland. The DUP is a far-right unionist party backed by Northern Irish protestants.

If you want to get into who analogous parties, the Conservatives are probably closer to moderate Democrats than they are Republicans. Labour is probably closer to Bernie Sanders or the US Green Party, though current leader Jeremy Corbyn is far to the left of either of these parties. The Liberal Democrats are probably more like Barack Obama, though some Obama advisors have also advised the Conservative Party.

  1. Who believes in LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, racial equality?

    All of the main parties would tell you yes, they support a broadly socially progressive agenda. The Conservatives haven’t always been great on LGBT equality, initially opposing it and passing some of the most homophobic laws in modern British history. However, over the past decade – particularly under the leadership of David Cameron – they became much more progressive, supporting the Labour government’s bringing in civil partnerships in the mid-2000s and later introducing marriage equality under Cameron. However, the majority of Conservative backbenchers (that is, Members of Parliament not in government) voted against equal marriage, so whilst the Conservative-led coalition government introduced the bill, it passed only because of support from the other parties.

    Most Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters favour the Labour Party, though there is growing support from BME voters for the Tories. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, was critical of racial profiling in policing, even as her own government was accused of Islamophobia through its anti-terror Prevent programme.

    The fact is that race doesn’t really play as large a role in UK politics as it does in the US, though many BME people think it should. This is down to the relatively recent influx of a significant number of BME people (from the mid-20th century to now) and the entrenched class system. British politics is getting more intersectional, but it has a long way to go.

    None of the main parties oppose abortion access, though Labour would be more likely to relax abortion law than the Tories. Labour has introduced all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates, which the Tories haven’t, yet the Tories have produced both female Prime Ministers. On economic issues that effect women, such as childcare and pay equality, the Tories have faced a lot of criticism from feminist activists, but Labour has also been accused of having a sexist culture in its far-left reaches.

    Now let’s talk about the DUP – who register as important since Mrs May is looking to rely on them to govern. They are anti-gay marriage, anti-choice, refuse to meet or work on Sundays, believe in creationism and deny climate change. So it’s kind of like if the state of Alabama became a political party. There are lots of people, including the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party (who is an out lesbian), expressing serious reservations about any deal – yet it looks to be the only way Mrs May can hang on.

  2. Does ideology split parties there?

As discussed, the Conservatives are capitalists and the Labour party are socialists. So ideology has a much starker impact on the parties in the UK than it does in the US, where both major parties are capitalist.

  1. This all seems really convoluted. Isn’t our system simpler?

Those in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones. A minority of voters elected Donald Trump because of our Electoral College, which to British voters seems just as maddening as the parliamentary system seems to many Americans. And when you look at how gerrymandered many of our districts are, it becomes difficult to argue that the American system as it currently exists  is more democratic.

  1. What happens next?

Right now no one knows. Theresa May met with her backbenchers earlier today, and she’s still trying to finalise any deal with the DUP. It does look likely that Theresa May will form the next government and continue on with a minority government, but her position looks increasingly untenable. She may well be gone by Christmas, with another top Tory politician taking her place as Prime Minister.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and perhaps I’ll do another blog.

Skylar Baker-Jordan writes the blog The Curious American. A contributing editor at The GayUK Magazine, Skylar writes about British and American politics and society for an array of publications, including the Independent and Huff Post UK. He is based in Chicago but makes frequent trips to London, where he hopes to relocate soon.

Five things we learned from the 2017 General Election

What a night. Theresa May, who became the longest serving Home Secretary in a century now looks to be the shortest serving Prime Minister in 300 years. After failing to win a majority in an election that by all measures she should have won, her position looks untenable as prominent Conservative MPs – such as Anna Soubry – have called on her to “consider her position” (a polite euphemism for step down) on national television. There’s every possibility that the Democratic Unionist Party – Northern Ireland’s far-right, homophobic party – could prop up a minority Tory government, but even if so, May looks unlikely to be leading it.

This is the third British general election I’ve covered as a journalist and it is, without a doubt, the most shocking of my life. Few, including myself, saw this coming. Yet here we are, and whilst it’s still incredibly early, there are six things we can take away from Thursday’s vote:

 

  1. This is a very bad result for Brexit

Let’s start with the obvious: it’s clear that Brexit negotiations must be put on hold, or Article 50 temporarily rescinded altogether. Negotiations were due to start on 19 June, but that seems all but impossible now. May is likely to step down, which means we’re going to have a Tory leadership contest. That will take weeks, at least. No matter who fills her kitten heels, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll immediately be ready to go to Brussels. Even the Sun is reporting – quite uncritically – that EU officials are already suggesting they may put the brakes on any negotiations. It’s untelling when they may go forward.

Beyond that though, Theresa May’s loss is a blow to a Tory hard Brexit. The Prime Minister called this election to “strengthen her hand” in the Brexit negotiations. The Daily Mail famously called on her to “crush the saboteurs” on its front page, but the saboteurs ended up crushing her. The British people have made it clear that a hard Brexit is not what they voted for. Britain is likely to remain in the single market, and the entire Tory Brexit plan will have to be scrapped and rewritten. Labour’s Brexit plan resonated, and soft-Brexit Tories must certainly feel emboldened to take on their more Eurosceptic colleagues.

  1. This is a very good result for Corbyn

Nobody saw this coming, not even – I’m told – the Labour leader himself. Yet Jeremy Corbyn has achieved the greatest political upset in modern British history, even though he technically lost the election. Literally everyone, including his own party officials, had all but accepted a massive defeat was in the cards. This morning, though, Labour MPs who were expected to lose their seats – like moderate Wes Streeting – have actually increased their majority. This is the best result for Labour since 2010. I cannot stress how incredible this is. When everyone – including me – had written Corbyn off as a loser, he’s proven is he, well, a loser, but not quite as big a one as any of us thought he was.

Normally a Labour leader in his position would be called on to step down. But there are a few things working in Corbyn’s favour here. For starters, expectations were so low that this loss actually looks very good. Beyond that, though, he was bolstered by the people he brought into the party and, crucially, the youth vote. Corbyn has emboldened Millennials and Gen Z in a way no other politician on either side of the Atlantic has. Labour won’t want to lose that momentum going into future elections. He also had little time to prepare for this snap election – six weeks or so – and faced an unbelievably hostile media.

His performance tonight proves Labour is trending in the right direction and that his vision resonates with voters in a way Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband never did. They may grumble privately, but expect Labour moderates to fall in line over the next several months.

  1. Lynton Crosby has lost his magic touch

The Tory Svengali who won David Cameron two elections should never have been brought in to run Theresa May’s campaign. Not only do reports from CCHQ indicate that he never really “got” her or what to do with her, but he had also lost a campaign the Tories expected to win just last year – the London mayoral campaign. That campaign should have shown that Crosby’s unique blend of fearmongering and soundbites no longer worked. The Tories made the fatal mistake of thinking London was one thing but the country another. It became apparent that Crosby’s reluctance to send May out into the field and his attacks on Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser never resonated with the British public. This is possibly because there were two attacks on May’s watch at the height of the campaign, but it’s more likely that the British people have wised up to his tricks.

  1. The tide of right wing nationalism seems to be waning

After Brexit and Donald Trump, a lot of us were bracing for the nasty re-emergence of a right-wing nationalism the West hadn’t seen since the 1930s. But with the defeat of Le Pen and Britain’s rejection of a hard Brexit this week, it seems that the tides are turning. By voting so overwhelmingly for internationalist, left-of-centre parties (Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the Greens), Britain has rejected an inward looking, isolationist, xenophobic worldview and shown it is still open and accepting and ready to act on the global stage. It’s hard to see how any reactionary populist wins going forward, which will be a massive relief to fair-minded people in Britain and beyond. (And, you must imagine, to the Democrats who must campaign in the US midterms in 2018.)

  1. The future is more uncertain than ever

As I type this the Tories are currently tearing themselves apart (privately, of course) over whether Mrs May can remain on as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, John McDonnell is calling on the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Greens, and other parties to help Labour form a minority government. It’s more likely the Conservatives will be joined, or at least bolstered, by the DUP to form a right-leaning coalition or minority government, but anyone who tells you they know is lying. Assuming someone does form a coalition or minority government, though, there’s no telling how long it might last. Many are predicting an autumn election (please don’t tell Brenda from Bristol), but others are saying the Tories – should they succeed – will cling on until 2022, when they Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2010 mandates the next election happen. The truth is, we simply don’t know what will happen. This level of uncertainty is not only bad for Brexit, but bad for the markets – which, though as I type is early in London and the middle of the night in New York – have already reacted with volatility throughout Asia.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. No one does. But whatever happens, we can all be assured we have witnessed one of the most galling political upsets in British history – and that the country may never be the same again.