Category Archives: Commentary

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.

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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!

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.

Milo, Laurie Penny, the Lost Boys, and Toxic Masculinity

 

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Milo Yiannopoulos lost a book deal, a plum speaking gig, and his job this week. Photo: Flickr

I’ve spent a lot of the last three months calling Trump supporters and the alt-right monsters. I did so on this blog. I did so in The Independent.

But there is something missing from my analysis, and it’s something Laurie Penny touched on in a much praised and much derided piece for the Pacific Standard. Before I get into what Penny did and didn’t say, though, let me tell you a story.

When I was 22, I met a young 18-year-old straight boy. We’ll call him Jacob. Jacob was white, blonde, heterosexual, and totally lost in this world. Beyond anything, he was impressionable. Jacob only wanted to be liked. To belong somewhere. Gangly, bumbling, and painfully awkward, Jacob and I met through student government. I took an instant liking to him. He was sweet, goofy, and though intellectually inelegant (as 18-year-olds are apt to be), clearly intelligent.

Jacob looked to me as a mentor, and I to him as a kid I could help. I nurtured him and invited him to hang out with friends and go to parties. Eventually he pledged the fraternity I always hung out with (but didn’t belong to). I didn’t think this a good idea – Jacob was too sensitive, too vulnerable, and frankly too cerebral to really fit in with this hard-drinking, fast-fucking crew. I’ve written about my own college years drinking and fucking my way up and down fraternity row, and I was afraid that blend of toxic masculinity (which at the time I got a high off of) would kill poor Jacob.

Fast forward eight or so years, and he probably disagrees. I still don’t. Jacob was relentlessly picked on, though I must stress not hazed, by the guys in the fraternity. Most of it was the good-natured banter that twenty-something men tend toward. Some of it was a lot crueller. All of it proved too much for Jacob, who began drinking heavily and was prone to becoming violent when intoxicated. It got him banned from some fraternity parties and even, for a time, my house – unless he stayed sober.

Around this time, Jacob took a women’s studies class at my behest, and even began dating a lovely feminist woman. It seemed that he would sort himself out. But a year after I moved to Chicago, I got a call from him saying they’d broken up, and that he was in a very dark place. No stranger to dark places myself, I took a Megabus to see him. He rebounded, and I left.

As friends who live hundreds of miles away from one another often do, we drifted apart. It wasn’t really until last year when I drunkenly called him to catch up that I realised the boy I’d met who entered this world of toxic masculinity grew up into a misogynistic man and Trump supporter. We’ve not talked a lot since.

I’m from Kentucky, so the fact that people I know and even considered friends voted for Donald Trump isn’t all that surprising. But reading Penny’s piece, I thought specifically of Jacob and the strange, drunken, and desperate course he travelled from a dorky college kid to a self-identified feminist to the type of guy who, had he been born a few years later, could’ve been in that car with Penny and Yiannopoulos, evacuating UC-Berkeley.

I’m going to quote at length from Laurie’s piece here, because I think she makes two important points – one clumsily and one cogently. First, this:

It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.

This is the bit that seems to have gotten Penny the most flack, and to be fair, I get it. Writer Mikki Kendall summed it up best in a Twitter thread, in which she points out that Penny building her argument on the bodies of dead Black martyrs is callous and insensitive. I take that point. (I’m posting the first tweet in the thread below; please read and consider it.)

Still, engaging with who gets to be seen as a child, or an innocent, or have their behaviour excused because of youth is a worthwhile intellectual exercise, because in our culture not everybody gets to have youthful indiscretions. That is, in fact, almost exclusively the purview of straight cis white men.

So while perhaps Penny’s word choice was unfortunate, I don’t think her point was far from the mark. And yes, impact matters more than intent, but I have always believed that intent should be considered when thinking of how we respond, because it does still matter.

I say this not only as a defence of Penny’s own work and intentions, but because it plays right into the next very important point she makes. While, as she writes, “these are little boys playing games with the lives of others,” she also points out that Yiannopoulos

exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?

If you think that centring white male Trump supporters is the antithesis of everything you stand for and the very thing both Penny and I have dedicated our careers to not doing, well, you’re right. So let me say before we go any further that I will absolutely side with any marginalised community over angry, privileged, adultalescent men – whether 17 or 70 – who leverage their power and privilege to harm the most vulnerable. As I’ve said many times, to many friends, and on many panels, I say now for the first time in print:

Explanations are not excuses

There is absolutely no excusing the behaviour of Yiannopoulos, his fanboys, President Trump, or any of the enablers, gatekeepers, or even voters who propelled them all to where they are today. None. But I do think the left, the resistance, and for that matter American culture generally could benefit from asking ourselves what brought them to this point.

If you read Penny’s piece, it’s clear that it wasn’t economic anxiety. If you look at the polling data on who voted for Trump, it’s clear too. But I think Penny hit the nail squarely on the head when she labelled these groupies “the lost boys.” Because I know a boy like them. I know Jacob.

Jacob graduated university in 2013 and moved to a mid-sized southern metropolis in search of the elusive American dream. He found dead end after dead end, working a sales job he didn’t like which (if I recall) he was eventually fired or laid off from. He found dating hard, impossible even. Women just didn’t seem interested in him.

At some point between 2014 and 2016 he moved back to his parents’ house in a small southern city and resumed working at the fast food restaurant he worked at while in high school. Last I talked to him, which was probably last spring, he was the manager. He was still living at home. He was still single. And he was noticeably and perhaps understandably angry about it.

It was at that time he told me that he thought, like Yiannopoulos, that feminism was a cancer on Western society. It had damaged the natural order of men on top and women subservient. All the social progress we made wasn’t working for him, so it obviously wasn’t working for anyone. Best to go back to 1956.

This is of course absurd. It is also straight up sexism.

Yet – consider one of the young men in Yiannopoulos’ posse, who told Penny that “I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement. I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”

This quote gave me pause, and I reread it probably four times before going on, particularly the phrase “popular crowd,” which is one most often heard in high school cafeterias, not political discourse. That phrase in and of itself conjures up adolescence, immaturity, and a childlike longing to be recognised as part of the crème-de-la-crème of your social unit. That is not the phrase a well-adjusted adult uses unironically.

I have often times thanked God that I’m gay, because I think it saved me from going down this darkly bigoted path. Being openly gay in Kentucky from 2001 – 2011 did for me what it clearly never did for Yiannopoulos: it made me empathetic to other minorities. But if you read the essay I wrote for Salon about trying so desperately to belong to Greek life at my alma mater, you’ll see that I tried desperately to fit in with the oppressive class:

But from under them I could still obtain a certain level of social cachet. My reputation as someone who would fuck but didn’t talk grew, and with that, came a certain level of trust. “Put a cock in his mouth and he’ll shut up,” one of my buddies once joked. Suddenly, I was invited to the premier parties, not just from the fraternity I was hanging out with, but others. And I went, because it felt good. Being invited signaled acceptance, even if it was only on their terms. I might not be one of them, but I could hang with them, and that meant something.

I was a women’s studies minor. I knew better. Yet I still fell for the trappings of white heteropatriarchy, which as I said in that essay, is one helluva drug – especially to a working class gay kid who had never found any semblance of social acceptance anywhere else.

The sociologist Paul Kivel has a theory he calls the “act-like-a-man box,” which explains the pressures men feel to achieve, to provide, to dominate women, and to suppress their emotions and how these things can negatively impact not only their mental health but their politics. It’s basically a handy diagram to explain the theory of toxic masculinity, and square in the middle of it can be found Jacob and the Milo Yiannopoulos fan club.

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Paul Kivel’s “act-like-a-man box”

Yiannopoulos first came to American prominence through GamerGate, which was a sexist backlash against women playing video games masquerading as being about journalistic ethics. He built his cult following of basement dwelling, Red Bull chugging nerdy men by tearing down the women who many of them felt were invading a space where they could live out their misogynistic, violent fantasies without retribution or critique. Games were all they had, because for many of these men, they were social rejects. (I can say this with some certainty, as the gamers I know who are well-adjusted adult humans reject GamerGate, Yiannopoulos, and Trump without hesitation.)

Yet these are men who were, for a variety of reasons – whether because they were nerdy, or more effeminate, or overweight, or socially awkward – emasculated by the patriarchal norms described in the act-like-a-man box. Instead of burning the box and liberating themselves, they retreated further into it, where they found Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos waiting to exploit their anxieties and insecurities for profit and for power.

Jacob wasn’t a gamer, but he was in the act-like-a-man box too, and Trump and Yiannopoulos found and converted him too. These Lost Boys, as Penny calls them, were lost because they – for whatever reason, or for many reasons – couldn’t live up to the pressures of socially constructed toxic masculinity. So they turned to people who could help redefine that.

This is probably key to why Milo Yiannopoulos so appealed to these young men. Sure, as Penny points out, they weren’t gay, but Yiannopoulos simultaneously defied the norms of masculinity – camping it up, wearing his pearls, openly talking of sucking dick – while being embraced by the patriarchy. If he could do it, they likely thought, so could they. It actually makes perfect sense that Yiannopoulos was the standard bearer of these Lost Boys. He accessed the social currency they desperately want to possess.

Of course key to all of this is how they viewed what it means to be a man. The toxicity isn’t only what it does to them, but what it does to others. That to them being a man meant dominance, violence, and sexual control of women is exactly what enables rape culture to thrive and domestic violence rates to stay abysmally high. It’s patriarchal, white supremacist bullshit that keeps women, racial minorities, LGBT people, and other marginalised groups oppressed. But – and this is a fact many leftists don’t want to grapple with – it also hurts white cis straight men who are denied agency unless they fit these narrow parameters of what it means to be a man.

It has been pointed out numerous times that Yiannopoulos was brought down not by his bigotry but the bigotry of others, whose homophobia was so triggered by what he said about the pederastic paradigm (and I do believe that’s what he was trying to say) that they exiled him from Trumpland. Whether his Lost Boys continue to follow him remains to be seen. Judging from the comments on his Facebook page, I think many will. I also think, as someone who has followed Yiannopoulos’ career since 2009 (which is around the time Penny and I first followed one another on Twitter), that we’ve not seen the last of him. His career has at least six lives left. What the next one manifests as, though, is anyone’s guess.

If Yiannopoulos can’t rehabilitate his image in the alt-right and even mainstream conservatism, someone will surely rise to take his place. As Penny’s article shows, there are plenty of Lost Boys waiting to play Peter Pan. One of them will assume the mantle in due course.

When they do, though, I hope we have a better understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. Because I think understanding the toxic masculinity – and the denial of it – that gave rise to Yiannopoulos and his cult following is important. Besides the obvious “know thy enemy” trope, if we’re ever to successfully deconstruct white heteropatriarchy, we have to know how it harms men too, and also what it can propel them towards. I chose feminism, socialism, and queer theory, opting to burn this shit to the ground. Yiannopoulos, Jacob, and others chose instead to find alternative means of accessing the power and privilege they felt they were denied. That is the more pernicious and dangerous path, one which has undoubtedly led us to where we are today – an era where the progress we’ve collectively made over the past 50 years is in its greatest peril.

We need to think about how we can reach, maybe not these men who are already lost causes, but other boys and men who could become them. And to do that, we need to grapple with toxic masculinity. We need to include it in our analyses and activism.

That doesn’t mean we stop centring women, people of colour, LGBT folks, disabled folks, immigrants, or any other marginalised group. We can’t. That work is too important – more important – and frankly more pressing. Lives are at stake. When you’re in the middle of a war you don’t ask the soldiers to think about how they’ll rehabilitate the enemy after victory. But for those of us who have the currency to spare, we should start examining these questions and considering how to raise principled and purposeful boys into feminist men.

None of this is to excuse any behaviour. “I was just following orders” wasn’t an excuse at Nuremburg, and it isn’t an excuse here. These assholes need to be held to account, full stop. And they cannot be let off the hook. Again, explanations are not excuses. But to not examine how they became who they are is to risk raising the next Milo Yiannopoulos.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a journalist and essayist based in Chicago. He writes about British and American politics and pop culture. His work has appeared at The Independent, The Huffington Post UK, The Daily Dot, and Salon. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan.