ENDURING INSTITUTIONS

Lost in the shuffle with Kennedy's retirement from the Supreme Court is the growing importance of the courts in resolving the outcomes of our increasingly complicated and fractious elections. Last fall I wrote a piece for the Washington Post attempting to clarify the seemingly confusing question of why the President would attempt to undermine confidence in the integrity of an election that he won. The takeaway point is that undermining Americans' faith in the electoral process is one of the basic goals of the Trump "movement" because when that faith disappears, then "no one really knows" who won any given election. And once every election outcome is treated as an open question, the outcome ends up being either heavily influenced or outright decided by the permanent, non-elected institutions of the state: courts, bureaucracy, and, in truly failed states, the military.

I mentioned in Episode 006 of the podcast that the growing chasm between how our system is supposed to work on paper and how it works in practice is one of the symptoms of a failing state, or at the very least democratic backsliding. Elections decided (or influenced) by something other than an actual count of the ballots cast are another symptom. Trump is setting up an insanely dangerous dynamic wherein the only way we can know if an election was fair is if Republicans win – that is, victory by the right is sufficient evidence that the insidious forces of liberalism were thwarted in their many efforts to rig the election. If the right loses, conversely, then that is sufficient evidence that the election was rigged against them.

The short-term outcome is that American courts are likely to be called upon again, as they were in 2000, to resolve election outcomes in this new poisoned-well dynamic. Bear that in mind when realizing how Trump is reshaping the Federal courts.

Then go have a couple drinks.

PERCEPTION

If you follow me on Socials Media you may have noted that on Saturday morning I participated in the "Shut down the Dan Ryan" march in Chicago that achieved its goal of saturation local media coverage in addition to national exposure…as a way Fox News could offer its dying, elderly audience a group of black people to be mad at for no particular reason.

The reasons I went are many. One is that the South Side is routinely an afterthought in this city, even among people who live here. Another is that since a Catholic parish organized and led the event, I thought there was at least a decent chance the police wouldn't just club everyone over the head and herd them into paddywagons. But mostly I was eager to participate to use the experience of being there as a baseline for evaluating the media coverage (and social media commentary) on the event after the fact. Here are, in no order, some observations.

1. The police presence was absolutely ridiculous overkill, and I have substantial experience already being at events in public places where the police presence was ridiculous. I suppose the police have to "plan for the worst" from their perspective, but they had enough people and vehicles and equipment there to fight a small rearguard action in the Korean War. You wonder what goes on in their imaginations – like, what is the imagined scenario they are preparing for?

2. As it turned out, the crowd was overwhelmingly older people, pre-adolescent kids, and people of middle age with kids in tow. There were, to my knowledge and post-event reports, zero arrests. It could not have been more uneventful from a police vs. protesters perspective.

3. That didn't stop the Governor and tens of thousands of racist Facebook uncles from going off half-assed about "chaos" and "mobs" and whatnot. Event organizers, coordinating with the police at every step of the process, told everyone where to stand and wait (a fenced-in park). Then they told us when we could enter the expressway. Then they told us where we could exit (67th Street, as planned). The crowd of mostly elderly and older adult people made no attempt to do anything except what was planned.

4. The messaging was devoid of "Fuck the cops, black power!" and very heavy on economic messages. Lots of "We need jobs" and "fix the schools" and "45 minutes for 9-1-1 calls??" and "$8/hr isn't enough." People seem remarkably attuned to the economic causes of violence and averse to the tired old "culture of violence" bullshit.

5. For police who were supposedly very worried about the flow of traffic, I find their decision-making curious. They allowed everyone to enter the highway with 3 of the 4 lanes blocked off. Traffic continued through the one open lane. Then they made us wait for 90 minutes while the Catholic leaders negotiated to shut down the fourth and final lane. We just stood there, waiting. Nobody indicated any aggression. Just patience like you'd expect from people who have been waiting patiently for decades to be listened to. And then the State Police announced, "Hey OK go ahead we'll close off the fourth lane too." And then we had the whole highway. What was the point of blocking the highway for an additional 90 minutes in "holding pattern" before letting us do exactly what we wanted to anyway?

6. Well…I chalk that up to some Dick-Waving by the police. A very juvenile sort of "We're in charge here" power play. But if the state, city, and law enforcement REALLY were so concerned about the interruption of traffic, they demonstrated that concern in a very odd way by making the event take at LEAST two hours longer than it would have. In my only interaction with a police officer, I told the nearest state trooper during our lengthy delay, "You know if you guys had just let everyone go we'd have been done an hour ago."

7. Three lanes of traffic were closed for several hours on a Saturday morning. All four lanes were closed for about 30-40 minutes. The crowd moved at normal speed over a course of about 1.25 miles. No one attempted to sit or lie in the roadway to delay. The crowd was compact enough that I could see everything, and I brought my bike so I was able to ride back and forth along its length (the police had no problem with bikes) several times. If anything like fights had erupted, I would have seen it.

8. Then it was over, and every reporter on the planet was on the 67th Street ramp. I declined to make comments when asked, as a white person who does not live in that neighborhood. I told them to interview the people who live there, which the media present was eager to do. The interviews I've seen in the papers and on the radio/TV coverage were all very On Message. With older people in the majority, "Our kids should not have all these guns" was the common theme.

I'm long past the point of arguing with old white people on social media, but I have to say that from a first-hand perspective it is quite hilarious(ly sad) to see the narrative that people, including Republican elected officials, attempt to create about something that was in practice quite uneventful. I've been in rowdier buffet lines. The crowds on the street at Bar Time are more aggressive and unpredictable than that group was. Wrigley Field is more chaotic after a Cubs game. And yet in all the unsubtly racially coded language available, people insist on telling lurid tales of chaos and rioting and violence – all the while insisting that their attitudes have nothing to do with race.

Sure they don't, buddy. That's why you spent Saturday on the internet making up tales of mob violence at a march of black grandparents that briefly closed traffic, a disruption announced weeks in advance that could only have inconvenienced people who insisted on paying no attention to traffic reports or the news.

CLIENT IS PRESENT WITHOUT AN ATTORNEY

I found it, guys. I found the picture that will be on the first page of the chapter in every textbook about the Trump years in the future.

Just look at that. Don't look at it and feel sorry for the kid, necessarily, although I'm sure you do feel that way. Look at that and think about how many adults participating in this farce are able to keep in character while doing it. Kids as young as three are being obligated to appear alone in whatever they're calling these obviously illegitimate on their face pseudo-legal proceedings, conducted in a language they do not understand, and somehow everyone involved was told this was to be the case and they nodded and said "OK see ya tomorrow at 8 AM, then!"

Like, how do you do it. I know employment is a sticky web, and sooner or later we all get asked to do things we don't want to do and obviously the need to keep ourselves financially solvent prevents us from storming out in a fit of indignity. But you really have to wonder how any of the adults – the "judge", the various representatives of the government, etc. – were told to do this and didn't have some hill-to-die-on reservations. That none thought, "OK this is fucking ridiculous, too ridiculous even for someone with a high tolerance for ridiculous." That none thought, "Do I really want my name on the wall next to a picture of this in a museum exhibit in fifty years? Is this what I want my name associated with, even obliquely?"

We're all cynical enough to have lost faith in individuals' sense of shame to avert atrocities, but even still I struggle to understand how any adult could learn about this and decline to…say no. Just say, "No, I'm not doing that." Not in a big, dramatic movie scene sort of way, but a simple, "Look, I'm essentially impossible to fire as a federal employee anyway, so go ahead and try if you want. But I'm not doing this." sort of way. I know there are sick fuckers out there in the world – Stephen Miller types who legitimately enjoy the idea of making certain people suffer – but they usually do so from a position of safe detachment. They aren't the ones who actually have to show up in a courtroom and pretend that a six year-old Salvadoran runaway can represent himself in an immigration hearing.

Every time I think I finally understand the mindset of the people in that part of the political spectrum, they manage to turn it up another notch and I find myself adrift in their delusions once again.

BROKEN

So first of all, check out a new thing I have up at The Week about what Senate Democrats can do to stop the upcoming Supreme Court nominee (hint: nothing) and what they need to change moving forward so that they stop taking brutal losses like this as a matter of course.

In a broader sense, this week feels like it was a tipping point – and hopefully not simply for me personally. I feel like I reached total Trump Fatigue sometime Thursday afternoon when the news of the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette reached me. It was a back-breaking straw for me, the knowledge that we will all sit around making and listening to the same arguments and the Trump people will all pretend like the President constantly telling crowds of armed half-wits that journalists are "enemies of the American people" has nothing to do with armed half-wits killing journalists. Our discourse has gotten so insane and repetitive that very few people seem capable of or interested in stepping back and asking what the fuck we are doing. It has been a boil-the-frog process of slowly normalizing one form of insanity after another and it is not at all clear that people in power will figure that out before it is too late and the water is boiling.

Couple that with the utter spinelessness of the current congressional Democratic leadership – a generation of white geezers who seem to have internalized losing as par for the course who are trying to confront a literal authoritarian as if he is some generic Republican to be bargained with – and the ability to summon hope for the future is pretty limited at present. Look at what is happening in this country, and Chuck Schumer and the supposedly Liberal Media spent half the week jerking each other off with pearl-clutching lectures about Civility.

I want to yell very loudly and I want to punch someone but I don't feel like there's anything to be accomplished by either. And the constant pep talks about working for November are falling on deaf ears at this point if there isn't a serious change in leadership and direction of the Democratic Party.

This is, or needs to be, a Dred Scott moment. That decision didn't do anything to sway abolitionists (who were already perfectly convinced that slavery was bad) but hit home for the mushy center position held by many wealthy elites that "OK slavery is bad but gosh, abolition seems too drastic can't we find some halfway compromise point?"

In the 1840s and 1850s, we tried. We tried repeatedly to find a compromise, at least until it dawned on those people in the Let's Be Civil and Please Everyone center that there is no compromise to be had. Some things require us to be for them or against them. Some things require us to take an actual position and deny ourselves the luxury of comfortable Third Way bullshit that attempts to please everyone.

You can't compromise with the current American right. You have to defeat it. Anyone in Congress who doesn't understand that yet needs to retire and take up crossword puzzles. Since 1994 the Republicans have operated on the principle of "No compromises, oppose and obstruct at every opportunity using any tools available" because they realize (Democratic strategists, pay attention here) nobody gives a flying fuck about "optics" or bipartisanship – your party's base wants to see you win. Period. Don't lose politely – win. Get results. The GOP gets results. Democrats lose and sit around complaining that the GOP isn't playing nice and fair and how history will vindicate them.

Now the GOP owns the Supreme Court. Because they get results and are willing to fight dirty to get them. Compared to the Moral Victories that Democratic leaders have been doling out for 25 years, I think most of us would prefer to have the Supreme Court.

EPISODE 006 – HOLD MEIN BEER

Hi! I've been traveling as well as scrambling to finish production of Mass for Shut-ins Episode 006, which is now available. Give it a listen – you'll find the story of the Red Square Pilot and the interview with best-selling author Dr. Lisa Wade interesting or I'll eat my hat. Seriously, I will eat any hat you send me.

Plus: an important few words on "stealth voter suppression" that will give you some tips on things to watch out for as November approaches, plus the cocktail of the month, The Bee's Knees.

Check it out on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or whatever feeds your podcast needs.

Regular content to resume presently. Oh, and it helps the show's "ratings" if you leave a review on iTunes. So. If you're feeling charitable.

NPF: DEATH BY WOKENESS

OK.

So on the topic broached last week in the first Anthony Bourdain post, a friend who is into The Soccer texted me a screenshot of this tweet:

Ah, I see the "Make sure nobody anywhere gets to enjoy anything ever" laws are still in effect.

The statement is factually accurate, of course. That's not the issue. If we pursue the questionable logic to its conclusion, then everyone should feel bad for enjoying any sort of national competition, ever. Every nation has boatloads of atrocities somewhere in its past – Argentina, as the comment points out, being no exception. Tonight I accidentally saw part of a Peru-France matchup. My god it was like the thunderdome of countries that have done brutal things to their own indigenous people or, in France's case, ones it conquered in the name of Empire. So, is the correct course of action to go from patron to patron in the bar saying "GOOGLE THE SHINING PATH, YOU IGNORANT PISSANT!" or "HOW CAN YOU WATCH FRANCE KNOWING WHAT THEY DID IN THE THIRD CARNATIC WAR OF 1756?"

Had I done so, I strongly suspect most people in the venue would have told me to go fuck myself, and that after working 10 hours for unfairly low levels of compensation they just wanted to watch the goddamn soccer game and could I kindly leave them alone before they deposit a beer bottle in my eye socket. And I think that would have been an entirely fair response.

Note, nobody is watching Argentina *celebrating* the country's historical atrocities. Nobody is trying to assert that they didn't happen, as some Europeans (and Americans) are wont to do with the inconvenient aspects of our history. But I cannot for the life of me imagine what is accomplished by trying to ruin literally everything for everyone – whoever is able to wring some small amount of pleasure out of anything these days – by bringing something totally unrelated into a conversation. This is a grand example of somebody trying way, way too hard to be the Wokest guy in the room. The room, in this instance, is the internet, and therefore the levels necessary to OutWoke everyone else are high enough to be fatal.

Everybody is depressed all the goddamn time now. Is it absolutely necessary to try to ruin everything that might be a source of light entertainment for anyone…especially in the name of proving that You, An Intellectual Serious Person, are more attuned to the historical narrative than the simple Plebes enjoying their little Plebeian sports match?

For fuck's sake, people. Watch your stupid soccer game if that makes you happy for 90 minutes plus that weird-ass random amount of extra time. I simply fail to see the point in this beyond elevating yourself to look down at others for doing something they have no reason to apologize for doing. Maybe if we hand people like this an official YOU'RE THE SMARTEST BEST PERSON trophy they will leave us alone so we can take brief reprieves from wanting to jump off a fucking bridge every time we see the news.

THE LUCKY COUNTRY

Lost in the coverage of "Zero Tolerance" for asylum seekers in the U.S. is the fact that this has already played out on the other side of the globe in Australia since 2001. I wrote a thing for Baffler about the "Pacific Solution" and the disaster that holding a large population of semi-stateless people in legal limbo for years on end in outdoor tent camps inevitably becomes.

In an effort to make it a less depressing read I led with the tragi-comedy of Nauru, the tiny Pacific island nation that ended up so broke that it was induced to becoming an offshore detention center (prison camp, really) in exchange for boatloads of money from the Australian government. Nauru needed money and Australia had some people they wanted kept far out of sight and far away from prying eyes. Voila. Capitalism to the rescue.

Whether families are being separated or not is a sideshow to the growing population of people being detained indefinitely with unclear or nonexistent rights. Their numbers are growing exponentially under Trump and it won't be long before America is searching for its own Nauru where they can be boxed up and put out of sight.

THE OFFICIAL SHIRT OF 2018: NONE OF THIS IS OK

By (actual, not pretend) popular demand on the Facebook group, I'm doing another run of the suddenly very appropriate "None of this is OK" shirts. The front design remains unchanged (as pictured here) but if the screenprinter can accommodate it, I'm going to have the reverse text ("Gin and Tacos") replaced by small text on one sleeve this time. Looks a little more stylish, or at least it's something different.

Other details that remain unchanged: Navy blue Canvas (or BellaCanvas for Women's) shirts, Unisex/Men's in crewneck and Women's in V-neck. Canvas sizing chart available here. Sizes S – XXL in either Unisex or Women's. Contact me if you need 3XL – sometimes they are available, but often they aren't. Shoot me a message and I'll do my best.

This is a pre-order and you will receive your shirts in early to mid July, depending on how busy the printer is. $18 (slight upcharge for XXL) plus $4 s/h in the USA, $14 s/h for all other countries. I'm sorry about that, but package shipping overseas (incl. Canada) has gotten incredibly expensive lately.


Domestic Orders (USA)





International Orders




THE GOLDEN AGE OF GRIFT

A few weeks ago a Florida K-12 teacher was fired for refusing to call a transgender student by that student's preferred name. While certainly a high school needs to have some basic limits on the idea that students can be called – No, the teacher is not going to call you "Fuck Machine" or a racial slur – this teacher's decision is otherwise perplexing. At least on the surface.

As a teacher, literally nothing could be less important than what the students prefer to be called. Steve. Mary. Cipher. Iron Man. Ming the Merciless. Question Q. Mysterio. My Little Pony. Like, there is no conceivable reality in which what a student asks me to call them (whether it is a proper name or some infantile nickname) matters. We just work together. I am paid to do a job, and that makes some things about the students my problem – whether they do the assigned work, behaviors they may engage in during our brief time together in class that violate school policy, assigning them a grade, and that's pretty much it.

Their personal lives? Irrelevant, unless I have reason to think they're being abused, harming themselves, or in danger. The matter of what they want other people to call them, as long as it's not "Lil Dago" or some shit, is so far beyond being worth my time and effort to care about at all, it can't be expressed properly within the limits of English. Frankly I consider it a win if I learn everyone's name (in college, we don't see them but an hour or so per week).

In that light, the Florida teacher's choice of hills to die on makes little sense. But look at it another way and we can see that he is simply behaving rationally in response to current incentives. He figures the meager salary of a teacher pales in comparison to what he can make emulating other right-wing self-made martyrs. The book deal! The spots on Tucker Carlson! The GoFundMe! Hell, he can probably get his teacher salary covered overnight with the right publicity. Get Jordan Peterson to retweet that link and he'll wake up rich.

A more obvious example is that Kent State girl who posed with an AR-15 in her graduation picture. I refuse to link her or use her name. She is engaging in Twitter attention-seeking behavior so over the top, shameless, and obvious that an Officer Darren Wilson sex tape can't be far off if she doesn't get a book deal soon. You have a person who fundamentally is not interesting at all but as a woman under 50 is savvy enough to realize that the bar on the right is so very low that she still could make a very lucrative career out of it. Tomi Lahren Tryouts, live on Twitter.

I don't begrudge anyone earning a living, but it's pretty pathetic to see people openly resume-building to get in on what is nothing but an enormous grift. Take some idiotic "moral" stand and you too can cash in Kim Davis style. Kick some gays out of your failing diner and wake up rich. Regurgitate talking points a child can see through and end up with one of the easiest jobs on Earth. Beats the hell out of teaching or looking for a job with a BA from Kent State.