Tag Archives: politics

Dwayne Johnson Is Everything Our President Isn’t

Dwayne Johnson smashed through the great wall of news this week, rushing over and lifting us up in a powerful but tender overhead press, carrying us toward the dreamland he lives in where everyone is hardworking, great-looking, and nice as hell.

Bless GQ for sending Caity Weaver on the enviable mission to profile Dwayne Johnson, and for their art department for thinking what we’re all thinking: If a celebrity had to be president, wooing the electorate with charm and charisma, why not elect Johnson, who appears to excel in every area our current president lacks?

Evan Osnos recently reported that “other than golf, [Trump] considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.” A finite amount of energy? Dwayne Johnson is a solar-powered, clean running beast of infinite energy and charisma.

If you are a child, good luck getting past Dwayne Johnson without a high five or some simulated roughhousing; if you’re in a wheelchair, prepare for a Beowulf-style epic poem about your deeds and bravery, composed extemporaneously, delivered to Johnson’s Instagram audience of 85 million people; if you’re dead, having shuffled off your mortal coil before you even got the chance to meet Dwayne Johnson, that sucks—rest in peace knowing that Dwayne Johnson genuinely misses you. For Johnson, there are no strangers; there are simply best friends, and best friends he hasn’t met yet.

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Yes, We Could, But Can We Now? Reflections on Obama’s Speeches

Americans hear more from our current President on Twitter than we do from his speeches, and it seems better that way. Donald Trump is no orator; he admits he doesn’t even read for pleasure. President Trump’s 140-character tweet style of mass communication—with its em dash misuse, random capitalization, and misplaced exclamation!— might portend the future of American politics in which words don’t particularly matter.

It certainly contrasts greatly with President Obama’s powerful oratory. At The American Scholar, former DOJ speechwriter James Santel reads the newly-published collection of Obama’s speeches, We Are the Change We Seek, to discuss what Obama’s sense of storytelling reveals about him, and how the power of residential speeches can motivate us, set the national tenor, our vision of the future and, as Obama frequently said, define who we are.

Like all good orators, Obama was a storyteller. Among his favorite stories was his own: how the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas rose to become a U.S. Senator. That background opens the speech that made him a national figure, the Keynote Address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. After talking about his parents and grandparents, he said, “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story.”

Obama uses his autobiography to argue that his unconventional background did not place him at odds with the American experience, but made him emblematic of it. That case required Obama to offer a particular reading of American history, which goes something like this: Our shared commitment to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the principles set forth in the Constitution has always been more powerful than our divisions and disagreements, allowing our country to slowly “perfect” itself over time (to use a favorite Obama verb). It is a story of steady change and patient progress, of obstacles overcome and common ground discovered, a story in which all people are given equal attention and credit. In it, racism and prejudice are not defining features of the American character, but blemishes upon it, historical aberrations that we have slowly corrected over time. Above all, it is a story that, in one way or another, has always made room for everyone.

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Profile of a Demagogue — No, the Other Demagogue

Yesterday, the President of the United States invited the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House during a routine phone call. Duterte — who has been criticized by international human rights groups for the extrajudicial killings of thousands since his election last year — declined, saying he was “tied up.” Pundits, reporters, and politicians spun over the invitation, voicing the concern that Duterte is not the kind of company an American president should keep.

After reading this 2016 New Yorker profile of Duterte, it’s easy to see why President Trump might think he has something in common with the populist leader across the Pacific.

Duterte thinks out loud, in long, rambling monologues, laced with inscrutable jokes and wild exaggeration. His manner is central to his populist image, but it inevitably leads to misunderstanding, even among Filipino journalists. Ernie Abella, Duterte’s spokesman, recently pleaded with the Presidential press corps to use its “creative imagination” when interpreting Duterte’s comments.

Duterte speaks of drug use as an existential threat, a “contamination” that will destroy the country unless radical action is taken. “They are the living walking dead,” he said of shabu users. “They are of no use to society anymore.” Duterte sees drugs as a symptom of a government’s ineffectiveness, but his animus suggests a personal vendetta. Duterte, who has four children by two women, was asked at a Presidential debate what he would do if he caught his children using drugs. “None of my children are into illegal drugs,” he responded.

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What It Takes to Remove a President Who Can’t Do the Job

The “Goldwater Rule” is a gentleman’s agreement between members of the American Psychiatric Association which “prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated.” It was put in place during the 1964 candidacy of Barry Goldwater after Fact magazine surveyed more than twelve thousand mental-health professionals and found that nearly half of those who responded said the candidate was mentally unfit of office. Read more…

Snow, Death and Politics

Frances Badalamenti | Longreads | April 2017 | 19 minutes (4,741 words)

 

Late on a Tuesday afternoon in January, while I was at my therapist’s home office in Portland dissecting and disseminating a recent holiday visit with family, my elderly father was sitting in his Lazy Boy in New Jersey watching television, his brain slowly bleeding into his skull. I was anxious, unsettled. We were expecting a snowstorm and I now had to make the trek across the Willamette River from the Southwest Hills and back to my Northeast enclave. Right before I left my house, I had received an urgent phone call from my older brother: our father had taken a spill earlier in the day.

“I just spoke to Dad and he said that he fell today,” my brother told me. “He’s upset with himself and doesn’t sound right.”

“What do you mean he doesn’t sound right?’ I asked.

“He said he hit his fed, not his head,” my brother said. “And he hurt his hand,” he said.

A hot wave of energy ripped through the core of my body. The same sensation like when you almost get into a car accident. My father was in his mid-eighties, but had only recently begun showing signs of frailty.

“Have you spoken with Lee and John yet?” I asked my brother.

“Not yet. I’ll call them right now.”

My three older siblings all live within driving distance of our extended family back in Jersey.

“Listen, I have an appointment for the next few hours, but I’ll check in after,” I said. We hung up. But then I phoned him right back. “Someone needs to go over there and check on him right away!” I yelled. “And why the fuck is he not at the hospital?”

“I have no idea, Frances,” my brother said. “I’ll get on it right now.”

“And what the hell does Barbara think?” I asked.

“She thinks he’s fine,” my brother said. “Dad said she iced his wrist and gave him soup.”

My brother and I did not trust our stepmother to take proper care of our father. They had not been on the best of terms during the past few months. They hardly spoke to one another. And if there was a transaction, it was most likely her yelling at him about leaving something out of place in the house, and then him firing back. I had to go to my therapy appointment. There was so much on my mind, mostly around my recent visit to Jersey. I hadn’t been this concerned about the state of my family since our mother underwent cancer treatment almost ten years ago. Now it was our father; he was having a hard time of life.

There was already a benign layer of snow carpeting the ground when the session ended and my therapist, a sturdy woman in her fifties who I have been seeing for over two-and-a-half years–and whom I would describe as tough and unconventional and kind (a Mack truck filled with marshmallows)–walked me out her back door. She lives and works out of a cozy Keebler Elf-type bungalow in a hilly, leafy Portland enclave. “It’s so pretty,” I said looking up at the dark sky, letting the thick wet flakes fall onto my face. I could tell she was concerned about me. Of course I’d shared with her that my father had fallen earlier in the day, and she knew he was having a difficult time in his marriage.

“You okay driving in this?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I’ll just take it slow.”

She knew I did not feel safe, that I was scared not only about driving through a snowstorm, but that I was worried about my dad. And she was right. I wanted to be alone, with nobody there to witness the distress.

When I got into the car, I found a thirty-something deep text message conversation between my siblings. Ambulances, hospitals, MRI’s, confused speech, unrecognized faces. It felt as if my whole body had been wired with electrodes.

“Sorry, I’ll be home in about an hour,” I wrote back. “It’s snowing hard here.” Then I found my way out of the now hardly recognizable neighborhood, then crawled through the white-out storm in the relative safety bubble of my Subaru wagon. Read more…

The Revolution Will Be Handmade!

At one time, women’s education included critical training in needle arts like sewing and knitting, which were “not only necessary skills but also political tools for the women involved in resisting authority.” At PBS, Corinne Segal reports on pussy hats and brain hats as just two examples in a long line of handmade symbols of women pitting themselves against the status quo. Then and now, knitting circles are perfect environments in which to sew the seeds of political and social discontent.

In October 2014, Sewell and Payne helped form the Yarn Mission, a knitting collective aimed at fighting racial injustice through community organizing and by supporting black creators’ work. The quiet setting of a knitting circle has helped them discuss difficult topics, Payne said. “A lot of times what we’re talking about is really traumatic,” she said. “It’s the only way I’m able to talk about a lot of the things that have happened in Ferguson and continue to happen in St. Louis.”

Recent marches such as the Women’s March on Jan. 21 and the March for Science on Saturday have brought knitting into the international spotlight and lured newcomers to a symbol of activism that dates back hundreds of years.

Academics and historians say that these new knitters are tapping into a long history of needle arts in the U.S. that is inextricably bound up in race, gender and class issues. Its recent popularity is only the latest chapter.

And during the movement for abolition, sewing circles continued to serve as a place for women to exchange ideas and talk about political work. The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison between 1831 and 1965, wrote on Dec. 3, 1847:

“Sewing Circles are among the best means for agitating and keeping alive the question of anti-slavery. … A friend in a neighboring town recently said to us, Our Sewing Circle is doing finely, and contributes very much to keep up the agitation of the subject. Some one of the members generally reads an anti-slavery book or paper to the others during the meeting, and thus some who don’t get a great deal of anti-slavery at home have an opportunity of hearing it at the circle.”

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The Bitter History of Law and Order in America

Andrea Pitzer | Longreads | April 2017 | 11 minutes (2,800 words)

 

During his heady first days in office, Donald Trump developed his now-familiar ritual for signing executive orders. He began by swapping a large sheet of paper for a hinged portfolio, then he started revealing the signed documents to onlookers a little awkwardly, crossing his forearms to hold the folio up, or bending it backward to show the press his signature. Finally, he perfected the motion by turning the open folder completely around to face the audience, displaying it from three angles, as if delivering tablets of law from Mount Sinai. By the end of the week, he seemed pleased with this bit of theater in which he could star as the president. The ritual, of course, became a meme.

Shortly after he perfected this performance, Trump signed three executive orders promoted by the White House under the heading “Law and Order.” The first required the Attorney General to look at crimes against law enforcement; the second directed the AG to create a task force on crime reduction and public safety, with specific mention of illegal immigration; the third delegated cabinet members to review strategies for finding and prosecuting international drug cartels. All three called for studying crime rather than implementing new programs—they also heightened anxiety over purported crime by blacks and immigrants while making it seem like only Trump was willing do something about it.

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Are Regular Russians Ready to Take On Vladimir Putin?

The Russian presidential election is a year away, but protests have already begun. Last week, images of Russians being carried and even dragged from Moscow’s Red Square spread throughout the Western media. Then came the crackdown—blocked access to web pages and social media showing the photos, and a criminal case against the protesters. Earlier this week, the square was nearly empty despite another planned action.

The protests demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and objected to widespread corruption, but they also served as a rare moment of rebellion in a country that rarely dares defy its leader, President Vladimir Putin.

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The Immigration-Obsessed, Polarized, Garbage-Fire Election of 1800

A. Roger Ekirch | American Sanctuary: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution | Pantheon | February 2017 | 33 minutes (8,149 words) 

Below is an excerpt from American Sanctuary, by A. Roger Ekirch.

For background, it is important to know that a seaman named Jonathan Robbins participated in a mutiny on the HMS Hermione in 1797, the bloodiest mutiny in British naval history. Afterward, he joined the American navy, but he was eventually recognized and jailed. To justify his actions, Robbins claimed he was an American citizen who had been impressed—that is, captured and forced into servitude—by the British navy. However, his American citizenship was disputed. The British sought his extradition, which the president, the Federalist John Adams, granted—an action which had disastrous political consequences for his party. Robbins was found guilty by a British naval court and hanged from the yardarm of the HMS Acasta in 1799.

This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky. Read more…

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Sam Kriss, in a post he calls his “magnum opus” at The Outline, explores the age-old warning “Don’t stare directly at the sun.” Sure, there are medical reasons not to—but might there also be political ones? Do we have a moral duty to stare directly at the sun, and everything it represents?

Plato famously wanted a totalitarian society run by philosophers, in which ordinary people would live under the firm, rational, condescending guidance of those who had learned to see by the light of the Good. There’s always a kind of authoritarian undercurrent to rationalistic philosophy—take, for instance, Immanuel Kant. In What Is Enlightenment?, he argued that enlightened autocrats such as Frederick the Great of Prussia ought not to restrict the freedom of thought of his subjects, and that “freedom need not cause the least worry concerning public order or the unity of the community.” But this isn’t out of any respect for differences of opinion; instead, Kant takes it as axiomatic that Frederick’s rule is rational and that anyone sensibly using their freedom of thought will inevitably end up supporting it. Reason comes from the sun, and so does the king, and if there’s only one sun, neither can disagree with the other. Kant’s reason allows for only one right answer, and it happens to agree with political power. As he puts it: “Argue as much as you like, and about what you like—but obey!”

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