Tag Archives: politics

We’re All Alabama Now

Jim Watson /AFP/Getty Images

Until the tide started to turn toward Doug Jones on Tuesday night, it looked as though the quintessential Alabama Moment of its bizarro special election would come courtesy of Jim Ziegler, the Republican state auditor. After candidate Roy Moore was revealed to be a serial mall-stalker of teenage girls, Ziegler was among the many fine Christian citizens to rally to the Republican nominee’s defense. The news, he said, had put him in mind of the inspiring story of Our Lord and Savior. “Take Joseph and Mary,” he said. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became the parents of Jesus. There’s nothing immoral or illegal here.”

Nothing to see here, folks! has not only been the rallying cry of conservative Southerners since the build-up to the Civil War, but of the region’s put-upon liberals as well. As soon as Moore secured the Republican nomination, the familiar sense of dread began to creep in. “Good lord, here we go again,” one of my former neighbors in Montgomery, a longtime civil-rights activist, sighed over the phone. “You know exactly what it’ll be. Magnolias and guns and grits and moonlight and poverty and NASCAR and Selma and Bible-thumping imbeciles and poverty statistics, and oh yeah, don’t forget the cousin-fucking jokes on late night TV. ” (She had no idea how right she’d be about the latter.)

The last time the rest of America had found a reason to tune into news from the state of Alabama, the footage had been black-and-white: The Alabama State Police showed off their baton-wielding and hose-shooting skills, big dogs snarled, and George Wallace demagogued about “segregation now, segregation to-morrah, segregation forever.” The images didn’t just stick in Americans’ heads — they became Alabama.

“This is an election to tell the world who we are,” Doug Jones said on the campaign trail. It’s exactly what so many Alabamians were dreading like the plague.

While Northeastern liberals were getting the first look at Alabama in Technicolor, Roy Moore’s backers did their damnedest to make it appear that time had actually stood still. State Representative Ed Henry told the Cullman Times that the women who accused Moore of molesting them should be locked up. “You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion,” he said. Besides, said Geneva County GOP chairman Riley Seibenhener, you couldn’t blame a man in his thirties for things that happen: “I know that 14-year-olds don’t make good decisions,” he said. John Archibald, a columnist for Al.com, put it pretty aptly: “Thinking of the world watching Alabama now is like hearing an unexpected knock on the door when you haven’t done the dishes.”

They knew perfectly well that most white Christian folk in Alabama did not really believe that Roy Moore was another holy spirit come down to Earth to impregnate holy virgins. They also knew that Alabama’s ornery streak was about to kick in as soon as the national newspapers started to dig into Moore. “If the Washington Post ran a banner headline tomorrow saying ‘Antifreeze is poison, don’t drink it,’ a sizeable number of Alabamians would be dead tomorrow,” cracked Kyle Whitmire, a local political columnist.

But lo and behold, decency prevailed over orneriness and bigotry on Election Day — by a narrow margin, maybe, but still. All of a sudden, the generations of sneering and stereotypes gave way to gratitude and surprise from celebrity liberals. “I love you Alabama!” tweeted Cyndi Lauper; “Alabama gives us all hope tonight,” said Maria Shriver. “Never give up on this gorgeous mystery called Life,” commented Ava DuVernay. “A Democrat from Alabama? Hope lives.” Alyssa Milano found her inspiration in a whole new place: “Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity, Alabama,” she tweeted.

Granted, it might seem like a pyrrhic kind of victory when 48 percent of the state, and 68 percent its white people, voted to send a probable pedophile and certified theocrat to Washington. At Vox, Dylan Matthews noted that “a glib commentator might conclude that all the election shows it that a Democrat can win a special election in Alabama if his opponent has been fired from the state Supreme Court twice for misconduct and faces multiple credible accusations of preying on teenage girls.”

True enough. But un-crazy Alabamians and long-slandered Southerners will take what credit we can get. While the Roy Moore episode dredged up and reinforced a million hoary old clichés about the Deep South, the ultimate takeaway was something else altogether: Alabama, it turns out, isn’t an American outlier after all. “Looking back at George Wallace, we thought he was a fading and terrible relic,” says Diane McWhorter, the great civil-rights historian from Birmingham. “After Trump, we’re all Alabamians now.”

During the civil rights era, populist historian Howard Zinn wrote the truest thing ever said about the South — and the rest of America. The South, he said, “is racist, violent, hypocritically pious, xenophobic, false in its elevation of women, nationalistic, conservative, and it harbors extreme poverty in the midst of ostentatious wealth. The only point I have to add is that the United States, as a civilization, embodies all of these same qualities.”

After Tuesday, perhaps, Alabama can become a state rather than a symbol. Put to the test by Roy Moore, its voters showed they aren’t really the American exemplars of intractable ignorance and intolerance. At the same time, they’re hardly what Jones wanted to claim in his victory speech — sudden proof that the universe’s moral arc keeps bending toward justice. Charles Barkley, one of the great Alabamians of our time, nailed the real truth as he celebrated Jones’s victory with the homefolk on Tuesday: “Yeah, we got a bunch of rednecks and a bunch of ignorant people. But we got some amazing people and they rose up today.”

On Tuesday, precisely because of that wild mixture of ignorance and amazingness, of smallness and big-heartedness, of bigotry and brotherhood, Alabama finally became a widely recognized part of the United States of America. Whether that’s a compliment or not, of course, depends on your perspective.

***

Bob Moser is a contributing editor at The New Republic, former editor of the Texas Observer, and author of Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority.

The Complicated Politics of Rescue and Recovery

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

As traffic fled Houston before Hurricane Harvey, a line of trucks towing small, flat-bottomed boats made their way into the city. The Cajun Navy would save hundreds of lives from flooded neighborhoods, and instead of rejecting their help, the government embraced it, entrusting much of the evacuation to this rag-tag band of individuals, preferring them over the Red Cross, and in some cases, the National Guard.

Miriam Markowitz followed the Cajun Navy for GQ in the days after the hurricane, when it became clear that the resources needed simply weren’t adequate. The Navy itself is small but organized. Begun in the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, it’s helped residents of Louisiana with almost yearly flooding, and travels to nearby states for help during big storms or hurricanes. It’s the kind of help that comes in the moment, and the Navy uses a walkie-talkie app to dispatch boats to specific locations. Even local Louisiana politicians are on board with the independent rescue squad:

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Peter Thiel Makes Sure His Kids Are All Right

(Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times)

Some people never leave college behind; the philosophies they develop as an undergrad stay with them for a lifetime. For Peter Thiel, that means periodically revisiting his 30-year-old love child, The Stanford Review, to make sure the magazine he founded in 1987 still has the independent streak that disrupts the status quo on campus

The Review was where Thiel could test out his formative contrarian options, “generally reflecting on his vision for the paper as a vehicle for stirring the pot and breaking up politically correct platitudes,” writes Andrew Granato in his Stanford Politics profile of Thiel’s relationship with the student magazine.

Although Thiel hasn’t been the editor-in-chief of the magazine since 1989, he still keeps an eye on his baby. This means giving money to the Review — lots and lots of money — and checking in from time to time in person. “Thiel continues to meet with the publication’s editors,” writes Granato, “and he is substantially more open with them about his beliefs than he is with the general public, including on highly controversial issues like race and immigration.”

Highlighting both the intimacy and exclusivity of these gatherings, one email invitation to such an event in 2015, shared by a former editor, reads in part: “Hi, We will be having a Review dinner at Peter Thiel’s house next Wednesday…This is not an open invite; please do not talk about this opportunity with anyone else, especially at the [Review staff] meetings.”

Thiel’s influence on the autonomous Review’s on-campus activity should not be overstated: Students are always in control of the paper, and Thiel does not attempt to orchestrate their conduct. The great majority of The Review’s activity involves its independent writing and reporting on the issues of the day and its weekly meetings, which often feature boisterous political debates. (Amy Shen ’18, the current executive editor, says she enjoys the meetings as a place where “you are judged on the basis of your ideas and nothing else.”)

But Thiel does occasionally host dinners and reunions with Review editors at local restaurants as well as his home in San Francisco, give suggestions of issues to focus on, donate money, and de facto lead a burgeoning network of alumni concentrated in Silicon Valley, many of whom have worked with or for Thiel directly.

As one former editor put it, “[Thiel] sees The Review as his people.”

Speaking about Thiel, many Review and ex-Review affiliates insisted on anonymity. They clearly respect him. Mackenzie Yaryura ’17, a former editor-in-chief, says, “my only experience is that [Thiel’s] been really welcoming, really interesting, being willing to answer questions and share knowledge.”

To what degree does Thiel still care about The Review’s activities on campus?

One former editor believed “he obviously had zero interest in getting to know us as individuals. He was there to figure out what was going on on the campus.” Harry Elliott voiced that “to be honest the thing which most Review alums are really interested in, not just or specifically Peter, is: they want to know what the issues de jour are, what the average Stanford student is like, and what we are doing to try and ensure that viewpoints that are usually not heard as heard.”

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Meditations in an Emergency

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

If America’s storytellers “lost the narrative they had been creating for decades” the morning after the 2016 elections, as Esquire explains in its oral history of the national trauma that began one year ago today, we’ve been writing our way out ever since. We’ve been knocking on doors, asking people why they did what they did, and asking ourselves how to fix it. We’ve been writing out our feelings, making fun where we can and commiserating where we can’t. Storytelling has been a way of getting through this, and we’re still getting through this.

Perhaps you won’t want to read this piece. I understand. I had to let one more election night pass before I could even begin a history that starts with Steve Bannon’s triumphant proclamation, “You have a hundred-percent chance of winning.”

We’re not the only ones reliving this day: it was also the day the nightmare began for Donald Trump. It was his last good day and he won’t let us forget it. Instead, think about how much has changed, and how far we still have to go.

David Remnickeditor of The New Yorker: I thought about, and actually wrote, an essay about “the first woman president,” and the historical background of it all. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragettes, the relationship with Frederick Douglass…a historical essay, clearly written in a mood of “at long last” and, yes, celebration. The idea was to press “post” on that piece, along with many other pieces by my colleagues at The New Yorker, the instant Clinton’s victory was declared on TV…

We agreed that night, and we agree today, that the Trump presidency is an emergency. And in an emergency, you’ve got a purpose, a job to do, and ours is to put pressure on power. That’s always the highest calling of journalism, but never more so than when power is a constant threat to the country and in radical opposition to its values and its highest sense of itself.

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The RNC, Revisited

Photo: Getty Images

Jared Yates Sexton 

The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage | Counterpoint | August 2017 | 19 minutes (5,081 words) 

Below is an excerpt from The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore, by Jared Yates Sexton. A version of this story originally appeared in The Atticus Review in July of last year, when it wasn’t yet clear that the ugliness Sexton Yates saw in Cleveland was a harbinger of much to come. Or, perhaps it was clear—to anyone who was really looking. Here is that essay, revisited. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

Because I can.

The news broke over the radio.

Another ambush.

Another murder in a long line of murders.

Another gaping wound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a reeling community that hadn’t the chance to heal from Alton Sterling’s tragic death twelve days earlier. Three officers killed, another three wounded. The gunman a veteran named Gavin Long who celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday by targeting cops in the streets.

The cable networks breathlessly speculated in the fashion that’d become so commonplace in our era of panic. How many gunmen? Who’s responsible? We’re just getting video—what is this exactly? What type of weapon are we talking about? What’s the feeling out there? All the same whether it’s Baton Rouge or Dallas or France.

The only relief came when they would throw to their reporters stationed in Cleveland, preparing for the upcoming Republican National Convention and the possibility that the trend of violence could continue. Are people nervous? they asked. What type of security measures are being taken?

An hour or so later, Stephen Loomis, the president of Cleveland’s Patrolmen’s Association, begged Governor John Kasich to suspend open-carry regulations in the area outside the Quicken Loans Arena, a request Kasich said he couldn’t grant. Following his answer—a denial Loomis bemoaned on every available network—the media speculated again, this time what kind of tragedy Cleveland could see if tensions ran too hot.

“I think they’re gonna burn down the city,” a caller said on talk radio. “I really do.”

By Monday morning, the most sought-after picture in Cleveland was someone carrying a weapon in plain view of the entire world. The first I found was Jesse Gonzales, conspicuous because of the large halo of reporters surrounding him. Holding court in the heart of them, Gonzales stood with an AK-47 on his back.

By my count, there were at least four countries and three continents worth of cameras trained on him as he casually answered the most repeated question of why he would ever carry a weapon into a powder keg like this: “Because I can.”

Giving a similar answer was a group of Minutemen posting up on a corner outside Public Square. Decked out in body armor and combat boots, tactical communication sets snaking out of their ears, they pontificated on the police union’s “illegal request” and, when asked about the weapons, would only say three words: “It’s the Constitution.”

A few feet away were Ohio police officers in bulletproof vests. I asked one what he thought of the open-carriers and got a roll of the eyes. “No comment,” he said, “but it’s a pain in my ass.”

The scene was interrupted as a truck pulled slowly down the road with a digital screen in the back that sparked to life. Conspiracy mogul Alex Jones’s gruff voice avalanched out of the speakers and declared war on globalists and labeled Hillary Clinton a criminal who needed to be locked away.

Soon a black passerby invaded the space, leaving the Minutemen visibly uncomfortable. He carried a sign and ordered random members of the crowd to join him for a picture. “You,” he said to a passing girl. “I don’t know you from a sandwich, but come on over here.”

As the picture of the man and the Minutemen was snapped, the outfit’s leader shouted their two-minute warning. Not long after they were marching down the sidewalk, crossing the street, their rifles bouncing as they stepped out of rhythm. Read more…

My Journey to the Heart of the FOIA Request

Illustration by J.D. Reeves

Spenser Mestel | Longreads | September 2017 | 21 minutes (5,400 words)

On July 2, 1972, Angela Davis was sitting in the Plateau Seven restaurant in Santa Clara County, California, a few blocks from the courthouse where she’d spent the previous 13 weeks on trial for criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder. The jury had just started deliberating, and Davis was eating with Rodney Barnette, a friend and former Black Panther. While the two talked, a local reporter emerged from the courthouse pressroom with news for Davis’s family and the activists gathered there: Four black men had hijacked a Western Airlines 727 jetliner carrying 98 passengers and were en route from Seattle to San Francisco. (Later it was confirmed there were only two hijackers, one man and one woman.) Not only were the hijackers demanding $500,000 and four parachutes, but they also wanted these items delivered by Davis, who was to stand on the runway of San Francisco International Airport in a white dress.

When the news reached the restaurant, several patrons around Davis and Barnette suddenly surrounded the pair’s table; these were in fact FBI agents dressed in civilian clothes. Almost a year earlier, Davis had been charged in California with aiding and abetting a murder. Though she hadn’t been at the scene, authorities alleged that guns she’d purchased were used to kill a superior-court judge. The Black Panthers relied on sympathetic Vietnam veterans, like Rodney Barnette, to acquire arms and train new members to use them. Barnette, however, had left the Panthers four years earlier following a suspicious interaction. At a meeting, a stranger claiming to be part of the “Panther Underground” had called Barnette into a back office and told him to beat members who arrived late. Barnette objected. (“We can’t do that to our own people,” he said an interview later. “How could we differentiate the police beating people, and us beating people?”) The man suggested he leave the group.

“I always thought he was some FBI agent,” Barnette would tell an interviewer in 2017. “Some agent provocateur or informant that all of a sudden appeared to try to split the party up.” This unnerving feeling of suspicion persisted even after Barnette left the Panthers. The FBI continued to interview his family members in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, where Barnette had moved and gotten a job as a letter carrier. Despite stellar evaluations from his superiors, in 1969 Barnette was fired from the Postal Service, after less than a year on the job, for living with a woman he wasn’t married to, which qualified at the time as “conduct unbecoming a government employee.”

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Ta-Nehisi Coates Takes on the Trump Presidency

Photo by Paul Marotta / Getty Images

In the spring of 1963, James Baldwin was interviewed for the documentary, Take this Hammer, which followed the local African-American community in San Francisco. Seated, wearing a crisp collared shirt, an ascot tie, and smoking a cigarette, the author spoke about the creation of a class of pariahs in America.

Well, I know this. Anyone’s who’s tried to live knows this: That what you say about anyone else reveals you. What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessities, my own psychology, my own fears and desires. I’m not describing you when I talk about you, I’m describing me. Now, here in this country, we’ve got something called a nigger. We have invented the nigger. I didn’t invent him. White people invented him. I’ve always known. I had to know by the time I was 17 years old, what you were describing was not me, and what you were afraid of was not me, it has to be… Something you were afraid of, you invested me with…

In an excerpt at The Atlantic from his upcoming book about the Obama administration and its legacy, We Were Eight Years in PowerTa-Nehisi Coates riffs on Baldwin’s analysis to construct an incisive look at the foundations of Donald Trump’s political ascent.

For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally. The insult intensified when Obama and Seth Meyers publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. But the bloody heirloom ensures the last laugh. Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.

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Eileen Myles: There’s No Escaping History

Eileen Myles attends the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square Gardens on August 23, 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)

At Rolling Stone, Helena Fitzgerald profiles punk poet and 1992 write-in Presidential candidate Eileen Myles. Myles’s new memoir, Afterglow, was released this week, and their first autobiographical novel, Cool for You, was recently re-released and included an introduction by I Love Dick author Chris Kraus.

Myles (who prefers gender-neutral pronouns) has been publishing since the 70s, but has lately experienced a new wave of popularity, gathering new young fans in part because of their Twitter presence and also the character inspired by them on Transparent.

Among other things, Myles talks with Fitzgerald about the importance right now of poetry and art as forms of resistance under the current U.S. presidential administration. Interestingly, though, Myles points out that what’s been happening really isn’t all that new.

In this current moment, the feeling that we’re facing an avalanche, that we might be destroyed, is hard to ignore. When prompted to speak about art in the current political moment, Myles says: “You know, there is nothing new about what’s happening now.” Myles goes on to call Trump’s assembled henchmen “a cabinet of cockblockers: an educational secretary who’s against education, an attorney general who’s a Klansman.” But they also stress that there’s precedent throughout our history for all of these, that none of these people came out of nowhere. As much of Myles’ work — such as the seminal “An American Poem” — has grappled with in the past, this is the America in which we have always lived. The James Comey testimony took place a few days before our meeting, and Myles was passionately skeptical of the liberal praise that has been showered on the former director of the FBI. “They’re like, ‘Oh, Comey’s the good guy!’ Are you kidding me? He’s talking about a Shining City on the Hill; he’s talking about the horror, and the outrage, of people interfering with our election — like that isn’t what we do in the Middle East and in South America. I’ve never been so driven to make the argument about the nature of our history.”

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A Long, Dark Night of the Soul at Donald Trump’s Childhood Home

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The house in eastern Queens where Donald Trump spent his first four years of life is now an Airbnb, but a night costs more than a bed at the Trump-owned Plaza Hotel, and the $816 doesn’t get you a fraction of that lavish experience. For Newsweek,  Alexander Nazaryan spent a night at the house, exploring the land of Trump’s birth and searching the environment for insights into what shaped him. He finds decor that’s the “raison d’être of Donald Trump, which is the endless veneration of Donald Trump.” Nazaryan shows how Trump likes to frame himself as an outsider from Queens who made his money in Manhattan — but how he is in fact a provincial creature with daddy’s money, born into the genteel suburbs of Long Island.

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On Syrian Doctors and Borders: America’s Loss is Canada’s Gain

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 16 - Khaled Almilaji hugs his wife Jehan Mouhsen after landing at Pearson Airport in Toronto. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

In January, 2017 — before Trump’s inauguration — physician Khaled Almilaji spent a week in Syria to check on his many humanitarian projects, leaving his pregnant wife Jehan behind in the United States. Expecting to return well before Trump’s inauguration, Khaled discovered that his visa — along with those of 40 other medical students, mostly from the Middle East — had been revoked in the month before Trump took office.

The dean of Brown University called schools outside the U.S. on Khaled’s behalf to help him continue his studies. Toronto University answered the call with a scholarship, and Khaled and Jehan look forward to welcoming their baby daughter in Canada. Khaled relates the harrowing story of how Trump’s politics and travel ban have affected him and his family at Toronto Life.

A month later, Trump announced his second travel ban, which paused any visas from Syria for 90 days. For weeks, I’d been telling Jehan that I’d be home soon. Suddenly we realized it would be at least three more months. She was alone when she saw our baby on the ultrasound for the first time, when she heard the heartbeat on the sonogram. One day while I was in the office, she sent me an image of a pair of pink shoes: a sign that we were having a girl. I was elated. For the next few months, whenever I went to the market in Gaziantep, I bought baby clothes, keeping tiny dresses and onesies in my apartment so I could have something to bring my new daughter when I returned.

Brown was doing everything they could to help me continue my studies. The dean called colleagues at schools outside of the U.S. to find me a new home, including the University of Toronto. I hated the idea of leaving my scholarship at Brown and the people I had met in Providence. And yet by that point, Jehan and I couldn’t waste any more time. When U of T offered me a scholarship, I accepted, and we applied for student visas in Canada. In June, my Canadian partners and I received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General for our humanitarian work. A few days later, Jehan and I got our Canadian visas approved.

In early June, just days before my flight to Toronto, the U.S. Consulate called. Five and a half months after this all began, they told me I could come pick up my visa. For me, it was too late. I know the travel ban is all about politics, not security. It’s a game. But the people on Trump’s list have been suffering for many years, and the ban only increases that suffering. It’s a horrendous violation. It was done carelessly, by people who didn’t consider the consequences—the lives changed forever by their actions. I still think America’s a great country. I also know that if I went back, that violation would recur, over and over again. On June 16, I got on a plane in Turkey and flew to Toronto.

In Toronto, the notion that everyone should be accepted and respected, regardless of their nationality or background, is something that’s practised on a daily basis. I saw it on my first day. In the airport, I looked around and saw people with different faces, different skin tones, different ethnicities, but the same spirit. To see a stable, established country like Canada using diversity to make itself richer and stronger has inspired me. This was what we were fighting for in Syria in 2011. That’s what I want for the future of my country. That’s the spirit I hope to bring to Syria when I return one day.

A few years ago, I never would have imagined having a child in Canada. Now I’m honoured by the fact that my daughter will be a Canadian. Hopefully she can take that with her for the rest of her life.

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