My Ghostbusters Quandary

Published: The Good Men Project (May 28, 2016)

When I first saw that the Ghostbusters reboot had acquired more downvotes than any other movie trailer in YouTube history, my heart sank. Sure, I’d written an article deconstructing the trailer and denouncing its flaws; then again, a year-and-a-half earlier, I’d written another piece praising the new movie for its boldness in assembling an all-female cast of comedians to lead a blockbuster franchise. I may have been disappointed that the trailer seemed broad and derivative, but it certainly didn’t deserve the ignominious distinction of being one of the most unpopular YouTube videos of all time.

That said, the trailer’s mediocre quality seems to have less to do with the negative reaction than old-fashioned misogyny. Indeed, the trailer has become catnip for MRAs who want the movie to fail just because it has female leads. That’s why the comments section under the first official trailer includes gems like this:

The Lazy Potato – Is this movie just here to please feminists? Cancel this movie sony, it’s cancer.

EdwardSponge – Can’t wait for the Feminist Star Trek reboot. and Indiana jones and transformers and playstation. and harry potter and dc movies and marvel movies

alex bailey – feminism = cancer …. and AIDS

Sick lad McGhee 3 – Just terrible, and enough pushing the feminist message please

William Braddell – It’s amazing to me that Feminists will run article after article decrying the negative reaction to this film as “white male nerd misogyny” but won’t write anything about migrants comitting sex crimes in Europe out of fear of being “racist.” Cowards and hypocrites, every last one of them.

There are three points worth noting here:

1. The “Ghostbusters” trailer provides an interesting litmus test for feminists. This looks like a bad movie, and while it is contemptible that so many have attacked it for sexist reasons, we shouldn’t allow our own ideology to gloss over the obvious flaws here. As I explained in an earlier article, my reaction to this trailer (as well as its successors) is akin to how I felt when first viewing the trailer for “The Hangover: Part II.” Although this movie deserves as much of a chance as that one,  it’s hard to argue that both make their film seem like uninspired rip-offs of their beloved predecessors… and where they aren’t ripping off the originals, they’re shoehorning in broad slapstick that induces groans instead of laughs. Nevertheless…

2. This movie ABSOLUTELY deserves a chance to succeed. When I hear about critics who insist that they won’t review the movie, I immediately know that I’m dealing with a misogynist, because guess what? There have been far worse trailers, accompanying far worse motion pictures, that have still been given their fair shake at the box office. While I share the trepidation of many fans who dread being disappointed, the outright hatred directed against this film is inexplicable except as a cover for sexism. This is why so many YouTube commenters are decrying it as a “feminist” film; based on every trailer that I’ve seen, there is nothing political or ideological about this motion picture. You could swap out the female leads with male ones and not have to change a single detail about the dialogue or plot. If you see a trailer with female leads and immediately think “feminist,” the problem is with YOUR views on gender politics, not those of the filmmakers.

3. Because this movie has been blasted by sexists, it now behooves progressives to see it in theaters when it’s released. This doesn’t mean we have to like it, or recommend it to our friends; if the movie is as bad as it looks, I will certainly agree with those who want director Paul Feig (who, as you can tell by the name, is a man) run out of town on a rail. Nevertheless, if this movie fails at the box office, meninists everywhere will point to that failure as a triumph for their cause. Even worse, producers will be especially reluctant to bankroll a film of this scale with female leads… and that will be a devastating blow to future projects, many of which will deserve the success that this movie might not.

Personally, despite the inadequacies of the trailer, I still want “Ghostbusters” to be a great film. I want it to not only live up to the original, but transcend it and become its own distinct and beloved entity. As America prepares to elect its first female president, it would be wonderful for our nation to embrace an all-female reboot of one of our nation’s most famous film franchises. I want this movie to rise to the occasion… and am deeply suspicious of those who wish otherwise.

On the Police

Published: The Good Men Project (May 26, 2016)

As a progressive, I’ve found there is an argument that seems to be effective in debates with conservatives on law and order issues.

What I’ll say is that police officers have an inherent civic responsibility to be responsive to the concerns of their left-wing critics because they are, in a literal sense, the most important and powerful agents of the state. There are plenty of state officials who have greater overall power over our lives, of course, but a police officer is the one with whom the vast majority of us will directly interact in our day-to-day lives. Even the word “police” is derived from the French “policier,” involving the conduct of public affairs.

As such, the best way to understood the responsibilities of a police officer as an agent of the state in a democratic society is to temporarily sweep away race and other issues and simply establish the relations that should exist between an individual police officer and an individual citizen, regardless of any demographic details.

What Police Owe Us: A recognition that they embody the state in its purest form – they provide a vital service (fighting crime, maintaining order) and can completely overtake any citizen in any way. In a democratic state, the ordinary citizen must be the de facto boss of the police, for the same reason that a voter must be the de facto boss of any politician. If it is otherwise, police officers – as the literal agents of power under the social contract of the most powerful nation in the world – can become petty tyrants in their individual-to-individual interactions.

What We Owe Police: The Golden Rule. We do this both for the same moral reason that justifies democracy in the first place – i.e., the fact that because they are human beings, they deserve to be treated well – but because it establishes, not our subordination to them, but our fundamental equality with them. When we cooperate with reasonable requests and treat police officers like fellow human beings, we recognize that their power does not define them; it is merely the role they play in the game of society. On the other hand, when we treat them with inherent suspicion or hostility, or by being anti-cop in general, we do the very thing that will make it “us versus them” instead of “us.”

Right now, a large number of individuals from racial minority backgrounds believe that the police discriminate against them. By virtue of the fact that an individual police officer is the employee of the individual citizen, the police have an ethical responsibility to be receptive to criticisms such as these, which come from a large number of citizens. When commonsense solutions present themselves, like body cameras, they should be embraced, and even harsh critics like #BlackLivesMatter or Quentin Tarantino should be viewed as citizens asserting their interests to the state that is supposed to be by end of them.

This is my musing of the day.

Lessons from “All the Way”: 3 big take-aways from LBJ’s victories that progressives can’t afford to ignore

Published: Salon (May 23, 2016)

When HBO announced in 2014 that it was going to release a cinematic adaptation of “All the Way,” Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award-winning play about President Lyndon Johnson’s successful mission to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s unlikely they knew how prescient their film would be. The politics of the 1964 election are uncannily similar to those of 2016: Like Hillary Clinton today, Johnson was deeply distrusted by liberals due to his widespread identification with “the establishment” (financial as well as political) and image as a consummate politician who lacked core principles. Meanwhile his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, had seized the GOP nomination in large part by basing his campaign around a racially charged issues (opposing federal civil rights legislation), not dissimilar to Donald Trump’s revolution in the GOP this year.

Yet even though millions of liberals tuned in on Friday night to see Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of LBJ, polls continue to show that our era’s Johnson is in danger of losing to our era’s Goldwater because many progressives — who largely backed Clinton’s rival, Bernie Sanders, for the Democratic nomination — are unwilling to support her in the general election. This is where “All the Way” specifically, and Johnson’s story in general, offers three instructive lessons.

“This ain’t about principles, it’s about votes. That’s the problem with you liberals — you don’t know how to fight! You wanna get something done in the real world, Hubert, you’re gonna have to get your hands wet.”

When Johnson says line this to liberal Senator (and future Vice President) Hubert Humphrey, the “votes” to which he was referring were legislative tallies for or against his civil rights bill. In a broader sense, though, Johnson’s observation speaks to the fact that while many on the left know what to fight for, they forget how to effectively fight for those things. Yes, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t include provisions banning racial discrimination in voting (that wouldn’t come until the Voting Rights Act of 1965), but it made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or ethnicity, and outlawed segregation at schools, workplaces, and public facilities.

As Martin Luther King Jr. later points out to civil rights activists disappointed by the 1964 measure, it isn’t always possible to achieve all of the positive change you need within a democratic society. Compromise, including unfair concessions, is often necessary in order to get things done, and there is nothing sinful about accepting that. Fighting for something doesn’t just mean saying what you want to have done, but using real-world tool to implement those changes.

“This is president is gonna have to deliver… and we’re gonna hold his feet to the fire until he does.”

This line, uttered by King as a way of explaining his movement’s relationship with the new president, speaks to the other side of civic responsibility. While it is necessary to accept compromises when they can advance a more important larger agenda, it is also vital for social justice advocates to stand their ground on the issues that matter most and demand that their politicians be accountable. As the play and film both point out, there had been many presidents before Johnson who had paid lip service to the cause of civil rights for African Americans; for Johnson to politically benefit from his promise to actually do something in the fight against systemic racism, he would need to deliver the goods.

Both of these lessons apply to the challenge facing liberals in the Clinton-Trump election. Like Johnson in 1964, Clinton in 2016 is hampered by her problematic background on racial justice issues, from fueling the mass incarceration of racial minorities to supporting a welfare reform bill that disproportionately impacted African Americans. Also like Johnson, though, Clinton has now vowed to fight for important civil rights measures, including overhauling drug sentencing laws, prohibiting racial profiling, and forbidding employers from asking applicants about their criminal history. If she is elected, the non-white voters who helped put her into office will have a right and responsibility to hold her feet to the fire and make sure she gets these things done… but to do that, of course, she must become president first.

My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes.”

While “All the Way” does include a few lines from Johnson about his experience teaching Mexican-American children, the real-life president’s actual words (culled here from his speech supporting the Voting Rights Act of 1965) sum up this point perfectly. From a strictly ethical perspective, any election in which one candidate opposes racial injustice and the other supports instantly becomes a cut-and-dried affair. When candidates like Goldwater and Trump advocate hateful policies — from the former’s opposition to civil rights to the latter’s demonization of Mexicans, Muslims, and women — they perpetuate social bigotries that ruin lives. If elected, the Goldwaters and Trumps of America wouldn’t simply harm individuals within these groups by implementing bad policies; by sheer virtue of triumphing at the polls, they would validate discriminatory attitudes as acceptable in our political life.

Perhaps this is the chief lesson that “All the Way,” and by extension the 1964 presidential election, can teach us about the upcoming contest. It may be interesting to study the personalities of figures like Lyndon Johnson and Hillary Clinton and Barry Goldwater and Donald Trump, but beneath the melodrama of the maneuvering for power, there are millions of ordinary human beings who depend on the right outcome. If the liberals of 2016 decide that “sticking to principle” requires them to risk the election of an outspoken racist over an imperfect candidate who at least promises to do some real good, we will effectively place our ideological pride over the literal well-being of those who are most vulnerable in our modern society. That may feel good when you’re standing on your laurels, but in terms of real-world consequences, it is a very illiberal thing to do. This is the point that “All the Way” makes so beautifully… and not a moment too soon.

Donald Trump’s Lesson for Progressive Men

Published: The Huffington Post (May 25, 2016), The Good Men Project (May 17, 2016)

I’m not here to write about the total corpus of Donald Trump’s sexism. Certainly it is misogynistic to insinuate that a persistent female reporter is menstruating or insult a female lawyer who needs to pump breast milk by calling her “disgusting,” but those remarks belong in a different category from the type of sexism I wish to discuss. Instead I turn to one of his chief underlying assumptions about women, a strain of sexism that I’ve noticed among the men in my day-to-day life more than any other. It can best be summed up as a pair of premises that the objectifying misogynist holds to be self-evident:

1. The belief that a woman’s chief value to a man is her ability to increase his status.

2. The belief that a woman’s status is determined by her sexual desirability (at least according to mainstream standards).

To be fair, Trump didn’t develop these ideas in a vacuum. He was raised in a culture where men married trophy wives and squired models and starlets as a way of flaunting their wealth. In the 1980s, Trump became a celebrity within a media narrative in which women who aren’t conventionally attractive are dismissed as invisible or singled out as punchlines. These attitudes aren’t limited to the top echelons of society; they trickle down to the rest of us, who recognize the markers of status and shame regardless of whether we personally subscribe to their underlying philosophy. Indeed, Trump’s pattern of behavior provides us with a pretty thorough guide into the various ways men tend to objectify women.

First, there is his knee-jerk assumption that insulting a woman’s appearance can somehow invalidate her. “The face of a dog!” he wrote over a circled picture of New York Times columnist Gail Collins after she wrote an editorial criticizing him. When dismissing the business candidacy of Carly Fiorina (who happens to have far better business credentials than Trump himself), Trump declared, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”  He was more aggressive in his prolonged rivalry with Rosie O’Donnell, during which he infamously referred to the comedienne as a “fat pig,” “dog,” “slob,” and “disgusting animal.” Trump even uses the specter of female unattractiveness to invalidate other men. For instance, during his spat with Ted Cruz, Trump retweeted a meme that contrasted an unflattering picture of his former rival’s wife with a sultry one of Trump’s own significant other with the caption, “The images are worth a thousand words.” More tellingly, when a reporter claimed that three people with direct knowledge of Trump’s finances could confirm that he isn’t a billionaire, Trump attacked them as “guys who have 400-pound wives at home who are jealous of me.”

Sexual braggadocio, deconstructions of feminine attractiveness, and looks-based insults against women are staples of casual male conversation from the schoolyard through adulthood. Even if a man doesn’t engage in these discussions himself, he has certainly overheard other men talking in this way, and on some level internalizes their attitudes even if he is intellectually and ideologically opposed to them.

While it may be tempting to dismiss this as juvenile and cruel instead of outright sexist (a defense that I’ve actually heard from several Trump supporters), the multimillionaire’s actions take on a more sinister appearance once you contextualize them. After all, he has spent his entire life believing that a man’s success can be measured by the status of the women with whom he is involved.  “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?'” he mused in his book Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life. From this particular male perspective, attractive women are an asset to be acquired (‘Can you believe what I am getting?’) rather than equal human beings. “Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants, and sets out to get it, no holds barred,” Trump once explained in an off-putting third person voice that, nevertheless, clearly established his view of women as things whose value fluctuates based on aesthetic criteria. Or as he succinctly stated with characteristic vulgarity in an interview with Esquire, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

The problem with simply condemning Trump’s sexism here is that, if you’re a man, the chances are you’ve participated in the culture which breeds it. Sexual braggadocio, deconstructions of feminine attractiveness, and looks-based insults against women are staples of casual male conversation from the schoolyard through adulthood. Even if a man doesn’t engage in these discussions himself, he has certainly overheard other men talking in this way, and on some level internalizes their attitudes even if he is intellectually and ideologically opposed to them. It is why we shower praise on a man whose girlfriend is “hot” and sneer at one whose significant other is “skanky,” “ugly,” or “fat,” and why we laugh at jokes in which a woman’s unattractiveness is a punchline (I’m looking at you, “Family Guy”). It is why women repeatedly claim that they are given preferential treatment by men when they’re deemed attractive and treated as invisible when they’re not. Beyond mere desire, male attitudes toward women explicitly associate beauty (or at least the mainstream version of it) as making a woman a “winner,” and the lack thereof as making a woman a “loser.”

This is the belief to which Trump subscribes when he objectifies women, and if progressive men want to fight Trumpism, it isn’t enough to isolate his specific comments. We need to acknowledge that this brand of misogyny permeates our entire culture, from how we date and the jokes we laugh at to the way we talk about women in male-dominated environments. It is one thing to accept that heterosexual men are going to have strong physical inclinations toward certain types of women and lack those same drives for others; it is even okay to admit that there are certain preferences which are more common and others that are less so. What Trump and his ilk believe, though, is that a woman’s attractiveness – both as deemed by themselves as individuals and the majority of men collectively – can be fairly used to pass value judgments about her. While we can’t stop Trump for saying these things, progressive men can remain vigilant about curbing these impulses in their everyday lives. We don’t have to remain silent when we hear other men objectify women, and we certainly should avoid any behaviors of our own that may do so. As a rule of thumb, think twice before talking about women in a way that you could see coming out of Trump’s mouth.

It won’t be easy to tackle these attitudes, but it morally behooves us to try. Trump may be unusually blatant about his objectification, but that doesn’t mean he’s deviating that sharply from cultural norms. In fact, if these prejudices hadn’t already been popular, it is quite possible that Trump never would have appealed to them in the first place. The reason that he does so – and, moreover, seems to get away with it – is because he realizes that he is only articulating what countless men already believe. It is up to progressive men to change that.

How Donald Trump would destroy America (and possibly the world)

Published: The Good Men Project (May 19, 2016)

America is in a “boy who cried wolf” situation right now. We’ve grown so accustomed to comparing our presidents with tyrants, or insisting that a candidate’s ascent to power will result in calamity, that even those of us who see an actual wolf in our midst aren’t being taken seriously. The people voting for Donald Trump are well aware of our concerns but – having grown jaded to polemical hyperbole – aren’t able to recognize that the threat is real this time.

Make no mistake about it, though: The danger posed by Trump is very, very real. One may disagree with the policies pursued by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but the hysterical response to their presidencies was always grossly disproportionate. Bush was a neoconservative and Obama is a moderate liberal; Trump, on the other hand, is a man driven more by bold stabs in the dark than any consistent ideology. Assuming he follows through on his proposals, it is quite likely that some of them would cause terrible consequences not only for America, but the entire world.

To explain how this is so, though, we need to stop with the inappropriate comparisons to Hitler (which I debunked in this piece for MSNBC) and instead focus on the nitty gritty of what he has said he would try to do:

1. The economy.

Although Trump makes valid points about America’s anti-working class trade policies, his proposed solutions would be disastrous. As president, he would have the power to increase tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods by as much as 45 percent. If he did this, those countries would almost certainly retaliate with comparable measures targeting America’s products. The resulting trade war would inevitably increase prices and reduce job growth, knocking the American economy back on its heels only a few years after the Obama administration led us to a precarious recovery. Even more troubling than what we know, though, is what we don’t know. The slightest adverse development can have unforeseen ripple effects in our globalized economy, and because America has been a staunchly pro-free trade nation since the 1930s, it is impossible to predict the full impact of an about-face as abrupt as the one Trump is proposing. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t modify our trade policies to be more amenable to the interests of our working class, but we need to do so responsibly.

2. Global warming.

Trump’s is a well-known denier of man-made global warming, a position that perfectly fits in with his other conspiratorial views (he believes the scientific consensus on global warming is a plot by the Chinese to control the world economy). As a result, when he vows to “renegotiate” the Paris deal in which more than 200 nations vowed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it’s safe to assume that he would not care one whit about slowing our planet’s dangerous overheating. Unfortunately, the science isn’t going to accommodate Trump’s iconoclasm; as the earth continues to overheat, humanity will face mega-storms, droughts, famines, and the mass extinction of countless species. As Peace and World Security Studies Professor Michael T. Klare wrote last October, “Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a ‘linear’ fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years. Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience ‘non-linear’ climate shifts (also known as ‘singularities’ or ‘tipping points’) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature.” As Klare notes, there are early signs that this is already happening, and it stands to reason that if Trump torpedoes an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions, that could very well push us past the tipping point.

3. Nuclear war.

Ever since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan in 1945, American presidents have been expected to appreciate the sober responsibilities that come with being a nuclear power. In the 1964 presidential election, when Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was accused of being fast-and-loose about how he’d use our nukes, the threat of nuclear apocalypse helped sink his campaign. More than half a century later, however, Trump has openly discussed using tactical nuclear weapons against the Islamic State, arguing that “I don’t think you’re going to be successful [with Muslim countries] unless they respect you.” Even foreign policy hawks should be concerned by this position, and not merely because Trump has advocated it in places beyond the Middle East (he once told Chris Matthews that he wouldn’t take using nukes in Europe “off the table”). By equating the use of nuclear force with earning respect, Trump reveals an ominous thought pattern – namely that (a) if America is threatened by foreign enemies, it’s because they don’t respect us and (b) we can demand their respect by threatening them with total annihilation. This is the exact mentality that the United States and Soviet Union scrupulously avoided succumbing to during the Cold War, since both superpowers understood that if nuclear nations were permitted to behave this way, the final result would be total destruction.

Regardless of how one feels about Hillary Clinton, there is no sound reason to believe that she poses an existential threat to our future. Trump, on the other hand, has proposed policies that could plausibly result in economic collapse, ecological devastation, and even worldwide nuclear war. Every American voting in the 2016 presidential election is going to have to make one of the most important choices of their lifetime. For once, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that failure here could bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Right-wing media is just this gross: Donald Trump has unleashed forces more destructive than Fox News

Published: Salon (May 18, 2016)

It’s hardly surprising, that Breitbart recently referred to William Kristol as a “renegade Jew” in one of its headlines. The conservative website has been shilling pretty hard for Donald Trump over the past year, so it makes sense that the less savory aspects of Trump’s political style would eventually rub off on them.

What is that style, though? Outlets from The Washington Post to The Atlantic have spilled plenty of ink describing The Donald as un-politically correct, but Trump’s rhetoric does more than simply transgress the boundaries of polite conversation. From the moment he launched his presidential campaign until the present, Trump has repeatedly used ethnic labels and stereotypes to both define his opponents and discuss major policy issues. In the process, the Trump movement has trafficked a distinct brand of racial and religious tribalism into American life, one that is entirely comfortable with forgetting about who a person is and instead collectively defining individuals based on what they are.

Take the article about William Kristol. Written by conservative columnist David Horowitz, it attacked Kristol for leading a movement among establishment Republicans to run a third-party candidate, who could then thwart Trump by denying him a majority in the Electoral College. Given how no reference is made to Kristol’s Jewish background until the last paragraph (which feels shoehorned in), one wonders if Horowitz was actually involved in putting “Renegade Jew” in the title. Certainly it can be safely said that Kristol’s background was irrelevant to the article’s main argument. Unfortunately a large segment of Breitbart’s pro-Trump readers is drawn to this kind of inflammatory language…  and by referencing how Kristol is Jewish, Breitbart was pandering right to it. As former editor-at-large Ben Shapiro recently wrote, “They’ve become a site that openly panders to alt-right anti-Semitism and soft white supremacism… This began in the pro-Trump comment section at Breitbart while I was there; now, it’s filtered up.”

When Shapiro writes about the “alt right,” he’s referring to the modern white supremacist movement, one that Rosie Gray of BuzzFeed described as “perfectly tailored for our times: 4chan-esque racist rhetoric combined with a tinge of Silicon Valley–flavored philosophizing, all riding on the coattails of the Trump boom.” Although white supremacy has existed for as long as the country itself, white supremacist movements experienced a boom after America elected Barack Obama as its first black president in 2008. Even when this hasn’t led to literal violent extremism (which has also increased in the Obama era), it has still managed to normalize a strain of rhetorically violent racism that had been taboo for quite some time. To the rest of the country, uttering slurs and playing on stereotypes are boorish and should be deplored as hateful; to white supremacists, these actions are courageous and should be celebrated as salvos for racial liberation.

Not surprisingly, this movement overwhelmingly agrees with Trump when he perpetuates long-debunked racist canards, from his support of the birther conspiracy theories (the basis of his 2012 campaign) to his claim that undocumented Mexican immigrants are more likely to be criminals and rapists (a line from his announcement speech for the 2016 campaign). It isn’t just that his wild assertions play right into America’s paranoid political tradition; by blending that with sweeping generalizations about non-whites and non-Christians, he validates underlying prejudices against these minority groups. Indeed, as The Huffington Post pointed out, “virtually every time Trump mentions a minority group, he uses the definite article the, as in ‘the Hispanics,’ ‘the Muslims’ and ‘the blacks.’”

This also explains why so many of Trump’s racist policy proposals are bound by their collectivist assumptions, treating large and diverse groups of people as if they are a single entity. When Trump insists that America build a wall on our Mexican border, it’s to keep out the aforementioned bogeyman of the dangerous illegal alien; when he says he would implement a national database to register Muslims, it’s because he lumps America’s three million Muslims with the handful of violent terrorists; and when he openly opposes the Black Lives Matter movement, it is because he has a history of generalizing black people as having “anger” and being “lazy.” The people supporting these aspects of Trump’s political agenda do so because they share this fundamentally racist worldview – and, presumably, will actively work to help him implement it if he becomes president.

Hence Breitbart’s cheap shot against Kristol. Anti-Semitism – like Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism – is a popular prejudice among the alt right because it views all the individuals within a non-white group (so to speak) as a monolith. While hatred of Jews hasn’t played a major role in Trump’s campaign (although he has dabbled in it), it still factors heavily into the thinking of his white supremacist supporters. Consequently, when a pro-Trump site decides to attack a leading Republican intellectual who dares oppose their champion, it makes perfect sense that they would dredge his Jewishness into the conversation. It’s a perfect way of signaling others in the alt right that, yes, they truly are one of them. Not only will they support your kind of candidate, but they will do using your kind of language.

While Breitbart’s anti-Semitic headline against Kristol will likely be forgotten, it is an ominous foreshadowing of what is to come. Even if Trump loses this election, he has opened floodgates that it will not be easy to close. The stigma associated with overt bigotry was a powerful disincentive, averting not only offensive language but the real violence that often follows it. Now that that has been weakened, it is quite likely that our divisions will get worse long before they can get better, regardless of whether Trump is still on the scene to stoke the flames.

The Trumpian Foreign Policy in ‘Captain America: Civil War’

Published: The Huffington Post (May 16, 2016), Salon (May 15, 2016)The Good Men Project (May 12, 2016)

If you’re a fan of movies and haven’t visited Red Letter Media’s website, you should. The critics there are among the funniest and smartest on the Internet, as evidenced when they started joked about the geopolitics of “Captain America: Civil War.” Founding member Rich Evans summed up the punchline best: “Strangely everyone seems to think that the UN has actual powers. That was the most jarring thing for me.”

This point is especially interesting when you consider the foreign policy debate in this presidential election. The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has defied more than seventy years of bipartisan consensus on the importance of internationalism, abhorring the “dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy” and arguing that, as a result, America should no longer feel responsible to “international unions that tie us up and bring America down.” This is an intriguing inversion of the foreign policy conducted by the last Republican president, George W. Bush, who shared Trump’s disdain for organizations like the UN but did so precisely because he wanted to engage in nation-building. Their shared reasoning, though, is that because America can exercise its might in a way that only a handful of countries could meaningfully check (Russia, China), that means we should… the rest of the world be damned.

There are a number of reasons why men like Bush and Trump succeed in the Republican Party and, as such, in this country. In part it’s because the United Nations itself is riddled with corruption, often controlled by nations whose values are diametrically opposed to our own (e.g., large sections of the Middle East), and has a long history of incompetence (see the Rwandan genocide). That said, our compliance in international unions doesn’t automatically mean that we view all participants as our moral equals. This would be ideal, of course, but we live in an imperfect world, and to change it we often find ourselves needing to choose between lesser evils. If America sincerely stands for the belief that all human beings are inherently equal, we must allow ourselves to be accountable to the international community. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aggressively protect our self-interests and distance ourselves from nations who don’t share our values, but we lose our own ethical authority when we don’t strictly abide by the standards we preach. Holding our nose isn’t nearly as bad as selling our souls.

And what are those ethical standards? I turn to the words of Adlai E. Stevenson, a two-time presidential candidate who played a significant role in developing the United Nations and famously bested the Soviet Union while serving as our ambassador during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During his first presidential campaign in 1952, he decided to pay tribute to that organization in a broadcast celebrating its seventh anniversary. “We must not lose faith in the United Nations,” he declared. “We see it as a living thing and we will work and pray for its full growth and development. We want it to become what it was intended to be – a world society of nations under law, not merely law backed by force, but law backed by justice and popular consent.”

It is here that I switch my history nerd cap for that of a Marvel movie nerd (to avoid spoilers from “Captain America: Civil War,” skip to the end of this paragraph). I discuss the politics of that movie at length in a previous article, but suffice to say that it presents Iron Man as the champion of internationalism and Captain America as the advocate of unilateralism. Team Captain America believes that their leader and the Avengers can be better trusted to protect the world than organizations directly accountable (albeit in varying degrees) to its own inhabitants. As Cap himself puts it, “I know we’re not perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.” Team Iron Man, by contrast, acknowledges that “if we can’t accept limitations, we’re boundaryless, we’re no better than the bad guys.” Naturally the movie sides with Captain America, which is a shame because the world of this movie seems to be one in which the UN acts more or less in accordance with its mission. I could be wrong – although if I’m right, this would certainly rank as the most fantastical notion in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe – but if that is indeed the assumption, then it speaks volumes that the filmmakers felt so comfortable having its hero defy accountability to the global community.

We have grown so used to being the most powerful guy in the room that our culture’s biggest pop culture mythology, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, dedicated one of its most important films to the notion that might really does make right – or, at the very least, that it just so happens the mighty are usually also righteous. It’s a troubling moral to say the least, particularly when you consider that we may soon elect a president whose entire candidacy is based around a cult of personality. Trump practically embodies the idea of strength being in an of itself a noble quality, of bullying as an indicator of greatness. Our world may not contain real-life superheroes, but there are a handful of men and women with enough wealth, fame, and power to single-handedly decide all of our fates. These people and the institutions they control must be accountable to the rest of us, and we in turn must be accountable to ideals that value individual human rights above all else. When we fail to remember this, we become a bad guy ourselves, whether by invading other countries or working as an agent for the interests of the wealthy few instead of genuinely representing all of humanity.

The problem, in the end, is that we don’t have anyone like Captain America or Iron Man acquiring real power in our world. All we have are the likes of Donald Trump and the lesser evil running against him in this election, Hillary Clinton. I’m not sure if our reality will ever look like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but if it does, it will be because we join Team Iron Man instead of Team Captain America. The former path offers real justice; the latter, only more of the same.

My Aversion to Twitter and Trump

Published: The Good Men Project (May 14, 2016)

Normally when I write about social media, I pepper sources throughout my article. It’s a common habit among pundits; even in casual conversation, we frequently find ourselves pulling up sources to inform our audience and legitimize our position.

I’m mostly going to resist that impulse here, though, because my aversion to Twitter isn’t about some larger social issue. Simply put, I write about politics, and as such have learned to appreciate the importance of nuance and complexity in communication. Neither of these things are possible when you’re limited to 140 characters per message (unless you’re prepared to go through the gymnastics of weaving several tweets together), and as a result I find myself instinctively abhorring the political discussions that exist on that forum.

Like all political matters in 2016, this brings the conversation back to the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The man is a king of Twitter, churning out tweets that capture headlines which always seem to benefit his campaign, even when the immediate publicity is negative (see his attacks on Megyn Kelly and Heidi Cruz). As Amanda Hess explained in an op-ed for Slate, “What is the secret to Trump’s Twitter success? He’s cemented his reputation as a modern social media master by relying on age-old dick moves… his most Trump-ian tweets manage to hit upon all three of Aristotle’s modes of persuasion: logos (the appeal to logic), ethos (the appeal to credibility), and pathos (the appeal to emotion).”

This may be impressive on a technical level, but what has it done for the quality of our political discourse?

It is here that I must rely on memory. The 2000 presidential election was the first one to really engage my interest, and my main memory of that contest is how no one around me cared about it. Sure, there was plenty of interest after the election, when voting irregularities in Florida helped George W. Bush best Al Gore in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote. Up to Election Day, though, I found myself passionately invested in the Gore campaign while the adults and teenagers around me were cocooned in indifference. People were somewhat more engaged in 2004, when the war in Iraq was raging and criticism of Bush’s post-9/11 policies began to intensify. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that people around me really started to engage with the issues of the day. The war in Iraq was still a top issue, but now we were talking about the flagging economy and the corrupt banks, about corporate lobbyists and the need for health care reform. Casual friends would debate the merits of single-payer health care versus a free enterprise system, or about how whether corporate deregulation or too much government was behind increasing unemployment. Even though this interest waned by the 2012 election, the underlying spirit of thoughtful civic engagement seemed to persist.

For some reason, though, I’ve noticed that casual political conversations have become less about substantive disagreement and more about punchy little declarations. While I have no idea whether Twitter created this culture, it’s pretty clear that the site benefits enormously from its prevalence. This is why Americans are seriously considering electing Donald Trump to be their next president; it isn’t that much of a reach for a nation that applauds social media vulgarity to think “Build a wall!” or “Make America great again!” are legitimate policy proposals. Instead of hearing meaningful commentary on the major issues facing our country today, I find that striking up political conversation is more likely to end in short declarations. Not always insults, mind you – just a handful of words that the participant deems sufficient to fully make his or her point. When in the past I would hear reasoning (good, bad, or indifferent), now I just get declarations like “Just bomb the hell out of ISIS” or “Round them up and send them back” or “We’d fix everything if we just stopped being so damn PC.”

Those aren’t hypothetical examples, by the way. I remember those comments verbatim from political conversations because their originators only uttered a single sentence.

Considering the advanced political apathy that marked the beginning of my interest in politics, the current climate is almost ironic. People are certainly paying attention to this election, and while the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming our first female president should inspire this attention, that ain’t it. Instead of being bored with politics like they were sixteen years ago, voters are being captivated by an epigrammatic carnival barker, one who mastered Twitter and then imported his stylistic flourishes from that site over to the rest of his campaign. The result has transformed American politics forever, and while this may not be because we’re a culture that favors simplicity over complexity, that trait certainly hasn’t helped things. Personally, I don’t think Twitter created this itself… but the moment I become a Twitter-phile, will I join the ranks of those who don’t even notice this is happening?