Culture

Where Do We Even Begin? 

Nazis are bad.

There, was that so damn difficult to say?

Well, yes, if one is a black-hearted egotist whose only concern is keeping a clammy, slippery grasp on power. In that case, it can be quite difficult.

As we all know, our straight-talkin’, tell-it-like-it-is president was unusually quiet last weekend, when fascists, racists, and violent thugs descended upon Charlottesville. The man who tweets every umbrage or perceived slight had nothing to say when the KKK started throwing punches, and white supremacists chanted Hitler-era slogans.

He then came out with a baffling, condescending condemnation of “both sides” of the violence. I suppose he was trying to be fair to both homicidal bigots driving their cars into people, and the demonstrators who should be blamed for… well, I don’t know what — perhaps for violently putting dents in the car or cracking its windshield when the vehicle plowed into them. Yeah, both sides are clearly to blame.

Of course, Trump did eventually come out against white supremacy, which proves that he will indeed take a moral position — provided that both sides of the political spectrum, millions of Americans, and every half-respectable media outlet scream at him for days to denounce fucking Nazis, which let’s face it, is the absolute minimum qualification for being considered a decent human being. But hey, he did it, right?

No, because he changed his mind the next day and went back to equating sign-carrying liberals with deranged Nazis who murder people, setting off a shitstorm of outrage and disbelief. So there was that.

Now, there are only three possible motivations for Trump’s false-equivalency nonsense:

  1. He is an impulsive man-child who lashes out at others even if it is detrimental to his own cause.
  2. Some dark part of his soul — perhaps a bigger part than his followers would like to admit — agrees with the white supremacists.
  3. He is a chickenshit politician who is scared of offending his base, which is ironic when one considers that he is supposedly the anti-politician who is not afraid to speak his mind.

All three of these options are terrifying. In all three scenarios, the guy who is the face of America, and its political and even moral leader, has abdicated his responsibility (and possibly his humanity) so that hate-filled men shouting anti-Semitic slurs can feel good about themselves.

Of course, it’s perfectly obvious to me that someone should have told the president that the fascists in Virginia had mocked his tiny hands, or pointed out his dismal approval ratings, or brought up his disastrous leadership skills. If that had happened, he would have lacerated those bastards in a furious speech before they could finish saying, “Seig Heil.” But that didn’t happen, and now we have to wonder about the following:

Is this a turning point?

I don’t mean that in the political sense. We all know the gutless GOP will not turn on Trump unless and until he has outlived his usefulness to them. Otherwise, they will just keep apologizing for his maniacal outbursts and ugly tirades, or looking the other way, or somehow coming up with a twisted rationale for it (like, “liberals made this happen”). Hey, I guess it helps them sleep at night.

No, I’m talking about a cultural turning point.

After all, there can no longer be any doubt — if there ever was — about the kind of man Trump is (i.e., the kind who coddles Nazis). There could not be a clearer contrast between his delayed scripted words of false comfort and his spontaneous, appalling endorsement of racism.

Similarly, those who have excused his abhorrent behavior to this point have finally run into a non-negotiable, unambiguous, swastika-shaped look into his loathsome mind. Any defense of his stance goes beyond the usual pathetic, infuriating, illogical, baffling excuses that Trump supporters have offered for other transgressions (and there have been a lot of them).

This is so sickening, so reprehensible, so concrete in its evil that it threatens to permanently brand anyone who defends it as either a spineless coward or a sociopathic villain.

Witness that prominent conservatives, corporate CEOs, and military leaders are all blasting Trump. These are hardly liberal snowflakes getting riled up by fake news.

So it’s fair to ask if this is Trump’s Katrina moment. Could this be the final outrage that pushes his casual supporters over the edge and solidifies his calamitous reputation?

Already, a majority of Americans — not just progressives, but most of the country — is aghast at their president’s unhinged craziness. A full 40 percent want his impeachment.

Those numbers will only increase. The sense of disgust will only snowball. And because Trump burned up so much good will mere months into his presidency, it is difficult to imagine the trend ever reversing.

For Trump supporters, after this point, there is no turning back. Which of them wants to be the last deplorable standing, waving his Make America Great Again hat around as the rest of the nation looks away in shame and horror?

 


Who Could Have Guessed?

There are few advantages to being Gen X.

We’re a much smaller generation and therefore less culturally powerful than the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We’re too old to be hip and cool, but too young to collect Social Security (which will be long gone by the time we’re senior citizens). Also, we were born too late to see Led Zeppelin in concert, but born too early to have our own cell phones as teenagers.

Also, our rock icons keep dying on us.

But there is one advantage we have, and it is this: We are cynical as fuck.

I’m not making this up. Studies have verified that Gen X is the most skeptical group of Americans in history.

Now, you might not think being cynical is an advantage. For the most part, it’s not. But when it comes to existing in the world in which we live, it is a damn lifesaver.

Take, for example, the recent poll numbers for our illustrious president.

In November, when Trump won — due to that archaic relic known as the Electoral College — about 60% of Americans “said they were mostly optimistic about his presidency.” But that number is down to 43% today, and furthermore, “core groups that carried Trump to victory are not immune to the deteriorating optimism around the president.”

I’m not a political scientist, but I’m pretty sure the phrase “deteriorating optimism” is not one that presidents like to hear.

Keep in mind that all these numbers came before the president threatened to start a nuclear war.

In any case, “optimism has slipped more than 20 points — from 74% in November to 51% now — among whites without a college degree.” Keep in mind that this demographic is the most hardcore of Trump’s hardcore support.

Apparently, for some inexplicable reason, back in November, many Americans somehow thought that electing a narcissist with no governmental or military experience, who had a history of racist statements, misogynistic behavior, and unethical actions, and who had the temperament of a spoiled toddler was somehow cause for optimism.

Why any rational adult would think this is completely beyond me.

Even people who knew firsthand about Trump’s insanity seemed to think a 70-year-old bully would somehow become more humble by winning the election. Witness the New York Times columnist who was personally insulted by Trump, but only recently addressed his boorish behavior by stating, “I have to admit that it did not occur to me he’d keep doing that kind of stuff as president of the United States.”

How did this not occur to you? How could this be a damn surprise?

Maybe it’s just not Gen X cynicism, however. Maybe it’s also because I’m Latino, and as my fellow Hispanics — and no doubt most African Americans and Muslims and gays as well — can attest, we never thought the guy would be anything other than a disaster. We never thought he would mellow out, or suddenly become presidential, or really be anything other than what he appeared to be, which is a corrupt, conniving liar who cares about nothing but himself.

It seems that many other Americans are now snapping out of their collective naivety to admit reality. Although I remain baffled why it’s taken people so long to acknowledge the perfectly obvious.

However, if you still think I’m being too harsh, just remember this fact: In spite of everything that has gone wrong with the Trump presidency, 84% of Republicans still support him.

So would you like to ask again why I’m cynical?

 


This Is Your Ad Campaign on Drugs

If you live in the fine state of Washington, you might have been driving along recently, minding your own business, when you were suddenly and rudely accosted by the following billboard.

Yes, Washington state’s Department of Health thought it was a good idea to spend $100,000 on the billboards, which aim to dissuade marijuana use among Latino teens by… well, I’m not sure what mechanism they’re going for here. Apparently, Hispanic kids won’t try the evil weed because they’re so very inherently cool (by default, no less).

Now, I suppose I should be offended at this.

But to be honest, I find the ad so bizarre, so baffling, so hilariously misguided that all I can do is laugh.

It reminds me of the infamous “Users Are Losers” campaign back when I was a kid. That simplistic jingle — a pathetic attempt at telling teens to stay off drugs — did indeed provoke a powerful reaction in its viewers: Fits of giggles, especially if you had just taken a massive hit from the bong.

In any case, the Washington state campaign aims for the same kind of hip-adults-talking-the-hip-lingo approach as those misbegotten ads of the past. But this time with a racial element thrown in.

As you can imagine, the billboard is not a hit.

Many people complained that the billboard implied Latinos are more likely to abuse drug, or conversely, that non-Latinos are more likely to abuse drugs (I told you the campaign was baffling). Others said the ad implied that people who take drugs are cool, which is exactly the opposite of the intended message. And of course, many people just thought the ad was some combination of tasteless, inflammatory, and lame.

To be honest, we haven’t seen such an immediate, overwhelmingly negative reaction since… well, whatever the last thing it was that Trump did.

With no small degree of embarrassment, Washington state has apologized for the fiasco and removed the billboards.

However, this botched campaign could serve as a ham-fisted metaphor for the whole War on Drugs. As we know, that cataclysmic attempt to end drug use in America only served to destroy countless lives — mostly those of ethnic minorities — and didn’t keep one person from getting high for a single day.

Then as now, we have government officials who are too busy demonizing pot to address the root causes of drug abuse, and we have a phalanx of government resources aimed directly at ethnic minority communities that, we are told, are cesspools of moral degeneracy and helpless pathology.

By the way, that’s not how those same governmental officials view, say, the opioid crisis that afflicts white working class communities. Locking up meth-addicted white people and throwing away the key isn’t a popular option, even though it remains the go-to tactic when it comes to blacks and Latinos smoking reefer.

Yes, it all makes me glad that I don’t smoke pot.

But of course, I don’t have to take drugs. I’m Hispanic, so I’m cool by default.


Bang and Blame

So I just got back from a conference in amazing New Orleans (always one of my favorite cities). The conference featured lots of breakout sessions where the presenters encouraged us to seize the day and live our passions and grab the bull by both horns while seizing your passion every day and so on and so on.

In any case, I noticed something odd about the breakout sessions. For the most part, during the short Q&A portion at the end of each presentation, the women would raise their hands and ask questions. In contrast, the men pretended that they were asking questions, but most of them just made statements.

During session after session, the women seemed more interested in having an expert answer their inquiries and/or engage in a conversation. The men seemed more interested in asserting their expertise, contradicting the moderator, and in general just declaring how super fucking awesome they were to a room full of captive strangers.

 

On the penultimate day of the conference, some lunatic shot at several congressmen in Washington D.C. Much has been made of the fact that the shooter wasn’t a right-wing nut job. He was ardently anti-Trump.

Sadly, I wasn’t too surprised at this. You see, a pro-Trump man with anger issues has less reason to open up on Congress, because his guy is in charge right now. Oh, he might consider taking a shot at a leading Democrat or a pesky journalist, but ultimately, he will likely decide that it’s not worth it. After all, Trump will have all those traitors thrown in jail soon enough, right?

Now, if Hilary Clinton had won… well, let’s just say that one of the few pluses of Trump’s appalling victory is that we may have been spared from even more violence than we see now, most prevalent in the form of surging hate crimes. Yes, it could have been even worse if Trump’s fans felt robbed and ignored, rather than smug and empowered.

This brings us back to the loser who opened fire on people playing softball. You see, he was a guy who felt victimized, and like many men, he decided that violence was the obvious solution.

The only difference between him and many of his peers is that he correctly identified the people who were fucking with him. He knew it wasn’t immigrants or gays. It was the rich guys who rigged the game.

But other than this insight, he had the exact same reaction as do so many other old guys with access to firearms. He didn’t believe in looking at his own life decisions, or working to improve the system, or helping out his community. No, he believed in punishment and fear and hatred and searing rage. He insisted that, as a white man in America, people were going to listen to him, damn it. He was going to make people pay, and everyone would know how great he was.

That’s what he was thinking. That’s what many men are thinking.

And the objects of their scorn may vary, but their solution is consistent. And that is fucking terrifying.

 


The Ultimate Scam

One thing that you may not know about me — among many dark secrets — is that I love documentaries. I’ll check out films about forgotten rock bands or miscarriages of justice or thematically intertwining stories or just about anything that sounds remotely interesting, as long it’s truthful.

One of my favorite documentarians is, of course, the legendary Werner Herzog, who narrates each of his movies in a weary, existentialist tone that sounds even more nihilistic in his German accent. The guy is a genius.

Two of his films are sort of bookends — one dealing with Antarctica and the other with volcanoes, the obvious interplay of fire and ice.

What the two films have in common — aside from Herzog’s causal observation that humanity is doomed and that Mother Nature will most likely kill us all someday — is that scientists are the heroes of the story.

And this got me thinking. In my last post, I talked about the conservative obsession with the deep state, and the mental hoops that one must jump through in order to excuse Trump’s obviously incompetent behavior.

Nowhere is the conservative mind more tested than when it comes to climate change. Yes, we know the statistic that 97% of climate scientists believe that humans have a negative impact on the environment, and that every year brings another heat record, and that many of the predicted consequences of climate change are already happening.

 

And yet, “majorities of Americans appear skeptical of climate scientists,” and some Americans literally do not believe their own eyes when it comes to changing weather patterns.

Conservatives dismiss climate scientists as elitist phonies who make up data, exaggerate their conclusions, and bury the evidence that there is no such thing as global warming. The scientists’ motivation, apparently, is to justify their existences and/or get more funding. Well, either that, or they are working for some leftist global cabal (is there any other kind?) with an insidious plot to enslave us all.

But of course, to believe that, you also have to believe that the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists are unethical bastards (a view we don’t even hold for politicians). You also have to believe that their vile manipulation of the data is so ingenious that no one has been able to pinpoint exactly how they have pulled off — and yet it is simultaneously so obvious that even high school dropouts can tell that they faked it.

You also have to believe that thousands of extremely smart people have decided, en masse, that telling a lie and fighting over a limited amount of grant money makes more sense than simply telling the truth (“global warming is a lie!”) and rolling in the cash that Exxon would no doubt throw their way.

Speaking of which, you also have to believe that so few climate scientists have come forward to reveal this deception, even though scientific reputations are made on overthrowing convention and standing apart from your peers.

Finally, you have to believe that some of the brightest, best-educated people in the world have devoted their lives to one subject, and as we see in Herzog’s documentary, often endure brutal and dangerous conditions, for months at a time, all in service of some elaborate hoax.

Damn, there must be an easier way to make a buck.

 


No, We Don’t All Need to Get Along

Good intentions abound. That’s the only reason people still embrace misguided ideas like “colorblind society,” despite the powerfully negative connotations that such phrases conjure up.

The latest nicey-nicey concept I’ve encountered (and no doubt you have as well) is the absurd notion that, for America to succeed, we need to put aside our differences. In essence, we all need to get along.

Where in the hell did this strange idea come from?

For the overwhelming majority of American history, we have not all gotten along.

For example, Hamilton and Jefferson didn’t say, “let’s be pals” when they were hashing out what kind of government we should have. They had more important things to do.

Even during the so-called Era of Good Feelings, America’s many slaves weren’t feeling the love and joining in group hugs.

Speaking of slavery, America didn’t even reach its centennial before we started shooting at each other over that touchy topic. And it was another century of violence and antagonism before the government said, “Maybe we should be nicer to ethnic minorities.” At no point in that process did we all get along.

Yes, one could argue that the country was united during World War II, but even in that case, all it took to bind us together was a global conflagration where millions of people died and the very survival of democracy was in question. In other words… good times.

More recently, we’ve come to blows over Vietnam and Iraq, over abortion and affirmative action, over gay rights and healthcare.

So when was this mythical time when Americans were of one mind? And why does anyone think this is a necessary condition in order for the country to thrive? Obviously, we’ve found a way to work around our internecine loathing.

The truth is that a nation as vast as ours — with its myriad subcultures, each enjoying a large degree of freedom — is never going to be truly united. To believe otherwise is to embrace the thinking of a child.

However, this Kumbaya concept is more than a pathetic pipe dream. It features an insidious aspect snaking below the surface.

We see this in the earnest pleas, even demands, for liberals to shut up and support Trump. Of course, conservatives would like nothing better than for progressives to give Trump a chance (which many liberals, inexplicably, are quite willing to do).

But why would leftists agree to a right-wing agenda that goes against every principle we have, and that could lead America into chaos? Apparently, we should do so out of blind patriotism and for the sake of the vague, abstract concept of “unity.”

According to this idea, striving to be friends supersedes the threat of decimating the country.

“Yes, thousands of people are dead now because Obamacare was repealed, but at least we’re all getting along, and that’s the most important thing. Yup.”

This is clearly insane.

And aside from the specifics of the current era — where a wannabe fascist seeks to make the nation great again for white supremacists — the fact remains that striving for unity at all costs is spectacularly naïve, even destructive.

The US Constitution is the result of Founding Fathers threatening to duel each other to the death. Slavery was abolished through warfare. Civil rights came only after decades of people refusing to back down, and not settling for getting along.

One of the virtues/flaws of American culture is our hyper-competitiveness. As such, one idea or principle usually emerges triumphant. Sometimes it’s a good idea… and sometimes it’s not. Still, as we know, the moral arc is long but bends toward justice (at least we hope it does).

However, progress is delayed even more when we smile and act polite in the face of idiocy or fanaticism or demagoguery. And there is no need to do so.

Because we have never all gotten along.

And we never will.

 

 


Bubbles

Hey, remember when I said that too many liberals were genuflecting to Trump and insisting that he was all presidential and shit now, just because he successfully gave a mediocre speech? And remember when I said that was nonsense, and that Trump hadn’t changed and never would?

Yeah, that was last week. And I was right.

So now that we’ve further established that liberals are acting like a bunch of abused spouses, how do we focus on creating a new mindset — one that doesn’t play into conservatives’ hands?

There are, of course, a number of strategies. But I would rather focus on what not to do.

For starters, let’s drop the ludicrous suggestion that progressives need to “get outside their bubbles.”

“But wait,” my fellow progressives wail. “We lost the white working class, and it’s because we’re just a bunch of spoiled, condescending, pampered elitists. We need to kiss their boots and tell them how great they are, in the desperate hope that they’ll vote for a democrat.”

Sorry, but when it comes to reasoning with a hardcore Trump supporter, there is very little return on investment.

First, the truth is that most Americans live in bubbles — defined as clusters of like-minded individuals who tend to line up on politics, culture, religion, etc. In fact, there are apparently up to 11 different Americas, which makes sense when one considers how vast this country is. Furthermore, Americans have always lived in bubbles. It’s just more obvious now with the rise of social media and academic studies.

And yet, it is only now that we’re hearing “get out of your bubbles.” And it is only liberals who are being told to do this (despite the fact that the Democratic candidate actually got millions more votes).

I rarely hear the reverse. That is, how come nobody ever says that people in the Midwest and the Deep South live in their own bubbles, and that perhaps they should try to understand the viewpoints of the dreaded coastal elites?

In fact, one could make the case that “rural and exurban people need to see more of America. People do not understand the depths of how little rural America travels and sees other people and cultures.”

And if I haven’t mentioned this in the last nine minutes, I’m from Wisconsin, and I’ve probably spent more time in rural America than the vast majority of liberals. So I can tell you, the rural conservative bubble is much stronger and more impenetrable than the urban progressive bubble.

Yet it is liberals who are told to “stop ranting and seek out” Trump voters for their opinions. However, when a progressive actually attempts this, it’s all shouting and insults, and nobody ever changes his/her mind. Or Trump supporters don’t bother to show up to the conversation — because they don’t have to.

In fact, I have yet to see one of those “opposing sides come together” kind of stories where the instigator was a Republican. And the reason is obvious.

Conservatives have the default setting of being “the real Americans,” and asking them to do anything to upset their world is political suicide and culturally shameful. Meanwhile, liberals would rather be punched in the face than get accused of being elitist, so we had better bend over backward.

In essence, conservatives who refuse to compromise are principled and strong. But liberals who do the same are smug.

It’s all enough to make you want to stay inside your own little bubble.

 

 


The Fault in Our Stars

Self-flagellation is never sexy — not even when sexy people do it.

I’m talking about individuals like Latina actress Zoe Saldana, who said that Hollywood liberals like her “got cocky and became arrogant and… became bullies.” She implied that this behavior led people to vote for Trump.

 

Of course, Hollywood celebrities have recently been wailing and gnashing their teeth over Trump’s victory. Because so many of them are liberal, this is perfectly understandable. What is mystifying, however, is the object of their scorn: their fellow progressives.

In addition to Saldana, there is celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who said, “the utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes is largely responsible” for Trump.

Wow, that is quite the self-indictment. And then there is our old friend Bill Maher, who believes “liberal culture’s preoccupation with language helped put Trump in the White House.”

Indeed, many people believe that endorsements from liberal celebrities “don’t matter anymore [and] more likely and long-term: They hurt.”

Yes, there is no shortage of celebrities who are admitting their culpability in Trump’s rise, even if they themselves are ardent touchy-feely progressives. Hell, it’s apparently because they’re touchy-feely progressives in the first place that we are in this mess.

But there is one little flaw with this apology tour: All of it is bullshit.

In a way, it is just more celebrity self-aggrandizement. Celebrities are saying that their opinions have the power to convince everyone how to vote — especially those knuckleheaded Neanderthals in the Rust Belt.

However, celebrities who humble brag about their cultural power are only the most visible manifestation of an insidious development in our society.

I’m talking about progressives who are so busy blaming themselves for Trump that they are not focused on fighting right-wing demagoguery.

And yes, that forms the perfect segue to my next post. So stay tuned.


All an Act

Yes, it’s a unique issue for ethnic minorities. Questions about authenticity hound, pester, poke, and prod us.

You see, many of us constantly face accusations of whether we are Latino enough, or black enough, or truly Asian, or a real Native American. I’m pretty sure nobody ever asks if someone is white enough… unless of course, there is an Aryan Nations initiation rite going on.

For nerdy ethnic minorities, the problem can be even more pressing. After all, we know full well that African American students who academically excel are ostracized for “acting white” — right?

Well, it turns out that we don’t know that.

A recent study has debunked this myth, showing “there’s no research that explicitly supports a relationship between race, beliefs about ‘acting white,’ social stigma, and academic outcomes.”

In fact, “studies suggest that the highest-achieving black students are actually more popular than the lowest-achieving ones” and that “black students have more positive attitudes about education than white students.”

Well, that’s a plot twist.

Now, the study didn’t examine whether Latino students are mocked for “acting white” if they get good grades. However, from my personal experience, I can answer this question.

And the answer is…

To continue reading this post, please click here.


A Grim Start

Well, here we are in 2017, and a new era of hope and peace and love and…

What’s that?

The cycle of hatred that crescendo in 2016 continues to careen onward, claiming new victims in ghastly ways?

Yes, scratch that opening line.

We are not even a week into the new year, and we have a fresh horrific example of humankind’s malevolence, courtesy of Chicago.

That’s where some Trump-hating teenagers assaulted a man, live on Facebook, while yelling slurs about white people.

I’m not going to show the video because, frankly, there’s too much violence porn out there already.

But I will point out that conservatives have responded with a certain sort of glee, thrilled to finally have some evidence that ethnic minorities are beating up on white people. And liberals have responded with outrage tinged with defensiveness.

I’m not going to get into all that, primarily because it should be perfectly clear that everyone — regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity — is repulsed by these acts. So there is no need to state the obvious about how grotesque these morons are. It’s like denouncing the Ebola virus.

Instead, I just want to point out that hatred feeds upon itself, and it is a base universality of human nature that many people will use the fact that they are being oppressed as perverse justification for their sick abuse of others.

It is Orwell’s vision of the future: Imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Happy New Year…


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