There are certain words I never thought I would say, let alone put in writing.
The President incited a riot.
Insurrectionists took the Capitol building.
My mother was right.
The last one may seem out of place but bear with me. You see, in the last couple of days I have noticed the continuing of a trend that has been going on for years, if not for decades. A trend that has arguably brought us to this point, and one that needs to stop if we are to ever get to a better place. It can best be summed up in a quote from the movie Batman (1989): “I made you, you made me first.”
Call it “whataboutism”. Call it “finger pointing”. Call it whatever you want. It boils down to the simple childish back and forth of “well X did this, which is just like Y”, or “well they did this, which justifies them doing that.”
As my mother told my sister and I when we were kids, “I don’t care who started it.” And she was right.
This shit has to stop. There can be no excuse for the actions that took place in Washington, DC on Jan. 6, 2021. There can be no justification based on actions taken by others because there is no justification. Full stop.
Likewise, to those who are taking to social media taking the opportunity to say, “I told you so”, again I say this shit has to stop. Like so many others, I am saddened, angry, and not at all surprised by these events. But seizing the moment to drive forward partisan divisions rather than simply condemn the actions of those responsible (and yes, that includes specific political figures up to and including Donald Trump himself) is risible. It does nothing to resolve the tensions that led to this moment, it simply exacerbates them. Many of you spent the entirety of George Bush’s presidency claiming he “stole” the election, and much the same of Trump in his sole term. Does that language sound at all hauntingly familiar?
But hey, as Winston Churchill said, “never let a good crisis go to waste,” amirite?
This shit has to stop. I don’t care who started it.
Let’s get in the wayback machine, shall we? In 1994, Newt Gingrich led a revolt in Congress, the so-called Contract with America. He got the Republicans to start playing hardball in politics. The Democrats were slow to catch up, but they sure were game for it. And hey, they decided to end the filibuster for non-SCOTUS nominees, so all even right? Nope, then the Republicans ended the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees. And Wow, those SCOTUS nominees! I mean, look at the way Garland was treated! No Supreme Court nominee has ever been treated badly by the Senate ever! He totally got Borked! Totally justifies screwing over the next guy if we can!
“I made you, you made me first.”
This shit has to stop. I DON’T CARE WHO STARTED IT.
Now there are people on social media demanding that those who perpetrated this offense against our nation be hunted down and executed summarily. Others see them as some sort of heroes defending the union against tyranny. I would humbly suggest that both sides are extremist assholes who need to put down their cellphones and get a nice cold glass of shut the fuck up.
I don’t care who started it.
I want them, all of them, to have the full benefit of the American justice system. Let them have a real trial with a vigorous defense and a jury of their peers. Let there be no doubt in any reasonable mind (you can’t reason with the unreasonable) that they were given every right under the very laws they so carelessly flouted. And let them enjoy the full penalty of the law as decided by that system they tried to destroy.
What truly makes America great, what always has and will continue to make America great, is this: despite the avaricious desires of some, we always have and always will, even- nay, especially in the face of adversity strived to be a nation of laws, not men. While we have in the past and even to this day sometimes fallen short of that lofty goal, that is not an excuse to lower the bar. It is instead all the more reason to set it higher.
There’s nothing like a heavily disputed presidential primary season to bring exciting new ideas out into the open, and there’s nothing like new ideas to generate debate (or if you’re on the internet, scorn and abuse). One of the big ideas being tossed around among Democratic presidential hopefuls is the idea of alleviating some or all student loan debt. Whose, how much, and how are all part of the mix, and of course the ever-present “why?” raises its head in the discussion, particularly when the question makes its way outside the narrow corridor of progressive thought.
In a lot of ways I feel like I’ve had this discussion before, on any number of topics, pretty much anytime the subject of government intervention in the economy (or any kind of government spending really) comes up. The simple fact is that government spending exists for a lot of reasons, but it always has one of a few intentions:
- Providing basic services. This one seems kind of obvious, but it doesn’t cover nearly as much ground as most people think it does. That’s because there’s a significant amount of ground between what you want and what you need. We’ve become accustomed to a government that provides an awful lot of wants in addition to a scant handful of needs. This is not intended to be a polemic against government providing those things, merely pointing out that there is a difference between the two. This also goes hand in hand with…
- Making a moral statement. You might not think something as dry as taxation and spending would have moral implications, but boy would you be wrong. Consider the phrase “provide for the common weal”. What exactly does that mean? What does it cover? And how do you intend to collect the money to pay for it? Once you figure that out, you’ve taken a moral stance, and your budget and taxation priorities will reflect that stance.
- Stimulating the economy (whether it’s effective or not). I’m going to be generous and pretend that every time politicians have said that their various taxation and budgetary maneuvers were intended to “stimulate the economy” they were being sincere, regardless of the actual outcome of those efforts.
Please stop laughing at me.
So where does that leave us when considering the idea of relieving student debt? Well, a lot of that is going to depend on how you feel about it coming in. As Obi-Wan once said, “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Do you consider college to be a basic service? If so, then government should have been providing it all along, and of course people shouldn’t have to pay for it, either in the past or in the future. Pay off ALL the loans and make all public colleges free. Perhaps you believe this is a matter of economic justice, in which case something more akin to Elizabeth Warren’s plan is more to your taste, with only a certain amount of debt being paid off, and an income cut-off being involved to ensure it’s more progressive than regressive. Or maybe you’re interested in stimulating the economy, in which case you want something a bit more modest but even-handed.
Or perhaps your stance leans more the other way. I have heard arguments asking why student loan debt should be privileged over other kinds of consumer debt, such as mortgage debt or credit card debt. These are important questions, and worth addressing by those who would forgive or pay-off student loan debt. I have a few answers of my own, although not sufficient answers I am sure for those who are asking those questions.
Regarding comparisons to mortgage debt, mortgages have been privileged over other kinds of consumer debt for as long as the modern income tax has existed. Last I checked I couldn’t deduct my credit card interest or my rent payments from my income taxes, and while I can deduct the interest from my student loans from my income taxes, there’s one big difference on those that I’ll get to in just a moment. So suggesting that relieving student debt would be an anomaly because we would be “privileging” one particular kind of debt is disingenuous at best. While there’s a fair argument to be made that the price of the mortgage deduction has already been “baked in” to the price of housing, the same can be said for the price of tuition, with the cost of public four-year institutions increasing 213% in 10 years. I’d like to flip that house.
As for credit card debt, that’s a tougher lift. Despite the calls to limit interest rates at 15%, I haven’t heard any suggestion of relieving existing debts, nor do I seriously expect there to be any suggestion for that happening either (nor do I think such a suggestion would get any traction). Going back to needs and wants, there is an understanding in America today that you need a college degree; despite the realities that many Americans face of having to get by week to week using any means at their disposal, including high-interest credit cards, there is still a Puritanical moralism that says credit card debt represents wants. Regardless, though it has been made significantly more difficult in recent decades, there is still an option available to credit card debtors that is not available to student loan debtors: bankruptcy. Yes, it’s an ugly word in America. Yes, it will ruin your credit rating. But it sure does beat insurmountable debts. At least it does if it applies to the insurmountable debts you have.
I am not unsympathetic to any of these positions. I am a renter, and I have been a home owner. I have dug myself out of the bottom of a very deep hole of credit card debt more than once, and I know how awful it can be. Worst of all, I have carried substantial college loan debt for a quarter of a century, and every time I make a payment I am reminded of all the stupid choices I made that got me into that debt. I own those choices, I do not deny it. And I have been paying for them for over twenty years. It is not something I would wish on another human being.
The best answer I can give, ultimately, is the same answer I have always given when it comes to government policy or societal action: someone’s gotta take it in the shorts. It may not be “politic”, but it is absolutely egalitarian. It is the recognition that in a cooperative society, there are only two ways to manage things: everybody goes it alone, in which case the winners and losers make themselves, or we do things cooperatively, in which case we collectively make winners and losers. Either way somebody takes it in the shorts. There is no scenario in which everybody comes out ahead, but there are many scenarios in which everybody is worse off. The question we have to answer is which scenario we choose to pursue, and who ends up taking it in the shorts.
Anybody who says the student loan industry is getting it right is someone who is profiting off college students. And it’s not just teenagers. Veterans, working professionals, career switchers, stay at home parents returning to the workforce; these are all people who are trying to navigate a complex and often predatory environment, and they don’t have decades before retirement to pay back overwhelming loans. I’m not advocating any particular approach, I’m saying a conversation needs to be had now before the bubble bursts and it’s too late for a conversation, and all that’s left is to try to clean up the B.S.
Far be it from me to sit in judgement on the Supreme Court, but then playing armchair judge is a pastime for most of America. And the case of American Legion v. American Humanist Association practically begs for review (pardon the pun), particularly with so many individual opinions being written in spite of the 7-2 ruling (to be honest I wasn’t aware the Court could even issue anything other than a 5-4 ruling anymore). In this case I think the Court got it exactly wrong largely based on those express opinions as reported in the Washington Post, which I will be referencing throughout this piece, so feel free to call me out if there is some nuance of legal thought I am overlooking by not reading the entirety of their opinions. However I do believe the underlying premise is sound.
The initial argument is basically that a cross on public land favors a specific religious point of view, which is unconstitutional. The mental gymnastics that the justices who voted to allow the cross to stay had to go through are particularly astounding, and the fact that so many of them took so many paths to get there shows that there really isn’t any clear logic or reasoning to support it, unlike the opposition argument. Note that this in itself does not indicate they are wrong; there can be several good arguments in favor of something, and reasonable people can disagree about which one is the best. However the fact is that none of the arguments put forward by the justices are good or even sufficient arguments, particularly as a matter of practical law when considering that they will be used as precedent in other cases.
What sort of cases? Consider for a moment the issue of Civil War memorials. While many of these memorials may not have a religious component, some may, and all of them are subject to First Amendment challenges (either by those who want to tear them down or those who want to keep them up). Let’s consider the justices opinions in terms of these memorials:
Justice Alito, from the main opinion (WP):
“For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.”
Alito was joined in deciding that the cross may remain by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Take out “the Cross” and replace it with “the monument” and this passage would apply equally well to every Civil War memorial in the country. I know from personal experience it would apply to the entirety of Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA.
Justice Gorsuch, according to the Washington Post, “would have dismissed the case because he believes the “offended observer” has no legal standing to sue.” So if you’re offended by Civil War memorials… tough titty.
“Breyer said he was persuaded by the specifics of the case: that crosses are specifically linked to World War I sacrifice and that the cross had stood for 94 years without controversy.” (WP) Oh, good. Because the Civil War happened before WWI, and many of those monuments stood even longer than that without controversy. Because, y’know, a lack of controversy in the past totally trumps any present controversy. Or future controversy. Just ask Dred Scott.
To be fair, a couple of justices did give me hope of nuance, even if I didn’t love the way they decided. “Kagan praised Alito’s ruling, but said she refused to join it in full “out of perhaps an excess of caution.” “Although I too look to history for guidance, I prefer at least for now to do so case-by-case, rather than to sign on to any broader statements about history’s role in Establishment Clause analysis,” she wrote. Kavanaugh said that the decision allows the cross to remain on public land but does not require it. Maryland officials could make other arrangements, he said, such as transferring the land to a private group.” (WP) From reading these comments, I’m almost persuaded to believe they might be thinking about the same sort of issues I am. Of course I might be flattering myself (wouldn’t be the first time), but it is nice to see a bit of judicial restraint even in the face of a poorly decided issue.
I understand that reasoning by analogy is flawed, but I am only using an analogy to highlight my point, not to establish it. And the point is this: decisions coming out of the Supreme Court, particularly ones that have a sizable majority such as this one, set a strong precedent for the entire country. I am a fan of stare decisis and history as much as the next Court watcher, but even more I am a fan of an awareness of the future and what it might hold. While nobody can predict that with even a reasonable modicum of accuracy, it’s not too hard to draw reasonable conclusions from the present, and a bit of restraint in current decisions could yield significant room to maneuver in future cases.
For those of you who don’t know, I spent the better part of two decades working in email marketing. I think Scott Adams described marketing best: “we don’t screw the customer; we hold them down while the salespeople screw them.” That being said, I did (mostly) enjoy my time as a marketer, and I became more than a little familiar with a little company named Salesforce. If you’ve never heard of them that’s not surprising; they’re what’s referred to as a B2B company (that’s “business to business”), and their products are used to manage and run e-commerce across the nation.
Why that’s particularly relevant is because of a recent change in their acceptable use policy. Salesforce is now in the business of driving social policy as well as sales. While I might personally disagree with their stance, I want to get out in front and applaud them for making this move. I would love to see more companies, particularly big companies, making moves like this, for a few different reasons.
First it appeals to my libertarian desire for private action over government action. Yes, I have come around to accepting that not all government is bad, but I still believe that government should be the answer of last resort, not the first thing we try and then we turn to private solutions only after every possible governmental approach has been tried and failed. Also, there are a few common misconceptions that need to be addressed regarding private actors versus government action.
The big one that bothers me the most is the idea that somehow private actors can violate your right to free speech. Let’s take a look at the text of the First Amendment, shall we? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Yes, I can see pretty clearly in there were it says that “Facebook shall not delete your posts because reasons.” The government cannot legally censor you (aside from a few exceptions). Private actors are not required to provide you with a platform for your crazy. In fact, that would be a violation of the First Amendment (freedom of association).
How does that apply in the case of Salesforce and their terms of service? By doing business with Salesforce, you are voluntarily associating with them, and vice versa. Their terms of service are, quite literally, the terms under which they are willing to associate with you. Don’t like it? Fine. Don’t do business with them. Nobody is forcing you to. It’s a free market. So long as Salesforce doesn’t use their market dominance in an anti-competitive way there is no issue (and by the way, that has nothing to do with the First Amendment, that’s standard antitrust stuff, which last I checked is justified under the commerce clause; but I could be wrong). And let’s not even try to drag the Second Amendment into it. I don’t care if they prohibit you from selling guns or gardenias using their software, the point is the same: they are not the government, and nobody is forcing you to do business with them.
That’s not to say there aren’t any First Amendment issues to be concerned with here, it’s just that nobody seems to be focusing on the relevant party, by which I mean Salesforce. Anybody remember a little case known as Citizens United? Yes, I know liberals love to hate on that case, but every dark cloud and so on. In this instance, it’s relevant because Salesforce as a legal entity has rights. The right to free speech. The right to free association. The right to not be compelled to provide a service to someone who will use it in a way that they deem inappropriate. Note that this last point is ethically in line with the baker who refused to serve the gay couple in Colorado. Whether liberal or conservative, you don’t get to pick and choose who gets to express their moral beliefs through their business just because you happen to agree with them. The law applies to everyone equally or it is worthless (which says more about the law de facto than de jure).
There is a vocal and growing contingent of the liberal left that is demanding that Donald Trump needs to be impeached now. Today. That anything less would be un-American, and perhaps even bordering on High Crimes and Misdemeanors. There are several justifications for this stance, and I felt I should take a brief moment to address them.
- He’s Guilty.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room (pardon the pun). Regardless of the crime de jure Trump is being accused of, there never seems to be any doubt that he’s guilty as sin and twice as ugly. However, I would like to point out that while impeachment proceedings are not a traditional trial, we do still have a tradition of “innocent until proven guilty” in America, and insisting that someone is guilty of a crime before you have even begun the trial or even gotten an indictment yet (that would be the actual articles of impeachment) looks kind of bad. One might even call it political opportunism or partisanship rather than actually trying to get at the truth. Or hey, we can just skip all that investigation nonsense and impeach the motherfucker.
- Get Votes On the Record.
It’s pretty well accepted at this point that the Senate won’t convict Trump. Not right now, possibly not ever. For those who say “definitely not ever,” I point you toward Richard Nixon. When Watergate was first coming to light, it didn’t look like there was any way the Senate would convict if impeachment went forward for him either. Things change. But that takes time and effort (I’ll get to that). People who want to move forward now are more interested in getting votes on the record, to show who stands for America and who stands for Trump, because they honestly believe you can’t be for both. Regardless of how you might personally feel about Trump, to assume that nobody can in good faith still support him AND support America is a pretty big leap. It’s the sort of leap that the Republican Party took in 1998 with Bill Clinton, and they paid a price for it in the next election. And there are still quite a few Democrats from moderate districts who will likely end up paying that price.
- It’s the Right Thing to Do.
Is it? There are plenty of people who say this isn’t a political decision, it’s a moral one. That’s fine. If you have solid, not indisputable but solid, proof of “Bribery, Treason*, or High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” then by all means it’s the right thing to do. But just because you believe Trump did something doesn’t mean you have proof he did it. There are a lot of conservatives out there who believe that life starts at conception that are making all kinds of laws based on that belief; last I checked those laws were getting challenged in court in large part because they can’t prove that assertion. More to the point impeachment is a legal mechanism, and the law doesn’t care about what you know. All it cares about is what you can prove. Yes, I know there is an argument that it is a political mechanism, but I reject that argument. Impeachment calls for an indictment and a trial; it may be outside of the standard court system, but so is the Uniform Military Code of Justice, and you don’t hear a lot of folks suggesting that a court martial is a “political process”. And no, the Mueller Report doesn’t say that Trump obstructed justice. Mueller said as much himself. There might be enough there to support the charge, but you need to connect the dots yourself and you need to do the heavy lifting on your own.
*Despite what Donald Trump seems to believe, treason against the United States is a very specific crime that “shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” So yeah. Good luck proving that one seeing as we haven’t had an active war declared in a long time… although maybe you could get two people to testify that Donald Trump gave aid to Poverty. That War’s been going on for decades.
- Going Through the Courts Is the Wrong Strategy
This is the one that confuses me the most. It is often tied to an argument about “not being respected as a coequal branch of government,” but such arguments often come across as “you didn’t do what we want and you stole the election and you stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat so we’re gonna get you!” Seriously, there’s supposed to be a balance of powers, and to be honest for the last several decades Congress has given away the farm to the Executive branch. That’s nothing new; Trump just happens to be taking particularly ruthless advantage of it, with the assistance of a particularly obnoxious Mitch McConnell. But the truth is this is not out of character for either Republicans or Democrats; it is a matter of style and degree, not the actual substance. The tit-for-tat historical back and forth justifications have been pointed out multiple times, and they are completely irrelevant. What matters is that Congress does have tools at their disposal to rein in the President if they chose to use them. Both the House and the Senate have such powers, and they can be effective.
What’s more important is that going for impeachment and losing is not going to suddenly make Congress more “respected as a coequal branch of government,” either by Trump or the American public. You know what will? Winning. Which is exactly what is happening in the courts. What’s even better is that this is no longer a partisan fight of Democrats vs. Republicans, or Congress vs. the White House. Now it becomes two branches of the government vs. one. Almost as if two coequal branches, neither of which is more powerful than the other, had to go to a neutral arbitrator to settle a dispute rather than letting things get nasty and out of control.
Look, I get it. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.” And yet Donald Trump keeps getting away with making outrage claims on Twitter and making even more outrageous policy. Surely the old ways are gone, the norms have all been destroyed, working within the system is pointless and we have to act NOW to save our democracy while there is still something to save! Or perhaps given time and the efforts of reasonable and well-intentioned people, our system will prove more resilient than the fools who are trying to upend it.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, states such as Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and others have passes highly restrictive abortion laws, with Alabama passing an outright ban except in cases where the mother’s health is threatened. I’ve seen a few arguments being put forward against these bans, and I’d like to take a moment to offer my own (admittedly biased) opinion on them.
The first I’ve seen, and what I consider the weakest by far, is that these laws are being passed by men and therefore are somehow illegitimate. This is a variation on the canard that men are not in any way entitled to have an opinion on abortion. One could as easily suggest that women are not entitled to an opinion on prostate cancer. If we applied this legislative logic uniformly and consistently, only veterans would vote on bills affecting the armed forces or veterans, only minority legislators would vote on affirmative action legislation, and only legislators who have endured mental illness of some kind would vote on legislation addressing mental illness.
More to the point in this specific case, regardless of their gender, these are the elected representatives for their respective states engaging in the established legislative process for their states. That does not make the legislation they create ethical, moral, or even constitutional, but neither do their respective genders invalidate it. It is also worth noting that, at least in the case of the Alabama law, it was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. While that doesn’t completely or even mostly offset the gender imbalance, it does show that this isn’t completely “a war of men on women”. In fact, according to Vox it’s not about men vs. women as much as it’s an ideological split.
The next argument, and still weak for my taste, is that some of these laws don’t include an exception for cases of rape or incest. One of the few things I can actually respect about the politicians who pushed through the highly restrictive law in Alabama is that at least they are morally consistent. They believe, wholeheartedly, that life begins at conception. Full stop. Not “life begins at conception unless of course it was a case of rape or incest in which case things get kind of squicky so we have to kind of just look the other way”. If you’re going to impugn someone’s bodily autonomy (don’t worry, we’ll get to that) there should be no half-measures just because the originating cause is distasteful. Either you’re all in or you don’t have the courage of your convictions.
So let’s get to the only argument that I believe is truly sufficient and relevant: anti-abortion laws are a violation of a woman’s bodily autonomy. The question of whether life begins at conception is, quite simply, irrelevant. That may sound harsh or even disgusting and immoral to you, but let’s take a look at a few tangential issues of bodily autonomy and see how they might shed some light on the matter.
First consider the matter of blood and tissue donation. Compulsory donation of blood or tissue of any kind is not only considered illegal, it is immoral and unconstitutional. Even if a criminal were to stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody (just to pick a random example) and, by complete coincidence, turned out to be a perfect blood type match for their victim, they could not be compelled to donate blood. No matter that it would do them no long-term harm, no matter that it would be a form of restitution for their crime. A criminal has bodily autonomy in this country.
Second consider organ donation. Whether from a living donor or a deceased donor, you have to have positive consent before you can take an organ for transplant. Not “lack of opting out of the system”, someone has to actively opt-in while they are alive. Consider the implications of that. If there is literally only one person in 10,000 who can provide a life-saving organ to someone who has literally been waiting for years on the transplant list, if they did not register as an organ donor or put in their will that they wanted to donate their organs after their death then too bad, so sad. A corpse has bodily autonomy in this country.
How about the legal ramifications? The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, which the Supreme Court has extended to the collection of DNA in the absence of a warrant or arrest (a decision I have issues with, but that’s for another time). While these protections could (and should) be stronger, they still proscribe the government from taking DNA from anyone on a whim, including (just as a random example) non-citizens coming in at the border. In the absence of an arrest or a warrant compelling the production of DNA, even non-citizens have bodily autonomy.
So, here’s my proposition: the What’s Good for the Goose Act. A gender-neutral application of bodily autonomy in the law. Either everyone gets it or nobody gets it. Do away with these and all other forms of bodily autonomy under the law – or enshrine the idea of bodily autonomy in the law and do away with the idea that you can legislate another person’s body. Simple, fair, and easy.
Personally, I’m looking forward to getting that new kidney. And I say we go for the politicians first.
Note: While all of the ideas herein expressed are my own, I drew inspiration from questions, answers, and discussion on Quora.com. I highly recommend the site (and no, I’m not getting paid to say that).
It has gone from truism to trite to say we live in a culture of outrage, but that doesn’t make it any less of a fact. It seems it is no longer possible to simply offend or commit a faux pas, everything that is done is an OUTRAGE, grist for the social media mill, driving one end or the other of the political spectrum into a frenzy. The latest example of this comes from the Harvard Lampoon of all places.
Now before I go any further I have to, of course, deny in the strongest terms that I am making any attempt to defend their bad decisions. What they did was in very poor taste. It was crude, and quite frankly not even funny. Should they apologize? Yes. Did they apologize? Yes. Case closed? Not by a long shot.
According to the Washington Post (my perennial source for outrage culture), Harvard sophomore Jenny Baker had the following to say about the Lampoon cartoon that started the controversy:
“Holocaust jokes? Never okay,” she began. “Sexualizing a young girl’s body? Never okay,” she continued.
“Sexualizing ANNE FRANK and saying it is a shame she was ruthlessly murdered because of her religion because she would have been hot? So unbelievably not okay,” she emphasized.
Baker delivered a recommendation to the staff of the Lampoon: “try to find other ways to be funny rather than sexualizing and trivializing the murder of a young girl and an entire population of people.”
She concluded, “This is trash.”
Now, having done more than a little humor writing myself, I’m going to offer a gentle rejoinder and say that Ms. Baker doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. Holocaust jokes? Better be funny, but they can be okay. Sexualizing a young girl’s body? Better be damn funny, but it can be okay. Sexualizing ANNE FRANK and saying it is a shame she was ruthlessly murdered because of her religion because she would have been hot? Holy shit that better be the funniest fucking thing I ever read, but you CAN get away with it if it’s good enough, especially if you are using your humor to make a larger point. A couple things we can agree on are that (a) they really should try to find other ways to be funny, because man did they miss the mark on this one, and (b) this is trash.
Lest you think I am merely engaging in some sort of knee-jerk libertarian defense of free speech, let me share some real-life experiences from my own college days. These are from a couple decades ago, back when people were at least slightly less prone to take everything so immediately personal and there was no such thing as the internet. I was working on an independent college paper, which meant we could do whatever we wanted, and we pushed a few boundaries. I’m proud of a lot of the work I did there, and we had a lot of fun. At least twice I can think of our papers were burned in effigy at Take Back the Night rallies because of what we had printed, and I’m still proud of what we published in those issues.
And then there was what I still think of as the incident.
I was the Humor Editor for the paper at the time, which I say only to establish that everything that happened was my responsibility. I made the choices, and I had the authority. I was looking for content for my section, and a new guy volunteered to write a three panel comic for me. Sure, he had a shaved head and looked kind of scraggly, but I had known more than a few cool skinhead punks down in Richmond, so I decided to roll with it. I was also very high on my First Amendment horse at the time.
Long story short, the comic turned out to be about what you would expect. Not so blatant that I couldn’t pretend a certain amount of ignorance or at least try to hide from it at first, but shortly after it ran I had to admit to myself I had run a Nazi skinhead comic in my section. And yeah, I got more than a little hate mail for it, which I freely admit I deserve. I owned it, and still do. I made a bad call, and the reasons why don’t matter. I apologized, we ran a retraction, and while I have moved on I have never forgotten it.
So why do I bring it up now? Because the other material, the stuff that got my work burned on campus, I am proud of. I stand by it today. Because it had a point, and a purpose, and I was saying something with it. And yes, if I thought I could make a larger point with a Holocaust joke, and I thought the joke was funny enough, I would go for it and I would be all in. It would have to be a damn good point and a fucking hilarious joke, and honestly I don’t know if I’m that funny. But it would be worth it. And I’d have Anne Frank in my sights.
And I wouldn’t apologize either.
Full disclosure: I live in Northern VA, relatively close to Arlington, so I am not completely unaffected by HQ2. Not directly impacted, but not unaffected either. It is also worth noting upfront that I am 100% opposed to corporate welfare of any kind, including subsidies to entice corporations to establish any sort of facilities in a given region. With that out of the way…
Amazon decided to give a special Valentine’s Day present to the people of New York City, a sort of “fuck you too” to the protesters and politicians who have been demanding significant changes to the deal that had been negotiated between their company and the city to bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens. This has apparently thrilled some Amazon opponents such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who according to the Washington Post tweeted “Today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.” If you say so Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Personally I don’t see the benefit. But maybe I’m missing something, which is not surprising since (a) I’m not a progressive and (b) a tweet is hardly conducive to explaining nuanced policy views.
Let’s consider another quote from the Post:
“Amazon showed its true colors today and every American should be outraged,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said in a statement. “Jeff Bezos had the opportunity to listen to the voices of working families and support the good-paying jobs New Yorkers deserve.
“But now we can see this is all about blind greed and Jeff Bezos’ belief that everyday taxpayers should foot the bill for their new headquarters even as the company actively works to eliminate millions of American retail jobs. No company that refuses to invest in hard-working men and women should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies. Make no mistake, this fight has only begun,” Perrone said.
This is at least more detailed, although hardly more nuanced. I’ll have to take it point by point, as there’s a bit here to unpack:
- “Amazon showed its true colors today and every American should be outraged.” I both agree and disagree. Yes, Amazon did show its true colors. It is a business, and one that is not interested in being held hostage or shaken down. Regardless of how you feel about the original deal, that was the deal that brought them in, the one they agreed to, and unless you have some very disturbing role models you don’t generally become “outraged” when someone pulls out of a deal when the other party decides to change the terms.
- “Jeff Bezos had the opportunity to listen to the voices of working families and support the good-paying jobs New Yorkers deserve.” Not sure exactly what this is supposed to mean. I guess I’m one of those libertarian nuts who doesn’t believe people are “entitled” to a job, good paying or not. But even if I did think people were entitled to a job, my understanding of the plan was that Amazon was going to build a campus with at least 25,000 jobs with an average salary of $150,000 a year. I realize that “average” doesn’t mean “every job will pay at this rate”, but I seriously doubt the intention was “one extremely well paying job and 24,999 crappy ones.” (Sidebar: this same article from the Post says that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez among others “protested that the influx of Amazon employees, to be paid an average salary of at least $150,000 a year, would cause housing costs to skyrocket, drive out low-income residents and worsen congestion on the subway and streets.” So I’m confused – is the pay too low or too high?)
- “But now we can see this is all about blind greed” – I’ll resist the temptation to take a cheap shot here and simply offer a rebuttal. I believe this is about two competing forces: corporate finance and local politics. And when push came to shove it turned out that the local political groups in NYC (including the labor unions, activists, and local and apparently national politicians) had not yet learned a critical lesson of negotiation: the next best option. When trying to push for more, consider what your opponent’s next best option is before you put your offer on the table; if walking away is their next best option, they will take it. And they did.
- “Jeff Bezos’ belief that everyday taxpayers should foot the bill for their new headquarters” – I specifically singled out this statement because this is the only sentiment I can unequivocally agree with. As noted at the outset, I am completely opposed to corporate welfare in all its forms, and this deal is no exception. Whether Mr. Bezos personally negotiated the deal or not is irrelevant; Amazon is his company, and he is ultimately responsible for the direction it takes. Certainly such a major decision as HQ2 would not proceed without his significant input, and he could not have been unaware of the massive “incentive” package involved.
- “Even as the company actively works to eliminate millions of American retail jobs.” And this is the kind of foolish statement that works to undermine practically anything of value Mr. Perrone might have had to say. I understand if he feels the need to defend his membership, but this smacks of defending buggy whip makers in the era of the automobile. Last I checked nobody was coerced into using Amazon, although the same cannot be said for unionized labor.
- “No company that refuses to invest in hard-working men and women” – According to an article at Business Insider, Amazon does invest in “hard working men and women”, with a benefits package for full-time employees that makes me envious, and even “[p]art-time employees who work more than 20 hours per week receive benefits, including life and disability insurance, dental and vision insurance with premiums paid in full by Amazon, and funding towards medical insurance.” But perhaps what Mr. Perrone had in mind was investing in their future: “Both full-time and part-time hourly employees are eligible for Amazon’s innovative Career Choice program that pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a future career at Amazon. The company has built dedicated Career Choice classrooms at more than 25 fulfillment centers to make it easier for employees to go back to school by offering classes onsite.” To be fair, this article is from 2017, and Amazon’s culture may have changed for the worse. But I’d be willing to take that bet against the likelihood this is simply more political posturing on Mr. Perrone’s part. Unless he had something else in mind for “investing in hard working men and women”.
- “Should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies” – It actually feels misleading to separate this from the previous phrase, as this is a dependent clause, so let’s put them back together: “No company that refuses to invest in hard-working men and women should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies.” This is actually a bit more uncomfortable for me than the previous incarnation, as the implicit contrapositive is that “Any company that does invest in hard-working men and women should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies.” If we are to be generous and assume that is not his intent, I am right there with Mr. Perrone; however I am rather cynical given the company he keeps.
- “Make no mistake, this fight has only begun.” Which fight exactly? The fight to drive Amazon out of NYC? Fight’s over. You won. Congratulations. The fight to keep Amazon in NYC, on your terms? Sorry, not gonna happen. Short of nationalizing the company (something that I will not accuse anyone of seriously contemplating, no matter how many Atlas Shrugged comments are tossed my way) there’s nothing to be done. Amazon made their choice. Do you perhaps intend to shame them into coming back? Good luck with that. What I expect the rest of the country to see is that NYC won the lottery and then a small group of people decided to tear up the ticket because the jackpot wasn’t big enough. That won’t garner much sympathy outside of a vanishingly small circle, most of whom live in Manhattan.
For myself, I won’t dispute that there are flaws with the HQ2 deals. And I will freely admit that there are reasonable arguments to be made that one or both of them go past flawed and into the realm of bad. But none of the arguments that I have heard coming out of NYC strike me as reasonable, and most of them sound at best partisan and at worst childish and churlish. The fact that many of them are contradictory (either with facts on the ground or with each other) does nothing to enhance the position of those who are making them. Worst of all, the time to fight against a deal is before it is made, not after. And demonizing someone who pulls out of a deal that you have changed the terms of is quite literally blaming the victim, and does even more damage to your business reputation than your already shady tactics have done.
My advice to NYC and the people who created this mess? Shut up, suck it up, and learn from this mess. Before you create another one.
How many men have been felled by the #MeToo movement? 100? 150? Hardly significant. The infamous Hollywood blacklist that was a direct result of the House Un-American Activities Committee snared at least 300 people. On the other extreme, the Salem Witch Trials couldn’t have gotten more than 20 or so, but you have to grade on a curve – as a percentage of population they really hit the ball out of the park with that one.
As moral panics go this one is only in its infancy, and that is in large part because it is closer to the “moral” side than usual. There are legitimate grievances and concerns driving this movement, which have been ignored and belittled for far too long, and that is not something I am ignoring or in any way trying to justify. The issue I am trying to address is the oft-cited concern of “men claiming to be victims” or “why do men think they have a right to be scared” or “if you haven’t done anything wrong you don’t have anything to be afraid of”. Well as a matter of fact sometimes men are victims, all men do have a right to be scared, and I’ll be sure to let the DA know you’ve waived your rights because you’re innocent.
Why are men claiming to be victims? Surely not for the same women that women are coming forward to tell their stories! Well – that’s the interesting thing. If you go all the way back to the very beginning of the #MeToo movement, you might remember before things got steamrolled into this becoming about women being abused by men, this was about survivors of sexual assault telling their stories. Did you notice how that was gender neutral? If not I couldn’t blame you, because apparently neither did the media or most anyone else. Some famous examples would be Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek, and Brendan Fraser. I’ve even had a few uncomfortable experiences myself with both men and women that I don’t know rise to the level of sexual assault, but definitely stick with me even now decades later. And no I don’t want to share them, thanks for asking. I realize this isn’t the victimization among men that is being complained about on social media or in the news, and in some ways that’s even worse, because this isn’t being talked about.
But let’s talk about what is happening. Some men (#notallmen) feel they are already being victimized because there is a movement to #BelieveSurvivors. Not just in their families, their friends, or their support communities, but in workplace disputes, on college campuses, and in our legal system. Let us not forget the highest court in the land, the Court of Public Opinion, in the person of High Justice Social Media. In the absence of directly contradictory evidence, the new normal is to believe an accusation as whole truth. As opposed to the old normal, which was to bury, ignore, downplay, evade, minimize, shame, and in every way possible prevent women (and men) from coming forward with an accusation in the first place. So the impulse is understandable; the pendulum has swung the other way.
But this comes with its own issues. As noted by columnist Emily Yoffe:
We don’t even have to imagine the dangers of a system based on automatic belief—Britain recently experienced a national scandal over such policies. After widespread adoption of a rule that law enforcement must believe reports of sexual violation, police failed to properly investigate claims and ignored exculpatory evidence. Dozens of prosecutions collapsed as a result, and the head of an organization of people abused in childhood urged that the police return to a neutral stance. Biased investigations and prosecutions, he said, create miscarriages of justice that undermine the credibility of all accusers.
So let’s talk about why men might feel scared. This comes back to questions of power and privilege. Often these sort of discussions seem to be oversimplified where you live in one of two camps: Privilege or Oppression, and you never get to move between the two. But life really isn’t like that. In media and social media, which is where many men are getting their impressions and knowledge of this latest front of the culture war, Men are cast as a homogenous group that exists perpetually in the camp of Privilege, and is often used as shorthand for “Rich Straight White Cisgender Middle Aged Ivy League College Educated Married Family Career Man”. The average man looks at that caricature and says “that’s not me! I don’t have any of that privilege!” Because he sees that he’s not rich, he didn’t go to an Ivy school (or maybe didn’t go to college at all), and maybe he doesn’t have a family, there’s a good chance he isn’t above middle management at best, and all that is assuming he’s white, straight and cisgender, which is invisible to him (yes, I know that’s the nature of privilege, but work with me here).
So he’s being lumped in with these powerful men, far more powerful than he is, and they are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. No, I’m not talking about the ones like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby who either admitted to it or got their day in court. I’m talking about guys like Al Franken, who welcomed a Senate Ethics Committee but was hounded into resigning before he got one. And sadly some men do end up empathizing with men like Brett Kavanaugh, who may not be guilty of what he has been accused of by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford but I for one believe is guilty of lying under oath.
But really, what’s the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh? He doesn’t get to be on the Supreme Court? Actually, the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh, assuming no formal charges are brought against him, is that he is impeached from his current position as a Circuit Court Judge, he’s already lost his teaching position at Harvard and likely won’t be teaching anywhere else again. And all of that with nothing but an accusation.
And that sort of smug “the worst that happens to” pronouncement by many #BelieveSurvivors supporters is the sort of thing that drives men to be scared. Because they start to think about “what’s the worst that can happen” to themselves. And they think about stories they have heard from friends – stories from bad divorces, vindictive ex-girlfriends, ruthless coworkers – stories that may be one-sided, may be exaggerated, may not even be true. And who would even believe those stories anyway? Those are uncorroborated accusations that may be years or even decades old, after all. But maybe they have some truth to them. And they realize that powerful men of privilege are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. And they themselves are not powerful men of privilege.
But hey, they haven’t done anything wrong, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. Just like every story they heard from all of their friends. Just like everyone who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Just like Giles Corey had nothing to be afraid of. Justice is swift so long as you only give weight to one side of the story.
I cry “more weight”.