Tag Archives: violence

Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?

The reality of domestic abuse gets harder to deny.


Star NFL running back Ray Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée/now-wife is old news. He was arrested in February, and plea-bargained from criminal charges down to court-supervised counseling. (Emily Bazelon explains: “when a victim refuses to cooperate with the prosecution, the calculus for prosecutors shifts away from trial and conviction.”) Way back then, TMZ released a video showing Rice dragging the unconscious mother-of-his-daughter out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino.

The NFL suspended him for two games, a punishment that raised a furor in light of the season-long suspension of receiver Josh Gordon for “substance abuse”, presumably marijuana. The NFL claimed it was bound by its previous policies, which it changed so that any future domestic violence incident would draw at least a six-game suspension. (But abusers keep playing while their cases work through the legal system.)

The Rice family.

None of that is new. But this week TMZ released a video of what happened inside the elevator. In it, we see Rice throw the punch that knocked Janay Palmer out. In an abstract sense, the new video didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: We knew he knocked her out, we just hadn’t seen him do it. It shouldn’t have changed anything.

But it did. Almost immediately, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice, who otherwise would have been their main ball-carrier when his original suspension ended next week. The NFL then made his suspension “indefinite”, and New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft speculated that Rice would never play in the NFL again.

One of the most striking reactions came from ESPN analyst and former player Mark Schlereth, who nearly dissolved into tears as he imagined a player in his own locker room, someone he would have identified with and felt loyal to, doing such a thing. It’s worth watching.

[The video] put a face to domestic violence. I’m not saying Ray Rice’s face, I’m saying the act of domestic violence. Because it was so shocking. And as the father of two daughters, and the [grand]father of a granddaughter, it was frightening for me to see that. The violence that occurred, the callous nature with which that violence occurred … I guess I had never really gone through that mentally before, to really understand what that looks like. And that put it together for me, of how vicious in nature this is.

I’m sure a lot of women are shaking their heads in a well-duh sort of way: You discovered that domestic abuse is callous and vicious? Your Nobel Prize is in the mail, Mark.

But if Schlereth is typical of a larger group of men — and I believe he is — then the Rice video may be a tipping point in the public discussion of domestic violence. Until now, when men have heard accounts of domestic violence, a lot of us have at some level empathized with the abuser, as if he might be like us on a really bad day. Just as an ordinary man might snap in the middle of an argument and say something he doesn’t mean and later regrets, or maybe act out physically by slamming a door or punching a wall, maybe an abuser does something reflexive that — unintentionally, almost accidentally — results in physical harm.

That’s obviously not what happens in this video. Rice just decks his fiancée. Yeah, they are tussling physically, but the much larger and stronger Rice could easily have fended off Palmer’s blows or held her wrists and waited for her to calm down. Instead, he knocks her out, then looks down at her limp body as if he’s seen all this before.

Witnessing that reality could significantly change the way men listen to accounts of domestic violence. Like Schlereth, many men had “never really gone through it mentally before”, and now they have. Now they understand viscerally that this isn’t something any man might have done on a sufficiently bad day. The man in this video doesn’t deserve a single ounce of our sympathy.

Related short notes

Not to say that there aren’t still some men who will make excuses for Ray Rice. And even some women.


Meanwhile, women have been writing about Janay Palmer, who is now Janay Rice. An anonymous writer on The Frisky wrote “Why I Married My Abuser“.

when I saw the footage of ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay Palmer, I wasn’t surprised that she was now his wife. It isn’t — as many of the commenters on the original TMZ video have said — “all about the money,” or “she doesn’t care about taking a punch,” and it’s especially not that “she is telling all women it’s okay for your man to beat you.”

… It’s beyond silly to say that any woman who is getting smacked around thinks it’s acceptable to be smacked around. No one knows better than a woman who is being abused that it is wrong. Not leaving isn’t the same as consent. I stayed because I was traumatized and isolated. I believed that Hank really loved me and that no man with less passion/ anger (those words were conflated for me) would ever love me like him.

There’s a whole Twitter feed of stories like this: #WhyIStayed. And a companion: #WhyILeft. As with #YesAllWomen, it’s not abstract argument, it’s people telling their stories. The sheer accumulation of them is hard to explain away.


The NFL and the Ravens came out looking really bad — more interested in managing a PR problem than anything else. They claim they didn’t see the inside-the-elevator video until it became public, but that seems doubtful. Schlereth certainly didn’t buy it:

A Rice souvenir repurposed.

Protecting the shield means that we’re supposed to honor and understand the privilege of playing in the league, not supposed to cover up our mistakes and accept those. And that’s where the NFL in my mind is really letting me down, and let every guy who plays in this league down. Because I can’t imagine saying “No, we don’t have access to that video” and you saying, “OK, well, that’s good enough for me. We’ll move forward.” That’s unacceptable.

And besides, what the video changed is the depth of the public anger, not our factual understanding of what happened.


Jon Stewart’s reaction is also worth watching.


If you’re looking for a male hero in this story, I propose this girl’s Dad.

#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression

Men look at Elliot Rodger and say, “I would never do something like that.” Women look at his victims and say, “That could totally happen to me.”


Last week the Isla Vista murders — and Elliot Rodger’s bizarre rants justifying his revenge on the female gender because women wouldn’t have sex with him — were recent enough that I hadn’t processed them. I described my snap reaction as feeling “slimed”. Letting Rodger’s thoughts into my head just made me feel dirty, polluted, unclean. And I wrote, “I can’t imagine how women feel about it.”

This week women told the world how they feel about it. (They were already starting to tell the world last Monday, but I hadn’t discovered it yet.) I have read only a tiny fraction of what has been tweeted with the #YesAllWomen hashtag, but it has been eye-opening.

The struggle for meaning. Every striking news event starts a debate about what it means, or if it even means anything. For a lot of men, Isla Vista didn’t mean much: Crazy people do crazy things. Shit happens.

For others, it restarted the eternal gun-control debate, which always ends in the same place: Yes, a large majority of Americans want at least minor restrictions on guns, and no, it’s not going to happen, because America really isn’t a democracy any more. A victim’s father channeled the majority’s frustration in an interview with Anderson Cooper: “I don’t want to hear that you’re sorry about my son’s death,” he said to any politicians who might be planning to make a condolence call. “I don’t care if you’re sorry about my son’s death. You go back to Congress and you do something, and you come back to me and tell me you’ve done something. Then I’ll be interested in talking to you.”

Bizarre exception, or part of a pattern? To a lot of women, though, Isla Vista looked very different. Rather than a bizarre random event, it seemed like the extreme edge of the male aggression they experience constantly: They get grabbed or groped; men yell obscenities at them or make unwanted “flattering” comments about their bodies; they are harassed online; men demand their attention and refuse to go away; when women try to walk away, men grab their wrists or stand in the doorway or follow them as stalkers; men get angry and abusive when their uninvited advances are rejected; and on and on and on.

And while the exact statistics on rape are hotly debated — the difference depends in large part on how forcefully a woman has to say “no” before you count it — I have a lot of confidence in this qualitative statement: Just about every woman knows somebody who has been raped. (If you don’t believe me, ask some.) Whatever the definition is and whatever percentage that leads to, rape is not a monsters-in-the-closet phobia; it’s the well-founded fear that what happened to her (and maybe also to her and her and her) could happen to me.

So while men look at Elliot Rodger and say, “I would never do something like that”, women look at his victims and say, “That could totally happen to me.” Men divide the world into murderers and non-murderers, observing that the murderer pool is very small. Women look at murder as the extreme edge of a continuum of aggression, disrespect, and threat that affects them every day.

#YesAllWomen. And that is what I see as the point of #YesAllWomen: encouraging women to express and men to feel the oppressive weight of that continuum. #YesAllWomen is at its best when women simply tell their stories, one after another. Read enough stories and the bigger reality starts to break through: The meaning of Isla Vista isn’t that shit happens, it’s that the same kinds of shit keep happening day after day all over the country. And when there’s an widespread pattern like that, sooner or later it’s going to break out into something really horrific.*

The brilliance of #YesAllWomen is in its framing: It sidesteps the objection “Not all men are like that.” True or not, that objection misses the point. Whether or not feminist terms like misogyny or rape culture unfairly tar some good men is a minor issue compared to the environment of danger all women have to live in. Let’s not drop the larger issue to discuss the smaller one.**

And let’s not fall into the trap of interpreting every problem in the forest as the fault of individual trees. Laurie Penny explains:

of course not all men hate women. But culture hates women, so men who grow up in a sexist culture have a tendency to do and say sexist things, often without meaning to. … You can be the gentlest, sweetest man in the world yet still benefit from sexism. That’s how oppression works. Thousands of otherwise decent people are persuaded to go along with an unfair system because it’s less hassle that way. … I do not believe the majority of men are too stupid to understand this distinction

[And before we leave the gun-control issue entirely, can we discuss how the two issues interact? Think about the open-carry demonstrations in Texas or Georgia's new guns-everywhere law. Now picture a woman you care about having a drink after work with some friends, and being accosted by a strange man who won't go away. Now picture him armed. And no, NRA spokesmen, picturing a second gun in your sister/daughter/friend's purse doesn't fix the situation.]

The game. Men, by and large, have not handled our side of this discussion well, attempting either to disown the problem or to mansplain what women should do to fix it.*** But a few men have had intelligent things to say. I thought the Daily Beast piece by self-described nerd Arthur Chu was particularly on point:

[T]he overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

The game metaphor explains a lot about what was wrong with Rodger’s point of view, and how it relates to a problem in the larger culture. Elliot Rodger’s complaint wasn’t that he couldn’t find his soulmate or that his genes might fail in the Darwinian struggle for immortality. It wasn’t even about pleasure, really, because you don’t need a partner for that. The essence of Rodger’s complaint was that he couldn’t level up — no matter how long he played or how hard he tried — in the multi-player game of sex.

To grasp the full dysfunction of that game, you need to understand who the players are: men. Rodger wasn’t playing with or even against women when he went out looking for sex. He was playing against other men to gain status. Women are just NPCs — non-player characters. Figuring out what to say or do to get their attention or their phone numbers or to get them into bed is like solving the gatekeeper’s riddle or finding the catch that opens the door to the secret passage.

Rodger’s virginity wasn’t just a lack of experience, comparable to someone who has never seen the ocean or been to Paris or tasted champagne. It was his state of being. He was a newby, a beginner, a loser. And it wasn’t fair. He had put so much of his time and effort and passion into the game; he deserved to get something out.

Chu explains the error:

other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.

We need to get that. Really, really grok that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers.

What will we pass on? Phrasing the game metaphor in computer terms makes it sound like a new problem of the internet generation, but it’s not.**** Computer games are just a good way of describing an attitude that has been around since Achilles and Agamemnon argued over a slave girl: that women are just tokens in a competition among men. In junior high in the 70s, my friends and I talked about “getting to second base”, and today commercials sell Viagra and Grecian Formula to older men by telling us we can “get back in the game”. We all know what game they’re talking about.

As long as that attitude gets passed down from one generation of men to the next, there’s going to be an aggression-against-women problem. Because that’s how men play: You sneak some vaseline onto the ball, hide an ace up your sleeve, take that performance-enhancing drug, or push away a defender when the refs aren’t looking. If you can get away with it, it’s part of the game. So if it raises your score to grab some body part otherwise denied you, or to intimidate women into submission, take advantage of their unconsciousness, drug them, or even kidnap and imprison them, someone’s going to do it.

No one ever asks a boy whether he wants to play this game. At some point in your adolescence, you just find yourself in the middle of it, being told that you are losing and advised on how to win. There are competing visions that (for most men, I believe) eventually win out as they mature: the search for companionship, or looking for an ally to help you face life’s challenges. In those visions, women can be “protagonists of their own stories” rather than NPCs. But no one ever tells you there is a choice of visions and lays out the consequences.

If we did discuss these competing visions openly with boys, I don’t think the game metaphor would stand up to conscious scrutiny. Few men would openly defend the idea that women exist to be tokens of our competition, and even most teens already have enough empathy and experience for it to ring false. But the game attitude survives because we don’t bring it out into the light and discuss it.

Changing that dynamic would be a fine response to #YesAllWomen.


* I shake my head at the people who want to make an either/or out of whether the blame for Isla Vista belongs to a misogynistic culture or to Rodger’s personal insanity. Growing up, I had the chance to observe a paranoid relative. She went crazy during the McCarthy red scare, so the Communists were after her. If she’d broken with reality a few years earlier it might have been the Nazis; a few years later, the Mafia. Maybe people go crazy because their brains malfunction, but how they go crazy is shaped by their culture.


** One of the prerogatives of any form of privilege is that your concerns move to the top of the agenda, even if they are comparatively minor. Privileged classes of all sorts take this prerogative for granted and have a hard time seeing it as an injustice. So it is here: Men who feel smeared by a term like rape culture tend to think the conversation should immediately shift to their hurt feelings. It shouldn’t. To the extent that this objection is justified, it can wait. Let’s talk about it later. (Privileged classes aren’t used to hearing that response, but under-privileged classes hear it all the time.)

An important reason it should wait, in addition to its comparative insignificance, is that when a man fully grasps the continuum of aggression, it’s hard to claim that he’s never played any role in perpetuating it. (I know I can’t make that claim.) But by changing the subject to their own victimization, men avoid that realization.


*** Most advice about how to avoid rape — how to dress, places to avoid, not leaving your drink unattended — is really about making sure the rapist picks someone else. It’s like, “You don’t have to swim faster than the shark, you just have to swim faster than your sister.” It’s got zero impact on the overall rape problem.


**** And the attitude behind it is not even unique to men. In the pre-war chapters of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett is playing her own version of the game. While she wants to wind up with Ashley eventually, in the meantime she wants every eligible man in Georgia to be her suitor, and she “wins” whenever a bride realizes that she has married one of Scarlett’s cast-offs.

But there’s one important difference between the male and female versions of the game: Men who tire of Scarlett’s game can get on their horses and ride away, and in the end, it’s up to Rhett to decide whether or not he gives a damn. Women would like to have those options in the male version of the game.

Cliven Bundy and the Klan Komplex

Why the rancher’s racist rant shouldn’t have surprised anybody


If you’ve been paying attention to the Cliven Bundy situation at all (as I started doing last week) you no doubt heard that Wednesday night he went off script in front of a New York Times reporter:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Reactions varied. Bundy’s own first reaction was to claim he had been misquoted — “I didn’t say nothing about picking cotton” — until Media Matters released the video of him saying it.

Mainstream Republicans who had made a hero of Bundy — Rand Paul and Sean Hannity in particular — claimed to be shocked, and dropped the rancher like a hot rock. But the true believers promoted a smeared-by-the-liberal-media theme. InfoWars posted a longer version of the video that it claims vindicates Bundy: “his argument is actually anti-racist in that it laments the plight of black families who have been caught in the trap of dependency on government.” (I invite you to click through and examine the larger context for yourself. I don’t think it vindicates much of anything, probably because I already see the “dependency on government” meme as a racist dog whistle. I mean, we all know who those dependent-on-government people are, don’t we? We’re not talking about my white mother depending on Medicare to pay her hospital bills.)

One of the best responses came from satirist Andy Borowitz, whose invented quotes nail the hidden meaning of the mainstream Republican reaction:

“We Republicans have worked long and hard to develop insidious racial code words like ‘entitlement society’ and ‘personal responsibility,’ ” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). “There is no excuse for offensive racist comments like the ones Cliven Bundy made when there are so many subtler ways of making the exact same point.”

Fox News also blasted the rancher, saying in a statement, “Cliven Bundy’s outrageous racist remarks undermine decades of progress in our effort to come up with cleverer ways of saying the same thing.”

If you hear someone saying that Bundy just wasn’t “politically correct” — or that the problem is “an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly” –
that’s what they really mean: It’s fine to imply that slavery wasn’t so bad and to characterize black people receiving government assistance (i.e., all of them) as lazy and promiscuous and criminal, but you have to use the right words, like Paul Ryan did in March:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

Ryan presumably does have some media training, so he didn’t say Negro or mention slavery or picking cotton —  and it’s those words (and not the ideas behind them) that make Bundy’s quote racist, right? Ryan criticized the “culture” of the “inner city” rather than black people, so his comment couldn’t be racist — “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” he said afterward — even though everybody knew who he was talking about and what he meant.

By contrast to the apparent shock of Sean Hannity, liberals mainly expressed surprise that anybody would be surprised by the discovery that Bundy is a racist. Matt Yglesias found it “clarifying” that Bundy had gone off on race “because race has not been far from my mind since the story first hit the papers.”

On Bill Mahr’s Real Time, Daily Beast editor John Avlon explained:

The reason it’s predictable is that we’ve seen a pattern, especially at a time when the face of the federal government is an African-American. The association with racists is becoming the black lung disease of the conservative movement. It’s an occupational hazard. … You start seeing a pattern and at some point you’ve got to confront it: “How come we keep making common cause with racists?” Maybe it’s got something to do with some of the appeals they’re making.

Rachel Maddow did the best job of laying that pattern out: Much of what Bundy had been saying all along were the kinds of bizarre ideas that are not themselves racist, but are way more popular in white supremacist circles than anywhere else. (It’s like an accent; you don’t have to be Canadian to end a question with “eh”, but if you do you probably are.) Rachel drilled down into the history of one particular strange notion: that county sheriffs are the ultimate in legitimate legal authority. Bundy had been urging his own county sheriff to disarm the federal agents, as if the sheriff’s authority were paramount. (In 2012, a fringe candidate for sheriff in my own Hillsborough County, NH professed a similar view of the job he imagined himself to be running for. He lost.) Rachel chased that notion back through the 20th-century Posse Comitatus movement, and from there back to the Southern resistance to Reconstruction in the 19th century.

Something I’m just beginning to appreciate is how influential the Southern anti-Reconstruction movement that birthed the KKK has been in forming the ideas that are still running around on the extreme Right. If you want initiate yourself into this mindset, I recommend reading Thomas Dixon’s 1905 best-seller The Clansman: a Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, which inspired the 1915 movie classic The Birth of a Nation, and whose themes were still echoing in 1936’s Gone With the Wind. Dixon drops you into a world where the Klan are the good guys. Evil Washington politicians have conspired with corrupt and rapacious local blacks to upend the natural order and create a black-dominated society. Unable to take any more, the noble Southern whites arm and organize themselves into a freedom-seeking secret society, the KKK. Once they do, the fundamentally cowardly black troops that Washington has tried to stand up against them scatter like nine-pins.

This “historical romance” has essentially nothing to do with the actual history of the KKK, which from the beginning was focused on terrorizing blacks out of claiming their rights.

But there’s a configuration of ideas we might call the Klan Komplex — a combination of Lost Cause mythology, John Calhoun’s* misinterpretation of the Constitution and miscasting of the Founders, love of guns, and hatred of the federal government — that survives to this day in radical right-wing fringe groups. Today many of these ideas sound like nonsense to outsiders, but the whole Komplex makes sense if you picture yourself as a defeated Southern aristocrat watching victorious Union troops side with your former slaves against you, and looking to the heroic knights of the KKK to restore you to your rightful dominance.

  • The federal government is illegitimate, having grossly exceeded the authority legitimately granted by the Constitution. Government officials have no claim to represent the American people.
  • The Founders were divinely inspired men whose vision has been betrayed.
  • The true federal government was an agreement among the states, and had no direct authority over the American people.
  • The Founders intended states’ rights to be paramount and the federal government to be weak.
  • Slavery in the old South was a benevolent institution. Through slavery, African savages were civilized and taught Christianity. They were treated well by their masters.
  • Slavery is the worst thing that can happen to a white man. Any time the federal government forces a white man to do something he doesn’t want to do, he is being enslaved.
  • Federal taxes are confiscation.
  • The federal government has corrupted blacks by removing them from the benevolent authority of whites and giving them goods that it has confiscated from whites. Blacks are addicted to these government handouts, and through that addiction the government dominates them more completely than their masters ever did.
  • The United States was founded to be a white Christian nation. Non-whites and non-Christians have been generously allowed to settle and prosper here, but now they are illegitimately taking over.
  • States can nullify federal laws.
  • States have the right to secede, and the South was right to do so.
  • The Second Amendment was put into the Bill of Rights so that citizens could overthrow the federal government if it exceeded its authority.
  • The vast armament of private citizens is the only thing that keeps the federal government from establishing tyranny. Armed citizens ready to revolt against the federal government are the true American patriots.

The three-percenters are fighting a new American Revolution.

Those ideas are not related to each other in any logical sense, so it would certainly be possible to believe a few of them without the others. But they originated together in the defeated South and have spread through the same channels ever since. As a result, although lots of people believe one or two of these ideas, if you hear more than a few of them from someone, probably you’ll eventually hear all the rest. When well-armed white men are rabidly opposed to the federal government and talk at length about their love of their own freedom, chances are excellent that they will eventually start waxing nostalgic about slavery, as Cliven Bundy did.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone.


* I keep meaning to write a longer article on the seminal influence of Calhoun on the Right. (Sam Tanenhaus has already done one, but I have a different take.) Whenever right-wingers talk about “the Founders” or “the Constitution” in ways that make no historical sense, they are probably invoking John Calhoun without realizing it. Calhoun re-interpreted (i.e., misinterpreted) the Founders in a way that allowed Jefferson Davis and the other Confederate secessionists to claim that they were the true heirs of the Revolution. In particular, Calhoun cast the Constitution as a confederation agreement among the states (similar to the Articles of Confederation it replaced), ignoring that it begins “We the People” rather than “We the States”.

Combining freedom-loving rhetoric with a positive attitude towards slavery goes back to Calhoun’s 1837 Senate speech “Slavery a Positive Good“. Slave-holding founders like Washington and Jefferson had been ambivalent about slavery, regarding it as an evil but not willing to support any of the schemes to end it. (Jefferson described slavery as holding “a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” Lincoln’s campaign platform that slavery should not be extended the territories — the cause of the South’s secession — was originally Jefferson’s idea.) But by the 1830s, abolitionism had progressed to such a point that Calhoun foresaw the slave system’s destruction unless the South full-throatedly defended it as good. Already in the first paragraph, though, he uses slavery as a vision of horror, if it should happen to white people.

[E]ncroachments must be met at the beginning, and those who act on the opposite principle are prepared to become slaves.

So Calhoun urges Southern whites to stand up to the abolitionists, lest they metaphorically become slaves of the North. But he holds literal slavery to be a good thing, when it happens to an inferior race like the Africans. That fundamental hypocrisy has been with us ever since.

The Sifted Bookshelf: Angry White Men

They may not feel powerful, but they do feel entitled to feel powerful.


One of the privileges that still comes with being white or male is that you get to be an individual. When you do something unusually good or bad, the media doesn’t take you as a representative of all whites or all men. You’re just you; you did something; it’s news.

So nobody remarked on George W. Bush being the United States’ 43rd consecutive white male president, but 2008 buzzed with speculation that the 44th might be black or female. For example, pundits questioned whether a woman could be tough enough to be commander-in-chief of the military, but nobody has ever successfully made an issue of whether a man can be compassionate enough to be nurse-in-chief of Medicare, or understand small children well enough to be teacher-in-chief of Head Start.

Nobody ever asked why a white man had killed President Kennedy or tried to kill President Reagan. The gunmen had names; their stories were presumed to be personal. When Bernie Madoff conned his investors out of billions, nobody asked “What makes a white man do something like that?” or “What should be done about the white male swindler problem?”

Sikh temple shooter.

Even when the perpetrators themselves frame whiteness or masculinity as an issue, the media tends not to pick it up. Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 69 people at a camp for liberal youth in Norway, saw himself as a crusader against a Muslim takeover of Europe. His manifesto advocated a restoration of European “monoculturalism” and “patriarchy”. Wade Michael Page, killer of six in the Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin, was acting on his long-held white supremacist views. In each case, this motivation was spun mostly as a symptom of personal instability, and not of a dangerous cancer in the white community.

Mad as hell.

The upshot is that although we are surrounded by angry white men — on talk radio, on the internet, on the highways, in the workplace, in the NRA and the Tea Party, in the “men’s rights” movement, and in countless acts of domestic violence or public mayhem from Columbine to Sandy Hook — we aren’t having a national discussion about the anger problem of whites or men or white men. That’s because we don’t see them as “white men”; we see them as individuals whose stories reflect unique psychological, political, or social issues. (By contrast, consider how little Michelle Obama has to do to evoke the angry-black-woman stereotype.)

Enter Michael Kimmel and his book Angry White Men.

Chapter by chapter, Kimmel calls attention to angry white men wherever they are found: the loudest voices on the radio, the school shooters, the anti-feminist men’s-rights movement and its Dad’s-rights subculture, the wife beaters, the workers who go postal, and the white supremacists. He asks and answers the question you seldom hear: What makes white men so angry?

What links all these different groups … is a single core experience: what I call aggrieved entitlement.

Aggrieved entitlement is the belief that you have been cheated out of status and power that should have been part of your birthright. (It’s a close relative of what I have called privileged distress: the feeling that advantages you never consciously acknowledged are slipping away from you.) White men are angry, Kimmel claims, because

They may not feel powerful, but they do feel entitled to feel powerful.

How it was supposed to be.

High standards and failure. White men also feel judged (and judge themselves) according to the standards of fathers and grandfathers who received the full white-male birthright, who didn’t have to compete with other races on an almost-level playing field, and who could count on subservient wives, mothers, daughters, and Girls Friday at the office to rally behind their leadership rather than outshine them or make demands.

You want a recipe for anger? Here it is: I’m a failure and it’s not my fault.

The seldom-examined setting for white male anger is failure, or at least failure according to the standards of another era. Dad and/or Grandpa supported a family on one job, and when he got home he commanded respect from his family. His marriage lasted, and his kids were not being raised by a resentful ex-wife on the other side of the country. When Dad or Grandpa was young, he was comfortable in his masculinity. He hunted deer and lettered in football. Girls waited by the phone for him to call, and when he paid for dinner they knew they owed him something.

It’s not that way any more, and it’s not my fault. Don’t look at me like that.

The rich and powerful speak for me.

The visible spokesmen for angry white men may be millionaires like Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump. But such success is what their listeners wish they had, not what they do have or will ever have. Kimmel observes:

It’s largely the downwardly mobile middle and lower middle classes who form the backbone of the Tea Party, of the listeners of outrage radio, of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists— in many cases literally the sons of those very farmers and workers who’ve lost the family farms or shuttered for good the businesses that had been family owned and operated for generations.

Violence. This sense of being cheated out of what was promised — and being judged as if it had been delivered — interacts badly with another part of the traditional male identity: Men have the privilege/right/duty to make things right by violence.

I don’t want to be violent, but I can be.

That is the plot of just about every action movie with a male hero: A man who would rather be left alone to live his life and take care of his family is confronted with an injustice that can only end if he becomes violent and defeats it. If he successfully wields violence he is a hero. If he remains peaceful he is a wimp.

And so, while many women also feel cheated and judged unfairly, they tend not to snap in a violent way. Kimmel observes that all the recent rampage school shooters (other than the Korean Virginia Tech shooter, whose race evoked a discussion, and another Korean shooter since Kimmel finished writing) have been white males, mostly from rural and suburban areas. Kimmel imagines what would happen if they’d all been, say, inner-city black girls

Can you picture the national debate, the headlines, the hand-wringing? There is no doubt we’d be having a national debate about inner-city poor black girls. The entire focus would be on race, class, and gender. The media would doubtless invent a new term for their behavior, as with wilding two decades ago.

Likewise,

In my research, I could find no cases of working women coming into their workplaces, packing assault weapons, and opening fire, seemingly indiscriminately.

The explanation is simple: When a man feels disrespected — on the job, in his school, in his family — the disrespect threatens not just his personal identity, but his identity as a man. (The archetypal Man is entitled to respect; if you are not being respected, you are failing as a man.) The obvious response is to re-assert manhood through violence, simultaneously righting the scales both socially and psychologically.

The Real and the True. One point I made in “The Distress of the Privileged” was that the “distress” part of privileged distress is very real: If you have convinced yourself that you don’t have any unfair advantages, and then those advantages start to go away, it feels like persecution. You’re not making it up; there are real events you can point to.

Kimmel covers this ground by distinguishing between what is “real” and what is “true”.

White men’s anger is “real”— that is, it is experienced deeply and sincerely. But it is not “true”— that is, it doesn’t provide an accurate analysis of their situation.

And what is most likely to be untrue is the object of the anger. When your well-paid factory job is shipped overseas and you can’t find another one, the villain isn’t the teen-age Chinese girl who does your old job for fifty cents an hour. If you can’t support a family on your income, the villain isn’t your working wife or her reasonable demand that you share the housewife duties she doesn’t have time for any more. If the value of your house crashes, the villain isn’t the black family that got talked into a sub-prime mortgage it couldn’t afford. If you judge yourself by the standards of another era, the villains are not the people whose fair competition keeps you from meeting those standards.

The collapsing pyramid. Patriarchy and racism are both systems of dominance that are coming apart. The white men who feel the change first are the ones just one step up from the bottom: Their step collapses, throwing them in with the “lesser” blacks and women, and the pyramid resettles on top of them. The white men higher up the pyramid want the victims of this collapse to identify with them and with the pyramid that gives them their status: What’s wrong isn’t that the pyramid itself is unfair — as you now can clearly see, being at the bottom of it. What’s wrong, they want you to believe, is that the pyramid is collapsing. You should defend the pyramid, blame the other bottom-dwellers for your loss of status, and maybe one day your one-step-up can be restored.

They know that’s not going to happen; they’re just counting on you not figuring it out. The Masters of the Universe are not going to bring your job back from China. Wal-Mart is not going to make room for your family shop to re-open. Bank of America is not going to forgive your underwater mortgage. Agri-business is not going to rescue your family farm.

The rich white men are not going to rebuild the lower step of the pyramid, no matter how much power they get. And nobody is making room for you on the upper levels.

If you have to blame someone, blame the people who promised you something they couldn’t (or decided not to) deliver. They sold you a bill of goods. Don’t buy another bill of goods from them.

But the best solution of all would be to get past the anger, forget about how things were supposed to be, and just start dealing with the situation as it is. Like a lot of people you never expected to have anything in common with, you find yourself at the bottom of the pyramid. It’s an unfair pyramid.

Let’s bring it down.

Too Simple

The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled. — John Kenneth Galbraith (1975)

This week everybody was talking about guns again

In an effort to save their party from its lunatic fringe, even Republicans were talking about gun control. Frank Luntz:

The Second Amendment deserves defending, but do Republicans truly believe that anyone should be able to buy any gun, anywhere, at any time? If yes, they’re on the side of less than 10 percent of America.

Mark McKinnon lists some of Mayor Bloomberg’s gun-control proposals, notes that they don’t affect “hunting, recreation, or self-defense” and then asks:

[I]f the ideas are reasonable and don’t limit legitimate activities, then why not consider them?

But gun-advocate rhetoric takes place in a binary frame where (1) no restrictions and (2) total confiscation are the only real options. So when Vice President Biden said that some action might happen through executive order, gun-nuts went nuttier: Obama was threatening confiscation by executive order! Alex Jones:

1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms! It doesn’t matter how many lemmings you get out there in the street begging for them to have their guns taken. We will not relinquish them. Do you understand?

No, it won’t by 1776 again. It will be 1791.

I wonder if Luntz and McKinnon have noticed something that the NRA hasn’t: The binary frame used to work in the NRA’s favor, because the NRA would win an all-or-none choice. But maybe we’ve hit a tipping point, where if you force the public to choose between the status quo and confiscation, confiscation might win. Maybe the NRA should be the side looking for reasonable compromise.


The most extreme part of the gun debate isn’t about hunting or home-defense at all. It’s about the right of the People to overthrow the government by force — even if it’s the government the People just elected. As Kevin Williamson put it in National Review:

There is no legitimate exception to the Second Amendment for military-style weapons, because military-style weapons are precisely what the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear.

This was Myth #6 (“The Second Amendment Allows Citizens to Threaten the Government”) in Garrett Epps’ recent constitutional law book Wrong and Dangerous. The Economist’s “Democracy in America” column characterized it as “the right to commit treason” and noted that

Popular militias are overwhelming likely to foster not democracy or the rule of law, but warlordism, tribalism and civil war. In Lebanon, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Colombia, the Palestinian Territories and elsewhere, we see that militias of armed private citizens rip apart weak democratic states in order to prey upon local populations in authoritarian sub-states or fiefdoms. Free states are defended by standing armies, not militias, because free states enjoy the consent of the governed, which allows them to maintain effective standing armies.

Undeniably, this is not how the Founders expected history to play out. But that’s how it has played out. A popular militia resisting authoritarian takeover and restoring democracy

is a thing that happens in silly movies. It is not a thing that happens in the world.

Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf notes that the conservative movement that promotes this Second-Amendment myth shows no inclination to support rights that actually do deter tyranny.

If you were a malign leader intent on imposing tyranny, what would you find more useful, banning high-capacity magazines… or a vast archive of the bank records, phone calls, texts and emails of millions of citizens that you could access in secret? Would you, as a malign leader, feel more empowered by a background check requirement on gun purchases… or the ability to legally kill anyone in secret on your say so alone? The powers the Republican Party has given to the presidency since 9/11 would obviously enable far more grave abuses in the hands of a would be tyrant than any gun control legislation with even a miniscule chance of passing Congress. So why are so many liberty-invoking 2nd Amendment absolutists reliable Republican voters, as if the GOP’s stance on that issue somehow makes up for its shortcomings? And why do they so seldom speak up about threats to the Bill of Rights that don’t involve guns?

In reality, the greatest threat to our democracy are the Alex-Jones and Sharron-Angle types who want to take up arms because their candidate lost the election.


Jon Stewart characterized the attitude blocking reasonable gun control as the fear of “imaginary Hitlers”. Gun-nuts’

paranoid fear of a possible dystopic future prevents us from addressing our actual dystopic present.



Like climate change and voter fraud, the gun-policy debate takes place largely in Bizarro World, as gun-rights advocates freely make up whatever facts they need and cite each other as references for them. Here are two debunking articles to keep bookmarked:

  • The Hitler Gun Control Lie (Salon). No, Hitler did not take away the German people’s guns. Actually, the Nazi regime weakened the gun restrictions it inherited from the Weimar Republic. (Stalin wasn’t big into disarming the public either.)
  • Mythbusting: Israel and Switzerland are not gun-toting utopias (WaPo). Gun advocates point to Israel and Switzerland as “societies where guns are reputed to be widely available, but where gun violence is rare”.  In non-Bizarro-World, American gun-control advocates would love to have the laws of Israel or Switzerland.

The NRA’s Wayne La Pierre says, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I guess he never saw Witness.


And let’s give the last word to The Onion:

Following the events of last week, in which a crazed western lowland gorilla ruthlessly murdered 21 people in a local shopping plaza after escaping from the San Diego Zoo, sources across the country confirmed Thursday that national gorilla sales have since skyrocketed.

… and trillion-dollar coins

This idea has been bouncing around since before the last debt crisis (and I’ve linked to explanations of it several times), but this week it crossed over from a fringy what-if to a policy option that Serious People need to have an opinion about.

I collect a number of those opinions in The Trillion-Dollar Coin Hits the Big Time. (Most boil down to: It’s nutty, but it’s better than defaulting.)

A side-effect of this discussion is that more and more of the public is coming to understand how money really works. Long-time Sift readers have had cause to remember my review of Warren Mosler’s book in the summer of 2011.


James Fallows suggests The Two Sentences That Should Be Part of All Discussion of the Debt Ceiling:

  1. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.
  2. For Congress to “decide whether” to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to “decide whether” to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.

An analogy I’ve used before: It’s like eating out when you don’t have cash, but then refusing to pay with your credit card because you’re taking a principled stand against running up more debt. The time to take the principled stand is when you decide what you’re going to do, not when the bill comes.

… which once again brings up the issue of unraveling social norms

The coin and the debt-ceiling hostage crisis it’s supposed to avert are both examples of something I’ve tried (and mostly failed) to describe before: unraveling the norms that make society governable. Maybe Chris Hayes expresses it better:

Behavior of individuals within an institution is constrained by the formal rules (explicit prohibitions) and norms (implicit prohibitions) that aren’t spelled out, but just aren’t done. And what the modern Republican Party has excelled at, particularly in the era of Obama, is exploiting the gap between these two. They’ve made a habit of doing the thing that just isn’t done.

He goes on to give examples: filibustering everything the Senate does, refusing to confirm qualified candidates to positions because you think the position shouldn’t exist, and now “using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip with which to extract ransom”.

He might also mention the proposal that Republicans should rig the Electoral College in states where they control the legislature. The point, pretty clearly, is to be able to win presidential elections even if the People vote for the other guy. (That’s what would have happened in 2012 under at least one plan: Obama gets 5 million more votes, but Romney becomes president.) It’s all perfectly legal, but this is the United States. We don’t do things like that. Or at least we didn’t used to.

The meta-question of the trillion-dollar coin is whether Democrats should strike back with their own inside-the-rules-but-outside-the-norms actions, recognizing (as Chris puts it) that “There is no way to unilaterally maintain norms.”

We need to get a handle on this trend somehow, because it doesn’t go anywhere good. That’s one of the themes in Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series: Ultimately, even respect for the written law is just a norm. At some point you start to think, “Why shouldn’t I stick my enemies’ heads on spikes and display them in the Forum?”

… and racism

Republicans hate it when you point to the implicit racism in the intensity of their hatred for Obama and all his works. But Colin Powell went there Sunday on Meet the Press, talking about the “dark vein of intolerance” in the Republican Party. He pointed to voter suppression, to racial code phrases like “shucking and jiving” applied to Obama, and to Birtherism.

But racism is also part of the willingness to violate previously accepted norms (that I was just talking about). Republicans feel justified in doing things that just aren’t done because (until now) electing and re-electing a black president just wasn’t done. Racism is the ultimate root of the Tea Party certainty that we are in uncharted waters that require unprecedented means of resistance. Just voting and campaigning and giving money to your favored candidates isn’t enough any more. We need to arm ourselves and prepare for “Second Amendment solutions” because … because why, exactly?

If you doubt the racial subtext here, think about how different it would sound for a black CEO to threaten that if a white president’s policy “goes one inch farther, I’m gonna start killin’ people.” Fox News would play that clip 24/7 for weeks.

… and you also might be interested in

Mitch McConnell might face a primary because of the fiscal cliff deal. Good news for Democrats? An Aiken/Mourdock Tea Party wacko is much more likely to lose this otherwise safe Kentucky senate seat to a Democrat (Ashley Judd?). Or bad news? If the minority leader goes down in a primary, no Republican will ever again compromise or negotiate.


The Greek economic crisis has taken on symbolic importance in this country; in any discussion of the deficit conservatives are bound to say that overspending is turning us into Greece. But Foreign Policy provides a seldom-mentioned tidbit:

the [Greek] state is facing a revenue crisis, in part because of rampant tax evasion. In 2012, the European Commission estimated the size of Greece’s shadow economy to be 24 percent of GDP, resulting in an annual $13 billion loss in revenue.

And the Center for American Progress amplifies:

when Greece is properly placed in the context of its EU partners and neighbors, it becomes clear that its spending is very much in line with European norms. … In fact, total government spending for the European Union as a whole equaled 50.7 percent of GDP, actually a bit higher than Greece.

So Greece spends less of its national income on government programs than its sensible cousin Germany. And the Greek people work more. Maybe the lesson for the U.S. to learn from Greece isn’t that the safety net is unsustainable. It’s that you’ve got to collect taxes.


No matter how many disastrous gaffes they suffer, Republicans just can’t stop talking about rape. This Democrat is no feminist prize either.


Remember Roy Moore, the “ten commandments judge” who lost his job as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court by defying federal court orders? He’s back. The people of Alabama elected him chief justice again in November, and he was sworn in Friday. Remind me why we didn’t let Alabama secede.


The White House’s We the People project promises that if an online petition gets enough support

White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

Well, 34,000 people signed a petition asking for construction of a Death Star to begin by 2016. So the head of OMB’s Science and Space Branch responded with these criticisms: The Death Star project would increase the deficit. It has a fatal design flaw exploitable by a one-man ship. Plus “The administration does not support blowing up planets.”


One Nation, Under Guard: fantasy, reality, and Sandy Hook

A special kind of panic results when fear mixes with helplessness.

Big plane crashes are like that. You hear about one and you can’t help thinking about the last time you flew or the reservations you already have. You wonder what you would do if your airliner started going down.

In my imagination, I do nothing of any practical use: Scream. Pray. Tell myself it’s not happening. Maybe hold hands with my wife (if we happen to be traveling together) and wait to die.

Panic like that isn’t put aside by statistics. Either it fades with time, or you raise enough courage to overcome it and get on with life. Or you do something that lets you tell yourself (maybe falsely) that the world is different now, so the possibility that panicked you can’t happen any more.

Very often, the something is stupid, like canceling a plane trip and driving instead. Never mind that driving is more dangerous than flying. You’ll die with a steering wheel in your hands rather than falling helplessly out of the sky. The horrible fantasy is calmed.

Because that’s what the something is really about. If you can also make the world safer for yourself or your loved ones, great. But if you can’t, you still need to quiet the horror in your mind.

School shootings are like that. Every day, you drop your kids off at school — knowing, at some level, that you’re surrendering your ability to protect them. But you put that aside: It’s OK. They’re safe. Nothing will happen.

Until something happens. Probably it happens to somebody else and you see it on TV, but it happens. And you can’t get the horrible image out of your head: your precious little son or daughter crouched behind a desk, hearing the gunfire, waiting to die.

To a lesser extent, any public shooting is like that. It could be you, huddling behind a table at Food Court at the Mall, while a gunman walks your way, shooting one person after another. Or maybe you’re huddling behind your seat at the theater or behind your shopping cart at the supermarket. Then, there will be nothing you can do.

And that’s why it feels so important to do something now. Something. Anything. Even if it’s stupid.

Any rational discussion of the Sandy Hook shooting needs to start by acknowledging that psychological reality: We are, at every moment of our lives, helpless against the full range of bad things that could happen. The next person you see could pull out a gun and start blasting, or set off a suicide-bomber vest, or breathe some killer microbe into your airspace. The food you buy could be poison. A chemical spill could send a toxic cloud blowing your way. Nuclear war could start. A meteor could fall out of the blue sky. Even if the environment around you is perfectly safe, your heart (at any moment) could find reasons of its own to stop beating.

To a certain extent, you are never safe and you are always helpless. That’s the human condition.

Other than saints, bodhisattvas, and stoic philosophers, we spend about 99% of our lives in denial of that basic fact. Big public disasters — Sandy Hook, Aurora, 9-11 — break through our denial and cause panic. Panic makes us want to do something. Anything.

Sometimes there’s something sensible to do. Our air safety regulations, for example, have done a lot of good. You know how many people in the United States died in commercial air crashes in 2012? Two. Air bags, antilock brakes, and other car safety changes (plus better emergency response) have dropped the number of automobile-accident deaths in the U.S. from 54,000 in 1972 to 32,000 in 2011, despite having more people, cars, and passenger miles.

But sometimes we’re just making ourselves feel better without improving our safety at all. That’s the question to keep in mind as you think about responses to Sandy Hook: Are we actually improving safety, or are we just banishing a horrible fantasy?

The “solutions” put forward by the NRA and other gun advocates are almost entirely about banishing horrible fantasy. NRA President Wayne LaPierre:

when you hear the glass breaking in your living room at 3 a.m. and call 911, you won’t be able to pray hard enough for a gun in the hands of a good guy to get there fast enough to protect you.

Yep. You’ll be helpless, waiting to die. Then you’ll wish you had a gun. Just like when your airliner is crashing, you’ll wish you had driven instead. You’ll wish you had a steering wheel to twist and a brake pedal to stomp on.

Owning a gun is exactly the same kind of “solution” as driving instead of flying. Statistically, a household with a gun is far more likely to experience a violent death than a household without a gun. Maybe you’ll worry less about the sound of breaking glass at night — or maybe you’ll lose just as much sleep worrying about how fast you can get to your gun and whether you’ll win the shootout with the intruder —  but a gun won’t make your family safer.

Thinking of you, sis.

I don’t know of any statistical study, but I’ll place my bet that arming teachers or deploying armed guards in schools won’t make kids safer either. Picture the elementary school teachers you know personally. I’m picturing my sister. She’s going to shoot it out with a guy in body armor wielding a Bushmaster? Seriously?

Once you put a gun in a classroom — or a home or a supermarket — all kinds of things can go wrong. This is a big country with a lot of classrooms. Some of those things will go wrong somewhere.

Open carry is now legal in Oklahoma. Feel safer?

And what have we solved? We have banished the particular fantasy of a gunman shooting up a school (unless an armed guard or teacher goes nuts). But have we made it significantly harder to kill large numbers of children, if somebody is determined to do that? Or are we going to have to put armed guards everywhere that children gather? Or are we all going to carry guns to protect ourselves against all the other gunmen?

Is that the society you want your child to grow up in?


There’s been a lot of bad writing on both sides of this issue, but a few pieces here and there have been worth recommending. The best stuff gets past the horrible-fantasy stage and gives you something serious to think about.

Firmin DeBrabander goes directly at the what-kind-of-society question, and argues that guns do exactly the opposite of what the NRA contends: They decrease freedom, diminish democracy, and make dictatorship that much easier. Our front line of defense against violence is that we live in a civil society. If arming everyone undoes civility, then we are much less safe, no matter how well armed we are.

Private gun ownership … nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military … Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite.


Bad anti-gun writing usually comes from people who have never touched a gun in their lives. (Personally, I’ve shot a variety of guns, but not often, and I’m no kind of expert.) Dan Baum is not that guy. His 2010 article Happiness is a Worn Gun describes his experience training for a concealed-carry permit and then carrying his gun for several months.

The big thing that comes through is that concealed-carry isn’t just a plan, it’s a worldview. His training classes “were less about self-defense than about recruiting us into a culture animated by fear of violent crime.” Baum eventually stops carrying his gun, because he doesn’t like the way it changes his experience from Condition White (everyday awareness) to Condition Yellow (constant threat-monitoring).

Condition White may make us sheep, but it’s also where art happens. It’s where we daydream, reminisce, and hear music in our heads. Hard-core gun carriers want no part of that, and the zeal for getting everybody to carry a gun may be as much an anti-Condition White movement as anything else — resentment toward the airy-fairy elites who can enjoy the luxury of musing, sipping tea, and nibbling biscuits while the good people of the world have to work for a living and keep their guard up.


The best thing I read was Ta-Nehisi Coates’ On Living Armed. As a person who grew up in a violent neighborhood, Coates directly confronts the what-if-you-faced-a-shooter fantasy and expands it.

one does not simply do violence – or live prepared for violence – and remain the same. I carry all of West Baltimore with me, and I am in constant conversation over the fact that that part of me is wholly inappropriate for this world. That part – the part that is analyzing every person who walks up on me, who is trying to figure out every angle, who sees a crowd and walks the other way – is fit for a world of violence. That pose is totally draining. (It has no time to go off and learn French.)

So if you ask me if I wished to have a gun when an active shooter is present, then I will tell you that guns don’t magically appear in the holster, that the capacity to do lethal violence requires an expense of time, energy, and responsibility, which I would rather not make. I would tell you that I have, already, spent too much of my life preparing for violence. I would say that the person who should wish to have a gun in that situation, should be a person capable of shooting a gun, and a person comfortable with the responsibility of carrying a gun during the 99.9 percent of the time when violence – much less lethal violence – is wholly inappropriate.

A gun is power. And power demands responsibility. I don’t want to spend my time that way.

“Don’t politicize tragedy” is itself partisan rhetoric

Some lines in our political dialog sound non-partisan, but they only come up in a one-sided way. Once the media habit gets established, those unwritten usage rules are very hard to change.

For years now, liberals have been trying to turn judicial activism back against conservatives. But no matter how many Citizens United or Bush v Gore decisions right-wing judges write, judicial activism only has glue on its left side; it won’t stick to the Right.

We shouldn’t politicize this tragedy is similarly one-sided. It is only said in two situations:

  1. To stop liberals from talking about gun control after a mass shooting.
  2. To stop liberals from talking about worker safety after a mine disaster, factory fire, or some other big industrial accident.

It never limits conservatives, who routinely score political points in the wake of tragedy without even a sense of hypocrisy. The possibility that don’t politicize tragedy could apply to them just doesn’t register.

So Fox News’ Megyn Kelly can guiltlessly respond to the Newtown School shooting by asking a security expert:

I have two kids. Now I suddenly want to see an armed police officer in the school. I mean, I never even thought of that prior to now, but what would that take, to have an armed police officer in every school?

Kelly reaching for a more-guns solution is fine, but imagining fewer guns — as Bob Costas did two weeks before — politicizes tragedy.

In any other situation, major loss of life leads to action. The Patriot Act was signed six weeks after 9-11. I don’t recall anyone saying we shouldn’t politicize the tragedy. And as Chris Hayes observed Saturday,

If yesterday we had found out that the shooter’s name was Abdulmutallab and that he had been attending a mosque in Connecticut, everything about the response would be different.

One difference: No one would be shutting down the Islamophobes for politicizing the tragedy.*

The most predictably outrageous politicization of tragedy always comes from the Religious Right. Who can forget Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9-11 on

the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America

Falwell is dead, but his blame-the-secularists game continues. Thursday, when a Fox News anchor suggested to Mike Huckabee that people might ask “How could God let this happen?”, Huckabee responded by denouncing separation of church and state:

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that.

So suggesting any limitation to Second Amendment rights politicizes the tragedy, but it’s fine for Huckabee to advocate against our First Amendment right to be free from an establishment of religion.

Huckabee was not alone. Bryan Fischer also started with “Where was God?”and went the same place with it:

Here’s the bottom line: God is not going to go where He’s not wanted. Now we have spent — since 1962, we’re 50 years into this now — we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost.

He then went through a litany First Amendment cases that limit Christian establishment before concluding:

We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us: “Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first.”

I’m sure the Amish parents of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania wonder how exactly they banished God from their schoolhouse before five of their daughters were gunned down in 2006. But apparently Fischer’s God** is subject to the same rule as vampires: Even if He wants to help, He’s stuck on the threshold until somebody invites Him in.

In short, liberals: Don’t be cowed by people who tell you not to politicize a mass shooting or a mine cave-in. The don’t-politicize rule applies only to you. Whenever conservatives can spin a tragedy to their advantage, they will, and the self-appointed umpires who criticize you now will be completely silent.


*The same people who blame Islam for any crime by a guy with a Arab name — they twisted themselves into pretzels denying Christianity’s responsibility for Anders Breivik’s mass murder of liberal children in Norway (even though Breivik styled himself as a defender of Christendom). “No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder,” Bill O’Reilly declared.

If you would laugh at a Muslim who said that about believers in Allah, you should laugh at O’Reilly too.


**In some ways conservative Christians preachers are a special case, because their flocks do ask “Where was God?” and the ministers have no answer. The question points to a hole in their theology: If the Universe were governed by the God they describe (all-powerful, loving, good, and personally involved), these things would not happen. It’s that simple. It’s not a paradox or a mystery, it’s just a contradiction.

They can’t admit that, so they have to deflect blame onto someone else.

White Right-Wing Christian Terrorist

Tuesday, when CBS News did a segment on the man who killed seven at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, one word was conspicuously absent: terrorist. All the pieces to make that judgment were in place: Wade Michael Page had a long history in white supremacist groups. (The album covers of his white-supremacist bands are pictured at the bottom of this article, where you can easily avoid looking at them.) His victims were non-Christian and non-white, and they gathered at a non-Christian temple.

His massacre was violence against civilians, apparently for the political purpose of terrorizing the racial or religious groups they belong to. That’s terrorism.

No white Christian terrorists. But the mainstream media doesn’t often call white Christians terrorists, and even if they express their motives in Christian or white-supremacist terms, you seldom run across the phrase “white Christian terrorist”. Almost by definition, terrorists are Muslims. And conversely, violent Muslims are terrorists.

When someone does tie a terrorist act to Christianity, you can count on seeing a lot of pushback — articles begging for nuance, emphasizing how out of the Christian mainstream the terrorist’s views are, refusing to take seriously a childhood connection to Christianity, and instead demanding specific evidence of a religious motive (which hasn’t shown up yet in Page’s case). Again, these principles don’t apply when the killer has brown skin and a Muslim name.

The white killer also gets portrayed with more sympathy. The CBS report includes pictures of Page as a cute boy, and shows his step-mother describing him as “kind and gentle and loving”.

I’ll bet Khalid Sheik Mohammed was a cute child once, but this is the picture of him I’ve seen over and over.

No right-wing terrorists. You also don’t hear the term “right-wing terrorist” very often. In 2009, a report by the Department of Homeland Security called attention to the problem of right-wing violence, and identified “disgruntled military veterans” as targets for recruitment by right-wing hate groups. It quoted a civil rights organization:

large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the [U.S.] armed forces.

The potential recruits were “a small percentage” of veterans, but a small percentage of a large number can still be disturbingly large.

Page was precisely the kind of veteran the report was talking about. But it’s too late for the report’s author (Daryl Johnson) to get credit in DHS, because he’s long gone. The report raised a furor in the right-wing media, which interpreted it as a slander against both veterans and the rising Tea Party movement.

Michelle Malkin wrote in the Washington Times:

It’s no small coincidence that Ms. Napolitano’s agency disseminated the assessment just a week before the nationwide April 15 Tax Day Tea Party protests.

Her column ended: “We are all right-wing extremists now. Welcome to the club.” That message was echoed by Fox News and Republican leaders: Right-wing terrorism was something the Obama administration dreamed up to slander all conservatives.

DHS responded to the furor by dissolving Johnson’s team, and Johnson himself left DHS a year after the report was published.

What I think is going on. There is an underlying narrative in mainstream culture that People Like You are threatened by People Like Them. If a story fits neatly into that frame, then OK, go with it.

But if the obvious interpretation of an event is that People Like You are the threat, that’s a problem. Nobody wants to hear that. And so Juan Cole’s Top Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others includes:

6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies.

 Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf puts it like this:

Watching Oak Creek, that subset of Americans was put in a position to realize that a day prior they’d have identified with the terrorist more than his victims. And so they quickly looked away.

Instead, we want to hear that the Threatening One is really not like us after all. He’s not a member of a group; he’s a loner. He’s not acting on beliefs that we share; he’s crazy. And his action is not a one-sided eruption of our hate onto their innocence; he’s a tortured soul who once had the potential for goodness; the suffering he inflicts arises from his own suffering.

The same thing happens on smaller scales. A couple years ago, the director of my church’s religious education program was describing the articles she’d been reading about bullying. They all discussed how to help your child deal with being bullied. “None of them,” she told me, “addressed the possibility that your child might be the bully.”

But the bully is always someone’s child. And no one wants to hear that.

Trayvon Martin: the Racism Whites Don’t Want to See

I tend to filter out crime stories, because so often they get more coverage than they deserve, like O. J. Simpson. So I’ve been slow to catch on to the significance of the Trayvon Martin story. But lately this has turned into a meta-story: reactions to the killing say even more about our country than the killing itself did.

The basic facts are simple: A white-Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer (George Zimmerman) got suspicious of a 140-pound black teen-ager (Trayvon Martin) for no apparent reason. He called 911, and the dispatcher told him not to follow the kid. Zimmerman followed anyway. Some kind of confrontation ensued and he shot Martin dead. Martin was unarmed and had nothing easily mistaken for a weapon, but the police accepted Zimmerman’s self-defense claim (in spite of at least one witness who denied it) and let him walk away. That all happened back on February 26, there’s still been no arrest, and the local African-American community is getting pretty upset about it.

The story points out the continuing presence of racism in America. To some segment of the population, being black raises suspicion all by itself. Probably Zimmerman is not the kind of racist who would go out hunting black teens at random. Probably he really believed that Martin was planning some kind of mischief, and that Martin must be armed, so that he had to shoot first once the confrontation started. But why did he think that? Why did he frame the situation in such a way that shoot-to-kill seemed sensible?

And why did the police find his story credible and his actions excusable? You’re an armed white adult chasing an unarmed black teen-ager you outweigh by about 100 pounds. Naturally, you would feel threatened.

That’s the kind of racism that is still endemic in every nook and cranny of America. We’re almost entirely past the “I don’t hire niggers” phase, but still in a phase of “he just doesn’t look trustworthy to me”. What would look like a well-deserved break for a white employee is goofing off when a black does it. An ordinary mental glitch becomes evidence of low intelligence, and so on.

Being black is no longer three strikes against you, but it’s still one or two.

By and large, White America doesn’t want to believe that. Last year a poll found that 51% of whites (also 60% of Republicans and 68% of people who name Fox as their most trusted news source) say that reverse discrimination against whites is at least as big a problem as discrimination against minorities.

You can see just how badly White America doesn’t want to believe in its continuing racism by how it has reacted to the Martin story. Fox News did its best to ignore the whole thing. ThinkProgress totaled up how much attention each cable news network gave the Martin story during its first three weeks:

Compare this to Fox’s obsessive coverage of a series of scary-black-people stories. For example, it devoted 95 segments totaling 8 hours of air time to the trumped-up voter-intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party.

Or check out how the Glenn-Beck-founded blog The Blaze has covered Martin’s death. Searching on the word “Trayvon” got me 15 stories, five of which were about the scary ways black people are reacting to the incident — the New Black Panther Party (of course), Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, and the New Black Liberation Militia. The Sharpton post ends by raising more suspicion about Martin. (He was on a 10-day suspension from school, and “Sources sympathetic to Martin say he was suspended for ‘excessive tardiness’.” But the Blaze makes sure we know all the more serious stuff that a 10-day suspension could be about.)

A sixth Blaze post quotes Beck himself, who is worried not about white vigilantes, but about black extremists “winding everybody up”:

“We have this extremist African-American militia group that says they’re just going to come in and handle it. You’re got Al Sharpton winding everybody up. You’ve got Color For Change winding everybody up.” … Beck ceded that the man who shot Trayvon could indeed be a racist, but that many of his detractors are driven by a racial agenda too, and thus are everything they claim to stand against.

Got that? You should focus not on what actually happened to an innocent black teen, but on what “extremist” black groups might do. Zimmerman could be a racist, but blacks and liberals upset by the Martin story are racists.

So the beat goes on: For the part of the media that panders to I-am-not-a-racist whites, the Martin story is just one more example of racism against whites and one more reason for white people to be afraid of black people.


Among the presidential candidates, only Newt Gingrich directly pandered to white racists by turning the incident into a reverse-racism story. President Obama had reached out to Martin’s parents, saying “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

Gingrich’s response:

Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. … When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.

Gingrich glossed over the whole walking-while-black angle that makes the story important: If Trayvon Martin had been white, he might not have been shot at all. George Zimmerman “turned it into a racial issue”, not President Obama.


While researching this case, I learned something interesting about the law: Self defense falls into a class known as affirmative defenses. In other words, at your trial you’re not just looking at the state and saying “Prove I did it”, you’re making assertions about facts that are supposed to exonerate you. When you do that, part of the burden of proof shifts to you.

So the state does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not act in self defense. In making a self-defense plea, Zimmerman would be conceding that he killed Martin, and he would then need to convince the jury of his self-defense claim by a preponderance of evidence (not beyond reasonable doubt).


Want some background music to read this piece by? Try Eminem’s “White America“:

Look at these eyes:
Baby blue, baby, just like yaself.
If they were brown, Shady lose,
Shady sits on the shelf.

Now Look What You Made Me Do

The last two weeks have seen a widespread violent crack-down on non-violent protesters, the like of which has not occurred in the United States in many years. So far the police have been using non-lethal weapons like pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, sonic cannons, and the old-fashioned nightstick, so there is not a body count to report. But the difference between this suppression of dissent and the ones in Cairo that President Obama denounced as far back as last January is largely of degree and not of kind.

You would not suspect this from the coverage in the mainstream American media, which has been doing it’s usual even-handed he-said/she-said thing. Protesters “clash with police” reports the New York Times, not specifying that protesters’ eyes clashed with police pepper spray or that protesters’ heads and stomachs clashed with police nightsticks. “Violence erupted” said New York Magazine, as if violence were some volcanic process independent of human decisions.

AllVoices anchor Veronica Roberts reported that Iraq veteran Scott Olsen suffered a fractured skull “after he was caught in the violence that erupted between police and protesters”. Olsen was not “caught” in anything; he was protesting peacefully when police shot him in the head with a tear gas canister (perhaps intentionally). (He may have suffered brain damage and was still unable to speak several days later.)

(Even this morning’s NYT article about the coverage of Occupy Wall Street says nothing about the coverage of police attacks. The Times seems unaware that there could be an issue here.)

But this shouldn’t be a contest between my rants and the rants on Fox News. The only way to appreciate what is going on is to look at the pictures and watch the video for yourself. In this video, the camera-holder is slowly walking parallel to (and maybe 60 feet away from) a line of unthreatened Oakland police when one of them decides to shoot him with a rubber bullet — apparently just because he can.

Here, a UC Davis policeman calmly pepper-sprays students who are sitting on the ground, immobile. Other police watch and do nothing.

BTW, you should see how this incident ends: Starting at about the 5 minute mark, the police see that the crowd is neither retreating nor attacking, and they start to lose their spirit and look confused. Using the human mic device, a protester invites them to retreat, and they do, leaving the quad in control of the protesters. It’s a stunning example of how nonviolence works.

At UC-Berkeley, students are peacefully behind a line of police who suddenly start using their nightsticks.

Here, a young woman with her hands at her sides, surrounded by people armed with nothing more than cameras, is pepper-sprayed in the face by police in riot gear. The LA Times reports the incident in he-said/she-said terms: “Occupy Portland organizers allege law enforcement took an inappropriate and heavy-handed approach.”

In Seattle, police pepper-sprayed this 84-year-old former school teacher. Local TV news even-handedly reported that “mayhem took place” and “chaos erupted in downtown Seattle”.

Retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis (who was arrested in New York Thursday) put it a little differently: “Corporate America is using our police departments as hired thugs.”

I have read many claims by police that protesters threatened or assaulted them in some way. With all the video cameras out there, you’d think someone would capture assaults on police if they were really happening with any frequency. I’ve looked for such video, but I can’t find it.

On YouTube, the query “occupy protesters assault police” led me to this local TV-news report from Toledo, which shows two protesters at a city council meeting “assaulting police” by flailing helplessly as they’re being dragged away. So far that’s the worst protester violence I’ve found video of.

In public-opinion terms, this “even-handed” coverage is anything but. Obviously, the reason there is an incident at all is because people are protesting, so if “violence erupts”, the reader’s natural inclination is to think that protesters caused it. Similarly, when ABC News reports that nine cities have already spent more than $10 million responding to the protests, the protesters seem to be to blame.

What actually costs money, though, is the cities’ extreme now-look-what-you-made-me-do over-reaction to the protests. The protesters are not demanding to be surrounded by armies of police in riot gear earning overtime. City mayors and police chiefs are making those choices, which are justified by what, exactly? Where is the bad example of a city that under-responded and suffered some awful consequence?

Virtually every “problem” offered as an excuse to break up the occupation protests is actually made worse when the police attack. Are the protesters “trashing” the public parks? Well, here’s what the Occupy Oakland site looked like the morning after the police violently “cleared” it.

Mayor Bloomberg has cited complaints about noise as a reason to drive protesters out of Zuccotti Park — with noise cannons. As the NYT’s Nicholas Kristof observed:

Sure, the mayor had legitimate concerns about sanitation and safety, but have you looked around New York City? Many locations aren’t so clean and safe, but there usually aren’t hundreds of officers in riot gear showing up in the middle of the night to address the problem.

When the unprovoked and counter-productive violence of the authoritarian reaction is masked by “even-handed” coverage, though, the natural reaction of the news-watching public is to grumble at the protesters who are causing trouble and wasting their tax money.

And as the mainstream media coverage suffers from false equivalence and fake even-handedness, the coverage from the right-wing media — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the Washington Times, the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, and (now that Murdoch owns it) the Wall Street Journal — drips with vitriol.

For weeks, Fox News has pushed two related lines of propaganda on a daily basis: invoking a Woodstock drug-taking dirty-hippy stereotype of the protesters, and de-humanizing them by focusing on their animal functions — urination, defecation, sex, etc. Karl Rove’s Crossroads PAC has put out an anti-Elizabeth-Warren ad tying her to the occupations, where “protesters attack police, do drugs, and trash public parks.”

Unsurprisingly, when one side’s propaganda goes uncorrected, the other side’s public image suffers. A PPP poll shows Occupy Wall Street’s popularity declining.

This combined police-and-media attack exposes a long-term weakness in the Left: We lack solidarity. When media coverage goes against some group we sympathize with, we distance ourselves rather than stand up for them.

The Right has dug-in, billionaire-financed infrastructure, so it will defend its clan from media attacks (as it has done with Herman Cain) even if the target is clearly in the wrong (like BP). Compare the Left’s reaction to the Dean Scream: Objectively, the scream meant nothing, but suddenly it was embarrassing to be associated with Dean, so his support melted.

It’s important that those of us who sympathize with the goals of Occupy Wall Street not melt away. Ordinary Americans have started protesting against the way that the rich (especially the parasitic financial community, which on the whole adds little if anything to our economy) have captured all the economic growth. In response, the rich have leaned on City Hall to call out the police to rough them up (except in New York, where no leaning was necessary because a finance-industry billionaire already is City Hall), and the corporate media has covered these events in a way that distributes the blame unfairly on the protesters.

We can’t let that be the end of the story.

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