“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.
All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith filmThe Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.
In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.
A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
It’s May and the sweet, citrusy smell of honeysuckle blossoms fills the air. For many people around the country the honeysuckle smells are emanating from invasive Asian and European species that have come to dominate the native honeysuckles in the landscape in the past century and more. The honeysuckle genus, Lonicera, encompasses more than 180 species from around the world, of which about 20 are native to North America. The primary reason any of this matters to American gardeners is how the invasive species, once a welcome addition to the landscape, will overwhelm other plants given even a little leeway.
Besides the bush honeysuckles which dominate the understory in woodlands and arch their branches into the space of neighbors in the garden, there are the twining vines of the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), which make their way into absolutely everything, whether along the ground or into the canopies of trees, robbing their hosts of sunlight, water, and nutrients. Once the blooms are done, red or purple berries follow, which birds love to eat, making sure the plants spread everywhere the birds go. Honeysuckle bushes and vines can also readily spread by layering, which is to say that parts of them touching soil develop roots, creating a leapfrog effect of new plants. Cut one section down to the ground, and likely as not another new plant has already started a few feet away.
A ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) sips nectar from a North American trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Photo by jeffreyw.
There are a number of other aggressive plants which have less to recommend them than the honeysuckles. English ivy (Hedera helix), for instance, offers no sweet fragrance or much in the way of bird food. Misguided people encourage it to grow on buildings, when what they would be better off planting is Boston ivy (Parthenicissus tricuspidata), a better behaved climber which won’t invade the mortar on brick structures, corroding it and pulling it out. Wild grape (Vitis spp.) has only found cultivated use in contributing genetic material to vineyard varieties. No one plants wild grape itself. It is mostly found in woodlands and has no ornamental value, though of course that is in the eye of the beholder.
Japanese honeysuckle blooming along Franklin Farm Road in the Franklin Farm section of Oak Hill, Fairfax County, Virginia. Photo by Famartin. The blooms turn from white when they first open to yellow as they age.
Japanese honeysuckle and the bush honeysuckles are here to stay – there’s no eradicating such successful invaders who are popular with the native fauna, if not flora – and coping with them therefore becomes a state of mind as much as physical labor. Step outside in May and inhale the intoxicating scent of their flowers and observe butterflies and hummingbirds helping themselves to the nectar, and in summer take your ease in the shade or indoors while the berries form, knowing birds are noting their ripening until fall when they will descend on the plants and devour the berries, spreading new plants far and wide. It’s too hot and bothersome in summer to get after the honeysuckle with implements of destruction, but in winter when it’s cool and memories of their pleasant attributes are far away, get after those suckers and yank ’em out root and branch. Don’t worry – you’ll likely never get rid of them altogether, and come spring there will be a new birth of honeysuckle and with it a wonderfully sweet scent in the May air.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
— Barack Obama, speaking at a July 2012 campaign appearance in Virginia. Republicans quickly jumped on his comments, taking them out of context in order to convince business owners he was insulting them and their hard work and initiative.
If anyone needed a reminder there is no such thing as a level playing field, the recent college admissions scandal ought to have brought it home. There was no surprise about wealthy parents greasing the skids to get their children into prestigious universities, and no surprise about the willingness of those institutions to bend their own rules to the breaking point in order get more money in their coffers. The admissions dance between wealthy patrons and their preferred institutions of higher learning has never been particularly secret, either, as can be seen with the admission of Jared Kushner to Harvard in 1999.
There’s enough hypocrisy and corruption in this latest scandal to go around many times, equal in its way to college admissions standards being contorted for the benefit of the athletic program and wealthy and amoral alumni supporters who want top athletes for the school no matter how deficient their academic qualifications. Any sober scrutiny of that boondoggle would cause the implosion of most major athletic programs at schools large and small. Poorly qualified students have always entered the doors of academia, whether the ticket they or their parents proffered was wrapped in large amounts of currency or in the promise of athletic prowess.
Eton schoolboys digging potatoes from an allotment allocated for wartime vegetable production on the school playing fields during the First World War. Photo by Horace Nicholls (1867-1941) archived in the Imperial War Museum. Unfortunately, times of dire emergency and full mobilization are required to get the rich and their progeny to pitch in and work like everyone else.
The interesting aspect to examine after the latest revelations is the idea of meritocracy, which seems to offer a delusion of an open society to the poor and the unlucky. Rich, successful people want everyone to believe they achieved their exalted station entirely through their own merits. Many of them fervently believe this themselves. They take little account of the advantages afforded them by the society at large, and especially by dumb luck. This society’s adherence to the tenets of meritocracy results in rich, successful people giving themselves too much credit for their good fortune and poor, working people accepting too much blame for their abysmal circumstances. Meritocracy serves the purposes of the rich in allowing them to excuse their selfish behavior and to have disdain for the poor.
The way the system really works on behalf of well-off individuals and organizations is that they are made to believe a successful business or investment is all their own doing, and therefore they immodestly grab the larger portion of the profits for themselves, while unsuccessful endeavors are the fault of others, usually the workers, who need to accept blame and financial losses in the form of wage cuts or termination of employment. Privatized profits and socialized losses – that’s the American Way. Top executives sit on the boards of companies to look out for the interests of other top executives, members of what has largely been an Old Boys’ Club for as long as elites have dodged responsibility to the greater society, which is to say forever.
An excerpt from the “Dumb Americans” section of George Carlin’s 2005Life Is Worth Losingperformance. Warning: foul language.
If the minimum wage had kept pace with Wall Street bonuses – not pay, but bonuses only – over the past generation, it would stand at $33 an hour today. The people on Wall Street do provide the necessary economic service of concentrating investment capital, but that service is not as vital nor the work as important as portrayed in the 1980s television advertisements for the investment firm Smith Barney, in which the actor and producer John Houseman pompously announced “They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it.” Hogwash! And it has only gotten deeper since the 1980s, to the point we’re all drowning in it, and Wall Street investors would have everyone believe they are the driving force of the economy, not the workers who actually produce useful things. Better education is needed, starting with teaching that rich does not necessarily equate with deserving, and that money is not a measure of worth beyond its contribution to the common good.
“Believe we’re gliding down the highway When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”
— from “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a 1977 song by Paul Simon.
Recently the Virginia House of Delegatesrefused to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), defeating it perhaps for good. If Virginia had voted in favor of the Amendment, that would have been the 38th and deciding vote among the states, and then the measure would have returned to the United States Congress for reconsideration of whether the time limit for ratification should be extended.
The State Seal of Virginia. On February 21, on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia, two pro-ERA activists posed as the figures depicted in the seal, and one was arrested.
The Equal Rights Amendment is meant to constitutionally protect women’s rights and should be a common sense addition to the country’s legal framework, but anti-abortion activists and those who cling to traditional gender roles have long suspected the amendment would be used as grounds for protecting abortion rights of pregnant women besides guaranteeing women’s rights when they are at odds with men’s long standing privileges, and consequently they have done everything in their power, high and low, to defeat the amendment.
Meanwhile, in an official ceremony for a high school in Wisconsin, female cheerleaders were given “joke” awards for their physical attributes, such as largest breasts or butt, or skinniest body. When some parents and faculty objected to singling out emotionally immature girls this way, the cheerleaders’ coach, Patti Uttech, expressed dismay that “politically correct” people couldn’t understand how the awards were all in good fun. Last year another Wisconsin high school made national news after people became aware that a photographer posing a group of boys for a prom picture had encouraged them to raise their arms in what can only be viewed as a Nazi salute, and almost all the boys appeared to comply with enthusiasm.
Then there’s Goodloe Sutton, 80-year-old owner and editor of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Alabama, who in a February 14 editorial railed against Democrats he supposed were plotting to raise taxes in Alabama, and called for the Ku Klux Klan to raid the homes of Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.. He added even more hateful remarks when asked later for elaboration by other journalists from Alabama and elsewhere once his editorial became notorious. In 2019, Mr. Sutton’s beliefs and attitudes are more in tune with those from the year of his birth, 1939.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform “Slip Slidin’ Away” in the September 1981 Concert in Central Park in New York City.
Did those beliefs and attitudes ever go away in the intervening years? Perhaps partially, although mainly they went underground. Now with encouragement from the current resident of the Oval Office, ignorant and hateful talk is bubbling back to the surface across the land, and here and there action has followed. In the current environment, it will only get worse. The Ku Klux Klan of 1939 is resurrected by a bitter old man with a newspaper in Alabama. The Nazi Party of 1930s and 40s Germany is evoked by laughing schoolboys in Wisconsin. Again in Wisconsin, a high school cheerleaders’ coach hands out awards that would not have been out of place in 1950s America, though even then most people might have deemed them in questionable taste given the age of the recipients. And in Virginia an amendment to the United States Constitution goes down in flames because even in 2019 there are people – not all of them men – who cannot step away from controlling all women as if it were their right.
“So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”
— Ezekiel 33:7, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Amid all the furiously backpedaling confusion promulgated by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over whether he was in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook picture of two male party goers, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) outfit, there appears to be no acknowledgment from the governor or his staff of why they seem to think blackface is less racist than wearing KKK garb. They appear to assume that it is racism lite, and therefore perhaps excusable, choosing to ignore that even in 1984 such behavior was not acceptable in general society, and certainly not seen as good clean fun. The governor professes confusion over whether he was one of the two men in the photo, but nowhere does he allow the possibility he could have been the one in the KKK outfit. He claims he was either the one in blackface or he was not in the picture at all.
This song and dance is understandable given the feelings of the greater society about the KKK. Apparently Northam feels if he needs to equivocate about his participation in racist costuming, he is safer with blackface than with the utterly out of the fold KKK. But why? Besides the ludicrous assertion that he somehow doesn’t remember participating in the activity depicted in the photo, why does he hide behind blackface as the lesser of two evils? Is ridiculing, mocking, and denigrating black people any less evil than intimidating and threatening them? They are two sides of the same coin. And no, taking the good ol’ frat boy defense that he personally meant no harm doesn’t fly.
Ralph Northam’s 1981 VMI yearbook photo showing his nicknames “Goose” and “Coonman”.
Lost in the national coverage of Northam’s foolish, insensitive, and casually hateful youthful behavior is reporting about his less foolish, equally insensitive, and more consciously hateful behavior regarding the Dominion Energy natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As always with things like pipelines, the planned route took it through less populous countryside, avoiding the estates of rich folks, of which there are many in Virginia’s horse country surrounding Charlottesville in central Virginia. Instead the route is planned to take it well south of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, through far poorer and far blacker Buckingham County, with a compressor station near Union Hill, a community noted historically for its population of freed black slaves.
View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia, into rural Buckingham County. Photo by Famartin. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would roughly parallel Route 56, intersecting several miles down the road at Union Hill for the compressor station.
Late last year, Governor Northam dismissed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board who disagreed about the pipeline route and placement of the compressor station, thereby assuring a yea vote from the Board. In Virginia, it should be noted, the biggest utility player, Dominion Energy, is also the largest single donor from the energy sector to political campaigns, regardless of party affiliation. Dominion Energy is pushing the pipeline through Buckingham County and its compressor station in Union Hill. Just north of Buckingham County is Albemarle County and its plethora of country estates owned by wealthy white people. South of Buckingham County would apparently be too far out of the way, making the pipeline more expensive.
In lightly populated Buckingham County,Dominion Energy could expect easily overpowered opposition to its pipeline and compressor station from poor, mostly black communities. The only remaining obstacle was two obstinate members of the state Air Pollution Control Board, and with the help of their man in the Governor’s office, they were removed. Like the 1984 yearbook photo, Governor Northam and his friends thought they could dismiss the racism implicit in it all by taking the position that he didn’t mean it that way. How insulting! It matters not at all how these people intend their actions, as if that somehow magically exonerates them, but how their actions ultimately affect the people on the receiving end, and professed ignorance of the effects on those on the receiving end is no excuse, any more than it was for the German people when their leaders packed Jews into cattle cars and sent them to concentration camps.
Amazon.com,the internet’s everything store, recently announced it will be opening two secondary headquarters, one in the New York City borough of Queens, and the other in the Arlington, Virginia, area near Washington, D.C.. City and state officials in both locations offered Amazon enormous benefits at taxpayers’ expense, though the exact amounts are unknown because officials claim they have a competitive advantage by keeping their bids secret.
Nonsense. It’s the taxpayers’ money and they have every right to know how officials spend it. The whole nationwide competition for Amazon’s secondary headquarters was a yearlong sham and circus, the kind of municipal debasement and looting that has become far too common as states and cities are pitted against each other for the dubious prize bestowed on them by corporate behemoths relocating or opening new places of business.
Caricature of “Organized Big Business Interests” illustrated by John Miller Baer (1886-1970) for part of the November 17, 1919 cover ofThe Nonpartisan Leader. Nearly one hundred years later, a caricature of a big business interest is more likely to appear trim and fit, wearing jeans and a turtleneck or other informal clothing.
Amazon is to labor practices and corporate citizenship as an internet business as Walmart is to labor practices and corporate citizenship among brick and mortar stores, which is to say they are leaders in their respective fields in abusing their lowest tier workers and siphoning funds away from local communities. Both Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, and the Walton family at the head of Walmart are obscenely rich. They got that way because of their cleverness at exploiting the properties mentioned above, not because of their own virtuousness and hard work as they would have everyone believe. There are millions upon millions of people who are every bit as virtuous and hard working as Mr. Bezos and the Walton family, probably more so, and they are not obscenely rich, or even well off.
Buy Nothing Day demonstration in San Francisco, California, in November 2000. Photo by Lars Aronsson.
Mr. Bezos and others like him are obscenely rich because they are, among their other qualities in starting and running a business, both good and bad, obscenely greedy. Shoppers visiting the Amazon website cannot be blamed for taking advantage of the low prices and good service. That would be a kind of “blaming the victim”. Besides, it is all too easy for shoppers to forget about or remain ignorant of Amazon’s bad labor practices and exploitative corporate citizenship since it does those things mostly out of sight and therefore out of mind, a benefit it has as an internet company that Walmart does not have as a brick and mortar outfit.
Shoppers might fairly ask themselves, however, that even if they are not entirely complicit in sustaining Mr. Bezos’s greed, perhaps their own much smaller proportion of greed is something worth examining. It is a form of greed that drives most purchases from Amazon. Amazon sells some necessities such as groceries, but then so do stores at neighborhood shopping centers throughout the country. Most of what Amazon sells are not necessities. They are convenient luxuries, great or small, delivered to the shopper’s door. With the enormous emphasis on shopping around Thanksgiving all but swallowing up the holiday and its meaning, people might want to step back from the shopping cart, both real and virtual, and reflect on how their own petty greed feeds the monstrous greed of Jeff Bezos and his fellow billionaires and millionaires, while around the world millions upon millions of decent people go hungry.
With this year’s midterm election three weeks away and an enormous amount at stake regarding what sort of country voters want to live in, it’s a safe prediction that turnout will be higher than usual, perhaps at a record level. Midterm elections have historically drawn out only about 40 percent of eligible voters, compared to about 60 percent in presidential election years. There are so many cultural issues at stake in this first national election since 2016 that people are more likely than ever to turn out at the polls despite the relatively good economy, which ordinarily would be a reason for complacency and low turnout.
High voter turnout typically favors Democratic candidates, and that should hold true this year as well, but turnout by Republican voters should be high as well on account of the fires being stoked by their leader in the Oval Office, the Divider-in-Chief. In rally after rally and through draconian policy actions meant to provoke an outraged and, in his view, pearl-clutching response from the opposition, the Republican Party’s national leader inflames his base with culture war issues distorted and amplified through their partisan media outlet, Fox News. Ramming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the relatively wet noodle opposition on the Senate Judiciary Committee served the Divider-in-Chief’s purposes admirably, giving him and his base a win in the culture wars against liberals. Whether Mr. Kavanaugh’s service on the Court will improve the rule of law in this country, or even respect it, is besides the point as far as they are concerned.
Map of Voter ID laws in the United States, Strict vs Non-Strict (November 2016).
Red ——– Photo ID required (Strict)
Orange —- Photo ID requested (Non-strict)
Dark Blue – Non-photo ID required (Strict)
Light Blue – Non-photo ID requested (Non-strict)
Gray ——- No ID required to vote
This map may not be up to date. Check with your local registrar if you are unsure. Map by Peterljr888.
With the Republicans fired up and their unofficial paramilitary offshoots among white supremacist organizations feeling emboldened by Supreme Leader and by the police, it’s also a fair prediction that voter intimidation efforts at the polls by those groups will be higher than ever this year. Supreme Leader has signaled numerous times to the lunatic fringe of the alt-right that he has their backs, and the police have done the same by standing by passively while white supremacist groups have rioted and dealt violence to counter protesters, most prominently in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, and again recently at altercations in Portland, Oregon, and in New York City.
If voters are intimidated at polling places this year by over zealous followers of Supreme Leader, it is perhaps not advisable to rely on reporting the matter to local police employees. It is probably better to follow the guidelines of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE, or the Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline at 800-253-3931. The ACLU also advises contacting an attorney, but as that can add up to a lot of expense, it helps to realize the Election Protection Hotline is run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and can help with legal questions pro bono. Now that everyone in the country has had two years to observe where the Divider-in-Chief and his cohort want to take the country, to unsavory places where the rule of law is not respected and where only the rich benefit from the nation’s wealth, it has never been more clear how much voting can make a difference in the sort of country we claim to be than in this year’s midterm election. Vote!
Ten or more years ago there was some hope among rural internet users that a service called Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) would come along soon to save the day by bringing them high speed internet at affordable prices. Not any more. American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) has a program in trials in Georgia that is a last grasp at trying to make the technology feasible without all the stumbling blocks encountered by other companies in earlier efforts. If AT&T’s engineers are successful, BPL may at last be rolling out on a large scale in the next five years.
Because internet service is a two way street, downloading data from a provider to a user and uploading data from a user to a provider, getting reliable, high speed internet to people in the countryside has been more complicated than the similar situation of stringing electrical service to those people in the middle of the last century. Satellite internet service is an option in the countryside, but is limited by slow upload speeds since consumers for good reason are not allowed by government regulation to possess enormously powerful transmitters. Satellite service providers also throttle their customers’ usage at certain limits because there is limited bandwidth available on a satellite.
Linear perspective of 230 kV power lines during blue hour in the Castleton part of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photo by PumpkinSky.
Point to point microwave service has been an option for people living in or near small towns. It has been a rarely used option, however, because state and local laws passed at the behest of large internet providers hinder the ability of local governments to coordinate with small internet providers in setting up microwave service, which is most often undertaken as a public/private partnership. Cable television and landline telephone companies, where they have strung lines for internet service the last country mile, usually charge high rates on account of their monopoly status, with indifferent customer service also reflecting their status as an only option.
The last option left for some country people has been mobile telephone internet service. There are numerous problems associated with reliance on cellular internet service, from the possibility of poor signal to the certainty of data caps and high costs. It’s certainly not the best choice for regularly streaming video or trying to run an internet dependent business. The next generation of wireless data technology, 5G, will be available within the next few years, but it’s questionable whether it will solve the problems mentioned above. When a customer does have a solid connection to 5G service, it will be lightning fast.
The possibility of BPL had always seemed like a Godsend for rural internet users because it would have made connecting to broadband service as easy as plugging a modem into an electrical outlet, and because power lines have high capacity there would have been no need for data caps. The prices would have been relatively low by industry standards because the infrastructure was largely already in place, and because utility companies were more highly regulated than cable and telephone companies. “Would have been” is unfortunately where BPL will have to float in limbo, never to be a real option unless AT&T or some other technology company can resurrect it and make it viable.
Last weekend was the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and while the organizer of that rally was denied a permit by the mostly dysfunctional Charlottesville city government for a reprise this year in Charlottesville, he was able to promote a rally in Washington, D.C., where it fizzled. Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, police employees showed up in force, 1,000 of them, in order to make up for last year when they stood by and did as little as possible to keep the two sides from fighting. Since the police employees had even less to do this year despite their greater numbers and show of macho force in riot gear, they contented themselves with bossing around peaceful, law-abiding citizens who wished to conduct business as usual on the downtown pedestrian mall, site of some last year’s conflicts.
Police employees power tripping at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September 2009. Among the other tricked out military gear, note the desert camouflage trousers, surplus from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, being worn by servers and protectors in the green, leafy environs of home as they serve and protect the interests of the conservative 1%. Photo by katesheets.
The police appear to have no concept of reasonable proportion and common sense discretion which would permit them to gauge an appropriate middle ground in these civil conflicts. They are hammers, and to them almost everybody looks like nails. They are either busting heads, almost always of those on the left, or standing by idly and collecting overtime while the two sides in fascist and anti-fascist protests engage each other violently. It’s not hard to guess based on police conduct that most of them sympathize with protesters on the far right. No one impartial appears to be directing the police at these events. This is nothing new in American life, that the police would side with the most conservative portions of the citizenry against the left. The police slogan “To serve and protect” has always implied a narrow constituency. What’s all the more interesting then is that the supposedly liberal city government in Charlottesville, out of fear and a desperate desire to reclaim their reputation from last year’s debacle, deferred to local and state police organizations eager to impose for one weekend an authoritarian regime in an empty show of over-the-top policing.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz is the latest public figure to claim people who disagree with him and object to policies he supports are afflicting him with public shaming. In his case, the people afflicting him are his wealthy neighbors at the summer retreat of Martha’s Vineyard, who have apparently been giving him the cold shoulder. That may well be, but it’s ludicrous that in an asinine bid for sympathy, Mr. Dershowitz has whined about his ostracism and compared it to the McCarthyism tactics of the 1950s. Mr. Dershowitz’s reaction proves that you can’t shame the shameless.
While Alan Dershowitz is not employed by the current administration, he has not been shy about making the rounds of the talking heads television shows, where he has spoken as an advocate for the administration in many respects. He is, therefore, fair game, and he should stop his whining before he makes an even bigger fool of himself. The same goes for actual administration officials who have had their lives disrupted lately when they have been out in public, though not on official business. Being called names by protesters while dining in a restaurant comes with the territory for a public official, and hand-wringing about the loss of civility only serves to protect those whose policies and actions are causing harm far worse than name calling.
In this 1919 illustration by Milo Winter for an anthology of Æsop’s Fables, the wind attempts to strip a traveler of his cloak in “The North Wind and the Sun” by blowing gales at him, with the result that the traveler draws his cloak tighter. The sun wins the challenge of getting the traveler to take off his cloak by warming him in sunlight.
Respect breeds respect, and civility engenders civility. At least that is how it’s supposed to work. When the top official in a presidential administration is a low-grade schoolyard bully, however, who cynically uses hateful language to whip up the enthusiasm of his most goonish supporters, encouraging them to act out violently against people they resent, and the bureaucrats and politicians in his administration implement without complaint despicable policies, then, as they should be, all are lumped together by the rest of society as people who have no respect for others unlike them, and therefore are not deserving of respect, and as people who behave without civility toward others who disagree with them, and are therefore not entitled to civility in return.
There is no valid comparison to be made between a bakery owner who refuses to bake a cake for a homosexual couple getting married and a restaurant owner who refuses service to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The key to the difference is in Ms. Sanders’s job title, capitalized no less. Refusing service to someone because of who they are, whether homosexual or black-skinned or female, is wrong, both legally and morally. Refusing service to someone because of their actions is a different matter and is protected legally, though there is debate about the ethics of it. It’s something every business owner can and should decide on their own, without then being condemned by public officials who quite unethically use their bully pulpit to whip up public hatred for that business owner.
In this early scene in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind, directed by Stanley Kramer, and starring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March as opposing lawyers, Gene Kelly plays a reporter who mentions his job is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. The saying has been appropriated in all seriousness and without a hint of irony by journalists for over a hundred years, never mind that the originator of the saying, Finley Peter Dunne, meant it as a satirical deflation of journalists’ avowed high-minded pretensions, and that the corporate media often have served as uncritical mouthpieces of the rich and powerful, leaving it up to citizen protesters to truly “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”.
Protesters who confront officials in public places are generally anonymous, but Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, had no safe retreat when she confronted Ms. Sanders and asked her to leave, and for that she deserves respect as well as a civil acknowledgement of her principles, rather than an outpouring of hatred and death threats. Calls for civility are pointless under the circumstances, though an opponent of the current president, his policies and his behavior, would be wise not to descend to fighting with a pig in the mud, for the simple reason that the pig wins since he is happily in his element, while you end up muddy and discouraged. When possible, keep to the higher ground.