Conservatives: Timing Matters

Timing Matters.

I want my conservative friends to consider a thought experiment. Imagine if, on 9/11, as you watched that horror on your television, you'd been sitting with two liberal friends. And as the second plane struck the second tower, imagine if one of those liberal friends had said, "Well, the U.S. has done a lot of terrible things, too."

Imagine how you would have felt about that friend in that moment. I'm guessing you would have been angry. You might have even hated that person a little. Regardless of your previous relationship, you would have considered ending that friendship forever.

Now, is what that hypothetical liberal said untrue? No. Regardless of your politics, we can all agree that some Americans have done horrible things in the past. Jeffrey Dalmer was an American. But you would not have given that liberal a pass because of the veracity of the statement. You would have judged them based on their timing.

I'm the other liberal in that room, and I, my conservative friend, would have agreed with you 100%. Making that statement at that time would have been a defense of the Al-Qaeda terrorists and their actions. It would have been taking a stand against America and everything we hold dear. 

And you and I, together, would have called out that liberal right then and there and said, "Not acceptable." Under pressure, that liberal would have backtracked. But imagine how you (and I) would have felt about that person if, two days later, he/she came back around and was still making a "both sides" argument.

That's what you are doing when you make a both sides argument now. Is it true that there are people who have done terrible things in the name of the left, or of #BlackLivesMatter? Yes. There was that guy who killed five police officers in Dallas. He was not actually associated with #BLM, and #BLM condemend his actions immediately, just like Al Qaida was not representative of the vast majority of Muslims and Muslims all over the world condemened the attacks of 9/11, but he did tey and associate himself with #BLM, a group that explicitly stands for protecting human life, ending racist violence, and doing so peacefully. As a supporter of #BlackLivesMatter, I am still appalled and incensed by what that man did, but I can't deny that he tried to associate himself with #BLM. If his actions make you hate #BLM, just as the actions of the 9/11 hijackers made some people hate all Muslims, I think that's both ignorant and insulting, but I can see why someone who doesn't know much about #BLM or Islam might make that mistake.

But timing matters.

Even if you hold that view, in this particular moment, if you choose to employ it, you are just like the person making an excuse for 9/11. And the way you would feel about a person making excuses for 9/11 is exactly the way all anti-Nazi right-thinking Americans think about you. And how we think about our current President.

Now, I understand that a lot of folks feel that because they voted for Donald Trump, they are in a moment of cognitave disonance that's deeply uncomfortable. They don't want to repudiate him because that would mean admitting to error, and that's really uncomfortable. On the other hand, they don't want to side with Nazis and David Duke in their admiration of Trump. It's going to take some time, but I expect that the more folks learn about the number of avowed racists and white supremacists Trump has packed into our government, the more his non-racist followers will abandon him. I hope so, anyway. You'll wrestle with whether you can continue supporting a man who chose racist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Steven Bannon (a guy who bragged about creating the platform for the "alt-right") as one of his chief advisers, and Sebastian Gorka (literally a member of the Hungarian Nazi party) and his wife who cut the funding for anti-fascist hate groups investigations by the FBI. For a while, you'll cry, "Fake News!" because these facts are very uncomfortable. But eventually I think you'll reject a White House filled with racists, and hopefully even reflect on why Trump's bigoted campaign rhetoric appealed to you. 

But in the meantime, please understand where were coming from. Just as you and I would agree that someone shouldn't be trying to make excuses for guys who ran planes into buildings by deflecting from what is going on right before our eyes, you and I should agree that no one should be making excuses for a domestic terrorists who kill people with their car. Trying to justify it by denouncing unarmed, peaceful protesters who came out to stand up against hatred is so abhorrent that we will be very angry and may even hate you a little in that moment. We don't want to hate our fellow Americans, but just as you would while watching the planes run into the towers, we're watching Nazis march through American streets and commit murder. Save your criticisms for the left for a more appropriate time. Right now, you don't need to defend Donald Trump. You need to defend America from Nazis, and from anyone making excuses for Nazis, and that includes defending America from Donald Trump rather than repeating his double-down.

Timing matters. Heather Heyer was killed by a Nazi. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Rick Best were killed by an ultra-nationalist. Samuel Dubose was killed by a police officer wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt under his uniform. This is not the time to be making a "both sides" argument. People who do, including the President, are opposed to American values, to civil society, to human dignity. They are on the side of white supremacy and genocide.

I know some of you can't bear the thought of agreeing with a liberal. But we're in a foxhole together, and the Nazis are advancing. So quit arguing "both sides" and devote yourself to to opposing the Nazis you say you reject before you get to the "but." This is the moment to set your antipathy for liberals aside and stand strongly against Nazis in our midst. Right now.

Timing matters.

 

I Can’t Forgive Trump Supporters for Promoting the Racism on Display in Charlottesville Until they Own It and Apologize

8/12/17. 2:30am

Tonight I’m supposed to be editing one of the novels Not a Pipe Publishing will be releasing next year, but I can’t. I can’t. I can’t get my hands to stop shaking. I am too furious. Sure, there is mounting evidence that our President is beholden to a foreign dictator. And yes, his infantile antics have increased the likelihood of two avoidable wars in the last three days. I’ve been outraged since he announced his candidacy and wasn’t immediately excluded from consideration for calling all Mexican immigrants rapists. I thought I couldn’t get more angry, that my anger would wear off because I didn’t have the energy to maintain that level of constant frustration. Then I read about what happened in Charlottesville.

In Charlottesville, Virginia (tonight, in 2017!), a group of white supremacists wielding torches marched on the University of Virginia chanting Nazi slogans, calling passersby the N word, and surrounding and beating non-violent counter protesters. These violent white supremacists were met with far, far less resistance from the police than peaceful BLM protests. These white supremacists have been quite open about the fact that they are doing this because they know they have the support of Donald Trump. But sure enough, some (white) guy hopped on my FB page to say he still believes he was right to vote for Donald Trump, and it’s unfair to blame this Trump voter for the actions of “a few idiots,” specifically the people Trump actively courted, employed, and supported throughout his candidacy. This guy even trotted out the old myth of “reverse racism.” I explained that,

A) Racism is prejudice plus power. White people can face prejudice based on race, but it's not racism without the institutional power structure to support it, and calling it racism is an insult to people of color who face racial discrimination that is also supported by institutional racism. Accusing BLM of racism shows a lack of understanding of what racism really is.

And B) People are not responsible for what a small group of idiots do unless they knowingly support that small group of idiots. Everyone who voted for Trump knew or should have known. This isn't like blaming all gun owners for a madman's actions. It's blaming the person who handed the madman the gun and said, "I heard you announcing what you would do (loudly, into a microphone, over and over) and I don't care."

But I couldn’t be nice anymore, and I made it clear that I do hold all Trump voters responsible for this, and that unless they will own up to their part in it, I won’t interact with them anymore online. As I told another friend yesterday, “I've come to believe that there is a point where, when someone knowingly supports someone who will kick out my undocumented kids [by “kids” I mean my students], force my trans kids into the wrong bathrooms and keep them from joining the military, keep my Muslim kids from visiting their grandparents, accuse my Black kids of living in hell, call my Mexican-American kids rapists, populate his staff with neo-Nazis, and threaten to grab my wife by the pussy, that person is not really my friend, or at least doesn't care enough about me or the people I care about to let our friendship affect their voting. I can certainly forgive people who didn't know or who were deceived by all the false information about Clinton ...as long as they now realize they were wrong. But when they double down in the face of the evidence, they are telling me they not only didn't care enough about me or my loved ones to let it affect their voting, but that they care more about protecting their egos than they care about my loved ones now. That's just as disqualifying. I used to be far more generous when it came to having friends with different political views. I basically drew my line at Nazis/racists/sexists/homophobes, and I was even willing to overlook some small measure of homophobia when I knew people were really struggling with their religious baggage. But this is all of those rolled into one, and though I can still be polite and respectful to people who would vote for someone who would hurt me and my loved ones, I can't consider them a friend because they do not really care about me or anyone I love, and that's kind of a minimum expectation of a friend. And if someone is more afraid of admitting error than they are of needlessly ripping families apart or ruining someone's military career, they are not the kind of person I want to call a friend. My friends and I make mistakes all the time, but we own it.”

I don’t want to post some pithy, “If you voted for Trump, unfriend me,” message. I don’t want to lose friends. I like people and have an unhealthy need to be liked by others. So I’m writing this down to make this clear to people who are still Trump supporters: Wait. Don’t engage with me. If you value our friendship at all, when you are ready, come back and tell me that you don’t want my students deported, you don’t support Trump’s racist rhetoric, you don’t support sexual assault or people who brag about committing it, you don’t support discriminating against people based on their religions when it comes to their right to immigrate or travel to see loved ones, you don’t support Trump’s bigotry against trans people. Tell me you were wrong to vote for Donald Trump, that you regret your role in hurting so many people through that decision of yours, and you’re sorry. If you’re still feeling defensive and want to try to justify any of these to me, either by arguing Trump is right to support some or all of this bigotry, or by deflecting with some “yeah but what about ____” excuse, you’re not ready yet. Wait.

And when you’re ready to say you oppose all these things that Trump stood for (openly, publically, that you either knew about or should have known about), then acknowledge that you supported every single one of these things by voting for him. I understand holding your nose to vote for a candidate who disagrees with you on an issue. We’ve all done that. But when we do it, we’re responsible even for the thing we held our noses about. We make a calculation that one thing is tolerable if it gets us something else. Well, a vote for Trump means, even if you oppose his racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry, you own those and thought the wellbeing of the vast majority of your fellow Americans was secondary to whatever you wanted Trump to do for you. Own it. And when you’re ready to say you were wrong, that you’re sorry, and that you’re not going to threaten Black people or Women or LGBTQI people or Mexican Americans or Muslims OR SUPPORT THOSE WHO DO just to get what you want ever again, ...when you are ready to apologize for that publicly, then I will believe you care about me and my loved ones again. It will be hard for me, but I pledge to you that I will remember the mistakes I’ve made, and I will forgive you.

I’ll be open about one of those mistakes right now: I was painfully naive about the quantity and quality of racism in my country right up until election night. I was wrong. I knew we still had a lot of racism, that it not only hid in the hearts of many of my fellow countrymen, but that it still infects our institutions and the ways those institutions interact. But I did not realize how bad it was, nor how much it had come to the surface during the Obama years as Republicans launched every kind of invective at Obama and more and more racists saw that as permission to allow their cultural insecurity to metastasize. I admit that my naivete was a function of privilege; by virtue of my skin color (and the fact that I’m not easily identified as being of Jewish descent by anti-semites), I was afforded the luxury of not worrying enough about racism. Ditto for the degree of sexism I was blind to, and could afford to be blind to thanks to my gender. As an agnostic of Jewish descent, I was already pretty sensitive to the oppression people of non-Christian faiths (or no faith) experience in our Christian dominated culture, ranging from the relatively innocent presumptions that everyone is Christian to the overt bigotry aimed most disgustingly as Muslims in America and abroad. But my status as a cis straight guy allowed me to underestimate the amount of hatefulness directed at the LGBTQI people around me. I was wrong. I admit it. I’m working hard to learn more and taking active steps to promote equity. That’s how I will forgive myself for participating in and benefiting from my privilege. If I can forgive myself, I should extend that to others who acknowledge their part in it and work to make it right.

Now if you’re thinking, “Screw this guy. I don’t need his forgiveness. I didn’t do anything wrong,” that’s fine; you have every right to believe that. But beliefs have consequences. If you support Donald Trump, you don’t care about me or my loved ones. And why should I keep engaging with people on FB who are actively disdainful of me and the people I love? Just to get out of my bubble? Trust me, I read a lot of news from different sources, so I can read the opinions of people who are disdainful of me and who are far more articulate than you are. If it’s just about learning others’ points of view, I don’t need to learn them from people who pretend to be my friends on FB. I’ll get a far more illuminating understanding from people who are honest about their disdain for me and the people I love. And I am under no obligation to remain friends with people who only are hateful to SOME of my loved ones. I do not have to tolerate your intolerance to be a tolerant person. That infantile argument shows a shocking lack of understanding of what tolerance is. I welcome friends who disagree with me on a host of issues. You want to debate what our environmental policy should be, what our tax policy should be, how our education system should be set up, whether this god or that one exists, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Fine. I tolerate a lot of different views. But If you don’t believe I or my loved ones have basic human rights and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, why would you want to engage with me anyway? Tolerance is not the highest moral virtue, just a principle that allows a pluralistic society to function, and if you support Trump’s racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry, you have already taken a stand against a pluralistic society, so you can’t demand tolerance from others. Higher moral goods, like respecting human dignity, demand intolerance of intolerance.

Okay, I really have to get back to work now. These novels are not going to edit themselves. I’m just going to hold onto this and copy-and-paste it each time an avowed Trump supporter comes back to say they aren’t a sexist, they just support one, or they aren’t a racist, they just support one. I don’t have time to re-write this for each of them, and if they are never ready to apologize but are willing to wait silently until that never rolls around, at least they won’t get between me and my work.  

 

Already I’m feeling compelled to apologise for this. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or expel them from my life. And then I remember that white supremacists were marching down the streets of an American city chanting Nazi slogans because Donald Trump and his supporters made them think that was okay! And I remind myself that my reluctance to hurt people’s feelings pales in comparison to what the targets of these white supremacists’ intimidation are feeling tonight. I can’t let my pathetic need for social approval keep me from speaking out against the horrific racism on display in Charlottesville, and I shouldn’t tolerate others’ pathetic need to avoid admitting error preventing them from condemning it. This is wrong. So, so wrong. And I won’t put up with people who support it, directly or indirectly, anymore.

Taxation is not theft. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s stupid.

Three times in the last two weeks, people have attempted to engage me in debates starting with their belief that all taxation is theft. These weren’t reasonable debates about whether tax rates should be higher or lower, or whether tax dollars should be spent on this or that. Those debates are legitimate, and every taxpayer should be concerned about the appropriate level of taxation and where our tax dollars are going. But these people were saying that ALL taxation is theft. Twice is I was duped into participating in these debates. It’s a mistake I don’t plan on making a third time. I’m writing this here so I can link to it whenever the need arises, and I encourage you to employ it when you come across one of these people. I was under the mistaken impression that this line of thinking was limited to teenage boys wearing bowties who believe Ayn Rand’s work is quality literature, and that most of them grow out of it before falling off of balconies at college frat parties or being elected to Congress. It turns out there are more of them than I thought, just as there are more people who believe the world is flat or 7000 years old than can be rationally justified. Lots of people have beliefs that I can’t agree with, but if they bring these people comfort and don’t cause them to hurt anyone else, I try to ignore them. Because I have been wrong about many things in my life but was unaware of it at the time, it logically follows that I am currently wrong about things and don’t know it, so I try not to pass judgement too harshly. But this particular belief that all taxation is theft is harmful to our polity; it’s manipulated by politicians who trick these dunderheads into supporting their tax cutting measures. Not all tax-cutting is bad, but when politicians can’t justify one based on its merits and turn to this ridiculous justification, you can be fairly certain they are  trying to pull something shady. Consequently, this false premise has to be addressed so that policy makers will be forced to explain tax cuts in terms of their benefits to taxpayers versus their costs to services. They’ll have to treat us like grown ups. But first we have to address this childish idea so that’s not on the table anymore.

The root of this notion, according to the people I argued with, is that taxation is compelled by the power of the government, and since it’s compulsory, it’s theft or extortion. First of all, things that are compulsory are not necessarily theft. We are compelled to breathe, to drink, to eat, to evacuate our bowels by biological necessity. Is that Mother Nature extorting us? I imagine one of these bowtie wearing teens as a toddler when his mother tells him to use the potty. He stamps his foot and cries,“I don’t wanna!” then hands her Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law and declares that, as a libertarian, he refuses to be compelled to urinate anywhere ever again.

In exasperation, his mother shouts, “Todd Blake Masterson III, you will use that potty like a big boy!”

But Todd screams, “Extortion!” and takes off across manicured lawn, past the servants quarters, down to the boathouse, where he grumbles about his mother’s socialism.

Taxation, at least in a democracy, is even less like extortion than the biological need to urinate. While Mother Nature can demand certain functions without any input from the animal at which she directs her will, in a democracy, We The People are the government. Sure, the government is not as responsive as anyone would like, but at the end of the day its only ability to compel behavior comes from our collective consent. People who think that taxation is extortion prefer to blame some faceless abstraction, “the government,” but what they really resent is their fellow citizens.

And the degree of their resentment is pretty shocking. One of the people who tried to argue this point with me was eventually reduced to posting memes to try to make his point. One depicted a man who was being forced by a group of coworkers to share in the cost of a pizza they’d ordered in his absence even though he didn’t want pizza. Another was about how, since lack of consent in sexual behavior is what changes it from sex to rape, taxation without consent is the equivalent of rape. Stop and think about that dichotomy longer than he did. He is saying taxation is both unwanted pizza and rape. I told him he’s either had an unusually positive rape experience or a very traumatizing pizza.

The pizza example is not too far off, though. We are compelled by our own desire to reap the benefits of community to share in costs, some of which will be for things we wouldn’t individually choose. But when taken to the taxation-is-theft extreme, this isn’t quite like a single unwanted pizza and feeling a bit resentful that it has mushrooms, or that you aren’t particularly hungry at that moment. It’s more being offered pizza and declaring that your inalienable rights are being trampled and anyone sharing the cost of a pizza is breaking one of the Ten Commandments. The people offering the pizza would be right to tell you to get over yourself. They certainly shouldn’t elect you to Congress for such an over-the-top reaction.

I feel a little uncomfortable criticizing a school of thought for being unrealistic. By American standards, I’m an idealist, which means I’m pretty moderate by European standards: I believe the free market has its virtues. I believe that competition improves our standard of living. I also recognize that there are areas where competition is, at best, impractical and inefficient, and often quite harmful. Some things are better left to the commons, like firefighting, national defense, education, health care, roadbuilding, and electrical power. Some things are more appropriate for public/private partnerships, like scientific research and supporting the arts. We should engage in robust debates about each of these and find a healthy balance in a mixed economy. If someone could show me that having three different fire departments to choose from would cost less and reduce the chance that my house would burn down without endangering the house of someone who had less means, I would swallow my pride and admit I’d been wrong about that sphere. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that individual choice and competition make for better firefighting. Or schools. Or hospitals. And localized monopolies like my power company aren’t made more efficient by virtue of competition since I don’t have any choice in power companies. In these areas, it just makes more sense to pool resources and share costs, even though it necessarily means I will not get to choose how every dime is spent. My neighbors should have a say even if they would like more spent on the military than I do, or less spent on education than I would like. It’s not up to me alone. I live in a community, and I’m grateful for that. I have not been extorted.

Now, that doesn’t mean I enjoy paying taxes. But guess what: I don’t like paying my cell phone bill either. Or my car payment. Or my mortgage. But I like my phone, my car, and my house. I like most of the services purchased with my tax dollars, and even the ones that don’t benefit me personally allow me to live in a country that is healthier and wealthier than the alternative.

That’s where this taxation-is-theft idea is at its most infantile. It does not realistically grapple with the alternative. It’s grousing about paying taxes masquerading as intellectual political philosophy. I asked the people I argued with to describe the alternative to me. Would it be a failed state that could not compel them to pay taxes? One acknowledged that, without taxes to support a military, a single country that didn’t levy taxes would be overrun by its neighbors. Apparently this philosophy hinges on all countries adopting this anti-tax ideal simultaneously, or on creating an island of boat people without a country. So were either of the people I argued with trying to build a floating city or working to lobby all the countries of the world to adopt this anti-tax philosophy? Nope. Just whining online about socialism being too utopian, without any sense of irony. Luckily, I’m not one for eye rolling, or I would have pulled all the muscles in my ocular cavities.

Of course, these latest taxation-is-theft advocates are not the only ones I’ve come across. Without fail, they are entitled in one way or another and believe that they would personally benefit in a world without government, either because they are physically strong or are rich or have watched a lot of Walking Dead and are pretty sure they would come out on top after the zombie apocalypse. They assure me that it wouldn’t be an absolute hellscape because of “customary law.” Customary law is not only unscalable, but the kind of society it describes, where everyone must carry a firearm or, if they can afford it, buy a bulletproof car, to be downright dystopic. If the legal system is voluntary, we cannot collectively address the breaking of the customs upon which it depends. The social pressure that would need to be put in place to replace an explicit legal framework would be far more oppressive and far less flexible than one where people can vote to change laws. Think taxation takes away freedom? Try a culture of shaming to enforce social mores and see if that feels more free. The mechanism of majority rule is far from from perfect, but it's vastly superior to the mechanisms of shame or of might-makes-right. Worse, we would not enter into this atmosphere of absolute freedom on a level playing field. The people who most desperately want there not to be a government are the people who feel they would benefit most from the absence. But what about the very old, the disabled, children, the poor? Freedom to take care of yourself sounds great if you believe you're capable, but for most people that would be a vastly diminished existence. We come together and form a society where people are born into the social contract precisely because, at the point of birth, we're at our weakest and thus benefit most from that social contract. No infant, if it were capable, would say, "Leave me in the woods to fend for myself, Mommy! I want to be free of your tyranny!" The social contract ensures that the strong make sacrifices for the weak because they once were the weak and will be again.

So, if you tried to engage me in a discussion about taxation as theft and I posted a link to this, please don’t mistake that for an invitation to continue the debate. Instead, prove that you’ve read this far by doing us both a favor and choosing one of the following options:

Option A: Acknowledge that you have some power in our democracy and engage politically to have your tax dollars spent on things that you think are priorities for you and would also benefit your fellow citizens. Vote. Lobby your representatives. Try to persuade your fellow citizens. It will not always work out the way you want it to, but you’ll find that civic life is a lot better if you are an active participant.

Option B: Have the courage of your convictions, renounce your citizenship so this country will stop stealing from/extorting/raping/forcing unwanted pizza on you, and move to a country where you won’t have to pay taxes. Then, once you have actually been stolen from because there were not taxpayer funded police to protect you (or, more likely, they supported themselves by extorting you), or you were ripped off by a company that couldn’t be compelled to honor a contract by a functioning court system, or worse (probably not unwanted pizza), you may realize that there are a lot of things that are worse than paying taxes. But if you have a fine experience in that failed state and still believe that taxation is theft, wait a little bit. Like, decades. When you are in your nineties and living in your floating city without a government where people take care of you because of customary law, fire up that satellite internet connection and tell me about your great life without taxes, and how it works for everyone in your community and not just the selfish, entitled people who would have been okay regardless but didn’t want to share with those they found unworthy. I’ll probably have Alzheimer’s by then, but I’ll try to remember that you were way out ahead on the whole we-can-get-by-without-taxes idea and give you credit for being right. If you don’t mind, I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

Option C: Grow up.

Thanks for the Great Launch for The Digital Storm

Thanks to all the folks who came out for the launch party for the The Digital Storm. Writing is a solitary activity, so it means a lot when I get to talk with people who are excited about my writing (or who are willing to humor me). That's not throwing shade at anyone who couldn't make it; life happens. Special thanks to Yeasty Beasty for hosting, and for Isaac Mitchell and Kale Loveless, two of the three artists who produced the interior artwork and cover art that make the book so beautiful. (I wish Alfred Dudley III, the other artist, had also been able to come, but he lives in New York now, and that would have been a heckuva' commute.) Paige, as usual, "forgot" to be in front of the camera at all (if any of you got pictures of her, send them my way!), but she deserves the biggest thank you of all, not just for being my go-to photographer, but also for being my muse and support system rolled in one. 

(Click the pics to see the slideshow)

The Golem who Punches Nazis for Us

You're probably a much better person than I am. When the video of Richard Spencer, the white supremacist, being punched was released, you probably knew that was wrong and unacceptable. I was genuinely torn about it. It is wrong. But it looked soooooo right. I decided to write a story to wrestle with my conflicted feelings on the matter, and if folks share those conflicted feelings and would like more of the story of Josef the Golem, let me know below and I'll tell you the rest of his story. 

The Golem who Punches Nazis for Us

 

Sometimes you want to punch someone in the face.

Then, hopefully, you remember that you are human. Human beings should not go around punching one another in the face. Getting punched hurts. Hurting people does not solve problems. In fact, most of the people you want to hurt are behaving terribly precisely because they are hurting, and compounding their pain may channel their general horribleness in some other direction, but it won’t really solve the underlying problem.

You remember this because you are human. So you don’t punch them. Even though it might make you feel better.

Josef had complicated feelings about punching people, too. But they were different feelings.

Because Josef wasn’t human.

*      *      *

Frank was 94 years old, and he had been married to Ellen for most of that time. Couples find a rhythm, and often there are little syncopated lies that form the downbeats. One of their little twin lies went like this: Frank pretended he never, ever drank alcohol of any kind. This, he claimed, was because of the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father in Switzerland as a child, an abuse that had motivated him to leave the small, alpine town of his childhood and move across the world to settle in Long Island and make a nice life for himself and his wife working as an auto mechanic until his retirement. Ellen had her own little lie. She pretended she didn’t know Frank drank beer each night after she went to sleep. It was just one beer. What could a little deception possibly matter at their ages?

Ellen protected Frank from a direct confrontation with this lie each evening. This was how they’d learned to live. “Okay, Dear,” she said on that particular night, “I’m feeling a bit tired. I’m going to go to sleep.”

Frank, already dozing on the couch, was awakened just enough to respond. “Can I help you out of your chair?”

“No, no. I’m fine.” And Ellen did pull herself up, though it took some doing. She was a spry 92 year old, so she didn’t want to burden Frank, but her hip really was giving her an awful pain that evening. She knew he had his date with the secret case of beer their son brought over and hid behind some canned soup in the garage, and she didn’t want to get in the way of that with her aches and pains. She loved Frank dearly, and this was her way of showing it.

“I’ll just finish my program and come to bed, too,” Frank said. He took comfort in the fact that this was mostly true. He would open the can of beer in the garage, but he would put it in a cozy just in case Ellen woke up for some reason, and then he would drink it in the livingroom while watching Sportscenter on ESPN, a show that doesn’t feel like it ever begins or ends. When he’d finished his beer, he’d remove the can from the cozy and hide it in a bag behind the old freezer full of Ellen’s strawberry jam. No one one ever touched Ellen’s jam, but it would take on magical significance when they passed away and be doled out to the children and grandchildren to be eaten on vanilla ice cream as a way of remembering.

Frank tried to convince himself that this little bit of cloak and dagger was keeping him young. He left the TV on CNN which they watched together. He’d switch the channel once he had his beer in hand. He pulled himself up from his spot on the couch with more vigour than he’d shown all day, excited to participate in this bit of mischief. He did not like thinking about the reason he was compelled to keep the ritual, the vigil he was holding, the thing alcohol used to make him forget, back before he’d cleaned himself up and met Ellen in 1963. He wanted to forget the years between the war and going cold turkey, when he’d spent his days working his way up at over at Gary’s Automotive, and his nights drinking himself into unconsciousness while sneaking peeks out the window of his little apartment, his Ruger in his sweaty hand. Those had been bad years, the worst years, but they were long behind him now. Now the beer was just a holdover, a ceremony divorced from significance, a tradition. That’s what he told himself.

Frank quietly opened the door to the garage, stepped down to the cement slab as surreptitiously as a 94 year old can, and gently closed the door behind him. Then he shuffled across the middle of the garage, past his extensive tool collection to the shelving covered in canned food. He reached behind one of the rows of cans of tomato soup stacked two high and found one of the cans of beer. He found he was salivating slightly and licked his lips to make sure he wasn’t drooling. That was becoming more and more of a concern as he got older.

When Frank turned around and saw the thing standing in the garage behind him, he dropped the beer and froze. The can split, foam spraying in a thin geyser and propelling the can along the floor toward the washing machine, but Frank didn’t look away from the hulking shape even when beer splattered on his face and made a neat line down one side of his shirt.

Frank and the thing stood there opposite one another, positioned as though they were looking at one another. But they weren’t, technically. Frank wasn’t really looking at the creature in front of him because he was seeing a moment from seventy two years earlier.

And the creature wasn’t really looking at Frank because the creature had no eyes.

“I thought you would come earlier,” Frank said.

The creature did not reply.

“I suppose it was a long journey.” Though Frank’s accent was close enough that people outside of New York might mistake him for a Long Island native, he hit the “o” in “suppose” and the “s” in “was” just a bit harder than any of his immediate neighbors. His cover story had been close enough. Even the locals believed he was Swiss. Even Ellen did.

“Is there any way I can talk you out of this?” Frank asked.

The creature had no mouth or eyes or external ears, but it must have heard and understood him. It slowly shook its head.

Frank pressed forward anyway. He couldn’t help it. “It was a long, long time ago. When I chased that man into that attic, I was only 22 years old. Almost a child. The city was in chaos. Our lieutenant was obviously frightened. There were reports that the Soviets would arrive at any second. You can’t imagine how frightened we were…”

The golem tilted its head slightly.

“No, no, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m sure you can understand that fear. You’ve seen it.” Frank caught himself, raising his hands, palms out, as though he felt he needed to interrupt the mouth-less monster. “Worse. You’ve seen worse. But I’m just saying we were very afraid, too. So when we were told to … but I shouldn’t tell you that I was just following orders, should I?”

The golem puffed up at the phrase “just following orders” as though it had inhaled, though that was impossible, and it leaned forward, even more menacing.

“No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was there at all. In that cursed city. In that synagogue. In that attic. I know I should have died right there. And I knew that you would come for me. I couldn’t understand what the old man said in his language. Was that Yiddish?”

The golem shook his head.

“Hebrew?”

The golem nodded.

Frank looked down at the ground, but he wasn’t contrite exactly. Instead, he was temporarily displaced. He was finding his way back into the gloom of that attic atop the Old New Synagogue in Prague, 72 years earlier. “Yes, I couldn’t understand it, and I thought he was looking at me and pointing at me because … you know, because I was coming through the attic to finish the job. But then you stood up and I knew he’d been talking about me.” Suddenly his head snapped up, and he was back in his own garage, looking into the featureless face of the thing before him. “And I ran from you even though I knew it didn’t matter. Isn’t that strange, how the mind works with the body most of the time, but sometimes they stop communicating? I knew I would be caught. I knew I would be killed. But I ran anyway. You probably don’t know this, but I didn’t return to my company and retreat with them even though they left the city the very next day. I left right away. Did you know that?”

The golem nodded again.

“I ran and ran. By horse and buggy in France once, but I was still running. By boat with refugees to New Foundland. Then a job on a fishing boat, but still running. Then the drinking, but that was still running, really. Then the job here. And this life. This life.” He was catching up to the present, and it reminded him of his speech. “I have done many good things with my life. I was on the local school board. I was in Rotary and raised money to send school children around the world. I got involved in my church, even though I wasn’t a Catholic as a child. We were Lutherans, but I pretended when I got here. I even confessed that to the priest once and I think he was amused that I felt so guilty about that particular lie. I did not tell him about Prague, though. Or the other places before that. I certainly never told anyone about you. But you’ve motivated me to do a lot of good things with this new life. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

To Frank’s surprise, the golem nodded.

“It does? So you’ll forgive me?”

The golem shook his head.

Frank’s shoulders slumped. “It means something. But not enough. I agree. But if it means anything, will you please do one thing for me? One favor?”

The golem did not move at all.

“Will you let Ellen live? She doesn’t know anything about my time in the Wehrmacht. She doesn’t know that my real name was Franz. She only knows the man I’ve tried to become, not the man I was. If I do not cry out, she’ll sleep right through it. Will you leave her alone?”

The golem said nothing.

In the silence that followed, Frank transformed. He stood a little straighter. His face became flushed. He was Franz. He began to mutter curses at the golem in German. He cursed the rabbi he’d killed. He cursed all the Jews for ruining his life, for ruining Germany. His voice grew louder. He cursed the Soviets, with their inferior Cossack blood, for betraying the Reich, and the British, with their pure blood, for betraying their Germanic ancestry, and the Americans, with their inferior blood mixed with the blood of Africans, for siding with the British. And when he’d really worked himself into a lather, he pointed his right arm out and upwards, so that his fingertip almost touched the golem’s left shoulder, and he said, “Heil Hitler!”

The golem punched him.

Because of the creature’s height, Franz’ neck snapped almost as soon as the bones of his skull were smashed and shoved down his own throat. His body didn’t even know quite which injury to die from first, so everything went limp at once and he slumped to the floor.

There was very little blood. Some of the clay from the monster’s hand remained in the cavity that had been Franz’ face, absorbing it and forming a giant clot. But Franz’ heart had stopped so fast, the blood wasn’t pumped through the new opening. The little blood that stuck to the golem’s hand was absorbed into the clay. The body needed moisture. It did not care about the purity of the blood, the lineage, the human inventions of race and tribes. It preserved the body because the body was necessary to the task. Josef looked down at the broken old man and felt for some movement of its spirit. Perhaps it would hear the voice of God, it thought, or maybe a whisper from its first master, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, telling it what to do now that this work was finished. It felt nothing and knew with complete confidence that the silence was the answer. The task was not finished.

Josef stepped over the crumpled body and made its way toward the house. It did not need to open the door. This light from the television told it that there was more than enough space to fit underneath. It slowly turned into a mass shaped like an amoeba, but surrounded by a fuzzy cloud of loose dust. As it extended a pseudopod under the door, some of the dust fell on the floor of the garage, on the back of the door, into the weave of the carpet on the other side. No one investigating Frank’s murder would ever be able to explain this dust in any satisfactory way.

Inside the house, Josef rose up until it stood in its humanoid shape. It felt for Ellen in much the same way a human hears, only its whole body was a single tympanic membrane, feeling the vibrations in the world around it, and also a single nerve sensitive to a spiritual dimension rather than a physical one. So Josef felt Ellen’s presence as a spirit in that plane and also heard her breathing in the darkness, slow and regular. She had slept through her husband’s death the sound of his last angry tirade masked by the noise coming from the television.

Josef listened to that sound now. He could not see the images on the screen; light bouncing off of molecules in the air did not disturb his universe enough to make him aware of the changes. But the television’s small speakers pushed and pulled the world around him in a way he had come to understand, and the language, though not his first or second or third or fourth, was not unknown to him.

A man’s rich baritone shifted from one story to another. “The racism and anti-Semitism of the alt-right movement were on display Saturday in Washington when its members gathered to celebrate Donald Trump's victory.

“The president of the alt-right National Policy Institute Richard Spencer's remarks were posted Sunday on YouTube by ‘Red Ice Radio,’ which describes itself as ‘covering politics and social issues from a pro-European perspective.’ The Atlantic magazine, which is recording footage of Spencer for a documentary they're working on, also published a video of the same event showing audience members apparently giving the Nazi salute.”

Now Josef heard a different voice, magnified, along with a chorus of male voices cheering. "Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!" the voice shouted.

The voice of the announcer came back. “His remarks were filled with racist imagery -- including references to ‘the black political machines’ and Latino housekeepers -- as he bashed Hillary Clinton's minority supporters.

Josef listened closely as the shouting voice returned. "Her coalition was made up of mutually hostile tribes only united out of a hatred of ‘whitey' -- that is to say, out of a hatred of us." More cheers of approval. Then Spencer’s voice again. "There are no two parts of this coalition who could ever be in the same room together for any length of time. America was, until this last generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation and our inheritance, and it belongs to us," Spencer said.

The announcer came back and spoke again, “The event was held at the Ronald Reagan Building on Saturday-” ...but Josef had heard enough. It lashed out at the television with the same quick ferocity it had displayed in the garage. The television sparked as it snapped in half, the pieces sliding down behind the old, wooden entertainment center.

“Frank?” Ellen called from her bed. “What was that? Are you okay?”

Josef had not made any promise regarding Ellen’s safety, but that was only because it didn’t owe Franz any mercy. It had no interest in harming Ellen more than it already had by killing Franz and destroying her television, two actions it found roughly morally equal. It took two long steps back towards the garage, slipped into its amoeba shape, slid underneath the door, then slid across the garage and around that door, out into the night. In the driveway, it could hear Ellen continuing to call for her husband by the wrong name, then her shrieking that name when she found his body. Josef recognized this expression of pain all too well, but in this case it was hardened against sympathy. It was already thinking about the next part of his task.

It did not know where he would find this Richard Spencer or the other people he’d heard applauding. It was not sure where it would find this National Policy Institute. But it was sure it would find it eventually. As Franz had suspected and then had known, if only briefly, Josef could be patient, and it was very good at finding Nazis.

It would be a long walk, but not its longest.

 

Want to read more of Josef's story? Enter your email below and, if enough folks want more, I'll send you an update when the next chapter is available!

My Pledge To Republicans and Democrats

I want to make a public pledge and encourage others to do the same:

If a Democrat is ever in the White House and there is reasonable suspicion that she/he is colluding with a foreign government who has committed acts of theft, espionage, or cyber warfare on the United States in order to influence our elections, or

...if a Democrat is in the White House and owns businesses that are regularly receiving payments from foreign governments in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against taking foreign bribes,

...and then my elected representatives in the House and Senate even appear to be dragging their feet, let alone blocking a full, independent investigation into the matter,

...I pledge to you that I will never vote for those representatives again, regardless of their party affiliation.

Ever.

I might have a hard time voting for someone who didn't share my values from across the aisle, but I would never be able to trust someone from my own party who placed party loyalty above protecting our democracy.

What we are witnessing is not normal. We cannot let it become normal, or politicians from both parties may start looking for foreign assistance in manipulating our elections or soliciting bribes once they reach high office. The response to our current situation should not be partisan. I promise I would place the security of fair and democratic elections, and the reputation of the Presidency as an office free of suspicion of bribery, above party affiliation. Furthermore, I challenge all Republican voters to take the same pledge in order to put pressure on their elected representatives. Our democracy is more important than either political party.

If love of country trumps party loyalty for you, take this pledge and share it widely to let our elected representatives know these situations require independent investigations immediately.

To make this same pledge, share this or copy-and-paste to social media to maximize the reach.

-Benjamin Gorman

Just an American voter

White People Can't Say "Trust Us" to People of Color

White people can't say, "Trust us," to People of Color.

I mean, sure we have a right to say whatever we want, but this is one of those statements that, while permitted, isn't meaningful or legitimate or helpful. In fact, it's detrimental because it shows such ignorance of history that it magnifies the lack of trust.  

I was just talking with a friend yesterday about how people where I work are very sensitive about being told, "Trust us," by people who burned them in the past, and we agreed that trust cannot be demanded; it must be earned over time. And that was just about small-scale workplace politics, not matters of life and death. Imagine if the betrayals had gone on for 400 years! We, as white people, have a long, long way to go to earn the trust of PoC, and we don't get to decide when we've earned it. That's not up to us. We need to be allies until we're told we're trusted, and we have no place to say, "It wasn't me personally so that's unfair." That kind of defensiveness just shows how little of the history of this country most white people know. I know I still have a lot to learn. Here's a powerful example I was unaware of (Thanks to Son of Baldwin*):

They were airing this documentary about the 1989 murder of a pregnant white woman in Boston named Carol Stuart. Her husband Charles claimed that they were robbed in their car by a scary black man, and that scary black man shot Carol in the head, and shot Charles in the back.

Carol died. The couple's baby, named Christopher, was born brain dead and died after Charles requested he be taken off life support.

All of Boston was in mourning because this couple was presented as though they were Boston's own version of Camelot/Prince Charles/Princess Diana.

In response to the absolutely heinous crime, the Boston Police Department went on an unchecked rampage in black communities all over Boston. They stopped and frisked over 150 black people a day for months. They broke into black people's homes. They took black people down to the station. The beat up and harassed and stalked and frightened and brutalized every black person they could find, all while the world watched and co-signed. They violated every right black people had during the span of their investigation into this crime. The media was complicit by amping up the anti-black sentiment that was already at a fever pitch.

Boston citizen were no better. They called into police stations by the hundreds with tips about how they saw the black man who did it, how they were witnesses to the murder, how they think it was the black person in their schools, jobs, neighborhoods who did it. Police acted on a bunch of these leads, disrupting and disrespecting the lives of countless black people.

Without a shred of physical evidence, but having a teen brag that he heard his uncle say he killed Carol, and Charles IDing him as the shooter, the police took a black man, Willie Bennett, in and charged him with the murder and the shooting. Politicians and citizens alike wanted to bring back the death penalty in order to kill the suspect. And he would have likely been convicted too.

But then someone had a conscience.

Charles' younger brother Matthew confessed to police that Charles was lying. That Charles had planned the entire thing and murdered his Carol for insurance money. As it turns it, Charles didn't want to be with Carol anymore, didn't want a child with her, wanted to be with someone else, decided to kill Carol and their baby instead of asking for a divorce, and knew that all he had to say was that a black man did it and no one would question him or his motives and that white supremacy would ensure that Boston would turn itself upside down to find a black person to blame no matter how innocent they were.

Once Charles knew the jig was up, he committed suicide to avoid facing the consequences of his actions.

Boston has never apologized to the thousands of black people it violated on the word of a lying murderer. The city and all of its white supremacists remain arrogantly unrepentant.

Matthew was ostracized by his family and white communities for being honest and betraying white supremacy. He sunk into a deep depression, became despondent and addicted to drugs, and, a few years ago, died from a drug overdose.

Though I am very familiar with the many cases in which white people blame black people for crimes that the white people committed themselves, I had never heard of this case. And I was astounded by the degree to which the racism/white supremacy involved played out for a national audience. It was so open and blatant and proud.

As Willie Bennett said:

"The police falsely pinned a crime on me once and they can do it again…I have no faith in the law enforcement and I don’t like cops. Nothing has changed. You still have those same racist cops on the police force."

I don't care what color or gender or sexuality they are, I do not trust police.

This is why black people have a right to be suspect of any police narrative about black suspects.

Here is a brief history and shortlist of white people falsely accusing black people of crimes.


*@SonofBaldwin is a must-follow on twitter and Facebook.

I Shouldn't Have to Say This: Supporters of Fascism Are Not Good People

Someone in my community who I used to respect is still loudly voicing her support for Donald Trump. She earned that respect through her volunteerism, her commitment to our community, and her concern for our community's children. But consider: If someone's legacy is that she started great programs for kids, but she also supports a regime that destroys the schools where she's volunteered, deports the parents of some of the children she's served, annuls the marriages of the parents of others, and ultimately gets a few of those students killed either in wars or in gulags at home, will all her good work mean much? We are fast approaching the point where the compliments read a lot like, "She always made such a nice lasagna for the church potluck. Too bad she supported Mussolini."  I'm sure some people will think any reference to fascism is hyperbolic. After all, we don't have secret police or executed journalists or people on cattle cars. But we're ten days in, and we do have ICE holding legal residents without trial or access to lawyers, journalists being hand picked for press conferences, an order to take healthcare away from tens of millions of people, and legislation moving through the pipeline to turn our national parks over to corporations and to enshrine the right to discriminate against the LGBTQ into law. It's been 10 days. How many days will it take until "hyperbole" becomes "unavoidable," becomes "entrenched," becomes "history"?

There is a poster for sale in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC that identifies the following "Early Warning Signs of Fascism":

*Powerful and continuing nationalism
*Disdain for human rights
*Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
*Supremacy of the military
*Rampant sexism
*Controlled mass media
*Obsession with national security
*Religion and government intertwined
*Corporate power protected
*Labor power suppressed
*Disdain for intellectuals & the arts
*Obsession with crime & punishment
*Rampant cronyism & corruption
*Fraudulent elections

Please note: This is not for sale in the "What Makes America Great Museum" or the "American Exceptionalism Museum" or even the "Make America Great Again Museum" where you have to wear those special rose tinted glasses they give you and squint your eyes just right to see the exhibits. No, this poster is for sale in the Holocaust Museum.

If you are still supporting Trump after the last two weeks, either you haven't been paying attention or you are taking the side of fascism. I'm sure you were once a kind and caring person who has simply forgotten how to care about the people Trump or right-wing media tell you not to care about. You can choose to remember, to care enough to investigate for yourself, to push through the misinformation meant to deceive and the disinformation meant to confuse and sow doubt. You can still choose that. But right now, if you are supporting Trump, whether through apathy or ignorance or self-protection or spite toward liberals, you are not a kind or loving or good person. Not right now, anyway. I know that might be hard to hear, and I'm sure you'll hate me a bit for writing it. And many if my liberal friends who want us all to hold hands and get along won't like me writing it, either. But read that list again. This is fascism we're dealing with. Not fake news. Not alternative facts. Not normal partisanship or ideological differences that people can discuss politely over a beer. Fascism.

This is the moment when we decide how the museums of the future will remember us.

On White Bitterness and Black Despair

After a brief, desperate attempt to try to explain white privilege to one of my white, male, cis, straight students, then watching President Obama's wonderful, inspiring farewell address and reading some vitriolic comments by his detractors, then reflecting on August Wilson's play Fences, and then reading about an angry white man who reveled in the repeal of Obamacare because he didn't realize his ACA provided health insurance is Obamacare, I've had a bit of a revelation: Most white people will never be able to fully empathize with the feeling Wilson is trying to express through Troy, the anti-hero of Fences, a character emotionally hobbled by the persistent recognition that he is a Black man who was exceptional and simply had the misfortune to be born before our advancements in civil rights would have provided him the opportunities to capitalize on his dreams. But most people of color will not be able to fully empathize with the inverse, the source of the bitterness of so many Trump supporters who are, at their core, normal, unexceptional white folks who do not want to admit that, had they been born ealier, their whiteness would have conferred upon them some measure of status which they could have parleyed into greater economic opportunity and potentially exceptional success. The exceptional person of color must know he's been born too early. The mediocre white man must constantly deny the fact that he's been born too late.