Dissent. Diversity. Unity.

Author

Javier Anderson

Javier Anderson has 11 articles published.

The Environmentalists’ Challenge: A Look Back on America’s Stuttering Environmental Policy

in Environment by
President Carter in front of the White House solar panels in 1979 (left) and taking stock of the near-disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in the same year (right). The TMI incident, as it came to be known, would signal the end of nuclear energy as a viable alternative energy in the United States for over two generations.

Wednesday, June 20, 1979, Washington, DC

President Carter was flashing his signature toothy grin as the Washington press corps followed him to a unique early-afternoon press availability on the roof of the White House. For today, the president was announcing the completion of a massive project to install the most modern solar cells of the day on the roof of the executive mansion.

It was sunny and bright that early summer day as the president reviewed the massive and impressive solar panels. And with a little folksy charm (“This afternoon I’ve arranged for this ceremony to be illuminated by solar power!”) the president announced his government’s new and bold commitment to the development of renewable sources of energy.

America was not built on timidity or panic or uncertainty about the future or a lack of confidence in our own technology or our own will or ability. America was built with vision, with faith, and also with hard work. It’s time for us to recognize once again, with the surest degree of confidence, the great natural resources which God has given us and to seize the opportunities that we have to build a more prosperous, self-reliant, enjoyable, confident future in which all Americans can share.

Today, in directly harnessing the power of the sun, we’re taking the energy that God gave us, the most renewable energy that we will ever see, and using it to replace our dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

With these remarks President Carter broke with longstanding American policy of supporting fossil fuel development both on the continental United States and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (colloquially known as ANWR). In his remarks the president also outlined the feasibility of using existing solar technology (which has greatly improved over the years) and regaled his audience of a future day unencumbered by the high price of gasoline, long lines at the pump, or high energy bills.

This solar strategy will not be easy to accomplish. It will be a tremendous, exciting challenge to the American people, a challenge as important as exploring our first frontiers or building the greatest industrial society on Earth. By the end of this century I want our nation to derive 20 percent of all the energy we use from the sun—direct solar energy in radiation and also renewable forms of energy derived more indirectly from the sun. This is a bold proposal, and it’s an ambitious goal. But it is attainable if we have the will to achieve it.

Government action alone cannot make this goal come true. It will require a concerted effort of all of us—government at all levels, industry, labor, business, inventors, entrepreneurs, architects, builders, homeowners, concerned citizens, all working together.

President Carter inspecting the newly installed solar panels on the rooftop of the White House at their unveiling in June of 1979. They were ignominiously removed soon after by the Reagan administration, only to be reinstalled without much fanfare by President Obama in 2011. The White House now has a zero carbon footprint.

Sadly, this dream was not to be. Soon after his inauguration in 1981 the Reagan administration quickly and with fanfare bordering on giddiness removed the solar panels from the White House, never to return. Daily Oil Importation, against President Carter’s wishes and objections, would rise to a record 12.5 million barrels a day in 2005 (oil imports today stand at roughly 7 million barrels a day), and the price of gas would spiral upward to an obscene $4 a gallon during the harrowing summer of 2008. Today solar energy accounts for roughly 1 to 8 percent of current US electric capacity.

It would be President George W. Bush, during an annual message to Congress in 2006, who would state the obvious that the United States had “become addicted to oil.” To some it was a surprise that a president with a background such as Mr. Bush (former CEO and contractor for several west Texas oil drilling companies) would utter such startling words, but to those who had seen the nascent environmental movement from the beginning, the words must have rung with quite a sting of irony.

Wednesday, April 22, 1970, Cleveland, Ohio

The sun would not make its regular, sunny appearance as it would at the White House some nine years later in the large manufacturing hub of northeast Ohio, for already the sun was obscured by a ring of clouds emanating from Cleveland’s many smoke stack factories lining the Cuyahoga River. Just ten months earlier the mighty Cuyahoga had erupted in mammoth flames, choking off the city for several days and killing what remained of the river’s wildlife that had survived the incredible pollution of the river by toxic—and highly flammable—chemical sludge, forever giving the city by the lake a bad reputation it has yet to live down.

Scenes from the great battle to defeat the infamous Cuyahoga River Fire of ’69 (courtesy of Life magazine). It would leave a bad impression on the city of Cleveland that would be hard to live down. The river would subsequently become one the nation’s largest Superfund River sites, taking millions of dollars to restore it to its former glory.

Yet for all this devastation, a large group of dedicated citizens, students, and children began assembling in areas all over the city—and in cities all over the United States—to begin in community clean-ups and rehabilitation projects. For this was the first Earth Day in the United States.

The burgeoning environmental movement in the United States was a surprising new phenomenon. America already had a rather robust and influential conservation movement, leading to the preservation of over 30 million acres of virgin wildlife and territory from development and speculation, thanks in no small part to the efforts of activists such as John Muir (1838–1914) and President Theodore Roosevelt (1857–1919). This, however, was different.

Environmentalists now no longer saw conservation (or preservation) but rather environmental restoration and stewardship as the prime task and responsibility of civic leaders and citizens alike to act upon. Natural man-made disasters such as the Cuyahoga River Fire (1969), Love Canal (1980), the Centralia Mine Fire (1962–today), and the Three Mile Island mishap (1979). All presented clear and ominous reminders of how much an imposing and sometime awkward force humankind had become on the landscape, and how crucial it was for us as a species to control our influence on the world.

The New York Times made the nationwide observance of the first Earth Day a front-page story. Millions participated in the event, signaling the birth of the new environmentalist movement.

Within months President Richard Nixon would sign into existence the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), a cabinet-level position with the mandate to clean up toxic sites (known as superfunds) and to hold major polluters accountable. The agency was so successful in its mission (or so equally dire was the need) that within a decade it would quadruple its workforce and operating budget, cleaning polluted sites in every region of every state of the nation. Americans approved of the agency to such an extent that even President Reagan could do nothing but freeze the agency’s budget and workforce throughout the entirety of the 1980s.

A rather happy President Nixon, seen here after signing the formation of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in early 1970, an early precursor to the EPA. Nixon would be known as one of the most environmentally friendly presidents of the twentieth century, behind fellow Republican Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (center) pictured here with fellow naturalist John Muir (right) in 1904.

Meanwhile the environmental movement began burgeoning into newer fields, such as the growing antinuclear and moratorium movements, animal cruelty groups and endangered species protection, recycling and energy conservation, and urban renewal and mass-transit investments. Throughout the world the calls for humans to be more mindful of our outsized influence on the world’s ever-weakening climate became ever louder and clearer.

Last month President Trump walked back nearly a half-century of growing scientific and public consensus about the need to rein in our out-of-control energy consumption by walking away from the most sweeping world climate compact that has been attempted up to this time.

Beyond the callous and cruel imagery of the world’s most powerful nation and greatest polluter forsaking its role from a climate agreement that it itself had written, something has been missing from the coverage of the White House’s important decision. In typical fashion the press has casually overlooked the millions of people who collectively make up the environmental movement and their struggle to preserve our collective home from the onslaught of polluters, climate deniers, and fossil fuel industries such as the Koch Industries, Shell Oil, and Exxon Mobile, the last two of which ironically lobbied the president hard to stay in the Accord after all!

Environmental extremists . . . wouldn’t let you build a house unless it looked like a bird’s nest.

—Conservative icon Ronald W. Reagan

Caption: The last known photograph taken by a human being of Planet Earth, late in 1972 from the successful Apollo 17 lunar mission. All told, only twenty-four people have ever witnessed this image for what it is, our collective home as a small, delicate oasis of life in “the big vastness of space.”

I consider the environment my most prized and irrepressible voting issue above all others. I may have given more money to protect Planned Parenthood and knocked on more doors for the issue of universal healthcare than for the Sierra Club, but to me there is nothing more urgent and pressing for all humans than to safeguard this precious home we ALL call Earth.

Whenever I have seen images from satellites in space of our fragile planet, I am always struck by its peaceful and serene appearance, a shimmering ball of blue, brown, green, and white hanging in the cold and lifeless backdrop of the infinite frontier. I sometimes need to remind myself that somewhere on this speck of rock floating out there is everything I know, love, and cherish. I’m sure that seeing this view in person is quite a humbling and awe-inspiring experience.

It truly makes me wonder how we would all treat our priceless planet if people could see for themselves this invaluable image with our own eyes rather than through an ordinary photograph. It’s sometimes hard to believe that we all live on it, but we really do. There is nowhere else for us to go to just yet, and it’s incumbent upon all of us to do our part, as President Carter said, in ensuring a safe, hospitable, secure, and peaceful place to live for our ancestors and for all living beings. We will have setbacks, as last month’s decision certainly was, but if images like the one below continue to hold our imagination, then I’m certain humanity will more than rise to meet the challenge. I am ready! Are you?

 

Guarding the Fox House: The Life and Legacy of Roger Ailes

in Media and Society by

Roger Eugene Ailes died comfortably in his own home in Palm Beach, Florida, this Thursday, May 18, 2017. The cause of death was reportedly the result of a subdural hematoma, aggravated by his lifelong illness with hemophilia. He is survived by his wife of nineteen years, Elizabeth, and their only child. It was three days after his seventy-seventh birthday.

Upon hearing the news of his death I felt a sense of morbid satisfaction that the man had met his end. It was a feeling that I had felt before and had felt very guilty about soon after. He was a person, after all, with a family, a life, and, to my clear chagrin, a legacy we should not easily forget. In many ways the forces that shape our politics today were unleashed through the medium that Roger Ailes helped create.

It was these elements, however, those unchecked forces he helped bring about, that proved the necessary ingredients for a reality TV president, a distorted media landscape, and this is what ultimately brought Ailes and several others down. Much like the fox guarding the hen house, Ailes thought he and others could control these forces they had brought to bear. Instead, it served as a cautionary tale of the unintended consequences we are still grappling with to this day. Here is that tale.

Roger Ailes grew up in small town Warren, Ohio. He came from a broken home and graduated from the Ohio State with a degree in communications in 1962. After serving a while as a TV station manager in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Ailes was picked by Richard Nixon to serve as the TV executive producer for Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. It was an unusual position, as TV was still a relatively new medium in the scope of American politics. But Nixon had already learned the hard lessons from his televised debates in 1960 with John F. Kennedy too well and knew he was not a darling of the screen.

With the help of Ailes, Nixon pioneered the use of the paid televised political commercials in the form of tightly choreographed town halls called “The Nixon Answer.” Once seen as an awkward and uncomfortable man, Nixon came across as accessible, friendly, and with his hair down. In this way Nixon was able to remake his image – quite literally – on the television and establish a persona that would meet a hard death through a little “third-rate” burglary. For Ailes, his pioneering work in political television had ushered in a new era in political consulting and would portend a bright new career for him.

Election night 1972 would be a red-letter date for the history of the conservative movement, as Nixon cruised to re-election with the largest electoral majority in American history. For Ailes, his use of effective and devastating TV ads was crucial. It also meant a start for two young ruthless political operatives by the names of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Together this informal troika of conservative activists and political consultants would speedily remold the Republican Party after the debacle of Nixon/Watergate into the electoral juggernaut of Reagan/Bush.

Gone were the days of strong African American and minority support for the party of Lincoln. The politics of grievance for the white working class, the Southern Strategy, and racialized identity politics was in. Ailes would see to it that more than just our political landscape would change; the very way the media would cover a political campaign fall prey to his grand designs.

“If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?”

In just one comment, dubbed the “Orchestra Pit Theory,” Ailes correctly predicted what the future of modern media coverage in America would look like. No longer would it be a serious examination of the news and issues of the day but rather another form of entertainment. Gone was the substance of a political campaign and debate; now politics would turn into the empty character bouts we see today as well as to the dark side of thirty-second television ads.

No ad so epitomizes the gruesome blood sport that politics became through Ailes than the infamous “Willie Horton ad” of 1988. Though never directly implicated in its creation and broadcast, the Horton ad was a chilling harbinger of what was soon to come and a blueprint of the politics that Ailes, Rove, and Atwater had helped orchestrate. Today the Horton ad would be considered mere child’s play to the numerous sordid political commercials we’ve become accustomed to. Ailes himself would create his own toned-down Horton-style ad called “Revolving Doors,” but its implications remained the same. Because of it, George H. W. Bush would win an unprecedented third Republican term in 1988 by an unexpected landslide.

New horizons beckoned Ailes in 1996 when billionaire Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch offered Ailes the inaugural chairmanship of the Fox News Network. Although the product of Murdoch, the network was wholly the creation of Ailes’s design. As the political and media consultant for Presidents Reagan and Bush, Ailes could only manage the media so far. With Fox News, however, he now had a platform, fully under his control, to move the media narrative in his direction.

Even as such network stars such as Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, Steve Varney, Charles Krauthammer, and Megyn Kelly would all earn a reputation of their own at the network, they would largely owe their careers – and lucrative contracts – to the man who would daily write the narrative the network would push. Unlike other TV news executives, Ailes had an agenda to sell and was not about to let the stubborn facts – or even reality – get in his way.

During his eighteen years as chairman of the network Ailes singlehandedly changed the twenty-four-hour TV news format and created some of the highest-rated cable programs in TV history. By 2008 it would have been laughable to think that there was such a thing as a “liberal” American media, as Fox News had had such a hand in defining it. No doubt that Ailes would have still peddled the theory, though, as it aptly served his purposes.

Despite the growing nativism and populism within the Republican party, Ailes still owned the vital real estate in conservative media with Fox News. It was a balance that was increasingly harder to maintain as other alternative media sources such as Breitbart News, the Drudge Report, and Info Wars gained a vocal audience and readership of their own. In the end, however, it would be his personal dalliances that would do him in.

Allegations and rumors of rampant sexual harassment and an unfriendly working environment were not foreign to the network, beginning as early as 2004. It was clear, though, that the network no longer had a strangle-hold of the conservative audience as it used to, as the rise of Trump clearly showed. Gretchen Carlson saw the signs and became the first in what became a growing chorus of women to dare challenge the infallible chairman. Once network star Megyn Kelly joined that group, it was a matter of time before Ailes would fall.

Ailes would end his long relationship with the network on July 21, 2016, receiving a $40 million severance package in the bargain. The fact that this amount was allegedly three times as large as the money given to settle his harassment cases out of court was largely ignored.

Ailes would spend the rest of the 2016 campaign informally advising the Trump campaign to its unprecedented victory in November, and rumors swirled as to a formal role in the White House during the transition. Meanwhile the network he had worked so hard to control and dominate began its tailspin we see today, losing reporters Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly to their competitors and firing conservative darling O’Reilly to scandals of his own. One wonders if the recent Russia narrative and lack of direction/focus by Washington Republicans weighed heavily on his mind to the last.

In the end Roger Ailes will be lionized as the media guru he was. For better or worse, no matter your political stripe, his influence on how we consume and view both media and politics is largely fashioned on ideas and theories he tested and later refined over the years. Numerous political leaders, from Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and even Rudy Giuliani and Trump, owe their political careers to his skillful manipulation of the media to his will.

To me, though, despite his well-earned accolades, his life stands as the epitome of a political stain that has led to the destructive style of media and politics we see today. The corrosive distrust in our civic institutions, while leading to the most conservative government America has ever known, has also made for the least functional government we have seen as well. That there is controversy over what a mere fact really is serves as a sad but natural progression of Ailes’s vision for slanted journalism packaged to entertain as well as to misinform. It perhaps goes to show that he clearly understood the implications of media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s aphoristic phrase “The medium is the message.”

The long-lasting consequences of Ailes’s legacy are still a long way from being fully understood. What we can take away now is how callously superficial conservatism eventually became under his watch. More a shell than a three-dimensional movement, it was susceptible to the cult of Trump and acted as a serviceable host to mainstream his electability. He also is as stark a reminder there is of the power that exists behind that black mirror of our TVs and smartphones. An extract from George Orwell’s classic 1984 perhaps perfectly illustrates the dangers of Ailes’s legacy:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Let us hope that from now on we remember the importance of vigilance as a key aspect of our civic duty. And that the likes of Ailes have a much harder time peddling their message to the American people. It will not be easy – there will be others – but we will be ready. A democracy only survives because of the diversity of opinion and the strength of the press and media. Hopefully we’re doing our part here.

Six Months After Election 2016: A Moment’s Assessment

in Election 2016/Uncategorized by

It is hard to imagine that it has been six months since November 8, 2016. For what it’s worth, I imagine that all of us have a tale to tell for how that day went down.

Here, for your enjoyment, is mine.

The night before was a late one for me because I had an evening theology class at my college. The discussion was on Martin Luther King Jr. and the fight for civil rights. Considering this was coming only eight years after the election of 2008, the subject and the material seemed slightly off to me. We first talked about the Civil Rights Movement, but the conversation moved inexorably toward the invisible black hole that was the 2016 presidential election. Although we never speculated about who would win, we did talk about the incalculable ramifications that this election, like 2008, would have on the country and the world at-large.

Although we constantly like to think that these elections happen in a vacuum, events like the recent French presidential election should be ample evidence to show that this is not the case. In the end the entire class of six and our teacher agreed that whatever the outcome would be, it certainly would be a unique event quite unlike any election any of us had seen.

The next morning I got up shortly before 8 a.m. and went to my polling station to commit my civic duty. I had done so three times already that year; in April, in June, and in September. Each time I always made sure to note how many people were voting with me in the booths and how many had already voted by the counter in our vote-scan tabulators.

In April the number who had voted by 6 a.m. (when the polls opened) was one (me!). By June the number who had voted by 10 a.m. (when I finished my morning routine) was thirty. By September the number who had voted by 12 p.m. (after a brief lunch) was twelve. This morning the number at 8:30 was a steady 125 and rising. Unlike my last trips, a steady line was in place, with people checking into their polling site and moving to their voting booths with ease.

I could not understand why people did not vote in the same numbers on any of those primary dates just as I did now, but as I had come to observe over the past year in working for the Bernie Sanders campaign, democracy was not a right afforded to its citizens without a fight. Sadly, these questions would need to wait for another day, and I cast my vote and promptly went to the hospital.

See, my father is a doctor at a nearby hospital. When the schedule permits we usually get together for lunch and swap stories about our day so far. He tells me his stories on the ward, and I tell him about my assignments and friends at school. I was going to see him early today, though, because I badly needed a pick-me-up.

I’ve been voting since my eighteenth birthday in 2009, and my feelings after voting could be comparable to soaring under the warmth of the sun. It felt exhilarating to be participating in something people had fought and died for. I not only honored their sacrifices but also felt invested in the great experiment that is democracy. The past year had been a rude awakening, however; democracy, even one as vaulted and rarified as ours, was in a bad way. My father—having lived through a dictatorship, a coup, and numerous authoritarian regimes—perhaps could give me perspective over what I and the world had been a witness to over the last eighteen months.

After quickly going through our respective days, we soon came to the heart of the matter. I am not very good at hiding my disaffection, and my father saw right through my slumped appearance and quiet demeanor.

I told him about the unique melancholy and detachment I had felt while voting earlier in the day and the feeling that no matter who won, things had been said that could not be undone with the unambiguous will of the people tonight. Although he agreed that the campaign had been one that would be better remembered for how politics could reach for our coarser behavior, there was still much to admire about the campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and a congressional candidate whom I had also worked for earlier that month.

After the Democratic Convention in July I had worked for a time for the Clinton campaign, canvassing on the streets of Philadelphia. I suspect that I did so out of some guilt perhaps, but I also felt an urgency unlike anything I had felt before. Even then the experience felt much more canned and sterile than what I had suspected it would be. Perhaps the most difficult experience of the whole affair was to hear people repeatedly tell me (paraphrasing), “With the Electoral College, I just don’t think that my vote counts.” After spending three hours in a bus getting to Philadelphia from the safe blue state of New York, it was something that was quite ironic to hear.

Another warning sign I saw was the oft-repeated phrase, “Ahh those politicians, they’re all just crooks! Who wants to vote for them anyway!” I could not help but feel that my position as a lowly campaign volunteer was a poor one through which to explain the mechanics of our electoral politics as well as the merits of civic engagement. It was way above my pay grade.

However, persist I did, both on my own and with a wingman, either in an open dialog or in a mostly one-way conversation. Despite my best attempts and my honing and tinkering of the wording, I could tell my message was not getting through. It was not that my sincerity was in question; my heart just was not in it anymore.

After October 7 I hung up my walking shoes. I had simply had enough. The Hollywood Access video and the WikiLeaks revelations made me realize that I was dealing with forces that were beyond my ability to comprehend, let alone explain to others. The break was exactly what the doctor—or my old man!—ordered. Life and its welcome monotony and routine came back to me in a welcome flood of comfort and relaxation. The election was as far away as a foreign country across the ocean or on the other side of the moon. I had learned an important thing: everyday life is more important than any election.

For election day I planned to continue my willful ignorance by steeling myself from the wall-to-wall coverage. After running a few errands, I took the family car toward a nearby park on a river, and as the results started spilling in, I tuned in to the nearest music station. Rather than listening to commentary and the latest figures, I spent the evening on the hood of my family’s station wagon, listening to rock ‘n’ roll.

Sure, there were the occasional updates from the disc jockey, but my mind wistfully rolled the tape of the history of the world as the night wore on and the temperature plummeted. I had my own pet theories about how the night would proceed, but rather than ruminate, my mind rolled about the world much like pinballs dart about a machine, bouncing off everything they touch.

“Wow, I can’t believe my grandma lived and died without seeing the Cubs win, and now I have.”

“Nobody’s on the river tonight. Guess it’s not the weather to go boating or fishing in early November.”

“I wonder how candidate X [not Clinton or Trump] is doing? Probably losing.”

“Gosh, I better remember to get that paper handed in to my professor. He seemed insistent we hand it in on-time.”

“Man, I wish I had a telescope! The stars look really good tonight!”

“That reminds me—I better get the camera from my friend’s dad. I’m sure he done using it by now.”

After flipping through a couple of pages of the latest book I was reading and catching a few minutes shut-eye, I made my way to some civilization in the form of a twenty-four-hour diner.

It being long past the midnight hour, the place was mercifully empty and quiet. The PA system, tuned in to a slow-jazz radio station, kept me blissfully unaware of the tumultuous events ensuing in New York City. A few fellow patrons quietly munched on some late-night meals on the counter or in individual booths, and mostly alone. Most were truckers taking a break in their long trek across the nation on the way to their destination. The parking lot was lined with Mac trucks silently awaiting their pilots for the next leg of the journey.

Again, my mind wandered, thinking about the stories these men of the road could tell me if they had the strength or the time. After placing my order, I quickly took a stroll around the establishment to snoop out the trucks’ license plates. Of the six trucks out there that cold November morning, there were trucks from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Missouri. In the swing-state sweepstakes I had hit two out of six—not bad!

At roughly 2:30 a.m. I returned home. The viewing party had long since departed, and only my mother stood as a silent sentinel awaiting my return home. “Whatever happens, everything will be all right,” she cryptically told me as I hugged her. None the wiser about what was unfolding across the country. I thought nothing more about my troubles and restless mind, and I quickly drifted away.

The morning saw me awake very late after everyone had left for work or school. My class was in the evening, so I showered, dressed, and stepped out to what I thought would be a changed world.

My plan was to do as before: visit my father for lunch after doing some homework at the nearby library. The walk was a brisk eight blocks filled with the sights and sounds of a neighborhood. As I began my early morning walkabout I began to notice the profound and deafening silence I encountered as I ventured through the streets.

Don’t get me wrong: people were out and about, cars were running everywhere, and the soundtrack of city life seemed perfectly normal. But nobody spoke. There was no conversation, no smiles, no laughter, no mumbles—nothing. At the end of a simple fifteen-minute walk, I had learned more than any news article or video could ever tell me.

As if by osmosis, I had learned the outcome of the race by the sheer magnitude of the event. I recalled what joy and hope people had in their expressions, faces, and voices after 2008. It seemed now that that blissful period had tragically run out, run aground, and was torn asunder, never to return.

I unilaterally ended my media embargo at midday, just in time to listen and watch the Clinton concession and President Obama’s remarks, largely the most symbolic and final chapters to the most historic and divisive election our nation had ever known. I for one did not share in the shock many had, but the feelings of anger and despair were all too familiar by now.

Had not Bernie been actively defeated—or even sabotaged—to avoid this very situation from becoming a reality? Why, oh why had she used the word “deplorable”? How could this happen? The Electoral College again!? I had so many questions, but the worst thing was knowing that to some questions, there would never be a satisfying answer.

Since then I’ve thought long and hard about what I as a citizen did wrong to help contribute to what occurred six months ago. In fact, we all share some of the blame for what happened—not as individuals but as a part of a civilization.

One thing I can say is that people have gotten the message, and perhaps that is what good has come from this election. No longer will we see ourselves as merely pieces of life but now as parts of the fabric of society. No longer will we believe that our involvement in some action or effort is to be taken for granted or will passed on to someone else. No more will people see politics as a flavor or a sport of choice but rather as a dynamic debate. No more will people see the other side as some unintelligible group of aliens—in more ways than one—but as citizens, compatriots . . . as people.

What the long-term impact of Tuesday, November 8, 2016, will be is too early to tell. But if the last six months are any indication, it goes to show how people can see the real power they have as individuals, the great strength they carry as a group, and the real value we all share as a nation. As our country’s motto aptly says: E pluribus Unum.

Out of many, one.

And What About That Other (Northern) Border?

in Foreign Policy by

In case you haven’t been listening to the news (me neither), the United States shares the longest international border in the world. It stretches 5,525 miles (8,891 kilometers) long and stretches from the Atlantic all the way to the mighty Pacific. The boundary moves through rivers, lakes, towns, and villages, over majestic country-side and rugged mountain peaks to separate our two countries. The border was established through war and peace and from difficult and tenuous negotiations first with Great Britain and then with the territorial government of Canada.

A picture of a segment of the US-Canada border. Note the lack of wall, access roads, watch posts, border crossings, surveillance points, or any signs of a border at all, with the exception of an obvious gap in the tree line extending from ocean to ocean.

Perhaps you were thinking I was instead referring to the US-Mexico border, itself 1,989 miles (3,201 kilometers) long and stretching from the Gulf of Mexico and Rio Grande to San Diego bay off California, but no, I wasn’t. The border between the United States and Canada also has the added distinction of being the most undefended border in the world. From Point Roberts in Washington to the disputed island of Campobello in the Bay of Fundy and all the way through the border with Alaska, the US-Canadian border carries with it none of the security detail, the technological sophistication, or the political concerns of our Mexican border to the south.

A photo of the US-Mexican border, with its stark contrast to the US-Canada border above. In addition to the “No-Man’s Land” and detention center on the US side (on the left), note the thirty-foot fence, paved access road, and surveillance cameras both on the secondary wall (not straight) and telephone poles strung along the line (ahead of the wall).

In fact, with the exception of a twenty-foot (six meters—hey, it’s Canada!) clearing between the United States and Canada at the border that stretches from coast to coast, one would never guess that one is approaching or crossing a border between the fifteenth largest and the largest economies in the world. A joint US-Canadian Commission is largely responsible for maintaining the border as well as mediating all disputes between the two countries, but for the most part the two nations share this border with little concern over immigration, trade, drugs, terrorism, or other issues that affect most other bordering countries. The same could not be said of the border some two thousand miles to the south.

And the question that should be on everyone’s mind (and I do mean everyone) is just why that is? Why do I suspect that with an annual operating budget of $13.5 billion (that’s right: BILLION, in cold hard tax dollars) for customs and border protection, most of it is going to one border and not the other. Why is it that no joint arbitration committee exists between the Mexico and the United States (well, not before, anyway)? And why don’t we hear anything about the need for more border control and protection with our friends to the north?

A basic lesson we can learn from this is that borders—or the apparent lack of them—says as much about the border erectors as they do about those whom the border is meant to keep out. Perhaps that’s why some of the most inspiring rhetoric Americans can still recite speak of tearing down barriers, whether figuratively (“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln) to even literally (“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan). Strange isn’t it that this rhetoric speaks to one of our borders and not the other.

Although the US-Mexico border does actually extend twelve nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) out to sea, the actual border “fence” extends one hundred feet beyond the break line of the waves in Baja California. Now a secondary “no man’s land” fence is being installed one hundred feet north of the border along this section of the line, as seen in the foreground here. No such border extender or “no man’s land” exists with the Canadian frontier.

 

A study in contrasts between the two borders. “We always think of borders as something that separates two peoples, but of course they unite them. It’s something you have in common, literally.” Don Winslow. Perhaps some more than others.

Perhaps that’s the point. Although we have shared a long and fraught relationship with both the people of Canada (we’ve invaded them four times! 1767, 1778, 1812, and 1846) and Mexico (only three times! 1828, 1846, and 1912), we’ve never seemed to treat them the same (well, except for the invading part), despite our shared history, geography, and, indeed, people and culture. And despite the fact that Mexico contributes more land (literally the entire western third of our nation, seven states in all!), more of its people (in a 2009 study 1,062,640 Canadian Americans vs. 11.4 to 22.3 million Mexican Americans), and perhaps more of its treasure, we still don’t have the relationship and thus the border with our southern neighbor that we should.

There is one thing that is clear from all of this: we need to change our relationship between our two countries. By the election, that has already been arranged. Unfortunately, though, it’s probably not in the direction you (or I) think it should be going. But as the French (that is, Canadians) would say, “C’est la vie.”

CPAC and the Failing Politics of Vanity

in Progressive Organization by

Last month the American Conservative Union held its 44th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (pronounced C-PAC for short) in National Harbor, Maryland. Held at the austere Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on the banks of the Potomac, this convention has grown both in size and in stature to become known as “the conservative equivalent to Woodstock.”

Steven Bannon and Reince Preibus speaking at this year’s CPAC. Although the interview was carried out amidst all smiles and laughs, the delicate tension that currently exists between their two worlds will certainly create a moment of existential identity crisis for the right, if it hasn’t already.

What began as a rather humble gathering of young and idealistic conservatives in 1973 has evolved into a modern bazaar of the many shades and faces of the modern conservative movement. From laissez faire capitalism and small government libertarianism to gun rights, religious fundamentalism, and much more, the convention holds forth to over ten thousand paying attendees from all over the country and world, following in the footsteps of such famed conservatives as William Buckley, Phyllis Schlafly, and Ronald Reagan.

Various concession tables at CPAC 2015. It only goes to show that partisanship knows no barriers when it comes to good T-shirts and cupcakes.

The conference received good coverage this year, as both Vice President Pence and President Trump were among the many high-profile speakers who attended. Along with this new star power, even newcomers such as White House Chief Strategist Steven Bannon, once banned from the meeting for his extremist and white nationalist views, himself received a lukewarm (if not robust) welcome to the proceedings. Considering this stark and rapid change in the makeup of the face of American conservatism today, some dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are wondering whether the broader movement they helped birth and lead half a century ago is still a place for them.

Let’s not forget that for some conservatives the past year has also been one of growing frustration and bewilderment as it has been for many progressives as well. The words some conservative friends of mine have used when speaking about 2016 are “stunned,” “confounded,” and “resentful.” All at the thought that a former pro-choice, pro–universal healthcare Democrat with “New York values” could so eclipse the traditional makeup of what it means to be an American conservative. These are the realities of today’s vastly more complex and hazardous political terrain, but that story is for another day.

What also struck me as unique about this recent enclave was its lack of a likewise opposing convention by any groups on the left. A typical presidential address is always rapidly followed by an opposition-party response to the president’s message and agenda, so why not a progressive response to CPAC? Funny enough, but evidence suggests that CPAC was originally created as a response to the many progressive political action groups that once existed in the 1960s, whose origins could be traced back to the New Deal and even the Progressive Era.

Such gatherings made tremendous efforts on a host of issues such as child labor and worker’s rights, women’s and minority voting, fair housing and educational standards to name just a few. All these causes had their formal genesis at one point or another, through a joint declaration or statement from a convened body of like-minded citizens, prepared for the tough road head in advocacy for their cause.

Such conferences (or congresses as they are called) were places of real discussion and insight, as well as networking. Where activists and organizers could compare notes, confer amongst each other, and form lasting partnerships, which could yield tremendous results. Famous political conferences in the U.S. have resulted in the formation of the Republican Party (Ripon, Wisconsin 1854), the birth of feminism with the ‘Declaration of Sentiments’ at Seneca Falls, New York (1848), as well as the very founding of our modern government (Albany, New York, 1754; Annapolis, Maryland, 1777; and of course Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1787).

A moment of tension at the famous 1977 National Women’s Convention held in Houston, Texas. Although the majority of the conference attendees supported the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), conservative women, led by Phyllis Schlafly, made their displeasure about the amendment heard. This split would lead to a larger rift in the feminist movement and would hamper calls for equality and equal treatment for women for decades to come.

Sadly, no such revered gathering of progressives exists today that carries the broad national attention and interest as CPAC does. This absence seems to suggest that the Left has lost some basic footing in creating and broadcasting a cohesive message that resonates with Americans today. In lacking this ideological alignment and organization, I fear we cede much of grassroots oxygen and attention to conservatives, who carry their ideology as if it were some fashion now in vogue. It need not be this way, and it can be different. But this isn’t what this article is about.

Even if such a progressive gathering akin to a “CPAC for the Left” did exist, with quadruple the number of attendees and such comparable luminaries such as former President Barack Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Elizabeth Warren along with all the headline activists you could name, something tells me the media coverage would still be a fraction of what CPAC receives, based on the way the media covered the Sanders campaign and how they have treated all major populist Left movements in the United States in the twenty-first century, from Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, to the Fight for $15, compared to the Tea Party movement. It does not look like anyone will be blaming the media for being too politically biased anytime soon. But, for that matter no one said the media played fair.

No, the real revelation that I have came away with from this year’s CPAC is the glamour and even vanity that the whole affair seems to exude. Much like a rock concert or a highly staged gun show, CPAC carries with it all the hallmarks of a great nostalgia concert tour, playing all the greatest hits to an audience (and media) of the converted, filled with concession stands selling its baubles and strains of whatever is considered “conservative” these days. Given the glitzy and almost stylish frontage that is now rolled out every year in from of the media and the viewers, I doubt it is a place where any concrete ideas, debates, or even discussions about what the movement, with all its newly acquired and tremendous power, will do. The red-carpet quality and coverage the gathering receives confirms this.

For me, although I’m frustrated that, as yet, no real response to such a gathering exists for the nascent progressive movement, I would never try to simply replicate a “CPAC of the Left,” even if the consequence was no conference at all. For although CPAC may draw newspaper headlines and attention, it is merely the façade for a failing ideology whose harsh and cruel nature and governing style will soon be painstakingly revealed. No hat, button, book, or performance can truly show someone how conservative or progressive one is; it can only be seen through action as much as it can be revealed in words.

Katy Perry performing for voters at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Pennsylvania. Despite the Clinton campaign’s star-studded rallies, overwhelming organization, and massive superiority to the Trump campaign in money (up to three to one), field staff, advertising, and endorsements, key swing states swung narrowly but decisively to Donald Trump.

Consider briefly the “glamour” and perhaps “vanity” that marked the Hillary Clinton campaign. I doubt activism involves listening to Beyoncé, Lena Dunham, or Katy Perry while on the campaign trail. The real act of political activism is listening to a family on the street regale you of their daily plight and helping them all better their lot in life, not just taking selfies. Wearing something political, posting to Facebook or Twitter, and attending rallies do not make you any more political than someone who regularly attends a playhouse or even a movie theater, for that matter. The same perhaps can also be said of CPAC, as this is what conventional wisdom considers political “activism” these days.

Several students presenting their findings at New York’s annual Left Forum hosted at John Jay College in Lower Manhattan in early June 2016. Similar low-key (though no less critical!) conferences might be happening in your area right now! Attend today!

I for one am not fooled by such vestiges of pomp and circumstance, though the Clinton campaign clearly was. Perhaps they thought they were part of the vanguard of a new politics for the Left. But there is a lesson we can learn from this, because like it or not, here we are. If you know of a conference of like-minded, politically oriented, civically minded people, join it. If there isn’t one, start one up. You’ll be surprised who you meet there, and maybe like the Founding Fathers, you too will start something special in your conversations and networks. It’s not like they expected to achieve very much—only change the course of history!

1 2 3
Go to Top