This week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey will be proposing the most ambitious plan to fight climate change yet.
Recycle. Take shorter showers. Turn the lights off.
Over the past several decades, most of us have heard these diatribes repeated over and over, and have perhaps become numbed to these mantras, which promise that tiny droplets of collective action could potentially save the planet from environmental ruination.
It's true that small changes are important, and that each person contributes to the growing levels of waste and pollution that are killing our ecosystems and raising the planet's temperatures so dramatically that Manhattan-size gaps are forming in Antarctic ice. But it's also true that 71% of carbon emissions come from just 100 companies. It's also true that the scale of the crisis has grown unmanageable, and poses an unprecedented threat to human life.
That's where the Green New Deal comes in.
Image via The Intercept
"It's the only plan that matches the scale of the crisis," said Naomi Klein of the proposal, speaking on livestream yesterday night to thousands of activists tuning in across America. The livestream was hosted by the Sunrise Movement, a millennial-founded organization dedicated to supporting and fortifying the Green New Deal, especially as it's proposed in Congress in the coming week. Klein is the author of This Changes Everything, a book that argues that impending climate catastrophe actually presents an extraordinary opportunity to revamp the world's economic systems for the better. "I believe we were born for this moment," she told viewers.
Named after FDR's New Deal—which revolutionized the entire country on a tremendous scale, planting three billion trees and establishing hundreds of national forests in addition to catalyzing widespread economic, agricultural, and social reforms—the Green New Deal seeks to implant reforms on an equivalent scale in a time when it seems like there is no other option.
Image via Vice News
The plan has gone through several phases, but the one that's being proposed in Congress this week focuses on several fundamental points. First: achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and transition to renewable energy on a huge scale through initiatives like the creation of a nationwide electrical grid. Second: institute a living wage for all, in tandem with the creation of unlimited numbers of green jobs. These are the plan's main tenets, but its ideological aspirations stretch much further. It hopes to generate thousands of jobs in the form of start-ups and maintenance, and to start a wave of international trade in the renewable energy sector.
The original plan focused on a switch to 100% renewable energy by 2030, but a recent five-page draft obtained today by Bloomberg didn't mention this point, perhaps as a nod to moderates, though the omission is still subject to change. The draft proposes large-scale investment in green technology, the restoration of threatened lands, waste removal, and "massive growth in clean U.S. manufacturing, removing pollution byproducts and greenhouse gas emissions from that sector as much as technologically feasible."
The term "Green New Deal" is not a new one, though it has been going through different iterations since its inception. It was coined in a 2007 column by Thomas Friedman, and Barack Obama included it in his 2008 platform. Britain also took note, but a surge of Republican/Tory victories stymied its momentum.
Image via theintercept.com
The GND has found new life in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Bronx electorate whose rise to political success has been accompanied by widespread social media fame. Ocasio-Cortez showed up in person to support a Sunrise Movement sit-in in Nancy Pelosi's office, demanding the creation of a committee dedicated to developing and pushing the GND, and since then she has become one of its biggest proponents. Now she will be proposing it in Congress this week, alongside Massachusetts senator Ed Markey. The plan has also garnered support from Rep. Ayanna Pressley, as well as 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders.
The Sunrise Movement began in 2015, when it was founded by climate activists Sara Blazevic and Varsini Prakash, and quickly gained momentum, taking notes from the heady drive of the 1963 civil rights protests of Birmingham, Alabama. Its founders gathered activists, reached out to politicians, and pulled together the finer points of the Sanders campaign and other recent social movements; the successful Pelosi sit-in was the product of months of organizing.
The movement is appealing in a narrative sense: the vision of young people fighting against bloated fossil fuel behemoths has a definite draw to it. There's also the fact that science says the fate of the entire world requires unprecedented global change over the next few years, otherwise catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy and the California wildfires will become the stuff of the everyday.
Image via theinsurgent.com
But the GND is still just an idea, and it could remain that way. Its lack of specific policy has been subject to criticism, though an official draft has yet to be unveiled, and conservative news sources have labeled it as a hoax, an amorphous idea without policy to back it.
While the GND might seem like an impossibly ambitious proposition, humans have revamped and reshaped the world before a hundred times over, and we are nothing if not creative and adaptive. We've created technologies that connect the globe and turned empty landscapes to highway-lined cities in a matter of years. Now—unless you like the idea of joining Elon Musk's exclusive Mars colony—it's time to turn all of our collective energies towards the future of the home we share.
70 leading Democrats have signed on in support so far, and momentum is building for its official proposition. The Sunrise Movement is planning on facilitating office visits to congress people across the country this week, as well as a rally in Washington on February 26th.
In an age of doomsday threats and constant headlines about plastic oceans and refugee crises facilitated by environmental droughts, the idea of a Green New Deal—something that could actually, genuinely make a difference that touches every aspect of life—seems like a light at the end of the tunnel. Now it's just a matter of getting there.
Image via radioopensource.org
Environmental crisis affects the poor and vulnerable at disproportionate levels; it catalyzes mental and physical illness, economic decline, and overall devastation. Irreparable damage has already been done—but the fight is not quite over yet, though time is running out.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.
The President can take control of your home, your money, and—worse—your internet in the event of a national emergency. Well, sort of.
Donald Trump has threatened to declare a "national emergency" in order to forcibly move forward with his plan for a $5.6 billion border wall. A state of emergency, designated for times of crisis and national instability, is meant to accelerate the government's political process in order to restore stability. When presidents declare national emergencies, the law provides hundreds of provisions that endow the commander-in-chief with "extraordinary authority" to make executive decisions without asking congress for approval.
After the National Emergencies Act of 1976 (NEA), presidents must identify which specific powers they're asking to activate in order to address the designated emergency–which means selecting a few out of approximately 130 laws that grant special authorities to the President. Barack Obama invoked those powers 13 times over his eight years in the White House; similarly, George W. Bush did so 12 times over his two terms. One major dilemma with the NEA, however, is that it does not create a time limit within which a state of emergency must be resolved, allowing for various national emergencies to remain ongoing simultaneously (in 2017, there were 28 concurrent active emergencies). This, of course, allows the sitting President to hold "extraordinary authorities" for an indeterminate period of time.
Another yet greater shortcoming of the NEA is that it doesn't define what constitutes an "emergency," allowing a President to interpret current events–and the laws–in his own way. Alarmingly, the President doesn't operate under many limitations when it comes to defining and declaring a national emergency. Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, says, "There aren't a lot of legal limits on his ability to do that, frankly, even if there isn't a real emergency happening."
Over the course of Trump's first two years as President, he declared three events to be national emergencies, including the H1N1 influenza epidemic and a series of cyber-hacking activities that still technically constitute a national emergency to this day. Recently, Trump has openly called the US-Mexico border a crisis situation, saying, "We have a crisis at the border, of drugs, of human beings being trafficked all over the world, they're coming through . . . criminals and gang members coming through. It is national security. It is a national emergency."
So what happens when a President does declare a national emergency?
According to the Congressional Research Service, there are hundreds of specific provisions codifying what the president is allowed to do–and those powers are far-reaching and invasive into daily American lives. While "the vast majority of them are of the stand-by kind — dormant until activated," a state of a national emergency allows the President to: "seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens."
What It Means:
1. Presidents can control funding
Trump could declare a national emergency in order to fund his wall. As Kim Lane Scheppele, a professor at the Center for Human Values at Princeton University, told Vox, "It could be that by putting together a lot of different sources of emergency authority, the president could tap a lot of different funds and at least start." With the above powers to seize property and commodities, as well as regulate means of production and private enterprises, the President could re-direct government funding away from ongoing military projects to fund the border wall. Last Friday, Trump told reporters, "I can do it if I want."
Technically, he's right. If Trump's administration can prove that the border wall is a "military construction," then using military funding would fall under the U.S. code for "Reprogramming During National Emergencies," which states that a President may "apply the resources of the Department of the Army's civil works program, including funds, personnel, and equipment, to construct or assist in the construction, operation, maintenance, and repair of authorized civil works, military construction, and civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense."
New York Post
2. Presidents can control the internet.
Seizure and control of transportation and communication includes controlling all internet traffic, restricting access to information deemed security risks. Today, that could mean "impeding access to certain websites and ensuring that internet searches return pro-Trump content as the top results."
3. Presidents can deploy troops to your neighborhood—easily.
4. Presidents can confiscate your property.
5. Presidents can forcibly relocate Americans.
Among the most notorious and regretful instances of Presidents declaring states of emergency is Franklin D. Roosevelt's use in 1941, months after Pearl Harbour was attacked. The above powers endowed the President to forcibly relocate more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps. To retell it simply, the President instituted martial law along the east coast, forcibly transported U.S. citizens to the camps, confiscated their property, and restricted them from leaving or communicating with the outside world. Meanwhile, Roosevelt deployed the U.S. military overseas to enter World War II. 30 years later, the NEA was designed to prevent sitting Presidents from abusing declarations of emergencies, but with its vague language, much of the law remains to be tested in court.
Equal Justice Initiative
In total, lack of clarity in the NEA gives Trump the legal grounds to argue for emergency powers over the country. However, legal experts, as well as passionate congressmen, have been outspoken about fighting against the president if he were to push that agenda. After all, congress reserves the right to overrule a president's declaration if they can pass a resolution to do so in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, the President would need to sign the resolution; otherwise, congress would need a second majority vote to override his veto.
President Trump is due to give a national address Tuesday night at 9PM. While he is not expected to declare a national emergency, he is expected to urge the American people that the southern border constitutes a "humanitarian and security crisis" that urgently needs to be addressed. To Trump, that means building a border wall, even if it means prolonging what is already one of the longest government shutdowns in history, or perhaps even abusing executive powers.
Nine federal departments will shutdown at midnight on Friday due to Congress' inability to settle funding disputes, including Trump's demands for $5 billion for his border wall.
With Trump predicting that "chances are probably very good" that the government will shut down at midnight, he's reneged on his proud claim that he'd "totally be willing" to "take the mantle" of a shutdown. Instead, he said on Friday, "Now it's up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown tonight."
Congress has been unable to pass funding packages for seven federal agencies, mainly due to Trump's stubborn demands for $5 billion to build his border wall. With funding deals expiring at midnight tonight, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be either out of work or expected to work without pay until the government resumes full function in 2019.
Among those affected are more than 420,000 employees required to keep working through the shutdown, including those in the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the DEA, and Forest Service firefighters. With dozens of federal agencies expected to close down, national parks, museums, and zoos may be shuttered, with housing agencies warning that loan processing and approvals may be significantly delayed.
Aside from disrupting government services, shutdowns worsen deficits with financial losses in productivity. The longest government shutdown took place under the Clinton Administration, lasting 21 days and costing approximately $1.4 billion. The 2013 shutdown under Barack Obama lasted 16 days and cost about $2 billion.
Trump took to Twitter to blame Democrats for their refusal to offer more than $1.3 billion to fund the border wall. He posted, "If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time." After Congress voted and Trump still did not receive his inflated amount of $5 billion, he followed up with, "The Democrats now own the shutdown!"
As of early Friday evening, Congress had made no progress in settling the border wall dispute. Government agencies had been alerted on Thursday to prepare to freeze their functioning for an indeterminate amount of time.
"I hope we don't [shut down]," Trump told the press on Friday afternoon at a bill signing event at the White House. "But we are totally prepared for a very long shutdown and this our only chance that we'll ever have in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out, to get great border security."
Donald Trump's 2020 campaign created a hotline that makes leaving a message for the sitting U.S. President as easy as voting for your favorite contestant on America's Got Talent.
If reports that Trump is expressing concerns to close associates that impeachment is "a real possibility" are true, there's now a hotline to provide him reassurance and support. But the 1-800 number isn't for him to call; it's for his supporters to leave him personal messages ending with "thank you, President Trump!"
The first re-election ad for 2020 aired on CNN this week, and it oddly features Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale. Dead-eyed, Parscale recites, "President Trump has achieved more during his time in office than any president in history." Of course, the timing of the ad begs a few questions about this assessment, as the Washington Post notes that every organization led by Trump over the last 10 years is currently under investigation.
Parscale continues, "We have a booming economy, historically low unemployment, including the lowest unemployment rate for minorities in history." At least this is a more grounded statement, considering unemployment rates reached a 50-year low in October due to the fact fewer people are participating in the workforce—due to lack of skills, opioid addiction, high college enrollment, and lower rates of female employment. To evince the viewers of this accomplishment, the 1-minute-long ad flashes some B-roll of smiling laborers at assembly lines.
"We need to let President Trump know that we appreciate what he's doing for America," Parscale says later in the ad. "That is why I need every Trump supporter to pick up a phone right now and deliver a personal thank you to your president." Closing the segment with a waving American flag, the instructions to "call 1-800-684-3043 and press 1" make leaving a message for the sitting U.S. President as easy as voting for your favorite contestant on America's Got Talent.
After the ad's first run, journalist Yashar Ali shared the video on Twitter, pointing out that calling the hotline leads to a brief recording service asking for your name and adoration for Trump's administration–promptly followed by an appeal for a campaign donation.
If callers are unsure if they want to contribute, Parscale's voice reminds them how much Trump needs their support. His crackling recording says, "But President Trump is under vicious, daily attacks from the fake news media and far-left Democrats who want to implement the radical socialist agenda." His appeals ends, "They will stop at nothing to overturn the election and remove your president from office."
So who's calling the hotline? Jimmy Kimmel called a mock number on his show Tuesday night, thanking Trump for "making it okay to use casual racism on Facebook." Twitter users shared the cutting messages they'd like the president to hear, including CNN analyst Renato Mariotti, who responded to the claim that "President Trump has achieved more in his time in office than any president in history" with sounder examples, "Lincoln freed the slaves. FDR led us to victory in World War II."
At the very least, thank you, President Trump, for creating an excellent service to drunk dial.
Trump continues to alienate the U.S. from the global community by panning diplomacy for his own agendas.
Donald Trump singled out the United States before the entire international community at the G20 summit over the weekend. He was the only leader in attendance to refuse to sign a joint statement pledging a non-binding commitment to continue combating climate change.
After a strenuous, all-night negotiation in Buenos Aires, the world leaders issued a communiqué re-affirming that the Paris climate agreement "is irreversible" and vowing "full implementation" of its policies to "continue to tackle climate change, while promoting sustainable development and economic growth."
However, the summit was fraught with tensions over various countries' objections and demands, including Trump's refusal to budge on climate change or trade agreements. As such, world leaders struggled to pen a separate clause to account for Trump's "America First" stance. The communiqué reads: "The United States reiterates its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and affirms its strong commitment to economic growth and energy access and security, utilizing all energy sources and technologies, while protecting the environment."
In another compromise forced by Trump's intransigence, this year's G20 statement also shirked its usual promises to fight protectionism and uphold multilateral trading rules. The summit weakly acknowledged the "contribution" of the "multilateral trading system," despite the fact that it's "falling short" of its goals in trade growth and job creation. One European official present at the weekend's negotiations told NBC News, "There were moments when we thought all was lost."
At last year's summit, Trump shocked world leaders with his first refusal to join the consensus on climate and trade issues. He continued to alienate the U.S. from the international community over the summer. In June, the president refused to sign a joint statement on global economic policies from the G7 summit, even taking to Twitter to deride Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the policies.
Newsweek - Getty Images
As a final act of belligerence, Trump stormed off the stage as the rest of the world leaders gathered for a photo to commemorate the end of a two-day effort in global solidarity. After shaking hands with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Trump left Macri visibly confused on stage as he hastily left. Trump was audibly recorded telling an aide, "Get me out of here."
Reluctantly, he returned to the stage moments later to pose for group photos.
Hilarious moment Trump caught saying "get me out of here" at G20 Summit www.youtube.com
Trump's demands for $5 billion to build a border wall stymies Congress' ability to fund government in 2019.
Just nine days ahead of the December 7 deadline, Congress has made no progress towards passing the seven appropriations bills needed to avoid government shutdown. At the center of the deadlock are President Trump's demands for $5 billion to fund his border wall. In an Oval Office interview with Politico on Tuesday, Trump affirmed he'd "totally be willing" to shut down the government if Congress doesn't allocate the funds.
In September Democrats and Republicans agreed on a long-term funding package for the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for 2019. However, they only reached short-term compromises for the remaining agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, and the State Department. Even then, Trump was threatening to shut down the federal government if he didn't receive multi-billion dollar funding for his wall, but Republican leaders expressed doubt over his conviction.
Now, with those short-term deals expiring next Friday, Congress is more wary than ever of losing government function. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) spoke against the prospect in an interview on Sunday, "I hope that we can avoid shutting down the government. We have a lot of departments that do a lot of good for our citizens, so we need to make sure that we're funding them properly through Congress."
That's not to say Trump doesn't have Republican support, with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) stating from the White House on Tuesday, "I'm glad that President Trump is following through on his commitment to keep this country safe. He needs $5 billion to make sure he can follow through on that promise and we need to be there for him and see that this gets done."
Resistance from Democrats is the main obstacle to appeasing Trump, with Scalise even posing the deadlock as a failure of the party's values. He asked if Democrats are "going to shut down the government because they don't want to keep America safe?"
The closest piece of compromise is the Democrats' concession of $1.6 billion in funding for border security. They've showed no sign of budging towards Trump's demands for triple that figure. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer spoke for the party on Tuesday, affirming, "If there is any shutdown, it's on President Trump's back. Stick to the $1.6 billion."
The New York Times
As for Trump, he told Politico he "was in no mood" to compromise on using federal funds to construct a border wall (despite initial and unfeasible claims it was to be funded by Mexico). He told Politico, "I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue is a total winner. People look at the border, they look at the rush to the police, they look at the rock throwers and really hurting three people, three very brave border patrol folks – I think that it's a tremendous issue, but much more importantly, is really needed. So we have to have border security."
Trump was referring to a confrontation at the border on Sunday in which he claimed three border patrol agents were "very badly hurt." While multiple migrants were harmed by tear-gas unleashed by border officials on Sunday, Trump's claim remains unsubstantiated.
Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans continue to take place this week, as a possible funding package is still in nascent planning stages. The odds of avoiding government shutdown are grim, with only nine days to draft a deal, gain sign off from House and Senate leadership, and win over a president who is "in no mood" to compromise his own agenda.
Getty Images - New York Post
Democrats have control of the House for the first time in eight years. Now, they have a mandate to push for a bold agenda on infrastructure, healthcare, immigration, and voting rights.
After months of warnings, the "Blue Wave" finally came to shore. Democrats took back control of the House, gaining 32 seats, a number that could increase to 38 or 39, depending on the results of the uncalled races. With the party back in charge of the lower chamber, much of the discussion around what their priorities should be has revolved around investigating the president and his myriad of financial and political scandals. House Democrats have a clear mandate to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide oversight of the White House, but Democrats also have a mandate to address a number of major legislative issues. Though it's unlikely Democrats that will get any of these priorities pushed before the president and a Republican Senate, it's crucial that they signal to their voters what they want to done should they win the presidency and the Senate in the future.
As a candidate and in the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump promised to tackle the nation's crumbling infrastructure. That, of course, has gone nowhere and every "Infrastructure Week" ended in some scandal, quickly becoming an ongoing joke. But the state of America's infrastructure is nothing to joke about. Infrastructure spending has long been a Democratic Party priority before Trump attempted to co-opt it. Democrats should push that issue once again, proposing a bold infrastructure plan to repair crumbling roads and bridges, modernize public transportation systems, expand access to high-speed, fiber-optic Internet, and invest in green energy projects like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.
Such an infrastructure plan would signal the party's commitment to investing in neglected communities and funding renewable energy projects such as a broader plan to combat climate change—not to mention open the door to the many economic benefits of infrastructure spending. It would also establish a clear contrast with Trump's previous infrastructure plan that's been criticized as a giveaway to private contractors. The president has said he is willing to work with Democrats, so why not press him to keep his word? Democrats would be wise to pressure the president and his Republican supporters to prioritize infrastructure, or face political consequences.
No other issue played a bigger role in the Democrats' midterm success than healthcare. Their electoral message on healthcare was simple: Protect people with pre-existing conditions, expand coverage and stop proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Now they must deliver on these promises. House Democrats can immediately pass legislation to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, pressuring Trump and other Republicans who have vowed to do the same to keep their word. With a full repeal of the Affordable Care act now temporarily off the table, Democrats should push to expand coverage and address the limitations of the ACA. These can range from introducing incremental policies that get support from more moderate Democrats, like legislation to stabilize insurance markets, to bolder policies that attract the progressive wing of the party, like allowing Medicare more power to negotiate drug prices and proposing a Medicare buy-in for 55 to 64-year-olds.
While the long-term goal for the party should be to push for a Medicare for All system, these are positive steps toward a goal that still has a lot of opposition from within the party. Finally, any budget proposed by House Democrats should reverse any funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have an ideal opportunity to push for a positive vision on healthcare and continue to have the upper hand on the issue heading into 2020.
Bitter political battles over immigration, especially over funding for the border wall and the fate of DACA, will be a prominent feature of politics the next two years. Democrats are right to be alarmed over the administration's immigration policies like family separation and ending DACA, but now it's crucial they advocate for an immigration agenda in contrast to the Republican agenda. With the fate of DACA likely in the hands of the Supreme Court, Democrats must push for a long-term legislative solution. The most stable solution is the passage of the Dream Act. It would also be politically beneficial for the Democrats to bring it to the floor cleanly, without a compromise on funding for the wall. Furthermore, Democrats should schedule hearings about the family separation policy and Trump's pre-election decision to bring troops to the southern border in response to the migrant caravan. Democratic voters have become more liberal on immigration, and it's important the party signal to its base that they are willing to find solutions on the issue without compromising its core values.
Much of the post-election analysis has focused on the effects of voter suppression, notably in Georgia, North Dakota, and Florida. These voter suppression efforts have only increased since the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to get permission from the Department of Justice when enacting any changes in voting laws. In response, states around the country immediately passed strict voter ID laws. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decision left the door open for future legislative action. House Democrats can immediately take action and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. They would also be wise to propose legislation to make Election Day a federal holiday, or move Election Day to a Sunday, as it is in most places around the world. While Republicans are busy spreading conspiracy theories about voter fraud, Democrats should take the opposite path and make it clear they will fight continuing discrimination in voting. For strategic and moral purposes, the party has an obligation to extend democracy in every way when voting rights are under tremendous pressure.
Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.
The outspoken anti-Trump lawyer is in custody for Domestic Violence against an unidentified woman.
Anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti, best known for representing Stormy Daniels and Brett Kavanaugh-accuser Julie Swetnick, was arrested Wednesday after a felony report of Domestic Violence was filed by an unknown woman.The incident allegedly took place Tuesday night, with another altercation occurring on Wednesday at a Century City apartment in the L.A. area. The woman in question was reported to be visibly upset and declaring, "I'm going to get a restraining order against you." Her face was "swollen and bruised" with "red marks" when building security escorted her to another area of the building and denied Avenatti access. TMZ reports that a source in law enforcement revealed that the lawyer "kicked her out of the apartment" on Tuesday, and the altercation in the building occurred on Wednesday when she attempted to retrieve her belongings.
In the wake of the Tree of Life shooting we're left wondering: how did we get here?
Is Robert Bowers a Fascist?
If Umberto Eco is to be taken at face value when he describes his Ur-fascist as "impatient for death,"¹ the question we're left with in the wake of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting is this: Why now, in 21st century America, has this distinctly 20th century urge, this death drive, suddenly rematerialized? The other questions–ones concerning motive, logistics, and cultural response–while meaningful in their own right, only explain the symptoms, not the disease.
Fascism in its truest sense is a type of suicide, one committed not by an individual but by an entire society. Still, the important conversation (as with an individual suicide) doesn't concern method. When a man takes his own life, the why is a far more incisive question than the how. If we're to extrapolate this metaphor, to argue about gun control, anti-semitism, and President Trump's brusque response to this tragedy is tantamount to debating the meaning of using rope over a straight razor. In the interest of being thorough, however, let's briefly explore these symptoms:
Immediately following the attack, Robert Bowers' social media posts went loud, his comments regarding Jewish conspiracies sitting somewhere between Alex Jones' InfoWars and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. "Jews are the children of satan," he shouted into the Internet void. What the public was given were echoes, reverberations after the fact. The shooter's motive was never in question.
The issue then splintered, its fragments taking familiar trajectories. Pragmatists argued for tighter gun control, in this case perhaps an antihistamine, but one that could at least theoretically prevent another maniac from gunning down a room full of unarmed civilians. Others blamed the increasingly volatile rhetoric of the Trump regime for galvanizing a new generation of angry white men. When looking at the recent rise of extremist provocateurs,² this second point can feel the more crucial (though it goes without saying that these views are far from mutually exclusive), but in reality, it's closer to a half truth. Barack Obama's assessment of Trump (and by extension his rhetoric and the hate it inspires) as the "symptom not cause" of our present spiritual crisis mirrors this opinion, whether he meant it to or not. Still, we're left wondering: if Trump, Bowers, Cesar Sayoc, Richard Spencer, the alt-right, et al. are symptoms, what's the cause?
Nostalgia, in the classic sense, is a wistful remembrance, a pained recalling of a time where things were better. It's a belief, however erroneous, that the past contains more happiness than the present. A fitting example of nostalgic art is Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, a film so nostalgic it feels documental, produced for the former rebels/present yuppies of Gen X as a glimmering look at their past, a reassurance that they were indeed once cool. Saccharine or not (depends on who you ask), the film certainly comports to this traditional definition.
Today's televisual/cinematic nostalgia, if one can really call it that, has a distinctly different flavor. Instead of being a monument to the past, a shared generational experience, nostalgia has been co-opted as an aesthetic, a mood. Stranger Things, a show decidedly millennial in both content and attitude, is a perfect example of this. The outfits, the lingo, the references, and the sets all feel nostalgic, but a look at the show's viewership demographics quickly reveal this feeling doesn't fit nostalgia's true definition. 18-39 year-olds aren't old enough to have memories from the early 80s.
The television producer's argument that Stranger Things and other period dramas give a younger audience access to the past (which is new to them) while also capturing an older demographic who experienced the events on the show first hand doesn't hold water, especially when you consider that the Duffer Brothers are only 34-years-old. The nostalgia they're capturing isn't genuine. It's a fractal cobbling of present day ideals and past aesthetics–not nostalgia, but mutation, a rehashing and reliving of history with no frame of reference. It's time travel to a non-existent past.
One look around–bell bottom jeans, Mad Men, 90s-inspired music videos, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin songs playing on truck commercials–and it's impossible not to see this frantic pawing as the defining mark of our culture. It's not the end of history; it's a fraught and dizzying attempt to reimagine it and a cultural impetus to live in the mangled architecture of this imagined past.
Nostalgia for Stakes
To return to Eco for a moment, the Ur-Fascist is also marked by the fact that he's "deprived of a clear social identity." Eco goes on to say that fascism takes this lack of identity and fills the void with nationalism. While this is certainly true, from average Trump supporters all the way down to Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers, Eco never identifies the cause of this deprivation.³ The contextless nostalgia of our present offers an entrée into diagnosis–Bowers and others like him, while certainly insane, aren't so far removed from society as to be immune to its mores.
This new form of nostalgia, this amalgam of distorted realities, functions as both an escape hatch from our present existential void–a void of unmeaning, a loss of stakes–and one of its root causes. This new, fundamentally false, cultural memory is a product of our present zeitgeist. It's born of an influx of information and static confusion, one created by a society so materially comfortable that it's primarily concerned with artistic and aesthetic trends, with manufacturing meaning. The loss of stakes, however, can be traced back to the 1970s.
Following the Vietnam War and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the U.S. found itself in a peculiar position. After nearly 40 years of perpetual war, we lacked an enemy to align ourselves against. A malaise set in, one that would typify the 1970s. Then, in 1983, Ronald Reagan offered the American people a respite from having to define themselves by anything other than what they are not. He declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire," rekindling Cold War rhetoric which had long since burnt out. Announcing this a few years after signing a non-proliferation treaty with the Soviets probably felt strange to anyone paying attention, but it didn't matter. We had an enemy again.
But was the Soviet Union truly our enemy or one recreated by spiritual necessity? Manufactured animosity and organic threats converged at a single point. For Reagan's part, all he did was stir up past resentments, but his demagoguery wasn't feeding some Weimar-esque yearning for a return to greatness, but a nostalgia for dire consequences. Because the method and end result are similar—a monolith enemy is created onto which a society can project its fears—this distinction can feel unimportant. But, this marked a significant change.
America's enemies were no longer an existential threat. They were created as convenient scapegoats for economic and political turmoil. The recession of 1973, the OPEC oil embargo, and the 1979 energy crisis, while not unserious, paled in comparison to the socio-economic climates that spawned the original iterations of fascism. The U.S. economy was down, sure, but there was no question as to where the seat of global power resided. Still, at the quotidian level, lines at the pump and the rapid decrease in factory jobs were panic-inducing. If we take this moment to be the birth of American fascism, the moment in which we became "constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of [our enemies],"⁴ then it represents a reversal of what happened in the Weimar Republic. Instead of a fascism born out of economic powerlessness and spiritual fervor, ours is the result of a spiritual drought created by material excess.
On an individual level, it's hard to even differentiate Robert Bowers from the likes of Steven Paddock. Sure, Bowers is racist and anti-Semitic, but this is just a variation on the theme of the deranged lone gunman. If one steps back and looks at the furor in the stands at Donald Trump's rallies or at the violence in Charlottesville last year, however, it becomes impossible to miss this creeping trend, conservatism fading in the rearview as our society pushes ever rightward. But why?
If an individual suicide is an escape from life, an assertion that death is preferable to the anguish of everyday existence, then fascism, the societal suicide, must be an escape of the same order. At this point, it's clear that our sprint towards authoritarianism comes from our society's collective yearning for stakes, for meaning. There's no great existential threat, so we look to our leaders to manufacture one. But fascism is European. Its great figures have been dead for nearly a century. It's foreign, an anachronism. It doesn't make sense until one considers our present infatuation with nostalgia. Not nostalgia as feeling but as concept, as aesthetic. American neo-fascism is the point at which nostalgia for stakes and loss of context converge. Today's fascist is one who rifles through an ephemeral past, one he never really experienced, searching for an enemy that he's not only ill-equipped to assess, but that doesn't exist in any meaningful sense.
For those who feel disenfranchised by the end of history (or late capitalism or neoliberalism, whichever buzzword one assigns it), the options are limited. For reasonable people, it's a choice between participating in society or being forced to its margins. The neo-fascist avoids both options entirely, shirking nihilism and resignation. Instead, he dives head first into the shallow pool of contextless nostalgia, attempting to plumb the depths of history without realizing he's splashing around in a puddle. It's a frenetic and palsied search for a transgressive idea with which to define his world and by extension, himself. Robert Bowers is insane, yes. But the massacre he committed is simply a fringe response to a mainstream problem.
Donald Trump and the Fascist Urge
If Robert Bowers is a fascist, then what do we make of Donald Trump, whose rallies and policies embolden Bowers and those like him? This question has been on the tip of the media's tongue for three years, a veritable op-ed monsoon raging on both sides of the political aisle. It's here where Jean Baudrillard's idea of media as Möbius strip⁵ becomes relevant. Is Donald Trump a fascist? In this age of constant transmission, of signs and symbols ad infinitum, the answer and question morph into one. The answer is yes because we're asking. The harder pill to swallow is that we're asking because we want it to be true.
If a contextless nostalgia for stakes is the spiritual issue of our time, then it's preposterous to assume that it only affects the 42% of Americans who support Donald Trump. The other 58%, (liberals, socialists, some civility-obsessed conservatives) just manifest their yearning in a different way. The media frenzy surrounding Trump's campaign–the comparisons to Hitler, the endless, dizzying video coverage of his rallies and speeches–serves this latent desire. The mainstream media's posturing against Trump, their denouncing him as fascist, served only to legitimize him as such.
The #Resistance, the anti-fascists, the op-eds from supposed Trump staffers quietly opposing him from inside the White House, all work in service of the neo-fascistic lunge. The liberal outrage at Trump simply fulfills the desire for stakes in reverse. Instead of supporting Trump and accepting a manufactured enemy (immigrants, Jews, whomever), the anti-fascist (even linguistically the term anti-fascist, by virtue of its existence, seeks to build Trump into that enemy) wills him into being that thing by virtue of the anti-fascist's constitutional need for something to define himself against. Thus, simultaneity is achieved. Trump is a fascist not because of his racism or demonstrative hand gestures, but because both his supporters and detractors alike have willed him into the role.
Unfortunately, we're rapidly approaching a time in which the hows and whys lose their importance. Acts of terror, like Robert Bowers' attack, cut through the mediated blur and give us an honest glimpse at the stakes we're clamoring for, that we claim, by virtue of our actions, to need. In those moments the romance of crisis fades. With the rise of a Neo-American Bund, the regularity of racist and xenophobic sentiments and policy decisions, and the attempted suppression of the press, this once contextless urge is transformed into a frightening reality. Still, considering the The Tree of Life massacre already feels old, tired, like a relic of the past, it seems unlikely that this, or any one moment, will be enough to snap us from our nostalgic impulse and back into the present. It feels as though we're stuck in circumlocution, doomed to grasp for stakes until we conjure them in some perverse alchemical procedure.
1. While a more accurate representation of Eco's point would include in it the idea of "heroic death," it feels safe to call this a death drive nonetheless. Suicidal ideation, however sublimated, is still suicidal ideation.
2. One that immediately comes to mind is Gavin McInnes, the leader of the Proud Boys, a far right group that was recently videotaped mercilessly beating protesters on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
3. He also never attempts to. His piece on Ur fascism was written in 1995 and would have had to have been incredibly prescient to stay entirely relevant today.
4. Ur-Fascism, Umberto Eco, 1995
5. The Möbius strip, while constantly turning over itself, only has one side. In Baudrillard's view it's a perfect metaphor for binary or dichotomy (of ideals, information what have you), of which he believes(ed) no longer exist in modern society. It's a means of illustrating how information is constantly conflated.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. He currently serves as Lead Editor for Gramercy Media. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff
Rick Scott and President Trump baselessly claim a conspiracy by Hillary Clinton's lawyers.
Tensions are rising in Florida as Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election bid is likely headed for a hand recount. The incumbent Democrat now trails Florida Gov. Rick Scott by just 17,000 votes, easily within the .25% margin required for a hand recount. On November 6th, it looked as though Scott had won a narrow victory over Nelson, but untallied ballots have since trickled in from traditionally blue Broward and Palm Beach counties and called the election results into question.
Of course, Republicans have found a way to blame this new development on Hillary Clinton, claiming that her lawyers are involved in a far reaching conspiracy to claim Florida's senate seat for the Democrats. Rick Scott held a news conference Thursday evening calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the validity of the ballots in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and claimed he filed a lawsuit against top election officials in each county.
"I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida," Scott said. "Their goal is to keep mysteriously finding votes until the election turns out the way they want... left-wing activists have been coming up with more and more ballots out of nowhere."
Despite this strong rhetoric, Scott presented no evidence that anything unlawful actually occurred. Characteristically, President Trump soon weighed in with a tweet:
Then, Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giulliani contributed his thoughts on the matter:
On Friday, Trump told reporters during a news conference that Fusion GPS plotted to steal the election in Florida. "Then you see the people, and they were involved with that fraud of the fake dossier, the phony dossier, and I guess I hear they were somehow involved or worked with the GPS Fusion [sic] people, who have committed — I mean you look at what they done, you look at the dishonesty," Trump went on to say, "Look, look — there's bad things have gone on in Broward County, really bad things ... I say this — [Scott] easily won, but every hour it seems to be going down. I think people have to look at it very very cautiously."
A member of Bill Nelson's team, Dan McLaughlin, said in an official statement that "the goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately," going on to say that Scott's call for a criminal investigation "appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation."
Indeed, there's no valid legal claim that votes cast in a county that counts votes more slowly shouldn't be counted, and no evidence whatsoever that the issues with vote tabulation in Broward and Palm Beach counties are in any way due to Democrat interference.