2016 Election

What I Realized

As the numbers piled up in favor of a monster, I realized that I’d fallen in love with the idea of a country, not the country I’m now loathe to call home.

I realized that the racism I’ve always safely compartmentalized as pockets unrepresentative of the country as a whole were, in fact, quite accurately representative, that while most of that tide might not visit violence upon minorities with fists and lynches, they were all too willing to wield the sword of public institutions without care (or understanding?) of the blade’s lethal edge.

I realized that my parents had lied to me growing up, or at least omitted a few things. Because while it might be true that women can do anything men can do, they will also be held to a very different standard as they do it, be harassed and threatened as they try. And in the end, though women can, there is a terrifyingly large chunk of the American population that will say they may not. 

I realized, looking at the numbers for white women voters, that patriarchal values are so very widely socialized and deeply internalized by far too many women in this country, and that this condition, paired with internalized notions of white supremacy, cost us dearly not just last night, but every other day of the year.

I realized that, for all the gains made by the LGBTQ community over the past decade, this is what it looked like when a group of privileged people told a marginalized people to “know their place.” It was white patriarchy rebelling against what they call “political correctness” — what we call progress and, at times, justice for the disenfranchised.

I realized that American Christians — who I have tried, so hard, to give the benefit of the doubt — bear no resemblance to the “compassionate Christ” they aspire to emulate. When 81% of those voters cast their lot with a man who sexually assaults women, plans to tear immigrant families apart, wants to ban adherents of a specific religion from entering the country, encourages violence against dissidents, aims to legalize discrimination against people who look and love differently, and hopes to gut the first amendment, they made it quite clear that they are not worried about human suffering. They are worried about their own cultural dominance.

I realized that this is what happens when you defund education for decades, when you reshape history lessons through the lens of (white) American exceptionalism, when you prioritize test scores over critical thinking.

I realized that for all the potential good offered by social media and the internet, it has facilitated the most effective, widespread leverage of anti-intellectual propaganda in our history, definitely more so than it has exposed it — a trend facilitated by our educational deficiencies.

I realized, as I watched the markets spasm and dive, echoes of 2008 filling my mind, that things would likely get much worse, much faster for folks on both sides of the aisle than we imagined, and that the Fed is in no position to make a difference on that note.

I realized that many, many, many privileged progressives have no qualms with pointing the finger at minority voter splits with blame and ire when, in reality, it was white folks who brought this on.

I realized that there is no greater proof that our two party system is broken than the results we now face, and the way those results have turned Democrats rabid over the third party votes cast yesterday. It doesn’t matter that those Johnson votes probably wouldn’t have gone blue. It doesn’t matter that the Democrats still lost in meaningful ways in other important categories.

I realized that maybe none of these thoughts were real revelations, if I’m being honest, but inconvenient truths I’d tucked away, wanting so badly to believe that we were better than all this.

I realized, as I spent hours researching immigration policies in different countries around the world, that I am not as brave as I had hoped. I panicked thinking about the lease I’d planned on signing today. Did I really want to promise another year of my life to this country under these circumstances? Did I really want to raise my daughter here, knowing what’s about to happen to the Supreme Court?

I realized, as the morning light danced across my daughter’s face over breakfast, as she grimaced but nodded upon hearing the bad news, as I thought of different children in different homes in different circumstances, that this cowardice is not what I want to teach my kid, not the right way to love the people who matter to me, not the right thing to do for those most vulnerable now.

I realized that this isn’t about me, or my fears, or whether or not I can comfortably say I love this country or that I have hope. It’s not about politics. It’s about people. And right now, there are a lot of people who are going to need someone in their corner, because much of the incoming government is decidedly not. There is work to be done, and bailing in this moment would be the height of privilege.

I realized that I am not proud to be an American today, but I am damned and determined to shape a tomorrow where I am.

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An Open Letter to Senator Sanders

Dear Senator Sanders,

I want to start off by saying I’m rooting for you. Ideologically, you and I are a match, and I trust you and your record more than Secretary Clinton’s. Though there are those who worry you won’t be able to govern, I don’t buy that line of argumentation. You’ve proven yourself adept at getting things done in an increasingly partisan Congress, and if you can continue to inspire progressive enthusiasm in a way Clinton is struggling to replicate, your down ticket impact could usher in a Congress that will support your agenda.

But that’s a big if.

I do think it’s possible. One need only take a gander at your meteoric ascent to see that you’re gaining traction in a way no one would have predicted a year ago. Your message about economic inequality is resonating among voters whose economy has been decimated by those who cared not for the issue. Your proposals on the subject are imperfect, but they’re leaps and bounds ahead of what’s offered by the rest of the field in terms of substance. What’s more, people believe you when you say you’re going to wage war against those who have long propped up a rigged system.

The problem is that the tunnel vision that propelled you to such heights has now become a liability. You are correct when you say that economic inequality impacts individuals from all walks of life, but in an era that has been distinguished by a rise in identity politics, this narrow brand of intersectionality is insufficient. And as I watch you approach subjects related to identity politics, this becomes glaringly obvious.

It is not that there is some massive gap between you and Secretary Clinton on reproductive rights. I have no doubt that both of you would veto anti-choice legislation brought forth by Congress and nominate justices to the Supreme Court who would uphold a woman’s right to choose. But that’s only part of the picture.

Beyond the actual responsibilities and powers of the presidency, women are looking for you to lead on such subjects. They don’t want one line in a stump speech. They want you to passionately affirm and defend their reproductive rights, because we’re in the midst of the greatest assault on a woman’s right to choose since Roe v. Wade. 

Even if you’re just a candidate, your voice has power as a result of your support. So use it. Take some of that rage directed towards Wall Street and direct it toward anti-choice proponents in state legislatures and Congress. Encourage your progressive brethren to do the same by setting an example. Make it loud. Make it bold. Prove to us that you’ll do more than play defense. Prove to us you’ll lead.

It’s not that I think you’re less likely to stand up for black lives than Secretary Clinton. Indeed, the Secretary’s record on race is rather spotty, and if we judge you by your history alone, your record on the subject is much better. But falling back on your actions during the Civil Rights era is not enough. When you respond to questions about race by deflecting to the economy and saying “everyone” is impacted by it, it sounds like a variation of “All Lives Matter.” You’re right; everyone is impacted by the economy. But individuals, and particularly women, of color are impacted in a disproportionate manner, and you can’t even muster an acknowledgement of that.

Your “we’re all in this together” rationale on race has problems outside of the economic conversation. Racial inequity extends far beyond dollar signs. It’s about schools in communities of color without the resources necessary to give kids a fair shot. It’s about discrimination in housing and hiring. It’s about a criminal justice system where black individuals are far more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested and convicted of the same crime while facing far stiffer penalties. It’s about the cycle of oppression that repeats again and again when these distinctive experiences are not explicitly recognized. And for years, that’s exactly what’s happened.

When you talk about white people deserving reparations too and start counting how many times you say the word “black” at a given event and fall back on the fact that some black people have endorsed you, you could not possibly sound more tone deaf. I’m glad you’re meeting with black leaders to discuss the issues, but it doesn’t seem like you’re growing much from those conversations. You can’t just say you’re going to improve race relations. You can’t just lump black issues into policies that benefit all lives. You have to engage in critical conversations about policies that will address the significant issues facing people of color in this country.

Again, this is about leadership. Too often, black voices are assimilated into general progressive rhetoric. If Ferguson and the subsequent tragedies have taught us anything, it’s that this approach isn’t going to cut it. So do better. Be better, Senator. You need to listen more and listen some more after that. Don’t just look for ways to address black concerns from within your existing platform. Start looking for ways to directly address those concerns, because such solutions are just as necessary as your proposed broad reforms, if not more so. Start acknowledging the validity of the concerns of people of color in a public and unequivocal manner. Don’t shy away from the calls for change and reckoning by relying on platitudes. As you have in the past, boost the voices of leadership within these communities. Use your privilege to do some good. I know you know how to do that. Get back to your roots.

You’ve been floundering on immigration, as well. I appreciate your dedication to keeping families together, I really do. I like the path to citizenship. I’m totally with you on your calls for better treatment of immigrant workers. As Sam Frizell put it, you have, “checked all the boxes for a Democratic presidential candidate” when it comes to immigration reform. But your framing of the issue is increasingly problematic.

There’s a reason that conservatives like Representative Steve King and Numbers USA president Roy Beck sing your praises on immigration. It’s because you’ve couched your conversations on immigration reform in the rhetoric of “protecting American workers.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with that sentiment on face, but when it’s put in the context of immigration reform, it’s a perpetuation of the myth that undocumented immigrants are “stealing” jobs from Americans and function as a drain on the economy. Indeed, you’ve said in the past that, “We should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled to workers to compete with [unemployed] kids.”

Not only are the assumptions behind such comments demonstrably untrue, but this whole approach ignores the experience of documented and undocumented immigrants alike. They are not just faceless contributions to figures bandied about in political debates. These are real people who face unique struggles and fears. The sooner you start acknowledging that in your platform and on the stump, the better. Right now, you often sound callous.

Once more, this is about leadership. Your policies may be net beneficial, but without compassionate promotion, they are not enough. It’s not just about citizenship. It’s about widespread discrimination and often violence against those who are even perceived as immigrants, regardless of whether they are citizens or not. Those struggles deserve attention as well. You are in a position to not only push for effective reform, but reshape the conversation surrounding such reforms. And that’s important, because one without the other falls short in a major way. Put a human face on a policy problem and it changes the way we approach it. The immigrant population in this country deserves that. This is your chance to rise to the occasion.

Are you seeing the common thread yet, Senator? We need you to lead. We need you to be our champion, to wield your influence in a way that aids those on the ground who are fighting the good fight. We need you to not only know there’s a problem, but understand it. On so many issues, your policies are admirable. But what weakens those policies and causes a disconnect between you and the voters is a seeming erasure of the inherent human element of the problems you’re trying to tackle. You are paying lip service on a surface level to deep and complex issues that manifest in individual experiences. We need to feel like you care, and right now, it’s hard to feel the bern on that note.

Again, I’m rooting for you. I trust your experience and the judgment you’ve shown throughout your years of public service. But it’s hard to be an enthused supporter when I’m watching people I love and respect have their very real pain excluded from the conversation you’re leading. This is not about a fight between you and Hillary. It’s about a fight for our votes — point blank. If you want to earn the support you need to grab the nomination and make it to the White House, you’re going to have to do better.

Hopeful in Illinois,

Lauren Nelson

Foreign Policy: The Big American Stumbling Block

There are a great number of issues being debated in the 2016 elections. As candidates duke it out over their party’s nomination, a subject of repeated inquiry has been foreign policy, and with good reason: absolutely no candidate on either side of the aisle has a great foreign policy position. It’s not a Republican or Democratic problem. It’s an American one.

I’m not going to waste a lot of keystrokes on the Republican side of the equation. Any of them would have a catastrophic impact on global and national security with their chest beating, xenophobia, racism, and hawkish demeanor. They’re all to happy to send our loved ones overseas to die in the name of ego. They’re already making the world a more dangerous place. Case in point: the front runner is currently featuring in terrorist recruitment videos.

But the Democrats don’t get a pass on this subject, either. Both Sanders and Clinton are problematic in their approach to foreign policy, and giving them a pass in the name of bolstering our candidate of choice is not going to help things.

Foreign policy has long been a weak spot for Sanders. Some argue it’s a function of experience. After all, while he’s not without depth on issues of foreign policy, Clinton’s got him beat by a mile when it comes to bona fides.

And his answers on foreign policy? Not fantastic to date. Some have speculated that this is due to the Clinton machine cutting off his access to credible and experienced foreign policy advisers, and are quick to insist that he’ll have strong advisers once he’s in the White House to guide him to the right answers. Unfortunately, from a strategic perspective, that’s not a great defense. After all, Clinton’s argument is that she’ll be stronger on foreign policy out of the gates, and if Sanders needs time with advisers to get on her level, that’s not going to cut against her assertions.

The notes he does hit aren’t awful, but they aren’t deep, either. We war too much, we spend too much, we should rely on other actors to handle issues within their region, and — over and over and over again — that vote against the war in Iraq. These arguments aren’t fundamentally awful, but he’s less progressive than many think.

At every turn, Sanders has supported President Obama’s military proposals: from voting to fuel Israel’s ongoing human rights abuses against Palestine to supporting ongoing drone warfare. While one can argue that taking a firm stance on these issues is not tenable in the given political climate, these positions also cut against the idea that Sanders will not be business as usual. On the subject where he has perhaps the greatest influence once in the White House, Sanders offers more of the same.

But if you think Clinton is untouchable on this subject, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sanders would likely continue to support the foreign policy seen under the Obama administration, but Clinton is a sure thing. Yes, she is experienced, but her experience reveals a candidate who is even more hawkish than Obama. More than once, she was the one at the table pushing for Obama to more aggressively intervene in crises in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, favoring more on the ground efforts and a ramp up of drone activity. She’s also spoken more than once about a desire to provide Israel with even more firepower. When it comes to potential conflict down the road, she’s all too willing to go to war. In her own words, she “will not hesitate to take military action.”

And let’s not forget who she’s turning to for advice on foreign policy: Henry Kissinger. I’m not just talking about the praise she heaped on during a review of his book. She not only looked up to his example while shaping her own views on foreign policy, but turned to him for counsel on her decisions, occasionally asking him to present his case to the Obama.

Why is it a problem that one secretary of state turn to a former secretary of state for guidance? Because Kissinger is a fucking monster. A decorated war criminal. A man who referred to bombing as a form of diplomacy. A twisted nationalist whose advocacy and efforts gave rise to some of the most terrifying political regimes in the world. He’s a stain on American history, and often regarded as the father of the sprawling beast that represents American foreign policy today, in all its messed up glory. Know who else thinks he’s swell? That would be Ted Cruz. Not great company for Clinton.

If, in Clinton’s judgment, Kissinger is an admirable man and trusted adviser, her judgment is absolute shit. Point blank.

But Kissinger didn’t get us to this point on his own. His ascent and the continuation of his philosophy in American foreign policy was fueled by the electorate’s general ignorance of global politics and cultural differences. When the public accepts “America is the best!” as a justification for hawkish foreign policy, those pushing it get their way.

And that’s why we’re looking at a presidential field today whose foreign policy is discombobulated at best and downright dangerous at worst. Until we start prioritizing global affairs literacy and history lessons outside the tint of American exceptionalism colored glasses, we won’t get the leadership on this subject we need… but we’ll certainly get what we deserve.