The Insult and Absurdity of ‘Make America Great Again’

A "Make America great again" hat.

Of the many dangerous untruths espoused by the Trump campaign, perhaps none was so flagrant as the one embedded right in the campaign’s central promise, “Make America Great Again.” That phrase seemingly asks us to recall a period when the United States still offered freedom and prosperity to all– when the American Dream was alive and well, unmarred by today’s excesses of bad regulation, Washington elitism, and so-called “political correctness.” But when was that time? When was America great?1

  • Was America great in 1917, when President Wilson asked congress for a declaration of war against Germany, asserting “we are glad [to fight] … for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples? 1917, when suffragist Alice Paul was being force-fed raw eggs through a tube in the psychopathic ward of the DC District Jail, for the grave offense of suggesting women should be allowed to vote?2
  • Was America great in 1962, when President Kennedy rallied support for the audacious national effort to land a man on the moon? 1962, when US troops plodded through puddles in Vietnam, burning the huts of the rural poor, and Americans were “faced with the cruel irony” Dr. King would later remark “of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools?”

The United States has harbored an abundance of great ideas, great individuals, and great moments. But they have always existed in tandem with profound and unconscionable violence, oppression, and anguish. Moreover, the freedoms and liberties of American life have always fallen disproportionately on the white, the male, the straight, and the wealthy, while the nation’s crimes and atrocities have always fallen disproportionately on the black and brown, the non-straight, the female-bodied, and the poor. For these reasons and more, we cannot nostalgically label as “great” any period of American history.

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From London, With Love [Poem]

I walk in London
Among immense, impossible
spirals of glass, and fantastic, slanting
protrusions of office-bearing stone
Impressive testaments to the city’s ingenuity, modernity
–Or, rather, its wealth

Magnificent, ostentatious temples
like those of Ancient Greeks and Egyptians before

Power symbols of the rich
containing the misery of the poor

When will we learn to wear simple clothes?

When will we measure the strength of a society
Not by the grandeur of its elements
But by the scarcity of its pain?

In thinking of future cities
We must let our imaginations pan down
from the flying cars and floating gardens
of tomorrow’s magnificent skyline
To the darkest, most neglected part of town
– Is it safe there?

[Click here to read as PDF]

Suggested Grammatical Conventions for Leftists, Progressives, and Radicals

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I would submit the corollary claim: “We mean what we say, so we must be very careful about what we say.” The way we use language reflects and informs how we think. Thus, I propose a few grammatical conventions to be adopted by those with leftist, progressive, and radical inclinations.

1. Refrain from capitalizing “american” and other nationalities.

The rise of Donald Trump, among other world events, suggests a resurgence of WWII-era nationalism; wasn’t “Make Germany Great Again” Hitler’s campaign slogan? It was no good then and it’s no good now! De-capitalize, de-emphasize, de-nationalize! Be proud of your country, but not too proud. Celebrate what’s good and criticize what’s bad. See yourself primarily as a citizen of the world, no more/less important than anyone else, and no more/less deserving of safety, dignity, freedom, and respect. (Eg. “My name is Dustin and I’m an american living on Earth.”) 

2. Exercise caution when using “we.”

“We” is a multifaceted pronoun that can be evoked (implicitly and explicitly) in a variety of forms. The collective we can be a powerful tool for generating feelings of solidarity and resilience within a community, and should be considered correct under the radical-grammatical framework (Eg. “We shall overcome” as a slogan of the american civil rights movement).

The national we, however, tends to impose a sanitized collective history and a simplistic collective will over a hugely diverse group of people, thereby erasing many individual’s narratives and needs. For example, in resigning from the 2016 Presidential race, Ted Cruz echoed a conventional claimthat “we were founded on… [the idea] that each of us have a right to find and use our god given gifts, a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In reality, of course, america’s founding slaveholders (to use Nathan Schneider’s term) made pallid efforts to extend such rights to most americans– namely those without property, white skin, a penis, or any combination thereof.1 Thus, this usage is not grammatically-radically correct and should be avoided. Continue reading “Suggested Grammatical Conventions for Leftists, Progressives, and Radicals”

Spotted in Stockholm [Blurb]

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN — Spotted in Stockholm: a large, mixed-gender public restroom. Because pissing is pissing– it isn’t sexual or scandalous– and there is no harm in pooping near people with junk that differs from your own. But liberation from antiquated sex-segregating social norms evidently comes at a cost. Specifically, a 10 kronor ($1.50) entrance fee.

public toilet in Stockholm

On “Permanent Revolution”

Karl Marx famously evoked the term “permanent revolution” in urging the disenfranchised working-class to rise up against their capital-owning oppressors. He was beseeching those suffering under the nascent system of industrial production to mount a sustained resistance against capitalist exploitation, and never settle for a compromise that made life slightly more tolerable but failed to alter the underlying power dynamic of their time.1

Things are different now– at least in much of the global north. The lines between ‘proletariat’ and ‘bourgeois’ are more ambiguous. Factory work has largely been replaced with service work and knowledge work. Many people now experience some degree of sovereignty and pleasure towards their jobs, even if they are not CEOs. Moreover, technological change has brought many comforts and securities to huge masses of people that were largely or entirely unattainable in the past.

Under these conditions, the notion of revolution may sound unpleasant and undesirable. The word might conjure up images of 18th century French revolutionaries beheading politicians, or Cuban revolutionaries ousting Batista through guerrilla warfare. Even poor Americans–living paycheck to paycheck, working multiple minimum wage jobs– are unlikely to desire that kind of revolution.

The fact is that revolution does not always need to be violent. But it does need to occur. Continually.

Continue reading “On “Permanent Revolution””

A Note About “Black Lives Matter” [Blurb]

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — It seems to me that the BlackLivesMatter movement is anti-cop in the same way a “clean the river” campaign is anti-river. The activists behind a “clean the river” campaign don’t hate rivers, or think rivers are evil. Rather, they want to remove the toxins and wastes within the river that pose a threat to their community. They want to see the river transformed into a source of comfort and serenity, instead of something to fear and avoid. If a maniac with a bulldozer began dumping sand in the river, yelling “I hate rivers! Destroy all rivers!” we could not reasonably consider him an ally or disciple of the “clean the river” campaign.

Unpacking Dutch Tolerance

AMSTERDAM– In the two weeks I spent in the Netherlands, I repeatedly encountered the Dutch vocab word “gedogen.” This cherished verb– which one pronounces by issuing a flem-clearing throat rasp at the appearance of each ‘g’– roughly means “to tolerate.” It describes a kind of pragmatic tolerance, often expressed to me as ‘turning a blind eye’ or ‘seeing it through the fingers.’

It can be used to describe minor, everyday occurrences and major policy positions alike. For example, when a classmate of mine asked if he could eat his apple in the public library, and the librarian replied “No… But I won’t see it,” she gedogd it. The term is also evoked to describe the Netherland’s (restricted) decriminalization of prostitution, soft drug use (including marijuana), and the use of euthanasia for assisted suicide. As Yasha Lange explained in a 2001 article published on BBC News, these activities are permitted because the government believes they will occur regardless of their legality, but pose a lesser threat to individuals and society as a whole if they occur openly instead of in the shadows. Pragmatic tolerance. Gedogen.

In the optimistic understanding of this term, gedogen alludes to an admirable tradition of respecting difference within the Netherlands. That is to say, the concept of gedogen both reflects and reproduces various forms of tolerance, including tolerance of religious difference, artistic expression, sexual orientation, and more. Gedogen becomes a banner flying high above the country that reads ‘everyone welcome’ and illuminates the Netherlands as an uncommonly progressive nation.  Continue reading “Unpacking Dutch Tolerance”

Dear Bernie

Dear Bernie,

It looks like the race to become the Democratic nominee is coming to a close. Whatever happens next, I want to thank you– both for the incredible presidential campaign you have run, and for the prior 30+ years you spent in public service. As I have educated myself about your political career, I have been profoundly inspired by your empathy, foresight, integrity, and drive.

I watched with awe and admiration how you passionately argued for military spending cuts before the House of Representatives in 1992:

We are spending $270 billion a year on the military, but we don’t have a major enemy! I know it hurts your feelings, I know you’re upset about it, I know you’re hoping and praying that maybe we’ll have another war, maybe somebody will rise up. But it ain’t happening! … Let’s have the guts to give leadership to this country. The Cold War’s over. Let’s reinvest in America.

Perhaps a dozen times I watched the clip of you rising in opposition to the 1991 crime bill to declare:

This is not a crime prevention bill. This is a punishment bill, a retribution bill, a vengeance bill… If you wanna get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman, and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living, let’s not keep putting poor people in jail and disproportionately punishing blacks.”

And I wept as I watched you, realizing how uncommon this view was at the time, and knowing that those crime bills of the early 1990s did not make crime drop but instead helped construct today’s system of racially-biased mass incarceration.

You were right right about the crime bill, Bernie– they were wrong. Just as you were right to oppose war in Iraq. Just as you were right to repeatedly oppose the Patriot Act and the mass surveillance it entailed. Just as you were right to gallantly filibuster the 2010 agreement that extended Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Just as you were right to vote and speak out against ineffective “war on drugs” policies again and again and again. You have been right so many times over the years, Bernie, while the popular view has been painfully, dangerously, destructively, wrong. Why couldn’t more people see that?

Continue reading “Dear Bernie”

To the Daily Camera: Stop propagating climate change denial

*Originally published in the opinion section of Boulder’s “The Daily Camera,” April 6, 2014*

Greetings. I’m a senior at Fairview High and I’m writing to urge the Daily Camera to follow the example of the Los Angeles Times and commit to no longer publishing letters to the editor that deny human-caused climate change. The claims made by climate change deniers are not only inaccurate, but also damaging, and newspapers have no obligation to propagate their misinformation. In fact, they have an obligation not to.

From pixabay.com.

Let me begin my argument with few words about science. There exists a faction of citizens, pundits, and politicians that like to remind us that climate change is “just a theory” and therefore any attempts to mitigate it would be thoroughly premature. Per the diligent conditioning of my biology teacher, I would like to state that the term “theory” bears a different significance in the sciences than it does in casual conversation.

To a scientist, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. Gravity is a theory. The idea that some diseases are caused by microorganisms is a theory. The idea that an object heavier than air can achieve flight when lift balances weight and thrust exceeds drag, which makes air travel possible, is a theory. And the theory of special relativity that makes your GPS function is, in fact, a theory. To oppose one of these concepts and not another would be hypocritical, for each is subjected to the same degree of rigorous review.

Continue reading “To the Daily Camera: Stop propagating climate change denial”

Quotes of the Week

I wanted to briefly share a few interesting quotes from different sources I’ve come across over the past week or so.

1) Politics

From Yes! magazine:

Attaching our values of freedom to the market is not just dehumanizing. It also fails to recognize how one person’s ‘freedom’ of economic choice is another’s imprisonment in a life of exploitation and deprivation. There is no possibility for true freedom until we are all free, and this will only come through a much richer and deeper conception of human freedom than the one that consists of going to a grocery store and ‘choosing’ between 5,000 variations of processed corn.

yes!I thought this was a wonderfully articulate snippet regarding the importance of shifting our views on freedom and capitalism. When we commit ourselves entirely to the idea of unbridled free market capitalism as the surest guarantee of personal freedom, we loose freedom in other ways, such as the freedom to live in a world with clean air and water and healthy plants and animals and ecosystems, among other things.

I read this in a copy of Yes! magazine I stumbled across– an exciting publication  that “empowers people with the vision and tools to create a healthy planet and vibrant communities.” From the same edition I highly recommend the article, Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical is the New Normal.

Continue reading “Quotes of the Week”