Just a Normal Day on The Campaign Trail

Donald Trump

Let’s look at what happened in the 24 hours following the Orlando shooting.

  • Donald Trump gave a speech proposing a ban for immigrants from any Muslim country, and any country that has ever committed terrorism against the US and its allies (Ireland?), because, if you follow the logic of it, their children, or their children’s children might do something bad.
  • He suggested, to multiple outlets, that President Obama might in fact be in league with ISIS, or at least sympathetic to it. “He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it’s one or the other, and either one is unacceptable.” Now, in his lying way, he said that he believes Obama just doesn’t get it, but you know, people might think otherwise, and it’s really unbelievable, and it’s also hard to believe. To recap: a Presidential candidate is repeating, and heightening, the idea that the sitting President is actively helping, or at least hoping for, and ISIS victory.
  • When a major publication called him out on it, he revoked their credentials. Nixon didn’t revoke the credentials of the Post during Watergate. Nixon! And they aren’t the first. “Among the news organizations whose reporters have been blacklisted: Gawker, BuzzFeed, Foreign Policy, Politico, Fusion, Univision, Mother Jones, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Des Moines Register, the Daily Beast and Huffington Post.” That these bans are haphazardly enforced doesn’t make them any less scary.

To recap: this is not normal. The blood-and-soil race-hatred, the wild paranoia, the fiercely shouted conspiracy theories, the dismissing of noncompliant press. There is no way to normalize this. This is not a campaign strategy. It’s exactly how he’d govern, as the tinpot strongman of our nightmares.

I actually think the Post thing will backfire, as the mainstream media, who have been desperate to  treat this as a normal race, albeit one with an unusual candidate, will finally see it happening to one of their own. It was easy when it was local papers like the Union-Leader or the Register. And what’s this BuzzFed? And didn’t Gawker do the Hogan? Mother Jones? Fuck you.

But it’s different with the Post. As much as it has fallen, it is still the Post, the paper that brought down Nixon. I hope that this is when they realize that telling both sides and covering the debate is enabling an authoritarian the likes of which this country has never seen. I worry, and will worry until proven wrong, that the press will self-censor so they can stay in bed with the campaign. Access! That’s what most tyrants want. Self-censorship out of fear and preservation is so much more effective than having to line people up against the wall. Voices that are compliant in their own silence are usually too ashamed to ever speak up. That’s what Trump wants.

But maybe this will be different. Maybe this is so outrageous that they’ll push back. Maybe they’ll be fully awakened to the danger of this American monster.

A Confused and Angry Man With A Gun: An American Portrait

Orlando Sentinel:

At least four regular customers at the Orlando gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people said Monday that they had seen Omar Mateen there before.

“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Ty Smith said.

Washington Post:

Further confusing matters, Comey also revealed that in “inflammatory and contradictory” comments to co-workers in 2013, Mateen had claimed to be a member of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia based in Lebanon.

 Now, it’s possible, I suppose, that Pulse just had great drink specials, good enough for a man with outward revulsion toward homosexuality to overcome his loathing and get some Bud. It’s also possible, I suppose, that a man whom no one described as particularly concerned with religion had a sophisticated conversion wherein he moved from Shi’ism to Sunnism, perhaps based on some actions taken by Hezbollah of which he disapproved, revoking his membership and transferring to Hezbollah’s rival, ISIS (and doing this, meanwhile, while frequently getting drunk at a gay nightclub).
In the absence of those not too terribly likely scenarios, though, we need to look at this as what it was: a deeply confused, possibly closeted man, twisted by a culture (both much of Islam and many strains of Christian American life) that has a fierce hatred of homosexuality. He’s someone who hated himself, and hated others, especially those who reminded him of what he possibly actually was, even as he was drawn to them.
An angry and boastful man, who wanted people to think he was something that he wasn’t, in many ways. A manly married man, a tough Muslim with a dangerous background.  With just a few puzzle pieces moved around, a few name substitutions, this could be any of our mass shooters (and many of our non-mass-shooters, and some people who somehow don’t shoot anyone at all).
That he pledged to ISIS is no more indicative of their global reach than was the Newtown Massacre. There is little doubt that he was “inspired” by them, but not in the way we commonly understand. They just gave him an outlet for his rage, and a justification for his actions. But he would have found one anyway. It doesn’t seem he was radicalized by ISIS: he was radicalized by his hate, by something in his personality, and possibly something lurking deep within him. He let ISIS be his final reason, but the reasons were always there. ISIS was, at best, the proximate justification.
That’s what we don’t seem to understand, and the cheap and dangerous political demagoguing coming from the Republican candidate is making matters worse. As Masha Gessen said in the NYRB, declaring “war” on people like Mateen only empowers them, empowers ISIS, and gives the next confused and small and angry man a reason to act. It makes them seem like a great and powerful force, exactly the kind of thing that someone like Mateen wants to be a part of. It isn’t Islam, although there is no doubt that Islam played a role. It’s the roaring anger that exists in so many men, a self that is curdled by tradition and loathing. In his case, it was heightened by the rank homophobia that exists in many parts of American culture, including Islam. (As Chotiner pointed out at Slate, in his speech, Trump clearly separated Muslims from Americans, even saying “them” and “us”, even when talking about citizens. This hideous bigotry is exactly what ISIS wants, and it feeds any angry teenager who identifes with Islam).
It’s this yell, this cancerous rage, that is rampant across the country, no matter the pledged allegiance. Mateen was a product of his won twisted pathologies, but they were heightened by the society in which he lived.
And he had easy and unfettered access to combat weaponry.

The Waukesha Diversion: Geology in Human Affairs

Waukesha Diversion Week. Part I: The Great Lakes And the Future Water Wars


The formation of the lakes. See that 9000 years ago it was draining south. Image from glerl.noaa.gov


I type this late at night, after an evening of losing softball near the shores of Lake Michigan, which has seen us lose more than a little. It’s a warm night, on the stilled brink of a storm, and like many nights, I can hear the clacking rattle of a skateboard. There’s a kid who lives down the street, who nearly every night, walks his skateboard to the hill at the corner, and goes down.  Last year we heard him fall nearly every time, and were impressed by his ability to get back up. A cold-winded winter, in which he practiced most nights, made him better, and after he goes to the top of the hill, he shimmers down with ever more reckless speeds.

I wonder if he knows why, in this flat part of Illinois, in one of the flattest areas in the country, the street has a small hill, no more than 15 feet and low-angled, but for this area, substantial. Why his skateboarding has improved because his parents decided to live on this street, in this town. How the ancient geology of lakes affects his life, and in a real way, the interests that will shape him. If he lived two blocks down skateboarding would have basically been as interesting as cross-country skiing, which is to say: not at all.

But that’s sort of the point of this week’s series on Waukesha: the unseen role of geology, from the crisp edge of a basin to the smallest hill in Illinois. We are beholden to it, and it shapes our politics. It predates us, and it will outlast us, and our little human concerns have to find a way to propitiate geology. Becuase it doesn’t care if we do or not; it’ll keep on shaping out lives, vast and unseen, down to the water we’re allowed to drink.

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