Tag Archives: resistance

A Version of a Speech I Need to Give My Students Tomorrow

Okay guys, I’m floundering. I need your help.

About the only thing I know about this class is its frickin’ title: How to Combat Online Bullshit. When I came up with it, I had a whole idea about learning all about fake news — how it’s created, how it spreads, what kind of effects it can have — and then teaching you how to combat it.

The problem is, I don’t know if you care about fake news. I want you to feel a sense of righteous indignation toward it, but at least two of you don’t. I don’t really understand why, because my own righteous indignation is so close to the surface.

I make my living trying to get young people to understand and examine certain truths about the world, not truths that I necessarily have access to, but truths that I have received. One of those truths is that democracy is good; another is that democracy is hard; and another is that an enlightened electorate is the only weapon capable of of defending it. If that weapon gets any weaker, then the great experiment that is America will come to an ignoble end.

You two, the ones who are throwing me for a loop in this class, you two are still two or three years away from joining the electorate. But me and him, we’re already there.

And both of us are telling you that the information you find on the Internet is often completely fake, regardless of how real it may sound. I suspect (I hope) you already believe that, but I’m not entirely sure you understand the ramifications of it.

There’s something else I’m not sure about: I don’t know how much you read, or if you do, what kinds of things you might read.

When I conceived of this class, I made (and continue to make) an awful lot of assumptions about you, and I realize now that one of them is that you care (at least somewhat) about some of the events that are taking place beyond your own lives. That may have been a mistake.

Some basic knowledge of current events is necessary if I’m to rile up that righteous indignation I assumed you would already have. But if you don’t have this basic knowledge — if you don’t at least somewhat depend on the news to guide your understanding of reality — then you have no context from which to draw your anger from; you simply have no idea that we are currently being attack by an onslaught of verifiably intentionally-fake news.

Which means we need to go back to step one.

The purpose of a high-school education is, primarily, to prepare the future citizens of this country to continue the great experiment that we call democracy. Anything you learn above and beyond that in high school is just gravy.

But the key ingredient to democracy is, again, an enlightened electorate. And in order to cultivate that, I need you to become critical of everything you read, hear, and watch — I need you to become critical of media.

Because that’s where the battle is being fought now. It’s where democracy is currently being attacked. This is not hyperbole. This shit is actually going on.

Russia, that great enemy of my childhood, is literally attacking our country, and almost everyone has a reasonable suspicion that Russia may have even compromised the Chief Executive of our government, a possibility that is being diligently investigated by an incredibly powerful — and by all accounts, highly ethical — civil attorney, as well as by some of the more patriotic members of Congress. Reality is now literally a bad 80s movie that has been reboot for the 21st century, where the writers have replaced nuclear bombs with information bombs.

I shit you not.

My question to you is, “What character do you want to play in that movie?” Do you want to be someone shoveling your own shit in the background, or do you want to be someone driving the enemy all the way back to its capitol?

In the 21st century, heroes may not jump out of helicopters; they may work quietly and furiously on a laptop; but the dangers are just as real. The same menacing villain, a former high-ranking officer in the menacing KGB, is directing the same group of menacing bastards to train their sights on America. Behind it all stands a shadowy group of menacing rich bastards, luxuriating in the arrogance of their wealth, while in front of it all, the same innocent victims fall prey.

It’s up to somebody to stop them. Why shouldn’t that someone be you?

If it’s not, that means you’ve opted to become just another victim, and that  means America’s great experiment in democracy has failed.

I’ll say it again. Our democracy is really and truly under attack — not by some shadow terrorist, but by another sovereign nation whose military may not be as evolved as ours, but whose ability to engage in information warfare seems to be operating on a completely different level.

You’re both going to be 18 soon, which means, first, you’ll be eligible to participate in our democracy, and second, that you’ll be eligible to fight for it.

I want to teach you what the fight is actually about, and then teach you to defend yourself and throw a punch. I have the skills to do that.

But first, you have to show me what you know.

President Trump Did What Now?

I haven’t written about politics in a bunch of weeks. The reason is simple: it’s only a matter of time before Donald Trump gets impeached. There seems to be enough smoke now for any fair-minded person to agree that there must be some kind of fire. I don’t claim to know exactly what it is or who was involved, but I don’t doubt that the act of collusion includes the man at the highest level.

The NY Times is now reporting that Presidents Trump and Putin had an undisclosed, private conversation that lasted as long as an hour during the G20 Summit. It’s true that the conversation occurred in front of many of the world’s leaders, but except for Presidents Trump and Putin, only a Kremlin-employed interpreter knows exactly what was said.

Trump is attacking the Times for the story — “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is ‘sick.’ All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!” — but it’s not about whether the press knew about it (nor is it about the President’s use of quotation marks around “sick” — does he think he’s quoting somebody or is he misunderstanding  the use of scare quotes?). It’s about whether the press reported the conversation, and until now, they had not.

Journalists know a lot of things. They don’t report on everything they know. The best of them only report on the things they know for sure, which means they have evidence to support it.

And what did the NY Times journalist, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, report?

She reported that “hours into” a G20 dinner, President Trump rose from his seat and joined President Putin for “a one-on-one discussion…that lasted as long as an hour and relied solely on a Kremlin interpreter.”

She wrote some more words to allow the White House to register its reaction,  and she wrote some others words to provide context for more casual readers, but at bottom, those are the only facts that she reported.

And President Trump calls it “Fake News!,” not because he denied it happened, but because he’s upset someone thinks such a conversation should be news.

This is the reason those of us on the left think he is an idiot. He can’t stop getting in his own way. How hard is it to not have a private conversation with the person you’re being accused of colluding with? And if you must have a conversation, how hard is it, really, to arrange a truly private one?

You know how hard it is for this president? Incredibly hard. Everyone in the bureaucracy is out to get him. He can’t make a phone call to anyone on the planet without someone else knowing about it, and with the leak culture being encouraged by the press and, let’s face it, the American people, that someone else is more than likely to let the information slip. How much worse would it look if President Trump tried to arrange an actual secret meeting with President Putin?

He had no choice. He can’t just not talk about the situation with President Putin, collusion or no collusion, so his only choice is to do it in the most public place possible.  If he actually wants to talk about the collusion issue, he can’t trust the State-department interpreter to not share the details of their conversation, even if only under oath to a prosecutor.

So what the President did, collusion or no collusion, makes complete sense. But to think, even if only for a minute, that such a conversation doesn’t deserve to be news is to think something bat-shit stupid. If the President of the United States had a private, one-on-one conversation with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, the existence of that conversation would make the news — and I don’t even know if they have Prime Ministers there. To imagine it wouldn’t be news when you do it with your alleged colluder in treason…that’s just dumb.

That’s why I haven’t been writing about politics lately. I’m so done with trying to understand this President. I don’t have to anymore. I get it, and I honestly don’t think he’s a match for the one-two punches that keep coming at him from the bureaucracy and the press. If Mueller is as ethical as the press suggests, then it’s only a matter of time before they take him down.

At this point, writing about Trump feels more like trying to catalog and predict the ending of a one-sided fight — will he go down because of some kind of final, powerful blow or will he just succumb to a continuous onslaught of jabs? Making those kinds of prediction can be fun some of the time, like trying to predict which character on your favorite HBO show is going to die next, but more often it feels like trying to get excited about the arc on a crappy reality show.

There’s a danger in feeling that way, of course. If we allow ourselves to get bored by the lack of progress or overwhelmed by the case’s ever-growing details (how many fucking people were in that room with Don Jr. and how the fuck are they all connected again?), then we risk losing the urgency of the resistance. I get it.

But seriously, let’s look at this shit. Yes, the Republicans are trying to fuck up all kinds of shit in Congress, and yes, the President is doing a ton of real damage via Executive Order, but it seems the most they can do right now is all short-term stuff. They’re not organized enough to ram something through Congress — Trump is too unhinged and vague, and the Republican Congress has to reconcile the desires of too many “moderates” (as if…) with too many Tea Party crazies. If the Democrats can stay united in their resistance, the Republicans can’t deliver on the biggest promises they’ve made to the electorate, and they’ll continue to look and act completely dysfunctional.

Yes, there are things to do. Yes, there are real dangers to fight. But in all honesty, it seems like those who are doing the fighting for my side of things are doing a damn fine job, and I’m trusting them to continue to do so.

Me? I’ll keep going to work each day to teach the next generation of leaders how to think for themselves. It’s the least I can do.

Donald Trump is a Thug

I picture Donald Trump in a hotel room somewhere in Eastern Europe. The lighting is dim, and smoke burns from the tip of a lit cigarette, filling the room. One man sits at a skinny, wooden desk, the cigarette resting on the lip of the thin, glass ashtray sitting in front of him. Two other men, and Donald, stand near the center of the room. Donald has just arrived, and he flashes a smile that is both confident and cordial, but behind his eyes, the men see a scared tiger. There’s a lot of money in a bag on the bed.

I’ve never been in that room, and I’m guessing neither have you. It takes balls to be in that room. The kind of balls it takes to do business with thugs.

I picture Donald Trump under a bridge in New Jersey. Two men, both of whom he pays in return for their loyalty, stand strong and nearby. Three other men, only one of whom talks, stand opposite Donald. Together, they discuss building contracts and union dues, and at all times they both underline their words with a variety of subtle (and not so subtle) threats. Four of the men present carry a gun. There’s another man concealed but not doubted, seated in the passenger seat of Donald’s car.

This is the man we’ve watched for the past 100+ days. A man who engages in handshake competitions with rival strangers who aspire to be his equal or his better. A man who shoves aside anyone he deems lower than himself in importance. A man who can drive once mortal enemies into each others’ arms (note the handshake, by the way) and force a century’s worth of alliances into disarray.

I’m reading Paris 1919, a book about the personalities and politics of the Treaty of Versailles. For those who don’t know, the Treaty of Versailles is the peace treaty from World War I, where Great Britain, France, the United States, and (to a more limited extent) Italy and Japan created the conditions whereby many of the horrors of the 20th and 21st century found purchase. The book lays out in incredible detail the singular reality that governs our entire world, namely, that our biggest issues rarely exceed the infantile drives of adult male primates meeting in small spaces. Many of these primates desire, more than anything else, more power than their competitors — sometimes for defensive reasons, sometimes for offensive ones, but always and only for more power.

Us liberals like to think the civilized world has moved beyond power politics, but it drives everything that distracts us from our self-fulfillment as a species. It belittles our drive for equality; it impugns our desire for a healthy habitat; and it reacts violently to our calls for mercy.

Donald Trump is the man in our White House. He is not an idiot. He is not a dupe. He is a thug. He rose to power not because he inherited millions of dollars (millions of people inherit millions of dollars), but because he knows how to stand in a dimly lit room or under a rainy night bridge and wield actual and real power.

He stands as a challenge to all civilized people. How will we respond? As Democrats with a capital D? Or as small-d democrats, the inheritors of an idea that too was formed in a small and dimly lit smoke-filled room, an idea of rebellion and resistance, not in the dark shadows of assassins or the cowering masks of terrorists, but en masse and in the streets, on the pulpit and in the press, in our businesses and in our homes, resistance, rebellion, resistance. Resistance, rebellion, resistance. Resistance, rebellion, resist…

I picture Donald Trump sitting in a tall chair in the Oval Office. A young black woman arrives dressed in a blue pantsuit and wearing dark glasses. Her pants are almost too short for her chubby legs, revealing — more than they’re supposed to — her feet in blue flats. There is nothing pretty about her, nothing powerful. She walks from the door to the desk, where Donald Trump sits alone. He makes eye contact with her as she crosses the room, but she knows he doesn’t see her, his mind still trying to ferret out some small hole he can slip through. She reaches the desk, and instantly, she knows it: he sees her now, sees the light and the person in her eyes. With everything she can muster, she projects with her mind’s eye a vision of millions of Americans standing strong in a nighttime rainstorm, quiet and dignified, solemn and righteous. She wants him to see it in her eyes, to see them, the people whose power she now represents, a power whose like he has never faced, the power of the demos.

She reaches across the desk. He reaches up, and she places the paper in his visibly shaken hand. She stands and waits. It is he, not she, who has been dismissed.