Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Harris Pick versus White Fragility

California Senator Kamala Harris has been selected as Joe Biden's running mate.

This is, I think, the chalk pick, and one I'm quite content with. I like Harris -- she was my off-the-blocks favorite before I switched my support to Warren -- and I think she'd make a fine President in the event that Biden's health fails him. It's momentous that a Black woman is filling this role, and that shouldn't be undersold just because many predicted it in advance (as Yair Rosenberg notes, part of what makes it historic is precisely that it feels conventional). I also am excited for the prospect of the first Second Man being the first Jewish Second Man.

There is one other thing that rose to my mind that I haven't seen fully emphasized. Harris' biggest moment on the campaign trail this primary season was, of course, when she hit Joe Biden on his failure to support busing as a racial integration measure. Given that, it is I think notable that Biden picked her as his VP anyway. The standard "White Fragility" narrative* is that such a challenge, from a Black woman, to a White man, will be taken as the gravest and most unforgivable of insults -- a shattering offense from which there can be no recovery. Biden is modeling an alternative -- he did not respond to a very public, very pointed anti-racism challenge by treating the challenger as cherem. He stayed in relationship with her and elevated her as his political partner. It's not the largest thing, but it is a thing that matters.

* I know "White Fragility" is passe now among the cool kids, but for what it's worth I read it back when it was a random academic article published in an obscure journal in 2011.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Searching for Tikhanovskaya

Belarus just had a presidential election, and incumbent Alexander Lukashenko -- who has held his position since the mid-1990s and is known as "Europe's last dictator" -- was announced the winner with over 80% of the vote.

Nobody (well, nobody but a few especially credulous tankies) believes this figure is accurate, and protests have erupted throughout the country. Meanwhile, Lukashenko's main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has reportedly gone missing (Tikhanovskaya entered the race after her husband was arrested two days following the announcement of his own presidential run. What a fantastic avenue for feminist advancement!).

What do you think will be the most likely circumstances of Tikhanovskaya's reappearance?

  1. She'll emerge from hiding in another European country;
  2. Flanked by government "security", she will "voluntarily" announce that she accepts the election results and urge that all Belarussians respect Lukashenko's regime;
  3. The government will report the sad news of her suicide -- she "jumped out a window" after only taking 10% of the vote, the poor thing.
  4. She'll never reemerge, or in any way be heard from again.
I certainly hope she's okay, and safe, and send my full solidarity with the people of Belarus struggling for freedom and democracy.

UPDATE: And apparently, it's door #1!

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Why Are Romanians Running Fake "Black Trump Supporter" Accounts?

Facebook announced it had suspended a legion of accounts that purported to be Black Trump supporters but were actually Romanian in origin. Which raises the question: Why are Romanians pretending to be Black Trump supporters on Facebook?

To be clear -- there's no "good" answer to this. All the possible motivations are terrible. But they can be differently terrible. For example, while the most likely explanations are political, there are some apolitical rationales I can imagine, namely:

  • It's a grift. Scammers have discovered that gullible White people are thirsting for Black Trump supporters to exist, and this is an easy way to exploit that hunger for cash.
Someone could be interested in running this con with no particular interest or concern with the political ramifications. 

But there are quite a few different political motivations I can imagine as well (and these might all occur in conjunction):
  • The purpose is to support Trump by galvanizing Black Trump supporters -- showing them that they're not alone, there's a community, and they should be out and proud.
  • The purpose is to support Trump by galvanizing White Trump supporters -- showing them that "not all Blacks" oppose him and that therefore claims that he's racist are just ginned up by the liberal media/BLM Marxist/Soros network.
  • The purpose is to sow chaos. It's not really about supporting Trump per se, but about generating dissension, fraying bonds of trust, and inculcating a sense that everything one sees is a lie or at least a potential lie -- sentiments which, if strong enough, are toxic to functioning democratic societies.
Again, all of these "motives" are terrible things, and do real damage to the vitality of the American democratic system. Which is why, while I give Facebook some belated credit for expunging the accounts, it is absolutely essential that they take a firmer hand on this sort of problem.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Tennessee Primary Night

Tennessee had a primary tonight. There aren't really any competitive general election races in Tennessee, so I wasn't paying too much attention to the primaries either. But a few things worth noting:
  • Tennessee's Senate race wasn't going to be competitive, but everyone thought they knew who the Democratic nominee was. Attorney James Mackler had the DSCC endorsement and raised millions of dollars. Nobody else in the field had broken out of 5 digits in fundraising. Yet Mackler ended up taking third, with the victory going to virtual unknown Marquita Bradshaw. This wasn't on anyone's radar screen (while Bradshaw is definitely a progressive, this wasn't a case where there was some big grassroots energy burbling up against the establishment). Bradshaw will once again be the prohibitive underdog against GOP nominee Bill Hagerty. I admit that every time something like this happens -- a complete unknown randomly secures a major party nomination in a high-profile race -- I brace myself for some embarrassing revelation about something they once said on Facebook or a controversial job they once held.
  • Once again, Rep. Steve Cohen (D) faced a credible primary challenger (this time from Shelby County Democratic Party chair Corey Strong). And once again, he had nothing to worry about, throttling his opponent by a 70 point margin. Strong's explanation for why he got into the race is unintentionally hilarious: he acknowledges that Cohen (a) has a great voting record, (b) support Obama administration policies and opposed Trumpist policies, (c) is a national leader, and (d) has been deeply attentive to his district. So what exactly does he think the angle is? Eventually people will learn.
  • Tennessee's 1st congressional district has the longest Republican winning streak in the nation. So when the seat is open, a lot of Republicans jump at the chance to go to Washington. This year, the winner -- with just 19% of the vote(!) -- is Diana Harshbarger. Five candidates had double-digit vote tallies -- the field was that fractured. Meanwhile, I can't figure out how to say "Harshbarger" without sounding ridiculous.
  • The most serious primary challenge of the evening came against Nashville-based Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, who is considerably more conservative than his district demographics suggest is justified. He survived Keeda Haynes' attempt to take him out from the left, albeit by a rather underwhelming 53-44 margin. That might give Haynes some inspiration from a rematch (look at Cori Bush and Marie Newman), but there are rumors floating around that the Tennessee GOP might try to gerrymander this seat out of existence now that the Supreme Court has waved the green flag at partisan redistricting.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Should Peter Beinart and Co. Ally with the Israeli Right?

One of life's little paradoxes is that a prerequisite for a one-state solution, which many on the left support, is Israel formally annexing the West Bank, which most on the left bitterly oppose.

I was thinking about this in relation to Peter Beinart's bombshell announcement that he no longer supports a two-state solution but instead will now back a secular, one-"state for all its citizens" solution. Many have noted that this proposal has essentially no backing among any constituencies of note in either Israel or Palestine (in both, the main divide is between two-staters versus "one state for me but not for thee" sorts).

But, in another of life's little ironies, the camp in Israel who probably comes the closest to supporting Beinart's view and those of "left-wing" one-staters abroad is ... the Israel middle-right. A great many of them are, of course, avowed supporters of a one-state solution. But many of them forthrightly say that in that one state all residents should gain full citizenship and voting rights. President Ruvi Rivlin is in this camp, but it also includes folks with a more hardline reputation like Tzipi Hotovely. It also has representation in the rank-and-file -- interviewing some of the right-wingers who have joined recent anti-Bibi protests that have rocked Israel, we saw people who claimed to be security "hawks", delighted at the prospect of annexation, but only if "Palestinians living there receive full rights."

We shouldn't overstate things. For one, there are plenty of folks on the settler right who are equally clear that their "one-state" vision is one where Palestinians are permanently subjugated and/or expelled. And in the case of folks like Hotovely, I can't help but think she hasn't quite thought through the implications of one-state with democratic equality with respect to our right-wing politics (Hotovely thinks that mass Jewish migration to Israel will preserve a Jewish majority, but even if that's the case it is very unlikely that the Jewish right she's a part of will be able to maintain its hammerlock on political power once 40% of voters are non-Jewish). 

Yet I can't help but think that one state with nominal equal rights will be the inch that gives a mile -- even if people like Hotovely get cold feet, it will be much harder to resist more extensive equality claims in this context than in the status quo. It's even possible we'll end up seeing what I've termed the "Czechoslovakia gambit" -- one state leading to two states.

Ultimately, the fact is that with the left in Israel essentially moribund, the most viable political actors who could push for something resembling "one state with equal rights" lie on the Israeli right. There is yet another layer of irony here, since frustration with the anti-democratic and illiberal actions of the Israeli right in its decades of power are largely responsible for people like Beinart abandoning the two-state solution. Given that history, can Beinart and company stomach working with them? Politics makes for strange bedfellows indeed.

New Short Essay: "On Loving 'Jews' and Hating Jews"

AJS Perspectives -- the "popular" magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies (the AJS Review is their academic journal) -- has just released its new issue on the subject of "hate". My contribution is entitled "On Loving 'Jews' and Hating Jews". An excerpt:
Many people love “Jews”—that is, the concept of “Jews” they've constructed for their own purposes. They envision a particular role that “Jews” are assigned to play, and so long as Jews stay in that role we may genuinely be loved. But when Jews—actual Jews—do not deign to stay in the roles assigned to “Jews,” this favor yields to shock, then betrayal, then hatred.

What “role” are the Jews assigned? It varies. Some love Jews as “noble victims,” eager to sacrifice themselves on the altar of selfless universalism. Others value Jews as loyal foot soldiers in service of eschatological religious warfare across the globe. Some love Jews as harbingers of Christ, the instrumental prelude that sets the stage for and is completed by Christianity’s epic. And some adore those Jews who volunteer to intone that soothing chant —“anti-Zionism is not antisemitism”—whenever called upon to do so.

Jews who stay at their assigned post may well be loved, and there are some Jews who—by coercion or by choice— do fill these roles. Nonetheless, these concepts of “Jews” are built by non-Jews, for non-Jews. For the most part, Jews will fail to live up to the ideal imagined “Jew.” And they will be hated for it. Love for “Jews” yields hatred for Jews.
It's not a long essay, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Monday, July 27, 2020

Should I PlagueWatch It?: Alpha House

I'm surprised it took me this long to watch Alpha House -- not only would it seemingly scratch the illusive West Wing itch, but it was the project that took Garry Trudeau away from my beloved Doonesbury. Come to think of it, maybe that's why I didn't watch it.

Alpha House centers on four Republican Senators who live together in a Washington, DC row house (based on real life!). It's sort of like The West Wing, except the Senate instead of the Presidency and Republicans instead of Democrats, and set in "the real world" (Obama is the president during the series, for example). The four main characters actually do a decent job running the gamut of Republican archetypes of the mid-2010s: the smart but probably corrupt one (Robert Bettencourt of Pennsylvania, who also does a good job as a Black Republican); the lazy, coasting off name-recognition one (Gil John Biggs of North Carolina, played to perfection by John Goodman as a former UNC basketball coach); the cluelessly homophobic but possibly closeted one (Louis Laffer of Nevada), and the hyper-ambitious but sex-addicted wunderkind (Andy Guzman of Florida, definitely channeling some Marco Rubio).

Is it good? Yes. It's main drawback is that it was clearly cancelled prematurely. But its two seasons are definitely worth watching. Other thoughts:
  • The other main players on the show are the Senators' key staffers, who are all -- in true DC fashion -- overworked and underappreciated. They generally do a good job playing straight man to their bosses' antics, to good effect. The lesbian couple that's not exactly closeted but not exactly out either, given the known politics of their party, is a particularly good touch.
  • There's a scene early in the series where a house guest walks in on John Goodman coming out of the shower. It's shot in such a way such that the bare ass of Goodman's character almost certainly is a body double -- which makes me wonder how one casts for that. "Wanted: John Goodman ass lookalike"?
  • Janel Moloney, aka Donna Moss, has a fabulous arc as the hyper-conservative Tea Party Senator from North Dakota who carries a gun on Capitol Hill and says her favorite painting is of the British burning down the White House because it symbolizes what she wants to do to government. I don't know if making her Senator from North Dakota was specifically meant to be fan service, but the one cameo scene where she's on a panel with Bradley Whitford and just immediately tells him to "shut up" definitely was. I wonder how many takes it took because she accidentally called him Josh?
  • Speaking of the recurring characters, Wanda Sykes is in the series as the quartet's next door neighbor and friend (who is also a Democratic Senator from Illinois). Wanda Sykes really should be in more things.
  • We've got just enough distance that some of the Obama-era specific jokes are funny again. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of making the Benghazi committee permanent, so that "future generations" would not be deprived of the opportunity to investigate it.