Saturday, January 04, 2020

Karlie Kloss is not her Brother-in-Law

*Project Runway spoilers*

For the past few years, my nickel description of Karlie Kloss -- Heidi Klum's replacement on Project Runway -- has been "she's a supermodel who married one of the good Kushners". Karlie's husband is Joshua Kushner, brother of Jared Kushner, son-in-law to you-know-who. But unlike her brother, Joshua is a public-and-proud Democrat, and Karlie too has not been shy about her progressive values. And Jared and his father were apparently real assholes to Karlie when she started dated Josh (I know, who would have guessed?).

This all shifted from "interesting trivia" to "very relevant" last night thanks to a comment by one designer on the most recent episode of Project Runway.

The challenge was to design a look for Karlie Kloss to wear to a fashion gala in Paris. Designer Tyler created a look that was ... not that. It looked old -- not "classic", just out-of-date. When it walked the runway, Jill and I remarked that it was not for Paris ... but maybe for the Kushners ("it looks like something Ivanka would wear", Jill said, not intending it as a compliment).

We thought we were being very snarky. But when Tyler ended up on the bottom and listened to the judges berating him that Karlie wouldn't wear this to Paris or Martha's Vineyard or anywhere else, he couldn't help himself. "Not even to dinner with the Kushners?", he said with a smirk.

Now, Jill and I did basically say exactly that too -- but we meant it to underscore how badly Tyler missed the mark in the challenge (which was not "dress Karlie Kloss to look like her obnoxious in-laws"). But Tyler clearly meant it, not quite as a defense, but as a jab -- a defensive clapback at Karlie for having the temerity to (fairly) criticize his look. It was a jaw-dropping moment, and after getting over the initial shock Kloss handled it with professionalism (which is to say, she proceeded to explain in exquisite and cutting detail why Tyler's look was garbage). Tyler ended up being eliminated, and for the record it was entirely deserved based solely on the merits. His look was terrible, he had struggled all season-long, and this wasn't the first time his mouth seemed to outpace his skills.

Tyler did apologize at the end of the episode. But there is a very popular take around the internet that he said nothing wrong. This reaction is typical:
The idea is that Tyler was actually a bold truth-sayer, holding Karlie to account for ... what exactly? Her brother-in-law's politics? Why? She doesn't share them. She's never defended them. She's never given the slightest hint she's sympathetic to them. She's her own woman, with her own views (as, for that matter, is Joshua Kushner, who is of course not his brother either). Yet of course, that doesn't matter in the slightest, because misogyny. And it sickens me to see how many people seem to think they're boldly speaking truth-to-power when they reduce a woman to her male relatives.

Karlie Kloss is not her in-laws. She is her own person. If she herself has done wrong, call her out for that. But who her relatives are is not her wrong, and if you think smugly reminding Karlie Kloss that she's related to the Trump family as some sort of gotcha is anything other than a dick move you're telling on yourself far more than you are on her.

Friday, January 03, 2020

What Went Wrong in 2016?

Right up until election day, most people thought Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election. She didn't, and many people have many different theories about what went wrong. Which one you ascribe to probably does a fair bit of work in explaining who you back in 2020 and why. And the fact that we don't really know which answer is the right one, and feel an urge to cover all our bases "just to be sure", probably contributes to the Johnny Unbeatable problem -- the explanations aren't all mutually compatible, and so "learning their lessons" will pull us in contradictory directions.

Theory #1: It was anti-Clinton mania: Claim: Hillary Clinton is uniquely reviled for idiosyncratic and effectively non-ideological reasons. Lesson: don't nominate Hillary Clinton. Simple.

Theory #2: It was misogyny: It's not just Hillary Clinton. Any female candidate is going to whip up a toxic brew of wounded masculinity and machismo. People nervous about nominating another woman often believe this.

Theory #3: Clinton was too elitist: Generally a favorite of not-Democrats, though endorsed by some "moderates" too. The idea here is that Hillary Clinton represents a far-left agenda and the Democrats need to return to the good old days when they were the party of ... Bill Clinton? JFK? FDR? Unclear. What is clear is that Democrats need to show more respect for rural heartland voters, respect people who oppose gay rights, respect people who want to deport immigrant children, and above all respect people who want to ban abortion. Oh, and under no circumstances should a Democrat call anyone "deplorable" -- except maybe Ilhan Omar. These folks believe Joe Biden would have won in a cakewalk

Theory #4: Clinton was too centrist: Hillary Clinton didn't offer a true progressive alternative to conservatism, to capitalism, to corporatism, to technocracy, or to neoliberalism. Hence she didn't inspire voters thirsting for an alternative. Donald Trump at least purported to speak to voters who believed the system had failed him, and a Democrat who basically was seen as a "the status quo is okay" figure would not do well. A bold and uncompromising progressive vision that unabashedly targets the systemic forces immiserating us all, by contrast, can speak to the millions of Americans who feel dejected, disempowered, and ready for a change. Favored diagnosis of the "Bernie would have won!" crowd.

Theory #5: Clinton abandoned the Midwest: "She didn't even visit Wisconsin!" The blue wall cracked, Democrats lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. So to win -- rebuild that blue wall, by nominating a candidate most likely to be extremely popular among rust belt swing voters in the Midwest. This could point you anywhere from Joe Biden to Tim Ryan to Amy Klobuchar to "recruit Sherrod Brown".

Theory #6: Clinton didn't excite the base: Democrats took for granted the constituencies that are most responsible for powering them to victory and so left a ton of votes on the table. Rather than chase the elusive (and probably white) swing voter, the strategy here is to goose turnout among voters (especially women) of color. It's not the same as Theory #4 because -- despite what Jacobin Mag would have you believe -- it is not necessarily the case that people of color are inspired by fire-eating leftism of the Jacobin Mag bent. Often believed by those who think Democrats must nominate a woman and/or person of color; and often also paired with a belief that Democrats should abandon the rust belt and focus more on winning emergent sun belt swing states like Arizona, North Carolina, or (dare to dream) Georgia and Texas.

Theory #7: PC backlash: The Democratic Party allowed themselves to be taken over by a radical identity politics fringe who alienated regular Americans with all this talk of "intersectionality" and "microaggressions" and "trigger warnings". Trump's victory was a result of a PC backlash prompted by White men who just was sick and tired of being called racist all the time, and lashed out by ... endorsing a really racist candidate. The interesting thing about this diagnosis is that its political description basically boils down to "White Americans are hella racist" while its political prescription is usually "don't ever say White Americans are racist." Facts sure care about those feelings.

Theory #8: Voter suppression: Lower turnout among the base wasn't (just) because of less enthusiasm for Clinton. It was also a function of a sustained conservative campaign to obstruct poor and minority communities from voting. Proponents of this view aren't necessarily tied to a particular candidate as they are to urging Democrats to take voter access seriously as a top priority -- both in terms of legislating and in terms of activism. Unfortunately, the Senate won't pass any legislation, the courts are basically endorsers of the voter suppression project, and it's not like Republicans are going to be less invested in voter suppression the next time around, so this can rapidly turn fatalistic.

Theory #9: Conspiracy theories: Russian interference, social media, fake news. Voters were buffeted by a frenzy of misleading or outright false information. Not only were some taken in by outlandish nonsense (QAnon, Pizzagate, Soros conspiracies), even those who weren't directly affected often suffered a general decline in trust for political institutions and the reliability of authority -- something that ended up redounding to Trump's benefit. And the Republicans exploited media timidity and its reflexive instinct to tell "both sides" to put naked falsehoods on par with actual truth. To a large extent, people in this camp think the media has to accept in a much more decisive manner its obligation call lies lies -- even if it makes "certain" elected officials mad.

Theory #10: The Democratic Party is corrupt/incompetent/in disarray: Democrats don't really want to win, or they don't want to win if it means displeasing their true corporate masters. The party is beholden to an out-of-touch consultant class and big money donors locking them into unpopular positions that predictably lose elections. Only by seizing control of the party apparatus and smashing the old guard can Democrats actually run races that will actually inspire people. The more militant version of Theory #4.

Theory #11: Nothing went wrong -- it was a fluke: During the entire 2016 cycle, the polls oscillated between a high of "Hillary Clinton landslide" and a low of "statistical dead heat". The argument here is that all that happened in 2016 is that election day happened to have the tremendous bad luck of occurring at one of the nadirs, leading to what was effectively a statistical dead heat and a coin-flip Donald Trump win. The lesson here is that there is no lesson: if you have a campaign strategy that gives you a win 75% of the time, that's a pretty good strategy even though (as Nate Silver reminds us) statistically you should lose a quarter of the time. All the efforts to "explain" the outcome basically a function of statistical illiteracy. To the extent Democrats should be on alert for anything, it's in letting the "we have to change something" impulse to tinker lead to making things worse.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Some Nuanced Thoughts on Protecting Jews via Police

NBC News, which as a mainstream media source Is Not Covering Violence Against Jews(tm), has an interesting article up discussing how the Jewish community in New York is assessing calls to increase police presence in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods as a means of combating rising antisemitic violence:
Audrey Sasson, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, or JFREJ, a left-wing "movement to dismantle racism and economic exploitation" based in New York City, said deployment of more police would be an understandable reaction — and one that would worry her.

"Of course, we all need to feel safe. That's fundamental, and there is no arguing with that," Sasson said. "But how do we get there?"

Sasson said that her group is multiracial, as is the Jewish community at large, and that many Jewish people wouldn't feel safer with a greater police presence.  
"Right now, the tools we have for safety [are] more police and more guns," Sasson said, "but the question for me is how can we build other tools?" 
Those tools, according to Sasson and JFREJ, include making sure the Jewish community is in a coalition with other targeted communities, having a better system for reporting violence that doesn't rely so heavily on police, creating community-led transformative justice projects and implementing non-punitive and restorative-oriented approaches to violence. 
Sasson acknowledged that the vision is a long-term one, and she does not discount the desire for more police from people living in fear after "the whole holiday was marked by attacks." [emphasis added -- DS]
This is good, and I dare say snaps my long streak wherein everything I've ever read from JFREJ is neither bad nor good but "meh" (Mazel Tov!). The reason I like it is because:
(a) It does not disparage those Jews who desire police protection in the immediate term, or suggest that it reflects a failure of solidarity on their part to desire this solution;
 (b) It acknowledges that viable alternatives to police protection need to be built -- that is, they do not exist now -- and that this construction project is has a long-term time horizon attached to it.
Those twin acknowledgments are, I think necessary if the critique of "more police" is to have ethical traction. Without them, the objection to more policing sounds like a demand that Jews place our lives in the hand of vague feel-good bromides about "community building" or some such that have all the practical bite of a consciousness-raising bed-in project -- and if we don't accede to the demand we're basically giving into our inner-fascists. I think Sasson is read properly in tandem with Eric Ward:
"You can't tell a community that is being physically assaulted that they can't increase law enforcement response but then offer them nothing in response," Ward said. 
Still, Ward, who has studied anti-Semitism extensively, acknowledged that it's not that simple. 
"We know increased policing brings increased racial profiling," he said, adding that high police presence to protect Jews "is likely to be seen as feeding into black and Jewish tension."
Ward is, I think, making the same point as Sasson, just with the opposite emphasis. Telling Jews "how dare you ask for more police" when there isn't any practical, immediate-term alternative isn't going to be received well, and reasonably so. That's true even though, as Ward also points out, there are real costs to the "increased policing" proposal -- including costs along the very dimension its nominally supposed to help (tamping down on intra-group tensions and hostility). There's legitimate space to critique the "more police" response -- but it has to come with enough humility to acknowledge that there's ample reason to be skeptical of the existence of viable alternatives in the short-term.

Ultimately, my view on this is basically that of Batya Ungar-Sargon: Whatever my intuitions are on the wisdom of this strategy, I should defer to the people on the ground. Of course, the people on the ground will themselves often have divergent takes. But one suspects the consensus that will emerge will lie somewhere in between "abolish the NYPD" and "send in the National Guard."