Baltimore, that vintage mini-metropolis on the Chesapeake, is a 17th-century city with serious 21st-century issues. The death of Freddie Gray in police custody on April 19, tragic as it was, is just the dot on the “i” in issues. But it was enough to trigger a one-night outburst that some observers described as an uprising.
You probably know the backstory, but here it is again, briefly: Gray, a 25-year-old black Baltimorean with a lengthy arrest record for mostly drug-related crimes, was arrested yet again under mysterious circumstances on April 12. (He was carrying a concealed switchblade, which the police had no way of knowing at the time, and he bolted to avoid arrest). Shackled and thrown into the back of a police van without a seat belt, he died just as mysteriously a week later from a nearly severed spinal cord and a crushed larynx.
Another son of the ghetto had met his doom at the hands of the police, and the news swept into the national headlines like so many other similar fatal encounters.
But here’s where the story took a disturbing twist. What started as a peaceful protest on the day of Gray’s funeral had, by nightfall, escalated into mayhem. Rampaging mobs in Gray’s mostly-black West Baltimore neighborhood ransacked a mall, looted and burned a CVS Pharmacy along with several mom-and-pop stores, and set multiple cars on fire. Across town, a nearly-completed senior housing center lovingly built by a black church erupted in flames and was reduced to smoking ruins.
The destruction seemed so wanton, random and irrational that it struck me as urban suicide — the final, desperate gesture of a community with nothing left to lose. These people were burning the last vestiges of enterprise from their own blighted neighborhoods. In a matter of hours, they were destroying what had taken generations to build — and to maintain against the deadly encroachment of urban decay.
Where would the local folk go to buy necessities and have their prescriptions filled? Who in their right mind would launch new businesses there now? The rioters had signed the death warrant for their community, and — consciously or not — maybe that’s exactly what they wanted.
Meanwhile, the police simply stood guard while the fires and the people raged. No warning shots fired, no tear gas, no tanks, no army of occupation.
Just as the cops had overreacted to the demonstrators in Ferguson last summer, they seemed to be consciously underreacting here. Even black-friendly CNN was browbeating them for being too passive in the face of chaos.
I could see the oblique wisdom of their reticence: they didn’t want to come across as enemies of the people — even at the cost of lost property. Baltimore was suffering enough without adding police brutality to the mix.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who took heat for a misinterpreted statement about giving “space to those who wished to destroy,” refused to impose a curfew until the next evening. So the city burned for one night, and the neighborhoods would be more desolate than ever. But nobody else would die.
Are there any lessons to be learned from the Baltimore riot that we haven’t already learned? Was the night of fire and rage a template for race wars to come?
This much is clear: what happened in Baltimore could have happened — could still happen — in Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles or any other American city with a significant population of impoverished black people. Police brutality is just the match that lights the powder keg. And let’s face it: our inner cities have turned into powder kegs.
Why are so many black neighborhoods so poor, so troubled, so violent, so devoid of hope? Racism? A legacy of slavery and institutionalized oppression? The demoralizing effect of white privilege? These left-wing pieties, based on half-truths taught in collegiate seminars, fail to explain the day-to-day realities behind the decay of black communities.
We could round up the usual suspects noted by conservative pundits: laziness, unfettered reproduction, dependence on government handouts. These unkind stereotypes don’t cut it, either.
Finally, we could cite the depressing preponderance of absentee fathers, substance abuse, academic underachievement, sky-high dropout rates, and — based on all of the above — a swaggering male street culture that glorifies gangsterism and crime.
The crime. There’s simply no denying the crime. When only white-on-black violence makes national news, we tend to forget that nearly 95% of black crime victims are victimized by blacks in black neighborhoods. Excessive crime naturally leads to excessive police surveillance, which creates a war-zone atmosphere and ships alarming numbers of black men off to prison or premature death.
Crime also drives out businesses, which eventually tire of the robberies and perpetual vigilance. When businesses disappear, so do local jobs. When jobs disappear, unemployment obviously soars. Unemployed and underemployed people have trouble securing mortgages and other loans, not to mention paying their bills. Homes are abandoned. Property values drop. Healthcare suffers. People languish in joblessness and poverty.
The predictable result: more crime… which sends more people to prison and drives out more businesses… which eliminates more jobs… and on and on until there’s virtually nothing left except a lot of hopeless, angry, alienated black people. It’s a brutal cycle with no visible means of escape.
So what can we do to break the cycle and improve the lot of black communities? For one, stop incarcerating young blacks — or anyone else, for that matter — based on petty drug offenses like possession of pot. We can’t keep shuffling these otherwise blameless men in and out of the prison system and expect black neighborhoods to prosper. (Ex-convicts have a funny way of being denied employment when they’re released.)
Police urgently need to establish better relations with the community, and the community needs to reciprocate by trusting the police. We should all look forward to the day when black people can honestly view their local cops as protectors rather than oppressors.
We need to be fearless in smashing taboos that keep us from uncovering the sometimes unpalatable truths behind black poverty. We might have to conclude, for example, that ordinary garden-variety capitalism doesn’t work in poor black neighborhoods. Or that traditional teaching methods don’t reach the majority of kids in those neighborhoods. Or even that race isn’t an artificial construct after all, but a genetic heritage that — at least to some extent — colors the way we interact with the world.
I was impressed by the character of the ordinary citizens interviewed on TV during the crisis in Baltimore. The gallant minister whose senior housing project burned to the ground — still hopeful, intelligently reflective and free of bitterness. The grizzled veteran who stood with the young demonstrators at night to keep them in line. The famously irate mom who slapped her wayward son upside the head (a little too hard, perhaps, but with the fierce devotion of a parent who cares).
It was reassuring to see that kind of inspiring, dogma-free moral leadership at the grassroots level. Maybe character can prevail over despair and aimlessness. Maybe it can break the insidious cycle of poverty, crime and decay. And then — just maybe — the future of black America won’t seem so bleak after all.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
I’m writing on the hundredth anniversary of the day Armenia began to die.
On April 24, 1915, the Young Turk leadership of the crumbling, embattled Ottoman Empire rounded up some three hundred prominent Armenian intellectuals, artists and community leaders in Constantinople and shipped them off to prison or worse. Celebrated young poet Daniel Varoujan was stripped naked and tied to a tree while Turkish officials slowly sliced him to death with knives. Gomidas Vartabed, the beloved Armenian composer, witnessed horrific atrocities during his captivity, went mad and spent the last two decades of his life in mental institutions.
But that was only the beginning of the end. Over the next eight years, the Turkish government systematically purged the Armenians from their ancient homeland in the eastern provinces of the empire.
This is a historical fact. Nobody denies that the Christian Armenian community was uprooted and widely massacred. Nearly two million strong in 1914, the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire plummeted to a tenth of its original numbers following an interminable orgy of executions, death marches, rapes, crucifixions and mass starvation. Over a million died, thousands were “Turkified” (i.e., forced to convert to Islam and live as Turks if they wanted to survive), and the rest managed to escape to Syria or the West.
Today’s Turkish government, understandably defensive about the purported sins of its founding fathers, insists that all those dead Armenians were simply casualties of war. The Armenians represented a security threat, they say, and there’s a grain of truth in their assertion.
You see, the Armenians had already suffered losses of up to 300,000 in a series of massacres launched in 1894 by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who said he wanted to “box the Armenians on the ears” for demanding equal rights. (Imagine if the U.S. government had massacred 300,000 blacks during the Civil Rights era.) In 1915, while the Ottoman Empire was under attack from the Allies on multiple fronts, the Young Turks surmised that the Armenians would join forces with their fellow Christians from Russia who surged across the eastern border.
Scattered Armenian militias did take up arms against their oppressors as the Tsar’s troops came to their aid. But the vast majority of Armenians simply went about their business as artisans, merchants, professionals, farmers, housewives and loyal subjects — and most of them were nowhere near the border. Still, the Turks rounded them up and sent them to their doom.
Why the over-the-top Turkish response? It wasn’t simply a matter of border security during wartime. While the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire fell apart, it was being reborn as a more compact, purely Turkish state. Creating a model later admired and emulated by Hitler, the Young Turk leadership succeeded in ridding the Ottoman heartland — the Anatolian peninsula — of its problematic minorities: Greeks and Assyrians along with the multitudes of Armenians. The former Ottoman Empire was to be a Muslim nation — Turkey for the Turks.
And so it came to pass. After World War I, a tiny sliver of historic Armenia on the Russian side of the Turkish border won a brief independence — and the general later known as Ataturk promptly snatched half its territory. Tens of thousands died in the process, and a generation of American children grew up hearing about “the starving Armenians.”
The term genocide didn’t exist until the 1940s, when lawyer Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, coined it based on what had befallen the Armenians. Clearly the Armenian deportations and massacres of 1915-23 must qualify as genocide… right?
Believe it or not, the matter is still up for dispute. Armenians insist on using the G-word, of course. So do most other civilized nations. Two of Turkey’s old World War I allies, Germany and Austria, recently declared the mass killings a genocide and urged Turkey to fess up. So did the Pope. France and several other well-meaning countries have actually made it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide — the sort of high-minded law that offends believers in free speech and probably stirs up perverse sympathy for the Turks.
But a handful of choice Turkish allies, notably the U.S. and Israel, have been curiously reluctant to bandy the G-word in public. The Israelis have long depended on Turkish friendship in a hostile region, so I can almost forgive their official ambivalence. (Many Israelis, to their credit, have lambasted their government’s head-in-the-sand policy.)
America’s high-profile genocide denial is less justifiable. President Obama has deftly skated around the subject every April since 2009, despite the fact that Candidate Obama promised to use the G-word once he took office. What does the U.S. have to lose by doing the right thing and prioritizing simple justice above Realpolitik? A dubious NATO ally? Turkish apricots and tobacco? Access to a strategic Turkish air base for policing the Middle East?
Build one in Armenia: the country would welcome an American presence with open arms. Once the most prosperous of Soviet republics, Armenia is withering as an independent nation: tiny, landlocked, blockaded by its foes, suffering from a continual brain-drain and population loss, threatened by the rise of archenemy Azerbaijan (essentially East Turkey) as a global oil power supported by — you guessed it — the U.S. and Israel.
My Armenian ancestors couldn’t have picked a more unfortunate place to build a nation. Roughly three thousand years ago, when the various tribes of the eastern Anatolian highlands coalesced into a single people, the land of Ararat (as it was known to the authors of the Old Testament) seemed like an earthly paradise. The Garden of Eden was reputed to have been located somewhere in the vicinity, and Noah is supposed to have planted his grapevines on its slopes after emerging from the ark.
But over the course of centuries, Armenia became a beleaguered battleground along the main thoroughfare of squabbling empires. Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Russians and Turks all stormed across the land, denuding it of its forests and conquering its people between intervals of plucky independence.
Just as disastrously, the land sits atop a major earthquake zone that puts California to shame. (An epic quake in 1988 killed upward of 25,000 Armenians.) Time magazine referred to us as “Job’s people.”
Despite all that historical and geological mayhem, the Armenians managed to survive and carve out a distinctive civilization with its own alphabet and architecture, its own rugged language and brand of Christianity. We’re a stubborn, tenacious tribe; we don’t easily forget our past triumphs, tragedies and grudges.
A hundred years after our near-annihilation, the Armenians refuse to slip quietly into history’s dustbin. They marched by the thousands today — in Armenia, California, France, and even the streets of Istanbul. Nobody will be confusing us with Albanians and Romanians now.
More and more Turks, especially among the educated class, have been voicing sympathy for the Armenian cause — a promising sign of reconciliation to come. At the same time, more and more Armenians have started referring to their lost Turkish homeland as “Western Armenia” — probably not the most diplomatic route to genocide recognition, but an exhilarating sign of Armenian pluck in the face of innumerable setbacks.
I like to dream about Western Armenia, the now-desolate realm of my ancestors, with its ruined medieval churches and fortresses and ghosts. The land still sings to those of us who can hear it, with the lullabies and laments of our great-grandparents.
Will Armenians ever live there again? Perhaps not. But those of us who dream can look forward to the day that our majestic Mount Ararat, now looming tantalizingly, exasperatingly, just across the Turkish border, will be ours once again. My stubborn Armenian bones tell me that it will happen.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Here we go again. White cop confronts black man. Black man resists. White cop kills black man. Event generates national media furor. Black community protests war on black men, gets angrier. We seem to be stuck on an endless repeating loop.
The confrontation between Officer Michael Slager and 50-year-old Coast Guard veteran Walter Scott in mostly poor, mostly black North Charleston, South Carolina, started out uneventfully enough. A dashcam video revealed that the officer, who pulled Scott over because of a non-functioning brake light, treated Scott with courtesy and simply told him to remain in the car while he returned to his own car. Standard operating procedure.
We can forgive Scott for dreading an encounter — even a polite one — with the local authorities. He owed more than $18,000 in child support and related court costs, and had done time behind bars on account of his debts. He used to avoid heavily policed areas of town simply because he feared being incarcerated again.
Scott bolted from his car and broke into a run, and we know the rest. A tragedy, yes… but a tragedy of errors on both sides.
Error 1: How does it benefit anyone to lock up a man who owes child support? Unless he’s earning a salary in his cell, he’s less capable than ever of satisfying his debt. As an ex-convict, he’ll be hard-pressed to find a decent job after he’s released. It’s an unjust no-win situation for everyone involved.
Error 2: Scott had no registration for the 1991 Mercedes he was driving, and he couldn’t produce an insurance card. He told Slager that he had just bought the car from a friend, then amended his story to say that he was in the process of buying the car from his friend. If I were a cop, I’d see a couple of red flags there.
Error 3: Given the lethal nature of recent confrontations between black men and white cops, Scott should have known that it wasn’t a smart idea to bolt and run. Cops tend to get angry when you bolt on them, and even a man half Scott’s age can’t outrun bullets.
At some point not recorded on video, Officer Slager caught up with Scott and used his stun gun. Scott didn’t like being tased, as most of us wouldn’t, and apparently he struggled with Slager because the taser dropped to the ground. (I won’t charge Scott with an error here, but he should have known that you don’t grapple with a cop’s weapon — even if that weapon is causing you pain and distress.)
Error 4: Scott broke away and ran once again. Fatal mistake. By this time both men were undoubtedly pumped full of hormones, so we can assume that reason took a back seat to primal instincts.
Error 5: Slager could have let Scott disappear into the wilds of North Charleston. After all, a broken brake light isn’t a capital offense. But the officer had to get his man. So, without warning (as captured in a bystander’s viral video), Slager pumped seven shots at Scott and brought him down. It goes without saying that American police are dangerously trigger-happy these days. According to a widely disseminated statistic, U.S. cops killed more people in March of this year (111, to be exact) than British police have slain in all the years since 1900 (a grand total of 52), when Queen Victoria still sat on the throne. If true, this is a shocker and a wake-up call.
Error 6: It’s not clear whether Scott died instantly, but Slager and his African American partner made no attempt to revive their victim or check his wounds. They seemed content to let him expire on the spot.
Error 7: Slager picked up an object from the site of their struggle and carefully dropped it next to Scott’s motionless body. It’s assumed that this object was the taser that Slager used on Scott, and if so, this was a major foul on Slager’s part. To move evidence is unsavory enough, but to move it with the purpose of justifying a shooting is even more so.
Error 8: The media and the local community immediately framed the shooting as a racial incident. While we can’t know Slager’s mindset and prejudices, we do know that resisting arrest often results in death — for whites as well as blacks. (Whites actually get shot by cops, you ask? You’d never know it to judge by media coverage, but the ratio of whites to blacks killed by police between 1999 and 2011 was almost two-to-one.) This leads us to…
Error 9: Our mainstream and left-leaning media have been cherry-picking news stories that support the prevailing narrative of systematic racial oppression. This is both disingenuous (because it blatantly ignores incidents involving white victims) and dangerous (because it fans the already crackling flames of race hatred). News sources on both the right and left cherry-pick their stories to push their respective agendas. Nobody pays attention to self-described moderate news sources, of course, so we depend on mainstream outlets like CNN and the networks to steer clear of ideological narratives. When they don’t, the truth suffers.
Officer Slager was immediately charged with murder and fired from his job. While this was a smart public relations move that probably kept the anger in North Charleston from boiling over, it will be difficult to convict Slager of anything more serious than second-degree murder and tampering with evidence.
That’s serious enough, but when you take the taser struggle into account, Slager could end up with a simple manslaughter conviction. If history has any power to predict the future, a light sentence (or, God forbid, an acquittal) means we can look forward to more marches and unrest.
What can we do to break the endless repeating loop of police shootings and well-publicized black victims? Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. Police culture and ghetto culture are both prone to violence; put the two together and you have a combustible mix. But obviously we need to do something. The status quo is unacceptable.
Short of gathering around a campfire with their assigned communities and singing Kumbaya, cops need to show blacks, through attitude and actions, that they’re a force for good. That means striving to help the people they’re hired to protect, and finding mostly non-lethal methods of bringing lawbreakers to justice.
Blacks, for their part, should acknowledge that their communities tend to have serious crime issues, and that they stand to benefit from the presence of a vigilant, fair-minded police force. Where crime is rampant, the “no-snitch” tradition of non-cooperation helps nobody.
Meanwhile, here we are once again: a tragedy of errors involving cops and victims, and the tragedy of a nation that, 150 years after the Civil War ended, still can’t seem to move beyond black and white.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Sometimes I wonder why I use good brain cells in a doomed attempt to combat extremism. By now I’ve concluded that extremism, factionalism, discord and bile are essential components of the human genome. We’re squabbling creatures, and I can do nothing to alter that essential truth. It would be like fighting primal and unstoppable forces of nature: gravity, for example, or the Kardashians.
At my age I should be conserving my dwindling supply of gray matter for more immediately rewarding tasks, like figuring out how to replace a washer in a leaky faucet. Why bother crusading from the median strip of the political highway, when everyone seems to be zooming past me in both directions? Does anyone pay attention to that solitary figure with the sensible placard as the wind ruffles what’s left of his hair?
Well, here I stand, as Martin Luther proclaimed (though I doubt if I’ll have a church named after me): “I can do no other.” Let the extremists quake at my proclamation — assuming they can hear me as they whiz by with their radios blasting, always tuned to the same station.
Yes, extremists seem to be having all the fun. Here’s just a sampling of their antics over the past month:
The so-called Islamic State appears to have entered the demolition business: hacking ancient statues to bits, destroying Islamically incorrect Muslim shrines, ruining the noble ruins of Assyria. If they ever spread their tentacles toward Egypt, all the archaeologists in the world will be powerless to stop them from dynamiting the Great Sphinx.
Of course, the armies of ISIS and their fanatical allies have been wreaking havoc on human life as well: over twenty Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya… nearly that many tourists gunned down at a museum in Tunisia… more than a hundred Yemenis blown up in suicide attacks at two mosques (wrong denomination)… a young Afghan woman beaten and burned to death by a savage mob for alleged offenses against a copy of the holy Koran. Now the Islamists are threatening attacks on European targets and random American soldiers. It’s ugly out there, and chances are we’ll be living with that ugliness until the day we’re lowered into the ground.
Meanwhile, in the Holy Land, veteran Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, finding himself lagging in the polls, cleverly made a sharp right turn to clinch a last-minute victory over his more moderate opponent. Suddenly declaring himself against Palestinian statehood, he roused his base and they showed their love in return. Moral of the story: never underestimate the power of extremism to galvanize the masses.
Here in the U.S., freshman Texas senator and Ivy-educated right-wing demagogue Ted Cruz officially launched the 2016 presidential campaign by announcing his candidacy. In a rousing speech before a captive audience at Liberty University, he exhorted “courageous conservatives” to restore America to greatness. Notice that he didn’t reach out to the American people as a whole; why bother when you can win by appealing to tribal loyalties? Here was factionalism in its purest state, ready to widen the already gaping gulf between the two Americas: beleaguered, science-denying, government-hating, gun-endorsing Bible-believers on the right… latte-sipping, NPR-listening, politically correct Whole Foods shoppers on the left.
Speaking of left-wing latte-sippers, a debate on “rape culture” at Brown University made the news because a member of the Sexual Assault Task Force created a “safe space” in the debating hall for sensitive young women who presumably would be traumatized by hearing the libertarian opponent (a woman, no less) poke holes in the rape culture narrative. Even The New York Times, in a piece by Judith Shulevitz that made the rounds online, seemed incredulous at the need for a literal safe space — a room equipped with (I still can’t believe it, but apparently it’s true) coloring books, Play-Doh, blankets and videos of frolicking puppies, as well as trained trauma counselors. Apparently we can’t let the delicate children of the progressive elite — even at renowned universities that are supposed to train and challenge the intellects of the next generation — have their orthodox world-view punctured by surly contrarians. It would be like forcing them to ingest GMOs, gluten, non-organic tomatoes and Velveeta all at once. Yes, American universities are doing their best to make the world unsafe for heretics. (Maybe that explains their peculiar sympathy for Islam.)
Of course, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that collegiate feminists, some of whom might still be reeling from first-hand experience with rape, deserve to be verbally brutalized while already suffering from PTSD. But if they choose to attend an honest-to-God debate, they probably need to steel themselves for opinions that might stray from scripture. College is not — should never become — a nursery for ideological sheep.
So, yes, the extremists are engulfing society from both ends. They’re gaining ground; they dominate public discourse and Internet message boards. The sensible middle, with its tricky nuances and lack of rhetorical heat, lies almost bereft of life, unable to mesmerize the public or enlist bright-eyed recruits. I admit it; we’re losing the popularity contest to these battling bozos. If you drew a graph of American political sympathies today, you’d see a hill at either end with a depression in the middle. That’s us, down there in the valley.
The extremists are winning converts, but are they really having all the fun? I have my doubts. The left today seems whiny, prone to neurasthenic vapors, and oblivious to common sense. The right, for its part, puts up a macho front that conceals an underlying terror of demographic and cultural change. Both sides come across angry, clannish, intolerant and ready to take offense.
That’s not how I want to spend my days. Moderation and common sense might not generate much heat, but at least we’ll go to our eternal reward (or the communal boneyard) with the knowledge that we tried our best to make sense of these bewildering times. And while we’re here, we can enjoy the heady rush of firing away at follies to the left and right of us. After all, we moderates deserve to have some fun.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
I’ll probably go straight to hell for this (and lose a dozen Facebook friends in the process), but I have to confess that I’ve lost any last shred of tolerance for irate politically correct rhetoric. I can’t help it; these insistent, unrelenting verbal assaults on common sense bring out my inner Scrooge.
Under normal circumstances, I’d undoubtedly care about the well-being of women, gay folk and people of color — just as I care about the well-being of everyone who doesn’t fit those categories. But let the rhetoric fly, as it’s been flying for several decades now, and all I can do now is hunker down, shout “Humbug!” and hurl contempt upon those grim agents of sexual and racial politics… those humorless graduates of collegiate Grievance Studies seminars… those bitter, impossible, obstreperous mouthpieces for divisive boutique ideologies… those snooty, sniveling, snorting gasbags of anti-male, anti-white, anti-heterosexual invective. Whew.
What could possibly have brought me to this self-damning outburst? The Oscars. More precisely, the response to Patricia Arquette’s feminist plea during her acceptance speech: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Mind you, I’m not protesting Arquette’s plea, even though I’m heartily tired of politicized Oscar speeches in general and equal-pay demands in particular. (If, say, a male advertising copywriter is more experienced and expert than the women in his department, are those women automatically entitled to earn his salary? Shouldn’t individuals be treated as individuals?)
You’d never know it, but we actually have a law in place — enacted over fifty years ago, if you can believe it (it’s called the Equal Pay Act of 1963) — prohibiting sex-based pay discrimination for jobs requiring the same skill. And of course even I would agree that women should earn as much as their male peers if they demonstrate the same level of expertise in the same job.
But Arquette’s garden-variety feminism didn’t cut the mustard with the boutique elements of the women’s movement. After the Oscars, the Twitterverse buzzed with persnickety remarks from PC enforcers who recoiled at Arquette’s narrow view of feminism.
A scribe named Morgan Jerkins tweeted, “Patricia’s speech is the reason WoC [Women of Color, for the uninitiated] are hesitant abt joining in on mainstream feminism. Intersectionality seems to not exist to many people.”
Intersectionality. Ah, the vocabulary you pick up at college these days. Makes my inner Scrooge want to go on an inspired rant, but I’ll spare you the bile.
Ms. Jerkins continued: “Equal pay, yay! Gender equality, yay! Ok now let’s talk about trans WoC who are dying left and right……no?…gotcha. Bye girl.”
So let me get this straight (sorry, no offense to the LGBTQ community): Patricia Arquette, as a privileged, presumably heterosexual white feminist, didn’t give a special nod to the fraction of a fraction of one percent of the population who identify as transgender women of color, a fraction of whom are “dying left and right” — and for that fatal oversight she must be reprimanded.
How boutiquified have we become as a nation — as a people — when the most minuscule minorities feel offended for being omitted from an impromptu 30-second speech on women’s rights? What? She said nothing about Albanian-American Muslim women’s rights? Or the rights of intersex Chippewas living in Minnesota? Curses upon her for her willful ignorance!
Of course everybody’s rights matter, including those of intersex Chippewas living in Minnesota. I’m not Scrooge enough to dispute that point. But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that we need to think of ourselves as human beings first and Americans second; whatever else we are should place a distant third on the identity list.
The apostles of identity politics need to heed Lincoln’s ominous warning during the build-up to the Civil War: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” They’d also benefit from a passing acquaintance with America’s national motto: E pluribus unum — “From many, one.” Right now, too many PC ideologues have it reversed.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
The “Islamic State” has gone full Genghis Khan during the past week — beheading 21 Christians on a beach in Libya, incinerating 45 hapless souls in a northern Iraqi town, linking up with Boko Haram in Central Africa, establishing cordial ties with al-Qaeda, and watching contentedly as apostles of jihad inflicted death in Denmark.
From its origins as an insolent rogue state in the deserts of northern Mesopotamia, ISIS has turned itself into an international brand. Alienated young Muslim males, resigned to perpetual poverty and defeat in this life, are buying its promise of apocalyptic glory. Kill infidels for Allah, be killed in return, enjoy eternal bliss.
As a cultural hypochondriac, I see ISIS as an especially aggressive cancer. The tumor has metastasized now, spreading its malignant cells throughout the Muslim world and beyond. I have no doubt that Libya, Central Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan will provide much-needed nutrients for the growing tumors.
Malignant cells have already turned up in Europe, and Italy fears a deadly incursion from Libya. (Ironic that Libya encompasses territory that once belonged to Carthage, ancient Rome’s perennial foe during the pre-imperial era.) America seems safe for now, but it could be a matter of time before we see ISIS-inspired terrorist acts spreading to these shores.
Meanwhile, how was America occupying itself as the ISIS cancer flared up? We were flocking to see Fifty Shades of Grey at the local Cineplex. The bestselling bondage novel, now a major motion picture, set the all-time box office record for a February opening, despite less than stellar reviews.
I’ve never understood the appeal of pain and humiliation (or domination, for that matter) in the bedroom, so I’m hopelessly out of touch with this “BDSM” mania. (It’s no longer a simple S&M, of course, and I imagine they’ll keep adding initials as the trend expands to include pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality and other toppling taboos.)
Maybe I really should rechristen this blog The New Puritan. As a hardwired proponent of traditional Western values, I have to cringe at the oddly joyless decadence of contemporary American popular culture. Porn has gone mainstream, from the twerking posterior of Miley Cyrus to the numbing exhibitionism of Kim Kardashian to the current frenzy over handcuffs and leather harnesses. The innocently naughty cream-puff sexuality of a Marilyn Monroe, so alluring in its time, seems like a distant dream now.
I have to wonder how a culture steeped in dark debauchery will stand up to the militant vitality of ISIS and its legions. Yes, we need to cajole the established governments of the Middle East to fight ISIS and kill the tumor at its root. Egypt and Jordan have finally started to look alive, but it’s unlikely that the coalition will be able to beat ISIS on its own. If we eventually engage the foe in battle, as it appears we might, we could be looking at a new Hundred Years’ War.
You can capture territory, but you can’t capture religious fanaticism. Kill a thousand fanatics, and a thousand more will take their place. To win a conventional war against ISIS, we’d have to slaughter every last jihadist — an impossible (and not especially honorable) feat.
No, it will take more than the power of arms to stop this cancer. We need to show the jihadists that our way of life offers more than theirs… that our freedom opens the door to a noble and bountiful life.
I’m just not sure, given the current dilapidated state of American culture, that we’re in any position to tout its virtues.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
What do we moderates have to worry about? More than ever, unfortunately. The extremists with the loudest voices are currently battling it out to see which of them hijacks the communal bus. Both sides have been grabbing at the steering wheel, and they’ll drive us over the nearest cliff unless we moderates can raise our voices and seize that wheel.
I’ve been updating the Vigilance List each year to reflect our current jitters. Some items may have moved up or down the rankings or dropped off entirely; others are still glaring at us, unimproved and unrelenting. If you’ve read these lists before, you’ll notice a couple of ominous newcomers, too. This year’s list has grown from 16 items to 19. After all, 2014 was a pretty ominous year, and 2015 is already off to a rough start.
Anyway, if you have the inner fortitude, brace yourself and read our latest list of concerns, in numerical order — complete with last year’s ranking for comparison. It’s a personal list, of course, but I hope it’s an instructive one. And bear in mind that most of these items should be worrisome to you even if you’re not a moderate.
1. Terrorism. (Formerly “Militant Islam,” #14 last year) Yes, militant Islam is still a dire threat to civilization, and I don’t intend to conceal that fact. But it occurred to me this past year that terrorism takes a multitude of forms, and that it’s now a more destructive force than anything else on this list. Terrorists come in all shapes, sizes and colors: we saw that a rogue regime like North Korea could, if given the opportunity, could wreak widespread havoc via the Internet. We saw psychotic lone-wolf terrorists and groups of fanatical terrorists take hostages and slaughter innocent citizens. Terrorists can target prominent individuals who have offended their delicate sensibilities; witness the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Drug cartels like the ones in Latin America commit mass murder and go unpunished. And of course, the military branch of worldwide Islam is more militant than ever, spreading terror across Syria and northern Iraq, chopping off heads and threatening to establish a new caliphate. Let’s face it: we now live in what future historians will surely call the Age of Terror. Trend: Picking up momentum as I write this. Remedy: Intensive propaganda to stop terrorists from gathering young recruits. Zero tolerance for any terrorist group or individual, no matter how sympathetic their motives may appear to some misguided souls. And probably most potent of all: the outrage generated by the deadly acts of the terrorists themselves, especially when their over-the-top atrocities shock anyone with a shred of human decency. I was hoping that the appalling school massacre in Pakistan would turn the tide of sentiment against terror, even among Islamists. Perhaps it awakened several million souls to the carnage committed in the name of the Prophet, even if tens of millions more still cheer for their team.
2. Racial animosity. (Last year: #4) I used to refer to it as “racial tension,” but key events during the past year have boosted it to a higher and more ominous pitch. The killing of “unarmed black teenager” (almost a cliché by now) Michael Brown unleashed a months-long orgy of racial invective unlike anything I’ve seen since the late 1960s. Mainstream news coverage didn’t help; CNN fueled the flames with its incessant one-sided coverage, and the Internet blazed with even more extremist rhetoric from nutjobs on both sides. Here’s the rub: it was easy to get the impression that young black males are the exclusive victims of white cops, when in fact black cops are more likely than white cops (per capita) to kill black suspects. Surprised? And blacks aren’t the only ones being gunned down. The same week that Michael Brown met his maker, a 20-year-old white youth was fatally shot by a cop in Utah. The difference (aside from the glaring disparity in coverage)? Michael Brown most likely assaulted the officer who shot him; the white kid in Utah was wearing headphones and didn’t hear the policeman’s order to stop. And yet the latter killing was deemed less newsworthy than the former, which generated at least a thousand times more outrage. Yes, more black youths than white youths are shot by police, but more black youths than white youths commit violent crime, and a greater percentage of them resist arrest. The reality, according to statistics, is that whites are about 14 times more likely to be killed by a black person than vice versa. As an embattled moderate, I’m afraid I reached my limit as I had to read about the “genocide” perpetrated against young black males by the white establishment. Please. If you want to hear about a real genocide, talk to an Armenian. Trend: Just simmering now until the next high-profile white-on-black killing (and they’re all high profile, of course). Remedy: Beware of those who cherry-pick events to push their agenda; this is how false narratives are born (see #5). Any discussion of race in America must be a two-way street from now on. Whites can no longer be expected to simply shut up and take the heat, and left-leaning black intellectuals need to stop constructing elaborate defenses of their often virulent animosity toward whites. That said, cops need to be trained to engage more constructively with black communities and use lethal force only as a last resort (see #17).
3. Plutocracy. (Last year: #2) I’ve said it before, and unfortunately I’ll have to say it again: the United States is a nominally democratic republic currently ruled by a small, self-entitled, self-perpetuating elite based in Wall Street and K Street (home to Washington’s lobbyist community). The Supreme Court’s inexcusable Citizens United decision (sorry, money is NOT a form of speech!) gave powerful corporations and plutocrats carte blanche to elect and bribe their favorite politicians. The U.S. Congress today is a sorry farce, a collection of overambitious hacks bought and paid for by big-money interests at both ends of the political spectrum. Trend: Approaching a stranglehold. Remedy: Decisive action in the form of a new Constitutional amendment to drive money out of American politics once and for all. If that fails, concerned Americans need to call for a new Constitutional Convention. (Yes, it’s legal). Think of it as Revolution Lite. Here’s a cause that can unite righteous liberals and conservatives in newfound fellowship. Let’s give it a shot.
4. Factionalism. (Last year: #1) Our own deeply divided government is a culprit, of course; I can’t recall a time when we had a more fractious, partisan, obstructionist mentality pervading Congress and even the Supreme Court. But increasingly the discord is being driven by our mass media — and especially the countless “amen corners” on the Internet. Now it’s possible for partisans to read only the cherry-picked news and opinion that reinforces and inflames their own prejudices, and the rabid message board commentary following each piece fuels even more extreme extremism with war-whoops and huzzahs. Of course, the most outrageously distorted opinions generally attract the most “likes.” Trend: Still surging. Too many politically engaged Americans have grown deaf to any argument that contradicts the received wisdom (see #5). Remedy: We need more outspoken moderates in politics and the media — moderates with the power to provoke as well as reconcile our hidebound partisans. And of course, we also need concerned moderate citizens to help stop the madness. Finally, we need to focus on causes everyone can embrace — like driving money out of politics (see #3).
5. Sacred narratives. (New this year.) During the prolonged fallout from the Michael Brown shooting, it dawned on me that the partisans among us — even the nonreligious partisans — cherish their sacred narratives with a fervor bordering on religious fanaticism. These narratives are inviolable and impervious to the intrusion of mere facts. For example, it didn’t matter that Brown most likely assaulted officer Darren Wilson before he was gunned down. No, all that mattered was that an “unarmed black teenager” was killed by a white cop. Narrative intact. Anyone who dares to contradict the narrative is denounced as an infidel or worse. Black activists and their apologists, radical feminists, tea partiers, socialists, dogmatic “trickle-down” capitalists — all of them lean upon their faith-based narratives like the zealots they are. Trend: Emerging as the prevailing means of public discourse, unfortunately. Remedy: Confront the narrative-weavers with simple facts. If that doesn’t work, build your own narrative based on observable truth, and try to spread it around.
6. Political correctness. (Last year: #16) A great leap upward this year. More than ever, it became evident that we now risk losing friends and jobs for daring to state unfashionable beliefs in public. The raw sensitivities of humorless special-interest “communities” are stifling our freedom of speech — even our freedom of thought. (“Gee, all my friends believe X, so I must be evil for believing Y.”) Trend: On the rise as special-interest groups increasingly dominate the conversation. Remedy: Dare to speak freely but without malice. If you can’t afford to speak freely, don’t be intimidated into shedding your private opinions.
7. Potential class warfare. (Last year: #6) Are we turning into a nation of lords and serfs? The old American class system with its nearly invisible boundaries is splitting into more clearly defined upper and lower castes as mid-status jobs continue to trickle away. Downward mobility is already becoming a way of life for most of us, thanks to corporate non-hiring and the various schemes used by “big money” to siphon wealth upward. It used to be, not too long ago, that the typical CEO earned 12 to 20 times as much as the average worker; now the ratio is more like 300 to 1, and nobody is doing anything about it. Trend: Still simmering, with the potential to reach a full boil. Remedy: The banishing of big-money interests from government (see #3), along with federally-imposed financial reforms that would restore the more equitable society of the mid-to-late 20th century: greater regulation of Wall Street and higher (but not punitive) taxes on the rich, plus elimination of most tax shelters and loopholes. And once again, creation of quality jobs for Americans by the increasingly global corporate establishment.
8. The nonexistent “moderate culture.” (New this year) Think about it: if you lean left, you can read your Daily Kos, watch Jon Stewart, take part in demonstrations for your pet causes, shop at the local co-op, join an artists’ collective and sip California wines in the company of your posh lefty friends. If you lean right, you can watch Fox News, rage against Obama on a dittohead message board, buy the latest tome by Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly, move to the suburbs and enjoy the annual Super Bowl party with your Republican friends. Where do moderates go for fun, spiritual uplift and the company of like-minded cronies? Practically nowhere. And yet there are so many of us; it defies belief that we’re social and intellectual outcasts. Not only does it defy belief, but in an increasingly polarized society, it’s now essential for those of us in the middle to turn our barren no-man’s-land into an attractive haven for legions of reasonable folks like us. What would a moderate culture look like? It’s hard to say, but it can’t be any sillier than the cultures of the left and right.Trend: Nothing happening. Other than a few stubbornly moderate websites, the middle appears to be a vast vacuum. Even moderately priced cars (Oldsmobile, Pontiac) and moderately priced stores (Sears, Penney’s) are dead or dying as we speak. Formerly moderate CNN apparently had to start skewing left to keep its ratings from sliding down the chute. Moderate magazines? Forget it. Remedy: As moderates, we need to do more than simply react against the extremes. We know what we’re against, but what are we for? Fairness, common sense, a bias toward objective facts rather than hidebound narratives? Fine. Now let’s build a culture around those principles.
9. The “Great Demographic Shift.” (Last year: #7) It ain’t Ward Cleaver’s America any more. People of color now account for more than 50 percent of U.S. births. This shift is more than cosmetic; while many blacks and Latinos are finding their way into the middle class, many more of them simply aren’t. School dropout rates and community social problems will doom a hefty percentage of these new babies to poverty. At the other end of the age spectrum, Americans are living longer than ever and will require decades of Social Security and subsidized medical care to get by (especially since the business establishment hires virtually nobody over 50). How will a shrinking middle class support all these needy Americans and still provide enough funds to maintain our infrastructure? Trend: An unstoppable train. Remedy: Anything I suggest would sound like eugenics, so I’d simply encourage middle-class and wealthy Americans to procreate more freely. (Hey, it’s fun!) But I’d also recommend higher taxes on the rich (they’re practically at historic lows) and drastic cuts in foreign aid and military spending to open up resources for urgent domestic needs.
10. Environmental destruction. (Last year: #11) I saw an alarming statistic this past year: since 1970, the world has lost one-half of its animal population (nonhuman animals, that is — and insects appear to be doing just fine). Americans tend to overlook the ongoing destruction of remote wildlife habitats because most of it is taking place far from our back yards. Developing tropical nations like Indonesia and Brazil account for much of the destruction as they convert forest to farmland. East Asian nations like China, Japan and Thailand must be held accountable for the wanton poaching of critically endangered wildlife. And all rapidly developing nations are sending more greenhouse gases into the already overheated atmosphere. Finally, as more Third World nations aspire to middle-class status, they’ll be fighting us for use of the Earth’s limited resources. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) Trend: Increasing, with no end in sight. Remedy: We need to work with other governments toward establishing and enforcing sensible environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us. Poachers deserve to be shot on sight, and for God’s sake, it’s time for prominent Asian scientists to perform and publish experiments demonstrating the worthlessness of folk medicines derived from endangered creatures.
11. Perpetual low-grade recession. (Last year: #3). Yes, this one has dropped from #1 to #3 and now all the way down to double digits, and I’ve re-dubbed it a “low-grade” recession. Not that our economy has been rebounding with much vigor. The wealth isn’t spreading, the good jobs aren’t opening up, and I’ve simply come to accept our current doldrums as the “new normal.” Meanwhile, corporations are still exporting jobs with impunity and too many Americans are sinking deeper into debt and dejection. At least the stock market has been chugging forward, but that’s small comfort to the growing underclass who can’t afford stocks — and an untimely blip of bad news could send everything crashing again. Companies today focus more on beating the next quarterly forecast than on the needs of their own people. At this point we might just be witnessing the American future: prosperity for the few, unending financial woes for everyone else. Trend: Unemployment is down, but quality employment isn’t up. Uncertainty and lowered expectations have robbed the American economy of its vigor. Remedy: More hiring of Americans by corporations currently sitting atop piles of cash… NOW, not later. Fear not, capitalists: give enough Americans decent jobs, and the money will trickle back up in the form of healthy consumer spending.
12. “Community”-based allegiance. (Last year: #10) It used to be that nearly all Americans identified as Americans, plain and simple. Yes, we came from a multitude of backgrounds, and we honored our ancestors, but our allegiance to the Stars and Stripes trumped everything else. It also used to be that a community was the place where you lived. You made your home in your community and enjoyed the cozy feeling of belonging there. No longer: now we’ve splintered into a motley assemblage of special-identity “communities” based on race, politics, gender, religion and sexual orientation. We identify primarily with our group and its interests, which are generally one-sided, frequently narcissistic and increasingly oblivious to the fact that all of us are Americans. We need to call out this phenomenon for what it is: primitive tribalism masquerading as cutting-edge identity politics. Trend: Not going away. Remedy: An invasion from space would bring us together in a hurry, but short of that, we simply need to think more about our common humanity and values. Favor the uniters, not the dividers.
13. The “disruptive” side of the Internet. (Last year: #9) Not only are Web giants like Amazon driving whole industries to extinction, but compulsive hackers are distributing copyrighted properties, stealing personal information and taking it upon themselves to release government secrets. (What if a hacker had been able to release our D-Day plans back in 1944?) Now rogue governments like North Korea are getting into the act, which means that terrorists might not be far behind. On top of that, we have to deal with the Orwellian Big Brotherism of Internet entities that know far too much about us. That’s not to say we’d be better off without the Internet (What would become of The New Moderate?), but I see an emerging culture of disruption, chaos and intrusiveness that needs to be tamed. Trend: Picking up momentum almost as rapidly as the technology behind it; the only reason I’ve demoted it is that we have so many more pressing issues on our plate this year. Remedy: We need to spend more time in the real world: shopping at actual stores, visiting friends and fighting for an honest government that won’t provoke mischief by self-appointed whistleblowers. Finally, a word to the wise: back up your data!
14. Cultural degeneracy. (Last year: #17) When did culture become an exercise in pushing the proverbial envelope — and how much farther can they push it? Movies, TV, pop music, video games, high art and everyday behavior have combined to forge a decadent culture that worships all the most loathsome and idiotic ideals. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect and affection for the nobler virtues, or we’ll crumble, as the Romans did, from internal and external assaults that we’re too weak to withstand. Do I sound like an alarmist? You bet. Trend: Still spreading like a virus, especially as mainstream pop culture increasingly celebrates our nastiest instincts. Remedy: Beats me. Sometimes I think Western civilization at its apex was simply too demanding and rarefied for our species to maintain for any length of time. We’re slowly reverting to our simian roots, which may be lamentable but probably suits our natures. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!
15. The “screw the other guy” mentality. (Last year: #5) We’re looking at an essentially (though not exclusively) American character flaw, and it ain’t pretty. We’re so obsessed with success, and so terrified of losing, that — for many of us, at least — it’s no longer enough to succeed; others must be crushed. Examples: short-selling investors who love sticking it to the faithful “bag-holders.” Latter-day Scrooges who expect minimum-wage workers to be content with a life of poverty. Penny stock peddlers who ride a wave of euphoria every time they swindle a hapless client. And yes, politicians and their staffers, so intoxicated by their own power that they go out of their way to thwart and humiliate less powerful rivals. This is bullying, plain and simple, and the same ugliness has gone rampant in online culture. Trend: Still a pervasive problem, but not worth the “top 5” billing I gave it last year. Remedy: A healthy dose of Judeo-Christian morality or, lacking that, a swift kick in the pants. We probably need more aggressive social and legal measures for punishing bullies and cheats, though we need to draw the line when it comes to sexual harassment charges against 6-year-olds.
16. Illegal immigrants. (Last year: #15) The mass incursion of undocumented Hispanic immigrants through our southern border appears to have slowed to a relative trickle, but the question remains: what happens to the 10-20 million illegals who have already settled here? Given the disparity in birth rates between the native-born and Hispanic immigrant populations, the U.S. could increasingly take on the attributes of a Latin American nation. That means a less-educated populace and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, with the added element of cultural friction between Anglos and Latinos. (On the plus side, at least we might get into the salubrious habit of taking siestas.) Trend: The number of new illegal immigrants has declined, but their population within the U.S. continues to grow at a rapid clip. And we still have no clear-cut policy for dealing with them. Remedy: Make the U.S. less appealing as a destination for illegal immigration. And, as President Obama has proclaimed (though he shouldn’t have done so by fiat), provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegals who have behaved blamelessly and who express a desire for higher education.
17. Police brutality. (New this year.) Sure, cops have a dangerous job, and they have to deal with society’s low-lifes on a daily basis. They put their own lives on the line, and in the wake of the much-publicized shootings of 2014, they make tempting targets for deranged cop-haters. Any cop with an inner-city beat is instinctively primed for life-or-death confrontations, and the prevailing “no snitching” culture makes their job even more difficult. But (and it’s a big “but”) they also need to be seen as a positive force in their communities. There are too many trigger-happy cops who use lethal force to stop suspects who simply resist arrest. Too many cops who routinely harass ordinary ghetto-dwellers for “walking while black.” Too many needless clubbings and chokeholds. When there’s a disturbance, they swoop in like an army of occupation. This isn’t the sort of behavior that builds trust. Trend: Ratcheting up due to increased hostility on both sides. Remedy: Police need to engage themselves more deeply with their communities… get to know the locals as individuals if they can… be ever-vigilant but not aggressive… define themselves as protectors rather than hired thugs. If all goes well, the residents of these neighborhoods might open up to their local cops instead of shutting them out, and that would be a good thing for everyone.
18. The federal deficit. (Last year: #13) Yes, it’s always there… but nothing new or alarming popped up in the past year. Still, nobody is doing anything about the underlying problem: the government is spending more than it’s taking in. (Greece, anybody?) Where will the money come from when we’re already in hock up to our national armpits? Trend: Not going away. Remedy: Here’s a start: slash military spending and foreign aid. Dramatically. The government would also be wise to start trimming those plush federal pensions, beginning with members of the House and Senate. The IRS needs to busy itself collecting a fair share of taxes from huge corporations and the super-rich. No loopholes. Stop state-sponsored corporate welfare in the form of bailouts and subsidies. No compromises.
19. Perpetual war and other foreign entanglements. (Last year: #14) Our futile war in godforsaken Afghanistan is finally a closed book. But have we learned our lesson? Can we ever again justify risking American lives in dead-end conflicts? Could an insurgent ISIS draw us into yet another Middle East bloodbath? We still haven’t learned that guerrilla fighters never surrender; they have no infrastructure to bomb and no capital to occupy, so we’d have to gun them down to the last man. We don’t want to be isolationist, but the United States simply can’t control and fine-tune all world events to its specifications. Trend: Easing up, but without any underlying shift in American foreign policy. Remedy: A foreign policy that shuns Neocon interventionism for rational vigilance, with an occasional drone strike to keep our enemies off balance.
That’s my list for 2015, and it should be more than enough to keep us all knotted up with anxiety for the next year. Feel free to take issue with any of my choices and/or add your own, of course. I’d like to hear from you.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.