(Justin Deschamps) Did you know?
(Justin Deschamps) Did you know?
US President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will likely forever change America.
Any nation-shaping decision that comes down to the discretion of Trump and his loyal consultants and allies is a terrifying prospect indeed. Ultimately, we will see if this decision is simply an unfortunate bump in the road, or a disastrous and nation-altering one.
As the collective American public was suffering through the summer doldrums of 2016, many faced what seemed to be a nightmarish choice to replace the relatively popular (and certainly historic and iconic) Barack Obama.
To many, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump became a metaphor for the rapid degradation of American politics. One represented the corrupt, ineffective and limited Washington bureaucratic machine. The other was, of course, Donald Trump – a combination of conventional Republican politics and brazen white nationalism.
The choice of Trump was obviously much worse, but logic, as history will tell you, hasn’t always been the backbone of American political discourse.
Yet, as with every election, the rhetoric became repeated as if in a loop; the same arguments made by the same people on the same channels and the same social media platforms. It was no wonder that it seemed for many Americans that the process was just as insufferable as the choices they were presented with in November of that year.
Through the mesh of the endless back-and-forth there was one argument that individuals from leftist activists to the most ardent Clinton supporters could agree on: A Trump victory would have a dramatic impact on many things, but perhaps none more so than on the Supreme Court.
Indeed, American civil society will be shaped for generations by the results that came in November 2016 because no institution in the country arguably has more of an impact on the day-to-day lives of Americans than the Supreme Court.
It’s an institution largely forgotten by many domestically, and certainly by many overseas when they examine and opine on American politics. Yet the decisions that emanate from it’s halls will shape American culture and the fabric of society for decades to come.
Trump’s Quick Progress
For an administration in which “chaotic” would be too kind of an adjective to describe its daily workings, and whose legislative agenda has been incoherent and sloppy at best – putting aside the immorality of most of their policies (we only have so much time), its judicial agenda has been swift, coherent, and consistently executed since the start.
Trump has made quick progress filling federal appeals court spots and gaining Senate confirmations for 15 in one year, which is six more than the Obama administration had in one year with an even greater party majority in the Senate.
Regional appeals courts play a significant role in shaping US law and have the final say on a variety of crucial issues since the Supreme Court only hears a tiny portion of cases. These issues include voting rights, gun rights, religious-based issues, healthcare, and other controversial social issues in the United States.
This principle was one of the primary justifications made by social conservatives who chose to look the other way when it came to many of Trump’s obvious moral shortcomings. Just elect him and we can use him to shape the social and political fabric of America for decades, they argued.
They made that bet, and look where we are now.
Trump promised to change the nature of American society and craft it in an image that would make social and religious conservatives beam with pride.
While they delivered the votes in November 2016, he has since then delivered on that promise in ways that perhaps even someone like his number one fanboy Sean Hannity couldn’t have even predicted. Candidate for Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy, though hardly ever a true moderate, could be relied on to hold back the levy and restrain the more radical conservative elements of the court from having their way.
On 5-4 decisions in which he would be the deciding swing vote, he could be counted on joining the other four liberal members of the court about 25 per cent of the time. However, with the nomination and eventual ascension of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the “moderate” is gone and the floodgates are officially open.
Religion and Law
During the last several years, religious-based issues brought before the court have been raised to even higher priority by the conservatives who were watching the Obama administration make significant changes – mainly regarding the expansion of gay rights and increased access to birth control options.
Now, the new justice will be expected to consistently take positions encouraging and granting faith-based changes to state and federal policies, while also broadening funding for church-run organizations and even allowing prayer (we obviously know which faith they are implying and encouraging) in public settings.
The elevation of Kavanaugh to the court will only give conservative activists more hope that they can steadily change rulings on key issues relating to religious freedom. This has always been a priority of conservative activists and legislators, so it stands to reason this will be a top priority for the court now that the nomination has been made.
Weaponizing the First Amendment
The phrase Weaponizing the First Amendment was first coined by liberal justice Elena Kagan after a 5-4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees hampered, according to many, public sector unions and workers rights.
However, Kagan’s point ran deeper than one decision because over the last few years conservatives on the bench have been using free speech as justification to allow unfettered campaign spending. They have buffered attacks by many who have attempted to go after the pharmaceutical industry, big tobacco, and gun lobbies.
The most devastating decision of the last decade from the court was the Citizens United case, which essentially equated putting a limit on corporate spending within political campaigns with the government violating individual First Amendment rights. If that sounds insane, it’s because it is in fact insane.
Yet, with the nomination of Kavanaugh to the court one can be assured that decisions like Citizens United will be warmly embraced as a precedent to treasure, not as a precedent that one should attempt to reverse.
The First Amendment will be used to give corporations and other private entities increased powers when it comes to issues deemed too restricting on their social, religious, and financial privileges. This is a massive victory for the majority on the far right who have grown disgusted with what they have perceived as liberal restrictions on their ideas and institutions.
Although many times (unfairly) framed as simply a religious issue, the future of Roe v. Wade (the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion) will nonetheless be the focus of an aggressive ideological confrontation now starting from the highest legal court in the land.
While Trump has stated he did not explicitly ask any candidate about the case, the issue will come up now that the court is likely to swing decidedly to the conservative camp.
Furthermore, right-wing attacks from the bench to the cultural fabric of American society will come in a variety of different ways. The revamped court will assuredly attack Affirmative Action, which will lead to less people of color attending universities and colleges. This new court will also support the continued conservative attacks on voting rights, making those discriminatory policies even more restrictive and grotesque.
It will side with gun rights activists and include regulation of machine guns and bump stocks, making America’s already senseless gun laws all the more senseless and privatized.
As in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the court may not be afraid to overturn precedents and rulings that have been in place for many decades and which protected individual civil liberties from corporations and other larger entities.
Monumental and Pivotal Decision in American History
If confirmed, Kavanaugh will inevitably be seen as another win for corporations and far-right conservatives rallying behind the judicial agenda of the Trump presidency.
Replacing Kennedy with Kavanaugh signals only the beginning of what will be a seismic and pivotal change within America; a process of change that will unravel at different paces over several decades. This change will affect every aspect of American life.
It will affect how the country does business, creates legislation, and even how the country interacts with its allies throughout the world. No part of American life, government or diplomacy will escape unscathed by this decision.
America is forever changed by this decision, and any nation-shaping decision that comes down to the discretion of Donald Trump and his loyal consultants and allies is a terrifying prospect indeed. Ultimately, we will see if this decision is simply an unfortunate bump in the road, or a disastrous and nation-altering one.
You may call me a pessimist but, unfortunately, I’m leaning toward the latter.
It took 15 years, a decade and a half, two generations, and millions of lives destroyed, for people in and around Iraq to start talking about “improving conditions on the ground.”
The mere utterance of these words, in all different variations, dialects and accents, is desperately sought after music-to-the-ears for those who orchestrated and benefited from the destruction of everything in the land between the two rivers.
Remember, this was a war waged under the premise of rebuilding and democratization.
People today speak with a desperately buoyant optimism of a country floated by malls not a medical system, football stadiums not full time employment, by victories on the battle field not by advances in the field of education, and by politicians that speak in sweet sounding twisted tongues, with little to show for their wind filled words.
Iraqis persevere, but this sense of survival exists in spite of living conditions in Iraq, not because of them.
Locally, staying positive is a nationwide coping mechanism that keeps more than thirty million people hopeful in a world devoid of the most basic of services, a system rife with corruption, water and soil poisoned by environmental terrorism, and communities perpetually on edge, anxiously avoiding the next car bomb or massacre.
Regionally, neighboring countries, in cahoots with the global finance and investment community, continue to shamelessly churn out conferences and seminars about the huge economic potentials of investing in the so-called reconstruction of Iraq.
Despite an endless serenade of pledges, barely a sidewalk has been built. Ironically, almost all of the pledging countries, near and far, are the same ones that have conspired against Iraqis through undemocratic coups, dictatorship and laser guided missiles from the Fifties till today.
A driving force behind today’s manufactured optimism is the emergence of a messy national identity, sewn together like a flat tire hastily patched up by a tired pencherchi. It is a brand of Iraqiness that is blared across airwaves, shoved down the throat of millions, many with their mouths wide open, desperate for the emergence of a national discourse.
People are tired of navigating a minefield of sectarianism and ethno-cultural divides, a legacy decades in the making.
This new identity, hastily packaged for mass consumption, mostly revolves around the sanctified heroics of the Iraqi army and a litany of militias that were forged in battles against the scourge of ISIS. For almost four years, much of Iraq was under the control of a rabid group of subhuman crusaders, calling themselves the Islamic State. In collusion with local thugs, these criminals set out to rape, pillage and destroy whatever was left of the country.
Iraq was held hostage, yet again, by an army of religiously motivated murderers; this time, not dressed in the khaki fatigues of the American Marine Corps, but shrouded in the raggedy attire of a suspiciously well organized group of criminals that wanted to insurrect a so-called Caliphate on the broken backs of Iraqis and their sisters and brothers in Syria.
This triggered the ethnic cleansing of entire communities, the destruction of one of Iraq’s oldest cities, Mosul, and the complete breakdown of trust in the government’s ability to protect the people’s sovereignty.
So it is natural for Iraqis to celebrate the end of ISIS. We all did. But like any party, the music stops, the lights come on, and next day’s realities emerge with the rising of the sun. And in the case of Iraq, this reality doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Almost all of the same fundamental issues that plague day to day life in Iraq still persist – severely anemic public services, massive unemployment, epidemic rates of sectarianism and illiteracy, a complete absence of any local agricultural production and industry, a security situation that is at the mercy of political parties, and the list goes on.
The road to a Different Iraq is long and doesn’t pass through the shiny floors of a shopping mall.
Despite these conditions, Iraqis still persevere, every day, year after year, creating, living, loving, inspiring and fighting on.
That sense of survival exists in spite of living conditions in Iraq and not because of them. Optimism is a product of this perseverance and not a reflection of anything concrete.
The specter of elections
In May, the specter of elections will haunt Iraqis once again. Corrupt clowns will masquerade as religious fundamentalists, yielding car bombs, and not ideas, to persuade the electorate. The involvement of regional pariahs will complicate matters even more, shifting the political discourse away from the needs of voters to the destructive desires of racists, sectarians and economic vampires.
The vote will be nothing short of a shit show where the same characters will make fools of themselves and anyone who wastes their time at the ballot box.
So long as the governance of Iraq is held hostage by sectarian allocation, no parliamentary official will ever be selected for their merit. Instead, government power will fall in a politician’s lap because of the way they pray or because of which language they speak, and not because of their talent and ambition.
The way Iraq’s constitution divvies up government control by sect, religion and ethnicity is antiquated and encourages more incompetency and theft. It will always put sectarianism ahead of a national discourse that truly respects the rights of all Iraqis, especially those that are most marginalized. This is why most Iraqis reject it.
The long road ahead
Fifteen years later, the real battle in Iraq is being waged between this toxic cocktail of government officials (i.e incompetent thieves), armed militias (i.e. religious nut jobs) versus secular, progressive civil society and cultural initiatives and spaces that want to create a society for all Iraqis, and not just the filthy few.
So the next time somebody says “Everything is fine in Iraq,” chuckle, smirk, roll your eyes, light a cigarette, take a shot, do whatever you need to do to exhale a deep breath of “what the fuck are you talking about?” — and then use that as as an educational moment to instigate a conversation about what steps need to be taken to fix the long list of issues that continue to terrorize Iraqis and what role you will play in this reparation process.
Perseverance is the least that we owe ourselves, as Iraqis or not, as communities living inside Iraq or in the Diaspora. It is our only choice and the most effective solution to a situation that is mired with multiple layers of complexity.
The road to A Different Iraq is long and doesn’t pass through the shiny floors of a shopping mall.
It is a difficult path that will require us to question every conception, misconception, social construct and bias that makes up our very identity.
Only when we embark on this journey, can we begin to claim that, “Everything is fine in Iraq.”
This article was previously published on shakomako.net
There is nothing the American public treasures more than appearance.
When Trump made his way to deliver a mediocre State of the Union address in front of some of the most ineffective employees our country possesses, he knew all he had to do was appear Presidential.
And the results are in: According to a CBS survey immediately after his speech, 75 per cent of those who watched approved of the one-hour self-congratulatory session.
Any person with even a sliver of knowledge regarding American history would have bet in favor of this outcome.
There are many, many ways to unpack this address, as well as the first year of the Trump Presidency because his speech exposed two important tangents that require further elaboration.
First, this administration has a foreign policy vision that is dangerous, ill-prepared, and void of any historical remembrance.
Secondly, the administration and the Republican-held Senate and Congress have forged full steam ahead with policies that are immoral and will continue to contribute to the long degeneration of the American Union.
Target: North Korea?
Or … to Iraq and back again
To no one’s surprise, Trump devoted a large section of his State of the Union to the issue of North Korea.
The rhetoric is eerily similar to the cases that former President George W. Bush made when addressing the Iraq issue in 2002 and 2003.
The same emotional arguments, the same use of individual examples as justification, even the same way they were framed as not only a threat to America, but to the entire global order.
This is not to defend the actions of the regime in North Korea (nor the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein) but to accurately point out the extreme dangers of the White House way of thinking.
We need to take seriously the threat that what happened in Iraq may happen with North Korea, only on a far more devastating scale.
It’s folly and incredibly dangerous to ignore the actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration on this issue.
North Korea will not give up its weapons, and frankly nor should it when you consider its perspective. They’ve seen what happened to Libya and Iraq.
Why would a small nation give up the one thing that gives them leverage over a superpower with a history of being willing to sow destruction on foreign soil at the drop of a hat?
Trump, like his predecessors, warned of the imminent mushroom cloud – that North Korea’s nukes could hit American cities.
“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies.”
The Iranian regime change dream
Then there’s Iran, the last frontier of any neocons dream conquest.
Trump has surrounded himself with an unfortunate cache of individuals such as Dan Coats, Tom Cotton and Mike Pence – just a few of the many Iran war-hawks with rhetoric against the country that would make Rumsfeld and Cheney Blush and hark back to the good old days when they helped burn Iraq to the ground.
Trump wasted no time in telling the world how lowly he thought of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal,” he said before hailing Iranian demonstrators for rising up against their “corrupt dictatorship”.
In conjunction with that, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is wining and dining members of the Security Council, knowing full well that Resolution 2231, unanimously agreed on by 15 members of the Security Council, is the only legal document cementing the agreement into law.
Considering who Trump has decided to make friends within the foreign policy area, the elimination of this Security Council protection would allow the same warhawks who presided over the destruction of Iraq another chance to make the exact same mistake in neighboring Iran.
Let’s ignore Russia
Not surprisingly, on the Russia investigation, Trump decided to follow the precedent set by former friend of his – President Bill Clinton.
He ignored the issue he loves to dub a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” altogether.
This was reminiscent of when Clinton declined to address his ongoing impeachment trial during his 1999 State of the Union. In fact, Clinton didn’t even bring up the issue the following year, even though he was ultimately acquitted by the United States Senate.
Most Americans probably didn’t want to hear about Russia as much as they wanted to hear about domestic issues such as the tax break, which Trump raised as a core issue.
When Trump says that “our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses” he leaves out who always benefits from conservative tax cuts – wealthy corporations who are expected to see their after tax incomes rise by 3.4 per cent, or about twice as much as lower and middle class families, according to the Tax Policy Center.
We have seen the results of these tax policies and restructuring of healthcare before from previous GOP lead legislation.
We’ve seen the toxic blend of the war machine (drummed up by hawkish neocons who want to drop bombs and worry about circumstance and human life later) mixed in with corporate greed, and the destruction it has brought upon entire countries, our environment, and our moral conscience.
The results of these policies, certainly accelerated under Trump but by no means his sole creation, are plain to see even if the Trump administration wants to tout their achievements as a step forward to those who have been left behind.
Those in the administration want to say they are finally delivering for all people within the country, especially African American and Hispanic people. Trump bragged to thunderous applause how he was responsible for the low African American unemployment rate.
But the fact of the matter is the African American unemployment rate has been in steady decline since 2011. A simple look at the employment rate makes it clear Trump has nothing to do with this trend.
What Trump has done, which is something he conveniently left out of his speech, is spew ridiculous rhetoric and align with those who certainly don’t have the best interests of the African American community in mind.
As Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond (D-LA) said: “The President has taken every opportunity to divide this country along racial lines,”
“Words matter. President Trump’s racist rhetoric makes the country less safe for people of color by encouraging and emboldening and pandering to those who wish to do harm to others based on the color of their skin,” Richmond told the local media ahead of the State of the Union on Tuesday.
Trump also promised to bring down drug prices in his speech, but his new health secretary, Alex Azar, does not believe the government should negotiate prices directly.
The Immigrant song
Trump called for unity but insisted on getting the border wall with Mexico built, in return for giving Dreamers – or children of immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – a pathway to full citizenship in up to 12 years.
He also made a blatantly false assertion when he said that rampant “chain migration” was occurring and that immigrants were bringing in virtually every members of their family over.
He also failed to mention that he himself ended DACA, and he is the one who put congress on this six-month timetable to figure out the fate of unauthorized immigrants and many more.
No amount of bombastic rhetoric, all-caps tweets or skewing economic data can change the fact that the Trump administration has made no real policy changes to benefit the most vulnerable Americans. False assertions, fiery speeches, and transparent policy decisions over an entire year speak louder than any single hour-long speech does.
Ultimately, for America to make any positive contribution to better both its people and citizens of the world whom they have mostly neglected for so many decades, these hard truths must be met with honesty and a willingness to accept that America must fundamentally alter how it interacts with the world.
Around 9pm on August 12, a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered at Nameless field, a large swathe of grass on the University of Virginia campus.
Two-by-two they descended, yelling “blood and soil!” and “you will not replace us!”- the light from their torches and their indignant voices the only thing penetrating the summer night air.
Some minutes later, they faced off with anti-racism demonstrators and so began another decisive chapter in American race relations.
Reactions poured in from all corners of the country; people were emotional and angry.
Liberal political commentator Van Jones was crying on Anderson Cooper’s CNN news show, while former Republican standard-bearers like David Frum, Bill Kristol, and even former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney all took to Twitter to lambaste President Donald Trump.
But Trump, the one figure tasked with soothing this mess and finding the rhetoric to calm and unite a divided nation, predictably failed to deliver – and only made things worse.
Perhaps no individual deserves more blame for the inferno being kindled across America than Trump who has, in the last few days, continually blamed both sides for the escalation of the violence which left one protester dead and many others injured.
“It was a horrible thing to watch. There is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group,” Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday.
And throughout this entire ordeal, Trump missed the mark on two major issues that will continue to hold America back if they are not appropriately and maturely addressed; first, attacking the counter-protesters, or those he labeled the alt-left, and second, continually trying to deflect all conversations away from the very real issue of white supremacy in America.
Dissecting the counter-movements
Many conservative thinkers, even ones recently at odds with the president, have agreed that far left groups such as the anti-fascist Antifa represent the opposite but equally dangerous end of the political spectrum dubbing them the alt-left, a term even some centrist liberals have adopted.
Antifa can be violent and has radical beliefs tinged with authoritarianism, evidenced by their actions and mission statements; the merit of their tactics is very debatable.
However, equating them with those who marched two-by-two in Charlottesville fuels a ridiculous false equivalency.
Groups like Antifa are often the last line of defence on the left against these radical and exclusionary groups they’re being equated with.
And while conservatives often count these far-right groups as part of their voting block, groups like Antifa receive far less popular support and have historically had far less impact on American civil society.
Most importantly, they don’t have the support of institutionalized white supremacy.
Many Democratic and Republican politicians in America have benefited from these white supremacist institutions. Their failures and complacency in the face of racism are what fueled the rise of groups like Antifa, yet they throw their hands in the air as if this conundrum arose from nothing.
The counter-protesters at the Virginia rally were members of a diverse selection of these leftist groups, including the Democratic Socialists of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, and they were standing peacefully when they were subjected to an act of terrorism.
Most on the left are not violent. There is no moral equivalency between the sides.
The silence and cowardice shown in the face of these institutions of white supremacy is more dangerous than Antifa, or any other group on the left.
What’s more is that groups on the left are holding accountable positions of power – those reserved almost exclusively for white American males – knowing full well they could never dream of finding themselves there one day.
Race in America
In 1861, in his “cornerstone speech” differentiating between the constitution of the Confederacy and the Union, soon-to-be Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens asserted the “great truth” that “the negro is not equal to the white man … that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition”.
“This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth,” he said, cementing that the Confederacy, by its very definition and desires, was a white supremacist organization.
To continue to celebrate it by raising its flag today is not a celebration of heritage, but a glorification of a time when black bodies were indiscriminately used as fodder, all the while being mass murdered, exploited, and subjugated under the very institutions glorified in statues peppered across the country.
Black bodies and sheer attrition built cities across America, from South Carolina to Brooklyn, where Confederate statues tower over town squares to this day- reminders of pain, enslavement, and horror.
Can anti-racism counter-protesters do anything other than tear these statues down one by one?
Not everything in the past is worthy of celebration. In fact, many things from human history deserve to be left in museums, books, and classrooms.
To deny that institutionalized racism is not as old as the very first American colony would be to rip the country out of the bloody context of white supremacy on which it was largely founded.
To consider acknowledging present-day institutionalized racism as race-baiting and divisive is to also deny society as a whole the chance to alter how it examines history, and how it moves forward.
Further deflections lead to accumulated denial and historical revisionism, which can only lead to demise.
Denying the chasm that white supremacy creates in society today is just like denying that the oceans are rising and the planet is warming due to human activity.
The United States government has not done enough to remove the images and institutionalized forms of white supremacy.
The country must now choose how it addresses its sins.
With Trump as president, no one should be optimistic that change will come from the top. It will be up to regular citizens, as it has been throughout human history, to try to enact real, tangible change.
And it starts with addressing the problem head-on, and fighting it.
On Steve Bannon and unreasonable expectations
In the wake of Charlottesville, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has been forced out of the White House.
Judging from the smoldering wreckage from the hot-takes on Twitter, it may be the biggest departure yet of the Trump Presidency.
While that may end up being the case, the analysis of Bannon has always seemed to trend in various hyperbolic directions. In many ways, Bannon’s influence has always been overstated – on both sides.
To a lot of people, Bannon was the ultimate puppet-master; the architect behind the Trump ideology, the most powerful driving force behind the populist, “economic nationalist” zeal.
They believed that Bannon was the reason why Trump did so many of the things he did, and getting rid of him seems, for many, a breath of fresh air.
But to think that Bannon’s departure will have any seismic impact on how the president operates seems a tad naive at best, and blatantly ignorant of the facts of his presidency at worst.
Trump has consistently shown that he is not swayed by any single person, no matter how much control that individual seems to exert over him.
Ivanka and senior advisor Jared Kushner couldn’t wrangle him in. Neither could Vice-President Mike Pence or White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Bannon, despite what many proclaimed, could not either.
What will be interesting to observe is how Bannon operates upon returning to Breitbart, his news and opinion website.
Many have suggested that he may maneuver to torpedo Trump’s efforts, or at the very least try to temper the expectations of a base that Trump sorely needs.
Bannon’s impact on Trump could potentially be devastating, but it may be crucial to approach his future impact with levels of skepticism and perspective.
A step back from the Twitter frenzy should crystallize that Bannon is not as smart or as important as many think he is to the political fabric of America.
Steve Bannon certainly is not as smart or as important as he thinks.