Review: The Outsider, by Stephen King

July 12, 2018 Featured, Reviews Comments (0) 133

Stephen King is really proud of It. He’s so proud, he’s written that book three times: In 1986 under the original title, again in 2001 as Dreamcatcher, and now a third time in 2018 as The Outsider. That might sound like a criticism, and with Dreamcatcher it might be, but King’s latest book reads almost like a reinterpretation of It through the eyes of a more mature narrator, who recognizes–and suffers from–more adult fears and emotions.

With The Outsider, King turns from his recent literary bent to his pulp-horror roots. It’s a move that will satisfy many long-time fans, but King–still one of America’s finest writers, despite the genre stigma–brings some new tricks, maturing as an author and a citizen of American society.

For roughly its first third, The Outsider reads like a procedural murder mystery, with almost no hint of any supernatural elements–an effect that is undone, unfortunately, by the book’s evocative cover. The story concerns Terry Maitland, a mild-mannered youth sports coach in a fictional Oklahoma town, who is arrested for the rape and murder of a young boy. The police have damning evidence of his guilt, including a number of eyewitnesses, which deepens the mystery when it turns out Terry also has an airtight alibi and absolutely could not have committed the crime.

With the police and the town convinced of Terry’s guilt, we follow an investigation that eventually leads to the supernatural being, the titular Outsider, depicted on the cover.

I’ll save the spoilers for now, but tell you that Stephen King fans will not be disappointed. In addition to delivering the fast, entertaining read we’ve all come to expect, The Outsider includes almost all of King’s hallmarks: The mysterious evil that gradually comes into focus; the ragtag group of friends (the Ka-tet) who must first convince themselves the supernatural evil is real, then set off to fight it; the long, vivid descriptions of terrible, unpleasant deaths; the patsy villain recruited into service by the evil monster, with a grudge against the heroes and a body progressively decaying; the eventual Campbellian descent into a literal cave; and the too-long, irrelevant conversations full of pleasantries that you somehow still enjoy because these characters are just so damn folksy.

What’s different is the way King moves the camera away from the monster almost entirely, instead exploring the rippling consequences of brutality and murder. Much of the story follows the relatives and friends of the dead, which serves both the plot and the book for the better. King also makes no effort to hide his political allegiance: Trump’s name appears in graffiti at the scenes of murders, and at least once a protagonist thinks disdainfully that another person “probably voted for Donald Trump.” The story integrates Mexican-American characters, Tex-Mex settings, and Mexican mythology, which might not be a political choice, but in the current era and coming from King–whose work usually centers on white New Englanders–it seems a clear embrace of the people Trump rejects as Americans.

King’s fans will find The Outsider treading familiar ground, but in a new and interesting way. The creature spends most of the time off-screen, and is ultimately somewhat disappointing when we encounter it, but that is also typical for King, whose terrifying amorphous evil influence often turns out in the end to be a really big spider. There are similarities to Pennywise (intentionally, I think–more on that in a moment) and to Randall Flagg, but moreso even than other of King’s work, the monster really isn’t the point. The point is how the monster stirs our characters to examine their reality, and how even in our age of advanced technology, we’ll never understand the world as well as we believe. As becomes a sort of mantra by the end, “There is no end to the Universe.”


** HERE THERE BE SPOILERS **

As a reader, I have an odd relationship with Stephen King; he’s one of the first authors I really fell in love with, and yet I go long periods without reading his work. As soon as I do pick up a King book, I’m a superfan. I want to read another, and another, and I find myself on the Stephen King Wiki, reading fan theories and connections to the Dark Tower.

For those who are unfamiliar, King’s books have always shared certain commonalities–towns and characters who would appear, sort of coincidentally, in multiple books–but since the early 2000s, and the publication of the last few Dark Tower novels, those connections and confluences are much more frequent and intentional. In the Dark Tower series, King made clear that all of his stories take place across “The Multiverse,” parallel universes stacked like wheels with the Dark Tower as their axle.

Fans who study the Multiverse will immediately question whether the titular Outsider, AKA El Cuco, is related to the It/Pennywise creature, or to Dandelo from the Dark Tower. First off, I think the idea of a psychic vampire, however literal, is just something Stephen King finds upsetting and likes to write about. Many of his villains, even those that don’t literally feed on human emotion, retain a sort of ability to perceive the thoughts or feelings of their victims. If King had never formally declared his Multiverse, I think we’d call this a theme. But he did declare the Multiverse, so let’s talk about that.

I do believe the Outsider, AKA El Cuco, is a variant of the same “Todash monster” species, as fans have termed it, to which It/Pennywise and Dandelo belong. All share the practice of psychic vampirism, “eating” the emotions of their human victims, and all shared some ability to shape-shift and to read minds. I believe the term “outsider” refers to a being from Todash Space, or “outside,” although the characters don’t know that–just as it did in the off-hand mention of “an outsider” in Bag of Bones. I also think (though I’m not certain) the term is used to describe beings from Todash Space in the Dark Tower series.

I think King tips his hand when The Outsider uses the term “Ka” as a synonym for soul or life force, when he’s explaining himself to Holly and Ralph. This marks the creature as knowing something, at least, of the Dark Tower. As to its question about whether Holly had seen others like it, I’m not sure if that was a wink to the reader about It/Pennywise and Dandelo, or an in-canon line meant to illustrate that it suspected itself alone.

Assuming the Outsider is some variation of the Todash monster, I suspect Holly didn’t just enrage it when she called it an ordinary child rapist and pedophile, I suspect she also weakened it–much the way Pennywise, which fed on fear, was weakened by defiance and courage, I suspect this creature, which fed on sorrow and victimization, was weakened by confidence and judgment.

All that said, I also want to go on record that I’m not convinced King’s comment that It/Pennywise and Dandelo are “the same species,” was meant as seriously as fans have taken it. The whole thing might have been a hand wave, an off-the-cuff comment that has been treated as a Rosetta Stone to King’s Multiverse. So ultimately, who the hell knows?

Either way, to me the direct reference to “Ka” means this book is definitely connected with the Dark Tower, and King very intentionally wants us to see that. For whatever it’s worth.

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America will never heal from Trump

July 11, 2018 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 88

I’d ask you to begin by reading Hector Acosta’s account of applying for citizenship after the 2016 Election. Full disclosure, Hector is a personal friend and co-organizer of the writer’s group I run. The short version is that Hector, a Mexican immigrant, lived in the US for 20 years as a resident alien. After Trump’s election, suddenly worried that he might not be welcome, he applied for citizenship and spent 15 months sweating when he saw police, lying awake at night, and wondering whether his next appointment would end in deportation.

Hector’s story ends happily, in that he did finally attain citizenship. But the consequences of that experience will stay with him for a long time, maybe forever. One day he was an American, who never doubted his place in his adopted home country. The next he was an immigrant, different and unwelcome, and even as a citizen that feeling will always linger.

And that is the truth of Trump: As focused as many of us are on opposing him, on stopping his racist, fascist-light policies, and even possibly removing him from office, America will never fully recover from Trump. We will always wear the scars of his election.

As of this writing, thousands of immigrant children remain separated from their families, kidnapped and held for ransom so Trump could demand his wall. Yes, a court has ordered the reunification of those families, which may feel like victory to some–but those children, some as young as infants, will suffer very literal psychological damage that will affect their entire lives.

Experts in child development say the experience of being torn from their families and held in cages may cause permanent psychological and even physical change to the brain development of these children. Something as simple as being denied human contact during vital developmental stages can lead to depression, isolation, and diminished health later in life. Even if we return every child to their family, even if we pay settlements for our crimes, those children are permanently and irrevocably harmed.

So, of course, is our nation. The US will always be the nation that put children in cages on the border. Nothing can undo that. Add it to the long list of shameful, hypocritical betrayals of the values we claim to hold dear.

These scars will never heal

The election of Donald Trump revealed the ugly side of America: Just how many Americans are racist, nationalist zealots who would fall in line behind a dictator if he promised to protect white supremacy. It’s very true that many Americans already knew this, and many of us (especially white Americans) are better for seeing it laid out in all its ugliness.

For other people, however, ignorance was bliss. Young Black and brown children are entitled to their innocence. Adult immigrants deserve to feel like full Americans, even if they know deep down there are people here who hate them. No one deserves the daily stress and trauma of being told you aren’t equal, being made to feel like an outsider.

There’s little doubt that the racists among us have been emboldened by Trump’s rise. We see new evidence almost daily: A white Manhattanite shouting because he heard Spanish in the salad line, a white man assaulting a woman who proudly wore the flag of her US territory, a seemingly endless parade of white people calling the police because Black people are having fun. We’ve seen the marchers chanting racist and antisemitic slogans in Charlottesville and elsewhere, and the constant presence of symbols of hate in our daily lives.

That genie will never return to its bottle. Long after Trump is gone from office, these racists will still feel empowered. And even if their rhetoric is muted, American immigrants, people of color, Jews, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups, will always retain the memory and the trauma of this era. They will always feel unwelcome, they will always feel other. Those scars may fade, but they cannot be erased.

So what can we do?

This is all pretty bleak, I know. It’s a bleak time, and I don’t believe in papering over the truth with “positivity.” And part of Trumpism is to overwhelm decent Americans with an onslaught of attacks, putting us into a sort of emergency room triage. Our most immediate priorities, of course, are to protect vulnerable people from immediate harm by opposing and undoing the worst policies: Get children out of cages. Reunite families. Stop deportations. Protect the rights of women.

To the subtler, less tangible consequences, I don’t know if there is a solution. I suspect the best we can do is act locally–do what we can to help people in our own communities feel like they belong.

In 2015, in my own neighborhood in Queens, a convenience store teller from Bangladesh was assaulted by a stranger who told him “I kill Muslims.” After the story made the news, community members held rallies, and posted signs, and made a point to shop in his store, many telling him outright that yes, he was welcome. Not every action needs to be this dramatic, and I certainly hope people aren’t attacked first, but there are small things you can do to help people feel that the racists are the outliers, and their neighbors appreciate them.

You can learn a little Spanish–something as simple as hearing “gracias” from white Americans sends a signal to Spanish-speakers that their language is not seen as other. You can make a point to greet Muslim Americans, who are often met with suspicion by white people–although I’d be cautious you aren’t intruding in someone’s day just to make yourself feel good. Oh, and for god’s sake, you can stop calling the police when you see Black people (or anyone else with brown skin) just having a good time and not harming anyone.

I don’t think you should be stopping strangers to tell them they belong here, but a smile and wave go a long way. As to your friends and neighbors, who might be justifiably suspicious of their white friends’ true feelings, it doesn’t hurt to tell them what I told Hector: A person isn’t American because of a document, or religion, or language, or any other quality–a person is American because they live in America. And I don’t care if you’ve been here five generations or five minutes. We’re all equally American.

That’s what Trump is taking away from us, and that’s what we need to defend.


The AMAZING cartoon that serves as a banner image is by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, and used under creative commons license.

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Ireland from Cork to Dublin: Day One

July 10, 2018 Featured, Travels Comments (0) 98

Ireland is both my family’s ancestral home AND my first trip to Europe, and this post is more than a year overdue! One of the benefits of Corky’s job is I get to tag along when she checks out exotic destination marathons, and last year it was the Cork City Marathon, in–you guessed it–Cork, Ireland.

Most Americans visiting Ireland take a standard approach, a circuit around the island with single-night stops in major cities. I’ve never loved that type of approach. I prefer to linger, and have time to explore and get to know a place. It also didn’t work for us with the marathon, which really necessitates at least a couple of nights in one city. So we planned to stay in Cork City for a few nights, then move on to Dublin, with an overnight somewhere in between.

I’d also scouted out a ton of castles that I wanted to visit and to photograph, including a number of ruins secreted in remote sections of the countryside. This meant we had to rent a car–but more on that later.

Day One: Shannon to Limerick by Rental Car

We flew overnight from New York (JFK) to Shannon, which meant a very early arrival on Saturday morning. As a side note, it was neat as an American to fly a European airline (Aer Lingus) and have full hot meals served, an old fashioned approach I remember from my childhood, before American airlines mostly switched to snack boxes and such.

On the ground in Shannon, we picked up our rental car, which wound up costing quite a bit more than expected. I knew going in that renting a car for a full week in Europe was expensive. I only drive automatic, which is still rare in Europe. It can actually be a challenge even to find a car with automatic transmission for rental, and when you do the upcharge is significant. Still, I’d managed to book a reservation through Expedia for under $400, total including insurance. Once we’d filled out all the paperwork, it somehow ended up costing me nearly $1,000–I tried getting an explanation, but the agent talked circles around me.

There’s also the fact that the Irish drive on the left side of the road. Combine that with famously narrow roads, and Americans can have real problems. When I was a teenager, my family visited Ireland without me (I chose a beach trip that conflicted, instead) and on the first day, my father crashed the car. So Corky and I spent some time driving around the mostly-empty access roads behind the airport, just so I could get the hang of it. Getting on the highway still induced some anxiety, and I heard Corky gasping quite a bit, but (spoiler alert) we made it through the whole trip without a collision.

Bunratty Castle, Limerick, and King John’s Castle

Since we had to drive from Shannon to Cork City, Corky and I figured we’d stop along the way in Limerick, and visit the first few sites I’d scouted: Bunratty Castle, King John’s Castle, and a ruin called Carrigogunnel. Up first was Bunratty, a well-preserved 15th-century castle situated on a Folk Park (sort of a really tiny Renaissance Faire) just a hop from Shannon Airport. Unfortunately, neither the castle nor the Folk Park were open yet. It was early on Saturday morning, but we had unknowingly arrived on June Bank Holiday weekend, and it seemed all of Ireland was sleeping in. We took a few photos outside the park and Durty Nelly’s, a charming pub that sits on the Ralty River right outside the castle, and a frequent stop for tour buses. Then we continued on.

Corky outside Durty Nelly’s and Bunratty Castle, in the background

Our next stop was Limerick City, the streets still mostly empty as we passed 9 AM. Although we were fairly starving, nothing had yet opened, so we parked in the middle of the city and wandered a bit, past Saint Mary’s Cathedral and along the Quays where the River Abbey joins the River Shannon. We had great views of King John’s Castle, another well-preserved museum-style castle, dating to the 13th century, right smack in the middle of Limerick City. Corky also had the chance to meet some Irish kitties, which pretty much made her vacation. The castle opened before any nearby pubs, so we paid our admission and took a tour.

There are four sorts of castle in Ireland, by my count: (1) The privately-owned, which may function as homes, short-term rentals, or event spaces; (2) The preserved, museum-style castles with admission fees and signage; (3) The public park castles, which maintained in their ruined state, open to visit for free; and (4) The castle ruins, which may sit on private or public land, are often unmarked, and are left for nature to slowly reclaim.

We didn’t visit any of the private castles–although you can, in many cases, if you contact the owners in advance. Of the three types we did visit, I found that my favorite (by far) were the true ruins. The museum-style are ultimately my least favorite, because they feel too modern and preserved, but King John’s Castle offers a heck of an education in the history of castles, of Limerick, and of Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland. Cromwell’s name is still a curse in Ireland–his brutal conquest is well-remembered, and it seemed the majority of the castles we visited had been slighted (damaged enough to render them indefensible as wartime forts) by Cromwell’s armies.

King John’s Castle and the Thomond Bridge, seen from the nearby Merchant’s Quay

King John’s Castle also offers excellent costumes and lighting for selfies.

The castle is very well preserved, with signage that explains the functions of different rooms. Much of the maze-like structure is accessible for exploration, and the location on the banks of the River Shannon in the center of Limerick means the view from the towers is pretty impressive.

A view of Limerick from atop King John’s Castle

I also learned something new! I always thought doorways in castles were short because people used to be shorter–but in fact, that was a defensive tactic! Apparently, it was not uncommon for castle invaders to be incapacitated by simply banging their heads on low doorways in the dark. Crazy.

Gallery: Bunratty Castle, Limerick, and King John’s Castle

Carrigogunnell Ruin and the Irish Countryside

By the time we finished at the castle, the pubs nearby were opening up, and we finally settled in for our first of many, many pints, along with Irish Breakfast. Well, I had Irish Breakfast–Corky doesn’t eat pork products, so she skipped the sausages and puddings. I’d never had black or white pudding before, and knowing what they’re made from, I wasn’t eager, but in the spirit of our visit I gave them a try, and turns out I love them! I don’t know exactly what I expected, but the high barley content gives them a nice oaty flavor, very much like the haggis I tried years before.

After breakfast, we headed out into the countryside to visit a ruin that would turn out to be maybe my favorite of the trip: Carrigogunnell. This is a true ruin, a mighty fortress dating at least to the early 13th century and standing (as many medieval castles do) on the highest point in the region–which makes for incredible views. The castle was slighted in the late 17th century, apparently with explosives, and since that time nature has worked to reclaim much of the structure.

Carrigogunnell Castle, or what’s left of it, seen from the country road just east.

Even though preserved castles try to maintain an appearance true to their era, something about ruins just feels more real to me. Untouched by modern restoration, with weeds and vines working their way through the stonework, they seem more connected to the people who built them and lived in them. There’s such beauty in the slow decay of something built by people long before.

If you’d like to visit the ruin of Carrigogunnell Castle, it’s marked on my Google map of Irish castles. Be aware that you cannot enter from the country road to the east, as signs there prohibit crossing the private farm in between. That is, however, the best spot to get a photo of the entire ruin standing atop its rock. To tour the ruin, you must enter from the road to the south. There is a small space to park at the dead-end, and a footpath that leads uphill into the ruins. You might also want to beware of the hag who roams the ruins–legend says if you look at her lit candle, you will die by the next morning. We did see one other woman there when we visited, but she was young and certainly not a hag, and did not carry any candle.

I should also warn you about Irish country roads. They are narrow. They have no shoulder–to the contrary, most are lined on both sides by stone walls, or at least hedges, often growing up and over the road to form a ceiling. Most are single-lane, which means if two cars meet going in opposite directions, someone has to put it in reverse and back up until they find a space to pull off and let their counterpart pass. Some are unpaved, or badly paved, and you have to be careful with those, especially if you’re driving a tiny rental roller-skate like we got from Europcar.

To the good, Irish drivers are generally pretty patient and polite, at least in the countryside. And parking is easy–there don’t seem to be any rules at all on country roads, other than “leave room to pass, so your car won’t get hit.” Near some of the tourist attractions there are signs warning of vandals or thieves who prey on parked cars, but in most of the open country, you can park where you want.

Gallery: Carrigogunnell Castle Ruin

Cork City and Some Much-Needed Sleep

From Carrigogunnell, we headed toward Cork City, our destination for the next few days. At this point I was pretty well exhausted and driving like a zombie. By the time we finally reached our bed and breakfast, it was a huge relief.

We stayed at Garnish House, a small inn across the Western Road from University College Cork. Fortunately, their tiny parking lot had a single spot available when we arrived, and we were able to lug our bags up to our room before returning to the shared dining room for high tea–although, being American and on the verge of collapsing, Corky and I opted to enjoy our complimentary home-baked pastries with coffee instead. They brought us an entire French press filled with dark, rich European coffee, which woke us up enough for the mile-ish walk across Cork City to the race expo.

The decor at the Cork City Hall for the Marathon Expo

I have to say that I loved Cork City. We stayed for several days, and I felt like I got to know the place–or at least the portion surrounding our hotel–but at this point I was so tired, I couldn’t really enjoy myself. After picking up her materials at the race expo, Corky and I pretty much found the first pub serving food within short walking distance of our inn (knowing that a couple of pints would be all it took to knock us both out), scarfed down dinner, and headed back to crash out for the night.

Gallery: Cork City, Day One

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In rural Bilgewater, Trump voters stand by their man.

June 29, 2018 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 70

Tildy Vintner lost her job as a coal chute lubricator in May, but that hasn’t changed her faith in Donald Trump.

“He’s white, like me,” Tildy says, in between visits to customers at her new place of work, Jimmy’s Pancake Shack. “I don’t like people who aren’t white, and neither does my President.”

Most everyone seems to agree here in the little Appalachian town of Bilgewater. On a muggy summer Saturday, serenaded by the rattle of cicadas and the rumble of distant combines, you can watch kids with skinned knees ride rusted bicycles down Main Street, past clapboard houses and the chained link fence around the tire yard. On rickety wooden porches, built before the Great Depression, men with robust bellies rest on rocking chairs and talk about the “Good old days,” while nearby their wives hang klan hoods on the clothesline to dry.

“I voted for that Arab fella last time,” says Stenny Feltman, who at age 83 still maintains the same gravel farm his great-great-grandfather took by eradicating a tribe of Native Americans. “I didn’t trust that Mormon, and my grandson told me if I elected a half-Black, then the liberals would have to stop making everything about race.”

Stenny sips coffee from a mug that reads THE HOLOCAUST WAS A GOOD START. Across the breakfast table, Burt Huebner scrolls through his Twitter feed on his iPhone.

Burt, who lost his job scraping septic tanks just a month ago, just surpassed four hundred thousand followers. He doesn’t make any money from his Twitter following, but he makes ends meet “living off the state.”

“I reply to every tweet from the President,” says Burt, “to tell him what a good job he’s doing. I have fifty, sixty memes, I guess. I like to use them. Also news stories, anything I read on Breitbart, Daily Caller, Fox News. I post all them. Only sites I read. You can’t trust the media, you know.”

When asked about his political affiliation, Burt laughs and says he doesn’t have one. “I consider the facts and draw my own conclusions.”

Pushed for examples, he cites the “false flag” of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy.

“Hillary and Podesta ate them kids,” Burt says. “Spirit Cooking. Everybody knows it, but the media just wants to cover for Hillary.”

Life in Bilgewater harkens back to a simpler time. On the town’s largest intersection, two blonde girls in pigtails have assembled a lemonade stand. Their handpainted sign reads “FORTEEN OZ FOR 88 CENTS.” A customer complements their matching dresses, and they politely inform him the specific shade is called Prussian Blue.

Through Burt Huebner’s Twitter feed, I meet Tyler Pass, captain of the local school’s football team. Tyler is well over six feet tall, gets straight A’s, and expects to go to college on a full scholarship, “if they don’t give it away for Affirmative Action instead.” He spends his Saturday working out, doing bench-presses and curls on rusty equipment in his back yard. The tattoos on his shoulders contort as his muscles flex: one an Iron Cross, the other a banner emblazoned with the words “DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOU IN MY TOWN.”

His phone, never more than an arm’s length away, chirps rhythmically.

“Reddit,” he says, laughing as he holds it up to display a meme. “You need to find places like this online, where it’s still safe to be straight and white.”

Unprompted, he goes into an explanation of the Civil War. “Abraham Lincoln was a Black,” he says. He pauses before the word ‘Black,’ his eyes narrowing as he decides which word to use. “Won’t read that in any government-approved history book. He invented Welfare, though. That was always the plan, quit working and live off hard-working whites.”

Asked what his family does for a living, Tyler explains that his father has been on disability since a cow kicked him in 1987.

“We need to get back to what made this country great,” Tyler tells me. “I didn’t get to vote Trump last time, but I will in 2020, and hopefully again after that.”

Everyone in Bilgewater agrees that Trump should be President for life. “I don’t care if we all lose our jobs,” says Stenny. “He promised to hurt brown people, and that’s all I need to hear.”

Most cite economic anxiety as their top motive for their vote. “Economically anxious,” Tyler tells me. “That’s what we are. All the Blacks and Mexicans, they want to take our jobs and then collect welfare from out of our paychecks.”

It’s true that Bilgewater’s main employers have all closed in the last nine months: The coal chute factory, the offal distributor, even the jaw-harp factory that relocated in September to Bangladesh. It’s true unemployment in town nears seventy percent, but few of the resident seemed bothered.

“He’s turned the economy around,” Burt tells me. “Deporting all them freeloaders from El Salvador? They’re not stealing my hard-earned money any more.”

What about the threat of nuclear war?

“They’re only gonna bomb them illegals in Jew York City,” says Tildy. “And hell, even if there is a nuclear winter and we all got to resort to cannibalism, all that matters here is that he’s making them immigrants suffer.”

That elicits a cheer from the collective crowd at Jimmy’s. A man near the back, who won’t identify himself, shouts “I’ll lose my house, lose my job, watch my whole family starve, as long as I know the Mexicans are getting it worse.”

As the sun begins to set on Bilgewater, and those men on their porches fetch their shotguns and watch the streets, conversation turns to the new postal delivery person, who “looks Oriental.”

Asked for my opinion, this reporter declines to answer. My face must have revealed my distaste, because Burt Huebner is moved to comment.

“See, you East Coast elites think you’re so much better than us,” he says. “You’re always so rude. That’s why Hillary lost.”


[For the love of God, please recognize this as work of parody. Banner image is by Phil Roeder on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

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Don’t sacrifice your humanity to win an election.

June 26, 2018 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 79

I had this exchange on Twitter yesterday, not for the first time and almost certainly not for the last: I decried the policies of our racist President and his bigoted, Nazi-adjacent Administration, and was chastised by a Trump supporter because my words wouldn’t “resonate with a lot of people to help me win in November.”

Not long after, I read this thread from WaPo columnist Megan McArdle, in which she asserts that anyone opposed to Trump should be “laser focused” on winning the 2018 midterm elections, and the 2020 Presidential Election. And listen, I fully recognize the importance of those two elections. Of course I want Trump out of power.

But if getting there requires me to reframe my reality in a way that least offends Trump supporters — in hope, I guess, of carving off some sliver that will put Democrats over the top — then no, I’m not willing to go that far.

There is such thing as objective reality. Words like “fascist,” “Nazi,” and “white supremacist” are not merely insults, they have specific definitions and, when those definitions are met, become appropriate descriptors. Yes, I recognize that fascists, Nazis, and white supremacists rarely appreciate being labeled as such, but my life is not tailored to appeal to the maximum number of demographics.

Perhaps its a consequence of the social media age, in which every individual is a brand, that so many people find this premise reasonable. The United States is building concentration camps,yanking children away from breast-feeding mothers, and putting babies in detention centers. The President takes to Twitter to refer to immigrants “infesting” the US, and frets about immigrants “changing the culture” in Europe; he stands at a podium beside so-called “angel families,” victims of “illegal immigrant crime.” These are tactics taken directly from 1930s-era Nazis, but I’m not supposed to say so because the people who support those policies might be offended?

Maybe they should be more offended by the policies.

I’m not running for office. I’m not a brand. Yes, I want the Democrats to win in 2018 and 2020 — more because we need to strip aspiring fascists of authority, than because I’m a great lover of the Democrats — but I’m not so devoted to my political team that I’ll keep quiet as my country violates human rights and slides toward totalitarianism.

The owners of the Red Hen in Virginia aren’t running for office, either. Yes, they have a brand, but they also have employees, actual human beings to whom they are accountable. When faced with a decision, owner Stephanie Wilkinson took action. She later told reporters, “This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

Uphold their morals. Not win more votes for the Democrats. Not “appeal to the white working class.” Uphold morals.

Because it’s easy to abandon morals in deference to political strategy. It’s easy to stop viewing people — like, say, indigent people arriving at your border seeking a better life — as actual human beings, and treat them as the abstract consequence of political controversy. To think another vote for Nancy Pelosi is more important than the crying children who might never see their parents again.

You might, for instance, forget how much courage it takes to walk up to a White House spokesperson and her family, and tell her she isn’t welcome in your establishment. You might focus solely on the political implications, and the strategy of it all — and argue that a family business, and a staff of immigrants, should keep quiet and serve dinner to a villain threatening their safety, rather than risk a victory in November.

We aren’t just cogs in some political machine, we are human beings with morals and beliefs. It should be the politicians trying to appeal to us, not us trying to tailor our message to boost our politicians. Not everything serves the damn political machine. For one thing, there’s no guarantee that such tactics would even work — and if we give up our beliefs and still lose, what do we have left then?

So I’m not going to be courteous or civil to people violating human rights, and I hope you won’t either. I’m not going to stop pointing out when US policy is taking pages from Hitler’s Germany, and I’m not sacrificing my humanity or my morals in the interest of winning an election.

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