Book Review of “Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends”

Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends by Anne Applebaum

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I can appreciate this Applebaum’s perspective, but a few things bother me. She centres herself as the unchangeable middle who is free from movement, ideological grift, or opportunism. I want to break down some of what she said here.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “Authoritarianism appeals, simply, to those who cannot tolerate complexity: There is nothing inherently “left-wing” or “right-wing” about this instinct at all. It is anti-pluralist. It is suspicious of people with different ideas. It is allergic to fierce debates.”

But that’s precisely what she does:

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “This, of course, is the argument that anti-American extremists, the groups on the far-right and far-left fringes of society, have always made. American ideals are false, American institutions are fraudulent, American behavior abroad is evil, and the language of the American project—equality, opportunity, justice—is nothing but empty slogans. The real reality, in this conspiratorial view, is that of secretive businessmen, or perhaps ‘deep state’ bureaucrats, who manipulate the voters into going along with their plans, using the cheesy language of Thomas Jefferson as a cover story.”

She asks for complexity but can’t find it within herself to look for it herself. She can’t frame her argument without flowering it with words like “anti-American extremists” or groups as “fringes” or contaminating her statement by saying that the view is “conspiratorial.”

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “Whatever it takes to overthrow these evil schemers is justified. In Prairie Fire, the Weather Underground inveighed against ‘the Justice Department and White House–CIA types.'”

Um, FRED HAMPTON? The FBI murdered him. This isn’t a conspiracy; you can find it on something as tame as the History Channel. Herbert Hoover targeted civil rights leaders, American involvement since WW2 in overthrowing Central and South American governments isn’t a conspiracy, it’s documented historical fact.


Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “This form of moral equivalence—the belief that democracy is no different, at base, from autocracy—is a familiar argument, and one long used by authoritarians. Back in 1986, Jeane Kirkpatrick, a scholar, intellectual, and Reagan’s UN ambassador, wrote of the danger both to the United States and to its allies from the rhetoric of moral equivalence that was coming, at that time, from the Soviet Union.”

Again, she can’t just quote Kirkpatrick; she uses the flowering of the language to influence the reader. It suggests that Kirkpatrick is put out as an expert that can be relied on and centres Kirkpatrick much as she does herself. This is the same Kirkpatrick that downplayed the rape and murder of four nuns in El Salvador (saying “the nuns were not just nuns, they were political activists”) and supported murderous dictators in Central and South America. Kirkpatrick popularised the term “moral equivalence” to not look at the USA’s history because if you do, it’s a trail of genocide, slavery, and imperialism and that continues to engage in it to this day.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “Guns, weapons, even nuclear warheads were dangerous to democracies, but not nearly as dangerous as this particular form of cynicism: ‘To destroy a society,’ she wrote, ‘it is first necessary to delegitimize its basic institutions.’ If you believe that America institutions are no different from their opposite, then there is no reason to defend them. The same is true of transatlantic institutions.”

I told my partner I was writing this, and she said, “the scientific method also applies to humanities; history, sociology and political science.” In Kirkpatrick/Applebaum’s view, you have to accept that American institutions are different without any analysis.

She also wrote: Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism “Buchanan’s pessimism derives partially from his sense of white decline but also, like some of those diametrically opposed to him on the left, from his dislike of American foreign policy. Over the years he has evolved away from ordinary isolationism and toward what seems to be a belief that America’s role in the world is pernicious, if not evil.”

and

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism AA: “In 2002, he told a television audience, using language that could have equally come from Noam Chomsky or a similar left-wing critic of America, that ‘9/11 was a direct consequence of the United States meddling in an area of the world where we do not belong and where we are not wanted.”

She quotes this but does not engage with the criticisms of Buchanan or Chomsky in any meaningful way, and she dismisses them without any counter-argument. Chomsky/Buchanan is absolutely spot on in their analysis of why 9/11 happened. Bin Laden himself: “There is America, full of fear from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that. What America is tasting now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years. Our nation [the Islamic world] has been tasting this humiliation and this degradation for more than 80 years. Its sons are killed, its blood is shed, its sanctuaries are attacked, and no one hears and no one heeds.”

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “And this is what Trump has proven: beneath the surface of the American consensus, the belief in our founding fathers and the faith in our ideals, there lies another America—Buchanan’s America, Trump’s America—one that sees no important distinction between democracy and dictatorship. This America feels no attachment to other democracies; this America is not ‘exceptional.'”

“This America has no special democratic spirit of the kind Jefferson described. The unity of this America is created by white skin, a certain idea of Christianity, and an attachment to land that will be surrounded and defended by a wall. This America’s ethnic nationalism resembles the old-fashioned ethnic nationalism of older European nations. This America’s cultural despair resembles their cultural despair.”

America has been at war in some form or fashion since its founding, minus about 30 odd years. The “Founding Fathers” were slave-owning misogynists. The “spirit of Jefferson” isn’t democratic at all (he was a rapist, after all). The “spirit” she’s talking about is almost a religion, and it’s on what MAGA is built. That’s just it, she can point to Trump and say why he’s terrible, but she can’t or won’t do the deep dive into the important questions “why” questions like why he exists, why he’s popular, why people follow him and his horrible ideas.

The reality is that people have been suffering in some form or fashion because of the neoliberal politics that’s been dominating since the 1970s. Wages have been stagnant while income inequality rises. The stagnation results from those policies, and Trump is built on top of Ronald Reagan’s legacy.



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Twitter is a Choice, Don’t Opt Out

I see a lot of people I follow say they are going to leave Twitter, and I think that’s a bad idea.

Something I realised listening to Chelsea Manning on the It Could Happen Here podcast, that the “pay to play” internet has been in the works for a long time. Chelsea isn’t a conspiracy theorist; she’s worked as an intelligence analyst, developer, and now as a network security expert.

TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook all make you think you have this large following when you don’t, via algorithms. It is a mirage. Here’s an example: @CaseyHammybone has 6.5 million followers on TT, but most of his views are 30k-150k on average.

Most posts are seen by 2% or less of his followers. And this is how social media works. There’s an illusion of being seen, but it is mostly just smoke and mirrors to give the illusion of audience.

But there is an alternative that’s been around for a while. Mastodon isn’t an algorithm-driven social media site; it doesn’t make money from access to content. Blogs and open-source media sites run on ActivityPub lists your timeline in a chronological order. And it’s not as if you have to stop posting to these popular social media sites. Moaparty, for example, crossposts to and from Twitter and Instagram.

The default Mastodon desktop looks a lot like Tweetdeck:

Toot! (iOS)

Fedilab (Android)

Both are very “Twitter-like”. Toots=Tweets, Boosts=Retweets, and Favourites=Likes.

Don’t leave algorithm-based sites; use them to push people from those platforms to platforms that aren’t algorithm-based. Push your Twitter followers to your Mastodon instance, your Medium readers to your blog, or your Youtube viewers to Peertube. Push content to Patreon and Fanbase (instead of TikTok), where you get paid to produce content. It may SEEM like you’ve entered a smaller universe, but that’s just an illusion that algorithms produce. Leveraging the current parasitic ocial media platforms is key to taking back the power from those that have effectively silenced online discourse.

Bayard Rustin’s Vision is Why Bigots Use Dog Whistles

Bayard Rustin was an American civil rights icon. He was the main organiser of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He also influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to use non-violence as a tactic in the fight for civil rights. He said:

” Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate.” 

Bayard Rustin; From Montgomery to Stonewall (1986)


This has come to pass, people can’t openly manifest their hatred in public. That doesn’t mean that hatred and bigotry go away. Bigots have found other means to inject their bigotry into society. Social conservatives do this frequently. They will talk about the “traditional family” being under attack, or that the transgender agenda is destroying society.

When Seth Andrews tries making the point that Nazis don’t exist (because the National Socialist German Workers’ Party/Hitler was defeated in 1945), Thomas Smith tries to claim that New Atheists haven’t merged with right-wing conservatives, or Sam Harris claims that white supremacists have no cultural influence/that they’re the fringe of the fringe, they are being destructively pedantic.

T-Party Podcast: BlackBlockPolitics with Eric

From the Tik-Tok channel BlackBlocPolitics, Eric joined me to talk about communism, capitalism, building community, and much more.

Everything Old is New Again

This blog is back to where it was around 2008. I actually lost the domain because I forgot about it and someone snatched it up and basically wouldn’t let get until the SEO rankings dropped.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since I owned this URL back in the day. Blogging isn’t so much of a thing as it used to be. I live in the UK now, I’m no longer the editor of the Transadvocate, and the world has fallen apart more than I thought it could back in the day. After using different social media platforms, I’ve decided to come back to this platform (personal hosted WordPress blog).

I mostly have returned to it, because social media has turned into something I can’t stand. Everything is monetized, even Twitter and Facebook. You don’t have much reach these days unless you’re outrage farming on social media for someone else to profit off of. That’s not who I am, and not what I want to do. Mostly what I want to do here is write from the perspective of the life I’ve lived.

I’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do just to get this to look how it did previously. I might have a professional do an upgrade at some point but right now I just want to get this back to what it was. I’ve recently moved from Twitter to Mastodon, and I plan on centralising everything I do online here.

Who Is To Blame for Trump’s Win?

I’ve seen many Facebook/Twitter friends post this story from Newsweek:

FireShot Capture 121 - newsweek – Facebook Search - https___www.facebook.com_search_top__q=newsweek

The implication is that if not for Sanders supporters, Hillary Clinton would be POTUS, not Trump. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders supporters that sunk the Clinton campaign. It was a team effort. It also wasn’t the fault of:

No, it’s not any one of those things…IT’S ALL OF THEM.

It’s Foolish to Think of the Saving of Obamacare is a Victory

Many Democrats are celebrating this morning the defeat of the Republican’s attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. What the hell are Americans celebrating?

I’m an American expat working for the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. I’ve been a health care provider in the US system for 29 years, before coming to the UK. If you’re a citizen here, you get healthcare that’s free at the point of service. It’s true, your hospital may not have:

hospitals

  • a football field
  • a swimming pool
  • a basketball court
  • a grand piano

But you do get good quality health care.  That’s my opinion as a provider, and as a patient.

hospitalstay

 

But that’s not just my  opinion, it’s a fact. Health care in the UK costs less and has better outcomes than the USA.

You’ll have US politicians speaking out of both sides of their mouth. They’ll stand there flag waving saying America is the greatest country in the world, while saying America can’t afford to do what the rest of the civilized world already provides for its citizens. They’ll say this while spending more on defense than China, South Korea, Italy, Germany, Japan, France, India, Iraq, Australia, Brazil, Israel, and the United Kingdom combined (and Donald Trump wants to spend 54 billion dollars more).

Since September 11, 2001 the United States has spent 4.79 TRILLION dollars on two wars and the so called “battle on Islamic terrorism.” If you’re an American citizen, do you feel safer? Do you feel like the world is a safer place making that kind of investment?

If you’re celebrating Obamacare, you’re like this guy:

nobike

He might be happy that he’s got a car to drive, but he’s still driving a clunker.

Now that’s not to say say that the NHS is perfect. It’s underfunded and stressed, but what do the people being served by it fear? They fear the NHS becoming something that mirrors the US health care system.

I understand why people are relieved that the health care they have now won’t be taken away, but celebrate? Being screwed over a little less is no reason to celebrate. This should be a wake up call, not a party.

Thinking About Safe Spaces, Dawkins, and Intersection of Privilege and Atheism

The genesis of this post is from a comment I left on The Thinking Atheist Podcast page. The host, Seth Andrews, invited various people on his podcast to talk about “Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces.” One of the guests was Bill Ligertwood, a conference organizer with the Imagine No Religion conference

So here’s where I come from. I’m a white trans woman. I’m middle class. I went to college before transition and have a decent life making decent money. I don’t worry for much in terms of material things. I lived and grew up in mainly white culture (my grandfather was a Klansman). I never met another transgender person (the opposite of transgender is cisgender) until after I transitioned. Being a trans woman, I was male-identified at birth. Up to the point of transition, I’d been enmeshed in men’s culture. Positionally in terms of socialisation, I was seen as a member of “white cis bro culture.”

Living in Indiana, I was one of those “libertarian” Republicans that believed life was a level playing field and that if you just applied yourself, you’d succeed. This wasn’t a belief I had tested or reasoned; it was just a feeling I had. Back then, talk of privilege wasn’t commonplace in my circle of friends. I certainly didn’t spend any of my time thinking about it. When I transitioned, I lost cisgender, heterosexual and male privilege and had to actually confront the loss of something I didn’t think existed.

So when I’m talking about “white cis bro culture”, it’s essentially a discussion about white, cisgender, heterosexual, male privilege. It’s not just displayed at atheist conferences but in the atheist community as a whole.

The last atheist conference I attended was the Secular Women‘s conference, but I stay way away from conferences for the most part because they are rife with white cis-het bro culture.

I don’t go to conferences that invite Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Lawrence Krauss as guests. Not because I have a problem with their scepticism, but a problem with their displays (Shermer, Dawkins, Krauss, Harris) of sexism/misogyny/islamophobia.

From the interview:

Andrews: “You wanted to weigh in on this because you have an opinion, a perspective. You approached me and said ‘I want to talk about the challenges that I’m facing in this culture when it comes to conference organisation.’ You’re finding it harder to do what you do, in what you might call an ‘offence culture.” A ‘taking offence’ culture. You want to flesh that out for me?”

Ligertwood: “Yea, sure. Well, we’re talking about safe spaces, and what we’re trying to do, obviously, at a conference is create one. We’re trying to create a safe space for people of our persuasion. In other words, unbelievers, atheists, what have you, a place where they can come and not be worried about someone finding out, ot worried about someone that’s going to take a strip off them because they’re not believers. So that’s, first of all that’s what I think we’re trying to do. What makes that really difficult now is that it doesn’t seem to take much to make it is that actually quite safe, unsafe just because somebody takes offence to something that one of the speakers said once in a tweet or whatever, years ago, months ago, days ago, hours ago, it doesn’t really matter. It just seems like people take offence to almost anything these days and it seems like once you go off the path, once you go stray from the dogma, which is what I thought we were all interested in doing, is straying from the dogma. But once you stray from this new dogma, you’re in the out group. People will boycott our event. People will boycott anything you’re at are because you said something or someone said something about you and it’s instantly, yeah, the safe spaces isn’t safe anymore, so people won’t come.”

Taking that apart, I read that as:

“Just because Dawkins made sexist comments with ‘Muslima,’ people shouldn’t boycott our conference if we invite him.”

First off, a boycott is a form of free speech. Secondly, dogma is misused here by Ligertwood. According to Merriam-Webster, dogma is:

  • 1. a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet b : a code of such tenets c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds

  • 2. a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

It seems like Ligertwood is using 1a and c in reference to his point. Fleshing that out in the context of Dawkin’s Muslima comments makes no sense. What is the dogma here? Is it the “new dogma” to acknowledge sexist tweets of thought leaders in the atheist/sceptic movement?

There’s an underlying message that Dawkins is a magic man with knowledge so unique, it can only be gained by listening to him. That may have been true in 1975, but it isn’t now. I’ve stated before that there seems to be a Jekyll and Hyde side to Dawkins. Attendance at a conference (or buying of a book of his, for that matter) supports both his Jekyll and his Hyde. There’s the brilliant evolutionary biologist who wrote “The Selfish Gene.” But then there’s the crotchety old grandpa who will tell you that sexism isn’t that bad because Muslim women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive or that “mild paedophilia” isn’t harmful.

I don’t buy cakes from bakers who won’t make wedding cakes for gay men for the same reason (no matter how delicious they are). That isn’t a rejection of the baker’s confectionary skill, but their bigotry. There are plenty of other “bakers” in the atheist community that are not sexist that I can (and do) give my time/audience with/money to.

Ligertwood seems to be angry that people will “boycott” his conference because of “tweets.” He seems angry that another person’s free speech (boycott) will make his job of conference organizing harder. Given that conferences generally cost to attend and are not mandatory, I’m not sure where his beef is with me exercising my own free will over my own pocketbook. Yes, I’m an atheist, but I value my own time, talent, and treasure enough to take it to places and spaces that value me. Mr Ligertwood won’t have to worry about catering to me for his conference. I’ll stick with listening to my favourite atheist podcasts (The Thinking Atheist, The Atheist Experience), reading Greta Christina, and supporting people involved with Secular Women. That’s as far as I’ll dip my toes in the atheist community because I don’t have to do any more than that. Support isn’t something atheist communities or conferences are owed.

Atheists are a marginalised community, even though it’s hard for many cis white men to comprehend. The only thing I can work out with Ligertwood is that his frustration might stem from his own privilege. There is such a thing as “Christian privilege“, and those things impact atheist’s lives.  The truth is hard for white cisgender men who have never had to face up and acknowledge their own privilege in other areas. Would Ligertwood be against atheists who refuse to shop at Hobby Lobby or eat Chick-fil-A? Boycotts are a powerful change agent. But Ligertwood’s words seem to express that old saying that “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

Supporting The Nominee Like my Life Depended on It

I’ve had a few people on my Facebook wall arguing #BernieorBust. I put together some audio in response.

Long audio file:
MP3
Short audio file:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqLAZynXnPc]

Bernie or Meh, The Clinton Path to Defeat

I’ll say it up front, I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter that:

  • thinks Sanders has a very narrow path to the nomination (almost impossible).
  • will vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.
  • thinks Democrats and the Clinton campaign are setting themselves up for a massive defeat in the fall.

The Democratic Party seems to want to have a fight with Bernie Sanders. Today’s post from the Hill:

Bernie’s not a Democrat. What are we worried about? Why would Bernie want to play nice?” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “I’m just saying if a person doesn’t even want to conform to be Democratic, it’s kind of hard to say, ‘OK, all of a sudden you have to do all these things.’ ”

Sanders isn’t a Democrat? Huh. I guess then they didn’t count him as a Democrat from 2008-2010? He wasn’t a Democrat when Obamacare passed by 1 vote? The reality of this election cycle is that to win, Hillary Clinton supporters need Sanders supporters. Sanders may not be a Democrat, but a very large portion of HIS SUPPORTERS ARE.

There are no super-delegates in the November general election. Clinton my be on the verge of clinching the nomination of the Democratic Party, but she may also be heading for a massive defeat in the fall.

Trump could just rerun Obama’s 2008 ad:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGqD8-a-REQ]

The ad said:

“The Washington Post says Clinton isn’t telling the truth. […]

“But it was Hillary Clinton, in an interview with Tom Brokaw, who quote ‘paid tribute’ to Ronald Reagan’s economic and foreign policy. She championed NAFTA –- even though it has cost South Carolina thousands of jobs. And worst of all, it was Hillary Clinton who voted for George Bush’s war in Iraq.

“Hillary Clinton. She’ll say anything, and change nothing. It’s time to turn the page. Paid for by Obama for America.”

Since 1994 Ohio has lost 320,000 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was enacted. You can argue whether or not those job losses were from NAFTA, but what I don’t think is arguable is how effective a talking point it is in states that have been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs.

If Trump keeps hammering Clinton on her support of NAFTA and the Iraq War, while stoking anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, he has a very good shot at becoming the next President of the United States.

Clinton and the Democratic establishment aren’t going to win over Sanders voters by falsely labeling them as violent. They won’t win Sanders voters over by painting Sanders as a lonely outsider, effectively aligning his voters out in the cold with him. Say 2/3 of Sanders voters do vote for Clinton, and most Republicans vote for Trump? Trump would win Pennsylvania and Ohio. Clinton’s ahead in the polls in Florida by 1 percentage point.  I have a  question for establishment Democrats. How’d that whole letting Florida decide the election in 2000 work out for you?
 

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