Banter M Issue Issue 72: Everything is Political Now

In this issue of Banter M: 

Everything is Political Now – Chez Pazienza writes about the the infuriating experience of going to a concert and realizing that the performer was partially to blame for the election of Donald Trump. Is having a good time now a thing of the past in this astonishingly partisan era of Trump?

The Trump Resistance Isn’t Reaching Voters Who Need to Hear It the Most – Bob Cesca writes about the frustrating inability of the rapidly growing anti Trump movement to get its message to Americans who simply don’t hear the real facts.

Why I Support Betsy DeVos – Ben Cohen argues that putting Betsy Devos in charge of American public schools is a great thing, but not for the reasons you might suspect. 

by Chez Pazienza

I had my reservations going into it. As a big fan, I knew full-well what they were about, what their political leanings were, and where their most powerful voice had stood throughout the interminable 2015/2016 presidential campaign. I knew who their “special guests” would probably be, given that this was the L.A. stop on their tour. Hell, even the location of the venue, I knew, was going to draw out the kind of people who would make me want to put my fist through a wall. And yet my girlfriend had bought tickets for us so I went anyway, hoping to just, if nothing else, enjoy the music and the show itself, putting politics aside for a little while. But as anyone knows who’s been in an alternating state of depression and fury since the election of Donald Trump to the White House, putting aside politics is impossible these days. 

And it really is. Every single one of us understands this and has, to at least some extent, experienced it firsthand. The nation is now divided into those who either directly or tacitly sanctioned the national horror-show we’re currently enduring and the rest of us who tried — and continue to try — to stand against it. All you had to do was watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night if you needed a refresher, a microcosm of the vast partisan divide in our country right now. The New England Patriots, with their Trump-boosting owner, coach and quarterback faced off against an underdog Atlanta Falcons — from a town with huge black and gay populations — that carried with them the hopes of those who despise Trump. The Falcons felt like our warriors, proxies for us all who just might, in some tiny way, relitigate on the field the election that put us into this mess and crush football’s own evil empire. (Bill Maher pointed out as much in an episode of HBO’s Real Time two days before the game.) 

Of course, we all know how it turned out. 

But then there were the commercials. Many of the expensive TV spots seemed to be indictments of Trump’s draconian policies and general beliefs, with company after company standing up for immigrants, the marginalized, and the American melting pot, ideals Trump has been more than happy to trample underfoot. Whether this was done as a genuine show of solidarity with progressive audiences and their values or merely a play for their almighty dollars, who knows, but the result was the same. In the end, everything about the Super Bowl broadcast felt political, right down to the halftime show by Lady Gaga that was subversive in what it said politically without coming right out and saying a thing. The game, then, was a singular, massive live event that over and over again represented the political battle being waged off the field. It was a perfect reflection of the political times — our new world where sides have been taken, claims have been loudly staked, and nothing can escape the crucible of public scrutiny wherein it’s decided whether that thing is sufficiently pro-Trump or anti-Trump. 

It was this fact of life in our current age that made me question whether a Run the Jewels show would be entertaining or simply infuriating. I’d quickly learn that it would be a combination of the two. 

For the unfamiliar, Run the Jewels is a hip-hop supergroup made up of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P. They exploded on to the scene in 2013 and quickly shot to the top of every music critic’s best-of-the-year lists, with their music being a mixture of aggressive, Bomb Squad-reminiscent wall-of-sound production and incendiary, at times overtly political lyrics. In 2014, it often felt like they were providing the soundtrack to black rage over the killings of young black men by police across the country, an intentional move with one song in particular: Close Your Eyes (and Count To Fuck), a track that Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha guests on and one that specifically asks of various black groups, “When you niggas gon’ unite and kill the police, muthafuckas?” It’s harsh stuff but understandably so and it’s elevated more than a little by the fact that both Killer Mike and El-P are two of the legitimately smartest people making pop music.

It was that fact, actually, that concerned me most about my blood pressure going into the show: the fact that Killer Mike especially had been very vocal about his political opinions during the presidential campaign. In short, he was a die-hard Bernie Sanders surrogate, one who performed outreach to both the black community and millennials on behalf of the Sanders camp. He was a regular on campus campaign stops and cable news panels. Given that Run the Jewels’ fan base is made up, maybe not surprisingly, of college-age white males — Killer Mike is black while El-P is white — Mike was a hero to the Bernie Bro crowd, often leading it in starstruck praise to its elderly, bespectacled, wild-haired icon. He had the kind of rock star aura that lent even more of a feeling of a millennial era revival to Sanders’s many campaign events involving hordes of young people.     

Here’s the thing, though: So Mike supported Sanders during the primaries. No big deal. That’s his right. But what Mike didn’t do was his civic duty once Sanders dropped out and put his public support behind Hillary Clinton. In fact, Mike was one of those dickheads who, despite, again, being pretty smart, stupidly shouted from the rooftops that Clinton and Trump were “exactly the same.” (He also put the text of some of the hacked Podesta e-mails on t-shirts and made them for sale.) So now what you have is Killer Mike railing both in Run the Jewels’ music and onstage during shows about how much Trump is an asshole and how he and El-P are going “to war” with him, when he didn’t do the one thing that would have made a real difference in preventing him from ever taking office. And yeah, there’s something utterly enraging about that. Killer Mike is a long way from being a millennial himself — he’s 41 — but this goes to what we knew about Sanders’s army of millennials: they were more than happy to show up for the rallies, where they could gather with their friends and do the cool thing everyone else was doing and shout “fuck you” at all that supposedly oppressed them, but when the time came to do the boring work of, you know, voting, they largely stayed home. They didn’t turn out for Sanders, not in the kind of numbers he needed, and many absolutely refused to turn out for Clinton (or at the very least, against the Trump threat).

Those kids, by the way — those almost entirely white, mostly male Sanders acolytes whose constant fact-challenged haranguing and self-righteous condescension represented one giant pain in the fucking ass during the primaries? They were there en masse for the Run the Jewels show in Los Angeles, especially given that the venue I mentioned earlier was the Shrine Auditorium, which just happens to be on the campus of USC. Everywhere you looked in the crowd, you’d spot at least a few images of Sanders’s visage peeking out at you from various Bernie-centric t-shirts or glimpses of the ubiquitous “Feel the Bern” slogan on everything from shirts, to hats, to pins — stuff that should have long since shown up on kids in Third World countries, like those Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl LI Champs shirts are right about now, worn with defiant pride by kids who just refuse to let go of the dream.   

The show itself, it practically goes without saying, was astonishing. The level of energy from Mike and El-P practically ripped the roof off the place, even if it really was hard to get past the fact that it was a crowd filled to capacity with white college students, all predictably doing their best, most well-rehearsed imitations of moves they’ve seen their favorite rappers doing for years. As expected, Zack de la Rocha — whose hometown is Los Angeles — took the stage with them for their encore, which included the aforementioned Close Your Eyes. But again, something about the whole thing gnawed at me. The outrage from any musical act, political or otherwise (and not everything about RTJ is political) is understandable right now and we’re admittedly going to need furious art to help us navigate these furious times, but it felt like theater: a bunch of people thrusting their fists in the air at a message delivered like a bolt of lightning, when, again, the thing they all could’ve done to change this nightmare future we’re all living in required so much less from them. 

A vote. That’s all it would’ve taken.     

And I’m sure some of them did the right thing, even if they had to hold their noses to do it. But it’s hard to imagine the most hardcore were willing to do that and when you consider that it came down to 80,000 votes in three states, everything mattered. Every fucking vote. Stopping Trump wouldn’t have erased racism or led every cop to deescalate confrontations with black people rather than making them more violent or upended income inequality or lifted people out of poverty. But not stopping him almost certainly made all those things worse. 

I want to not be left thinking about these things when I’m trying to just have a good time, but as most of us have already learned, it’s tough to escape this horror. And anyone who through action or inaction allowed it to happen should be held accountable. Whether that person is an average nobody or half of a famous, critically lauded hip-hop duo.

Everything is political now. 

Next: The Trump Resistance Isn’t Reaching Voters Who Need to Hear It the Most – by Bob Cesca

by Bob Cesca

Throughout the 2016 campaign, it became abundantly clear that Donald Trump was being judged using a different set of rules than anyone else who had previously run for president. Unfair barely begins to describe how Hillary Clinton’s pair of alleged scandals, the email server and, of course, Benghazi, were collectively major drags on her candidacy, even though she was cleared of all wrongdoing by multiple Republican-led investigations. Meanwhile, there was Trump’s ongoing string of blurts, gaffes and scandals — each individual instance wouldn’t have simply destroyed any other presidential campaign, it would’ve annihilated the very existence of any non-Trump candidate.

It’s still happening.

Trump continues to blurt, shout and sign obnoxious things, yet his approval numbers continue to hover in the 40s. Now, granted, these are historically low numbers for a newly inaugurated president who’s supposed to be enjoying his political honeymoon. It’s entirely possible that his numbers could dip significantly lower, or he could continue to hold steady in the 40s. We don’t know yet, despite hoping for much, much lower. 

The truth is, though, his numbers should be in the teens right now, with only the Alex Jones crowd and the alt-right Nazis still clinging to the frozen door as the orange Titanic flounders. The list of horrible things Trump has said and done in just the first several weeks of his presidency are so unprecedented for a sitting chief executive, there’s really nothing in the modern era to compare him to. His increasingly obvious collusion with Vladimir Putin should be enough to anchor his presidency to the 10-20 percent approval range — at best. In any other circumstance, with any other president in the Oval, he would’ve been impeached immediately following his inaugural parade. 

Couple the large-scale Russia scandal with his explosive diarrhea of horrendous tweets and public statements, along with the fact that his own staffers think he’s completely lost his shpadoinkle, and there’s simply no logical reason why Trump hasn’t been driven from office in disgrace.

His remarks during his interview with Bill O’Reilly alone should’ve triggered an army of Trump voters to storm the White House, demanding their votes be rescinded. In any other year, with any other president in the White House, suggesting that America is equally as despotic as Putin’s Russia would’ve decimated that president. It’s difficult to think of a less patriotic thing spoken in public by a sitting president. 

It’s possible, though unlikely, that Trump doesn’t know exactly how disgusting the Putin regime has been to dissidents — or maybe he does and, given how Putin’s hit list is mostly journalists, he doesn’t care. According to Politifact, 34 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000, when Putin rose to the presidency there. In the past several weeks alone, we’ve read about no fewer than three Russian operatives either falling seriously ill or dying under mysterious circumstances. Somehow, in Trump’s necrotic brain, the United States is similarly nefarious.

And it seems as if anyone, Trump voter or not, would see this comparison as equally unpatriotic, worthy of scorn and rejection.

Not so.

It turns out, Trump’s disapproval number rose by just two measly points, and his approval number continued to hold at 42 percent. In fact, as of Wednesday, just three days after the Super Bowl Sunday “Putin is a killer” interview with O’Reilly, Trump’s approval number climbed by a point to 43 percent. If this makes you want to punch your computer screen, you’re not alone.

At the same time, MSNBC contributor and former Bush administration communications director Nicolle Wallace told Brian Williams this week that she’s been in touch with a group of Trump voters to gauge their ongoing reactions to Trump’s presidency. Not surprisingly, her focus group of western Pennsylvania Trumpers continue to be satisfied with their votes.

The problem here is obvious. Voters who still support Trump aren’t getting the news. The ongoing Trump catastrophe isn’t breaking through the firewall of disinformation at Fox News or AM talk radio, and, so, Trump’s popularity remains unnaturally higher than it should be. Shockingly, much of the news you’re reading and watching throughout a typical day is being intercepted and buried by pro-Trump media outlets and publications, making it virtually impossible for Trump voters to get a full taste of how irresponsible they were by electing a sexual predator — a mentally ill game show host to be president.

Suffice to say, this needs to change. I’m neither an organizer nor an activist, but here’s what needs to happen. And soon.

First, Democratic A-listers like Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Tim Kaine, Joe Biden and, yes, Barack Obama have to be dispatched into red districts to conduct town halls and listening sessions with Trump voters. Use the Chris Hayes town hall with Bernie Sanders from a while back as a template for how best to talk to this demographic. Another possibility is for this group of Dem Hall-of-Famers to appear on local television newscasts in GOP-dominant markets. If the Democratic economic populist message is delivered with just the right language, it’s possible to begin turning those red areas purple and the purple areas blue.

The mission is an urgent one. It has to be kicked into gear before the midterm campaigns get underway because, at least initially, the effort to get the word through the firewall should be focused on winning hearts and minds, and not to pitch random congressional candidates. It has to be about selling the ideas and the truth about Trump’s madness rather than campaigning for pickups in the House. Sure, selling Democratic candidates up and down the ballot will eventually have to follow suit. But for now, driving the Democratic message through the firewall has be the priority and the foundation for running actual challengers in 2018.

Next, activists need to focus more on convincing moderates, independents and especially the notorious Obama-turned-Trump voters (voters who supported Obama in 2012, but voted for Trump in 2016). So far, liberal activists have been doing a stellar job relentlessly surrounding the embattled regime — even going so far as to restrict Trump’s ability to travel due to concerns about protesters. This is marvelous to observe and, hopefully, the effort will only grow stronger as we continue to see blood in the water. 

But a new layer has to be added to the strategy. It’s mandatory. The left has to venture into red districts — peacefully and respectfully — to convince people on the ground that liberal ideas are better for the middle class, especially in the rust belt. Voters have to be convinced that Trump is quite visibly stacking his government with Wall Street goons, while enriching his own family fortune by trampling the Constitution and the rule of law. They have to be convinced that Democrats are the last adults in the room and that many voters who think they’re hard-line Republicans are actually quite liberal if we look at each issue one-by-one, without the filter of partisanship.

Another way to get the word out if for liberals to call in to conservative talk radio shows. This means average citizens as well as Democratic leaders. The left has to stop ignoring or running away from conservative media. Obviously there are programming impediments that could block Dems from appearing on Fox News, but there’s nothing wrong with trying. Meanwhile, radio producers in particular are constantly starved for guests and listener participation. Again, be respectful but forceful. Don’t concede. 

Lastly, as I’ve written many times before, it’s imperative that Democrats and Berniecrats alike begin to run for local office. It’s not overly expensive to run for city council or school board, but the ultimately impact of hundreds of liberals running and, perhaps, winning would be tremendous.

Branching out into red regions of the country doesn’t mean pandering to Trumpers or conceding on policy. It doesn’t mean forgiving their atrociously bad judgment in electing Trump in the first place. One way or another, though, there needs to be an organized incursion into red America — into Trump’s America. Otherwise, we’re just preaching to the choir and getting nowhere, while Trump is normalized and the views of his supporters increasingly metastasizes. It’s already starting so get going. The time is now.

Next: Why I Support Betsy Devos – by Ben Cohen

by Ben Cohen 

Ok, the headline for this article is somewhat misleading. I don’t support Betsy DeVos’s philosophy on eduction, or her ludicrous (and virtually non-existent) views on public schooling in America. 

But I do support her confirmation as education secretary in Donald Trump’s administration for one very good reason, as I shall attempt to explain. 

DeVos inherited billions from her family, never went to public school, hasn’t sent her children to public school, and couldn’t answer rudimentary questions about how America’s school system works or what she proposes to do to fix them during her widely publicized confirmation hearing. Under intense scrutiny, it became abundantly clear that DeVos had absolutely no qualifications for the position whatsoever, and would be incapable of managing America’s dysfunctional schooling system that is in dire need of funding and reform. DeVos is a free market ideologue who has dedicated much of her working life to destroying public education in favor of a voucher system for private schools, funding unaccountable charter schools, and using tax money to pay for extreme Christian education programs. Her solution to America’s failing public education system is not to reform it, but to destroy it completely — a long held objective of the Republican Party that has been at war with public schooling for decades. 

This war on public education has a very explicit purpose, and that is to solidify a tiered education system that denies poor and minority citizens an equal playing field. Study after study after study has shown that good public schools outperform charter schools, and there is zero evidence that voucher systems that subsidize private education provide any tangible benefits to low income students. As Politico reported

In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in the public schools, many of which are rated D or F, state data show.

And across Louisiana, many of the most popular private schools for voucher students posted miserable scores in math, reading, science and social studies this spring, with fewer than half their voucher students achieving even basic proficiency and fewer than 2 percent demonstrating mastery. Seven schools did so badly, state Superintendent John White barred them from accepting new voucher students — though the state agreed to keep paying tuition for the more than 200 voucher students already enrolled, if they chose to stay.

As is always the case, ideology trumps reality, and Republicans remain insistent that smashing public eduction and disempowering teachers is the only way to reform education in America. Public school teachers are routinely scapegoated by the right and teacher unions that exist to protect their fragile benefits blamed for all of the major problems with education. While there are no doubt problems with unions, chronic underfunding and the constant politicization of education has a much worse effect on public schools that are bursting at the seams with far too many students. 

Republicans have cashed in on the dysfunction by doing what they always do — attacking the most vulnerable people in society in order to further their ideological devotion to extreme free market capitalism. When the banks failed after Wall St was deregulated in the 90’s and early 2000’s, Republicans found a way to blame the government for over regulating the industry and minorities for taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford (even though those loans were not responsible for the crash). When New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the GOP rammed through market reforms to “increase investment”, which of course benefited the rich at the expense of those hit hardest by the floods (ie. the poor).  

The eduction problem in America is no different, and the GOP’s inability to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve tax cuts and gutting regulation means that they are going to make the problem much, much worse. 

But this time, it could be a good thing. Betsy DeVos is so ideologically opposed to public education that her mere presence in the Trump administration is going to provoke a backlash the likes of which America has never seen before. I have spoken to several public school teachers who all told me there is huge resentment towards DeVos, and a very strong likelihood of mass, coordinated action on behalf of teachers all over the country. As soon as DeVos begins to push for the so-called reforms she has spent a lifetime advocating for, teachers and unions are going to kick into action, and they will fight hard to combat her attempts to destroy them. 

We can also expect to see parents take to the streets to oppose the privatization reforms, and action from the state level that will make Trump and DeVos’s life a complete misery. There is huge and growing appetite for a fight, and every reform they push through will be met with a reaction equally as severe. 

Ultimately, DeVos is likely to quit once she feels the full force of the resistance. She isn’t qualified to do the job anyway, and the public simply needs to remind her of it on a daily basis. And once DeVos goes, Trump will think very hard about putting forward someone who wants to destroy public education. Coupled with an energized and activated teacher and parent driven movement, public education in America might just get the real reforms it so desperately needs.