COVID is the Battle; White Supremacy is the War

Black people make up a mere 14% of the American population but they make up 60% of cases and fatalities under COVID. Heat maps of the virus’s attack clearly outline working-class communities packed with black and brown people who cannot afford the luxury of staying home. Instead, workers on the front lines in health and service industries are pushed by a homicidal federal government to staff the reopening of the economy knowing the cost this will have, knowing that cost will be born by communities that Trump says have nothing to lose, and who, in fact, have everything to lose, balanced precariously at the edge of American safety nets not designed to catch them.

And still that’s not enough.

Black people are 14% of the population but make up 100 percent of the videos I’ve seen of people hunted down by klansmen and their modern boss-hog-hat-wearing descendants,  assailants who go uncharged and are ultimately unconvicted, avoiding altogether the prisons where COVID spreads among unadjudicated people awaiting trial, people who are overwhelmingly poor, and, you guessed it, POC.  And as soon as one killer walks free there is another and another. Some assailants wear uniforms are are paid by the communities they terrorize. Sometimes they laugh over the still-warm bodies they hunt down; they laugh about killing people they are sworn to protect on video broadcast live and return to work the next day.

And still that’s not enough.

Science says that we are months, perhaps a year or two away from vanquishing this virus. Any story that we can rapidly return to our already bubblicious economy of 2019 is a lie.  Already we’re seeing 20% unemployment.  The old adage says when White America catches a cold, Black America catches Coronavirus. The economic inequity, set up in antiquity is scheduled to continue, the next tsunami on an already ominous horizon. 

Death by health inequities and by cop,  and by hunger by the heartbreak of racism: where does the overlap of COVID and death at the hands of white supremacit systems add up to genocide? We are there; we are living in the time of the black death and if I didn’t know we had survived the violence of white supremacy before I might think it impossible to survive this moment.

The counter-narrative to the Black Lives Matter protests said that if only black people would respect the law, the law would respect us.  That is a lie that only those willfully ignoring white supremacy can believe. Obeying the law is only mandatory for some Americans. No face of our government is smiling on us. There is no system that reciprocates our compliance. There is no social contract enforcing the empty promise of all of us being created equal. 

So no we’re not #AloneTogether, unless you’re in your house watching this horrible spectacle of Black death in every corner and wondering which flavor of death your country will serve you. We can’t all #StayHomeStaySafe. We can’t all get some exercise while social distancing. We can’t all expect the law or the leadership to protect us. 

Coronavirus US: Why have there been protests against the lockdown ...

How about a new motto, or perhaps we can just repurpose a great American motto for our new time: Live Free or Die.  A two-part motto for our tiered and racist society.  Let this be the clarion call for 2020, a moment of honesty where the world no longer allows us the comfort of ignorance of who we are, or who we have always been.   

Some Americans are free to carry assault rifles while marching on our statehouses.  Some Americans are free to sunbathe in the park while flouting recommendations to stem the virus. Some Americans can shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and get away with it.

But not you, Black America. Die but deliver my Instacart first, Die, but do it quickly so my hair doesn’t grow in the meantime. Die but make the hunt thrilling. Die, but make it fun.

The officer in the video has been placed on modified desk duty and stripped of his gun and badge, according to police sources.

Fuck that.

People showed up this week to call for justice and run in memory of Ahmud Abery. Many people recognize, thanks to the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, the injustice involved in the justice system, and are ready to step in when we need the community to show up and demand justice.  The trickier part is demanding racial justice when doing so requires more skin in the game.  As states lift stay at home orders knowing that black and brown communities are being decimated by the disease, will the same Americans who ran for Ahmud demand that black people be protected from calls to return to unsafe workplaces, overwhelmingly staffed by people of color?  When the economy pits us against each other will we fight for ways to lift all boats?

Being in this together requires real solidarity. We all must stand up and demand better testing and tracing. We all must support access to vital support services in the communities of color and poverty hit hardest by this disease.  You can contribute in big or small ways to the economic support and recovery that will be needed in the weeks, months, and years ahead in communities that will face unemployment at the highest rates.  Be where you are, help where you can, don’t stop.  

We continue the 400-year-old war.  This is the war that we’ve always been in in America, and COVID is the battle, lynching is the battle, economic harvesting is the battle, and still, there are battles yet to come.  But we’re fighting back better, we’re masking up and dapping with feet to protect each other.  We’re all we got and we refuse to live free or die.  We are the truth in #StayTogether.  It is the only way we can live.

Victim Blaming: COVID-19 Edition

The Rona is getting real: on Friday the U.S. Surgeon general warned that Black people are “socially predisposed” to catching and dying of the Coronavirus, going on to name preexisting health conditions, whipping out his own inhaler, and finishing up by telling us to stay off drugs and alcohol.  TL;Dr–stop getting fat, breathing hard and getting high, Black America, or expect to die. Don’t let the messenger fool you: this is classic Trump racism coming from a Black mouth right into America’s living rooms, conflating complex aspects of systemic racism into bite-size blame of the black community.

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When we see large disparities in the outcomes between people of different races for diseases that do not biologically discriminate, we are seeing the shadow of structural and institutional policies practices and procedures pulling the puppet strings of individual behavior.  If this virus is to be an apocalypse revealing truth, then one truth is that racism kills black people.  Let the virus map out structural inequality:

Exposure

Who gets the Rona? Biologically, the virus does not discriminate, going more places than Kim K nudes and will rock with anyone on any continent. The disease spread first in environments that aided its spread–lots of people in close contact.  Cities have been hit the hardest, particularly on the East Coast, as well as Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit.  All of these places have high concentrations of black people living in densely populated areas.  Further from work and services, Black people are consigned to using public transit at higher rates, increasing risk on their way to jobs or shopping. These areas have living arrangements shaped by years of systemic racism.  From Jim Crow to redlining, to gentrification, and regentrification, and re-regentrification, Black communities have been forcibly corraled by both government and economic policy into densely populated spaces lacking the same access to daily needs, health centers and hospitals as wealthier communities.

While there are plenty of white people in communities affected by the virus, stay-at-home orders have allowed many middle-class and professional people to move their life indoors, empowered in their ability to stop the virus by doing nothing all while ordering delivery of everything from meals to merch. Who is out fulfilling those orders, delivering those packages and dropping off food?  Front line workers are working class, working poor and poor people–a disproportionate number of whom are black and brown. Decades of policies around education, job force discrimination and old fashioned bias and interpersonal racism have economically disenfranchised black people, corralling them economically.

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It seems almost patriotic–ordering take-out and keeping your local restaurant alive.  We certainly need to support local businesses.  Where other countries have stepped in to prop up business during national shut-downs, American small biz is left to the hunger games of the SBA relief funds. And it would have been lovely before all this started to have a more equitable economy so the people in your neighborhood didn’t have to choose between risking a quick death by COVID-19 or a slow death from hunger and poverty. In the short run, it would be great if the federal government we pay for would step in to prioritize providing wages and grants to our local peeps instead of paying Boeing to buy back stock. This could support our fav restaurants and their workers.  But if we support restaurant and delivery workers to stay home, then you can’t have delivery. Or, we could just make videos about our everyday heroes with slow fades between poignant pictures of smiling UPS drivers and speedy delivery guys. Yeah, that.

Testing and Treatment

While Trump is still downplaying the seriousness of the disease, we knew because Dr. Cardi B told us on March 11 that, and I quote, “this shit is really real.” While there were plenty of memes about the Rona circulating on Black Twitter and social media before most states shut down, Corona tests are more difficult to come by in communities of color.  Longstanding inequities in the distribution of health care services and resources have affected health outcomes forever in the Black community, and this age of COVID-19 is no different.

Interestingly, even though the government has been slow to roll out widespread testing in black and brown communities, they have been quick to suggest going to black communities to test experimental drug treatments.  A drug that has a high incidence of heart-related side effects is being tested in Detroit.  African leaders are reportedly resisting pressure to be guinea pigs for emerging vaccines.  Treatment for the virus should be proportionate to the problem, ensuring that the communities of color who are hardest hit get the resources they need stat.  The burden of testing should be shared by all communities, spreading the risk of side effects among the groups who stand to benefit.

Preexisting Conditions

Large numbers of people in the black community have underlying health conditions that contribute to bad outcomes for those who contract COVID-19.  An uninformed (cough cough Fox cough) news viewer may be left with the familiar stereotype that black people don’t take care of themselves, instead of understanding the complex structural and historic factors that have created such high numbers of poor health conditions. There is a lot of subtle blame in repeating the narrative that obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are factors without acknowledging that health care disparities, food deserts in urban areas and hereditary factors contribute to these underlying conditions.  In addition to environmental and biological factors, studies have shown that being black in America is itself a preexisting condition.  The stress of racism is not just psychological, but also physical.  Racism is quite literally heartbreaking for Black people. Preexisting conditions matter, but so does putting the prevalence of them in context.

One for the Road

Speaking of dog whistles, the Surgeon general threw a parting shot in asking Black people to refrain from drinking and doing drugs.  This is pretty rich since he is well aware that America is currently ravaged by the opioid crisis, largely affecting white people.  He also knows that white people use drugs at higher rates than Black people.  I didn’t hear him ask white people to lay off the wine and gallon-sized cosmopolitans.  In fact, drinking away the pandemic is a laughable trope for the well to do in meme after meme.

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The Surgeon Generals comments on race and COVID-19 seemed designed to sound the old racist dog whistles of blame and attack to Donald Trump’s supporters, rather than to help the American public understand the risk faced by Black people.  The factors that make Black people “socially predisposed” to COVID-19 can be addressed not pithy by reminders for Pop-pop, but though racial justice.  Coronavirus has revealed anew racial health inequities, and we don’t need to return to a normal that perpetuates them.

 

 

 

 

Life with Coronovirus: Come Together, Stay Apart

Sure you’ve seen every virus movie known to man, but now its time to truly prepare for the new normal

In the matter of a few short weeks, life, as we know it, has ground to a halt, the world is going into lockdown, markets have flipped from bull to bear as mother nature issues her own correction in the form of Covid 19.  Millions of Americans are stuck in the house binge-eating, binge-watching and trying not to kill family–Like an endless Thanksgiving without the turkey and colonization.

Welcome to the apocalypse.  Yup, you are officially here–though for readers of this blog we know the signs of the times have been on full display for quite a while.  That doesn’t mean its time to dig your Mad Max uniform out of the trunk and ride out.  Apocalypse comes from the Greek, translating loosely to an unveiling.  It is the end of the illusion, not the end of time. Apocalypses are the moments where the truth of our world is revealed beneath the shiny bullshit veneer of the simulation we’ve been living in.  Welcome to the desert of the real.

The Covid crisis is revealing the limitations of capitalism to sustain people in a world increasingly marked by crisis, just a single symptom of climate change.  In a matter of months, a virus has shown us what we have willfully ignored for too long:  we are one, a human organism connected globally, a mass of cells moving in solidarity whether we want to or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. Your latte-drinking lash-wearing tik tok dancing life has been rendered obsolete.  There is no star status that will protect you from the virus, but we see too, that our systems of inequality are already making the crisis worse.  Unequal distribution of resources and racism, xenophobia, and sexism will mean those traditionally marginalized will be the hardest hit.

How can you shelter in place if you have no shelter?  How can you call your health care provider if you don’t have one? When we have to choose who gets what they need and who doesn’t who will stand up for those without a seat at the table?

But before we can parse the dissembling power structures, we have to survive the collapse. Now this, my Apocalyptic America fans, is something we have been preparing for.  Time for all the lessons of all those movies of the end time to guide your pandemic plays.  Let’s start with these to get you through the weekend:

 No Gas, All Break

Daily White House Press briefings are important sources of news, but if you’re not careful you might forget that this is the president with over 15,000 recorded lies during his time in office.  Avoid the gaslighting that everything is okay, nothing to see here. Gaslighting is a real and dangerous communication dynamic.  After months of the Trump Administration telling us that truth isn’t truth, you may find your ability to trust your own sense of what is real is not as strong as the pandemic coverage requires.  Trust scientists.  Trust the data.  Err on the side of caution.

Take regular news breaks with credible sources.  The New York Times has comprehensive and well-researched coverage, and have removed their paywall, giving everyone access to their up to date reporting.  The Washington Post, likewise, is using its big newsroom resources to provide coverage.  Local press is likely to be telling the stories no one else is and to give you the skinny on what is happening in your area. Check out your hometown paper and look for independent reporting on twitter and online.  Spread your news sources around, but avoid opinion pieces that lack evidence and conspiracy posts with fear-inducing clickbait titles.  As always, snopes.com and factcheck.org are good places to vet what you’re reading before you decide to share.

Pace Your Panic

Okay, you have enough toilet paper. With over a week of panic shopping behind us, its time to stop freaking out and settle in for the long haul.  Early reports that prepared us for just a couple of weeks without school are giving way to warnings that this pandemic could lead to 12 to 18 months of disruption.  Even when the threat of the virus passes, we know that we will be returning to an economy in shambles, and many people in dire need of support. You cannot keep up toilet-paper-hoarding levels of panic for months: your mental and physical health simply cannot sustain that.  We need you healthy for the recovery, so please, pace your panic.  Yes, shit is scary as fuck so set aside a little time to let it all in so you are rooted in the seriousness of the moment. Balance that awareness with healthy levels of self-care, seclusion, and emotional management.  Read- draw- create- play- eat- move- drink- dance- this mess around on the daily, and keep your mind sharp and body ready for the long term challenges ahead.

Connect Without Commerce

Shelter in place orders and social distancing mean stores, bars, restaurants, and other public gathering spots are closed. Don’t let capitalism’s pause keep you from getting the social connection you need so much in this stressful time.   This is a chance for us to make space in our lives for connection without commerce.  This is the time when we can leverage the very best of social media to bring us together, lift us up, and find new ways of spending time together apart.  Internet–do you meme thing to keep us laughing; video chat apps, time to show us the lovely faces of our people in virtual family visits, work yoga groups, happy hour hangouts for singles, or mommy homeschool wine and support groups; Text, talk, post and crosspost to build a net of connection across the physical distance between us.

Since everything–or nearly everything–is closed, many of us suddenly have the time we haven’t been able to give to our loved ones.  Yeah, your kids may be yelling or your spouse underfoot or your dog barking nonstop, but if they are driving you crazy, that means they are still here, and that is a blessing you will be all too grateful for in the days ahead. Schedules are a little clearer, our time together more dear than ever.  Have that conversation you’ve been meaning to have.  Reach out and tell those you love what they mean to you.   We will need more love than facemasks or hospital beds, so make love in every way you can-in cookies and games and hugs and words and kisses and kisses and kisses if you are lucky enough to have your loved one in your containment zone.

We will survive as an organism but not without damage to the very fabric of our lives.  Things will not be the same, and that may be okay.  It is time to build a new world anyways. Hunker down for the hard road ahead. Build your resilience to support your people and your community. Connect, connect, connect.  Now more than ever, it is solidarity or nothing.

Black History, Black Present

I.

I am in the New South in a building that was once used as the cotton warehouse for the local plantations.  The host tells us that in the 1840s farmers brought cotton here to be sold and shipped.  I wonder what the enslaved who farmed the cotton would have thought of this benign title–farmers.  I wonder where in this town they were brought to be sold and shipped.

There is healing happening.  Young and old people are coming together to face the racism that persists in the schools.  They are swapping stories, trying to piece together a picture of the place they live in. Verbal violence and exclusion, rules about which door you could use and texts in the group chat about killing niggers. They struggle with making meaning of the broken things, of the silences and the southern hospitality.

What is this? Are the jagged edges of my world racist? Is my suspicion correct? Is my pain justified?

“Sure we had segregation, but that doesn’t mean it was racism.” That’s a quote.

We are a circle of black folk asking if the violence and oppression we experience is racism in a room where they stored cotton picked by our enslaved ancestors. 

That night I see a story on the local news.  A white boy uses an iPhone app to make whipping noises at a black classmate. They are not friends.

The year is 2020.

II.

The lesson Black History has to teach an America trembling on the edge of dictatorship is that history is not over.  The same white supremacy battled by all the heroes and sheroes of black history still burns hot at the heart of America.

It is both original sin and existential threat.

The last person who toiled in antebellum slavery died in my lifetime.  The last person likely to be caught in the school to prison pipeline hasn’t been born yet.

Not past, but a continuous line that leads to me, to you, and to our current state of affairs.

III.

Trump rolls out a line of hats and t-shirts for Black Trump supporters.  The word WOKE is stitched in huge black letters across the front of a white hat.  The man who rode a wave of racism into office and installed known white supremacists as his close advisors is taking the word used to describe the increased consciousness of racism and the need to fight for black liberation as his slogan to attract black people to support his election.

I used to end my blog posts with stay woke.  It was a whisper, a call to action, a reminder to look closely at the levers of power working around you.

He took my words.

IV.

Power never rests. Black history can attest to the kind of work needed to change systemic racism. Pull the chain of Black history and you will find a long line of people who remained unbowed under the behemoth system of racism designed to break them.  Those people still live today amongst us.  Malcolm’s fire burns in Alicia Garza.  Rosa sat, Colin knelt, and the conversation has changed little in the meantime. Those people are us. On the streets of Ferguson and dozens of other cities, hundreds of young people picked up history’s chain to move it forward into political office and sustained action.  Pick a day and hit twitter to see still people calling out the Oscars, the Democratic leadership and all the Karens of the world. Resistance takes sustained coordinated effort in the big and small places, hammering at the levers of power. And time. Like, glacial time.

V.

I am in the liberal north, black and free and buying expensive dog food on a Sunday.  A large black Ford F450 has parked next to me, the kind of truck that makes me feel like a rabbit seeing a hound.  He has backed into this spot and we come face to face as I get in my little truck.  I call my mini-SUV Panther because it is black and small and fierce and fast. His window is open and I can hear LL Cool J bumping out of his stereo.  I relax a little, I make eye contact and smile, laughing at my own stereotyping of him.

He scowls and winds up his window.

Disengage.  Don’t act nervous. Is he getting out? Don’t turn around. He’s behind me. I put my dog food in the back next to my big dog. He is waiting for me.  The dog, and the man.

I have to close my door to let him pass. For a moment we stand next to each other.

We appraise each other.

He is wearing a camo Baseball cap and a sweatshirt emblazoned with Trump 2020 The Sequel Make Liberals Cry Again.  I am wearing a Malcolm X t-shirt and a Dashiki jacket with a pair of shiny white Adidas. Wrapped in ideology ordered from online t-shirt shops we don’t have to say a word. We exchange a million ideas in a single glare. 

Fuck your LL Cool J listening Trump-supporting self.

If I had to guess he probably only thought one word. And it ended with an er.

We go our separate ways; it is dinnertime and we have hungry dogs to feed.

#OscarsSoWhite (Again)

The Oscars are here: another year, another chance at a handful of firsts for diversity in the 92-year-old institution.  Parasite could be the first film to win both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film; Cynthia Erivo, star of Harriet, could be the youngest person to ever win an EGOT; and in a double first the first black president and forever-in-our-hearts-President Obama may be the first President to win an Oscar for the documentary American Factory.image.jpg

It seems odd that we should still be having firsts in an institution that started in the last century’s roaring ’20’s. The Oscars have been dragged for years now over their lack of diversity.  #Oscarssowhite has become an annual trending tag, highlighting the continued need for diversity in the Academy and in Hollywood writ large. The hackneyed excuses that there aren’t enough actors of color, movies featuring stories focused on people of color, or female directors can no longer deflect criticism: the stories and the talent are in evidence everywhere.

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The Academy has put a number of programs in place to increase diversity in nominees and awardees.  Since the creation of #OscarsSoWhite by April Reign in 2015, the Academy has invited hundreds of new members across underrepresented groups of race, gender and nationality into the voting body. Even so, the Academy membership is still overwhelmingly made up of white males.  Only 31% of Academy members are women and 16% minorities.

Efforts to diversify the voting body notwithstanding, the whiteness of Oscar has not changed much in 92 years.  Despite a wealth of amazing work by women and creators of color, the winners’ circle has remained largely the same—white males acting in stories that center white narratives. Last year’s top picture prize went to Green Book, a white savior movie a-la The Help with less pie, over cultural touchstone Black Panther or quietly powerful Roma.

We can’t go back to a time when diversity can totally be ignored by movie studios—people of color and women make up a significant portion of the ticket-buying public—but movies can try to transport us back to manifest American’s mythical destiny, letting the less-than-woke rest a little longer in Lala land. This year’s most likely winners represent an America that might be comfortable in a red hat, stories of white men from the twentieth century where they are untouched by today’s cultural complexity. These stories evoke nostalgia for a time when the voices of the oppressed and othered didn’t get heard, a dog-whistle to people who long to silence today’s resistance.

The Oscars are not the only awards show with diversity issues. This award season there has been plenty of criticism all around: the Golden Globes snubbed Ava DuVernay’s powerful When They See Us, and women directors have been shut out of Best Director awards. Even the Joker had to call out the unbearable whiteness of the awards. Joaquin Phoenix, widely hailed for his role as a white man in white face acting out his white rage with no accountability had to pause to ask for less racism in Hollywood during his BAFTA acceptance speech.

It’s tempting to just write off award shows altogether—who cares what trophies the rich and famous give to each other?  Movies, remember, are both art and investment vehicle. Studios spend big to promote Oscar-nominated movies in the hopes of earning box office revenue and clout for future productions. Prestigious awards can have an impact on the kind of stories we are likely to see in the future. Continuing to award only stories that center white men exercising their privilege and power works against the efforts to create robust diverse representation. 

In order to really move the needle in diversity in media, we need to do more than crack open the door for diverse voices.  We need to uplift stories that weave a new world—a place where black people win on and off the screen. Here’s looking forward to the first #OscarsSoDiverseForReal.

Ricky Was Right

Ricky Gervais delivered on the promise of a no holds barred takedown of Hollywood in his opening monologue for the Golden Globes but one joke got the most attention.

The left called him out for being another white man silencing the voices of people trying to make change.  The right loved him for calling out the hypocrisy of Hollywood (without, of course, addressing their own hypocrisy on the right).

Truly the headline on this joke should have read Gervais Compares Disney to ISIS, but our celebrity-obsessed culture, we were more concerned with arguing over who should talk and who shouldn’t talk to get the meta-joke that was more shocking and important than another round in who’s speech matters. Because whose speech can matter when large corporations are not listening to the cries of people for equality and justice, no matter how beautiful that voice for change may be?

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Even the most powerful producers and brightest stars in Hollywood, even Bey and Jay are beholden to large corporations who regularly deplete the environment and abuse human rights to get into the black on their books.  There is a through-line from children mining Colton to your iPhone to the Apple TV+ platform where your favorite star is employed.  There is a direct connection between Disney and the propagation of racism, antisemitism, and sexism that can’t be disconnected from The Lion King or Queen Bey.

is-dumbo-racist.jpgAnd you.   Nestled in between the mining of Cobalt and the mining of profit is you–your eyeballs turn the mining of Cobalt into the mining of cash. Your eyeballs are part of that chain of production.

Yes, stars have amazing lives of privilege and pleasure secluded from the daily reality of most people, and they too live within the systems that you do. Powerful celebrities are also negatively affected by the systems we live in, even if in profoundly different ways from the most harmed. Despite having the power and platform to address issues they care about, they still are not free from drinking at the trough of global capitalism.

No matter how luminous your favorite star looks in that pricey Haute Coture, even they have a hand that signs their checks.  Their freedom to meaningfully engage in real systemic change is hampered by the very corporations that pay them the money they donate.  In this way, like gossip, mags like to proclaim: stars are just like us!

Who holds the power to attack headless snakes, organizations where the power is concentrated but the blame is diffused?  There is not King of the North, no Thanos to vanquish.  All our superhero stories, funded by corporations that are not people, don’t teach us how to dismantle complex and powerful systems.  Infinity stones won’t help us, but neither, Rickey, will telling people to shut up.

We need, instead, solidarity.  We need to acknowledge that systems of power and privilege don’t grant full freedom even to the privileged.  Using privilege to attack the system that confers it won’t save the rich when we come to eat them.  From the most marginalized to the lionized we need to dismantle the systems of power and privilege that keep all of us silenced in a burning world.

 

 

 

Beware the Fog of War-talk

The 2010s were the decade of the lie. Even though 2020 is shorthand for clear vision, so far this decade is shaping up to be the same as the old one. The life spring of the most consequential lies these days is, of course, our liar in chief.  Trump finished out 2019 topping over 15000 lies during his time in office, or an average of 13 times a day, ranging from the sublime art of election manipulation to the ridiculous claims about windmills. We’ve gotten used to his lying at best, and come to accept it from sheer exhaustion at worst.

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Now comes real trouble: war with Iran looms. Mobilized troops have yet to land but the half-truths are already doing major battle on the airwaves.  Wars rise or fall on their PR campaigns.  Shaping public perception of who and why you’re fighting is essential to maintaining support for war. 

The death count of American soldiers that played on the news during the dinner hour soured American appetite for war with Viet Nam.  Lesson learned, officials in the Gulf wars carefully constrained access to the war for journalists, “embedding” reporters in a move that looked like transparency but that allowed the brass the ability to control where journalists went and what they saw. Even as the war in Afghanistan drags on into another decade, American audiences don’t see flag-draped coffins or the tiny shoes of noncombatants killed on the ground, so there is little energy around stopping a war few of us even remember is happening.

Manufacturing consent—getting people to support your fuckery—is major keys for governments in a time of war.  Wars are won not only with bodies on the battlefield but more importantly with hearts and minds. Think about the powerful imagery from World War 1 or 2: Nazi propaganda was one of their greatest weapons, shaping the perception of Germans, while at home wartime propaganda created powerful American iconography that still stands strong to communicate American values today. 

During the Gulf War soldiers tossed Frisbees and candy from tanks to win over Iraqi residents, and at home, they tossed red meat phrases like Operation Iraqi freedom to American’s making us believe we were hero’s swooping not rescue.  Only later was the careful campaign of lies used to make the case for the Iraq War exposed when it was too late to take back the bombs that killed thousands of innocent non-combatants.

Already we can see the shape that Trump’s story: we didn’t start a war, we stopped a war; the phrases ‘imminent attack’ and ‘worlds greatest terrorist,’ and the claim that they saved hundreds, possibly “thousands of American lives”. These all sound like powerful reasons to support a preemptive attack and stir up the fear of Middle East terrorism that had us in the grip of fear much of this millennia. Is this real talk or more Trumpisms?

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We didn’t start a war. We stopped a war.

I mean this is catchy enough to embroider on a red hat, full of the punchiness with the balance of a great advertising motto.  I’m sure someone got props for writing this beautiful bite of rhetoric.  But what does that mean?  America was not at war when this assassination took place despite Iran’s aggressions. Iran’s steady stream of provocations over the many decades we’ve had beef has not resulted in all-out war—even during the Iran hostage crisis.  Now just a few days after the assassination, both America and Iran are signaling their willingness to get to fighting, each side boasting they already have targets picked out.  So actually, it is looking like they DID start a war. This handy catchphrase is about as true as any other Trump has trumpeted.

We killed the world’s greatest terrorist.

Was this General Soleimani a bad guy in Iran’s long-standing beef with Iran? Yup.  He certainly had his hand in thousands of deaths and was the architect of attacks on Americans.  But this was no Bin Laden, or Al-Baghdadi, no leader of a rogue terrorist group operating outside of the league of nations.  Soleimani was General and one that enjoyed some popularity among the Iranian people who are often at odds with the brutal behavior of their military. In fact, in Iran, one poll shows that Soliman enjoyed a 60% popularity rating in his home country of Iran as opposed to Trump’s own 38% polling in his home here in America.  While it is tempting to see us as Marvel-ready heroes that swoop in to stop bad guys, here in the real world we have rules for war.  Killing a duly appointed official on sovereign territory—in this case, our ally Iraq who did not get the heads up—is against the rules.  Imagine if someone from Iran killed one of the joint chiefs while he was traveling in England.  That’s a fight. If we are ever to win back any moral standing in the world, we can’t do it assassinating people at will.

We saved hundreds or thousands of lives.

How can you argue with protecting the lives of Americans? Anyone who did that could easily be branded a traitor, so it’s tricky to question this argument that can only be fact-checked by what doesn’t happen in the future.  With thousands of US troops shipping out, and Americans in Iran and Iraq evacuating the middle East it doesn’t sound like things are about to get safer there. 

Trump and his team assure us intelligence had then in the know. Except Trump has spent the better part of his presidency questioning the intelligence community, and ignoring the more reasoned advice of his own generals. Starting just a day after his inauguration and consistent throughout, Trump has derided the FBI, the CIA, and the State Department.  He has dismissed their dire warning about election interference, ignored their work around corruption in Ukraine, and denied their findings of his own shenanigans here at home. Trump is not known for taking his time with military briefings but pulled the trigger on the most extreme intervention with no input from Congress, not the Intelligence Committee or Committee on Foreign Affairs. In the few days since the assassination, already sources are sprinkling doubt on the strength of the story of an imminent threat, with one source saying it was a “normal Monday in the Middle East.”

And the impeachment isn’t even on anyone’s radar now.  Hmmm.

The drums of war tend to drown out more reasonable reasoning.  The importance of getting public opinion on your side means that words are your most powerful weapon at home. So how do you know what to believe? As always, you have to do your work to be informed and stay grounded. But beyond fact-checking, spend some time thinking about what you think about war and conflict. 

Don’t wait for one side or another to sell you a story you like—you can decide what you think in your own preemptive strike.  Do you think that assassinations make the world safer?  Do you cosign the killing of innocent people? Do you really honor our military when you send them to fight in a war of revenge? Do you truly believe killing each other solves international conflict?

You are the fact-checker of your own morality. As the fog of war roles in, you better get to work.