The Washington Post has a new motto —
The Washington Post has a new motto —
We’re early in this new political era, with a long time ahead of us, and there’s a need to get a sense of one’s bearings. (The sound way to approach the new politics that has overcome America through the three-thousand-year traditional of liberty to be found in many places, the Online Library of Liberty being only one. But that’s the reading and study of a lifetime; there are essays contemporary to us that are both useful and readily distilled.)
These recent essays and posts consider, or a useful to understand, the incipient authoritarianism of America’s next administration. They are a good basis for a beginning, for a distillation of one’s thinking.
Some recent essays for consideration:
Charles Blow writes of the work ahead for those many citizens who now find themselves compelled to defend their rights:
I fully understand that elevated outrage is hard to maintain. It’s exhausting.
But the alternative is surrender to national nihilism and the welcoming of woe.
The next four years could be epochal years in the history of this country. They could test the limits of presidential power and the public’s passivity.
I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through their own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity: This is not normal!
One cannot say that this will be the work only of the next few years, knowing that often a few years stretch into several. There will be some moments of weariness; they will prove nothing as against the vigor that comes from being in the right.
Authoritarian policies matter more than authoritarian trappings, but Trump has a taste for both:
Donald Trump won’t content himself with the standard-issue presidency — he’s going to have his customized. Daily intelligence briefings are out, along with the norms that prohibit the appearance of corruption. “Victory rallies” are in — as is the private security force that policed dissent at Trump’s events throughout his campaign.
Politico’s Ken Vogel reports that Trump has retained his private security detail as president-elect, and he’s expected to carry on doing so even after inauguration — a move that’s both unprecedented and, in the eyes of some Secret Service agents, dangerous….
Trump’s use of private security was aberrant long before he won the White House. Most presidential candidates drop outside security the moment they’re provided Secret Service protection. But the president-elect actually increased his spending on private security after he was provided such protection in November 2015: Even as Hillary Clinton outspent the GOP nominee by nearly 75 percent, Trump spent nearly three times as much on security contracting. In total, his campaign doled out more than $1 million on private security through the end of last month.
With that investment, Trump assembled an anti-protester intelligence squad, tasked with identifying people at his rallies who didn’t look like they belonged. Shockingly, this security team racked up dozens of accusations of racial profiling and the use of undue force.
In this matter case, the trappings affect policy significantly, as he’ll be able to use private security to restrict access at public events.
Thousands who (admirably) devoted themselves to the #NeverTrump movement have already (sadly) begun to second-guess their opposition now that Trump’s heading to federal power. Ben Terris nicely describes the impulse – the natural reaction to yield to power – in Welcome to NeverTrump Grief, Stage 3: GOP skeptics bargain with Trump — and themselves.
One can be libertarian and yet admire – easily and truly – those conservatives who opposed Trump.
And yet, and yet – within a week or so, most of the formerly committed #NeverTrumpers have become #WantToKeepMyNewspaperColumnAndRadioGigPleaseForgetWhatISaid. One should not be surprised that capitulation took a mere week: politics has a social aspect, many of its practitioners are socially needy, and these same practitioners will do whatever they must to stay close to power, or at least close to a nice table, a nice party, and a nice private club.
Here’s Erick Erickson, formerly a #NeverTrump leader, seven days after the election:
Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit who served as an outspoken critic of Trump from the right, is pushing back against what he sees as a lot of “crying wolf” about the president-elect. So he says he’s giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. Even about controversial decisions such as hiring Bannon.
“If Obama got [Valerie] Jarrett, Trump can have Bannon,” he wrote for the Resurgent. “And when the alt-right goes marching through Washington or people start trying to round up Jews because of it, then we can raise the issue and provide shelter to those in need. But there is no guarantee that will happen.”
It’s hard to overstate how craven this is: Erickson doesn’t have a guarantee (to his satisfaction) that the alt-right won’t round up Jews, and if they were to do so, then Erickson promises he will be sure to “raise the issue.” Perhaps he’ll send them a cautionary memo.
If the difference between peace and a pogrom depends on the lack of a guarantee of a pogrom, it’s an uncertain peace. A man walking down the street would like more than the lack of a guarantee that he’ll get attacked (“you’re good, buddy, ’cause there’s no formal assurance that you’ll be shot”).
Be not surprised: most people will initially rationalize – and thereafter accept and even celebrate – myriad transgressions and impositions. Yesterday’s abnormality will become tomorrow’s normality.
Weeks will become months, and months years, before we will see the collapse of this way. The coming period will mean loss for many, with lives disagreeably altered or wholly ruined. For those so injured, these months and years will seem an eternity.
What, though, of those who are by nature unyielding? Weeks, months, and years will effect no alternation in their opposition, in either intensity or duration.
We will carry on, waiting patiently until others, some returning and many new, in numbers exceeding our hopes, join us in a common cause.
MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin has become the latest university system to officially affirm the right to free speech and academic freedom for all students amid concerns that academia is trying to protect students from being offended by classroom lectures and discussions.
The system’s Board of Regents voted 16 to 2 on Friday to adopt a resolution stating that the university should not shield people from ideas or opinions they find unwelcome or offensive.
“These are not just pretty words we are going to put in a brass plaque,” said a regent, José Delgado. “You’ve got to be able to listen hard, even if it hurts.”
Civil rights advocates are concerned that universities are trying to limit free speech to protect students from feeling offended. Civil liberties supporters have also raised concerns over the use of “trigger warnings” to alert students about uncomfortable course content. On some campuses, groups have demonstrated against or canceled appearances by contentious speakers.
So one reads in the Boston Globe (hat tip to Althouse for the link) that there’s an anti-Renoir movement:
The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading “God Hates Renoir” and “Treacle Harms Society,” the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: “Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin!” and “Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!”
I’m of a family with admiration for French culture and history, yet even so, never once growing up do I remember anyone mentioning Renoir favorably, or much at all….unmentioned, truly, I’d say.
For those who doubt that America has a fine future before her – and they are wrong in their doubts – let this small protest be evidence of young Americans’ good sense, developed aesthetic, and free spirit.
Our best days are ahead of us.
Look at Whitewater, and one sees scores of groups with press releases, community announcements, or political viewpoints to publicize. Even much smaller communities have similar conditions: a dozen people are likely to have more than a dozen views.
Each day, and especially in an election year, it helps to have the independence to offer views one truly supports, rather than what others expect or want to published. In this, there’s an advantage in being an independent commentator, aided even more by being a libertarian, a member of a third party.
Honest to goodness, it’s a blessing to act independently, from a position of strength, without need to please, cater, or oblige.
Even in more placid times, it’s not worth flacking whatever comes along. A man or woman should be his or her own man or woman.
In these times, with schemers near and far looking for someone to push any nutty contention that they’ve concocted for the occasion, it’s even better to stand away from that mud pit.
Down in Rock County, Lou Kaye has been publishing Rock Netroots since 2006 (a year longer than I’ve been publishing at FREE WHITEWATER).
Kaye has a fine website. I’m not of the Left as Kaye is, but that’s not necesary to enjoy Rock Netroots.
The community of which Kaye writes is beset by all sorts of chicanery and lies, from newspapers and self-styled elites, that hold back so many people in Janesville and environs.
Consider an excellent post from Rock Netroots, entitled, Collectivism To The Rescue Of Yet Another Janesville Business.
Kaye quotes the from the Gazette, twice:
“Ultimately, we came back to the fact that our employee base here in Rock County is exceptional, hardworking and fully trained,” Achs said. “We believe we have world-class manufacturing talent right here in our own hometown, and we decided that it was wisest to go with the people who helped us achieve our success in the first place.”
In order to keep United Alloy in Janesville, the city provided an incentive package worth $887,460, and the state kicked in a forgivable loan of $500,000 and tax credits worth up to $130,000.
Kaye correctly observes: “Okay, so they’re picking up $1.5M in collectivist hand-outs to stay put in Janesville, otherwise they would be moving out. Got it.”
I’d invite you to read the whole post, and visit the site regularly.
For a FW post on a related topic about a Whitewater business, see About that iButtonLink Announcement…
For bloggers who cover politics, policy-making, etc., just as would have been true of essayists and pamphleteers in an earlier time, it helps to have a method to one’s writing. In the paragraphs below, I’ll list steps one should take when approaching a topic.
The steps are in a rough order, but in any method, one sometimes returns to an earlier step, or jumps ahead if necessary.
1. Read. Often long before writing, there’s reading (and listening). One reads the documents in a proposal, including contracts, studies, and other supporting materials, and listens to presentations on the proposal.
Reading and listening are more than a study of a particular proposal; they are a reliance on what one has read before, on the topic but also on other topics, perhaps seemingly unrelated at first blush. In the end, what one reads – if it’s any good – is a review of others’ recounted experiences and analyses.
Rely on the sound foundation of the works of respected authors and researchers.
2. Walk around. If writing about a place, try to visit it if possible. Maps may produce a poor understanding of distance, line-of-sight, and the influence of weather. Similarly, if writing about devices, try to find one, to hold it in one’s hand, to learn how it looks and feels.
3. Write initially. After reading and listening and walking about or examining a device, start writing.
Sometimes, all that one has read or experienced will offer a definite opinion.
Other times, one may begin merely with a series of questions. It’s rare that a significant topic inspires just one question. Questions are both a search for information and an expression of prior, informed understanding.
Publish your questions.
It’s not an exercise of due diligence to ask one weak question, to ignore the need for a responsive answer, or to fail to act after the vague answers one receives (or does not even receive). Asking a question and doing nothing after getting no answer or a poor answer isn’t an exercise in accountability, but instead an abdication of it.
Politics is littered with those who think that one tepid question is enough, and that the mere asking somehow fulfills one’s duty. America did not become a great and advanced republic through timid political and scientific inquiry.
4. Informal requests to officials. If you’ve a few questions you’d like to ask directly, do so with an announcement of those same questions to your readers.
It’s a mistake to think that private conversations with officials will advance blogging on public issues. (See, as an example, mention in FREE WHITEWATER from 11.6.13 letting readers know that I would be asking Whitewater’s city manager about particular documents.)
Private discussions always run the risk of being manipulated to officials’ advantage. If one would like to be a tool or toad of government, then one can always join a fish-wrap community newspaper, where every day is an exercise in sycophancy.
5. Formal requests. If an inquiry demands a public records request under state or federal law, go ahead and submit one. As with an informal request to officials, publish the full request online after you’ve submitted it. Let readers see what you’re seeking from government, verbatim.
In the same way, publish what you receive in reply to your request. I’ve come to see that it’s a mistake to leave a government’s reply unpublished. Readers should see the full reply.
Be prepared to follow up. A reply will likely raise other questions. Let your readers know those questions, including any subsequent, formal records request.
6. Litigation. Never threaten what one is not prepared to do; don’t publish threats (of litigation) in any event.
(There was an odd situation like this a year ago between two Wisconsin bloggers, where one of them taunted the other with the risk of a lawsuit. It was a sorry affair. The law is not a threat; it’s a defense.)
When writing about a major topic, think – as best as one can – about where it might lead. Most topics, needless to say and thankfully so, will never be the subject of lawsuits. For a very few, that might be a possibility.
Consult with a lawyer if you have significant questions, about whether to obtain documents, assure open meetings access, protect a right, or advance a vital public policy. Conversations on any of these topics will be between the lawyer and the blogger-client, and afterward addressed methodically with sang-froid, that cold calm that’s useful for success.
I’m sure I’ve missed much, but here’s the general method, some steps to be repeated, others never to be reached: (1) read & listen (2) visit places & study objects if possible, (3) write, asking questions where necessary, (4) submit informal requests to government if seemingly fruitful, (5) submit formal requests under the law, (6) consult an attorney for advice on rights under the law or limitations on government action.
Having a method for blogging on policy makes writing better for both blogger and readers. It’s as simple as that.
Years ago, around when I first started writing, someone told me about a conversation that person heard about blogging. I’ll share it with you, and explain why it was, initially, hard for me to understand. The person telling me about the conversation was reputed to be especially clever, and that reputation actually made it harder for me to understand what was being said.
Clever Person: There was a conversation about your blog, between Official X and Official Y, when they first learned about it. Official X thinks it’s terrible, one of the worst things that could happen to the town. Official Y thinks it’s just wrong and unimaginable that anyone would read a blog with a pseudonymous author.
Adams: No one has to read what he or she doesn’t want to read. People are free to choose. Still, our country has a proud tradition of anonymous commentary, even before the Revolution. What people read is their choice, not mine.
Clever Person (in a slightly stronger voice): Official Y thinks it’s just wrong and unimaginable that anyone would read a blog with a pseudonymous author.
Adams: Yes, no one has to read what he or she doesn’t want to read.
(It’s at this point that I became confused. Clever Person had just repeated part of the prior observation, with emphasis. I’d heard it the first time, replied briefly, and so I didn’t understand the need for repetition. But Clever Person was said to be, well, a clever person, so I assumed there was some worthy justification for the repetition.)
Clever Person (stronger still, with particular emphasis): Official Y thinks it’s just wrong and unimaginable that anyone would read a blog with a pseudonymous author.
It was then, but not before, that I understood Clever Person’s concern: it wasn’t that someone disagreed with pseudonymous authorship, it was that Official Y disagreed with that authorship.
The reputed cleverness of my interlocutor contributed to my confusion – my mistaken assumption was that a sharp person would only care about someone else’s substantive objection, not someone else’s status. The truth of criticism, after all, should hold regardless of someone else’s role or authority.
Instead, in that moment, I saw that Clever Person may have been clever, but not so much so that someone else’s title, role, status, whatever, didn’t exert a powerful sway. In Clever Person’s mind, the criticism wouldn’t have mattered so much, I suppose, it it had come from a vagrant; it mattered because it came from supposed town notable.
There are, however, no notables, no dignitaries, no very important people, no higher or lower, no above or below. It’s a small American town, meant always to live in conditions of liberty and equality.
To see our community otherwise is to see through cloudy eyes, imagining things that do not exist.
And that, I’d say, isn’t so clever at all.
I wrote in October, about drug policy, and quoted Churchill’s famous observation about the state of the Allied war effort after the British victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein (“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning….”)
It’s always been a mistake to describe drug policy as a war, as though some were combatants against their fellow citizens. But Churchill’s oft-quoted description is a thoughtful one, not about time, but about resources and opportunity.
In that way, it affords a lesson not just about warfare, but about peaceful change, too.
In his speech on the victory, Britain’s prime minister was clear about what the end of the beginning meant. It wasn’t a matter of time alone, as if the matter before him were somehow one-third completed: beginning, middle, and end, each of equal duration. (In fact, that conflict was about half over when Churchill correctly sensed the end of the beginning).
Instead, the expression was a description of how the balance between parties to the conflict had changed: never again would one have superior arms, nearly-unchecked control of the skies, etc.
Time didn’t change the balance; a changing balance affected the phase of the conflict.
The real test for an emerging movement, for example, is whether it can reach a point where it, too, has an assured means to speak, and to challenge, existing conventions. It’s a milestone when individuals or emerging groups are assured of a part of the public square.
The easiest – and least honorable – ways to win are to play alone, or to play a rigged game against others. Even a duffer can win under those circumstances.
When that’s no longer possible, when new groups and new voices cannot be silenced peremptorily – when there’s developed a real contest – that’s when one may say that one has entered the ‘end of the beginning.’
Update, 6 PM – Someone asked if this post was meant to be optimistic or pessimistic. Optimistic – very much so. When dark horses, underdogs, or emerging movements are able to take and hold a part of the field, against entrenched authority, good prospects for success – diligently sought – lie ahead.
Happy New Year, Whitewater – our best is before us.
Earlier this month, an employee of a Florida Golden Corral named Brandon Huber posted a video in which he contends that his restaurant was improperly storing food. (The restaurant owner, Eric Holm, has disputed many of the contentions against his establishment, and derided Huber’s motivation as a mercenary one.)
Huber’s video (one of several he recorded) appears below. Setting aside the veracity of his claims, one is still left with a question about these means: one can use YouTube to take a complaint, literally, to millions of viewers.
Whistleblower tactics have this advantage: more people learn of a contention, arguably more quickly, without the need to trust that a health inspector will act or act quickly on the public’s behalf.
Disappointment over public officials’ laziness, indifference, or coziness toward the vendors to whom they should be impartial matters less when one can bypass those unworthy officials and take one’s case directly to a community.
Foul establishments cannot assume that simply hiding misconduct from patrons, or greasing a health inspector’s palm, will conceal their misconduct when any of the employees on whom the business depends may become a whistleblower.
There’s a paywall up at Janesville’s GazetteXtra.com, with some content available for free, but much more local news now behind a paywall. I’ve no idea whether their effort will be a success, and the best one can say is that it will be tough going. Everyone at the paper surely sees that.
In the end, though, it’s not ‘local news,’ but local news in which the press scrutinizes local government, that truly matters. Print’s dying, and is so ill that it believes itself even too weak to reach for restorative medicine.
That medicine, of course, is news that scrutinizes politics and politicians, that speaks truth to political power.
News should mean more than reworked press releases, government-drafted announcements, dull recitations of facts, and obituaries.
Perhaps someone from print will summon the strength and will to extend an atrophied arm toward the nightstand, and grasp the medicine that offers, as it always has during centuries of liberty on this continent, a dependable cure.
But if not, and if every established print publication (and similar online ones) should succumb to the malady of servility, then the rest of us will go on, using new media to express and defend that centuries-long heritage (each in our own small, but sincere, way).
America will be just fine, with her best yet ahead.
Looking for inspiration? Chinese blogger Zhang Shihe, writing under the pseudonym ‘Tiger Temple,’ defies an oppressive state to report on the hardships and corruption of rural life in China. It’s an understatement to say that he goes to extraordinary lengths – quite literally – to tell others’ stories and reveal injustices done to them. There is no American blogger who has a task, fortunately for our society, even remotely so difficult or commendable:
Every summer, the 59-year-old Chinese blogger Zhang Shihe rides his bicycle thousands of miles to the plateaus, deserts and hinterlands of North Central China. In this Op-Doc video, we meet Mr. Zhang, known to his many followers online as “Tiger Temple,” as he goes to great lengths to document the stories of struggling rural villagers whose voices are seldom heard in China’s state-monitored media.
In a country with one of the most sophisticated media and Internet censorship systems, Mr. Zhang and other bloggers must exercise great caution when writing about politically sensitive content — often skirting the label “citizen reporter.”
…. In 2010, he was taken by the police and put under house arrest for 10 days, during the country’s annual parliamentary meetings. News spread quickly. That day he received more than 2,000 text messages — good wishes poured in from concerned friends and readers who supported his efforts to help flooded villagers, defrauded farmers and the Beijing homeless. On this day, he said, he “felt the true power of the Internet.”
In 2012, Mr. Zhang was forced by the police to pack up his Beijing apartment and leave the city indefinitely. He now lives and blogs in the city of Xi’an with his elderly mother. As the summer months near, he prepares to set off on his seventh year of grueling bicycle trips deep into the countryside to continue his reporting.
Cross-posted at Daily Adams.
Only if one lowers one’s sights.
Not every election ends as one hopes. That’s true for major-party members, and at least as much for members of third parties. There are millions of people disappointed that Pres. Obama was re-elected, as there were many who were disappointed that Pres. Bush was re-elected. Neither outcome is what many Americans wanted, although in both cases an absolute majority of those voting re-elected the incumbent.
What’s changed about America, for the worse, is that a small and shrill number are so dissatisfied that they toss about threats of secession, extreme claims to a right of armed revolution that could never reasonably apply to our times, calls to arrest federal officials conducting their duties within Wisconsin, or efforts to disrupt peaceful protests with insistence on these wrongful claims.
Consider the unfortunate case of a peaceful group, Wisconsin Guns Across America, that wants to demonstrate on behalf of their Second Amendment rights. They’re nonviolent, are organizing to assemble peaceably, to protest what they consider excessive firearms regulations. Despite their sincere efforts, they’ve had to suffer utter loons who will only tarnish their Wisconsin Capitol protest:
Fellow Patriots: It has come to our attention that some of the side bar conversations that are occurring, have alarmed some of our fellow patriots that are planning on bringing their families to the event on Saturday. The event page is meant to help quickly and effectively get logistical information from the organizers out to families that want to come to celebrate and promote their second amendment rights with us on Saturday. We at Wisconsin’s Guns Across America Event do NOT condone any messages or behaviors that even hint at revolutions or domestic terrorism, even if it’s just offered up as a response to a “Highly Hypothetical Situation.” If you want to have that type of dialogue, please find a different place to do so. Any comments that can be interpreted to be threatening or intended to incite violence will be taken seriously; you will be banned from this page, and reported to The Wisconsin Capitol Police. This is not up for discussion.
I have a responsibility to all who are present to preserve order and peace. And I have a responsibility to adhere to Facebook’s Terms of Service. “See Part 3 Safety, Part 7 You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or incites violence. “Paraphrased” I ask that you refrain from posting anything questionable. If you think some of your posts might possibly be objectionable, I encourage you to take them down. Time is drawing near for our event. I ask that we stay focused on the true meaning of this rally. That is: Peaceful Protest against any new Gun Laws represented before Congress.
Thank you for all your support!
Earl Arrowood – WI Organizer/Guns Across America
As a secondary problem, extreme threats and claims only offer an excuse for over-reaching officials to harass peaceful protesters, photographers, and activists. There should (and really can) be no relent on asserting one’s rights, but the actual threats of a few make exaggerations about peaceful speech more tempting for government officials. Once that appetite is whetted…
We’ve had episodes in our history of excessive fears over peaceful conduct (such as overblown claims of a lack of patriotism during the First World War and during subsequent Red Scares). No doubt, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany was an autocratic place, and communism was and always will be an immoral, oppressive ideology, but nonviolent opposition to that war or discussions of Marxism should not have been tantamount to crimes.
People of diverse views will still exercise their rights under the law, the false claims and wrongful conduct of a few others notwithstanding.
But “if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…”
Posted also at Daily Adams.
Here’s the second of my posts on Tuesday’s session.
Move to Amend. James Hartwick, a resident and leader of the Starin Park Neighborhood Association, introduced a petition (in support of the Move to Amend campaign) for our 4.2.2013 ballot calling to amend the U.S. Constitution, under this question:
Shall the City of Whitewater adopt the following resolution:
Resolved, that We the People of the City of Whitewater, Wisconsin, seek to reclaim democracy from the expansion of corporate personhood rights and the corrupting influence of unregulated political contributions and spending. We stand with the Move to Amend campaign and communities across the country to support passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution stating: 1. Only human beings – not corporations, limited liability companies, unions, nonprofit organizations or similar associations and corporate entities – are endowed with constitutional rights, and 2. Money is not speech, and therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech. Be it further resolved, that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact resolutions and legislation to advance this effort.
Although I am strongly opposed to the petition (libertarians generally think Citizens United was a sound, pro-speech decision), I am strongly supportive of placing it on our ballot. Residents should have a chance, following the collection of hundreds of other residents’ petition signatures, to vote on a resolution like this.
If anything, I wish we had more petition drives for more ballot resolutions.
I recall seeing Mr. Hartwick at a table across from the Old Armory, at the November election, collecting petition signatures for this resolution. Good for him. I briefly thought about stopping over and talking to him about it, but I quickly thought better of it. He was working, so to speak, and did not need the distraction of a pesky blogger.
I’ll write on this topic closer to the election, in opposition to the resolution, but not to those working toward it. I wish well anyone who works sincerely in a case like this, as his or her conscience sees fit.
My preferred outcome: the most successful unsuccessful ballot resolution in the history of our city.
Dr. Nosek’s Remarks. As is his annual custom, toward the end of each year, this year Dr. Nosek spoke on topics of concern to him. There just aren’t many people in any community who care enough to commit to annual remarks like this. There also aren’t many people who are – regardless of views – as interesting. I’d don’t think there’s ever been a time that Dr. Nosek hasn’t held my attention.
Next: On the Police and Fire Commission.