There’s a New Entry on The List of Reasons Why Police Can Shoot You If You’re Black

When Charles Kinsey asked police why they shot him, they replied: “I don’t know.”

On Monday, North Miami police shot Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist who was helping his autistic patient. Before the police fired a bullet into him, Kinsey had been lying on his back with his hands held high in the air, begging the officers not to shoot him. Kinsey explained that he was a caregiver, that his patient had autism, and that the item in the patient’s hand was a toy truck and not a weapon.

Kinsey’s best efforts were not enough, and as the police approached him, they shot him in the leg. Speaking from his hospital bed, Kinsey seemed baffled by the police’s decision to shoot him. He said he thought that “As long as I’ve got my hands up, they’re not going to shoot me.” After all, he had obeyed every possible rule, taken every possible precaution. So after being shot, Kinsey asked the officer why he had done it.

The officer’s reply:

“I don’t know.”

To Jamilah King’s list of reasons police can assault and even kill you, then, we can now add a new final entry:

  1. Selling CDs outside of a supermarket.
  2. Selling cigarettes outside of a corner store.
  3. Walking home with a friend.
  4. Missing a front license plate.
  5. Riding a commuter train.
  6. Holding a fake gun in a park in Ohio.
  7. Holding a fake gun in a Walmart in Ohio.
  8. Holding a fake gun in Virginia.
  9. Holding a fake gun in Washington, D.C.
  10. Calling for help after a car accident.
  11. Driving with a broken brake light.
  12. Failing to signal a lane change.
  13. Walking away from police.
  14. Walking toward police.
  15. Running to the bathroom in your apartment.
  16. Walking up the stairwell of your apartment building.
  17. Sitting in your car before your bachelor party.
  18. Holding your wallet.
  19. Making eye contact.
  20. Attending a birthday party.
  21. Laughing.
  22. I don’t know.

We have finally reached the point, then, of abandoning even the flimsiest pretext. If the officer can’t think of any reason, even a totally implausible one, they can just shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t know,” i.e. “I guess I just felt like it.”

There’s a certain honesty to this. At least the officer didn’t pretend that Charles Kinsey deserved to be shot. He essentially just said “Because I am a cop, and you are black, and such is the nature of things.” Just as the lion must roar and the fish must swim, so must the police officer shoot when he sees a black man. It was simply impossible for the officer to imagine not shooting Charles Kinsey.

Of course, while the officer may not know his own reasons for shooting Kinsey, they’re not particularly difficult to figure out. The officer may have felt compelled to shoot Kinsey by an unseen force, but we know that the force has a name. (Racism.)

The Kinsey incident is egregious for a whole slew of reasons. First, there’s obviously the totally gratuitous racist act itself. Kinsey was shouting “Please don’t shoot me” and “All he has is a toy truck! I am a behavior therapist at a group home!” The fact that police even drew their weapons in such a situation is inexcusable, if predictable.

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Second, there’s the disability element. Kinsey said he was mostly worried for the safety of his patient, whose disability could have led him to react in ways that would have caused officers to become tense. Police officers are notoriously bad at handling people with mental illnesses, and up to half of those killed by law enforcement have disabilities. Whether choking a man with Down’s syndrome to death in a movie theater, or beating the life out of a homeless schizophrenic, police brutality toward disabled people is a national disgrace. (It is also why any movement against police killings needs to find a way to incorporate abuse of the disabled as well as race-based brutality.)

Finally, the Kinsey shooting is disturbing for what occurred afterward. Kinsey says he was less upset by the shooting than by the fact that, after it happened, police turned him on his back and handcuffed him while he was bleeding, instead of getting him medical attention. This is an aspect of police shootings that never gets sufficient discussion. The shootings themselves are frequently unjustified, but the failure to provide any medical assistance to a fully “neutralized” individual is never justified. Philando Castile was shot in the arm, but instead of rushing to his aid and getting him to hospital, the officer spent the time after the shooting pointing his weapon at Castile’s fiancée and shouting at her (before ultimately handcuffing and arresting her).

The same thing happened in the Tamir Rice killing. Rice was left to bleed to death as the officers stood around uselessly, again devoting their efforts to handcuffing Rice’s terrified wailing sister instead of taking measures that might have kept Rice alive. And when Eric Courtney Harris murmured “I can’t breathe” as he lay dying, shot by a 73-year-old reserve deputy, police officers replied by shouting “Fuck your breath” instead of administering medical help. Even if these shootings were justified (and they were absolutely not), the failure of police to make any effort to save a life would still be morally equivalent to murder.

At this point, it is difficult to be surprised by the existence of yet another horrifying video of a police shooting. But the Charles Kinsey incident is police brutality at its logically absurd endpoint. They don’t even know why they do it anymore. It’s just part of the job.

Everyone Is Doing A Very Bad Job Of Not Caring About the RNC

If you lament its lack of substance, then spend time talking about substantive things.

The Republicans are currently hosting a spectacular calamity in Ohio, and people of every political persuasion are very interested in it. As of this writing, the New York Times homepage features no less than fourteen different stories about the RNC. These are:

  • Takeaways: Doom Is The Message
  • In Trump’s Voice, It’s a New Nixon
  • Questions Over Melania Trump Speech Set Off Finger-Pointing
  • G.O.P. Convention: Night 1 Shadows Day 2
  • G.O.P. Off to Fiery Start at Convention
  • #NeverTrump’s Last Fight
  • The Power of Plagiarized Words
  • How Much Money Can I Make Off Trump’s Convention?
  • Editorial: The Most Extreme G.O.P. Platform in Memory
  • Bruni: Why the Melania-Michelle Echo Matters
  • Brooks: Getting Trumpier
  • Something Going On With Melania’s Speech
  • TV Watch: A Convention With Trump Written All Over It
  • Rudy Giuliani’s Fear Factor

The coverage elsewhere has been similarly exhaustive. The RNC is the thing that’s going on at the moment, to judge by a look at the news media. It’s absolutely everywhere. Opinion piece after opinion piece examines the goings-on of the convention, and tells us what they mean about America.

The attention is disproportionate to the event’s significance. Contemporary party conventions, as we know, are mostly pageantry. They consist of speech after windy speech by charmless politicians and demi-celebrities. They are predictable affairs, blown up far beyond their actual consequence by a desperate news media. The candidate gets nominated (as was expected), with some accompanying tedious rituals. A great deal of confetti is released, and some protesters get knocked in the head. The whole thing costs 114 million dollars, several million of which will be borne by the city of Cleveland itself. (Over ⅓ of Cleveland residents are below the poverty line; the number is over 50% for children.)

This season’s RNC in particular provides little reason to watch. It is apparently little more than an “orgy of memes,”  with a lot of shouting about Benghazi. There was some question of an intra-party revolt, but it instantly fizzled. (Apparently the line-up of speakers is also laughably barrel-scraping, though it’s odd to see people on the left mocking the Republicans for not attracting high-profile enough celebrity guests.)

Of course, there’s a certain entertainment factor. But it’s essentially no different from the lurid gawping that draws our eyes to car accidents. We get to scoff at sleepy, Jesusy Ben Carson’s unexpected references to Lucifer, and puzzle over the presence of a group called “Muslims for Trump.” It’s fun to watch a bewigged Stephen Colbert get yanked from the stage by security. We can all cackle at how silly Slovenian Melania Trump can’t even write her own banalities. Now the Duck Dynasty man is talking about gays! What a shitshow!

Now, a lot of this is richly amusing. The Trump campaign’s explanation of Melania’s contribution to her speech (“Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking”) was a succulent and hilarious masterpiece of a sentence. And, obviously, to the degree that there is something truly dangerous brewing in the doom-laden rhetoric of convention-goers, it’s worth paying a bit of attention.

But people on the left also seem to affect contempt for the RNC spectacle, while continuing to be fascinated by the minutiae of it. David Corn of Mother Jones, who wrote the convention off with the “orgy of memes” line, seems to have watched every minute of it. The New Republic’s Rick Perlstein wrote a detailed report on how utterly bored he was with the whole thing. In doing so, they sound rather like a person discussing their ex-partner, describing at length just how much they don’t care about them.

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Yet here’s a secret nobody seems to have told the press: there no invisible cosmic force compelling them to painstakingly cover the RNC. It’s actually possible to just stop paying attention. Don’t look at the car crash. Don’t look! Just stop looking! Every time you are tempted to look, look at something else. Read a book about the Spanish Civil War. Play some Pokémons if you must. Don’t feed this monster.

It is not that the RNC is not noteworthy. I suppose some amount of coverage is warranted, just as newspapers should probably publish traffic accident reports. The point is, rather, that there are more things in heaven and earth than the Republican National Convention (thank God!) You don’t have to argue that the news media should ignore the Cleveland trainwreck to believe that fourteen stories on the New York Times homepage is doing things to excess.

This becomes especially evident when we look at the things that aren’t being covered. For example, Congress recently declassified 28 pages of documents from its official report on the 9/11 attacks, which pertain to links between the Saudi Arabian government and the 9/11 hijackers. The 28 pages had been withheld for years because of the U.S. government’s fear of alienating and embarrassing a close ally and trading partner.

The release of the 28 pages has been greeted with indifference by the press. The Saudi Arabian government has insisted that the documents exonerate them of charges of supporting the 9/11 attacks, and the United States has declared that the documents offer no new information.

But that’s not exactly true (and if it were, it’s hard to think why the U.S. government would have fought to keep the pages secret for so long). Actually, the documents state that “while in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government.” Specifically, as The Guardian reports, Osama Basnan, whom the documents describe as a supporter of two of the 9/11 hijackers in California, received a cheque from Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the US.” A CIA memo, quoted in the documents, says that the connection could provide “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi Government.”

Simon Henderson of Foreign Policy says that, far from exonerating the Saudis, the pages are in fact “devastating.” Henderson says the documents undercut previous arguments made by the Saudi Foreign Minister, and “still [allow] for the possibility, indeed the probability, that the actions of senior Saudi officials resulted in those terrorist outrages.”

Henderson himself doesn’t offer a theory for what the Saudis’ involvement actually was. But Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar under Clinton and Bush, does have a theory. As Clarke explained yesterday for ABC News, the documents are consistent with “a possible failed CIA-Saudi spy mission on U.S. soil that went bad and eventually allowed 9/11 to proceed unimpeded.”

Clarke believes that the Saudi government was tracking the hijackers in the United States at the behest of the CIA. The CIA is not authorized to run intelligence operations in the U.S., so its collaboration with Saudi intelligence on this kind of mission would be prohibited. Clarke says this explains why, even though “50-60” CIA personnel knew about the presence of the al-Qaeda operatives, they did not inform the FBI or the White House.

According to Clarke, the CIA likely wanted to continue gathering information about al-Qaeda through its Saudi partnership. But if the FBI had found out that potential terrorists were known to be in the United States, it would have immediately arrested them. As he explains:

Had FBI been informed, however, it very likely would have vetoed the idea and moved quickly to arrest the two men. If the CIA broke the rules about getting FBI approval and, in cooperation with the Saudi intelligence service, ran a false flag operation in the U.S. against al-Qaeda terrorists, that would explain why CIA managers repeatedly made decisions and issued clear instructions not to tell anyone outside the CIA the rather startling and unprecedented news that al-Qaeda operatives were in our country.

Thus if Clarke is correct, it would mean that flagrant procedural violations by the CIA, and the CIA’s consequent attempt to hide those misdeeds, directly allowed 9/11 to happen. The CIA, through its work with the Saudis, may have actually assisted the hijackers when it could have stopped them. If Clarke is right, this would be a colossal embarrassment for the Bush Administration.

Clarke does not insist his theory is the only plausible one; he leaves open the possibility that Saudi intelligence was “purposefully supporting al-Qaeda operatives on behalf of the Saudi government.” But he shows very clearly that the documents leave open extremely important questions with highly consequential possible conclusions.

One might think Clarke’s explosive, carefully documented hypothesis would merit a bit of coverage. But it’s been met with a chorus of crickets, and Clarke’s account has been shared online a measly 106 times. (Our recent Current Affairs article about Melania Trump was many times more successful.)

So while Think Progress and Vox were debating whether Donald Trump, Jr.’s convention speech was plagiarized (“It was!” “It wasn’t!”), Richard Clarke was quietly detailing evidence that improper and possibly illegal CIA activity may have directly caused the 9/11 attacks. Here we find rather strong support for Noam Chomsky’s argument against the necessity of conspiracy theories: why does there need to be a conspiracy? The only conspiracy is that we’d rather talk about trivia than about important things we know to be true. Most information is hardly secret, you can find it if you read the news even somewhat closely. It’s just that the important things are consigned to the back pages, and go totally overlooked.

There’s probably something insightful one could write about the Republican National Convention, though it’s unclear what that would be (probably just another variation on “what an appalling embarrassment to the country this is!”) In the meantime, however, the Los Angeles Times has reported that there is a massive looming crisis in the effectiveness of antibiotics, and that increasing numbers of infections are proving resistant to even the most powerful antibacterial medicines. The L.A. Times quotes a Defense Department official calling the situation a “slow catastrophe” that could make it impossible to fight even basic infections or to conduct organ transplants, chemotherapy, and joint replacements. An FDA official warns: “Shame on us if we wait till bodies are in the street.”

At the same time, Melania Trump is dumb, and Ben Carson loves Jesus. And Chachi from Happy Days sort of called Hillary Clinton the c-word on Twitter. So it can be tough to know which stories to cover.

[Update: in the time since writing the first paragraph of this article, more stories about the RNC have been added to the New York Times website]

Melania’s Plagiarism Actually Just Shows How Vapid Political Speeches Are

Democrats should be troubled at how easily their rhetoric can be reused at the RNC…

Before it was discovered to have been plagiarized from Michelle Obama, Melania Trump’s speech yesterday at the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) had initially been praised by members of both parties as one of the best speeches of the RNC, a moving performance. Melania had inspired RNC attendees by saying the following:

My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond… Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

But in 2008, as it turned out, Michelle Obama had roused attendees of the Democratic National Convention with a similar line:

Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond… Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Melania’s plagiarism quickly blew up into a scandal. It became the front-page story on CNN, well above news about honor killing in Pakistan, fraud charges against Volkswagen executives, and Turkey’s post-coup purges. The New York Times decided that Melania’s plagiarism was so important that it assigned four reporters to the story. (It also parlayed the incident into a fashion column entitled “Melania Trump’s Speech May Not Have Been Original, but Her Dress Was”) On Twitter, Melania was duly mocked and castigated for her theft.

Liberals have jumped all over the scandal. It’s too delicious to pass up. For one thing, the original writer of Michelle Obama’s speech now works for Hillary Clinton, so that Trump plagiarized from Hillary’s own speechwriter. And it’s a perfect opportunity to laugh at the ineptitude and stupidity of Republicans generally and Trumps specifically. 

But what Melania Trump’s plagiarism demonstrates more than anything else is that political speeches are largely vapid and interchangeable. They’re so impersonal and without meaning that Melania could give Michelle’s speeches, and Michelle could give Melania’s, and hardly anyone would know the difference. The distance between the parties is not so great: they are united by their common clichés.

Melania Trump could comfortably crib from Michelle Obama because contemporary political speeches are almost nothing but a string of empty nationalistic platitudes. Barack Obama himself, supposedly a brilliant speechmaker, has almost never in his entire political career uttered a single memorable phrase (can you think of one? No, that waffle about the red America and the blue America doesn’t count.) The difference between Obama’s rhetoric and Ronald Reagan’s consists of little more than slight variations in word choice. (Reagan: “I am speaking of the problem of our national security. Our nation is in danger, and the danger grows greater with each passing day.” Obama: “I’ve authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is.  As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people.”) We know the whole phrase bank: no greater country in the world; the security of the American people; our hopes, aspirations, and dreams; my parents always taught me; the values that unite us. Thus even if Melania hadn’t directly plagiarized from Michelle Obama, she would almost certainly have ended up saying essentially the same thing. Her main sin seems to be that she forgot to jumble the words around a little.

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If anything, the whole plagiarism scandal reflects somewhat poorly on Michelle Obama. One reason Obama’s words were able to play so well at the RNC was that in the lifted passages, Obama was speaking using the conservative language of “bootstrapping.” Obama’s sentence, that “the only limit” to one’s achievements is the height of one’s goal and the “willingness to work” toward it, is the Republican story about America. It’s the story of personal responsibility, in which the U.S. is overflowing with opportunity, and anyone who fails to succeed in such a land of abundance must simply not be trying hard enough. 

People on the left are supposed to know that it is a cruel lie to tell people that all they need to do is work hard. There are plenty of people with dreams who work very hard indeed but get nothing, because the American economy is fundamentally skewed and unfair. This rhetoric, about “hard work” being the only thing needed for the pursuit of prosperity, is an insult to every tomato-picker and hotel cleaner in the country. It’s a fact that those who work the hardest in this country, those come home from work exhausted and who break their backs to feed their families, are almost always rewarded the least. 

Far from embarrassing Melania Trump and the GOP, then, it should be deeply humiliating for Democrats that their rhetoric is so bloodless and hollow that it can easily be spoken word-for-word in front of a gang of crazed racists. Instead of asking “why is Melania Trump using Michelle Obama’s words?” we might think to ask “why is Michelle Obama using the right-wing rhetoric of self-reliance?” Observers have noted that the current GOP platform is one of the most extreme ever adopted. If words from Democrats can fit in such an environment comfortably, that’s a major failure on the part of Democrats. It’s always been a weakness of the Obamas’ politics that it pays excessive tribute to the Republican worldview. (Reagan’s Republicans were not a “party of ideas,” as Obama describes them. They were a party of death squads.) The Melania incident should show just how troubling that is. 

Of course, the whole plagiarism affair is a totally pointless distraction from everything in the world that matters. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias insists that the Melania incident is “one of the most important things that has happened” at the convention. That may be true, insofar as nothing of any importance happens at the convention. But there is something more important happening there, namely the endless parade of ominous, apocalyptic, racially-tinged demands for vengeance. While four New York Times reporters comb through Melania’s clichés about the American dream to see if they are identical to Michelle Obama’s clichés about the American dream, the Republican Party is whipping itself up into a frenzy of anti-immigrant bloodlust.

But the obsession with form over substance is characteristic of the liberal press. To the college-educated, there is no greater crime than plagiarism. (Jonah Lehrer, after all, was brought down because his books were plagiarized rather than because they were terrible.) The Melania Trump scandal represents the absurd logical extreme of this mindset. It doesn’t matter if you’re spouting total horse manure as long as it’s your own vaguely original horse manure.

If the plagiarism scandal is interesting, then, it is interesting because it exposes the bipartisan vapidity of modern political speechifying. It shows us that cheap myths about the rewards of “hard work” are now central to both parties’ vocabularies. To the extent that Melania Trump has demonstrated this, it should bring shame upon the Democratic Party.

At the same time, perhaps we should be slightly more concerned by the torrent of racist rhetoric pouring forth in Cleveland than by the possibility that some of this rhetoric may have been heard before.

The Solution to Vulgar Nativism Is Not Polite Nativism

Conservatives nominally disavow Trump’s ugly nationalistic appeals, but their own anti-immigrant sentiments are hardly different…

In The New York Times, two conservatives who dislike Donald Trump have called on the Republican Party to reform itself. Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat believe, as many other observers do, that Trump’s ascendance has occurred because the mainstream Republican Party has failed to listen to its constituents, and become out-of-touch with the anxieties of its base. Trumpism is the logical consequence of the failure of the party to listen to its voters, and Salam and Douthat would like sober-minded Republicans to take their party back.

The proposals offered by these two conservatives are telling. Both ostensible moderates, they are personally horrified by Trump, and believe him to be a “shameless demagogue.” Yet while they affect a fear of Trump’s ugly nativism, their own vision for Republican politics amounts to almost exactly the same thing. Douthat and Salam thus offer useful evidence for the theory that Trump is simply the most vulgar expression of inclinations broadly shared among the conservative base; in fact, their entire purpose is to suggest Republicans become polite versions of Trump.

Douthat and Salam oppose Trump’s form of racially-charged nationalist sentiment. But they propose to replace it with their own form of soft nationalism. They challenge the “article of faith that skepticism about mass immigration is driven largely by racism.” Instead, they say that there are perfectly good reasons why (white) people are fearful of immigration:

Such concerns are reasonable. While less-educated immigrants are no less admirable and hard-working than those who have managed to acquire the skills most prized in our polarized labor market, there is clear evidence that they and their children need more of a helping hand from social programs, and that their descendants are more likely to assimilate downward when that help does not suffice.

Douthat and Salam believe that fear of immigrants is justified, and suggest that the country should “explicitly weigh questions of community and solidarity when it sets tax rates or immigration levels.” What they mean by this cryptic remark is not immediately obvious (how does one set a tax rate via the principle of “solidarity”?), but it turns out to be a careful way of saying that America should cater to white fears by keep poor immigrants out of the country. As they explain, “an immigration policy in the national interest should explicitly try to attract immigrants who will be in a strong position to provide for their families in a difficult economic environment.”

Because of the vagueness, it can be difficult to figure just what Douthat and Salam are actually advocating, policy-wise. But their argument seems to basically be as follows: immigrants are a drain on the social welfare system. Thus we should only admit those who are economically beneficial to us, i.e. those who are not poor. (No more huddled masses. Give us your rich, your well-educated, your self-sufficient.)

This is barely distinguishable from Trump’s own politics. After all, Trump “loves Mexicans,” but argues that “they are not sending their best.” Salam and Douthat love immigrants, but simply believe “that the United States should strongly favor high-skilled immigrants over low-skilled immigrants.” It’s free of the Trumpian nastiness, but it’s the same policy: keep poor immigrants out of the country.

Bear in mind what this means. It means barring the people whose lives are the most desperate, the ones who would most benefit from entry into America. It means that instead of giving opportunities to people who need them, we give them to those who already have them. Those fleeing violence, those in search of new lives and educations, will be judged on the basis of their “skills.” Ted Cruz’s dad, who came to the United States as a penniless Cuban teenager who could barely speak English, would certainly be turned away.

Douthat and Salam are at pains to prove that there is a rational, non-racist reason for opposition to immigration. As they say, “immigration skepticism seems to be rooted as much in concerns about how quickly immigrants assimilate, whether they rely on welfare programs and whether they compete for American jobs as it is in racial or cultural anxiety.” Of course, “assimilation” anxiety is cultural anxiety. But even the studies they cite state that “a majority of our respondents do appear to evaluate even illegal immigrants based on ethnic and socio-economic characteristics.”

Douthat and Salam argue that it is perfectly legitimate to restrict immigration, because immigrants eat up welfare benefits. To prove this, they cite a highly-flawed study from the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration think tank co-founded by a notorious eugenicist. The CIS has long advocated both increasing deportations and encouraging “self-deportation” by making conditions for unauthorized immigrants so miserable that they won’t want to stay in the United States.

As the conservative Cato Institute explained, the CIS study cited by Douthat and Salam (arguing that immigrants gobble up welfare benefits faster than those born here) is a methodological disaster. It counts native-born children of immigrants as immigrants themselves, even though they are natural-born citizens. It doesn’t count the two largest welfare programs in the country, Social Security and Medicare (which unauthorized immigrants pay into but don’t receive benefits from). And it compares households rather than individuals, giving a misleading impression of how much each immigrant is consuming in welfare benefits. When you compare individuals, it turns out that poor immigrants consume less in public benefits than their native-born counterparts.

But Douthat and Salam do not spend much time on the question of whether the evidence supports people’s fear of immigration. Instead, they simply defend the principle of nationalism, that we should value ourselves more than we value others. They openly believe in a tribalistic “exclusive politics.” As they explain: 

A more nationalist politics is, in one sense, a more exclusive politics, as it is based on the premise that there is such a thing as an American national community, and that this community’s interests at times must be placed ahead of humanity as a whole. But nationalism can also be inclusive, insofar as it emphasizes the interests that Americans of all classes and ethnic backgrounds share. Why should privileged Americans care more about the fate of children raised in low-income United States households than poorer children elsewhere in the world? Part of the reason is that all Americans live under the same government, and if its policies fail the most vulnerable among us, its very legitimacy is in question. Another part, however, is that as Americans we are — or ought to be — linked by bonds of affection and a sense of shared fate.

Here, Douthat and Salam simply replace Trump’s ugly racism with a more palatable nationalism. It’s acceptable to care less about poor children elsewhere in the world, so long as your reasons are nationalist rather than racist. But this is simply another kind of prejudice. National categories are just as arbitrary as racial ones. There’s no good moral argument for the idea that people defined by a particular geographic area ought to have a special “bond of affection” that makes them more indifferent to the sufferings of others. In fact, we probably ought to care more about poor children elsewhere, since they tend to be poorer than those in the United States.

Douthat and Salam formulate a politics that “stresses the national interest abroad and national solidarity at home.” But the “national interest” is a poor grounds for a moral politics. It was, after all, President Clinton’s belief that the national interests of the U.S. should guide all policy that led to his refusal to intervene in the Rwandan genocide. To let the “national interest” and “national solidarity” guide decision-making means being content to let others suffer if it serves ourselves. It means turning away the poor, sick, and “economically useless” from our borders, because we cannot make money off them. It sees the arbitrary accident of a person’s birthplace as essential to determining how much moral worth we should assign them.

That’s just nativism, and it’s no different from Trumpism. Douthat and Salam have adopted the “immigrants are parasites” line and gussied it up in polite prose. They have taken Trump’s unfashionable, ugly racism and replaced it with a genteel, acceptable nationalism. But anti-immigrant sentiment, and the cruel policies it creates, are the same regardless of the tone in which they are presented. Perhaps the only people we should fear more than Trump himself are conservatives who propose Trump’s same hideous policies without the honesty that comes with his hideous rhetoric.

Why Leftists Should Have No Problem Voting For Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders was right to endorse Hillary. Here’s how socialists should think about voting decisions.

Now that Bernie Sanders has endorsed Hillary Clinton, there will be some debate on the left as to what to do. Inevitably, there will be those who are disappointed in Sanders, or who consider themselves “Bernie or Bust” camp and refuse to contemplate the idea of voting for Clinton. A serious question among leftists will arise, as it does every four years, about whether third-party candidates are principled alternatives or “spoiler” candidates.

There are good reasons why socialists and other lefties intensely dislike Hillary Clinton. Their values conflict with hers in major ways. They are disturbed by her close alignment with the financial industry, dangerous hawkishness, willingness to compromise key progressive values, reflexive defenses of Israel, support for the death penalty, and aversion to transparency. When the Democratic Party runs a candidate like Hillary Clinton, it can seem to a leftist as if there is little meaningful difference between the two parties. Republicans are the party of war, big business, and the surveillance state, whereas the Democrats are the party of drone strikes, Wall Street, and government watchlists.

At the same time, we do know that there are differences between the parties. However corporate-friendly and warlike moderate Democrats may be, Republicans are almost always more so. Appointments to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts do actually matter; they can mean the difference between the preservation and the destruction of fundamental rights.

Socialists are therefore faced with a dilemma: do they follow Bernie’s lead, suck it up and vote for Hillary, or do they vote third-party?

In a recent essay, John Halle and Noam Chomsky explain the most sensible strategy for approaching elections, the “Lesser Evil Voting” (LEV) method. It’s not difficult: because the significance of your vote depends on where you live, where you vote should guide how you vote. In safely Democratic or Republican states, vote for the losing third-party candidate of your choice, or do not vote at all. In competitive swing states, where the votes of leftists might mean the difference between the Democrat and the Republican winning, vote for the “lesser evil” Democrat, in this case Hillary Clinton. The strategy is based on the simple principle that one should make choices based on the predictable consequences of one’s actions. If leftists’ refusal to vote for the Democrat could actually install the Republican in office, then leftists should vote for the Democrat. If there’s no way it could make a difference, then they should do as they please.

People on the left are understandably weary of the whole “Nader voters gave us Bush” argument. And it’s often used as a cudgel to convince leftists to sacrifice their values. But it is an extremely important case study. Purely in terms of consequences (as opposed to culpability), it is the case that if 500 Florida Nader voters had changed their minds in 2000, multiple thousands of Iraqi children might be alive instead of dead. Climate change policy might have been very different under a quasi-environmentalist than a former Texas oil executive. Of course, these are still mights. But when you’re voting, you go based on probabilities. And the probability is that Republicans like George W. Bush will inflict more damage on the world than Al Gore would have. It was therefore foolish for Nader to campaign in swing states, and for swing state voters to cast ballots for him. They gained nothing but personal satisfaction. 

Several objections can be made to this argument. First, one could challenge the claim that in the particular case of Clinton versus Trump, Clinton is even the lesser evil to begin with. Some, citing Clinton’s record of deadly, irresponsible hawkishness and interventionism, may argue that Clinton’s foreign policy actually offers the more serious menace to global peace. The factual point is worth debating. But if one is to argue that it should change the strategy, one must argue that Trump is, on the whole, more in keeping with left-wing values. Few leftists are likely to seriously accept this. No matter how false Clinton’s protestations of progressivism may be, it is impossible to treat a racist, totalitarian, climate change-denying billionaire as the greater friend to the international working class. Anyone who is “not afraid of Trump” is probably not afraid because they are neither a Muslim immigrant or an undocumented Mexican worker. For those groups, Trump represents by far the greater threat. Thus to be blasé about the possibility of a Trump presidency is to openly gamble with the lives of the vulnerable. Hillary Clinton’s presidency will be predictably awful. Trump’s could be better, or could be much, much worse. It’s precisely the uncertainty about Trump’s presidency that is so worrying, the risk is one that the country cannot afford to take.

A second objection reflects a common belief people have about voting: it suggests that one should always vote in accordance with the candidate that most reflects one’s values. It’s a very powerful inclination, felt deeply by those who believe that one must stick by what one believes, no matter the cost. But this position excessively romanticizes the act of voting itself, and treats casting a ballot as more significant than it actually is. It sees elections as being a key way in which one expresses one’s personal moral identity, instead of simply being a means to a possibly marginally better set of outcomes. What matters is not who you vote for, what matters is what happens in the world as a result. 

To adopt this conception is to maintain the idea that by voting for something one has fully endorsed it, and that by not voting for it one has been absolved of responsibility for it. This supposition cannot be justified; by abstaining from participating in a decision one can nevertheless be fully responsible for it, if one’s refusal is what has caused the decision to occur. When it comes to voting, to consider anything other than consequences is to buy into the American idea that voting is some crucial mystical enactment of our civic identities.

Voting for a lesser evil is often seen as sacrificing “principle” for the sake of “pragmatism.” But actually, it’s not sacrificing principle at all. It’s a very principled decision to think in terms of moral consequences. So long as you don’t consider voting as an important part of your identity (and why would it be?), you don’t compromise anything whatsoever through the exercise of strategic decision-making. Voting lesser-evil is morally acceptable not because Hillary is good (she’s horrendous), but because voting doesn’t have any moral content outside of its direct consequences.

A third criticism of lesser-evilism suggests it passively accepts the bipartisan status quo. According to this perspective, mainstream Democrats are constantly attempting to cajole leftists into voting for their “lesser evil” candidates, and so long as leftists keep obliging, they will forever be sacrificing any possibility of realizing their own agenda. If leftists are willing to fall in line behind any Democrat, however loathsome, they will eliminate their own ability to pressure the party for meaningful change. Leftists therefore need to threaten to stay home, or to vote third-party, so that centrist Democrats are forced to make concessions.

This objection accepts the position that voting should be strategic. But it is mistaken, in that it views “voting third-party” as necessarily advancing left-wing political goals. Here’s the important thing to remember about American elections: you either win them or you lose them. If Jill Stein gets 3% of the vote, she does not get to control 3% of the Executive Branch. She gets to control precisely the same amount as she does now: none of it. Unless there is a plausible world in which a third-party candidate could win the electoral college, no number of socialists voting for a third-party candidate will produce a useful electoral outcome. There are simply not enough socialists. Voting for a third-party presidential candidate must therefore either (1) be purely symbolic or (2) increase the likelihood of achieving left-wing outcomes even while losing.

Pure symbolism is a poor reason on its own. It’s hard to defend risking the well-being of every Muslim American for the symbolic value of a slightly-less-of-a-landslide loss for the Green Party. The only remaining theory, then, is that voting third-party helps left-wing political goals in some other, non-symbolic way. But it’s not clear how it does so.

One critic of Halle and Chomsky says that to vote Democratic is to avoid the “demanding process of building an autonomous working class movement” and to accept the moderates’ constant insistence that “the time is not right for revolution.” It’s certainly correct that voting Democratic doesn’t make a revolution. But that’s not because of the particular choice of vote. It’s because American presidential elections aren’t the arenas in which revolutions occur. They’re little more than time-consuming media spectacles, which people should pay far less attention to for far shorter periods of time. By all means, build a movement. But as should be obvious, it’s not going to come in the form of “refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton.” It’s very strange to see “revolutionaries” who believe that voting third-party in a swing state will somehow help to catalyze a social revolution. 

The other strategic theory is that by threatening to withhold one’s vote, one brings pressure on the Democrats to become more progressive. But voting third-party in general elections does not exact concessions from the mainstream Democratic Party. We saw that plainly in 2000. Ralph Nader’s run neither dragged the Democratic party leftward, nor caused Democratic centrists to believe they needed to be more accommodating of their leftist brothers and sisters. Instead, it simply enraged them, and resulted in major backlash. If a third-party challenge, or widespread left-wing refusal to participate, did create a Trump presidency, it is unlikely that Democrats would respond by becoming more generous to their progressive wing in the future. As in 2000, the charge will simply do damage to the left’s ability to build support.

In the case of this particular election, one can even imagine this strategy backfiring even further, and causing the Democratic Party to become more conservative: If Clinton seems to be losing votes on the left, she might simply spend more energy going after Republican voters. Courting conservatives has always been a core element of Clintonism (she already has the endorsement of seemingly half of the Bush Administration), and there is no reason to expect that a Clinton looking for votes would move left rather than right.

There are some ways in which electoral politics can be effective for leftists to advance their agenda. Primary challengers can bring pressure on a party, as the Tea Party ably demonstrated to the Republicans. And Bernie Sanders has had great success in using the leverage granted by primary victories to secure concessions from the party (though these are mostly in the form of non-binding promises, which Clinton could simply ignore after her inauguration). Elections can therefore provide strategic opportunities. But it’s hard to construct a theory for how general election voting will help the left, and particularly how refusing to vote for Clinton in Ohio will do that. 

Rather, the left should stop trying to assert itself with presidential voting choices, and start trying to build political muscle at the state and local level. Energy spent on participating in the national electoral extravaganza imposes a significant cost on one’s ability to build meaningful political opposition. The left should devote the minimum of time necessary to exercise the LEV choice, then immediately return to pursuing its actual goals. Much more effort should expended in developing political organizations, building left media, engaging in strategic forms of protest, and running for office in winnable races.

It’s no secret that I am not particularly fond of the Clintons. I have, after all, written a book about Bill Clinton called Superpredator (now available in both paperback and Kindle editions). I might, therefore, be expected to be sympathetic to the argument against voting for Hillary Clinton. But I’m not in the least. That’s because I don’t understand anyone who sees voting as the route to revolution. It’s precisely because of my left-wing politics that I don’t see voting as anything more than a very limited, purely strategic choice, which should be made solely on the basis of how likely it is to advance my favored political causes. It will be easier to implement my progressive values under a Clinton than under a hare-brained, unpredictable thuggish racist who admires Saddam Hussein. And that’s all that matters, as far as voting is concerned.

Of course, it’s not yet certain whether any of this will matter. It’s unclear how many people are actually in the “Bernie or Bust” camp at this point, and the whole thing may well erode now that the man himself is campaigning alongside Clinton. Plus, Donald Trump seems to have decided he doesn’t feel like being president, and to be engaged in an intentional effort to sabotage his own chances. If the electoral map keeps looking like Nate Silver predicts it will (though God knows he’s not terribly reliable), then nobody need worry about the handful of intransigents who feel that casting a lesser-evil ballot in a presidential race is some kind of betrayal of the revolution. But if Trump rebounds, and there are reasons why he may well do, then the responsible way to vote is obvious. Wherever it doesn’t matter (which is most places), vote however you like. Wherever it might possibly matter, just vote for Clinton. But do so without the illusion that how you vote matters especially much. The revolution is to be made elsewhere.

The Time Has Come For the Media to Stop Naming Mass Shooters

Displaying photographs of killers and emphasizing their identities is pure sensationalism, and causes great risk to innocent lives.

In America, anyone can get famous overnight. All they have to do is go to their nearest gun shop, legally purchase the highest-capacity weapon they can find, and open fire on a crowd. The deadlier their rampage, the more notorious they will become. They will be on the front page of every newspaper, their likeness will be posted and reposted across the internet. If they would like to issue a manifesto, it will be quoted extensively on cable television.

All of this is well-known, essentially indisputable. It’s a national cliché by this point. It’s the whole point of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, which is now 20 years old. The national media is obsessed with the lurid and sensational. So it has been since the days of William Randolph Hearst. Tell us something we don’t know.

But the fact that something is well-known, even hackneyed, doesn’t make it untrue. However long the media may have been doing it, the practice of “instant fame for murderers” continues to be perverse. Perhaps more importantly, it risks corroding the criminal justice process and damaging the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It’s clear what the basic problems are with the media’s practice of using the photographs and names of mass shooters. It grants nationwide recognition to people who have committed horrendous crimes, thereby creating a deeply troubling incentive. A person who wants to achieve public notoriety can do so with ease. That enters into the calculus of some killers. The man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords declared on his MySpace that: “I’ll see you on National T.V.” From the records left behind by the Columbine killers, we know that they “were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun” and “fantasized about Hollywood directors fighting over their story.” As he continued to kill, the Orlando nightclub shooter was checking Facebook for news stories about his attack. And in the midst of his rampage, the Virginia Tech shooter mailed a package to NBC News containing carefully-posed selfies of the shooter with his guns, which the network then dutifully put on the air. Granting these people their wish gives the next potential killer near-total assurance that their face will be broadcasted across the country, and their name will live in infamy.

But there are other harmful consequences beyond the direct encouragement of further criminal acts. When photos of suspects are circulated, innocent people can be accused and put at risk. That’s what has happened in Dallas, where a bystander whose photo circulated as a suspect is now receiving thousands of death threats and fears for his life.

One of the most disturbing examples of this phenomenon came during the search for the Boston Bombers. Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who had been missing for a month, was identified by amateur sleuths on Reddit as the bomber. News organizations like Politico, NBC, Newsweek, and BuzzFeed all jumped on the rumor. Soon the Tripathi family, who were still desperately searching for their missing son, were being hounded day and night by journalists from major news organizations like CNN. The press would call “all night, leaving voicemail after voicemail, and sent TV cameras to the family’s Boston home.” A reporter for TalkingPointsMemo left a message for Sunil’s sister Sangeeta saying that “the Boston Police scanner has identified your brother as a potential suspect in the marathon bombing.” (This was false.) At one point, Sangeeta received 58 missed calls on her cell phone between 3 and 4 am. Sunil’s mother even hoped for a fleeting moment that the calls might be from her missing son.

Sunil Tripathi was not one of the Boston Bombers; he had committed suicide nearly a month previously. But the mainstream media spent days harassing his traumatized family, based on nothing more than a rumor from Reddit. (The family’s have since participated in a documentary that aims to tell the true story of their son’s life, so that he may be known as something more than a wrongful suspect in the Boston Bombing. The Tripathi they knew was a smart and sensitive philosophy student who played the saxophone and had an incredibly warm smile.)

There are other historic instances of injustice caused by media misidentification of suspects. During the search for the Atlanta Olympics bomber in 1996, security guard Richard Jewell (who had found the bomb and tried to clear the area) was branded a suspect by the press. Instead of being labeled a hero for the lives he saved, Jewell was depicted in the press as a sad sack and loser who had planted the bomb in a scheme to make himself look heroic. As the FBI continued its investigation, the bombing victims sued Jewell, and he became a pariah. He was mocked on late-night talk shows as being both evil and stupid. Jewell was eventually cleared and received libel settlements, but he had endured a horrendous public ordeal.

Perhaps the most notorious of these was the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard, whose wife was murdered in 1954. During the course of the police investigation into the murders, before Sheppard had been formally accused of any crime, the Cleveland Press ran headlines like “Why Isn’t Sam Sheppard in Jail?” and “Quit Stalling and Bring Him In!” Sheppard was convicted despite flimsy evidence, in a carnival of a trial during which the un-sequestered jury had full access to inflammatory press reports (A federal judge later commented that “If ever there was a trial by newspaper, this is a perfect example.”) At a retrial in 1966 Sheppard was acquitted. But the media circus had already inflicted its damage. Sheppard’s mother had committed suicide just days after his 1954 guilty verdict, and Sheppard drank himself to death within four years of being released from prison.

All of this occurs because the courts’ standard of “innocent until proven guilty” is not shared by the press. But there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Unless there has been an actual request for the public to help find someone during an ongoing manhunt, there is very little urgent need for the public to know who is suspected of a particular crime. The public interest in the lives and identities of shooters is purely sensational. By catering to it, the press risks biasing jury pools and fingering the innocent. Lives can be ruined, with no purpose other than to satisfy our lurid fascination with the lives of murderers.

Sometimes, the press does exercise caution, and politely downplays the identity of suspects. During the coverage of the Philando Castile shooting, the name and photograph of the officer who shot Castile has not been nearly so widely printed as the name and photograph of Castile himself. Where police officers are concerned, the media recognizes that excessive mentions of the officers’ personal details could invite threats toward the officer and their families. That discretion should be exercised in all criminal cases.

Not using photos or names of perpetrators also keeps the focus precisely where it should be: on the lives and identities of the victims. At the moment, coverage generally emphasizes the lives of the shooters over the lives of those they have killed. (This, for example, is the Washington Post’s home page right now.) Photos of the Charleston church shooter are displayed constantly on the news, and the identity of his victims slips away (they were Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson). Publicly naming a person is a way to make sure they do not go forgotten. Yet it is the faces of those who should be forgotten that are seared into our minds.

It can be argued that in an age of social media, it is difficult to restrict the flow of information, and that efforts not to show photos of killers are futile. That could be true, and it’s certainly the case that it will be impossible to prevent access to all manner of information about criminal suspects. But even though news travels quickly through social media, the stories that spread are still disproportionately from mainstream media outlets, and a small number of outlets are responsible for a large amount of the news that is seen. If The Huffington Post, CNN, Fox, the A.P., and several others changed their practices, the visibility of criminal suspects would drop significantly.

As part of an effort to encourage this, Current Affairs has adopted a policy of never showing photographs of mass shooters, and generally avoiding naming them. There is very little benefit to identifying killers, and a large amount of risk, both in loss of life and in the corrosion of the criminal justice process. Current Affairs invites other publications to join us in adopting this rule.

Such a policy should be relatively uncontroversial. The New York Times, which prides itself on its seriousness and sobriety, should happily cease to participate in a practice that has no non-sensationalist purpose (and which brings the Times closer to a supermarket tabloid). If a single mass shooting could be prevented through removing the fame incentive, it is worth doing. And if innocent people can be kept from being falsely accused of crimes, it is also worth doing. In the age of social media, it’s impossible to stop people from accessing information, and photographs of killers will obviously continue to spread. But the news media can reduce the frequency with which such pictures are circulated, and can do their part to put the focus of the story back on the victims rather than the killers.