Hell is Hope Hicks

As you may already be aware, the NY Times just published an Maggie Haberman essay on Hope Hicks’ most recent dilemma: should she break the law (again) or should she obey the requirements of a congressional subpoena?

The NY Times and Haberman advertised the article on twitter this way:

Now, some took issue with the glamour photo shoot that the Times commissioned for this piece. To the extent that criticism has any validity, it’s not about merely displaying a photo of Hope Hicks, it’s about the fact that they clearly spent significant resources in order to craft an artificial image that comports with Haberman’s editorial depiction of this former Trump aide (and those critiques that mentioned the photo without including this more detailed objection run the risk of communicating an anti-feminist message that what is important in media coverage of women is the photo shot editors choose to run). The lavishing of resources emphasizes the PR function of this effort; it is, in short, not a news story.

And yet, this wasn’t featured in the Times’ lifestyle section. It was featured in “Politics” which, when it is not overt opinion (which should be confined to the OP/ED pages anyway), is supposed to be news. So what is the news story here?

That leads us to the other criticism that many have already made: choosing to comply or not comply with a legal order is not an existential question any more than choosing to print up a few million dollars’ worth of counterfeit bills. Both lawyers and philosophers (mainly ethicists) took issue with this ridiculous and inaccurate description, so it’s not surprise that I, too, found it risible. The philosophers mainly focussed on the misuse of “existential questions” in a way that Sartre would have found condemnably ignorant even if it did tend to validate his assertion, “Hell is other people.” The lawyers had a different take, not so much emphasizing the “existential” part, but focussing rather more on the “question” part. One lawyer, Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly), put it this way:

Most existential questions have no clear answer. What is my purpose in life? What happens after I die? Is there a higher power guiding my destiny? Does my dog have a soul?

Other “existential questions,” however, are answered by 2 U.S.C. §§ 192 & 194. Compliance is mandatory.

Yet, despite my laughter when I read that and my sympathy to those who would call out the Times for bad philosophy and bad law, my most significant problem with this story and the promotional tweet is neither of those. Instead, read this tweet from Sam Wang @SamWangPhd:

“Should a federal employee obey a lawful order, or stay loyal to an individual? Here at @nytpolitics, we can’t say. It’s just all a partisan game! We’re not going to make a value judgment! We have great portrait photographers though.”

The NY Times isn’t doing something new in this story. They are treating compliance with the law as entirely optional for the rich and well connected even as other stories, say, stories about a famous woman who went to jail for defying a subpoena, don’t include the same PR efforts or gosh, who can say whether it’s fair that someone obey a subpoena support for lawlessness as the Hope Hicks profile.

The Times is doing what the times always does: it’s opposing accountability for the rich and powerful who have the most motive and opportunity to destroy US democracy, while insisting on strict accountability for those who break the law in a principled stand on behalf of what they believe to be a necessary resistance to the subversion or destruction of democracy. Thoreau-like, I can believe that Manning subscribes to the maxim

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

But the proper response for those of us on the outside is not to scream, “Yeah, lock her up!” at democracy’s defenders and, “Let’s all sympathize with the lawless,” as they attack that democracy. Believing that we have reached the point where the true place for a just trans person is in prison is not to believe we have accomplished something wonderful that must be perpetuated.

The anti-democratic limits on acceptable discourse accepted and propounded by the Times must be opposed. The Times and Haberman and her editors are not worthless and thus irrelevant. The magnitude of this mess is only appreciated by accepting that the Times has an impact on the policies and practices of justice (and other things) and have great value to those that benefit from advancing the Times’ skewed view of proper accountability. Ignoring the Times is not a principled and logical and effective way to deal with their anti-democratic trolling. Instead, the Times must be countered each and every time they embrace the ideology of an accountability-free elite. We must never forget that the Times isn’t portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they are working honestly or even diligently to divine the best possible response to problems of Gordian convolution and unsolvability. The upper ranks of the Times (including Haberman and her editors) are portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they, too, believe themselves better off in a world without accountability for the US elite.

This ideology must be opposed wherever it presents itself.

 


Although I originally titled this “Hell is Hope Hicks” I later thought that perhaps it would be better titled, “Hell is the New York Times”. Ultimately I decided not to change it, though there are certainly reasonable critiques of making Hicks the focus of the title when the main critique is not of Hicks’ disdain for the law (which exists and is critiqued in passing), but instead the NY Times advocacy of disdain for the law – or at least advocacy for the idea that we must consider disdain for the law to be a reasonable position which might be reasonably held by reasonable people in a democracy.

Joe Biden See No Boundaries

Much discussed in certain circles of the internet the past month or two has been Democratic presidential nomination candidate Joe Biden’s long history of zooming past boundaries without even acknowledging that they might be there. The debate has been weirdly complicated by some people who insist that, since they themselves would have gladly consented to the touching Biden initiated with them without asking that somehow never asking is a reasonable choice on his part. “If I wanted a back rub,” their argument begins, “but other people don’t want a back rub, how in the world is Biden supposed to know who wants him to walk up behind them and rub their shoulders and who doesn’t?”

How indeed.

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If I only had a brain: What I should have written, but didn’t write, but someone else wrote, so you’re saved.

The Attorney General of the USA has, helpfully, provided us with a summary of the Harry Potter books. Interestingly, it concludes that Voldemort was innocent.

William Barr publishes summary of Harry Potter series claiming Voldemort was “completely exonerated”

 

You really can’t know how badly I want to take credit for that. Purest genius. My favorite quote?

Those unfamiliar with how these things work will no doubt point to evidence of things like killing people as examples of wrong-doing, but the evidence is weak at best.

It’s short. You have no excuse not to read it in its entirety.

 

Follow The Love Cow of Perfidy, Not The Gourd

So my very first post on the topic of Devin Nunes extremely stupid suit against Twitter and 3 of its users was not actually on this blog. It was actually a comment over on Wonkette. Forgive me, but knowing Wonkette’s obsession with its own Love Cow joke, I thought first of them as soon as I read the news.

In that comment I began with something I didn’t include here. For completeness I reproduce my introductory remarks here:

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Devin Nunes and the Love Cow of Perfidy

So, if you aren’t aware – as you are probably not – there is an in-joke at Wonkette about Devin Nunes, the incompetent House Intel ranking member (and former committee chair) who lied about the state of the Russia investigation in order to defend Trump. The joke doesn’t really have much of a basis. There’s no “there” there. But years ago Nunes opposed a real estate deal, which if I understand correctly was a land swap of an on-campus parcel on the side of his college closest to neighborhoods for more land on the side of campus farther away. The point of the land swap from the school’s perspective was to get more land, with the immediate purpose of expanding or improving their Ag program and for long term flexibility in building facilities as needed. His opposition appeared to be based on his appreciation for the ag program as it then existed and included laudatory comments about the current ag facilities, which happened to include cows. On top of this, his family owned a dairy farm and he frequently refers to himself and his connection to dairy farming and loving his cows and loving the land of his farm in his campaigns. He did not stop when his family sold the dairy farm & moved to Iowa. This seemed to indicate some serious attachment to the mooers. And, finally, the degree he got in between episodes of protest against the forced relocation of cows was “Animal Husbandry”.

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Must. Not. Reference. Princess. Bride.

Oh, holy heck Mike Pence: you would leave me no choice except for the fact that you’re so damn obvious about it that I don’t have to write the (now tired and old) joke myself. From the Washington Post, when Pence was asked if Trump might not be telling the actual literal truth about that migrant caravan:

Well, it’s inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border

He went on to give folks an important lesson in geography, at least according to the more extensive RawStory reporting of his remarks:

“There are statistics on this,” Pence insisted. “In the last fiscal year we apprehended 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our southern border — from countries that are referred to as ‘other than Mexico,’” the vice president said. “That means from the Middle East region.”

Ah, yes. The administration that struggles to define sex and gender now struggles to define Mexico – that country which includes, apparently, every land on earth that is not the United States or the Middle East.

fFs: I can haz kompuhtent leedr nao?

That Dude Comes Out And Says It

So, a few years back I was wearing my Shirt That Changed The World. My particular version was, of course, the very best version. The logo read, “Transsexual Menace” like all the others, but being from Oregon, the tagline below read, “The Beaver State”. Really, there’s no other Transsexual Menace chapter that could possibly compete, unless there’s a chapter at a university somewhere that uses “Fighting Cocks” as its mascot (no, USC does not count, though being “game” is worth something, sure).

On the particular night I’m discussing, I was walking through Washington D.C. after a hard day’s fighting against violence and for civil rights at a national conference. I can’t even remember which one for certain – and anti-DV conference? An LGBT conference? Let’s let it go. In any case, I walked past the White House & had just crossed 17th, at which point Pennsylvania Avenue politely angled itself to point my ass to the building Trump now occupies. Right there, not two full blocks from the most elite bit of housing in the country, there were maybe twenty people camped out with sleeping bags on the sidewalk. One using a propane stove to heat up a beverage or maybe some soup looked up and upon seeing my t-shirt exclaimed,

That dude’s transsexual!

To which a next-door neighbor replied,

So what? It don’t matter. Just leave it be.*1

Whereupon the first, concerned about being misinterpreted, added,

Yeah, I know, but that dude comes out and says it! *2

In addition to being a pleasant statement on the state of cissexism in at least some communities in the US capital and a validation of Dallas Denny’s thesis that the Transsexual Menace t-shirts were a major turning point in trans/cis interactions, it struck me how such a simple statement of my perspective on the world could have the power to shock, even when absent the statement my perspective would still have been obvious.

That moment came back to me today as I read something Trump said to one of his rallies today:

Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening

Yes, I know: Trump has never hid the fact that he disbelieves reality. Yes, I know that the famous line from Duck Soup has already been used to paraphrase Trump in the past. And yet, there was power to shock in reading that he’d said exactly these words.

Of course, he won’t lose supporters over them. He probably read his audience accurately when he decided that this line would be received positively by the Veterans of Foreign Wars crowd to whom he spoke. Even so, we shouldn’t use the commitment of his followers as an excuse to let the words stand. If one can convince a majority of people that what they see for themselves isn’t true, then that person has constructed an honest-to-goodness, no hyperbole Orwellian state. We aren’t there yet, but the size and intransigence of Trump’s base, even if still a minority today, should galvanize us to fight tooth and nail.


*1: From tone of voice and context, I always interpreted this as a respectful plea to leave the issue of my transsexuality. Neither in the moment nor later did it come across as using the pronoun “it” to describe me in a dehumanizing way. As for the use of the word “dude” to describe me throughout, in that first moment I disliked it, and was about to say something. But after the second person spoke up, I decided that the best thing I could do was simply allow time and space for the first to process the sight of my shirt without any interference from me.

*2: And yes, I do remember all this perfectly verbatim. The moment was quite significant for me as I’d recently been bashed and was startled by the first statement. I paid very close attention to what followed as a way of assessing any potential danger. Fortunately, none existed. Though obviously that’s primarily down to the non-violence and respect of the people I met on that sidewalk, I credit Jessica Xavier with some small part of that: she played a huge leadership role in pro-trans* activism and education in DC in the years leading up to and following my experience.

Republicans Really Don’t Know Their Own Brand

The Tampa Bay Times does periodic surveys of people whom they consider to be important political insiders in the Sunshine State. The responses are published without names attached but with political affiliations. The responses from Republicans to the question, “how [has] President Trump … influenced the Republican Party in Florida” included some particularly interesting bits:

Anonymous Republican: For the absolute worst. As a Republican, I can say we used to be a Party of true principles. Lower taxes, less government, more personal responsibility. It was a unifying and motivating force. Trump has, nationally and sadly increasingly on the state level, made the GOP a cult of personality. There is no guiding philosophy beyond are you for or against Trump, and that is overwhelmingly sad and disgusting.

Anonymous Republican: People don’t care about facts anymore;

Anonymous Republican: He has created a mindless mass of lemmings who are willing to support anyone he deems worthy of leading the cult.

Anonymous Republican: For the worse. Much more crass and angry. Only concern is staying in power.;

Anonymous Republican: The Republican Party is now a populist, protectionist party more motivated by emotionalism, anger and fake news than logic, reason and common sense.;

and, last but most interestingly these two:

Anonymous Republican: It is not just in Florida, it is nationwide of course. His reign of terror over the GOP will be short lived hopefully as a one term President, if it is longer, the GOP as a party may never recover. Never has our party and nation been in more desperate need of bold leaders who stand for the good of the people, right now we have the opposite of that in Trump, a truly sad chapter in the history of our country.;

Anonymous Republican: It is unrecognizable from the GOP of 4 years ago. There is a coarseness and meanness that has taken over with the grassroots/base. There is a willingness to disregard policy, truth, science, experience, and nuance when it comes to policy. Current “leaders” act anything but preferring to embrace the form of a spineless coward. The current party is driving away young voters at a record pace and long term it is on a unsustainable path. BUT we always have the Democrats propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. (However, relying on the other side to screw up is poor strategy);

Is there anything more pathetic than political party insiders hiding behind anonymity while insisting that their party is in “desperate need of bold leaders”?

But this is not the only area in which Florida’s political elites demonstrate their utter lack of self-awareness. This is the party who has taken money to fight Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarettes and want the public to believe it’s more likely that the founders wanted a Howitzer in every back yard than that human caused atmospheric carbon dioxide increases affect the radiative energy balance of the planet. This party is suddenly “more motivated by emotionalism, anger and fake news than logic, reason and common sense”.

Sorry, Republicans, you made the choice to embrace emotionalism, anger & fake news and forsake logic, reason & common sense ages ago. Trump didn’t change your values. Trump simply doesn’t have the skill or desire to convincingly deny that tribalism, lies and anger are, in fact, the most salient Republican values of at least the last 25 years.