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A call to end border violence in Europe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 2:26pm in

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Refugees trying to enter Europe are encountering border patrols that turn them back with brutal violence, which rights workers say is systemic.  

It’s around midnight in the Croatian forest, and trees block out most of the moonlight. Five days ago, four men—one Palestinian and three Algerian—crossed the Bosnian border into Croatia, and they have been walking ever since. A few moments ago, they met an Iranian woman with two young children.

Suddenly four police officers appear, shouting: “On your knees, sit down, sit down!” 

The police search the men for their phones, and tell them to hand over their money. They force the men to strip, while the woman and children are separated from the near-naked men. One man, who tells this story to an NGO in November 2020, describes the police making a fire and burning the group’s jackets and backpacks, while one officer drinks whisky and throws out insults.

“He said weird words. I don’t want to repeat them. But I can tell you it was without any respect. He insulted my mother, my sister, everyone. Weird words,” he said.

This is what he claims happens next.

The officers found long branches in the woods, and used them to beat the men.

The group was eventually taken to a small lake near the Croatian-Bosnian border. Waiting for them are 13 or 14 men in balaclavas, and the man telling this story believes they are police.

“And then the fight started. The first one had to go there. ‘Get naked!’ and then they hit him. After. The second one: ‘get naked’ and then bam, bam, bam. Next one: bam, bam, bam. It was like war,” he said.

The masked men used branches, metal batons, and their fists. The mother and two children watched from a distance.

“Then they say to us: ‘now swim’. Just imagine. It was night. So dark and so cold. Then they started throwing big rocks in our direction into the water. Imagine. It was dark, the men had been drinking. What if a rock would hit my head?”

As the men get out of the water, they are forced to walk across the border, back into Bosnia. Behind them, the masked men fire their guns.

This story was recorded by the Border Violence Monitoring Network, a group monitoring human rights violations at the EU’s external borders. While this is the account of one person, it is not an isolated incident. Right across Europe, the evidence shows that refugees and migrants are being forced back across country borders. These pushbacks are not only illegal, they are often violent. 

The evidence is mounting

A new report from the End Pushbacks Partnership and non-profit project Refugee Rights Europe shows the extent of these pushbacks at both land and sea borders.

There is evidence of violence on almost every border covered in the report. In Greece, video evidence shows the coast guard shooting into the water next to boats, in Slovenia far-right militias patrol the razor-wire fence borders, and in Turkey people have been shot as they try to cross into Greece.

Violence aside, pushbacks go against everything the EU stands for. Under the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, mass expulsions are prohibited. It’s also unlawful for anyone to be pushed back to a country where there’s a serious risk that they’ll face the death penalty, torture, or any other inhuman or degrading treatment. Beyond this, EU Member States must guarantee the right to claim asylum—a right that is rooted in international refugee law.

Selma Mesic is the Greece and Balkans coordinator at Refugee Rights Europe, and she’s also part of the team behind the End Pushbacks Partnership, which has put together this report. She said it’s clear that these violent pushbacks aren’t the result of rogue officers.

“This is systematic,” she said. “It’s really hard to imagine all of this being done on a random basis.”

“Both by the number of people, but also the geographical reach of this trend, it seems entirely implausible that there are such common methodologies and tendencies happening across this many borders,” she said.

Pushbacks are happening in the thousands. The vast number, Mesic said, means it’s impossible for this to be the work of a few rogue individuals.

Violence at sea

The land and sea borders between Turkey and Greece are common routes for people making their way into the Schengen Area, where there is officially no passport control between the 26 European countries, although some countries are exercising temporary border controls.

On the Greece-Turkey sea border, like so many others in the report, evidence has been found of violence and illegal pushbacks. Much of this violence, according to the report, comes at the hands of the Hellenic (or Greek) Coast Guard.

A video published by the BBC shows this playing out in real time. As people try to enter Greek waters on a small dinghy, people on the large coast guard boat shoot into the water, push at the dinghy with a pole, and create waves, rocking the overcrowded vessel.

When asked for comment, a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hellenic Coast Guard sent an official response. 

“The officers of the Hellenic Coast Guard who are responsible for guarding the Greek and European sea and land borders have for months maximized their efforts, operating around the clock with efficiency, a high sense of responsibility, perfect professionalism, patriotism, and also with respect for everyone’s life and human rights. Their actions are carried out in full compliance with the country’s international obligations.

As for the tendentious allegations of supposed illegal actions, we must emphasize that the  operation practices of the Greek authorities have never included such actions.”

When directed to the specific BBC video evidence, the Press Officer of the Ministry for Maritime Affairs, Mr Kokkalas, responded:

“This video was reproduced in March 2020, a period during which our country received a sudden, massive, organized and coordinated pressure from population movements to its eastern land and sea borders. This situation was an active, serious, exceptional and asymmetric threat to the country’s national security.”

In March 2020, pushbacks from Greece escalated. The global Coronavirus pandemic was sending the continent into lockdown, and Turkey had just opened its border with Greece in order to put pressure on Europe. Turkey is currently host to around 3.6 million refugees; in 2016 the EU and Turkey made a deal to put an end to dangerous sea crossings —a one in, one out policy with a financial incentive for Turkey to the tune of €3 billion. They agreed that for every Syrian refugee that Turkey took back from the Greek islands, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from within Turkey. But since then, there have been a number of disputes, including Turkey’s view that the EU has not kept their side of the bargain, and has not helped to manage the crisis in Syria. Opening the border meant more pressure on a struggling Greece, and more fuel for the fire of right-wing political groups in Europe.

The Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced: “Our national security council has taken the decision to increase the level of deterrence at our borders to the maximum. As of now we will not be accepting any new asylum applications for one month.”

“Do not attempt to enter Greece illegally,” he said. “You will be turned back.”

A new trend also emerged, according to Mesic, where people are apprehended after they’ve landed on the Aegean islands, and are then pushed back.

She explains that people are put into detention, and then taken back out to sea, abandoned near Turkish waters on small life rafts designed for emergency sea rescues. The rafts have no motors, and the people are left drifting in the ocean. All this has been detailed in multiple testimonies collected by Human Rights Watch.

The people interviewed also said that Greek officers stole their belongings, including ID and money. The coast guard said they have rescued thousands of migrants.

Among the Human Rights Watch testimonies, Hassan (not his real name), a Palestinian refugee from Gaza, said this:

“The Greek Coast Guard put us in a big boat. We drove for three hours but then they put us in a small boat. It was like a raft. It was inflatable and had no motor. Like a rescue boat they keep on big boats in case there is an emergency. They left us in the sea alone. There was no food or water. They left us for two nights. We had children with us.”

Alongside reports of pushbacks, there are also heroic stories of rescue, both from the coast guard and civil society groups. Refugee Rescue, the last search and rescue boat working from the island of Lesvos, worked for five years to save the lives of people crossing the Aegean sea. But the organization said it has had to suspend its operations because a deteriorating situation means their work is no longer safe.

The perpetrators of pushbacks

At the land border, a similar story is unfolding. Mounting evidence shows that people are not only being pushed back by authorities, but that unidentified masked men are playing a role in the process.

“There’s no clear understanding of exactly who they are,” Mesic said.

“A lot of the testimonies given by victims of pushbacks, say they’re apprehended close to the river, then they’re driven on little motorboats across the river on towards the Turkish side. They tend not to speak, because, I would presume, they don’t want to betray an accent or a specific language that they’re speaking which could identify them.”

Mesic said the men wear masks and black clothing. She believes it’s a deliberate attempt to make sure they can’t be identified.

Countless claims of violence by Greek authorities have been collected by The Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN).

In one report, they speak to a Moroccan man, who said he has been pushed back to Turkey seven times. 

“If you come back to Greece, we will kill you.” These are the words he claims were levelled at him by a Greek officer, after he and his fellow travellers were picked up in Orestiada, a village near the Turkish border in July 2020.

BVMN said the group was taken to a nearby police station, where their phones were confiscated, and they were given no food or water. The next day, they were taken to another police station, where officers threw water on them, stripped them, and, according to the man’s statement, beat them with metal batons. He added that they were not given any opportunity to claim asylum.

When BVMN interviewed him a month later, the man still had bruises on his back.

Police eventually took the men to the border and forced them to look at the ground while threatening them with guns. Masked men beat anyone who dared look up.

“If you look at them, they can hit you until you die. They don’t care about this. We were so scared,” he told BVMN.

They were forced across the river, back into Turkey.

Greek police did not respond to requests for a comment.

A Europe-wide problem

The situation on the border between Greece and Turkey is just one example, and similar stories are playing out on borders between Schengen countries too. 

In France, people have been pushed back to Italy for a number of years. The 515km (320 mile) border has essentially been closed since 2015, following terror attacks in the country when a State of Emergency was declared.

However, some groups such as Anafé (National Association of Border Assistance for Foreigners) say these border controls are being used as a way to fight immigration.

“It’s not something you’d expect. They’re both EU countries. You think they’d be more aligned with their human rights and fundamental rights provisions. But clearly not, because these pushbacks are happening at a high rate,” said Selma Mesic.

The pushbacks typically happen after people are searched and arrested on trains or at train stations, and there are also claims of racial profiling. According to the End Pushbacks report, people are locked up in inhumane conditions; their personal documents are stolen and they are denied the right to claim asylum.

Unaccompanied minors are also being pushed back. Several civil society groups report that authorities often change dates of birth on forms so that children (who are entitled to specific provisions and protections) are classed as adults. In fact, in 2018, Anafé brought a major class action involving 20 cases of minors being pushed back to Italy. They won the case.

Beyond the violent pushbacks happening on European borders, is the problem of chain refoulement, where people are forced back across multiple borders. Through this practice, their lives are put in even greater danger.

On the Italian border, people are being pushed back into Slovenia, and then further along the Balkan route. They are forced into Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Serbia, where they often face inhumane conditions. People face police violence, homelessness, and destitution. Their right to seek asylum is often violated.

Mesic explains that along the Balkan route, people are apprehended, driven to the border, and handed over to the equivalent officials on the other side. Many countries, she said, are leaning on their readmissions agreements to claim that everything is being done within the law.

“It’s really easy to poke holes in that, because there are a lot of fundamental rights that are not being respected—the right to seek asylum, the right to have an interpreter or to receive information about your rights. Some of these rights are actually covered by readmissions agreements, but they’re not really practised,” she said.

Raising the alarm

The groups behind this report are calling for urgent action. Together, they’ve set out a list of EU advocacy demands.

“We need effective access to asylum registration on both the EU external and internal borders, and to make sure that the safeguards and the right to asylum are upheld, because with the pushbacks happening, the right to asylum is gravely undermined,” Mesic said.

The group also wants to see an end to illegal detention practices, to end racial profiling, and to see a respect for the Schengen border code. They also want assurances that agencies, particularly European border and coast guard agency FRONTEX, are being held to account. They want to know that this work is carried out in line with the EU’s human rights obligations.

“The European Commission must hold member states to account,” Mesic said.

She said that all the rules and guidelines are already in place, but that there don’t seem to be any consequences when they are broken. The Schengen border code and the EU charter should provide the right protections, but the rules, based on the evidence, are not being respected.

The post A call to end border violence in Europe appeared first on The Conversationalist.

The predictable terror of Trump’s rise and fall

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 3:05pm in

Under Trump, the presidency revealed itself, perhaps like no time before, to be a veritable monarchy. 

The January 6 sack of the U.S. Capitol by far-right extremists, egged on by President Trump and his refusal to acknowledge defeat at the November presidential elections, is among the darkest days in modern American history. For scholars of authoritarianism, however, and especially those of us with lived experiences with such regimes, there is little surprise at what transpired. Instead, it is a kind of informed terror.

In my case, it is the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the rise of the genocidaire Slobodan Milosevic that has informed my perspective on Trump’s rise and the chaos of his fall. I was a young child when my family was forced to flee Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, in April 1992. But the onset of nationalist aggression against Bosnia, orchestrated by Milosevic’s then regime in Belgrade, was not sudden. It had been carefully prepared, organized, and regimented. So, too, the ensuing genocide in Bosnia: it involved bureaucrats, paperwork, pay stubs, and complex logistics.

My parents and their peers watched much of the Yugoslav dissolution crisis play out on their TV screens—mostly in disbelief. Yugoslavia was a one-party, authoritarian regime, but it was widely considered the most “liberal” communist polity in Europe. It had a large, relatively prosperous middle class; Western commodities were widely available, as were Western media and entertainment. Yugoslavs traveled freely to both the First and Second World. And in cosmopolitan Sarajevo, the center of multiethnic Bosnia, a litany of punk and rock bands, literary circles, and youth groups agitated for social and democratic change.

Understandably, then, when Milosevic first appeared on the radar of Yugoslavia’s educated middle class, he was seen as a deeply ridiculous figure. A dour communist apparatchik, his affect was transparently false. He spoke in an overwrought, airy way, his head perennially tilted upwards, capped by a crown-line pompadour.

But my parents and their peers were wrong. Milosevic’s appeal to the supposedly beleaguered ethnic Serbs of Kosovo, Yugoslavia’s poorest region, struck a note with many, especially in Serbia. He and his tight-knit circle of political operatives promptly outmaneuvered the sclerotic communist party apparatus in Belgrade. They quickly seized control of the country’s state media, while simultaneously ingratiating themselves with the hardline authoritarian leadership of the Yugoslav military.

And on the streets, Milosevic whipped up mobs of Serb nationalists with sinister speeches that alluded—with no evidence—to a brewing conspiracy to exterminate the Serb nation. Directing the crowds against other members of the communist regime, Milosevic toppled the governments of Vojvodina, Kosovo, and Montenegro, to seize the Yugoslav collective presidency and install himself as the country’s supreme leader. He called this ploy the “anti-bureaucratic revolution”; it lacked mass support as such, but it was ferociously supported by a hardcore base of Serb nationalist radicals and extremists.

Within the span of three years, between 1987 and 1990, Milosevic emerged as the most influential and powerful figure in Yugoslavia, a complex, multiethnic federation. His adept use of Serb nationalist grievance politics was successful but only for a moment. By 1990, the leadership in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia realized that Milosevic was on the cusp of a total takeover, and that he would impose his sectarian-authoritarian rule with an iron fist.

When a last-ditch effort at curtailing his rise failed at the 14th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in January 1990, the country began to fragment. There were no more institutional avenues left to check him and so, one by one, the remaining republics held multiparty elections, and then promptly sought to exit the federal state.

Milosevic’s pursuit of one-man rule failed but it also killed the Yugoslav federation. With the union dissolving, Milosevic used the massive Yugoslav military, and an assortment of ultra-nationalist and criminal paramilitaries, to attempt to carve out of Croatia and Bosnia chunks of territory to append to a new “Greater Serbia”. This necessarily involved the systematic killing, torture, rape, and expulsion of tens of thousands. Bosnia became the site of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II. The Bosnian War and genocide resulted in the deaths of nearly 100,000 people in less than four years.

As a result of these experiences, former Yugoslav and Bosnian scholars and writers were among the first  to warn, from the earliest days of Trump’s candidacy, that his political program was a threat to American constitutional government; that American institutions and politicians would struggle to contain his sustained assault on the rule of law; that his administration was a mortal threat to black, brown, and immigrant communities; and that he would help unleash a din of sectarian violence that would tear at the fabric of the republic.

Every subsequent week confirmed the accuracy of our predications. Privately, many of us spoke about what our “red lines” were: when was it time to try to leave the country? What was the point of no return? Flashes of Yugoslavia’s dissolution, the early days of the war in Bosnia, filled our sleepless nights.

The imposition of Executive Order 13769—the Muslim ban—in January 2017 immediately set off alarm bells for all of us. The sustained civil society push-back gave us hope, but the failure of the courts to roll back a transparently discriminatory policy gutted those prospects. Then came a flurry of scandals and horrors: family separation, the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, impeachment.

Trump kept pushing, and America’s famed system of “checks and balances” kept buckling. The presidency revealed itself, perhaps like no time before, to be a veritable monarchy. Seemingly no outrage, no violation was severe enough to warrant a meaningful sanction from the Republican Party, or Trump’s electoral base.

During last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests, when federal forces were called in by the President and used to violently clear Washington, D.C.’s streets of peaceful protesters, and military helicopters ominously hung over the few remaining crowds, I drove to a nearby ATM. I took out several thousand dollars in cash, went home, and took out all my family’s passports. I told my wife that we should seriously talk about leaving. She did not disagree, but we wondered where to go. Perhaps to Vancouver, Canada to stay with my folks, I said—or perhaps back to Sarajevo.

We did not leave. But we began recording videos for our young daughters about this moment in American history. About how we rationalized our decision to stay, and to use whatever resources we had, whatever platforms we could tap into to protect and shore up the American republic, and those most vulnerable in it.

The United States is not Yugoslavia. But it also not an unassailable bastion of good governance. It has its own long, dark histories of sectarian violence and authoritarianism. The collapse of the Jim Crow South is a recent historical event, and the struggle between white supremacy and racial equality still, indelibly, shapes contemporary American politics. America is not uniquely resistant to the threat of illiberalism or civil strife, and despite Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ electoral triumph, Donald Trump remains a significant danger to the republic.

It is imperative that once he is removed from office, all levels of American government and civil society initiate a sustained campaign to restore the American republic. Major social and financial investments must be made in renewing civic trust, rolling back disinformation and spreading media literacy, promoting the study of civics and governance, and aggressively dismantling and prosecuting domestic far right and white supremacist cells.

Above all, this moment cannot be forgotten. The page cannot be turned on this period before there is a genuine national reckoning, a true commitment to truth and reconciliation, and an accounting for how Donald Trump, a vulgar, semi-literate demagogue, was able to bring the American constitutional regime to its breaking point in four years—and why so many were, and continue to be, willing to aid him in this pursuit. America’s future depends on confronting, rather than forgetting his tenure.

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‘A spiritual battle for hearts and souls’: white evangelicals grapple with post-Trump America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/12/2020 - 6:24am in

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A Washington, D.C. rally held by pro Trump evangelicals revealed the fascism in their worldview.

Prominent right-wing Christians organized a prayer rally and an affiliated “Jericho March” in Washington, D.C. last Saturday. The ceremonial act, which also took place in a number of state capitals across the U.S., was meant to echo the Biblical story about the Israelites bringing down the walls of Jericho by circling it while blowing trumpets; in its modern iteration, evangelical Trump supporters walked seven times around various government buildings while praying to “bring down the walls of voter fraud” and undo the presidential election results. Although there is no evidence of widespread election irregularities, and the Trump administration’s frivolous lawsuits have been shut down—most recently by the Supreme Court—the rally-goers and marchers believed they were engaging in an act of spiritual warfare that would “reveal” the election had been stolen and prevent Joe Biden from taking office. Michele Bachmann, former Congresswoman from Minnesota and a notorious evangelical conspiracy theorist, said in a video posted on Facebook that this was “a Hebrews 11 moment,” referring to what Christians sometimes call the Bible’s “Faith Chapter,” which recounts the righteous deeds of Biblical heroes.

Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow and a prominent Trump supporter, addressed the D.C. rally, while several other speakers peppered their talks with plugs for his company. The headliner was Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, who was compromised by Russia while in office and whom the president recently pardoned after he was convicted of lying to the FBI. At the rally in Washington, Flynn, who recently called for “limited martial law” to impose a new election, said: “We’re in a spiritual battle for the heart and soul of this country.” And, as might be expected for an event based around the invocation of a trope from what Christians call the Old Testament, the D.C. rally featured shofar blowing and “a prophetic word” from Curt Landry, a so-called “Messianic Jew”—i.e., a Jewish convert to Christianity.

Evangelicals have deservedly received negative press for their efforts to convert Jews; indeed, America’s Christian nationalism goes hand-in-hand with an appropriative Christian Zionism that has profoundly influenced Trump’s foreign policy, not least in his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mike Pence invited a Messianic “rabbi” to a 2018 campaign rally to mourn the then recent shooting deaths at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue; this was a stunningly tone-deaf insult not only because Jews don’t recognize Christian “rabbis,” but also because most evangelicals subscribe to the belief that Jews who do not convert to Christianity are damned to hell.

The philo-Semitism of Christian nationalism is never very far from anti-Semitism. This is neatly illustrated by the fact that the emcee of the D.C. rally, evangelical radio host Eric Metaxas, recently released a racist, conspiracy-mongering “parody” music video about alleged election stealing that depicts four Jewish men—Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, Jerry Nadler, and Chuck Schumer—as puppet masters manipulating Biden’s “strings.”

Once a writer for the relatively innocuous evangelical cartoon series “Veggie Tales,” Metaxas has more recently made headlines for writing fascist children’s books like Donald Builds the Wall, and for sucker-punching a protester after a Republican National Convention event. At the opening of Saturday’s rally, he “joked” about someone in the audience taking out a bazooka and shooting down a media helicopter. Metaxas clearly embodies the values and desires of most white evangelicals, but his recent behavior has alienated right-wing Christians invested in respectability. Phil Vischer, the creator of “Veggie Tales,” has rejected Metaxas’s brand of culture warring. And  Rod Dreher, the reactionary editor of The American Conservative and a convert to Orthodox Christianity, referred to Metaxas’s extreme rhetoric in a recent interview with Charlie Kirk—for example, Metaxas said that calls to concede that Biden won the election are “the voice of the Devil”—as “hysterical.”

Since Saturday’s bizarre spectacle in D.C., some of the more prominent “respectable evangelicals” have been trying to distance themselves from both Metaxas and the charismatic excesses of Trump’s most enthusiastic Christian supporters, who are holding out for a “miracle” that will somehow overturn the 2020 presidential election.

For example, Southern Baptist author Beth Moore tweeted that Trumpist Christian nationalism is “not of God.” Similarly, conservative commentator David French called Christian Trumpism “idolatry” and Metaxas’s rhetoric “a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence.” Of the Jericho marchers, he wrote: “They believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation.” French added that far from “holding their nose” to vote for Trump, his evangelical base was “deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success.”

I am glad that French has called out this dangerous language and dehumanizing rhetoric, which he correctly identifies as a common precursor to physical violence. But when he writes, “A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic,” I can’t help but focus on that little word “now.” The abusive, authoritarian nature of right-wing Christianity is not new.

How do I know? I could point you to reams of well-sourced writing by myself and others on the topic, but what I want to say here is that my most visceral and primary knowledge comes from the simple fact that I grew up in the trenches of the culture wars that men like David French and Michael Gerson, who also recently criticized Metaxas, helped to build and further. From the time I was five or six years old, I remember the churches my family attended, as well as my Christian school, drilling into our heads at every opportunity that abortion was “murder,” a “literal Holocaust,” and that we needed to do everything we could to stop the “baby-killing” Democrats. I remember being taught through the 1980s and 90s to see our society and current events not just in starkly black and white terms, but as reflections of “spiritual” warfare being fought by the forces of God and the forces of Satan through human agents.

And the God and country Christian nationalism of my childhood was hardly subtle. One of my elementary school’s walls was emblazoned with Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” and our talent shows ended with an audience sing-along of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

Fascism backed by Christians does not emerge ex nihilo. And in our current case, it did not emerge without significant contributions from men like Gerson and French (and women like Moore), along with other “respectable” evangelicals. And until they are willing to take accountability for that, and to discuss explicitly how they might have to examine their theology and rethink its authoritarian components in order to avoid enabling the worst of Christian nationalism in the future, they should not be heralded as heroic for reaching the low bar of opposing violence based on obviously false conspiracy theories.

Religion journalists and political pundits are still far too favorable toward the idea that there is a meaningful rather than superficial ideological gap between “respectable” evangelicals and the types that showed up at the Jericho March.  Remember the reaction to the December 2019 op-ed by Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today? Titled “Trump Should Be Removed from Office,” it stirred up a storm of reaction and was covered by legacy media platforms as evidence of a schism within Trump’s evangelical base. For journalists, the temptation to see greater diversity of views within the right-wing, mostly white evangelical establishment than is actually present there can be difficult to avoid. Given the extent to which Christian hegemony influences our society, criticizing the beliefs of any large Christian demographic is still largely taboo. But the truth is that white evangelical subculture, in both its “respectable” and its rabidly pro-Trump varieties, is thoroughly authoritarian; the divisions in play here are much less significant than they may seem.

The real story about respectable evangelicals is that they still want to have their cake and eat it too. They reject loudly the never-say-die Trumpist Christianity that Metaxas has embraced, but they have failed to acknowledge their complicity in the current conservative Christian circus—or to examine the authoritarian nature of their own theology. We should not let them get away with such “cheap grace” by applauding them for enabling the worst of Christian nationalism, only to then shrink from the monster of their own creation. Nor should we read into the current divisions between evangelicals the seeds of any forthcoming substantive internal reform, given that authoritarian evangelical subculture is impervious to any such possibility.

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‘Potential Histories: Unlearning Imperialism’: a review of Ariella Azoulay’s new book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/12/2020 - 6:33pm in

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To break down the structures of racism and oppression, start with an act of radical solidarity: listening. 

A memorial gathering for David Graeber, the activist-anarchist and anthropologist who died unexpectedly in September, was held on October 11 in Berlin. The invitation described it as part of an intergalactic memorial carnival. In memory of Graeber’s activism, the masked attendees shouted “off with their heads!” while gleefully popping balloon heads of Trump, Erdoğan and Bolsonaro, who represented “kings to topple”.

They also chanted against patriarchyimperialism and racism in the direction of the nearby Humboldt Forum, a controversial project to repurpose the former Prussian Berlin Palace as a museum for ethnographical collections from Africa, Asia and the Americas. Opponents of the project say it perpetuates Germany’s legacy of colonialism with a collection of stolen objects housed in a building that symbolizes European imperialism.

In Potential Histories: Unlearning Imperialism, Ariella Azoulay, an artist, critical theorist and Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Comparative Literature at Brown University, describes the institutionalization of these “kings”, or the manifestations of political, social and economic control through physical violence and cultural erasure, as part of an interconnected system of imperial oppression stretching back to 1492. She proposes the urgent, imaginative task of unlearning these structures.

In many ways, this aim to rethink imperial societal structures is present in the global wave of demonstrations inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests that started in the United States last spring, sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black American, by a white Minneapolis police officer. Black Lives Matter protests have been ongoing since the 2013 founding of the group after the killing of Trayvon Martin. The recent protests, which also build on the decolonial and antiracist efforts against institutions and monuments by groups such as Decolonize This PlaceMuseum Detox and the Monument Removal Brigade, have triggered a renewed debate on the imperial legacies of Western Europe and the United States, especially the perpetuation of these histories via the institutionalization of material culture.

In June, the King of Belgium responded to a mass Black Lives Matter protest in Brussels by apologizing for his country’s brutal colonial history in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Activists emphasized that this apology was informal, lacked concrete political action and came sixty years too late. In the United States, Black Lives Matter protesters in Washington, D.C. toppled a statue of Confederate general Albert Pike after Juneteenth rallies. In September, Congolese activist Mwazulu Diyabanza staged a widely-reported protest with his attempt to take back a nineteenth century African funeral pole that was on exhibition at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. In October, London police arrested eighteen-year-old Benjamin Clark for tagging a statue of Winston Churchill with “racist”.

Diyabanza, the Congolese activist, is part of the pan-African Les Marrons Unis Dignes et Courageux, which has enacted similar actions in the Netherlands and southern France. For the Quai Branly intervention in June, he worked with other activists to live-stream the event; in the video he calls for the French government to stop collecting stolen colonial objects. But the judge who presided over his case stated that it should focus only on the specific funerary pole and not the broader context of ongoing colonial reparation efforts. Diyabanza argued that the museum action should not be considered a crime because, “We get our legitimacy from the perpetual idea of trying to recover our heritage and giving our people access to it.”

In Potential Histories Azoulay stresses this idea of legitimacy in which stolen material culture is often used to prop up state, colonial and imperial actors as a basic premise that underlines the (fraudulent) idea of History. While she draws on her scholarship and activism in Israel and Palestine and research on slavery in the United States, Azoulay’s aims to illustrate the international embeddedness of such imperial and colonial structures.

Azoulay’s ongoing critical photographic theory research plays an important role in unpacking this History. She suggests that the “shutter” of photography, which dates back to the late nineteenth century, was a technology that aided imperial conquest. The shutter “acts like a verdict” in that it initiates a linear before and after and results in a document narrating a specific historical vision—i.e., the vision of the (colonial) photographer and the ruling institution that he represents. She describes the use of photography as a means of recording the attempted erasure of native cultures, which were and are territorially separated and ruled. The photograph is a format in which these results were used to create linear historical knowledge, such as how the creation of new borders renders some “undocumented” or “illegal aliens” and some “citizens.” This is upheld by institutions ranging from museums, universities and archives to contemporary formations of nation-based sovereignty and governance.

 

From Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s exhibition “Errata” at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona.

Azoulay posits that the use of this violent photographic shutter stretches back to 1492, a moment of imperial Spanish colonization of the Americas, the start of the international global slave trade to make this possible and the obliteration of Judeo-Muslim culture through Inquisition decrees. This history also includes the devastation of the Caribbean’s indigenous Taíno people’s politics and culture in 1514; the ruination of the nonfeudal cocitizenship system of the Igabo people in West Africa; the 1872 Crémiuex decree that gave French citizenship to Jewish Algerians but withheld it from Muslims, a divide-and-conquer strategy with ramifications that are felt to this day; and the ongoing ravaging of Palestinian politics and culture since the early 1900s. In this connected schema of colonial destruction and erasure paired with institutionalization and documentation, the concept of history is premised on the ideas of discovery and progress. Each colonial regime “discovered” new artworks and exhibited them in new museums; they documented dispossessed people with the new label of “refugees” and imposed new cultural practices and political institutions premised on the undoing of previous indigenous norms and knowledge.

Potential history is positioned as a means of addressing these historical damages by imaginatively reactivating the memories and potentialities shut off by the imperialist photograph and its material positioning. Azoulay describes “rehearsal methods” for how we can question and begin to undo these structures. One strategy is the act of revising imperial photos through annotation, including notes, comments and modified captions that challenge the histories they describe. When these interventions are rejected by the archives that own the legal rights to the photos, Azoulay redraws the photographs herself.

Another rehearsal method is the idea of striking, found in short chapters that imagine museum workers, photographers and historians going on strike. The idea of striking until our world is repaired means saying no to the relentless new of history. It does not aim to substitute an alternative history or fill museums with new objects, but rather to reject their logic and promote its active unlearning. Azoulay underlines these and other rehearsals as modes of practicing new forms of co-citizenry and solidarity based on critical looking. “Unlearning imperialism,” she writes, “means aspiring to be there for and with others targeted by imperial violence, in such a way that nothing about the operation of the shutter can ever again appear neutral.”

“Being there” is a moment of radical solidarity in which one aspires to listen to those affected by such violence and question the flow of history that imperial institutions strive to promote as casual and natural. This includes recognizing the role of looted objects and their role in building imperial ideas, but also reclaiming them as means to enact other modes of being, such as thinking of them not as protected “art” but as part of people’s real material worlds.

Azoulay also listens to new melodies that arise from such sites of imperial documentation. She recounts the story of her own Algerian father moving to Israel as a child and trying to forget his native Arabic—because in Israel, the European elite actively condemned its use and promoted Hebrew. She first learned that her grandmother’s name was the Arabic Aïsha, the name of the Prophet Mohamed’s third wife, when she saw her father’s birth certificate after he died. Plucked from this imperial document, the name was a “treasure” in her Hebrew-speaking, Jewish-Israeli family; she sought to use it as a site of imagination by adopting it as her own—in addition to her Hebrew name, Ariella. Azoulay speaks of Aïsha as a haunting scream: Aïsha, Aïsha, Aïeeeeeeee-shaaaaaaaa.

Azoulay further demonstrates photographs and documents as dual sites of violence and resistance with images taken by the Civil War photographer Timothy O’Sullivan in 1862. One of his iconic images shows eight Black people standing stiffly near a large house persistently labeled as the “J.J. Smith Plantation.” These words make it clear that the people in the photograph are racialized property. She describes how this violence is repeated in historical archives, in which photographs of Black people taken before and after the Civil War are interchangeably captioned as depicting slaves; she proposes the imagining of a “dismissed exposure,” or ghostly negative of a forgotten image reinserted into the frame. The original image becomes blurred and surreal as it competes with sculptures from the MoMA floating in the background. Since there are no images on display in U.S. museums of Black Americans reunited with objects stolen from them, the dismissed exposure serves as an imaginative placeholder in the photographic archive. It waits for different worlds and meanings.

 

Potential history dwells in such creative exercises. It resists simplistic ideas of financial restitution for destroyed cultures or the mere substitution of one history for another. Instead, it advocates persistent unlearning of how the world is taught, represented and constructed; solidarity in resisting these demands; listening to those affected; and, above all, imagining. Azoulay’s book is a long (over 670 pages) and challenging read. It brings up the question of who has the resources to read it; while its ideas are currently being filtered through museum exhibitions such as the traveling Errata, the question remains as to how this work can reach a wider and more diverse audience. If you do manage to find a copy, perhaps try following one of the more whimsical moments of the book: dip in as you please, conceiving of no beginning or end, but rather of moments that shine in “a bright, brief and sudden light” against the “dazzling” beam of imperialism.

After all of the “kings” had been “beheaded” at the intergalactic memorial carnival in Berlin, we passed around a hat, on which was written things we wanted to cherish and save. “It’s more about the spirit of hope than destruction,” laughed a person in a wooden demon mask.

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Why do so many evangelicals continue to deny that Biden won the election?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/11/2020 - 4:49am in

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Part of the Trump campaign’s strategy was to feed into the Christian right’s martyr complex. 

When it comes to the religious vote in America’s 2020 presidential election, some clearly biased commentators are trying to spin cherry-picked exit poll data into a tale about white evangelical defectors helping former Vice President Joe Biden win. But it was Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank who got it right when he summarized the Trump 2020 phenomenon as largely about white evangelical Christians who “were fired up like no other group by Trump’s encouragement of white supremacy”—versus “everybody else.”

As evidence of his claim, Milbank cites exit poll data that shows white evangelicals, who represent about 15 percent of the U.S. population, comprise about a quarter of the electorate overall—and a full 40 percent of Trump voters. To be sure, majorities of all white Christian demographics voted Trump in 2020 as in 2016; in addition, a very small percentage of Black Christians, and a larger minority of Latinx Christians voted for Trump this year. White evangelicals, however, remain far and away America’s most solidly pro-Trump demographic, and they turned out in droves to support him. And to say that Trump’s white evangelical base is not taking the news of his election loss well would be quite the understatement.

Despite some high-profile Republican leaders and “respectable evangelicals” like Michael Gerson chiding them for a “failure of character,” many of these evangelical Trump supporters have refused, for weeks, to recognize that the election is over. In doing so, they are literally demonizing Democrats and playing up the same old wild persecution fantasies that have long since animated this authoritarian demographic.

On the notoriously reactionary 700 Club, the flagship Christian Broadcasting Network program, 90-year-old host Pat Robertson asserted, “It isn’t over yet,” and called on his audience to pray to overturn the election. “In the name of Jesus, I bind the spirit of delusion that has come over this land,” Robertson prayed, adding, “We will not surrender our nation, we will not give up this great country, and Satan, you cannot have it, in the name of Jesus.” Satan, he suggested, “wants to turn this nation over to socialism.” Robertson declared: “I still think Trump’s ultimately going to win.”

Those who grew up being taught that reality is shaped by “spiritual warfare” will instantly recognize Robertson’s language of “binding demons.” When applied to politics, such thinking is clearly incompatible with democracy. It has also been on prominent display throughout Trump’s presidency in the figure of his spiritual advisor, Paula White, who has also publicly prayed against the “demonic” forces supposedly trying to “hijack the will of God” for the election.

The prominence of neo-Pentecostal and charismatic Christians like White has been building within evangelicalism for decades, as conservative, mostly white evangelical subculture has become, along with the G.O.P., increasingly authoritarian. And it’s not just older evangelicals. While many young people leave evangelicalism, those who opt to stay in the faith even as it has careened into virulent extremism are, if anything, even more hardline than their parents.

Christians like White, Robertson, and their followers are invested in the “prophecies” that many of them have made over the last few years holding that Trump has been “chosen” to pursue God’s will for the United States. Elite celebrity preachers like White and Robertson might be cynically cashing in on the anxieties of rank-and-file believers, but there is no doubt that many evangelicals truly fear a Biden administration will “persecute” them.

According to political scientist Ryan Burge, evangelicals have a “martyr complex.” During the election cycle the Trump campaign explicitly played into this, with Trump casting Biden, a devout Catholic who has vowed to protect both religious freedom and LGBTQ rights, as anti-religious. “Essentially they’re against God if you look at what they’re doing with religion,” Trump said, while his son Eric claimed of his father:

He’s literally saved Christianity. I mean, there’s a full-out war on faith in this country by the other side. The Democratic Party, the far left, has become the party of the atheists, and they want to attack Christianity, they want to close churches. They’re totally fine keeping liquor stores open, but they want to close churches all over the country.

The fantastical message that Christianity is “under attack” matches what evangelicals themselves believe and want to hear. For the majority of them, the definition of “religious freedom” is the power to discriminate against members of other religions and to impose their narrow interpretation of Christianity on those who do not share it, using the coercive force of law. They regard having to coexist with LGBTQ people and provide us with equal accommodation in the public square as “persecution.”

Meanwhile, conspiracy-minded evangelicals frequently indulge in even darker fantasies, imagining their religious practice could actually be banned and that they could be arrested or even executed for practicing their faith by, for example, refusing to solemnize a same-sex marriage. Of course, these scenarios are about as likely to play out in America as a blanket ban on the consumption of apple pie.

Meanwhile, Eric Trump’s false claim that Democrats “want to close churches” is being widely circulated on Twitter. This is a bad faith and deliberately dishonest interpretation of America’s patchwork of county, municipal, and state-level public health requirements limiting the size of social gatherings, often including church services, which have been linked to numerous incidents of mass infection. Along with their reckless insistence that church services should continue as usual—sometimes in the form of lawsuits—prominent evangelicals have turned sensible mask requirements into fodder for the culture wars, using rhetoric that paints them as victims of a supposedly anti-Christian government. Some conservative Christians, including Kanye West, even claim to believe that the coronavirus vaccine, when it becomes available, will confer “the Mark of the Beast” on those who receive it as the Antichrist rises to power.

This reality-averse majoritarian self-victimization is a hallmark of fascism; it will not, unfortunately, simply disappear when President-elect Biden takes office. A dangerous right-wing politics of grievance will continue to shape American political life so long as conservative Christians continue to hold outsize influence and disproportionate power, a situation that is facilitated by the undemocratic Electoral College and equal representation of all states in the Senate, regardless of their population.

As I write this, Trump-supporting evangelicals continue to deny that Biden won the election and to insist that they will never accept the Democratic leader as president. They are also railing against C.D.C. advice that people refrain from attending large Thanksgiving gathering this year because they are likely to further exacerbate the already spiking spread of COVID-19 infections.

On prosperity gospel televangelist Kenneth Copeland’s Victory Channel, for example, evangelist Mario Murillo declared, “I will never believe that Joe Biden is the president of the United States.” Invoking the language of spiritual warfare, Murillo called on Christians to “rebuke” the election results and described the role of the church in current events as “supernatural.”

“Our role is to command the strongholds to come down,” Murillo exclaimed, referring to the charismatic Christian notion that demonic “principalities and powers” can be defeated through prayer.

As Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” When far-right Christians like Murillo tell us they will never accept Biden (or, frankly, any Democrat) as the legitimate president of the United States, proponents of democracy need to believe them. People who think their political opponents are literally demonic, and who continue to incite irrational fears of persecution—even as the federal courts, which Trump stacked with right-wing authoritarians, continues to deliver for their culture wars agenda—are not people who can be reasoned or compromised with. Nothing short of total control will ever be enough for them.

How do we deal with that stark reality? It is important to maintain the pressure, no matter the odds of success, for democratic reforms that would limit the power of white evangelicals and other authoritarians. This means pushing for the abolition of the Electoral College; for adding seats to the Supreme Court as a means of restoring fairness after the G.O.P.’s recent power grab; and admitting DC and Puerto Rico as states.

We must also maintain high public awareness of Christian nationalist extremism. Over time, a more realistic national conversation about white churches and Christian nationalism should contribute to the political delegitimization of Christian extremists in the eyes of the public, thus opening up new political possibilities for the future.

Biden, unfortunately, has called for a clearly impossible unity, which means that his administration is unlikely to lead the way here. Still, it seems he is willing to exercise power in the pursuit of justice; that, at least, will help fend off the theocratic threat for the time being.

 

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Thanksgiving elegy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 3:47pm in

There’s nothing like a contested election amid a pandemic to make you realize that we are all tied together.

Just weeks after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, my extended family got together to eat our feelings. Nothing about that Thanksgiving felt normal, but we went through the motions and tried to stay positive. Twenty-five of us got together at my dad’s cousin Nancy’s place in Long Island as we always do. We gorged ourselves on turkey and pumpkin pie. We hugged and laughed and drank pinot noir. We watched football. Like many liberals, we grasped for explanations behind the political shift in the Rust Belt, a shift that the polls had failed to capture. I remember how Nancy’s dining room transformed into an impromptu book club meeting for J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy, which most of us happened to be reading because we all desperately wanted to understand “the other side.” 

Vance’s book, which was published in the summer of 2016, described how an ongoing lack of economic opportunity, coupled with social isolation, has excluded huge swaths of the heartland from the American Dream. It is those “forgotten” men and women—mostly white, working-class and without a college education—who helped lead Trump to victory; at least that was the media’s dominant narrative. An escapee from a blighted town in Ohio who miraculously graduated from Yale Law School, Vance became an unlikely poster child for rural America following Trump’s shocking upset, appearing on cable news to translate his “base” for the rest of the country. Looking back, I can see that Vance’s inspiring personal history was palatable at that moment because it offered an excuse for our racist relatives. They weren’t upholding white supremacy, they were just “economically anxious.” 

Four years later, we understand everything we need to know about the other side. We’ve seen how in addition to the racial resentment, misogyny and xenophobia, Trump gave his followers permission to embrace an ethos of toxic individualism, elevating the notion of “personal choice” above community accountability. As a result, Thanksgiving 2020 is shaking up to be a referendum on exactly how divided—yet simultaneously connected—we are as a nation. While my immediate family hides in our home and rarely interacts with other people, Trump’s base, whether we’re talking about his supporters in the Senate or people attending rallies and protests, appear largely maskless and in packed crowds. A Stanford University study found that Trump rallies led to an estimated 30,000 infections and 700 deaths thus far; the recent “Million MAGA March” protest of Joe Biden’s victory in Washington, D.C. is bound to add to that tally. 

There’s nothing like a contested election amid a pandemic to make you realize that we are all tied together, red and blue, “in a single garment of destiny,” as Martin Luther King Jr. said. Those who flout C.D.C. guidelines out of “personal choice” may indirectly affect those who follow those guidelines to the letter. We need look no further than a rural town in Maine, where a 55-person wedding wound up infecting half the guests and killing seven people who weren’t even invited. 

For my family, this is personal. My husband almost died in March, after contracting a nasty case of COVID-19 on a business trip at a time that the Trump administration was telling us there was absolutely nothing to worry about. After struggling with the lack of testing facilities, I lived through the hell that is not knowing whether my husband would ever come off a ventilator. But one need not have gone through what we did to look at the charts tracking infection rates over the past week and feel a nauseating sense of déjà vu. 

Just in time for the holidays, coronavirus infection rates are soaring in a “third wave”–though, to be fair, the first never really ended–tearing through flyover country and boomeranging back to cities. New restrictions loom on the horizon: more school closures, limits on private gatherings, curfews, another round of lockdowns. Congregating indoors in a spirit of conviviality is akin to aiming “a loaded pistol at grandma’s head,” as Colorado governor Jared Polis described it. Dr. Anthony Fauci said in October that his three children will not be coming home this year for Thanksgiving “because of their concern for me and my age,” which makes sense. Yet as our soon-to-be-former president continues to reject health recommendations and deny reality—about the pandemic, about his defeat in the election, and everything in between—nearly 40 percent of Americans say they are still planning to travel home for a Thanksgiving dinner consisting of 10 or more people.

Not my family. For us, and everyone I know who takes this virus seriously, Thanksgiving this year is most definitely cancelled. My parents are isolating in Florida, and my sister is in Berlin. My mother-in-law is in Arizona, where she may host an outdoor dinner with my brother-in-law’s family, if the weather cooperates. My dad’s cousin Nancy, who together with her husband Steve has hosted our Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember, is giving herself a well-deserved break this year. 

Yet, for many people who continue to believe the COVID-19 threat is overblown, that we are “rounding the turn,” as the outgoing president repeatedly has stated, the holiday is shaping up to be a vast constellation of simultaneous superspreader events. By Christmas, we will start to see the horrifying results of these ill-conceived choices advocated by Trump allies, many of whom are based in flyover country, where the outbreaks are already straining our healthcare system. 

Just look at Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, who tweeted, “Don’t cancel Thanksgiving. Don’t cancel Christmas. Cancel lockdowns,” despite the fact that hospitals in his state are rapidly running out of beds. The Trump administration’s coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas said on Fox News this week that isolation, not the coronavirus, is the biggest threat facing the elderly. He went so far as to urge people to visit their relatives this holiday season, in direct contradiction to every infectious disease specialist’s recommendations. “For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving,” Dr. Atlas said, not realizing that his criminally negligent advice will make that a reality.  

We should bear in mind that it was a plague that wound up bringing the Pilgrims and Indians together at that first Thanksgiving in 1621. Not so much out of friendship or cultural harmony, but out of a desire on the part of the Wampoanoag tribe to avoid annihilation. An infectious disease, likely leptospirosis, is estimated to have killed between 75 and 90 percent of Massachussetts Bay Indians between 1616 and 1619, leading to the decision to make a mutual-defense pact with the nearby Pilgrims, a decision that was followed by exploitation and carnage in subsequent years. The holiday we celebrate today to commemorate a whitewashed history of that first Thanksgiving was designated by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to bring the country together amid the horrors of the Civil War. It often feels we are as divided now as we were then. 

A schmaltzy-looking film adaptation of “Hillbilly Elegy” is set to debut on Netflix next week, but I won’t be watching it. This holiday season, instead of making excuses for the “other side,” I propose that we reject the myths of the salt-of-the-earth “economically anxious” men and women in America’s heartland just as our views about the myth of Thanksgiving have evolved. My family members are no longer wringing their hands about how to find bridges of communication with Trump supporters, how to reason with them and understand their perspective. I’ve unfriended people who voted for him. Family members who continue to support him are, much like Thanksgiving this year, cancelled. 

I understand the temptation to aim for a shred of normalcy in these tortured times. It’s getting cold. We’ve been in lockdown for nine months and we finally have many positive things to look forward to. We are witnessing the sputtering end of the disastrous Trump era and the dawn of a new administration that believes in science, accountability and racial justice. An administration that doesn’t think the press is “the enemy of the people.” A promising vaccine is on the horizon and may be distributed within a few months. 

We can celebrate all that next year. For now, let’s reject toxic individualism and the real enemy of the people: misinformation. Let’s work to honor the heroism of healthcare workers and enable the survival of our communities. Let’s just not die. 

 

 

 

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How to survive Trumpism and even laugh

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/11/2020 - 10:43am in

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Four years of Trump will leave some bruises, but we can own them.

The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship comes when the victim tries to leave. If you recognize President Donald Trump’s relationship with American democracy as an abusive one—and the comparison to domestic abuse is certainly popular—then you can imagine how destructive the two-month transition period to a Biden presidency is going to be.

Every abuser has enablers. In Trump’s case, they are powerful Republicans using his lame duck period for their own selfish gains: these include Mike Pompeo, who is clearly eyeing a 2024 run, and is courting Trump’s base with little “jokes” about “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration” even after Joe Biden’s decisive win; or Mitch McConnell, who is supporting Trump’s refusal to concede because the president remains a useful tool for him to wield against the Democrats. This is not a coup, but it’s still destructive and dangerous. By trying to convince the public that he didn’t lose the election, Trump and his enablers are eroding the public’s already shaky trust in U.S. institutions; worse, this is happening in the midst of a pandemic and a financial crisis, which further exacerbate the country’s black mood.

Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I wrote about my experience of working for a pathological narcissist and how it taught me to recognize and predict Donald Trump’s behavior patterns.  One way the editor I worked for manipulated and punished writers who displeased him was purposely to leave errors he could have fixed in their pieces, and then use those errors to attack them. This made no sense: by publishing texts with errors, the man in charge was ultimately damaging his own credibility. But narcissists don’t see things that way. Every situation is about the narcissist and not the organization to which they belong, or which they represent. This is why Trump will try, as his psychologist niece Mary Trump is predicting, to “burn it all down” before he is forced to leave the Oval Office on January 20. A narcissist does not feel beholden to any office, even if it’s the highest office in the most powerful nation in the world. A narcissist is only beholden to a fragile ego. 

By firing officials like Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, pushing out senior advisors like acting undersecretary of defense James Anderson, and threatening to sack any staffer who looks for a new job or shows support for outgoing officials, Trump is demonstrating narcissistic rage in full bloom. The Republicans in power are going along with Trump, partly because they obviously don’t believe the Democratic party will deliver any kind of repercussions for their craven, destructive behavior.

If you’re upset about what’s going on, that’s good! You ought to be! It’s an upsetting situation. 

At  the same time, there are useful and useless ways of being upset. You’re not helping anyone, including yourself, if you allow this situation to beat you down. Remember, one of the abuser’s most salient goals is to create chaos and to exhaust you. Don’t let Trump do this to you.

Second, we shouldn’t treat Trump as a dictator. He is not. I would argue that he has exposed just how vulnerable the United States is to the rise of a dictatorship. But treating Trump as a dictator can only create a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Instead, Donald Trump is an aspiring dictator who wants to tear the country apart. This is why it’s important to have dialogue — but not the fluffy, “let’s understand the violent racists who gleefully voted for Trump” kind. Rather, we need to have a serious, grounded conversation about our political realities with people we can actually reach. 

It is easy to succumb to dismay and despair with the knowledge that 70 million voters cast their ballots for Trump. But despair is a luxury and dismay is counter-productive. We must internalize the understanding that our society is sharply divided over the pandemic response; that we have different psychological models for engaging leadership; that we are drowning in disinformation; and that the vast majority of white evangelical Christians support Trump not despite his racism,  misogyny and authoritarianism, but because those characteristics reflect their own worldview.  Remember, instead, that voter turnout was at historically high levels for this election, with an enormous grassroots organizing effort bearing fruit with significant early voting that flipped red states blue and won Joe Biden the presidency. Yes, there are unsavory political realities on the ground; but rather than be discouraged, we should categorize and prioritize them right now. You might not be able to change the mind of a Nazi who loves Trump, but you can certainly engage with and combat disinformation.

Now is the time to hold our elected leaders to account. Political battlegrounds are important too — which is why we should look to Georgia, where former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams built a grassroots effort to register more than 800,000 voters who were primarily Black, Asian, and Latinx. Her success, and the historic voter turnout for the Biden/Harris ticket, show the power of organizing, and of positive messaging. All three candidates emphasized the power of the individual and community to effect change, and the importance of compassion. This is clearly what a tired, angry populace needed to hear.

History holds important lessons for this moment. In Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar, authors Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni paint a vivid picture of Cato the Younger, a follower of stoicism who fought against corruption brought on by wealth and empire; and against both Pompey and Caesar, as each man struggled to control Rome. This narrative should sound familiar. Yet even as Trump tries to hold onto the presidency in order to avoid being prosecuted for his debts—echoing Caesar’s own financial troubles—we should remember that Donald Trump is no Julius Caesar. On the other hand, Cato’s rigid idealism is a cautionary tale for Americans in that it shows how refusal to compromise can help bring an entire republic crashing down. For all his inspiring integrity, Cato’s life comes with its own warnings. 

The lesson is this: like Cato, we should retain our principles; but unlike Cato, we should be cognizant of realities with which we live. Yes, the United States is a messed-up country, but it’s our country. We’re not going to recover from Trump without bruises, but we can own those bruises. We shouldn’t entertain illusions about life simply going back to normal with the Biden administration, but we can draw valuable lessons from the Trump era going forward. Surviving an abuser has its own advantages, as I know personally. The experience makes one stronger and wiser. After four years of abuse at the hands of Donald Trump, you will never lose your ability to identify a malignant narcissist.

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The Belarusian protests: feminized, but feminist?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/11/2020 - 3:17pm in

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Gender equality in Belarus looks good on paper, but comes with many caveats. 

Less than five minutes into a recent television appearance, the interviewer asked Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya about her last time in a kitchen. Tsikhanouskaya is generally believed to have won the August presidential election in Belarus, beating the long-term authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. During the election campaign, Tsikhanouskaya referenced her role as a housewife in what turned out to be a politically savvy move. Diverse groups within Belarus — reformists, conservatives, feminists — could all see a reflection of their ideals in Tsikhanouskaya. Conservatives could see a loving housewife and mother; reformists, an opportunity for change; and feminists saw a viable female candidate for the presidency. But the housewife trope was also used to undermine her. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed that while he was sure Tsikhanouskaya could cook a good cutlet, how could he debate with her? The President sought to diminish his female opponent by comparing her knowledge of the kitchen to her lack of political experience.

During the election campaign and the now three month-old protest movement against Lukashenka’s blatant attempt to rig the results, the media spotlight has deservedly focused on Belarusian women for the outsized role they have played leading the struggle for fair elections, an end to egregious police violence, and peaceful regime change. Maria Kalesnikava, a political activist who was abducted by security forces on September 7 and then jailed, and Nina Bahinskaya, the 73 year old woman who is an iconic protest figure, have become household names for their roles in the protest movement.

However, the long-term impact on women’s role and position in society is more difficult to gauge. While a reporter for The New York Times wrote that the movement has “already shattered deeply entrenched gender stereotypes built up over generations,” and Belarusian media TUT.BY labelled it a “feminist revolution,” this view is not shared by everyone. Women have certainly played a pivotal role, but there is a great deal of work to do in mobilizing this newfound empowerment to dismantle Belarus’s deeply entrenched patriarchal system.

Barriers facing Belarusian women

On paper, Belarus is a leader in gender equality. In The Global Gender Gap Index 2020, it is ranked 29th out of 153 countries for women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment. It has signed and ratified international legal frameworks on gender equality. At 69 percent, the share of women in the Belarusian judiciary is high. The Women’s Power Index shows that women have 35 percent representation in parliament, exceeding many European countries and giving Belarus a world ranking of 39th.

On closer inspection, however, gender equality in Belarus comes with caveats. In the Cabinet, where more decision-making power lies, women’s representation falls to 3 percent. In 2004, Lukashenka declared that the presence of women in Parliament, makes it “stable and calm,” and that it will ensure that “the male Members of Parliament work properly,” thus reducing a woman’s role to one of a caretaker or matron. True, there were a handful of high profile women in Belarusian politics before the August election—such as Lukashenka’s press secretary Natalya Eismont, Senate Speaker Natalya Kochanova, and the Head of Central Election Committee, Lidziya Yarmoshyna—but their prominence does not reflect the reality for most Belarusian women.

The 2019 UN Gender Equality Brief highlighted entrenched systematic gender norms and stereotypes as the biggest challenge to gender equality in Belarus, where a woman’s role is defined primarily as wife and mother. The majority of men and women in Belarus believe that being a housewife is as fulfilling as working for pay, with more women agreeing with this statement than men. Maternity leave is up to three years. This might sound ideal to women in the United States, where there is no legally mandated maternity leave, but because employers in Belarus are legally required to hold a woman’s job open for her while she is on leave, women of child-bearing age can see their careers suffer. A General Director of a medium-sized factory in Minsk once told me that it is common practice to weed out newly-married women when hiring to avoid taking on an employee who is likely to seek maternity leave. This is contributing to the wage gap that is currently around 25 percent and growing. A 2019 UN report found that almost every second woman in Belarus has faced partner violence; yet in October 2018, Lukashenka dismissed a new law on the prevention of domestic violence, decrying it as “nonsense” borrowed “from the West.”

The three graces

After the government prevented the three most popular male candidates from running as opponents of Lukashenka in the August election, women stepped up to form the main opposition. Tsikhanouskaya ran in place of her imprisoned husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski; she was joined by Veranika Tsapkala representing her husband Valery Tsapkala, who had been forced to flee; and Maria Kalesnikava, who was the campaign manager for imprisoned opposition candidate Viktar Babaryka. It took just 15 minutes for the three women to agree to unite campaigns, something previous opposition had never managed to achieve. Over the course of the campaign, they emerged as a powerful triumvirate; it is because of their work, many believe, that Tsikhanouskaya won the election.

Hundreds of thousands attended Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign rallies across Belarus, amassing huge support. But for Galina Dzesiatava, project manager at the NGO Gender Perspectives, there was also disappointment. Dzesiatava attended the rally in Homel, in southeastern Belarus, where Tsikhanouskaya expressed her desire to be “back in the kitchen frying cutlets.” Another moment that stung for Dzesiatava was when Tsikhanouskaya said “I do not have a program for changing Belarus,” adding “the men…have it.” deferring to the excluded male candidates. Dzesiatava said she “was devastated” upon hearing this. 

Irina Solomatina, the founder of the project Gender Route and the Head of the Council of the Belarusian Organisation of Working Women, noted the lack of a feminist agenda in the campaign. Solomatina said they “mentioned social problems exclusively in terms of care” (for husbands, children..). In their rhetoric, “there was no place for either feminist or gender agendas.” Women rights’ issues, such as domestic violence and labour discrimination, were not mentioned during the campaign.

The women’s protests

Katya* created the initial Telegram group ‘Girl Power’ on the evening of  August 11, following two nights of protests against the fraudulent election results, which police broke up with brutal violence. She could never have foreseen the impact of a group chat she said she originally made “for close friends and friends of their friends.” The initial plan was for a flashmob of women to meet at Komarovka market in Minsk the next day wearing white and holding flowers. Katya said “the goal [of the flashmob] was to transform the violent energy of protest into something safe and inspiring.” The chat, which began inviting people that evening, had more than 8,600 members by morning, “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Katya said. By the afternoon, thousands of women were joining hands and lining the streets all over the country. Katya and her friends had to learn fast, “it was our first chat on Telegram. Me and my friends at first had no clue how to handle it, how to pin messages, change settings etc. We had to learn on the go.” Still in awe of the power behind the protests, Katya reveals that it began as “kind of a bet” saying “I promised my friend and sister that I [would] think of a safer way for us to protest.”

Katya also noted that at the time she encountered a backlash from some women who saw this form of protest — of wearing white and carrying flowers —as “revealing our weakness.” She received comments like “flowers? Don’t forget about candies for the torturers too.” Solomatina echoed this perspective, arguing that these female protests perpetuated patriarchal values and stereotypes, appealing to beauty and softness. But Solomatina also highlighted the argument that it would have been a sin “not to take advantage of the patriarchal way of life.” The idea to play on gender stereotypes and roles was central to the performance of a Belarusian lullaby as part of the protests, where women stood barefoot dressed in white holding flowers. They altered the lyrics of the lullaby, calling upon those near them to open their eyes—instead of closing them. Dzesiatava said that in these protests, the women were successfully “playing the patriarchal system against the patriarchal system.”

Leandra Bias, a Gender and Peacebuilding Advisor at Swisspeace, said that foreign feminists observing from the outside sometimes “think they know which female tropes and roles are the most emancipating” but that actually “we know nothing about the lived reality of Belarusian women.” Bias added that “when it comes to women protesting, they are the ones who know best how to navigate their daily lives, they know what is going to be effective.” 

The fem group

One aspect of the movement with a clear feminist agenda is the Fem Group, a working group of the Coordination Council for the Transfer of Power, founded by Tsikhanouskaya. The Fem Group was created to ensure that women are involved in all the transformation processes that would follow regime change. Their work includes increasing the visibility of women’s political participation, documenting state violence against women and raising awareness of state violence against men. The group are currently conducting an anonymous study on the needs of Belarusian women and the tools required to support them.

While Lukashenka labelled Tsikhanouskaya a “poor thing” during the election campaign, he now appears to have woken up to the political force women possess. The women’s marches, initially left alone by the regime, were soon subject to a cruel crackdown. Russia put out an arrest warrant for Tsikhanouskaya, who is now in exile in neighboring Lithuania, while Kalesnikava is in prison after tearing up her passport at the border to prevent police from expelling her from the country. Prominent Belarusian feminists Olga Shparaga, Yulia Mitskevich and Svetlana Gatalskaya have all recently spent time in prison. While under arrest Shparaga conducted tutorials on feminism for fellow prisoners from her prison cell.

Belarusian feminism

“Feminism” is still largely a taboo word in Belarus. Few women openly identify as a feminist, and there are many women currently marching each weekend who would balk at the label. A survey carried out back in 2012 which analysed attitudes towards feminism found that just four percent of women considered themselves feminists and more than half of the men surveyed said that they would treat such women with disgust. In 2016, fewer than one percent of Belarusian NGOs advanced women’s rights, and fewer still identified themselves as feminist. 

Yuliya* is an activist from Minsk who has been organizing peaceful evening gatherings; when asked how she perceives feminism she replied: “I can’t say I’m fully aware of what ‘feminism’ really means.” Katya*, the founder of Girl Power, said she identifies as a “humanist more than a feminist.”

This may change. One of the potential impacts of the current women-led protest movement is an acceptance of the term ‘feminist’ in Belarus. Kalesnikava, who openly identifies as a feminist, says that Lukashenka “accidentally did more for the development of feminism in Belarus than anyone else,” adding that “feminism will stop being a dirty word.” 

Nonetheless, feminism is advancing in Belarus. In 2019 there were more than 470 educational activities associated with women’s rights—workshops, lectures, and roundtables—and more than 2,500 consultations in legal, psychological and business support. Events in the gender sphere attracted over 5,000 participants. Some of the female-led initiatives in Belarus include: March on Baby, which aims to introduce a domestic violence law; Wen-do, which conducts self-defense training for women; and Her Rights, which strengthens women’s awareness of their rights. Gender Digest stresses however, that this work that promotes gender equality is often invisible to a wider audience.

Long-term impact

Renewed awareness of domestic violence is another source of hope. The widely publicized violence of OMON, the paramilitary security forces, repulsed many, but Dzesiatava explained that “OMON are actually the fabric of Belarusian society — this level of violence has always been visible for feminists and it is now visible to everyone.” The overt violence seen today was being committed before, but behind closed doors. Now that the violence is out in the open it will be harder to ignore; the hope is that this will inspire a national conversation about domestic violence. Dzesiatava draws parallels between an abusive domestic relationship and that of the regime and the Belarusian people. Bias noted the same thing, adding that “the most dangerous moment for someone in an abusive relationship is when they decide to leave”—just as Belarusians want to leave Lukashenka. 

The August election and subsequent protests have seen both classic femininity and feminism being used and inverted. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has become a feminist icon around the world, but she never intended for that to be. Belarusian feminism still faces many barriers, including the use of patriarchal tropes by both women and men. Yet Belarusian women are defining a feminism of their own, one that fits their lived reality, and it may well be that regime change will enable a redefining of the women’s agenda, offering up space for new opportunities. The recent women-led uprising may not necessarily be called ‘feminist’ but, as Galina Dzesiatava makes clear, they have been dubbed the ‘Revolution of Dignity,’ and dignity is a basic tenet of feminism.

 

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Pro-Biden white evangelicals are a minority. The vast majority will support Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/10/2020 - 2:49am in

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Legacy media outlets do their readers a vast disservice in presenting the minority of anti-Trump evangelicals as evidence of a broader change in attitudes.

The Trump era in American politics, which I sincerely hope comes to an end in 2021, will be forever marked by widespread public consternation over the often enthusiastic support of the Christian Right, and white evangelicals above all, for a corrupt, “pussy-grabbing,” tenth-rate would-be dictator. Over the past four years I have been trying to explain why evangelical Trump support is not only unsurprising, but also the logical culmination of the evangelical culture wars I was born into and mobilized for.

Unfortunately, legacy media outlets in the United States continue to resist this hard truth. With less than one week left before the November 3 election, they are amplifying the small minority of white evangelicals that support former Vice President Joe Biden, instead of explaining why the vast majority of white evangelicals will never dump Trump. They are also irresponsibly pushing the tired old trope that young evangelicals are changing evangelicalism for the better, in ways that will materialize any day now. Apparently we just have to keep waiting, much like Christians have been waiting for the Second Coming for the last 2,000 years.

Why do legacy media outlets continue to amplify the small liberal minority among white evangelical Christians?  Daniel Schultz, a United Church of Christ pastor and veteran civic activist, observed that they “make a good story: you’ve got white evangelicals going against the grain, so it’s unusual, and you have people standing up for their morals (or at least pretending to do so), so it’s inspirational.” However, he said, journalists need to ask whether the atypical evangelical individuals and initiatives they’re highlighting represent “meaningful change.”

Of course, the outliers do deserve some media coverage. One example is Not Our Faith Political Action Committee, a bipartisan PAC devoted to helping defeat Trump. But reporters glosses over the salient point that this organization’s  advisory council, though composed of Protestants and Catholics, is ethnically far more diverse than the white evangelicals and white Catholics who voted for Trump in 2016. Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden, which is is prominently supported by Billy Graham’s granddaughter Jerushah Duford, likewise deserves coverage—but responsible reporting should include some healthy skepticism of Duford’s optimism about evangelicals’ ability to change for the better, given the documented resiliency of authoritarianism in conservative, mostly white evangelical subculture.

The handful of white evangelicals who oppose Trump are notably more visible, and seemingly more organized, on behalf of a Democratic presidential candidate, than any similar group has been in recent memory. And there is a non-zero chance that their efforts might actually shift a few votes in swing states, which could in turn make the difference in what will most likely be a tight contest in the Electoral College even if there is a popular vote landslide for Biden, which is likely. All of this, of course, assumes a free and fair election that plays out relatively smoothly, which is certainly not a given.

Eighty percent of the white evangelical vote went to Trump in 2016, a historic high. Trump’s share of that vote could fall back into the 70s, though this seems unlikely given the GOP’s hypocritical rush to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat with charismatic Catholic extremist Amy Coney Barrett; her confirmation places the overturning of the Supreme Court’s Roe and Obergefell decisions within the Christian Right’s grasp if the composition of the court remains untouched. A Biden administration could expand the SCOTUS to restore fairness, and, while I believe it should do so, you can be sure Trump’s evangelical base will keep this possibility in mind as something to avoid by voting for Trump.

Jerushah Duford’s first name is derived from the Hebrew word for “inheritance,” but it is the notoriously bigoted and rabidly pro-Trump Franklin Graham, son of Billy, who far more embodies not only the legacy of “American’s pastor,” but also white evangelical subculture. America’s elite public sphere places far too little emphasis on that sobering fact.

If we are ever to have a proper reckoning with this moment, which is far from guaranteed even if Biden wins the 2020 presidential election handily, we will need to face not only the fact that white evangelical subculture is essentially authoritarian, but also the role of the media in obscuring that truth, and by extension enabling authoritarianism via the normalization of extremism. Major media outlets need much better religion reporting; unfortunately, however, the organizations willing to fund religion journalism, like the Lilly Endowment in my native Indianapolis, tend to be heavily biased in favor of conservative Christians.

The relatively small number of journalists who cover religion do their readers a great disservice by taking the word of the people they report on at face value, when they should be questioning them with some skepticism. Conservative Christians maintain they are misunderstood; in response, reporters seem to be striving to tell only positive stories about them, no matter how harmful the politics of those Christians might be to those who do not share their views.

It is wildly irresponsible to equate “good” religion journalism with highlighting moderate to liberal evangelical youth as if they are typical, as in this example from The New York Times, and/or parroting the aggrieved talking points of their authoritarian counterparts as if they represent “the gospel truth,” or at least something worthy of the public’s sympathy, as in this example from The Washington Post.

Or take this combative, aggressively defensive opinion piece in defense of white evangelicals published by Religion News Service in the final run-up to this year’s election. Titled “Demonizing White Evangelicals Won’t Solve Our Political Divisions,” it is another iteration of the “very fine people on both sides” argument. The writer, Arthur E. Farnsley II, posits that both liberal and conservative Americans are responsible for the divisions in our society, when it is well established that the country’s polarization is asymmetric and driven primarily from the right.

Farnsley writes that critics of right-wing evangelicals must build bridges, but provides no evidence that anyone has engaged in “demonizing” white evangelicals, let alone elite journalists and commentators. That is, unless his definition of “demonizing” is presenting the public with highly substantiated facts about the intimate connections between American white supremacism and predominantly white churches, and daring to suggest that the people who lead and attend the churches most complicit in white supremacism should be held accountable.

In a powerful response to Farnsley’s commentary in his Substack newsletter, ex-evangelical podcaster Blake Chastain, who is a friend of mine, pointed out that “it is white evangelicals who hold the flame and set fire to bridges, both in their churches and in the public square.”

We must not be taken in by Farnsley’s gaslighting, nor by right-wing extremism wrapped in “civil” trappings by “respectable” evangelicals who understand the damage that Trump support has done to their brand, and thus seek to distance evangelicalism from Trump.

The latest example of the latter comes from heavyweight Calvinist theologian John Piper’s blog, Desiring God. In a post that made waves on Twitter when it dropped on October 22, Piper strongly hinted that he will be abstaining from voting for president this year, characterizing the two choices as “death by abortion” (Biden) and “death by arrogance” (Trump). But there is simply no way to build a bridge between advocates of democracy and human rights,  on the one hand, and people like Piper who casually make false and conspiratorial statements like, “I think Planned Parenthood is a code name for baby-killing,” on the other.

How does America move forward from the Christian nationalist surge of the Trump years? Those committed to liberal democracy can and should look to build bridges with conservative Christians like Duford, who has shown a willingness to break ranks with evangelical authoritarianism and to operate in good faith in a pluralistic democracy. However, if we look away from what conservative, mostly white evangelical subculture definitively is— i.e., anti-pluralist, anti-democratic, and incapable of significant cultural change from the inside—we cannot move the country forward. Those characteristics represent unreconstructed America, and those who exhibit them must be pushed to the political sidelines or the United States will always be at risk of the unreconstructed minority imposing authoritarian, white supremacist patriarchal rule.

As sociologist of religion Andrew Whitehead, who studies evangelicals, recently observed, “there is so much inertia institutionally that it will take an extremely long time for white evangelicalism to change, and I have a hard time seeing that happen. It will be so interesting to see if younger evangelicals just leave or conform. My suspicion is those who truly embrace environmentalism or LGBTQ-affirmation, for example, will end up leaving.” And indeed, many are leaving.

True, 16 percent of the white evangelical vote went to Hillary Clinton in 2016. As Schultz explains, “About 15-25 percent of white evangelicals are liberals or at least moderates. So there’s always someone to go against the majority, creating the necessary drama for a media piece.” Nevertheless, he stressed that “the numbers don’t lie: somewhere around 80 percent of white evangelicals support Trump, and that’s in line with white evangelical support for GOP presidential candidates going back to at least 2004. In other words, white evangelicals are the Republican base, and there’s simply no reason to think that’s changing in this election.”

 

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‘Another Country,’ redux: Americans are (again) moving abroad to seek a better life

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 4:38am in

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Sixty years after James Baldwin fled to Europe to escape his native country’s racism, Americans are once again leaving to seek a better life.

Election day in the U.S. is November 3, but some Americans have already voted with their feet, fleeing a country whose values have become anathema to them: racism, police violence, the bizarre fantasies of QAnon, exorbitant living costs and daily anxiety of life under a Trump administration.

The U.S. government does not collect data on Americans who leave the country, but estimates that 8.7 million live abroad. A website with information on how to leave says that since May 2020 it has seen its traffic surge by 1,605 percent, or sixteen fold, for Americans seeking information on which countries are open and how to move.

Even if Trump loses, it appears that none of them will be rushing back.

“We do not plan to return to the U.S., regardless of the election outcome,” said Corritta Lewis, who moved in August with her wife and their year-old son to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Like Tiffanie Drayton, a Black American writer whose June 12 New York Times Opinion piece about “fleeing” America to Guyana went viral, Ms. Lewis sees no future in the United States.  “A new president doesn’t change the systemic racism, police brutality, wealth gap, and overall experience as a black woman in America. It took hundreds of years to build a society of oppression; that won’t change in four.”

They left, she said, “due to the increased racial tensions, police encounters, politics, and overall safety. My wife and I are two Black women raising a biracial son, and we didn’t want him to live in a country where his parents are harassed by police for being Black.” She continued, “On more than one occasion, we have been stopped and questioned by police for no reason. His first interaction with police scared him to the point that we cried for almost five minutes. It broke our hearts… We were simply two Black women in a nice neighborhood, taking a morning walk.”

“We haven’t felt this free in our lives,” she added. “Mexico will probably be our home for the next several years… As the election approaches, I watch in horror and am scared for my family still in the States. I don’t have confidence that things will get better anytime soon.”

For Black Americans, the choice to flee police brutality, racism and income inequality is compelling. For others, economic pressures can feel just as overwhelming. Why spend more than you have to for a safe and healthy life?

Tim Leffel, 56, and his family, chose Guanajuato, a colonial city in Mexico, in 2018; he has written a book explaining how to move abroad to more than 20 countries. “Our daughter is 20 now, but she went to school in Mexico for three years: one of elementary, two of middle school. Private school, but all in Spanish,” he said.

“We had no reason to stay in the U.S. and keep paying inflated prices for rent, healthcare, and other expenses. We own our home outright in Mexico. Living in Trump’s America was becoming more stressful and unpleasant every month, so why pay a premium to put up with that deterioration?”

“It’s doubtful we’ll move back,” he adds. “The U.S. is just way overpriced for what you get, especially in terms of healthcare, the worst value in the world for self-employed people like me. If a new president and congress can get us to universal healthcare, different story.

For travel blogger Ketti Wilhelm, 30, being married to an Italian means moving back to his country of origin. Wilhelm has spent much of her life living and working outside the U.S. She and her husband have no children and can work remotely. “We’ll most likely move back to Milan, because my husband’s family is near there, and we both have friends and connections there.”

“Our motivations are political, but it’s also about much more than that,” said Wilhelm. “It’s what the politics means for living in the U.S.: minimal vacation time, no family leave, no pension, health insurance stress and massive health care costs. Not to mention safety concerns – guns, white supremacy, and mass shootings. All of this is because “socialism” is a dirty word in the U.S., whereas in all the other countries I’ve lived, it’s just part of a modern, well-run and equitable society. There are other ways of living, both culturally and politically, and in plenty of ways, I think they’re doing it better elsewhere.” Her recent blog post offers 11 ways to live and work overseas.

Working as an E.R. physician in training horrifies medical student Alex Cabrera, 30, who lives in Reno, Nevada. Now in his final year of medical school and taking an online degree in public health, he sees patients every day whose care, he knows, can medically bankrupt them—even with insurance. “It’s so hard to live here! Wages aren’t going anywhere, unemployment benefits have been cut, people have no health insurance and the rent here for a one bedroom is $1,200.” He recently drove a friend his age to her new home in Victoria, British Columbia and saw another leave for France.

He’s desperate to flee. “I feel like I’m screaming into the void. On one side, you have Donald Trump who just makes it up as he goes along and Biden promising to improve and expand the A.C.A. (Affordable Care Act), which the Supreme Court plans to overthrow.” He wanted to find a medical residency abroad but is resigned to doing his training in the U.S. for the next four years. “As a physician, it’s almost hard to practice medicine in this country when everything is about profit and patient care is secondary. I’m so tired of this system.”

Because the United States remains a global hot spot for exponential transmission of the novel coronavirus, most countries are no longer allowing its citizens to enter without a pre-approved visa. Exceptions among the European countries include Croatia, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Ukraine. “However all European countries are accepting and approving applications for resident and work visas for U.S. citizens,” says Cepee Tabibian, founder of a website with information for women over 30 who choose to leave the U.S. “They can’t [currently] travel to most European countries,  but they can still apply to move right now,” she said. And prior knowledge isn’t an issue, she adds. “You’d be surprised how many people move to a country they have never been to or have maybe visited once in their life.”

Tim Page is one. A Pulitzer-winning music critic and journalism professor at the University of Southern California, he boarded a flight from New York to Belgrade a few months ago, arriving to live in a place he’d never seen. He owns a house in Nova Scotia, but the Canadian border remains closed to Americans and he was deeply disturbed by the U.S. government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He wanted out.

“I’d had some students at USC who came from Belgrade and who kindly adopted me on Facebook and took me out once I had begun to acclimate myself,” he says. “My welcome was a warm one, and this may have been the most beautiful and radiant autumn I’ve experienced since childhood. It’s a fantastic walking city and built in so many layers…I feel very much at home.”

“I’m unmated, I have no dog, my children are grown and doing well. I communicate with my friends through video conversations, phone calls, email, and I keep a nervous eye on developments in the States through on-line television. It’s a much gentler life and, at 66, I appreciate the order,” Page adds. The rent for his one-bedroom apartment is $400 a month.

“I’ll stay until I want to return,” he says. “Social Security has just kicked in. I have dear friends in Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam and London whom I’d love to see when things open up a bit, but life is startlingly less expensive here and I think this will likely be “home base” for me in Europe for however long I stay. I’m much more at ease than I’ve been in a while.”

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