The thought I’ve been coming back to the last two days is that, if he hadn’t been elected, I would be less politically engaged. I’m sure the same is true for many others.

To be clear, it’s not like I’m putting in any herculean effort here. I called my representatives for the first time. I marched in my first protest last year. I voted in my first local election yesterday. Maybe I’m reading and writing a bit more. But all it takes to bring change is just a little more engagement from a lot of people.

If Hillary had been elected, would we see anywhere near the same levels of participation? Given how slim the margins have been for these disastrous bills in Congress, it seems quite plausible to imagine that they would pass if there were fewer calls and protests. Does that outweigh the damage from Gorsuch, the executive orders, and his appointments? Perhaps not, I don’t know.

November 2016 was a major shift in my perspective. I spent weeks feeling utter dread. It was so hard to imagine a good future in world where Trump could be elected. I’d never felt such a persistent mixture of disappointment and disgust.

But over the last year, I’ve seen tons of powerful activism, which has stayed strong even though the news is so relentlessly, oppressively terrible. More than ever, we’re painfully aware of the problems in our society. I don’t see anyone with the answers, but I see a lot of people searching for them. More than before. There has been horror, but also solidarity and reassurance in seeing that there are many people as horrified as me.

We’ve survived our first year. This year’s election bodes well for 2018. Nothing is yet broken that cannot be fixed. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m hopeful, but I do see plausible routes for our country to recover.

false media

okay fake news let’s go

1. the term itself is overloaded & ambiguous
2. it implies a false binary between real and fake
3. sometimes when we say fake news we actually mean propaganda
4. poorly handled but factually correct news was at least as damaging in this election as fake news – e.g. instant media freakout over Comey

Nonetheless, fake news is a major problem. I personally hadn’t considered its relevance until the last few months but it fits right in with my current favorite narrative that the relationship between news and social media is toxic. Depending on where you get your news, you could be living in a completely separate reality from everyone around you. Facebook already demonstrated that you can dramatically influence mood and opinion based on the general tone and content of your feed.

To up the stakes, the intelligence community is on the record – multiple times this year – in saying that there are other countries actively promoting fake news in the US. This is one of those issues that i cannot understand why it isn’t front-and-center on every outlet, on repeat.

This kind of attack is absolutely trivial. Botnets are dirt cheap – you can get thousands of computers signing up for accounts on every platform, promoting a simple, unified message. single individuals have been doing this with spam since the beginning of the Internet. this is effectively state-sponsored spam, but instead of ads for dick pills we’re getting propaganda about our election.

Part of me wonders if this isn’t just karma for Stuxnet, PRISMA, and the countless other violations of global trust from the NSA.

Facebook and Google might be more technologically sophisticated than what Russia and China have at their disposal currently, but the notion that Facebook alone can handle this problem is unrealistic. We cannot ask corporations to do battle with other countries and hope that they’ll stay on our side.

We’ve evolved into a system where quality journalism is worth less than clickbait. That isn’t the fault of mainstream media or alternative news or any nation-state. I doubt anyone dreamed up our current state of affairs, saying “yeah I’d love to see a landscape of news where everything is reduced to all-caps headlines paired with evocative stock photos and investigative journalism is nearly extinct”.

But this is where we are. We should not be surprised that there are people taking advantage of this state of affairs.

burden of proof

There is an ongoing debate in the left, right now, about what conclusions to take away from this.

To my dismay, I am seeing a lot of folks double-down on their contempt for the Trump voter. The ideological divide in this country has never been larger, and there does not seem to be much hope of closing that gap right now. I am genuinely concerned that we could see violence of consequence in the next decade, given our current arms race of outrage and other-ing of entire demographics.

What has helped me reach an understanding of how someone could ever have voted for Trump, is realizing exactly how much they hated Hillary. That, in hindsight, was my largest mistaken assumption over the course of the election. Now, I will continue to argue that the hatred of her is totally unwarranted, arbitrary, and augmented by (if not rooted in) sexism. But in the final days of the election, we had:

– Comey’s absurd double-blunder, wherein he causes a media firestorm over literally nothing, and then further enhances the perception of corruption by retracting it days before the election
– Fox News running a false story based on a tip from an anonymous FBI employee that Hillary was being indicted. This ran for an entire day.
– An endless stream of emails from WikiLeaks. While none of these contained much information of consequence, they drew attention, fueled speculation, and plenty of them were vague enough to inspire all manner of conspiracy theory.

Every one of Trump’s horrifying tirades was buffered on each side by a controversy from Hillary. Yes, this is a false equivalence of the highest order. It’s an insult that we would ever compare the two as equals. But the fact remains: there was a compelling and legible narrative from the right, readily available for all.

What was the narrative from the left?

For all our talk of inclusiveness and equality, what tangible vision of change did we offer for rural working-class Americans? To the person who does not see climate change as an imminent threat, who does not know any black or hispanic or Muslim Americans and thus has little reason to care about how we treat them, who does not see sexism as a relevant force in the story of their lives, whose quality of life is more immediately threatened by the price of gas than nearly anything else – what did we offer?

Look, I’m as bleeding heart liberal as you get. I believe firmly in the policies of the left to bring meaningful, positive change to people in every walk of life.

But my belief in this stems from a vivd, tangible concept of what these possible futures look like. My fear of climate change is rooted in a very clear image of a world with a billion more refugees. My love for basic income stems from an understanding of how soon robots are going to be replacing all of our unskilled labor. My passion for feminism and anti-racism comes from listening and hearing stories from people I care about, learning the ways that my friends have suffered at the hands of bigotry and stereotypes.

You cannot expect people to just get it. Nothing in this world is as obvious or clear-cut as we like to think. It is on us to explain ourselves, to justify our ideas, to fill in the blanks, to populate the imaginations of people across the world so that we can have a shared vision, a unified goal.

It is time for the left to take up the burden of proof and run with it.


Up til this point, I have felt okay with my level of participation in the political process. I spend at least an hour or two every day reading the news, trying to learn stuff. I post links. I write my little essays. I vote. I try to stay informed on the issues that matter and share that information with my friends and family. What else is there to do?

But this election has changed the way that I think about the future. I already knew that progress was not guaranteed. But I still figured it was likely. There might be setbacks, but they would be temporary.

I no longer feel this way. There is no hard floor to this descent. There is no inevitable march forward. It will be far easier for this administration to burn bridges than it will be for us to rebuild them. It may take decades to rip down the walls that he builds in a few years.

The point of this being, I think you are going to see me getting a lot more political in the coming months and years. My now perpetual state of anxiety dictates that I take action and do whatever I can to subvert the incoming tidal wave of xenophobia and racism. I cannot abide my own existence if I am not actively working towards a future that doesn’t suck.

I am going to keep pondering what, exactly, this looks like. I know relatively little about law and have a lot of reading to do before I can hope to meaningfully change a system I do not understand.

I will be looking for ways to get involved with my local government so that I can see how the system works at the lowest level. I will be sketching out ideas of tools to build that can alleviate the major pain points in our system. I will be searching for ideas and inspiration wherever I can find them.

And, of course, I will keep writing, trying to improve my grasp on the slippery eel of social media that I have never felt comfortable with. But it is clearly a necessary tool of the trade, now, and I will learn whatever necessary to be an effective actor in this system.

crying wolf

One recurring thought for me is that what most of us feel right now must be similar to how Trump’s base felt when Obama was elected.

This isn’t to say that the feelings are equally legitimate. But an entire sector of our media was devoted to painting Obama as the antichrist. There was endless FUD about FEMA concentration camps. Or that he secretly hated America as evidenced by his refusal to wear a flag pin for a few days. Or that he was a black supremacist. Remember the whole thing with death panels? And, of course, the birther movement. A lot of people believed all of that to be true.

Now we have someone that really is what the media says he is. There’s no hyperbole when we express fear that he would deport millions of Americans or begin racial and religious profiling en-masse. He truly does think that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He actually sees nothing wrong with sexually violating women. The fires of bigotry, sexism, racism, and xenophobia have been stoked by this election, and minorities throughout the country are justified in their terror.

How can you make clear the difference to someone who really thought Obama was a terrorist? What words are available to use when we’ve already been running on maximal hyperbole for nearly a damn decade? Is there any possible phrasing that would bring home the gravity of this mistake? Or have we been screaming for so long that we’re just deaf to one another?


So. Here we are.

First off. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I love you no matter who you voted for. Trump built his campaign on demonizing the other, and if we have any hope for the future, we have to build on the premise that we’re all human beings with legitimate needs and desires. But my choice to love my neighbors unconditionally does not mean I will not speak my mind.

We’re staring down the barrel of the most malevolent and incompetent government ever devised. A government that runs the world’s largest military, the largest economy, and a huge nuclear stockpile. A man who cannot be trusted with his own twitter account will soon be handed the keys, and none of us can get off this bus.

I don’t have any hope of impeachment. If Trump’s base was not dissuaded by the infinite catalog of horrors that spilled out during his campaign, I see little reason to think that he could ever do anything in office that would meaningfully change his image. We are stuck for at least 4 years.

Furthermore, downballot was a disaster. Simply put, we are not going to see progressive legislation for several years. This doesn’t mean that every good thing we know and love is at risk – the nature of Congress hasn’t been altered and significant legislation of any kind is still near-impossible to pass.

But stagnation is no comfort. The status quo means that gerrymandering and voter restrictions will continue to increase. This means that his 4 years are more than likely to turn into 8 years. We should not hold our breath and wait for this to dissolve.

This is not the time for despair, for self-pity, to wallow or to embrace nihilism. We have work to do, friends.

outrage loop

The interaction between modern social media and democracy seems overwhelmingly toxic.

More than any previous year, Facebook and Twitter have played a central role in every step of this election cycle, possibly to everyone’s detriment. Facebook shoves breaking news about world events in between wedding photos and clickbait listicles. Everything is competing for our attention.

Modern journalism is enslaved to view counts and there is no room for nuance or depth. Headlines are carefully selected to make people upset, because when we’re upset we click and share. Everyone’s screaming into echo chambers, recursively amplifying outrage.

Our memory seems to grow shorter and shorter. Scandals and tragedies constantly flow through our feeds, but never stick around long enough for the full story. We’re left only with hyperbolic headlines that reinforce our pre-existing notions and biases about the world.

In this environment, it seems that lying is optimal. If what matters most is spreading headlines, then Trump has demonstrated the winning strategy. The man’s tweets are pure, uncut viral gold. Liberal outrage over his nonsense may very well be the fuel for this eternal dumpster fire. We broke one of the basic rules of most internet forums: don’t feed the troll. But we’re way past that advice, now.

It remains to be seen is what lessons other politicians take from this debacle. If we can’t divorce ourselves from this model of news that makes us so susceptible to these loops of outrage, I fear that November 8th will not be anywhere close to the end of what we’ve been experiencing for the last year and a half.

party for two

Preface: I love you no matter who you vote for. Even if it’s Trump. I don’t think there is much progress to be found in ostracizing or villainizing those who make poor decisions, whatever those decisions pertain to.

When Bernie first announced his campaign, I was on board. I had known about him for a long time prior, and I was immediately excited, even if doubtful. I felt the bern. But by the time the NY primary rolled around, I ended up checking the box for Hillary. Admittedly, I stood in the booth for a solid 10 minutes as I weighed that choice, but that’s where I landed when the time came to pick.

I’ve not mentioned this to many people, as I’ve had a genuine fear of what my more passionate friends would think.  I don’t want to lose their respect.  I hope they’re able to understand.

I made that choice out of pragmatism. It was very clear, at that point, that if Bernie had a real shot, he needed to win South Carolina months prior. He got trounced there, and while he had respectable showings in many states thereafter, he was always losing ground. So, it was my desire to see his campaign wrap up and move towards reconciliation with Hillary so that we could secure the election against Trump.

As Bernie’s campaign has winded down, Jill Stein has picked up many people of the #bernieorbust attitude. This is not surprising, of course; a significant fraction of Bernie’s base were independent voters that only registered as Democrats just to vote for him. So it should be expected that there would be some people returning to that. But there are some basic facts about the democratic process in America that make voting third-party an unwise decision.

Continue reading party for two

practical pragmatism

I have a hard time imagining a more interesting presidential race than what America is faced with in 2016.  The Republican end of things is, of course, both fascinating and troubling in ways that no one could have foreseen, but the Democratic primary presents a deeply meaningful choice to voters that care about the issues.

Is it better to have an effective president who offers slim, but guaranteed gains for progress?  Or to have an authentic president who will pursue the most progressive policies currently viable in the country, with a significant chance of complete failure?

That, to me, is Hillary versus Bernie in a nutshell.

Continue reading practical pragmatism