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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...


Peanut allergies are best prevented by feeding a small amount of peanut puree to children when they're babies. It prepares them, by giving their system a bit of the thing that could cause a deadly shock.

A good bit of the time, I think the term "political correctness" deserves to be put in scare quotes. A potent example would be the #sanctuarycampus hashtag which is currently trending (partly for good, and partly for bad reason-- I'll get into that). Students around the country are bravely and correctly marching and organizing to demand that their campuses protected undocumented immigrants from deportation (there is a similar concept, a "sanctuary city" which Mayor Elorza is pursuing, which you should support; it's possible-- though a long shot-- that Rhode Island could become a "sanctuary state").
The attacks against people standing up for other people have taken the tone of derisively calling the sanctuary campus a "safe space" where allegedly coddled college students can be free of anything that challenges their points of view. This is a disgusting way to illegitimate the organizing work that is being done to protect families of immigrants. Colleges (and everywhere) should be safe from deportation. 

And then there's the other side of political correctness, the kind that I would say should not go in scare quotes.

Political correctness, to me, doesn't mean standing up for people's rights (as it does to many people who use the term "politically correct" to dismiss those struggles). It doesn't mean accepting that we all have different power, or being willing to take a backseat as a person in privilege to give someone whose not normally in power a leadership position. Political correctness is akin to an allergic reaction: it happens when the system of thought around you becomes rigid enough that it loses the chance to be challenged, and thus get stronger.

One of the things I strongly expect the incoming Trump administration to do, especially through its cabinet (say, a Rudy Giuliani), is to turn our notions of power on their head. The right-wing response to the sanctuary campus is already an example of this. The rhetoric is all about the excesses of privilege for college students, because attacking that straw man is easier than acknowledging to oneself that the attack is really against very unprivileged people trying to leave their lives in a constant barrage of racism. Don't frame the argument as about immigrants. Attack those lazy students! Counter-intuitively, we need to be ready to support the privileged people who are standing up as well as those who are not privileged, because our internal logic of disliking privilege will be used as an Achilles Heal against us.
This attack isn't fair. But we have agency to help defeat it, even if its origins are dishonest. I recently had a professor more or less dress me down for using the word "we" in a sentence describing movements to defeat Trump. The gist of my previous comments had actually all been about the varying degrees of power and privilege we have: that people of color, for instance, should not be responsible to nurse the wounds of white working class people, but that white people should be doing that work.* 

Most voters didn't vote for Trump, I reminded people. Many more voters voted for Hillary Clinton, and some voters voted for clearly anti-Trump third parties. And people who voted up and down the ticket for other offices often withheld their vote for president out of disgust for either party. So the question we need to ask about white working class voters isn't why they're so racist (though some are), but why both white working class voters and some African-American voters felt disgusted with the Democratic candidate. I summed it up with "This is why we lose elections. People decided they could cast a protest vote in states they thought were safe, and it turns out enough people did that that it cost the election."

What followed was my professor attacking me for using the word "we" to describe anti-Trump people, and for describing blue states as "safe". Apparently, even though I had carefully marked out the fact that we all have very different relationships to the policies of this nation, and that some of us have more power and privilege than others, just the fact that I used "we" was "triggering" to my professor. Even though "safe" was clearly being used in the context of "electorally safe", it somehow signified my ignorance to the dangers people can face in states across the country. The conversation turned into a forty minute shouting match (me mostly being the one shouted at). 

This is political correctness. In order not to have the Sasquatch of scare quote "political correctness" (being a decent person aware of one's privileges) turned into a real thing, one has to call the real gorilla in the room what it is. It's not representative of the left as a whole, but it is a subset of the left: a group of people who are so captured inside a bubble that they haven't been challenged. A paper cut-- the use of the second person plural-- is enough to send them into anaphylaxis. We need to speak up against this, not to give fodder to the people who will cut-and-paste our stories and misuse them, but to reach out to people who should be allies against oppression but who only remember that time that cousin so-and-so yelled at them at a family barbecue for saying "transgendered" instead of "transgender" (I have been cousin so-and-so, I'll admit it).  

Let's fight Trump. And sometimes, the people who have supported him are beyond being reached out to. But sometimes they're not. And moreover, we need to lose this narrative that what lost the election is people who were confused enough to cast their ballot for a demagogue. We lost because we failed to present a vision: a vision of we.


By the way, if you're wondering why this isn't about bike lanes, bike lanes shouldn't be your top concern right now. :-/


  1. I've had professors who weren't at all "we" to me. They didn't merely have their own odd or iconoclastic views. It felt more that the lot of them were deep into promoting a single bullying and corrupt worldview that I didn't buy. Their establishment worldview probably got them their jobs, so I understood where they were coming from. However, their worldview was schizoid, a blind following of an ill-thought-out cult philosophy with only fig leaves of logic behind it.

    Now, I tended to keep my own views to myself, so I rarely took fire from these teachers and profs who controlled my destiny. Actually I did take a lot of fire from them in the long run.

    In this light, "we" is correct. There's your logic which is shared by just about all of the people that you respect, and then there's a facade of political cult logic, which has Faux News to back it.

    I was getting a quote yesterday at a plumbing supply place. The shop sells plenty of black pipe, and one of the employees decided to call a black pipe an Obama pipe. None of the other employees bothered to challenge the first employee's statement. I got my quote and left. They just lost themselves a $1000 sale.

    I mention this because I think that Donald Trump's victory may have emboldened a percentage of people to be racially insensitive. It's like they're trying to form some loose kind of white people's club.

    --Anonymous as usual,
    Paul Klinkman

  2. To wit, with emphasis on second paragraph:

    "“I want to live in a #CountryOfKindness where #LoveTrumpsHate,” Lady Gaga wrote on Twitter the day after the election. She added a photo of herself at a protest outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, where she had climbed onto a truck in a strapless black jumpsuit and raised a pro-Clinton sign.

    While the angry tweets, therapeutic Instagram testimonials and fiery speeches may comfort their fans, these left-leaning celebrities are also inadvertently energizing the opposition. Conservative news outlets — most notably Breitbart News Network, the right-wing populist enclave — are perfecting the art of sapping Democratic stars’ name recognition and repurposing their words and actions into pro-Trump material. The enormous reach that celebrities enjoy, and the privileged bubble they live in, is wielded against them here, refashioned as evidence of the outsize control that the rich and famous have over regular Americans."