Weekend Column with Salon: “Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elites” – The Truth Behind the Mindless Cliche

In my weekend cultural column with Salon, I unpack the idiocy of the popular juxtaposition of “coastal elites” and “real Americans.” Clearly, the term “elite” has no meaning if Donald Trump qualifies as an “anti-elite populist.”

All of the indignant talk about the evils of the elite is actually a disguise for anti-intellectualism. America worships wealth, but distrusts intellectual excellence. “Elitism” is code for expertise, not financial status, and “populism” is the celebration of intellectual mediocrity.

Read my explanation at Salon.

In New Role as Weekend Cultural Columnist with Salon, First Column Looks at White Flight From Reality and Trump’s Victory

Readers of my work are aware that for the past two years, I have written regularly for Salon in an unofficial, freelance capacity. I am now a weekend cultural columnist with the publication, where I will contribute essays on the arts, cultural issues, and politics.

In my first essay as weekend columnist, I react to the frightening and demoralizing electoral victory of Donald Trump.

Most national journalists and pundits reside in New York or Washington DC, and therefore, miss the on the ground reality of “soft racism” rampant throughout white America. I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, and currently live in Northern Indiana. In my region, the powerful presence of racism is unmistakable.

My first weekend column for Salon, “White Flight From Reality,” draws on my own personal experiences and observations – witnessing white flight, constantly overhearing racist remarks, and noticing racial conflict as a consistency – to diagnose much of white America with “soft racism.” Soft racists are not going to burn crosses and tattoo swastikas on their forearms. They will treat their black and Latino coworkers with cordiality. They will wave to the Muslim family in their neighborhood. They will even discipline their children for using racial epithets, but deep down inside, they believe that people of color are inferior, and that the United States of America, by virtue of their whiteness, belongs to them. Often, they will vote accordingly.

By now, I have reviewed the data demonstrating that there was no “white surge” for Donald Trump, who actually received fewer white votes than Mitt Romney. Many clueless and oblivious analysts are using those numbers to argue that racism did not play a critical role in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Again, they miss the point. Reality, perhaps, is too painful and ugly for some Americans to acknowledge.

If white America was not full of racism, Donald Trump would have lost in a landslide. A man who called Mexicans “rapists,” advocated for the ban of Muslim immigrants, and amplified every stereotype to diagnose African American life as “hell,” would have had no chance against a brilliant woman who dedicated her life to public service. Just as, if sexism were not viral throughout America, a man who bragged about committing sexual assault could have never challenged the first woman nominee for president.

As I state in the essay, “The best defense available to a Trump voter, among a wide range of pathetic options, is to claim that he or she voted for Trump, despite his disrespect of Hispanics, Muslims, the disabled, African Americans, and women. Tolerance translates to the cold message: ‘Because your suffering and exclusion do not affect me, I’m going to vote for the guy who will cut my taxes, nominate anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, and isn’t a woman who used a private email server.'”

Read about my personal experiences in the Midwest, and how those experiences illustrate the hideous truth behind Trump’s victory at Salon.

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New Essay at Salon: Revisiting Walt Whitman’s, “Democratic Vistas”

In my new essay for Salon, I revisit the master’s work, paying particular attention to the 1871 essay, “Democratic Vistas.” Whitman’s exploration of the struggle of democracy, the beauty and necessity of diversity, equality for women, the gullibility of the populace, and the essentiality of creating a culture of democracy, with the fine arts at the center, applies to America in 2016 with stunning prescience.

My essay includes references to Whitman’s true masterpiece, the epic poem, Leaves of Grass, but most of the focus is on the underrated “Democratic Vistas,” because it is there that Whitman directly confronts all of the triumphs and traumas of the American experiment in self-governance. His wisdom shows no signs of age. My essay begins:

The most wise and visionary analysis of American culture, and the presidential race, in 2016 comes from 1871. In the profound and prescient essay, “Democratic Vistas,” Walt Whitman addressed a nation struggling to unify after civil war, and in the turbulence of its democratic struggle, continuing to fail to extend its promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all of its people. Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s masterpiece, exercised as inspiration the beauty and brutality of any attempt to turn E Pluribus Unum into reality. The ongoing altercation to amplify what Whitman, in his poetry, called “the password primeval” and “the sign of democracy” has defined the presidential campaign in ways that would surprise even the sharpest of observers. Whitman believed that the sign of democracy included the voices of slaves, prostitutes, deformed persons, the diseased and despairing, and anyone else whose body gives off the human scent – “an aroma finer than prayer.”

Read the rest at Salon.

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New at Salon: Interview with Nathan Rabin on Donald Trump and The Insane Clown Posse

George Carlin once explained that when “you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show, and when you are born in America, you get a front row seat.”

Nathan Rabin, former head writer at the Onion A/V Club, cultural critic and author of “The Big Rewind,” has decided to test the veracity of Carlin’s theory with his new ebook, “7 Days in Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos, and The Summer Everything Went Insane.” Rabin is also able to offer insight into who the real freaks are: Are they fans of the socially stigmatized rap group, Insane Clown Posse, whom the FBI has labeled a dangerous organization and public threat, or Republican Trump supporters? At the risk of spoiling the fun, I’ll mention that the maniacs are not the ones wearing circus makeup.

In his equally amusing, fascinating and moving new book, Rabin chronicles his week in Ohio, attending both the annual Gathering of the Juggalos and the Republican National Convention. As if that were not enough to provide fodder for entertainment and journalism, Rabin spent the seven days with his long-lost brother, allowing him to further reflect on broken families, fractured relationships and the painful consequences of disconnection.

Rabin writes with his characteristic wit, but he also maintains an empathy that is staggering in its profundity and potency. As clichéd as it might seem, when I read Rabin’s account and analysis of Republicans, who frightened him, and Juggalos, who inspired him, mixed together with his own traumatic family history, I experienced the full range of emotional response — rage, laughter, tears.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rabin over email.

Read the exchange at Salon.

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Truthout Runs My Interview with Author and Middle East Expert Gregory Harms

I’m happy to call author Gregory Harms a friend. He is not only a good conversationalist and generous person, but he is also a formidable voice of reason and justice on American foreign policy, international relations, and the history and politics of the Middle East.

This week the news and commentary website Truthout, which also ran my essay on the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and ran a reprint of my tribute to Gore Vidal, is running an interview I conducted with Mr. Harms on the topic of his new book, It’s Not About Religion.

In the interview, Harms lays waste to much of the malicious lies and misguided perceptions about the Middle East, Islam, and the reasons many Arabs feel hostility towards the policies of the United States government. Readers will learn that Muslims are not frightening monsters hell bent on the destruction of all things American. They will also learn that much of the turmoil and tension in the Middle East is a direct result of American and Western policies, and that the tired expression “religion is the cause of all wars,” comes nowhere near reality.

Throughout the conversation, but more importantly, throughout Gregory’s brilliant and brave book, which I strongly recommend reading, he challenges the bigotry and aggression, that much to the pain of millions of people in the Middle East, dominates American political discussion of foreign policy and influences intervention abroad.

As I recall in my introduction to the interview, I met Mr. Harms at a bar called McBrody’s in Joliet, Illinois. We were reaching the wee hours of the morning, and Harms heard me make a positive remark about Neil Young. Harms agreed and incited a conversation , and a few years later, I’ve delighted in reading his three books (The Palestine-Israel Conflict, Straight Power Concepts in the Middle East, and the aforementioned It’s Not About Religion).

Anyone looking for truth to cut through the noise of the American media will experience the same pleasure and intellectual growth from reading his work. The new interview is a great place to start.

I’m particularly happy to have been associated with the interview, even if most of the insight in it comes from Harms, because Joe Macare, the editor of Occupied Chicago Tribune, gave it the highest praise imaginable. He called it a “middle finger to Sam Harris.”