All posts filed under: Politics

The Room Where It Happened—A Review

A review of The Room Where It Happened—A White House Memoir by John Bolton, Simon and Schuster (June 2020), 592 pages. Donald Trump’s White House is fast approaching the end of its first term. Meanwhile, the consequences of the administration’s early insouciance about the onset of COVID-19 are manifest across a country experiencing a ferocious new surge in cases. The US President offers his leadership to those who would scrap the sheltering and distancing rules, characterising them as the imposition of a despised bureaucracy—evidence, as one protestor put it, of a “Communist dictatorship.” Trump is, in most moods, fond of Communist dictators, as China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un have been pleased to discover. The head of his National Security Council (NSC) from April 2018 until September last year, John Bolton, fears and hates them. These two men, both in their early 70s, were yoked together for 18 months, a period that ended in predictable acrimony, and which has now produced a memoir from Bolton. Several books have already sought to illuminate the malign …

Policing in the Anomie Era

We bounced along a pitted dirt road on an Indigenous reserve in Northern Ontario. As I leaned on my horn to convince a bored looking, semi-feral stray dog to move out of our path, I chatted with my passenger. She was a young Indigenous woman who worked at our police detachment as an administration assistant. It was midnight, and I was driving her home at the end of her shift because dangers—both canine and human—rendered it unsafe for our civilian staff members to walk home alone after dark. This woman, who I’ll call Grace, was 23 years old. She had recently returned to the reserve after spending a year in southern Ontario attending university. Raised in a home with two alcoholic parents, by the age of 14 she was pregnant. Another child with another father would follow before her 18th birthday. Neither of these men remained in her life. Despite these challenges, Grace was a voracious reader who loved school. With the help of a supportive teacher and various government programs, she was able to …

The New York Times and the Importance of Conclusion Neutrality

Earlier this month, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a controversial New York Times op-ed arguing that President Trump should send the US military to quell riots in cities across the country. The article produced a staff mutiny within the Times and a predictable and philosophically banal debate outside it. On one hand, there was a defense of a free press—in the pages of the Times itself, Bret Stephens wrote “it is not the duty of the paper to make people feel safe”—and on the other, a call for the Times not to provide platforms for “dangerous” ideas. This episode is representative of a longstanding debate over where the line around permissible opinion should be drawn by the media. When David Remnick disinvited Stephen K. Bannon from the New Yorker Festival, we witnessed the same argument between those who emphasize the hypothetical dangers of some speech, and those who believe open intellectual inquiry is the best means of ultimately overcoming “bad” ideas. Invariably missing from these debates is a thoughtful interrogation of the principle …

On Race and Inequality—A Reply to Nathan J. Robinson

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd has plunged us into a new era of institutional anti-racism. The prevailing narrative is that the country remains a fundamentally racist and white supremacist society that has yet to come to terms with its original sin and must be held accountable by eliminating all racial disparities of outcome. To this ongoing discussion, Nathan J. Robinson has contributed a long essay in his magazine Current Affairs restating the case for reparations on behalf of black Americans. What was once a fringe perspective has become increasingly mainstream in the wake of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s widely debated 2014 essay on the topic for the Atlantic. The reparations issue has become emblematic of the broader debate around race, encapsulating all of the moral and political dimensions that make it so complex and heavy. To what extent does racism continue to hold blacks back? Can an entire racial group, whites, be held responsible for the sins of the past? What does racial justice really look like, basic …

Is Foster Care Racist?

“We need to abolish the foster care system,” Charity Chandler-Cole, a member of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families told her colleagues earlier this month. Chandler-Cole, a former foster youth herself, explained: “I don’t care how big your Office of Equity is, I don’t care how many black people and brown people you hire.” Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed entitled “Now Is the Time for Abolition,” Alan Dettlaff, dean of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and Kristen Weber, director of equity, inclusion, and justice for the Center for the Study of Social Policy, announced that their “respective organizations have formed upEND, a collaborative movement… [that] works to create a society in which the forcible separation of children from their parents is no longer an acceptable intervention for families in need.” The complaints of structural racism and a desire to abolish foster care will sound familiar to anyone who has been listening to the recent debate about policing. But the claim that the foster care system suffers from systemic bias and …

Neo-Totalitarianism and the Erasure of History

We are watching the era of the new iconoclasm take shape, no longer in the form of the destruction of religious icons, but in the demolition of historical memory via the toppling or desecration of statues and memorials across the West. While the removal of Confederate statues can be justified—though it should be accomplished by political consent rather than vandalism—it is clear that this new outburst of iconoclasm is in no way confined to the punishment of historical traitors. Most notably in this regard, a statue of Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest anti-fascist of them all, was desecrated. Along with it, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant was toppled, despite his legacy as the man who crushed the Ku Klux Klan and fervently defended Reconstruction and human rights. What we are seeing, in other words, is not an attempt to force the past to answer to the present, but the emergence of something else. Over 2,000 years ago, Plato described it in part when he said, “Bad men, when their parents or country have any …

From India’s Himalayan Border to Our Local Cell Networks, It’s Time to Push Back Against China

High in the Himalayan mountains, Chinese soldiers ambushed Indian troops this week, resulting in a brutal battle on the Indian side of their shared border. Twenty Indians were killed, while China won’t disclose its losses. It was the deadliest confrontation on the border in over 40 years. As a result, some Indian strategists are openly discussing recognizing Taiwan and providing more visibility to the Dalai Lama, state-owned telecoms are blocking Chinese equipment from 4G upgrades, and millions of Indians downloaded an app that helps remove Chinese apps from their phones (before Google removed it). All of this comes at a time when much of the world remains angry at China’s leaders for their initial handling of the COVID-19 crisis. This week’s apparent provocation is part of a larger recent pattern with China. From the South China Sea, to Taiwan, to Hong Kong, Beijing has been seeking to change facts on the ground in a way that benefits its own strategic and economic interests. In a recent Atlantic Council discussion of the India-China border issue (convened …

Exploring ‘Other Ways of Knowing’: The New Religious Threat to Science Education

Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last month, an odd pattern has been playing out among major scientific institutions. In their public pronouncements, prestigious journals have not only professed their unqualified support for activists seeking to highlight the pervasiveness of racism in our society. They also have delivered fervent shows of contrition in regard to (usually unspecified) sins they’ve committed in the past and their “complicity” in racism more generally. The prestigious journal Nature, for instance, issued a dramatically worded statement to the effect that it would be joining a movement to “#ShutDownSTEM #ShutDownAcademia #Strike4BlackLives, an initiative of STEM academics and organizations pausing their standard activities to focus on actions to eliminate anti-Black racism.” It also published an editorial confessing to accomplice status in regard to wide a range of crimes: We recognize that Nature is one of the white institutions that is responsible for bias in research and scholarship. The enterprise of science has been—and remains—complicit in systemic racism, and it must strive harder to correct those injustices and …

White Saviors Need to Leave the Room

She called herself Kalamity, though that’s not her real name. She’s the white woman who called me a racist for noting that Indigenous children who live in communities where parents own their homes tend to have a higher standard of living and care than those who live in reserve communities where property is owned communally. This was the day after she schooled me, a Desi, together with a Kenyan woman—the only two non-white individuals in our class—on the proper use of people-of-colour nomenclature. “I’m not sure I like that phrase,” said the Kenyan woman. I agreed. Of all the ways to describe oneself, why would I self-define as not white. “Women of colour chose it,” Kalamity informed us. By this, I learned, she meant black intersectional feminists. This wasn’t the first or last time that Kalamity treated us like elementary-school children in catechism class. I didn’t like this feeling. Kalamity also called me out as racist for disagreeing with her pronouncement that those Charlie Hebdo cartoons from 2015 were racist. That Kalamity could not read …

Seattle’s Summer of Love

The bluest skies you’ve ever seen in Seattle And the hills the greenest green in Seattle Like a beautiful child growing up free and wild Full of hopes and full of fears Full of laughter full of tears Full of dreams to last the years in Seattle In Seattle So Perry Como sang in the late ’60s. Now it seems the days of beautiful children growing up free and wild are returning to Seattle. Like other American cities over the last three weeks, Seattle saw protests rapidly become violent clashes with police. This ugliness waxed and waned for a fortnight until police withdrew from their East Precinct Building, effectively ceding the surrounding area to the protestors. Barriers were erected around it by activists who initially christened the new territory the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), and later renamed it the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). As their quasi-manifesto of June 9th put it, they had “liberated Free Capitol Hill in the name of the people of Seattle.” Now a tense and potentially dangerous stand-off has …