Tag: politics

Confronting Privilege

I’m an old leftie.

I haven’t always been an old leftie because I haven’t always been old, but I have a deep belief in the moral imperative on society to help those who need help. This belief was formed on the anvil of Thatcherism, which was an ideology of class war.

My understanding of social narrative has therefore been through a class-based lens, by which I mean class in the British sense: something close to a caste system where there is little mobility between the strata of society, regardless of wealth.

Given that upbringing, my perception of the police has never been as rosy as many of my heritage: the police were used to break strikes and suppress dissent against Conservative policies. I’ve written before here about how living in Liverpool during the 80s felt a lot like living in Portland now: the people around me have similar views to my own, but the central power in the country has no inclination to listen to those views.

But you’ll notice I haven’t mentioned race. This is my central privilege: I don’t have to.

Because as left-wing as I might be, I am white. I am a white cis het male in a society built by and for white cis het males.

So. I have some learning to do. I’m not starting from a position of no knowledge, but I do not understand the lived experiences of people without the privileges that I have benefited from.

To help me in this learning I am working through Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad. The book speaks quite candidly about how the work of raising consciousness in this matter is going to be difficult. It does help me  that the author has a British background, though, however little it should matter objectively. Even as I am aware that British racism is as ingrained as American racism, the British experience is less driven by the wounds of slavery.

Anyway, I’m going to be over here learning and donating to organisations that actually understand the work that needs to be done.

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Racism is Bad, M’Kay?

There are lots of things to argue about in politics, but one of the things I thought we had broadly settled was that racism was a bad thing.

Obviously, I’m white. I was also oblivious.

People of colour have known that racism was alive and well even when we had a black President, but the change of political climate over the last eighteen months or so has taken the racist undertones of the past into something close to an acceptable political position.

There are lots of reasons I find Trump appalling, but the legitimsation of overtly racist politics is probably the single most damaging thing about his regime*.

So, I want to be quite clear about my beliefs here because apparently we actually have to say this now:

  1. racism is bad
  2. misogyny is bad
  3. homophobia is bad
  4. making decisions about anyone based solely on properties that they have no control over is unjust, immoral and, well, bad.

Can we at least agree on that?

[*] it’s not the only thing because the whole corrupt bunch are engaged in nothing more than deliberate vandalism, but it’s the thing that degrades our politics the most.

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I’ve been ostriching it pretty hard lately.

I am aware of my privilege in not having to deal with the fallout and continuing malice spewing forth from Trump’s administration, but I have been through this before and need to maintain some level of detachment in order to continue my work.

The problem, as I see it, is that I have no voice.

That may seem weird coming from a white, cis-het male but I also live in Portland, OR, one of the most left-leaning cities in one of the most left-leaning regions in the nation. The problem is not that I am being persecuted or targetted but that anything I say will simply be ignored by those with any kind of actual power.

I grew up in 70s and 80s Britain. The mid- to late-80s were when Thatcher was at the height of her powers and her union- and socialist-busting agenda was in full swing. I did my degree in Liverpool, a city with leaders only just this side of Communism (the cuddly Trotskyist variety rather than Leninist or Stalinist), but this was also when Thatcher was drawing many of the powers that had been devolved to local government over the decades back in to Westminster.

Liverpool had no voice or power, in other words, and all the protests and complaints and, yes, occasional riots fell on deaf ears. Because the key point was that the Conservative government didn’t care about what millions of people thought because it wasn’t in line with what they wanted to do.

And that is what I see in Trump and his cavalcade of malicious clowns: a leadership that leads by order – by diktat – rather than by example, a group of malign goblins who want the levers of power to enrich themselves and who simply do not care about the voices of those who lose from their decisions.

So this is why I have not been engaging much anywhere, why I have been sticking my head in the sand, because I know that my anger will not make a difference now, and if I give Mr Trump my anger then I lose the ability to continue my work.

I have reason for hope, though. Seeing Michael Flynn resign just last night tells me that these moral midgets are not entirely immune from facts and evidence (no matter how much they might wish it otherwise), and Trump himself is vain enough that if he can be made to confront his historic levels of unpopularity then he might be affected. However I don’t think the Republicans are going to be any kind of brake on Trump’s hideous plans, and the Democrats are doing what they can, but are ultimately ineffectual.

I am saving my energy for a fight I can win.

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Back to the 90s

Yesterday I remarked that this year’s election in general, but the presidential election in particular, felt like Labour losing in 1992.

I’m not going to go over the sullen misery I felt this morning, or my withdrawal from social media for the next few days*, or the general disengagement with news sources. I just don’t want to hear about it right now.


I do have reasons for hope though:

  1. this way, we get an unambiguous peaceful transfer of power. Trump’s terrible words about not accepting the result of the election if it was not in his favour are now moot.
  2. there’s a non-zero chance that he will simply not want to do the job. Being president is hard and involves paying attention to many many details all the time. That doesn’t sound like Trump. This would render a Trump presidency more akin to Shrubby’s, where the actual levers of power were swung by Cheney and other lieutenants. That does put immediate power into Mike Pence’s hands which I do not relish, but he is at least a responsible politician, if not an admirable one.
  3. Trump’s policy positions were either unclear or absurd. There’s a pretty decent chance that he didn’t mean any of it, because fundamentally we have no idea what he’s going to do**. That would mean we also have no idea what could happen, but I would posit that was always the case with him.
  4. I reckon the 2018 mid-terms will flip the Senate back to the Dems, and maybe even the House too (although the gerrymandering there is so grotesque that that may be a stretch). I am sure a lot of damage can be done in those two years, but if anyone’s going to be a one term president it will be him.

That’s what I’m clinging to, when I can bear to think about this débacle at all.

I’m still hoping I sleep tonight.

[*] not entirely, since I have a NaNoWriMo group I want to keep up with.

[**] although I have not been paying attention to any transition team announcements, so we may be getting more hints than I am aware of.

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1992 And All That

One of my most depressing political memories is of the 1992 British general election.

John Major’s Conservative government of the time had run out of steam. They didn’t seem to have any positive ideas left, Thatcher’s programme of reform having run past its course. The sitting government was enormously unpopular, and it was apparent – obvious to everyone – that Neil Kinnock’s Labour party would win control of parliament.

And yet the Labour party lost.

I remember I had been out at the pub that night. It was a Thursday: Britain votes on Thursdays, and I had a regular pub crew I met on Thursdays too, and I came home after closing time and turned on the telly to see how things were going.

The news was bad. Labour was losing. The polls had been wrong.

I slept very poorly that night, nightmares of a Tory win which were confirmed when I woke up.

On this night when I was feeling nervous but fundamentally secure as I was leaving the day job, I find myself remembering how 1992 felt.

I didn’t want to have this feeling again.

I am feeling very frightened right now. This doesn’t feel like the world I want to live in. Maybe things will seem better in the morning.


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On Independence

I have little standing to write about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. I mean, I used to live in Britain but I have not lived in Scotland nor am I likely to any time soon. I have an even less meaningful connection to the debate than Sean Connery.

But on the other hand I am half Scottish, and that makes me feel like I have some connection to the decision.

The case against Scottish independence seems to mostly boil down to how much better the UK is with Scotland in it rather than how much better off the Scottish would be as part of the UK (here’s one particularly flippant example). And I think this really goes back to the roots of why Scotland joined the Union in the first place.

Scotland and England have had a common monarch since the early seventeenth century when James succeeded Elizabeth I – he was James I of England and James VI of Scotland – but the two countries remained distinct (and the Scots rebellious) until the early eighteenth century and the time of imperial expansion. It was a time when all the European powers were starting international empires, and Scotland wanted one too.

Unfortunately, none of their efforts went well, and it finally came down to one last gamble: Scotland self-funded an expedition to build a trade route between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in Panama, a prefiguring of the Panama Canal. The funding for this expedition consisted of a fifth of the money in Scotland.

Think about that: a country decides to fund an expedition with a fifth of the money in that country. That’s a lot.

Needless to say, it failed and Scotland was left in dire financial straits. The option available was to join with England in a new country called the United Kingdom. And ever since there have been depredations upon the Scottish populace, from the Clearances onwards.

There are going to be teething troubles in a newly independent Scotland, but as Charles Stross suggests in his analysis those troubles should be sorted out relatively quickly as these things go. The alternative is continuing governance from a remote and unrepresentative parliament in London.

Flee, Scotland, while you have the chance.

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