[The following is slightly adapted from a comment written for a Facebook post, based on this article about President Obama’s December 6, 2015 speech, which for some reason Facebook would not allow me to post. Possibly because, at nearly 3,500 words, it’s too long. What can I say? I felt inspired. The comment that inspired me basically expressed doubt that Obama has put as much thought into “ISIS and the implications of radical Islam” as the article’s author thinks. I have adjusted some formatting and added some links.]
You may be right about Obama not thinking through the full implications of radical Islam, but the exact same can be said for people on the right who posit radical Islam as a threat to “Western civilization” (a fluid and undefined term if ever there was one) on a par with German fascism or Soviet communism. Lest this seem like a tu quoque argument, I’ll even concede that Obama might underestimate the short-term threat posed by radical Islamism, but only because I believe the proponents of the radical-Islamism-as-mortal-threat viewpoint drastically overstate its dangers—furthermore, by arguing for such an aggressive stance against it, they paradoxically serve its aims. Continue reading →
It wasn’t supposed to happen here. Not in Austin, a one-doctor-and-an-ice-cream-shop town of 4,200 in southeastern Indiana, nestled off Interstate 65 on the road from Indianapolis to Louisville, where dusty storefronts sit vacant and many residents, lacking cars, walk to the local market. Not in rural, impoverished Scott County, which had reported fewer than five new cases of HIV infection each year, and just three cases in the past six years. Not in a state where, of the 500 new cases reported annually, only 3 percent are linked to injection drug use.
But it did. And it could happen in many more backwoods towns just as unprepared as Austin.
As the largest HIV/AIDS outbreak in Indiana’s history roils this Hoosier hamlet, it reflects the changing face of the epidemic in the U.S., as a disease that once primarily afflicted gays and minorities in deep-blue cities rises in rural red states. This new evolution of HIV is also forcing a new generation of Republican policymakers to confront its orthodox opposition to remedies such as government-funded needle-exchange programs.
I’m hung up on that first sentence, “It wasn’t supposed to happen here.”
I can’t tell if the author of this article is using this sentence with any sense of irony at all. Continue reading →
During the Vietnam War, an average of 950,000 men annually had entered the military through conscription, according to a report by the nonprofit Human Resources Research Organization. The Nixon administration’s decision to turn off that spigot at a moment of defeat and vulnerability for the military was seen by uniformed leaders as a betrayal and as a purely political maneuver, designed to quell antiwar protests that had begun on college campuses with the burning of draft cards, and had spread throughout the country. If that was the plan, it worked: By eliminating the duty to serve, the shift to an all-volunteer force succeeded so spectacularly in pacifying antiwar sentiment that few observers at the time worried at what cost.
There have been many prominent pregnancy and child care–related issues in 2014, from the UPS pregnancy discrimination case that was recently argued in front of the Supreme Court to the publicity around the scheduling software that makes child care arrangements impossible for working-class parents. In reading and writing about these issues, I’ve noticed a depressing sentiment: Having children is now often framed as a frivolous lifestyle choice, as if it’s a decision that’s no different from moving to San Francisco or buying a motorcycle. If you choose to buy that Harley or have that baby, it’s on you, lady.
When I’ve written about middle- and upper-middle-class parents wanting benefits like paid parental leave, this is the typical sort of comment people make: “I see no reason to subsidize women’s fantasies of ‘having it all.’ ” As if raising children is just about pinning another badge to a Girl Scout sash. When I write about working-class parents just trying to make ends meet and find safe child care for their offspring, the comments are even crueler: “If you can’t afford a dog, don’t get a dog. If you can’t afford a kid, don’t get a kid.”
The problem, I would suggest, goes deeper than the fossil fuel industry or the dysfunction of American politics. The phenomenon of climate change, I believe, challenges some core collective beliefs, provoking deeper anxieties. Consciously and unconsciously, fear drags on our intentions and clouds our thinking. “Fear is the mind-killer,” the Bene-Gesserit warned in Dune. To name a few now-in-doubt precepts:
1. Nations are sovereign within their borders.
2. The United States is an exceptional nation that can always prevail.
3. The US way of life is benign and benefits the world.
4. Consumption is the measure of economic growth and health.
5. God gave humans natural resources for enterprising individuals to exploit.
Frontier values and opportunities still endure.
At least on Earth, climate change threatens to make this last forever untrue and nine billion people can’t become American-type consumers. The United States can’t solve the climate problem at the nation-state level. Our activities have caused harm way beyond our borders and we need everyone’s help—even those whom we have harmed. “We are all Bangladeshi’s now,” as someone memorably put it.
The era of crises could end, but only when this group of conservatives makes its peace with today’s America. They are misty-eyed in their devotion to a distant republic of myth and memory yet passionate in their dislike of the messy, multiracial, quasi-capitalist democracy that has been around for half a century — a fifth of our country’s history. At some point, will they come to recognize that you cannot love America in theory and hate it in fact?