Vox - All
How to make a great dark comedy, according to the director of a great dark comedy
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

“Pain plus time equals comedy,” according to Ingrid Goes West director Matt Spicer.

Matt Spicer’s directorial debut is the ink-dark comedy Ingrid Goes West, for which he and his co-writer David Branson Smith took home the top screenwriting award at Sundance back in January.

The movie stars Aubrey Plaza as a young woman addicted to Instagram. She ultimately becomes obsessed with an Instagram celebrity named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), and worms her way into Taylor’s life. It’s hilarious, and tragic, and more than a little twisted even when it’s wise.

Making a story about obsession, addiction, mental illness, and stalker-like behavior into something wickedly funny without sacrificing the characters’ humanity seems extraordinarily hard to me. Yet that’s just what Ingrid Goes West does.

So after the film screened on a snowy afternoon at Sundance, I tracked down Spicer to ask him a few questions about his approach to dark comedy. We talked about some of his favorites in the genre — like Boogie Nights, The Squid and the Whale, and Muriel’s Wedding — and he shared a few of his secrets for approaching Ingrid’s story.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Alissa Wilkinson

So, how do you write a good dark comedy?

Matt Spicer

I think a good dark comedy is not afraid to be not funny. That’s really hard. There are scenes in Ingrid Goes West where there are no laughs.

You have to know when to hold back — when to go for something emotional, or something dramatic, or something scary, rather than just a joke. There's definitely hilarious shit that we left on the cutting room floor just because it tipped the scale too far toward silly comedy. Aubrey [Plaza] was very helpful with that: helping us manage the tone, and saying, "Look, I think this is funny, too, but I think we should cut it. Let us live in that moment with the character. We don’t always have to tap dance for the audience."

Director Matt Spicer with some of the cast of Ingrid Goes West. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Director Matt Spicer with some of the cast of Ingrid Goes West.

Alissa Wilkinson

It helps to have great weird characters to bounce off each other who don't have any jokes at all.

Matt Spicer

That's what I learned the most from Boogie Nights: All the humor in that movie comes from the characters, totally organically. That's what I loved about all the performances [in Ingrid Goes West], especially from O'Shea [Jackson Jr.] and Aubrey.

I love broad comedy — I think McGruber is one of the funniest films of all time, or Wet Hot American Summer. I'm not shitting on those movies at all. But I think when you're going for the tone that we're going for, it’s better to be grounded in some sort of truthfulness or character — something more than a funny joke or a funny line.

Alissa Wilkinson

Making an independent comedy must be different than making one with a big studio. Do you feel like the artistic freedom of independent filmmaking lends itself to dark comedy, more than broader comedy?

Matt Spicer

I think it's just a matter of stakes, right? When you're doing an independent comedy, or an independent movie in general, there's less money at stake. You have more freedom — or at least that's the way it should work.

But that's the trade-off. I take less money to make the film, but I get to make the film I wanted to make. My producers totally supported the film that we wanted to make every step of the way. It’s not like studios, where you’re spending $50 million, or $100 million, or $200 million — there's so much money at stake, so people are going to protect their investment more, which tends to homogenize the end product.

Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West Lionsgate
Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West.

I really respect directors like Christopher Nolan who are able to work inside the studio system and still maintain their authorship and their voice. I know a lot of people personally who entered that system, then got completely chewed up and spit out the other end. I don't know what separates Nolan from other people, where he's able to do it and so many other people aren't.

Dark comedies don’t make much money. So why should a studio bet money on something like that? It doesn't make money!

If you want to make risky films, you have to be responsible in terms of budget. It’s a business. But that doesn’t mean you can't make interesting stuff — you just have to not get all the toys that you want, and think more creatively about how to achieve what you want to do with the resources you have.

Alissa Wilkinson

I think Breaking Bad is probably the most commercially successful ...

Matt Spicer

... Dark comedy. Yeah, you're probably right.

Alissa Wilkinson

It’s a really funny show, even though it’s a total tragedy.

Matt Spicer

It is. I love things that have those two sides, because that's life. That's why I loved Manchester By the Sea. It's like there's always these moments that are undercutting [the drama]. That feels like more like real life to me — you're at a funeral, and then, like, somebody farts, and everybody starts laughing. There's that moment that shouldn't be funny, but it is.

Pain plus time equals comedy. I remember seeing The Squid and the Whale, which is one of my favorite movies, in college with my girlfriend at the time. I was laughing the whole time at the movie, and she was crying during the whole movie. My parents got divorced; her parents are still together. I related to all of it — I was crying about it when I was a kid, but now I can laugh about it. But to her, it was a tragedy about this family being torn apart. She was like, “How can you think this is so funny? You're a sick person.”

Maybe I am a sick person. But I don't know what else can we do. It’s why we have comedy, right? To laugh at sad, painful things.

US military chiefs: no room for racists and bigots in the services
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Leadership.

The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and National Guard have put out statements condemning racism and other forms of hatred in response to Charlottesville.

Adm. John Richardson, the Navy chief, kicked it off with a tweet Saturday night:

The rest of the service branch chiefs followed suit a few days later, each issuing his own message to the branch he oversees.

The comments stand in stark contrast to President Trump’s remarks Tuesday during a press conference in which he said that the white supremacists and those protesting against them were both to blame for the violence.

“What about the fact that [the counterprotesters] came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem?” Trump said. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”

Unlike Trump, the service chiefs were unequivocal in their condemnation of racism and bigotry, emphasizing that such ideas have no place in today’s US military. Here are the other service chiefs’ tweets, in the order in which they were published:

Gen. Robert Neller, Marine Corps

Gen. Mark Milley, Army

Gen. Dave Goldfein, Air Force

Gen. Joseph Lengyel, National Guard

An astonishing change in how Americans think about government-run health care
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

This is the web version of VoxCare, a daily newsletter from Vox on the latest twists and turns in America’s health care debate. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get VoxCare in your inbox here.

For the past few years, pollsters have asked about a thousand or so Americans the same question: Does the government have an obligation to ensure all Americans have health care?

They've found a remarkable shift, with Americans swinging sharply toward the belief that the government ought to play a very large role in the health care system.

Specifically, the percentage of Americans who think the government has an obligation to ensure coverage to all citizens has risen from 42 percent in 2013 to 60 percent in 2017.

 New England Journal of Medicine

An 18-point swing in just four years is a remarkably fast change in the world of public policy polling.

"When we reviewed everything, nothing else in our data was close to 18 points," says Harvard's Robert Blendon, who published the data in today's New England Medical Journal.

To put that in context: Although much fanfare has been made out of improving views of the health care law, when Blendon averaged together national polling, he found the law's favorability ratings had only risen 5 percentage points.

Blendon attributes the change in attitudes to Americans thinking through the consequences of repealing the Affordable Care Act, resulting in millions losing coverage. The question didn't ask about Obamacare specifically, a highly polarizing law. Instead, it asked generally about the government's role in providing coverage.

"People have not fallen in love with the ACA," Blendon says. "What they fell in love with was the idea that the federal government can't drop 30 million people from coverage all at once, that there was a responsibility for universal coverage."

His article also finds that government health programs, like Medicaid, generally poll better than the expansion of private coverage through insurance subsidies.

Most Republican voters say they do not want to cut the number of people covered through Medicaid, the public program that provides health insurance to low-income Americans. But most Republicans were open to cutting subsidies for private insurance.

"Medicaid emerged out of this debate with an awful lot of sympathy," Blendon says. "The majority of every group we looked at did not want to see the number of people covered by the program cut."

For me, Blendon's findings (and the chart above, in particular) do a lot to explain why Republicans have so far failed to deliver on their promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

It's not just the fact that millions of Americans now rely on the law and its programs for coverage. And it's not the rise in Obamacare's popularity, which has been relatively meager.

It's also a fundamental shift in attitudes that has happened after the Affordable Care Act passed, where Americans became more accepting of a larger role for the government in health care. For all the attacks on the health law as a "government takeover" of health care, this polling suggests voters are kind of okay with that.

Video of the Day

The eclipse is not a health policy issue — but it is pretty stinking cool. Hopefully you won't mind me recommending a video that has nothing at all to do with health care, but is the best thing I've watched all day. My colleague Joss Fong interviewed nine eclipse chasers who have spent decades now traveling the globe, searching for these brief moments. It is very worth a five-minute break from whatever you're working on today — and might even make you a bit teary. Watch it here.

Kliff’s Notes

With research help from Caitlin Davis

Today's top news

  • “Colorado's Gardner faces blowback at home over Obamacare repeal”:Sen. Cory Gardner was hammered for supporting Obamacare repeal during a series of raucous town halls on Tuesday, where constituents repeatedly criticized his role in a closed-door partisan process to draft the failed GOP health bill.” —Rachana Pradhan, Politico
  • “Oregon approves sweeping bill expanding abortion access”: “Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Tuesday signed into law what advocates called the nation’s most progressive reproductive health policy, expanding access to abortion and birth control at a time when the Trump administration and other states are trying to restrict them.” —Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post
  • “Federal court: Arkansas can block Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood”: “A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. The court lifted an injunction a federal judge issued last year that blocked the state from cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood.” —Jessie Hellmann, the Hill

Analysis and longer reads

  • “A Start-Up Suggests a Fix to the Health Care Morass”: “Many primary care physicians — who often see themselves as a kind of quarterback who calls the shots on a patient’s care — have no easy way to monitor a patient’s meandering path through the health care system. Aledade’s software addresses that by collecting patient data from a variety of sources, creating a helicopter view.” —Farhad Manjoo, New York Times
  • “Doctors Warm to Single-Payer Health Care”: “Single-payer health care is still a controversial idea in the U.S., but a majority of physicians are moving to support it, a new survey finds. Fifty-six percent of doctors registered either strong support or were somewhat supportive of a single-payer health system, according to the survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm. In its 2008 survey, opinions ran the opposite way — 58 percent opposed single-payer.” —Rachel Bluth, Kaiser Health News
  • “CMS cancels mandatory episode payment models, cuts participation in joint replacement model”: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Tuesday officially announced it is pulling back from mandatory bundled payment models set up under the Obama administration. CMS is proposing to cancel the episode payment models and the cardiac rehabilitation incentive payment model, which were scheduled to begin on January 1, 2018.” —Susan Morse, Healthcare Finance

Join the conversation

Are you an Obamacare enrollee interested in what happens next? Join our Facebook community for conversation and updates.

Why Trump’s Charlottesville crisis is shocking but not surprising
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Trump has been saying racist things for a long time — and it’s never caused him a real loss.

Even by Donald Trump standards, the president’s press conference on Tuesday was a surreal spectacle.

Just a day after caving to the demands of his party and making a statement that explicitly blamed white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, Trump reverted to his earlier position that “both sides” were culpable.

"What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump said during an impromptu news conference at Trump Tower in New York. "You can say what you want, but that's the way it is."

Trump’s statement effectively equating white supremacists with anti-racism protesters was in and of itself remarkable: The white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville over the weekend included hundreds of self-avowed neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members bearing torches, and one of them killed a woman and injured at least 19 people by ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

But even more striking was Trump’s pointed defense of some of those attending the weekend’s rallies, by framing them as merely defending American history.

"Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me," Trump said. “Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”

He went on to say that taking down statues like Lee’s or those of slave-owning presidents was “changing history” and “changing culture.”

Trump’s concern about the erosion of American identity that would come from the loss of Lee statues bears the hallmarks of Lost Cause thinking. It’s a set of beliefs that the Confederate cause was a virtuous struggle against Northern aggression, and was either minimally or completely unrelated to slavery. The historical record shows, by the accounts of those who waged war on behalf of the Confederacy, that the claim is a myth and an attempt to sanitize the old Southern project of white racial domination. For Lost Causers, protecting representations of Lee — and depicting attacks on him as an assault on sacred American heritage — is a pivotal culture war.

Trump’s decision to join the fray was telling. His presser wasn’t just another freewheeling media appearance where he makes headlines for saying things that are controversial. It was a focused attempt to defend ideas that white supremacists hold dear and cast aspersions on those who opposed them. That’s why former KKK leader David Duke thanked the president on Twitter and alt-right icon Richard Spencer immediately gushed he was “really proud of him” for his remarks.

This is all shocking. There’s a consensus in Washington that Trump has crossed a line and white supremacists are rejoicing over his rhetoric.

But still, this really shouldn’t surprise us. While on a long enough timeline Trump changes his opinion on just about any policy issue, he has been utterly consistent in saying and doing racist things over the course of his life. Bigoted statements and actions feature heavily throughout his public life and career, and were integral to his political rise. Given that he has yet to face any real negative consequences for it, there’s no reason to think he’s won’t keep at it, and in the process usher in a new era of racial tension in the US.

Trump has a ridiculously long history of public racism

Trump’s very first mention in the New York Times, the paper he worships and despises more than any other, was tied to racism.

The 1973 report details how the Department of Justice was suing the Trump Management Corporation for violating the Fair Housing Act with racially discriminatory rental practices. Trump later settled with the government and signed an agreement promising not to discriminate against renters of color, but did not admit to acting unfairly.

That was Trump’s opening act in what turned out to be decades’ worth of public commentary and action that revealed prejudice and resentment against people of other races. My colleague German Lopez put together an overview of those acts in the runup to the election:

1980s: Kip Brown, a former employee at Trump's Castle, accused another of Trump's businesses of discrimination. "When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor," Brown said. "It was the eighties, I was a teenager, but I remember it: They put us all in the back."

1988: In a commencement speech at Lehigh University, Trump spent much of his speech accusing countries like Japan of "stripping the United States of economic dignity." This matches much of his current rhetoric on China.

1989: In a controversial case that’s been characterized as a modern-day lynching, four black teenagers and one Latino teenager — the "Central Park Five" — were accused of attacking and raping a jogger in New York City. Trump immediately took charge in the case, running an ad in local papers demanding, "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!" The teens’ convictions were later vacated after they spent seven to 13 years in prison, and the city paid $41 million in a settlement to the teens. But Trump in October said he still believes they’re guilty, despite the DNA evidence to the contrary.

1991: A book by John O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, quoted Trump’s criticism of a black accountant: "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control." Trump at first denied the remarks, but later said in a 1997 Playboy interview that "the stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true."

1992: The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino had to pay a $200,000 fine because it transferred black and women dealers off tables to accommodate a big-time gambler’s prejudices.

2000: In opposition to a casino proposed by the St. Regis Mohawk tribe, which he saw as a financial threat to his casinos in Atlantic City, Trump secretly ran a series of ads suggesting the tribe had a "record of criminal activity [that] is well documented."

2004: In season two of The Apprentice, Trump fired Kevin Allen, a black contestant, for being overeducated. "You're an unbelievably talented guy in terms of education, and you haven’t done anything," Trump said on the show. "At some point you have to say, ‘That’s enough.’"

2005: Trump publicly pitched what was essentially The Apprentice: White People vs. Black People. He said he "wasn't particularly happy" with the most recent season of his show, so he was considering "an idea that is fairly controversial — creating a team of successful African Americans versus a team of successful whites. Whether people like that idea or not, it is somewhat reflective of our very vicious world."

2010: Just a few years ago, there was a huge national controversy over the "Ground Zero Mosque" — a proposal to build a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Trump opposed the project, calling it "insensitive," and offered to buy out one of the investors in the project. On The Late Show With David Letterman, Trump argued, referring to Muslims, "Well, somebody’s blowing us up. Somebody’s blowing up buildings, and somebody’s doing lots of bad stuff."

2011: Trump played a big role in pushing false rumors that Obama — the country’s first black president — was not born in the US. He even sent investigators to Hawaii to look into Obama's birth certificate. Obama later released his birth certificate, calling Trump a "carnival barker."

2011: While Trump suggested that Obama wasn’t born in the US, he also argued that maybe Obama wasn’t a good enough student to have gotten into Columbia or Harvard Law School, and demanded Obama release his university transcripts. Trump claimed, "I heard he was a terrible student. Terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?"

When Trump decided to jump into the ring and make a bid for the White House, he didn’t temper his racist commentary or ideas — he doubled down on them.

He kicked off his presidential campaign with a speech in which he called Mexican immigrants "rapists" who are "bringing crime" and "bringing drugs" to the US. He called for a ban on Muslims entering the US and endorsed the idea of a database that would track them domestically. He declared a judge unfit to oversee a lawsuit of Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. He was reluctant to disavow the support of Duke and other white supremacists, and tweeted criticisms of Hillary Clinton laced with anti-Semitic imagery. He encouraged his supporters to be violent against protesters at his rallies, many of whom were affiliated with Black Lives Matter.

But just as important as Trump’s history is the fact that he hasn’t faced negative consequences for it. Trump didn’t suffer in the polls for calling Mexican rapists. He didn’t plunge in popularity after criticizing the Muslim family of a slain US soldier and suggesting the soldier’s mother “maybe … wasn’t allowed” to speak publicly about her son. His Muslim ban was popular among GOP voters. Instead of sinking him, these remarks helped Trump achieve the most successful outsider presidential campaign in modern American history.

Trump’s ability to thrive with an agenda that embraced vulgar racism isn’t inexplicable. He was channeling anxieties that Republican policy and messaging have been tapping into for more than half a century through the “Southern strategy” — appealing to white voters using coded, racially tinged rhetoric like “law and order” and “welfare queen.” George W. Bush called Islam a peaceful religion, but his “war on terror” served as a polarizing banner for huge encroachments on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.

After the Obama era caused backlash among white voters and intensified the preexisting relationship between racial attitudes and party identification, Trump simply took the subtext of the GOP’s racially tinged messaging and made it text. He determined that he’s simply saying aloud what many of his predecessors were thinking.

There is little reason to think Trump will deviate from the path he’s currently on. He knows he’ll get slapped on the wrist by the establishment media and establishment Republicans for saying things that he considers mere political incorrectness. But his life and the mandate he received from his presidential campaign have told him that embracing white resentment works.

German Lopez contributed reporting.

This expert on political violence thinks Trump is making neo-Nazi attacks more likely
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

“Total moral collapse.”

When President Donald Trump declared that “both sides” were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville during his Tuesday afternoon press conference, Paul Staniland’s alarm bells started ringing.

Staniland is a political scientist at the University of Chicago who studies political violence around the world; his research had taught him that rhetorical support, even tacitly, from mainstream political leaders can encourage violence from radical groups. Trump’s statements, he believes, literally made further neo-Nazi violence more likely.

“I study violence, killing, political disorder for a living. I have a pit in my stomach after today's press conference. Total moral collapse,” Staniland tweeted after the presser. “Odds of non-state violence soar when state officials give it cover and legitimacy. Dangerous and staggeringly irresponsible.”

I wanted to understand just how worried we should be about this effect, so I gave Staniland a call on Wednesday afternoon. He cautioned that some hyperbolic headlines — like “Is America headed for a new kind of civil war?” — were overstating the risks. But nonetheless, he told me, the research is very clear: Radical groups elements draw major strength from any kind of mainstream legitimation. If Trump had credibly condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacy, it would be harder for them to sell themselves to potential followers and activists as a viable political movement.

Trump tried to do this in a scripted Monday statement, but fatally undermined it on Tuesday by saying “there’s blame on both sides” and even sympathizing with the alt-right protest’s stated aim of protecting a monument to the Confederacy. The white supremacists got the message. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke tweeted after the event.

When extremist groups feel like they have mainstream support, Staniland says, they’re more likely to attract volunteers, put together new rallies, and even — yes — stage more violent attacks, like the car attack in Charlottesville that killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer.

“There’s potential for really dangerous escalation of violence,” Staniland says, “at least in part because of Trump’s rhetoric.”

What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Zack Beauchamp

When you said that you had a “pit in your stomach,” that the “odds of non-state violence soar” after rhetoric like Trump’s — what did you mean, exactly? What does the research tell us?

Paul Staniland

As I interpreted the press conference, he was carving out a space for at least some of the protestors in Charlottesville on the neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate side. He said they were “very fine people, on both sides,” that “you had a lot of people in the [alt-right] group that were there to innocently protest.”

In other countries — which are very different than the US in a lot of ways, so I want to be really clear that I’m not drawing a straight analogy — that kind of rhetoric can provide political cover to non-state armed groups to act in ways that are really dangerous. They can just say “Look, we’re just doing what the president or the leader says is acceptable.”

That is why I was so disturbed. I don’t think the US is poised for a breakdown of civil order or a civil war that some people speculate about. It’s that the space in mainstream politics for a style of really radical right-wing politics that has been sealed off for the past couple of decades has opened.

Zack Beauchamp

Explain how the dynamics in foreign countries you’re talking about would port over to the American context. In other words, what’s similar, not what’s different.

Paul Staniland

There’s a lot of research on ethnic riots and pogroms from places like India and Sri Lanka that suggest when mainstream elites are willing to do business with violence fringe actors, that they’re able to mobilize more effectively within the police system. They don’t expect the police to crack down as hard on them, they try to create linkages with ruling parties or parts of ruling parties, and overall encourages greater levels of mobilization.

Now, sometimes that doesn’t turn into violence. Sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere. But sometimes it does.

In India, you have provocative statements from ruling politicians about Muslims, which then give encouragement to [Hindu nationalists] for violence, intimidation, or coercion against Muslims. Or, in 1950s Sri Lanka, you see similar things targeting the Tamil minority [when riots led by hardline factions of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese ethnic majority in 1958 killed hundreds of Tamils].

Zack Beauchamp

So you referred to what the mainstream groups in India and Sri Lanka did as “doing business” with bigots. Does that mean what Trump is doing, just failing to condemn them or drawing moral equivalencies between oppressor and oppressed?

Paul Staniland

Trump is at one end, with his kind of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” In other cases, it’s very extreme political rhetoric, people like Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia [a Serbian leader whose forces conducted ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s]. I don’t want to exaggerate what Trump said, in terms of linking him to other figures like that.

But it’s certainly on that spectrum, in ways that we haven’t really seen from other presidents, at least in recent years. That’s what I mean by doing business: It’s not explicitly condemning, but saying people on both sides have legitimate grievances.

To me, it’s worrisome. It opens space for certain kinds of groups to operate in the political mainstream.

Zack Beauchamp

So what does that look like, in concrete terms?

Rescue workers move victims on stretchers after a car plowed through a crowd of counter-demonstrators marching through the downtown shopping district Saturday, in Charlottesville. (Chip Somodevilla/Staff/Getty Images)
The aftermath of the car attack in Charlottesville.

Paul Staniland

It looks like groups recruiting much more openly. It looks possibly like hardcore supporters of the president being inclined to look more positively on these groups than they did before. The president basically said there’s something to what these guys are saying that they should respect and pay attention to.

So I think recruitment and openness are areas where we should worry. In the reporting that we see, there’s been a surge in enthusiasm. The New York Times had a piece about how the radical white supremacist right loves that, that they’re planning a whole other wave of activity. They feel like they’ve been legitimized by the president.

You definitely could see further clashes. What form those take depends a lot on the police reaction and the reaction of politicians; if they try to tamp down on this, prevent these kinds of clashes, but obviously that will reduce the likelihood of violence. But I think there’s real potential for street clashes at these kinds of protests.

Zack Beauchamp

It’s not like there’s no precedent for this in US history. I saw a study of the US around the turn of the 20th century — you retweeted it, actually — that showed how sanction and support from US officials influenced lynching. It found that lynch mobs were more likely to kill if they had support from the political leadership, and less likely to do so if mainstream leaders spoke out against them.

Paul Staniland

The US has a pretty extensive history of political violence, both linked to state and non-state forces.

I don’t want to draw too explicit a comparison; analytically, we need to keep in mind that there are very big differences both between the US past and other cases. But there are enough similarities for us to say that this is extremely worrisome, that there’s potential for really dangerous escalation of violence at least in part because of Trump’s rhetoric.

I find it pretty depressing. There is this long history in the United States, so it’s not that this is radically new. But the whole problem is that it seems like a reversion to these previous periods of US history that we thought we were at least partially past.

I had thought that open sympathy with neo-Nazi or neo-Confederate actors was something that was in the past. Neo-Nazi sympathy got burned out of the US political system as a mainstream phenomenon after World War II; open sympathy with neo-Confederacy seemed to have been pushed back in the past several decades. It’s not like racism went away, but it seemed like mainstream politics had kind of excluded neo-Nazis to a much greater extent. And then Trump potentially opens the door to elite legitimation for these groups.

It’s possible no further violence will happen, and we’ll be able to put a lid back on this. But even the potential for that shift in the trajectory is, I think, pretty depressing.

I'm a black Southerner. I had to go abroad to see a statue celebrating black liberation.
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Why aren’t there more statues memorializing slaves?

This July, I traveled to Barbados to unwind and get away. I didn’t know I’d encounter a monument that would help me understand how America processes our history.

Heading into town from the airport, we circled a statue situated in one of the most prominent intersections in town. It depicts a black man, Bussa, breaking the chains that bound his hands in slavery. In 1816, Bussa, an enslaved African, organized enslaved black people across every major plantation to stage a nationwide revolt in what is now known as Bussa’s Rebellion. His actions were instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies.

As someone who grew up in Florida, I had never seen anything like it. For me, a racial justice activist, it communicated viscerally what no study or analysis ever could. It helped me imagine a landscape of liberation.

That night, I tweeted an image of the statue. People began tweeting back pictures of others just like it. Statues in Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Colombia, Jamaica, Saint Martin, Haiti, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Curaçao — all of black men and women who organized, fought, and risked their lives for emancipation. Free. Fearless. Empowering by design.

These statues represented a reality I did not experience growing up. The monuments in my hometown celebrated the men who fought to keep those who look like me enslaved, not those who fought for freedom. A monument in downtown Orlando where I grew up depicted a Confederate soldier, rifle over his shoulder and towering above his surroundings. At its base was a plaque celebrating the “heroic courage” and “unselfish patriotism” of their cause. A few miles down the road, children spent their days learning in the classrooms of Robert E. Lee Middle School.

More than 700 monuments to these white supremacists dot the landscape of the United States — not just across the South. There’s a Confederate Memorial Fountain in Montana, Jefferson Davis Park in Washington state, and Stonewall Jackson Drive located on an Army base in Brooklyn. These are symbols designed to empower hateful ideology and disempower those who continue to be oppressed by it. As we saw last week in Charlottesville, they have become rallying points for today’s white supremacists.

Confederate statues represent white supremacy

When I was growing up, the Confederate statue seemed to blend into the landscape of the city. It loomed over us as we walked to recess in middle school. But it wasn’t until I was older that I began to comprehend its significance. I'll never forget the anger I felt reading the words it used to describe the Confederates. “Heroic courage.” “Unselfish patriotism.”

These monuments are not benign markers of “Southern heritage.” They unequivocally celebrate a tradition of white supremacy. Look no further than Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, who declared the Confederacy to be founded “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

The reason these statues were built has its roots in oppression. Most of these monuments were constructed in the early 1900s as the South was imposing Jim Crow segregation and racial terrorism on black communities. In fact, many were a direct reaction to the perceived threat of racial progress, as with the surge in schools being named after Confederates following the Brown v. Board of Education decision on school integration.

This concerted effort to resurrect the symbolism of the Confederacy so long after losing the war is without precedent. For instance, there are no statues of Hitler in Germany today. Swastikas and other Nazi emblems are banned throughout the country. Rather, the German government has chosen to shut down symbols of its nation’s history of hate and devote resources to commemorate the people who were victimized.

Where are the statues depicting black liberation?

In 1739, an enslaved Central African man named Jemmy led the Stono Rebellion — the largest slave uprising in colonial American history. Starting in South Carolina, Jemmy recruited, organized, and armed up to 100 freedom fighters. Together, they marched toward refuge in Florida carrying banners and chanting, “Liberty!” — “lukango” in their native language Kikongo. They burned six plantations and fought off white militias for a week before the rebellion was ended. Jemmy was killed, but some of his followers are thought to have made it to Florida.

Today there is a lone sign propped up amid the grassy fields of South Carolina to bear witness to the Stono Rebellion. It does not mention Jemmy by name. Why are there so many monuments in America celebrating traitors like Jefferson Davis and so few celebrating heroes like Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, and Jemmy? Even the US Capitol has at least three times as many statues of Confederate figures as it does of black people. Confederate statues celebrate racism, but the ideology of white supremacy not only venerates oppressors — it also erases the stories and sacrifices of those who dared to resist.

It erases the stories of enslaved black people who, despite the most oppressive circumstances, managed to lead as many as 313 rebellions. It tells us that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but not that 200,000 black soldiers — many formerly enslaved — fought to make emancipation a reality. This erasure robs us of a rich legacy of resistance to draw upon when confronting the oppression of today.

These statues must be taken down

It doesn’t have to be this way. Following persistent pressure from local activists, that statue in Orlando was relocated and Robert E. Lee Middle School renamed. This week, officials in Charlottesville, Louisville, and Baltimore began to remove those cities’ Confederate statues. In Durham, students tore down a Confederate statue whose odious presence in front of the courthouse could not be endured any longer. Progress is being made.

Yes, each Confederate statue should be removed, each Confederate school and street renamed. But the fact that the national debate still centers on whether pro-slavery monuments should be taken down, not on how many anti-racist monuments should be built, speaks volumes. Why isn't the idea of building statues like Bussa’s being considered prominently in this national conversation? Why does it seem so hard for this nation to imagine a world where black freedom fighters are celebrated instead of their oppressors?

At a time when white supremacists pose a growing threat, local leaders, artists, and activists should work together to build symbols that unequivocally reject this hateful ideology: monuments that give voice to the truths unheard, celebrate the heroes untaught, and inspire the next generation to join the necessary work of perfecting our union. We deserve to look up to freedom fighters like Bussa, not continue to be looked down upon by our history’s cruelest oppressors.

We deserve more statues that depict our liberation.

Samuel Sinyangwe is an activist and data scientist who co-founded Campaign Zero, a policy platform focused on ending racism and police violence in America.


First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

Richard Spencer had speeches scheduled at 2 colleges, and they’ve both uninvited him
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

After Charlottesville, universities are arguing that white nationalists pose a safety threat.

Texas A&M University and the University of Florida, the two colleges where white nationalist Richard Spencer was scheduled to speak in the coming weeks, have canceled Spencer’s planned appearance over safety concerns after this weekend’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Spencer was supposed to attend a “White Lives Matter” rally on September 11 at Texas A&M organized by an alt-right member named Preston Wiginton. School officials at first told the student newspaper they did not endorse the event in any capacity but would let it happen.

Likewise, University of Florida officials had previously said they were compelled by the First Amendment to rent university space to Spencer’s group for an event on September 12, even if they wholeheartedly disagreed with his views.

That all changed after the violent events this weekend in Charlottesville, which resulted in one counterprotester being killed by a white nationalist who rammed his car into a crowd.

Officials at Texas A&M announced their decision on Monday, saying, "Texas A&M's support of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech cannot be questioned. However, in this case circumstances and information relating to the event have changed and the risks of threat to life and safety compel us to cancel the event."

Meanwhile, University of Florida president Kent Fuchs released a statement Wednesday morning saying that safety concerns were paramount, especially after rhetoric was displayed on social media declaring Florida to be “the next battlefield.”

“Denying this request for university space is the safest and most responsible decision we can make,” Fuchs said in the statement:

I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for. That said, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others. The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action.

Due to the First Amendment, public universities can’t just bar controversial speakers, even if those speakers are self-proclaimed white nationalists like Spencer. Because universities are public institutions and meant to be a space for free debate, they have to prove that a particular speaker poses a threat to school safety.

That’s the argument schools in Texas and Florida are now making.

Colleges can probably bar white nationalists now — but not forever

The fact that protests in Virginia turned deadly may shield universities temporarily, said Michael Olivas, director of the Institute for Higher Education Law & Governance at the University of Houston Law Center. But it won’t allow colleges to bar white nationalist speakers forever, as long as they promise to abide by school regulations and safety rules.

“You have to have some good reason — surely Charlottesville provides that ground cover,” Olivas said. “You probably can’t postpone it forever or cancel it forever. That’s the nature of an open campus, of free exchange.”

He added that the actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville this weekend were clearly not an example of debate.

“I don’t think carrying torches through a town on a Saturday night is an attempt to engage in discourse; that’s a show of force,” he said. “It’s not clear how long that inoculates campuses from keeping undesirables off their premises.”

This isn’t the first time issues of free speech and white nationalism have surfaced. In April, Auburn University unsuccessfully tried to bar Spencer from speaking on campus, also citing potential safety concerns. A federal judge ruled in Spencer’s favor, saying there was no evidence he posed a safety threat.

“If you set yourself up as an open forum, you’ve got to take what comes,” Olivas said. “The rules are supposed to apply equally to people.”

The debate over free speech on college campuses also played out earlier this year at the University of California Berkley, where conservative writer Ann Coulter and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos had events canceled amid violent protests on campus.

Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, recently told NPR’s Camila Domonoske he believes the latest incidents of schools canceling the alt-right events for safety reasons may be difficult to defend, given the events were weeks away.

"Generally when we're talking about shutting down speech because of threats of violence, it has to be an imminent threat of violence that is also likely to occur,” Shibley said.

The director of The Glass Castle explains the importance of cast and crew camaraderie
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

“Relationship always beats art in my mind.”

Community comes in different forms for director Destin Daniel Cretton; it can be a group home for teenagers in Short Term 12, or a close yet dysfunctional family in his new film, The Glass Castle. Accordingly, Cretton recognizes the importance of both capturing that camaraderie on camera and instilling it in his crew throughout the filmmaking process.

“It cemented my idea that relationship and community is a huge part of the aesthetic of the stories that I want to tell, and those relationships need to be real for me,” Cretton tells Vox critic at large Todd VanDerWerff on the latest episode of his podcast, I Think You’re Interesting. “I need to at least be constantly trying to cultivate them off-screen with my actors and with my crew in order for that type of energy to be on screen.”

To make believable the eccentric family at the center of The Glass Castle — Brie Larson plays Jeanette Wells; Woody Harrelson is her father, Rex; Naomi Watts portrays her mother, Rose Mary; and Ella Anderson plays a young Jeanette — Cretton worked as much as possible to get the cast together in the same room for rehearsal, something he values but says he doesn’t always have the opportunity to do.

“Rehearsing with these actors was so fun. We went over to where Brie was staying the week before we started shooting, and Woody and Naomi were there. Ella was there. We did a variety of just playing games and messing around to get to know each other,” Cretton explains. “But we actually did do a couple scenes improvised through, one of which was the big fight scene that Rex and Rose Mary have, where Rose Mary ends up flying out the window for a little bit. We did an improvisation of that scene and it actually changed the scene, I went in and rewrote it.”

Cretton says that in early screenings, the family had so many inside jokes that some feedback said that they were actually laughing too much and that the audience felt left out, so they scaled back.

“I’ve heard crazy stories where there are actors that are supposed to have chemistry in a movie, but they actually hate each other so much that they refuse to be on set at the same time, so they have to cover scenes on separate days with coverage,” Cretton tells VanDerWerff. “Thank God I haven’t had to do that, because chemistry is very difficult to fake. Especially a family, the feeling of a family is very difficult to fake if the people actually don’t like each other.”

To that end, Cretton tries to cultivate a close, can-do attitude in his crew. For The Glass Castle, this started when he and his cinematographer, Brett Pawlak, traveled to Welch, West Virginia, essentially shooting on their own (Larson showed up for one day).

“That started off our shoot, and it was a cool temperature to set for everybody. To see that this is the mentality of the way that we can shoot this movie,” says Cretton. “You have to work your ass off, but it’s super fun to work that way, because nobody stops. There’s not a bunch of people sitting around — like Sharon Seymour, our production designer, was there but she was doing everything, she had no hands under her.”

Capturing community continues to be a major focus of Cretton’s work, and while researching he makes sure to take the time to understand the relationships of his potential subjects. He tells VanDerWerff about a project he was working on about blind people and the process of getting ingrained in their lives for research.

“I was working on a script a couple years ago, and a lot of it took place in the blind community, so I went and volunteered at the Braille Institute here in LA and got to meet a lot of people,” said Cretton. “I went to a summer camp, an adventure camp for blind people, and got to sit in that community and meet people. It’s so simple, but it’s so quickly that you learn firsthand that we are all the same.”

Though he’s now working within the studio system, Cretton stresses that he will continue to fight for the kind of co-workers and creative culture that he feels is an absolute necessity.

“If I was forced to work with a bunch of assholes for a movie I would walk, even if it was the best project in the world and they were the most talented people in the world,” Cretton says. “If I was not able to create that type of collaboration it is completely not worth it to me. Relationship always beats art in my mind.”

Listen to the full episode of this week’s I Think You’re Interesting for more about how Cretton became interested in filmmaking while growing up in a small Hawaiian town, his next project about an attorney for death row inmates in Alabama, and his relationship with the real Jeannette Walls.

To hear more interviews with fascinating people from the world of arts and culture — from powerful showrunners to web series creators to documentary filmmakers — check out the I Think You’re Interesting archives.

It sure looks like Trump’s Charlottesville talking points came straight from Fox News
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

A video compares what Trump said to what Fox News said.

President Donald Trump’s remarks Tuesday on the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, shocked a lot of Americans. But the comments probably wouldn’t have been surprising to anyone who watched Fox News in recent days.

In the video above, Media Matters compared Trump’s comments with what Fox News pundits and guests said in the days before. Here are a few examples:

  • Trump on getting the facts right: “I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct — not make a quick statement. I want to know the facts.” Fox News host Jesse Watters: “Perhaps the president was thinking, ‘You know what, I don’t have all the facts.’”
  • Trump on violence on “both sides”: “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it.” Newt Gingrich on Fox News: “So we have a two-sided violence problem, not just a one-sided violence problem.”
  • Trump on the alt-left: “What about the alt-left that came charging the, as you say, the alt-right?” Fox News host Sean Hannity: “Republicans need to do their job and also be ready to fight back, because you got the alt-left — they cannot stand this president.”
  • Trump on Confederate statues coming down: “Was George Washington a slaveowner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down … statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?” Fox News host Martha MacCallum: “You could make an argument for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Are you going to change the name of the Washington Monument?”

We know Trump watches Fox News a lot. According to the Washington Post, Trump watches cable news an average of five hours a day. In fact, some of Trump’s aides reportedly try to get on cable news just to communicate to Trump.

So it’s quite possible Trump picked up much of what he said from Fox’s conservative commentators and hosts.

That may seem innocent enough. But it’s a bit alarming that one news outlet can have so much sway about what the president — potentially the most powerful man in the world — believes and says.

So many CEOs resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council that he just disbanded it
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Trump’s response to the Charlottesville white nationalism march caused many business leaders to resign in protest.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he is disbanding two business advisory group after a several members of the group, mostly top CEOs, resigned one by one after Trump’s weak initial response to the Charlottesville white nationalism march and his subsequent press conference insisting that there were two sides to the conflict.

The New York Times reported the business leaders serving on the manufacturing council, as well as the Strategy and Policy Forum — an economic advisory group — were planning to hold a call today to discuss disbanding the group. It’s unclear whether that happened, or whether Trump just shut down the group after the resignations.

The departures from the manufacturing council started with Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who resigned on Monday:

Subsequently, the CEOs of Under Armour, Intel, 3M, and Campbell Soup resigned, as well as both representatives from the AFL-CIO and the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Trump initially called out Frazier by bringing up an issue from this campaign:

When more CEOs began to resign, he said he had many others to replace the departing members:

Still, more people left, including Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison, who had this scathing statement to go with her resignation:

But by the time Trump disbanded the council with a tweet, nine members had resigned, and two others were no longer with their company. This means of the original 28 people who were in the group, nearly 40 percent were no longer a part of the council by Wednesday afternoon.

Neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer resurfaces with Russian domain following Google and GoDaddy bans
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

The notorious site bounced around various domains and the dark web before landing on a .ru domain.

After being refused service by two domain registrars and a hosting provider, a notorious neo-Nazi site has apparently fled to a Russian domain and a new server host, with a backup on the dark web.

The Daily Stormer came under fire following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. The neo-Nazi website had its account terminated with domain registrar GoDaddy on Sunday after Twitter users complained about a post lobbing insults and slurs at Heather Heyer, the anti-racism demonstrator who was killed in Charlottesville. The website also quietly had its server hosting disabled by hosting company Scaleway. And even though the website quickly moved to another domain registration company, Google, Google promptly terminated its account.

Thus, heading into Tuesday, the site — founded by prominent neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin in 2013 — was essentially bouncing around looking for places to land. It briefly attempted to gain hosting through a Chinese service provider at the URL DailyStormer.wang, only to quickly be taken offline.

Next, the site attempted to set up shop on the dark web, using a .onion domain. Websites on the dark web are hidden from search engines and can only be accessed by special browsers such as a Tor browser. But the site’s move underground didn’t last long. Currently its home on the dark web is a parked announcement that it has relocated to DailyStormer.Ru:

The .ru domain in the URL isn’t exactly proof that the website is now hosted in Russia, because anyone can register a .ru domain. A Whois lookup for the .ru site reveals that the controversial hosting proxy CloudFlare, which has refused to terminate its business relationship with the neo-Nazi forum, continues to mask the identity of the site’s true server host.

On the website, Anglin celebrated the site’s return with a litany of anti-Semitism and criticism of GoDaddy and Google, calling the latter an anti-speech site. He also took the opportunity to deliver more insults against Heyer, whose memorial is today.

Update: The Dailystormer.ru domain now appears to be offline as well; the .onion domain accessible via Tor browser has not updated. We are following developments and will update this article as new iterations of the site appear.

Trump just congratulated Kim Jong Un for not attacking America
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Seriously, he just did that.

President Donald Trump is praising North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un for pulling back on his threat to launch missiles near Guam.

“Kim Jong Un of North Korea made a very wise and well reasoned decision,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning. “The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!”

The recent deescalation on both sides is good news for those worried about a potential US-North Korea war. But Kim still has the ability to order a strike if he wants. Even worse, Trump may interpret Kim’s decision to back down as proof that his own belligerent rhetoric is what produced this current moment of calm. That could be a problem down the line.

“The worry is if Trump really thinks Kim backed down (he did not) because of Trump's fire and fury threat (no evidence of that), then Trump believes threats work,” Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at MIT, told me. “And that's super dangerous.”

Trump could make the threat worse

Kim has been briefed on the North Korean military’s plan to send missiles toward Guam. The state-run Korean Central News Agency released a photo on August 14 showing Kim reviewing the launch plans.

But on Monday, KCNA reported that Kim “will watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct” of the United States before he decides to launch any missiles toward Guam. So for now, at least, Kim has decided to hold off.

Yet “the implicit threat remains,” Narang says. “Kim Jong Un is now briefed and poised to give the order if he thinks the US gives him a reason to.”

Meanwhile, the country continues to develop nuclear weapons and improve its ballistic missiles. That means North Korea will continue to antagonize the United States and its allies even if a strike on Guam isn’t imminent. And it could get worse if the lesson Trump learned from the standoff with North Korea was that his harsh comments deescalated the matter.

“If Trump believes that his bluster is having a positive impact, that would be a dangerous misreading of the situation,” says Kingston Reif, a nuclear and missiles expert at the Arms Control Association. As Reif points out, Trump’s comments haven’t stopped North Korea from advancing its missile capabilities since he took office.

In fact, Trump might have already made things worse. “Trump has once again drawn a red line, stating that testing toward Guam would be ‘both catastrophic and unacceptable,’” Reif continued. In other words, should Kim choose to launch missiles toward Guam — which still remains a remote possibility — Trump just implied that the US would respond in a big way.

So while it seems a bit odd that Trump is congratulating Kim for not attacking America, it’s perhaps better that the president is lobbing compliments toward North Korea rather than missiles.

Trump's incredible shrinking manufacturing council, in one chart
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Here’s who is left.

Update: Trump just disbanded the group.


In January, President Trump announced the creation of the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative — and along with it, he announced a group of business leaders who would be part of a manufacturing council to advise him on business issues.

But several of these business leaders have resigned from that council in protest of Trump’s actions.

First was Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who left in June after Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate accords.

Then on Monday, three people resigned from the council after Trump’s weak response to the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

First was Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who released this statement:

Trump shot back at Merck by returning to an issue from his campaign:

As my colleague Sarah Kliff writes, this is part of Trump’s fake war on pharmaceutical companies — one that he has taken no action on. And his tweet didn’t seem to have a negative effect on Merck’s stock price. In fact, it had its best day in weeks.

Shortly thereafter, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank resigned:

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich resigned as well:

In response, Trump tweeted this today:

Minutes later, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, also tweeted his resignation:

On Tuesday, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka resigned, along with AFL-CIO deputy chief of staff Thea Lee.

On Wednesday, 3M CEO Inge Thulin resigned:

On Wednesday, Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison also resigned:

This means that of the 28 people Trump first named to the council, nine of them have resigned. And this doesn’t include Ford CEO Mark Fields and Arconic CEO Klaus Kleinfeld, both of whom left their respective companies.

All told, 11 of the original 28 are no longer on the council.

This doesn’t include the CEOs who resigned from Trump’s Strategic Policy Forum. Disney CEO Bob Iger quit after Trump withdrew the US from the Paris agreement, and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quit after the turmoil at his company.

Recode has a list of everyone who is still in and who’s out, but below we’ve charted who is left on the manufacturing council from that original group, sorted by sector and employees. In short, even though many business leaders have quit in protest, most are still in.

HBO accidentally aired Game of Thrones’ sixth episode in Spain. Now it’s on the internet.
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

But hackers aren’t responsible.

There are two unaired episodes left in Game of Thrones’ seventh season, and due to a flub, one of them is now living on the internet. According to an HBO statement obtained by The Verge, HBO Nordic and HBO España mistakenly released the show’s upcoming sixth episode ahead of its scheduled debut.

“We have learned that the upcoming episode of Game of Thrones was accidentally posted for a brief time on the HBO Nordic and HBO España platforms,” an HBO spokesperson said. “The error appears to have originated with a third-party vendor and the episode was removed as soon as it was recognized.”

Although the episode was only available for a brief window of time, it was downloaded by fans and is now being shared online.

The HBO spokesperson explained to The Verge that the leak is not connected to the recent cyberattack against the network, in which content from Game of Thrones and other HBO shows was stolen. In a roundabout way, HBO Nordic and HBO España’s accidental airing of this weekend’s episode devalues any information or content the hackers may have surrounding episode six.

Game of Thrones is a wildly popular show with a fanatical following — one that thirsts for every tiny morsel about upcoming episodes. For many of the show’s fans, seeing an unaired episode ahead of time is like hitting the jackpot. HBO has repeatedly battled leaks surrounding the show; earlier this season, the fourth episode also leaked online ahead of its debut, after a security breach at the network’s distribution partner Star India.

PayPal and GoFundMe are the latest websites to take a stand against the far right
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Both companies are citing their terms of use as justification for account termination.

In the days following last weekend’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, many websites and tech companies have taken a strong stand against white supremacist and alt-right interests.

Even before the rally, Airbnb deactivated the accounts of some of its members who the company believed were headed to Charlottesville for the event.

Within 48 hours of the rally and the violence that occurred in connection with it, the notorious neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer was denied domain registration and server hosting services by GoDaddy, Google, and several other companies that said it had violated their terms of service.

Now the crowdfunding website GoFundMe and the online payment system PayPal are removing campaigns and accounts offering financial support to users associated with far-right ideologies, including white nationalists and white supremacists.

GoFundMe has taken down several crowdfunding efforts aimed at assisting with James Fields’s legal defense, according to Reuters. Fields is the Ohio man accused of killing one person and injuring 19 others after driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville on Saturday. He was denied bail by a Charlottesville court earlier this week after being charged with one count of hit and run, three counts of malicious wounding, and second-degree murder.

PayPal has removed at least 34 organizations from its platform, according to the Washington Post. A list provided to the Post by racial justice organization Color of Change identifies the National Policy Institute, which is run by prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, as well as several accounts associated with Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler, among those whose access to PayPal has been terminated.

Like Airbnb and GoDaddy, GoFundMe and PayPal are citing their terms of service prohibiting hate speech, abuse, or violence as the reason for terminating the campaigns.

Bobby Whithorne, GoFundMe’s director of strategic communications, told Reuters the campaigns that have been launched on the platform to support Fields “did not raise any money and they were immediately removed.” He estimated that there have been fewer than 10 campaigns of that nature so far, but said any new ones will also be removed.

Both GoFundMe and PayPal, along with many of their mainstream competitors, have policies that prohibit the promotion of hate speech, violence, and threatening or abusive behavior.

In a statement released on PayPal’s website late Tuesday night, the company said that it works “to ensure that our services are not used to accept payments or donations for activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance” and that the company will “limit or end customer relationships and prohibit the use of our services by those that meet the thresholds of violating our policy.”

Presidents George Bush and G.W. Bush issue joint statement condemning racism and anti-Semitism
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all its forms.”

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the last two Republican commanders in chief before Trump, just put out a strong joint statement on the violence that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend, condemning “hatred in all its forms.”

“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all its forms,” the statement reads. “We are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights,” they continued, referencing the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson, who was famously a resident in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The timing of the statement is interesting. After all, just yesterday President Donald Trump answered questions about the violence in Charlottesville during an infrastructure press conference where he defended the alt-right and equated neo-Nazis to leftist activist groups.

“What about the fact that [the alt-left] came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem?” Trump said. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”

Instead of blaming both sides — like Trump has — the Bushes specifically call out racism and anti-Jewish sentiment. Those feelings were a feature among those rallying to keep Robert E. Lee’s statue up in Charlottesville rather than those countering their protest.

The Bushes and Trump might be from the same party, but they clearly view what happened in Charlottesville in very different — and moral — ways. Even other prominent GOPers, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio, put out their own statements calling out white supremacists.

You can read the full, short statement below from the Bushes below:

America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all its forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable right. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.

Why you see swastikas in America but not Germany
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

It has a lot to do with our different views on free speech — and our different relationship to our histories.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed horror at the racist marches that roiled Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend. “It is racist, far-right violence, and clear, forceful action must be taken against it, regardless of where in the world it happens,” she said on German television Monday.

She might have added that such a thing wouldn’t have happened in today’s Germany — because it’s illegal.

While America protects the right of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate groups to hold public rallies and express their views openly, Germany has strict laws banning Nazi symbols and what’s called Volksverhetzungincitement of the people, or hate speech. Like more than a dozen European countries, Germany also has a law criminalizing Holocaust denial.

And while Confederate statues can be found in many American cities south of the Mason-Dixon Line, there are no statues of Adolph Hitler or Joseph Goebbels gracing public squares in Berlin, let alone Nazi flags or other Nazi art. Public Nazi imagery was long ago destroyed, and swastikas were long since knocked off the walls of Nazi-era buildings. The only Nazi imagery you’ll find is in exhibits devoted to understanding the horror of the period.

The former Gestapo headquarters complex was destroyed in the 1950s. The land it once stood on now houses the Topography of Terror, a memorial and museum made of glass and steel filled with panels that narrate the brutal history of the Nazi regime. And on streets across the country, there are small brass cobblestones called stolpersteine (literally “stumbling blocks”), which tell passersby brief biographical details of each man, woman, or child who was deported from that spot, that house, or that block.

The Civil War may have ended more than 150 years ago, but America is still dealing with how to reconcile, and memorialize, that dark period of its history. And while freedom of speech — even vile, racist speech — is an inviolate part of the US Constitution’s First Amendment, Germany’s commitment to facing its own dark past led that country to believe a mix of education — and limiting free speech — was the only way to ensure the past would remain past.

Conquering armies banned the swastika immediately after the war

In 1945, the conquering Allied powers took control of Germany and banned the swastika, the Nazi party, and the publication of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s famously anti-Semitic text, historian Jean-Marc Dreyfus explained to me.

“There was a thorough effort to get rid of Nazi stragglers and Lost Cause supporters,” adds historian Gavriel Rosenfeld.

In 1949, the new West German government legally codified the banning of Nazi symbols and language, as well as propaganda. As Middlebury College professor Erik Bleich explained in a 2011 article for the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies on the development of hate speech and hate crimes laws, even the “Heil Hitler!” salute was officially banned.

But that didn’t mean it all disappeared overnight. After all, millions of German who had been part of the Nazi party still lived in the country. SS veterans who had fought under an ideology that was now outlawed would meet to drink and reminisce. There was always the risk, it seemed, of backsliding, even as a new menace — communism — rose in the east.

It wasn’t until the generation that came of age in the 1960s — the baby boomers who became known in Europe as 68ers — that a full reckoning of the war and a culture of Holocaust education began to take hold. Students rose up against the suppression of memory, demanding answers to what their parents had done just 25 years earlier.

“A generation of criminals was ruling society after the war and no one talked about what they had done,” journalist Günter Wallraff told Deutsche Welle in 2008. “Discussing their crimes was not even a part of our school lessons.”

Today it’s mandatory in schools.

The law was also evolving. After a series of synagogues and cemeteries were vandalized, Bleich explains, the West German parliament voted unanimously in 1960 to “make it illegal to incite hatred, to provoke violence, or to insult, ridicule or defame ‘parts of the population’ in a manner apt to breach the peace.” Over time it was broadened to include racist writing.

Gradually, this evolved into a concept called “defensive democracy.” The idea is that democracies might need a boost from some illiberal policies — such as limits on free speech and the display of imagery, in this case, connected to the Holocaust and the Second World War — in order to keep everyone free. In 2009 the law was strengthened again, when the German Constitutional Court officially ruled that a march to celebrate Nazi Rudolf Hess was illegal under Article 130 of the Penal Code, which bans anything that "approves of, glorifies or justifies the violent and despotic rule of the National Socialists."

“Our German law centers on the strong belief that you should hinder this kind of speech in a society committed to principles of democratic coexistence and peace,” Matthias Jahn, a law professor at Goethe University in Frankfurt, told the Washington Post this week.

Germany still struggles with neo-Nazis and the far right. But even the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right German party, ran into trouble earlier this year when one of its leaders seemed to minimize the Holocaust and bashed Germany’s culture of remembrance. The party voted to remove him.

By contrast, in one of our country’s most notable free speech cases, neo-Nazis were famously allowed to march in Skokie, Illinois, in 1978. This was despite the fact that the choice was made to clearly hurt the large population of Holocaust survivors, and Jews, who lived there.

“What Germany does is what Germany does,” says University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone. “They learned different lessons” from history. “The lesson we learned is not to trust the government to decide what speech is okay and what speech is not okay.”

“The First Amendment does not permit the government to forbid speech because ideas are thought to be offensive or odious. That's a message we have learned over our history: that we don't trust the government to make that decision.”

If we had, he says, it likely would have been used against civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights.

How, then, do we deal with the memorials and the continued trauma?

Earlier this year, Condoleezza Rice — who was the first woman African-American secretary of state in US history — was asked on Fox News if she wanted the South to erase the past by taking down the monuments to Confederate leaders.

“I am a firm believer in 'keep your history before you,’” she told the hosts. “So I don't actually want to rename things that were named for slave owners. I want us to have to look at those names, and realize what they did, and be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history.”

But unlike in Germany, where memorials to the victims of the Holocaust are erected on the ruins of Nazi buildings as a way to teach future generations about the sins and horrors of the past, most Confederate statues were designed to glorify the sins and horrors of the past.

Professor Kirt von Daacke, co-chair of the University of Virginia President's Commission on Slavery and the University, explains that the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was erected in 1924 “as part of the apex of white supremacist rule in Virginia and the US. It was explicitly part of a project designed to claim public space for whites only and remind African Americans that they were the dominated whose lives were worthless.”

Both the statue of Robert E. Lee and a nearby statue of Stonewall Jackson, he continues, were installed just after the KKK marched directly into the heart of the African-American community.

“These statues,” he says, were “the final act in a 30-plus-year project in Virginia ... eliminating African Americans from citizenship and the public sphere and erasing the history of the Civil War.” He sees both of them as part of a Lost Cause mythology that itself was a whitewashing of history.

“To call these statues historical is to be willfully ignorant of history,” he adds. “The statues are monuments to white supremacy, not to Lee, not to Jackson.”

That said, not everyone agrees that the obvious answer is immediate removal.

Alfred Brophy, a law professor at the University of Alabama, wrote me he believes it’s generally not the right idea to remove a statue because “we should not allow our country to forget that there was once a time when the people in power celebrated the Confederacy and its support of slavery.”

Whitewashing took place, he explains, when the history of the South was rewritten to be about “states’ rights” rather than slavery. “I think there's a ton of validity to the argument that removal of statues facilitates forgetting,” he said. “Once the public space is cleared of Confederate statues, it's easy to forget that Confederate statues once blanketed the countryside. They serve as stark reminders of the bad old days.”

He worries, though, that there is a good argument for removing them after Charlottesville. “When a monument serves as a contemporary rallying point, then we need to remove them, I suspect.”

The president of South Korea has a strong message for Trump
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

“Only the Republic of Korea can make the decision for military action on the Korean Peninsula.”

The president of South Korea has some sharp words for President Trump: South Korea gets to make the call about going to war with North Korea.

“Only the Republic of Korea can make the decision for military action on the Korean Peninsula,” President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday in a nationally televised address. “Without the consent of the Republic of Korea, no country can determine to take military action.”

Last week, Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on Kim Jong Un’s regime — apparently without stopping to check with Seoul how it felt about that. Given that Seoul is likely to be North Korea’s first target if war breaks out and is sitting within range of about 21,500 pieces of North Korean artillery, that might have been a polite thing to do.

Instead, Trump fired off a bellicose statement on his own, escalating the threat of war with the North in a way no US president has done in recent memory. And South Korea is not happy.

Moon’s statement is a clear message to Trump: Seoul must be involved in any decision to go to war. Full stop.

Moon wants to make South Korea more self-sufficient and less reliant on America

“We cannot rely only on our ally for our security,” Moon said in his speech. “When it comes to matters related to the Korean Peninsula, our country has to take the initiative in resolving them."

And he’s made moves to do just that. The New York Times reports that the US and South Korea are in talks to allow Seoul to build stronger ballistic missiles to defend itself against the North. They are also discussing putting more US-built missile defense systems on the peninsula.

In the meantime, Moon will abide by Trump’s economic and diplomatic approach toward Pyongyang. "The purpose of enhanced sanctions and pressure against the North is not to heighten military tensions but to bring it back to the negotiating table,” Moon said. “In this regard, the position of the Korean Government is not different from that of the US Government."

There’s a reason for him to highlight that: He wants South Korea to feature in any future diplomacy between the US and North Korea.

“Moon is telling Kim Jong Un, and possibly the Trump administration, that North Korea-US negotiations cannot happen without South Korea at the table,” Zachary Keck, an Asia security expert at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told me.

Moon isn’t trying to downgrade the US-South Korea relationship. In his remarks, he reiterated how South Korea will side with America as they push through the standoff with North Korea. Plus, South Korea still regards the United States as one of its most important allies.

But that doesn’t mean Moon would prefer that the US unilaterally make life-or-death decisions impacting his country.

His remarks may actually resonate with Trump’s own views, though, according to Georgetown University nuclear expert Matthew Kroenig. “The Trump administration has called on allies to take on more responsibility, and while Washington's commitment to Seoul is ironclad, it also supports South Korean steps to enhance its security,” he said in an interview.

Whether Trump is interested in hearing Moon’s opinion on any of this is a different question.

The battle over Confederate statues, explained
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Confederate statues have always been about white supremacy. That’s why they’re coming down.

America’s latest conflict about race began with a mass shooting, a flag, and some statues.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist protesters descended onto the city over the weekend to protest the city’s plan to take down Confederate monuments, particularly the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray responded to the Charlottesville protests by speeding up his own city’s plans to tear down Confederate monuments. In Durham, North Carolina, protesters on Monday pulled down a statue dedicated to Confederate soldiers. Baltimore took down its Confederate monuments literally overnight this week.

Why does America suddenly care so much about these old pieces of metal and stone?

The current battle actually goes back to a mass shooting in 2015, when self-described white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof drew a lot of attention for posing with the Confederate flag in images that came out after the shooting — and that helped spur a fight within South Carolina about whether it should take down a Confederate flag that had flown at the state capitol for years. The state eventually agreed to officially take down the flag (after it was unofficially taken down by activist Bree Newsome).

Since then, many cities and states, particularly in the South, have been questioning their own Confederate symbols. The argument is simple: The Confederacy fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy in the United States, and that isn’t something that the country should honor or commemorate in any way.

Critics argue, however, that these monuments are really about Southern pride, not commemorating a pro-slavery rebellion movement. They argue that trying to take down the Confederate symbols works to erase part of American history.

President Donald Trump invoked such an argument on Tuesday: “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and, this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

This is where the debate gets complicated, raising important questions about the US and its history: What exactly did the Confederacy stand for? And if it stood for slavery, does honoring it in effect commemorate white supremacy?

The historical record is actually pretty clear: The Confederacy was always about white supremacy, and so are the monuments dedicated to it. Much of America is now coming to terms with that — but not without a passionate, sometimes violent reaction from those who argue the statues are necessary symbols of white heritage and culture.

Cities and states have been working to take down their Confederate monuments

Since South Carolina took down its Confederate flag, several cities and states around the country have been considering similar moves — not just for flags, but also for the statues and other monuments all over the South honoring the Confederacy and its soldiers. There are a lot of these monuments out there: The Southern Poverty Law Center’s study found at least 1,500 “Confederate place names and other symbols in public spaces,” and it acknowledged that its count was “far from comprehensive.”

Before Charlottesville, the most high-profile move came earlier this year, when New Orleans finished tearing down four Confederate monuments. One of the statues was erected in 1891 to celebrate a deadly insurgency in 1874 — led by the white supremacist Crescent City White League — against an integrated police force and state militia. The others honored Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, all of whom betrayed the US and fought against the union during the Civil War to preserve slavery.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu passionately defended the move in a speech. “They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for,” he said. “They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.”

This drew a huge backlash. Mississippi state Rep. Karl Oliver, a Republican, wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post that people tearing down Confederate monuments “should be LYNCHED” — invoking language that’s obviously attached to the oppression of black Americans:

The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, "leadership" of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.

Oliver later apologized for the horrible choice of words, but he stood by his intent to preserve “all historical monuments.”

Similarly, Charlottesville has been working to remove two Confederate statues — one dedicated to Robert E. Lee, and another dedicated to Stonewall Jackson. Already, the city renamed the parks where these statues were located — Jackson Park is now Justice Park and Lee Park is now Emancipation Park. And the city council voted to tear down the Robert E. Lee statue, although those plans are currently on hold as a court reviews whether the city can do so without the state’s permission.

The plan to tear down the Robert E. Lee statue led to the white supremacist protests. Their protest mainly took place at Emancipation Park, where they rallied around the statue for much of their demonstrations. As they see it, attempts to take down the statue are erasing white history; one of their slogans — “you will not replace us” — is meant to suggest that lawmakers can’t do this and get away with it.

Of course, many people disagree that this is about erasing white history. They argue that these monuments were built originally to honor the Confederacy and the racism and white supremacy that it stood for. One of the statues in New Orleans, for example, literally celebrated a white supremacist insurgency in the city against a racially integrated police force and state militia.

In fact, most of these Confederate monuments were built during the Jim Crow era and in response to the civil rights movement — a sign that they were meant to explicitly represent white supremacy in the South:

 Southern Poverty Law Center

Given that America is now trying to make amends for the racist policies of its past, it seems natural that the monuments that celebrated this horrific past come down.

It’s also not the case that this history is being erased, since the statues, flags, and other monuments aren’t necessarily being destroyed. They’re often, as was the case in South Carolina and potentially New Orleans, moved to museums or, as is the plan in Charlottesville, sold to someone else to take care of them.

The Confederacy was a bastion of white supremacy and slavery

At the center of this debate is what the Civil War was really about. The people who defend these Confederate monuments frequently argue it was really about states’ rights, while those on the other side argue that the Civil War was about slavery.

But the historical record makes it very clear that the Civil War was about slavery. And to the extent it was about states’ rights at all, it was about a state’s right to maintain slavery.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in the Atlantic, South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, said in its official statement that it saw any attempts to abolish slavery and grant rights to black Americans as “hostile to the South” and “destructive of its beliefs and safety”:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

In a letter encouraging Texas to secede and join the Confederate States, Louisiana Commissioner George Williamson was even more explicit. He argued that the Confederacy was needed “to preserve the blessings of African slavery” and that the Confederate states “are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.”

Many other states made similar arguments, consistently pointing to slavery and white supremacy, in their cases for secession.

These statements leave no doubt that the South fought in the Civil War to protect the institutions of white supremacy and, in particular, slavery.

In fact, Confederate symbolism, particularly the flag, only reemerged in US culture as a backlash to the rise of the civil rights movement.

As historian John Coski wrote in The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem and Libby Nelson explained for Vox, use of the flag surged after Southern universities, stock car racers, and social groups embraced it in the 1950s as a symbol of white and Southern culture.

It was no coincidence that this happened as the civil rights movement rose — and, in particular, after President Harry Truman vowed to do more to promote civil rights by, for example, integrating the military and telling the NAACP that civil rights could not wait. The Ku Klux Klan, for one, grew in response, and it embraced the Confederate flag as a potent symbol.

Southerners were clear at the time about what they were doing and what the Confederate flag stood for: “It means the Southern cause,” Roy Harris, the legendary Georgia politician, said in 1951, according to Coski. “It is becoming … the symbol of the white race and the cause of the white people.”

Since then, the Confederacy’s purpose has been obfuscated in attempts to whitewash an ugly period of US history, framing the Confederate flag and monuments more as symbols of white heritage and states’ rights rather than explicit symbols of racism. And the flag has in some ways become a dog whistle — another example of the sneaky language public officials use to wink to the public about racism while claiming its use as a point of heritage.

But the fact that white supremacists, including literal neo-Nazis, are marching onto cities like Charlottesville to defend Confederate monuments shows that this isn’t just some innocent quest to preserve history; there’s a clear racist interest behind much of this too.

America is going through a “whitelash”

Underlying the battle over Confederate statues is really a bigger debate about race in America. Over the past few years, we have seen a greater push for racial justice. That’s led to pushback from the other side — what some commentators have described as a “whitelash.”

Black Lives Matter in particular gave a lot of attention to these issues. Although the movement gained national fame through its efforts to call attention to racial disparities in police use of force (particularly in the Ferguson, Missouri, protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown), it’s fostered a bigger conversation, especially among the left side of the political spectrum, about the many ways in which minority Americans are systemically disadvantaged. As America becomes more and more racially diverse, this discussion will likely become an even bigger issue.

Meanwhile, the election of President Donald Trump arguably symbolizes the backlash to much of this conversation. Trump, who constantly deployed racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail, gave a voice to white Americans who have long felt that the rise of civil rights and diversity has left them behind.

Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist and author of Strangers in Their Own Land, provided an apt analogy for many white Americans’ feeling of neglect: As they see it, they are all in this line toward a hill with prosperity at the top. But over the past few years, globalization and income stagnation have caused the line to stop moving. And from their perspective, other groups — black and brown Americans, women — are now cutting in the line, because they’re getting new (and more equal) opportunities through new anti-discrimination laws and policies like affirmative action.

Another way of understanding this is a sociological concept called “white fragility.” Robin DiAngelo, who studies race at Westfield State University, described the phenomenon in a 2011 paper:

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.

DiAngelo’s paper explained that white Americans have a range of “triggers” that can make them defensive about race, from suggestions that a person’s viewpoint is racialized to the rise of people of color into prominent leadership positions. All the triggers she listed were present in the past year — through the presidency of Barack Obama, Trump’s racist rhetoric, and Black Lives Matter protests against the dominance of white privilege.

Consider how often throughout the 2016 election people would respond to even the slightest suggestion of racism, whether in media or everyday life, with immediate vitriol, disdain, or dismissal. This, DiAngelo argued, is a defense mechanism to confronting questions about privilege. And it makes it difficult to have a reasonable conversation about race, effectively perpetuating a status quo favorable to white Americans by averting discussions about how to change the existing circumstances.

DiAngelo offered a telling example, from an anti-racism training session she facilitated:

One of the white participants left the session and went back to her desk, upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had impacted several people of color in the room. At break, several other white participants approached us (the trainers) and reported that they had talked to the woman at her desk, and she was very upset that her statements had been challenged. They wanted to alert us to the fact that she literally “might be having a heart-attack.” Upon questioning from us, they clarified that they meant this literally. These co-workers were sincere in their fear that the young woman might actually physically die as a result of the feedback. Of course, when news of the woman’s potentially fatal condition reached the rest of the participant group, all attention was immediately focused back onto her and away from the impact she had had on the people of color.

This illustrates just how defensive people can get in the face of accusations of racism: Not only did the woman who faced the criticisms genuinely feel like she was having a heart attack, but the white people around her believed it was totally possible she was. This is the reality of trying to have a conversation that challenges white privilege in America.

You can apply this concept to what we saw the past weekend in Charlottesville. Many of the people involved have likely led advantaged lives — just because they’re white men in a society that has historically given them more rights than everyone else.

But they’ve seen their racial security challenged. They saw the first black president with Barack Obama. They see demographic statistics that show white Americans will no longer be the majority in the coming decades. They see all of this talk about Black Lives Matter and the importance of diversity, including through policies like affirmative action. They see recent moves to tear down Confederate monuments in the South. And they themselves have likely been accused of racism at some point in their lives, making them defensive and angry.

These are the forces behind the current discussion about Confederate monuments and race in America. Many white Americans feel like they’ve been neglected, and now their history is being erased as Confederate monuments come down and the country becomes more diverse. So some have taken up radical measures, causing violence and chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest plans to tear down a statue.

Trump's idea that jobs will solve racism is just wrong
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

President Donald Trump has a theory about how to overcome America’s racial divides — and no, it doesn’t involve him clearly and forthrightly condemning the violent white supremacist rallies being carried out in his name by avowed racists and neo-Nazis. It involves jobs.

“I really think jobs are going to have a big impact,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “If we continue to create jobs — over a million — substantially more than a million, and you see just the other day, the car companies come in with Foxconn, I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I'm creating jobs, I think that's going to have a tremendous impact — positive impact — on race relations.”

In the context of Trump’s others remarks at that press conference — which saw him empathizing with white nationalist rioters in Charlottesville, Virginia, and defending monuments to the Confederacy — this might sound reasonable. It’s not a totally implausible theory, that the country becomes more tolerant during economic booms and that white Americans become more racially prejudiced during recessions or stagnation.

But the evidence for the theory is mixed at best. In many cases, it’s hard to see much correlation between objective economic conditions and the status of race relations.

“There's no easy answer to ‘overcoming racial divides,’ and there probably is no ‘overcoming’ them,” Michael Tesler, professor of political science at UC Irvine and a leading expert on race and American politics, says. “The easiest way to mitigate them, though, would be for politicians of all stripes to acknowledge the realities of the historical and ongoing white supremacy in America, and vocally condemn them.”

What we know about the economy and racism

One particularly compelling study on this question is a 1998 paper by political scientists Donald Green (Columbia), Jack Glaser (Berkeley), and Andrew Rich (now at the Truman Scholarship Foundation). It’s infamously hard to measure white people’s views on race, especially now that there’s a significant taboo against overt, old-fashioned racism.

So instead, Green, Glaser, and Rich looked at data on the incidence of lynchings. Lynchings were a disturbingly common way through which white communities in the South expressed their racism. It would stand to reason that if racist sentiment ebbs and flows with the economy, then the rate of lynchings should as well.

They found little or no correlation between changes in real disposable gross national product per capita (a measure of economic well-being that allows comparisons back to the 19th century) and the number of lynchings. From 1882 to 1920, high cotton prices — a good proxy for economic well-being in the American South at the time — actually had a slightly positive relationship with lynching rates. That is, when the cotton economy was booming, lynchings, if anything, increased.

The inverse appeared to happen as the Great Depression hit. "Between 1930 and 1931, real per capita GNP declined by 8.5 percent, and yet lynchings dropped from 20 to 12," Green, Glaser, and Rich write. "The following year, real per capita GNP dropped again, this time by an astonishing 15.4 percent, and lynchings fell to 6." As the economy cratered, the most brutal manifestation of Southern racial prejudice grew less common.

Of course, that evidence is describing a previous era in American history. So Green, Glaser, and Rich extended the analysis to look at racist and homophobic hate crimes. Looking at monthly data from New York City, from 1987 to 1995, they found that unemployment rates had no real relationship with hate crime rates, regardless of hate crime type.

Some other studies looking at public opinion data have turned up similar results. Looking at 1998 to 2002 data from the General Social Survey, and matching respondents' answers with characteristics of their metro area or county, Penn State sociologist Marylee Taylor found that while the education level of an area’s white population can help predict levels of expressed racial resentment or prejudice, the white population’s economic condition had no effect.

“Education level remains a significant predictor for most racial attitude measures and white economic status is never significant,” Taylor writes. “White education level is not a proxy for material hardship in the community: Limited education among white residents has a pronounced net effect on white racial attitudes; economic hardship has none.”

Even more recent evidence, looking at the Obama era, confirms these general findings. The Obama Effect, a 2014 book by UMass’s Seth K. Goldman and Penn’s Diana Mutz, uses a panel survey following 20,000 people, who were interviewed as many as five times a year. That's an unusually rich source of information on how voters' views are changing.

Mutz and Goldman conclude that whites' racial prejudice toward African Americans actually declined from the summer of 2008 to Obama's inauguration. This was in spite of the fact that the US economy was in recession for that entire period, which saw the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the downturn's explosion into a full-on financial crisis. The effects wore off between Obama's inauguration and 2010, but the data fits into a broader literature showing that racial prejudice did not increase during the economic crisis.

“There was little change in aggregate levels of racial resentment, anti-black stereotypes, or anti-black affect from before to after the recession,” UC Irvine’s Tesler summarizes.

Trump could be driving up racial polarization further

What did increase, Tesler finds in his book Post-Racial or Most-Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era, is the degree of partisan polarization based on race. There used to be relatively modest differences between Republicans and Democrats' stated views on racial controversies; the same share of each party disapproved of Bernhard Goetz, the white man who shot four black youths he claimed were mugging him back in 1984, and while 50 percent of Democrats agreed in 1995 that OJ Simpson was innocent, so did 41 percent of Republicans.

By contrast, 68 percent of Democrats disapproved of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013, while only 20 percent of Republicans did. The pattern extends even to events that aren’t outright clashes over racism — 53 percent of Democrats supported 12 Years a Slave's Oscar win for Best Picture in 2014, while only 15 percent of Republicans did. While in 1992, Democrats were 16 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say that the Confederate flag was racist, by 2016 they were 44 points more likely.

Tesler has argued that this kind of polarization had a particularly important effect on less-educated white voters. He has found that less-educated whites indicating low levels of racial resentment did not, in fact, flee the Democratic Party while Obama was president; only those with high levels of racial resentment, or who expressed the belief that discrimination against black Americans is relatively rare, did so. This was a group that Trump was able to court extremely successfully.

And Trump’s position as president has the potential to make the situation worse. Public opinion researchers have long known that voters typically take their views on political questions from elected officials and other people they trust. UC Berkeley political scientist Gabriel Lenz's book Follow the Leader makes this point in great detail, and it’s been powerfully illustrated in recent experimental work by Stanford’s David Broockman and Washington University in St. Louis’s Daniel Butler, who got a number of state legislators to randomly send out letters to constituents and found that receiving letters often led constituents to adopt their representative’s opinion, even when they had disagreed before.

This has been a particularly important mechanism for racial equality. “One thing that has led to greater racial tolerance in the past is elite consensuses from both Democrats and Republicans on things like biological equality of the races, interracial marriage, and desegregation,” Tesler says.

Trump is not questioning the consensus on those three issues — not yet, anyway. But he’s questioned elite consensus about the evils of the Confederacy, and about the necessity of condemning white supremacists and neo-Nazis in strong terms. Given what we know about the ease with which voters take cues from politicians of their party, this has deeply concerning implications for public opinion. Charlottesville could be just the beginning.

Why a total solar eclipse is a life-changing event, according to 8 eclipse chasers
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

“You never forget your first kiss … you always remember your first time in the shadow,” says one eclipse chaser.

There’s a total solar eclipse somewhere on Earth once every 18 months or so. And whether it’s passing over a barren, ice-cragged coast of Antarctica, a remote African desert, or a lonely patch of ocean, you can be sure there will be an umbraphile — a shadow-loving eclipse chaser — there to see it.

Eclipse chasers are people who plan their lives around (and spend small fortunes on) eclipse travel. This year, of course, they’ll be joining millions of people in the United States to see the total solar eclipse on August 21.

We wanted to know: What’s so special about total solar eclipses that you would chase them around the world? So we called up eight eclipse chasers and talked to them for hours, asking them all a similar set of questions. Their responses were much more moving and poetic than we anticipated. Chasing eclipses is not about a cheap thrill. It’s more like a pilgrimage, but one with a constantly moving shrine. “There are insufficient superlatives in the English language, or any language for that matter, to adequately describe the experience of a total solar eclipse,” one told us.

Let’s try.

These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How many total solar eclipses have you seen?

 SSPL/Getty Images

Rhonda Coleman, eclipse-chasing resident of Bend, Oregon

Six. … I'm a very modest chaser. Some people have [seen] dozens.

Glenn Schneider, astronomer at the University of Arizona

Thirty-three.

Bill Kramer, a retired computer engineer who runs the website Eclipse-chaser.com

Sixteen total solar eclipses.

Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist who has predicted the next 1,000 years of eclipses

I've been to 27 total eclipses and I've seen about 20 of them. Seven clouded out.

David Makepeace, eclipse chaser and filmmaker

This one in America will be my 16th.

Joe Rao, meteorologist in New York

I've seen a grand total of 11 total eclipses.

Kate Russo, clinical psychologist and author of Being in the Shadow: Stories of first-time eclipse experience

I've seen 10 total solar eclipses, and of those, two were clouded out.

Mike Kentrianakis, astronomer with the American Astronomical Society’s solar eclipse task force

I have seen 10 total solar eclipses.

Tell us about your first time

 OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images

Joe Rao

They say you never forget your first kiss, you never forget making love for the first time, and as far as an eclipse chaser goes, you always remember your first time in the shadow.

David Makepeace

I flew to Mexico to see a girl. I didn't go to see an eclipse. And then the eclipse came, and it completely floored me.

I was completely unprepared for the vision I saw in the sky, and for how intense the feeling was of all of a sudden being lifted in my consciousness off the globe, off this two-dimensional life I was living. It opened up a three-dimensionality that I was not prepared for. ... In some sense, I've spent the past 26 years also trying to come to terms with that.

Bill Kramer

We were bobbing in the water, clear sky all around us; the sea was relatively calm. This eclipse darkness wall came flashing across the water — and covered us in darkness. And there was this eclipse. “This is like looking upon the eye of God.” That's the nearest thing I could equate it to.

Glenn Schneider

I was literally transfixed, I couldn't move. I couldn't operate my cameras. I didn't even think about the telescope. My binoculars hung around my neck and I just stood there staring up at the hole in the sky. ... When it was over, I just stood there unable to move until somebody finally shook me back into reality.

Fred Espenak

By the time the total eclipse ended … I had already promised myself that once in a lifetime was not enough. It was just spectacular and much too short. I've been to the majority of them since then over the past 47 years.

Kate Russo

I had no idea that it was going to be so powerful and emotive and euphoric and exciting. ... It's very unlike any other experience. This is why us eclipse chasers are so passionate. We so want to share this experience with other people.

What does it feel like to experience a total solar eclipse? Why are you hooked?

 Milloslav Druckmuller / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

Bill Kramer

There are insufficient superlatives in the English language — or any language, for that matter — to adequately describe the experience of a total solar eclipse.

I always tell people my fifth eclipse is when my hands stopped shaking during totality. I made a comment of that, and a guy who's seen more eclipses than I came back and said, "Really? Your hands stopped shaking?"

Kate Russo

When I talk about seeing a total solar eclipse, nobody gets it. Nobody can actually understand what it's like in that situation because it's just not within our human experience. The rules of nature are turned upside down, so we just cannot imagine it.

Joe Rao

How much alien stimulation can the mind process in just a little over two minutes? If I told you that I was in a major thunderstorm, or I saw a gorgeous sunset, you can relate to that. Because I'm sure you have experienced a big thunderstorm in your life, and I'm sure you've seen more than your share of beautiful sunsets. When I tell people about my first total eclipse, or any total eclipse, it's impossible to relate that.

Rhonda Coleman

It's very ... it almost is like a bit of a dreadful feeling. It's like, "Whoa, wait a minute. What's happening to my planet?" ... It's a topsy-turvy world. It's not like night. It's not like day. It's not like twilight. It's like nothing you've ever felt before.

Fred Espenak

You experience the music of the spheres, as Kepler called them, the mechanics of the solar system in action.

You get an overwhelming sense of humbleness and how small and petty we really are compared to the mechanics of the solar system, the clockwork of the universe. These events that are taking place, that in no way can we affect or stop. It gives us a sense of how tiny we are and yet how we're connected to the whole system. All this happens all at once.

David Makepeace

I saw the total eclipse and I realized that I was living in a much deeper, much more dynamic universe than I had previously considered.

Mike Kentrianakis

This is the grandest of all astronomical spectacles. It's actually the greatest natural wonder that you could possibly see. Except, of course, the birth of a child.

How do other people typically react to totality, when the sun is completely covered by the moon?

 ON OLAV NESVOLD/AFP/Getty Images

Fred Espenak

Daylight suddenly changes to an eerie twilight in just a handful of seconds, and that's dramatic enough. Then it tends to get quiet. The bright sun that was there just moments ago has vanished. It's replaced by this black orb of the moon.

You hear some people saying: "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," and they just say it for three minutes. Others are totally speechless. Some people might even be praying. Others, just tears of joy running down their cheek.

Kate Russo

Even really hard-nosed scientists can get very, very moved during totality, and it's not uncommon to see people afterward with tears and hugging and feeling very choked up.

What’s the farthest you’ve gone to see one? Or the most difficult journey?

 Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images

Joe Rao

You do crazy things to see a total eclipse of the sun. In 1990, for example, I managed to get a commercial airline to change the itinerary of their flight. I noticed that there was one particular flight from Honolulu to San Francisco where if they were to delay the flight by 41 minutes, they would be over the Pacific Ocean, and they'd be able to see a total eclipse of the sun. I contacted the airline ... they thought it was a heck of a great idea, and they did it.

David Makepeace

The most extreme eclipse chase that I've ever been on I saw from the coast of the far side of Antarctica. This huge, gorgeous Russian icebreaker ship that took more than 100 eclipse chasers from the tip of Africa down through the Indian Ocean to the Antarctic coast. Then we positioned ourselves precisely in the path of totality and were able to witness humanity's first glimpse of a total eclipse of the sun from the ice continent.

Glenn Schneider

The first eclipse I saw by air, which was in 1986, was one of the most difficult eclipses to get to. Only nine people on earth actually saw that eclipse as a central total eclipse. The width of the path was less than a kilometer. We had to fly about 1,000 kilometers out of Reykjavik, Iceland, between Iceland and Greenland to see that. That was before the days of GPS navigation. It was a rather, rather dicey thing to do.

Is a partial solar eclipse just as good?

 JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Image

Fred Espenak

The difference between a 99 percent eclipse and a 100 percent total eclipse is enormous. I like to use the analogy [that] it's like getting five out of six numbers right on the jackpot. If you got five out of six, you were close, but you lost. ... Only 100 percent counts.

Kate Russo

When you come across someone who says that they thought it was overrated, if you ask a bit about where they were, it turns out that they didn't see a total eclipse. They saw a partial eclipse, but they're convinced it was a total.

Is it an “addiction”?

Joe Rao

I tell people, total eclipses of the sun are like potato chips. When you see it for the first time, the first thing that comes out of your mouth after the eclipse is over is, "When's the next one?" And you become hooked.

Glenn Schneider

It almost becomes like there is not a choice. You plan your future travels and life years and years ahead. It's not like there's any question where you're going to be taking your vacation 12 years from now. You've already got it figured out.

David Makepeace

The corona looks different every single time. You don't know how many Baily's beads or what kind of prominences you'll see shooting off the surface of the sun. It is an experience of the most grand and exalted nature, so why would you not want to immerse yourself in that as much as possible?

Does eclipse chasing come with a cost, personal or otherwise?

 PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

Rhonda Coleman

Financial, I'll give you that.

David Makepeace

God, I probably spent over $100,000 doing the travel in the past two and a half decades. You could say that I've been so caught up in the learning and in the growth personally that's come from this that I've put off marriage and a family. I've sort of resisted the accumulation of material possessions so that I have the funds to be able to afford this kind of travel.

Are eclipses a form of psychological balm?

Kate Russo

It's like something that is a reminder of how wonderful life is. It gives you life insights that you normally get only at times when you've experienced loss.

How many more eclipses do you hope to see?

 PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

Rhonda Coleman

I figure if I live to be 87 and beyond, which I'm doing pretty well so far, my last one will be, again in the United States, when I'm 87. I think it's going to be in North Dakota or something like that. I think I can get there. I'm 58.

Glenn Schneider

I've already told my daughter where she needs to go to watch the 2079 eclipse on May 1, 2079. I don't expect to make it, but I hope she can.

Fred Espenak

I certainly hope to see another dozen or more eclipses.

Mike Kentrianakis

Our life is now measured by a greater cycle. It's no longer a second and a minute hand, and an hour, a day. But if you start using eclipse cycles, how many do you have? Not that many.

Should first-timers try to take pictures?

 Yuan Adriles/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Rhonda Coleman

Anytime you've ever taken a picture of the full moon, it never captures how it felt in your eyes and in your heart, you know what I mean? It seems to fill the sky, but your photograph will only be a memory.

Mike Kentrianakis

The photograph just doesn't do it justice. It's almost like looking at a shadow of a building and not looking at the building. It's a representation of what you would know it to be ... a sketch of a missing person.

Joe Rao

Don't try to photograph it. Please don't.

Trying to photograph your first total eclipse of the sun is like ... your first girlfriend or boyfriend. You're not very good, it's over very quickly, and you just want to do it again.

Fred Espenak

I recommend not trying to photograph it unless you are really a hardcore, absolutely-have-to-photograph-everything-in-your-life kind of person. ... You don't want to be dealing with technology during the eclipse.

David Makepeace

Totality ... I absolutely guarantee it will seem like eight seconds.

Bill Kramer

Whatever you do, don't use a flash. Because it's dark and you've got people that are looking at the eclipse. Are you going to flash blind them?

Should everyone try to see a total solar eclipse?

Joe Rao

It should be on everybody's bucket list, and if you don't have a total eclipse of the sun on your bucket list, I personally will take a giant pencil with an eraser and erase something from off that bucket list and add total eclipse of the sun, because everybody, as they say, has to see it.

Baltimore removed all 4 of its Confederate statues overnight
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

In a stunningly swift move, Baltimore removed all four of its Confederate statues in the middle of the night Tuesday, only one day after the removal was approved by the city council.

From 11:30 pm to 5:30 am, cranes and trucks removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate Women of Maryland, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and a statue of Roger B. Taney, the former chief justice who authored the notorious pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, according to the Baltimore Sun. Where the statues will go is currently unknown.

“I did not want to endanger people in my own city,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said. “I had begun discussions with contractors and so forth about how long it would take to remove them. I am a responsible person, so we moved as quickly as we could. “

Baltimore’s removal contrasts the processes seen in New Orleans and continuing in Charlottesville, where months of debates surrounding the fate of statues prompted multiple protests. In the case of Charlottesville, these protests turned violent over the weekend, killing one and injuring at least 19.

Baltimore seemingly wanted to avoid the potential for violence, as there was no advanced notice as to when exactly the city was planning to remove the statues. Anthony McCarthy, a spokesperson for Pugh, told me Monday that Pugh was, “moving quickly,” and planned to set up a task force on Wednesday to begin the removal process. But the entire process of removing the statues was completed before then.

Trump added fuel to the fire on Tuesday afternoon, when he backtracked his statements on the violence in Charlottesville and equated white supremacists to those who fight racism.

Across the nation, at least 700 Confederacy linked statues and monuments remain, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Why this happened in Charlottesville, my hometown
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

The city can look like a blue bubble, but it’s full of conflicts and contradictions.

On Saturday, I witnessed Charlottesville’s transformation from a city into a hashtag. I breathed in air thick with pepper spray, saw white nationalists beat a young black man as police looked on, took in the chaotic aftermath of a car-ramming attack that killed one person and injured a score more. By the end of the day, I stopped trying to reconcile my years living in the generally bucolic town and the images filtering through national and international media. There were too many contradictions.

But as I moved through my Sunday morning rituals — jogging down the still streets that yesterday were painted with blood, grabbing coffee at a local bagel store with a cult-like following — I realized the contradictions were precisely why the city sits at the heart of the fractious national battle over what kind of country America will choose to be.

From a distance, Charlottesville looks like a smooth blue bubble in a sea of red, a university town abutting Virginia’s rural foothills and farmland. Up close, it’s a mass of conflicts and contradictions. While it’s tempting to reduce those conflicts to the disagreements over the Confederate statues that dot the downtown, that would be a mistake. The battle over the monuments exposed the ongoing battle over what the town stands for, and who should represent it.

In Charlottesville, several modern political currents converge

The rally, with its slate of white nationalist and neo-Nazi speakers, was scheduled to begin in Emancipation Park, site of the Robert E. Lee statue, at noon. Well before then, however, violent clashes had broken out, and as midday neared, the white nationalists spilled out of the park and onto the streets of downtown Charlottesville. Once they were clear of the park, the group of neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and alt-right devotees hoisted their flags and began marching. As they did, they crossed under a rainbow-dotted banner that floated above Market Street, boasting “Diversity Makes Us Stronger.”

That scene captured the contradictions of Charlottesville, a town that has fitfully transitioned from the era of massive resistance through the era of desegregation to the era of #TheResistance. It’s a transition that has turned the city into a powder keg, the gathering spot for local and not-so-local white nationalists, anti-fascists, and Black Lives Matter activists. The consequences of that transition are evident in the city’s tangled factions: right-wing racists shoring up an old order, white liberals invested in a complicated vision of just-enough diversity, and a black community that’s often ignored or underrepresented.

Three men at the heart of the current conflict represent these factions: Mayor Mike Signer, Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, and alt-right activist Jason Kessler.

Signer is exactly the sort of mayor you’d expect a university town described as a “progressive enclave” to have: a Princeton grad with a PhD from Berkeley and a law degree from UVA, in 2009 he wrote the book Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies, which got understandable attention in 2016. In January, a week and a half after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Signer declared Charlottesville “The Capital of the Resistance.”

It’s the sort of showy, symbolic progressivism that thrives in Charlottesville. Signs declaring allegiance to the principles of diversity and inclusion dot the landscape here, not just on private lawns but in business windows and on office doors, and on banners hanging over Market Street: performative progressivism.

But Charlottesville is not as comprehensively liberal as the visuals suggest.

At times, Charlottesville’s commitment to diversity can be more rhetorical than real

The forces at play in Charlottesville are a microcosm of the changes happening in the purple states of the South, especially Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. As a highly educated, largely white workforce moves in, drawn by higher ed and tech industry jobs, local and state politics have started to change along the lines of a very specific type of liberalism: invested in the idea of diversity but not necessarily the reality of it. That liberalism is focused on a vision of prosperity and culture that transforms the physical landscape, often overriding or ignoring black community leaders and black interests.

Like most Southern cities — and many Northern ones as well — Charlottesville is still grappling with the legacy of segregation. And while white Charlottesvillians eventually complied with desegregation laws, de facto segregation remains a problem. Residential segregation in the city is made worse by the lack of affordable housing, with segregation and concentrated poverty reinforcing one another. In a city that is 69.1 percent white (with a school-age population that’s 50 to 55 percent white), the public school population is only 41 percent white.

Let’s be clear: Charlottesville is a diverse town. The students at the public high school speak 46 different languages, thanks in large part to the considerable refugee population here. But the performative commitment to diversity belies the town’s more difficult struggles with inequality.

When Wes Bellamy, who is African American, became vice-mayor, he seemed to be poised to bridge that divide. He spoke of growing up poor in the suburbs of Atlanta, and he stressed what mentorship could mean for young black men. When he arrived in Charlottesville in 2009, he began piecing together a nonprofit to help children move out of poverty. He established the Young Black Professional Network for those who had succeeding in moving into the professional class.

The only black member of the Charlottesville city council when he was elected in 2015, Bellamy emerged as a visible and vocal representative of black Charlottesvillians. No one person can ever speak for an entire community, but he could plausibly assert, Hey, these Confederate monuments are pretty offensive to a lot of people, and don’t represent who we want to be as a city.

That, in essence, was Bellamy’s message in early 2016, when he began calling for the statues of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to be taken down from the major parks in downtown Charlottesville.

It would cost him almost everything: his job, his position in state government, and very possibly, his rising political career.

Jason Kessler, who helped organize Saturday’s Unite the Right march, had to be escorted by police from his own press conference Sunday. Shay Horse / NurPhoto / Getty Images
Jason Kessler, who helped organize Saturday’s Unite the Right march, had to be escorted by police from his own press conference Sunday.

That’s because of Jason Kessler. Kessler is a white nationalist and the leading figure of the alt-right in Charlottesville. When Bellamy called for the removal of Confederate statues, Kessler leapt into action. He dug into Bellamy’s past and found a series of homophobic and sexist tweets Bellamy had written prior to his election to city council. The tweets were vile — worthy of denunciation — and Bellamy ultimately resigned his job as a computer science teacher and as a member of the state Board of Education.

Throughout the reporting on what became known as the Bellamy “scandal,” Kessler was regularly referred to as a “local blogger” and "an author.” Largely absent from the reporting was his larger agenda: to discredit Bellamy and force him off the city council, so that proponents of the statues’ removal would lose an important ally. On that front, Kessler failed. Bellamy stayed on the council, which in February voted to remove the statues.

Over the past year, Kessler's profile has risen. He has been an important local leader for a number of rallies, including a torchlit march featuring white nationalist Richard Spencer in May. Saturday’s gathering was the full expression of Kessler’s — and Spencer’s — vision for the American right. And it revealed the Confederate statues for what they are, what they have been since they were first erected: reminders of white power, enforced through violence.

The faction Kessler represents isn’t limited to the gun-toting, swastika-flaunting crowd assembled at Emancipation Park. It expresses itself in other ways, like last week’s editorial in the Daily Progress, one of Charlottesville’s local newspapers. The editors, seeking an explanation for the white nationalist rallies that repeatedly descended on the city, found a single person responsible: Council member Bellamy.

A familiar move: blaming “agitators” for concern over Confederate statues

After all, they argued, Robert E. Lee’s statue “existed peacefully in downtown Charlottesville for over 90 years.” No one complained! No one cared! And then along came an “outspoken agitator” who got everyone all riled up. (Were the editors somehow unaware of how similar words used to discredit earlier civil rights activism?) What’s a poor white nationalist to do in the face of such provocation?

The editorial was a shocking piece of neo-Jim Crow writing — in leading a march against the Lee monument, it claimed, Bellamy had “dropped a match onto a gas field” — but it was also a helpful guide to understanding where someone like Kessler comes from, and how he fits in the larger political landscape of Charlottesville. (On Sunday, Kessler tried to hold a news conference but was shouted down by protesters, and fled under police protection.)

All these forces have been at play in Charlottesville for a long time. But the white nationalists in particular have been catalyzed under the Trump administration; in the Trump movement, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and alt-right activists not only feel welcome, but are welcome. Its members perceive like-minded figures in administration officials like Steve Bannon (who turned Breitbart into the platform of the alt-right), Stephen Miller (friends with Richard Spencer when they were both at Duke University), and Sebastian Gorka (who for decades has had ties with Hungarian neo-Nazi groups).

The people surrounding Trump, and his own weak denunciations in the days following the violence, tie the events in Charlottesville to a bigger national story. But there’s a reason that this city in particular was the site of this protest — not DC or San Francisco or Mobile. In Charlottesville, the forces of progressivism, white liberalism, and white nationalism all have significant bases. It’s a place where, in order to reckon with the city’s racist past and present, progressives have to literally remake the city’s landscape, from tearing down statues to building affordable housing. And it’s here where white nationalists have chosen to draw a line.

Which means the battle for Charlottesville didn’t end with Sunday morning’s soft dawn. The torches will return, as will the protesters. Because the battle for Charlottesville is a proxy war, a chance for factions to fight — literally fight — over two irreconcilable futures for the city, and for the country. Not every town is Charlottesville, but every American has a vested interest in who wins here.

Nicole Hemmer, a Vox columnist, is the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and co-host of the Past Present podcast.


The Big Idea is Vox’s home for smart discussion of the most important issues and ideas in politics, science, and culture — typically by outside contributors. If you have an idea for a piece, pitch us at thebigidea@vox.com.

Game of Thrones’ next White Walker battle is looming. Here’s what’s changed since the first one.
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

New players have joined the fight since “Hardhome,” and the stakes are even higher.

Game of Thrones’ penultimate episodes are historically the series’ most staggering entries, and that looks likely to be the case even in the truncated season seven.

In the upcoming sixth and next-to-last episode, “Beyond the Wall,” Jon Snow and his party will head north on an easier-said-than-done mission to capture a wight to bring to King’s Landing and convince Cersei that the major players in the war for the Iron Throne should put their differences aside and band together. The episode’s trailer includes a few shots of Arya and Sansa at Winterfell continuing the Littlefinger-fueled drama of episode five (plus one of Tyrion and Daenerys), but most significantly, it promises the show’s first epic clash north of the Wall since season five’s iconic “Hardhome.”

But plenty has changed since Jon last voyaged north to unite the Westerosi and Wildlings in order to bolster their odds of survival — and learned of the Night King’s power to raise the dead in a surprise massacre that left Jon and his fellow survivors fleeing for their lives by boat.

Season seven hasn’t given us much action north of the Wall thus far, with Jon mostly stuck trying to explain an unexplainable evil to both his own men and Dany — but that is set to change with “Beyond the Wall.” In preparation for what will surely be an exhilarating episode, let’s review what’s changed since the last clash with the White Walkers.

New players have joined the fight

 HBO
The Hound thinks Beric Dondarrion is a mediocre fighter, but his flaming sword may prove crucial in fighting wights.

While he doesn’t have quite the large-scale force of Night’s Watch and Wildling fighters — and the giant Wun Wun — that he did at Hardhome, Jon Snow clearly went for a quality-over-quantity approach with this expedition. Tormund Giantsbane is along for the ride once more, but Jon now also has a skilled band of warriors in Sandor Clegane, Beric Dondarrion, Jorah Mormont, and Thoros of Myr.

He also has on his team the green but gung-ho Gendry, whose explanation to Davos, “I’ve been getting ready. I never knew what for, but I’ve always known I’d know it when it comes,” will surely be tested in his first journey north of the Wall. It’s slightly surprising that Gendry rushed into battle when he’s a skilled blacksmith and could seemingly be crucial in forming weapons from dragonglass, but after spending the past few seasons making weapons for the Lannisters (and rowing), it’s hard to fault him for jumping into the fray. Davos, ever cognizant of his limitations in battle, hung back at Eastwatch.

Still, if the episode’s preview is any indication, Jon and co. are massively outmanned and will have to contend not only with the sea of wights but also the White Walkers themselves if they want to even make it back alive. Jon doesn’t exactly have a winning record against the army of the dead, and it’s going to be a massive challenge for this small party to capture a wight and make it back to the Wall alive.

However, given how malleable time and distance have become this season, there is the potential for more key characters to show up north of the Wall at just the right moment, particularly since Jon finally seems to be convincing Daenerys of the legitimacy and severity of the northern threat. A dragon-led deus ex machina might feel a little cheap, but there’s no denying it would be exhilarating to see a recuperated Drogon roasting wights.

It’s unclear how much help Bran can provide from his perch at Winterfell, since he often seems to exist only to be dunked on by the Night King, but his warging ability could potentially be of use. He sent a flock of ravens to scout north of the Wall in “Eastwatch,” though they were scrambled and disrupted by the Night King. The Children of the Forest have also been eradicated after the protection on their cave was broken once the Night King marked Bran during a vision, so there’s no longer a chance of a last-minute assist there.

Further south, the united northern forces are preparing for the winter under Sansa’s supervision and could theoretically offer support north of the Wall, though that would require someone like Davos to send a message from Eastwatch. There are also Wildling forces at the castle, and a shot in the trailer looks like a horde of them running — though it’s unclear whether that’s into combat or away from the Walkers.

While still outmanned, Jon Snow and co. at least have better stock of their tools

Jon shatters a White Walker on Game of Thrones.

HBO

Jon’s sword, Longclaw, is one of a handful in the known world that’s capable of doing this to White Walkers.

Jon lost one stash of dragonglass weapons in the battle at Hardhome — but he gained a piece of knowledge that’s even more crucial when he used Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword given to him by Jeor Mormont, to turn one of the Walkers into a pile of crushed ice.

Valyrian steel is incredibly rare, but there are several weapons in Westeros that could prove crucial in a battle against the dead, as Vulture notes. These include Oathkeeper, which Brienne currently has at Winterfell; Heartsbane, which Sam Tarly is presumably bringing with him from the Citadel as he heads north; and the dagger that formerly belonged to Littlefinger but is now in Bran’s keep.

Widow’s Wail, which Olenna Tyrell referenced in her final conversation/sass seminar with Jaime in “The Queen’s Justice,” is another known Valyrian weapon, though it’s currently in Jaime’s possession and therefore unlikely to figure in until Jon can convince Cersei that the dead are truly coming.

The other major anti-White Walker material, dragonglass, is far more plentiful, but also not nearly as battle-ready. There’s a major cache of it on Dragonstone, as discovered by Sam, which Jon successfully convinced Daenerys to let him mine so that it can be turned into weapons for the war, but they’re still early in that process.

Dragonglass might not be effective against the zombie-like wights (who can still be taken out with good old-fashioned fire), but it may well be essential in defeating their leaders. Not only can it kill White Walkers, but it also created them. In a season six flashback, a dragonglass dagger is plunged into the heart of one of the First Men by the Children of the Forest, which turns him into a White Walker.

Additionally, after Benjen Stark saved Bran and Meera Reed from a horde of wights with a badass flaming ball and chain, it was revealed that the Children stopped the Walkers from turning him into one of their own by stabbing him in the heart with dragonglass. This bit of info seems significant enough that it wouldn’t be a shock if we see a main character begin to turn only to be saved in the same manner as Benjen.

The stakes are higher than ever

 A Wiki of Ice and Fire
A map of the land beyond the Wall, showing the slow (but steady) progress of the White Walkers farther south.

Say what you will about the White Walkers and their army of wights, but they can’t be accused of rushing things. While other characters have been able to traverse continents and seas multiple times, the army of the dead — who need no sleep or food and ostensibly never stop marching — seem to have chosen the scenic route in their journey from Hardhome to the Wall (with a minor detour to chase Bran to the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave).

It’s unclear from the previews exactly where the confrontation between Jon’s party and the Walkers will take place, but it’s safe to assume that the encounter will be closer to the Wall than any encounter with the dead we’ve seen before. The trailer includes a shot of Jon and Tormund fleeing, as well as one of a group of men charging through what appear to be the gates of Eastwatch.

Self-proclaimed “liability” Davos and a handful of Wildlings seemingly won’t be able to do much to hold off the army of the dead at Eastwatch. They may hope that the magic built into the Wall can protect them, but remember that many believe the protection was broken when Bran was touched by the Night King and then traveled through the Wall.

This could mean that Jon’s comparatively low-stakes bag-and-tag mission could be what leads the White Walkers south of the Wall and finally into Westeros proper — which would set us up for the rare Game of Thrones season finale that exceeds the penultimate episode in terms of stakes.

This piece has been updated with the correct title of episode six.

Vice’s documentary on Charlottesville is really worth watching
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

It shows the white supremacist protesters for what they really are.

If there was any doubt about what kind of person went to protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, Vice News’s documentary should put those questions to rest: One side was white supremacists, some of whom openly endorsed violence.

The documentary, posted online on Monday, follows a group of white supremacists, led by white nationalist Chris Cantwell, as they march and protest through Charlottesville — purportedly to stand against the city’s plans to take down Confederate monuments, but really to spread a message of white supremacy.

Here are a few quotes from the white supremacist protests and participants, made up of members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists:

  • “Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!”
  • “When the Trayvon Martin case happened, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and all these different things happened, every single case it’s some little black asshole behaving like a savage, and he gets himself in trouble, shockingly enough. Whatever problems I might have with my fellow white people, they generally are not inclined to such behavior — and, you know, you gotta kinda take that into consideration when you’re thinking about how to organize your society.”
  • “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal n*****s! That’s exactly what it is.” “And that’s true, by the way.”
  • “We didn’t aggress. We did not initiate force against anybody. We’re not nonviolent. We’ll fucking kill these people if we have to.”
  • “Right now we have people on the ground at the statue with equipment, and they’re being told they’re not allowed to have a vehicle come through and pick them up or anybody come and pick them up. I’m about to send at least 200 people with guns to go get them out if you guys do not get our people out.”
  • The car attack by a Nazi sympathizer on counter-protesters, which killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer, “was more than justified. The amount of restraint that our people showed out there, I think, was outstanding.”
  • “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here, frankly. … People die violent deaths all the time. This is part of the reason we want an ethno-state. The blacks are killing each other in staggering numbers from coast to coast. We don’t really want to have a part of that anymore.”

This is who showed up to protest plans to take down a Confederate statue in Charlottesville. This is who President Donald Trump argued is equivalent to the counter-protesters who showed up to stand against racism and fascism.

A study finding a huge increase in alcoholism may have been seriously flawed
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

According to several researchers, the survey data behind the study is seriously faulty.

Last week, multiple media outlets, including the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and, yes, Vox, reported on a study in JAMA Psychiatry that had an alarming finding: The rate of alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) in the US increased by more than 49 percent from 2001-’02 and 2012-’13.

Now some researchers are pushing back. They argue that the data used in the study is based on a federal survey that underwent major methodological changes between 2001-’02 and 2012-’13 — meaning the increase in alcoholism rates could be entirely explained just by differences in how the survey was carried out between the two time periods. And they point out that the study’s conclusions are sharply contradicted by another major federal survey.

The JAMA Psychiatry study was funded in part with taxpayer dollars from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institutes of Health. The pushback, though, suggests that these federal agencies funded some faulty research.

The study’s findings are contradicted by a major federal survey

The JAMA Psychiatry study used data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). It found a sharp increase not just in alcoholism, but also in 12-month alcohol use and high-risk drinking, drawing from the 2001-’02 and 2012-’13 waves of NESARC.

But this sharply contradicts the findings of another federal survey, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). That survey has actually found a decrease in alcohol use disorder from 2002 to 2013: In 2002, the percent of Americans 12 and older who qualified as having alcohol use disorder was 7.7 percent. In 2013, that dropped to 6.6 percent.

One key difference is the NESARC used data of people 18 years and older, while NSDUH used data of people 12 years and older. But even if you isolate older groups in NSDUH, the rates of alcoholism still dropped or remained relatively flat — certainly not the big rise the NESARC reported.

Now, the NSDUH isn’t perfect. For one, it surveys households — so it misses imprisoned and homeless populations, which are fairly big segments of the population and likely to have higher rates of drug use. But NESARC also shares these limitations, so it doesn’t explain the difference seen in the surveys. Still, it’s safe to say that none of our data on drug use and addiction in America is particularly great.

The study based its findings on a survey that can’t reliably measure trends

I asked Richard Grucza at Washington University School of Medicine, an alcohol researcher who previously studied NESARC and NSDUH’s methodologies, about this discrepancy. He told me that, in general, NSDUH is more reliable for measuring trends.

“The NSDUH methods are much more consistent from year-to-year, and it is administered annually,” he told me. “So I tend to put more weight on NSDUH data.”

The problem with NESARC, Grucza said, is it underwent major methodological changes between the 2001-’02 and 2012-’13 waves. Here are a few, originally noted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which conducts NSDUH, and verified by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which conducted NESARC:

  • The NESARC changed some questions from wave to wave, which could lead survey takers to respond differently.
  • In the 2001-’02 wave, NESARC respondents were not given monetary rewards. In the 2012-’13 wave, they were. That could have incentivized different people to respond.
  • No biological samples were collected in the first wave, while saliva samples were collected in the second. What’s more, respondents were notified of this at the start of the survey — which could have led them to respond differently, since they knew they’d be tested for their drug use.
  • Census Bureau workers were used for the 2001-’02 survey, but private workers were used for the 2012-’13 survey. That could lead to big differences: As Grucza told me, “Some researchers speculate that using government employees might suppress reporting of socially undesirable behaviors.”

There is plenty of research out there that suggests even one of these tweaks could have significant impacts on survey responses. But to have all of these at once makes the two waves of NESARC really difficult, if not impossible, to seriously compare.

Researchers from SAMHSA told me that they would caution against trying to use the different waves of NESARC to gauge trends.

“Given these points, we would strongly caution against using two points in time as an indicator in trend, especially when the data for these two points in time were collected using very different methods and do not appear to be comparable,” SAMHSA researchers wrote in an email. “We would encourage the consideration of data from multiple sources and more than two time points, in order to paint a more complete and accurate portrayal of substance use and substance use disorder in the nation.”

In short, it looks like the JAMA Psychiatry study was based on some fairly faulty data.

When I asked about these problems surrounding the study, lead author Bridget Grant, with NIAAA, shot back by email: “There were no changes in NESARC methodology between waves and NSDUH folks know nothing about the NESARC. Please do not contact me again as I don’t know NSDUH methodology and would not be so presumptuous to believe I did.”

But based on SAMHSA’s and Grucza’s separate reviews of NESARC, its methodology did change.

When I pressed on this, Grant again responded, “Please do NOT contact me again.”

After this article was published, Grant confirmed NESARC went through some methodological changes between 2001-’02 and 2012-’13. But she argued that there’s no evidence such changes would have a significant impact on the results.

America does seem to have an alcohol problem

None of that means America doesn’t have an alcohol problem. Between 2001 and 2015, the number of alcohol-induced deaths (those that involve direct health complications from alcohol, like liver cirrhosis) rose from about 20,000 to more than 33,000. Before the latest increases, an analysis of data from 2006 to 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) already estimated that alcohol is linked to 88,000 deaths a year — more than all drug overdose deaths combined.

But for now, it’s hard to say if a massive increase in alcohol use disorder is behind the negative trends — because the evidence for that just isn’t reliable.


Updated: Added new comments from the lead author of the study.

Watch live: the mesmerizing, putrid bloom of 3 corpse flowers
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

They’re set to start blooming within a week at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC.

One of nature’s slowest, smelliest shows is about to get underway in the nation’s capital: the blooming of the corpse flower.

Over the next week at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, not one but three(!) of these flowers will slowly unfurl, revealing a deep maroon interior and giving off a stench reminiscent of rotting flesh. Then they will collapse.

Many people will watch this dramatic performance. In past years, up to 130,000 visitors have come to see and smell the flower in Washington.

The flowers are expected to open between August 17 and 23. If you can’t make it to the garden in Washington, you can watch the bloom in the live stream below. Thrilling, right?

The corpse flower — Amorphophallus titanum, or titan arum produces one of the largest flowers in the floral world. (Okay, it’s technically not a flower, as National Geographic points out. "It comprises several flowers that cluster around the base of the stalk ... hidden by the plant’s maroon skirt," the magazine reports.) Discovered in the rainforests of Sumatra, the titan arum can take eight to 20 years to bloom for the first time.

 New York Botanical Garden

Blooms can top 8 feet tall or more. And they produce a small bit of heat, which causes their smelly chemicals to spread farther. (The evolutionary purpose of the stink is to attract certain pollinating insects that like to eat rotting flesh.)

Besides their smell, what’s intriguing about the corpse flower is that it doesn’t have a consistent blooming cycle. "The plant blooms only when sufficient energy is accumulated, making time between flowering unpredictable, spanning from a few years to more than a decade," the US Botanic Garden explains. "It requires very special conditions, including warm day and night temperatures and high humidity, making botanic gardens well suited to support this strange plant outside of its natural range."

That’s why this year’s event is remarkable. This will be the first bloom for all three plants, which range from five to 12 years old, the Botanic Garden reports. And it’s most likely the first time three of these plants are blooming at the same time in the same institution in the United States. Check it out.

If you can’t stick around for the action, check out this time-lapse video of a corpse flower blooming this June at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.

The huge problem with comparing Lee and Davis to Washington and Jefferson
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

We celebrate the good things the founders did. Confederates didn’t do anything good.

As part of Tuesday afternoon’s bizarre remarks on the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump suggested that removing monuments to Confederate military and political leaders could put the United States on a slippery slope.

“Was George Washington a slave owner?” he asked, rhetorically. “So will George Washington now lose his status ... are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?”

Tucker Carlson sought to further muddy the waters on his Fox News show Tuesday night, by observing that figures such as Plato and Mohammed also owned slaves.

These arguments aren’t exactly offered in good faith. But even then, they reflect a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Confederacy as a project — and of the difference between commemorating its leaders compared to America’s Founding Fathers.

Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and the other politicians and generals who served the Confederate States of America aren’t noteworthy historical figures who also happened to benefit from the institution of slavery. They are historical figures who are noteworthy almost exclusively because they led an insurrection against the United States of America, an insurrection whose primary purpose was to perpetuate slavery.

Owning human chattel — and offering intellectual and political defenses of the institution of American slavery — is an important and dishonorable part of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy. But it’s the entirety of Davis’s legacy.

We celebrate the good things about the founders

Historiographical arguments about the relative merits of the different Founding Fathers are a staple of American intellectual life, playing out in scholarly works and popular histories and even Broadway musicals. The reputations of individual founders wax and wane over time. Jefferson’s reputation is currently in something of a slump, thanks to revelations about Sally Hemings and “Cabinet Battle No. 1.”

Still, Jefferson’s contributions remain largely celebrated today. That’s in keeping with another staple of American life: The big-picture point of the pantheon of American founders is to celebrate the good things about them.

Jefferson is in the pantheon because he wrote the Declaration of Independence and because of his wartime diplomatic service. Alexander Hamilton is in the pantheon because he wrote the Federalist Papers and laid the foundations of the American political economy. Washington is in the pantheon because he was the military leader of the successful war of independence and because he established the peaceful transfer of power from president to president.

It’s true that the real historical figures at work were more complicated than the storybook heroes conventionally presented to young children. But the storybook hero version of Washington makes sense because Washington really did participate in great acts worth celebrating, even if he also did terrible things like own human beings as personal property or sleazy things like pick the location for the nation’s capital to maximize the value of his own landholdings.

Confederate leaders, by contrast, are being celebrated purely for doing something bad.

There are no good parts to the Confederacy

Running parallel to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Arlington, Virginia, you will find the Jefferson Davis Highway. And while the parkway commemorates the father of his country — a man who was also a slave owner — only an extraordinarily stupid person would believe that the highway is commemorating a former Cabinet secretary from the Franklin Pierce administration.

The reason there is a highway named after Jefferson Davis in Virginia is that Virginia was one of the states that seceded to join the Confederate States of America and Davis was the civilian leader of the CSA. And the CSA itself was a political project that had no real purpose other than to maintain slavery as an institution. Its political leaders like Davis attempted to destroy the country in order to keep their slaves, and CSA military leaders, like Lee, contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in pursuit of that cause.

There were certainly people associated with the Confederacy who were noteworthy for other reasons. Judah P. Benjamin was the first Jewish US senator before he became a member of Davis’s Cabinet. But he’s an obscure figure in Jewish-American history precisely because American Jews, with good reason, don’t feel comfortable celebrating a major CSA political figure. Overwhelmingly, the monuments to Confederate generals and politicians are there because they led a pro-slavery insurrection, not despite it.

It would obviously be unreasonable to expect every celebrated historical figure to be without any kind of significant blemish. But the case against Confederate statuary is setting a much lower bar. It demands only that a celebrated historical figure have done something worth celebrating. Washington, Jefferson, and other mainstream American historical figures all clearly meet that test. Lee and Davis clearly flunk it.

National revulsion over the Charlottesville march shows why we shouldn’t ban hate speech
August 16th, 2017, 03:46 PM

Charlottesville seems destined to become a symbol of the vexing challenges associated with freedom of speech in America. On Friday evening, a crowd seething with hatred and bigotry conducts a torchlight parade in a manner deliberately evocative of Nazi theater.

The next day they demonstrate, carrying semi-automatic weapons, clubs, shields, helmets, and pepper spray. There are numerous violent clashes between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, culminating in a lethal ISIS-type assault by a neo-Nazi, who rams his car into a crowd, killing a young woman.

How should we untangle the First Amendment rights at stake in this nightmare scenario? Within the coiled events of Charlottesville lie two distinct issues: First, there is a constitutional rule prohibiting the state from engaging in viewpoint discrimination when determining who may speak in public spaces. Second, there is a constitutional rule authorizing the state to regulate speech that conveys a “true threat,” which is “a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”

The state cannot discriminate against unpopular views — even Nazi ideology

Last weekend’s Unite the Right rally attracted a motley group determined to proclaim racist and anti-Semitic views that were outrageous and indecent. Yet traditional First Amendment doctrine prevents the state from discriminating on the basis of viewpoint, even on the basis of opinions as despicable as those. It prohibited the city from disadvantaging the planned parade on the basis of its hurtful and offensive message. (Indeed, a federal judge so ruled on the morning of the torchlight march.)

Why does the First Amendment prevent official discrimination against such loathsome views? The question has become pressing for a new generation. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 40 percent of millennials believe that government should be able to prevent people from communicating messages that are offensive to minority groups. In contrast, only 12 percent of those born from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s would allow government to regulate speech in this way, only 24 percent of Baby Boomers would do so, and only 27 percent of those in Generation X. Can traditional First Amendment doctrine justify itself in contemporary circumstances, such as those we saw play out in Charlottesville?

At root, we protect freedom of expression — even hateful expression — in order to strengthen democratic legitimacy. We want everyone to be free to participate in the formation of public opinion, and we want the state to be responsive to public opinion. If these conditions are met, we may experience the state as responsive to us, to the individuals who make up this great democracy. This in turn gives us reason for civic loyalty and engagement, and perhaps even to acknowledge the state as representing us.

As the Supreme Court put it in 1931 in the seminal case of Stromberg v. California (which held that California could not ban the red flag of the Communist Party): “The maintenance of the opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes may be obtained by lawful means ... is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system.”

Those who seek to ban totalitarian symbols may think they are preserving public law and order. But in Stromberg, the Court turned that argument on its head, observing that freedom of expression “was essential to the security of the Republic.” Stromberg understood that in a democracy persons can and do hold passionately divergent views; and the more diverse the society, the greater the disagreement.

When the state suppresses unpopular views, it gives those holding those views little reason to play by official rules. Why should they abide by laws whose enactment they could not influence through their speech and expression? Why should they trust officials whose election and decisions they were preventing from opposing? No republic is secure if its citizens lack respect for its government.

Paradoxically, therefore, the “verbal tumult, discord, and even offensive utterance” created by the expression of diverse views is, as the Court put it in another famous opinion, not a sign of weakness but of strength.” The discord is a sign that all are participating in public discourse, that all care enough to seek to influence public opinion. But those whose views are excluded from public discourse are effectively excommunicated from our democratic polity, and in such circumstances the repressed tends to return with redoubled fury and ressentiment.

In Skokie, Illinois, the Nazis just marched. In Charlottesville, they brought weapons.

Many of the Charlottesville marchers weren’t just shouting hateful slogans; they were carrying weapons. We must thus consider not merely the constitutional rule against viewpoint discrimination, but also the lack of constitutional protection for true threats.

Disagreement in the public agora is tolerable because it symbolically displaces actual physical conflict. To the extent that such communication verges on violence or the threat of violence, it loses the immunity of the First Amendment. No doubt the neo-Nazi who slammed his car into the Heather Heyer meant to express a distinct message of hate, but he will have no First Amendment defense when he is prosecuted for murder. Similarly, those who utter what traditional doctrine calls true threats cannot claim refuge in the First Amendment.

Jason Kessler, who applied for permit for the Unite the Right march, affirmed that he “absolutely intend[ed] to have a peaceful rally” and that his group would “avoid violence.” But these promises are inconsistent with the accessories worn by Kessler’s followers. There is only one social meaning conveyed by demonstrators who come armed with semiautomatic weapons, helmets, and clubs. If I were in the vicinity of thugs so armed, I would be afraid, and I think legitimately so.

In contrast to the notorious but peaceful 1977 Nazi march through Skokie, a city populated by Holocaust survivors, the Charlottesville marchers came dressed and armed for a fight. The damage caused by the Skokie march was psychological. The constitutional conceptualization of such harm is complex. This is because, as John Stuart Mill pointed out a long time ago, ideas can often be hurtful and cause intense distress. I am genuinely upset when I encounter the views of long-dead anti-Semites. Analogous psychological shock is often inseparable from engagement with alien ideas that seem outrageous. For this reason, First Amendment doctrine has long rejected this kind of psychological harm as a justification for legal regulation.

In Charlottesville, in contrast to Skokie, marchers entered town intending physically to intimidate onlookers. As one commentator remarked, “These white supremacists showed up with their own militia. Can you even imagine what would have happened if black folks showed up to protests in Baton Rouge with a militia?” Why should we extend the mantle of First Amendment immunity to demonstrators who from the outset signify their intention physically to intimidate onlookers?

Of course, without an audience, the marchers would not have had anyone to intimidate. The president of the University of Virginia warned before the demonstration, “the organizers of the rally want confrontation; do not gratify their desire.” When I was a professor at the University of California Berkeley, I was once asked how the school ought to respond to a student-invited speaker, the Holocaust denier David Irving. My recommendation was to shun him. Irving ought to be given the opportunity to speak, I said, but the auditorium should be empty. Those who seek only to spread hateful lies and are not open to good faith public debate should not be accorded the respectful attention that we owe real partners in constructive dialogue.

Public parks are of course different from classrooms. The melee that engulfed Charlottesville could not have happened without the manifest provocations of the alt-right and of the counter-protesters, who were determined to contest the meaning of every inch of public space. That was their right, and I applaud their courage. Public space is a scarce resource, and there are often fierce struggles about the meanings that public parks and streets will be used to convey.

In an abstract and civil world, protesters and counter-protesters would each refrain from undermining each other’s communication. But such restraint is often not possible in the real and passionate world of actual politics. Charlottesville is exemplary. It witnessed continual skirmishes between the two groups, some of which were violent, to varying degrees.

In such circumstances, the primary responsibility of the police is to maintain public order, which is to say to keep the peace while each side communicates what they have mobilized to express. From eyewitness accounts, the police failed in this task throughout a day filled with incidents of violence and injury. We do not yet understand why the police were so passive for so long, but their absence vividly illustrates that without the maintenance of legal order, rights of freedom of speech mean little. The First Amendment protects expression, not riots. It protects the right to participate in the formation of public opinions, not the right to commit mayhem.

Charlottesville devolved into a riot, yet Americans — if not Trump — are drawing lessons from the speech they did hear

It is fair to say that in Charlottesville the two sides were locked in battle and not in conversation. There was no constructive dialogue between the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators. But this narrow frame is inadequate for assessing the constitutional significance of last weekend’s events. Considered from a broader perspective, each side made itself visible to, and heard by, a larger audience. Thanks to media coverage, the general public was empowered to absorb the deeper meaning of Charlottesville.

When the alt-right shouted “blood and soil” and “Heil Trump,” the public could discern the filth beneath their message. Charlottesville thus consolidated the judgment of public opinion, a judgment that remarkably encompassed a broad spectrum of heretofore polarized political perspectives. Even Sen. Orrin Hatch could tweet, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

Charlottesville should thus be remembered not only as a tragedy, but also as the midwife of a popular verdict so powerful that it finally compelled Donald Trump to condemn, however grudgingly and momentarily, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. In the civil rights era, the public opinion of the country turned against Southern segregationists when the violence of Bull Connor’s police became visible. The public opinion of the country analogously turned against the alt-right when it witnessed the turmoil of Charlottesville. The country was sickened not merely by the alt-right’s strutting and bullying, but also by its messages of white supremacy and hatred.

As I write this, however, Trump has unexpectedly and unpredictably bridled against this compulsion, once again returning to the theme that the violence in Charlottesville was the fault of both sides. But so far, Trump’s bizarre volte-face seems to have sparked an even more intense backlash against an alt-right that bullies as it conveys messages of white supremacy. Charlottesville has pushed Trump’s racism out of the shadows, and the media have focused public attention on the grotesque moral deformities that have become suddenly and embarrassingly visible.

Charlottesville has thus fulfilled the fundamental purpose of the First Amendment: to pose for all of us the question of what we should do in light of what we now know.

Robert C. Post is Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He served as dean of Yale law from 2009 to this year.


The Big Idea is Vox’s home for smart discussion of the most important issues and ideas in politics, science, and culture — typically by outside contributors. If you have an idea for a piece, pitch us at thebigidea@vox.com.

Mitch McConnell just escaped humiliation in Alabama — for now
August 15th, 2017, 03:46 PM

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell narrowly escaped humiliation at the hands of Alabama’s voters here on Tuesday, with his preferred candidate in a contested Senate primary only advancing to a runoff after a late assist from President Donald Trump.

That victory could be short-lived. Hard-right conservative Judge Roy Moore looked likely to coast to a first-place finish in what will turn out to be the first round of voting, with McConnell’s favored candidate — incumbent Sen. Luther Strange — appearing set to come in second, according to Decision Desk projections. The run-off election will be held in September.

Rep. Mo Brooks, a Tea Party darling, looks likely to come in third and miss the cut.

McConnell’s leadership team threw its weight and millions of dollars behind Strange, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year and is widely viewed as an establishment ally more likely to support McConnell’s agenda.

But with Strange sagging in the polls, Trump surprised political observers last week and came to McConnell’s aid — giving Strange his “complete and total endorsement” and recording robocalls on the Alabama senator’s behalf. That decision came even as the president was making his displeasure with McConnell widely known.

It appears to have been enough to get Strange to the second round, but not nearly enough to top the first round of voting. Moore, a controversial figure who rose to national prominence refusing to take down a monument of the Ten Commandments at his courthouse, will enter the run-off as the favorite.

McConnell needed a big lift because he got behind a weak candidate

Strange was never a perfect candidate, and it’s clear he’s headed to the run-off in large part because of Trump’s intervention.

Former — and now disgraced — Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions when Sessions became Trump’s attorney general. That decision has loomed large over the GOP primary. Strange served as state attorney general under Bentley, who resigned amid an impeachment investigation into whether he used state resources for an extramarital affair.

Two Republican members of the Alabama statehouse have since publicly alleged that Strange tried to stop Bentley’s impeachment because he had his eye on the governor’s mansion, though the charge hasn’t been proven.

“While attorney general, Strange held over the head of the governor a criminal investigation while seeking a personal gain, a United States Senate seat, from the governor,” Brooks told reporters on Sunday in Northern Alabama. “His deception was only uncovered when the next attorney general came in.”

But though Strange was an imperfect candidate, McConnell’s allies favored him over Brooks, a House Freedom Caucus member who vowed to wreak havoc on McConnell’s already troubled right flank. Establishment Republicans in the Senate Leadership Fund spent more than $3.5 million on ads in the race. They particularly went after Brooks with a blitz of controversial ads that have slammed him for opposing Trump in the early days of the presidential primary and connected him to Nancy Pelosi.

During the health care fight, McConnell was constantly bedeviled by objections from the far right of his caucus — Sens. Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY), and Ted Cruz (TX). Unlike Moore or Brooks, Strange is not a part of that caucus. Brooks tried turning the race on a referendum on McConnell, whereas Strange wanted it to be about Trump.

“You will see the establishment quaking in their boots if we defeat Luther Strange,” Brooks told supporters in Northern Alabama Monday evening.

Polls showed Strange was at risk of missing the run-off. And then Trump stepped in.

Trump rides to McConnell’s rescue

Conservative voters in this deep red state handed Trump a big victory in the 2016 presidential primary, and then did so again in the general election. More than 55 percent of the state’s voters still approve of Trump’s job performance, nearly 20 points above the national average.

Trump’s robocalls reached Alabama homes this week. Ads played every 30 minutes on the radio featuring word of Trump’s endorsement and quotes from the Alabama chair of his presidential primary. In the spots, Strange simply promised to fulfill the president’s campaign promises: the border wall, repealing Obamacare, and tax reform.

Brooks didn’t quite figure out how to rebuff Trump’s endorsement. At a campaign rally on Monday, the conservative House member campaigned at a tractor store adorned with Trump-Pence banners and a Trump bobblehead. Brooks even argued Trump had been “misled” by Washington Republicans into endorsing Strange, an attack which had the downside of suggesting the popular president didn’t know what he was doing.

None of it was enough to overcome the impact of Trump’s endorsement. The president’s backing appears to have saved Strange’s skin — at least for now.