Friday, July 15, 2016

Impassioned Black Minister Harris Kicks Off Pride in Style

Army Secretary Fanning Also Featured, but Rev. Shane Harris Steals the Show

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Rev. Shane Harris

Eric Fanning

Jennifer Restle and her service dog

Mike Dee

Lily Rubenstein

Joan La Barbera

Community servants or drug pushers? The PrEP T-shirt
(Pride staffer Fernando Lopez in background)

San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus

San Diego Pride Youth Marching Band

San Diego’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride weekend kicked off big-time with a well-attended rally Friday, July 15 at 6 p.m at the Marston Point main stage at the Pride festival site near Sixth and Laurel in Balboa Park. The keynote speaker was supposed to be U.S. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, the first openly Queer person appointed to head a major branch of the U.S. military, but the show was stolen by the impassioned church oratory of Rev. Shane Harris of the San Diego branch of the National Action Network.
Citing not only the murder of 49 mostly Latino and Queer people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida but police killings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, the shooting of five Dallas police officers by an African-American gunman during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in that city, and the latest alleged terror attack on a civilian population in Nice, France, Rev. Harris called on the Black and Queer communities to “stand together to fight for gun reform and police reform.”
Rev. Harris, whose group was founded by the controversial New York Black minister Rev. Al Sharpton, said, “It’s time to break down the walls between the church and the LGBT community once and for all.” He cited the examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the little-known Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who came down to Selma, Alabama to register Black voters in 1965 and was murdered, as people who “fought for the voiceless.”
He made it clear that, while other African-American ministers often say the Queer rights movement “stole” their tactics from the African-American civil rights movement, in his view “the LGBT community fought the fight and learned from the civil rights movement. It’s time to bring the movements back together.” Rev. Harris said he’s called out other Black ministers who called the Orlando shootings an “act of God” and said the victims got what they deserved for being Queer. “That is not the love of God,” he said. “I slammed those pastors and said we will not represent that kind of hate.”
Rev. Harris said the demands the Black and Queer community should unite around include gun reform and police reform. “What happened in that club (in Orlando) should not have happened,” he said. He also criticized police officers who are — or claim to be — so scared by African-American men they feel a need to shoot them six times even after they’ve already been subdued and are on the ground.
The impassioned oratory of Rev. Harris somewhat overshadowed the rally’s final speaker, U.S. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning. He joked about being an Army man bringing a message of Queer pride to a Navy town, and said that including not only active-duty servicemembers but also reservists and employees of private contractors, the U.S. Army includes about 1.4 million people.
Fanning recalled that he first joined the Army’s staff at the Pentagon in 1993 — the same year the U.S. Congress imposed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and then-President Bill Clinton signed it into law. “I didn’t see many people like me, and there didn’t seem to be many opportunities in national security,” Fanning said. “Now there are many opportunities to live and serve with dignity.”
Though he admitted the Pride celebration seems “bittersweet” after the events in Orlando — which happened during Pride weekend in Fanning’s home town, Washington, D.C. — along with Dallas, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Nice, Fanning said, “We respond to acts of cowardice with acts of confidence and pride.” Fanning mentioned two of the Orlando victims, Tony Brown and Angel Cordelaro, who were active-duty servicemembers in the U.S. Army — and another Army man who courageously intervened and saved seven other people’s lives during the attack at Pulse.
When he was invited to speak at San Diego Pride, Fanning said, “I thought about why it was important for me to be here to promote the acceptance the Orlando shooter tried to destroy. Orlando was an attack on America. Citizens here come together to comfort those left behind. It’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. To keep this country secure we have to draw on all our communities.”
Fanning also said the U.S. military has a civil rights record of which it can be proud. He noted that the military ended racial segregation in 1948 — “16 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed” — and in 2011 San Diego’s Pride contained the first-ever contingent of active-duty servicemembers, who marched even though “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still in effect and they risked discharge. The next year, the services not only allowed the contingent to go forward but let the participants march in their uniforms.

Bisexuals Finally Included

This was also the year San Diego Pride finally acknowledged the Bisexual community — the largest but also the most ignored and marginalized group within the “LGBT” community, both by straights and Queers — by inviting an “out” Bi speaker to address the rally. She was Jennifer Restle, who also represented the community of people living with disabilities; she’s blind, and before she could start her speech she had to work with her guide dog to get the animal to sit and hold still so she could talk.
“Imagine a glass that can hold 16 ounces and has eight ounces of water in it,” Restle said. “This is my disability. The glass-half-full people see me doing ordinary tasks and raise them to major accomplishments, and the glass-half-empty people see my life as tragic because I’m blind. Why can’t it just be a glass with liquid in it?”
Restle used a similar metaphor to describe her sexuality. “Let’s pretend I’m attracted to both genders equally,” she said. “Some people would say I’m half-straight, some that I’m half-Gay. My question is why can’t it just be a glass of liquid, not cut up into pieces of homo- and heterosexuality?”
Despite the pretense of inclusion implied by the inclusion of “B” in “LGBT,” Restle said mainstream Queer organizations are often hostile to Bisexuals and refuse to help them. She also said the sense that Bi people aren’t welcome in either the straight or Queer communities contributes to them having “the highest rates of suicide, depression, poverty and abuse by relationship partners” of anyone in the Queer community.
(For further information on how Bisexuals are in many ways the most discriminated-against members of the Queer community, see http://zengersmag.blogspot.com/2015/07/b-forgotten-letter.html. For information supporting Restle’s claims about the adverse health effects of anti-Bi discrimination, see http://www.news-medical.net/news/20150701/Rice-University-study-reveals-that-Gays-Lesbians-and-heterosexuals-have-better-health-than-Bisexuals.aspx?.)
Other speakers included Mike Dee, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Padres baseball club, who said he had arranged the first “Pride Night” outreach to the Queer community by a major-league baseball team during a previous stint in the Padres’ organization in 2001. Dee had to work hard to mend fences with the Queer community when at the 2015 Pride Night, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was brought on to sing the national anthem at the start of the game — but a sound person cut them off and instead played a record of another non-Queer performance of the anthem.
Dee’s speech ignored the Pride Night anthem controversy (though Pride director Stephen Whitburn, introducing him, mentioned it) and focused on the team’s outreach efforts. “In 2015 we pledged with the San Diego Unified School District to promote the best of athletics by making peole feel respected on and off the field,” he said. “Major League Baseball is the first professional sports league to name an openly Gay person as a director of social outreach: former San Diego Padre Billy Bean. He came out in 1999 after his professional career ended. I know Billy personally and he’s a major ambassador for professional sports and the LGBT community.”
“Pride unites us,” said Lily Rubenstein, 16-year-old Transgender activist and member of the Mayor’s LGBT advisory board. “It’s always been our community’s secret weapon. We have Pride to let LGBT’s know that there are people to support them. Pride celebrations are landmarks. Think back to the time when Pride was something you had to fight for. Pride is the culmination of dedicated fighting.” She praised the California board of education for just having authorized teaching of Queer history in the state’s public schools.
The rally was kicked off by Queer historian Joan La Barbera of the San Diego LGBT Archives, who presented an orthodox “it all started at Stonewall” version of Queer history that typically ignored earlier Queer activism. Though the first known Queer-rights organization in the U.S. was founded in Chicago in 1926 and America’s history of continuous Queer activism started with Harry Hay and four others founding the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1950, La Barbera’s presentation and the name of the event itself — “Spirit of Stonewall” — enshrined the pernicious myth that the entire U.S. Queer liberation movement started when patrons at the Stonewall Inn dive bar in New York City in June 1969 fought back against a police raid. (Full disclosure: two of my closest friends, Leo Laurence and Pat Brown, were among the leaders of militant Queer-rights demonstrations in San Francisco in early 1969, months before the so-called “beginning” of the movement at Stonewall.)
“Stonewall was not a peaceful protest,” La Barbera conceded. “It was a riot against police harassment, and it was led mostly by Trans women of color who are in fact our foremothers.” (The “it all started at Stonewall” myth is often used to hail Transgender people as the real founders of the Queer movement, and thereby to marginalize the participation of Queer Leftists like Harry Hay and others in launching U.S. Queer activism. It doesn’t marginalize the courage Sylvia Rivera, Marcia P. Johnson and the other Trans people who fought at Stonewall to set the record straight and acknowledge that just as the women’s movement was birthed from women’s responses to sexism within the American Left, so was the Queer movement partly a response to Leftist homophobia and a challenge to the Left to live up to its promise of liberation for all people.)

Awards to Drug Dealers

As in previous years, part of the business of the Pride rally was to hand out “Spirit of Stonewall Awards” (the myth strikes again!) to various individuals and organizations in the Queer community. The event MC asked for a particularly supportive response when members of a group calling itself “#Be the Generation” was given the Service Awards. Though they weren’t as big a presence in this year’s rally as they were the previous year — when far more attendees were wearing the “#Be the Generation” T-shirt — they showed off their four-part response to AIDS, which while no longer epidemic in the Queer community is still endemic and hits us harder than any other population.
“#Be the Generation” allegedly highlights four responses to the continuing presence of AIDS and the so-called Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which supposedly causes it in the Queer community: “FIGHT: Stigma, Fear and Shaming. TEST: Know Your HIV Status. TREAT: Get Undetectable. PROTECT: PrEP and Condoms.” According to the group’s propaganda, the campaign is aimed at young people to get them to “be the generation” that stops the alleged “transmission” of HIV and AIDS once and for all.
But the nub of the campaign lies in the reference to “PrEP” in the fourth point. “PrEP” stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” a highly controversial campaign originally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 — though the groundwork for it had been laid as early as the Berlin AIDS conference in 1993 — to get people who test HIV negative to take anti-HIV drugs anyway, despite their high cost and potentially ferocious toxicities.
The principal PrEP drugs are Truvada and Genvoya, made by Gilead Pharmaceuticals — whose extortionate prices for hepatitis C treatments Horvani and Sarvoldi made them poster children for pharmaceutical company greed. A 2015 study claimed nearly 100 percent effectiveness for Truvada in preventing HIV transmission from positive people to their negative sex partners — but like many other studies in the history of U.S. AIDS research, it was stopped early before the drug’s side effects had a chance to kick in.
Later research (http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hiv-prevention/hiv-prep/5434-eacs-2015-modest-bone-loss-seen-in-young-men-taking-truvada-for-pre-exposure-prophylaxis) confirmed a severe risk of bone loss in patients taking Truvada. But neither the risks involved in “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” the ultra-high cost of the drugs nor the whole preposterousness of giving these powerful medications to people who, even by the standards of the AIDS establishment, aren’t sick stopped the Pride organizers from hailing the drug pushers of “#Be the Generation” by giving them a community service award.
Other community service award winners included Tita Viveros, cross-border activist with the Queer community in Tijuana; Denise Williams and Dana Toppel as “Inspirational Couple,” Dale Kelly Bankhead as “Friend of Pride” (an award given for the straight person who has done the most for San Diego’s Queer community, and one Bankhead has won so many times they probably ought to retire it for her); Sue Reynolds as “Champion of Pride” for her work trying to develop affordable housing for San Diego Queers; an organization called MARYAH for “Philanthropy” because they raised money for the Sunburst group home for Queer and other at-risk youth in Golden Hill; and Michael Moore, current board chair of the Stepping Stone program for people with alcohol or drug issues, as Community Grand Marshal.
The rally kicked off with the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and ended with the San Diego Pride Youth Marching Band playing cheerily amateur renditions of “Over the Rainbow” (signature song of Judy Garland, whose death in June 1969 just days before the Stonewall riots is partly credited with having sparked them — Queers were a large part of her fan base and a lot of them felt pushed over the edge when their bars were raided while they were still in mourning for her) and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Presidential Primary Post-Mortem

I Don’t Like It Either, but Voting for Hillary Is Our Only Choice

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Well, it’s finally over. The mountain has moved and brought forth two mice. Two of the most widely and viscerally hated people in the entire country, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will be the major-party nominees for President of the United States in the November 8 election. Comedian Mort Sahl used to make a joke about the so-called “progress” of American politics, changing it only to update the names in the punchline: “In the 1790’s we were a nation of 30 million people and we had George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. Today we’re a nation of 320 million, and the best we can come up with is Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Darwin was wrong!
The primary season started out with at least 22 more or less substantial candidates for President of the United States: 17 Republicans and five Democrats. It also began with the widespread assumption by the mainstream corporate media and the Washington punditocracy that the eventual nominees would be Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush (remember Jeb Bush — or “Jeb!,” as he futilely tried to restyle himself?). That would have been an even bigger snooze-fest than the 1988 Presidential election between Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush, both so bland one Los Angeles Times cartoonist joked, “You wanted a Presidential election that wouldn’t be about personalities? You just got it.”
The D.C. “experts” who get paid more money per year than I’ll probably see in a lifetime just to blather on and on and on in front of cable-news cameras, and who always remind me of Oscar Wilde’s marvelous line about the woman who “could state the obvious with a sense of real discovery,” kept telling us, “Clinton v. Bush, Clinton v. Bush, Clinton v. Bush,” as if they could hypnotize primary voters into making it so. Meanwhile millions of Americans thought, “Clinton v. Bush — didn’t we have that election already?”
When Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination against Barack Obama in 2008, I wrote an editorial that said one of the reasons I thought she would lose was what I called the “Groundhog Day” factor, after the Bill Murray movie in which he has to keep reliving the same day over and over again. I didn’t think that many voters would really want to cast their ballots so the sequence of Presidents from 1988 to 2012 would read, “Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton.” And quite frankly I’m not that sure all that many American voters are going to be thrilled about a sequence that reads, “Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton,” either.
Instead the Republican primary process was taken over by an orange-haired real-estate developer and “reality” TV star from New York named Donald J. Trump. He zoomed to the top of the Republican field from the moment he announced his candidacy in June 2015, when he said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.” 
The pundits told us that America wouldn’t stand for a Presidential candidate who was not only racist but so blatantly open and seemingly proud of his racism. They were wrong: Trump zoomed to the top of the polls for the Republican nomination and never lost his front-runner status. The next month he insulted 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain for having been a prisoner of war in North Viet Nam. “He’s not a war hero” said Trump. “He’s a ‘war hero’ because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Again, pundits said Trump would get sunk by the military-loving voters of the Republican party for insulting a man whose courage in the face of imprisonment and torture had become legendary and inspired millions of Americans, including many who disagreed with McCain’s politics.
Wrong again. And the pundits were wrong again when he responded to Fox News debate anchor Megyn Kelly’s question about his demeaning remarks about women with a demeaning remark about her as a woman, saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, or her wherever.” Not only did his poll ratings soar, they soared even higher among Republican women than Republican men. Throughout the Republican primary campaign, Trump kept spewing out bigoted remark after bigoted remark, including his demand for a “temporary” ban on Muslims in America — and his political stock soared ever higher.
Most recently, he’s attacked the judge in the San Diego fraud case against Trump University — a crash course in real-estate expertise that’s alleged by the people suing him to have been a pyramid scheme — saying that because the judge is “Mexican” (actually he’s the U.S.-born son of Mexican immigrant parents) and Trump wants to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, he can’t fairly judge Trump in the case. That’s given cold feet to the Republican Congressional leaders who had just begrudgingly bowed to the inevitable and endorsed Trump — House Speaker Paul Ryan called it “textbook racism” (a first for me: I can’t recall ever having agreed with Paul Ryan before!) — but it plays just fine to the people who’ve been Trump’s base from day one of his campaign.
Throughout the campaign, pundits have been wrong about Trump. They’ve kept saying about his latest outrageous remark, “This will be the thing that takes him down” — and instead he’s soared ever higher. They’ve said he could win Republican primaries but he’d never get more than about 35 percent of the vote — until his vote totals started reaching 40, 45, 50, 60 percent. Now they’re saying, “O.K., he was able to win Republican primaries by appealing to the Republican base. But now he’ll be running in a general election, and he’s going to have to broaden his appeal.” That’s how a Presidential race usually works — you mobilize your partisan base to win a primary campaign and then move to the center to convince non-partisan or less partisan voters to vote for you too — but it’s not how Trump is likely to campaign, and there are very good reasons for him not to.
Donald Trump has three things going for him as the general-election campaign begins. First, he’s built up a reputation for “courage” for saying things other candidates may believe but don’t dare say — and in the process he’s given a lot of people, especially older white voters whose incomes have taken a bath as America has deindustrialized, a sense of pride in bigoted, racist attitudes they’ve been told by more conventional politicians and the media they ought to be ashamed of. Second, his policy statements — to the extent he’s made any — don’t fall along a simple, easy dividing line between “Left” and “Right.” His racism, sexism and religious bigotry and his overweening pride in himself and his money mark him as a man of the Right, but he’s also taken positions — like pledging to preserve Social Security and Medicare, and opposing the so-called “free trade” agreements that have sucked away America’s once-strong industrial jobs base — that are generally thought of as Left.
Third, and most important, Donald Trump is incredibly rich. Just how rich he is remains a matter of dispute; when one of the major economics magazines aimed at Trump’s fellow 1-percenters estimated Trump’s net worth at $4 billion, he called to complain and said it should have been $10 billion. When they asked him where the extra $6 billion came from, he said, “That’s the value of the Trump name.” But he does have a lot of money — enough to have so many homes in so many places it’s hard to keep track of him all. My joke about Mitt Romney in 2012 that he’d be assured of the election if he could only carry all his home states is true of Trump as well. And unlike the last politically inexperienced CEO the Republicans nominated for President (Wendell Willkie in 1940), Trump is running in a country brainwashed by decades of conservative pro-capitalist propaganda to revere money per se.
As I noted the first time I wrote about Trump in these pages, the cult of the general in American politics has given way to the cult of the CEO. We haven’t had a President who was a general since Eisenhower and we haven’t had a president who served in the military at all since the first Bush. Years of glorification of CEO’s through memoirs, fawning documentaries and “reality” TV shows like Trump’s own The Apprentice have trained many Americans to regard CEO’s as superior individuals whose very wealth is a sign of their intelligence and sagacity.
It’s not a new idea. It dates back to John Calvin, the founder of Puritanism, who believed that only a handful of superior people (the “elect”) were going to Heaven and God’s way of showing the rest of us who they were was their material success in this world. But when the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc in eastern Europe collapsed in the late 1980’s the U.S. Right sold millions of Americans on the idea that this showed not only the superiority of capitalism, but the superiority of capitalists. Willkie had the bad luck to run for President when America was still coming out of the Great Depression and trust in the U.S. business community was at an all-time low; Trump has the fabulous luck to be running in an era in which many Americans equate money with genius and think, “He must know how to run the country — he’s rich!
There’s one more thing about Donald Trump that a lot of people don’t realize that makes him an incredibly strong Presidential contender, especially to the base of disgusted working-class men, victims of the systematic deindustrialization of America over the last four decades. He sounds like the voices they already trust to explain the political world to them: the voices of talk radio. Nation writer David Bromwich argued in a recent review of Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money (http://www.thenation.com/article/the-soul-of-the-tea-party/?nc=1), an account of how rich people on the radical Right, David and Charles Koch in particular, built the Tea Party movement into a massive force that largely took control of American politics, that her analysis had neglected the importance of talk radio and Fox News.
I think Bromwich himself ignored how much the Right’s money had to do with those. Fox News is a creation of radical-Right media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who’s used to using both his money and his media outlets to move politics in his native Australia, Great Britain and the U.S. dramatically to the Right; and major talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh stay on the air through the money of corporations run by radical-Right CEO’s even if more mainstream businesses drop them. But Bromwich is right about both the rhetorical style and the influence of talk radio and its hosts on the slice of America that has become Donald Trump’s political base.
“Many reversals that have surprised the Democrats in the last seven years would not have surprised someone who listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, or Michael Savage, and to the people who call their shows begging for political guidance,” Bromwich writes. “Trump was a favorite golf partner of Limbaugh’s, who promoted his candidacy with a high good humor that has turned to serious advocacy — and he was a lively and frequent interviewee for Hannity on the subject of Obama’s birth certificate.”
One can hear the voice of talk radio full-blown in Donald Trump, just as one can hear them in embryo in the surviving recordings of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the legendary Red-baiter of the early 1950’s: the booming voice, the halting cadences (just to make sure everyone in the audience “gets” what they’re saying), the appeals to “common sense” over intellectual complexity (which, in the talk-radio world, is just a way the bad guys have of confusing people), the bellicose wise-guy tone, the pride they take in their racism, sexism and other bigotries, and the Manichean ideology which not only divides the world into 100 percent good guys and 100 percent bad guys but assumes that the “truth” of what they’re saying is so obvious no one could possibly have a good-faith reason for disagreeing with it. Everyone who disputes the gospel according to talk radio must be part of a vast conspiracy out to destroy America. Donald Trump has the votes of the up to 30 percent of all Americans Bromwich argues are part of the Tea Party because he’s the first modern-day Presidential candidate who sounds like a talk-radio host.
So don’t automatically assume that Donald Trump can’t win the Presidency. There may be a limit to the amount of outrageousness he can get away with before it reaches a critical mass that turns off enough voters so he loses, but he hasn’t hit it yet and no one knows what it is, or even whether it exists. To people who tell me they can’t imagine a country like this one electing that orange-haired thug, I say, “I’m sure there were a lot of similar conversations in Germany in the early 1930’s: ‘We’re a civilized country. We’d never let a freak like Hitler come to power.’”

Bernie Sanders and His “Army”

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, an unlikely challenger emerged to the supposedly inevitable “coronation” of Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Through much of 2015 the group of activist Democrats that variously describes itself as the “Left,” “Progressive” and “Democratic” wing of the Democratic Party had been putting intense pressure on Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President. When she decided not to, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stepped into the race. His first campaign appearances had the air of an understudy taking over a role from an indisposed star — “Senator Elizabeth Warren will not appear this evening. Her part will be played by Senator Bernie Sanders” — and that wasn’t the only, or even the biggest, strike against him.
First, Bernie Sanders had never run for office before as a Democrat. He’d spent 30 years in elective office — first as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city; then as Vermont’s sole member of the House of Representatives (since it isn’t big enough to have more than one); then as a U.S. Senator — but he’d always run as an independent. Indeed, a number of Democrats were making a to-do about Sanders never having registered to vote as a Democrat — until it came out that Vermont’s election law doesn’t contain party affiliation: everyone who registers to vote in Vermont does so as a non-partisan.
Second, Sanders proclaimed himself a “democratic socialist” in a country in which that very combination of words has long since seemed oxymoronic. Both the sorry examples of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and the self-styled “people’s democracies” of Eastern Europe — the repression, the terror, the Gulags — and the way Right-wingers had exploited them for propaganda had convinced most Americans that socialism is automatically tyranny. As things turned out, though, Right-wingers have so overdone their anti-socialist propaganda that the word “socialist,” though still negative, has lost the kiss-of-death status it once had in this country. From day one of Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans have been denouncing him and everything he stood for as “socialist” — which I suspect led a lot of people, especially young voters who’d supported him, to think, “Hey, I like Obama, so if Obama’s a socialist, I must be a socialist too.”
Sanders, it turned out, had a lot going for him that virtually nobody in the media or the punditocracy realized. First, he’s an infectiously energetic campaigner. Second, he became one of those unlikely older figures that inspires young people, His attacks on the corporate aristocracy that really rules America no matter who gets elected to political office, his demand to smash the power of organized money over the political system and his holding up Hillary Clinton, with her six-figure speaking fees to Goldman Sachs and the potential conflicts of interest between her role as Secretary of State in the first Obama term and the Clinton Foundation, resonated less than what he specifically proposed to do. To young people stuck living with their parents so they can take advantage of the provision of Obamacare that they can stay on their parents’ health plan until they’re 26, and even more concerned about spending their entire adult lives paying off a six-figure student loan debt, Sanders’ calls for universal health care and free public-college tuition resonated because those were things that would immediately benefit them.
But Sanders, with his foxy Jewish-grandpa persona (he got compared so often to comedian and Seinfeld creator Larry David that when Saturday Night Live started parodying him they hired David to play him), offered young people more than just a few tangible benefits like access to health care and free college. He also offered them a sense of hope, a sense that there’s a way out of the horrible mess they’ve been born into. Before young people embraced Sanders en masse, I had thought the overwhelming majority of America’s youth thought about politics pretty much along the lines of The Hunger Games. In Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, the existing system sucks, the one the so-called “revolutionaries” want to create sucks almost as much — maybe a little bit more — and the only healthy alternative for people who want to live a decent life is to drop out altogether, live as individuals, have as little to do with politics as possible and literally cultivate their gardens.
Like Occupy Wall Street five years ago, the Sanders campaign pulled back the curtain and showed America’s young people a glimpse not only of a better future but a way to get there. My hope is that they will continue to build the “political revolution” Sanders called for and build a progressive electoral movement, within but not of the Democratic Party, that will contest elections at all level — and simultaneously build a Tea Party of the Left, an organized movement outside the electoral system and put pressure on elected officials, especially Democrats, to keep their promises to the people who elected them to pursue a progressive agenda instead of doing what Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did — and what, absent this kind of pressure, Hillary Clinton is likely to do as well if elected — which is gravitate towards the center and pursue only as much “change” as the 1 percent will permit.
My fear is that the young who turned out in droves to support Sanders will slink back into their closets, just as many of them did after the Occupy camps were closed down (the few Occupy movements that remain viable, like Women Occupy San Diego, were the ones made up mostly of older people). Unable to make political change in the first electoral campaign they tried it in, a lot of the Sandersistas might just give up on the system altogether and revert to the view that both big parties are corrupt and therefore we shouldn’t have anything to do with something as dirty, messy and slimy as (ugh) politics. Indeed, one of my biggest disenchantments with the Hillary supporters is they are pissing away the energies of the young people they need to rebuild not only the Democratic party but the progressive movement as a whole.
Instead, they’re backing an old Establishment war horse whose supporters keep telling America she’s the “most qualified” candidate ever to run for President. And Clinton herself, putting forward her experience and her résumé as the big reasons we should vote for her, seems clueless about how much the American political landscape has changed, to the point where experience seems to be a negative in the minds of many voters on both Left and Right today. If I were Hillary Clinton about the last thing I’d want (or want my surrogates) to do is prattle on about my “experience” and how it makes me “qualified.” By those standards, probably the most “qualified” President in U.S. history was William Howard Taft — who made such a hash of his one term that when he ran for re-election in 1912, he placed third. And one of the least “qualified” Presidents, Abraham Lincoln  — whose whole political experience before 1860 was three terms in the Illinois state legislature and one term in Congress — did a pretty good job defeating the racist, slaveholding South and holding the country together.

How Trump Could Win

I actually started writing the above a month ago, after the primary season was more or less over and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had emerged as the presumptive major-party nominees. I wrote most of what you’ve just read before the galvanic events of the past month: before the massacre of 49 patrons of the Pulse Gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a screwed up young Afghan-American who claimed “allegiance” to ISIS (and to al-Qaeda, and to a martyr who belonged to al-Nusra — three groups that hate each other almost as much as they hate “infidels”). Before subsequent terror attacks in Turkey and Saudi Arabia — including a suicide bombing in Medina, Islam’s second holiest city, of pilgrims on the most sacred Muslim rite, the hajj — which makes one wonder why these supposedly super-devout Muslims are so outrageously flouting Muhammad’s injunction in the Quran that Muslims must never kill other Muslims.
I also wrote it before the so-called “Brexit,” the vote in Great Britain — well, England (aside from London) and Wales, anyway — to leave the European Union (EU), and the virtually complete meltdown in British politics that resulted. When I heard about the fallout from “Brexit” — the resignation of pro-EU Conservative Party prime minister David Cameron; the sudden withdrawal of the person who seemed like his likely successor (pro-“Brexit” Conservative Boris Johnson); the resignation of Nigel Farage, the closest thing to a British Trump, from the leadership of the openly racist and xenophobic UK Independence Party; and the effort of leaders in the Labour Party to unseat their party chair, Jeremy Corbyn (essentially the British Bernie Sanders) — I started joking that if things kept going that way, Queen Elizabeth II might have to pull rank on everybody, declare the British electoral system a failure, and rule not as a “constitutional” monarch but a real one.
And I wrote it before the bizarre mixed verdict from FBI director James Comey after the year-long investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server to conduct government business while Secretary of State, and whether she broke the laws regarding release of classified information. Comey’s report offered balm for both Republicans and Democrats; he called Clinton’s practices in particular (and the State Department’s in general) “extremely careless” and discovered 110 out of 30,000 e-mails that had been marked at some level of classification while Hillary Clinton sent, forwarded or attached them. (He also found 2,000 e-mails that weren’t classified when sent but were classified later.) But he also said there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Clinton because there was no showing that she intended the unauthorized release of classified material.
The terror assaults and the “Brexit” vote don’t guarantee Trump the Presidency, but they do make his election quite a bit more possible. “Brexit” indicates that a modern-day electorate in a cosmopolitan country can be swayed to vote against their interests by an openly racist appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment and a factually false but emotionally appealing argument that “foreigners” are taking money that could be spent to help “real” Americans/Britons/Germans/Austrians/French/whomever. Also, the more people are scared by terrorists in general and ISIS in particular, the more they’re going to vote for the strong man (emphasis here on man) and against the woman who’s pledging to continue the policies of President Obama, whose measured, nuanced responses to terrorism and political turmoil in the Middle East and the Muslim world in general just make him seem “weak.”
In this, as in so much else, Hillary Clinton is following the blueprint of the women who ran for head of state in various countries in the 1960’s and 1970’s — Indira Gandhi in India, Golda Meir in Israel, Margaret Thatcher in Britain — who were obsessed with the idea that they could be just as “tough,” just as butch, just as warlike as the men who’d run their countries before them. She’s running as Obama’s political and ideological successor but also on the historical record that when she was Secretary of State there were a lot of opportunities to put American troops into harm’s way in the Middle East and elsewhere that she wanted to grab — and Obama wouldn’t let her.
The fact that there’s another way for a woman to run for head of state and succeed escapes Hillary Clinton. The currently most powerful woman in the world, German chancellor Angela Merkel, has emphasized consensus and “soft power,” and presented herself not as an ardent anti-terror warrior (given Germany’s history, that sort of thing from a German politician scares a lot of people, including a lot of Germans) but as a rather colorless technocrat. Indeed, one could argue that Merkel has pulled off by purely economic means what Otto von Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler failed to achieve by force of arms — to make Germany ruler of Europe — and she’s done it without either the machismo posturing of German-descended Donald Trump or the just-because-I-don’t-have-a-dick-don’t-think-I-can’t-fuck-you attitude of Hillary Clinton.
Trump could very will win the election on three issues: his pledge to do anything, regardless of international law, to rid the world of ISIS and its ilk (down to restoring waterboarding and killing their members’ families); his promise to restore America’s industrial base and bring back the good-paying blue-collar jobs that allowed white ethnics to rise and become middle-class in the 1940’s and 1950’s; and his pledge to preserve Social Security and Medicare for “real” (i.e., white) Americans by shutting the borders and building walls to keep out Mexicans and Muslims. The Republican Party in general isn’t worried about the so-called demographic shift of the country — the growing numbers of poor people, young people and people of color — because they hold control of so many state legislatures, where the rules of how America’s elections are win are set, they can pass so-called “voter fraud” laws that make it impossible for people who’d vote against them to vote at all.
There are other weapons, secret and not-so-secret, Trump has going for him. In virtually all the Republican primaries he did better than the polls said he would, which suggests there’s a kind of reverse version of the “Bradley factor” working for him. The “Bradley factor” was a phrase coined when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, lost an election for governor of California by 2 ½ points when the final polls said he’d been ahead by that much. Political experts realized that about 5 percent of the people polled were too racist to vote for a Black candidate — but too ashamed of their racism to tell a pollster that they wouldn’t. I suspect that Trump has a “Bradley factor” of his own working for him — a lot of people who are going to vote for him but realize that’s not the “politically correct” thing to say to a pollster — and he’s likely to do about 5 percent better in the actual election than he is in the polls.
But the biggest factor Trump has going for him is the creaky way America elects its presidents. The people don’t elect a President; according to the Constitution, that’s done by something called the Electoral College, which consists of 538 people — the number of each state’s members of the House of Representatives and Senate, plus three to represent the District of Columbia, which didn’t have the right to vote in Presidential elections until the early 1960’s and still isn’t represented in Congress. Since Electoral College votes are winner-take-all by state, Hillary Clinton could win the popular vote but Donald Trump could win the election. How could that happen? Hillary racks up large vote margins in big “blue” states like California and New York, but Trump ekes out narrow victories in the Rust Belt states and places like Pennsylvania that have been hit especially hard by America’s systematic deindustrialization.

Why You MUST Vote for Hillary Clinton

The simple fact is, given the way American politics is structured, with virtually all offices elected on a winner-take-all basis by district, there is no room for alternative political parties. Organizing the Green Party made sense in its original home, Germany, where if you get 5 percent or more of the national vote you get that percentage of seats in the national legislature. It did not — and still does not — make sense to set up a Green Party in the U.S., where aside from a few local offices that are officially “nonpartisan,” alternative parties are blocked out from actually electing anybody by both law and custom. So anyone who, under some sort of twisted conception of political or moral “virtue,” rejects the Clinton vs. Trump choice and casts a ballot for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party or any of the myriad of other nominal Presidential candidates of alternative parties, Left or Right, might as well not vote at all.
And the biggest reason to vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump is that if Hillary Clinton wins in 2016 there will be another Presidential election in 2020. If Donald Trump wins, that is far from certain. It is quite likely, knowing what we know of Trump — that he’s a vengeful paranoiac with a sense he’s been eternally persecuted and a determination to lash back at his enemies even when he’d be better off rolling with the punches and leaving them alone — that he simply will not take no for an answer. If Congress doesn’t give him what he wants, he’ll simply rule by executive fiat (as some Republicans already accuse Obama of doing). If there’s another terrorist attack in the U.S. on the scale of 9/11 or the November 2015 attacks in Paris, I suspect Trump will call a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, if they sign on and thereby put the power of the U.S. military at his sole disposal, he will simply suspend the Constitution and become a dictator, ruling by decree.
And if no terrorist attack actually happens, I wouldn’t put it past Trump to stage one. I never believed the 9/11 conspiracy theories — the idea that the George W. Bush administration staged the attacks to justify asaults on civil liberties like the USA PATRIOT Act and foreign policy adventures like the war in Iraq — because they seemed too much like Left-wing versions of the “birther” myth (that Obama was born in Kenya and therefore ineligible to be President) Trump did so much to propagate. But though I never believed that George W. Bush was capable, either morally or intellectually, of ordering a phony terrorist attack to justify moving his political agenda in authoritarian ways, I would have no problem believing that of Donald Trump.
There are other more logical, less speculative reasons to prefer Clinton over Trump as President. One big one is the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court. There already is a vacancy on the Court — thanks to the Senate Republicans’ refusal even to consider an appointment made by President Obama — and there are likely to be at least two more in the next Presidential term. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in her eighties and in poor health, and Justice Anthony Kennedy — normally a hard-line Right-winger (he wrote the second most loathsome Supreme Court decision in U.S. history, Citizens United) but one who departs from the Right-wing reservation on juvenile justice and Queer rights, and recently provided key votes to sustain affirmative action and women’s right to reproductive choice — is also getting up there.
Trump has already released his short list of 11 potential appointees to the Court (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/us/politics/donald-trump-supreme-court-nominees.html?_r=0) and challenged Hillary Clinton to do the same. Among the names on his list are Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who according to the New York Times article by Alan Rappeport and Charlie Savage cited above “previously worked for the Bush White House’s office of faith-based initiatives and later in Texas government, where he pushed to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments on public property and the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, issues he has promoted on his Facebook page.” Another is 11th Circuit federal appeals judge William H. Pryor, Jr., “whose appointment Senate Democrats had tried to block,” wrote Rappeport and Savage, “in part because, in his previous role as Alabama attorney general, he denounced Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion, as having manufactured ‘a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.’”
So if Trump gets elected, goodbye to religious freedom in the U.S. for anyone who isn’t Christian or Jewish. Goodbye to women’s right to reproductive choice. Goodbye — especially if he gets to replace Anthony Kennedy, who’s written all the Court’s opinions expanding Queer rights — to any legal protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, and hello to sodomy laws, police raids on Gay bars and a legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman (period). And goodbye to any meaningful attempt by the judiciary to rein in Trump’s excesses or to protect the due-process rights of detainees in the “war on terror.”
On issue after issue, the Democrats aren’t as progressive as they should be, but compared to Trump they’re infinitely preferable. The Democrats acknowledge that human beings are causing climate change — though their proposed actions hardly match the magnitude of the potential crisis — but Trump thinks human-caused climate change is a hoax invented by Chinese propagandists. (I’m not making this up, you know.) Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spent a lot of time in the primary debates arguing over whether the U.S. minimum wage should be raised to $12 or $15 per hour; Trump said during a Republican debate that U.S. workers are overpaid and need to make less so they can compete with workers making the starvation wages employers pay in China, Viet Nam or Bangladesh.
It’s time for all those people who still repeat, mantra-like, that there is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties to wake up and smell the bitter stench of reality. The Democrats are hardly as progressive as they should be (if they were, we would be writing “presumptive Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders”), but the Republicans are an ideologically libertarian party dedicated to eliminating all social programs, all workers’ rights (including the minimum wage as well as occupational health and safety), all labor unions, all public education, all regulation of businesses, all environmental protections and all limits on the “right” of corporations and wealthy individuals to buy elections. If you don’t believe me, look at what they’ve done in state after state — Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, North Carolina and others — where Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature. If you still believe there’s “no difference” between the Republican and Democratic parties, I’ve got a bottle of contaminated water from Flint, Michigan to sell you.
The bottom line is that if we want to preserve any hope of a progressive America in the future, we need to elect Hillary Clinton President in 2016 and we need to return Congress to Democratic control. We also need to be in the streets constantly to push her to honor all the progressive promises she made in the primary campaign, and to do the same with other elected Democrats. The electoral Republicans and the Tea Party activists have worked together brilliantly to move the center of gravity of American politics quite far to the Right. We need to do the same. We need both an electoral movement and a street protest movement to bring it back again and take America forward instead of letting it revert to the past when Donald Trump says it was “great” — when African-Americans and other people of color were still on the back of the bus, women were still in the kitchen, Queers were still in the closet and the richest Americans’ rule was absolute and unchallengeable.
I’ll end this long article with a quote from my long-time hero and my first choice for President this year, Bernie Sanders: “Hillary Clinton on her worst day would be a better President than any of the Republicans on their best day.” He said that in at least two Democratic primary debates, and he clearly believes it. So do I.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thoughts on Orlando

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“I actually went to high school in Orlando,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality, at the start of the club’s meeting June 23 — just 10 days after 49 people were massacred at the Queer Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. “Pulse was one of the first Gay clubs I ever went to, along with another one called Parliament House. These areas were very central to my community. I’m also a young Puerto Rican Gay man, so this was an assault on my community and my family in pretty much every way I can possibly put it. I also lost three people in the attack, so it hits me at sort of a rough time in our family and our community. So let us start the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando.”
That, 10 days after the Orlando massacre, was the first moment the horror of what had happened there really hit me. It’s one thing to know that something terrible has happened; it’s quite another thing to feel a personal connection. Though Will Rodriguez-Kennedy is hardly one of my bosom buddies, he’s someone I’ve known for over four years — he was the cover boy of Zenger’s issue #204, two issues before the final print publication of my magazine, and I’ve known him ever since as he rose through the ranks of the San Diego Democrats for Equality just four years after resigning as head of its Republican equivalent, the San Diego County Log Cabin Club, and switching from Republican to Democrat — and the magnitude of his sense of loss hooked me and made me feel more intensely than I had before for the lost Queers of Orlando and the survivors whose lives will never be the same again.
Sunday, June 13 was supposed to be a happy day for me. My husband Charles and I were going to have one of our all too rare simultaneous days off from work. I was scheduled to meet him at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park for the regular Sunday afternoon organ concert at 2 p.m., and what I didn’t realize was that at 3:30 in the same venue there would be a free concert given by the Mainly Mozart Festival. What’s more, we had tickets for yet another music event, a concert by the Voices in Unity and Emerging Voices youth choirs of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest at 6 p.m., so Charles and I were anticipating a rather long but joyous and uplifting day listening to people performing great (and sometimes not-so-great) music live.
By chance, the weekend of June 12-13 was one during which I was cut off from the Internet. Apparently some people from AT&T were out working on the lines, and so our regular Internet connection was cut off from Friday afternoon to midnight the following Monday. Since the Pulse shooting had happened too early in the morning — 1:30 to 4:30 a.m. Florida time — to make the morning Los Angeles Times (yes, I still subscribe to a home-delivered print newspaper!), I hadn’t heard a thing about it. Charles, who still had Internet access through his cell phone, had, and he warned me that there would no doubt be a lot of rhetoric from the podia at the concerts about how a terrible, tragic thing had happened but that music is an uplifting, healing force that will help us get over the traumas of such events and remind us that we are all one, all part of the same human race, despite the petty differences that divide us and sometimes get us killed.
So it wasn’t until 10 p.m. that night, when we got home from the very last music event exhausted but enlivened and ennobled by what we had been hearing all day, that I got a chance to switch on cable TV news and realize the enormity of what had happened. A lone gunman had got into the Pulse club in Orlando on “Latino night” — which made me think that for a certain sort of bigot the opportunity to kill a lot of people who were both Latino and Queer would be a sick “twofer” — and with a semi-automatic assault rifle, which he had purchased legally under Florida’s liberal gun laws, had slaughtered 50 people (later the “official” death toll was reduced to 49) before the Orlando police had finally put an end to the massacre by battering down the club’s back wall and ultimately killing the alleged shooter.
I also learned from the cable news reports that night that the alleged shooter was someone named Omar Mateen, and though he had been born in the U.S. his parents had emigrated here from Afghanistan. The reports also said that at some point during his rampage he had “sworn allegiance” to the international terror group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL — Islamic State in the Levant — or just IS, or by its Arabic initials “DAESH,” which if you pronounce it right can be twisted to sound like an Arabic insult). Later it turned out he’d also sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Nusra, two rival terror groups who hate ISIS and each other almost as much as they hate the infidels. It reminded me of the infamous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald in his backyard, posing with the rifle with which he allegedly killed John F. Kennedy and holding two Left-wing newspapers, one in each hand: the Worker, outlet of the Communist Party, U.S.A.; and the Militant, published by their hated rival, the Trotskyist Socialist Workers’ Party.

The “Terror” Context: Who Was Omar Mateen?

Of course, once it came out that Omar Mateen had made a 911 call during the attack in which he “swore allegiance” to ISIS — an elastic concept that may mean anything from a vague sympathy with their stated goals to actual participation in the terror group’s infrastructure — the whole event got looked at quite differently than it would have been if he hadn’t. Instead of being put in the same category as Columbine, Aurora or Sandy Hook — loner goes crazy, brings a lot of guns to a public place and shoots people — it got shoved into the list of “ISIS attacks” alongside the massacres in Paris in November 2015 and San Bernardino a year later. As such, it instantly became an issue in the Presidential campaign and inspired yet another rhetorical salvo from Donald Trump saying that this all happened because the Democrats haven’t been “tough” enough on ISIS and terrorists in general — and a tepid response from Hillary Clinton saying that we must stay focused on defeating ISIS and need an “intelligence surge” to identify and stop shooters like Mateen before they act.
Ironically, on June 12 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested a 20-year-old man named James Wesley Howell, claiming they had found him driving with a large supply of guns and chemicals that could have been used to make bombs, and that he told them he intended to “harm” that weekend’s L.A. Pride celebration. Howell had driven to Santa Monica from his native Indiana and apparently was himself either Gay or Bisexual (accounts differ). He’d just gone through a traumatic breakup with his boyfriend of about seven months, 17- or 18-year-old Joseph Greeson. He was also known as a gun collector and a quick-tempered loner who in October had been arrested in Indiana for pointing a gun at someone’s face.
So let’s do a thought experiment here. Let’s suppose that Orlando police had arrested Omar Mateen the night of June 12 while he was carrying his bag full of guns down the street but before he got to Pulse. And let’s say that James Wesley Howell had made it to the L.A. Pride event and either opened fire with his arsenal, set off a few bombs, or both. Just imagine how differently the incidents would have been reported: Mateen, if he had got covered by the media at all, would have been just one more crazy picked up on the streets with a bunch of guns in his possession (all legally obtained under Florida law — one of the bizarre ironies is he was legally barred from buying body armor but he could have all the firearms he wanted and could pay for), while Howell would have been portrayed as a screwed-up nutcase who did a terrible thing, but certainly not representative of all white Queer gun collectors.
The odd thing was as more information about Omar Mateen came out, he too emerged as a man profoundly confused and screwed up about his own sexuality. When CNN started broadcasting photos of him, one in particular caught my eye: he was in what appeared to be a bedroom and was posing bare-chested, probably (given the otherwise odd camera angle) for a selfie. Something about that shot sent my “Gaydar” through the roof, and so it was no surprise that in the first days after the attack “regulars” at Pulse told reporters that they’d seen him at the club many times before. It turned out that Mateen, though he’d been married to two women — the first had the good sense to leave him after six months when he abused her and the second was still with him at the time of the attack and had borne him a son he apparently doted on — had also logged on to Gay male pick-up sites like Grindr (which I’d heard of before) and Jack’d (which I hadn’t). One man recalled that he’d answered Mateen’s ad on one of those sites but shortly dropped him because he seemed “creepy.” (Joseph Greeson told Indiana reporters that James Wesley Howell seemed “strange and kind of weird.”)
One of the most revealing interviews about Mateen was given by his father, Saddique Mateen. An Afghan immigrant to the U.S. and a naturalized U.S. citizen, Saddique Mateen gave several interviews in English, but the one that particularly struck me was one CNN aired the night of June 13 in which Saddique spoke in his native language, Dari, with an English voiceover. I suspect Saddique loosened up in Dari to an extent he didn’t in his subsequent English-language interviews, because among other things he made it clear to the reporter that he hated what his son had done, but not because he had any respect or tolerance for Queer people. He said that homosexuals were sinners and deserved to go to hell, but that it was the job of Allah — not humans — to send them there.
The impression I’m getting — and it’s only a guess on my part from the evidence, but I think it’s a good guess and it fits the known facts — is that Omar Mateen grew up, like many Queer people, having same-sex attractions and also all too aware that his parents, his relatives, his community and his culture condemned them outright. He tried to do the “right” thing, according to his culture’s rules, by marrying women and having kids. He also sneaked around and dipped his toes into the Gay underworld. He was being torn apart by the contradiction between his enculturated beliefs and his desires, and ultimately he found an outlet in radical Islam. He didn’t know much about it — as witness his indiscriminate pledges of “allegiance” to three groups dramatically at odds with each other — but it offered him a way out of the contradictions that were tearing him apart.
He was told that it was deeply sinful to be Gay, and even more so to act on his Gay impulses, but he could go into a Gay club and expiate his sins by killing the infidel sinners and sending a message to the world in general and all those sinful Queer people in particular that the hand of Allah, working through him, would strike them down. When Saddique Mateen told interviewers his son had told him he had seen two men kissing each other in front of his son, and the sight had horrified him, I had no doubt Saddique Mateen was telling the truth — Omar actually did say that to him — but I strongly doubt that represented the whole of Omar’s feelings towards Gay men. He was torn apart between his sexuality and his fanatical religious beliefs, and — alas for the 49 killed and 53 wounded in Pulse — fanatical religion, not love and joy, won the battle for Mateen’s heart and soul.
Of course Mateen was also a modern mass killer in other, quirkier ways. During his three-hour attack, he interrupted himself to follow himself on social media and see how what he was doing was being reported. He also called his wife, and according to her attorneys, the first question she asked him was, “Where are you?” They seemed to be offering this largely as a defense against the accusation that she was either in on his attack or at least knew he was going to do something dastardly and didn’t report it in advance to the police, but if it’s true it just adds another surrealistic detail to an already messy story. (How was he going to answer that? “I’m at Pulse nightclub, killing a few infidel faggots for Allah. Don’t wait up.”)
Omar Mateen may have told the police, or whoever he was talking to on 911, that he had “sworn allegiance” to ISIS, but probably nobody in ISIS Central in Raqqa, Syria had any idea who he was — just as they probably had no idea who Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were until they opened fire at a social-service office in San Bernardino and killed 14 people, again claiming to be doing it in the name of ISIS. (At least they were more computer-literate than Mateen; instead of telling a 911 operator they bore “allegiance” to ISIS, they were able to log their declaration onto ISIS’ Facebook page.) In its home base in the Middle East, ISIS may be a tightly organized, effective guerrilla army with clearly defined command-and-control structures, but in the rest of the world ISIS is … well, just about everyone who says they’re part of it and does something vaguely connected with ISIS’ stated mission.
This kind of “shadow organization” actually began in the U.S. with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Instead of top-down centralized organizations with operators acting in a hierarchically organized conspiracy, these “groups” are essentially Web sites onto which anyone who does something that reflects their stated values can log on and claim to be part of the organization. While ALF and ELF are saboteurs rather than terrorists — one of their key rules is to damage only property and not take people’s lives — their model has since been copied by overseas terrorists. Al-Qaeda reinvented itself as this sort of shadow organization after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in November 2001, toppled the Taliban and thereby eliminated al-Qaeda’s ability to sustain a top-down structure with military command and control. At least since September 2014, when they issued a call to supporters worldwide not to come to Iraq and Syria to fight, but to stage attacks against “infidels” in their home countries with the weapons they had on hand, ISIS has functioned both as a conventional command-and-control guerrilla army and a virtual organization along the ALF/ELF model.
But Mateen’s claim of “allegiance” to ISIS, however tenuous in the real world, strongly shaped how his acts were reported and how they were interpreted by politicians, especially the presumptive Presidential nominees of America’s two major political parties. Hillary Clinton made some of the right noises, calling for tolerance of America’s diversity and correctly criticizing Donald Trump for proposing a “temporary” ban on Muslims entering the U.S. But she also framed the struggle against ISIS almost exclusively in military terms, reflecting what we know of her record as Secretary of State under President Obama: she was often trying to get him to send the U.S. military into hot spots like Syria and Libya, and he would overrule her, keep the troops at home and attack, if at all, with unmanned drones so Americans wouldn’t see their sons (and, now, daughters) coming home in body bags.
As for Donald Trump, his speech the day after Orlando — replacing one he’d planned to give denouncing Hillary Clinton as a crook and the Clinton Foundation as a shakedown racket targeting other countries’ leaders — was remarkable in many ways. As he has on many other issues, including his support for Social Security and Medicare, he sounded a lot more like a European Right-winger than a normal American one. Trump called the Orlando massacre “an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity.”
That’s an extraordinary thing for a Republican politician to say, especially given how as recently as 2004 then-President George W. Bush and the Republican leadership in general saw their opposition to Queer rights in general and marriage equality in particular as one of the cornerstone issues that would keep Republicans in power indefinitely. If anything, Trump sounded like Pim Fortuyn, the controversial openly Gay Dutch politician who called for a ban on Muslims in the Netherlands and was assassinated in 2002. Like Trump, Fortuyn argued that Muslims had to be kept out of his country because they directly threatened the liberal social values of tolerance and acceptance that Queer people rely on to feel safe and accepted.
Of course, being Donald Trump, he couldn’t leave it at that. He appeared to blame the Pulse murders on whichever immigration officials had let Mateen’s parents into the U.S. in the first place. “[T]he only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here,” Trump said. “We have a dysfunctional immigration system which does not permit us to know who we let into our country, and it does not permit us to protect our citizens. … With fifty people dead, and dozens more wounded, we cannot afford to talk around the issue anymore — we have to address it head on. I called for a ban [on Muslim immigration] after San Bernardino, and was met with great scorn and anger, but now, many are saying I was right to do so — and although the pause is temporary, we must find out what is going on. The ban will be lifted when we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country.”

Guns We Have With Us Always

Trump also blasted his likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for saying “”the solution is to ban guns.” (Clinton didn’t say that, by the way, though she did call for more restrictions on gun availability.) “They tried that in France, which has among the toughest gun laws in the world, and 130 were brutally murdered by Islamic terrorists in cold blood,” Trump said. “Her plan is to disarm law-abiding Americans, abolishing the 2nd Amendment, and leaving only the bad guys and terrorists with guns. She wants to take away Americans’ guns, then admit the very people who want to slaughter us. I will be meeting with the NRA, which has given me their earliest endorsement in a Presidential race, to discuss how to ensure Americans have the means to protect themselves in this age of terror.”
The NRA — the National Rifle Association — has become the third rail of American politics. Just hinting at measures, however mild, to restrict the availability of guns, whether expanding background checks so people with heavy-duty mental issues can’t buy guns, banning assault weapons (as was actually done between 1994 and 2004, when enough Republicans remembered how closely President Ronald Reagan came to losing his life to a crazy man with a gun), closing the so-called “gun show loophole” by which people who’d have to go through a waiting period if they tried to buy a gun at a store can pick one up immediately at a gun show, or making gun manufacturers legally liable for abuses of their products, is writing your own death warrant if you’re a politician seeking to win or keep office. Even when overwhelming majorities of Americans favor sensible gun restrictions, the NRA’s single-issue voters have enough clout to punish any politician and get rid of them.
The NRA does not lose. Repeat: the NRA does not lose. In the wake of Orlando I signed a few online petitions calling for gun regulations and shared them with my Facebook friends, but I was conscious at how futile an enterprise this was. The NRA’s reputation for political invincibility soared in 2000, when they — not Florida Secretary of State Katharine Harris, not the U.S. Supreme Court, not Ralph Nader — made George W. Bush President. In 2000 the NRA mounted “independent” campaigns against Democratic nominee Al Gore in Tennessee and West Virginia, and these were effective enough that Bush beat Gore in both those states. In an otherwise razor-close election, Gore thus became the first major-party Presidential nominee since George McGovern to lose his home state — and that was crucial to the outcome because if Gore had carried Tennessee, he would have been elected President and Florida wouldn’t have mattered.
Since 2000, a pall of silence has descended on the political system that has ensured that mass murders have been met, not with any serious efforts to cut back on the ability of virtually every American to buy virtually any sort of firearm, but with moments of silence and prayers for the dead. Every time there’s been a mass shooting during Barack Obama’s presidency, the same ritual has been enacted: he’s come forward, pulling all the “compassion” and “sadness” stops on his organ, and pleaded with Congress to enact some minimal regulation of gun availability. And every time Congress, reflecting its thrall to the NRA, has basically given him the finger. This time Democrats in the Senate tried a filibuster — not the “virtual filibuster” that in practice has made it necessary to have 60 Senate votes to pass anything but a real, honest-to-goodness Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style talkfest on the Senate floor.
Democrats in the House, led by Black Congressmember John Lewis (D-Georgia) — who began his political life as an activist leading anti-segregation sit-ins for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 — tried a sit-in of their own to get Republicans seriously to consider a mild piece of gun legislation that would prevent people on the FBI’s terror watch list or the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s “no-fly list” from being able to buy assault weapons like the kind Mateen allegedly used to rack up 49 victims at Pulse. The bill, like all attempts at reasonable gun regulations in Congress in the last 16 years, went exactly nowhere. Frankly, I personally would have voted against the bill — the FBI “terror watch list” and TSA “no-fly list” are nonjudicial and I don’t want to see anybody’s constitutional rights abridged because they’ve been put on there without their knowledge, with no due process and no real right of review — but I don’t see why any private citizen should be allowed to possess an assault weapon whose only purpose is to kill large numbers of human beings in a short space of time.
But it doesn’t matter what I think, or what the 74 percent of Americans (according to pollsters) who say they’d like background checks for firearms purchases expanded think. The expansive idea that the Second Amendment confers on individual Americans a virtually unfettered right to buy just about any sort of gun they want is as settled as any political issue ever is. We have decided we want to be a society where growing numbers of people can buy growing numbers of guns (although a recent New Yorker article, “Making a Killing: The Business and Politics of Selling Guns,” by Evan Osnos, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/06/27/after-orlando-examining-the-gun-business, argues that the number of American households with guns is actually declining, but the number of guns in the U.S. is going up because people who already have guns are buying more), because the people in favor of gun rights are that much better mobilized and more politically effective than the people favoring regulation. So whatever we are going to do about mass shootings, one thing that isn’t going to happen is any reduction in the number of guns or the number of people allowed to buy them.

More Than Guns: A Selfish Culture

But Americans’ love affair with guns and with the individualistic nobody-helps-me-I-protect-myself philosophy that increasingly goes with gun ownership is just a part of a broader attitude in society that makes mass shootings not only conceivable but virtually inevitable. As filmmaker Michael Moore pointed out in Bowling for Columbine — a much richer and more complex movie than the pro-gun control propaganda documentary a lot of people who hadn’t seen it assumed, on the basis of Moore’s progressive reputation, it would be — Canada has almost as many guns per capita than the U.S., and yet its rates of gun crime are considerably lower.
The entire history of the United States has been a dynamic tension between individualism and communitarianism — originally reflected by the two religious opposition groups who settled much of the East Coast after they were driven out of Britain, the Puritans and the Quakers. Reflecting the political and social philosophy of their founder, Swiss theologian John Calvin, the Puritans believed that only a handful of people were “saved” and “predestined” to go to Heaven — the rest of humanity was damned whatever they did or didn’t do — and it was the job of government to intervene in moral issues to protect the predestined ones from falling victim to their sins and being damned like everyone else.
What’s more, Calvin argued that the way God had to show the rest of us who was “saved” and who wasn’t was their material success in this world. The more money and property you had, according to Calvin, the better you were as a person — which is the root of the amazing American reverence for wealth and the belief, reflected in Donald Trump’s poll numbers, that if you are rich you are a better person than the common run of humanity because you are rich and therefore God has shown His favor on you.
The Puritans were America’s original “rugged individualists,” convinced that it was not only wrong from a policy standpoint but downright immoral for government to tax the well-off to help the not-so-well-off. The Quakers were America’s original communitarians, arguing that it was their religious duty to reach out to the poor, the sick, the disabled, the victims of discrimination, and that it was not only legitimate but morally right to institutionalize that commitment through government action.
American history can be read as a sort of yin-and-yang struggle between Puritan individualism (and its secular counterpart, social Darwinism, which became popular in the late 19th century and was basically the idea that rich people were rich because they had evolved beyond the rest of humanity and developed special talents and brain power that made them superior; it survives today mainly in the Libertarian Party and the writings of its founder, the late Ayn Rand) and Quaker communalism — and at least since the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980, individualism has been dominant and communitarianism has largely fallen by the wayside.
What does this have to do with mass shootings? Because mass shootings are the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of the credo of “rugged individualism.” Mass shootings are a psychotic extension of the idea that the superior person has the right to do whatever he or she wants. A corporate leader can close down factories, throw thousands of people out of work, wipe out entire communities and claim he or she is doing all this in pursuit of some “greater good” for his or her shareholders, or his or her own reputation as someone who will focus on “the bottom line” to the exclusion of all other criteria. A country which makes heroes of people who do this and nominates them for President (Trump’s immediate predecessor as Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, was also a businessman who threw a lot of people out of work when he thought that would make him or his company money) shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of sick people take the individualist take-no-prisoners me-me-me style to the extreme of loading up with guns and killing a lot of people.
Whatever the differences between them, the mass shooters in recent American history were all troubled individuals who believed that whatever was making them feel “wrong” could be made “right” again by loading guns and aiming them at other people. Whether they were doing it in the name of ISIS, white supremacy, racism, opposition to abortion or more prosaic concerns like losing a job or being unable to find sex partners, mass murderers have one thing in common: they all believe their own lives are paramount and it doesn’t matter who they kill. It’s a chilling indifference to the needs and desires of other people that’s the dictionary definition of psychopathology — but it’s not that far different from the competitive ethos with which Americans are raised, the idea that only one person will end up at the top and whatever it takes to be that one person is legitimate and worthwhile.

A Few More Reflections

A few more reflections on the Orlando Pulse shootings: as I noted at the start of this article, it occurred to me that it was a cruel irony that the killer targeted the club’s highly popular “Latino night,” given that certain kinds of bigots would hate many of the victims as much for being Latino as for being Queer. I was also struck by how many of the victims were women; apparently Pulse was a truly gender-mixed Queer club to an extent I can’t remember from any Gay bar I was ever actually in when I frequented them. Not that I ever really liked Gay bars; I’ve often joked to my husband Charles and our friends that one of the advantages of being married is never having to set foot in a Gay bar again in my life (though a few weeks ago I had a surprisingly fun evening in one on a night when my husband was working very late).
But other people certainly did. The Gay bar served for many years as more than just a meeting, drinking and cruising place; it was, as Richard Kim wrote recently in The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/please-dont-stop-the-music//?nc=1), “therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression. They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, and under cover of darkness and the influence of alcohol or drugs, transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia.” Indeed, not long after I came out as a Gay man I remember being asked why the Gay community wasn’t as unified as the Black community, and I replied, “That’s the difference between a community whose social center is its churches and one whose social center is its bars.”
“Just as [North Carolina white supremacist shooter] Dylann Roof preyed upon the specific openness and hospitality of the Mother Emanuel Church, Omar Mateen exploited the specific things that make Gay bars magic,” Kim wrote. “He took the dark, the loudness, the density, the chaos of the dance floor—and he made them his accomplices in what is the largest mass shooting in this nation’s history. But he does not own these things, and his desecration cannot defeat us. This next week is going to suck hard—but we must remember that our joy is its own purpose; it is a higher calling.”
We live in a strange time in American history — but perhaps for Queer Americans, as for Americans of color and American women, it is always (in Charles Dickens’ memorable phrase) “the best of times and the worst of times.” We have come so far and we still have so far to go. We can, in many states, get married on Sunday and get fired on Monday. We have won a level of acceptance of which I couldn’t have dreamed when I ended a five-year relationship with a woman and took my first steps out of the closet in late 1982. If someone had told Charles and I when we first started dating in 1995 that in a little over 13 years we would be able to get married — not have a personally meaningful but legally meaningless ceremony in an “accepting” church but be joined in matrimony under the authority of the state of California and the county of San Diego, complete with license and rings — we’d have thought they were nuts.
But just as, in Newtonian physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so the more visible we become and the more broadly accepted we are, the more we roil up the bilious mental juices of sick individuals who want to hurt us. Some of them don religious vestments or suits and ties and seek to institutionalize discrimination against us as a matter of law — from the so-called “freedom of conscience” bills that would allow government clerks to refuse us services we have a legal right to if it would offend their beliefs, to the even sicker and more pointedly ludicrous laws against Transgender people using the public restroom that corresponds to the gender identity they live and present as 24/7. Others take the darker route of Omar Mateen and his Gay-bashing and Trans-bashing brethren worldwide. All this challenges us to live in an awareness of the danger, but not to let the fear get to us and keep us from being — and enjoying — who we are.