History, Minnesota, Politics, Race, USA

The Walker Art Center and the “Scaffold” Controversy

Social justice-centered censorship is sweeping the nation, and this past week, Minneapolis became the temporary epicenter.  The controversy stems from a piece of art that was set to debut at the grand reopening of the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden later this month.  The piece known as Scaffold is intended to represent a commentary on the use and abuse of capital punishment throughout the history of the United States.  Part of that commentary includes a reconstruction of the gallows used in Mankato, Minnesota, during the 1862 hanging of the Dakota 38—the largest mass execution in U.S. history.


The Scaffold structure has been met with massive resistance from both Native and non-Native peoples alike. That resistance came to a dramatic culmination on Wednesday afternoon with the joint decision to dismantle and burn the structure in a ceremony led by Dakota Spiritual Leaders and Elders. But while Scaffold’s run has ended before it ever really began, the conversation that is taking place in the Twin Cities and around the country is just getting started, and I personally am still trying to figure out where on these issues I stand.

Although artist Sam Durant intended Scaffold to be an awareness generating piece about the historic plight of Native populations, I understand the concerns about the unintended messages that the piece may also convey.  Chief amongst these is the structure’s location in the Walker Sculpture Garden—a less than solemn place with frolicking couples and children, mini golf, and a giant rooster and a cherry.  As one write-up puts it, “context matters,” and the context of the Walker Sculpture Garden may contribute to the trivialization of one of our State’s gravest injustices.

Another concern is the neglect of Native voices in the retelling of a story that is particularly impactful to indigenous people in this part of the country.  Sam Durant is a white guy from L.A., and while he has collaborated with Native groups in the past, this project was completed without any attempts at outreach to the Dakota peoples who the project is about. What is more, while in negotiations to obtain Scaffold, the Walker Art Center never reached out to Dakota groups in the community, which in hindsight, should have been a no-brainer considering the gruesome nature of the project and its intimate ties to that tribe’s history.

But all that said, I also understand a lot of the resistance to the resistance of the soon-to-be-burned structure.  Scaffold is a lot of things, but I don’t think it’s an example of genocide opportunism. A reading of Sam Durant’s near instant apology can quickly punch holes in that accusation.  The project’s actual intention was “to speak against the continued marginalization of these stories and people, and to build awareness around their significance.”  Misguided methods? Perhaps. But after reading the letter in full, Durant hardly seems like the kind of a guy seeking to exploit tragedy for personal gain.  Even the highly criticized “jungle gym” component of the project stems from a thoughtful albeit questionable attempt to comment on the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon so prevalent in communities of color today.

I also have to say that I got some respect for a fellow white guy doing his darndest to challenge oppression and privilege in the world, especially when he doesn’t have to.  As a member of the most dominant group in almost every major demographic category, guys like Durant don’t need to tackle injustice, because on a systemic level, they probably don’t often face it.  I’m not trying to paint Durant as a hero, and that kind of observation may sound tone deaf considering the gravity of the issue at hand, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Perhaps it’s also that ignorance to experienced oppression that leads to the blundering nature in which guys like Durant (and myself) try to address said oppression, no matter how pure his (my) intentions might be.  But while it’s not always the thought that counts, the thought still counts for something, and what Durant is doing is exactly what us white guys are supposed to do in fighting oppression and dismantling our own privilege—starting conversations in our communities, with our people, and trying to create change.

Cultural appropriation is often a term that gets tossed around to describe artists like Durant who try to tell stories that aren’t theirs to tell. But while misappropriation is certainly a thing, and perhaps applicable here, there also seems to have been a societal shift in what we define as tasteless or insensitive appropriation of someone else’s culture. Bob Dylan sang songs about both Emmett Till and Rubin Carter in the 60s and 70s, and I’ve yet to find an article that condemns him as a “racism opportunist.” On the contrary, Dylan is constantly recognized as an American civil rights hero who used his art to draw attention to repressed and silenced voices, even if the experiences of those voices were a far cry from his own.


Sam Durant is no Bob Dylan. Even if he thought that he was, he knows differently now:

“I made Scaffold as a learning space for people like me, white people who have not suffered the effects of a white supremacist society and who may not consciously know that it exists …However, your protests have shown me that I made a grave miscalculation in how my work can be received by those in a particular community. In focusing on my position as a white artist making work for that audience I failed to understand what the inclusion of the Dakota 38 in the sculpture could mean for Dakota people.”

Hopefully Durant has learned from this experience as much as his statement seems to suggest.  Hopefully he remains encouraged, and continues to try use his position of power and influence to do good in the world. If there is any solace he can take from this catastrophe, it’s that his project still accomplished its intended goal—it started a conversation. It’s not exactly the conversation that he intended, but it’s an important conversation nonetheless, and no matter what side of the issue you’re on, or what your ethnic background is, or what your beliefs are regarding the myriad of –isms at play, there is understanding to be gained for those willing to listen and learn, especially considering the fact that no one in this conversation seems to disagree that injustice is something that we need to address.  If nothing else, Sam, thanks for that.


Recommended viewing to learn about the Dakota 38:


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Politics, USA, World

Trolling Tomi Lahren’s Trolling of International Women’s Day

Wednesday was International Women’s Day—a day to celebrate women around the world of both past and present who have helped to make this planet a better place for both girls and boys alike. It is a day to celebrate all the progress that the women’s movement has made, but also a day to acknowledge the ongoing struggles that women collectively continue to face.

The latter aspect of the holiday inspired some women to participate in organized protests designed to raise awareness on issues affecting women today. These protests could have been as simple as wearing red or generating discussion around the water cooler with colleagues, or as serious as taking the day off work—both paid and unpaid—to simulate “a day without women,” and demonstrate the various important roles that women play in our economy and communities. As with any protests, some of the rhetoric was worthy of eye-rolling and some of the actions worthy of criticism, but the overall message was based on what I believe to be an undeniable truth: Women today are perhaps as appreciated and empowered as they have been at any time in human history, but that does not mean that they are as appreciated and empowered as they should be.

That message was largely lost on rising conservative darling, Tomi Lahren, who used her Wednesday night “Final Thoughts” segment to demonize anyone participating in the day’s protests, or for just being a part of modern day feminism in general. In the video, Lahren angrily lambasts protestors for their “selfish” behavior and self-victimization, asserting that “real women” don’t need to “remind the world every single day” that they have been historically slighted.

For someone that is constantly mocking liberals for their over-sensitivity, Lahren sure seemed pretty triggered herself Wednesday night over some wardrobe selections and sick days. I know that she doesn’t believe in safe spaces, but perhaps a few days of shielding herself from the social justice warriors of the world would help her to cool down a little bit. That said, I occasionally find myself agreeing with a lot of Lahren’s critiques of the left. I could do without the shouting, but sometimes beneath the bombast lies some actual legitimacy.

Wednesday night’s segment was not one of those critiques.  Lahren is not usually one to be overly-nuanced, but her outrage over the actions associated with International Women’s Day was especially overstated and out of place. Worse, on a day that is supposed to be about women empowerment, Lahren’s words served only to undermine the efforts of millions of women around the world working to gain the appreciation and opportunities that they deserve.

To Lahren, Wednesday’s protests were not about equality. They were about “special treatment”—special treatment that, in Lahren’s mind, can be summarized as free abortions and birth control for everyone. Lahren says that she doesn’t deserve special treatment because she has “ovaries and a menstrual cycle.” I disagree. I think that women should get special treatment based on the fact that they have ovaries and a menstrual cycle, just as I believe that men should get special treatment when it comes to our prostates and our testicles.

Women’s healthcare is different than men’s healthcare, and our healthcare packages should reflect that. Yes, abortion is part of this, but again that is because only women get pregnant. I can’t say that I have ever met a woman quite like the abortion-happy, birth control pill-guzzling, caricature of a feminist that Lahren describes, but I have met plenty of women who want access to affordable contraception, and affordable abortions in the unintended and undesirable circumstance where they feel like they need one.

Lahren may disagree that an abortion should even be an option for women, and indeed if she had it her way, it probably would not be, but then I hope she would still acknowledge that some “special treatment” may be necessary for the mothers now tasked with the difficult assignment of raising children that they were not prepared to have.

But then Lahren makes a good point: Don’t the problems like those above pale in comparison to the “women in less fortunate parts of the world [who] wake up without basic human rights”? Yes, Tomi! I agree! I do not think that that makes the above issues irrelevant, but I do think that women in other parts of the world face challenges that deserve our immediate and prioritized attention. After all, this is INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day. But of course, Lahren spends less than four seconds on this point, using it only as a tool to delegitimize the issues that collide with her own personal agenda.

Instead, Lahren turns to the “victim card.” “Yeah, some challenges might be a little greater for women,” Lahren admits, “but let me tell you, it feels a whole hell of a lot better to overcome those challenges, than it does to dwell on them, complain about them, or use them as an excuse to fall short. If you constantly claim you’re a victim, you will always be a victim. Free yourself.”

I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment. No matter how much of a victim a woman, or anyone from any other historically marginalized group might be, the message to that individual can never be to dwell on their victimhood. It has to be a message that empowers and overcomes in spite of injustice and oppression, and that is kind of what Lahren was getting at.

But Lahren’s pep talk is missing an important piece: validation…validation that the victimization that that person is experiencing is real and not imagined…validation that life is oftentimes unfair, but that they have a right to fight back. But rather than validate, the tone of Lahren’s tirade instead suggests that any girl that has ever complained about sexism or the glass ceiling is nothing but a whiney, entitled brat projecting her own shortcomings and failures on the dismantled vestiges of the patriarchy. And that is so not the case.

I’m never going to tell a woman that she is a victim if she doesn’t feel like one. If that’s the case with Tomi Lahren, then more power to her. But I am also never going to tell a woman that she isn’t a victim when her experience tells her that she is, especially when I still see so much evidence to validate that claim.

I want to live in a world where no girl feels victimized by her womanhood—where every girl can be whatever or whoever she wants to be whether that’s a CEO or a stay-at-home mom. For many women, that world doesn’t exist right now, and that’s what makes International Women’s Day both important and necessary. I’m glad that many women took that day to make their voices heard, both the protestors and the protestors of the protestors alike, because somewhere in between the world’s most radical third wave feminist and Tomi Lahren is progress, and hopefully within that conversation, progress is what emerges.

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P.S. Here is a song I tweeted out in honor of International Women’s Day. It’s a song by a guy, but hey, I’m a guy, sooooooo…Anyway, to all the unknown legends out there: Keeping building yours!

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Politics, USA

My problem with the Trump resistance

I do not like Donald Trump. I don’t like him as a president, and I don’t like him as a person. Since January 20th, hardly a day has passed where I haven’t found myself shaking my head in disbelief that this incompetent, ill-tempered buffoon has conned his way into the oval office. He is a bully and an embarrassment, and I desperately hope that the odd makers are on to something when they suggest that the chances of him making it through a four-year term aren’t all that great.

I support efforts to resist the Trump presidency, be they marches, emails to lawmakers, or the media fighting back. But as a bonafide anti-Trumper, I have got to say that a lot of the resistance that I have seen towards Trump’s presidency, policies, and the people who support him/them, has left me shaking my head as well. Trump deserves to be criticized and discredited, but much of it has gone awry, and I worry that if that aspect of the resistance is allowed to go unchecked by those who are a part of it, it will do more to empower a Trump presidency than it will to resist it.

Exhibit A: the Hitler comparisons. Donald Trump is a lot of things, but he is not Adolf Hitler. He is not even close, and anyone who says otherwise does a disservice to whatever point that they are trying to make. Trump may have authoritarian tendencies, but he is not genocidal, and when you make a Hitler comparison, genocide is what comes to mind. There are reasons for labeling Donald Trump as a wanna-be fascist—his vanity, his hostility towards the press, his affinity for executive orders, etc. But when you go straight to the top shelf and reach for the Hitler, it immediately makes me want to stop taking you seriously.

Donald Trump is far more fraudulent than any of the organizations he labels as “fake news” or “failing,” but the Hitler comparisons and other stuff like it prove that he does not have a monopoly on fact-free phenomena. Career trolls of the left like Tommy Lahren, Steven Crowder, and Milo Yiannopoulos, may have some ideological views that I vehemently disagree with, but I am almost ashamed to say that, in a lot of their criticisms of the political left, I find them to be spot on. That is much more of an indictment of some voices on the left than an appraisal of the work of Lahren and Co., but the fact that a liberal hippie like myself is finding any legitimacy in the YouTube clips of far-right provocateurs says a lot about the level of absurdity that has crept into liberal discourse.


Exhibit B: the “Muslim” ban. I do not put the word “Muslim” in quotations to suggest a misnomer, but I do think it is more complicated than many liberals pretend. While the seven countries listed on the ban are indeed Muslim majority countries, I think it is fair for Trump and his supporters to point out that there are also 40-plus Muslim majority countries in the world that are not included in this action. What is more, it is easy to understand why one might be concerned about these seven particular countries—six of whom are hosting chaotic and destabilizing civil wars, and the other being recognized as one of the world’s foremost sponsors of international terrorism.


But even if it’s not a “Muslim” ban, I’m still opposed it. I think that the United States has a responsibility to help resettle some of the world’s most unfortunate people, and I think that Trump’s misguided attempt to prevent international terrorists from breeching our borders probably does more to undermine our battle against Islamic extremism than it does to support it. That said, I am still hesitant to ally myself with those on the left whose eagerness to label Trump as the racist Islamophobe that he may indeed be, leads them into making gross oversimplifications regarding the complicated issues at hand.

Exhibit C: Engagement (or lack thereof) with Trump supporters—possibly also known as what lost Democrats the election. I think I’ve made it clear that I am not a Trump supporter by any stretch of the imagination. Yet amongst many of my liberal friends, I’ve oftentimes hesitated to make the very points I have made in this write-up, fearing that mere acknowledgement of liberal hypocrisy might get me scoffed and eye-rolled straight into the basket of deplorables.

A recent segment from the show “Real Time with Bill Maher” shines light on this phenomenon. In this segment, political commentator Piers Morgan is having a conversation with comedian Jim Jeffries regarding the merits of Trump’s refugee ban. Morgan is making an argument very similar to the one that I make above—an argument that is defensible, but also worthy of criticism. But rather than taking the opportunity to criticize or challenge Morgan’s argument and undermine it with reason and logic, Jefferies instead shouted two words that have really come to define the response of many liberals when somebody challenges their world view: “Fuck off.” He followed his comments with a Hitler comparison and a one-finger salute, earning him an overwhelming ovation from that night’s attending audience.

I like Jim Jefferies more than I like Piers Morgan, and I probably agree with him on more too, but “fuck off” is a conversation ender. “Fuck off” does nothing to convince Piers Morgan, or anyone watching at home, that he is wrong and that his arguments need some fine-tuning. More than anything else, “fuck off” causes people to dig their heels in, giving them no reason to believe that their arguments might be flawed and every reason to believe that the person that they are talking to is a total asshole.

I am not trying to promote the coddling of racists. I am not trying to promote tolerance for intolerance. But if you are going to get people to abandon their racist or intolerant ideas, or even get them to consider what other ideas might look like, I promise that “fuck off” is not the way to do it. Conversation is the only thing that is going to change peoples’ minds, and based on the results of the last election (whether or not Russia was the deciding factor), it appears that a lot of those conversations need to take place.

Bill Maher himself has often spoke of the need for a “liberal tea party”—the left’s own version of the crazy, irrational jackwagons on the right that refuse any form of compromise on the most extreme versions of their principles. But if that party is anything like what I’ve seen from some members of the left over the last month-and-change, I can confidently say that I want nothing to do with it. I want a left that is informed and nuanced—a left that is built on idealistic principles, but that realizes that sometimes an unidealistic world requires unidealistic solutions. Most of all, I want a left that distinguishes itself from so much of the idiocy and demagoguery that takes place on the right.

I am on board with the resistance of Donald Trump, but I do not think that we should fight fire-with-fire. If the Trump resistance is to be successful, it needs to be fair, righteous, and honest—all things that Donald Trump is not. It needs to take the high road and embrace nuance and engage in conversations with people of differing belief sets, even those we don’t like. But if the Trump resistance continues to be defined by closed minds, closed ears, and open mouths, I fear that we might be resisting for much longer than we need to be.

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Politics, USA

Reforming Presidential Elections and Instant Runoff Voting

Let me start with what this write up is not. This is a not a whiney appeal from a sulking liberal about the unfair results of the November election. Yes, the electoral college is imperfect. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But Hillary Clinton never had any illusions about the electoral system in which she was competing. She knew what she had to do to win the election and she didn’t do it. No excuses.

The alleged Russian meddling, if or when it is confirmed to be true, is a different story. If Russian actions did indeed swing the election for Donald Trump, that would throw into question the legitimacy of his upcoming presidency. That said, no smart person that I’m aware of is really making that claim, and even if they were, I’m not sure that an electoral “do over” would be very plausible at this point. What is more, if that claim were somehow proved to be true, it still must be remembered that the alleged Russian hack was not a manipulation of numbers or votes, but a release of information that was harmful to Clinton—illegally obtained information, but information nonetheless—that Americans then used to make their decisions to cast their votes for candidates that were not her.

As much as it displeases me to say so, I do believe that Donald Trump won the presidential election fairly and democratically—fairly in the sense that Trump played by the rules that we as a country have set for choosing a president, and democratically in the sense that the American population chose Donald Trump, no matter how misguided I and many others believe that choice to have been. And while I am ready to accept the results of this election, I also hope that in the aftermath of possibly the ugliest presidential election in history, there will be some impetus for reform to help us avoid recreating the scandal-ridden, intellectually void, mudslinging shitshow that was the election of 2016.

Some would say that doing away with the electoral college is the simple solution to that conundrum, but I’m not so sure. For one, although I do not consider myself a fan of the electoral college, I do think that it has some benefits. It prevents presidential campaigns from being run on the coasts, and keeps with our system of federalism in which the voices of semi-sovereign states are supposed to be a bit augmented. The electoral college may be undemocratic, but it is undemocratic by design. Founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton created the electoral college based on the belief that the people alone cannot be trusted to elect the nation’s most important governmental leader. That is why each state has a group of electors—to create a barrier between the presidency and the people, so that if/when the people do something stupid, the electors will be in place to prevent that stupidity from infecting the entire executive branch. (Ironically, Hamilton’s plan seems to have backfired a bit with the election of Donald Trump…)

Would have the absence of an electoral college meant a Clinton victory in 2016?   The popular vote seems to suggest so, but if that had been the case, the two candidates would have been running very different campaigns with different speeches and strategies likely leading to different results. What is more, while no electoral college would have meant that the most “popular” candidate would have won the election, it would have done little to solve the problem of how we ended up with what were perhaps the two least popular presidential candidates ever in the first place.




Which is why I believe that the major reform needed with our presidential elections is not the disposal of the electoral college, but the dismantling of the rules that perpetuate two-party dominance.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were historically unpopular, yet most voters still perceived these two candidates to be their only real options when it came to choosing a president. In a way, they were right. While most election ballots list far more than two candidates for the office of president, voters know that a vote for anyone that does not have an (R) or a (D) next to their name is essentially a vote “wasted.” Gary Johnson and Jill Stein may have had appealing messages, but neither had a realistic opportunity to win the election. A vote for one of them may have fulfilled its function if it was meant to be a vote of dissent, but it did nothing to improve the odds of either of those candidates actually becoming president.



What is more, a significant amount of votes for a third party candidate may actually have an adverse effect on the true wishes of voters. If a significant amount of liberals vote for a candidate they perceive to be more progressive than Clinton (i.e. Jill Stein), those “lost” votes could swing the election to Trump in a tight race. This is almost certainly what happened to Al Gore in 2000, and possibly what actually did happen to Clinton in 2016, with third party votes for Stein and Johnson significantly exceeding the margin of victory for Trump in crucial states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This is why so many voters find themselves facing a choice between the “lesser of two evils,” and why so many people who choose to “vote their conscience” face accusations of electing the opposition.



But while some choose to blame the voters, I blame the system—a system that treats pluralities like majorities, that reinforces the dysfunctional status quo of the two-party system, that misrepresents the will of its voters, and that fails to provide an avenue for the authentic expression of voter voice. I don’t think that there is a simple solution to the problems that plague U.S. elections and U.S. politics in general, but I do think there are plausible steps that we can take towards creating more representative, democratic presidential elections. One of those steps would be the implementation of instant runoff voting.


220px-preferential_ballot-svgIn an instant runoff election, voters do not choose one candidate, but instead rank the available candidates (or as many of them as they should choose) from first to last, first being the most desirable candidate and last being the least. Ballots are counted in a series of rounds. In the first round, only the first choice of each voter is counted. If that round were to produce a majority winner (a candidate with more than 50% of the vote), than the election would be deemed over with that candidate being declared the winner, just like the election system we use now. However, if that first round of counting failed to produce a majority winner, the counting would proceed to a second round.

In that second round, the candidate from the first round that received the least amount of votes would be eliminated. Let’s assume that, for the 2016 presidential election, that candidate would have been Jill Stein. All voters who had casted a ballot for Jill Stein as their first choice would then have their ballots added to the tally of the candidate that they listed as their second choice. The ballots would then be recounted to see if any candidate had reached a majority. If a majority were reached, then that candidate would be declared the winner. If the tally still failed to produce a majority, then the process would continue until one candidate had earned more than 50% of the ballots.

This system has the potential to address several problems we have with presidential elections in the United States. It would eliminate the spoiler effect, as votes for Ralph Nader, Gary Johnson, Ross Perot, or Mickey Mouse would no longer divide the liberal or conservative vote. Subsequently, it would also eliminate the pressure to choose between the “lesser of two evils.” One of those two “evils” would still very likely win most elections, but if the system worked as it should, it would at least always be the “evil” that voters had deemed “lesser.” In this sense, voters would never need to worry about “wasting” their vote on a third party candidate, and could comfortably cast their ballot of dissent in the solace that, should their first choice not receive the votes necessary to win, their ballot would go to support the most preferential candidate that remained.

Perhaps most importantly, instant runoff voting could help to erode the dominance of the two major political parties, and the nasty brand of party-first politics that has emerged in recent decades. The partisan politics being practiced right now in this country are absolutely disgusting. From Congressional refusal to even hold a hearing for a Supreme Court nominee, to the DNC’s attempted rigging of the Democratic nomination, to the vomit worthy response of Republicans regarding the public dispute over Russia between Obama and Trump, there is no shortage of examples to illustrate the complete and total dysfunction that characterizes relations between Democrats and Republicans, and even relations between fellow members of each of the respective parties. What more evidence do we need that the two-party system is broken? What more evidence do we need that way too many politicians in Washington put the good of their party over the good of their country?

Instant runoff voting would not eliminate partisanship, but the added legitimacy that it would lend to third parties could help to alleviate it. Added voices and perspectives in public debates would force both Republicans and Democrats to take more nuanced positions on issues and erode the oversimplified black-and-white, for-or-against, this-or-that, us-and-them, split-screen dialogue that has defined political discussion in this country for as long as I can remember. Issues are more complicated than that, and that fact should be reflected in our democratic process.


Some people suspect that instant runoff voting would cause more problems than it would solve. Certainly every system has its flaws, and the added complexity of instant runoff voting would undoubtedly complicate the election process both in vote casting and vote counting. But in spite of a potentially messy implementation process and the unintended and undesirable side effects that almost always follow any major political reform, I still think that the potential pros outweigh the cons. Instant runoff voting offers benefits to voters of all party affiliations or lack of affiliation thereof, and while it would certainly not be a panacea for all the ills that currently ail our political system, it would represent a big step towards making that system better. Instant runoff voting would make elections more inclusive, instant runoff voting would make elections more democratic, and more so than anything else, instant runoff voting could help to heal the partisan divide that plagues both our elected officials and those who elect them, addressing the problem that does more than any other single phenomenon in this country to stop America from truly being great again.


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Politics, Race, USA

The Alt-Right Wink

I don’t know if Donald Trump is a racist. I certainly think that he seems unenlightened about race. This is the guy, after all, who called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S., declared a significant number of Latino immigrants to be criminals and rapists, and suggested for years that our first black president was actually born in Kenya. These comments appear to be evidence of harmful attitudes that, whether or not it’s Trump’s intent, could do enormous damage to communities of color should they ever be reflected in national policy.

I know that there are many, many Trump supporters that are not racists. These people have legitimate criticisms and concerns about the liberal vision for our nation, and in Trump they see a candidate who seems to be echoing those sentiments. However, I also know that there are a significant number of Trump supporters that do indeed harbor real racist opinions, and whether he intended to or not, Trump has created a space in which those people feel validated and empowered.

I don’t need the “liberal media” to point this out to me either. I’ve had the misfortune of seeing it first hand at the school in which I teach. Over the last week and change, our school has witnessed several racially charged incidents, including students using the N-word on social media to describe their black peers, students threatening their Hmong peers that they will soon be back working in the “rice paddies,” and a student creating the username “LynchNegroes” for an in-class, online review game.

The offenders here are not bad kids. They are good kids with good hearts whose minds just need a little enlightening. But I would argue that the unenlightened and sometimes hateful rhetoric that has recently surfaced in my school and everywhere is a direct result of the election of Donald Trump and the alt-right wink that he has been giving to many of his voters throughout his campaign.

The alt-right wink refers to language used by him and other members of the alt-right movement that, while not explicitly advocating for things like racism or xenophobia, lends implicit support to people who harbor racist or xenophobic beliefs.   In many cases, this has the look of a two-part sentence in which only the first part of the sentence is said out loud. The second part is the racist, xenophobic shit that the listener hears in their head. “We need to take our country back!” (From the black man who stole our White House and the Mexicans that took our jobs.) “We are going to make America great again!” (Like it was when white men controlled it.) And when you mix that message with some of the stuff Trump has said about Mexicans, Muslims, Somalis, and others, racist vitriol towards those communities is hardly a surprising result.

I suppose it is possible that Trump’s incitement of said racism is unintentional—that he really doesn’t realize what it is that he appears to be suggesting to so many people when he says the things that he says. However, it is not possible that Trump is unaware of the effects of some of his language—that he does not see the racism and xenophobia and hate that his campaign has inspired in the American electorate. And the fact that Donald Trump has not been more vocal in his condemnation of these racist reactions means that, no matter his intentions, he is culpable for the results.

This goes for Trump supporters too—Trump supporters who do not identify as racists themselves but have been all too tolerant of the virulent strand of racism that has provided essential fuel to their movement.   Unfortunately, the conspiracy theories surrounding liberals that Trump and the alt-right have created mean that liberals like myself have very little credibility in combatting this racism. We are perceived to be part of the “biased” and “brainwashed” liberal machine and therefore cannot be trusted. That’s why it is so important that Trump and his supporters speak out against this hatred themselves.

The alt-right is correct about some stuff. Their critiques of liberal beliefs surrounding things like multiculturalism, political correctness, and Islam are valid, and over the months that come, liberals will have to look inward and address some of those issues. But it is also imperative that Trump and his supporters call out the ugly hatred that exists on their side of the ideological fence. If the alt-right wants to be taken seriously, they need to quit winking at xenophobes and racists with their coded language and let those people know that there is no place for that kind of ideology in Donald Trump’s America. Donald Trump did not create this deep-seated hatred, but he sure as hell uncovered it, and now it is up to him and all of us to take it on.


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Politics, Race, USA

Making sense of the 2016 presidential election

Tuesday night hit me like a fucking semi.

Needless to say, I did not expect Trump to win. I did not think it was outside the realm of possibilities, but I certainly did not think he would win like that—taking Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and nearly my home state of Minnesota. I don’t even think that Trump thought that he would win like that. He may have called it on the campaign trail, but you have to do that kind of stuff when you’re trying to win an election. But even if Trump didn’t believe the words that were coming out of his mouth, his supporters did, and then they went out and made them come true.

Tuesday’s results left me not only shocked but depressed—depressed by both the winner and my complete and total aloofness to the sentiments that produced that winner. In reflecting on that aloofness, and trying to make sense of what the fuck actually happened, one thing has become very clear to me:

I live in a liberal bubble.

Bill Maher often talks about a “conservative bubble”—a place where facts don’t matter and where our country is being overrun by gay Muslim socialists hellbent on taking our guns, our freedoms, and our cisgender bathrooms. But there is a liberal bubble in this country too, where arrogance, elitism, and a tinge of unchallenged hypocrisy work together to create a perception of our country that, while perhaps not as apocalyptic, is still pretty distorted.

Nothing that I’ve read breaks down that bubble better than this must-read Cracked.com article entitled “How Half of American lost its F**king Mind”. In this article, author David Wong describes an America that is less divided by lines between red states and blue, and more divided by lines that distinguish urban from rural. This is not a revelation. There’s no doubt that, upon seeing how close Trump came to taking our state, the first group that many of us liberal Minneapolitans looked to blame was the ignorant white rednecks that reside in the rural wasteland of “Greater Minnesota”—the unenlightened bigots who put their fear and hatred of diversity over their own working class interests.

But while those sentiments contain some truths, they also show the inherent hypocrisy of the city-dwelling liberal—the smug, coffee-sipping douchebag who will righteously defend the rights of impoverished urban blacks to riot against their oppression, but condescendingly snicker when a couple of country hillbillies get their meth lab raided. Urban liberals like to fancy themselves as champions of the oppressed, but in reality, it’s only a select group of oppressed peoples that those liberals are concerned about.

Liberals are right to call out the racism that was so key in the rise of Donald Trump. Van Jones nailed it when he called this election a “white-lash,” a “white-lash against a changing country,” and a “white-lash against a black president” from whom we need to take our country back and Make America Great Again. But one thing Van Jones also did was acknowledge that this was about more than race. Racism played an all too significant role in Trump’s election, and I do think that you can argue that anyone who voted for Trump has an unacceptable tolerance for the racism that fueled that campaign. That said, all Trump voters are not racists. It’s more complicated than that.

I’m disappointed in my liberal friends who are thinking and saying otherwise—who are unfriending people on Facebook and blocking people on Twitter and using their social media platforms to label all Trump supporters as racist, sexist, xenophobic morons. These words and actions only serve to fortify the outer layer of the liberal bubble in which we clearly already reside. They cut us off from an America whose support we vitally need if our liberal vision for this country is ever to become a reality. For that to happen, there needs to be dialogue, especially with those who think differently than we do.

The United States was founded on the ideal of free speech not just because we believe that people should be able to say whatever they want, but because we believe that it is free speech that leads us to truth. In the unabridged marketplace of intellectual exchange, bad ideas are not ignored and suppressed, but intellectually undermined and defeated. However, if this shared market does not exist, it gives insufficiently challenged bad ideas an opportunity to flourish inside the bubbles in which they are born.

I’m very concerned about a Trump presidency, and I understand why others are absolutely terrified. But Donald Trump is going to be our president, and like president Obama said, we need to root for him. This does not mean cheering Trump on as he bans Muslims and boots Mexicans, but instead hoping that this whole process has humbled him a little bit. It means hoping that his time in office will help him to develop a sensitivity and empathy for people that see and feel the world differently than he does. It means hoping that he will take some positive strides in reforming a corrupt and broken Washington and that he will somehow be able to use his less than partisan status to break the perpetual partisan gridlock. Because like Obama said to the president elect, “if you succeed, then the country succeeds.”


Early signs show that Trump may be willing to comprise. Less than a week after the election, Trump has already began walking back some of his “repeal Obamacare” rhetoric, and has appeared to be very gracious and respectful in his dialogue with Obama, the Clintons, and the like. Personally, I think the guy is scared shitless. I don’t think that he thought he would be here, and I don’t think that he knows what to do now that he is. I remain convinced that he is immensely unqualified for the job he just won and that he will be desperately relying on real intellectuals for help in keeping the wheels of the country turning. But even if some of Trump’s doomsday rhetoric fades, liberals will still likely be on the defensive for much of Trump’s presidency, and we need to take that role seriously. We do not want to be the uncompromising obstructionists that Republicans were during Obama’s eight years in office, but we still need to stand up against bad ideas. If we are able to do that effectively while simultaneously reaching out beyond the liberal bubble to those groups who have felt left behind or neglected by liberal voices and policies, maybe in the next election more of the country will agree with us about what some of those bad ideas are, and some of the good ones as well.

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Economics, USA, World

Are we all monsters?:The connection between luxury and suffering

Imagine that one morning you are on your way to work when you walk by a shallow pond. In that pond you see a small child who is clearly drowning. You can easily save the child, but it will require that you get your clothes and shoes all wet and muddy. What is more, you are running behind schedule, and saving the child will surely make you late for work—perhaps quite late, as you will now need to go home and change your clothes. Do you still save the child?

Of course you do. You do it in a heartbeat. You do it without thinking. The thought of someone who would even stop to consider their shoes or schedule is itself disturbing, let alone the thought of someone that would willfully neglect to save the child for such selfish and petty reasons. That person would be considered a criminal, a sociopath, and a monster. But if you believe renowned ethicist Pete Singer, we may all have a little bit of monster in us.

We have all walked by that pond for exactly those reasons, and many of us do it every single day. We do it every time that we treat ourselves to an overpriced cappuccino, every time that we buy a pair of designer jeans, and every time that we go out to eat, attend a concert, or take a vacation…We do it every time that we choose to spend our spare dollars on our own unnecessary luxuries rather than helping the millions of suffering humans whose lives those dollars could easily help to save.

Of course, the pond in this case is metaphorical. In reality, the children whose lives we could be saving are dying from things like malnutrition, malaria, and civil war. Still, in the case of many of those children, their lives really are savable. There are organizations that are working to provide healthy meals, medicine, and new homes in safe locations, and if those organizations were to receive more money—our money—those dollars would LITERALLY save real humans lives that will not be saved otherwise.

But we don’t do that. I don’t do that.

Just the other night I went out with some friends to the new Surly Brewery in Minneapolis. It’s a fantastic establishment—some of the best beer and Brussels sprouts in town. All in all, I spent about $40 there, tip included, and another $5 on Pokémon GO egg incubators to make all the walking to and fro a little more worthwhile. I had a really great time that night, but if I had passed that shallow pond on my walk to the brewery, would I have jumped in and saved that drowning child, knowing full well that the money in my pocket would surely be lost, that my iPhone would be irreparably damaged, and that my lovely night out at Surly would be effectively ruined? God, I hope so.

So what’s the difference when that struggling child is on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away, but just as easily savable? The obvious answer is “out of sight, out of mind,” but while that is certainly an explanation, it is hardly an excuse.

But these thoughts have been on my mind lately. They’ve been on my mind ever since I first encountered ethical philosopher and all-around great person Will MacAskill on Sam Harris’s Waking Up Podcast. On the podcast, MacAskill describes a movement that he calls “effective altruism.” The movement is based on two assumptions: 1) That most people living in the developed world can and should do more with their time and money to help those who are less fortunate, and 2) that there are more and less effective ways to accomplish that goal. In other words, the good that we do should be strategic. If I am going to donate $50, I should seek out an organization that will use that money effectively and impactfully. Likewise, if I wish to donate my time, there is a cost-benefit analysis that should underlie how I choose to spend it.


That latter part leads to some interesting considerations. For example, one might consider the donating of their Saturday to a charitable cause such as volunteering in a soup kitchen or a children’s hospital to be a greater act of altruism than, say, working eight hours of overtime and earning some extra dough on an upcoming paycheck. But in an “effective” sense, the time-and-a-half wage paid on those eight hours could probably do far more good if donated to the right cause than any one volunteer could do in a day of service. To put it another way, that day of service is not worth the opportunity cost of the money that one could make completing a different task that, in this case, is not itself altruistic. Using this philosophy, I have heard MacAskill argue that one of the most effectively altruistic career paths that one can pursue is actually banking and finance, assuming of course that the person is donating a large percentage of their lucrative earnings to help the world’s least fortunate people.


You can go pretty far down the rabbit hole with this philosophizing about how to best maximize every spare minute and dollar, but while I’d like to get to that point someday, I’m not ready to go there now. Where I am ready to go, and where I think “we” in the developed world might be collectively ready to go, is accepting assumption number one—accepting the argument that we can and should be doing more to help those who are less fortunate than we are and that we should start doing those things now.

There are plenty of excuses that rationalize the pushing off of this responsibility. I know them well because I make them myself. While giving can certainly be intrinsically gratifying, online donations don’t offer the same euphoric spike as diving in that shallow pond and holding that living, breathing child in your arms—living and breathing thanks to you. In that scenario, you can feel the difference that you are making, but that fulfillment is hard to mimic with a credit card, especially when you do not get to witness the impact of your action.

What is more, the difference that your dollars make is, in reality, pretty microscopic when compared to the massive amount of global suffering that tragically plagues our planet. Even if you were to use every spare dollar over the next calendar year to buy bed nets for people in the developing world, there is no doubt that thousands upon thousands of people would still die from mosquito-born illnesses over that time. However, while that truth is sobering, those dollars still would make a difference, and it would be an enormous difference to the real human beings whose lives those bed nets would be saving—real human beings whose lives would not have been saved otherwise.

Another excuse is the burnout factor. Many of us already feel that we are struggling to make ends meet in our own lives. We live paycheck to paycheck, are saddled with mortgages and car payments and student loan debt, and don’t feel that we have a whole lot leftover to give at the end any given pay cycle. This is a real concern considering that, in order to give, people need to be motivated, and if their lives suck, that motivation will be lacking. But while the leaders of the effective altruism movement certainly would not discourage an immediate and dramatic change in lifestyle if someone were up to it, that does not seem to be what they are advocating. Instead, they are encouraging people to dip their toes in the proverbial pool. They are asking us to begin considering our own consumption habits—what’s necessary, what’s not, and where we could sacrifice small comforts and luxuries in order to make someone else’s life a little less terrible. As we begin to adjust to this mode of thought, Singer suggests that we may actually want to dip further into the pool. As one person cited in a Singer Ted Talk put it, he doesn’t even feel that what he is doing is altruistic…He feels that the life he is saving is his own.

With the publication of this blog post, I will simultaneously be dipping my toes in the pool for the first time. I will be donating $20 to the Against Malaria Foundation, which “works to prevent the spread of malaria by distributing long-lasting, insecticide-treated mosquito nets to susceptible populations in developing countries.” This donation is hardly a sacrifice for me. It may cost me some Poké-progress or a bottle of tequila, but I can and should be doing more. Hopefully, in the future, I will work up the willpower to do that, but for now I’m going to allow myself the humble self-satisfaction of taking the first step. Below is a link to Peter Singer’s website, “The Life You Can Save.” This site allows you to identify credible, impactful organizations that will help your dollars to do the most amount of good possible in areas of your choosing, be it children, women and girls, hunger and nutrition, or education. Click around, check stuff out, and if you want to dip your toes in the pool too, consider this your invitation to do so. The water’s warm.


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History, Race, USA

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: A must read for Americans

“When I am dead—I say it that way because from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form—I want you to just watch and see if I’m not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with “hate.”

He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol of “hatred”—and that will help him to escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race.”

*          *          *          *          *

I just recently finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The book was published in 1965, the same year in which Malcolm X was violently gunned-down by his former allies. At times, the book feels like it was published yesterday.

That’s because over 50 years removed from its groundbreaking publication, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is still incredibly, and perhaps depressingly, relevant. Its discussion of race unveils some painful truths about what it means to be born black, and white, in the United States of America—truths that still hold true to this day.

Especially amongst white Americans, X is commonly remembered as the anti-King. King was a southern Baptist, while X was a Black Muslim. King said to “turn the other cheek,” while X said to “send him to the cemetery.” King had a dream, while X saw a delusion. King had white allies, while X only saw “white devils.”



History has definitely treated Martin King Luther more kindly. He is the face of the Civil Rights Movement and unanimously venerated today by black and white people alike as an America hero of the highest degree. I concur with that sentiment, but after reading X’s autobiography—the story of Malcolm X in his own words—part of me feels that the things that X was saying were more powerful and poignant than any speech that Martin Luther King ever made. King was a man of his time, but X was ahead of his, and perhaps 50 years from now, history will reflect that.

The Civil Rights Movement would not have happened with X as its leader.  King was palatable to the white American public in a way that X could never be. King not only shared the religion of the white masses, he was a minister. He used the very verses that white Christians knew so well to convince them that the just treatment of the black man was the Christian thing to do. His deeply held religious convictions also helped to inform his philosophy of non-violence—a philosophy that also had immense strategic wherewithal. Pictures of violent white cops brutalizing peaceful black protestors had an enormous impact on the white American psyche, and made the dehumanization of the latter much more difficult in the face of the actions of the former. What is more, King insisted on integration—on black people and white people living together peacefully, in harmony, as one. King’s timeless “I Have a Dream” speech is based on this very sentiment, and is credited with having helped to create a society where black and white people do indeed “work together, pray together, [and] struggle together,” at least up to a certain point.



X, on the other hand, was a staunch segregationist. He had no desire to live next to the white man who had beaten and brutalized his people for hundreds of years—he just wanted an end to the beatings and the brutalization. He did not want to work with the white man either. He saw no sense or honorability in trying to convince the white man to bestow rights upon blacks. Respect and independence was something that the black man had to earn for himself, no matter what the white man had to say about it. In achieving those ends, X did not advocate for violence, but unlike King, he also did not advocate against it. “I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self-defense,” X once said, “I call it intelligence.”


Even though X was, first and foremost, an advocate for black rights, he was also one of the most prominent critics of the Civil Rights Movement, at least the movement as we think of it today. He was highly skeptical of the methods and tactics used by the more prominent civil rights “leaders” (X’s quotations, not mine), and was even more skeptical of the movement’s so called achievements. To this day, Americans celebrate things like the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act as historic moments in the fight for racial equality—tangible political achievements that finally fulfilled the promised ideals of “all men are created equal” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for every American regardless of race. But like Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, the language in said legislation often rang hollow. The words may have been pretty, but they failed to reflect themselves in a racial reality that never stopped being ugly. State sanctioned segregation may have come to an end, but that did little to increase the quality of black neighborhoods and black schools. Discriminatory voting laws may have been outlawed (sort of), but the legislators and legislation that followed have done little to address the plight of a lot of black Americans.

X didn’t need the hindsight that I am using to make the above observations—he used foresight. He knew that inspirational rhetoric and symbolic milestones would only go so far in creating meaningful change in the lives of black Americans. He may have thought King’s ends and means to be just and well-intentioned, but as X once said of his fellow civil rights advocate, “If you don’t think that he’s walking on the right road, I’m quite sure that you don’t agree that he’ll get to the right place.”

MLK vs Malcolm.jpg

I have tremendous respect for Malcolm X and tremendous regard for the worldview that he projected, but I also think that one of the most powerful aspects of this book is that X’s flaws were on full display. Even as someone who is enamored by history’s radical revolutionaries, there were plenty of things about X that I did not like, and plenty of things that X said that I did not agree with. But like this essay, this book is not an effort to martyrize or romanticize X the myth. It’s an honest, unapologetic portrayal of X the man.

In history, we often pretend that people don’t change. We assign them with static characteristics, as if they come into this world with certain inalterable traits that they consistently exhibit throughout their lives. The Autobiography of Malcolm X challenges this notion by showing us X’s evolution—not just from youth to adulthood, but the changes that took place in X, both personally and philosophically, in his never-ending quest to make sense of the world around him. In his final months, X had become more willing to work with the white man and more warm to the idea of an integrated society. He had recognized and admitted that some of his earlier views had some major flaws that failed to reflect the complexity of the larger world. He even broke with the Black Muslims with whom he had burst onto the national scene, and began his own pursuit of justice and truth in light of the new realities he had discovered.


It goes without saying that X’s words should not be mistaken as the truth. I don’t think that there even is such a thing to find when surfing the subjective waves of race and history. That being said, I am confidant that everything that X expresses in those 400-plus pages is undoubtedly his truth. X always told it like he saw it, even though the way that he saw it changed over time. He was never one to sugarcoat anything, and never held anything back no matter how hurtful or offensive his words might be. The truth itself is oftentimes hurtful and offensive, and if X had to hurt you or offend you in order to tell you that truth, than that was just what had to be done.

In telling his truths, X oftentimes alters our own. Over 50 years removed from his departure from this world, X’s words still challenge many of the beliefs that we as a nation collectively hold about things like race and history and what it means to be an American. His words can be as discomforting as they are empowering, as demoralizing as they are inspiring, but regardless of message or tone, they are always radical, raw, and honest.

That’s what makes X’s voice so worthy of inclusion in the conversations that we are currently having. That’s what makes his words so insightful in our continued search to find solutions to the racial unrest that still plagues our nation. And that’s what makes his book such an important read for whites, and blacks, and anyone else who has skin in the game of race relations in the United States today. As I said before, I don’t think that X was right about everything, and surely there are some things that I think he was blatantly wrong about. But even though, at the end of the book, I remained unconvinced that the entirety of X’s upside down worldview was true, I still think that I’m a wiser person for at least taking the time to consider it.


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Minnesota, USA

Taking on the man: A tale of two renters

Taking on the man is hard. The man has the money. The man has the power. The man built the system, and therefore, has the system always working in his favor.

Taking on the man is like a card game in which you don’t know the rules, the deck is stacked against you, and your opponent has already been playing for years. You can increase your odds of winning by studying the rulebook, but the buy-in is pretty steep, and the man is playing with house money and house odds. Sometimes, it’s just easier to not play.

deck stacked against u.jpg

But on the rare occasions when you choose to take on the man and beat him at his own game, damn does it feel good. Damn does it feel right. And every now and then, when the stars are properly aligned, that actually does happen.

My girlfriend recently took on the man. Over the past year, she and her roommate have been locked in a battle with their former landlords—a company named Minneapolis Real Estate—over a $1,500 damage deposit that came back about $1,000 short.

If you’d like a more detailed account of the whole episode, you can read it here in the statement that I wrote for their recent court case, but basically all you need to know is that my girlfriend and her roommate got totally screwed. They attempted to dispute the damages, but each effort was met by a company stiff-arm. The company rejected the letter outlining the initial disputes, they regularly and purposefully ignored phone calls, they refused to participate in conflict resolution, and on the few occasions when the girls were able to corner someone into a conversation, they were treated with the utmost condescension and rudeness.

This case looked destined to end like the majority of cases likely end between relatively powerful landlords and their relatively powerless tenants. Renters, by nature, are usually not powerful people, and landlords, as property owning elites, are. But to the girls’ credit, they persevered. Every time they reached a dead end, they got back on the highway, pulled out the roadmap, and searched for an alternative route. And when they finally arrived at small claims court earlier this week, the results proved that they had indeed reached their desired destination.

The court awarded my girlfriend and her roommate with $2,780—nearly all of the $3,070 for which they filed suit. While the money will obviously be appreciated, both the girls will tell you that the most gratifying part of the experience was the satisfaction they gained from being validated—the affirmation that they were indeed being treated unjustly, and that justice, at least in this case, was going to be served.

I’m really happy for them, but I also unfortunately doubt that most like cases have similar endings. My girlfriend and her roommate were extraordinarily organized, having spent hours on the phone and computer exploring their options, saving and copying all relevant documentation, and even gaining entry into their old apartment in order to photograph the so called “damages.” Over a nearly 12-month period, the girls put in a lot of time and endured a significant amount of stress and frustration playing out a process that never guaranteed them anything for their efforts. It would have been very easy to just give up—to take the money they were originally afforded and chalk up the lost dollars to the inevitability of being screwed by the man every now and then. Luckily, they didn’t do that, and luckily, that didn’t happen.

The man isn’t always a landlord, nor is he always man. He can be a boss or a business owner, a police officer or a politician—any person or people in a position of power who use that power to do not-nice things to the people below them on society’s totem pole. Taking on the man can be a tall order—a task in which one must tread carefully and cautiously, maintaining a healthy dose of both optimism and realism. Hopefully this story can provide some of the former to those out there engaged in their own battles with the man—inspiring them along the way to hopefully winning their fights.

Of course, there’s no shame in having to give up and living to fight another day. Not everybody has the time and resources and knowhow to take the man on in every situation, and even when they do, the man will still probably win more often than not. That’s what makes him the man, after all. But know that the man doesn’t always win. The man has his kryptonite, and that kryptonite is justice. In cases where an injustice has been done, there are means for justice to be sought. The man still cuts the deck, and usually has an ace showing, but for those with a basic understanding of the rules, a decent hand, and a willingness to play the game, don’t count yourself out too quickly. You never know, you might get lucky.

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Politics, USA

Contemplating a Clinton vote: The trials of a third party voter

Hillary Clinton supporters have a point.

I am normally an advocate for the third party vote. I have voted third party in each of the last two presidential elections—Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2008 and some socialist candidate whose name I don’t even remember in 2012. I voted for those candidates not because I thought they could actually win, but to express my dismay with a stupid electoral system and a much too moderate Democratic party. Of course, in both those elections, I desperately rooted for Barack Obama, but I also felt good about holding strong to my ideological convictions and using my ballot to cast a vote of dissent.


But this election is different. Donald Trump is a certain kind of scary that is forcing liberal third party voters like myself to rethink whether or not this election is one where we want to risk taking an ideological stand.

Clinton supporters are right to try to convince us that it’s not—that for this election we should swallow our political pride and vote for the only major party candidate that is not named Donald Trump. This is a conversation that we should be having, and I am glad that we are having it. But what sends me flying into a homicidal rage is the way that Clinton supporters have chosen to engage us in this conversation.

Contrary to what the author of this article might tell you, not all third party voters are “human tire fires.” I’ve been frustrated with a lot of the Bernie Bro’s too, especially the jeering jackwagons at the DNC, but what Clinton supporters need to realize is that many of us have very rationale reasons for voting third party that have nothing to do with a personal vendetta against Hillary and everything to do with our ideological convictions about what is best for our country. Some of us are willing to abandon those ideological convictions for this election in order to prevent a Trump presidency. That’s a big concession to make. But if Clinton supporters want to be successful in convincing us to make that leap, they must concede something too:

A vote for Hillary Clinton is a major compromise.

This is obviously not the case for diehard Hillary fans who have been behind her since day one, but it is most certainly the case for any potential Hillary voters who, under an election system that doesn’t totally suck, would be voting for a more progressive candidate. Hillary Clinton may very well be a progressive human being, but as a politician she is a calculating pragmatist. Her current political platform features a lot of positions that fit the progressive mold, but I don’t think that she would have taken those positions publicly if the polls hadn’t deemed it politically advantageous to do so. And while a grueling primary with Bernie looked to have moved Hillary considerably to the left, her VP nomination suggests that her general election dash back to the political center is already underway.


This is what makes settling for Hillary such a hard pill to swallow for so many third party voters. A vote for Hillary is a vote that lends implicit support to politics as usual in America’s two-party system, a system that we all fucking despise.

Clinton supporters would of course argue that the consequences of a Trump presidency would be far worse. I tend to agree with them. A Trump presidency could do immense damage to our country, and that is something that I desperately want to avoid. But I also think that another rubber stamp for our two-party system could do some immense damage as well, and that’s in addition to the immense damage that this system has already done.

If you look at the last twenty years, which do you think has done more collective damage to our country: Republican politicians or the two-party system? I have no doubts that your average Clinton supporter could go breathless listing all the harmful legislation that Republicans have enacted during that time, but they also need to remember that probably every one of those pieces of legislation had significant Democratic support. The ‘94 crime bill, DOMA, the Iraq invasion, and the expansion of drone warfare are just a few examples of initiatives that were either supported or spearheaded by prominent Democrats, Hillary Clinton being one of them.

Furthermore, when you look at what scares people about Trump—his capricious hawkish tendencies, his hate speech towards women and minorities—none of it is exactly new. Trump has definitely raised the bar to an apocalyptic level, and that’s an important distinction to make, but invading other countries and assaulting civil liberties is a long-standing tradition in American two-party politics. Of course modern Democrats have a far better record in each of these areas than their Republican counterparts, but conservative or liberal, if you really want to reduce military spending and protect civil liberties, you should not be voting for Republicans or Democrats—you should be voting for Libertarians or Socialists.

To do otherwise is to surrender to the status quo. It is a concession to the powers that be to leave their system in place by settling for a candidate that they have deemed appropriate. But if there’s one thing that I know about the status quo, it’s that if the status quo ain’t challenged, the status quo ain’t changing.


To be sure, there are many other, more effective ways to challenge the status quo than the presidential ballot. Revolutionary change almost always starts at the ground level, not at the top. But in a democracy, the vote is one of our most treasured change-making tools, and I’m not sure that I want to waste mine on a candidate that could not be more representative of all that I hate about the American political system.

I don’t want this write-up to sound like a self-absorbed defense of my right to express my opinion. I realize that my vote has consequences that affect people other than me. I also realize that in the case of a Trump presidency, white guys like myself would probably be more immune from the consequences than would women and people of color. But I’m still not convinced that settling for the proverbial “lesser-of-two-evils” is always the best decision. Trump may be a special case, but rank-and-file Democrats have been shaming third party voters into voting (D) for as long as I can remember, and as a result, the two-party system remains without so much as a whisper of reform.


I hope that Hillary Clinton is our next president, but if the election were tomorrow, I would not vote for her. That’s because I live in Minnesota, and there’s no chance that my state will be voting for Trump under the rules of the electoral college. Minnesota has been blue since 1972—the longest running streak in the nation.  No matter who I ultimately vote for, in my state, Hillary Clinton will be winning a plurality. This means that I can have my political cake and eat it too—I can cast a consequence-free vote of dissent against the two party system and still be sure that the Democrat comes out on top. However, if I lived in Virginia, Ohio, or even next door in Wisconsin, I would admittedly have to rethink this strategy.

I look forward to continuing this conversation as the election progresses. Believe it or not, my militancy on this issue has actually softened considerably over the last few months thanks to some well-written articles and eloquent friends. If that trend continues, I may very well find myself casting a Clinton ballot this fall. I just hope that as Clinton supporters continue to try to persuade us to vote for their candidate, they can refrain from scolding lectures and instead engage us in real conversations. I hope that they can admit that Hillary Clinton is a candidate with some major flaws, and that liberal third party voters are justified in their skepticism towards her and the Democratic Party in general. I hope that they can acknowledge that those who choose to challenge the status quo in this country serve a very important role, as do those who choose to compromise with it.

We need people that work within the system—people that make certain concessions and pragmatic decisions in order to get the best results possible, even if those results leave a lot to be desired. We also need people that work against the system—people who hurl rocks from the outside and make the people on the inside a little less comfortable. I’m not sure which group I will be a part of this coming November, but rest assured that whatever decision I make, I will make because I truly believe that it’s the best course of action to take for the good of my country. I hope that Clinton supporters can respect that.

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