Jennifer Lawrence, Trump and Freedom of Speech

I first saw a trailer for Mother in front of It, and although the odd trailer grabbed my attention I had no interest in seeing it due to Jennifer Lawrence. I watched the first Hunger Games film and Silver Linings Playbook, which made me a fan. Then I saw her performance in the newer X-Men films and the spell wore off. The films became the Mystique show simply due to Lawrence’s status and she was the weakest link when compared to the performances from actors like Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy.

All of this to say, that I am not a Jennifer Lawrence fan. When ads for Mother popped up on my twitter feed my curiosity got the better of me and I scrolled through the comments on the ad, eager to see what other people thought of the upcoming film. Lo and behold, the comments were swarmed with people “boycotting” Lawrence for comments she apparently made about Hurricane Irma and Trump..

Although there are plenty of people saying Lawrence thinks Trump caused Hurricane Irma, that just demonstrates how bias and/or a lack of reading comprehension can lead to misinformation. During an interview Lawrence said that Irma is one example of “Mother Nature’s rage, or wrath”. She advised that there is scientific evidence to support the argument that humans contribute to climate change and she said voting is one way to influence action on climate change.

So for those with poor reading comprehension: She means that a candidate like Trump, who believes climate change is a hoax, will enact policies that will further contribute to climate change. Did she say he caused Hurricane Irma? No. Anyway, there lies the latest source of online rage directed toward “liberal Hollywood”. The thesis of most of these statements was that actors should stay out of politics. I wasn’t able to retrieve the thread I initially came across but the one below has more examples of the backlash I am discussing.

This isn’t a new phenomenon: It is one I most recently discussed after David Harbour received a wave of criticism for his Stranger Things SAG acceptance speech, where he indirectly criticized Trump. Similar to the Lawrence backlash, most of the negative comments I have seen express disgust at actors daring to have a political opinion.

Actors and actresses are not dolls assembled to perform, and then tucked away until their next performance. Although the adoration they receive might make us forget, they are real people too. They care about their values and ideologies as much as the regular person does. Does that mean they should make all their films revolve around their personal beliefs? No, but it does mean they should be allowed to discuss these issues on public forums, just like every other American citizen is allowed to. Yes, they have more clout than the average person and people like to argue that is why it is dangerous for them to express their ideas. With that said, let me get to the crux of my argument.

If an actor or actress expresses political views I don’t agree with, I don’t fault them for having an opinion. I fault them for the views themselves. I don’t say “Oh they should stay out of politics”, I say “It’s a shame they support that candidate’s views…”.  I like to think it is a less hypocritical approach, since I would not despise an actor if they expressed political views I agree with. Would these Trump supporters be upset if Lawrence had made comments about what a great president he is? The same freedom of speech that people use to defend marching Neo-Nazis is the same freedom of speech being stripped from an actress who says climate change is real.

Some of the Twitter comments openly criticize Lawrence for attacking Trump, and I can actually respect those comments. I don’t agree, but I am happy to see less hypocrisy. Maybe some of the comments criticizing Lawrence are from people who genuinely don’t like actors discussing politics, whether they support the same ideologies or not. However, I have a strong feeling most of these people telling Lawrence to “stick to acting” just don’t like seeing freedom of speech used against them. They prefer when it is used against immigrants, Muslims and other minorities.

Charlottesville and Donald Trump

Racists used to wear hoods to hide their identity. They don’t need to wear hoods anymore, they own the White House.

These are the words I remember reading from a random twitter user this morning as I perused the newsfeed to catch up on the weekend’s events. I heard about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia, the counter-protest, and the violence that erupted. One of the most interesting events to emerge out of this incident was President Trump’s response to the violence. This is a man who denounced the cast of Hamilton for peacefully challenging Mike Pence’s record of upholding equality. This is a man who had this to say about a black protestor at his rally: “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing”. Surely Trump would bring “fire and fury” to his denunciation of the violence. Instead, Trump tread lightly, and denounced the violence on “many sides.”

So let’s try to see where Trump is coming from. The “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally was a protest against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Lee was a great general, on the Confederate side. The side that supported the continuation of slavery, so like the Confederate flag, a public display is somewhat contentious. Nonetheless, the right made sure their voices were heard. They exercised their freedom of speech by gathering with white supremacist symbols and hurling racial or anti-semitic slurs at non-white passerby. They were met by a group of counter-protesters, also exercising their freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Then things escalated. Verbal insults thrown from both sides turned into violence, culminating in a white supremacist crashing his car into the another vehicle and mowing through the crowd, which resulted in one death and several injuries.

So Trump is right in one sense, there was violence on both sides. The facts don’t end there though. In a case like this, we must look at who initiated the violence and how events escalated. This “Unite the Right” protest was planned far in advance by leaders of the alt-right and white supremacist movements, groups that have been tied to an increasingly high number of hate crimes and domestic terrorist attacks in the US and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the anti-racism protestors are guilty of “political correctness”, which nowadays just means the opposition of bigotry. The anti-racism protestors are “triggered” by Confederate flags and statues to Confederate generals, while the Right gets triggered by affirmative action and black student unions. Both sides contributed to a scuffle, but a man from one side decided that he wanted to drive his car through a crowd.

Let’s look at this another way. White supremacy as a whole is not rooted in fact. All of the racist assumptions or beliefs people use to justify the current state of the world can be broken down by decades of research e.g. research showing that the property value of an area drops when more people of colour move in. So even though white supremacy is not rooted in fact, we still let white supremacists assemble. Giving voice to the alt-right and white supremacists is no different than giving voice to Flat Earthers.

The most disturbing thing about Trump refusing to disavow white supremacy, until today, is that it reflects a trend that we can trace back to his campaign. Trump previously refused to disavow David Duke and the KKK. His defence was that he didn’t know who David Duke was, but we can see an interviewer explain that for him multiple times in the below video. Yet Trump still refuses to disavow the support of David Duke. Why? He knew he needed the votes.

There are people out there (even in the comment section of this video) that try to compare groups like Black Lives Matter to the KKK. Firstly, there have been violent incidents at BLM demonstrations, but those incidents havre actually not been traced to members of BLM. Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not make you a member of the actual organization.

Meanwhile, the KKK has a long and continuing history of violence against minorities. Other white supremacist factions have also become emboldened by Trump’s election and view him as their saving grace in an American landscape that is changing too much for their liking.

AJ+ released this video documenting the online vigilantism that has resulted in some of the alt-right protesters being identified and facing consequences such as losing their jobs. As expected, the comments reveal some overt or implicit supporters are more concerned about what happens to the white supremacists than the people they wish to marginalize.

You have to wonder if the right got as worked up about Mike Brown being shot multiple times and depicted as a thug by their peers. Of course not. In their eyes, Brown, Martin, Castille etc. just faced the consequences of their actions. The same thing is happening here. Freedom of speech does not mean that everyone must agree with what you say. Employers, friends, family etc. can reject you for much less than overtly racist demonstrations.

Also, it is funny that the right always criticizes the left for “identity politics” e.g groups allied around race, religion etc. What is this rally? Isn’t it about protecting white European culture? So basically, identity politics is only a bad thing if minorities do it. I am not being biased, a “libtard”, a “social justice warrior” or “politically correct” for pointing out these fallacies. These are the facts, that get ignored or twisted time and time again by racists who refuse to acknowledge facts no matter the consequences. This refusal to acknowledge facts is what allowed Trump to become president, citing inaccurate stats about black crime and embracing racist rhetoric with the mantra of “telling it like it is.”

America isn’t the same place I visited two years ago. It is something uglier, corrosive. Decaying from the inside while the poisoners remain blind to the damage they’re doing.

“Telling me that I’m obsessed with talking about racism in America is like telling me I’m obsessed with swimming when I’m drowning.” Hari Kondabolu

“It’s 2017”

I recently started working on part II of Alive, which continues my story of werewolves and racism. The first one followed my black protagonist, Mason, adapting to his new abilities and breaking off from a radical sect that wanted to use their power to wage war against the people that oppress them. The second part will lead to all out war between Mason and the radical sect, but also has more of a focus on Mason’s attempts to oversee the implementation of new policies that will empower his people. A key theme of the second book is that laws are not enough to change how people think, which reminded me of an oft-cited mantra.

“It’s (current year)”. This can be used by conservatives to shut down the talk of discrimination or by well-meaning liberals who think that the passage of time is enough to ensure equality. Whatever side it comes from, the sentence demonstrates a child-like naivete of how the world works.

When slavery was abolished, racism persisted. When Jim Crow was abolished, racism persisted. I wonder if people used to say “It’s 1970”. Laws may ban people from certain actions, or maybe even certain words, but laws can’t change what is in their minds. If someone holds the racial mindset of the 1950s near and dear to their heart, they will teach those values to their kids, and so on. Time itself is not a cure for racism. This is perfectly demonstrated by the current climate of right-wing backlash, where pretty much any comment or act that doesn’t endorse bigotry is labelled as “political correctness” or the work of “social justice warriors”. People are upset that they, and society as a whole, are being called out for bigotry now more than ever. Instead of adapting to changing times, it is easier to reminisce of times when you could say whatever you wanted without worrying about consequences or criticism. At worst, these people support bigotry. At best, they enable it. Yes, sometimes people do cry racism, misogny etc. where it does not exist, but I don’t believe that these instances account for the majority. I do believe that these instances get lumped in with all of the legimate ones, especially by people whose views are already intolerant. They get a smokescreen for hiding bigotry: “I’m not racist. I just hate it when these social justice warriors get offended by everything.”

I want to know what these people consider “everything”. Is it something as simple as Madonna referring to her son as “dis nigga” or is it a case where another unarmed black man got killed?

David Harbour and Stranger Things

Stranger Things was one of my favourite shows of 2016 and I was happy to hear that it received a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for “Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble Cast”. Of course, the award was overshadowed online by memes targeting Winona Ryder’s facial expressions.

It appears that Ryder actually stole attention away from David Harbour’s speech, which is also one of the most discussed events from the SAG Awards. Firstly, the speech is generally about fighting injustice and accepting “outcasts and freaks”. The speech can refer to the events of Stranger Things but is of course a parallel to Trump and his presidency.

Like any political comment, it has attracted a wave of support and plenty of criticism. I previously discussed how people forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword in my Patton Oswalt article.

“I also find that people often forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. For example, President Trump said the Hamilton cast was out of line for criticizing Vice President Pence, but he also supported the unfounded allegations that Obama is a foreign-born Muslim. Trump had no problem using his freedom of speech to assert that a President’s birth certificate isn’t valid, but he was also insulted that the Hamilton cast would have go off-script to address his VP. People invoke freedom of speech as an excuse when people express views they do not agree with.”

I’m not bringing this up again as shameless self-promotion. I bring it up again because I believe that it captures an issue that is central to the criticism directed towards Harbour and Stranger Things as a whole. I first came across the criticism of Harbour’s speech due to an announcement about season 2. While I was just excited to see some new pictures, a few of the users (who use Facebook to comment) were quick to comment on how much Harbour’s speech turned them off the show.

Bill Michael writes: “I love the first season but after the SAG award political rant/meltdown on stage by the cast I doubt my family or I will watch season 2 now”

And Jim Culver follows up with: “I was right in the middle of binge-watching season one when they did that, and it totally soured the experience for me. All I could think about was what a pretentious jerk the guy who played Hopper is, and what a ditz Winona Ryder is.”

So maybe Culver has a point about Ryder, but what bothered me was the animosity generated about Harbour daring to express an opinion.

I have come across some people who believe that celebrities shouldn’t make political statements of any kind, since they have so much influence and can sway people negatively. However, we have to remember that celebrities are human beings. They have a stake in the world just as much as we do.

If an actor or actress I respect makes political statements I disagree with, I don’t chastise them for having an opinion, I criticize them for the views themselves. I like my bigots out in the open, and I want to know what is going on in the minds of people who I am indirectly giving money to. The people criticizing Harbour, for criticizing Trump, come across as Trump supporters who don’t want to hear their hero denigrated by what they view as “libtards,” or “commies” judging by the comments on the Youtube video. I have to wonder if they would be as upset if Harbour made a speech talking about the need to support Trump.

As expected, plenty of the comments criticize the left for being intolerant. After all, Harbour does advise that people should be punched in the face. When Trump said he wanted to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and establish a Muslim ban, people said it was only a metaphor. I’ll use the same excuse here, Harbour was just referring to what his character would do, not what he is seriously condoning others to do.

So, the same right-wing that is convinced most Muslims are terrorists, that Obama is a foreign born Muslim etc. are now upset that the left dares to make a speech about accepting outsiders. Does anyone else see the problem with this mindset? While one side continues to defend whatever they say as the politically incorrect truth, or  “telling it like is”, any comment that does not support Trump is viewed as proof that liberals aren’t tolerant. Liberals don’t tolerate bigots, it’s as simple as that.

 

 

Trump-1984 Is Upon Us

We have officially entered the era of President Trump.  There were many people who thought this would never happen. They discounted all of the apparent support for Trump as a the work of a loud minority and had faith that the American people would let reason prevail. I wanted to believe this too but I couldn’t ignore all of the support that Trump received for one prejudiced comment after one another, and the climate of hate that he happily nourished. No one is racist anymore. They all have black friends or they are not racist, but… No one is sexist, they’re just not a white knight and they don’t like feminazis. They also don’t like political correctness, liberal agendas or social justice warriors. All this talk of the need to fight inequality is just the work of people who get offended by “everything”. Then along comes Trump, who isn’t afraid to “tell it like it is”.

Trump didn’t lay out many specific policy plans, because he didn’t need to. His comments on Hispanics, Muslims and women got him all the support he needed. Trump did lay out two bold plans, which some people disregarded as words that were only meant to get votes and media coverage. Trump repeatedly stated the need to ban Muslims from entering the US until “we can figure out what the heck is going on” and the need to build a wall along the U.S Mexico border. I have heard family, co-workers and friends say that there was no way Trump would even try to enact these policies.

Yet here we are. To be fair to Trump, his executive order is not a definitive one.

It prevents the citizens of seven Muslim-Majority countries from entering the US and also suspends the US refugee program for 120 days. However, there is the possibility of a reinstatement or an extension on the order if Trump deems it necessary.

Some of the defense for the act stems from the idea that all Muslims are a threat. I won’t give those arguments much time since radical Islamic terrorists statistically make up a small portion of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.

Many people are also defending the ban since they have the idea that America already had lax security protocols for refugees and immigrants coming from Muslim majority countries, which isn’t true.

Some are arguing Trump will be impeached, but the point is that he genuinely tried to enact the policies he discussed.

Trump wasn’t just treating the race like a marketing opportunity and appealing to hate because it would get him airtime. At this point, it seems as if he genuinely believes all of the bigoted comments he made during his campaign. It wasn’t all a publicity stunt.

We now have a man who’s senior White House Advisor refers to easily debunked lies as alternative facts. It isn’t a coincidence that sales of 1984 spiked after these comments were made. Trump’s campaign and his presidency is fueled by bigotry, and hate is the enemy of fact. Anyone who was willing to vote for Trump after he said Mexico “doesn’t send its best” will obviously continue to support him. They will embrace alternative facts and use any of the right wing buzzwords, “social justice warrior, political correctness etc.” to shut down any reasoned discussion they don’t want to hear.

 

Voter turnout was relatively low for this past election, at 60% of the eligible voters. However, that means that over 30% of the eligible voting population still voted for Trump. We are talking about 66 million people who wholeheartedly embrace bigotry and represent a regression in the ideals of racial and religious equality. Maybe we only have to deal with Trump a few more months. Or maybe we have to deal with a whole term, and maybe another.

Hopefully this election motivates people to vote in the next one, and pick the lesser of two evils if need be.

 

The Rebirth of a Nation

FILE - This undated file photo provided by Christie's auction house shows Jasper Johns' "Flag," a pop art rendition of the American flag created in the 1960s that author Michael Crichton bought from the artist in 1973. The painting is one of many in Crichton's collection that will go on the auction block during Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art sale in New York on May 11-12, 2010. "Flag" has a pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million, but art dealer Richard Feigen said he believed "it'll go through the roof," fetching upwards of $30 million.  (AP Photo/Christie's, File)

I didn’t watch the entire electoral race last night. Like many people, I woke up to some pretty shocking news. I think this was an outcome that many people didn’t think was truly possible. Author and marketer Ryan Holiday, believed that Trump had no chance of winning. Holiday believed that Trump simply received far too much media attention, and that his supporters were a very loud minority.

The thing about a very supportive minority is that they are very likely to vote. Early results show that voter turnout is only about 50%. Out of approximately 241 million eligible voters, 124 million votes have been counted so far. The number is expected to fluctuate, but the final result is expected to be around 52% voter turnout.

I know that many people feel like this election has not presented two ideal candidates. As a very brief summary, Clinton detractors believed she will not fight for the working class and the email issue continued to hound her throughout her campaign. Trump detractors (like myself) believe Trump is a narcissistic, racist and misogynist grunt who doesn’t have the faintest grasp of politics. However, many Trump supporters liked that. They wanted someone different. Someone who wasn’t an entrenched participant in the political arena. Many of the working class people voting for him believed he would fight for their issues.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

With this divide comes the issue of voter turnout. After all the comments Trump made, whether it is about hispanics being rapists and murders, building a wall on the border, banning Muslims from entering the US, grabbing pussy etc, voting for the man requires a high level of conviction. Eligible voters who supported Trump weren’t likely to abstain from voting or vote for a third party. They were going to make sure their voice was heard.

It is clear that many people did not believe in either candidate, but I hope those people realize that they contributed to Trump’s win as well. I have heard some people say the votes spent on third party candidates are pretty much a waste; a vote spent for a candidate that was never going to win, and a vote that is stolen from a democrat or republican. However, I can empathize with the people who voted for the third party candidates. They didn’t like the two most popular choices, but they still made their voice heard. They actually did something about it, instead of sitting around and letting the world pass them by. I have heard the sentiment that the two party system is not real democracy, and that the people don’t truly have choice. They only have more of the same. Well, if that is how you feel, what are you going to do about it? Yes, you might hate the system but you need to combat it, or learn how to live with it. Historically blue states were taken by Trump and key states, such as Pennsylvania were lost by only 1000 votes. You have no right to complain about Trump being president if you did not vote at all.

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I wrote a Facebook post on this earlier, when I was still trying to gather my thoughts. I was watching CP24 and heard one of the people being interviewed refer to Trump as “the epitome of the working man”. Let me use my earlier response as a launchpad for my next point:

Most working people can’t get a small loan of 1 million from their parents. As I’ve mentioned before, people want to say this election wasn’t about hate, it was about the working class wanting someone who represented them. Pretty much the same as saying the confederate flag isn’t about slavery, it’s about state rights. Yeah, state rights…to continue slavery. Trump followed a long line of leaders by scapegoating minorities for economic woes, and his biggest “policies” are building a wall on the border and banning Muslims from entering the US. Yeah he’s not racist, he just “tells it like it is”. He’s not “politically correct”. He’s a pied piper for all the disgruntled bigots in America who feel like racial equality and other social issues are just liberal propaganda that hampers their free speech and is an attack against white people.

All the people who complain about ‘social justice warriors (SJWS)’, ‘feminazis’, ‘race-baiters’ etc. all feel vindicated when a presidential candidate unflinchingly expresses all the bigotry that they try to hide. Some may be quick to argue that minorities voted for Trump. Plenty of white people voted for Obama, that doesn’t mean racism is dead. Even Obama has acknowledged that his presidency is not a sign of post-racialism in America.  There are still Americans who think Obama is a foreign Muslim, such as some of Trump’s supporters. Don’t tell me that any black person could have said half the things Trump has and gone on to become President. 

obama-flag

Obama’s speech today emphasized that we are all on the same team. Even Trump’s speech had a conciliatory tone as well, but I like to judge someone by how gracious they can be in defeat, not just victory. Trump has now changed his tune, he wants to fight for all Americans. Does one manufactured speech make up for a campaign that was built on singling out one minority after another? Does the speech make up for refusing to condemn an endorsement from the KKK? Trump argued he doesn’t know who David Duke is, a former Klansmen. Fair enough. When the interviewer clarifies that he is talking about “David Duke and the Klu Klux Klan” Trump just repeats that he doesn’t know who David Duke is (Fast forward to 1:00 in the video). You don’t need to be a “social justice warrior” to know who the KKK is. Trump knows, and he consciously accepted the endorsement. He knew he needed the votes.

Although I am severely disappointed by this outcome, I hope it can serve as a cautionary tale when we look back on this moment in American history. Bigots and the people who support them aren’t always just a loud minority. Maybe if more people voted Clinton would have won, maybe not. Maybe hate would prevail: All the hate that has built since the Civil Rights Act, the hate building since a black man became president.  Maybe Saturday Night Live will be less likely to have people like Trump guest star if they thought such a corrosive candidate could actually become President. Maybe we can stop pretending like America has cured its racism problem and that race-baiters are the real enemy now. We can’t dismiss crowds of racists as a lunatic fringe anymore. They are now more emboldened than ever. How does this fare for America’s minorities; The muslims, hispanics, blacks and gays who may be surrounded by bigots in their respective communities. Maybe this is the wake-up call we needed. As political commentator, Van Jones says, this election is a “whitelash against a changing country”.