Current Events

Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe; Authoritarian, authoritative

I’d love not to talk about my state’s governor, Paul LePage, and simply let him disappear into history…preferably the dung heap portion of it, but given that he’s a bit of a mini-Trump and has done nothing good for Maine’s image, politics or future, I need to bring him up as a warning for why you really, really, REALLY need to vote in a way that ensures Donald Trump doesn’t get into the Oval Office.

LePage made the news again with some poor wording that, in my opinion, was also blatant honesty. As he said on a radio talk show this month:

“Sometimes, I wonder that our Constitution is not only broken, but we need a Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power in our country and bring back the rule of law because we’ve had eight years of a president, he’s an autocrat, he just does it on his own, he ignores Congress, and every single day we’re slipping into anarchy.”

By way of full disclosure, he said in the days following that he misspoke and meant something more along the lines of “authoritative leadership” rather than “authoritarian control.” More on that later, because I call BS on it. But first, let’s parse his original statement a bit.

So, the U.S. Constitution is “broken” eh? I’ll be the first to admit it has many flaws, though most of those are found in the fact that the protections in that document aren’t equitably shared by all citizens. Gender, race and all sorts of other factors tend to prioritize who gets the protections of the Constitution in full. But LePage is saying it might be “broken.” Mind you, this coming from a guy who’s a member of the club so often touting how important the second amendment is and talking about how we need judges and justices who are constitutional traditionalists. Double-talk much?

LePage wants the “rule of law” brought back. But isn’t that fundamentally what the Constitution is about? You want to throw out the Constitution in place of “rule of law.” I think that’s tends to lead to things like martial law, totalitarianism, etc.

Supposedly, Obama is an “autocrat.” Never mind that he never came for people’s guns like they said he would. He doesn’t uplift and support the Islamic State but in fact continues to do things that are probably too militaristic on the part of the U.S. (like overuse of drones and resulting civilian casualties) to fight them. He got the country out of one of the worst financial crises it had ever seen. Despite continuing complaints by so much of Black America that police are more harsh and brutal toward them than to white people, Obama continues to say a lot of great things about police and to urge calm rather than raising a Black Power fist and saying it’s time to start flipping cars and burning buildings. Also, many of his intended policies and attempts to get laws passed have been routinely blocked by the GOP in Congress. Some autocrat.

But LePage’s answer to solving the “problem” of the alleged autocrat who really isn’t? It’s to have a conservative Republican autocrat instead. That’s what “authoritarian power” means. An autocrat is someone who wields that kind of power.

I don’t believe LePage misspoke. Oh, I believe he probably intended to say something “softer” but the fact is that he spoke his thoughts. Because LePage has been a bully in office throughout his first term and now second term. He wants to be an autocrat. He wants to bark orders and have them followed. Fortunately, he hasn’t always succeeded, but that’s what he does. He makes ultimatums and insults and threatens and when he doesn’t get his way he bitches and moans and/or threatens retribution.

Leaving aside his many horrible statements and actions in office, from open disrespect to the President and to civil rights groups to blaming Black people and immigrants for drugs and disease when the facts and figures show him to be wrong to just about 90% of everything else he says and does…I’m just going to go back to the earliest days of his first term.

When he ordered the removal of murals from the Maine Department of Labor that depicted images of laborer’s rights and labor movements because he considered them offensive to businesses and detrimental to attracting business to the state. But this was the Department of LABOR. Not the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development. The latter is the one that looks toward business interests. The former is about workers. But LePage unilaterally ordered the removal of murals he didn’t like because they didn’t meet his beliefs.

And, as with many authoritarian-minded leaders, like LePage and Trump, you get misleading stories to undermine faith in the political process and destabilize things. For example, Trump has repeatedly made unsubstantiated statements lately that the election is rigged against him somehow. Despite the fact that Democrats don’t control the voting/polling process and despite repeated studies that show voter fraud in the United States that is so far below 1% it’s almost immeasurable in terms of effect. Handfuls of votes, not a trend.

And yet, LePage got up on the Trump bandwagon to spout similar untruths, saying, “I am not confident that we are going to have a clean election in Maine. The Democratic Party insists on not having IDs. Will people from the cemetery be voting? Yes, all around the country. The media and the Democratic Party want everyone to vote, whether they’re citizens or not.”

Again, there is no evidence that this happens in any substantial way, and LePage himself won TWICE with less than 50% of the vote. Most people didn’t want him, but because people split the ticket voting in both elections because of an independent candidate, and because a divisive initiative to change bear-hunting practices during his second run mobilized GOP-minded people to the polls who wouldn’t normally have voted, he got in. Fair and square. It sucks for people like me and much of the state, who can’t stand what he stands for, but it was all fair. Voter fraud in this country, especially at the state and national level, is a myth to convince people to uproot and possibly overthrow existing government that, however screwed up it might be, is still mostly working to keep things running smoothly, safely and lawfully…even constitutionally.

If only those were the only lies of these wanna-be autocrats. When you watch Donald Trump rallies and see him simply make things up…false facts, wildly inaccurate figures, non-existent boogeymen…you see the people cheer. When they continue to support Trump despite rampant proof that he is not simply covertly deceitful like many politicians (and businessmen like himself) but also an outright pathological liar, you see where we could go from a mini-Trump here in Maine to a real Trump in the Oval Office and have much of America simply do what they’re told.

Because, unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this country, most of them white, who feel (no matter how inaccurately) that they are being oppressed and left behind and that “minorities” and other “others” are getting everything. And they’re ready to line up behind an authoritarian. An autocrat.

Just like much of Germany did behind Hitler. Is Trump as bad as Hitler in terms of genocidal and territorial ambitions? Probably not. But he’s in much the same mold in terms of outlook, beliefs and goals. I’ve seen what Trump looks like in LePage, and it took less than half of Maine’s population to vote him in both times. I look at the level of dissatisfaction in the United States and wonder whether we will see that writ large with Trump winning the presidency.

I hope not. But let’s not assume Trump’s horrible words or revelations of horrible actions will change much of America’s positive attitude toward him. Because none of that stopped LePage from winning the governorship twice in Maine. And I don’t want to upscale to a national version of LePage. If you have any hope for the future of America in any way, from the political to the economic to the social, neither should you.


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Black Trans Live Matter, Too

Today we have another post written by BGIM contributor Teddy Burrage, a Portland, Maine, native and local activist and organizer. When he’s not writing or working, you can usually find him exploring Maine’s vast interior and coastline.

In the Black Lives Matter movement, we tend to focus on the plight of black men and their unjustified murder at the hands of law enforcement—and for good reason! Police violence and institutional injustice are cancers that deserve our attention. But many people forget that Black Lives Matter means All Black Lives Matter. reported that 22 trans people were murdered this year in the United States. Of those 22, all but three were women of color. These numbers exclude unreported cases and those in which the victim was misgendered by the law enforcement and media—a common occurrence despite journalistic standards established by the New York Times and Associated Press. The figure also does not include instances of violence where the victim survived.

Living at the intersection of racism, transphobia, misogyny, homophobia—and in many cases poverty—transwomen of color bear the burden of simultaneously having to navigate multiple systems of oppression. Sadly because of this reality, this year is likely going to surpass 2015 as the deadliest year for transwomen of color in the United States. To add insult to injury, none the cases have been tried as hate crimes.

(Currently, only 9 states provided protection against hate crimes for transgender individuals. And in many courts, while condemned by the American Bar Association, “trans panic” is an acceptable defense for killing or assaulting someone.)

The act of taking someone’s life capstones a hierarchy of oppressive behaviors—behaviors each of us have a stake in whether we’d like to admit it or not. Jokes that make fun of men wearing dresses. Ideas that women are weaker than men. Feelings that it’s okay to touch people without their consent. These all provide a foundation for the dehumanization of others.

In a similar fashion, our society has always fetishized and commoditized black women’s bodies.

According to a study by Iman Cooper of Earlman College, the origins of this objectification can be traced back to the dynamics of plantation life when black slave women were forced to tend to the sexual impropriety of their white male masters.  In the same period, the maternal yet desexualized mammy caricature arose (see: Aunt Jemima) which was a pervasive image through the 17th century. The mammy archetype represented a big, happy woman who lived to serve white families, including even nursing their children.

aunt-jemima-pancake-mix_older_styleEven in the decades after slavery, black women often worked as domestics, having to sacrifice their life to serve their white bosses, while also having to keep their own families afloat.

Today, we see political pundits criticizing Michelle Obama for her exposing her shoulders and pop stars like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus using black women as props in their performances.

Exploiting black women for their value and talent has a long history in this country and around the world. The reductive nature of exploitation, combined with the complex insecurities that often surround gender and sexuality, likely plays a large role in violence against women—especially transwomen of color.

On the surface, it’s easy to assess violence solely on a case-by-case basis. But just as we’ve seen within those gruesome videos of police killings, there’s often a direct line leading from the incident to a deeper history that implies larger social norms and mores.

As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” It’s a sentiment that states that our destinies are intrinsically bound. It’s something we should continuously remember as we move forward in pursuit of freedom.

Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter. Black Women’s Lives Matter.

Transwomen of Color Lost this Year: MatterKedarie/Kandicee Johnson, 16; Jazz Alford, 30; Crystal Edmonds, 32; T.T., Unkown; Rae’ym Thomas, 28; Eryka Tijerina, 36; Skye Mackabee, 26; Dee Whingham, 25; Deeniquina Dood, 22; Goddess Diamond, Unknown; Mercedes Successful, 32; Tyreece “Reecey” Walker, 32; Keyonna Blakeney, 22; Shante Isaac, 34; Quartney Davia Dawsonn-Yochum, 32; Maya Young, 24; Veronica Banks Como, Unknown; Jasmine Sierra, Unknown; Monica Loera, Unknown;

“UPDATE: Since this article was written, yet another black transwoman has been murdered, Brandi Bledsoe, 32 of Cleveland, Ohio. This is a sobering reminder that violence is being perpetrated against trans people even as you read this blog.”

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Trump is Our Frankenstein’s Monster, or Peak Whiteness Personified

We live in a world where race, gender and socioeconomic status often determines our path. For Donald J. Trump, being born white, male and of means has led him on a course that brings him dangerously close to gaining the highest U.S. political office and becoming what many consider the “leader of the free world.”

The funny thing (in a not at all funny way actually) is that if Trump were a Black or Brown man, born into financially humble roots, we would we going “Donald who?” Frankly, even if he were Black and Brown and coming from wealthy and connected roots, I doubt he’d get the level of attention (and the blanket passes on his words and behavior and history) that he’s seen.

Trump is the embodiment of a certain level of privilege where the rules of proper society simply do not apply. A level of privilege where not only can you break the rules of a civilized society but people will excuse your bad behavior and enable you for life.

Sitting here as a working-class Black woman who has always had to work harder and smarter by a factor of two or three for half of what is bestowed upon my white peers, I struggle to grasp the train wreck and phenomenon known as Trump.

A man so despicable that in the course of less than two years, he has turned America on its head as we all grapple with this brave new world where right isn’t right and increasingly wrong is accepted with a shrug.

As I write this piece, we are all digesting the revelation that Trump as a powerful, privileged, white man has sexually assaulted women with no guilt or shame or reservations. The leaked piece from the Washington Post has Trump in his own words telling us that he grabs them by the pu**y. He moves on them like a bitch.  This interview happened back in 2005 and given that Trump is 70 years old, he was hardly a child when he made these statements, which are not really out of line with other comments that we have heard Trump make. This is a man who has stated he would date his own daughter were they not blood related. A man who uses every legal loophole available to avoid paying his taxes like the rest of us working stiffs. A man whose campaign has emboldened racists across America to come out of the closet.

Trump however is not an aberration or merely “a troubled man” as many would have us to believe. Trump is a product of unchecked peak whiteness and maleness meeting at the intersection of wealth and celebrity. For every poor or working-class person who understands the limits of our labels, men like Trump have never been given any limits. It’s why after the election of our first Black president, Trump traded on his whiteness and was a part of the birther movement which, if we are being honest, should have been called the New Klan movement because that is essentially what it was.

As a over-privileged, ego-driven white man with no political credentials or public policy experience, it seems pretty clear he felt slighted by the sight of a highly qualified Black man serving as president. So much so that eight years later he would feel a need to inflict his delusions upon us all and to charge into a presidential race with the most ignorant, crass, uncouth, inflammatory, prejudicial, bigoted campaign of modern times to “correct” things.

Trump serves as the Frankenstein’s Monster of peak of whiteness, maleness, cisgendered identity and heterosexuality. He’s also trading on the Christianity thing, lately, which is ironic given that he could barely be considered “nominally Christian.” He trades on being in every single identity that is most empowered in the United States.

More than that, he has taken each of those privileged credentials (gender, race, sexual identity and religion) and pushed them past the boundaries of good taste, common sense and logic. He has amped them up with rage, bluster, insults and money and become a creature and a perverted force of nature more than a man. Hence my characterization of him as Frankenstein’s Monster of American privilege.

But who created this monster? That creature from Mary Shelley’s novel was made by Dr. Frankenstein. Ultimately, when he rampaged and killed, it was under his own inertia and with his own will behind it (and it’s somewhat unfair to compare Trump to the monster, because the monster was actually persecuted and shunned, something Trump has never been…no matter how much he’s deserved it; yup, there’s that privilege again at work)…but nonetheless, he was not natural. He was made.

In this case, with regard to Trump, a not-insignificant portion of white America is, collectively, the mad scientist that gave this creature life and then created the circumstances for it to rampage unchecked.

In anti-racism spaces, we understand that racism not only affects people of color but white people as well. Trump is what happens when whiteness is allowed to thrive (thanks to white supremacy, systemic racism and institutional bias) and grow unchecked and unchallenged. When we don’t check the assumptions that we hold and why we hold them, especially when we have privilege, we open ourselves up to taking detours into dark spaces that are not fit for anyone.

For the past eight  years, many white people who see themselves as fundamentally good people were uncomfortable living in a country with a non-white president and looked for any excuse to avoid saying that. In Trump, they found their savior, a man whose only redeeming quality was arrogant, white manhood who, while thoroughly nonsensical and utterly ill-prepared, was enough to win their admiration. A man so horrible at his “successful” businesses (losing hundreds of millions and filing bankruptcy multiple times) that if he weren’t a white man, he would have been laughed off the national stage before he even started. Instead he wiped the floor with his milquetoast competition.

I have previously written about the place of whiteness in the rise of Trump but with each revelation about Trump’s past, it becomes even clearer that the only reason that Donald J. Trump exists is because of whiteness. Trump’s peak male whiteness gave him access to the open highway of success that simply doesn’t exist for others. But already having access to that highway, he isn’t even expected to do the work of getting down it; much of America is actually driving him down that road at high speed taking him anywhere he wants to go and getting anything he wants along the way.  They are eager to give him more than he already has and far more than he deserves simply because he appeals to all who long for the days when whiteness was the only credential needed for access to success.

The chorus against him grows louder in light of the sexual assault revelations but it is too little, too late. The chickens have come home to roost and regardless of who wins the 2016 presidential election, we are all facing the collective reckoning about unchecked white privilege and its role in our society. We have created our ultimate monster, and it is about to turn against us to destroy its creator, just like in Shelley’s novel. For make no mistake: If Trump becomes president, his very ascension is a blow to our collective decency and dignity as a nation and a people.
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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