No, let's not give Steve Bannon another platform for "debate"

Found a great article covering an important subject: “No, I Will Not Debate You” by Laurie Penny in the September 2018 issue of “Longreads” >

where she talks about “debating” people like Steve Bannon and why his if-you-won’t-debate-you’re-an-enemy-of-free-speech argument is in bad faith.

She goes on to say:

To me, refusing to appear alongside Bannon was an obvious choice, as obvious as the protest against Donald Trump’s visit to Britain earlier this year, when millions of people made my country inhospitable to a president who has done nothing to deserve our deference. Bannon, unsurprisingly, disagreed, calling New Yorker editor David Remnick a coward for rescinding his invitation.

We probably should have anticipated the disingenuous firestorm that followed. We should have anticipated the accusations of being the real fascists for refusing to make nice with white supremacists, the harassment and YouTube hobgoblining from self-appointed defenders of free speech, who seem to have forgotten that for Bates, for me, and for any other woman who flashes the merest inch of independent thought online, harassment is nothing terribly new. It’s just Tuesday.

There’s a term for this sort of bad-faith argument: it’s called the justification-suppression modelThe theory is that bigots refrain from directly defending their own bigotry but get hugely riled up justifying the abstract right to express bigotry. So instead of saying, for example, “I don’t like foreigners,” they’ll fight hard for someone else’s right to get up on stage and yell that foreigners are coming to convert your children and seduce your household pets.

Focusing the conversation on the ethics of disseminating speech rather than the actual content of that speech is hugely useful for the far right for three reasons. Firstly, it allows them to paint themselves as the wronged party — the martyrs and victims. Secondly, it stops people from talking about the actual wronged parties, the real lives at risk. And thirdly, of course, it’s an enormous diversion tactic, a shout of “Fire!” in the crowded theatre of politics. But Liberals don’t want to feel like bad people, so this impossible choice — betray the letter of your principles, or betray the spirit — leaves everyone feeling filthy.

There’s no way to come out of this convinced of your own political purity. The thing is, though, that establishing your own political purity isn’t what progressive politics are supposed to be about. As Ms. Marvel says: Good is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do. This is not about censorship. It never was. It’s about consequences, about drawing a line in the sand.

That can be harder in practice than it sounds. The problem with taking a stand within and against respectable organizations is that however righteous you may feel, you create a lot of work for people in that organization — especially people lower down the chain of command who don’t get to make the big ethical decisions. And it takes rather a lot of courage to defy the customs of polite society, especially if it means compromising social capital you yourself have worked hard for. Some people speaking at the Open Future festival are female activists of color whose positions and profile deserve the same institutional recognition that Bannon doesn’t.


The March for Science on April 22, 2017 was a historic day but the movement did not stop there

Over the last year, thousands of individuals have taken action to advocate for equitable, evidence-based policies. Some recent campaigns:

Sustainability: To confront the realities of climate change, we need to make sure that the policies, structures, and choices we invest in today don’t compromise our future. We need sustainable changes TODAY - for 100% renewable energy, for more sustainable housing, eco-friendly public transportation, and more.

Support Federal Scientists: The Trump administration and the Department of the Interior have taken action to restrict the ability of federal scientists to communicate their tax-funded research to the media and, by extension, the public.  Take a stand against censorship and send a message of support to federal scientists that you have their back.  

Fund Family Reunification: The zero-tolerance ban at the border resulted in thousands of children being separated from their primary caregivers.  The consequences of this trauma cannot be overstated.  Trump's executive order technically put an end to separation, but there is no plan in place to reunify families - and no dedicated funding for that purpose.  Contact your officials and ask them to provide dedicated funding both for reunification and to provide mental health care to the families affected.

May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this [White House] roof

A NYTimes letter to the editor points out a serious omission in Trump's use of a John Adam's quote:

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Has a Stark Warning for Pastors” (news article, Aug. 29):

In the public portion of President Trump’s remarks to evangelical pastors in the White House State Dining Room on Monday night (before the press was ushered out and he got down to business, pleading with them to get out the Republican vote for the midterms), he spoke in “high-minded tones,” and even quoted from an inscription of John Adams’s words above the fireplace: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house.”

I guess he didn’t want to read the rest of it: “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” 

James Speyer
Los Angeles