It Was Never About Belief | Redux

A few days ago I wrote a piece in the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation. Through meandering metaphor, I talk about the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and the reaction of Brett Kavanaugh and how none of it was ever about belief. That whether or not the politicians at the wheel believed her didn’t matter, because they were going to put Kavanaugh in that seat, even when we said no, even when we fought, even if they had to cover our mouths and push us down to do it.

I read an article this morning with a common refrain—every couple of years, there’s a new climate report about how we are so unbelievably and totally screwed as a species but there’s still hope, there’s still time, we can maybe undo some of this damage and maybe the planet will not become completely inhospitable to life. This one was different, though. It painted a darker picture. It put us on the path of devastating crisis at a much lower warming threshold than previously estimated, and thus put us there a lot sooner. The date in the headline? 2040. I’ll be 43 years old. Maybe I’ll have a couple kids in elementary school. I’ll have half my life left. They’ll have the entirety of theirs ahead of them. And the planet, conceivably, could be wrecked by ravenous fires, rapturous floods, and global food shortages.

The path to redemption is lined with immense sacrifice and immediate action, principally on the parts of governments and corporations, who are in the greatest debt to Mother Earth and have the power to reverse the bulk of the ecological damage that they have wreaked. The poisonous, guilt-inducing myth that if we all just stopped eating burgers and rode our bikes to work we wouldn’t be in this mess is over. Yes, individual contributions can make a difference when amalgamated over time. But like with the straw ban of this past year, it’s corporate sleight-of-hand. Tell individual consumers that it’s their fault while you dump toxic waste into rivers, while you burn coal when we asked for increased solar and wind energy, while you continue pouring animal products into our makeup and cleaning supplies in spite of easy alternatives. Profit off our guilt. Say you’ll go Dutch on the blame even though we haven’t eaten anything and you’re polishing off your second lobster.

The current president of the United States doesn’t believe in climate change. He regularly mocks people who do. He insists that the only way to make this country great is to increase the burning of coal and to continue jeopardizing the health of all the people who mine for it, even as programs for redirecting and retraining coal workers in other fields prove highly effective and, of course, less toxic to the environment. He has made it so that we are the only developed nation on Earth to pull out of the Paris accords. All because of, yes, political games where our lives are his bargaining chips, but also because of belief. A belief that humans could not possibly be to blame for a disaster of such literally epic proportions.

But it was never about belief.

Donald Trump, the planet does not care that you are a “billionaire.” The planet does not care that you are the president, or that you are a white man who was promised a feast of her bones. The planet is dying and covering your eyes with your hands will not bring her back to life. Climate change is not your god. It does not matter if you believe. It is happening. And your disbelief in provable facts is not just going to lead to the violent deaths of unarmed black teens or women in search of safe abortions or immigrants seeking passage to a better life. It is going to lead to the demise of entire species, not just that of the bees or the birds but ours.

If you aren’t already registered to vote, please click here to do so. And once you have, research where the candidates in your state stand on environmental issues—this website might help. Buy a reusable water bottle, bring canvas bags to the grocery store, carpool when you can, and cut back on eating animal products—but most importantly, VOTE. Vote with the future of the planet in mind. We are all counting on you. We are counting on US.

It Was Never About Belief

You tell the story. Maybe you are brown and maybe you are gay and maybe you are poor. Maybe you do not speak English well. Maybe you dress in a way that proves the fact of your body. Maybe you know they will not listen but you tell your story as best you can because you feel you should. You are right. They do not listen. They do not believe you. They were never going to. They will always believe him.

She tells the story. Maybe there are holes. Maybe the story is not true. But maybe she is white and maybe you are brown. Maybe she wilts into her sundress on the witness stand and maybe your muscles ripple under the suit you bought for this. Maybe you have stolen something else before. Maybe you know that pleading your case is futile but you plead it anyway because you were told you have to try. You are right. They do not listen. They do not believe you. They were never going to. They will always believe her.

You tell the story. Maybe you are white and maybe you are straight and maybe you have money. Maybe you are educated. Maybe you dress in a way that denies the fact of your body. Maybe you are an expert on memory, on the mechanisms of the mind. Maybe your voice is quiet. Maybe it shakes. Maybe you wilt how you’re supposed to on the witness stand—wait, this is not a trial. Maybe you ask how you can help best relive your trauma. But maybe he is white and maybe he is straight and maybe he has money. Maybe he is educated. Maybe he is the spitting image of the faces carved into some South Dakota mountainside. Maybe he is spitting. Maybe he is crying. Maybe he is rage and howls. Maybe he is id. Maybe you are standing in the way of what he was promised, of what he came here for. Maybe you know that they will not listen but you think there is a chance because maybe you are all the things that so many before you were not.

You are wrong. They listen. They believe you.

It does not matter.

He gets what he came here for.

You disappear.

It was never about belief. It was never about how aware you are of the fact of your body. It was never about the fact of your brain. It was never about how much you remember. It was never about seeing with their own eyes what he did, what he is capable of, what he is doing right now. It was never about your story. It was never about you. It was about him. It is about him. It is always about him. This is what he was promised. This is what he came here for. They listen when the story is about Emmett. They do not listen when the story is about Brock. This is what he came here for. This is what they all came here for. This is what they remember, the feeling of the promise, the weight of it, the silvery taste of it. They will not deny their brother the birthright. They will not deny their brother the office. They will not deny their brother the robe. They will not deny their brother your body, however limp it goes beneath them in the hand-off. They will not deny. They will not be denied. They will be fed. They will be gorged until they are stuffed. They will eat until they burst. They will have their stomachs pumped and they will feast again. They will dine on the facts of our bodies until they die. And they will be frozen. And they will leave the keys to the dining hall to their sons. And they will teach them where to store the excess so that they may never have to stop eating. We are not invited to dinner. We are dinner. That is why they cage us. That is why they silence us. They have been taught to crave this. They are certain that if they stop eating they will die. Look at them, with their fat necks. They must always have their mouths full. They are afraid of us. They cannot lose us. But it was never about us. It was never about you.

It was never about belief.

Bannon vs. Remnick: The Throwdown That Did Not And Does Not Need To Happen

Almost as soon as it was announced that right-wing "journalist" and "politician" and "villain from a children's cartoon" Steve Bannon would headline The New Yorker Festival, there was significant backlash. Many other speakers publicly announced their intent to pull out of the festival. In response, editor David Remnick issued a quick statement disinviting Bannon from the festival. I'm writing this as it plays out, so I'm not here to say how it will all end. I'm here to say why it never should have happened in the first place.

Remnick's statement emphasized that he wanted to interview Bannon for a couple of key reasons: one, that Bannon's influence on our nation's current president was and is undeniable, and two, because interviewing him publicly would eliminate the crutch of going "off the record" -- when you're speaking in front of an audience at a festival, you can't exactly call backsies. While these are Journalistically Noble Reasons, I Guess, they're simply not good enough when you consider what Bannon has done to national political discourse, and more importantly, what he represents.

Hate. Bigotry. Xenophobia. Ignorance. None of these are new phenomena, and none of them are un-American. They are threaded into the fabric of our country, and they are as American as apple pie. This country was built on the invasion of land, the rape and mass murder of indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans and natives alike, the subjugation of women, and other atrocities. Government and corporate interests continue to profit off the exploitation of and violence against black and brown bodies. Without a significant overhaul of our entire culture, this cruelty will persist. Donald Trump did not introduce or even awaken these monsters in our closet. If anything, this was the door where America kept all her dirty secrets:

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All Trump had to do was take his Cheeto finger out of the latch. And Bannon made it his life's mission to help him do that, and to find lodging for the demons once they got out.

As the former chairman of Breitbart, Bannon presided over a pseudo-journalistic institution that thrived off tribalism and stoked the fear and ignorance of its audience. As a member of Trump's campaign and later cabinet, he tapped into the birtherism lobe of Trump's brain to spew as much venom as humanly possible at Muslims, Mexicans, and any other group that seemed fit to scapegoat. Make no mistake: Trump is a grown man, and to assign him anything other than full culpability for his actions would be too generous. But Bannon was there, and Bannon encouraged it, and Bannon has a CVS-length receipt of public hate of his own. 

Pundits are saying that our country has never been more divided. Centrists want everyone to just listen to each other, that if only we could all sit down over a bowl of chili or whatever and talk about our respective worries and problems, we could work this whole mess out. That our biggest problem is believing that our own opinions are the only correct ones. In truth, there are two huge problems facing this country, or at least facing our discourse (we have a lot of problems).

1. Nazis.
2. Letting Nazis believe that what they think counts as a valid opinion.

The first problem is the presence of hate itself. Disagreements about the best way to run public schools, how to fix bridges and roads, term limits -- these are all issues with many sides. But whether or not black people or Latinx people or Muslims or women deserve equal rights? Those are not partisan issues. Those are human issues.

The second problem is that plenty of well-meaning people feel obligated to give platforms to fascists in the name of hearing out every "opinion." In doing so, we have equated thinking Muslims don't deserve to immigrate to the US with thinking, I don't know, that we should get rid of the penny (WHICH WE SHOULD. An argument for another day). Hate is not an opinion. Hate is not valid. Hate does not need to be heard. It does not merit a platform.

Now that the Internet has democratized the spread of information, there's no way to completely eradicate hate, or even to muffle it if it gets enough support. But major institutions have a moral obligation to refuse those people a soapbox. CNN, the New York Times, and yes, the New Yorker, have built reputations as dignified news organizations. The New Yorker has a clear liberal bent, but it does not report falsehoods, and it does not embolden hate -- until this bizarre move on Remnick's part, a brazen attempt to boost ticket sales & seek "balance" at the expense of their integrity.

I don't know if I'm going to cancel my subscription to the New Yorker. The New York Times has done exhaustive coverage of the supposedly "silenced" conservative contingent, CNN has hosted Kellyanne Conway a nauseating number of times, and news outlets around the country have allowed lies and bigotry to prosper on their networks and between their pages.

This country doesn't need an Epic Throwdown between two white guys with little to lose. Steve Bannon doesn't need to have a pointless conversation in front of a massive audience, in which liberal-skewing outlets will say that Remnick "eviscerated" him and conservative-skewing outlets will report the opposite. What we need is a healthy moment of self-reflection. We need our media to choose who gets air time, and we need them to do better at making those choices. And we need to stop sharing articles and videos where alt-right commentators say shocking things. If the masses and the elites stop giving oxygen to their toxic views, they will go silent.