It’s not ‘OK’

It seems like a lifetime ago in this stupid timeline, but it was only six months ago that Zina Bash, a Republican operative who was seated behind Judge Brett “Devil’s Triangle” Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last September, flashed a white nationalist hand gesture. It was during the latter half of the week of Kavanaugh’s hearings when Bash, with deliberation, looked directly at the camera, lifted her hand, and made the “OK” sign, which white supremacists had been using as an identifier for more than a year at that point.

Most of the media didn’t report it that way. Rather, the dominant narrative was that Bash was making a joke, a troll meant to prank liberals and nothing more. Why she thought that was an acceptable way to behave during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing is anyone’s guess.

The response from conservatives and mainstream journalists was widespread accusations of paranoia. So the next day, Bash reacted to the criticism by deliberately and unmistakably flashing the sign again. One way to read that was that Bash was removing all doubt. But what most journalists chose to believe instead was that she was just kidding around with white nationalism, like people who kid around do. Again, during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

The Anti-Defamation League declared the episode a “hoax” perpetuated by 4chan and other online trolls to bait liberals into acting stupid. Most media outlets left it at that, mocking “snowflake leftists” for being taken in by this “hoax.”

Six months later, a white nationalist from Australia shot up two mosques in New Zealand, killing 50 people. When he appeared in court after the shooting, the killer flashed the OK symbol at the cameras.

This time however, the media reports did not frame the OK gesture as a “prank” or a “hoax.” Vox for instance, simply reported that it was “a white power sign.” Racism stops being “ironic” when the racists are murdering people. It’s not “trolling” when you shoot dozens of people.

Although, the fact that they’re a mass murderer doesn’t mean that he’s not a troll. He’s both. He livestreamed his killing spree and posted an online manifesto that is stuffed full of alt-right memes and inside jokes, making it clear that one of his goals in murdering all those people was, in internet parlance, “for the lulz.” “Triggering snowflakes” is what trolls live for, and it turns out that nothing messes with people’s heads quite like “committing mass murder to own the libs.”

According to ContraPoints’ video Decrypting the Alt-Right, this is how the fascist strategy works: “shroud your sincere ideas in cartoon characters and memes and then, when called out, you mock your accuser for being a clueless normie who isn’t in on the joke…They benefit from the confusion and the appearance that the left is paranoid,” Wynn noted, adding that it’s not entirely untrue that the left is paranoid. “Paranoia and self-doubt and questioning of your own is the psychological consequence of being constantly gas-lit by fascists pretending not to be fascists and communicating in code. And it’s an intentional consequence.”

It’s Schrödinger’s fascist, simultaneously expressing sincere beliefs and just trolling depending on who who’s looking at the moment. Flashing the the OK sign both serves at a white supremacist symbol, and is also just ordinary enough that when people express concern, the white supremacist can just play the victim of liberal hysteria.

Punking journalists by tricking them into denying that the OK symbol is a white nationalist signal is also part of the troll. White nationalists hate both the liberals who are calling them out and the mainstream media who are so eager to call liberals paranoid so they can seem “neutral.” So the trolls take pleasure in creating conflicts over trivial issues like the OK sign, which can cause both groups to look foolish.

The seriousness of this situation means there is no pleasure in being able to say, “Told you so.” At least the Christchurch killer flashing the OK symbol in court removes the ambiguity around the gesture that made it such an effective troll. If some Republican official does that again, like Bash did in September, it’s less likely that we will see a bunch of condescending articles accusing the left of being paranoid for seeing white nationalist intent in it.

Instead, the far right and their sympathizers in mainstream politics will find some new way to troll progressives into launching accusations of white nationalist sympathies so they can respond by acting huffy and offended. Journalists will once again be stuck between the two, fearful of admitting that progressives might have a point, lest they be accused of having a “liberal bias.”

Donald Trump seems to be playing this game with the New Zealand shooting already. Hours after the mass murder, he made comments signaling sympathy with the shooter’s views, characterizing immigration from Latin America as an “invasion” and claiming that the country is “bursting at the seams” with new arrivals, in language that echoed the white nationalist’s manifesto and the online forums from which he sprung. But as soon as people pointed that out, Trump and his administration played innocent, pointing to his rote condemnations of violence and claiming it was “outrageous to even make that connection between this deranged individual that committed this evil crime [and] the president.”

There are two possibilities here. One is that the Trump is acting with deliberation, both in signaling support for white nationalist terrorism, and gas-lighting the left by denying that he’s doing what he’s doing. The other is that he’s a dotty old bigot who is too self-absorbed to realize that his use of terms like “invasion” are used to justify violence from white nationalists, and that his administration is covering for him because they are too power-hungry to care about the consequences.

Considering that Trump had been told, time and again, that his racist language emboldens terrorists, it’s hard to imagine that he’s acting out of ignorance instead of malice. But he is an incredibly stupid and mentally feeble man, so there’s no way to be sure.

To avoid being perceived biased, journalists will continue to give Trump the benefit of the doubt that he may just be too stupid and/or ignorant to understand that characterizing immigrants as a subhuman invading army is basically inviting people to murder them or the people that seek to help them, as the terrorist who committed the Pittsburg shooting did.

If we’re lucky, perhaps after this debacle the mainstream media will be a little less quick to mock liberals for believing that people on the right are using symbols and other coded gestures to signal their sympathy for a toxic and hateful cause. Remember that famous quote from novelist Joseph Heller: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Let Them Eat Cake

It’s though out there being a Trump supporter. Trump supporters have to worry about harassment or discrimination when entering spaces that may be bipartisan or—gasp—liberal. Apparently, enough Trump supporters are seeking safe spaces that a new app, 63red Safe, has launched. The goal? To help pro-Trump conservatives find these safe spaces, including restaurants and other businesses, where they won’t have to worry about being maligned for supporting Donald Trump.

Sigh.

The app, which you can find in the Apple store, is basically Yelp but for people who wear MAGA hats while eating their chicken wings.

Scott Wallace, the creator of the app, appeared on Fox & Friends (where else?) last week to discuss his intentions with the app. “We wanted to make sure that people could let others know what restaurants may have a political bent,” he said. “We’re not looking to try and find restaurants that are ‘conservative’ or ‘pro-Trump.’”

Wallace alleges that Trump supporters are likely to be targeted by “socialist goon squads.” “I think Antifa was nothing compared between now and what’s coming in 2020,” he explained. “And I’m deeply concerned.”

“We want businesses to understand that there’s no money in politics,” Wallace continued while talking about his app that rates businesses based on their politics. “We want to make sure everyone’s safe out there.”

Well, so much for the Conservative “alpha male.”

Conservatives are notorious for mocking “safe spaces,” making this ironic to begin with. Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that “everyone” doesn’t actually apply to everyone. Since Trump’s presidency started, rates of hate crimes based on sexual orientation, race, and religion have all gone up. A couple of people who work for Lord Dampnut had their dinner ruined.

Imagine the cognitive dissonance it takes to support a politician who locks children seeking asylum in prison camps a like they were a demigod, only to want a safe space to wear a MAGA hat without having so deal with public scrutiny.

While trans people are legitimately worried about being able to safely use public bathrooms, and same-sex couples are in fear of being attacked, and people of color fear having the cops called on them for simply existing, Trump supporters are worried about “socialist goon squads.”

If this were a comedy routine, it would feel too on-the-nose.

Here Comes Bubba

Over the weekend, Media Matters released its first report garnered from listening to Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s multi-year habit of spending an hour a week on the shock-jock radio show “Bubba the Love Sponge.” It made clear how much Carlson enjoyed wallowing in chauvinism as well as his bizarre defensiveness about forced child marriage.

Maybe someone should look into that?

After a 24-hour news cycle, complete with op-ed reactions and a non-apology from Carlson, Media Matters came in for round two, the blatant racism edition.

Researcher Madeline Peltz, who deserves a medal for sitting through so much of the Florida-based “Bubba” radio show, chronicled in this second piece how Carlson called Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys” and said that Afghanistan will never be “a civilized country because the people aren’t civilized.” Echoing the rhetoric commonly found on white nationalist and neo-Nazi sites, Carlson argued that white men deserve the credit for “creating civilization.”

Actually, the Mesopotamians “invented” civilization (writing, cities, and legal codes anyway). Where was that again? Oh right, modern day Iraq.

Carlson also griped that radio diversity initiatives were “worse than Jim Crow” and said Michelle Obama “got ghetto and started snapping her neck.”

There’s lots more, but you get the idea.

Carlson’s Fox News show has been bleeding advertisers thanks to previous on-air statements about how immigrants make the country “poorer and dirtier.” In response to the Media Matters exposé, activists have renewed their pressure campaign on advertisers, demanding that they stop supporting Carlson’s show.

While the crassness of the language in the “Bubba” clips might be shocking, the ideology on display isn’t any different than what Carlson has peddled on his Fox News show since he took over the prime evening slot from Bill O’Reilly. He just does it more subtly now that he has a national audience and has to pretend to be legitimate.

For at least the last couple of years, Carlson has been taking ideas from fringe right-wing forums and white nationalist groups, cleaning them up with euphemistic language, and presenting them as mainstream conservative commentary.

That’s why Republicans think that they need Carlson. The big story of Donald Trump’s regime has been Republicans deciding, or perhaps realizing, that racist and sexist grievances are their best bet for staying competitive in electoral politics. That and healthy doses of gerrymandering and voter suppression.

They can’t run on their actual policies of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, paid for by slashing programs like Medicare and Social Security, if paid for at all. Most people are wise to that scam now. The decline of religious fundamentalism has also made it harder for Republicans to run on culture-war issues as well.

All Republicans politicians feel they have left is to inflame white people’s fears of increasing diversity and men’s resentment of the #MeToo movement and women’s growing independence.

Carlson has a knack for making hateful ideologies and irrational attitudes sound more acceptable than they are. He employs lofty-sounding terms like “Western civilization” when what he really means is white nationalism. In doing so, he aids Republicans in their quest to convince large enough numbers of white people to vote their resentments instead of their economic self-interest.

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is a proponent of the “never back down” strategy Carlson is employing. This approach makes sense for the audience Fox News is trying to cultivate, which is mainly white people, especially older white men who view women and people of color as inferior and are sick of being made to feel bad about it. It also plays to the enduring desire to “own the libs.”

That’s what the whole narrative surrounding “political correctness” is all about: Teaching conservatives that bigotry is a form of courage, and that politics is about irrationally lashing out at people who have less than they do instead of realizing that it’s the oligarchs who are screwing all of us.

As long he can keep herding people to the polls to vote for Republicans, and against their own self-interests, Carlson will have a home at Fox News where he can make his stupid, scrunched-up Tucker Carlson face.

Related image

*visible confusion*

Here’s the Rub

It’s weird that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a billionaire many times over, would patronize a massage parlor called ‘Orchids of Asia’ for a “rub and tug” on his way to the AFC championship game. Men with Kraft’s wealth usually have trophy wives, can easily hire high end escorts (who aren’t victims of human trafficking), and often have mistresses.

So why go to a cheap strip mall?

Kraft wasn’t the only wealthy john who got caught in the sting that has put him in the headlines. Private equity mogul John Childs and former Citigroup president John Havens were also arrested. There seems to be more to this story of Chinese sex trafficking to come in the near future. With the recent re-evaluation of the extremely disturbing Jeffrey Epstein case from the previous decade, it seems that an illegal sex trade has been thriving in the ultra-rich enclaves of South Florida.

So much for a pizza place in D.C. It seems that, once again, nearly everything that the right accuse Democrats of is projection of some kind.

A woman named Cindy Yang founded the “day spa” where all these wealthy powerful men went to relieve their “stress.” Although Yang no longer owns the specific business where Kraft was videotaped receiving oral sex, it was known for offering the same “services” in her time. Her family still operates several similar enterprises that are also under suspicion for sex trafficking and prostitution.

And wouldn’t you know it, Yang is a big-time Republican who now owns a company that sells access to another wealthy and powerful man with a big presence in South Florida: the president of the United States.

The Miami Herald reported that Yang had attended a Super Bowl gathering at Mar-a-Lago, and produced a selfie of Yang and Donald Trump posing together at the party. The Herald also published pictures of other events showing Yang and both Don Jr. and Eric Trump, along with a trio of prominent Florida Republicans: Former governor and current Senator Rick Scott, current governor Ron DeSantis and Representative Matt Gaetz. There are also pictures with onetime vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel.

According to the Herald, Yang had shown no interest in politics prior to 2016 but “has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast.” These gatherings all charge big donations to attend, although much of the money collected at Mar-a-Lago goes straight into the Trump Crime Family coffers.

For obvious reasons, national security experts were alarmed by the report. This combination of sex trafficking, prostitution, and politicians presents a perfect opportunity for espionage and blackmail.

Presidents normally divest themselves of their businesses not just to avoid the “appearance” of conflict of interest, but to avoid the possibility of compromise. This president seems to have a peculiar fetish for putting himself in as many compromising positions as possible.

You Didn’t Build That

Last week, Forbes magazine reported that 21-year-old Kylie Jenner was the youngest “self-made” billionaire ever. She has pulled in at least $1 billion from her makeup company Kylie Cosmetics.

Jenner bent over backwards to say that she’d started her company with her own money which she earned through modeling. “None of my money is inherited,” she said in a recent interview. It should also be pointed out that Forbes’ definition of “self-made” is farcically broad, meaning simply that her business hadn’t been directly inherited.

It’s still obviously absurd to attach the phrase “self-made” to Jenner, who is part of the wildly rich and famous Jenner-Kardashian clan. While she may be savvy about marketing and promotion, Jenner grew up in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the world with access to every advantage money could buy and then some, including years of self-promotion on a successful reality television show. The value of her makeup company lies in the celebrity she inherited from her family if not by direct inheritance of money or assets.

This isn’t just about dunking on Jenner or her popular lip kits, though. She is just the most outlandish example of a bigger problem: the persistence of the idea that the wealthy succeed because of their own genius, hard work, and perseverance. Even Donald Trump, whose parents gave him hundreds of millions of dollars, has managed to promote himself as “self-made.”

The fact of the matter is: wealthy people are mostly wealthy because their parents are wealthy. The correlation between parents’ and children’s wealth is well-established in the research.

Are wealthy parents just passing on some super-amazing genes to their kids that enable them to go on to great success by virtue of their brilliance (That’s Trump theory anyway)? Or is the environment a child is raised in the reason for their success as adults?

The environment you grow up in, the quality of education your parents can afford to give you, the investments they can make in you, the relative affluence of your neighborhood, etc. is almost twice as important as biology, economics professor Sandra Black and her coauthors write in a working paper put out this month by the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

For their paper, the researchers looked at the parents of adopted children in Sweden, where there is robust data on both adoption and wealth. They examined kids’ biological and adoptive parents. Then they looked at the wealth of those adopted children at around age 44, old enough to have established themselves as adults, but generally young enough to have not yet inherited their parents’ money. (They only looked at adopted children who still had at least one living parent.)

Black and her cohorts found that the adoptive parents’ wealth was a much better predictor of whether or not their adult child was wealthy.

The outcome seems obvious, wealthy parents have the money available to invest in their children, in schooling, extracurricular activities, and college funds. They also have connections to other wealthy people that poor and middle-class people simply don’t have. This means better access to investors in your new company, for example, or a leg up getting into an Ivy League school.

Or you know, access to lucrative modeling contracts.

Kids with wealthy parents also have a fabulous safety net. And they’re apt to take more chances, plowing all their money into a lipstick company or overpaying for a piece of New York real estate for example.

Entrepreneurs are much more likely to come from wealthy families, where they feel more comfortable gambling for success. Trump’s father routinely rescued him from financial collapse. Though Jenner’s parents pushed her to go out on her own, I doubt they would leave her on the streets to fend for herself if things went belly-up.

To be sure, Black says, environment isn’t the only reason someone like Jenner can make $1 billion. You do still need some amount of intelligence or savvy to succeed.

Personally, I think Donald Trump and his ne’er-do-well kids are pretty definitive evidence against that. But I’m not a professor of economics.