Hey there! Want to listen to my podcast that I created while interning with the Justice Policy Institute? Click the document below to download. The topic is on approaches to young adults in the criminal justice system, following JPI's report released earlier this year. Thanks for listening!
Is the world in such turmoil? I thought this as I opened my news at 5am to read more of what's happening from Qatar to the Hart Senate Office Building.
In the past several months, it seems so. Last week we read of fatal stabbings on a Portland train as people stood up to defend two Muslim teenagers against a white nationalist. Trump feebly tweeted in response, but nothing can justify his efforts to block funding for anti-extremist programs and re-route support to solely combatting "Radical Islamic Extremism." This effort was a big gesture of solidarity to the proclaimed "Alt-right"; domestic terrorism, to them, is not a problem unless it involves a distorted form of Islam. (This only further piles on the evidence, amidst Trump's cabinet selections of white supremacists, of Trump's indifference -- or dare I say, support -- of right-wing extremists and the populist movement). Since Trump, there has been a stark rise in domestic terrorism by white supremacists and nationalists.
Trump refuses to acknowledge Pride Month or denounce regular attacks against the LGBTQA community by his supporters. And what of his promised efforts to "drain the swamp"? They have resulted in nepotism (Jared Kushner is now responsible for every aspect of the country's problems; what better way to dismantle what's left of governmental efficacy than to put it in the hands of one man who knows nothing of the issues?); creation of ethics oversight loopholes; firing an FBI director who refuses to pledge "loyalty"; the appointment of lobbyists to federal positions; and blurring separation of church and state with an executive order allowing churches more political power. Private prisons -- and naturally following, legislation to maintain mass incarceration to keep prisons full and profitable -- are bolstered with ample support from the current DOJ.
Of course, to pile on, filling center-left news are reports of Russian collusion, which Conservatives wave off as media hype, despite the fact that Sessions recused himself of the Flynn investigations, or the current investigations into Kushner's secret meetings, or the fact that the CIA, FBI, and NSA, among 14 other intelligence agencies, issued a statement that Russia interfered with the elections. While Conservative Republicans and Libertarians bury their heads in the sand, the rest of the world reads on in the face of eroded trust in reality and the perpetuation of disinformation from a shambled 45th Administration.
And, healthcare debate aside, those I know who voted in Trump will shrug at the fact that Scott Pruitt (whose conflicts of interest in his position are no secret) has delayed an EPA rule that would have improved air quality and lower smog levels. This invites more difficult days of breathing for me and others with cystic fibrosis and asthma as summer approaches. But no matter, my family is happy with this; every day I wrestle with disappointment in their callous political beliefs that conflict starkly with their caring affect toward my sister's and my chronic illness. And alongside it, their admiration of Trump signals their opposition to everything for which I fight. They are happy to see criminal justice reform sputter (which under President Obama was for a brief, splendid moment a bi-partisan issue); drug overdose and public health efforts become disorganized; our National Parks are now available for oil drilling...thank you for your service, Yosemite. This is what my family voted for. This is what my country wanted. Does my country belong to me anymore -- do I belong to it?
Abroad, Trump is a disaster. The U.S. has lost the respect of its allies, more so now that it has withdrawn from a global climate agreement that even North Korea was willing to sign onto. The U.S. Ambassador to China has resigned in protest. Iran finds Trump's "condolences" quote "repugnant" after tragic Tehran attacks. Hundreds of vacancies in Trump's national security appointments, the state department, and justice staff remain (he complains of Democrat stonewalling, yet he hasn't even put forth names for the majority of positions), despite his campaign rhetoric to keep America safe -- but of course, he keeps pressing the Muslim ban.
Between his golf outings and vacations, Trump is on track to spend more on travel in his first year than President Obama did in eight years. But remember when Trump tweeted about the Harvard lawyer, Columbia graduate, and 44th-president's lack of work ethic?
And, there are issues beyond the toxic atmosphere perpetuated by Trump and his supporters. Attacks in London. High death tolls in Mosul. Boats carrying Syrian refugees capsizing. North Korea testing missiles. Is another Cold War on the horizon? This week marks 50 years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. South Sudan is facing mass hunger by the millions, the largest famine since WWII.
What problems can the clear-headed solve, here and now? By "clear-headed," I do not mean those who have picked a side, but those who are examining the evidence apolitically and trying to find plausible solutions that cause more repair than harm. While I obviously lean left, what has stood out prominently to me in recent months is that Neoliberalism is self-defeatism. The messaging is disrupted. Liberals are sidetracked and powerless in a conflicted movement. As Amber Frost put it eloquently in "All Worked Up and Nowhere to Go": Whether it takes the form of insular campus activism, reactionary internet sermonizing, or impotent calls for general action, what passes for “the left” today is both parochial and completely disconnected from power. To put it bluntly, we have lost; we are decimated and we are feeble. What’s worse, we refuse to admit our failures, repeating them over and over and over again, castigating anyone who might question this pattern. In “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” Fisher alerted us to a “witch-hunting moralism”—in this case, against anyone who might try to raise class consciousness—that inevitably devolves into guilt and ineffectuality. In the wake of the election, it’s a lesson that seems to have gone largely unlearned by a self-sabotaging left.
But, some bright spots. Bob Whitaker, the infamous segregationist, died yesterday. O'Reilly was booted a couple months ago. Artists continue to deliver and keep the world awake, reporters push onward in the face of public doubt, Denmark maintains its sense of humor. And today, former FBI director James Comey will deliver an incriminating testimony proving Trump's deliberate obstruction of justice. Despite the self-destruction of the Left, what it can rely on at least is the ability of the Right Wing to implode. Trump was elected to be a failure. What comes after Comey? What stench will rise from the rubble? Perhaps the underpinnings of Trump's Administration consist of that partially-visible nationalist infrastructure I described above, which will fully reveal itself, naked and untethered, in his downfall, and the fight will merely continue. Or, perhaps a lesson from nature, a peek into my ever-trying optimism in front of every loss I've ever felt: even flowers can grow out of shit.
Katherine Russell is an author, poet, activist, and freelancer from Buffalo, NY.