Category Archives: Politics

Sexism and misogyny do not make for a healthy democracy.

It’s a common theme in liberal discussion online that as nations move to the right, women’s rights disappear. Rewire suggests the opposite: our democracy is weaker because it’s failing women.

Either way, it can get worse: women can still legally cross state lines to get an abortion and for some Republicans that’s a problem. I’m sure they’d be down with Poland’s new policy of government-tracked pregnancies. Or red states may go Dred Scott and try imposing their laws on blue states.

While it’s not as horrific, that Republican dominated legislatures in Florida and Mississippi are ordering women legislat0rs not to bare their shoulders feels sexist as hell.

Marital rape is illegal in all 50 states but some rapists still exploit loopholes.

For many right-wingers, the issue is still a non-existent war on masculinity. My favorite bit at the link, Jim Geraghty of National Review explaining that even when men play videogames or argue online, they do it in a very manly way, not like those chicks do. Maybe he means stuff like this?

Abortion is still legal in much of the country. Forced-birthers want to change that. And yes that includes the life-of-the-mother exemption. The life and health of women are already at risk — and exceptions to abortion bans are rarely granted.

Right-wingers still sulk that liberal women won’t bang them.

“That’s right: I totally stuck it to the patriarchy to please a male authority figure.” — from a WaPo article on the challenge of raising a feminist daughter.

“When it was time to face down Goliath, [He] sent David. Not Davita, David.” — NC Lt. Governor Mark Robson and why men get to be the boss.

Revenge porn is a problem, even for teens.

Then there’s the number of women who can’t afford pads or tampons — a discovery that convinced one young woman to work against period poverty.

 

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The “Christian nation” and other religious links

Even the people who want to make the USA a Christian nation don’t agree on what it will be like or how to get there. Although I suspect they’d all agree with this extremist that violence is an option. And I’m sure they’ll agree that you can’t be Christian and a Democrat (or a liberal). Bullshit artist Milo Yiannopoulos calls for reinstating blasphemy laws as part of creating that Christian nation. Dennis Prager insists you can’t have a functioning society not based on the Bible. Charlie Kirk is all in on a Christian America.

Small wonder anti-Semitism is on the rise. When you start invoking the terrible threat of George Soros, you’re not sliding into anti-Semitism, you’re there. In the end, a lot of conspiracy believers wind up anti-Semitic. Partly that’s because it’s not taboo these days: “There is less shame. People feel they can say and do anything,”

“After characterizing the vast majority of American Jews as lacking obligations—and as thus having no affirmative duties of consistency or integrity—seemingly because the Jewish conception of religious authority is not the Christian one, Blackman makes egregious legal errors that should worry adherents of any minority faith and nonbelievers as well.” — a look at a legal argument Jewish beliefs aren’t substantial enough to get First Amendment protection when they clash with Christianity.

One good sign we’re not a theocracy yet: the Christian baker who refused to bake a cake with trans-flag icing colors has lost in court again.

The federal government provides millions for HIV prevention, with emphasis on treatment for gay men, communities of color and the transgender community. Tennessee says no. Not nominally for religious reasons, but I know how I’d bet. Ditto South Dakota declaring it will prosecute pharmacists who provide abortion medication.

Just how did the Jews interpret the Biblical verse that says thou shalt not suffer a witch to live?

Back in the 1960s, Tim LaHaye, late light of the religious right expressed outrage that a Christian college would mourn the death of Martin Luther King (the right wing hated MLK, then as well as now).

Want to join the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. You have to sign a pledge to fight LGBTQ rights. Right, we can’t have “sinners” in a good Christian church (sarcasm font). Christian attorney Matt Staver is asking for donations to fight gay rights — I guess his anti-vax fundraising grift has run out of steam. But the religious right still wants you to think they’re the ones being persecuted.

When it became impossible for the Southern Baptist Convention to ignore the abuse scandal, they tried to shift concerns to critical race theory (didn’t work). Here’s one example from their ugly history.

“The Southern Baptist Convention must have realized it was dealing with highly explosive information. For years, it denied keeping a list of abusers. That turned out to be a lie. By August 2018, staff at the Executive Committee had a file of 585 possible abusers. But the purpose of that internal list was institutional self-protection from lawsuits.” — from a WaPo report.

Some former members of People of Praise, Amy Coney Barrett’s sect, argue that church has its own abuse problems.

“Speaking of people of faith is about as coherent as speaking of people of politics, as if for example fascists and liberal democrats are united at some fundamental level by the fact that they have strong beliefs about politics”

How Christianity turned so toxic.

Speaking of toxic, I presume Trump’s declaration he’ll punish doctors for providing trans care and “promote positive education about the nuclear family” is reminding the religious right that if they elect him again, he’ll have their back.

“There is no moral truth, only alternatives,” isn’t the other side of Paprocki’s argument. It’s simply his self-serving, inaccurate, willfully ignorant caricature of the opposing side.” — Slacktivist looks at the conservative Christian whine that they, and only they have moral truth on their side.

 

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Tucker Carlson’s words aren’t worth the paper they’re written on

Fox News’ favorite white whiner has a scoop: the reason Barack Obama is speaking out about Tyre Nichols, AKA “America’s latest fake hate crime,” because Michelle Obama is a “crazed narcissist” who’s “never had a real job” and is now getting old and menopausal. So Barack being in the public eye lays the groundwork for Michelle’s presidential run.

This is a perfect example of projection, the right-wing impulse to see themselves in everything. Carlson spews endlessly about the hate crimes and oppression he imagines directed at white people. He’s a narcissist whose “real job” is sitting on TV, the center of attention, spewing whatever bullshit enters what passes for his brain. Just as he imagines Michelle O. getting insecure and needing reassurance of her worth, he’s a sniveling man-baby who’s insecure and terrified that someday having a white skin, a penis and a ton of money (he’s heir to the Swanson’s frozen-foot fortune) won’t endow him with quite as much privilege as he feels now. Because at some level he knows that without his privilege he isn’t worth crap.

Not that I have strong opinions about him or anything.

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The death of Tyre Nichols

“The officers here were trying to assert control over Mr. Nichols, not defending themselves” — a good look at the mindset that turns traffic stops into civilian fatalities. And also how to change things: end random traffic stops.

It’s telling that Rep. Jim Jordan claims there’s no solution: “I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil. What strikes me is just the lack of respect for human life. So, I don’t know that any law or any training or any reform is going to change.”

In short, it’s not an issue for white people, let alone well-off white people like himself, so he doesn’t care.

Related, some good discussion on whether defunding the police is the solution at this link.

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The perpetual motion machine of misogyny and other outrage marketing

Along with being racist and anti-Semitic, the far right has been misogynist for years. It’s partly sincere belief; it’s also a calculated strategy to bring incels and other misogynists on board with the white supremacy. Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist who got to meet with Trump recently, uses the same tactics. At a less overt level of white supremacy and fascism we see Republican leaders such as Josh Hawley embracing male supremacy: ”the deconstruction of America begins with and depends on the deconstruction of American men … The Left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define the traditional masculine virtues—things like courage, and independence, and assertiveness—as a danger to society.”

It’s a perpetual motion machine where using your misogyny creates more misogyny. The more acceptable people like Fuentes become (he was over the moon about meeting Trump), the more mainstream their beliefs become. Having an elected leader such as Hawley complain about a war on men does the same thing. People who feel the same way feel emboldened to speak out; people who don’t may go along, or at least stay silent when someone else is being a misogynist a-hole. It’s the 10/80/80 rule — a lot of people will take their behavioral cues from the way the people around them act. If the workforce are sexist asses and the boss doesn’t speak up, everyone’s going to see what’s considered acceptable and some will adjust their own behavior accordingly.

It’s a similar pattern to the anti-vax movement. First Trump declares Covid is no big deal; his Republican worshippers agree and therefore decide preventive measures — masks, vaccines — are bad. So Republican politicians, having no spine, line up against preventive measures. So we end up with Ron DeSantis shielding doctors who give bad medical advice and a right-wing hatred of all vaccine mandates, leading to a resurgence of chickenpox and measles.

Or consider that North Dakota is now considering a bill to ban litter boxes in schools. The idea that schools are putting down feeding troughs and litter boxes for kids who self-identify as animals is a myth, but right-wingers keep repeating it (here and here, for instance). So now more and more of them are fighting a problem that doesn’t exist.

All of which is kin to Matt Staver telling Christian schools to find legal ways to exclude children of same-sex parents. If kids get to meet same-sex couples they might get unbiblical ideas like “gay people are decent and not pedophiles” and that would kill the religious right’s efforts to demonize them. Keep them in the bubble where they won’t learn any different — which is the same strategy some right-wingers advocate for women. Keep them at home, keep them from getting an education and they’ll be docile and obedient when they’re married off. Or, you know, grow up Nazi and stay that way.

As I wrote in Undead Sexist Cliches, misogynists love to shriek that everything is feminism’s fault. Them getting raped. Men committing murder. Men not accomplishing enough. Left-wing teachers. M&M redesigns. It’s incoherent bullshit (just like the freakout over gas stoves) but for the right audience — guys who look around, realize they aren’t the apex predator in society and really resent it — it’s meaningful. And feeds rageaholic right-wingers their daily dose.

Of course most guys were never at the apex but at least they could look up at the top of the social pyramid and feel kinship with the guys who were. Men ran the country. Men ran big business. The Supreme Court were all male. At one time all the Ivy League graduates were male. Now that’s not true, and even men who never had a shot at any of those roles can feel, as they say, that “their” country has been taken away. They’re wrong — we’re a better country with gender equality — but that doesn’t penetrate the miasma of resentment.

I wish I knew what will. But I take some comfort in knowing slime like Fuentes are still a sniveling minority, even though they’re a threat. Not a lot of comfort, but some.

Undead Sexist Cliches is available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holders.

 

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Schools, pre-emptive compliance and other links

One of the topics I’ve encountered in online discussions of fascism is that of pre-emptive compliance — doing what the regime requires before you’re ordered to. That’s the genius behind Ron DeStalinist’s Don’t Say Gay and Don’t Provide Sexual Harassment Training policies and similar rules elsewhere: rather than provide clear state guidelines for what’s acceptable, he opens the door for the public to sue if their snowflake fee-fees are hurt. As that makes what’s acceptable vague and subjective, schools have that much more incentive to comply before anyone demands it.

For example, presidents of Florida colleges have agreed to eliminate any course that deals with critical race theory or intersectionality. DeStalinist’s government also rejects having an AP course in African American history, despite the state Dept. of Education offering no reasons it’s unacceptable other than it “lacks educational value.” (right-wing hack Charlie Kirk is fine with that, claiming most blacks came to America by choice). Or Manatee County telling teachers not to donate unvetted books to their classroom libraries.

Similarly, “anecdotes gathered from nearly two dozen states suggest an atmosphere of creeping fear in which librarians are second-guessing themselves, removing anything likely to elicit disapproval or controversy from their book lists.”

A Florida school district banned a nature book about a gay penguin couple. Though it’s not unique to Florida: a school official in Ohio stopped a teacher reading Seuss’s The Sneetches when kids realized it was about racism. North Dakota State Senator David Clemens wants (but didn’t get his wish) to fine schools and other public bodies that address anyone by pronouns that don’t match their birth gender. In Pennsylvania, a right-wing group may have written the rules for challenging school library books.

I’d roll my eyes, but as Florida House Speaker Raul Renner’s demand for information about “woke” college activities shows, the threat to dissenters from Communist Party — er Republican doctrine is real; I don’t know I’d be any braver in the same situation. Oh, and the hate-mongering Moms for Fascism — what do you mean, that isn’t their name? — want to make the law worse. And we have Lauren Boebert who insists as a kid teachers didn’t announce their marital status — when as noted at the ink, “Miss” or “Mrs.” automatically do that.

Paul Campos suggests part of the problem is that college diversity programs are more a management strategy than a sincere commitment. More here. Given the protesting student was Muslim, I wouldn’t be surprised if conservatives sided with the teacher, but debates over depictions of Mohammed aren’t the kind of controversy they care about. The professor in question has filed suit against the university for firing her, pointing out that they approved her syllabus, including the image of Mohammed, in advance.

I doubt they’ll care about a Christian-school teacher arrested for sexually abusing a 14-year-old either. Or a Catholic school teacher who sexually assaults girls. Groomers are only bad if they’re gay. They won’t fuss too much about this predator/teacher for the same reason. They are, however, very concerned with getting gay books out of public libraries. And with the non-existent threat of schools catering to child furries. See here for more on that bullshit.

The education wars are having a destructive effect on professional historians. Which reflects, I think, a long-standing right-wing hatred of supposed elitists. And, of course, that reality has a liberal bias, demolishing the right-wing fantasy that the US was founded as a Christian nation.

Not that the war on supposed wokeness is the only issue. It doesn’t relate, for example, to the University of Florida spending $300,000 to give new president and former senator Ben Sasse a personal swimming pool. Why yes, that is rather expensive. And even before the current era, Alabama’s educational system was designed to reinforce white supremacy.

But at least some people are pushing back.

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The NYT adds another misogynist pundit

So the New York Times has announced anti-Trump right-winger David French will become a new columnist this year because of his “factual and intellectual clarity, moral seriousness, and a spirit of generosity toward others and humility toward oneself.” While French has been consistently anti-Trump, Roy Edroso points out that he also equates Trump to Clinton (both equally scandalous! Both equally impeached!) because French wouldn’t want to suggest Republicans are worse than Democrats).

I’ve never been a fan of the “intellectual diversity” argument for hiring right-wingers but French is also a thoroughgoing misogynist/gender essentialist. According to French, “Today’s young males don’t have common touchstones for what it’s like to grow up to be a man” because they can’t rough-house in schools any more, they don’t work tough, manual labor jobs and they play video games (as lazy a target for lazy pundits as excess TV watching was when I was young) — my god, grip-strength in men is declining! He’s strongly forced-birth, equating the pro-choice movement to Satanism, and supporting various religious organizations that complained if they refused in writing to cover birth control for employees, ACA regulations would provide employees with coverage anyway so that was just like the organization was doing it directly!

He’s also up for playing the Conservatives Are Being Thought Policed card by declaring “even expressing the idea that marriage is properly defined as the union of a man and woman was seen as too outrageous to utter.” And yet, somehow, conservatives haven’t stopped uttering it, not for one second. Saying the anti-gay minority’s view of same-sex marriage is outrageous or bigoted or whatever is a perfectly reasonable stance, certainly as reasonable as the view that gay marriage isn’t real marriage.

And then there’s consent. French is one of the many right-wingers who assume if consent matters, there are no other sexual standards: why not just ask a woman for a blow-job in the middle of a business meeting? If she consents, no problem, right? Samantha Field says this is typical purity-culture thinking: we’re all insatiably decadent, fallen sluts so if we don’t set absolute standards — no sex until marriage, say — we’ll be consenting to orgies at the drop of a hat.

Of course saving sex for marriage didn’t stop rape, harassment, or assault. If anything, “did they consent?” is a stronger, clearer standard than “did she resist hard enough?” which is monstrously subjective. The Southern Baptist Church is adamant about saving sex for marriage but it didn’t save women churchgoers from assault and harassment by members of the hierarchy.

As for French’s argument that consent makes it okay to hit on a woman anywhere, any time, no it does not (nor a woman on a man, nor man on man, etc.). Women are not means to an end, they are ends (nobody of any gender is just a means to an end). Treating a coworker or someone you meet at a business conference as if they’re only there as a potential means to an orgasm is not acceptable.

It’s not like the NYT doesn’t already have a conservative religious misogynist in Ross Douthat, who like French explains sexual predators such as Harvey Weinstein result from the sexual revolution. Because rape and the Hollywood casting couch were never a thing before the 1960s (yes, they were). And Douthat cheerfully lies about how the Dobbs victory will usher in a brave new world of more generous welfare for expectant mothers. Douthat also thinks shotgun marriages were better for women than legal abortion.

Then there’s Brett “bedbug” Stephens, who claimed in 2018 “falsely accusing a person of sexual assault is nearly as despicable as sexual assault itself” (no I’m not linking to his rape apologist op-ed)so it’s good that Trump backed Brett Kavanaugh despite Christine Blasey Ford reporting his attempted assault. If you’re accused of murder people may find reasons you’re not a bad person; there are no excuses that can save your reputation or your career if you’re accused of rape. Unless of course, you claim she was dressed too sexy. She was drunk. She’s a slut. Consent is irrelevant. Rape’s just natural. Boys will be boys. He only raped one woman. A whole bunch more that I cover in Undead Sexist Cliches (available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.)

From my perspective, it’s hard to see what French can do for misogyny or religion that these guys can’t.

Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holder.

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Bearing false witness

Some years back, in Cosmopolitan‘s section where people confess to shitty behavior, a guy said he’d been so humiliated by his girlfriend breaking up with him he lied to their friends about it. He told them that sure, he’d let her say she made the decision but the truth was he ended the relationship because of her gross kink: she liked to masturbate with Twinkies, then eat them (the guy admitted this was a lie). Now everyone sympathizes with him and cracks dirty jokes behind her back.

This is a small, petty example why bearing false witness is so toxic. If he’d done one spiteful thing to pay her back — insulted her to her face, stolen something, tried to ruin her next relationship — that would be bad but he could stop there. Lying about her sexual habits can’t be a one time thing. Every time someone makes a joke about her, he has to laugh and pretend he was telling the truth; the false witness is ongoing. If he stops lying he’ll piss off a lot of his friends and lose all that sympathy he’s been enjoying. Even if he comes to regret his little meanness, he may not have the stomach for that.

Or consider the conspiracy theorists claiming Sandy Hook was a false flag. As Elizabeth Williamson’s book shows, many of them have developed an online social life built around the supposed conspiracy: telling them that yes, it happened feels like an attack on their friend groups. Many of them thrive on coming up with new reasons Sandy Hook must have been a put-up job, which feeds their ego (they’ve seen through the lies that blind the sheeple!) and gets plaudits from their comrades. As their lives become dependent on the lie, it becomes harder to let go.

The same applies to QAnon, except perhaps worse. Qanon is a much bigger, more ambitious theory: rather than explaining one incident, it’s far-reaching theory nonsense about an impossibly huge pedophile conspiracy. It gives users an excuse to hate their enemies, which is incredibly tempting (lord knows I feel the impulse) and tells believers that they’re moral, even heroic people. What could be more moral than standing against pedophile Satanists? Or as Fred Clark at slacktivist cynically but accurately put it (I don’t have the link), if you want to look virtuous, pretend you’re standing next to a pedophile.

As the blogger Hilzoy once put it, “if you don’t keep hatred in check, you come to rely on it more and more, the fun fades, and it corrodes you from within. The more you nurse your hatred, the larger a part of your identity it becomes. But hatred is a poor substitute for a genuine self, and the more you come to depend on it, the hollower you become, and the harder it is to let it go.” Eventually, if you don’t let go, it becomes your genuine self.

Even those who bear completely insincere false witness can’t walk away easily. I assume Ron DeSantis and his toadies are outright lying when they equate gays to groomers (they have no problem ignoring right-wing Christian groomers) but having made that his brand, DeSantis can’t back off without suffering politically. I’d say he’s trapped, but I doubt he feels trapped — he’s making this slimy choice with eyes wide open.

Like they say, we should be careful who we pretend to be because the mask we wear can all too easily become our face.

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Glory Road, Robert Heinlein and the Sexual Marketplace

Writing last month about the sexual marketplace prompted me to reread Robert A. Heinlein’s Glory Road. Or try to reread it at least; after confirming I hadn’t misremembered his insights (I use the word loosely) on the subject, I set it down unfinished.

The plot has twenty-one year old veteran “Scar” Gordon (a Vietnam vet though Heinlein doesn’t name the war) unsure of where he’s going next in life. When he responds to a newspaper want ad looking for a brave adventurer he winds up on a cross-dimensional quest with the beautiful Star and canny scientist Rufo. Scar completes the adventure, marries Star but learns that while she cares for him she’s also been using him. He walks away but eventually reunites with Rufo for more adventures along the glory road (a metaphor for adventuring, not a literal location).

There are some fun bits, like Star’s matter-of-fact acceptance of what seems like magic: if that’s how the world works, worrying whether it’s scientific is irrelevant. And in fairness to RAH, something about his style never clicks with me so I might still not have liked the book if it didn’t have the problems I’m about to discuss. But it does.

The problem, for me, is that Scar is an authorial mouthpiece, sharing Heinlein’s wisdom about life with the reader — and he ain’t that wise. I’m familiar with Heinlein’s propensity to expound in his later works (Time Enough for Love, Number of the Beast) but it seems he was into that as early as 1963. The opening chapter is Scar telling us his life story. For the purpose of the book, all we need to know is that he’s a veteran and unsure of his next chapter in life, but we also learn about his military career, how he hates the draft and the educational system but he’s very patriotic and loves his country (it felt like Heinlein was carefully threading the needle in not being too radical). There’s also a rant about how his teachers tried crushing his patriotic spirit; given he’d have been in school in the 1950s when schools were hardly seething with anti-American thought, I’ve no idea what this refers to.

What got me to reread the book was to confirm a line I wrote about several years ago was really as bad as I remember it. It was. As a teen, I knew it didn’t make sense but couldn’t explain why; now I can. During a conversation with Scar, Star tells him that Earth’s sexual mores are unique in the multiverse. Marriage and prostitution (she goes on at length about how buying a woman dinner, flowers, jewelry shows marriage and sex work are two sides of the same coin), both based on “the incredible notion that what all women have an endless supply of is nevertheless merchandise, to be hoarded and auctioned.” In a healthy society without sexual hangups women could provide men with all the sex they need — how screwed up is Earth that relationships don’t work like that?

I don’t know if this was, in fact, a personal belief or Heinlein was just playing provocateur or contrarian. But I don’t care either: he said it and it’s bullshit.  As my old dungeon master liked to put it, Heinlein is not playing his intelligence here.

Even in a society without slut-shaming and similar restraints on consensual sex, the sex supply isn’t really infinite. Quite aside from physical limitations, most women aren’t into providing an “endless supply” of sex. Not because women hate sex or have unreasonable inhibitions, but because there’s not an endless number of men who turn them on.

That’s perfectly natural, just as most men don’t want to have sex with every woman who’s attracted to them. Even assuming a party full of women who are looking for sex, that doesn’t mean a specific guy can find a woman who wants to have it with him, or that she’ll be a woman he wants to sleep with or that she’ll want to have sex in the ways that scratch his particular itch. Hence prostituion (marriage is, in fact, a great deal different).

Heinlein’s not the only person who thinks women’s endless supply holds the potential for sexual utopia — Evangeline Walton takes a similar stance in Island of the Mighty (though overall it’s a far superior book) — but that’s no excuse. It’s not just that his argument is wrong, it’s very male-centric. Practically speaking, men can provide an infinite amount of sex too: sure, the penis can only do so much, even with Viagra, but we have mouths, fingers, we can work a sex toy …

Yet Star doesn’t suggest men should get over their hangups and provide lonely women (their partner’s dead, they don’t meet conventional beauty standards) with a sex supply. Glory Road‘s supposed outside-the-box sexual thinking is just a male fantasy where an endless supply of hot women are available for Scar, or any other guy, to relieve their sexual tension, just as believers in enforced monogamy focus on incel men, not celibate women..

It’s about as daring and edgy as a paperback PI novel of the same era.

For more on the sexual marketplace, check out my  Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Clyde Caldwell, Bob Pepper, (I believe) Robert McGinnis and Kemp Ward.

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“Wait” has almost always meant “never”

“I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” — Martin Luther King in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail

I’ve often written about that insight of MLK’s that pushing back against oppression nver happens calmly: there’s always tension in getting out of Egypt. There’s always resistance. There are always people who want to kick the ball down the road, delay, delay, even if the problems grow worse in the meantime — after all, if it finally blows up, maybe it’ll be someone else’s problems.

When you fight for change it’s valid to ask how fast you should push it, how far you should try to go. As Barack Obama said some years ago, better is good: “The Civil Rights Act did not end racism, but it made things better. Social Security did not eliminate all poverty for seniors, but it made things better for millions of people. Do not let people tell you the fight’s not worth it because you won’t get everything you want.” Conversely Nixon was willing to implement a universal basic income during his presidency but a number of liberal Democratic senators condemned the bill for not going far enough. It died in the senate.

Of course neither the Civil Rights Act nor Social Security were small, incremental changes. They were huge changes in the way America did things, both of them a big honking deal. They were worth doing even though, as Obama says, they didn’t solve all the problems. Waiting until they were “well timed” would never have worked: for their opponents, “well timed” meant “never,” just as Dr. King said.

We don’t know how big change can be until we attempt it. In Eyes on the Prize, the classic PBS documentary about the Civil Right Movement, someone comments that before the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s, nobody was trying to integrate the bus lines. That seemed unattainable: they just wanted a few small but significant changes to the way they were treated. The segregationists of Montgomery balked at any change whatsoever so the movement wound up playing for all the marbles and won.

More recently, the rapid acceptance of gay marriage and gay rights generally has been staggering. While “wait until the old people die off” is not as effective a recipe for social change as people think — there’s no shortage of pissed-off young conservatives and misogynists — this is one case where it’s close to true. The minority that opposes gay rights and dreams of putting them to death grows smaller every year — though their solid lock on the Republican Party means gay rights still aren’t safe.

As Paul Campos says, we’re better off now than our ancestors (generally speaking). That could change if the misogynists and racists of the right get the power they crave, but for the moment it’s true. Problems can be fixed. Indomitable forces (“Segregation forever!” and the thousand-year Reich for instant) can be broken. Victory is not ensured. There’s no guarantee that the wrong will fail, the right prevail, and it may take a very long time to make it so. But it is not out of reach either.

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