This week’s Extra! Extra! continues to unpack the insurrection while also looking at some of Biden’s actions these last two weeks as president. We look a little more closely at the latest on police accountability, immigration and COVID-19, as well as a smattering of international news.
Natalie: There is, I think, a conventional wisdom that exists on the left — which I find myself adopting — that blue states are, by and large, better for folks from marginalized communities… that an infrastructure exists to support those communities in a way that it just doesn’t elsewhere. Stories like this always remind me though that as progressive as those states look from my vantage point — especially as someone who lives in a conservative red state — they aren’t nearly as progressive as I sometimes imagine they are.
Himani: The latest from Viktor Orbán’s far right regime. The book they are targeting, Wonderland Is for Everyone, sounds lovely though, which is a real testament to the persistence of LGBTQ+ and other activist groups in Hungary, even in the face of state-sanctioned extremism.
Himani: You might wonder why I placed an article about the Flint water crisis after an article about voter suppression, gerrymandering and the imbalance of power built into the Senate and the Courts. Both of these articles are about the many multitudes of ways that democracy is broken in America, from the federal and state-level structures that allow a minority government to dictate policy and secure their rule even as they represent less and less of the populous to the practically totalitarian grip that some officials have over local jurisdictions in our so-called democracy. From the federal level down to the local, the story is the same even if the details are different: white (mostly) men writing the rules that allow them to hold onto power so that they can continue to do unconscionable harm to Black, immigrant and marginalized communities.
Natalie: Obviously, I’m glad that the folks who had a hand in exasperating the Flint Water Crisis will finally be subjected to some sort of accountability…though, admittedly, I believe it insufficient for the harm that they have caused. But I feel obliged to remind folks that issues with Flint’s water quality persist. Residents still cannot drink or brush their teeth with the water that comes from the tap.
Flint continues to be an opportunity missed. Politicians talk all the time about the importance of investing in infrastructure and how it leads to good-paying union jobs that can’t be outsourced…and yet, here’s a city that’s been screaming out for that investment for six years and THEY STILL DON’T HAVE CLEAN WATER.
Natalie: I fully understand that executive actions isn’t a sustainable answer to the problems this country is facing — that we are in need of legislative fixes from Congress particularly on issues of non-discrimination, health care access and COVID relief — I have to say that I’ve been impressed with the issues that Biden’s tackling through executive orders thus far. The issues that he’s been tackling are the issues, frankly, that warranted immediate action and those communities shouldn’t have to wait any longer for some sort of relief. I expect to be wholly disappointed with Joe Biden sooner rather than later but for now, I’m really encouraged by his administration’s priorities.
Also? As Jeet Heer points out in his latest piece for The Nation, given the attempts by Republicans to delegitimize the Biden presidency (which are still ongoing, quite frankly), I believe it’s crucial that Biden continue to move in a way that asserts his authority as the leader of this country.
Natalie: I’m not a single issue voter — our world is too complex, my existence too intersectional, for that — but in the 2020 Democratic primary I came as close as I’ve ever come to being one… and, for me, that one issue was the elimination of the filibuster. I saw it then, and continue to see it now, as a “Jim Crow relic” that stands in the way of the change our country so desperately needs. There is no path to truly universal healthcare or a Green New Deal or a pathway to citizenship for immigrants with the filibuster standing in the way.
I appreciate the explainer here about budget reconciliation but the most important thing to highlight is that Democrats could likely only pass three bills this way…THREE BILLS between now and the 2022 midterms. That’s woefully insufficient for the change that we need. The only real option is to get rid of the filibuster. I’m mystified by Joe Manchin’s willingness to wait and see if Republicans will come to the table as if he wasn’t a US Senator for most of the Obama presidency. We know how this story ends, Joe.
And, good lord, Kyrsten Sinema…what a disappointment she is. I hope her ambition keeps her warm at night.
Himani: The only thing I have to add to this is… I really have no patience for Joe Manchin… Literally none at all.
And We’re Still Trying to Sort This Mess
Natalie: I know I’m beating the proverbial dead horse about this but the Department of Homeland Security’s 2009 report called “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” predicted all of this. The fact that our leaders had this intelligence at our fingertips and did nothing to thwart it is maddening.
Rachel: It brings me no pleasure to observe that the aftermath of the Capitol attack is shaking out the way a lot of us feared: it’s evident that police and military or ex-police and ex-military were very involved, it seems pretty incontestable that several GOP members of Congress were involved in planning and executing the attack, and… very little is going to be done either to explore consequences for the insurrectionists or to treat the collective of armed white nationalists as a serious threat. There have been a range of public arrests of people involved, but many of those have later been freed on bail. The charges they may face, many ranging from 5-10 years, feel pretty paltry to the many Americans and American communities who have experienced loved ones being locked up for 20-year sentences as juveniles for streetfights, or spending three years in jail before even going to trial for unproven petty theft, or being detained and tortured without due process in the highest security prison for wearing the wrong wristwatch.
Even more concerning, it seems likely that in the absence of coordinated and comprehensive plans to address the infestation of white nationalist counterculture and its violent desires, it’s still only growing; there have been no real consequences for the GOP for openly allying themselves with it, so they have no incentive to stop — which is where we get Michigan lawmakers publicly coordinating with the same groups of people who want to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer to punish her for enforcing pandemic precautions. I was (pleasantly!) surprised that the inauguration didn’t see more violence, but am at this point resigned to seeing more actions like the one on Jan 6.
The dissolution of Q is, unfortunately, tied into all of this as well; although it can be easy (and cathartic) to chuckle at Q and the people devoted to it, they’re a group of people very strongly bonded together and largely isolated from a lot of more regulating social connection who believe they’re at great risk, and a lot of them just lost an organizing ideology that was giving them structure and hope and are looking for another one to replace it. Fascism and white nationalism are right there waiting to scoop them up, and those movements are likely to grow stronger in the coming years, not weaker. I was fascinated to read this article on what it takes to deradicalize white people who join these movements, and how few resources the US devotes to it especially as compared to the vague specter of Middle Eastern terrorism after 9/11.
In 2009, a security analyst at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security named Daryl Johnson wrote a report that stated right-wing extremism was “likely to grow in strength,” potentially driven by such factors as gun restrictions, economic uncertainty, immigration, a perceived rising influence of other countries that undermines American sovereignty, and the election of the first Black president. Republican lawmakers condemned the report and forced the department to retract it, ushering in an era of virtual silence on far-right violence, and of treating instances of far-right terrorism as hate crimes, which are classified as a lower priority and afforded fewer resources.
Even when the Obama administration reframed its counterterrorism work as “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, few resources went to combatting right-wing extremism. In 2017, the administration issued a $400,000 grant to Life After Hate, a formers-led organization cofounded by Picciolini with which Martinez was volunteering at the time. (Neither is still involved with the group.) But the Trump administration changed the name of the administering office to the Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships, revoked the grant, and slashed the budget and staff.
And now here we are! I suspect we are all getting tired of pandemic comparisons to things that are not pandemics, but I can’t help but acknowledge my exhaustion and frustration that our government has allowed the plagues of both coronavirus and far-right white nationalism to grow exponentially completely unchecked, then issued vague platitudes and basically told the individuals who are most at risk to ~remain informed~ and that we’re all in this together.
Himani: Following up everything Rachel said above, which is extremely on point, I greatly appreciated this article that placed the American insurrection within the broader context of American military occupation and the war on terror. America has long fostered the lie that it is the arbiter of democracy all the while sinking deeper and deeper into a decidedly undemocratic minority rule (as noted earlier). It’s easier to pretend that tyranny is a problem that exists across the border, across the ocean, two continents away than it is to admit that we really are not all that different from the rest of the world. To simultaneously give ourselves more credit than we’re due and discredit entire populations of people as seemingly incapable of living up to standards that we have always fallen short of. And in case that point wasn’t clear enough already, the meagre ideas that have been floated thus far to “address” the insurrection led by white terrorists will, arguably, only serve to further target Black and brown people and silence activists who are actually fighting for democracy.
Natalie: Last summer, during the political uprisings in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Paramount Network cancelled the long-running “reality” show, Cops. For decades, the show had been part of television’s normalizing of injustice. But, unbeknownst to most, by October, the show quietly started back into production again.
I mention that to say I won’t be surprised when corporate America resumes its support of Donald Trump or his insurrectionist loving pals in Congress once the spotlight falls elsewhere. This is who they are, this is who they’ve always been.
Holding Police and Their Enablers to Account
Rachel: I wish I were shocked about the news from Minneapolis; I am not, but I am impressed by the narrative arc these stories form when taken together, forming a text about the ways that our justice systems fail deeply (or, depending on how you frame it, function correctly and fulfill their aims, which are aims of the state and not of justice) and that individual people work collectively to call for accountability where it is being withheld. I feel a lot of grief and rage that so many people are put in a position where they have to do this work themselves and demand some kind of justice during a time when so many of us have lost so much and deserve to be able to rest and grieve, and also a deep gratitude for everyone who is doing that work anyway.
Natalie: I share Rachel’s heartbreak and disappointment over the situations in Minneapolis, New York, Tacoma and too many other cities to name. There was this encouraging bit of news out of Austin this week: the City Council redirected money from policing to buy and operate supportive housing. It’s not enough, but it’s a step…and I hope it’s a guiding light for organizers across the country.
And Related Criminal Justice Reform News
Himani: This is an incredibly important step, but the exclusion of DHS and ICE detention centers from this directive is a significant oversight. It also does nothing to address state use of private prisons. What Natalie said above applies to this news as well: “It’s not enough, but it’s a step…”
Natalie: First, the idea that the Texas Attorney General who is, himself, under criminal indictment for securities fraud and who is likely still being investigating by the FBI for using his office to benefit a wealthy donor…the idea that that guy has any standing to tell anyone what the government should be doing (on immigration or any other issue) is infuriating. Also? Do you think Ken Paxton had anything to say when the Trump administration was just out here defying court orders with respect to family reunification? Of course not.
The federal government has had discretion over deportations for years and has used it repeatedly. Ken Paxton can have several seats.
Beyond that, the Biden administration should be going down the chain of command at ICE and asking them to implement this executive order. The moment one person relents or balks, they should be immediately fired from their position for cause. It might not be within the administration’s ability to eliminate ICE without an act of Congress — though, let’s be clear, that’s obviously what needs to happen — but surely they should be able to appoint people who aren’t engaging in seditious acts like denying an order from the President of the United States.
Rachel: It’s mindblowingly awful that these actions from the Biden administration are such good news, as they’re SO basic, but the status of the US immigration system has been so incredibly dire under Trump that these things do in fact constitute lifesaving developments. It’s sort of the equivalent of having someone turn off the slow-tracking murder laser that’s millimeters away from slicing James Bond in half, in that it really only ends the absolute most immediate crises and James Bond is still imprisoned and strapped to a metal slab, but is unquestionably a major relief.
!! Study finds that uniform moratoria on evictions and utility shutoffs through November of last year could have saved *164,000* lives lost to COVID-19: https://t.co/zdoBS7We33
If real, that would make reducing housing precarity easily the best public health measure we've got. pic.twitter.com/DZXxUe8VEC
— Lydia DePillis (@lydiadepillis) January 25, 2021
Himani: Let’s just put it this way… the situation with COVID is not… looking great in my view. The virus is mutating in ways that are raising concerns within the scientific community. The vaccine rollout is… a bit of a disaster both in the U.S. and globally. And yet, we must all continue to live with the grim reality that… we’ve largely done this to ourselves. Starting with our destruction of the environment to the way in which we treat and house animals (whether in wet markets or on factory farms) to our collective denial of science as it stares us in the face to our inhumane policies that prioritize capitalism and a misguided sense of morality over, even, the greater good.
The new research about housing precarity (evictions and utility shutoff) and COVID death rates is particularly heartbreaking to consider. It’s been seven years since I read about the Housing First model. Long before the pandemic we already knew that giving people housing with no strings attached is, not only more humane, but also saves more money (since that all that seems to matter to the movers and shakers of the world), and yet even in the midst of what increasingly feels like a truly unprecedented pandemic, America as a country somehow could not agree on this.
Meanwhile, Biden put forward a truly meaningful COVID-relief bill, which includes (among so many things): additional stimulus checks, increases to unemployment insurance money, increased funding to schools, increased fundings to state and local governments, increased funding to transit systems, an extension of the eviction moratorium and even increasing the federal minimum wage to $15/hour. Republicans spared no time in dismissing it as “a colossal waste”, which I really can’t say came as a surprise given that they have spent the entirety of the last year dismissing the urgency of the moment we are in. But it enrages me, nonetheless, to read it. In theory Biden is both misguidedly courting bipartisanship and also refusing the Republican proposal to break up the bill. Honestly, so long as the filibuster remains intact, I truly do not know what to hope for. One thing is clear though, Mitch McConnell is only here to play games while people are literally dying.
Natalie: Admittedly, I don’t spend my time engaging a lot with Polish politics, but I’d hoped that the delay that kept the ruling from Poland’s constitutional tribunal from going into effect would give the parties more time to come together on a solution. Unfortunately, it seems that time was just utilized as a way to depress protest: “The government appears to be banking on fatigue over the issue plus continued coronavirus-related restrictions to dampen any new waves of protest.”
Himani: Knowing literally nothing about Canadian politics, this was a helpful introduction to some of the players in this year’s upcoming elections. I welcome any discussion on this topic and will greatly appreciate everything I learn from you all!