This week we have a lot of news and tried to use our commentary on it judiciously, as we are but human; we’re talking about the political strife in Haiti, the US’s messy exit from Afghanistan, the development of new COVID variants, the latest on the horrifying legislation coming out of Texas, and your bimonthly legislatively institutionalized moral panic report.
Natalie: Earlier this year, I read news about an influx of Haitian immigrants at the US/Mexico border. Driven out of their home country by an economic collapse and the rise of gang violence in its wake, thousands were seeking refugee status at the border…and, of course, because our immigration system is fundamentally broken, America’s been turning them away. I mention that to say that I’ve had some awareness that the situation in Haiti was deteriorating but I never would have anticipated this.
The facts of what happened to Moïse are still unclear but based on what we know thus far, the whole situation feels like the plot of an action movie.
Natalie: Instinctively, I want to say “yes, of course, Haitians should lead the way in determining their country’s future,” but at the same time, I don’t want the American government to turn a blind eye to the places where we can be of service either. America has a long history of interference when it comes to Haiti and while I don’t want to repeat the missteps of the past, something feels wrong to me about having broken something and then leaving the people who didn’t break it to fix it.
As I mentioned above, there were an influx of Haitians seeking refugee status before the assassination of the president, so I can only imagine that the migration situation is going to get far worse in the coming months. Nicole Narea wrote about three things the Biden administration can do now to prepare, that I largely agree with: 1. End pandemic-related restrictions at the border, 2. Reinstate a parole program for Haitians that would allow them to enter the US legally and 3. Halt deportations of Haitians and make asylum more accessible. The call to hall deportations of Haitian migrants has already been echoed by the Congressional Haitian Caucus.
Police & Prison
Rachel: I know it gets grating to be constantly pointing fingers in all directions and saying “this is why reforms and new laws don’t work!” But for some reason this is really standing out to me as a case that shows why: laws are imaginary, but power is real. Although there’s a state law that says the mayoral candidates’ disciplinary records should be accessible to the public, and Politico has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for them, the NYPD just… isn’t going to do it. Because policing is power, and so unless someone more powerful can make them, they just… don’t actually have to.
Natalie: I don’t have much to add to what Rachel’s said here — she’s right, if there’s no one who’s going to police the police, then the system is fundamentally and foundationally flawed — but can I just say: it’s absurd to me that New York voters went to the polls not having this vital piece of Eric Adams’ career history.
Natalie: At one point in this story, Blake Caravati, a supporter of Timothy Longo’s, acknowledges that racial profiling took place but warns, “You can’t cancel the guy because he’s one of the best police chiefs in the country at the time.” Putting aside for a moment the misguided notions about cancel culture, how does undermining a sacrosanct principle of the American criminal justice system make you one of the best of anything? Timothy Longo suspended the presumption of innocence for black men in Charlottesville, Virginia, and for that, they gave him a cushier job, for more money, at a private institution where he can escape accountability.
Natalie: I’m not worried about the next pandemic, I’m still worried about this one, especially given the rise of variants across the country. If we are, as Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein says in this piece, returning to the status quo in our prison systems, how are we any better equipped to face the next wave of COVID infections?
The article briefly acknowledges the progress in vaccinations (“Twenty states have administered at least one dose of the vaccine to two-thirds of their prison population”) but I’m curious to know more. What incentives are we providing to the incarcerated to get their vaccines? Is it more than just allowing them to be privy to the family visits, educational programs and outdoor recreation that were hallmarks of pre-pandemic life?
Rachel: I’m reminded of an often under-appreciated point in analysis around Black Lives Matter organizing, which is that there’s more to organize against than police; George Zimmerman was a civilian. That isn’t coincidental; white supremacist vigilante justice is a longstanding arm of state violence, and demonstrating allegiance to the state through violence against Black and Indigenous people is a longtime (effective!) tactic for white people who want to further assimilate themselves into violent state power structures (look at Kyle Rittenhouse!).
The enforcement of this new Texas law, already a horrifying overstep of reproductive rights, actively takes up and reifies this system of deputizing citizens to carry out state violence & surveillance; it “effectively deputizes ordinary citizens” to sue people they think are involved in helping anyone access abortions after six weeks (so, basically all abortions). Anyone who has ever lived in a situation where a partner or family member had coercive control over your medical decisions or body, or wanted to control whether you had children, or punish you for exerting reproductive agency, can see where this is headed. The impact of the law is unconscionable, and the model by which it functions is pure dystopia.
Natalie: It’s helpful to do these commentaries as a team because Rachel writes a thoughtful response and, meanwhile, all I can think to say is ARE YOU FUCKIN’ KIDDING ME?!
Natalie: I have, perhaps, devoted too much energy to bemoaning one of the Senate’s LGBT members standing in the way of LGBT progress and not enough energy touting the work of other elected LGBT officials who are working on behalf of our community. But then you read about what the Texas Democrats are doing… and how LGBT officials like Jessica González and Erin Zwiener are risking so much to stand up for democracy. You read about how Rep. Celia Israel delayed her own marriage to ensure that Texas’ voting rights are secure.
It’s hard not to be inspired by them.
This Texas Democrat says that if there are consequences for her voting rights fight, she’s ready for them. pic.twitter.com/PUtjMivVzE
— Zerlina on Peacock (@ZerlinaShow) July 15, 2021
Natalie: Two decades of war… countless lives lost… and a roadmap towards withdrawal that began under the previous administration. The idea that this was “sudden” is laughable. And while I’m sensitive to criticism that the withdrawal of American troops (and their allies) might lead to a rise in violence: what was the alternative?
The former president — who sheltered in Texas doing watercolors during the worst of the Trump years — said that “the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad” as if 20 years of war haven’t been unbelievably bad and as if our continued presence in the region was going to help Afghanistan improve in a way that it hadn’t over 20 years.
Labor & Work
I’m at the Red Scare, I’m at the Moral Panic, I’m at the Combination Red Scare and Moral Panic
Rachel: I’m struggling a bit to know where to begin talking about these stories, or talk about them in a way that gets cohesively at the intersections that led me to place them all in the same subsection. As an American who ~came of age~ around 9/11, I’m sometimes reminded that the generations that follow me have never really known an American political and cultural landscape that isn’t completely defined by the fearmongering and specific ‘freedom isn’t free’ propaganda that followed it; a time before Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, or the perma-war in Afghanistan (more on that above).
I feel like we’re watching a similar turning point (or more accurately, reprise) now — although obviously transphobia, whorephobia, and right-wing ideological suppression have existed long before now, it feels almost surreal now to think that even a few years ago, we weren’t seeing morality scares completely dominate both the center and right’s approach to legislation. Harkening back to McCarthyism and the Satanic Panic, it’s terrifying to see how commonplace the underlying belief has become that there are Bad Guys hidden among us who want to hurt Innocents, and it’s up to the good people to create safeguards to stop them and rescue those at risk, whether they want to be rescued or not. The idea of lurking, hidden cultural threats – from ‘traffickers’ who want to use OnlyFans to lure young people into sex work, to educators trying to brainwash children with “critical race theory,” to a purported tidal wave of trans students trying to ‘infiltrate’ youth sports — have successfully permeated the national conversation as a plausible reality. The precedent, as you can probably imagine, of this phenomenon’s outcomes is not great!
At the risk of sounding like I’m wearing a tin foil hat, much of this is also QAnon logic – a trickle-down effect of genuine conspiracy thinking, something unfortunately backed up by the facts. (The numbers on these poll results on the sheer numbers of people who doubted the election results in November is pretty chilling.) I think a lot about this longread from the last EE, about the current evolution of QAnon:
“What we’re seeing now is a kind of second iteration of the movement, under Biden. It looks and sounds slightly different, but the energy and larger worldview is still there,” says Jared Holt, a fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council, who has spent much of the last few years following the QAnon movement. It might be less prominent in the discourse since its peak after the election, Holt says, but there’s “no shortage of individuals radicalized by QAnon floating in the political atmosphere, and some of them have expressed aspirations for cementing influence in the broader GOP.”
Although obviously many of Q’s specific core beliefs – like that “Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that includes prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites” — have not cracked the mainstream and are not likely to, I think at some point we have to be realistic about the fact that its worldview — that the world is a dangerous place with secret bad guys and nefarious plots, that innocents (especially (cis, white) children and women) need to be protected from — has successfully crossed over and is fertile ground for TERFs, white supremacists, and even well-meaning Democrats to do some really harmful stuff. (Clearly I’m doing a lot of reading about the Satanic Panic right now, but it’s truly useful as writing on the wall for where this kind of fearmongering, even when well-intentioned, leads — many living people still haven’t recovered from the harm done by the last wave of this in the 1980s, which you can read more about here, here or here.)