This is Not 1964, Part 2

In spite of all of this, it is true that Trump’s views on race and gender are overall more extreme than the Republican Establishment. But when it comes to civil rights for LGBT Americans, the Establishment is as bad or worse than Trump. “The Donald,” is homophobic, to be sure, and that has not gotten as much attention as it should. But rabid homophobia is the stock and trade of establishment Republicans. There’s the Federal Marriage Amendment that Bush advocated and most Republicans Senators and Representatives voted for. When Florida had one of the worst anti-gay adoption laws in America, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio favored it. McCain favored Prop 8 and helped lead the fight to keep “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Romney repeatedly expressed support for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and in both of his presidential runs. Most Republicans in Congress have voted against ENDA. Paul Ryan not only voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment but just earlier this year defended the right of institutions to discriminate against LGBT people while receiving government money. The “Let Institutions Discriminate Against LGBT People While Taking Their Tax Dollars” is a standard GOP policy, not something Trump injected into the party. And what about Lindsey Graham? Graham voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage nationwide twice, reiterated his support for such an amendment in 2008, and voted against both ENDA and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Once again, there is some element of influence from Ronald Reagan here. In 1975, he criticized the legalization of homosexuality in California, and as president, he allowed the military ban on gay soldiers to continue. And despite offering a liberal position on the issue in 1978, he implied in 1986 that openly gay people should not be allowed to teach in public schools. Establishment Republicans cannot criticize Trump for his homophobia, because by and large, they agree with him or are even more homophobic than he is. This is a crucial difference between now and 1964. The Republican Establishment was clearly well to the Left of Goldwater on civil rights and had concrete policy differences that they could point to in order to illustrate this. Trump, however, is relatively normal for a modern Republican candidate. Furthermore, in 1964, there were a significant number of Republican politicians who equalled most liberal Democrats on civil rights and outperformed them in certain areas of civil rights. There are very few Republican politicians today who fit such a description. Mark Kirk is probably the most progressive Republican Senator on LGBT rights issues, and his record on this issue is probably less liberal than that of Hillary Clinton, a moderate Democrat.

There is another great comparison that illustrates this difference. Consider National Review, a magazine that has been one of the key anti-Trump outlets on the Right. Founded by William F. Buckley, the magazine opposed the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s. National Review‘s civil rights attitudes are now more complex, moderate, and varied, but it still has a lot of the same flavor as it did sixty years ago. For one thing, although some of its writers support gay marriage, the magazine has repeatedly run anti-gay marriage articles in recent years, as well as articles opposing other aspects of LGBT rights. They run a recurring column by Maggie Gallagher, a former leader in the National Organization for Marriage. Feminism is practically a dirty word for some of their writers. David French, a writer for National Review who was floated as a possible establishment Republican alternative to Trump, opposes marriage equality and criticizes Trump for being too moderate on transgender bathroom use. In fact, while he has undergone disgusting, racist, sexist, threatening attacks from Trump supporters, French’s own writing on race walks a fine line. Last year, he said that the Confederate Flag should remain at the South Carolina Capitol regardless of whether it offended people. This year, he said that Colin Kaepernick needed to stand for the National Anthem, because, apparently, not offending people is very important after all. Contrast this with the New York Herald Tribune, a prominent Republican newspaper that refused to endorse Goldwater in 1964 and blasted him for race baiting. The paper was a combination of two older papers, the New York Herald and the New York Tribune. The New York Tribune had been founded by Horace Greeley, a moderate abolitionist but an abolitionist nonetheless, who asserted in 1864 that it was none of the government’s business if a person married someone of a different race. During the 1950s, the New York Herald Tribune favored civil rights and even allowed NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White to publish an article in the paper blasting neighborhood racism in Chicago. One of the paper’s presidents, Ogden Reid, was elected to the House of Representatives in the 1960s, where he was one of the chamber’s strongest advocates of civil rights and eventually left the GOP after it became too conservative for him.

The bottom line is this: in 1964, Dixiecrats and Buckley-style Republicans had not yet completed their mission of remaking the Republican Party in their image. Thus, mainstream Republicans were in a good position to criticize Goldwater on substance rather than simply style, without coming across as hypocritical to the degree that many modern (but not all) Republicans do when they criticize Trump. Even in the 1970s, Nixon mixed his racist Southern Strategy with some moderate policies on civil rights. His Administration sued both Bob Jones University and the Trump family’s real estate business for racial discrimination. Of course, within a decade, the Republican Establishment was blatantly catering to Bob Jones, and now, Trump is the party nominee for president. In this election, by contrast, Trump did not have to remake the Republican Party, because it had already been remade. He didn’t make it the party of bigotry, fear-mongering, big government social authoritarianism, or white identity politics, because it had already become that party. Back in January, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote a column entitled, “The Party of Lincoln is Dying.” Truth be told, it was already dead before Trump ever ran for president. And if it wasn’t dead when Gerson’s old boss took office, it sure was when he left. Trump is living in the house that folks like Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, James Kilpatrick, Robert Bork, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, Ronald Reagan, Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and plenty of others built. And if he somehow wins next month, he’ll owe them a thank you.

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It’s Not 1964, Part 1

Donald Trump has gotten a lot of comparisons to Barry Goldwater in this election. On the surface, they have major similarities. Both men were incendiary, catered to bigots, won the GOP presidential nomination largely through grassroots support, and clashed greatly with the party establishment. Some admirers of Goldwater take umbrage at this comparison, feeling that it is unfair to to the Arizona Senator, whom they consider far superior to Trump. But I would submit that there is a key difference between Trump in this election and Goldwater in 1964 that most people have not discussed. In 1964, Goldwater was one of just six out of thirty-three Republican Senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act. In 1956, the Republican platform declared that the party accepted the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Several years later, Goldwater insisted that the decision was not necessarily the “law of the land.” While the Arizona Senator was well to the Left of Southern Democrats on race, he was also to the Right of the mainstream of the GOP. And while racism was rampant in both parties pre-1964, the Democratic Party was significantly more racist, as it was the home of most segregationist politicians. In a lot of ways, however, Trump is par for the course in today’s Republican Party. Certainly, his views about immigration are far outside the party’s mainstream. This is partly because: 1. Establishment Republicans are dependent on major Islamic countries for oil and as allies in foreign wars; 2. Many establishment Republicans and their wealthy donors rely on Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, as a source of cheap labor. On the other hand, racism and pandering to racists is common among mainstream, establishment Republicans.

Consider the case of Lindsey Graham, a prime example of an establishment Republican. Graham tacitly favored the display of the Confederate Battle Flag by the South Carolina state government until after the 2015 Charleston Church Shooting. In 2011, he asserted that, “The statehouse has resolved this in a bipartisan way. People are focused on jobs. Any [candidate] who brought that up wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors.” He also went to an all-male club and informed members that, “If I get to be president, white men in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency.” Graham claimed that he was joking, but the statement was proceeded by, “I’m trying to help you with your tax status. I’m sorry the government’s so f–ked up.” Logically, if Graham was being sarcastic about white men in male only clubs, he was presumably being sarcastic about the tax system being “f@#%ed up.” But this would make no sense, since Graham is advocate of lower taxes. So it seems that Graham was making a campaign promise that he did not want to go public. And he has a habit of palling around with exclusionary groups; when Bob Jones University still restricted interracial dating, Graham received an honorary degree. He also has indicated that he actually shares Trump’s position that children born in the U.S. should not automatically be citizens if their parents came here illegally–not exactly consistent with the spirit of equality under the law regardless of race or ethnicity. Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was back in the news earlier this year, criticizing Ted Cruz, cowriting a book with Tom Daschle about bipartisanship, and generally positioning himself as a sensible moderate Republican. And as this article describes, he allegedly tried to stop Trump via a Kasich-Rubio ticket. Hopefully, nobody has forgotten that Lott tried to keep his college fraternity segregated, praised Jefferson Davis, associated with the white Supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, complained that the Voting Rights Act was unfair to the South, and had to step down as Senate Majority Leader for more or less waxing nostalgically about segregation. While recent party nominees have eschewed this sort of racism, they have all played close to the edge. George W. Bush and John McCain were both originally reluctant to disavow the Confederate Flag, and Bush spoke at Bob Jones University and tried to appoint a former Mississippi Dixiecrat to the federal bench. Mitt Romney refused to point blank state that the Mormon Church’s old racist policies were wrong and appointed Robert Bork–one of the men who advised Barry Goldwater that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional–to his Judicial Advisory Commission. And who could forget Ronald Reagan? I have written a great deal about Reagan’s record on race herehere, here and here. Suffice it to say, Reagan viciously exploited racial tensions for political gain in the much same way than Trump did, although he was probably far less racist personally.

What about gender? Again, it was Ronald Reagan, not Donald Trump, who helped remove support for the ERA from the GOP platform after every presidential nominee from Wendell Wilkie to Gerald Ford had run with a pro-ERA plank in place. The Republican Party bends over backwards to cater to the Religious Right, a movement that generally believes men should be the head of the household and  women belong in the homes unless they are conservative antifeminists. And let’s not forget Graham’s comment referenced above.



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Some Millennials Think Government Censorship is Good. Who Could They Have Learned That From?

Two days ago, I saw a Pew Research Center study that someone had just shared on Facebook. According to the study, forty percent of Millennials support government restrictions on speech that is offensive to minorities, while fifty-eight percent oppose such censorship. While forty percent is still well below a majority, people from older generations support censoring bigoted speech at far lower rates. The person who posted this study wrote, “A large percentage of Europeans and US Millennials are anti-free speech.” It took me about ten seconds to figure out what was wrong with that statement. Rather than providing information about generational views of various types of censorship, the polling data cited only focused on hate speech. There are two huge problems with this methodology. It ignores the fact that there have been many instances of government censorship throughout American history, and very few of them have involved hate speech. It also ignores the fact that Americans in older generations might be more supportive than Millennials of certain types of censorship, even though Millennials are more likely to support censoring hate speech.

A glance at some examples in American history prove that censorship has often been a go-to response by the State when confronted with speech that government officials dislike. John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts that outlawed “false,” “scandalous,” or “malicious” statements about the government. The federal government and a number of Southern states during the 1800s passed laws restricting abolitionist petitions and other writings. Government officials including Francis Scott Key tried to prosecute abolitionists for exercising their free speech. In the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that, similarly to the legislation Adams signed, effectively banned criticism of the government. In 1940, The U.S. government also passed legislation outlawing any organization that advocated the overthrow of the federal government, regardless of whether or not the members of such organizations were involved in specific violent acts or merely believed that the government deserved to be overthrown. This legal principle, by the way, would mandate throwing Donald Trump in prison, since he has more or less stated that Hillary Clinton should be killed if she is elected. In the 1950s, the government outlawed the Communist Party. Similarly, for much of the 20th century, people could face legal penalties merely for desecrating an American flag. It was not until the Supreme Court intervened in 1990 that this censorship finally ended. Since then, there have been multiple attempts to reverse this decision via a constitutional amendment so that people may once again be fined or imprisoned for protesting the government. Conservatives have favored these amendments at higher rates than liberals. It seems to suggest that a new adage might be in order: When you’re offended, it’s called an outrage, when another (often nonwhite/female/LGBT) person gets offended, it’s called oversensitivity.

There have also been a number of obscenity laws in America, some of which still exist today. For example, there was the Comstock Law that banned people from circulating erotica through the U.S. Postal Service. Or the time the Supreme Court said that there was no First Amendment right to obscene material. Currently, we have a government agency called the FCC that censors television in order to protect children from the terrible damage that briefly spotting Janet Jackson’s nipple might wreak upon them.

Shouldn’t we consider the possibility that older Americans are not more anti-censorship than Millennials but are simply more supportive of censorship in some areas and less supportive of censorship in others? For example, might Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, and the elderly support bans on flag burning, pornography, or sexually explicit T.V. shows at a higher rate than Millennials? I do not have solid statistical evidence one way or the other, but my own gut feeling says “Absolutely.” In any case, until we have assessed this possibility, we should not be labeling Millennials as more “anti-free speech” than any other generation. In fact, some data from Pew Research Center published two days before the study referenced above underscores this point. According to the authors, “Internet freedom tends to be especially important to younger people, as well as to those who say they use the internet at least occasionally or own a smartphone.” They also point out that, “In 16 of the 38 countries surveyed, people ages 18 to 29 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to say that people should be able to make sexually explicit statements in public. And young people in Europe, Canada, the U.S., Australia, South Korea, Russia and Senegal are more supportive than their elders of the press being able to publish sensitive information about national security issues.” Look, I know it’s tempting to blame the latest generation for everything wrong in the world and try to say that they’re the worst group of people ever. But let’s try to stick to facts.

For the record, I strongly oppose government censorship, and that includes censorship of bigoted speech. Censoring bigots drives them underground and can create the illusion that bigotry is no longer a serious problem. Furthermore, there is a risk that more extreme, “fringe” bigoted statements will get censored while more mainstream and therefore more dangerous bigoted statements will be protected. But if we are going to have government censorship, censoring hate speech is far better than most types of censorship. For instance, a ban on flag burning significantly muzzles protests against the government and would put the U.S. on the verge of a police State. On the other hand, bigoted speech denigrates entire groups of people based on immutable traits and can encourage hate crimes as well as helping to fuel mental health issues among the victims of bigotry, up to and including suicide in certain cases. Again, in a free society, we must not use the government to censor bigots, but it would still be a lot less ridiculous than banning an Anarchist from burning a cloth with the government’s logo on it or banning a breast from being exposed during the Super Bowl.

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Dr. Putinlove: How A Lot Of Conservatives Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Russia

In the 1920s, ACLU founder Roger Nash Baldwin visited the Soviet Union. Baldwin was a left-wing Anarchist, in other words not exactly the type of person one would expect to praise a totalitarian state. Especially since Baldwin had rightfully fought against American conscription in World War I, and Russia gave working class men the “honor” of being forced into combat. Nonetheless, the tail wagged the dog. Baldwin gushed with praise at what he saw as the class equality in Russia in contrast to the ruthless capitalism of America. It would not be until Stalin cozied up to Hitler that Baldwin turned against the Soviet Union and became quite anticommunist. Baldwin learned his lesson far more quickly than many leftists. It was not altogether uncommon during the Cold War to see left wing Americans who fought admirably for civil rights and civil liberties in America feel extremely reluctant to condemn the Soviet Union. This problem was exacerbated by the official absence of racial discrimination in Russia, in contrast to the savage system of Jim Crow that received legal sanction until the 1960s and America’s longstanding reluctance to disassociate itself from the vicious Apartheid regime in South Africa. And Russia, which had its own history of ethnic cleansing against Jews, did provide us with “Red Westerns” that offered sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans and were a necessary corrective to the John Wayne-type fare.

Certainly, many civil libertarian leftists, Cold War liberal Democrats, and liberal Rockefeller Republicans took a strong anti-Soviet Union position. But the Right was far more unified than the Left against the Soviet Union, not primarily because of a fierce support for civil liberties but because the Soviet Union’s economic system was Communist, and its leaders a perceived threat to the U.S. Conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan could coddle brutal foreign governments such as South Africa and Iraq that were anticommunist,  but they could never coddle the Soviet Union. We all know what happened at the beginning of the 1990s. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union split apart, and Russian Communism died an inglorious death. Many conservatives still distrusted the Russian government. In 2008, John McCain stated that when he looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes, he saw the letters K, G, and B. In 2012, Mitt Romney stated that the U.S. must take a harder line against Putin. But apparently, at least when it comes to the American Right and Russia, to everything there is a season. And after 2012, things started to turn, turn, turn. In 2013, with Putin’s enthusiastic approval, Russia passed one of the most repressive antigay laws to be enacted in Europe in recent years. The law essentially makes it illegal to be an openly gay person in Russia and cracks down on gay adoptions. Russia had never been a particularly pleasant place to be a gay person. Homosexuality had been banned under the tsars, and after a brief respite, Stalin had brought the ban back with a vengeance. Post-Communism, Russia had generally lagged behind Western Europe on gay rights. But now, the Religious Right started to notice that as the United States was getting more liberal on gay rights, Russia was digging its heels in and passing harsher antigay legislation. The right-wing website WorldNetDaily devoted multiple columns to praising the antigay legislation. In one such column, the headline actually read: “Russia to Supplant U.S. As Human-Rights Leader.” Right-wing radio host and former American Family Association official, Bryan Fischer, called Putin a “lion of Christianity.”
“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Franklin Graham stated. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda … Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue – protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda – Russia’s standard is higher than our own?”

Because none of the people and institutions I mentioned, except for Franklin Graham, are exactly household names within conservatism, I did not necessarily see their statements as part of a larger trend until Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee. Furthermore, Democrats were often too congenial towards Putin as well. Democratic politicians generally failed to push for a trade freeze in response to Russia’s repressive policies. I love Bernie Sanders, I am proud to have voted for him, and I would happily do it again, but during the primaries, he made the absurd suggestion to team up with Russia against ISIS. Bernie Sanders is a strong, longtime ally to the LGBT community, but he failed to adequately take Russia’s homophobia into account with this proposal. But now Trump has gone far beyond Democrats in his friendly relations with Putin. He not only wants to ally with Putin, he has also praised the Russian leader, and tried to soft pedal Putin’s repression of journalists and brutal actions in Crimea. While promising to protect LGBT people from Islamic terrorists, he has nary a word to say about the persecution of LGBT people by Russia. Trump says that he has “always felt fine” about Putin and praised him as a leader. Trump’s response when asked about Putin’s violence against journalists and political opponents is telling: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe,” the Republican standard bearer said. “There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is. But you didn’t ask me [that] question, you asked me a different question. So that’s fine.” This sounds exactly like what an American Communist Party official would have said about Soviet repression during the Cold War. One of the funniest things about all of this is that Russia’s continued atrocities could provide former Cold Warriors with an opportunity to say that their criticisms of the country were correct. For example, now that Russia is no longer trying to appeal to disaffected American minorities and African and Asian nations as part of an effort to win the Cold War, we now see that Russia portraying itself as a land of racial equality was a con game. Large swathes of Russian spectators act like they are at a KKK rally during sporting events, to the point that the country’s ability to host the World Cup is in jeopardy. Athletes who engage in blatantly racist behavior are rewarded by Putin. Racial violence is rampant. But while some conservatives do draw attention to this, too many suddenly don’t seem to care about Russian atrocities anymore, because Putin is a “real leader.”

What all of this showcases is that for many conservatives, the Soviet Union was bad because it was Communist, not because it violated human rights and civil liberties per se. Certainly, plenty of conservatives still oppose the Russian government. But the most prominent, outspoken defenders of Russia now come primarily from the Right. Who would have imagined that thirty years ago?

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No, Donald Trump Doesn’t Like Gay, Black, or Native American People Either

Well, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and will be taking on Hillary Clinton in November. I am certainly unhappy about this, but I cannot honestly say I dislike Trump more than George Bush or Mitt Romney or much more than John McCain. Nor do I feel that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz would have been a better choice. This is not a compliment to Trump but rather a reflection of how much I despise the modern Republican Party with its bigotry and meddling in people’s lives. I wanted to devote this blog to discussing some of the less-talked about aspects of Trump’s bigotry. Most of the controversy has focused on his bigoted attitudes toward Muslims, Mexicans, women, and disabled people. His attitudes toward LGBT, black, and Native Americans have gotten comparatively little attention. This is a serious mistake. This post will catalogue Trump’s bigotry against these three groups.

African Americans: While it was never proven that Trump discriminated against black tenants in the 1970s, his various racist remarks about black people make one think he was probably guilty. There’s his birtherism, which was loaded with racial connotations. After all, how does it look when the first black president is accused of not being a “real American”? But the birtherism is far from the most anti-black thing that Trump has said. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I want to quote myself from the last year: “We should also not accept the narrative that racism is no longer a major problem in America. We got another reminder of this recently when Donald Trump tweeted, ‘Our great African American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!’ This asinine tweet was favorited by over six thousand people. So in Trump’s warped mind, because President Obama is black, he is responsible for everything any black people do. Or something. Never mind that white individuals have rioted over sporting events. Or that a white man in Idaho just shot a cop to death. Does Trump blame these events on Bill Clinton?” It’s obvious why Trump did not get a black Republican to be his running mate–any black conservative who was offered the job would have been afraid that Trump would blame them for any riots that broke out during his presidency. There is also his weird back and forth on whether or not to disavow David Duke. And the fact that he referred to efforts to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the front of the twenty dollar bill as “pure political correctness.” Finally, back in November, Trump tweeted a bogus graphic stating that 81% of white murder victims in America were killed by black people. The correct figure is about 15%. When Bill O’Reilly actually confronted Trump about this, the Billionaire casually deflected responsibility by asking, “Am I gonna check every statistic?” and insisting, “All it was is a retweet. It wasn’t from me. And it did – it came out of a radio show and other places.” Oh, and about black people supposedly loving Trump? Polls taken this year have repeatedly shown him winning anywhere from twelve percent of the black vote to just one percent. Al Gore got ninety-two percent. I wouldn’t be bragging about this if I were Trump.

Gay People: Here, Trump has benefited from the fact that because the GOP is so rabidly homophobic, a candidate such as himself can be blatantly homophobic and still look moderate by comparison. Yes, he is less homophobic than a lot of Republicans, but that’s like saying a colonoscopy is less unpleasant than a fecal transplant. Despite his extramarital affairs and divorces, he has repeatedly stated that he opposes same-sex marriage. And unlike some Republicans, he does not consider it a settled issue in light of last year’s Supreme Court ruling. When asked if he would appoint judges who would overturn the ruling, Trump said, “I would strongly consider that, yes.” He has also promised to champion “right to discriminate” legislation if Congress considers it a priority, flip flopped after initially criticizing Kim Davis, and told a right-wing Christian audience that “marriage and family” are under attack. After singing Trump’s praises for months, the Log Cabin Republicans have now admitted that the Republican Party’s 2016 platform is extremely anti-gay. That’s not a bug of Trump’s campaign. It’s a feature.

Native Americans: Whether he’s trying to expand one of his businesses or going to the mat for the country’s first Democratic president, Trump manages to find time to denigrate Native Americans. As The Huffington Post points out, “While fighting against a proposed Native American casino in New York that would have competed against his Atlantic City properties, Trump took out anonymous ads featuring photos of ‘drug paraphernalia’ whose copy read, ‘Are these the new neighbors we want?’ It continued: ‘The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented.'” And his remarks about Jackson and Tubman were not just dismissive of the historical experiences of black people. They were also a slap in the face to Native Americans whose ancestors were displaced by Jackson’s ethnic cleansing.


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Do Our Lives Belong to the State? Why Selective Service Must End

Last week, I signed a petition to eliminate the requirement to register for Selective Service in the United States. This is an issue that I have been interested in for over a decade, but it has only recently been getting traction. The reason? Attempts to require women to register for the draft are increasingly gaining momentum. On the one hand, it is insulting and discriminatory toward both men and women to require only young men to register for the draft. On the other hand, it is a strange victory for feminism when women previously free from the possibility of conscription are now at risk of being forced to fight in whatever war the United States government deems expedient. The possibility of women being drafted has gotten many more people thinking about whether or not the government should have a right to draft anyone. As I have made clear before, I believe that the answer is “no.” While I understand that good, reasonable people can come to different conclusions on this, I submit that it is morally impermissible for the government to basically compel people to die for them. An inescapable implication of conscription is that our lives belong to the State and that the State decides when we have to put them on the line and possibly die. This is utterly inconsistent with a free society. It is especially egregious when the government engages in unnecessary wars, because it means that conscripts will be forced to die needlessly. It also forcibly separates people from their homes and families and is undergirded by the idea that all people are emotionally fit for military training and service, a clearly preposterous idea. Finally, it imposes yet another burden on people such as LGBT Americans and racial minorities, who have already suffered so much exploitation in this country, by forcing them to fight at the pleasure of a government that has often been downright hostile to them. However, since as mentioned earlier, good people can disagree about the draft, I would like to address some of the most common arguments in favor of it:
1. A Draft is Necessary in Case of Emergency

There are two reasons why this argument fails. The first is that it could be used to defend any of the worst features of a totalitarian police State. In his speech explaining his vote against the Patriot Act, Senator Russ Feingold declared, “Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that would not be America.” The same basic point applies to the military draft, and, indeed, Feingold voted to eliminate Selective Service during his time as a Senator. The second problem with this argument for the draft is that it assumes that only a minuscule number of people will actually enlist to fight in a legitimate case of emergency. In actuality, the wars in which governments have had trouble finding enough people to fight have usually been unnecessary wars. One of the rare exceptions would be the case of the North during the American Civil War. The North had difficulty getting enough volunteer soldiers as the war went on because so many white Northerners were relatively apathetic to the fate of black slaves, despite the federal government’s stance that the war was necessary to preserve the union. The fact that the United States has never before or since fought an internal war due to certain states trying to secede to obstruct human rights demonstrates the unusual nature of the Civil War. And the Confederacy also instituted a military draft, further reminding us that governments often use conscription to provide boots on the ground for bad causes.

2. A Draft Is Fairer to Minorities and the Poor

This argument has existed since at least the Vietnam War. Some people who have voiced it, such as the late Senator Ted Kennedy, have been sincere. Others, such as retired Senator Ernest Hollings, a former segregationist, have had less than noble motivations. Let’s look at the first part of the argument, that the draft is fairer to racial minorities. Surely, if economic circumstances are causing young nonwhite Americans to be more likely than white Americans to join the military, that is a problem of racial inequality, not an all-volunteer military. Furthermore, the draft itself was grossly unfair to racial minorities, forcing them to fight for a country that denied them equal rights. As I examined in a research essay for one of my MA courses last year, a significant number of African Americans resisted the draft when it was in place. As for the part of the argument that the draft is fairer to the poor, this also withers under closer scrutiny. The draft in the United States has historically been riddled with loopholes that favor middle and upper class Americans. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, conscripts could literally buy their way out of the draft legally. The Confederacy allowed “one person as agent, owner or overseer on each plantation of twenty negroes” or more to be exempted from the draft. In the twentieth century, student deferments kept the burden of the draft disproportionately on people too poor to afford college. Professional athletes and sons of politicians and wealthy businessmen got to serve in “champagne units” where they were at significantly lower risk than other draftees. Furthermore, why doesn’t this argument get applied to other professions? Chances are, relatively few Americans from wealthy families become cops or firefighters, yet nobody advocates forcing everyone to spend time working in those jobs. Finally, there is the elephant in the room that any reinstatement of the draft will necessarily force a lot of poor and minority people into the military who are currently not enlisted.

3. The Draft Would Make It Harder to Start Wars

The argument goes that politicians and affluent civilians feel shielded from the sacrifices of soldiers and are therefore more willing to support wars than they would be if their children had to fight. Putting aside the fact that it’s pretty clear their children wouldn’t have to fight, there is an excellent way of proving this claim false. Far more American soldiers died in the Vietnam War than in the War on Terror. The same point holds true for World War I and the Korean War, two other unnecessary wars fought with conscription in place. How can it be true that a draft makes Americans less likely to put up with war if far more American soldiers have died with the draft in place? The fact is that since the draft stopped being active in the 1970s, the U.S. has not been involved in any war with casualties approaching anything close to the level they were during Vietnam. A big reason for this is probably that the government knows that if casualties in an unnecessary war ever again reach Vietnam-levels, enlistment rates will plummet.

Selective Service must be ended. And legislation ending it should include a clause preventing state or local governments from conscripting people, as state militias did before the Civil War. But I have a suggestion for if the draft is ever actually reinstated. I have noticed that some people who have no military background and are too old to be drafted would like to bring back conscription. Any politician who votes to reinstate the draft and does not have a military background or an equivalent background of service such as participation in the Peace Corps or Freedom Rides, ought to be drafted themselves. No matter their age or physical condition. And a portion of these politicians should be placed on the front lines, commensurate with the percentage of regular draftees who fight on the front lines. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


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The Toxic Nature of Bigotry

By now, all of you know that an Islamic fundamentalist named Omar Mateen shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing forty-nine people and injuring fifty-three others.  Based on statements from those who knew him, his religious fundamentalism, and the location of the shooting, it is clear that Mateen was motivated by homophobia and probably internalized self-hatred due to the fact that he was a closeted gay man. It is impossible to overstate the sheer brutality of this violence, and my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their friends and families. I have long believed that bigoted statements and actions can help create mindsets that motivate hate crimes. People who grow up in societies where the laws and/or culture denigrate people based on sexual orientation, race, gender, etc. or who are raised by parents with bigoted attitudes may one day take these warped values to the extreme and commit murder. These points, among other points, are important to remember when someone asks, “What’s the big deal about a homophobic baker denying a gay couple a cake?” or “Why was it so important to legalize gay marriage if gay people could get all the same benefits with civil unions?” There’s a line in the memoir, Night, by Elie Wiesel that has also resonated with me. When Hitler passed a law requiring all German Jews to wear a yellow star, Wiesel’s father tried to assuage Jewish fear and anger by saying, “The yellow star? So what? It’s not lethal …” Wiesel reflected, “Poor father! Of what then did you die?” The point here is that once you sanction discrimination, there is  no clear endpoint past which you can say discrimination is no longer acceptable. A society that bans same-sex marriage one day (as Hitler banned Jewish-Gentile marriage in 1935) may one day start killing gay people en masse. The slope of bigotry and discrimination is one of the slipperiest in existence.

The bigotry and self-hatred that motivated Mateen was probably bolstered from multiple sources. One source is Islamic fundamentalism. And as I discussed here, homophobia is rampant in mainstream Islam. Only a tiny number of Muslims practice violence against gay people, but many more support the basic bigoted assumptions of Mateen, and homosexuality is illegal in many Muslim countries and a capital crime in some. But what I also brought up in that blog was that not all Muslims are homophobic. Some Muslims are as supportive of gay rights as anyone. By tarring all Muslims with the same brush, we insult people such as London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, former NBA player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, scholar Reza Aslan, Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj, and the Muslim leaders described here. We insult Muslims who are themselves gay. Nevertheless, trying to explain away the role that mainstream Islam–because homophobic fundamentalism is not on the margins of the religion–plays in promoting bigotry is obfuscating part of the problem. We must also look at the rampant homophobia in American society in general, promoted by groups such as the Republican Party, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical Protestantism. Our largest religious denominations treat gay people as second-class citizens. In the Republican Party, anti-gay bigotry is not the exception. It is the norm. A Republican candidate has to bow before the shibboleths of homophobia if he or she wants any hope of winning the party’s presidential nomination. In many states, including Florida, businesses are permitted to discriminate based on sexual orientation. In all too many cases, gay taxpayers are forced to relinquish their hard-earned money to institutions that discriminate against them. Until just twelve years, some states, again including Florida, still had sodomy laws. Marco Rubio was on television to decry the shooting. That’s great, but it’s a little hollow coming from a man who has said gay parents are unfit to adopt or foster children, that businesses should be allowed to discriminate, and that he wants to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. We all have a role to play in addressing bigotry in our society, and Rubio’s way has always been to try and make it worse. Jeb Bush decried the shooting on Twitter. I realize that he’s been trying to portray himself as a moderate, sensible Republican these days, but under Bush’s governorship, Florida had one of the strictest anti-gay adoption laws in the country, and he defended it. He has consistently opposed same-sex marriage. In the 1990s, he stated that gay rights would “create another class of victims.” Florida’s current Governor Rick Scott has consistently opposed marriage equality and refused to issue an executive to prevent state employees from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Donald Trump is using the shooting to try and generate support for his proposal to ban all Muslim immigrants, but he has said he hopes to appoint Supreme Court judges who will rescind gay marriage and spoke to a conservative Christian audience days ago about “marriage and family” supposedly being under attack. Every minute that people spend arguing about whether Christian or Muslim homophobia should get more attention is a distraction from the larger issue: bigotry. Bigotry is the disease. For some people, Islam is the vessel. For others, it is Roman Catholicism. For others, it is evangelical Protestantism. For others, it is any number of religions or no religion at all. I am thrilled that Anderson Cooper grilled Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on her own history of homophobia, and I think more people need to be castigating homophobic politicians this way. All of us who believe in equality and fair treatment for people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex must say “enough.” No more discrimination. No more bigotry. No more hate crimes. Bigoted/hate speech should not be censored unless it includes direct threats. A free society must allow even repugnant views to be expressed. And censoring people who advocate bigotry and hate will simply drive them underground and make it harder to identify them. But we must make it clear that there will be no treating the beliefs of bigots with respect or allowing those beliefs to be reflected in our laws.

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