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Football and Geopolitics: The Media Impetus for the U.S. Strike on Syria, What It Might Mean for The World, and Why Media Literacy is Important

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Author’s Note: This Was First Posted on 7 April 2017 But The Text Was Not Visible. I am Re-posting, with some new stories and analysis included. The main point here is to take a post-modern approach in the tradition of French Sociologist Michel Foucault; we must be cognizant of the fact that there is no one single “Truth” with a capital “T”; in order to make sense of mainstream media we must strengthen our media literacy.  

 

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The Bleak State Of Syrian Pitches During the Civil War. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

On 22 March the BBC came out with an eye-opening look at football in Syria during the ongoing six-year civil war. The article opens with the claim that “since the uprising began in 2011, there has been little positivity spoken in connection with the country, but then there is the remarkable story of Syria’s national football team. The relationship that exists between this national team and its people depicts the power of sport on a personal, cultural and political level”. Given this excerpt, one would be forgiven for believing that the BBC was publishing a humanistic piece. The reality—as is the case with most modern news media—is something less than humanist; after all the media (given its relationship to capital) is not wholly independent. Unfortunately, the authors Richard Conway and David Lockwood cannot resist bringing the political—in this case from a biased perspective—into their piece:

 

A month before the victory against China, Syria drew against former World Cup semi-finalists South Korea. These results mean gradually, the footballing world is starting to pay attention to Syria for sporting reasons. But this is not entirely a good news story.

There is no ignoring the control that president Bashar Assad’s regime tries to exert over its citizens and, once again, sport is no different. The relative success of the team is both a passing panacea and a propaganda opportunity, the former for the people and the latter for the president. To present a thriving football culture to the world fits in entirely with the agenda of normalisation, of having quelled the rebellion, of stabilisation and control. However, as we discovered, the reality is far from that.

 

The emphasis here is less on the football team and more on the ills of the Assad government, which sends a political message in the guise of a humanist piece of sports journalism. While the journalists claim that “the rapid return of football to these areas shows the government’s desire to use the game to display life as returning to normal and of the war as being won. What could be more normal than going to a football match? But like the normality, this ‘growth’ of the game is an illusion;”, it seems that both fans and footballers might have a different opinion.

The authors cite one un-named fan as saying “It is very important to keep hope and to stay optimistic. Live our life in normal way, in sport, in everything. The kids need to live a normal life, what’s happening is not their fault, they need to watch sport, go to their schools, go to public parks, they have to”. The “hope” that this fan speaks of is certainly essential, and increased violence in the country will not serve him/her —or the children—in the long term. Footballer Mohammad al-Khalaf says “we are angry because the families are separated by the war. All the Syrians’ families are separated, that’s why we have so much anger. But what shall we do?

We have to accept our destiny and adapt to it. We didn’t want this to happen but it wasn’t in our hands, they are trying to destroy the people. We hope that it will end and in God’s will we will be able to return to our country as soon as possible”. Again, the footballer’s description of the situation can be read in many ways; it is a lament for the destruction of his country without taking a particular stance on the issues. His next statement that is quoted is more nationalist: “sport has nothing to do with politics. We have to move forward and sport has a message and we should relay this message. If the Syrian team plays with any other country, for sure and from the bottom of my heart I will back it and support it”. The focus here is not on a particular government or political group, rather it is about the Syrian nation, the Syrian people—perhaps not even the state at all! The article even notes that assistant coach Tarek Jabban said he coaches for the love of his country, despite making just $100 (£80) a month. The team’s star defender, Omar al Midani, might put it best when he says “The football was much better before the war. We were happy, the only thing we cared about was football and school. Now the only thing we care about is to have our country back like it used to be”. This statement—more than that of any other person cited in the BBC piece, shows that there are at least some Syrian footballers who recognize the importance of the state; whether they are nationalist or not is immaterial, what matters is that they have a respect for the state independent of its leader—insofar as it provides law and order. The fact that Mr. Assad has managed to stay in power throughout this bloody six-year civil war implies some sort of support, thus these sentiments should not be surprising.

The article cites Brigadier General Mowaffak Joumaa who (unsurprisingly, given his role as a soldier) gives the nationalist explanation that “the Syrian government is defending our people and [is] keep[ing] Syria united, this country in land and people”, yet the authors of the article conspicuously eschew any statements remotely sympathetic to the regime (as an impartial media outlet would be expected to do). Instead, they write that Syrian President Bashar al Assad:

 

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Sports Is Used In Syria To Support Mr. Assad’s Regime In Its Darkest Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

has led a war against opposition forces within his country for more than six years […and] that there’s nothing funny about him [al Assad] to those trapped within the country’s borders or living under his authoritarian rule. Many here will not talk of him openly. Most will not even dare speak his name when asked about their feelings towards him. The reach and menace of the regime runs deep in the Syrian psyche. What started as peaceful demonstrations, all part of a popular uprising across the region in 2011 known as the Arab Spring, quickly degenerated into a vicious and bloody war.

 

Again, the BBC’s piece is perpetuating the image of Assad as a killer and “menace” so as to (perhaps indirectly) influence Western policy (or readers’ support of the latter) vis-à-vis Syria, while also downplaying the fact that there are fans and players who just want things back to where they were. Unfortunately, because of a refusal to even acknowledge an alternative “truth”, the BBC’s work can be viewed as a form of intellectual imperialism. It is one characterized by media narratives and tropes that are repeated enough to become pseudo-facts.

Unfortunately, intellectual imperialism—even in the world of sports journalism—has its consequences. Less than two weeks after this piece was published with the passage “The Syrian government also stands accused of war crimes against its own people for numerous egregious breaches of human rights such as using banned chemical weapons and bombing water supplies” [my emphasis], the Syrian regime was reported to have used chemical weapons on its own people during an attack on Idlib province on Tuesday 4 April 2017. On Thursday 6 April 2017, doctors in Turkey confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in an attack that killed at least 72 people. Despite the reports, the fact remains that the Syrian state could stand to gain nothing from conducting such an attack at this stage; much of the world had grown to see that Assad was far less of a menace than ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and even the footballers and fans cited by the BBC had expressed their desires for a return to normalcy.

Without resorting to conspiracy theories, it is still important to keep an open mind and the words of one “expert” are useful to explain why this “attack” is so suspect. The Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce rightly points out that “there’s a mystery at the heart of an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria this week: Syria’s government, suspected of carrying out the attack, was supposed to have gotten rid of all its chemical weapons in 2014”. Indeed, this is true (it even appears as a link beneath the Guardian’s story reporting this week’s attack). The “expert” cited by the LA Times is Markus Binder, a chemical weapons expert at the University of Maryland. According to the Times, he “still had basic questions about the attack that need to be confirmed, including exactly what chemicals were used and whether the Syrian government carried out the attack”. The LA Times points out that “the use of chemicals makes [no] immediate sense, given that the government has been using explosives that often kill civilians.” Mr Binder adds “Why now? It puzzles.’”. This alone should make any impartial observer pause for thought.

Now, given the United State’s attack on a Syrian airbase on 6-7 April 2017 in response to the purported use of chemical weapons (which Syria denies), we must think even harder: What is the motivation for this kind of aggression? There are three likely scenarios that come most immediately to mind:

  • The Megalomaniacal Theory; Mr. Trump Attacked Syria to further his own political agenda: This theory has three inter-related components:
    1. By attacking Russia’s ally Syria in such a conspicuous manner, Mr. Trump may have thought that he could put an end to the speculations that the Kremlin paved his way to the White House.
    2. This attack also serves to differentiate Mr. Trump from his predecessor—former president Barack Obama—during the first 100 days. By definitively acting on the alleged use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad, Mr. Trump can show his ability to follow through when a “red line” is crossed (something Mr. Obama did not do). Similarly, if Syria did indeed use chemical weapons, it would show the failure of Mr. Obama in the realm of negotiation since he “agreed to a Russian deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program” in the first place.
    3. Trump may have believed that the use of force would restore credibility for the United States in the international realm, which feeds into a third theory.
  • The America First Theory: Since Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform, he may have seen this as a simple way to assert American military strength at the outset of his presidency in order to send a message to other geopolitical rivals like Iran and North Korea. The fact that Mr. Trump’s administration has been keen to point out that “no people were targeted” and that Russia was notified before the attack (even the sections of the base where Russians were present were not targeted by the strike) shows that the administration saw the airbase as a fairly safe target, PR wise, for a “one-off” strike. The Trump Administration may see this kind of a one-off strike as allowing them to negotiate for a settlement from a “position of strength”; threats are much more credible after force has been used. This approach would also signal a perceived return of the United States to global prominence.

 

Likely, the explanation for the United States’ first open use of force in Syria is a combination of elements from these three theories. The fact that the two candidates who fought a bitter presidential campaign should agree on the issue of using force in Syria is eye-opening, as is the coincidental nature of timing. While former presidential candidate and current Florida senator Marco Rubio thinks the timing of Mr. Assad’s attacks is coincidental since it came in the wake of tacit American support for the Assad regime; I would go the other way (while wondering about Mr. Rubio’s thought process) and point out that the timing is coincidental since it comes at a time when Mr. Assad is re-gaining (at least some) lost legitimacy while Mr. Trump is losing legitimacy (judging by polls that had put him at 46 % approval rating). It was a perfect storm that may have forced the American President into a corner, acting on any information he had—whether real or fake.

The reality is that if the state has an agenda, too often the media supports that agenda. While we should all be cognizant of conspiratorial stories (like those claiming that the Daily Mail deleted a story in January 2013 about a false-flag attack in Syria involving chemical weapons) we also need to recognize (in the Foucauldian tradition) that there is no one, single, “Truth”; there is nothing to say that mainstream media is telling “the Truth” all the time. As a country that fought a civil war–and emerged from it better off (and without major meddling of foreign powers)–the United States should be the first to recognize that there is little “Truth” (with a capital “T”) when it comes to civil war. There are embedded messages in every news story we read. That even a humanist story about a nation’s football team can carry political undertones—in this case directed against the Assad regime in Syria—is worrisome, regardless of Mr. Assad’s record (he is not a saint after all; politics is a dark game and political leaders rarely are saints).

 

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No One Can Be a Saint When a Country Is This Divided. Readers Should Imagine What They Would Think If Their Own Country Was as Divided as Syria Is Now. Would They Be Happy With Foreign Intervention? Would They Support The Government? Would They Support the Rebels? Empathy is Important in Moments Like This, Since It Allows For a Humanist Approach to the Issues at Hand. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

It means that—when used hand in hand with the policies of the state—the media can act as a shepherd of the masses; the media can condition public opinion before any action is taken by the state so as to mitigate the possible negative reactions to the state. Time will tell what the fallout of Mr. Trump’s actions will be in Syria and the wider Middle East; in the mean time the best we can do is be cognizant of the biases inherent in every kind of news story we read—whether about sport or politics—so as to increase our media literacy. Honing these skills will allow us to avoid being drawn in by “fake news”, while also allowing us to take a more critical view of mainstream media.

The Case for Americans Studying Abroad (With Help From George Herbert Mead)

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Author’s Note: Parts of this post were written as an assignment for a graduate seminar in Classical Sociological Theory.

Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s concept of the “self” makes for interesting reading, even if it is presented in a manner that seems to be trying its best to be inaccessible to the layman. His theories are very useful when applied to the current state of Americans and their relationship to America’s role in the world. I read an article in The Atlantic recently about how a possible Donald Trump presidency could “change the world”. Even though I have my own personal doubts as to whether or not any particular U.S. President can, indeed, unilaterally change the country—let alone the world—I read on. The article makes the claim that the current world system, based on the post WWII order created by the United States through institutions like Bretton Woods and characterized by neo-liberal economics, is unequivocally good for the world. That makes me think—what does “good” mean? And is “good” for the United States necessarily “good” for the rest of the world? The interviewee in the article states “the record is pretty clear over the last five or six years that if the U.S. pulls out, things will get worse domestically in other countries, and they’ll become more fearful and more protectionist and more nationalist.” But who is to say that things are not bad now domestically in other countries? I can think of many examples where this is the case, and that is where Mead’s ideas are very useful.

Foreign Affairs ran a story last spring about how study abroad programs can make the United States “safer and stronger” by “opening the American mind”. As someone who enjoys traveling I have to agree, and George Herbert Mead’s ideas offer some perspective on why study abroad could help America in the long run. Mead states that

every human individual must, to behave ethically, integrate himself with the pattern of organized social behavior which, as reflected or prehended in the the structure of his self, makes him a self-conscious personality […] the sense which the individual self has of his dependence upon the organized society or social community to which he belongs is the basis and origin, in short, of his sense of duty (and in general of his ethical consciousness); and ethical and unethical behavior can be defined essentially in social terms (Mead, Mind Self and Society section 41; 3).

Mead’s ideas certainly are applicable to the individual, and I believe they can be extrapolated out to the larger “nation” and/or “state”. Is it possible that, since the United States is both geographically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world, many citizens do not have a “sense of duty” as regards the rest of the world? If the self is defined in terms of the other—and through interaction with it—as Mead argues, then it is possible that many Americans truly do not have this sense of ethics when it comes to international politics.

Interestingly, this separation of the U.S. from the rest of the world—and the relative isolation of its population—is reflected by the “asocial or personal aspect” of Mead’s self. This “differentiates it from, or sets it in distinctive and unique opposition to, the other members of the social group to which it belongs; and this side of the self is characterized by the individual’s feeling of superiority toward the other members of that group” (Ibid.). If we were to substitute the words “social group” for “international community” and “the individual” for “the United States” we would have a very good example of the concept that views the United States as “a city on a hill”; we are detached from the poverty and violence that plague the rest of the world which often makes many of us in the United States feel this “sense of superiority”. I have met many people who are, unfortunately, afraid to travel abroad because they have heard “its so bad over there”. Usually, I counter by explaining that living in a country where citizens are allowed easy access to firearms would be considered to be fairly dangerous in any other context; the point is it’s all about perspective.

George Herbert Mead’s ideas are very useful in the current geopolitical age, where American hegemony is in question. The self can only define itself in relation to the other; “it is the social process itself that is responsible for the appearance of the self; it is not there as a self apart from this type of experience” (Calhoun et al., 351). Like the individual’s “self”, the “national” self is formed in the same way. Without interactions with those from other national backgrounds, a national consciousness cannot be developed independently. Most nationalist identities are defined vis-à-vis other, competing, national identities. In the United States, this has not been the case traditionally. Rather, for the most part, American “culture” is imposed from the top down through cultural processes like music, movies, and sports. This does not, however, allow for an independent realization of what is “American”, or what it means in relation to other nations internationally. In order to foster a better understanding of what it means to be “American”, in relation to the rest of the world, I believe that social interaction is imperative. If America wants to continue to be a hegemonic power, it cannot neglect educating its citizens about the rest of the world; by doing so a more introspective—and ultimately stronger—American identity could emerge.

After all, the condescending “city on a hill” image is not really reflective of American values (at least not in the way that I interpret them). A recent New Yorker piece states that “The United States’ claim to moral primacy in the world, the idea of American exceptionalism, rests upon the argument that this is a nation set apart”. Of course, this is a highly conceited perspective that I—even as a patriotic American—find to be extremely misguided. The fact that the New Yorker ties it into race is even more disgusting:

The old presumptions hold that some element of national humiliation and decline predisposes nations toward fascism, or at least the appeals of fascistic movements. But in the U.S. this movement sprang up on the contrails of the first black Presidency—a moment that was, perhaps naïvely at the time, thought to be one of national affirmation and triumph. The unsavory implication here, of course, is that, for the cornerstone elements of Trumpism, that triumph was a national humiliation, that the image of an African-American receiving the deference and regard that the Presidency entails invalidated these Americans’ understanding of what the U.S. is, or at least what it is supposed to be […] In the broader context, Trumpism represents the demise of American exceptionalism, or at least the refutation of the most cogent arguments for it ever having existed in the first place.

This is just one troubling article that has come out following Donald Trump’s election victory, since Mr. Obama’s years in power have seen unprecedented chaos in the Middle East driven by American policies and arguably represent abject failure. To even imply that criticism of these policies is somehow racist represents poor journalism—the journalist’s job is to hold politicians responsible for their policies and a President’s skin color does not exonerate them from failure in office. As I have stated earlier, Mr. Trump’s presidency might just be a recognition that “American exceptionalism” has not only failed the United States, but it has also failed the world. After all, uninterrupted war—which Mr. Obama has presided over eight years of—is not the healthiest of situations for any country. Even if Mr. Trump wants to alter U.S. policies, he will still have to deal with the American deep state and its “deep secrets”. This in and of itself should temper any unilateral behavior on his part. In fact, the fact that state media’s Washington Post is already giving airtime to Islamists suggests that the stage is being set to discredit Mr. Trump before he even takes office.

These troubling articles have coincided with some troubling conversations I have had with close friends. While I respect these friends more than I can explain here—and I know they will be better scholars than I will ever be—their marked lack of knowledge regarding America’s role in the world is upsetting and tells me that we, as a county, would do well to encourage more international study at the college level. One friend told me that Mr. Trump’s election meant that his non-white friends were being threatened. When I told him that this was unfortunate and that such abject racists were disgusting fringe elements, I was accused of being an apologist for white supremacists. Unfortunately, I ended up raising my voice (and I apologize for that already) when coup—killed many people in Turkey during an attempted coup; actions speak louder than words for me. For some Trump detractors, it seems that the killing of “brown people” abroad can be completely swept under the rug, and that—to someone with an international outlook like myself—is just unacceptable. But that is the kind of thought process that American exceptionalism breeds! A second friend pointed out that my Turkish friends would not be able to come to the United States due to Mr. Trump’s proposed “ban on Muslims”. When I told this individual that my friends would have no problem getting a visa because they are educated and have been to the United States before, my friend was incredulous. “They need visas for the United States? They can’t just walk in with their passports?” was the reply. It was a typically “American” response, and fitting seeing as how the American passport allows the holder to just “walk in” to most countries in the world—174 to be exact , and this is one major reason that those born in the United States should really be thankful for the privilege they have. Sadly, this individual didn’t know that the United States’ visa waiver program  is—to use parlance that is in vogue following Mr. Trump’s election—very pro-“white”. The only non-European countries that enjoy visa free travel to the United States are Australia (white), Brunei, Chile, Japan, New Zealand (white) South Korea, and Taiwan. As if to make the list look longer, the U.S. State Department includes miniscule states like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Monaco—like a bad joke. The Visa Waiver Program added this provision in 2015:

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

-Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).

-Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

Brunei is the only Muslim country on the list; it is not a Middle Eastern country. When I told my friend that many Americans did not know the value of their own passport and that most foreigners have to obtain visas, it was insinuated that I was an elitist of some sort. It was never my aim, rather I tried to point out that life in other countries is very different than in the U.S., and that extends to travel as well. This friend then cleared up the misunderstanding: they had understood that Mr. Trump would be instating visas for Muslims traveling to the United States. Again, this is an example of many Americans who only vote (or protest) based on media hyperbole rather than any real knowledge of the issues. It is a sad state of affairs, when voters in the world’s foremost “democracy” show such ignorance in the face of the issues but I suppose it is just the way it is for now. I can only hope that more universities bring Study Abroad programs into their curriculums, since the world is opening itself up. Even if Mr. Trump’s presidency means a drawdown in American power (or application of said power) abroad, it doesn’t mean that we can afford to have a population left ignorant of the privileges they have.

 

Author’s Note: Readers; if you have a chance, please travel. It is the single greatest investment you can make in yourself over the course of your lifetime!

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On America II: U.S. Election Reveals Parallels Between the United States and Turkey

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As protestors continue to struggle to come to terms with Donald Trump’s election victory, I can only chuckle. Its almost as if these people, mostly millennials it seems, have read about the romantic notions of “revolution” and “people power” in other countries that they want to have their own similar moment in the sun, snapping selfies while they are at it. Of course, since they live in the sanitized world of the United States—and not, say, somewhere like Turkey—it is all “safe”. No one will be shot, no one will become a political prisoner. It will just be another social media topic of the day.

Some on the left have begun to provide reasons for why Mr. Trump’s improbable victory happened. One article published in state media’s Washington Post says that “This [election] is an indictment of the monolithic, insulated political culture in the vast majority our colleges and universities.” As someone who has spent a lot of time in higher education in the United States, I would have to agree. Colleges and universities tend to show only one way of looking at things, which is unfortunate because ideally education should be about a “broadening” of the mind—not a “narrowing” of the mind in one direction. Of course, by “narrowing” the mind of college-educated people it ensures that a vast swathe of the population will think in a certain way; that is a very useful thing for the power elite when it comes to engineering elections since it virtually assures that a vast segment of the electorate will vote along a certain party line.

One admittedly humorous piece that also appeared in the Washington Post was written by the famous Garrison Keillor. Some of his better lines bear repeating below (complete with bolding!):

The Trumpers never expected their guy to actually win the thing, and that’s their problem now. They wanted only to whoop and yell, boo at the H-word, wear profane T-shirts, maybe grab a crotch or two, jump in the RV with a couple of six-packs and go out and shoot some spotted owls. It was pleasure enough for them just to know that they were driving us wild with dismay — by “us,” I mean librarians, children’s authors, yoga practitioners, Unitarians, bird-watchers, people who make their own pasta, opera-goers, the grammar police, people who keep books on their shelves, that bunch.

We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses.

I like Republicans. I used to spend Sunday afternoons with a bunch of them, drinking Scotch and soda and trying to care about NFL football. [Author’s Note: Liking sports is not a bad thing] It was fun. I tried to think like them. (Life is what you make it. People are people. When the going gets tough, tough noogies.) But I came back to liberal elitism.

Clearly, these are some very humorous passages. According to them, many supporters of Mr. Trump will be “grab[bing] a crotch or two” before jumping into RVs with six-packs while supporters of Ms. Clinton—who can count among themselves “people who make their own pasta” and “people who keep books on their shelves”— will spend the next four years “reading Jane Austen” and “tasting artisan beers”. I honestly hope that people can do these pleasant things—but they would first need to finish their cry-ins before enjoying said beers and Jane Austen. [Author’s Note: This is the second time in history that “Jane Austen” has been mentioned in the same breath as “artisan beer”; the first time was in Mr. Keillor’s piece cited above. Enjoy it].

As someone who tries to take as close to a neutral stance as possible—but who has no love lost for Ms. Clinton due to her involvement in meddling with Turkish affairs and wider Middle Eastern affairs—I can assure readers that I do not want to grab even one crotch, let alone two, and that I actually do have (too)many books on my shelves. On the other hand, I also don’t make my own pasta (it’s a lot of work, instead I buy Barilla at Publix when it’s on sale) and I don’t care much for Jane Austen (I’m more a James Salter and Hemingway man). And artisan beer? No thanks, I like to sip Grant’s. All jokes aside, the problem with Mr. Keillor’s kind of perspective (as sarcastically exaggerated as I hope it is supposed to be) is that it is just so divisive. Of course, since division serves the power elite, it is understandable why these things get published (in state media, no less). This kind of division, however, is not good for American politics in the real (as in for the people—not the elite) sense.

Hemingway, Salter, and Grant’s. In The Current Environment I’m Sure A Few People Might Interpret This Trifecta As Being Too “Masculine”…But It’s Just What I Like. (Top Left; Image Courtesy Of: https://67.media.tumblr.com/05e5e37167c5232e40478e5218c73a58/tumblr_njuau20lKS1qmmlfco1_500.jpg. Top Right; Image Courtesy Of: http://www.historynet.com/online-extra-james-salter-gallery.htm. Bottom; Image Courtesy Of: http://www.brayleino.co.uk/ImageGen.ashx?image=/media/1109/grants-whiskey-find-your-past-campaign.jpg)

In Turkey similar things happened. The supporters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) that ruled Turkey for so long were viewed as elitists—intellectuals sipping wine on the shores of the Turkish Riviera, never taking any interest in things beyond the capital of Ankara. Many had never been past central Anatolia, and never visited the struggling Kurdish areas of the southeast. This elitism caught up to them in 2002, when the (now) ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, led by the uneducated former footballer Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Fourteen years later, the AKP is still in power and the (now) opposition CHP supporters are still seen as the same old elitists. They’re still sipping wine—albeit at much higher prices—and they still haven’t gone past Ankara (for the most part). If you really want to be a party that represents your people and your country, you just cannot be an elitist. Some people are lucky enough to afford an education—and others are not so lucky. Just because you are one of the lucky ones does not mean you can look down on those who have not been so lucky. Instead, do your best to try and understand where they are coming from, instead of denigrating them as “racist”, “sexist”, “ignorant”, or “bigoted”. I have seen how such misconceptions led Turkey down a very bad road.

A second similarity this election has pointed out is the prevalence of the “deep state” in both countries. Given that they are taking election results so seriously, clearly the millennials currently protesting in the streets are too young to know what it is and Mr. Keillor might be too blind to know what it is. But I digress. In both the United States and Turkey (Derin Devlet) there is a “deep state”. In the United States, it is a nexus of Wall Street, the intelligence community, and the military-industrial complex. It means that public policy is controlled behind the scenes by unelected interest groups; regardless of the political party in power the status quo continues unabated, essentially. This is related to the concept of sociologist C. Wright Mills’ “Power Elite” that I have mentioned before, and it is no coincidence that it came to the fore post-WWII (when most of the U.S. intelligence community was formed). As this video from the Rutherford Institute mentions, when JFK expressed a desire to end the secrecy in government…well, we know the rest, don’t we? It remains to be see if Mr. Trump’s election is a true populist movement challenging the status quo, or if it falls by the wayside.

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JFK and Dulles. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.salon.com/2015/10/15/every_president_has_been_manipulated_national_security_officials_david_talbot_investigates_americas_deep_state/

One positive result from this election has come regarding Turkey however. It has come out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked to expand his influence in U.S. politics through donations to the Democratic party and now this might finally be recognized. An advisor to Mr. Trump, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn (ret.), came out and said what current President Barack Obama and Ms. Clinton have consistently failed to say as Turkey spirals further out of control—that Turkey is a U.S. ally that needs support. Lt. General Flynn compares the alleged mastermind of the attempted coup of July 15, Fethullah Gulen, to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama Bin Ladin. This is refreshing to hear, given that Ms. Clinton received donations from Mr. Gulen. Hopefully statements like these portend an end to some of the disastrous meddling in the Middle East that many American administrations, Obama’s included, have engaged in—and that Ms. Clinton openly planned to continue.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On America: Burning New Balance Shoes and American Flags—“Third World” Solutions to First World Problems

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It seemed that things couldn’t get more ridiculous in the United States. But they do. I was told today at the University that “the era of free speech in the United States is over”. It seemed odd to me, given that the candidate with the most inflammatory rhetoric among the two—Donald Trump—actually won the election. But then I saw that after the sportswear brand New Balance said “The Obama admin turned a deaf ear to us & frankly w/ Pres-Elect Trump we feel things are going to move in the right direction” they were absolutely savaged. New Balance is an American sportswear brand based in New England that recently entered the football shirt market, manufacturing kits for Liverpool, Porto, and Sevilla among others. In a response to the savaging, the company released a statement:

“As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less. New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today. We believe in community. We believe in humanity. From the people who make our shoes to the people who wear them, we believe in acting with the utmost integrity and we welcome all walks of life. Since 1906, we have carved our own path in being passionately committed to making things at our five factories in New England, even when nobody else did. New Balance and our thousands of employees around the world constantly strive to better our local communities. We always have and we always will.”

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Liverpool’s New Balance Kits, Complete With Inspirational Message. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.soccer.com/guide/ynwa-liverpool-new-balance-launch-first-home-jersey-together/

The company’s response seems fairly normal; they would like to make as many of their products in the United States as they can. And that really isn’t discriminatory. Contrast their statement with Nike’s, another major sportswear manufacturer that is very active in the football shirt world.

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Of Course Nike Supports the TPP–It Means More Money, After All. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/germanotes/status/796440633175113732

Nike’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement (that Trump criticizes) may seem well and good for supporters of neo-liberal policies, but it also means there could be more—not less—exploitation. Remember the days of child laborers making Nike’s footballs?  We used to have critical discourse like this:

Only a boycott by the United States and other nations will have any impact on slavery and child-based industries. Futhermore [sic] the U.S constitution states that child labor is an illegal and inhumane practice and any U.S. company found guilty practicing and encouraging it will be prosecuted. GATT and WTO prohibits member nations, like the United States, from discriminating against the importation of goods made by children. Are dolphins becoming more important than children?

As recently as 2012 we saw outrage at Nike’s use of child labor in the making of their products. Yet now we see people protesting because another U.S. sportswear company, New Balance, is asking to return jobs to the United States, away from the exploitative practices born out of outsourcing production.

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But What If the Shoe Was On the Other (Western) Foot? Image Courtesy Of: http://www1.american.edu/ted/nike.htm

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A Pakistani Child Makes Footballs and Lives In Poverty So the Rich in Paris Can Play With a Paris St. Germain Ball. Please Tell Me Again How Global Free Trade Benefits Everyone Equally? Masking These Global Inequalities By Pretending to Address Local Inequalities Is What Has Driven–Not Resisted–The Rise of Extreme Capitalism in the West and Global North. Images Courtesy Of: https://globalpeaceandconflict.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/nike-and-modern-day-slavery/

What I suspect to be millenials in the United States have actually taken to burning—or throwing away—their New Balance shoes because the company dared recognize that outsourcing production hurts both Americans in the global north and others in the global south equally. It is a nod to a slightly more humane capitalism as opposed to extreme capitalism. But I guess the millenials are too young to remember the days when the American left protested Nike’s sponsorship of many universities due to their exploitative practices in the name of profits; when I was in college from 2004-2008 I saw it myself in Boulder. What is worse, however, is that this kind of behavior is reflective of the conceited superiority that many in the United States have when it comes to global issues. These people believe that their moral superiority allows them to burn or throw away their perfectly good shoes. Do they not realize that they are lucky to even have shoes—let alone quality ones like New Balance—when so much of the world goes without even these small luxuries? It is the epitome of a “First World Problem” when rich Americans—who can afford another pair of shoes—burn their own to send some sort of political “message”.

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Please Note the Ridiculousness of These Images. It Is One Thing to Take a Picture of a Lit Lighter Hovering Above Your 90 USD Shoes…It Is A Whole Other Thing to Actually Burn Them. Even If they Did Not Follow Through (I Doubt They Could) The Sentiment of Privilege is Still Stomach Turning. Images Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/11/donald-trump-new-balance-burning-shoes-tpp

These actions are part of a wider trend where the supporters of Hillary Clinton, the ostensibly “liberal” candidate, are violently protesting the election results that didn’t go their way after believing that Mr. Trump’s supporters would be the ones to engage in such un-democratic actions. (This is why I use the term “third world solutions” in the title of this article. I do not aim to insult; rather, I try to point out that violent protests—including tear gas and wounded police—are generally not associated with the transfer of power in democratic American society). The irony, as I have noted before, is palpable. Indeed, it was a Latina supporter of Ms. Clinton who threatened escalated violence saying “people have to die to make a change in this world” while the portended crash of markets failed to materialize. Maybe this is why Trump backer Rudy Giuliani has called the protesters “a bunch of spoiled crybabies.”

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According to Ms. Clinton the Trump Supporters Were “Baskets of Deplorables” But I Don’t Know How Anyone Can Condone These Scenes. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/trump-win-sparks-riots-across-9225317

Unfortunately, in a bid to create more division state media (this time NBC) has turned to reporting about attacks on Muslim women, tying it into Trump’s victory. It is obvious that such actions are unacceptable; it is obvious that these attacks are carried out by fringe elements but—for some reason—they are used to distract people from the real issues of violent protests. It is also striking that the ostensibly “liberal” side has extended the attacks on free speech to … Muslims, of all people. The physical attacks come from the far “right”, the psychological from the far “left”.

Asra Q. Nomani, a “a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement” wrote a useful piece on the opinion pages of state media’s (!) Washington Post. In it, she explains why she—a female Muslim (two strikes against her in this election) voted for Mr. Trump. Like a post-ideological voter, she supports the “Democratic Party’s position on abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change” but she cannot afford Obamacare, and she “as a liberal Muslim who has experienced, first-hand, Islamic extremism in this world, [is] opposed to the decision by President Obama and the Democratic Party to tap dance around the ‘Islam’ in Islamic State”. In the end, she offers a reasonable explanation for why she voted for Mr. Trump:

The revelations of multimillion-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation from Qatar and Saudi Arabia killed my support for Clinton. Yes, I want equal pay. No, I reject Trump’s “locker room” banter, the idea of a “wall” between the United States and Mexico and a plan to “ban” Muslims. But I trust the United States and don’t buy the political hyperbole — agenda-driven identity politics of its own — that demonized Trump and his supporters.

She takes some things from Mr. Trump that she likes and leaves others she does not like—it’s what a voter in any democratic society should strive to do. Unfortunately, she—like New Balance—was also savaged in an era where free speech is, apparently, no longer valued. It’s almost as if free speech is good if it’s what people want to hear but isn’t if it is something they do not want to hear. It’s like the American outlook on foreign policy and democratic regimes; some–those who follow the U.S. line, are “good” democracies (like Saudi Arabia” while others who do not (like Syria) are “bad” democracies…even though neither is–or was–ever a democracy.

Some of the language used to demean Ms. Nomani is, quite honestly, horrific. Dare I say (to use a word I detest) “offensive”. And it is certainly not befitting of people who cried because their candidate lost an election. Just look at a few of the screenshots below, taken from state media’s New York Times:

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The language is startling, from insulting Ms. Nomani’s intelligence: “puts moron into oxymoron” to public shaming: “shame on you” to downright hate: “go fuck herself” and “self-hating sellout”. Third Wave feminists would cringe at this kind of language and it is really not befitting of any “left” leaning party in history, supporting my theory that we may be watching a sea change in U.S. Politics, something that many of the old “left” have not yet noticed.

Amid the chaos it was refreshing to see that at least Forbes published one piece designed to cool people down; the fact that it was written by a graduate student and not either a career journalist beholden to his career or a Professor waiting on tenure is in itself telling; it allows for a (maybe) independent voice. Carlo Jose Vicente Caro rightly explains—in clear prose—what he thinks is necessary:

People need to both support and pressure Donald J. Trump to be an inclusive president. If he faults, then you protest. You do not need Bernie Sanders in order to create a political revolution. And he was right about that. Democracy is about being active and putting your leaders in check. You won’t be able to put them in check if they do not feel pressured.

As Mr. Caro reminds readers, “one thing was certain and that is that we will not see Hillary’s dangerous foreign policies again,” and it is a relief to see Mr. Caro’s words appear in a wide-reaching publication like Forbes:

the loss of Hillary Clinton means fewer weapons, training and finances to the allies of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Many of the groups that are being aided under the Obama administration and which were supported when Clinton was Secretary of State have cooperated tactically with Jabhat al Nusra (I refuse to call it by its “new name”) and many have salafi ideologies akin to ISIS or al-Qaeda’s affiliate. These groups would have continued to receive support under a Clinton presidency, thereby making the threat of terrorism bigger for the entire world. Since the Soviet invasion to Afghanistan, the establishment in Washington D.C has failed to understand that it does not make sense to create an “ISIS” in order to defeat another ISIS. So believe it or not, the world (at least in terms of terrorism) will be a safer place with Trump in the White House.

As I have argued, a Trump presidency may (I emphasize it) mean “that the U.S will stop engaging in overthrowing dictators (Bashar al Assad was on Hillary Clinton’s list)” and “that the U.S will worry more about its hemispheric security rather than entangling themselves longer in conflicts that cost trillions of dollars in remote regions, and which are far worse than ever before”. This is part of the “Empire Endgame” thesis I outlined in my previous post; if President Donald Trump’s ideas are to be taken at face value it suggests that the United States will finally try to distance itself from the military-industrial complex that has led it into far too many wars in far too many far-away places that have only resulted in lost lives both in the United States as well as in the global south. I just hope that people can spare more time reading writing like mine and Mr. Caro’s in order to get a broader perspective instead of spending time crying, burning flags and New Balances, or engaging in social media shaming. This isn’t all about YOU, its about YOUR COUNTRY and the WORLD.

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A Piece Of Banal Nationalism, In Response To the Aforementioned Flag Burners Above. Image Courtesy Of: http://aflags.blogspot.com/2012/06/american-flag.html

Donald Trump Wins: The Culture Wars In U.S. Politics Represent A Changing World

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The most bizarre election in American history has come and passed, and the victor—in what apparently has come as a surprise to many—was none other than the much maligned Donald Trump. Evidently, many did not learn from the lesson of last summer’s Brexit. But what is it that allowed Mr. Trump to succeed against the odds? As I wrote a few days ago, it is related to a global backlash against neo-liberal economics and a larger reverse within American politics; the left became the right while the right became the left. In becoming the new “right”, the old “left” represented by the Democratic party enlisted the help of many famous personalities. Counter-intuitively, this focus on fame actually is one reason for the backlash that manifested itself in what might be a revolutionary change in American politics. To understand its implications, it is useful to use some cultural metaphors—sports, after all, is a form of culture.

While many in the U.S. may be angry, it is refreshing that American voters finally saw through the racial barriers of American politics. It was clear that the presidency of Barack Obama did little to help black lives in the United States and that a change was in order; arguably, this election can be considered “progressive” (not in the liberal sense) if only for breaking the “political slavery” inherent in the American political system. The map of America is quite red at the moment which reveals the ills of American democracy.

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Lots More Red Than Blue. Image Courtesy of the Author, From Fox News’ Election Night Telecast).

Vast areas of the country are red, while small pockets—generally corresponding to urban areas—are blue; this corresponds to an unhealthy (and ultimately) undemocratic relationship between rich urban whites and poor urban minorities (mainly black and latino/latina). This purely exploitative relationship is something that needed to be stopped, at least in the context of democratic society, since it basically ensures that one political party (in this case, the Democrats) had an interest in keeping “minority” groups in a low socio-economic state since that meant they would keep providing votes. If the platform is based on “improving conditions”, but no improvement ever comes even though the media narrative keeps saying it will, then votes will continually get exploited. This kind of toxic alliance between rich, establishment whites and poor minorities—formed against poor and middle class whites—has shown its weakness. For some statistical maps on this racial divide can be seen at BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37889032 and USA Today (http://college.usatoday.com/2016/11/09/how-we-voted-by-age-education-race-and-sexual-orientation/ .

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In Both Pennsylvania (Above) and Florida (Below) We See That it is Major Urban Areas Voting One Way and Rural Areas Voting Another Way. Images Courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37889032

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The Racial and Education Breakdown Are Also Interesting. We Can See How Democrats Have a Solid Base Among Minorities (Bottom), While We Also See that Education Has Opposite Effects; Whites Are More Likely to Vote Democrat With a College Degree While non-Whites are Slightly Less Likely to Vote Democrat With a College Degree (Top). Images Courtesy Of: http://college.usatoday.com/2016/11/09/how-we-voted-by-age-education-race-and-sexual-orientation/

As someone who grew up in New England, I might have also been shocked at the result. As one TV pundit implied, maybe it is because they lived in New York and LA that they dismissed this outcome as a possibility. It is probably true—and thankfully I did NOT live in New England my whole life. I thank my parents for allowing me to pursue my undergraduate education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and I thank the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Florida for allowing me the chance to pursue post-graduate education. In the course of living in these distinct areas of the U.S.—the North, the (deep) South, the West, the Southwest—I have come to realize that not everyone is wealthy. Not everyone has equal opportunity. And (perhaps most importantly) not everyone is divided in terms of race; in fact many times class interests can trump (pardon the pun) racial issues.

Poor urban blacks and poor rural whites are not as different as politics tell you they are, and sports provides an example of it. Rapper Biggie Smalls (Notorious B.I.G) tells the story in “Things Done Changed” , rapping:

If I wasn’t in the rap game

I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game

Because the streets is a short stop

Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot

Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums

Biggie makes the connection between sports and poverty; for him the only way out of the ghetto and poverty for urban blacks is music, drug dealing, or sports (in this case, basketball). For poor rural whites, it is no different. For former Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, baseball was his only way out of Texas. In other parts of rural America it is football that provides a possible escape as country music artist Aaron Watson sings; the hope was to get “across the county line” and football was one way to get across it.

In the blink of an eye high school flew by

You went your way and I went mine

But we swore we’d make it,

Our love could take it

Four hundred miles could stand the test of time

Well I left that fall to play college ball,

But my dreams would all come to an end

‘Cause you know the big leagues never called,

And you went and fell in love with him

We sure saw a lot of miles,

Never even crossed that county line

I would’ve bet the farm, given my right arm

So you’d always be mine

Did we crash and burn or make a wrong turn

Or run out of gasoline?

I lost you around 3rd gear and 17

In Turkey too there is a saying that became popular during the 1990s, an era of increasing materialism in society as Turkey enthusiastically joined the neo-liberal world order following an economic opening in the late 1980s under Prime Minister Turgut Ozal. It is bu devirde ya topçu ya popçu olacaksın, or “these days you got to be either a pop star or a [football] player”. Sports provides a way out of hopeless poverty the world over, and it certainly doesn’t matter what your skin color or nationality is. I am grateful for having been able to travel domestically and internationally, since it has made me more able to understand these nuances—and to make the connections between them. Specifically, it has allowed me to appreciate—and visit—the different areas in the United States and has broadened the sociological perspective I can take on my country.

It is in relation to these “forgotten” areas of the U.S. that I now move my focus. One TV pundit—rightly I might add—correctly noted that it is possible that these rural voters felt alienated by the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, and Lady Gaga. Great musicians as they all are, they are all wealthy…and make money off the (much) less wealthy. Such endorsements are not exactly gospel to the poor and struggling people within America. America’s obsession with race has ignored the fact that many people struggle to get by and their struggles have nothing to do with race. It has more to do with resentment for a culture that values consumerism and instant fame (by way of selfies and social media). Sports stars too got out to vote and looked to influence choice in one way or another. Sadly again, their perspective was not the most useful in terms of truly bridging the gap between urban and rural, rich and poor.

The fact that Mr. Trump’s speech even seemed heartfelt is enough for me in that someone actually showed joy in being selected to lead his country; it restores faith in a vision of positive nationalism. Of course we shall see what happens—while the state media apparatus The New York Times continued using deliberately polarizing language, focusing on the connection between “working-class” and “white”; which needlessly racializes voter preferences:

The results amounted to a repudiation, not only of Mrs. Clinton, but of President Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled. And it was a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism.

State media wants to frame this as an attack on progressive values but I will argue that it could also be interpreted as the beginnings of a more truly progressive world. Politicians cannot be trusted farther than they can be thrown, but it is important to provide an alternative perspective at a time when so many people are going to extremes. When a University Professor—at an Ivy League institution, no less—cancels a test because of students being “emotionally distraught” over the election I know things are getting out of hand. As an educator myself, I know that education is vitally important for professional and, much more importantly, personal development. To deny that to students because of an election is morally criminal and cannot be accepted; that is why some alternative perspectives are vital.

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The Ivy League! Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/jon_victor_

An interesting post I read came from The Saker blog (I first found it on southfront.org). It makes a case I have long believed, that the globalist era has elicited a sea-change in international politics and that—perhaps—the lesser of two evils may not be the worst thing to happen in our lives as citizens of the world. I too believed that a war with Russia (over Syria) may have been on Hillary Clinton’s agenda; and Trump’s victory speech seemingly rejected this possibility outright: “I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.” As I said, I don’t really trust politicians and therefore all I can do is take what I hear at face value. And Mr. Trump’s words are not the worst of things to hear by any means.  The Saker writes:

I have always said that the choice for the lesser evil is morally wrong and pragmatically misguided.  I still believe that.  In this case, however, the greater evil was thermonuclear war with Russia and the lesser evil just might turn out to be one which will gradually give up the Empire to save the USA rather than sacrifice the USA for the needs of the Empire.  In the case of Hillary vs Trump the choice was simple: war or peace.

[…]

the crisis in Europe is entirely artificial, the war in Syria has an absolutely obvious solution, and the international order can easily accommodate a United States which would “deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations” and “seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict“.  The truth is that the USA and Russia have no objective reasons for conflict – only ideological issues resulting directly from the insane ideology of messianic imperialism of those who believe, or pretend to believe, that the USA is an “indispensable nation”. What the world wants – needs – is the USA as a *normal* nation.

I have always believed that the USA is the most abnormal country in the world, underlined by its “world police” mentality that emerged post-WWII (but arguably the roots go back to Woodrow Wilson’s era). This behavior was amplified after the fall of global communism in 1989-1991, and it gave the United States unilateral control over the world system. By pushing the Americanization/McDonaldsization of the world, the United States sought to (re-)build the world in its image: extreme capitalism and neo-liberalism. This, unfortunately, meant increased global inequality that favored the very rich in the United States and the global south and, to a lesser extent, the middle classes of the United States and wider global north while completely forgetting the poor of the United States and most of the global south. Perhaps, this is why the movement led by Mr. Trump against this system makes so many of the U.S. elites wary; the media have stressed that Mr. Trump’s presidency will threaten the global order as we know it because they stand to lose the most from it. After all, they won’t be the ones fighting the wars–it will be those from the rural “red” areas on the maps cited above that will have to fight.

As The Saker continues:

This is a direct blow to the credibility and legitimacy of the entire socio-political order of the USA: far from being a democracy, it is a plutocracy/oligarchy – everybody pretty much accepts that today.  Likewise, the election of Trump has already proved that the US media is a prostitute and that the majority of the American people hate their ruling class.  Again, this is a direct blow to the credibility and legitimacy of the entire socio-political order.  One by one the founding myths of the US Empire are crashing down and what remains is a system which can only rule by force.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn used to say that regimes can be measured on a spectrum which ranges from regimes whose authority is their power and regimes whose power in in their authority.  In the case of the USA we now clearly can see that the regime has no other authority than its power and that makes it both illegitimate and unsustainable.

Finally, whether the US elites can accept this or not, the US Empire is coming to an end.  With Hillary, we would have had a Titanic-like denial up to the last moment which might well have come in the shape of a thermonuclear mushroom over Washington DC.  Trump, however, might use the remaining power of the USA to negotiate the US global draw-down thereby getting the best possible conditions for his country.  Frankly, I am pretty sure that all the key world leaders realize that it is in their interest to make as many (reasonable) concessions to Trump as possible and work with him, rather than to deal with the people whom he just removed from power.

I have bolded what I believe to be the most salient parts in what is, admittedly, a fairly harsh assessment since it contains some very valid points. The fact that so many supporters of Ms. Clinton were crying profusely tells me that much of America definitely did buy into the system and believed the “democracy”.

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From the Looks of it, You’d Think Someone Had Died. Politics Should Not Be Taken This Seriously! Image Courtesy Of: https://ageofshitlords.com/pictures-clinton-supporters-crying/

It is unfortunate, because the United States was meant to be a democratic republic—not an  undemocratic empire. After WWII—and especially after the Cold War—the United States embraced the idea of empire which took it farther and farther from its people and its founding ideals of democracy and equality. In the cultural realm, even revisionist interpretations of Star Wars show that people have been thinking along these lines; the United States in its current state has come to resemble Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire far more than the Rebel Alliance, represented by our favorite childhood heroes Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewbacca:

The story is not only about each man’s ability to choose good or evil, or how wars destroy limited republics and empires alike; it is also about how the subtle manipulation of power behind the scenes helps make it all possible. By fooling all of the various characters into thinking they are doing the right thing, or at least acting in their own interests, Darth Sidious (AKA Palpatine) implements the final phase of the Sith Lords’ long-term plan to take revenge on the Jedi and total power for themselves.

Another perspective adds:

All the steps in the Dark Lord’s rise to total power were enabled by the crises of wars that he himself engineered. The overriding theme of the first trilogy is that the star wars engendered galactic tyranny. This is a perfectly realistic narrative motif, because it is merely an interstellar extrapolation of Randolph Bourne’s insight that war is the health of the State. The emergency-propelled rise of the Sith also fits with Robert Higgs’s broader insight that crisis is the health of Leviathan.

Indeed, throughout history, rulers, regimes, and power cliques (just like Sidious and the Sith) have dragged their countries into wars in order to acquire, shore up, and enhance their power. This power play almost always works, because war activates in indoctrinated adherents of a State what Randolph Bourne called the “herd mind”: a sort of statist Protocol 66.

This is all eerily similar to American foreign policy from Vietnam to Iraq, and what has recently occurred in the Middle East under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s leadership (regime?); in the name of defending freedom the United States has forcibly pushed neo-liberal economics on unwilling states (sometimes resorting to war as a Machiavellian means to an end). As I have often written, sometimes these policies have unintended consequences; Turkey (and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan) is just one example of how U.S. foreign policy often creates dictatorships. Sadly, the media in the United States is still missing the point by equating Mr. Trump with Mr. Erdogan.

In order to best understand the changes we are undergoing, I—as a marginal sociologist—will quote the writing of fellow (but not marginal) sociologist C. Wright Mills who coined the term “power elite”:

Is it not, in a word, the enormous enlargement and the decisive centralization of all the means of power and decision, which is to say—all the means of history-making? In modern industrial society, the facilities of economic production are developed and centralized—as peasants and artisans are replaced by private corporations and government industries. In the modern nation-state, the means of violence and political administration undergo similar developments—as kings control nobles, and self-equipped knights are replaced by standing armies and now by fearful military machines. The post-modern climax of all three developments—in economics, in politics, and in violence—is now occurring most dramatically in the United States and the USSR. In our time, international as well as national means of history-making are being centralized. Is it not thus clear that the scope and the chance for conscious human agency in history-making is just now uniquely available? (C. Wright Mills The Sociological Imagination 1959, 183).

Mills was writing in 1959, a crucial year—a time that, indeed, “human agency in history-making” was still available—while the United States was also beginning to show similarities between itself and the Soviet Union in many odd ways. Two years later, in January 1961, outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex. His full speech can be seen here, the transcript here. He may have seen the writing on the wall, the nascent stages of American politics’ close relationship to war. A year later, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy resisted nuclear war after compromising with the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis. A year later, on a November day, he was shot dead in Dallas, Texas. Other U.S. presidents to resist the dominant state narratives—Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan—also fell victim to gunmen with the former assassinated and the latter surviving. It is food for thought, especially given that media have already begun a narrative of international conflict as a response to Trump’s election win to discredit it; ABC news (a branch of state media) reported that Cuba just announced military drills as a response to an American “threat”.

Given this background, I am left wondering how bad Donald Trump’s presidency really will be, if at all? As someone who respects nationalism, I love America. And that means loving the values that it stands for—freedom and equality. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out as it should, and the imperialist era of American geopolitics has not reflected well on the country (just like earlier epochs, like that of slavery, were equally abhorrent). A change to this would be welcomed. Intervening in foreign lands does not show respect for freedom or equality; the neo-liberal world order which detests nationalism as a concept has equated nationalism with fascism (and spawned comparisons between Mr. Trump and populist leaders like Hitler). I argue that nationalism does not have to be bad, one can love America country without believing in American exceptionalism or American empire. I can see America as just one country among others, a “normal” country as mentioned above, not necessarily “better” than any other. Maybe it can be a “normal” country like the other one I know, Turkey. In both countries we have seen attacks on nationalism (salient, since both are very nationalist): The erasure of national identity was evidenced in the U.S. by criticisms of the Confederate flag, and in Turkey by the muted celebrations of Republic Day in recent years. But take the ad “there some debts you cannot repay” commemorating the anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founding father. It is spine-tingling for any Turk (myself included), and it celebrates a leader who fought against imperialism and who founded a modern,secular, and democratic republic out of the ashes of an empire. Despite some flaws, it was still a functioning state. In the context of modern meddling though, driven by the neo-liberal agenda, it is being torn apart by conflict. The world over, leaders like Ataturk have been thwarted by foreign powers in the past and it makes me wonder, sometimes, what the world would have been like if the post-colonial stage of nation formation during the Cold War hadn’t necessitated that states subscribe to either of two paths to development: The Soviet model or the American model.

Most importantly, as someone who believes in true equality and not lip service, is that America—the main exporter of “democracy” and “freedom” in the world—should practice what it preaches. From the standpoint of equality, the fact that Mr. Trump may become the first U.S. president to come from neither a military or political background is something to be celebrated; arguably it is more historic than Ms. Clinton’s bid to become the first female president. It is a shame that this important fact is being lost in the maelstrom since if we are to believe in true democracy, then we should all have the chance to become president regardless of our backgrounds or career choices. For me, this is a good thing because it allows one to resist the pre-existing biases of the “establishment”. The mere fact that outgoing President Barack Obama is taking the unprecedented step to meet Mr. Trump on 10 November is telling: Perhaps he will warn Mr. Trump that the “establishment” line must be followed…a warning Mr. Trump could ignore at his own risk, of course.

Politics is a murky business, and that is why I have become a marginal sociologist instead of a politician. Unfortunately, however, it has trained me to always think critically and that in itself is a valuable tool to use when viewing world events. I can see the irony in Ms. Clinton’s reluctance to concede when the worry was that Mr. Trump wouldn’t just as I can see the irony in Bruce Springsteen supporting a hawkish supporter of war like Ms. Clinton–what happened to the message of “Born in the USA”? And I can see the irony in the fact that many of the anti-war left are the main detractors of Mr. Trump, who has shown less inclination for foreign interventions than his rival Ms. Clinton. It is my hope, as always, that the United States under a President Trump lives up to its values and represents a republic—not an empire. American exceptionalism is not safe for the United States, and it is not safe for the world. If the United States can move away from that mode of thinking, and return to seeing itself as just one state among many, we may well see positive developments over the next four years. If not? Then, unfortunately, the future is very bleak indeed. I will prefer to remain optimistic despite it all because–sometimes–thinking outside the mainstream not only essential, it is our duty as human beings.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USA_Flag_Map.svg

From Women’s Volleyball Uniforms to Colin Kaepernick: The Manufactured Divisions In Society As Seen Through Sports

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I was attending a Gender Sociology seminar at the University of Florida and the conversation turned—of all things—to the uniforms worn by the American Women’s Volleyball team at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Since I am more of a soccer fan I had not seen the uniforms in question at the time, but judging by some of the rhetoric in the class room I assumed they must have been quite offensive. In reality, they look like anything any person would be likely to see in any beach town in the United States. Essentially the uniform is a swimsuit, or a bikini.

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The “Uni” In Question. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/08/09/scant-gender-parity-in-uniforms-for-olympic-beach-volleyball/?utm_term=.2eeb23b6b967

My first reaction to the comments in the class was that “sex sells”. In our modern society where instant gratification is all that matters it seems that the amount of skin shown is directly proportionate to the amount of money made. Just as industrial football in soccer is a commodification of sport, then these uniforms can—in some way—be seen as a form of commodification of sport as well; they might be using physical beauty to sell sport. Which—while not my cup of tea—is in line with capitalism. One need only look at the pictures of soccer stars David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo to see that such cynical marketing affects men as well as women.

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Becks As a Sex Symbol. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.enstarz.com/articles/5367/20120815/david-beckham-underwear-ad-soccer-star-shows-off-body-in-latest-h-m-shoot-photos.htm

Marxist theory itself underlines that the development of capitalism changed the gender roles of men and women; as society shifted from the traditional to the modern egalitarian gender roles began to fade. Gender scholar Cecilia Ridgeway, writing in her book Framed by Gender (2011), explains that:

Under conditions of greater social and material resources, however, the desperate interdependence between the sexes is lessened somewhat, and the egalitarian balance between gendered spheres of influence might be difficult to sustain. With more available resources, the risk is greater that one sex will gain greater access to these resources, creating a tipping factor that consolidates specific gender status beliefs into a diffuse status belief that broadly advantages that sex over the other (Ridgeway 2011, 51).

Interestingly, the discussion about the volleyball uniforms was not in these terms. Instead it was seen as some sort of male dominance that made the women wear the uniforms; the prevailing opinion was that the Olympians were being made into sex objects. This made me curious, and I decided to look into the matter a little more. Many commentators mentioned the controversy over the uniforms, while the Washington Post wrote a strange opinion piece blasting the “scant gender parity” while praising Egypt’s choice of uniforms  (which to me is like comparing apples and oranges, but that is for another day).

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Egypt’s More Modest Uniforms. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/08/09/scant-gender-parity-in-uniforms-for-olympic-beach-volleyball/?utm_term=.2eeb23b6b967

What seems to be lost in much of the discussion, however, is the voice of the players themselves. It is easy to approach the topic with pre-existing biases and opinions, but to ignore conflicting points of view is no way to debate a controversial topic. One CBS story for instance, noted that women’s volleyball players have a choice of uniforms while men have no choice:

The women actually have a choice of what to wear while the men only have one option. The women can either wear a two-piece bikini, or they can wear a one-piece suit. The sport did used to only have the option of bikinis for women, but they changed the rule in 2012 be be more inclusive to other cultures and religions. The men only have one option: a tank top and shorts.

American star Kerri Walsh Jennings took to Twitter to reject the notion that the players were wearing bikinis to get better TV ratings. A useful piece by the Independent Journal Review gave reasons for why the U.S. women’s volleyball team continues competing in bikinis, using quotes from the players themselves. Misty May-Treanor, a gold medalist, said it simply in an interview with Slate: “We’re staying in our [bikinis]. I don’t see too many people changing. To each his own. If you get down to it, it’s about the sport and not what we’re wearing.” And that is precisely the argument that I make. By lowering the debate to such a base level and focusing on what women are wearing when playing volleyball it ignores what is really going on, you miss the focus on the sport and athletes involved. In order for true “equality” to exist people—male or female—should be scrutinized for their athletic prowess, not on what they are wearing. These kinds of debates, rather than furthering a “progressive” agenda (to use the term that is currently in vogue) in society, actually serve to be more regressive. Another example from the sports world can be given.

When the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers (an American football team), Colin Kaepernick, chose not to stand during the American national anthem before a preseason game in protest of racism, his actions elicited varied responses from all over the social spectrum. The president of the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colorped People) went so far as to compare him to Rosa Parks. Although I’m not sure how Ms. Parks would have viewed this comparison, it certainly shows how important people perceive Mr. Kaepernick’s actions to be, and players from other teams are planning to take part in other “demonstrations”.

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Colin Kaepernick. Image Courtesy of: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/49ers/2016/09/07/colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-protest/89975464/

Unfortunately, it seems that—as with the women’s volleyball uniforms—things like this tend to increase, rather than decrease, the divide between different people. If it isn’t men and women being divided, then here it becomes blacks and whites.

Former NFL player Ray Lewis made a good point (albeit one that the author of the article, Will Brinson, doesn’t agree with) that the issue with Mr. Kaepernick’s protest is his focus on the flag. Mr Lewis said: “Listen I understand what you’re trying to do, but understand, take the flag out of it. I have uncles, I’ve got brothers, going into the military, that said I will never see you again. To understand that I will always respect that part of what our patriotism should be.” Focusing on the flag itself clouds the issue, and in a different way than Mr. Brinson would have you believe. He writes: “People yelling about whether protests should include the flag or feature the national anthem or whether a certain day is acceptable for protesting only cloud the waters further.” The flag is, for many, a symbol of unity—that we are all Americans. For others, it is a sign of Police brutality and even systemic racism. I understand that. But by focusing on the flag Mr. Kaepernick has made a lot of people upset—his own actions have led to the very “clouding of the waters” that Mr. Brinson blames not on the quarterback, but on his detractors instead. The perceived disrespect towards the flag and national anthem doesn’t solve the problems of racism in the United States; rather it just polarizes people further.

And we can see that in the attacks made on Mr. Kaepernick. There have been claims that his girlfriend, a Muslim, influenced him to protest social injustice. Mr. Kaepernick’s decision to focus on the flag has brought other issues out now that go way beyond the purpose of his original protest, in this case those of Islamophobia and gender equality. But his original message is lost. It is the “progressiveness” that sows division and—ironically—actually makes society regress.

This climate of racial division has led California State-Los Angeles University (CSLA) to debut segregated housing which will, among other things, “serve as a safe space for Black CSLA students to congregate, connect, and learn from each other” according to a list of demands from the CSLA Black Student Union. The freshman in the dorm are wary of calling it “segregation”, but the fact remains that Dr. Martin Luther King fought against the very concepts of “separate but equal” that CSLA’s policy represents! And sadly…other places are doing the same. The University of Connecticut will also have segregated housing this fall, while Oregon State and UC Berkeley are also sponsoring segregated events in what The Federalist rightly point out stems from a “far-Left [that] has found itself championing a toxic form of second-wave segregationism than only exacerbates division”. Even liberal civil rights leaders in the United States spoke against CSLA’s decision.

It is my hope that people stop focusing on differences so much that it stops them from seeing the similarities. People should not focus on the uniforms of the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team to the extent that it overshadows their play; by creating a controversy out of nothing (the players seemed to take no issue with their uniforms), we end up doing the very thing we intended not to do: focusing on these women because of their gender. They are volleyball players, just like a male volleyball player. Focus on them for what they do in sports, not for what they wear. In the same vein, Mr. Kaepernick should not focus on the American flag when he makes his protest to the extent that people forget about his initial protest—it is about race relations, not about nationalism. If he wants true equality in the United States of America, he should know that it will not come by antagonizing those who believe that the flag (and anthem) hold real, emotional, meanings. Respect is a two-way street. A perceived insult to the flag overshadows—for others—the very things Mr. Kaepernick is protesting against and that creates even more of a splintering within society. Black or White, Male or Female, Christian or Muslim, people are people. By creating artificial divisions in society problems will not be solved. Rather, they will be exacerbated to the point that, fifty years on, segregation returns. It is a chilling reminder that blind “progressiveness” can have its unintended “blowback”; by not listening to the opposing sides in society we risk finding ourselves in an intractable situation that will only unravel further, like yarn on a spool.