No, really, let’s take guns away from people.

Hi Joel,

Students from Parkland, Florida were in Salt Lake City, just down the road from me, this weekend. Coming here is particularly brave because a Utah is an area where it’s very difficult to talk about guns reasonably. Last year, the 4th grade field trip was to the Browning Gun Museum–with no warning to parents that this was on the agenda and no concern, at all, for children who have been traumatized by guns.

Oh, and then there’s the Utah Gun Exchange, a local gun shop that follows the students ACROSS THE COUNTRY in an armored vehicle with a mounted replica machine gun, which makes actual machine gun noises so the only way you know you aren’t being fired upon is because you aren’t being hit with bullets. (Read that sentence again and ask yourself whether this is what “freedom” means.) When the Parkland students announced they were coming to Utah, Utah Gun Exchange encouraged ever gunhumping asshole they know to show up. The situation became so scary that the movie theater the students had originally reserved for the event backed out, citing safety concerns.

The Utah Gun Exchange is following the Parkland students around the country to combat their call for more gun lawsAbove, cruel people with no sense of empathy for children who huddled in school supply closets, the dead bodies of their friends pressed against them as they waited for the Parkland shooter to… what? Be killed by a “good guy with a gun”? Commit suicide? Fire the thousands of rounds of ammunition that people are allowed to stockpile in the US?

Here is the paradox of gun ownership: if you are responsible enough to insure that a gun is safe, you will not own one because you understand that guns are never safe. You can never insure that they won’t fall into the wrong hands.


I wish every gun were gone.

It really is that easy, which is much easier than you might think. Though both gun owners and non-owners overestimate gun ownership (and gun owners overestimate it even more), the real rate is between 20-30%, according to research by KU’s Mark Joslyn and Don Haider-Markel. Most gun owners don’t own large arsenals.  Just 3% of the population owns half of all the guns out there. In other words, a few gun fetishists are stockpiling weapons, and while many feel that they should own one, the large majority don’t feel the need to own any. That leaves a relatively small majority to persuade to give them up.  Yes, 3% of them are really committed, the kind of jerks who open carry to Kent State’s graduation. But the very large share of Americans don’t own guns and do support gun control–and we have the power to do something about it.

Rather than giving Americans a blanket right to own any kind of weapon we want for any reason, as its critics lamented and its fans celebrated,  2008’s District of  Columbia v. Heller (which just had its 10th anniversary),the case actually sets up all kinds of reasons why the government can limit the right to bear arms. Heller specifies that the government can deny gun ownership based on both the owner (people with known mental illnesses, felons), how guns are transferred from owner to owner, where the guns are located (schools, hospitals), and even the kind of gun (“dangerous and unusual weapons”). In short, it opens up all kinds of possibilities for regulating guns “for traditionally lawful purposes.” And military-grade weapons are NOT part of our tradition.

Lots of good liberals, fearful of making a “clinging to their guns and religion” rhetorical mistake, have taken great pains to say that we’re not here to take guns.

But I think we should be. Heller gives us the option to take all kinds of weapons, for all kinds of reasons, from all kinds of people. And there are practical ways to make that happen.

We’re not likely to do that before school starts in September. But we can start to do it, by voting for candidates who don’t think we’re helpless in the face of mass violence, by how we vote this fall. And, to be clear, if a voter chooses to vote for any candidate, for whatever reason, who doesn’t support radical changes in our laws about guns, children blood will be on their hands when the next school shooting happens.



Trump’s Policies: A White Ethnostate is the Goal

Several months ago, I attended a carefully moderated panel about the rise of global extremism. We were just about a year into the Trump administration, and the panelists– esteemed historians, lawyers, social workers–were mostly careful to stress that the US was not interwar Germany. We weren’t heading into a Holocaust. While fascist forces were louder than they have been in our past, our democracy was robust enough to withstand them.  Those claims were doubtful to me then and seem extremely shaky now.

A few things to consider:

  • Our Department of Justice has done potentially irreparable damage to innocent immigrant children of color in order to send the message to asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants that they are not welcome here.
  • Years of rightwing attacks on families of color, especially those headed by single mothers, and degradation of black men as irresponsible, violent, and criminal have consequently devalued children of color, which is why so many Republicans can look at the horror of our treatment of immigrant children and say that it’s good policy.
  • The Trump administration is moving to separate children who are citizens from their non-citizen parents who are here legally.
  • The Trump administration is threatening to take citizenship away from naturalized citizens.
  • The Trump administration is threatening to deport non-citizens in the country legally who apply for but are denied an extension of a green card or a change in status. This process allows people in the country legally to be held without bond or a right to a lawyer or to a fair trial for the simple act of legally requesting a change in status.
  • Trump has suggested that natural born citizens of color who exercise their right to peaceful protest should be stripped of citizenship.
  • The Trump administration’s “tough on crime” attitude will increase the number of people of color in jail.  Those people will lose the right to vote.
  • Republican-led attacks on voter rights are an effort disenfranchise people of color–again, attacking a key right of citizens.
  • Republicans continue to show affection for Nazis, neo-Confederates, and other white supremacists because they understand that this is the future of their party. They would rather endorse racists and win than stand up to them and lose.

These are trial runs. A country that builds cages for brown skinned immigrant children is a country that will do far worse.


Carlos Grant

Above, a map of the white ethnostate that white supremacist Carlos Grant posted to white supremacist social media. White separatists have all kinds of proposals for creating an all-white nation, from crafting state constitutions to ban the presence of African Americans (as Oregon did) to encouraging people to move to places where whites are already a majority and then seceding from the US. “New Europa,” “New Albion,” and “nations” are envisioned regularly, with those playing Fantasy Succession even designing flags and writing constitutions for their new homelands. 

Many Trump supporters try to say that they aren’t racist. But they are supporting policies about race that are the preferred policies of so-called “racial realists” (a term that those in the more “academic” wing of white supremacy like to use to describe themselves). The central goal of this group is to prevent whites from becoming a minority in the US. They advocate, as a first step, “voluntary separation”–that is, people of color leaving the US on their own volition. Of course, they want the US government to enact policies that provide a little “nudge” in that direction: policies that make it harder for people of color to live here, from mass incarceration to shooting border crossers on sight. Under presidents both Democrat and Republican, we’ve enacted some of these horrific policies, but no one has done it at the level that Trump has done it. More than that, he encourages violence by white supremacists in a way that should turn the stomach of people with a conscience.

Here is Jared Taylor, the leader now for 20+ years of this vision of race relations in the US, speaking to NPR’s On the Media after Trump’s win in 2016:

[A ban on Muslims entering the US and a total roundup and removal of all undocumented immigrants] are very important steps, but to me the ultimate goal is to have at least a portion of the United States where whites are the recognized majority and in which their culture is recognized as the dominant culture and where they can live free from the embrace of people unlike themselves. And I believe that that can be achieved through voluntary separation. The government today is doing its best to try to force people together.

The goal of white supremacists is a white ethnostate. If Trump’s policies are creating that (and I think they are), then if you support those policies, then you support the goal of creating a white-majority America by means that violate human rights, earn us international scorn, and include acts of genocide.  Racial “separatism” has as its foundation the idea that whites are superior to African Americans and Hispanics (that is, white supremacy).

If you support policies that have, as their goal, a white ethnostate, that makes you a white supremacist.  Do all those who approve of Trump approve of these policies? Maybe not, but they tolerate them for other purposes.

And, I’d bet you the future of our democracy that, in fact, many of them do. White separatists are very clear–and I’m increasingly inclined to believe them–that they represent a “silent majority” of white people who want the 1964 Civil Rights Act repealed, who want the 14th Amendment (which is about both citizenship and due process) repealed, who think that Plessy v. Ferguson was a-okay and that all our troubles began with Brown v. the Board of Education–a case in which the judiciary got into the business of “social engineering.” Remember that a significant number of Trump primary voters think that the Emancipation Proclamation was a bad idea and wish that the Confederacy had wonThey want an American from before the Civil War, where whites could own others and kill them when they didn’t obey white will.

Conservatives who don’t want David Duke to be their 2024 candidate need to get to work now.






No, we’re not a nation of immigrants


Are we a nation of immigrants?

It’s something we on the left like to say as the immigration debate continues. It’s a way of trying to bring the debate in focus, a way of reminding folks that — unless your heritage is purely Native American — your family tree probably originates on some other continent. So don’t be such a goddamned hypocrite.

There’s pushback to that notion, though, from both the left and the right.

On the left, that pushback comes mostly from African Americans — who note, reasonably, that their ancestors didn’t migrate: They were kidnapped, stolen, and brought across the ocean. “Immigration” is far too anodyne a term to match that experience.

On the right, the objection is different. We’re not a nation of immigrants, they say, but a nation of settlers who can decide when or when not to admit immigrants. Here’s a version of that argument, and let’s see if you can spot where it’s problematic:

Before America was a nation, it had to be settled and founded. As Michael Anton reiterated in response to New York Times columnist Bret Stephens: America is a nation of settlers, not a nation of immigrants. In that, Anton is echoing Samuel Huntington, who showed that America is a society of settlers. Those settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries—more than anyone else after—had the most profound and lasting impact on American culture, institutions, historical development, and identity. American began in the 1600s—not 1874—and what followed in the 1770s and 1780s was rooted in the founded society of those settlers.

“The most important fact to keep in mind when studying political changes in America is that the United States is a product of a settler society,” writes historian J. Rogers Hollingsworth.

Settlers, Anton explains, travel from an existing society into the wilderness to build a society ex nihilo. Settlers travel in groups that either implicitly or explicitly agree to a social compact. Settlers, unlike immigrants, go abroad with the intention of creating a new community away from the mother country.

Notice anything missing?

How about the estimated 2.1 million to 18 million Native Americans who are believed to have lived in what is now the United States in 1800? “Ex nihlio” is Latin, doncha know, for “out of nothing.” The continent was, in this telling, a blank slate — or close enough to it. The idea of America as a “nation of settlers” is, frankly, white supremacist, because it treats the people who were here as not having interests in the land — or their own preservation, frankly — worth noting.

I realize that I sound like a typical lefty griping about what happened more than a hundred years ago. Can’t be helped. Our founding character is an important part of our national self-image, and that in turn influences the way we hold these debates, and the decisions we make. Sometimes a little myth-making is good — conceiving ourselves as a nation of liberty has, over time, forced us to move ever more (if too slowly) in that direction. But myths that overlook the existence of millions of people do not serve us well, I think. And some people who exalt those invaders start from the premise of celebrating them, then do the moral engineering backwards from there.

So what are we?

Taken together, we’re not really one thing or another, maybe: We’re a nation of invaders, murderers, and thieves … and kidnapping and theft victims … and yes, even a few immigrants.

And that doesn’t even really capture it. With some exceptions, none of us quite belong on that list, either. We are heirs, mostly, to the invaders, immigrants, and the conquered — in many cases, heirs to all three groups. Many of us would like to tell the story of our inheritance in positive terms: It forces us into moral gymnastics we’d never accept in other circumstances.

This is not to create a guilt trip. But it should influence the decisions we collectively make about who belongs here. Many among us believe that inheritance gives us rights and power over the land. Some of us believe the inheritance creates obligations. I’m in the latter group.

Emmett Till Case Reopened

Some good news in the world!

New information about the unsolved Emmett Till murder has emerged, prompting investigators to reopen the case.

Carolyn Bryant, the white woman who accused the fourteen-year-old black child of whistling at her recanted her accusation years ago. She’s now 84 years old. Two men, Bryant’s then-husband and his half-brother, were acquitted but later confessed to torturing and murdering the child but were not retried.

I think a lot about Bryant, about how, as a white woman, I wield the same power she did. I think about what it means when white women call the police on black children mowing grass, playing in the park, asking for directions, delivering newspapers. I practice using my white woman’s voice to interrupt those attacks on black children’s lives. Stop harassing that child! What that child is doing is none of your business. I’m going to stand here, between you and this child, until you leave. You aren’t going to treat a child in my neighborhood this way. I’m recording this interaction and will share it as evidence of your harassment of this child when the police arrive. 

Above, Tamir Rice.

Generations of white women bear responsibility for the death of Emmett Till–and Tamir Rice and Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Cameron Tillman and Laquan McDonald and Andy Lopez. It’s not that we accused these children of crimes but that we have used “protection” of our white womanhood as a justification for fear of–and thus violence against–of boys and teens of color.  We don’t have to be on the scene for violence to be done in our names. But we can also be part of the work of making a more just world in Till’s name.

Above, the climatic scene in The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 film that gave us a vision of the post-Civil War KKK as a force for protecting white womanhood. The heroine, played by Lillian Gish, fears being raped by a black man, played by white actors Walter Long in blackface. She throws herself off a cliff to her death as he pursues her. The film was boycotted by many people–but it also helped inspire a rebirth of the KKK. 

Hunting down those who commit civil rights crimes is as important as hunting down Nazis and holding them responsible. Till’s loved ones deserve it. As a white woman, I’m grateful for it.




The Calls are Coming from Inside the House: Trump is the biggest threat the US faces

So, Donald Trump, currently in Brussels for a NATO summit, just claimed that Germany is “controlled” by Russia. At issue is a Russian pipeline that would deliver gas directly to Germany, giving Russia more leverage in Europe. While it’s legitimate, I think, to address the issue, Trump’s comments are insensitive to German history. A large part of Germany, after all, was controlled by the Soviet Union–with great suffering for the people living there.

It’s also a classic case of (I’m sure this is a real term in foreign policy) “the finker is the stinker.” As Time observed in commentary on world leaders’ weariness of Trump’s temper tantrums:

During the campaign, Trump often resorted to the tactic of falsely accusing his opponents of things he had been criticized for doing.

Or, as your therapist calls it, “projection.”

At the same time that he’s starting trade wars (Hey, Kansas Republicans–How are your soybeans doing?), threatening to invade Venezuela (Why? How does that fit into America First priorities?), and insulting our closest allies, he’s also praising Nazis and appointing white supremacists to positions of power, fawning over Putin, and saluting North Korean generals.

See the source imageAbove, General Two Scoops, Glorious Leader-for-Life


I’ve been working on an academic paper that required me to analyze a number of Trump’s speeches to Religious Right organizations and their speeches about him. One of the patterns I was examining was emnification: How do we construct enemies? In Trump’s speeches, a clear pattern emerged:

  1. He brags about how well-supported he is by conservative Christians. (His first words at the 2017 Faith and Freedom Concert were: “We got 81 percent of the vote [referencing the % of white evangelical voters who said they voted for him]. I want to know who are the 19 percent? Who are they? Where do they come from?”)
  2. He lists the things they view as attacking them: Obamacare, liberal Supreme Court Justices, the Johnson Amendment (which prohibits preachers from endorsing a candidate from the pulpit unless they forfeit their tax-exempt status), Muslim immigrants, Islamic extremism and terrorism, and the worldwide persecution of Christians (which is a legitimate concern).
  3. Then–and here is his smooth move–he shifts to speak about his political opponents support the first of things. Which is kinda true: Clinton supported Obamacare and the Johnson Amendment and would have appointed liberal justices and not have pushed for a Muslim ban.
  4. He creates these parallel lists (“Things Conservative Christians Believe Threaten Them” and “Things that My Political Opponents Support”) and makes some of the comparisons explicit: Conservative Christians are hurt by Obamacare, but my political opponents like it. Conservative Christians are endangered by the Johnson Amendment, but my political opponents support it.  Conservative Christians rights are threatened by liberal Justices, but my political opponents support appointing such justices. But then he lets the final comparisons hang: Conservative Christians oppose terrorism. but my political opponents… Conservative Christians don’t want Muslims terrorists entering the country under our refugee laws, but my political opponents… Conservative Christians care about violence against Christians worldwide, but my political opponents…
  5. Then he compares his own travails as President to the suffering (real and imagined) of Christians. Just like they have enemies, he has enemies. Just like people are out to destroy them, people are out to destroy him.

Trump is likely our most paranoid president since Nixon. His ridiculous loyalty oaths are just one signal of it. But he uses this idea of “enemies” to cater to the many conservative Christians who continue to support him. They’re in love with their own victimization, sure that they are martyrs for their causes. He can’t join them as a person of faith, but he can invite them into his realm of power by suggesting that they have common enemies. That’s part of his strategy, for, as he’s said in multiple speeches:  “You can’t always choose your friends. But you can never fail to recognize your enemies.”

Above, a clip from SNL calling attention to Trump’s admiration for dictators. 


We’re looking at an effort, I think, to reorganize global alliances. Trump’s actions aren’t simply breaches of etiquette toward our allies or flattery of by an unctuous and insecure toady toward the world’s dictators. They’re an effort to re-shape the global order toward fascism.


UPDATE: Thanks to my friend PR for noting that the title of this may not be something that everyone understands. It alludes to a horror movie trope in which someone home alone–often a teenage babysitter–answers the house phone only to hear a creepy voice ask a threatening question (“Do you know where the children are?”) When the babysitter calls the police to trace the call, they discover that the call is coming from inside the house–in other words, that the killer is already inside! (This trope only makes sense if you understand that landlines sometimes allow a person to call within their own home.) The terror comes from being trapped inside the space that is supposed to be safe with a killer–and not being able to trust that you can use the phone to call for help.  The film When a Strangers Calls (1979) is the perfect example, though it’s not the first use of the trope in film. Earlier films were inspired by the 1950 murder of Janett Christman, 13 year old girl murdered while babysitting. Christman’s murder, which occurred in Columbia, Missouri, is still unsolved, but it appears that the murdered gained entry lawfully, then made the scene look as if he entered through a broken window.

The term has come to describe any situation in which the danger a person (or in this case) a democracy is from the inside.

Above, Jill Johnson, Carol Kane’s character, is told by the police that the call came from inside the house in When a Stranger Calls.


_No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas_ offers us some hope–and advice

Lest you think I never share anything but bad news, journalist C.J. Janovy has written a new book about the battle for gay rights in Kansas, and it’s surprisingly encouraging.

No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas is available from University Press of Kansas

It’s full of stories of every day people who recognized that life could be good in Kansas for queer people and who went about, in a very hand-on-the-plow way, to make it happen. Over the long term, they won (even though we have to be on guard all the time to secure those wins for the future).

Janovy recently shared an interview with the Kansas City Star about the book. She gives me a little hope for Kansas, beyond the question of gay rights, in this exchange:

Q: In the book, you illustrate acts and attitudes of common decency and acceptance — or at least tolerance — by ordinary people across Kansas. Do the state’s politics reflect its people?

A: I think that’s a question that Kansans have been wrestling with for the last few years. There are a lot of people in my book who say “no.” The last couple of elections have been interesting, and we’ll see in the next cycle whether the representation changes as a result of Kansans realizing the stakes of not paying attention to what’s going on in Topeka.

I hope some of our readers check it out and support Janovy’s work and LGBT activism in Kansas more broadly, including the work of younger activists who are beginning to carry the mantle of those profiled in No Place Like Home. 

Shaming, Shunning, and Incivility

Hi Joel,

You recently suggested that Maxine Waters’ call for private citizens to heckle public officials who support the vilest policies of the Trump administration went too far. I have been sitting on that for awhile and have to disagree.

Maxine Waters didn’t encourage people to hassle private individuals over their voting choices. She specified that people who are part of this cabinet–who choose to speak on behalf of, defend, and advance policies that are genocidal (a word I am not using lightly here)–should be shamed. Heckling is part of that. You wrote that “If you’re intent on surrounding somebody with angry people, you’re going to make them fearful for their life.” Perhaps this is a difference in our experiences. (When my midwestern-raised husband first met my East Coast family, he kept asking, “Why are they so angry? Why do they yell all the time?” I had no idea what he was talking about. But he felt hostility there–some of which was just loudness and animation and some of which WAS there but that we just live with because, yes, we’re angry–but that doesn’t indicate that we’re murderous.)

Above, Maxine Waters, whose strategy for social change includes letting those who would separate immigrant babies from their parents know that they won’t get any rest until those parents children get rest, too. 

I’m cautious about that interpretation–that anger equals danger–because I think it’s consequences are racist and sexist–and lethal for people of color and women.

Whose anger in justified? Men’s. Men are allowed to be angry, expected to be angry. Anger is one of the few emotions–along with lust and jealousy–that we allow men to have. Men’s anger is normalized, even though it kills them and it kills the rest of us, too.

Whose anger is interpreted as dangerous, though? Black people’s. The angry black man. The angry black woman. Also, women in general. Women’s feelings are ALWAYS wrong, always irrational, always disproportionate, can never be trusted. When women are angry, it’s because they are out of control, not because the situation warrants anger.

Black men and women, in particular, are frequently seen as angry, even when they’re not. When they are, they are seen as racist, no matter how justifiable their anger is.

Some of us will always have our anger–or just the anger we are assumed to be feeling– seen as a danger. And, especially for African Americans, that misinterpretation kills them. Think of how many police officers claim that they were “fearful of their lives” when they shot an unarmed black person. Our laws make this an allowable defense in Stand Your Ground cases: Would a reasonable person be afraid for their life?  When we train white people to be always afraid of black people, then, yes, a “reasonable” white person WILL feel deathly fear. We’re social animals, and we learn what we are taught unless we choose to learn otherwise. When people of color are seen as inherently anger and that means that they are dangerous, white people then have a reason to fear–and to fire.

So, I’m not willing to say that anger should be interpreted as dangerous. It is certainly unpleasant–but many of our choices carry unpleasant consequences. I’ve yelled at plenty of people without wanting to murder them. And I assume that the many people who have been angry at me–even loud and angry–aren’t going to kill me.

It is unpleasant for Alan Dershowitz that the hoity toity folks at Martha’s Vineyard shun him socially. It is not surprising; words have consequences, and people don’t want to hang out with a jerk. They also don’t want to be associated with someone who defends indefensible policies. It’s unpleasant for Scott Pruitt to be confronted by people in public. (Flying first class, I think, was a totally defensible financial choice, and, as a taxpayer, I don’t mind paying for that.) It’s unpleasant for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be refused service at a restaurant.

(An interruption for a math problem: Q: A Nazi is dining out with ten friends. How many Nazis are at the table? A: 11.)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a meeting with state and local officials and President Donald Trump about infrastructure in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.

Above, Scott Pruitt. If everyone hates you, it’s time to re-evaluate your life choices. Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP.

Frankly, it’s unpleasant to have be a heckler, too. No one is having a good time at these scenes. Trust me: the hecklers would prefer a respectful bout of debate. No one wants to bring it to the level of public embarassment, least of all the good people of the United Methodist Church. 

But you saw both the GOP primary debates and the Clinton-Trump debates. There was nothing respectful coming out of Trump then, and there is no respect now.

I don’t say this lightly or happily: this moment calls for different tactics.

Civility alone doesn’t work so well. The NAACP looked radical… until Martin Luther King, Jr. came along. And then they appeared quite civil and reasonable to white eyes! And King looked radical… until Malcolm X presented a more frightening, to white people, vision of black liberation. A radical flank can re-calibrate the spectrum of options to make choices that once looked not very appealing suddenly very appealing.

Incivility is working. It worked remarkably well in the fight against the alt-right. Richard Spencer thought he was going to lead a revolution, but he can’t even book a room to hold a rally. Why? Because he was shamed, shunned, and, yes, heckled. He got shouted down because his bad ideas don’t belong on a college campus. (If there is one thing I know about college campuses, it’s that resources are limited and we have to make tough decisions about how to enhance students’ educational experiences on a very tight budget. If there is no money to pay qualified professors fair wages, then there sure ain’t no money to pay for a racist to come and yell that the Holocaust didn’t happen.)

And it’s working with the Trump administration, too. Now, to be fair, the turnover is so high that it’s hard to know how much heckling is helping get grifters like Scott Pruitt out the door. (Here, journalists who kept digging up his dirty helped a whole lot.) But, at minimum, it’s making life lonely for people like Ivanka Trump.

Which is good, I think. People are social creatures, and we belong in community. We have to choose our communities carefully, because they guide our actions, explicitly and in more subtle ways.  When substantial parts of your world tell you that you no longer belong, it should hurt–but it should also motivate a course correction. Sometimes that looks angry. Almost always, it will hurt your feelings. Mostly, it will embarass you–but only because you haven’t been listening to the quieter, gentler cues along the way.