Author: Stephen Miller

On the Bright Side: Conservatives have a Future. The Trump GOP Does Not.

The Wilderness | Issue 66 | 5 . 10 . 2016 |

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People rarely grasp history while they’re living through it. Watershed moments are rarely recognized for what they are while we’re in the middle of them. If your mind can’t process the gravity of what you’re witnessing, it’s because what you’re witnessing right now with the end of the GOP p̶r̶i̶m̶a̶r̶y̶ and the nomination of reality TV entertainer Donald Trump is one of those moments. Careers and conservatism will be judged based on where those in the arena stood at this moment. Believe it.

With the Supreme Court up for grabs, a Senate now about to tilt back to the Democrats, and a state legislature majority not seen in 75 years, the GOP base simply threw it all away. And now they are about to get everything they’ve claimed they were mad as hell about over the past four years. Why? Because they were mad, or rather told to be mad. They’re mad about “comprehensive immigration reform” that never passed, they’re mad at budgets that will be vetoed by an uncompromising president in Barack Obama. They’re mad about the national debt, whatever the hell they think that actually is. They’re mad about trade, again, whatever that means to them. They’re mad at whatever Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have told them to be mad about between pitching iced tea and soda streams.

Donald Trump is the perfect Fox News Nominee; a nonsensical congeries of every clichéd talking point the political Left has poked conservatives with for the past decade. He seemingly has formed his ideology from Greta polls and Breitbart comment sections. He’s your grandfather sitting in his favorite Archie Bunker rip-off chair screaming about how This Country Is Goin’ To Hell, but with about a billion extra dollars to burn and enough spray tan to lacquer an entire Real Housewives cast three times over. He’s the perfect soundbite candidate, and 40 million dollars’ worth of free soundbites is what carried him to the nomination.

Trump clinched a major party nomination based almost strictly on the short attention spans of his audience. Remember that unsubstantiated National Enquirer blockbuster exclusive about Ted Cruz’s purported five mistresses? Trick question: neither do Trump’s supporters. Trump is dependent on conspiracy theories, internet pontifications and outright trolls to maintain his flight of sensationalism. With Trump, the explicit strategy is to say the most outrageous thing he can about whoever opposes him and then make them prove the negative. This is the inevitable result of what happens when a mainstream media once tasked with finding truth is now more interested in finding narratives and clicks. 2008 changed everything — it was the moment when the network media decided they were all in for the magical story of Barack Obama and his promises of hope. Readers went elsewhere and voters turned to something else when hope never came. Truth no longer mattered. 

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This was how Trump became the first official social media nominee in history, a viral maven proving that high-profile celebrity and a high profile Twitter account can carry you to the Presidential nomination of a major party on the cheap. Barack Obama used social media and politics in a similar way: a great branding team basically told him to go out and say the right thing in the right way and they would do the rest. But Trump is social media. Barack Obama merely adopted the Twitter. Trump Bane was born in it, molded by it.

This will change politics more than even our own media can currently imagine in 2020 and 2024. It won’t matter if Hillary Clinton is a 74-year-old out of touch Miss Daisy wandering around the White House kitchen at 4am and attempting to microwave her Apple hologram texting device. The team around her will run her brand, advertise for her on Twitter and Facebook, and she will have the power of the White House brand behind her as well. Any opposing candidate will have to automatically have a social media following to even remotely stand a chance. The next 16 years of President Kanye and President Clooney are going to be awesome.

And herein lies the problem for Trump:

He now finds himself facing  a general election opponent who has already survived tabloid accusations that she birthed a space alien and that her husband hired the 3-breasted hooker from Total Recall as an intern. She’s been through all of this before, back in the 1990s. And I hope you enjoy reruns, because over the course of the next 6 months we are going to relitigate Vince Foster, Chelsea’s “real” father, Bill’s illegitimate black kids, and whether Aliens Back Clinton this time, or are Trump-curious. Roger Stone, Jr. will be shouting “Webb Hubbell!” from the rooftops and resurrecting stories about Mena, AR cocaine deals, and Trump’s anonymous goon army will dutifully hashtag it and send it out. 

The Info-Wartainment and National-Enquirerism has now been legitimized and will be allowed to fester because it will satisfy a part of the Republican base who wants to see Hillary take a beating for her sins. Trump exploits this with a barrage of cheap threats and call-in appearances where he is not made to account for his breathless declarations. What if Ted Cruz is Canadian? I’m just asking questions about Obama’s birth certificate. Hey man, Rafael Cruz never denied hanging out with Lee Harvey Oswald, it’s just a theory I read man. His online horde of Scavino-bots then pick these messages up, run with them to get them into the Breitbart bloodstream and voilà: a narrative is born.  These are the stories Trump is allowed to nurture into existence and drop at a moment’s notice because journalists fail at their duty to hold him accountable for any of it. 

This is the lifeblood of Trump’s batshit army of chainmail conspiracy enthusiasts, screaming into the Twitter tubes that they are mad as hell because no one listens to them anymore.

Here’s the thing: we stopped listening after their fourth forwarded meme from cryingeaglepatriot.tumblr about Frank Marshall Davis being Barack Obama’s real father or the CIA plot to assassinate Bristol Palin. These are our fathers, mothers, our uncles, our grandparents and our co-workers, and we let them get away with spreading such nonsense into the bloodlines of conservatism because we just didn’t want to deal with the drama of telling them how absolutely insane they were. We simply added their e-mail address to our spam folder and went about our day.

Well now the drama has found us and it has to be dealt with.

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We have no interest in winning you over anymore. You don’t want serious policy solutions or explanations of why Paul Ryan allowed the Ominbus to pass. It’s much easier to tune out while Sean Hannity screams “Traitor!” into his microphone. You don’t want a physics lesson on how, barring the acquisition of a Kryptonian terraforming space machine, Trump’s big beautiful wall will remain a myth. You want to scream with outrage that lowbrow, quasi-thinkpieces like this one do nothing but “insult the base.”

Well guess what? You’re right. Because a base that chooses a Cheeto-dusted con-man hellbent on proving every lazy Salon.com cliché the Left has ever spouted about the “Tea Party” is a base that not only deserves to be insulted, but outright ignored and shunned going forward. No matter how loud and no matter how many in number.

Cliff’s Notes conservative establishment authors and entertainers have decided that anger sells and have millions off of it. They’ve spent a goodly amount of time making sure you’re angry and afraid of the Kenyan Obama and scary Mexican hotel workers. You’re angry listening to them in your car. You’re angry listening to them in your garage. You’re angry reading them before bed. We’re done trying to change it. We’re simply bidding adieu. The GOP is yours. Do what you will with it. We’re done fighting for the soul of it. It deserves to die along with most of Trump’s baby-boomer base.

You want your speeches about Big Gulps and the white noise of your AM Radio and you want to be left alone for the remainder of what’s left of the past 30 years of your wasted political lives. And you’re going to get your wish.

Fox News pocket catheter spokesman and Footloose preacher Mike Huckabee has told us kids to get off his lawn. In fact most of Fox news in general has made it quite clear through Twitter fights and ghostwritten quickie books that they are not interested in a non-Trump audience. For all of this raging against the dying of the light by millionaire TV and radio hosts, it’s time to ask a very simple question: What are you getting out of it? The “base” is really, really upset that they fucked everything up, and now they are going to do something about it!

There’s another facet to all this that is not only fascinating but downright comically bewildering: the online alt-Right has fallen into line with the same position as the establishment of Bob Dole, John Boehner, Jan Brewer, Mitch McConnell, Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. Yes, this plucky anon army of anime-bots is apparently totally fine with standing shoulder-to-shoulder with that special brand of God, grits, guns and crazy. Failed ideologies make for strange bedfellows and they both agree: conservatives and moderates who will not support Trump are no longer needed. This a declaration passed down from the lint headed God-Emperor himself. And that’s fine with us as well. We’re tired of defending the culturally illiterate Mike Huckabees, the bobble-headed caricature that is now Sarah Palin, the over-the-hill Ann Coulters and the incompetent Reince Priebus.

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But know this: you cannot have it both ways. If we are told to pack our bags and go, we’ll go, peacefully without argument. We’ll go our way, you will go yours and that will be that. But you’re responsible for what happens next. There will be no MUH ESTABLUSHMUNT to blame this time. Trump is the candidate Rush Limbaugh has been screaming about for the past 20 years, and he finally got him. There are other fights in culture and media worth the time and effort. The 2016 election is no longer one of them. Madam President.

The GOP brand is now effectively the Trump brand, and the Trump brand is a garbage heap made to look classy and expensive. Those of you happy to scoop gold-leaf litter to cover the smell of the fanta colored cat turds are welcome to continue doing so; we are under no obligation anymore to explain, intervene, nor mitigate your desperate bullshit. And we won’t.

With Trump at the head of the party, the GOP has effectively become Trump University, and candidates looking to emulate Trump, Like Paul Nehlan, will begin popping up. These people are Frank TJ Mackey wannabes, more bent on proving their physical prowess than the soundness of their policies. A Ponzi scheme of jockhead fanatics all hoping to replicate Trump’s image of success, no different than a Jordan Belfort seminar. “You too can rise to the top of your primary field like Trump following these 12 easy steps and for just 9 easy payments of $39.99!!!1!!”

The Grand Old Party just became the Sell Me This Pen Party.

If all  of this sounds hopeless and lost. It’s not. Not in the least. Being excommunicated out of a party and ideology is not despair. It’s an opportunity. It’s where all snakes and charlatans once under the ideological clan of protection can be purged. In the wilderness, new ideas can be nurtured and new talent can be grown and new allies can be found. Supporters can be recruited without the culturally leprosied shackles of people like Rick Santorum and his family’s matching outfits hindering us. Even if the Republican Party survives Trump, it will never escape accounting for him. The GOP has been demolished. Long live the counter culture of conservatism.

Let those that demolished it sift through the wreckage, then. A new pirate ship can and will be built without them and must be maintained without them. The Democrats spent 12 years sailing those rough seas throughout the Reagan/Bush years. They regrouped, found their footing with help of an outdated media paradigm, and have remained in the mainstream of culture and politics using that message since. Whereas it appears that the GOP and its unhinged base would have done better to study how Democrats and cultural liberals made it through those twelve long years without caving to the first snake-oil salesman to come along and hijack their ideas. They accepted the reality staring back at them from the White House and branched out into culture and academia and after a long 20 year slog, a broken and angry group of Republican voters is their miraculous coup de grâce. But what they’ve given us is an opportunity to shed an old outdated skin.

Trump isn’t the bold, fresh face of a new movement. He’s the shriveled, aged mask of a dying one. 

He was able to complete such a rapid insurgency because the foundation of the party had become weak. The RNC became a circus tent propped up by TV and a leadership team who thought Fox News ratings were more important than big data, targeted voting, inner cities & college campuses. A white nationalist uprising filled the void that the party left open and for that the RNC should be held responsible–if not by us, then by Trump’s shenanigans for the next six months. Ah, nemesis.

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The nomination of Trump is a signal that the RNC, Reince Priebus and primary voters have zero interest in the future of cultural conservatism. What they want is a celebrity endorphin. They want their own guy on ESPN & the Ellen Show screaming about how that group of shady Mexicans gathered around the entrance of the Home Depot is the end of the Republic as we know it. This is how Barack Obama changed the fundamental nature of what the presidency is, and once again Republicans find themselves as cheap imitators. Voters bought into it. They never wanted liberty or principled constitutional opposition. They want their own reality TV king to explain in as little detail as possible how great their country and their whiteness is. And for that reason alone they should be ridiculed as much as Deray McKesson is for his racial identity politics of loving his blackness and yours. 

But ridicule aside, Avenging Conservatives cannot simply depart from the party without messaging and without goals. The goal should not be a third-party candidacy for the presidency, as some conservative elders recommend. (Notably, many of them also helped deliver this mess to our front doorsteps in a flaming paper bag) The only thing a third-party run invites is an opportunity for  Trump and his merry horde of Reichbart commenters to blame anyone other than his rank unpopularity and political gameshow ideology for his inevitable November swan-dive at the ballot box. They will place blame anyway, but why give them a legitimate excuse like splitting a general election vote. 

Conservatives who become Social Justice Warriors themselves, on behalf of Trump, are giving into a chintzy fad, one which ultimately only serves the interests of the man running the show. Worshipping a cult of personality still makes you a cult member, and make no mistake: no matter how many “TRUMP 2016” chalk-markings you leave on university sidewalks–and admittedly we all enjoy winding up the new squares of the “trigger”-happy generation–realize that you’re shifting exactly zero narratives in media and culture. Crusading over someone’s missing blue check mark is not moving the Overton window. There is no virtue to be found in living and dying by the news cycle or viral tweet. Any casual attendee making a face at a baseball game today can accomplish that. Social Justice Warriors on both the left and the right thrive on capturing the viral rage of a single moment in time and attempting to hit the home run with it. #NeverTrump is as pointless as #BringBackOurGirls.

The home run isn’t going to bring us back. This is what those that push Trump as an online meme do not and will not understand. “Crooked” Hillary Clinton has successfully clung to power and influence for over 20 years: she’s not going to be suddenly felled by One Brilliant Tweet or one Instagram video. Bold promises about a border wall that will never exist may make Trump fans feel better but it takes them no closer to Making America Great Again. It’s admirable that Twitter has become just another RPG video game, a distraction for some, and it’s good to look at that to a certain extent. It feels good to pound out the word “CUCK” from the keyboard of your clever /pol/ meme avatar, I’m sure. But it doesn’t change your miserable shitty life. No matter how many times you troll the staff of Commentary with frog-Twitter gas chamber memes for the lulz, you are not leveling-up in life.

In the end, in a country of three-hundred million people, choosing two that are hated most amongst the majority suits us perfectly at this moment in time. Another celebrity-built election on the back of those we loathe. We don’t follow Kanye West on Twitter because he’s a swell human being. We don’t watch the Kardashians argue about Caitlyn’s junk because we love and admire them. And we don’t nominate Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump because we love what they say about tax policy. We do it because it makes ourselves feel better. That’s the level of apathy we find ourselves in. But it can’t last and something has to take its place when we find ourselves at the end of this tunnel of shit. That’s the lesson to be learned from Trump and those that enabled him. Conservatives, now battling ideological opponents on both flanks, have to decide what that’s going to be, but if they’re going to do it, it has to be without any of the voices who have embraced, enabled or facilitated this catastrophe and that includes the Republican Party.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t waste it.

 

 

 

– SM –

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explicit Lyrics: Remembering Prince vs Tipper Gore

The Wilderness | Issue 65 | 4 . 25 . 2016 |

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I had to laugh when TMZ broke the news that Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson) had died at his castle fortress in Minneapolis. Not because I was glad Prince was dead–far, far from it. And not even because 2016 had once again reared its hateful head to prove that no one was immortal (though that would have been a good reason also). The reason I found myself in hysterics was because this one image kept coming to me unbidden: a circa-1984 Tipper Gore, her 11-year-old daughter strapped into the passenger seat next to her, puts a cassette tape of Purple Rain into her car stereo player.  Oh, to have been there to see the expression that must have melted across her face when “Darling Nikki” came on and she heard “I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine” for the first time.

That mental image, and everything it represented, is the reason I call myself a conservative today; Tipper Gore’s actions afterwards are why I will never become a repressive cultural liberal. Ever. The hollowness of Gore’s argument still rings out today: that purchasing a Prince LP somehow represented a moral failing on her part as a parent, that parents all across the country were in great peril of making the same tragic mistake that she had made, and that only the power of the federal government could prevent this great moral catastrophe. Even the official title of the group Gore formed in 1985 as a reaction to hearing “Darling Nikki,” The Parents Music Resource Center, audaciously implied she represented all parents who were bound to make the same mistakes as she did. Progressive paternalism, summed up rather nicely.  Gore’s stated goal, as with most liberal social policy, was to “start a conversation” and “open dialogue” between parents and unsuspecting kids who might be lured into a phantasmagoric world of rock & roll, permed hair, Doc Martens and satanic goat murder.  But the truth is, Prince gave a better sex education class with Purple Rain than was available at any U.S. public school.

Tipper Gore wanted America to know that she and the other Senator’s wives she rounded up for her PMRC coffee-klatsch were doing it all For The Children. The artists she targeted, however, naturally saw it otherwise.

When reports of Prince’s death sent shockwaves around social media, Nick Gillespie at Reason was the first out of the gate with the stiff reminder of who Democrats and to a lesser extent, Hollywood entertainment industry actually tried to put into the White House in 2000. As Gillespie notes in his piece, Darling Nikki was the song that spurred on her great crusade of naming, shaming and ultimately attempting to ban artists with work on what become known as the infamous “Filthy Fifteen” list and Gore’s 1987 book, Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society (Yes really, that’s the title):

” On page 3 of Raising PG Kids, Tipper explained why that particular song had moved her to create an organization that would use the the threat of government action to clean up “sex and violence in the media”:

In December 1984, I purchased Prince’s best-selling album Purple Rain for my 11-year-old daughter….When we brought the album home, out it on our stereo, and listened to it together, we heard the words to…”Darling Nikki”: “I knew a girl named Nikki/guess [you] could say she was a sex fiend/I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine.” The song went on and on, in a similar manner. I couldn’t believe my ears! The vulgar lyrics embarrassed both of us. At first, I was stunned—then I got mad! Millions of Americans were buying Purple Rain with no idea what to expect!

Of course, when you’re the wife of a second-generation U.S. senator, your mad counts for more than most of the rest of us.”

Gore’s “anger” took the form of the what infamously came to be known as “The Filthy Fifteen,” a list of songs she and her morality group deemed to be the worst fifteen songs in popular music regarding the wanton invocation of sex, drugs, alcohol, violence and the occult. This was a list compiled by Gore and her committee, with little to no input whatsoever from the artists as to their intentions or motivations behind writing the music. She simply took it upon herself to act as the world’s moral compass and the gatekeeper for America’s children.  She and her committee interpreted the lyrics of Prince, Twisted Sister and others, bestowed their own meaning upon the material and used their interpretation to attempt to legislate them out of existence. 

What Tipper Gore and her hit list stood for was infinitely more dangerous in a free society than what Prince stood for; that’s why Prince was such an important cultural figure, even to those that may not have been head over heels fans of his music

Darling little Nikki had traumatized Mrs. Gore so much that she then took it upon herself with the assistance of her husband’s senatorial position to lead a quite literal crusade against musical artists across the wide range of the popular musical spectrum over the lyrical content and presentation of their songs. That was the ultimate genius of Prince. Gore targeted Madonna, Dead Kennedys, Frank Zappa, Dee Snyder and Judas Priest, to name a few,  because Prince was able to incorporate all of those genres into his own music. Even Cindi Lauper made the list. Hilarious photographs of Gore posing at record shops with album covers of WASP and the band Bitch are the stuff that punk and rock bands dream about as an album cover of their own.

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It was the kind of moral crusade that our media far too often lays at feet of the social and religious right. In a retrospective just this past week, Newsweek took an opportunity to look back on the PMRC and featured almost exclusively Susan Baker, the wife of former Reagan Treasury Secretary and Republican lion James Baker, who was also a member of Gore’s committee. But for you young’uns who don’t remember, make no mistake: the PRMC and the moral nannying that came with it was Tipper Gore’s baby and Prince’s mega-popularity was target Number One. Sure, “Darling Nikki” is a filth-ridden sex anthem–a very, very good one, for that matter. It’s well orchestrated with an unmistakable hook, a dripping guitar and keyboard riff and Prince’s signature vocal style that always managed to sound like he was singing somewhere between the border of pleasure and pain.

The most insulting aspect about Tipper Gore and the PRMC when they took on Prince was thinking that shock value is all he existed for. How terribly, terribly mistaken she was. Prince always performed with one foot in the pussy and the other in the pulpit. For every Darling Nikki, there was a song like “The Cross,” or which, for instance is as spiritually a cathartic rock anthem as anything U2 has ever written.

And as with most things involving the former Gore couple, Tipper’s research council was as much about protecting music and freedom of expression as her ex-husband’s climate crusade built on millions of dollars of Saudi oil money is about protecting the planet. This was about control, and stood as a stark warning where we today find ourselves as a culture and society. In the arena of moral posturing, I’ll take Prince’s views on righteousness over Tipper Gore’s every time. 

If Prince demonstrated one thing throughout his meteoric career, it’s that he was not going to be controlled. Not by MTV. Not by YouTube. And certainly not by Tipper Gore. 

Prince was an artistic innovator in every sense of the word. He played guitar better than Hendrix, sang better than Michael Jackson and danced better than Madonna. His songs brought out the purest sexual instincts for endless amounts of teenage mixtapes yet he was eccentrically feminine in nature. Yet he was no more feminine than say Dee Snyder or Motley Crue with permed manes and cheap eyeliner. Prince was more Little Richard than he was Motown and was more funk than he was Elvis Presley. His band featured African-Americans and women in key roles, yet his overt religiosity (and later conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses) made progressives uncomfortable–his lyrics scribbled in chalk on a university campus today would spark safe-space protests. Prince was an Opera, choir and circus under the same tent.

And all of this was something that Tipper Gore thought she could contain with a sticker.

That’s why politicians couldn’t play off of Prince, either back then or up until his sudden death. Many have certainly tried. His ego, as spectacular as it was, was mostly insular, while celebrities and politicians today are mostly the exact opposite. Prince had no desire in going viral or YouTube hits–in fact, no major artist ever did more to ensure his music could not be found there. Like David Bowie, he checked out right at the particular time when this world seemingly held no further interest for him. Our media and our culture isn’t interested in musical talent anymore. They’re interested in what Prince may have thought about Black Lives Matter or a North Carolina Transgender bathroom state law. They’re more interested in Kim Kardashian being pulled up onto stage with Prince during a live show, and not why he kicked her off of it

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Today pop idols can’t play instruments, have voices that are almost completely synthesized by computers and songs that are mostly written by teams of producers. Sometimes all of those things are rolled into one package (see: Beyonce). Not only are TV reality stars omnipresent, one of them is actually among five remaining candidates for the Presidency. Social media stars are more obsessed with whatever fake rape scandal someone is promoting, or who can push their human rights cause the most on Instagram (or if you’re Miley Cyrus, pretty much just straight bored up unicorn porn). Members of media went completely twitterpated over the premiere of whatever the hell Beyonce’s Lemonade was. Beyonce, who is considered a symbol of feminist empowerment, has all her music written and produced by teams of men.

Prince was a more empowering artist for women than Beyonce ever will be. Media and musicians are far more interested in Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian pwning some random fan on Twitter for throwing shade for the clicks. Maybe that’s why pop music has become so uninteresting, because none of this interested Prince.

In the end, thanks to stunningly fluent and passionate testimony from artists like Frank Zappa and Dee Snyder (whose speech should be viewed in it’s entirety) about the responsibility of parents to pay attention to the music their kids were consuming–as opposed to the federal government or a committee created by record labels–the PMRC was reduced to abandoning their quest of pulling such music from record stores and were forced to settle for a “Parental Advisory” warning label that, while compromising the integrity of the artists’ album art, became the equivalent of the musical Streisand Effect; a badge of honor and something much much more enticing to young audiences than any idea of Nikki grinding in the dark. Perhaps the greatest moment of political testimony in American history is when Dee Snider suggested to Al Gore’s face that the reason his wife finds sodomy and bondage in the lyrics of albums like Prince and Twisted Sister is because his wife is looking for such things.

If Al Gore were able to process human emotion, he would probably have leapt out from behind his microphone and attempted to strangle Snyder to the delight of the moral up-tights supporting him and his wife. It would have made what largely turned out to be a pointless congressional witch hunt against scary musicians in big hair and makeup, all worthwhile. They had to settle for a scary looking warning label instead. 

And in pure Prince fashion, just when the PMRC got their sticker, Prince walked away from the raunch and embraced the lyrical linguistics of a holy choir. Prince trolled Tipper Gore and the political left long before anyone on social media. His conversion to Jehovah’s Witness later in his life and career, leaving the persona of a sexual tyrannosaur behind, was a testament to the power of personal faith and not the federal government of the United States.

The lessons learned from the intentions of the moral left can never be forgotten even in Prince’s passing.  The cultural lessons from Gore and the PMRC vs Prince’s rights to free expression cannot be ignored as campus activist groups on the left demand safe spaces and statist presidential candidates demand the expansion of libel laws. Perhaps as a consensus reminder to our born rights to free expression, we should just put Prince on the twenty dollar bill and be done with it.

 

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WWT: How Professional Wrestling Created Trump’s Political Persona

The Wilderness | Issue 64 | 4 . 12. 2016 |

E 352697 015 Usa Professional Wrestler: Hulk Hogan And Andre The Giant With Donal Trump. (Photo By Russell Turiak/Getty Images)


Note: This piece was originally published at National Review Online on 4 . 4. 2016

In 1988, Donald Trump made a deal with the World Wrestling Federation to host WrestleMania IV at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Trump — who sat ringside for the mega pay-per-view event — was as much a part of the proceedings as was the WWF brass. WrestleMania was a popular spectacle (essentially the Super Bowl of pro wrestling) prior to Trump’s involvement, but almost overnight, he helped legitimatize a fringe, cult-like “sport” into mainstream popular culture. It had the look, feel, and production of a Mike Tyson boxing-title bout. Macho Man Savage became a household name and Trump Plaza would go on to host a second consecutive WrestleMania, the only venue to do so.

Pro wrestling’s biggest stage was where Donald Trump the political populist was born.

Just as some liberals look back on the 1990s with fond memories of a political golden age, conservatives do the same with the ’80s. There was a sense of political invincibility. America was ascendant both in politics and in culture: Reagan and Rocky would defeat the Soviet Union and the Hulkster would body slam The Giant. Kids were advised to stay off drugs by the First Lady — as well as being told to take their vitamins and say their prayers by the First Wrestler. And out of this era of hyper patriotism were born equally hyper villains in the Ayatollah Khomeini and The Iron Sheik.

This was also the culture that gave birth to Donald Trump. Though a far different figure now than the one seen in old interviews with David Letterman or Connie Chung, Trump openly yearns for a time-traveling DeLorean to take us back to that era of perceived invulnerability. When Trump bellows out his trademarked slogan — Make America Great Again! — and warms up a crowd to “Eye of the Tiger,” he’s referencing an era of unassailable American strength or at least his perception of it. The reality is that the Hulkster’s body slam of Andre the Giant was a fully staged show, and Macho Man Savage’s rise to capture the title had already been scripted before he was handed the belt.

But Americans didn’t care. We loved the show.

Long before the #TrumpTrain or #CruzCrew, there were #Hulkamaniacs. Those arguing with Trump’s most ardent supporters over his inauthentic conservative stances get about as far with them as one would arguing with wrestling fans about the authenticity of their sport. It simply doesn’t matter to them. It’s entertaining; the more elaborate the rhetoric or stunts, the more exciting and, therefore, satisfying it becomes.

Trump is tapping into this same sentiment in 2016, but in a different arena — both figuratively and literally. Trump didn’t suddenly discover the blustery big balls-big walls fighting persona that’s eating up hours and hours of cable-news airtime. He cultivated it over decades of witnessing first-hand the spectacle of sports entertainment, live and up close — backstage, ringside, and then inside the ring itself.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as much about making Trump great again, as much as it is about trying to “Make America Great Again”.

As the 1980s and the World Wrestling Federation — hit their peak, Trump sought to merge his interests with the world of sports entertainment. He saw dollar signs and not just those emblazoned on the back of Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase’s iconic sequin dinner jacket. Trump saw a sport at its height and wanted to make himself part of it, both as an investor and as a fan. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Trump didn’t have a real love for professional wrestling: He clearly cared about the sport and wanted to see it succeed.

But it’s no wonder Trump wants to return to the era of super macho, million-dollar men. The very Trump colosseum that helped lay the foundation for the larger-than-life personality we see today is no more: Trump Plaza filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014.

It was this time, he believes, both America and Trump were at their peak. But just like the staged show, Trump is only recalling the exhibition in his head, not the reality of the history.

As the WWF tapered off and plateaued into the mid ’90s, so did Trump — both personally and professionally. The newly formed rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was gaining traction by showcasing younger and edgier talent just as the stars of the WWF began to age and fade. Donald Trump’s trajectory followed the WWF’s. He found himself on the brink of bankruptcy, as did the WWF.

Both WWF owner Vince McMahon and Donald Trump lost millions in net worth during this period. Both ran professional football leagues into the ground (Trump with the USFL and McMahon with the infamous XFL) along with many other failed ventures and product lines with the brand name attached. Trump’s tabloid exploits overtook his reputation as King of Business Authors (his book sales declined substantially) while McMahon’s wrestling empire struggled. Both men’s products had become stale and overshadowed. But as a decade full of disappointments for them entered a new century, both the WWF —- now rechristened “World Wrestling Entertainment” in the early 2000s after losing a trademark dispute with the World Wildlife Fund — — and Trump made their comeback, this time as partners.

Success for professional wrestling (as with success for Trump) relies on “the art of perception,” as Trump wrote in his 1991 book Surviving at the Top. At the very end of the ’90s, the perception of failure for both Trump and the WWE morphed into a perception of success with new television deals and tweaks to the brand to suit the changing times.

The WWE found its resurgence with mega personalities such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), Dave Bautista, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, and Triple H (Paul Michael Levesque, who would go on to marry Commissioner McMahon’s daughter). What Saturday Night Live was to television, the WWE had become to sports entertainment. Forgettable casts of of characters had given way to a new generation of enormous talent. And Donald Trump was paying attention.

In 2004, in the midst of the reality-TV boom sparked by ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and CBS’s Survivor, Trump signed a contract with NBC to host what would become the reality-TV mega-hit The Apprentice. It was on this show that Donald Trump stopped attempting to revive the über-confident businessman ideal of the ’80s and embraced the media-conglomerate boogieman persona that had followed him since entering the public eye. He became the character he wrote about in his books and permanently donned the blustery, charismatic Gordon Gekko cliché personality that those who profiled him always suspected he was at heart.

Americans no longer had to go out and buy Trump’s books or attend Trump University to be a part of the show. We simply had to turn on the TV.

The Apprentice, like wrestling, was made to look real. Instead of fooling the audience with flying elbows and acrobatic drop kicks, Trump and his “board” worked with script writers, producers, and editors to create the week’s drama. Trump had his catch phrase and his theme music. And just like pro wrestling, the audience loved the show — not caring if any of it was real.

Both Trump and Wrestling were flourishing again behind the same similar audience that found a home with them both in the 80s, and the same blue collar, predominantly white male audiences that Trump himself caters to now in his presidential run in 2016. But the story isn’t how the audiences came back to Donald Trump and the WWE. It’s how Trump finally put decades of answering questions about running for President from Letterman and Oprah aside, and embraced that audience himself, and because of them, coming within a stone’s throw of capturing the GOP nomination.

It was with this audience that Trump found a home as a populist champion — giving the people what they wanted and planting the seeds for the tone of his presidential campaign.

In January 2007 on Monday Night Raw, Trump made his grand entrance into the ring of the WWE and went from being a mere spectator to the main event. In the midst of a selfish performance from Commissioner McMahon — who had cast himself in the role of primary villain on “Fan Appreciation Night” — Trump appeared on a large screen that towered over the arena. The Donald,  seizing the moment, not only stood in defiance of Commissioner McMahon’s establishment rhetoric , but gave the audience a gift in return.

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Trump, the “good, smart billionaire,” rained thousands of dollars of McMahon’s own money down upon the ecstatic crowd. It was a rehearsed, planned, and staged skit by the writers and producers of the WWE — but again, it didn’t matter. Trump had returned the audience’s money, and in the process convinced thousands of people, in that moment, that he was looking out for them (just like a circus show master or a Batman villain, depending on your point of view).

The crowds ate up the act, but not nearly as much as Trump did.

He parlayed his appearances on Monday Night Raw into a prime-time WrestleMania 23 match. The mega event was billed as the “Battle of the Billionaires” and featured a showdown between a wrestler sponsored by Trump (Bobby Lashley) and a wrestler chosen by McMahon (Umaga) — and was refereed by none other than famous McMahon antagonist Stone Cold Steve Austin. Even the taunt-filled ringside contract-signing showcased Trump, prefiguring his insult-laced debate performances. At stake was a golden head of hair: The loser would be forcibly shorn of his famous locks in front of a record pay-per-view crowd.

But of course Trump wasn’t going to lose his iconic mane or the match, because the art of the deal declares that Trump never loses. By the time the show was over, Trump was throwing elbows, shaving McMahon’s head bald, and being stunned cold by Stone Cold.

The pop-culture image of Trump as a master negotiator who never loses a deal returned in 2009, when McMahon “sold” Monday Night Raw to Trump — who then turned around and forced McMahon to buy it back for double the price, entrenching Trump’s reputation as a titan of the boardroom. While briefly Raw’s owner, Trump played the billionaire populist by offering free admission to the wrestling showcase to adoring fans. Trump made McMahon pay for Monday Night Raw, just like Mexico is going to pay for a wall.

Trump was now a full-fledged Man of the People. It was all orchestrated, but it didn’t matter: People loved the show.

The spectacle was intoxicating to Trump — and he hasn’t been the same in the public arena since. Reaching back to the ’90s for video clips and interviews of Trump from his Manhattan office or penthouse, you see a more reserved, businesslike Trump –someone desperately trying to control his image with every interview, never fully embracing the person questioning him.

The spectacle was intoxicating to Trump — and he hasn’t been the same in the public arena since. Reaching back to the ’90s for video clips and interviews of Trump from his Manhattan office or penthouse, you see a more reserved, businesslike Trump –someone desperately trying to control his image with every interview, never fully embracing the person questioning him.

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But once he entered the ring, the persona of Trump the showman took over — and it’s this persona that presents itself in politics today, enthralling riled up crowds ready for a fight. Trump the businessman died the moment he stood nose to nose with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Trump the showman was born as he took a razor to Vince McMahon’s fleshy melon — and like a shark with a taste for blood, that’s all it took.

If Trump could translate his populist success to anything, it had to be politics. His fans, as loyal and rabid as any of John Cena’s, care about Trump’s conservative bona fides about as much as they do The Undertaker’s. What matters to them is that Trump, like The Undertaker, exists to punish their enemies — and that punishing will be broadcast and  celebrated.

Trump’s blue-collar base believes he’s one of them. He loves the pageantry of it all as much as they do, and he’s spent years upon years cultivating them. These people are fans of Trump more than they are fans of conservatism. They believe he can do to ISIS what he did to Vince McMahon’s dome and that he can save the American economy just as he returned everyone’s admission fee: If Trump can unload bundles of money from arena rafters, or air their favorite television show without commercials, why wouldn’t he be able to build a wall on the southern border or defeat ISIS?

The pay-off to Trump’s base for its loyalty to him comes in the form of the political rallies that have become gladiator-style full-contact participation-encouraged spectacles, his own personal Trump Rumbles. Any messaging Trump might have had as a credible presidential candidate has been overshadowed by promises to pay the legal expenses of his acolytes who assault protesters, which has translated into real punches and real elbows being thrown.

 

At times, Trump speaks directly to the camera and makes production demands of the lighting crew. He insults everyone from fellow Republicans to the press to the individuals in the crowd, because his character demands that the show must go on. When he lumbers around a stage making stabbing motions while ridiculing Ben Carson, it’s not because Trump has an ideological disagreement with Carson on how best to rein in rising health-care costs, it’s because he views the good doctor as a woefully inadequate opponent in the ring asking for punishment.

Trump talks openly about wanting to punch people in the face. And his campaign staff doesn’t seem to think twice about getting physical with the crowd, while his rallies have overtaken the WWE as the new populist pastime.

The Trump persona is reflected in the hundreds upon hundreds of fascinating and amazingly detailed alt-right online meme images of Trump as the God-Emperor glistening in gold plated Warcraft armor, descending from the Empyrean to save America with a Trump-branded border wall. He is their Ultimate Warrior and he will be after November because this isn’t about one election.

With help from right-wing celebrities, Trump has smartly positioned himself as a flag-waving Hacksaw Jim Duggan, smacking politicians around with his 2 x 4 as the crowd eats up every last second of it. Politicians are easy marks and make perfect wrestling heels. That makes hating Trump’s opponents seem very natural to his fans, just as they enjoyed hating The Iron Sheik or Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov. “The Establishment” might as well be a team of leather-clad wrestlers in face paint and spiked shoulder pads.

Trump grabs the mic and channels Ric Flair and lets the audience do the rest for him. The ring and the podium are interchangeable props to the show.


If Trump stands any chance against Hillary Clinton in a general election, it’s this element that he will have to tap into — painting Hillary as a cartoonish ring manager pounding the mat with her cane and bullhorn just as he branded his GOP competition with ring names like “Little Marco Rubio” and “Lyin’ Ted Cruz.” Trump’s problemm is Jake the Snake Roberts was never on record in character talking about how he admired Ravishing Rick Rude.

What his Republican primary opponents never figured out about the character Trump is playing is that he can’t be defeated by arguing about middle-class tax policy any more than Brett the Hitman Hart can be defeated in the ring by detailed discussions of the Alternative Minimum Tax or Medicare Part D. You might as well ask Brutus the Barber Beefcake about the nuclear triad. The best way to have defeated Trump the character would have been to clothesline him in front of a live audience — to the roars of the crowd and the horror of Jake Tapper.

Jeb Bush couldn’t figure this out. Marco Rubio figured it out but ultimately didn’t have the stomach for treating a generational election like a Mean Gene Okerlund pre-match interview. However, Trump finally got that moment from Ted Cruz when Cruz pointed at a camera and angrily told him to leave his wife the hell alone after Trump retweeted an unflattering meme of Heidi Cruz’s face. To Trump it’s just another ridiculous chapter of Wife vs Wife in this Electoralmania 201with Melania Trump as his Miss Elizabeth, poised and confident in her warrior’s abilities.

All of this, of course, plays right into network media’s hands at the expense of honest and serious debate. CNBC’s John Harwood was more concerned with playing the role of Stone Cold when he put on the most infamous debate moderation performance since Candy Crowley’s. CNN now has former American Idol and Apprentice contestants appearing to offer political analysis — along with Trump’s mad cabal of celebrity family members and any campaign staffers not currently facing criminal charges.

Network news media have figured out a way to bring pay-per-view pro-wrestling-style events to the masses and Trump is their conduit. Barack Obama was always a pop-culture icon — but he came from the world of politics. With Trump, they have found a target who comes from the world of entertainment — someone who is more than happy to pile drive the GOP and the American political system into the mat. to their ratings delight.

The WWE just celebrated Wrestlemania 32. The arena is still packed, Pay-Per-View is still a premium but the show seems like just another rematch thanks to the almost year long show Trump has been giving both their fans and his.

Trump is providing something for the networks and his fans that professional wrestling can’t. The unscripted drama of real punches being thrown. Trump’s speeches are long, rambling monologues that resemble a coked-up Macho Man Savage more than they do Huey Long. But this is by design and it’s all 30 years in the making. At stake in Trump’s personal cage match with the country, however, isn’t a head of hair: It’s a historic GOP majority in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.

But the electorate no longer seems to care. We’re just enjoying the show.

 

 – SM –

Culture Club: How Media Makes a Meme

The Wilderness | Issue 63 | 2 . 1. 2016 |

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On January 20th, 2017, President-Elect Bernie Sanders will step up to podium, place his hand on the Communist Manifesto and then deliver his Inaugural address into a banana. The swathes of Hollywood celebrities behind him will cheer and the rest of us will be trading our bank accounts for hidden lockboxes under our floorboards, all the time wondering how a batshit crazy 75-year-old socialist dinosaur became our Republic’s 45th President. How did it come to this?

When symbolic Democratic party chief Elizabeth Warren declared she would not be seeking the presidency in 2016, despite repeated imploring from her most ideologically committed fans and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself), it appeared that the far-Left Hollywood and Washington politicotainment talk-show circuit (increasingly indistinguishable from one another and still ever-loyal to the romance of the Barack Obama Story seven years in) would be left out on the prairie with no smoke signals to direct them and their future.

Barack Obama’s devastating mid-term election losses have left his party with few charismatic, youthful rising stars to carry on his legacy, and as much as Hillary Clinton has always been the natural heir for the corporate/establishment class of Democratic donors, she’s never stirred the passions of the base the way Obama did in 2008, either in terms of her politics or her Leftist sub-culture branding. Every clumsy attempt at youth-culture relevance — whether it’s glossy-eyed Katy Perry selfies or set-yourself-afire-lame “Chillin in Cedar Rapids” Vines — merely hammers the point home: the millennial Democratic base that drives the media conversation cringes at Hillary’s almost-human inauthenticity.

When she appears on The Ellen Show and their dancing surrogates attempt to teach her The Whip and the Nae Nae or the wobble, while simultaneously dodging the sparks flying out of her rusty old joints, her younger voters shrink in their seats and pull their sweaters over their heads in mortification.

No matter how hard she tries, Clinton is not Barack Obama Redux, not capable of carrying on his mantle of hip urban cool. More to the point, she isn’t even the sort of unknown quantity they can at least try to scotch-tape that label onto regardless of whether it fits. Nobody on the political Left is either. The tables have turned on them and (with the exception of one indiscriminate orange headed fartclown on the opposite side of the race) they find themselves on the elderly end of a generational shift in candidates.

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Even if the 2016 GOP is doomed to be an electoral Artax, sinking into Donald Trump’s personal swamp of sadness, young candidates like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will be most likely be back in four years, possibly accompanied by more seasoned youthful candidates like Mia Love, Tim Scott or Ben Sasse.

The monopoly the so-called “party of youth” has clung to since the days of Camelot is coming to an end. Bill Clinton looks and sounds feeble, barely unable to lift a saxophone to his mouth on a late night talk show. There is a gray hair on Obama’s head for every disenfranchised far left entertainer (Maaat Daaymon) or unemployed college graduate who still can’t find a job and is drowning in their student debt or ducking their Obamacare premiums. And the cavalry isn’t coming anytime soon for the Democrats: their most exciting fresh face just got elected to the Senate from Massachusetts at the dewy young age of 64.

But a culture-driven media knows that while they are unable to sell a candidate, they can still sell the message…no matter how unelectable, deranged, geriatric or preposterous the person they attach that branding to might be.  The only way to sell a radical ideology to an engaged youth electorate is to change the narrative as best they can without engaging more culturally relevant candidates like a Marco Rubio or Rand Paul, who are just as comfortable talking Public Enemy and Pink Floyd as they are foreign policy, and appeal on a personal level as a human being, not just a preachy elder.

Rubio for example, in the weeks leading up to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, ran ads during the NFL playoffs featuring him tossing around a football and answering personal questions. Elle magazine & Vanity Fair ran features on his stylish, if awkward Beatle boots. Both the ads and the features are invasions into Obama’s territory, and the Cultural Left is all too aware of it. Rand Paul is at home on MTV talking about Ferguson and sentencing reform, and even Ted Cruz can bullshit with Jimmy Fallon on a humorous level that social right & MSNBC audiences rarely see.

It’s the Democrats this time around who find challenges in simple things like confronting a flight of stairs and spinning the release of medical reports. Instead of the questions of age, vigor and senility that came with Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain, we are now flooded with admiring comparisons to our cool goofy grandpa and grandma who try to eat the TV remote control or mistakenly put the cat in the microwave. Hillary Clinton must become the nation’s new Betty White — or, more specifically, what feminist media did to Ruth Bader Ginsburg by capitalizing off of tumblr posts and declaring her a cultural hip-hop queen, dubbing her the “Notorious RBG.

Never mind that Notorious RBG goes Notorious REM during every State of the Union speech and has to be checked for a pulse. 

Silkscreened t-shirts and graffiti of Ginsburg’s Skeksis smirk serve as a warning to opposing ideologies and conservatives that popular culture belongs to them, and it will not be surrendered easily to more diverse and younger group of GOP candidates.

Enter the media phenomena that has become Bernie Sanders.

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To understand the heavy lifting media is undertaking in attempting to make Bernie Sanders a plausible candidate for president, you have to understand who exactly Bernie Sanders is to begin with.

Sanders is a kookily proud outsider and self-declared Democratic Socialist who joined the House of Representatives in 1988 and the Senate in 2005. In the quarter-plus century he’s served in federal office, only 3 bills he’s sponsored have ever made it into law. Otherwise, he was that guy you would occasionally see yelling about rapine capital or the unnecessary proliferation of deodorant brands to an empty chamber of Congress on C-Span during midday break sessions. And this has been Bernie’s professional life for the past 35 years. Get up. Go to Congress. Fight with Lamp. Declare victory.

But Barack Obama’s election on charismatic socialist-lite soundbites packaged like a can of Pepsi commercial moved the needle further away from the moderate middle of the political Left that saw consecutive defeats by George W. Bush. And as culture-media has embraced the anti-capitalist rhetoric of astroturfed protest movements like Occupy, Climate March, and Black Lives Matter, the political left is ripe for a populist moment, even if the only available standard-bearer is the shabby retiree arguing with you over the last sack of quinoa/lentil mixed-blend grains at Whole Foods.

If a suitable ambassador for that message won’t present themselves, culture media will create one. Sanders doesn’t know his Reddit from his Snapchat but he doesn’t need to.

As Bernie Sanders waited backstage of the Ellen show, a program producer was seen doing everything in her power stopping short of using a cattle prod to get Bernie to lighten up and dance (this was Ellen DeGeneres’ ongoing schtick for guests). He clearly wasn’t having any of it, and after he was introduced, he managed a few side steps and hand waves before reverting immediately back into “NO TOUCH” mode.

These tiny moments are parlayed into memes and gifs of “Bernie as old-man-hippie hipster” that thrive on social media, and are then picked up by a sympathetic cultural mainstream media desperately trying to either relive or re-engineer the 1960s. The “social upheaval narrative” is just too alluring to pass up for them, especially when their own generation finds itself without a truly great social cause of its own. The lost decade of the Obama era is ending in a little less than a year and the far-Left quadrant of the media knows their pop-culture rockstar is hitting the exits with restively populist agitation brewing on both sides of the political aisle. College campuses and Hollywood have gone #FullCommunism with the silent approval of a President more interested on who the Best Actor Oscar goes to than how many heads ISIS is cutting off this week. Wall Street’s corporate darling Hillary Clinton, thinking the White House was hers for the taking, has once again found a jaded Left-wing commentariat desperate for Somebody To Love putting her on notice that this is not the party, nor the media she and her husband left behind.

It’s not Hillary getting the Taylor Swift treatment in large arenas. Our culture-media isn’t promoting listicles for Hillary. On the other hand, via Twitter & Mashable, we can easily check up on “12 Babies Feeling the Bern.”

Bernie Sanders has become the proverbial Spaceballs’ Yogurt of the 2016 election season, with the must-have cool merchandise. Bernie The Underwear. Bernie The T-Shirt. Bernie The Throw Pillow. Bernie The Flamethrower! It’s really quite fun watching a man diametrically opposed to free-market capitalism standing by and allowing so many to make money off his likeness, including in such things as punk rock t-shirts.

At the same time Twitter fan accounts are passing around photoshopped images of Sanders cuddling a kitten, everyone from Michael Moore to The Huffington Post is suddenly stripping socialism of the stigma that comes with embracing an ideology responsible for indescribable amounts of death and poverty across the world.

If you think you’ve seen all of this before, well, it gets even more familiar. 

Just this past week, a group of noted illustrators came together for an art show at HVW8 Gallery in Los Angeles for a show titled “The Art of a Political Revolution: Artists for Bernie Sanders” which included commissions from none other than “Obama Hope” poster creator Shepard Fairey among others, someone whom one would think might have learned from their last endeavor of placing the hope of a nation into a politician who ran on “Fairness.”

Bern_JR1Who or what Bernie Sanders is, is meaningless. If he wins or loses Iowa, or the nomination — that’s meaningless. The accomplishment comes in finally culturally destigmatizing the evil “S-word” and making it just another part of acceptable American political ideology. A mere eight years ago, Barack Obama knew what he could and could not say to get elected, regardless of his private beliefs. Today, the geriatric rockstar of the Left possesses no such filter. Culture-media is using Bernie’s rants and rally crowds to pave the way for a near future when someone younger and more charismatic can sell democratic socialism without the heavy lifting (looking at you, Kanye West). For all the man-of-the-people declarations Sanders makes, his most vocal supporters are anything but. His rallies are littered with Hollywood celebrities and mainstream musicians peppered in with college students, and tweeted about sparsely from embedded reporters content to report his crowd size and not the cost of his ideas or his criticisms of the current Obama White House.

On the Showtime premiere of The Circus, the Halperin/Heilemann primary-season vanity project, they grill candidates on their plans for the presidency, poke elitist fun at the lunatic antics of Donald Trump rally-goers, and then turn and plead with Sanders to do “The Monster,” a character he acts out with his granddaughters in a way of showing the softer side of a man who has embraced the romance and governing principles of the Soviet Union.

None of this is accidental.

If comedy and talk shows can embed Bernie Sanders into the national consciousness as our lovably off-beat “cool socialist grandpa,” as Larry David portrayed so effortlessly on Saturday Night Live (an impression Sanders felt almost obligated to embrace), the messenger becomes meaningless. His movement doesn’t become about politics, nor does it become about his age or lack of hearing. It becomes about repurposing culture (an arena where still Democrats rack up a near 100% win percentage) to sell the idea of a socialist republic where personal property rights and independent liberty become an afterthought.  As painful a sight as it is to see a media that sold Obama as the essence of youthful charismatic hope reduced to selling what’s left of their integrity out to make the most uncool and aged candidates palatable, it works if there’s no pushback to it.

All this is very purposeful and done with the explicit goal of keeping more younger and culturally attuned GOP candidates out of the mainstream, relegated to having to answer for anti-Beyonce heresies of Mike Huckabee and gaudy outdated Gordon Gecko antics Donald Trump.

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Bernie Sanders may well flame out as primary season ignites, crushed by the juggernaut infrastructure of the Clinton machine. Odds are we won’t actually ever experience the sight of his inaugural address into a banana. But that was never really the point.

The question really is whether Bernie’s new army of eager young democratic socialists — brainwashed into a their collective private culture club at the behest of the Buzzfeeds, NBCs and Mashables and MTVs of the popular media — can hold their nose long enough to push that button for Wall Street’s own favorite daughter Hillary Clinton. If they do, then the Democratic Party’s eight-year flirtation with socialist populism is legislatively over, the Warren wing is isolated back to the “fringe Left,” and Obama’s era of forcing permanent social justice onto the masses abruptly ends. The Democrats become the Clinton Party again, for however long she maintains power. If the Bernie-bots sit at home in November, it endangers an already-fractured Obama coalition she is absolutely dependent upon for a win. That leads almost assuredly to a GOP victory no matter who the candidate is.

And then comes 2020, and the country will find a 79 year old Bernie Sanders attempting to dance on Ellen again.

 

 

– SM –

 

 

 

The Politics of Bowie

The Wilderness | Issue 62 | 1 . 26. 2016 |

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In 1987, two major cultural events presaged the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall two years later. American political culture had theirs when Ronald Reagan — a rock star and icon in his own right — stood up and commanded Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down that wall. The other was when David Bowie, weeks before Reagan, stood triumphantly in front of it and declared that we could be heroes just for one day, singing an anthem written for two separated lovers and the political chasm that lay between them. Turns out he was even a trendsetter with international diplomacy. That was about as far as David Bowie’s dabbling in political activism would ever get (a few misplaced Tin Machine lyrics aside) and yet, like a strip of irresistible fly paper in a room full of insects, Bowie attracted endless attempts from political opportunists to attach their preferred cultural narratives onto his music. But Bowie himself could never be made to serve that purpose.

Progressives who wish to anachronistically claim David Bowie as some politcally radical avatar of transgender rights are more than welcome to celebrate that feeling of private liberation that Bowie’s avuncular resistance to heteronormativity may have offered them. That’s the point of music, and why it’s so personal. Just don’t be fooled for a second into thinking that he actually cared or thought much about them on a political level in the way today’s activists do.

Bowie departed suddenly on the 10th of January, leaving behind a startling amount of perplexing questions involving his final release, Blackstar, his best work of the past 25 years and almost assuredly a lock for Album of the Year at next years Grammy Awards. Modern day philosophers, critics and pundits immediately began poring over who Bowie was and how anything he could have left behind could possibly serve their current cause du jour. But those of us that appreciated who and what Bowie was (and more importantly, what he wasn’t and never wanted to be) simply smile, finish our cigarettes and look up at the stars. How tiresome this all must have gotten for him.

What was so significant about David Bowie personally and politically is how he integrated himself into America, musically and spiritually. Here was a man born in the hardscrabble Brixton neighborhood of London who came to symbolize our country’s greatest excesses, even if artistically he never quite reciprocated that love. It’s a great metaphor for what we have lost as a country and a culture today. America owes you nothing, even if you’re David Bowie. The measure of its love is what you give to it.

Though Bowie’s first extended visit to the United States (in 1972) produced the gritty glittering glam trash that came to symbolize the Aladdin Sane era, he once lamented to a young Cameron Crowe in 1975 how he wasn’t at all happy with the music he was creating. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, that seemed to change.”I’ve got that good old ‘I’m gonna change the world’ thing back again.” (Then again: after spending those two years in Los Angeles during 1974-1975 living more or less exclusively on a diet of cocaine and red peppers, he packed up, left the city forever, and maintained to his last breath that it deserved to be “burned to the ground”).

Once Bowie was residing stateside, he was overwhelmed by the mythology of our glowing skylines, flashing lights, sounds of supermodel high heels on the pavement and the galleries of Andy Warhol. David Bowie became as important to our music culture as American born Elvis Presley. It was like a space alien watching all of our excesses rolled into one Las Vegas sequin-collared suit from a distant craft and thinking, “I know how I can use this.”

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Despite his personal flirtations with Mick Jagger, his artistic heart belonged to Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and The Velvet Underground. He followed the iconic sensibilities of James Dean and Frank Sinatra. Perhaps David Bowie realized all the people who once made America fun have departed, and Bowie being Bowie would never be the last one to depart the party. 

There’s also something to be said here about our culture as a whole. Our music and film industry are more concerned now with how they come across socially and politically than with embracing and pushing artistic boundaries. Bowie — who more than once found himself on the wrong end of angry mobs and the baying howls of “respectable journalists” — perhaps surveyed the social media landscape of our current entertainment stars, realized he neither wanted nor needed to play this game, and checked out. Upon his sweet release, immediately media and pop stars began to claim him as one of their own, and his fold his legacy into theirs.

But for all the credit Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust-era persona is given for (sort of) normalizing gender-bending and homosexuality, he was never really the sort of person who cared about advocating in the streets for it. He wasn’t a political activist bent on shaming those with different ideologies in a public square. His act was meant as an artistic expression, as a culturally transgressive middle finger of independence, and as a fantastic way of getting onto the cover of Melody Maker and the New Musical Express to boot. It’s a lesson both our media and our entertainers have forgotten in this saturated age.

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Modern pop stars such as Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus (as well as a horde of costumed wannabes) advocate their political policies on Instagram and Twitter and at campaign appearances because they simply don’t have the talent to do so in their music. Madonna, who claims to worship Bowie and attempted as many persona changes as he did, did more than anyone else to vulgarize his ethos: as time went by and she began to fade in relevance, she swung away from artistic expression through song and began seeking notoriety through public activism. Now no one would deny artists their right to campaign on behalf of a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders; but please don’t do that then claim they understand what David Bowie was on about.

Bowie used his art to exorcise his own personal demons first and foremost: the guy accused of glamorizing white nationalism during the Station To Station tour with his Thin White Duke character wasn’t actually a Moseleyite fascist; he was just writing about mystique of Old Europe to hold a mirror up to the desperate drug-sodden degradation of his life in Los Angeles. (As if any more proof were needed, it bears reminding that Bowie’s core band during 1975-1980 was composed of funky black and Latino guys he’d met during his Philly soul phase.)

As our media continues to pound the drum about Black Lives Mattering and keeps shoehorning any narrative they can find in to prove their already written concluded theories on race and racism in modern America, a clip of Bowie from 1983 began to make the rounds on dedicated outlets of Bowie questioning then MTV VJ Mark Goodman in an interview about the lack of black artists being shown on the fledgling network. Goodman was of course flustered with the question, citing demographics, the direction of the network, or what kids might want to hear. Bowie was having none of it, but he didn’t have to shout to get his point across.  Bowie didn’t wait for society to change under the weight of politicians and astroturf media protests. It was a mutual relationship and his concerns about the advancement of black artists wasn’t about fronting for cameras, or garnering positive notices from the New York Times; it was just something he cared about artistically.

Bowie’s multiple personas could be claimed presently with the rising tide of populist nativism seen on the political right with Donald Trump, just as much as the Black Lives Matter protesters on the left and that’s why he could never be owned politically. 

He was an anomaly and that was part of the game he played on purpose. I also suspect the game just got a bit tedious for him. He came for a party and witnessed a political mosh pit ensue instead. He departed Earth at the exact point that he was no longer needed, and his mission to unite those of many political faiths had failed. He will not be returning home a victor.

David Bowie, the most non-conventional musical artist in history, as well as one of the most non-political, decided to go home at a time when convention and politics rule everything about the entertainment industry.

David Bowie didn’t die. He just got bored with it all.

– SM –

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How to Build a Digital Elephant: The GOP’s Biggest Obstacle in 2016

The Wilderness | Issue 61 | 10 . 21 . 2015 |

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Last week saw the Democrats, the purported party of Youth and Diversity, turn their first primary debate into a joyless slog that quickly devolved into a pitiless deathmarch to see which aging, pasty-faced candidate could stay awake past their bedtime the longest. It took less than five minutes for the Democratic candidates to start yelling at, and about, everyone watching. As VOXDOTCOM noted, the Democratic party is in ashes on a state and national level outside of the presidency, and they have no candidates in the post-Obama era worth offering so hey: Lincoln Chafee will have to do! The best they are offering is a 74-year-old socialist (who, a week after the debate ended, is probably still on stage screaming about communitarian economics in a darkened auditorium) and a 70-year-old oligarch with the lowest likability ratings of any presidential candidate in modern history…who also just happens to be the target of a FBI investigation for gross mishandling of classified information.

And yet, in the end none of it may matter.

The gaffes. The staged media events. The bursts of random cackling that repel voters like garlic repels vampires. The scandalous indifference to, and insolence toward, federal law. All of it may very well be utterly inconsequential in the final analysis because more and more these days it’s data and analytics that decide elections. And numbers don’t care about likability or traditional electability. The 2016 election, more than 2012 or 2008 before it, will be an election decided on data and outreach, and as of right now the GOP and its candidates are woefully underequipped and underprepared. Some of this is completely beyond their control at this early point in the primaries. But some of it is not; it is very much under their control, and the current structure of GOP campaign operations suggest that the candidates are simply choosing not to emphasize it.

Here is a simple fact: right now, the GOP is on the road to defeat, set to be overwhelmed by a superior digital voter microtargeting operation on the other side, and hamstrung by a refusal to focus on the future of predictive analytics and Big Data application technology. These are the things which translate through e-mail and online contacts, into both donations and (even more importantly) boots on the ground in the thick of a general election campaign: door-to-door mobilization. Everything else — the theater, the social media back-and-forths, the SNL appearances and Sunday morning show interviews — is almost meaningless. The 2016 pool of potential GOP nominees represents the deepest reserve of young Presidential-level talent the Republican Party has had in ages, and none of it may matter because while the engineers and developers on the Democratic side aren’t necessarily personally invested in Hillary or Bernie, they do believe in the greater Cause. And, more to the point, these are the sorts of people who simply enjoy solving equations and problems.

GOP candidates are facing a mammoth two-pronged problem: 1) the failure of will and lack of funds to field large data-driven get-out-the-vote operations, and; 2) Hillary Clinton’s well funded allies in Silicon Valley, specifically Eric Schmidt and Google. On top of that, this is a party whose candidates look like they are playing catch-up in the areas of digital operations and field mobilization.

To give you an idea of how far behind the Republican Party is in the digital age of voter-targeting, realize this: the GOP didn’t even create a position for a Chief Technology Officer until after the 2012 election, when they looked to former Facebook senior engineer Andrew Barkett, who moved on to work on digital ops for the Jeb! Bush campaign. It took a disaster as large as Mitt Romney’s ORCA operation, an analytical Titanic, to wake the Republicans from of a pre-digital opioid slumber that saw their rival campaign operation carry Obama to consecutive victories on the backs of 20/30-something developers who were busily coding, farming data, and analyzing and applying the results behind the scenes. (Team Chicago had about 200 digital staffers to Romney’s 50.) The GOP undertook a sort of digital boot camp after the failures of 2008 and 2012 that certainly helped in 2014. But how well that translates over to 2016 is still a shaky unknown — midterm cycles are not at all like the massive pressure of Presidential election cycles — and as far as individual campaigns are concerned, the outlook isn’t good.

“There’s a whole bunch of people in politics who say a lot of words, all the buzzwords that we talked about, and they say, ‘I want more analytics.’ None of them have any idea what any of those things mean,” Barkett stated on a panel discussion earlier this year. “They have no idea what the difference is between building an infrastructure of servers that know how to send e-mails to having an e-mail list or the difference between the records in the voter file and the analytics that you do in addition to those,”

This isn’t to say that as a party, the GOP hasn’t made enormous strides in online voter targeting. They have. But how well that translates over to candidates preparing for a brutal primary and general election is anyone’s guess. On top of that,  the GOP simply just doesn’t have the allies in the technology industry that the Clinton machine, via the Obama campaign, has.


This is why forward-thinking campaigns that embrace technology, such as Marco Rubio’s, are so important to the new era of digital politics. Every campaign should be scouring the earth for the new Peter Brand from Moneyball. High and low, in and out of politics, everywhere and anywhere. But because the Republican party itself is still littered with pre-Obama, pre-analytics consultant fossils who think direct-mail expenditures and TV ads are worth burning millions of dollars on, new talent is hard to find and even harder to convince to take a likely pay-cut. (Nobody with talent is going to take a pay-cut to be told “no, we’re overlooking your Big Data web microtargeting outreach idea to send out a bunch of postcard-mailers instead. It’s what we’ve always done.”) And for everything the Rubio campaign is doing right in embracing Silicon Valley’s talent and technology, he also embraced Romney’s former ORCA leadership team (who have shown no signs of learning from their cetacean-sized failure in November 2012), and he is still struggling to gain ground and cash in a crowded primary field dominated by a regressive AM radio entertainment wing still gladly turning their microphones over to a mealymouthed shiteating harlequin named Donald Trump — who at this point, has zero digital ground-operation beyond telling his Twitter followers to spam-vote the Drudge online poll.

Trump may have his billions, but he has thus far shown zero interest in spending it on the sort of campaign infrastructure that matters for winning national elections, especially as regards digital outreach and targeting small donors and voters.

Last week, as candidates released their FEC filing data for the 3rd quarter of 2015, burn rates for GOP frontrunners were alarmingly high as it related to money spent on their GOTV and digital targeting operations. Ben Carson, for example, spent upwards of $10 million on advertising mainly through traditional ad buys and old-school mailers. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, spent a mere $450,000 on online ad buys and parlayed it into a stunning $11 million of donations. As Jeb! Bush continues to slide in polls, he has ended up slashing campaign salaries while still paying out a moderate amount on big data operations.

Meanwhile, the highest paid staffer of the Hillary Clinton campaign is her director of analytics.

One side is taking this all very seriously. One side, by all appearances, continues not to.

GOP campaigns are burning through millions of donor dollars on the same old traditional media in primaries, and the story that many of them will tell you is that they are hoping to use more tech-savvy targeted analytics later on in the general election once they get there. But as we have seen before from the Romney disaster, by then it will perhaps be too late. Patrick Ruffini of Echelon Insights (and whose Medium is an invaluable tool for understanding these topics more) had an excellent breakdown at Politico on the problems of an analytically conservative party continuously attempting to play catch-up. Ruffini writes:

This divide is mirrored on the digital side of the campaign. Rather than hoarding money early, Democrats have invested in seven-figure email list-building programs to lay the foundation for eight- and nine-figure digital fundraising returns down the road. Clinton and Sanders are very different candidates, but the strategies they have pursued in this regard are strikingly similar. In the second quarter, each had paid online advertising firms $1.2 million, exclusive of money paid for staff or to maintain their digital infrastructure. These ads are designed to do one thing: get as many people as possible to give over their email address to the campaign, so they can later be targeted for fundraising appeals.

The Sanders campaign, for example, is using targeted emails lists to reach individual voters and volunteers, and building out an organic movement. GOP candidates are relying on the big ad buys, the sort of impersonal arms-length outreach which may reach eyeballs of voters sitting in front of their TV, but doesn’t motivate people to donate or volunteer to knock on doors.

In short, just as the GOP itself is relying on an outdated and hostile media for its debate-hosting and moderation (instead of turning to online formats to reach non-traditional voters) GOP campaigns are pouring millions upon millions of wasted dollars into outdated, traditional advertising buys such as regional TV ads and posterboard mailers. The other challenge facing GOP candidates is simple: competition. More candidates means more (and more scattered) donors, and a primary race that devolves into a parody of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, with a dozen or so goofballs stumbling over each other for dollars and stretching their field operations to over-max capacity (hello, Scott Walker). There is only so much money to go around for so many candidates.

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Which brings us to the most terrifying aspect of all of this: Eric Schmidt’s The Groundwork.

Little is known about the Google Alphabet CEO’s start-up operation, except that it is partly funded by Schmidt himself and includes several key members of the successful Obama “Cave,” the engineers who developed superior voter-targeting application platforms in 2012.  The Groundwork’s website is a single landing page with a mysterious logo that, I kid you not, resembles the Illuminati symbol. It was created before Clinton’s official launch, with one singular goal in mind: elect Hillary. QZ.com ran a profile and the information shared should be a wake up call to GOP base and the candidates bickering over how to Make America Great Again:

…sources say the Groundwork was created to minimize the technological gap that occurs between presidential campaign cycles while pushing forward the Big Data infrastructure that lies at the heart of modern presidential politics. There is also another gap in play: The shrinking distance between Google and the Democratic Party. Former Google executive Stephanie Hannon is the Clinton campaign’s chief technology officer, and a host of ex-Googlers are currently employed as high-ranking technical staff at the Obama White House. Schmidt, for his part, is one of the most powerful donors in the Democratic Party—and his influence does not stem only from his wealth, estimated by Forbes at more than $10 billion. At a time when private-sector money is flowing largely unchecked into US politics, Schmidt’s funding of the Groundwork suggests that 2016’s most valuable resource may not be donors capable of making eight-figure donations to Super PACs, but rather supporters who know how to convince talented engineers to forsake (at least for awhile) the riches of Silicon Valley for the rough-and-tumble pressure cooker of a presidential campaign.”

On top of this, the DNC has been granted access to Organizing For Action’s coveted donor list, including all e-mail addresses. This is what is transpiring in the back rooms of the DNC and the Clinton campaign machine, while conservative candidates relitigate the Holocaust as a gun-control issue, argue about George W. Bush’s responsibility for 9/11, and generally dance the age-old jig of internecine primary warfare to nitrous oxide giggles of a network media all too happy to ensure that the clown car rolls on. While GOP campaigns struggle for oxygen, money and voters, Schmidt has already laid down a 50-state digital infrastructure and is using the best young minds he can find to target and develop it.

Make no mistake: the Republican Party is once again playing with two strikes against it.

The engineers and developers creating these platforms for Schmidt may be ideologically like-minded, but they aren’t necessarily driven by their desire to influence the national conversation as it relates to social issues or foreign policy. They simply see a problem that needs solving, and they know that if they’re the ones to solve it they can write their own post-election ticket anywhere they want. Let’s be clear: when Eric Schmidt of all people approaches you with an opportunity, you absolutely are not going to start mumbling to him about “political differences.” As far as Silicon Valley culture is concerned, you’ve just been given an Offer You Can’t Refuse. Could anybody? These young minds don’t care about e-mail scandals or leaked classified intelligence. They don’t care about debate performances or poll numbers. They don’t care what MSNBC or CNN hosts are saying. They are simply data-driven, analytical minds obsessed with solving the problem put in front of them. Unfortunately for Republicans, the problem presented to them in this case is how to elect Hillary Clinton (or maybe Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, depending on how things shake out) as President of the United States of America.

If this outlook seems grim,  it is.

But it’s not entirely hopeless. On top of the digital strides the RNC has made with apps and e-mail targeting, a familiar ally is attempting to take the party and the candidates even further in hopes of competing with Schmidt and Google: Charles and David Koch. Koch industries poured money into a data research firm called i360, which was started by Michael Palmer, John McCain’s former chief technical strategist. Past clients included Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst and Larry Hogan. (The latter two won decisive 2014 victories in races where the Democrats had started off favored; in Hogan’s case, pretty much nobody outside his friends and family thought he would win the Maryland governor’s race until he shockingly clobbered Martin O’Malley’s handpicked successor on election night.) In Colorado, i360 assisted in targeting voters using social media analytics, credit bureau reporting data, former addresses and television watching habits. That data, once compiled, analyzed, and intelligently used, helped Cory Gardner defeat Senator Mark Uterus in what turned out to be a very close race.

Data-mining made all the difference.

The problem with applying successful GOTV analytics is the GOP’s tendency to sit on them instead of working to develop them further. Where RNC data platforms were in 2014 for midterm elections, OFA and the DNC were already in 2012 for a national election. And you can bet they’ve moved forward since then. The RNC itself has a new digital team and a new platform, Republic VX, and is hoping to grow and expand on i360’s success, but as the RNC’s new Chief Technology Officer Azarias Reda told Bloomberg earlier this year, “we can’t solve every problem campaigns have.” There is a recent record of success on the Right but it has to translate over to national campaigns and campaigns have to put emphasis, and more importantly money into these operations. This all has to happen while Hillary Clinton enjoys a comfortable primary lead and the company of tech-billionaires and developers that are culturally predisposed not to view young tech-savvy GOP candidates as options.

The “candidate” may still be the mighty seed from which all other branches grow, but Barack Obama’s election (and, more importantly, re-election) showed that the candidate and their message do not matter as much as the infrastructure surrounding them. Outdated tactics from past presidential elections will not work. The GOP candidate could be targeting voters, engaging with biased debate moderators, or dressing up in giant squirrel costumes — none of it will matter. As long as they are playing catch-up, they’ll be losing. The results will be the same.

And the GOP will be left with the grim task of having to dispose of the carcass of another giant fail whale.

 

 

– SM –

 

 

 

(Marco Rubio at Google. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Media Happens: Obama Gives His Marching Orders on Guns

The Wilderness  |  Issue 60   | 10 . 7 . 2015  |  

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The political right can finally exhale: after seven years, and with one foot already out the door, the Real Barack Obama finally revealed himself. Last Thursday, he entered the White House briefing room and gave an angry statement about a mass shooting in Oregon that had inconsiderately interrupted his retirement planning. And he did it before the bodies were cold, before an investigation had even begun and before victims’ families had been notified. Before anything was known about the shooter, the guns or the victims, Barack Obama was once again 
yelling at everyone in the country not responsible for the crime. This was an angry, petulant, lecturing leftist straight out of the Occidental College teacher’s lounge. It was also the first time this country saw the real Barack Obama. It was, if anything, refreshing.

He is who we thought he was. 

Obama has never had much success playing the role of consoler-in-chief when it comes to his politically unpopular positions. He has no use for it marketing-wise. We as a country should be thankful at least that he didn’t break into a pre-rehearsed “Amazing Grace” in the middle of his afternoon tirade. Instead, he seized on the deaths in Oregon to create an imaginary strawman opponent, who he claimed would argue he was “politicizing things” by turning immediately from the massacre to the subject of gun-control. He did this in order to give himself the opportunity to proclaim “this is something we should politicize.” Perhaps our President would have been smarter holding off on the desire to politicize shooting deaths before an investigation had been conducted or concluded. Later that same week, after a U.S. military strike killed several aide workers at a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Obama stated he would await results of a Pentagon investigation of the airstrike before “making a definitive judgment” about it.

Obama is not nearly as anxious to “politicize” his FUBARed ongoing Not-War, which just resulted in the vaporization of a hospital, as he is a more propitious domestic incident.

Obama used the shootings at a community college in Oregon to denounce everything that’s wrong with the country that elected him twice, and praise everything that’s right about Australia. This isn’t the first time Obama has referenced the massive mandatory gun confiscation undertaken by Australia in 1996. He did so in the days following the Charleston shootings, when he lectured legal gun-owning citizens, then hopped on his airplane to do a few Hollywood fundraisers and comedian Mark Maron’s podcast. This has also led an activist group in Australia to call for a boycott of the United States until our gun laws match their own.

We’re heartbroken. Really, mate.

Obama believes the shootings in Oregon have finally given him the political capital to push massive, unprecedented (and unconstitutional) gun-control measures. Not legislatively of course. That would require work, and building relationships with a Congress he has no interest in dealing with. No, what Obama is doing is once again the only thing he truly knows how: activism. The current occupant of the White House thinks laws are passed not by meeting with legislators and marshaling support in the Capitol building, but by organizing celebrities and loyal media personalities on social media.

Obama has finally gone from hiding his “Bitter clinger” ideology behind closed-door fundraisers to letting his full out-and-proud anti-2nd Amendment freak flag fly. But nothing Obama has ever done has been spontaneous or unplanned. It’s been a carefully stage-managed show, not unlike a vaudeville salesman hucking his magical healing tonic out of the back of a wagons while his unknown accomplice in the crowd shouts out how well it works. Except Obama’s accomplices aren’t old Dust Bowl hobos of Steinbeckian legend. They’re our vaunted Fourth Estate, the journalists of America who claim the right to determine what America is suppose to think about and talk about. When Obama walked into the White House Briefing Room on Thursday, he demanded his loyalist media push his “See I told you hashtag Not All Muslims hashtag” narrative. They dutifully complied, like a classroom full of Martin Princes waving their hands in the air, barely able to contain their eagerness to answer Mrs. Krabappel’s question.

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Media personalities and journalists have in years past usually fallen back on “Ha ha, don’t be so paranoid, silly gun nut! Nobody’s coming for your guns!” It’s the same cliche response they’ve always whipped out when forced to defend their positions as credible reporters and not progressive activists. Except this time, because of Obama’s own words and actions, they now feel Narratively Empowered. This will not be the normal nudging of political storylines. This will be a full assault. They have a little over one year left with their handpicked President and they believe this is can be the last great legacy action for a White House that has accomplished much of everything else it set out to do. As stated before, our media is Obama. Because his election was so closely tied to them, his successes and failures are theirs as well. Because Obama is no longer being subtle about his wishes with respect to guns, neither will they. And Obama cannot be allowed to fail.

In the past few days, therefore, writers from Vox, Talking Points Memo, Washington Post, Think Progress and New York Times have all come out for gun confiscation. If they are only just writing it now, understand that it’s something they’ve believed for a long time and now finally feel comfortable about letting the mask slip. But after hammering Donald Trump for months about how he plans to round up and deport 12 million illegal immigrants without instituting a mandatory door-to-door police state, they seem to be at a loss as to how the federal government plans to round up 300 million firearms legally owned by American citizens.

In an appearance on “Morning Joe” with National Review‘s Charles C. Cooke, Mark Halperin declared that journalists hold a leadership position on policy and demanded, in agreement with the President, that they all be a part of some solution. His “solution” seemed to be little more than getting in a circle and holding hands to wish all guns away, and when pressed by Cooke spell something more specific out, Halperin froze and mimicked the facial expressions of a Nazi staring into the Ark of the Covenant. Mark Halperin claims that as a member of the Fourth Estate he’s a leading leader in a leadership position, but he doesn’t have a policy. All he knows is that he agrees with Barack Obama, who also doesn’t have a policy, beyond (whisper it softly at first, say it louder later) the Australia-style mandatory confiscation of firearms. Journalists sheepishly trying to maintain any of semblance of neutrality on the issue know this and they can’t quite bring themselves to say it, so their goal is to wear down anyone on the opposite side of the argument. 

No matter who they are.

When John Hanlin, the Douglas County Sheriff handling the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, was asked to defend his 2nd Amendment beliefs at a press conference, he instantly became a credible obstacle and therefore a target. The next morning CNN’s noted Chaplinsky expert Chris Cuomo attempted to corner Hanlin in an interview and demand he rethink his pro-gun views. In an interview immediately after, Matt Lauer of the Today show echoed the same sentiment. When Hanlin also declared he would not identify the shooter by name, progressive media on Twitter threw their arms up and CNN decided as well that they wouldn’t abide that:

Suddenly, devoted journalists began digging into Hanlin’s social media background. The website Mashable (essentially Salon for nerds) ran a story on the sheriff’s previous lobbying against gun-control measures in the wake of a tweet from editor Jim Roberts commending Obama for his speech. Both Buzzfeed (still struggling to figure out the proper implementation of their own set of declared journalistic ethics) and the New York Times ran a story on a Sandy Hook ‘Truther’ video Hanlin shared on Facebook. No one knows why he shared it, what he found interesting about it or what his beliefs on Sandy Hook actually are. But it didn’t matter. The Brady Campaign (the most well-known anti-gun group in the nation) has since filed a petition demanding his resignation, for reasons having nothing to do with his competence concerning the actual investigation at hand.

At the cue of our President, the media had suddenly had decided that a sheriff with the heartbreaking burden of investigating a mass shooting in his jurisdiction was a bigger villain than the shooter himself — a man who executed his victims based on their whether they were Christian.

It was only a matter time before the media took aim at the 2016 field.

While speaking at an event in South Carolina, Jeb Bush was asked to weigh in on mass shootings and what could be done about them. Bush’s answer was perfectly standard GOP boilerplate on the issue: “we’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think that more government is necessarily the answer to this,” he said. “But I resist the notion — and I did, I had this, this challenge as governor, because we have, look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.” Answering questions after the event Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker‘s Washington correspondent, seemed to take personal offense to that response and approached Bush with his conclusion already in mind, suggesting what Bush said was a mistake and that he was doing his noble journalistic duty in giving him a chance to correct himself. Bush did not and Lizza took his own interpretation of two words to Twitter.

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Lizza’s cropped half-quote “Stuff Happens” was turned into a hashtag, shot to the top of Twitter’s national trends, and was being posed within the hour to Obama at a presser, who shrugged it off to the laughter of those in the room. POLITICO, ABC News, Chicago Sun Times
all gleefully ran with it. The Democratic party was running with it and Hillary Clinton is still doing so. Bush’s tepid response to the decontextualization of his quote was woefully expected and a sad measuring stick of how much of an outdated good-guy candidate Jeb really is. No one in the online conservative movement is happy about having to defend Jeb! and his limp-sack-of-noodles act, and yet here we are, animated by sheer force of principle rather than any enthusiasm for the man or his candidacy. 

Because ultimately it’s the principle that matters. If they do this sort of thing to Jeb, they can and will do it to Marco Rubio, or Carly Fiorina, or Ben Carson. The question now becomes how to fight it and the answer is pretty simple: candidates must treat combative partisan journalists as political opponents and not as conscientious practitioners of our sacred First Amendment rights.  Yesterday morning Marco Rubio sat down with Matt Lauer, who proceeded to grill him on gun control after the typical “Trump called you XYZ”. Rubio gave his GOP opponents a roadmap on how to handle combative journalists as their base instincts kick in, the fangs bare, the eyes roll over white, and they slide into “gotcha mode.” Rubio asked Lauer to name the proposed gun-control law that would have stopped a shooting like in Oregon, short of full confiscation. Lauer was left gasping that Rubio was advocating doing nothing in the wake of the shootings. When at the 2:55 mark Rubio suggested looking more at mental health, Lauer shut it down. It’s the conversation they absolutely do not want to have

The twitterati and the political right will be tempted to just write this all off as more example of Journolist bias, and say that nothing can be done except point it out. But they have to understand that this time actually is different. The media, Obama, the Democrats, and Grandma herself are advocating against our founding and against our 2nd Amendment rights for gun confiscation. The GOP can either react properly to these tactics or once again be overwhelmed by an activist White House, Hollywood celebrities and a network and web media (Hello Planned Parenthood). This issue is not going to simply drop away after the next news cycle. It will be framed as a public health crisis and therefore something that Obama can move unilaterally on. He’s been pretty successful implementing Obamacare on his own, after all; why not try it with guns? The White House already floated this trial balloon yesterday. The White House will throw each of these narratives out to their JuiceVoxers & Buzzfeeders (many of whom are now loyal employees of NBC/Universal Peacock Lobby) and see how they do. It is time to turn the mirror around on them. We as a country are facing an unprecedented wave of attacks fueled by the greedy corporate media lobby who appears to not care about the blood of innocent people on their hands. 

An inconvenient narrative that CNN, NBC, Vox, Buzzfeed, Huff Post and the rest refuse to face up to is the fact that more mass murders have been committed by members of our news media in the past month than by NRA members, or anyone who purchased a gun at a gun show (the new favorite talking point of the powerful Clinton Lobby).

Therefore, I say that the Right should respond to this national epidemic by proposing measured and modest media-control solutions to counter the recent wave of attacks committed by Assault Journalists™ 

First, all members of progressive media should be outfitted with mandatory body cameras. This will clear up activist confusion surrounding new myths like “Hands Up Don’t Shoot.” Second, Congress needs to pass a law limiting clicks per website. You shouldn’t need more than seven hundred clicks for a piece about the evil NRA. Click exceptions will be made for hunting news websites. It’s time to take our rights back from the powerful media lobby in Washington more concerned with making millions off the news stories of dead bodies than with the welfare of our communities. They should no longer be able to shield themselves with the excuse that one mass murdering member of their network community does not represent them all.

Any reporter willing to abdicate their journalistic responsibilities at the request of a head of state is no longer a credible reporter. They are dangerous activists and should be treated as such. Ryan Lizza, specifically, should have his campaign credentials revoked and be given the same treatment a DNC operative would be given. This isn’t robbing anyone of their First Amendment rights as Lizza and his defenders might argue. Just a reasonable commonsense solution to prevent another targeted attack like the one this allegedly mentally deranged reporter committed. He’s free to cover our candidates’ campaigns, from his couch or his office while streaming their events on C-SPAN and under strict supervision. Perhaps it’s even time to discuss prohibition

An old-media war is now a new-media war. Information travels at the speed of tweet before context can explained. No one is asking journalists to be unbiased because true objectivity doesn’t exist in politics, but if they are going to choose to weaponize their bylines for the specific intent of influencing another presidential election via deception, making themselves the story, then they need to be exposed for what they are and live with the consequences. America needs common sense Assault-Journalist reforms. We can’t wait. The urgency of the situation demands action now. We have to do it for the children. Yes, it would be an uphill fight against the powerful Peacock Lobby, with their scores of bought and paid-for journalists, but if together we can save even one innocent NRA member’s life, well then surely it’s worth doing.

 

– SM –

 

 

 

Fiorina’s Road: Carly is Officially in the Game.

The Wilderness | Issue 59 | 9 . 29 . 2015 |

 

Millions of Americans witnessed the end of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign live on CNN during the last GOP primary debate. It won’t be swift. It certainly won’t be pleasant. But at this point he’s Vince Vaughn bleeding out as he limps through the desert. It’s only a matter of time and steps.

For all his blustery absurdity, Trump always had a role to play in the 2016 GOP campaign cycle. He was purpose-built to fill the space of the Implausible Outsider with business sector experience and a no-nonsense attitude who could cut through the crap in Washington DC. In fact, Trump — in a dose of painful irony for his legions of reality TV show fans — has ultimately been playing a similar role to the one Mitt Romney cast himself as in 2008 and 2012: the Businessman Who Gets Shit Done. And the party was willing to tolerate him in that role for lack of any other plausible auditioners for the part.

But then another one appeared.

Debate night on CNN started out exactly the way that Trump wanted, featuring him taking amusingly gratuitous swipes at Rand Paul. Paul, in turn, blew his opportunity to hammer home a “see, I told you so” point about Trump’s temper and the idea of imagining The Donald angrily slamming his pudge-knuckled orange toonmitts down on the “LAUNCH” button of the nuclear football. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush golly-gee-shucked his way through the opening of the debate, allowing himself to be talked over, down to, across and round, never fully able to bring himself to take his glasses off and get real over Trump’s insults about his wife. It was the game CNN and Trump wanted. Instead of GOP candidates explaining their varying policy ideas for one of the largest cable audiences in TV history, the debate instead was pitched as a political Gossip Girl back-and-forth of “Trump said [X]”/”they said [Y],” a John Hughes high-school house party where Bobby Jindal is moping despondently outside in the bushes peeking through a window at the fun he’s missing while Scott Walker has already passed out in the downstairs bathtub.

Both Trump and CNN wanted a reality TV show, and they were getting it. But as the cliche goes, be careful what you wish for. When primary long shot and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was given her moment, the target of Trump’s Biff Tannen-level attacks in the days before the debate took it, channeled it, unleashed it and transformed one of Trump’s one-liner quips about Jeb Bush into the viral moment of the night. It stung — and now a restless GOP base has their own Duke, screaming in their face between early rounds Trump isn’t a machine. He can be cut. He can bleed.

Fiorina’s response to Trump’s attacks on her physical appearance left him grinning like a goofy idiot, silent as the audience cheered for the first time of the night. This was the beginning of the end of Donald Trump, and seemingly the end of the beginning for Fiorina.  Trump’s Frank T.J. Mackey “Respect the Cock” act, thrown like slabs of red meat to his throngs of anonymous seminar suckers struggling to sell a pen back to their host, only works as long as the facade holds and he maintains the semblance of control and projection of power. It’s certainly not something that ought to be able to be torn down by “that woman” (or by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for that matter). Conservatives were willing to tolerate Trump because of that, the slot he filled for them in the early primary process. He was the successful alpha-male businessman from outside Washington, with bold ideas and rhetoric and the gusto to slap around the politicians we feel have screwed us over for a generation or more (see Steve Forbes or Herman Cain in previous primary seasons). With all of that, even the most hesitant of voters were willing to put up with Trump’s “who do you love” toxic Joker parade-act given that there were no other alternatives to fill that vacancy. But now there is an alternative: Carly Fiorina, a more reasonable and by all appearances tougher alternative. And Trump is now facing dwindling crowds and boos while he keeps himself happily opiated under the delusion that he won’t be replaced in the minds of voters tired of The Apprentice.

Except he already has been replaced.

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Carly Fiorina is now officially in the game, and has graduated from defending herself against attacks by a vomiting carnival barker to defending herself from an entire media establishment hellbent on keeping their record of turning GOP women into punchlines unblemished and intact. But Fiorina is smooth, cool, sophisticated, and unflappable under media pressure: she cannot be written off some remote bumpkinbilly governor fresh off the Nominatin’ Truck, and that’s very problematic for the “Madame Secretary” narrative that Hillary Clinton and her media allies want to use to parachute her into the Oval Office. As Clinton’s team struggles to wipe her operating system and quickly update her BIOS to make her more relatable to the one demo she can’t win without (women), Fiorina’s surge has even the most zealous feminist critics on the left questioning Clinton’s historical inevitability, as evidenced on Cosmopolitan.com in an article titled “Carly Fiorina Is the Candidate I Wanted Hillary Clinton to Be“. Last month as candidates took to the Iowa State Fair soap box to give speeches and answer spontaneous questions, Fiorina gladly took the stage in plaid shirt and blue jeans and fielded inquiries from all comers. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, dressed like a diplomat from Rigel VI and surrounded by a security detail, decidedly did not. Donald Trump refused to take that stage as well.

To members of our dutiful media, Carly Fiorina is a cipher who mysteriously exploded onto the scene two weeks ago twirling Trump’s testicles around in her hand like a pair of luxuriously classy gold-plated Ben Wa balls. But in fact she’s always been a bit of a campaigning ninja — it’s just that nobody was paying attention before. If anything, this proves that nobody in the media actually watches Seth Meyers’ late night show. Back in May, when Fiorina was a guest on Meyers’ show, he tried to needle her with the trollish point that her campaign had failed to secure her own name as a URL for a website. Fiorina turned the tables when she revealed she had actually just registered “sethmeyers.org” in the green room before appearing on his show. It was a deft media move that proved Fiorina understands the new rules of the late-night game, where hosts moonlight for the Left as political point-scorers. Chris Matthews didn’t fare much better in a post debate dressing-down that left him speechless and tingleless. Trump should have done his homework

That doesn’t mean offers from Vanity Fair, Elle and Vogue will start pouring in for Fiorina the way they do for Chelsea Clinton or her Ice Queen mother…and that’s fine with observers on the Right, because as Carly’s profile rises the hypocrisy of entertainment media becomes more obvious and inconveniently awkward. Unlike with Clinton, there will be no dancing on Ellen or interviews about Lenny Kravitz’s schlong with Lena Dunham, even though Fiorina has accomplished more in male-dominated boardrooms than Clinton has in White House backrooms. Fiorina will not be treated with red carpets and fashion spreads, as was plainly evident this past week when she became target number one for a DC media that was suddenly now curious about her, beyond what a guy who uses more spray-tan than she does thinks of her face.

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At the behest of a wheedling Donald Trump
, the media has now brought out the guns over Fiorina’s record as CEO of Hewlett Packard, and it is fair game. There are questions to be asked, and she must give satisfactory explanations, but the deeper we dig into her decision making at HP, the more convoluted and difficult to grasp her supposed “failures” become than Trump or Barbara Boxer or Chris Cillizza wish to admit. She will also have to answer for HP’s sale of printer parts to Iran in violation of sanctions during her tenure, something that seems to contradict her strong opposition to Obama’s Iran deal. It’s ironic however that Democrats and their media acolytes suddenly have a problem with a large companies stretching the legal boundaries to sell printer parts (stretching legality to sell fetal body parts though, not so much.) The further irony of Democrats in 2016 writing Fiorina off as a failed executive is that they, of course, wrote Mitt Romney for being a good executive in the 2012 election. That won’t stop them from trying to have it both ways.

On top of the renewed examination of Fiorina’s business record, another speedbump surfaced last week in the form of a 2013 interview where she stated her support for mandatory health coverage as it relates to catastrophic insurance. The 2016 election won’t be litigated as much on Obamacare as it was 2012, but an inflamed GOP base last seen dragging the severed head of John Boehner around like it just won a particularly brutal game of buzkashi will not tolerate such heresies for long. And this is coming up now because the goal for network and web media at large is to neutralize Fiorina and mitigate the harm her mere presence in the race does to Hillary Clinton. Every time she takes a debate stage, she reflects a bright light back at a media once again attempting to drag an unqualified candidate over the finish line in the name of history.

And yet their sudden ferocity in examining Fiorina’s record completely misses the point.

The overeagerness to ‘expose’ and shame Carly Fiorina is a gross miscalculation on the part of the media and the Democratic establishment; they are overplaying their hand on behalf of Grandma Clinton, and charging at what is essentially a phantom threat. Because Fiorina isn’t the last great hope of the GOP field after all. She almost certainly won’t be the nominee, and that doesn’t matter because she was never supposed to be. Instead, Fiorina has become a very distinctive specialty weapon who has already served her purpose in a crowded and talented group of candidates. Think of her like a deep sleeper fantasy pick paying weekly dividends while that highly-touted running back from Green Bay that you drafted in the 1st round is now officially a bust and collecting dust on the bench.

In the end, it won’t be the Fiorina’s neutering of the click-for-cash Trump ratings machine that inspires the media to go after her with unfettered vengeance. It will be the issue for which she has seemingly discovered her voice: Planned Parenthood.

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If not for Fiorina’s response to Trump about his digs at her looks, her demand that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama view the Planned Parenthood undercover sting videos would have been the most memorable moment of the night. (Or maybe it would have been Fiorina’s moving story of losing a daughter to drug addiction. She scored all the big hits.) The media has predictably cocooned themselves from the PP videos to the the point where they are bizarrely denying the very existence of the CMP tapes at all, and New Yorker contributors are threatening her candidacy outright on social media over it. It was easy for Planned Parenthood to hire a heavyweight Democratic crisis-management firm to bury any media coverage of videos where top brass all but scream that they’re involved in trafficking fetal tissue for profit. When a GOP presidential candidate told one of the largest audiences in cable news history to view the videos for themselves, that made it a lot less simple.

Fiorina cannot be pigeonholed into the media’s cliched conservative role of an old white Christian Republican here to steal away women’s birth control. Fiorina spoke forcefully, emotionally and with conviction. Nancy Pelosi has responded that the videos are staged fiction completely and defensive media has demanded what Fiorina stated about Planned Parenthood is patently false while refusing to air the videos that can prove them right.  Planned Parenthood itself, an organization that receives federal funding, has decided to respond to Fiorina by having protestors hurl condoms at her. One can imagine what the media response would be if conservative activists screamed and yelled and threw anything at Madame Secretary, not to mention the response of her Secret Service detail. Fiorina, on the other hand, responded just as she had done with Seth Meyers and Donald Trump. Head on.

Much has been made in various media spaces about this GOP race being a story of the Right searching for a candidate who fights. Fights everything, from political correctness, to an establishment far removed from the desires of an ignored base. But fighting political correctness goes beyond simply calling your opponents clowns while drive-time radio hosts beg for scraps. Right now Carly Fiorina has taken on the most inconvenient politically correct narrative hard leftists have in Planned Parenthood, and their sanctimonious stance on “women’s health.” And she’s done it while posing as a tougher, yet more personable preference to “the other woman” in the race.

My only advice for Donald Trump, Planned Parenthood and our media? You better get used to that face. It’s going to be around awhile longer.

 

– SM –

 

(Top Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Boy on the Beach: Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures Go Viral

The Wilderness  |  Issue 58   | 9 . 7 . 2015  |  

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Flash back to 2011, and far as presidencies are concerned, it feels like a millennium ago. Barack Obama was basking in the fullness of the Arab Spring, posing as the personal midwife to a New Birth of Freedom as he polished his Peace Prize in front of the world. Truly this was a man who could not lose: it seemed like all he had to do was demand some former ally steeped in domestic conflict bow to his diplomatic omnipotence and boom: Instant Democracy. The media tactfully aided Obama by moving on from covering these international hotspots almost immediately after President Santa had finished gifting them with new regimes, so we wouldn’t have to trouble ourselves with any messy details about their aftermaths (until Ambassador Stevens found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time a year later, that is). The afterglow was unfaded. Barack Obama was still the fresh-faced President Hope and Change. Oprah was still crying.  But as it all fell to pieces, Obama received a brutal education in the truth that community organizing on the South Side of Chicago is light years away from an attempt to community organize the Middle East.

Which brings us to Bashar al-Assad, of course.

When Barack Obama demanded Assad step down in 2011, he took immediate ownership of any consequences to follow. Assad — not being much more than a photo-op for Nancy Pelosi or a dinner date for John Kerry, and owing us utterly nothing (unlike Mubarak or Khaddafi) — told Obama to get bent around a tree, and from that point onward the administration’s strategy has been one long assay into the question of how best to manage an Asshole Who May Still Be Preferable To Outright Anarchy. Obama hedged military action against Assad and against his (now obviously disastrous) decision to withdraw from Iraq and the impending nuclear deal with Iran. When his declaration that Assad Must Go went ignored (and thus became problematic), he simply crossed it off his list, told a nefarious Vladimir Putin to handle it, and went golfing. When his administration realized that any military intervention in Syria would complicate his Iran nuclear deal, he folded. Except the world didn’t fold with him.

When reports emerged that Assad had utilized chlorine gas against both rebels and civilians, Obama was suddenly boxed into a world which preceded his ascension and more importantly, didn’t give a damn about what he thought. Obama and his famously anti-war Secretary of State John Kerry reaped the consequences of spending the prior five years demonizing the difficult decisions made by their predecessors, either unaware or unfazed by the idea that they might one day have to rally the country and the world around a “Red Line” they themselves had set, and as it turns out weren’t very good or very interested in necessitating either.

A foreign policy based on hoping that no one will call your bluff is dangerous and disastrous. As it turns out, not only was Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians not a true “red line,” ISIS’s use of them now multiple times doesn’t seem to be either . ISIS’s use of chemical weapons has been barely reported or acknowledged for the same reasons that much of ISIS’s activity overall never makes it to our own media shores — because it’s ugly, it’s inconvenient, and thanks to Obama’s “flexibility” it’s now an unsolvable Problem from Hell.

That’s always been this President’s problem: his complete inability to deal with the world at hand, as it exists right in front of his face. When the world forces Barack Obama off his script, he simply retreats to a golf course, ESPN, or most recently the remote wilds of Alaska.

Nowhere was this more evident than when his habit of diplomatic detachment inconveniently washed up on the shores of the Greek island of Kos last week when a boat carrying Syrian refugees capsized. While President Jor-El embarked on a magical mystery end-of-summer climate cruise to call attention to Alaskan glacier-melt in summer, the world was suddenly captivated by the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi lying face down in front of rescue workers.

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Photographs of Aylan Kurdi went viral and his name started trending on Twitter behind the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik which translates to“Humanity washed ashore.” Within the day, several cartoonists and artists began interpreting their own renditions of the young boy rocked in by the surf. Some were very poignant, some unsettling. But the images themselves were no less striking and commanded a viral audience large enough for media to shake themselves out of apathy of reporting the horrors being committed on a daily basis in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Playing upon our visceral reaction, media pounced at the opportunity to show us the tragedy of a dead child, yet, without asking any serious questions about the circumstances behind it (Aylan Kurdi was on a raft with others, including his brother, fleeing ISIS in Kobane). ISIS burning bodies, destroying archaeological monuments, enslaving women and girls as sex-objects, butchering men barely registers enough outrage. When Obama refused to take responsibility for chemical weapon attacks against civilians, the media dutifully let him off the hook. But this was different.

Once again world events inconsiderately  interrupted Obama’s semi-retirement and he was left holding a fish and taking selfies for an audience of himself and a business-as-usual press corps just happy to be along for the sights.

It’s fitting in a way: it is the photograph of a young boy washed up on a Turkish beach that encapsulates the consequences of what happens when a coddled President, content to do as little as possible before turning over a world spinning off its axis to his successor, is allowed to distract himself with selfies in Alaska.  Barack Obama’s successor will almost certainly bear most of the brunt and the blame of his inaction. In Hillary Clinton’s case it would be most deservedly so.

Up until the point that the pictures of young Aylan, carried in by the tide, were snapped, our media was all too happy to keep Syria and ISIS out of the headlines in the interest of securing their chosen President’s legacy.  When accompanying pictures of thousands of refugees marching across Europe also went viral, the administration didn’t even bother to attach a hashtag this time. While Obama hiked his way across (the warmest part of) Alaska, the narrative shaming was once again left to dutiful acolytes in the media, to shine a light on a great human rights crisis just bright enough to stop anyone from asking him any questions about it. As thousands sought asylum in Germany, Austria, Denmark and elsewhere, the leader of the free world sought it in the most remote part of the country for another stop on his ongoing Retirepallooza Tour of Meaningless Firsts.

While Obama was posing for glorious-leader-make-wonderful-country photos in front of mountains, John Kerry, in one of many ongoing reminders of just how right this country got it in 2004, used the occasion not to address this very real catastrophe splashed all over social media and newspapers, but to hedge it against an imaginary possible future migrant crisis due to global warming. Addressing the world as it exists now means confronting more photos of his dinner-date with Bashar al-Assad (“a real reformer” – Hillary Clinton, 2011) and excusing away the faulty campaign promises of a President content to give Iraq up to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It wasn’t climate change that caused refugees, including Aylan Kurdi and several others, to wash up on a Turkish beach. The message is clear — Obama and his State Department are not going to be shaken off their climate paranoia narrative. When Obama vehemently denied he ever called for a red line of action in Syria, he blamed “The world” and he’s content to let “the world” handle it now in any attempt to repudiate any further responsibility. What do 300,000 refugees and the whole of Europe matter when there is a glacier in the Arctic that needs staring at.

As Obama occupies himself with uncertain visions of the how the world will be in the distant future, he ignores it as it exists in the present day at our peril for the conflicts we face now.

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There will be a price to pay for this and it has nothing to do with sea levels rising 75 years from now. ISIS (that is, Obama’s JV Squad) is threatening to use the crisis of thousands of faceless and unnamed refugees as a gateway to European and western countries. There are very real security questions about who many of these refugees are as well as their intentions for fleeing. According to reports in the Daily Mail & others there has been for some time. Barack Obama maintains that the United States cannot intervene in every crisis in every part of the world and has the record of complete disengagement to prove he means it. But this is a conflict that has a very real chance of infiltrating our cities. This is a part of the world that, no matter how much we pull away from it, will one way or another find a way to pull us back in.

If this White House can’t address a problem in the world with a Twitter meme or a hashtag, it simply ignores it. And the media, charged with the duty of making sure these things cannot and should not be ignored, gladly tolerates it.

We’re being told by television and web media “not to look away” from Syria’s refugee crisis while they simultaneously celebrate our President for trading in his foreign policy for a selfie-stick in the wilderness of Alaska. The juxtaposition of our Media Gatekeepers piously lecturing us about the shock and horror of the refugee crisis, then flipping instantly to detailed analysis of a Vine of Obama getting spawned on by fish, was a striking and all-too-familiar disconnect. It would have been easy to roll our eyes had their grief-stricken tweets over Aylan Kurdi’s body in the surf not been accompanied by an ongoing shame campaign against their followers and readers. Even as they demanded we not look away, they quietly shifted a news narrative to once again shield a disinterested President from any ongoing responsibility. Overnight, a staggering refugee crisis became a “migrant crisis.” Like magic. By fundamentally changing the definition of the crisis, they were able to change the narrative and obscure how these people arrived at such a point of desperation.

And it matters. For a “refugee crisis” is a problem that awkwardly and inevitably leads to the question of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s foreign policy failures with Libya, Iraq, ISIS and Syria — and with such gauche timing, right as we’re hurtling toward a pivotal Presidential election. A “migrant crisis,” on the other hand, lets us talk about human rights and social justice, open borders and — if we wish to follow the lead of Vox Media and John Kerry — climate change as well. Much better branding. These sorts of framing choices are not accidental: these are the lengths a media, which is otherwise happy to lecture us, will go to in order to shield this President (or a President-in-waiting) from absorbing any responsibility for their own actions and words.

The New York Times, for instance, attributes responsibility to some mysterious governing entity known as “The United States” and scorches the country as whole for ignoring Syria and ISIS, yet manages somehow not to mention the names Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or the terms “JV” and “Red Line” once in about 1,500 words.

It wasn’t “the United States” that let Obama get away with declaring “I didn’t set that red line, the world did” only to have him to walk out the door like a dejected child needing an afternoon snack and media-induced nap. No, that was our media: rather than hold him accountable for his own declarations of removing Assad and setting a “red line,” they simply shrugged, muttered a word or two about how war Totally Sucks Anyway, and went back to writing think pieces on the cultural impact of the President’s NCAA tournament bracket.

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Because of DC media’s nerd-prom infatuation at the thought of being a part, any part, of this socially cool West Wing Presidency, we have to turn to other sources in calling out this ridiculous clipboard hashtag foreign policy. Earlier this year in a brief appearance during Jon Stewart’s Night of Too Many Stars, and much to the horror of the crowd, stand up comedian Bill Burr tore into Michelle Obama over the White House’s penchant for doing nothing to stop these events except guilt-shaming us with puppydog eyes:

“She’s sitting there holding up those hashtags, Bring Back Our Girls.  Remember that hashtag #BringBackOurGirls? That blew my mind, like, why are you showing me that? I’m a stand up comedian. Like what am I going to do to get back the girls? Why don’t you look across the dinner table — you see that guy? That is the Leader Of The Free World. Tell him to pick up a phone, call some Navy SEALs and solve it….what am I going to do? Show up with a sharpened mic stand? HEY EVERYONE MICHELLE TOLD ME TO BRING THEM BACK”

The whole routine is worth watching, if for no other reason than to see an overly-sensitive politically correct crowd, saturated with social media activism for the past seven years, pucker helplessly in their seats. And yet that’s where we’re at. Using Twitter to hold up signs — it’s exasperating precisely because the one “Red Line” that actually seems to still exist is the one forbidding the media from holding the one guy who can do anything about these foreign policy meltdowns and humanitarian crises responsible.

Our media collectively demands accountability for these conflicts from every single person…except the one person who has any real power to stop or mitigate it. This has always been the anecdote in Obama’s foreign policy: 1) show up 2) demand the world follow him 3) world leaders balk at his demands 4) he shrugs his shoulders and goes and plays with his selfie stick somewhere. If Obama really feels like going “all-out,” sometimes there will be an additional step 5 involving Twitter pictures of the State Department’s junior-hipster mall brigade flashing grins, thumbs-up, and razor-edged hashtags (fashioned by America’s sharpest military scientists working in the depths of DARPA to help win The Bloody War Of Memes).

Eastern Ukraine is still occupied by Putin and “our girls” have still not been returned and beyond hashtagvism, an administration far more interested in mobilizing mobs at home has all but failed to mobilize allies abroad. The repercussions of this President’s media-abetted lethargy and diplomatic ADHD will echo for generations and the same click-driven SEO Wizards of Trends that tell us now not to look away at the horrors flooding Europe will immediately torch the next Republican President for being boxed into intervening there. The Warmongering Neocon cliches will flood social media via progressive outlets like an undimmed tide, and passed off as the same interventionism nonsense by the Sunday morning peacock mafia.

It’s hard to quell the suspicion that this is why western leaders will not do what is necessary to rid the world of both ISIS and Assad. Legacy media demands we pay attention, but absolutely refuses to admit what in fact would be necessary for ending this: boots on the ground. Blood and treasure. War. Again, war. And war against whom? ISIS, yes, sure. But Assad? Do we risk all-out war with Assad in Syria, who is now backed now by Vladimir Putin, who has ramped up support with ground troops and armored divisions inside Syria? Better do a quick hit on ESPN Radio talking sports instead.

Selfie.

Responding to the tragedy unfolding in Syria right now means overwhelming and eliminating ISIS with uncompromising force, and returning to Iraq with a significant number of troops. ISIS can instantly erase 2,000 years of archaeological history overnight (A practice the Taliban employed as they rose to power in pre-9/11 Afghanistan) and the people charged with questioning the current administration about it refuse to address it beyond a few sad tweets.

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These are the same gatekeepers of truth that excoriated George W. Bush for eliminating a vicious dictator who unleashed chemical weapons on his own people in Iraq and was threatening to do so again; because of the public lashing the collective partisan Left vented upon him, no European or western leader will dare commit to what is absolutely necessary to stop ISIS, remove Assad and put Putin on notice. Obama’s fawning press has paralyzed any action against ISIS and Assad but still they sit there in their indolence and comfort, demanding we “do something.” The very same media would jump into anti-war rhetoric tomorrow if US forces returned to Iraq and Syria. Code Pink would be in the streets and reporters on social media would be dutifully pushing anti-war narratives that reminded them of their super-cool Vietnam-era college protest days. Barack Obama is certainly not a leader capable of stomaching such a military campaign, as he travels the world crossing off entries on his Fucket-List of Library accomplishments, crossing his fingers that the clock on the world doesn’t run out before the one on his presidency.quote1

The media demands we not ignore those fleeing from radical Islamic tyranny,  yet refuses to hold this administration accountable for turning its eyes away from comments made by the mullahs of Iran, so desperate are they to write a narrative about how an unenforceable deal would, in the cosmically perfect words of Rep. Patrick Murphy, “bring peace in our time.”  Americans have been abandoned overseas in Iran, their captivity used as a leverage against a reluctant U.S. Congress. The fight for democracy and the fight to redeem captive Americans or defend refugees in Syria and Iraq isn’t as easy as (in the words of the AP) staring down a melting glacier. The name of Scott Darden, currently being held captive by Houthi rebels in Yemen, takes a backseat to the name of a mountain in Alaska. The beautiful narrative of Obama’s presidency is so much more interesting, and so much easier to romanticize, than the world he’s going to leave behind.

So for the next 14 months, let’s make a deal: when the same media that shields this President from his own remarks begins paying attention to the human atrocities he chose to walk away from, so will we.

Because we’re through with the standard song-and-dance routine, where the media guilt-trips us for a week or two and then goes back to winking and nodding at Obama as he sits down for comedy podcasts and interviews with people who enjoy soaking themselves in bathtubs full of cereal.  This is a president out of apparently out of hashtags and out of fucks to give. When media rejects shameless propaganda pandering over Presidential selfies, boat trips and puppy snuggles, so will we. When our media doesn’t let the Obama Administration stick to a defective and outdated campaign promise and turn away from ISIS torching human beings and destroying 2,000 year old temples, neither will we.  What the Syrian refugee crisis has laid bare, for those beyond traditional media trying to plug the dam, is that this is an administration incapable and indifferent in backing up their melodramatic, rhetorical, Pepsi Cola sloganeering.

And the results of that indifference have just washed up on shore.

 

– SM –

 

Music Wins: Matisyahu Makes a Stand.

The Wilderness | Issue 57 | 8 . 24 . 2015 |

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The push to endorse a pro-Palestine ideology is one of those “cool” movements often seen by liberal braggarts onto young eager activists who have no real concept of what the conflict is actually really about. It’s highly popular among young progressives and especially on college campuses (NYU in particular). Palestinian flags flew at Occupy rallies, at Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, and in New York City at Climate marches. The Palestinian flag itself is almost as much a pop culture symbol to the American left as, say, a Che Guevara t-shirt or the sickle and hammer. They are perfectly at ease eradicating an extremist flag of racial oppression from their history while, at the same time, happily promoting a new one in its place.

In the US, the pro-Palestine movement is much more of glam activism seen in Hot Topic apparel stores and nudged on by a still-somewhat-culturally-popular President and his allies in entertainment media (MTV, Rolling Stone, Vice, Vox, etc.). Actors, musicians and entertainers openly express their support for a “Free Palestine” without much education on the matter, but their politicians of choice on the left seem to be all for it, so why not? Rihanna tweeting out a #FreePalestine hashtag to her young audience is no different than an elitist Vox author claiming Israel is trying to unlawfully wrestle control of the Gaza bridge (which doesn’t actually exist). Current Vanilla Ice impersonator Macklemore can trot out in a costume of a Jewish stereotype while tweeting that George W. Bush was behind 9/11, and his career can still flourish among progressive elites. In the United States, the religious and territorial war happening in the West Bank is a war of information utilized by the worst sources in pop entertainment. Pro-Palestinian Academia and politicians then harness this glamorization as a messaging tool to promote their political agenda through media. It’s simple branding – Everyone thinks it’s cool, so you should also.

In the rest of the world, however, the flag waiving Free Palestine movement has become a dangerous and rapidly rising token of not just opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu, but rampant and bold Anti-Semitism spreading across the Middle East and Europe. Abetted in part due to an overeager and sympathizing media to portray Hamas and their allies as a brave force of freedom fighters (hiding in schools and using children as meat shields) in opposition of an imperial colonizing and fascist, Zionist Israel. It is a country and a culture that finds itself more and more surrounded by enemies, and thanks to a hostile presidential administration, less and less surrounded by friends.

Rises in anti-semitism is largely dependent on allies of Israel in pop culture or entertainment remaining silent so as to not jeopardize their friendships or professional relationships in these industries. This remains the case with almost any other conservative political stances as Brendan Eich from Mozilla discovered. As progressive mobs scour social media to shame and hang the next target that openly defies them, musicians and movie stars appear in liberal PSA announcements proudly parading whatever goofy cultish-like slogan they have written on their hands, and the minority of those around them that oppose slip away into silence and mind their own business. Play nice and nothing happens to them. The more and more our entertainment, music, and movies become politicized with a singular progressive ideology, the greater the chances anyone with different beliefs become silenced. There’s simply nothing to gain by publicly opposing, say, someone like Eddie Vedder’s radically batshit communist views and political positions that have overtaken his stage shows, if all it leads to is a PR print war where Rolling Stone, Spin, and Pitchfork are going to take his side. Acquiescence becomes the most convenient option.

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That’s what organizers of the annual Rototom Sunsplash Festival in Spain this past weekend (a reggae fest that claims to promote social justice and peace awareness globally) were hoping would happen with American Jewish hip hop reggae artist Matisyahu when he was asked prior to the event to release a public service announcement condemning Israel’s recent military operations against Hamas and supporting a Palestine state on behalf of the Free Palestine BDS group (Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions). Matisyahu (real name Matthew Paul Miller) has been an independent niche artist for a number of years and has been mostly written off by his most ardent critics as a gimmick act, a throwback to “Fight for Your Right”-era Beastie Boys (Matisyahu hails from the same NYC Borough — Brooklyn) who you could never tell were being serious about their hip hop roots or were simply mocking it as a form of cultural appropriation. Much like the Beastie Boys earned their place among Hip Hop elite, Matisyahu has almost mastered his craft. He has shunned the mainstream lifestyle and focused more on the lyrical sophistication of his albums and live performances, which have gained him a loyal international audience of all faiths, color and belief. If you haven’t heard of Matisyahu, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. One thing is assured, however, his lyrical displays of his Hassidic faith or performing in traditional attire is more than a stage act.

Along with the PSA request, the local Spanish chapter of the International Palestine BDS movement, BDS País Valencìa, cursed Matishayu’s involvement completely and threatened event organizers with disruptive action, including a campaign of cohesion and protests. Matisyahu’s music and lyrics are certainly influenced by his immersion in Chabad and are generally A-Political (similar to, say, U2), but, as stated above, that rarely matters in today’s hyper-politicized cult of entertainment activism, both in the United States and abroad. His pro-Israel statements away from the stage (remember, he is an American citizen) had all but condemned him to speak for all Israelis and Jews worldwide.

Matisyahu refused to cave to the BDS group’s political demands, which led to Sunsplash organizers revoking his invitation.

It was the kind of public punishment that’s become all too common in the past seven years as political correctness rises and the promotion of artistic freedom falls. Matisyahu released a statement on Facebook explaining his point of view for the cancellation. Rototom released a statement on their official website as well, declaring their sensitivity for the Palestine people in a desperate attempt to save face for BDS and their progressive audience. BDS claimed victory.  The Logo Network’s website NewNowNext (A network that promotes gay and LGBT lifestyles and entertainment) noted that no other artists were put to such human rights litmus tests.

BDS founder Omar Barghouthi spoke with Al Jazeera shortly after the decision to remove Matisyahu. “Human rights organizers in Spain have successfully pressured the Rototom festival to cancel this U.S. artist’s show because of his record of hateful and racial incitement and his defense of Israeli war crimes and human rights violations.”

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The BDS movement is not simply an unorganized group of religious extremists. They have the support of activists in the United States from Black Lives Matter and the Occupy movement, whose many celebrity supporters have signed onto Israel Boycotts as well. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello (who performed at the White House for President Obama), and Sinead O’Connor have all cancelled events in Israel or at Israel-related events, according to Al Jazeera. The group understands the power of winning a propaganda war of information, especially as it relates to entertainers and their young fans and particularly in an age where musicians and actors place their politics above that of their creative choices and their audiences.

But the Jewish community has a voice as well, and they used it collectively on social media to spread the message of Rototom’s actions. The outcry over Matisyahu’s expulsion for what appeared to be over his loyalty to his Jewish faith was heard all the way from local government officials in Valencia, the location of the festival, to the Jewish and US embassies in Spain, as well as from other artists declaring their support. Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress issued a statement on the group’s website defending him. On top of that, sponsors began pulling out of the festival. By capitulating to the extreme demands of a religious mob, Rototom organizers had caused an international incident that was now casting an enormous cloud of intolerance over their festival, as opposed to the friendly cloud of . . . mellow artistic activism. Due to the enormity of the public backlash, Rototom reinstated Matisyahu’s invitation, complete with full apology, which he pondered but ultimately accepted.

But that’s not the end of the story.

As the festival wound down on its final day, Matisyahu took the central stage at his original prime-time slot in front of a somewhat politically hostile crowd flashing signs in support of BDS and Palestine as well as middle finger salutes. He walked out to both cheers and jeers amongst a sea of Palestinian flags waiving at him from the crowd. What he did next speaks for itself:

Opening his 45 minute set with his 2006 song “Jerusalem,” Matisyahu put BDS and their zealous supporters on notice that their attempts to silence free artistic expression of faith had failed. He did so without using intimidation tactics or threats of violence and disruption. He did it without having to pressure sponsors of Rototom or by using government or influence in media. He did it without launching a rocket into a neighborhood of civilians or faking injuries for BBC’s cameras.

He simply did it with his own lyrics:

Jerusalem, if I forget you, fire not gonna come from me tongue. 
Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.

In the ancient days, we will return with no delay picking up the bounty and the spoils on our way
We’ve been traveling from state to state And them don’t understand what they say
3,000 years with no place to be and they want me to give up my milk and honey
Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea not the country but the dwelling of his majesty

Rebuild the temple and the crown of glory years gone by, about sixty
Burn in the oven in this century and the gas tried to choke, but it couldn’t choke me
I will not lie down, I will not fall asleep, they come overseas, yes they’re trying to be free
Erase the demons out of our memory, change your name and your identity
Afraid of the truth and our dark history, why is everybody always chasing we
Cut off the roots of your family tree, don’t you know that’s not the way to be

Matisyahu’s own words proved more commanding than intimidating threats. More importantly, he reminded us that what a musician says with their music is more powerful than the Che t-shirt they wear to the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, or the flag they waive in support of a politician (See Katy Perry’s Obama dress or changing her Twitter avatar to a version of Hillary Clinton’s H logo). Matisyahu’s stand against political and religious bullying is one of the most punk rock acts witnessed in independent or mainstream music in recent memory. Jeers boos and heckles in the end turned to cheers and applause.

This was much more than free expression or courage. This was an artist seizing their moment, much the same way say Foo Fighters did when Westboro Baptist Church protested outside their show. These moments feel so visceral in modern culture and music because everything feels so automatic and synthesized. None of it feels real. Even the most outlandish antics of a Kanye West feel staged and nothing more than a simple exercise in ego. Mainstream music rarely feels like it means anything and when we see a salvo like the one Matisyahu displayed, it both turns our gut, and reinforces our resolve.

Matisyahu posted a simple message on Facebook:

“Today music wins. Freedom of expression wins. Spain, this Saturday Aug 22nd. I have always believed in the power of music to unite all people, regardless of religion, politics or geography. This was an excruciating decision, as I felt that my core, essential being was being used as a pawn for political convenience. It is my deep conviction however that acceptance and the ability for rebirth allow us to move forward. The incredible outpouring of worldwide support from fans and organizations who rose up as one to protest the intrusion of politics into a borderless celebration of music has been humbling. My deepest thanks to the worldwide community for rallying to the cause of musical freedom. Most of all, thank you to my incredible fans and to so many people of all faiths who refused to remain silent in the name of artistic freedom. This is your victory.”

Music wins

– SM –