The unveiling of a lie.

Americans had to ask themselves once more: Why? 

Immediately after the tragedy of Las Vegas, the debate over gun regulation was sparked once more. Survivors of Sandy Hook and other tragedies were yet again reminded of how their government continues to fail them and their lost children on a regular basis. Day in and day out they must stand and observe as others lose their lives for the same reasons their loved ones did too many years ago and too recently. No change.

My Mexican friends and I are quick to judge these senseless shootings. While we agree that weapons regulation must be strictly set in place, another topic of conversation occurs…. “There’s definitely something wrong with Americans.”

My mother has said and will always say, “They are just such a loner based society. No family values. Too lonely.”

Others will remark, “These gringos are crazy.”

While I do believe in stricter and comprehensive arms regulations and a better mental health care system for my American friends, I believe there is something much bigger and heavier going on.

I recently got back from living in the United States where I was for 8 years. During my time there I noticed something peculiar about what being an American means. It’s not necessarily a type of character but rather an inhaling in of an endowed role.

Being an American is often in tune with being reminded that you are American. You live your Americaness on a daily basis. You are told to think of yourself as part of an exceptional idea. A part of a country built on the exceptional.

You sing the national anthem at sporting events, you recite the pledge allegiance at school, you hang your flags on the lawn. You praise your country and president alongside your spiritual and religious leaders. Your are, in every sense of the word, intrinsically American.

The problem is, no country is exceptional. I believe Americans are heart-breakingly realizing that.

In the recent events following the tragic loss of life during the September 19 earthquake, here in my country, Mexicans saw themselves, almost to their pleased surprise, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and support each other in a way that is not often seen in our country.

We are a people who cannot depend on anyone or anything for much, let alone survival. We are aware of what we lack and we understand the system in which we live in. Yes, we often protest and fight but it often leads nowhere and we collectively accept that. We are able to live relatively harmoniously because we have developed both the experience and good humour to do so.

It is that very same lack of faith in our governmental systems that gave us the strength to depend on, and lean on, no one but ourselves and each other. Expectations were not laid on an external system but on each and every one of us individually.

Our pride as Mexicans did not come out because we believe in Mexico. It came out because we believe in ourselves as a people. In observing our own acts, we became aware of our identity not as a nation but as a human collective.

Not only has this event caused an uptick in pride, Donald Trump’s attacks on our country since his candidacy unintentionally raised our self awareness and patriotism.

While the United States has undoubtedly been one great experiment with unparalleled achievements on the global stage, the increasingly self proclaimed exceptionalism became dangerous when the powers that be took it from the people and made it theirs. Politics and government became too intertwined with Capitalism and self interest. 

Being an American stopped being a concept of and for the people but a facade for the rich and powerful to hide behind. A veil through which to take advantage and rip away from those who have simply been told that they have been given the gift of being American.

That facade, that veil, is being removed.

Now, it would be facetious of me to not clarify something. This is about a very specific kind of American. It is the white, male, American. It is a white and male veil and it is a white and male exceptionalism which has held the facade in place. It is not to say that this exceptionalism hasn’t been fed to all. It has and is. It is the only non discriminatory thing about this country. But it is that same very veil that has Mr. Trump, the president, tweeting about football players rather than doing, literally, anything else.

I don’t know for a fact that this is directly correlated with the non stop shootings. But I do know that there is a sense of disappointment. This disappointment is no small thing. It is the breaking of an image and idea of who and what it means to be an American. Even in the worst of times, Americans have always believed in that exceptionalism. But that high expectation is a heavy boulder to carry.

I am sorry for my American friends. You are a great country and you are a great people. I was honored to have lived in your country and in, what I consider to be, one of the world’s most brilliant cities. I believe you have been cheated. Cheated from the opportunity of figuring out who you were before someone else decided for you.

Now, take your rage and burn that veil.

Advertisements

What was and what is.

I’ve gone awol for the past several months. I’ve updated the look of this blog. Give it a bit more personality. Try this again.

There’s something about change that makes me uneasy. It makes me stop myself from thinking about what is going on around me. It’s a self-defense mechanism, you see. If I stop to think about it, I may jump to conclusions about how I may or may not feel, allowing myself to indulge in passing emotions. I rather not.

I rather keep moving until the sequences of my day to day predetermine how I will be feeling. It helps me keep it together while I figure out what exactly I am doing. I also know that’s bullshit. I don’t know what it says about me but I also don’t really care, to be quite frank.

As long as the wheels keep turning and you continue to find the necessary amount of grease to keep them going. Blah, blah, blah.

I’ve changed homes, my living situation, the environment and the context I found myself in. It’s been okay so far. Some things I’m very excited about. Others, I just want to slap my forehead with my open palm and just close my eyes. It’s like I’ve come home and yet I don’t understand anything about this strange land I’ve arrived to.

I’m from this place I’ve returned to, yet I feel like a visitor. A foreigner that knows too much about the place they are visiting but not enough that they can pass for a local.

It’s not that I’m closed off to their ways, it’s that I just don’t understand them. You become so use to doing things a certain way, years of having adapted to one thing in one place, that realizing you have to rearrange all of that is no easy task. Not only that, you actually really liked the way things were.

Oh well. I’ll just have to remember to always make room for what was.

New York, thank you.

About 5 years ago I was at a dive bar with a friend who has having some personal struggles. She was going through something that not only did I relate to; I’d been through the same more than once.  She vented with me about a city that offers every opportunity to make every life experience much harder than it needs to be. We fantasized about what it would have been like to have never left home. To stay where it was familiar. Where there was unconditional support and the future felt somewhat drafted. We were complaining about living in New York City.

“New York is a place that eats you up and spits you out, over and over and over again.” My friend said.

“Yes”, I agreed.

I took a moment from our conversation and stared at the bar.

“Think of it this way,” I said. “Some have the choice between a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of vodka. We have an entire bar. It’s better because there are more options. But it’s also worse because there’s more risk. You may get stuck with a bad cocktail”

As sophisticated and classy as my analogy was, it stuck with me. From then on, I would need to remember those words now and again. People always complain about how difficult it is to live in New York; but this was something else.

It will be 8 years this July since I first moved to NYC. July will also be the month I move back home.

When you’ve moved to NYC from elsewhere, people always want to put an expiration date on your stay. They want to decide if you were made to live in NY forever or if you’re a passing tourist who got distracted by something shiny for a year or two. I decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to establish a timeline. How could I?

I was 19 years old when I first arrived. I was shy, innocent, wide-eyed and delusional about what my experience in New York would be. I’m 27 years old now and my time in New York is not explained by school, a job, a person, an age, or a phase. But rather defined by an interlace of bits and pieces I now put together to form one non-linear experience.

People always ask me, “Are you excited to go home?”, “Are you sad to leave New York?” I never have a “yes” or “no” answer. It would be deceitful to pretend that I know what this new road entails. I would be lying to say that I don’t have doubts about leaving New York and fears about going home. Doubts about staying in New York versus trying something new.

That is what this is. I’m going home; but what home? I was 19 and I’m now 27. I’m not who I was nor is everyone else, who they were. This to me, is a new experience.

New York is not where I attended college; grad school, took my first job, went through relationships, made friends, met mentors, lost my direction, learned to pay bills, learned to not want to pay bills, learned to play the guitar, encountered the drunk and the homeless, the funny and the hilarious. Put up with the disgusting smell of the subway, the heart-stopping cold when you need a cigarette, the dingy smell of the best bar you’ll ever go to. Saw the most beautiful humans to walk this earth, the ugliest, the nicest and the meanest. Got yelled at by strangers, was comforted by them when I couldn’t hide my tears. Where I learned to speak up and out and see what I’m capable of. Where I sat at restaurants, cafes, and bars alone; sat at restaurants, cafes and bars with friends. Learned the meaning of loneliness, learned the meaning of family.  Where I mastered the art of properly using my MTA pass without it saying “swipe again”. Found my love for art, found my love for social issues, found my love for truth, and found my love for knowledge. Quit smoking. Yelled at cab drivers and was yelled at by them. Where I dated up and dated down; smoked pot for the first and the last time. Where I found Seamless and quinoa, and my addiction to coffee. Where I realized I’ll always be the first to arrive for a restaurant reservation but will find someone to chat with, all while being relentlessly impatient with a beer in hand.

New York is the city I grew up in.

Those girls in the dive bar complaining about New York City, chose to live in New York City. That’s how it goes. While many choose to live here, New York feels more like its happening to you. You don’t do New York, it does you. It takes everything about you and augments every character flaw, strength and quirk you have. Everything about you is pushed to an extreme; tested to see what you are made of. New York can see every pretense and every lie. Every crack in every sentence. It’s the best place to play any role you want and the worst place to try to. It’s not about making it in New York. It’s about realizing what you are made of.

When I think about going home there’s a sort of numbness I feel. I’m not sad or panicked (at least not yet); I’m curious and interested. I want to see what me does somewhere else. I want to test what makes me me in a (relatively) new environment. I want to enjoy and have fun during my last couple of months and breath in the gross dirty smell of Manhattan, while I can. I’m excited to see old friends and indebted to my newer friends. I look forward to mountains but will miss walking anywhere I need to go. I’ll miss encountering every type of human and the diversity of this melting-pot. I’ll miss having my nerves shot because the train won’t move. I’ll miss meeting strangers everyday, because why not. I’ll miss wondering if my neighbors like me or hate me. I’ll miss speaking English and being Mexican among hundreds of nationalities. I’ll miss my routine and my space. I’ll miss my apartment and my bed. I’ll miss getting excited about fall, winter and summer. I’ll miss hating winter. I’ll miss how socially acceptable it is to have a drink past 12PM and I’ll miss having ten restaurants at a 2 min walking distance. I’ll miss having the deli open at 5AM in case I need to take a walk and a coffee shop literally downstairs from my home. Most of all, I’ll miss knowing that I am not the only one who feels this way. If anything, I’ll miss the collective that is New York City. A city that happens to us.

Thank you New York City, everyone and everything in it, for making me be me.

What The Hell Are We Fighting For?: Mexico and “the Family Unit”

I’m incredibly privileged and sometimes I forget.

I’m not sure whom I’m directing myself towards. To write this as an attempt to have it speak to the people of Mexico seems futile. To write this in English…well maybe it can be more widely read. After all, we are a country that sends its best.

I’ve been living in New York City for seven years. I went to a very liberal university for both undergraduate and graduate school. I have surrounded myself with inspiring hard working friends. I have insurmountable support from my family in Mexico and I want for nothing except what I, only, could get myself in the way of. But sometimes I forget.

Sometimes I forget the environment I stepped out of. One in where the social structures in place prevent others, different from me, from forgetting where they find themselves.

Yesterday, one of several marchas, or protests, nationwide, took place in Mexico calling for the “protection” of “the family unit”.  This was a large protest. A protest for the family unit based on one father, one mother, and however many children they may want to produce.

When I speak of forgetting, I’m referring to my position as a Mexican living in a highly democratic society in which most of the time, not always but most the time, the basic fundamentals of democracy do win.

The president of Mexico, the same guy that just offensively invited Donald Trump to our country, just signed an initiative to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Go figure he’d get something right. Unfortunately, this has caused an uproar.

What I forget is that Mexico is still a very confused country. As a developing nation that suffers from a corrupt government, corrupt policing, a corrupt economy, a corrupt public education system, and bases its aspirations mostly on ideology rather than fact; manipulation seems to be the only way to mobilize its people.

We are a people that either extort or are victims of extortion. We allow the powers that be to stand on our shoulders as long as we can go through the day without being bothered. We have, to a large degree, become an apathetic people who, instead of fighting for what we deserve, rather accept and wish for the best.

And then yesterday happened.

I sometimes forget that my country does have a fire in it. A powerful passion that is rarely used. One that is incomparable to that of the country I find myself in. We are a country of happiness. A country that has offered the world Nobel Prize winners. A country that has offered medical, scientific, and manufacturing advancements that compete at a global level. Not to mention, a country that has given you the best food, beer, and tequila you’ll ever have.

We are a people that want to sit down with you, have a beer, and have a good laugh. But we are also a people that sends its best because our own country fails us often.

But what the hell are we fighting for now?

As a progressive feminist Mexican in NY, I am comfortable where I am. If I speak, I speak to the choir. I may have a debate, but its a healthy one. No one leaves offended and its all fair game. This is not the case in Mexico. That is what I forget and that is a privilege.

When I speak of an equalitarian society in Mexico, I’m often welcomed with a rolling of the eyes, a pat on the back, and a dismissive “oh well” attitude. If it doesn’t affect them, its not an issue. This is an example of the general attitude I receive when visiting the country I call home.

But if I scroll on Facebook to posts about women or the LGBT community in Mexico, the comment section is dominated by replies that refer to christian traditional values. I go through them and in a seconds time become flustered with confusion, anger, and a feeling of powerlessness. The only thought that goes through my mind is: How?

How are we the country that looks to feel accepted out of it and yet can’t even accept our own within it?

With all of our problems, yesterday, the people of Mexico stood up for an imaginary problem. Imaginary because the wood and smoke used to ignite that fire was based on nothing more than old age tradition. A tradition which is looked to be imposed over actual democracy.

Yesterday, we were not our best. We were our petty, scared, and self-manipulated selves. The ones that fear to be told our truths rather than face our own reality. The ones that stick our heads in the ground rather than stick it above the water and fight for ourselves. The ones that shiver at the thought of change. Change that may allow us to be that which we aspire. Change that may allow us to move into the future and let go of the past. Very unfortunate aspects of who we are. Aspects that we take for granted at times but get in the way of our own success as a country.

I love my country; but I often feel ashamed of it.

We laugh at our neighboring country, the one I currently live in. But it is a country where mistakes are observed and fixed, not regurgitated and repeated.

After the Orlando shooting happened, an incident where many of the queer community died, I posed the question: What kind of country does America want to be? Now, I ask my home, my country, my people: What kind of country does Mexico want to be?

My Face: When I look in the mirror

I’ve only written once about my personal experiences in terms of self-perception and body image. I dedicated it to my parents as an ode to them for what they’ve done for me. But this time around I thought I’d share a bit about what it actually feels to be me.

My experiences may seem in one way unique but I believe they transcend specificity and may have an affect on anyone that has, at any point, looked at themselves in the mirror and asked: is that really what I look like?

Everyday, I wake up, drink two cups of coffee while I watch the news, put on my gym clothes, and enjoy an hour of working out. Working out no only makes me happy, but confident. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while. As a self-admitted low self esteem girl, working out has done wonders for me.

I like my body. I eat well and feel good (despite my smoking) .

But while I am able to mold one thing, there’s another I cannot.

As a way to practice my guitar skills (or lack there of) I like to film myself and play it back. It allows me to see what I am doing wrong both on the guitar and vocally.

As I was just doing it now, I realized why I had not done it in a while.

Forget the guitar, forget the bad singing; I don’t like what I see. Who is that person? I don’t recognize her.

Out of my experiences from having had so much surgery and physical change, there is one thing that has had, and may always have, a strange and unfamiliar effect on me.

My face.

My face is not equilateral. This is due to my hemifacial microsomia.   This means that one side looks one way,  and the other looks another way. Anyone that knows me, knows this. I’m used to it. It’s part of me. It’s broken me. Made me. Completed me.

But what no one knows is that, because of it, reflections actually switch on me.

And that FUCKING sucks.

You know that thing where if your shirt says something, it switches when reflected on a mirror?

That, to me, is my face.

Imagine being used to your face looking one way; as reflected on a mirror. You’ve practiced talking, moving, even singing, in front of it. But then, you see yourself on a camera, or a photo, and the reflection has switched on you.

You don’t move like yourself. Your smile is crooked.  Your eyes are lopsided. One side of your face is stiff. And you can’t match the voice to the person presented. Everything seems out of place.

Well, that’s what happens to me.

When I look in the mirror; I see one thing. But when filmed or photographed, I see another.

What I’ve practiced and looked at for my 26 years of life becomes a deception when I am able to see through another’s eyes.

It’s not that I don’t like being filmed or photographed. It’s that the person that will live in that documentation is not recognizable to me. It’s about changing the whole composition of my face and how I perceive it. It’s about more than a trick of the camera. It’s a trick on myself.

I’ll admit something.

I work hard on my self  presentation. I do what I can to make my body look good. I use my style savvy to look confident and exceptional. I use my brain as a way to distract others from my insecurities. I love clothes as a form of self expression and use them to make myself look as good as I am able to feel.

But these are also masks. Masks to push back the fear of that reflection. The reflection I am so scared of confronting now and again. One I don’t recognize. One that reminds me that what I see, may not necessarily be what others see. It’s not a simple “love yourself” issue. It’s a trick of the brain that haunts me now and again whenever I see my self reflection.

But, hopefully, one I’ll eventually accept.

 

 

The Inconsistency Between ‘Respect’ and Religion

It was the beginning of April in 2013, a month away from my graduation thesis show. I plopped on the floor of my small but recently cleared out art studio at school as I stared at the large Gordon Paper I had tacked onto one of the walls. I got up, took a pen, and wrote ‘Respect’ in the middle of the intimidating brown space. I stared at it, sat back down, and stared some more.

Earlier that year I had recently completed Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and could not be stopped from bringing it up in mundane conversation. While I’m sure I annoyed many, religion became, and has been, paramount in my life. Not my adherence to a religion but my own removal from one.

It wasn’t that I had been taught something foreign to me and became fascinated. It was that every question and every doubt I had about the role of religion in my life and environment, became validated by a single piece of literature. I had to get it out.

In speaking of my newly found passion with friends and family, I came to realize that the conversation on religion always ended with one similar sentiment by those I spoke with: “You just need to respect others beliefs.”

But what was I saying that had anything to do with respect?

Frustrated by the way those conversations ended, I couldn’t stop wondering what people meant. Respect? Respect what exactly? What does that mean? Is it an action? An emotional stance?

While to many the answers to those questions may seem obvious,  I’d like to challenge that notion.

I couldn’t shake that word: Respect. I wanted a conversation about the role of religion in the social world, not advice on how I should personally deal with it.

Many of us, if not all, were taught that ‘respect’ is a sort of “live and let live” mantra which to live by. “You do you and I do me”. Therefore, on the superficial level, I was being told to “you need to……” What?!

I need to do what?! I need to hold esteem or regard for those beliefs? That is, after all, the definition of ‘respect’. To admire, hold regard, or esteem for someone or something. That’s when it hit me! Once you attempt to interchange the word ‘respect’ for one of its available synonyms, its imagined meaning completely changes. Here are some examples:

Therefore, when being told to ‘respect’ religious faiths, I was expected to have a sort of positive attitude towards those beliefs in spite of my own. And while I understand what is being said, it, in its entirety, dismisses and disregards what religion is.

I could go through the sociological approach towards outlining how, by its very premise, religion is not based on a “you and me” social relationship. Rather, it is an “us and them” situation. Religion, for much that one could look to argue for its spiritual value, is organized. There are places of worship, doctrines, hierarchies, and conflicting ideologies and interpretations. But there is enough literature out there by intellectuals to complete the task.

But because of horrific events occurring world wide with the rise of Islamic terrorism, I believe there is no better time to put into perspective what ‘respect’ means when we attempt to unwrap religion. Therefore, I will use Islam in my approach but will further expand with the Christian-Catholic faith.

The Orlando shooting last weekend, once more, stirred up the political conversation as to the role of Islam in the world. Whether or not it was the shooters motivator, it became part of the conversation.

On one side, there are the Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic. On the other, there are those that do not equate Islamic terrorism to Islam. Those that adhere to ISIS or Al Qaeda are a tiny, insignificant portion of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world.

Because the former attitude has gained mainstream status, the latter has come out in an attempt to point out that a small portion of something, does not make it everything. And while this is true, it does not make the latter all the better.

The liberal media and moderate Muslims in the West have come out in defense of their religion with fervor and passion. The phrase “It is a religion of peace” is often espoused by Muslims and liberals that speak out against those that look to demonize the religion. These are, more than not, Muslims that have become somewhat westernized and liberals who seem to want to pacify the debate on religion. And while they should do this, there is discrepancy between the used defense and the actual practice of Islam in Islamic based nations.

By basing the debate of the nature of Islam on terrorism, the conversation completely disregards the social and political practices of Islam. And while we should all be vocally against terrorism, we not need to agree with the religion itself in order to do so. As moderate Muslims put it, Islam is not about terrorism. But, I along with others say, Islam does not coincide with liberal, or even secular, thought either.

Now, this is not about demonizing Islam or feeding the Islamophobic, anti-immigration, xenophobic rhetoric. It is about accepting that there are absolute contradicting values between Islamic nations and their traditions, and the practice of separation of church and state in Europe and the United States, for example. The latter, isn’t even necessarily a liberal practice. It is a basic secular practice to ensure democracy within a State. A democratic principle that allows Muslims to practice their faith with the liberty to decide how to do so. A democratic principle which many Muslims around the world are afforded, BUT not most.

There are only a few outspoken Muslim activists who make this distinction, and even they suffer for it.

The problem with ‘democracy’ as understood by the West, is that it cannot be translated to many eastern countries. The world learned its lesson when the United States “wanted to bring democracy” to Afghanistan by the way of invasion only causing more social and political destabilization. When has imperialism ever brought about peace?

The Pew Research Center has found that most Muslims, in nations where Islam is the dominating religion, in fact want Sharia Law to be enacted. That means the law of the land should be based on the religious doctrine of Islam; the divine law within the Quran. That means that both private and public life should be guided and led by the faith.

Some of these nations and their support for sharia law are:  Afghanistan (99%), Iraq (91%), Niger (86%), Malaysia (86%), Pakistan (84%), Morocco (83%), Bangladesh (82%), Egypt (74%), Indonesia (72%), Jordan (71%), Uganda (66%), Ethiopia (65%), Mali (63%), Ghana (58%), and Tunisia (56%).

While the practice of Sharia law varies within each nation, most Muslim countries make use of it in one way or another and their people are in favour of it.

Afghanistan, for example, legally enacts capital punishment for apostasy, purdah (segregation) on women, and imprisonment for homosexuality.

What does this mean? That the Pew Research Center uncovered how most Muslims in these nations approve of the state of affairs within their own countries.

In circling back to my concern with ‘respect’ and religion, do I really have to ask?

When I’m told that I must respect ones faith, I am not being told to respect a type of spirituality. I am being told that I need to respect social values and practices that go along with it. That I should respect values and practices which go against those that have been afforded to me. That I should respect values and practices of which I am not just opposed to, but which I’ve been both socially and intellectually taught to view as negative. Values and practices which have been statistically and scientifically proven to be detrimental to society as a whole.

BUT because these are religiously based, I am not allowed to say so.

Which takes me to my general point: Because I can understand a religion, does not mean I have to respect it.

Just to emphasize that I am not being bias, I have the same problem with the religion I myself grew up with; the christian-catholic faith.

While it has been found that Mexican Catholics are in a high opposition with the church, they are still morally and socially molded by their interpretation of the faith. With 81% of Mexicans identifying as catholic, women’s sexual health, including abortion, remains a heated debate nation wide, very much like, if not more so, the United States.

Unfortunately, Mexico City is the only place which fully grants women the right to abortions (under 12 weeks only) without being subject to a penalty. All while, in another 18 states, they could be subject to penalization. In the worst of cases, up to 30 years of imprisonment.

With epidemic-like rates of teen pregnancy and domestic abuse in poverty stricken communities, along the incompetence to provide proper sexual education and resources by the public education system, I cannot respect the faith based belief that women should not have access to an abortion clinic. Let alone, be punished for it. The social and economic impact of high rates of teen pregnancy in poverty, when they have not even concluded their secondary level education, is not only detrimental to them, but society as a whole.

Not only are women affected by the Catholic faith, but homosexuals are still viewed as morally corrupt by 55% of Mexicans.

It is one thing to ‘respect’ or “let live” another’s beliefs when they do not infringe on the basic rights and freedoms of others. When they do not intend to endanger one specific demographic. When they do not look to put one citizen or believer above another based on their adherence to the doctrine. If as an adult you still believe in Santa, that’s your prerogative. I’ll think your nuts and won’t respect it but, unless you harm someone for it, I don’t see the problem. I haven’t even touched the miracle/mystical side of religion.

But it is another thing entirely to ask me to respect beliefs that do those things.

I cannot respect a faith which does not respect those that leave it, but rather kills them for it. I cannot respect a faith that does not respect a women’s body, but rather asks her to cover it as a sign of ‘modesty’. I cannot respect a faith which does not respect women’s ability to control their health and ability to choose their future, but rather forces them to a life defined by one sperm and one egg. I cannot respect a faith  which does not respect an entire community’s nature, but rather asks for the restriction of their civil rights. I cannot respect a faith that would limit my own ability to have control over the direction of my life.

 

“So with all due respect”, I cannot, nor will I, respect that as it is in my absolute freedom to do so.

 

*For those curious as to my resulting artwork: my endevour to challenge the word ‘respect’ resulted in an installation where I represented in list significant events from the 20th and 21st Centuries in where literature had been burned for ideological or political reasons. From Harry Potter to the Christian Bible, I documented the process in which I recreated the act, cataloged the book covers, and jarred and planted the ashes in potted Hydrangea.

 

 

 

 

 

The Legitimization of a Tyrant: The Tradition of Wealth in the American Politic

 

In an article for New York Magazine titled “America Has Never Been so Ripe for Tyranny”, politically conservative British blogger Andrew Sullivan, evokes Plato’s Republic. Not to explain but rather bring to ground the reason behind the current Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. In what the United States has always looked to achieve as a democratic republic, may have also prompted a susceptibility to a pseudo rogue candidate. While once inconceivable and even a public joke, Donald Trump’s rise as a to-take-seriously candidate, under the microscope, his rise is nothing but if not a cautionary tale. While not clairvoyant, as Sullivan states, Plato described how the regime of tyranny was, or could be, the direct result of a state without social boundaries and no direct authority, therefore a fully pure democracy.

This essay looks to establish how Donald Trump’s rise as a perceived legitimate political leader had a natural course through the traditional authority type, as per Weber, and his campaign’s historical significance through his use of speech acts. I look question Trump’s rise as a purely charismatic leader through the utterances of “he says it like it is”, but rather one of the traditional authority of the unity between democracy and free-market economics in America. I look to further explore how his speech acts, whether or not he becomes president, make him historically significant through what has become public consent of them. While the historical repercussions remain to be seen, his viability to be president regardless of his temperament; has opened up questions, not only about the electoral process, but that of the fundamental issues that arise out of the words “we the people”.

“And such men,” I said, “will desire money just as those oligarchies do, and under cover of darkness pay fierce honor to gold and silver, because the possess storehouses and domestic treasuries where they can deposit and hide them; and they will have walls around their houses, exactly like private nests, where they can make lavish expenditures on women and whomever else they might wish.” (Plato, 548b, Book XIII)

 

“Instead of men who love victory and honor, they finally become lovers of money-making and money; and they praise and admire the wealthy man and bring him to the ruling offices, while they dishonor the poor man.” (Plato, 552b, Book XIII)

 

Plato saw the rise of an oligarchy regime, what we currently consider to be the political power of Wall Street, the means by which democracy would follow.  A democracy in which freedom for wealth is the coveted means for a life worth living. A democracy from which then the greediness of money-making would prepare a tyrant to rise. What Plato couldn’t have had a premonition of were the coming historical events which would form the quintessential American tradition; the democratic freedom for money-making.

 

The Authority of Wealth

 

The theme of this 2016 election season is the breakoff of the political establishment. All CNN exit polls, as of now, have demonstrated that the general population is dissatisfied with the state of political authority. On the one hand, republican voters are angry with their own party feeling discontent with liberalism taking over the Commander in Chief seat, while democratic voters are disappointed with the current president’s legacy, one they view as too weak to embody the change he once espoused. On the other hand, it is the feeling of disenfranchisement the general public feels as an after effect of the events occurring between 2001 and onward, including the Iraq war, Katrina, and 2008 financial crisis. It is of no surprise that the American public should reflect discontent towards the powers that be. But it is at their own dismay that their options for president for the next four years have come down to the most disliked candidates of all time, including a wealthy celebrity with no political background.

In his essay “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule”, Max Weber delineates what he conceived of as three types of authority that are available to be personified; Legal-Rational, Traditional, and Charismatic. In order for an authority to become legitimized there must be a certain obedience and loyalty to whom holds power and a belief in that legitimacy. Legal authority is based on the normative rules on which belief on their legality rests upon. Traditional is established in the believed sanctity of tradition through which he in power will exercise authority. And Charismatic is the devotion to an exceptional, heroic or exemplary character.  For the purpose of this essay, and because I see no road for how it could apply, I will set aside Legal Authority for it has no role in Donald Trump’s candidacy and there is no law that prohibits him from being so beyond any idealistic or moral sanctions. Therefore, I look to compare Weber’s Traditional and Charismatic forms of authority for the purpose of narrowing down to which type Trump may fall under.

Weber defines the charismatic leader as the individual with attributed virtues which set him apart from ordinary men and, “treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” In order for such attributes to be observable as authoritative, they must be recognized by those subjects whom will be under such authority. “If proof of his charismatic qualifications fails him for long, the leader endowed with charisma tends to think his god or his magical or heroic powers have deserted him.” With this kind of authority, no hierarchy is required as it is up to he who holds power’s whim what his staff and corporation will look like. He stands outside of the normative and rational and “repudiates the past.” He goes onto say that the charismatic leader is opposed to the rational and traditional forms of economic considerations. Weber describes it as:

 

“What is despised, so long as the genuinely charismatic type is adhered to, is traditional or rational everyday economizing, the attainment of a regular income by continuous economic activity devoted to this end.”

 

“From the point of view of rational economic activity, charisma is a typical anti-economic force. It repudiates any sort of involvement in the everyday routine world.”

 

While this kind of authority is often attributed to figures such as social movement leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, religious figures like Muhammad or Jesus Christ, or even sect figures, it is necessary to secularize this concept. We must question what “standing apart” from “routine” really means in the context of the american secular constitutional practice. In thinking of a charismatic secular leader, initially, descriptive notions as to whom Donald Trump is as a politician all lead to the antithetical fact that he is not a politician, therefore charismatic. A man that stands against the routine of politics of which the general public is dissatisfied with. Not a politician but a businessman. He is observed as having exceptional qualities which his followers do not question. His campaign has no hierarchy, is self funded through personal wealth, has been propelled by his personal use of social media and public appearances, and bases itself on selling to the public the sentiment on which their collective consciousness leans towards, anger towards the establishment. An establishment which has now found questioning itself due to his rise to popularity within it, the Republican Party. It’s not that the Republican Party is questioning its own agenda, but its own future stability as Donald Trump rearranges and scrambles what they had previously firmly believed to stand for.

But what Weber describes as the charismatic leader also comes into direct conflict to whom Donald Trump is, in fact. Donald Trump’s wealth is the one thing on which he stands. It is a wealth acquired by the routine of everyday economizing as established by the laws of american politics and free-market economics. He is the archetype individual created by the unification of the regimes of oligarchy and democracy; prompted through inheritance and motivated by the love of money-making, as described by Plato. An individual whose past political participation has meant funding, through wealth created by everyday economizing, the everyday established routine politics. It is the very wealth on which he stands, the same reason why his followers follow him blindly. While his speech acts are a secondary aspect to his rise, which I will further follow with, it is the tradition of money-making and the spirit of capitalism that I argue legitimize him as a leader.

Traditional authority, as described by Weber, is the legitimate handing down of power on the basis of the sanctity of order. “The person or persons exercising authority are designated according to traditionally transmitted rules. The object of obedience is the personal authority of the individual which enjoys by virtue of his traditional status.” The obedience that is given to him is based on, first, the concept that he follow traditional rules which he claims to represent. If these rules are broken, he endangers his own authority. Secondly, a “double sphere” in which the leader is bound by a specific tradition but is free of any specific rules. While resistance may occur when tradition is broken, it may be justified through the claim that what is new has “always been in force but only recently to have become known through the wisdom of the promulgator.” This type of authority needs no staff or administration. Those that are loyal to him come from ties of personal loyalty, patrimonial recruitment or favourites. Bureaucratic administration is often absent and there is no basis for technical training, fixed salaries, or a regular system of appointment. While this kind of authority is often attributed to monarchies or clans, I argue that Donald Trump is the traditional leader that was to naturally arise in The United States.

In the introduction to this essay, I deliberately labeled Trump a “pseudo rogue candidate”. Rogue because his rise in popularity was not seen as conceivable by most; he goes against the same establishment which he is representing, he is knowingly offensive to many demographic  groups, and he is not bound by any moral, idealistic, or political isms. But pseudo because he is tied to one very important ism; Capitalism. While more than half of republican and democratic voters view Wall Street as untrustworthy, Donald Trump is a representation of the majority of elites whom have taken advantage of legal but exploitative loopholes in order to expand their wealth. It is the structure which his followers are angry at the very same one through which he has become now legitimized. It is the tradition of democracy and free enterprise, I argue, which has legitimized Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. While he is not the traditional politician, he is the traditional representation of the legacy of capitalism, particularly Reaganomics. He is the idealized life worth living ingrained in the american collective. It is in this way that he does not require the tradition of politics, but the tradition of the sanctity of money-making and wealth. It is the tradition of corporate rules, money management, and free-market economics which decommissions any need for the traditional political resume and archetype presidential temperament. He is bound to his wealth as an authority but unbound to the rules of the establishment. His being a demagogue becomes irrelevant through the belief that his wisdom as a businessman eclipses the need for truth. It is by his wealth through which his followers rationalize untruths and prejudices as truths rather than by his own ability rationalize arguments. It is known his campaign is tied to no one but himself. His staff is tied to him by nothing but personal ties, self interest, and favoritism rather than merit and appointment. Therefore, I argue that it is the tradition of an idealized life worth living espoused by democracy and free-market enterprise the very reason which makes him a legitimate traditional authority regardless of his ability to be president.

 

Speech Acts and The Power of a Demagogue

While I argue that the rise of Donald Trump as the presumptive republican nominee had in fact a natural course, it is not to say that his campaign is free from being a possible historical event. A second aspect to his rise in popularity heavily rests upon his public persona. It is this part, a part constructed by his speech acts and performative utterances, that make him the most offensive demagogue in modern politics. And it all began on the very day he announced his candidacy.

In performative utterances, not only can reality be described, but history may change its course. J. L. Austin’s “felicity conditions” set up “rules” to determine when an utterance may cause such a ripple effect in a situation: sincerity, authority and orderliness. There are those that are “low types”, where interruption is not possible as there is an agreement as to who has authority to declare an utterance (much like in a marriage, “I now you declare you husband and wife”, for example), and are judged by simply their failure or success. And then there are those performative utterances where the course of action is muddled by their political context. Thomas Keenan uses Derrida and Arendt to further explore how it is that authority is granted in the public political arena. Whom or what gives the right to a public political utterance and does it speak to truth and justice? If they were to be interrupted in such utterances, would it work? Donald Trump’s presidential announcement speech was formulated. While he was not reading from a teleprompter, the context allowed him to say what he knew were utterances that would propel him into the public arena. And due to the context; truth became irrelevant.

His announcement took place on June 16th, 2015 inside a building bearing his own name:

Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I’m not doing that to brag, because you know what? I don’t have to brag. I don’t have to, believe it or not.”

“I’m doing that to say that that’s the kind of thinking our country needs. We need that thinking. We have the opposite thinking.

“We have losers. We have losers. We have people that don’t have it. We have people that are morally corrupt. We have people that are selling this country down the drain.”

“Sadly, the American dream is dead.

But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.

Thank you. Thank you very much.”

In an unorganized speech, where he used prejudices and falsehoods, he officially became a candidate for president in the 2016 election by declaring himself as such. It was because of the context, a podium, a crowd, posters, and an interrupted speech, that his announcement became successful regardless of public opinion. Unfortunately, his falsehoods have not been the demise of him. Even though every one of his public appearances is welcomed with protests, he has formed a context  in which interruptions have become failures. Only one public appearance was canceled due to fear of endangering the public, but since then, every single speech act has been followed through.

We could argue that his popularity is based on him being a demagogue, or as some put it “saying it as it is”; but that fact is, he isn’t. Demagogues aren’t new to the public arena. An article from The Atlantic, as early as July 2015, compared Donald Trump to Joseph McCarthy. Both opportunistic candidates that preyed on the public’s fear. While Donald Trump uses immigration and a wall to instill fear and hatred, McCarthy used the Cold War to propel fear of Communism “taking over the american value of freedom and safety”. But the article itself was calling for the end of his political career, waiting for others to denounce his demonization of immigrants. Almost a year later, he is the presumptive nominee for the Republican presidential ticket.

What makes him so different? How is he granted emancipation from truth and fact? While we may argue that it is because he has amassed so many supporters which is why he is protected by those that oppose him, I argue that it is the context of the situation that allows him to continue to promote populist prejudices through the media. This is a context, I argue, established by two facts: (1) he is running for president and therefore is given a platform and, more importantly, (2) he is granted consent as a traditional authority by the public. It is the very authority of wealth, previously discussed, which allows him to be unquestioned. It is because he represents the life worth living, separate from politics, that he is granted immunity from falsehoods and legitimized as a public political leader. He is not a politician, and more importantly, he is not one of the people. He is the “exemplary” individual that represents the American dream. He stands apart from those that struggle financially, as one who has built an empire. His failures and falsehoods don’t matter as long as he is able to promote his wealth and product. A product based on the individual, not truth. He sells the concept of “making deals” based on the concept of unchained power. The very same kind of unchained power that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

The problem then, for his followers, is when he utters “we”. Who does he mean by we? American nationals? The laborer? Farmers? Businessmen? Men? Women? His speeches are full of, if anything, contradictions. He has demonized, not only immigrants, but the country of China, for example. Freely labeling China as an abuser of a globalized economy and trade, he has, as the traditional authority would, claimed that as a businessman, it only makes sense to have taken advantage of immigration laws to further grow his enterprise. Taking advantage of EB-5 program to fund Trump Tower, it is through his wealth and elite status that he is able to do so. His claims become legitimized the moment he declares it as simply “making good deals” and therefore being able to create more wealth. It is this attitude that legitimizes him as an “exemplary” authority in his supporters eyes, regardless of its contradictions.

While he once claimed that he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and still not lose support, I argue that it is not about what he does or says. It is about what he represents. Preying on the public’s fear of the “other” has been analyzed and criticized frontwards and backwards, and failed to do anything to his popularity. He is a demagogue; a racist, xenophobic, misogynist, and self contradicting demagogue. But nonetheless, his followers do not care. He remains to be a traditional authority. The legacy of free-market economics, unchained power, a non politician and a tyrant that represents the “all-american” dream. Historical, because he  is all those things.

 

Notes and References

  1. Sullivan, Andrew. “American Has Never Been So Ripe For Tyranny: Democracies end when they are too democratic”. New York Magazine. Print edition: May 2, 2016 http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html
  2. Aglesta, Jennifer. “Dissatisfaction, anger dominate year-end review of Washington”. CNN: December 19, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/29/politics/cnn-orc-poll-views-of-government/
  3. Beamon, Todd. “CNN Exit Polls: Anger, Dissatisfaction Strong Among GOP Voters in 3 States”. CNN: March 15, 2016 http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/exit-polls-voters-angry/2016/03/15/id/719244/
  1. Staff. “Here’s Donald Trump’s Announcement Speech”. Time Magazine: June 16, 2015. http://time.com/3923128/donald-trump-announcement-speech/
  2. Beinart, Peter. “The New McCarthysm of Donald Trump”. The Atlantic: July 21, 2015 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/donald-trump-joseph-mccarthy/399056/
  3. Drucker, Jesse. “Trump Tower Funded by Rich Chinese Who Invest Cash for Visas”. Bloomberg Politics: March 6, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-03-07/trump-tower-financed-by-rich-chinese-who-invest-cash-for-visas
  4. Plato, , and Allan Bloom. “The Republic”. New York: Basic Books, 1968. Print.
  5. Weber, Max. “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule”. Berkeley Publications in Society and Institutions 4(1): 1-11, 1958
  6. Keenan, Thomas. “Drift: Politics and the Simulation of Real Life”. MIT, Grey Room 21: 2005