In America, a week of fighting fires -- and demons

They are the images we can't unsee -- the torches on a college campus and the moment of a car's impact in Ch...

Posted: Nov 19, 2018 3:00 AM
Updated: Nov 19, 2018 3:00 AM

They are the images we can't unsee -- the torches on a college campus and the moment of a car's impact in Charlottesville, the crime scene tape and the vehicles of first responders in Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks, the swastikas painted on community centers and the screenshots after the fact of dark threats lodged or warning signs missed on social media.

But what happens when the image of hate is something else? It may not look so different from what we see in a World War II documentary or an educational curriculum about the Holocaust, wrote Jill Filipovic, but there it was in a photograph, gone viral this week, of Wisconsin high school students giving an apparent Nazi salute before their prom: "a terrifying sight," contended Filipovic, because "right-wing terrorism, including white supremacist and anti-Semitic terrorism, is the biggest domestic terror threat Americans now face."

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If a picture speaks a thousand words, then the numbers don't lie. The FBI released updated data this week showing the biggest three-year increase in reported hate crimes in nearly 20 years, with alarming surges in anti-Arab and anti-Jewish incidents. That's scary enough. What's even worse, argued Maya Berry and Kai Wiggins, is that somehow the FBI's numbers don't include some of the "most horrific acts of bias-motivated violence" last year -- including the killings of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville and Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Olathe, Kansas.

Prejudice need not announce itself in the form of a hate crime, either, as Koritha Mitchell observed of Cindy Hyde-Smith's "joke" about public hanging, when its violent legacy is built into the foundation of our politics: "Only a person whose ancestors or family members bore no risk of being lynched themselves would dismiss as 'ridiculous' objections to making hanging into a public political joke in Mississippi." Rachel James-Terry, writing for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, noted that any surprise at Hyde-Smith's lack of contrition is misplaced: she's talking to her base and hasn't hurt anyone who matters to her. Shawn Turner demonstrated that the GOP's issues with race and racism are bigger than any region -- they continue to be a national, and as Errol Louis pointed out, a presidential, problem.

Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon and gunshot survivor, cautioned America against letting anyone -- especially the NRA -- get in the way of fighting violence. "Death awaits us at movies and nightclubs, at our elementary schools and colleges, in our synagogues and in our mosques and churches," wrote Suzanne Roberts in a "love letter" to her hometown of Thousand Oaks. "Don't succumb" to this "terminal diagnosis."

There's a reason they call it 'techlash'

We all should have known better. That seemed to be the consensus after Amazon announced its HQ2 would be split between the New York City borough of Queens and Northern Virginia. "So much for the Rust Belt uplift story," wrote Mark Muro and Clara Hendrickson for CNN Business Perspectives.

Facebook embodied two of Oxford Dictionaries' top words of 2018 this week, "techlash" and "toxic." So concluded Charles Arthur, who cited a New York Times investigative piece revealing Facebook's shady dealings with a PR firm to declare it's time to admit we're addicted, and we might be reaching the same tipping point with social networks that we met on public smoking.

The women who won't take no for an answer aren't taking it easy

New US Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia told The Daily that the women who followed each other's exploits on the campaign trail are now meeting up and making friends. But a number of trailblazers who have changed the face of Congress are also still fighting the same old sexist tropes, like "I'm fine with women in power, just not this one specific woman currently in power" (as Alexandra Petri put it in The Washington Post about Nancy Pelosi) and "her outfit is too nice for her to have problems" (as Megan Garber debunked for The Atlantic over a sexist tweet of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). David Axelrod conveyed a simple message to Democrats: Think twice before you reject Pelosi.

Meanwhile, for those who aspire to make politics about more than sexism and snark, voters may have their backs. Karine Jean-Pierre wrote that when voters are given the option to express themselves directly, more often than not they make choices that affirm love and compassion -- like re-enfranchising 1.4 million ex-felons in Florida and expanding Medicaid.

The first lady also refused to take no for an answer this week. As Michael D'Antonio pointed out, Melania Trump beat her husband, the leader of the free world, at his own game, publicly forcing the ouster of a deputy national security adviser -- a dangerous move, according to Juliette Kayyem. In the first round of CNN's legal battle to restore the White House credentials of correspondent Jim Acosta, a judge sided with the network. Elie Honig called it a victory for the free press.

In California, the apocalypse is getting worse

With a staggering number of missing and a rising death toll, the fires in California, as Bay Area poet Tess Taylor described it, look increasingly like the end of the world: "I do want to say to anyone listening: This year's apocalypse is worse than last year's apocalypse. And what I recognized in myself this year -- even as this past week of bad air has passed -- has been a strange, terrible, low-level resignation, rattling around in me like the low burning in my lungs."

To the south, Robert Greene lamented in the Los Angeles Times that while he grew up watching the hills burn, the fires in L.A. and elsewhere feel different now, more cruel -- "Fire no longer seems regenerative," he said.

The search continues for victims and for better fire prevention strategies; research ecologist Chad Hanson warned that the Trump administration's call for more logging "creates a dangerous and false sense of security."

The kids are (fighting to make sure others) are all right

But where are the young people? It's a question that dominated the midterm elections and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell has an answer. From Lahore to Ramallah to Maine, here's where they are: Young people are showing up for democracy.

They're fighting for gender equality as well, even with new Title IX rules from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that Amanda Marcotte said for Salon "appear to be focused mostly on throwing up obstacles to reporting, and making victims wonder if it's worth their while to ask for help." In National Review, David French disagreed; he called the rules a "basic" restoration of fairness. Sixteen-year-old Anna Sophia Lotman rejected the idea of giving girls "toolkits" or "checklists" for avoiding harassment or assault. Try giving men and boys a checklist to realize "women's issues" like ending rape culture are their problem, too, she said.

And they're fighting from beyond the grave. Kate O'Neill offered a wrenching remembrance of her sister Madelyn, and how her death has further galvanized the fight against opioid addiction: "We call it the Opioid Epidemic, but that useless phrase doesn't describe what is happening to actual human beings in communities across our country. It should be called the My Beautiful Little Sister Lost Custody of Her Son, Stole From and Conned People, Was Raped and Burned With Cigarettes, Tried to Commit Suicide, Had Sex for Drugs and Money, Went to Jail, Was Homeless, and Ultimately Lost Everything Including Her Own Life Epidemic."

What Michelle Obama, 'Saturday Night Live' and American literary culture have in common

Michelle Obama's memoir, "Becoming," went on sale Tuesday and amid all the talk of why she stopped trying to smile at the inauguration, Kate Brower and Laura Beers zeroed in on two ways the former first lady's story could make a difference in the real lives of others: sharing her marital struggles with the former President and her journey with in vitro fertilization. As Brower wrote, "(Leadership is) recognizing that being a role model means engaging and talking about one's imperfections, not pretending they don't exist."

That's a message "Saturday Night Live" took to heart by inviting Dan Crenshaw to appear with Pete Davidson, who had mocked him the week before. Crenshaw told the audience, "We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other." Dean Obeidallah warned: "The only thing stopping us from doing more of that is ourselves."

We may not be there yet when it comes to politics, but if what we read is any indication, we're making progress at being more inclusive. At the National Book Awards held this week in New York, writers of color took all five of the top literary prizes; as noted by Constance Grady for Vox, "Throughout the evening, speakers pointed to books as a weapon against bigotry and hate."

Stan Lee lives on in you

Marvel superhero creator Stan Lee died this week at the age of 95. LZ Granderson turned his grief to homage: "No, we don't have super strength and we can't fly, but we fight society's ills armed with the principles woven into the words of some of our favorites characters. This is how Stan Lee lives on. Not with T-shirts or blockbuster movies but by our willingness to use whatever power we have for good and not evil." Or, to paraphrase Gene Seymour's remembrance of screenwriter and novelist William Goldman, another legendary creator who passed on this week: art can remind us at critical times in our lives and national consciousness how much words matter.

Remember that with great power comes great responsibility.

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