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“And While I’m At It” – Explained

A few weeks ago I performed a slam poem at my university’s open-mic night. Here is a link to the footage. Lest ye explode with the furious rage of ten million momma grizzly bears separated from their cubs, I’ve provided lengthy justifications of each stanza below.


And While I’m At It
Ross Neir (2016)

You see,
I was a conservative until last fall
He came and I fell out of my party
He spoke and I departed
He rebranded us as the alt-right
but i’m not alright with voting liberal either
so where does that leave me?
It leaves me put off with less hope in the political
System than even Trump could pretend not to have.

I began politics with an extreme right-wing ideology. Somewhere around 7th grade I had my first exposure to politics, when a few fundamentalists — who held to absolute truth! — taught me their perspective on the world. I didn’t know to question it. Everything they said was absolutely true. If you followed along from their premises, like I did, it all made sense — and their logic checked out quite well. I was pro-family, pro-war, and anti-secularism.

But during the fall of 2011 when the Ron Paul Revolution went into overdrive, I learned about the Libertarian Party, and it changed my mind on a lot of policy issues. Lockean ideas like self-ownership and the rights to life, liberty and property seemed like a good basis for policy, and from this logically came all the Libertarian Party positions, minarchism, (and even anarcho-capitalism), with rigor and consistency. I still hold most of these positions.

But last fall it all started shifting again. I went from a Libertarian leaning conservative to a Libertarian learning liberal.

But did I? Is that even true? I still believe in free trade, I still believe in laissez-faire capitalism, I still believe in de-escalation of the US military presence in the world, I still believe in immigration, I still believe in drug decriminalization. I didn’t change. But the Conservatives changed in sync with Trump’s campaign and I no longer fit with their label.

Trump didn’t coin the term ‘alt-right,’ but his supporters now dominate my demographic (white, teenage and college-aged, middle-class males who spend too much time on the internet) (see Tucker on the alt-right at this link). But was I supposed to automatically become a Democrat in response? I completely disagree with that party on economics, which is very important to me. This unresolved tension comes up later in my poem.

He says “They’re bringing drugs.
They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…
And some, I assume, are good people”
But I say “They’re my neighbors
They’re sojourners.  They’re human
And all, I assume, are made in the image of God.”

This is a quote from Trump’s campaign launch speech in June of last year. He was arguing that we have no idea the mix of people that cross the boarder illegally into the United States from Mexico. Now, there are dozens of the problems with this, and Wikipedia has a nice list of them (link, other link, also follow Wiki’s footnotes for some well-done studies). Also I’d add that if we can’t conclude with certainty that Mexican immigrants are saints, then we also shouldn’t conclude with certainty that they are demons. My lines in this stanza rephrase Trump, because I think that our default attitude toward human rights issues should be to recognize their humanity before jumping to policy conclusions.

Even still, the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants to the U.S. has flatlined for several years (link), meaning either that no new Mexican immigrants are entering illegally, or they are entering and existing at mostly equal rates. Most immigration to the U.S. is legal (link) and “India was the leading country of origin for new immigrants, with 147,500 arriving in 2014, followed by China with 131,800, Mexico with 130,000, Canada with 41,200, and the Philippines with 40,500″ (link). At any rate, most illegal residency in the U.S. is from overstaying Visa times, not from dashing over the boarder at night, hence The Wall idea (link, very conservative perspective).

Trump does not regret this statement either (link), at all. “It’s common sense: they don’t want these people, so they send them to the United States because the United States is run by stupid people, we have stupid leadership, we have incompetent leadership that doesn’t know what it’s doing… so we take them…We take them because nobody else wants them. We are like a dumping ground. The United States, Erin, is like a dumping ground for the world’s problems.”

Now aside from the fact that immigration does not increase crime and that immigrants are less violent than non-immigrants (wiki links from three paragraphs up), who does Trump think is “sending” them? Is this an intentional state-sponsored program from other governments? Because if those other governments can’t make people follow their laws (crime, drugs, rape), then it probably also can’t get them to up-and-move to another country that barely speaks their language. Moreover, I’d expect criminals to favor their home countries, which have less strict and more corrupt policing than the U.S.

Trump’s language here is designed to evoke an emotional response more than a policy response — but the real tragedy is that he immediately follows up with a policy proposal and conflates the two. It becomes difficult to argue against The Wall logically or policy-wise when his followers are arguing from a deeply emotional place, and especially when that emotion is fear.

And While I’m at it,
I’d say that I’m okay with
Trump praising Putin
but can anybody really
Lie like that?
Can I support a man who supports a man
That supports men to kill for his power?
Conservatives hated Putin- until they didn’t.

This refers to his interview at the Commander-in-Chief forum a month ago (link). Slate published a great article on this (link). This author makes a really good point, that “Whatever else he may be, Putin projects responsibility*, sobriety (in multiple senses of the word) and a steady hand* on the affairs of state. And he has, indeed, ensured that Russia remains relevant* on the world stage.”

*Trump projects none of these things and his economic isolation and opposition to free trade agreements would minimize the U.S.’s place on the world stage. So in the sense that Trump wants to run the country like a dictator CEO, sure, he can love Putin’s leadership style all day; in any other regard, and in any way consistent with the American principles of separation of powers, he cannot.

U.S. foreign policy has been messy, nuanced, technical and complicated for over a century. We can’t, I stress, we cannot, I stress, we can not afford one president to leave and another to take office, only to have the other completely break line with the original’s plan. We need long term consistency in international relations. This was the tragedy of Obama’s ‘middle eastern power vacuum’ from leaving Iraq during his first term. Yet where Obama’s transition was subtle and gradual, Trump would be abrupt and abrasive. Day One: end NATO (link), which will lead to a large international conflict.

This should scare you. It scares me. Our world seems so strong, so solidified and so unbreakable. It would only take a few missteps to expose just how precariously perched the world really is above the ravines of global conflict and economic slough.

And While I’m At it,
Politically Correct This
Politically Correct that
But what if its racial inequality
That we’re mad at?
So what if Kaep takes a knee
When soldiers fought bled and died
So that he could speak free?

Conservatives complained for two years
about black lives matter being too violent;
someone let the coons out!;
get the animals back in their cages!
We want nonviolent protests! They said.
Yet Kaep’s nonviolent protest met their demand
And they still wanted him dead.

The Colin Kaepernick episode highlighted a great irony in conservatism: the same people who decry Political Correctness, meaning the repression of ideas outside the mainstream because they are deemed offensive or intolerant, were overwhelmingly offended at and intolerant of Kaepernick’s outside-the-mainstream method of protest. “But what if it’s racial inequality that we’re mad at?” means that conservatives selectively see and criticize Political Correctness – which means they don’t actually care about Political Correctness, they care about the issue being Politically Corrected, and they use Political Correctness as an abstract principle that happens to support them.

If you didn’t get what I just said, then here’s Slate Star Codex to the rescue:

“This is related to an idea I keep stressing here, which is that people rarely have consistent meta-level principles. Instead, they’ll endorse the meta-level principle that supports their object-level beliefs at any given moment. The example I keep giving is how when the federal government was anti-gay, conservatives talked about the pressing need for federal intervention and liberals insisted on states’ rights; when the federal government became pro-gay, liberals talked about the pressing need for federal intervention and conservatives insisted on states’ rights.” (link)

So, I’m saying that the same effect is true here. Conservatives aren’t actually against PC, they are just pro-conservative values, and sometimes that actually means being pro-PC..

When I say that “soldiers fought, bled and died so that he could speak free,” we have to remember that soldiers do not:

  1. sign up for war to protect US oil interests;
  2. sign up for war to help W. avenge his father’s misgivings a decade before;
  3. sign up for war to be pawns in a geopolitical and economic chess game.

These are the real reasons for war, among many others. But soldiers, in their mind, are fighting for the ideals of freedom and democracy. So to use soldiers in any other way than to support the free exchange of ideas is to defame their honor, to cast them as liars. Like ol’ Ron Paul said in one of those 2011 primary debates, “We don’t have the freedom of speech to talk about the weather. We have the first amendment so we can say some very controversial things.” And this, I say, is why we should honor individual soldiers by speaking out against the nation when our conscience convicts us to do so.

Conservatives complaining about BLM being too violent: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E, Exhibit F, Exhibit G, … and if I had a link for every time I’ve heard this in person, my whole blog would be underlined in blue text.

Please note I myself am not calling blacks ‘coons’ or ‘animals,’ I am quoting a general sentiment among racist people kid from my high school who ranted on Facebook about BLM violence during the Ferguson protests in 2014 (or was it Baltimore in 2015?). He called blacks ‘animals’ in general, and then when a black kid from our school replied, he called him a ‘coon’ without remorse. He deserves to have his name posted here, and every fiber of justice in me wants to eternally blast him for his attitude towards blacks and hispanics. But I’ll relent. This enters into emotional waters, and I try to keep policy discussions dry when possible. At any rate, those three lines are within quotation marks because they do not originate from me.

And yes, Kaepernick did receive death threats for his protest.

And While I’m At It,
The media shoots for ratings
The alt media shoots for nonsense
How can I know whats happening?
How can I know whats happening?
But then again, who cares?
Who cares whats happening?
I did, but I don’t, and I won’t again.

I could say a lot about media cycles and the clickbait effect, but complex theoretical discussion aside, it is discouraging that I have to go unbelievably out of my way to receive accurate information when an entire field of Western professionalism is supposedly dedicated to doing that for me. Journalism is a paid field. Why should I, an unpaid, random teenager, have to move mountains to find the truth?

As much as Deplorables complain about the mainstream media, their media (the alt or alternative media) falls into the exact same incentives schemes as the MSM, but those outlets are obscure enough to mostly avoid fact-checking. This is even worse.

I’ll admit, it’s melodramatic to say that I won’t care about politics again. In fact, that is not true at all. But it expresses a sentiment of discouragement within myself and large swaths of the population who are tired of the same nonsense-on-loop that media outlets produce.

And While I’m At It,
Donald Trump may hate Muslims,
But hey, he loves cake-baking businesses
That can’t seem to understand
That Jesus made water into wine
And stopped the pharisees from stoning the adulterer
Jesus said “He who is without sin cast the first stone”
But Trump says “He who isn’t unluckily Middle Eastern cast the first stone”
Does he remember Simon the Zealot, the terrorist, the apostle?
Or Saul the persecutor of the Church, the murderer, the apostle?

His hatred of Islam has made him the center of Islamophobic thought in the country, naturally. He wants to “bomb the shit of them” (exact quote), doesn’t care about civilian casualties in the Middle East, wants to torture and kill the families of terrorists (per one of the primary debates last year), wants to give Saudi Arabia nuclear weapons (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), had made a variety of discriminatory remarks about Muslims, and can we ever forget the Khizr Khan moment?

But again, he isn’t for or against discrimination itself. He is no where near principled enough for that. He just selectively employs it when convenient, and that happens to exclude the entire Christian/gay cake baking scandal.

Jesus’s attitude is probably not reproducible on a national policy level. Actually, I’m certain that it isn’t. But Trump himself, as a person, could try it out and see what happens.

I delivered this poem to a crowd of 19-22 year old evangelical students at an evangelical university. Everyone understood my references. I was amazed at how, two weeks later, I gave the same poem, and nobody at the secular, underground grunge/punk art show audience understood my metaphors. The audience’s religious background makes the difference. I’ll leave it to the reader to research Simon the Zealot and Saul the Persecutor of the Church. They are powerful New Testament figures, and all Christians should pray that more like them rise up out of the Middle East and Asia.

And While I’m At it,
I’ll coin a new term: The Trump Dump
Because Trump’s charity Dumped 200k in the pocket of
The Attorney General suing him for conning the rest of us
Oh, am I not supposed to say that out loud?
Could another Trump Dump be his
list of Supreme Court nominees come November 9th?
Oops. I’m really not supposed to say that out loud.

Trump rhymes with Dump. Aren’t I clever?

I’m sure that someone else has made that connection elsewhere but I had yet to see it when I wrote the poem, so it felt unique. I felt creative! In a lame, moronic way.

Whatever. The Attorney General case in Florida is a huge deal. That should have screamed corruption louder and more directly than even the Clinton Foundation did, which is a high standard to pass.

[CORRECTION, apparently the figure is 25k, not 200k (link). I’m not sure why I didn’t look this up. Most of the same principles still apply, regardless of scale.]

This article (link) makes the argument that Trump is the most corrupt candidate ever. After all, you don’t usually make it in business without collaborating with the government when all your competitors are collaborating with the government. So his corruption in business is based on economic self-interest rather than political self-interest (Clinton). Is that any better?

I see four types of elites in the American public landscape. The political establishment is the aggregation of all politicians that hold public office and maneuver to stay in office at the expense of principles. They tend to coalesce to the center, be neo-conservative on foreign policy, and gladly cooperate with party authorities. The mainstream media is a term for popular news companies that hold to a generally centrist line while having a very scripted, professional tone. They aren’t necessarily non-partisan (MSNBC and Fox are both very partisan in my opinion) and there are a lot of inconsistencies in defining it, but it tends to hold high standards for publication and therefore is seen as suppressing information sometimes when it actually just isn’t willing to break controversial news that may not be credible. The business elite are the billionaires that Bernie Sanders decried throughout his campaign. They run large banks or companies, own most of the country’s wealth, pull the economic levers behind the scenes, and work together with the bureaucracy to suppress competition. The cultural elite are actors, celebrities, art producers, musicians, relatives of other famous people, former politicians, and other leaders in the culture. They tend to lead the way in attitudes and cultural norms and disproportionately live in California, Oregon and the East Cost.

Donald Trump belongs to group number three. He may not have been liked by his fellow business elites: I remember seeing that Goldman Sachs even used him as an example in their staff training on avoiding terrible investments. But nonetheless, he has acted just like them. He hasn’t been scruntinized for as long as Clinton or as hard as Clinton (link on Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign CEO, notice the line “we’ve got $1.3 billion of equipment I’m using at almost full capacity” being used to dig dirt on the Clinton Foundation. To my knowledge, this isn’t being done against Trump). So in that more broad sense, he is just as much a part of the corrupt system as the rest.

In May, Trump published a list of SCOTUS nominees to replace Scalia (link) and in September released a new list (link). I’d not be surprised if a President Trump scraps both and goes with someone else, although I’d also not be surprised if he just picks the most business-elite-friendly option from his lists, whoever that is.

And While He’s at it,
He’ll just divide the country any way he sees fit
And slander anyone who calls him out on it
But in spite of the propaganda and the panda panda panda
We aren’t all as different as Trump makes us feel
And we don’t have to ruin the nation
To demonstrate some ill-placed zeal

Political polarization is when the population moves farther to the extremes and leaves the middle ground. This has happened and has been extensively documented over the last decade (link). 

polarization

And the data hasn’t come out yet for 2015 or obviously for 2016, but I’d speculate that this has accelerated. The left is getting lefter and the right is getting righter. Trump’s hyper collectivizing of the most divisive segments of society doesn’t help. His racially charged rhetoric, or even just his support of Blue Lives Matter over All Lives Matter, has further solidified this along racial lines. I think this is a huge problem in American society and having an ultra-controversial figure lead the way is a great solution.

Does he slander anyone who calls him out? Not ‘anyone,’ because that would be impossible given that half of the name-recognizable figures in the country have called him out, but we’ve seen it over and over throughout the campaign. He’s threatened to sue the NY Times for publishing his sexual assault advocacy tapes, let’s not forget the Khan family episode (and this article about Trump defamation in that case (link)), and I’m sick of writing this blog post so you can go research other lawsuits he has threatened. There are a lot.

Trump’s propaganda is just as bad as anyone else’s propaganda. The ‘panda, panda, panda’ refers to that one song that I hate and it just seems vaguely creepy. That is a good description of Trump’s rhetoric — I hate it and it just seems vaguely creepy. This isn’t a very strong argument. There is a racial dimension to the song Panda, though I’m unsure of that as well, and again like Trump, it’s something vaguely racial that I’m unsure of.

What is this ill-placed zeal? It’s the passion of the Evangelical Right, the passion of people who care about constitutional original intent, the people who value economic freedom, all being willing to support these issues over the issue of racial justice. The swap didn’t have to happen, and I recognize that people are choosing the lesser of two evils, but the race piece didn’t have to be this way. The other Republican candidates held to those principles without the race shtick. It didn’t have to be this way.

But before you think I’ve come to support Clinton
I’ve got a few emails to show you
And a bridge to sell you
But no story here to tell you
Only the story of a boy who turned 18
And couldn’t escape the two party system.

Hillary Clinton represents almost everything wrong with the political establishment. Politically connected – to the point of corruption. Tries to be efficient – to the point of overstepping boundaries. Involved in the action – to the point of making mistakes. Works in the law – to the point of being above the law. Tries to save face and put forth a diplomatic front – to the point of lying.

Her policies on war continue the current administration’s policies. Her policies on the economy continue the current administration’s policies. Her policies on social issues continue the current administration’s policies. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that voters see her as a puppet for some grand globalist NWO conspiracy. She seems to exist as a politician but not as a policy maker, an empty hollow pant-suit shell, and the least common denominator is neoliberal economics and broadly rational-sounding diplomacy-based foreign relations.

Scandal after scandal after scandal — after a while I have to wonder, “couldn’t we have just found someone else?” There have to be at least a dozen senators or high-office holders in the Obama administration who are relatively scandal-free, not to mention Bernie Sanders. The conspiracy theorists are rarely wrong about her. She really isn’t great.

By emails, I refer to her email server, the deletion of 33,000 emails, and the DNC email hacks. I didn’t know at the time, but there would also be the Podesta emails leaked in the weeks following my writing of this poem. Emails seem to be a general theme.

Until he did.

What led me to my current political philosophy? Ron Paul’s campaign in 2012 opened my mind to libertarianism. Stefan Molyneux’s radio show from 2014 to early 2015 (before he went full Trump and reversed half his philosophy) gave my critical thinking stills and expanded my perspective on rationalism. My political science professor at Beloit College last fall gave me the professionalism-in-politics mindset that I now choose to use, along with the categories necessary to understand international relations. The blog Slate Star Codex (mentioned in this post probably at least five times) has helped me view policies on a system-level and understand the dilemma before evaluating right and wrong. I’ve done lots of independent study — lots, and spent years thinking critically about governance.

These gradually led me away from conservatism, but I didn’t see how far I’d drifted. I still identified as a Republican — because, after all, I’m not a Democrat! — and voted in the Republican primary in March. After that, it occurred to me.

In the past months I’ve come to believe that the US Constitution is deeply flawed and needs revision or replacement. Now, I am a constitutionalist; countries need founding documents that specify how the government will divide powers, and that document should prevent or delay the state-sprawl of politics beyond its original scope. But the 1789 US Constitution was drafted without consideration of 21st century instant communication, or the now 240 years of experience upon which political scientists draw conclusions. First-past-the-post voting must end. This means revising Congress to be a parliamentary or other system, providing party accountability instead of individual political accountability (which barely exists anyway).

The two party system will either collapse or reorient itself along new battle lines. I am hoping for the former, somehow, but without the aforementioned constitutional changes, the two party system will creep right back in. It isn’t the product of random history; it is the product of the structure in which it operates. I’m writing a very, very, very long article about this. About 15,000 words. Give me some time there to explain myself, it should be done before the election.

Because, While I’m At it,
Maybe my vote may be a protest vote
And maybe my vote may be a throwaway vote
But I’ll tell you this:
I’m fully convinced in my own mind on this vote
That the only vote I’ll be casting on November 8th
Is a Gary Johnson vote.

Gary Johnson is not a perfect candidate. He doesn’t have the intellectual purity and command of policy that Ron Paul had in 2008 and 2012. He appears to not have much grounding in international relations. He sure climbed Mt. Everest, though! I wish that he hadn’t ran at the convention in May. Austin Peterson or John McAfee could have carried the torch much better.

Nonetheless, the Libertarian Party represents the most acute attack on the two party system that I can see. They are in third place in this election and therefore will send the loudest message. But beyond that, I am a libertarian, so it makes sense anyways.

I do not believe in protest votes or throwaway votes. If you are running for president of my country, you have to earn my vote. It is the height of entitlement — which Trump’s supporters so loudly decry — to assume you deserve my vote just because I am not a Democrat. Nor does not voting for Trump mean that I’m implicitly casting a vote for Clinton. I live in Illinois, after all, and I’d predict at least a 10% margin for Clinton in this election. My vote doesn’t count anyways. This is another problem with the current Constitution – the Electoral College nullifies the votes of anyone living in a “safe” state and amplifies the votes of anyone living in swing states.

“I’m fully convinced in my own mind” refers to Paul in Romans 14. It is a matter of conscience. See also Luther before the Diet of Worms: “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.”

This is the point in the performance where I unbutton my outer shirt and reveal to the audience that I’m actually wearing my Gary Johnson shirt. It’s pretty dramatic, it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, but it’s memorable and audiences eat it right up. It’s a piece of visual rhetoric to accentuate my point.

So, when my absentee ballot comes in the mail sometime next week, I’ll be filling in the bubble for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. I’ve known this for a long time. Back in May of 2015, I said I’d end up voting for Rand Paul in the primaries and the Libertarian candidate, whoever that is, in the general. 17 months later, and it’s hard to believe it has been that long, we are here. The election is over in just about two weeks. I’m glad, and I’m happy to move on to non-electoral politics again. Or just non-politics again, though it seems inescapable in many ways.

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