Monthly Archives: January 2018

Isms of the Czar

One of my strangest radio interviews featured a gadfly named Joe Sweeney, who died a few years ago.  Sweeney repeatedly ran for office, losing nearly every election.  He seemed a harmless eccentric until he declared he was a “racist” when he ran for congress in 2004.  He ran as a Republican and the desperate Republican party ran a conventional candidate against him in the primary.  Sweeney trounced him and the GOP was apoplectic.  Not the media.  Sweeney was a legitimate candidate and a Sweeney interview was a reporter’s dream.  I interviewed Sweeney when I was editor of the law school newspaper and looked forward to the return engagement.

I interviewed him again in 2004 during the “Inside Track” radio show with the late Emil Franzi, the show’s founder.  I asked Sweeney about his racism and he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. (“they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”).  I expressed surprise that an avowed racist quoted MLK and told him, “Joe, I’ll take your word for it that you’re a racist.  But I have to tell you, you’re not very good at it.”

I remember Sweeney as the media arcade pinballs the term “racism” from one speaker to another, all wondering if the American Czar is a racist and, more importantly, whether racism influences his policies.  When a self-designated racist is unsure of the definition, it reminds us to use the term cautiously.

The Czar invites speculation about racist ideology, or at least racist tendencies, based on his words and deeds.  The well-known litany includes:  sued by the Nixon Administration for racially-motivated housing discrimination, spreading racist propaganda on his Twitter account, failing to denounce Klansman David Duke, praising white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville and, recently, describing Haiti and African nations as “poop crater” countries.  (I cleaned it up in case you read this aloud to children.)  The Czar underscored the racism of the latter by adding, “We should have more people from places like Norway,” according to senators from each party who overheard the comments, and one who heard about them from witnesses.  Haiti and Africa bad, Scandinavia good?  Try taking skin color out of that equation.

Racism might be too narrow a reading of the Czar’s motivation.  Sweeney, ironically, provides guidance here as well.  When I pressed him on his contradictions, Sweeney explained he was an “economic racist.”  He conflated a hardline immigration policy with racism, based on his allegedly having lost a job milking cows to undocumented immigrants.  Jim Nintzel of the Tucson Weekly also distilled Sweeney’s alleged racism into a racially-seared immigration policy.  “I hate Mexicans who come up here illegally,” Sweeney told him.  “All this silly nonsensical crap about how they’re entitled to come up here and get into our wage system and everything else. They haven’t struggled for a damn thing in Mexico. They won’t struggle, because they treat one another like a damn bunch of wild monkeys!”  He would be a cult hero in today’s Republican party.

Sweeney’s derogatory comments about Mexicans forecast the Czar’s (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”)  Racism influenced immigration policy in 1924 when congress passed an explicitly racist immigration law favoring western Europeans.  As I explained in an earlier column, Breitbart News supports an immigration policy similar to the 1924 law.  So does the Attorney General.  When the Czar calls for “a system based on merit,” there are echoes of 1924.

The Czar not only sees poop craters in foreign nations, he sees them within the United States.  Referring explicitly to African-American neighborhoods, he told a white crowd in North Carolina: “You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. …  I mean, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”  The message:  dark-skinned people equals poop crater – even in America. 

The declarations haven’t dissuaded the Czar’s core supporters, one of whom told The Guardian why she supports him:  “(H)e’s anti-left, he’s anti-PC, he’s anti-stupid.”  Another, commenting on the Charlottesville remarks, stated, “The KKK had the legal right to express their opposition and they got a permit and everything would have been fine except that counter-protesters came with baseball bats and rocks.”  He added, “the media does not want that narrative to be told.”  All wanted stricter immigration, all but one called for a border wall, and every one disregarded reports of the Czar’s racist behavior as fabricated or inconsequential.

“The new right understands perfectly well that its mass base is white, and that its political success depends on its ability to interpret white identity in positive political terms,” wrote Howard Winant in Off White: Readings on Power, Privilege, and Resistance.  “Precisely because of its willingness to exploit racial fears and employ racially manipulative practices, the new right has been effective in achieving much of its agenda…”

The Czar follows this playbook and core supporters feast on his words like pigeons at a bus stop.  They are dupes.  The Czar’s ethos is not racism – it’s elitism.  He lives in an “us versus them” reality, but it’s not a “white us” versus “people of color them” reality.  It’s a “filthy rich us” versus everybody else reality, including his supporters.  They’re not the people he invites into the penthouse – they’re the ones he looks down on from it.  They don’t know he relegates them to the same poop crater as those they despise.

He only pretends to be Joe Sweeney.

© 2018 by Mike Tully


The Prune Juice Platoon

“I fought the whole war in Oklahoma … You need to remember, there was not one Japanese aircraft that got past Tulsa.”
            – George Gobel, 1969

It is just short of half a century since I enlisted in the Arizona Air National Guard and 44 years since I left with an (against the odds) honorable discharge.  I’m proud of my military service; during my entire six-year deployment not a single Viet Cong made it north of Mexico (rim shot).  In reality, my greatest military accomplishment was probably avoiding court-martial but, in any event, I have satisfied my military obligation to my country and state and needn’t worry about it any longer.

Or so I thought.  David Stringer has other plans in mind.

Stringer, a Republican member of the Arizona legislature from Prescott, whose hairpiece looks like it dropped onto his head from a balcony, wants every adult in Arizona, even those well into Medicare and Social Security eligibility, included in Arizona’s state militia. He introduced a bill to eliminate an age limit for serving.  Most states have militias, although the majority, like Arizona, have them in name only.  Article XVI of the Arizona Constitution states, “The militia of the state of Arizona shall consist of all capable citizens of the state between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, and of those between said ages who shall have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States…”  A Wikipedia article on state defense forces lists Arizona’s militia as “not established.”  Perhaps that is why nobody in Arizona realized that they were, by virtue of the State Constitution, members of the state militia as long as they were between the ages of eighteen and forty-five.  All of us were AWOL and nobody knew.  And at forty-five it didn’t matter anyway – you were aged out.

But Stringer wants to age us back in.  His proposal, House Bill 2057, eliminates the age limit on state militia service.  Since the current age limit is part of the state Constitution, Stringer is proposing a companion Constitutional Amendment that defines militia membership as “able-bodied citizens of this state who are at least eighteen years of age.”  There is no upper limit.  Just turned sixty?  You’re in.  Already collecting Social Security and Medicare?  You, too.  Were you born before the stock market crash in 1929?  Get in line.  Never mind if you’re rickety, fidgety and forgetful, David Stringer wants you.  The only restriction is that you must be “capable of acting in concert for the common defense,” whatever that means.

While the prospect of enlisting geriatrics into an imaginary state militia might seem, at first glance, like somebody’s rope slipped its pulley, it should not be ruled out.  This is Arizona after all; it could happen.  Accommodations will be needed and should be planned for.  Older militia members, for example, will require Reveille twice daily:  once at dawn and once after a nap.  The commissary will need two lines, pureed and non-pureed.  There may be special uniform considerations.  Elastic fatigues are a must.  Camouflage will probably not be necessary; at our age, with our eyesight, everything’s camouflaged.  Finally, might the militia’s elderly need special underwear?  Depends.

Stringer’s proposed legislation states, “The ability to call forth an effective Arizona state guard requires a body of citizens within this state who possess and are trained in the use of arms consistent with the purpose of the Arizona state guard.”  One problem:  the guard has no purpose.  The Constitution does not provide a purpose.  It also fails to specify exactly who is in charge of the state’s militia, although the Organic Law of Arizona in 1878 specified that the Territorial Governor was “the commander in chief of the militia.”  If the current Governor succeeded to that power, Arizona’s militia will take its marching orders from an ice cream salesman.  That could be a rocky road.

Stringer’s legislation has nothing to do with the imaginary state militia and everything to do with an irrational fear among firearms radicals that the federal government is poised to confiscate lawfully-owned guns.  His aim is raise a fictitious state militia as a defense, based on case law that recognizes that state militias are entitled to some deference when it comes to deciding what weapons are admissible for use by its members.  He notes the Second Amendment begins with the phrase, “A well regulated Militia,” which the Supreme Court in District of Columbia vs. Heller stated, “implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training.”  That certainly fits Arizona, except for the “proper discipline and training” part.  Stringer’s gambit is that, by creating a more believable fictitious militia, Arizona can repel fictitious federal restrictions.  He hopes that fear will overcome your reason – as it apparently has with him.

Even if Stringer’s legislation becomes law, the age limit for the state militia will not be changed unless voters approve an amendment to the state Constitution.  Good luck with that.  Old people vote.

© 2018 by Mike Tully


Reaping Chaos

I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.
          – Bob Dylan

Jeb Bush, a hapless presidential wannabe, enjoyed a rare moment of prescience when he labeled Donald Trump a “chaos candidate (who) would be a chaos president.”  Nobody else has explained the Trump phenomenon so precisely.  Trump is of, by, and for chaos.  His candidacy was born in chaos, he personally embodies chaos, and chaos will eventually destroy his presidency – if his political opposition is able to use political tai chi to turn his strength, chaos, against him.

Much of human existence is occupied with attempting to make order out of chaos, fueled by the irrational belief that order can always be imposed.  But the order we impose, whether based on politics, religion, or alchemy, is like the cooling crust over a lava flow.  It looks like solid land, as durable and firm as granite, but collapses like a cracker in soup under sufficient weight.  Sometimes you can walk on it. Sometimes you collapse into the lava and die.  Life’s uncertainty is chaos.