Okay. What do we do now?

Ordinary Americans are about to see a catastrophic rollback in their rights and their economic security, and for many people things will be far worse than that. Real people need our help, in communities across America. How do we mobilize?

For all of us in the progressive movement in America — really, for anyone who believes that every American deserves respect and dignity — this election has been a blow. We desperately need to dissect what happened and begin building a coalition that can win, and that work is happening elsewhere. Here, though, I’m going to speak more practically: about what happened; about what we can do together right away (both professionally, and as ordinary citizens) to protect the most vulnerable from immediate danger; and about how we gird our progressive organizations and institutions for the long battle ahead.

Reckoning with the new reality

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. He didn’t win the popular vote, and organized voter suppression indisputably influenced the outcome, but he will win in the Electoral College. This is the system we have, and under that system, he was legitimately elected.

This is alarming and even disgusting to many of us. Trump bragged about sexual assault, caricatured the lived experience of black people in order to stoke racial anxiety, and attacked and dehumanized immigrants and non-Christians — not just incidentally, but as core political strategies. And it worked.
But that’s not the worst of it. The Republican majority in the House and Senate have vowed to “dismantle” the Obama legacy that we’re so proud of: healthcare access for millions, environmental protections and some action (finally) on climate change, consumer protection against corporate abuses, federal rights and protections for lesbian and gay and transgender people.

They’ll succeed in much of this — way more than we like, although still less than they think. (Trying to unspool Obamacare without breaking the healthcare sector is going to be quite a feat. Why do they think healthcare reform took two generations?). And they’ll nominate, and confirm, one or more Supreme Court justices who will do further damage to the social fabric.

Anger now, but action soon

The currently ongoing demonstrations are bringing out tens of thousands of people to express their contempt for the campaign, the election results, and the man who won. And thank God! This is the time for anger to be at the forefront, not just because it’s organic and real and what many of us feeling, but because it will mobilize and activate others who were on the sidelines (or were content up to now merely to give money, but not to speak out).

Anger is cathartic. It’s one way to reach and energize new people who feel the same way we do. But it’s not enough. Real people — their lives, their health, their dignity — are depending on us. And as soon as possible, to the greatest degree we possibly can, we need to be channelling our anger into action.

The actions we’ll need to take

Today is the day to think about who in your personal and professional life is most vulnerable — immigrants, people of color, the economically insecure — and join together with others who believe as you do, to make a plan to stand on their side. That plan needs to (first and foremost) help protect them from the worst of the coming storm, and (then) help bring them into a coalition that will safeguard and extend the human values we all agree are fundamental in “real America.” That’s what progressivism is: using the power of the community to make sure individuals can live in safety and dignity and economic security, and that their collective voice protects them from the depredations of grifters, self-dealers, and narcissists.

Maintaining the rule of law against the immense pressures we’re about to face is going to demand hard work by our best institutions, But it’s only through the rule of law — through the force of the courts, and through our pressure on Congress and our state and local governments to ensure the Executive Branch abides by the law — that Americans’ safety will be ensured in this terrible time. We need you to be part of the pressure that makes sure that the presidential transition, and the changes to come, are subject to the rule of law.

The leaders of the new Congress have already pledged to dismantle many of the legislative and regulatory achievements of the Obama years that we’re so proud of. But that will take time, and they are not immune from political pressure. We need your voice, the words of your pen and keyboard, your organizations’ advocacy in Washington and state capitals, to hold legislators accountable to their constituents and to America. (And if, over our vociferous objections, Republicans deny healthcare to 18 million people, or tear apart 3 million immigrant families, we need you to make sure everyone knows who is responsible for that.)

We need your voice and energy and advocacy to press state and local governments to step in with legislation and enforcement to protect the cultural norms we can no longer count on the federal government to protect, like equality of opportunity and safety for difference. So write, donate, yell; obstruct when necessary; make your voices heard, personally and professionally.

Ultimately we need your energy to build an electable alternative to Republican national government; but that’s a conversation for next week or next month, and can be more ably convened by others. This week, today, our priority is to protect those who need it most, as the American federal sector gradually turns more hostile to human values and human services over the next year.

Trumpism isn’t just a policy agenda

What we’re facing as progressive activists isn’t just a legislative program we disagree with. It’s an attempt to legitimize the rollback of tolerant cultural attitudes, and their replacement with the most terroristic values of a white-dominant, male-dominant, nativist-dominant culture some of us thought had faded away. It’s already started; in the week after Trump’s victory, hundreds of incidents of white terrorism large and small have been reported and confirmed.

This will continue. People will be harassed, hurt, and likely killed in the name of our new president and in response to his words. Humane values like diversity and mutual respect will be mocked from the very halls of power. It’s very likely that the incompetent self-dealers in the new Administration will abuse the public trust, loot the public purse, and make a mockery of their responsibilities. It’s going to be an ugly four to eight years for America, and a dangerous time for the world.

But as this all plays out, remember that the negative values our national government is expressing represent the views of only a quarter of Americans at most. Hillary Clinton, and her optimistic vision, beat Donald Trump by a large margin (over a million votes) in the popular vote, and almost half of eligible voters didn’t even express a preference. There’s plenty of momentum behind the forward-looking work we all do. And the unavoidable social consequences of four years of government by an odd assortment of self-promoters, antisocial crusaders, and nihilists will only help the progressive movement come roaring back.

We’ll get through this together

We’ve been in similar straits before. In 1980, and again in 2000, the progressive movement suffered devastating setbacks, with terrible consequences for Americans across the board. We can argue whether Trump is objectively worse (I think he is), but those days felt pretty terrible at the time: people of color and LGBT people and the poor were routinely dehumanized and mocked; women saw their autonomy over their own lives and health curtailed as a matter of course; the government ignored the AIDS crisis and left Americans to suffer and die; a thousand people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced in New Orleans; the Twin Towers came down and our then-President committed America to a series of pointless wars that have inflamed tensions all over the world and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

We recovered in 1992 and we recovered in 2008. And we’ll come back in 2020 or 2024, more confident and more powerful and more inclusive, with a stronger coalition that appeals to more people. Thanks in part to the daily work done by you who are reading this, and thanks in part by the lessons we learned in earlier eras, all of America’s communities of interest (including but not limited to women, people of color, LGBT people, and immigrants) are better organized and more easily mobilized now than they were in 1980 or 2000.

So let’s have our moment of anger. But then move past it (or at least be able to set it aside) and start doing the work that needs to be done. Start today, if you can. Thank you for reading, and best of luck to all of us.

Crossposted to Medium.

The radical contingency of postwar Europe

This sort of thing is just common sense to professional historians, I know, and was taught by my esteemed 10th grade history teacher Dr. Johnson as a first principle. (I think the way he phrased it was “Everything changes everything.”) But the clearest lesson I’ve gotten from Tony Judt’s Postwar so far (100 pages in) is that many of the settled realities of the world into which I was born in 1965 very easily might have organized themselves very differently.

Culturally speaking I was born into a world with a black-and-white narrative about Western and Eastern Europe. But until 1940, there was an economic and cultural continuity between the two halves of Europe.  And lots of what happened in the immediate postwar period seemed to happen more or less by accident, as the result of a critical mass of individual, local decisions, pressures, and opportunistic moves that turned out to have long-term consequences. This included events as significant as the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany and the DDR. Even as late as 1950, although the proto-NATO alliance didn’t trust Stalin, there was still plenty of potential for a different lineup of powers and interests. Continue Reading

iPad Mini 4 with the Brydge keyboard

In furtherance of my ongoing experiment in doing real work with the iPad Mini, here’s my iPad Mini 4 with the newest Brydge Bluetooth keyboard attached.

This is the simplest, most seamlessly functional iPad keyboard I’ve ever used. The iPad drops neatly into hinges at the top of the keyboard. Rubberized inserts inside the hinges hold it in place, but it can be lifted right out anytime you want to use it naked. While it’s in the hinges, the whole assembly folds shut like a clamshell and can be carried around or dropped into your bag.

The keyboard itself is shrunk down from standard, and certain keys are half-size, but even the half-size keys seem to be right where my fingers expect them to be. (I’m guessing that the layout maps very closely to that of the onscreen keyboard.) I type a little slower than on a full-size keyboard, but not noticeably less accurately. (As with the onscreen keyboard, I depend on AutoCorrect, which does the right thing about 95% of the time.) The feel and finish of the keyboard surface are very similar to the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, and there are function keys that include “home button” and “Spotlight” which I find I use constantly.


Reliable chocolate layer cake

Finally I’ve found a chocolate layer cake recipe that was easy to manage, came out perfect, and is worth making again: this one from Nigella Lawson.

I ignored all the nonsense of “just throw everything in the food processor” and did it in the stand mixer in the conventional order: cream butter, add sugar, add remaining wet, add dry. The batter came out thicker than I liked, so at the very end I ended up adding a couple tablespoons of milk, but the final product probably would have been fine without it.

I also liked the frosting, which was easier to manage than buttercream and a little less rich.


Pretentious Potatoes

I’ve been looking for something to do with potatoes as a dinner side dish that isn’t baking or mashing. (I do have a good hot oven-roast technique, but oven-roasted potatoes are something I need to be in the mood for.) Last night, to go with a Texas dry-rubbed brisket I had sitting around, I tried Hasselback Potatoes.

I used a mixture of olive and peanut oil (both high quality), and minced the garlic — and I left it in for cooking.

And the verdict is… worth further study. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that impressed with them straight out of the oven. Greasy, and not that flavorful. But the leftovers are sublime.

I think a recipe like this is highly dependent on the quality of the potatoes you use. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used these:


I also should have used a hotter oven (more like 425), and left the potatoes in a bit longer for more starch-to-sugar conversion.  

Doing real work on iOS: a tentative endorsement

I’ve spent the last week trying an experiment: can I do my real work effectively using only an iPad and an iPhone rather than a MacBook Air? I last tried this about a year ago, at which time the answer was a definite no. This time around I’m a bit surprised to be reporting that the answer is a qualified yes. Continue Reading

How E.F. Benson helped make me a better gay

Inscription in my copy of BensonThis week I reached up to a high shelf and pulled down my copy of Make Way for Lucia, the weighty compendium of all of E.F. Benson’s Riseholme and Tilling novels. (That photo is the inscription inside the front cover.) This is light stuff, but it’s not Wodehouse; it’s more deftly observed, much more archly written, and much, much, much gayer—although words like that are not only not used, they’re barely hinted at. It was a different time.

Benson, a minor writer but beloved by generations (reportedly the late Queen Mother’s favorite author!), is an author you don’t trip over by yourself, and probably even less now than 25 years ago; someone has to tell you about him. For me, it was an older gay man I’ll call “Ray” whom I used to work with and who took me under his wing (and when I say “older,” well, he was probably about 34 at the time), whom I lost touch with decades ago. The pseudonym is simply so that other people who knew him don’t recognize him; I don’t mind if he recognizes himself, but I’m guessing he’ll never find this, and given his very common name, I’m unlikely to be able to find him.

I was a terrible gay back then; I’d gone straight from the suburbs to a very heterosexual college campus at a very conformist historical moment. So the gaps in my subcultural knowledge were stunningly wide. I thought Ray was amazing. He seemed so amazingly well-read and knowledgeable about art and culture and history, and in retrospect I think he may have been self-taught, which makes all this even more impressive; almost certainly he came from a modest cultural background. He had an intellectually informed, allusive cultural manner, and a set of exaggerated physical mannerisms (which he code-switched in and out of) that you don’t see nearly as much anymore.

In those days, before Jack McBride or Ellen, there was no “gay” on TV, unless you count Jack Tripper; and being comfortably gay and out was seen by everyone as an aggressive act. Writing about this reminds me that I came of age as one gay world was passing away and another was taking its place, which of course every gay person does, but I think that inflection point—1985, let’s call it, the year I turned twenty—was a particularly sharp one. Certainly it looks it in retrospect. As one marker of the change, people my age and younger as a general rule are totally comfortable with their smartphones, for everything from ordering groceries to requisitioning bed partners. And people Ray’s age and older don’t do any of those things with their mobile devices.

Ray was the first adult gay person who treated me like an adult gay person. (When I first started that job where I met him, I was 21, and uptight as the dickens.) He was the first adult gay person who invited me to a dinner party at his house along with other grownups (some of whom were gay, and some of whom weren’t, and everyone was fine with that! and if you’re under 30, it’s probably impossible for you to understand how transgressive that sort of matter-of-factness seemed then). He was the first adult gay person who drove me somewhere in his car. He wasn’t the first adult gay person I knew who had a gay wedding, but he knew that person and was a guest at that wedding along with me.

Along with various other snippets of popular and unpopular culture, Ray used to quote Benson’s novels all the time, and refer to the characters in conversation as though I knew them. I liked Ray and wanted to be like him, so I sought out the books; and once I started reading (in the summer of 1988) I don’t think I stopped until the end of the series. (The other thing I read that summer was War and Peace. I was a pill.)

Given how evocative the memory of reading these novels is for me, and how much I loved them on first reading, 27 years ago (!), I was terrified that they wouldn’t hold up. (Lots of things don’t.) But I’m halfway through Queen Lucia, the first of the series, and I’m pleased to report they are as delicious as ever. So I’ll see you in a few months, when I’ve gotten through 900 pages.