'We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."
It is November 11, 2018, and time again for our annual tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, who made us want to be a writer, and to his birthday, which this year falls on the 100th anniversary of the end of what was optimistically called the War to End All Wars. This is our seventh consecutive Kurt Vonnegut's birthday here at Wonkette, if you can believe that, and for a change, what with the Armistice centenary and all, we're going to write an at least partly new column for the occasion instead of reprinting the old one and adding one more Vonnegut quote about war and peace. Last year's column had ballooned to 2600 words, and good heavens, that's a lot of Vonnegut even for us (there is never too much Vonnegut).
Of course, it is mandatory we begin properly, with the quote from Breakfast of Champions that we take down from the attic every year, because what's a tradition without the proper decorations?
2000 deja vu all over again
Florida has been a hot mess of electoral shenanigans if not outright fraud for as long as I can remember. I still have the Katherine Harris-inflicted scars from the 2000 election. Tuesday night, Republicans Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott pulled ahead in the vote counts for Florida governor and senator, so they just sort of stopped counting. Not counting votes is a reliable, Supreme Court-approved strategy. Why wait for all those pesky returns to come in when we've already tabulated the results from the Republican candidates' own homes? They even counted those votes twice!
This was our moment.
Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of Barack Obama's election as the first black US president. Ten years! What an epic night. People were celebrating in the streets like the original ending of Return of the Jedi. Black folks were crying ... good tears, not the "does anyone know the nearest stop for the Underground Railroad?" tears from 2016. We had achieved something unprecedented. So many states, including Florida or Georgia, had never even had a black governor (not yet) but the US had a black commander-in-chief. It was a milestone Americans of all races could appreciate, because it meant that racism was officially over. A former coworker had already insisted this happened in 2003 when Halle Berry won an Oscar (so "Spike Lee can just shut up!") but this was less irrational.
I tend to only use the term "post-racial America" ironically, but the notion was
promoted in all earnestness back in 2008 when Obama looked to do the impossible. The beautiful dream was that the country was becoming more diverse and more tolerant. The less attractive reality was we were only becoming more diverse.
When Obama crushed war hero John McCain, black voters made up 13 percent of the electorate. White voters were 74 percent -- a staggering 15 percent drop since Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory over Jimmy Carter. Roughly the same percentage of white people voted for McCain as they did Reagan.
Boy, is he uppity!
CNN's Don Lemon callously disrupted all the racial harmony we've enjoyed in Donald Trump's America when he declared Monday that "white men are the devil." No, actually, he didn't pull a Louis Farrakhan, to invoke a familiar bogeyman. He just stated inconvenient facts.
LEMON: I keep trying to point out to people and not to demonize any one group or any one ethnicity. But we keep thinking that the biggest terror threat is something else, someone, people who are marching, you know, towards the border, like it's imminent. So, we have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them. There is no travel ban on them. There is no ban on -- you know, they had the Muslim ban. There is no white guy ban. So what do we do about that?
Naturally, this caused all the people who don't see race to suddenly see theirs and feel attacked and "demonized." Welcome to the club. The DJ in the "Stop and Frisk" room is playing some early Britney Spears. Lemon isn't suggesting we actually "ban" white men. If we did that, who'd tell us our opinions are wrong? He's just pointing out that Americans tend to exaggerate perceived threats, presuming the worst in those who don't look or worship like them. America just suffered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history, following a terrifying period when a deranged Trump supporter mailed out explosive devices to prominent Democrats including more than one former president. How does the current president respond? He rants about possible rock-wielding immigrants. We have seen the enemy, and we refuse to accept it's us.
And fine, you probably don't, but it IS hilarious!
Earlier this week, after months of swooning over Donald Trump, saying weird shit about slavery on TMZ, and hanging out with the biggest Republican dorks in the world, Kanye West announced that he was quitting his involvement with politics, stating that he had "been used to spread messages" he didn't believe in and wanted to focus on being creative.
That message, specifically was "Blexit," and the user was Candace Owens, one of the Republican doofuses West had suddenly befriended. Owens launched something she called "Blexit" -- a mass exodus of black people from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party that was only ever going to exist in her own mind. Owens claimed, publicly, that West had designed the logo for Blexit with her, and basically tried to make it seem like this was a thing she and Kanye were doing together. Probably because no one actually cares about her.
BUT, Kanye did not design the thing, he just introduced her to someone else who designed it for her, and did not want their name associated with such a stupid idea. Kanye then got mad and was like "Welp, no more politics for me," which was very sad for Republicans because other than him they only have Chachi, and they had all been super excited that Kanye -- an actual cool person -- had gone full MAGA. Some called him a traitor, some got mad at Owens and her Turning Point USA buddy Charlie Kirk for having been so thirsty and chasing him off, and some, like Tomi Lahren, got all "I TOLD YOU SO" about the whole thing.
Just when you think he can't get more racist. Just kidding, you knew he could.
The latest appalling thing Donald Trump has done -- honestly, who can even keep count these days? -- is the release of a racist attack ad that depicts illegal immigrants as the single greatest threat to America other than Democrats. I'm not linking to the ad because I'm not helping drive up Trump's engagement numbers, but you can find it pinned to the top of his Twitter page with the following absurd proclamation: "It is outrageous what the Democrats are doing to our Country. Vote Republican now!" It's basically a less subtle version of the "Futurama" PSA advising horny teenagers against sex with robots: "The next day Billy's planet was destroyed by aliens. That planet was Earth! DON'T DATE ROBOTS!"
Trump has taken time from his busy schedule of hate-mongering to remind voters just days before the midterms about Luis Bracamontes, a twice-deported Mexican immigrant who killed two police officers in 2014. When convicted, he expressed no remorse for his crimes and even vowed to "kill more" cops. Bracamontes was executed in April, so he now poses at least 20 percent less of a threat. Democrats apparently support an "open borders" policy with hell, so let's not get too comfortable.
She's as bad as all the rest.
I'm a South Carolina native who has never had much to do with former governor Nikki Haley. I know some people on both the right and the left see her as a moderate, sane option in a post-Trump world, but I've never jumped on her bandwagon, even after she realized it was the 21st Century and had the Confederate flag removed from the statehouse.
Soon to be voluntarily fun-employed, Haley stuck her nose into the anti-Semitic slaughter of Jewish people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to absolve her boss, Donald Trump, of any responsibility for it. She did this by appropriating the racist slaughter of black people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The true hero of our people!
If there's one thing everyone knows, it's that black people love them some Donald J. Trump, the very same president whose press secretary can't definitively state hasn't been caught on tape calling us racial epithets. We apparently love not wisely but too well.
Soul Brother No. 1 spoke today at the Young Black Leadership Summit, a conference for young, black conservatives between the ages of 15 and 35. This shameful spectacle if the participants had any shame was the work of Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, one of whom is technically black and neither of whom are welcome at the cookout. The event was held at the White House because Trump's presidential contract does not allow any personal travel just to meet black people.
Wanna read something REALLY stupid???
The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) isn't usually the sort of crowd you'd assume sounds like Sean Hannity on a bender, but that's only because previous presidents made the mistake of hiring bland grey economists who focused on boring economic stuff, not the perils of the USA suddenly putting Lenin and Mao in charge of national policy, which could totally happen, according to a new 72-page report by Donald Trump's CEA. Titled "The Opportunity Costs of Socialism," the report warns America that while no members of the US political establishment are advocating we adopt collectivized farming, the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, or Hugo Chavez's nationalization of the oil industry, there are definitely some Democrats who'd like Medicare for All, so let's take a look at why Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were total cucks, OK? Also, even more modest socialist-lite systems like those in Scandinavia are bad, because have you seen how expensive owning a pickup truck in Finland is?
We are literally not making this up. The report actually says that. It's like a bunch of frat bros snorted Heritage Foundation white papers and turned in a term paper, only with fewer misspellings. In fact, we can say in all honesty that this is one of the most neatly typed, correctly spelled John Birch Society pamphlets we've ever read. On that measure at least, it's WAY better than a lot of White House output. These economists definitely take pride in their work, because capitalism encourages quality.
Lest you insist we're joking, let's look at this excerpt from pp. 7-8, which proves the links between Marx, Mao, and two Democrats in the US Senate because ALL use the term "exploitation":
We're still debating blackface?
It's a truth universally acknowledged that Megyn Kelly is terrible, but NBC still pays her $18 million a year, in US currency, to pollute its 9 a.m. hour with her racist, rape-apologist nonsense. Tuesday, Kelly earned roughly $72,000 to wade into the annual debate regarding racially offensive Halloween costumes and wonder aloud why all these snowflakes have a problem with blackface.
"What is racist?" she asked a panel that included Jenna Bush Hager, Jacob Soboroff and Melissa Rivers.
You are, Megyn. You're racist. "Exhibit A" is your 2013 rant on black Santas, and "Exhibit B" is the rest of your life. You could win a round of Charades with the phrase "racist buffoon" by just pointing at yourself.
Help all American-born kids by reinstating the Estate Tax? How is that fair?
Senator Cory Booker, not one to be left behind while Kamala Harris is scaring Sean Hannity with talk of universal basic income, has his own plan for doing class war in America: How about we return the inheritance tax to its 2009 level and use the money to give every single child born in America a savings account, so all kids will come into some wealth when they become adults? The plan would be indexed to family income, so the poorer you are, the more money would be added annually up to the age of 18. And while he's at it, Booker would make sure the accounts could only be used for life-making-better things like education or buying a home, for instance. So, sorry, nobody could just cash out and buy a fur sink, an electric dog polisher, or a gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater, not to mention dumb stuff like investment-grade Beanie Babies or Jon McNaughton paintings.
Another pointless New York Times hit job.
Georgia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp are set to debate for the first time at 7 o'clock tonight. There's much to discuss, like, oh, I dunno, Kemp's shameless and repulsive attempts to steal the election with Jim Crow tactics so obvious he and his staff should just go ahead and wear black turtlenecks with "GOON" printed on them like the Penguin's henchmen.
Fortunately, though, the New York Times dropped a story Monday that should distract from Kemp's attacks on democracy and focus attention on the more pressing matter of Abrams's youthful attacks on fabric.
At a protest on the steps of the Georgia Capitol in 1992, Stacey Abrams, now the Democratic candidate for governor, joined in the burning of the state flag, which at the time incorporated the Confederate battle flag design and was viewed by many as a lingering symbol of white supremacy.
Way to undersell the ugly history of the Confederate flag, guys! You might as well say Nazis are "viewed by many" as "more than just recurring Indiana Jones villains." The timing of the article — a literal October surprise — is suspicious, and I wonder if the Times didn't receive the tip from an anonymous source with the email address "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Now stop calling her Pocahontas.
There's plenty of speculation that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (by way of Oklahoma) is planning a presidential run in 2020. She's sent staffers to all four early primary states, and perhaps more importantly, she's provided proof of ancestry to appease Donald Trump.
The president, who charmingly calls Warren "Pocahontas," has repeatedly taunted the senator for her claims of Native American heritage. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has argued with what passes for a straight face that this isn't Trump being his usual racist self but is actually pointed political satire because of the unfounded theory that Warren Rachel Dolezal-ed her way to fame and fortune. Conservatives apparently think being a minority is such a cake walk that unscrupulous people can't help but take advantage of our exalted status in society. Anyway, Warren has had enough of this foolishness and is delivering receipts.
When not making the news might be better.
What a cruddy month for Native people and their rights, as if "Columbus Day" weren't insult enough. So far, we've had the Republican-dominated Supreme Court taking a dump on Native voting rights in North Dakota, and some shitty Republican idiot in Kansas vowing to send congressional candidate Sharice Davids "back to the reservation" (at least he resigned). Now it turns out the month started with a federal court judge in Texas declaring the Indian Child Welfare Act unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is a Republican. Gosh, it's almost as if there were some factor other than "Native Americans" and "October" at work in all three.
Stop pretending the Constitution is perfect.
When it was written back in the day, the US Constitution very clearly counted enslaved black people as three-fifths of a human being for the purposes of representation, and because black people at the time couldn't vote or, you know, leave, this was ultimately about how much political power the quirky folks who held them in bondage would wield in their fancy new government. Frankly, it's a little embarrassing, like that Ricky Martin CD someone found in the place you actually still keep physical CDs. When you are the self-proclaimed "shining city on the hill," reducing your slaves to fractions and also having slaves in the first place is slightly off-brand. You could apologize and try to learn from your historical oopsies, but that's not really how American conservatism works. The originalists need to believe that America was originally and always great except for that weird period when the black guy was in charge.
Dinesh D'Souza slithered onto FOX News the other day to promote his latest dumb book "Death of a Nation," which is a play on Birth of a Nation, a famously racist movie. If D'Souza isn't an actual racist, then he's the Tobias Funke of racism who, despite his protestations, continues to comically behave like a racist. During his interview, he tried to racist-splain the Electoral College to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who'd called for its abolishment because it was a "shadow of slavery's power on America today." (BTW: If you Google "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez" and "electoral college," most of what comes up is right-wing publications and videos creeping on her as if she's an elected official already.)
Does the National Italian-American Federation really think we can't do better than a genocidal maniac? I say we can!
Every year I dread Columbus Day. I dislike Columbus Day for the same reasons that all decent people dislike Columbus Day -- but I dread it because of the inevitable op-ed written by some cafone claiming that we should continue celebrating a genocidal maniac on account of how it is also a celebration of our glorious Italian-American heritage.
Which, as an Italian-American myself, I find deeply, deeply embarrassing. Scaramucci Week levels of embarrassing. Also, as an Italian-American, I feel it's important for me to be as loud as possible, in general, but especially about this issue given that it's my people who are the ones trying to keep Columbus Day around.
This year's big one is an op-ed in the New York Times from John M. Viola, president of the National Italian-American Foundation, titled "Tearing Down Statues of Columbus Also Tears Down My History."
And it starts out just about as wrong as anything possibly could:
As I watched the disturbing events unfold in Charlottesville, Va., several weeks ago, I knew our Italian-American community would soon be called to once again address questions about statues celebrating Christopher Columbus and the day named in his honor. We would once again be called on to "defend Columbus" against efforts to remake his day into Indigenous People's Day.
I'm gonna say that if you're comparing your holiday to statues defended by Nazis, you are already starting off on the wrong foot, no? "Ugh, it's so unfair how we just can't celebrate people who were monsters without people raining on our parade, amirite?"
After lamenting the recent beheading of a Columbus statue in Yonkers, Viola goes on to explain just why the holiday is so important to him and other Italian-Americans who are definitely not me. In fact, he even notes that "Columbus's earliest critics were the same white supremacists preying on our nation today, who loathed the idea that a non-Anglo-Saxon Catholic could be an American icon."
This is true! In fact, it's quite likely that the same type of people who are today defending Columbus Day would have, back in the day, thought of the holiday as some kind of Social Justice Warrior bullshit. At the time, Italians were very unpopular. They were "swarthy" in that suspicious "white but not quite" kind of way. They were poor, having come to this country largely as a result of unification leaving Southern Italy economically devastated. Oh, and they were Catholic, which was definitely not an OK thing to be at that time.
Plus lots of them were here "illegally." My own great-grandfather did not become an American citizen until after my grandfather was born, which actually gives me (and lots of other Italian-Americans) dual citizenship in Italy. People will tell you that this does not count because "things were different back then" -- but they actually were not. People were quite hysterical about immigration back then as well. Particularly immigration from poor areas of the world.
That's the old-timey version of "They're not sending their best people."
There was the Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which limited the amount of immigrants from any country to 3% of their population as of the 1910 census. Darling pieces of legislation those were!
So no, people weren't cool with immigration back then, we were not popular, and any Italian-American who tells you otherwise is full of shit. Except they probably don't know it, on account of the fact that our path to assimilation often involved siding with white supremacy rather than challenging it. Thus, their relatives probably didn't tell them those kinds of stories. Thus, Columbus.
Thus, Viola's argument that you don't see Italians going around demanding the statues of various Roosevelts torn down:
There are many monuments to Franklin Roosevelt, and although he allowed Japanese-Americans and Italian-Americans to be interned during World War II, we as an ethnic group are not demanding that his statues be destroyed. Nor are we tearing down tributes to Theodore Roosevelt, who, in 1891, after 11 falsely accused Sicilian-Americans were murdered in the largest mass lynching in American history, wrote that he thought the event "a rather good thing."
This, too, is true. That happened. There were also lynchings of Italians throughout the country following the lynchings of those suspected of murdering New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy. People were fine with that. One of the men who organized that lynching, John Parker, would later go on to become Governor of Louisiana. Notably, he said that Italians were "just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in [their] habits, lawless, and treacherous."
And, again, it's true. We don't demand statues be taken down. We don't complain. As Frank Gardaphe points out in his essay "Whites On A Leash: Italian-Americans and White Privilege in the U.S.," not complaining about these things is part of the price we paid for our status as Official White People.
For a few generations we have had to trade-in or hide any customs which have been depicted as quaint, but labeled as alien, in order to prove equality to those above us on the ladder of success.
In this way, Italian Americans have become white, but a different kind of white than those of the dominant Anglo/Saxon culture. Italian Americans have become whites on a leash.
And as long as we behave ourselves (act white), as long as we accept the images of ourselves as presented in the media (don't cry defamation) and as long as we stay within corporate and sociocultural boundaries (don't identify with other minorities) we will be allowed to remain white.
To complain would be to align ourselves with other groups who have faced persecution in this country. To complain would be to deny the Whiteness we worked so hard for.
Viola explains that Columbus Day was a reaction to these acts of violence on Italian-Americans.
It was in reaction to these tragic killings that the early Italian-American community in New York scraped together private donations to give the monument at Columbus Circle to their new city. So this statue now denigrated as a symbol of European conquest was from the beginning a testament to love of country from a community of immigrants struggling to find acceptance in their new, and sometimes hostile, home.
I have a certain amount of understanding of and empathy for why they did that at the time. I honestly do. Especially because I'm reasonably sure that a bunch of poor Italian immigrants didn't know anything of Columbus's genocidal tendencies and only thought of him as a way to claim their right to be here, in some way. They thought that by taking a piece of American history for their own, people here would start to see them as Americans too. They'd see them as having just as much a right to be here as the Anglo-Saxons who invaded the country centuries later. It was a move that, more than anything else, was about survival. "You guys like Columbus, right? You think he was a good guy? He was an Italian! Like us!"
This was especially important during a time when Italian-Americans were considered suspiciously un-American -- when it was assumed we were anarchists, socialists or mafiosi, or even just too strange and quaint and superstitious and brutish and "swarthy" to ever be "Real Americans."
But I don't think honoring a man who perpetrated violence against an ethnic group is the right way to honor an ethnic group that was victimized by violence. In fact, I think it is the absolute worst way to do that. Columbus wasn't us, Columbus was John Parker. He was a lot worse, frankly, than John Parker.
I am honoring the victims of crimes like those lynchings by standing against Columbus Day, by standing with those whose ancestors were victims of an even worse crime.
I have a lot of frazzled, disorganized, bad feelings about the process by which my capital-W Whiteness was obtained. I have a lot of anger towards Italians who embraced racism against black people in order to assert their own Whiteness (AHEM, Frank Rizzo), and fierce anger towards those (AHEM, Scalia, Joe Arpaio) who shit all over those immigrants who came after us. Columbus is a part of that. "Oh look, we killed tons of Native Americans too, so we're on your side, white people!" isn't the look I'd like to see us going for.
I believe with my whole heart that Columbus Day should be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day. But I also would not be opposed to having a less gross holiday to celebrate the heritage of my people. To say that we need to celebrate a genocidal maniac in order to celebrate our heritage is completely insulting to me, and should be to every other Italian-American out there who is not a genocidal maniac.
Tear the Columbus statues down and replace them with statues of those who were lynched in New Orleans, with statues of Sacco and Vanzetti, with the bad ass Italian anarcho-feminist Maria Roda, with union organizer Angela Bambace, with Frank Sinatra's bad-ass illegal-abortion-providing feminist anti-racist mom who is my hero. HELL. Replace them with statues of Louis Prima and Keely Smith, a much better meeting of Italians and Native Americans than Columbus represents.
Or replace them with pizza. Pizza never hurt anybody (who wasn't lactose intolerant) and has only brought joy and deliciousness to this country.
Viola argues that we need to celebrate Columbus Day and have statues of him to remember our history, to remember things like the lynching in New Orleans, to remember the hardships and hostility Italian-Americans endured. But this holiday and those statues are not doing that. They are doing the exact opposite. People know all about Columbus, but most people do not know about the lynchings, they don't know about those who fought and died for labor rights in this country, they don't know about the Italian-Americans who actually were fighting against racism, or those who were victims of it.
Columbus Day doesn't just disrespect the indigenous people Columbus massacred, it disrespects us. It puts a happy, patriotic, pro-America face on an ugly history that many are still too afraid to confront.
This article first appeared last year. Now go read some Louise Erdrich and watch Big Night again.
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