Strange attitudes before Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day weekend. People are stocking up on beer, beef, and other cook-out essentials. Cheap little American flags are everywhere. Red, white, and blue covers everything. It feels less like a day to remember the dead and more like a prelude to the patriotic orgies of Independence Day. In the grocery store I see spray-tanned soccer moms and middle-aged men with swollen bellies preparing for the long weekend, for the retreat to the lake or grazing by the pool. Here are the people that swell with pride when a terrorist camp is vaporized by a Patriot missile or get choked up when a soldier is killed or the Star Spangled Banner plays before a football game. They love Jesus and George Washington, but haven’t read the Bible or any of the founding documents. They believe in the pageantry of the holiday, but don’t really care about its core meaning. They’ll go to the parade, walk to the cemetery, and talk in somber voices about “duty” and “sacrifice,” but would never dream of doing either of those things. Would they give up their Bud Light and barbecue if it meant protecting the country they claim to love? I sure as hell don’t know, but I’d wager they wouldn’t. Instead they’re content to let other people, other people’s kids do the dirty work. Yes, it’s a terrible price to pay, but if I can sip a domestic brew by the pool then it’s a price that must be paid. Raise taxes to care for those veterans? Hell no! I earned that money, I need that money. Now let me enjoy my long weekend and spend my money. How depraved it is to turn into a holiday about remembrance into an act of consumerism.

These are the same people that gush about liberty, the Constitution, and the American Way, but don’t bother to understand what any of that means. The government is spying on its citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment? Well, if you have nothing to hide. Journalists and the press are eyed with suspicion and derision? They should get in line and support their country! Love it or leave it! Protestors are exercising their First Amendment right? Lock ‘em up for all I care. The police are running rampant and becoming militarized? Good, it makes me feel safe. They dream of overthrowing a tyrannical government with their hunting rifles and shotguns without realizing that by supporting enormous military spending that a revolution would get smothered in the crib.

They live in poverty, or on the verge of bankruptcy, but vote for politicians that push their faces deeper into the mud. These politicians distract with talk about the salvation of hard work, the strength of Christian morals, and how the immigrants and leftists are the ones ruining America, not the nihilistic bankers that would pillage the country if it meant a better bottom line.

How does this tie into Memorial Day? It’s because the people who faithfully observe the holiday don’t seem to understand that the men and women that sacrificed themselves did it to protect the country from the threat of mindless tyranny. Granted, many of these people also fought for their loved ones, and in recent years for the chance at a slight boost up the social ladder, but at the end of the day there was that kernel of defending life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That may not have been the case, but they believed that that was what they fought to protect.

Case-in-point, two days ago, Greg Gianforte won the special election in Montana. Four days ago, his name wouldn’t have meant too much to people not from Montana. His name may have been heard in passing, and he may have been known as the Republican candidate running for office, but now he’s the guy that body slammed a journalist. He still won. Now, his punching a journalist probably didn’t clinch the election for him since Montana allows early voting and he may have already won his seat.

Still, what if that punch had happened a week before the election, or a month, or before the opening of early voting? Would it have sunk his chances of winning or only gained him points? We can never really know, but it seems like we are sliding into an era of American history where thuggish authoritarianism is preferable to democracy. A congressional candidate goes pro-wrestler on a journalist and the president talks about turning libel into a chance to censor dissent. That’s not to say there aren’t conservatives appalled by this behavior but this trend toward an American dictatorship is…troubling, to put it lightly.

There is also this shift toward adherence to civic religion, or the idea of worshiping the state. It’s a strange mix of nationalism and the belief that our country is nearly perfect if not perfect already. This ignores the fact that for a democracy to work, and work well, you need vocal skeptics and critics. Why are we doing this? What will this accomplish? Where is your evidence? This doesn’t make sense. Why aren’t we doing X instead of Y? It also means patience and dedication. The time to gather information, turn it into a policy, then defend it before the nation. It seems that people don’t want that, they want instant fixes without the annoyance of sacrifice or delay. Mind you, this applies to the left and the right. The right screeches about Constitutionality and “American values,” but goes on the defense when it comes to questioning police power, military intervention, or social oppression. Meanwhile, the left thinks that bumper stickers and timid rallies will make an impact because the alternative is too daunting or dangerous. And both sides still celebrate Memorial Day with the same vigor, despite lacking the self-awareness to realize that they are doing it on reflex without pausing to consider the weight behind the holiday.

How many of us would be willing to sacrifice for freedom, true civic freedom? I’m not talking about giving an arm and a leg, or even your life, but sacrificing a little time and money to help stem the rushing tide of authoritarianism in America.

How about those burgers and beers on Memorial Day?

How about voting or doing more than attending a single rally and patting yourself on the back?

How about just reading, knowing and defending the Constitution?

There are cheap fireworks exploding in the distance, and on an afternoon walk I smelled burning charcoal for a pre-Memorial Day barbecue. I have nothing against these things, but how many people recognize that Memorial Day should be a somber reflection about the price of civil liberties and the duty to make sure those men and women didn’t die in vain?

Go, enjoy your food and drink and parades and fireworks and time at the lake, but don’t pretend you care about freedom then cheer on a thug that punches journalists or a tinpot king that celebrates violence and cronyism.

 

This is Helping, Right? May Day, Online Petitions, and Activism

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Today is May Day, or International Workers’ Day, a holiday created in remembrance of those killed in the the Haymarket affair, a violent clash between police and workers in Chicago demanding better working conditions with the 8-hour workday being at the top of the list. In the United States, we celebrate our version of May Day on Labor Day in September, but the spirit of the holiday is still there. The problem is that it would be more meaningful for the United States to celebrate May Day, it would show solidarity with the rest of the world and that the only major difference between workers is the place they call home.

Imagine if it was a mandatory day off in the United States? No grocery stores open, no gas stations, no shops, no schools, no TV or radio. A day to remind everyone that we all play a significant part in society and ought to be treated as such. As automation looms on the horizon it would be easy to discard workers as soon as a better deal comes along, but that ignores their inherent humanity. The issue now isn’t the 8-hour work day, it’s a living wage, practical benefits, and a chance to thrive no matter what the occupation. Some might argue that a fast food worker isn’t as important as a doctor, but does that mean the McDonald’s employee shouldn’t be able to afford a home, a car, the occasional vacation? That they shouldn’t have access to healthcare or a retirement plan? There was a time when a factory worker had access to these things, and its safe to say that we were in better shape as a country.

So, what happened?

Calls for deregulation in the 1970s followed by the breaking of union power in the 1980s helped with this. The adoption of “trickle down economics” in the Reagan administration allowed by insane tax cuts helped distance the owners from the workers. Why should someone pay their workers better if there isn’t the threat of government intervention?

Now the worker has almost nonexistent power, wages haven’t increased to coincide with inflation, and the income gap keeps growing while the middle class shrinks.

How can this be fixed? Some might argue that awareness is key. Every morning when I check my email there’s a new slew of petitions for this cause, or that cause, and I never sign them. I never sign them because it’s an excuse to feel like I did something without really doing anything. Signing a petition entitled, “Raise the minimum wage to a LIVING wage! Sign if you agree!!1!!1” is about as effective as making a Facebook post that adds value to one like or one share. It’s self-congratulatory and isn’t helping. Even if 10,000 people sign a petition that won’t get the attention of the government. That’s .0033 percent of the population. In a group of 100 people that would be a third of a person voicing their discontent.

Corporations won’t listen either, because a petition means nothing to them. They operate based on the bottom line, and unless something directly negatively affects their profit margin, they will not listen.

The other problem with petitions is that they are disorganized and have no bargaining power. Sure, we want living wages that match inflation, but what will we do if we don’t get it?

The most obvious answer is a total boycott of a certain company while threatening to vote for only politicians that support this goal. This requires concentration and dedication. So what does that mean? It means actually doing something that might cause you a little discomfort.

For example, when I worked at McDonald’s, I made around $9 an hour, give or take a few cents. I figured that if I worked 40 hours a week and was taxed 15 percent, I would have had a yearly income of $14,688, which would have been okay for a single guy. What about a single parent with one kid?

Below the poverty line.

Two kids? Even worse.

This information is, admittedly, a little outdated, but its sentiment is still true today.

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Now, I know there are some who will fold their arms and grumble about personal responsibility and that it’s not the taxpayer’s problem to fund someone’s life. All callousness aside, I’ll half-agree, but because I believe it should be the corporation’s problem.

How do we fix the problem? A fairly simple demand:

Pay your workers a living wage (about $15/hour), keep food prices the same, or we won’t give you money.

We have grown far too complacent when it comes to injustice. I understand, sharing information on social media, signing petitions, and talking to people about issues is a great way to raise awareness, but that awareness will not translate to results if there isn’t pressure behind it. Getting Bernie Sanders, or someone like him, into office would have started the process but there needs to be public participation too. It means making some minor sacrifices, and the funny thing is these sacrifices don’t require much effort. Don’t like how fast food workers are treated? Don’t buy fast food. See? You’re already doing something. But if you complain about how fast food workers are treated then go to McDonald’s for lunch, it rings hollow. You become a self-righteous hypocrite who cares more about the perception that you did something rather than actually doing something.

So on this International Workers’ Day, remember all the people that you directly or indirectly rely on for your lifestyle, remember that they are people too who deserve more than the bare minimum, and before you sign any petitions, click “share,” or make a lengthy post about the plight of workers (I know, I’m doing that right now…) consider whether or not you really mean it.

Agree, disagree? Leave a comment below or click on the Twitter link to leave a comment there.

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My debut novel, In the Land of God, is also available on Amazon as an eBook for 99 cents, or as a paperback for $12.

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Ada’s Progress: Interview with Township Supervisor George Haga

In this interview, Ada Township Supervisor George Haga discusses the progress being made on Envision Ada, a public-private project that hopes to re-imagine and revitalize the village of Ada, Michigan, situated on M-21.

One key issue is the raising of Ada Drive, the main street of Ada, to avoid flooding. That part of the project will take place over the course of the summer in 2017. This has required cooperation with the businesses affected by the construction work. While this phase has made parts of Ada more difficult to access, it is a key portion of Envision Ada and will help usher in future construction projects.

The Kids Are Alright: College Students Engage With Politics in The Age of Trump

Adam Jones & Josh Scott

ALLENDALE, Mich. — 2016 marked for a lot of millennials the first time being politically engaged, even if it was just casting a vote. It’s normal for twenty-somethings to get politically involved, but in an environment dominated by anger, apathy, and anxiety over the future, young people today are engaging in a number of unique ways to make a difference.

20170126_122112Even in a quiet city like Grand Rapids, the nights came alive with anti-Trump banners and the shouting of slogans as concerned citizens, many of them young people and students, marched around Grand Rapids. It felt electric and flammable, like anything or anyone could kick off something bigger. The protests have died down, and some of the tension has dissipated, but people are still looking for a way to get involved. The question now is what is the solution?

“I think there’s a difference with this generation and its protest moment compared to mine. The access students have to social media eliminates the gatekeepers, so that a movement can spread with no organized central leadership.”

Millennials are the generation born from the 1980s until the late 1990s. The cohort is recognizable for being the most educated, least religious, and largest generation since the baby boomers. They also grew up as smartphones and internet culture came to the forefront of the national consciousness.

The generation now matches the number of baby boomers as a share of the electorate, and their political views and the way in which they perceive engagement is shaped by the prominent issues of there upbringing and their sophisticated use of technology. They came of age when the increasing political partisanship dominated the national scene, the first black president occupied the white house, and the United States was engaged in seemingly endless conflict under the threat of terrorism. Many had seen there families personally effected by the financial crash of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession. They have higher rates of entrepreneurship and tend to marry later than previous generations. Now At Grand Valley State University, along with colleges across the country, many of the 75 million millennials are making their way through institutions of secondary education and flexing there political muscles.

To Protest and March

Protests are a time tested way for students to get engaged with the political process. On January 31. a group of 30 students crowded into the main atrium of Kirkhof center for the “Sit-in Against Trump.” The event was meant to as a response to President Trump’s immigration ban and restrictions placed on travelers from a dozen majority-Muslim countries. The students chanted “No ban, no wall, this country is for all” and “Show me what democracy looks like – this is what democracy looks like”, waving signs as pedestrians passed through the hallway.

The organizers also wanted to send a message to university president Thomas Haas, who sent an email out to the student body, that they wanted more action taken to protect foreign and undocumented immigrant students. “We wanted to send a message, and that was the best place on campus, you can’t really avoid it,”  said Chelsea Ayotte, a participant in the protest.

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This protest was just one of several planned from the time of the election of Trump into the weeks after his inauguration. On December 10 students marched through the campus chanting “Not my President.” Later a largely student group rallied in support of immigrants and refugees on the blue bridge near the downtown Devos Campus on January 26. The 2016 election and its aftermath spurred the largest outburst of protest that the Grand Valley campus has seen in years, if not decades. A number of student have been motivated to bring activism to their campus  by the success of nationally staged protests such as the March for Women or Sanctuary Campus movement which seeks to shield illegal immigrants from deportation at universities.

“I think there’s a difference with this generation and its protest moment compared to mine,” said Louis Moore, a History Professor at Grand Valley. “The access students have to social media eliminates the gatekeepers, so that a movement can spread with no organized central leadership.”

Moore said that he believes the widespread use of smart phones and unprecedented political climate is driving students to become engaged with activism. “There’s multiple causes that have really come to the forefront,” said Moore. “The space is open for people to get there ideas out there to the public.”

Electoral Politics

Minutes away from where the Kirkhof sit-in took place, other students engage in a more buttoned-down approach to political participation. The Grand Valley student senate is an elected body of students that plans events, addresses student concerns, and controls funding for activities as different as intramural sports and greek life. The senate’s general assembly meets every Thursday throughout the school year in the Pere Marquette room of Kirkhof Center.

Many students participate in their schools electoral bodies, but this group is often just a small segment of the student population at large. Still the various committees of and panels of senators have attempted to reach out to the college community by holding conferences, like when a string of sexual assaults took place in Allendale in the fall of 2016, or allow concerned individual to attend there meetings and voice there concerns.

Sean O’Melia is was a student senator for the last three years. He was interested in getting involved with student senate because he thought it would give him experience of working as a team with other people and achieving different projects for the student body. “Its been really fun. It was the best decision I made in college and I got the opportunity to plan events and really go over the budget in a way that was important to alot of students,” said O’Melia.

Some students have even taken the leap into local politics like junior River Gibbs. Gibbs ran for a seat on the four-person Georgetown Township board of trustees in the 2016 election. He was spurred by a lifelong interest in politics to run for student senate and then find a way to represent young people in his hometown. “Its very uncommon, I was the youngest person to run,” said Gibbs. “It was mortifying.”

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After finding out about an opening on the board, Gibbs received the 1500 signatures necessary to get his name on the ballot. Running as an independent in a seven person primary, the college student was given a variety of reactions to his candidacy by those he approached. “Most of the time they were like ‘okay kid’ or laughed, but sometimes they were curious about why I was running,” he said. Gibbs felt pride when he first saw one of his campaign signs destroyed, quipping that at least voters were taking his candidacy serious enough to be angry at him.

While Gibbs lost the election, he says that he did gain insight into how to further his political career, and balancing it with other priorities. “It was otherwise really surprisingly uneventful to actually run,” said Gibbs. “Still be very cautious. If you’re a student and not 100% sure you want this, don’t do it!”

Wesley Wilson was another student who ran for elected office, and won it. Wilson joined the board of Mona Shore Public Schools last year after running unopposed. “I initially was not going to do it because I thought there is no way I could get elected and I would be busy with school,  but I finally decided to put my name in and run because at the time I was thinking “what’s the worst that could happen'” said Wilson.  He said that the seat wasn’t known by anyone to be open but it ended up being so when he asked the school clerk. “I stayed up all night of the filing deadline to see if anyone else did when they refreshed the page at 10 and I saw I was the only other person and I realized then I got the seat,” said Wilson. He thinks that the board is a feasible way for him to understand procedure for a position in the future and the ability to represent young people effectively since the majority of members are in there 40s or 50s.

Clubs and Civic Organizations

Many students opt to engage with politics through various clubs and chapter organizations at the university. The most notable ones are the student democrats and young republicans, but there is an array of different groups that agitate for change and promote activism apart from partisan politics. There is Turning Point U.S.A., a group devoted primarily to protecting free speech and libertarian ideas, as well as the philosophy club which holds events downtown and encourages dialogue. The Black Lives Matter matter movement has sprouted up throughout the country spurring action on behalf of people of color in neighborhoods and college campuses against police abuses and systematic racial disparities.

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“My cause for service is informing and fighting again racial inequality, racial equity, addressing these issues within the institutions around me whether that’s GVSU, Southfield, or in my classrooms” said Antoinette Jackson, former president of the Grand Valley chapter of the National Association for The Advancement of Colored People. (NAACP). Jackson became involved with the group after encouragement from the professor of her african-american history class.

Jackson said that the experience of being a student of color, particularly a black woman, can make experiences on the overwhelmingly white campus uncomfortable at times, but that she hopes through activism and education that she can bring awareness to the issue.  ” I hope that GVSU students can keep the ball rolling long after I leave and work to create a better culturally aware, sensitive, and “WOKE” campus. My first Rally I organized was with NAACP “standing in solidarity with MIzzou”, that inspired me to unite and learn to stop what your doing and stand with your brothers and sisters,” said Jackson.

Continue reading “The Kids Are Alright: College Students Engage With Politics in The Age of Trump”

The Dogs of War

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Over one hundred years ago, America gets involved in the First World War. Now, America directly intervenes against the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War. Like Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes.”

Sixty missiles rain down out of the sky like flaming arrows shot by an ancient army. They find their mark, 20 Syrian jets at an airbase, reducing them to twisted, charred metal and craters. This is done in response to the televised images of a horror show possibly created by a dying regime. Never mind the doubletalk about the president supporting the mindless slaughter of civilians on the campaign trail and now calling for blood to save Syrian babies. It’s all just politics, bub, now Johnny get your gun and register with your local draft board. I find it awfully funny that we get up in arms about Assad using chemical weapons, but back in ’88 Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds at Halabja and we blamed Iran. I guess being friends with a superpower has its perks.

Speaking of which…

Predictably, Putin has condemned our attack on Syria, and our useful allies have locked step. Trudeau is applauding Trump, and Trump’s base turned on a dime. Now in certain cryptofascist circles it’s fashionable to call for the complete and utter annihilation of the Assad regime. We are sliding into another war, sleepwalking into one, on the pretense of eliminating a morally bankrupt despot and saving an oppressed people from a life of toil and torment. Strange memories of 2003 tonight…

Look, I have no doubts that Assad carried out the gas attack on his people, and it’s the disgusting flailing of a regime that has a tenuous grip on reality and its country. It would be nobler for Assad to come to the table and agree to divide Syria along more practical lines rather than maintain the borders created a century ago by two disappeared Empires. Now Russia is trying to keep their vassal state on the Mediterranean, and it seems like the Trump administration is keen on creating a US-allied pact to counter Iran; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, why not add Syria to the list? Afghanistan is in shambles, and Pakistan can always be kept in line with India.

Still, this is a dangerous gambit considering Russia’s role in the Syrian Civil War. I’d like to think that Putin is savvy, and would be willing to send Assad up shit creek nary a paddle in sight if he can keep a port at Damascus. Nevertheless, I could see Putin rallying his own idiots around the flagpole to fight the United States head on in Syria. Enough time has passed that the memories of World War II have been relegated to aging veterans warehoused in retirement facilities, or grainy footage aired on the History Channel late at night. The dogs of war are champing at the bit and the powers-that-be need a useful crisis to reaffirm the glory of their respective nations. Can’t have the working classes realize that they have more in common with each other than their leaders, no sir, why that would be bad for the bottom line! Ye gads! I don’t want to feed the narrative that World War III and The End are near, but a major war is imminent, and I’m afraid that Trump is too baffled and enamored with the idea of being a War President to avoid it.

A luta continua, the struggle continues.

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Michigan Voting: By the Numbers

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Michigan ballot for 2014 election (Image Source)

There’s a saying that goes something like this: “If you didn’t vote, then you don’t get to complain.” Setting aside the undemocratic implications, there is a kernel of truth in that statement, if you don’t like the way things are, then why didn’t you vote?

Around presidential elections, we tend to zoom way out and focus on the nation as a whole, and it makes sense. What about at a more local level, though? In the days following a presidential election there is talk of voter turnout, and in the immediate aftermath there’s talk about approval and disapproval ratings. How do those numbers stack up for Michiganders and their view of Governor Rick Snyder?

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Secretary of State Voting Statistics (Image Source)

The numbers (after the year) from left to right express the number of actual voters, the number of registered voters, the size of the voting-age population, and finally the percent of people that turned out to vote in those elections. The lowest voter turnout for Michigan was the 1990 election at 15.1 percent, and the next lowest was in 2014 at 17.4 percent for the reelection for Governor Rick Snyder.

To put that in perspective, only 17.4 percent of Michigan’s voting population turned out to vote, and of those Snyder won by 50.9 percent of the vote.

This means that in 2014, roughly 8.86 percent of the state decided who would lead the state. That would be like one person in a group of ten deciding who is going to lead the group.

According to a poll conducted by The Detroit News, 54 percent of those polled disapproved of Snyder’s leadership as governor (as of 2016). In all fairness, this is in the wake of the Flint water crisis, in a time when people across the state would generally not view Snyder through a positive lens.

This signifies a larger problem with the Michigan, and by default American, voting system.

According to a  2012 report from the Pew Research Center, 51 million eligible voters weren’t registered to vote. To put that in perspective, that’s about 16 percent of the country’s current population not participating in the democratic process. The issues that lead to low voter turnout are multifaceted

Basically, the problems are that Americans aren’t automatically registered when they turn 18 years old, it takes time to register and vote, and voting is neither a federal holiday or mandatory. In short, voting is hard in the United States and the case isn’t different for Michigan. This could be remedied at the state level through legislation.

For example, Michigan is not one of not one of the 34 states that allows no excuse early voting. This basically means that a voter can cast a ballot earlier than election day without needing a valid excuse. It’s a simple measure that helps people avoid trying to work in voting on a Tuesday.

Two states that are strong examples of voter empowerment are Oregon and North Dakota. Oregon only allows mail-in votes, and automatically registers people to vote. In the case of North Dakota, citizens are allowed to vote early and do not have to register before they vote. If they can prove that they are a citizen of that state on election day, then they are eligible to vote.

One of the arguments against more relaxed voting laws is that it could allow for a surge in voter fraud, however, there have only been only 35 credible fraudulent votes in the United States between 2000 and 2014. To help put that in perspective, even if all those fraudulent votes happened in Michigan in 2014, that would come to about .003 percent of the participating voters. If that was a group of ten people, that would be about .03 percent of a person.

In other words, a negligible fear and not a reason to make voting more difficult than it already is.

It’s impossible to say if Michigan will change its voting laws to be more like North Dakota or Oregon, however, with a new governor in 2018 and ostensibly a new government, Michiganders might see voting reform take place and in turn form a better relationship with their government.

The Fascists Next Door

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Richard Spencer (Image Source)
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Milo Yiannopoulos (Image source)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Spencer looks like a mild-mannered sort, and he sounds like a mild-mannered sort. In an alternate reality, he would be a bank manager, a realtor, or work some other inoffensive white-collar job. He’s actually the current president of the innocuous-sounding National Policy Institute based in Arlington, Virginia. Its motto is, “For our people, our culture, our future.” He is also the executive director of Washington Summit Publishers.

Sounds innocent, right? Maybe nationalistic, but not exactly dangerous.

Except the NPI is a white supremacist and white nationalist organization, and Washington Summit Publishers is a white supremacist publisher that produces and distributes books about race, eugenics, and white nationalism. A cursory glance at the websites of these organizations makes them seem reputable, based in honest academia, but it’s a stylish mask worn by hate.

Spencer himself is a white nationalist, and one of his better-known beliefs is that of, “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to allow for the creation of a white homeland. Allow that to sink in, when has there ever been a “peaceful ethnic cleansing?” A cursory glance at this list shows that in all recorded history there has never been a “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” The very idea is at best naïve, and at worst implying a campaign of coercion and intimidation that forces the targeted groups to leave the area (which isn’t peaceful).

For those of you who may not recognize the name, he’s the guy who got clocked in the head on inauguration day just before he proudly displayed his Rare Pepe pin.

Or maybe you know him as the guy who who threw a victory rally on the night of Trump’s election, where he finished his speech with a sieg heil and the words, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” But don’t worry, he went on to defend the gesture as, ironic.

Make no mistake: Richard Spencer is dangerous. Not only because of his rhetoric, but because of how he portrays himself.

We’re used to a certain image of white supremacists and far-right extremists. They carry barely-legal firearms, wear field jackets from surplus Army stores or wife-beaters, shave their heads, and speak in double-negatives. Their bases of operations are remote hideouts in the woods and comprised of ramshackle cabins. Richard Spencer doesn’t fit the bill, and that makes him seem like the guy next door. Never mind the fact this guy quotes Nazi propaganda and is a raging anti-Semite; the important thing is he looks and sounds like a normal guy. Then again, the same could be said for Trump. He looks like an aging businessman, and talks like a racist uncle after a few too many on Thanksgiving. Harmless, right?

For over 70 years, fascism and anything like it has been forced underground. When it popped up in the wild, it existed like a domesticated animal that had gone feral. Now? Now it’s back wearing a suit and tie, and it speaks like a politician. It makes nationalism, racism, isolationism, and authoritarianism not only seem palatable, but downright rational.

Another example of this is Milo Yiannopoulos, a senior editor for Breitbart News (the de facto press of the alt-right and Steve Bannon’s old employer before he joined Trump’s court). At first glance, he’s a metropolitan, sassy, ideologue that seems more content with disturbing sensibilities than upending democracy. He’s a shock jock, that claims he’s for the freedom of speech. The problem there is that Yiannopoulos hides behind such a powerful idea, the idea of free speech. By asserting that he is for free speech, anyone who is against him must also be against free speech. It makes it easy to disregard him, or see him as right-wing troll that’s trying to make a point.

Here’s the problem with simply ignoring Spencer’s attitude regarding minorities and his resurrection of Nazism, here’s the problem with writing off Yiannopoulos as a “right-wing troll”: it normalizes their actions. It numbs people to the reality that a person, like Spencer, can spew hateful vitriol without consequence. Should he be shot? No. Should he be imprisoned? Also, no. Should he be shouted down and forced back to whatever xenophobic hole he crawled out of? Absolutely.

It’s irresponsible to approach this kind of insanity with handwringing and the trotting out of, “Well, everyone has an opinion.” Yes, and people who had similar opinions produced some of the worst atrocities in human history. It doesn’t mean Spencer should face prosecution, but it shouldn’t be treated as acceptable or normal for this kind of dialogue to exist.

So, what’s the proper action?

On the one hand, if it’s ignored it can grow in the background like a vicious cancer left untreated. On the other hand, if it’s ignored, it can’t reach a larger audience and gain power.

Or, are Spencer and Yiannopoulos treated as man-children seeking attention, or are they treated as legitimate threats to democracy and progress? Again, it’s a catch-22: if they’re mocked they can gather power behind the scenes, but if they’re ridiculed it could strip them of their power.

On a slightly more philosophical note, how did Spencer and Yiannopoulos get to this position? Spencer isn’t an uneducated man, he received a bachelor’s degree in English literature and music from the University of Virginia, and a master’s in the humanities from the University of Chicago. He studied at the Vienna International Summer University, and spent time at Duke University studying modern European intellectual history for a doctorate degree. That’s a far cry from the denizens of backwoods Nazi hamlets. It would be folly to try and psychoanalyze him, but you still have to wonder how someone like him becomes a raving proponent for one of the worst political ideologies in human history. Maybe after getting dumped from The American Conservative he got radicalized at Taki’s Magazine? Based on this profile done by Mother Jones it seems Spencer misread Friedrich Nietzsche and got drawn in by a white nationalist/supremacist at the University of Chicago. It doesn’t really explain why he fell in with that sordid crowd, but it gives some more clues. What about Yiannopoulos? He didn’t graduate from college, but he still attended college. He’s not uneducated. Maybe it’s ignorance, or maybe it’s simple, animalistic fear of the unknown? That doesn’t paint the full picture, though, because they’re just two guys spouting off about far-right politics.

So, how did we get here? How did America look at people like Spencer, or at Yiannopoulos and decide that they were at least acceptable? Some would argue it began on September 11th, but that’s an all too simple conclusion. Certain parts of fascism have always existed in the American DNA, like a defective hereditary gene just waiting for the right moment to surface; anti-intellectualism, big business in bed with government, and persistent militarism are just some of the pre-cancerous symptoms. It’s the ultimate dark side of a capitalist democracy, waiting to rear its ugly head when the people start to believe the game is rigged against them. Still, Americans don’t have short memories, we’re just naïve sometimes. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan, or the American Nazi Party wouldn’t find traction with a larger audience. They’re too brash, too despised, and almost too comical to be taken seriously. What about young, clean-cut demagogues like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos? Sure, they’re saying some pretty awful stuff, and it’s a little disconcerting, but look at how they’re dressed, and listen to how they talk, why, they could be the guy next door…

Adam’s debut novel, In the Land of God, is available on Amazon as both a paperback and an eBook.