Category Archives: Politics

Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, and who gets to show emotion in American politics

Last night the New York Times editorial board endorsed Senator Amy Klobuchar and/or Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination. Leaving aside the arguments for and against each of these candidates as well as the arguments over whether endorsing two candidates makes sense (I think it does), I want to—quelle surprise—talk about Pete Buttigieg. Chiefly, I want to talk about Mayor Pete, emotiveness, and who gets to be expressive in American politics and culture.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I am supporting Pete Buttigieg for president. I think the New York Times’ interview was at times very unfair to him, especially Binyamin Appelbaum’s outright lies about his time as a consultant for McKinsey. I am not happy with the Times’ endorsement, though I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mayor Pete was the fourth-place pick of the editorial board (behind Warren, Klobuchar, and erstwhile candidate Senator Cory Booker).

With that said, there was an exchange that I think is worth discussing in a bit more detail than I’ve seen discussed elsewhere. In response to Appelbaum asking whether he feels the same anger a lot of young people feel about the state of the country, Mayor Pete answered that “while I may not be as emotive sometimes about my sense of anger or frustration or injustice – and I would argue that some people are given more room to be emotive than others – I would not be doing any of this if I were not propelled by a level of passion.” While debating the pros and cons of each candidate (as shown on The Weekly), Michelle Cottle complained that “Pete talking about how he doesn’t emote as much as some, that’s a real problem. I mean voters love that ‘I feel your pain’ stuff,” prompting Lauren Kelley to rightly point out “he also almost surely would be painted in some unfair way if the gay man on the trail was overly emotional, right? I mean, it’s a bind.”

Indeed, it is a bind – one in which many gay men have found themselves. I don’t know if Pete Buttigieg meant to imply that others have more leeway to be emotive because he’s gay or not (he never expressly says), and I understand the point Cottle was making. Voters really do love a passionate, emotive candidate – think Bill Clinton, think Bernie Sanders, think Donald Trump – though Barack Obama showed that sometimes cool-as-a-cucumber works, too.  But Kelley raises a point that I think is important to make, if not about Mayor Pete specifically, about politics and business in general. Who gets to be emotive, and who gets dismissed when they’re emotive, is something worth discussing.

Gay men have long been portrayed as flamboyant and dramatic, from Nathan Lane’s character in The Birdcage to Jack McFarlane in Will and Grace right on up to Cam on Modern Family. There’s nothing wrong with being flamboyant and dramatic—lots of gay men (myself included, frankly) are, just as lots of all sorts of people are. For a long time, though, the stock character of the gay “drama queen” was the predominant depiction of gay men in pop culture, and that image has become a stereotype of gay men in general. The problem arises not because some gay men are dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant, but because the straight world assumes that when a gay man is dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant it is because he is gay and that is, inherently, a bad thing.

As I said above, I’m an expressive and sometimes flamboyant gay man. I’ve never felt any shame in this. One of my nicknames among my friends in high school—given in good nature— was “Bitchy Diva Queen.” (The other was “Zazu,” because I always knew the gossip.) The nickname itself didn’t bother me. The way my emotions were often dismissed because of it, though, did. I developed a thick skin back then—you had to as an openly gay boy in a southeastern Kentucky high school in the early 00s—but when something really did upset me, such as sophomore year, when a group of bullies apparently planned to attack me, my genuine fear, anger, or hurt was dismissed as being “overly dramatic” by my friends, my classmates, and even the administration.

This attitude followed me into adulthood. I was heavily involved in student government during college. During one contentious meeting at a retreat, frustrated, I got up to go smoke (a filthy habit, I know). This was allowed considering how long the meeting was going; people were taking breaks as needed. I walked quickly and with purpose (as I always do, a product of trying to make it from one class to the next without getting attacked in high school), hurrying outside to light a cigarette. The next thing I know the student body president—my boss, as her chief of staff— is outside chastising me for “storming out.” When I tried to explain that I simply needed a cigarette, she wouldn’t hear it, dressing me down for being so dramatic.

Even into the professional world, even in a big blue dot like Chicago, this attitude has prevailed. When I was in meetings with management at the corporate headquarters of a large American mortgage company, I often felt dismissed if I showed even a hint of emotion. One well-meaning boss, who herself could often be heard cussing and screaming from her desk, suggested that I “tone it down” a bit. Another not well-meaning—and to no one’s surprise, male—boss told me to “stop being a diva and stop complaining,” even though I was one of several employees—though the only gay man—raising concerns that day.

Learning to keep cool is an important skill for anyone of any background, because sometimes you can’t just fly off the handle—and sometimes you won’t want to. I’ll be the first to admit there have been times that I have let my emotions get the better of me, when people had every right to pull me aside and tell me to chill out. I think that’s happened to most of us. For many years, this was compounded by an undiagnosed anxiety disorder which I only discovered I had in my late twenties. But time and again, people have somehow linked my emotiveness with my sexuality, othering me in the process.

This is why it matters who gets to be emotive and who does not. Hillary Clinton famously had a similar problem in 2008, when she was first accused of being cold and unfeeling. When she did show emotion at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, she was pilloried for it. “ A common first instinct was to treat the episode as a ploy, a calculated effort to ‘humanize’ the candidate—an interpretation that depended heavily on its having been somehow staged or faked,” Hendrik Hertzberg wrote at the time in The New Yorker, “but the authenticity of Clinton’s emotion was apparent to anyone who took the time to study the many replays with an open mind…”

Hillary Clinton herself has addressed this double standard several times. In 2016, she told the viral photography project Humans of New York she “had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.” In her 2017 memoir What Happened, she rightly called this “another variant on the impossible balancing act” women must perform in order to show enough emotion to be quote-unquote likable while not showing so much that they’re thought of as quote-unquote shrill or overwrought. “If we’re too composed, we’re cold or fake. But if we say what we think without caution, we get slammed for it,” she writes. “Can you blame us for feeling like we can’t win, no matter what we do?”

I suspect the similar double standard experienced by Hillary Clinton and—it must be said, to a lesser degree—Pete Buttigieg is rooted in the same patriarchal, misogynist notions about how women and gay men behave. It’s why when a straight man gets angry, he’s “passionate,” when a gay man gets angry, he’s “dramatic,” and when a woman gets angry, she’s “hysterical.” This is further compounded by race, with tropes such as the “angry black woman” making it even more difficult for Black women specifically, and women of colour more generally, to be allowed space to have and show emotions without ridicule or prejudice. Black men, too, are often viewed as angry or violet where white men aren’t, as a 2017 American Psychological Association study reveals.

Homophobic, sexist, and racist double standards influence how we perceive people’s emotions and emotiveness. Mayor Pete never says why he can’t be as emotive as others, nor does he say who gets to be more emotive than he does. Zooming out from him and looking at the culture more broadly, though, it’s clear that in America, not everyone is equally free to express themselves. So long as stereotypes and double standards continue to affect who gets to show emotion and how that emotion is perceived, we should all remember that sometimes a candidate is guarded not because they aren’t passionate, but because they aren’t allowed to be.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

We need to talk about sexism and Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders doesn’t think a woman can be elected president. At least, that’s what Elizabeth Warren says he told her, in her own home, in December 2018. “Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” Warren said on Monday. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”

This type of bombshell that can easily derail a campaign. With only three weeks to the Iowa caucuses and a Democratic debate tonight, the Sanders team is scrambling to control the damage, immediately denying the comment and accusing the staffers who initially leaked the comment of “lying.” Yesterday, Sanders himself weighed in on the issue, telling CNN it is “ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win.”

Sanders supporters are quick to dismiss the comment as a misquote at best and a malicious fabrication at worst. And, as Vox founder Ezra Klein tweeted last night, “people communicate unclearly and it’s possible that what Sanders meant to say is not what Warren heard and nobody in this disagreement is lying.” Sometimes giving the benefit of the doubt is the graceful and generous thing to do, and maybe this is one of those cases. There’s a nagging sense, though, that Sanders said exactly what he meant because Sanders has a long and often troubling record when it comes to how he talks about women and women’s issues.

It’s worth looking back to 2016, when Sanders was running in a contentious primary against Hillary Clinton. He certainly never ran an overtly sexist campaign the way Donald Trump did in the primary, Sanders nonetheless had a series of moments which raised concerns about whether he seriously prioritized women’s issues. It cast a pall over his campaign then and has raised serious questions about whether Sanders takes women—and feminism—seriously.

Sanders supporters are quick to point to the fact that the Vermont senator has a consistent record of voting for women’s rights on a range of issues from reproductive rights to equal pay. But, as Katha Pollitt wrote for The Nation in 2016, “there’s a difference between someone who votes the right way, and someone who introduces legislation and champions the issue.” That problem has not gone away. For feminist activists, simply voting the right way is not enough. “You have to be able to engage in a dialogue about race and gender and the inequalities in our system as a result of those two dynamics in particular,” Destiny Lopez, the co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, told the Daily Beast in June 2019.

Speaking to and about issues affecting women (and, for that matter, other marginalized groups) has long been a problem for Sanders. Part of this is due to his leftwing populism which eschews identity politics and believes class is the primary axis of oppression. Sanders honestly believes that a coalition of the working class is the only thing that can affect real, structural change—and he seems willing to compromise on issues such as abortion if it means building and maintaining that coalition.

In 2017, Sanders caused some controversy by campaigning for an anti-choice candidate in Nebraska. “The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about,” he told NPR at the time. It’s tough to square this “I’m just being pragmatic” dismissal of concerns with Sanders’ own unyielding zeal for economic and healthcare issues (such as Medicare for All) and raises questions about Sanders’ priorities. The senator is a true believer when it comes to democratic socialism, yet on reproductive rights he is willing to compromise—a worrying sign for feminists concerned that a President Sanders might be willing to sacrifice access to abortion in order to overhaul the economy.

Perhaps this explains why Sanders was so quick to dismiss two of the prominent women’s reproductive health groups in the country. When, in 2016, Planned Parenthood and NARAL—a pro-choice lobby—endorsed Hillary Clinton over him, he lambasted them as “establishment.” It is a ludicrous statement to make about any reproductive rights organization generally and the oft-vilified Planned Parenthood—that bogeyman of the right—in particular, especially because they decided to endorse a woman instead of you.

To Bernie Sanders, though, that anyone would want a woman president (or a Black president or a Latino president or a gay president) is a ridiculous desire. “We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age,” Sanders told Vermont Public Radio last year.

At first blush, this sounds sensible enough—people ought to and usually do consider all sorts of issues when voting for a candidate, including and perhaps especially their policies—but, as Isabella Gomez Sarmiento explained in an essay for Teen Vogue on why Bernie Sanders lost her support, “this, to me, feels like the equivalent of him telling everyone who is not a straight, white, cisgender male that we shouldn’t care about seeing ourselves represented in our government.” Sanders is reluctant to or incapable of understanding that, when it comes to voting and public policy there is more than the class struggle to contend with. This was another bone of contention raised by Katha Pollitt in 2016. “The problem is less that Bernie focuses on class and economic inequality than that he doesn’t seem to understand that the economy, like society generally, is structured by gender and race,” she wrote at the time.

In fairness to Sanders, though, he does seem to understand that some people do vote—at least in part—based on a candidate’s sex (or race, or sexual orientation). When asked why Elizabeth Warren was surging in the polls last summer, he cited her sex. “I think that there are a certain number of people who would like to see a woman elected, and I understand that,” he told CNN. The problem is not only that Sanders doesn’t think that’s a good thing, but he also seems to think that’s the only reason a woman might be gaining in the polls and not, say, her thoughtful, bold, progressive policies.

All Sanders could see with Elizabeth Warren was that she was a woman, but ironically he often seems patently incapable of noticing sexism—at least if it comes from his ideological allies. Sanders received a lot of criticism for endorsing Cenk Uygur—a man with a known history of sexist remarks—in his run for the House of Representatives despite Uygur’s history of sexist remarks. Uygur, Sanders said, “has shown enormous courage in standing up to the greed and power of the corporate elite, and has spent his entire life fighting for justice and the needs of the working people of our country.” Part of that “enormous courage” includes objectifying women, including discussing their physical attributes and whether men would perform oral sex on them. (Jezebel does a deep dive into some of Uygur’s sexist comments, if you have the stomach.)

To Sanders’ credit, he retracted the endorsement, but the fact that it was given at all is concerning. Sanders saw a man who spoke his leftwing populist language and that’s all he heard. Being unwilling to hear sexism or listen to women who point it out has real world consequences. When female staffers on Sanders’ 2016 campaign alleged they were victims of sexual harassment and pay discrimination, as well as given menial tasks compared to those assigned to their male counterparts, Bernie initially denied any responsibility for this, responding that he was “busy running around the country” and had no knowledge of these complaints. Again to his credit, he later unveiled a plan to combat sexism within his 2020 campaign, but it was only after the media furor over the allegations regarding his 2016 campaign.

It’s regrettable, though, that anyone, but especially a progressive seeking the Democratic nomination, would need such a plan. It’s worth asking whether his fervent pursuit of ending income inequality has blinded him or calloused him to other injustices—especially sexism. The next president of the United States must be willing to prioritize women’s rights. It’s an open question as to whether Bernie Sanders would.

Bernie Sanders is the darling of the left, and he has many admirable qualities. His lifelong pursuit of a fairer economy and more equitable society are commendable. But there are serious questions about the way Sanders views women and women’s issues which he needs to answer. I suspect Elizabeth Warren will force him to do so in tonight’s debate. How he responds will be key, because regardless of whether Bernie Sanders thinks Trump can be defeated by a woman, women could end up defeating Bernie Sanders.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer with a decade of experience covering US and UK politics, media, and culture. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. 

Why I’m supporting Jess Phillips for Labour leader

Featured image and video: JessPhillips.net/YouTube

In May 2015, I was on the ground in London covering the general election as an independent journalist. Following that year’s terrible results for Labour, I wrote a blog on this website describing why, in my view, the party lost because Ed Miliband didn’t run far enough to the left. Later that summer, in a column for the Gay UK Magazine (no longer available, but archived here), I endorsed Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader.

As someone who believes that nationalising the rails, public utilities, and offering free broadband are all in the public interests, Corbyn seemed like the obvious choice. And, as I wrote in my autopsy of the 2015 election, the public seemed to agree—despite the fact they had just rejected milquetoast Miliband.

A lot has happened since then. From Brexit to Grenfell Tower to the continued cuts to public services, five years ago feels more like fifty years ago. In the cold light of the dawn of a new decade, it’s easy to see how foolish I was to think a move to the left would lead to electoral victory. Corbynism was a poisoned chalice from which I gladly drank and, as a result, Boris Johnson occupies 10 Downing Street.

This is, in part, my mea culpa. It is with the guilt and shame of having been so catastrophically wrong that I approach the current Labour leadership election with my blinders finally removed. The British public isn’t as left wing as me, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t desperate for change. Boris Johnson didn’t win the last general election so much as Jeremy Corbyn lost it—for reasons that include but go beyond his manifesto.

People didn’t trust Corbyn’s Labour party. From his mealy-mouthed answers on Brexit to his scandalous inability or unwillingness to tackle antisemitism within the party, they simply didn’t think Corbyn represented their views or interests. Rightly or wrongly, voters felt he talked not to them, but down to them, and that much of his frontbench did the same. Simply put, voters didn’t like Corbyn and they didn’t like Corbynism.

After two straight general election defeats, it’s clear that it’s time for a change of direction. Labour needs a leader who can regain the trust of the British people, who is charismatic enough to both carry the red banner for socialism and go toe-to-toe with Boris Johnson, and who has a vision for a brighter future and a plan to make it a reality.

That woman is Jess Phillips.

Ever since she famously told the writer Owen Jones that she would “knife Corbyn in the front” rather than conspiring behind his back should she ever feel the need to break ranks with him, Jess Phillips has impressed me. Her frank and unapologetic approach to politics is refreshing. There’s no calculation with Jess, no pretence, no show. She tells you what’s on her mind, what she thinks you need to hear, and she does it with a gusto and earthy charm matched by none.

“We have to go back to the basics,” she told Andrew Marr on Sunday. “My son doesn’t go to school five days a week. And while that is the case—and lots of people in the country, they can give you their own example; they can’t get social care for their parents—and while that is the case, offering people free broadband was just not believable.” It’s the kind of candid admission that we so rarely see, but that voters so desperately craves from MPs.

That Phillips can be so blunt while remaining so charming sets her apart from most politicians and pundits today. She’s incredibly likable in an era where likability matters more than it ever has before. When Jess Philips enters a room, whether a pub or the Commons chamber or a tv studio, she owns it. She is a larger-than-life personality from a salt-of-the-earth community. She has the populist magnetism of Nigel Farage without all the racism and poor bashing.

Phillips has her critics, invoking an ire few politicians are ever unlucky enough to receive. Jacobin recently lamented her “remarkable faith in the power of public relations and internal company processes to resolve industrial disputes,” but this is an example of what makes Phillips so appealing. She doesn’t live in the world as we would like it, but rather as it is, which means that, unlike those on the hard left, she sees not only what is wrong but, crucially, how we can use the tools at our disposal to fix it.

She’s shown an ability to do this time and time again, having an uncanny knack for capturing the public attention and directing it at issues which desperately need fixing. Whether it’s doing homework with her son on the steps of Number 10 to protest Tory education cuts, blasting xenophobia and standing up for migrants in her own constituency and across the country, or brilliantly and heartbreakingly reading the names of women murdered by men to highlight the epidemic of domestic violence, Phillips knows how to get your attention.

If you think that’s it, though, once she has your attention, she knows how to get things done. Her tenacious campaigning for domestic violence refuges in part forced the Tories to commit to putting them on a statutory footing. Phillips campaigned for more domestic violence refuges for over a decade, showing a gritty determination that is absolutely needed not just for the next election, but for the next Labour government. Things are not going to change overnight, and this pragmatic yet progressive attitude is exactly what the British people are looking for.

With sharp political instincts and a Barbara Castle-like understanding of the working class (especially its feelings towards the EU), Phillips has managed to increase her majority by nearly fifteen percent since 2015. That’s the most of any Labour MP in a constituency which voted to leave the EU.* As though that isn’t impressive enough, her constituency of Birmingham Yardley saw only a small decline in her majority from the 2017 election to the 2019 election.

That she managed all this while actively campaigning for Remain is a testament to just how good she is. “My constituents don’t mind that we might disagree – they appreciate above all else a straightforward approach,” she wrote last month for the Guardian. Phillips credits “our ability to disagree well, with good humour and a shared vernacular” with her popularity.

I would agree. With a common touch and good-natured attitude towards people of all political persuasions, Jess is the right woman for this crucial moment in the history of the Labour Party and the history of the United Kingdom. She is the woman to lead Labour out of the wilderness and back onto the path to electoral victory.

*This blog was updated on 15 January 2020 to correctly identify Jess Phillips’ constituency as having voted to leave the European Union. It previosly stated her constituency had voted to remain.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer. With a decade of experience covering US and UK politics, culture, and media, his work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Tennessee. 

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2019

naughty and nice 2019

It’s the time of year when we deck the halls, don our gay apparel, and kiss under the mistletoe. Yes, from carol singing to your one drunk relative getting a little out of hand, Christmas is a time rife with tradition. One of my favourite traditions is my annual naughty and nice list. After a year away, I’m back, ready to judge the fuck out of people, which is what Christmas is all about.

naughty

Lindsay Graham

It’s really hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment Lindsay Graham sold his soul to the devil, but it was sometime in 2017. Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, used to deride Donald Trump as someone who “lacked the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief,” but now he’s besties with the mango Mussolini. “I have made up my mind on impeachment,” he recently said, adding “I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror” in the president’s soon-to-come Senate trial. From principled leader to spineless Trump acolyte, Lindsay Graham’s descent into the hell that is Trumpism has been remarkably sad to watch.

Rudy Giuliani

Named Time Person of the Year in 2001 for his response to the 9/11 attacks, it has likewise been a swift fall from grace for the man once hailed as “America’s Mayor.” Whether going on Fox News and spreading what can only be called state-supported propaganda for Donald Trump or running a shadow State Department in which he conducts the president’s nefarious business dealings with foreign governments—including, yes, Ukraine—Rudy Giuliani has cemented his place in history as exactly what Saturday Night Live portrays him as: a vampiric villain willing to suck dry the lifeblood of American democracy.

Boris Johnson

An unlawful proroguing of parliament. Having the police called following an angry and allegedly violent row with his girlfriend. The fact that he has a girlfriend yet is still married. Hiding in a fridge to escape journalists. A refusal to sit down for an interview with that notorious lefty… Andrew Neal. You’d think Boris Johnson had a bad year, yet the man just won the biggest Conservative majority in parliament since Maggie Thatcher. He’s going to singlehandedly drag the UK out of the European Union next year, which is what he’s wanted forever since he discovered he could hitch his wagon to racism and xenophobia and end up in Number 10. Bully for him, I guess.

Jo Swinson

Much like a Tinder date, Jo Swinson started out promisingly but quickly fizzled to the point I was asking why I even bothered. Elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in July, she started by positioning herself as a prospective Prime Minister and finished the year as not even a Member of Parliament when the voters of East Dunbartonshire sent her packing—for the second time. Lots of things led to Swinson’s swift downfall, including her promise to rescind Article 50 and end Brexit which most voters found patently undemocratic. She will be most remembered, though, as a woman who was pathologically incapable of explaining what a woman even is.

Jeremy Corbyn

No one deserves more credit for the Tories’ recent electoral victory than, ironically, the Leader of the Labour Party. Whether it was watching gleefully as his acolytes vilified and purged the party of anyone to the right of Marx, turning a blind eye to antisemitism within the Labour membership and party apparatus, failing to articulate a coherent Brexit policy, or ignoring warning after warning that he was going to lose yet another election, Jeremy Corbyn has consigned the United Kingdom to five more years—at least—of Conservative rule. Well done, Jez. You royally screwed us all.

Dishonourable mentions: Justin Trudeau, Kanye West, Matt Gaetz

nice

Gina Miller

There are few public figures on either side of the Atlantic as tenacious as Gina Miller. Once again dragging the Government to the Supreme Court—this time to make sure Boris Johnson couldn’t unlawfully prorogue Parliament to force through his Brexit deal—Gina Miller has continued to be the most vocal and effective champion for parliamentary democracy. It’s ironic, really, that an arch-Europhile has become Parliament’s biggest cheerleader considering parliamentary supremacy is supposedly what Brexit is all about. But then, this entire decade has been an experiment in horrifying irony.

Taylor Swift

She dropped a banger of an album—her best since 2014’s 1989—including the instant classic “You Need to Calm Down,” which has become the newest LGBT anthem. It is her fight for artistic control and women’s rights, though, which has landed Taylor Swift on this year’s nice list. Taking on Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, who have control of the master recordings for her first six albums, took some serious guts. Swift didn’t even blink. A true role model and trailblazer, T-Swift has steadfastly stood up for the rights of artists, especially female artists, to control their careers and the work they produce. I look forward to hearing her new masters when she re-records her back catalogue in 2020.

Jess Phillips

Jess Phillips has been one of the most sensible voices in Labour since she was first elected to Parliament in 2015. Her blunt analysis of Labour’s defeat, written for the Guardian, is essential reading for anyone wondering just what went wrong with Corbynism. “I can’t help but think that the fact we saw only a tiny swing away from Labour in my seat was because of our ability to disagree well, with good humour and a shared vernacular,” she wrote earlier this month, adding that “you don’t have to agree with every word someone says if you have good faith in their intentions.” Phillips’ calls for Labour to stop talking down to the working class and her call for civility in political discourse—especially on social media—is a breath of fresh air and one that should be heeded by all sides of every debate on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill

There were a lot of heroes to arise from the Ukraine scandal, including the as-of-now anonymous whistleblower and former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Vindman and Hill share one trait in common, though, that makes them both unique among those who testified about Donald Trump’s abuse of power—they’re both immigrants. Lt. Col. Vindman immigrated from Ukraine to the United States as a child, while Dr. Hill, originally from the North of England, became an American citizen in 2002. Listening to these principled national security experts and erstwhile presidential advisers detail the corruption within the Trump Administration while espousing their own patriotism was inspiring, especially at a time when the President and his supporters demonize immigrants.

The Hong Kong Protesters

At a time when democracy is under threat around the world, it is inspiring to see a movement for freedom accomplish so much and sustain itself so well. It started back in June over objections to a bill allowing extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China, but it has mushroomed into a movement for democracy, including universal suffrage and an end to police brutality. China, an authoritarian state which does not tolerate dissent, has responded by gassing protestors and labelling them terrorists, but these freedom fighters are not backing down. Obviously the issues at play here are far more complicated than I can explain in one blog, let alone one paragraph, and I encourage you to check out Lausan, a website dedicated to bringing the voices and perspectives of protestors to the wider world—and support them any way you can in 2020 and beyond.

Honourable mentions: Wes Streeting, Nancy Pelosi, Chris Cuomo

Who made your naughty and nice list this year? Tell me in the comments below! And from my blog to yours, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you in 2020!

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer focusing on UK and US politics. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee.

Why I’m voting for Mayor Pete

Mayor Pete Buttigieg at an event in Iowa City, Iowa on July 14, 2019 (Photo: Flickr/Pete For America)

Way back in 2017, I wrote an article for the Independent in which I lamented that neither Jehmu Greene nor Pete Buttigieg was elected Chair of the Democratic National Committee. “I just hope that we’ve not seen the last of Buttigieg or Greene, and that maybe party elders will start allowing them to lead us into the future,” I wrote at the time.

Well, the time has come for one of them. Pete Buttigieg has surprised almost everybody—but not me—by seemingly rising from obscurity to the top-tier of Democratic candidates for president. To anyone who familiar with Buttigieg before he sought the party’s nomination, though, there is nothing surprising about this. We’ve long known Pete Buttigieg was a rising star.

I have been continually impressed with him since he declared his candidacy in April. It was a brazen move for the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana—population 101,000—who had lost the only statewide race he ever ran. Many were, and are, sceptical that someone so inexperienced could or should be president.

I made similar arguments against then-Senator Barack Obama as a Hillary Clinton supporter and doorstepper in 2008. Over his eight years in office, Obama—who when elected was only four years removed from the Illinois legislature—proved that experience holding high public office is not a requirement for being an effective, even excellent, president. In 2016, the election of Donald Trump solidified the fact that Americans are willing to vote for someone with little or no political experience.

Of course, Trump also shows that a lack of experience is not itself a qualification. What Buttigieg lacks in elected experience—and what Trump lacks entirely—he makes up for in knowhow. As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg cut unemployment by 6.6% (the second highest of any city studied in a recent report by Business Insider), an impressive figure given the economic stagnation occurring in much of the Rust Belt. Under his mayoralty, a Studebaker plant which had been decaying for half a century was turned into a state-of-the-art call centre. He thought about closing the city’s utility pay centres until he realised how many unbanked people relied on them—showing an ability to change course when presented with compelling new information and also an understanding of the real economic struggles of working-class Americans.

None of this is to say that Pete Buttigieg is a perfect candidate. There are plenty of areas where we disagree. “Medicare for all (who want it)” sounds good, but I worry about the political will—both in the short- and long-term—to adequately fund a federal programme that competes directly with private insurers, an issue you don’t have with simply “Medicare for all.” Still, I recognise that many Americans are deeply distrustful of “Medicare for all,” and getting such a policy through even a Congress completely controlled by the Democrats would be nearly impossible, as Obama discovered in 2010.

Similarly, I disagree with Mayor Pete on his plan to cap free college tuition for households who make $100,000 a year or more, thinking that like public schools, libraries, and fire departments, every American—regardless of income—ought to be entitled to a college education should they desire it. Most Americans aren’t as left-wing as me though, and I am nothing if not a pragmatist. I worry that a failure to meet American voters where they are could risk a backlash similar to that experienced by Jeremy Corbyn in the recent British election.

And then there is the issue of race. Mayor Pete’s lack of any real support among Black voters is concerning. There are real questions about his record on gentrification and policing in South Bend, ones he has yet to adequately answer. Goldie Taylor laid these issues bare in an essay for the Daily Beast, one well worth reading.

Still, getting out of my big blue bubble in Chicago and moving to North Carolina in 2018, and then Tennessee last month, I’ve realised that many of the people who voted for Trump aren’t foaming-at-the-mouth racists (though they definitely didn’t let Trump’s foaming-at-the-mouth racism stop them). They’re hardworking people hungry for a change. We need with speak to them, not over them and not down to them, and to let them speak to us if we have any chance of winning the crucial swing states we need to win—and more importantly, effecting real change that can help workaday Americans live easier, better, and happier lives.

South Bend’s remarkable comeback has been because Mayor Pete has a vision for his city and country not rooted in the past, like Donald Trump’s “Make American Great Again.” He understands that the challenges facing American in the 21st century will not be met with 20th century solutions. “We propelled our city’s comeback by taking our eyes off the rearview mirror,” he said in a video upon launching his campaign, “being honest about change, and insisting on a better future.”

This honesty about change, and what is required to move forward, is the cornerstone of why I support Mayor Pete for President. “We’re not going to be able to replace this president if we think he’s just a blip, just an aberration. It’s going to take more than that,” he said in September. It’s a stark, and blunt, statement of reality that Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause, of a deep malaise within the American public (particularly the American white public).

This means healing the divisions in the country without sacrificing core progressive principles like racial equality, women’s rights, and an immigration system that welcomes rather than demonises those looking to make America their home. Overall, Mayor Pete gets this, and he’s shown he’s able to win and govern with these principles. He seeks to unite Americans of all stripes rather than continue the bitter divides which have stymied any consensus-building or change over the past several years.

Despite some stumbles and some unanswered questions, Mayor Pete joins together a progressive agenda with a pragmatic roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do attitude vital to tackling the major issues of our time. Pete Buttigieg has demonstrated a vision and ability to move America forward while bringing a bitterly divided nation together. It is why I will vote for him for President of the United States.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Pete Buttigieg and the Equality Town Hall show how far we’ve come in the fight for LGBT rights

thpete

Pete Buttigieg and Anderson Cooper shake hands at CNN’s Equality Town Hall on 10 October 2019. Photo: The Advocate/GETTY IMAGES

I went to the courthouse for my 18th birthday. Full of excitement and the promise of America, I proudly filled out my first voter registration card, marking “D” for Democrat. It was 2004, and as a young, openly gay American, I was ready to cast my ballot against the homophobic policies of George W Bush.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Bush coasted to re-election using lesbian and gay Americans as a wedge issue. Campaigning on a platform which included amending the US Constitution to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage, Bush was aided by equally odious state amendments which drove evangelicals to the polls in record numbers.

In Kentucky, where I lived at the time, I spent the summer and fall of that year knocking on doors, introducing myself as a gay man. It was a daunting task, but one I felt obligated to undertake. My community was under attack, and I was compelled to defend it.

During those long afternoons walking the streets of Bowling Green, I had many people tell me they opposed my equality. Some asked me to repent my sins. Still others slammed doors in my face. There were the occasional supporters, and I even happened to knock on the door of an older gay couple. Mostly, though, I was met with unabashed homophobia.

Fifteen years later, it’s hard to remember specific conversations. One, though, has always stuck with me. She was, she told me, a mother with a son not much older than me. Perhaps because of that she engaged me for longer than most people cared to. She would be voting for the amendment, she told me in the most apologetic tone, but she hoped it wouldn’t discourage me. “You’re going to win,” she said. “I see it with my son. Your side won’t win this year, but it will eventually.”

I thought about that woman last night as I watched the CNN Equality Town Hall, a forum in which Democratic presidential candidates answered questions from the LGBT community about issues that affect us. There were many moving moments, but none stood out to me more than when Pete Buttigieg spoke about struggling to come out as gay: “What it was like was a civil war, because I knew I was different long before I was ready to say that I was gay, and long before I was able to acknowledge that was something that I didn’t have power over.”

That moment was a watershed moment in LGBT and American history. On national television, an openly gay presidential candidate stood with one of the evening’s two openly gay moderators—both among the nation’s most respected journalists—and told the country what it was like to struggle with your sexuality. Simply put, that has never happened before.

Today is the annual Coming Out Day. Around the world, LGBT people are discussing what it means to finally kick open the closet door and be your authentic self. Some are taking the opportunity to actually do it. Last night, all those people—whether out and proud for decades or just peeking out the door—got to see a viable candidate for US President tell us his story.

It’s easy to dismiss how historic this moment is. Marriage equality is the law of the land, and LGBT people are more mainstream and visible than ever. We’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time.

Because of this, many people—even within the LGBT community—want to downplay, or do not see, how important last night was. Protestors advocating for more action to curb violence against transgender women of colour interrupted as Mayor Pete was being introduced. Later, he was asked whether he is “gay enough” to advocate for our community, as though there is any litmus test beyond being exclusively attracted to the same sex. “When somebody is weighing whether to come out or just come to terms with who they are, it’s really important for them to know that they’re going to be accepted,” he answered. “There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans.”

Ending violence against trans women and discussions of diversity within our community are important. However, we should pause to reflect on just how much we’ve accomplished. An LGBT person asking an openly gay candidate for president whether he’s gay enough to represent our community is a stark contrast to where we were just four presidential elections ago. Let’s take a moment to savour that.

Mayor Pete might not win the presidency, but it doesn’t matter. He has already made history. His candidacy, and the forum we had last night, is a testament to the progress we have made in the fight for equality for all Americans. Thinking back to that woman on the doorstep all those years ago, I don’t know if we can claim victory yet, but last night, it sure felt like we were winning.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a writer based in North Carolina. He has previously written for The Independent, Salon, The Daily Dot, and more.

So you’ve elected a national joke. Now what?

boris johnson election

Boris Johnson is the new leader of the Conservatives. Photo: LBC/PA

Well, it was as expected. Boris Johnson handily defeated Jeremy Hunt to be the next leader of the Conservatives and, by the time you’re reading this—he still has to ask Her Majesty—will be Prime Minister. A lot of people to the left of Enoch Powell are understandably forlorn right now. Luckily for you, dear British readers, your American cousins have some experience with electing a national joke as our leader. After two-and-a-half years of Donald Trump, allow me to impart some hard-won wisdom:

  • Go get drunk. The day following Trump’s election, I was in Sheffield. I began drinking at 9:00 AM and didn’t stop until the pub closed. The landlord and his girlfriend actually let me in a little early because they knew how I upset I was. Drinking numbs the many emotions you’re likely to feel—despair, anger, fear, annoyance, a dark sort of amusement at the shitstorm that’s to come—and allows you to, at least for a day, forget that you feel completely fucked
  • Keep some perspective. I didn’t do this after Trump’s election, and I regret it. It made my response to his election less effective and equated more to a temper tantrum than anything else. Don’t make that mistake. Keep calm. Trump is repugnant and Johnson is bad, but neither are Hitler. For now, they can both be defeated through democratic means. Despite how it may feel, this isn’t Years and Years. We’re still about four or five years away from that. Things may seem hopeless, but for now our institutions on both sides of the Atlantic remain intact and are functioning at some level, anyway
  • Avoid the “well I didn’t vote for him”/”not MY prime minister” nonsense. It’s tempting to distance yourself from Boris Johnson, especially since only Tory Party members got to vote for him. Talk about how that’s unfair, if you think it is, but don’t throw your toys out of the pram. It won’t win anyone on the right over and, while it will make you feel better, it doesn’t accomplish much, and this isn’t about you as an individual. It’s about the country as a whole. Keep your eye on the prize
  • Keep a journal. It’s hard to remember every outrage and every terrifying action. Keeping a journal where you mention “today Johnson compared Muslim women to letterboxes” or “he used a racial slur today” is helpful to look back on when you need to remember specific details about why your leader is so awful
  • Watch for entryism. You’ve seen it in Labour with the hard left, and it happened with the Republicans over a few years too, where an emboldened far right joined and changed the trajectory of the party. Keep a careful eye to make sure the Tories don’t tick so far right they end up as UKIP mark two
  • Organise. The Democrats were only able to take the House of Representatives back in 2018 because we pounded the pavement and made the case against Trumpism. Grassroots organising has been vital to helping curtail the worst of Donald Trump, whether it’s against ICE—I see regular social media updates from friends in Chicago about where ICE agents are spotted to help immigrant families avoid them—or against his latest dalliance with neo-Nazis. We don’t always win (Kavanaugh), but we always fight
  • Watch how other Tories respond. Tribalism is arguably worse in UK politics than it is in US politics (or, at least it was four years ago). Will Conservative backbenchers fall in line with every destructive policy Johnson introduces, or will the stand on principle when they really do oppose him? Our Republicans have largely rolled over for Trump, so watch to see how Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, etc behave over the course of Johnson’s premiership
  • Build coalitions. Keep your eyes on the prize – defeating Boris Johnson. The internecine warfare in Labour needs to end and the party needs to coalesce. Given the real concerns with anti-Semitism, that seems unlikely (and look, hard to blame those against anti-Semitism for not backing down). So look elsewhere. Build electoral coalitions with the Greens and, yes, with the Liberal Democrats if you must. When you’re dealing with a Bannon-backed populist, as Johnson is, nothing matters as much as defeating him. Getting Johnson out of Number 10 and electing a centrist or left-of-centre government is most crucial right now, not ideological purity
  • Chin up. Despite what you might thing, the world keeps spinning. The sun rises in the morning. Ben Mitchell still picks fights on EastEnders. Life goes on, and your day-to-day life won’t change very much. If that sounds like I’m minimising what you’re feeling or the latest groundswell of populism in the Western world, I’m not. But it’s important to keep your wits about you and have some perspective

Don’t be too downtrodden after today. Go ahead and lick your wounds, but tomorrow the fight continues. 31 October is just over three months away, so there’s plenty of work to do in not a long amount of time. Get drunk, and then get to work.

My Dale Peck Problem

5cb5f705aefeef387c1b34c6-750-375

Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg. Photo: Michael Conroy/AP Images/Business Insider

I’ve had a few days to reflect on Dale Peck’s infamous piece for The New Republic. Bowing to pressure, the website deleted the article, but the internet is forever and you can read it here. Peck spends a full third of the piece speculating on Pete Buttigieg’s sexual role and says, in short, he is unfit for office because he’s going to be a randy old git once he gets to the White House. It was inappropriate, at best, and homophobic, at worst.

The article opens with an asinine and, frankly, pointless anecdote about a run-in with a stalkerish twink in 90s Manhattan. It’s only after this trip down memory lane that, whether you agree with them or not, Peck levels fair critiques of Mayor Pete and his policies. It’s after this, though, that we get into the controversial and problematic bits.

Before we talk about them, let’s state the obvious: Dale Peck is gay. I’ve seen people respond to this fact in three unique ways. One is to say it makes his homophobia even worse. Another is to claim it voids any accusations of homophobia. The final is to shrug it off entirely.

I don’t know if Peck being gay makes it any worse, but it doesn’t mean he can’t himself be an Aunt Mary, the gay version of an Uncle Tom and, ironically, what he accuses Pete Buttigieg of being. And it certainly matters that Dale Peck is gay. Because, whether we want to admit it or not, Dale Peck just spoke to America the way a great many gay men speak to one another, about men generally and about Pete Buttigieg specifically.

Mayor Pete’s historic run for the White House has, undoubtedly, inspired a great many gay men—myself included. I watched his announcement in South Bend and had tears in my eyes. As a gay man, only slightly younger than Mayor Pete, raised in a neighbouring state, I saw in him a lot of my hopes and dreams. The thought of the first couple, Pete and his darling husband, Chasten, moving into the White House, and them possibly adopting children while there, of the world seeing a loving gay couple represent the free world, was and is deeply moving in a way I cannot fully explain.

So a lot of gay people are extremely protective of Mayor Pete (and, by extension, Chasten), some of us so even as we are concerned with his politics. Reading Peck’s column, I found myself nodding along in parts. For the past 30 years gay men, and Americans in general, have been failed by the neoliberal policies of Pete Buttigieg and many of the Democratic candidates. There are concerns about his response to police brutality. There are concerns about his devotion to capitalism. There are concerns about his foreign policy (and lack of any true experience with foreign policy). All of these are fair critiques of Mayor Pete, and had Peck stuck with policy, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Instead, Peck made it personal. The line that has gotten Peck in the most trouble is about whether Pete Buttigieg is a top or a bottom (and honestly, if I have to explain to you what that means, you’re reading the wrong blog):

The only thing that distinguishes the mayor of South Bend from all those other well-educated reasonably intelligent white dudes who wanna be president is what he does with his dick (and possibly his ass, although I get a definite top-by-default vibe from him, which is to say that I bet he thinks about getting fucked but he’s too uptight to do it)

Yikes. That’s bad. Other than President Clinton, I can’t think of another time there’s been this kind of graphic speculation about a president or presidential candidate’s sex life in a mainstream national publication. There is a reason for that: it is entirely inappropriate.

That doesn’t mean curious minds don’t want to know. Peck’s musings on whether Mayor Pete is a top or a bottom is something many, many gay men across this nation have wondered privately. The topic has undoubtedly come up from West Hollywood to Chelsea, Boystown to Little Montrose. I should know; I’ve had this discussion with gay friends myself.

But the key word, here, is privately. The discussions gay men have over thumping music in gay clubs or at private dinner parties in swanky condos are a far, far cry from the pages of a national magazine. Many gay men understand, as Peck clearly doesn’t, that some things we talk about amongst ourselves should perhaps not be discussed outside the community—and certainly not publicly.

It is also important to note that when most gay men discuss these things with their gay friends, it isn’t done maliciously. We’re not trying to weaponize gay sex against Mayor Pete. We’re not trying to be salacious for clicks or put in the forefront of the American consciousness what Pete Buttigieg does in the bedroom when what Americans ought to be concerned with is what he’s going to do in the Oval Office.

Are we being catty? Perhaps. Are we being crass? Yes. Are we being homophobic? No.

To me, though, that isn’t even the worst thing Peck said or did. Speculating on the sex life of a presidential candidate is sophomoric and tasteless, but the implication that a gay president wouldn’t be able to keep his dick in his pants is straight-up homophobic. Peck mentions the noted phenomenon of gay men going through a sort of “second adolescence” once they final come out. I’m going to level with you, I don’t know if there is any sociological or psychological evidence to back this up, but it is certainly a truism in much of the gay community—mostly older gays.

But it is not a truism to me.

Mayor Pete did not publicly come out until a few years ago. Relatively soon after coming out, he married Chasten. He hasn’t dated anyone else publicly. All of this, to Peck, is deeply suspect.

Is Chasten his first love, as Peck suggests? I don’t know, because I don’t know Mayor Pete. We’re not besties. We’ve never even met. Was he out to family or friends before 2015? I don’t know. Maybe. Did he date before that? I don’t know. Nor do I care.

And I think, here, we come to a great generational divide. I am 33, only a few years younger than Mayor Pete. I came out in 2001, when I was 15. My gay adolescence was my adolescence. To put that in perspective, I have now been openly gay for more of my life than I was in the closet. A lot of gay men Peck’s age couldn’t say that until they were in their 40s or 50s.

When I came out all those years ago, gay marriage was not legal in any state. But I still saw myself growing up, marrying a man, settling down, and having kids. That was what I wanted. Sleeping my way from coast to coast did not factor into my life plans. I came out after Ellen, after Will & Grace, while Queer as Folk was originally airing. Jack McPhee had a boyfriend on Dawson’s Creek. Bianca Montgomery had a girlfriend on All My Children. Gay was going mainstream, and I benefited from that. As such, my beliefs in what my life could look like were shaped by a burgeoning acceptance.

Peck’s… was not. He came out and came of age at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Homophobia was served carte blanche across this land, even in cities like New York. Gay men, and gay culture, was more subversive and immersive, and the rights of passage he and countless gay men experienced were deeply affecting. “I’m not saying I don’t want him to shave his chest or do Molly or try being the lucky Pierre… [t]these are rights of passage for a lot of gay men, and it fuels many aspects of gay culture,” Peck writes.

Except, it doesn’t anymore, at least not for many, many of us. I don’t even know what a lucky Pierre is, and frankly I’m kind of nervous to google it on a work laptop. For a great many gay men, our rights of passage include our first kiss. Our first date. Our first marriage. It doesn’t include tricking our way from Chicago to New York and leafletting in Times Square before partying at Fire Island.

There’s nothing wrong with leafletting or Fire Island. But it isn’t the only way to be gay. As I said, I don’t know what Mayor Pete’s story is. Maybe Chasten is his first love. Maybe he really wasn’t out before 2015. So what? The times have changed. Gays have been domesticated.

In fact, domesticated gays have always existed, living quiet lives in little houses with cute gardens in places like Knoxville and Spokane and, yes, South Bend. They’ve never been to a circuit party. They’ve never snorted cocaine off the belly of a go-go dancer. They’ve never had sex in a port-o-potty at Pride. And that’s just fine!

Just because Mayor Pete came out and married in his 30s doesn’t mean he’s missed out on anything. Not all of us feel like we have. I know that I have 14 years as an out gay man on him, but I see nothing in Mayor Pete that tells me he’s about to have a “gay adolescence” or, what we’d be calling it he were a straight man, a midlife crisis. That stereotype is reductive, it is harmful, and it is wrong.

There is this notion among some in the gay community that if you are not a political gay, you are not a proper gay. By political gay I don’t mean a gay politician—which Mayor Pete is—but rather a gay rights activist who is pounding the pavement and making sure everyone knows being gay is still goddamn hard and a fireable offence in many states. These types of gays are vital to the community, and I count myself as one of them. I am gay before I am just about anything else.

But there is, and long has been, another type of gay man. This type of gay man lives in the heartland, or at least outside major urban centres, and goes to work every day. He’s a cornfed, all-American boy, who marries the boy next door and raises his little dogs and hopes to one day start a family. Maybe he served in the armed forces. Maybe he went to college to study accountancy. He might go to the gay bar, but only if it doesn’t conflict with a family barbecue. He is the majority of gay Americans.

It’s what we ought to want. We didn’t fight for 50 years so that gay men can’t live happy, settled lives. That was the point. You can argue about whether it’s too heteronormative, about whether we’re losing community as a result of assimilation into straight society, about whether this is really liberationist. But at the end of the day we fought for gay men to live their truths out loud, and for a great many of us, that truth is personified by Pete and Chasten Buttigieg. If they’re not a testament to our achievements, I don’t know what is.

Boris Johnson just proved he is Donald Trump’s stooge

trump johsnon

Boris Johnson literally gets a pat on the back from Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters/The Mirror

There was a moment in last night’s ITV debate between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson where the yellow-haired muppet told us exactly what kind of prime minister he will be. Poundshop Donald Trump refused to back Britain’s embattled ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, by saying he would “not be so presumptuous” on when Darroch—scheduled to retire in six or so months—would leave his job and that “I alone will decide who takes important and politically sensitive jobs” – a terrifying thought in the best of times.

These are not the best of times, though. They are quite possibly the end times, with Boris’ all-but-inevitable move into Number 10 the opening of the seventh seal, behind the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the fire at Notre Dame, California earthquakes, and, of course, Joe’s departure from Love Island. The world is already despairing. Yet somehow, the once and future clown of the Conservative Party has somehow made it all worse.

Sir Kim came under fire over the weekend when confidential diplomatic cables he sent back to London, in which he called Donald Trump “inept” and “insecure” and his administration “uniquely dysfunctional,” were leaked in that most reputable and esteemed of publications, the Mail on Sunday. Sir Kim managed to hang on throughout Monday and Tuesday, despite repeated personal attacks by Donald Trump. His position became untenable, at least in his eyes, though when his all-but-guaranteed future boss refused to publicly support him. Boris Johnson’s refusal to stand by Britain’s ambassador to the United States is said to be the driving force behind his decision to resign.

The relationship between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson has long been one of rabid speculation, with many feeling that the erstwhile mayor of London and the current charlatan-in-chief were too cozy. “Boris Johnson is a friend of mine,” Donald Trump said last year after Johnson resigned as foreign secretary. “He has been very, very nice to me, very supportive.” To Trump, being nice to him, being very supportive of him, is what counts. Not right or wrong, or good or bad, or smart or stupid. All that matters is that you kiss the ring.

Boris Johnson knows this, and so last night he gave Trump something he desperately wanted and rid him of that troublesome ambassador. By refusing to support Sir Kim, Johnson basically handed him a P45. Donald Trump could be laughing all the way from the White House toilet.

That Johnson would throw a career diplomat and one of the most senior members of the British Civil Service under the bus to appease the tangerine tyrant is enough to disqualify him from ever even stepping foot on Downing Street. But what’s truly terrifying is what it means further down the road. Last night, Boris Johnson demonstrated two deeply concerning qualities that make the notion of his premiership utterly terrifying.

To begin with is the obvious: when it comes to defending British values and people—whether they’re senior civil servants or run-of-the-mill citizens, as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would tell you if she wasn’t starving in an Iranian prison—Johnson will always choose self-interest. As of last night, part of that self-interest is in sucking up to the nectarine Neanderthal currently pretending to govern America.

That is deeply concerning for civil servants and the diplomatic corp. Nothing Sir Kim said was wrong, or malicious, or a lie. It was the stone-cold truth. If our diplomats cannot relay their frank and honest assessments without fear of reprisal, then the Foreign Office cannot function as it should. They perform a vital service, and part of their ability to perform that service is the knowledge that there will be no reprisals for their honesty. This is true not just of diplomats but across the civil service. When the women and men trusted with giving expert advice to the government of the day no longer feel confident doing so, something has gone very awry.

Beyond this, though, is the fact that Boris refused to defend his countryman. If Boris Johnson can’t, or won’t, stand up to Trump in defence of his ambassador’s frank assessment of the situation in Washington, it is unfathomable that he will stand up to Trump on foreign affairs or trade.

Trump is a man who has publicly said that he wants the NHS on the table during any US-UK trade negotiations. We already know that Trump wants to push up drug prices in the UK. Trump wants US companies to have more access to the NHS than they already do, which many fear would accelerate a privistation crisis which has been ongoing under the Tory-led government of the last 9 years.

Given what we’ve seen so far, there is no indication that Boris wouldn’t gladly carve up the NHS on a sacrificial alter of Trumpism just to secure a trade deal for his wealthy friends. His first policy announced during this leadership race was a tax cut for the most wealthy, which tells you where his priorities lie. It is entirely likely that Prime Minister Boris, eager to strike a trade deal with the United States after leading a no-deal Brexit, would do whatever it took to get Trump to the signing table.

Once there, I cringe to think what Boris will do to appease his new boss. What we know he won’t do is stand up for Britain’s best interests. He showed us that last night, and because of it, a career civil servant and one of Britain’s most prominent diplomats was forced to resign. Who will Boris throw under the bus next? Probably all of us.

Well, all of you. I live in America. I’ve had two and a half years to get used to being governed by a bumbling blonde baboon. You become somewhat numb to it after a while, probably because you start drinking all the time. Stock up on wine before you can’t get it through the Port of Dover.

The thing is, though, the British people will have it worse than the American people. Donald Trump is clearly the one calling the shots (though I still think he takes orders from Vladimir Putin – every boss has a boss, they say). Boris Johnson has made clear he’ll do as he’s told. You, in return, get Brexit and higher prescription drug costs. And Donald Trump gets a stooge in Number 10.

 

Forget winter. Farage is coming

The day after the 2016 EU referendum, I warned that Remainers needed to get on board with Brexit in order to avoid a swell of far-right populism. Looking back, I feel like a Stark on Game of Thrones, saying “Winter is Coming” during a long, sunny summer.

Few, it seems, were listening.

It has been clear for some time that the UK is in the midst of the greatest political realignment since the 19th century. The Conservatives and Labour parties dominated the 20th century, but there is no guarantee they will survive the 21st. This weekend’s European election results indicate they may be in more trouble than we thought. I have never been more sorrowful to be proven right.

The Brexit Party won big, carrying a 10+ point lead over its nearest competitor, the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives and Labour suffered their worst defeats in living memory, and ChangeUK – the new party founded by former Labour, and then Tory, Remainer MPs – didn’t even crack five per cent.

There is a silver lining for Remainers, in that if you combine the explicitly remain parties (LibDems, ChangeUK, SNP, Greens), they’re practically neck in neck with the combined total of the Brexit Party and the seemingly now-irrelevant UKIP. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that a plurality of the electorate chose to vote for a party who is so adamant on leaving the EU that they put it in their name, led by Britain’s very own Littlefinger. If chaos is a ladder, as Lord Baelish once said, Nigel Farage is climbing it right to the top.

And therein lies the problem. Hearken back to the good ole days of 2015. After the General Election, one of the biggest questions in British politics was what would happen to Nigel Farage. UKIP did abysmally and it looked like his career was over. But like a reactionary Jon Snow, Nigel Farage rose from the political dead, and 2016 saw his life’s mission accomplished. It emboldened him, and today he can claim to be the most effective party leader in the UK.

The risk here isn’t Brexit. Not really. Despite being a lifelong Eurosceptic, I supported the Remain campaign because I couldn’t stomach the people leading the Leave Campaign – a group of hard-right goons who, as was once said of Littlefinger and is certainly true of Farage, would see the country burn if they could be kings of the ashes. I saw the writings on the wall then, and I see them even more urgently now: hard-right populism is on the rise in the UK, and Brexit is the dragon on which it will arrive.

So while most in the Westminster bubble argued over who would sit on the Iron Throne, some of us were frantically trying to get people to pay attention to the threat from the North (of England). A rising sense of disenchantment with the political establishment was emboldening a dangerous new reactionary politics. And now, that threat has arrived. The only thing that kept UKIP from gaining more than one seat in 2015 was first-past-the-post, a system in which the candidate or party with the largest share of votes in a constituency wins that seat. The Conservatives and Labour were the bulwark against such a threat, the two-party system, to beat this metaphor to death, like the Wall keeping out the White Walkers.

But now those two great political parties look like they’re about to fall. They were both decimated this weekend. The Tories are now involved in their own Game of Thrones. The Labour leadership is more interested in appeasing its members than winning an election, leading it to be unable or unwilling to formulate a cohesive Brexit strategy.

All this while Farage and the nefarious policies he represents gain massive political inroads.

It is no longer worth discussing what happens if authoritarian populism becomes mainstream. It already has. So how to nip this in the bud? The answer is simple.

The UK must leave the European Union on 31 October, deal or no deal.

In another Westerosi turn of events, as Theresa May falls, her house words become clearer and more relevant than ever: Brexit means Brexit. It must, no matter the cost.

There are dire consequences to exiting the European Union without a deal, I know. And in some ways, it means Farage and the Brexit Party have won. After all, this is what they want – the UK to exit the EU and default to World Trade Organisation rules. There’s the issue of Northern Ireland and the border. There’s the issue of the millions of EU citizens living in the UK and the millions of British citizens living in the EU. Leaving these issues unresolved is the worst possible scenario, next to not leaving at all.

The alternative is just too grim. If Brexit doesn’t happen, and soon, it won’t just be the European Elections the Brexit Party wins. Every day the country remains in the EU is a day Prime Minister Nigel Farage becomes more likely. Think of what that would mean to the working classes, who would suffer under his economic policies, or to immigrants and people of colour, or to LGBT rights, the feminist movement, or trade unions. It would be devastating.

The only way to turn back the tide of authoritarianism is to give the people what they want and put this issue to bed once and for all. The only way to stop Farage from winning in Westminster is to let him win in Europe.The only way the country can move on from Brexit is to Brexit.

Not doing so is to risk everything. It is clear the British voters want the UK to leave the European Union. A second referendum was held, in a way, and Remain lost again. The choice was the squabbling of the past three years or to just get on with it and leave, and “just get on with it and leave” was so appealing that the country just voted for the Night King.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an American writer. He writes about British politics and culture and has covered every British election since 2010. His work as appeared at The Independent, HuffPost UK, Salon, the Daily Dot, The GayUK Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives on the coast in North Carolina.