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Recent Sports Related Tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump Reflect Deeper Moral and Economic Issues Within American Society

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On 22 November 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump continued his Tweeting, this time focusing on two sport-related topics: The release of 3 UCLA student athletes from jail in China and the National Anthem protests in the National Football League (NFL). It is important to note that these Tweets represent much more than just President Trump’s penchant to sometimes speak before thinking; rather, these Tweets reflect real issues in American society that go far beyond the President’s personality.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

When the U.S. President personally goes after a private citizen it understandably makes the news. After securing the release of Lavar Ball’s son from Chinese prison, the outspoken father took to the news and refused to thank the President. It was this ungratefulness which led the President to Tweet:

 

Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail! (19 November 2017) 

Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful! (19 November 2017)

It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence – IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think…..LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool! (22 November 2017)

 

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Mr. Trump (L) and Mr. Ball (R) Are Now Feuding Apparently. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sportingnews.com/ncaa-basketball/news/lavar-ball-cnn-interview-video-donald-trump-feud-son-arrested-china-ucla/i55mlxrks9ab1131a7bzx0b04

 

While it is certainly odd that the President of the United States of America is personally addressing an oddball like LaVar Ball (who is basically using his own children as a vehicle for his own profit), the oddity of this event should not blind readers to its importance. The uber-individualistic nature of modern American society has resulted in a marked loss of societal morals. Instead of expressing outrage at shoplifting in a foreign country—which reflects poorly not only on wider American society but also on Mr. Ball’s ineffectual parenting skills—state media is busying itself by attacking the President.

CNN—one of the major shepherds of the sheep in American society—“analyzed” the Tweets in an article by Chris Cillizza; it shouldn’t be surprising that Mr. Cillizza missed the point entirely. That said, it is time for another example of why media literacy is important. At first, Mr. Cilizza provides his readers with a bit of armchair psychology: “At the root of Trump’s personality is grievance and a sense of victimhood”. I was not aware that CNN journalists are now moonlighting as psychologists, but I digress. Cillizza goes on to describe Trump’s Tweets as “racial dog-whistling” before closing his piece with this clincher: “Of all the ways Trump has changed politics and the presidency, his ‘me first, second and last’ view of the world is the most profound and troubling”. After reading the article, one would be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Cillizza lives on another planet.

After all, is he not aware that “me first, second and last” is the view that most Americans subscribe to? Are those not the same views that Mr. Ball has when he refuses to apologize, knowing that this publicity can only help him sell more of his third rate athletic shoes? (Indeed, the spat has garnered 13.2 million Dollars in free advertising). Are these not the views that his son had when he knowingly shoplifted in a foreign country? And are these not the views of many millennials, a generation of which twelve percent believe it is acceptable to speed in school zones? What is “most profound and troubling” (to borrow Mr. Cillizza’s words) for me, however, is a topic that is glossed over and lost in the rhetoric of racism. It is widely known that race paints over the inequalities of capitalist society, providing a false consciousness which divides the working classes. In Mr. Cillizza’s piece race is again used to blind readers; here it is employed by the writer to mask the fact that shoplifting is unacceptable and that being grateful is important. Yet, instead of outrage about three young African-American men disrespecting their country—and their own sense of morals—we have outrage about the alleged “racism” of the President of the United States.

Similarly, Mr. Trump’s second Tweet from 22 November 2017 is also warped by the interpretation of the news media; again the message—and signs of a failing society—are masked. The Tweet in question reads:

 

The NFL is now thinking about a new idea – keeping teams in the Locker Room during the National Anthem next season. That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!…..

 

While readers know I have written about the National Anthem protests before, the issue here is about what can only be called extreme capitalism. The commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, has asked for a 50-million-dollar salary and a private plane and lifetime health insurance for entire family. Now, if Mr. Goodell were a pauper, this would be understandable (maybe); instead he currently makes . . . 30 million dollars a year. Thus, the figure he is requesting (demanding?) would be a near doubling of his salary! At a time when the average CEO in the United States earns 354 times what the average worker earns, Mr. Goodell’s desires are nauseating. For comparison, the gap in the United States can be compared to Switzerland, the country with the second largest CEO-to-average worker pay gap, where CEOs make only 148 times what the average worker makes. Unfortunately, however, there is little outrage at Mr. Goodell’s greed since—just like in the case with Mr. Ball’s ungratefulness—race is used to distract the public from the real issues.

 

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The Wage Gap is Certainly Increasing. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/25/the-pay-gap-between-ceos-and-workers-is-much-worse-than-you-realize/?utm_term=.aac68d3472f6

 

Jerry Jones, the owner of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys who has been critical of Mr. Goodell before—specifically regarding the commissioner’s handling of the national anthem protests—threatened a lawsuit against Mr. Goodell before dropping it. Of course, Mr. Jones’ opposition is understandable since Mr. Goodell is using the protests to provide the public with a face of “tolerance” and “respect” for those protesting racial inequality while, at the same time, getting richer and richer off that same public! Despite the clear economic inequalities being perpetuated by Mr. Goodell, all anyone can talk about is race. Jemele Hill, an ESPN journalist who could be called a bigot herself (although mainstream media would never say it despite the fact that ESPN had to suspend her due to comments she made on social media), described Mr. Jones’ standoff with Mr. Goodell as “laughable”. Again, Ms. Hill ignores the economic inequalities due to her obsession with race.

Race was even brought in to bring down Mr. Jones after he opposed Mr. Goodell: A 2013 video of him allegedly making “a racially insensitive remark” surfaced a week ago. For the purposes of this piece it does not matter whether or not Mr. Jones made the comments or meant the comments to be “racially insensitive”; what does matter is that—in the digital age—scandals can be manufactured so that those who dare voice opinions that do not match those of the masses are vilified and, ultimately, eliminated. The world has seen this type of behavior before in the totalitarian states of mid 20th century central Europe, the only difference there was that those who were vilified and embarrassed were later murdered. Yet, just like in Stalin’s Russia, the masses will stand by as scandals erupt in the modern United States. Content with their own manufactured sense of moral superiority, the masses will shake their heads and scold those who are vilified; they will not speak up, content as they are with their own—fleeting as it may be—sense of safety. What the masses do not realize, however, is that the scandals will come for them as well the moment they dare oppose the masses. In such an environment one has two choices: Be silent or be destroyed.

 

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“Wut?” Indeed. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2017/11/12/16639956/roger-goodell-50-million-salary-plane-insurance-nfl

 

Clearly it is a dangerous situation. In the digital age the walls quite literally have ears. Anything one says can—and likely will—be held against them by the morality police. In the mean time, race will continue to be used to mask the true inequalities facing everyone regardless of their race (or gender or sexual orientation, the other Sociological catchwords). In these two cases, President Trump’s Tweets on sport open a unique window from which we can view some of the issues in American society today; it is our job to interpret the issues in a balanced and unbiased manner. That is something that—sadly—mainstream media continually fails to do.

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Politics Meets Sports in Alexandria, Virginia: What It Says About the State of The United States

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On 14 June, 2017 American lawmakers were attacked in Alexandria, Virginia, while practicing for—of all things—a baseball game. In the incident, House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise of the Republican party was seriously wounded along with two police officers and an aide. It was disgusting evidence of how deeply divided the United States has become in recent months, and that it should come in preparation for a sporting event makes it even more upsetting.

 

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The Gunman Shot From the Larger Circle (Top), While Mr. Scalise Was Wounded at 2nd Base (Small Red circle). Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/14/us/virginia-shooting-congress-scalise.html

 

The suspect, who was killed in the incident, is a left-wing (I will say nut job) from Illinois, James Hodgkinson. What were some of Mr. Hodgkinson’s activities listed by the BBC, other than living in a van? Campaigning for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders in the November 2016 election, assaulting his foster daughter, and punching his foster daughter’s (female) friend in the face. Clearly, the man was not exactly an upstanding citizen; he was characterized by his daughter’s friend as “crazy” and his former lawyer as “a very irascible, angry little man”. So why have some politicians in the United States not condemned this attack as they should? Why would some outlets—like Rolling Stone —report that this tragic event has been turned into a debate on gun control?

Perhaps it is because many individuals in the American political system—particularly on the left—are blinded by ideology. It may be that some misguided politicians are implicitly sympathizing with Mr. Hodgkinson’s “resist” rhetoric of “resisting” President Donald Trump. Many on the American left believe in the universality of “resisting”, whatever it may mean. Concerning universalities, philosopher/sociologist Herbert Marcuse wrote in 1964 about:

 

…[A] very forcible reality—that of the separate and independent power of the whole over the individuals. And this whole is not merely a perceived Gestalt (as in psychology), nor a metaphysical absolute (as in Hegel), nor a totalitarian state (as in poor political science)—it is the established state of affairs which determines the life of the individuals.

                        Marcuse, 1964: 207

 

In the United States currently, the “established state of affairs” is one where the
“left” (the Democratic party) is for gun control and the “right” (the Republican party) support the right to bear arms. According to this rhetoric, the “left” is morally superior while the “right” is morally reprehensible. This means that many politicians on the “left” are unable to break away from the universality—the ideological position, in this case—that defines them. They may implicitly even believe that “resistance” is right in the context of “the established state of affairs”; that unarmed civilians (although they are lawmakers, they are still civilians like you and I) were targeted in a heinous attack seems to not matter when it can be turned into political gains. Such is the cynicism endemic in American politics today.

For the “left”, resistance can only be resistance against Donald Trump and his policies. This is, of course, absurd. In the following passage, Marcuse shows the nature of why such universalities—and definitions of abstract concepts like “resistance”—are problematic:

 

Talking of a beautiful girl, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful picture, I certainly have very different things in mind. What is common to all of them—“beauty”—is neither a mysterious entity, nor a mysterious word. On the contrary, nothing is perhaps more directly and clearly experienced than the appearance of “beauty” in various beautiful objects. The boy friend and the philosopher, the artist and the mortician may “define” it in very different ways, but they all define the same specific state or condition—some quality or qualities which make the beautiful contrast with other objects. In this vagueness and directness, beauty is experienced in the beautiful—that is, it is seen, heard, smelled, touched, felt, comprehended. It is experienced almost as a shock, perhaps due to the contrast-character of beauty, which breaks the circle of everyday experience and opens (for a short moment) another reality . . .

Marcuse, 1964: 210 (emphasis in original)

 

By loosely substituting the word “resistance” for “beauty” in the preceding passage, we can better understand the current state of affairs. “Resistance” is a noun, just like “beauty”. It can be interpreted by individuals by its definition (as provided by uncle Google): “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument”. This, of course, does not mean that the concept of what constitutes “resistance” need be the same for those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. What is important to realize is that the American “left” does not have a monopoly on defining the concept of “resistance” any more than any group in society should have a monopoly on defining what constitutes “beauty”. Once we understand this, we can begin to see why it is simply wrong to interpret the unprecedented events of 14 June—an assault on elected officials by a political opponent—as anything related to “resistance” or even partisan issues like “gun control”. It was an attempted murder, there need not be as much division over this event as there has been.

That this particular left-wing nut-job targeted a sporting event should come as no surprise either in this climate of political division. Sports is typically used—on the surface at least—to bring people together. Stadiums, on any given day, often host people from diverse political, racial, religious, sexual, and socio-economic backgrounds; in this sense sports can transcend differences. Indeed, the Republican-Democrat congressional baseball game has been played since 1962, and the first game was in 1909. As the BBC notes,

 

Baseball – and, in particular, the annual congressional baseball game for which the Republicans were practising – has long been a refuge for many in the nation’s capital. The contest is one of the last vestiges of old Washington, where politicians on both sides of the ideological divide can put aside their partisan differences and socialise together.

 

Attacking events that symbolize unity (like sporting events or concerts) has long been a trademark of terrorist groups: remember the Kurdish terrorist attacks on a Turkish stadium in December 2016 and the ISIS/ISIL attacks in Paris (2015) and Manchester (2017). Just because the perpetrator is an American “progressive” and Bernie Sanders supporter does not mean that this shooting was not an act of terrorism. In fact—amazingly—a counterterrorism analyst at the left-leaning American channel MSNBC even encouraged a terrorist attack against one of Donald Trump’s properties in Turkey, a country I know very well. MSNBC employee Malcolm Nance Tweeted a picture of Donald Trump’s Trump Towers in Istanbul with the text “This is my nominee for first ISIS suicide bombing of a Trump property”.

 

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The Fact That Mr. Nance Has a Job In Journalism Is Unforgivable. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/04/19/msnbc-counterterrorism-analyst-nominates-trump-towers-in-istanbul-for-an-isis-suicide-bombing/

 

Beyond being a disgusting provocation for violence in one of my countries, Turkey, Mr. Nance’s Tweet is a perfect example of the kind of vitriolic hatred that is rife in American “progressive” politics; they seem to believe that their desire to “resist” Donald Trump absolves them of all guilt and that it is impossible for them to say such absurd things. This is the problem with universalities. No political position has a monopoly on morality; morality and ideology are very separate things. To confuse the two only leads to more problems and more divisions within society. The United States is going down a dark road—some commentators have already begun talking about civil war as a possibility—and one way to turn back from this dark road is to stop believing in universalities. That would also necessitate less reliance on ideology, a position I have not seen those on the American “left” ready to embrace.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_United_States#/media/File:Flag_of_the_United_States.svg

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On Some of the Absurdity in American Schools: Take an Example from the Sports World

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The past few days have seen some increasingly absurd events on campuses across the United States; while many may have heard of the events in question I have not seen much meaningful (or helpful) discussion on the topic. My aim here will be to provide one concrete example—from the sports world—in order to underline the degree of absurdity.

A writer for the New York Times (State Media) in the United States, Anemona Hartocollis, wrote a seemingly innocuous piece (at least judging by the headline) entitled “Colleges Celebrate Diversity With Separate Commencements” on 2 June 2017. In the article the author seems to—perhaps unwittingly—support racial segregation, an entirely unjust system that divided black and white citizens of the United States into “separate but equal” schools and public spaces; it was a system that was defeated by the Civil Rights Movement and activists like the late Martin Luther King, Jr. Hartocollis celebrates (among others) the separate graduation ceremonies held by Black students at Harvard University, the separate “lavender” (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students) graduation at the University of Delaware, and the separate graduation for first generation college students and New York’s Columbia University. Apparently, the “separate” graduation at Harvard took place before the main graduation ceremony (the two were not mutually exclusive, students could attend both judging by reports) where famous Harvard dropout and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that the struggle of our times was “against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism and nationalism”. As a scholar of nationalism myself, I will not bore you with an eloquent retort to Mr. Zuckerberg’s grossly misinformed comments. Rather, I will outline why things like “separate” graduations are quite simply absurd.

There is a form of segregation going on across campuses in the United States, that much is certain. It is also certain that this type of division goes against the very ethos of what the college experience should be. Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute, is quoted in Hartocollis’ piece saying “[c]ollege is the place where we should be teaching and preaching the view that you’re an individual, and choose your associates to be based on other factors rather than skin color”. Mr. Connerly believes that events like “separate” graduations simply serve to amplify racial divisions. Judging by the present—as well as the past—he seems to be correct in his assessment of the situation despite state media’s celebration of “separate” graduations as a positive development!

In the present the case of Evergreen State College in Washington State, where the campus had to be shut down due to violence, serves as a perfect example. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bert Weinstein

 

a professor of biology, objected to a proposed “Day of Absence” that encouraged white students, staff, and faculty members to leave campus in order to “explore issues of race, equity, allyship, inclusion and privilege.” He wrote that “on a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.” The request, he argued, was “an act of oppression in and of itself.”

Since then Mr. Weinstein, who considers himself “deeply progressive,” has been called a racist, and a group of Evergreen students have demanded that the professor be “suspended immediately without pay.” What’s more, dozens of his fellow professors signed a letter last week calling for the university to investigate him, complaining that his speaking out had turned the campus into a target of white supremacists.

 

To a marginal sociologist like myself, this is absurd. A professor is being challenged for his opposition to what amounts to fascistic mobs (fascism in the United States is something I have written about before) and he is also being criticized by his fellow professors! The New York Times gives more detail regarding the content of Mr. Weinstein’s email:

 

 “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” In other words, what purported to be a request for white students and professors to leave campus was something more than that. It was an act of moral bullying — to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.

 

For me, “moral bullying” is a kind term to employ describing this kind of behavior, but that is normal coming from State Media; a simple Google search of “Evergreen College” brings up just one story from State Media (The Washington Post)—the rest are not from “well-respected” and “mainstream” American news sources. Unfortunately, this leads the public to believe that this is not a real threat to their very lives and livelihoods in the United States of America. Just because Breitbart reported that protestors were “roaming [Evergreen’s] campus with baseball bats” and CNN didn’t doesn’t make it any less of a real threat to dialogue, communication, and—most of all—student safety! Unfortunately, this kind of intolerance is rooted in the indoctrination—that passes for education—in many American Universities. It is a reason that I myself do not always feel comfortable (intellectually speaking) on American college campuses. Sociologist C. Wright Mills said it best in The Sociological Imagination when he compared the Soviet Union and the United States, pointing out that while in the former intellectuals were “physically crushed”, in the latter they are “morally crushed” (Mills, 1959: 191). This is a fascistic form of divide and conquer and it needs to stop.

 

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When I attended the University of Texas, the bats we talked about on campus were winged mammals living under the Congress Avenue bridge. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2017/06/06/report-evergreen-protesters-roaming-campus-with-baseball-bats/

 

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Very Few Mainstream Media Outlets Reported on the Situation at Evergreen College. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

The “Social Justice Warriors” on American campuses would be well served to also take a look at history in order to understand why segregation was unjust and was—rightly—overturned in Brown vs. The Board of Education in 1954. Sports provides a great example of why segregation, the division of people based on race (or any other characteristic for that matter), is a policy destined for failure (for instance, Tamir Sorek’s eminently readable Arab Soccer in a Jewish State contains an interesting chapter on separate Muslim soccer leagues in Israel). In America the national pastime is baseball, a sport that—like football in Turkey (and perhaps Israel)—both reflects and shapes the national consciousness. That is why baseball—like so many social and cultural institutions in the United States—has been affected by the issue of racial divisions; the most prominent example is Negro League Baseball. According to a cursory look at the Wikipedia page, 1888 was the last year blacks were allowed in either the major or minor leagues of American Baseball; 1887 was when the first “negro league” was founded: The National Colored Baseball League. It was not until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier”, that a black player appeared in the top tier of American Baseball. Was it good for American baseball that—for almost sixty years—blacks and whites played in different leagues, apart from one another? Of course it wasn’t. Like intellectual environments, sports competition also thrives when diverse people come together. So why would anyone want to re-create such a separation on college campuses?

 

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Jackie Robinson (Displaying the Proper Use of a Baseball Bat) Did Not Fight for Equality so that Self-Proclaimed “Social Justice Warriors” Could Fight For Division.  Image Courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Robinson

 

It might be because many people just cannot see what they are doing. Despite the “intelligence” one might think they possess by virtue of a Harvard degree, they also show a distinct lack of historical knowledge by thinking that “separate” graduations are a good thing. This might be because they did not learn history in school; it was indoctrination and not education. I paraphrase one of my former students who asked, rhetorically, whether “critical thinking” was not just a way to tell people how to think.

Indeed, this lack of self knowledge is widely manifested by those who think that being “progressive” absolves them of all ability to be fascistic, totalitarian, or bigoted. For example, a black baseball player—Adam Jones—donated twenty thousand dollars to the Negro Leagues Museum after he was reportedly racially taunted by fans at a game. Where were these racist fans, you might ask? In the same city that Harvard’s “separate” graduations—based on racial difference—took place in: Boston, Massachussetts. Ironically, Massachusetts is also one of the most “progressive” states in the country, home to much of America’s so-called “elite”. Indeed, Massachussetts’ election map shows the large margin (almost double the votes) by which the liberal candidate Hillary Clinton defeated the conservative candidate Donald Trump.

 

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“A Reliably Blue State Is an Understatement. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/massachusetts

 

I am lucky enough to have lived all over the United States, and have learned that talk is cheap. No education can teach “diversity” or “tolerance”, and it certainly can teach nothing if it is merely a form of indoctrination: One must travel and meet people different  than themselves in order to grow. We must learn from history—and sports is a part of it—in order to stand up to the absurdities of our time.

Troubling Times for Democracy All Over the World: A Few Thoughts from a Marginal Sociologist on the Budding Hobbesian War of All Against All in the Field of Culture and the Threat It Poses to Democracy

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When I wake up in the morning my usual routine consists of a cup of tea and a cursory search of “news” on Google so as to get as varied of a perspective that I can. The very fact that the vast majority of news outlets available to American readers are extremely biased towards either end of the ideological spectrum is concerning in and of itself; this type of polarization does not bode well for the future of “democracy” (in “quotes” because it is, itself, a debatable concept) in the United States, or the coherence of American society.

 

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A Useful Graphic With Which to Navigate the Culture Wars. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/check-political-bias-media-site/

 

That some news outlets are so questionable (to an unprecedented degree) is extremely worrisome. Yet, sometimes, even the “questionable” outlets can call out other “questionable” outlets in the form of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” in the media field (Bellum omnium contra omnes in the Latin for those readers who, like me,  slaved away studying Latin in high school). The Rightist Breitbart media (rightly) called out the false reporting of “Left” leaning Time Magazine in a very surprising—and sports related—story. Time Magazine Tweeted that Olympian Fencer “Ibtihaj Muhammad was detained because of President Trump’s travel ban”, and a subsequent story by  Motto, a Time publication, failed to rescind their earlier statement even though Ms.Muhammad explicately tweeted—four days after her original post—that her detention occurred in December (during previous President Barack Obama’s administration, and not during President Trump’s).

 

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Time Magazine’s Poor Journalism and Why We Should Always Question Media. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/02/14/muslim-american-olympian-claimed-detained-trump-travel-ban-detained-obama/

 

While Breitbart provides a portion of Ms. Muhammad’s interview (where she misleadingly insinuates that she was directly affected by Mr. Trump’s “ban”) The Washington Examiner quotes a customs official who, confirming that she was detained for less than an hour, said “She comes and goes many times. She travels quite extensively. She has never been stopped before. She wasn’t targeted. The checks are totally random; random checks that we all might be subject to.” And this is the issue. People have been detained at U.S. airports long before Donald Trump became President. The supposedly “totally random” checks are not all that random—I myself have been detained upon returning to the United States from Turkey and treated extremely disrespectfully by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (this happened under Mr. Obama’s administration, I may add); my only fault was coming from Turkey and being half-Turkish. Clearly, these checks are not so “random” and these are things that the Leftist media would be better served addressing; as I myself have noted before the dystopian nature of American airports is alarming. But to blame it on a specific President—without looking at the bigger picture—is worrisome and brings into question the very existence of an independent media.

In my mornings I also focus on Turkish news. Unfortunately, in the past few months, the news coming from the two countries has—surprisingly—become more and more similar! Since the attempted coup of July 15, 2015 more than 33,000 employees have been dismissed by the Turkish Ministry of Education; on 7 Februrary 2015 it was announced that more than 4,400 civil servants—including police and 330 academics—have been purged in the crackdown following the attempted putsch. Even Turkish diplomats are fearing for their lives in this authoritarian climate. The Turkish state is exercising its power to the fullest extent; emphasizing a Weberian “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. Interestingly, the situation is not very different in the United States and it is something that should be worrisome for those concerned about the state of democracy worldwide.

In the United States there seems to be a power struggle between the intelligence agencies and President Trump (no doubt if it happened elsewhere it would be covered with a much more critical eye by the U.S. state media). The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence officials are withholding information from the President of the United States; this is clearly worrisome, since it would seem—to anyone—that this would hinder any good faith attempt for Mr. Trump to actually do the job that he was democratically elected to do. I put it in italics to emphasize a point that, clearly, many in the U.S. seem to not understand. One such pundit, Bill Kristol, went so far as to say “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state”. For the uninitiated, “The ‘deep state’ is jargon for the semi-hidden army of bureaucrats, officials, retired officials, legislators, contractors and media people who support and defend established government policies”. Any of those familiar with Turkish politics will know how dangerous the deep state is for democracy, and it is something that I have mentioned before.

 

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The Insulting Words Of a Woefully Uninformed Man Who Has Only Lived The Privileged Life of the United States. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/02/15/bill-kristol-backs-deep-state-president-trump-republican-government/

 

While the dismissal of Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may not be the worst thing in the world (according to the Economist who are known for their sober analyses; please see here and here) , it does raise other questions—but not the type The Economist raises. Surprisingly, it was Bloomberg News’ Eli Lake who provided a useful analysis:

[F]or a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it’s strange that Flynn’s “lie” to Pence would get him fired. It doesn’t add up […]

It’s very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress. Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do […]

[A]ll these allegations are at this point unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.

 

These words—particularly the bolded portions—should deeply upset any American who cares for the semblance of “democracy” that they currently enjoy. Regardless of one’s political position, one should be concerned when a state begins to attack its citizens for doing nothing that is actually illegal (especially after rumors have come from both the “Right” and the “Left” that former President Mr. Obama is planning a “challenge” to Mr. Trump). Were Mr. Flynn’s actions questionable? Sure. But they were not illegal. And when the state’s intelligence agencies—ostensibly neutral—begin to undermine an elected government it is a slippery slope. Rather than celebrate these attacks on an elected government Americans would do well to realize that they risk surrendering their own “democracy”—with their own hands—to a nebulous, anonymous, and (most alarmingly) unelected group of individuals in the intelligence community. As alarming as Mr. Trump may be for some people, he is still—ostensibly—at least accountable to the people. That is something that cannot be said for the “deep state”, and this may be one of the biggest threats to democracy in American history (in the same way the totalitarian ideology of globalization represents a threat to democracy worldwide: just look to Turkey for an example).

Sports and Politics in the United States and “Sir Charles” vs. “King James”: Spat Between Former NBA Star Charles Barkley and Current NBA Star Lebron James Is Representative of Some of the Issues in Current American Society

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Since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States sports and politics in the USA have become more and more intertwined; it is symptomatic of a nation divided by ideology, one where people are supporting their political positions as they would a sports team: unwaveringly and unquestioningly. ESPN, the leader in American sports media, has taken to using one of their websites to spread political messages (from one side only, it should be noted) while ESPN writer and vice president Roxanne Brown was solicited by CNN to provide her opinion on President Donald Trump’s inauguration:

 

No day in our nation feels more patriotic than Inauguration Day — the Marine Marching Band, the past presidents, politicians and power brokers braving the cold to flock to our nation’s capital. But it was hard not to look at the sea of white faces in the crowd, gathered for President Donald J. Trump’s swearing-in, and not see represented a shockingly different America than we saw on this same day eight years ago when President Barack Obama was sworn in. In fact, this was the whitest inauguration I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

 

Apparently, judging by the last sentence, she was unaware that most African-Americans boycotted Mr. Trump’s inauguration. This absurdity aside, of course, it is notable that a sports reporter should be given such a space in mainstream American media. It shows just how sports has become a space of contention within the cultural civil war that the United States is experiencing.

 

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ESPN Now Sells Politics With a Side Of Sports. Image Courtesy of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/01/21/espn-offers-social-media-sites-platform-leftist-activists-womens-march/

 

ESPN, for so many years a channel devoted to sports programming alone, has recently completed a turn to the field of culture. The new SC6 (the 6pm/18:00EST) edition of ESPN’s flagship highlights program Sportscenter will debut on 6 February 2017. Senior vice president of Sportscenter and news Rob King had this to say about the show in an interview:

 

This show will be unique because it is an opportunity to look in on a conversation among close friends, colleagues and the people who they bring into their orbit by virtue of the topics they choose and the interests they have. Since we launched the midnight show with Scott Van Pelt, it’s been really clear that SportsCenter can be distinguished when it’s built around unique personalities and unique conceits, especially those ideas, personalities and conceits that work for specific audiences.

 

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The Anchors of ESPN’s Newest Show. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espnfrontrow.com/2017/01/expectations-excitement-permeate-kings-view-sc6-michael-jemele/

 

The focus on “conversation”, “unique personalities”, and “unique conceits” [Author’s Note: An odd choice of words] suggests a larger role for the personal element than the traditional sports program would present. Sports reporter Andrew Bucholtz adds that

 

there seems to be less and less interest in straight news and highlights, and both ESPN and Fox are adapting to that. Fox went with the drastic move of killing the news-and-highlights version of Fox Sports Live and turning it into more of a comedy-focused late night show, while ESPN has focused instead on making highly identifiable and individual versions of SportsCenter, from Scott Van Pelt’s show to SportsCenter A.M. and more […]

 

Most importantly, Bucholz notes the change that this program represents; for him it “is interesting because in some ways it seems to be trying to walk the line between a debate show and the traditional SportsCenter. Smith and Hill certainly have backgrounds in opinion programming too (in addition to their journalism and reporting backgrounds, which King also notes)”. The fact that sports programming in the USA is moving to a “late-night show” or “debate show” format means that the personal opinions of hosts will come more to the fore, replacing the traditional format of the sports show which presents the “facts” in the form of highlights. Inevitably, this will allow for more discussion regarding the field of culture; it would be naïve to think that ESPN—a large part of the American “culture industry”—would refrain from putting politics into their new show as well. This type of format allows ESPN to seem apolitical while being just the opposte. French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu explains how this works in his book “On Television:

 

Pushed by competition for marketshare, television networks have greater and greater recourse to the tried and true formulas of tabloid journalism, with emphasis (when not the entire newscast) devoted to human interest stories or sports. No matter what has happened in the world on a given day, more and more often the evening news begins with French soccer scores or another sporting event, interrupting the regular news […] the focus is on those things which are apt to arouse curiosity but which require no analysis, especially in the political sphere […] human interest stories create a political vacuum. They depoliticize and reduce what goes on in the world to the level of anecdote or scandal.

(Bourdieu, 1998: 44-56)

 

Here we can see that ESPN may be attempting to use an ostensibly apolitical program so as to insidiously—and indirectly—send political messages in a way that a traditional news program would not be able to. After all, a sports program is—usually—just a highlights program, presenting “facts”. SC6 strives to be much more, and it is important that we—as consumers of the culture industry in modern industrial society—are aware of what is actually happening.

My favorite American football team, the New England Patriots, has not been immune from this newly emphasized connection between sports and politics. (State) media’s New York Times profiled the close relationship between President Donald Trump and Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, calling it an “uncomfortable love affair”. To further drive home the message, The Huffington Post published an article by Professor David Dennis Jr., who made one of the more ridiculous claims I have ever read (or heard): “Tom Brady’s Politics Are More Un-American Than Colin Kaepernick’s Have Ever Been”. I have written before about Mr. Kaepernick’s protest against the American national anthem (which cost the NFL millions of dollars because—shocker here—the NFL has many fans who actually like the United States). Professor David Dennis Jr.’s piece—due to its sheer absurdity—deserves a little bit of air time here. First the New England star Tom Brady is quoted in his own words regarding President Donald Trump:

 

“I have called him, yes, in the past. Sometimes he calls me. Sometimes I call,” Brady said. “But, again, that’s been someone I’ve known. I always try to keep it in context because for 16 years you know someone before maybe he was in the position that he was in. He’s been very supportive of me for a long time. It’s just a friendship. I have a lot of friends. I call a lot of people.”

 

Here, Tom Brady’s words seem pretty normal. Like say, something someone would say about their friend. And, since the United States is a free country, it would seem normal that one is allowed to choose who their friends are. Apparently, Professor Dennis Jr. doesn’t agree, adding a gratuitous racial comment by invoking “white privilege” in his commentary:

 

Brady was confused as to why his relationship with the president was even a relevant topic of discussion.

“Why does everybody make such a big deal? I don’t understand it.”

Brady’s obliviousness reeks of white privilege and dismissiveness; a #MAGA trait if there ever was one. But what’s most troubling is the way Brady’s Trump endorsement has been treated compared to Kaepernick’s political statements.

 

Professor Dennis Jr. then drops his bombshell claim:

 

Brady’s Trump endorsement, however, has been largely ignored when, in fact, supporting Donald Trump as President of The United States is far more threatening to America than taking a knee during the National Anthem.

 

I have no idea why merely voicing support for a candidate who was supported by almost half of the country could be “threatening” or even comparable to insulting all those who believe in American nationalism, but such is the absurd climate in the United States currently.

 

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A Picture of What State Media’s New York Times dubbed “the uncomfortable love affair”. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/magazine/the-uncomfortable-love-affair-between-donald-trump-and-the-new-england-patriots.html

 

At least former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka offered some choice words defending Mr. Brady telling the country to “grow up” and adding “Dammit. I thought this country was a country of choice!” On a separate show he called journalists “assholes” and criticized former President Barack Obama for “showing no leadership at all”. I can agree with Mr. Ditka’s last claim, seeing as how the United States—under President Obama—dropped on average a staggering 72 bombs a day in 2016 on foreign countries, leading to the odd situation where Mr. Trump is called a racist while Mr. Obama’s imperialism goes ignored.

 

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The Indomitable Mike Ditka, Sweater et al. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.pbtalent.com/blog/speaker/mike-ditka

 

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Sorry, I just Couldn’t Resist. Image Courtesy of a Friend Via Social Media.

 

Mr. Ditka’s point, regarding the need for Americans to “grow up” is one that is directly relevant to the spat between basketball analyst Charles Barkley and basketball star Lebron James. A longtime NBA analyst and former player, Mr. Barkley criticized Mr. James for his comments regarding his team’s front office when he asked for another player to help his team win the championship (they won last year while—somehow—managing a loss of forty million USD). Barkley said Mr. James’ comments were:

 

Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above. The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted [Iman] Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.

 

Mr. James responded with personal attacks on Mr. Barkley, calling him “a hater” and asking the rhetorical question “what makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?” Mr. James here seemed to forget that his open endorsement of U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and insult directed at those who voted for Mr. Trump (Mr. James called them “goofy” even though the majority of voters in Mr. James’ state voted for Donald Trump) were only made credible because he is on TV himself! Mr. James’ diatribe, however, continued (for video, please see nba.com):

 

I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that. I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.

All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years,      never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.

 

Later Mr. Barkley laughed it off, saying “I was laughing, clearly he did some homework … he Googled me and found some things … He was young when I was playing, so I appreciate that, but I’m not upset about it. … My criticism was fair, and I’m good with that … Some of the stuff he said about me is correct — doesn’t make the message I said about him incorrect. Some of them are intimidated about LeBron, [but] I’m not intimidated at all.”

A day later Mr. Barkley added that “It’s a different generation. If we don’t say everything positive about them all the time, we’re a hater. But I’ve gotten more support than I saw coming. To be honest with you, it’s been great. Especially the guys in the media who are like, ‘Thank you. I can’t say it because I need to talk to him.’ ” Here Mr. Barkley touches on a very important point, one that makes this odd exchange indicative of the current state of culture in the United States.

Lebron James really is of “a different generation”. It is one that, for starters, clearly has no respect for those that came before them. If it weren’t for players like Charles Barkley making the NBA popular in the 1990s, it is probable that Lebron James wouldn’t be the star he currently is. It is the same kind of lack of perspective that allowed Colin Kaepernick to take a shot at the United States…even though the sport he is paid to play is mainly played in the United States. Secondly, Lebron James’ generation is one that also has no self-respect. It is a generation that is all about “Me, Me, Me” and never “We, We, We”. It must always be praise and compliments; criticism cannot be accepted. Unfortunately, the current culture in the United States has become a culture of being “offended”, where comments one doesn’t like are deemed to be “offensive”. It is the same culture that does not accept the outcome of a presidential election because…the candidate they wanted did not win. Its an odd state of affairs, but the spat between Mr. Barkley and Mr. James goes some way to explaining how deeply engrained the cult of the individual has become in American society. If the country—and its culture—is to move forward we must at least attempt to move outside of our own personal selves and try to understand other perspectives. Otherwise, we are doomed to living in a fragmented and rudderless society where criticism—and therefore debate (whether about sports or politics)—is impossible.

 

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Sir Charles, Pictured With the Classic Phoenix Suns Jersey. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.casino.org/news/charles-barkley-says-lost-millions-gambling-dozens-occasions

 

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King James Looking a Bit Perturbed. Image Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/03/lebron-james-could-leave-cleveland-says-stephen-a-smith

American Media Uses Sports to Send a Political Message in President Barack Obama’s Farewell: A Photo Essay

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The media has a unique power to shape our perceptions of the world, and even our perceptions of our own selves (Kellner, 2015). That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that American sports media giant ESPN should use the occasion of the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs’ visit to the White House to send political messages. The baseball team’s trip to the White House on 16 January 2017 was, as ESPN noted, the final official event of Barack Obama’s presidency.

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Another Day, Another Jersey For Mr. Obama. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/18488717/president-obama-celebrates-world-series-champion-chicago-cubs

 

In a way, it is fitting that the holder of the world’s most powerful job should end his tenure by presiding over an event dedicated to sports since it shows the continual importance of sport to modern society. In President Obama’s words (the full event can be seen here): “Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we are. … Sports has a way of changing hearts in a way politics or business doesn’t”. Perhaps that is true, and President Obama showed how much he believed it to be true when he visited Cuba in the midst of a historic rapprochement. But if we take Mr. Obama’s words in another direction—and note that sport is itself a business and rarely separate from politics—then I am left wondering…can sport, if connected to both business and politics, truly change hearts in the manner that Mr. Obama believes?

From ESPN’s perspective, judging by their reporting on this event, sport is clearly seen as a tool in order to send a political message and is—therefore—not independent of either business or politics; in this respect the United States is no different from Turkey. Even Mr. Obama saw a chance to use the event to his benefit, astutely opening the event with the multilayered line “they said this day would never come”, which could refer either to the Cubs’ long-awaited championship, his presidency, or its imminent end.  His triple entendre, so to speak, is a tribute to Mr. Obama’s oratory skills that have enabled him to become a revered–even “saint” like–figure in America and the world, even if I believe history will view his presidency in a less than favorable light. Since I am a fan of jerseys, however, I will present you with a selection of Mr. Obama’s collection since it is pretty substantial. Mr. Obama’s collection just goes to show that sports and politics (as well as business) are rarely independent of one another, even if the outgoing President believes that they can be separate.

 

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November 2013: The NHL Champion Chicago Blackhawks Visit the White House. From USA Today: “the Chicago Blackhawks visited the White House for the traditional meeting with the president. As is customary, the team gave President Obama a customized jersey — this time, a road sweater with Obama’s name and the number 13, representing the year of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/11/blackhawks-jersey-obama

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A Little Bonus Coverage Of Sports And Politics In The US Media Here. The USA Today Noted That The Chicago Blackhawks Presented Mr. Obama With Three-Year Old Jersey (One Above). In Response, They Posted The Above Picture With the Caption: “At least it’s not as bad as the time the 1972 Miami Dolphins completely misspelled the president’s name.” Of Course, The 1972 Miami Dolphins Were Not Misspelling Mr. Obama’s Name, They Were Celebrating Their Undefeated 1972 Season; The Comment Represents A Small Shaming Of The Team For Not Presenting An “Obama” Jersey. Critical Readings Of The Media Are Necessary. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/11/blackhawks-jersey-obama

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April 2013: The University of Alabama (American) Football Team Visit the White House. From USA Today: “The University of Alabama Crimson Tide, college football champions for the third time in four years, presented the president with one more jersey — as well as a helmet and football — during a White House ceremony Monday, adding to an ever-expanding list of presidential gifts.” Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/04/15/obama-alabama-jersey-gifts-national-archives/2084645/

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April 2015. NFL Champion New England Patriots Visit The White House. Note The Political Tensions Inherent In This Comment By Mr. Obama: “‘I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events, but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat,’ Obama quipped, referencing the Deflategate saga.” The main protagonist of the “deflategate” controversy was New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, a Prominent Republican Who Did Not Attend This Ceremony. Image And Quote Courtesy Of: https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/04/23/patriots-minus-tom-brady-set-for-white-house-visit/ozlYSf3PvGBiSPdsRF9lvJ/story.html

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Bonus! Just Because Its an Amusing Picture. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/patriots_nfl/the_blitz/2015/04/obama_jokes_about_deflategate_as_white_house_salutes_patriots

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May 2016. College Basketball Champions Villanova University Visit the White House. Mr. Obama Doesn’t Seem Too Pleased; Perhaps He Prefers Un-Framed Jerseys. From rollcall.com: Barack Obama showed his love of college basketball one last time as president by welcoming this year’s NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats to the White House.” Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.rollcall.com/news/hoh/villanova-basketball-fan-ncaa-obama-president
470461508.jpgApril 2015. Mr. President Doesn’t Look Too Pleased, Perhaps Because It Means He Will Need a Bigger Closet. College Basketball Champions Ohio State University Visit the White House. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gettyimages.com/event/obama-welcomes-national-champion-ohio-state-university-buckeyes-to-white-house-549283835?#president-barack-obama-receives-a-team-jersey-as-he-hosts-the-ohio-picture-id470461360

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August 2010. The NFL Champion New Orleans Saints Visit The White House. Post Hurricane Katrina, President Obama Sends a Political Message. From CBS News: “’I’m a Bears fan, I’m not going to lie, but this was a big win for the country – not just New Orleans’ the president said. He noted that after Hurricane Katrina the Saints had to play an entire season on the road because their home stadium, the Superdome, was ruined in the storm”. Image And Quote Courtesy Of: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2010/08/09/obama-welcomes-saints-to-white-house/

Lebron-Heat-Obama-jersey-and-autographed-ball-e1359494230358.jpgJanuary 2013. The NBA Champion Miami Heat Visit the White House and Mr. Obama Is More Enthused Alongside Lebron James. Image Courtesy Of: http://thatsenuff.com/2013/01/29/mama-i-made-it-heat-visit-the-white-house/

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February 2016. NBA Champion Golden State Warriors Visit the White House. Interestingly, Mr. Obama Managed a Near Carbon Copy of His January 2013 Smile. Image Courtesy Of: http://abc7news.com/sports/warriors-honored-by-obama-at-the-white-house/1186562/

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October 2015. The FIFA Women’s World Cup Winning US Women’s National Soccer Team Visits the White House. Note the Amazing Design Of the Numbering, Hats Off To Nike. From npr.org: “This team taught all of America’s children that ‘playing like a girl’ means you’re a badass,” he [Mr. Obama] said. Image and Quote Courtesy Of: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/10/27/452260571/obama-to-u-s-womens-soccer-team-playing-like-a-girl-means-youre-a-badass

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For Those Interested in Mr. Obama’s Connection to Football, Please Check Out Sports Illustrated’s Article. It Includes This Amazing Image From 2009, when Brazilian President Lula Presented the American President With a Brazil Jersey. Judging By Mr. Obama’s Reaction, It Just Isn’t The Same as Receiving an American Jersey. Image courtesy of: http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/photo/2017/01/19/president-barack-obama-soccer-mls-usmnt-uswnt-world-cup

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One Final Bonus Comes From a Russian News Site. Russia-insider.com Managed To Dig Up This Piece. It Shows the Odd Connection Between Sports, Militarism, Nationalism, and Politics In the United States. Note Russia-insider’s Caption “A Big Fan Of Himself”. Image Courtesy Of: http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/obama-rails-against-putin-many-others-un-speech/ri10016

Cultural Hegemony, Free Speech, and Terrorism in Turkey: (Un)Happy New Year

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After at least 39 people were killed in a heinous New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub there has been a lot of soul searching in Turkey. What does the attack mean for a country that is rejected by the West on most terms, yet is targeted by ISIS for being a member of the West? Understandably, this “identity crisis” has affected many Turks. The latest news claims that the attacker may have been a Uighur, a member of the Turkic Muslim ethnic group that lives mainly in Western China’s Xinjiang region. If this is the case, it would represent (sadly) yet another example of blowback in American foreign policy, since there have been reports of Uighurs being trained in Pakistan (and, by extension, their client the United States) in order to destabilize China. A 2009 piece in the Washington Post called for increased support of Uighurs in the face of Chinese repression, and such American support is not surprising given the Soviet Union’s support for Uighurs in the past; the policies of the USSR in the distant past—and the United States in the recent past—both aimed to destabilize China, a geopolitical rival to both powers. Now with the rise of the Turkistan Islamic Movement—yet another Jihadist group that has emerged from the Syrian civil war—these policies have been complicated and have begun to produce unexpected consequences.

Given the complicated mix of international intrigue and ethnic affinities that are swirling around the Middle East, it is understandable that there is a sense of bewilderment in Turkey. One disgusting response came from, of all people, a football referee.

 

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The Referee In Question. Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

 

Regional referee from Kutahya province, Suleyman Belli, posted on his Facebook page in the wake of the Reina attack:

“What happened your Santa Claus isn’t always going to bring presents 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Maybe the raki [Anise-flavored Turkish Brandy] and beers you drink will be your bliss on the other side just kidding you’ve been left empty handed 🙂 🙂 🙂 :)”

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Mr. Belli’s Distasteful Post (With an Even Worse Graphic). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

The reference to Santa Claus refers to reports that the Reina gunman was wearing a Santa Claus outfit; it is also an example of the thinly veiled anti-Christian sentiment that has gradually emerged in Turkey during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the last 14 years, which also led to a gun being pulled on a Santa Claus character in western Turkey during the last week of 2016.

 

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Santa Claus Has Seen Better Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/noel-baba-protestosuna-10-gozalti-1598573/

 

While Mr. Belli was forced to delete the comment from his Facebook page after public outrage, it is notable that the response—especially from authorities—wasn’t more severe. Unfortunately, it is representative of a far bigger problem in Turkey: many people have accepted the hegemony of the ruling AKP and are all-too-willing to accept, at times, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic rhetoric in favor of the party’s pro-Sunni Muslim stance. Of course, this conflicts with the fact that ISIS/ISIL/DAESH—who claimed responsibility for the Reina attack—are also Sunni Muslims. The most disturbing issue is that the AKP’s hegemony means that free speech exists only insofar as it does not hit the government.

Mr. Belli faced no legal repercussions for his disgusting support of the cowardly killing of innocent party-goers. On the other hand, just days later on 3 January 2017, Turkish designer Barbaros Sansal was attacked on the tarmac at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport by Turkish Airlines employees. Mr. Sansal, an outspoken critic of the AKP government, was returning to Turkey after being deported from Northern Cyprus for ”insulting the Turkish nation”. While Mr. Sansal’s comments, in which he criticizes the government for all of the recent instability and closes by telling Turkey to “drown in [its own] s***”, were not the most couth, they were still just his opinion (just like Mr. Belli’s Facebook post). It was Mr. Sansal’s comments, however, which got a response from the AKP’s outspoken Ankara mayor (who football fans know well) Melih Gokcek and led to his arrest for “inciting hatred among the public”.

 

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Mr. Sansal’s Attack. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

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Mr. Gokcek’s Attack and A Few Opposing Views. Note the Ankaragucu Football Club’s Badge in the Post by “Ankara Jan”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

 

Mr. Sansal effectively paid the price for going against the AKP’s cultural hegemony (to borrow the term from Antonio Gramsci) when making his (admittedly uncouth) comments. This cultural hegemony which aims to (re)define the nation state is further dividing Turkey every day. Even a small scale industrial worker in Istanbul became an internet phenomenon overnight after his battle with AKP supporters on social media. After experiencing an unexplained power outage in Istanbul during the first week of 2017, Sehmus Seven Tweeted Energy Minister Berat Albayrak to ask for help since his business had been without electricity for five days. Government supporters attacked Mr. Seven on social media, accusing him of being an Israeli agent, a member of the opposition CHP, and a member of the Kurdish PKK, among other things. In response, an exasperated Mr. Seven said “some [people] called me a Marxist-Leninist! I don’t even know what a Marxist-Leninist is. One [person] says I’m an agent for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, another [person] asks if I’m an Israeli agent. I say there is no electricity and the person asks if I want to divide the country. I don’t get it! I just wanted electricity. I’m a nationalist. I have seven insured employees. I pay my taxes and insurance on time”.

 

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The Exchange between Mr. Seven and Government Supporters. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/esnaf-sehmus-marksis-leninist-nedir-bilmiyorum-ben-milliyetciyim

 

Here, Mr. Seven was shamed for going against the AKP’s narrative of developing the country by protesting the lack of electricity. Interestingly, just as the international trend of decolonization in the 1960s and 1970s saw its parallel in the United States with the civil rights movement, we have seen developments in the United States parallel to those in Turkey where a similar attempt to re-define the nation-state has led to further division.

Since Donald Trump’s victory in the election the United States has become divided to a dangerous degree. One of the most sickening manifestations of this division surfaced on 5 January 2017 when four people were held for an attack that was live-streamed on Facebook. In the attack four African-Americans assaulted a bound and gagged special needs man while making “derogatory statements against white people and President-elect Donald Trump” according to the BBC story (CNN later reported that they said “F*ck Donald Trump! F*ck white people!”). The assailants remove part of the victim’s scalp with a knife and make him drink from a toilet bowl while forcing him—at knife point—to say “I love black people”. While the four assailants have been arrested and are being charged with a “hate crime” it doesn’t solve the problem that there is a real division in American society. US President Barack Obama made a predictably weak statement in response to the attack, calling it “despicable” while opining “What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time. Whether it’s tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook. The good news is that the next generation that’s coming behind us … have smarter, better, more thoughtful attitudes about race.” I suppose Mr. Obama didn’t realize that the assailants were the next generation—three of the four were 18 years old!

 

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The Assailants in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38525549

 

Instead of realizing that the recent emphasis on racial identity in the United States (please see college sports and the Confederate flag debate)—in order to re-define the country as a racist state—has actually perpetuated further division, Mr. Obama chose to pay lip service without actually addressing the real problems. Until people in the world—whether in Turkey, the United States, or anywhere else—realize that the answer to societal problems is not to be found by dividing people by creating new cultural norms (and hegemonies), however, it is unlikely that we will see any more global stability in 2017 than we saw in 2016, and that in itself should make people think. Many people would do well to make a New Year’s resolution to think more independently—and more critically—about the world around them so as to not fall into the trap of blindly succumbing to cultural hegemony.

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