In the early 2000s, I spent many nights at the now defunct Emma St Bar & Grill, a truck stop diner located just off I-75 in Findlay, Ohio. Open twenty-four hours, it offered cheap, greasy food and bottomless cups of coffee.
By occupying the strange position of both problem and solution, democracy in the twenty-first century has become something surprisingly reminiscent of the totalizing, ideologically laden politics to which it is often deemed antithetical.
This was not the story I intended to write. That was a fictional story, though like many fictional stories it was inspired by a true event.
Virtually every critical review of the new adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has drawn parallels between the series’ fictional totalitarian theocracy, Gilead, and the policies and ideological proclivities of Donald Trump’s administration.
Identity is a complicated thing. It is not, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, like simply hanging a label onto a person, though the contemporary discussion addressing identity—and identity politics, specifically—often imagines this to be the case.
In his recent book, Poverty, by America, Matthew Desmond writes, Poverty might consume your life, but its rarely embraced as an identity. Its more socially acceptable today to disclose a mental illness than to tell someone youre broke. The striking thing about this statement is the degree to which it is both completely true and totally wrong.
In the wake of the Supreme Courts recent vote to end affirmative action, legacy admissions have become a convenient scapegoat for the massive inequalities that pervade higher education in The United States. Derided by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as affirmative action for the privileged, and by countless others as affirmative action for white people, legacy admissions are transparently nepotistic and contradict the self-professed meritocratic ideals of university mission statements. Education, we are told, is precisely the sort of institution where anyone can succeed by dedication and hard work alone, not by being born into a wealthy, connected family.
On a humid day in the summer of 2010, amidst the lingering fallout from the financial crisis, I entered New York’s Penn Station and boarded a train headed for northwest Ohio.
On August 15, 2018, a little over three months before she would form an exploratory committee for the Democratic presidential nomination, Elizabeth Warren issued a press release announcing new legislation. The Accountable Capitalism Act, a hilarious contradiction in terms, promised to eliminate skewed market incentives and return America to an era when corporations and workers did well together.
The reality is that Trumps presidency has been anything but not normal. It has continued the same brutal worldview of his predecessors, albeit with unorthodox theatrics that has made the mockery of our two-party system transparent.
Few narratives remain as endearing to the American mythos as the frontier. The images it has given us—from the small-town saloon of drunken gunslingers to the rugged cowboy wandering a lonely, expansive landscape—symbolize the organizing principles of American capitalism: individualism and self-sufficiency, property rights, a domination of nature, and a masculine celebration of violence as a vehicle for creation (“disruption,” as it is now called in startup speak). In our increasingly borderless world of global capital, the frontier’s legacy continues to validate a conquest of land and people that falsely imagines itself without limits.