Loving & Loathing The NFL Draft

Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash

Despite myself, despite it all, I love the NFL Draft.

The NFL as an entity has a million problems and reasons I cannot stand it, all of it having to do with the League, ownership, management, and especially the culture and narrative that they put out into the world. Sports are a story, tied to geography and family and childhood and team history and players, and the NFL is the biggest league of all in this country; they should be doing a much better job with all of these factors. The reason it is, and remains, hugely popular, aside from these ties that bind people to their teams and rivalries, is, I think, three-fold: 

1. The Game. Football is brutal, but it is incredibly compelling as a game in and of itself because there is so much nuance involved. The more you watch and learn, the more the game comes alive through the ways in which these nuances are illuminated for you as a viewer. Have you ever tried to explain football to a little kid? It has so many weird rules (good luck explaining Illegal Shift or covering up tackles at the line of scrimmage) and while I can no longer imagine a time when I didn’t understand football, I also think the nuances and rules are what keep people away at first, because you watch a snap, giant men smash into each other, maybe you get three yards, or an incomplete pass, or seven yards, and this makes up literally 90% of the game– there is so much to understand. But it is pretty amazing as a game in that way. So good, in fact, that the in addition to the NFL, college football– essentially the league’s farm system– is a multi-billion dollar industry of its own.  

2. The Money. Much like American capitalism, that subsidizes and protects wealth (hello, Job Creators!) while pretending to be a “free market,” the NFL is actually a socialist system masquerading as an elite capitalist system. On the one hand, the sport venerates owners, the billionaires who literally own teams and make upper management decisions within the teams, as being somehow related to the success or failure on the field to the point that they hand the Super Bowl trophy to the owner of the team. Not the team captain, the owner. On the other hand, NFL teams are franchises and so owners have all of their downside protected by the League via the salary cap (the playing field is essentially level for all teams in terms of player salaries), revenue sharing from TV, licensing, merchandise, they receive public subsidies for stadiums from which they get to personally profit, etc. There is NO risk in owning an NFL team– all you have to do is have enough money to own one and then hire good managers and acquire good players and win (not nothing, obviously), but you can also NOT do that: you can stink at the minimum expectations of ownership for generations and still make a ton of money- JUST ASK MY FELLOW LIONS FANS.

Additionally, players can make millions, participate in commercial promotions, licensing deals, etc but their downside is 100% exposed- they are one knee injury away from being out of the league for good, and while contracts have guaranteed money, that is about all a player can really plan for and count on. Still, becoming a millionaire athlete is not the worst thing for players, especially since they, unlike the owners, often come from working class backgrounds and were, in that space, the NFL remains a dream. Have I mentioned the multi-billion dollar business of gambling among fans? Or the way in which the business of football– contracts, free agency, salary caps, trades– are the story of the sport for 75% of the year? The Draft is a part of that, too, of course. Fans at once love and resent this structure- they covet successful ownership and franchises, they hate players making money when they don’t perform, they love when they get a player on a relatively cheap contract and they over perform, etc. Fans *relate* to the business of the NFL and its veneration of ownership because the the NFL, wisely, makes the transactional nature of the day to day business of football transparent as a way of distracting from the obvious truth that it is enriching owners who carry little to no risk. #Merica

3. The Storytelling. This is, for me, the lowest common denominator factor of the NFL– it is a bunch of management in suits deciding to make the story of millionaire players and billionaire owners accessible by turning the league’s “brand” and “culture” into a constant dive into simple, conservative narratives via performative patriotism. It is no wonder that a sport where the business of the game perfectly reflects the economic system of the country that loves it needs to find a way to keep the masses happy and engaged outside of the 60 minutes on the field. And full credit to them: it was successful for a long, long time. But times are shifting and changing and the NFL continues to double down on its old world values, much to my massive personal disappointment. I don’t think the NFL brass wanted the game to become politically polarized, but they have been fostering a narrative that reenforces the inequities of the American system for so long, I don’t think they even realized they were doing it until it was too late (or perhaps the word is “inconvenient”) for them– the system they reenforce is literally the one that they perpetuate in their daily cultural and business practices. The NFL has done such a good job, like America itself, of driving perception away from its true moneymaking nature (subsidizing owners, no downside protection for players, all paid for by the fans to whom they try to pander) that they can prioritize the narrative theater of performative patriotism, crucial to the brand’s storytelling and identity, instead of acknowledging the concerns of their own players and many of their fans. 

Which of course leads me to The Draft. Even though I have a very hard time watching NFL games because all of the conditions above make me very, very disappointed, the one event that really connects all three phases of the NFL’s success is the Draft- it is where the dreams of the players come true, where the work of college football to introduce us to players becomes a story merged with the hopes and dreams of the team’s fans, who see a renewal and possibility in young, talented players. It ties in the very specific, nuanced aspects of the game- why is one player better than another? What “system” does an individual team run and what available players best fit that system? And it is the perfect platform for fan empowerment in the system: we all have our ideas of who is the best “fit” for our teams, if only these jerk owners and the dumb managers they hire would just see it and draft players OUR WAY! Bad drafts define management, as do good ones- it is a referendum on our perception of our team, on the future pain or success on the field that we will endure or enjoy as fans. And for many people, there is nothing more hopeful in America than watching primarily working class kids put on a suit and become rich on live TV. Throw in interest in your college program of choice and tracking where you favorite players land, and it is really another terrific event that enhances the fan relationship to their team, and thus the game, the league, the system. The Draft has become a huge event for these reasons- if it was boring to everyone, it wouldn’t be so popular. 

For me it has one huge flaw, but not a fatal one: Sports media (and thus the League’s) fixation on “human interest” stories among the players, which unfortunately, they tie to personal hardship which, once again, reenforces the idea that players are people just like you and me who have “worked hard” and now get to be “rich” and isn’t the NFL great for making that dream come true? On the one hand, I think that is great for the players. On the other hand, the constant reminder of a kid’s dead relative or how terrible the conditions of poverty are in which they grew up or how their father is incarcerated isn’t quite telling the story they think it is; it is mirroring a broken social system the NFL’s own narrative and fiscal model perpetuate.

Still gonna watch the Draft, tho.

Hoping my #DetroitLions get:

An Offensive Tackle at Pick 7 (Sewell or Slater in that order) or trade down (looking possible).

A Wide Receiver or LB in Round 2

A Saftey or Wide Receiver in Round 3

But let’s see what happens. 


Photo by Taras Chernus on Unsplash

As the United States moves into a new era of governance with a divided Congress and a new Presidential administration under Joe Biden, calls for unity and moving on from the era of Trumpism have reached a fever pitch. The desperation among many for the normalcy of moderate government in the aftermath of the unconscionable catastrophe of the Trump presidency is, in many ways, an understandable reaction to the collective trauma with which we now must grapple; Joe Biden has built his campaign and his self-managed transition on the idea of the nation “coming together as Americans.”  But while nostalgia for a principled, unified past as the basis for future progress is superficially comforting, the reality of the moment demands something else entirely: a reconciliation with the very hard truth that through deep systemic failure, our nation gave near-absolute power to an unqualified, narcissistic, criminal sociopath and, true to his brutal, self-interested nature, he set about the task of dismantling our society, fracturing it into a million pieces. Our ideals are now a broken mirror, shards that reflect deep, longstanding problems which demand redress.

When we think about trauma, we often resort to our understanding of the psychological impacts of violence, repression, and targeting on individuals, a subjective experience based on their personal relationship to the trauma inflicted, wherein the experiences of black men will be different from immigrant children will be different from transwomen and men, etc. Each individual action of repression has a profound impact on each individual person and in this way, our collective ability to deal with the consequences of Trumpism, an ongoing, emboldened cultural identity that only two weeks ago inspired a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, will require specific action that begins-and only begins- with accountability for those responsible.

But with Trump’s intentional, disastrous failure at dealing with COVID-19 demanding a massive amount of time, money, and social will, there is a real fear that the need to finally confront the pandemic will supersede the necessary reckoning with trauma not only for individuals who have suffered, but for our nation. Already, Republican Trumpist collaborators are threatening that any attempt to bring consequences to bear on those responsible for this sustained attack on our democracy should be rejected in the name of “national healing“, an idea that stands more as a threat than a call for reconciliation. But American needs a bigger, better idea; Trumpism must be systematically dismantled and removed, without compromise, from every legitimate corner of American politics, because Trumpism has proven itself to be wholly incompatible with democracy.

The well-documented phenomenon of social amnesia is a real concern, the “result of ‘forcible repression’ of memories, ignorance, changing circumstances, or the forgetting that comes from changing interests.” The battle for how we remember, process, understand, and overcome the trauma of Trumpism will define how we triumph over it. The first and most crucial step in the formalization of post-traumatic collective memory is to invest in transparency and truth. Troublingly, the failure of the state to restrain Trumpism will require those responsible for this failure to expose their own shortcomings. We know how that will likely go.

Transparency begins with Joe Biden, and yet his calls for unity and the focus on his agenda has frustratingly ignored the lingering impact of the trauma of the Trumpist years. Biden has laughed off Trump and ignored every ridiculous indignity, instead focusing on building his own transition process with seriousness and determination. And though sustaining a transition while an unstable President completely unravels into a pile of self-pitying inaction may be a survival tactic to carry the nation to Inauguration Day, Biden’s refusal to take the need for consequences seriously, his laughing disdain for Trumpist theatrics, feels like one more dismissal of our shared trauma. I’m not sure he understands how deeply the nation has been injured. We need to be heard, to be understood, and to share in the validation and legitimization of our experience. After years of gaslighting and the demolition of belief in the ability of our institutions to stand up to their debasement at the hands of Trump, we need more than just the truth; we must demand that our shared experience is validated and, most importantly, we must see vindication for our belief that our system is still capable of delivering equal justice under the law.

Depending on how the next few months go, how much information is made public and how many crimes go unremarked upon, Biden’s failure to acknowledge the nation’s wounds could be a destructive, foundational mistake that seeks to appease a movement hell-bent on establishing authoritarian, antidemocratic power in the hands of Trumpist Republicans.  As Trump’s disingenuous claims of “election fraud” have ricocheted through public life, the climactic lie of a years-long assault on truth without a single meaningful consequence, the scope of the challenge facing the nation remains daunting; the very freedoms upon which we define our nation have been weaponized and turned against us by a movement that sees freedom solely as a lack of consequence and restraint for powerful Trumpists. And now that institutional power has somehow survived the assault and miraculously shifted, Trumpists are asking us to put the past aside, to forget and move on. Joe Biden seems to want the same.

This would, of course, be a catastrophic mistake. Our collective survival and healing depends on not forgetting. We must  remember everything,  we must not let to go. We must instead experience the catharsis of justice.



“The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.”- Jean Renoir, THE RULES OF THE GAME

For years now, fealty to the narrative of American freedom has dismissed the concerns of those who have seen Trumpism for the emergent fascist, authoritarian movement that it is, with many scoffing at comparisons between Trumpist politics and historical authoritarian movements as an “overreaction.” In so doing, they have created a harbor for the normalization of Trumpism. Rather than confront the obvious, something within the hearts of millions– be it racism, economic greed, the thrall of disinformation, a pathetic appreciation of feigned “strength,” egotistical contrarianism, or any of a litany of other “reasons” that have been the subject of endless hand-wringing puff pieces in the national media– allowed them to re-frame Trumpism as a legitimate form of democratic governance; extreme, impolite, a test of norms, but legitimate nonetheless. That normalization has provided harbor to and made common cause with right-wing extremism, whose emboldened sense of entitlement as the sole subjects of our shared institutions of democracy saw thousands of Americans participate in a violent conspiracy to overthrow the legitimate will of the nation and stop Congress from validating the 2020 election.

The exclusivity of this entitlement is crucial, whatever its origin, be it race, religion, or class.  At its core is a belief that our collective identity as a nation, that freedom as a concept, exists only to allow the individual to impose her or his own values and needs over the top of everything and everyone else. Freedom is seen, essentially, as freedom from constraint. Holding this idea is how a group of people who literally hate the majority of their fellow citizens, who hate the diversity of ideas and experience that make up American society, have come to believe themselves to be “patriots.”  The idea that America exists to serve the interests of a single individual– as a “Christian” nation, as a “white” nation– is, in this case, a mirror image of Trump’s own psychopathic narcissism.

But Trumpism is a void; an endless need for narcissistic validation, an endless destruction of constraints in the name of self-interest. After years of shouting “where is the bottom?” into this void, many who dismissed the earliest, obvious signals of the horrors that awaited us have finally come to realize that there is no bottom at all. After years of breaking rules without consequence, emboldened by the self-validation of a relentless infrastructure of disinformation, the psychological connection forged between Trump’s self-interest and the exclusivity of entitlement among his supporters now imagines America itself as the constraint. Republican loyalists, realizing that the conservative vision of self-interest is insufficient to replace the psychological power of this fantasy of unconstrained exclusive individualism (and whose own history of economic and social policy has fomented this fiction), have decided to use the terrible outcome of this philosophy, a literal terror attack that sought to overthrow the government, and throw it into the void of Trumpism.


The novelist A.R. Moxon, who has been an essential critic of the rise of Trumpism, clearly paralleled the rationale that got us here when he wrote:

“Historians have a word for Germans who joined the Nazi party, not because they hated Jews, but out of a hope for restored patriotism, or a sense of economic anxiety, or a hope to preserve their religious values, or dislike of their opponents, or raw political opportunism, or convenience, or ignorance, or greed.

The word is ‘Nazi.’

Nobody cares about their motives anymore. They joined what they joined. They lent their support and moral approval. And, in so doing, they bound themselves to everything that came after.”

Tens of millions of Americans have made common cause with Trumpism, and now?  We cannot afford to pretend to care why anymore. Today, as the House of Representatives convened to consider a second set of Articles Of Impeachment of the President, one Trumpist after the next took to the microphone to declare the effort to hold the President to account for leading an insurrectionist coup as “divisive,” to continue to ally themselves with the myth of exclusive entitlement, to repeat the lie that the election was illegitimate, threatening the rest of us with division if we don’t let them get away with it all. But isn’t this the Republican way, to make equivalence between reason and unreason in order to provide cover for their hypocrisy and collaboration? Underneath it all, a legitimization of grievance and violence, of an insurrection. These were threats that consequences for the crimes committed will only lead to more violence and that it will be our fault.

These are the same fools who refused to wear a mask as they shelter in place during an insurrection and infected their fellow Congresspeople with COVID-19, who took to the floor of the House in the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol and maintained their support for the lie of a fraudulent election. They arrived at the Capitol yesterday to find new security screening procedures and balked, confronting and dismissing the same US Capitol Police officers they claimed to support, putting their fellow Congresspeople in further danger. And now, with the Biden Administration on the way in, they use in bi-partisanship as a carrot to avoid accountability for an autogolpe until they can withdraw it for the stick of their continued obstruction of the will of the people.

They cannot get away with this. The nation will not unify with seditionists and their apologists. American will only move on when there is justice. The stakes could not be higher, the action more grievous, and yet, here they stand, once again, terrorized by their own leader, cowering behind indefensible rhetoric, seeking to hold us down in the void they have made. They know their cause is lost in the House and that they can use their vote as cover, and they lecture us on unity and healing. They have their reasons, like all Trumpists. What they do not have is America. Yet.

On Conspiracy

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

Wednesday’s failed white nationalist coup at the U.S. Capitol was enacted by a mob who were called to action through a coordinated campaign of disinformation and lies; a planned, consistent narrative that explicitly sought to create the outcome of an assault on Congress to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote.

From the outset of his 2016 Presidential campaign, The President of the United States sought to discredit even the possibility of his own loss as a conspiracy against him, and after losing in 2020, took this fantasy to his supporters, amplified these falsehoods and tethered them to dangerous, unhinged illusions gaining power among low-information communities seeking to re-enforce their straw man hatred of the left. We  then saw loyalist politicians in the GOP amplify his lies, lending them the political legitimacy of his party. Then, after months of escalating these lies, the President planned and staged a rally at the White House on January 6, the day Congress would certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory,  to gather his most radicalized believers and send them to attack the Congress.

As the President launched his coordinated attack on our democracy through an humiliating, laughable attempt to overturn state elections, his supporters heeded his call to descend on Washington, DC. The individuals involved in the attack made plans with one another on social media platforms, from Facebook to Twitter to Reddit to Parler to Rumble, using these tools to radicalize others, escalate rhetoric, and most importantly, organize and plan the occupation of the US Capitol, which was the explicit goal they repeatedly articulated. We know what happened next.

In the aftermath of the attack, proof of on-site coordination at the Capitol are now coming into view. Using the chaos of a mass surge through multiple points of entry, a subset of the white nationalist mob were clearly collaborating to search for Congressional representatives. There are images of individual white nationalist terrorists in the Congressional chambers with zip tie handcuffs, seemingly prepared to restrain government leaders, seemingly collaborating on the floor of Congress. A gallows was erected on the Capitol grounds. Social media messages from and on-air interviews with participants in the riot have made clear the plan to capture and murder national leaders, including Vice President and Trumpist coward Mike Pence. When their efforts failed, the Capitol Police allowed them to walk away. Federal law enforcement are now working to identify and arrest them as they have scattered across the nation.

Trumpists remain unmoved. During the evening of this coordinated attack on our democracy, 147 Republicans walked through the desecrated halls of Congress in order to continue to foster and extend the President’s seditious plot by voting against the certification of Pennsylvania’s electoral vote, aligning the power of their elected offices with the insurgent, white nationalist terrorist movement of Trumpism. How better to maintain the opportunity to continue to seek the delegitimization of the incoming Biden administration and prepare the nation for a relentless effort to obstruct American progress?


This is what an ACTUAL conspiracy look like. This continues to be a coordinated alliance between white nationalist hate groups, QAnon, and domestic terrorists which has been incubated within the mainstream credibility of the Republican Party, fueled by the lies of a deranged President and his political allies, for the purpose of coordinating a violent attack on the Congress on behalf of the Executive branch in order to legitimize a fantasy about electoral fraud and discard the election to maintain Donald Trump’s power as President.

As always with Trumpism, the unhinged theories and fantasies of right wing nationalist movements are a form of nauseatingly obvious projection, providing transparent cover for the real-life actions of Trump and his community. Trumpism is, and always has been, entirely predicated on projection, from the tacky mirage of wealth and success as a façade to hide financial crime, to screams of political malfeasance about “her emails” providing cover for a Russian intelligence operation against the Democratic Party. This is a movement that sees a self-confessed sexual abuser, who was literally caught on camera ogling young women with an accused sex trafficker, as a champion in the fight against the sexual abuse of children. Of course, they are also aligned with traditional white supremacist terrorists, literal neo-Nazis who have found shelter and comfort in the racist enabling of Trumpism, with police forces across the nation making common cause with armed, violent nationalists, and the President cheering them on and ordering the continual brutalization of the left and people of color.

Trump’s willful lies about “Democrat(ic) cities” (aka communities of color) “dumping votes” in the dark of night are also a projection about Trump’s own efforts to dismantle free and fair elections through voter disenfranchisement, whether that be his collusion with his criminal Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in dismantling the United States Postal Service in order to not deliver mail-in votes in critical cities in swing states to his phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger seeking to coerce him into “finding” enough votes to overturn the results of Georgia’s already suppressed election.

Trumpism continues to conceal real conspiracy through lies and fiction, broadcasting fascist intention and plotting direct action out in the open while sowing fantasies that reenforce the narcissism of a growing community of self-certain believers. The Republican Party continues to not only align itself with these obvious lies, but to use them as cover to conspire with Trump to undermine the government. We cannot move on, we must fight back immediately with a coordinated action by the Department of Justice and use every tool available across jurisdictions around America to hold these conspirators to account.

Otherwise? Well, despite disingenuous politicians like Matt Gaetz floating another lie that seeks to provide cover for his support for a Beer Hall Putsch by transforming it into a Reichstag Fire (by blaming “leftist” agitators for leading the attack on the Capitol), an emergent fascist movement does not end after finding relative success using a violent attack to hold the nation in the thrall of its imagined grievances. The right will continue to conspire and coordinate, to unify its message, to send signals to its true believers and build its unconscionable coalition to meet its ultimate goal of consolidating America under GOP power and control.

Double System

On August 25, 2020, people took to the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by local police officers. That evening, an Illinois teenager named Kyle Rittenhouse who, he claims, had come to Kenosha armed with an AR-15 assault rifle to help defend private property, was confronted at a car dealership and ended up shooting and killing a local man named Joseph Rosenbaum. Others, seeing the shooting, tried to confront Rittenhouse, and he shot and killed Anthony Huber, shot and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, and fired more shots at those seeking to intervene in the violence. Rittenhouse, seeing police cars ahead, raised his hands in surrender and walked toward them as the police drove right past him without incident. He then got in his car and drove home, before peacefully turning himself in to police in Illinois the next day.

The right-wing in America, particularly 2nd amendment absolutists and racists who denounce the movement against systemic racism in policing, immediately lept to Rittenhouse’s defense, declaring him a hero who acted in self-defense and raising money to pay for his legal costs. Rittenhouse and his family created merchandise celebrating him, selling it online to his supporters. The President of The United States, asked about the shootings, said

“He was trying to get away from them, I guess … and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. He was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed, but it’s under investigation.”

Three days after Rittenhouse surrendered, on August 29, a Trumpist coalition of right-wing extremists undertook what became one of the symbols of the summer of 2020 in America, a “Trump Cruise Rally”, creating a critical mass of cars and trucks on the streets of downtown Portland, Oregon. In the aftermath of the “cruise,” Aaron Danielson, a member of the extreme right-wing group Patriots Prayer, engaged in a confrontation with Michael Reinoehl, an anti-fascist activist. During the confrontation, Reinoehl shot and killed Danielson and escaped on foot. Reinoehl was interviewed about the confrontation, where he also claimed self-defense.

The President of The United States took to Twitter to say:

“Why aren’t the Portland Police ARRESTING the cold blooded killer of Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson. Do your job, and do it fast. Everybody knows who this thug is. No wonder Portland is going to hell! @TheJustice Dept @FBI”

While evading arrest, Reinoehl told Vice Magazine:

“They’re out hunting me. There’s nightly posts of the hunt and where they’re going to be hunting. They made a post saying the deer are going to feel lucky this year because it’s open season on Michael right now.”  He had not turned himself in, he said, because he believed right-wing protesters were collaborating with police, who will not protect him or his family.

On September 3, US Marshals and the FBI confronted Reinoehl, and he was shot and killed. Speaking about Reinoehl’s death, The President of The United States implied that law enforcement had engaged in the extrajudicial murder of Reinoehl, saying at a political rally in North Carolina:

“We sent in the US Marshals. It took 15 minutes (and) it was over. They knew who he was; they didn’t want to arrest him, and in 15 minutes that ended…The US Marshals went in to get him, and in a short period of time — they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal, and I will tell you something: That’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”

On April 17, 2020, The President of The United States, reportedly unhappy with the criticism he faced from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Governors of other states for not coordinating a federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic (which left states to manage the crisis in a patchwork of local regulations, shortages of equipment, and no Federal plan) wrote on Twitter:


On April 30, heavily armed activists entered the state Capitol in Lansing, to confront state Capitol police and intimidate lawmakers from enacting COVID-19 public health requirements. On May 1, The President of the United States wrote:

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

On the night of October 7, a group of men were arrested by the FBI for participating in an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer at her vacation home. Newsweek reported 

“The FBI charging document said “[s]everal members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor” and they discussed overthrowing state governments “that they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution.”

In response to this terrorist plot against the Governor, The President of The United States wrote on Twitter:

“Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job. She has locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities. The Federal Government provided tremendous help to the Great People of Michigan. My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement announced…today that they foiled a dangerous plot against the Governor of Michigan. Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist– while Biden and Democrats refuse to condemn Antifa, Anarchists, Looters and Mobs that burn down Democrat run cities…”

I’ll leave it there.

Yesterday, at a political rally that sought to protest the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden, The President of The United States spent two hours wallowing in the slop of his imagined grievances, using unambiguous language to tell his supporters to march on the United States Capitol, and promising to join them there to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. He then retreated to the comfort of the White House to watch them invade and ransack the Capitol.

Capitol police then ceded the building without much resistance, with right-wing extremist seditionists given the run of the building. Questions are being asked about how this was allowed to happen– how the police, who have used overwhelming force against peaceful protests in support of black lives did not use equivalent force to defend the Congress of The United States.

At the same time, the right-wing Trumpist disinformation machine kicked into gear, with Representative Matt Gaetz taking to the floor of the House of Representatives in the aftermath of this historic, tragic day to parrot Fox News commentators, blaming the storming of the building on “left-wing agitators” and “antifa” who they claimed, in a piece of propaganda so embarrassingly, transparently, odiously false that Joesph Goebbels would likely blush, had infiltrated the protest.

Simultaneously, longtime right-wing extremists proved this to be a lie, using social media to crow about their actions, posting photos and videos, and threatening police on camera that they will be back, they will be armed, and that “traitors get the rope.” They proved their seriousness by erecting a gallows on Federal property.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not only were these traitors allowed to terrorize Congress and debase the security of our nation while police were unable to contain them (even taking selfies with the criminals who were in the act of terrorizing our elected officials), they were allowed— like Kyle Rittenhouse before them, like the heavily armed Michigan extremists who stormed the state Capitol in April– they were allowed to walk away.

52 arrests yesterday despite thousands of Trumpists overwhelming Congressional security at the behest of the President of The United States. Congressmen like Matt Gaetz using this criminal action to dunk on legitimate concerns of police violence (to a round of applause from his collaborators) and spread disinformation, people like Senator Josh Hawley so smitten with themselves and their own, smug misunderstanding of the law, they refuse to stand down when their baseless objections (and raised fist of support) have inspired violent insurrection. Over 100 Congressmen returned to the chamber after it had been sacked, and doubled down on the President’s lies. And The President of The United States, in the relentless, bottomless service of his psychopathic ego, writing on Twitter

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever.”

It is impossible not to look across the past few months– at the disproportionate violence elevated against the left, against peaceful protestors denouncing police violence, at evidence of police collaboration with right-wing extremists, at the President leveraging the power of Federal law enforcement to extrajudicially kill a wanted man and calling it “retribution”, to his inspiration of an armed insurrection at the Michigan State Capitol and the plot to kidnap and potentially murder a sitting Democratic Governor, to his constant defense of white supremacist terrorists (from Charlottesville to his debate comment to the Proud Boys to “stand by and stand back”) to his direct instructions, after weeks of planning and promotion, that his supporters attack the Capitol– and not see the philosophical consistency behind these injustices.

Yesterday, lawmakers, the leaders of our nation, were forced to huddle under their desks, call their loved ones to tell them goodbye, and were terrorized by the President’s supporters. Guns were drawn by security forces, doors were barricaded. Confederate flags were waved in the nation’s Capitol. Offices were raided by men and women who, their smiles underscoring their absolute awareness of the impunity they had been given after months of direct support from the most powerful man in the world, taunted the Speaker of The House, pillaged the symbols of our Democracy, and they were allowed to walk away.

Much has been made about the judgements that have been passed on Trumpists, with hand-wringing and self-reflection an absolute one-way street by those who have tried to understand it. But now, are there really any questions? We’ve known it all along. Those that embrace the disinformation of the right, be it an avowed right-wing extremist or your parents or the neighbors next door, have embraced and made common cause with fascism. Reasons do not matter; you don’t get to stand alongside fascists, apologize for fascism and terror, argue the finer points of fascist disinformation or vandalize the seat of our Democracy arm in arm with a dude wearing a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt and still get to pretend you’re a decent, freedom loving, mom and pop yokel who just wants lower taxes and the brown people to quiet down.

Our collective democratic power and institutions– from local law enforcement and extremist police unions to the Department of Justice to the office of the President– has been bent to the service of a radical, white nationalist mob. Yesterday, acting on and making common cause with the psychopathic delusions of a failed President, they were allowed to vandalize that democracy, mock us, and they walked away from the scene of the crime because law enforcement refused to enforce the law.

There is a double system in America now, one for you and me, and one for white nationalists. One for people of color and their allies, and one for Roger Stone and Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn. Trumpists are cleared for criminal service of the fascist President’s will, and the rest of us get to eat shit as justice is leveraged as a political weapon.

Yesterday, members of Congress were forced to live in the reality that we have all been living in for four years while they enabled this enduring nightmare. They got to experience their own police force allowing them to be terrorized, they got to see their property destroyed, their workplaces torn apart by insanity.  The flags of Trumpism waving in their faces, the shit eating grins of those who want only to see their humiliation. And yet, despite a few reversals, many of them chose, in the aftermath of the worst day at the Capitol in centuries, to continue to make common cause with the man who unleashed this humiliation. To object to the obviously free and fair election of Joe Biden, to continue to divide the nation through disinformation about a non-existent conspiracy.

Congress and the incoming Department of Justice must stand up for the nation, remove the President, and see that every last one of the people who set foot in the Capitol yesterday is held to account. We aren’t facing down the beginning of a years long battle against white supremacist terror– we’re in the middle of one. And we must prevail.




As insurrectionists acted on an incitement from the President of The United States to storm the United States Capitol, terrorize Congress, and delay the certification of the Electoral College vote that would finally confirm Joe Biden’s election, the nation looked on in horror. White nationalists, waving Confederate flags, Trump campaign flags, with phones held aloft to document their crimes, easily and almost without incident overwhelmed and humiliated the Capitol police force, sending lawmakers scrambling for safety. The insurrectionists ransacked the Capitol, entered Congressional offices, and delayed the electoral process. With the Capitol still under occupation, the President of the United States wrote:

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever.”

I, like everyone, have been glued to this entire disgusting debacle from the moment it began, and I’ve been watching and listening carefully to the coverage of this historic, literal failure of the security of our institutions. The same words keep coming up; astonishing, unbelievable, unimaginable.


It is not just completely foreseeable, but it was inevitable, from this traitor’s first rally, physically threatening the press, to his desperate, escalating calls for violence against his political opponents to the weeks of publicly calling for today’s events to take place. 

The failure of America’s collective imagination has been profound, and this day has been incubated by each mollifying word from every single American who has downplayed the fascist, authoritarian movement that is Trumpism. Every bright red line that was crossed without consequence, every norm shattered that was met with a shrug, has brought us here. Every time someone decided it was important to tell us not to worry, that our institutions will hold, that we are overreacting, that it’s not that bad; each dismissal of legitimate concern has brought us here.  

But it has not been an incremental path to this moment; it has all been the same bleak, relentless road. Trumpism is an alliance; as we watched one of the grand symbols of our democracy ransacked by a group of seditionists, just days after one of the men with whom they made common cause exploded a car bomb in downtown Nashville, a straight line can be drawn backward in time, to Charlottesville, and beyond. It’s been said, but it never hurts to say it again, plainly: The Trump White House is an institution of white nationalist terror.

The dozens of Republican cowards who co-signed the President’s insane electoral conspiracy theories– who gave those ideas the amplification required to grow and spread, who decided to use today to object to American democracy and a free and fair election– not only represent the conjointment between Republicans and Trumpism, but are fully complicit in the violence and terror that took place today. 

The psychopath in the White House was been a psychopath long before a minority of American voters gave him an Electoral College victory in 2016 and handed him the keys to our democracy. He will continue to be a psychopath after he is driven from office, which is hopefully immediately. We have endured him, his collaborators, and the insurrectionist white nationalists who defaced our democracy for far too long. We’ve quieted one another, downplayed concern, laughed and shaken our heads, accepted the unacceptable, and moved along as transgression after transgression, crime after crime, has gone unpunished. We have made crime a form of acceptable political action. 

White nationalist domestic terror has long found a harbor in the psychopathy of Trumpism; it is one of its essential aspects. Today, the President of the United States deployed it against Congress, and then told us they had it coming. He must be brought to justice. Immediately. 

After The End

I’ve been thinking a lot, a lot, about what life in a post-Trump administration world should look like for Donald Trump, and the words that keep springing to mind are justice, catharsis, and accountability. The president’s administration and their blatant violation of the law– from Hatch Act violations to emolument violations, including using the White House for the Republican National Convention and the flood of money from foreign governments pouring into Trump properties to curry favor with the president, from their unprecedented refusal to hold Russian intelligence operations in the United States to account to using foreign aid to Ukraine as leverage to demand election interference, from obviously colluding with the United States Postmaster General to dismantle postal delivery of valid ballots in key urban areas to directly seeking to overturn a comprehensive defeat in the 2020 election by pressuring elected officials in key states to manufacture votes in the president’s favor and, perhaps most grievously of all, refusing to implement a national strategy to contain and defeat the COVID-19 pandemic (and in fact worsening it by politicizing the response)– must be exposed in full, it must be laid out before the American people plainly, in the sunlight, and those responsible must be held accountable, in court, for their crimes.

This is the question facing the country, right now: Is the dismantling of America’s system of governance at the hands of a narcissistic, criminal enterprise going to be passed off as a form of “politics,” or will it be properly understood as crime?  Is there a difference between the conservative politics of small government and the pillaging of America’s public institutions for personal profit? Is the office of the president an elected position accountable to the rule of law or is it an all-powerful office, a unilateral cudgel and shield that is immune from the consequences of its actions? Is the only check on Presidential power an election, held every four years, allowing shameless political leaders to grift and lie until “the people decide?” And once the people vote, do we find justice in narrow majorities in divided states, which are allowed to overturn huge popular vote margins because, hey, that’s “the system”, and so voter suppression tactics are deployed strategically at the state level by party apparatchiks to shave popular vote margins and override the will of the majority of Americans?

Elections are not a remedy for injustice. Losing an elected office is not a form of accountability for crimes committed in office. Being a politician doesn’t mean breaking the law is a “political” act. Someone in the Justice Department writing a memo on Department “policy” is not “the law.” Yet, too often, this is how justice functions and is understood for political elites.  And of course, we know how this works; instead of equal justice under the law, we depend on prosecutorial will to seek justice.

So, who is willing to challenge the crimes of powerful people? We saw Congressional Democrats try, as the House of Representatives used the impeachment process to expose the criminal behavior of the president before Mitch McConnell’s Senate majority once again defaulted to his “elections should decide” hypocrisy. We should expect it from and it is crucial to the mission of the Justice Department, but we watched the president remove multiple Attorneys General until he could bend the Department to his personal service, with Bill Barr turning the Department into a shield for the president, debasing the office in thrall to executive power. We should expect challenges to power from state and local officials, but they have been blocked by the Justice Department’s “guidance” against prosecuting a sitting president. And so, we waited and looked on as our system of justice was dismantled to protect the president’s criminality.

Simultaneously, perhaps amplified by frustration that the president’s overt criminality was not being constrained, the systemic asymmetry of accountability, one that continues to willfully and overtly criminalize poverty and communities of color while shielding elite criminality, found its fun house mirror image in the streets, where police violence and the murder of George Floyd (then the latest in a string of unaccountable police killings of black Americans) escalated longstanding demands for accountability in local communities around the country. Then, of course, these cries for justice were held up as criminal in and of themselves, mocked by the right as “riots”, before these very same communities of color were targeted for voter disenfranchisement tactics. When that disenfranchisement didn’t work and cities across America voted overwhelmingly to end the disgrace of the Trump administration, the president and his team of lawyers launched an Orwellian crusade to deny the very existence of those votes and, in parallel, tried to convince state election officials about how justice should really work; that is, it should be criminally bent to the will of the president.

This is not about a single (albeit sociopathic) individual and it is not about “politics.” Accountability for Donald Trump’s crimes is about proving to 350 million Americans and to the world that our country- a community of citizens, of people, individuals, who live under common governance- can demonstrate that our conception of the law is not just the continued lip service to an “ideal”, but is dependent upon a functional set of agreed upon rules applied equally to all citizens, and that we have the will to deliver justice.

In my last post, I thought about how Republicanism and Trumpism have become a unified, authoritarian force in American life and so it begs the question; can the party that has collaborated with unilateral malfeasance, refusing to hold the president to account and emboldening an ever-worsening series of anti-democratic actions be allowed to suddenly, as if from thin air, scold the nation into a demand for “bi-partisanship” that further drags us down the collective drain? Will the media continue to equate “both sides” of a political dynamic where one side slides further and further into authoritarianism and dismantling our government? Can they wag their fingers and cry “politics” when accountability is required, allowing the authoritarian trial balloons they continue to release to foment into a deepening crisis of democracy? Will the lies of a wounded sociopath, unable to fathom his own humiliating defeat after four years of abject failure of leadership and the degradation of of our nation’s institutions and reputation, be used as a pretext for enacting further restrictions on voting rights, to deepen inequity at the voting booth?

No. Justice is required, and justice requires will. We must demonstrate that will immediately.




The debasement of the Republican Party at the feet of Donald Trump’s attempts to establish a dictatorship in America– a new, unique idea of governing that seeks to mirror the unaccountable mechanics of Trump’s operation of his own private business– has, surprisingly, been met with effective resistance by some conservatives outside of the government itself. This uncomfortable truth is best reflected in the results of the 2020 Presidential election, which saw a record number of voters turn out to repudiate Trumpism, many of them Republicans crossing party lines to vote against Trump while voting down ballot for Republicans who, one can assume they believed, in many cases represented more traditional “conservative” values without the unpalatable aspects of Trumpism itself. But post-election analysis is always risky; cynics can find a mandate in a one vote victory. What is unexpected is the ability of Republicans to warp the national conversation to find a mandate in a 7,000,000 vote loss.

Confronting a political party that features hundreds of elected officials that refuse to honor the will of people, one that sees governance by the Democratic Party as de facto illegitimate, we have arrived at a moment that forces us to ask hard questions about the nature of our elections, representation, and the structure of our government itself. While collective fealty to the “founding” structures of the Constitution have shielded unjust, unaccountable laws over the centuries (slavery, the disenfranchisement of women and people of color, etc), change has always been a part of our relationship to governance; our society has evolved over time to right historic wrongs, often far too late, often inadequately. Now, as our system of elections continues to produce minority rule, the emboldened minority that has been highly effective in bending the shape of the government in its own image is no longer satisfied; it is remaking itself in order to legitimize the manufactured delusion that Trump won the election.

This is the double threat we face as a country now; not only are Republicans emboldened by our system’s asymmetrical allocation of power to their minority to take more and more of it for themselves (and to delegitimize the right of Democrats to govern), they are effective in convincing the nation that this is how it should be. And no one will stop them. The party has convinced itself of the truth of this reality, and so they work harder to make it reality. They face no repercussions; the polite mandates of the press and the national conversation maintain their platform, their propaganda networks repeat their lies with tremendous discipline, and Democrats respond by cleaving to antiquated norms and the idea of actual governance, neither of which suffice as a challenge in this unprecedented moment.

Trumpism has taken this situation and, seeing no value in governance, no effective resistance, no structural constraints, no disciplined counter narrative, no systemic barriers, no consequences, has done what every dictatorship has sought to do once unfettered; it has created a separate universe of truth that is bent exclusively to the will and needs of its leader. Republicanism, which sees only itself as legitimate, is the perfect vehicle for Trumpism, which has now embedded itself within the party like a brain-eating parasite, taking control of its host and turning it into a zombie that serves only the needs of the leader. And now that the leader seeks to recreate reality itself, huge swaths of the party simply fall in line, including dozens of elected officials who would rather appease the fictions of their leader (fictions created by the devastation of narcissistic injury) than confront their own complicity in continuing to debase the system from which, against all reason, somehow, they continue to benefit. And of course, it just wouldn’t be Trumpist Republicanism without a healthy dose of doublespeak hypocrisy where, on the one hand, the Electoral College results should be thrown out because they have been “corrupted” by overwhelming urban and suburban majorities, but also, the Electoral College itself must be maintained to continue to facilitate minority rule.

There has been some confusion about Trump’s admiration for totalitarian leaders abroad, but it has always been crystal clear how much he envies them. In thinking about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, I am always chastened by Hannah Arendt’s enduring ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM, which properly frames the differences between a dictatorship (which, I would argue, is Trump’s ideal framework) and totalitarianism, which Arendt defines as relying on comprehensive state terror against its own populations to maintain control (see Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, North Korea, Belarus, etc.) For all of his bluster and his singularly pathetic gesture of turning Federal forces against peaceful protesters so that he could hold a Bible*, Trump has not effectively unleashed state violence against his political opponents or the masses. This is one constraint on his power that has somehow held despite his calls for the arrest of opposition leaders, and while the white nationalist militias and conspiracy-minded activists have been emboldened by Trump’s overt support (and have unconscionably been accommodated in the public sphere despite their escalating levels of violence), they have not been granted impunity by the state to wreak terror on our society. Instead, they have enacted criminal terror as “lone wolves” separated from the violent pack (see Charlottesville, Portland, Wisconsin, and likely, Nashville). Similarly, because of the localization of police forces in America, radically conservative police unions have been somewhat constrained by local control which, given the overwhelming militarization of the police and the aggressive tactics they have used, is a systemic constraint that has held.

Despite all of the verbal posturing, Trumpism has failed to construct a systemic apparatus to govern the nation through terror and organized state violence. Instead, it has sought to realign the nation and its governance as a form of dictatorship that reflects Trump’s business experience, relying on personal loyalty, non-disclosure agreements, unilateral financial and managerial control, lying, criminality, secrecy, and the tacky, gold-plated façade of an exclusive brand that only serves those who buy into the con. Still, the totalitarian idea is there, floated every now and then, hovering just beyond the reach of those who would gladly deploy it to maintain their control. Republican politicians understand Trumpism as the vehicle for that control, and they are right; it is a great mobilizing machine filled with true believers who will not only adopt the Trumpist line of thinking, but will become radicalized to act in its service.

You cannot put these impulses back in the box through a moderate agenda of legislation that makes modest, incremental change in the lives of everyday people. It is past time for the system, which remains under grave threat, to be utilized in the service of its own preservation. That can only happen through a dedication to accountability and structural change that realigns the national interest with the collective interests of its citizens, not a single political party intent on maintaining its own power by making common cause with a would-be tyrant.

*Gassing and beating protesters to hold a Bible for the media is a gesture that, like dry humping the American flag with a shit eating grin on your face, can only be truthfully seen as ironic, but as patriotism and religion cannot accommodate irony, these pathetic, inauthentic attempts at aping the tropes of “belief” by a narcissist incapable of belief were somehow not derided by the faithful.

The Path Ahead From 2020

2021 has arrived, and America is on the verge of rounding the corner of both the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged us this past year, and the Trump administration, which has ravaged us for the past four. Trump and COVID will be eternally twinned now; the respective failure of Trump and the success of the virus in killing over 300,000 people in the country form an almost perfect collaboration of incompetent narcissism and virulence, forever entwined in a collective dance of madness, propelled by absolute fealty to a delusional idea of individualism. To have lived through this time, to have personally made massive sacrifices of time, social interaction, artistic connection, concentration, and yet, to know that these sacrifices are small, that over 300,000 people have lost their lives without a single gesture of condolence or acknowledgement– it remains unconscionable. To stare into the heart of my country as each of those sacrifices– personal, collective– is undermined, day by day, month after interminable month, by an unwavering, delusional minority, has been absolutely enraging.

There is no point in denying it; my belief in other people, in the value of empathy (which has completely framed my adult life and been the guiding motivation of my work), has been forever altered by the experience of watching self-interested, cynical, criminal buffoons hammer a wedge between us, and by the willingness of so many to not only welcome it, but to help drive it as deep as possible. This has illuminated new, unforeseen limits in my own capacity for concern for and the understanding of others. I have never felt at home in a culture that celebrates patriotic kitsch, performative religious practice, and anti-intellectualism, but as these longstanding strains of American identity have found common cause in the cynicism of Trumpism, turning the obvious hypocrisy of their supposed purpose into their full reason for being, I see that my attempts at understanding are simply unilateral exercises in self-preservation. There is no return of these gestures, only the construction of unbearably ridiculous straw-man versions of my values, spit back into my face with a sneer. I want to understand because I want to preserve the version of myself that seeks a compassionate understanding of others, but that version of me has no place here now.

So, how best to get through these times? I have been reading more, which is good, but the pandemic has taken away my ability to focus for too long without succumbing to an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. I spent most of 2020 reading Volker Ullrich’s HITLER: ASCENT 1889-1939 and HITLER: DOWNFALL 1939-42, and they have been very useful to me in understanding the power of propaganda in forging a false “unifying” national purpose in service of a lying, cynical abuse of political power for criminal ends. These books are also a stern warning about the way in which the lack of accountability only escalates and emboldens criminality, allowing unfathomable crimes to be committed in secrecy. It’s not that the crimes are comparable between our time and 1930’s-40’s Nazi Germany, but the playbook being deployed is shockingly similar; lies, misinformation, loyalty purges, institutions bent to the service of corrupt interests, the deformation of language to disguise purpose, and with every incremental step enabling a deeper descent into the madness of antidemocratic power, the burning need for accountability grows more and more urgent.

Yesterday, home from my morning walk on the beach with our dog, with Ullrich’s DOWNFALL on my mind (I am still in the middle of reading it), I took a detour to revisit Alain Resnais’ NIGHT AND FOG. I wanted to be reminded of the incomprehensible horror, of Resnais’ visual evidence of the Nazi’s crimes, but much like the book I am reading, it was the text of NIGHT AND FOG that struck me on this viewing. I can’t draw contemporary parallels to the Holocaust in America; as an example, the criminal negligence and cruelty of our immigration prisons are unconscionable, but they are not nearly the same in scope or brutality or outcome. Unforgivable, but nowhere near. Still, I was taken by the film’s concluding narration, spoken over the shattered concrete and twisted iron of what then remained of Auschwitz. The point was not just the unfathomable horror of the Holocaust, but how we live with the collective responsibility that lingers in its wake, and how civilization itself can come to terms with the aftermath, when we know that the society that produced it was never properly held to account.

Who among us keeps watch from this strange watchtower to warn of the arrival of new executioners? Are their faces really so different from ours? Somewhere among us, there are still lucky Kapos, reinstated officers, and anonymous informers. There are those who refused to believe, or only now and then. We survey these ruins with a heartfelt gaze, certain the old monster lies crushed beneath the rubble. We pretend to regain hope as the image recedes, as though we’ve been cured of that plague. We tell ourselves it was all confined to one country, one point in time. We turn a blind eye to what surrounds us and a deaf ear to the never-ending cries.” –  Jean Cayrol, NIGHT AND FOG





Can’t say it better than others, but wanted to express a few thoughts on the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s new film about the hunt for and death of Osama Bin Laden.

Let’s start here: those who criticize a film without seeing it are contemptible. Literalists who condemn Zero Dark Thirty after seeing it are terrible readers of film. How can art address the murkiness of human morality without showing it?

The film is obviously a composite of many thousands of facts. That it draws a straight line from a CIA officer named Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her obsession with a single name through to the killing of Osama Bin Laden is proof of how much information from the search for Bin Laden has been excised. If there is one complaint I have, it is that a 2.5 hour narrative fiction film is incapable of conveying the overwhelming number of false leads and misleading or insignificant chatter that must have been present. It unavoidably under-represents the problem of the search for Bin Laden in the name of condensing the facts into a story. That is what storytellers must do.

But those who say a film that compresses and composites this much information is an apologia for torture are crazy. The controversy seems centered around a single character in the film, a composite character who signifies black site interrogation subjects, who is tortured and then, under standard interrogation and NOT DURING TORTURE ITSELF, gives a single name that sets off a chain of events that leads to Bin Laden. This, it seems, is what sends cinematic illiterates into a hand-wringing frenzy as they claim that torture never lead to any actionable intelligence that lead to the death of Bin Laden.

However, the AP has reported the following (and, as far as I can tell, since sites like Think Progress link to this story as a moral argument against the film, no one has disputed these facts):

“In a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe years ago, al-Qaeda’s No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, gave authorities the nicknames of several of bin Laden’s couriers, four former U.S. intelligence officials said. Those names were among thousands of leads the CIA was pursuing.

One man became a particular interest for the agency when another detainee, Abu Faraj al-Libi, told interrogators that when he was promoted to succeed Mohammed as al-Qaeda’s operational leader, he received the word through a courier. Only bin Laden would have given Libi that promotion, CIA officials believed.

If they could find that courier, they’d find bin Laden.

The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA’s so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been investigated and criticized for involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.

‘We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day,’ said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden.

Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.

Is that not EXACTLY what Zero Dark Thirty expresses, in composite, in its first hour? This exactly? A character who, after being tortured, gives up a name under standard interrogation? I am no apologist for torture, I think there is no moral reasoning under which torture is acceptable, but I think Zero Dark Thirty shows this exactly, and not only that, shows the moral ramifications of this reality in a profoundly meaningful way by expressing the unknown as the unknown. Would Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have given the names up without the precedent of his experience of torture? Does that make any of it right? Can we know this? Art asks these questions; that Zero Dark Thirty tells the truth, whether we want the truth, shows its efficacy as art, treating the viewer like a reasonable adult who should see and decide for themselves. How any thinking person could not see this in the film, especially thoughtful political commentators who know the facts of what happened, is well beyond me.

The fact that the CIA destroyed its interrogation tapes and that the government has buried the Bin Laden death photo gives the film a cathartic, democratic power; we desperately want to imagine what went on in or name. Zero Dark Thirty is thrilling for providing us a space to examine our own place in the war on terror, but it never loses the power of fictional representation to transcend the specifics of reality in the name of heightened, compressed emotion. What else should art do?

EDIT (9:19 PM):
After a spirited discussion with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald about ZDT and representations of torture, Mr. Greenwald pointed me to this letter from Senators Feinstein, Levin and McCain (FLM) to Michael Lynton at Sony Pictures. I won’t transcribe the whole letter, but I wanted to address the objections raised against the film.

FLM: “Pursuant to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s recently-adopted Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program, Committee staff reviewed more than 6 million pages of records from the Intelligence Community. Based on that review, Senators Feinstein and Levin released the following information on April 30, 2012 regarding the Usama Bin Laden operation:

*The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.”

Quickly on this point: ZDT shows exactly this. Well after Maya learns of the courier’s nom de guerre from the “black sites” composite character during a standard interrogation (presented as being post-torture, ala Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), a young agent presents Maya with a file which names the courier and provides his nom de guerre. This is how Maya begins to piece together the courier’s existence despite receiving the false information that he was dead. This moment proves that the CIA already knew about him but, like so many thousands of other pieces of intelligence, the dots had not been connected to other intelligence. So, while Maya first learns of the courier from the KSM composite character, ZDT is clear that information about the courier was in hand at the CIA prior to Maya’s finding out the name. This point is crucial to showing the role of non-coercive intelligence gathering and to the CIA needing to connect information and it, like so much of this (and any) film, is condensed and composited.

FLM: “Nor did the CIA discover the courier’s identity from detainees subjected to coercive techniques. No detainee reported on the courier’s full name or specific whereabouts and no detainee identified the compound in which Usama Bin laden was hidden. Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.”

Again, this is what the film depicts. The film shows Maya connecting the name of the courier through non-detainee generated 2002 file she is handed by a young female subordinate. In fact, the “nom de guerre” of the courier is said over and over again, with misinformation constantly being given by detainees, but the courier’s actual name is discovered in the file. Once the name is connected to the nom de guerre, the phone tapping and tracking operation portion of the film is undertaken, with no information from detainees being posited as being relevant, so I am not sure why this is an objection. The compound is discovered by tailing the courier, who is discovered by tapping his mother’s phone, the number of which is found through a bribe of a Lamborghini, the name found in a file, connected to a nom de guerre about which nothing is known until the file is connected.

FLM: “Information to support this operation was obtained from a wide variety of intelligence sources and methods. CIA officers and their colleagues throughout the intelligence community sifted through massive amounts of information, identified possible leads, tracked them down and made considered judgments based on all of the available intelligence.”

Did anyone watch the film? Anyone? This is clear throughout the entire film. Obviously, no two and a half hour fiction film can show all of this classified work, but needless to say, it is a procedural that leaves no doubt that a wide variety of methods were used to get various pieces of information and that connecting that information was a herculean task.

FLM: “The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.”

I can’t answer this criticism because I don’t know who that person is and how their situation/ information may have been rolled into the film’s narrative. But a point here about the words “most significant”: what is “most significant” in the narrative of the film is Maya’s quest. Those who conflate Maya for “the entire CIA” and feel that information that is disclosed to her is new/ relevant, that her awareness of things is somehow the first awareness of things, are not paying attention because the dots are later connected via other methods, and well, I don’t know what to say about that other than I think that is a true misreading of the movie. The film draws a straight line between Maya’s mission and the death of Bin Laden, but that is not a function of its political stance on torture; it is a function of it being a two and a half hour movie. I would advise anyone who cannot separate the way information is revealed in a cinematic narrative from the political intentions of the filmmaker to avoid films like, oh, say, Salò because, well, that’s going to be uncomfortable for you.

FLM: “In addition to the information above, former CIA Director Leon panetta wrote Senator McCain in May 2011, stating:
‘…no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator’s true name or specific whereabouts. This information was gathered through other intelligence means.'”

Yes, as I said, in the film it is a 2002 file (not torture) that reveals his true name, followed by tapping the courier’s mother’s phone after bribing a Kuwaiti informant to get her number, tracking his cell phone on the ground in Pakistan and tailing him to the compound. Never does the film propose that it was anyone in CIA custody or anyone coerced or tortured that named or disclosed the location of the courier. The only other thing I will say about that sentence from Leon Panetta is that, knowing what we know about renditions and the role of other nations in that program, the phrase “no detainee in CIA custody” (emphasis mine) doesn’t foster a lot of confidence.

Not sure if serious, everyone?