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Losing Ground

Well, we’re here. If you’re a dystopian like myself, you’re already fully conversant in nightmare scenarios for America: the first that come to mind are Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, Philip K. Dick’s The Man In the High Castle, both brilliant, the first scarily close to real, the second thankfully far-fetched.(1) Also Upton Sinclair’s It Can’t Happen Here, which many have cited recently. An anxious and angry dear friend mentioned Octavia Butler’s hauntingly prescient Parable of the Talents, in which the phrase “make America great again” is chillingly employed by a fascistic zealot peddling bigotry and exclusionism against ethnic and religious minorities. While these are (barely) fictional scenarios, meanwhile back in reality there are a great many people for whom America has always been a nightmare. For them, is this situation really that much worse?(2) Or simply more bald-faced, open about its hostilities, hypocrisies and selfishness? 


At this very moment, images trasmitted from the white side (3) of the Standing Rock protest grow ever more horrifying as militant government—and rogue militias under its employ—attack defenseless people desperate to protect their home and rights. America was born of violence justified by white supremacist beliefs, but those of us who had thought this chapter was at least gradually closing continue to confront a living legacy. Some who insist that the US government has the right to trample the rights of these sovereign citizens and take and use their land and water resources in any way they choose, would hypocritically fight to the death to protect their own rights against an overweening, land-grabbing government.(4) These staunch American hypocrites have apparently not realized that what to them appears to be a white victory in the founding of our nation appears to others as invasion and mass murder. Recognition has been at the edges of their vision, and they have grown desperate, aware—if murkily—that such ‘victory’ has created victims and enemies vast in number awaiting and demanding recompense, if not outright retribution. 


There had been progress. Diplomatic nuance aside, our current President has taken a general stance of humility regarding America’s past actions on race violence, war violence and imperial violence, even as his policies propagate and tacitly encourage continuing disenfranchisement of whole peoples in need of substantial aid. In the long view, the encouragement of equal rights for all citizens has resulted in real gains making positive differences in people’s lives, bettering the condition of the country while others rail against a false dissolution of its founding principles. Even the skeptics among us must admit that as dark a past as America has risen from, we were on the verge of establishing a new paradigm, as a body having elected our first black president and nearly our first female president. Fractious as always, the Left could not gather its sense to continue marching forward, because sideways is never good enough.


Out of this mass of illusion rises a Hitlerian figure,(5) prepared to exploit weak-willed hatreds, shallow fears and irrational anxieties at the service of his own limitless narcissism. He binds others of his ilk to him, like a machinating authoritarian compacting in secret before a covert takeover of the organs of power. That a dictatorial persona should appear on the political scene is not new, of course, given that ‘W’ himself, in so many words as he was able to employ, once declared that being a dictator would be so much easier than leading a democracy.(6) He and his dark cloud of cynical advisors trampled majority representation in favor of a distinctly minority neoloberial and neocon agenda.


These days America is still unwilling to identify its own terrorists as such, those individuals who align with hateful ideals to violently slaughter innocents, and still cannot see that our free democracy, shining example to the world, has acted as and in support of poisonous dictatorships across the world for nearly its entire existence.(7) We were on the road to repair, as grindingly slow as it sometimes can be, but who knows where this setback will take us. 


Amanda Tollefson’s Unmistakable Resemblance buttons are a small gesture amidst a giant shitstorm, with further bad news darkening our compliant press every day. Yet small signals forge, foster and gird progressive connections, build hope for ongoing protest and agenda re-setting. Wearing a button or pin lets people know where you stand, even at your own risk. Tollefson’s ingenious reconfiguration of my New Balance-brand shoes(8) allows me to convert them to a political statement against those who would simply go along with the horrific course our polity has set itself on, as opposed to what they should be doing, which is giving full-throated voice to upholding loftier principles. The infection of petty white rage, held in check for so long by gradual and specific action based on ethical and moral principles, has burbled up through our sewers and now runs through our already bloody streets. 


People of principle: Gather whenever and wherever you can, to vent, to reconnect, to rage, to protest, to stand strong against oppression, to donate, to volunteer, to make beauty, to support love, generosity and kindness. And most of all, don’t leave the country. It needs you most right now. 



1. Roth envisions the right-wing Nazi sympathizer (and American hero) Charles Lindbergh winning the presidency and instituting a fascistic campaign against American Jewry. Dick novelizes a post-WWII world wherein Hitler was victorious, and America is split between Germany and Japan, with a small neutral territory in between. 


2. Thank you Ben Balcom, first for offering an alternative perspective on the act of not voting, and for following up with this linkWhat remains discouraging is the level of ignorance evident in the reasoning of most interviewees. 


3. View images of the actual protest camps by checking out Sky Hopinka’s Instagram @_brother_sky.


4. Concurrent to the Standing Rock No Dakota Pipeline #nodapl protests was the trial of Ammon Bundy and his militant cohort for the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Though these land-rights extremists broke laws, they were acquitted. One wonders, with bitter irony, whether tribal members and other protestors, most of whom are not actually breaking laws, would be prosecuted “under the fullest extent of the law” should the oligarchs and billionaire’s private militias win out.

This NYT illustration charts the many disputes over the Dakota Access Pipeline, link here. (Focus especially on two paragraphs near the top, which touch on broken treaty promises and the fact that protecting water resources of white people in Bismark is more important than protecting water resources of brown people in Standing Rock.) 


Also, not the best move to quote a white person on this, but Marlon Brando offered some perspective on the true nature of America’s expansion: 


...that everything we were taught about the American Indian is wrong. It’s inaccurate. And our schoolbooks are hopelessly lacking—criminally lacking—in revealing what our relationship was with the Indian. When we hear, as we’ve heard throughout all our lives, no matter how old we are, that we are a country that stands for freedom, for rightness, for justice for everyone, it simply doesn’t apply to those who are not white. It just simply doesn’t apply. And we were the most rapacious, aggressive, destructive, torturing, monstrous people, who swept from one coast to the other murdering, and causing mayhem among the Indian...


The quote appears via @thomashouseago’s Instagram, reposting a YouTube video uploaded on Aug 2, 2008 by gulleyjimson, attributed as “Brando on The Dick Cavett Show, June 12, 1973. With representatives of the Cheyenne, Paiute and Lummi tribes.” Brando had a history of speaking out on these issues, including inviting Shannon Littlefeather to stand in for his refusal to accept a 1973 Oscar© for his role in The Godfather. Littlefeather’s speech is viewable here and Brando’s undelivered speech is available here.


5. In post-election musings through an old issue of Playboy, I came across an ad among many posters (nudies, hippies, anti-war, etc.) for a scary Nazi poster quoting Hitler from 1932:


The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and the Republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without it our nation cannot survive.


[Playboy, July 1971, page 43, “Up Against the Wall–Marlboro Posters $1.49 and up” (advertisement).] 


Compare with Bigot-Elect Dipfuck’s speech at the Republican Convention this past year, and subsequent post-election comments on protests against the oncoming disaster of his presidency.


6. “If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier — just so long as I’m the dictator.” This George W. Bush quote is attributed as ‘President-Elect Bush Meets With Congressional Leaders on Capitol Hill, CNN Transcript, December 18, 2000.’ on


7. Not a big fan of news aggregators for lampreying off hard-working news orgs, but HuffPost allowed me to see this rather damning pictorial report on why there’s a migrant crisis equal to the ‘Refugee Crisis’ that much media find sexier enough to report on. Click on the “Why Latin Americans Really Come to the U.S.” image link at the bottom before or after you read the article here.


8. On New Balance’s reprehensible position, here.

(Apologies for the incredibly annoying endless scroll...! Don’t get sucked in!)

Subsequent clarifications citing that the comment was taken out of context are beyond ridiculous—there is no other context, assholes. My fervent hope is that all former customers of good conscience will never buy another pair, and the brand and its New Unbalanced white-supremacist supporters are destroyed by this cesspool of their own making, hopefully to make room for another quality shoe company with an actual ethical compass. E-mail Amanda Tollefson at mailto: if you’d like her to cleverly and ably rebrand your shoes.  If you'd like a button, click here!


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