This country’s priorities could not have been made any clearer this week. I’m not just talking about the traditional power class (although most of the blame rests at their feet). A failure of this scale is on all of us. Part of why there has been such little coverage of the anguish of Puerto Rico is because there is little demand for that story (partially evidenced by the fact that you cannot find our story on this week’s news under “most popular” on the right hand side of our site—people just didn’t click on it).
What there is demand for? Coverage of Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets.
Or the endless discussion yesterday around Samantha Bee calling Ivanka Trump the c-word. Both cases of what amounts to celebrity gossip and gaffes that would normally be relegated to an E! telecast are worthy of not just the “BREAKING NEWS” chyron on cable news, but round-the-clock coverage too.
America has forsaken its political system. A toxic combination of disenfranchisement, political apathy and election meddling on the part of our financial oligarchs has created a system where our political debates are removed from the political arena, and instead play out on an ABC sitcom. Or around the National Football League. Americans are so alienated from our political system that we seemingly have abdicated it altogether, and opted for symbolic political debates filtered through our culture wars.
Five thousand seven hundred and forty people in Puerto Rico are dead. Roseanne isn't. The death toll is approximately 9,000% higher than the government reported back in December, and a significant number of those who died did so because the government response in the aftermath of the hurricane was inadequate. Power isn't even fully restored to the island yet. Hurricane season starts today. And we're yelling at each other over Roseanne freaking Barr and Samantha Bee?
Not to mention, the one bit of celebrity worship this week that may actually wind up doing some good was widely mocked. Granted, the image of a Kardashian standing next to President Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office is one worthy of mockery on symbolism alone, but Kim Kardashian went to the White House to try to push forward an incredibly important subject: prison reform. Here's a good example of how most major media treated this meeting.
So on the day that we learn Puerto Rico—whose citizens are Americans—has actually lost thousands more Americans than we did on 9/11, Roseanne is practically the only story we pay attention to. The next day, when Kim Kardashian goes to the White House to push for prison reform (something that disproportionately affects minorities), it’s largely met with mockery, only to be pushed out of the public’s consciousness the next day by a stupid fight over Sam Bee and Ivanka Trump. Toss in the fact that pretty much all of major media couldn’t even bring themselves to call Roseanne’s racist tweet “racist” in the first place, and this week is an object lesson in how white supremacy is so pervasive in America.
You honestly think we’d forget about 5,740 dead Americans in Houston after Hurricane Harvey? C’mon. Puerto Rico being completely forgotten in the wake of last year’s hurricane season, and not being able to bump Roseanne freaking Barr (sorry to keep using the same trope but it really is flabbergasting to the point that I can literally feel my brain breaking) off the front pages could only happen in a country where the extreme plight of minorities is simply just a “dog bites man” story. Roseanne getting fired for being racist is what gets treated as “man bites dog.”
It’s difficult to truly love your country as a millennial, when your entire lived political experience basically begins with impeachment over a blowjob, transitions into non-impeachment over a war started under false pretenses, then the only moment of hope that we may be growing as a nation is swiftly lost, then wholly rejected by the election of President Trump. During the 1990s, we were practically told that history was over—that capitalism had won and prosperity will soon flourish for everyone. Everything since has proven that maxim a lie. I want to love this country. I really do. But it’s hard.
My grandfather was on the march to Berlin in 1944 and 1945. He was in Paris on VE day. Thanks to his efforts after getting back from the war, I grew up an upper middle-class kid. Personally, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. America has been great to me—a white Jewish man. However, contrasting that to how this country treats women and minorities—not to mention those with my (((heritage)))—reveals that my comfort is the cover that keeps the American lie of meritocracy going.
Plus, my grandfather got treated like absolute garbage by some of his superior commanders due to his (((heritage))) too. The dirty secret of America is that Hitler loved this country when he wrote Mein Kampf. He cited Jim Crow laws and our nativist Immigration Act of 1924 As examples of how we helped pave the way for his vision of racial purity. The United States of America is and always has been a democracy built on the foundation of exclusion—a “democracy” founded on the self-serving and utterly insane belief that all men can be created equal, yet slavery can still exist.
Women have had the vote for 40% of this country’s history. African Americans for 61% (at best). Puerto Rico is just another example in a long American tradition of state-sanctioned violence against minorities. Our political system is designed to protect those in power, which is why we rushed to Houston and South Florida’s aid last summer, but we have yet to offer the same level of help to our de facto colony in Puerto Rico. They lack political power, and because our central connection to politics these days is through symbolic culture wars reflected through the lens of those who have political power, it creates a depressing feedback loop where we debate our debates over Roseanne’s debate, all while thousands of American citizens continue to drown in a sea of wreckage and incompetence in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.