The Eclipse is Nigh; Goodnight America

In Politics on August 21, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Once upon a time a presidential candidate promised to make America great again. There were hats. There were rallies. There were protestors—and there was tough talk.

Before her murder, Heather Heyer was just another of Trump’s many losers and haters. So thick were we in the woods of the president’s response to white supremacists and antisemitism, we forgot to notice his hand in her murder.

This isn’t conspiracy theory. This isn’t fake news. It’s current events. It’s a civics lesson. We saw this happen. We predicted this would happen. For though the president may profess to harbor sympathy for Heather Heyer now, he surely did not have sympathy for her when she was alive. Had she been a protestor at one of his rallies, he would’ve directed the full might of his mob at her. Had she been a reporter in the press pool, she would’ve been mercilessly booed and hissed as a “subhuman” “scum of the earth.”

Recall the time Trump unleashed his Twitter followers on Meghan Kelly over a critical debate question. His crazies tweeted death threats at her and her children. The situation got too hot and top network brass urgently called the Trump campaign. They explained it isn’t good for his campaign if someone gets killed. All that’s needed, they explained, is for one person to take it too far. In the end someone on Trump’s team understood their candidate’s liability. Because following that phone call, Trump took to Twitter to quell the storm. His goons backed down, and no one got killed.

Well. His goons are back in the news. Someone did get killed this time. And the lesson from the Meghan Kelly episode is Trump understands his liability in Heather Heyer’s death. But does America? Will anyone hold him accountable?

Trump didn’t know Heather Heyer, but he knew others like her. Her spirit, like the light of liberty itself, was at his rallies. Her spirit was in the press pool. Her spirit was in critical debate questions. In every context Trump met Heather Heyer’s spirit, he did everything he could to intimidate and bully her into submission. And he did everything he could to inspire others to carry out his marching orders.

He didn’t do this once. He didn’t whisper it in someone’s ear like a spy movie. He orchestrated it from the conductor’s podium. Factoring crowd sizes and total number of rallies, plus replays on national news, Donald Trump has spurred millions to cheer themselves hoarse for violence. That’s right! Rough ‘em up a little! Go on! Good! I’ll pay your legal fees!

Trump is the eclipse on liberty’s light. For now it is dark and we are truly lost. But this darkness shall pass. The light will again shine bright.

Will the real America please stand up? No, not you who mark blacks at three fifths the value of whites. No, not you, who mark Jews with black armbands. And no, not you, antifascist, who mark people in red hats with black eyes and broken noses.

Donald Trump exploits Americans’ anger by offering scapegoats. He tells us people like “x” are the problem. People like “y” are the problem. And while his supporters froth at the mouth, the darkest problem facing our country is the moral character of the man starving us of the light. A con man. He’s the one setting the terms. And his terms are: he cannot be the problem. By his terms, he is the only solution.

In a way, he’s right. We can shove him aside and rebuild for peace. It’s important for all of us to understand the Charlottesville counter-protestors are fundamentally no different from the ones upon which Trump encouraged harm. I am not arguing they are better Americans for harboring liberal politics. I am arguing they are undeserving of being dehumanized for their values by our Commander in Chief. Agree with them or not, they are Americans. Heather Heyer was not “scum of the Earth.” She was not a “loser and hater.” Our president framed these characterizations and she is dead because of it.

Heather Heyer’s grieving mother cannot accept Donald Trump’s sympathy call. I wonder how many Charlottesville residents can accept his empty words. So thorough are Trump’s attacks on his critics, so pervasive are his lies, even he seemed for a moment to appreciate something more was needed to convince anyone of his sincerity. And what did he come up with? He whored his Virginia winery as a moral credential to prove he cares, then he lied about its size on the way out the door.

This is the point: Heather Heyer’s murder gestated in a petri dish on the president’s desk. He yelled fire in a crowded building, clear as day. His viciousness is not reserved for the likes of ISIS. Nor is it reserved exclusively for the powerful. He unleashes it against the meek without reservation, and he directs it most commonly at Americans.

Dehumanizing others is a tried and true tactic. Blacks are scum. Jews are scum. Gays are scum. Women are bitches. And while it may not be those precise words spewing from the president’s mouth, it is the spirit of those words animating the ones that do. “Scum of the earth.” “Knock the crap out of ‘em.” “Punch him in the face.” Coming from the President of the United States, words like these have consequences. They surely did for Heather Heyer.

It’s hard to write about Donald Trump and stay focused. There’s always a million targets. But today, let’s pause the conversation on Trump’s moral confusion over white supremacy and antisemitism to talk about the murdered American citizen whose blood is on Trump’s hands. Rough ‘em up a little. Remember that phrase. Our Provocateur in Chief courts controversy by habit, making further violence sadly predictable. We are entering a new phase of escalation. The powerless will resist. Responsible citizenry will operate within the law, but to risk impeachment is to risk a spark near the powder keg. If the president truly cares about anything other than himself, it is past time for him to prove it and resign. That can happen. His power stems from his base. The power to stop this is in their hands. If you voted for Trump, turn on him now. Be a patriot, pick up the phone and make the calls. Pick up the phone for the real America. Because for those of us who didn’t vote for Trump, this isn’t America anymore.




A Liver Punch to the Brain

In Polemics, politicians, Politics on February 13, 2017 at 9:51 pm


Hey, you! Yeah, you!

Did you know that in combat sports an effective shot to the liver will earn you a technical knock out? It’s true. If you manage to land a punch, kick, knee, or elbow to the liver, you basically shut down the body, leaving the other fighter completely incapacitated.

Here’s another fun fact: You can similarly incapacitate a person’s ability to reason. For real! Are you feeling experimental? Let’s give it a shot. Keep reading, if you dare.

America is a nation of hypocrites. Liberals bitch about taking care of immigrants, but ignore the homeless veterans; right-wingers bitch about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem, but then proceed to stockpile weapons against their country.

Are you still here? Are you a little angry? Perhaps you’re wondering whether what I have to say is going to square with your politics.

Let’s talk about that, for a second. Pew Research found in 2014 that liberals are more likely to block friends with opposing political views, while conservatives are more likely to surround themselves with political opinions similar to their own. What’s more, liberals tend to cite their news consumption as consisting of an array of sources, while conservatives tend to congregate to one main source.

Nothing surprising there. Conservatives will point out that liberals’ multiple sources are still predominantly left-leaning, while liberals will point out Fox News consumers are overwhelmingly the least informed. But let’s pretend for a second that neither of these statements are true. It may be hard for you, I don’t know, but let’s pretend the mainstream news isn’t as far left as conservatives contend—AND—let’s pretend Fox News is more balanced and factual than liberals admit.

This is an important exercise. Mainly because our collective ability to reason with one another has been metaphorically liver-punched. If we’re unwilling to engage in an exercise like this, we all go down in a technical knockout.

Manipulating the brain shutoff response is a clever strategy. Oh yeah, this is a real thing. It’s used to marginalize opposition; by diminishing contrary opinions into predictable and insulting caricatures, we’ve been conditioned to stop listening to contrary ideas. How? We’re self-censoring the information we receive. And, mostly, we love it.

But what we love is ruining us.

The problem is, we Americans have an infinite capacity for distractions and pleasures. We see it in the orgy of hate on Facebook and Twitter—but we also see it in the orgy of puppy videos ostensibly countering that hate. Both kinds of posts are two parts of a whole; when the world becomes too ugly, we choose pleasure-seeking escapism.

But what happens when we escape into our media—and our media is no escape?

Some folks insist on checking politics at the door. “A Broadway play is no place for that.” Or, “Facebook is for puppies and kids—NO POLITICS.” Or, “Protesting is okay—as long as I can’t find a two jack-wagons doing it the wrong way, in which case the entire four-million-strong movement is invalidated.”

We’ve arrived in an era when our culture is defined by its self-censoring consumers. We choose our facts, deny our political opposite’s sources as legitimate, and darkly worry the truth is unknowable. How does one shut down your brain’s ability to reason? By offering you a political catch phrase designed to put you on defense. If one is artful enough at it, one can get you to say cow by showing you a picture of a chicken.

You know it’s true. We see this pan out every day. It’s the game we played as children called “Opposite Day.” We tried to trick each other into getting what we want. Only now it’s the grownups behaving like children, and it’s become reality-bending.

I’m writing this blog because it’s a topic that’s been nagging at my subconscious for a while. I, like you, agonize over what to post—and what not to post—on Facebook. I’ve come to the conclusion that sharing only that which is sweet or makes us laugh or is otherwise positive is just as inappropriate as only sharing political posts. We are living through extraordinary times. To deny that by insisting only on escapism isn’t “neutral,” or “inoffensive.” It’s standing by while your neighbor’s house is burning to the ground—and then complaining about how negative all the other onlookers are acting.

Which, of course, is bullshit.

It behooves me to point out that ranting on Facebook isn’t the same as taking action. Ranting isn’t the same as calling a senator, attending a rally, feeding or clothing a person in need, or giving to a worthy cause. I believe the best of us are doing these kinds of good things without fanfare AND are mostly keeping things positive on Facebook. We all need to keep our spirits up. But whether we’re sharing information we believe is true and factual, or we’re stopping simply to talk to a homeless person on the street, we all need to make time to talk to each other—meaningfully talk to each other—because the alternative is to conquer ourselves through our appetite for escapism.

At this point, I’d like to propose an experiment to get this moving. Word association. Read the following and make yourself answer the first thought that pops into your head for each word or phrase. Do it quickly, and, if you’re inclined, leave your answers in the Facebook thread you surfed in on. The object of this exercise is to promote respectful dialogue in the hopes that, if we can do it, perhaps it will filter up into Washington.

  1. Protestors
  2. Climate change
  3. All lives matter
  4. Black lives matter
  5. Security
  6. Politically correct
  7. Socialism
  8. Free enterprise
  9. Immigrants
  10. LGBT

I bet you had some pretty charged instincts. Did you write the first thing you thought, or did you censor yourself? It’ll be interesting to read your responses, how moderate or inflammatory they are, and how people comport themselves in the ensuing online discussion. Let’s keep it respectful though. Here are my tips for that:

  1. Stay focused.
    1. Debate a single topic to its conclusion. Do your best to make a distinction between what’s tangential and what points are actually related to the topic at hand.
  1. Ignore the glancing blows.
    1. Your political opposite may throw in a few tangential statements you find offensive, or else outright attacks. Don’t argue those. They’re entitled to a negative opinion of something just like you are, it doesn’t make them a horrible person, and letting it go doesn’t mean you “lose” the debate.
  2. Highlight agreements.
    1. For a lot of people, debating their political opposites means an exercise in a literal exchange of opposites. Every up is met with down, every left is met with right—etc. Break the knee-jerk responses through highlighting areas of agreement. Go out of your way to find them.
  3. The goal isn’t to change their mind.
    1. The goal is to reveal yourself as a human being. You are not a reduction of partisan warfare, and neither is your political opposite. If you leave the discussion believing you’ve made a friend with someone who has polar opposite politics—you’ve won life! 😉

If you have any additional tips, please share them. Thank you for reading. It’s my hope we can stop identifying as enemies and start identifying as healers and peacemakers.




President F. Von Clownstick

In 2016 Elections, Politics on November 9, 2016 at 4:40 pm


So That Happened

This morning, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed reading existential-dread-filled post after existential-dread-filled post, I stumbled upon an anomaly; a conservative Facebook friend and Trump voter. Of course, I say “anomaly” because Facebook works to separate large blocks of human beings through its “helpful” algorithms. And what the algorithms don’t do we do for ourselves, by unfollowing and/or un-friending people when things get too ugly. In this way, Facebook seems to affirm what we know and feel is right. When a despicable meme pops up in our feed, we feel virtuous by blocking it. And when the good, and true, and right meme pops up, we feel virtuous by passing it on. Go us.

And pass it on we do. Puppies. Babies. Babies snoozing on puppies. I’m partial to humor. I’m happiest with my Facebook friends who make me laugh. Laughing feels good, and it reminds me not to take everything so damn seriously, which I’m prone to do. But whether posting something cute or something funny, we’re nevertheless practicing a kind of intellectual side eye. We know there are dark forces out there, but so what? There’s a baby sleeping on a puppy.

But one of the most popular themes on Facebook this morning is: What am I going to tell my children about the election? As a father of a seven-year-old boy, this question resonates. It resonates because I didn’t start considering it nearly soon enough. I didn’t start considering it seriously a year ago, when I told our son a Donald Trump presidency would basically be like a Lex Luthor presidency, trying to bring it to a level he could understand. I’m regretting that now. Because words matter. Had I considered the possibility then that Donald Trump could win, I’d like to think I’d have chosen more measured language.

And on the whole, that is the biggest critique I have on our politics right now: words.

For instance, when Joe Wilson called President Obama a liar, he was accusing Obama of lying about his intentions. By doing so, he was purporting he know what was in Obama’s heart. The immigration bill Obama was discussing at the time hadn’t yet been finalized; Obama was in the middle of trying to assuage Republican fears, work together, hammer it out. But, no wonder, we never got that far.

Coming back to the important point: words.

All of us need to watch our damn mouths. We’re too cute with words. We’re so cute with words, words have begun to lose their meanings. “Lying” is supposed to be a black and white word—but in 2016, it’s a shades of gray word. (“Context” has become a favorite tool for defending deliberately crafted lies, which should horrify us all. Perhaps this is living in the shadow of Bill Clinton’s definition of “is.”)

“Fascist” is another word that’s been used to death. We’re so numb to it now we just elected the textbook definition of one—something that couldn’t have happened if people weren’t so saturated in hyperbole.

Donald Trump has a problem with words. He says whatever he wants, lies habitually, and his supporters don’t care. He is the apotheosis of nonsense. His words don’t matter.

Returning to my conservative Facebook friend’s post. The thrust of her message was to set aside the hard feelings and come together for the good of the country—something I’ve already done in my own household through discussions with my wife and son. But here, on my blog, I get to be a blow hard. I get to take sides with Jon Stewart and call Trump President Fuckface Von Clownstick. (Because I like humor.) But I also get to lament how the sentiment of setting aside hard feelings for the good of the country—a sentiment shared by every President to come before Donald Trump, including Obama—is laughably out of touch this year. Dangerously tone deaf, in fact.

We’re so bitterly divided as to not see the irony in the Hillary Clinton email thing. The irony is in the Republicans’ accusations of her “jeopardizing our nation’s national security” while they are, by literal definition “jeopardizing our nation’s national security.” And they did it in plain sight by politicizing the hacking of her emails. What they should have done was set aside that issue until after the election, thereby standing with the Democrats in the face of unprecedented cyber-attacks. Every email leaked isn’t just an attack against Hillary Clinton. This was (again, by literal definition) jeopardizing our nation’s national security. By making political hay out of Hillary’s leaked emails, Republicans chose to ally themselves with criminal actors (Russians, if you prefer) over their fellow Americans. And they did it by pointing the finger at her and accusing her of having done in the past what they were literally doing in the present. But, by all means, let’s sit back and wait for the other shoe to drop. (Unless anyone thinks these hackers can’t get into the email of a sitting Republican president, at which point the Democrats will no doubt take their turn at the political knife.)

But I will give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt. I will do this because I remember how it felt when Republicans lined up against Obama before he was sworn in. I remember the message “I hope Obama fails,” and how that made people like me (who voted for him) feel. I remember just how much Mitch McConnell and John Boehner cared about our mandate, and I’ll try to understand what it is the American people are after here and now. But this is all irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter if Democrats try to obstruct Republicans the way Republicans did to Democrats. Donald Trump will have all three branches of government and a weak and ineffectual Republican party that has so far been unable to control him. He will have almost zero checks and balances. So what will that look like?

I’m not sure what the “good” Donald Trump supporters believe in. It doesn’t seem to be the traditional Republican conservatism. It doesn’t seem to be his character, most people seem to admit he’s an asshole. It doesn’t even seem to be his flailing foreign policy statements, unless you count “defeating terrorism,” which every politician and their grandmother promises to do. I don’t think there are too many people out there who genuinely believe he can build a 2000 mile, $12 billion-dollar wall and have Mexico pay for it. I don’t think there are too many people out there who genuinely believe it is possible to block all Muslims from entering the country “until we can figure out what’s going on.” I don’t think there are too many people out there who genuinely think it’s a good idea to bully and intimidate the press, or “open up those libel laws,” and/or dismantle the First Amendment. I do believe there are people gullible enough to think a man who doesn’t pay taxes and is so boastfully proud of his self-proclaimed greed is going to rewrite the tax code to bravely hurt himself financially so he can benefit the blue collar workers he’s worked so hard to consistently screw over, time and again. That’s refreshingly normal politics.

But what did Donald Trump voters vote for? Well, we’ll see. After such a long election, it’s kind of strange to admit there’s so much we don’t know about him. We know there are an awful lot of lawsuits pending, including fraud and a seedy child rape case; but we haven’t had the opportunity to examine his taxes, potential international business conflicts of interest, and alleged Russian entanglements. Something tells me we’re in for a lot more partisan-fueled investigations and hearings. Time will tell.

As for our son and what we tell him. We tell him that this presidency is unlikely to affect our daily lives in meaningful ways, so don’t worry about it. Look outside your window. You still live on the same street. You still have the same neighbors, same kids on the bus. You’re still stuck with the same mommy and daddy. Your dog is still going to stick his snout up your butt. Go play.

And while you’re playing, spread love. Look for people you can help. Find a grownup if you see someone getting hurt, or bullied.

We tell him that we live in a democracy, and that means you don’t always get what you want. We tell him the trick to a democracy is to hold onto it, even when things look desperate.

And when he’s gone to bed, my wife and I discuss what we won’t do: We won’t be hysterical. We won’t live in fear. We won’t ever, ever pretend that man is a good role model. And we won’t pretend to be proud Americans for the duration of his presidency. Besides his standing in diametric opposition to the principles this country was founded on, his low moral character is now inseparable from our international brand. But if you’re a Donald Trump supporter and you’re reading this, you know exactly how this feels. This is what you’ve been saying hyperbolically of Barrack Obama for eight years. The difference is, this time, words have literal meaning.


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