Train of Thought I: Violence to Protest

I came across a video yesterday perfectly showing the psychosis currently plaguing the United States right now. During a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, in what appears to be a high school, a kid sits at his desk. Another kid then takes it upon himself to show the sitting kid what America is all about by kicking the chair out from under him.

It’s a spectacle of violence that, unfortunately, some acquaintances of mine celebrated. It’s “patriotism” run amok, indicative of what it means to have an opinion on something in Donald Trump’s America.

I’ve written about my thoughts on the Pledge of Allegiance before, so I’m not going to dive too much into it right now. But despite the differences of opinion these two boys obviously have, at the end of the day, the kid in the chair was on the receiving end of politically-motivated violence. That, by definition, makes the kid who kicked his chair a terrorist.

But let’s not harp on that. Let’s instead focus on what’s really going on here.

To exist in the United States these days, and have an opinion on just about anything, is to walk around with a target on your back. It’s not even just politics that puts someone in the crosshairs. It’s even innocuous crap like sports and entertainment. We judge each other harshly, without even so much as a thought about how moronic we look doing it. We say dumb shit for the purpose of pointing out things we believe to be dumb shit and when someone calls us out for saying dumb shit, we get defensive and only succeed in making ourselves look like a dumbshit.

This is at it worst when it comes to topics having to do with patriotism.

It’s totally fine if someone believes that a refusal to stand for the National Anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance is unpatriotic or deserving of ire. It’s a completely different thing to support an act of violence in the pursuit of your patriotism. In searching YouTube for the video above, other titles that popped up included:

INSTANT JUSTICE! AFTER THIS EMO SNOWFLAKE DECIDED TO DISRESPECT AMERICA HE INSTANTLY REGRETTED IT (posted by The Next News Network)

MOST PATRIOTIC KID IN AMERICA: Kicks Chair Under Kid For Refusing To Stand For Pledge of Allegiance (posted by MR. OBVIOUS)

Student won’t stand for Pledge of Allegiance. Patriotic student isn’t having it (posted by 50 State Report)

Each of these titles celebrates an act of violence. This celebration is unfortunately the new normal, the perfect diction to entice people like the acquaintances I referenced above into not only supporting the reason for the violence, but the violence itself.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t said the Pledge of Allegiance in over 15 years, by choice, I do not believe it is obscene to the sanctity of the American identity to refuse to say it. Similarly, I do not believe that is obscene to the sanctity of the American identity to kneel in protest to the National Anthem. When you strip away the context for why the National Anthem protests are happening in the first place, like way too many people already do, all that’s left is the obvious: we’re fighting vehemently over whether or not someone stands in the audience of a piece of cloth already subjected to our daily disrespect. It’s an asinine thing to fight about. Yet, here we are, fighting about it to such an extent that it has prompted that bloated tangerine-hued sack of discharge leaking all over the Oval Office to demand pro sports team owners discipline their players if they participate.

It’s times like these when all I can do is sigh and say the following about this country I genuinely love being a part of: fuck us.

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Go Suck A Glock

The shooting in Las Vegas has once again ignited America’s all-too-routine scream-preaching about the role of guns in our society. Like with almost every other issue detrimental to our ability to democratically function, we’ve broken ourselves into two camps largely split among partisan lines and all we’re going to do is scream, rant, and rave to one another about statistics and constitutional interpretations until we all pass out from anger. Then, we’ll forget about this one, the conversation will be relegated to the middle of the paper and “recommended reading for you” sections of Internet publications, and when the next mass shooting rolls around, we’ll resume and pull these stories and editorials back to the front page.

Us Americans are fairly predictable on these matters, and as I’m sure you may have guessed from the headline and the opening paragraph, this is a post about the role of guns in our society. Yep, we’re pretty fucking predictable.

For the sake of full disclosure, if I could snap my fingers and make reality bend to my will, guns would not exist. I actually believe that a disarmed society has a better chance at being a thriving one than an armed society, based on the evidence I’ve seen from other nations that have enacted strict gun control laws. That’s not to say that these nations are utopian or that violent crime doesn’t exist in them, but residing in these nations doesn’t come with a caveat that people may get mowed down with a military-grade rifle when attending a country music show, going to the movies, or even sending their kids to school. The reality is that these things happen with stunning regularity in the United States and rarely happen, if at all, in nearly every other developed nation. No matter where one stands on the gun control debate, that fact cannot be refuted. The frequency and severity of mass shootings experienced in the United States is uniquely a problem of the United States.

But what of it, right? Obviously the people who orchestrate these acts are deranged, mentally ill, or dare I say, evil, right? Well no. They’re not, at least not all of them. Even though Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) seems to think that the best way to combat these acts of violence is to commit to “mental health reform” — which upon itself is a noble pursuit because the mentally ill in this country are treated like dog shit (case in point, mental illness as a common scapegoat for mass shootings) — the fact remains that research indicates only about three to five percent of all acts of violence are perpetrated by the mentally ill. In reality, the mentally ill are a regularly victimized class of people, a vulnerable demographic more likely to be on the receiving end of violence than actually orchestrating it themselves. Also, more often than not, the mentally ill engage their anger and occasional violence inward, more likely to hurt themselves than others as not to pass their own burdens off to anyone else. This is another fact that cannot be refuted. The mentally ill do not, as far as evidence holds, exhibit violent tendencies at the same rate as those who are not mentally ill. The opposite is actually true.

So why do we continue to engage the same tired talking points every time someone yells “hold my beer” after watching coverage of a “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history?” Because we, for whatever reason, feel the need to add a degree of understanding to these events that morphs them into something easy for us to digest. It’s easier to process 58 dead, 500+ injured after being sprayed with assault rifle rounds from a high hotel balcony if we can call the shooter “evil” and spend a few days fighting with each other about guns. It also takes away from the fact that such acts of violence are entirely random. There is no rhyme or reason to them. While we clamor to put motive in the mouth of a homicidal individual who is, at the end of the event, more often dead than alive, we ignore what is staring us in the face: the shooter did it because they wanted to.

These are our habits. This is how we grieve. But this grieving process is one that does more harm than good. It exacerbates schisms that already exist, like throwing gas on a continuously burning sociological pyre that we eventually grow tired of watching until the flames suddenly and thunderously intensify.

But we’re not going to change, despite the severity of this one, just like we didn’t change despite the severity of the last one. The same tired routine is going to play out. We’re going to fight. We’re going to yell. We’re going to engage in conspiracy theories. Congress is going to get down on its collective knees and suck the NRA’s glock until it shoots rounds at the next group of unfortunate souls who will find themselves a part of the next “worst mass shooting in modern US history.” Why? Because this is America, where the rights of people to stroke their AR-15s trumps safety. We’re the land of not getting things done, the land of “well, that’s good enough.” As conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly said, getting mowed down in a mass shooting is “the price of freedom.”

But this is only the “price of freedom” because, to us, it is impossible to accept that truly being free requires certain freedoms to be impotent. Thoughts and prayers are not, and never have been, enough.

Featured image by USAF Tech. Sgt. Jerome S. Tayborn.

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Can We Finally Do the Right Thing and Blacklist Alex Jones?

Since the avoidable tragedy that was the 2016 Presidential election, Infowars founder/sentient Mel Gibson movie Alex Jones has been experiencing an increase in relevance. President Trump has lauded the web content producer’s “amazing” reputation. Infowars has received White House press credentials. Jones was the subject of a Megan Kelly interview that put his face on TV screens around the nation.

Despite a brutal, public divorce, it seems to be a good time to be Alex Jones. Which is exactly the reason why he needs to be shut down, quickly, and with extreme prejudice.

What Alex Jones puts into sociopolitical narratives is nothing short of dangerous. This is the same man who believes the Sandy Hook shooting is a hoax perpetuated by the United States government and “crisis actors,” all in the name of strict gun control. This is the same man who thinks the United States government is capable of controlling the weather for nefarious purposes. This is the same man whose claim that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were running a child sex ring out of a pizza restaurant led 28-year-old Infowars enthusiast Edgar Maddison Welch to drive from North Carolina to D.C., armed with an AR-15, with intent to save the children he believed were being held captive there. He’s repeatedly gotten up in arms about Satanists taking over America, claimed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is on a mass eugenics mission for the New World Order, that the United States government is complicit in numerous terrorist and lone gunman attacks as a pretext for martial law, and most recently, promoted the idea that NASA has a child slave colony on Mars, which caught on to such an extent that NASA had to publicly deny the existence of said child slave colony.

In the pre-Internet days, Alex Jones would be a man with bizarre beliefs confined to a dingy upper-level apartment with white boards, scattered empty soup-in-a-cup containers, and tabloid articles taped to yellowed walls. But these days, Alex Jones is not only in the dialogue, but is apparently influential enough to add to it.

Including the President, his sons, and potentially others within the highest levels of the United States government, Infowars boasts a substantial number of visitors every month. According to Quantcast, whose entire business is measuring and analyzing web traffic and demographics for advertising, Infowars had 22.4 million page views from June 12 — July 11, 2017. That averages out to about 750,000 page views of Infowars content, daily. While we can assume not everyone who visits Infowars is there to heed the call of Messiah Jones, that figure is still high enough to be indicative of a serious problem with which the people of the United States need to desperately begin contending — the creation, consumption, and justification of “fake news.”

The President of the United States, and those closest to him, are quick to accuse long-standing, prestigious institutions of news and current events as “fake news” whenever these institutions do their job and hold the government to account. The media is, after all, the Fourth Estate. But President Trump and his ilk are also quick to champion media outlets like Infowars as genuine purveyors of information, despite repeated fact-checks that contradict the Trump Administration’s sentiments.

In the Trump Administration, legitimate media is “fake news” and fake news is legitimate media.

But is any of this enough to blacklist Alex Jones? After all, is he not protected by free speech? He is, but at the end of the day, free speech isn’t completely free. There are limits, and one of those limits is when speech becomes a clear and present danger.

alex jones infowars fake news conspiracy theories

Image by Sean P. Anderson, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

If Infowars were merely contained to a dilapidated basement and a pirate radio station, Jones’ particular brand of conspiracy-juiced garbage would be an annoyance, at best. But when Infowars becomes a power player in the crippling of the nation’s ability to differentiate between what is real and what are the paranoid ramblings of a wannabe journalist, then the brand — and its moronic founder — are causing actual harm to the nation. Look no further than the story claiming Democrats were running a child sex ring out of a pizza restaurant. There was a person so moved by that horseshit that they armed themselves and nearly committed an act of domestic terrorism — all on a lie. A flagrant, bald-faced lie, promoted as a disturbing truth. Consider what life has been like for the parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook, grieving over their lost children while Infowars-inspired goons batter them with accusations of crisis actors, false-flag operations, and death threats.

This is the web Alex Jones is weaving, and it’s becoming more dangerous with every strand. Infowars is a pox on American media, a festering ideological infection whose figurehead is an obscene false prophet from Texas whose life’s work is doing more keep people from reality than actually making people aware.

But I suppose with a name like Infowars, no one should be surprised by any of this.

Featured image by Megan Ann, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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On Colin Kaepernick

On January 12, 2013, I watched in stunned silence as 25-year-old Colin Kaepernick single-handedly beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. After usurping former #1 overall pick Alex Smith, Kaepernick spent the second half of the 2012-13 NFL season on a tear. His rise brought renewed hope to a franchise proud of its quarterback heritage, who had been without a quarterback to be proud of for the better part of two decades. Colin Kaepernick grabbed the rest of the NFL by the short hairs, with comparable gusto and pizzazz to the out-of-left-field “Wildcat” offense fielded by the 2008 Miami Dolphins — which also resulted in record-setting success.

But just like with the “Wildcat” offense, the NFL caught on to Colin Kaepernick, and similarly to the Miami Dolphins, Kaepernick’s impact began to fade. While it is important to discuss Colin Kaepernick’s uncertain future in the context of his diminished play, that is not the only reason the former quarterback-of-the-future is a man without a job.

Starting in the 2016 NFL preseason, Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the National Anthem as a form of protest against the repeated incidents of police brutality and the malignancy of American criminal justice when it comes to people of color. He was only as distracting as the media made him out to be. He was silent. Stoic. Without any semblance of expectation for others to join him. He was the complete opposite of “distracting.”

However, those of us who cover current events, in whatever capacity we cover them, flocked to the story of a degenerating NFL quarterback taking an open and honest position on one of the United States’ greatest controversies. Fox News mocked him. Tomi Lauren dragged him through the mud. Newspapers, national news programs, and commentators both in the realms of politics and sports fought over him, putting words in his mouth that he wasn’t speaking, and only succeeded in using Kap’s cause to further the divide between the consumers they target. One man’s kneeling caused so much political strife that his face became synonymous with both heroism and villainy, in equal proportions.

In what may be one of the best articles I’ve read on ESPN in a significant amount of time, staff writer Dan Graziano bluntly broke down how regardless of whether one views Colin Kaepernick’s fall from the top as performance or politics, everyone is wrong:

“One side cries, ‘Kap’s being blackballed!’ The other side says, ‘It’s just that he’s not that good.’ Each side’s truth is undone by its blindness toward the other’s, and the Kaepernick conversation is too important to drown in the careless language of 21st century bickering.”

Truer words have not been spoken in the eight months since Kap took his first knee in protest. It’s not enough to point out that Kap’s numbers have diminished significantly, for that ignores the political component. Similarly, it’s not enough to point out that Kap’s choice of protest involved what many people view as disrespect to the integrity of one of the United States’ dearest institutions, for that ignores the performance component. The truth of the matter is that Colin Kapernick is stuck between a rock and a hard place, with both sides of the debate dug in and unwavering, and for all the support he has received from fans, and players in multiple sports, who believe him to be championing an important cause, he also finds himself held at the sword of a McCarthyist cabal of virulent “patriots,” among them a President of the United States who has not only painted Kaepernick as little more than hostile, adversarial, and un-American, but who has used his capacity as President of the United States to engage audiences with cancerous boasts about Kap’s lack of job prospects being one of his achievements.

If there were ever a face to personify the ideological division in this country, it is that of Colin Kaepernick and for that, we should all be ashamed of ourselves. Colin Kaepernick is more than a knee during a National Anthem. He’s more than a source of conservative faux-outrage or liberal posturing. He has actually followed through on his positions and his passions, using his hard-earned football dollars to help scores and scores of people whose lives are pestilent, violent, and full of uncertainty. He has done so many great things and will continue to do so. He is a philanthropist, and one whose philanthropy is guided by a drive seen almost exclusively in athletes.

While it’s important to keep in mind that Colin Kaepernick’s field vision is weak to the point where he is not the tour de force quarterback he was once touted, it is also important to remember that his vision is clear when it comes to things that are much more important than football. Colin Kaepernick has not only taken a stand (well, a knee) on significantly important national issues. He has, literally, put his money, his time, and his passion where his mouth is, which is more than can be said about many of his detractors and many who have taken similar positions as he. Even though it stands to reason Colin Kaepernick’s career is sunsetting, he has become a force in other fields where his time, money, and influence are better spent.

I believe that football is not what carves Colin Kaepernick’s name in annals of history and that his name will be more significant for it.

Featured image by Shea Huening, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

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The Protest Vote

I don’t believe Donald Trump was elected President purely on the basis of what he’s promised to do or the things he’s said. I think the election of Donald Trump was effectively a protest vote — backlash at encroaching social liberalism and a multicultural American identity. If I am correct in this assertion, then people from sea to shining sea abandoned what this country is for what they presume it, or wish it, to be.

The United States wasn’t founded by tribalism, or for imperialism, or for social purity. The United States didn’t spawn from a singular base for a singular base. It wasn’t built to be a nation for a similar some. The United States was philosophically founded, and owes its existence to progressivists who subscribed to socially progressive ideas of autonomy and freedom, where one pledged not allegiance to a lineage, but to themselves. Politicians did not create this union, philosophers did, specifically philosophers influenced by dissenting liberal European intellectuals who questioned the legitimacy of the iron fist of individual rule, of monarchy, in favor of ideas we today umbrella under the catch-all term “freedom” — self-awareness, personal conviction, and the tender embrace of equality.

These ideas, Enlightenment ideas, are tangible as the United States of America, an ongoing social experiment founded by immigrants and refugees and continually expressed by descendants of immigrants and refugees. A crowned woman, holding a torch to illuminate the heavens, acts as a beacon of those ideas — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” All that this nation is exists in those words, and yet here we are, quick to trade in that symbol for walls and sequestration and slamming shut the doors that were once held open for our own families. Enlightenment has been forsaken for deontological egoism, personified in irrationally moving a man into power who tapped into insecurity and fear so as to lead a nation whose existential integrity is wholly dependent on rationality.

But most interestingly, the majority of those who set out on this deleterious path are those who exalt this nation, whose love of country exists at such great heights, that even the meekest of criticism is grounds for treason. But as their decisions–their shameless, swift, and divisive repudiation of social liberalism and multiculturalism–have shown, veritable love of country does not always exist hand-in-hand with understanding of country, for those whose actions and beliefs have culminated in the rise of a man who poisons this nation without a second thought are themselves abandoning the very framework that built this nation for which they claim undying loyalty and affection.

These people are willing to trade a nation founded by philosophers who extensively advocated for ideas we today umbrella under the term “freedom” for one that exists as antithesis. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” has been scratched away for “Make America great again.” These people bought sequestration and lies wholesale, believing them to be the torch illuminating the heavens, a beacon of freedom, when in reality, they bought perversion. It is truly distressing that a devotion to country today manifests as the opposite of the very principals, the very ideas, on which it was created in the first place.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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A Charade You Are

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s politically-charged 1977 album, Animals. Today also marks President Donald Trump’s first full day as President of the United States. I don’t believe in any kind of supernatural affinity existing in the universe, but if I did, I would have to assume that there was some kind of celestial magic afoot. If existence was dictated by screenwriters, this is one of those “great timing” moments that provide ample fluidity to progression.

But, alas, it is but mere coincidence, but a great coincidence nonetheless.

Animals is, for all intents and purposes, the most politically-mobile album in Pink Floyd’s catalogue, but is forgotten by most casual fans. It has the unfortunate distinction of being sandwiched between 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon and 1975’s Wish You Were Here on one side and 1979’s The Wall on the other. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Animals was a busted record — it still sold remarkably and spurned a successful world tour (during which a spitting incident would provide inspiration for The Wall). But how often does one hear “Sheep” or “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” on radio, compared to “Money,” “Time,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2?”

But Animals was more aggressive than the albums it lays between. Described by NME as “one of the most extreme, relentless, harrowing and downright iconoclastic hunks of music to have been made available this side of the sun,” the album draws inspiration from George Orwell’s 1945 allegorical novella Animal Farm, but while the literature is a critique of Stalinism, Animals is a brutal indictment of capitalism — an “uncomfortable taste of reality in a medium that has become in recent years, increasingly soporific,” per Karl Davis of Melody Maker. Both anthropomorphize social classes into pigs, dogs, and sheep, but while Orwell’s novella ends on a bleak note — “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” — Pink Floyd’s album ends with the sheep (the mindless followers under the thumb of the oppressive pigs and greedy dogs) revolting and killing the others.

But the relevance of this album is not merely contained to its ruby anniversary.

On October 1, 2016, Roger Waters was performing a free concert in Zócalo Square, Mexico City. He delivered a rousing performance of “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” where he did the opposite of hide his feelings about the soon-to-be president-elect of the United States. Drawing from the very things that inspired him to write Animals in the first place, Waters’ performance of the side-two opener featured a backdrop that portrayed Donald Trump as one of the pigs, a psychedelic homage to the “joker” whose popularity personified the same vile zealousness of which Waters wrote Animals with galvanized contempt. The Donald’s mouth agape, superimposed with the word “charade,” the 11-and-a-half minute haymaker bled in images of the White House, Trump the bully vomiting cyan, and as if taking cues from the punk bands of the same time period, superimposing whore’s makeup on his face in an effort to deface and emasculate a man who, less than a week after the performance, would be at the center of an outed Access Hollywood video where he joked with George W. Bush’s cousin about how his celebrity allowed him to “grab [women] by the pussy.”

At the end of the performance, Trump quotes were thrown up on the backdrop in Spanish, making the coda even more powerful than just the swirling melodies, shrilled shredding, and the signature thump of Waters’ bass. It ends with:

“Trump eres un pendejo.”

Trump you are an asshole.

On the 40th anniversary of Animals, President Donald Trump got to work, signing a series of executive orders that stand to do more damage than provide benefit to the people they will impact. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which, to be fair, was more symbolic than anything (the deal is practically dead in Congress anyway). But the direct, vicious, and early nature of Trump’s executive order may blacken the United States internationally, as noted by Cornell University’s Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy:

“This abrupt action so early in the Trump administration puts the world on notice that all of America’s traditional economic and political alliances are now open to reassessment and renegotiation. This could have an adverse long-run impact on the ability of the U.S. to maintain its influence and leadership in world economic and political affairs.”

Mr. Trump also instituted a hiring freeze throughout the federal government on all non-military workers. The move eerily echoes the actions of former President Ronal Reagan, who also instituted a hiring freeze immediately after assuming office in 1981. President Trump made this hiring freeze part of his campaign, an action he would take to “drain the swamp.”

President Trump also placed his feet in the shoes of Republicans before him and refreshed the “Mexico City policy,” also known as the “global gag rule,” which stops United States taxpayer money from going to international family-planning organizations that offer abortion services to women, even if the United States’ money doesn’t actually pay for the abortive procedures. This move is significant, considering a bill very recently manifested in the House of Representatives that deems “life” to begin at the moment of fertilization in an effort to equate procuring an abortion as an act of murder and unravel the protections afforded to women under the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. It’s an attempt to napalm a women’s right conservatives have spent decades trying to undo and comes at a time when the American conservative movement has been given a new breath of life by an extremist sect assimilating all who once tended the middle of the aisle and infecting the populous to the extent necessary to grant it firm control of Congress.

The “Mexico City policy” also eerily mirrors recent attempts by U.S. conservatives to undo Planned Parenthood.

Three executive orders, which effortlessly put millions of people in precarious situations, have been instituted with a stroke of a pen by a man who embodies the snobbish, oppressive ruling class in an album that was released 40 years ago to the day. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but even I will admit that this is one hell of a coincidence. But then again, should such a coincidence really be that intriguing? At the center of it is a man whose name could easily have been inserted into the side-two opener and followed by the following lyric:

Ha ha, charade you are.

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Dear America, The Time Has Come to Hug Each Other

“Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States.” — Every single news outlet around the world

I am currently sitting in the Starbucks down the street from my apartment, trying to realize what have been, in effect, 36 hours of trying to put to words exactly how I feel about the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. I’m watching everyone here, baristas and patrons alike, the dressed and the disheveled, observing this microcosm of people for insight into how I want to address what may prove to be our nation’s most egregious electoral sin.

There is a man sitting adjacent to me, a black man, who may find himself subjected to the overt racism fueled by the election of Donald Trump. There is a woman across the lobby from me, holding hands with her girlfriend or wife, who may see their fight for equality torn asunder — their marriage voided — due to the election of Donald Trump. A Hispanic woman and her young child are waiting for their drink orders and the only reason I’m curious about the mother’s legal status is because I’m afraid she may be deported, leaving her child an orphan, because of the election of Donald Trump.

I’m not trying to sound like a self-righteous ass, but I have nothing to worry about. I’m white. I’m male. My demographic has not only been historically favored, but will likely also be favored by a Trump presidency.

And I have a big problem with that.

Part of what has prompted me to write about the state of affairs in the nation which I call home is not because of my own socio-economic suffering, but the suffering of others. I am worried about a Trump presidency not because of any kind of blowback I could experience, but because of the blowback that others may experience (who have a higher chance of experiencing).

I’m concerned for the women in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man who has explicitly and unapologetically “grabs [women] by the pussy.”

I’m concerned for the people of color in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man who has emboldened white supremacists.

I’m concerned for the Muslims in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man who has explicitly and unapologetically criminalized their religion through rhetoric and possibly through future actions.

I’m concerned for the Hispanics in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing their president is a man committed to ripping their families apart and building a wall to keep them out.

I’m concerned for the LGBTQ people in my life, who have to live the next four years of their lives knowing that the progress made in administering to them the same rights everyone else has enjoyed, notably the right to matrimony, that they just received 18 months ago, is now in jeopardy of being taken away with extreme prejudice.

I’m concerned for everyone in my life who isn’t a white, heterosexual man — and that concern isn’t restricted to just the people I know. Everyone is someone in my life.

It would be easy, and maybe even cathartic, to figure out where to point fingers. The aforementioned emboldened bigots. The still-relevant political exasperation by young people (possibly made worse by the results of this election). The Electoral College. But while fingering blame toward whomever or whatever one feel is deserving of it may help now, it ultimately won’t do any good. Donald Trump wasn’t elected because of the racists. He wasn’t elected because of the Electoral College. He wasn’t even elected because of James Comey’s apparent partisan politics.

Donald Trump was elected because a way of life is being rendered extinct. And I’m not talking about the acceptability of casual racism or the importance placed on a morally-good, Godly community (though the latter is notable). I’m talking about the people who find themselves victims of progress.

Many of the people who voted for Trump didn’t do so between cross burnings and trips to Hobby Lobby to procure materials for “God Hates Fags” signs. Many of the people who voted for Trump did so because their jobs are vanishing, their checkbooks are too light to avoid sleepless nights, and their communities are changing in ways that throw kerosene on the flames of fear. I see people in this Starbucks who, from a quick glance, may fit this bill. Older white men who look haggard and beaten down by the stresses of the vanishing working class. Older white men who see their values (which in many cases are also their daddy’s values, their grandaddy’s values, and so on), religious and otherwise, not only disappearing, but demonized by what they incorrectly attribute to encroaching “political correctness.” Older white men who (incorrectly) see the cultural openness being promoted and realized by progressive ideologies as a threat to their security and their livelihood. While this isn’t an excuse for their prejudices, which ultimately fuel their decisions (like casting a vote for Donald Trump), it is more important to understand the anxiety that comes with changing times than to solely hold their feet to the coals.

One can still empathize with this fear while holding these people accountable for their decisions.

While I’m not making an effort to cast blame, the people of this nation did not, on the whole, vote for Donald Trump on Tuesday. 200 thousand more cast votes for Hillary Clinton, leaving her the victor in terms of popular vote. Direct democracy voted for Hillary Clinton. Representative democracy voted for Donald Trump. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes — in 2000, direct democracy voted for Al Gore and representative democracy voted for George W. Bush. But this is how the system works and it is improper (and honestly, hypocritical) to demonize the system when it doesn’t work in your favor and champion it when it does.

The election of Donald Trump is the last gasp of a dying culture in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels and just hope we’ll get it right next time. We need to focus on changing the culture that allowed Donald Trump to be elected and honestly, it starts with giving a damn. Donald Trump may be unstable in terms of his commitments, but he has made several positions very clear, once you sift away the narcissist rhetoric and the overuse of “okay?”

There will be people who suffer because of the Trump Administration and it is our job — not as liberals or progressives or conservatives or libertarians, or as Christians or atheists or Muslims or Jews, or as white or black or Latino or Asian, or as male or female, or rich or poor, or whatever — to understand that. Our obligation to others is to understand that bad things will happen and do everything in our power to ensure those blows are lessened, or if possible, those punches are kept from landing. We are only as strong as each other.

We need each other. A presidency is only four years (eight with the “rule of incumbency”). The divisions amongst ourselves last longer, if we let them.

Let’s start by giving each other a hug.

Featured image via Pixabay.

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The United States of Ignorance

Part of why I write and part of why I learn is because I was lied to as a kid. This isn’t some “oh, woe is me” crap I used to pull back when I wore eye liner and hawked MySpace at every opportunity. I was legitimately lied to during my youth about so many things. We were all lied to as kids.

When I would sit on the living room floor with my breakfast and watch Saturday morning cartoons, I was routinely reminded by Rachel Leigh Cook and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America that my life, and the lives of others, would be awful is I even so much as thought of smoking a joint.

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

When I would sit in class and teachers would give brief explanations of race relations in American history, I was told racism is solved.

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

After 9/11, I was told that it was important for me to embrace patriotic ideas, that we are superior to the enemy with which we were fighting, and that the American way is the best way. “So, put your hand over your heart,” teachers and administrators would order, “and say the Pledge of Allegiance. By the way, you’re to report to P.A.S.S. for calling George Bush a terrorist.”

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

When I was learning how to be a productive member of the workforce, I was told ad nauseum about capitalism being “the best economic system” in the world and “these socialist ideas” I was embracing had “no business here.”

The-lie-detector

Image via MakeAMeme.org.

I may have put a lot of you off already, and that’s fine. I expected as such. But for those of you who have not clicked the back button, or entered a “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else” feedback loop of anger, this is the larger point Meme Maury and I are trying to make.

In the United States, we have a problem with being objective. We revise our history to make us seem like winners. We embark on moral crusades without thinking of the consequences. We still cling to our tribes sporting just majestic degrees of isolationist behavior. We are devaluing education, reason, and logic for our stupid feelings.

These are all lies because American history is not as clear as we’ve been brought up to think. Moral crusades are only valuable to those who wage them and are detrimental to those who fall victim. Refusing to embrace the unknown cripples our social growth, while rendering young people deficient in education, logic, and reason ensures that upcoming generations will perpetuate the plunge the United States has been enduring, that very same plunge that people who devalue education get upset about, but fail to understand they are the cause of.

Being ignorant is our sin.

Featured image by Pixabay.

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Burdens of Proof

Perhaps it is unfair to hold members of law enforcement to a higher standard? After all, are they not just people who happen to have a badge and gun as provisions of their profession? How is this any different than a writer, who always carries around a pad of paper and a pen? Or a stock trader, who always has his fingers tightly wrapped around a smart phone? Or a person managing a retail store, who always has a headset nestled firmly in their ear?

Some argue that police officers should be held to a higher standard, for they act as enforcers of the laws that keep our society functioning. In theory, yes, but so long as police officers are shielded from their actions by thin blue lines weaved together into a veil of self-preservation, it is completely unreasonable to hold police officers to a higher standard than the rest of us. Further, it is unreasonable to hold police officers to a higher standard than gang members, drug dealers, rapists, and murderers.

When police officers are given “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, they aren’t being held to a higher standard, but instead are being held to a low one that seems to be getting lower. The law applies to everyone, regardless of who they are, but despite that notion being early-acquired general knowledge, it isn’t enforced with any kind of consistency. When incidents take place like those that happened last week in Louisiana and Minnesota — where two men were killed by law enforcement officials who probably lacked any real justification for their actions — police officers involved are always given the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to the boys in blue, due process works as intended — “innocent until proven guilty.” The burden of proof in these cases, the bar that must be reached to prove criminality, is raised significantly because as law enforcement officers, life and death decisions must be made quickly and decisively. But at the same time, for the person on the receiving end, who is more often than not a male person of color, due process works the opposite of what is intended — “guilty until proven innocent,” whether they’re alive or dead.

How frustratingly backwards is it that people of color who find themselves victims of police misconduct and brutality have to engage in a defense that must effectively explain why their aggressors were in the wrong, even if they died in the altercation? In no way should someone have to prove their innocence from beyond the grave.

But this is the dynamic we see on a stunningly regular basis. Police officers who may have crossed the line rarely seem to actually find themselves in the system they impose on others who crossed the line. Police officers are like Ethan Couch in this regard, but instead of their race or wealth granting them an escape from the consequences of their actions, their badge does.

And people wonder why communities of color riot after justice fails them.

Policing is backward in the United States. Suspects are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty by criminal prosecutors in a court of law. That’s how jurisprudence works. The burden of the criminal justice system is not on the defendant to prove their innocence, but on the state to prove their guilt. But as we have seen time and time again, the presumption of innocence fails to make an appearance in times when it is probably needed most.

There was no presumption of innocence when John Crawford was killed in a Wal-Mart holding an air soft rifle that the store sold in his hand.

There was no presumption of innocence when Tamir Rice was killed in what was effectively a drive-by shooting in a park.

There was no presumption of innocence when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin over a canned beverage and a bag of Skittles.

There was no presumption of innocence when Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown and left his body in the middle of the road for hours afterward.

There was no presumption of innocence when Baltimore police threw Freddie Gray in the back of the paddy-wagon and broke his neck during a “rough ride.”

In each of these cases, the law enforcement officials (or armed security guard, in Zimmerman’s case) had the benefit of the doubt, while the people who are no longer with us — Crawford, Rice, Martin, Brown, and Gray — were not only presumed to be guilty of whatever they were being accused, but were vilified in the media and by law enforcement as a means to justify these actions at the center of the coverage.

But this degree of vilification isn’t new. It existed at epidemic levels in the American South during Jim Crow. It existed at epidemic levels following integration. It existed at epidemic levels when the CIA and Nicaraguan Contra’s are alleged to have introduced crack cocaine into South Central Los Angeles.

This vilification, coupled with preconceived notions indoctrinated into us about people of color, are why police cannot be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. After all, they have the capacity to be bigots, just like the rest of us. They are fallible human beings, just like the rest of us. Just because they have a badge doesn’t mean they are exempt from the every day things for which the rest of us are subject to the criminal justice system. If a CEO of a Fortune 500 company rapes their secretary, they are still a rapist. If a teacher coerces a young child into sex, they are still a pedophile. If a Wall Street executive launders money, they are still an embezzler.

Similarly, if a police officer kills someone without justification, they are still a murderer. That is the standard.

Featured image by Tony Webster, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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The Obsession With ‘Good’ And ‘Evil’ That Makes American Society

Like many of us, I spend some of my time on social media having discussions about current events. There are several people who I would consider “regulars” when these topics manifest, one of which is my uncle. While there are times when he provides respectable contributions to the topic, there are other times when he flies off the rails and begins speaking of subjects in terms of “good” and “evil.”

My uncle’s ethical analysis of these topics is not unique. Plenty of people do it. Go to the Liberal America Facebook page and look at the comments sections underneath posted articles. It’s clear as day. When major topics generate these types of conversations, I tend to sit back for a moment and ponder the efficacy of “good” and “evil.” Considering that I live in American society, there is no shortage of viewpoints from which to pull ideas.

How Does American Society Define “Good” And “Evil?”

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen walks into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. and opens fire, killing 49 patrons and wounding over 50 others. That’s the night Omar Mateen commits the single worst mass shooting in American history. While the public and the media have spent the last five days debating what factors played a contributory role on his actions, bouncing between motivation by sexuality and radical Islam, one factor remains the same: his actions are considered “evil.”

Evil is an interesting concept because evil does not unilaterally apply to any specific action. What one person considers to be evil, may be another person’s good. In fact, the term good also does not unilaterally apply to any specific action, for what one person considers to be good may be evil to another.

In terms of good and evil as defined in American society, Omar Mateen’s murderous Sunday morning is defined as “evil.” After all, his actions are responsible for the violent deaths of over four dozen innocent people. But to Mateen, his actions were “good.” To ISIS, his actions are “good.” To other radicalize Muslims, his actions are “good.” To those who condemn homosexuality to the point of violence, Omar Mateen’s targeting of a gay nightclub is “good.”

Despite those who will likely throw support for Omar Mateen’s actions living primarily on the fringe of their respective societies, it is still important to point out they exist. To have an ethical conversation over actions such as these, it is important to point out all possible viewpoints.

American society defines “good” as actions they consider “in the best interest.” In turn, American society defines “evil” as actions they consider “not in the best interest,” but the term is more commonly applied to actions involving violent crime or other acts considered “heinous.”

American society, on the whole, leaves little to the imagination when it comes to identifying what is good and what is evil. While the minutiae of what is considered good and evil differs depending on which part of American society is being questioned, each facet makes a clear, distinctive demarcation between the two. We consider these topics in terms of polarity, with actions considered either benevolent (“good”) or malevolent (“evil”).

Despite the simplicity of dividing actions this way — after all, it requires little mental effort to define in such polarized ways — bisecting actions this way presents some rather complicated ethical ramifications. Making matters worse, there are many among us who view these actions, regardless of their placement in the ethical field, as inherent.

Why Does American Society View “Good” And “Evil” As Inherent?

For the sake of full disclosure, I do not accept the idea that anything, good or evil, is inherent. The moral qualification of any action is not permanently, essentially, or characteristically good or evil, but is instead defined as such by virtue of how the society in question views such action. But there exist many who would challenge this view.

But why are actions considered by many as inherently good or evil? There are likely many reasons why, but I would venture that one of the most influential contributing factors would be religious beliefs.

The anchor of religious ideas, beyond the deities in question, are a defined system of ethics that, in some cases, the deities themselves manifest. In Christianity, God is a creator deity, responsible for the breadth of existence. This creator deity is also responsible for the acquisition of law through Moses and other figures in the Old Testament text.

The Ten Commandments, for example, are a well-known provision of ethics, alleged to have been handed to Moses by God himself. Considering the importance of these laws in Christian tradition, as well as the pervasive influence of Christianity in American society, the Ten Commandments are a notable source of ethics in American society as a whole, so much so that some of these ideas manifest in secular ethics as well.

“Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal.” — Exod. 20:13-15, KJV

Even to the non-religious in American society, murder and larceny are abominable acts and carry stiff legal penalties. Even though there is disagreement over the scope of these penalties, we all agree that penalties for these actions should exist. Adultery, while not illegal, is considered a detestable offense and carries with it social stigma.

But the offensive nature of these actions, and others like them, are not inherently determined. They are manifestations of human morality, and as such are only held to account in terms of human morality. While the religious say the Bible is the definitive word of God — which, if that were true, would qualify these actions as inherently abhorrent — the Bible, like the religion of which it is associated, is an invention of man, which means the Ten Commandments, the moral philosophies said to have come from God himself, are actually an invention of man.

Because moral attitudes are the invention of man, they are subject to man’s ever-changing worldview. Because they change, they cannot be inherent.

But to call something inherent, much like bisecting actions into “good” and “evil” camps, requires little mental effort to understand and justify. Defining an action as either “good” or “evil” is simple enough, but is made even simpler by defending such a classification as inherent. To call something inherent removes the need to justify the viewpoint. Who can argue with a moral attitude if it comes from God, right?

Inherent good and evil aren’t necessarily supernaturally derived either. Many people in American society view good and evil as inherent based on Enlightenment philosophy, notably that of John Locke, whose commentary on “natural law” provide the backbone of American society’s ideological views on the freedom of men.

How Does “Inherent Good” And “Inherent Evil” Affect American Society?

The ease with which American society bisects moral attitudes, while also applying “inherent” qualifiers, has a profound effect on sociopolitical attitudes and actions in American society. While clearly defined ethics can have positive influence (such as the view of murder as a detested act contributing to legal penalties for murder), that isn’t to say that the simple explanation of inherent “good” and “evil” doesn’t come without its share of complications.

In the southern parts of American society, public lynching of African-Americans was a morally justified action. It wasn’t uncommon to see entire towns gather in the center to string someone up, light them on fire, mutilate their bodies while they were still alive, and even take pieces of the body home as trophies. In the 21st century, actions such as these are considered “inherently evil,” but even 100 years ago, that “inherently evil” viewpoint did not exist in these areas.

Many instances of lynching were in response to perceived crimes African-Americans were alleged to have committed, so in that regard, lynching was a form of retributive justice and would be considered “inherently good” because justice was being served.

When it comes to moral attitudes, nothing is inherently good or evil. Concepts of good and evil are subjective ideas, based solely on the moral attitudes of the men and women who shape them. It is important to keep this in mind as society evolves, for dependence upon an idea being inherently good or evil can retard the growth of society and if a society stops growing, that society withers away.

Featured image by dARTh9220, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.

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