For many liberals, this has been the year of wrestling with the white working-class middle-aged man. From “Hillbilly Elegy” to “Strangers in Their Own Land” and a mounting Everest of think-pieces from the New York Times, Mother Jones, The Atlantic (and on and on) following the surprise election of Donnie Drumpf, suddenly educated upper middle class whites are wondering what they’ve misread in a huge swath of the country. Further complicating the waters are the 53% of white women who also helped usher Donnie into the White House. Certainly the rust belt and coal country are desperate, scared, angry and feeling marginalized. That’s been building for years–seeking to understand why and what can actually be done to better things there (and not just false promises like those they gambled on in this election) is long overdue (more on that later).

It’s been barely a week since the election and most of the things I’ve heard since–after initial shock, sadness and anger from one side (still lingering) and joyful celebration from the other (already waning to some degree) have been urges from most to “come together” “show empathy” and “be one country”: that is, from most white folks who are not from at-risk or marginalized communities. For every “get over it” or “look forward” I hear from white folks I hear “How can we?” from black, Muslim, LGBT, and Latino voices. People are rightfully scared and the recent elevation of Steve Bannon, alt-right mouthpiece and agitator, has done nothing to give them reason to not be afraid.

#ThisIsNotNormal: As John Oliver stressed on his last show of the year, this is not normal and we should not acclimate to it so if you have to , put a post-it up on your bathroom mirror so you don’t blank out and accept Trump’s America if you’re of a privileged class that can. We have just elevated the least-experienced and most ill-suited candidate in modern American history to the office of President. A man who has failed at everything he has ever done (marriage, business, humanity) and who has callously stoked hate against every non-white community in the country on the campaign trail and who is filling his cabinet with dreadful people. A reality TV personality who bragged of sexual assault and smiled as his daughter was called a “piece of ass” by Howard Stern. This is not normal.

While those who voted for Drumpf and many who didn’t but who want to let bygones by bygones urge us to let it go as just a “political” difference there are many who simply can’t yet–at least not until they find out what Drumpf really has planned for stop and frisk and an increasingly militarized police force, what he has planned for the wall and deportation, his proposed database of Muslims, if he will really repeal environmental protection laws, if he will seek to use the Supreme Court to repeal Roe v. Wade and eliminate health care access for millions of poor women and children, if Mike Pence will have any way of legitimizing “gay conversion” therapy, if Drumpf will be able to quell the violence and bullying done in his name, if he can call out the KKK and neo-nazi groups celebrating in his name…

See, when Bush (W.) won his second race I was an under-grad college student and I got pretty bummed. But I didn’t feel the pain in my bones and the shock to my system that made me seriously question the future of our country that I have now and I can only imagine what some other people are feeling. No, I was bummed but able to chat politely with Republican friends and teachers and talk about how we felt, the issues themselves, the perceived direction of our country. What some on the right are failing to acknowledge at the local level is just how different things are this time around. Things that are about to happen may seriously (and negatively) impact the very existence and livelihood of this country and the world as a whole. Maybe I’m naive– I’m sure my more liberal friends would say so in this regard–but I actually like Hillary Clinton as a person. I think she is a good person and would have made a good President. I may not have agreed with her on everything and I would have had serious concerns on some of her foreign policy positions in particular but my hope was that with a Democratic House and Senate, particularly with folks like Sanders and Warren taking on greater leadership roles we would have been able to hold her to issues and advance on Obama’s progress, curbing some of the negative possibilities. I think we could have certainly made great strides on climate change, secured social policy issues for a generation (and thus indefinitely) and so much more. Some of my most politically liberal friends think this laughable as they promote #DemExit and the like now, partly welcoming a Trump presidency if only because it will shock us all awake. But the cost I fear may be far too large.

I believe in the bedrocks of democracy–of liberalism–of progressivism. I believe in empathy checked by responsibility and strength, what George Lakoff describes as the nexus of liberal thought (in “The Political Mind”): empathy to feel the pain and share the concerns of others, responsibility to feel the need to act to address those concerns and the strength to do so. And I most certainly do not think it would be fair to accuse me of “living in a bubble” as seems to be the heart of most “empathy to the working class” pieces I read lately (you can take a pretty spot on quiz to see if you live in a left/urban/secular bubble here)–no, I’ve lived more than 75% of my life in working class (usually rural) areas, I’ve worked many service sector and labor intensive jobs in my life, my Facebook feed is regularly filled with arguments from both sides and much more. I know there are a lot of reasons below the surface affecting how we behave and act politically (I highly recommend “Our Political Nature”) from birth order to parenting style to early childhood experiences and education but I also know we have the choice to learn, to grow and to celebrate truth. I was punched in the face more than once from 12-16 years of age as I ran my mouth at bullies slurring the n word and guffawing, at racism every time I encountered it as it always made me angry to the bone. I know it when I see it “cleaned up” in Drumpf and I won’t be silent now either. You are free to have your opinion and I may even like many people who are guilty of unconscious and casual racism even though I disagree with them. But your desperation does not excuse you allowing these forces into legitimate power, blessing those opinions by elevating them far beyond workplace or popular culture. Data shows quite a few wealthy and upper middle-class voters embraced Trumpism. Though desperate rust belt and coal belt men and the women who wanted them to excel again may have tipped one of the scales that ushered Donnie in, they were not the only bloc. But empathize with them I can to that extent that I agree poverty sucks, back-breaking labor sucks and feeling like the world is leaving you behind can indeed suck. It shouldn’t make you cling to empty promises when the evidence to the contrary is clear and easily accessible though. The fact is liberal policies can and have been able to address those very real needs but too often the white working class in forgotten industries actively work against themselves. When you’re told climate change and advancing technology will end your field for 40 years and you actively avoid it instead of helping to be at the forefront of what comes next, when you fight against stimulus packages that can elevate your community, when you decry unions for “right to work” policies instead, when you oppose a raise in the minimum wage and universal health care access to all, when you keep voting in tea-party representatives who could care less about you instead of those who can work to get progressive policies through then you are digging your own hole.

All this to say–when you say “we voted different we can still be friends”–sure. Yeah. But that’s a lot easier if we’re both white and middle class. Your choices have an impact. The very minute the results started rolling in Trump supporters flipped the table to assign themselves victim status. They decried being labelled as racist, sexist or xenophobic. They did everything they could to instantly be the “winners” who would have supported the other candidate had things been reversed, they suddenly became the biggest fans ever of the electoral college despite previous opinions, they decried protestors as “sore losers” and they held themselves as martyrs unfairly labelled prejudiced. I mean, didn’t Drumpf win areas in the rust belt Obama also won? Can’t be racism can it (ignoring the fact that maybe many of Obama’s supporters were too disgusted to turn out or that voting one time for one black man like having one black friend doesn’t preclude one from loving and benefiting from institutional racism)? No, not everyone who voted Drumpf was racist–they did make a decision that was racist however, like it or not. The nationalism, racism, Islamophobia, etc. were all part of the Donnie package and white folks decided those -isms weren’t deal breakers. They decided a man who plays on hate and fear deserved a shot at the White House despite having what may be the highest record of lying on the campaign trail ever recorded by fact checkers, despite the warnings from every expert in every field, despite the rift their decision was bound to cause for generations to come. So when you ask me or any other white liberal to get over it maybe we can. We can just ignore the subjects we don’t want to talk about if rational reasoned debate is out of the question (which it clearly is due to the repudiation of the “media” and “fact checking” and “liberal education” by the Drumpf package) but I can’t offer you forgiveness for your decision as I am not one most wronged by your choice. Don’t want to be seen as racist? Then apologize to those who feel like second class citizens due to your choice, who are scared for their future and their children right now. Forgiveness can only be given by one directly wronged. I may “feel” wronged–I feel bad that expertise, education, knowledge and basic liberal principles of democracy are being jettisoned and ridiculed, that debate using legitimate journalism and research as sources will become increasingly difficult and I especially worry that climate change will wreak irreversible damage in my lifetime–but I have not been shouted at to “go back” to any country, I have not been harassed or threatened due to religious belief, sexual orientation or anything of the sort. But there are millions in our country who have, will or fear they may be and it is they who you if you are a Trump voter owe your apology to. Tell them you are not a racist or xenophobe but that you desperately believed Drumpf’s impossible promises so much (or hated Hillary so much) that you overlooked all of the vitriol and cast your vote his way any way.

Seriously–how much leeway do we give each other for bad choices? It’s a free country and I respect your choice to do anything so long as it does not negatively affect me or others. We can agree not to hate each other while still holding each other accountable for bad choices. I am sure many people would consider me a hypocrite or an asshole in many ways. But I knew what was at stake in this election and did what I could to prevent it. We’ll see how history views all of this in time but there are clear parallels in our past that provide a pretty clear indication.

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“Ramon Casiano” is the song that opens the Drive By Trucker’s “American Band” album, one of this year’s greatest and most timely albums (second only to Beyonce’s “Lemonade”). In an infinitely catchy and masterfully played southern rock song DBT’s Mike Cooley sings the story of how Harlon Carter shot 15 year-old Ramon Casiano in Laredo Texas in 1931. The full details of who Carter is are not explicitly spelled out as the bulk of the song shifts to a focus on border issues, prejudice and struggle. You know while listening that everything is tied together and given an overarching theme but you’d be well rewarded by digging into the history here as it produces an even deeper level to the song and it sheds light on a few major issues facing us today. It’s a smart song in an album full of them that showcases a critique of people and places from within that is biting and necessary. It also rocks.

So who was Harlon Carter? Carter is a former NRA Executive Vice President and the person responsible for the “Cincinnati Revolution” in 1977 in which new leadership took over the NRA, ousting the old guard to transform the organization from a group that taught youth shooting safety, advocated hunting and sportsmanship, and worked to increased safety and accuracy in sports shooting into one that took a radical hard-line  “individual rights” interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and became a political advocacy group for repealing all existing gun laws and prohibiting any others from passing. Carter and his partners changed the nature of the entire organization, moved it from being a responsible sportsman group to a lobbyist for the gun manufacturing industry. Before Carter was an NRA executive he was a teen himself involved in the malicious shooting of 15 year old Hispanic teen Ramon Casiano:

“After returning home from school that day, Carter was told by his mother that there were three Hispanic youths loitering near their family’s property. Carter left his house, shotgun in tow, to confront the alleged loiterers. After finding Casiano and his two companions, Carter pointed his shotgun at them and ordered them to come with him. Casiano refused and pulled out a knife and asked Carter if he would like to fight. Carter then pointed the shotgun at Casiano’s chest. Casiano pushed the gun aside and asked Carter not to shoot while taking a step back. He was then shot and killed. Carter claimed self-defense, but the presiding judge instructed the jury, “There is no evidence that defendant had any lawful authority to require deceased to go to his house for questioning, and if defendant was trying to make deceased go there for that purpose at the time of the killing, he was acting without authority of law, and the law of self-defense does not apply.”*

*http://nraontherecord.org/harlon-carter/

Carter would end up not serving any time and years later when this story resurfaced tied to his new job he denied and dismissed it.

harloncarter1

Cooley and the trucker’s tie Carter and his perverted NRA to many of the struggles our nation has faced ever since and explain how such figures became “leaders of a certain kind of men who need to feel the world’s against them, like in mind and like in skin.”

We could tie Carter and his bastard version of the NRA to a lot of evil in this world as they bear some responsibility for everything from Columbine to the Pulse Night Club by way of Sandy Hook and so many others too numerous to count. They are responsible because they’ve spread their vitriol and arrogance across the country by shutting down logical debate and warping minds, by refusing to consider any and all regulations labeling all such attempts as nefarious efforts of the Federal Government to control the population–yet all the while shouting that such a thing may be possible and in such yielding greater donations and increasing arms sales for their partners. Carter’s legacy is the laughs that guffaw from Republicans who watched the last presidential debate when Hillary defended her efforts to pass legislation that would curb the number of toddler related shootings (!) in our country each year due to unsecured guns from irresponsible parents.  Carter’s legacy is the stockpile of military grade weapons the Sandy Hook shooter’s mother had amassed out of fear of Obama that was used by her son to murder elementary school children and their teachers. Harlon Carter’s legacy is the sea of bloodshed in poor neighborhoods where shooting deaths rival those in Iraq.

But I don’t just blame Carter and the NRA. I blame those too blinded to recognize the lies they are being sold. Here’s the 2nd Amendment, verbatim:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

As it reads, the 2nd Amendment is tied to “a well regulated militia.” Well regulated clearly leaves room for restrictions and regulations especially as they may relate to public health and safety in a much closer together larger country with advanced technology such as ours today. Furthermore, “militia” refers to citizen-soldiers, persons not in full time service of the army. Such a group today would be our National Guard. So, the 2nd Amendment only grants full access to firearms to a group of citizen soldiers who may need to assemble for security.

Now, I am not an originalist in that I do not read the constitution as a fundamentalist reads a scripture, as unchanging, set in stone and closed for reinterpretation in each era. For me it is the principles behind each amendment as they relate to our core principles as Americans that matters. But the 2nd Amendment clearly lies at odds with a personal rights interpretation for those who do define as originalists– yet originalists themselves sometime now follow Carter’s lead and interpret the 2nd amendment to mean free and unfettered rights of gun ownership to any and all private citizens without any measure of restriction. I am not of the mind that there should be no privately owned guns in our country–just that we can have a rational discussion in light of what has worked in other countries and pass common-sense laws that mitigate the number of guns in the hands of terrorists, criminals and the mentally ill. Also that we can restrict the power and velocity of privately owned guns and reduce the number of guns in circulation that are stolen from honest owners and used for crimes every day.

Ironically, those who have swallowed the extremist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and kept to it no matter how many dead children arise as a result more often than not identify as “pro life”. In this case we would laugh at the absurdity were it not so sad. Life for this group as it becomes clearer each day we advance into Trump’s America only matters if it is wealthy and white or completely potential–fertilized eggs that may become a cute baby. For the “pro life” all that matters is life in the abstract and the concept of motherhood—something they find unfathomable that someone may not want or be able to possess. But life–toddlers shot down in Newtown, innocent bystanders wiped out in gang shootings, drone-struck life on the borders around the world, life snuffed out as it desperately strives to reach safety by way of refugee, that life most assuredly does not matter.

Blood is on the hands of Carter and those who defend his legacy like today’s disgrace Wayne Lapierre.Blood is also on the hands of those who refuse to have a productive conversation on how we can halt the shed of blood and the loss of safety. And the hypocrisy of those who will shut down such a line of thought while clinging to their own prejudices will be the hypocrisy that eventually ends the modern Christian church in America. If this election has shown us anything it’s that rational, reasoned debate falls on the deaf ears of those who refuse to consider facts and who consider education itself as an ill. Perhaps we need more assholes to willfully stand as thorns in the side of Trump and those who enable him and who refuse to bow down or remain silent about that which destroys us.

 

 

Autopsy of an Election

November 10, 2016

I spent several hours yesterday calling and messaging friends to see how they were doing and to let them know how much they mean to me. Those closest to me are in shock right now; scared, angry and disgusted. Many of my closest friends work as teachers, with nonprofits or in ministry and as such most of them are spread out across the states often in towns where the local response to Trump’s election is quite different than their own. My mother may be one of the last Democrats in her small KY town and is in shock herself, made all the more difficult by a gleeful praising of Trump everywhere she goes. This presidential race and especially its result have left a lot of people I care about feeling very isolated. Many of us are seeing how fragile rights and privileges we’ve taken for granted actually are. I’ve spoken with teachers whose classes are comprised primarily of minorities and their hearts are broken for these students who are legitimately terrified of what might happen to them—or simply at how they feel the world around them actually sees them. I have LGBT friends worried that coming down the pipeline could be a decision that would invalidate the legality of their marriages. People who work with refugees are now worried about the future of refugee services in this country. Looming over all of this is also the strong possibility of environmental devastation, the specter of war(s) and so many other ills.

Many friendships and families are strained now as well. I don’t think those on the right are willing to admit this election is different than any that has come before. Those who have spent the most time working in or studying government, politics and history have incessantly warned voters of the dangers of Trump while those with the least familiarity with or knowledge of those things were the backbone that swept him into office. An acquaintance of mine summed that up inadvertently—“Your candidate lost, get over it. This is the first time my candidate has ever won and you’ll survive just like I did. Besides, just do like I do and focus on sports and ignore world events and news if it bothers you.” And therein lies the problem—ignore it all you want but it still has repercussions, it still has effects. If you don’t know or care for any people of color, immigrants, refugees, folks from at-risk communities or members of the LGBT community you haven’t had to think about how a Trump presidency and the movement that allowed him to be will affect any of those people. You haven’t given much thought to the black church burned and spray painted “Trump,” the KKK marches in the south, the joyful exclamations of former grand wizard David Duke praising Trump. You don’t know (or know that you know) any women who cried themselves to sleep upon Trump’s election because they recognize the threat Trump poses to women’s healthcare and rights; you don’t know or care that many of these women feel that our country just labeled them as second class citizens again. You certainly don’t put much stock in climate science or fear that we may easily reach the point of no return if Trump, a climate science denier, does what he says he’s going to do to environmental regulations. This is not a vague or far-off concern, this is a clear and present danger and we are in precarious times due to it, far more at risk as a nation and a world because of it than we ever will be over the national debt.

So yes, this election was different. Policies aside which we can debate rationally in Trump we have now elected someone who has consistently and thoroughly lied and denied easily fact-checked previous statements, who has threatened the press and the first amendment, who has admitted to sexual assault, who has openly denigrated entire populations of at risk communities. A reality TV star. A man who still hasn’t released his tax returns or paid taxes. Who will dismantle the progress we were tentatively making in almost every area of society. The only plausible positive prediction I can make regarding Trump’s plans are that, pending other developments, he may actually improve the economy at least in the short-term. I imagine that realistically stocks could continue to rally especially as arms manufacturers pump out supply predicting future wars, as health care industry stocks get a boost from the repeal of Obamacare and the promise of free-market price-gouging tactics and the denial of service to folks who are already sick, as dirty energy stocks jolt alive at the expense of a healthy planet and hopes for cheaper clean energy are squashed. The rich will get richer at the expense of the poor in a slash and burn campaign that will shorten the lifespan of humans on this planet.

And why has this happened? Because some voters were able to master the dark art of false equivalency and parrot Fox News talking points all while steadily shutting out facts from “crooked” mainstream media? Because of a deep hatred for “liberalism” or a subconscious prejudice against women leaders? Or is this just the dying spasms of the old order as the religious right sold out all of its principles and in doing so lost an entire incoming generation of millennials?

This election result may very well be ranked as one of the largest tragedies in national history some day and it was completely self-inflicted.