First off—it’s looking like I was (as I hoped I wouldn’t be) off base to cut Kevin Spacey even a hint of doubt as further credible allegations emerge. In the interest of not becoming a revisionist I’ve left the original post up with an “update” disclaimer so folks can skip to the “art vs. the artist” section if they wish as it looks like that’s the dilemma one who enjoys the actor’s work now faces. Of course I’m not one for consigning an entire body of work to the flame simply because a cog (or even the whole) in its production was a reprehensible jackass but that’s another argument for another day. I do think it’s odd that some on the right are using the sadly growing list of Hollywood figures (who are most often some degree of “liberal” politically) as evidence of a “perverted” left. If there’s really one thing we can be certain of in terms of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault it’s that it’s a bipartisan issue that affects every community. From the Fox News team of founder Ailes (a major figure in the White House and in every GOP campaign involving Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes) and network cash cow O’Reilly to Hollywood A-listers Weinstein, Spacey, possibly Hoffman (ouch) by way of the church (Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant) and up to the White House (Trump has more credible sexual harassment and assault allegations than even Weinstein) there are no subcultures or groups immune to the presence of abuse. Power is the unifying factor as those with power far too often use it to pressure, intimidate and abuse those with less or excuse questionable behavior. These microcosms now on display showcase behavior that goes on in every industry and in every town in America. So yeah, long story short—I cut Spacey too much slack too early it seems.

I’m beginning to feel it’s almost hopeless to expect more out of anyone. A friend recently posted “are there any famous dudes who aren’t total creeps?” to which I replied that I had a list of many I think (based on everything I’ve read and heard) fit that bill of being as ethical and stand-up as they are talented but that I’d be loath to list them right now for fear an old story would emerge making me eat my words. Folks make mistakes and no real hero exists, I know that. But the entire current climate of information, misinformation, historical and political ignorance, scapegoats and easy (but false) answers is exhausting.

For example, I could refer you to the Atlantic’s recent stellar coverage of the revolt at Reed College. For those interested in “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces”, and the criminalization of ideas it’s a worthwhile read. As someone who empathizes with most left positions but who is also a fan of open full-throated debate, grappling with complex ideas in a fruitful manner, and first-amendment absolutism I have long had a troubled relationship with some of the younger expressions of “idea” protest. This article lays out what’s happened in one extreme example but it at least ends promisingly as a newer generation of diverse students push back against simplistic inflammatory protest in favor of honest debate and education. But more troublingly for the left than the issues many campuses now face is the entire future of the Democratic Party.

Donna Brazile is doing her book tour and part of that is a full attack on the Clintons and the DNC in the wake of her ousting. While it should come as no surprise to any student of government and history the DNC (like the RNC, like every political, religious, and civic organization) is prone to corruption or at least political chicanery. While many of the concerns Brazile raises are troubling they are not surprising nor are they really that “new”. Righteous anger that such favoritism and political maneuvering could occur to affect the primary is understandable but unfortunately many on the left are now playing right into Trump’s hands (and words).

As someone who supported Bernie early on I recognize his appeal. I think that for the most part he is an ethical, honest person though I don’t believe he’s immune to political celebrity and it’s potentially corrupting allure (one can’t really be a politician without that).  If I had the power to wave my hand and replace Trump with anyone it would likely be Elizabeth Warren but Bernie would still be a close 2nd or 3rd. I also never believed Hillary Clinton to be my personal lord and savior and no act of political subterfuge in her pursuit of victory (within reason and with precedent) would really surprise me but I, like Bernie and like Bernie pleaded with his supporters to do, supported her when she became the candidate. Heck, Brazile mentions her conversations with Bernie took place before that endorsement so even in light of the knowledge that he’d been royally screwed by the DNC in funding and preference he still saw the bigger picture because he, unlike many of his supporters, is cause first and personality second.

That’s the thing about the so-called “Berniecrats”. That term was coined not to refer to the most “progressive” section of the Democratic Party or to Democratic Socialists. It was coined to derisively refer to those who built a cult of personality around Sanders, many of whom were frat-boys with more interest in “dank memes” than Democratic Socialism or progress for all.  So while Bernie certainly had support from Boomers, Xers, and Millennials of all styles who would have preferred him but who ultimately voted for Clinton when they had to the Berniecrats instead either stayed home, cast their ballot for some of the worst third-party candidates in a generation, or voted for Trump (an estimated quarter of Bernie supporters ultimately voted for Trump).  There’s a reason Russians included Berniecrats in their targeted audience—it worked. They shared false and inflammatory information and helped usher Trump into the White House.

Trump is now pushing the most far-right agenda to ever come from the White House. The damage he is doing to the environment, our relationships and standing in the world, and to the very legitimacy of our institutions is staggering and potentially irreparable. The bigger picture was to keep that from happening while working for reform and the bigger picture remains replacing Trump with a less noxious and damaging President ASAP (while seeking reform and incremental progress). Yet if a subsection of the left is happy to do Trump’s work for him (as they are today while Trump calls for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton live on TV), spread his message and share his Russian created memes then where are we to go? It would be easy to just say ignore this sub-section as they don’t show up in significant numbers at mid-term elections to keep the actual local and community gears progressing further towards equity but I don’t think that’s wise at all. I credit Bernie and his supporters for pushing Hillary to the left on many issues so that she ultimately ran on the most progressive platform in modern history. Those that were “Bernie or Bust” need to be in the fold because a mainstream liberal party that slides back to centrism is doomed it’s just that we need the most boldly Bernie or nobody folks to get behind the cause not the person and to find (and advocate for) young and new party figures. Sadly, however, it’s looking more and more every day like Trump, the most “unpopular” President in history will win a second term even as his entire cabinet faces indictment.

So yeah, it’s feeling hopeless. No “heroes”, no admirable institutions, no middle-ground, no respect for facts or the possibility thereof. A generation of students is coming up who report no real love of the freedom of speech or of the right to disagree. I’m thankful to love metal, horror, noir, literary tragedy and the oddly life-affirming qualities these art forms promote at a time like this while all seems to be turning to crap. So I’ll likely be picking up my lists and genre analysis as I ready my end-of-year “best of lists” and give my half-assed political commentaries another much needed rest.


Any Republican in the age of Trump from the Senate all the way down to the local dogcatcher that isn’t publicly denouncing Trump’s character, actions, and staff choices, who isn’t distancing themselves from him and who isn’t working to reform and update their party so that Trump and his evils are in no way indicative of the GOP doesn’t deserve to be elected to any single position anywhere in this country. If I meet you in a business capacity and you wax on about your love of the GOP in this day and age I am instantly considering doing business with someone else instead of you.

Another valid prefacing point—I have always (at least since I began to understand politics and engage politically) identified as “progressive” in the sense that I believe the goal of good governance is to grow, enhance and “better” (“progress”) society, to do more, be better, serve more folks more efficiently in the service of reducing poverty, social injustice, etc. I believe there are certain basic “rights” that citizens of countries wealthy enough to provide them are due—these are the benefits of living in a society, of paying taxes, of being a part of a country rather than a solitary tribe. In my opinion these rights include not only the constitutional rights and civil liberties we have enshrined in our constitution in America but also basic things that people need to survive—food, clothes, housing and healthcare. Every citizen of a wealthy country deserves a safe place to sleep, enough healthy food to survive, and medical treatment that won’t bankrupt them when they are sick.

However, in the wake of Trump and the resulting political environment I have sometimes found myself loathe for the first time in my life to self-identify as “progressive”. “Liberal” yes and I believe that entails the original sense of progressive but I’ve seen and heard such things lately that I can only believe the terms we’ve used previously are now dying due to bad associations and new connotations. I admit I once rolled my eyes at some of the old-guard liberals now so often derided as conservatives who warned of a “PC” left that was veering off the rails. But the only term I at the moment can muster for a certain segment of my fellow liberals is “Reactionary Left”. Like the Republicans of old and the conservatives of history the new Reactionary Left does not present new ideas, does not lead the way and instead reacts constantly to the other side…and increasingly not just to the other side but to those within its own ranks, attacking and purifying the inner circle to determine who is “really” a liberal—who uses the right phrases, holds the right positions, denounces all of the right (or “wrong”) things.

I don’t think all liberals are like this—nor will I commit a false equivalency by asserting that both political sides are equally bad today. What is happening on the modern right is wreaking irreversible harm on the environment, our standing in and relationship with the rest of the world, the dignity of the poor and the rights of minority groups. Making transgender persons scapegoats to score political points with a section of their base causes far more harm than us arguing over whether a person is “whitesplaining” or not. BUT—a sizeable and growing segment of the modern left is taking its eye off the ball and losing focus on the big picture while simultaneously culling the ranks and almost intentionally deterring those outside of the circle from getting on board.

A few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • A group of folks were discussing police brutality, specifically black folks slain by police with video evidence they were doing no wrong while the juries who found the officers not guilty anyway. Important issue, worth getting angry about, worth discussing and acting on to change the culture of why this occurs. A man the group knows made a comment that basically asserted generalizations occur across all lines and that ultimately he hoped we could grow to see everyone as part of a human family. Make what you will of that statement—it may certainly miss the point, it may certainly be loftier than statements seeking to fix right here right now the problems people of color are experiencing with police—but instantly this man was accused by the entire group of racism. Every—steadfastly non-aggressive, calm—word he said in his defense of not being a racist was met with accusations that he was “mansplaining” and “whitesplaining”. Does levelling these accusations solve anything? Does it convert the man to their point of view or advance the dialogue at all? No it likely just pushes him further in the opposite direction.
  • I know several vegans and vegetarians and while some are pretty chill on their choices the majority takes every opportunity to accuse every meat-eater they know of murder. To eat meat or not on philosophical, ethical, scientific, or nutritional merits is a complex debate but one sure way of not advancing your cause is to instantly insult, denigrate, or annoy the other side while simultaneously asserting your own moral superiority. If the goal is to reduce animal suffering, address the climate impact of the growing cow population, or to make people healthier there are hundreds of ways to advance each of these goals with footsteps that not only make sense and work but that come easier and more naturally to the majority of people.
  • Prior to the Oscars this past spring I heard from one person that if “La La Land” won the Academy Award it would prove once and for all the Oscars were irredeemably racist. This was after the Academy made efforts to double its female and people of color members and nominations of said categories was larger than it had been in years, possibly ever. The same person was in discussion with agreeing friends, all of whom declared they’d never even seen the movie and had no interest in it. When “Moonlight” ended up winning the same person proclaimed “of course Moonlight won” because it “depicted angry drug-addicted black women” and was about gay characters yet it didn’t “show gay sex”. This despite the fact that it was based on the author’s own life and was widely acclaimed for its depiction of masculinity and gender. This same person is a constant fount of examples of finding fault with every situation regardless of the outcome.
  • One last example though I could go on—let’s look at the recent McCain vote that killed healthcare repeal. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were both steadfastly against the repeal from the beginning and have rightfully been receiving credit for that. Yet since it was known they were voting “No”, McCain’s last minute reveal that he too was voting know broke the tie and sunk the bill. So reporting that McCain broke the tie and ultimately “did the right thing” was a news story worth reporting. The instant backlash to these stories across my social media showed that rather than be happy repeal was at least temporarily dead, much of the left was angry McCain was getting credit for the work of women (Collins & Murkowski).

The Reactionary Left cares more about getting the terms right than getting the results right. I’ve read story after story about those on the fence who (shudder) became Trump supporters just because they got sick of the self-righteous posturing of their liberal friends. While I don’t see how you can suddenly support a selfish, lying, hateful, ignorant buffoon who is making the country and the world a worse place every day I do get why you can suddenly become apolitical or distance yourself from the modern left. Who wants to be surrounded by those who only complain about past could-have-beens (as most Democratic party meetings I’ve been to in recent time turn out to be) rather than what could-be-next’s. Furthermore, who wants to contribute to a conversation when they have to mentally check every word they may utter in fear of inadvertently offending the crowd and being cast out puritanically from the inner circle of trve liberals?

I can speak for no one but myself but the following points are what I feel, mean, and believe when I say I am “liberal”.

  • Free Speech is paramount. A person can say, write, or sing anything they wish or believe whether right or wrong. However, said person should not be able to report said speech as news if unchecked and said person is not immune to the free speech response to their original comment. If a person says some heinous shit they may as well expect the protests to come and that is part of the free speech circle. The right is trying to co-opt free speech by saying they don’t PC police your conversation. In case you have a short memory, the right was the party that got aghast at everything from the Metropolitan Museum of Art display of piss-Christ to gangsta rap and Marilyn Manson in the ‘90s. The only speech the right cares about is protecting lies reported as news (not a free speech issue) and the right to use racial, religious and sexist slurs (which can be used but which can also be called out and pushed out of polite public professional conversation).
  • Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual identity or country of national origin must be attacked and dismantled at every turn. Every person deserves access to the same opportunities and protections. This goes for employment, housing, education, and incarceration. We live in a country where every generation forgets they come from immigrants and so discriminate against every incoming demographic. We jail people of color at astronomically larger rates than white due to racially-motivated drug policies and policing tactics. We get angry that stores say “Happy Holidays” instead of exclusively “Merry Christmas” and those who believe differently—especially if they believe in “nothing” religiously—are looked down upon almost unanimously. Hell, we maintain “legacy” preferential status for universities bestowing the grandchildren of wealthy graduates preference over first-generation college students in contrast to every other industrialized country. Yet instead of focusing with laser-like specificity on these bigger issues (and so many more), the Reactionary Left worries more about pushing out voices from the past (“who cares what dead white guys had to contribute” (e.g. Jefferson, Einstein) or present (quit whitesplaining) from the conversation.
  • Our environmental world is in danger and it is our duty to protect and repair it. No one’s jumping down from the sky to heal the earth nor is it our destiny to strip and destroy our planet on our way out. Global warming is real and we are running out of time to do something about it. Big changes are necessary from national and global standpoints. We can do what we can to cut our carbon footprint but policing the micro-actions of our every neighbor may not only not make a difference but may also make many other things worse.

I could go on with issues of war, poverty, policing, gender relations, etc. but I’m not writing a manifesto regardless of how it might sound, I just wanted to list a few key examples. These are just a few key things I mean when I proclaim myself as a liberal. Despite the fact most of us grow more conservative with age I don’t foresee that for myself in most areas, though I’m not immune to the fact that with even slightly better income and more security almost all of us lose the visceral response to many progressive impulses. I am liberal in a traditional sense and I have huge sympathy for the modern left in terms of addressing some of these other issues and growing awareness of problems previously overlooked. I believe in a more equitable world for all. I don’t scoff at the issue of language and label either—I know misusing the wrong label can hurt be it a pronoun or racial slur. My wife is a strong Ms. (never a Mrs.) with her own last name, every transwoman I know is a she, and by god I’m never calling a black person the n word (even with an a ending) no matter how close we are. I get the importance of all such issues. My issue with the focus on language is more on the pedantic, academic sense—I spent a lot of time in colleges and universities and within that context it is very important to get the nomenclature right. But it is not our duty as liberals and/or academics to take those textbook sociological and philosophical terms out into the “real” world and bludgeon folks with them—accusing them of –isms they’ve never heard of, condemning them for not invoking the right indigenous native writer’s preferred adjective at the right time. I fear that the campus experience will drift to implosion if we allow our fear of getting it right and our fear of offense push out all fruitful debate and exclude all troubling writing. I fear we will lose a generation of progressive action by culling the herd of all but the most linguistically and philosophically pure and there is simply too much at stake to let that happen.

“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.”*


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.


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.



I stumbled across the following blog post as it was trending and being shared on social media by friends and acquaintances. I read it, thought about it and couldn’t stop thinking about it—so I took the time to write out a rather lengthy comment addressing most of the author’s points honestly seeking debate or conversation because despite this post apparently going a bit viral there were no comments. Apparently that’s because the author isn’t approving any comments on her page or at least on this article. So,  I’m tailoring my comment into a straightforward post for my own page since I took the time to write it.  To see exactly what I’m responding to please visit the above link and read her piece first. I want to stress that this is not an “attack piece” or anything of the sort; just browsing the rest of her blog leads me to believe she is a devout, authentic, strong-willed and genuinely good person of integrity. Which, to be honest, makes her posted endorsement of Trump all the more shocking to me—but I know many other people much closer to me (folks I actually know) that share her sentiment. It’s not just the videoed folk s shouting racial slurs at Trump rallies or the neo-nazis on the dark corners of the alt-right internet who support Trump, it’s almost half of our fellow citizens. I feel that no matter what happens in this election we have to find a way to discuss these issues, to debate and to discuss and most of all to find a way to agree on facts, tools of reason or logic and basic neighborly decency.

Also, I will note I’m just about done in every sense of the word with current year politics. They’ve exhausted me unlike any year in memory and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m over feeling shocked at an ever lowering of the bar, I’m over the visceral hatred between different groups in our own country and I’m over the disintegration of facts and discourse. So maybe this is my last political post for the foreseeable future.

First, I want to address the author’s claim that Hillary Clinton has done more to contribute to rape culture than Donald Trump. Obviously, measuring the actions of any two individuals to determine their personal role and impact on the overall culture as a whole is difficult if not impossible so in some ways we can only use them as categorical examples, representative of many other similar individuals. But the author makes two specific claims—one, that as an attorney “she [H. Clinton] has reduced the jail time of rapists” and two, that she “helped cover up the abuses done by her husband.” Regarding the first point, I assume she is referring to the Kathy Shelton rape case. I would recommend a recent recap of that event in the Washington Post, a pretty reliable source not known for a “liberal bias.” * The issues about that case are complex but of primary purpose as it relates to Hillary Clinton is that she was working for a legal aid clinic serving the poor and was appointed by the court to represent the accused rapist of Shelton. Court appointed attorneys have to represent the client they are appointed to and to do less than their best job in such cases goes against our entire legal system.  Hillary stated she was not thrilled to take on the case but she did and as a young attorney did her job just as any other appointed DA would. So unless we believe that the accused parties in court cases don’t deserve legal representation I am not sure how this incident is an indictment against Hillary. Regarding the second point, to the best of my knowledge there hasn’t been any reliable evidence from a reputable source tying Hillary Clinton to any sort of cover up of Bill’s extramarital affairs. It appears to all non-biased observers and reporters that all of Bill’s extramarital affairs were carried on without Hillary’s knowledge and thus she was a victim of his affairs. So the only thing she can be fairly accused of is of not divorcing her husband when she discovered the affairs. Of course standing by a partner and seeking reconciliation isn’t typically a bad thing in conservative minds which is why this is an odd accusation from that corner of our politic but regardless her choice to not divorce her husband is her right alone.

This author may very well  be right that we are well past picking a President based on character and I’d argue that history has shown many great leaders are of bad character and many bad leaders are of good character—in a pluralistic society character matters only so much as it influences or reinforces the culture itself however. In the case of character Trump vs. Clinton we have on the one hand a man who has used his power and wealth to harass, degrade and assault women. This is evident by his video-taped conversation with Billy Bush where he openly stated he kissed and fondled women without their permission. This is evident by claims from beauty pageant contestants (as young as 15) that he knowingly walked in to inspect them when they were in the nude. That he smiled and allowed Howard Stern to call his own daughter “a piece of ass”. Then of course there are claims from women who worked in his companies that he forced himself on them, kissed, harassed and threatened them. And a claim that he raped a 13 year old girl that is pending in the courts now. This doesn’t even account for comments he has made about women (“you have to treat them like shit”) the deaf/mute (“retards”), Mexicans, refugees, African Americans, etc.  On the other hand you have Hillary who worked at a legal aid clinic where she once defended a rapist as a court assignment and who didn’t divorce her husband and instead reconciled with him after his extramarital affairs came to light. Just on these issues alone (sticking to ones brought up in the linked article) one definitely influences rape culture and one definitely does not. Trump exemplifies that power and wealth allows you to behave how you want and that seeking permission is not necessary for sexual contact. This models for younger males and females what behavior is appropriate and what they are worth. Just last week a friend of mine in an airport overheard two college students joking about the airport workers and flight attendants loudly within her earshot, specifically about groping them. When she confronted them they said “we’re voting for Trump”.

The author is correct that a third-party vote in this election will simply be a vote by default for the winning candidate. I agree that voters should vote for a front-runner, I just happen to believe that the candidate they should vote for is Hillary Clinton because any vote not for her may allow Trump into the White House where he can do unimaginable damage to our economy, environment, international relations, domestic race relations, refugee crises and advancing rape culture.

Now, regarding what the author defines as the “real issues” of this election:

  1. National Security: The author claims that Hillary wants open borders. Trump claims Hillary wants this as well. The facts however are that all of her proposed immigration plans thus far increase funding for border patrol and call for deportation of violent criminals and those who pose realistic threats while also allowing for sanctuary cities and a path to citizenship for nonviolent undocumented workers who are contributing to US society. The “open borders” claim refers to a speech Hillary gave to bankers in which she claimed: “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders, some time in the future, with energy that is green and sustainable…powering growth for every person in the hemisphere.” She is speaking about unfettered international trade, green energy and a global marketplace though even if she also meant unfettered migration of people (which doesn’t seem likely) she is also speaking in a utopia-positive prophetic manner. This of course is a very biblical (people not commerce) vision one more traditionally “Christian” than walls and borders which the Gospel ignored and prayed to cease. A good analysis of the “open border” Clinton claim is available at Politifact. ** I am glad the author recognizes the heart-breaking reality that is the Syrian refugee crisis. Some humanitarians are referring to it as the holocaust of our time. We will be judged by history in how we dealt (or did not deal) with this crisis. I also agree with the author that refugee crisis or not we should screen those who enter our country—which we do already. We have a very intensive vetting process of refugees.  In fact, refugees are screened more extensively and heavily than any other segment of our society in the US which is why the majority of threats, violent crimes and terrorist acts on US soil have been perpetrated not by refugees but US citizens. Terrorist watch organizations estimate far-right racial KKK style hate groups are by far the most likely groups to commit terror acts on US soil. During this point the author also goes on a tangent about gun owning citizens (which to be fair can be a national security issue)  and that taking away guns from citizens just leave them at risk of attack from a criminal who does not care about gun laws. It’s worth noting that Hillary, like Obama, has no intention of confiscating America’s guns though she does want to pass basic regulation like prohibiting those on terrorist watch-lists from purchasing guns and instituting universal background checks. Most Americans, according to polls, agree with these common sense approaches. Gun rights and gun laws are a complex subject from understanding the 2nd amendment in history (“well regulated militia” to “citizen soldiers” e.g. National Guard) to debating how that applies now but a good deal of research can be done utilizing what other countries have tried and done. In short, criminals may not care about gun laws but with less guns in circulation there are less non gun-owning non-criminals to steal from but regardless, Hillary has no intention of confiscating all guns and this is a false alarm claim just as it was with Obama to sell more firearms which is why the NRA (now a lobbyist for the gun manufacturers rather than a hunting and sports shooting conservation group) loves these worries.
  2. Economic Stability: Like many others, the author believes that since Trump is a businessman he will run this country like a business and as President running our country will be his job. The author writes that Trump refused to pay taxes or bad workers as good business practices. Stories have shown he stiffed good workers as well and we’ll leave the tax question alone now other than to say that’s a lot of funds for schools, military, roads, fire and police etc. that went unpaid. But Trump’s record as a businessman isn’t that great which is likely a large reason he doesn’t want his tax returns released—he’s probably not as rich as he says he is and doesn’t like people who say so. Regardless, financial experts think he’d be richer if he’d just invested his money in index funds and left it alone. *** He started out rich with connections and since has lost a lot of money for a lot of people bankrupting companies along the way. As actual billionaire Mark Cuban recently pointed out—name one person who has claimed Trump helped them personally become richer or more successful, one person he’s mentored, one lasting business claim he successfully can make. Furthermore, you can’t run the country like you run a business. You’d never intentionally create a national debt by absorbing state debts as Alexander Hamilton did in our country’s first administration in a private business but you do in the government because it creates the index for all federal government functions. “Wealthy people are usually successful business people who EMPLOY other people” is also a highly debatable claim as a huge percentage of the wealthiest individuals do not employ anyone, run any company or contribute to society—they simply inherit a good deal of money or make money by having money invested.
  3. Supreme Court- The author is correct that this is important. She and I would disagree however as I believe severe damage could occur if the court drifts too far to the right. But even assuming a far-right Supreme Court would be a good thing, what makes you think Trump would appoint anyone you like or that such a nominee would get through the House? Heck, he may even appoint his sister who is a judge (Elizabeth Trump Grau) and she is very liberal.
  4. Pro-Life – Avoiding an entire discussion on this issue as it’s never-ending (though you can read my previous post on the subject here) I will simply say though the author and I may disagree on this issue I understand the importance of this issue to many voters and that it often pushes many to become single issue voters simply over the passionate beliefs they have about it. But if we look at history we find previous Presidents post RoevWade who were pro-life, even adamantly so and fundamentalist about it (Reagan) yet nothing happened to roll back abortion access rights. Even while George H.W. Bush “came around to the issue” at Reagan’s prompting, his son George W. as an evangelical was even more stridently pro-life; yet Laura, Barbara and Nancy remained by all accounts pro-choice and nothing did change. There have even been times in history in which the Republicans had control of the House, Senate, Court and Presidency and nothing changed to roll back abortion access and legality. It’s been alleged that keeping abortion legal and using anger directed at it works better to fire up a base and win elections. My opinion remains that if you are pro-life you should: refrain from having an abortion; support policies that reduce the desire for women to seek abortions; and encourage laws and practices that value and support life from childhood through old age encompassing the rights and livelihood of immigrants, refugees, the less fortunate and the “other”. In fact abortions go down, as they have under President Obama, more under Democratic presidencies due to policies which support the social safety net, increase access to birth control, and promote women and child health.

PS: The author adds a PS that she supports Trump because his first “hire” was Mike Pence, a man (according to the author) of “character, faith and integrity.” However it is likely Pence would have lost re-election in his own state had he not been scooped up by Trump as he failed Indiana economically and in the undermining of the social safety net. An AIDS epidemic broke out due to Pence’s delay and early refusal to sign a needle exchange bill, LGBT teens were directed into “conversion therapy” which has historic notoriety for increasing teen suicide and depression rates (not to mention no evidence of “working”), factories shipped overseas, etc. Pence’s role thus far as VP seems to be to deny Trump has said what he has said or that he meant something else and I don’t consider that indicative of “integrity” in any way.

So, these are the points I posted as my comment challenging the author’s assumptions. I do this not to be vindictive but to challenge her to consider her points and evaluate them for factuality. We are losing something in this election—respect for facts, respect for debate, respect for reason and tools of logic. We are doubting the veracity of our entire democracy, of the party system and of the value in public service and government. We are losing respect for considered rational yet kind conversation with those with whom we disagree.  Recent studies and stories have shown that we don’t just disagree on issues but WE DISAGREE ON FACTS. We tunnel-vision into our catered news while rejecting the “Media” for not agreeing with us, we reject science when it conflicts with our feelings or preferences and we overlook the parts of history that don’t justify the narrative we want to tell. This is dangerous stuff and if we don’t create a space where we can discuss with compassion the issues that face us and seek ways to equip everyone with the tools of discernment we are doomed.

I spent so much time on this author’s post not because of who she is or really even the points she makes but because her piece is indicative of those I know that agree with her but that are kind, decent and seemingly rational folks.  There’s no arguing with those who resort to character assassination and racist rhetoric, there’s no debating with those who approach this election with sheer panic and misplaced fear of their own place in the world but there should be a place to discuss the issues with those who simply disagree.

I will also end with a caveat–Hillary is by no means a perfect person or a perfect candidate and though I strongly support her now and believe her to be an honest, hard-working person who will make a solid President she was not my first choice either. Once she is elected I will be critical of her–of her military enthusiasm and role in perpetuating endless wars, of her refusal to reign in Wall Street excess, etc. But I will not dehumanize her or work against her in any way that might prevent genuine positive progress.






The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade in 1973 to legalize abortion placing the decision to have one on each woman faced with that choice. Immediately after the verdict organizations formed which have since worked continuously to reverse the court’s decision, influencing countless house and congress members and even a few presidents–yet the verdict has stood ever since. It’s never even come close to being overturned, though many politicians have based their entire campaign on promises to overturn it and even one president (Reagan) made moral opposition to abortion a frequent talking point both because of his own fundamentalist evangelical faith and his close political alliance with Jerry Falwell in forming the “moral majority.” Reagan’s selection of George H.W. Bush, a social moderate, was controversial as Bush was not strictly pro-life but in time he “came around” to the position. Later on, his son would also engage in pro-life rhetoric. Interestingly, Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush were both pro-choice all the while.*

Yet for all of their talking points none of these pro-life politicians have been able to reverse Roe v. Wade. In fact, the legality of abortion was even expanded in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey which removed the trimester barrier (which restrained the legality of abortion primarily to the first trimester) replacing it with a “viability” clause which defined abortion as illegal only in cases where the baby would be able to live outside of the mother’s body. There isn’t much a President can do to criminalize abortion as it was a decision by the Supreme Court that ruled abortion as a legal right related to privacy and due process via the 14th amendment. Presidents can nominate justices they believe will vote “pro life” when a case comes along that would have bearing on the previous decisions but this is often hard to predict as Reagan’s nominations proved.** In fact, there was a time when the Republicans controlled the House, Senate, Presidency and 7/9 Supreme Court justices–and no moves were made to criminalize abortion. *** Some argue that it works better for GOP campaigns to keep abortion up for debate as it gives them an additional base.

Meanwhile, life continues on and due to many factors, abortions are actually at historic lows. Abortions even went down an additional 13% during Obama’s presidency (and prior to restrictions placed in conservative regions).**** This is largely because abortions are almost always a symptom of a bigger problem–poverty–that democratic policies tend to better address through an emphasis on sustaining the social safety net. One huge factor that (obviously) reduces abortions is access to birth control and as that expands abortion numbers drop. Yet many factions of the pro-life movement extend the pro-life view to include opposition to birth control as it also prevents potential life from culminating.

Here we are 40+ years after RvW and the issue is no less contentious. Criminalizing abortion is still a rallying cry that whips up a base and creates a wave many candidates have rode to office. Where I live there is a congressperson who makes overturning RvW her primary talking point regardless of what issue is currently under discussion–local traffic and infrastructure needs, the city budget, etc.–and she is widely loved for it. Nationally, Trump has “converted” to the pro-life cause after a lifetime of quotes in which he was seemingly pro-choice. For this reason there are many one-issue voters who will vote for Trump as he is the only “pro-life” candidate running.

Many others have effectively argued that being pro-life goes far beyond the issue of abortion.***** They stress that being pro-life must be about caring for life once it is born–that if we are to insist a poor Mexican immigrant carry her pregnancy to term (for example) then we must advocate and support programs to lift her out of poverty, provide her with the education needed to sustain her and her baby’s life, provide her with healthcare and a network of support, and value her and her baby’s life–even as that baby grows into adulthood and faces tough choices of his/her own. “Pro-Life”, such advocates insist, must also oppose capital punishment, support immigration and refugees, the living wage, welfare, addiction treatment,  and all matters related to the social safety net. While I respect and admire the views of writers like the referenced Ms. Held-Evans I part ways with them in ways that will deter some readers, but here goes:

The terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are a misdirection that creates a false dichotomy. One is either for or against the criminalization of abortion, that is all. You can be “pro-life” on either side of this divide and you can be “pro choice” about any issue other than abortion on either side. Those that are pro-life believe abortion should be illegal and although some make exceptions for special circumstances many make no exception for any (even Zika-induced encephalitis as Rubio recently proved). Those that are pro-choice believe each woman is their own moral agent capable of making the decision to have an abortion or not depending on their own circumstances. I believe unequivocally that every woman has the right to make that decision for themselves based on their own unique circumstances. I believe that a government that insists every woman carry every pregnancy to term is guilty of serious overreach. I believe the health and well-being of the mother is always the first priority and I trust every woman to make that decision themselves.

Equating abortion directly to murder is dangerous. Many of the terrorist acts perpetrated on American soil over the years have been by right-to-life organizations including as recently as last year a shooting at a women’s clinic and the arson of 4 others.****** Doctors have been murdered and women threatened under the guise of “pro-life” and rhetoric that flatly compares a woman’s choice to murder directly encourage that activity by giving the armed and dangerous moral permission to prevent future “murders”. Several years ago when I was living on a seminary campus pursuing a master’s degree in religion my wife volunteered with the campus women’s center. As a progressive seminary the women’s center was pretty far to the left of similar organizations on more conservative campuses. This group went to the city’s women’s clinic to help escort women into the clinic past the protestors. Doing this greatly honed my wife’s ability to block out insults and maintain composure in dicey situations. This is because the clinic in the city was one of the most aggressively protested women’s clinics in the country. Often my wife would be escorting a woman in who having miscarried a child was having a procedure to remove the body–of course, on top of the heartbreak and discomfort the woman was already undergoing she then had to snake through a mob of loud frenzied picketers shouting at her that she was a murderer. Point is, those protestors did not know the situations of the women they were shaming–and they didn’t care. Their violent rhetoric could have easily led to gunfire any day as it has around the country for decades.

Deep down, most people realize the situation is more complicated and nothing brings this to the surface quite like the issue of “punishment” for abortion. If abortion is illegal then it would seem to follow that if a woman procured one she would then face punishment for breaking the law–and if abortion is flat out equal to murder then that punishment would be severe. Yet when Trump voiced this position earlier this year he quickly back-pedaled as even pro-life groups stressed punishment of the woman was never an option, she had been through enough; punishment was to be reserved for the doctor alone. By parsing the judgement in such a way  Slate writer William Saletan argues fairly convincingly that pro-lifers secretly recognize “that abortion is a medical procedure, that the woman is the primary patient, and that the physical and moral relationship between her and her fetus is complicated.”

But if we abolish “safe,legal and rare” abortion (as Clinton defined it) what is it we are asking for? Some sort of punishment for those women who desperately sought out an abortion. Wealthy women, even enthusiastically pro-life ones, will continue to have access to and procure their own abortions while denying them to others (As Jon Pennington writes based in his PhD work on the pro-life movement “Most pro-life women oppose abortion with four exceptions: rape, incest, the life of the mother, and me”).********

Women have abortions for many reasons. Some men use pregnancy as a means of limiting a woman’s options, trapping them in continual pregnancy to “keep” them whether the woman wants or can handle having another child or not. Sometimes women are victims of rape or incest. Some times women are simply not physically, mentally or financially capable of giving birth and if they are forced to that child will grow up unloved, unwanted and in physical and financial pain and want. Unwanted children are often victims of poverty, domestic abuse and addiction.

I have been fortunate and privileged to have never had to face a situation where a woman I love has had to contemplate abortion. I have always taken every precaution possible to ensure this was never an issue and I’ve been fortunate enough that even had I faced an unplanned pregnancy in my relationship my partner and I haven’t lacked the resources and connections to “choose life” had we found ourselves in such a situation. Yet I would never in a million years choose to judge, shame or denigrate someone who has had to make such a choice. Based on the stats a woman in America is about 30% likely to have had  an abortion by age 45.********* Though the “1 in 3” claim has been a contentious bit of data  ********** the 30% estimate is our best current estimate and it is much lower than it was 30 or 40 years ago and will likely continue to lower pending maintenance of the social safety net, promotion of sex education and the widespread availability of birth control. The point is, it’s safe to assume a woman you know, maybe a woman you love, has had an abortion. To label her a murderer and to flatly refuse to consider the complexity of the issue is not the moral high ground.

The moral high ground is in fact the issue. Because it’s over the issue of abortion many on the right get most indignant. Liberals may have “stolen” the moral issues of poverty alleviation and caring for the sick, poor, refugees, “least of these”, environment, imprisoned, etc. but the right are the ones to hold onto the hard “fact” that abortion is a moral outrage. It’s enough of an issue for conservatives that one I love could claim someone like myself can have nothing to say of value on any issue if I don’t agree abortion is always wrong.

But maybe that’s right to the extent that the reasons I am for the woman’s right to choose tie in with the rest of my moral judgements–so if you ridicule or hate my rationale for taking this stance you may as well ridicule the rest. I support a woman’s right to choose because I trust women to be their own moral agents and I would never presume to  know what is in their best interest. I am for a woman’s right to choose because I believe forcing a woman to carry a baby to term from the very moment of conception is arbitrary and cruel. The CDC reports 90% of abortions are in the 1st trimester and just over 1% are in the 3rd (almost always tied to the survival of the mother or because the baby has died). So to insist that those women who just found out they are pregnant but who are wise enough to their own situation to know they are in no shape to become a parent must just suck it up and become a parent is beyond absurd to me and against the liberties and freedoms inherent to our country. Pre-born life is potential life and there is no argument against abortion that is not rooted in religion; so if we are to maintain our separation of church and state we will not dictate what decisions women can make based on our own form of religion that they may not share. The issue of abortion is simpler than we all make it–if a person is against abortion they should never get one and they should never be forced to get one. But there is no room for them to force others to share their belief. Women can never maintain gender equality with men and be free to pursue their own visions, goals and live their own lives if we do not grant them freedom to make their own decisions about their own bodies–and that includes an embryo growing within that body.

If you are pro-life I urge you to at the least expand your vision of what that entails and support programs, resources and avenues of growth that let life flourish from adoption and foster care systems to refugee resettlement programs to addiction treatment and poverty alleviation. I urge you to support programs that reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies: expanded access to birth control, comprehensive sex education and advanced women’s health care and mentoring. I urge you to love the life of women facing terrible decisions without resorting to labeling them murderers and shaming them without even understanding their life situation. I also urge you to be skeptical of politicians and people who play on your pro-life convictions to get your votes and dollars without ever having any genuine plan or hope of changing abortion legislation who simultaneously do everything they can to destroy the programs that reduce the desire for abortion in the first place.










*********     “”We know that the abortion rate has dropped substantially since 2008, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the lifetime incidence has. There also have to be concomitant changes in age-specific first-abortion rates.” She said that until 2014 data is analyzed, likely in 2017, it’s only appropriate to say that given 2008 abortion rates, “an estimated 30% of women will have an abortion by age 45.”



I hope conservative friends will read what I write here with an open mind. I don’t write this to anger anyone but to explain, invite conversation and purge my mind of a few clamoring thoughts. I’ve seen numerous posts this morning from some of you, many of you moderate pastors, who are inviting a calm and even-handed look at the current election from and for both sides due to the anger you see from both sides in your daily feed.

This is easily the most volatile election of my lifetime. Though each election since I was old enough to vote has grown increasingly volatile this one easily takes the cake. With the stakes so high, the media so loud, and the sides so split there is little room for conversation in any fruitful manner.

I remember growing up and debating issues whether religious, political or pop culture. One of the most formative voices in my youth was a Sunday school teacher who was the father of my best friend. He and I argued week in and out in Sunday school because even at 12 I was beginning to have different views than much of what I heard at my  church. Despite this we were always friendly and though it was in his nature to tease me, he was always respectful in our disagreements. He was also my first boss and when we argued there it was also respectful. Through high school, college, grad school and beyond, debating issues was simply something I did. To this day I have great friends and loved ones who disagree with me on some pretty huge issues (is there a God, is Bruce Springsteen the best American rock star of all time) but we remain friends.

I don’t have to agree with you to love you. Heck, I don’t have to agree with you to like you. I like voices that challenge me, so long as they do so in a way that is informed, engaged and caring. Disagreeing and constructively debating began to slip away from public discourse, at least in my life, right around the time Obama closed in on the White House.  Whereas one of my favorite professors (a Republican) tried to console me in my under-grad years as I moped after W.’s re-election, after Obama’s victory I found coworkers and acquaintances who made it clear they would rather I shut up that I even cared for the new President whenever they made a negative comment. Even discussing the issues leading up to that election was fraught—I had always found even-toned, fact-based discourse to be an appropriate manner of discussing politics but that began to fade in 2008.

I have moved around a lot but I always wind up in predominantly conservative areas. The area I live in today is governed by some of the most conservative tea-party House members around yet their opponents are running against them on a platform that insists they are the true conservatives. Everyone tries to out-conservative each other here. As a result, and particularly because I’ve found fact-based debate to be frowned upon, I do not generally mention my political opinions in public places especially if it may in any way be seen as associated with my vocation or company. This however is a favor that is rarely returned. Just as most liberal friends consistently recount that when they attempt to leave politics away from the dinner table there is always a conservative uncle or two who insists on muttering “I hate Obama” out of nowhere, it is also common for conservatives to announce uninvited and out of context their often hateful political exhortations at business meetings, town hall meetings, church meetings (etc). Early in my tenure living and working in my new community I was at a community event where out of nowhere a guest speaker began shouting fairly vile and ultra-partisan political and religious opinions into the microphone inviting those who disagreed to “get the hell out of this country”. He was applauded.

Watching this week’s RNC has been frightening to me but I must be a sucker for punishment that goes beyond my political junky tendencies. I’ve read and studied politics and American history for much of my life and have increased that as of late but I know most of us do not vote based on study or rationale. Most of us vote on pure emotion or personal fear related to our own specific life situation. This can make debating politics, especially in the volatile schism we now find ourselves in, fraught with tension. But I want to tell you, especially if you are a conservative friend or loved one of mine, why I am scared and why I find this election different than any previous election I have witnessed in my life or am aware of in modern history. I invite you to consider these fears and give me your own in the comments. If we can at least acknowledge each other’s points maybe we won’t demonize each other.  Furthermore, if we can at least try to consider each other’s points in a rational manner we may find common ground and understanding.

So why do I find this election different, why does it scare me? Though I disagreed with the policies and politics of George W. Bush and voted against him, I found debate was possible on his presidency and could understand why someone did or did not support him. The same thing goes for McCain and Romney.  So why do I find Trump so different, so scary, and (in my opinion) so dangerous?

  1. Trump has made inflammatory and aggressive statements against many populations including Hispanics, Muslims, and women.

No, you are not a racist simply because you vote for Trump. I can’t even unequivocally label Trump himself a racist as for all I know he is playing George Wallace style politics by utilizing the dangerous fuel of racism to tap into votes while not actually being racist. Furthermore, I don’t deny you can hold contrary opinions on immigration reform, inter-religious relations or the role of religious extremism in terrorism without being racist, xenophobic or bigoted. I understand that once the insult of “bigot” is thrown out many conservatives feel that debate is closed. Yet you can admit that at least SOME of what Trump has said at rallies to thunderous applause does come off as prejudiced, does hurt many groups of people and can very well do lasting damage on the relations between different groups in America and between America and other countries.  There is after all at least some reason that Trump is polling at a 0% approval rating among African American voters in the city where the RNC (Cleveland) is taking place and that his approval rating among American Muslims and Hispanic-Americans is not much better. His history and remarks on women as human beings has resulted in historic lows in his approval rating among women (even Republican women). At perhaps the most critical time for race-relations, religious interaction and population diversification since the 1960s statements and policies that fan the flames of discontent are doubly dangerous.

  1. Trump openly supports torture, praises the actions of dictators, and pledges the type of military policies that will increase violence and animosity particularly in volatile areas of the Middle East.

If we believe in human rights as we should and as we expect other countries to, we must reject all uses of torture.

  1. Trump denies climate science.

Trump would be the only world leader to openly deny global warming. For some, especially conservatives, this seems a minor issue as even if they don’t themselves outright deny the existence of global warming they do not accept that human action has much to do with it or that it is as bad as is said. In many ways, this is the scariest part of Trump’s platform because there is overwhelming scientific consensus that not only is global warming real and exacerbated by human actions, it is nearing the tipping point of no turning back. We are on pace to reach a mean global temperature 4 degrees warmer than preindustrial levels by the end of this century—which will cause flooding of all coastal cities, astronomic levels of malnutrition and food/clean water shortages around the globe particularly in poor countries, violent heat waves, increased cyclones and the disappearance of the coral reef system.  What this means is, that without significant policy changes babies born today who live a normal life expectancy will have to live through the dangerous and violent affects of global climate change and population shifts. We current young adults may be the last living generation fortunate enough to daily function on a relatively normal basis with the ability (all other factors allowing) to go to the beach for vacation, turn on the tap for clean water, eat a balanced meal a day, etc.  Yet we know what causes global warming—the largest human contributor is the burning of fossil fuels particularly coal but also oil and to a lesser degree natural gas. We’re all in this together and all bear responsibility because every nugget of coal we burn and every tank of gas we run through pumps carbon into the atmosphere, adds to the greenhouse effect, melts polar ice caps and heats up the mean temperature. So rather than point fingers we have to admit our culpability for the sake of future generations and begin making the shift, from coal to less aggressive fuel sources to ultimately clean fuel sources. Trump does not admit this; in fact his platform has re-written science to say “coal is clean” in defiance of all scientific data. Of course there are economic concerns tied to the shift that MUST be addressed but the time is running out to make those shifts if we want to preserve this planet as livable for future humans and animals. I come from coal country with family members going back generations who have depended on the coal industry to earn a living, but just as miners fought the coal industry when the company store exploited them economically and when the management killed them through lack of safety regulation producing the most vibrant union in worker history, today’s miners and the connected industry must be just as strong in making adaptations, acquiring training and demanding proper stimulus packages to revitalize their local economies– and the rest of us interested in a livable future must fight this battle with them if we truly believe in economic justice as a platform and that no one is left on their own. Regardless, if changes are not made within the next 4 years it may be too late for any future generations. Trump could be the nail in the coffin of this earth even if he keeps his hands off the nuclear button.

  1. Trump is post-factual

Facts do not matter to Trump. If caught in a lie or an inconsistency he doubles down and never apologizes. He does not offer examples of how he will concretely pursue his goals. He plays on fears, prejudices and irrational thoughts to emotionally stir up his crowd which has included physically assaulting those who protest, encouraging shouts of slurs toward his opponents, and dangerously misrepresenting the actions and positions of those who run against him. If we cannot debate Trump’s policies with facts and if those who support Trump reject all facts as liberal bias, if history, science, and political theory are all thrown out as useless how does Trump build anything of use and how do we as a people have any say in how it is constructed? How do we have constructive debate to find ways to truly better this country if we can’t agree to acknowledge reality?

….and here’s where I lose some of you (if I haven’t already) with what you no doubt will call hyperbole. This is the crux of my argument and the reason I find it difficult to compare this campaign to any previous campaign I’ve lived through. Too many have cried wolf over the years to make the comparison seem anything but overblown no matter who we’re talking about but unfortunately Trump is that candidate that comes around so rarely that this comparison (scarily) may very well be apt—when Hitler began his rise to power it was just “politics” too. He scapegoated the Jews, stoked economic fears that the Jews were stealing the jobs of good Germans and controlled the economy, labeled the “others” as threats to national security and he proudly proclaimed he would make Germany live up to its glorious past again. In hindsight it’s easy to condemn those that allowed Hitler to happen in the face of genocide and removed by time. But it was average, everyday people, those who supported Hitler AND those who simply refused to actively oppose him that allowed him to rise to power. Trump talks of building a wall, of deporting Mexicans who are mostly “rapists and criminals”, of profiling and barring Muslims from entry into the country, of closing our borders to suffering refugees, of using torture to enforce American military goals. Trump is not an acceptable candidate. His policies are past the pale, they cross the line from an area where we can civilly discuss political issues into an area that is scary, violent, false and damaging. How am I to be quiet of this if I am to live up to what I know is right? I may no longer be a religious person but my lifelong study of it and its heroes has instilled in me a desire to see peace and justice reign. If I don’t speak truth as I see it and invite others into conversation to clarify the danger as I see it then how will I decry the misery Trump inflicts if he becomes President? Is vocally opposing him now prophetic in the truest sense of the word or is it hyperbolic?

I work with, live around, do business with, am friend and family to, like and love people who disagree with me on many, many issues. That is fine. That is life and the way it should be. I am sure I am connected to people who I care about that will vote for Trump in the fall and I wager that most (if not all) of them will do so out of deep aversion to the alternative. I could write a lot about why I support Hillary regardless of Trump but I could also offer plenty of my own critique of her politics as well. I feel we can debate her policies but I don’t see how we can debate Trump’s as his all rely on emotion in a post-factual world. I invite you, if you are so inclined, to tell me (if you fear) why you fear Hillary in the way I have told you my fears of Trump. What damage do you see imminent in a presidency of hers? Does it outweigh the potential damage of a Trump presidency? Are my fears listed above invalid in your opinion? If so, what about them reads false? I honestly welcome your discussion so long as you are civil. Thank you.

May reason permit me not to be one of those mouth-breathers in the comments section.

That’s my major life request. That’s also I suppose the reason I tend to blog less these days but I love to write and it helps me process my thoughts so I am still trying to find a way to continue doing so without being shrill, self-righteous or otherwise annoying to myself or rational others.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I understand why people, particularly millennials, are increasingly reluctant to self-identify with any label. Because chances are most people who claim any label are going to (at least some times) speak and act like an asshole–regardless of what that label may be and whether whatever that label represents is true or not.

Take environmentalism for example. Today more than ever it is pretty evident to rational people who are not willfully ignorant for political (and/or financial) reasons that climate change is real, is exacerbated by humans by the use of fossil fuels, and is causing harm that can already be experienced and will very soon escalate. Even though I believe all of these things and am very critical of the fossil fuel lobby which has succeeded in fooling huge chunks of people for far too long, I realize that in most issues related to addressing climate change there is room for nuance and debate. The Guardian US recently published a story about the self-driving car only to exclaim that such technologies were misguided and that the only way forward is public transit which, according to the author, we already have. So ditch your car and ride the bus or subway! Anyone who commented that they liked or needed personal transportation in the comment thread was attacked by a woman who aggressively accused each of them of raping the planet with their cars. Do you think this woman won any converts to her cause? Furthermore, this commenter and the article’s author both missed a lot of less than small points: that as spread out as America is public transit will never be enough to transport every person everywhere and that clean electric cars are part of the answer as well. I’ve driven through enough mid-sized cities regularly enough to know that if places like Atlanta and Nashville don’t soon add reliable rail and bus systems to match their expected growth not only will they be choking the air with carbon but that travel in and around these cities will never move above a grid-locked crawl. However, I also know that for people like me–who need to drive 30 minutes to get to work, almost an hour to get to a mid-sized city and even 15 minutes to get to gas or groceries all the while living in a community without a public transit option–a personal automobile is unavoidable. Plus, there’s a lot of this country I want to see and price-wise car travel is usually much, much cheaper than air. If everyone like me moved closer to the hub of the city to rely on quality public transit, then the swell of the city center would get intolerably crowded and the outlying areas would become absolutely vacant.

So, I would think, the answer to city turnpike congestion and automotive smog lies in BOTH building, selling, incentivizing and transitioning completely to clean electric cars AND building and/or greatly updating bus and rail systems for all cities. Both of these actions need to be taken as soon as possible as time isn’t on our side regarding climate change. But, ignoring the expenses and practicalities in such a revolutionary shift particularly in a hostile and obnoxious manner that ignores other issues isn’t going to help the situation at all.

But..I can’t help but wonder, do I sound the same to some when discussing some of the other major climate change issues? I know many people who rely on coal for their jobs back in my hometown and I am continually frustrated when they jettison all information about how coal is the LARGEST contributor to carbon emissions. Coal is the dirtiest fuel source on earth and we are now developing multiple ways in which to move away from it. However, the coal industry has done a frighteningly good job of convincing the people and communities it employs some combination of the following lies: 1) there are no good alternatives to coal as of yet and we are not close to developing them; 2) coal can be “clean”; 3) global warming isn’t real, isn’t affected by humans or isn’t as bad as is said; 4) your community isn’t capable of adapting to a new way of life.

I have tried my best for years to not sound like the assholes in the comment thread when discussing this particular issue. But first of all, that is a major point–years. The people of my community and those similar to it around the country have been warned of this for years and done nothing. The leadership and business communities in these towns could have been trailblazers in planning for what’s next. If you know an industry is fated to end you plan for your transition out of that industry. Hell, even without climate change the coal industry has shown a precedent in using up all it can and moving on leaving communities in tatters. When this happened to Eastern Kentucky and most of West Virginia communities in Western Kentucky should have been leery.  I realize it is painful and frustrating to shift out of a job particularly a career as I have had to do so myself more than once in my working life. But if you know that your field is soon to be short-lived and/or your field contributes directly to disasters that will affect you or your children then you have to plan for a change.

So where do you draw the line? When do you stop politely acknowledging a difference of opinion and insist on observance of observable facts and debate thereon without sounding like the comments section mouth-breathers?

I think it comes down to understanding nuance and intricacy–that is, refusing to live and die by any party line and instead acknowledging there are many inter-connected issues that require multi-level approaches. Next, you have to realize you are dealing with people and their lives, beliefs and livelihoods. As Bill Nye pointed out in a recent appearance on the Larry Wilmore show there are many people willfully ignorant of climate science because their paycheck depends on them not understanding. We can empathize with the individual on the working ladder stuck with this position but we cannot empathize with the industry heads who dole out this result. Yet we know the industry heads will not make a change unless profitability or circumstance insist on that change so how do we debate with individuals who willfully disregard fact to hold onto an untenable position without being the asshole?

I don’t know. And I fear our country’s disregard of the importance of education (which I plan to write about next time) will only make things worse on this and all other issues.

In my last post I concluded that religion and morality were two separate and distinct things–that a person may be religious and immoral or secular and moral (or vice-versa). I claimed that religion by itself is morally neutral. It may  be an impetus for the greatest good or the worst evil–but that just reinforces the fact that devoid of politics, geography, bias, psychology, environment and community religion will not spark either extreme. Traditionally, at least in the States, many have argued that religion is necessary to inculcate morality. I claim we must divorce the two concepts completely and that in doing so we can enhance the inter-religious/inter-philosophical conversation and cooperation across the religious-secular divide.
So, if there exists no (or a negative) link between religiosity and morality what is the real purpose and function of religion?
If you to asked the saints, devout or extremely pious of past or present the purpose of religion you would likely receive a multitude of answers rooted in the language of the particular religion of each. But all of these purposes can usually be summarized by students outside of the traditions as either “peace of mind”: salvation, moksha, enlightenment, wholeness and assurance of future entry into paradise, heaven or nirvana–or “justice”: transforming society into an egalitarian land of equality, e.g. under the rule of the Kingdom of God or of the rightly guided Caliphs. One of these purposes is internal, the other is external but both are largely “big picture” or eschatological (end of history) goals. The average, even if committed, individual doesn’t give much consistent daily practical attention to these goals. Sure some hyper-sensitive folks may yearn for the good end of history goals more than others and if rooted in fear plenty of children (and adults) have spent nights scared of hell (I remember those days). Many people hope for a day when they will be reunited with their deceased loved ones and we all want peace of mind–but more than any of these lofty goals what religion has historically done and continues to do best is to provide community.
Religion provides community. It gives people a sense of place, an extended family and a group identity. Think of Judaism, how a people persecuted and pushed across the globe through diaspora after diaspora found a way to intertwine text and tradition to form new communities in each new land they found themselves. Today even atheists with Jewish lineage often identify as Jewish. Think of Muslims who picture themselves as part of the worldwide ummah , a global community who feel the persecution of their sisters and brothers around the globe as if it was their own injury and persecution. Think of a Baptist potluck dinner in a church basement extending into the late afternoon where best friends gather each and every week for generations. Religion provides community. Incidentally there have been studies–particularly in light of the shortage of male partners and therefore birth rates in Orthodox Jewish and Mormon US communities–that suggest the lower apostate rate for females in comparison to males in religious communities is due to a higher emphasis on community by females.
Religion functions as family and community for those without and creates larger frameworks for those with. Religion creates historical chains of community, stretching communities back into history predating even one’s known genealogical family tree. Religion creates the opportunity for action–what one alone cannot do one large body can. On the negative side religion can create an “us” and a “them” in contradistinction. Once again, think of Judaism and how the Bible relates the tribe of Judah and the People Israel as unique and set apart from their pagan neighbors. People have always separated into us and them,  this has served an evolutionary purpose–helping protect the group from those outside who may do harm. Monotheism developed out of tribal religions, like early Judaism, in which the tribe was loyal to their god or gods over their neighbors god or gods. A key development in morality is due credit to Judaism in that the Torah was emphatic on caring for those outside of the tribe (the “stranger”) when that was not an evolutionary or historical  good but rather a moral one. Today religion can often spin “us” and “them” in a polarizing manner. Think of the targets of scorn for many American conservative Christians–Muslims, Atheists and LGBTQ persons (particularly T, transgender, easily the most mistreated and abused group in the world for their relatively small size). Care for the stranger often lapses from group dynamics.

So it’s worth noting–Religion, a morally neutral institution serves primarily to promote and sustain community–another morally neutral institution. Yet the power and action that can come from that community can be tremendously good or terrifically bad. Or it can be bland and moderate or unjust and oppressive.

What serves the function of community in the absence of religion? People tend to congregate into community in unique ways when they uproot from traditional mechanisms and the digital age as allowed this to proliferate even more. Millennials tend to eschew civic groups (Shriners, Masons, etc.) more often than their parents much like they do church. What institutions will arise to replace the old way of congregating? Several years ago I researched a possible book exploring how something like Metal music and culture functions as a religion–I’m far from the first to suggest that as there was a half-joking half serious attempt by some metalheads some years past to get “Metal” listed as a religious identification on the census. But the fact that Metal music explores so many religious concepts, often in derision or protest, and the fact that so many metalheads tend to live their music and identify with it their entire lives functions in much the same way as religion. There are other cultures and ideologies– from Punk Rock to rodeo to atheism to libertarianism–that also function as religion in many ways. But what can truly serve the role of religion in such a way with text, tradition, history and accepted institutions?

Back to the broader topic–if religion is separate from morality and the major function that religion seems to serve is that of providing community and group identity, from whence does morality come? What is morality? Is it a good? Is it a fixed concept? I’ll save that for next post.

For generations in much of the world the two were seen as intrinsically intertwined. In much of the western world this relationship has long been doubted as Europe has grown secular but in the States religion and morality as a package deal has been the normative view and a key aspect of the culture war. A recent study (one not bacon related) has been making the rounds titled when reported (as in The Guardian US) as “Religious Children are Meaner than their Secular Counterparts, study finds“. The study was helmed by Professor Jean Decety, a neuroscientist from the University of Chicago. Decety states she did not set out to study religion’s effect on morality but that she had been studying empathy and sharing and how those values differed across cultures. The data she gleaned, however, led her to publish the study with the conclusion that children in religious homes tend to be “meaner” or less empathetic and altruistic and less likely to share than their secular classmates.

I posted the story on social media and one of my best friends (my lifelong  best friend other than my spouse actually) had several concerns with the study and how it was being reported, promoted and shared. His comments made me realize there are a lot of issues worth unpacking about the study, the implications it has and even the rationale for why it is being shared and gaining traction in the first place.

First of all, lets consider the story itself and its use of “science”, a word which unfortunately in recent years has become a social media buzzword and ideological soapbox where many people draw no distinctions between types of science and competing data sources or take the time to understand key scientific processes or concepts–let alone read original studies versus the filtered media presentation of said studies–before making comments or proclamations on said studies. As a lifelong deep student of religion my study of science came later than it should have and I have only been reading in the field in-depth for maybe 5 years (playing catch up), understanding as much as I can as someone traditionally more at home using the other side of my brain with literature, music, art, philosophy and the humanities. Science and mathematics are fields I have grown to love, but I should have devoted more effort to as a young student. Anyway, this study though done by a neuroscientist ( a “hard” science) seems to be more of a social science experiment (a “soft” science)–correct me if I’m wrong science readers. As such it is a lot more anecdotal than say, chemistry. Furthermore, this is one study of 1200 children from many (but not all) countries almost all of whom are Christian, Muslim or “secular” (all other religious affiliations were statistically irrelevant in this study). There have been other studies, including longitudinal ones following children into adulthood (like Benston’s “California’s Longitudinal Study of Generations) offering similar conclusions linked to this coverage in some of the reporting (as in Forbe’s piece) but before any sweeping “religion makes you less moral” statements can be definitively made this study would need to be repeated and verified multiple times with larger groups, more inclusive groups (Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, etc.) and for longer periods of time (into adulthood).

But…based on just this study and the sources reporting it, what conclusions (if any) can we draw? What is the point of this study in the first place, why report it, why discuss it? I know the friend I mentioned as inspiration for this piece in many ways feels stories like this appear only to cast dispersion on religious folks. I’m sure that is some of it, at least as far as how it is titled and why some share it on social media, etc. I’ve certainly seen this study reported in less magnanimous ways than by the Guardian.

To put my own potential biases up front for readers to be aware, I am a life-long student of religion who no longer identifies as religious. I grew up religious, was very active in different Christian denominations and organizations, studied religion in both seminary and secular institutions and have friends and colleagues of every religious stripe and stride who are the best people I’ve ever known. I believe in understanding religion, promoting religious diversity and inter-faith dialogue and action, and respect legitimate religious belief and expression even when I disagree (as long as that belief and expression does no harm or causes no oppression) but do not personally follow the tenets of any religion. I have lived in many different places (at this point all in the South) and it has been my experience, particularly in my current state, that being religious would be easier professionally and personally for me however. Granted a certain kind of religion/religiousness would be best if I wanted to be most comfortable with my neighbors, business contacts and community but any religious expression (so long as Christian) would serve me well in a community where city hall, business meetings, networking luncheons and public college events all commonly incorporate public prayer, praise and religious proclamations. When the first question many people will ask you is “Where do you go to church?”  a certain type of religiosity is normative and deviance from that can be unacceptable. It is my fervent belief that religion/religiosity is morally neutral–equally capable of inspiring awe-inspiring great good and nauseating terrible evil. Most of my heroes are religious (MLK Jr., Gandhi, Malcolm X, Jimmy Carter). My journey throughout every corner of religion was exciting, intellectually inspiring and ultimately painful as there are a lot of things I wish I could believe and ways I wish I could be that would make every level of my life more comfortable and perhaps enjoyable, but I believe truth must lead you wherever it leads you painful or not. I also don’t claim to corner the market on truth as a lot of folks I know seem to know truth very closely and are yet religious.

Sorry for the lengthy detour but that should clue you in on any biases I may harbor. So why report on this story? Because in many corners of these United States  “secular” or “atheist” are pejorative terms and the thought of a parent who identifies as such being capable of raising moral children is inconceivable. But if there is no link between key moral virtues such as empathy or altruism and religiosity–even more so if there is a negative link between the two–then yes such parents are more than capable of producing good moral citizens.

Millennials are far less religious than their parents and grandparents. It seems that, however more gradually, the US is following Europe’s path into secular modernity. This in fact may (I believe will) actually work to religions advantage, producing a stronger “realer” Christianity in America devoid of folks who identify as Christian simply because it is politically or socially advantageous to do so. However, if we are to have healthy dialogue across the aisles of religion and secular life then we have to divorce the concept of “morality” from the institution of “religion” and admit that one may have no direct bearing on the other. That is why this study, if valid, is important.

There are variables worth considering in any follow-ups to the study–will opening the study up to  data sources which include all religions prove “empathy” and “altruism” have no (or a negative) link to all religions or just in relation  to monotheistic religions? If monotheistic then Judaism must be a  data source as well–but if it proves true only in Christianity and Islam, what could that signify? Furthermore, how do such studies deal with nominal religious households versus practicing religious households? Throughout most of the world people identify as belonging to the religion they are born into. Many Muslims are simply cultural Muslims and many American Christians who would never in a million years identify as secular (let alone atheist)  are less than Christmas and Easter church goers living lives in which religion plays little practical role. What about “progressive” versus “fundamentalist” religious people? A Unitarian, Episcopal and atheist might have much more in common politically and morally than any of those people would have in common with a Southern Baptist or a Mormon.

Consider all of this so far as a lengthy preamble and introduction to other issues this study and discussion has raised for me. I will leave you with these questions, which I hope to address in follow up posts in the near future.

What is morality? What function does it serve? Is it always a good? Is there an unchanging definitive basis for any morality?

What is the purpose and/or function of religion?

What relationship does (or should) religion have with morality?

Could these issues relate more to majority versus minority, insider vs outsider? E.g., does the majority religion oppress the minority religious due to scapegoating issues that have nothing to do with religion per se?

Bacon or a Marbloro?

October 26, 2015

So it seems the Guardian, NPR, CNN, Yahoo and every other purveyor of news is reporting the WHO classification of processed meat (bacon, sausages, hot dogs, corned beef, cold cuts) as revelatory and/or “breaking” new. And perhaps it is now that bacon is being classifed by the WHO on the same level as cigarettes.

But, as far as I can tell, this has been in the medical literature and reported for many years, maybe more than a decade or two. I was just having this conversation with my wife last week, and I know back when I adapted (with a slip weekend or two) my diet to exclude most red meat, processed meat and high sodium food–for BP and heart, but I was aware of the colorectal cancer issues as that’s what my father died of) that most meta-analysis shows processed meats as comparable to cigarettes.

Of course, the question is correlation as well as consumption level. As it is so hard to crunch numbers to  prove direct correlation, you enter the guesswork field the very minute you try to establish a universal law. Person A may smoke 2 packs a day for 60 years and die of natural causes while person B might develop lung cancer after 10 years and a cessation of 10. Genetics, environmental factors and sheer luck play more of a role in most health issues than we would like to admit. But, if one is to speak in stark lines the best estimate I have read equates the effect of 6 cigarettes as roughly equal to 1 strip of bacon in terms of how it affects one’s overall heart and colorectal cancer health, particularly past a certain age.

But look…processed meat and most red meat are just not good for you. We’ve known this for many years and I’ve read this in many a medical study long before today’s WHO news extravaganza. It’s really a matter of trade-offs. I’ve never seen social media or news comment threads spark off in defense of an alleged perpetrator like they do over bacon…not with alcohol or tobacco, certainly not with drugs (okay maybe pot). People seem to love their bacon in an irrational over the top way–maybe because, as long as they’re Christian (not Muslim, Jewish or Hindus) their scriptures don’t condemn it. I’m not sure if this started as an ironic kind of stance or what, but people meme bacon like it is Jesus. If you love it that much, eat it. I can honestly take it or leave it. It’s good occasionally but I can empathize with you because I dissect every alcohol or tobacco story for the specific details because I love scotch and cigars in moderation. But I’ll leave my bacon at the store unless the recipe just demands it because I can find hundreds of other foods worth eating that are good for me and I’ll leave that trade-off in favor when possible.

Really though….my question is, will a surgeon’s general warning now go on cold cuts, Subway sandwiches and bacon? It’s important that the public has the facts so they can make educated decisions on what they eat, drink, smoke, etc. But how much of an effect do those facts have, particulalry when so many conflicting stories emerge? I think the case with processed and red meats is pretty airtight though–it may not cause cancer in everyone but over a minimal limit it has bad health effects in most folks. It won’t get you high, curb your stress or chill you out but it may give you peace as a comfort food (and give you the meat sweats) but if eating bacon improves your life that much you make that choice.