Republicans, Your Silence Is Deafening

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President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people in certain Muslim majority nations from entering our country should have been met with swift condemnation on the part of our political leaders. Indeed, that has largely been the case from the Democratic side. But Republicans, many of whom had denounced such a ban when Trump proposed it on the campaign trail, are now either approving of Trump’s xenophobic action or silent, thus giving the ban their tacit acceptance.

I am not going to get hysterical and suggest that the Trump Administration will be building gas chambers next. However, I am appalled that after so many horrible instances of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution in history, as well as our own shameful chapter of interning innocent Japanese citizens, an American president would take such an action.

Many people voted for Trump because he promised them jobs and a vague idea about “making America great again.” Because I know so many good people who voted for Trump, I have to assume they did not believe his campaign rhetoric when it came to calls for discrimination against a religious minority in our country. Frighteningly, Trump continues to prove to be exactly who he appeared to be during the campaign: a vain, narcissistic, authoritarian leader who is threatening our very democracy.

Yesterday, American citizens and green card holders of Middle Eastern descent were detained at airports across the United States. These people had already made it through the thorough and rigorous vetting process that is currently in place when it comes to allowing immigrants and refugees into our country. It is shameful and unacceptable what happened to them yesterday.

It appears that the American people themselves will need to step up and refuse to allow such a bigoted and heinous policy to take root in our country. Yesterday there were mass protests at major airports across the U.S. with people demanding that the detainees be freed. After a federal judge issued a temporary injunction barring the detainment, these people were freed. However, the policy has not been revoked.

I call upon U.S. authorities to refuse to obey such an unconstitutional abridgment of rights. I call upon our elected leaders to pass legislation barring such an executive action. I call upon all of our leaders to denounce Trump’s Muslim ban in no uncertain terms. I call upon every American citizen to stand up for the rights of Muslim Americans and those who seek asylum and safety from the war raging in Syria.

History has shown that terrible abuses occur when people of good will remain silent. We need to forcefully and loudly proclaim to President Trump and our elected leaders, “NEVER AGAIN!”

 

Eyes Off the Prize

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Since Donald Trump’s inauguration as president last Friday, there have been a lot of memes, videos and articles about trivial aspects of the day: crowd sizes, the president’s demeanor, Kellyanne Conway’s hideous outfit, and the like. Many people speculated on the nature of Mr. and Mrs. Trump’s marriage, comparing photos of the serious couple to the smiling and relaxed Obamas. Some went even further and mocked the president’s young son Barron. All of this kind of mean-spirited gossip needs to stop.

First of all, photos can distort reality. Taking a snapshot of one moment is not necessarily indicative of the whole event or experience. Some critics argued that the photos comparing Trump’s crowds to Obama’s were taken at different times of day and couldn’t be used to compare the support for each respective president. Donald and Melania may have been more serious because this is all new for them whereas Barack and Michelle have had eight years in the White House to grow into their roles.

The second issue I have with this mockery is that it is mean. We have no way of knowing what kind of relationship the new president and first lady have, and frankly, it’s none of our business. (Mind you, I believe the same about the Clintons, and they certainly were not spared scrutiny.) Furthermore, it is just wrong to make fun of a child, no matter how much you may despise his parent. Neither Melania nor Barron signed up for ridicule. They were not elected by the people. Leave them alone.

Furthermore, such mean-spirited mocking just plays into the hands of Trump supporters. They can rightly point out how cruel and petty these kinds of jokes and gossip are. We need to take a page from the Obama playbook and stay above the fray of these kinds of personal attacks. I guess the guideline could be, if it looks like something that would be at home on the cover of the Globe or National Enquirer, don’t post it.

Finally, while pundits and partisans are busy lobbing insults at the Trump marriage or his spokeswoman’s fashion sense, President Trump and the Republican Congress have gotten down to business dismantling the Obama legacy: backing out of TPP, signing an order to begin the demise of Obamacare, renewing environmentally disastrous pipeline projects, defunding women’s health care, and approving Trump’s horrendous Cabinet choices.

Rather than dwelling on minutiae and cheap shots, we should be scrutinizing President Trump’s executive actions, the backgrounds of his administrative picks, and the legislation being proposed by the new Congress. We should be spending our time writing about important issues and our energy holding our elected officials’ feet to the fire about our values and beliefs.

Let’s keep our eyes on the prize: a vibrant, diverse, open, and free democracy.

 

Totalitarian Trump Era Begins

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Here are some disturbing things that have happened since Donald Trump was sworn in as president on Friday:

1. Crowds at the inauguration booed Chuck Schumer when he said, “Today, we celebrate one of democracy’s core attributes, the peaceful transfer of power. And every day, we stand up for core democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution — the rule of law, equal protection for all under law, the freedom of speech, press, religion.”

Apparently Trump supporters don’t much care for these basic American values.

2. The White House website removed almost all references to climate change, except for Trump’s vow to get rid of Obama’s policies. Civil rights also apparently doesn’t make the cut in the Trump White House, at least according to the website.

3. Interior Department Twitter accounts were shut down because they showed the reality that Trump’s inauguration crowds were not as large as Obama’s.

4. Trump took up the subject of these crowds in a speech before the CIA, claiming the dishonest media had misrepresented what had been at least a million people. Not only is that statement patently untrue, Trump used it to once again go after the press when it shows him in an unfavorable light. To quote Trump:  “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth, right?”

5. In that same CIA speech, after spending several minutes congratulating himself on how many covers of Time Magazine he has been on, he made the ambiguous statement, “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” Trump said. “There is nobody.” That could mean a lot of things, not all of them positive towards the CIA.

During the CIA speech, Trump mentioned all the generals who will be working in his Cabinet. As I listened, I thought to myself, An authoritarian right wing president surrounded by generals: what could go wrong?

Let’s face it, folks. The Bible Donald Trump rested his hand on for his swearing in as our 45th president is still warm, and we are already seeing a man who is concerned almost exclusively with himself and how he appears, who brooks no dissent, and who dismisses our free press out of hand in order to discredit anything that might be reported about him that he doesn’t like.

Trump’s outrageous statements were greeted by laughter and applause at the CIA. How men and women of intelligence and seeming integrity can sit there and give tacit approval to Trump’s lies and demagoguery – especially after he vilified them for their reports on Russian interference in the election – is beyond my comprehension.*

We are in dangerous times, my friends. It is time for our leaders to take a stand against Donald Trump’s mendacity, conflicts of interest, bromance with Vladimir Putin, and general unfitness for the highest office in the land. Four years from now, it may be too late.

*Since writing this post, I have learned that it was not CIA personnel who laughed and applauded President Trump. It was a cadre of his own lackeys.  Yet more evidence that Trump is like a petty dictator who thrives on applause and requires approval, even to the point of paying for it.

March in Like a Lion

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I have seen them called ReSISTERS. They are gathering across the country and even around the world. Many of them will be donning knitted pink “pussyhats” or “Nasty Woman” t-shirts. They are women from all different walks of life, ethnicities, and religions. Some are men! They are marching in solidarity against our newly elected president, Donald Trump and his politics of hate.

The Women’s March on Washington is expected to be one of the biggest demonstrations in our history. Here in Chicago, the venue for the march has changed as the number of women participating has grown.

Critics will say that marching does little to change the direction of government or the country. I disagree. The famed civil rights marches of the Fifties and Sixties helped abolish discriminatory Jim Crow laws and policies that kept blacks down. Protests against the Vietnam War turned the tide on our involvement in that terrible conflict. Now women are gathering to say, “No. We will not just ‘get over it.'” President Trump needs to know we have the numbers and the will to resist policies that discriminate and divide. He needs to see that he cannot broadcast his deep disrespect for women without consequence.

I know a number of women who will be marching in Washington, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Some are relatives; some are friends. Even a young Chicago bride-to-be decided to have her bachelorette party at the Washington march, according to the Chicago Tribune. I admire the commitment these women have made to be heard and seen and to let those in power know that half the U.S. population will not tolerate an assault on their rights.

To me it’s sad that 240 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, we still have not seen a woman become president of the United States. The equality for all enshrined in that document and in our Constitution still seems like a dream to be grasped for many marginalized groups. But the women’s marches taking place today give me hope that Americans will continue to demand just treatment for all people.

My hope and prayer is that the marches will take place peacefully, that marchers will return home safely, and that their actions today reignite the women’s movement in our country.

 

 

 

Title IX Triumphs

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This past weekend, I traveled with my teenage daughter and her team to an out of town soccer tournament. Watching 22 girls battle for possession of a black and white ball on a gigantic field fills me with awe. I admire their strength, agility, physicality, and fierce determination as they run, kick, head, juggle, and sometimes wipe out.

Such scenes were not so common when I was a young girl growing up in the 1960s and 70s.  Not many girls I knew played team sports such as basketball or soccer or competed in cross country, tennis or track and field. Title IX changed all that.

In 1972, an important Education Amendment was made to the Higher Education Act of 1965. That amendment is known as Title IX. Title IX mandated that:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Although not limited only to women’s participation in sports, Title IX was intended to ensure the “fair and equal treatment of the sexes in all areas, including athletics.” (“This Day in History: Jun 23,” history.com) The result was a huge increase in the number of high school and college women participating in sports. Since 1972, the number of high school girls engaged in athletics has increased from 295,000 to 2.6 million. For college women, that number increased from 30,000 to 150,000. (“Title IX,” wikipedia) Title IX has become so associated with women’s sports that there is now a retailer selling women’s athletic wear under that name.

My daughter’s participation in sports has been invaluable to her physical development and her psychological well-being. She has learned the importance of strength and assertiveness, the values of being part of a team, and the benefits of healthy competition – all of which will stand her in good stead as she goes on to college and career.

In our culture, the premium placed on attractiveness and femininity for women has exacted a heavy price on the self-esteem of many young girls. For my own part, even though I have always valued academic achievement and being smart, I have never been wholly comfortable in my own skin. Not having been encouraged to practice the fitness activities and healthy eating required by athletics, I have struggled with a love/hate relationship with my body.

Title IX has meant far more for women than merely having access to athletic opportunities, of course. Experts believe the law led directly to increased numbers of women attending college and completing degrees, for instance. While Title IX has not eliminated gender discrimination in society, its insistence upon equity in public education has had far-reaching consequences for the way women see possibilities for their personal development and participation in the wider society beyond school.

For my part, I see in Title IX the opportunity for my daughter to fulfill her potential both on and off the soccer field or basketball court. And each time she takes the field in soccer or mans the court in basketball, I am thrilled to say, “You go, girl!”

Dear Mr. President

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Dear President Obama,

I want to thank you for your inspiring leadership and service as our president for the past eight years. I will never forget watching you and your lovely family take the stage at Grant Park in 2008 to accept the mantle of leader of the free world. It was an emotional moment, buoyed by an ebullient crowd and a message of hope and change.

For the past eight years, you have endured both veiled and overt racism, an obstructionist Republican Congress, a struggling economy, the threat of terrorism, and, as every president before you, the weight of the world. Despite the odds, you brought us out of the Great Recession, passed the Affordable Care Act, effected a pact with Iran to reduce their nuclear capabilities, and ended our costly and futile war in Iraq. Conservative complaints to the contrary, thanks to your policies, the economy continues to grow and unemployment is at a historic low.

I especially appreciated your measured, thoughtful approach to problem-solving. In an anti-intellectual environment, you displayed a prodigious intellect that you employed to look at nuances and complexities in both national and international issues. For a world leader with the nuclear weapons codes at his disposal, these were valuable traits that gave me some comfort in an uncertain and dangerous world.

I also admire the integrity you brought to the office. Not a whiff of scandal tainted your two terms in office, and the First Lady shared your traits of honesty and strong character. Like you, she faced attacks on her person with courage and dignity. As Mrs. Obama said in a speech earlier this year, “When they go low, we go high.” That these are the values you have taught your daughters will serve them well as adults in the world.

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Like many Americans, I have been distraught about the results of the presidential election and worried about the potential dismantling of the progress that has been made in the past eight years. But the words in your farewell speech gave me hope. You spoke of the youth in America and their ideals of fairness and inclusion. It gives me some comfort to believe that this progressiveness will keep us moving forward as a nation towards greater equality, fairness, and humanity.

Thank you for bearing the heavy burden of the presidency. May you enjoy your next chapter as a private citizen and the satisfaction of a job well done.

 

Purple Ribbons

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The purple ribbons line the streets of a small suburban Chicago town. Tied to the trees that line the roads in town, they mark the passing of a ten-year-old girl, who died in a skiing accident over the Christmas holidays. Whenever I pass the purple ribbons, I am brought up short by the recognition of loss and tragedy that has befallen a local family. While most of us were cleaning up stray bits of wrapping paper and pine needles, this family was burying their child.

Tying ribbons around trees as a symbol goes back to the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran. The wife of the American ambassador, inspired by the popular song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” decided to do just that in front of her home until her husband was brought home safely. The families of the other hostages followed suit, and a tradition was born. During the Gulf War and ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans have used the yellow ribbon to symbolize the cherished wish that our American soldiers come home safely from armed conflict overseas.

In recent years, communities have taken to adorning their trees with ribbons of varying colors as a symbol of mourning for a lost neighbor, friend, or family member. The colors vary, sometimes according to the deceased person’s favorite hue, sometimes symbolizing a medical condition or occupation, such as blue for police officers.

The appearance of the ribbons can be a trial for the bereaved. I have a friend whose husband died and who requested that the ribbons in his memory be removed shortly after the funeral. As much as she appreciated the loving effort of friends and neighbors, she just could not bear the daily reminders of loss every time she traveled through town.

Yet the ribbons can also be a beautiful, wordless gesture of support for those left behind. And they are a reminder that life is fleeting, tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us, and we must hold close to the ones we love and let them know we cherish them each and every day.

Hate Crime

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In the same week that Dylann Roof told the court he had no regret over ruthlessly gunning down nine innocent people studying the Bible in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, four individuals (three of them teens) in Chicago kidnapped and tortured a mentally disabled 18-year-old man, streaming the abuse on Facebook Live. Both crimes are being called hate crimes.

What is a hate crime exactly? The dictionary defines it as “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.” Calling something a hate crime can be important in the sentencing phase of a trial because hate crimes usually carry a more serious designation and lead to longer prison terms.

The twist here is that while the Dylann Roof shooting was a classic hate crime involving a white supremacist targeting black individuals, the recent Facebook Live torture incident involved four blacks assaulting a white man who also happened to be disabled. During the assault, the perpetrators flung racial slurs such as “F*&#  white people” at the man as they tortured him. But did they target him because of his race or disability? Although it seems obvious that they did, the facts of the case will ultimately prove or disprove whether this was a hate crime.

Hate crimes do not necessarily occur because of hate in the emotional sense. It’s the targeting of a person based upon religion, ethnicity, race, gender, or disability that leads to the designation of a hate crime. Although hate crimes against whites are less common than ones against minorities, they do occur. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes, came out with a strong condemnation of the Chicago incident as a hate crime. “Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, declared the alleged Chicago assault a hate crime. ‘Whether this is a hate crime based on disability or a hate crime based on race, I think it is incumbent on the authorities to act swiftly,’ he said, calling the crime ‘incredibly shocking.’” (Joe Sexton, “Alleged Chicago Assault Reignites Issue of Hate Crimes Against Whites,”ProPublica, Jan. 5, 2017)

The four young adults in the Chicago case have been officially charged with a hate crime. Whatever the reasons for their abuse of a disabled man, their absolute lack of shame should be troubling to all of us. As a society, we are called upon to protect the vulnerable, not to prey upon and abuse them. We should have a propensity to hate crime, not to perpetrate a hate crime.

The Limits of Charity

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At the holidays, there is usually an upsurge in charitable giving. Not only are individuals making end-of-year donations for tax purposes, but people are generally filled with good will at this time of year. Indeed, concerted efforts at philanthropy can be effective at achieving very specific goals. Take, for instance, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised millions for ALS research. Researchers have said that the funds raised during that drive substantially contributed to breakthroughs in their research. (Washington Post, July 27, 2016)

Yet when it comes to helping fellow Americans meet basic needs for food, shelter, and healthcare, there are limits to how much private citizens can provide. As the incoming Republican-dominated Congress led by Paul Ryan looks poised to reduce or dismantle many of the New Deal programs that led Americans out of the Great Depression, it is worth considering what role the government should have in seeing that no Americans are in desperate want.

Two huge events in our recent history revealed just how limited private philanthropy is in a major crisis. The first was the Great Depression of the 1930s. As Roosevelt Institute fellow Mike Konczal describes in “The Conservative Myth of a Social Safety Net Built on Charity,” private social service agencies at the time were overrun with requests for aid that they simply could not supply (The Atlantic, March 24, 2014).  As a result, “communities turned to the New Deal to provide the baseline of security that their voluntary societies were unable to offer during a deep recession.”

Like the Great Depression of the ’30s, the recent Great Recession showed the inability of the private sector to alleviate suffering as unemployment rose and wage stagnation threw people on the edge into poverty. As Konczal mentions, during this time the amount of private giving on the part of both individuals and corporations fell. This meant even fewer material resources for a growing number of families in crisis. Indeed, it is only due to government programs such as food assistance and unemployment insurance that the suffering was as limited as it was. Furthermore, government bailout of the banking industry and Federal Reserve policy helped assure that the Great Recession did not become another Great Depression.

Conservative insistence upon reducing government aid rests on the belief that people are inherently lazy and will cease to look for work if given too many handouts. But private philanthropy can actually be more demoralizing than public assistance. Private organizations and individuals can decide that certain segments of the population or certain behaviors don’t meet their moral standards, and they can deny assistance on that basis. In fact, there has been a push in recent years to force public aid recipients to undergo drug testing and to limit the types of food they can buy with food stamps. We shouldn’t be forcing human beings to prove they are worthy of assistance.

Is there a role for charity in our society? Of course. Through our own philanthropy, we can provide a wide range of benefits: medical research funding, disaster relief, college scholarships, wish experiences for young cancer patients, arts patronage. The list goes on and on. But history has shown us the limits of charity to assure that basic human needs are met for all of our citizens.

The belief that all Americans should have a basic standard of living despite what hardships may befall them is an ideal that I believe our society should strive for. And the only truly effective way to reach all Americans is a system of federal guarantees and insurance paid for by all of us for the betterment of our entire society.