Thankful for a Break from Politics

Standard

il_340x270.659997933_2y0q

Thanksgiving dawned in Michigan in the usual way: cloudy, barren skies and chilly temps. Michigan is the home of my husband’s family and the destination of my family’s Thanksgiving travels every year. Besides looking forward to the delicious turkey and fixings my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law were up early to prepare, we were anticipating the happy chaos that is always a part of our visits to the Motor City.

True to form, the buffet table groaned with an assortment of dishes and later, far too many desserts even for us and for my husband’s six siblings and their families to consume. And while there were a few minor dramas, for the most part Thanksgiving held a convivial air.

What I appreciated most about the many conversations in which I took part was the complete absence of political dialogue. At least to my hearing, there was no talk about Trump, immigration, foreign policy, or the recent November elections. Instead, Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions football dominated the scene in the family room where the cousins congregated in front of the giant TV and good-naturedly trash-talked each other’s teams.

Other than a comment made about a movement to eliminate the Thanksgiving holiday because of white settlers’ mistreatment of Native Americans, there was nothing to ruffle any feathers, and no one “talked turkey” about their political beliefs. This fact, coupled with my avoidance of Facebook all day, made for a blissfully nonpolitical and mostly unstressful holiday.

Instead, we took turns holding our nephew’s adorable baby and playing “store” with her older sister. We helped ourselves to another slice of apple pie and enjoyed the camaraderie of family members. We drew names for the annual Christmas grab bag we hold each year. By the time we were ready to bundle up and head home, we were all ensconced in the happy glow of full bellies and family togetherness.

This morning the sun is out. The brief reprieve from November gloom is a welcome sight, and it is prolonging my feeling of happiness and peace. Now the Christmas holiday season is upon us. All the shopping, baking, decorating and bustle begin. I’m so glad I had the chance to spend a day in thankfulness for the bounty in my life: family, friends, and food.

Maybe I’ll keep up my fast from politics for the entire holiday season.

Advertisements

Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

Standard

Sheep-in-Wolfs-ClothingBack in 1971, the musical duo Loggins and Messina came out with “Danny’s Song,” an innocent ballad about love and the future. I remember listening to the lyrics, “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you, honey, everything will bring a chain of love.” My response? “Oh, sure. What are you going to do? Live on love?” Yes, I had become a 13-year-old cynic.

Maybe cynicism is a phase that teenagers go through in order to seem cooler than they are. But mine carried through into adulthood, and it still hovers in the background of my personality. And I think I finally know why.

A cynic is a disillusioned idealist. My 13-year-old self had so many romantic notions. I devoured romance novels and fantasized about being swept off my feet by a Mr. Rochester type. I carried a photo of Michael Jackson around in my wallet and dreamt of one day being Mrs. Michael Jackson. Yet already at that tender age, I realized that life is hard and one needs money to live. If love really meant never having to say you’re sorry, we’d all be in trouble.

Cynicism is a kind of mental and emotional armor. If I mock something, I can mask the fact that I really care about it. A case in point is the way my sisters and I would provide running commentary while watching beauty pageants. We were ruthlessly critical of the women parading around in swimsuits and spouting platitudes about world peace. For me, the sarcasm masked the fact that I would have loved nothing more than to be so prized for my beauty that I was part of a national or worldwide contest to proclaim the most beautiful.

Being cynical is also common in the arena of politics. The disillusioning effects of dirty campaigns, corrupt officials, and the need to be rich in order to have a chance at winning elections all serve to make many people turn away from politics altogether – or to look at every politician as a con artist. This might explain, at least in part, the very low turnout for most U.S. elections. For instance, Illinois’ governor’s race this year was a case of holding one’s nose and choosing between a billionaire who had done very little to improve the state in his previous term and another billionaire whose previous dealings smacked of corruption. It’s no wonder cynicism flourishes in modern society while idealism languishes.

I’m not knocking realists. It’s important to see things as they are and not always to be viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. If we don’t acknowledge our failings and those of our leaders, we won’t make any positive changes. But I miss the youthful enthusiasm I used to have for causes. I miss dreaming big. Perhaps as I get older, I will return to my childlike state and become a hopeless romantic once again.

 

Judging Elections

Standard

Unknown

I worked as an election judge for the first time Tuesday, and the experience opened my eyes to many issues with our current system.

First of all, election judges get minimal training and are both overworked and underpaid. We judges showed up at the polling place by 5 am and were not able to leave until after 8 pm. There was scarcely any opportunity to use the restroom or grab a bite to eat.

As the polls opened, our epollbooks, which are used to look up voters’ information, were not working. We were scrambling to post voter applications and get voters into the booths to vote before they headed to work for the day. Not having actually ever performed the task, I was uncertain exactly what to do and sometimes which form to use. This despite the fact that I had attended training and had studiously read the entire election judges manual for a couple of days before the election.

There is no boss at a polling place in Illinois. All judges have equal weight in seeing to it that voting takes place in the proper manner. But this can create confusion. One of our judges insisted upon asking people for IDs even after I told her it was not allowed in Illinois. It took a couple of poll watchers and someone from the election commission who came to our precinct to set the judge straight.

Inevitably there were issues with voters. Some had moved but not changed their address. Others were at the wrong polling place. Some voters had become inactive after not voting for a few years. Even with the opportunity to hand out provisional ballots, it took me the better part of the day to learn how to follow the proper protocols for all of these special situations and make sure everyone had the opportunity to vote.

Our election system needs an overhaul. It should be much easier and less complex to vote. In Washington State, for instance, all voting is done by mail or drop off. There is no scrambling to get to a polling place or need to stand in a long line to vote. There is no need to recruit citizens to sacrifice a long and exhausting day at the polls. Unsurprisingly, voter turnout in the state was over 50%.

Don’t get me wrong. My day as an election judge was not all bad. I enjoyed meeting my fellow judges, who hailed from all different walks of life and were eager to do their part to participate in democracy. I loved seeing the great turnout at the polling place to which I was assigned. It heartened me to see so many citizens, many of them young people, determined to cast their vote.

I would love to see Illinois and other states work to make voting more streamlined and ultimately less costly than the wieldy system we currently have. Short of that, election judges need to be paid better and required to receive more training and supervision before being allowed to work at a polling place. They should also not be required to work an entire 15- hour shift on Election Day.

Voting is one of our most cherished rights and responsibilities as Americans. Let’s make it easier to participate and encourage citizens to vote in every election. It will make our democracy more vibrant and representative of all the people.

The Patchwork Quilt of America

Standard

43115061_10204899440282101_6807152963748888576_n

America is not so much a melting pot as it is a splendid patchwork quilt of all the races, cultures, religions, and traditions of the native people and the millions of immigrants who journeyed here over the past few hundred years.

The melting pot imagery took root during a time when complete assimilation into the dominant culture in America was the only road to prosperity and acceptance for new immigrants. Learning the language, of course, made sense. But what of subsuming one’s own cultural and religious practices under a sanitized, “apple pie” vision of what America should be?

Luckily, over the past two centuries, our Constitution has protected our right to be different – to practice different religions, dress differently, celebrate our unique holidays, and wear our cultural identities with openness and pride. As a result, America has been gifted with a plethora of colors and patterns. We have cuisines from all over the world. We have the ability in our big cities to spend the morning in Chinatown, the afternoon in a mosque or synagogue, and our evening at an Irish pub.

Far from being dangerous to American values, immigrants are often more patriotic because they take their freedoms less for granted than those of us who were born into a vibrant democracy. Their willingness to work hard, often at jobs most Americans would decline to do, make them assets to our society, not detriments.

Of course, when cultures clash, it can be unnerving. And there are practices that may be common in some societies that are illegal here in America. The rule of law in these cases should prevail.

The president’s attempts to demonize those people clamoring to come into our country fly in the face of reality. Immigrants are no more likely than native citizens to commit crimes. They are not eligible for welfare or other public assistance that detractors claim creates a strain on our resources. Most of us are the descendants of “aliens” who brought many things to this land – most especially hope.

qt820_full

The crazy quilt was popularized in American during the Victorian age. Crazy quilts are hodgepodges of shape, color, and design. They don’t seem to go together until a skilled artisan takes the various pieces of fabric and makes something unique and beautiful out them.

America is a gigantic crazy quilt that at times can feel jarring but that ultimately makes our country beautiful and unique too.

Trump Can’t Lead Without Moral Compass

Standard

Unknown

President Trump chose to mark the loss of 11 lives due to white nationalist terrorism by traveling to Southern Illinois for another political rally. His visit was ostensibly to campaign for other Republicans, but really it was just to talk about himself and take jabs at Democrats and Hillary Clinton. These are not the actions of a leader.

Sure, Trump made a few remarks about his supposed intolerance for anti-Semitism. But in the days since the devastating attack on Jewish members of a Pittsburgh synagogue, the President of the United States has managed to do what he does best: make it all about him. He even complained that he was probably attacked more than anyone. Gee, Mr. Trump. Is that how you plan to comfort the loved ones of the deceased?

In the past two weeks, we have seen a series of attacks on the part of disgruntled white men who love everything Donald Trump stands for. First, law enforcement officials arrested the man accused of sending pipe bombs in the mail to prominent Democrats. He was a white nationalist whose actions gelled around his support for Trump and the politics of hate. Trump used the arrest not to appeal for peace and understanding, but to call for a renewed use of the death penalty.

Now we have one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks committed on U.S. soil in decades. But far from being able to rely on our president to lead us away from such violence, we have one who calls white nationalists “fine people” and uses dog whistle politics to appeal to their racism. Besides, he has to get back to his relentless attack on the caravan of undesirables heading for the U.S. border. It’s the only way to get Republicans elected these days apparently.

That Donald Trump has no sense of decency was revealed way back in 2015 when he started to campaign for president by claiming that the current one was an African-born Muslim. Throughout the campaign, he hurled insults and slurs, fomented white rage, and even suggested he’d hit on his own daughter if they weren’t related. He bragged about paying no taxes and grabbing women’s genitalia. Did we really expect him to get in office and suddenly start acting “presidential”?

Donald Trump even mocks the notion of being presidential by imitating a robot and garnering a few laughs at his omnipresent political rallies. No, we can’t expect leadership from a man who lives in a moral vacuum. And our country is much the worse for it.

Term Limits

Standard

unknown

As much as I would have loved to have another four years of President Obama, I’m grateful that U.S. presidents are restricted to two terms. Those term limits protect us from a power-hungry individual grasping the reins indefinitely. Why not apply the same approach to other elected officials?

During the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, columnist Maureen Dowd pointed out that two of the senators questioning Christine Blasey Ford about her allegations of sexual assault were present nearly 27 years ago when Anita Hill similarly made accusations against Clarence Thomas. (“Sick to Your Stomach? #MeToo,” The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2018)

The same players enacting the same play on the national stage for decades is part of the reason our Congress has become out of touch and ineffective. Insulated from meaningful political challenges, these lawmakers concentrate on consolidating power and enriching themselves and their cronies. The likes of Mitch McConnell are only too happy to condemn “entitlements” while enjoying the Rolls Royce of health care, generous pensions, and lucrative lobbying opportunities once they leave office – if they ever do.

And it’s not just Republicans who overstay their welcome in government. Here in my home state of Illinois, Democrat Mike Madigan and his cronies have had a stranglehold on the state legislature, making any meaningful reform impossible.

Mandatory term limits on all elected offices would make government more of a public service than the cushy career it has become. If government officials were only allowed to serve a certain number of years, we taxpayers could forgo paying them costly pensions for life once they left public office. Instead, they could be given a one time bonus to thank them for serving the public and then be forced to return to the private sector to support themselves the way the majority of Americans do.

Along with term limits, we need stricter rules about former officials’ ability to join lobbying organizations once they leave office. Such rules would help prevent our government officials from being beholden to special interests, and their legislative or executive decisions would be based upon their own values and those of their constituencies.

People will argue that there is already a system of term limits in America: the ability to vote these “lifers” out. This argument ignores the strong advantage of incumbency in elections. It’s hard enough to get even a sizable minority of Americans to vote, much less put in the effort required to determine which candidates are best. Most people rely on default – voting for the guy (or gal) whose name they already know.

Both Democrats and Republicans have been decrying the lack of actual governing by our elected leaders. Gridlock in Washington, as well as in many states, has left Americans cynical and fatalistic about politics. Perhaps this is one of the reasons so few people even bother to go to the polls and vote.

On November 6, Americans have the opportunity to change the face of Congress and state and local legislatures, as well as executive offices such as governor and mayor. Maybe we should start electing candidates who favor mandatory term limits in government. It would be a step toward revitalizing our democracy and encouraging young Americans to see public service as just that.

 

 

Gutter Politics

Standard

street_gutter_by_chaos0892-d3eb8tkI understand, Senator Warren. After months of baiting by the Mocker-in-Chief, you couldn’t resist publicizing the results of a DNA test demonstrating that you do indeed have Native American ancestry. And contrary to the dismissive takes on those DNA results by conservative pundits, it’s possible that you do have a fairly close relative who was Cherokee. (“Just about everything you’ve read on the Warren DNA test is wrong,” Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2018)

Many people forget the origin of Trump’s nonstop taunting of Warren and calling her Pocahontas: failed senatorial candidate Scott Brown. During the Massachusetts campaign, Brown unearthed Warren’s listing herself as Native American in a Harvard Law School directory and started slinging mud, implying that she was using some remote claim to get into law school and get ahead. (Funny how no one brought up Brown’s questionable decision to pose nude in Cosmo during his law school days.) So it has always been Republicans who have brought up Sen. Warren’s claims to Native American heritage, not Warren herself.

Of course, Warren’s news has not helped her politically at all. Trump, of course, doubled down on the mockery. He’s not a man who would ever apologize or admit to being wrong about something. And no matter how much he lies, how big of a buffoon he acts at rallies, and whether he describes women as “horseface” or brags about grabbing them “by the pussy,” Trump’s supporters will never desert him.

The Cherokee Nation is also displeased at the implication that having some Native American DNA makes a person part of that culture. Despite the fact that Warren has never claimed tribal membership in the Cherokee Nation, they see her release of a DNA test as nothing more than a political stunt. If I were them, I’d be a little more worried about my people being disenfranchised by unprincipled Republicans, frankly. But their stance has not helped Warren politically.

Let’s face it. Republicans are really good at mud-slinging. They faced little repercussion for calling Michelle Obama the president’s “baby mama” or for fostering claims that Pres. Obama was not born in the United States. They’ve allowed Trump to call white nationalists “fine people” and to make up offensive nicknames for anyone who opposes him. Even “Little Marco” Rubio and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz have basically taken it in the nether regions and accepted Trump’s leadership.

This is what bullies do. They don’t have true leadership qualities, so they push people around and call them names. And I do like the fact that Sen. Warren pushes back. She has relentlessly criticized this Administration for its many unprincipled actions since Trump took office and continued to crusade for fairness for the poor and middle class. She is not afraid of Trump. But in the face of his relentless taunts, she did succumb to temptation and descended into the gutter with him.

The problem with getting into the gutter is that you will get dirty – or killed.