I Know You Are, But What Am I?

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Donald Trump’s entire strategy for defending himself against any charges is to go on the offensive. Essentially, he lobs at his critics the playground retort, “I know you are, but what am I?”

In the past few weeks, the president has actually told U.S. citizens of color to go back where they came from. More recently, he decided to attack his critic Rep. Elijah Cummings by denouncing Cummings’ district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” The comment was akin to his description of certain African nations as “shithole countries.” The more blatantly racial Trump’s attacks become, the quicker he is to label his critics as racist or un-American.

And instead of calling on the president to refrain from such remarks, his apologists get into a dissection of the victims. First they analyzed and called into question every statement made by the four Congresswomen who were the subject of Trump’s vitriol: women of color, all of them U.S. citizens and only one of them born outside the U.S. And as pundits pointed out, even that naturalized citizen had been a U.S. citizen longer than Trump’s own wife, Melania.

In the case of Trump’s attack on Baltimore, Rep. Cummings’ home turf, pundits started in on the Democratic failures to solve endemic poverty in big cities. Again, all this serves as a dodge to avoid confronting the fact that they support a small-minded racist.

The Trump strategy of counterattack is a brazen and shameless one. Despite the fact that there is ample evidence he obstructed justice in his attempt to derail the Mueller investigation, Trump has managed to turn the investigation against itself, demanding that U.S. justice and intelligence agencies be investigated for pro-Hillary/anti-Trump bias.

Aside from the fact that the “I know you are, but what am I?” tactic is the mark of a man with stunted emotional maturity, the repeated attempts on the right to distract the American people from legitimate concern and criticism of this president are disturbing and dangerous. It seems clear that the Republicans in power, their media mouthpieces, and Trump’s diehard base will ignore any level of impropriety, dishonesty, and meanness from this president.

It’s up to the rest of us to keep focused on what we see right in front of us: a divisive, mean-spirited, and narcissistic bully who must be called to account – in 2020, if not sooner.

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More Than One Thing

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lastblackman1.0The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a quiet movie that is playing at only a handful of select theaters. Most critical reviews are focused on its treatment of San Francisco and the woes of long-time residents displaced by gentrification. But I took something else away from the film.

In a scene towards the end of the movie, the main character Jimmie Fails gets up to speak at a showing of his best friend’s improvisational play that has turned into a de facto memorial service for a neighbor recently shot dead. In describing his complicated relationship with the man, Kofi, Jimmie says, “Everybody is not just one thing.” That line stayed with me long after the movie ended.

Everybody is not just one thing. We tend to categorize people and judge them by superficial characteristics: looks, clothing, manner, speech. In Last Black Man, a group of young men in the neighborhood stand around swearing and insulting each other, pushing each other around, acting the tough guy. But when Kofi dies, the most belligerent of the group collapses into the arms of the very same man (Jimmie’s best friend) whom he has relentlessly mocked in the past.

In our increasingly polarized society, we need to remember that people are complex. Take Donald Trump, for instance. I myself have had very little good to say about our current president. And I don’t feel like he’s a good man. But I do not know Donald Trump personally. He may be a loving husband and father. He may be a good friend. His public persona is not the whole of Mr. Trump or of any of us. So it would behoove us to think carefully about labeling and name calling and ascribing hateful titles to people, something that, ironically, Mr. Trump does on a regular basis.

We should also hesitate to paint all members of a group with the same broad brush, whether they be Wall Street bankers or migrants at our border.

All of us are afflicted with the same infuriating, confusing, and glorious infirmity: the human condition. The Last Black Man in San Francisco portrays this reality beautifully. There are no clear villains or heroes in the movie. Instead, we get an up close portrait of a friendship and of the life of two young men navigating the new realities of their beloved city and trying to find their own place in it.

Let’s remember that we are all many things and afford each other the respect deserved by all human beings.

Christian Wrong

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billboardThe other day driving in Michigan, I saw a billboard I’d seen many times before. Its message normally was, “Real Christians Obey Jesus’ Teachings.” But someone had covered up part of the sign with a white cloth and penned their own new message: “Real Christians Obey President Trump.”

First of all, let’s agree that our role as Americans is not to “obey” the President of the United States. In fact, he’s our employee. We’ve chosen him (God help us) to do the will of the people. But some Christians on the far right are trying to convince the rest of us that Donald Trump was chosen by God to do His will. That’s more than a little frightening.

There was a recent controversy about another billboard that appeared outside St. Louis. It showed Trump gesturing with his arms outstretched and featured the Biblical reference, “The Word Made Flesh,” along with the tagline “Make the Gospel Great Again.” The implication of the message was nothing short of blasphemy if you are a Christian. It implied that Trump was akin to Jesus, the Son of God.  After something of an uproar, the sign was removed. Good to know that in some instances cooler, more sane heads do prevail.

All of this is but part of a disturbing trend among Christian believers who are willing to suspend all rational thought, not to mention their own deeply cherished beliefs, to follow a man who has no history of devout Christianity and whose many actions could be viewed as the reverse of Christian values. I could just as easily cite Scripture to suggest Trump is the Anti-Christ, who, according to the Bible, is a false leader who will sway many to his side at the end times.

Christians everywhere, whether they support President Trump or not, should decry these attempts to portray the man as a God-ordained leader of the people. Interestingly, I have been studying the figure of King David in my local Bible study group. When the Israelites tell the high priest Samuel that they want to be like all the other nations and have a king, Samuel warns them what that will mean:

He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses … He will make them do his plowing and harvesting and produce his weapons of war … He will use your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers …He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves … you will become his slaves. ((1 Samuel 8:11-18)

Samuel’s message is, be careful what you wish for.

America is a great democracy. We do not need a king to rule over us, and we should absolutely feel free to question anything and everything our political leaders do. Real Christians don’t sell their souls to further an agenda.

 

 

Jussie and Donald – Flip Sides of Same Coin

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Two surprising things happened this week. First of all, the completed Mueller report supposedly found no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Even more surprising, all charges were dropped against Empire cast member Jussie Smollett for faking a hate crime. While the factions of people who support either of these two men could not be more different, the wheels of justice actually turn for them in exactly the same way.

Donald Trump has gotten a pass on allegations of sexual harassment and assault, unscrupulous and fraudulent business dealings, and the use of campaign funds to pay off porn stars. His clear attempts to derail the investigation into Russian collusion have been treated as rightful exercises of executive privilege. Why has Trump gotten away with vilifying war heroes, mocking the disabled, and denigrating women? He is a powerful celebrity and has friends in high places. For heaven’s sake, he’s got an entire news organization in his corner, deflecting his misdeeds right and left like a tennis ace and redirecting the outrage at their perennial whipping post, Hillary Clinton.

Smollett also has friends in high places who worked on his behalf to help him wriggle out of detestable and criminal actions that would send ordinary people to prison. I’m sure his two days of community service were wrenching and difficult, and that $10,000 forfeit of his bond must have hurt terribly, since he reportedly only makes 6-10 times that per episode on Empire. Not even the lead prosecutor is claiming Smollett to be innocent. Still, we can’t have our celebrities do jail time, can we?

It amuses me that people are calling for the heads of Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and other rich parents who schemed and cheated to get their kids into elite colleges and universities. They were only doing what well-connected people do: leverage their money/influence/celebrity to get ahead and, when their misdeeds become public, weasel out of them.

There have been exceptions, of course. Martha Stewart did time for lying about her financial dealings. And Bill Cosby was actually convicted and sent to prison for sexual assault. But for the most part, rich and famous people just get away with behaving badly.

There are still investigations pending about the business dealings of Trump and his children. I’m skeptical that anything will come of them. We have a different set of rules for the famous and well-connected. Until that changes, we can assume Lady Justice is peeking under that blindfold.

The Dreaded “S” Word

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ss_socialistI can tell the Republican Party is a bit desperate when they start raising the specter of their favorite bugaboo: Socialism. Ever since the midterm elections ushered in a new crop of legislators, many of them Democratic women and minorities, the GOP has characterized their ideas as socialist and pointed to Venezuela as their supposed governmental model.

It doesn’t help that Donald Trump has persisted with his wall folly despite the refusal of Congress to approve it. Or that Robert Mueller keeps getting closer and closer to the president in his investigation of collusion with the Russians in the 2016 election. Trump even has other Republicans challenging him for the nomination in 2020, something almost unheard of for a sitting president. The GOP needs a distraction.

So it’s time to start bashing Democrats for their sappy ideals of fair wages, health care for all, and saving the planet from the effects of climate change.

The problem is that Americans want a certain amount of government intervention to counter the effects of unbridled capitalism. Even my right wing husband, for instance, is in favor of anti-trust legislation. The New Deal gave Americans security after the Great Depression, and nowadays we take for granted that in our old age we will be able to rely on Medicare and Social Security to get us through. These may be “socialist” programs, but they are recognized by pretty much everyone to be necessary safety nets for our citizens.

Even Donald Trump ran for office promising to rein in prescription drug prices, a laudable goal but one that hardly smacks of free market capitalism. Yet common sense tells us that it’s not okay for Mylan to jack up the price of an EpiPen to $500. Lately the price of insulin, a common life-saving drug for diabetics, has shot up, jeopardizing people’s savings and even lives. Do we really not want the government to step in?

Another Democratic proposal that is being skewered by Republicans is the Green New Deal, which conservatives hate not only because it is “socialist” but because it is being touted by a fiery Millennial woman who is so not one of them. The Green New Deal is really a policy statement more than a proposed law. It acknowledges that without drastic reductions in carbon emissions in the next decade, our world is in for major destruction and upheaval.

As for health care, well, Republicans have been trying to take “Obamacare” away from people for the past 9 years, but the American public is not having it. Like the New Deal programs of Social Security and Medicare, health care coverage for all Americans is seen as a right, not a privilege. It’s worth some government intervention to establish a system wherein all Americans have access to affordable health care. We can debate whether the best way to go about that is Medicare for all or some private/public combination. But there is little doubt among Americans that health care should be affordable and accessible.

We are not heading in the direction of a socialist Venezuelan-style dictatorship. Ironically, Donald Trump, with his disdain for the Constitution and the free press, his propensity for befriending despots, and his need for unquestioning loyalty and adulation, veers dangerously close to a would-be dictator himself.

The role of government in a democracy will always be a subject for debate and compromise. Our freedoms are constantly being balanced against our needs for safety and well-being. Democrats and Republicans will not always agree about how best t o maintain that balance. But hurling the “S” word at Democrats is not a particularly productive way to have the necessary debates.

Republicans are trying to scare Americans in order to regain their stranglehold on power in Congress. Despite his glaring shortcomings, they continue to stand by Donald Trump and his politics of division. But today’s Democrats are not that easily cowed. Their vision for a better, more fair America is one to be proud of, not to retreat from. So call them Socialists all you want. I predict those so-called socialists are poised to do great things for our country.

 

The Wall

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” So begins Robert Frost’s memorable poem “Mending Wall.” I’ve been thinking a lot about that poem as President Trump and the Republicans dig their heels in about erecting a wall across our southern border with Mexico.

Illegal immigration has become a divisive issue in our country and one that is long overdue for compromise. While I sympathize with the plight of Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence and believe our country should do everything in our power to help relieve suffering, I also recognize that we need to protect our borders and insist upon an orderly process whereby residents from other countries apply to live in the U.S.

The problem is that building a giant wall on our border with Mexico is expensive, environmentally damaging, and impracticable. And most of all, it won’t really work to stem the tide of illegal immigration or deter criminal activity. Most drug and weapons seizures, for example, occur at legal ports of entry. U.S. authorities have also found tunnels running under existing fences and other barriers, so those determined enough will still find ways to get into our country. And the urgency to build such a barrier has, if anything, decreased over the past decade, as illegal border crossings are at a 12-year low.

The wall is not a practical reality but a symbol: a symbol of Donald Trump’s attempts to portray nonwhite immigrants as criminals. Ironically, Trump’s stance against Central American immigrants has spawned the phenomenon of migrant caravans crossing into Mexico, a kind of thumb on the nose to the president and his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The other reason Trump is insistent upon building a wall is that he wants one, and he hates to lose. He is willing to shut down the government and let federal workers go without pay so that he can get his “big, beautiful” symbol of exclusion and isolation. Meanwhile, no meaningful conversations go on about realistic ways to secure the border and deal with the thousands of immigrants already in this country.

President Trump, we don’t need a wall with Mexico. What we need is leadership, something that has been sorely lacking since you became president two years ago. It’s time to ditch the idea of an expensive and impractical wall, sit down with Democrats, and work on real solutions to our immigration issues.

Trump Can’t Lead Without Moral Compass

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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.