Little Pitchers have Big Ears

I’ll tell you a little story while we wait for the polls to close and election returns to come in.

If you’ve started following this blog recently, you might not know that I have an elementary-aged grandson who I spend copious amounts of time with. He’s truly precocious when it comes to analyzing things. That’s because he’s one of those mechanically-inclined little dudes who prefers math to language arts. And because I’ve been teaching him to pull complex ideas apart and look at their constituent pieces as a way of finding their meaning since before he could speak in grammatically-correct sentences.

Photo by Gene'O, 2015.

Photo by Gene’O, 2015.

The little fella is aware there’s an election on. We’ve done our best not to talk about it in too much detail with him. My approach has been to not bring it up, but when he does, to give him honest, age-appropriate answers. So he knows I’m voting for the Dem in November, but we’ve not talked in any detail about  the various candidates.

The sort of political talk you’ve been seeing here and on my Facebook timeline these last few weeks is not the sort of stuff you’ll hear in my house if the kid is awake. And we do our best to minimize his exposure to the news, because most nights, it’s full of horrors. I don’t think I’m doing him a disservice by waiting until he’s 9 to let him watch the full news every night.

The reason we do things this way is because while we want him to grow up to be a tolerant, engaged citizen who understands his rights and sees the inequalities all around him, we don’t want to just put our politics in his head until he’s old enough to think about politics critically. I’ll be happy if he grows up to agree with my politics 100%. But I don’t want that to happen because I told him to, or because we have such a strong emotional bond. I want him to form his own political views rationally and to know why he takes the positions he eventually takes.

He knows I write and publish things on the internet for anyone in the world to see if I can grab their attention, and he’s fascinated by the whole thing. If I allow him, he’ll stand and read over my shoulder as I write. (I’ve had to explain to him recently that writers find this annoying.) So, yesterday he saw me editing a post I’m working on which includes this image:

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He decided, since I was obviously writing about the election, to give me his opinion on Donald Trump. So of course I had to shut my editing session down and interrogate him about where he got his information and how he formed his opinion. What follows is a lightly-edited transcript of our conversation.

Kid: I HATE Trump.

Me: You know we don’t hate people. Not even people we dislike. Because there’s a little good in even the worst people, and hating folks makes us want to fight instead of talking and listening.

Kid: Well, I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY dislike him. I dislike him all the way to Pluto and back. (He seriously uses this many “reallys” to express strong emotion. If anything, I’m understating. I sometimes have to interrupt the “reallys” and tell him I understand to get him to continue with his thought.)

Me: Okay. Tell me why you feel that way.

Kid: Trump wants to be one of them president-kings and he will command us all to use the n-word.

Me: *Shocked and alarmed, but proud of the racial sensitivity there* Where are you getting this? Are you talking to other grownups about this that I don’t know about?

Kid: No. That’s just what I think.

Me: Talking about it with your friends at school?

Kid: *Shakes head unconvincingly and stands up from his chair so he can march around the room while he delivers this next bit.* He will make us all sing “Trump! Trump! Trump! He is the greatest! Trump! Trump! Trump! He is the greatest!”

Me: You MUST tell me why you think these things. If you’re getting them from someone else, that’s a thing your Paw needs to know about.

Kid: I can just see it in his eyes.

I interrogated him a bit more, but he insisted these opinions are his own, formed from overhearing snippets of network news and seeing the occasional photo of Trump while eaves-watching my blogging and Facebooking.fblike

I believe he came up with this on his own, or else got it from other kids just based on the language he used. He has good recall when it comes to remembering exactly what others say, and I can generally tell when he’s repeating something he’s gotten from adults.

Just for example, when he asked me who I was voting for several weeks ago. I told him either Clinton or Sanders. His response: “I like Bernie Sanders. He is an intelligent man.” And when I asked him how he felt about Hillary Clinton he said “She is untrustworthy.” I knew, based on the language, not only that he was repeating something he’d heard a grownup say. I even knew which grownup.

This Trump thing is different. It’s either an honest, original assessment from a very perceptive little boy, or a pastiche of things he’s heard on the playground. I have extremely mixed feelings about this. I’m proud of the overall awareness the little dude’s showing here and pleased he’s come to the same conclusion as me without my direct intervention.

live_long_prosper_2015

I’m also sad that a second-grader is looking at the Presidential election and this is what he’s seeing. My first real political awakening was at about his age, during the Carter-Reagan race in 1980 (I wanted Carter to win). So on balance, I can’t say whether all this is a good thing, or a bad thing. But it sure is interesting.

An hour after we were done with our conversation, it came to my attention that the owner of Humans of New York has published a withering critique of Donald Trump and vowed to work against him. Aside from the part where Humans of N.Y. is warning us not to let Trump off the hook when he inevitably tacks to the center, the statement pretty much says what the kid said, only in the language of a sophisticated East Coast journalist. I was struck by it.

And today I found this. If you need further confirmation that yes, what’s going on at these Trump rallies is not only corrosive, but dangerous, here’s your sign. It’s about a guy who went undercover to a Trump rally to try and figure out why his followers are acting the way they are and better see them as humans, so as not to just demonize them because he disagrees with what they’re doing. A long read and it will make you a little sick to your stomach. But worthy of your time.

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I’ll have stuff to say on Facebook once the polls close tonight, and a post here about it tomorrow or the day after. Everything I’m posting about this election on Facebook is public. You can find me here if you just want to follow along. And I have a fairly open policy for accepting friend requests.

Make America Sensible Again

Last weekend, a Facebook friend of mine explained the Trump situation as the outcome of a Faustian bargain GOP elites made with racists and anti-intellectuals some decades ago. He was riffing on this WaPo editorial which asks “Where Were Republican Moderates 20 Years Ago.?” In the article Fareed Zakaria criticizes the Republican leaders who are now scrambling to fend off Donald Trump for allowing the situation to develop in the first place.

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The Trumpster himself.

It’s a fairly stinging critique. Fareed argues that by failing to restrain the right wing of their party from using the virulent rhetoric and vicious tactics that have become a commonplace in U.S.politics — and in some cases actively encouraging it — the Republican leadership fostered the environment in which Trump is now flourishing. The money quote:

Here is a much simpler explanation for Donald Trump: Republicans have fed the country ideas about decline, betrayal and treason. They have encouraged the forces of anti-intellectualism, obstructionism and populism. They have flirted with bigotry and racism. Trump merely chose to unashamedly embrace all of it, saying plainly what they were hinting at for years. In doing so, he hit a jackpot.

I buy this. It tracks with what I said in my last #WeekendCoffeeShare post about why I consider Trump dangerous even if he loses.

When Presidential candidates say racist things to whip up political support, that sends a message to their followers that it’s ok say and do racist things in public. Which makes people who actually have racist attitudes a little more comfortable with spreading bigotry and hate.

Zakaria locates the Republicans’ turn toward toxic rhetoric in the Gingrich era. My own experience agrees with his assessment. When I Iook at how we arrived at this pass as a social/historical process, I can trace it back to the racist backlash against the Voting Rights Act with ease. The now-infamous Southern Strategy and Barry Goldwater’s run for President in 1964 are pieces of this puzzle.

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A Goldwater poster and an early example of what we now understand as Political Dogwhistling.

That said, Zakaria has a point. I remember a fair amount of virulent political speech during the Reagan and Bush I eras. And keep in mind, I was 8 years old in 1980, so my memory is a bit fuzzy. “Welfare Queens” and a lot of homophobic things that were said during the AIDS crisis spring immediately to mind. But during the 1990s, the right wing of the Republican Party went absolutely bananas. There was a notable change in the things they were willing to do and say to win elections and policy debates.

The far right hated Bill Clinton and they expressed their hatred in the mass media. Even after the Obama birther madness and all the racism I’ve seen directed at our current President, I still don’t believe I’ve ever seen the level of vitriol spewed at a government official that was directed at Clinton. Maybe the Clinton era made a larger impression because I was younger and hadn’t been desensitized to it yet, but I am not sure.

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Rush going all gangster.

We had Rush Limbaugh on television framing the Clinton Presidency as “America Under Siege” and counting the days. There were all manner of conspiracy theories accusing the Clintons of everything from cocaine smuggling to plotting with China to make the U.S. a vassal state of the PRC. The right exploited the Waco and Ruby Ridge catastrophes to score political points by whipping up anti-government sentiment, which ended up fueling the militia movement.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the government deserves criticism for both of these incidents. But criticism should be productive, and the right went too far. I’ll also point out that Ruby Ridge happened in August of 1992. Bill Clinton wasn’t sworn in until January of the next year, so it didn’t even happen on his watch. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that.

I’ll be honest in the interest of full disclosure. I not only supported Bill Clinton, I liked him. After 12 years of grandfatherly Presidents who smiled and said they cared about everyone while they happily went about the business of punishing poor people for being poor, Clinton was a breath of fresh air. He was dynamic. He was talented. When he said he cared about the rest of us, I believed him. He gave me hope for the future.

bill-clinton-saxophone

Bill Clinton convinced us he had more faith in the American people than any other politician of his generation. And he was a decent sax player. We had no choice but to love him.

Some of the most heated conversations I’ve ever had were during his impeachment trial. I thought at the time he shouldn’t have been impeached because Ronald Reagan wasn’t impeached for Iran-Contra despite the fact that the hearings revealed him to be either criminally culpable or so incompetent as to be unfit for office. I thought the whole sorry impeachment affair was orchestrated by opportunists who wanted to damage the Democratic Party so badly the country would go along with the GOP running the government forever.

I maintain to this day that if the circumstances had been the same, but Clinton had been a Republican, there would have been no trial. Heck, there probably never would have even been a Whitewater investigation. No one will ever convince me otherwise.

The right wing during the Clinton era went way beyond personal attacks and saying bigoted things to score points. They operated, from day one, from a position of contempt for the executive branch itself. These people didn’t want to govern. They wanted to rule.

So yeah, during the 90’s the extreme right escalated the bigotry and hate. The centrist wing of the GOP allowed it to happen by not stepping on it and in some cases, condoning it to win elections. The extremists pulled them to the right and forced them into a position which required them to “go nuclear or go home” any time they had even a slight disagreement with the Dems.

By the end of the decade we had a separatist problem and a militia problem because (almost exclusively white) people were joining what amounted to private paramilitary organizations out of fear that the Clinton administration was scheming to take away their guns or use the military against the population or some such. We’d seen a federal building in a major city bombed. I was never sure why so many people bought all that, given our well-established tradition of leaving problems in the hands of the civil authorities unless things break down to the point that they threaten public safety in a big way or the authorities plead for help.

second amendment

There’s a hard #truth here, and it is a big part of our problem.

We had people being abused and in some cases murdered for not being heterosexual and an uptick in violence against abortion providers. In my neck of the woods, people were using the label “Democrat” as a not-so-sly racial slur. Unless you were a thick-skinned, assertive person in the South, you thought twice about identifying as liberal or feminist. It took a LOT of courage, even at that late date, to be open about your sexual orientation unless you were a hetero, cisgendered person.

It’s tricky to identify causal relationships in these matters. But note the obvious way the escalation on the part of far right people in government seems to have enabled the bad behavior of average citizens who agreed with them. Note how it encouraged even more extreme elements of society to organize and collaborate. I believe this is a real thing I’m looking at.

There’s a relationship here between what our politicians say and how our citizens treat one another. I’m ready for our public discourse to start running in the direction of tolerance and respect. I’ll happily organize with anyone who convinces me they want the same.

Postscript

I started writing this post almost a week ago. Since then, we’ve seen a Trump rally in Chicago canceled because confrontations between his supporters and protesters became too violent for the event to go forward. Now he and his surrogates are claiming the protesters violated his First Amendment rights. I can’t publish this without saying a few words about all that.

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A Trump supporter who has since said she was just doing this because the other side were comparing her candidate to Hitler, and this was her way of thumbing her nose at them.

I’ll condemn violence no matter which end of the political spectrum it comes from. Violence is violence, period. But it’s a huge mistake to allow Trump to put this all on the protesters. The only reason people are protesting his rallies is because for months, he’s been spewing racism and encouraging his supporters to abuse people who object to what he’s saying.

In some cases, people who weren’t being disruptive in any way have been removed from his rallies because they were wearing other candidates’ messaging on their clothing or because they were black. And that IS a violation of the First Amendment, because those people were removed by police and/or Secret Service.

Trump has had every opportunity to dial back his rhetoric and to encourage restraint from the podium. He has not done that. The Republican Party has done very little to call him out for it, and what they have done has been too little, too late.

TrumpMeme

More #truth, and a more urgent part of our problem.

As Saturday Night Live pointed out in the Weekend Update this week in a much more pithy way than I am. Given the character and history of Chicago, is it any wonder a rally for an openly racist Presidential candidate who regularly incites his supporters to abuse people attracted a large protest and things got ugly? Is it any wonder at all?

Far as the First Amendment argument goes. Freedom of speech protects political speech from government censorship in public spaces. It doesn’t protect political candidates from being heckled by protesters.

Removing protesters from political rallies for disrupting the event to the point it can’t continue, or for threatening the safety of others, is totally legal. Removing people for standing silently with signs or listening attentively while wearing t-shirts supporting other candidates is illegal. One of the reasons Trump is encouraging his supporters to abuse any and all protesters whether they’re being disruptive or not is to create an environment in which those people aren’t safe so the police have an excuse to escort them out.

When you hear someone bemoaning the infringement of Donald Trump’s First Amendment rights, it is appropriate to call bullshit on that. Also appropriate to point out that it’s a classic case of projection. And here’s the funny thing about Trump hiding behind freedom of speech. This may be the only funny thing I’ve seen since he started his campaign.

I know quite a bit about trolling. I sometimes engage in discussions that attract the trolling-folk. I’ve written about their behavior. Donald Trump is using their tactics.

Sometimes I see people obviously trolling a thread with the intent to disrupt the conversation and I tell them to cut it out or step off. One of the most common responses I get when I do that is a rant about freedom of speech. At that point, I usually block the person so they can’t respond any more, and then explain to them that I’m not the government, and that even though blogs are publicly accessible, they are not public property, which means the First Amendment does not apply.

Donald Trump and his enablers are trolling us, y’all. It’s too bad we can’t all disengage and stop feeding him. But people are going to keep showing up at his rallies, and he’s not going to dial back his rhetoric. Even if he did at this point, I don’t think he could restrain the crowds. Trump is not holding these people in the palm of his hand the way he was even a month ago. He’s lost control of his own followers and he’s unleashed a thing.

We can’t accuse Donald Trump of directly inciting what happened in Chicago because he wasn’t even there. But I say no matter who threw the first punch, he bears more responsibility for that incident than any single person — on either side — who was in that crowd. Because if the things he’s been saying for these last few weeks aren’t incitement, I don’t know what that word means.

So let’s hope he somehow inexplicably loses big on Tuesday. But even if he does, be mindful of the fact that his following isn’t going to evaporate. Most will support Cruz if it comes to that. And we don’t want Trumpism to take hold the way the Obama Birthers’ ideas took hold. Because that strengthened the Tea Party and made governing harder for Obama than it had to be.

So, how do we handle this, since we can’t stop feeding the trolls in this case? I say we stay engaged with this election and see it through to November. And we assert our own views at every opportunity.

I’m not saying you have to let it take over your social media the way it’s taken over mine or berate your friends offline. That sort of incessant chatter isn’t for everyone. I know a lot of us are depressed, disgusted, and exhausted already and November is months away.

If it gets to be too much, step away from it for a few days and spend your internet time looking at pet photos and baby pictures. I’ve come to enjoy those over the last year or so and to see them as valuable as anything else we do on the social media. Because they make people smile and they foster positive relationships. We could do with a heap more of both right now.

All I’m saying is we can’t afford to burn out, or to just tune it all out in disgust. If someone asks you for your opinion on the election, give them a polite, honest answer and be firm if you receive conservative jackassery in return for your trouble. And if someone starts blithely extolling the virtues of Donald Trump to you, ask them what they think this country will look like if we elect a guy who has people escorted out of his rallies just for being black whether they are actually protesting or not and who incites his followers to violence.

And have a little faith in the American people, even though that’s getting harder by the day. We don’t always do the right thing, but it is my sincere hope that in this case, we will. I have to believe that even though I’m an unapologetic leftist and my views do not represent the mainstream in any way, most Americans want what I want in this election. I’m running entirely on faith and hope at this point.

We don’t want to make America great again because even though we’re at a low point and we are in a precarious position, we haven’t lost our greatness yet. We just want to make America sensible again.

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Let’s all get together and do this, plz!

ed.- I need to acknowledge a few people here because this is a different post than I’ve ever written, and a few people helped me get here, even though they might not realize it.

If not for the many conversations with my sister Diana, who runs the blog Part Time Monster, and our friend Gretchen Kelly of Drifting Through My Open Mind, over the last three years, I would not have found the heart to put a thing like this on the internet.

My friend Luther M. Siler of Infinite Free Time has taught me a lot about blogging, and interpreting statistics, and the dynamics of this election just by sharing his opinions with me these last couple of years and commenting on my threads. Luther is an author and he blogs about a lot of stuff other than politics, but you only need to spend two minutes scrolling through is archives to see he’s one of the good guys. Thank you, Luther, for your kindness, patience, and generosity.

I religiously follow the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on Facebook. I am not affiliated with them, but they always answer my communications and they post a lot of good stuff. I think of them as friends.

If you care about these things I’ve written about in this post, please give all these nice folks a look, and if you see why what they’re doing is valuable, give them a follow and some likes.

More to come.

 

The Best of All Possible Worlds

This is the optimal outcome of the U.S. Presidential campaign at this point.

  1. Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination.
  2. He goes down in flames in the general election, losing with less than 15 percent of the vote.
  3. In his concession speech, he explains he’s been a double agent all along, and he just said all that stuff to expose the fatuousity and corruption of our political system.
  4. He produces documents to prove his case and we see it is absolutely true and also some journalists helped him and he goes back to real estate having gained the status of legendary grandpaw to the new and better U.S.

Sadly, this will not happen. That is not what is going on. He’s said things that can’t be taken back. He’s picked a side and even if it turns out he’s on the other side in his heart, it’s too late. He’s irredeemable.

I’ll be fairly pissed if y’all pick this one post, which doesn’t even have images (but DOES have a music video), and send it viral. I have no doubt that if you all wanted to, you could make a blog post or a Facebook post or even a tweet of mine go viral. I have faith in you. But please, not this one.

Trump is no double agent.

Here’s what’s happening instead.

This guy thinks just because he has a good relationship with the reality TV audience, all he has to do is toss his hat into the ring, and the electorate will willingly place the living, beating heart of our republic in his hands to do with it what he will.

I call bullshit.

Donald J. Trump is a preening, entitled douche canoe. He represents the worst parts of all of us. He believes he can mock our culture and make us like it.

Just because the Republican party sold its soul to the Devil 40 years ago doesn’t mean the United States of America has to sell its soul to Donald Trump in the here-and-now.

Now get out there on your social media and point out just how ridiculous this whole thing is in your own way.

And get your asses to the polls.

I’m done for now.

That felt so very good.