Minnesota, Politics, USA

Weighing in on Ilhan Omar v. Donald Trump

I voted for Ilhan Omar in 2018.  I have mixed feelings regarding her House tenure thus far.  I’m very proud of what she represents, but sometimes unsure about how she’s representing.  But while she certainly has her flaws, and is still self-admittedly learning and growing, Ilhan Omar and her three “Squad” colleagues deserve every American’s defense against the recent verbal attacks that they’ve suffered from the Twitter-fingers of the president.

To rehash: In a recent tweet regarding these four Congresswomen, Donald Trump said, “So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally come from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world…now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.  Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”

Before moving forward, it is worth noting that only one of these four women (Omar) is foreign-born, and all of them are American citizens.

And that was just the beginning.  As the Twitter war ensued, and expanded into other mediums, Trump proceeded to call these four women, and Ilhan Omar in particular, “disgraceful,” “disgusting”, “Radical Leftists”, “Communists”, “Anti-Semitic”, “Anti-America”, “pro-terrorist”, “racist”, mislabelers of racism in others, and perhaps most prominently, people who “HATE our country.”

Specifically in regards to Omar, there are shreds of sentiments that I agree with in these otherwise intolerant statements.  I agree that Omar is “radical”, in the sense that her views oftentimes fail to reflect the recognition of complexity and nuance that I believe is necessary to describe our reality.  I agree that certain comments from Omar indeed fall under the category of “anti-Semitic”, or at the very least, unknowingly rhyme with anti-Semitic tropes.  I agree that “racist” is a word that is thrown around far too loosely by many on the progressive left, and that more nuanced language is needed to describe the differing perceptions of racial reality possessed by the modern American public.

That last sentiment is why I will once again stop short of labeling Trump as a racist.  I still do not believe that Trump harbors real hatred in his heart for Somalis, Latinos, or any other “race” of people.  Instead, I prefer to call Trump “racially ignorant”.  I really do think that he is almost completely unaware of the racially charged language that he uses.  That or he purposefully uses that language as a tool to try to rile up the real racists in his base. It’s not textbook “racism”, but it is still hugely troubling.

As noted, Ilhan Omar has made some ignorant and discriminatory statements herself, specifically in regards to Jewish people.  The big difference between her and Trump is in their reactions.  Omar unknowingly played on anti-Semitic tropes in statements that she made regarding pro-Israeli lobbyists.  She was officially disavowed by her Democratic colleagues in Congress for those statements, and in return, offered a seemingly genuine apology in which she claimed to be “listening and learning,” and thanked her “Jewish allies and colleagues” for “educating [her] on the painful history” of anti-Semitism.

Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t see a need for listening or learning.  Trump is constantly offering up coded language about blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and other historically marginalized groups, and when confronted about it, does not apologize, but instead chooses to double-down.  In this most recent case against Omar and her women of color colleagues, Dems are again proposing an official disavowal of Trump’s hateful language, much like they did with Omar.  Most Republicans are conspicuously silent.

And this seems to validate one of Trump’s primary defenses: “People agree with me”—the idea that since many Americans agree with Trump’s less-than enlightened reflections, that that makes those reflections okay.  There is no sentiment that gives me less faith in our democracy than this one.

I have been a consistent opponent of the calls for President Trump’s impeachment on the grounds that, 1) The Mueller Report found insufficient evidence regarding the initial crimes that is was called upon to investigate, and 2) Despite potential obstructions of justice, I’d rather see Trump defeated democratically via our election process.   That said, this particular Trump statement, as well as myriad other statements that I have heard personally and impersonally from Trump supporters, makes me worry that we still live in country in which a significant amount of people will vote for Donald Trump not IN SPITE OF the racist things he says, but BECAUSE of them.  I don’t think that represents the majority of our country, but as the 2016 election proved, Trump doesn’t need a majority to win a second term.

Ironically, Trump won that 2016 election on a four-word slogan, “Make America Great Again”—a slogan that suggests that 2016 Donald Trump was dissatisfied with the state of affairs of his country at that time.  Over the last few days, many have pointed out the inconsistency and hypocrisy between this slogan and the accusations of anti-Americanism that Trump has hurled towards the four Congresswomen.  “Make America Great Again” doesn’t seem to suggest a love for our country as it is, nor a patriotism towards the diverse, multicultural nation that the United States has become, an element of our country that many people love.  Instead, much like many of the comments of Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Tlaib, “Make America Great Again” represents a criticism of certain aspects of our country.  “Make America Great Again” is an expression of dissent.

But I’m not here to condemn dissent.  On the contrary, I firmly subscribe to the belief that dissent is one of the highest forms of patriotism that one can express—that if you truly love your country, but are unsatisfied or displeased with certain characteristics that it holds or actions that it performs, you do not passively accept those flaws, but instead, challenge your country to be better.  Ilhan Omar seems to understand this.  As she said yesterday, the provocative statements that she has made do not come from a place of hate, they come from “a place of extreme love.”

That is why Ilhan Omar and her allies are so valuable in our Congress.  It is not because their dissent is always righteous or always right, but because it gives us a perspective that our democracy has so often lacked.  From women.  From people of color.  From the sons and daughters of the foreign born, or those born abroad themselves.  For groups that this country has historically failed, and in some ways, continues to fail today.  These are perspectives that are always worth considering. Trump is not evil for lacking these perspectives, but he might be for his refusal to understand them.

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Politics, USA

The First Democratic Debates: Some Takeaways

The first Democratic debates are in the books.  In all likelihood, one of the twenty candidates that debated over the last two nights will ultimately win the Democratic nomination and take on Donald Trump in the 2020 general election.  As an American who lives in a potential swing state, I almost certainly will be voting for that person.  I am not sure yet who I want that person to be, and although I do have some early favorites, the last two nights were more about just learning who these people are and about the issues that will dominate the Democratic side of this election.  Here are some personal takeaways:

 

A “Marshall Plan” for Central America

Immigration has been a hugely important issue in the U.S. for a long time, but in Donald Trump’s America, it might be the most important.  I’m all for the more compassionate approach offered by this group of candidates, but at the end of the day, I want people to stop showing up at our southern border.  I want to live in a hemisphere that doesn’t have a crisis of refugees.  I want a president that is going to address the roots of this problem.  A Marshall Plan for Central America would do just that.

A Marshall Plan for Central America, as named by Julián Castro and described by several other candidates, would help to address the problems in Northern Triangle countries that lead people to seek refuge in the first place.  Much like “The Wall”, it would entail a huge investment on the part of the U.S. and certainly reduce the number of immigrants coming to the United States.  But unlike “The Wall”, it would be an investment that actually helps people on the other side.  We need to do for our Central American neighbors what we did for our European allies following WWII, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the most effective way to address this “hemispheric problem”.

 

Se habla Español aquí

Night one of the debates saw a woke-off between Beto O’Rourke and Corey Booker as both tried to demonstrate their almost bilingualness to a party very interested in turning out Latino voters.  In one sense, I think it’s great that the Democratic Party is speaking a language of inclusivity (in this case, literally!).  In another sense, this was one of the most blatant displays of pandering and general douchebaggery from all four hours of the Democratic debates (and perhaps why we didn’t hear so much Spanish on night two).

Like Corey and Beto, I am a semi-competent Spanish speaker myself, and while it’s a great skill to have, I am also definitely capable of being a douchebag about it.  At least I’m aware of it though, right?!?!  Not sure that I can say the same thing for these two…

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Rehearsed responses vs. Off-the-cuff

When it comes to my enjoyment as a viewer, there is no comparison.  I HAAAAATE listening to the candidates who robotically relay their rehearsed responses, and I LOOOOOVE the candidates who respond to their questions authentically as if they come straight from their heart and/or loins.  That said, does it really matter when it comes to qualifications for the presidency? And actually, don’t we want a president who can sit down and think of thoughtful responses to complicated problems, even if they don’t entertain us when they discuss those thoughtful responses in front of a camera?  Probably, but I still hate it.

 

Avoiding the question

The above points withstanding, I think it’s great when the moderators point out the non-answers that so many candidates provided to questions that were oftentimes very direct.  I also liked the 15-second follow-up that they granted those candidates to give them the opportunity to do what they failed to do in the first 60-second go-round.  Spoiler Alert: most of them fail again.

 

Quiet Andrew

One of my biggest disappointments was how little we heard from Andrew Yang on night two of the debates.  While I’m not yet officially on the Andrew Yang bandwagon, I do think that of all the Democratic candidates, he’s the most intriguing.  The way the dude talks about tech, and automation, and UBI (or the “Freedom Dividend” as he calls it), makes him sound like he’s running for 2040 or 2060, and when those years arrive, I think we’ll look back on his diagnoses and say that he was ahead of the game on a lot of shit.  I’m still not sure I want him as the 2020 nominee, but if you find this guy as interesting as I do, listen to him on some of his recent podcast appearances:

 

Shoutout to the T’s in LGBTQ+

Though it once again sounds like pandering (especially when Julián screws up his terminology), it is nice to hear so much support for transgender issues, and LGBTQ+ issues in general, in a nationally televised debate for a major political party.  The pandering to a lot of traditionally marginalized groups that takes place in the Democratic Party is annoying, but better to be pandered to than to be ignored.  #Progress

 

Biden’s apology refusal

One person who chose not to pander, at least in one case, was former Vice President Joe Biden, who once again refused to apologize for some comments he made in regards to this country’s history of racial segregation.  Without offering an opinion on those comments, I can say that I appreciate Biden’s refusal to do what everyone does in these sorts of scenarios in 2019: offer an insincere apology.  The exchange between Harris and Biden in regards to these comments was one of the most interesting of the night, but the exchange only happened because Biden chose to stick to his guns (and his political record), even if he might be rightfully criticized for doing so.

 

To be young

I like Mayor Pete, but MY GOD is he young!  How can he know anything?!?  He is 37 years old.  I’m 32, and I’ll be 33 before he turns 38!  I’m still not over the fact that I’m now older than the vast majority of my favorite sports athletes and professional wrestlers.  I don’t think I’m ready to be nearly the same age as the president.  Plus, even if in his four-and-a-half extra years of life he’s managed to become 10 times smarter than me, he should still be at least 20 times smarter than that (or 200 times smarter than me) to be the leader of the free world.  #Math #OldPeople #Vote4Bernie

 

Interrupting

I’m torn on it.  I get why candidates do it, especially the candidates who desperately need the mic time in order to remain relevant, but the passive-aggressive Minnesotan in me cringes at the uncomfortability that it creates.  My suggestion: Give the moderators a button that controls the candidates’ microphones.  If Bill de Blasio won’t shut up because he comes from New York where everybody is rude, then cut his mic!  That will teach his big ass some manners.

 

Assault Rifle Buyback

Even though I found most of his mic time underwhelming, I was intrigued by California Representative Eric Swalwell’s proposal for an assault rifle buyback.  If we really want to reduce the number of guns, and consequently gun violence, in this country, this would be one way to try to do it.  Many believe that it had some success in Australia.  That said, the gun situations in Australia and the U.S. are apples and oranges, and the fact that Stalwell thinks that an assault rifle buyback would save the lives of “black children on the streets”, tells me that he might lack some understanding of this complicated issue.

 

Marianne Williamson

What in the actual F?  I would love to have video footage of the expression of bewilderment that slowly evolved on my face as she moved through her responses.    I can’t tell if she’s on something, or onto something.  Either way, I really hope she’s in attendance at the next Democratic debate so that I can continue to laugh-cry at tweets like the following:

 

 

 

Universal Healthcare

Healthcare is the other dominant issue, alongside immigration and perhaps climate change, that will likely be most important to Democratic voters in the 2020 election.  What is most encouraging to me is that all the major contenders for the Democratic nomination define universal healthcare as a goal (which was not the case a decade ago).  They have different ideas about how to get there—some through the immediate abolition of private insurance, others through an approach that is more measured and graduated—but it does seem that these candidates want all Americans to have access to a public option, aka single-payer system, aka Medicare for all.

I’ll be interested in continuing to listen to the different plans that the candidates put forward to create that system.  I think that Kirsten Gillibrand makes the most sense to me so far, that she’s happy to let private insurance companies remain in existence and compete with her proposed single-payer system (insinuating that they won’t be able to due to their need to generate profits), but for now I’m just satisfied that all the candidates want to head in the same direction—joining the rest of the developed world in guaranteeing healthcare as a human right.

 

Left-of-Center vs. Progressivism

The healthcare issue is illustrative of the larger choice at hand: do Democrats want to nominate a moderate, left-of-center candidate, or a progressive liberal?  Do Democrats want more mild and practical reforms within the existing system, or what Elizabeth Warren calls “structural change”, what Bernie Sanders calls a “political revolution”?  These are the questions that the Democratic debates, and eventually the caucuses and primaries, will need to answer.  The tone of these first debates suggest that the tide is turning towards the progressives, but I’m pretty sure that as of this morning, Joe Biden is still considered the front-runner.

I embody this split in the Democratic Party.  I’m inspired by the brand of egalitarian socialism described by Bernie, but I also see the shared prosperity that can result from what Gillibrand describes as “healthy capitalism”.  I love the idealism and aggressiveness in the detailed plans of Warren and Yang, but I also feel the sensibility and practicality in the proposed policies of Delaney and Klobuchar.

But all that said, I believe that what I and a lot of other potentially Democratic voters are experiencing is a good problem to have.  There were a lot of people up on that stage that I could see myself voting for, especially when they are running against Donald Trump.  I want the best candidate for the job, but I also want the best candidate for that job, and in the twenty candidates that I saw over the last two nights, I think there are at least a few people that would be pretty good at both.

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Politics

The Mueller Report: Trump exoneration should be good thing for Trump-haters

Trump-haters have been waiting a long time for the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, hoping that its findings could fuel an early exit for one of the most maligned presidents in history.   For them, Sunday’s “no collusion” revelation had to be a disappointment, almost certainly dooming the prospects of any attempt at impeachment, an effort that may have been difficult even if the results of the investigation had been different.  However, as someone who is not too fond of our president myself, I would argue that the results of the Mueller investigation are a good thing, and even though they all but ensure that the Donald will finish out his four-year term, they also give us the opportunity to dispose of this president the right way once that term has reached its conclusion.

I would feel differently if this investigation had produced the proverbial “smoking gun”—a piece of evidence so undeniably damning and unspinnable that even Congressional Republicans would have been forced to jump ship.  That piece of evidence was never found, and the fact that an exhaustive, nearly two-year long investigation couldn’t uncover it means that it probably doesn’t exist.  Russia may have tried to influence the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump, but it does not appear that Donald Trump had any direct role in influencing that influence.

Mueller’s team was less conclusive about its findings in regards to obstruction of justice, suggesting that it was possible that the president had overstepped his legal authority in his attempts to impede and discredit the Special Counsel’s investigation.  But while it may be possible that the language of the statute could be twisted to fit the president’s actions, I think that it would be counterproductive for Congressional Democrats to move in this direction.

Donald Trump has been calling this investigation a “witch hunt” since the day the first collusion accusations were levied, and although I do not agree with the terminology, I have to admit that the president has been largely vindicated.  There may have been a lot of smoke, but at the end of the day, no one was able to find the fire.

This doesn’t mean that the investigation was uncalled for, but it does make the thought of charging Donald Trump for obstructing this investigation a little more troublesome.  Put it this way: Can you imagine how Trump would respond if the charges that are ultimately brought against him are charges that only exist because of his attempts to “obstruct” an investigation that failed to produce any evidence in regards to the alleged crimes that spurred the investigation’s creation in the first place?  Even if Congressional Democrats were able to pull this off legally, it would be a disaster politically, which would do much more to validate Trump’s “witch hunt” claims and energize his base than it would do to force him out of office.

Which is why Trump-haters must now officially shift their focus to removing Trump from office the same way that he got in—democratically.*

Forcing Trump out of office via a failed reelection bid is not only the last remaining option left for Trump-haters to achieve their ends, it is also the sweetest possible means.  The entire Trump brand is built upon his relentless crusade to convince the American people that Donald Trump is “winning”.  He is winning on jobs, winning on the border, and winning in the Middle East and North Korea.  He is winning against Congressional Democrats and Hollywood liberals, winning against treasonous former lawyers and deceased Republican Senators.  How satisfying would it be to finally see him unequivocally, undeniably lose in a free and fair democratic election.

It would be less than surprising to hear Trump try to spin that loss as something else.  We already saw him laying the groundwork for this in 2016 with all his talk of a “rigged” election, that is until he won.  However, to try this again in 2020 would seem way more like the behavior of a sore loser than that of a perennial winner, and would presumably be much less credible even to his base after his electoral victory four years prior.  Nevertheless, no matter how many people might bite on whatever BS excuses Trump might throw them, the results of the election would be the same—a Donald Trump loss.

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The Mueller investigation is over.  The president is not a criminal, and even if he is, there is currently no way to prove it.  Assuming no new evidence surfaces, Donald Trump should rightfully serve out his next 22 months in office free from calls for his impeachment.

But the 2020 campaign is already heating up.  Nearly twenty people have already declared their candidacy, with many more considering.  Trump’s approval rating remains low, and Democrats have a real opportunity to nominate a candidate that is all the things that Donald Trump is not—professional, informed, thoughtful, humble—someone that can return dignity to the Oval Office.  However, if Trump-haters refuse to let the Mueller investigation die, and continue to reinforce the president’s narrative of a partisan witch hunt, I worry that that might be the narrative that voters choose to subscribe to in two Novembers, and if that’s the case, we would all be in for four more unimpeachable years.

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*Yes, I am aware that Trump lost the popular vote in 2016, but c’mon, we all know how the electoral college works!!!

 

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Immigration, Politics, USA, World

Taking on Trump with democracy and civility

I don’t like Trump’s travel ban.  Even if it’s not specifically a ban on Muslims, it’s still a disaster for diplomacy in the Muslim world, and severely undermines the United States’ ability to win over potential Muslim allies in the fight against radical Islamic terror. Furthermore, even more so than being anti-Muslim, the ban is just anti-human, unconditionally denying refuge to some of the world’s most desperate people.

That said, I still can’t trick myself into thinking that the ban is unconstitutional.  While the ban’s author almost certainly harbors some anti-Muslim sentiments, the language in the ban itself is religiously neutral. Furthermore, the ban excludes the vast majority of the world’s Muslim-majority nations, instead singling out seven specific countries (two of which are the highly non-Muslim countries of Venezuela and North Korea) that possess unique security concerns at this moment in time.  I still don’t like the policy, but in upholding its constitutionality, I think the Supreme Court got it right.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, I also don’t like the fact that Anthony Kennedy is retiring, gifting Trump another opportunity to nominate a conservative justice to the country’s highest judicial body.  Once again, I would like to convince myself that turnabout is fair play—that Dems should delay Trump’s appointment just like Republicans did when they robbed Obama of his nomination, Merrick Garland, prior to the 2016 presidential elections.

That said, considering their minority position in both the House and Senate, Democrats probably couldn’t pull that off even if they wanted to, and even if they could, I wouldn’t feel right advocating for a tactic that I find so politically repugnant.  I hate to say it, but I think that Donald Trump has the right to appoint any conservative judge he sees fit, so long as he has the Senatorial votes to get them confirmed.

As the above paragraphs might suggest, I don’t like most of President Donald Trump’s agenda, but in a way, I feel that America is getting exactly what it deserves.  Despite seemingly endless outrage over every presidential speech, tweet, and executive action, this is exactly what America voted for, and to be sure, many people in this country are still very supportive of this presidency.

Some take Donald Trump’s election and presidency as a sign that our democracy is broken, but I tend to agree with Chicago Tribune writer Steve Chapman that it’s quite the contrary.  American citizens democratically elected Donald Trump to be their president, and now Donald Trump is doing exactly what those people elected him to do.  The Trump agenda does not result from a failure of democracy—it is a product of it. And if you are one of the people that find the Trump agenda to be problematic (I am!), then democracy also needs to be the solution.

The most obvious example of this is the upcoming midterm elections.  Unless Bob Mueller uncovers the proverbial “smoking gun” in his Russia investigation, Donald Trump will still be president following this Fall’s elections, but if those who oppose his agenda come out and vote in full force, Trump’s ability to carry out that agenda could be pretty limited. Democrats have a real opportunity to take control of both the House and Senate, but even if they just controlled one of those bodies, that could serve as a very powerful check on any item that Trump wishes to push through the legislature.

However, anti-Trump individuals exercising their own personal right to vote might not be enough. If it were, then Trump probably wouldn’t be president in the first place.  If those appalled by the Trump presidency really want to see significant change, they have to do their part to ensure that other people who may be voting in the midterm elections will vote differently than they did in 2016.  That means encouraging supporters of the president’s agenda to reconsider their support.

Which is why I could not disagree more with the suggested approach of Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who effectively called for the public shaming and harassment of anyone who has lent their support to the Trump administration. I cannot think of a more toxic, self-defeating approach.  If there is any action that would reaffirm everything that Trump supporters already believe about the anti-Trump crowd, or push Trump supporters to cling even more tightly to their president and his agenda, this would be that action.

What is more, the suggestion of Congresswoman Waters seems to me to be a violation of one of the founding tenets of what I believe it means to be liberal—recognizing the humanity in all people, especially people whose worldview differs from your own. That goes for supporters of the president, and even the president himself.  If people who stand against Trump surrender the high road and choose to fight Trump fire with Trumpian-fire, then Trump already won.

Outrage cannot be the only thing offered by those of us who stand against Trump.  It is the easiest thing in the world to be outraged at the parent-child separations that characterized the Trump response to the crisis at our southern border. It is much more difficult to come up with a workable solution. Still, workable solutions have to be a part of the anti-Trump package, not just on immigration, but on any and all issues in which we perceive Trump’s approach to be incompetent or intolerable.

Democracy got us into this mess, and democracy can get us out, not just through the vote, but through all the tools that allow an individual to maximize their voice and exercise their agency, civil discourse with unlike-minded people being chief among them. However, if those who want change continue to dehumanize Trump and his supporters just as Trump dehumanizes immigrants and Muslims, don’t be surprised if democracy once again works against you this Fall.

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Politics, USA

More gun control would lead to less gun violence. Period.

In governance, some things are just common sense.  If you have higher taxes on the rich, you will have less economic inequality.  If you invest more money in education, you will have better public schools.  If you increase border security, you will have less illegal immigration.  And if you pass gun control legislation, you will have less gun violence.

These are value neutral statements.  They are not saying that the result of the above trade-offs are necessarily good things or bad things.  They are simply saying that if the first action is taken, the second thing will happen. One does not need to be a fan of the type of equality that results from higher taxes on the rich—an action that some may viewing as punishing success while rewarding the lazy—but nevertheless, this action would undoubtedly create less economic inequality.  Likewise, one does not need to like the limitations that gun control legislation might impose on their 2ndamendment rights, but it is undeniable that less gun violence would be the result of those limitations.

When it comes to guns, this is also true as a matter of degree.  Degrees of gun control and gun violence are inversely correlated—the more of one, the less of the other.   In the United States of America, we will never be able to eliminate gun violence completely, but with every step we take towards controlling our firearms, we also take a step towards reducing the violence that guns can create.  Take longer waiting periods.  In and of themselves, longer waiting periods would make a nearly imperceptible dent on the overall amount of gun violence in this country.  That said, longer waiting periods still would likely prevent some instances of gun violence, such as crimes of passion or firearm purchases that take place during episodes of irrational decision-making. What is more, if passed as part of a more sweeping gun control package, longer waiting periods could play a role in a larger ensemble that makes a more visible impact.  This package could include items such as mandatory background checks, required certifications, higher age restrictions, and bans on certain assault-style weaponry or modifications.

If you’re not buying this logic, try running the thought experiment in reverse:  What if we made guns more easily attainable?  What if we removed the gun control measures that we already have in place?  What if any Joe Schmoe off the street could walk into a gun shop with a driver’s license and a debit card and walk out five minutes later with a fully-automatic weapon and ammo to boot?  No matter how many times I run this simulation in my head, the results are always the same—more shootings and more bodies.

I’ve often heard it said that—no matter the limitations and regulations that we place around guns—if somebody wants a gun, they’re going to find a way to get one.  I don’t buy that argument.  Perhaps if the person is a career criminal well-acquainted with the sketchy faces and shady places that make up the black market, then yes, they may find a way to obtain a firearm, even if the law says that they shouldn’t have one.  But when it comes to many of the hapless teenagers that have been shooting up our schools over the past two decades, I’m not so sure that the same is true.  Would the Parkland shooter have obtained a semiautomatic rifle if he could not have legally purchased one himself?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Would the shooter from Sante Fe have gained access to firearms if there were stricter laws regarding gun storage in a house inhabited by minors, or if the house would not have contained firearms at all? Maybe, but maybe not.  If we could rewind time to the days before Columbine and implement all the restrictions and regulations suggested in this write-up, could we have prevented the 217 episodes of gun violence that took place in schools across the country during that time?  Definitely not all, but very likely some.

And that last part is the key.  No amount of gun control will eliminate gun violence.  No single piece of legislation can make a mass shooting impossible.  But more control of firearms CAN and WILL reduce gun violence in this country.  While eliminating gun violence should always be the goal for the ideal world, reducing gun violence should guide our decision-making in the world that we actually live in.

There are reasons to be skeptical of some gun control measures.  Like it or not, the right to bear arms is constitutional in this country, and while I would be the first to support a constitutional amendment that changed gun ownership from a right to a strictly-regulated, dutifully-earned privilege, that solution does not seem plausible considering the current political reality.  Also, despite what the statistics tell us, possessing a gun does help some people feel safer, and in many instances, has given people the ability to protect themselves, their families, and others when harm inevitably threatens.  Nevertheless, the point stands that the more we begin to shift our laws and our attitudes away from protection of gun rights and towards limiting them, the less gun violence we will see.  On that single point, it really is that simple.

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Immigration, Politics, Race, USA

The CAPS LOCK President: Why I like nuance, and why Donald Trump doesn’t have it

I don’t support the death penalty.  I believe that there’s something to living in a country that stakes its claim to a higher moral ground—that doesn’t subscribe to an outdated, eye-for-an-eye philosophy and refuses to treat even its most despicable citizens with the same inhumanity with which they treated others.

That said, I’m not vehemently opposed to it either.  Life-in-prison sentences cost a lot of public money, and we could probably find better uses for that money than caring for convicted murders (although some studies do suggest that capital punishment is actually more expensive than keeping somebody in prison for life).  Also, while it’s easy to take the moral high ground as a detached, objective observer, I’m not so sure that I could maintain that ideological purity if a capital punishment-worthy crime were to touch me more personally.

Which is why I’m not offended when Donald Trump expresses his desire that the man responsible for the recent Manhattan truck attack be put to death.  This guy is a monster of the worst kind.  He brutally murdered eight strangers, has admitted to his crimes and their premeditation, and has even expressed a sense of accomplishment from the results of his deadly actions.  If there was ever a person who was deserving of the death penalty, this guy is that person.

But like a lot of disagreements that I have with our president, it’s not always so much about what he says, but the way that he says it.

Donald Trump could have simply stated his hope that this man is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and that he receives the harshest form of punishment available under our criminal justice system.  He might have even mentioned that, in a case like this one, capital punishment seems like an appropriate response.  But Donald Trump didn’t do that.  Instead, Donald Trump used his Twitter account to call for the man’s head in all CAPITAL LETTERS.

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This is why I can never get behind Donald Trump.  In a world with so many shades of grey—so many issues in which nuance and complexities hugely matter—Donald Trump has chosen a platform of black or white.  He’s chosen exaggerations, simplifications, and generalizations over any position that would require more than an ounce of intellect.  Everything is the “best” or the “biggest” or the “most” or the “greatest”.  I guess that’s acceptable if you’re Joe Blow by the water-cooler (who coincidentally voted for Trump), but when you’re President of the United States, it’s inexcusable.

Take the national anthem protests by NFL athletes—an issue in which there is all kinds of nuance to be had. Do you support the players right to free expression while questioning the effectiveness of their use of that freedom?  Do you challenge their indictment of American police while also recognizing the reasons that people of color might feel differently? Do you distinguish between sitting down and taking a knee, and the conscientious shift made by Colin Kaepernick following a conversation with a former Green Beret?  Not if you’re Donald Trump.  If you’re Donald Trump, you just scream for owners to FIRE those sons of bitches that are disrespecting OUR HERITAGE, never pausing to consider the fact that the heritage experienced by the “our” in your almost-all white audience may be a little bit different than the heritage experienced by “those” players peacefully kneeling on the field.

The lack of nuance was pretty evident on the campaign trail, too.  Donald Trump didn’t run a campaign of “border security being a legitimate concern for even the most dogged supporter of American diversity.”  He ran a campaign of “BUILD THE WALL!”  Donald Trump didn’t run a campaign of “serious questions over Hillary Clinton’s careless and dangerous use of her private email server.”  He ran a campaign of “LOCK HER UP!”  And sadly, that’s probably what won him the election.

Which begs the question: Is this the authentic Donald Trump, or is it all part of an elaborate strategy?  Does Donald Trump really believe the hyperbolic bullshit that comes out of his own mouth, or is he just throwing out red meat to a certain sector of his base in order to secure their support?  Either way, the answer is unsettling.

In Trump’s defense, the criticisms levied against him haven’t always been all that nuanced either.  It’s become waaaay too easy, hip, and cool to hate Donald Trump in certain circles, and while I can’t say that I’m unhappy with peoples’ lack of satisfaction towards our president, I’m also not all that impressed with the casual tossing around of terms like “racist,” “fascist,” and “white supremacist” from people who seem to be echoing the opinions of others rather than carefully and critically forming their own.

The solution to Trump cannot be to fight fire-with-fire, or to fight the outrageous with the absurd.  That response does no more for civil discourse than the state-sponsored execution of murderers does for curbing violent crime.  The only way to fight the CAPS LOCK president is to disable that function on our own keyboards, type with complete sentences, and insist on saying things that reflect the complicated reality in which we actually live, not the distorted dystopia that the demagogue in the White House likes to portray.

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Politics, Race, USA

Thoughts on Charlottesville: The necessity of conversation

This morning I finally watched the VICE documentary on the race-based terror that rocked the city of Charlottesville last weekend. The footage is nothing short of terrifying.  Even though I have no illusions about the pernicious role that racism continues to play in our society, I was still shocked to see that a white supremacist rally of that magnitude could take place in America in 2017.

Trump’s response to the rally was disgraceful.  Even if Trump himself is not a racist or a white supremacist, it’s pretty clear that his presidency has emboldened many people who are.  This was Trump’s opportunity to explicitly separate himself from those groups, but he didn’t take it.  Instead, Trump once again blew his racist dog whistle, refusing to denounce the hateful elements of his base that were so vital to his electoral success.

184503.pngHis attempts to draw equivalencies between neo-Nazis and radical leftist groups like Antifa are also total bullshit.  I personally have no shortage of criticisms that I could offer about certain elements of today’s far-left—their affinity for identity politics, their silencing of free speech on college campuses, their ever-evolving policing of political correctness—but I would still stop far short of equating them to Nazis. One side fights against racism whereas the other side fights for it, and no matter how misguided the means of the former group may be, I’ll take them over the latter group any day.

Moral outrage is definitely the appropriate response to what happened last weekend in Charlottesville.  If images of torch-wielding neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” don’t make your stomach sink, then you have some introspection to do.  However, as justifiable as our moral outrage might be, I still believe that conversation is the only solution.

The conversations that need to take place are not with the relatively tiny (albeit far too big) fraction of the population that self-identify as neo-Nazis or white supremacists, but with the people who, while not neo-Nazis or white supremacists themselves, still support small pieces of the agenda that motivated those far-right assemblies last weekend in Charlottesville.  These are the people who question the removal of Confederate monuments, the people who view groups like Antifa as legitimate threats to American democracy, the people who possess justifiable concerns over immigration and radical Islam, and most likely, the people who voted for Donald Trump.

At no point in this presidency have Trump supporters been more ready to jump ship than they are right now.  They are ready to seize the opportunity that the president did not and separate themselves from racism and bigotry.  They are ready to open up a dialogue with people of differing beliefs on how to move forward from some of the ugliest days in our country’s recent past.  But if we insist on labeling everyone whose outrage we deem as insufficient as an ally of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, then there are no conversations to be had.  If we don’t throw Trump supporters a lifering, then they are not going to jump ship.

Conversation doesn’t necessarily mean compromise.  It means finding common ground, validating beliefs that are acceptable, challenging beliefs that are not, and above all else, recognizing the humanity in the person on the other side of the table.

Everyone is a product of their life experiences.  No one is born a racist just like no one is born a criminal.  Those behaviors are learned.  They can be unlearned as well.

It’s easy to be the purest person in the room—to righteously shout your worldview from the hilltops while refusing to acknowledge the life experiences that, for right or for wrong, have led other people to see their worlds differently.  But when it comes to changing minds, that shouting will get you nowhere.

Conversation is about cultivating a mutual understanding.  It is the attitude of “perhaps if I listen to them, then they will listen to me.”  It’s an approach that gets people to uncross their arms and open their minds, in hopes that once the mind is open, it will be susceptible to change.  I get the sense that a lot of arms have come uncrossed since Charlottesville.  I just hope that our moral outrage doesn’t disable us from taking advantage of that opportunity.

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